Thursday, June 28, 2012

Touch and Go

Touch and Go

by Thad Nodine


Kevin, the narrator, has been blind since an accident as a young child. Now 27, he's a recovering junkie just laid off from his part-time job as a reporter. He lives in LA with Isa and Patrick, who are 10 years older. They're also ex-junkies who all met in rehab. Kevin has had a crush on Isa since he met her, but she married Patrick instead, a macho, bragging con artist. In an attempt to start a family, Isa recently took in two foster kids: Devon, 16 and Ray, 10. But Isa is a huge flake, and Patrick is a jerk, so Kevin takes it on himself to help take care of the kids. At the start of the novel, they all set out on a road trip to Florida to visit Isa's dying father. But they each have their own agendas on the trip, which take them far off course. And then there's the date, which you may not notice at first, 2005, maybe not the best time to be driving through the Gulf.

A brief description of the plot nearly put me off this book--ex-junkies, road trip, foster kids, Hurricane Katrina, ugh, sounds so depressing. But I'm so glad I read it anyway, because it is amazing, and not depressing at all. There's no wallowing in misery just for its own sake, and there's plenty of humor. And the dev factor for me was HUGE. It's not a romance, but Kevin does get some action, don't worry!

The writing is top-notch. All the characters are original, not stereotypes, and yet seem very true to life, like people you might have met. The dialog is breezy and natural, but it's really Kevin who steals the show. His narration is great--lots of interesting turns of phrase, and insights into himself and the other characters, even when he doesn't quite realize it at the time. It's kind of a late coming of age story, as he figures out how to be a responsible adult, even with, or because of, all the dysfunction around him.

This is an amazing book. There are so few writers who even attempt to write from the perspective of a blind person. On the other hand, there are tons of books with blind characters that are totally unrealistic, or that just use them as a plot device. Not so here. Kevin is a fully alive and deeply sympathetic character, and also completely believable. The author clearly did a lot of research, because he totally nailed it. It's so refreshing to read about a blind character who is not bitter or angry all the time, but just kind of gets on with his life the best he can. And where I'm not constantly brought out of the story by stupid little mistakes.

This book was a PD book club selection for July/August 2012. Discussion is here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Deaf Eye Satisfy

Deaf Eye Satisfy

by Chip Green


This is clearly a heartfelt and sincere work, and a unique perspective into Deaf culture. But as literature, it has some major flaws.

The narrator, Skip Verde, is clearly a stand-in for author Chip Green, and many of the scenes have the authenticity of lived experience. Skip is an English teacher in a high school for the deaf. He doesn't have a degree in Deaf education, although he is fluent in ASL, so he's something of a maverick. At first, he bonds more easily with the Hard of Hearing kids who have a better grasp of English, but he soon chafes at the curriculum which emphasizes English grammar only. He wants to help the students express their inner selves through literature, so he conceives of the idea of having them act out short scenes from poetry, plays, or literature in ASL, to help them get in touch with their artistic, creative sides. The principal and school counselor get involved, and suddenly everyone has a stake in the project, even as the kids start to get really into it. Meanwhile, Skip finds himself starting to understand the "deep Deaf" kids better, ie, the native ASL speakers. But the project is polarizing both among the other teachers who each have their own ideas about Deaf education and the parents who care only about getting their kids' grammar good enough for college.

The story illuminates many aspects of Deaf culture: the differences between ASL and English, discrimination, especially in the past and how it still affects Deaf adults, the divide between Deaf and HOH, and between Deaf and hearing, hearing parents who don't communicate with their kids, the problems of a shrinking residential school as more kids are mainstreamed, as well as past abuses at residential schools. I really liked how the author rendered ASL literally, rather than translating it into idiomatic English. It really gives a sense of how ASL works and how it's different from English.

However, the writing is problematic. This book desperately needs an editor. There are a ton of typos, at least one on every page. Even worse, there are many diction errors, and a lot of places where the writing is so convoluted it's impossible to tell what is happening or who is talking--kind of horrifying if the author is himself an English teacher. And like your annoying high school English teacher, he is forever pedantically belaboring his points in mini vocabulary lessons.

