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Recommended Reading

Sometimes I question the existence of this blog.  (lol, sunshine and lollypops today. 🙂 )

Someone asked: ‘what’s a good starting post for your blog?’  Hmm… That is a tough one.  So, I responded, via smartphone…
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Review: Fifty Shades Freed

Fifty Shades Freed (2012)

Author: E L James
Genre: erotic romance/adult fantasy
Reviewer Age Rating: 16+ (adult language, sexual content)
Website: vintagebooks.com
Printing: 2012.04 paperback, Vintage Books first edition; 579 pages

Blurb

When unworldly student Anastasia Steele first encountered the driven and dazzling young entrepreneur Christian Grey it sparked a sensual affair that changed both of their lives irrevocably. Shocked, intrigued, and, ultimately, repelled by Christian’s singular erotic tastes, Ana demands a deeper commitment. Determined to keep her, Christian agrees.

Now, Ana and Christian have it all—love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of possibilities for their future. But Ana knows that loving her Fifty Shades will not be easy, and that being together will pose challenges that neither of them would anticipate. Ana must somehow learn to share Christian’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own identity. And Christian must overcome his compulsion to control as he wrestles with the demons of a tormented past.

Just when it seems that their strength together will eclipse any obstacle, misfortune, malice, and fate conspire to make Ana’s deepest fears turn to reality.

Word of Mouth#1 New York Times Bestseller, 70+ million sold worldwide.

I got into the third book because:
I was compelled to finish the trilogy.
…And perchance I have not much, anything better to do.  Still.

Whatever.  This is truly the better one.

Master of the Universe

There is a brief placement of this original title in the thoughts of one of the characters, describing Christian Grey, in his authority figure, the billionaire CEO of CGE.  Master of the Universe was an online serial publication with different characters; this romance novel is a rework.  For Universe, E L James used the pen name “Snowqueen’s Icedragon.”

Introduction

The setting: weeks later, after part two (Darker).  All of the arrangements and executions toward the couple’s committed relationship finished, they are closer than ever, away on a yacht for a few weeks.

Jack is gone (but not really), and Ana has moved up the chain at SIP.  Ana daydreams on a beach, topless; turning onto her back in her sleep, she is scolded.  A fire breaks out at GEH, and security is tightened once more.  Nevertheless, future plans are underway; the plans for the new house are rendered and are, well, more or less complete already.

Undermined out of his position, someone in the shadows is pissed.  So, of course, things will not move smoothly for Anastasia; but she’s maturing, getting used to her new life.  Little does she know what awaits her, lurking, nuts, and ready to kick her in the ribs.

Cutting to the Chase

This last installment in the trilogy actually gets to the point, and then some.  There are fewer not-so-well rendered moments of awkwardness, and the story enters territory the other appears more familiar with.  In other words, the author knows what she’s doing, where she’s going—we can see it; she’s done a better job.  There are tight sequences, there are action sequences, and there are… sex sequences.

The romance has quelled a bit to make room for what’s to come.  And finally, finally we find some carnal withdrawal.  In other words, the third time was the charm—this third book is more realistic.  With brevity the story worked better, the formula (for lack of better word) had panned out.  And more is offered, past all of the fantastical circumstances.  Giggling, tickling… safe-wording… an epilogue and two chapters from Christian’s POV.

Explanations are given, and the story is tied up.

There’s crime and there are consequences.  More specifically, the downside of sex is rendered—using it for power, with blackmail and denial.  CCTV footage is used against the abused.  Without giving too much away, Ana is hospitalized for days at one point.

Justification

There are numerous excuses as to why this part works: the story is set well ahead, where the characters can be blended (whereas in the first installment they cannot).

“Well, stop being such an arse.”

He chuckles and the captivating sound reverberates through his chest.  He tightens his hold on me.  “Arse?”

“Ass.”

“I prefer arse.”

“You should.  It suits you.”

The fantasy is told with humor and cuteness.  I can’t go into detail, though, on the ‘cuteness’ part, as doing so would spoil the copper-haired ending.

Summary

It’s an adult bed-time story.  Sort of.  Not bad, not great, not Inspector Linley… and Christian continues to tease Ana in public, almost in front of children; it’s a tad perverted.  In all, it’s an entertaining story that draws out a kind of bright, idealized world, conveying its emotions without stressing out the reader with unexplained detail.  All is revealed… except E L James’ secrets.  I give this book a B.
——————————
Since completing this trilogy over a week ago, I’ve read into another “Erotic Romantic” series, and couldn’t continue past the first—namely, the explicit and perhaps rushed Bared To You by Sylvia Day.  Fifty Shades is clean in comparison to that and others.  I could say you might want to take that into consideration if ever your children would ever want to read this stuff.

