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review 2018-11-26 18:00
Romantic Comedies Deserve Better
Dashing Through the Snow: A Christmas Novel - Debbie Macomber

Well at least this book counted toward something. Dash is ex-Army intelligence. He is also very stupid. So is Ashley. But that is neither here and there. Look I love romantic comedies. You know how many times I have watched "To All the Boys I've Loved Before?" I laughed and weeped my way through "Crazy Rich Asians" and "The Big Sick." This book tried so hard, and it just didn't work. 


Dashing Through the Snow has Dashiell Sutherland and Ashley Davison trying to fly out of San Francisco to get to Seattle. When Ashley is weirdly told that she can't get a flight, but Dash is being told he can, Ashley leaves in a huff talking about sexism and just because Dash is "eye-candy" doesn't mean he should get prioritized over her. Usually I would be all rah rah for the sister-hood but I loathed Ashley throughout this book. From there Ashley goes to a car rental place and runs into Dash again (they offered standby, he said no) and she is encouraged to rent a vehicle with him via the car rental agent. Why the hell a stranger would tell a woman on her own to get in a car with some dude she doesn't know baffled me. Eventually Ashley is forced though since she is 24, she can't legally rent a car to drive (which has never made any sense to me). Dash agrees to take her, though Ashley demands to speak to his mother first. Of course Ashley can't believe that Dash is not married and that is the first question she peppers his mother about and why doesn't he have a relationship.



Anyway, the story moves slowly and poorly from this plot point. I maybe screeched at one point that these two idiots didn't even think about taking a train from San Francisco to Seattle. Recall me saying that they are not that smart. 


Map from San Francisco, California to Seattle, Washington


Anyway Ashley acts butt-hurt that a total stranger doesn't want to talk about his personal life with a 24 year old woman (she acts 12) that he just met. And Ashley spends most of this disastrous road trip trying to get Dash to admit he is attracted to her and she's upset when he doesn't seem to be. This fool also decides to adopt a puppy when they get to a stop just because. The person trying to offload the puppy is a Vietnam vet, and it's weird that it was a thing in the book, but moving on. And frankly I was not on Ashley's side at all, because who does shit like this? 



Things get worse when Macomber transitions over to two FBI agents who are hot on this duo's trial and I can't even with this whole story-line. One of the older agents has a case of I am older and wiser than you and denigrates the younger agent the whole time.


We also get a motorcycle gang that is just there that makes my head hurt. 


Ashley and Dash are chemistry rejects. They had no type of chemistry with each other. It didn't help that though I think Dash is 30, he is written to sound even older and Ashley acts like a hare-brain half the time. 

The writing was so-so and the flow was awful.


"By age thirty Larry and I had had both our children. These days kids don’t feel the need to make a commitment.”

Ashley lowered her voice. Really, this wasn’t any of her business, but she was curious. “He isn’t involved with anyone?”


Why is this any of her business? Seriously. Anyone?


“Well, I’m not, either.” Ashley bristled, refusing to admit she was disappointed. The men she met at school and the diner were often not worth the effort.


Yep, Ashley is angry that Dash isn't attracted to her. We go back to this a billion times in this book. 


“You named your dog Pickles?”

She brightened. “Cute, isn’t it?” She didn’t mention that she’d been the one to choose his name.

He shook his head. “It’s ridiculous. Poor dog probably died of embarrassment.”

That was a nasty thing to tell someone who just told you their family dog died. Gah. 


Dash hadn’t been any better.

The bottom line, she realized, was that she’d wanted Dash to like her, to enjoy her company because she’d enjoyed his.

She took it personally that he hadn’t felt the same way about her.

Like I said, she's 12. 


When the FBI eventually catches up to them, the whole book just stops and we had a FBI agent asking Dash is he in love with Ashley and keeps pressing the point and I felt embarrassed for this mythical character.

The setting of the book moves around a lot, though Seattle ends up being the final destination. No place really sounded real though. Most of the book is just terrible dialogue between Ashley and Dash, the two FBI agents, and jumps back and forth.

The ending was hilarious (to me) and not in a good way. 


