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Book Review: Devil’s Dilemma

Image courtesy of Amazon

Happy Monday!  Today, I’m thrilled to introduce to you another one of my favorite new authors, Sirena Robinson.  I had the privilege of being one of Sirena’s editors on this book.  For a little background:  I received a chapter through a beta-reading service and honestly, my first reaction was, “It’s a bit religious.  I wonder if I will enjoy it.”  I generally don’t read the sorts of books one finds in Christian book stores.  Well, trust me, this is not your average religious fiction.  It’s intense and exciting and unusual.  I loved working on this novel, and Sirena herself is an intelligent and interesting woman.  Many thanks to her for giving me the chance to work together on this!

Sirena will be doing a give-a-way at the conclusion of the blog tour on March 1st, 2014. Five names will be drawn from the comments and each winner will receive a free e-book copy of Devil’s Dilemma. In addition, one grand prize winner will be drawn to receive a goody bag full of books from other PDMI authors.

Here is an excerpt from the novel:

Alaria turned and saw Beelzebub walking toward her. She smiled wickedly and sauntered in his direction, her heels clicking sharply, her whip—with the chain on the end—clinking against the stone floor with each step. She lifted her other hand and studied her fingers, forming a white hot fire ball with nothing more than a thought. Casually, with one flick of her wrist, she sent it at him. Beelzebub dodged, but it struck him in the shoulder, melting his suit and singing the skin beneath. Unconcerned, he brushed a hand over the wound and flicked off the ash.

“Your betrayal has not gone unnoticed, sister.”

Alaria shrugged. “Better with them than you. Millions of years of service, and still the outcast? I decided it was time to move on.”

“This was your chance to win favor with Lucifer. You’ve waited for this since the Fall. Just as we’re about to get it, you betray us and join ranks with our greatest enemy?” He hissed. “Did you really think He was going to take you back? Give you a shiny new set of wings?”

“Something like that.”

“Think He’d be brave enough to send Gabe down to Hell to fish you out of the pit?””

“I don’t pretend to know what He would do. It’s a moot point since you’re not taking me back down there.” She bared her teeth in an absolutely horrifying smile. “I’ve always liked Earth. Now that Michael is about to put Lilith back where she belongs, that frees up some real estate for yours truly.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath.” Beelzebub struck out with a lightning bolt, knocking Alaria back several steps.

Alaria regained her balance and raised her whip to lash out at him. “Then it’s a good thing I don’t breathe.”

Griffin watched the exchange with bated breath. The Devils clashed violently with whips, swords, fire, and lightning. More than one demon was slaughtered just because they got too close to the fight. After several minutes, the loud crash from Michael opening a hole in the floor distracted Alaria, and she looked over long enough to see the Angel grab Lilith by the throat and carry her into the hole, the stones miraculously coming back together once he was gone. The distraction gave Beelzebub the opening he needed. He swept her feet out from under her and put one foot on her chest. He leaned down, grabbed her by her hair, and wrenched her head back.

“I’m going to make you wish you were dead. You’ll never get out of the lake, Alaria. We’re going to take turns carving you into pieces, then put you back together and do it again.” He gripped the dagger in his hand, prepared to drive it through her chest and kill the body she inhabited to send her essence back to Hell, where she would be trapped.

Before he could plunge the blade into her, Griffin raced out of the kitchen, the consecrated blade clutched in her hand. With a Warrior’s cry, she flung herself onto Beelzebub’s back and sank the blade to the hilt in his throat.

Devil’s Dilemma is available on Amazon in both e-book now and print as of 1-17.

Book Review: Devil’s Dilemma

Image courtesy of Amazon

Happy Monday!  Today, I’m thrilled to introduce to you another one of my favorite new authors, Sirena Robinson.  I had the privilege of being one of Sirena’s editors on this book.  For a little background:  I received a chapter through a beta-reading service and honestly, my first reaction was, “It’s a bit religious.  I wonder if I will enjoy it.”  I generally don’t read the sorts of books one finds in Christian book stores.  Well, trust me, this is not your average religious fiction.  It’s intense and exciting and unusual.  I loved working on this novel, and Sirena herself is an intelligent and interesting woman.  Many thanks to her for giving me the chance to work together on this!

Sirena will be doing a give-a-way at the conclusion of the blog tour on March 1st, 2014. Five names will be drawn from the comments and each winner will receive a free e-book copy of Devil’s Dilemma. In addition, one grand prize winner will be drawn to receive a goody bag full of books from other PDMI authors.

 

Here is an excerpt from the novel:

Alaria turned and saw Beelzebub walking toward her. She smiled wickedly and sauntered in his direction, her heels clicking sharply, her whip—with the chain on the end—clinking against the stone floor with each step. She lifted her other hand and studied her fingers, forming a white hot fire ball with nothing more than a thought. Casually, with one flick of her wrist, she sent it at him. Beelzebub dodged, but it struck him in the shoulder, melting his suit and singing the skin beneath. Unconcerned, he brushed a hand over the wound and flicked off the ash.

“Your betrayal has not gone unnoticed, sister.”

Alaria shrugged. “Better with them than you. Millions of years of service, and still the outcast? I decided it was time to move on.”

