Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Mercy Road by Ann Howard Creel, a Story About Volunteer Female Ambulance Drivers During WWI

Ann Howard Creel's books are inspired by history and her female characters face life-changing challenges.

Her newest novel Mercy Road was inspired by a photograph of a female ambulance driver in France during WWI. Female doctors and nurses were banned from serving in the U. S. Army so they formed the American Women's Hospital and raised funds to send a volunteer team to France.

Creel's novel begins with a tragedy that leaves Arlene Favier aware of how life can change in an instant. A fire takes her home and father and the family's source of income. Desperate to find a job to support her mother and brother, and with dreams of rebuilding her father's stud farm, Arlene stumbles into an opportunity that will use her few employable skills--as a chauffeuses driving an ambulance for doctors volunteering in France.

With most French doctors serving at the front, there was a lack of medical services for civilians and refugees. With her command of French and experience with machines, Arlene is the perfect volunteer. With the lure of a cash bonus at the end of the war which would allow her to rebuild the family home, Arlene joins the American Women's Hospital service, formed to aid citizens and refugees.

To go to France in May 1918 required great courage and fortitude. The war had destroyed the land and the infrastructure. By September 1918, there were 1.85 million refugees. Food shortages and the lack of housing and clean water contributed to illness including typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, and influenza. The Hospital Service also assisted men wounded at the front. The women were exposed to the horrors of battlefield wounds, the dead, and the dying.

Now I not only knew death; I knew the shade and scent of human blood and the charred appearance and stench of burnt human bodies. I knew the look of what lay beneath our skin. from Mercy Road by Ann Howard Creel 

Arlene was excited to arrive in Paris, her father's birthplace. With restrictions against seeing soldiers, she rebuffs the attention of the handsome but oversure Captain Brohammer. He takes it as a challenge, pursuing her throughout the war even though Arlene makes clear she is not interested. But when she meets up with a childhood friend once employed by her father, her hesitancy to become romanticly involved is challenged.
Hospital 1 in Luzancy . Note the uniforms of the female ambulance drivers.

The plot involves intrigue, accusations with devastating implications, and personal growth that challenges old ideas and the embracing of possibilities.

I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

I read Creel's previous novel The River Widow. Read my review here.

Read more about the American Women's Hospital Service here.

Mercy Road
by Ann Howard Creel
Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: November 21, 2019
$3.99 Kindle, $10.99 paperback, $14.99 Audio CD
From the author's website: 
When I stumbled upon a story of truly unsung female heroes during World War I, I knew I’d found the inspiration for my next historical novel.  Banned for service in the US Army, a group of female physicians and surgeons formed the American Women’s Hospital and independently sent an all-female team of doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and aides to war-torn France in 1918.  Soon after I’d discovered this almost unknown piece of history, a character began to form and take on shape and dimension in my mind. 
Arlene Favier, a young French-speaking horsewoman from Paris, Kentucky, joins the first team of the American Women’s Hospital as an ambulance driver, passes through Paris, France, and ends up serving soldiers and civilians alike on the front lines.  Amid the chaos of war, she never expects to find romantic attention from two very different soldiers, and not only does she find herself in physical danger every day, her heart and belief in the human spirit become endangered, too.  Because even during the days of life and death, things are not always as they appear to be, and not all soldiers are heroes. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Jodie Adams Kirshner

My family moved to Metro Detroit in 1963 for a better life. My folks did achieve their dreams--a blue-collar job, a home of their own, medical insurance, a decent income, and a pension to retire on. Dad loved his job at Chrysler.

Just a few years later my friends and I watched as planes with National Guard troops flew overhead and tanks lumbered along Woodward Ave., heading to Detroit. The city's legacy of racist policies had birthed rebellion.

Over my lifetime the once-great city plummeted into bankruptcy and stretches of 'urban prairie'.

Why do we remove people from homes, leaving the houses empty to scrappers and decay and the bulldozers? Isn't it better for all to have the houses occupied, assist with their improvement, to have neighborhoods filled?

Jodie Adams Kirshner's Broke relates the series of events and decisions that brought Detroit from vibrancy to bankruptcy. But Kirshner doesn't just give a history of racist housing discrimination and government policy decisions. We experience Detroit through the stories of real people and their struggles to achieve their dreams.

Homeownership is the American Dream. Detroit's homeownership rate was once one of the highest in the nation. Then, African American neighborhoods were razed for 'urban renewal' projects while redlining curtailed housing options.

