The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham. – ANNA SEWELL, Black Beauty

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is the embodiment of the above quote. The town of Baileyville, Kentucky is not what Alice Wright expected. Growing up in England, all Alice wanted was to get away from her stifling life and her narrow minded parents.  When she met Bennett Van Cleve, a handsome American who promised her a thrilling life away, Alice married him and left. Traveling across the world and eventually ending up in Baileyville, Kentucky, Alice has stars in her eyes about her new life and all the wonderous things she can do.

Baileyville does not live up to her expectations. It quickly becomes claustrophobic as Alice and Bennett are forced to live with Bennett’s overbearing father. Struggling to carve out a life for herself separate than that of her domineering father-in-law and away from the judgmental eyes of the local townsfolk, Alice wants so much more than this life has. When the opportunity to join the team of women delivering books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library appears, Alice promptly signs up.

Beginning to work with the team, Alice learns more about their daily lives and the motivations for why(and how) each ended up with the horseback librarians. The leader of the local horseback librarians is Margery, a woman who quickly becomes Alice’s friend and, more importantly, her ally. Margery has always lived on the outskirts as a self-sufficient, self-confident, and quick-witted woman who has never asked for a man’s permission to do anything. Margery, Alice, and three other women become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky and start bringing books, magazines, recipes, and information to families who desperately need them.

The women are clearly the focus in this novel, but the relationships with the men they love quickly show how compassion, loyalty, humanity, and justice are all necessary components to life in Baileyville, but whether or not the townspeople follow them is another story altogether. Although these women are working hard to provide a necessary service to people, the community doesn’t support their efforts entirely. The dangers these women face grow everyday as they travel the mountainside to bring books and materials to people who have never had any. Apparently giving the community access to facts and information is offensive to some and those people will stop at nothing to end the packhorse librarians for good.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson

In 1936 Cussy Mary Carter is the “Book Woman”, working as a librarian with the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. She brings books, friendship and news of the outside world to isolated families in remote parts of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Cussy is also one of the last of the blue people of Kentucky, people who’s skin appears blue, a trait that makes her stand out when she wants to blend in.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson follows Cussy as she makes her way through a difficult life. It is books and the love of reading that keeps her going and bringing books to her patrons that makes her happy. Her work with the Kentucky Pack Horse Library brings her a lot of satisfaction, but it is a difficult and often dangerous job, especially for a woman alone in the wilderness. The trails are rough and often unpassable, many of the country people distrust anything to do with the government and actively discourage her or turn her away. Some refuse to talk to her because of her color (having her leave their books on the porch). The Pack Library has to make-do with cast-offs from other libraries with sadly worn and out-dated material. Yet Cussy treats everyone with kindness and compassion and slowly (some) people begin to accept her.

Now, if you read “people with blue skin” and thought “science fiction” or “Avatar” and think this book isn’t for you, think again! The blue-skinned people of Kentucky are real, their skin color caused by a very rare genetic condition called methemoglobinemia that causes their skin to appear blue. They are descended from a man who moved to the Troublesome Creek area of Kentucky in 1820. Because of the remoteness and isolation, the people often intermarried, passing the blue color on to their children. Today it is easy to mask the blue skin color (they are perfectly healthy otherwise) but in 1936, superstition against anyone with blue skin causes them to isolate themselves. They are considered “coloreds” and in some ways face even worse discrimination than the African Americans. Some believe that the blue is an indication that they are possessed by the devil and try to “baptize” them (that is, drown them in the creek) to save them. Others are afraid to touch or be touched by a blue-skinned person, thinking that they will turn blue too.

There’s a lot going on in this book – the Pack Horse Library, the devastation that the Great Depression is causing, the local mine and its iron hold on its workers and the plight of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky, all based on fact. There’s almost too much going on toward the end which feels a little rushed, but that is a minor quibble. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a treasure trove of nearly forgotten historical facts, the power of books and friendship and the beauty of these wild, remote mountains. Highly recommended.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

Amy Byler is hanging in there. Her attention and energy are completely occupied by her two smart, active children, a full-time (if low-paying) job and an older house to maintain in The Overdue Life of Amy Byler. Sure, the first few months after her husband left were especially hard, but now she’s able to keep her head above water (if just barely). Yep, things are just fine.

And then, after three years, her ex returns.

