Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Playing With Purpose: A Quilt Retrospective by Victoria Findlay Wolfe

I Am Not Perfect And That is OK is the title of a quilt by Victoria Findlay Wolfe. In her new book Playing With Purpose one of her first messages is that creativity and improvisation in art entails making mistakes. It is part of the process and one should not be dejected when things go awry. 

Give yourself permission, she advises, to let your work evolve and change. Allowing your work to evolve organically means letting go of set expectations. 

It is OK to set aside a project until you have a clear vision or new skill set to complete it. But don't expect to reach some fantasy of perfection. Worrying about perfection brings negativity and failure.  

Your work should bring joy. Creating a quilt should be playful. Don't overthink it.
We worry too much about color matching and using a limited fabric palette. Wolfe's work breaks out of such self-imposed limitations. Forget the 'rules'. There are no rules. There is what works, what tells your story.
 Few quilt artists are as creative with preprinted fabrics as Wolfe.
Learn new skills, Wolfe encourages. Break out of your comfort zone. As an artist, Wolfe is always evolving.

Tell the quilt police (in your head and outside) where to go. It's your fabric, your time, your memories, your joy. Just make!~from Playing with Purpose by Victoria Findlay Wolfe
 It is wonderful to study Wolfe's quilts presented in the book.

Learn more about Wolfe on her website

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

Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s Playing with Purpose: A Quilt Retrospective
Victoria Findlay Wolfe 
Stash Books
 Book ( $39.95  )
 eBook ( $31.99 )  
ISBN: 978-1-61745-828-6
UPC: 734817-113478
(eISBN: 978-1-61745-829-3)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Forgotten Hero: Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish Humanitarian who Rescued 30,000 People from the Nazis

Folke Bernadotte. The name wasn't at all familiar. Who was this Swedish humanitarian? Why have we forgotten him?

Readers of the popular historical fiction novel The Lilac Girls  by Martha Hall Kelly know about the Polish women interred in Ravensbruck who were used for medical experiments, called 'rabbits' because they were merely lab 'animals.'''
In Kelly's novel, the women are told to board white trucks from the Red Cross, but some doubt their legitimacy. Another noted that "Himmler himself authorized Count Bernadotte of Sweden to take us."

A Forgotten Hero is the story of that Count Bernadotte of Sweden!

Shelly Emling begins the book with the German invasion of Poland and the removal of Poles to concentration camps through the personal story of Manya Moszkowicz. In the last days of the war, the Germans wanted to cover up the atrocities of the concentration camps, evacuating prisoners or killing them. Manya was taken on a forced march to Ravensbruck. And one morning she was in a group taken to the gate and told to board a white truck with red crosses. It didn't seem real. The women were given CARE packages, and that night they slept in real beds, clean and warmly clothed. Manya learned she had been rescued because of Count Folke Bernadotte.

Folke was related to Swedish royalty and made a career in the army. He became a volunteer for the Boy Scouts. He took on the leadership of the International Red Cross. Sweden was neutral during WWII, a choice made to preserve their freedom while Norway fell to the Germans and Finland to the Russians. Folke used this neutrality to gain access to Himmler. He wanted to rescue all the prisoners, but played his hand carefully, first asking to repatriate Swedish nationalists. The Gestapo head Himmler had vowed to remain loyal to Hitler but knew his country was losing the war; over time he allowed Folke access to more prisoners.

Folke's courage and faith were limitless as he bused the women out of the camp, coming under fire by Allied planes. He was able to secret out several thousand Jews, but his rapport with the Nazis and unwillingness to overplay his hand made him suspect by some Jewish groups. After the war, Folke was asked to mediate between the emerging country of Isreal and the dispossessed Palestinians. A radical Jewish group marked him for assassination.

For decades, Folke's legacy was forgotten by a chagrined Israel who buried the incident of his death.

Sixty years after his death Folke has reemerged from the shadows.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased
about the author:Shelley Emling is a senior editor at and editor-in-chief of The Girlfriend from AARP. Previously she was a senior editor at the Huffington Post for five years. She has worked as a foreign correspondent for the Cox Media Group both in Europe and in Latin America for more than twelve years, based in London for eight years. Shelley lives in New Jersey and works in Washington, D.C. Shelley is the author of several other books including Marie Curie and Her Daughters, Setting the World on Fire, Your Guide to Retiring in Mexico, and The Fossil Hunter.

A Forgotten Hero: Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish Humanitarian Who Rescued 30,000 People from the Nazis
Emling, Shelley
ECW Press
Published: May 2019
ISBN: 9781770414495
$26.95 US/$32.95 CAD/#17.99 Kindle

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Helen Korngold Diary May 12-18, 1919

This year I am sharing the 1919 diary of Helen Korngold of St. Louis, MO. Helen was a senior at Washington University, preparing for a career as a teacher.
Helen Korngold, December 1919, New York City

Monday 12
School – Carol Party at Elks. Clara Marx, hostess. Had a dandy time – carnations for favors – delicious luncheon. Learned a little about 500. Home – practiced – wrote Satellites up & went to “Y” orchestra.

Tuesday 13
School – Rehearsal for Bado. Home at 9 o’clock Study. Maizie Rothman gets quite confidential.

