Goodbye, Top Gear

Top Gear

Top Gear, the BBC’s greatest success, is gone.

My whole family has loved Top Gear for a long time. I have an image in my mind of my son-in-law, tears rolling down his cheeks, watching the guys attempt to navigate the Avon river in a homemade hovercraft, laughing so hard that he was almost as funny as the show. But not quite…. Really, it is hard to put it into words. Top Gear has been the most successful “reality” show, although it isn’t quite real. It is the best because it is over the top. Way over.

Much has already been said about the sad end of the show, which came about because the BBC fired the star of the show, Jeremy Clarkson, for assaulting a producer. I neither defend Clarkson nor do I feel that the BBC did the wrong thing. No doubt all will suffer. Some are saying the show will go on, but I’ve watched a few shows with the co-stars, James May and Richard Hammond, as main presenters, and none of those shows were worth watching. Both May and Hammond are pleasant, but no more so than your average television presenter. No, there is some mysterious chemistry that seems to develop when Clarkson is on screen with these side kicks. Yes, the word here is chemistry: Clarkson is the catalyst, and the other gents are reactants. Take away the catalyst, and you have… the American version of Top Gear. The one no one watches.

This is worse, far worse, than Two and a Half Men without Charlie Sheen. (And that was pretty bad.)

Since the BBC has something to prove, they will no doubt put out a show with the same name and flashy videos, in order to fulfill contractional obligations, as well as to demonstrate that the show must go on. But it will suck.

I seldom watch television, but I generally make an exception for Top Gear. Oh, well, time to read another book.

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Bertrice Small’s The Kadin

Author Bertrice Small’s obituary in the New York Times piqued my interest in her writing. I’m not sure if I read any of her books back when I read historical romance, but somewhere in a stack of books that a friend passed along to me is her Skye O’Malley. Quite honestly, it is on a shelf downstairs, with a lot of other books that I may never get around to reading. However, a brief look at Small’s book list led me to begin with her debut novel, a “harem” romance called The Kadin. I downloaded it from the Kindle store, and there are a few rough spots where the file didn’t translate too well, but over all, it was in good shape.

I was prepared to not like the novel. The reviews on Goodreads (something like 1900 plus) were mostly good, but there were any number of bad ones. Actually, the reasons for the bad reviews are some of the aspects that I liked best. Instead of being a slice of life, The Kadin is the whole life of Lady Janet Leslie; at least from the age of four, when her father legitimizes her, the offspring of an affair with a local peasant; until her death. Thus, it is far more than a romance. When our main character is a young teenager, her father is appointed ambassador to some obscure Middle Eastern nation and while there she is abducted and sold as a slave. Her purchaser is the chief eunuch of a harem, and young Janet, renamed Cyra, is groomed to be the young sultan’s favorite. For the most part, the eunuch’s plan goes well, but there is sufficient political intrigue between Cyra and her Selim, as well as Cyra and the other harem inhabitants that the plot never really drags, and the novel is some 400 plus pages.

Bertrice Small has the reputation of writing rather sexual romances, but The Kadin precedes that aspect of her writing. While her main character is very strong, she is swept away into the role of harem slave and never really protests that. Modern readers often bring modern mores into their analysis of fiction. Some of those one and two star reviewers seem to expect Janet/Cyra to rebel and somehow turn the sixteenth century into the twentieth at least, which amuses me. Others believe Small’s portrait of harem life, while quite fictional, has too many details. Who cares what they ate or wore? Well, actually, I care. Details help readers get into the story, and I really enjoyed getting into this novel. If it reminded me of anything, it has a lot in common with Angelique in Barbary, but that’s an even older story and is the best “harem slave” story I have ever read.

The Kadin is more than a romance and is almost diametrically opposed to modern chick lit. My time with it was a bit like watching great old movie that I had somehow missed seeing the first time around. I enjoyed it, and while it isn’t a great book, it is a really, really good one.

American Sniper— the book

American Sniper by Chris Kyle coverOkay, I admit, I have a tendency to do certain things backwards. Hubby laughs at this one: whenever I pick up a magazine, I thumb through and begin reading somewhere near the back. I sometimes do that with catalogues, too. Why? Because the snazzy pictures are in the front, and the words are in the back. I like words.

American Sniper, the movie, is in theaters in my area of the country as I write this, which means it is the perfect time for Pam to read the book! I ordered American Sniper (for the Kindle) and read it on my iPad, and I was impressed. Chris Kyle’s exploits are apparently quite controversial, based on the reaction to the film, but I did not find it so much controversial as conversational. After I finished, I felt like I has spent a while talking with this Texas cowboy turned Navy Seal, who loved guns and his country enough to go back into a war zone, over and over.

Why is Kyle’s career a controversy? There are those who feel that Americans were invaders in Iraq. Okay, I see that. A little bit, anyway. Any war on foreign soil will have that aspect. And there are those who feel that being a sniper, hiding behind a big rifle with a bigger scope, is a cowardly way to fight. That I don’t get, at all. Guerilla warfare is not new. And, in the war in Iraq, with insurgents attacking government installations and convoys, having a sniper on every tall rooftop made a lot of sense. As he often puts it in the book, Iraq was a “target rich” environment. His recorded number of “kills” is far above any other sniper, and he is matter of fact in explaining that his accomplishment was in part due to being in the thick of things for four deployments.

Kyle’s story, which begins during his childhood in Texas, is entertaining and quintessentially American. When he discusses the war, it is the voice of a military man, explaining what happened from his point of view. Also of interest are brief interludes where his wife, Taya, discusses what was happening from her perspective. This gives the story more depth because modern warfare can happen so far away that the combatant’s home country is isolated from the realities of war. The price paid by the family is made quite real through her observations.

If you haven’t read Kyle’s autobiography, you might want to give it a try. Although it becomes a bit repetitive, because what he did on a day-to-day basis didn’t change all that much, his voice is strong throughout the book, and Chris Kyle was a man’s man in a country that has, by and large, gone soft.