Fifty Shades of Grey By E.L. James
April 16, 2012

This is a dirty book. It is probably the dirtiest book I have ever read, and that is really saying something, because I am not new to dirty books.

As teenager, after I finished all the Sweet Valley High Books, I started reading adult fiction of the Jackie Collins variety. These were really fun books. On the whole, the stories themselves were only slightly more sophisticated than the YA books of my youth. But, instead of focusing on high school politics, they were about grown up teenagers, almost-recognizable celebrities living very scandalous lives.

It was like harmless celebrity fan fiction. Except that they were very, very racy. The first adult fiction book I read was Jackie Collins’ Lovers & Gamblers. While I was far too young to be reading it, I seriously loved it and read it multiple times. And not just for its blushingly explicit depictions of casual and frequently kinky sex.

Lovers & Gamblers is positively puritanical when compared to E.L. James’ Fifty Shades Trilogy.

Given that the plot of the series seems to exist only to facilitate explicit sex scenes, its not that surprising that the plot and characters are lifted blatantly from the Twilight series.  The author openly admits that the story started as a piece of Twilight fan fiction called Master of The Universe.

The only difference between the stories is that instead of Edward Cullen being a vampire, Christian Grey is an emotionally damaged sexual Dominant who wants his Bella Swan – Anastasia Steele – to agree to play Submissive in a kinky BDSM relationship.

I realize that sounds really different, but in practice, it isn’t.

Basically, Christian looks and behaves almost exactly like Edward Cullen – down to the copper hair and chiseled abs. Like Edward, he fights a compulsion to hurt the girl he loves, and obsesses on controlling and protecting her.

Like Bella Swan, Anastasia (Ana) Steele is beautiful and special, and only she thinks she is ordinary. She believes that she is too pale and skinny, that her eyes are too big and she is too clumsy. These ridiculous insecurities prevent her from realizing that the most beautiful and mysterious man on earth is hopelessly in love with her. He almost immediately wants to give up his dangerous ways have a real relationship with her and she is somehow FURIOUS about it!  The only thing keeping them apart is Ana’s stubborn insistence on acting like an idiot.

Exactly like Bella Swan, you guys.

I know that Twilight itself is rather poorly written, but the writing in Fifty Shades is epically awful. I’m never one to complain about a little explicit sex in my reading, but even Jackie Collins included an actual plot between the “good parts”. Otherwise, it’s just LadyPorn for the Twilight Soul. There is literally so much distractingly narrated sex in these books that I actually tried to stop reading those scenes.

But, literally nothing else happens.

Any semblance of a story runs out halfway through the second book, so the third book consists of Ana and Christian being rich and in love and hanging out with their bodyguards and maids. It would be very Downton Abbey, if Downton had a sex dungeon.

I have to admit that the biggest complaint I had about Twilight was that it didn’t have enough sex in it. But, the biggest complaint I have about Fifty Shades, is that it has too much sex. I think this makes a pretty convincing argument for splicing the books together. (If someone does this, please let me know!)

Having started as fan fiction – which is really just a fantasy about a fantasy – this book is just using the plot of Twilight as a vehicle for wish fulfillment.

So, to me, the most interesting thing about both stories is to consider what these fantasies say about the reality it is intended to stand in contrast to. Does this mean that ladies these days are beset by men who are mean for no reason, never buy them anything, criticize them for eating too much, make them have jobs, drive their own cars and engage in boring and infrequent sex?

That’s kind of sad, ladies.

I have no comment on the cover art for these books. I was grateful to read it on my phone, so I didn’t have to admit to anyone that I was reading porn.

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Bloodsucking Fiends – By Christopher Moore
April 14, 2011

Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends is a funny and twisted vampire romance from an earlier age of vampire stories, where all the references to pop culture vampires are centered on Anne Rice and Lestat de Lioncourt, instead of Stephenie Meyer and Edward Cullen.

As you know, I possess an inscrutable and unknowable love for THAT vampire series – The  Twilight Saga. However, let it not be forgotten that back in the day I was equally psychotic and irrational about Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. My 1990’s-era copy of The Vampire Lestat featured so many of my favorite passages outlined in fading yellow highlighter that even I had to admit I would have been better served to highlight the passages I did not find profound and beautiful and revolutionary. Growing up in the suburbs of San Francisco, no book entranced and enchanted my teenage soul like The Vampire Lestat. (Except maybe The Stand by Stephen King).

