Fifty Shades Trilogy by E L James: An Expected Disappointment

Fifty Shades Trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades FreedBook Review
Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
Author:  E L James
Publisher: Vintage
Released: April 3, 2012
Pages: 528
ISBN-10: 0345803485
ISBN-13: 978-0345803481

Title: Fifty Shades Darker
Author: E L James
Publisher: Vintage
Released: April 17, 2012
Pages: 544
ISBN-10: 0345803493
ISBN-13: 978-0345803498

Title: Fifty Shades Freed
Author: E L James
Publisher: Vintage
Released: April 17, 2012
Pages: 592
ISBN-10: 0345803507
ISBN-13: 978-0345803498

Stars:  3.0

When you read 1,664 pages of a trilogy that only covers a period of a few months in the characters’ lives and end up giving it 3 stars, there’s a part of you that cries out, “I can’t get that time back!”  I have 200+ other books on my shelves that are waiting to be read that are probably better than these erotica novels by E L James.  In fact, I don’t usually read erotica (if you like this genre, I recommend A Love That Makes Life Drunk by Karen Roderick) but I read the Fifty Shades trilogy because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  No less than four of my girlfriends and my sister (who lent me her books) demanded that I had to read it.  Now that I have, I don’t understand what the fuss was about because it’s not a great piece of work, neither as literature, chick lit, erotica, or fiction.  It was the result of a brilliant marketing strategy as this story could have easily been told to great effect in one book of 800 pages or less and wouldn’t have lost any of its meaning or impact.  That being said, the main characters were interesting enough that I wanted to continue reading the series until the end, although when I got there, I was disappointed.  But I expected to be.  Talk about being wrapped up with a big, shiny bow!

Fifty Shades of Grey should have been called Fifty Shades of Fucked Up.  While the first installment of the tale of 21-year-old literature student turned graduate Anastasia Steele and her handsome, sadomasochistic, control freak, Dominant billionaire lover, Christian Grey was interesting in a psychological way and made me to want to read Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed (the bestselling trilogy of all time in the UK) to find out how things would unfold, the sex scenes in these books did not have me reaching for my vibrator or eHarmony.ca, but instead left me cold.  I’m a diehard romantic who is turned on by getting emotionally involved and attached to the heroes and heroines in a romantic novel, and when I am, and the author (Diana Gabaldon or Jane Porter for instance) writes a sensual and sexy love scene, then I am often capable of being aroused by it.  However, there is something too clinical and matter of fact in the sex scenes in Fifty Shades and they’re so frequent that they became boring.  I just wanted to read about the other parts of the characters’ lives.  I’m not attracted to Type A alpha males, but like Ana, I wanted Christian to talk more about his past so that I could understand why he was so emotionally and psychologically stunted.  And over the course of these three books, talk he did.  James didn’t leave one single thing about the lives of Ana & Christian to readers’ imaginations.  You could see absolutely everything coming for miles, there were no real surprises in the plot line, and she even went so far as to write excerpts at the end of Fifty Shades Freed from Christian’s childhood and his point of view on the day he met Ana.  That was too much for me.

There has been a lot said about the quality of E L James’ writing and while I didn’t think it was awful, it wasn’t great either.  Ana’s constant references to her inner goddess and subconscious drove me crazy and James’ use of them, to me, seemed like lazy writing.  The only way Ana responds to Christian’s words or actions most of the time is to exclaim in italics, “Holy fuck!”, “Holy cow!”, “Oh my!” and that’s just really lame.  She’s supposed to be an intelligent literature student so I think that she could have thought of some other way to express herself.  Mind you, she was a virgin when she met the most disturbed (yet loveable) man she could have possibly got involved with, and had absolutely no reference when it came to sex.  To Ana’s credit, she does get to say some clever things throughout this tale and I did care about her enough to finish reading it.  She’s a strong female character and not submissive at all.

The secondary characters, including Christian’s & Ana’s parents, his siblings Mia and Elliot and staff, Ana’s ex-boss Jack Hyde and closest friends Kate and Jose are almost superfluous and don’t really add much to the story, except to set up reasons for ensuing drama, including Christian’s rage and Ana’s concern for his safety (not her own), followed by more sex.  They are not written with remarkable personalities and Jack Hyde is a caricature of every revenge-seeking antagonist I’ve ever come across.

As a social experiment of a read, Fifty Shades is like watching a train wreck.  I was fascinated by it to the extent that I wouldn’t give up on the story or throw the book away, but it was so ridiculous at times, in the way that Ana & Christian (who I envisioned as Henry Cavill, the actor who seems to be the most excellent choice to play him in the inevitable films) kept enduring one drama after the next, with no time in between except to fornicate and experiment with new sex toys, that you’re just left shaking your head in exasperation.

Would I watch the film version of this trilogy?  Yes, if a reputable director and screenwriter took on the project, Henry Cavill played Christian and someone like Krysten Ritter played Ana…I’d watch it.  I think that Hollywood might be able to make it into something worthy to watch because there’s no way they could put as many of the sex scenes into the film as there are in the books and get away with a publicly acceptable rating.  And sometimes, less is just more.

The Good Daughter (A Brennan Sisters Novel) by Jane Porter

The Good DaughterBook Review
Title: The Good Daughter (A Brennan Sisters Novel)
Author:  Jane Porter
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Released: February 5, 2013
Pages: 384
ISBN-10: 0425253422
ISBN-13: 978-0425253427
Stars:  5.0

The Good Daughter is the second book in the Brennan Sisters series by award-winning, national bestselling author Jane Porter.  I was very fortunate to receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) from Jane but the public won’t get to read it until its release date: February 5, 2013.  My review contains spoilers, so read it at your own discretion.