 But there are bigger thematic problems too. Skip wants desperately to be accepted by his Deaf colleagues and students, and to understand them better. But the author's allegiance to Skip's POV takes the story in some unfortunate directions. There's the militant Deaf teacher who's painted as a complete villain, no nuance at all. Skip also has nothing but scorn for the hearing people who are starting to learn ASL but are not yet fluent-they are annoying and shown having wrong motivations (unlike Skip, of course). It reminded me of Americans who live abroad in non-English speaking countries and try to prove how down they are with the local culture by shunning all contact with fellow Americans, like they are the only ones cool enough to hang with the locals. The thing that disturbed me the most was after Skip decides his former respect for the HOH students was misguided because it was based only on their superior grasp of English, he starts to actively hate them. So it's ok for him as a teacher to just hate the HOH kids? He spends all his time trying to reach a few of the Deaf kids, but the ones who are less connected to Deaf culture he just stops caring about.

Since it's from the teacher's POV there isn't any devvy romance angle. But if you want to know more about Deaf culture, it's worth reading.

Blind- A Novella


by V. R. Christensen


Devo Girl was SO excited to find this one--a blind man AND a deafblind man as main characters, a Victorian setting, period language, a great cover, all so promising. But it turned out to be a huge disappointment.

Arthur has been blind since birth, and lives as an angry, bitter shut-in. Zachary Goodfellow (get it?) is also blind, kind of, and poor, but cheerful. As a result of a beating, he lost his hearing but regained some of his sight. Rebecca is a do-gooder who wants to help Arthur by hiring Zachary to be a companion to him, but Arthur's hateful attitude won't let him accept her help.

The treatment of blindness and deafness is not at all realistic. Zachary seems to get along with nothing more than a positive attitude. It's so unrealistic that he hardly seems disabled at all. The bitter, angry blind man who shuts himself off from society is such a cliche. Rebecca has a big scar on her face, and thinks only a blind man could love her for who she is on the inside, also a huge cliche. And she has magic powers that allow the men to see and hear when she touches them. So their blindness and deafness is basically dispensed with in the crucial moments of the plot. HATE HATE HATE. Why can't authors come up with something better than this when writing about blind characters?

Although the author is a pretty good prose stylist, she goes a bit overboard in taking on the Victorian moralizing as well as the ornate language. Arthur is BAD and Zachary is GOOD, and there's never any doubt as to where the story is going. In demonstrating the rewards of virtue and meekness in the face of adversity, the characters come across as completely flat. The setting is also quite thin. Is the the US or England? Why in a seemingly small village do people not know each other? And like a Dickens novel, it all ends with the discovery of secret family bonds. Ugh!

Elven Journals

Elven Journals: Unseen Paths

by Scarlet Hyacinth


Gay elven erotica--if you're looking for a fantasy slash story, it's not bad. The quality of the writing is ok for erotica, but still a bit thin in places, and I wished it were just a bit better. The fake medieval setting was very hastily sketched, and the magic barely explained. I also found it really jarring that the characters all spoke in modern American slang. I guess it's moderately better for the characters to call each other "baby" than "thee" and "thou" but it still took me out of the fantasy.

The story is set in the elven palace at the end of a war against the demons that brought the elves and the dark elves together (again, only hastily explained). Jan'ke (how do you pronounce that?) is the tough, manly dark elf hero of the wars, who is closed off from his emotions after the war. Alix is the sensitive elf singer who is socially outcast because he is blind. But he's not that girly, despite his blindness, he is also a veteran of the demon wars, and is nearly as tall and strong as Jan'ke. The romance between them is nice but I wish there was more build-up showing them connecting emotionally. Then some secrets of Alix's past are revealed that changes his character a lot, and the story kind of went off the rails.

Each chapter alternates between Jan'ke and Alix's points of view, but it means that we get every scene narrated twice, and in the first half it's a huge drag. It takes the story forever to get moving.

Alix's blindness is caused by magic, so you know where this is going, hello, magic cure. If you're looking for a realistic treatment of a blind hero, this isn't it. Also there are a LOT of torture scenes in the second half which some readers might find disturbing.  Dev factor was pretty good in the beginning but low by the second half.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Shot in the Dark

Shot in the Dark

by Spiral Razor


Supernatural Western with a blind hero. This is the first in a planned series, self-published by a dev author. For those of you who love a blind hero, this is for you. Killian McBride is a supernaturally enhanced vigilante, dispensing justice in the Old West with his two swords, and oh so sexy. He's also fleeing a tortured past, but no spoilers. Jesse is great as his mechanically inclined, sarcastic sidekick. The dynamic between the two of them drives the best scenes.

So much of Killian's past, and his abilities, are surprises as the story goes along, it feels wrong to get into too much detail. His blindness and his fighting skills have a supernatural element, but it's all handled believably, and there is no miracle cure, thank goodness. Even better, his abilities don't give him magical sight--when he's not fighting, he's just a regular blind guy. There are lots of great devvy moments.

