The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel

by Kim Michele Richardson

Paperback, 2019

Call number




Sourcebooks Landmark (2019), 320 pages


"Cussy Mary Carter is the last of her kind, her skin the color of a blue damselfly in these dusty hills. But that doesn't mean she's got nothing to offer. As a member of the Pack Horse Library Project, Cussy delivers books to the hill folk of Troublesome, hoping to spread learning in these desperate times. But not everyone is so keen on Cussy's family or the Library Project, and the hardscrabble Kentuckians are quick to blame a Blue for any trouble in their small town. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman's determination to bring a little bit of hope to the darkly hollers"--

Media reviews

Richardson has penned an emotionally moving and fascinating story about the power of literacy over bigotry, hatred and fear.
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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
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struggling to survive on its lowest rung. Strongly recommended.
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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.
Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a
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society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky. A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.
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This gem of a historical from Richardson (The Sisters of Glass Ferry) features an indomitable heroine navigating a community steeped in racial intolerance.... Though the ending is abrupt and some historical information feels clumsily inserted, readers will adore the memorable Cussy and appreciate
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Richardson’s fine rendering of rural Kentucky life.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member bell7
Cussy Mary is a librarian in the Kentucky Pack Horse library. Her patrons are hard-to-reach hillfolk, dealing with extreme poverty made only worse by the Great Depression. Cussy is also a Blue, the last of her kind according to her Pa, an outcast in a community that sees only black and white and
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doesn't quite know what to make of her.

This historical fiction includes two fascinating elements, and learning something about the Pack Horse library was a huge draw for me. In that, I was not disappointed as Cussy narrates and tells the reader about her patrons, how the Pack Horse Library works, and the scrapbooks she would make for her patrons. I liked the story, but I never got to the point where I could fully sink in, turn off my analytical brain, and just love it. The main reason was that the story itself was pretty disjointed, with short chapters and almost an episodic feel as a conflict would be introduced and then suddenly resolved a few chapters in rather than a smooth read. And finally some aspects, such as the love interest, felt forced rather than organic. It never quite rises above a solid like with some reservations.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Cussy Mary is one of the blue Carters, a Kentucky family with blue skin. Cussy Mary and her father, a coal miner, receive the same treatment as African Americans since they’re not white. Cussy Mary’s mother died a few months before the story begins. Mining is taking a toll on her father’s
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lungs, and he wants to see his daughter married before he dies so that he knows she’ll be taken care of. Cussy Mary has a different idea. She has a job as a pack horse librarian for the WPA, delivering books and other reading material to folk in the hills and hollows of the Kentucky backwoods. As the story progresses, readers get to know the patrons on Cussy Mary’s route and share her joys and heartaches as hunger and despair steal the weak and vulnerable among them. Cussy Mary is wise for her years, and she has a generous heart that hasn’t been broken by the ill treatment she receives from so many.

This book reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books, Catherine Marshall’s Christy. Both books are about young women fighting against ignorance and prejudice to provide educational opportunities for the poor of Appalachia. The audiobook is beautifully narrated by Katie Schorr, who gets the Appalachian accent just right. And if you’re wondering, Troublesome Creek is a real place, the Pack Horse Library Project was a real WPA project during the depression, and there really was a blue-skinned family in this part of Kentucky.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
There is a lot of potential here, but it just fell flat for me. I loved Cussy's job and her heritage, but found most of the novel boring. The storyline was okay and it's perfect for people wanting an easy read that is somewhat interesting. It's not riveting. It's not a page-turner. The hillbilly
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language, which was supposed to sound authentic, just got irritating. That being said, I've read worse.
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LibraryThing member out-and-about
Read for #readharder 10 book in a rural setting (could also fit non ww 2 historical prompt #7)