Kirshner shows how governmental decisions on the federal, state and local level disenfranchised Detroit residents who valiantly endeavor to remain in their homes and neighborhoods.

Bankruptcy, we come to understand, is not just a fiscal issue but hugely impacts individuals' lives.

These six people's stories are moving and devastating. They dream of owning the home in which they live. They purchase houses, repair them, and discover back taxes and water bills follow the house, not the resident, and they can't pay them. Investors purchase houses and let them stand empty while the family who had been living there are forced out.

They can't afford the $6000 a year car insurance they need to work--and to get their kids to school as Detroit has no school buses.

Some are native Detroiters but others were drawn to Detroit's atmosphere and sense of possibility. They are unable to obtain mortgages to purchase empty buildings for development.

They are never sure if rent payments are actually getting to the landlord, or if the discount car insurance they purchase is legit.

House damage remains unrepaired by distant landlords, jeopardizing the safety of a woman and her child.

Meanwhile, Midtown and Downtown development draws suburbanites at the price of huge tax breaks while neighborhood needs are ignored.

Kirshner is a journalist and bankruptcy lawyer and teaches at Columbia Law School. Broke offers deep insight through compelling narrative writing that illuminates and reaches our hearts.

I was granted access to a free egalley by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

Read how Kirshner came to write this book here.
“As a resident and business owner in Detroit, I think Broke captures the complexity and heartbreak here. Clear, accessible, and to the point, it’s so readable that I sped through it and then read it again to take notes.” —Susan Murphy, Pages Bookshop, Detroit
Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises
by Jodie Adams Kirshner
St. Martin's Press
Pub Date 19 Nov 2019
ISBN 9781250220639
PRICE $28.99 (USD)
Read More:

Detroit 1967
Once in a Great City by David Maraniss
The $500 House in Detroit by Drew Philp
Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle
Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor Cities Majestic Ruins by Dan Austin and photos by Sean Doerr
The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgitt M. Davis

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Helen Korngold Diary: November 10-16, 1919

Helen Korngold, Dec. 1919, New York City

Helen is still teaching at Harrison Elementary.

Monday 10
Back at work – the children ask such funny questions, such as –how old are you?

Tuesday 11
Robert is cute. Holiday.
Armistice Day ad in the Nov. 11, 1919, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Wednesday 12
Back again. Stephens comes in a dozen times a day.

Thursday 13
Mr. Miller is so cute.

Friday 14
Gee, that teacher’s meeting – Mr. Miller certainly handed me some bouquets.

Saturday 15

Sunday 16
Out with Si Russek all day after Sunday School. Saw 5 [uniforms?] had a dandy time

Helen's Diary

The Nov. 10, 1919 St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The coal miner's strike was ordered to come to an end.

Hoover warns that the U.S. may close the door to people born in Europe while the American Legion opposed leniency towards war objectors, both attitudes rooted in fear of Red agitators.
St. Louis Star and Times, Nov.12, 1919.

"We are becoming an age on wheels," with deaths by automobiles soaring.

Uncle Wiggly dressed dolls entered into the St. Louis Star and Times contest:
Fur Coats on sale. The $2500 one would be $38000 today! The $169 coat today would be $2500.
The man who would choose a woman over being king.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory by Richard Powers was on my TBR bookshelf and when I saw it was the November choice for the Now Read This online book club, sponsored by the PBS Newshour and the New York Times Book Review, I decided to participate.

In The Overstory, Powers gives readers nine characters whose stories entwine over the course of the novel. Each has an experience that alters their awareness, motivates them to resist the status quo, and for some, culminating in acts of eco-terrorism.

Trees, forests, ecosystems, nature--these are the stunning stars of the novel, that which gives meaning to our assorted human characters and spurs their community. They are described in gorgeous, vivid language.

It is a testament that this novel made me reconsider my personal choices. I have read nonfiction books about climate change, rising waters, the impact of animal farming, the ways we need to alter how we live. But this novel had me second-guessing my choices.

We are installing new carpeting and porcelain tile to repace vinyl tile and an awful maroon carpet. What environmental damage am I causing because I want a prettier home? 

"We have a Midas problem. There's no endgame, just a stagnant pyramiding scheme. Endless, pointless prosperity," says the creator of an alternate reality online computer game. But he was talking to me and you.

