The Sex Corner: Ding ding ding, round two!

Tuesday 26 September, 2017

Sticks of card with the titles of the books written on them in black ink arranged artistically against purple and green patterned wallpapered walls. The two titles seen clearly say Under the knife and The Ben Hope Series the card obscured at the back only shows the word The

Thought I couldn’t possibly find more fault in the big land of literature? Well, you would be wrong. My reading was down over the last year because University got in the way of reading for pleasure, but when I did read for pleasure I noted down which books were good, which books were bad, and which books deserved a special mention on this here blog.

So without further ado, here we are, round two of The Sex Corner:

It’s not easy being asexual in a sexual world, and it’s even harder trying to avoid something that is always considered a selling point. (Although it isn’t really, but that’s a post for another day). Luckily there will always be more books for me to get my head into. Well, for as long as my kindle works and libraries exist, anyway.

And that is where of which I procured the new editions to the The Sex Corner from. (Holy awkward sentence, batman!).

The first is an early piece by Tess Gerritsen. You might recognise her name, she is the prolific author of the Rizzoli and Isles series, but before them, there was a Under The Knife. It start’s with a female doctor, called Kate Chesne, being accused of malpractice which leads to the uncovering a murder plot. And that sounded brilliant, I was all for that! Murder? Hospital related? So my cup of tea it was practically a family sized teapot full of Tetley Decaf.

Until the lawyer came into it.

At first he was looking into the case, and then suddenly it turned into a whirl wind romance that left me wondering the legalities of the situation. Would a prominent lawyer take such a risk by dating his client? He wasn’t only risking the case, he was risking both his and Doctor Chesne’s reputation and their respective licences to practice, if she was to be found guilty. She could have been branded as the murdering doctor who slept with her lawyer so he’d guarantee she’d be found innocent. He could have been branded as the lawyer who had sex with a murdering doctor, not caring about the evil deeds she’d done, bringing his firm into disrepute. What does that say for either of them, in character and ability to act reasonable?

It says nothing other than this is book is full of ridiculous people who can’t do their jobs. I can’t possibly understand these characters, and I certainly can’t empathise with them. I don’t know if other people can or do. All I know was that I was in it for the crime and the court case, and I left at the door by badly written, convoluted romance and unfathomable scenes of a sexual nature.

So, in the sex corner it went!

And it was followed very quickly by Shadow of the wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Initially this is a story about a lonely lad, Daniel, who, grieving after the death of his mother, is shown a library of forgotten books. The Cemetary of forgotten books.

Remembering what someone once said to him about your first book always staying with you, Daniel carefully chooses a book called The Shadow of The Wind. And he becomes enthralled by it. After he reads it, he wants to know everything he can about the author. He wants to be an author! This book has picked up this lonely lad and gave him a purpose beyond his own existence. It was beautiful and it was brilliant! I was all for that.

And then it derailed.

Daniel, the lonely boy, develops a crush on an older girl called Clara, whose father is a rare book connoisseur. And it turns out this book is as rare as you can get. Not wanting to be turned away so soon after he refuses to sell his book, which was an amazing, once in a lift time gift from the very secret library of forgotten books, he offers to return regularly to admire Clara from an up close and personal distance. Oh sorry, no, I mean, so he can read to her because it just so happens that she’s blind.

And that still isn’t where my problem was with this story. Developing crushes is fine. I remember the older lad I used to have a crush on! But one part I had a problem with is that Daniel seemed to think that Clara owed him something just because he liked her. And she wanted to see him less and less, probably because she was 6 years older than him and he was just an opportunistic child. And he gave her the book to keep. Yes, the very rare book he at one point would not let out of his sight.  He just gave it away.

There is such a mystery surrounding The Shadow of the Wind. All the other copies of this book was burnt by the author himself. Why? That’s part of the mystery. One night, fearing for Clara’s safety and the safety of the book, he sneaks in to her flat to take reposession of the book, hears, uh, noises, goes to check the, uh, noises out, finds Clara is, erm… quite happy where she is, erm, shall we say? And then he promptly gets beaten up by Clara’s boyfriend. He flees with the book, and then makes acquaintances with an eccentric homeless man called Fermin Romero de Torres.

My biggest problem with his reaction after finding out Clara’s got a boyfriend and that they seem quite happy together, is that he seems to think that she was using him. From my point of view, he was foisting his attentions on to her and imagined a whole Will They/Won’t They scenario in his mind, like a delusional fantasist, whilst she probably didn’t even think about him at all, especially considering his age. Like, in her mind, he was probably like that young next door neighbour you used to play out with when you’re both in the bracket of “under 16”, and then you’re over 16 and you go off and do your A Levels, but the next door neighbour’s just gone into year 10. Except this book is set in just after the Spanish Civil War, so, you know. No A Levels, or year 10. But ignoring the speciifcs, generally speaking, that’s life, it happens, and everybody moves on and makes friends with people their own age.

Everyone bar Daniel.

But the scenes of a sexual nature don’t go away just because Clara is no longer in his life, nooooOOoooOoooo. First you have Fermin Romero de Torres, who is never too far away from talking sexually, and then you have the very graphic sex scenes.

I was less than a third into the book but I was out. I’d powered through the Clara thing in the hopes the mystery of the book and Daniel’s plan to be an author would remain in the foreground. It didn’t. Once again, I paid the price for powering through.

Just when I thought I was learning!!

So, last but not least is a series of books I think I got into under false pretences. My friend recommended this book to me (the same one who recommended the Languidoc series. I need to stop listening to this friend’s suggestions). She said it was like Dan Brown’s books, but better written, with better plots. And I thought, well you can’t get worse than Dan Brown, surely? So why not give it a go? Hah. Why not, indeed!

