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Summary and book reviews of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

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
    May 2019, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman's belief that books can carry us anywhere―even back home.

The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything -- everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt's Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome's got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.

Cussy's not only a book woman, however, she's also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy's family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she's going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Kentucky Pack Horse program was implemented in 1935 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to create women's work programs and to assist economic recovery and build literacy. Looking at the novel, how did the program affect the people in this remote area? Do you think library programs are still a vital part of our society today?
  2. How has a librarian or booklover impacted your life? Have you ever connected with a book or author in a meaningful way? Explain.
  3. Missionaries, government, social workers, and various religious groups have always visited eastern Kentucky to reform, modernize, and mold hillfolk to their acceptable standards. Do you think Cussy faced this kind of prejudice from the outside world? Is there any prejudice ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.
You can see the full discussion here.

Cussy has to deal with the loss of many loved ones in a very short amount of time. How do you think she handles her grief? Which loss was the most difficult for you to read?
Young Henry’s death was the hardest for me, but Cussy’s strength and perseverance made it easier for me. I know that living when and how and where she did, this was not unusual for her - her interaction and rapport with the family and their situation... - susiej

How did the WPA affect the people in this particular remote area and across the country? Do you think a program similar to the WPA would be a good thing today?
WPA projects in my opinion brought a lot of literacy to the people isolated in the mountains. The projects also preserved a lot of history that would have bene forgotten otherwise. Would love to see something like this today. It would give employment... - alycet

How do you think Cussy's father feels after he marries her off to an abusive man? Why do you think he agrees to Charlie Frazier's proposal in the first place?
I think Cussy’s father felt that he had failed utterly to fulfill what he believed to be his obligation as a parent: to see that Cussy was safe and protected after he died. He knew that her life would be even more difficult as a single woman in ... - Elizabeth Marie

How does Cussy’s social isolation affect her relationships with others?
I think she was willing to put herself out to the patrons on her route because of her own isolation. She became their lifeline. - scgirl

How has a librarian or booklover impacted your life?
My father was my book reader model. He read to us every night even when we got old enough to read to ourselves. In addition he would read to us in the car before books on tape were even thought of. My mom would drive and dad would read on long ... - scgirl

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BookBrowse Review


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek puts its own offbeat spin not just on classic romance but also crime, action and adventure, suspense and, of course, historical fiction—all with a flawed but sympathetic lead at its center. In addition to spotlighting a fascinating phenomenon in book history, it is itself a book lover's book, a celebration of stories and genres, an exercise in reading nostalgia...continued

Full Review Members Only (775 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Southern Literary Review
Kim Michele Richardson’s presentation of her protagonist’s challenges and perseverance within a culture hostile to deviation from norms is a significant accomplishment. Equally valuable is her reminder of the priceless necessity, the enduring thrill, of books and reading.

Richardson has penned an emotionally moving and fascinating story about the power of literacy over bigotry, hatred and fear.

Deep South Magazine
Set in the hollers of Depression-era Kentucky, the novel serves as a testament to the power of the written word, arguing that words can traverse barriers between class, race and individual differences. Richardson’s descriptions throughout the novel breathe life into the mountains, the books and the lives of her characters. She captures both the beauty of the mountains and the ugliness of ignorance. It serves as a wonderful reminder that our similarities can overcome our differences—and a love of reading is one of those similarities. In a time of constant polarization, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek reminds us that all is not lost.

Historical Novel Society
Richardson, a master of phrase, cadence, and imagery, once again delivers a powerful yet heartfelt story that gives readers a privileged glimpse into an impoverished yet rigidly hierarchical society, this time by shining a light on the courageous, dedicated women who brought books and hope to those struggling to survive on its lowest rung. Strongly recommended.

Due South Magazine, NC
Richardson’s beautiful story is one of perseverance, compassion, and self-acceptance. Through Cussy’s journey, we learn there is no struggle so worthy of our might, as the one that strives to bring joy into the lives of others.

The Post and Courier Newspaper - Charleston, South Carolina
An impressive historical novel. Authentic, lyrical. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is timely and necessary.

NB Literary Magazine UK
A superb personal read and I have no doubt many book clubs will enjoy this massively... So far, one of my favourite books this year!

London Free Press
A book that is so full of social relevance that it would be worth reading even without the wonderful descriptive writing and the fine characterizations. Lucky for readers that it has both.

Kirkus Reviews
A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Publishers Weekly
This gem of a historical from Richardson (The Sisters of Glass Ferry) features an indomitable heroine navigating a community steeped in racial intolerance.

Author Blurb Sara Gruen, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants
[A] hauntingly atmospheric love letter to the first mobile library in Kentucky and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and--just as importantly--a compassionate human connection.

Author Blurb Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Almost Sisters
Emotionally resonant and unforgettable, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a lush love letter to the redemptive power of books.

Author Blurb Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Liar Temptress Soldier Spy
A timeless and significant tale about poverty, intolerance and how books can bring hope and light to even the darkest pocket of history.

Author Blurb Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of One Foot in Eden and Serena
Fascinating…impressive storytelling.

Reader Reviews

Betty Taylor

One of the Best Books of 2019
“The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”, the last book I read in 2019, is without a doubt one of the best books of 2019. The beautiful writing pulled me into the story and kept me entranced to the very end. I was fascinated with the story of the ...   Read More


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
This title would have been one of my beloved recommendations for my patrons at the library I worked at for 36 years. The government program instituted in the 1930s took books to the isolated hills of Kentucky and was a soul saving gift to the ...   Read More

Janet Smith

Good Historical Fiction
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a gem of historical fiction. I was unaware of the Kentucky Pack Horse program or the blue skinned people of Kentucky. Although the book starts out a little slow, I found the book fascinating and an endearing ...   Read More


Couldn’t put it down
I cant say enough positive. What a great story - the blue folks and the mobile library are two parts of history I would not have known except for this book. Great characters, well written and presented, and pleasant to read. And no underlying agenda....   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Pack Horse Library Project

A librarian on horseback delivering books to a group of childrenThe WPA (Works Progress Administration) established the Pack Horse Library Project in Eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression. The program, which was championed by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, employed librarians who delivered books and other reading materials to patrons on horseback, working to both create employment and improve literacy in the remote area. The Pack Horse Library Project ran from the mid-1930s through 1943.

Eastern Kentucky had been hit hard by the Depression along with other areas of the U.S., and by the early '30s was struggling with a number of additional disadvantages: It lacked the basic infrastructure and resources available elsewhere, such as adequate roads and electricity. Around one-third of the ...

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