Monthly Archives: April 2012

Fifty Shades Darker

I previously extolled the virtues of 50 Shades of Grey, and after taking a break for a few days from Ana and Christian’s tortured romance, I girded my loins and cracked open the second book of the trilogy, 50 Shades Darker.

For those of you who have found this blog by Googling “butt plug” or “fisting,” half of you will enjoy your lucky day, because one of those is kinda sorta featured in this book. As it is, the only fisting we ever see – ever come close to seeing – is that of Ana’s or Christian’s hands in the others’ hair. And that happens a lot. Not as often as Ana or Christian gasping, or Christian setting his lips in a hard line, or Ana biting her lip, or Ana coming undone, or Christian frowning. In fact, Christian’s frowning is such a “thing” that, when Ana frowns, another character observes that she’s turning into Christian.

It’s just … WHERE THE HELL WAS THE EDITOR?

But I digress.

To dig too deeply into the spectacle that is 50 Shades of Grey is to approach Sisyphean frustration. Trust me, because I know of what I speak. I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering how it was that Christian Grey was 27 and a billionaire as I read the first book. I don’t think we are meant to really ponder this stuff. I think we’re supposed to strap on our dildos and have at it, as it were.

Okay, so. When we last left Christian and Ana, she had walked out on him, horrified at the depravity entailed in his life of BDSM. (Go ahead and Google THAT, people. I had to, so you might as well.) As with its muse, Twilight, we see our heroine descend into despair, but unlike Bella’s months on end, Ana really only suffers for five days. Christian gets in touch with her, and it’s game on, kids. Christian is prepared to let go of his need for dominance in his playroom, because all he really wants – all he really needs – is Ana. She has admitted that she loves him, but it takes Christian a little longer.

Now, before you start thinking that this is the end of the Red Room of Pain, let me tell you that it is not. Don’t worry – Edward Christian keeps the room, and Ana remains inexplicably drawn to it. So those butt plugs come in handy (no pun intended), although – SPOILER – Christian does point out that for the anally virgin, a finger is a better start. So Ana has something to look forward to, so to speak.

Back to the plot, such as it is. It turns out that one of Christian’s former subs remains fixated on him, so she enters the story to muck up Christian and Ana’s relationship. Also causing trouble is Ana’s boss  at the publishing house. He wants her, which pisses off Christian, who reacts as only Christian can. Meanwhile, Christian and Ana’s romance progresses in fits and starts. She loves him, he really cares about her, can he say the “L” word, can they get past his need for control, why does he love her, why does she love him, can he overcome his tortured childhood, blah blah blah.

What you really want to know about are the sex scenes, right? RIGHT? I’m pretty sure you butt plug searching people aren’t here to learn about the dialogue.

In this book, they rock the headboard in an elevator, on a boat, in Christian’s childhood room, in the shower (again – evidently they enjoy that spot), Ana’s apartment bedroom, Christian’s apartment bedroom, and – YESS! – the Red Room of Pain. Oh, and on top of a piano and a pool table. There may be more. Did the desk happen in this book, or the previous one? I think they wind up on Christian’s desk in this one, too.

During one of the many times Ana challenges Christian, they are in the library, competing in a billiards game.

“You know, Anastasia, I could stand here and watch you leaning and stretching across this billiard table all day,” he says appreciatively.

I flush. [SHE FLUSHES A LOT. That’s another thing that is repetitive, and so again, I ask, WHERE THE HELL IS THE EDITOR? Oh – those are “shouty caps,” according to Ana. Back to the program.] Thank heavens I am wearing my jeans. He smirks. [HE SMIRKS A LOT. So does she. Sometimes they smirk, bite lips and eye roll, all at the same time.] He’s trying to put me off my game, the bastard. He pulls his cream sweater over his head, tosses it onto the back of a chair, and grins at me, as he saunters over to take his first shot.

He bends low over the table. My mouth goes dry. Oh, I see what he means. Christian in tight jeans and white T-shirt, bending, like that … is something to behold. I quite lose my train of thought. He sinks four solids rapidly, then fouls by sinking the white.

