Book Reviews

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

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In her masterful new novel, Nancy Horan has recreated a love story that is as unique, passionate, and overwhelmingly powerful as the one between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney depicted so memorably in Loving Frank. Under the Wide and Starry Sky chronicles the unconventional love affair of Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics including Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They meet in rural France in 1875, when Fanny, having run away from her philandering husband back in California, takes refuge there with her children. Stevenson too is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world.” ~ Goodreads

Under the Wide and Starry Sky will be released January 21, 2014.

**Warning: There will be an over usage of quotes being used in this book review from the wisdom of Fanny and Louis Stevenson. After finishing, I found I had pages and pages of highlighted text and notes. :)

How exciting to already have a book to add to my favorites of 2014. In January. I feel this is going to be a great book year.  I LOVED this book. Nancy Horan is the one of the most amazing historical fiction authors I have come across. I fell in love with her writing when I read Loving Frank for a book club and personally love this story more. In her afterword, Horan explains how she used much of the information in letters and diaries that were written by Fanny and Louis for this book.

This copy took me about a week to read. I didn’t want it to end. What an adventure these two people had. Traveling with them to Belgium, France, Scotland, Hawaii, California, Samoa and other places kept me riveted. Having spent time in Scotland and having a Scottish family made all the references that much sweeter for me. Even with all the moving around (mostly for Louis’ health), they truly didn’t need much to get by except each other and you could feel that in the pages. I wanted to throw out every electronic device I have while reading this and really “connect” with my family and surroundings. I know times were much more difficult back then but there was a simplicity to life that I am envious of. Some readers might feel like Fanny gave up a lot to be with such a man who was an artist and very ill much of his life but their love and respect for one another was palpable. Louis knew he was a difficult man to live with and the fact that he always regarded her feelings and really saw her was touching.

“He meant to explain to her soon something he’d come to understand. She was an artist, but her art was not something that would be viewed in a museum or contained between the covers of a book. Fanny’s art was in how she had lived her own extraordinary life. She was her best creation.” ~Louis about Fanny

Robert Louis Stevenson has been a favorite author of mine for a long time. Not because of Treasure Island and I haven’t read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Kidnapped, but I strongly remember as a child gobbling up A Child’s Garden of Verses. It was my introduction to poetry long before Shel Silverstein. I didn’t necessarily understand the meaning behind all of the prose but it hooked me regardless. It stirred emotions in me. Reading about a writer and his process for creating novels made this a difficult review when you read him giving writing advice, such as:

“Don’t say, ‘Climbing red roses are everywhere,’ as you do here. Make them do something. Say ‘the roses clamber up the trunk of the elm, and redden an arbor that creaks under their weight.’ Do you get my meaning?

or this one:

“The English language is old. But a good writer owns every word he puts on paper because he makes it new and fresh, you see. It must be precise, though. Precision is everything. Why? Because words have power-to inspire or embarrass, or even kill.”

or this beauty:

“It will be easy to put yourself in the boots of the hero. As a boy, I always imagined myself as the good fellow on a white horse who was coming to the rescue of the others. But if you want to be a writer, you are going to have to put yourself in the shoes of people who are not so good. Everybody has faults. Some people have a lot of them. Yet no one sees himself as a monster. You need to try being him-or her-to know how she feels and thinks.”

With any great historical fiction novel, I found myself Googling and Wikipedia-ing like a crazy researcher to find out all I could about Fanny and Louis. Putting faces and scenes to the ones I built in my head. Do this after you read the book! Nancy Horan’s novels do that to you. She really lets the story unfold and allows the reader to get into the head of the characters, which I find fascinating.

Resilience. Tenacity. Creativity. Love. Humor. Integrity. Respect. Support. Passion.  These are just a few of the characteristics of Fanny and Louis Stevenson both. But,

“In the end, what really matters? Only kindness. Only making somebody a little happier in your presence.”

________________________________________________________________________________

*Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this Advance Reader’s Copy. I was not required to review this book nor was I compensated. It was just too good not to share!

To learn more about Nancy Horan, this book or upcoming events please visit her site here. She has a fantastic Pinterest page also with pages for both of her books.

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