Reviewed by Laura
This book is told through the eyes of Alice Wright, a young English woman who impulsively marries a handsome, rich American named Bennett Van Cleve. She is more than ready to be through with the tedium of English society and imagines a beautiful new life when she follows Bennett to his hometown in Kentucky. Only Baileyville, Kentucky is a small coal mining town with not a city in sight, and from the first night in her new home, nothing is as she dreamed. Instead of a romantic existence with a dashing husband, she is forced to live in the house of her father-in-law, a selfish owner of the local mine who puts profit above all else. Having the majority of the town’s livelihood, and in fact, their very lives in his hands, he feels he can dictate what is and isn’t acceptable. This includes those in his own household as well as the people of Baileyville. Alice is appalled that her husband lives under his father’s thumb and that the romance she envisioned doesn’t exist.
When a call is made for riders for Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice is happy to oblige. She can’t stand the thought of spending the rest of her days in the stifling, loveless environment of the Van Cleve household. Being able to move freely in the fresh air of the beautiful Kentucky mountains sounds like heaven. It turns out that it is and it isn’t. The work is hard and dangerous, yet the scenery is breathtaking, and Alice makes true friends among the other members of the packhorse librarians while being taken under the wing of their leader, Margery O’Hare. Ms. O’Hare is a true character in every sense of the word (In fact, she reminds me of my paternal grandmother!). She has never allowed anyone, men included, to tell her what to do. This is virtually unheard of during the depression era in a small Appalachian mountain town. Refusing to follow the mainstream, she still works for the good of the town and is the first to take Alice into her home when life goes awry. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished, and due to a series of events, the packhorse librarians find themselves at odds with the townspeople.
This is a wonderful book filled with suspense, romance, and the unique and incredible power of books. There have been rumors of plagiarism from Kim Michele Richardson’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek; but having read both, I found no real evidence of it. Certainly, there are a few similarities, as they are both about the wonderfully brave librarians of Eastern Kentucky, but the stories focus on decidedly differing elements of their legacy. I enjoyed both of these books tremendously. Being from Southeastern Kentucky, I love reading anything set in those beautiful mountains, but for me, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek captured the essence of the mountains and its people in a truer and much more enthralling manner. My advice is to read and enjoy them both, and if you get a chance, let me know which one you preferred!
(Special side note—this book is in development as a major motion picture.)