HER HIDDEN GENIUS

Wise behavior seldom makes for electrifying fiction.

Dr. Rosalind Franklin, whose pivotal role in the discovery of DNA was overlooked, gets her due in Benedict’s scholarly novel.

The story begins in 1947, with Franklin’s Paris period. After the unwelcoming attitude of London’s scientific community, the atmosphere of the Paris lab is exhilarating for the 26-year-old chemist. There, her gender and bluntness are not held against her, and she fits right in with her fellow researchers. Her expertise in X-ray crystallography, a technique for documenting molecular structures, is honed while studying coal and carbons. But in 1951, a distracting obsession with her womanizing supervisor, Jacques Mering, whom she wisely rebuffs, drives her back to London and a fellowship at King’s College, where she deploys crystallography to map DNA molecules. Her path crosses those of other DNA sleuths, including her fractious colleague Maurice Wilkins and Francis Crick and James Watson, two Cambridge researchers who will later claim all the glory and the Nobel Prize. Though her minute detailing of Franklin’s experiments, not to mention the data-freighted dialogue, can be eye-glazing, Benedict’s conclusions are sound: Franklin is way ahead of the men in verifying the structure of DNA and its helix shape. But Franklin’s methodical habits in amassing data work against her in the race to take credit for her groundbreaking discoveries. The men, especially Wilkins, who undermines her at every turn, and Watson, who’s not above snooping in her workspace, don’t share Franklin’s qualms about publishing results based on incomplete research. After leaving what would now be described as the hostile work environment at King’s for Birkbeck College, Franklin’s work on RNA paves the way for antiviral vaccines. But the denouement drags as Benedict seems unsure whether her protagonist should bridle at her unfair treatment or simply move on, as the real Franklin seems to have done, leaving her scores to be settled by others, posthumously. The cancer that killed Franklin in 1958 may have been attributable to long-term exposure to X-rays—like many of her peers, she was cavalier about safety precautions.

Wise behavior seldom makes for electrifying fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-72822-939-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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IT STARTS WITH US

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

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The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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