Review: Fifty Shades Darker

Fifty Shades Darker (2011)

Author: E L James
Genre: erotic romance/adult fantasy
Reviewer Age Rating: 16+ (adult language, sexual content)
Website: vintagebooks.com
Printing: 2012.04 paperback, Vintage Books first edition; 532 pages

Blurb

Daunted by the singular tastes and dark secrets of the beautiful, tormented young entrepreneur Christian Grey, Anastasia Steele has broken off their relationship to start a new career with a Seattle publishing house.

But desire for Christian still dominates her every waking thought, and when he proposes a new arrangement, Ana cannot resist.  The rekindle their searing sensual affair, and Ana learns more about the harrowing past of her damaged, driven, and demanding Fifty Shades.

While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Ana must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her, and make the most important decision of her life.

Word of MouthAnother #1 New York Times Bestseller.

I got into the second book because:
1. I am an idiot.
2. I am an idiot.
3. There is something special about the story…it isn’t mere S&M+fluff.

As with the first, the tears don’t flow until later… including my own.  Yes, I teared up.

Introduction

Darker kicks off with a nightmarish prologue—if only it was constructed better.

The story continues only a few days later from where the previous and first book left us.  Ana is feeling the pain in her chest, and eating less, yes even less than before.  (You’d think she’d be dead by now.)  There is no sweetness, there is no Kate, there is only the example of a common workplace with SIP (publishing).

Ana’s boss, Jack, is a load of infractions—the sexual harassment kind, and Ana doesn’t see it.  She is distracted and… well, there’s that gaping hole again.  That is until Christian reenters the the story line, and things uncomfortably move forward.  Slowly but surely, they are back together, and taking bolder risks.

Friction

And pardon the pun.  Yes there are oft-luxurious, steamy, sensual encounters.  But the dynamic has shifted with Grey.  Ana’s departure had forced him to reconsider everything.  No doubt, Steele’s friends would make him jealous, and his friends Ana.  There’s a lot of frowning and scolding.  And some “Very Angry Fifty.”

The S&M is dropped for the most part, replaced with big turns of events (say, plot devices) that force the “couple” even closer together.  More is revealed about Grey’s past, and he is exasperated as ever.  One of his ex-submissives, dirty and well, in need of psychiatric help…has a gun.

So this is not the same story as before; there are some big consequences.  But, unfortunately, the nature and detail of how the story is told is yet again somewhat weaker than how I’m describing with these reviews.  (Don’t set your expectations too high.)

Bored to Tears…or Tease

The beginning of the story with Fifty Shades of Grey started out okay, fairly detailed.  This second part starts off lacking.  With the purpose of moving the story forward, some things get overlooked.  We are instead given an earful of things that are…how do I say it?—Less romantic.  Nevertheless, Ana calls many of these things romantic anyway.

Yes, the process of sailing a boat—a handful of terms familiar to people with experience on the seas (a marina chapter), but fun for Ana, with a touch of…sex.  Of course.  Everywhere they go, sex.  The “Red Room of Pain” makes its brief return, but most of the “sensual affair” is teased out of the two.

But still, even on that end—the events are never “too strong,” even the lewd behavior.  The examples are too mature (adult) to mention here, but I can mention that Ana is once, yet again, put in a position…without panties.

Intensity“USE YOUR BLACKBERRY.” (p.351)

We find again, it is as if Grey has the ability to make undergarments combust into thin air.
“He gives me his devastating, lopsided, 150 percent panty-busting smile.” (p.347)
“… they disintegrate in his hands.” (p.271)

E L James doles out her sense of humor with lines like those, but maybe in better taste with the second book.  This time are there aren’t a ridiculous count of Oh mys and Holy cows, etc.  Thankfully.

“You are a pervert.”

“I know.”  He raises his eyebrows and his grin broadens.

“My pervert,” I whisper.

“Yes, yours.”

Nevertheless the story arc becomes more stimulating toward the end.

Oh, no you don’t, Grey.  I want you.” (p.389)
It would’ve been funnier if left just the first four words.

Construction

And…once again, the sentence construction, like the first book, could be considered on the High School level.  It can make it hard to call these books a series of novels.  And like the first, there are a few typos overlooked in the editing process.  Hmm . . . too mature to read over?  Missing punctuation on page 153.

You can tell it’s not written by an American when the expression “kinky fuckery” is used as if ordinary to the U.S. citizen.  And “Laters, baby.”  Ugh…

Explaining the obvious to the audience is unappealing.  Ana explains the word “repeat”?
“I choose a song haphazardly and press ‘repeat’ so it will play over and over again.  I need some music to think by.” (p.359)

And the blending of train of thought in the writing process, as if the characters were part of the same brain, with the same vocabulary…  (It’s James’ brain, of course.)

