Retro Review: LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan

Today for a “retro review” I’m throwing it back to 2009 and one of my first reviews. This book STILL haunts me!

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One of my book clubs recently chose “Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan as its January selection. This is the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s rather public affair with Martha “Mamah” Cheney shortly after the turn of the century. Horan has done extensive research in order to capture Mamah (pronounced “May-mah”) as her protagonist. The book covers their relationship from their first meeting (when Wright was employed to build a house for Mamah and her then husband, Edwin) to its tragic end.

To be honest, this was not a book that I would have chosen on my own to read. I doubted that 362 pages about two married people having an affair – no matter how well-known they were – could hold my attention or interest. However, this book was oddly fascinating. Mamah is portrayed as an intelligent, independent, unique woman, while Frank Lloyd Wright is portrayed as a self-centered, driven genius. I felt that I had come to know these people, and to be honest, I did not like them. Frank’s selfishness and lack of dealing with the realities of life made me irritated with him – though I recognize that genius often comes at such a price. He had no qualms about trying to leave his wife and the six children he had by her. Mamah, on the other hand, was portrayed as sympathetic and as the proverbial butterfly trapped in a bell jar. I would have had more sympathy for her, but I personally could not move past the fact that she chose to desert her two very young children (and a very normal, though somewhat boring, husband) in order to live openly with Wright. She is portrayed as aching for her children, however, leaving them was by her choice, and she made that choice more than once. Furthermore, she left it to her maiden sister to raise them with her former husband.

As I became intrigued with this story, I made the very big mistake of googling these characters to get more real information on them. What a mistake!! I discovered the ending of this tale before I reached it, and let me warn you – it is not pleasant. In fact, I finished this book at 10:00 pm one night and had trouble sleeping. The ending is not only tragic, but haunting and disturbing – made all the more terrible by the fact that it is true.

I would recommend this book to those who have an interest in FLW, in historical fiction with real characters, and/or those who like a love story. It is well-written and well-researched, and I found that it reads easily. I can’t say I loved it as it was too disturbing, but I can appreciate its merits, so I’m giving it: 4 Stars. I purchased my copy from Amazon. (book cover image courtesy of Amazon).

Review: THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO US by Annie Barrows

I received this from Net Galley a while back – and took my time reading it (it’s a tad long). I loved Annie Barrows’ Guernsey LIterary and Potato Peel Pie novel, so I knew I’d like this one, too.

In this novel, a young woman and senator’s daughter (Layla Beck) is sent to be part of the Federal Writers’ Project and to record the history of the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. She boards with the Romeyn family, and throughout that hot, sticky summer of 1938, she learns about the town, the family, and herself.

The Romeyn family has a somewhat checkered past. Felix is the head of the household, but he’s a distant and somewhat mysterious man, whose past is shrouded in secrecy. His sister Jottie shares the house with him and cares for his two young daughters, Willa and Bird. Their mother has left them years ago. Jottie has a past herself, marred by tragedy and star-crossed love. Layla finds herself drawn to the family and their other relatives, all the while she is deciding what she really wants to do with her life.

The character of 12-year-old Willa tells the story along with Layla and we sometimes get Jottie’s point of view, too; but the switch is never confusing. I loved the voice of Willa. I loved, too, how Ms. Barrows’s evocative writing moved in parts with the lazy heat of summer. This book oozed with secrets kept right under the surface, and people grown complacent in keeping those secrets. Layla’s feelings and actions moved toward their inevitable conclusion with a slow trickle. The last part of the book moved quickly, though, with the climax and subsequent actions/denouement.

Loved this book – lots to discuss, too!

Find it at an Indie near you – I am an Indie Bound Affiliate.

Thank you, Net Galley and The Dial Press, for my review e-copy!

Find it at an Indie near you! I am an Indie Bound Affiliate.

Cookbook Review: The Sprouted Kitchen: BOWL AND SPOON by Sara and Hugh Forte

Through Blogging for Books I received another great cookbook to review: BOWL AND SPOON by Sara Forte – pictures by Hugh Forte. This is part of the “Sprouted Kitchen” series and is subtitled “simple and inspired whole foods recipes to savor and share”.

I was drawn to this book as I like to be able to make fresh, healthy meals for my family, with a minimum of clean-up. I love the bowls of food in this book! They are straightforward and pretty easy. My favorites were the breakfast bowls and the “big bowls” (dinner). A few recipes include: pumpkin-pie steel cut oats (you had me at “pumpkin”),winter fruit salad with ginger lime syrup (because it’s often winter here in New England), mixed greens with beet and walnut puree (we are in love with beets around here), and creamy mushroom pasta with frizzled leeks (what can I say? the name says it all).

