Thursday, February 28, 2019

Northward by Chuck Radda

Francis McNally, retired private investigator, is caring for his wife who is battling cancer when he gets a call for help. Ten years previous he had failed to find the caller's missing wife. Now, another person has gone missing in Nunavut.

Derek Phillips has been experiencing time lapses and visions. Autumn, the company he works for, has offered Derek the chance to be on the cutting edge of a new project.  Climate change will allow availability of new energy sources and Autumn wants to get a head start. Now he has disappeared and a local townswoman wants him found.

McNally's wife knows this is her husband's opportunity to atone for his earlier failure and she encourages him to take the case. McNally journeys to Canada's frozen North's deadly cold and long dark days.

The locals have a complicated relationship to Autumn, enjoying the influx of money while resenting the environmental threats.

With snappy dialogue, direct questioning, and sharp insights, McNally is a classic PI character, modernized in all the best ways--as a respectful and loving husband, there is none of the sexism of classic noir. I loved the genre in-jokes, like references to Nick and Nora or Columbo. McNally's voice is well-honed, offering a real feel for the character.

I had not read the earlier McNally book Dark Time and although it's events are referenced in Northward I did not need to know the entire story to appreciate the moral burden McNally carries from his failure to find a man's wife in that volume.

"Northward" has several meanings in the book. It's the direction McNally travels from his home in the States. Derek's wife references her dad's euphemism "going northward" as the result of 'too much cold, not enough light.' And maybe it means crazy, or maybe it means getting in touch with the spirit world. 

McNally encounters people motivated by cold cash and self-sacrificing idealists and a man who may be a shaman. He meets a female 'mountie' and a townswoman who has embraced her Inuit heritage. 

The bulk of the novel is the unraveling of truth from behind the facades, but there is a high-action scene at the end. And some otherworldly encounters that can't be explained.

I enjoyed Northward and would read this author again. I thank Chuck Radda for his book which I won in a Goodreads giveaway. My review is fair and unbiased.

Northward: A Novel
Chuck Radda
Lefora Publishing
Publication Dec. 2018
ISBN 9780960001798

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Gown by Jennifer Robson

Subtitled, A Novel of the Royal Wedding, Jenifer Robson's novel The Gown imagines the women who embroidered Princess Elizabeth's 1947 wedding gown.

Heather is surprised when she inherits samples of embroidery from her grandmother. She had no idea her grandmother could do such beautiful work. Discovering that the samples match the embroidery on Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown, Heather goes on a quest to resurrect her beloved grandmother's buried past.

Alternating chapters tell Heather's story and that of her grandmother Anne and her friend Miriam Dassin. The reader is returned to 1947 London and the lingering effects of the war. Patriotism and support for the royal family were at a high and the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth filled the people with expectation, brightening the country with joy.

The winning wedding gown design went to Paul Hartnell, a favorite designer of the queen. The women created the elaborate applique and embroidery under strict orders to not talk about their work.

Ann Hughes was a lead embroiderer when Miriam Dassin is hired and put under Ann's tutelage. Miriam worked for a prestigious French fashion house before Germany took over her country. The women become roommates and fast friends. Miriam holds her past and Jewish heritage a close secret.

One fatal night Ann and Miriam join their coworkers at a dance where they meet the men who would change their lives--for better or worse.

I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the actual work process of appliqueing the satin on the tulle. 

Ann holds Harnell's pattern to the window and traces the design onto a piece of onionskin paper. She then cut the design out and aligns it with the drawing to check it is true. The pattern is placed on the satin fabric and using a needle with its blunt end set into a cork, Ann punches the needle into the fabric along the edge of the pattern piece, the needle separating the weave of the satin to mark the perimeter. With sharp scissors, Anne cuts along the perforated lines to make the applique shape. To attach the applique to the tulle she needle-turned the edges, the tip of the needle turning under the edge of the shape, and with tiny stitches and silk thread, sews it into place onto the silk tulle. After the applique was completed, the embroidery with pearls and beads and diamonds began.

As a needle-turn appliquer, I am familiar with the process. Thankfully, I work with easier materials. 

Silk thread is fine and results in near-invisible applique stitches, but it is challenging to work with. It is so fine I can hardly see it and it easily slips out of the needle eye. The satin used for the gown has a dense weave but was resistant to taking a crease. So she could not prepare the applique shapes with one of the many methods I use, resorting to needle-turn. This means using the tip of the needle to turn under the very edge of the shape, working in extremely small increments. The seamstress must be careful not to fray the edge of the applique shape, rolling threads under to be caught.

Using tulle as an applique base is also difficult. I am used to a woven fabric as an applique base and the needle gently separates the threads. But tulle is not a densely woven fabric, but a net or mesh fabric. The openings in the tulle gives the needles less to anchor to. I tried to applique on nylon tulle and could not get a smooth edge to the applique!

Not only where these materials challenging to work with, but the physical demands of the work had to be exhausting. The eye strain from hours of close work, the fabrics and threads all the same color, the reaching to work on a tambour frame, I can imagine the resulting muscle and joint pain! 

That the ensemble was completed in such a short time is amazing.

The novel will appeal to readers of historical fiction and women's fiction, Anglophiles, and anyone interested in fashion history. 

I won a book from the Book Club Cookbook.

Learn more and see photos of the gown at

Read an article by Jennifer Robson's at

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding
By Jennifer Robson
William Morrow, 9780062884275, 400pp.
Publication Date: December 31, 2018
List Price: 26.99*

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Louisa on the Front Lines: Louisa May Alcott in the Civil War by Samantha Seiple

Louisa on the Front Lines by Samantha Seiple recounts the little-known story of Louisa's experience as a nurse and how it affected her life and her writing. 

At a time when women were considered to be weak physically and intellectually, Louisa May Alcott challenged every stereotype of her sex, from running through the streets for health to supporting a woman's right to vote.

Her father Bronson Alcott's extreme idealism made him unsuitable as a father of a large family. His wife Abby worked any job she could find to support them. Lu took the burden of breadwinner on herself, working in various jobs "suitable" for a gentlewoman and by writing sensational stories. She was expected to marry and thereby help her struggling family but preferred independence. "I'd rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe," she wrote.