Foreplay, Christian styles.

And now, for the butt plug searchers:

“What’s this?” I hold up the silver bullet thing.

“Always hungry for information, Miss Steele. That’s a butt plug,” he says gently.

“Oh …”

“Bought for you.”

What? For me?

He nods slowly, his face now serious and wary.

I frown. [AGAIN – she always frowns. Or he frowns. They frown a LOT.]  “You buy new, er … toys … for each submissive?” 

“Some things. Yes.”

 “Butt plugs?”

“Yes.” 

So there you go. They come up again, so buy a copy and knock yourself out.

Is 50 Shades Darker good? Hell to the no, it is not good. But is it entertaining? Yes. Is it hot? Yes. Is it worth reading? Yes. If you can get past all of the awful writing, it’s very enjoyable. I admit that I read it cover to cover, and I look forward to 50 Shades Freed. Do not, however, mistake an enjoyable read for something well written, because this is NOT well written. It’s like literary crack. You know it’s bad for you, and you feel dirty and low for enjoying it, but you can’t stop.

  Yes, FOUR. Don’t judge me.
Published by Vintage and available on Amazon.com.

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Filed under 50 Shades of Twilight, erotica

Goodbye to All That

What happens when a wife decides, after 42 years of marriage, that she’s had enough and wants a change? That is the focus of Judith Arnold’s Good-bye to All That.

Ruth Bendel is over it. She is tired of her husband Richard leaving his beard shavings in the sink, tired of him channel surfing, and tired of taking care of other people. Her three grown children – Doug, an eye doctor married to a hot blonde wife; Jill, a work-from-home mother whose husband is a school teacher and who writes catalog copy; and Melissa, a 31-year-old single attorney dating a hairdresser – are shocked when Ruth decides to up and leave Richard. Richard is a tad nonplussed himself.

But Ruth wants freedom, and it starts with getting a job at First Rate, where she wears a red bib and operates a cash register, and where she makes a few new friends. On a night out with one of them and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend, she has an epiphany.

It occurred to her that she might have enjoyed doing things like this – going to clubs in Boston, drinking lousy wine and dancing until she was dripping with sweat – for years. But she’d never demanded that Richard take her dancing at clubs. She’d never even asked. He would have considered ti out of character for her, and inappropriate. She’d been a suburban wife and mother, for God’s sake, not someone who was fly. And so she’d never fought for what she wanted. 

That, in essence, is why Ruth leaves her husband: she wants to fight for what she wants, even if she isn’t completely sure what that is.

Doug reacts the most selfishly. Who will babysit his twin daughters while he and his wife head to Nevis for a romantic getaway? He even comes to look at his wife suspiciously. Will she get bored? Will she leave him? Doug realizes that his own marriage might need a re-examination.

The middle child and the rock of the family, Jill, also struggles. She begins to wonder if she will leave her husband. Will his beard shavings get on her nerves? Will she want to wear a red bib and make new friends?

If she could misread her parents’ marriage so totally, how could she trust her judgment on any other issue? If Ruth and Richard Bendel could get a divorce after all these years, why shouldn’t Jill also assume that gravity didn’t exist, and chocolate-chip cookies lowered your cholesterol, and Abbie didn’t need a bat mitzvah, and the shantung silk scarves being peddled by Black Pearl actually felt more like sandpaper than a waterfall against one’s skin?

Then there is Melissa, who cries and weeps and reacts with great emotion. Melissa, however, lives in New York, separated from her Boston-based family, and it is easier for her to wallow with self-focus. She wants to buy an apartment, she wants to figure out if things are serious with the hairdresser boyfriend, and she wants to win her latest legal case.

Lastly, we get to know Richard. He quickly realizes that steady, calm Ruth is more than just a body or a wife. She is a person, and perhaps she has a point. But does Richard come to this realization too late?

