Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Winnefred Ann Frolik

The One – Finding True Love Never Seemed So Frightening


Studies show that 92 percent feel an instant, arrow-to-the-heart attraction within the first forty eight hours of meeting.

Technologies from texting to Tinder have revolutionized dating and romance – and not always in ways we’re comfortable with. In The One, by John Marrs, we are introduced to a world where science has gone one step further. A simple DNA test using a mouth swab can find you the person you are literally genetically made for. Naturally Match Your DNA becomes the biggest company on earth and millions of couples have been united. But the flip side is the technology has also led to countless breakups as well as upending all traditional notions of love, courtship, and romance. While 60% of Matches live in the same country, that still leaves 40% who don’t, and there’s no telling what the race, gender, age, health or socioeconomic status of your Soul Mate will be. Or whether your Soul Mate is already taken.  Or cognitively disabled. Or a criminal. Or even still alive. As many argue in the book, perhaps human society just isn’t ready for such revelations. And what about the millions of people who use the service but remain Match Less?  What hope is there for them?

Marrs explores the full implications of all this through the viewpoints of five very different people. We have Mandy, a late 30’s divorcee who yearns for children. Nick, who’s already in a happy, stable, relationship but his fiancée wants to take the test so they can be ‘sure.’ Ellie, a hard hitting businesswoman worth billions. Twenty-something Jade, whose match lives halfway across the world in Australia. And Christopher, who is quite literally a psychopath.

All of them will be matched with their soulmates, but for none of them will find that the course of true love runs smoothly. Far, far from it. Instead of a comedy or a romance, Marrs has written a fast-paced, gripping and completely original thriller to keep you on the edge of your seat. The twists and turns keep coming with almost every new chapter and you may well gasp aloud at points as you keep flipping the pages frantic to know what’s next. It could easily be adapted into a Black Mirror episode. This is a book you can read in one sitting and the questions it raises will stay with you long afterward.

The One
John Marrs

Top photo: Bigstock

Vacation Getaways – Gay Paree!


Continuing on with our series on experiencing the world’s best vacation spots vicariously through the use of books and movies, now let’s take a sojourn to Paris the City of Lights. With its fantastic food, its café culture, its world famous museums, historic architecture and so much more, it is arguably the Ultimate Destination City. Let us explore.

Five Great Movies to See That Were Filmed in Paris

An American in Paris (1951) Vincente Minelli directed this classic movie musical based on the composition of George Gershwin. Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is a WWII vet struggling to make it as an artist while romantically involved with Lise (Leslie Caron). Oscar Levant, Georges Geutary, and Nina Foch also starred. It was a huge box office smash and was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won six. It is ranked #9 on the AFI’s list of Best Movie Musicals.

Belle de Jour (1967) Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel directed and co-wrote this film based on the Joseph Kessler novel of the same name. Severine (Catherine Denueve, in one of her most acclaimed roles) is a young and beautiful housewife married to physician Dr. Pierre Serizy. She loves her husband, but is sexually frustrated and finds release by working as a high class prostitute while he’s at work. Many of Denueve’s costumes were designed by Yves St. Laurent himself and the film won the Golden Lion and Passinetti Award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival.  

Amelie (2001) Audrey Tatou shines in the title role as a shy young waitress living in Montmarte who decides to devote herself to promoting the happiness of others. Along the way of course she finds love for herself as well. The movie was a global smash and the highest grossing French language film released in the U.S. to date. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, won two BAFTA awards, four Cesar Awards including Best Film and Best Director, and won Best Film at the European Film awards.

Ratatouille (2007) Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol) directed this animated Pixar offering.  Remy the rat (Patton Oswalt) is an idealistic and creative soul who yearns to become a great chef but finds it hard to do because…well he’s a rat. Until that he is forms a partnership with bumbling garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano).  Janeane Garafolo, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, and Peter O’Toole lend their voices as well. To create the food animation Bird interned at The French Laundry restaurant and the production team consulted with numerous chefs. The end result was a visually spectacular and hilarious movie that rightly won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture.

Midnight in Paris (2011) Woody Allen wrote and directed this comedic fantasy. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter and would be novelist besotted by Paris while his fiancée Inez (Rachel MacAdams) is less enamored. One night Gil discovers a way to travel back in time to Paris in the 20’s allowing him to hobnob with figures like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. The movie is essentially a love letter to Paris and its charms and enchantments which helped win a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

Five Great Books Set in Paris

Le Pere Goriot (1835) by Honore de Balzac. Set in Paris during the Bourbon Restoration, the novel follows how three characters lives intertwine: criminal in hiding Vautrin; idealistic young law student Eugene de Rastignac; and the titular Goriot, an elderly man who dotes on his spoiled and ungrateful daughters. While it received mixed reviews at the time it is now widely considered to be Balzac’s most important and influential novel that gave rise to the term ‘Rastignac’ to denote a social climber who’d do anything to advance their position.

