Category Archives: Bio-Fiction

The Book Whisperer Discovers Much About Hedy Lamarr


Marie Benedict,, was a 24-year-old corporate lawyer in NYC in the mid-1990s. As a result, Benedict was often the only woman in the room. Thus readers can understand the title of her most recent book, The Only Woman in the Room about Hedy Lamarr, bio-fiction.

The only woman in the room has a dual meaning to me. First, Hedy Lamarr would be the only woman in the room because of her beauty and presence. Second, she was often the only woman in the room of men because of her first husband’s business dealings. She was the ornament; little did Friedrich Mandl know of her superior intellect and her ability to remember conversations. Mandl was interested in possessing her because of her beauty.

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary in 1914. Her parents were well-to-do; her father was a banker. Her mother, Gertrud Lichtwitz Kiesler, gave up a promising career as a concert pianist when she married Emil Kiesler, a banker. Hedy was their only child, doted upon by her father while her mother kept Hedy in check with her negative comments. As a result, Hedy felt a chasm between her and her mother.

Benedict begins the book with Hedy on stage starring as the nineteenth-century Bavarian empress Elizabeth. At the end of the performance, a parade of ushers starts toward the stage, all of the ushers holding bouquets of flowers. Hedy feels quite alarmed by the “grandiose gesture with its inappropriate, very public timing.” She cannot think who would be so unwise as to single her out in such a public way. She is not only alarmed, but also embarrassed. Hedy realizes too that the flowers are hothouse flowers, obviously expensive. Below is a picture of Empress Elizabeth.


When the audience sits down after a thunderous standing ovation, one man is left standing “in the center of the third row, the most prized seat in the theater.” He is staring at Hedy. She presumes the flowers are his ostentatious gift to her.

The card on the flowers let Hedy know they are from Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy munitions manufacturer. Mandl is heavy-handed and knows what he wants. He wants Hedy Kiesler, so he pursues her in this showy manner. He continues sending flowers, but after the first night, the flowers go direclty to fill Hedy’s dressing room. Mandl asks to take Hedy to dinner, but she does not answer him; she knows Mandl’s chauffer is waiting at the stage door, so she slips out another door.

Soon, Mandl sends a letter to Hedy’s parents asking for the opportunity to dine with their daughter. Reluctantly, Emil, Hedy’s father, tells Hedy that she must have dinner with Mandl. Emil fears the growing unrest in Europe and the strikes against Jews will be coming closer and closer to Austria. He knows that Mandl can protect Hedy and possibly her Jewish parents. Emil also fears the repercussions that Mandl could wield against him and his bank if Hedy refuses to dine with him. The family is in an intolerable position. And did I mention that Hedy is only 19 years old?

Hedy does have dinner with Mandl and then more dinners follow. Quite soon, he asks her to marry him. She is captivated by his charm and wealth; he treats her well. She finds herself attracted to him despite the age difference and the fact that he is not really a handsome man. She agrees to marry him, so he takes her and her mother to Paris to buy a wedding gown and other dresses. She finds a wedding gown she thinks is perfect, but he refuses it and chooses another one himself, one in black and white. Anything is lovely on Hedy, so she agrees to the dress.

Early in the book, Hedy reveals she has made a movie, Ecstasy, in which she is nude and plays a vividly realistic love scene. She regrets having made the movie even though at the time she thought the nudity and love scene fit the script. In returning to live theater, Hedy hopes to put Ecstasy behind her. She almost succeeds until one evening when she and Mandl are entertaining some high-powered business associates, Mandl decides to show Ecstasy over Hedy’s protests. Mandl does not know about the nude love scene.

When that scene comes on, Mandl is apoplectic and turns the projector off. From that moment on, Hedy is his prisoner. He has extra locks put on the doors and she has no access to keys. He allows her out only with him or only when he has advance notice that she will visit her parents or go shopping, but always chaperoned.

As readers can imagine, Hedy chafes at this imprisonment and her feelings for Mandl change. Not only does he keep her a prisoner, but his attitude toward her has changed. He regards her as his possession and rapes her, treating her savagely. Naturally, Hedy plots to escape from him. Her first attempt fails, mainly because the servants are spies and they betray her.