When the Civil War broke out, Lu watched the young men march off and felt frustrated with merely sewing "for the boys" and making lint for the hospitals. The establishment of the Sanitary Commission and appointment of Dorothea Dix as superintendent of female nurses led to a call for the first women nurses. A nurse had to be single, over thirty, and "plain." Lu applied and, with her family's blessing, traveled to Washington, D.C. to work in a hospital. 

It is all very well to talk of the patience of woman; and far be it from me to pluck that feather from her cap, for, heaven knows, she isn't allowed to wear many; but the patient endurance of these men, under trials of the flesh, was truly wonderful. Their fortitude seemed contagious, and scarcely a cry escaped them, though I often longed to groan for them, when pride kept their white lips shut, while great drops stood upon their foreheads, and the bed shook with the irrepressible tremor of their tortured bodies.from Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott
Louisa wrote Hospital Sketches about her experiences, the first to document life for nurses during the war. It was a sensation during her lifetime. Somehow, we have forgotten this part of her life. 

In vivid detail, Seiple recounts the hard work and long hours in a subpar facility, the suffering of the boys, the awful food, the ineffectual medical treatments, the high death rate, and how workers stole from the supplies and the wounded. Lu realized the importance of her role as surrogate mother, sister, and wife for the suffering and dying men.

Marmee received bad news from the war
Little Woman quilt designed by Marion Cheever Whiteside Newton
Hand applique and hand quilted by Nancy A. Bekofske the Hurly burly Hotel, disorder, discomfort, bad management, and no visible head, reduced things to a condition which I despair of describing. from Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott
The experience changed Lu's life. She had seen the world, became close to the dying boys, and had contracted typhus and became mortally ill. Bronson brought Lu back home and she survived, although her health never fully returned. 

Having lived fully, profoundly affected by the men she nursed, Lu went on "to create characters and stories that would transcend the page and full her readers' hearts." Including her most famous novel, Little Women.

I very much enjoyed Louisa on the Front Lines. Although it focuses on the few months Lu spent as a nurse, there is enough background information on her family and life to provide a fuller context. The battlefield is brought to life as a background to the men Lu nursed. It is a moving story.

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

Louisa on the Front Lives
by Samantha Seiple
Seal Press
Publication Feb. 26, 2019
$27 hardcover
ISBN: 9781580058049

Little Women by Nancy A. Bekofske
Pattern by Marion Cheever Whiteside Newton
hand appliqued and hand quilted
Learn more about Louisa May Alcott:
Meg Jo Beth Amy by Anne  Boyd Rioux

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The River Widow by Anne Howard Creel

"Over the course of her life, she had learned that people could hold inside the brightest peaks and the darkest pits, and there were those who straddled the break--half of them drawn to evil, half drawn to beauty. Those people could step from one side to the other and back again as if the line were as thin as a hair. Her husband had been one of those people. Was she one of them, too?"  from The River Widow by Anne Howard Creel
In 1937 Paducah, KY as the Ohio River was flooding, Adah's husband Lester once again lost his temper and began to beat her. In desperation, Adah grabbed a nearby shovel and lashed out at Lester, striking him in the head. 

Horrified by what she had done, she dragged his body to the raging river, desperately hoping it would carry away the evidence of her crime.

Adah's guilt is heavy, but she has the motivation to carry on.  She loves Daisy, Lester's daughter from his first marriage.  Lester's family insist that Daisy and Adah stay with them. 

The Branch clan is feared for their violence and imperious disregard for decency and the law. They suspect there is more to the story of Lester's death. Adah works on the tobacco farm like an indentured servant and hires herself out to do laundry to add to the family's income. She is unable to protect Daisy from the harsh punishments and rough treatment meted out by her father's kinfolk, but at least she can comfort and love the child.

As the months go by, Adah struggles with one question: how can she get Daisy out of the Branch family's clutches? In the meantime, she learns more about Lester and his family--and meets a man who offers her an alternate future.

The River Widow by Anne Howard Creel has an almost Gothic atmosphere, the story of a woman isolated and held against her will, powerless and unprotected. The bulk of the novel is psychological and internal. The suspense comes not in action as much as through emotion and insight. At times I was reminded of Jane Austen's character Fanny from Mansfield Park, a girl completely dependent, suffering, without any power for self-determination, but with a moral clarity that sets her apart.

I learned that one of Creel's books had been made into a movie, The Magic of Ordinary Days, had been made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. We watched it and enjoyed it very much.

Learn more about the author and The River Widow at

I thank the author for a copy of her book and other gifts, a win through the American Historical Novels Facebook Group.

from her website: 
Ann Howard Creel writes historical novels about strong female characters facing seemingly impossible obstacles and having to make life-changing decisions. In her new novel, THE RIVER WIDOW, a former tarot-card reader turned widow and stepmother must escape the clutches of an evil family while also facing the crime she herself has committed. In THE WHISKEY SEA, a fierce young woman becomes one of the only female rumrunners on the Atlantic Coast during Prohibition. And in WHILE YOU WERE MINE, a New York City nurse must give up the child she has raised as her own during World War II.

When asked where she gets her ideas, Ann answers, “From history.” She doesn’t know when the muse will strike, but often while reading about history, she sees an image in her mind. The spark for THE RIVER WIDOW came while learning about The Great Flood of 1937 along the Ohio River. Ann immediately saw a woman dragging her abusive husband’s body to the river to let floodwaters take it away. Rather strange, she knows.

In the works are new novels about an American horsewoman joining an all-female group of doctors, nurses, and ambulance drivers during World War I and a tale of an American teacher needing an escape who inherits a Paris nightclub just as Europe is steadily marching toward war.

Besides writing, Ann's other interests include old houses, new yoga routines, red wine, and all things cat.  For book clubs, Ann will visit you via Skype. Contact her through her website:

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Helen Korngold Diary: February 17-23, 1919

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

Monday 17
Wellston. Kept box of candy. Class. Home—4th unanswered letter from J. K. Also a very beautiful book souvenir of N.Y. it’s a dream. Studied.