So many good characters in this book! Interesting background and setting but it’s the people I’ll remember from this one. I felt like I didn’t get to spend enough time with many of the individual
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characters which is why this is a 4 star and not a 5 star for me. I appreciated the pacing, the story moved through easily. Many of the characters intertwined in different pieces also which was very well crafted. The messaging was not overdone either, and did not interrupt the storyline. The writing was a bit more terse than I like but clear and descriptive enough to draw me in. Recommended for anyone who’s into books or Appalachian history, or who is looking for a different take on what it means to be an outcast.
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LibraryThing member BoundTogetherForGood
This is a fictional account of the blue people of Kentucky. It's obvious much research went into the writing of this book. The pace is, at times calm, and easy, but the plot quickens with a couple of points. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
LibraryThing member TheQuietReader
Cussy Mary Carter is a diligent traveling librarian, but she is also the last of her kind: a blue-skinned woman. As she goes about her work, carrying books into the mountains for far-off patrons, she is faced with deep prejudices as she comes to terms with herself.

This book starts of heavy. Cussy
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Mary's life is not easy, and her father -in an honest attempt to provide for her future- gives her in marriage to a man. This leads to a scene of rape and abuse, not in too great of detail but enough to have made my stomach turn. And that is just in the first two chapters.

From there, we move on to the prejudices from town members. Also, the intense interest of the local doctor to work out a cure. All of this, combined with Cussy Mary's own uncertainties about her place in the world, made for a very serious read.

It is well told and well researched. Cussy Mary is a strong lead, it was easy to get behind her, to want her to have a happy ending.

I would recommend this to readers of historical fiction, who don't mind the darker details of the story. I was given a copy through NetGalley, and all opinions expressed are my own.
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
This was the perfect read for February, Library Lover's Month and for that matter anyone who enjoys a story told in an entertaining fashion with bits of historical information, obnoxious haters and kind people who see past the differences in others!
Richardson has written a darn good book about the
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little known Blue People of Kentucky and the Pack Horse Library Project of which, Cussy Mary Carter, one of the last of the Blues, works as a traveling book delivery person in the impoverished hill country communities of Kentucky. Cussy delivers much more than reading material, she reads to those who can not, befriends those without, consoles, educates and acts as liaison passing messages to those in the bigger city and beyond. Yet, despite her community service she, like other persons of color, is ostracized and disrespected.
Her dying father hopes to marry her off before he dies but there is little interest for a blue woman.
The author, treats Cussy's reality with moving tenderness. This is a story which will stick to me for some time.

Thank you NetGalley, Kim Michele Richardson and Sourcebooks Landmark for digital access to the Advanced Readers edition of this impressive novel. Available May 7, 2019.
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LibraryThing member jetangen4571
horror, Appalachia, prejudice, starvation, love, historical-research, historical-places-events, historical-fiction, libraries, *****
Cussy Mary Bluet is fiction. The horrors of starvation, prejudice against both blue and black skin colors, and coal mining are real. Also real is the recessant gene
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for methemogobinemia with the dubious studies and treatment of the 1930s, the pride and perseverance of the people of Appalachia, and the WPA Pack Horse Project librarians including the kindness of those who donated reading materials.
The story itself is of one Book Woman who suffered from a misunderstood trait, the debilitating prejudices of those around her, and the soul deep sadness that comes from being helpless to improve the dire living conditions of others. Despite all, the end of this book is uplifting.
I requested and received a free ebook copy from Sourcebooks Landmark via NetGalley. Thank you!
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LibraryThing member teachlz
Linda’s Book Obsession Reviews “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michele Richardson, Sourcebooks, May 7, 2019

WOW! Kudos to Kim Michele Richardson, Author of “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” for writing such an intriguing, intense, captivating, riveting, compelling and
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thought-provoking novel. I love the vivid descriptions that Kim Michele Richardson uses of the characters and landscape. The Genres for this novel are Fiction, and Historical Fiction. The time-line for this novel is the Depression in Kentucky. The story goes to the past when it pertains to the characters or events . The author describes her dramatic characters as complex and complicated.