The series was the Ben Hope series, by Scott Mariani. I started in the order Mariani recommends on his website, with the prequels first. The first one, Passenger 13, was flawless, filled with violent action, mystery and a little bit of back story. I couldn’t fault it. The second one, Bring Him Back, similar on the violent action but the mystery involved a child with “special” telepathic powers. I could see the Dan Brown comparison. And yes, it was still very well written. Then I read his real first published Ben Hope book (if we talk chronologically by published date), The Alchemist Secret, and I didn’t think it was as good as the prequels. Mariani seemed to be suffering from a case of “Plot strong, writing weak” itis. I figured, that’s understandable. My writing wasn’t as good in my first chapters than it was in my 10th chapters of a multi-chaptered story I’m writing, I can forgive tired tropes and poor narrative in the early days of his career. I can’t forgive the James Bond-esque poor treatment of female characters, though, making them look bad so men look good. I had a watchful eye out but ultimately, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Then there was The Mozart Conspiracy, which again had a decent story but the narrative style really started rubbing me the wrong way. Some chunks of purple prose here and there, and the romantic elements on the up, and then as usual with male writers, using female character’s suffering to drive a male character’s story onwards. This is irritating and insulting to the point where I thought I’d draw the line there and then. None of the bad elements were what I was reading this series for!

But then I got an email from my local Library. The next book in the series was available. So I thought, I’d give it one more chance with The Doomsday Prophecy and if it’s the same, I’d give up. It was the same, and a little bit worse. In this story, he starts off so torn up about his dead wife that he plans to finish up his theology degree from years before, and reconsiders going into the priest hood. We get one woman chatting him up and he turns her down, though it seems more begrudgingly because of appearances of propriety and the prospect of a job rather than earnestly out of mourning. And then he spends the rest of the book having a sort of “will they, won’t they” type romance with the next woman he meets. I’m not saying he should have been donning mourning suits for the next three years, but the timeline in the book means it’s only about 4 months since the apparent love of his life is dead before all of this happens.

Some of the dialogue meant to be enriched with romantic tension is so convoluted I felt like I was reading bad fanfiction.

I ummed and arr’d over reading the next lot. I thought, “this isn’t as bad a decline as the Oz books, and I’ve not faced anything overly sexually graphic, just the romance really pulls the stories down” and planned to go on. Then I was hit by a snag. The library didn’t have the next two books on audiobook and had no plans to stock them. I couldn’t afford to buy them, especially if I didn’t like them, so I just waited it out and put Ben Hope to the back of my mind. Probably for the best, considering.

Then I found out something unrelated to this which has made the decision once and for all about whether I should continue reading or not. There was a promotional campaign for the latest Ben Hope novel in The Sun. And then I found out that HarperCollins is related to The Sun. I did not know that before then.

So now I will have to pick my books carefully because there is no way I’m supporting anything in relation to The Sun.

But, all in all, that doesn’t change the fact that these books will be going in The Sex Corner. And then after that, I might throw all Ben Hope novels in Mount Doom.

I may be slow to update, but as long as there’s good books ruined by unnecessary romance plot lines and sex scenes, there will be The Sex Corner, so watch this space!

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The Wizard of Oz Series

Tuesday 19 September, 2017

I love the films. Well, the original film and it’s sequel, “Return to Oz”. The James Franco film was such a painful experience I like to pretend I haven’t seen it and that it doesn’t actually exist. I also watched an amazing miniseries called Tin Man and that is a gem of a find!

So, with that in mind, I got the whole entire book collection (For free, on Kindle. Thankfully) and set out to read my way through it. I knew people said bad things about it, I knew that he wrote in response to people’s requests, I knew that people lost interest the further along the series they got. I disregarded that and, much like Dorothy, started on the yellow brick road, prepared for the journey that was ahead of me.

I thought I was prepared, anyway. Turns out that I wasn’t prepared at all.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

This first book was alright, actually. All things considered. I think the Judy Garland film represented the first book quite well and some sloppy writing aside, stands up as a good children’s book.

The Marvelous Land of Oz

The second book, part inspiration for the second film, also mostly good. It is a nice little story, written for children.

Ozma of Oz

This book was most of the inspiration for the second film, Return to Oz. But sadly it’s where the problems were becoming too big to go without mention. There’s plot holes and cop out solutions. The story is very dragged out, and I think I would have been unimpressed with the story even as a child.

With the film, I was terrified of The Wheelers. They even unsettle me to this day. Tiktok could only make them behave for a short while and they come back later on in the film, scary as ever.

In the book, however, Tiktok disposes of them swiftly and they’re never seen again.

“Only, you must promise not to try to frighten children any more, if they come near to you.”
“I won’t–indeed I won’t!” promised the Wheeler.

I want to know why that didn’t happen in the film, because I lost a lot of sleepless nights thanks to them. That was the best part of an otherwise below average children’s book. I would not have been impressed if I’d have read it as a child.

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

This book was where I realised by what people meant when they say the books lost quality as they go on. I thought they meant further along, I didn’t realise they meant “book 4”. I mean, to put in perspective, I wasn’t that keen on the third book and this was worse.

In this book, we have plotholes, continuity errors and a whole lot of retcons. Dorothy’s personality has been lost somewhere along the way, and her strength as a female adventurer  went with it. The blatant sexism just came out of nowhere, as she deferred decisions to her male companion and fainted when things got tough. Her male companion did not faint, because, and I quote, “being a boy, he did not faint”.

I was very unsure about continuing to the next book, but I had the books, they were free, so perservere I did.

The Road to Oz

This was just dire. There’s no other words for it, it was Dire.

This should be named “Don’t Do What Dorothy Does” and used as a teaching device for children’s stranger awareness.

There is a character called The Shaggy Man, and he practically abducts a bunch of children! First Dorothy, who he asks for directions and somehow gets her to show him the way to a specific road, despite actually not wanting that road, he just wants to avoid it. Then there’s Button Bright, who they find crying in the middle of the road, digging, for some bizarre reason.

And then there’s Pollychrome, the daughter of a rainbow man.

It started off pretty much like an episode of Criminal Minds. And said like a true abusive character, the fact they followed him was their own fault, apparently. Or rather, it wasn’t his intention to lead Dorothy away from home and get her lost, nor to find these lost children along the way. But they did, so it’s their fault. I’m not sure how I’d take that as a child, but as an adult, it reads very sinisterly.

And then we have “the Love Magnet”.

This is an actual excerpt of the book:

“The Love Magnet! Why, what’s that?”
“I’ll show you, if you won’t tell any one,” he answered, in a low, mysterious voice.

