Do you like to visit the National Parks? Do you like murder mysteries with a little romance thrown in? Check out the Nevada Barr mysteries. Her heroine is Anna Pigeon, a National Park Service Ranger who runs away from Manhattan after the death of her first husband. Each book deals with a murder in a National Park as Anna moves from post to post. Her descriptions of each park are great, making you want to visit. Flashback takes place in the Dry Tortugas National Park which is seventy miles off Key West. The story includes a current murder as well as the history and lore of the island, which is the site of historic Fort Jefferson. Anna’s sister Molly finds letters written by their great-great aunt who lived at the fort during the Civil War. With the letters providing the history of the fort and Anna’s description of her current posting at the park, you feel you are really there. After I read the book I had the opportunity to visit Key West and take a catamaran trip to Fort Jefferson; Nevada Barr’s vivid descriptions were right on the mark..
The past is still vivid to Marina, even though the present fades in a fog of age and approaching Alzheimer’s. Now elderly and living in America, as a young woman she had been a docent at the State Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. When Leningrad comes under siege during World War II, Marina and the other museum workers carefully hide the priceless artworks, leaving the frames behind as a promise of their eventual return. Marina painstakingly memorizes each painting and sculpture, memories she can escape to as the winter and continuing siege worsen, memories that now seem more real than her current life. Interspersed with vivid descriptions of the artwork and the suffering of the Russian civilians, this is a beautiful book about the power of memory.
The most pivotal and yet least understood event of Frank Lloyd Wright’s celebrated life involves the brutal murders in 1914 of seven adults and children dear to the architect and the destruction by fire of Taliesin, his landmark residence, near Spring Green, Wisconsin. Unaccountably, the details of that shocking crime have been largely ignored by Wright’s legion of biographers—a historical and cultural gap that is finally addressed in William Drennan’s exhaustively researched Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders.
Supplying both a gripping mystery story and an authoritative portrait of the artist as a young man, Drennan wades through the myths surrounding Wright and the massacre, casting fresh light on the formulation of Wright’s architectural ideology and the cataclysmic effects that the Taliesin murders exerted on the fabled architect and on his subsequent designs.
Do you like historical fiction? Try Brothers by Da Chen. The book takes place in China during the Cultural Revolution and concerns two brothers, Tan and Shento, one born to wealth and privilege , the other to poverty and shame. The story follows their lives as they grow to manhood and fulfill their destinies. Though a work of fiction, the author has also written memoirs of his life in China, and this book draws upon his experiences during those tumultuous times.
Into Great Silence is a compelling film that chronicles the lives of the ascetic monks of the Grande Chartreuse in the picturesque French Alps. This is a unique movie in that there is no voice over and few subtitles. The tolling of the immense church bells calling the monks to prayer provides us with a rare glimpse of the rhythm of daily life for the men who live outside of the hustle and bustle of our modern time. This stark yet beautiful documentary introduces viewers to the symbols, rituals, and traditions that the Carthusian monks have followed since the founding of this hermit order in the eleventh century.
A very quick read (120 pages) about the Queen of England who discovers a love of reading when she wanders into a bookmobile. She reads widely and indiscriminately with the help of a young palace employee. She finds that she is changed by what she reads, as well as by the process of reading.
The Queen as a character is immensely likeable and honest, yet the author gives insight into the very real class and status differences she has always had to live with. One (as the Queen refers to herself) gives an insider view of what life as a monarch may be like.
The act of reading as subversive and suspect is also explored – very interesting for those who love reading, books and libraries. Though the style is light and funny, there are many poignant moments, and a surprise ending as well. Highly recommended.
Offering a peek into the largely closed and secret world of the Japanese royal family, The Commoner by John Schwartz is the story of Haruko, the first commoner to marry into the oldest monarchy in the world. Set in the years immediately after World War II when Japan was undergoing great change, Haruko goes from the relative freedom of a well-educated college graduate to a tightly the controlled world of a princess whose only duty was to produce a male heir. Spare and beautiful, it is a culture very foreign to us, but the thoughts and feelings of its characters are universal. While the storyline is somewhat similar to recent real-life events in Japan, this is a novelization, beautifully imagined.