Wednesday 14
School – nothing exciting

Thursday 15
School – rehearsal for Bado – home. Downtown – fitting at Cuqots – blue silk. Pretty. Rehearse with Miss Holmes.

Friday 16
School. After buying a suit dark blue serge. Good looking. Home – fitting at Cuqots – rehearse with kids at Aunt Beryl’s. Home – dress. Saw Thyrsus present “Admirable” Crichton, Pauline & Arthur Sarason, Karol. Dandy time. Play was wonderful.

Saturday 17
School – home – played at neighborhood entertainment. Our initial appearance. J Orchestra. All went fine.

Sunday 18
Expect to study all day!


May 12

Clara Marx may be related E. Marx, 1300 Washington, who appears on the Elks membership in the 1913 Gould’s Blue Book.

“Y” orchestra a youth orchestra

May 13

Bado rehearsal; Helen played in the junior orchestra's initial concert on June 17.

May 15

Cuqouts appears to be a dressmaker, although I cannot find this name in the City Directory of businesses.

May 16

Thyrsus was the dramatic society at Washington University.

May 4, 1919 article from St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Admirable Crichton was a stage play written by James Barrie that addressed class issues, first produced in 1902.

From the February 29, 1907, Washington University Student Life:
“What's in a name? This was one of the chief topics discussed at the regular meeting of the Dramatic Club last Wednesday. After mature deliberation, the club selected for its official name, "Thyrsus," suggested by Prof. Holmes Smith and proposed to the club by Mr. Starbird. The name signifies a pine cone, which was the symbol of Dionysus, the Greek god of the drama. In selecting such a name, the club is doing wisely, as the former name was entirely too long and too ordinary, while "Thyrsus" is terse, sounds well, and has some significance." 
I wonder which navy serge suit Helen chose? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch paper Sunday, May 11, 1919, was full of advertisements for clearance and sales!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Book Club Read: Perfect Little World by Kevin WIlson

After I finished Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson I admit I was not quite sure what to make of it. Early on I enjoyed the humor. Midway the book dragged and the ending was predictable. But our book club found a lot to discuss and overall enjoyed this book.

The characters are quirky and damaged and although readers get to know quite a bit about them they never really felt 'real' to me and the idea of a community of parents and babies gathered for a ten-year study on childraising was bizarre.

The main character Izzy has pluck and has forged a way to survive in the midst of neglect and tragedy. Izzy's mentally ill mother's death caused her father to withdraw into an alcoholic depression. She finds a mentor in an older man at the BBQ joint who teachers her how to roast and pull apart whole hogs.

Izzy is bright but uninterested in education. Her mother had pressured for a college track in compensation for her own derailed career. Instead, Izzy pressures her art teacher to fail her! They become involved, their affair complicated when Izzy become pregnant--"the elephant in the womb," as Izzy puts it, overwhelms him.

The art teacher is depressive and can't deal with a baby although he loves Izzy. Izzy won't get an abortion. When the teacher commits suicide his mother comes to Izzy with a proposition: she will fund the prenatal care and birth of her son's baby if Izzy joins an experimental community.

Dr. Grind is the product of parents who developed a childraising technique which has left him with lasting problems. He dreams of a community where children are raised by a 'village' and are not dependant on one set of flawed parents. His system will support the children with the intention of allowing them to flourish to their full potential.

Izzy joins as the only single mother. Over seven years the families struggle to change their natural instincts while developing as a community. Healthy relationships are built but also unhealthy relationships evolve which threatened to dissolve the experiment.

Wilson implies that loving parents can inflict lasting damage on their children and that the children of distant parents can rise above and thrive. Dr. Grind's dream of a Utopian community that protects children only fails because adults are predictably imperfect. In the end, a perfect little world is whatever family we can cobble together.

The book club had a long conversation about the changing nature of families over their lifetimes. Specifically, how once families lived near each other and were a support group before suburban living reinforced the nuclear family as the norm.  A woman who ran a daycare said that she had observed all the problems encountered by the extended family in the book.

A Perfect Little World was a book club read. I thank the public library for a copy of the book.

But that's the problem, isn't it? We're mysteries to each other no matter how hard we try to prove otherwise. from Perfect Little World

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


Spring has come to Michigan! We have nesting birds in the yard, wildflowers have sprouted up, and the herb garden is green and flourishing.
Wild Violets

It has been a busy spring. After my two cataract surgeries, my husband underwent his second knee replacement surgery! I am super busy handling his chores along with my own.

But I am still keeping up with my quilt projects and reading!

I am hand quilting the Little Red Ridinghood quilt.

I am deciding on the borders on the Winter Houses quilt.

And I played making a quilt with some wool birds from the quilter's group free table and am nearly done with the applique. I will do more embellishment after they are sewn down.

