Sunday, October 30, 2011
by Emlyn Chand
Young adult romance/supernatural featuring a blind teen by a new, self-published author. Alex Kosmitoras, who was born blind, is having a hard time. He's bullied and picked on by the other kids at his high school, and doesn't have any friends. His father is unemployed, and seems unhappy with his blind son. His mother dotes on him, but for a teenage boy, that's almost worse. But at the start of his sophomore year in high school, he makes friends with two new girls in his class, Simmi and Shapri. At the same time, though, he starts having visions of terrible things happening to his friends. Shapri's mother, a professional psychic who runs a fortunetelling shop, tells him he has a gift he needs to learn to use. But will he master his visions in time to save his friends?
This is an unusual book, in part because Alex is the first-person narrator. I have read dozens of books about blind people, but except for autobiography, I can't think of a single one that is narrated from the blind person's point of view. That alone makes it a devo-friendly read. It's a brave and original choice by the author, and she mostly pulls it off, but there are some slips. In several places Alex describes things going on around him that he could not know about, just little things like a gesture someone makes, but it was enough to be distracting. There are also some details that felt off to me. Instead of nodding yes, Alex snaps his fingers. Ok, I'm sure that's possible, but I have met many blind people and no one I have met does anything like that. There are a few discrepancies with Braille too. In one scene, Alex shows Simmi one of his Braille textbooks, and says the first word is "the" but anyone good enough at Braille to use it for schoolwork would be using level 3, which has abbreviations for common words like "the." It isn't spelled out the way it's described in the book. Also a single school textbook would run for many volumes in a Braille edition--it's very big and bulky. You can't just carry Braille books around in a backpack. But those are minor details.
On the other hand, I really liked the way Alex's "visions" were described. When I first read the plot description, I was afraid he would regain his sight in some fake magical way, or that he would just be used as a symbolic character. The blind seer, how trite. But it isn't like that at all. Alex "sees" the future the same way he encounters the rest of his world, that is, with his other senses. It's particularly confusing for him, and he often can't tell if what he's hearing is the present or the future. I found this quite original and interesting. And he's clearly a fully rounded character, not just a symbolic stand-in.
Overall I found this a fun read. Alex is an appealing and unusual character, and his growing feelings for both Simmi and Shapri are depicted in a very sweet way. I found the supernatural elements less satisfying than the romance, though. It takes a long time for that part of the story to get developed, and by the time it does, I found myself wishing we could just get back to the high school romance parts, since they were more nuanced and intriguing. The change in tone from romance to action is rather abrupt, as is the change in Alex's relationship with his father, which was not that convincing.
Also be warned, this is the first book in a series, so while the ending concludes some things, not everything is wrapped up. Also note that the next book will not be narrated from Alex's point of view, which is too bad, although presumably he will be in it.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Short TV series starring Clive Owen about a police detective, Ross Tanner, who is gradually losing his sight. Devo Girl was reluctant to watch this one for a long time because 1) he's not totally blind and 2) the premise of hiding his condition and trying to "pass" is inherently silly and annoying.
However, I am glad I finally put aside my misgivings, because this is a well-done and engaging show, with some good devo moments. There are only 4 episodes, each just under 2 hours. The cases are all complex and interesting, if a bit overly convoluted at times. Tanner's condition is somewhat poorly defined (and I'm not convinced they didn't just make it up), but he seems to suffer from a combination of blind spots, distorted vision, occasional hallucinations and vertigo. The first few episodes do a good job of showing his point of view, and showing him feeling around, but by the end the directors seem to put less effort into that part of the story, which is strange, since the ongoing tension is about him keeping his worsening condition a secret. It seems to end very abruptly, but it's still fun while it lasts. There's even some romance in the first two episodes, and hey, Clive Owen is a handsome man, even if he only acts blind about a quarter of the time.
