Sunday, November 23, 2014

Diving In

Diving In (Open Door Love Story, #2)
Diving In

By Stacey Wallace Benefiel


Contemporary romance.  Brynn Garrett finds it hard to fit in anywhere.  She tends to opt for the road with speed humps and pot holes.  Trying to avoid a party she decides to hang out on its fringes and see something that effects her deeply and never really gets over.  

While all her school colleagues head off to new adventurous lives at college, Brynn decides to learn the ropes of her family's dry cleaning business.  Her life is lonely and insular until a mishap befalls Gabe Riley's mother's table cloth and a wonderful relationship develops.

I loved this book.  It is a quick read for starters.  The comedy factor is very fresh and nothing is off limits in this regard.  The characters are fully formed and very likeable.  There are a few issues that are revealed which make you think and challenge yourself as to "what would I do?"

I found it highly devy, the level of his injury isn't mentioned but his hands are affected so I would assume that he is a low level quadriplegic.  The author isn't squeamish to go into the details.  Gabe is fantastic and realistic not a depressed character but also not a Pollyanna.  There isn't much sex in the book.  But there is a wonderful build up which has you biting your duvet cover in frustration.

It is one of those books you just wish you could wipe your memory and re-read a fresh again and again.  It is a crime that it has been sitting on my Kindle untouched for so long.  This book isn't going to solve world peace but it sure as heck will entertain you for a few nights.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Imagine (2012)



This indie film came out in 2012, a French-Polish-Portuguese co-production written and directed by Andrezj Jakimowski. It's about a maverick teacher at an ophthalmology clinic in Portugal who wants to teach the patients there to use echolocation rather than a cane to get around.

Ugh, where to start on this one..... I found watching this film an intensely frustrating experience. On the one hand, the sound design and cinematography are stunning--so beautiful and thoughtful about representing the blind experience. And almost all the secondary characters are played by blind people. But on the other hand, the plot (such as it is) is ludicrously inaccurate and insulting both to blind people and their teachers. And true to the art-house style, nothing much happens. It's unbearably slow and the ending is inconclusive.

A title at the very beginning dedicates the film to Ben Underwood, the teenager who was briefly famous for using echolocation. But it seems Jakimowski did little more than watch a 10 minute TV special on Underwood and created the rest of the story without any sort of research or mundane, boring realism. Yes, echolocation is a real thing and some blind people can do it, even to the extent of not using a cane. Underwood wasn't the only one; there are records of people doing this for hundreds of years. And yes, it probably could be taught more systematically.

But the way it's handled in this film is utterly ridiculous. Rather than a thoughtful look at real issues facing blind people, the plot relies entirely on the hackneyed trope of the crazy, rule breaking teacher who actually wants to help the kids, man, versus the stuffy, hidebound professor who is only interested in safety and breaking the kids' spirits.

And what kind of place is this, anyway? Set in a monastery in Portugal, it's repeatedly referred to as a clinic, not a school, and the kids are called patients, not students. It's a random collection of blind people from very young kids to adults, and from random countries all mixed up for no apparent reason. They aren't given medical treatment or taught anything. They seem to spend most of their time sitting around inside doing nothing, waiting for a doctor who never talks to them, and they are forbidden from going outside the walls without an army of helpers. There are also other random sighted people living there (including a monk). Even the very first schools for the blind in Europe and America over 150 years ago were better set up than this, and had more progressive ideas about education for the blind.

So maverick teacher Ian (Edward Hogg) tries to shake things up, but his lessons mostly consist of sitting around the courtyard outside and sitting around doing nothing inside, only occasionally practicing pouring water into a glass. "It's hard," he intones tragically, as the children spill the water everywhere. Really? I imagine the blind kids in that scene were embarrassed to pretend to be so incompetent on camera, especially the smart-ass British girl. She would have been awesome in Harry Potter, but that's another story.

