The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek 

Kim Michele Richardson

 

3.25

The story opens as Cussy Mary Carter, otherwise known as the Book Woman, is riding her mule Junia to deliver books. She finds a man hanging from a tree, blood is dripping down his body exposing blue nails on this hands and feet, while an infant lies on the ground crying.

The year is 1936. In the remote Kentucky Hills of an area known as Troublesome Creek, resides the Carter Family. Elijah Carter, Cussy’s father, works in the coalmines and is ill from inhaling years of coal dust. He is determined to find Cussy, 19, a husband before he dies. He promised his wife before she passed, that would make sure that Cussy was taken care. Before Carter would leave for work, he would light the courting candle on the front porch. This would signal eligible men to come and court his daughter. He had arranged several men in the past, offering the deed to his land as dowry. But as soon as the men saw Cussy, they left. Cussy and her father were the last in line of the blue people who founded the area. They were descendants of a blue man from France who came to the remote area of Kentucky on a land grant. He married a white woman and they had several children; some were different shades of blue and some white. Some would leave the area but those remaining would marry cousins, passing the color on. The townspeople treated the blue people the same way they treated the other ‘colored’ people:  diseased, damaged, dirty, not equal, a different race. 

Cussy’s mother loved books and had quite a collection. She passed her love of reading onto Cussy. In 1935, President Franklin D Roosevelt created the Work and Progress Administration, which allowed women to work and bring art and literature into the hills of out of reach places such as Kentucky. One job that became available was that of a book woman who would deliver books by horseback to remote areas. Cussy applied directly to the administration for fear that the local librarian would not hire her due to her skin color. She was right. Cussy loved the patrons on her route. The one rule of a pack librarian is that she had to be single. Cussy did not want to marry and lose her job, a job that she loved.

One night, Elijah lit the courting candle and Charlie Frazier walked up on the porch. He asked to see the land deed and after reading it several times, he agreed to wed Cussy. Cussy did not want to marry this man. He was old, dirty, smelled disgusting, and rough. Cussy plead with her father to let her stay home and continue the job that she loved but her father wanted her married. After a quick legal ceremony right there, he took Cussy home. He brutally raped and beat her, breaking her arm. He died that night of a heart attack. Cussy’s father took her home and the doctor attended to Cussy and Charlie’s body. Cussy inherited his mule, Junia. Junia was frightened and covered with sores from being beat by Charlie. Cussy nursed Junia back to health. Now widowed, Cussy is able to continue her job as a librarian. She still had one fear to face every time she went out. That was Vester Frazier, a cousin of Charlie’s. Vester Frazier was a minister who was a fanatic at baptizing and yes, killing, those who were different in appearance. He was constantly following and threatening Cussy. After an incident occurs with Vester, Doc offers to cover it up by making an agreement with Elijah and Cussy, to allow Doc to take Cussy to the hospital with him once a month. He wants to examine her and draw blood and try to see if the bloodwork would tell him why they have blue skin. Cussy agrees as long that he also brings a variety of food with him each time so that Cussy can give it to her various patrons.

Cussy has many patrons on her route that look forward to her weekly visits including:

Angelina Moffit, 16, married to an older man Willy, who now lays in bed with an infected foot due to a gunshot wound he sustained when he was caught stealing a chicken.

Martha Hannah married to Devil John, the local moonshiner, and their children

C. Cole, Hogtail’s Tower firewatcher hired by the Conservation, Corp.

Loretta Adams, 71, who has poor vision and likes Cussy to read the bible to her.

Winnie Parker, 36, the schoolteacher who lives above the school. Her husband moved to Detroit for a factory job. Winnie will move there once he is settled and has enough money. Winnie and the schoolchildren become very excited when The Book Woman arrives with new books and magazines. Cussy notices how hungry and ill the children are due to malnutrition. Many from different families succumb to pellagra.

And, Jackson Lovett who has returned home to his farm after designing and facilitating the construction of the Hoover Dam.

Hannah Harden is the Assistant Library Supervisor and Eula Foster is the Head Librarian. Both are racist and treat Cussy and Queenie, a black librarian, with disgust and hatred.

