Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog FLEURINGALA by M.K.B. Graham A delightful coming-of-age story, magical like the best fairy tales #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another review for one of the wonderful finds from Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Fleuringala by M.K.B. Graham

Fleuringala by M. K. B. Graham

From the author of CAIRNAERIE, a new historical fiction, set in 1939…..
Abandoned by her no-count mother in a rundown shack on the outskirts of Lauderville, Virginia, seven-year-old Ruby Glory is alone. Her only friend and sole companion is her faithful dog, Arly. Then along comes Tack, the teenage son of Lauderville’s prominent and well-heeled Pittman family. Despite a sincere desire to help Ruby, Tack learns quickly that no good deed goes unpunished. His involvement with the child of a woman of ill-repute sends his family and the citizens of Lauderville into a frenzy of rumors and gossip, presenting Tack with a dilemma. Will the uproar spell the end for the mismatched friends—or set in motion opportunities that neither Tack nor Ruby could ever have imagined?
 

https://www.amazon.com/Fleuringala-M-K-B-Graham/dp/B092411YHK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fleuringala-M-K-B-Graham/dp/B092411YHK/

https://www.amazon.es/Fleuringala-M-K-B-Graham/dp/B092411YHK/

Author M.K.B. Graham

About the author:
M.K.B. Graham writes literary fiction, historical fiction, and feature stories under the label McKeadlit LLC, a freelance company. Partial to the Appalachian Mountains, the author is a lifelong Virginian and part of a family whose roots to the Commonwealth run deep, stretching back to the 1700s. Graham, a graduate of Virginia Tech, has worked as a writer for two Virginia universities and as a former associate editor of Virginia Tech’s signature magazine. The author lives and writes in the beautiful and historic Shenandoah Valley. She is fascinated by old houses, earlier eras, particularly the 1930s and 1940s, and the influence of families on history, much of which informs her writing.

https://www.amazon.com/M.K.B.-Graham/e/B073GKV1B7/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

Although M. K. B. Graham had submitted her first novel to Rosie’s team a few years back, I somehow missed it then, but I’m very pleased to have discovered this gem now. What a gorgeous read!

The novel is listed under the categories of ‘historical fiction’ and ‘coming of age fiction’ and they are both appropriate. The story is set in the late 1930s and early 40s, mostly in Virginia, a setting that the author knows well and several generations of her family have grown in. The protagonists (Tack [he is called Albert, like his Dad, but from the beginning, it proved difficult to share the name, and he became known as Tack], and Ruby) live plenty of adventures, many together and some separately, but Lauderville and the rest of the settings they visit play almost as important a part as they do, and the book excels at making readers feel as if they were totally immersed in the experience, walking the streets, smelling the aromas, touching the fabrics, seeing the colours, and talking to the inhabitants of the town, and later, of Suwanalee (North Carolina), Charleston, and Fleuringala (yes, the title comes from a property and its quasi-magical gardens), and although some of those are fictional, it is evident that their creation has been inspired by real small towns and by a period of history that might feel far off, but it not as distant some things haven’t changed as much as we’d like to believe.

This is Tack’s coming of age story, although Rudy does a lot of growing as well (but she is much younger and still a child as we leave her). He graduates from high school, gets his first car, gets his first job (and that causes upset with his father, as he wanted him to carry on with the family business because he is the only boy in a family of girls, and the youngest), and eventually gets to move away from home, live independently, and takes on the responsibility of looking after another human being. I don’t want to summarise the whole novel here and leave readers with no surprises, but the story brought to my mind some of the classics in the genre, like Huckleberry Finn (mentioned in the book as well), To Kill a Mockingbird (although here, poverty, lack of social standing, and behaviours that are not considered ‘socially acceptable or in good taste’ are the cause behind much of the discrimination and suffering that ensues, rather than race, which does not feature in the book), and others like Little Women, a big favourite of mine. Tack is a young man, of course, but his selfless behaviour and the way he cares for others place the focus of the novel in characteristics other than those that tend to be more common in coming of age novels whose central characters are male, which often focus on the quest motif, adventures, and dangers. Yes, Tack experiences plenty of those as well (they come across many obstacles, moments of self-doubt, and terrible trials), but not just out of a thirst for adventure or a desire to become independent and go looking for freedom. Those things also happen but seem to be the unintended consequences of the interest he takes in Ruby and her welfare.