Of course Ian and his love interest Eva (played by German actress Alexandra Maria Lara) are played by AB actors faking it. And while the students are all played by blind kids, it's telling that almost none of them have names, personalities or back stories. The camera lingers voyeuristically over their faces as they move dramatically from shadow to light (hello cliche!) but ultimately they're just symbols, not real people. The only exception is an older student played by Melchior Derouet, an awesome French actor who is really blind. He is just as talented as the leads, and far more interesting to watch. The film (or parts of it anyway) is worth watching just for him.

The other really insulting thing is the way Ian is so against using a cane. This is inane ableism at its worst, the idea that using a piece of adaptive equipment you actually need makes you a cripple and a target of ridicule, like you're giving in to the disability. I see this in a lot of misinformed novels about SCI, where the main character does everything he can not to "give in" to the wheelchair in a triumph of the spirit. Sorry, real life does not work that way. Yes, there are some blind people who don't use canes, but to have the main theme of the movie that the kids should throw away their canes in order to be free is ridiculous.

The teacher Ian clashes both with the head doctor who thinks his no-cane method is dangerous, and with the students/patients who think he is faking or lying to them. But despite this ready-made conflict, the plot never goes anywhere. At first the atmospheric scenes are nice, but they just meander on forever. None of the characters' motives are clear either; the characterization is as indistinct as the plot.

Now I am the kind of obsessive dev who will watch hours of Orientation and Mobility videos on YouTube, but even I was bored with this movie by about halfway through, and it's only an hour and forty minutes. This was such a wasted opportunity. I'm still waiting for a movie with an actual blind actor in the main role and that is more than just a bundle of centuries old cliches and misconceptions.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Love In Touch

Love In Touch
by Lucy May Lennox


Love In Touch involves a relationship between a woman named Kassie and a deaf/blind man named Jake.  I've never read a book about a person who was blind and deaf before, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Lennox's book.  I was actually very skeptical.  I couldn't figure out how there could be a believable romance between an able-bodied woman and a man who can't see or hear.

Well, Lennox has made me a believer.

Jake is not only believable as a love interest for Kassie, he is drop dead sexy.  I'm not even a dev of deaf or blind guys, but I can still attest to several devvy thrills throughout this short, sweet novel.  The romance progresses slowly, but all seems very genuine.  I was really rooting for Jake and Kassie to end up together throughout the many obstacles that come between them.

A novel like this has the potential to get sappy or condescending, but there isn't a trace of that in Lennox's book.  The dialogue is snappy and it's obvious she has a great sense of humor.  Jake is a real person with real flaws, and not just some tragic hero.  It's also clear that Lennox did a lot of research to make the plot realistic.

I guarantee that you have never and will never read another book like this for the rest of your life.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blind Trail

Blind Trail

by Mark Bannerman


Western. Narrated in the first person, the story starts a few months after Raoul Webster has been blinded in the line of duty. On his way to visit a doctor in San Francisco, his stage coach is attacked by bandits and his brother is killed. Vowing to take revenge, Raoul makes several forays into Apache country and then into Mexico. He also encounters Geronimo and stumbles into several real historical incidents along the way.

The writing is competent and there is a wealth of historical detail, but still the story didn't fully grab me. Part of the problem is that because the story takes place so soon after Raoul loses his sight, he isn't able to do much more than tag along as things happen around him. He doesn't really do much until the very last scene. The depiction of his blindness is pretty realistic, which is commendable, since not all authors can pull off a blind narrator believably. Also there was a moment with the doctor when it seemed like a miracle cure was going to happen, but it didn't, so no worries there. But it just wasn't that devvy to me--he's just too passive.

There's also a good bit of romance, but be warned this is a Western, not a romance novel. And the girl he falls for is also so passive as to be almost a non-entity. It's hard to care much about either of them.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Thalidomide Kid

Thalidomide Kid
by Kate Rigby


Set in small-town England in the 1970s. Daryl Wainwright is the Thalidomide Kid--the youngest in a family of delinquents and petty criminals, he was born without arms, his hands attached directly to his shoulders, because his mother took Distaval when she was pregnant. Celia Burkett is the quiet younger daughter of the local comprehensive school assistant head. They meet at the end of primary school and become unlikely best friends. As they continue to comprehensive school (middle & high school) their friendship blossoms into love.