I am now reading:

  • LibraryThing win ARC  Make Me A City by Jonathan Carr about the history of Chicago.
  • The Ministry of Truth by Dorian Lynskey about George Orwell and the writing of 1984.
  • Why We Quilt by Thomas Knauer shares snippets on the quilting life.
  • Jared Diamond's Upheaval. I have read about Finland, Japan, and Chile so far. What is so cool is that when I was a senior in high school my family hosted an exchange student from Finland. I became close to the exchange students from Japan, Chile, and Germany during that year. 
  • Cesare by Jerome Charyn a love story and thriller set during WWII
On my TBR galley shelves:
  • The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar
  • Women from the Copper Country by  Mary Doria Russell
  • We Are All Good People by Susan Rebecca White
  • Out of Darkness Shining Light by Petina Gappah
  • This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
  • The Book of Science and Antiquities by Thomas Kenalley
  • The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks
On Kindle:

After reading her new book Gold Digger I purchased Rebecca Rosenberg's novel Mrs. Jack London. My review on Gold Digger will appear on my blog soon.

I have Amy Stewart's Miss Kopps Midnight Confessions and Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit on my Kindle which I hope to read soon as the next volume Miss Kopp on the March is being mailed to me via the Kopp Sister's Literary Society.

Another book to come is Archaeology from Space by Sarah Parcak which I won on LibraryThing this month.

Upcoming Book Clubs:
Next month the library book club is reading Wiley Cash's novel The Last Ballad, which I read as an ARC. Wiley will be Skyping with our club!

The Barnes and Nobel book club is reading The Guest Book, which I also read as an ARC.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Good American Family:The Red Scare and My Father by David Maraniss

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe
In the years between my father's retirement and his recovery of grief over the early loss of my mother, he bought an electric typewriter and wrote his memoirs.  Dad took his pages to the office supply store and printed and bound them to distribute among his family and friends. Dad was very proud to know people enjoyed reading about his childhood growing up during the Depression in a changing world, his father's time as a volunteer fireman and building a gas station, his adventures in scouting and camping along the Niagara River, meeting my mother, and running the family business after his father's death until our move to Detroit where he hoped to secure a job in the auto industry.

I shared these memories on my blog and on Facebook, attracting lots of readers from our hometown. But there was much missing between these stories. He wrote little about his marriage and us kids. And stories that he told me that were more personal, or that Mom had shared, were left out.

We show the world who we hope we are, hiding the deepest pain and loss and hurt. The conflicted feelings of guilt and embarrassment of bad choices, the pain we wrecked on others, we leave buried in our own hearts. We carry these things alone. Which of us has truly known our father, or mother, or sibling, or spouse?
"The more I read the letters, the more I thought to myself: Why did he write them like a journal...if not for me to find them and give him a voice again, to show the determination, romanticism, and patriotism of a man who once was called un-American?" from A Good American Family by David Maraniss

David Maraniss had written about other people's stories, from Vince Lombardi and Clemente to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. He decided it was time to look into his own father's life. He had "desensitized" himself to what his father Elliott Maraniss had endured "during those years when he was in the crucible, living through what must have been the most tyring and transformative experience of his life."

In 1952, Elliot Maraniss was brought in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in Detroit, Michigan.

He was a newspaperman, a graduate of the University of Michigan where he had worked on the Daily newspaper and found kindred spirits dedicated to progressive values. Elliott married into a family committed to the perceived virtues of communism. He enlisted to serve in WWII right after Pearl Harbor. But the government was tracking communists, and although an exemplary officer, he was deemed untrustworthy. Instead of seeing action, Elliot was relegated to the Quartermaster Corps, and because of his passion for racial justice and equality, put in charge of a segregated African American unit. He put all his energy into growing the men into a stellar unit. He held an American optimism that people can overcome the obstacles of "race and class, education and geography and bias."

In the 1930s, communism seemed to be society's best hope for equality and justice, attracting people of progressive ideas. The attraction waned as Stalin took over Russia. Maraniss shares the stories of men whose high ideals brought them to the Communist Party. Some of his U of M friends went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, which was against American law.
"There are aspects of his thinking during that period that I can't reconcile, and will never reconcile, as hard as I try to figure them out and as much of a trail as he left for me through his writings." from A Good American Family by David Maraniss

A Good American Family is the story of his father and his generation of progressive idealists during the Red Scare. Maraniss plumbed the records to understand his father and reconcile the man he knew with the man who stood in front of the House Un-American Committee--was he a revolutionary or on "the liberal side of the popular front?"

Maraniss draws on his father's letters and newspaper articles and obtained access to government files. He tells the stories of the men behind the hearings and the grandmother who was paid to infiltrated the Michigan Communist Party and gather names. The overarching narrative is the story of how the Red scare was born and grew in power. The House Committee hearings were not legal court procedures and those on the stand did not have the protections offered in court hearings.

What is a 'good American family'? Can we hold and voice personal convictions that some deem threatening and still be considered good citizens? The book is a personal history and a record of the abuse of unbridled power unleashed by fear.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

A Good American Family
by David Maraniss
Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 2019
$28 hardcover
ISBN13: 9781501178375

Read about Maraniss's previous book Once in a Great City at

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Welsh Fasting Girl by Varley O'Connor

While reading the first section of The Welsh Fasting Girl I thought it was all too familiar, too similar to another book I had read about a historical fasting girl. A young girl reportedly has stopped eating but is alive and well, her community hoping it is a miracle for in the mid-1800s faith is being challenged by science. The parents agree to a watch to ascertain the girl is not obtaining nourishment. A woman from outside of the community, an American journalist, comes to Wales to cover the story but becomes emotionally involved.