I found two things fascinating in “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”. The first is how important the Book Women who carried books and magazines on mule or horse were to the poverty-stricken people in the hills. The people looked forward to literacy, and trying to be able to connect with their world and make it a little bigger and better. The hills were treacherous, and there were all kinds of dangers for the Book Women to negotiate.

The second thing that I am amazed with is the “Blue People” who actually exist in Kentucky. These people were really blue and considered “colored” and feared because others felt they were contagious, and inferior. There was terrible prejudice to these people. More information can be found in the story.

Food was scarce during the Depression, but the people were so grateful for the Book Woman to bring the books to loan, they would often want to share what little they had. In Troublesome, the people were lucky to have one woman deliver the books.

I loved how courageous and brave the Book Woman was. I highly recommend this amazing novel, especially for those readers who enjoy adventure and a thought-provoking book. I received an ARC for my honest review.
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LibraryThing member susan0316
It's 1936 and America is in the midst of the Depression. One of the hard hit areas is in rural Kentucky in the mountains. Work and food are scarce and entire families lose their lives to illness and starvation. The coal mines are still working but the workers are forced to work in terrible
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conditions and there are frequent problems that cause death to workers. Roosevelt has started the WPA (Works Progress Administration) which put many people to work. The Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky was part of the WPA and gave jobs to single women who delivered books and magazines to the impoverished people in the mountains.

Cussy Carter is a lonely 19 year old girl when she gets a job as a librarian carrying books to people. She is single, much to her father's dismay but she feels that she will never marry because of her blue skin. She enjoys reading and gets great joy in sharing reading material to people who have no way of getting it. She also enjoys the people on her route and becomes friends to many of them. When she goes into town, she is faced with discrimination. The sign NO COLOREDS ALLOWED, applies not only to the black residents but also the few blue residents who live in the area. (Goggle Blue people of Kentucky to find out more about this group of people.)

Cussy is a wonderful main character. Because of her love of books, she is happy to be providing reading material to other people. Due to her loneliness, she is able to identify with many of the people on her book route and makes them part of her life. The mountains of Kentucky are well described and make the story even more beautiful.

This is a wonderful story about love and family, acceptance and prejudice and importantly the love of the written word. It's this author's best book yet and I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Bookish Firsts for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
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LibraryThing member Kathl33n
I love when a book pulls a little known piece of history and creates an amazing story around it. This one did that twice. Once with the Pack Horse Librarians and then with the Kentucky Blue People. The story was told shining a very interesting light on prejudice, and on poverty. The characters were
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deeply drawn, I can picture every one of them and hear their individual voices. I just kept wondering as I read, were the two stories so unique, and so interesting, that they should have each had their own book. Could the librarians have held their own story by expanding past the main character's route? Did the blue people have more history and more stories that could have been told?

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member CassiesBooksReader
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson is a historical novel of Appalachia specifically Kentucky during the depression era. I believe this is an important book because of the historical details and research.
There are so many aspects of this book that make it special to me.
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Kentucky is home and has been my family’s home since before the American Revolution. This book appealed to me because of the pack horse librarian and medical elements as many family members have been in education and the medical field.
I first heard of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky from my mother and the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Hindman Settlement School of Troublesome Creek still exists today as an NSDAR approved and supported school. It has been exciting to read and learn more about the people of this area.
I recommend all of Ms. Richardson’s books but this one is exceptional and opened my eyes to new historical facts about Kentucky. I hope in the future that there may be a new historical book from this author about the frontier nurses of Kentucky.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. I appreciate the opportunity and thank the author and publisher for allowing me to read, enjoy and review this excellent book.
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LibraryThing member m.belljackson
Since the early writing was so intriguing and I didn't win a Bookish copy,
I ordered THE BOOK WOMAN and have been happy enough to read it twice.

It opens with a disquieting and gruesome image which fortunately moves quickly on into the tale of young blue Cussy Mary Carter, her father, and The Park
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Horse Library Project of Appalachian Kentucky. Forced by her father to marry against her strongest feelings, she is soon freed to resume her job delivering books thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt and The New Deal.