Tuesday 18
Wellston—exam. Class—Home—correct papers—lecture—Summer came—Holmes-Smith lectured. Summer gave us his photo. Handsome!

Wednesday 19
Wellston—last day. Kids hated to see me leave. But I didn’t have to leave. Class. Basket Ball. Home.

Thursday 20
Geol. exam. Rotten. Nothing exciting.

Friday 21
Practiced with Aunt Beryl—school. Played with Maizie Rothman & Irene Miller. Lovely. Dancing. Home—Rushed thru dinner. Summer came & all of us went to Gatis’ & to auto show. Pretty good.

Saturday 22
Washington’s Birthday. Board hike called off. Wrote invitation for kid party at Sara’s. Home—slept. Played at Oddfellows Lodge. Earned $5, Puck [?] got $3. Soft.

Sunday 23
Fooled around. T. Haas engagement reception in evening. Engaged to Marcus. Nice couple.


February 21

On the 1910 census, Maizie Rothman appears as the daughter of Paul Rothman, a physician, and Rosa, a mid-wife, and had an older sister who was also a physician. Both parents were from Russia.
Maizie Rothman

Irene Miller appears in the University of Missouri yearbook of 1921 as a Spanish major.

Irene Miller in the 1922 Hatchet Senior Class Photo

The 12th Annual St. Louis Auto Show was held at the former Southern Hotel daily from 11 am to 11 pm from February 17 to 22. Matinees cost 25 cents and Nights 50 cents. Their display ad read, "All the 1919 Passenger Cars. A Commercial Car Selection. Automotive Equipment Section."

The Feb. 21 newspaper article noted record turnouts with an estimated 6,500 in attendance. "Throng beats any preceding one in number and enthusiasm." "They came early and they stayed late," "debutants and matrons, richly gowned and with eyes that sparkled as brightly as the jewels they wore," "many of the women were decollette and there was  more than a sprinkling of men in full-dress attire."

"And the automobiles! They just seemed to beam with the joy of being there--and being admired."

Many sales were expected.

February 22

Daniel David Wolf (b. 1895) is mentioned on Jan 25 and May 8. His WWI draft card shows he was of medium height and weight with brown eyes and black hair. He lived in Valley Park with his mother Rose and worked for Wagoner Electric in St. Louis. The 1920 St. Louis Census shows him living with his mother Rose, who was of Hungarian German heritage. Rose owned and operated a dry goods store which she ran along with Dan, her daughter Carrie, age 20, and son Milton, age 14. Daughter Adelaide was age 18.  Daniel married Clementine Marcus in 1931. He died in 1963 in St. Louis.

Dan's father Charles Wolf started Wolf’s Dry Goods Store. His mother was Tose Weiss. Wolf’s sister married Rudolph Gates, father of Helen’s friends Morris and Jeanette Gates. The 1900 St. Louis Census shows Charles (born 1869) as a ‘burger’ with his family Rosa, (born 1872), Milton (1895), Daniel (1896), son Carrie (1898), Adelaide (1899). Also living with the family was Charles’ father Samuel (born in 1827 and arrived in America in 1860) and Charles’ brother Phillip (1862) who worked in a mercantile business. They also had a servant.

February 23

Marcus Demosthenes White appears in the 1919 Washington University School of Medicine graduating class but he appears to have married a Wimsett.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Imagine That by Mark Fins

When I was in 8th Grade my English/Social Studies teacher lamented that people lose their imaginations when they grow up. This struck a cold fear into my heart, for make-believe was my favorite world and imagining stories my passion. I was determined it would not happen to me--I would keep my imagination. I would NOT grow up!

Of course, I did grow up, but I hope I kept a healthy amount of imagination mixed in with the necessary evils of practicality and pragmatism.

Later, I was the mother of a boy whose imaginary world was so palpable I could almost see it as he walked through life telling his stories out loud, enacting the scenes running in his head. 

Used correctly, one's imagination can enrich life. Without understanding and self-control, it can create problems.

Mark Fins' character Mark in Imagine That is an eight-year-old boy who lives in a world of his imagination, acting out the scenarios in his head. Mark narrates his story, telling us how he is drawn to act out what is in his head, leading to near catastrophes and punishments from his beloved father. Especially when he imagines a lit match as a kamikaze pilot plummeting to earth.

Mark's father is stressed over his business and it makes him short-tempered and impatient, resorting to the belt, so that Mark has learned to fear him. 

After a move, a lonely Mark meets an elderly man who values Mark's imagination and befriends Mark and his family, subtly aiding them to personal growth and harmony. Mr. Hawkins struggles with regret and sadness over choices that severed his family.

The novel began to feel didactic at this point, more like an extended example of how to parent a difficult child. (Nothing wrong with that! Many of us are flummoxed over child raising.) But Fins has incorporated themes that elevate the story to something more as he tackles issues of love and redemption, punishment and forgiveness.

"This is the face of war," I heard myself say. The screaming and suffering and dying and the faces of the solders in a fight to the death made me realize that even though it was glorious to pretend, war was a terrible thing, just like Mr. Hawkins had once said.
I didn't want to do war anymore, maybe even for a long time. There was too much sadness in war.  
Mark in Imagine That

I loved the section where Mr. Hawkins helps Mark and the neighborhood children reenact WWI as a way of teaching them that the glorification of war hides its cruel realities.

My favorite scene, near the end of the book, finds Mark discovering a nascent belief in God, finding meaning to his Jewish heritage. I was choked up reading this section.

Fins' novel is deeply autobiographical and his delving into his early memories creates a rich character. 

The ebook includes a Reading Group Guide.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through a Goodreads win.

The papberback ($4.99) and ebook ($2.99) are available at

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

WIP, TBR, & News

I have a head cold. My husband gave it to me for Valentine's Day. He felt bad so he bought me chocolate covered macaroons. 

It has been bitterly cold and snowy in Michigan.
painting by Joyce Gochenour, my mother

We have been enjoying the Detroit Symphony's American Panorama series and were lucky to have tickets to see two of the concerts live. I shared a remark on Facebook and was surprised to open their February newsletter to see it included at the top of the page!


