life in a bubble

White House stenographer back in the days of President Barack Obama, Beck Dorey-Stein has some stories. As part of the press bubble who traveled with the President and attended interviews and speeches from the Oval Office to magnificent venues around the world, she was there, part of the team responsible for recording and then typing every word for posterity.

Beck is not your typical Washington D.C. insider. She never really wanted to be a part of the inner White House circle. She just wanted a full-time job with benefits that payed her rent, as opposed to the string of part-time jobs she struggled with in order to survive. When she applied for the job of stenographer, she didn’t know what it was she was getting into. But she passed the interview, she got trained, and eventually she found herself on Air Force One.

From the Corner of the Oval is the story of her time in D.C., her time working in Obama’s White House, her time traveling the world protected by the Secret Service, her time with her friends and lovers. As she learns to navigate the tricky social rules of the job, she grows in confidence and finds her voice, even when she needed it to answer the smack talk from the next treadmill, where President Obama was running.

Beck is extremely open in her writing, laying out her thoughts and emotions bare for all to read. It can be difficult to read at times, as she bleeds over the page, talking about the affair she had with a coworker and how it turned into self-loathing as she burned through the relationships with her boyfriend and other trusted friends. Not just an insider’s look at the White House, From the Corner of the Oval is also a memoir of a woman in her 20s, making friends, drinking, dancing, running, making mistakes, and asking forgiveness.

I listened to the audio book for this, and that was an interesting experience, as it’s read by the author. The book is beautifully written, but at times her narration suffered from the same lack of emotional distance as the book itself does. I enjoyed the book, but I think with some time, distance, and maturity, it could have been a stronger narrative and more powerful story. As it is, the almost stream of consciousness closeness that Beck has to her story makes it feel like she’s reading her journal entries, which are sometimes flippant and sometimes profound.

If you’re wanting a serious peek into Obama’s Presidency, then you might be put off by her emphasis on her personal relationships and experiences. But for those looking for a lighter look at the White House, for those who want to remember what it’s like to be 26 and relatively free of encumbrances, then this is an exquisitely written book, and you should give From the Corner of the Oval a read (or a listen!).

Galleys for From the Corner of the Oval were provided by Random House Publishing Group through NetGalley, with many thanks, but I bought the audio book myself, thanks to Audible.

revenge and redemption

After eight years of humiliation in school, Pipi McGee is ready for something different in her eighth grade year. She is looking for revenge. She’s made a list of all the things that have happened, from her kindergarten self-portrait as bacon to second grade’s starting a chain reaction of vomiting during a bus ride to fourth grade’s peeing in her pants (in her defense on that one, her zipper stuck).

Each year, after each humiliation, her classmates kept the shame going with their name-calling, egged on by bully Vile Kara Stanton.

But this year, Pipi promises her friends and herself, this year will be different.

While her best friend Tasha encourages her to simply let it go and focus on what makes her happy, Pipi refuses to listen. She has a list, and she wants to make it right. Going down the list, year by year, she wants to find a way to redeem or avenge each and every thing that has gone wrong those previous years. And maybe if she can accomplish that, then she can go to high school as a phoenix, rising from the ashes a new person.

But do things ever really go as planned?

The Humiliations of Pipi McGee is a sweet middle grade book that looks at the nature of popularity and friendship and the sacrifices that school kids make for both. Written by Beth Vrabel, author of The Reckless Club, this novel moved me far more than I expected.

It starts out focusing on Pipi’s perspective and her former embarrassments at school, and the shame and anger she felt at that, and at that point the story felt like exactly what I was expecting from this story. As I kept reading, however, and saw more of Pipi’s relationships and interactions with her friends and family, I felt like I was settling deeper into her story. She grew more complex and interesting, and I wanted to spend so much more time with her. I went from liking this book to loving this book to finding it impossible to put down. I highly recommend this one for any middle schooler who is struggling with their identity, and honestly, isn’t that all of them (and many of us adults too)? A really lovely story, with so much more depth and complexity than you’ll expect.