But halfway through the book, Varley O'Connor went in a completely different direction from the book I had previously read. Whereas the other book offered a wish-fulfillment ending, O'Connor's fasting girl does not survive. And this allows the novel to go into deeper territory, probing culpability and guilt in the family, community, culture, and laws of the time.

How could people not save the life of a starving girl? The doctors and nurses, the vicar, the parents, the sibling, all stood by, trapped by their own dark dreams and secrets as Sarah wasted away over fourteen days.

And what would drive a beautiful girl to embrace death?

Hysterical anorexia was identified as a specific disease in 1873, a few years after the death of the Welsh fasting girl. O'Connor notes that although records do not show that Sarah was sexually abused, a high incident of girls who fasted were in fact victims of sexual abuse.

The fictional American reporter, Christine, is a central character. As she writes letters to her reporter husband who never returned from covering the Civil War, we understand her perception of the people and events playing out. Her children grown, her beloved husband gone, she struggles with questions of identity and role in the world. She is young enough to miss love and old enough to have a life separate from her children.

After the trial to determine culpability in Sarah's death, Christine pursues further knowledge, several clues indicating that there was more to the story. And as she digs deeper, a complicated family web is unraveled.

O'Connor's tragic novel is beautifully written, her deep research contributing to a vivid sense of place and time. And although a work of historical fiction addressing the conflicts of the 1860s, the issues are relevant today.

I received an ARC from the publisher through LibraryThing. My review is fair and unbiased.

Hear an interview with Varley O'Connor on Biblio Radio here.

Read about the case at the Welsh Historical Society here.

The Welsh Fasting Girl
Varley O'Connor
Bellevue Literary Press
Publication May 7, 2019
$16.99 paperback
ISBN: 978-1-942658-62-7
ebook ISBN: 978-1-942658-63-4

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Helen Korngold Diary: May 5-11, 1919

This year I am sharing the 1919 diary of Helen Korngold. Helen was a student at Washington University in St. Louis, preparing for a career in teaching. I researched Helen and the people, places, and events mentioned in the diary.
Helen Korngold, December 1919, New York City

Monday 5
Practiced with Selma Levinson – School. May Day practice. Home – Practice – study.

Tuesday 6
School – practiced with Selma – Home –

Wednesday 7
Practiced – School. Played for Wednesday Musicale. It was real exciting. Wrote to Summer.

Thursday 8
School – not much excitement – home – received news of my election to Wednesday Musicale. Quite pleased. Sophie Stampfer – Mary Stillman – Harry Vogel & Dan Wolf coming over. Membership meeting. Bed at 12 bells.

Friday 9
Spent all day reviewing 138 for regiment – Harry Goodman came here. Glee Club concert in the evening with Pauline & Arthur Sarason & Karol. Had a good time.

Saturday 10
School. Dreadful exam in Hist. Pauline Carps, Grandma’s & home. Practiced & then took bath & to bed.

Sunday 11
Sunday School – Study – Satellites with Nat Aaronberg. Good time.


May 5

A Selma Levinson appears in the 1917 St. Louis City Directory living on Waterman St. She was a student.

May Day is a traditional and ancient springtime rebirth celebration dating to the Druids and adopted by the Romans.

May 7

The Wednesday Musicale was perhaps part of the Wednesday Club, which was founded in 1890 for civic improvement and for continuing education and advancement of the arts for women.

May 8

Mary Stillman on the 1910 St. Louis Census was 12 years old and living with her father Isaac (age 42, Yiddish, immigrated in 1884), mother Nettie (16), and siblings Maynard (14) and Edmund (10). Isaac was a merchant of gent’s furnishings according to the census and the St. Louis City Directories.

The 1920 Census shows Mary, age 23, living at home. Mary was not employed. According to his death certificate, Isaac died on March 10, 1936, of a burst appendix. Nettie (born Oct. 31,1874) died on July 25,1957, of heart disease according to her death certificate. They are buried at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodel Cemetery in Clayton, MO.

A December 22, 1929 story in the Jefferson City Post-Tribune reads, “St. Louis, Dec. 21—When the bandit appeared, he shouted, “Oh look at all the policemen at the door.” That is what Isaac Stillman, clothier, did here yesterday and the robber fled.”

Harry Vogel: There are several persons who this could be.

May 9 (University holiday)

Harry Goodman could be a number of persons in St. Louis, such as the 22-year-old son of Russian immigrant Simon, age 70, and Pauline, age 64 who appear on the 1920 St. Louis Census. On the 1916 St. Louis City Directory a Harry Goodman is listed as in ‘pants’.

Glee Club was an organization of Washington University.
St Louis Dispatch Article, May 11, 1919

Pauline Francis Sarason was in Helen’s Senior Class. She appears in the 1917 Washington University yearbook Hatchet on the Varsity basketball team. She received Final Honors in her graduating class in 1919. Final honors were awarded on the basis of having taken twenty half upper-level courses in the Junior and Senior years.

May 11

Nat Aaronberg may be Nathan Aronburg, the youngest of seven children to Max and Anna Aronburg. Max was a Polish/Russian immigrant born in 1848 who was a merchant on the 1900 St. Louis Census. On the 1920 Census, Nat and his mother Anna are living alone together and Nat was a clerk in a jewelry store. On the 1930 Census Nathan and Sadie Aronburg appear; Nathan is a sales manager in a jewelry store.

