Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: The Movement of Stars

Summary: It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price has lived all twenty-four years of her life according to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, and a woman’s path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different—and elusive—goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman.

And then she meets Isaac Martin, a young, dark-skinned whaler from the Azores who, like herself, has ambitions beyond his expected station in life. Drawn to his intellectual curiosity and honest manner, Hannah agrees to take Isaac on as a student. But when their shared interest in the stars develops into something deeper, Hannah’s standing in the community begins to unravel, challenging her most fundamental beliefs about work and love, and ultimately changing the course of her life forever.

Inspired by the work of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in America, The Movement of Stars is a richly drawn portrait of desire and ambition in the face of adversity. -- Riverhead

A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to receive a guest post from debut author Amy Brill. I loved her fun look at book clubs and immediately knew that I'd love to meet her. However, I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me quite a few months to actually pick up her novel THE MOVEMENT OF STARS. So when I discovered that she would be attending this year's Penguin Bash, I realized that the timing was perfect to finally get around to reading her book.

THE MOVEMENT OF STARS is perfect for fans of historical fiction.. and I don't mean the type that deals with kings and queens. This novel takes place in 1845 in Nantucket and follows the path of Hannah Price, a young Quaker woman who is fascinated by astronomy. She lives alone with her father ever since her twin brother left on a whaling ship, and her dad has always encouraged her to study the stars. Hannah's sets a goal for herself that she will discover a comet and win a medal awarded by the King of Denmark.

However, Hannah's father decides to get married and move to Philadelphia and he expects Hannah to follow. Despite his approval of her interest in astronomy, her father makes it clear that he wants her to come with him unless she is able to find a husband. Hannah quickly realizes that she has little say in her own future.

To make things even more complicated, Isaac a whaler from Azores, enters the picture when he asks her for some instruction in learning how to read his ship's chronometer. Hannah finds herself attracted to this man; and while the Quaker community claims to be against slavery, it's not exactly understanding of Hannah's dealings with a dark-skinned man.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE MOVEMENT OF STARS although I admit that it took me a little while to really get vested in Hannah's story. On one hand, I was fascinated by the idea of a female astronomer in the mid 1800s (the story was actually inspired by Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer); however, I had issues with Hannah. While I did respect her determination, I found her a bit hard to like. She was very matter of fact and judgmental at the same time; and I thought her feelings were secondary to her intellect.

Having said that, what I ended up liking so very much about THE MOVEMENT OF STARS was how much Hannah's character evolved throughout the story. Hannah was 24 years old when the novel began, which isn't typically the age for a coming-of-age story, but in so many ways that's what this story was. Through the hardships that Hannah faced, she became much more open and tolerant towards others; and she even learned to accept her feelings. By the end of the novel, I felt as if I understood Hannah and was even rooting for her.

I think THE MOVEMENT OF STARS would make a wonderful book club selection. There is a reading guide available with eight interesting questions. It also might be fun to request a Skype chat with the author! She is extremely sweet and funny and I'm sure it would be fascinating to hear about the research she conducted while writing this novel -- or her story about delivering a baby in a cab! Some of the book's themes that you might want to explore include religion, spirituality, love, family dynamics, the role of women in society, community, second chances, change, forgiveness, science, prejudice, and acceptance.

THE MOVEMENT OF STARS is an extremely well written story about a strong woman. Recommended for fans of historical fiction and women's literature.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I knew I had heard of this one and gotten interested, and then I saw it was because you had already featured a guest post! I really want to read this one!

Beth F said...

This has been on my list too -- I really need squeeze in more reading time.

bermudaonion said...

This does sound interesting, especially since it's based on a real woman who wasn't a queen! lol Hopefully Hannah mellowed out as she got older and became less judgmental.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Yeah I'm not real big on kings and queens, but I'm fascinated with more recent parts of history, particularly ones about women forging their own path. I'll keep my eye open for this one!

Amused said...

I haven't heard of this one before but I adore historical fiction. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!