All that precarious balance that Amy had been working so hard to achieve is suddenly thrown into chaos. Does Joe want to try again with her? How will the kids feel about seeing their father again after three years? Where does he fit into their lives now? Amy has mixed feelings about this new development, unable to trust Joe again and stung by the apparent ease of his slipping back into their lives.

Trying to assuage his guilt, Joe offers to take care of the kids for the summer so that Amy can (finally) have some time for herself and encourages her to make use of his credit card. At first refusing (she hates the idea of leaving her kids), Amy relents and heads to New York City for a week with her college roommate. A week turns into the whole summer and a tentative Amy begins to blossom, one adventure leading to another.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler is funny and bittersweet; it’s fun to watch Amy find her way and easy to cheer for her. Lighthearted and entertaining, this is a great summer read.

The Librarians: Season One

the-librariansThe Librarians is an American fantasy-adventure television show that premiered in 2014. If the title sounds familiar, it should! This show is a direct spin-off of The Librarian film series starring Noah Wyle as Flynn Carsen. (Look below for the list of The Librarian movies available for check-out).

This television series begins by introducing viewers to Eve Baird, a NATO agent who bumps into the librarian Flynn Carsen, a meeting that sends the two off on a new journey together. Baird becomes the librarian’s new guardian and, after a quick and dirty introduction to the Library and its magic, is immediately helping Flynn on a rescue mission. It turns out that someone is killing off potential Librarians and they need to be stopped.

Hijinks ensue and we soon find Flynn off to the find the Library after it disappears and is lost in time and space in an effort to save itself from the Serpent Brotherhood. Baird is left to protect the new Librarians and help Jenkins, the caretaker of the Library’s branch office, train the newbies. Meet Jacob Stone, Cassandra Cillian, and Ezekiel Jones: three people who were invited by the Library to interview for the Librarian position that was ultimately given to Flynn Carsen after the three didn’t show up for their auditions. They are each geniuses in their own rights with quirks and specialized knowledge that allow them to solve problems and escape from tricky situations seemingly at the last moment. Throughout the first season, this foursome, plus Jenkins at times, finds themselves set off on adventures to rescue ancient mysterious artifacts. These artifacts have magical powers and either the evil Serpent Brotherhood wants to snatch them up for themselves or they are somehow disrupting normal everyday life. Either way, this show is rife with comedic and stoic moments as the Librarians rush to solve problems, work together, learn new things, save the world, and keep magic alive.

This show is full of history lessons and quirky/off-the-wall humor, much like The Librarian movies are. When you think you are just enjoying a new television show, you’ll realize that you are in fact learning something new, whether it’s about Nikola Tesla, Shakespeare, King Arthur, Santa, Egyptian Gods, the minotaur, or a variety of other historical, mythical, or magical things. This show is full of librarians after all, so you’re going to learn something new!

Once you finish the first season, be sure to go and put the second season on hold! (The third season is still on television.)


This television show is based on/is a direct spin-off of The Librarian film series starring Noah Wyle. This is a series of three movies: The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines, and The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice.

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The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

bad ass librariansTo save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s – and the world’s – literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism. (description from publisher)

National Library Week

April 10-16 is National Library Week!  What a perfect time to check out some materials featuring libraries and/or librarians.

Here are a few of my favorites, and even though technically the main characters aren’t librarians, they definitely do spend a lot of time in libraries.  First off is The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason.  When they wrote this, they were fresh out of college, so their descriptions of academic life at Princeton really hit the nail on the head.  Also, the book’s plot reminded me of The Da Vinci Code, as the two main characters are close to solving the mysteries of an ancient Renaissance text that has confused scholars for centuries.  It’s fast-paced and there’s lots of code-breaking going on.

Another favorite is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.  This is a lengthy Draculian tome, so it’s catalogued in the Horror section.  The book begins with a young woman exploring her father’s library when she discovers an ancient book with letters all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor.”  Generations of researchers have risked their lives and their reputations trying to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler, and to uncover this source of darkness and rid the world of it powers.  Now this young woman must decide whether to take up her father’s quest; her journey takes her from  Ivy League libraries to archives in Istanbul and Eastern Europe.  I don’t usually read Horror, but I couldn’t put it down.

Just think about it.  Celebrate National Library Week! And find the answers to your quest at your Davenport Public Library!

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

Recently, I met best-selling author Brad Meltzer in a Chicago book store.  Naturally, I picked up an autographed copy of his newest novel, The Inner Circle.  (He had a large following — I had to wait in line a long time!)