This is a story about the importance that the packhorse librarians were to the outlaying community, the prejudice/racism/laws of all colors, and the blue-skinned people of Kentucky. In 1820, Martin Fugate, a French orphan, arrived in Troublesome Creek. In the 1960’s, not the 1930’s where the book takes place, Madison Carwein, a Kentuckian hematologist, heard about the blue-skinned people and went in search of them. He discovered through bloodwork that the Fugates had congenital methemoglobinemia. This is due to an enzyme deficiency, leading to higher than normal levels of methemoglobin in the blood, which reduces oxygen capacity. Less oxygen in the blood causes the blood to appear chocolate-brown in color, causing the skin to appear blue instead of white.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

 

Patti Callahan

3.25

Joy Davidson and her husband, Bill Gresham, have two children, Douglas and Davy. Joy and Bill are both writers. Bill retreats to the attic to write whereas Joy has to take care of the boys, the house, meals, shopping, and all that entails to running a house. She admits she does not do a very good job with the house, but it leaves little time for her to write. She is working on a couple of books and a magazine series. Bill is often gone at night drinking and meeting other women. One night while he is out, Joy, an atheist, falls to her knees in desperation worrying about her husband. In that moment, she is overcome with a feeling of love, calm, and a spirit she never felt before. She stands knowing that God is real.

Joy grew up reading C.S. Lewis’s books and she continues to read them to her children. When Joy talks with a fellow writer, she learns that he knows C.S. Lewis. Her friend tells Joy and Bill that if they were to write to Lewis, that Lewis would write back. Joy knows that Lewis writes about his faith. This begins a long period of communications between Lewis and Joy. The letters become more personal and Lewis invites Joy to visit him anytime if she ever comes to England. Joy begins to have health issues. It is suggested that it would be good for her health to go to England, where she can get the healthcare she needs, and at the same time, visit and conduct research for her writing. Joy’s cousin, Renee, who has left her husband and needs a place to stay, has come to Joy for sanctuary. Since Renee will take care of the house and the boys, Joy feels free to leave. Bill had continued his drinking and cheating, and Joy had moved out of their bedroom weeks before.

Joy leaves for an extended stay in England. She stays with friends, rents rooms, and visits with Lewis. The two get together often when Joy is in Oxford and Lewis’s brother Warnie joins them. As Joy’s money runs out and Bill has nothing to send her, he tells Joy that she needs to come home so that he and Renee can have a life together. Joy returns to an abusive Bill and decides to return to England with the boys. Joy creates a new life in England with her boys as her friendship with Lewis, and his with the boys grow closer.

The two work-by-side, reading and editing each other’s writings. Joy continues to have health issues and is told by various doctors that it is nothing serious. When Joy falls in her home and breaks her leg, she goes to the hospital. She receives word that she has cancer and that is what has caused her pain all this time. After many surgeries and cancer treatments, Joy recoups in C.S. Lewis’s house. The two finally acknowledge their love for one another. When Joy returns to the hospital and is quite ill, Lewis wants to marry her before it is too late. A priest agrees to marry them in the hospital. Lewis takes her home and she miraculously feels better. They have another three years to love each other completely before Joy dies.

The Circle

 

Dave Eggers

 

3.25

After college, Mae Holland went to work for a local utility office in her hometown. When her best friend from college, Annie, calls her with a job opportunity at The Circle, a leading tech company, she jumps at the opportunity. The Circle is a company run by the Three Wiseman. Ty Gospodiner is the visionary who created a program called Tru You. This program combines a person’s online accounts, user names, and passwords all under one identity.

Eamon Bailey is the public figure for the company. He wants to make the world a better place and believes transparency from every individual will accomplish this. The company has created a very small camera that can be placed out of site, anywhere in the world. This enables a viewer to see what is happening in real time at any location.

Tom Stenton is an aggressive corporate man brought in to make the company viable.

Francis Garaventa’s parents died when he was young. He and his sisters were placed in foster care. His sisters are later abducted from their home. They are never found. Francis is creating a program that will place a tracking chip in every child. If a child is ever lost or abducted, the location will be found immediately.