With her intellect, however, Hedy will not be denied. She plans more carefully, even hiring a young maid who, in certain lights, will look like Hedy. Before she can put the plans into effect, Mandl hosts a dinner to which Hedy is not invited, but she slips into the hallway and determines who some of the guests are; one of them is Hitler.

Hiding in the hallway, Hedy overhears a conversation between Hitler and Mandl when Hitler says, “I alone decide whether someone is Jewish. I have decided that you will be granted the title ‘Honorary Aryan,’ which means that whatever Semitic blood stains you bear have been washed clean. You are no longer a Jew. I feel certain that, without the besmirchment of that blood, you can, and indeed, have, fully adopted our faith in one Germanic country.”

Outraged that Mandl has sold out to Hitler, Hedy realizes she must set her plan into action. When Mandl is out of Austria on a business trip, Hedy drugs her young maid who resembles Hedy, grabs a hastily packed small bag with only a few of the gorgeous dresses she owns and a set of Cartier jewelry Mandl purchased in Paris as a surprise for Hedy on that wedding dress shopping trip.

Taking the maid’s car keys, to a car Hedy had purchased for the maid to use for shopping errands, and dressed in a maid’s uniform, Hedy grabs her bag and slips out the back of the house. She escapes to Paris and then to London and on to the US. Before leaving, she had visited her mother and begged her to go along, but her mother refused. By this time, Emil, Hedy’s beloved father, had died.

In Los Angeles, Hedy quickly finds success. In London, she meets Louis B. Mayer and his wife; they are also on the ship to the US together. Hedy negotiates a contract with Mayer, refusing his first lowball offer; not surprisingly, Mayer acquiesces to Hedy’s higher salary demands because he can see she will be a star and make him a great deal of money. Mayer says she must have a new name though because anything sounding Germanic would not be acceptable. Mrs. Mayer suggests Hedy Lamarr, so thus the name was chosen. Below is a publicity photo of Hedy Lamarr.


Hedy Lamarr quickly became a star in Hollywood, but she wanted more than the fame of being a movie star. She had overheard many conversations while married to Mandl about munitions and particularly about radio-controlled torpedoes and how the enemy could jam radio frequencies, thus throwing the torpedoes off course.

In Los Angeles, Hedy meets composer George Antheil and persuades him to join her in inventing a way to stop the enemy from jamming the radio signals. When he goes to Hedy’s home to work with her on the project, Antheil is surprised to see Hedy reading Radiodynamics: The Wireless Control of Torpedoesand Other Mechanisms by B. F. Miessner. He confesses, “I confess that I thought the place would be scattered with pots of makeup, jewelry, and gowns.” Instead, he finds Hedy has spread the table with notes she has been developing for the project.

Antheil and Lamarr DO develop a way to stop the enemy from jamming the radio-controlled torpedoes by making the frequency hop. They received a patent on frequency-hopping spread spectrum, US Patent 2,292,387 on 11 August 1942. They took the idea to the US Navy and they were rejected.

Hedy responds: “No matter the sexism that I knew well permeated the very fiber of my world, I couldn’t believe [the Navy Commander’s] words. These men were rejecting a system that would enable a plane or ship to steer a whole fleet of torpedoes against the enemy vessels with perfect accuracy, without any capacity on the enemy’s part to jam the necessary radio signals.” And why? Because Hedy Lamarr is a woman.

Only in the 1960s did the Navy incorporate the technology that Lamarr and Antheil had developed. However, Bluetooth technology uses a similar method, so many devices today rely on Lamarr and Antheil’s invention.

The Only Woman in the Room captivated my interest from the first page. Benedict starts each chapter with a date and place. That technique helps ground the story in time and space. Readers follow Hedy through that disastrous first marriage in Austria into to Hollywood and her ultimate success as a star. Hedy Lamarr, though, is much more than a pretty face. Her intellect knew no bounds.

Not only did she and Antheil receive a patent for their work on radio-hopping frequencies, she suggested to Howard Hughes that airplanes be streamlined instead of being made in a square formation so that they would have greater thrust and be more efficient.