The DSO has made its mark in the month of February for the past several seasons with six extraordinary winter music festivals. Now halfway through American Panorama, it’s safe to say this festival has launched us on an incredible journey.

Patron Social Comment
We watch the DSO concerts on Livestream, on our Comcast channel 900, plus they are available online. 

I am hand quilting the top I made from Carolyn Goins' book The Fiona Quilt Block.

The weekly quilt group I attend has a 'free table' where we share things we don't want. Fabric, patterns, books, trims--all kinds of goodies show up. The ladies are always showing off something they made with the free fabric they found on the table. A few weeks ago I picked up a piece of Marvel comic book heroes material and used it to make a bag.

 I lined it and added a deep pocket.

A surprise package came!  Fault Lines from W. W. Norton. The book shows how the American political divide began in 1974. This will be especially interesting to read as I am currently reading Camelot's End by Jon Ward about Ted Kennedy's challenge to President Carter, and how the Democratic party lost the presidency to Reagen.

I just finished The Gown by Jennifer Robson, a novel about the making of Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown. I won the book from Book Club Cookbook. My review is to come. Another book arrival, a Goodreads win, is That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron, whose Jane Austen mysteries I have enjoyed.

I am still waiting for my Goodreads win Unmarriageable, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and the LibraryThing win Falter by Bill McKibbon.

For Valentines Day I bought myself Elizabeth McCracken's new novel Bowlaway. I just loved what I was reading in the reviews.
We bought a heated outdoor dog water bowl after watching squirrels eating ice. Once in a while, a bird will visit for a drink, too. But this little black squirrel comes all day long. He is the same critter who robbed our apple trees all summer long! We didn't mind, as the fruit last year was affected by the drought and was too small to use.

Our son's rescue dog Ellie has made huge progress in the last ten weeks. She sits to be harnessed and to get her coat on. She lets him know when she wants out or in or a pet. Ellie loves to romp in the deep snow!

I am scheduled for cataract surgery next week but fear it won't happen unless I have a quick and complete recovery from my cold! I will have both eyes taken care of and will get a lens that corrects my astigmatism while I am at it. Hopefully, I will only need glasses to read!

Knowing there were be several weeks when I won't have the best vision I have been cleaning up my NetGalley shelf and resisting adding new books until my surgeries are over.

I am reading Stephen Rowley's The Editor, historical fiction about a writer whose editor was Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

Books on my shelf include:

There are a few other publisher-sent NetGalley books which I may also get to. 

Today a dozen fat Robins visited the yard! They settled in the little ornamental pear tree to pluck the small fruit from last year. Then off they flew. Spring will come!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Alan Brennert's novel 2003 Moloka'i has a huge fan base and is much beloved among historical fiction readers. Now he continues the story in Daughter of Moloka'i.

In the first novel, we meet Rachel in the Hawaiian leper colony, her infant Ruth placed in a Catholic orphanage to protect her from developing her parent's leprosy. In this new novel, Brennert continues Ruth story as she is adopted by a Japanese couple. They move to California where they come up against anti-Japanese sentiment. The family is caught up in the horror of relocation camps during WWII, suffering a division when a loyalty oath compels the patriarch to make a choice that leads to repatriation. Ruth's story is continued as the family struggles to regain what they have lost. And in the end, Ruth is reunited with her birth mother and learns her heritage. Readers will learn a lot about Hawaiian and Japanese culture and religion.

Brennert does not shy from including gruesome stories of racist injustice, scenes that are far more disturbing than those shared in other recent novels about Manzanar which I have read. 

Years ago I read Brennert's novel Honolulu and enjoyed it. I already had Moloka'i on my Kindle and intended to read it before Daughter of Moloka'i but ended up reading only about half of it. Consequently, my emotional involvement in the reunion at the end of the novel was weaker.

Overall, my response to both novels was lacking. I don't know if I was just burned out by too much historical fiction, especially about these events, or if I was burned out by family sagas, or if the prose just didn't work for me. The events covered are certainly intense and relevant. But I didn't really *get into* the characters and often felt there was too much telling and not enough action. Scenes I wished were acted out were only referred to, and other scenes took up too much space.

But that's me, and I am often out of sync with mainstream readers. Because people love these novels and characters.

I can't find fault with Brennert's commitment to using fiction to broaden reader's knowledge of history and the ways the American government has grievously erred--and still errors-- practicing racism that employs unjust and cruel laws. So, kudos to Brennert! And may readers everywhere love these characters and pledge that America's past moral failing not continue to be perpetrated in the future.

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

You can read an excerpt at

Daughter of Moloka'i
by Alan Brennert
St. Martin's Press
Pub Date 19 Feb 2019  
ISBN 9781250137661
PRICE $27.99 (USD)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Meet Mrs. L. Frank Baum in Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is a charming imagining of the life of Mrs. Frank L. Baum. 

In 1938 a seventy-seven-year-old Maud Baum pushes her way into MGM studios to fulfill her promise to her husband to always protect Dorothy. She isn't taken seriously, but nonplussed, continues to show up during the production of The Wizard of Oz to protect her husband's creation, so believed by children. She notices the appalling treatment endured by teenage actress Judy Garland and befriends the girl. 

Maud Gage was the daughter of a well-connected suffragette who expected her to earn a college degree. Being a coed was hard enough in 1880; being the daughter of a notorious activist brought further harassment. 

Visiting her college roommate's family she meets L. Frank Baum. He wins her heart--and her parent's approval, even though he was self-educated and ran a traveling troupe that performed his plays across the country. 

Their life is filled with hardship and challenges, love and loss, taking them from New York State to touring the country, to the upper plains to Chicago, until Frank finally sets down on paper the stories he loves to tell.

Letts' story is based on actual events and persons. Some of the most amazing events in the novel actually happened.

As a girl in the 1950s, I was always so excited when The Wizard of Oz movie was aired on television. I was an adult before I saw it in color! I discovered very old copies of the Oz series in my elementary school library and read most of the books.

