Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


Sammy’s Hill by Kristin Gore


Rating: (Recommended)




Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com








I admit that had Sammy’s Hill not been written by Kristin Gore, daughter of the former Vice President, it’s not likely that I would have picked up this debut novel. Having picked it up, and read it through, I came away delighted with the result. Gore presents an entertaining and engaging glimpse of life in the nation’s capital and especially what it can be like to work for a member of Congress. It’s a witty novel and Gore captures the way that work can become totally consuming, leading to more opportunities for humor. Readers will find protagonist Samantha Joyce at times irritating, and often endearing.


Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of the chapter titled, “Summer Surprise,” pp. 23-33:


How Liza convinced me e to join her for happy hour at the Irish Times the next day was still a mystery to me. She was my best friend, and she had managed a mildly persuasive argument about celebrating Alfred Jackman’s twenty-four hours of sobriety, but 6:30 was way too early to be leaving the office, even on a Friday night. It didn’t matter that RG had already left to fly back to Ohio for the weekend or that Janet had gone home early for her son’s birthday dinner, I still had to answer to myself and my mountains of unfinished work. And neither of us was easily pushed over.

I compromised by deciding I’d have a couple beers for Liza and Alfred and then head back to my desk for a slightly buzzed wrap-up. Everybody would win.

“So the hearing went great!” Liza squealed supportively as she hugged me beside the bar stools.

“Yeah, amazingly, Mr. Jackman pulled it off.” I still couldn’t quite believe it.

“You mean you pulled it off,” she loyally insisted. Liza was the only consistent cheerleader in my life, and didn’t seem to mind this thankless and often seemingly pointless role. She also had an odd fascination with documentaries about reformed S&M enthusiasts and was an avid Red Sox fan, so it had occurred to me more than once that maybe she was just a glutton for punishment. She was tall and angular, studiously stylish, and naturally gorgeous. I had met her at a fund-raiser in Cincinnati—RG had needed food to go as he dashed out the door postschmoozing and Liza had been the caterer. After she moved to D.C. months later to han­dle events for the Mayflower Hotel, we’d become close friends.

Liza was the sort of girl one was alternately jealous of and shocked by. She was genuinely sweet and captivatingly attractive, but insisted on continuously stumbling into poor choices, mainly of the romantic per­suasion. Or in many cases, the purely physical one. She went for preppy, jocky, unfaithful men. There were plenty of these to go around in D.C., and go around they did. Her latest had been recovering from a knee injury sustained during a weekend rugby game on the Mall. He had insisted on buckling on a knee brace every time before sex and then had left her for his physical therapist—a petite redhead who’d apparently been handier with the straps. Liza had felt at an occupational disadvan­tage and was still bruised by the breakup. I, on the other hand, was over­joyed to be rid of him and his penchant for trying to provoke me into debates over the merits of Hooters restaurants and all-male country clubs.

“To Sammy Joyce and Alfred Jackman, today’s stars of the Senate.” Liza clinked her Bud bottle against mine and took a celebratory swig.

I’d drink to that. Alfred Jackman had done a pretty great job. His marijuana-withdrawal—induced grumpiness had been interpreted by everyone else as frustration with the inadequacy of the health care sys­tem, and the list of legal drugs he needed for his condition, along with their exorbitant price tags, had made a definite impression on the com­mittee. Senator Gary had made his point and Alfred Jackman was safely out of my jurisdiction, so the beer went down easy. That is, until Liza elbowed me in the side, effecting a sort of mini-Heimlich.

‘“What?” I sputtered.

She nodded almost imperceptibly towards my right. I swiveled com­pletely perceptibly to check out what she was signaling about, prompt­ing another elbow attack.

“Ouch! Cut that out.”

I did see what all the fuss was about, though. The guy ordering a drink one stool over was undeniably hot, and not just D.C. hot, but actual real world hot. He smiled inquisitively when he caught my eye. I immediately swiveled a retreat.

Liza was glaring at me.

“Are you ever going to learn how to check someone out?”

“No,” I answered honestly.

Liza sighed. She was the subtle, cool one. I brought something else to the table. A sort of unsubtle anticool, if you will.

“Sorry,” I offered. “But he’s not your type anyway, is he? I thought goatees had been blacklisted.”

Liza had dated three goateed men in a row and her sensitive skin had only recently recovered. She had lately been quite vocal about her new antigoatee platform—one that I’d readily endorsed, as I had always considered facial hair unsanitary. But I had the unsettling feeling that the way our new neighbor pulled his off might induce me to entertain some dirty thoughts.

“Not him,” Liza whispered. “Him.”

