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 Songs – One Man’s Choices Blight The Next Generation


Iz was a mystery really, but maybe everyone’s parents are a mystery to their children.

Iz Herzl was once a legendary protest singer and political activist in the mark of Bob Dylan. At age 80, Iz is now almost forgotten and losing his memories.  However admired he was by outsiders, he was an impenetrable figure to his children; the super smart Rose, and sweet, sensitive Huddle, stricken with muscular dystrophy. Iz had another child as well by another woman; Joseph is a middle aged Broadway songwriter who only met his father once to disastrous results. Now with his career flagging and the victim of horrific violence, Joseph has reached a stage of crisis, while 16 year-old Rose and 15 year-old Huddie are isolated in their own private world. Their mother is long gone, having fallen out of a window (possibly intentionally) when they were toddlers and they’ve been raised by their stepmother, Carla, who, while by no means evil, isn’t exactly overflowing with maternal warmth, either. The formerly disparate members of the Herzl line finally start to collide with one another, and along the way an earth shattering truth emerges.


In The Songs, Charles Elton weaves a complex, multi-layered narrative examining the nature of truth, connection, family, and mortality all at once. Besides the wounded members of the Herzl clan, centered by Iz the most contradictory and indecipherable figure of all, another focal point is Shirley, wife of Joseph’s writing partner, Alan, who lost her daughter some fifteen years before and has a result become obsessed with questions of reincarnation and the afterlife. Shirley is in open conflict with Kevin who is producing Alan and Joseph’s show and some of the most amusing bits come from the depiction of the trials and travails of theatrical production, something Elton, a former British TV producer is intimately familiar with. It all seems like a lot to handle, yet somehow, all this is packed into a very compact novel of a minimalist writing style that has the direct impact of a blunt object and the final lines of the novel are simply beautiful.

The Songs
Charles Elton

Wonder Woman – The Superheroine Movie We’ve Waited For


I am Diana of Themyscira daughter of Hippolyta Queen of the Amazons!

As a unabashed fan of superhero/comic book films, I’ve had much to enjoy in my lifetime; the X-Men films, Nolan’s Batman movies, 300, Marvel studios slate. But there’s been one pretty notable absence all these years; a comic book film centered on a female lead.  Which is why the announcement of a movie version of Wonder Woman and having it directed by a woman director Patty Jenkins (who’s last movie Monster won Charlize Theron the Oscar for Best Actress) was one for hopes, but also fears. Warner Brothers’ record for adapting DC Comics has been mixed over the years. What if the studio screwed up with Wonder Woman as they did with Suicide Squad and Batman Vs. Superman? Not only would it be unbearably painful to see such a beloved icon treated poorly, but it would also be harmful to the cause of big budget films starring women in general.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (Photo credit: Warner Bros.)

Well, I have good news for you; not only did Patty Jenkins not screw up with Wonder Woman, she hit it out of the park. Like Captain America – First Avenger what we see here is primarily a long flashback telling the story of how the hero(ine) came to be in our modern world.  We begin with her childhood on the hidden island of  Themyscira, peopled with such unforgettable figures as Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson of Rushmore and Gladiator) and her aunt the great general Antiope (Robin Wright of House of Cards).  The Amazons live in a women’s only island of beautiful scenery, millennial old code of honor, and martial training. But one day an outsider and the first man Diana ever sees, Captain Trevor (Chris Pine of Star Trek in his most charming role yet), accidentally breaks through and on his heels are an army of soldiers with guns. Paradise has now been touched by man and with it comes bloodshed and heartache.

Robin Wright (Photo credit: Alex Bailey/ TM & © DC Comics)

The impressive cast also sports David Thewlis (Harry Potter, The Theory of Everything) Said Thagmaoui (Three Kings, Conan the Barbarian), Lucy Davis (Shaun of the Dead), Danny Huston (Children of Men, 21 Grams), and more. But the heart and soul has to be Diana herself.  I admit I was skeptical when Israeli born newcomer Gal Gadot was cast in the role; she certainly looked the part but could she act I wondered?  Well, it turns out she can. My god, she can.  When she’s on screen her every move and gesture…she IS Diana embodying the part more than anyone else has.  At the first sight of her in running into battle in her iconic uniform the audience cheered.

