Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: Skin Color As A Litmus Test For A Packhorse Librarian

I recently discovered The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson which deals with a Kentucky librarian who delivers books to people in the hill country riding a pack mule in the 1930's.  I love librarians and I'm interested in the hill people, so I checked this novel out of the library. 

 I understand that there are two other books that deal with this topic.  They are The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes and a children's book called Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin.   I may read them because I am so interested in the way librarians and hill people are portrayed.  I understand that Kim Michele Richardson lives in Kentucky, and that reviewers have considered her authentic.  Since I don't live in Kentucky and have no knowledge of Kentucky hill life in the 1930's, I can't comment on the book's authenticity. 


Female protagonist Cussy had a hereditary medical condition that caused her skin to be blue. This is a real genetic disease called methemoglobinemia.  Her father, who also had the same condition, imagined that there was a man in Kentucky who could overlook her blue skin and marry her.  This would have to be an unusual man since most people in the area were deeply prejudiced against anyone who was different.  Cussy was aware of this problem, and didn't imagine she would ever marry.  Besides, she found her life as a Pack Horse Librarian satisfying.   She loved delivering reading material to people who had no access to libraries, and finding what they really wanted to read.  Yet it's important to note that Cussy only had access to discards which were books that other libraries didn't want or need in their collections.  Discards were Cussy's "new" books. 

Queenie, a black librarian who had also been delivering books in the hills of Kentucky, decided to go to Philadelphia.  She wrote to Cussy that there were colored doctors there who would treat her sick grandmother, and colored schools for her children.  Cussy thought there were opportunities for blacks in Philadelphia, but not for blues like her. She was probably right.  It was unlikely that Philadelphia would be any better for her.  There wouldn't be blue doctors there, or schools for blue students. 

 For another perspective, I'd like to mention a novel I'd read some time ago dealing with a blue skinned alien who thought himself superior to humans.  I reviewed it here .  

Harriet Hardin, the assistant supervisor at the library center, was a bigoted character that I very much disliked.  Yet her favorite book was The Stars Look Down  by A.J. Cronin which was a sympathetic portrait of a British mining family in the 1930's.  To us this would be historical fiction, but for Harriet and the other characters in this novel, it would have been considered contemporary fiction taking place in the present day.  I haven't read any A. J. Cronin, but I suspect I would like The Stars Look Down myself.  I have put a hold on it.  So we shall see. I noted that this novel was considered similar to The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell and put a hold on that one as well.

This book also led me to a highly regarded classic, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.  Cussy was given the sequel, Sons, by a library patron who turned out to be a very pivotal character.  I looked up The Good Earth and decided that I should read it. After I finish it, I'll see if I want to read its sequels.  

No review that I've seen of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek has mentioned medical research as one of the issues brought up in this novel.  Doctors wanted samples of Cussy's blood.  It seemed to me that the doctors were more interested in benefiting their own careers than Cussy.  They gave her a drug that had side effects.  Discussing the impact of the drug would be a spoiler, but I consider this racist medical research based on white supremacist ideology.  I applaud Kim Michelle Richardson for showing us so vividly that medicine can be racist.

As a feminist, I was struck by Cussy receiving a letter with a Susan B. Anthony stamp and not knowing who that was, or the meaning of "Suffrage for Women" which was written beneath the stamp.  I was sad that Cussy had never learned about the women who had struggled for women's suffrage, and I wondered if she had been taught about the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution or its ratification on August 8, 1920.  

The Book Woman of  Troublesome Creek made me sit up and take notice of a Kentucky that was unknown to me, and showed me the tough librarians who supplied Kentuckians with books in all times and seasons.



Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Leaving Coy's Hill: A Novel About Suffragist Lucy Stone


 I haven't posted here for a while.  This is partly because I was moving in March, but I also hadn't been coming across books with strong female protagonists.  I recently got hold of a book about a woman's suffrage leader which was given to me for free by the publisher.