The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn
by Colin Dexter
This is an Inspector Morse mystery, better known for the BBC TV adaptation. The setting is the Foreign Examination Board at Oxford University. In a tiny corner of academia, a select few scholars toil away to create the A level and O level exams to be taken by foreign students seeking admission to British universities. It's a rarified, secretive little world, somewhat disrupted by the recent, controversial hiring of Nicholas Quinn, who is partially deaf. When he is discovered dead, poisoned at home, it's up to Inspector Morse and his assistant Lewis to solve the crime.
Now knowing that the deaf character is the one murdered, one can tell from the outset this isn't going to be a great piece of dev-friendly fiction. But in fact it takes quite a while for the murder to happen; he does get some interesting scenes and character development. My bigger problem with this book (written in 1977) is the dated attitudes towards disability, and toward women. The opening scene where they discuss whom to hire is just painful, and what's worse, the narrator seems to share the prejudiced attitudes of the characters. They worry that Quinn won't be able to function effectively in the office, and in fact, he doesn't. It's never explained how or when he lost his hearing, although it seems to be recent and getting worse. He is a genius at lipreading (of course) but lacks any other coping skills. Women are treated even worse, dismissed immediately as frumpy, clueless matrons or shameless tarts undeserving of consideration.
The mystery is of a very old fashioned sort, basically it boils down to solving the puzzle of who was where at what time. And of course Quinn's lipreading figures into all of it, so once again his disability is really more of a plot device than any sort of character development.
This story was adapted for TV, although Devo Girl has not watched it yet.
UPDATE: Devo Girl has now watched the BBC adaptation. In some ways, it's better than the book because it leaves out the nasty sexism etc. But Quinn is killed right at the beginning, he's only in the opening scene, so devo appeal is pretty much zero.
It also seems that the author based this book partially on his real life. He was forced to quit teaching because he started losing his hearing, then took up a job writing exams for Oxford, like in the book. I'm sure he experienced the kind of blatant discrimination Quinn suffers in the book, but it's a bit disappointing Quinn isn't portrayed more positively or given more character development.
by Carla Damron
This is a very different kind of mystery, one that hinges on human relationships rather than puzzle-solving. The main character, Caleb Knowles, is a social worker, a sensitive guy, not the usual hard-bitten professional detective.
Caleb's older brother Sam has been deaf since a motorcycle accident at age sixteen. He's also an accomplished sculptor. The story begins when Sam's fiancee Anne, also deaf, is found bludgeoned to death at their home with one of Sam's sculptures. Since he was home at the time, Sam is the prime suspect. In shock, Sam shuts down emotionally and won't cooperate with the investigation, so it's up to Caleb to try to solve the mystery and clear his brother, while still maintaining his caseload and keep his clients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression from sinking into drug addiction or suicide.
The depiction of deafness in this book is much more realistic. Sam can read lips and speak, but he prefers to use ASL, which Caleb also knows. He does get some interesting character development, as does Anne, who was congenitally deaf and did not speak. The one thing that really bothered me is that part of the mystery supposedly hinges on the fact that Anne is found with her hands making the ASL sign for NO. How is that even possible? Wouldn't the hands instantly relax at the moment of death? The depiction of mental illness in Caleb's clients, though, is very keenly observed and realistic.
Still, dev appeal for me was only moderate. Sam is very handsome and appealing, but because he remains so emotionally closed off, he remains a secondary character. There are several more novels by the same author, in which Caleb and Sam team up to solve more murders, that might be worth checking out.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
I started reading this series simply because they were on the “you should read it” shelf at the library, and I was between books. These books are award-winning, international best-sellers, so I wasn't surprised to find the writing good and the stories engaging. Sansom spends a lot of time on description, and while some people get sidetracked by too much detail, I found myself completely immersed in Tudor England. I wasn't looking for a dev-read, so imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered the main character has a disability.
From Wikipedia: "This series set in the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century, whose main character is the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, who is assisted in his adventures by Mark Poer and then Jack Barak. Shardlake works on commission initially from Thomas Cromwell in Dissolution and Dark Fire, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in Sovereign and Revelation and Queen Catherine Parr in Heartstone. "
I'm a huge fan of historical fiction and mystery novels, and this series is the best of both genres.