Gal Gadot (Photo credit: Alex Bailey/ TM & © DC Comics)

And quite a battle it was!  Wonder Woman in the original comics began with Diana leaving her island home during WWII, but the movie pushes it into WWI and it’s actually a brilliant artistic choice.  A main theme of the film is Ares and mankind’s dangerous infatuation with war and what better illustration of the senselessness of humanity’s battles than the notorious meat grinder that was the first World War?  While there’s a great deal of ‘fish out of water’ humor when Diana first leaves Themyscria for the outside world, there’s a deeper conflict of Diana’s high ideals coming into contact with humanity and all its darkness. Hippolyta flat tells out her daughter, that humans don’t deserve her and it’s hard to argue with it.  But it’s not about ‘deserve’ and Diana, beautiful, brave, compassionate, and impossibly strong, is the big screen  heroine we’ve all been yearning for a very VERY long time.

Top photo: Gal Gadot (Credit: Clay Enos/ TM & © DC Comics)

The Good Widow – Learning Your Life Has Been A Lie


What the hell was my husband doing in Maui?

Fourth grade teacher Jacqueline ‘Jacks’ Morales is one day blindsided by a knock on the door from a pair of police officers informing her that her husband Jame died in a fiery car crash in Hawaii. Which seems particularly surreal to Jacks because James was supposed to be in Kansas. As Jacks soon puts the pieces together, though, James had in fact been on a romantic getaway with his mistress, Dylan.  In a state of grief and shock, Jacks is approached by Dylan’s fiancée, Nick, who suggests that she accompany him to Hawaii to retrace their SO’s steps and hopefully find closure. Jacks does so, but in the process has to confront that nothing is quite what she thought it was; not James, not her marriage, nor James’s death.

Co-Written by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, The Good Widow is told mostly from the first person viewpoint of Jacks, but occasionally switches to the POV of Dylan in her final days before her death as well. It’s not only a clever approach for this particular narrative, but a surprisingly humane one; much as Jacks (and some readers) might want to hate Dylan for being a husband stealer, we are forced to find empathy for her as well.

And for James. The novel’s greatest strength lies in its emotionally brutal depiction of how Jacks and James once so deeply in love eventually drifted apart from one another in an endless cycle of guilt and self-recrimination. They say no one can ever tell what’s happening in a marriage from the outside, but sometimes it’s not always clear from the inside either. Deception is a common thread in the makings of this tragedy and the impossibility of ever fully ‘knowing’ someone else. Secrets are unveiled and, to be honest, the final ‘twist’ isn’t hard to guess. In fact, I saw it coming it within the first few chapters. Nevertheless I was compelled to keep reading, not for the end destination, but for the quality of the journey.

Top photo: Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, credit Debbie Friedrich Photography

The Good Widow
Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Dragon Teeth – Welcome to the Wild West 


These fossils do not invite interest.  They invite passionate commitment, they invite religious fervor and scientific speculation, they invite heated discourse and argument, but they do not thrive on mere interest.

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton, and published posthumously, is NOT a science fiction novel per se, though it does feature science.  I stress that because we all think of Crichton as the author of such sci-fi thrillers like The Andromeda Strain, and you should not be deceived by the title or the book cover that deliberately evokes Jurassic Park. Yes, dinosaurs are heavily involved but they’re all long dead and fossilized.

Michael Crichton

No, in Dragon Teeth, Crichton was returning to the realm of historical fiction which he explored in such works as The Great Train Robbery and Eaters of the Dead. Based on true stories of legendary paleontologist’s Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, whose fierce competition to dig up fossilized remains in the Great West during the 1870’s would become known as the Bone Wars.  It lasted ten years, was the financial and psychological ruin of both men, a huge scandal for the field of paleontology, but in the course of things, they did make some truly astounding discoveries.