Annie is high up in the company. She advises Mae on what is expected of an employee and what she can do to be successful. When Mae tells Annie that her father has Multiple Sclerosis and is unable to afford the prescriptions he needs for his disease, Annie tells Mae that they are eligible to be insured under Mae’s policy. Her parents must agree to allow the company to put cameras up in their home.  Annie is in charge of her own project called Past Perfect. This program traces the ancestry of each person from the very beginning and is open to the public

The Circle is located on acres of land and houses stores, dorms, different laboratory offices, corporate offices, fitness centers, and restaurants. All employees are expected to use their facilities and are encouraged to stay in the dorms in order to stay late at night in order to participate in the companies many social activities.

Mae is assigned to customer service and after each phone call; the consumer is asked to take a survey on his or her experience with the employee. If the score is not a perfect score, Mae is to contact the customer again until she can get her score higher on that particular call. Mae strives to be the best employee and to move up the ladder. She offers to wear a camera herself to prove her transparency and belief in to what the company believes in. The openness into one another’s life and millions of viewers being able to watch single events in real time can have devastating effects.

This concept of total transparency into one another’s life, including government officials, individual homes, and world governments, all connected as one, makes it a world of totalitarian. This is a cautionary tale into the possibility of what the internet, artificial intelligence, hacking, and spyware can accomplish if one company owns it all.

Black-Eyed Susans:

A Novel of Suspense

Julia Hearberlon

 

3.5

Tessa Cartwright is 16 when she is found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. With her best friend, Lydia, at her side, she, she tries to remember what happened to her. She attends many sessions with a therapist to unravel what she does and does not remember. When a suspect is charged and tried for the murders, Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours sends the man to death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution.

Horse

 

Geraldine Brooks

4

Horse is set in three time periods.  The historical spine of the book is based on the true story of the remarkable racehorse, Lexington, whose blistering speed drew crowds of more than twenty thousand to the track and riveted the attention of the nation, even as the country was sliding towards Civil War.  Like most of the great horses of the period, Lexington’s success relied on the skills of Black horsemen, many of whom were enslaved.  Brooks vividly captures the growing risks faced by these men and the horses they cared for as war sweeps through the South.  
 
Lexington was painted many times during his long career.  One portrait wound up in a 1980s bequest to the Smithsonian from a radical art dealer named Martha Jackson, a champion of edgy contemporary painters such as Jackson Pollock. That painting and its mysterious provenance brings the novel to bohemian New York in the 1950s and an art world roiled by exciting new means of expression. 
 
Meanwhile, in contemporary Washington DC, a scientist at the Smithsonian rediscovers the significance of a skeleton specimen simply labelled “Horse,” while an art historian tries to learn more about the Black horsemen so vividly portrayed with their charges in nineteenth century American equestrian art.  Even as they puzzle over these past mysteries, their legacy unexpectedly ensnares them. 

Three Girls from Bronzeville

A Uniquely American Memoir of Race,

Fate, and Sisterhood

 

Dawn Turner

4

They were three Black girls. Dawn, tall and studious; her sister, Kim, younger by three years and headstrong as they come; and her best friend, Debra, already prom-queen pretty by third grade. They bonded—fervently and intensely in that unique way of little girls—as they roamed the concrete landscape of Bronzeville, a historic neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, the destination of hundreds of thousands of Black folks who fled the ravages of the Jim Crow South.

These third-generation daughters of the Great Migration, come of age in the 1970s, in the warm glow of the recent civil rights movement. It has offered them a promise, that they will have more opportunities, rights, and freedoms than any generation of Black Americans in history. Their working-class, striving parents are eager for them to realize this hard-fought potential. But the girls have much more immediate concerns: hiding under the dining room table and eavesdropping on grown folks’ business; collecting secret treasures; and daydreaming about their futures—Dawn and Debra, doctors, Kim a teacher. For a brief, wondrous moment the girls are all giggles and dreams and promises of “friends forever.” Fate intervenes, first slowly and then dramatically, sending them careening in wildly different directions.

In her memoir, Dawn writes of the closeness of family members including aunts, uncles, and grandparents. She is smart, works hard and is sensible. Her sister is the total opposite. Debra tries to talk sense into her, but Kim chooses her own path, which leads to heartache for the entire family. When Debra’s family moves away, Debra gets into trouble and eventually finds herself in jail for murder, which was an accident but the law did not see it that way.