Goodbye to All That is funny, touching, and ultimately inconclusive, but that’s life, isn’t it? Can we really solve our problems so easily? If we want freedom and we want something new, can we figure out why we want or need that within 300 pages? Probably not, as Judith Arnold apparently agrees. The problem, though, is that while Ruth’s decisions may not be tidied up, the rest of the family’s are, and that rings a little false. Ruth isn’t the only one with a complex set of issues, yet hers are the only ones not easily solved.


Published by Bell Bridge Books and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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Blackbirds

I would hate to be Miriam Black.

When Miriam touches someone, skin on skin, she sees their death. Sometimes she sees it in a flash, if it’s a quick one, and sometimes she sees several minutes of agony. All it takes is her skin touching someone else’s, and she’s done. She knows how they die.

Blackbirds, a rough, unflinching suspense tale from Chuck Wendig, introduces us to Miriam and the torture of knowing how people die, yet being powerless to stop it. Miriam tried, once, but her failure to intervene hangs like a porous cloud over her. She has tried to use her powers for some good; primarily financial good, providing she can pick the right mark and be there to help clean out his pockets when he dies.

One fateful night, she hops in a truck driven by Louis Darling and sees his future: he is being tortured, and just as he dies, he calls out her name.

WTF, thinks Miriam, who immediately runs away. Unfortunately for her, she runs straight into Ashley Gaines, who, despite his come hither grin and strange sex play, is not a good person. Ashley blackmails Miriam into helping him run a scam on innocents. The trouble is that trouble is following Ashley. And then Louis reappears.

Miriam is a wonderfully complex character. Sometimes I hated her, sometimes I liked her, but always I wanted her to survive. And I really wanted Louis to survive. Ashley? Not so much. In a conversation with him, Miriam discusses the titular animal as she debates which color she will dye her hair:

She holds up the other box. “Blackbirds, on the other hand, are cool birds. Symbols of death in most mythology. They say that blackbirds are psychopomps. Like sparrows, they’re birds that supposedly help shuttle souls from the world of the living to the world of the dead.” A little voice tries to say something, but she shushes it. “Of course, on the other hand, the genus – or is it species, I always get them mixed up – of the common blackbird is Turdus, which, of course, has the word ‘turd’ in it. Not ideal.”

That’s Miriam. She can be a real turd, but she also means well. For the most part, she would like to help shuttle souls, but she’s learned the hard way that she needs to protect herself.

Blackbirds is a quick, tense read. Wendig hooks us with Louis and the question of whether or not Miriam can save him.

If you’re looking for a fun thriller, Blackbirds is for you.


Published by Angry Robot and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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Kidd Black by Harvey Black & Jonathan Levine

There are some books that you read that must be savored. You pore over every word, swish them around in your mouth like a fine wine, and relish.

Then there are books like Harvey Black and Jonathan Levine’s Kidd Black, that must be read as furiously as it appears to have been written. You start, and you don’t stop until you turn the last page. You can’t stop, for one, and for another, you realize that you are off to the races with this book. In other words, do not start reading it until you can map out a few hours, because you will not be able to put it down.

Kidd Black tells the story of a blue-eyed, half black, half white West Point grad who “died” 18 years previously. But that “death” is for all but the PACT – the President’s Advisory Council on Terrorism – an organization that ferrets out terrorists by using people like Kidd Black. The book starts with Kidd in Greece, hot on the trail of the evil Christopher Dalakos. By the time we get through the first chapter, Kidd has saved the lives of over 5,000 children during the Athens Olympics. Shortly after that, Kidd is called to  help a former West Point classmate, Devon Williams, whose wife, the comely Monique, has apparently taken their daughter and run off with another man. That man, PACT and Kidd quickly learn is the notorious Dalakos.

This book is chock full of two things: action and characters. In short measure, Kidd saves Devon’s life and goes on the run with him and another former classmate, Barry Feldman. As Barry recalls

He wanted to do something for his country and that was that. He was always pushing himself to get in better shape. He used to say, “If I’m not accepted at West Point, it won’t be because I failed the physical!”

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Barry can hear Kidd saying, “That’s the end of the story, back on our heads,” but Barry has already stopped listening because the realization has come over him. It really is Kidd Black.

