Brief Book Review: Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston

Bed Rest

Chick-lit is without a doubt the most scorned of genres. As a big reader, with a love for all genres (with the exception of erotic romance- think Mills and Boons. I just can’t find it interesting), I sometimes wonder why.

Sure, some chick-lit is simply awful. Think shallow, immature and unbelievably, well, dumb protagonists and you will be at the heart of the problem with a lot of chick-lit. Chick-lit like that loses the brownie points the genre stands to gain by being realistic. Women, when reading a good chick-lit book, should be able to relate to the characters. After all, it’s a genre written, mostly, by women for women. If women read it and find themselves angrily thinking the main character is ridiculous and questioning if other women are really like that? All the author has achieved is alienation of their audience.

On the other hand some chick-lit is quite good and what bothers me is that the good stuff is often written off as crap because of the bad. When browsing the book reviews for chick-lit titles so many of them begin ‘I don’t usually read chick-lit’ with a note about how the writer of the review is a Serious Reader (why such shame at picking up a chick-lit title?) They then either go on to trash the book (warranted, in some cases) or else write about how surprised they were to have enjoyed it.

I used to love chick-lit in my early teenage years, along with horror, suspense & mystery, fantasy and anything published as a penguin classic. These days my appreciation for fantasy and chick-lit has waned. I am not a literary snob, though. If someone gives me a pile of books (as my brilliant Grandma often does) I will read them, regardless of their genre. A book is a book is a book…

I think the scorn poured on chick-lit is, in some ways, just another socially accepted form of sexism but that is another topic for another time.

The book I am reviewing today is Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston.

Quinn “Q” Boothroyd is a young British lawyer married to an American and living in New York City. She’s checked off most of the boxes on her “Modern Woman’s List of Things to Do Before Hitting 30,” and her busy working life has been relatively painless. But when her doctor tells her she must spend the last three months of her pregnancy lying in bed, Q is thrown into a tailspin. Initially bored and frustrated, Q soon fills her days by trying to reconnect with her workaholic husband, provide legal advice for her sweet Greek neighbor, forge new emotional bonds with her mother and sisters, and figure out who will keep her stocked up in cookies and sandwiches. Q experiences adventures on the couch she never would have encountered in the law firm and learns a lot about herself and what she wants out of life—and above all, about the little one growing inside her.

On the cover there is praise for this book saying ‘even if you have never been pregnant you’ll be as instantly hooked on this addictive novel as I was.’ I’m thinking you’d be hooked especially if you had never been pregnant because the protagonist’s reaction to learning her amniotic fluid is low is not the teensiest bit realistic.

‘Amni-what?’ is her first thought. The first person narration then goes on to explain in depth how she had no clue what this meant, or what it even was.

Not realistic. Not realistic at all.

Q, the protagonist, is supposed to be an almost-30 year old lawyer who is pedantic about recording everything and making lists and so on. Basically, she seems like the kind of person who would have researched this whole pregnancy thing and not the kind of person who…well, I can’t even think of a comparison. Having had a child myself, trust me, if you are pregnant you tend to want to learn as much about pregnancy as you can. You definitely know what amniotic fluid is. She also doesn’t do any baby shopping until five weeks before the child is due and at no point are there discussions about baby names. The book skims over many of the milestones you would expect from a book in which the main focus is the protagonist’s pregnancy.

The remaining plot-points were dull. They were clichéd and the majority of readers would see the ‘surprising twists’ coming a mile away.

However, there were some funny parts, the voice was engaging and the protagonist was likeable. There were also some really good lines within the novel. Some even, I must admit, that I was surprised to find in a chick-lit novel that revolves around pregnancy and relationships.

In the darkness I listen to his heartbeat…In the darkness he listens to my heartbeat.

You could almost imagine its summer- until; you see the thin, stripped trees along the street, the pallid fawn sunshine, the pedestrians muffled up in furry coats and downy jackets.

I’ve always regarded mine with some bewilderment, its mysterious activities, its dark places where the blood flows close to the surface.