Kirkus Reviews includes this statement about The Only Woman in the Room: “A captivating story of a complicated woman blazing new trails.” That is a good way to sum up the story of Hedy Lamarr.

Oct 14, 1939 Los Angeles CA: “My European friends and I assembled not to drink away our distress, but to share information. We’d learned that little of the truth was reported in the newspapers.”

Marie Benedict, a lawyer by education, has turned to full-time fiction writing. She published The Other Einstein about Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife who was also a physicist. Her next book was Carnegie’s Maid about the woman “who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie toward philanthropy.”







The Book Whisperer Examines a Debut Novel That Reads Like a Memoir


Yara Zgheib describes herself as a “bookworm, writer, and constant traveler and dreamer.” Born in Beirut, Zgheib has lived in Glasgow, Washington, Paris, St. Louis, and Boston. Her educational background is impressive: a Fulbright scholar and a PhD in international affairs and diplomacy. She maintains a blog at

Zgheib also writes for The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, A Woman’s Paris, The Idea List, and Holiday Magazine. The topics for her blog and magazine articles are wide-ranging: culture, art, travel, and philosophy.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street is Zgheib’s debut novel. Kristin Pidgeon, Riverstone Books, said of The Girls at 17 Swann Street, “I had to keep reminding myself this was fiction and not a memoir.” The poignant story of a young woman struggling to overcome anorexia captivates readers because of the author’s honesty.

Anna who has lived in Paris and dreamed of becoming a ballerina now lives in St. Louis with her husband Matthias. Both Anna and Matthais have pointedly ignored the growing problem of Anna’s refusal to eat or to nibble only on lettuce. Anna is also obsessed with exercising. She was in reach of her goal to become a ballerina when she injured herself.

In trying to return to her love of dance, Anna begins eliminating foods from her diet. She describes herself to readers: “I am twenty-six years old. My body feels sixty-two. So does my brain. Both are tired, irritable, in pain. My hair was once wild lion thick, morning blond. It is now a nondescript, mousey beige that falls in thin wisps around my face and out in my hands. My eyes, green like my mother’s, are sunk so deep in their sockets that no makeup will fill the craters.” Her honesty in describing the horror her body has become leads readers into the rest of the story—the beginnings of recovery.

At 17 Swann Street, Anna meets other young women, all suffering from their own problems with food whether it be avoiding it or eating too much of it. Every day follows a routine. One must also follow RULES. Days begin at 5:30 AM with vitals and weights taken. Breakfast follows at 8:00 AM.

Each woman has “thirty minutes for breakfast and snacks, forty-five for lunch and dinner.” If the residents do not complete the meals and snacks within the allotted time, they receive a nutritional supplement. Each patient has three refusals of meals. After the patient refuses meals three times, the nurse inserts a feeding tube.

The bathroom doors are locked and patients must ask permission to use the bathroom.  Some patients must also submit to being monitored when they use the bathroom. Luckily for Anna, she is not one of those patients.

Most of the patients look forward to the morning walk. Infractions of the rules will mean being restricted from taking the coveted walks outside. Patients meet with therapists individually as well as participating in group therapy.

When Anna meets the other seven patients, she describes the five anorexics like her as “these patients are not women. They are missing breasts, curves, probably periods. Most are wearing children’s clothes.”

The women are wary of one another, especially when a new patient joins the group. They move slowly to form friendships or alliances. They are cautious and hesitant. Still, some do reach out to one another. Often, that’s in the form of passing notes to one another.

Zgheib intersperses the story of Anna’s stay at 17 Swann Street with her previous life, giving readers some insight into why Anna is so persistent about not eating. In those flashbacks, readers see many positive moments, especially with Matthais who continues to be supportive, visiting Anna every night.

As Anna’s story progresses, readers see the steps forward as well as the steps backward. Recovery from anorexia is not straightforward. It involves many steps back as the patient works to overcome the disease. Zgheib does not sugarcoat the story; she lays out the ups and downs that Anna and the others face, making the story personal and moving.

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, much like 17 Swann Street, tells women who become patients there that “you are taking ownership of your life story. You are creating a new narrative. You are setting goals and achieving them. You are on your way to living your best life – a life that you love.” That may not be precisely the same motto as Anna encounters when she signs into 17 Swann Street, but Zgheib makes certain that readers understand that is the goal.