Doctor Barry Feldman, a man of science, says, “I know there’s a rational explanation for all this, but for now, let me just believe it’s a miracle.”

Then Barry does something he’s never done before in his life. He wraps his arms around Kidd and squeezes him as though he’d never let go. He whispers, “A miracle. A god damn miracle.” 

In addition to Barry and Devon, we meet Monique, who at one time had a “relationship” with Kidd. We also get to know her and Devon’s daughter, Sabrina Rose, as well as Amanda Mason, the President’s Chief of Staff, the President himself, a hired assassin named Karl, Kidd’s parents, and a few others. But you will not get confused. Harvey Black & Jonathan Levine do an outstanding job of giving each character his or her own personality, and even with the very fast-paced action, this is an easy book to follow.

Can Kidd rescue Monique and Sabrina? Will he discover corruption within the government? Will he be the hero? Well, you need to read and find out.


Published by Laddin Press and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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Living Proof by Kira Peikoff

Fifteen years from now, in Kira Peikoff’s vision, the United States is under siege. Religious conservatives have banned not only stem cell testing, but the destruction of all in vitro embryos. Those embryos, the conservatives believe, are human beings who deserve the opportunity to exist, whether in continued embryonic form or not. Destroying them is akin to murder.

But what if you had a debilitating, life threatening disease, such as multiple sclerosis? What if the only path by which you could be cured was through stem cell research and testing? What happens then?

Such is the quandary in Peikoff’s Living Proof, a fairly well balanced suspense and romance focused on the battle between religion and science.

Arianna Drake is an OB-GYN with her own fertility practice. She also has MS and desperately wants a cure. Toward that end, she is cloning embryos in an attempt to outwit the DEP – Department of Embryo Preservation, a fierce watchdog organization run by Gideon Dopp, a former priest. Arianna believes that Dopp and his colleagues are religious zealots determined to shove their faith down the throats of people such as herself, those who believe that saving lives is just as important as saving embryos. Dopp is convinced that Arianna is breaking the law, so he enlists Trent Rowe to go undercover. Get to know Arianna, Dopp commands, and see if you can figure out what she’s hiding.

Trent goes undercover, all right, and the man who believes that the DEP is doing the right thing quickly has all of his beliefs questioned. Is Dopp right? Is the DEP doing God’s will? Are they on the side of righteousness and goodness? Or does Arianna have a point? Isn’t saving lives just as important?

What Peikoff gets right in Living Proof is presenting a reasonably balanced discussion of science versus faith. As Trent tries to make sense of the struggle, he goes to talk to his family priest, Father Paul:

“You’re right, the Church isn’t perfect, but that’s because it’s run by men. Remember the whole idea of faith, Trent: Let go of reason adn give in to God’s higher plan. We can’t question Him, we can only follow.”

“I guess so. It’s just hard when I’m so torn.”

“No wonder you’re miserable, Trent. If you think about yourself and your problems all the time, it only depresses you because deep down you know how selfish you’re being. Think of Jesus. You need to learn to sacrifice your own desires in order to do something that will help others. That’s the only way to come out of this. Let the Lord guide you back to grace.”

Trent remains somewhat confused. Isn’t using stem cells a way of doing something that will help others? Gideon Dopp agrees with Father Paul, and, unlike Trent, Gideon has experience with fertility clinics. A former priest himself, Gideon fell in love with his wife when she was his parishioner, and the two resorted to in vitro fertilization after four years of failed attempts. He believes that their “suffering was God’s punishment for Dopp’s abandonment of the priesthood,” and after giving up on in vitro, they were blessed with not one but two pregnancies. Dopp is self-righteous, but Peikoff does an excellent job of not making him a caricature. His motives are pure, if not narrow minded.

Arianna presents the opposing point of view, as it were. As she says to Trent:

“I believe that following your own happiness is what life is all about. What makes religion so bad is that it condemns you for caring about exactly that.”

“But they say you should devote your life to others.”

