Tuesday, August 21, 2018

(57)From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein

Beck Dorey-Stein is struggling to make ends meet after college.  She is living in D.C. and working all sorts of odd jobs to make ends meet.  She had an interview from a Craigslist ad, that she actually blew off because of her job at Lululemon.  That opportunity was actually a job for a stenographer's position on Barack Obama's White House.  They gave Beck a second chance to interview and before she knows it, she is traveling the world on Air Force One and juggling her relationships outside the "bubble."  With the eye of an expert people-watcher and the fresh perspective of a youthful  professional Beck becomes a witness to the history that was the presidency of the 44th president. From the Corner of the Oval.  From the tragedies and triumphs, she was part of it all.  From early morning gym encounters with President Obama to encounters with the Vice President affectionately called "Uncle Joe" Beck lays it all out there.  When you put it all together you have a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the most famoust empoyer in the free world - The President of the United States.

From the Corner of the Oval is one of the best non-ficction books of the year.  I would say it is part political memoir and part chick lit novel.  You get all of the cool behind the scenes information (like what snacks are served on Air Force One) along with a young woman torn between two men. (For the record, one of those men was a big giant douchebag).   But you also get an author who has such a talent for the most interesting observations, like:
"We are a team of professional stalkers, a congregation of believers who have followed this man around the world several times."

"After nearly a year at the White Hous, my morning entry ritual can be reduced to an assembly line of sounds - " 

I think one of the things that I was pleased to read about was how the staffers were very familial like.  Maybe familial is not the right word.  They celebrated birthdays, they hung out together during the downtimes of their trips.  They may have consumed a lot of alcohol, but they still did their jobs.  And did them well.  They played pick-up basketball or went for runs on the streets of whatever city they were in at the time. Not everybody in the White House are cutthroat polticians.  It really made From the Corner of the Oval a fun and engaging read.  One last thing that I liked - I liked and respected how honest was at her own contributions to her relationship failures.  She took total and complete responsibility for her actions.  Yes, one of the men in her life was a giant douchebag, but she was not without fault and she owns that.  Rare to see such honesty in a memoir.

Bottom Line - While I feel that From the Corner of the Oval Office is so much more than just a poltical novel, it is a book about a staffer who served at the pleasure of one of our country's most popular presidents.  If you let the "politics" of her boss prevent you from reading this book, you are the one losing out.  I promise.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

(56)Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Kit first met Diane Flemming at cross country camp in high school. Their friendship started one night when four girls were sitting around telling their secrets.   Kit told her secret, the one involving a much older man and a dark car. Her secret shocked the others, but she thought it would be the last time that she saw them.   But it wasn't.  Later that year Diane shows up at her school and soon the two are best friends who are competing for a top Chemistry scholarship.  And then Diane tells Kit her secret.  And it is worse that Kit could ever imagine.  They make it to graduation and Kit is relieved to know that she never has to see Diane again, even though her secret is one that she will never forget.

It is ten years later when Kit's boss tells her that they are bringing in one of the greatest scientfic minds to help with the million dollar research grant they just received to research PMMD.  When Diane walks in, Kit's world is rattled.  She gets drunk one night and tells one of her colleagues Diane's secret.  And then Diane discovers a new secret about Kit that could destroy everything she has worked so hard to achieve.  Will Kit be able to keep Diane from revealing what she knows and at what cost?

I am not going to sugarcoat it, I struggled with this one. Kit and Diane were both had rough childhoods and were very ambitious women with one thing in mind - success. At any cost.  Kit was on the verge of  having all of her career dreams come true when Diane came back into her life.   The author tells the story in a "Then" and "Now" type of narrative, so you get the full sordid history between the two girls.  I have read every book by Megan Abbott and I usually find them engaging and suspensful. With Give Me Your Hand it just all seemed - implausible. And that really disappointed me. The part where the author lost me was in the lab - an important scene, but it  had me saying "Come on, really?"  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS 

Bottom Line - I really wanted to like Take My Hand as much as I liked Megan Cabbott's other books.  I just couldn't.  I would be really interested to hear what others thought of this book, maybe I was just having an off day.

  • Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
  • Pages: 352
  • Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
  • Publication Date: 7/17/18
  • Buy it Here!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

(55)Good Luck With That by Kristan Higgins

Emerson, Georgia, and Marley have been friends since they met at "fat camp" as teenagers.  Life has taken the three of them down very different paths, but they still have one thing in common - a struggle with their weight.   Sadly, Emerson passes away due to weight-related issues.  Marley and Georgia are devastated that they let so much time pass since they saw Emerson and vow to honor her final request.  Complete the list of things that they vowed to do if they ever became skinny.  Things like eat dessert in public,  get a piggy-back ride from a cute guy and tell off somebody who had an issue with you being fat.  The list seems simple enough, but both Marley and Georgia struggle with a healthy body image.  Marley, a Personal Chef, seems to be happy but has never been in a real relationship.  Georgia has recently lost a lot of weight but still has yet to receive the approval from her family that she desperately craves.   But with each the other there to cheer them on the two friend start to come to grips with their weight issues and how those issues are preventing them both from seeing what they are - truly great women.  Will Marley and Georgia be able to finish Emerson's list?  Will they ever come to terms with their body issues and the weight issues that have plagued them for nearly their whole lives?

