Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

The Personal Librarian

Author: Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Publisher: Berkley

American release date: June 29, 2021

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Historical Fiction/352 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Sometimes who you know can make all the difference, as Belle da Costa Greene discovers when her friendship with Junius Morgan at  Princeton University leads to her applying for and winning the post of personal librarian to Junius’ father, the famous JP Morgan himself! Morgan is building his personal library and requires the skill and knowledge of a good librarian to assist him in his endeavors. Belle more than fills that bill, and is excited to take an opportunity few women in the early 1900s were ever afforded.

However, unknown to her new employer, or anyone else outside of her family, Belle has a secret, one she must keep in order to maintain her increasingly important position with the millionaire, who has become not only dependent on her talents but fond of her as well. Belle does not appear to be so, but she is black, her real name being Belle Marion Greener. She and her entire family are light-skinned. The family had originally lived in Washington DC near her mother’s family, the Fleets. But Belle’s mother wanted more for her children, a better life than they would have as black people, knowing that they would be able to pass as white. When she wrote their race as white on the census, that was the last straw for Belle’s father, who had been the first black man to graduate from his university and who was a major advocate of civil rights. The family, minus the father, moved to New York, and Belle and her siblings worked hard in order to keep them afloat. This opportunity which had presented itself was a godsend, but there was a price to be paid.

The Personal Librarian was co-written by two women, and it is a treasure trove of a book about the first African American woman to hold a position of such great power and authority at a time when women had few freedoms. But she had to suppress who she was and keep the secret. The research that must have been undertaken for the writing of this book is mindboggling. The authors weave a beautiful tale about a strong woman who lived life on her own terms, loved where she wanted, and was a great influence in shaping JP Morgan’s library but sacrificed her identity to do so.  The writing simply flows, elegant and graceful, much like Belle.

History lovers will enjoy this story, but I think others will too, and Belle’s story deserves to be read by everyone.

Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek       

Author: Kim Michele Richardson

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

American release date: May 7, 2019

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Historical Fiction/320 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

In the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s WPA program created jobs for people so they could work and have money during a difficult time in American history, namely the Great Depression. Instead of just handing money out, they allowed people to work for it, adding to their self-worth as wage earners. One part of that program was the Pack Horse librarians of rural Kentucky. Mostly women, they rode horses/mules/donkeys, traveled on foot or sometimes by boat, through the mountains and across rivers and creeks,  to bring books to people in remote areas of the state.

Cussy Mary is a Pack Librarian, and very happy to be one. She lives with her father Elijah, who is a miner, and she loves the patrons on her route. These are poor people who are barely surviving, much less able to buy books, so the librarians are lights in their lives. Cussy is well loved by her patrons as well, and doesn’t mind reading to those who cannot read themselves. She worries about them, especially the children, who are sick and starving. But there is little she can do, as she and her father are barely subsisting themselves.

There are those who look down on Cussy and her father, because they are different from them. They are, in fact, blue-skinned people, and as such are considered to be colored abnormal because of the tint of their skin. The local doctor finds Cussy’s condition very interesting and wants to take her somewhere so people can study her. She’s reluctant, until circumstances cause her to reconsider her stance since doing so will benefit the people she cares about. All she wants is to be treated like other people, and to enjoy life a little, especially her precious books and patrons. But some people can’t see past the blue shade of her skin to the beautiful soul beneath. Not until she meets a most unusual man.

I fell in love with this book quickly. I have a soft spot for books and librarians, as my daughter is one, and I could see some of her in the spunky yet soft-spoken Cussy. I knew nothing about the Pack Horse Librarians, or about blue-skinned people, and was very interested in learning about them.

I love the way the author writes. You feel like you’re there, experiencing what Cussy goes through – her pain, her joy, her sorrows. And you can’t help but love Cussy yourself. This is a very colorful novel about being who you are and not judging people simply by the color of their skin, something many people in the US still have problems with. The historical information at the end of the book is just icing on the cake.

I liked this book so much, I bought copies for my daughters and my daughters-in-law, and one for myself, since I read a library copy originally. I know I will read this book over, more than once. This book is about life, about love, overcoming hardships, and making the most of what you have, as well as sharing that with the people around you. I hope you all love this book as much as I did.