I shake my head at him.  “Whatever happened to delayed gratification?”

“I got over it, and I’m now a firm advocate of instant gratification.  Carpe diem, Ana,” he whispers.

Yeah…with this book you can expect anyone in the story to say “Carpe Diem.”  (Not that more than a few characters do.)  But really, “Laters” is the common word…

Moving

The first part was close with tools (S&M), the second closer to actual romance toward the end, with a touch of sincerity.  It actually got intense in the heartfelt sense, enough so that I would call anyone who reads Darker heartless if he/she felt nothing by it.

More of the sex is abbreviated with this book, though there is…still a lot of non-abbreviated sex, even “sexcapades,” even when it might not be necessary to the story.  But some actual hearts and flowers come into play, and Ana makes a chocolate cake for Christian’s birthday.

There is more than one episode where Christian Grey, the “control-freak,” is at the mercy of the elements around him, not just Ana.

“No . . . no!” he says in desperation and puts both hands on his head.

“Christian . . .”

“No,” he breaths, his eyes wide with panic …

So parts of it are moving, maybe more so than the first book.  But it’s still a fantasy with all the convenient circumstances leading up.  Fortunately, the ending—and what makes the third book possible—was written out of scope, creatively adding more of a crime narrative.  A plot device, of course, but something different for a change.

Summary

Some of it’s good and some of it makes you go, “oh, come on.”  Some of it’s tear-jerking and some it is [expletive]-jerking.

This time, toward the end, I actually wanted to get through it.  It is kind of special.  Still fiction, though.  The story so far with all of its events and constant sex spans at most three weeks time. Friction fiction.  Two weeks of perfect weather in Seattle?  Almost unheard of.  Grade: C+

Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl (2012)

Author: Gillian Flynn (former writer and critic for Entertainment Weekly)
Genre: fiction—mystery and detective… literal insanity in marriage
Reviewer Age Rating: 15+ (strong language, some sexual content)
Website: crownpublishing.com
Printing: 2012 hardcover, first edition; 419 pages (includes blank pages)

Flynn would like to dedicate the novel…
To Brett: light of my life, senior; and, Flynn: light of my life, junior

Blurb

MARRIAGE CAN BE A REAL KILLER.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy (Elliot) Dunn’s fifth wedding anniversary.  Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.

Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.  Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior.  Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

Word of MouthPraise.  #1 New York Times Bestseller, for good reason.

“[F]avorite novel of 2012.  Brilliant.” —Kate Atkinson

“[O]ne of the best and most frightening portraits of psychopathy I’ve ever read.” —Tana French

“[A]mazing.  Read the book and you’ll discover … just how much freight (and fright) that last adjective can bear.” —Scott Smith

“A devastating portrait of a marriage and a timely, cautionary tale about an age in which everyone’s dreams seem to be imploding.” —Laura Lippman

Gone Girl is like Scenes from a Marriage remade by Alfred Htichcock … It’s a love story wrapped in a mystery …” —Adam Ross

Gone Girl manages to be so many stellar things all at once … as well as beautifully plotted an fiercely well written.” —Kate Christensen

Gone Girl reminds me of Patricia Highsmith at the top of her game … [Here, Flynn has] placed herself at the top of the short list …” —Karin Slaughter

“Considering how compulsively I kept coming back for more, I am seriously thinking of going back to page one and doing it all again.” —Arthur Phillips

Yes, addictive.
That’s one accurate word to describe this novel.  I couldn’t put it down!  Answers, answers!…  It deserves that other silly word given—in its extended blurb: unputdownable.

Introduction

Amy has disappeared.  Nick is soon suspect.  The public can and will turn on him at any moment, and the plot unravels even more uncomfortably.

The characters express themselves in a manner raw—the full thought process, at first the way they would in public if you were to give them a stiff drink.  But someone is deceitful to the bone—someone’s taking advantage of everyone around him/her.

Nick Flynn (born Lance) immediately comes off as a “lying dick” in a sort of paranoia—the clock reads exactly 6 a.m., “6-0-0 the clock said—in my face, the first thing I saw,” as if…; the sun shines in, through the window, as if…  Nick is also a bit obsessed with Amy, as the book begins:

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.  …  The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head … and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it.  Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil.  She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head.  You could imagine the skull quite easily.

I’d know her head anywhere.

And what’s inside it.

…Oh, big mistake on his part, with that last sentence…

Even at the press conference, it’s as if Amy’s eyes—from even the cutout of her head—are following him around.  But there’s a clear and innocent reason for this.

As the plot moves on, at least Nick admits his lies, while Amy’s diary (carefully interspersed in the timeline) admits to no whoppers whatsoever.  Could she be that pure?  It slowly becomes clear what is going on, and what had happened at the house.

And then the carpet is completely yanked from underneath the reader’s feet.