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text 2018-11-24 22:31
"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by Ben Fountain
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" tells the story of a young soldier spending Thanksgiving in the early years of the Iraq war with the rest of "Bravo Company" as honoured guests of the Dallas Cowboys as part of a "victory tour" to build support for the war. Billy and the Bravos have been propelled into the spotlight by a Fox News video of a firefight of the Bravos going to the rescue of their comrades that went viral because it gave Americans back home something to cheer for.


As the day goes on we learn about Billy through a mix of memories, reflections and slightly stunned reactions to the often overwhelming here and now. Billy Lynn is literally the heart of the book. He's nineteen going on twenty, unassuming, just coming to terms with life and what it holds for him,  matured by the war in ways he's only beginning to understand and puzzled and disturbed by the ferocity with which his fellow Americans talk about the war as they thank him for his service.


This is a beautiful book. The language is rich and diverse without being pompous or self-conscious. The themes of war, loss, fear and purpose are handled with a deft, light touch that nevertheless refuses to look away or to pretend.


Billy is real and likeable. He's not a message or a symbol. He's just a guy in a shitty place trying not to screw up and hoping not to get killed today. We share Billy's memory of spending the day before Thanksgiving with his family. Being with them again after experiencing the war finally helps him understand how much he has to lose and how desperately he wants to prevent that loss. Despite this, Billy feels compelled to do what the Army requires of him and return to Iraq to complete the last eleven months of his tour.


The novel is structured so that we get to America and Americans in the context of some of their greatest institutions: Privileged Wealth, American Football, and Hollywood.


In the Dallas Cowboy's VIP suite, Billy and his fellow Bravos are brought face to face with wealthy, powerful people they would never otherwise meet. As these millionaires repeat, with apparent sincerity and sometimes zeal, the same phrases "Honour...Sacrifice...Freedom...911...So proud...These Fine Young Men...911...Finest Fighting Force in the world...Real American Hero... 911...keeping us safe." Billy experiences increasing dissonance. He would follow his sergeant through hell and would die to protect the men he serves with but he finds the behaviour of the civilians he is fighting the war for almost incomprehensible. In a chapter called "We Are All Americans Here" the reader has cause to wonder if this statement is really true and if it is, what it says about America.


American Football is used to give another way of looking at America that contrasts the joy and physicality of an informal knock-around game between the Bravos on the sacred turf and the bloated immensity of the professional game. The Bravos are shown the huge excesses of the equipment used, the pampering of the players, the crappiness of the stadium, the boredom of the game with its frequent stops for referee referrals and commercial breaks, We see the expensive fan paraphernalia that none of the bravos can afford and the elite rooms full of millionaires spending Thanksgiving schmoozing with other millionaires in clichéd VIP suits. We meet the oversized players fascinated by the firepower of automatic weapons. Finally, we meet that most American of inventions, the Cheerleaders as the Bravos take part in the absurd extravagance of the Halftime show with it not-quite-neutered sexuality and its decorative militarism.


Hollywood is pulled into the book because a producer is trying to sell a movie deal for the Bravos, based on their well-known battle in Iraq. Hollywood is used as an example of the disproportionate power of belief, the worshipping of the fake, the unwillingness to see the real because it looks too fake and the power of the millionaire asshole. Hollywood is presented as the self-serving distorting mirror America holds up to itself.


The momentum of the book is sustained by force of Billy's personality. By his questions about what everything he's seeing means. By his desperate desire to live long enough to get together with his hot, Christian cheerleader so that he won't die a virgin. By his hunger to know more, to do more to be more. By his fantasy of having wife and children and leading a quiet life one day. By his unbreakable commitment to the men he serves with.  


Hanging over everything that Billy hopes for is the knowledge that, in a few hours he'll be back on base and in a couple of days, back in Iraq for the remaining eleven months of his tour.


Ben Fountain skillfully presents the world through Billy's eyes and lets the reader draw their own conclusions.  The message you take from this book may well depend on the opinions you had before you started reading it. It feels real and real life is never simple and never has a single clear didactic message.


I was moved by the way he brought the soldiers to life and made me care about them. They weren't saints. They weren't even unequivocally the good guys. Yet they were doing their job as well as they could and looking after each other like family  As Fountain displayed, not unkindly but with unforgiving accuracy,  the civilians the Bravos met, I felt the huge gap between the lives of the people at home and the people fighting on their behalf in Iraq.