Galleys for The Humiliations of Pipi McGee were provided by Running Press Kids through NetGalley, with many thanks.

calamity kate

Kate Reddy is back. But this time she’s living in a fixer-upper outside of London, having given up her high powered finance job to be a stay-at-home mom. Her husband Richard was relieved of his job, and he decided to take that time to restructure his life as a counselor. He is in 2 years of training, being counseled himself, and dedicating himself to a lifestyle fueled by cycling and eating healthy. Their kids are now teenagers, and between Emily’s self-image issues and Ben’s addiction to video games, Kate feels stretched in more directions than she can handle.

As if that’s not enough, Kate’s mom is recovering from a heart attack and her sister is the main caregiver, and Richard’s mom is struggling with Alzheimer’s with his father as the main caregiver. And the money is running out. With Richard not working, and not planning on working for 2 years, Kate has to become the breadwinner. She decides it’s time to get back into banking and starts asking around about jobs. But as she is getting close to her 50th birthday, she realizes that she’s not going to be able to land a good job unless she tells a small fib or two . . . and shaves 8 years off her age.

Kate’s best outrageous friend Candy is back, although via emails as she’s moved to New York City to run her (naughty products for women) business. But Kate’s also making new friends at her Women’s Returners Group, a group of older women who have taken time off from full-time work to raise children, help with older parents, or recover from illness and now want to get back to paid work. Her best new friend is Sally, who is a little older and wiser and has a dog who enjoys walking in the park as much as Kate’s dog does.

Also joining Kate are her two new friends, Perry and Roy. Perry is the perimenopause that is stealing her libido, her energy, her sleep, and some days, her will to live. And Roy is the slow-moving research librarian who has taken control of her memory. And then there’s Dr. Libido, who offers her prescriptions to get Perry and Roy in gear and help Kate finally get a decent night’s sleep.

With intelligence, wit, and maybe a little over-sharing, Kate gets through it all with the dignity and grace that comes from staying true to yourself, your values, and the ones you love.

How Hard Can It Be? is the follow-up to Allison Pearson’s fabulous I Don’t Know How She Does It. It’s not necessary to read the first book before this one, but I encourage you to do just that, as it’s a funnier, more cohesive book. How Hard Can It Be?, while funny and lovely, does get somewhat bogged down in the perimenopause symptoms and the difficulty of life as the Sandwich Generation. Once Kate gets her job (and her HRT), she finds her mojo again and the story moves along better, but it’s a bit of a struggle to get there.

[And for those who have read the first book already, you should know that yes, he does appear again and yes, it’s just as sweet an adventure as it was in the original story.]

How Hard Can It Be? is a great, if sometimes difficult, read for women of all ages, but especially good for women of a certain age who are looking for encouragement and inspiration in the middle of their lives.

Galleys for How Hard Can It Be? were provided by St. Martin’s Press, with many thanks.

gtl: guido, tastefully living

Anyone who’s watched Jersey Shore knows Vinny Guadagnino and his friends. You know their loyalty to each other. You know how they like to have a good time. And you know how important it is to them to look and feel good. In that tradition, Vinny shares his secrets of nutrition and staying healthy in The Keto Guido Cookbook.

This cookbook is packed with information about the keto diet, including a section on the science of the clean keto lifestyle from health coach Karissa Long. Vinny himself has done lots of research on keto , as he’s been following it for years, and he includes a list of resources, from podcasts and documentaries to websites and cookbooks. But if you’re looking to get started with keto, The Keto Guido Cookbook has tips, over 100 simple recipes, and even a week of meal ideas to get you kick-started.

With recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinners as well as snacks and even desserts, this cookbook is packed with classic keto recipes, super simple recipes for days when you don’t have a lot of time, and even comfort foods tweaked to fit this lifestyle. You can eat keto and still enjoy Golden Pancakes, Chicken Wings (Vinny makes them with an orange-ginger sauce), New England Clam Chowder, Shrimp Scampi, Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore, Classic Sausage and Peppers, Flaky Beef Empanadas, and even New York Cheesecake.

The flavor palate skews Mediterranean (my personal favorite), as Vinny and his family are Sicilian, but there are also options that include the spices from other regions as well as encouragement for trying different flavor profiles and sugar-free sauces. Vinny also includes recipes for vegetarians, for those who want to ditch dairy, and for using an air fryer. This cookbook has something for every taste and lifestyle, for those who have been living the keto lifestyle for a while and or those who haven’t yet taken the leap but want to.