Crack open Sylvia Plath’s Ariel when life seems too hard to bear. It’s always good to discover that someone else has been closer to the screaming edge than you are.

A pause, a brief moment of silence, and then a cry to make a mother’s heart dissolve.

Whilst I would not recommend this book to anyone I know, I did enjoy certain parts of it and I do believe it would be enjoyed by readers who like this genre.

Advertisements

Behind Closed Doors

c79d4cb79764ba1fd04138a7602faeee43909b45

Behind Closed Doors contains the following stories:

Wasted offers a tantalising glimpse into the derelict life a father attempts to keep secret from his wife and children.

He grabbed the bag of pills and made his way to the crumbling bathroom. Leaning over a mouldy sink he cupped his hands to capture some of the rust streaked water. Raising them to his cracked lips, he gulped the water down, pushed two of the pills into his mouth and gulped some more. He stood there, holding tightly to the rim of the sink as his teeth chattered – Wasted.

Please Stay highlights Ebony’s confusion when she awakes to find her long-term partner, Ryan, has disappeared in the dead of the night without explanation.

I open the cupboard beneath the sink; his shaving cream, his razors, his sleeping pills and cologne are all gone.  I race back into the bedroom, flinging open his wardrobe door. It’s empty. I search the whole apartment; living room, kitchen, the spare bedroom. He isn’t here and nothing of his remains, not even his musty old trainers that lived, untouched and forgotten, at the bottom of the shoe stand – Please Stay.

The Good Cop, the longest of all seven stories, follows the struggles of three characters whose lives are not what they seem, as observed by the main protagonist.

This girl is leaning against the wall, expertly inserting a needle into her vein. She injects and as the drug flows through her she throws her head back and moans. She has the look of a homeless person; unwashed skin, grimy, lank hair and muddied mini-dress. I know, even before two men approach her down the dark alley, that she is a prostitute. In this black and white image, I see one man hand her money as his buddy stands guard at the mouth of the alley. Once he is done they swap positions and his friend moves to the girl – The Good Cop.

Breakfast Time dives into the mind of a ten year old girl as she tries to make sense of the adults around her.

“Use your initiative,” she yells. Using my initiative means knowing what she wants and doing it before she has to shout, “or else!” Or else! Is a belt on the leg, cool leather marking my skin, or a slap across the face, the sting of a palm on my cheek. This morning something manages to pull me from my own head. It’s a box of flying cereal. It lands in the kitchen, spilling sugary puffs of grain across the floor. Dad had already stormed out, leaving his empty bowl on the table. There is only my little brothers and I. And mum, standing in the pantry, mumbling to herself. I look from her to the cereal. Am I going to be in trouble? – Breakfast Time.

In Followed you stalk a young university student, innocently slipping into her life to wait for a chance…

I am careful to make sure I saunter down to the same carriage as her. The train is practically empty at this time of day so it is easy to choose a seat directly across from her. I pull out my phone and pretend to be absorbed in it whilst flicking my gaze to her at every chance. Should I take a photo? I feel my pulse quicken and my cheeks burn – Followed.

In Dreamer Evelyn visits her family’s favourite picnic spot where she makes a life changing decision.

Reaching into her pocket she pulls out a small camera, moving carefully she raises it to her eyes, recalling how her mother had held it so delicately poised before her, and snaps a picture of the tree, the soft click of the lens echoing in the silence. Smiling, Evelyn slides the camera back into her pocket. Tomorrow she will bring some rope for the tree – Dreamer.

Too Much to Lose takes readers into the reality of life with anorexia; the obsession, the isolation, the silence…

With any luck it might just burst into flames and I could leave, or the building might burn down and I could die. It is hard to feel anything about that thought. Wanting to die isn’t something I really do- it’s just a vague thought, almost a joke. I hear the creak of a chair and spy Carroll’s legs under the desk as she sits back in her seat. Her thighs spread out before her looking ready to burst from her stretched skirt. I’d bet anything that her thighs touch even if she stands with her feet apart. I glance down at my own thighs, poking at the hard bones that define them. I look up and meet Carroll’s eyes, my mouth twisted to the side in a smug smile – Too Much to Lose.