This was my first “Sprouted Kitchen” experience, but I know many people love the first book. Apparently Sara is a food blogger (sorry if I’m late to the party here – I follow mostly book bloggers).

Love the recipes and ideas in here — recommended!

Thank you for my review copy!

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image compliments of Amazon.

My thoughts on GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee

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Well, I managed to avoid all the hype surrounding the publication of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN. I didn’t want to know about it in advance. All I knew was that this manuscript had been kept by Alice (Lee’s sister) in a safety deposit box and was an early draft of writing that pre-dated TKAM. It had the same characters. Considering that I have read TKAM 20 times (seriously) and it is one of my favorite books ever, I pre-ordered it months ago and waited to read it.

(As I write about my reading experience, I will note where there are SPOILERS).

WATCHMAN starts with Jean Louise heading home to Maycomb to visit her family. She lives in NYC now and is in her early twenties. I have to say, that once I started reading, I just felt enveloped by Harper Lee’s writing. It was like a warm bath. Her voice and style is so distinctive (yes, I never believed Truman Capote wrote TKAM. Sacrilege!). I nestled in to the book with the thought, “Nelle Harper, you’ve come home to your readers.” The first 100 pages not too much happened beyond Jean Louise returning home. Familiar characters became familiar once again. (SPOILER ALERT) Most notably, though, Atticus is aging and infirm from arthritis; and dear Jem is dead (passed away before the start of the book from a congenital heart issue). I have to say I was a bit startled by these changes. A new character (or at least one I don’t remember from my many reads of TKAM) is Hank, a neighbor and friend of Jean Louise. He wants to marry her and the two of them seem set for each other. Hank is taking over Atticus’ law practice.

Then a pivotal event occurs (SPOILER!!!!). Jean Louise visits the courthouse to see what the Citizens’ Council is up to and finds a speaker there who is working hard to keep segregation in the South. He spews forth some evil, racist remarks. Jean Louise is shocked but most shocking of all is that her father sits on one side of him and her intended on the other. Atticus Finch is a racist?? Well, I was as shocked as Jean Louise. I was disgusted. I felt tricked. What happened to that pillar of righteous justice from TKAM?? Jean Louise felt that same way.

The next part of the book is her trying to come to grips with this. There are flashbacks. There is a passing mention to the Tom Robinson trial – which is different from the Tom Robinson trial of TKAM but definitely based on the same trial. Jean Louise struggles and fights and rails. Her uncle plays a big role in this part of the book – but to be honest, I found him confusing. His words to her were almost all allegory and “riddles”. I was confused – but maybe that was just me. All the time Jean Louise is seeing racism and prejudice everywhere she looks.

At the end (SPOILER!!) I thought there might be a different wrap-up. I don’t know what I expected – maybe Atticus to slap her on the back and say, “I’m only fooling with you, Scout! And with your readers!” However, I think the ending is important in that Atticus doesn’t change. Scout has seen him for what he is. She accepts him though she doesn’t agree with him. And this is the point where the story becomes a true coming of age story — Atticus is proud of her because she thinks differently from him and stands by her convictions. In her mind, she “welcomes him to the human race”. Atticus has been a demigod for Jean Louise (and for many of us readers). He’s not. He’s human – and imperfect.

So let’s think about the title here. Jean Louise hears them say it in church so I googled it and it’s a Biblical reference from Isaiah. Go set a watchman. Go set a person who will watch over us all. I am guessing Nelle Harper considered Atticus the watchman, as this was a book that pre-dated and was reworked into TKAM. To read this one, you could consider Jean Louise to be the watchman, as she has entered the fight against racism and injustice.

However, shouldn’t and couldn’t we all be the watchmen?

You can see this book at your local indie or on Amazon It’s where I preordered mine ages ago. It is less than 300 pages.

Just a note. I did find the blatant racist language and diatribes in this book hard to read. You might, too.

CIRCLING THE SUN by Paula McLain

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Publishing at the end of the month (July 28, 2015) is a really fantastic novel about female aviator Beryl Markham: Paula McLain’s CIRCLING THE SUN.

I first heard of Beryl Markham when I read her memoir, WEST WITH THE NIGHT. I was going through a “female aviator phase” and was reading about Anne Lindbergh (my personal hero – don’t get me started!), Amelia Earhart, and Beryl Markham. I had not heard of Beryl before, but found her absolutely fascinating! Beryl was English, but grew up in Kenya in the early years of the 1900’s. Her mother deserted her and her father and returned to England. Beryl was a wild child: precocious, tough, and in love with the land and culture of Africa. Nothing stopped her. Again and again she pushed against the restrictions against women. She became a noted horse trainer (first female). She became a bush pilot. She actually is the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic east to west. A very personal side of Beryl is shown in this novel – her loves, her triumphs, her foibles. The love triangle with her, Karen von Blixen (Out of Africa author), and Denys Finch Hatten is portrayed in depth here. In all, you come to know Beryl Markham intimately.