The warning bells, oh how they rung!

It’s a real magnet, and it makes people fall in love with whoever has possession of it. Right? Because that sounds completely above board.

And then there’s Johnny Dooit, who the Shaggy Man wants “real bad”, who’ll do anything The Shaggy Man asks. We’ve gone beyond Criminal Minds here, and we’re in an episode of Tales from The Crypt.

In essence, the story is about the odd bunch of travellers AKA, The Shaggy Man and his Oblivious Gang of Abductees, going along trying to find the Land of Oz and Ozma’s palace; And they all come across all sorts of people along their way, in true Baum fashion. And the crux of the story is that leaders of all these different groups all want invitations to Ozma’s party.

Well, where I come from, it’s rude to put people in the position of asking for invitations from a mutual friend, but what do you expect from a land where changing people’s heads into animal’s heads is acceptable behaviour? Once that’s considered fine behaviour, a bit social faux pas is hardly going to be on the inettiquette radar!

And then we have the senseless animal abuse, and a good allegory on the topic of disability. The Musicker man can’t help but make music, it was the way he was born. Think of something like a musical-orientated tourettes. He makes music and it is out of his control. Everybody shuns him and feels sorry for him. Nobody wants to be around him because of the music he can’t help making. He’s considered annoying. There’s no disguising the lack of acceptance, and they are cruel about it. It’s ableism at it’s most basic form. It is childhood classroom bullying and I couldn’t stand reading it.

I skipped a lot because the formula had well and truly worn thin by that point, and the ending was no different.

That was me done for Baum’s Oz series.

Read the series at your own risk.

 


A Failed Book Review: Handle With Care

Tuesday 12 January, 2016

Content Warning: This review mentions and in some cases goes into depth about eating disorders, self harm and rape. If these topics are upsetting or triggering to you, please stop here and either navigate to another post by the links on the right hand side, or exit the blog via your back button. A new post will be up in 2 week’s time and will replace this post as being the first to read should you wish to return.

Thank you very much and apologies for any inconvenience. If you’d like to contact me for any reason, please use the comments on this page to do so.

 

Handle With Care.

Handle with Care was published in 2009 and was written by the famous My Sister’s Keeper Author, Jodi Picoult. This novel, Handle with Care, is hard to describe and it’s only today that I realised why. This novel is meant to be about the difficult life of a young girl, called Willow, who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3 (Brittle Bones Disease), and how her parents are coping with having a disabled daughter (her sister: a disabled, younger sister). What this story is, like what any other story is when it concerns a disabled person, is more about how everyone around this disabled character deals with the disabled person’s existence (in this case Willow), and how their existence impacts on their own lives. This book is not so much about Willow, but those characters in the peripheral of Willow’s life. She is, arguably, both the main character and the most minor character in the book.

The main character, I would say, is her Mother, Charlotte, who tries to show that she cares the most about Willow, by suing the Ob/Gyn for wrongful birth.

And here’s some context as to why I read this book:

I hadn’t read Jodi Picoult before and I didn’t know all that much about My Sister’s Keeper. I knew the film was “a weepy”, and I tend to avoid those, so I didn’t know it was a book nor did I know the author’s name. But this book, Handle with Care, was recommended to me by my the mum of my friend, Laura.

My friend Laura, for those who don’t know, had Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3. Actually, according to her specialist, she had one of the most severest cases of it he’d ever seen. Unfortunately, after a serious bout of sickness related to her condition, she passed away back in October 2005, aged 20. It was with personal interest in mind that her Mum read the book, and then recommended it to me some years later. In her words, “Just so much of it’s like Laura”.

So, with high expectations but the understanding that any knowledge I had of OI, and the treatment of it, was second hand and might very well be outdated by now, I started reading. And for a good two thirds of it, I couldn’t put it down.
The story itself is pretty easy to follow, despite story switching POV between multiple characters, and random recipes and misplaced narrative throughout the book. Charlotte had her first daughter Amelia, then she married Sean O’Keefe and had her second daughter, Willow. Charlotte was best friends with Ob/Gyn Piper Reese, who became her and Sean’s go to doctor when they had trouble conceiving, and when their friendship somehow survived through all of that awkwardness and then some, she took on the natal care of Charlotte.

By the time Willow is five, which is when the novel really starts, where the real introduction to Willow happens, the O’keefe’s have mounting medical bills, money problems, a frustrated pre-teen daughter, and a super intelligent, intuitive younger disabled daughter who is being held back by her mobility problems and America’s general lack of understanding of severe disability.

I’m going to take this moment to say that I didn’t realise wheelchair services were so bad in America. Unless Picoult has used some artistic licence, I didn’t know that children had to wait so long between fittings for a suitable wheelchair. We’re not much better in the UK, especially now in the age of the post code lottery, but at least the wheelchairs are free, they tend to try and get things right, they’ve always provided children with chairs you can sort of adjust around their growth, and charities do always help where they can. Leaving a child of five to sit uncomfortable in a chair they got fitted in when they were a toddler, especially if it can be dangerous to their health and safety, would have been unheard of (until about 2010, when the wheelchair services all had their fundings cut. But that’s a post for another day!)

Back to the Book. This is when it starts to get a bit complicated, but I’m going to try and simplify it as much as possible. The O’keefe’s go to Disneyworld and Willow suffers from a bad fall (as is the unfortunate nature of Brittle Bones Disease) and both her thigh bones end up broken. The doctors at the local hospital check it over, but because the medical letter that explains Willow’s condition was accidentally left at home, they mis-read all of Willow’s breaks as abuse, and both Sean and Charlotte end up being arrested. Amelia ends up in guardian home for the night, under child protective custody, and poor Willow ends up in hospital, alone, in a spica cast.

Curiosity drove me forward in reading, but even at this early stage I was sitting there wondering how realistic this would be.