Many readers may never have heard of Lucy Stone.  In my case, I thought that Sherbrooke's novel showed a different side of Lucy Stone than the one I knew about. 



I thought of Lucy Stone solely in terms of her puritanical attacks on divorce and Victoria Woodhull, who is one of my favorite suffragists.  (See what I had to say about Woodhull in my review of Seance in Sepia here  , what  Karen J. Hicks had to say about her Woodhull book The Coming Woman here  and my review of the Woodhull novel Madame Presidentess here .)   Yet there was a good deal more to Lucy Stone than I had ever imagined. 

Lucy started thinking about women's rights as a child when she thought a cousin wasn't being well-treated by her husband. She told a woman friend who wanted to be a minister that the Bible was used to diminish women.Then when she was being paid to speak for the abolition of slavery by the Anti-Slavery Society,  she decided that she had to speak out for women as well. When she married Henry Blackwell, she insisted on keeping her own name.  At the time, this was revolutionary.   

This is a book that take's Lucy Stone's perspective.  It shows us where the women's suffrage movement fractured.  Although both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone had husbands, Susan B. Anthony chose to demonize Lucy Stone's marriage as disloyal, but not Elizabeth Cady Stanton's.  I have always believed that feminists should respect women's choices. It seems to me that feminist leaders have gone wrong when they turn on each other because of life style differences.  Shared goals are the foundation of feminism.  Sherbrooke's novel shows that factions are unnecessary, and can have sad consequences. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Door In The Earth: A Novel in Which an Afghani-American Returns to Afghanistan

 The last time I reviewed a Goodreads giveaway win on this blog was Josephine Baker's Last Dance hereA Door Into Earth by Amy Waldman is a 2019 GR giveaway win that I just finished reading.  I am still going through the stack of physical GR giveaway books in the order I received them when I have the time to read them.


If you had told me that I was going to read a novel taking place in current day Afghanistan, I wouldn't have believed you.  I looked up the status of the war.  It's still going on despite the United States signing a peace treaty with the Taliban about a year ago.  See recent developments

 A Door In The Earth isn't primarily about the war.   The war does become prominent toward the end of the novel, but this novel centers on an Afghani-American woman in a small Afghan village with an American built women's medical clinic.  Parveen Shamsa, who left Afghanistan with her parents when she was two years old, was drawn back to the land of her birth by a memoir called Mother Afghanistan written by a fictional American called Gideon Crane.    She was inspired by Crane's reputation as a great humanitarian and wanted to help. 

 Unfortunately, sometimes reputations are built on lies.  I was reminded of  Greg Mortenson who was exposed in Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Crane was loosely based on Mortenson.   I'd say that Amy Waldman's Crane was never the benevolent figure that Parveen imagined he was.   I wondered how she could have had so elevated a view of Crane after having read his memoir.  He doesn't exactly hide his wrongdoings. It also occurred to me to wonder who in U.S. law enforcement would know if he'd completed his community service in Afghanistan.

Parveen feels "unwitnessed" at first because there's no internet access that will allow her to post about her experiences.  I imagined she would have that problem when I first picked up the book.

I finished A Door in the Earth still feeling ambivalent about Parveen.  I also found the ending too inconclusive.  If I were giving a letter grade to this book, it would be a B- .



Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Paris Library: A Woman Librarian at the American Library of Paris During WWII

 When a publisher sends me a book in paperback in addition to a digital copy from Net Galley, it's very clear to me that they really want my opinion.   Atria Books, which is a division of Simon & Schuster, did that to bring my attention to their book, The Paris Library.  I love libraries. There's also tremendous interest in this title, and it's set to release next month I decided that I needed to read and review it after I finished with the book I was currently reading at the time.

I mainly read the paperback because I prefer print.  I only read the Net Galley when I was  on public transit.  My Kindle is smaller and lighter than a trade paperback.  Yet I am traveling less during the pandemic than I once did.  So that was a small percentage read in digital format. I finished the book in four days.



