Monday, July 5, 2021

Book Review: Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

Wonderland CreekWonderland Creek. Lynn Austin. Bethany House (2011). 385 pages. Genre:  Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction.

First Line: "Blue Island, Illinois, 1936. If my life were a book, no one would read it."

Summary:  Alice Ripley is perfectly content with her life.  That is, until it changes abruptly.  She has a job she loves at the library, a boyfriend who is considered a "catch" and plenty of time to indulge in her love of novels.  Her boyfriend decides they shouldn't see each other anymore and she is laid off from her job at the library, all in the same week.  She is sad and has no idea what to do next.  

So, when she hears that her Aunt Lydia and Uncle Cecil will be taking a trip to Kentucky, she asks to go along.  A few months ago, Alice had begun collecting books for a library in need in Kentucky.  She decides this is the perfect opportunity to deliver the books in person and help out for a couple of weeks until her aunt and uncle return for her. 

However, after being dropped off at the library, she is in for a big surprise.  The librarian had sent her a letter telling her not to come.  She never received it and her relatives have already left.  She is unprepared for the poverty in Kentucky.  There is no electricity, no running water, no refrigerators, no hotels or restaurants.  She has no choice but to make do with what is available. As she lives among the people and tries to help them out, she learns so many things that she never could have from books.  In fact, she is not sure she wants to go back to living the way she had before she came to Kentucky.

My thoughts:  One of the things that drew me to this book was the inclusion of packhorse librarians. This is fascinating and I loved learning about this program that was part of the Works Project Administration. But, there is so much more to this story.

At first, I didn't care for Alice.  She seemed spoiled and clueless.  However, as the story went along, I think this really just showed her age and lack of experience.  Her feistiness was an asset as she had to deal with trying circumstances in Kentucky.  It would be difficult to go from having modern conveniences to having none.  Alice fussed and complained, but in the end she did what needed to be done.  I am not sure I would have acted any differently in her shoes. 

I loved the setting in this book.  The towns are fictional, but they are located in the rural areas of eastern Kentucky.  As Alice rode her packhorse routes, I could see the beauty around her, hear the creek as it bubbled along and feel the crisp spring air.  I have a picture in my mind of the cabin Mack hid out in.

Speaking of that, there is quite a mystery in this book.  On Alice's first day at the library, the librarian, Mack, is shot.  He is not dead, but wounded.  As the reader, we don't know who shot him.  We do learn that there is a long-standing feud between Mack's family and another family in the area.  It is decided that he needs to hide out for a while.  In addition to this, there is a coal mine in town that has been shut down.  Several years ago, there was a suspicious death there.  Mack is trying to discover what happened.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Lillie.  She is a one-hundred-year-old former slave that lives with Mack.  Lillie raised Mack after his mother died in childbirth.  She is also trained in the healing arts.  She knows what to do when someone is sick or injured.  No one in this part of Kentucky sees a doctor.  In fact, it would take hours to reach the nearest one.  Lillie is also wise.  She has had a lot of practice in living and trusting God.  

This is a stand-alone novel, but I found myself wishing it were a series so I could spend more time with these characters.  If you enjoy historical fiction with a strong sense of place and characters you won't soon forget, I urge you to pick up Wonderland Creek.


"I marveled at the power of books to carry us far away to another time and place."

"I realized as I rode farther up into the hills that the children enjoyed the suspense of waiting nearly as much as they enjoyed the story.  Mystery and suspense were what kept life from becoming boring."

"Folks get set on having their own way, and they end up with their hearts broken when it don't happen.  God's the one who's deciding what's going to be and what ain't. He knows what's best even if we're too stubborn to realize it sometimes."

"If I've learned anything while I've been here, it's how important it is to have family and friends and people around us to share our lives with."


  1. Great review. Sounds like a good read.

  2. I enjoyed reading this review. I've been wondering about this book... love that it has a bit of mystery and faith elements.

    Blessings, Net