Tag Archive | EL James

The Prince’s Slave by PJ Fox

It wasn’t that long ago that I made PJ Fox’s The Demon of Darkling Reach my September Book of the Month. Since reading, and loving, this book, as well as it’s follow up, The White QueenThe Prince’s Slave trilogy has been on my reading list. The time had come for me to read it and I started it with a little trepidation. I wanted to be blown away by it, as I was with the first two books in The Black Prince trilogy. I’ve been in this position before. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a big Stephanie Plum fan (Janet Evanovich) so I was looking forward to reading Metro Girl when that came out and I was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I expected to. In the shadow of a series I adored, Metro Girl didn’t come close. I was a little worried that after enjoying The Black Prince trilogy so much, I wouldn’t enjoy The Prince’s Slave.

The Prince’s Slave is a modern re-telling of Beauty and the Beast. The main protagonist is Belle, a confused college student, who attends a college in Dresden in the hope that she might find the answer there to what she wants to do with her future. She has been a keen ballet dancer until an injury dashes her hopes of a future career in dancing, but she suspects that this wasn’t her calling anyway. Determined to work hard and get a decent job so that she does not follow in the footsteps of her neglectful mother and her alcoholic father, we join Belle in a nightclub in Prague, having taken her homework with her on a night out that she didn’t want to attend, as she is neglected by her friends. She sees Ash, an intriguing, smart-looking but very intimidating man, staring at her, and when she is presented with an opportunity to speak to him, she uncharacteristically gets defensive towards him. She thinks that is the last she has seen of him until she is tricked into a dreadful situation that puts her in grave danger. Ash saves the day, or ruins her life, depending on how it is perceived, and we are shown how Belle reacts to Ash’s actions as her life changes beyond recognition.

I was overjoyed to find that I had nothing to worry about and was not about to have a Stephanie Plum crisis. I loved this trilogy from the first page to the last. As with The Demon of Darkling Reach and The White Queen, The Prince’s Slave is a really intelligent narrative that challenges pre-conceived ideas at every turn, and it is all the more refreshing for it. While this trilogy is loosely based on Beauty and the Beast, Fox continually challenges the ideology of fairy tales throughout, including the Disney versions, arguing against their perceived image of what true love should be. Not only does she challenge these accepted notions, she urges the reader to consider the possibility that perhaps the assumptions that are generally held about how a relationship might develop is not the only way. While Belle initially is abhorred by Ash, his acceptance and adoration of her just as she is makes her question whether she can overcome her anger and distress at the way in which they have been brought together; she is his slave as she understands the situation, and also this is how Ash understands it to an extent. However, both characters are experiencing new facets of their sense of self. Self-assured Ash realises that Belle is not, and never will be, a true submissive, and Belle is challenged and intrigued by the world that Ash is introducing her too.

In reality, Ash doesn’t want to change Belle beyond expanding her sexual horizons. He treats her differently to his “other girls” by allowing her to share his bed and by giving her all she desires. He introduces Belle to the sexual lifestyle of a dominant/submissive relationship and she is appalled, yet fascinated by her body’s reaction to Ash’s sexual approach. Belle is fighting against being told by everyone in her life that she should act to a rule book of conformity and Ash is introducing her to sexual experiences that confuse yet arouse, further encouraging her that conforming is not necessarily what makes a person happy. There are some highly erotic scenes throughout the trilogy but they are not gratuitous, and each serves a purpose of highlighting Belle’s transformation of no longer being the wallflower but being the centre of Ash’s attention. Ultimately, as Belle learns more about Ash and him about her, they are able to develop their sense of self so that they both get their own happy endings, together, putting to rest a few demons from their childhoods along the way.

