The Book Goddess, January 22, 2014 (view all comments by The Book Goddess)
The concept of reading a fictionalized tale of actual people and their lives always fascinates me. I requested a copy of this novel to review from Net Galley based on the description on the book jacket. This story covers the turbulent lives of the acclaimed author of Treasure Island and Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde and his eccentric, american wife, Fanny. I casually began this story one afternoon, thinking I would read for a bit, and found myself having difficulty putting the book down hours later. The author did an amazing job bringing these people to life and painting their extremely chaotic life. Fanny had a difficult life prior to meeting Louis...she went from Indiana to Nevada with a horrible husband, bore children early in life, ended up in California and then some how, picked up and took her children to Europe to try to be an artist. The story is so fantastic that it's hard to believe these were real events. Fanny and Louis meet as she is trying to survive a tragic event in her life and their connection is so charged...it feels almost wrong to spy on their intimate encounters. Their lives are not easy...they struggle with her her husband, money, where to live and most importantly, Louis' health. Their relationship was an absolute roller coaster of ups and downs that eventually leads them to Samoa. Throughout their time together, Louis publishes the two works he is famously known for, though unfortunately, it seems true fame only came after he had passed away. I am not sure if Fanny was bipolar or simply suffered from the stress of her life events, but I immensely liked her depiction and truly admire her strength and spirit. This was a story dominated by a great love between husband and wife. This was truly an engaging and enjoyable read and now I need to get my hands on Horan's first book, Loving Frank. If I enjoy that half as much as I enjoyed this story, then I am in for a real treat.
I received a copy of this title from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review
Melinda Ott, January 21, 2014 (view all comments by Melinda Ott)
I read Horan's first novel, Loving Frank, shortly after it was published and was rather disappointed. However, what I perceived to be that book's greatest shortcoming was the abruptness of the story arc--and since it was based on a true store, Horan cannot be held accountable for that. I did enjoy her style in Loving Frank, so decided to give her next book a try.
I have sort of a general knowledge of Robert Louis Stevenson, but knew nothing of his personal life. Since I'm a sucker for the "grand love story" I thought this book would be right up my alley. Sadly, this book just didn't work for me. I really can't pinpoint one thing that didn't work for me, as I could with Loving Frank. Rather, I felt there were so many smaller things that just hampered the entire book.
For one thing, the scope of this book is incredibly large--about 30 years. I have nothing against books that cover a large time period, but I've found that the books that are successful with this are very targeted, which this one was not. We start with Fanny and Louis's love affair, and then go to Louis's health, and then to Fanny's jealousy and eventual breakdown and I just never felt there was a unifying theme in this book.
I think that if Horan had decided to tell just Fanny's side of the story, or just Louis's, this book would have been more successful. There were issues on both sides and trying to give equal time to both just kept me from getting to involved in the stories.
There were also times when I just felt this book dragged. I enjoy Horan's voice and she had a very readable style, but there were just some long periods where nothing really happened and it became tedious. The last 10 percent or so of this book was actually quite good, but not good enough to balance out the first 90 percent.
I am not writing off Nancy Horan yet, and I will give her next book a try, whenever it comes out. But this one just wasn't for me.
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The Lost Entwife, January 11, 2014 (view all comments by The Lost Entwife)
Books that center around historical figures that are outside of the non-fiction/biography realm can be a bit hit or miss for me. Did the author take too much license? Is the story too dry because they didn't decide to take a little license with it? It's a fine line to walk so when it's done well that book is definitely a keeper. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan is one of those books. That said, I had a feeling I would be pleased with the book, in fact, due to my experience with her previous book, Loving Frank, I was already leaning toward loving Under the Wide and Starry Sky before I even picked it up. Add into that the subject matter - I mean, I appreciate Frank Lloyd Wright, but Under the Wide and Starry Sky is about my bud, Robert Louis Stevenson, whose Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll fascinated me as a teenager and continue to draw me as an adult.
What I did not know about Stevenson was the information connected to his family life. Between his sickness and the drama surrounding his wife, Fanny, the guy had quite a life. Add into that wide travels and an experience in the South Pacific, including stops to places that are now near and dear to my own heart, and the timing of this read was perfect.
I've had Under the Wide and Starry Sky for a while, but I usually try to wait until release is a month or so away before picking it up. It was a struggle to wait, let me tell you, and that struggle really paid off because I absolutely devoured this book. I fell in love with Fanny, loved her in spite of all of her flaws, sympathized with her, and struggled with her throughout the period of the book. The book jacket describes Fanny and Robert's relationship is turbulent, and that's putting it lightly. But ... with turbulence also comes so much interesting storytelling - in fact, some of the best storytelling, and it's easy to see why Fanny and Robert's story appealed to Horan and I am glad that she is the author that stepped up to the bat and took it on.
I'm so pleased that so many of the books I chose as 2013 turned into 2014 have been turning out to be winners. Under the Wide and Starry Sky is another one on that list and I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction or learning about prominent figures in the history.
techeditor, November 23, 2013 (view all comments by techeditor)
Because Nancy Horan got such great reviews for her LOVING FRANK, this book, UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY, seemed promising. So what a disappointment! Granted, the trouble may be more with my dislike of this TYPE of book than of the book. It is not what I expected when I requested and won it from librarything.com. It is what I think of as "women's fiction," which usually bores me. But this is also historical fiction, and it's about an author of classics. How could I dislike it?
I did, though. Maybe other readers will enjoy what I did not because this IS their type. But I didn't care for it. When I find myself preferring TV, even when "Dancing With the Stars" is on, I know my book isn't a winner.
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Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a complex love story between author Robert Louis Stevenson and his forward-thinking American wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. A second novel by the author of Loving Frank, this story takes its title from a famous Stevenson quote. It seamlessly melds fact with fiction, and post-read, I am eager to research more about their lives so I can better understand the real from the fictitious.
There is passion, joy and heartache. This novel successfully exemplifies how difficult it was in this period to be the woman behind the man. Author Nancy Horan admirably brings their colorful story to life. It was an enjoyable and well-written novel that brought humanness to Robert Louis Stevenson.
This engaging tale of historical fiction indulges the reader with a telling portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and his fiercely independent wife, Fanny. Fans of Stevenson will especially enjoy this glimpse into the couple's exciting yet turbulent life as they travel the globe.
by Jen C.
by Booklist (starred review),
“Horan’s spectacular second novel has been worth the wait. Brimming with the same artistic verve that drives her complicated protagonists, it follows the loving, tumultuous partnership of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his Indiana-born wife, Fanny Osbourne....Equally adventurous and colorful, Louis and Fanny could each command the story singlehandedly. Together, they are riveting and insightfully envisioned, including through moving depiction of how their relationship transforms over time....An exhilarating epic about a free-spirited couple who traveled the world yet found home only in one another.”
by Publishers Weekly,
“This beautifully written novel, neatly balanced between its two protagonists, makes them come alive with grace, humor, and understanding. Horan’s empathy for both Louis and Fanny allows her to capture their life together with all the complexity and nuance of a real-life relationship.”
by Jamie Ford, author of Songs of Willow Frost,
“Fans of Loving Frank will adore this authentic, richly detailed, and utterly captivating new novel from Nancy Horan. Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a globe-spanning literary wonder — the perfect book for those who read fiction in search of the truth.”
by Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife,
“Fanny and Louis are wild-hearted seekers, and Nancy Horan traces their incredible journey fearlessly, plunging us through decades, far-flung continents, and chilling brushes with death. Ambitious and often breathtaking, this sweeping story spills over with spirited, uncompromising life.”
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