“Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James

http://www.eljamesauthor.com

Well. Here it is. This review has been a long time coming (no pun intended…eww, sorry) and by now you might be wondering what all the fuss is about over E.L. James’ fan-fiction turned international sensation Fifty Shades of Grey. I must say I was a little hesitant to begin reading after all that I had heard about the book and its sister two in the Fifty Shades trilogy. I would by no means consider myself an angel, and I’m usually rather unfazed by book content, but everyone I knew who had read it made it out to be raciest thing to hit American bookshelves in years. But despite my reservations, I broke down and purchased the book, and quickly found myself wrapped up in the crazy, often unrealistic life of Anastasia Steele, whether I was ready or not. I have to admit, though, that I was not brave enough to buy the book in physical copy. Instead I purchased and downloaded it on my Kindle, lest anyone see me in public reading this fiery anthology of sin!

First, let me briefly explain the plot of the novel. Then we’ll get into my rather mixed feelings about this as a whole.

Fifty Shades of Grey starts out innocently enough with senior English major Anastasia Steele covering an interview for her best friend Kate, regular school newspaper reporter, who is sick. The interview is with Christian Grey, the 20-something CEO of Grey Enterprises who not only happens to be incredibly rich, but also insanely gorgeous. Ana is immediately taken aback by Christian’s strong presence and intimidated by the strange power he instantly seems to hold over her. After stumbling through the embarrassing interview questions, Ana is relieved, knowing she’ll never have to face Christian Grey again. Or so she thinks, until he shows up at her work and her whole life changes. Ana does not understand the undeniable chemistry between the two of them and can’t seem to stay away from Christian, despite his warnings that she should leave him alone.

Ana and Christian’s relationship quickly (and boy, do I mean QUICKLY ) heats up, and Ana begins to learn about the dark side of the beautiful celebrity. Ana, a virgin with no prior serious boyfriend, is a stark contrast to Christian, a sexually experienced dominant, looking for a woman to be his ultimate submissive. After Christian deflowers innocent Ana, he informs her that he will no longer continue their relationship until she signs a “contract.” This is no ordinary confidentiality agreement. This comes complete with a list of “soft limits” and “hard limits” (I’ll let your imagination run wild here…think of something kinky, and then take it 10000 steps further and you’ll get the gist of it) and rules that she must obey. Just to give you an idea of what type of rules we’re talking about, they include how much and how often Ana must work out with a personal trainer, a specified list of foods that are acceptable for her to eat, guidelines about her personal hygiene and, ahem, grooming, how Ana must address Christian (only as “master” or “sir) and finally, a rule stating that she is not allowed to look him in the eye. Oh, and let’s not forget, the guidelines on acceptable punishment that Christian may inflict if she ever acts out of line. Any normal human being would be running to the hills after hearing an order as tall as this, but for lovesick Ana, the choice isn’t so simple. Even after she sees and experiences Christian’s infamous “Red Room of Pain.” Yeah….

The rest of the book pretty much consists of Ana wavering back and forth between whether or not she can handle the type or relationship that Christian wants from her and if she thinks they can mutually satisfy each other’s needs. Combine that with about 9000 sex scenes, and you pretty much have Fifty Shades of Grey.

That all being said, I didn’t HATE the book. I actually didn’t even dislike it. I surely would not place it on my top 10 list, but also found it hard to put down. Sex scenes and kinkiness aside, James does a nice job of developing the character of Christian, leaving us wanting to know more about his past and what has made him this way. I can’t say that I relate to Anastasia on any grand level, but I suppose I can understand a woman who abandons parts of herself and looks past her differences for the sake of love. However, at points in the book, I found myself wanting to go through and do a complete edit. There are sentences and phrases that are repeated over and over and over again in the book that I could have easily done without. If I had to read about Ana “biting her lip” one more time I thought I was going to scream. The sex scenes also got rather old after a while. I seriously felt like I was immune to it by the end. A paragraph would start out with Christian seductively telling Ana what he wanted to do with her, and my only thought was “well, here we go again.” I think the constant sex took away from the book. Maybe if James wrote one sex scene ever twenty pages instead of every five, my attention and respect might have been kept a little longer.

The first installment of the trilogy leaves off with such a cliffhanger that I just had to read the second, Fifty Shades Darker. It is by far my favorite book of the three. It takes us much deeper into the mind of Christian, which I find quite fascinating. However, I have been working on reading the third and final book, Fifty Shades Free, for about two and a half months now and I can’t seem to get into it or make progress. The second book wraps up Christian and Ana’s relationship and lets you know how it will end up, so once this was answered for me, I lost a vested interest in the story. I know that Hollywood is in the works to make this book into a movie, but I honestly cannot understand how this is possible without an NC-17 rating.

All in all, Fifty Shades of Grey is surely not some grand work of literature that will stand the test of time, but still an entertaining read that pushes the envelope on what is socially acceptable.

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“Cocktails for Three” by Madeleine Wickham

http://www.sophiekinsella.com

I’m not very sure why it has taken me so long to get around to reading Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham. It was the first book I remember seeing here in the States written under the fabulous Sophie Kinsella’s real name, so I naturally assumed it was her first. But after doing some research, it turns out it is her most recent novel under the name besides Sleeping Arrangements. Apparently, Wickham has not released any new books under this name in quite some time. Who knew? Published in 2001, this book, however, is still incredibly relevant eleven years later.

