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Book Review: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco [Audiobook]


Twelve (Hachette Book Group) 2017

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler (Twelve, 2017).

Brilliantly narrated by the author, this political memoir come ‘help guide’ was perfect to listen to when walking to work each morning. At only five hours and 53 minutes this audiobook is shorter than most biographies I have listened to before (I tend to prefer listening to autobiographies, particularly when they are author narrated) but nevertheless it was packed with anecdotes and lessons from Mastromonaco’s life and political career. As someone who is only vaguely familiar with the US political system it also helped to answer some questions which, no matter how many times I re-watch The West Wing, still remained unanswered.

Alyssa Mastromonaco is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Vice Media, but the book focuses on her position as the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama and how she came to into that role, becoming the youngest women to do so in the process. The narrative is not chronological but anecdotal, jumping from working for Obama, to her time at college and her first experience of politics interning for Bernie Sanders, and campaign scheduling for John Kerry. Nothing is off limits, but Mastromonaco’s aim is not to cement her legacy of her time in the White House (apart from the tampon machine in the ladies toilet – she’s taking credit for that) but to be the wiser and more experienced older sister of the reader, offering advice and guidance to women who want to be successful in their chosen field. This is evident in the subjects covered in the book, or rather what it doesn’t shy away from – periods, IBS are just two topics that spring to mind. The more glamorous side of politics is covered (dinner parties with high profile guests), as is the less glamorous side of a sector that is still predominantly male (bleeding through your trousers at said dinner party, because of the lack of tampon dispensers).

The anecdotes are hilarious and sometimes cringe inducing, but these asides give Mastromonaco a solid grounding as someone you should probably listen to. The relaxed narrating style makes the book easy to listen to, and adds to the big sister/best friend feel that at many times had me smiling to myself as I was listening. What comes across most often however, was just how ‘normal’ Mastromonaco appears in this book. She didn’t have a route to politics mapped out for her from birth, but threw herself into anything and everything she was required to do, learning from her mistakes along the way. The honesty and humanity included in each story and anecdote makes it stand out from any other political memoir I have read, and in my opinion is where the book really comes into its own.

As a (fairly) recent university graduate, listening to this audiobook made me feel like I can take on anything and be ready for any professional situation, political or otherwise. I’m compiling a small talk list of fail safe t.v shows and films, working towards a ‘fuck you fund’ for those times when I just have to get out or move on, and keeping in mind that forward motion is better than standing still – even if it’s not immediately obvious that I’m going in the right direction.


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Review: Make Gentle the Life of this World: The vision of Robert F. Kennedy


Throughout the 1960s, Robert F. Kennedy kept a private journal of favourite quotations, recording the philosophies of great leaders and thinkers throughout history. Thirty years after his father’s tragic death, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy has culled the highlights of this journal, along with inspiring portions of Robert Kennedy’s most memorable speeches, to create a passionate, immortal voice for his father’s vision. With passages on freedom, democracy, civil rights, education, justice, tragedy, and peace, Make Gentle the Life of this World speaks powerfully to America’s unstoppable drive for a better world. Complemented by poignant photographs of Robert Kennedy, this is a moving tribute to an extraordinary hero, whose dreams for America has never been extinguished.

Published in 1998 and compiled from Robert Kennedy’s day book by his son Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, this book is a great addition to any collection. Thoughts and speeches from R.F.K himself have been collated and interspersed with passages from Abraham Lincoln, Aeschylus, Edith Hamilton, and many others whose words inspired the late Senator and Attorney General. The book is divided into sections covering broad themes such as ‘America Spirit’, ‘A Citizen in a Civil Society’ and ‘Personal Knowledge’. These sections each cover more specific topics such as civil rights, education, poverty, and courage, and also contain images of R.F.K throughout his life and career. The passages are inspiring and thought provoking, and could be considered even more poignant considering today’s political climate in both the US and the UK.