“This was your chance to win favor with Lucifer. You’ve waited for this since the Fall. Just as we’re about to get it, you betray us and join ranks with our greatest enemy?” He hissed. “Did you really think He was going to take you back? Give you a shiny new set of wings?”

“Something like that.”

“Think He’d be brave enough to send Gabe down to Hell to fish you out of the pit?””

“I don’t pretend to know what He would do. It’s a moot point since you’re not taking me back down there.” She bared her teeth in an absolutely horrifying smile. “I’ve always liked Earth. Now that Michael is about to put Lilith back where she belongs, that frees up some real estate for yours truly.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath.” Beelzebub struck out with a lightning bolt, knocking Alaria back several steps.

Alaria regained her balance and raised her whip to lash out at him. “Then it’s a good thing I don’t breathe.”

Griffin watched the exchange with bated breath. The Devils clashed violently with whips, swords, fire, and lightning. More than one demon was slaughtered just because they got too close to the fight. After several minutes, the loud crash from Michael opening a hole in the floor distracted Alaria, and she looked over long enough to see the Angel grab Lilith by the throat and carry her into the hole, the stones miraculously coming back together once he was gone. The distraction gave Beelzebub the opening he needed. He swept her feet out from under her and put one foot on her chest. He leaned down, grabbed her by her hair, and wrenched her head back.

“I’m going to make you wish you were dead. You’ll never get out of the lake, Alaria. We’re going to take turns carving you into pieces, then put you back together and do it again.” He gripped the dagger in his hand, prepared to drive it through her chest and kill the body she inhabited to send her essence back to Hell, where she would be trapped.

Before he could plunge the blade into her, Griffin raced out of the kitchen, the consecrated blade clutched in her hand. With a Warrior’s cry, she flung herself onto Beelzebub’s back and sank the blade to the hilt in his throat.

Devil’s Dilemma is available on Amazon in both e-book now and print as of 1-17.

Fifty Shades of Clueless Hottie

DarkerWarnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

Having been derailed by fibromyalgia and Internet drama during the fall, I skipped four months’ worth of Fifty Shades posts.  But I had some requests to continue the series.  Because I love my friends (even if I don’t love Fifty Shades), I am enduring the pain.  You’re welcome.

We begin chapter 3 with Ana looking for the silver lining.  She says,

The one good thing about being carless is that on the bus . . . I can plug my headphones into my iPad . . .

I’ve been carless.  That seems like reaching.

Apparently, though, being able to listen to her Special Christian Grey “Mix-Tape” is a good beauty secret, because her boss remarks that she looks “radiant.”  Ana finds this inappropriate.  Now, if he were stalking her and giving her expensive gifts and taking her to his Red Room of Pain, that might have been another matter.  But how dare he say she looks radiant!  Everything in this story is some kind of innuendo, so that’s why she deems it inappropriate.  This is because Ana is a Clueless Hottie:  She goes on and on about how unattractive she is, but every man in her sphere is pining away with desire for her.  That might be the single most annoying thing about Ana, even worse than her Inner Goddess and her overuse of certain phrases.

Next, we get a series of emails between Ana and Christian.  I’m sick of these, too.  Can we just dispense with them?  They’re boring, for one thing, and for another, E. L. James isn’t an expert enough writer to pull them off without making Christian sound worse than he already is.  In today’s installment, Christian reminds Ana that she needs to eat (again) and tells her she’s going to need energy for begging him to give it to her.  Yeah.  I think it’s supposed to sound like naughty role-playing, but given the tone of their relationship, it definitely doesn’t come across that way.

After more boring and pointless stuff about work and another set of emails (including one about hers being monitored), Ana finishes her work day and her boss invites her to join the staff for a drink.  Because she’s a Clueless Hottie, she immediately imagines he’s hitting on her again.  She’s “relieved” when she finds out it’s not just the two of them.  This whole thing with every man wanting her reminds me of how we women are taught that all men everywhere are predators and we should protect ourselves.  The whole book series kind of implies that this is true, even though it’s not.

In what I’m sure is supposed to be a bit of humor, the bar is called 50s.  Ana tells Jack to order her a beer.  For a moment, that surprised me, but then I realized something.  She only does the high-end putting on airs thing when she’s with Christian.  By herself, she’s pretty down to earth.  She even drinks beer.  It’s too bad she can’t find someone who might like her for who she is, not who she could become.

Another series of emails later (I seriously think E. L. James was creating filler to make this into three whole books) and Ana is off from work.  She checks herself out (Clueless Hottie) and notices that she looks better than she has been.  (Incidentally, this is probably why her boss commented–wouldn’t you notice if your employee suddenly looked like the walking dead and then equally suddenly looked decent again?)  If the only thing she has keeping herself together is Christian Grey, that’s a scary thought indeed.

This is emphasized in the next few paragraphs, where she meets a woman who knows who Ana is but refuses to reveal her own name.  Ana describes her as looking like a ghost, and there’s an implication of this woman’s self-injury.  Ana immediately thinks this must have something to do with Christian.  Now, why would she automatically draw that conclusion?  That would seem like a stretch, but it’s the most self-aware I’ve seen Ana in this entire series so far.  She recognizes something in the woman that reminds her of herself, and she connects it to Christian.  If only she would make the leap that if he leaves women as shells of their former selves, he is someone to stay far, far away from.