The author sets the stage beautifully, for landscape, politics, society, and, the pervading racism against both The Blues and The Blacks. Though some parts will likely make readers impatient - the father/daughter preaching-to-the-choir conversations, refusal to carry ANY kind of a weapon for protection in obvious mountain dangers, not telling ANYONE about Vester's attack and stalking, and not exchanging her doctor's requests for help to save Henry's life (or not taking him in herself!) - the balance feels authentic and makes for compelling reading.

It would also be welcome to see a sequel with Queenie expressing her true and honest reactions to Cussy's thrilled joy at finally becoming white, how her self hatred at being blue would make Queenie wonder at her insensitivity to those who are black.
Did Cussy expect black people to hate themselves?
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
From the beginning I adored Cussy or Bluet as she is called by some. A pack librarian in the Kentucky Appalachians, she delivers books to folks living in the hollers. As part of FDRs work program, she rides her mule and delivers her books. This is depression era, 1930' and people are struggling,
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making them look forward to the books, newspapers or magazines she brings. Some cannot read, so she reads to them, some are just learning to read, and some just look st the picture She is in all ways wonderful. She and her father consider themselves to be the last of the blue people of Kentucky, a genetic trait passed on, but they don't know this yet. Their father and daughter relationship is a close one, and a joy to behold.

They are considered colored, treated just as badly by some as the blacks. Bigotry and discrimination is something she faces daily. The author does a fantastic job shoeing us the past in this region, using regional dialect snd wonderful descriptions of the fauna, the hills, and the local characters. She will go through many obstacles of personal matters, but her faith and love of the written word is a message she joyfully spreads.

The book starts off rather slowly, and there are parts that are more sentimental then I usually like. Yet, her story, her character and the actual history related in this book, made those few qualms, inconsequential. The authors note explains the genetics involved in three coloring, as well as an explanation of the historical references. This is a book that shows, not tells and one can feel as if they are traveling with Cussy on her personal and professional travels. A very heartfelt story.

ARC from Netgalley.
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LibraryThing member beckyhaase
In the depths of the depression and hidden in the deep mountains of Kentucky was Troublesome Creek. The people were starving for both and learning. The WPA hired women to ride packhorses or mules and take “learning” in the form of books to
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the cabins hidden in the hills and hollows. Also hidden in those hollows were the “Blue’ people. Blues suffered from a genetic abnormality that caused their skin to range from pale blue to deep indigo. They were feared and ostracized even more than “normal” black skinned people. Cussy is both Blue and a Book Woman. This is her story.
Based on the real blue Fugate family of Kentucky, this novel ranges from terrifying to humorous to touching. The writing paints the forests and hills in all their awe inspiring glory and all their fearful terrain. The closed away feeling of the miners and dirt farmers is clarified by the prose. The plot is engrossing. The people are sympathetic and haunting.
Readers will learn more than they anticipated and enjoy it. An excellent book for book groups. Appropriate for parent/middle ager (and up) groups
5 of 5 stars
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LibraryThing member Cherylk
I did like this book. The concept of Cussy aka Bluet known as the Book Lady, is what drew me to this book. I love that there were travelling librarians both women and men back in time bringing the love of literacy to all.

The beginning was a bit rough for me. I struggled to find that connection
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with the characters and storyline. This is because it started out slow for me. It did eventually pick up momentum as the story progressed.

Bluet could have stayed and let her father pick a husband for her to take care of her but she was not satisfied to just be a housewife. Bluet showed courage and strength. From the midway point of the story to the end was were the momentum was found. While, I did enjoy reading this book, I still never fully embraced the characters within the story. However, there were enough good things that I did like about this book to read another by this author.
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
The Blue People of Kentucky really did exist, and I was aware of that but knew little else about them. This novel brought them to life, especially though Cussy, nicknamed Bluet for the damselfly. She was shunned as “colored,” with all the prejudices that entails. Despite her “affliction,”
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she was also one of the pack horse librarians of Kentucky, delivering by mule reading material to very isolated people. The job was very dangerous and very hard, and some of the patrons would not treat her kindly. (But some did!)