This time her phantom nod more accurately indicated a new bar­tender who must have just begun his shift. Okay, that made much more sense. He was hot as well, but in a more muscular, less trustworthy way. Right up Liza’s alley.

I was just beginning to wonder if our happy hour had devolved into only-a-man-can-make-me-happy hour when Liza refocused her atten­tion On me.

“We’ll meet them later. Tell me about the rest of your day,” she smiled at me.

And that was another great thing about Liza. She was just the right amount of girly—guy aware but not guy crazy. I had lesser friends who would pretend to be interested in a night of catching up and then morph into giggly backstabbers at the first whiff of Polo Aftershave—women who were lightning fast with the put-down joke or dismissive wave, whatever it took to seem more pretty or witty or larger chested to the nightly swarm of male barflies. But not Liza. She was loyal and genuine, not in an aggressively girl-powerish way, but in a sane and appreciated one.

We spent the next hour talking and laughing, fueled by several more beers and hampered only by my niggling sense of guilt that I wasn’t yet back at the office. No problem, I told myself. Wrapping up the work­week was even more fun when I myself was wrapped up in a warm beer glow. After all, a happy employee was a more productive employee. And thankfully, a drunk employee couldn’t get fired if her bosses had already gone home for the weekend.

I had just convinced Liza that I really did need to head back but that I really would meet her later when I spotted a man in a wheelchair trying to make his way through the door. A table leg jammed next to the door­way was thwarting his attempts, as his front wheel kept bumping into it no matter what angle he tried. No one seemed to notice his struggle; cer­tainly no one was offering any assistance. Something in his grumpy determination reminded me of a sober Alfred Jackman, and before I knew it I was on my feet and hurrying towards him, while Liza tried to get the hot bartender’s attention under the guise of ordering another beer.

I approached the patrons of the offending table—a young buttoned-couple on what seemed like their first date—and fixed them with a polite smile.

“I just need to shift you guys over for a second, no need to move,” I exhaled as I attained a firm grip on their table.

Before they could respond I gave a quick tug, dragging the table clear of the doorway and out of the wheelchair’s path, and, in the process, upending the full pitcher of beer they’d just ordered onto the white-silk-blouse-clad chest of the startled woman.

I stood helpless for a moment, trying to calculate these latest entries into my karmic account balance. Did helping a handicapped man make up for assaulting an innocent woman with cheap beer?

“What the hell is wrong with you?” the man in the wheelchair demanded.

Interesting. I had been expecting gratitude from him, anger from the couple. He was completely throwing me off my game.

“I was just trying to help,” I explained feebly. “So you could get through the door.”

“I can take care of myself. I don’t need any help from a klutz,” he barked loudly enough for the entire bar to hear.

Right. Okay, so maybe the beer-drenched couple would also have surprising reactions, but in a good way. I turned my attention hopefully and apologetically towards them. The woman was crying softly as she tried to cover the wet T-shirt effect of the spilt beer with a flimsy cock­tail napkin that was nowhere near up to the task. Her companion looked bewildered and concerned.

Hmm. So I’d offended a crippled man and reduced a nicely dressed woman to tears. Karma-wise, I was pretty sure I was down.

My own eyes began to burn ominously as I felt the gazes of the sur­rounding clientele disapprovingly fixed upon me. The three beers I’d drunk had unfortunately softened up my normally slightly thicker skin, and I knew that in this state, nothing could bring a tipsy meltdown quite like the wrath of strangers.

“I’m really sorry,” I whispered to the couple. My voice had appar­ently been chased away by the surge of acute embarrassment swelling through my chest.

I was about to turn and retreat back to Liza (who was where, by the way? Just watching me suffer?), when I felt a strong hand on my arm.

“Well, thank God someone got this night started,” a voice above me drawled.

I looked up to make eye contact for the second time that evening with the very-hot-even-for-the-real-world guy from one bar stool over.

“Hi,” I whispered, wondering if my voice planned on a long vacation.

He smiled at me and I felt my neck rash flare up.

I had always had very specialized physical manifestations of anxiety— uncontrollable shaking when self-conscious before authority figures, laughing fits in the presence of scary animals, and, when confronted by extremely attractive men I wanted to like me, a severe neck rash.

It began with a deep flush, which quickly dissolved into tiny red bumps that paraded from my chestbone to my ears. It was relatively rare—the guy had to really do something for me—and it was never, ever pretty.

I kept a fashionable scarf my mother had given me in my bag for such emergencies, but my bag was back at the bar stool, leaving me no choice but to wrap my hands around my neck in what could possibly be construed as a whimsical gesture, but much more likely looked like a bizarre self-strangulation pose. Maybe he was into that?