“… Why are you doubting your own doubt? When you abandon your reason for faith in God, you succumb to the notion that you’re a pawn of some higher being. But you are the only one in control of your life – of what you love and who you love.”

Arianna despises what she views as religious manipulation, and decries the fact that the faithful give good lip service to having faith over proof, yet they deny evidence of the help that stem cells provide.

The suspense comes when Arianna’s pals come oh so close to a cure. Will she be saved before she gets caught? And what about Trent? Whose side will he choose?

Living Proof will give you a lot to think about. If you believe that stem cell research is evil, you might find yourself admitting that it can lead to some good things. If you believe that fundamentalists are freaks and kooks, you may come to see that it is not so simple.

While not perfect – Living Proof has moments where it drags, and drags badly – this nonetheless is an engrossing book that is sure to stir discussion. It would be a good book club choice, because it certainly offers a lot to talk about and debate.


Published by Tor Books and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

You know how there are some books and some characters you just fall in love with immediately? And you want to re-read those books and stay connected to those characters as long as possible?

That is me with Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series. I’m not sure what I want more: to be Jessica Darling’s best friend or Megan McCafferty’s best friend. I think I’ll settle for Megan McCafferty, because she’s, you know, real.
We’re going to start with Sloppy Firsts, because it is the first of the five-book series.
We meet sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling, the younger daughter of two parents who seem to continually disappoint her and us. Her mother, the only real caricature in the book, is obsessed with planning the wedding of Jessica’s older sister, Bethany, to a guy called G-Money. Jessica, meanwhile, is forced to navigate her junior year of high school without her best friend, Hope, who has moved from Pineville, New Jersey, with her parents shortly after the death of Hope’s older brother. Jessica soon becomes acquainted with Marcus Flutie, a friend of Hope’s brother, and engages in a push and pull attraction to him. She likes him, she doesn’t like him. She wants him, she is appalled by him. Marcus, you see, is Bad News, or at least he appears to be. He might or might not have engaged in some chemical extracurricular activities with Hope’s brother, which might or might not have played a part in the brother’s death, which might or might not cause some awkwardness with Hope.
Told in a journal form, Sloppy Firsts takes us along for Jessica’s voyage from “lost without my best friend” to “oh, wow, I might have friends after all.” She desperately wants to maintain her 99.66 GPA, form a relationship with Paul Parlipiano, and reclaim her period, which has gone MIA. And she wants Hope back, because Hope, Jessica believes, is the only person who understands her.
Then there is Marcus Flutie. 
Oh, people. I think we all probably knew a Marcus Flutie in our time, and here we are confronted with him again. Marcus, aka Krispy Kreme, is every parent’s worst nightmare, which makes him catnip for high school girls. Jessica crosses paths with him in the school office, and the two begin a relationship of sorts. Jessica is drawn to Marcus, but she can’t figure out why. She wants Paul Parlipiano; she has wanted Paul Parlipiano for years. So why does she want Marcus Flutie so much? Why does she agree to help him fake a drug test? It’s one thing for him to be everything Jessica isn’t, but it’s another thing entirely for him to hold any fault whatsoever in Hope’s brother’s overdose.

“I was feeling so optimistic that I made a vow to myself then and there: I will be normal. I will accept that Hope is gone. I will not be afraid of being friends with Hy. I will face up to the fact that Paul Parlipiano will not devirginize me. I will stop thinking that Marcus Flutie is trying to corrupt me. I will be normal.”

