Saturday, September 13, 2008

Seduction of a Proper Gentleman, by Victoria Alexander

Sometimes you find a book that has all the best elements the romance genre has to offer- a beautiful, well-bred lady, a handsome peer, a curse on a family, a well-meaning Aunt and Grandmother, oh and a little magic as well.  All this and more is what I found in Victoria Alexander's final book in The Last Man Standing series.  Of course, I've not read the first two in this series, just the third and now the fourth.  Who am I to mess with my record for starting a series backwards?

Lady Kathleen MacDavid, a widow of nine years, finds herself with her Aunt in London to find a way to pair herself with Oliver, the Earl of Norcroft.  Both Kathleen and Oliver descend from families that five hundred years ago were at war with each other on the border of Scotland and England.  Doomed to ill luck since then (meaning the death of many a man in their early years that marries into the Dumleavy family, or attempts to court Kathleen) Kathleen goes along with the plan to unite the two families in marriage to hopefully break the curse.  Her plans go astray when her Aunt has her brought to Norcroft manner unconscious and unknown.  Kathleen wakes to find herself along in a strange house with the Earl and his mother, not knowing her name or where she came from.  With only feelings of who she is supposed to be to guide her, she allows Oliver to help her with trying to regain her memory.

Rightfully suspicious, Oliver allows Kathleen to stay in his home at the urging of his mother and a weird feeling that she was meant to be there.  Having won the bet between his friends to be the last man unwed, Oliver feels the pressure from his mother and his self to find a wife.  However, Oliver is determined to marry for love and finds himself falling under the spell of Kathleen and her mysterious identity.  He feels drawn to her and she to him, but neither can explain why.  The more time he spends with her, the more his finds himself unable to part with her.  He is a rational man, who when faced with the news of the curse and Kathleen's restored memory, decides to flee to decide his feelings and to come with a logical explanation other than the curse.  Neither planned to fall in love.

The tale is not as simple as that of course, but telling much more would give it away entirely.  The book was such a sweet mix of fun, magic and love that it was hard to put down when break time was over!  I really felt the hopelessness of Kathleen as she tried to find her memories.  Oliver is a treat himself, being a proper gentleman thinking quite improper thoughts of a woman under his roof with no memory.  The clashes between these two are very romantic and fun in the only way a courtship with a woman who has no idea who she is can be.  It is well worth the time to read!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan

I have a bad habit when I start a new book.  I like to read the last few pages first.  I know, it's a bit ridiculous as it defeats the purpose of actually reading the entire book.  With Loving Frank, the NY Times Bestseller by new author, Nancy Horan, reading the end of this book wasn't necessary. I already knew the ending to this particular story, so in this case, it wasn't the ending, but the story itself that was so satisfying.

Loving Frank is the fictional account of the love affair between famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a middle to upper class housewife in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago and Mr. Wright's earliest arena for his distinct brand of architecture. Mamah is no ordinary housewife of the times, however. She is a college graduate from the University of Michigan at a time when women with degrees were extremely rare.  She spoke 6 languages and worked before her marriage as a librarian in Port Huron.  Her background can certainly provide the excuse for her restlessness as a housewife.

Mamah (pronounced May-mah, and a childhood nickname for Martha) and her husband, Edwin Cheney, hire Frank to design their new Oak Park house.  The affair starts when Mamah and Frank collaborate on the house and find the attraction between them too difficult to deny. It's a physical attraction, yes, but intellectually, these two are well suited.  In 1909,  he leaves his wife (and Mamah's friend, Catherine) and his six children. She leaves her husband and her two children, and they decamp to Europe, together, in a firestorm of disgrace. After all, this is the early 1900's, and adultery and child abandonment are looked upon with the utmost disdain and revulsion, and in this case, garners a fair degree of press coverage, none of it favorable.  In fact, the liaison is disastrous to Frank's burgeoning career and the trip to Europe does very little to improve that.

The description of their lives in Europe and the people they meet make it difficult to remember that this is a novel of historical fiction.  The writer makes it seem as if we are the third party in this relationship, privy to every thought of each of the characters, particularly Mamah, of which little in the way of history is available. When Frank convinces Mamah to end their exile and return to his family's home in southwestern Wisconsin, the Frank Lloyd Wright we are all familiar with re-emerges.  He designs Taliesin, his home on the Wisconsin prairie, as a tribute to her.  They are besieged by a relentless press there as well, but persevere to find a place for themselves among their neighbors.

What I found so fascinating about this book was the author's interpretation, through diaries and letters, of the thoughts that may have gone through Mamah's mind during her involvement with Frank.  The guilt of abandoning her family, her friends, her ideals and her children come through at every turn.  It humanized the story and made Mamah's voice real and her situation one that garners empathy at her choice to live a "true" life.

The ending of the story?  Anyone can google Mamah Borthwick Cheney or Frank Lloyd Wright and find out what happens in August, 1914 at Taliesin. But if you don't already know, I would hope that you wouldn't. It makes the entire book a living, breathing testament to an intelligent woman who knew herself and knew what she wanted out of life. And hopefully found it.

Go read this book.  You'll be thinking about it long after the last page is turned. It is exceptional.