Book Review: Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

rom Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank, comes her much-anticipated second novel, which tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.   At the age of thirty-five, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium—with her three children and nanny in tow—to study art. It is a chance for this adventurous woman to start over, to make a better life for all of them, and to pursue her own desires.  Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her children repair to a quiet artists’ colony in France where she can recuperate. Emerging from a deep sorrow, she meets a lively Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who falls instantly in love with the earthy, independent, and opinionated “belle Americaine.”             Fanny does not immediately take to the slender young lawyer who longs to devote his life to writing—and who would eventually pen such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson’s charms, and the two begin a fierce love affair—marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness—that spans the decades and the globe. The shared life of these two strong-willed individuals unfolds into an adventure as impassioned and unpredictable as any of Stevenson’s own unforgettable tales.

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My Review:

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.

Check out these reviews!

  • “An exhilarating epic about a free-spirited couple who traveled the world yet found home only in one another.” – Reading the Past
  • “Overall, I was thrilled with this novel.  On one hand, I could not put the novel down because I wanted to know what would happen next.  On the other, I felt I should not because I did not want the story to end.” – Amy’s Scrap Bag
  • “Call me a romantic, but I ended this book with a smile on my lips for having read it, for having had the pleasure to travel back in time through Horan’ work into the lives of two people who made me feel there is a thing such as soul-mates after all.” – One Reader – A Thousand Lives

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