Knowledgewise, I was questioning whether it would be really possible for a child with OI type 3 to be put in a spica cast. I was put in a Spica cast following corrective surgeries on my legs when I was five, they’re not the easiest things to live with; And Laura couldn’t have any casts of any type put on her, ever, because they were more of a danger to her than helpful. They were so heavy, they would have caused breaks either side of the cast. And, a Spica cast can go almost all the way up to the chest, just one bump or wrong turn could have meant the spica cast digging the wrong way into a rib. I was left wondering if maybe things had progressed so much that this wasn’t actually a fatal risk anymore. I welcome comments to inform me either way!

Similarly, besides the bouts in her wheelchair, Willow could walk. If medical treatment and medication has come on leaps and bounds since Laura was a child, I’m happy to hear it, but you hardly ever heard of someone with OI Type 3 walking, even into the late 90s. I’m aware a friend of Laura’s could walk with crutchers, but he was a lot bigger than she was so I don’t think he had type 3. What many people with OI decide to do, is to have steel rods inserted into their long bones, so that their legs can bare weight. That was never an option for Laura, her bones wouldn’t have accepted the rods.

And talking of size… It has happened that the less severe forms of OI has been misdiagnosed as severe abuse, and probably does continue to happen. Because you’re looking at someone just a bit outside of the averages of height, weight, proportions and mobility. But with OI type 3, the person is very small. They have certain, unmistakable attributes to their physical appearance. I can understand these factors being overlooked twenty-five years ago, especially in a very young child up to toddler age, but it wouldn’t have taken them more than two seconds to see Willow’s body differed from that of an average child: Her body being a certain shape, the length of legs and arms not being in proportion to her torso or head, the whites of her eyes possibly being a blue-tinted colour, and a voice at a higher pitch than normal you’d find even on an able bodied child. With some conditions, you might not know what it is you’re being faced with, but you certainly know that, skeletally speaking, you’re looking at someone atypical. A child, yes, but an atypical child in physical appearance. Abuse wouldn’t explain low levels bone density or unusual calcium markers in the blood, and I would expect doctors, especially within the last decade, to check into these things before throwing the A word around.

It was one of many occurrences I found that Picoult depended on the sheer ignorance characters and readers alike to carry the plot along. (But hey, how else would the story drive forwards?)

Anyway, in the plot, once everything is sorted out and everyone’s released and free to go home, that leads to the O’keefes trying to sue  everyone involved in the events that lead to the mistreatment of the family. The lawyer says that’s a no go, but they should consider sueing the Ob/Gyn for wrongful birth. That is to say, sue the doctor overseeing Charlotte’s pregnancy for not figuring out that Willow had OI in time to give Charlotte the option to abort.

In other more specific words, blame and sue Piper for not giving her the option to abort Willow. Despite the fact that they’re catholics, abortion was never going to be an option as agreed by both Sean and Charlotte, and a late term abortion was in fact offered to and subsequently turned down by Charlotte.

Amelia develops bulimia, the sisterly relationship between the two daughters breaks even further, and eventually Charlotte’s drive to carry through with her plan causes a rift in her and Sean’s marriage.

 

It’s a very full on story, and the further long I read, the less sympathy I had for Charlotte. She didn’t see what she was doing to her family. Or she did, but she didn’t care. There was one bit where, because Piper’s husband is the small town Dentist, Amelia misses her appointments, because Charlotte refuses to take her, even though she was due to have her braces removed. That’s just cruel.

Willow was intelligent enough to pick up on what was going on, and there’s just no nice way to say “if I’d have aborted you, we wouldn’t be in so much debt” to a young child. There’s also no nice way to say “I do love you, but I didn’t ask for this and someone has to take the blame for that.”

Then there was the convention. Charlotte is confronted by a bunch of mothers who read about the court case in the news. Charlotte is actually angry for being confronted. Charlotte really doesn’t understand how lucky she has it, in comparison to other people. Meanwhile, Amelia’s wandering around the hotel the convention’s held in, pretending to have a lesser form of OI, and she picks up a boyfriend along the way.

Those are the parts I’d say that were written well, even if on the surface I didn’t particularly enjoy the plot. However, intermixed with these parts were really poor writing and plot devices that made me think Picoult’s editor had set a holiday response for their email saying “Whatever you’ve written, I’m sure it’s perfect! We’ll publish it in when I’m back!”

We’ve got the part where, following the removal of Spica Cast, Willow needs to exercise. How does an over protective mother encourage her reception aged daughter, who has a condition where just one fall can kill her, to exercise? She makes her to walk the end of the driveway, by herself, to collect the post (admittedly something she likes doing but still…) where any dubious adult could just come along, sweep her up and run off with her. The route to the mail box at the end of the driveway involves going past a pond that Willow has an attachment to, and not the adult logic of risk assessment. Between any of these points, she could fall and die, if not be abducted by the aforementioned dubious adult.

Holy Brain Fart, Batman!

(I later realised this was a Chekov’s Gun situation, but I’ll get back to that later.)

At one point Sean and Charlotte talk about Willow’s future, and I cringed at the ignorance. It’s very realistic for parents to suddenly realise what the future holds for a disabled offspring, but it’s very undermining to the plot when you have a character (in this case Sean) who are portraying themselves as masters of their daughter’s care, victims in the eyes of the law, prepared to do all that is needed to make sure their daughter’s life is lived as equally as possible… being disparaging about any aids she may need in the future. If it’s meant to add depth to the character, it doesn’t. It wreaks of short sightedness and narrowmindedness.

Then we’ve got the “let’s throw this in/blink if you miss it” rape. Yeah. Rape. Sean and Charlotte have a break in their relationship, and then from the point of view of Sean, they have awful sex that Charlotte didn’t want, where Sean’s main goal is making her hurt as much as her actions have hurt him. Deliberate hurtful sex without enthusiastic consent? That sounds like rape to me.

Then there’s the part where Willow selfs harms because she’s seen Amelia do it to herself. I’d say that this was the point where it felt like Picoult was dragging it passed the point where she should have ended the book. This didn’t just feel like a red herring, it felt tired. It felt like a way to allow the author to point to the book and say “No, see! It really IS about Willow!”, instead of having Willow be this sort of phantom main character that the story is meant to be about, but really isn’t.