What makes Dawn Turner --- as a character and as a writer --- so excellent to read is her willingness to explore and share the full picture, never once shaming or criticizing Debra or Kim. Although Dawn reads as the success story of the group, she too is touched by the choices of her earliest friends, and it is this sensitivity that makes her writing of the lives of Debra and Kim so pure. Dawn asks “why?” Why did three girls, all born in the same city of Black excellence and history, who dreamed of stable careers and warm houses, end up in such wildly different scenarios

A Spark of Light

Jodi Picoult

2.5

The Center is a women's reproductive health services clinic. It offers birth control, examinations, and abortions. There are always protestors standing outside, harassing the women who go into the Center. One late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.  Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic. Her aunt had taken her there for birth control. Wren did not want to tell her father. Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a group of women, all there for different reasons. There is a nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who travels to the Center on certain days, to provide help to the women, for reasons of their own, have chosen not to continue their pregnancy. He is very gentle and caring, talking through the procedure abut other things to help distract the woman and to help her relax. There is a pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy, just at the cutoff date of 16 weeks. There is the staff and the owner. Then, there is George, the gunman who is angry because his daughter had previously gone there for an abortion.

The story begins with the last hour of the day. Each chapter begins with the previous hour of the day. Each chapter tells the story of the different women who are inside the clinic. It becomes very tedious reading about each women every chapter and at times, confusing ones story with another’s. A better way to read this book would be to begin at the final chapter and work your way back to the beginning of the book. The book does describe the different methods of abortion 

River of the Gods

Candace Millard

4

For millennia, the location of the Nile River's headwaters was shrouded in mystery. In the 19th century, there was a frenzy of interest in ancient Egypt. At the same time, European powers sent off waves of explorations intended to map the unknown corners of the globe – and extend their colonial empires.

Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke were sent by the Royal Geographical Society to claim the prize for England. Burton spoke twenty-nine languages, and was a decorated soldier. He was also mercurial, subtle, and an iconoclastic atheist. Speke was a young aristocrat and Army officer determined to make his mark, passionate about hunting, Burton's opposite in temperament and beliefs.

From the start, the two men clashed. They would endure tremendous hardships, illness, and constant setbacks. Two years in, deep in the African interior, Burton became too sick to press on, but Speke did, and claimed he found the source in a great lake that he christened Lake Victoria. When they returned to England, Speke rushed to take credit, disparaging Burton. Burton disputed his claim, and Speke launched another expedition to Africa to prove it. The two became venomous enemies, with the public siding with the more charismatic Burton, to Speke's great envy. The day before they were to publicly debate, Speke shot himself.

Yet there was a third man on both expeditions, his name obscured by imperial annals, whose exploits were even more extraordinary. This was Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who was enslaved and shipped from his home village in East Africa to India. When the man who purchased him died, he made his way into the local Sultan's army, and eventually traveled back to Africa, where he used his resourcefulness, linguistic prowess and raw courage to forge a living as a guide. Without Bombay and men like him, who led, carried, and protected the expedition; neither Englishman would have come close to the headwaters of the Nile, or perhaps even survived.

Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club

 

J. Ryan Stradal

 

3

The journey begins in 1934 when Betty and her daughter, Florence, scrounging for pancakes in a restaurant in Red Wing, meet Floyd, owner of a North Woods supper club. Floyd pays their bill and gives them a ride north and a place to stay in an old resort cabin. Soon, Betty is waitressing at the Lakeside Inn, and Florence is falling for a busboy. Betty later marries Floyd and expects Florence to continue working at the club. Florence does not want any part of the restaurant. Florence later marries and has a daughter, Mariel.  Mariel falls in love with the heir to Jorby's restaurant chain, Ned Prager who she meets when their family vacations every summer Up North. Ned and his sister have different views on how to run the restaurant chain. After he and Mariel marry, Ned sells his share of the chain to his sister. Mariel loves the restaurant and her grandparents. She knows when they die, Florence will sell the club. Mariel does not want that to happen.

When tragedy strikes their family, it tears the family apart. The relationship between Ned and Mariel, and that of Florence with the couple has caused a great divide.

The story crosses over three generations with a variety of characters that weave in and out of their lives.

Send for Me

Lauren Fox

3.5

At the beginning of the novel, Annelise is a Jewish teenager living in Germany in the 1930s with her parents. They get up every morning by 4AM to be at the bakery the own to make the fresh bread and pastries ready when they open for the day. They are a mainstay in their community. Annelise often clashes with her mother, Klara, while they both work in the bakery, but Klara is determined to instill a strong work ethic in her daughter.