One thing I have learned about PJ Fox is that she doesn’t take a beaten path with her writing, but more seeks the road less travelled. While there are undoubtedly minor comparisons to be made to that other BDSM-related trilogy, what Fox does with her trilogy is shows EL James how it’s done. Fox shows how to write characters that engulf the psyche of the reader so that they are able to leave their preconceptions to one side so that the main protagonists can get their happy ending with the reader’s blessing. She also shows how to write a narrative that entices the reader without resorting to formulaic, Mills and Boon style descriptions. Fox displays how to formulate a story without repeating the same coined phrases over and over and also how to educate the reader in more than different types of sexual devices. Fox doesn’t tell the reader what to think, more that she provides as much information as she can to allow the reader to reach their own conclusions, assuming that the reader keeps an open mind and considers that maybe, just maybe, there are other ways for people to be happy; that conforming to an image of what people think is right isn’t actually right for everyone. Everyone has their own predilections and as long as they are not breaking the law, who is anyone to tell them that it is wrong.

50 Shades of Grey has been my guilty pleasure; I’ve mentioned this on more than one occasion. In fact it was a discussion on PJ Fox’s website about 50 Shades… that made me read The Demon of Darkling Reach in the first place. Not any more. I couldn’t read it now without feeling completely irritated by its inadequacies (not that I hadn’t noticed them before). The Prince’s Slave is a much better trilogy in every possible way. It encapsulates all that 50 Shades of Grey could have been in the hands of more skilled writer and storyteller and is much more eloquently written, something I have come to expect from Fox’s narratives, whether it be in her novels, on her blog or indeed, her messages on Facebook! Aside from the 50 Shades comparison, it is just a fantastic story and a joy to read. Fox has previously mentioned that people have commented that her books leave them with the feeling that “they don’t know what to think”. I think that Fox tells a brilliant story in a wonderfully engaging style. No if, no buts. I will undoubtedly be reading Fox’s other novels and of course, the release of final parts of The Black Prince trilogy is just around the corner. However, I have no doubt that I will read The Prince’s Slave again, and again, and again… Christian who?

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Some Reviews Can Be Bad For An Author’s Health!

I’ve been involved in a few conversations recently about the kind of reviews people leave on Amazon, Goodreads etc. and it never ceases to amaze me that there are people who can be downright malicious in their reviews with no real substance to their criticism. While there are some truly dire books out there, behind those books are authors with real feelings who have put their all into their novels. It frustrates me that this seems to be forgotten with the “what a load of crap” and “it’s boring” comments.

Of course, all reading is subjective. What I enjoy to read will not necessarily be what others enjoy to read and vice versa. However, it is possible to dislike a book but be able to appreciate the skill that has gone into writing it. I read a book not long after I started my website called Cold Call by Colin L. Chapman. I didn’t particularly enjoy it; it just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, it really was beautifully written and despite the grimy, sleazy storyline, Chapman had made it an engaging, clever narrative and I gave credit where it was due, although I did say that it wasn’t to my tastes. Why wouldn’t I respond in this way? I’d been invited to read the book and I felt obligated to give an honest review. Honest, not offensive! Indeed, the author has spoken very highly of my review on numerous occasions since. Any criticisms were reinforced by valid points.

How can any potential reader looking at the reviews for a book to read gain any insight where the entire review is full of insults to the writer/book and no proper comment on the reasons why they don’t like the book? What possible assistance can that kind of review be? I can only surmise that the only objective of the people who leave these kinds of reviews is to hurt the author, which seems a bit ridiculous when the worst thing the author has done is written a book that the reviewer didn’t like. Yet it happens all the time. One author friend of mine stopped reading their Amazon reviews because some of the reviews were so upsetting. That’s not to say that their books were awful, on the contrary, the one’s I’ve read so far have been fantastic, and the split of 1-5 star reviews supports this, as there are only a few reviews under 4 stars. However, as these reviews are so scathing and because the author has spent months or years perfecting their novel to the best of their abilities, these reviews must be very hurtful. It’s like throwing a glass of wine in the sommelier’s face just because the wine is not to your taste, or throwing your popcorn at the cinema usher because the film was awful. Just because the book wasn’t to your taste doesn’t mean that you can insult the writer.

