From My Bookshelf ~ Featuring Laam and Horan

By Lynn Willoughby

The Secret Daughter of the Tsar ~ Jennifer Laam

“A compelling alternate history of the Romanov family in which a secret fifth daughter is smuggled out of Russia before the revolution, continues the royal lineage…”

This is the theme of the debut novel by Laam, and it crosses oceans, time and the lives of three women.

In the early 1900s, so this novel begins, the Empress Alexandra gave birth to a fifth daughter. Throughout her pregnancy, the royal family, and especially the dowager empress, held their collective breath, hoping for a son and heir. It was not to be – so the live birth was kept a secret and the baby girl was dispatched from the palace.
This story gives us insight not only into the private lives of the Romanovs. We are also immersed in ballet, we are privy to life in Nazi occupied Paris during WWII, we ride along with a modern day Los Angeles historian who loves and good mystery and finds romance, deception and ghosts in her own attic.

It is well researched and I do love a good historical novel. It certainly provides a unique twist on the usual Romanov heir theory, ie that Anastasia somehow survived the Bolshevik slaughter of her family. The ending is a fun jaw dropper, so don’t be discouraged by some of the meanderings of the story line.

Loving Frank ~ Nancy Horan

Mameh Borthwick Cheney, and her husband Edwin, commission the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design their new home in a suburb of Chicago. During the construction Frank and Mameh fall deeply in love. In time they would each leave their spouse and children, an action that shocked Chicago society and “forever changed their lives.”

In most books about Wright, Mameh is a footnote. But according to this author, Mameh had an enormous influence on this architectural giant, his attitude toward workmen, paying his bills on time, his visions of new structures, and even supporting his own children.

Horan has done her research. She “weaves little known facts into a compelling narrative, vividly portraying the conflicts and struggles of a woman forced to choose between the roles of mother, wife, lover, intellectual”. What we today take for granted in a well rounded female.

Mameh questions herself. feels all the guilt and sorrow any of us would feel, but she ultimately chooses “womanhood.” She is able to support herself as a translator and that too is shocking for the times.

This debut novel is mesmerizing. The characters are complex and fully rounded. Mameh gets no easy pass n her choices from her sister, her best friend, her husband. As an aside, it was interesting to me that after her friend Mattie’s death, her husband hands off their children to other family members to raise and he heads off to work in South America. There were NO raised eyebrows, shunning, gossip columns or yellow press for his actions!

I knew very little about Wright, but after reading this historical novel, I realize what a genius he truly was. And like many other geniuses, his eye is always on the goal, not on the process. Bills may be unpaid, he may treat his staff with wrath and disrespect, ignore his family for long periods, be a tyrant about decorating or furniture placement in “his” homes and buildings. Nevertheless, he leaves a stunning legacy.

I really liked this novel – the passions, the descriptions of daily life a hundred years ago, the tactile feeling I got when he dreamt and planned his astonishing architectural designs and stained glass. Mostly, though, the absolute love between Frank and Mameh will remain in my heart.

Who Knew?

Ellen Key is the Swedish feminist writer whose ideas on sin, love and marriage, and especially on moral conduct, had wide influence. She especially appealed to Mameh Borthwick, who worked as Key’s American translator.

“Love is moral even without legal marriage, but marriage is immoral without love.” Ellen Key