This is Ben Fountain's  first novel. I hope it won't be his last.


"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is well suited to being an audiobook. Oliver Wyman narrates the book with great skill. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of his work.


[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/81772242" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]


In a development that seems surreal given all that is said about Hollywood in this book, the novel has been made into a movie by Ang Lee that is due for release in November 2018.


You can see the movie poster and the trailer below. I think turning this book into a good movie while retaining the essence of the book is a challenge but if anyone can do it, Ang Lee can.

Billy Lynn


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUULFJ_I048&w=560&h=315]

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text 2018-11-23 16:40
24 Festive Tasks: Door 5 - Veterans' / Armistice Day, Task 4 (Poppy Seedcake)


Would you believe I had poppy seedcake for dessert today and completely forgot to take a photo until it was too late?  So I guess you're going to have to trust me that's what was on this plate ...


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text 2018-11-13 08:58
Reading progress update: I've read 10%. - this is going to be good
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" came out in May 2012 but slipped right by me somehow.


That's a shame because this is a remarkable book: accessible, authentic and as is the way with such things, taking you someplace you didn't know you were headed to but that you're glad to arrive at.


This is the story of nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn, of Bravo Squad, a hero of the Iraq war being taken on a victory tour of the USA before being sent back to Iraq to complete the last eleven months of his extended tour of duty.


Now I honestly thought, when I bought this book in October, that my restless trawling of digital book stacks had rewarded me with this gem but it turns out I'm just another happy cog in a marketing chain. I see now that this five-and-a-half-year-old book was in my sights because Ang Lee releases the movie version this month.


Now that should be interesting given that the book opens with a slightly bemused Bravo Squad finding their story being turned in Hollywood movie fodder, with Hillary Swank being considered to play the role of Billy, although whether she'd do so as a woman playing a man or a woman playing a woman is still an open question.


I'm reading "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" for the Armistice Day door on the  24 Festive Task reading challenge.


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text 2018-11-12 13:48
Veterans/Armistice Day-24 TASKS




Task 1:  Using book covers (real or virtual), create a close approximation of your country’s flag (either of residence or birth), OR a close approximation of a poppy.  Take a pic of your efforts and post.


I decided to do a poppy with books on my virtual book shelf. I was going to do this on the floor of my office, but the contractors are on their way and I resisted the urge to make a mess they would have to crawl over. 


Task 2: Make an offer of peace (letter, gift, whatever) to a book character who has particularly annoyed you this year.


Dear Alexandra Cooper,


You seem to be a perfectly adequate prosecutor when not obsessing about Mike and Mercer and making sure that they are constantly at your beck and call. The jealousy you experienced when Mike dared to be seeing someone and how weepy you got that he would not be there to save you as you ran from a murder because he was probably off somewhere with his girlfriend made me feel equal portions of annoyance and disdain. I finally gave up reading any more about your adventures since you also seemed to not so subtly be slut shaming some of the women that came to you for help. You should try calling your family once in a while. 


I wanted to give you a book about narcissism which I hope helps you take a hint about how the world doesn't revolve around you. 


Best wishes, 

Obsidian Blue


The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by [Twenge, Jean M., Campbell, W. Keith]


Task 3: Tell us: What author’s books would you consider yourself a veteran of (i.e., by which author have you read particularly many books – or maybe even all of them)?


I would consider myself a veteran of Agatha Christie's books. I got into them due to Moonlight going on about her during our Amazon forum days. I was so happy to see so many fans here and really enjoyed the year long Christie project that had me reading her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books. I need to go back and read her other books, but you all have scared me about "Passenger to Frankfurt" and "They Come to Baghdad". I am going to have to finish the Colonel Race and Tommy and Tuppence books soon. 


Task 4: Treat yourself to a slice of poppy seedcake and post a photo. If you want to make it yourself, try out this recipe: https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/poppy-seed-cake/ … or this one: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1629633/lemon-and-poppy-seed-cake


Hmmm I don't like poppy seeds. I will have to see about finding a cake and posting a picture of it though. 


Book:  Read any book involving wars, battles, where characters are active military or veterans, or with poppies on the cover.


I was thinking of reading "The Man in the Brown Suit" since Colonel Race is in it and I haven't read it before. 

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