I enjoyed Finding Dorothy and I think you will, too. It was wonderful to learn about the "man behind the curtain" who imagined the Oz stories, and the strong woman he married. Judy Garland's experience of abuse mirror stories we still hear today. 

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
"A woman with a heart, a brain, courage to spare, and a girl’s sense of wonder—this is the heroine of Elizabeth Letts’s sparkling, touching. Maud Baum is the daughter of a suffragette and the wife of a dreamer, but she is also a force to be reckoned with in her own right.”—Melanie Benjamin, author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue
Letts' nonfiction books The Eighty-Dollar Champion, which I have read and enjoyed, and The Perfect Horse, which I should have read, have been best-sellers.  

Finding Dorothy
by Elizabeth Letts
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
Pub Date 12 Feb 2019  
ISBN 9780525622109
PRICE $28.00 (USD)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Last Whalers: Three Years with an Indigenous Culture in a Changing World

One family, one heart, one action, one goal. Lamaleran saying

Lembata, in Southeast Asia, is home to the Lamalerans who arrived there 500 years ago. They settled on the beach under a cliff, surviving by fishing for sperm whale and Manta ray and flying fish. Those who are successful in the hunt share with aging family members and community members. They are one of the few hunter-gatherer societies left in the world. But industrialized society is crowding in on them. Their children are enticed to the cities for education and jobs. Some remain for the air conditioning and running water. Outboard motors and smaller boats are replacing the handcrafted boats propelled by oar and the young carry cell phones.

In the middle of the typhoon is life--Lamaleran song

The songs were more than music—they were prayers. from The Last Whalers

Over three years, Clark spent a year living with the Lamalerans, participating as a community member, even eating manta ray brains.

The whalers risk their lives to kill the whales by jumping off their boats and using their body weight to drive long-handled spears deep into the animals. The ropes attached to the spears can entangle a man. The whales fight back, overturning the boats. It is all quite horrendous and brutal. But without the whale meat, the people starve. The dried meat get them through the hunger months. They trade the dried meat for rice and vegetables with the people at the top of the hill who are farmers.

The Last Whalers is marvelous because readers come to know these people intimately. A young man dreams of becoming a harpooner, the most honored position in their society, yet also dreams of life in the city. A young woman receives an education but committed to care for her elders must return to the village. The elders must preserve the old ways and knowledge while accepting that change is inevitable. To leave the village is to also leave the unity of one family, one heart, one action, one goal. It is hard to walk away from the strength of community to live in isolation with only yourself to depend upon.

Clark respects their traditions and way of life, noting that we should honor all cultures and be able to take the best each has to offer, learning from each other, cultural diversity perhaps essential to the survival of humanity.

The Lamalerans’ experience, then, speaks not just to the danger faced by earth’s remaining indigenous peoples but to the greater cultural extinction humanity is suffering. from The Last Whalers

Preserving the old ways and values in a changing world--it is what we all are dealing with, the universal challenge.

Read an excerpt and learn more about the book at

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

About the author: 
Doug Bock Clark is a writer whose articles have appeared or are forthcoming in the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, GQ, Wired, Rolling Stone, The New Republic, and elsewhere. He won the 2017 Reporting Award, was a finalist for the 2016 Mirror Award, and has been awarded two Fulbright Fellowships, a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and an 11th Hour Food and Farming Fellowship. Clark has been interviewed about his work on CNN, BBC, NPR, and ABC’s 20/20. He is a Visiting Scholar at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

The Last Whalers: Three Years in the Far Pacific with a Courageous Tribe and a Vanishing Way of Life
by Doug Bock Clark
Little, Brown and Company
Pub Date 08 Jan 2019 
ISBN 9780316390620
PRICE $30.00 (USD)

Helen Korngold Diary: February 10-16, 1919

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


Monday 10
Wellston. Rotten lesson. Class. Munillo [?] sitting. Home. Answers to all my questions with long newspaper clippings & a letter from Ruth. She’s so clever. Beautiful folder from J. Koloditsky of Ashville, N.C.

Tuesday 11
Wellston—good lesson. Class. Practiced basket ball. Home—beautiful cards & a letter from J.K. Lecture—Joe Raskas & Summer came up. Home to bed.

Wednesday 12
Wellston—good lesson. Class. Practice Basket Ball. Pledged to Pi Omicron Pi—blue & pink. I don’t know what it is. Home.  Fair proofs from Munillo. Study.

Thursday 13
Wellston—Wells came out—he said I made a successful teacher, said I understood children. I should worry. Class—Dr. Usher said I did well in class work. Teased Pauline. Home—wrote a playlet for Junior Council.

Friday 14
Wellston—Valentines from kids. Class—started Macbeth in Dr. Mackenzie’s class. Hear Max Rosen play violin at symphony concert. Aunt Beryl & I met him. He’s a sweet chap—lovely character—blue eyes—pink cheeks & plays to sweetly—has a finished style & is very musical. Met Gussikoff—don’t like him.

Saturday 15
Class—Dr. McCourt absent. Junior Council Board meeting 2:30-6 p.m. Had a delightful time with the girls & Mrs. Halpern. Home.

Sunday 16
Helped all morning. At 11:30 Ellenburg called up. I thought he was squelched. He’s too much for me. I insisted that I won’t see him. At 2 PM I got a box of candy from him. Will have to return it this evening by Charles. Gee, its such good stuff, but I can’t keep it.

February 12

Pi Omicron was a national educational sorority.

February 14

Helen heard an all Tschaikowsky program at the Odeon including the Pathetique. The St. Louis Dispatch critic called Rosen a 'good looking, wholesome' boy able to 'play the notes' without much interpretation.

Max Rosen was born in Romania and came to the United States as a child. His father was a Rumanian Army bandmaster who gave him a violin when a child. Max was discovered by a social worker while at the Music Settlement School and found him patrons for his education.  He studied abroad until 1917 and played Carnegie Hall in 1918 and returned in 1919. 
Max Rosen;;doc.view=print) 

Music News Article on the concert: Max Rosen is still another wonder child is a rosy-cheeked bright-eyed boy of 19. There is no question as to his maturity as artist. Not only did he perform all the difficulties terrific concerto presents with ease and aplomb but he showed in every phrase that he what he was about from a musical standpoint. His tone is clear and penetrating with a scratch even in the most strenuous. The audience raved over him. He scored and with good reason. The boy is virtuoso right and will make a place for St Louis Times Symphony Concert BY WEGMAN Critic of The St Louis Times. 

