Sammy’s Hill

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Novels set in D.C. continue to fascinate me, particularly because of all the different genres and author interpretation of the city. In my search for stories set in my current city, I came across Sammy’s Hill, a novel by Kristin Gore, the second oldest daughter of Al Gore, the Vice President under President Bill Clinton from 1993-2001.

The eponymous “Sammy” is protagonist Samantha Joyce, a 26-year-old health care analyst for Ohio Senator Robert Gary. Life on Capitol Hill can be demanding and stressful, but Sammy’s dedicated to her job, complemented by her somewhat neurotic personality. Sammy’s social life is minimal, but when handsome speechwriter Aaron Driver comes in to her life, Sammy quickly falls for him and forms a relationship. But as she soon finds out, mixing work and romance is not always a good thing. A presidential election also throws her into the hectic and crazy life of campaigning across the country.

What I enjoyed the most about this novel is that there was an actual plot and story, unlike Jennifer Close’s D.C.-set novel The Hopefuls, which reads more like a nonlinear diary than a book. Gore presented Sammy Joyce as a likeable, realistic character set against the backdrop of D.C., and accurately portrays the majority of Washington’s employees who are transplants from other states. Written in first person, Sammy makes humorous observations about D.C. color cast of characters.

Sammy’s experience on the campaign trail echoes Gore’s firsthand experience of her father running for Vice President and President. It always intrigues me when the author incorporates his or her personal experiences in to their stories, as it adds substance and authenticity.

I recommend Sammy’s Hill to anyone who enjoys a good romantic comedy set in the capital city. I will most likely be checking out the sequel, Sammy’s House, pretty soon.

 

 

 

Absolutely True Lies

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Visiting Los Angeles is on my to-do list. I’ve never been past Chicago, so a trip to Hollywood itself would be my first journey out west if I ever get there. For now, I feed my perception of the place with movies, TV shows and books set in that part of the country. Absolutely True Lies is one of those novels set in L.A. Written by American author Rachel Stuhler (from the same area I am!), the book offers a perspective of La La Land from a Northeasterner.

Twenty-five-year-old Holly Gracin has lived in Los Angeles for four years, having taken a job there right out of college. She writes for a small magazine, reviewing movies and other low-key events. When the magazine ceases publication and she loses her job, she finds herself facing the possibility of returning to her hometown. That’s when she’s hired to ghostwrite the autobiography of Daisy Mae Dixson, an eighteen-year-old starlet who’s spent most of her life in front of the camera as a Nickelodeon child star. As she shadows Daisy as research for the book, Holly is thrust into the life of the luxury, meeting producers and insiders, traveling to foreign cities and trying to keep up with the world of fame.

I really liked Holly’s character. I’m just about the same age as her and also a (somewhat) struggling writer. I live in a studio apartment in a big city just like she does, and hope to write a full-length book one day. (For now, I’m content with this blog and my day job as a communications coordinator.)

One of the more important topics of this novel is the dark side of fame. Holly discovers that although Daisy seems to be living the dream, her actual life is not what it’s perceived to be. Daisy struggles with depression and the pressure of maintaining an image. This is a reflection of the all too familiar story of child stars having difficulties later in life. Holly also finds that parts of Hollywood are one big “facade,” or having a fake “front” to hide an unpleasant truth.

What also fascinated me is the concept of ghostwriting in the story. Every chapter starts with an excerpt in Daisy’s autobiography. I liked how Stuhler included these passages as a way to contrast what really happens in Daisy’s life versus what’s written. There are countless books in the market that are supposedly written by celebrities, everything from memoirs to self-help books. I’ve always wondered which ones were really written by them and how many are written by someone else. It’s interesting to know that there’s a whole business behind putting someone else’s name on another person’s work (with compensation and permission of course.) Some sources say that ghostwriters can make as much as $50,000 per project. 

Overall, Stuhler’s novel is worth reading, a writer’s journey through the crazy life of Hollywood stars and what being famous is really like.