Zgheib tells her readers “I believe that abstract ideas like courage, kindness, and justice can change the world. I believe in dignity, and the good in people. And I believe in the power of words.” Those beliefs are evident in The Girls at 17 Swann Street.

I entered a contest on Bookmovement,, and won ten advance copies of The Girls at 17 Swann Street. Circle of Readers, my book club at Broken Arrow Senior Center, will discuss the book for our January meeting.




The Book Whisperer Reviews Girl in Disguise


Choosing books for a book club can be daunting. READ, one of my book clubs (sorry, READ friends, we’re not exclusive!), allows me to choose the books we read. We read three each fall and spring and two each summer, so I read a great deal about books as I prepare to choose. Clearly, I must make choices in advance so that everyone can locate the books. We meet September, October, and November for the fall; February, March, and April for the spring; and June and July in the summer.

We agreed on choosing books that are already in paperback and available as e-books. Often bestsellers are difficult to borrow from the library because of high demand and are more costly to purchase since they are not available in paperback though they are most likely in e-book format from the beginning. Not everyone in the group likes e-books, however.

The other caveat is that I develop a theme and look for books to fit the theme or start with one book and create a theme from it. Luckily, many books lend themselves to a variety of themes; it becomes a matter of identifying one theme and then finding other books to match.

The 2019 fall theme was Strong Women, so I chose The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart, and Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister. When I made those selections, I had read Shattuck’s and Stewart’s books. I ran out of time before reading Macallister’s, but I needed to make a decision, so I did.

I am happy to report that Girl in Disguise met my expectations well. Based on the true story of Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton agent, Girl in Disguise gives readers a story based on truth with Macallister’s imaginings about some of the events.

Macallister did a great deal of research only to turn up a small amount of material about the real Kate Warne, so Macallister had to improvise a bit. The true events include Warne’s helping to ferret out Confederate spies, devising a plan to foil an early assassination attempt on President Lincoln, and locating a bank robber and murderer.

Girl in Disguise opens in 1856 with Kate Warne appearing at the Pinkerton Agency to ask for a job. She must convince Allen Pinkerton that he needs a woman as a detective and that a woman can help in cases when a man cannot. Pinkerton gives Warne an assignment as a test and she passes, so he hires her.

Many of the male Pinkerton agents are certain Warne will not last and they are angry that Pinkerton even gives her a chance. Warne does not allow those negative feelings to deter her from her job. She proves over and over again that she is a valuable asset to the Pinkerton Agency.

Booklist calls “Macallister’s story is a rip-roaring, fast-paced treat to read, with compelling characters, twisted villains, and mounds of historical details adeptly woven into the tale of a courageous woman who loves her job more than anything or anyone else.” I would agree with that assessment. I enjoyed the story and learning about Warne and her exploits as a PI at a time when women could generally be cleaners, cooks, and laundresses.

Greer Macallister is not only a novelist; she also writes poetry, short stories, and plays. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from American University. Her first book is The Magician’s Lie which was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next Pick, and a Target Book Club choice. Girl in Disguise also won an Indie Next Pick and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review. Macallister’s next book Woman 99 will be available in March 2019: “A historical thriller rich in detail, deception, and revelation, Woman 99 honors the fierce women of the past, born into a world that denied them power but underestimated their strength.”

Greer Macallister maintains a Web site at this link:

The Book Whisperer Reviews America’s First Daughter


Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have combined their love of history and storytelling to write America’s First Daughter about Martha Jefferson Randolph (Patsy), Thomas Jefferson’s daughter. Dray and kamoie have both written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Kamoie has a Ph.D. in early American history from The College of William and Mary. Dray is a lawyer and teacher turned novelist.

Read more about both Dray and Kamoie at their Web site: On the Web site, readers will find deleted scenes and why they were removed from America’s First Daughter. Other information on the site includes news and events about the two authors and their works as well. Readers can find a PDF guide to a Jeffersonian book club dinner:

Watch a brief YouTube video in which Dray and kamoie talk about America’s First Daughter:

Any student of American history knows a great deal about Thomas Jefferson—or should know! Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie spent hours and hours going through Jefferson’s and Patsy’s correspondence in order to write America’s First Daughter. In doing so, they have created a compelling story of important lives in American history, but they have also created a vivid portrait of family life along with the inevitable politics involved in Jefferson’s life and therefore his family’s lives as well.