A Moveable Feast (1964)  By Ernest Hemingway. A memoir of Hemingway’s early years as a struggling expatriate journalist and author in the 20’s when he was married to his first wife, Hadley. It was published posthumously by his fourth wife and widow, Mary Hemingway, three years after his death based on his manuscript and notes. Hemingway provides specific details on many Parisian streets and cafes still in existence today as well as featuring such notable figures as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Aleister Crowley, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein and many more.  For anyone interested in Paris OR literary history it’s a must read.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006) By Muriel Bayberry.  Renee Michel is a brilliant and sensitive woman who hides her genius under a shade while working as a concierge at a ritzy apartment building.  She is befriended by the precocious and unstable 12 year old Paloma Josse and one day the cultured Japanese businessman Kakuro Ozu begins to take an interest in Renee as well.  An publishing phenomenon it became an international best-seller and won the 2007 French Booksellers Award, the Prix du Rotary International in France, and the Brive-la-Gaillarde Reader’s prize.  A movie adaption starring Josiane Balasko as Renee was released in 2009.  

Pure (2011) By Andrew Miller. The novel centers around the efforts of engineer Jean-Baptiste Barrette who is tasked with the removal of the Les Innocentes, cemetery and church from Les Halles, France in 1786.  Barratte soon find he has both friends and enemies in this task and Miller draws a colorful cast of characters who wage against each other during a time of incredible political turmoil.  It was nominated for the Walter Scott Prize and South Bank Award, and won the Costa Book Award for ‘Best Novel’ and ‘Book of the Year.’

Paris: The Novel (2013) By Edward Rutherford. This historical novel traces the history of Paris from 1261 to 1968 thru the sagas of six core families; the Revolutionary Le Sourds, the aristocratic de Cygnes, the bourgeois merchant Renards, Napolean supporting Blanchards, the Gascons of the slums, and the Jacobs an art dealing Jewish family.  Based on real events following two different timelines and set in locales such as Montmarte, Notre Dame, and Boulevard Saint-Germain it weaves a fascinating tapestry.  

Top photo: Bigstock

Tarnished City – There Are No Hogwarts Here


When right and wrong were so tangled up, how could you ever pull them apart?

Last year Vic James dazzled readers worldwide with her debut novel Gilded Cage that imagined an alternate England where the magically gifted Skilled ruled as autocrats over the enslaved commoners. James vision was heightened by her willingness to explore multiple viewpoints from rebellious commoners, to scheming Skilled nobles to offer something truly fresh and revelatory. But as that was just Book One the test for the newly released sequel Tarnished City is whether it can live up to its predecessor.

The answer’s in: not only does Tarnished City maintain the momentum brought in with Gilded Cage, it expands it.  As novels go, it’s The Empire Strikes Back to A New Hope. Richer, darker, more complicated, and with plot developments and twists that change everything. Favorite old characters such as Abi and Luke Hadley, two enslaved commoners, return. Abi’s now joined the rebellion while Luke’s prisoner at Eilean Dochlais, seat of the sadistic Lord Crovan; a place both stunningly beautiful and home to some of the most unimaginable cruelty. Which is pretty much the whole universe James offers here.  Many more magnificent feats of magic are seen and hints are given to a World of Light that is perhaps the source of the Skilled’s power. But the violence and brutality are even worse as well. The body count for character deaths just keeps on rising and the final denouement of the ‘Blood Fair’ is not for the faint of heart.  

Meantime the incredibly powerful and corrupt Jardine family continue to engage in the sort of intrigues one generally associates with ancient Rome. Patriarch Whittam Jardine plots to become Chancellor on a permanent basis. His daughter-in-law, Bouda, plots to supplant him. And youngest son and most talented Skilled in the world, Silyen Jardine, is playing a game of ten dimensional chess all his own – to what end game, no one can guess. For that matter, commoner Jon Faiers returns as well and his motives and ultimate aspirations are as murky as that of any Skilled. Numerous characters have to choose between competing loyalties to family, to power, to ideals, and new alliances are formed, as well as new betrayals.  It’s a helluva ride with the final chapters leaving one gasping for air; and panting to see what James has in store for us in Book Three. 