There is also a conversation after Willow is hospitalised for self harming between Piper and Sean, because Piper is the only reasonable person in this book. She (rightfully) suspects that Amelia is self harming and suffering from bulimia, and thinks (knows) that’s where Willow “learnt” how to hurt herself. What does Charlotte do when Sean mentions that his information come from Piper? She has a go at him for talking to Piper, talking to the “enemy”. She’s got one daughter in the hospital, and another daughter suffering from serious emotional distress that has manifested into self harm and an eating disorder. But all she cares about is the case.

There’s the whole side plot involving the lawyer, Marin, who doesn’t like the case, because she was an unwanted child herself. I’m not sure what she really added to the story, but things got very contrived when one of the jurors turned out to be her birth mother. What are the actual chances?!

And then, the main big problem I had with the book. The ending.

Willow, once again, is a child who could die from a sneeze (No exaggeration, sneezes can break ribs, ribs can pierce lungs), and yet she is allowed to go outside, by herself, to look for Amelia. It’s cold, slippery winter weather. There’s that pond that she can’t resist going near, which her mother knows. And Yet! The over protective parent allows her to go, by herself, despite ALL of these dangers. Despite the long arsed court case that she’d just won, by saying how much she looks after her severely disabled daughter.

And what happens? Willow goes to the pond, the ice breaks suddenly, and she falls through into the freezing cold water and dies.

The epilogue involves a brief update on everyone. Sean and Charlotte are back together, Amelia’s in therapy, Charlotte placed the cheque she got from winning the case in the coffin with Willow, and Piper moves away and is never heard of again.

I was left so disappointed by the whole ending. Not because of the understandable “After all that!?” feeling I was left with, but because… I suppose, because there were more realistic ways for a person with OI to die, and Picoult chose that one!?

I went from wondering whether a child with OI Type 3 these days could actually walk, to wondering what sort of brain fart do you have to have to let your child, who could fall and die by slipping on ice (as any child could, but this is more so), go out by herself in icy weather?! You can only consider it in character because of the same brain fart earlier on, (Chekov’s brain fart alert!) and although it must have been planned out due to the previous incident of letting Willow out to the end of the drive and going missing by the pond, it just reads as a quick solution to bring about the end of the story.

There are natural complications with OI that a person can die of.

There are the usual risks anyone has in daily life where the risk of dying is increased due to the nature of the condition. For example, one day, Laura, aged 4 or abouts, was spinning happily around in a circle, in her wheelchair, and Almost cracked her head on the edge of a piano. She didn’t, luckily, but the point is, it could have happened and the outcome would have been devastating. An able-bodied child would probably just give themselves a concussion.

It feels, for the lack of a better word, disrespectful.

And then Piper… Piper just moves away!? I think that was another point of contention for me. It was written in a half unbiased, half sympathetic style directed at Charlotte, as if we should all see it her way. It was all very pragmatic towards Piper, a sort of “Well, what can you do? Someone has to answer for this child being disabled” attitude about it. There wasn’t much sympathy at all for a woman who not only did not cause Willow’s disability, by action or inaction, but also did everything right by the whole family, and still had her career ruined for it.

I’ve missed a lot of out, half because I can’t remember it, and half because I couldn’t be bothered going into those bits. There is so much to this story, from so many different points of views, it’s just difficult to go over.

I’ll give credit where credit’s due (although again, I wonder if this was from lack of research on Picoult’s part and not really through a deep understanding of disability), there was one good thing that came through over all. Many people don’t understand that disability can be a spectrum, and that mobility can and does change from day to day for many people. Sometimes there is a conscious choice involved over what “part” of your disability you have to consider most important, and allow the rest of yourself to suffer the fall out. For example, having to walk because a problem with your upper body doesn’t allow you to self propel, and then dealing with the pain in your legs from walking, which is the lesser of two evils in this scenario.

In this book, there is an understanding that when Willow’s health is best, she can walk and only needs her wheelchair for safety and speed. She also has a walker and other aids for bad days and an array of things for the worst days. Many people think that if you’re a wheelchair user, that’s it, you can’t walk. Nobody says to Willow’s parents, “Well, she could walk yesterday”, nobody asks why she doesn’t use walking aids all the time. It’s just understood she uses whatever she needs, whenever she needs to. That’s so unaccepted in today’s society that people have actually become afraid to stand up, lest they get abuse for it.

People who deal with fluctuating conditions are at least experienced in preparing for the worst but knowing that’s not always the case so do what they can on their good days. There needs to be more of that shown across all medias.

Although, preferably with accuracy and research, and not a research fail, which is what I suspect is the case here.

The remaining issue is: Was Willow like Laura?

Well, yes and no. Laura was a lot like Willow when she was that age. But, a lot of disabled children are, just like a lot of able boded children are similar. There’s just this amazing phenomenon where physically disabled children develop brilliant personalities that differ from their able bodied peers, and some are quick witted. In the book, it’s explained that children who can’t learn through physical play find solace in books and television, and they become intelligent because there’s this thirst to do everything and know everything, and if all they can do is read and watch television instead of, I dunno, play football and poke things, then they will quench that thirst with good interesting books and documentaries. And Laura did have a high reading age for her age and was interested in a lot of things. But Laura also did accessible sports, so, you know, same outcome, different processes.

Mostly, they just shared experiences. I may have been the one with the Spica cast, but Laura was the one going to hospital every few months and spending three days tied to an IV pump of pomedrominate (before they switched to tablets for Laura). Laura did have to go on holiday with letters from doctors, to prove she was fit to fly, to prove that her Mum knew what she was doing. Laura had fun getting fitted for a wheelchair in a way that the O’keefe’s were only aware of. She was mistaken more than once for a baby. Even at the age of 18, she had people mistaking her for a toddler, and sometimes her and her mum couldn’t tell if people were speaking down to her because they’d mistaken her for a child, or because of a terrible attitude towards disabled people (again, different process, same outcome). There’s only so many ways you can react to these life situations, and maybe that’s what feels so familiar.

But that stops, the characters all become their own beings… and it stops being an enjoyable read.

I gave this book a 2.5/5


The Sex Corner Or: How One Asexual Has Got Fed Up With The Usual Romantic Tropes and Sex Scenes In Books

Tuesday 20 October, 2015

Well, this is a post that goes well with Asexual Awareness Week!