Vinny knows that making this change is challenging, so he offers some basic tips to help out. Don’t get overwhelmed by counting the macros (the percentages of fat, protein, and carbs that are the basis of keto), plan ahead but remember to vary the menus so it’s sustainable for you. Most importantly, listen to your body and eat only when you’re hungry. And like any good Guido, he encourages readers to work out, to maintain a healthy overall lifestyle.

Fans of Jersey Shore and anyone interested in a clean keto lifestyle can use The Keto Guido Cookbook as a way to get started or as encouragement and ideas for maintaining the keto lifestyle. Anyone who takes to the time to read this for inspiration and to try out the recipes won’t be disappointed.

Galleys for The Keto Guido Cookbook were provided by Callisto Publishers, with many thanks.

snapshot 9.15

recently finished: I just finished reading a new cookbook from one of the guys from Jersey Shore. Yes, you read that right. Vinny has come out with a keto cookbook, and it’s good and strange and funny and interesting all at the same time. But more about that tomorrow. I’ve also finished Alison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It. So many feels! Loved it, but . . . so many feels!

currently reading: For this week, I’m working on Dead Pelican, a quirky cozy mystery by Lisa Haneberg. And another middle grade book that comes out this week, The Humiliations of Pipi McGee. I’m not too far in yet, but it’s interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one plays out.

up next: Susan Isaacs has a new book coming out next month, which I am looking forward to, as well as one of my favorite cozy authors, Ellie Alexander’s latest Beyond a Reasonable Stout.

if cats had thumbs

Mittens, the irascible texting cat from the internet, is back with another collection of funny and heart-warming tweets to family and friends.

Mittens spends his days texting with Grandma to get treats and toys. He chats with his friend Stumpy, who has a bit of a reputation with the ladies but can hook Mittens up with good catnip. He texts his girlfriend Fiona about coming over to spend time with him, sometimes in a box.

In this special friends and family edition, Mittens focuses his love (and demands) on those he loves best. from trying to update his Mom’s online dating profile for her to hanging out with the dog Earl whenever there is good squirrel watching to be done. And the next-door neighbor, Drunk Patty, who just wants to be loved by Mittens and texts him when she is feeling needy.

Mittens, however, just wants to live his best life, with plenty of yummy treats, boxes to sleep in, Judge Judy, friendship, catnip, and maybe just a few cuddles from Grandma. Actually, isn’t that all any of us want?

Texts from Mittens, The Friends and Family Edition, is such a fantastic gift for cat lovers. All friends and parents of cats would love this exclusive insiders look at a cat and his tweets. Author Angie Bailey has perfectly captured the mind of a cat, and in so doing, has perfectly captured the heart of this cat and book lover. Loved this one! Recommend this one! Buy this one!

Galleys for Texts from Mittens: The Friends and Family Edition were provided by Andrews McMeel Publishing through NetGalley, with many thanks.

a magical trip

Milo was bored. He’d rush home from school every day, only to sit in his room with nothing to do until dinner. This happened day after day, until the day he went home and found a package in his room. He didn’t know where it came from, and he didn’t know how it had gotten there, but when he opened it he found a tollbooth. He assembled it, gathered the map and coins that came with it, and climbed into his small electric car.

Although it was just in his bedroom, Milo drove up to the tollbooth and dropped in his coin, and drove on. In an instant, he was transported to a new land, where words are delicious, numbers are magic, and all that’s needed to set everything right is for someone to rescue the princesses, Rhyme and Reason.

As Milo goes on his journey, he meets unbelievable characters like the Spelling Bee (b-e-e), the Whether Man, a Which, Short Shrift, and so many others. He gets to discover the importance of time, how to change your point of view, what sound adds to life, and why it’s so critical to keep learning. The speed of the wordplay and the power in the ideas propel Milo forward in his quest and help to find Rhyme and Reason.

I first discovered The Phantom Tollbooth as a kid wandering through the stacks of my local library. Little did I know the first time I would pull that book off the shelf that I would set of on my own adventure as I followed along with Milo’s. I have read this book more times than I can remember, and every time is just as special as the original.