I wrote a post a few months ago on the merits of using dialect and swear words in novels after an author had expressed his surprise that I had not felt the need to comment on the number of swear words in my review of his novel. The book was Ghost in the Machine by Ed James, which was a crime novel set in Edinburgh, where the accents are strong and the language often blue. Bearing in mind this novel was set in a police department where they were seeing all manner of miserable scenes of murder and rape, I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t any swearing. It fitted with the setting. It wasn’t gratuitious, it supported an image of downtrodden policemen and women who spent most of their days knee-deep in grime and unsavoury characters. Yet some of the criticism by the few people who had given this book a 1 and 2 star rating is based on the language and dialect, which to me, added authenticity to the novel, and people did not seem to consider this in their judgement, only that it had swearing and Scottish accents in it and they didn’t like it, therefore the book must be awful!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that all 1 and 2 star ratings are pure insults and that some books don’t deserve it. I’m sure there are. I rarely rate a book 1 or 2 stars, as I can usually find some merit in most novels, but there are some that, in my opinion are not worth more than 2. However, my criticism would be constructive, not a string of insults. In my experience, authors appreciate an honest review, no matter how critical, if the argument is supported by valid comments. I don’t imagine for one minute that they are particularly nice to read, though. As my good friend Alison can attest, I got very irritated when I got an assignment back at university and read my tutor’s comments. Not that the assignments were dreadful, just that I was never satisfied with the marks! Yet none of my tutor’s ever wrote “Lisa, this is absolutely dull and boring. You are rubbish.”. They may have thought it, but none felt the need to write anything other than constructive criticism. After I had ranted with Alison a little, I could understand that the comments were meant to assist, not to insult, and I considered the points for my next assignment, hopefully improving them. So, why do some readers of books feel that it is okay to not even try and appreciate the merits of a novel beyond whether they personally enjoyed it?

I don’t tend to read Amazon or Goodreads reviews as I do not wish to be swayed before I’ve even given the book a chance by opinions of people who may, or may not, have the same tastes as me . I understand the merit of reviews, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t write them, and I also understand that the bulk of a review is really based on opinion but surely, as readers, we should give a little respect to these authors purely for putting themselves out there with their work. In such a competitive market, a writer who makes a lot of money is the exception to the rule and given how long it must take to write a book, the risk taken by a writer to spend all that time researching, writing, editing, re-editing, publishing a novel that may or may not make a little bit of money should be admired. That’s not to mention the myriad emotions felt by the author whilst undertaking this unforgiving, confidence-draining process as they pour their creative juices onto the page. How would these reviewers who have nothing good to say feel about the author telling them that their review-writing skills are lousy, the spelling, grammar and punctuation leaves a lot to be desired and their writing lacks analytical style? With supporting evidence! This would be constructive criticism and perfectly valid for a lot of the nasty reviews that people leave, or at least, the one’s I’ve read.

My most critical review was for Gray Justice by Alan McDermott, yet there were many, many people who did not agree and thought it was brilliant. My review was honest and supported by the elements that I didn’t like. I addressed the fact that the premise was a good one and had the potential to be brilliant, yet it wasn’t, and I explained why. I felt incredibly frustrated by the author’s lack of consideration for some of the issues that would have made it such a wonderful book but the points I made, in my opinion were valid ones. At no point did I dismiss McDermott as an awful writer. I haven’t read any others so who know, perhaps the sequels are brilliant. Maybe one day, I’ll give them a try. I’ll be honest, though, even though I still maintain that my review could be justified, it didn’t sit well with me that I’d written such a negative review. I would do it again, though, because it was my honest take on the novel.

