Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Kopp Sisters On the March by Amy Stewart

As a 2019 member of the Kopp Sisters Literary Society, I received an advanced copy of the fifth Kopp Sisters novel by Amy Stewart, Kopp Sisters on the March.

It came with lots of swag!

Stewart was unable to discover stories about the Kopp sisters during 1917 and 1918 so she let her imagination fill in the blanks. She decided to intertwine the National Service Schools into their story. She also brought in Beulah Binford, a notorious figure who had crossed paths with vaudeville manager Freeman Bernstein, who appears in Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions.

Stewart realized the storylines were all about reinvention. Constance has lost her position as deputy and jail matron. Norma desperately wants to insert pigeons into WWI war communications. The women who join the National Service Schools hoped to find a life with purpose and meaning. And Beulah wanted to put her sordid past behind her.

This book in the series felt different than the previous ones because Constance's story is not really the one that grabs readers attention, but Beulah's. Constance is continuing to learn her strengths and at the end of the book has determined to present herself for a war-time position. But it is Beulah's slowly revealed back story that impels readers.
Beulah Binford

Once again, Stewart uses historical fiction to present women's ongoing concerns: double standards, child sexual abuse, substance abuse, poverty, abandonment, motherhood, the vilification of female sexuality.

These women prove they have the strength, will, intelligence, and self-belief to achieve their dreams.

I can't wait for book six, which will take place during WWI!

I received a free ARC in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Learn more about the National Service Schools

Read my review of the first Constance Kopp book, Girl Waits With Gun
Read my reviews of the second, third, and fourth Miss Kopp books

Kopp Sisters on the March
by Amy Steward
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover: $26.00; ebook $14.99
ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328736529
ISBN-10: 1328736520
Publication Date: 09/17/2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Helen Korngold Diary September 8-14, 1919

Helen Korngold, Dec. 1919, New York City

Helen is in her first teaching job after graduating from Washington University. She has a 7th Grade class at Wellston. It did not suit her.

Monday 8
At it again.

Tuesday 9
I just won’t have this job.

Wednesday 10
As I think of it, I don’t see how I stuck at it this long.

Thursday 11
Mr. Bush has a teacher now – Thank goodness.

Friday 13
Well, I have #35 anyhow.

Saturday 13
Glad I can rest.

Sunday 14
Mick’s wedding. This was exciting


Sept 11

Earnest F. Bush was the founder and principle of Wellston High School. He appears on the 1917 St. Louis City Directory as the principle of Wellston High School living on Maple. On the April 9, 1940, St. Louis Census he still gave his job as a superintendent in the public school system, although it was then crossed off because he had retired. He died a few months later n July 17, 1940.

Sept 11, 1919, St. Louis Star and Times article tells how the president of the National Women's Trade Union League promoted the inclusion of housekeepers as producers. The NWTUL was organized in 1903. Under the leadership of Mrs. Raymond Robbins the group promoted the needs and protection of working women, an 8-hour workday, and end to child labor, and after the Triangle factory fire, safer worker safety conditions.

On a lighter note--

St Louis Star and Times, Sept. 10, 1919
Brown is the fashionable color.

Eccentricities of the 1919-1920 Styles
Skirts are a bit shorter and a bit wider. Three-quarter and bell-shaped sleeves will be worn. Cap sleeves are shown on the evening gowns. Blouse-effects differentiate the new coats. Suit coats are either hip or knee lengths and are fuller. Panels and cape backs accentuate the long lines which will again be the mode.

Brown is the newest of the new shades. All variations of brown meet with favor.

Panniers and draperies of many varieties adorn the new skirts. Feathers have returned to their former prestige in the realm of millinery. Little other trimming is seen on the autumn hats.

...The 1920 styles are not revolutionary. Hats are large and small and varied of shape and color. Velours and silvertones are still good in suits, and the belted model again prevails. Heavy coats have the big collars and the large pockets which have endeared themselves to the 1920-model woman, loving practical and useful things as she does.