Check out both of my free e-books on Smashwords. You can also follow the Black Ink Quill Facebook page or friend me on Goodreads to read more brief books reviews.

Harsh New Laws Punish Victims of Violence

Image

Children need to be protected from violent perpetrators and so do their mothers. Mothers who are the victims of domestic violence risk losing their children upon reporting the abuse under new zero-tolerance child protection laws, such as those outlined in the 2013 Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill (Child Protection Amendment Bill (No 33) 2014). With an estimated 80% of all domestic abuse cases going unreported (Vic Health, 2012) such laws will make the direct victims of domestic abuse less inclined to seek help for fear of forced separation from their children. Removing a child from an abused but otherwise loving and capable parent is not in the child’s best interest, nor is it in the best interest of the victim to have them too intimidated and shamed to speak out.

Domestic violence has overtaken paternal mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction as the leading cause of child protection intervention (Butler 2014). The Family Rights Group (2014) states that cuts to domestic abuse and family support services, including strict means-tested welfare reforms, results in further isolation of victims. The inability of a victim to seek sufficient support, in the forms of stable housing and financial aid, increases their dependency on their abuser. Cathy Ashley, the chief executive of the Family Rights Group, states that women who report the crimes committed against them are told by social workers to leave immediately with their children or they (the children) will be taken into care (Butler 2014).

In order to understand the disempowering and dehumanizing demands of such practices, you first must understand the complex issues faced by victims of domestic violence. The zero tolerance laws indicate that even those who experience such cases daily are failing to understand that victims cannot simply pack up and leave. Not only are victims psychologically manipulated by their abusers, and usually dependent upon them through strategic isolation, they are also most at risk of extreme violence once they have left their abuser.

Clementine Ford, journalist for Daily Life, writes:

In June 2013, WA woman Angela Furullo was murdered by her ex-partner, James Bill Payet, at the hairdressing salon where she worked. Her pregnant daughter was injured in the attack. In April 2013, Kara Doyle’s boyfriend shot her in the groin. Doyle had been planning to leave him. She was dumped at a nearby Caltex Station with severe injuries and died in hospital five days later. Her killer, Mehmet Torun, was recently sentenced to eight years in prison with a non-parole period of five years. In February 2014, Victorian woman Kelly Thompson was murdered by her long term partner. Just 19 days before, Thompson had applied for an AVO against Wayne Wood. After murdering Kelly Thompson, Wood killed himself.

These are just a handful of the devastating acts of violence enacted against women and children every week in Australia. Every single one of these women were either in the process of leaving their partners or had already left them. If women are supposed to ‘just leave’ in order to end the cycle of violence, what is it that these women did wrong? The answer is nothing. They did nothing wrong (Ford 2014).

When a social worker tells a victim of family violence to leave immediately with her children, without time to source adequate housing, financial aid or support for safety, they are putting the mother and child/s life in profound danger. Threatening to remove the mother’s children will only add to the psychological trauma of the victim and make her far less likely to report future acts of violence. This advice condemns victims whilst doing nothing to address the real issue.

Domestic violence does impact on children, who, on average, witness 44% of all violence (Vic Health, 2013). Children are often the victims of revenge killings wherein the perpetrator murders his partner’s children to make her suffer further. As discussed above, such incidents usually occur directly after a woman has left her abuser. This illustrates a definite need for intervention but not the intervention that has been proposed.

We ought to be asking ourselves, as domestic violence is as much a crime as assaulting someone in the street (for example, the now famed ‘coward punches’), if child protection services have sufficient evidence and reports to remove children from the home then why can there not be a new legislation introduced where the perpetrator is court ordered to attend men’s behavioural change sessions? Or, why is the perpetrator not formally charged and facing jail time? Why is more not being done to prevent the violence? Why are there cuts to essential support services? Why is more money not being put into women’s refuges? Why have there been such harsh cuts to welfare payments for single parents?