Crichton imagines a young, spoiled Yale scion William Johnson who, through a strange chain of events, becomes an apprentice photographer to both men during the summer of 1876. While with Cope’s expedition, Johnson is witness to the excavation of the titular ‘dragon teeth’ – molars from some hither to unknown reptilian beast whose proportions do not resemble anything yet discovered and which Cope names ‘brontosaurus.’ Little does Johnson know how much trouble those teeth are going to cause him.

Dragon Teeth works as both an engrossing adventure story AND a look at a fascinating moment in history as scientific discovery, lawlessness, the Indian wars, and intrigue all collide into place and time. Famous figures like Wyatt Earp and Robert Louis Stevenson appear to our delight. The different places and atmospheres from the genteel halls of Yale, the mansions of Philadelphia, the World’s Fair in Chicago, and the crime ridden streets of Deadwood come alive. (This one, like so many of Crichton’s books, seems destined for a movie adaption.) Moreover, the story captures not only the cutthroat nature of the Marsh/Cope rivalry, but the genuine excitement and cutting edge nature of the work. In one scene, Cope actually comes to blows with a minister who informs him he’s doing the ‘devil’s work’ by producing evidence of evolutionary theory. Corruption and vice are always in the background and here was a place and time where there was truly no law to be found.  It all makes for a rip roaring good yarn.

Credit for Michael Crichton’s photo: Jonathan Exley

Dragon Teeth
Michael Crichton

Five Books Set at the Beach


Memorial Day officially kicks off the summer and with it, the mandatory expeditions in search of sun, sand, and surf.  Along with the volleyball, swimming, sun-bathing, and picnicking the beach is, of course, all about taking time to read. And what better to read at the beach than something set at the beach?  Or for those who don’t have the chance to visit the beach at all, take a literary journey instead.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie (1941) Hercule Poirot was hoping for a quiet little holiday at a seaside resort on the Devon Coast.  Of course things don’t go as planned. Poirot becomes entangled with the other vacationers including the young married couple the Redferns, the American tourists the Gardeners, famed designer Rosamund Darnley, former Army Major Barry, Emily Brewster spinster, the Reverand Lane, Sir Horace Blatt and the Marshalls consisting of Kenneth Marshall, beautiful flirty actress Arlena Marshall, and Arlena’s troubled teenage step-daughter Linda. When Arleana Marshall turns up murdered, Poirot has quite the list of suspects to sort through. Vintage Christie at her best.

Hawaii-A Novel by James Michener (1959) Published the same year Hawaii become the official 50th U.S. state. Michener writing in episodic format narrates a story beginning with the origins of the islands themselves, the original Hawaiians who sailed to Hawaii from Bora Bora, early Calvinist missionaries, merchants, and the Chinese and Japanese immigrants who came to seek their fortune. Each group left their mark helping shape Hawaii into the place we know today. Highly acclaimed for its historical accuracy and use of setting.

Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974)  One night a Great White Shark attacks a young woman swimming in the ocean at the normally quiet resort of Amity…blah blah blah. But really you all know the rest of the story don’t you? You’ve all seen the movie. Why not read the runaway best-seller that started one of the biggest franchises of all time and made millions everywhere start looking out for the tell-tale fin?

Good Harbor by Anita Diament (2002) Good Harbor is a stretch of Cape Ann beach. Kathleen Levine local Gloucester librarian and mother of two men is suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 59. Joyce Tabachnik is a forty something freelance writer who’s grown increasingly distant from her husband and daughter. The two women form a friendship that helps them heal wounds from the past and move on to the future.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (2009) Set in the English seaside town of Lyme Regis, Chevalier tells the story of Mary Anning a working class young woman with a remarkable talent for finding fossils embedded within the cliffs.  As she continues her work of fossil finding she forms an friendship with prickly, upper class spinster Elizabeth Philpot. Chevalier does first person narration from both women with unique and memorable voices as she outlines a friendship/partnership that truly was remarkable. And 19th Century Lyme is practically a character in its own right within the book.

