The Union Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts Series #17)

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling author of the Elm Creek Quilts series joins the Dutton list with a Civil War-era tale of love and sacrifice behind Union lines.

With The Union Quilters, Chiaverini delivers a powerful story of a remarkable group of women coping with changing roles and the extraordinary experiences of the Civil War.

In 1862 Water's Ford, Pennsylvania, abolitionism is prevalent, even passionate, so the local men rally to answer Mr. ...

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The Union Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts Series #17)

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling author of the Elm Creek Quilts series joins the Dutton list with a Civil War-era tale of love and sacrifice behind Union lines.

With The Union Quilters, Chiaverini delivers a powerful story of a remarkable group of women coping with changing roles and the extraordinary experiences of the Civil War.

In 1862 Water's Ford, Pennsylvania, abolitionism is prevalent, even passionate, so the local men rally to answer Mr. Lincoln's call to arms. Thus the women of Elm Creek Valley's quilting bee are propelled into the unknown. Constance Wright, married to Abel, a skilled sharpshooter courageous enough to have ventured south to buy his wife's freedom from a Virginia plantation, knows well her husband's certainty that all people, enslaved and free, North and South, need colored men like him to fight for a greater purpose. Sisters-in-law Dorothea Nelson and Charlotte Granger wish safe passage for their learned husbands. Schoolmaster turned farmer Thomas carries Dorothea's Dove in the Window quilt with him. Charlotte's husband, Dr. Jonathan Granger, takes more than a doctor's bag to his post at a field hospital. Alongside the devotion of his wife, pregnant with their second child, Jonathan brings the promise he made to his unrequited love, Gerda Bergstrom: "My first letter will be to you."

Together with the other members of the circle, the women support one another through loneliness and fear, and devise an ingenious business plan to keep Water's Ford functioning. That plan may forever alter the patchwork of town life in ways that transcend even the ultimate sacrifices of war.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

With the effects of the War Between the States all around them, the women of Water's Ford, Pennsylvania band together. In this stronghold of abolitionism, many men, both white and black, have answered the call to arms, leaving the women of Elm Creek Valley's quilting bee share their home front worries and most love-struck hopes. Jennifer Chiaverini's 14th Elm Creek Quilts novel captures a nation in their deepest tumults of transition. Finely woven stories of mutual support and affection.

Publishers Weekly
In her true-to-form latest, Chiaverini (The Aloha Quilt; etc.) goes back to the Civil War era as the men go off to fight and the women of Elm Creek Valley support the Union troops. While the women struggle with their own problems, updates from the front amplify tensions as the war comes closer to home, leading some to tragedy and others to heartbreaking revelations. Among the many developments, Dorothea sends husband Thomas off to war with her favorite quilt; Constance's husband, Abel, seeks a way to serve a Union that won't enlist him because he's black; Gerda pines for Jonathan, who brings his medical skills to the front; and Gerda's brother, Hans, refuses to fight because he is a pacifist. Chiaverini does a good job balancing the experiences of the women at home and the men on the front, though, oddly, the quilting is all but absent. There's enough exposition to welcome new readers without bogging down the tale, resulting in a reliably heartwarming and accessible story. (Feb.)
New York Journal of Books
"Jennifer Chiaverini's strength is not only writing strong female characters, but also placing them in interesting lives and times."
Romantic Times
"Fascinating . . . We seldom think beyond the battles and the generals, but the story of the home [front] is a compelling one. Although we might know how the big picture turned out, the individual stories presented here are rivetingly new."
-New York Journal of Books
"Jennifer Chiaverini's strength is not only writing strong female characters, but also placing them in interesting lives and times."
-Romantic Times
"Fascinating . . . We seldom think beyond the battles and the generals, but the story of the home [front] is a compelling one. Although we might know how the big picture turned out, the individual stories presented here are rivetingly new."
From the Publisher
"Jennifer Chiaverini's strength is not only writing strong female characters, but also placing them in interesting lives and times." — New York Journal of Books

"Fascinating . . . We seldom think beyond the battles and the generals, but the story of the home [front] is a compelling one. Although we might know how the big picture turned out, the individual stories presented here are rivetingly new." — Romantic Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525952039
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/22/2011
  • Series: Elm Creek Quilts Series , #17
  • Pages: 342
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Chiaverini