He had averted his gaze and was looking kindly at the shaken couple.

“Why don’t you give her your jacket?” he suggested to the man, who quickly complied, covering up his date far more efficiently than the pal­try napkin had managed to do.

“And why don’t both of you have another round on me?” he contin­ued gallantly. “That is, when the bartender’s done hitting on your friend,” he smiled back at me.

I turned around to see that the bartender was indeed talking con­spiratorially with Liza, who appeared to be writing down her number on a cardboard coaster. My annoyance towards her dissipated, replaced by extreme gratitude that she had been oblivious to my disaster, because that had allowed me to be much more satisfactorily rescued by— “My name’s Aaron,” he offered helpfully, sticking out his hand.


“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Sammy. You were really sweet to try and help that guy. Unfortunately, he’s a grouchy drunk, in here every night. You didn’t know what you were getting yourself into.”

No, I sure didn’t.

“Now, can I get you a drink?”

Yes, you sure can. He was staring at me, looking more and more handsome by the heartbeats pounding in my ears. Handsome and... expectant. Oh right, time to answer him out loud.

“Uh, sure. Sock it to me.”

Sock it to me? Sock it to me?! Where the hell had that come from? Wasn’t that an old catchphrase on Laugh-In? What had provoked me to say it? And the tone I’d used hadn’t been playful at all, which would have saved it—it had instead come out in a sort of guttural way, which just made me sound crass and demanding. That wasn’t me! What sabotaging seventies poltergeist was channeling me from the other side? I decided to get my Ouija board revenge later, there was an image repair emer­gency to tend to at the moment.

“Uh, let’s see. . . do they serve Klutz Martinis here?” I asked in what I prayed was a much more appealing tone. “That’s my signature drink.”

Aaron laughed.

“Hmm, afraid not. But I think they’ve got a Good Samaritan shot with a Bad Break chaser,” he smiled at me.

“Sounds great.”

We made our way back to our stools just as Liza looked up from her huddle with the hunky bartender. She glanced at my neck and quickly and smoothly handed me the scarf from my bag.

Liza, this is Aaron. Aaron, Liza.”

I fashioned the scarf around my neck as they shook hands.

“And this is Ryan.” Liza indicated the bartender.

Ryan was certainly a looker, and at the moment he was surrepti­tiously looking me up and down. Oh, Liza, no. Not another one.

“Ryan’s going to show me some of the mixers they have in the back. I’ve been looking for some better deals for the Mayflower.” Liza smiled at me as she disappeared after Ryan through the door behind the bar.

“Well, that worked out. Now I won’t be being rude when I only pay attention to you,” Aaron said.

Nope, nothing rude about that. And even if that was a little line-y, it sounded charming coming from him. Where was that accent from? Somewhere southern. Maybe a little south of heaven?

I inwardly wretched at my tumble into cheesiness and was only mildly comforted by the fact that no one would ever know those words had existed in my brain. But I knew. It was time to pull it together. He wasn’t that great.

“You work for Senator Gary, don’t you?” Aaron continued. “I’ve seen you around.”

He has? When? Where? Had I known I was being watched? Had I been doing anything embarrassing? The chances that I had been were distressingly high.

“Yeah, I’m Senator Gary’s domestic policy adviser.” I smiled brightly at him, trying to blind him with either my freshly whitened teeth or my relatively impressive job title.

“Wow, that’s great. I’m impressed!”

Those Crest Whitestrips were a bitch to put on, but they really worked.

“And what about you?” I asked, feeling a little more confident.

It seemed as though he also worked on the Hill. I hoped so. I wanted to be involved with someone who cared about the same things I did. Oh, but what if he did something really low level? That was fine with me, but would he be threatened by my success? I hoped I hadn’t emasculated him—that was no way to start the serious relationship we were clearly destined to have.

“I’m the head speechwriter for Senator Bramen,” he answered.

John Bramen. Senior senator from New Jersey, ranking member on the most powerful committee in the Senate, early front-runner in the presidential race, all—around major heavyweight. A jerk by most accounts, but an extremely successful one. We were just fifteen fast months away from the election day that very well might make Bramen president. Aaron’s ego probably wasn’t too bruised.

“Gosh, that must keep you pretty busy.”

Could I be any more bland? It was dangerous to dare myself.

“It’s challenging, but rewarding. And it only drives me to drink every other night.” He smiled modestly.

Would I tell our children that his smile was the first thing I fell in love with? Assuming I could get a word in edgewise as their father smothered me with passionate kisses for the rest of my life.

Aaron was checking his watch. Oh no, bad sign. Say something witty, I yelled at myself. Look alluring, goddammit! I felt my neck rash flare stronger under the mounting pressure.