I wasn’t particularly complimentary about Grey by EL James either (not so much in the minority here, though) but again, I backed up my issues with specifics and commented on what I did like as well as what I didn’t. I much prefer to give a balanced review rather than a one-sided, all-negative review. Mostly, I like doing glowing reviews and I have been very fortunate to have done quite a few of these since I started Segnalibro. It’s nice to be nice, in my opinion, and I enjoy explaining what I like about a book. I have read some really amazing books by some truly skillful writers, and a lot of them have made my Book of the Month.

I’ve probably laboured my point a bit here (something the reviewers of my author friend’s books would apparently take particular issue with, with no consideration for the fact that there may be a stylistic motivation for doing so) but essentially, I want to implore those people who review on Amazon and Goodreads to put yourself in the place of the author before you press submit on your reviews. By all means, make criticism, but make it constructive. I will always put as much of a positive spin on a book that wasn’t really for me because there will be a considerable amount of other people who will like it, for whatever reason. Certainly with McDermott’s book, I am definitely in the minority of people who didn’t like it. Author’s are people who have feelings that can be hurt by cruel words, especially when those words are aimed at a piece of work that has been their raison d’etre for such a long time. For those who take the time to review a book, keep it kind, keep it honest, but most of all, keep it respectful. Also, bear this in mind next time you leave a review:

 

Guy Martin: When You Dead, You Dead

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Breaking Faith by Joy Eileen

I’m still quite new to this book reviewing lark so when I was invited to review an ARC (Advanced Release Copy – I had to look it up!!) of Joy Eileen’s début novel, Breaking Faith, I was more than happy to oblige. Having recently posted the cover release for the release on 18th August (Breaking Faith Promo Cover Reveal), I was very pleased to receive my copy to read and review. This is the first time I’ve been involved in something like this and I hope it won’t be the last.

Breaking Faith is the first book in The JackholeS series and the novel’s main protagonist is Faith, a college student with a penchant for expensive shoes (my kind of girl!) who has just left her abusive ex-fiancé, Jason. With a restraining order in her hand,she is searching for someone to serve him with it to make it legal. She goes to Ray’s, a bar where one of her best friend’s, Jessie, works, to tell her and her two other friends, Amy, the sugar addict and Trent, the oddball, what she has been subjected to by Jason.

I’ll be honest, I found the first chapter and a half a bit slow-going while we were given Faith’s back story by way of a flashback, all necessary, I might add. This doesn’t last though and I was eventually gripped after the book picks up momentum half way through chapter two when we finally meet Faith’s new saviours, the JackholeS, who are the resident rock band at Ray’s. We are introduced to them through Faith’s eyes as she tries to glean their personalities through their appearance. However, it is lead singer Killian, or Kill to his friends, who has the most impact on Faith. Eileen does a really good job of building up the sexual tension between Faith and the enigmatic Kill. He exudes raw sexuality and it is not hard to believe that perhaps Faith is jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. He has a bad boy image to protect but he fits very nicely into the role as Faith’s protector.  Whether Faith can handle him or not in her fragile state remains to be seen.

Eileen’s initial use of flashbacks provides the reader with Faith’s background fairly quickly so this allows the narrative to flow better once the history of what brought Faith to Ray’s is out of the way. Faith is strong-willed and independent, and having grown up without a mother , she is used to facing adversity. Yet she is unable to get a handle on her emotions and she is no longer able to trust her instincts, having been so physically and mentally damaged by Jason. When her friend Jessie is having troubles, she can advise her of what she should do but she continues to procrastinate with her own feelings for Kill. However, the band, alongside Jessie and Amy, become her new family (a tad too quickly, perhaps) and she is given space to figure out what she wants while avoiding Jason as best she can.

Faith has to face a number of threats throughout the book from sources not always obvious at first. Kill, or Killer as Faith calls him, has to come to Faith’s rescue, not just at times of danger, but as the friend that will be completely honest with her, no matter what. Eileen defies typical stereotypes and this works really well to add another layer of confusion for Faith, when things are not as they seem. There are threats where you least expect them and the reader is able to share Faith’s inner conflict of who will help repair her broken heart and who will damage it beyond repair.

