Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (2007)

A very interesting historical novel from the point of view of Frank Lloyd Wright's mistress Mamah Cheney. Though Mamah was a real historical person, she is rarely mentioned, though she was a part of the famous architect's life during an important part of it. The author had to piece together Mamah's story from biographies of Wright, her work, occasional newspaper articles and archives. Since I have always loved Wright's work, it was wonderful to hear more about his philosophy, design style and buildings, especially the process of building Taliesin, which I still have yet to see. I have seen some of his houses in Chicago, Oak Park, and here in Kalamazoo. I enjoyed the love story too, the travels, the growth of feminism and Mamah learning Swedish to translate some important feminist works. I was interested in their thinking about marriage and divorce, I am sure that was very radical at that time, and in a sense, still is. The only part I had a hard time with was when Mamah chose Frank over her children, leaving them with their father. I liked hearing all the details of the era - the state of phone lines, use of cars, the craftsmen working on Taliesin, etc. Great read!

High Noon by Nora Roberts (2007)

It was a hard week, so I deserved a little guilty pleasure. I sat and just read one more of Roberts' thriller romances. This one has the heroine Pheobe be a hostage negotiator for the police. Interesting work - I never knew how they talk people down. Seems like they often don't get very far. Duncan is rich - won a major lottery ticket, but does good things with his money. Duncan has been adopted by a black family. More interesting characters like her mother, who is agoraphobic and won't leave the house. I also like the fact that Pheobe is divorced and has a daughter. Much more realistic of today's situations. Now if Roberts would only do more middle age romance.

Flotsam by David Wiesner (2006)

Just thought I'd check out a few of the latest Caldecott winners. When I started looking at this and found it had no words, and it was just a kid on the beach, I was disappointed, but then when he finds an old underwater camera and finds film inside which he has developed, I became fascinated. The imagination of Wiesner is just wonderful. Combining the real and fanciful. Like the octopus family sitting on living room furniture, but in the background you can see a moving truck upended, so the furniture could have fallen out of that.... Anyway, pure joy!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks (1998)

OK, I am on a Geraldine Brooks kick. This is her other non-fiction book which is her own story. Her father was an American musician, who chose to leave the US and live in Australia. Geraldine grew up in a suburb of Sydney, complaining about the dullness of her life, so she started looking for contacts with the rest of the world through pen pals in America, France and Israel. Later in life she looks these people up and sees how their lives had evolved. Somehow her search for life's answers speaks to me.

Rosetta Key by William Dietrich (2008)

I was not thrilled with the pace of adventure in this book. Seemed like Ethan Gage was constantly in mortal danger - in front of a firing squad, fleeing for his life, confronting a lion or crocodile, and I kept thinking - not again! Plus he was such a rogue - OK a fairly likable rogue, but still... What I did like was the snippet of history I got from this book. I picked it up, because it was about the Mideast, a part of the world that intrigues me again from Nine Parts of Desire. This takes place in 1798 and 1799, not too many years after the story of Marie Antoinette ends (a recent read), and it describes Napoleon invading Egypt and Palestine, before he became emperor of France. A quick check in the Wikipedia confirms the historical events - Napoleon's wiping out of thousands of people in Jaffa, but that he was unable to take Acre. The main character, Gage, is an American, looking for treasure and an ancient book. He is able to befriend and antagonize everybody - the French, the English, the local inhabitants, but in doing so, we see the story from all of their perspectives. The other intriguing historical piece is that Gage had worked with Ben Franklin, so he was always quoting Franklin, or asking himself what would Franklin do, and Gage was familiar with Franklin's experiments with electricity, which played a role in the novel. I also didn't realize that it was the French this long ago, who found the Rosetta Stone. That has always fascinated me, and it was the one thing I saw both times I was in London in 70's and a few years ago.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut (1968)

I seem to want to go back to some of the authors and books I really like in my youth. Though some of the stories seem dated, I still enjoyed this. I had forgotten this book is short stories, so I ran into the same problem I had with Pilgrims - listening to a series of short stories while driving around town makes for a jumble in my mind. I had forgotten how much Vonnegut leaned towards science fiction. He had various stories on the future. Some dealt with overpopulation - either many living in close quarters, or everyone's sex drive taken away, so people wouldn't procreate (in the title story). I do remember the one about the computer that fell in love and wrote love poems. I was a bit surprised about the Kennedy obsession, but then again, it was the 60's. Vonnegut obviously lived in the Cape Cod area, as that is featured in many stories. I think only one story is set in his version of Ithaca - from his Cornell days. Since I listened to this, I will have to wait until a copy is returned to the library to check it out and give more details on individual stories. I probably own a copy, but it's buried deep in the boxes I haven't unpacked since I moved into my parents house.