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as four collections of quilt projects inspired by the novels. Also the designer of the Elm Creek Quilts fabric lines from Red Rooster Fabrics, she lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
"Chiaverini has once again written an intense and beautiful book-so much so that readers will almost hear the hollow echo of the fife and drum as they immerse themselves in every compelling page. . . . Truly unforgettable."
-BookPage

In 1862, the men of Water's Ford, Pennsylvania, rally to President Lincoln's call while Dorothea Granger marshals her friends to "wield their needles for the Union." Meanwhile, Anneke Bergstrom hides the shame she feels for her husband's pacifism; gifted writer Gerda Bergstrom takes on local Southern sympathizers in the pages of the Water's Ford Register; and Constance Wright struggles to help her husband gain entry to the Union Army-despite the color of his skin. As the women work, hope, and pray, the men they love confront loneliness, boredom, and danger on the battlefield. But the women of the sewing circle also forge a new independence that will forever alter the patchwork of life in the Elm Creek Valley.

ABOUT JENNIFER CHIAVERINI

Jennifer Chiaverini lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to the six volumes in the Elm Creek Quilts series and two books of quilt patterns inspired by the novels, she designs the Elm Creek Quilts fabric line from Red Rooster Fabrics.

A CONVERSATION WITH JENNIFER CHIAVERINI

Q. The Union Quilters is a historical novel in a series that includes both contemporary and historical books. Alternating between past and present must offer unique creative opportunities. Could you describe your methodology for selecting the eras and settings you write about? Did you plan to take this approach from the beginning of the series?

I enjoy writing both contemporary and historical novels, and I’m pleased that my readers have been willing to let me stretch the definition of series so that I can continue to write in both genres. When I wrote my first novel, The Quilter’s Apprentice, I had no idea it would be the first of many intertwined books, so I didn’t map out an extended storyline that would be spread out over a certain number of volumes. In hindsight, I think it’s fortunate that I launched the Elm Creek Quilts series this way. Instead of proceeding in a strict linear fashion, following the same thread of the same character’s life in perfect chronological order, I’ve been able to take secondary characters from earlier stories and make them the protagonists of new books. In other novels, I’ve delved into a familiar character’s past, exploring entirely new settings and characters that are still tied in some way to the Elm Creek Valley. Because I’ve been flexible with the traditional series format, I’ve enjoyed the creative freedom to write novels that explore new characters, settings, and historical eras while still satisfying readers who want to see the people and places they have already come to know and love.

Q. The Lost Quilter was set in antebellum and wartime South Carolina, now The Union Quilters is set in the North during the same era. What do you find most fascinating about this time in history?

The Civil War era was a tumultuous and transformative period for our nation, showing the best and worst of humanity in stark contrast. Looking back, we discover great moral failings alongside true heroism in the struggle for justice, equality, and freedom. My personal heroes are people who face adversity with moral courage and dignity, whose hunger for justice and compassion for others lead them to stand up for what is right even at great risk to themselves. My favorite characters to write about either possess similar qualities, or are given the opportunity to summon up these qualities and do what is right but fall short. What slavery and the Underground Railroad say about our country-that we are capable of both great moral failings and tremendous goodness-resonates strongly even today, perhaps especially today, and as a creative person, I am drawn to explore and try to understand that conflict.

Q. The women of The Union Quilters played a critical role in the war, providing funds and supplies for the soldiers and running the town farms and businesses in their absence. Were you inspired by any real-life events or stories of women’s groups in the Civil War?

In The Union Quilters, as in history, Union and Confederate women alike made quilts for soldiers to use in camps and in hospitals. They sewed and raffled off quilts to raise funds to support important causes, and they quilted to express themselves artistically during a time of national strife and personal turmoil. On the northern home front, the demands of war thrust women into new roles, for they suddenly needed to support and provide for the men who had always been cast in the role of their protectors. This was an unsettling transition, and yet, for many women it offered an exhilarating sense of independence. The women’s advocacy for their husbands, sons, and brothers empowered them. The volunteer organizations they created to provide food, clothing, medicine, and other essential goods for the soldiers allowed them to step beyond the private, domestic sphere and participate in a new, public realm outside of the traditional political structure from which they were excluded. Accounts of women’s volunteer organizations, especially the Ladies’ Aid Association of Weldon (PA), inspired the activities of the Union Quilters in the novel. Like their fictional counterparts, the Ladies’ Aid Association of Weldon constructed a hall to host fundraisers, incorporated, and maintained ownership of a very important cultural center and civic resource despite strong male opposition. This provided the women with significant influence and power in their town, leverage they had not previously possessed.