1918 Opera News article: MAX ROSEN ARRIVES FROM EUROPE OTHER MUSICAL ITEMS ARRIVING in New York from Christiania on the day after Christmas. Max Rosen the newest young violin genius to come from the great Professor Auer is making his first visit to his native land since his departure for Europe five years ago. In that period this remarkable boy, who is now only 17 years old, and who went to Europe as a student, has become one of the most famous violinists of the present day winning the most extravagant praise from all the European critics. His American debut which will take place with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Saturday evening, January 12, has already aroused intense interest and will be notable for the fact that an absolute exception is made to the general rules of having a soloist play but once on the program. Mr Rosen is being accorded the unusual distinction of not only playing the Goldmark concerto with orchestra but will also be heard in a group of pieces for violin and piano as well. 

Michel Guskioff
Michel Gusikoff (born in 1893) was a violinist who became Concertmaster of the St Louis Symphony under Max Zach. In 1925 he left to become Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, joining his brothers Benjamin, Charles, and Isadore who were all orchestra musicians. He did not find favor with Stokowski and left the following year for the New York Symphony. 

Here he performs To A Wild Rose:

Here is a link for information on the Gusikoff brother's careers with the Philadelphia Orchestra:

Here is an article where Gusikoff stood in for an ailing Fritz Reiner as director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra:,2731599

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Cassandra by Sharma Shields

Sharma Shield's novel The Cassandra was a very dark read. The protagonist Mildred Groves' gift of prophecy alienates her from her family and the larger society. She struggles with a desire to fit in while visions reveal horrifying inevitabilities and men's true natures.

Mildred ceases the chance to escape her suffocating home and needy mother, thrilled to find work at a WWII government research facility in a remote part of Washington on the Columbia River. The "project" will shorten the war, she is told. Mildred becomes an esteemed worker, makes her first best friend, and even gains an admirer. She revels in the freedom.

But night finds her sleepwalking and experiencing gruesome dreams of the project's dire consequences for humanity.

Shields vividly describes the historical Hanford Project research facility, part of the Manhatten Project--the wind and dust, the subjugation of minorities and women, the ignorance of the workers and the willingness of the researchers to risk environmental degradation to win the arms race.

Mildred's abuse and violent acts in response to her inability to change events around her are disturbing. More disturbing is humanity's blind determination in believing that the ultimate weapon will save the world.

I received a free book from the publisher through LibraryThing.

The Cassandra
Shama Shields
Henry Holt and Co.
Publication 02/12/2019
$28 hardcover
ISBN: 9781250197412

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Nothing But the Night by John Wiliams

Arthur Maxley wakes in his room, which he thinks is like his soul--dirty and disarranged. Shrugging off that thought, he slaps cold water on his face and determines to go for a walk. But he never gets to his destination, sidetracked to a cafe. His egg makes him think of an evil eye and depressed by the little cafe and ends up back home, the windows in his building seeming to leer at him. Maxley's nerves are disturbed by memories. Everything he encounters is magnified in grotesque ways, like circus sideshow mirrors, reflecting his inner world.

Every word in John Williams' novel Nothing Like the Night reveals Maxley's claustrophobic and overwrought psyche, the story culminating in the revelation of the horror Maxley witnessed and his irrational acting out of his trauma.

Is this book by the same man who created William Stoner in Stoner, the novel so constrained and elegant, austere and yet moving? Both novels are dark, but Stoner's resolution is comforting in his final acceptance of his life. Night leaves the protagonist still lost in the dark. Violence becomes his speech and there is no health in him.

Nothing But the Night was Williams' first novel, written during the war when he flew supplies "over the hump" and saw his fellow soldiers die. Only a mentor with a small press believed in him enough to publish this novel. Williams learned from his mistakes and went on to write "the perfect novel" Stoner and the National Book Award winner Augustus.

It was fascinating to read this early novel, at once a failure and yet showing Williams ability with words and insight into human nature. The story is disturbing and memorable, a psychological noir more suited for 2018 than 1948.

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

from the publisher:

Stoner author John Williams’s first novel is a searing look at a man’s relationship with his absent father, and how early trauma manifests throughout one’s life

John Williams’s first novel is a brooding psychological noir. Arthur Maxley is a young man at the end of his emotional rope. Having dropped out of college, he’s holed up in a big-city hotel, living off an allowance from his family, feeling nothing but alone and doing nothing but drinking to forget it. What’s brought him to this point? Something is troubling him, something is haunting him, something he cannot bring himself either to face or to turn away from. And now his father has come to town, a hail-fellow-well-met kind of guy. They’ve been estranged for years, and yet Arthur wants to meet—and so he does, reeling away from the encounter for a night of drinking and dancing and a final reckoning with the traumatizing past that readers will not soon forget.

Nothing But the Night includes an interview with Nancy Williams, John Williams’s widow.

Publication History: 1st pub 1948; OP since 1990

Nothing But the Night
by John Williams
NYRB Classics
On Sale Date: February 12, 2019
9781681373072, 1681373076
$14.95 USD, $19.95 CAD

Learn more about John Williams--

My review of The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel by Charles J. Shields can be found at

Read my review of Stoner by John Williams at

Read my review of Augustus by John Williams at

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Helen Korngold Diary: February 3 - 9, 1919

Helen Korngold, December 1919, New York City

February, 1919

Monday 3
Wellston—Class. Made 2nd Basket Ball team. That’s pretty good. All the other girls have been playing for 4 years. I just started. Home—practiced.

Tuesday 4
Wellston. Class as usually. Nothing startling. Lecture—Dr. Hudson of Mizzoo [Missouri State University] a philosopher & a good one too.

Wednesday 5
Wellston—class—Practiced basket ball. Letter from papa. Home.

