Her Hidden Genius Book Review

There are some men (both in the past and present) in this world who cannot fathom the idea that a woman can be more than a wife and a mother. When she dares to enter his world, he will do anything in his power to strip away her power and status.

One of these women is Rosalind Franklin. One of the scientists who discovered and published her findings on DNA, her male colleagues claimed her work as their own after her passing. Franklin’s story is told in the new novel Her Hidden Genius. Written by Marie Benedict and published in January, Franklin was ahead of her time. In the years after World War II, the daughter of a respected and wealthy British Jewish family chose work over marriage and motherhood.

Employed by labs in both London and Paris, she was the only female on nearly all-male teams. While working in the UK, three of her male co-workers did everything they could to upstage and unnerve her instead of coming together to reach a common goal.

Benedict does it again. She gives the spotlight to a woman who rightly deserves it. Up until I read this book, Rosalind Franklin was a complete stranger to me. I am thoroughly ashamed that it has taken almost a century for her to be given the credit she is rightly due. The narrative immediately sucked me in. By the time I got to the final page, I felt like I knew her, both a person and a feminist icon.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Her Hidden Genius is available wherever books are sold.

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Not Okay Movie Review

Social media is a wonderful thing. It connects us with like-minded individuals and opens the door to meeting people that we wouldn’t meet otherwise. The problem, however, with it is that it often creates an image that may not reflect reality.

The new Hulu movie, Not Okay, takes on this concept. Danni (Zoe Deutsch) is an NYC-based wannabe writer whose romantic and social life, in addition to her career is in the toilet. Adding insult to injury, she has zero Instagram followers.

Faking a trip to Paris, she suddenly has the attention she has been wanting. That attention grows tenfold after a terrorist attack. Danni has to pretend that she survived it. Labeled a hero upon her “return” home, she becomes friends with Rowan (Mia Isaac). Rowan is a young woman who is a true survivor. While dealing with her own trauma, she is trying to create a better world. She also attracts the attention of her long-time crush, Colin (Dylan O’Brien).

The facade has to be come down eventually. When it does, the fallout is spectacular and reveals the truth of our current-day culture.

I really liked this movie. It speaks to the need for approbation via the Internet and the truth that this approval is not always real. Though it took a little too long to get to the end, it was overall, an enjoyable film. I also enjoyed Danni as a character. Though she is inherently unlikeable, I still wanted to follow her story.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Not Okay is available for steaming on Hulu.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris Movie Review

Dreams are a wonderful thing. But without work, faith, and a little hope, they remain a distant fantasy.

The new film, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, is based on the book, Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico. Set in Britain in the late 1950s, Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) is a middle-aged woman that, for the most part, goes unnoticed. After losing her late husband in World War II, she earns her living cleaning houses. Among her clients are wannabe starlet Pamela Penrose (Rose Williams) and Lady Daunt (Anna Chancellor). Both see her, but neither truly appreciates her.

When the workday is done, she goes to the local pub to have a drink with pals Archie (Jason Isaacs) and Vi (Ellen Thomas). While working at Lady Daunt’s one day, she discovers a Dior gown and falls in love with it. The cost of the gown is obviously well beyond Ada’s meager paycheck.

After scrimping and saving (and with a little luck), she finally has the funds to afford the dress and travel to Paris. She expects to just pick up the dress and return home in a day. That plan derails the moment she enters the building. The first barrier is the directress and gatekeeper Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert). The second impediment is the 1% clients who are not happy that they have to compete with a British cleaning lady of all people.

But Ada is not alone. Among her new allies is the company accountant André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo), lead model Natasha (Alba Baptista), and a possible new love interest, the Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson).

Visually, this film is a feast for the eyes. It is a trip back in time that is half a Cinderella story, and half a narrative about a woman who achieves the impossible on her own terms. Ada is an everywoman who has a pollyannaish perspective that does not go too far into naivete or pie-in-the-sky beliefs. I love that she learns to stand up for herself and believe in herself when many would either look down on her or walk past her without seeing her.

My only complaint is that a good twenty minutes could have been cut and the movie would have been just as good.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is presently in theaters.