The book offers a unique insight to R.F.K., and his personal and political thinking, and therefore is a must read for anyone who has an interest in American political history or the Kennedy family. For readers less familiar with Robert Kennedy’s political career the introduction by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, and handy time line of events, brings everyone up to speed with a brief overview of the man who was the US attorney general at a very turbulent time in American politics. Maxwell Taylor’s introduction explains his motives for publishing the book, and offers a more personal window into the life of his father.

Outside of the introduction, the main bulk of the book is simply a curated selection of quotes categorised thematically. There is little information surrounding the quotes (apart from the author’s name) which doesn’t allow for full understanding of the quote in its original context. However the lack of context does create a smoother reading experience, which could have otherwise been hindered by chunks of bulky factual information. Furthermore, as the purpose of this book is to gain a glimpse into the life and mind of R.F.K, allows the reader to situate the words into their vision and interpretation of the public political figure.

At only 188 pages long, Make Gentle the Life of this World is a perfect book to carry with you for the opportune minutes of reading. There is no plot or narrative, so I do not know how well it would read cover to cover, but as a dip-in-and-out or a quick ‘I’ve got five minutes before work/school’ it is ideal. Get your pencils and sticky notes ready, as this book practically begs you to highlight and annotate. Full with inspiring and meaningful text, to readers will come back to its pages again and again, to find their favourite lines and passages, and to interpret them in relation to their own lives.

Favourite R.F.K passage
His speech on the death of the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Favourite non-R.F.K passage
‘Civilizaton is a race between education and catastrophe.’ – H. G. Wells


Reading Challenge 2016 – 6 Month Update


My offline Goodreads!

As it is now July, I thought I would post an update on my first six months of reading in 2016. To achieve my goal, ideally I would have completed twelve books at this point in the year, although I’m not too annoyed with myself. I think eight completed books and two currently reading is still a great mid-point, considering that the first six months of this challenge were also my last semester of university! Although I did not read books cover to cover for my dissertation, if I added together the total pages of chapters, extracts and journal articles that I did read, I would be well on my way to completing the challenge!

Here are the books I have read so far this year in the order at which I finished them:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair – C.S Lewis
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle – C.S Lewis
  • Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith
  • Call the Midwife – Jennifer Worth
  • Make Gentle the Light of the this World – Robert F. Kennedy
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
  • A Gathering of Shadows – V. E. Schwab
  • Blacklands – Belinda Bauer

At the moment I am currently reading:

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K Rowling
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

In all honestly I should be at ten books by now, but for some reason I’m getting through Prisoner of Azkaban unusually slowly! But like I mentioned before, I’m not too dispirited because I worked hard this last semester, and will be graduating with an amazing grade as a result of that.

I only have a few books on my TBR at the moment, but I am moving home this week so I will have easier access to my collection. Any recommendations for things to read in the second half of my challenge would be appreciated, and happy reading!

Book Review: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth



Call the Midwife is the first book in a series of memoirs by Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in London’s East End in the 1950s. The book has been adapted into a T.V programme by Heidi Thomas (currently filming its sixth season) which airs on the BBC.


Jennifer Worth was in her early twenties when she began working with Nonnatus House, a convent in Poplar, East London, to complete her training as a midwife. In her memoirs Jennifer details the stories of the people worked with and treated in her early career, covering tales of breeched births, eclampsia, prostitution, big families and language barriers (both Cockney and Spanish!)

I love the T.V series and thought it was finally time to give the source material a read. The book itself is well paced and easy to read, and although there is not much of a focus on ‘developing characters’, there are glimpses into the personality of each midwife, Nun, and patient. I’m unable to account for how much of my enjoyment of the book came from my engagement with the T.V programme, and the world and characters developed by the cast and the excellent writing of Heidi Thomas. However I can say that prior knowledge of the series did not detract from the book in anyway. The stories in the book mirror season one of the programme, which allowed me to feel some familiarity with the characters, and may have also contributed to the how quickly I was able to read the book.