I’m not wild about the way it sounds like women never recover from their encounters with him.  This is a dreadful combination of whatever abuse she suffered (and subsequently internalized) and the idea that we are nothing without our men.  Even if the story is supposed to be about Christian’s redemption, this whole scene would have been so much better if the woman had not been haunted and harming herself because she wished she were still in Ana’s shoes.  I’m not comfortable with the implication that Ana would have ended up like this woman if she hadn’t chosen to let Christian back in her life–and therefore it’s a good thing she did.

So that I don’t drag this post out too long, I’ll stop there.  Join me next week for Fun at the Bar with Christian and Jack.  Should be fascinating to watch two men fight over Ana like she’s an uncharted island and whoever wins gets to plant a flag.

Book Preview: Dying Embers, by Adrian J. Smith

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Today, I get to do two wonderful things: promote a book and promote a friend’s work–all at once.  I have the honor of being the first stop on author Adrian J. Smith’s virtual book tour.  If you like what you read, please follow the links at the end of the post to follow the author on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads or to order the book from various sellers.

I had the good fortune to be assigned to read a chapter of Adrian’s previously published book, Forever Burn, through Project Team Beta, a beta-reading web site for which I volunteer.  I loved her work from the word “go.”  Since then, we’ve stayed in touch and I’ve worked with her on several other projects, including Dying Embers.  I hope you enjoy her writing as much as I do.

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From Dying Embers

She thought she was on the right path, but life keeps tugging Addison back to her past and her gift.

Addison Lee struggles to make a new life in Norwich, one where she can be the Battalion Chief of Fire Station Seven and live life as she sees fit. She wants a life without the complications of an ex-fiancé and a job that put her life on the line for little more than a gift she was born with. Learning the ropes of a new job can always be tough, and being a Battalion Chief means she has a great responsibility to her crew and to the city. Nervous about her first day already, Addison realizes that adding in a one-night stand with a future employee has left her on rocky ground.

Plagued by visions of a dying woman, Addison continues to cope with difficulties at her new job. She has no idea who the dying woman is, where she is, or even, when she is—and no means to find out. Addison is distracted from the dying woman and her new job when called to Wyoming on an emergency, where she discovers it’s not as easy to leave her past behind as she hoped.

She needed to pry her eyes open, which required more effort than she thought she could muster. She worked mucus covered lids apart and felt the pleasant pop of her lashes separating. She looked around, and blinking rapidly, moistened her eyes. Mentally, she knew she was looking around as she felt her eyeballs pivoting in their respective sockets. Yet, everything looked the same.  Dark. Black. Nothing.

No memory. No hints. No clue of her location. She panicked. Her heart pounded. Bam, bam, bam.  She tried to slow the beats: beat, beatbeat, beat.  She took a breath; the air sucking into her lungs nauseated her.

She choked and coughed as she squeezed her fingernails into her palm.  Her body stopped rocking from the force of hacking, but she needed oxygen and air.  She craved it.  Her lips parted, and her head was thrown back into the dirt—a strand of hair clung to her cheek.  She didn’t dare raise a hand to brush it aside.

Her heartbeat eased, but she remained on her back.  She knew she should probably take stock of everything; mentally run through her body from her head to her toes, thinking about how each part of her anatomy felt—she needed to do this.  She didn’t.  Her eyes remained open and on the ceiling, or at least, she assumed she stared at the ceiling.  Her eyes hurt.  The muscles in the backs of her sockets ached, and she had a hard time keeping her lids open.  She had to remind herself that she needed to keep looking up above her at all costs.  To close her eyes would be a death sentence.

Air flew through her nose and down to her lungs, causing particles of dirt to lodge on the sides of her throat.  They clung, staying inside her body until swallowing felt like drinking sand.  She started to hack again.  Her diaphragm violently surged upward, her chest thrust forward, and air came out in short bursts.  She was floored by how long it lasted.  She couldn’t stop, and her head started to spin.  She couldn’t figure out where her feet were.  She floated.

A stream of fiery pain licked up from her toes.  The agony grasped hold of her ankle and consumed inch by simmering inch.  She squirmed, trying to get away.  But she couldn’t.  She needed to move—she had no other choice.  Pain tried to grab her as her insides tried to crawl away.  Her guts felt as though they left her form behind.  Her body cringed from the anguish—a hollow shell of what she had been was the only thing left.

She lost feeling.  Her limbs numbed, and the blackness before could not compare to the darkness that began to consume her.  Little hexagonal shapes took over her vision in mass quantity; more and more came, tearing through her vision and ripping it apart at the seams.  Where did they come from?  Ants—they looked like ants crawling all over, and she couldn’t shake them, couldn’t make them go away.

A short breath before a long one.  She was off her rhythm.  Her balance was gone.  She felt like she rolled as if on a ship out in a hurricane; her body would not stop moving, yet she knew she lay in stillness in the dark caverns of the room.  The ship rolled her around, shoulder over shoulder, from one end to the next before the movement sent her back to her original position—eyes blazing into the pitch black.  The point came where she couldn’t figure out which way was up.  She didn’t know where the ground was, and she didn’t know what direction she faced.  No grasp on reality, no idea of where she lay, and no idea of who she was.  She started to give up.  Nothing mattered.