Be warned, though, it's not a love story, and it is the beginning of a series, so the ending is not that conclusive.  But it's great fun, especially if you're a Daredevil fan.

ETA: Ruth Madison reviewed this on her blog, and she loves it too! 

Cowboy Down

Cowboy Down
by Vanessa Gray Bartal

Dev Rating: **

A somewhat silly premise typical of a rom-com style romance novel, but it really does work.

The characters are very endearing and likable. Especially the girl. The boy has some annoying woe-is-me moments, but is overall charming.

For me the dev moments were few, but the ones that were there were great. There's the time Cade falls from his chair into the mud. There's when Cade is taking care of an ill Layla. 

There are some not great things such as the brothers in the story all having ridiculously similar names. Also, I found it really hard to believe that Layla was a foster kid. She told us a lot about how untrusting she was, but what was shown was the opposite.

The cover is also terrible. A gray tone cover definitely does not catch the eye and the text is difficult to read on it. It looks really unprofessional. Instead of buying the book outright (even though it was a cheap ebook) I downloaded the sample. I was pretty sure from the cover that I wasn't going to like it.

But then, as a sample should, I fell in love with Layla's character and wanted to keep reading.

For a more detailed review, visit:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mission Canyon

Dev Rating: ****

The main character, Evan, is a plucky, sarcastic jill-of-all-trades who is engaged to a handsome lawyer in a wheelchair, Jesse. The plot of this particular book has the man who ran over Jesse back in town after trying to run from manslaughter charges (Jesse's friend was killed in the crash). Confusing motives and big corporations with shady dealings soon get involved and Evan plays detective with her many skills and interests.

One thing I really appreciate is that Jesse's disability isn't there in order to raise the stakes in the plot. I've complained about that before in some horror books and movies. Here it doesn't feel as though the disability is around purely for a plot point or to make an extra challenge. It's just part of their lives, part of the lives of the characters.

The sexual side of spinal cord injury is not delved into deeply in this book, but it isn't glossed over either. It's realistic, believable, and nicely done.

Jesse is definitely a heart throb: gorgeous, young, smart, and witty. His wheelchair is given, I think, just the right amount of attention. It is not harped on, but not ignored either. He is a very strong man, definitely an alpha type, and Evan makes a point of saying that he does not allow anyone to push him. Ever. There's a moment where a bad guy grabs hold of him by the wheelchair and pulls him and it's a powerful moment because it really drives home Jesse's inherent vulnerability despite his tremendous strength.

And how sexy is this? He defends Evan against a bad guy coming into her home and threatening her by using the end of a forearm crutch.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Me Before You

Dev Rating: ***

This is a difficult one to review. On the one hand, the descriptions of quadriplegic Will are fairly detailed and realistic. He is a very charming guy, particularly once Lou and he begin to like one another. On the other hand, it is another quad-wants-to-die plot written by someone who read a news article about a man who had an assisted suicide and wanted to understand it better.

The story is that Lou, a charming young woman with a quirky sense of style, gets hired to be the carer for a quadriplegic man even though she has no experience at all. It turns out that she was hired more because of her cheery nature in the hopes that she will help bring him out of depression.

Though the subject matter is heavy, it is a chick-lit style book. I was very surprised to see how many reviews the book has on Amazon. In the UK, where it is published and based, there are some 700 reviews. I've never seen that many! I have no idea how that happened, but there were several one star reviews from people who were not expecting a chick-lit book, so let me warn you about that ahead of time!

If you know me then you know that I find the quad-wants-to-die plot extremely tiresome. It reeks of ableism: "I, an able-bodied woman with no experience of disability shall write about a quadriplegic because I read about it in the news. What should I write? How about how miserable his life must be?"
I, also an able-bodied woman, have no authority to say that's not true. What I can say is that I've known quads, two of them being at the same injury level as Will and one higher. None of them have wanted to commit suicicde. They expressed to me how grateful they were to be alive and emphasized how they have grown from the experience. One told me that he had learned so much from it that his life was better than it had been.

If you're going to ever read any book where the plot is quad-wants-to-die, this is the one to read. It does present a fairly balanced view of the issue. I'm reluctant to recommend any book with this plot, but I did find myself moved by it. If you do read it, I urge you to remember that whatever it might seem like from an outside point of view, many people with quadriplegia are living happy and content lives.

I was reluctant to read the book knowing this was the plot, but I am actually glad that I read it.

For a more detailed review visit