I enjoyed the first book so much, I immediately went back and scooped up the other four (there are five of them so far). Matthew is a tremendously sympathetic character. He's smart, he's attractive, he's the good guy... AND... he's disabled. It's too much to ask for a realistic historical novel to feature a guy with SCI, so Kyphosis is a reasonable mobility impairment- but surprisingly, it absolutely tweaked my dev-o-meter.
My only problem with this series, and it's a big problem, is Matthew never gets the girl. I'm hoping for more in future books (I'm hoping for future books, period); but even without sex- or even a romantic relationship for Matthew, the series is definitely on my "most recommended" list.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Japan, 1938, by Shimizu Hiroshi, one of Japan's top directors. Set in a hot spring resort in the mountains, among a group of blind masseurs. One of them, Toku, falls in love with a beautiful young woman from Tokyo who comes to visit the hot springs. But can she return his love? This is a beautiful, charming film, and the actor who plays Toku gives one of the best, and most convincing portrayals of blindness in film. And it's available on DVD with English subtitles.
My Darling of the Mountains:
A 2008 remake of the Masseurs and a Woman. Shot for shot, it's almost identical to the original, except in color. Maybe not quite as outstanding as the original, but still a beautiful, touching film. It hasn't been released on DVD in the US, but it's worth searching out a subtitled copy.
Both the original and the remake are highly recommended!
This is an older film, but worth searching out. Martin is an insecure blind man, who so distrusts the world around him that he takes photos of everything around him as proof. He enlists Andy, a young waiter, to describe the photos to him. But when Andy falls for Celia, Martin's housekeeper, he finds he can't always be truthful to Martin. And Celia seems bent on seducing Martin, in her own strange way. This is a dark, cynical movie, not really a romance, but still very intriguing.
Some people have complained that this was a negative portrayal of disability. It's true that Martin is seriously dysfunctional, but so are the other characters. They're not meant to be role models. Devo Girl got a big devo thrill from this, especially the scenes where Celia comes on to Martin.
Starring very young Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe!
This is a historical drama TV miniseries from the UK. There are 5 episodes total. Set in 18th century London, the story is based on the real life of Henry Fielding (author of Tom Jones) and his efforts to form London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners. His partner in this endeavor is his half-brother John, who is blind. In real life, Henry died soon after founding the Runners, and John took over as magistrate at Bow Street, but the TV show doesn't get that far.
Now Devo Girl is a sucker for all British costume dramas, so this one is of course a big favorite. But she can't help nit-picking. Henry Fielding is played by Ian McDiarmid (the Emperor from Star Wars), who although he attacks the role with great vigor and a dirty mouth, is far too old. Henry was only in his 40s, although he was quite sick. There is quite a lot of swearing, and they really play up the squalor and rampant crime of the 1740s, which is fine, but by the last few episodes it's so over the top, it's a bit hard to take. The directors tried to make it like CSI: Georgian London, which is a shame, since the material is already so juicy it hardly needs embellishment.
On the other hand, Iain Glen, who plays John Fielding, is fantastic. It's so nice to see him portrayed as young and handsome, rather than old and fat (like in the books Blind Justice and Death in the Dark Walk). He even gets a bit of romance in episode two. And Glen wears opaque contacts, oh be still my heart. Highly recommended, it's a shame they didn't make more episodes.
dir. Yamada Yoji
Japanese superstar Kimura Tatsuya plays a low-ranking samurai Shinnojo, employed as a food-taster for his feudal lord. One day, he suffers food poisoning from some bad shellfish, which leaves him blind. Fearing that Shinnojo will lose his salary, his wife Kayo agrees to a dubious offer from a higher ranking official. Is she being unfaithful or trying to help Shinnojo? How can Shinnojo defend her honor? Can he maintain his honor as a samurai, and fight a duel, even blind? Less action than the Zatoichi series, but a far more realistic portrayal of blindness. Highly recommended!
