Saturday, October 11

Fiction Doesn't Give You STIs

Today's post includes sexual content, so if that makes you uncomfortable, click here to read about Hedgehogs in Literature.

I was never much interested in reading romance/erotic novels. They just seemed like a lot of bare chests and bosom thrusting. Lately, however, I've started reading more of them. They're like my guilty pleasure...without the guilty part.

Yes, some of these books are bare-chested bosom-thrusters, but others are excellent reads with good plot and character development, and tension that exceeds the sexual. The sex scenes are sensual...but there is one thing that continues to pull me away from the throes of fictitious passion. That is characters who are adamant about using prophylactics...except when they're engaging in oral sex.

It seems to me that if you are going to go to the length of using protection, you shouldn't half-ass the situation. The chances of getting an STI is considerably lower than that of infection being transmitted through vaginal or anal sex, but that doesn't diminish the risk. It's like when you see a product in a store with a shiny new label announcing, '"Now with 25% less fat!" That doesn't translate to "This is healthy!" It doesn't even give you an actual statistic.

Readers don't turn to fiction for education. Authors, understandably, don't want to be seen as shoving sex ed down their readers'- they don't want to write down to their audience. Some might argue that it even subtracts from the sensuality of the moment to clarify that "Remember, kiddos - no glove, no love!" Except that in the novels I read, characters all-too-often make a big deal about having safe sex. It just so happens that their caution doesn't cover all the bases.

It is one thing for fictional characters to be ignorant of the likelihood of getting an STI from oral sex. In fact, I might just write it off as an author's intentional reflection of reality. Only, it happens all the time. I can only think of two titles off the top of my head where the characters either get tested or use a condom before performing fellatio. Which leads me to wonder if it is in fact the characters who are ignorant, or the authors themselves.

There are several things that make me balk when I read romance novels. They often evoke my cynical side, but this is more disconcerting than humorous. Of course, I still enjoy these books. You can't get an STI from reading a novel...but it kind of bothers me that you apparently can't get one from being a fictional character in one either.

If you read or write about sexy times between fictitious personas, what do you think about this "only sometimes" rule when it comes to safe sex?

Wednesday, September 24

I Dream of Banned Books

"I wish my book would be banned."

"I've always wanted to write a banned book..."

"I just had my first book banned! I'm so excited!"

This week is Banned Books Week. It is when we celebrate, not the status of being banned, but the books themselves. Yet, while I wish I could file the above quotes under the title 'Things Writers Would Never Say,' I cannot.

Throughout history and across the globe, people have fought to silence the voices of authors and breed ignorance. Even now, all over the world, censorship and the banning of books is still rife.

So we strive. We band together and stand up against those who would seek to ban books. We embrace and share stories. We celebrate them. However, there are still many writers - both published and aspiring - who yearn to have one of their own books reach banned status. They hope to join the ranks of numerous great authors and novels who have graced the ever-growing list of banned books.

To desire your own book to be banned is to inadvertently ask for the increase of censorship. It is to place your own validation in the hands of people who would keep your writing from those you most want to reach. Yes, many prodigious authors have had their books banned, but a banned book is not a ticket to the cool kids' table. There is no exclusive club you need a VIP pass for. We are a collective, celebrating and promoting the power and unification of literature.

Authors today who have their books banned are uninvited from speaking at schools and events. Their work is actively kept from reaching people - of all ages - who need to read them most. Teenagers who feel alienated. Children who don't see themselves represented in mainstream media. People of all genders, sexualities, and denominations, who are oppressed, assaulted, imprisoned, and killed because of who they are and what they believe in. These authors don't revel in the status of having a banned book. They stand up against censorship so that their words might make it into the hands of someone who will feel connected, empowered and inspired because of them.

Banned Books Week does not exist to promote books in order to turn a profit or create a string of "controversial best-sellers." It is vital because we are elevating literature and fighting against censorship.

Embrace banned books - read them, support them, share them - but don't make a banned book your dream. Make it your goal to write a book that can be accessed by anyone, and do everything in your power to make that possible.

What are your thoughts? Is having a book banned something to aspire to?

Monday, September 22

Newbs and Trolls: A Hobbit's Tale

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer’s father purchased this book at an airport, even though he already owned a copy. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher.

I finished reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein - after twelve years or so - just before the second film adaptation was released at the end of 2013. Since then, I have kept my feelings about the novel mostly to myself. Today, on Hobbit Day, that changes.

Friday, September 5

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of David Fickling Books and is used solely as an aide to the review.

When The Fury orders Bruno's father to move to Out-With, Bruno must leave behind the life he's known and his best friends. Bruno couldn't be lonlier until he meets a mysterious boy named Shmuel on the other side of a fence, where everyone wears striped pyjamas.

Confusion shrouds Bruno's life and his mind. Caught between a world of horror and the naïveté of his outlook on life, Bruno struggles to comprehend the world he lives in, and both the connections and the divide between him and the boy in the striped pyjamas.