Confused, head spinning with dizzy circles: her mind refused to focus.  She couldn’t think long enough to figure anything out.  She needed to start to unravel her predicament, but her breathing increased.  There was no way to win.  Her nails dug into the dirt below as her mind rose higher and higher: the click, click, click of the track as it pulled her up, up, up with the pinnacle in sight.  The point where she would go down, down, down, and there would be nothing to help her.  Nothing that would be able to stop her.

Holding her breath, she waited.  The dizziness became greater, the rolling more violent, and the air in her chest stopped moving.

Then, she fell.

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68979_558969984125056_2021108733_nAbout the Author

Adrian J. Smith, or “AJ” as she is often called, is a part-time writer with an epic imagination, sharp wit, and kind heart that gets her into a bit of trouble when it comes to taking in all the neighborhood stray cats. Being obsessed with science fiction, Smith often goes off on tangents about the space-time continuum. She is also a part-time lunatic with a secretive past. It’s been rumored that she was once a spy for the government, but anyone who has gotten close enough to know the truth has never lived to tell the tale. When traveling around the world on various classified tasks, Smith requires the following be provided: buffalo jerky, mimosas, and eighty-six pennies. This is all we know about the reclusive woman.

Follow Adrian J. Smith at:

Twitter: @AdrianAJSmith
Facebook: Adrian J. Smith
Goodreads: Adrian J. Smith

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Burning

Today I’m linking up with my fellow bloggers in a synchroblog over at Addie Zierman’s site in honor of her book, When We Were on Fire, being released today.  I confess that I haven’t read anything of the book other than the parts available online, but I’m looking forward to having the chance to read the whole thing.  Be sure to check out the other posts linked on her site today, and keep checking back because more will be added through the week.

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I don’t remember the phrase “on fire” being used much in my teen years.  I didn’t grow up evangelical; I was a transplant from a Unitarian Universalist church.  I probably wouldn’t have ended up with the evangelical set if it hadn’t been for the fact that one Sunday in my UU teen class we were asked what other religions we’d been exposed to.  My dad is Jewish and I’d been to my friend’s Presbyterian youth group, so I said, “Judaism and Christianity.”  That was the wrong answer; I was immediately pressured to avoid “organized religion.”  Needless to say, my rebellious teenage self immediately concluded that the “persecution” I’d already heard about must be real and therefore returning to the Presbyterian church must be the right thing to do.  (Never mind that I could easily have decided to become Jewish, but I don’t think my dad’s family had the same sense that persecution = being more right than everyone else.)

There wasn’t much talk about being on fire, really.  There were rules–many of them, on every topic from clothes to books to music to sex.  It wasn’t about being passionate about our faith, it was about avoiding the appearance of evil and being “in the world but not of the world.”  We may not have used those exact words, “on fire,” even if we did sing Pass It On accompanied by our youth leaders on guitar.  But there were two things I knew I had to do: Reject my family and obey the Rules.  If I did that, it would be a sure sign that I was full-on for God.

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  (Luke 14:25-27)

oOo

We stood in the bathroom on the ground floor of the church, my three closest church friends and I.  We were just freshening up during hang-out time at youth group.  Before we left, I said, “Wait.  I have to tell you something.”  My heart was pounding.

They listened as I explained to them about my sister.  “She’s gay,” I said.  They didn’t seem to know how to respond to that.  Finally, one of them said it must be so hard for me.  She felt sorry for me.  She would pray for me.  My friends told me not to worry; if I prayed earnestly and kept working on her, she would become a Christian and reject the “gay lifestyle.”

I did that for a long time, until I finally gave up the pretense that there was any truth to it at all.

oOo

I was forbidden to tell my grandparents that I was a Christian.  It made me feel righteous, this secret, like I was being silenced.  Persecuted.  Just like they said I would be.  I didn’t mind the not telling.  But it did make me fear for their eternal souls.

When my grandfather died, I sobbed–not for missing him (I barely knew him) but because I’d never gotten to tell him about Jesus.

oOo

I never truly understood my mother and her journey of faith.  I wish I’d asked her.  I wish I’d known the right questions.  I know she grew up in a precursor to the “on fire” 80s and 90s.  I always believed that she must never have been a real, true Christian or she wouldn’t have left the faith.  Even years after she reconnected with her Christian roots, I wasn’t sure what she actually believed.  I was told I was the most spiritually mature person in my family of origin.  It fueled my distrust of them.

oOo

I gave up secular music (I didn’t burn my tapes) and Girl Scout meetings (I wish I’d stayed) and books that weren’t Christian (I read a lot of Frank Peretti).  I wrote in my journal that I was dirty whenever I thought about anything sexual or (God forbid) touched myself.  I rejected the boy who liked me just for me because I was terrified of liking him back and all the intense feelings that brought.  I made sure I stayed away from the wrong influences.  I went to a Christian college to be away from the worldly influences of my family and my high school peers.  I needed to be completely immersed in Godly culture.  I think some of my professors (and probably a few of my classmates) felt sorry for my narrow-mindedness.  I wish I’d been able to explain (to myself and to them) that it was only surface-deep.

oOo

Somewhere along the way, the flame of my self-righteousness burned out.  I’d never been any good at evangelism outside the church.  Oh, I could give a gospel message to a group of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds.  I could deliver a two-week lesson unit to a group of young campers.  I could give a public testimony in hopes that someone who didn’t know Jesus might be listening and choose to be born again.  But talking to friends and co-workers about God?  Nope.