Top photo: Bigstock

Five Films About Vino


Thursday, May 25th is National Wine Day! Celebrated every year it’s an excuse (like you really needed one), to have a glass or two of your favorite vintage. It also seems like an appropriate time to consider wine on cinema.

An Autumn Tale (1998) This French film is directed by Erich Rohmer (My Night at Maud’s, Triple Agent) and is the fourth of Tales of Four Seasons cinema quartet. Magali (Beatrice Romand) is a forty-something widowed winemaker. Magali loves her work but has been lonely since her husband’s death and so her two best friends secretly scheme to find a husband for her. It won the Golden Osella Prize for Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival as was selected as the Best Foreign Language Film by the National Society of Film Critics.

Mondovino (2004) Written and directed by Jonathon Nossiter (a former sommelier from New York’s Balthazar), this documentary examines the impact of globalization on the world’s different wine regions. In competition are the ambitions of giant multinational wine producers like Robert Mondavi with the interests of single estate wineries who pride themselves on wines with individual character.  Nossiter also explores the impact of critics like Robert Parker on determining an international ‘style’ of wine. Along the way Nossiter visits wineries in France, Italy, California, and Brazil. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival as well as a Cesar Award and holds a 70% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Sideways (2004) Alexander Payne (Election, Nebraska,) directed and co-wrote this adaption of the Rex Pickett’s novel by the same name.  Depressed teacher and would be writer Miles Raymond (the one and only Paul Giamatti) and his best friend, Hollywood Has Been Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church in the role that launched his career comeback) take a week-long trip to Santa Barbara’s wine country to celebrate Jack’s upcoming wedding. Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy) and Virginia Madsen (Ghosts of Mississippi, The Prairie Home Companion) make memorable appearances as well. It was a runaway critical and commercial success, grossing over a $100 million on a $16 million dollar budget. Sideways won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for four other awards including Best Picture.

Bottle Shock (2008) This comedic drama directed by Randall Miller is based on the notorious 1976 wine competition termed the Judgment of Paris when California wine defeated French wine in a blind taste test.  These results sent shock waves through the industry, putting Californian wine on the map and signaling the downfall of French domination of the wine industry with new contenders coming from all corners of the world. Bill Pullman and Chris Pine play a father-son team of winemakers but the MVP of the team is the late great Alan Rickman as British wine snob Steven Spurrier.

Red Obsession (2013) This Australian documentary was narrated by Russell Crowe and co-directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross. It takes viewers on a journey from China to Bordeaux as it examines the trends of the global wine industry interviewing winemakers, wine critics, and wine lovers. It won the AACTA awards for Best Documentary and Best Direction in a Documentary and currently holds a 100% fresh rating on the Tomatometer.

Top photo: Bigstock

Grief Cottage – A Coming of Age Ghost Story


I felt no big-brotherly protectiveness coming from this watcher, only an intense, almost affronted curiosity.  Whatever was looking down at me seemed to be waiting to see what I would do next.

Marcus is eleven years old when his mother dies and with no known father, he’s sent to live with his Great Aunt Charlotte, an eccentric painter, in her little cottage by the sea. It soon becomes apparent that both Marcus and Charlotte are both carrying enormous baggage and often it’s unclear just who is the main caretaker of whom. Aunt Charlotte’s most popular paintings are of a deserted crumbling wreck known as the ‘Grief Cottage.’ Fifty years before during a hurricane, a young boy and his parents disappeared. Their bodies were never found and an air of mystery as well as tragedy lingers on the site ever since. That summer Marcus becomes obsessed with the story of the Grief Cottage and starts making daily visits where he communes with what he believes to be the dead boy’s ghost.