I’m thinking of calling one corner of my room “The Sex Corner”.

No no no! Not like that! I’m not going all 50 Shades of Domestic Abuse Grey on everyone!

No. It’s one corner of my room where, in theory, I would throw, fling, chuck and lob books for containing Sex Scenes in otherwise interesting novels. Of course, I say “books”, but I can’t actually read physical books anymore, so I split my reading between my kindle and Audiobooks these days, and I can’t do anything to them because they’re expensive. And I doubt the insurance for the former includes “Damage by Asexual Rage”, and the latter belong to the library. And you should Never do anything to harm items from the library. (If you believe in such a place, there’s a special level of hell for people who damage items from the library, and it’s worse than the level reserved for people who talk at the theatre)

So anyway, instead, when applicable, I’ll write the titles down and then throw the them in the corner.

Why?

Because that’s where bad things belong, in the Naughty Corner. (You can groan if you life, it is a very tedious build up to a pun)

The first to go in there will be Solar by Ian McEwan, whose regular bouts of Sex scenes are jarring and off-putting. I get it, despite the main character (Michael Beard) not having much to offer, the man’s a womaniser and he had women eating out of his  hand, and everyone loves him. And how else was the author to prove that but with graphic descriptions!?

But, despite any contrived exposition that lead to these scenes happening, I don’t really get why the Sex scenes themselves are needed for the reader. Was it so the reader could believe these things happened to the character? A sort of “pics or it didn’t happen” thing, but in literary form? The first few felt like they were thrown in there for the Shallow Shock Value. Here’s an ageing man still having Sex. La gasp shock!! Surely a sum up line confirming that fact could have done the same job, if it was really, really needed. What I’m saying is, this went in to the Nth degree… and I’m not quite sure why.

Michael Beard is a scientist failing at his job, which is what caught my attention in the first place, so I’d have much rather it focused on that aspect. But, Oh no! We need a one hundred word description of what he looks like naked and, not to put too fine a point on it, failing to go? Really? Repeatedly through the book…? Okay then…

I know. I know what you’re thinking. I should have pitched the title across the room when I first ran into problems. I would have saved myself from having to hear the graphic description of indigestional distress, and then much later, sitting puzzled after the rushed epilogue-styled ending, if I had.

I just don’t get what McEwan thought it added to the story. I skipped as much as I could (a feat that deserves a medal when you’re dealing with audiobooks), and it made no difference to what I felt was the essence of the plot development. I still saw and understood how Michael Beard was a failure of a husband, father, scientist, lover, and an all around human being. And if, despite taking out the over-tired scenes of a sexual nature, those things remained obvious, then having them in, in the first place, obviously added nothing.

Right? So, belatedly in the Corner it goes!

###

The second to be thrown in the Sex Corner is Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Like Solar, there is a Sex Scene early on in the story. I compelled myself to skip on by and carry on. This book was recommended to me by a friend, so it can’t be all bad, right?

Wrong! From there, there was then the poor writing and narrative, and a pretty ridiculous romance. I should have given up whilst I was ahead!

The ridiculous romance went like this: Female Character (Alice) meets Male Character (Will). They’d met once before and  spent four hours or so in each others company working on a mutual project. Later in the evening of the day they meet again, danger hits. Alice tries to ask if they’re safe, once it looks like the danger has passed. What does Will do? He doesn’t actually answer the question, be just strokes her face. And then the danger returns.

A similar thing happens later on in the book, too. What does Handsy McRomeo do that time? Oh he just kisses her whilst she’s mid-question.

Yeah, Juliet, sod your safety concerns. His need to kiss you comes first. Sorry love. I’m sure you don’t mind!

Bonus? He spends days after those four hours being knocked out, waking up pining over her, and then getting knocked out again. What a guy! What a Romance!

Then there’s the sex scenes. Were they necessary? I mean, were they really necessary? I know i’m biased here, but considering there’s other parts of the story were the author just skimmed over a summary when more detail would have been appreciated, I really don’t see why a sum up of an extra marital affair couldn’t have done the same job.  It’s not just that her writing was all over the place, the decisions she made on what was kept in and what was skimmed over made no sense.

So, belatedly in the Corner that goes too.

###

Thirdly, a book I actually gave up on, lest I repeat the same mistake a third time.

Dead Air by Ian M Banks. Different Ian, virtually the same protagonist. Or antagonist, really, seeing as the main character describes himself as Professional Contraryman. This is the story of a “Shock Jockey” who gets paid to go out of his way to offend everyone. I attempted to skip through four Sex Scenes, but I got fed up of playing “Guess The Plot Beyond the Minefield” , and imagined myself pitching the CD Case across the room.

And that’s what I’m going to do from now on. You know, people say to people like me “Don’t like, don’t read”, and I don’t think people appreciate how much we would remove from our everyday life if we sex-repulsed asexuals intentionally went out of our way to avoid or removed all things Sex related.

Well, to show just part of it:

TSC1

I don’t like, so I’m not going to read anymore.

Watch this space for more Sex Corner Updates.

AFJ: Arranging titles artistically so that you don’t have to.

 


Shake the dust off, I’m back!

Wednesday 10 October, 2012

Hello, A Failed Journalist here and I am now officially announcing my hiatus Over!

Yeah, yeah, don’t all cheer at once. I had a tedious task to do, but it’s finally done and now I can get back to business being a twenty-something Failed Journalist.

First of all, I haven’t done much with the place since I moved everything over here, so I’ll be checking to make sure it looks good everywhere and that nothing’s broken, all links and settings are polished and doing their job. I’ll be making a page about my self-inflicted LoveFilm Watch and Review Challenge, and then McFly have released a biography called “Unsaid Things”, so I’ll be writing about that, and then Asexuality Awareness Week is sort of back… and that’s just all in October!

So, yeah, Watch This Space as they say.

Thank you for reading!

-AFJ-


Asexuality Awareness – Part 3

Friday 28 October, 2011

Today is the 5th Day of Asexuality Awareness Week. If Asexuality Awareness Week is like the Working Week, then today is also the Final Day of Asexuality Awereness Week. I believe that a week ends on a Sunday, and a new week starts on a Monday, so therefore, as far as I’m concerned, today is the 5th Day of Asexuality Awareness Week, but it isn’t the Final Day. That’d be Sunday.