Someone so close is a complete and utter psychopath.  (I won’t tell you who it is, so I don’t spoil the surprise.)

“Surprise!”

The book comes in three parts, each of them a shock.  It takes the whole first two parts to finally get to the real killer—who it is, and how dangerous he/she is.  I may have been able to figure out each big twist before it arrives, but the book is so well written that I did not stop reading.  (Honest; I missed sleep.)

It’s all cute and everything that Amy puts on a Treasure Hunt every year, every anniversary, in her marriage with Nick.  And it’s also painful, not just because she’s a genius, eventually stumping Nick—a college grad like her, but in how it’s twisted and used against him when she’s pissed.

Oh, it’s creepy—the book.  You don’t quite know what the characters are capable of until you keep reading.  The book will keep you guessing on a number things.

To make things even more complicated, Nick—the professor, as his career was ended by the digital age—has been cheating on his wife with one of his college students for a year.

Add the fact that everyone in the immediate family really loves each other—at least in his/her own way, for as long as possible—and you see the brilliance in this novel.  Gillian Flynn manages to capture a darkness that exists in bad relationships, and take it to a whole new level.

Nick, and Margo (or “Go”), his sister, may be close, but the psycho he doesn’t know—and doesn’t reveal when he does—knows him better.  Too well.

Do I really know (my spouse, sibling, relative, etc.)?  How did we get here?  The book serves as a warning when it comes to meeting, befriending and marrying people.
And that cheaters don’t win.

What are you thinking, Amy?  The question I’ve asked most often … if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer.  I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking?  How are you feeling?  Who are you?  What have we done to each other?  What will we do?

It’s a tragic tale in a way, how the life of the family is snuffed out—the full potential—by the actual psycho in the room.  The person you are sleeping with may very well kill you…  Take that fear and run with it.  (And that’s what Gillian Flynn did, in detail.)

Dishonesty Literally Kills Relationships

Nick loses himself and gets fat, and Amy refuses to be genuine.  So the marriage falls apart.  And the blame and hatred and resentment whenever consequence arrives…things become predictably worse—but not predictable in how, with this novel.

The psychopath (I won’t identify) never gets it, attributing all slips of control to a lack of power.  He/she remains a disbeliever of unconditional love, as expressed explicitly in the book.

There’s that psychological aspect to the novel, however expressed a little too eagerly—or explicitly without asking, in my view.  Real life doesn’t reveal it’s underbelly in spoken language; it usually has to be researched and interviewed, as Flynn should know.

“Jumping the gun” there is part of what I didn’t like about the book.  Flynn is a journalist who worked for EW, not a full-blown psychologist.  She tried, but sometimes it’s a little weak.  (For her sake, the psychology isn’t perfect in most fiction novels anyway.)

But Kudos to her for illustrating the nature of the “dick” (of a character, deliberate or not): having either too little or too much control.

Summary

The first part (Boy Loses Girl) is brilliant and well-detailed.  So much work was put into it—beyond expectations.  Almost/perhaps flawless.  But the second part and third kind of drift, as if someone got tired or the writer or editor thought the reader would get tired.  These parts—a little inconsistent with the first—fairly easily reveal the fact that the novel is work of fiction, with tastes and dialogue coming from a limited number of people.

There’s kind of a revelation there: in order to write the perfect work of fiction you very well have to think like a psychopath, fooling everyone, for the entire piece of work.  Much like…ooh, I must not spoil it.

Maybe it was decided in the editing process to abbreviate the third part—don’t want to stress out the reader, with such an addictive novel.  There are numerous single-page chapters (expressed in days “gone” or “returned”; no chapter numbers).

So I can’t quite call Gone Girl a masterpiece, as some have.  (It’s not War and Peace.)  But it is one of the best crime novels ever written.  I’ll give Flynn that.  Grade: A

(Likely Award-Winning) 2014 Film Adaptation

Claudia Puig (USA Today) gave the movie four out of four stars, claiming the theatrical version—only somewhat different from the novel—better than the book.  According to Puig, director David Fincher took the film adaptation to an even higher level.

Ben Affleck does a superb job as Nick, as well as Rosamund Pike as Amy; Carrie Coon plays Margo, and Tyler Perry plays the lawyer—no longer the flashy white expensive attorney that gets off the worst-looking characters you can think of in publicized trials.

Puig, I think, made an error in her review: “Key players include … Nick’s sister (Carrie Coon) and a phalanx of scandal-hungry reporters.”  Phalanx here means ‘fingers’; in other words “a fingers of reporters”?  Should be “the phalanx of…”  Just sayin’.

