Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

Hello Challengers!

How did your reading go this month? I hope you found something interesting for our Jojo Moyes read-alike month. I hadn’t read anything by Moyes, so I choose one of her more popular titles, The Giver of Stars.

Taking place in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, The Giver of Stars dramatizes the work of the WPA Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky which ran from 1935 to 1943. Hobbled by poverty, isolation and lack of resources, the people of this area had little access to reading material. The Packhorse Librarians brought books, newspapers and magazines to far flung mountain homes, facing difficult terrain, bad weather and suspicious landowners. Their hard work provides a fascinating backdrop to the stories and adventures of the people of this beautiful but unforgiving land.

The small town of Baileyville. Kentucky has been hit hard by the Great Depression. Coal mining has provided some jobs, but at great cost both to the miners and their families and to the land. Alice Van Cleve, recently arrived from England and newly married to the son of the mine owner, she finds it nearly impossible to fit in. When the call goes out for ladies to help run the newly established Packhorse library, she is quick to volunteer despite the objections of her conservative husband and father-in-law. Away from her overbearing family and loveless marriage,  Alice has more freedom and independence than she has ever known and grows to love the land and the people she serves.

Alice and the other library workers face many obstacles including a catastrophic flood, townspeople who try to shut down the library as “unChristian”, lack of funds and materials, wild animals and treacherous terrain. There’s some romance, some heartbreak and a murder mystery. Through it all, Alice and her library friends form an unbreakable bond, coming together to support and celebrate. I especially enjoyed reading about and was impressed by the hard work these women did and their dedication to their patrons and literacy.

Earlier in the month I mentioned that I had read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson a couple years ago. It is also about the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky and was published just a few months before The Giver of Stars. At the time, there was some controversy that Moyes’ book had plagiarized  the earlier book. I didn’t feel that though – while both books center on the Packhorse Librarian program during the Great Depression, the characters and what happens to them are very different. Both are worth reading!

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in April?

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Tiffy needs a place to live, now, but her low-paying editorial assistant job doesn’t exactly allow for posh digs. Or anyplace that’s habitable really. So, against the advice of friends, she takes a flatshare. It’s a nice apartment in a great location in central London and she can actually afford the rent, what’s not to like? Ok, her new flatmate is a guy and there’s, um, only one bed but! He works nights as a pallative care nurse and spends the weekends at his girlfriends’ place so they’ll never see each other. Right? Great! Problem solved!

Leon needs some extra cash. He loves his job but it takes most of his energy and time so a second job isn’t the answer. He’s almost never at his flat except to sleep during the day so why not share the space? It’s a great plan! Leon’s girlfriend shows the potential roomie the flat and assures Leon that Tiffy is dull and unattractive. Perfect! Leon doesn’t even have to meet the flatmate, it’s all tidy and anonymous and great! Except, Tiffy brings some of her things to the flat – which, ok, to be expected – but they’re bright and girly and the opposite of dull. Huh.

Then the post-it notes begin. At first it’s formal and impersonal – “Help yourself to the leftover cookies!” – but pretty soon their notes become friendlier and bits of their personalities shine through. Tiffy is bright and funny and optimistic and Leon is kind and patient. Of course, inevitably, they run into each other, in the flesh. Literally. Sparks fly. Tiffy is not dull and unattractive. Leon has recently broken up with his girlfriend. Can Tiffy and Leon move from flatmates to friends to something more?

The Flatshare is a fun romance. The final outcome is pretty much inevitable but the path these two take is interesting and adds a lot to the story. There is the shadow of domestic abuse (NOT between Tiffy and Leon) and the long term damage it causes, staying loyal to someone when everyone else has doubts, taking a risk and walking through that door, opening yourself up to love again. Leon and Tiffy are great characters that you’ll root for, and their supporting cast are fun and interesting. Plus, it’s set in London. Blimey! What’s not to like?