Ads from the Sunday, May 11 St. Louis-Post Dispatch:


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Historical Fiction as Story, Interpretation, and Illumination

I read three historical fiction books at once, each about 400 pages long. They were very different not just in subject matter but in how they presented history.

Historical fiction can recreate history through story. It can reinterpret history through an author's viewpoint. And it can illuminate history for deeper, timeless messages. To me, each book represented one of these uses.

Recreating History Through Story: Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly is the prequel to her first novel The Lilac Girls. The Lilac Girls tells the story of Polish girls sent to Ravensbruck where the Nazis perform disfiguring operations on their legs. After the war, American socialite Caroline Ferriday takes up their cause and brings them to New York City for corrective surgery.

In her new book, Kelly turns her attention to Caroline's mother Eliza who was friends with Russian aristocrats, cousins of the Romanovs. Like others of their class, they lead a decadent and luxurious life. Kelly draws the daughters and their father to be sympathetic, their stepmother less so. With the toppling of the Tsar and the uprising against the aristocrats, the family finds themselves at the mercy of the Reds. The brutality of the Reds is depicted through two former prisoners who hold the family hostage.

Any 'White Russians' who could fled Russia. Meeting these refugee women, Eliza had compassion and organized to find them homes and employment.

The focus is on the aristocratic Sofya's search for her son who was both rescued and separated from her during the uprising. The boy was in the care of a peasant girl, Varinka, who disappears with him. It allows us to see two sides of the revolution while engaging our sympathy.

The novel was the May Barnes and Noble Book Club Choice. At our local group, several readers were swept into the story. Others wished there was a better grounding in the historical background of the Russian Revolution. It was agreed that family trees would have helped them.

Kelly fell in love with the Ferriday family while researching her first book. She is writing a second prequel about the family set during the Civil War. This book adds to the Ferriday family's history.

The novel is the May Barnes and Noble Book Club selection. I purchased a copy.

Reinterpreting History: Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard

At the same time, I was reading Courting Mr. Lincoln, which the publisher offered me. Louis Bayard's novel is about the pre-marriage relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd and Lincoln and his friend and roommate Joshua Speed. The novel is based on the myth created by gay activist Larry Kramer that Speed and Lincoln had a sexual relationship. Kramer claimed to have evidence but he never made it public.

I have read several books on Mary Todd Lincoln and had my own idea of her personality.

The novel begins when Mary arrives in Springfield to her sister's home to find a husband. The frontier town of 1,500 is described as primitive. I had read that Mary was well pursued and admired as a girl, but Bayard gives us a woman tipping into spinsterhood, surrounded by inferior suitors--except for Joshua Speed, who is dapper and handsome but standoffish with the ladies. Mary is at times audacious and has an unwomanly interest in politics.

Speed introduces Lincoln to Mary. Lincoln is stereotyped as a country bumpkin who must be educated to fit into society, a job Speed takes on. Bayard does not really convince me why Mary becomes attached to Lincoln. His character is the least developed. I had read that Mary strongly believed in Lincoln's political future. The book includes their falling out and coming back together leaving the lovelorn Speed to marry a woman who is happy to avoid the physical obligations of marriage.

I ended up speed reading through half the book. I do hope readers understand this is fiction! The portrait of Mary may surprise some readers who only know the yellow journalism view of her later life, the mad widow reduced to selling her clothing and sent to the asylum by her only surviving child. In the end, I see this as Joshua Speed's story, assuming he was in love with Lincoln.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

Courting Mr. Lincoln
by Louis Bayard
Algonquin Books
Pub Date 23 Apr 2019
ISBN 9781616208479
PRICE $27.95 (USD)

Historical Fiction as Illuminating: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

The third novel I was reading at the same time was an ARC sent to me by the publisher, The Guest Book by Sarah Blake. It caught my interest early with beautiful, descriptive language and interesting characters. It is about the culpability of silence and the Milton family secrets, how wealth and privilege control the gates of power, and the acceptance of prejudice, racism, and anti-Semitism.

It is a family drama covering three generations of a wealthy, white family of privilege with deep American roots. There was a Milton in the first class at Harvard. They built a banking empire and thrived even during the Depression.

The first chapter is set in 1935 when young wife Kitty is filled with the joy of spring and ends with a horrible tragedy. I was hooked and compelled to read on.

The Guest Book recalled to mind E. M. Forster's Howard's End, one of my favorite novels. Forster's novel set in Edwardian England considers class and inheritance. Blake's novel considers prejudice and inheritance. Some characters can not give up their protected status of privilege and some rankle against it, hoping for a more just and equitable system.

In 1939, at the height of the Depression, Ogden Milton purchased an island retreat in Maine. Ogden hopes to begin anew with his wife Kitty after a tragic accident shattered their world. The island becomes part of their lives, representing all that is good and beautiful. It also holds them to the past, a place that resists change, from the upholstery and wallpaper to the ghosts that haunt it.

Milton's banking concern survived the Depression and continued to thrive during the war--partly because of German investments in steel which lead to business with the Nazis. When the steel magnate's daughter, who married a Jewish musician, asks Kitty to keep her child, Kitty turns her down. They return to Germany and are never heard of again. It is a guilty secret she keeps for decades.