Beset as I am by my love for the most famous vampire series of this century, I am not unfamiliar with the pop psychology analysis of the current vampire craze, which seems to be a bit over-reaching in its suggestion that our predilection for “vegetarian vampires” is emblematic of post-Cold War anxieties and the twin specters of American consumerism and rising globalism…or whatever.

I honestly don’t know what it is about the condition of our economy and society that creates an almost universal interest in vampires.  Nor do I know what it says about us that our post-modern vampires eschew the classical view of humans as a food supply, and instead they want to screw us and love us and buy us fancy cars and houses. (Ok, maybe it does suggest we are a tad materialistic.)

Back in the day, however, the popular interest in vampires seemed more blatantly reflective of a collective consciousness haunted by fear and blood and death in the dark shape of the of the exploding AIDS epidemic.

While Bloodsucking Fiends is set in 1990s San Francisco, a city inside the dark heart of a horrifying real-life pandemic, it is mostly a hilarious and charming tale of a magical city populated by quirky and clever outsiders  – where homelessness, mental illness – and yes – terminal illness play clever and amusing supporting roles.

Originally published in the mid-nineties, Bloodsucking Fiends follows twenty-something  insurance adjuster Jody who wakes up one evening under a dumpster, suddenly immortal with thousands of dollars in cash stuffed in her blouse. Once she realizes that she is a vampire, her biggest regret is that she never shed that stubborn 5 pounds, and is now doomed to carry it forever.  Jody is addicted to bad relationships and needs an apartment and a new human boyfriend to help her manage her new nocturnal and supernatural life. She happens upon aspiring writer Tommy Flood, who is naive and kind-hearted and girl crazy. Their unlikely love story unfolds against a backdrop of murder and mayhem colored by a slacker sensibility that is uniquely 1990s.

Two brilliantly-titled sequels have followed Bloodsucking FiendsBite Me and You Suck, respectively.  I can’t wait to read them and find out how the new millennium and a new vampire craze are treating Jody and Tommy, et al.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah E. Harkness
March 20, 2011

Are you guys surprised to hear that this book has been called “Twilight for Adults”?

I know, I know, it seems like all it takes to get me to read a book is to call it “the new Twilight” or “Twilight for grown-ups”. I’m easy like that. But, I seriously didn’t know that people were comparing this book to Twilight until I had already started reading it. Of course, after hearing the comparison, I was hyper-vigilant for Twilight references. I have to say, the comparing was exhausting and eventually boring and at a certain point, I just abandoned it and just read the story.

While I see why people compare the books, but I don’t know that I would have made the comparison on my own. Every book with a vampire isn’t Twilight you guys, and I kind of wish that people would stop comparing every vampire book with Twilight. (When I say “people”, I obviously don’t include myself and I will continue to compare things to Twilight as I see fit. So there. 😛 )

A Discovery of Witches is the story of Diana Bishop, a scholar of alchemical literature who falls in love with a vampire. Unlike Twilight, that is the least complicated part of the story. It’s really about secret books and secret societies and secret powers.

For a girl who has been reading YA books almost exclusively for years now, it was also really long. I kind of liked that despite reading almost every day, it still took me weeks to read this book. Usually, I get obsessed with a book, and read it all in a few days, and then its over and I’m sad. In this case, I was obsessed, but it was really long and I really couldn’t just read it in a day.

I heard through the book grapevine that my dear friend Vampire Susan read this book and commented that it was very science-y and she had to skip some parts. I love Vampire Susan, and totally understand how the science could be boring, but I secretly love science, so I kind of liked the science stuff. It was also very history-ish, and I am not as good at history, so I felt like maybe there were history jokes being made and I didn’t get them. Also, I read the About The Author part on the back of the book and found out that author – Deborah E. Harkness –  is a professor of history, and I honestly felt a little intimidated.  However, she is also really into wine so I felt like she couldn’t be too scary.

I was actually quite swept away by the romance and intrigue and science and history of the story. One evening,  I missed part of Jersey Shore because I was so captivated. I don’t know what else I could tell you that would communicate how good this book is.

Please be forewarned that this book is intended to be the first of a series, scheduled to continue in 2012. While its clear when you reach the end of the book that it will continue, it isn’t a terrible cliffhanger. That being said, I am really interested in finding out what happens next and will surely read the sequel as soon as its released.