The book revolves around Beecher White, a young archivist who loves his job at the National Archives.  When his childhood crush, Clementime, shows up seeking help in tracking down the father she never knew, he takes her on a private tour, and even shows her the secret vault used only by the  President.  Within moments ( is it by accident or plan?) they discover a priceless artifact hidden under the President’s chair.  Minutes later, the security guard who admitted them to the vault is found dead.  In hours,  Beecher is on the run, unsure who he can trust,  yet frantically trying to stay one-step ahead of his pursuers by successfully decoding concealed messages.

This is a fast-paced read and those interested in political conspiracies or action-packed thrillers will be entertained with all the unexpected twists and turns.  Initially, I wasn’t certain about the ending, but then it made more sense when I read that  Meltzer has a sequel planned, using  Beecher again as the primary character.  He is a rather lovable archivist, after all.

For those who may be further intrigued by the mysteries of symbols and codes, check out the author’s show on the History Channel, Brad Meltzer’s Decoded.

Running the Books by Avi Steinberg

Adrift after graduating from Harvard and rejecting the demands of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, Avi Steinberg stumbles into a job running the library in a tough Boston prison. Funny, heartbreaking, sometimes brutal, always human Running the Books is his memoir of his time spent among the inmates.

The criminals that Avi encounters are complex – many of them are cruel and dangerous, but there is also an undercurrent of sadness, of lives devastated by poverty, abuse and violence. Hope for redemption for most is slim. And although he is completely unsuited to prison life, Avi attempts to reach out and make a difference – with decidedly mixed results.

This book also works as an excellent memoir as Avi reflects on his own life and the choices he’s made. The humor is sardonic and Avi is not afraid to shine a light on his own failings. It’s also a great study of the library as central to a community and to the humans, imperfect and lost, that use it.

Herb & Dorothy: You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to collect art

Herb & Dorothy, an Arthouse Film by Megumi Sasaki, tells the amazing story of the Vogels–a couple who built one of the most extensive collections of minimalist and conceptual art despite their modest incomes.

As former artists themselves, Herb and Dorothy began collecting other artists’ work in the early 1960’s with two rules in hand: 1. the piece had to be affordable and 2. it had to fit in their small, one-bedroom apartment. They decided to live on Dorothy’s salary from working at the Brooklyn Public Library and use all of Herb’s Postal Clerk earnings to buy art. But Herb and Dorothy didn’t just buy art, they also cultivated intimate relationships with some of today’s most famous artists who were virtually unknown at the time they were sought out by the Vogels.

In 1992, the over 4,000 piece collection was moved from the Vogel’s tiny apartment to the National Gallery of Art after much wooing from museums and institutions around the world. In the film, Herb explains how important it was for him and Dorothy to donate their priceless collection to the very people who paid their salaries (taxpayers) and thus made their means of collecting possible. The Vogels have since created the Vogel 50×50 program where 50 of their works were donated to a museum in each of the 50 states, and Iowa’s recipient was the fantastic Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (their first exhibit of the donation, Less is More: The Vogel Gift of Minimal and Conceptual Art, just ended in May).

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.

Herb & Dorothy: You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to collect art

Herb & Dorothy, an Arthouse Film by Megumi Sasaki, tells the amazing story of the Vogels–a couple who built one of the most extensive collections of minimalist and conceptual art despite their modest incomes.

As former artists themselves, Herb and Dorothy began collecting other artists’ work in the early 1960’s with two rules in hand: 1. the piece had to be affordable and 2. it had to fit in their small, one-bedroom apartment. They decided to live on Dorothy’s salary from working at the Brooklyn Public Library and use all of Herb’s Postal Clerk earnings to buy art. But Herb and Dorothy didn’t just buy art, they also cultivated intimate relationships with some of today’s most famous artists who were virtually unknown at the time they were sought out by the Vogels.

In 1992, the over 4,000 piece collection was moved from the Vogel’s tiny apartment to the National Gallery of Art after much wooing from museums and institutions around the world. In the film, Herb explains how important it was for him and Dorothy to donate their priceless collection to the very people who paid their salaries (taxpayers) and thus made their means of collecting possible. The Vogels have since created the Vogel 50×50 program where 50 of their works were donated to a museum in each of the 50 states, and Iowa’s recipient was the fantastic Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (their first exhibit of the donation, Less is More: The Vogel Gift of Minimal and Conceptual Art, just ended in May).

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.