Tarnished City
Vic James

Top photo: Bigstock

Jane on the Brain: Science of Social Intelligence Meets Jane Austen


The thought of Darcy and Elizabeth as walking computers, calculating the sum of neural activity, is likely to irritate many Austen enthusiasts.

2017 marked the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death.  Through the centuries she has endured as certainly one of the greatest novelists of all time if not the greatest.  What has been the secret to her remarkable success and longevity?  Well obviously, her trademark acidic wit and brilliant observation of the society she lived in are key elements.  But, former English professor and practicing psychotherapist Wendy Jones argues that what truly elevates Austen above, say, Georgette Heyer, was her remarkable empathy and rich understanding of human psychology.  Indeed, Jones argues in Jane on the Brain that Austen’s works contain insight into the deepest realms of the human mind.

To that end, Jones offers us a unique blend of literary analysis, psychology, and the latest cutting-edge discoveries of neuroscience.  The ball at Meryton that is the kickoff event for Pride and Prejudice is deconstructed according to what happens when Darcy’s first sight of Elizabeth travels through the retina and optic nerve to register in the pre-frontal cortex.  And in that long, convoluted journey therein lies why he first considered Lizzie only ‘tolerable.’ Marianne’s disastrous reunion with Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility is connected to the automatic nervous system and Jones considers Marianne’s heartbreak a textbook definition of clinical depression.  Emma Wodehouse (Emma) is a model in self-deception.  Such legendary literary nightmares like Sir Walter Elliott of Persuasion and John Thorpe of Northanger Abbey show all the earmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and so on. 

Jones even illustrates how Austen’s understanding of self-control and empathy are the bedrocks of civilization as we know it and key to leading a moral, emotionally healthy life.  Of course as Jones also makes clear there are a few tricks with applying Regency era norms to our era.  In fact the first thing Jones mentions in the introduction is that applying Austen’s formula for matrimony (gratitude and esteem) led to her unhappy first marriage.  Turns out these days when women can support themselves the value of passion and romance has greatly increased.  And nobody marries first cousins anymore either.

It makes for a complicated and sometimes dense (a lot of technical jargon here!) read but one that never fails to interest the leader even if you don’t always agree with her conclusions.  Consider it the beginning of a discussion as it were.  Perhaps one that should be had over scones and tea.

Five Great Reads For the Cold Weather


Ah winter.  Time for hot chocolate, weather advisory alerts, and staying indoors.  And when you’re stuck inside the only things to do as we all well know are binge Netflix and read.  Here are some worthwhile books to help get through to spring.

The Thin Woman (1984) By Ellis Haskell –  Overweight interior decorator Ellie Simons hires professional escort (and aspiring writer and chef) Bentley T. Haskell to provide her protection during a weekend with her dreadful relatives.  Complications of course ensue and things eventually turn deadly.  This was Book One in a much adored series of novels starring Ellie, Bentley, Cousin Freddy, and many, many more colorful characters.  Cannell not only crafts good puzzles but has a delightfully dry very British wit and a knack for writing scenes and tableaus that are as funny as they are charming.  

Book of a Thousand Days (2007) By Shannon Hale – This young adult fantasy novel is a fresh take on Brothers Grimm’s classic fairy tale Maid Maleen. After her mother’s death, Dashti a mucker from the steppes finds work as a maid to the great beauty Lady Saren.  Lady Saren’s father the Lord of Titor’s Garden proclaims she must marry Lord Khasar but turns our Saren’s already engaged to young Khan Tegus.  Daddy locks Saren and Dashti both in a tower and says they’ll stay there for seven years-or until Saren agrees to marry Lord Khasar.  A beautifully rendered fantasy with a female friendship at its center it won a host of awards including the Whitney award for Best Speculative Fiction, Cybils awards for Best Fantasy and Science AND Best Young Adult Fantasy, and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults award.

The Poison Tree (2011) by Erin Kelly – This riveting psychological thriller begins with Karen and her young daughter Alice picking up Karen’s lover Rex who’s served a ten year stint in prison.  Flashback to the late 90’s when Karen meets Biba a flamboyant would be actress and moves in with her and her enigmatic brother Rex.  It’s all fun and games but the siblings share a tortured family legacy and things eventually turn bloody.  Full of twists and turns, it was a brilliant debut novel for Kelly who has gone on to write more thrillers since.  

