Sammy’s House

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Continuing my streak of reading D.C.-related stories, I picked up the novel Sammy’s House at my local library.  Authored by Kristen Gore, the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, this novel is the sequel to the 2004 novel Sammy’s Hill, which I previously reviewed a couple of years ago.

Set two years after the previous book, Samantha “Sammy” Joyce now works as a health care policy advisor for Vice President Robert Gary in the White House. Sammy’s life is going pretty well, she’s roommates with her close friend Liza and in a great relationship with her boyfriend Charlie Lawton, a Washington Post reporter.  All that changes when Sammy learns that President Wye’s old drinking habit has returned and threatens to cause a major scandal. Meanwhile, Charlie is temporarily reassigned to New York City, and the two must learn how to navigate a long-distance relationship.

The story does a good job at portraying of how a president’s administration functions. As the leader of the free world, the president and all aspects of his life are constantly put under a microscope, and anything going awry can have ripple effects on several things, including his family and friends. Sammy struggles with realizing that revealing the president’s secret could torpedo the entire administration, but also wants to stay loyal to her boss, the Vice President.

Sammy’s experience also shows how work can interfere with someone’s personal life. Sammy is dedicated to her job, but tends to work long hours, sometimes making it hard to have a normal relationship with Charlie. Since this book was published in 2007, we see many of Sammy’s and Charlie’s interactions over Blackberry, a cell phone model popular before the iPhone and Android became prevalent. It adds an interesting flavor of how electronic correspondence contributes to a long-distance relationship.

One of the funniest if not foreshadowing details Sammy describes is how the former president has become a reality star with a show about his life. Little did we know that 10 years later the exact opposite would happen- a former reality star would actually become president.

I recommend Sammy’s House because it gives a humorous perspective of what working in the White House can entail.

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From the Corner of the Oval

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Some of the top reasons that young adults come to Washington, D.C. is to attend college, do an internship, or pursue a job. In early 2012, Rebecca “Beck” Dorey-Stein, a Philadelphia native, was working five part-time jobs to make ends meet when she interviewed for what was initially a random job from Craiglist. A job that turned out to be a stenographer, or someone who transcribes speeches, interviews and other remarks, for the President of the United States. That’s right, the one and only POTUS. And thus began a five-year experience with the Obama administration, which she documented in her 2018 memoir, From the Corner of the Oval.

Having read plenty of novels set in D.C., including Sammy’s Hill and The Hopefuls, I was interested in reading a real-life account of living and working in the nation’s capital as a twenty-something. Transcribing interviews and other conversations might sound like a somewhat boring job, but stenographers are an important part of the White House staff. As Beck said in one interview, the transcriptions provide insurance that the “on the record” remarks are accurate,  particularly for the press. I was intrigued with learning what Beck’s job entailed “from the corner of the oval,” and how she got to travel all over the world on Air Force One.

One of the most interesting parts of the memoir was seeing current events through the lens of the White House, including the Newtown shooting in December 2012 and the government shutdown of October 2013. These events impacted society in many different ways, and completely shifted the agenda of the White House, prompting the President to visit the sites of these happenings, meet with the civilians, and take action. Beck’s account captures candid moments of POTUS, such as him running on the treadmill next to her or getting to sit next to him on Marine One.

I like Beck’s writing style because it’s a mix of humor and seriousness. The opening line, “So what do you do?” is the first question D.C. people ask, and the last question you want to answer if you’re unemployed, which I am,” immediately grabbed me, because I could relate to it very well. My first 3 years in D.C. were marked by two internships, two part-time jobs, one full-time job, two temp placements, and the much-resented periods of unemployment. Beck wasn’t hesitant to describe times where she felt like she was missing out on a social life and love life because of her busy work schedule. This is truthful, as making friends as a young adult is tough enough, yet alone keeping them when your job takes up most of your time.

There are more serious entries, like on page 319, where she reflects on lessons learned from President Obama, “He taught me to assume responsibility for mistakes, to listen, to stay scrappy, to believe in hope, and to flight to optimism.”

I definitely recommend this memoir because of its modern and realistic account of what it’s like to live and work in one of the country’s most prominent cities as a young adult.

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Snowbanks (original poetry by me)

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Snow.

White and wet.

Accumulation on cars and ground.

Fluffy flakes,

landing in my eyes.

Pockets of chill down my coat.

Snowplows push the frozen water forward,

across the salted road,

after snowstorms.

Cold crystals scraped from surfaces,

resulting in those

snowbanks.

Melancholy Memory (original poetry by me- March 2012)

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As I reach into the past,
thoughts come flooding into my head.
All these memories in my grasp.

When I was five I thought life could last.
The time you tucked me into bed.
As I reach into the past.

When that call came last October, I gasped.
I found myself sobbing with dread.
With all those memories in my grasp.

I had to go on, wearing nonchalance like a mask.
The childish innocence I had to shed.
I wanted to reach into the past.

I wish I could go back.
Be young again, but now 19 instead.
All these memories in my grasp.

In the present, when I asked,
Nobody can live forever, they said.
As I reach into the past,
all these memories in my grasp.

