Customer Reviews for

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

The concept of reading a fictionalized tale of actual people and

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 Tr...
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

posted by The_Book_Goddess on January 22, 2014

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

Haunting But Slow.

Haunting But Slow. I wanted to like this novel far more than I did, unfortunately. Moran is a fine writer, and the research is impeccable. When the novel is...
Haunting But Slow. I wanted to like this novel far more than I did, unfortunately. Moran is a fine writer, and the research is impeccable. When the novel is fixated on Robert, Fanny, and their personal relationship (s), it is engaging and engrossing. Like she did in 'Loving Frank,' the author exposes the life, desires, and struggles of a woman completely overshadowed by the man she loves. Fanny Stevenson desperately wanted to be an artist, a creative force, in own right, but was constantly defeated by the time she lived in and the men controlling it. Passionate, clever, hardworking, and eccentric, Fanny embarks on a chaotic, often tragic, trajectory in her pursuit to be an independent and artistic woman. Engaging in some highly questionable parenting choices, she drags her family around the world to escape a brutish first husband and find herself. While finding Robert Louis Stevenson seems to offer her new possibilities...it offers adventures beyond their wildest dreams, but very real consequences as well. However, those travels, while fascinating to consider, become, for me, the slowest part of the novel. A great deal of time is spent detailing their lives in multiple houses, cities, countries, multiple sea voyages from one place to another, the years in Samoa with its politics and cultural difficulties. I can't help thinking that a bit less of the travelogue details would have kept this moving at a more engaging space. I found myself bogging down multiple times, putting it aside, and only coming back to the book once I had finished other reading. Overall, this is a look at a woman not known to most of us and a portrait of RLS that most of are also not aware of: even if we know the basics of his work, his Scottish heritage and his years in the South Pacific. It is just not always consistently engrossing. A side note: one of the loveliest covers I have recently seen on a book--beautiful.

posted by irishclaireKG on February 3, 2014

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  • Posted January 22, 2014

    The concept of reading a fictionalized tale of actual people and

    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

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 21, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Author Nancy Horan has penned a beautiful love story about Rober

    Author Nancy Horan has penned a beautiful love story about Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne Stevenson. It is a story about a strong woman who was not afraid to pursue life despite enduring a humiliating marriage with a philandering husband. The author does a wonderful job of bringing to life the late 1800's with excellent descriptions and details of day to day life. Like most biographical novels, there are times when one's life is not full of excitement or problems. And this is the case with Fanny and Robert's life.  The author manages this very well, and although the story is very slow at times, the result is a full and thorough accounting of their lives together. I especially enjoyed learning more about Robert Louis Stevenson, his failing health, and his determination to write works of the highest quality. 

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 27, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Under the Wide and Starry Sky

    UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY is a historical fiction novel telling a new generation the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny van de Grift Osbourne. From beginning to end, the story removes the reader to another time and place allowing him to see how things could have been in a time when divorce is a sin, while rank and privilege has both advantages and disadvantages. If you enjoy the works of Sharon Kay Penman or Wilbur Smith, you won't be disappointed with this story. Much like these authors, Nancy Horan has the ability to place the reader within the pages as Robert and Fanny live their lives day to day. They are not only historical people, but people the reader comes to care for.

    The story begins with its' focus on Fanny van de Grift and her early life. It tells of her life as a child, then her marriage and her eventual move to Paris, where she finally meets Robert Louis Stevenson. Then, she returns to the USA and the story begins to introduce the famous author, his friends, attitudes and travels. Eventually, Robert Louis Stevenson arrives in the states, where he manages to find Fanny once more. Along the way, the reader gets to see places and lifestyles hard to imagine in today’s world of computers, televisions, automobiles and instant gratification.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    The sweeping proportions of this story are almost incredible. We

    The sweeping proportions of this story are almost incredible. We see these two through their travels across England, America, Europe and even the South Seas, where they eventually wind up on the island of Samoa. The amazing amount of miles they covered - together and separately, both on land and on sea - are even more astonishing when you consider that most of their lives the two of them were desperately poor. All of this, together with the startling number of bouts of illness that Louis suffered through as well as Fanny's emotional breakdowns seems like something that could only happen in an epic novel.

    This is probably the reason why Horan chose this subject. The scope here is so enormous that there is plenty of drama. With so much of the facts available, clues to what might have been were probably bursting at the seams. It is no wonder that Horan's imagination could easily fill in the gaps and turn an ordinary biography into a piece of historical fiction. It is also not surprising that it took almost a full 500 pages to properly tell this tale.