A documentary about blind mountain climbers in Tibet. In 2001, Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest. Inspired by his climb, students at a school for the blind in Tibet ask him to visit them. In 2004, Erik decided not only to visit, but to take an expedition of six student on a hike to Lhakpa-Ri, near Everest. This film documents their climb, from Erik's first visit. Also joining them on the hike is the school's founder Sabriye Tenberken, who is blind herself. The film covers not only the physical demands of the climb, but attitudes in Tibet towards blind people, who are considered cursed. We also find out a lot about Erik, Sabriye, and each of the kids. As the hike becomes increasingly difficult, tempers flare in the group--are they doing this hike for the kids, or for themselves? It's very gripping and exciting, and a sensitive exploration of blindness, far more nuanced than in any fiction film.
There was also a fiction film made in 2006 about Erik's climb up Everest, called Touch the Top of the World, with Peter Facinelli as Erik, but it's really cheezy, and not a good film. Facinelli is not convincing as a blind person.
Both Erik and Sabriye have written autobiographies too--look them up!
dir. Steven Sawalich
Biopic based on the true story of Richard Pimentel, who lost much of his hearing as a soldier in Vietnam, then became an activist for the disabled, and helped to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a movie, it's really good, and shows an interesting aspect of disabled advocacy in the US in the 1970s and 80s.
Dev level is moderate. Pimentel is hard of hearing, not totally deaf, and he never uses sign language. He becomes close friends with a guy named Art who has severe cerebral palsy. Because Art speaks so low and slowly, Pimentel can hear him perfectly, and they become a kind of odd couple. Art is the one who pushes him to become an activist, and they scenes with them causing trouble in public are great.
There's also an extra on the DVD of the real Pimentel giving a speech, which is actually more interesting and hilarious than the movie. As usual, truth is more entertaining than fiction, but it's still a good movie.
dir. Kitano Takeshi
A deaf guy who lives near the ocean finds a surf board and teaches himself to surf, while his deaf girlfriend sits on the beach and watches him. That's it, that's pretty much all that happens, until the last scene which indulges ridiculously in sudden tragedy.
Art-house darling director Kitano is obsessed with still, silent compositions where nothing much happens, and with elliptical cuts that leave out the key moments of the action. He does this in all his films, but this one is by far the most egregious example. But what bothered me the most was the portrayal of deaf characters. Kitano is not interested in dialog, as can be seen by the improvised, inconsequential dialog of the few characters who talk, and also the way he favors shooting from very far away. You get the feeling he really wanted to shoot a completely silent film. Ok, that might have been interesting as an artistic experiment. But using deaf characters as a shorthand for a world of silence is dishonest. The characters come across as completely one-dimensional and boring: they don't communicate at all, even with each other, and never show any facial expression. The film uses the deaf characters symbolically, rather than showing their lives realistically. The story itself is understated to the point of irrelevance. There are interminable scenes of guys surfing, all shot from the shore in the most unimaginative way, and lots and lots of scenes of people walking. Other, better Japanese directors know how to create pathos with these long takes, but here there's literally nothing going on. And the ending--huh? It's hard to feel anything when all the characters are kept at such a distance.
by Kristin Cashore
Young Adult fantasy novel. In the quasi-medieval Seven Kingdoms, Gracelings are people born with one special talent which gives them supernatural abilities. They are marked with mismatched eyes, of different colors. Katsa is Graced with killing, and forced to work as an assassin, executioner, and thug for her king, which she hates. Until one day she meets her match, a handsome young prince named Po, who is Graced with fighting. As they team up to investigate the kidnapping of Po's grandfather, they begin to unravel a larger mystery in the Seven Kingdoms, and also to fall in love....
Ok, so WTF Devo Girl, you are asking, where is the disabled character? Well, I can't tell you, that would ruin the surprise. There is a blind character at the very very end of the book, just be patient. I enjoyed this book a lot. It's a fun read, and those last few pages packed a big devo punch for me.