This time, I listened to the audio book, read by Rainn Wilson, best known for playing Dwight Schrute on The Office. And I enjoyed every minute of it. But the best part for me was the introduction, as it was written and read by the author Norton Juster. I loved this audio version, I thought Rainn Wilson did a beautiful job bringing these characters to life, and I strongly recommend this version of the book for kids and for adults alike.

a field trip, fear, and friendship

Ollie is not all that interested in school. She used to be. She used to have friends and play softball and be part of the chess club. Now she just wants to be by herself and read. Her father and her teacher encourage her to get involved again, but she can’t be bothered. She just wants to go by herself to her favorite spot by the river and read her book.

But when Ollie gets there, she finds that she’s not alone. A woman was there, a woman who was clearly upset. She’d been crying, and Ollie heard her talking to herself. She was getting ready to throw a book into the water, but before she could fling the book in the river, Ollie grabbed it from her and ran. There’s no point in destroying a book like that, thought Ollie. And then she started reading it herself.

The small, worn book told the story of a woman who owned a farm and the tragedies that befell her family there. Two brothers loved her and wanted her to marry him. When she said yes to her true love, Jonathan, his younger brother Caleb got into a terribly fight with Jonathan and then disappeared. After he’d been missing for several days, Jonathan went looking for him. Unable to find Caleb, he called out in frustration and was answered by a “smiling man” who offered him a deal. The man would return Caleb, but Jonathan would have to do whatever he asked. Desperate, Jonathan agreed, and Caleb came home. However, he was never quite the same. Eventually, the smiling man appeared again and both brothers disappeared.

As Ollie reads this, she starts to recognize the farm and the family, who had recently moved back to take over the farm again. She wonders if the story is talking about what really happened on that farm generations ago. Then her classmates start talking about ghost stories that they had heard about the farm, a mysterious fire, and missing children.

A class field trip takes them to the farm in Ollie’s book, and more creepy things happen. The bus breaks down, and the bus driver goes for help, but he leaves the kids with a warning—beware wide open areas. Look for small spaces.

Small Spaces is a powerful middle grade story of the things that haunt us and how we can find ways to escape the darkness. With exquisitely crafted characters and meticulous descriptions, Katherine Arden has created a lush world of rich imaginings, delicious creepiness, and dramatic emotions. Small Spaces is a luscious novel to be savored by any age. Very highly recommended!

Galleys for Small Spaces were provided by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers through NetGalley, with many thanks.

a legend retold, in a hoodie

In the halls of Nottingham Elementary there is a fifth grader named Robin Loxley. She is a lover of all things basketball and a believer in fairness. So when playground bully Nadia starts charging kids to play on the playground equipment, Robin wants to step in and do something.

Nadia takes Bonus Bucks as her playground tax. Bonus Bucks are rewards that students at Nottingham can earn by getting good grades, helping out in the classroom, or getting caught by a teacher doing something nice for someone else. Robin has been saving hers for a long time. She is hoping to buy the best birthday present ever for her best friend Mary Ann, who’s been angry with her because Robin couldn’t make it to Mary Ann’s ballet recital.

Robin has her eyes set on a special prize: President for a Day. It costs 300 Bonus Bucks, and she is up to 297. With less than a week to go, Robin has to figure out how to get 3 more bucks. But when Nadia raises her playground tax, Robin can’t help but step in. Putting her hood up and confronting the bully, Robin knows she has to do something.

However, her attempt to balance the scales ends up with her in detention and all the Bonus Bucks getting suspended. Now Robin has to figure out how to how to fix everything so that she can win back Mary Ann’s friendship and Nadia and her gang no longer take advantage of the other kids on the playground, and the clock is ticking. Can Robin and her friends shoot a bulls-eye on this challenge?

Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw is a charming retelling of the Robin Hood legend for kids. Gina Loveless wrote a fun, energetic story with clever Easter eggs from the original story, and illustrator Andrea Bell adds lots of dynamic drawings to fill out the story. This is a great introduction to the story of Robin Hood as well as a smart way to teach kids about standing up to bullies and doing the right thing for its own sake. Lively, spirited, and easy to read!

Galleys for Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw were provided by Andrews McMeel Publishing through NetGalley, with many thanks.

third grade is full of problems

Trevor Lee is starting third grade, and he’s finding it much more difficult than he’d imagined. His teacher, Miss Burger (aka The Boog) is too smart for Trevor Lee. He tries everything he can think of to get out of reading out loud, but nothing works. The Boog still makes his read. She even turns his favorite math problems into word problems, so he’s stuck doing even more reading.