Q. What are you working on now?

My next novel, The Giving Quilt (Dutton, October 2012), returns to contemporary times as the Elm Creek Quilters host a special week of winter quilt camp to create quilts for Project Linus, a national organization whose mission is to provide love, a sense of security, warmth, and comfort to children in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets, quilts, and afghans. Sylvia, Sarah, and the gang will welcome four new characters-and one reader favorite who first appeared in my ninth novel, Circle of Quilters-to Elm Creek Manor, where they become confidantes and discover the many rewards, meanings, and purposes of giving. I love the world of the Elm Creek Quilters as much as my loyal readers do, and I plan to continue the series as long as long as each book is a unique, interesting, captivating story in its own right-and as long as my readers keep telling me that they yearn to revisit the Elm Creek Valley, past and present.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • In the opening scene of the novel, Dorothea is preparing for Thomas’s departure. Their housekeeper, Mrs. Hennessey, suggests to Dorothea that Thomas might not go off to war if she revealed her pregnancy to him. What do you make of Dorothea’s decision not to share this with her husband? What does it say about her character that she wishes to keep this from him so that he won’t “go into battle, worried and distracted”?
  • Though this novel is set during the American Civil War, many of the situations that arise and problems that characters face could also present themselves in modern times. Were there any themes you found to be particularly timeless or universal?
  • What did you make of Abel’s determination to serve his country, regardless of how many times he is turned away for the color of his skin? How would you react if you were faced with such prejudice?
  • How do the women of the Elm Creek Valley work together and support one another while the men of the town are at war? What does Union Hall represent to them?
  • Pacifism is a recurring subject in the novel. What do you think of Hans’s decision not to fight? Can you understand Anneke’s feelings? Can you understand why she refuses to return home to him for so long? Are both Hans and Anneke right to feel the way they do?
  • Were you surprised by the decency with which the Rebel and Union soldiers treated one another on occasion? What did you think of their momentary truces to trade with one another on the front lines, or the grateful letter Dorothea receives from Private Wilson’s wife? Did you find it difficult to believe that such civility exists even in times of war, or did you find it comforting?
  • The narration allows the reader to see the events of the novel from multiple characters’ perspectives. What does this lend to the book overall? Does it help the reader get to know the characters better?
  • What do you make of Jonathan’s refusal to sign the Confederate papers for his parole? Was it in keeping with his character? Would you have done the same?
  • What role does quilting play in this book? How does it serve as a means to bring people together, and provide inspiration and hope to the soldiers fighting in the war?
  • Prior to Charlotte and Gerda’s trip to Richmond, how did you feel about the relationship between Jonathan and Gerda? What about afterwards? Were you surprised that Jonathan ultimately chose Charlotte? Did you think Gerda had been deceiving herself in some way all along? Can you understand why?
  • Does the war offer opportunities to the women of the Elm Creek Valley that they wouldn’t normally have had, if the men of the town weren’t at war? Do you think Gerda would have been able to write for the town’s newspaper otherwise? What else does the men’s absence enable them to do?
  • What do you make of Dorothea’s correspondence with the suffragists? Do you feel hopeful for her future at the end of the novel? What about for the other women of the Elm Creek Valley?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 55 )
Rating Distribution

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(26)

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(6)

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(8)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 55 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The latest Elm Creek drama is a strong fresh entry that gives readers a profound look at mostly abolitionists

    In 1862 the men of Water's Ford, Pennsylvania join the Northern army leaving behind their loved ones. The women worry about the males but know the cause is just. They will do whatever they can to support the war and pray for the safe return of their beloved.

    The Elm Creek Valley quilting bee members rally around one another. Constance Wright knows her husband Abel a freeman of color wants to free other slaves like he did when he bought her freedom though this time he will use his rifle even if the Union refuses to accept a black. Dorothea Nelson and Charlotte Granger worry about their educated spouses. A former schoolmaster Thomas Nelson takes with him his beloved Dorothea's Dove in the Window quilt. His brother-in-law Dr. Jonathan Granger leaves behind his pregnant wife Charlotte and their child. Gerda Bergstrom misses Jonathan who seems to have moved on from his first love while her brother Hans refuses to fight claiming he is a pacifist.

    The latest Elm Creek drama (see The Aloha Quilt and A Quilter's Holiday) is a strong fresh entry that gives readers a profound look at mostly abolitionists either fighting as volunteer soldiers for the Union Army or at home in Pennsylvania seeking ways in addition to prayers to help their loved ones at war. Readers will appreciate this superb Civil War entry though ironically for an Elm Creek tale the stich count is at an all time low.