Also, Cussy's father was a coal miner, and this book also talks about the dangers of that job, the dangers of trying to unionize, the abuses of the coal companies.

This novel sent me to Ms. Google multiple times so I could learn more. In my eyes, that is a good thing. I also appreciated the authors note at the end, explaining more and disclosing where she took some liberties with history. I was entertained throughout, and I learned something. What else do I need?

I listened to the audio edition, and the narrator, Katie Schorr, did an excellent job.
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LibraryThing member katscribefever
This book begins with Cussy Mary Carter, a strong-willed young woman, an impassioned member of the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, and the last of the Kentucky blue people. While containing a modest page count of 286, this historical novel includes issues of extreme poverty, racism,
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healthcare, education, marriage, arranged marriage, and domestic abuse in 1930s Appalachia. It's a somewhat dense book, but the pacing pulls you along at a good speed. (It also encouraged many a Google search as I read to help me understand some of the foreign content.) I would recommend it to lovers of historical fiction, particularly fiction about Appalachia.
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LibraryThing member jhoaglin
Although this novel is somewhat predictable at times, I still loved the story that the author has created out of her extensive research, and the character she developed in Cussy Mary Carter. Cussy is one of several women, and a few men, who work as Pack Horse Librarians in 1936 in the Appalachian
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Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Reading the book, and then the authors notes at the end, I learned that the Pack Horse Librarians program was part of the WPA programs instituted by Franklin Roosevelt, in an effort to create more jobs for women, and to bring literacy and reading to the most rural and poverty stricken areas in this coal-mining country.
And Cussy is certainly proficient at her job. Riding her trusty mule Junia, she rides into the most remote coves and hollows of the hills, and has patrons who count on her to bring them newspapers, new recipes or patterns, and books. Cussy loves her job, and loves her patrons, who she sometimes reads to, or tries to bring little bits of food for those who are living on almost nothing.
I also learned in reading this story, about the “blue-skinned” people of Kentucky. Cussy is one of only a very few people, as far as she knows, who have blue skin, a condition we learn from the author’s notes, is rare, but caused by a congenital enzyme deficiency. The prejudice and discrimination Cussy faces are sad and maddening, and are very much part of this story.
Cussy is a wonderful strong character, and the author uses details that enrich the historical setting and lend authenticity to the story.
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LibraryThing member tamidale
This one is definitely making my list of favorites for this year! I had no idea about the Fugates of Kentucky or the Pack Horse Librarians. I love it when reading opens my eyes to new information.

Kentucky is a state that has had its share of struggles and the author presents readers with life in
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Appalachia during the years of some of the most desperate times for the folks living in the hills. Set during the depression years, Cussy Mary’s father is a miner who is suffering from black lung. The conditions in the mines were awful and it created quite a bit of conflict in the mining communities. In addition to that, people were without jobs due to the depression, causing many families to go hungry.

Cussy Mary was fortunate to have her job as a Pack Horse Librarian. She loved her job and had a caring way with the people on her route. Yet, she was an outcast in the community because of a genetic condition that turned her skin blue. The hill folks on her route didn’t seem bothered by her color. They loved to see her coming with some new books and often gave her small gifts or mementos.

I enjoyed following along as she delivered books on her route, interacted with the people along the way and nurtured her relationships with those she loved and cared about. She had a very hard life, but a joyful, giving soul in spite of it.