As you guys know, I am OBSESSED with book covers. Little do you know, I am also really into book titles. The cover of this book is just words and symbols, but the spine contains a pretty picture of Oxford. However, I don’t really like the title of the book, and feel like it should have been called Spellbound. Read the book and tell me if you agree!

 

Firelight By Sophie Jordan
January 2, 2011

I started hearing about this book several months ago when it was included in lists of YA novels considered to be “The Next Twilight”.

I feel I must disclose something right off the bat: I love the Twilight Saga. I love it with so much sincerity and intensity I don’t even feel embarrassed about it, even though I realize that I probably should. However, my love for those books is not because I prefer my heroines infuriating and my vampires sparkly. Its because they were my first.

I don’t mean, of course, that they were the first YA books I ever read. But they were, however, the first  YA books of my adult life. The experience of reading them seemed to have flipped a switch inside of me, that I am unwilling and unable to flip back.  Before reading those books, I had almost convinced myself that having reaching my early 30s, I was an adult and I read magazines and internet articles. Occasionally, I read a novel like “The Lovely Bones” or “She’s Come Undone”. Primarily, something Oprah selected and affixed her big O sticker to the front of. I did not read books about teen-aged vampires. But as it turns out, I love books about teenagers – almost exclusively these days, and if the teenagers are immortal or have magical powers, then all the better.

We might not all be proud of our first loves, but we still love them.

So I love Twilight, despite its flaws, and its unattractive metamorphosis into a global juggernaut. I love Twilight because of and in spite of all of all that. Some people are Diabetic or Hypertensive.  I’m Twilight. Its who I am. Its my condition.  Deal with it.

So, like a drug addict, when people say something is “The Next Twilight”, I pay attention.  I still don’t  know if it was the function of a publishing promotional machine, or if there was actual buzz about Firelight, but well before it was released, even Little Old Me knew it was the Next Big Thing.

Even so, I was really surprised at how much I liked this book, and not just because it was kind of like Extreme Twilight Makeover: Dragon Edition.

Firelight is the story of Jacinda, a teen-aged shape-shifting dragon who is new at school because she is on the run from her dragon tribe and its ancient rituals of forced marriage and physical mutilation. Of course, while at high school she meets a superhot dragon slayer named Will, and they promptly fall into my favorite brand of YA love.

Stalker-love!

Patented by Edward Cullen, Stalker-love is where the characters are instantly and completely enthralled with each other, and engage in generally inappropriate and illegal activities designed to express to each other that they care. They tend to break into each others houses, steal personal items and perform surveillance on each other. When they catch each other sulking around, nobody is horrified or worried. There’s no talk of setting “healthy boundaries”  or “restraining orders”. Instead, everybody’s flattered and lovestruck – including me. Its totally unrealistic, and sends a terrible message to Those Kids Today about appropriate relationship conduct. Unfortunately, its very romantic and exciting, and its really easy for naive readers like myself to get sucked in.

Something in Will literally ignites the dragon inside of Jacinda, and whenever they are together she almost can’t stop herself from transforming and breathing fire all over him and burning his face off. But, if mysterious dragon-slayer Will and his family realize that Jacinda is a dragon in disguise, they may kill her and threaten her tribe.

Many aspects of this story remind me of Twilight – the new girl in school meets a beautiful but dangerous boy with whom she immediately discovers an instant chemistry. However, in Firelight, it is the girl who wants to kiss the boy, but worries she might kill him.

Jacinda is a much more respectable female protagonist than Twilight’s oft-despised Bella Swan, in that she isn’t always fainting or falling down or gazing mutely at her dangerously beautiful boyfriend. Instead, Jacinda is a fire-breathing dragon who can fly. So suck on that, Bella Swan.

These parallels strike me more as a homage to Twilight, than an attempt to imitate it. I find that a lot of Post-Twilight YA novels seem to make a point of differentiating themselves  from The Saga, while refusing to acknowledge it.  Firelight, on the other hand, seems to intentionally acknowledge the Twilight archetype, before slyly turning it on its head.

You know how you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover? Yeah, well, I do it all the time. I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for a beautiful book cover.  Cover design is an embarrassingly important factor in my feelings about a book. So its an added bonus that the cover of my edition of Firelight is very pretty and the girl on the cover has hair that is the most beautiful shade of red. I kept holding the book up to my face to see how the color would look on me. Oh and the cool dragon eyes don’t hurt either.