Despite the title, the book is as much about Celia as it is about Daryl. She feels stifled by her role as the assistant head's daughter, and all the expectations that brings, from her classmates, teachers, and family. Her father does not want Celia hanging around with Daryl, not because of his disability, but because of his low-class, criminal background. He can't see what Celia does, that Daryl's goofy, joking exterior hides great inner strength and integrity. But if Celia can't be with Daryl, she will find other ways to rebel.

I really enjoyed this book, even though it's a bit heartbreaking. The details of the time and place are good, and the writing is terrific, a gritty style that depicts the early teen years without sentimentality. There is a lot of British slang, but if you've ever watched British TV shows or read Harry Potter it's easy to understand. The awkward romance between Daryl and Celia is very sweet and moving.

I found the dev factor pretty high, although there could have been more scenes explaining how Daryl does things. Celia is definitely attracted to him because of his disability. Recommended!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Blind Blondie

Blind Blondie

by Scarlet Blackwell


Contemporary M-M romance/erotica. Sam is an artist and a heartless player who is not interested in a relationship. One day while he's out cruising in his car, he picks up Kieran, a blind hottie, and allows Kieran to think he's a taxi. Kieran is not amused. They are not off to a good start. Sam has no intention of getting involved with someone with a disability who needs his help. Kieran doesn't want any help, certainly not from Sam. But somehow Sam can't stop thinking about Kieran, and trying to get close to him.

This is more a short story than a novel, but I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Sam is a jerk, but a self-aware jerk, and his journey towards becoming a better person is endearing. Kieran is great, a winning mix of independent and vulnerable. His blindness is depicted fairly realistically, and the author manages to avoid the major cliches of blind characters. The sex scenes were good, sensual without too much purple prose, and there's a good balance of sex vs character development. I just wish it were a little longer, as the ending was a bit rushed.
And it's super devvy! The author really knows what details to include. A fair number of her other books seem to feature injured or disabled guys.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Passion Wears Pearls

Passion Wears Pearls

by Renee Bernard


Victorian-era romance. Eleanore Beckett is a prim and proper middle-class young lady fallen on hard times. Josiah Hastings is a frustrated painter, slowly losing his sight. When he runs into Eleanore by accident, he realizes that with her bright red hair, she is the colorful muse he must paint before he goes blind. But being an artist's model is not proper employment for a modest young lady.  How can he convince her his intentions are honorable? And what if she secretly wants him to take liberties with her?

I wanted to like this story, but I just couldn't get into it. If you are looking for a "wounded hero" romance this does not really fit the bill.  Josiah worries a lot about losing his sight, but his worsening vision does not actually impact his activities (except in his mind) until the very end, when he suddenly, with no preparation or training, develops magical blind person skills. He can "do things no sighted man could"! What nonsense. Eleanore catches on to his condition early, in a bit of clunky exposition, but never acts on or thinks about that knowledge until the very end. Even then, her only advice to him is to keep painting, even if he has to put his nose to the canvas to see it. Uh, way to help him adapt. There just wasn't enough character development for either of them dealing with his blindness to make for a satisfying read. Dev factor was almost zero.

I found the hero and heroine rather flat. Eleanore's big conflict is whether to give up propriety and give in to her desire for Josiah. But since it is a foregone conclusion that she will, it doesn't add much tension to the plot to have her agonize over this for pages and pages.

The quality of the writing is average for a romance novel, and the plot is strictly by the numbers. The historical details are pretty good, although there are several jarring lapses into modern language. There is a LOT of sex, so much so that it seemed more like erotica than a romance, as character development and forward momentum of the plot were often sacrificed to long sex scenes in purplish prose. All in all, I found it rather dull.