Seventy-eight percent of people in Australia who are homeless due to domestic violence are women (Ford 2014) and it isn’t hard to see why. There seems only three, bleak options available to women experiencing domestic violence; stay with their abuser and not report the crimes against them in order to avoid having their children removed; stay with their abuser and lose their children; or leave, putting their own and their child’s life at risk, and face a life of poverty and, potentially, homelessness.

In a written interview, on the 10th of June 2013, Susan* illustrates what many women must endure when they make the choice to leave.

It got to the point where I had to seriously consider getting an intervention order against him. His behaviour was erratic and irrational. One moment he would be begging for my forgiveness for what he had done, saying he would love me forever, and at the next he would be calling me a ‘dumb slut’ and saying everything was my fault. I was scared of him, for myself and for my daughter. I had been too afraid to go to court for a formal custody agreement, fearing what he might do if I pushed it that far, so we had our own agreement where he would have her 3 nights a week. Every abused woman with children knows the horror stories that are both real and common. We all fear for our children (Susan* 2013, pers.comm., 10 June)

Continue reading

Brief Book Review: ‘I Am No One You Know’ by Joyce Carol Oates

303607

These stories have impact- when reading I suggest you wear your seat belt.

The only other short story collections I have enjoyed as much as this are those by Edgar Allen Poe and Kim Edwards’ Secrets Of A Fire King. That said, this collection by Joyce Carol Oates is a stand out winner.

The stories are told with an unnerving conviction. Oates effectively writes the muddled memory and confusion surrounding trauma.

 I Am No One You Know contains nineteen startling stories that bear witness to the remarkably varied lives of Americans of our time. In “Fire,” a troubled young wife discovers a rare, radiant happiness in an adulterous relationship. In “Curly Red,” a girl makes a decision to reveal a family secret, and changes her life irrevocably. In “The Girl with the Blackened Eye,” selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2001, a girl pushed to an even greater extreme of courage and desperation manages to survive her abduction by a serial killer. And in “Three Girls,” two adventuresome NYU undergraduates seal their secret love by following, and protecting, Marilyn Monroe in disguise at Strand Used Books on a snowy evening in 1956.

These vividly rendered portraits of women, men, and children testify to Oates’s compassion for the mysterious and luminous resources of the human spirit.

Oates’ is masterful in building suspense and at leaving her readers yearning for more.  At the end of each story I found myself wanting to yell: “don’t leave me hanging like this!”

The primary theme is “othering”. In all the stories there is some “other, unknowable” person. There is the mentally unstable mother, the sexually threatening uncle, the serial killer, and the borderline man from death row. All these stories are narrated from the POV of a rather bland, normal character and focus on another character that is, in some way or another, taboo.

Recommendation: Everyone must read.

If you haven’t already, you can friend me on Goodreads here and follow the link here to like the Black Ink Quill Facebook page.

Studying With Children

playing at the park.

playing at the park.

One of my assignments for this semester at uni, for my Writing Life, Self & Other class, is to write a blog post.

Well, that’s okay… I can do that. I’ve been doing that.

“Choose an area of expertise,” the lecturer instructs us when we ask for more details about the assignment, “and write a post on it.”

Damn. An area of expertise… What am I an expert on?

Nothing? I ask myself kindly. Ok, well let’s narrow it down then. What things do you do? What are you good at?
(Yes, I do really have internal conversations with myself. Well, arguments usually…)

Feeding and bathing and bedtime story telling in under an hour on busy nights. I’m always ridiculously proud of this. Although, I usually end up soaked to the bone from energetic splashing during the bathing part.

I have a four year old daughter and am in my fourth and final year of studying.

I have totally reached the level of Expert Student-Parent.

Two Weeks Ago:

I am sitting at my desk in my office (papers strewn everywhere, books spilling from the shelves, books stacked in shaky towers on the floor, leaky pens scattered around.) and Olivia is playing behind me, singing passionately about fairies turning blue, and setting up a tea party for her toys. I get to work designing the cover for ‘Behind Closed Doors’. After a while I make the mistake of turning around.

Bombsite.

