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Excerpt from The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

A Novel

by Kim Michele Richardson

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson X
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
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  • First Published:
    May 2019, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2019, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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Print Excerpt

Kentucky, 1936

The librarian and her mule spotted it at the same time. The creature's ears shot up, and it came to a stop so sudden its front hooves skidded out, the pannier slipping off, spilling out the librarian's books. An eddy of dirt and debris lifted, stinging the woman's eyes. The mule struggled to look upward, backward, anywhere other than at the thing in front of it.

The book woman couldn't keep her eyes off the spectacle as she shortened the reins and clamped her legs against the mule's sides. Again, she prodded her mount. Baring tall, sassing teeth, the beast lift-ed its muzzle into the balsam--sweetened air, the quavering brays blis-tering the sleepy mountain.

The woman stiffened, drawing the reins in tighter. In front of her, a body swayed back and forth below the fat branch from which it hung. A rope, collared tight around the neck, creaked from the strain of its weight. A kettle of turkey buzzards circled above, dipping their ugly, naked heads toward the lifeless form, their tail--chasing shadows rid-dling the dying grass.

From the scorched earth rose strange cries, and the librarian pulled her stunned gaze away from the corpse and toward the ground.

Beside a large toppled can, a baby lay in the dirt, the tiny face pinched, scalded with fury.

Mountain breezes dipped lazily, shifting, carrying the stench of death and its soiling. The weighted branch crackled, groaning under its bur-den. A bloodied sock inched down from a limp, cerulean--blue foot. The librarian gawked at the striking blue flesh and cupped a hand over her mouth. The stocking slipped off, landing beside the squalling baby's head.

The wind rose higher, then plunged, skittering across the sock as if trying to lift it, but it stayed stubbornly put, rooted to the earth—-too heavy to be sent off by a mere summer breeze.

The book woman looked up, lifted one darkening hand in front of her own blue--colored face as if comparing her color to that of the hanging corpse. She examined her cobalt--blue flesh, then dared to peek back up at the dead body, bound, eternally rooted like the black oak to the hard, everlasting Kentucky land so many tried so hard to escape.

One

The new year was barely fifteen hours old in Trou-blesome Creek, Kentucky, when my pa adjusted the courting candle, setting it to burn for an alarming length of time.

Satisfied, Pa carried it out of our one--room log house and onto the hand--hewn porch. He was hopeful. Hoping 1936 was the year his only daughter, nineteen--year--old Cussy Mary Carter, would get her-self hitched and quit her job with the Pack Horse Library Project. Hoping for her latest suitor's proposal.

"Cussy," he called over his shoulder, "before your mama passed, I promised her I'd see to it you got yourself respectability, but I've near-ly gone busted buying candles to get you some. Let this stick hold the fire, Daughter." He hoisted the old wrought--iron candleholder higher by its iron--forged rattail and once more played with the wooden slide, moving the taper up and down inside the spiral coil.

"I've got a respectable life," I said quietly, following him out to the porch, taking a seat on the wooden chair, and huddling under the patchwork eiderdown I'd dragged along. The first day of January had brought a skift of snow to our home in the cove. Pa set the candle down and struck a match to light a lantern hanging from the porch.

Two winter moths chased the light, circling, landing nearby. A clean wetting mingled into woodsmoke and umbrella'd the tiny cabin. Shiv-ering, I buried my nose into the coverlet as a cutting wind scraped down mountains, dragging soft whistles through piney boughs and across bare black branches.

In a minute, Pa picked back up the courting candle, raised a finger above the wick, and jutted his chin, the approval cinched in his brow.

Excerpted from The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Cheryl Richardson. Copyright © 2019 by Cheryl Richardson. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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