Then there is the good friend the blue serge dress, with tunic and braid and buttons, which has been on the boards for many seasons.

Brown Is Queen of Colors
For the first time since the "before de war" days comes relief from the 'deadly blues and blacks of winter outer garments. Brown is queen of the colors this year, brown and its sister shades henna, taupe, champagne, beige. The girl with the auburn hair will exult in the soft new tones, and brown-eyed women will find numerous shades to enhance their attractiveness.

So on the whole the aspect of the shops is brighter. The midnight blues, while still darkly visible, have turned a rainbow lining of greens, plums, burgundies, grays, and even reds.

The world Is destined to appear gayer than for a long time past. The milliners have adopted the new colorings with avidity. And feathers, everything is feathers, as one buyer said. One of the prettiest of the feather creations was a super-model in Jade, from a famous Paris salon. Tiny little flat curls of ostrich cut no one could tell Just how, formed the entire hat, from the soft tarn crown to the rather narrow brim. Trimmed with only a bow of silk ribbon, it was priced at $85.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Apple Butter Time

I made my first batch of apple butter!

I used an apple corer to prepare the apples.
 I kept the apple chunks in water with a touch of lemon juice as I worked.
When I had enough apples prepared I put the apple pieces in a pot with a little water, one or two inches. Then I cooked them on low heat until they were soft.
Because I did not peel the apples first I used a food mill to separate out the skins. I ended up with a quart of applesauce.

I combined apple cider, cinnamon, a cup of sugar, and cloves and the applesauce in a crockpot.
 And cooked it on low all afternoon until thick.
I spooned the apple butter into clean mason jars scalded with hot water. When cool, I put them into the refrigerator.

The next morning I spread it on my husband's homemade whole wheat bread! Heaven!
Now...what to do with the other apples from our tree...

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels

Peter reaches out to new girl in town Robin by giving her his deceased mother's books. As repayment, she writes him a poem about the book. Robin slowly allows Peter into her heart.

How can a book lover not love a story about books bonding people? Erin Bartel's novel The Words Between Us is filled with books--titles and authors, well-read dusty tomes and mass-market paperbacks--and conversations about books.

But, for Robin, books became an escape from the ugly truths of life, building a wall between her and the world.
"The shelf is filled with all but one of the books Peter had given me when I was a girl, each one a bottle containing some intoxicating fictitious liquor that promises to take me away from this incomprehensible chaos of real life and into a carefully plotted story.[...] Isn't there some literary cocktail that will help me escape?"~from The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels
At once point in her young life, Robin went so far as to stop talking, further constructing a protective shell. What drove a teenager to such extremes?

Robin's parents are both in prison and she cannot forgive them for abandoning her and cannot tolerate their crimes. Uprooted from her Amherst, MA, home to live with a grandmother in Michigan, she tries to rewrite her past with a new name and identity, lies that don't hold up. She is chained to her parent's legacy of notoriety.

Told in two timelines, the adult Robin watching her bookstore slide into bankruptcy and her backstory as a teenager, the novel explores themes of anger and forgiveness. There is romance and drama and friendship and threat and a reversal of everything Robin thought was true. Robin's foil is Sarah, a large-hearted girl who carries secret guilt under her party-girl persona.

The novel is set in a fictional small town on the Saginaw River in Michigan divided by a river. There is a journey that touches on all the Great Lakes, starting at Niagara Falls and ending on the sand dunes of Grand Marias on Lake Superior. The story concludes on Isle Royale, a National Park in Lake Superior. I loved all the Michigan mentions, including the Grand Rapids Art Prize and the carousel in the Van Andel Public Museum.
Grand Marias, MI on Lake Superior
I picked up on nods to Jane Austen. Robin's imagination concocts a wild story about Peter's father who later sends her out of his home--shades of Northanger Abbey! And there is Persuasion's wish-fulfillment hope for second chances.