When I read this book, I thought that there were some similarities to the 50 Shades trilogy. Breaking Faith isn’t nearly as overtly sexual or kinky as 50 Shades but there are similar tensions in that there is inherent danger in Faith and Kill’s relationship and they are both characters who intrigue the reader into wanting to know what happens next. Like when I read 50 Shades, I felt like I was championing them, wanting them to become unstoppable as a couple in any given situation. The intensity of feelings between them emulates that of Christian and Ana in that they are so good, yet so bad for each other. Also, who could forget the personified vagina, who instructs the reader of Faith’s sexual feelings in contrast to her emotions,  Eileen’s version of the “inner goddess”, but executed more seamlessly. To those who think 50 Shades is a load of rubbish, please don’t take this comparison as a reason not to read Breaking Faith. While there are a few similarities, this by no means defines this book and in my opinion, this book is better than the Fifty Shades trilogy, so perhaps I should explain a little further.  Firstly, as I have previously mentioned in other posts, 50 Shades is my guilty pleasure despite it’s flaws, as it is for many readers across the world. Secondly, Breaking Faith is written with much more skill and attention to detail than 50 Shades. There are none of the grandiose words to make the narrative sound cleverer than it is and no constant repetition. (The more times you read 50 Shades, the more this grates!)  At no point did I think, “I’ve read this before”, a feeling which is all too common in EL James’s books. Plus, the plot is completely different and a little more believable.

Once I had got past the necessary back story. I found myself unable to put Breaking Faith down. I loved the characters and I really wanted Faith and Kill to get together and for the JackholeS family to kick Jason and any other “doucheboxes” to the kerb. I loved the sneaky peak of Surviving Faith, the next in the series, at the end. I sincerely hope that this will be in the book that is released next Tuesday otherwise readers will be driven mad by the cliffhanger ending of Breaking Faith. I also hope we don’t have to wait too long for Surviving Faith to be released as I am dying to know what happens next. I will absolutely be first in line to promote and review it. That is, if I’m invited!

Pre-order now by clicking on the above link. Released on Tuesday 18th August, 2015

Grey by E L James

The 50 Shades trilogy is my guilty pleasure. I’ve read the trilogy several times and find myself fascinated by Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. One of my first posts was on these books. (50 Shades of Marmite – 5th March 2015) In that post, I mentioned that I would like to read an extended version of Christian’s perspective, after the teaser chapters at the end of Fifty Shades Freed. I got my wish and this week, I finished Grey, which is a rewrite of 50 Shades of Grey, as told by Christian.

I had mixed expectations when I heard that this book was being released, although I was excited at the prospect of reading it. Having read the 50 Shades trilogy a few times, I know the plot well. I hoped that it would be an eye-opener about Christian’s perception of Ana and their relationship but I was a little disappointed at what I found. If the recent Q & A session with EL James on Twitter is anything to go by, so were a lot of other readers. The question about whether she had ever considered to tell Christian’s story from the perspective of someone who could write was my particular favourite, although the question about whether she owned a thesaurus came close!

The premise of Grey holds so much potential. As readers, we wanted to know why Christian fell in love with Ana and what made him pursue her as he did. We wanted to know what made a man so set in his ways change his mindset for the woman he loves. I’m not really sure this book offers any definitive answers to that. In fact, I’m not sure we learn much more than we did in the other books, and that’s a real shame. The biggest flaw with the 50 Shades trilogy is James repetitive writing style and her use of phrasing that belongs in a bygone era. (How Christian’s trousers “hung in that way” and Ana’s irritating “inner goddess”.) You would expect that by her fourth book, and considering that there has been extensive criticism about her writing ability, she would have made more of an effort but this does not seem to have been the case. In fact, it appears that James has looked at the transcript of 50 Shades of Grey and purely altered the perspective, adding a few memories of Christian as a child. There are clues there for the reader to make their own mind up, but this is not what I would expect from a book that is supposedly meant to answer those questions left unanswered by its predecessor.

