Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew ShafferHope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Obama Biden Mystery #1
Pages: 304
Published by Quirk Books on July 10, 2018
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This mystery thriller reunites Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for a political mashup full of suspense, intrigue, and laugh out loud bromance.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance novel, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fanfiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.

My Review:

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

While I will not judge this book by its cover, I will say that I absolutely did pick this book up for its cover. Which I absolutely could not believe when I saw it, and couldn’t resist once I read the blurb.

Which is completely insane – but all too hilarious – both at the same time.

There is no doubt that this is a terrific piece of what is called “real person fanfic”, which is a thing in fanfiction circles. While fanfiction is usually written about fictional characters, no matter the source, just as there is fanfiction about movie and TV characters there is also fanfiction about the actors who play those characters. When it’s romance fanfic, that can seem a bit creepy and/or stalkerish and is frowned upon in some circles.

One thing that is common in fanfiction in general is the way that the stories often go places that the creator of the original work never intended, and generally the further afield those places are the more it adds to the fun.

This is the kind of story where you don’t so much willingly suspend your disbelief as throw it out the window of a speeding muscle car, like oh, say, the Trans Am that Joe and Barack end up powering through the streets of Wilmington Delaware in the course of this case.

Because this piece of real person fanfiction is a noir-ish murder mystery. And a fairly complicated one – with comic relief provided by this extremely amateur pair of occasionally bumbling wannabe detectives.

Admittedly “Amtrak Joe” Biden does most of the bumbling, while Barack Obama provides even more “cool” than he displays in real life.

The scene of Obama rescuing Biden from a motorcycle gang by casually firing a sawed-off shotgun while lying about Seal Team 6 waiting in the wings was absolutely priceless.

There is a mystery at the heart of this wild and crazy road novel, and it’s all about a good man gone wrong and a bad man hiding in plain sight finally brought low by a couple of past and possibly future politicians who are searching for a third act in their lives.

And who discover that their enduring friendship is the greatest gift of all.

Escape Rating B-: As mysteries go, this is no Murder on the Orient Express or even The Word is Murder. The red herrings are plenty tasty, but our amateur detectives do fumble and bumble a lot, even more than Inspector Clouseau.

And I can’t deny that the whole effort has a very strong whiff of the bear dancing, in that you are not surprised that it is done well, you are surprised that it is done AT ALL.

But it is done considerably better than the outrageous premise might lead one to believe.

What makes the mystery part of this work is that we see this fictional version of Joe Biden as an essentially honest man who wants to see justice done for a good friend – and who admittedly is uncertain where he goes next in his life.

His dilemma about what happens after you’ve been to the top, or at least to your own personal top, is pretty easy to identify with. We all get there sooner or later.

What makes the story work, and makes the reader willing to go along for the ride, is the combination of the sometimes over-the-top but occasionally spot on banter between Obama and Biden, and the first-person perspective of the story through fictional Joe Biden’s eyes.

If you are looking for an antidote to the political insanity in every newspaper and on every newscast, Hope Never Dies is a somewhat rueful, slightly nostalgic, always engaging treat.

Review: The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson

Review: The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America by Michael Eric DysonThe Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: biography, current events, history, politics
Pages: 368
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on February 2nd 2016
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A provocative and lively deep dive into the meaning of America's first black presidency, from “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” (Vanity Fair).
Michael Eric Dyson explores the powerful, surprising way the politics of race have shaped Barack Obama’s identity and groundbreaking presidency. How has President Obama dealt publicly with race—as the national traumas of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott have played out during his tenure? What can we learn from Obama's major race speeches about his approach to racial conflict and the black criticism it provokes? 
Dyson explores whether Obama’s use of his own biracialism as a radiant symbol has been driven by the president’s desire to avoid a painful moral reckoning on race. And he sheds light on identity issues within the black power structure, telling the fascinating story of how Obama has spurned traditional black power brokers, significantly reducing their leverage. 
President Obama’s own voice—from an Oval Office interview granted to Dyson for this book—along with those of Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, and Maxine Waters, among others, add unique depth to this profound tour of the nation’s first black presidency.

My Review:

I chose to review The Black Presidency this week for two reasons. One is the obvious, February is Black History Month. The second is less obvious. This week is the week of the Presidents Day compromise holiday, the Monday between Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday. To review a book about the first black president in the week between holidays celebrating one president who owned people who looked like this president and a later president who freed those slaves and made this presidency possible (whether he personally could have imagined it or not) seemed like serendipitous timing.

There is also another factor. To this reader, so much of the criticism aimed at President Obama smacks of racism, whether those critics intend it to or not. Certainly, to this reader, the groundswell of hatred feels like it has racism at its dark heart.

The kind of identity politics that uses this president as a representative of an under-represented class in public life is not new. It is also not over. Barring an unforeseen tragedy, the Democratic party will either nominate the first woman to lead a major political party ticket or the first Jew to do so. Women have previously, but not often, campaigned in the primaries but have never headed their party’s ticket. Likewise, no non-Christian has ever headed a major party ticket. For that matter, there has only been one non-Protestant president, John F. Kennedy.

The Presidency of the United States has been the ultimate “glass-ceiling” job, and it has been historically difficult for anyone not fitting a particular mold – male, white, Protestant – to reach that Oval Office. So one of the things I was looking for in The Black Presidency was to read more about how race and racism have affected Barack Obama’s presidency, to perhaps learn something about the ways that sexism or anti-Semitism will rear their ugly heads in the campaign, and possibly the presidential term, to come.

Back to this book. The author is looking through the lens of representation, in all its multiple definitions. Because whether he wills it or not, Barack Obama has become both a prominent face of Black America and the face of America. And while the first part of that equation will have some resonance forever, the second is specific to his presidency. Next January, a new president will be sworn in and someone else will become the face of America to the world.

At the same time, like anyone who is a member of an underrepresented or non-dominant group, Barack Obama is supposed to serve as a representative of his group to the broader community, and to represent his group’s interests to that broader community. Anyone who has ever been the only person of their kind in a particular setting has a teeny, tiny taste of what this feels like. To be the only woman in a group of men, particularly in technology, is one example. To be the only Jew in a group of Christians can also make one feel a bit like Daniel in that lion’s den.

So the author is evaluating Obama’s presidency through how he has reacted, particularly what he has said and done, in relationship to all of these axes. It has had an effect on how he has presented himself, in the stereotypical images he has consistently tried to avoid. It has had an effect on how he addresses the black community, and what policies he proposes that do or do not affect that community. It has certainly had an effect in the way that people see him and interpret his actions.

Reality Rating B+: I found this book to be on the one-hand, well-rounded, in that it attempts to look at as many of Obama’s actions and speeches through the lens of representation and representational politics as possible. It is not intended as a study of all of the President’s actions, or of actions that do not or possibly could not relate to race. At the same time, it is admittedly difficult to view this president without at least contending with the way that some portions of the population are either using race as the only way they see him, or are pretending that they are not seeing race at all.

And it is impossible in the U.S. not to see race. A point that is also explored in the book.

This is not, however a complete political biography of the 44th president, nor is it intended to be. And I’ll admit that I was hoping to see more about the way that others view him and the way that those issues have continually buffeted his administration. Because while the axes will change, I think that the buffeting will repeat if either of the potential Democratic Party candidates becomes the next President.