Some aspects of the plot feel improbable, but most readers will be too involved with Robin to mind. The faith talk addresses a universal truth, and the romance is chaste.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Words Between Us. It will appeal to a wide audience of readers: those who like appealing characters struggling with difficulties, young adult fiction readers, women's fiction, Christian fiction, and who love the current trend of bookish characters.
Sunset on Lake Superior
The Words Between us is Erin Bartels sophomore book; her first book was We Hope For Better Things; read my review here.
"I know why some books live on forever while others struggle for breath, forgotten on shelves and in basements...they might have told rollicking good tales and sketched out characters who were fun to follow for four hundred pages, but they hadn't bled. They hadn't cut themselves open and given up a part of themselves...they hadn't lost anything in the writing."~from The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels
I received access to a free egalley by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

Find a reading group guide at

The Words Between Us
by Erin Bartels
Available Now/Sept 2019
Paperback ISBN9780800734923
E-Book ISBN9781493419302

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Celebrate the Outdoors with a Patchwork Picnic Quilt

Aren't these just the cutest pieced block? And such an adorable quilt! Can you resist a Patchwork Picnic? Gracey Larson has created wonderful pictorial blocks for people--like me--who prefer traditional piecing to paper piecing.

I am in love with the lightning bug in a mason jar--and the ladybug--and the cattails--and the coneflower--and the dragonfly--and the watering can--O.K., I admit to loving this whole quilt!
If you don't want to make the whole quilt, at the very least you will want to make these bird blocks, seen in the table runner project below. I want to make a whole flock!
Or these fall-themed acorn hot pads. They could be whipped up in a day! Then use the flowers block to make a spring set!
Gracey offers seven different projects using these blocks. Including this zippered tablet holder.
 Or these useful pocketed and zippered holders.
I can't have too many tote bags. I use them for shopping, carting my quilt projects, and taking my book to book club.
The blocks are not hard to make, all squares and rectangles and geometric shapes sewn with straight and diagonal seams, using stitch-and-flip for angles. The instructions are detailed with loads of illustrations.

I can see a selection of blocks used to make a baby quilt. Or a garden quilt. Or a nature quilt.

Patchwork Picnic is such a fun, upbeat quilt!

I was given access to a free ebook by the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Patchwork Picnic: Simple-to-Piece Blocks That Celebrate the Outdoors
Gracey Larson
That Patchwork Place
ISBN: 9781683560104, 1683560108
Paperback $25.99 USD, £24.99 GBP

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. The publisher, Little, Brown, created a #Readalong leading up the movie release of the novel. I got on the bandwagon, seeing a chance to knock off one more book from my growing TBR shelf.

At first, I kept to the suggested reading schedule. But there came a point when I had to plow on! I was super invested in the character of Theo Decker.

The novel begins with thirteen-year-old Theo and his mother at the New York City art museum to see the 16th c Dutch painting of a Goldfinch. A terrorist bomb explodes leaving Theo alone with a dying man and the vision of the girl who was with him. The man tells him to get the painting and gives him his signet ring before he becomes unconscious.

From this time forward, for Theo "life is catastrophe." He struggles with the change from being a kid who was loved to a kid who is ignored and uncared for. He finds a soul mate friend equally crushed by life and they spiral into the escapism of drugs and alcohol. When he is taken in by a kind mentor who gives him a trade and a job he commits fraud to pay the bills. He is in love with the girl from the museum who knows being together would reinforce their PTSD and sadness. And the guilt of secreting the painting away into hiding, the fear of imprisonment, hangs over Theo.

The very painting image is symbolic in the many ways Theo is shackled.

The book is long. As a deep psychological study, there is a lot of internal stuff going on, right to the ending and the long speeches about Big Things. But I love this stuff. It's like a Russian novel with Dickensian characters set with 21st c. problems.

At one point I stopped, crying burning tears. I had read,

And--maybe it's ridiculous to go on in this vein, although it doesn't matter since no one's going to see this--but does it make any sense at all to know that it ends badly for all of us, even the happiest of us, and that despite all this, as cruelly as the game is stacked, that it's possible to play it with a kind of joy?

