“Pleasure Me” – An Uneven Tale of a Retiring Courtesan and a Guy With One Ball

This is going to be a bit different from the usual format. Instead of looking at a novel chapter-by-chapter (or part by part), I’m going to have this done in one review. I’m trying to avoid the Dread Curse of Unfinished Postings that seems that have been cast on this here blog.

(Now watch as I decide that the whole review can’t possibly fit into one post, promise a part two and never get around to finishing it)

But, in all seriousness, I would like to thank our humble webmaster for the opportunity to post here.  And, while I’m pretty sure I won’t be as funny as Kevin or as insightful as Noel, I will try my best to be good anyway.

Now, on with the review.

MoF-BR_MonicaBurns-PleasureMe-Cover

I picked up Monica Burns’ “Pleasure Me” more or less on impulse. the cover caught my eye, but it was the synopsis on the back that really grabbed me. A romance novel set in the late 19th century United Kingdom, featuring a 41-year old courtesan and a younger man…

Anyone who’s followed me on Twitter or read my blog would know of my fondness for older women. I’m also a bit of sucker of romantic movies set before the 20th century. I’ve watched entirely too many films where my thought process something like this:

  1. Is it romance?
  2. Does it have corsets?
  3. What are we waiting for – lets watch!

So when I saw a novel that had an older woman/younger man romance and a period setting, I knew I had to check it out.

As I started reading it, I found myself enjoying it. As the novel opened, our female lead, Lady Ruth Attwood, has just been dumped by her latest patron – for a younger woman, no less. At 41, Ruth doesn’t feel particularly old, but that sort of thing has been happening a lot recently, leaving her to wonder if she should take her savings and retire from the courtesan life.

I liked Ruth right off the bat. The opening chapter presented her strong woman who didn’t fold easily under pressure, someone who could be charming and gracious at one moment and  fire off an eloquently cutting zingers in the next. While losing a patron hurt her ego, Ruth was determined not to let the disappointment ruin her life completely. She is as loyal to her servants as they are to her, and, when she loses a patron and with it, a source of income, her first concern is over how that would affect her ability to buy a new building for an orphanage she’s been funding.

Yes – our heroine spends most of her money on orphans. Under other circumstances, that might have been a bit too precious, but, in the context of the novel, it becomes just touching enough to avoid cliche.

While at a society function, Ruth runs into our male protagonist, the 29-year-old Baron Garrick Stratfield. Initially, he came off as a cliche Brooding Love Interest With a Dark Secret. But unlike a lot of characters of this type, he didn’t come off particularly assholish – he came to Ruth’s support when she found herself in the midst of some society drama, and he generally treated people well unless they didn’t deserve it.

As for the brooding thing – well, Garrick was trying to keep people from getting too close. Especially women. For, you see, there was something about him that was so horrible that there was no way any woman could love him.

Then, one chapter later, we find out that his horrible dark secret is the fact that he only had one testicle.

I did a double take. This couldn’t seriously be the horrible secret… could it?

The next few pages made it clear that, yes, it very much could.

At this point, I figured that the novel would either get unintentionally hilarious or somehow make the whole dark secret thing work. Either way, I had to keep reading.

And, in the end, I’m still not entirely sure what to think.

On one hand, it didn’t really get unintentionally hilarious – at least not in the way that’s mockable.  During the course of the novel, we learn why Garrick thinks his birth defect is so horrible – it had to do with a traumatic incident in Garrick’s teenage years and generally terrible environment he grew up in. It’s telling that, once Ruth found out the truth, pretty much shrugged it off (and then spent the better part of the next few chapters trying to build up Garrick’s self-confidence). By the last third of the novel, it’s clear that the real issue isn’t Garrick’s “deformity” – it’s his struggle to achieve a sense of self-confidence and self-worth.

At the same time, as the novel progressed, I came across other things that started to bother me. I liked the early courtship between Garrick and Ruth, full of back-and-forth quippery and discussions of the moral implications of literature. And, later, when Garrick starts to trust Ruth enough to (slowly, oh so very slowly) reveal his secrets, and the readers get to see the defensiveness and vulnerability beneath the broodiness. It is interesting to watch his character growth as he realizes that being vulnerable didn’t make him “less of a man.”

But as the novel continued, Ruth seemed to have been losing chunks of her personality – the wit, her wilfullness, her ability to set boundaries and enforce them. Yes, the whole “being around the man I love makes me want to stop arguing and do what he wants” is a trope as old as romance genre, but it was weird seeing a character who rebuked Garrick after he (accidentally) insulted her in the beginning of the book let him pretty much ignore her requests about half a book later.