‘Actually, Bramen’s on 20/20 tonight and I’m supposed to watch,” Aaron said.

There it was. I was getting the Heisman after a mere ten minutes. Sadly, that wasn’t even a personal record. But I’d really been digging him. This sucked.

“The thing is—I’d much rather stay here talking to you,” he continued.


“Plus, for the safety of the other patrons’ outfits, I really don’t think you should be left unsupervised,” he continued. “Do you mind excusing me for a second so I can make a quick call?”

I felt myself fall instantly and deeply into infatuation. To mark the occasion, I smiled goofily at him as he moved away to dial his cell phone. Technically, I was supposed to be returning to the office, but what if this guy turned out to be the love of my life? In the big scheme of things, which was more important—killing myself to succeed at work or finding a soul mate? The unnerving thing was that at this stage of my life, it was sort of a close call.

I decided to use the phone call time wisely to come up with good conversation topics and prep some of my go-to stories. I knew I had a foolproof bit about water parks, but how to segue? Should I open with embarrassing cell phone stories? Certainly a natural transition and I def­initely had a bevy of them. But sometimes when I mimicked the static crucial to such stories I inadvertently spit a fair amount, and that proba­bly wasn’t all that seductive. I clearly just needed to get him drunk pretty quickly.

“I’m afraid I have tragic news.”

He was back. It turned out his frown was just as tremendous as his smile. It made him look sexily disgruntled.

“I couldn’t get through to someone to tape the show for me, and Tivo’s not returning my calls, so I’ve unfortunately got to head out. I’d ask you along, but I know a lady such as yourself wouldn’t let me get to the Barbara Walters stage before we’ve even had our first real date.”

“No, of course not. Babs is well on the way to second base.”

“Exactly, I feel we need to build to that sort of intimacy. Maybe Warm up with some good old-fashioned 60 Minutes.”

“It’s so refreshing to meet a true gentleman.”

Laughing, he took my hand and leaned down to kiss it.

“Till later, then.” He smiled one last breathtaking time and was gone.

Back at my apartment that night, I endlessly replayed every moment of my interaction with Aaron, mercilessly punishing myself for not coming up with the cleverer responses that seemed so obvious hours later. As I lay there festering, repartee hindsight was 20/20 in more ways than one.

I was also vaguely curious how Senator Bramen had done on the show. Probably very well, he was so polished and professional. One of his glaring faults being that he knew how polished and professional he was—the fact that he’d never run for president before was a miracle given his soaringly high opinion of himself I didn’t have any personal experience with Bramen, but I’d heard plenty about him through the Hill grapevine since arriving in D.C.

Though Bramen and RG had been elected to Congress the same year, Bramen had apparently devoted considerably more of his time during the ensuing decade to relentless pandering and self-promotion. His undisguised ambition coupled with his aggressive maneuvering had propelled him from the moment he was sworn in towards an inevitable race for the presidency. I’d heard others say that anyone who really knew Bramen didn’t mistake his motivations for a genuine desire to improve the lives of his fellow Americans. To the contrary, they understood that he was clearly in the mix for his own betterment.

In my opinion, this made Bramen the polar opposite of RG in terms of integrity and style. And yet the very qualities that I deplored in Bramen were the same ones that had garnered him tremendous clout on the Hill. He held far more sway than RG did, as unfair as that seemed to me.

I wondered how well Aaron knew Bramen. Was he aware of his boss’s considerable shortcomings? I hoped that he wasn’t, because I sensed I’d have trouble being with someone who willingly worked for such a tainted cause. And there could easily be a respectable reason for Aaron’s ignorance, I argued to myself Perhaps he was too new on staff He was certainly far too good-looking.

I decided to give Aaron the benefit of the doubt pending further investigation since there was a perfectly good chance that he just didn’t know the truth. Perhaps it was my role to enlighten him! Maybe once Aaron fell madly in love with me, I could persuade him to renounce Bramen, leave his job, and come work for RG, thereby effecting a harmonious merging of my personal and professional lives—a goal I’d been feng shui-ing towards for months. As I gazed up at the glow-in-the- dark constellations adorning my ceiling, I fantasized about all my stars aligning at last and drifted delusionally off to sleep.


Between the work life, the love life, the politics, and the perils of technology, there’s much to enjoy on the pages of Sammy’s Hill.


Steve Hopkins, December 20, 2004



Buy Sammy’s Hill by Kristin Gore

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage



Go to 2005 Book Shelf

Go to Executive Times Archives







ã 2005 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the January 2005 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Sammy's Hill.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687

E-mail: books@hopkinsandcompany.com