I loved McLain’s earlier work, THE PARIS WIFE, and loved this novel, too. These characters came alive and are still with me, weeks after I finished the novel. They are so interesting – so real – so human. Don’t miss this one.

And if you like it, read Beryl’s own WEST WITH THE NIGHT.

Find them at an indie near you (I am an Indie Bound Affiliate):


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Thank you, Net Galley and Random House Ballantine, for my review copy!

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for MAUD’S LINE by Margaret Verble

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Today I am part of the virtual book tour for Margaret Verble’s new book: MAUD’S LINE, a story of a Native American teen and her family during the Depression. Here’s what HFVBT has to say:

Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Formats: eBook, Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0544470192
Pages: 304

Genre: Historical Fiction

A debut novel chronicling the life and loves of a headstrong, earthy, and magnetic heroine

Eastern Oklahoma, 1928. Eighteen-year-old Maud Nail lives with her rogue father and sensitive brother on one of the allotments parceled out by the U.S. Government to the Cherokees when their land was confiscated for Oklahoma’s statehood. Maud’s days are filled with hard work and simple pleasures, but often marked by violence and tragedy, a fact that she accepts with determined practicality. Her prospects for a better life are slim, but when a newcomer with good looks and books rides down her section line, she takes notice. Soon she finds herself facing a series of high-stakes decisions that will determine her future and those of her loved ones.

Maud’s Line is accessible, sensuous, and vivid. It will sit on the bookshelf alongside novels by Jim Harrison, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and other beloved chroniclers of the American West and its people.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE (NOOK) | BOOK DEPOSITORY | INDIEBOUND

PRAISE FOR MAUD’S LINE

“Maud is refreshingly open and honest about her own sexuality though conscious of her place as a woman in a sexist society, always careful not to insult the intelligence or manhood of her male friends and relations. Verble writes in a simple style that matches the hardscrabble setting and plainspoken characters. Verble, herself a member of the Cherokee Nation, tells a compelling story peopled with flawed yet sympathetic characters, sharing insights into Cherokee society on the parcels of land allotted to them after the Trail of Tears.” —Kirkus

“Writing as though Daniel Woodrell nods over one shoulder and the spirit of Willa Cather over the other, Margaret Verble gives us Maud, a gun-toting, book-loving, dream-chasing young woman whose often agonizing dilemmas can only be countered by sheer strength of heart.” —Malcolm Brooks, author of Painted Horses

“I want to live with Maud in a little farm in a little valley under the shadow of a mountain wall. Maud’s Line is an absolutely wonderful novel and Margaret Verble can drop you from great heights and still easily pick you up. I will read anything she writes, with enthusiasm.” —Jim Harrison, author of Dalva, Legends of the Fall, and The Big Seven

“Margaret Verble gives us a gorgeous window onto the Cherokee world in Oklahoma, 1927. Verble’s voice is utterly authentic, tender and funny, vivid and smart, and she creates a living community – the Nail family, Maud herself, her father, Mustard, and brother, Lovely, and the brothers Blue and Early, the quiet, tender-mouthed mare Leaf, and the big landscape of the bottoms – the land given to the Cherokees after the Trail of Tears. Beyond the allotments, it opens up into the wild, which is more or less what Verble does with this narrative. A wonderful debut novel.” —Roxana Robinson, author of Sparta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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MARGARET VERBLE, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, has set her novel on her family’s allotment land. She currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, and Old Windsor, England.

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This book was so interesting to me. I haven’t read too many novels from the Native American perspective that take place in the 20th century beyond the work of Louise Erdrich (whom I love!). I loved the character of Maud. She was strong and smart and driven. She was very in touch with her sexuality and not embarrassed by it. She certainly faced a large amount of trials and never gave up. I found the information about living on allotted land at that time interesting. Clearly Maud was in a world that was male dominated and the laws favored men for land ownership. At the end, Maud must decide what path to take in life and what is important to her — how her family and community play a role in her identity and what she wants in life.

Great debut novel! Thank you for making me part of the tour and for my review e-copy!

You, too, can follow the tour:

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Monday, July 13
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, July 14
Guest Post at Mina’s Bookshelf
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Wednesday, July 15
Review at A Book Geek

Thursday, July 16
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Friday, July 17
Excerpt & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Review Plus More

Saturday, July 18
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Monday, July 20
Review at Book Nerd

Tuesday, July 21
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, July 22
Interview & Excerpt at The Old Shelter
Excerpt & Giveaway at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, July 23
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Spotlight at Layered Pages

Friday, July 24
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past