As a fan of Kim Michelle Richardson and her THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK, I was curious about a British author's treatment of Kentucky library women delivering books to the back country by horse or mule in the years leading up to WW II. I wondered about how a British romance writer would tumble to and do justice for these unique women in a time and place hard to "get right", even for Americans. Then I saw a BuzzFeed piece suggesting Moyes had unfair help. It turns out the Richardson's manuscript not only came first but was reviewed for some time before by editors at Random House, the very publisher for Moyes. The Buzzfeed article summarizes a number of specific details in Richardson's novel that might have been lifted into this Moyes novel. This background did not deter me from purchasing a hard cover copy of THE GIVER OF STARS and reading it first word to last. The cover jacket is gorgeous.
But GIVER OF STARS was hard to get through for several reasons. The main character and co-heroine comes from a cozy but rigid and oppressive home in England, meets a young American, marries him and lands in a small town in 1937 Kentucky. Her husband's family owns the biggest coal mine around. But her husband and his widowed father are just as oppressive and cold as the home she left. She becomes a book woman and mixes with other women riding out to deliver library books to poor people in the mountains. So far so good. But then some problems creep in.
Right off the bat in the first sentence of the first chapter, JJM puts eucalyptus trees in Kentucky, where they have never and never will grow. One hard frost kills them. Other flaws abound. Most of the time most of the locals speak in proper English, often in nice little speeches and in a far more organized manner than folks did there and then. Some British English creeps into the locals' word choices. The novel's ending turns on chest bruising still evident on a clothed body found four months after death out in the wilderness--not possible in that wet weather or terrain. The body leads to a murder charge against one of the book women and a trial. The trial proceedings feel thin and artificial.
In addition to the specific elements seemingly copied from Richardson's BOOK WOMAN and addressed by others, JJM's story arc follows that of the main character in the earlier novel: young woman in a bad marriage finds a way out by becoming a mule-riding traveling librarian. Along the way, she finds the love of her life. JJM could have been more original here too.
The other romance elements--and there are several more, with both good and bad outcomes--are the core of the story. But they are smothered by the borrowed topic and other flaws. This whole novel might have worked in a location more "at home" to Moyes and without her admitted rushing to get this out soon after Richardson's treatment of identical subjects.