This book is so good. As a high school teacher, I can tell you that it is as realistic a depiction of high school life as you’re going to find. Kids struggle to fit in, and Jessica sure does once Hope leaves. They also struggle with their virginity and what it means to be a virgin today. They want to be successful and go to their college of choice, and they want their parents to appreciate them. As much as Jessica’s mother drives her nuts, she does want a relationship with her. Her father’s affectionate nickname for her, “Notso” (as in “Not so Darling”) is sweet and dorky, as most fathers are. 
Jessica herself is as flawed as they come, which is why I love her so much. She makes mistakes. Oy, does she make mistakes. There are times you will want to read this as you would watch a horror movie: your hands over your eyes, peeking between your fingers. I actually found myself occasionally saying out loud, “Oh, girl, no.” But that’s what makes her so real. Unlike for many YA heroines, nothing comes easily for Jessica Darling. She continually has to learn from her mistakes, and she continually screws up. You will cheer her on and want her to figure things out. You will want her to be happy.
If you want to take a trip down memory lane and revisit the high school experience, please read Sloppy Firsts. It is, quite simply, one of the best books I’ve ever read. 
Published by Broadway and available on Amazon.com.

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Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

It had to happen, sooner or later. I knew I would give in and succumb to curiosity. What is the big deal about 50 Shades of Grey? What fresh hell of spanking did E. L. James write? Is it worth the hype, or not?

And so I did. I bought a copy of 50 Shades of Grey, and despite feeling kind of dirty and kind of pervy, I read it, cover to cover, over the weekend.

In case you live in a tree’s knot hole, here is the basic synopsis of 50 Shades of Grey: on the cusp of graduating from college, Anastasia Steele (for reals, that is her name) meets 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey when Ana’s roommate, Kate, cannot make her appointment. Kate is supposed to interview Christian for the school’s newspaper, and so, in the throes of the flu, she enlists Ana to take care of business. (One of the interview questions: are you gay. Again, for reals.) When Christian and Ana shake hands, each feels an electric current, and each is undeniably attracted to the other.

Now, when most couples discuss the parameters of their relationship, they focus on things such as weekend plans, seeing other people, favorite foods, etc. When Christian and Ana have that little chat, they cover things such as fisting and butt plugs.

See, when Christian thinks you are a naughty girl, he takes action, and he leaves you – if you’re lucky – with a pink bottom, glowing from the spankin’ you got. He’s also been known to use other paraphernalia, that of the leather and metal variety, in what Ana comes to think of as the “Red Room of Pain.”

Can a girl who wants true love find it with a man who likens affection to a massage by a riding crop?

Well, sure she can! And if you don’t believe me, just ask Bella Swan, who found true love with a vampire.

See, E.L. James started this zippy tome as a fan fic homage to Twilight, a book written equally as wretchedly.

Now, I’m going to admit, straight up, that I liked 50 Shades of Grey, but perhaps not for the reasons Ms. James would prefer. I found it wildly entertaining and cannot tell you how many times I laughed out loud. I’m sure that number count is lower, however, than the number of times we are told that Christian presses his lips together in a hard line, that Ana bites her lips, that Christian runs his hands through his hair, that Ana “clambers” over him, that Christian does not want to be touched, that Ana wants to touch Christian, that Ana thinks she is unworthy, or that Christian does not want to lose her.

Sound familiar? It is just as draining and ridiculous as Twilight, which begs the question of whether or not the same person edited these books.

Anyway. A scene:

He steps back and gazes at me, his expression hooded, salacious, carnal, and I am helpless, my hands tied, but just looking at his lovely face, reading his need and longing for me, I can feel the dampness between my legs. He walks slowly around me.

“You look mighty fine trussed up like this, Miss Steele. And your smart mouth quiet for now. I like that.”

Standing in front of me again, he hooks his fingers into my panties and, at a most unhurried pace, peels them down my legs, stripping me agonizingly slowly, so that he ends up kneeling in front of me. Not taking his eyes off mine, he scrunches my panties in his hand, holds them up to his nose, and inhales deeply.  

Um, okay.

I am laughing so hard right now, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not supposed to do that. But I just … this is funny stuff, kids. I know it’s supposed to be hot – and believe me, there are some pretty hot scenes and some serious headboard rocking – but this? THIS scene? Is FUNNY. I’m still laughing.

So, 50 Shades of Grey. Read it for its entertainment value. If you liked Twilight, and GOD HELP ME, I liked that stupid series, you will like this. It is just so bad that it’s good.


Published by Vintage and available on Amazon.com.

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Filed under 50 Shades of Twilight, erotica