But at least Trevor Lee has people on his side. His best friend Pinky, who wants to be a fire truck when he grows up, is happy to join in on Trevor Lee’s shenanigans. And he has the support of his parents and his Memaw, who tries to help him when it’s time to feed the chickens and the evil rooster Hippie chases him.

And then at school Trevor Lee gets the worst news yet. Family Night is coming up, and Miss Burger expects everyone in the class to read out loud. In front of the everyone. Even Trevor Lee. In between the class pictures and the art projects that they do in preparation for Family Night, Trevor Lee spends as much time as he can practicing his reading for the big night. But will it be enough, or will he humiliate himself in front of his class, his parents, his teacher, and his Memaw?

Wiley Blevins’ new book Trevor Lee and the Big Uh-Oh is a charming book about the struggles that some kids have with learning to read. It could be very helpful to other kids who struggle with the same thing, or to boost empathy in those who are stronger readers. With some adorable drawings by Marta Kissi and some truly laugh-out-loud adventures, Trevor Lee and the Big Uh-Oh is a fun back-to-school book for kids and parents alike.

Galleys for Trevor Lee and the Big Uh-Oh were provided by One Elm Books through NetGalley, with many thanks.

snapshot 9.8

recently finished: I looked at what was coming out soon and decided to have a kid’s book week. Already for this week, I’ve read Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw, a middle school retelling of Robin Hood, and Trevor Lee and the Big Uh-Oh, about a third grader facing his issues with reading.

currently reading: I’m finally taking the time to listen to Rainn Wilson’s reading of The Phantom Tollbooth, which has been one of my favorite books for decades. And I’m still reading all the same grown-up books as last week.

up next: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. She just released the follow-up to it, Dead Voices. And speaking of upcoming middle grade books that I’m excited about, let’s talk about the new book in The Mysterious Benedict Society series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of the Ages, out September 24. And author (and actor) (well, and Fonzarelli) Henry Winkler has a new series coming out. Alien Superstar is out October 1, about an alien from outer space who becomes a Hollywood star. I can’t wait to read it! There may need to be another kid’s book week early in October to include both of these new releases.

stalking in the stacks

Librarian Lindsey Norris is simply doing her job as library director of Briar Creek Public Library when she gave Aaron Grady information about roses. He’d just moved to the area with his wife, and he needed help keeping his prized rosebushes alive in an environment he’s not used to. She looks up some titles and walks him over to the gardening section, suggesting some of the titles on the shelf and encouraging him to look for local gardening groups.

She was just doing her job. But he took it the wrong way and started showing up at unexpected times and in unexpected places. Aaron brought her roses to the library. And then he showed up later, at the home she shares with her fiance Sully, to bring Lindsey more roses. She tells him in no uncertain terms that she is not comfortable with his attention, especially with his showing up at her house, and she wants to believe that will take care of the problem.

She wants to think that, but it’s just not the case.

Aaron keeps showing up where she is, and just stares at her. The unwanted attention leaves her feeling anxious and unsettled until the morning Ronnie, a friend of hers and Sully’s, is escorting her to work in the morning and Aaron Grady is there, sitting outside the door of the library waiting for her. Lindsey can’t help but get upset, but Ronnie informs her that there is no need to. Aaron has been shot.

Lindsey has to think fast to prove that neither she nor Sully had anything to do with the man’s demise, or else her wedding will be in jeopardy. But when she uses her research skills to dig into her own investigation, she risks putting herself in mortal danger.

Word to the Wise is the tenth book in Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lover’s Mystery series, and the series is still strong. I really love these characters, from the ladies who bring life to the library stacks to the local sheriff and her beau. I also appreciated the story line, how the characters dealt with the fact that stalking may not always be a crime, but no matter how or why it started, it’s never the fault of the victim. I was so impressed at how Lindsey stood up for herself repeatedly, making sure to send consistent messages to Aaron Grady about her boundaries and how he was making her feel. It’s an important lesson for men and women to understand, and I appreciated how the author handled it.

You don’t have to read the Library Lover’s Mystery series in order. Each book can stand on its own, but I think that as soon as you make one visit to the Briar Creek Library, you’ll want to spend more time there. It’s a special place filled with special people. I know I want to go back, although maybe under different circumstances.

Galleys for Word to the Wise were provided by Berkley through Edelweiss, with many thanks.