Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Billy Lynn is a 19-year-old hero of the war in Iraq.  He and his fellow soldiers, known as the Bravos, have become instant celebrities, thanks to a TV news clip, and are being wined and dined in the U.S. before heading back to the Middle East.  Their final fete is at the Thanksgiving Day football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears.  Billy is a Texan himself, being clapped on the shoulder by the fat-cat owner of the Cowboys and by a movie producer who desperately wants to put together a Hollywood deal before our boys ship out again.  Billy's take on all this is one of culture shock in his own country—his home state, even—intensified by a mammoth hangover.  Two temptations loom large.  One is a Bible-thumping Dallas Cheerleader who seems to actually connect with Billy.  The other is an opportunity to hop into a car that will take him to a refuge where an anti-war group will help him avoid serving out his remaining time in Iraq.  Billy is certainly savvy enough to weigh the pros and cons of this latter option, although he hasn't had a lot of say in his fate to date.  In fact, a judge ordered him into military service, and his act of heroism in Iraq was just doing "what my training told me to do."  Every time I thought I had a handle on who this guy is, he seemed to slip through my fingers.  What really made me squirm, though, was how awkward and uncomfortable his conversations with civilians, especially strangers, are.  Billy's dilemma humanizes him and maybe brings us a small step closer to understanding what he's going through.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Frankly, my dear, this book was not what I expected.  The title led me to believe it was a prequel, but actually it's a retelling (and continuation) of Gone With the Wind from another perspective, though not always Rhett's.  If you're a huge GWTW fan, then you will probably either love or hate this novel.  If you love all things associated with GWTW, then this novel will give you more to love.  If you're more of a GWTW snob and think GWTW is the greatest love story ever written, then you'll probably think this novel pales in comparison.  As for me, I liked it but didn't love it, and I could say the same about the original, which, honestly I don't remember all that well.  I did look forward to the scene where Scarlett visits Rhett in jail in her green velvet dress that she fashioned from Tara's drapes, but knowing almost everything that was going to happen detracted from my enjoyment quite a bit.  This author knows his Civil War history, and that aspect may have been better fleshed out here, but I'm really more interested in why Scarlett swooned over the very boring Ashley Wilkes.  Her relationship with Rhett is tricky and is definitely of the love-hate variety.  For some reason, their clawing at each other here reminded me of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with all the jealousy but not the drinking.  As expected, this book is more politically correct than the original, thank heavens, without soft-pedaling on the racial horrors of the times.  Rhett is our dashing, charismatic hero throughout, walking a tightrope between his condemnation of slavery and his love for the South.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

LOST AND FOUND by Carolyn Parkhurst

This novel's title is the name of a scavenger-hunt-type reality show, in which paired contestants have to decipher obscure clues, perform hazardous feats, and make their way to international points of interest.  Each team has to do all this while dragging around sound and camera guys and the various objects that they've had to collect, including a caged parrot.  The narration rotates among about half a dozen contestants.  First, we have the mother/daughter team of Laura and Cassie.  Teen-aged Cassie has recently delivered a child, by herself, in her bedroom, while her mother didn't even know she was pregnant.  Laura is mortified by her own cluelessness, but Cassie has two more secrets:  she's a lesbian, and she has told the producers about the baby, and this latter revelation is obviously what won them a spot on the show.  Juliet and Dallas are former child stars and see this competition as a means of resurrecting their careers.  Finally, we have Abby and Justin, both homosexual, but married to one another in a religion-inspired, guilt-infused effort to overcome their true desires.  Then the producers allow the contestants to mix things up, and Cassie chooses Juliet as her new partner, hoping that Juliet will respond to Cassie's crush on her.  Laura then becomes paired with Carl, who came to the show with his brother, who now has Dallas as a partner. This is when new relationships start to percolate, and things get interesting.  I felt a sense of relief, really, because Cassie has become increasingly unreceptive to Laura's attempt to bridge a mile-wide gap between the two of them.  Sometimes a little separation is a good thing.  Alas, Abby and Justin are still together, but trouble lurks when one of their cameramen lures Justin into a trap.  I don't even watch reality TV, except for The Voice, and then I want to fast-forward through the personal histories of the contestants.  I loved this book, though, with its premise that the game actually serves as a vehicle for the characters to sort out their lives.  Their participation is therapeutic for them, and I found their journey to be so entertaining that I would have definitely watched the finished product of this reality series.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

PORTRAIT OF MALICE by Sanjay Sanghoee

Ethan Wolf is a corrupt insurance investigator.  If a claim looks suspicious, he'll find someone who'll pay handsomely to make sure Ethan's company accepts the claim.  Prior to this job, Ethan was a narcotics detective in a department where all the cops were dirty.  His problem is that he has gambling debts with a guy who won't think twice about doing bodily harm.  An even bigger problem is that Ethan's wife is on life support, and he can't bear to let her go.  The huge medical bills are compromising his judgment and costing him his integrity.  Now he's been assigned to investigate a French art heist.  His boss must be under some pressure to get this claim paid, given Ethan's track record.  Ethan sees an opportunity for a big payoff but quickly finds that there's more than just the stolen property issue here.  The thieves killed 2 guards and the curator, who may have had information that made him a target.  Plus, the paintings may have originally belonged to Jews whose property was confiscated by the Nazis. Thwarted by uncooperative French police, Ethan seeks the help of a mysterious woman named Angelique, who meets an unfortunate demise, as does Ethan's boss, with Ethan being tagged as the latter's murderer.  The plot is a little convoluted but fast-paced, and the author dangles just enough carrots to keep the reader following along.  I've read a few thrillers this year, and this is one of the better ones, with several characters turning out not to be who we (and Ethan) think they are.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

GOLD by Chris Cleave

Zoe and Kate are best friends and rival Olympic hopefuls in track cycling.  They are also complete opposites personality-wise.  Zoe's brother died in a childhood accident, and Zoe channels all of her pent-up anger and guilt into cycling.  She is fearless to the point of being dangerous, both to herself and to her fellow competitors.  She has a luxury apartment in Manchester, England, and her face adorns billboards throughout the city.  Kate, on the other hand, is married to Jack, another track cyclist, and they have a small child, Sophie, who has had a leukemia relapse.  Kate has had to sacrifice her dream for Olympic gold in Athens and Beijing to care for Sophie but hopes that 2012 in London will be her year.  A new Olympic rule, however, limits each country to just one participant, so that either Zoe or Kate will be left behind.  The novel explores the relationship between two women at the top of their game, as well as the conflict between family and career.  A revelation late in the novel is not as important as I think the author intended, as it just emphasizes that Kate is a nurturer and Zoe is all about winning at any cost.  At one point, Zoe observes that Kate is childlike, when, in fact, Zoe is the one who hasn't managed to grow up.  Some chapters give us the perspective of eight-year-old Sophie, who tries valiantly to disguise how tired and sick she feels, to keep her parents from worrying, and I found her battle more emotionally draining than that of anyone else in the novel.  Personally, I could have done with more cycling and less angst, but the novel does bring home how difficult the path is for many of our athletes who have responsibilities to their families, as well as their coaches, fans, and sponsors, and those responsibilities may be even more exhausting than their training.