    Of course, this does beg the question if Horan didn't bite off a touch more than she could chew, by not limiting herself to only a certain period or few periods in their lives. The problem with that, of course, is trying to decide which periods to keep and which to be left out. While I initially balked at the length of this book, I personally couldn't find more than a few paragraphs here and there that could possibly have been superfluous. Taking those out would maybe (and I repeat, only MAYBE) have reduced this by only 50 pages at the very most. Not a huge difference, so I'm guessing Horan decided it wasn't worth further editing. However, I'm positive there are many things that didn't make the final cut.

    What keeps this lengthy story from becoming a tiring tome is Horan's writing. The fluidity of her prose has been carefully matched to the era of the story, making it feel as if Fanny and Stevenson are writing it themselves. Of course, that's the whole point. If you can't make a fictional account of real writers sound like they do in their own works, you've taken on the wrong subjects. So in this Horan succeeds in spades, which does a great deal to keep the story moving ahead, despite all the details that needed to be included. We are enchanted by the poetic feel of these two people and are carried away to their harsh and exotic worlds. Horan's prose is simply gripping, as if we're reading one of Stevenson's adventure stories, and we become that anxious to find out what comes next (despite knowing the outcome from the start).

    Horan has given us an ambitious work that brings a beloved writer and the love of his life out of the dusty pages of literary history and into the bright light of day. We become familiar with the man behind the words and the woman who kept him alive long enough to make them available to the public. For this, we are thankful that Fanny was there with all her Indiana stubbornness to keep him going. What's more, she allows us to discover not only the parts of these two people that endear them to us, but also their darker sides with all their demons.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2014

    500 plus

    This is story of the woman behind the man, author Stevenson who wrote DR Jekyll and Mr Hyde. A wonderful story of life and love.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2014

    I found the story fascinating and Nancy Horan's writing elegant

    I found the story fascinating and Nancy Horan's writing elegant and lyrical, yet easily readable. It's a romantic tale of love and adventure, laced with historical fact. It does exactly what historical fiction should do - educate while entertaining. This work is a cut above . . . it is literature.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2014

    Recommend

    If you like historical fiction you'll like this. Covers a lot of ground. I didn't know anything about Robert L. Stevenson so I enjoyed learning about his life of adventure. Was easy to read and kept me engaged.

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  • Posted May 27, 2014

    I received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for this re

    I received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for this review.

    It's always a challenge to write historical fiction, especially when you're centered on 1 person or 1 family. This is historical fiction based on the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny, through their courtship, marriage, and his eventual death. Stevenson wrote such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He was from Scotland, she was from America, and several years older than he was. He was in poor health, suffering from a variety of lung ailments. (Note: these aren't spoiler alerts; this information is all available on Wikipedia.) The book follows them as they travel from France, where they met, to Scotland, California, Hawaii, Sydney, and Samoa, where Stevenson lived the rest of his life. Reading the book, you can feel how Stevenson's illness affected him. You also feel sympathy for Fanny, who wound up being his nurse for most of his life, and later suffered bouts of mental illness. The book dramatizes the writing of Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It discusses the origins of Long John Silver (no, he didn't start out owning a restaurant chain), as well as phrases such as "Shiver me timbers!" It also shows how Stevenson wrote Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and some of the underlying meanings that people even at the time it was written were reading into it. The title comes from a poem that Stevenson wrote to his wife. I almost wonder what would have happened if Stevenson had been in better health, would he have written more. Even though it is not a factual biography, the author uses quite a bit of source material to make it sound as authentic as possible. Obviously, sections where she discusses what the characters are thinking, as well as some of the conversations, are fictionalized for dramatic effect. One thing I noticed was that some chapters had the year on top, to indicate when time moved ahead, especially by a few years. I would have liked to see that on all the chapters. I only received an ARC, so I'm not sure if this was in the final copy, but I would have liked to see pictures in the book, to know what some of the people looked like. All in all, though, a good book. Also, this would be a good introduction to Robert Louis Stevenson, and those who think pirate adventures begin and end with Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Carribean movies. I'll have to start reading Treasure Island again.

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  • Posted February 21, 2014

    Great Read! Definitely worth the time

    I enjoyed this book even more than I thought I would. I loved the way historical events and the real feelings of the characters were woven into the details of the fictional story. It definitely captured my attention and I read it over a few days on a business trip. If you are at all interested in RLS or historical fiction, you should definitely read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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