Patsy is a strong woman, tall and red-haired like her father. She is intelligent, witty, charming, and generally wise. Dray and Kamoie admit that no record exists of Patsy’s or Jefferson’s being at his wife’s bedside at her death. Still, Martha Jefferson’s death changes the course of Patsy’s life in that she becomes her father’s most staunch defender. For dramatic effect, Dray and Kamoie have the dying Martha Jefferson extract a promise from Jefferson that he will never remarry. She says, “I cannot die happy if I know my daughters must have a stepmother brought in over them.”

Jefferson hurries to reassure her that “Only you, Martha. I swear I’ll have no other wife, only you, my love.” From that day forward, Jefferson carried this quotation with him: “And every time I kiss thy  hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make.”

Dray and Kamoie are faithful to the timeline of history in telling Patsy’s story. Readers follow Patsy to Paris where she is educated in a convent and even for a time considers taking orders, much to her father’s dismay.

Patsy turns from a country bumpkin into a polished young lady accomplished in speaking French and playing the piano. She has inherited Jefferson’s intellect and understands politics well from observing her father’s business. In Paris, Patsy comes under the helpful tutelage of Abigail Adams who helps Patsy dress appropriately.

Jefferson not only takes Patsy to Paris, but he also takes Sally and Jimmy Hemings, slave siblings from Virginia. Jimmy, who insists upon becoming James once they are in Paris, is to learn French cooking.

In Paris, Patsy enjoys society. She dances with the Duke of Dorset who tells her, “You are a rare bloom in this garden of forward French flowers. Your simple manners, your enticing reserve, the radiance of your hair – I simply had to have your adorn my arm.”

America’s First Daughter focuses mostly on the family life, but politics must enter into the story as well. Patsy is concerned for her father and does her best to be his hostess and protector. Discord erupts when James tells Jefferson he and Sally will remain in Paris where they are free. Jefferson promises James his freedom in America if he will return and teach someone else to cook as he has learned. He promises Sally her children (and his) will be freed when they are 21; he does not say he will free Sally, however. With these concessions, James agrees they will return to America with Jefferson, Patsy, and Polly.

William Short who has worked for and with Jefferson for years declares his love for Patsy and begs her to marry him and remain in Paris. Short hopes to become ambassador there or at least some other European country. Patsy tells him she cannot marry now, but she hopes he will wait and allow her to return. William delivers an ultimatum, marry now, or not at all. Patsy, broken-hearted, but hopeful William will change his mind and wait for her, returns to America with her father.


Upon their return to Monticello, Jefferson invites Thomas Mann Randolph to spend Christmas with them. Tom’s attention is quickly drawn to Patsy. They soon become engaged. Their married life is full of upheaval. They have thirteen children, eleven of whom survive to adulthood. Tom is devastated when his widowed father marries a seventeen-year-old girl who gives birth to a daughter and a son. To add to the injury, Tom’s father names the newborn son Thomas Mann Randolph, the exact name he had given Tom at his birth. Tom feels that he has now been erased from his father’s life.

Dray and Kamoie do not spare the details of history, the trouble in the newly formed America and the trouble in family life. Tom turns to alcohol and also domestic violence, striking not only Patsy, but also their son. Patsy and Tom’s daughter Ann also marries an abusive alcoholic who stabs Ann’s brother Jeff, nearly severing his arm and nearly killing him.

Readers learn of unwanted pregnancies, deaths of newborns, deaths of mothers, and deaths from disease. Life is difficult, money is tight, especially when crops fail, and disaster is always on the horizon. Still, the Jeffersons and Randolphs persevere.

Some highlights from the book include the fact that Jefferson popularized ice cream in America. He may have gotten the recipe from the butler in France, Adrien Petit. Jefferson wrote the recipe in his own hand. Jefferson also popularized French fries in America along with macaroni and cheese. Another favorite dish was deviled eggs covered with capers and anchovies.