And then, there is Garrick himself. At the beginning of the novel, he was presented as standoffish, driven and a bit pigheaded. He was a man who worked hard to establish the “I am the Alpha Male, I am strong and I get what I want” persona to compensate for his deep-seated insecurities. He likes being in control because he grew up barely in control of anything and because, when he let his guard down, it tended to come back to haunt him. One would have hoped that, once Garrick gained more genuine self-confidence, he would have learned to relax a little and not worry so much about getting his way. But, if anything, he became more pushy and arrogant. When he offended Ruth earlier in the novel, Garrick seemed genuinely contrite, and he tried to apologize.  But when, toward the end of the novel, Garrick tried to convince Ruth to marry him, he borderline bullied her into accepting it.

(I say “borderline” because it also involved an attempt to actually address her reservations and try to ease her concerns, but there were several lines and moments that still made me uncomfortable).

There is also the issue of how the novel handled conflict (such as it was). In romance novels, it is customary for protagonists to face obstacles before they get together. Those obstacles tend to form what passes for conflict in the genre. And there is nothing wrong with that per se (personally, I don’t think stories necessarily need to have any big conflicts at all – I’m perfectly content to read about things just happening so long as they happen in an interesting way). But the problem with the novel is that a lot of those obstacles are kind of… weak. They get built up as something significant, even insurmountable, only to have the author resolve them a chapter or two later with barely a fuss.

Garrick doesn’t want Ruth to see him naked, but he also wants to screw her? Ruth suggests a blindfold. Ruth winds up seeing his nether regions anyway? She, as I mentioned earlier, pretty much shrugs it off. Even when Garrick is threatened with a prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, the whole plot winds up resolved so quickly that one has to wonder why the author even bothered.

And finally – this is something of a personal pet peeve. The novel makes a big deal out of Ruth’s age – and proceeds to downplay it as much as possible when actually describing her. Yes, she is in her 40s, the novel says, but she actually looks much younger. Come to think of it, Ruth barely shows any signs of aging at all.

There are many women in their 40s who look pretty damn good without the aid of Botox and what have you, but they don’t look like 20-somethings. Aging process affects us all – some less than others, but it’s still there. The Lucy Liu looks pretty damn good in Elementary, but you’d never mistake her for the Lucy Liu that appeared in Ally McBeal.

Now, I realize that a lot of this has to do with the novel’s primary target audience, who are, most likely, women around Ruth’s age. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to appeal to their hopes and dreams, to assure them that 20-something men would still find them beautiful. But I don’t think the audience is particularly well-served if they present an unrealistic ideal of what a woman their age would look like.

Still, the novel has many things going for it. The writing style is descriptive and engaging, the characterization is well-handled, the parts that are meant to be amusing genuinely are. One can tell that the author spent time researching period detail – and while i don’t know enough about the period to be absolutely sure everything is accurate, I appreciate the effort. I was impressed with the fact that social standing was a big deal and an important driving force in the plot – as one would expect from the time period (and something that many less skilled writers tend to forget). I particularly like how the novel drew attention to the distinction between what everybody knew but didn’t talk about and what was out in the open (a subtle distinction, but a pretty important one in the context of the novel).  And it is nice that Ruth actually has a female friend who supports her through thick and thin (and who feels like a living, breathing person with thoughts and opinions of her own) – something that we don’t see nearly enough with female characters in general.

Well, it looks like it’s time to wrap things up. Thank you for indulging me, dear Made of Fail readers. Maybe someday, I will come back and review something that does turn out to be hilariously terrible.

Then again, given this blog’s record when it comes to multi-part features, perhaps I should quit while I’m ahead.

 

Fifty Shades of Grey, chapter 6

Remember how, with the last batch of chapter reviews, the blandness of Chapter 4 completely killed my enthusiasm for continuing with this project, yet I put my game face on and plowed ahead? Yeah, I got one chapter past 4, and now here we are, months later. I actually did read Chapter 6 right after doing my review of 5 and had every intention of doing a write up then. I just couldn’t. I can’t stand this fucking book. I would tear it down the spine, hurl it against a wall, then gradually use one page after another as toilet paper… except it’s on my Kindle, so I can’t.

Instead, the game face is being thrown back on as I finally sit down and show this chapter who its master is.

We open with Control Freak Grey and Anastasia Steele stepping out of the elevator, Ana instantly reminiscing over their passionate encounter. Because Grey is acting like nothing happened whereas she’s mentally professing herself a changed woman due to her aroused inhibitions and swollen lips (did he headbutt her in the mouth? Why are they swollen?), Ana starts comparing the incident to the myths of King Arthur and Atlantis.

Fuuuuuuuuck thiiiiiis boooooooo–

GAME FACE!

