#Bookreview: Light to the Hills by #BonnieBlaylock #SmokyMountains #illiteracy #GreatDepression

Below is another review of a book I read/reviewed in August/September for the Historical Novel Society. I could not post it until November. I have really become a fan of Bonnie Blaylock since reading this book. My mother grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1930s and was a voracious reader, so this really speaks to me.


The folks in the Kentucky Appalachians are scraping by. Coal mining and hardscrabble know-how are a way of life for these isolated people. But when Amanda Rye, a young widowed mother and traveling packhorse librarian, comes through a mountain community hit hard by the nation’s economic collapse, she brings with her hope, courage, and apple pie. Along the way, Amanda takes a shine to the MacInteer family, especially to the gentle Rai; her quick-study daughter, Sass; and Finn, the eldest son who’s easy to warm to. They remind Amanda of her childhood and her parents with whom she longs to be reconciled.

Her connection with the MacInteers deepens, and Amanda shares with them a dangerous secret from her past. When that secret catches up with Amanda in the present, she, Rai, Sass, and Finn find their lives intersecting—and threatened—in the most unexpected ways. Now they must come together as the truth lights a path toward survival, mountain justice, forgiveness, and hope.



In the mountains of Kentucky, times have always been hard, but during the Depression, they are leaner than ever. Young Sass MacInteer is gathering ginseng in the holler when she meets Amanda Rye, a packhorse librarian sent out to provide books and cheer to those who are isolated and struggling. The MacInteers are doing what they can to get by, and that includes sending their men deep into the coal mines to eke out a living. Amanda, a young widow, is reeling from struggles of her own and is thankful for the librarian job, which helps her support her young son. Wounds from her past have kept her from reaching out, although she feels an attraction to Finn MacInteer, the eldest son. Even as the family befriends Amanda, and Sass begins to appreciate the joy of books, secrets from Amanda’s past might threaten them all.

This is a gorgeously written and well-layered novel that immediately transports us to the Appalachian Mountains of the 1930s. Bonnie Blaylock does a wonderful job of portraying the beauty of the “shifting blues and greens” of Appalachia and the proud determination of its people. The characters draw you in immediately. Sass’s personality matches her nickname, and the quiet but steely resolve of Rai MacInteer keeps her family not only fed but well cared for. Illiteracy in Appalachia is explored, as there was usually no money for books or, for many, an ability to read them. We celebrate with Sass as we feel the joy of holding a book and of learning to read for the first time. The ways, superstitions, folklore, and justice of the mountain people are woven deeply into the story. Rich in color, tradition, and character, this mountain saga will hold you spellbound.

I received a free copy of this book from Lake Union Publishing via The Historical Novel Society. My review is voluntary and the opinions expressed are my own.


After 20 years of co-owning a veterinary practice while raising two kids, traveling extensively, and living on a few acres where she wrangles the bees, the garden, and various barnyard beasts, Bonnie focused on her first love of words and writing (and put that MA in creative writing from UT to use). It’s these experiences, as well as growing up in a large military family, from which she draws material for story ideas. She hosts a blog of personal essays, many of which have been re-published on various platforms.

Light to the Hills won the 2021 Porch Prize in fiction award. Bonnie is currently at work on her third novel.



*Important to know: This book will not be released until December 1st, but if you are on Amazon Prime, this is an Amazon First Reads pre-release offer you can download for free right now.

14 thoughts on “#Bookreview: Light to the Hills by #BonnieBlaylock #SmokyMountains #illiteracy #GreatDepression”

    1. She never mentioned them but her Mom had a book source because she used to read Grace Livingston Hill and Zane Grey books to my Mom and her siblings. Back when they were new! My Mom has passed but I’ll ask my aunt where my grandmother got her books back in the 30s.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Darlene, this is probably how my grandmother got books in the 1930s:

      “Library service came to Bryson City in 1929 when Mrs. Marianna Black, a local community leader, began circulating books to townspeople out of two old suitcases. The following year, the library moved into the jury room of the old Swain County Courthouse. By asking friends and well-wishers for monetary donations, Marianna Black was able to increase the size of the collection to 2,000 volumes. By 1935, the collection was well used as circulation increased to about 8,000 to 10,000 books annually.

      In 1938, the Works Progress Administration built a stone community building on the Bryson City square, and space in it was allotted for the library, which officially became known as the Marianna Black Library. In 1944, the library became a member of the Fontana Regional Library system.”

      The library is still called The Marianna Black Library.

      Liked by 1 person

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