*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Giver of Stars and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Comparison, I provide your book club with a brief summary and comparison, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
I actually saw The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek long before The Giver of Stars released, but passed it by because I thought the subject might be a little heavy based on the description and I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy book. When The Giver of Stars released, I had no idea by the cover that it was about Pack Horse Librarians, but after reading the description, my interest was peaked and I decided to read it.
The controversy revolves around possible plagiarism on Jojo Moyes part, asserting that parts of The Giver of Stars are too similar to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek to be a coincidence.
I read The Giver of Stars first, unaware of the controversy. After reading, I was shocked to see the accusations from many readers in reviews, many of them citing the Buzzfeed article where the similarities are outlined. Instead of reading the article, I decided to read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek next and form my own opinion.
After reading both, I was confused and surprised that so many readers were vehemently choosing one or the other. The books were very different to me and BOTH worth reading. I’ve completed separate posts going into more detail on each. You can check out the posts on The Giver of Stars and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek for more.
Yes, the topic is Pack Horse Librarians, a Works Progress Administration program enacted by Roosevelt in the 1930s to bring books to rural Kentucky, but both authors created a book on the same subject in very different way. After I finished both books, I did finally read the article and, to me, the similarities outlined were minor.
If you disagree, think about this–this is a new subject to fiction. No other books I can think of have been written on it. Yet, there are hundreds to thousands of novels written about World War II. In those books, we expect to see spies, someone facing starvation, someone being tortured physically or mentally by a Nazi, etc.
It’s not surprising to me that Moyes and Richardson would have studied the time period and the facts and come up with story elements that coincidentally are similar. Including adding colored librarians, because of the times we are in (and it’s just important), placing antagonists along the lonely routes through the mountains, because that seems the most logical way to add tension, and creating love interests, because readers love and expect this. As a writer, I read with that eye. I’m always considering what I would add to a book on the subject, and I have to say I would have added some form of those things myself.
Let me talk a little about how the two novels are very different rather than scrutinizing their similarities.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a novel about a single woman who faces severe persecution because of her Blue skin. This alone is worth reading about because it’s based on the real-life blue-skinned people of Kentucky, a new subject and fascinating for me. She is also a Pack Horse Librarian who takes books via horseback to her patrons in rural Appalachia. The book is primarily about her inner struggle to accept herself. It is written in a literary style. It does an exceptional job of highlighting the true-to-life details of life in Appalachia. And, it should be on your book club list.
The Giver of Stars is a friendship novel about five Pack Horse Librarians. It centers on two of the women and follows their struggles through love and life. The women fight to find their voices in a time and place where women didn’t have much say. It is a plot-driven novel that will have you cheering, but many of the true-to-life details of life in Appalachia are glossed over or not addressed. Still, any book club would love this book.
Personally, I loved them both and think they are both worth a read! And, if you read them both, it will make for a lively book club discussion I can promise you that. You can dedicate one meeting to each book with a bonus meeting to the comparison of the two and you’ll have plenty to talk about. If you’d like to read the full review of The Giver of Stars, click here. For the full review of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, click here. If you are looking for a comparison of The Giver of Stars and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, keep reading! I’ve got book club questions and a recipe for your book club meeting!
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Here’s a brief summary of both The Giver of Stars and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek:
Hoping to escape her life of suffocating expectations in England, Alice marries the handsome Kentuckian Bennett Van Cleve. The honeymoon is cut short when she finds herself in an equally stifling situation under the watchful eye of Bennett’s strict father in a small and secluded Kentucky town. When the chance arises to join the Pack Horse Library, Alice steps forward despite Van Cleve’s disapproval. There, she meets independent Margery O’Hare, who encourages Alice to stand up for herself and fight for true love. The bond they form with each other and the other three Pack Horse Librarians is tested in unforgettable ways as they journey through the dangers of the Appalachian mountains to bring its hardscrabble residents hope through books.
In the poverty-stricken Appalachian town of Troublesome Creek, Roosevelt’s Pack Horse Library Project aims to bring education to citizens so far up the mountains that they’ve rarely seen a book. Cussy Mary is a proud Pack Horse Librarian, but she’s also a Blue. The last of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky, according to her father, a group thought of as untouchable and cursed. As she travels to her patrons, delivering them hope through books, Cussy must fight against nature, starvation, racial prejudices, sexism, and her own inner-critic. As she struggles to fight the shame she’s carried for so long, she finds the courage to be herself and speak the voice that’s been quieted.
For The Giver of Stars and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Comparison recipe:
I decided to make a third recipe for these two books, although you can find each book’s recipe on the blog. For The Giver of Stars, I made an Apple Cake with Bourbon Honey glaze. For The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, I created a Scripture Cake, a fascinating historical dish. Both of those are warm, spicy cakes and delicious in their own rights. But, I decided to go ahead and create a third cake for this post. Because, cake.