So the main thrust (no pun intended) of this chapter is that Ana’s on switch has been flipped. She’s had absolutely zero romantic interest in anybody before this point, and now all she wants is the opportunity to do the horizontal tango with Grey. It’s important that I get this out up front because I really REALLY don’t want this overview to intercut every single paragraph with “And Ana wants sex.” She’s locked onto that goal and doesn’t waver from it for the whole chapter. Which is fine. It’s actually a bit refreshing to read about a romantic heroine who, instead of being afraid of sex or playing out the “blooming of the virgin” scenario, clearly knows what she wants and who she wants, and sets about getting it. I expressed issues with her relationship history and her choice of Grey in the last chapter, so I won’t linger on them here and instead just end the point by saying it’s not all that poorly done… with the exception of bizarre moments like namedropping Atlantis and King Arthur. I’ll bring up a few other unfortunate bits, but otherwise just take it as a given that every paragraph ends with “And Ana wants sex.”

As Ana and Grey step into his car, things cease to be a novel and instead become one of those bizarre stretches of product placement advertising as every amazing feature of his Audi SUV is highlighted over the course of the ensuing conversation. “Do you like the music? Watch in wonder as I use a button on my steering wheel to play that track again!” “That ringing over the speakers means I have a call coming in. Hang on a second while I use a button on my steering wheel to answer it in a hands-free fashion!” Either “James” just bought an Audi and wanted to share her mad humping love for it with the readers, or she was hoping Audi would give her a car. Given the sales on the book, maybe they have. Who knows.

[Thought: Out of curiosity, does anyone know if the Audi bit was in the original fanfic draft, or was it added during prep for publication? It feels like something that would be oddly out of place in fanfic.]

During her advertisement for an Audi, “James” lists off a few more of her favorite things, namedropping “The Flower Duet” from Lakme and the works of Thomas Tallis, and then Grey and Ana gush about how awesome Kings of Leon is as Grey uses that handy steering wheel button to flip to a track by them. Remember how Stephenie Meyer kept namedropping Muse and then scored some songs from them on the Twilight film soundtracks? Methinks “James” is hoping for a similar result with Kings of Leon.

Then we move into the steering wheel button operator game segment as Grey gets not one, not two, but three calls in succession, all cutting in on their enjoyment of the tune “Sex On Fire”, which Ana likes because “And Ana wants sex.” First, the cryptic announcement that the information Grey requested has arrived. Then news that a Non-Disclosure Agreement has been e-mailed to him. Remember this! It plays a very important part later – ah, fuck it. There’s no reason for this at all. The problem with a throwaway line is you have to be careful not to make it so unnecessary that it can be thrown away without lessening the impact of the story in any way.

And then Elliott calls, asking if Grey got laid. And then Elliott and Ana tease one another about Kate. And then they actually get to Ana and Kate’s place, where Elliot still is and they were going to anyways, so the reason for him to call was what exactly? No, seriously, “James”, did you slip another call in there just to further show off the Audi’s features? Because nothing that’s said in that moment carries us to the next scene, nor could it have not been said once we got to that scene.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

COULD! HAVE USED! AN EDITOR!

Just before we get to Ana and Kate’s apartment, there’s a bit where Ana asks why Grey keeps calling her Anastasia. He says it’s her name and continues doing it, despite her protests. This is the man who insists upon which people are allowed to refer to him by which specific variant of his name, but heaven forbid he show the same courtesy to anyone else. While fully reveling in it with a smirk, no less. There’s teasing, and then there’s being an asshole. And Ana loves it, of course. Because [chorus].

And then he apologizes for what happened in the elevator and says it won’t happen again unless it’s “pre-meditated”…… Pre-meditated? No, try consensual, you ass!

He pulls up outside my duplex. I belatedly realize he’s not asked me where I live – yet he knows. But then he sent the books, of course he knows where I live. What able, cell-phone-tracking, helicopter owning, stalker wouldn’t.

Remember that Awesome Ana inner voice that occasionally stepped in to champion the image of Grey as an arrogant stalker who should be avoided at all costs? Her presence has increasingly dwindled over the last few chapters, and I fear we may have lost her all together because that paragraph, the holy crap run away statement made above isn’t instantly followed by a gnawing feeling of “Yeah, this situation is a little uncomfortable, isn’t it?” and is instead punctuated with:

Why won’t he kiss me again? I pout at the thought.

FUUUUUUUUCK THIIIIIIIIIIIS BOOOOO–

GAME FACE!!!