This is the story of Catholic school English teacher, people pleaser, and all around grounded good girl, Katherine Elizabeth “Kit” Brennan whom we first meet in The Good Woman.  Kit is about to turn 40, she’s single, hates dating, and all she knows for sure is that she wants to be a mother.  However, her family is dealing with some heavy burdens and for now, they have to come first.

Although I don’t care for the book cover as much as I did for The Good Womanit’s a little bit too girly and I would have rather seen a cover style similar to that of The Good Woman, with a beautiful, curly red-haired, blue-eyed model looking up at the camera from under her lashes, sporting a sweet but mischievous smile on her face – the story is superlative.

The Good Daughter opens with Kit and most of her family celebrating her sister-in-law Cass’ 36th birthday.  Cass, a labor and delivery nurse, who after six years of trying to have a baby, and who was pregnant at the end of The Good Woman, miscarried, and is now devastated.  Her firefighter husband Tommy Brennan has made up his mind that he’s finished with trying to have a family.  He won’t consider adoption or surrogacy and he doesn’t want to go through another miscarriage with his wife.  He’s done.  Kit’s heart is breaking, not only for Cass and Tommy’s predicament, but also for her father Tommy Sr. and mother Marilyn, who is in the final stages of fighting terminal breast cancer.

I know it sounds depressing, but it’s actually far from it.  These are issues that most of us or someone we know has had to deal with and Porter writes about them with perception, grace and compassion.  Kit had left her boyfriend of ten years in The Good Woman and in this book we find her living happily alone in her newly purchased 1895 Queen Anne style home in Oakland’s Highland Park where she loves to curl up and read when she’s not busy grading papers, visiting with family, or going out with her best friends, Polly Powers and Fiona Hughes, fellow teachers at Memorial High.

Although she’s really not into it, Kit’s friends encourage her to date.  However, the smart, beautiful, red-haired Kit reveals that although she loves to have fun, she hates the torture of online dating, has had some pretty horrific experiences (which I totally identified with), and now feels that she would rather just adopt a baby and be a single parent.

Kit, Polly and Fiona head to the Brennan family’s beach house in Capitola, California for a much needed girls weekend in January.  While they’re at a local bar having drinks, they run into an old beau of Polly’s and his handsome, cocky, aggressive friend, Michael Dempsey.  Dempsey quickly asks Kit out for dinner and against her better judgment, she goes out with him once, only to find out that he’s not yet divorced.  That’s a real deal breaker for her so she tells him that she won’t see him again, but he doesn’t want to take no for an answer.

As it turns out Dempsey is the devil in disguise but his character opens the door for Porter to introduce his step-daughter Delilah Hartnel (who we first met in She’s Gone Country) who becomes one of Kit’s students and we soon discover is living in an unfathomable hell with her wickedly cruel stepfather who beats her mother regularly.  Delilah is a fifteen year old emo girl who has had to move from place to place, enrolling in school after school, where she never fits in, because of her family’s deep dark secret.  We care about her and so do the heroine and hero of this novel.

Dempsey’s next door neighbour is the smoulderingly beautiful, tall, long black haired, dark eyed, tattooed, leather & denim wearing biker, Jude Knight, who Kit had a brief chance meeting with the weekend of her girlfriends’ getaway in Capitola.  Upon first seeing Jude, she’s immediately attracted to him but judging a book by its cover, she just as quickly dismisses him as being a bad boy and entirely unsuitable boyfriend material.  He wouldn’t fit into her tight knit, Irish Catholic family, so she writes him off in her mind right then and there.  I knew Jude would appear again so when he showed up later as Dempsey’s neighbour I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next because frankly, he’s the type of man I can’t take my eyes off.

It took me to almost half way through The Good Daughter to realize that I liked it more than The Good Woman and I did because of the characters and subplot.  The theme of child and spousal abuse is not only heartrending, but is one that needs to be shared and yet isn’t often, if ever explored within the parameters of chick lit.  This is what makes Porter better than any other chick or Mom lit author that I’ve ever read.  She doesn’t make light of serious situations and she wants to include a substantial, thought-provoking subplot in each of her novels.  I loved how Porter wove Delilah and Shey from She’s Gone Country into the story and I fell for Jude Knight more than any other love interest she has ever written because he’s quite simply my kind of guy!

Jude is not at all what he appears to be and his looks, personality traits and hidden life makes him a fascinating hero.  The love scenes that Porter has written for Jude and Kit are far more stimulating to me than what I’m currently reading between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey.  I’m half way through the book and the sex scenes have left me cold, while Jane Porter’s scenes with Jude & Kit had me reaching for my vibrator.  Although I realize that there’s a place for soft core pornography in women’s fiction (and women obviously want it or Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t be the bestselling book of all time in the UK – or are British girls just hornier than the rest of us?), I personally want to experience an emotional investment in the protagonists of a novel and with Jane Porter’s stories, I always do.

I saw a lot of myself in Kit although there are considerable differences as well, but I could relate to how she feels about men after we discover that she was sexually abused as a small child by a neighbour, as was her wild child sister Brianna (an infectious diseases nurse in the Congo), who we learn more about in this story, and who I really hope that Jane will write a book for.

I didn’t want The Good Daughter to end.  I didn’t want to say goodbye to Kit and Jude.  This is the best contemporary women’s fiction novel that Jane Porter has written yet, and after writing 41 novels, she certainly has the right to write the stories that she wants to tell.  Because Jane Porter knows what matters to women and she’s damn good at telling their tales!