I’ve actually been featuring mostly desert related recipes on the blog lately, but that wasn’t my original intent. In fact, I would say baking is my weak spot. A lot of books mention desserts, though. And, the good thing about desserts is that they are a great dish to serve to a book club, especially when you add hot coffee. Everyone loves to indulge in sweets, caffeine, and juicy conversation.
For this cake, I wanted to create something with vanilla and bourbon. After some research, I discovered a popular Kentucky cake is a Butter Cake, which is normally cooked in a bundt pan. A little more research took me to The Suburban Soapbox’s version where she altered the recipe to include bourbon and bake as a traditional cake. I made a few adjustments of my own, and the result was amazing.
This is a two-layer cake soaked in bourbon, cream, and vanilla and iced with cream cheese frosting. ‘Nough said.
Really it was delicious. The bourbon flavor wasn’t overpowering at all. In fact, I thought there was just a hint of it once it was all said and done, despite the fact that you add it to the cake batter and the soak. The vanilla bean paste, which you can buy here, really softened the bourbon.
It’s a little pricey, but will last you a very long time. It adds a little something special to recipes that call for vanilla. But, if you don’t want to spend the money, regular vanilla extract will work as well.
Either way, try this decadent dessert! Your book club will be impressed! It’s worth all the effort. If you are looking for food ideas for The Giver of Stars or The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, look no further!
Bourbon Vanilla Bean Cake
- Electric mixer
For the Cake:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter room temperature
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 4 eggs room temperature
- ¼ cup bourbon
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or regular vanilla extract
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons bourbon
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or regular vanilla extract
- 1 cup butter room temperature
- 8 oz cream cheese softened
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or regular vanilla extract
For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
- In a second bowl, mix together the bourbon, heavy cream, and vanilla.
- Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and granulated and brown sugars in a separate, third bowl. Once the butter and sugar are fluffy, add in the eggs one at a time until mixed.
- Slowly pour in the flour continuing to run the mixer on medium low speed. Alternate the addition of the flour with the heavy cream mix until everything is incorporated.
- Pour the batter evenly into two 9-inch cake pans that have been coated with butter and flour.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
- Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then turn out of the pans and allow to cool completely.
For the cake soak:
- Whisk together the heavy cream, bourbon, and vanilla.
- Brush the side of the cake that will be facing upwards once iced with the heavy cream mixture. Going over the two cakes until the entire mix is distributed.
For the icing:
- Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth.
- Add in the powdered sugar, one cup at a time.
- Once the frosting is well incorporated, turn the mixer to a medium-high speed and beat until the mix lightens in color and becomes fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- To assemble:
- Place one layer of cake on a cake stand.
- Using an ice cream scoop, add 1-2 scoops of icing onto the top of the first layer. Smooth out with a spatula.
- Next, add the second layer of cake.
- Using an ice cream scoop, add 1-2 scoops of icing on the top of the second layer. Smooth out with a spatula.
- Using the remaining icing, ice the sides of the cake, swirling to meet the top of the cake so that icing covers all surfaces.
- Have fun and decorate with flowers or other food-safe items!
The Giver of Stars and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Comparison Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- How has reading both books made you appreciate librarians? Did it make you appreciate the ability to access so many books so easily these days? Did you personally know anyone who was part of the Pack Horse librarians or another traveling library?
- The Pack Horse librarians traveled miles each day alone through the mountains. In The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Cussy spent every night alone as her Pa went to work at the coal mine and in The Giver of Stars, Margery lived alone. Would you have been as brave? How do you think the definition of courage changes relative to time period and economic conditions?
- The books both address discrimination including racial, gender, and class discrimination. Discuss the various ways both books highlighted the topics. Examples: Alice’s discrimination for her accent, both Sophia and Queenie as black librarians, Cussy’s blue skin, Alice and Cussy both facing poor marriage matches and the consequences, Margery’s morality due to her life choices, and more.
- Education empowers people. However, in both books we see that sometimes, despite education, prejudices and preconceived notions take precedence. Discuss the ways this was exhibited and discuss your own experiences with this, if time allows.
- Did you think that the two books were too similar? What parts stood out as the same to you? Or did you consider them two different books on a shared topic?
- The Giver of Stars is primarily a friendship-against-the-odds book. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is primarily a late coming-of-age book. Which did you like better? Why?
- After reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek and seeing the rampant poverty throughout, how did it change how you saw some of the characters in The Giver of Stars? Do you wish this truth about the Appalachia culture had played a larger part in that book?
- Alice and Margery both experience their own hero’s journeys and emerge triumphant. Cussy experiences a journey as well. Did you wish Cussy might have experienced more victory over her hardships or were you glad Richardson chose to include a realistic plot and ending for her?
- Did the controversy around the two novels make you want to read both books or were you interested without it? Would you read more books on the topic?
- What other niche historical topic would you love to read a book about?
- Has a librarian ever impacted your life in a powerful way? Discuss how the power story and reading has played in your life. Consider ways you and your book club can pass on this gift to someone in need of inspiration, encouragement, and hope.
Have you read The Giver of Stars or The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek? What did you think? Will you read both books? What are some similar books about librarians or a niche history topic that you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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