I thought of my mother. The Jitterbug Queen of the WWII Sheridan Park housing project, the outgoing girl who tripped Dad to get his attention on the bus. Mom who loved a party. Who sang snippets of songs--"One Meatball!", "Boogy Woogy Bugle Boy," "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy." She literally would give you the pin off her sweater--and the sweater if you admired it too.

Mom who felt God has abandoned her, the good girl, when she developed psoriasis at sixteen, was crippled in her neck at twenty-one, whose hands at fifty were like closed claws. Mom who tried every treatment from mercury cream to cortisone to light therapy to Methotrexate to alleviate her symptoms and decrease the skin lesions that covered 90% of her body. Her life was a catastrophe of pain and she was not chagrined to die of cancer at age 58.

And yet--and yet--Mom did play it with a kind of joy. She lost herself for hours in oil painting. She formed a weekly card group. Mom loved to read until the early morning hours, her interests ranging from British kings and queens to thrillers and horror. As a teen, I picked up her paperbacks and read them, diverse books including Avalon by Anya Seton, The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, and Division Street by Studs Terkel.

Theo's friend Boris excitedly exclaims that he has learned that one can do all of the wrong things and yet still life can turn things out right. His mentor Hobie forgives him his sins as he knows he also has sinned. Theo has a conversion, a Damascus moment, and makes restitution to those he has wronged.

Theo knows life sucks but he gets his happy ending, a good enough life. An appreciation for beauty, doing the right thing, accepting we are all flawed and weak and capable of even murder and yet---and yet--there is art and there is joy to be found.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Long Call by Anne Cleeves

"He'd left the window down and now he could hear the surf on the beach and the sound naturalists names the long call, the cry which always sounded to him like an inarticulate howl of pain. These were the noises of home.
~from The Long Call by Anne Cleeves

I was intrigued to read The Long Call when reading the blurb about the main character: when Detective Matthew Venn left the community of the Brethren he lost his family, too. What a fascinating back story for a detective! Plus, I wanted to delve into something by Anne Cleeves since I have heard of the television series--Vera and Shetland--based on her other book series. The first book in a new series seemed the right place to begin.

The Long Call has a vivid sense of place--North Devon. "North Devon seems to attract the weirdos, don't you think?" one character accuses. Weirdos or not, the Barum Brethren may be dying out but the tight community still holds a lot of local power.

The novel opens with Matthew watching his father's funeral from afar, knowing he would not be welcome. He carries the bitterness of rejection, a remnant of hope of reconciliation. "Doubt was a cancer that grew unbidden," he knows.

Matthew went into police work because he sought the order and meaning lost when he left the Brethern. Isolated from the world while growing up, he was an outsider at university and dropped out. He is not a sociable man, he can be short and single-minded and stiff. But he is a good man.

Matthew is married to Jonathan, his opposite in many ways. Jonathan's dress is informal. He has a marvelous ability to connect to people. And he works for a community center, Woodyard, that includes a day center for special needs and offers classes to the public.

While at his father's funeral, Matthew was called when a dead body is found on the beach near his home. Simon Walden was new to the community and worked at the kitchen at Woodyard. Walden had a complicated life; he carried the burden of accidental homicide and had a history of alcoholism.

While Matthew and his team piece together the mystery of Walden's death, one of the day center women goes missing. The incidents may be related.

Matthew must reenter the Brethern community during his inquiry, which brings him face to face with the Brethern's spiritual leader.  Then another day center woman goes missing. What Matthew discovers is a community cover-up of a hideous abuse of power.

I enjoyed Cleeve's story-telling and felt Matthew was remarkably sympathetic and well-drawn. I was propelled to continue reading the last half of the novel. I would read the next book in the series. And will soon be checking out Cleeve's television series!

I received access to a free book through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Long Call
by Anne Cleeves
St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books
Publication September 3, 2019
$26.99 hardcover
ISBN: 9781250204448