The President's Butler

A butler recounts his service to an egomaniacal businessman who runs for president.

Billy Baxter’s mother runs a modest grocery store, which supports a family life he seemed to find unfulfilling from an early age. One day, Harrison Helm III, an obviously wealthy man, pulls up to the store in a luxury car looking to refill the tank and takes an interest in Billy. Harrison eventually invites Billy to come work on his mother’s vast estate, referred to as Valhalla, as a full-time footman who lives on the grounds. After years of dedicated service, Billy ascends to the position of head butler and ends up toiling at Valhalla for 22 years. He cultivates a friendly rapport with Mrs. Helm, but upon her death, he resigns his position and accepts a new one as butler for the estate’s new owner, Vincent V. Victor. Victor is a notoriously crass but extraordinarily rich businessman, and many see him as an opportunistic oligarch who represents the worst of American capitalism. The parallels between Victor and Donald Trump are clearly intended: Victor, a bestselling author of business books, creates an NBC special called The Great American Breast Contest, a hilarious spoof of the televised Miss America pageant. Reviled for his shady business tactics, he runs for president on a rhetorically bombastic platform that promises to revitalize America through trade protectionism and the cessation of illegal immigration. He circulates conspiracy theories, denounces the evils of political correctness, and runs against an opponent he mockingly refers to as “Flopping Sally.” Leamer (The Lynching, 2016, etc.) deftly charts the arc of Billy’s life from vulgar poverty to aristocratically civilized wealth to an unusual combination of the two. The principal strength of the work is the elegant first-person narration Billy provides; the entire book is presented as his memoir. Billy’s gimlet-eyed observations display remarkable restraint, typically withholding judgment, and his peculiar life experience is itself a kind of master tutorial in the nuances of American class. Despite its heavy reliance on the imitation of current affairs, this work is an impressively inventive tale, with considerable wisdom to boot. A fictional dramatization of America’s current presidential race, skillfully rendered.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-76574-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Foggy Bottom Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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