There are elements of the fairy tale as well (Fleuringala and its owner made me think of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant,’ minus the religious symbolism), and as would be the case in a fairy tale, there are characters that play the part of fairy godmothers (several in fact), out and out villains (Ruby’s mother, Gilda, although one has to wonder at how she might have been like, had her circumstances been different; Tack’s older sister; the car man [a true monster]…), there are magical castles/gardens, animal companions and defenders (Arly is a hero), something close to a miracle transformation, happy coincidences aplenty, and yes a HEA ending as well (with a final surprise, although I had my suspicions about that). Some of the characters seem to be larger than life, as if a caricaturist had emphasised their features for laughter or to bring them to our attention, but they all (or most) have their human side. Don’t think that means this is a book that deals in light and fluffy subjects. Far from it. Even though this is not the typical story about the dark side of small America, where behind the veneer of civilization festers an underbelly of crime and corruption, we can still find child abuse and neglect, a horrific scene where Ruby is in terrible danger (well, two, but quite different in nature), plenty of prejudice, gossip (oh, those Mavens), and a good deal of suffering and disappointment. But, fear not, there are moments of comic relief (Maxine is wonderful if a bit over the top and I quite appreciate her friend Ira as well; Albert had his moments, and I loved Francine’s Beauty Parlor and the goings-on there), plenty of smiles and happy events, beautiful descriptions of places, and a gorgeous rendering of the language of the people, turns of phrases, and local sayings and idioms. And, Ruby. The little girl is a light that shines through the whole story, (almost) always optimistic, willing to think the best of people, and to give everybody a second chance. She is a transformative force, and she changes all she meets for the better.

I’ve mentioned the beautiful language and writing. The story is written in the third person, from an omniscient point of view, which, although I know some readers don’t appreciate, I felt that in this case, it worked well to bring us closer to all the characters and to make us appreciate what moves them and what they are really like. It also foreshadows what is to come, giving us hints and insights, and preparing us in advance for both good and bad news. Most of the story follows chronologically the events from the moment Tack sees Ruby for the first time, although there are some chapters where it provides background information about some of the other characters, allowing readers to get a clearer picture of where they are coming from and helping us get a clearer understanding of their reactions, their behaviours, turning it into something of a collective narrative, and not only the story of the two main characters. We might or might not like some of the people we meet, but we get to understand them a bit better.

I highlighted plenty of sentences and full paragraphs as I read, and I’ll follow my usual policy of recommending possible readers to check a sample of the book if they can, but I’ll share a couple of random examples, to give you a taste:

All Tack knew was that here in Lauderville, a little town tucked in the bumpy toe of Virginia as close to Tennessee as a blanket is to a sheet, the winters were cold, the springs and autumns were nice, and the summers could be pleasant —or hot as Hades. Like today.

Here, talking about the Maven’s behaviour at Francine’s Beauty Parlor:

They shamelessly, deliberately, and corporately encouraged Gilda the way a child is prodded to repeat a dirty word. That she could run her mouth faster and louder than an un-muffled Chevy only added to her appeal. And with her ability to spin an innuendo faster than a frog can snatch a fly, she entertained the Mavens who would not miss it for anything short of the funeral of a close relative—although not one among them would admit it. Everybody around her sat and listened, assured that their own stations in life were considerably loftier than Gilda’s.

I have mentioned the ending, and yes, I’m sure it won’t disappoint readers. I felt sad for losing sight of the characters, but the ending is pretty perfect, in the way the best fairy tales and happy novels can be, especially when the characters have gone through so much. It’s easy to imagine what their lives will be like from then on, and the outlook is excellent.

This is a wonderful novel, and I enjoyed it enormously. It is not realistic and gritty in the standard sense, but if I had to include any warnings, as I’d mentioned before there is a scene that is fairly explicit and terrifying, and another one that will cause heartache to most readers who love pets; and child abuse and neglect are important themes in the story. Of course, if one thinks of classic fairy tales, they are not mild or non-violent, can be terrifying, and often feature abuse, neglect, abandonment, cruel behaviours, and worse. I wouldn’t recommend this novel to people looking for a hard and totally realistic account of life in 1930s small-town America, but readers looking for a magical story, with wonderful characters, a strong sense of place, the nostalgic feel of an era long gone, and beautiful writing peppered with local expressions and idioms, will love this novel. I can’t wait to see what the author with delight us with, next.

Thanks to Rosie and the members of the team for their support, thanks to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, sharing, commenting, liking, and remember to keep safe, keep smiling, and try and be as happy as you can!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview #TheGiverOfStars by Jojo Moyes (@PenguinUKBooks) (JojoMoyesAuthor) Historical fiction where sisterhood wins the day. Highly Recommended

Hi all:

Today I bring you the newest book by a very well-known actor I hadn’t read yet. I had a great time with this one!