His Mistletoe Miracle (A Sugar Creek Novel)

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The holiday season has come and gone, but people still have their Christmas trees and other holidays decorations up. Wanting to keep the Christmas spirit for just a little longer, I got to reading Jenny B. Jones’ novel His Mistletoe Miracle. 

Television journalist Will Sinclair was held hostage for four years overseas after being captured during a terrorist bombing attack before being rescued by American troops. Overwhelmed with attention from his family and the public, he escapes to Sugar Creek, Arkansas to work on his memoir about his experience. But the small town folks quickly take an interest in him, and his family decides to join him for Christmas. Wanting to convince everyone he is doing fine, he turns to local Cordelia Daring to be his pretend girlfriend for a few weeks until Christmas. Cordelia accepts Will’s offer, knowing his payment will enable her to get her holiday decorating business off the ground. But their arrangement soon starts to feel not so much fake.

This holiday story contains several tropes- the small town, meddling family, and a fake romance. But it also focuses on more serious life situations. Cordelia is a foster mother to a baby named Isaiah. I haven’t read a lot of novels that have a foster parent protagonist. At the same time, Will is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his experiences and doesn’t want to let anyone in to his true feelings, especially his family. Yet Cordelia constantly reminds Will how lucky he is to have such a loving family, a contrast from her strained relationship with her widowed mother.

This novel also takes place in a “shared universe” and features settings and characters from Jones’ other novels. Will Sinclair’s sister Finley is the protagonist in There You’ll Find Me. Sugar Creek is the setting in a series of novels by Jones, the first of which I previously reviewed.

I recommend this as a feel-good novel that combines holidays with heavy life situations- foster families, survivor’s guilt and following your true passion.

Holly and Ivy

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The holiday season is fully upon us, with the post-Christmas season this week and New Year’s next week. Wanting to continue being in the Christmas spirit, I borrowed Holly and Ivy, written by American author Fern Michaels, from my local library.

Ivy Macintosh was once a normal twenty-something wife and mother in North Carolina. But when a plane crash killed her husband and two children, she became consumed by grief.  Family wealth has kept her financially secure, but the past eight years have been a self-isolation loop of waking up, eating, going on hikes, and drinking herself to sleep.

That all changes when 11-year-old Holly Greenwood knocks on her door after getting lost in the woods sneaking back from musical practice. Holly loves music and wants to be a singer, but her single-parent father, Daniel, doesn’t allow music in their home, something Holly doesn’t understand. Ivy’s encounter with the two of them completely changes her path and helps her realize that she can’t shut out the world for the rest of her life.

One of the central themes of this story is grief. There are thousands, if not millions of people who have lost family members in different ways. It can be especially difficult if it’s an accident because of its unexpected and sudden nature, compared to the gradual process of losing someone to an illness. Ivy suffered the unimaginable nightmare of losing her entire family, whereas Daniel lost his wife, Holly’s mother. Since Holly’s mother was a singer, Daniel’s efforts to prevent Holly from getting into music is his way of coping with the loss. Meanwhile, Holly, being only a toddler when her mother passed, doesn’t remember her at all. The tragedy affected them all in different ways, but helped establish a bond too.

While this story had good themes, the pacing seemed to be very quick. Ivy meets Holly, and within just a couple of days seemed to be very good friends with her and Daniel. It could be because Ivy’s efforts to get back out there has her bond with the first new people she meets. Especially since her children would have been the same age as Holly at that point. But the quick succession of events made this story more suited as a novella instead of a 250-page book. Nevertheless, Michaels’ cast of characters make Holly and Ivy worth checking out if you like stories about coping with grief during the holiday season.

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Stay Tuned

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In between reading holiday novels, I decided to check out another novel set in the world of television news, Lauren Clark’s Stay Tuned. 

Melissa Moore is 39 years old and works as a senior producer at WSGA in Macon, Georgia. When the station’s evening anchors are fired, Melissa is called upon to temporarily anchor while continuing to produce. She thrives in the new role, but her personal life is not as great. She’s experiencing an empty nest with her only child off at college, her husband’s work schedule has put their marriage on shaky ground, and her aging mother is suffering from dementia. Melissa must find a balance between her new professional responsibilities and her personal life.

Earlier this year, I reviewed Stalking Susanwhich focused on a reporter protagonist; this novel’s protagonist is a producer. The producer is the major backbone of a news broadcast. They are in charge of deciding when and what stories will air, coordinating the graphics, writing the script, and more. In other words, fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together. In Melissa’s case, it was interesting to see her character navigating being both a producer and anchor and occasional reporter. It really illustrated how someone in the news business can switch between roles.

One of the major messages of the novel focuses on how the news business is more than just a numbers game. As Melissa observes in chapter 34, “News wasn’t all about ratings, or a catchy headline, or scooping the story. It was about a friend’s college student, the safety of a neighbor’s child, the viability of a local farm… Reaching for a higher purpose. Being a better person, every day. Finding a solution.”

The story also reflects how difficult maintaining a personal life can be due to a demanding job. Melissa’s best friend Candace proves to be a confidante, but Melissa herself has to figure out whether the new opportunities at work are worth sacrificing more free time with her family.

I recommend this novel because it offers insight to how the news business connects people to others in more ways than one.

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