Book Review: Keeping Lucy

Keeping Lucy by T. Greenwood

From the author of Rust & Stardust comes this heartbreaking story, inspired by true events, of how far one mother must go to protect her daughter.

Dover, Massachusetts, 1969. Ginny Richardson’s heart was torn open when her baby girl, Lucy, born with Down Syndrome, was taken from her. Under pressure from his powerful family, her husband, Ab, sent Lucy away to Willowridge, a special school for the “feeble-minded.” Ab tried to convince Ginny it was for the best. That they should grieve for their daughter as though she were dead. That they should try to move on.

But two years later, when Ginny’s best friend, Marsha, shows her a series of articles exposing Willowridge as a hell-on-earth–its squalid hallways filled with neglected children–she knows she can’t leave her daughter there. With Ginny’s six-year-old son in tow, Ginny and Marsha drive to the school to see Lucy for themselves. What they find sets their course on a heart-racing journey across state lines—turning Ginny into a fugitive.

For the first time, Ginny must test her own strength and face the world head-on as she fights Ab and his domineering father for the right to keep Lucy. Racing from Massachusetts to the beaches of Atlantic City, through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to a roadside mermaid show in Florida, Keeping Lucy is a searing portrait of just how far a mother’s love can take her.

Review:
This is an interesting book and hard to read at times because of the reality of the history involved. Ginny gives birth to her second child, but when Lucy is found to have Down Syndrome, the doctor whisks the baby away. While Ginny is under anesthetic, her husband, father, and doctor place the baby in an institution, telling Ginny it is all for the best.
Two years later, Ginny learns about the deplorable conditions at the institution and ends up stealing her child away and going on a long road trip with her six year old son and her best friend in order to get away from the law and her husband’s family, all of whom will force to to return Lucy.
It is hard in this modern day to see how children with Down Syndrome were treated and how little say Ginny had over her child, or even herself. She submitted to her husband’s will without much protest. However, she does a one eighty when she sees the conditions at the institution two years later, which didn’t feel completely authentic to her character up to that point.
Then there was the long, crazy road trip. It felt strange because there is no way 2 young children would have stayed in the car for days on end that way! However, it did allow for may issues to be brought up, such as women’s choices, friendship, obligations, and social changes that were happening at the time (and are still happening!).
I did like this book — it was interesting and there was lots of research that felt authentic and I wanted to see how it would all end — but I didn’t love it. It is definitely a book, however, that shows us how far we’ve come in many respects, but also how far we still need to go in terms of special needs and women’s rights.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

In 1936, tucked deep into the woods of Troublesome Creek, KY, lives blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.

Along her dangerous route, Cussy, known to the mountain folk as Bluet, confronts those suspicious of her damselfly-blue skin and the government’s new book program. She befriends hardscrabble and complex fellow Kentuckians, and is fiercely determined to bring comfort and joy, instill literacy, and give to those who have nothing, a bookly respite, a fleeting retreat to faraway lands.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a powerful message about how the written word affects people–a story of hope and heartbreak, raw courage and strength splintered with poverty and oppression, and one woman’s chances beyond the darkly hollows. Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek showcases a bold and unique tale of the Pack horse Librarians in literary novels — a story of fierce strength and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere — even back home.

Review:
I’ve been intrigued by the pack horse librarians ever since I heard about them a couple of years ago so I jumped at the chance to read this book. I was immediately drawn into this well-written and well-researched book.
This is the story of Cussy, better known as Bluet, a rare blue-skinned woman living in a severely impoverished area in Kentucky during the 1930s. Bluet gets a job as a pack horse librarian, bringing books to isolated people in the hills. She has a passion for books and loves her time in the mountains, visiting with and sharing books with her patrons, helping them to read and learn, keeping scrapbooks to share knowledge and recipes, connecting people.
Bluet also happens to have a rare genetic affliction which makes her physically blue. Her and her blue relatives don’t fit in anywhere and are shunned by everyone. However, her doctor is progressive and curious and is determined to study her and find out why she is the colour she is.
I loved this novel and got totally caught up in Bluet’s world, feeling anxious for the isolated mountain people and hoping they would find enough food, becoming friends with the dedicated school teacher doing her best to feed her student’s minds and bodies, feeling concern for her overworked father who has to take the risky jobs in the coal mines, and getting caught up in Bluet’s passion and dedication to her job and her absolute love of books and learning and sharing that with those she meets.
This is an inspiring novel, tackling a difficult time in history, when women didn’t often hold jobs, racism was rampant, and poverty was everywhere. The book tells people’s stories in a way that I couldn’t put down, that tore at my heart strings, but at the same time was optimistic. Richardson tread the delicate balance between heartbreaking and moving and a difficult past in a beautifully told story.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Woman 99

Woman 99 by Greer Macallister

A vivid historical thriller about a young woman whose quest to free her sister from an infamous insane asylum risks her sanity, her safety and her life

Charlotte Smith’s future is planned to the last detail, and so was her sister’s – until Phoebe became a disruption. When their parents commit Phoebe to a notorious asylum, Charlotte knows there’s more to the story than madness. Shedding her identity to become an anonymous inmate, “Woman Ninety-Nine,” Charlotte uncovers dangerous secrets. Insanity isn’t the only reason her fellow inmates were put away – and those in power will do anything to keep the truth, or Charlotte, from getting out.

Review:
I found myself drawn into this book right away. Charlotte is a young woman of marriageable age who lives in the 1880s San Francisco and her life laid out for her — her mother is social climbing, her father is always working, she has fallen in love with someone she can’t marry, and her sister, Phoebe, is “difficult”. When Phoebe gets sent to a notorious asylum, Charlotte decides to follow her in order to free her, even if it means breaking the rules and risking her own happiness.
Macallister clearly did her research on asylums of the time as her descriptions of life there feel authentic and not “over the top”. I also loved the relationships that Charlotte developed. It is clear that she loves her sister and that she has a rosy view of her, but she grows and learns at the asylum, meeting and becoming friends with women she never would have even talked to before her experience there.
I also enjoyed the author’s social commentary on “inconvenient” women and how society tries to deal with them — and how many of the women fight back. But she doesn’t shy away from mental illness, either, recognizing that some people do need help because they simply cannot function in society as it is.
Overall, this was a great read that had pretty much everything — sisters, history, loyalty, suspense, romance, rule breaking, risk taking, and some difficult conversations. Woman 99 approaches an interesting time in history, especially as far as mental health is concerned, and does it in an engaging, very readable way.
Thank you to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for the review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Bird King

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

New from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson

Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

Review:
I absolutely loved this book. The synopsis and the wonderful cover drew me in and once I started reading, I could hardly put this book down.
The writing itself is beautiful and, at times, poetic. Wilson knows how to use words and phrases to paint a vivid picture without getting too flowery or long winded. I found myself stopping at times just to re-read her writing. The world is gorgeous and is seamless between the real world and the fantasy world. The terror of the Spanish Inquisition was captured in a horrific way.
The story was fantastic, filled with adventure, friendship, history, magic, life-and-death situations, and characters that I cared about. Fatima and Hassan were both interesting and grew as the book went on. Even if I didn’t agree with them, I felt for them because I could understand where they were coming from and how difficult things were for them.
And the Bird King. I loved how it played in the story and how it was resolved at the end.
Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Press for a review copy of this book.
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