I look at the paper towels and the paper napkins on my countertop and shudder. What about the very book I read, made of paper? Yes! It is recycled paper, saving 657 trees with the first printing! AND 614,962 gallons of water, 206,700pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, 62,925 pounds of solid waste. We CAN DO BETTER!

"The best arguments in the world won't change a person's mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story," one of the characters states.

The Overstory is that kind of story. It can change your mind.

The novel won the Pulitzer Prize.

The Overstory
by Richard Powers
W. W. Norton
$18.95 paperback

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Joe Biden by Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover's biography Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption has been updated and rereleased. Reading this book helped me to understand Biden's career, his consistent strengths and weaknesses, and his deeply held values. I found the biography to be interesting, informative, accessible, and enoyable.

Witcover gives us details of Joe's legislative career, illustrating his long-held views. I was thoroughly engaged while experiencing many 'ah-ha' moments of clarity on issues currently being discussed, such as his view on busing which came up in an early Democratic primary debate.

Biden's ability to connect with people, coupled with his winning smile, his accessibility in a small state, made him Delaware's "Joe." Readers learn that Delaware is such a small state that politicians can't afford to not get along, a quality Joe brought into national politics. Joe also was unafraid to stand up against his own party's stance, such as busing. 

It was also very interesting to learn about Joe's leadership in vetting supreme court justices. The book is detailed and yet so interesting and relevant. Also, Joe's experience in foreign affairs is very revealing and relevant.

As a family man, Joe offers much to recommend as a role model. The 'life of trial,' as many know, includes the early loss of his wife and child and the more recent loss of his son Beau. Joe's commitment to his family took precedence over becoming a Washington insider, as his daily commute from Washington D.C. to Delaware isolated him from other congressmen.

Witcover doesn't shy away from exploring Joe's 'fatal flaws' which have labeled him. For instance, the charge that Joe talks too much is explored while also affirming that Joe really knows what he is talking about. Although a lackluster student, Joe is an avid reader and lifelong learner, which with his years of experience, makes him an authority.

Previously, I had read Joe's profoundly moving and inspirational book Promise Me, Dad and The Book of Joe. I had also read about how Joe and Beau Biden supported Sarah McBride in her memoir Tomorrow Will Be Different.

I won a free book from the publisher through LibraryThing. My review is fair and unbiased.

Read a sample from the book at https://aerbook.com/books/Joe_Biden-81529.html?social=1&retail=1&emailcap=0

from the publisher:Based on exhaustive research by one of Washington's most prolific journalists, including numerous exclusive interviews with Biden's confidants and family members, as well as President Obama and the former vice president himself, Joe Biden goes beyond conventional biography to track the forces that have shaped a man who, with his plainspoken style and inspiring life story, has resonated with millions of Americans and whose work has shaped modern American life.

The Queens of Animation by Nathalia Holt

It was the 1956 rerelease of Fantasia that rocked my world. I was four years old and Mom took me to a Buffalo, NY theater to see my first movie. The images and the music made a lasting impression, driving a lifelong love for symphonic music.

I already was in love with illustrative art, thanks to the Little Golden Books that my mother brought home from her weekly grocery shopping trips. My favorite was I Can Fly, illustrated by Mary Blair. And on my wall were Vacu-Form Nursery Rhyme characters including Little Bo Peep, Little Boy Blue--which I later discovered were also designed by Mary Blair! And even later in life, I learned that Mary Blair had worked for Walt Disney. And of course, growing up in the 1950s, anything Disney was a favorite.

Especially the 1959 release of Sleeping Beauty. I was still in my 'princess' phase, which came after my 'cowboy gunslinger' phase. Mom took me to see the film. I had the Disney Sleeping Beauty coloring book. I had the Little Golden Book. And I had the Madame Alexander Sleeping Beauty doll! Sadly, my dog chewed it up but in my 40s I purchased one on eBay to satisfy my inner child.

Fast forward to the late 1980s and my husband and I were buying up Disney videotapes for our son, raising another generation of Disney fandom. His first theatrical movie was The Little Mermaid.

My fandom never took me as far as to read books about the Disney franchise or Walt. Until The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History. I remembered my love of Mary Blair and thought, Nathalia Holt has something here. I wanted to know the names and the contributions of these unknown women.

It was a joyful read, at once a nostalgic trip into the films that charmed and inspired my childhood-- and our son's --and a revealing and entertaining read about the development of animation and the rise of women in a male-dominated culture. I put aside all other books.