Kitty and Ogden have daughters Joan and Evie and son Moss.

Evie behaves correctly, going to college and marrying the 'right kind' of man.

Joan has epilepsy and believes she will never marry. Then she meets Len Levy, a self-made man hired by her father's bank. He is a man of vision but his idea of opening the stock market to the middle and working class is rejected. Len is Jewish and people like the Miltons stick to their own kind. They keep their affair secret.

Moss is to inherit his father's position but chaffs under the expectations and prejudices of their aristocratic social class. He dreams of writing music for a new America and the changes he hears humming just out of reach.

On a fatal night in 1959, the family gathered on the island for Evie's wedding, two outsiders arrive at Moss's invitation. Len Levy and his Chicago childhood friend, Reg Pauling, an African American writer. Although they went to Harvard with Moss, these men know there are walls and gates that shut them out. In spite of Moss's vision of a new America of inclusivity--in spite of the passionate love between Len and Joan--they understand they are outsiders. The Miltons can be benevolent but they stick to the standards of the past.

What happens on that fateful day is kept secret. It is only known as the day Moss died.

After the passing of their grandparents and parents, Joan and Evie's children and their cousins must decide what to do with the Milton island home. Joan's daughter Evie can't bear to let go of the place, vivid memories mooring her to the island. But the family has run out of inherited money and the grandchildren have chosen idealistic careers that don't come with a large income. Evie's husband Paul, who is Jewish, can't understand her need to hang on to the island.

Evie is tormented by questions. Why did her mother Joan ask that her ashes be scattered on the rocky beach on the island? What was the story behind the photograph of their grandfather Ogden with a Nazi? How did Uncle Moss die? Why did her grandmother Kitty want the stranger Reg Pauling to get Moss's inheritance? Clues impel Evie to detangle the past until the family secrets are finally revealed.

In Howard's End, Forster asks who is to inherit Britain. In The Guest Book, the question of who is to inherit the island is at stake. The island becomes a symbol of the monied, white elite's world of privilege. Can they keep it?

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake
Flatiron Books
On Sale: 05/07/2019
$27.99 hardcover
ISBN: 9781250110251

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Road to Grantchester by James Runcie

I love the PBS series Grantchester. The main character, Sidney Chambers, is portrayed as a flawed man struggling with his faith and vocation. His becoming a priest has alienated him from his worldly friends who don't understand his choice. He must cope with the strictures of the organized church. He understands human frailty in others.

I have wanted to read the novels by James Runcie, and even bought the first book in the series but reviewing new books keeps me busy and it has languished in the TBR pile. 

But now I am not sorry because I can start at the very beginning with Runcie's newest novel in the series, a prequel titled The Road to Grantchester

How did the attractive, intelligent, lover of jazz end up in the priesthood? This novel shows us the events and internal anguish that brought Sidney to change his life.

The first section of the novel begins with Sidney and his London friends enjoying theater and fancy dinners and dancing. A quick jump five years later finds Sidney on a transport ship to Salerno. He is with his best friend from university, Robert Kendall, and Freddie Hawthorne, a theatrical star. These bright young men are thrown into bloody battle, Sidney set to being a sniper. They experience the destruction and misery of war.

The Episcopal priest Rev Nev is with the soldiers. "What does a priest do in the midst of this?" a friend asks him."I believe there is no higher calling than to be a priest in the service of God and God's people; to offer some kind of stability in a bewildered world," he explains. The soldiers are more than bewildered for the evil of war feels overwhelming and faith in a loving God flees. The men contend daily with mud and cold, seeing their comrades shattered and dying, and they long for the simple pleasures of clean dry clothes and a hot bath. And they wonder what it is like to have no enemy. The pleasant days of dancing with Amanda Kendall is a distant memory.

They arrive at the Gustav Line, a flooded valley without cover which they must cross. Then they must climb Monte Cassino with enemy fire raining down from the monastery at the top where the Nazis have buried in. During the battle, Robert Kendall dies, leaving a heartbroken Sidney with survivor's guilt and questions of culpability.

It is Rev Nev who helps Sidney, explaining the mystery of faith in a broken world. At war's end, Sidney realizes it is grace that he needs. His friends note the change in him. Oh dear, Freddie exclaims, either you've had too much to drink or you really have got religion.

I know about these battlefield faith experiences from my friend Floyd Erickson, a WWII veteran who was in the 10th Mountain Division. They were in Italy and had to climb Monte Belvedere at night. While advancing across the Po Valley in the foothills of the Apennines, his best friend was killed in a blast that left Floyd permanently deaf in one ear. While under fire, Floyd prayed to God for protection, offering a lifetime of service if he survived. Floyd made it home and changed his life. I knew him as a revered family man and leader in the local church. (Read more here.)

Part Two follows Sidney back home to England to face Robert's grieving family. Amanda can't reconcile a loving God with her brother's death. Sidney's family has expectations for his post-war career. Sidney lives with Robert's ghost and can't move on with his life. 

While Amanda and Sid's other friends only want to forget the war and have fun, Sidney finds that kind of life deadly and meaningless. He longs for a life with purpose. It's more than depression that ails Sidney--he is searching for peace and purpose. He continues to turn to Rev Nev for spiritual guidance. 

