Skip to main content

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Karen always reads all the best books – here’s one that I may have to add to my list this summer too.  And, bonus – if you’re doing the Read Across America year-long reading challenge, you can check Kentucky off your list!

I love to read historical fiction, and historical fiction that involves a horse (well, actually it’s a mule) and library books, plus it’s set in Kentucky (for those doing the state contest), really made my list.  With the hot and humid weather outside, it was easy to stay in and read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek in just a couple days.  “Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, [this book] is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere-even back home.”  The author’s notes at the end of the book were just as interesting to read, as she discusses both the blue-skinned people suffering from methemoglobinemia, a rare congenital disease, and the Pack Horse librarians, known as “book women”.  She states that “in the years of service, more than one thousand women served in the Pack Horse Library Project, and it was reported that nearly 600,000 residents in thirty eastern Kentucky counties considered “pauper counties” were served by them.”  It thrills me that I can find a book that shares an important part of history that I knew nothing about, and about subjects that I love, horsewomen and books!

The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Things haven’t really been the same for Lucy Everhart and her dad since her mom died five years ago.  A renowned biologist, Lucy’s mom was on a boat tracking great white sharks off the north Atlantic coast when she died.  Lucy’s dad is a police detective in their small coastal Massachusetts town and a rescue diver who works all up and down the coast, which means he isn’t home too much, but her neighbors are always there – old Mr. Patterson on one side, hanging out on his porch listening to his police scanner, and the Kellys on the other, including Fred Kelly, Lucy’s best friend, and his two sisters.  Mrs. Kelly took care of Lucy after her mom died, when things were really bad, and Lucy feels almost like part of the Kelly family.

It’s summer, and Lucy and Fred are hard at work on their summer project, a field guide to Cape Ann wildlife (Fred writes the descriptions, while Lucy illustrates), when local fisherman Sookie catches a great white in one of his nets and hauls it to shore.  The two head to the dock to get a good look at the shark, and that night, while trying to get the illustrations right, Lucy catches some old footage on the news of her mom talking about great whites moving into the north Atlantic.  Footage she’s never seen before – which sets her down a path of discovery about her mom’s work with sharks, Fred by her side.  As the two dive deep into shark research, Lucy starts to feel like she’s getting to know her mom the biologist, not just her mom the mom.

But when another tragedy rips a new hole in Lucy’s heart, this time with serrated edges, she has to fight hard to hold on.  Her mom’s research feels like a life line, and finding answers her mom didn’t get a chance to investigate feels like a way for Lucy to keep swimming, even in the dark waters of grief.  With the field guide and her pencils in hand, her mom’s unanswered questions forming the path ahead, and help from more than a few unexpected places, Lucy slowly begins to find her way forward.

Shark Week is still a month away, but you can get a jump start with this fabulous debut novel by Minnesota author Kate Allen!  The Line Tender is an exploration of family, friendship, love, loss, and chock full of the science of sharks.  A great summer read (although maaaybe not for a trip to an ocean…), there are tons of shark and other marine biology facts in this novel that were super fascinating, and Lucy’s shark illustrations fill the space between each chapter.  With a mystery or two, quirky neighbors, good friends, a road trip, and lots of sharks, this is definitely one to add to your summer stack!

Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

Petra and her big sister Mags have grown up in their lighthouse by the sea with their Pa and their Mutti.  On the chalky cliffs near Dover, their lighthouse is also home to the Daughters of Stone, four standing stones who, legends say, were turned to stone singing their fathers safely home from the sea.  Petra loves their lighthouse life, and all the quiet and wild things about the wide expanse of sea and sky – all except the Wyrm.  Although the lighthouse is there to warn sailors against the Wyrm, the sandbar in Dragon Bay below Petra’s beloved cliffs has swallowed hundreds of ships and kept them prisoner in the shifting sands of its maw, their masts only visible at the lowest tides.

But the year is 1939, and more dangerous things than sandbars lurk beneath the waves of the English Channel.  With the German army advancing toward the coast of France, a coast Petra can see on the clearest days from the lantern room in her lighthouse, fear is rising in the people of the village.  Barbed wire on the beach and bunkers on the clifftops make it clear that the war is coming to Kent, and soon.  When mysterious things begin happening in the village – cut wires and fires – it is clear that there is a traitor in their midst.  Neither Petra nor Mags believe it could possibly be their German-born mother, no matter what the villagers think, but when Mutti is summoned to a tribunal for enemy aliens, Petra feels her world start to slide out of control.  What can one girl do when it seems the whole world is at war not only with itself, but with her family?

Oh, this book!  Wow, wow, wow.  I have been waiting for the heir to the historical fiction throne that Kimberley Brubaker Bradley’s Newbery Award-winning The War That Saved My Life has been occupying in my heart for several years, and Our Castle by the Sea is a most worthy successor.  With old legends permeating the story (and maybe, just maybe, coming to life), Petra’s coming of age is rich with family, history, mystery, danger, high stakes, and one of the loveliest settings I’ve encountered in awhile.  There is nothing I would love more than to lean back against one of the sun-warmed Daughters of Stone and watch the clouds and the sea and the Wyrm twisting beneath the waves with its captive prey of shipwrecks – minus the Nazi submarines, of course.  Or explore the chalky Tunnel beneath the cliffs with a good jam sandwich in hand.  If you love historical fiction, or just a family story that will make you feel All the Things, be sure to pick up Lucy Strange’s sophomore novel at the library this summer!