According to Grey, Christian is completely focused on work and he is determined to maintain his dominant persona. We knew this from 50 Shades of Grey. He is confused about his feelings for Ana as they are so unlike any feelings he has had for any of his other submissives (who can forget the numerous times he said to Ana, with an incredulous expression “Ana, what you do to me…”). We knew this from 50 Shades of Grey. He tries to stay away from Ana and urges her not to get involved with him. Again, we knew this from 50 Shades of Grey. Of course, we were likely to encounter the same scenes and outward displays of affection in both books, considering they mirror each other to a certain extent, but we do not get enough exposure to Christian’s true feelings which is what I was hoping for as a reader. We are shown how Christian inwardly questions his feelings for Ana as he is interacting with her, and his surprise that he can’t stop thinking about her, but he does not explore his feelings beyond surface level. We only get brief interactions between Christian and other people, which could have been used as a vehicle for the reader to get to know Christian better from the perspective of others. This is a real missed opportunity, in my opinion.

We do get the impression that the relationship that Christian craves from Ana has been instilled in him by Elena Lincoln, his “Mrs Robinson”, and as this is the only type of relationship where he feels he can control how much he is physically and mentally touched, we are further encouraged to see Christian in a sympathetic light and not as the monster he considers himself to be. (Those who read into these books that Christian is a sexual predator who beats up women are completely missing the point, in my opinion, but I made my defence of this in 50 Shades of Marmite, so I won’t rehash it here.) However, so much more could have been made of this relationship. What was Christian really like at this point in his life where, in Christian’s opinion, Elena became his saviour? A flashback to this period would have offered further insight to Christian’s point of view, perhaps a flashback to the fight that he has that gets him in trouble as a teenager (as told by Mia in 50 Shades Darker) or showing an example of Christian’s interaction with girls his own age at that time. Christian argues with Ana that Elena wasn’t a paedophile, (at least, he didn’t see her this way) yet the focus is on the sexual nature of their relationship rather than what Elena offered him as a solution to his problems. What did she do to counterbalance his troubled mind? How did she get him to focus on his career to such an extent? It surely can’t just have been because of their BDSM antics. Or was it? This book certainly doesn’t clarify.

James’s fondness for repetition is also back in Grey. There are many instances where Christian has a mental word with himself – “Shut her down, Grey” and “Get a grip, Grey” which just get a bit boring after a while. Also, the language he uses when he talks to Ana before sex is a bit too formal. “I’m going to take you again, Ana”. There is also a lot of description around the mundanities of any action, which is just filling space on the page. We do not need a blow-by-blow account of every little thing they do. It’s just lazy writing, in my opinion. When this space could have been better utilised by more flashbacks, and more insight into Christian’s thoughts, it is irritating to see how much of the narrative was wasted on non-events. I didn’t need to read about Christian going for a run in so much detail so many times. A one-liner, even one paragraph, would have covered it. I also didn’t like the way that James chucks in a few big words here and there to try to make the narrative sound cleverer than it is. If this is to be a Mills and Boon book with kinky sex in it, then don’t dress it up with fancy words.

The 50 Shades trilogy has been a massive success for EL James. I wonder if perhaps this has gone to her head a little and this book was merely a “cash-cow” to increase the bank accounts of all involved. It has also crossed my mind that perhaps she has been sat on this book from the beginning and announcing the release of this book just before the release of the 50 Shades of Grey DVD was a stroke of marketing genius: announce the book in time to encourage sales of the DVD of a film which didn’t do quite as well in the reviews as they would have hoped. (After watching it myself on the day it was released, I can understand why – Jamie Dornan is not Christian Grey.)