I think the author did a wonderful job in presenting the story and look forward to reading more of her work. I think all book lovers will enjoy reading this one. It’s full of interesting Kentucky history which will appeal to historical fiction and history readers as well.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for allowing me to read an advance copy and give my honest review.
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LibraryThing member HOTCHA
I found this novel fascinating and I wondered about Cussy's blue skin! She was the
last of female her kind Back in 1936 Cussy Carter loved her job delivering books to the poor people in the hills of Kentucky and made friends easily, She was lonely and she joined the historical Pack Horse Library. I
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loved that she was determined to bring comfort to the hill people by riding her mule hrough riding dangerous and rough slippery creek beds just to give some joy to the mountain people who called her Bluet. I admired this young girl who at nineteen tried to make a difference and the candle ritual courtship fascinated me, although I am glad to have been born much later and as a home bound and disabled person it is books that keep me from depression. THANK GOD FOR AUTHORS!!
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LibraryThing member jfe16
In the Appalachian hills of Kentucky, Cussy Mary Carter is the Book Woman, a traveling librarian for President Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. In 1936, the mountainfolk of Troublesome Creek lived hardscrabble lives filled with hard work, little food, and even less money. And,
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although Cussy Mary loved her library job, she continually confronted obstacles since her blue skin relegated her to the same discriminatory rules as the African Americans. [It would be many, many years before researchers discovered that her blue skin was a trait caused by a recessive gene.]

Believable characters, a strong sense of place, and an intriguing story combine to pull the reader into the telling of this compelling tale. Based on historical fact, the slowly-unfolding narrative touches on poverty, prejudice, and the universal need for love as it evokes empathy and keeps the pages turning. Thought-provoking, enlightening, and impressive, the narrative celebrates the transformative power of books.

Following the narrative, readers will find a special, informative section including an author’s note and several pages of images from the Pack Horse Library Project.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
I really loved this book which I heard about a few months ago in the newsletter. I was pretty sure that a book set during the Great Depression about a travelling librarian in the hill country of Kentucky would be right up my alley and I was right.

Cussy Mary Carter is the only child
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of a coal miner and his now deceased wife. Cussy and her parents have a rare genetic anomaly that makes their skin appear blue, especially in the extremities or when they are under stress. The "blues" are viewed by whites as coloured, just like the African Americans in the region. Cussy was schooled by her mother and reads and writes very well. When she sees an ad for women to apply to be travelling librarians she knows she can do it. To get around the prejudice in the local town she mails her application and she is accepted. Her job takes her far up into the hills for long distances but for her patrons she is a life line. Her father, who is sick with the lung disease most miners get, wants to see her married and finally convinces a much older man to take Cussy as his bride because he will get a deed to some property. Cussy's new husband dies in the marital bed but not before beating Cussy badly. Once she has recovered from her injuries Cussy is back being a Book Woman and she resolves to never marry again. Conditions in the homes she visits are horrendous; Cussy and her father don't have much but they are better off than most of Cussy's patrons. Whenever she can Cussy helps with some extra food or helpful hints or just reading to those who are unable to read themselves.

The underlying theme is that books can provide comfort and, if not food for the body, at least food for the soul. Cussy has seen that and she has felt it herself. The Pack Horse Librarians were an initiative under FDR's New Deal. The money for the librarians' salaries was paid by the government but the actual books came as donations from groups and libraries. The librarian had to provide her own mount; Cussy inherited a mule from her dead husband. The mule had also been beaten and would not let any man near it but Cussy could ride and handle it. Many times the mule protected Cussy from dangers on the trail including advances from an intinerant preacher who was related to her husband.

The author says in a final note that "this is one of the most important books I've written to date. Dear in all ways, loved in a million more." Well said.
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LibraryThing member Kathyk22
I thought this book started out sad and depressing, and almost put it down several times, but I am so glad I stayed with it. It is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that brought me to tears. I highly recommend it.
LibraryThing member mchwest
Finished this book and although I found the Kentucky Blue People a fascinating subject I just didn't love this book. It was interesting how the book woman came about but the story line didn't hold up for me.


LibraryReads (Monthly Pick — May 2019)


1492671525 / 9781492671527


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