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

 

The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes

DON’T MISS THE STANDALONE NEW NOVEL FROM JOJO MOYES, THE NO. 1 BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF ME BEFORE YOU, AFTER YOU AND STILL ME

‘With characters so real they feel like dear friends and a compelling storyline, this is a beautiful, special novel. I loved it and didn’t want it to end!’ Liane Moriarty, author and screenwriter of Big Little Lies

‘Alice had come halfway across the world to find that, yet again, she was considered wanting. Well, she thought, if that was what everyone thought, she might as well live up to it.’

England, late 1930s, and Alice Wright – restless, stifled – makes an impulsive decision to marry wealthy American Bennett Van Cleve and leave her home and family behind.

But stuffy, disapproving Baileyville, Kentucky, where her husband favours work over his wife and is dominated by his overbearing father, is not the adventure – or the escape – that she hoped for.

That is, until she meets Margery O’Hare, a troublesome woman – and daughter of a notorious felon – the town wishes to forget.

Margery’s on a mission to spread the wonder of books and reading to the poor and lost – and she needs Alice’s help.

Trekking alone under big open skies, through wild mountain forests, Alice, Margery and their fellow sisters of the trail discover freedom, friendship – and a life to call their own.

But when Baileyville turns against them, will their belief in one another – and the power of the written word – be enough to save them?

Inspired by a remarkable true story, The Giver of Stars features five incredible women who will prove to be every bit as beloved as Lou Clark, the unforgettable heroine of Me Before You.

A wonderful novel. The Giver of Stars is the most sweeping, dramatic, richly evocative book, full of brilliantly feisty women’ Sophie Kinsella, author of Confessions of a Shopaholic

Timeless, Jojo Moyes’ greatest work yet, and one of the most exquisitely-written – and absolutely compulsory – novels about women ever told’ Lisa Taddeo, author of Three Women

Praise for Jojo Moyes:

‘Moyes somehow manages to break your heart before restoring your faith in love’ Sunday Express

‘Storytelling at its best’ Marie Claire

‘A triumph’ Heat

‘A deeply satisfying book full of big emotions’ Good Housekeeping

‘Britain’s best contemporary female author’ Sun on Sunday

 Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Giver-Stars-Jojo-Moyes-ebook/dp/B07P9DRRBR/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Giver-Stars-Jojo-Moyes-ebook/dp/B07P9DRRBR/

https://www.amazon.es/Giver-Stars-Jojo-Moyes-ebook/dp/B07P9DRRBR/

Author Jojo Moyes
Author Jojo Moyes

About the author:

Jojo Moyes is a British novelist.

Moyes studied at Royal Holloway, University of London. She won a bursary financed by The Independent newspaper to study journalism at City University and subsequently worked for The Independent for 10 years. In 2001 she became a full time novelist.

Moyes’ novel Foreign Fruit won the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Romantic Novel of the Year in 2004.

She is married to journalist Charles Arthur and has three children.

https://www.amazon.com/Jojo-Moyes/e/B001HMNFPM/

My review:

Thanks to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph and NetGalley for an advanced readers copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

Jojo Moyes was a name familiar to me (from bestseller lists, movie adaptations, bookshops…) but she was one of the authors I knew by name but hadn’t yet read. When I saw this book on offer at NetGalley and read the description and the fact that it was based on a real historical scheme, the 1930s Horseback Librarians of Kentucky, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to familiarise myself with her writing. As a book lover, I am always fond of stories about books and libraries, and the historical angle was a bonus for me. The Horseback Librarians of Kentucky was one of the projects set up by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a New Deal Agency established as an attempt to provide work for victims of the Great Depression. In this case, women who could ride (horses, mules…) set up the equivalent of a mobile library, and offered books and reading materials to their neighbours, reaching even those who lived deep in the mountains, too far and too busy to regularly visit the town. In an area as beautiful as it was poor (and it seems it still remains fairly poor and under resourced), the levels of literacy were minimal, and the librarians went beyond the simple delivering of books, becoming a lifeline to many of the families they regularly visited. Although I had read about the WPA and some of their projects, I wasn’t familiar with this one, and it does make for a fascinating setting to the story.

Moyes usually writes contemporary fiction (with more than a touch of romance), so this novel breaks new ground. As I haven’t read any of her previous novels, I cannot make comparisons, but I had a great time reading this novel, which combines an easy and fluid writing style (with some wonderful descriptions of the Kentucky mountains), strong and compelling characters, especially the librarians, with a plot full of adventures, sad and joyful events, romance, and even a possible murder. This is a tale of sisterhood, of women fighting against all odds (society’s prejudices, difficult conditions, nature, illness, domestic violence, evil…), of the power of books, and of a time and a place that are far from us and yet familiar (unfortunately, some things haven’t changed that much).