And now we’ve got that trivial matter out of the way, I am free to share more pearls of wisdom with you concerning Asexuality.

So what’s on the cards today? The Portrayal of Asexuality Within Popular Culture.

I’m going to be honest here, we don’t get much representation on TV. I can think of three well known people who are said to be Asexual, and two of them are fictional.

The first is Sheldon Cooper, the super genius from The Big Bang Theory who is riddled with autistic-like behaviours and obsessive compulsive disorders. In the first two series, he was shown as not having any interest in anyone on a romantic-based relationship level. Considering the way he treats his friends, it’s sometimes hard to believe he’s maintained friendships. From what i’ve noticed, he sees things as “Scientifically Relevant”, “Relevant to his interests or well being” and “Irrelevant”. He has changed over time and now he even has a “girlfriend”, who from where I saw upto, he referred to as “a friend who was a girl”.

Now, I know that asexuals can have relationships. Some asexuals even have sex. I have said this. Sheldon being in a relationship isn’t the problem. It’s the attitude towards him being in a relationship and the rest of his character. At first, I really liked Sheldon and then, I don’t know, as the series went on, I just felt more and more like he was giving Asexuals a bit of a bad name. Or at least helping bad stereotypes.

It’s his idiosyncracies that might not be related to Autism, it’s his problems understanding people and relationships and it’s this idea that if he is and since he has been in a relationship, he’ll “get more normal”. It’s the idea that, because Sheldon is alone in his quirky little world, he’s missing out on something and this relationship with Amy, that’s the character’s name, is going to make him realise that and “fix” everything. I really like the actor who plays the character, but even he has said some things in interviews that have got to me. I just feel like all these things, together, make Asexuality seem like some sort of disorder.

Isn’t it bad enough that people think that a lack of interest in sex and relationships is an indicator of depression?

The second is Sherlock Holmes. ACD never used the word “Asexual”, to my knowledge, but he very much said that Holmes showed no interest in people in a romantic sense. He had no time for them. People were tools to get to the important thing, the crimes and the understanding of how and why crimes were done. He was pretty much an early day Criminalist with a love of Chemistry. The only people who “caught his attention” one way or another, even outside of the cases and the drug use, were John Watson, the only person who Sherlock Holmes considered close enough intellectually to him for him to be considered a friend and a colleague, and Irene Adler. The One Woman who bested him. People can see this as a romantic thing,  and it is up for interpretation. I see it this way:

In the era Sherlock Holmes is set, Women were still second class citizens. Adler was your average woman, who just happened to be a common criminal. She wasn’t a mastermind. There is cleverness in the incredibly simple, and someone so smart like Holmes was bound to overlook the simple things. He is so used to people trying to best him by raising the bar higher than he has set himself, he never anticipated someone reaching lower. So someone of average intelligence getting the upper hand was a big punch to his ego, the fact that it was a woman doubly so. So she became The Woman. The only one worth his attention.

Yes, it’s such a cliche that arch-enemies of opposite gender are just so full of hatred for each other, it’s actually pure attraction. But Sherlock Holmes? I don’t see that trope, myself.

Now there’s a modern remake of Sherlock Holmes and I have to say, I absolutely love it. And moreso, Sherlock implies right in the first episode that he holds no interest in romantic relationships. His actual words are “Girlfriends? Not really my area”, he doesn’t have a boyfriend, and he considers himself “Married to his work”. Later on he says he’s a High Functioning Sociopath, but I honestly reckon that’s a misdiagnosis, self-diagnosis, and/or a complete great wall of China to keep people away. You’d be surprised at how often people of high intellect see a pattern and develop one of their own in reaction to protect themselves. When you’re a genius who probably got mocked and ostracised by everyone, have enough understanding of people to manipulate them but have no personal experience to uphold relationships, you’re probably going to find it difficult to work with people. People who seem to direct their intelligences in different ways. (Apart from John Watson, who can just about keep-up)

And honestly, some of the facial expressions and pauses pretty much shoot the idea that he’s a “high-functioning sociopath” right out the window for me.

Now, I have been asked what the difference is between Sheldon and Sherlock for me to like one portrayal of Asexuality and not the other. The simple answer is this:

Even Sheldon’s friends try to change Sheldon, and Sheldon doesn’t seem to do himself any favours in that respect. There is a lot more focus on how weird, quirky and riddled with disorders he is, it makes me feel like they’re saying “Sheldon is asexual BECAUSE of the rest of the way he is.” Where as with Sherlock, I don’t get anything like that from those portrayals. Sherlock doesn’t abhore company, touch or even other people, he just hates idiots and stupid mistakes and people who can’t see what is obvious to him. Watson might try and help ground Sherlock, he is certainly a liason between The Rest of The World and Sherlock Holmes, but rolls with the punches. Holmes says something callous, and Watson understands WHY he’s said it. He probably won’t agree, he might try to tell Holmes it’s not acceptable behaviour, but he still treats Sherlock with respect and kindness. And most of all, when relationships become a focus within the stories, the films and the shows, I get the feeling that they’re saying “Sherlock is a genius who can’t stand idiots. He is ALSO Asexual.” They are not connected. It somehow, very subtly, seems to have a very good positive look on Asexuality, without explicitly saying so.

The third person I know of that’s said to be is Lady Gaga. I have no opinions what so ever on her portrayal of an Asexual to the public eye. If she is asexual, then she seems at least to be a sex-positive one. The problem I have, to be honest, is… she’s a very big attention seeker and she says a lot of stuff in interviews that seem to be said just for shock value. Here is this provocatively dressed singer, sings about relationships with people… saying she’s asexual. It doesn’t add up, but maybe that’s a good thing. Stops some stereotypes or pre-conceived ideas in their tracks. But she reminds me of this friend I once had who was a compulsive liar. He always wanted attention and he would come out with the thing that would give him the most attention at that time. For a while, he was openly gay. Asexuality is something that is gaining in visibility. I wouldn’t say it’s an “In-thing”, but more and more people are becoming aware of it and though they might not know anyone, they recognise that it is something that a lot of people are and know that it’s sometimes considered a “controversial issue”, due to people being disbelieving about it.