Cocktails for Three follows three best friends in London who meet regularly at a local pub for cocktails and catch-up. Maggie is a soon-to-be first-time mother who is completely clueless about what to expect when she’s expecting. She is the editor-in-chief at the magazine where the three main characters work, and thoroughly enjoys her high power job and responsibilities. But now she is about to trade in her career in the city, for life as a stay-at-home mother in the countryside. Everyone keeps telling her how lucky she is to be facing so much free time and attention for her daughter, so why does her heart not agree? (*I must admit–I was a little caught off guard by the amount of alcohol Maggie drinks at cocktail nights. She is, after all, a good seven or eight months pregnant! Maybe this is a more commonly accepted British thing? Any insight?)

Candice is a level-headed, single woman editor with a drive and determination to make something of herself, away from the fortune and notoriety she grew up around, and later found out was from an elaborate scam pulled over by her businessman father, illegally cheating hundreds of people out of millions of dollars. She wants nothing more than to live a simple life with a successful career and man of her dreams. But when a former classmate/victim of her father’s con reappears in her life, she finds herself living back in the past.

Roxanne is a drop-dead gorgeous travel reporter whose job consists of jet-setting to exotic locations, shacking up in luxury hotels, and flirting shamelessly with the locals. But all of the fabulous trips in the world cannot get her the one thing she wants above all else: for the love of her life to leave his wife and family and be with her once and for all. Maggie and Candice know about Roxanne’s mystery man, but are never aware of his true identity, until tragedy strikes and unexpectedly affects all three women.

Cocktails for Three intertwines the problems and lives of each character in the way that only true friendship can. Wickham writes a fantastically honest account of the ups and downs of friendships and paints her characters with such striking personality differences that somehow match up into the perfect trio. I personally identify easily with good-hearted Candice, but secretly long to be more like feisty Roxanne…sans the affair!

Be on the lookout in the next two weeks for a review of another Wickham book, A Desirable Residence, as well as a chance to win your own copy!

 

“Where We Belong” sneak peek!

http://www.emilygiffin.com

I think by now you all understand my love for all things Emily Giffin. She is one of the few authors from whom I have read every one of their books. Each one has been fantastic, with Love the One You’re With being my favorite up until this point, and all the rest coming in at a tie for close second. I was browsing through her website and found out the following:

Good news: Emily Giffin has completed her sixth book!

Bad news: It isn’t out quite yet. The release date is not until July 24. However, I checked on Amazon and it has already gotten rave reviews–from all 21 customer reviews.

(Okay, side note, how did 21 customers get the goods before the release?! Apparently there is some program called “the vine” on Amazon where select customers are selected for pre-release reviews, based upon the helpfulness of their reviews on Amazon.com. ……so apparently I am reviewing my books on a media with no payback. Seeeeeee ya, Literette! Just kidding, I would never do that to you. But really, come on people, keep reading my blog so I can get famous and review books before they are open to the general public 🙂  )

More good news!: The generous Ms. Giffin has given us a free preview of the first chapter! Check it out here! I read through it and, not surprisingly, am already hooked. I’m always pleased by how Giffin can keep my attention so easily even without an immense amount of action. She just writes so darn well! I can’t say I was terribly surprised by the “secret” that the main character, Marian, is faced with, but I am incredibly anxious to find out the whole story…pun intended 😉

“Just Like Me, Only Better” by Carol Snow

http://www.carolsnow.com

Carol Snow is a hidden gem. She is not a name that normally pops up on the chick-lit circle, nor is there a big screen movie based off of her books. But I believe she deserves to be discussed with the likes of Sophie, Lauren, and Emily. Her story lines are light enough to be an escape from your own reality, yet developed enough to make you connect on a deeper level with each of her characters and become invested in their outcome. I happened to stumble upon the first book I read of her’s, Here Today, Gone to Maui when the cover caught my eye at my local Borders (RIP.) Yes, I admit it, I fully judged a book by it’s cover. I was going to the beach, so the beach-y cover and Hawaiian theme seemed perfect. And it was. As soon as I finished, I just had to check out another book by Snow and purchased Just Like Me, Only Better but unfortunately it took me a good while to get around to reading it. What was I waiting for?

Just Like Me, Only Better starts out with Veronica, a single mother experiencing her life in the dumps. An aspiring elementary school teacher, she can’t seem to find a job, or keep a husband. Her’s has recently left her and her young son Ben for life and marraige with an Orange County real estate agent and cougar, Darcy. Veronica’s life in Orange County could not be any more ordinary, blending in and slipping by.

Except, for the one thing that makes her stand out in a crowd–her striking resemblance to the coming-of-age television star, Haley Rush.Veronica has become immune to the constant ask for an autograph or a picture when out in public, and brushes it aside as a no-big-deal mistaken identity. Until one day a chance meeting with Haley’s assistant lands her a job she could never have imagined.

Troubled Haley has–well, let fame go to her head. The young starlet has gone a little bit wild and over the edge, losing her perfect body and tarnishing her “good girl” persona. Haley’s management team think it might be a good idea for her to lay low and get some rest, and try to recover her image. So they hire Veronica to become Haley Rush’s “double–” making public appearances, attending Hollywood events, and even going out on dates with Haley’s high-profile “boyfriend” Brady. Veronica cannot imagine a more perfect scenario–enjoying the perks of being a celebrity, while still being able to return every night to her humble home and simple living. But when the pressure continues to mount and more and more is asked of Veronica, the lines blur between what is real life and what is fantasy life, and she must determine which is more important: being Haley, or being Veronica.

A cute, quick read, Just Like Me, Only Better will let the reader escape into the world of the celebrity, just as Veronica, but we, unfortunately, have no choice in eventually coming back down to reality 🙂