Review: This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You (2009)

Author: Jonathan Tropper
Genre: domestic fiction
Reviewer Age Rating: 15+ (adult language, some drug and sexual content)
Website: penguin.com
Printing: 2014 paperback; 327 pages
Includes: the first three chapters of One Last Thing Before I Go

Tropper would like to dedicate the novel to…
Mom and Dad

Blurb

The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years.  There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.  Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva—and spend seven days and nights under the same roof.  The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions are reawakened.  Then Jen arrives with news of her own: she’s pregnant.  This Is Where I Leave You is a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind—whether we like it or not.

Word of Mouth

One of the Best Books of the Year.
Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, NPR Morning Edition, Library Journal

And may I go a step further—one of the best I’ve ever read.  It’s a smooth work of fiction, made easy to read for an adult, with humor.

Introduction

It starts off bluntly, immediately, humorously telling you where this story is going: the family has a hard time expressing emotions.

“Dad’s dead,” Wendy says, offhandedly, like it’s happened before, like it happens every day.

And it was Dad’s (Mort’s) wish (supposedly) to bring the family—whose members can’t stand each other—together for that seven-day period known as shiva.  (Shiva/shibah, from the original hebrew literally means “seven.”)  An that’s seven days, nonconsecutive; the Jewish Sabbath came into play, and…marijuana.  Anything to help pass the time.
11:06 p.m.: DEATH IS EXHAUSTING.”

No one, including Judd himself, could remember just how many relatives and family friends there are, as it feels as if it could take forever—the process, the shaking of the hands, and the short, “crotch-level” chairs…

With the timeline narrowed in on that seven-plus-day period, the parts come in days, the episodes divvied often using literal times.  (From Wed., Chapter 4 begins: 12:15 p.m.)  And how short some chapters are, in short episodes.  Some of them only describe Judd’s dreams—either disconnected from the current plot, or concentrated on remembering the dog attack, or remembering his father—the point/purpose of this shiva.  Often enough, the elements in said dreams are explained later on.

Intimate Character Study

As result of all the concentration, you get an intimate look at the mind of a character—a male one, with all the vulnerabilities and internal struggles that apply.  Days have passed and Judd has yet to process everything that has happened already—and a one-two punch at that: prior to his father’s death, he had been cuckolded.  He would remain in a sort of shock and perpetual hatred of life for the better part of the timeline.

Oh, the unexpected adult situations that play out—at times coming at you when you least expect it.  (You know you have a great story when you can’t predict what’ll happen.)  Subject A: the nature of the scene where Judd discovers his wife, in the process of intercourse with another man, his boss, the “Man Up!” radio personality he works for, Wade Boulanger.

Wade is the sort of type that gets called an “asshole” the most.  He is thrusting when Judd enters with a birthday cheesecake for Jen.  It was supposed to be a surprise, and the surprise was on Judd.  So much so, he first thought he wasn’t even in the right house.  Not until he saw Jen’s face.  Judd has a discovery, a rush of thoughts—he snaps, and shoves the cake at Wade’s ass.  Worse, the still-lit candles set Wade’s balls on fire.

And that’s the material you can put in an R-rated movie, just barely.  The scene breaks that level.  Judd notes what her fingers were used for—besides the wedding band.  Yes, Jonathan Tropper wrote this scene, another with creative word usage.

Whew.

So right there, only three chapters in, you could tell the book wasn’t going to hold back by much.

Tease

Unfortunately for Judd, the ‘nice’ aspects that came with his disconnect, from his wife, are all out of his “unconfident” control.  One to gain weight, out of shape, he was always…sort of unappealing to the eye.  He was lucky while it lasted—his relationship with Jen, starting all the way back from her “ironic cycling,” making her laugh.  And now, he looks over and fantasizes life stories with women he passes by.  Each one, heartbreak.

Cuckolded and deprived, bereft, post-pot, barely awake, Judd is taken advantage of by Alice, a former lover—now his brother’s wife.  She wants a child.

Then there’s the ice skating Penelope, the former beauty he befriended—certainly a tease; that is, until his marriage fell apart.  And…Penny is Wade’s sister.

Complications arise, but the novel doesn’t mature those complications any more effed up than how things had gotten already.  Even scenes that could have gotten worse are interrupted, such as the one where Cole, one of the children, made a ‘T’ in potty training.  He threw the small potty on the table, shattering the table, and the T-shaped dung comically landed onto one of the plates, resulting: an inedible entrée.

Ay.

So…great pains were taken to maintain the humor.  Otherwise, the story would’ve been…well, a muddy funeral and a shiva, literally sitting for seven-plus days trying to meet and greet and hug strangers and hold things together with your psychobabbling mother who fails to find tact when she accidentally exposes her augmented breasts, your jock brothers and their wives, and a revelation or two—try not to go insane.

“The old guy just copped a feel,” Paul says, joining in.