The Partner Track (2013) by Helen Wan – Ingrid Yung is a first generation Chinese American woman, poised to become the first minority woman to make partner at the distinguished Wall Street firm Parsons, Valentine, and Hunt.  But when an offensive incident at a summer outing creates a PR crisis for the firm, Ingrid is drafted to spearhead the new Diversity and Inclusion Initiative while also closing a major deal.  Soon Ingrid will find herself questioning everything she’s worked her whole life to achieve.  Wan gives us a wonderful and relatable protagonist with excellent insights into the experience of Asian Americans and the cutthroat environment of Big Law Firms.  

Lilac Girls (2016) by Martha Hall Kelly – Manhattan, 1939.  New York socialite Caroline Ferriday falls for a married actor while becoming increasingly involved in supporting France’s war effort.  Kasia Kuzmerick a Polish Catholic, girl whose adolescence is interrupted by Germany’s invasion of Poland and her own involvement with the Resistance.  And one day infamous German surgeon Herta Oberheuser finally accepts a position at Ravensbruck.  Their lives will converge in ways, that are unexpected and occasionally horrific.   Told in first person narrative from the Pov of three very different women, Kelly’s debut novel was a grand triumph capturing not only three distinct voices but also brilliantly brings the times to life.  And for the record she’s relating are all true.

Top photo: Bigstock

Five Films About Figure Skating


With I, Tonya, getting Oscar buzz and scheduled to go into wider release this month, figure skating is all the rage. Let’s examine Hollywood’s take on the sport.

The Ice Follies of 1939 (1939) This American musical drama stars Joan Crawford as actress Mary whose marriage to renowned ice skater Larry Hall (the one and only Jimmy Stewart!) brings on a host of issues both personal and professional.  Also starring Lew Ayres (who played Dr. Kildare in nine movies), and three of the legendary International Ice Follies as themselves in their film debut.

Sun Valley Serenade (1941)  In this black and white musical band pianist Ted Scott’s (John Payne of Miracle on 34th Street fame), manager has a bright idea; drum up publicity for the band by having adopt a foreign refugee. Instead of the child orphan Ted and the others were expecting their ‘refugee’ is a very attractive young woman named Karen Benson (real life three time gold medalist figure skater Sonja Henie of Norway), much to the chagrin of Ted’s fiancée.  When the band gets a Christmas gig in Sun Valley, Karen tags along and hijinks ensue.  Beside Henie’s elaborate routines on ice, the movie’s also noteworthy for premiering “Chattanooga Choo Choo” which won the Oscar for Best Original Song and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The Cutting Edge (1992) Paul Michael Glaser (The Running Man) directed this romantic comedy written by Tony Gilroy. Wealthy spoiled Kate Mosely (Moira Kelly of One Tree Hill) is a world class figure skater but her diva antics keep scaring off potential partners. Her coach Anton (Roy Dotrice of Amadeus) in a last ditch effort recruits washed-up hockey player Doug Dorsey (D.B. Sweeney of Eight Men Out) who hates figure skating. The two form a prickly partnership that eventually takes them to a stand-off against a Soviet team at the 1992 Olympics.

Reflections on Ice (1999) This HBO produced documentary features extensive footage and discussion of the early days of the sport. It covers everything from gender roles in ice skating, indoor vs. outdoor skating, politics of judging, costuming, the notorious Trixie Schuba and Janet Lynn rivalry and more. Worth special mention is the tragic plane crash of 1961 where the entire U.S. skating team was killed prompting a cancellation of the World Championships that year. Includes interviews with such legendary skaters as Peggy Fleming, Barbara Ann Scott, Dorothy Hamill, and Carole Heiss Jenkins.

The Fabulous Ice Age (2013) Keri Pickett directed this documentary about the golden age of touring ice shows which entertained generations of Americans, beginning in 1915 when a young, German, Charlotte from Berlin, brought her ‘ballet on ice’ to America’s Hippodrome theater. From frozen ponds to sold out arenas ice skating was BIG. Through archival footage and interviews with ice show producers, skating stars, and fans alike Pickett brings this uniquely American art form to life and also tells the story of one skater’s quest to preserve and share the history. 

Top photo: Bigstock

Five Films About Race in America


With Martin Luther King Day upon us its only timely to consider our country’s notoriously turbulent history on racial issues and the bitter divisions that remain today. It’s a difficult topic one that many movie directors prefer to side step altogether and even fewer can do it justice.  Here are five examples of films that successfully tackled race head on.

