L is for Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

I have had this book for years. So many people wanted me to read Loving Frank┬áby Nancy Horan that I found myself with two copies, one I purchased and one that was given to me. But with oodles and oodles of books lying around, it was one of many I needed to get to. Flash forward and back up to this past November, and LOVING FRANK was selected by my Book Club for our January read. And then I did something crazy (big surprise). I bought a version for my Kindle and gave away my two copies. It was on a lark I did this, and only after having read through the first few chapters. I was instantly smitten with Horan’s wordly–no, that’s not a typo for worldly–ways and confident the recipients would love it as much as I was. Having finished it just in time for tomorrow’s discussion, and to be on track for this year’s project, all I can say is… I am loving Frank. The book, rather, not so much the man.

Let me also say that prior to cracking this book open, I knew very little about Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW). Sure, in the peripheral pockets of knowledge I keep, I know he’s a major contributor to American architecture. He has two famous homes (probably more) Taliesen in Wisconsin and Taliesen West in Scottsdale (the latter I have actually visited). I also grew up in the southwest near a church inspired by his work full of clean lines, glass and nature. But his personal life, his drive and arrogance, his marriages and a rather scandalous affair in the early 1900s, I knew absolutely nothing about. My ignorance of FLW and his lover Mamah was absolute bliss when reading this captivating work of historical fiction.

In the early 1900s, Mamah (pron. May-muh) Borthwick Cheney was married and had just commissioned FLW to build a house in Oak Harbor. A masters-level educated woman who actively promoted women’s rights, Mamah was a leader and much ahead of her time. Her forward thinking ideas drew me to her and I liked her fire very much. Yet upon meeting Frank Lloyd Wright, her heart took over and the two of them found themselves quickly in a complicated, romantic entanglement; both FLW and Mamah were married to other people and both had children. They believed their shared love to be the truest relationship they had found and they would do anything to be together. Even if it meant Mamah leaving her very young children in the hands of her cuckolded husband and her sister to travel the world and follow Frank’s dreams. My love for Mamah was instantly lost; but I couldn’t stop reading. Horan’s blend of known facts and her own imagined dialogue between these two lovers was completely compelling.

There was a bit of detail overload at times on the architecture and landscape talk. But I had to know what would come of these two people and the families they left behind. I needed answers and outcomes, impacts and consequences. I could not understand a woman being able to abandon her children. As I turned the pages, I repeatedly wondered how could she do this (how any woman could ever do it)? Could she really be that selfish? Doesn’t she understand the gravity of her choices? How on earth would this turn out?

I won’t answer those questions for you; read it for yourself to find out.

Suffice it to say, if you know nothing or very little of the actual events, the story will take you in completely and when you least expect it, it will throw you. It will utterly throw you, jerking you up out of your comfortable reading posture forcing you to reread the pages you just read in utter disbelief. There are answers, there are outcomes–devastating ones, at that. And we are left with a fascinating account of what might have happened in the years that Frank and Mamah eschewed the world and everything in it for each other and, of course, Frank’s work.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction

Week 31: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress – Rhoda Janzen

MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS: You had me at the cover of your delightful looking little book. Yes, it was your cover that had my interest on high alert and my mouse ready to click “Add to Cart”. Then I looked closer and saw that you were a memoir. And you were endorsed by Elizabeth Gilbert of EAT, PRAY, LOVE fame. Well, I just had to add you to my shelf of all of my other impulsive book purchases that I have made but can’t actually make good on reading until some later date because that’s just how I roll.

Fast forward two months and my book club selected it for our August read. Picture me thrilled! Fast forward just a teensy bit more and see me glad to have read it but with a luster that’s faded ever so slightly.


MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS (MENNO) is writer and professor Rhoda Janzen’s memoir of returning to her roots after a devastating car accident that left her physically scarred and the dissolution of her 15-year marriage that emotionally wrecked her. Home for Janzen is her Mennonite community on the west coast, thousands of miles from the midwest and her life of academia. Despite eschewing much about the faith, the food and the conservative upbringing her parents provided, Janzen finds that home is where the healing is.


In a dozen or so chapters, Janzen shares her history, both as a Mennonite daughter and then a codependent wife married to a charismatic yet bipolar, emotionally abusive and ultimately bisexual man who leaves her for another man. Her gift is in her sense of humor and ability to embrace a community that she once left behind. Janzen does this with a very conversational tone, a must for me in a good memoir. She seems very real and someone who would be great to sit next to at a dinner party.


My only real complaint was the number of stories and anecdotes she shared to give the reader a glimpse of her personal history. She crams so many of them into MENNO that I felt that she often interrupted herself to get another story in. And yet there were moments of realization, of reflection and remembrance captured so very eloquently that her talents as a writer can’t be denied. And, it’s this contradiction that has me struggling. I think MENNO is definitely worth a recommendation, but I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone. Oh, how I wanted to remain as totally smitten with this book as when I first laid eyes upon the cover! But I am a little more informed and a little better off for having read it. And I am sure, just like finding the perfect little black dress, this book will be the perfect fit for that special someone.


Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 272
Genre: Memoir

Week 4: The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse – Louise Erdrich

This week’s entry was picked for me as my February Book Club’s selection. Admittedly, it actually took me two weeks to read it, but finishing it up this week, I am counting it now. For those that know me well, I considered heavily (probably too much) if I should count this or not since I didn’t read this in an actual week and then I was quickly reminded that I had many more mundane things I could be fretting over and moved on.

So this is my third Erdrich undertaking, the first being The Master Butchers Singing Club (a literary marvel and masterpiece and all that good stuff that comes when you read something remarkable). Second, I tackled her first novel, Love Medicine, and fumbled big-time. I couldn’t get through it. The third and most current is THE LAST REPORT ON THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE, which falls somewhere between the two. And, just so you know, here on out I will refer to it as LITTLE NO HORSE because the title, while wonderful is just too much to type and I have too many acronyms I have to deal with in my 8-5 job, so TLROTMALNH was a headache-inducing proposition and so quickly off the blog posting page it falls.

All of my Erdrich readings have been due to my book club and I am not sure I would have picked her up otherwise. I love, love, LOVED The Master Butchers Singing Club and went into LITTLE NO HORSE with much anticipation, it being a National Book Award finalist and all. But unfortunately, the love affair faded rather quickly.

There is no doubt that Erdrich has crafted a truly unique story with LITTLE NO HORSE. She’s an extremely talented writer. To create a full community of feuding Ojibwe Indian families, their difficult life on desolate land and their desire for counsel and guidance from a dedicated priest (Father Modeste) is an achievement. She crafts a story of major transgressions, dark violence and closely held secrets. One where thought I would be quick to turn the page and slow to put down, but that wasn’t the case. Certainly, there were moments that were pretty spectacular and then there were more times than I expected that I found the book to drag on and, dare I say it?, where I was a little bit bored.

This is not a book to consume quickly. It takes a bit of time, focus and quiet. The sentence structure is long, the list of characters complex and, at times, it’s hard to follow. At least, that was my experience. And I don’t officially award books with prestigious honors or even seals; so who am I to say? I just read some of them and write about them on this little blog that a small contention of folks follow. So at the end of the day read it at your own risk and decide for yourself. And if you do that, let me know what you think.

Rating: 2 stars
Pages: 361
Genre: Fiction