Sunday, April 25, 2010

LOVING FRANK, by Nancy Horan

Loving Frank had been out for a couple of years before I got around to reading it. The book is a novelized version of the scandalous affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
Knowing nothing about their history, I was more curious about the architect's early life than I was about Mamah Cheney. Having lived for several years in the San Francisco Bay Area, I regularly drove past the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael. That beautiful building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, faces Highway 101 so I got a good look at it when traffic was slow.
In Loving Frank, Horan explains Wright's thinking in his design of the original Taliesin house in Wisconsin, which he built for himself and Mamah. As I read the book, I could picture the Marin Civic Center and understand his philosophy in the orientation of the building.
Loving Frank is, however, first and foremost a novel about two people who are irrevocably drawn to each other. Whatever I may think of their decision to leave their families and children to live together, there’s no denying the bond between them. At times the book bogged down in trying to explain Mamah as a person, whereas Frank Lloyd Wright is now such a legend that he was easier to understand.
The story moved right along, and kept me turning the pages. The ending was a stunner, since I knew nothing of their history before I read Loving Frank. In fact, I had to discipline myself not to Google them while I read so I could find out what happened. I’m glad I waited. If you read Loving Frank, I hope you do so without knowing "the rest of the story," so you can be as surprised as I was.
Loving Frank is general market fiction, and was on the bestseller lists. The historical details of Europe pre-World War One fascinated me. I liked the novel best for the look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s early life, but overall it was a good story. If you enjoy historical fiction written about real people, you’ll like Loving Frank.

Monday, April 19, 2010

SIXTEEN BRIDES, by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Sixteen Brides is a thoroughly engaging story of a group of Civil War widows who travel to Nebraska, lured by the prospect of free land. The premise for Sixteen Brides arose from an actual newspaper clipping in the Nebraska Historical Society archives, which made the plot even more fun for me.
Once the women arrive in Plum Grove, the last stop before their final destination in Cayote, they discover that they've been brought west as brides for the single men in the area. Not only that, the trip's organizer has already sold tickets for dances with the women when they arrive in Cayote.
For some of the sixteen widows, the thought of finding husbands is not unwelcome. But the others came strictly for the prospect of owning their own homestead land. The story follows those who stayed in Plum Grove as they sort out how they will settle on the nearly barren land.
Whitson has done a masterful job at juggling several points of view as we get to know each woman and some of the earlier settlers who have already made Plum Grove their home. By the time I'd finished the book, I was quite sure which lady was which from the depiction on the cover. The multiple story lines were resolved by the end of the story, with a few surprises. Whitson resisted the temptation to tie up each romance with a bow, and instead left some questions for the reader to fill in with their own imagination.
Sixteen Brides is a delightful story—one I’m happy to recommend.

Thanks to the author and Bethany House for providing my review copy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A DISTANT MELODY, by Sarah Sundin

Walter Novak and Allie Miller meet at a friend's wedding. On the surface, they have little in common. But the exigencies of World War II tend to break down normal barriers. Walt is a B-17 pilot about to be shipped out to England, while Allie is a timid, sheltered heiress-to-be.
Normally, Walt is tongue-tied around available women, but they meet on a train and he falsely assumes her to be married and a mother of small children, so he feels safe in talking to her. When he finds out later that she's single he's able to continue his unaccustomed gregariousness, to the point where he draws her out of her shell. The two of them begin a friendship, which forms the basis of this Christian romance.
Walt goes off to England, and Allie returns to her home in Riverside, where she's expected to marry a man who is her parent's choice for her.
The theme that develops through A Distant Melody is the seriousness of even a "harmless" white lie. Through mutual deceptions and silences when words would have been truthful, Allie and Walt's relationship bounces as much as a B-17 in a hard landing.
The wartime air battle scenes are masterfully done. In fact, for me they were the highlight of the novel. The crewmen of Walt’s bomber emerge as real people that the reader comes to care about. These portions of A Distant Melody contain many details realistic to the time period (1942–43) in which the story is set. Sundin has done a remarkable job of researching both the scenes in Europe as well as details of life in wartime California.
There have been so many novels set in WWII that I wasn't sure I'd want to read another one, but A Distant Melody offers a fresh look at an often-told conflict. It was a pleasure to read. I look forward to the next book in the series so I can find out what happens to the other Novak brothers, minor characters in this story. I recommend this book.