James says herself that this book was for all those who had begged her to write more from Christian’s point of view and yet she has wasted the opportunity to give those fans the story they deserved.  Yet, I didn’t hate it. I know this review may sound like I did, but I didn’t. I enjoyed being encouraged to look at the plot from a different angle and I enjoyed being given the hints to Christian’s thoughts and reactions, although I would have preferred more than just hints at times. I enjoyed the flashbacks to Christian’s childhood, his relationship with Leila and his relationship with Elena. I expected the same flaws to be resurrected and I expected to be irritated by the writing style. However, these characters intrigue me considerably, for reasons I can’t quite get a handle on, but I think it has to do with the potential for depth in these characters. When I read the trilogy, I tried to imagine Christian’s feelings, particularly as we were given a few clues along the way and this book is a vehicle to assist the reader on this train of thought. However, I would have loved to have been surprised, to have seen an improvement in James’s writing skills. Instead, I felt like I had to fill in the blanks myself. Would I read the other two books if they were re-written from Christian’s point of view? Absolutely. I wouldn’t be able to resist gleaning at least a bit more knowledge on these characters. All I would say is, if you plan on reading Grey, don’t expect too much and be prepared to become an amateur writer yourself while you imagine your own version of Christian Grey, because James’s version will not satisfy those who wanted to know Christian better.

 

50 Shades of Marmite?

I don’t think it’s right to dismiss a book as rubbish purely based on the hype surrounding it. I read the Harry Potter books, partly to find out what all the fuss was about but mainly because I couldn’t honestly say it was awful without reading it. I reacted in the same way about The Hunger Games. My daughter drove me crazy telling me how I should read this trilogy and I couldn’t tell her yet again that it wasn’t to my taste if I hadn’t read it. (I loved both series, by the way.)

The 50 Shades trilogy was no exception. All my friends were waxing lyrical about this apparent eye-opener of the BDSM world but fresh from my graduation of my English degree, I only wanted to read “good” books purely for pleasure (not that kind of pleasure!!) and I wasn’t convinced by the hype surrounding these books that they would really provide me with that unadulterated, can’t-put-it-down reading experience that I craved after studying many books that were read for their analytical merit rather than for the pleasure of reading them. I like to choose the books I read, not have them chosen for me.

However, as it got to the point where I was the only one of my friends and colleagues who hadn’t read it, I surrendered, in true Anastasia Steele style, and read the trilogy.

Still in textual analysis mode (not sure I ever won’t be, if I’m honest), I sat myself down with a glass of Pinot Grigio and a box of chocolates and started 50 Shades of Grey. I didn’t like it at first. I found it repetitive, hyperbolic and this Christian Grey character, who the reader was presumably supposed to find attractive, just didn’t exude as much sex appeal as I would have expected (given the hype!). By the time Christian had tracked Ana down after her first drunk-dial, I wasn’t feeling the love for either character. Ana seemed unrealistically innocent for her age and Christian unrealistically successful for his age. Yet I carried on reading, willing myself to find whatever everyone else seemed to find in this sexually explicit Mills and Boon novel.

I pompously moaned to fellow university friends that this was a terribly written book and I was struggling to like it but as I continued to read of Anastasia’s sexual education from an apparently skilful Christian,  I wasn’t really feeling the courage of my convictions. As I read on, I found myself being able to brush aside the fact that I’d been told that Mr Grey’s trousers hung “in that way” for the umpteenth time or that the two main characters felt the need to be so formal with each other all the time or even that Ms Steele had made many, many fair points well! By the time I’d finished the first book, I was hooked. My textual analysis mode submitted and I found myself desperate to know what happens to this man who is “fifty shades of f**ked up” and this sweet and innocent girl who dominates Christian in a way neither of them could have imagined.

Of course, some of it is a little predictable. When she leaves Christian at the end of the first book, you know they will make it as a couple, otherwise there would be no point in the next two books. What E.L. James has done though, is to create a simultaneous Bildungsroman of Christian and Ana, as they finally grow up and become comfortable with themselves and with each other. Both learn to compromise and discover that they both have the capacity to love and be loved.