I thought that meant I was broken.  I hadn’t been able to reach my own family, and I couldn’t talk about Jesus with my non-Christian acquaintances.  I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I wasn’t on fire enough.

And then I realized I’d never wanted that kind of fire anyway.

oOo

I nearly lost my faith entirely.  By the time I left evangelical culture (not evangelical Christianity, really), my heart was in shreds.  I wasn’t sure if I believed in God anymore, or if I ever even had.  I finally saw the damage being done in the name of Jesus.  I was sliced open, raw, bleeding.

Even so, there was something left in the wake of the fire.

oOo

I can’t be angry about my experiences without acknowledging the good that came from them.  I can reject the hate and the strange subculture and the list of rules.  I can reject the notion that it’s my responsibility to save the whole world.  But I won’t reject all of it, because then I would have to reject the people, too.  It would erase the youth leader who drove me home week after week and never pressured me about my faith; we just talked about life (and she was the only one–ever, in all those years–who never told me to reject my sister).  It would erase the youth leader who introduced me to great literature and never once told me to stop reading books by non-Christians.  It would erase the two pastors who held us in love when my mother died.  It would erase the young men and women who have tenderly cared for my children in church, at camp, and in our home.  It would erase my ties to my Christian college, including my orchestra and the conductor who gently offers prayer for us when tension fuels our mistakes.

It would erase my own marriage, a relationship which began when I was still at least on the fringes of being on fire.

oOo

The problem with fire is that it gives the appearance of being a living thing–it breathes, it grows.  But it isn’t alive, and ultimately, it consumes everything before it burns itself out.  That’s not the kind of faith I want, and it’s not the kind of faith I want my children to have.

Better is a seed.  There’s a reason Jesus doesn’t use fire as a metaphor for faith.  He uses seeds–more than once.  Instead of a pseudo-life, a seed is the infant of a living, growing thing.  Unlike fire, which requires nothing but consumables in order to burn, a seed needs to be nurtured.  Active, not passive.  Something we must do carefully and gently over time.  Not a mad rush to throw more on the fire to keep in burning but a long, slow process of food and water.

I’m still nurturing that seed.  I’m not even sure what kind of tree it is yet.  All I know is that it isn’t burning–it’s growing.

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If you want to add your story, click on the picture above and visit Addie Zierman’s site.  You can also read the first few chapters here or order the book here.

Fifty Shades of Bad Lines

So, I really did mean to write a post on Friday.  Instead, I had my pupils dilated at the eye doctor’s office followed by the Day from Hell.  I was all proud of myself for getting my chores done before lunch so my daughter and I could go pick out new glasses.  It was a good thing I did, since the rest of my afternoon was filled with one stupid frustration after another.  Anyway, I’m making up for it by snarking about Fifty Shades.  That always makes me feel better.

I’m tired of rehashing the plot of these novels week after week by saying, “Christian is abusive, Ana shows signs that she’s a victim of domestic violence, and they are two of the most self-absorbed people on the planet.”  So I’m going to list my least favorite phrases in this chapter and offer commentary.  All grammatical errors are the author’s.

I allow myself a moment to examine his godlike profile…

Um. Ok.

“Happy now? He’s [Taylor, Christian's driver] listening to his iPod. Puccini. Forget he’s here. I do.”

So, basically, he treats his employees like crap.  Got it.

My inner goddess is down on bended knee with her hands clasped in supplication begging me.

Gah! It’s the Return of the Inner Goddess!  There needs to be a Fifty Shades drinking game for every time “Laters, baby,” “oh, my,” inner goddess, and subconscious make an appearance.  Wait–there probably already is.  I want in.

My anxiety has shot up several magnitudes on the Richter scale.

So anxiety and orgasms are both earth-shaking.  I’ll keep that in mind.

Those photos the boy [José, emphasis mine] took…

There’s so much wrong with this.  Should we start with the racism or the infantilization?

My subconscious nods with satisfaction.

Drink!

If that isn’t a declaration of love, I don’t know what is.

Christian has just listed things he likes about her and has said he wants her, but he never said he loves her.  A declaration of love is usually, oh, I don’t know, maybe saying “I love you”?

“Christian, why do you think you have a dark soul?…you’re a good man…you’re generous, you’re kind, and you’ve never lied to me.”

Is that all it takes to be a “good man”?  Giving people things and/or money and not lying?  Huh.  I’d have thought “not stalking people” and “not abusing people” might make the list.

“Then, after I left, it dawned on me that the physical pain you inflicted was not as bad as the pain of losing you.”

Said many an abused partner.

“Sometimes you’re so closed off…like an island state.”

Uh, what?  I think that’s a good description of “isolated,” not for shutting people out.

“You intimidate me. That’s why I keep quiet.”

How again are people missing the abuse here?

“And you’re prepared to do all this for me. I’m the one who is undeserving, and I’m just sorry I can’t do all those things for you.”

This is how it works, people.  She shouldn’t have to put up with his shit, but he somehow manages to turn it around, make it look like he’s being noble, and suddenly she’s saying she’s “undeserving” of having him NOT FUCKING ABUSE HER.  No, I didn’t read it wrong.