What did I like, in particular? Many things. I am not an expert on Kentucky or on the historical period, so you must take this with a pinch of salt, but I loved the atmosphere and the period feel. I enjoyed the description of the feelings of the women as they rode their routes, particularly because by telling the story from the point of view of two of the women, Margery, who’s lived there all her life, and Alice, just arrived from England and totally unfamiliar with the area and the lifestyle, we get the familiarity and the newness, and learn that the heartfelt experience goes beyond being comfortable and at home. The mountains have an effect on these women, and at a point when Alice’s life is collapsing around her, give her the strength to go on. Both, the beauty of untamed nature and the comfort of literature, help give meaning to the lives of the protagonists and those who come in contact with them. Of course, not everybody appreciates those, and, in fact, the true villains of the story are people (mostly men, but not only, and I’m not going to reveal the plot in detail) who don’t care for literature and don’t respect nature. (There is an environmental aspect to the story as well, the coalmining industry caring little for the workers or the land if it got in the way of the profit margin).

I also fell for the characters. Margery is magnetic from the beginning: a woman whose father was violent, an abuser and an alcoholic, with a reputation that has tainted her as well; she is determined to live life her own way, help others, and not let anybody tell her what to do (and that includes the man she loves, who is rather nice). Although the novel is written in the third person, we see many of the events from her point of view, and although she is a woman who guards her emotions tightly and does not scare easy, she is put to the test, suffers a great deal, and she softens a bit and becomes more willing to give up some of her independence in exchange for a life richer in relationships and connections by the end of the story. Alice, on the other hand, starts as a naïve newcomer, with little common sense, that makes rushed decisions and believes in fairy tales. She thinks Bennett, her husband, is the charming prince who’s come to rescue her from an uncaring family, but she soon discovers she has changed a prison for another. Her transformation is, in some ways, the complete opposite to that of Margery. She becomes more independent, learns to care less about appearances and opinions, and discovers what is truly important for her.

In a way, the librarians provide a catalogue of different models of womanhood and also of diversity (we have a woman who lives alone with her male relatives, smokes, drinks and is outspoken; a young girl with a limp due to polio who lives under the shadow of her mother; an African American woman who gave up on her dreams to look after her brother, and who is the only trained librarian; and a widow from the mountains, saved by the power of books and by her relationship with other women), and although there are male characters —both, enablers, like Fred and Sven, and out and out enemies— these are not as well defined or important to the story (well, they set things in motion, but they are not at the heart of the story). I was quite curious about Bennett, Alice’s husband, whom I found a bit of a puzzle (he does not understand his wife, for sure, but he is not intentionally bad, and I was never sure he really knew himself), and would have liked to know more about the women whose points of view we were not privy to, but I enjoyed getting to know them all and sharing in their adventures. (Oh, and I loved the ending, that offers interesting glimpses into some of the characters we don’t hear so much about).

And yes, adventures there are aplenty. I’ve seen this book described as an epic, and it is not a bad word. There are floods, a murder trial, stories of corruption and shady business deals, bigotry and scandal, a couple of books that play important parts (a little blue book, and, one of my favourite reads as a young girl, Little Women, and its role made me smile), recipes, libraries, births, deaths, confrontations, violence (not extreme), and romance (no erotica or explicit sex scenes). This being a very conservative (and in some ways isolated society), the examples of what was considered acceptable male and female behaviour might seem old-fashioned even for the time, but, as the #MeToo movement has reminded us, some things are slow to change.

Was there anything I didn’t like? Well, no, but people need to be aware that this is a light read, a melodrama, and although it provides an inspirational tale of sisterhood, it does not offer an in-depth analysis of the ills of the society at the time. The villains, are presented as bad individuals, pure evil, and we learn nothing about them other than they are bad.  Although many other important topics are hinted at and appear in the background, this is the story of this particular individuals, and not a full depiction of the historical period, but it is a great yarn and very enjoyable.

The author provides information on her note to the reader about the historical background and how she became interested in the story, and I’ve read some reviews highlighting the existence of other books on the topic, that I wouldn’t mind reading either. For me, this book brings to light an interesting episode of American history and of women’s history, creating a fascinating narrative that illustrates the lives of women in the Kentucky Mountains in the 1930s, with characters that I got to care for, suffer and rejoice with. Yes, I did shed the odd tear. And I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys historical fiction, women’s fiction, and to Moyes’s fans. This might be a departure from her usual writing, but, at least for me, it’s a welcome one.

Thanks to the publisher, to NetGalley and to the author, many thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

GET MY FREE BOOKS
%d bloggers like this:
x Logo: Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security