So being a famous singer who thrives on getting attention for being “out of the oridnary”, what could make you seem more out of the ordinary? Why, being part of a minority that is just gaining awareness. It’s passed the “Whaaaaat is that?” phase, it’s moved onto the “We’ve heard about it, but we don’t believe it” stage and it’s just the perfect time for someone to voice their asexuality without too much of a backlash. If you’re a famous person anyway. There’s always good lawyers on their side…

And if she isn’t really asexual, I think we as a minority sexuality could face a very big backlash. We are, comparitively, in the stages homosexuality was in the 70s and 80s.

And that’s all I have to say for today. I welcome discussion on this entry and anything I’ve said, but I can’t actually reply to comments individually, so please keep checking back for responses on future updates.


Mis-Communication

Saturday 30 July, 2011

I shall tell you all a story… with no twist in it’s tale whatsoever.

No. This tale practically goes nowhere, and barely highlights any points, morally or otherwise, i’d even attempt to make.

I once had a friend who liked Paul Bettany. For those who don’t know who that is, he’s an actor. IMDB him. She liked him a fair amount, but not obsessively so. She had your average fangirl-esque crush on him, without the wall sized posters on the walls. Whenever she mentioned him, I’d repeatedly ask “And who’s that again?”.

She’d reply “He’s the guy in Wimbledon!” and I’d just kind of look at her, sometimes doing the plane-over-the-head motion with accompanied sound affect. I’m not one for RomComs. Then sometimes she’d say “He was in A Knight’s Tale! He was the naked one!”

Which, if I didn’t already have it down in my “No” pile, pretty much secured it’s place there. Naked people? Big No for me.

At various points during our friendship, I’d mention a film I kind of liked called Gangster Number 1. “I don’t know who the main guy is, but he’s really blonde!” I’d say. She had no interest in seeing it because, well, British Gangster Films weren’t really her area. Fine by me, I don’t like RomComs.

Shortly before our friendship was well and truly drying up, she put Wimbledon on her computer one night when I slept over, as something we could fall asleep to. I must have seen some of it, because I’m an insomniac and wouldn’t have fallen asleep so early in the film not to remember any of it, but there we have it. I don’t remember any of it. Was he naked in that too? I might have been too traumatised to remember it, if that’s the case.

Either way, I didn’t register the character in my mind and still at that point, the name Paul Bettany meant little or even nothing to me.

Fast forward three years later. For a few years at that point, my parents had raved about a film called Master and Commander. The first time I watched it, I saw a very bad bit in it and took an instant disliking to it. After a while and much insistence from my parents, I read up on it and found that it had quite a lot in common with a favourite series of mine called Hornblower.

In fact it wasn’t just a coincidence, the books were inspired by the book series of Hornblower, and the movie was influenced in the way of set design, costumes and naval interactions that the books didn’t cover, by the television series.

So I watched it a second time. I like Age of Sail, I like Hornblower and i’d already learnt from another film that one bad bit of a movie does not a full opinion make. And, well, I loved it. It is now a firm favourite of mine.

But the second time I watched it, I spent a good twenty minutes wondering where the hell I’d seen the doctor from. I recognised his face a teeny tiny bit but he just looked too different from anything in my memory to put a name to his face. So I IMDB’d him.

Paul Bettany. Did the name ring a bell? Not really, no. I mean there was something there, in the back of my mind, tinkling a little bit, but it was no Fire Alarm. And somehow my mind failed to register the words “Wimbledon” and “A Knight’s Tale” on the list, so my mind was still floundering until I caught “Gangster No. 1”.

Even to this day I still have no Idea how he went from The Super Blonde, Couch Obsessed, Shifty Looking Gangster to The Auburn Haired, Soft Spoken, Gentle Yet Dangerous, Fighting Naturalist, Doctor Stephen Maturin. My mind? It was boggled.

Then I watched the movie again and I was sat there thinking “Paul Bettany…” and suddenly, that name had too many familiar leaves to it in my tree-like brain to only be from Gangster No. 1. Yes, I did like that film, Yes I did mention that film a few times. But there was something more to his name. This is how my mind works.

So I IMDB’d him again and spotted A Knight’s Tale. And then it hit me! I recognised his face from Gangster No. 1, but I knew his name from my old friend! That’s why the name was more of a bigger deal than his face. I never put The Super Blonde Gangster together with the name Paul Bettany, cos I never found out his name. Or if I did, it never registered with me.

Sometimes I am oblivious, it happens.

Fast Forward 8 months later. I happen to be working my way through films that Alan Tudyk is in. Alan Tudyk, of Firefly and Death at a Funeral fame, is in A Knight’s Tale. Well, with a nice mixture of actors such as Alan Tudyk, Paul Bettany and Heath Ledger, and a few years between the first watching and that moment in time, I decided to go for it. I already found a new favourite film in Master and Commander, right? So maybe I was wrong with A Knight’s Tale upon first watch.

More accurately, I was 14 years old and looking forward to either the Summer or Christmas Holidays so much that when the opportunity arose to leave the classroom after the register was taken, I took it and left the room after the first five minutes.

Even by my standards, that’s not giving it much of a chance.

Well, one thing to be noted, Paul Bettany is very much naked a couple of times in that film. Oh, you don’t see much by Offensive Standards, no. Just a little bit too much by my own. If Paul Bettany was a little less naked in that film, i’d give it a 10 out of 10.

Which kind of proves some sort of point. Sometimes, I should listen to my friends when they rave about films (or particular actors from films) I might like. More often than not, they’ll be wrong, but sometimes it’s worth humoring them. And I only say that because in my experience, More Often Than Not, they are wrong. I know what I like and I have no intention of broadening my horizons.

I’ve spent 22 years disliking most RomComs and films where characters are terminally ill. That’s not going to change, because the messages and ideologies of these films equally aren’t going to change. But that’s a rant for another entry.

So yeah. Three cheers for Paul Bettany, IMDB and Friendships of the past.