"I need to change my life," Sidney explains to Amanda. And in Part Three, Sidney explores his faith and a vocation as a priest.

There is a lot of God talk and faith talk in the novel. It is after all about Sidney's journey to the priesthood. I discovered that Runcie's father was Archbishop of Canterbury which explains the depth and realism of Sidney's journey. The rejection suffered from friends is also realistic. Amanda is unable to accept Sidney's choice and accepts the proposal from another man. I love that Freddie, who is gay, is the one friend who seems to 'get' Sidney and supports his decision.

Several episodes show Sidney's ability to understand people and know how best to counsel them and illustrate his native ability to notice what others don't see, both traits important to his ability to solve puzzles and crimes.

My favorite scene is Sidney's ordination which takes place in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. A charred cross "symbolizes determination, survival, and above all, the possibility of Resurrection." He is presented with a cross made of nails gleaned from the ruined cathedral. 

The symbolism is vivid. Britain has suffered greatly, the world is broken. In taking orders, Sidney dedicates his life to the rebuilding of faith and hope in a devastated people. From these ruins, he is to raise up God's love to light the path forward. Sidney is trying to heal himself. He trusts he will also become a vehicle of healing to his flock.

I was impressed with Runcie's ability to show Sidney's path to his vocation, from the hard to read horror of war to the emptiness of frivolous pleasure, the questionings and embracing the mystery, and the bafflement of old friends who stereotype the priesthood. 

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

The Road to Grantchester
by James Runcie
Bloomsbury USA
Pub Date 07 May 2019  
ISBN 9781635570588
PRICE $28.00 (USD) hardbound

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Jane Austen Classics From Baker Street Readers for Young Readers

I just discovered the Baker Street Readers, retellings of classic books for ages 9 to 11 (Grades 4 to 6). I would have loved these books as a girl and wish I had them when I was raising my young reader!

The Classics Illustrated Comic Books were my introduction to the great books and motivated me to read them during my teen years. I found a cheap set of paperback abridgments that motivated my son to read the classics. I understand the importance of making children familiar with the great books.

This series not only presents the stories but also offers loads of aids beginning with a character page. 
Sense and Sensibility Character Page

'Looking Closer' provides more details from the original book, a paragraph explaining the cultural background of the time period, and suggested further reading, websites, and films.
Last of all, 'Food for Thought' presents starting points for discussion and discusses the book's themes and style.

There are 18 books in the series so far. I received access to two Jane Austen books. Both cloth books are 64 pages long.

Sense and Sensibility

from the publisher:
Marianne seeks a man who shares her eager spirit; Elinor is in love with the polite, considerate Edward Ferrars.

Their younger sister Margaret watches in bewilderment as Marianne and Elinor experience the joys and heartaches of early adult life.

Is Marianne too warm or is Elinor too cold? Whose example should Margaret follow? Margaret records the dangers presented by scheming friends and deceitful lovers.

Will Elinor's sense be strong enough to support both sisters, or will Marianne's sensibility bring tragedy?

What will you learn as you read Margaret's account?

Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility
Publication Date: May 1, 2019
ISBN 9781912464128, 1912464128
Hardcover $11.99 USD, £6.99 GBP

 Jane Austen's Persuasion

Persuasion Character Page
from the publisher:
Eight years ago, Anne Elliot was persuaded that her family's honour was more important than her own happiness. She has suffered ever since. Now the man she turned away has returned. Can Captain Wentworth forgive Anne, or will he be charmed instead by the beautiful Louisa? Will Anne be persuaded to marry her cousin, or will she find the strength to follow her heart? The extravagance of Anne's foolish father, the greedy plotting of false friends, and a near-fatal accident bring danger into Anne's safe world. Their hearts assailed by resentment, regrets and rivals, can Anne and Captain Wentworth now reach across the void that separates them to love each other again?

Publication May 1, 2019
ISBN 9781912464142, 1912464144
Hardcover $11.99 USD, £6.99 GBP

Some of the other titles make me very excited! Austen's Emma and Pride and Prejudice are also included. And Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one American title included. That I have to see!

Boys will love All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. 

Sci-fi classics include The War of the World and The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (my son's favorite abridged stories as a boy) and Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days.  

Horror classics Frankenstein by Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker's Dracula will chill some little readers! 

Shakespeare is represented with Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and The Tempest

My favorite Classics Illustrated Comic was Les Miserables, and yes, it is included in this series! It was one of the first classic novels I tried to read. And I have read and read it for over fifty years.

Teachers and parents can introduce children to the basic tale and build knowledge and understanding with these volumes.

I received egalleys from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Helen Korngold Diary: April 27 - May 4, 1919

This year I am sharing the 1919 diary of Helen Korngold of St. Louis, MO.
Helen Korngold, December 1919, New York City

Tuesday 29
School – not much doing. Home. Study History.

Wednesday 30
School – Baseball – our team lost to Sophs – 26-20! I’m all in.

Thursday 1
School – Home – Ida Goodman is here! Drove over to see her. She’s darling. Home – wrote Shakespeare theme. Went over to Jeanette Gate’s at 10 p.m. had a nice time. Home at 12:45

Friday 2
Up at 6 a.m. Finished Shakespeare theme. Danced in Field Trust. Awfully tired. Ida came to dinner & we talked until 12 a.m.  Then we went to bed.

