by Cathryn Conroy (Gaithersburg, Maryland): Before I read this book for my book club, I was skeptical. The only other novel I have read by JoJo Moyes is “Me Before You” (also for my book club), and it was a sappy love story. This one is more historical fiction than love story, featuring engaging characters and a compelling plot.

Taking place deep in the Appalachian Mountains of rural Eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression, this is a story of redemption and new beginnings, a story of justice and hope, a story of love and passion. Alice is a young British woman who has never fit into the upper crust society, much to her parents’ chagrin. When wealthy American Bennett Van Cleve and his father, Geoffrey, visit Surrey, England and meet Alice, both men know she will be the perfect wife for Bennett. Alice assumes she’ll be living in a city and is disappointed when she finds out they are living in the mountains. The Van Cleves own the local coal mine, and the elder Mr. Van Cleve rules the mine, his workers, and his home with an iron fist. Alice is bored with nothing to do, no friends, and a husband who is cold in bed. Against the Van Cleves’ wishes, she joins the fledgling packhorse librarians, which is based on the true WPA Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky that was instituted by then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and begins riding all over mountain and dale delivering books to isolated Kentucky residents. But not everyone is happy with the five women librarians as they are becoming a bit too independent. Alice and her fellow librarians have a series of adventures, but things pick up when something truly shocking happens to Margery O’Hare, the lead librarian. From then on, this book is unputdownable even if this last part of the story is rather predictable.

The colorful characters and the bold seasonal changes of this mountainous setting are so vividly described that I felt as if I had been plopped down into the fictional town of Baileyville, Kentucky. More than anything, this novel is about the power of books, the power of reading, and the power of women’s friendships—all of which can change lives.

I was captivated by this book!