Tropper tied each scenes with some kind of sweetness, acted or acknowledged.  No one consoled the crying Cole, so Judd held him in his arms…getting sticky.  “I make a T,” the sobbing kid said, in his toddler English.  (Or ‘immigrant English,’ as Judd put it.)  “That’s right, Cole,” Judd responded, looking at Paul’s plate.  “It is a T, and a nice one at that.”

Psychological Fiction

Part of the genre attributed to the novel is something called “psychological fiction”—part of the categorization, for the Library of Congress.  And, oh, the reviews that exist touting Topper’s work as an ‘insight into the male psyche.’  Men and their “lust and rage and sweetness”—The Washington Post.  A psychological comedy?  What?

There are quite the number of rough truths expressed in the book, told from Judd’s perspective.  And that includes the harsh reality that women want a man that make them laugh and a nine-incher, a private jet, etc., etc.

Someone always loses and sulks over his/her loss in a sporting play (one-on-one) between jocks, as depicted in one of the scenes—Paul against the youngest, Phillip.
(I have no personal experience to confirm this sulkiness to be a universal truth though.)

With a first-person POV, there are always dreams to fall back on whenever the real life (fictional) fails to bring out the accumulating emotions—the fears that one has, especially.  Judd continues to have a recurring theme of a false leg—eventually repaired by his father.  Dad?  It’s touching…but I don’t see how dreams could advance as they would in the movies—events and people carefully morphing in a very specific order.  Then again, Judd could have imagined all sorts of things leading up to said dreams… something that wasn’t quite written in the narrative.

I certainly find fault in the mentality of the “shock jock”—a mischaracterization, as if any or all of them are simply “assholes” that would, in the apologetic moment, finally admit to their “assholeness.”  Has Tropper ever met any of these guys?  Of course he doesn’t know the real Rush Limbaugh, a name dropped for the purpose of comedy.  In everything I know, the ‘Wade confession’ was pretty unreal, a realized account with a cost.

The nature of the gathering of many, many people, and the “I need distance” relationships of the immediate family make for quite the study, a “creative license” if you will to write in as many personalities as the author could come up with, the stronger of them written about more, since Judd the character would want to ignore the less interesting ones.

Summary

So there are some great things to say about the book, and also some not-so-great limitations, with Wade’s final scene as example.  The novel, in my opinion, tapers off into a relaxed dribble by the end, punctuated with, besides the passing of Mort, its title as a starter: This Is Where I Leave You.  (Judd leaves.  At least for a while.)

Besides the obvious fiction, the book is well-written.  It may descend into distraction from the reality for flow or entertainment (e.g., pop culture references on Philip’s side, not enough counter-balance), but it’s a pageturner—easy to read.  Grade: A-

2014 Film Adaptation

The Shawn Levy theatrical version, also penned by Tropper, unfortunately, severely alters the story in a weak and clichéd attempt to make the characters “more likable.”  It was given a ‘C’ by Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty.  As the saying goes, “the book is better.”

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey (2011)

Author: E L James (former TV executive)
Genre: erotic romance / adult fantasy
Reviewer Age Rating: 16+ (adult language, sexual content)
Website: vintagebooks.com

Blurb

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Chrisitan Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating.  The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him.  Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates.  For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control.  When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Word of Mouth

If this #1 New York Times Bestseller could be summed up in a word it would be: flawed.

I got into it but for three reasons:
1. I had nothing better / more entertaining to read.
2. I heard that it was poorly written.
3. I am hypersexual. It warms my cockles entertains me much at times.  (I laugh.)

So… Where do I begin?  Flawed.  Right.
It doesn’t meet up with expectations or even the second part of the blurb, entirely.
Still, it’s not horrible.

Introduction

At first it rolls off the tongue with reasonably real characters, Anastasia Steele and Katherine Kavanagh, two characters just finishing college, students in their early twenties, the rabbit-pattern jammies, etc.  Ana is shy and reserved, with brown hair and a taste for Twinings English Breakfast tea; Kate is a strawberry-blonde reporter, always able to sense something and draw it out of people (the Kavanagh Inquisition).

Kate is sick, so Ana volunteers to do the interview.  So far, so good.

Already, we’re introduced to the characters in Ana’s head—herself, her subconscious, the goddess, all at odds—oh, the infighting, with an obvious sense of humor.

See?  Not here to find you at all, my subconscious sneers at me, loud, proud, and pouty.  I flush at my foolish, wayward thoughts.” (p.26)

“I flush at the waywardness of my subconscious—she’s doing her happy dance in a bright red hula skirt at the thought of being his.”  (p.67)

Then, in small but exaggerated varying degrees, Ana is feeling so many things for the first time…and that’s when the unreal elements start popping up.