Thursday 6
Wellston—Class. Luncheon & a senior party in the evening. We had one swell time. Came home with Willis Bliss, nephew to General Bliss who is sitting in the Peace Conference. Home at 12 bells.

Friday 7
Wellston—Class-Dancing—it’s so refreshing.

Saturday 8
Class. Dr. McCourt certainly does quiz one. Dr. Usher was so sweet today. Downtown—Party is off. I’m not sorry.

Sunday 9
Fooled around—studied & took a lesson. I’ve been good this week. Special delivery letter from J. Koloditsky. He’s discharged. I haven’t even answered his last letters. Papa came home. I’m thrilled to death! Ruth thinks I’m a fool but Arthur doesn’t - Why worry.


February 4

Dr. Nellie Hudson taught education at Missouri State University (Mizzoo)
Dr. Nellie Hudson

February 6

Wyllis King Bliss was in the 1916 Washington University Freshman class. He was born in St. Louis and later studied at the University of Illinois. He graduated from Washington University in 1920 with a B.S. in Commerce. His WWI draft registration shows he was of medium height, slightly built, with blue eyes.

Wyllis was the son of Malcolm Andrews Bliss (1863-1934), an important physician specializing in mental health who campaigned for zoning laws to restrict congested slum neighborhoods, the noise and crowding of which he saw as destructive to St. Louisan's nervous systems. He organized the Malcolm Bliss Psychiatric Institute and dedicated his life to helping the poor. He was also an Instructor in the Washington University School of Medicine. 

General Tasker Howard Bliss (born in Lewisburg, PA in 1853 and died in Washington, D.C. in 1930) was U.S. Army Chief of Staff during WWI. He accompanied President Wilson’s adviser Colonel House to London in 1917 and was appointed U.S. representative to the Allied Supreme War Council at the Paris Peace Conference. He supported lenient treatment of Germany and Austria-Hungary and lobbied for U.S. involvement in the League of Nations. General Bliss’s assignment concluded in December 1919. He dedicated the last years of his life to eliminating war which he considered a “primitive response” to national issues.

The Peace Conferences began on January 18, 1919. World War I had not yet ended, although the fighting had stopped. Diplomats from over two dozen countries gathered to seek a way to end the war. The Treaty of Versailles was signed, and the League of Nations was formed out of this conference. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is the moving story of the family bonds that both save us and tear us asunder. 

''...this is a story about the failures of love, and the Pause was the first." from The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

Fiona Skinner, 102 years old and a renowned poet, returns to the podium for the first time in twenty-five years. A girl arises from the audience with a question: Who was Luna?
The Luna of Fiona's most famous poetry inspired women to name their daughters Luna. And this girl, named Luna, asks for her mother the question--who was Luna?

Fiona wrote the poem "a lifetime ago," "back when I was a romantic," she responds. The girl presses. And for the first time ever Fiona reveals the story of her family and the secret she has held in her heart for so long.

"Once upon a time," she begins, "there was a father and a mother and four children...and for a time they were happy."

And like Fiona's audience, enrapt, I was carried away by her story of the ways love carries us and fails us and how we turn from each other and how we carry each other. Her story of love's truth, it's bitterness and how it is the only thing that makes life endurable, and our deeply held illogical hope, which experience tells us is fantasy, that love can and will save us.

And that is all I am going to tell you. I still feel the warm heartache, the fullness and pressure in my chest, the awful truth I encountered in this fiction. 

Look around at your beloved family, the people you have given yourselves to, the people who cut the deepest and brought the fullest healing, who made you strong and brought you to your knees. The people you endeavor to protect and save, the people you have lost and haunt you. And tell me--what is love? 

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

William Morrow
publication February 5, 2019
$26.99 hardcover
ISBN: 9780062358202
ISBN 10: 0062358200

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

This is Not a Love Song, Stories by Brendan Mathews

Last year I enjoyed reading Brendan Mathew's first novel The World of Tomorrow. Reading his first collection of stories This is Not a Love Song brought me a new appreciation of Mathews. If World was a fun romp into the past with an action ending, the short stories are an examination of the human experience on a deeper level. I was moved, I related, and I was entertained.

There are stories about we believe we know--about love and family and life--but discover aren't true. Stories about coming to terms with life, or not coming to terms. 

The first story, Heroes of the Revolution, was also one of my favorites. An American female college student is responsible for providing visiting foreign journalists with typical American experiences. She takes them to pick apples, but walking through the orchard stirs memories, revealing the student's sheltered life while the journalists grapple with the lasting damage of the atrocities they personally lived through.

This is Not a Love Song questions the nature of art and friendship as one woman pursues a music career while her friend captures her life on film.

I loved Airborne, the story of how having a child transformed a couple's life and relationship, the crazy obsession over a child's safety, which in the story goes to an extreme, but which I well remember with the birth of my only child.

How Long Does the First Part Last? is about unrequited love.

Dunn & Sons is "the story my father never tells;" three generations of men share stories that connect them and those that split them, and the stories that "might save us" if "ever told the right way."

Look at Everything is an amazing story about a photography student who by accident causes a fire and responds by taking photographs instead of reporting it.

The Drive takes an ironic peek behind the ubiquitous story of a dad taking the babysitter home.

Henry and his Brother speaks to the bonds of fraternal love and a mutual need that transcends family ties.

In Salvage, a man working in the shady business of removing architectural pieces from ruined buildings finds the item that he thinks will finally change his luck and life.

The last story, My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer, reads like a parody and comedy but feels like a tragedy involving the love triangle between a clown, a tightrope walker, and a lion tamer.

I can't wait to see what Mathews does next.

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

This Is Not a Love Song
by Brendan Mathews
Little, Brown and Company
Pub Date 05 Feb 2019
ISBN 9780316382144
PRICE $26.00 (USD)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Jane Austen for Kids

Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings, and World by Nancy I. Sanders was written for ages 9 and up, but don't think you are too old to read it! This is a great resource for any reader new to Jane Austen and her world. I have been reading and learning about Austen since 1978 and Sanders taught me a few things.