I was absolutely fascinated with the characters of Ana and Christian and would be the first in line to buy an extended version of the Christian’s perspective chapters that James so tantalisingly puts at the end of the third book. In fact, I would go so far as to say it would be a travesty if James didn’t explore Christian’s perspective during his transition period from cold and calculated dominant to besotted husband and father, and the internal struggles he feels along the way, which are only hinted at through Ana’s perspective. However, the hints that James does give us are enough to encourage the reader to warm to Christian as much as to Ana as the narrator. This is the reason that I think I liked this book despite all my protestations: I cared just as much for what happens to Christian (perhaps more, if truth be told) as I did for our heroine, Ana. I understood the struggles from both parties and sympathised in equal measure when they conflicted.

Having read it a number of times since, I still enjoy it, more perhaps than the first time I read it in some respects. The repetitiveness and the unnecessary formality between Christian and Ana grates more and more each time I read it. However, I still wholeheartedly hope that we get more of Christian’s point of view. What did he feel as he gave Ana each thwack of the belt that drove her away? What exactly did his mother say to him when she found out about Elena Lincoln? What actually happened when he took care of Leila at Ana’s apartment apart from “dying a thousand deaths”? (That man surely shouldn’t still be alive the many thousands of times he has metaphorically popped his clogs!)

These are all questions that I’m sure any Christian Grey fan would want answers to among many others. As far as I am aware, James hasn’t ruled it out, so here’s hoping! I’m sure that at the moment she is far too busy with the production and recent release of the first movie of the trilogy and with promises of a further two films, I would imagine she will be too busy to address these unanswered questions any time soon.

The film seems to have unleashed a renewed interest in the books and also a whole new load of critics. While I am all for free speech (especially considering that I’ve just spent my time putting my thoughts on paper to exercise my own right) it irritates me so much when people use the hype surrounding a book or film to their own advantage when it comes to voicing an opinion of what they “perceive” to be right or wrong. As I said at the beginning of this piece, I don’t agree with disliking a book before I’ve read it. So, these people who are complaining about a book which gratifies sexual debauchery (it doesn’t) and claims that the overarching message of the book is that in order to please a man, a woman must be submissive (it isn’t) have either read the book with a determination to misread the plot or perhaps have not read it at all (more likely, I think).

Nothing happens to sweet little Ana that she does not consent to. She is strongly encouraged to do her research before embarking on this  kind of intense relationship by Christian. It could be argued that Christian makes it hard for her to turn him down, but he gives her plenty of reasons and opportunities to walk away, yet she doesn’t. She negotiates her own “contract” and Christian spells everything out for her explicitly, and ultimately, she never actually signs it, choosing to follow the essence of the agreement of her own accord.

More so with the film, critics have grasped onto the violence demonstrated during the belt scene as being beyond the pale. Again, though, Ana asks Christian, “Punish me. I want to know how bad it can get.” She asks him! No force from Christian and her own ulterior motive is so that maybe he will let her touch him,  fully aware that this is his “hard limit”. So who is manipulating who? As Christian tells Ana, she holds the power. If she says no, nothing happens. Simple as that. Indeed, she has to encourage him to try something more kinky when he decides that it is “vanilla” all the way after she leaves him, as it is her who misses the dominant/submissive elements of their relationship.

In my opinion, there is much to like about the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy although the books do have a number of annoying traits. However, the characters hold the attention of the reader and although the sex scenes are a bit too frequent for my liking and the plot itself is quite predictable, it’s an enjoyable read. 50 Shades is like Marmite: you’ll love it or hate it, but only if you read it first. I wish that those critics who have panned this book, or any other book or film for that matter, would make an informed decision, not one based on hype or hearsay. Just like you’ll never know whether you love or hate Marmite until you spread it on your toast, you can’t begin to decide if you like a book before you read it.