Toys are everywhere, bits of lego looking gleefully up at me, just waiting for a chance to puncture an unsuspecting foot. Focus, I remind myself. I finish the cover and begin an editing project. A few pages in, the computer screen goes blank.

What? I stare at the screen for a moment. Olivia has migrated to sitting beneath the desk, having just switched the computer off at the power point, she looks up and smiles at me.

 Back In The Present:

Maybe I’d better hold off on awarding myself the title of Expert Student-Parent.

Now, what’s my area of expertise…?

Available Now! Behind Closed Doors

cover final

Seven dark, compelling tales exploring the secret lives led behind closed doors.
We all have acquaintances in life, people we smile at and say hello to, but don’t really know. We don’t know what’s going on in their lives, what struggles they might be enduring, what experiences they may have had, what secrets they are keeping. Behind Closed Doors takes you into the secret lives of those around you.

‘Behind Closed Doors’ is now available for free on Smashwords. To read and review follow the link here.

Brief Book Review: ‘Tampa’ by Alissa Nutting

image

Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She’s undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.

But Celeste’s devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.

In mere weeks, Celeste has chosen and lured the lusciously naive Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his teacher, and, most important, willing to accept Celeste’s terms for a secret relationship—car rides after school; rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works late; body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods.

Ever mindful of the danger—the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind—the hyperbolically insatiable Celeste bypasses each hurdle with swift thinking and shameless determination, even when the solutions involve greater misdeeds than the affair itself. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress driven by pure motivation. She deceives everyone, and cares nothing for anyone or anything but her own pleasure.

Whilst I understood the narrative, the themes and the points raised within the text, it nonetheless left me confused. Some reviews described the graphic descriptions in  this book as erotica. I disagree. This book is not in the slightest bit erotic. There is nothing remotely alluring or erotic in Celeste’s sick fantasies or the detailed descriptions of the sex scenes. The desire Celeste has for teenage boys is simply too inconceivable. Positively baffling.

This book has left me feeling conflicted and, I believe, this is what makes it so good. it will leave ypu with doubts and questions. You will be mentally haunted by this book. Perplexed confusion is the strongest emotional reaction I had to this book. This, I think, is due to the media/societal norms/advertising. Like most, I could better understand a lecherous older man’s interest in teenaged girls than the situation in reverse (though both disgust me equally.) How often are younger women viewed as more desirable? How often is it men who are depicted as the dominant ones? It is far more common. This book certainly flips gender roles and stereotypes on their head.

Despite being told in the first person POV by Celeste, you are not treated to any understanding of where her singularly obsessive sexual compulsion comes from, other than the fact she is clearly a sociopath. This, I think, is Nutting’s intention. Celeste is the kind of cold, calculating predator no one believes a woman capable of being. It makes her light sentance, given because she is an attractive woman (and how could sex with an attractive woman be rape?), seem all the more apalling. It’s appalling but it is also very accurate social commentary. How often is violence and sexual assault towards men taken seriously when the abuser is a woman? And how often is it taken seriously is the abuser is an extremely attractive woman?

‘Tampa’ also gives a perplexing view into how statutory rape is complex and different from rape in general. Celeste’s victims do give consent. They want her throughout the book, along with their peers, and they state at her trial they were willing. Which they were, but they were also manipulated, stalked and used to satisfy Celeste’s selfish, obsessive desires. One victim in particular was clearly left confused and destroyed by his involvement with Celeste. It is easy to see why, even with consent, sex with a minor, even if they are a teenager, is illegal. They aren’t mature or in control enough to protect themselves or to understand when they’re being abused. They have only the illusion of being in control or consenting. In reality they have been stalked and carefully selected for their weaknesses (being quieter, shyer, having less involved parents.)

Overall, this is an intriguing read. Do not expect to understand Celeste. Unlike HH in Lolita, and many real-life pedophiles, Celeste does not try to convince herself or the reader at any point that she actually cares for or “loves” her victims.
This book is quite graphic and disturbing, so definitely not recommended for the squeamish.
To purchase an ebook version, follow the link here.