As the book opens Odile Suchet was preparing for an interview at the American Library of Paris (ALP).  Odile was qualified because she was a library student who knew English.  Though 1/4 of ALP's users were French at the time.  

My feeling is that Odile made serious errors of judgement that hurt people during WWII.  She betrayed the trust of several people who were important to her.  I considered her an unlikable protagonist, but she tried to make amends by behaving graciously to the 1980's teen protagonist, Lily.

I was interested in ALP, but my negative feelings toward Odile lowered my estimation of The Paris Library as a whole.  Perhaps I would have liked a book from the perspective of the American director of ALP, Miss Reeder, much better.



Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder Blog Tour and Review



Book Summary:

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.

Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant for Miss Brickett’s named Michelle White receives a letter warning her that a heinous act is about to occur. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see—her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect. 

Almost unwillingly, Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself being drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and mentor is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII. Masterful, clever and deliciously suspenseful, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a fresh take on the Agatha Christie—style locked-room mystery with an exciting new heroine detective at the helm.   


Shomeret's Review 


 I agreed to review Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder because it features underground tunnels underneath the city of London. I've been fascinated with urban underground existence ever since I first watched the Beauty & The Beast TV series starring Ron Perlman as the Beast and Linda Hamilton as the Beauty . In that series New York City had an underground secret society beneath its streets. Yet the underground investigative agency that Marion Lane becomes involved with is no utopian community like the one in that version of Beauty and the Beast. In fact, this mystery novel is for lovers of noir.


Instead of the protectiveness of Ron Perlman's Beast, we have a book in which an underground agency employee named Frank was suspected of murder by the investigative agency. Agency apprentice Marion Lane had to clear his name in order to prevent Frank from being confined to an underground cell for the remainder of his life. For me, Marion's loyalty to Frank redeems this book. Yet fans of dark fiction may be pleased by the threatening underground environment in which people got lost or killed.


The agency is concealing a terrifying secret that goes back to WWII. That actually wasn't that long ago in terms of the book's chronology since this novel opens in 1958. Unless Marion manages to discover that secret, she will never find out the truth about the murder. It really is a terrible secret. Once I found it out, I wished like Marion, that I didn't know about it. Maybe there should have been a sign on entering the agency's tunnels that said "ABANDON PEACE OF MIND YOU WHO ENTER HERE."


  Readers who love a dark tale of suspense will be electrified by Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder.



Author Bio: T.A. Willberg was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and holds a 

chiropractic masters degree from Durban University of Technology.

 MARION LANE AND THE MIDNIGHT MURDER is her debut novel and launch

 of her detective series. She currently lives in Malta with her partner.



T.A. Willberg photo by Oliver Wentzil




Author: T.A. Willberg

ISBN: 9780778389330

Publication Date: 12/29/20

Publisher: Harlequin / Park Row Books

Buy Links: 





Barnes & Noble 









Author's Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @Tess_Amy_

Facebook: @tawillberg

Instagram: @ta_willberg

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Chelsea Girls: 1950's Women in the Entertainment Industry vs. the McCarthy Era

I have wanted to read books by the author Fiona Davis, but didn't have the time due to all my review commitments. Then publicist Becky O'Dell representing the publisher of Davis' novel, The Chelsea Girls, approached me about reviewing it.  She asked me to post my review around  December 8th when their new paperback edition would be published.  I promised that the review would appear within the vicinity of that date on this blog, Flying High Reviews.  

My co-blogger Tara reviewed The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis and called it "fantabulous" here when this blog was known as Book Babe. I hoped to follow her example. So I accepted a digital copy of The Chelsea Girls from Dutton Books via Net Galley. 

Below is the cover of the new edition of  The Chelsea Girls. I feel that it authentically depicts the women who are shown in this novel.  They were living in the 1950's but were doing their best to avoid being confined by that decade's expectations of women.


