Team of Vipers by Cliff Sims (2019, St. Martin’s Press)
This book carries the subtitle of “My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House.” It should instead read, “Playing CYA While Pocketing a Check From St. Martin’s.” In this book, nobody comes out looking good… except Cliff Sims.
The author recognizes many of Trump’s failings, while simultaneously painting him as a tragic hero. Trump, in the eyes of Sims, is a genius at marketing and reading people, whose gut instinct is better than the decisions made by educated and informed people. He is also vain, media-obsessed, and allows himself to be boxed into bad situations by manipulative underlings.
It’s about the underlings that Sims’ dirt really flies. As a person who was by Trump’s side for two years, Sims has extensive experience with every person who worked under Trump and their internecine politicking. He catalogues events and gives his perspective of them, informed through the lens of a Trump fan.
Unsurprisingly, the people who are described in Bob Woodward’s Fear as attempting to keep the President from enacting nationally destructive policy are treated here as the worst of the group. Everyone in the White House, though, is displayed to have significant personal failings.
This is the book Omarosa thought she was going to write. That doesn’t make it worth reading, but it does cast further light on examples of the friction in the Trump cabinet.
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton (1993, Ace)
Guilty Pleasures was not Laurell K. Hamilton’s first book; that was the fantasy novel Nightseer, which should not be recommended to anyone who enjoys fantasy. (In Hamilton’s defense, the greatest flaw in the book is that it was the first book in an obvious series, likely a trilogy, and no further books were produced. Plotlines were unresolved, characters disappeared without being mentioned again and the book was altogether unfulfilling.)
Hamilton learned from her experience with her first novel. Guilty Pleasures introduces what was to become her defining series character, Anita Blake, and helped to usher in the modern format of romance/urban fantasy hybrid. Blake has the uncommon ability to raise the dead for short periods of time, which is typically used to do things like query a deceased relative on the location of a safe deposit box. She is trying to deal with a world in which vampires have been recognized as people by the Supreme Court and are now subject to the same laws and protections guaranteed any other citizen.
The best thing about the first few Blake novels was the sense of urgency Hamilton had as a writer. Starting in Guilty Pleasures and moving forward, Hamilton would include multiple original ideas in each book. This is exceedingly unusual in a fantasy series, where a successful novel can be crafted around a single unusual take on an established trope. The result was not merely a fast-paced novel but one in which the reader was consistently surprised.
The quality of the series dipped when she decided to flesh out the backstory of secondary characters. It cratered after a comment during a Q&A made her realize that Anita had always been wooed and seduced during the series and had never been the aggressor. Anita began to focus on sex with her paramours and the books ground to a halt for those scenes.
The first five or so books are still very enjoyable, however. They’re playful, thoughtful, and often innovative. When you feel the series is faltering in later titles, though, you’re probably right.