Imperfectly Perfect

First, when self-proclaimed “mousey” Ana is subbing for Kate, interviewing Christian Grey, she is turned on—like others, at his beauty—like clockwork, never failing to flush, in all the sharp swings of facial expressions.  For days.  And then, it’s like Ana has been living under a rock for twenty-one years.

“I’m squirming with a needy, achy . . . discomfort.  I don’t understand this reaction.  Hmm . . . Desire.  This is desire.  This is what it feels like.” (p.68)

So, we somehow have an intelligent college student that’s unfamiliar with relatively basic emotions and concepts below her age group, despite her required reading level?  Reading what?  Tess of d’Ubervilles.

Finally, we find out that Grey is a Dominant.  So in summary, he’s a multi-billionaire, with the Audis and the helicopter(s), running an enterprise with impossibly giant buildings, an impossibly giant pocket book to spend on expensive toys, anything…  He has an eclectic taste and knowledge in never-fail music that includes Kings of Leon, and he’s well-endowed, maturely sexually experienced in BDSM (S&M)—all at age 27.

So from Ana’s perspective, missing the point, he’s just…imperfectly perfect.
To make matters even more unlikely, Kate falls for Elliot, Christian’s brother.

And who can miss the underdeveloped ‘Hispanic’ photographer friend named José, and his “Dios mío! Ana!”  Uttered several times.  Like a catchphrase.

No doubt, Ana will try to manage the “relationship,” trying to escape every now and then, even drinking Cosmos with her mother in Georgia at one point.  But in her cries of pain, falling in love with Christian, her earlier messages draw him back to her, every time.

Nevertheless, it’s a novel that it ties up its elements; every point and turn amounts to something that draws “the couple” closer, including a meeting of the parents…unfortunately without panties.  Ana is always mortified.

Inarticulate Thoughts“Ground, swallow me up now!” (p.18)

Oh, there are so many oh nos, oh mys, Holy craps, and Holy fucks—strewn all over.

In one relatively small paragraph alone (p.58), all of the italics, in order are as follows (not kidding): “Holy crap.” … “Oh no.” … “Hmm . . . tequila.

When Grey makes a food analogy on individual taste, Ana thinks:
We’re talking about cheese . . . Holy crap.” (p.103)

Oh, shit . . . how long is this going to last?” (p.60)  I see…514 pages.  That’s how long.

First person and clean, you can’t help but notice the immaturity in Ana’s accounting of events, in often short expressional sentences, like a text-based video game.  Everything Grey does is ‘hot,’ and everything he offers is ‘delicious’ or ‘divine,’ including his ‘impressive length’—“Oh, the fullness” (p.328).  Not every paragraph, but…you’ve no idea.

“The chicken caesar is delicious. … The wine is crisp, clean, and fruity.” (p.317)

“Cranberry and sparkling water.  Hmm . . . it tastes delicious and quenches my thirst.” (p.332)

“He tastes divine.” (p.348)

“Christian Grey has a sad side.” (p.124)
(Oh, yes, the copper-haired Grey had also learned to play the piano at a young age.)

These are her thoughts?  She’s supposed to be literate and independent, finishing college!

Not For Children…sort of“Shit.  I groan . . . how can I feel this there?” (p.114)

The novel may be “NC-17” in its sexual content—literarily intense (not too explicit), with Grey gingerly biting at nipples ’n’ such, sending sensations…down there.  But you still can’t help but laugh.  It’s so childish in its construction that it can seem as mature as a cartoon, the way things reset.  Without fail, both Steele and Grey can ‘get it up’ every time, any time…also collapsing almost every time.  There is no biological come-down, no chemical resistance, and all the climaxes are described in terms ‘shattering into a million pieces,’ earth-shattering, spirally, etc.  And somehow, Ana the virgin is already skilled.

It may carry a bit of intelligence, using numerous technical facts (researched), but entirely all consequence in the novel boils down to the pending emotional damage.  That’s oversimplified adult fantasy for ya’.  Less knowledge and wisdom on life, more chapters you can expect to find mainly trying to touch you…there.  And then Christian Grey collapses on top of you, and you pass out soundly.

Emotional Draw

It may have deliberate humor, with the emails (“SHOUTY CAPITALS”), but so much of the book is unintentionally funny—almost a comedy.  That is, until the joke gets old, and it can become a sort of agony attempting to read the rest of it through.

It is only by the end that you can finally feel for the immature characters.  Once the onion has unraveled, Ana is hugging Charlie Tango—the balloon modeled after Grey’s EC135 Eurocopter.  She “followed her heart”…after overthinking things, throughout the story.

And so, like any commercial trilogy, it leaves you hanging, needing, lusting, desiring the sequel, Fifty Shades Darker.  And maybe the third, Fifty Shades Freed.  (What a title.)  Come to think of it, there are a few typos in this 2012 Vintage Books edition, including “,.”