ETA: There are two more books in the Graceling universe: Fire takes place about 50 years before, in a different kingdom, with different characters. Bitterblue is the sequel to Graceling, with the events and characters picking up eight years later. Although they are secondary characters in the sequel, Po and Katsa are in it a lot, along with a lot of other characters from the first book. Slightly higher devo content than the first book, and still a really satisfying read.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
by Mathilde Madden
Hot erotica about a devotee and the para she falls for. Have I mentioned this is hot? Hot Hot Hot.
Mary is a devotee, and she's also into SM in a big way. When she literally crosses paths with David, a recently injured paraplegic, she can't pass up the chance to flirt with him. Thus begins an epic journey of sexual discovery for both of them. For David, not only to learn to be confident about his sexuality despite his disability, but also accepting his masochistic tendencies. For Mary, learning to accept her deviant desires, and manage emotional as well as physical intimacy. Although the author takes some liberties with the realities of spinal cord injury and sex (ie, that David can get an erection and have an orgasm), but other than that, this is a very realistic and satisfying story. Mary and David are both original and well-drawn characters. The description of the devotee mentality is pretty accurate, and refreshingly sex-positive. The SM is also spot-on in the depiction of how and why the characters do it. The writing style is snappy and breezy, fun to read. Highly recommended!
This was a book club selection, and lots of us enjoyed it, even those who are not into SM:
by Judith Pella
I bought this book without looking at the description too closely, only to discover that it is a Christian romance. I am not a Christian. D'oh! Despite the fact that I have no interest in reading about people finding God, this book still was not bad, and an enjoyable read.
Here's the plot: Joel Costain, blind since birth, is a successful San Francisco lawyer. One day, a sleazy ex-con named Greg Mitchell shows up in Joel's office, claiming to be his long-lost brother. Greg wants to introduce Joel to their father, Charlie, just released from prison, so they can go in together on a get-rich-quick blackmail scheme. Joel is suspicious, but he knows he was adopted, and he's curious to meet his birth father. But the next day Greg turns up dead under dubious circumstances. Joel contacts Greg's ex-wife, Irene, to help solve the mystery of who killed Greg and what happened to Charlie. Irene, who was badly burned by her relationship with Greg, is reluctant to get involved with this unexpected brother, but she finds herself falling for him.
This book is much better written than the average romance novel. The San Francisco setting is particularly detailed and well done. Joel and Irene are appealing characters. Irene is wary and shy, reluctant to do more than take care of her two young boys. Joel is confident but also very sensitive and religious. He's so perfect it's a bit unbelievable--I doubt there is an attorney as successful as this who is also so in touch with his feelings and willing to talk about them at great length, even more than Irene. On the other hand, the portrayal of blindness is very realistic. This is just about the only romance novel I have read so far in which the cause of blindness is actually realistic and common (in this case, oxygen overdose at premature birth). Joel is well-adjusted and not bitter, but his abilities are not superhuman. Even better, the other characters treat him like a normal adult, no one gets too worked up over his blindness.
On the down side, the dialog is pretty stilted and unrealistic. And the romance part is better written than the mystery/suspense, which is rather obvious and not very thrilling. Also, because this is a Christian book, there is of course no sex, only some hand-holding and chaste kissing.
by Courtney Henke
Although this book featured a fairly believable blind hero, I just couldn't get into it. The writing is amateurish, the plot is silly and slight, and the heroine is extremely annoying. Max runs a multi-million-dollar perfume company. Emma has a secret recipe for the best perfume in the world, but she needs to sell him on the idea immediately to raise cash for reasons that turn out to be fairly boring. Her antics to get his attention are completely psycho and borderline criminal. In the real world, Max would call the police and have her tossed in jail. But in the fantasy world of rom-coms, this is considered "meet cute." Like in a lot of bad romances, the author spends a lot of time building up a suspenseful plot that is utterly ridiculous and improbably, only to drop it completely once the romance heats up. Max is mildly appealing, but overall the book is eminently forgettable.