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!


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.

 


Return of the AFJ

Saturday 20 June, 2015

I know. I know.

I fell down the rabbit hole and didn’t come back up. I’ve probably lost all the readers I managed to gain (those faithful two!), and I’m probably, yet again, talking into the big ether of the ethernet.

I know I’ve said this a few times already, but I moved in 2013, and when I moved I lost a lot of access to my laptop, and then the laptop I had burnt out by way of the motherboard, and the circumstances that followed made it even more difficult for me to update.

In plain english: I lost access to my desk and then I lost the ability to use my laptop on my knee for even limited times. I read a lot on my computer and I manage to type for short bursts, but regular updates need regular typing, and that was shot.

My inability to use my laptop for as many hours as needed even interferes with the Uni work that I swore I’d never do again. (But my brain was rotting and I was desperate.)

But I am back now, and with a bit of hope and luck, I’ll even manage to update infrequently!

To get us started, I’m going to tell you something that has made a nice improvement on my life over the last couple of years. Do you remember this post? I explained about the problems I was having with reading, and how e-reader tablets are the new go-to suggestion. I left out my main reason for not getting a kindle, besides the cost of re-purchasing all of the books I already own, and that was the same inability to hold a book in front of my face also applied to holding kindles too.

Well… As well as the device I mentioned in that post, I also suddenly remembered a device another friend used way back when in my special needs school. It was a magnifying document reader, and it looked a bit like a sewing machine with a tv screen through the side of the top bit  (Describing technology is not my strong suit). Books or sheets were placed on the board like you would put fabric through a sewing machine, and through mirrors, magnifiers and lighting, the television screen part would show the book or the work sheet, blown up to the magnification that you could control with a dial.

It wasn’t perfect, it was it’s own desk that left you no room to write on, and you had to look up to the screen because the the gap between the board and the screen was that big, and the screen itself was also pretty big. But remembering that device got me thinking.

I have read books on my computer. I’d already downloaded some PDF versions of books, but the idea of going through the efforts of finding a PDF version of every book I already owned without breaking the law was off putting. So the solution: Try and find a way to get my books from my shelves, On to my computer.

That’s how I found The Vision Booster Magnifier!

Excellent! Right?

Wrong!

The Vision Booster Magnifier is a device, in the shape of a computer mouse, that is meant to allow you to read documents in your hand (or on a desk or your lap etc), on the computer screen. It uses a little camera inside the body, where the rollerball would be on a normal computer mouse, to send the image it sees to the program you install, and you can live-read like normal.

Here’s the problem. It’s the shape of a computer mouse and is far too big for your average book, so you miss the last words of the line because it hits the margin. Also, as you can see in the image below, the words on the edge of the camera’s view are warped. That’s holding the camera still, if you move it too fast, the whole view you have goes blurry.

  vlcsnap-2012-10-12-15h51m59s234

(Excerpt from McFly’s Unsaid Things)

The image also shows how the last words of the line can’t be read, because of the aforementioned margin problem. So you can’t read words near the margins, and you can’t hover the mouse over those words next to the margins, because they come out of focus, and you end up reading along to books very slowly to keep words readable. I’m not the fastest reader, I know, but this left me feeling like I was five years old, sounding my words out again. It doesn’t make for any sort of enjoyable reading at all.

Also, not that it really matters, but the plastic of the mouse felt light, cheap and as if it would degrade to nothing in the future.

So it was neither use nor ornament, and an all around waste of £19.99.

I do, and did at the time of purchase, know about the pen reader: A device that is pen shaped with a camera at the tip, that you use in much the same way as the mouse, with the added bonus of actually being able to read the end, or the beginning, of the line. Think of something like what they use in Dictionary Corner on Countdown. However, at the time of purchasing The Vision Booster Magnifier, the pen was almost £300. Very much out of my budget!

Another suggestion floating around the internet is to try a page scanner. This device, if I remember correctly, was intended to be used as a portable replacement for a big bulky 3in1 printer/scanner/photocopier, and the suggestion was using it in not quite the way it’s intended to be. You just hold the scanning plate above the book (or a document, whichever), run the software, and you use the live preview setting to read the page. It’s intended purpose is to capture the screen, which is why I used the phrase “Live-reading” above.

My problems with that was this: The device had to be held up at a certain distance from the page otherwise it would be blurry, and I can’t really hold anything up for a long time without my arms being supported. I also couldn’t imagine being able to hold it properly for the time needed to read the page, without looking down at it whilst holding it, and to me it defeats the object somewhat if you’re trying to read the pages on the screen when you keep having to look back at the device and the book. I also couldn’t find any reputable sights that sold it, and most seemed to be imported.

Then the popularity of portable page scanners fell, I don’t think they were working as well as people expected them to, so the fleeting idea was also thrown out of the window.

Here’s the funny thing. A couple of months after I moved, my neck’s quality of existing took a bit of a dip and it changed a fair bit of the way I could sit, and that actually allowed me to be able to, using armrests and/or pillows to support my arms, hold very light things directly in front of my face for me to read them again. It’s also how I knit.

So, low and behold, I bought a kindle! The very basic one, with e-ink display, and without a keyboard and backlight. It doesn’t solve the problem of re-reading the books that I already have in my possession, but it did finally allow me to get back into reading. Which has been nice. When everything else around me has fallen apart just a bit more, I at least have reading back.

For the times when I can’t even read on my kindle, or my concentration’s shot and words are going in one eye and out the other, or I just want to do one thing whilst also doing another (knitting, usually), I listen to Audiobooks.

So, ultimately, I take back all of my misgivings about The Kindle (other e-readers are available). It’s been a lifesaver. I’m currently working my way through some of the classics, and the Wizard of Oz series, so watch this space for some book reviews!

Thank for you for reading. I will be back soon.

-A Failed Journalist.