By far the best thing about Call the Midwife is its insight into an infant NHS and the female perspective of poverty and social conditions of the 1950s. The National Health Service was rolled out in 1948, giving people access to aspects of health care that they previously were unable to afford. The women of Nonnatus House were at the forefront of caring for the community by working hard to treat everyone through both midwifery and district nursing. In particular, some of the more intrinsic challenges which the nurses face can be summed up in Jennifer’s encounter with an elderly patient who fears medical practitioners due to their pre-war experience of the workhouse and New Poor Law system.

The memoirs of Jennifer Worth show the merging of a new medical frontier with the practicalities of slum conditions and poverty through personal stories. Her writing portrays the anxieties and fears that I suspect are not so distance from those of expecting mothers today, and yet her descriptions of squalor, bomb sites, and condemned tenement buildings creates a world that is strikingly different to our own. The use of personal stories with elements that transcend history make this memoir an excellent read not only for those who love the T.V series, but also for those interested in the post-war period, the beginnings of the NHS, or the power of female relationships.


Favourite Character: Sister Evangelina
This was difficult, because not only are the characters in Worth’s memoir depictions of real people, I also had to distance myself from the characters in the T.V series. Sister Evangelina is a perfect example of the ‘people are complex’ mantra. She has many sides to her personality, and we learn that although the midwives feel that she has no sense of humour, that doesn’t mean that her patients don’t find her hilarious. She is the character that represents class differences, a working class Nun contrasted against her middle class Sisters, but allied with the hardships of those in the community she cares for.

Favourite Line: ‘Like most women of her generation, Flo was an experienced amateur midwife.’

Anything else?
The Cockney Dialect appendix is a great insight into the mechanics of 1950s cockney slang and speech patterns, as well as the origins of the speech. According to this appendix, certain elements of cockney syntax and grammar can be traced back to the Tudors!

2015 Reading Challenge – Round Up

Ok, so I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped but I enjoyed taking part in this personalised challenge and that’s what really counts, right?

For 2016 I am aiming to read 25 books and I’ll definitely be using the bingo chart to help diversify my reading choices. So without further ado, here are the squares I managed to cross off my chart in 2015.

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Reading Challenge – July Update


Ok, so it has been a very long time since I have written an update on my Book Bingo challenge (six months to be precise) but maybe this is the best way to do it? Fewer updates but more reading? Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that it is summer now, and although I have work and a dissertation to contend with, there are more chances for me to sit down and work my way through the bingo card.

So without further ado, here are the boxes I have managed to metaphorically cross off and the books that allowed me to do that.

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Book Bingo Challenge Update! – January

photo (5)

Apologies for the unimaginative display, I’m still trying to work out the best way to set up eBook cover photos!

My Book Bingo challenge got off to a great start in January. I managed to read three books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four and A Study in Scarlet. I’m currently reading The Valley of Fear, and while my progress was halted some what by an unexpected incident (see my last post for details), I am hoping to finish it over the next two weeks. This is my first experience of reading Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and approaching the stories after having seen a number of television and film adaptations is quite interesting. My knowledge from the other adaptations is helping me to work through the stories, as there is a sense of familiarity there, but the stories are also presenting me with a new layer to add to the TV and film versions. A win win situation really!

But Lucy, why are reading so much Arthur Conan Doyle when the whole point of the Bingo Challenge is to read widely? 

The answer to that question lies with a website that I recently stumbled across called BookBub. BookBub is a great resource for anyone who uses an e-reader (or eReader?). You sign up with your email address, select  your genre preferences and they send you daily emails detailing free or heavily discounted eBooks. The first email I received contained the details of the British Mystery Megapack Volume 5: Sherlock Holmes Collection, which amazon were selling for 99p. This eBook contains four novels, forty-three short stories and extras including audio recordings, illustrations and articles. All this for 99p, it seemed a perfect way to start my challenge!

My idea with this absolute bargain of a book bundle is to finish reading the four novels, then dip in and out of the short stories while I check off the other squares on my bingo card. Let’s just hope university work is kind enough to leave me some time to read for pleasure, although at the moment I feel like I’m going to have to make the time myself!

This post was not sponsored in any way, I just really like the concept of BookBub, and it’s led me to some great finds!