Review: The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has a very Downton Abbey feel to it as it explores life in the White House, not through the lens of the First Family, but through the lens of the many service staff members that make the White House run. Brower interviewed several White House staff members and combined these insights with archival research to write this narrative.

The White House is a six-floor mansion, with 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases and its employees are responsible for cleaning, repairing, and maintaining it all, on top of preparing everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners.

It was interesting to see everyday life in the White House through the eyes of apolitical people who support the First Families and whose first priority is not politics, but service. The stories they told were funny, touching, and told with a great deal of humility and respect.

The one thing that bothered me was that this book contains several stories that are also included in Brower's book, First Women. I read these two books back-to-back, so that might be why I was so cognizant of the overlaps. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and learned some facts that I didn't know before, so all in all, a successful reading experience.

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Review: First Women: Inside the White House with the Modern First Ladies

First Women: Inside the White House with the Modern First Ladies First Women: Inside the White House with the Modern First Ladies by Kate Andersen Brower
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have always been fascinated by First Ladies and the roles they play in their husband's administration and in history. Brower's book takes a look at modern First Ladies spanning from 1960 to today, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Patricia Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama.

The book is based on interviews with White House staff, friends, and family, as well as personal correspondence. It explores how these different women defined the role of "First Lady" for themselves, including navigating the transition of power, managing the White House, their own personal crusades, raising children in the public eye, their personal relationships with their husbands, dealing with the tensions between the West Wing and the East Wing, protecting their family's legacy, their relationships with each other, and facing national crises and tragedies.

It was an interesting read and readers who like history or political books will enjoy it.

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Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always have a mixed reaction to Amy Schumer. While I find her funny most of the time, sometimes she crosses over into the bit too crass for me. I did not find this book to be crass at all, in fact, I was surprised by how truly funny, insightful, honest, and vulnerable it was, not because I don't think Schumer is all of those things, but because it wasn't what I was expecting.

Mixed in with funny stories about her childhood and how she got started in comedy, which is what I was expecting to read, are some truly candid stories about her experiences with her father's illness and abusive relationships, which I wasn't necessarily expecting as I did not know much about Schumer's back story before this book. The result of this mix is an honest, humorous, and humanizing narrative (how's that for alliteration!) that is real but doesn't take itself too seriously.

Schumer does an excellent job narrating the book and I recommend the audiobook highly. It almost felt more like participating in a conversation rather than listening to someone tell their life story. If you're a fan of Schumer's or enjoy autobiographies by celebrities I would give this one a go.

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Review: The Engagements

The Engagements The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting narrative because it has a lot of moving pieces. It starts by chronicling how the diamond became the hallmark of the marriage/relationship market. Thanks to clever marketing campaigns by the De Beers family, the diamond has become the "go-to" stone for engagement rings and become status symbols for relationships here in America. Throughout the narrative, we return to the story of Frances Gerety, the copy editor in charge of the De Beers account, and follow the diamond's evolution from the 1940's through the 2000's.

Against this backdrop, we follow five love stories from different time periods. We meet Evelyn, who has been married to her husband for forty years. Delphine, who marries for companionship only to be swept up into an affair that doesn't last. There's James, a paramedic who works the night shift, who feels constant pressure knowing his wife’s family thinks she could have done better. Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, who doesn't plan to ever marry and is helping with her gay friends' wedding. All of these stories explore marriage and the role of the diamond through different lens and decades.

What I found to be most creative is how Sullivan brought all of these seemingly divergent stories that are so different and take place during different time periods all together. For me, it was not immediately obvious what was going to be the connecting thread, but I was quite impressed when it finally came out. It was quite creative storytelling.

The audiobook was a long one to listen to, as the print book is over 400 pages, but I did not find it hard to sustain my attention throughout the listening experience. I would definitely recommend checking this novel out.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book with a blue cover

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Review: The Magnolia Story

The Magnolia Story The Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Chip and Joanna Gaines. Fixer Upper is one of my favorite HGTV shows to watch. I love Chip's goofy personality and Joanna's style. I love that they are faith and family oriented and their personalities appear very genuine. I've seen interviews with Chip and Joanna, so I knew a bit about their backstory, but I was interested in learning more.

I liked the structure of the book. It's mostly Joanna's telling the couple's story, but Chip jumps in throughout the book. Different fonts are used for Chip and Joanna, so it was easy to keep track of who was "speaking." Even though I have been a fan, I was surprised by things. For example, I didn't realize that Joanna does not have a background in design and that she is largely self-taught. I was also unaware of the many business ventures Chip has been a part of.

The humor and personality that Chip and Joanna display on their TV show is the same as what comes through in this narrative. It's a genuine and honest retelling of their relationship, struggles, and adventures. If you are a fan of their HGTV show, you will like this book.

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Review: The Language of Flowers

The Language of Flowers The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

I have a love/not love so much relationship with this book. I won't say love/hate relationship because there was nothing about the book that I hated, just somethings that I didn't love so much.

Here's what I really loved about this book...First, I loved the premise. I loved that the main character, Victoria, was able to communicate using flowers. It was just an interesting juxtaposition - this character who had such a traumatic childhood using the one beautiful thing - flowers and their meanings - from her childhood to communicate and find her place in the world. Secondly, I liked how the story wove several narratives together, many of which had "full circle" moments, which added a lot of depth to the novel as a whole. Overall, I found the book to be well written, perhaps a bit too long in some places, but a tremendous effort for a first-time author.

Here's what I didn't love so much...here's where you might want to stop reading because of spoilers...

(view spoiler)

I think this one is worth the read. Overall, it is a beautiful story about broken people and their journies back to wholeness. I wish some things had turned out differently but I would still recommend the novel.

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