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II Book Review

From afar, it may seem that America was the superhero who swooped in to save the day during World War II. The reality is that our country has its own sins to grapple with from the era, i.e. the internment of Japanese-Americans.

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II, by Andrew Fukuda, was published last year. In 1935, two ten-year-olds become penpals. Alex Maki, from Bainbridge Island, is the son of Japanese immigrants. He believes that the person on the other end of the letter, Charlie Levy from Paris is a boy. When Charlie reveals that she is a girl, he does not initially react well. But she persists and they eventually become good friends.

Their lives are both upended by World War II. After Pearl Harbor, Alex, his family and hundreds of thousands of other Japanese-Americans are forced out of their homes and into interment camps. For the next few years, his home is the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Because she is Jewish, Charlie must grapple with tightning noose that is coming over close to her neck and every neck of of Jewish person in Europe.

This book is really good. What kept me reading was the relationship that changed as the protaganists grew up and faced challenges that would destroy many adults. The details make the narrative jump off the page and hook the reader until very end. It is a marvelous read that hilights a dark time in our history that is not even a century old.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II is avaliable wherever books are sold.

The Book of Lost Names Review

During wartime, there are multiple ways of fighting an invading enemy. One way is doing combat on the battlefield. The other is joining the resistance and fighting in ways that are not obvious to the naked eye.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel, was published last year It starts in 2005. Eva Traube Abrams is a semi-retired librarian living in Florida. While putting her books away, she is drawn to an article in the New York Times. Within the article is the image of a book that Eva has not seen in decades-The Book of Lost Names. It describes the libraries that were looted by the Nazis and the attempt by modern-day authorities to return the books to their rightful owners. The book in the photograph contains a code that researchers are unable to crack. But Eva knows its secret.

The narrative flashes back to 1942. Eva was then a young woman living in Paris with her whole life ahead of her. But because she and her family are Jewish, there is a target on all of their backs. When her father is taken away, Eva and her mother escape to a small town in rural France that is not yet under Nazi control.

Joining the resistance, she starts forging documents for Jewish children who are trying to get to Switzerland. But this kind of work is dangerous in both the physical and emotional sense. Eva starts to fall for Remy, a young man with a handsome face and a charming demeanor. To save the real identities of the young ones she is trying to save, their real names are recorded in The Book of Lost Names. This work becomes even more important when Remy disappears and their network is betrayed.

As usual, Harmel writes in a way that is entertaining, readable and teaches the audience without hitting them over the head. As the main character, Eva is a compelling heroine. The story is absorbing and exciting. My problem is that the romance overwhelms the narrative. It almost felt like the love story took prominence over the war. I get that Eva is young and falling in love is part of being young, but I wish the emphasis was a bit more on the danger of their work.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

The Book of Lost Names is available wherever books are sold.

The Matzah Ball: A Novel Book Review

The beauty of a romantic comedy is the nearly endless narrative possibilities. The reader/audience can only hope that the writer(s) chooses to color outside of the lines instead of sticking to the same story we have all seen far too often.

The Matzah Ball: A Novel, by Jean Meltzer, was published in September. Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is living a double life. To her readers, she is the best-selling writer of Christmas romance novels. In real life, she is the daughter of a respected Rabbi and Doctor who has been living with a debilitating illness for years. When her publisher requests a tale based around Chanukah, Rachel is at a loss.

Enter Jacob Greenberg, her preteen camp crush/nemesis. Returning to New York after his mother’s death, he has a successful career as a party planner. His sole intent is to host the Matzah Ball, a party celebrating Jewish music on the last night of the holiday. He has every intention of returning to Paris the night after the event. What he does not know is that Rachel will come back into his life, needing a way into the festivities.

Their initial meet-cute after nearly twenty years of separation does not go well. But as they spend more time with each other, the hurt and questions from their mutual summer together may turn into something else completely.