Holt concentrates on the women's careers but includes enough biographical information to make them real and sympathetic. I was so moved to read about Mary Blair's abusive marriage.

Holt also does a stellar job of explaining the rising technologies that would impact animation, eventually eliminating the jobs of hundreds of artists. We learn about Walt's interest in each story that inspired the animated movies and the hard work to develop the story, art, and music, along with the conflicts and competition behind the scenes.

I learned so many interesting facts! Like how Felix Salten's novel Bambi: A Life in the Woods was banned in Nazi Germany because it was a metaphor for Anti-Semitism! How Mary Louise Weiser originated the grease pencil, one of the many technologies Disney developed and perfected or quickly adapted.

And I loved the story of Fantasia. Bianca Majolie presented the music selections to Walt, including The Nutcracker Suite's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Waltz of the Flowers. Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker ballet had never yet been produced in the United States at the time! The male animators did not want to work on illustrating fairies (they instead created the Pastoral Symphony's centaurs and oversexualized centaurettes, including an African-American servant who was part mule instead of horse).

Choreographer George Balanchine was touring the studio with Igor Stravinsky, whose The Rite of Spring was included in Fantasia, and he loved the faires in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. Fifteen years later he debuted The Nutcracker at the new Lincoln Center and it became a Christmastime annual tradition.

I just loved this book for so many reasons! Thank you, Nathalia Holt!

I was given access to a free egalley by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History
by Nathalia Holt
Little, Brown and Company
Pub Date 22 Oct 2019
ISBN 9780316439152
PRICE $29.00 (USD)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

News, Quilts, TBR

This week it became real that winter is coming. We had our first snowfall here in Metro Detroit. We planted bulbs on Monday, the leaves on our trees started to fall on Tuesday, and it snowed on Wednesday. By the weekend we were breaking records for coldest days.

It's all happening too fast!
photo by Tom Gochenour, my brother

We have been so busy lately choosing new livingroom and entryway flooring, driving to showrooms and calling for quotes. I finally fit in a class for my 'new' sewing machine which is now ten months old. I restarted working with the fitness coach after my surgery, but I'll have to start easy as I still can't lift over ten pounds or do any lower body workouts. 

But I made sure to attend a talk by April Anue, Fiber Artist and owner of Your Heritage Quilts LLC, about her quilt Strange Fruit at the St. John's Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, MI. 
April told the audience how God called her to find the names of the 5,000 victims of lynching between 1865 and 1965 and to undertake the sacred duty to record them in this quilt. Every stitch was blessed by her tears.

The quilt appears in the book Quilts and Human Rights published by Michigan State University Press. See an interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idammoba2Po

When my family moved to Royal Oak in 1963 my grandfather would pick me up and take me to church here. I was confirmed here, knelt at this altar rail for communion. It was a profound experience to encounter both God and American sin in this space.
April brought another quilt made in memory of the child Syrian refugee found dead on the shores of Turkey, Alan Kurdi.
April said she doesn't make 'pretty quilts.' As you can see from the quilt above, the workmanship and colors and fabrics and design are gorgeous, but the message is disturbing. Art makes us see things anew.

But my latest quilt is 'pretty', meant to use some of my drawers of scrap fabrics. I created Hexie flowers and appliqued them. I call it April Showers Bring May Flowers.
 It was machine quilted by Maggie Smith.

During my recovery from surgery, I embroidered five more original designs for my Wizard of Oz quilt which has been languishing for five years.
 Our library held their semiannual book sale and I found some great books.

My NetGalley TBR shelf includes some real impressive reads:
  • Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict
  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
  • Things in Jars by Jess Kid 
  • A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Eden Mine by S. M. Hulse
  • The Great Unknown by Peg Klingman
  • Miss Austen by Gil Hornby
  • Exploring Your Creative Voice in Contemporary Quilt Art by Sandra Sider
  • The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
  • Frida in America by Celia Stahr
  • These Fevered Days by Martha Ackmann
I still have book win Polite Society by Mahesh Rao to read and will be receiving Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan from Bookish.

I am reading The Overstory by Richard Powers with the Facebook Now Read This  group sponsored by PBS Newshour and the New York Times Book Review. It is powerful. Readers have been sharing photographs of trees in their lives. My contribution was my childhood home's Weeping Willow Tree.

We had weekend guests a few weekends ago; Hazel and Ellie tolerated us well enough but were thrilled when their people came to bring them home.
And this weekend we puppysat just Ellie.