Saturday 3
To school with Karol in machine. Collected a dime from Dr. McCourt for being late. Awful history exam. Junior Council Meeting. Pauline’s – she had a few girls over. Union Dinner in the evening. I’m certainly tired.

Sunday 4
Cleaned up & helped prepare for the girls who came over in the evening afternoon. We had a nice time. Aunt B[Beryl]. in the evening.


May 1

An Ida Goodman shows up on the 1915 Kansas Census living in Valley Brook with her family H. Goodman, Maggie, H.C. and Grace. Other Ida Goodmans in California and Texas also appear in the census records.

Jeanette Gates (1899 to 1971) was Morris Gate’s sister.  In the 1917 City Directory she was a clerk and on the 1920 St. Louis Census she was a stenographer. She married in 1943.

May 3

The 'machine' is their automobile.

The Washington Union Dinner.

The Sunday, April 27 St. Louis Post-Dispatch included this ad for an event on the following Tuesday:

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Expand Your Knowledge: Three Sheets to the Wind and How to Remove a Brain

I enjoy books which I can read in snippets in those spare moments during the day. Two recent such reads include Three Sheets to the Wind by Cynthia Barrett, which explains the many sayings that have come down to us from the age of sail, and How to Remove a Brain by David Haviland, a compendium of answers to questions about the human body.

Three Sheets to the Wind: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions by Cynthia Barrett was an entertaining read.

Cynthia Barrett comes from generations of seafaring men, her grandfather a whaler and her father a Navy man. In her attractive, illustrated volume she offers the entomology of phrases and terms that are rooted in maritime activities.

Presented in alphabetical order, each phrase includes an explanation of its origin and contemporary use, illustrated with excerpts from literature ranging from Homer to Melville to Patrick O'Brian.

I was a girl when I discovered Joan Lowell's pseudo-biography of a girl's life growing up on a sailing ship, Cradle of the Deep, and ever since I have enjoyed reading books about the age of sail, including the Nordoff and Hall Bounty books and Forester's Horatio Hornblower books. So, I was familiar with the original meanings of many of the terms, but others were a revelation.

When Archie Bunker called Edith a "dingbat" who knew a dingbat was slang for a deck mop made of used rope ends which would fly about uncontrollably while in use?

Speaking of old rope, the ends had to be repaired and spliced during times of calm, the sailors so employed being said to be "at loose ends."

I remember when blue jeans were called dungarees. Dungri is a Hindi word for cotton cloth. The first sailor's pants were made of old sails. Later, blue serge bell bottom pants were invented to make rolling up the pants legs easier for sailors employed at swapping the deck. When I was a teen bell bottom jeans were the rage.

A sailor from Belgium stowed his duds in a bag called a Duffle after the rough woolen cloth they used to make the sailor's clothing.

200 words and expressions are covered, and I am sure many will be surprised to learn the origin of sayings we still employ today.

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

from the publisher: 
Cynthia Barrett is a senior editor at Metro Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Company. She is an avid sailor and has a long family history near the sea. Her great grandfather, George Washington Barrett was a whaler out of Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island and as such he sailed around Cape Horn three times. In the Civil War he served as Commanding Officer of the USS Whitehead during the Battle of Albemarle Sound. Her father was a Lieutenant in the Navy and was in the D-Day invasion of France. She lives in New York City. 
Three Sheets to the Wind: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions
by Cynthia Barrett
Rowman & Littlefield
Lyons Press
Pub Date 01 May 2019 
ISBN 9781493042272
PRICE $16.95 (USD)

David Haviland's How to Remove a Brain and Other Bizarre Medical Practices is an entertaining read of wide-ranging trivia of the sort that I recall enjoying in junior high. Amusing as it reads, there is real information here that will engage all age groups. 

For instance, Haviland addresses the mystery of Queen Victoria's undiagnosed hernia. The queen was rather obsessed over her state of health (and bowels) was very dependent on her personal physician, keeping him at her beck and call. She trusted Sir James Reid so deeply she requested that he secretly slip a lock of hair from her trusted friend John Brown into her hand before burial. Reid was never allowed to touch the queen, and until he inspected her corpse never knew she had a hernia, and from her nine pregnancies, a badly prolapsed uterus.

Something that Victorian writers didn't tell us about was those child chimney sweepers usually worked in the buff! The boys spent days around soot with no protection, resulting in 'soot warts', a form of cancer, but which was thought to be a sexually transmitted disease. Sadly, treatment meant the removal of the boy's scrotum. So when we now read about the boys who cleaned the chimneys, we have another understanding of the cruelness of child labor driven by poverty.

The book has been nominated for the People's Book Prize.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
from the publisher: 
...a collection of strange and hilarious stories covering the entire history of medicine, from the bizarre practices of ancient societies (such as the Mesopotamian doctors who would diagnose a patient by inspecting the liver of a sacrificed sheep) to modern mysteries (such as the question of why pig farmers are more likely to have their appendix removed). 

HOW TO REMOVE A BRAIN: And Other Bizarre Medical Practices and Procedures
David Haviland
Thistle Publications
ISBN: 9781786080240
Ebook£3.99 Paperback£7.99
Kindle ebook $5.99