The Chelsea Girls has a particular focus on the blacklisting of individuals as  alleged Communists during the McCarthy Era.  I had read non-fiction about this issue as a teenager such as The Strange Case of  Alger Hiss by William Allen Jowitt.  I knew about the Hollywood Ten, a group of Hollywood writers who were accused of being Communists and called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

I have never read any books about women accused of being Communists during this period, but I am now aware that playwright Lillian Hellman had actually been a member of the Communist Party and had been blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. Davis says in her Author's Note that the experience of The Chelsea Girls protagonist Hazel Ripley with HUAC was based on Lillian Hellman's.

Hazel was an actress and a playwright, but hadn't met with much success when she was blacklisted for attending an anti-fascist rally during WWII.  Like many of the accused in the McCarthy Era, there had been no real basis for Hazel being labeled a Communist.  

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible (1953)  about women being falsely accused of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials as an indirect representation of the red-baiting that was going on during the McCarthy Era.

I was inspired by Hazel's courage when she faced HUAC.  I also liked the fact that she was vindicated in the end by the respect of her community.  History shows us that before the end of the 1950's America had rejected both Communism and McCarthyism.   The Chelsea Girls makes me feel optimistic about America's emergence from its current political crisis.





Friday, December 4, 2020

A Q & A With Art Historian and Historical Novelist Laura Morelli


Laura Morelli's assistant, Jacqueline M. Howard, suggested that I do a Q&A on Laura Morelli's two 2020 releases.  I have posted a review of  The Giant on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer here .  This is a book dealing with Michelangelo's David. It's still the most viewed post of 2020 on that other blog.  I also posted a review of  The Night Portrait on this blog here .  This second 2020 novel focuses on the creation of Leonardo Da Vinci's Lady With An Ermine and its later history during WWII.  After posting these reviews, I sent questions to Laura Morelli relating to each of these books.  Today she responded.  Because one of these reviews appeared on each of my blogs, I decided that the Q&A should be posted on both of them.   

Questions Related to The Giant


Question 1) In The Giant Michelangelo tells Jacopo that the Signorina of Florence wanted him to build a bronze replica of the David.  I did a search for bronze replica of Michelangelo's David and found that the bronze replica standing in Florence was designed by the architect Guiseppe Poggi in the 1860's.  I discovered that it was part of a much larger project devoted to Michelangelo called the Piazzale Michelangelo.  Wikipedia says that Florence was doing urban renewal at the time.  Can you tell us something about the art history aspect of Piazzale Michelangelo?  

        In THE GIANT, the bronze replica of the DAVID refers to a sculpture—now lost—that Michelangelo made for Duke Pierre de Rohan, a French nobleman in the royal circle. De Rohan had been smitten by Donatello’s DAVID, which he had seen in Florence in 1494, and he wanted Michelangelo to make a copy of it for him. Michelangelo tried to wave off the commission; he probably thought it insulting to copy another man’s work, especially when he was on the verge of finishing his own DAVID which, in one fell swoop, would make Donatello’s version seem an antiquated oddity. But Gonfaloniere Soderini pressed Michelangelo to do it.  
 De Rohan was a favorite of the French king and an avid art collector; nobles around Europe showered de Rohan with artistic treasures to gain favor with the French court. The Florentines, eager to gain the French king’s support in the wake of their own political upheavals, had already secured seven marble and two bronze statues for de Rohan. Now he was keen to have a copy of Donatello’s DAVID with the head of Goliath at the youth’s feet. Soderini didn’t want to deny him, so he pressed Michelangelo to take on the job.
  Michelangelo reluctantly agreed, and made a drawing that still exists. One year later the bronze sculpture was cast.  Ironically, by the time the sculpture was completed, the duke de Rohan had already fallen from the French king’s favor, and the sculpture passed into the hands of Florimond Robertet, who displayed it in his chateau in Bury. Later it moved to the castle of Villeroy, then seems to have disappeared forever. We will never know if it bore any resemblance to the colossal DAVID that was about to take Florence by storm.
The bronze replica of Michelangelo’s DAVID you refer to in the Piazzale Michelangelo was part of a 19th-century urban renewal plan in Florence. 
Question 2)  Your Master Class on The Giant revealed that Michelangelo wanted to do another giant marble sculpture in which he got to select his own marble.   Are there varieties of marble that are considered more suitable for sculpture, or did Michelangelo just want more control of his material?
Michelangelo was intimately familiar with the marble quarries near Carrara, in Tuscany, where he traveled to select raw materials for his famous Pietà and other sculptures. Every piece of Carrara marble was special and specific to each project. The block used for Michelangelo’s famous David had languished in the work yard of Florence cathedral for forty years before he tackled it. The master wrote that he dreamt of one day carving another colossus like the David—this time using an entire mountain of marble, a kind of Renaissance Mount Rushmore—that would overlook the sea.