    Harriet Klausner

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 22, 2011

    recommended only to finish the series

    very boring and uninteresting. It was an effort to read

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 21, 2011

    Compared to the other Elm Creek books this is so disappointing.

    Having enjoyed the characters in the previous books to try to read a book that is more about the Civil War than the quilters lives and relationships is very much a let down. Hopefully the author will go back to the beginning of the series and examine why her readers became such fans of her stories and maybe the next book will be more of her best work. This one is very disappointing.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 21, 2011

    Very well written

    For me, this was one of the authors best written in the series. I have them all. I truly felt the book. It was GOOD.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 8, 2011

    Great Historical Fiction

    "The Union Quilters" is a nice break from the regular characters featured in most of her books, but since Chiaverini is one of my favorite authors, I will still look forward to the next book. If you love history and the role of women ( I certainly do), this book is a must read. Whether you are a quilter or not, the story is memorable and touching.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2011

    Wonderful glimpse into historical period

    Another outstanding piece of writing by Ms. Chiaverini that takes the reader into new areas for historical reflection. Her treatment of the role women played in the Civil War gave me a new appreciation for our ancestors. While reading this book, I was compelled to read more about the Civil War on-line and then return to the book. Her facts are well researched. The story reveals deeper aspects of some familiar characters from the series. I thought this was one of her best pieces of writing. Her books are so enjoyable, the first, second, or third time through!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2011

    Highly recommend

    If you like reading about the roles women played in the Civil War, this book is a must.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2013

    4 stars. If you enjoy the Elm Creek Quilters series, you will enjoy the Civil War Era quilters as well.

    Well written on both a historical and a social level.
    I thought she wove the events of the war in well with the stories of the familiar characters of this series and also brought closure to
    some of the ongoing story lines. There is humor and tragedy in the story. Some of the racial tension of the era is depicted the struggles of black men who fervently wished to defend their country,
    and how long they were denied that honor.

    I did find myself skimming the highly detailed information regarding
    some of the battles, but overall, a great read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 16, 2012

    This is the first of the Elm Creek books I've ever read, and I w

    This is the first of the Elm Creek books I've ever read, and I wonder if
    it's an appropriate sample. I listened to this on CD and while there
    were parts I got caught up in, most of the book is summary, as though
    someone was telling me a story about a group of people. Too much
    "he had said..." or "they did such and so." I would
    have liked to have seen more detail about one family or a few people
    instead of just summaries of things that happened. Also, the technique
    of reading letters and newspaper articles about the war sounded like a
    gimmick to tell us the author's research. I liked the idea of a story
    about a group of women, but too much time and too many stories in one
    book led to too much exposition instead of story. I may try another of
    these books just to see if they are all like this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2012

    Not her best

    If you want history info dump read this story. It took about 1/3 to 1/2 of the book before I could relate to the characters. All of that was set-up and info dump. The writer focused on three men who went to war and because of that it was fractured going from chapter to chapter between the men's stories being told.
    I liked the author's first books but this was a disappointment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    a great addition to the Elm Creek Quilt series! Also historical value as well.

    The Elm Creek Quilters go back in time to the Civil War where we learn more about Sylvia's family. As always, Jennifer Chiaverini continues to write of womens relationships with women, how they support, nurture, teach, counsel and listen to each other. Along with interesting tidbits relating to the war, quilters will note the complexities of different quilts and how they come into play during this 'I-can't-put-this-book-down' story! Another superb book my Ms. Chiaverini!

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  • Posted January 15, 2012

    A 'must read' for Elm Creek lovers!

    The Union Quilters, set in the Civil War era, follows the Waterford men as they go off to war and the women organize to support the war effort. It highlights the struggles with men of color being able to join the fighting.

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  • Posted September 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    If you like historical fiction, this is a very good read. It is very well written and holds your attention. I did not want to put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2011

    Loved this one from Jennifer Chiaverini!

    I found this to be almost like historical fiction. The details about the Civil War were particulary interesting since my family tree research puts some of my ancestors in the battle locations and circumstances. It was also interesting to learn what the folks back home were going through and what kinds of things they were doing to help the war effort.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2011

    A Bit Dissappointing

    Having read all the Elm Creek novels I foudn this to a bit dissappointing. I love the history but it was to fractured

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    Posted March 5, 2011

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    Posted February 24, 2011

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