“…I am not going to touch you again, not until you beg me to…so that you’ll start communicating with me.”

Nice manipulation there.

He…pulls out a large gift-wrapped box.

So, he had this whole thing planned out, despite the fact that they had broken up.  Because it’s not at all creepy for your ex to buy you expensive gifts in order to bribe you.

“Laters, baby.”

Ugh.  I completely hate this phrase.  Hate.  Drink!

Holy shit…an iPad.

Because the rest of the gifts aren’t good enough?  And why is she more shocked by the iPad than the other things?  Also, why does she have a Blackberry if all her other stuff is Apple products?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Holy cow.  I have a Christian Grey mix-tape in the guise of a high-end iPad.

Is there even such a thing as a “high-end” iPad?  I’ve been checking out iPads in order to make a purchase later this year.  They’re basically all the same, other than size and memory.  I’m not sure that’s the term I’d use to describe the difference.  Also, “mix-tape”?  Seriously?  Do people even use that term anymore?

…he’s put a great deal of thought into this gift.

She describes how he’s built the model plane she gave him when she left, photographed it, and made it into the background on her iPad.  So, actually, this quote is true.  I would actually find the gesture very romantic and sweet.  That is, if Christian weren’t such a stalker who did all this after she had broken up with him.

…my inner goddess curls up hugging herself on her chaise lounge…

Drink!

With a swipe of my finger, the icons shift, and several new ones appear…

How much is E. L. James being paid to be free advertising for Apple?

Words–whatever that is

I found exactly one app called “Words,” and it’s a word search puzzle game.  Maybe she means Words with Friends, but how she doesn’t know that one is beyond me.  I don’t even play it and I know what it is.  For someone working in publishing, Ana is kind of a Luddite.

She starts to sing, and her voice is a silken scarf wrapping around me, enveloping me.

The over-the-top metaphors are wearisome.  Maybe we need a drinking game for those, too.

If this isn’t an apology, what is it?

She’s listening to the music on the iPad.  Somehow, the whole thing seems sort of like the way very young people interact when they’re dating.  Teenagers and people in movies make music mixes and think that suffices for an apology.  Adults actually, you know, apologize.

My subconscious nods at me, trying to hide her pity.

First of all, what?  Ana, it’s your own damn subconscious–it can’t “hide it’s pity” from you because it is you.  Second, drink!

I’m glad you like it.  I bought one for myself. [email to Ana about the iPad]

Yeah, okay, that totally sounds like the way some guys interact.  “I love this new gadget!  I bought one for you too, honey!”  It made me laugh.  Also, my husband would never do that, but I’ll bet he smirks inside every time he gets a new thing, lets me check it out, and I say, “Hey this is awesome.  I want one too!”

His response made me smile, still so bossy, still so Christian.

Yep. Bossy reply to the woman who just said she loves you.  Good going, dude.  (Ana ended her email with “I love you,” which Christian did not say back to her.)

I drift slowly into sleep, marveling at how the world has righted itself in one evening…

That’s certainly not what I got out of this chapter.

Up next week: Chapter 3.  Dun, dun dun!  Laters, baby. (Drink!)

Fifty shades of immaturity

Darker

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

Why, hello, Monday!  Time for another round of Fifty Shades.  If you’re new to this blog, I’m reading through the Fifty Shades series and forcing everyone to suffer along with me on Mondays.  If you want to know what I’ve written about it before, click the link on the right and you’ll find all my Fifty Shades posts in reverse order.

Please just put me out of my misery now.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m on Christian’s side for once.  I honestly hate myself right now, both for feeling that way and for admitting it in public.

Chapter 2 starts with Christian taking Ana to a restaurant any normal couple would like for its semi-casual, romantic atmosphere.  It’s beneath Christian, of course, which is how we are reminded once again that he is a super rich, refined person and that we should admire him for his taste.  They’re in a hurry, so he takes the liberty of ordering for Ana–who reacts as though he hadn’t just done this for an entire previous novel.

I get the sense that’s not what she’s really reacting to, though it probably should be.  I’m with her that she ought to be allowed to order her own dang food.  My husband knows better than to do this for me unless I’ve asked and preferably supplied him with a list of acceptable choices.  On the other hand, my husband and I don’t have the kind of relationship where he stalks me and controls me, we break up, and I stop eating.  So there’s that.

Here’s where I’m on Christian’s side.  He’s picked up on the fact that Ana has no interest in José but is using him to make Christian jealous.  He’s correct that this is juvenile behavior.  It’s the kind of thing very young or inexperienced people do sometimes.  Christian is right that it’s hurtful to José (I wonder if it just killed him to actually care about José’s feelings).  Immature people sometimes don’t consider the effect on someone else.  Given that this describes a lot of Ana’s interactions with the world, it’s not too surprising.

The reason it just destroys me to have to side with Christian on anything–ever–is that he is, like everything else, such an ass about it.  I don’t mean that he’s angry; that’s actually reasonable.  It’s that in a healthy relationship without power struggles, Ana would not feel “chastened” by him as though he were her parent.

