Three Quick Reviews

Upstairs at the White House - My Life with the First Ladies 
by J.B.West with Mary Lynn Kotz

J.B. West was Assistant to the Chief Usher, then Chief Usher himself of the White House through the Presidencies of Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. His responsibilities included the daily operation and maintenance of the White House, coordinating activities with the President's family and guests, planning parties, weddings, state occasions and any other social event that came up, as well as supervising all the White House staff. With every new President came a  new way of doing things, new decorating tastes, new routines, preferences and quirks. The author took all the changes in stride and adjusted to each situation as it came. His memoir is an intriguing and amusing look into the family lives of the American Presidents. I particularly appreciated his respectful care of their reputations. There is no salacious gossip here, just a terrifically interesting account of how families adjusted to their new always-on-display lives and how the First Ladies worked to protect their husbands and children during these sometimes glamorous, often harrowing, years of their lives.  

The Book Shop by Penelope Fitzgerald

With this book I'm still trying to figure out what the fuss was all about. It's short, 123 pages in my copy, and more about style than plot. Usually that appeals to me, but not this time. The story is set in 1959 in a small town in England where Florence Green, middle-aged and widowed, is opening a bookshop. Hers will be the only bookshop in town so she feels it's a safe investment, but she doesn't win the town's approval. Things don't go particularly well and I won't say anymore in case you haven't read it. Oh, one more thing, the shop is haunted. Now that I think of it, the ghost may be the thing that kept me from enjoying it. I just don't like ghost stories, even if they are in the perfect setting of a quaint bookshop in a windswept seaside town.  

The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson

Ambrose Zephyr is a 50 year old advertising executive in London and his wife, Zappora, or Zipper, is editor of a fashion magazine. They have a strong marriage and a happy life until Ambrose is diagnosed with an incurable disease that will quickly - within a month - take his life. His wife is grief-stricken and angry but Ambrose, always fascinated with the alphabet, convinces her to go with him on a flying trip to his favorite places and those he has always wanted to visit, in order from A to Z. The result is a touching, sometimes comical, story of the last month of Ambrose's life and the fading days of Zipper's happy marriage. This little book can probably be read in one sitting, a couple of hours as I recall. I read it right after a bigger, more epic story and I think I missed a lot of the subtle goodness in it with my head still roaring from the previous adventure. It deserves more attention so it's going back on my fall reading list and I expect I'll get more from it than I did the first time.  


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