Question 3) I read an article about the frequency of earthquakes in Italy during the 21st century and saw various items online about the vulnerability of Michelangelo's David to earthquakes due to weak ankles that could cause it to collapse.  Has a conservator ever been hired to repair those ankles?  There was also a 2014 proposal that the David be given an anti-seismic pedestal.  Has this ever happened?


Question 4) Will there be a sequel to The Giant devoted to the Sistine Chapel ceiling? 
Not at the moment, but in the future… Who knows? :)

Questions Related to The Night Portrait

Question 1)  Did Italian Renaissance artists other than Leonardo Da Vinci use their fingers for painting?  Was Leonardo influenced by someone else who used this technique or was it a practice that was unique to him?

I don’t believe this was unique to Leonardo da Vinci, though much has been made of Leonardo's fingerprints, which have been discovered on his paintings and drawings. For example: 

Question 2) The Night Portrait point of view character Dominic wonders how a solvent cleans a painting without damaging the paint.  That's a question that I'd like answered myself.
Professional conservators have many tools in their repertory to deal with things like this. However, cleaning an old master painting with solvent is extremely tricky! It's possible to remove overpainting from later centuries to reveal an artist’s original pigments underneath.

Question 3)  Why did you decide that Lucrezia Crivelli was the sitter for La Belle Ferroniere and that she resembled Cecilia very closely even though they were unrelated? There are those that argue that La Belle Ferroniere is a second portrait of Cecilia. Da Vinci could have created it from his sketches of Cecilia because she was no longer at Ludivico Sforza's court and was therefore unavailable.  Her unavailability could explain why the Cecilia in La Belle Ferroniere  isn't completely identical to the Cecilia depicted in Lady With An Ermine.  Do you think this is at all likely?



The identity of the woman in this beautiful portrait--the so-called Belle Ferronnière--remains contested. We know Leonardo completed the picture during his tenure at the ducal court of Milan. This portrait bears some things in common with the Lady with the Ermine; that’s for certain. Many art historians believe the portrait represents Lucrezia Crivelli, who became Ludovico Sforza’s mistress after Cecilia Gallerani exited the ducal palace. Other scholars think it represents Beatrice d’Este, Ludovico’s bride who died in childbirth at 21.

Question 4)  In the Leonardo's Portraits class that you did for those of us who pre-ordered The Night Portrait, you said that Raffaelo Sanzie known as Raphael was influenced by Da Vinci.  What aspects of Raphael's painting style show this influence?

When young Raffaello Sanzio arrives in Florence for the first time around 1504, we see him immediately experimenting with the three-quarter pose familiar to us now in the Mona Lisa, as well as other stylistic features of Florentine painting.

At that time, Leonardo da Vinci was considered an accomplished older master who freely shared his ideas and work with younger painters. I have no doubt that Raphael studied Leonardo’s work.


Laura Morelli, Ph.D.
Art Historian | Historical Novelist

    Thank you, Laura Morelli.  I appreciate your insights and your wonderful novels.