Their discussion quickly progresses to their last interaction.  I have a hard time getting past the unnatural dialogue, but at least they’ve gone there.  It just keeps getting weirder.  It’s like E. L. James has sort of forgotten what she actually wrote.  Christian asks Ana why she didn’t use a safe word the last time they were together.  As I recall, it’s because she asked him to show her the worst he could give, and they weren’t actually having sex; they were arguing, and she demanded to know what he would do to her.  They weren’t playing–he was providing her a demonstration.  Maybe that shouldn’t have mattered, but when you have poorly-defined boundaries for your relationship, that makes it hard to know how to use things like safe words.

She tells him that she didn’t use a safe word because she was overwhelmed with trying to be what he wanted.  Again, this doesn’t really fit with what happened.  She wasn’t trying to be what he wanted–she was trying to find out what would happen if she wasn’t what he wanted.  There’s a pretty big difference.

Ana concludes that she could have avoided the break-up if she had just used her safe word.  Of course!  Because the best way to handle an abusive, controlling jerk is to blame yourself for his behavior.  I mean, why don’t more people think of that?  Oh, wait.  They do.  And, like any decently abusive and controlling jerk, Christian is pissed at Ana for not stopping him from being an abusive, controlling jerk.  Because safe words.

I am utterly confused and horrified by his next words to her: “How can I trust you?”

This is a thing that abusers use.  It’s what gets said to people everywhere whose partners are harming them.  “How can I trust you not to do something that’s going to set me off?”  Christian failed to provide a safe learning environment for a naive young woman and then blamed her for not grasping the rules properly.  What a complete dick.

In any other kind of book, I could actually love the next part.  He confesses that she told him in her sleep that she loved him and would never leave him, and he tells her how much that meant to him.  It’s like this tiny little spark of genuine romance that would have worked perfectly in a book with flawed but ultimately decent characters.  Sadly, this is not that book.

And just like that, the moment is ruined by Christian telling Ana that she has to eat or he’s going to spank her, and it won’t be in a sexual way.  Because threatening abuse is absolutely the best way to get someone to take care of herself.  Probably only works on self-centered, immature recent college grads, though.  Too bad.

I’ll leave it there for this week.  Join me next week for another installment, or stick around and see what else I’ve got planned this week.

50 Shades of Photography

DarkerWarnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

Happy Monday!  It’s time for today’s episode of Dysfunctional Relationship Dynamics.  (You should imagine that in a melodramatic radio soap opera voice.)  When we last saw our heroine (of sorts), she was in a helicopter on her way to her not-boyfriend’s photography show with her no-longer-boyfriend.  We catch up with them at the gallery.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have no idea how a relationship largely built on being jealous of other people could survive.  Back when I was dating my husband, I was well aware that other women found him attractive.  He is objectively very good-looking.  The thing is, we had–and still have–a great relationship.  I don’t find other women’s interest bothersome in the least; it’s a huge ego boost to know that he loves me, even though there are other attractive, nice, wonderful women out there.

Ana is an idiot.  No, really.  We have to hear constantly about how annoying it is that these other women are flirting with “her” man.  Well, honey, if he decides to dump you for one of them, then your relationship wasn’t going anywhere.  And if he’s with you, then quit complaining.  The whole “keep your hands off my man” thing is old now.

The jealous lover thing goes both ways, though.  Christian can’t stand it that anyone else might find Ana attractive.  It doesn’t matter that he apparently has nothing to worry about; he’s still going to be a jerk about it.  That would drive me up the wall after about five minutes.  Ana is no more able to control other people’s reactions to her than Christian is–or than any other human on the planet.  Does he expect Ana to say, “Stop finding me attractive”?  Why isn’t it enough that she says she’s not interested?

Along with that, Christian keeps doing this one really irritating thing.  He refers to José as “the boy.”  I remember being in my late twenties (hey, it wasn’t that long ago).  At no point did I think of college graduates–at age 21 or 22–as anything other than adults.  They are not “boys” or “girls.”  Christian doesn’t sound like a fellow young adult; he sounds like a middle-aged man going through a crisis, being intentionally condescending to make up for his own wasted youth.  He’s infantilizing José, which I find distasteful–it implies José isn’t mature enough to exist in the adult world.

I did find one thing on which I agree with Ana–the photographs José has taken of her are invasive.  I’m not sure what the rules are about these things and if there’s any legal ramifications.  Whenever I’ve seen people photographed and their images posted online, I’ve typically seen disclaimers that the people’s photos were used with their permission (unless they were professional models).  Ana has every right to be pissed off, and I don’t blame Christian one bit for buying them.  I’m fairly sure Christian could afford a lawyer good enough to ruin José for using the photos in his show without Ana’s written consent.  This just proves my point from the last book in the series where I think José is every bit as much of a creepy stalker as Christian.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t honestly think women want to be treated the way men treat Ana in these books.  We might see it as romantic while reading the story, but in real life?  No way.  I wouldn’t be able to handle dating a man who could track me the way Christian does.  Someone like José wouldn’t stand a chance after continuing to push after I’d said no or using photos of me without asking.  I sure as heck wouldn’t date my boss, and I’d be looking for new employment the second I sensed inappropriate advances.

Dear Ana:  The world is full of much better men, regardless of what you’ve read on the Internet.  Don’t settle for one of the bad ones.  Also, normal people own more than one dress.  Love, Me.