This was a very quick novel for me to get through. I listened to it on audio and completed it in almost a single stretch. It is quite a haunting tale, told through the eyes of a child of a high-ranking Nazi officer.

The story is driven by Bruno, who is certainly a very naïve protagonist. He views the world as something of a game, where his highest priorities are acquiring friends. The soldiers whom he salutes and the words of allegiance he utters are all but a part of his life, unquestioned.

Even in his conversations with Shmuel, the reality that he faces is so horrific, Bruno cannot even fathom it. He is so desperate for companionship, and frightened of reality, that he seeks similarities and rejects the differences between them. He is self-involved to the point where he is grossly jealous of all the boys on the other side of the fence, wanting to have someone to play with.

One might say that Bruno seems almost too ignorant for reality, and that may be a valid criticism, but it is also very much a heightened look at the willful ignorance that was all too real. In fact, Bruno is not as oblivious as he might at first appear. He is instinctive about situations and can read people's mood and body language. He senses the truth, but he doesn't pry – and he doesn't truly listen – and therefore he doesn't understand.

Michael Maloney's narration of the audio book was haunting. He highlighted the subdued narrative of the novel, which emphasised all of the things that go unsaid. The chapters ended with eerie music, which got under my skin and helped transition the story.

The mindset of a child is releatable, but Bruno is also alienated to the horrors of the war, which many readers – while being familiar with the facts – can never fully comprehend. Instead, Boyne approaches the situation with subtlety and subtext. 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' is very much an inbetween-the-lines type of novel. It has the potential to be far more detailed and fleshed out, but rather alludes to the anguish, kindness, and fates of Bruno's family and all of the people in his life.

'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' is a very moving tale that I would recommend, particularly in audio format. It is, as I said, not a detailed account, but rather more of an introductory story, for young and older reader alike. However, that does not subtract from the poignant way in which it is written.

Wednesday, September 3

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Walden Pond Press and is used solely as an aide to the review.

When Princess Briar is proclaimed dead, there is a bounty on the head of the League of Princes for her murder. Scattered throughout their lands, the League must reunite to take down the real culprits.

Across the thirteen kingdoms, villains are pulling the strings to turn the citizens and their rulers against the Princes Charming. Now the heroes are on the run as outlaws, and it's going to take an elaborate plan to thwart the powers of magic and muscle that oppose them.

From cheeky sass to hilarious wish granting sequences, I was captivated by the third installment in 'The Hero's Guide' trilogy. Healy has an excellent blend of wit and action, which keeps the narrative going at a prompt pace and compelled me to keep reading.

Healy is exceptionally clever when it comes to writing action sequences, comical sequences, and – of course – comical action sequences, which in the hands of a less skilled writer would be fumblesome. One particular sequence, involving the entire cast, was more of a riot than I could ever wish for...pun intended.

I both read and listened to 'The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw' as I have been a huge fan of Bronson Pinchot's narration of the first two installments. I will admit that sometimes he gets carried away, and some of the minor characters' speech (usually the bandits and bounty hunters) can be a little garbled due to their heavy accents. Ella's accent was a little off in the beginning, but apart from that Pinchot once again proved himself to be an amazing voice talent, giving extra punch and pizzazz to Healy's brilliant writing. I also loved the audio effects that were used, especially the wail of despair.

My favourite character dynamic remains between Ella and Liam. Their stubbornness and pride continued to create obstacles in the development of the relationship, yet didn't subvert to angst or over dramatics. The romantic elements, as with all the books, were weaved in naturally and did not gnaw at the narrative, instead enhancing it.

One thing that I particularly liked about the novel (and the series) was that it was not obvious to guess the outcome of any of the situations. Even when I predicted a character's appearance or a motive, the development of the story always went in a different way than I expected. There were several instanced, both in the book and the trilogy that I guessed at foreshadowing, which may have been purposeful red herrings or simply me over-thinking the details of the situation.

Healy is also adept at both embracing and defying the fairy tale archetypes. He turns gender roles on their heads and plays with quintessential archetypes, but his characters also acknowledge more clichéd elements with stark humour. It is very refreshing.

I also really liked the fact that new characters are embraced, rather than cast off because they are not established. It really touches on the feeling of acceptance that many readers – myself included – can appreciate. It also shows just how strong Healy's writing is, that even with the main lure of established dynamics, that he can still introduce new characters with the kick to drive the story along with the best of them.

'The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw' is once again illustrated by the incredibly talented Todd Harris. His ability to capture scenes from the novel, enhancing the moment by etching the expressions on the character's faces with such precision, is perfection. There are some illustrations that seemed to be drawn exactly as I imagined them, and others that allowed me to view things in a whole new way. Magnificent.

I'm more than a little in denial over this series being completed, as I love the character dynamics above all, but I look forward to reading more of Healy's writing in future. I highly recommend this trilogy, full of humour, adventure and friendship, starting with 'The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom.'