I don't think that there has ever been a book that has resonated with me as much as Good Luck With That.  The book's theme of body positivity and the three women who struggle with their weight is a topic near and dear to my heart.  It is something that I struggle with every single day.  And I have never read a book that hits on the topic with such insight and accuracy.  I think Marley was the character that I connected with the most. Her happy-go-lucky demeanor hid the pain from losing her twin sister.  And she was so desperate to be loved that she let her brother's colleague use her in degrading ways.  Over and over again.  I absolutely loved her connection with Will Harding and loved his imperfections.  Georgia's relationship with her family, well her mother and brother, had me on the verge of tears several times.  They had both deemed her unworthy when she was overweight and she was constantly aching for their approval.  Even though they were both assholes.  When she shares about her marriage, my heart ached for her.  The years of abuse she suffered at her family's hands was clearly the reason why her marriage imploded, but sadly she didn't see it that way.  As with all Kristan Higgins novels, I found myself laughing out loud more than once, and I found myself a bit sad to get to the end of the book.  These were not characters that I was ready to let go.

Bottom Line - Kristan Higgins is an author who gets it.  Through her characters she lets her legions of readers know that she gets what it is like to struggle with a positive body image. You don't have to read too far into Good Luck With That to know that Kristan Higgins knows what it is like to long for happiness, love, and acceptance. Something that many of us can relate to in very real ways. In the end, Marley and Georgia find the happiness, love, and acceptance they so desperately want, but not in ways they expected.   


Thursday, August 9, 2018

(54)Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza

Charlotte Walsh has left behind her high-powered career in Silicon Valley to run for the Senate in her home state of Pennsylvania.  Her husband has also given up his career at the company they started to care for their three young daughters while Charlotte is out on the campaign trail.  Charlotte knows that she has her work cut out for her, a woman has never won a higher office in Pennsylvania. She has a great team supporting her, the young genius strategist, Josh.  Her trusty assistant, and her mentor, a Washington insider.  But she had no idea how grueling it would be to run for office.  She had no idea how dirty her competitor would get in his efforts to remain in office. She had no idea the secrets that would be revealed.  She had no idea how running for office would wreak havoc on her marriage.     But Charlotte continues on, she knows that she can make a difference for the people of Pennsylvania and the country.  Ultimately, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win.   But at what cost?

Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win was one of those books that had me engaged from page one.  Many of us are discouraged by the current political divide in our country.  Jo Piazza channels that frustration into a candidate that we can all get behind.  Even though Charlotte and Max were multi-millionaires they seemed real and down to earth.  A couple that is relatable.  I laughed out loud at their cross-country road trip. I cheered   As the campaign continued on, I felt bad for Charlotte.  She was working hard to achieve her goals and I don't think she got the support from her husband that she needed.  However, there were times that I didn't like Charlotte. Some of her decisions were very bad and she was awfully demanding with expectations that weren't necessarily fair.   I will say that I was pretty frustrated with the ending.  The good news is that the book is primed for a sequel.  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win was a good book, that I cannot dispute. Even though the way the author left it really ticked me off, I found myself thinking about the books and the characters long after it was over.

  • Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza
  • Publisher: Simon and Schuster
  • Publication Date: 7/24/18
  • Pages: 320
  • Buy It Here!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

(53) Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

When Sarah met Eddie she wasn't looking for a relationship.  She was in the process of an amicable divorce and in England for her yearly pilgrimage to the land of her birth and the spot where her life changed nearly two decades ago.   Sarah spends one unforgettable week with Eddie.  Their time together changed her life.  Gave her hope for a future that she always thought was bleak.  When they parted ways they made promises and plans.  And then Eddie ghosted her.  He doesn't reply to her calls, to her texts, to her Facebook posts.  Nothing.  Sarah knows that she didn't imagine their connection and starts to believe all these conspiracies over what happened to Eddie.  She even goes so far to track him down to his soccer club. Her friends tell her that it is time to let him go, but Sarah just can't let it go.  Then when she returns home to California she thinks that she sees Eddie on street corners or in her office.   Why would the man who ghosted her follow her halfway across the world?  Does it have anything to do with what happened that day decades ago?

It is rare that an author can shock me once in a book, but to find one who shocks me with multiple twists, well it is unheard of these days.  Rosie Walsh left me speechless with shock multiple times in her US debut novel Ghosted. I listened to the book in audio form, so maybe I missed some clues that may have been detected in written form.  Like I didn't realize that there were some sections where Eddie was the narrator.  I really liked Sarah, my heart ached for her as she acts out of desperation the longer she goes without hearing from Eddie.  "Ghosted" wasn't a term during my single days, but the concept has been around for decades.  And I remember the feeling well of feeling a connection on a date only to never hear from the guy again.  It is deflating.  And Sarah spent a week with Eddie!!   As you get deep into the story, you realize that Sarah is not new to pain and you can't help but to wish her peace and resolution.  The author skillfully keeps the reader engaged with the characters and the story by sprinkling in these bombshells.  - CLICK HERE FOR SPOILERS

Bottom Line - I realize that I am getting pretty stingy with the "Best of ___" label, but for good reason.  I want an author to take me on an emotional journey and evoke real emotion from me in order to get that label. Rosie Walsh did that, but with shocking revelations.  I couldn't stop listening, I had to hear what was going to happen next to Sarah. It was refreshing, I haven't been that engaged with a book in a long time. 


Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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