One biographer stated that Austen led an uneventful life, which is how her Victorian Age family wanted her portrayed. Sanders touches on the many ways Austen's life was far from uneventful: family scandals, illness and horrible deaths, wars and epidemics, the loss of a beloved home, romances gone awry, and fame that brought her to the attention of a Prince.

I loved the excerpts from Austen's juvenilia! Her wicked humor and parodies are such fun. What a great way to get kids to connect. A summary of each novel is given.

The 21 projects included are great ideas to make Austen's world come alive. There are instructions on how to play Whist and illustration of popular dances. Kids can create imitate side whiskers and roll their hair with tied cotton strips. There are writing activities.

I can't wait to try the Knight family gingercake recipe! And as a sewer, the reticle will be fun to make.

Jane Austen model
This is a great introduction to Austen.

This book is part of the For Kids series from Chicago Review Press. Books cover a wide diversity of subjects from history and biographies of authors, artists, inventors, explorers, and more. Learn more about the series here.

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

Jane Austen for Kids
by Nancy I. Sanders
Chicago Review Press
Publication February 5, 2019
ISBN 9781613738535, 1613738536
Trade Paperback  $16.99 USD, £14.99 GBP

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Helen Korngold Diary: January 27- February 2, 1919

Helen Korngold, December 1919, New York City
Monday 27

Yesterday the gods showered flowers upon me—roses—carnations and sweet peas. That dance last night was a regular E. St. Louis affair. Nothing special today. Talked with Pauline a whole hour in library. Mr. Russack told us all about my friend E.—Gee, I’m all off him for life! He called up today, but I was asleep.

Tuesday 28
Wellston—Class! It’s all wrong—I almost fell asleep in Ed. That fellow Ellenburg calls up too often. Lecture was wonderful—all about paper & China—by a Dr. Willet of Chicago University. Since Mr. Goldstine told us about Ellenburg I’m sorry I ever went out with him, or yet, he treated me fine.

Wednesday 29
Wellston—Actually dozed in Ed 4. Ordered gowns & caps. They told me Ellenburg phoned again, but thank goodness it was Joe Raskas! At least, he doesn’t pester me with proposals. Beastly tired. To bed at 10 P.M.

Friday 31
Wellston—This is the first day I’ve felt gay for at least 72 hours! I don’t know why, but—oh well, I suppose it’s the effect of last night—I do love chop suey!—especially chicken. Dancing in gym is getting complicated. Miss Grant is wonderful. Last night Summer told me Dewey Pierre has been sent to New Mexico—he’s bound for the coast, I suppose.


Saturday 1
Papa left for N.Y. and I gave him a long list of questions to answer. I know he won’t do it. Junior Council luncheon at Grand Leader—Mrs. Leonard spoke—so also did Mrs. Halpern—she’s a doll. Beatrice appointed me chairman of party committee—I’ve got one big job before me. Went around curio room in Leader with Mrs. H. - Shopped & home.

Sunday 2
Just like all other Sundays—fooled around all day. Expect to get lesson tonight if Aunt Beryl ever comes. Awful Ellenberg called up! Threatened to commit suicide if I didn’t allow him to call! I won’t allow it. He’s too much for me. Said he’d meet me on train to Cole! Not if I know it!


January 27

Several Russack families appear in the St. Louis Census. Samuel Russack in 1916 was Vice President of Peckham’s Pleating and Ostrich Feather Renovating Company. Samuel was in Real Estate on the 1920 St. Louis Census, with a son Martin, age 17. Samuel was Magyar in heritage.

January 28

Dr. Herbert L. Willet of Chicago University spoke on “The Changing Orient.”

Albert E Goldstein, B.S.  His June 1917 WWI Draft Card showed he was born February 20, 1896, and was tall with a medium build and had brown hair and eyes. He was a student. Albert E. Goldstein appears on the 1916 and 1917 St. Louis City Directory as a student living on Morgan St.

In 1930 and 1931 he appears as an Assistant Professor in Chemistry at Washington University. He is a full professor into the 1958 City Directories. He died in 1971.

January 29

Joseph Ruvlin Raskas in 1916 was attending the University of Illinois. His June 1917 WWI Draft Registration shows he was a student at Washington University. He appears in the 1917 Washington University yearbook and in the Class of 1919 Freshman Medical School photo.

The 1917 St. Louis City Directory shows  Joseph R. Raskas working for the St. Louis Neckwear Company and living at 4401 Page Blvd., the same street the Korngold family lived on. In 1944 he is working for the Raskas Sales & Service Company and still on Page Blvd.
passport photo for Joseph Raskas

Joseph R. Raskas was born on May 19, 1895, to Isaac S. Raskas and Sophia Saranson, both born in Russia. A 1921 passport request included an Oath of Allegiance. Joe was traveling for personal business to visit his father Isaac who was living in Palestine. Isaac appears to be appointed to the U.S. Consular post in Israel. The passport shows that Joseph was 26 years old, 5’6’ tall with a high forehead, brown eyes, prominent nose, round chin, dark hair and oval face. His WWII Draft Registration shows him living with Lottie in Evansville, IL and self-employed. In 1924, 19230, 1939 and 1943 (living in New York City),  he appears on passenger lists traveling to Europe. R. Raskas also appears on a passenger list in 1950. He was living in Baltimore when he passed away in 1981.

January 31

Miss Florence Grant, A.B. was Director of  Physical Training for Women until June 1919 when she retired to marry. She was cited as having awakened increasing interest in PE among women at the university, which included hockey and swimming.

February 1

article from Jewish Voice

The Grand Leader Department Store was located at 601 Washington Ave. Built in 1906 as Stix, Baer & Fuller, it was one of the premier department stores in St. Louis. Expanded in 1919, it became the Grand Leader Department store.

In 1879 Julius and Sigmond Baer opened a dry goods store in Arkansas which thrived and grew. After they were joined by their brother-in-law Aaron Fuller they decided to relocate to St. Louis. The men contacted Charles A. Stix, a St. Louis civic leader and in 1892 the Stix, Baer and Fuller department store was opened. In the 1980s they were bought out by Dillard's.