I loved this book. It has a perfect Pride and Prejudice undertone with layers of complexity, characters who are thoroughly human, and a holiday chronicle that is utterly charming, My only problem is that I found the character of Mickey, despite his background, to be a little too cookie-cutter. The role of the GBF (gay best friend), is usually nothing more than a stereotype and a sounding board for the female lead. It would have been nice if the author had stepped out of the box a little and not relied on the 2D trope that has been done too many times.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Room on Rue Amelie Book Review

When we make a choice, we never know what the consequences of that decision will be. We can only hope that it will turn out for the best.

In Kristin Harmel‘s 2018 book, The Room on Rue Amelie, Ruby is a young woman in the late 1930’s. Attending college in New York City, she meets and instantly falls in love with Marcel, a Frenchman from Paris. After the wedding, they move to Marcel’s hometown. At first it seems as they are in newlywedded bliss. But then World War II starts and their marriage is forever altered. The man she married and the man who stands in front of her are two different people.

After he is killed, Ruby discovers that her husband was part of the resistance. Picking up where he left off, she hides Allied soldiers who have landed in enemy territory. One of them is a RAF pilot who Ruby immediately connects with. She also takes in Charlotte, the young daughter of her Jewish neighbors who have been arrested. As the war continues on, the level of danger grows tenfold. They know they want to survive, but fate may have other plans.

I really enjoyed this book. Harmel’s story of love, resistance, fate, and hope is emotional and powerful. The relationship that kept me going was the one between Ruby and Charlotte. Their sisterly bond was the strongest among the characters, keeping them both going in a time when their circumstances could have easily broken them.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

World on Fire Character Review: Webster O’Connor

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series World on Fire. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. The truth of human sexuality is that it has always been a spectrum. But for most of our time on Earth, the only acceptable sexual relationship has been between a man and a woman. It is only in the last few decades (depending on where one lives) that members of the LGBTQ community are free to live and love as they want to.

On World on Fire, Webster O’Connor (Brian J. Smith) is an American doctor working and living in Paris as World War II rumbles on the horizon. He is also gay. Before the Germans invade the country, Webster is able to live openly as a gay man (well, as much as one could back then). Happily involved with Albert Fallou (Parker Sawyers), Webster does not listen to his aunt, Nancy Campbell (Helen Hunt) when she strongly recommends that he return to the States.

Then the Battle of France happens and Webster is stuck behind enemy lines. As both an American and a member of the LGBTQ community, he knows how dangerous it is to remain in France. But his Caucasian complexion and his assumed Christian faith have so far kept Webster off of the Nazi’s radar. Feeling that he has to do something, Webster and his colleague/nurse Henriette Guilbert (Eugénie Derouand), hatch a plan to get prisoners of war out of France before the Nazis can get their hands on them.

To sum it up: I suspect that many people in Webster’s situation would have taken his aunt’s advice. Having stayed for love, Webster is completely aware of the situation he is now in. But. he also knows that doing his part to save lives is dangerous. Having the courage to do that makes him a hero in my book.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

Thoughts On the Notre Dame Cathedral Fire

Iconic is a label that is often used lightly without considering the context of what or whom is considered to be iconic. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a building that is automatically labelled iconic, for good reason.

Construction on the cathedral initially began in 1163. It ended after nearly 200 years of work in 1345. An untold number of generations of parishioners and visitors have marveled at the beauty of the architecture of this building. It is one of the finest creations that mankind has ever built. Yesterday, it was nearly destroyed by fire. Thankfully, the fire was extinguished before the cathedral could be completely destroyed along with the priceless historical and religious objects that it houses.

I’ve never been there, but I can imagine how awe inspiring this marvel of human ingenuity is.

I feel for the people of Paris and the worshipers who consider Notre Dame to be their church. Regardless of faith, this church belongs not only to the people of Paris, but to the whole country. It is theirs to love, cherish and worship under, if that is their prerogative. Ask any religious person and they will likely tell you that their specific house of worship is akin to their second home. I feel the same way about the synagogue that my family attends. I don’t attend very often, but when I do, it’s like snuggling under a warm blanket with a hot drink on a cold winter night.

It will take time to rebuild, there is no question. But this ancient and beloved house of worship will return to her former glory, that I know is certain.

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