Malcolm X (1992) Spike Lee produced, directed, and co-wrote the screenplay and Denzel Washington starred in the title role, in this epic biopic about the famous African American activist. The film follows Malcolm’s troubled childhood raised by his mentally ill mother after his father’s murder, his conversion to the Nation of Islam while in prison, and his career as an incendiary activist which ended in his assassination.  He would however, become an inspiration to millions; including Nelson Mandela. Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to do With It?) plays Malcolm’s wife Betty Shabazz, Al Freeman Jr. (Finian’s Rainbow, Roots; The Next Generation) Malcolm’s tutor and teacher Elijah Muhammed, and Delroy Lindo (Get Shorty, The Cider House Rules) is a gangster known as West Indian Archie. Denzel was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, and the movie’s garnered a fresh rating of over 90% at Rotten Tomatoes.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011) This award winning documentary directed by Goran Olsson chronicles the evolution of the Black Power movement through the late sixties to mid seventies as seen by Swedish Journalists and film-makers. Featuring found footage over thirty years old including appearances by Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael, Lewis Farrakhan, Ingrid Dahlberg and more.  Additional voiceovers and commentaries were provided by Erykah Badu and Amir Questlove who helped provide the musical score. Among the topics covered are the Black Panther Party, War on Drugs, and the anti-war movement.

Hidden Figures (2016)  Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) directed and co-wrote the screenplay adapted by the non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterley telling the too long unknown story of black, women, mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race. Taraji Henson (Empire, Person of Interest, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is revelatory as the brilliant Katherine Goble Johnson. Octavia Spencer (The Help, Fruitvale Station) commands the screen as hyper competent Dorothy Vaughn and singer Janella Monae shines as sassy, ambitious Mary Jackson. They make a truly unforgettable trio on screen together and the cast is rounded out with memorable turns by Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, and Mahershala Ali. The movie was a critical (over 90% fresh rating) and commercial success. Indeed it was the highest grossing Best Picture nominee that year.

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) Directed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, this Academy Award-nominated documentary is based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House.  Baldwin died before he completing his memoir of his memories of such personal friends of his as Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr., but Jackson and Peck give him a voice beyond the grave to create a biography  the Wall Street Journal called ‘enthralling…a evocation of a passionate soul in a tumultuous era.’

Moonlight (2016) Barry Jenkins wrote and directed this ground breaking picture based on Tarell McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. (Jenkins wisely abbreviated the title.) Presenting three stages, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood in the life of Chiron, the neglected son of drug addicted Paula, as he navigates his sexuality and identity. It’s pivotal theme is black male identity and how that intersects with sexual identity. The film was universally acclaimed with a 98% fresh rating, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and McCraney, and Best Picture. It was the first film with an all black cast AND first LGBT film to win Best Picture.

Top photo from Bigstock: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, as seen on April 16, 2016. This memorial is the first African American honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall.

The Last Neanderthal – Fresh Insight into a Lost Race


They didn’t think as much about what was different.

Homo Neanderthalis. A race of archaic humans who roamed the earth for 200,000 years and whose extinction roughly 40,000 years ago happens to coincide with the rise of homo sapiens.  Their skeletal remains and Stone Age tools have been constantly studied and scrutinized by academics all over the world. They’ve long held a fascination in popular culture as well. And modern genome studies demonstrate that Neanderthals interbred with homo sapiens and contributed to the DNA of modern humans.Yet we know so little about them.

In The Last Neanderthal, Claire Cameron (author of best-selling The Bear) seeks to educate us about our much misunderstood ancestors by giving us a poignant glimpse into their final days through the eyes of Girl. The oldest daughter still living with the Family firmly ruled by Big Mother, Girl wants nothing more than for things to stay the same even as she understands change is coming.  Indeed, there are changes far more traumatic than she could ever imagine on the horizon.  She soon ends up the sole caretaker of Runt; a strange orphaned child who the Family had taken in out of kindness despite his puniness, ugly misshapen skull, and odd behavior.

Intertwined with Girl’s riveting narrative of survival and grief is the tale of modern day archaeologist Rosamund Gale who makes a possibly revolutionary discovery of Neanderthal remains and artifacts while pregnant. She races to secure the excavation and research before the birth and it becomes apparent that Gale has more than a few issues with her impending motherhood. Cameron paints not so subtle parallels with the struggles Rosamund faces and those of Girl outlining the universality of human experience. But wisely, she spends far more time with Girl than Rosalind, who after all possesses the more compelling story.

The Family have their own fascinating traditions and dynamics to fall back on and, far from being savages, the Neanderthals here come across as compassionate, sensitive, and capable species. Cameron has achieved an inspired triumph of empathy in story-telling by painting a picture of a people and society in the Family who are clearly different from us but, in another deeper sense, are much the same. In doing so, The Last Neanderthal helps us redefine our perspective on what it even means to be human.

The Last Neanderthal
Claire Cameron

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