9781632867049 Grief Cottage jacket art

In Marcus, Gail Godwin author of Grief Cottage has found a remarkable narrative voice.  A young boy of extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity, but one burdened with deep emotional wounds even before he lost his mother. His full story is revealed to us like a slowly blooming flower, with every revelation revealed like a new petal. Supporting characters like the reclusive Charlotte and neighbors Lachicotte, a mechanic who specializes in restoring vintage cars, and the elderly Coral Upchurch, make for strong, vivid impressions as well. The ghost itself is a surprisingly strong presence and Godwin treads new terrain here. While only Marcus can see the boy’s spirit, everyone on the island is to some extent haunted by ghosts of the past. But the novel stumbles and loses steam in the last fifty or so pages. The ending seems anti-climactic and feels like a letdown. As if Godwin wasn’t sure how to truly resolve the mystery of Grief Cottage and so took the safest way out instead of offering something truly exciting. The same goes for another ‘puzzle’ cleared up on the final page. It’s not really ‘surprising’ or especially revelatory nor was it something we even cared about. Grief Cottage is an excellent use of first person narrative with a truly lyrical voice, but its conclusion ultimately leaves one unsatisfied.

Top photo: Gail Godwin by Dion Ogust

Grief Cottage
Gail Godwin

For more information, go to Gail Godwin’s website.

Five Cinematic Adaptions of King Arthur


King Arthur: Legend of the Sword directed by Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) is just the latest in what has been a long Hollywood fascination with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Consider the following.

The Sword in the Stone  (1963) This animated Disney classical musical concentrates on Arthur’s boyhood. Young Arthur is a lonely twelve year old orphan known as Wart, under the care of his foster father Sir Ector and serving as squire to Ector’s brutish, bullying son Kay. One day a chance meeting brings him to the cottage of Merlin who declares himself Arthur’s tutor and insists on coming home with him. Thus begins a charming and delightful coming of age story based on part one of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Of particular note is Merlin’s magical duel with arch-nemesis Madame Mim.

Camelot (1967) John Logan (South Pacific) directed the film adaption of the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name. King Arthur (the one and only Richard Harris) prepares for a battle against his dearest friend Sir Lancelot (Franco Nero of Django fame) and sadly reflects on the circumstances that have brought them both to this point. A young Vanessa Redgrave plays Guenevere. It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won three including Best Musical Score. It was also nominated for six Golden Globe Awards and won three including Best Actor for Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Richard Harris.

Lancelot du Lac (1974) Renowned French filmmaker Robert Bresson (A Man Escaped, Mouchette) wrote and directed this take centering on the doomed love affair of Lancelot and Gwenivere. Like most of other Bresson’s films he used a cast of unknowns for the roles and his depiction of the Middle Ages emphasized blood and grime over magic and fantasy. It won the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival and has a fresh rating  over 90% on the Tomatometer.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) This British slapstick comedy parodying the Arthurian legend was the source material for the blockbuster musical Spamalot. With such classic bits as the Knights Who Say Ni, the Rabbit of Caerbannog, and the coconuts…dear god the coconuts. It was the highest grossing British film released in America that year, has a 97% fresh rating on the Tomatometer, and is universally considered one of the most hysterically funny movies of all time. Do NOT try to drink anything while watching!

Excalibur (1981) John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance) wrote, directed, and produced this bloody and brutal British Fantasy drama based entirely on Thomas Malory’s writings of the Arthurian legend. Shot entirely in Ireland with an Irish cast it helped launch the careers of such performers as Gabriel Byrne (Uther Pendragon), Ciaran Hinds (King Lot), Helen Mirren (Morgana), Corin Redgrave (Duke of Cornwall), Patrick Stewart (King Leondegrance) and Liam Neeson (Gawain). The main love triangle is played by Nigel Terry (The Lion in Winter) as Arthur, Cherie Lunghi (King David) as Gwenivere and Nicholas Clay (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lionheart) as Lancelot. It was nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards and Boorman was nominated for two prizes at the Cannes Film Festival winning for Best Artistic Contribution.

Top photo: Bigstock

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