In all, it’s readable if you have the time and sense of humor to laugh at your own groans.  And then it’s back to why am I reading this, again?  It’s no doubt entertaining.  But I wouldn’t entertain the idea of reading it all over again, unless to a crowd looking for humor.  At least it made me laugh hard, and groan, and feel a little…something.  At least it helped improve my vocabulary, with words like profligate and foyer.  At least it reminds me that novels have a plot, with detail and structure.  And that people have emotions.

Yes, people have emotions.

“I think I feel a little faint. I take another sip of wine. Alcohol—this will make me brave.” (p.104)

Oh, I can’t wait for the non-funny R-rated theatrical version (obviously cutting down a lot).  And by “can’t wait,” I mean I will make no real effort to see it.
——————————
Next: This is Where I Leave You (finished reading), and Gone Girl (2012)

And for anyone interested in further exploring the ridiculous nature of the writing of this book, and how many times someone flushes or murmurs or rolls his/her eyes, cocks his/her head, Rebecca had posted her take in 2012 with all the counts, to the point of suggesting that the characters had disease(s).  Googly Eye disease.  And yes, it took me two years to put up the link (the new editor is not better!).

A Storm to Remember, now November

It’s Movember— I mean, November, the next month.
’Better get crackin’ on manually reading those other blogs I can’t follow ’cause my reader’s swamped.  ’Good thing I stuffed a bunch of URLs into a single text file, right?  And if Homeland Security misunderstands my use of ‘dirty bomb,’ …I guess I’m screwed ’cause I can’t afford a good attorney.

What was this post supposed to be about, again?
…Oh, yeah, detailing as much as I can, the past couple of days.  Le sh*tstorm.

Oh, and Spank Material for the Clinically Insane has reached Chapter 6. Continue reading A Storm to Remember, now November

Short, Inspiring Book Review: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

What is inspiration?

inspiration (n.): Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling and activity.

I could just leave you with the dictionary’s definition of the term, or I could tell you about an inspiring book I had just finished reading during hurricane Sandy.

(first book cover)

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1987) is about a “big” thinker—a college student and a son in a Jewish mafia that is introduced by another man named Arthur, last name LeComte, to a different world.  Art would rather not follow in the footsteps of his father’s money laundering business, but doesn’t know just how related everyone is in this “new world.” And his father would bring Art to tears, despite the Winnie-the-Pooh-like voice.

Told in the first-person narrative, the reader gets little more than what Art sees at any given point; the background story is painted in drips and drabs, and the developing picture uses interesting imagery to build that whole, such as the “Cloud Factory” building.

The novel also avoids being overdramatic, as the web of relationships would become a bit sinister on one end, with the only-friend and motorcyclist Cleveland Arning breaking into people’s homes, and funny on the other, where Art once uses the flip of a coin to pick whom he wants to be with when a rather non-volatile love triangle forms with Lecomte and the “destined” girlfriend, Phlox Lombardi—the nurse that wears pearls, too much makeup and long painted fingernails that she would tap when nervous.

The writing is in no way gratuitous.  Offensive language is minimal and appropriate to its characters, and its sex is told in few words, even to the point of the brief all-in-one sentence; Art would even apologize for again noting his arousal.

With funny phrases at the beginning of chapters and big transitions in a few endings, in many ways the story is both a comedy and a tragedy.  One of the big characters dies in a fall, but I won’t spoil it by telling you which.  Being the one telling the story, Art calls his own account “exaggerated.”  Add to that the story’s realism, and you’d might think that this Art Bechstein could be a real person.

Summary

Told in three summer acts: the introductions and the wanting of a better summer; growing and getting wild; and finally, the seriousness of the criminal consequences.

Published in 1988, Mysteries is 297 pages of excellent writing, and a fun read that overcomplicates nothing. Involved, I also thought of how things could have been alternatively played at some points only to find, with details not yet surfaced, such changes would instead cause harm.  The story is delicate, and maybe too good to be improved, given its limited setting.

About the Author

Award-winning Michael Chabon has written essays, teleplays/screenplays, short stories, and novels, and this would be his first.  His other novels include Wonder Boys (also made into a film), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and co-wrote the screenplay for Spider-Man 2.  Mysteries was originally written for his U-CA Irvine master’s thesis.  His newest book, Telegraph Avenue, came out this summer.

Adaptation

A film adaptation was finally made in 2009, after Chabon’s failed attempt in 2000.  It stars Jon Foster as Art, Nick Nolte as Joe (the father), Mena Suvari as Phlox, Peter Sarsgaard as Cleveland, rather the bisexual combination of Cleveland and Lecomte as the gay Arthur Lecomte was completely removed in the screenplay.