50 Shades (Darker) Monday

Darker

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

It’s August, and my hiatus from reviewing Fifty Shades is at an end.  I’m sure you’ve all been waiting anxiously by your computers for this, right?  Admit it, at least two or three of you have.  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Fifty Shades Darker begins with what I assume is Christian’s dream-memory of childhood abuse.  This is the first real glimpse at Christian’s prior trauma that we’ve had.  Since the story is first-person from Ana’s POV, and he won’t ‘fess up about it, we haven’t been privy to that information.  Naturally, this is our indication that Christian likes to hit women til they cry as part of “BDSM.”  Because, you know, no healthy, rational people would ever be into D/s play.

The scene is brief; we return to Ana’s Brain immediately after Christian wakes up thinking, “Oh, crap, I had that dream again.”  Ana is busy distracting herself from pining away by going to work.  She’s started her new job at the publishing company, and right away, she lets us know that the boss has the hots for her.

I’m not going to be shy about saying that I don’t think I could ever be friends with Ana.  She is the worst combination of “I’m so plain and boring!” and “All men want me anyway!”  As it is, I don’t do well with people who are constantly on about how they attract men like flies.  I really don’t care how many men think you’re hot.  What makes Ana worse, though, is that she’s not even honest about it.  All the other women I know who brag about their conquests at least know that they are magnetic, and they have goo-gobs of confidence in themselves.  I may think it’s boring, but I respect healthy self-esteem.  Ana goes out of her way to assure us she’s not boasting about being a Man Magnet–she reminds us constantly that she’s plain and dull.  It’s not convincing.

As if to drive this point home (Ana’s hotness, that is), in one day she gets hit on by Jack (her boss; did I mention I hate that he has my son’s name?), José, and Christian.  I think the worst part in all of this is that Jack is probably the best option of the three.  Of course, I don’t think much of a boss who makes moves on his brand-new employee–that reeks of power and control.  Seems like all the men in Ana’s life are plagued by this issue.  Doesn’t she know any truly nice men?

Remember the part in the first book where Ana thinks she makes a lousy sub?  I disagree.  She seems to get off on being surrounded by men with a need to dominate her in one way or another.  She’s always reminding us how many of them want her, yet all of them have indicated a wish to wield their power.  José tried to take what he wanted by force; Christian likes to hurt women; and Jack is behaving in a way a boss should not act toward an employee.  The subtext here is the definition of D/s–she’s actually the one in control here, but she’s intentionally placing herself at their mercy.  Unfortunately, all of what could be good here is lost in horrible writing, BDSM-as-cover-for-abuse, bad psychology, and characters no one likes.

Moving on, we get to see Ana’s inner turmoil over breaking up with Christian.  Oh, the drama.  You would think that he’s sucked her soul and left her dry, almost like a vampire…oh. Wait.  Anyway, her misery is completely out of proportion with reality.  She left him because she finally recognized his abuse (or at least she appeared to).  His hold on her seems to have been so deep that she’s coming across as clinically depressed.  I don’t say that lightly or to make fun of depression; I really mean it.  The way she talks about it leaves me thinking she probably needs to see a professional for help, because it’s actually not a healthy response.

She has all the signs that something is very seriously wrong: She’s not eating, choosing to live on cola and coffee; she’s letting her brain spin endlessly on the situation; she won’t talk to friends or family.  She finally figures out that her messages are being diverted to the Blackberry, but she does nothing to change that.  It doesn’t help that she’s alone in her apartment without even Kate to talk to.  It’s no wonder that her solution to her funk is to agree to let Christian escort her to José’s show.

I’m going to leave it here for now.  I think I’m back on the blogging train now, so hopefully you’ll stick around this week for whatever pops into my head.  Join me again next week as we continue the exciting saga of Does Amy Hate Fifty Shades Darker More or Less Than Fifty Shades of Grey?

Notable News: Week of July 6-12, 2013

It’s going to be a short one today.  I have far too much going on this week, including my son’s saxophone lesson and going early to my kids’ dance camp to see their mini-performance.  Still, there’s some good stuff in here.

1. To read or not to read?

Why do people stop reading books?  This is an interesting summary of the books people abandoned and why.  I admit to having read most of the books mentioned, and I felt pretty much the same as the people who didn’t finish them (except for Lord of the Rings).  Most of the time, if I don’t finish a book, it’s because it’s so dull I can’t keep my eyes open, I’ve gotten distracted by another book, or I’m having a particularly busy season and I’m not reading much.  Otherwise, if I start it, I finish it.

2. Speaking of reading…

Here’s an interview with author Adrian J. Smith.  I’ve had the privilege to work with her as a beta reader, and I love her first novel.  Her greatest strength as an author is creating memorable characters to whom readers can relate.

3. More on being “deeply broken”

I still disagree with the theology behind the concept of “brokenness”; it’s far too close to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity for my liking.  But it’s true that existing among humans is a messy proposition, so I understand where Zach Hoag is coming from on this one.  If this post helps further the dialogue about sin, grace, and how we navigate this thing called faith, then so much the better.

4. On a lighter note regarding brokenness

Turnabout’s fair play; David linked to my post, so I’m linking to his cartoon.  I did tell him I think maybe my daughter really did come out this way, but I believe that to be a good thing.  It just means she’s not going to take crap from anyone.

Have a great weekend, everyone.  I’m off to finish some editing and get ready to record my kids’ dance performance this afternoon.  Catch you all next week!