Annelise begins a relationship with a boy from school, Max, falling in love with him and dreaming of marriage. Despite making plans together and pursuing a serious relationship, Max leaves Annelise for somebody else, breaking her heart and upending her future. As Annelise grows older and meets another man, the politics in Germany begin to deteriorate and the community grows less safe for Jews. Their bakery has lost many customers and young men in brown outfits begin to stand outside the door, discouraging customers from going inside

Annelise marries Walter and they settle down to have a baby. Annelise’s parents did not approve of Walter at first as he was previously married, but they change their minds when they witness his devotion to their daughter. Annelise and Walter have their German citizenship revoked and must leave the country after their daughter, Ruth, is born. Annelise is distraught that she will not be able to raise her daughter alongside her own mother, but she knows that Germany is no longer safe for her new family. She and Walter promise Annelise’s parents that they will make all the necessary arrangements and send for them when it is completed.

Annelise and Walter travel by boat to the United States and settle with a host family, the Vogel’s, while they try to find jobs and their own place to live. Annelise works as a house cleaner and laundress while Walter works in a local shop. They both dream of returning to Germany and keep up to date on the news through her mother’s letters. They work hard to get visas for Annelise’s family to no avail.

Concurrently with Annelise’s story is the story of her granddaughter, Clare, who lives in modern-day Milwaukee. Clare is living at home with her mother, Ruth. She goes down to the basement and finds all the boxes that her mom had left there since they had moved into their home, unopened. Clare finds a packet of letters from Germany that her great grandmother, Klara, had sent to her grandmother years ago, dating back to when Annelise and Walter first moved there. She reads everyone.

This is a story of family and the choices one has to make to leave one’s own family to protect the new family you now have. It is also the story of the many Jewish people who had the opportunity to leave Germany before it was too late, and those left behind whose fate was left in the control of the Nazi’s.

West with Giraffes

Lynda Rutledge

 4

The year is 2025 and Woodrow Wilson Nickel has passed away in a Veterans Hospital at the age of 105. He has left behind a trunk filled with notes and a porcelain giraffe. The woman, who goes through his trunk, begins to read from the pages.

Woody knows that he is dying but before he goes, he must write down his story. Girl, the female giraffe, appears to him through his window and he talks to her. Whenever an aide interrupts him, he insists that they leave him alone. He must finish his writing before it is too late. He leaves directions as to where the giraffe and story are to be sent.

The story opens in New York City in the year 1938. A hurricane has hit the coast causing much damage and taking many lives. A big ship begins to unload and walk out two giraffes. Mrs. Benchley is the curator of the San Diego Zoo. She has purchased the two giraffes from Africa. They are to be driven cross-country to the zoo. Woody, 17, had arrived in the city after fleeing the Texas Oklahoma panhandle. He was hoping to stay with a relative, Cuz, but Cuz turned out to be mean. Woody overhears that the giraffes are on their way to California. Woody decides this is his opportunity to get to California by following the giraffes. He follows the giraffes to an enclosure for the night. It is here that he sees a woman with red hair taking photographs of the giraffes. She is also arguing with the man she is with who is driving a green car. Woody hides out there for the night. Riley Jones is the driver hired by Mrs. Benchley to make sure the giraffes get to the zoo safely. He has another man, Percival, to help him with the drive and to take care of the giraffes. As they hit the road, Augusta “Red” Lowe follows the truck. She is a photojournalist, hoping to be able to sell her photos to Life Magazine.

Through a series of mishaps, Woody has finagled himself to be Riley’s driver. Riley has agreed until they reach a certain destination where he will find another driver. The drive does not go as smoothly as he hoped. They see a traveling circus on the train tracks. The owner of the circus has seen them as well and now is trying to reach them at their next stopover to steal the giraffes. Their trek takes them through narrow bridges, mountains, dust storms, flat tires, and other obstacles. In the meantime, Red as befriended and stole Woody’s young heart.

This may be a story of transporting two giraffes from one coast to another, but it is also of the love and compassion between humans and animals. It is also a true story of the two giraffes and the trek they took from one coast to the other.