Oh, and Ana says Grey’s surname should be Cryptic, which means I should start calling him Mr. Control Freak Cryptic by this point. But I won’t, because it’s been months since the last post and I don’t want people scratching their heads over how far this joke has progressed. So no more Cryptic, no more Control Freak (C.F. for short), from now on it’ll just be Grey. Not Christian, though, because he specifically said that’s just for friends and I still don’t want to be in this dude’s call-list, whether it’s housed in the steering wheel of his Audi or not.

So Kate is all giddy from sex and Elliot is all “dude-bro I just got laid!” from sex and they’re both deeply making out to the point of Elliot dipping Kate to the floor as the two people who haven’t yet had sex but want to watch on. And this is echoed by Elliot following his tonsil exam with a “Laters, baby,” then Grey longingly stroking Ana’s face before saying… fuck, I’m actually going to have to quote this aren’t I… he also says “Laters, baby,” and the two brothers drive off, leaving behind a pair of women with loins all aflutter.

And the chapter isn’t through! Woohoo! We’re not even… *looks* Oh goddammit, we aren’t even a third of the way through the chapter yet! *bites the head off of something* *then schedules appointment with dentist because biting the head off a plastic bottle is apparently not good on one’s teeth*

Kate and Ana gush about the boys, swap stories, then Kate promises to get Ana all nice and purdy in time for the date. BEGIN MONTAGE as–

Wait, what? There’s no sprucing up montage? I am disappoint.

So as soon as Ana gets all sprucified, she heads off to work… and then we flashback to the sprucing montage!

Oh fuck you! There’s absolutely no reason for that bait ‘n’ switch! If you’re going to do a plucked and polished montage, just do it! Don’t further demonstrate your continuing lack of anything resembling a narrative flow by cutting to another scene, then reminiscing about the montage that took place before it!

And why is Ana getting all spruced up before heading to work, with Grey set to pick her up for their big date as soon as she’s off shift? She works in a home improvement store and the book clearly states she’s working past closing time to restock the shelves. Maybe “James” never worked in a home improvement store and thus doesn’t know anything about something she’s never done any research on, but there’s a lot of very heavy stuff in a home improvement store, and even the smaller items will give you quite the workout after a while. Meaning Ana will will be a sweaty, slightly unkempt mess just as her date shows up to drive her off for a night of “And Ana wants sex.” The book clearly states that Kate does all her sprucing within a single hour, so why not, I don’t know, push the date back an hour so Ana has a little time to go home, tidy up, and get spruced then? “James” not only knows next to nothing about narrative flow, but wow, she doesn’t even plan an evening all that well.

Tonight’s the night! After all this time, am I ready for this? My inner goddess glares at me, tapping her small foot impatiently.

Ah, so that’s what happened to the inner Ana who was smart and sharp and tried like hell to guide her external self away from Grey and his shenanigans. She was struck down by a higher power, a Mary Sue that ascended to a level of narrative warping divinity. I hereby give this inner goddess the name of Elemental Lifebringer James, the convoluter of relationship realities in favor of nonsensical draws and expectations, and giver to fanmoms everywhere the gift of a version of Twilight they can more thoroughly fondle themselves to.

Elemental Lifebringer James! The one known as Grey hast arrived to sweep the thoroughly shaved maiden Anastasia away to their nightly courting, and lo, the woman is dried of perspiration with hair fully groomed and makeup unsmudged! May thy hollowed reasoning be praised as we await the next divine miracle of thy heavily-inspired-by-another-work creation!

So Grey and Ana have a short ride in the back of his limo, with hand holding that gives Ana her first few orgasms of the night, and lines from her like:

“Very long,” I reply, and my voice is husky, too low, and full of need.

And it turns out Grey and his brother like to go off on hiking trips. Yet another surviving element from Twilight. But since I doubt they feast on mountain lions in this version, the point of it has become a little lost.

And then they show up at a building and she gets horny at the idea of being in an elevator with Grey again, but it’s only three floors and they’re on the roof with the chopper and an old guy name Joe who Grey refers to by his first name, which puts Ana in shock and admiration that Grey is actually showing respect to someone, then she’s in the chopper and he kisses her and barks orders at her and tells her not to touch anything and straps up her harness and

“I like this harness,” he whispers.

What?

What?

For once, you and I agree, Anastasia Steele.

So they take off, and what follows is several pages of Grey making the lights outside go further away while we get detailed radio speak with the flight tower that shows us “James” may have actually been in a helicopter and taken notes at one point in her life, all while Ana stares at the ground, the controls, the Grey, all with the gape jawed awe of an 80s Amblin child star, and occasionally expressing herself through lines that roughly translate to “…ZOMG…”

As they approach Seattle, she compares the beauty of the sight to Bladerunner, because those cityscapes of pollution, decay, and corporate dystopianism truly were… okay, well, yeah, they were stunningly beautiful, but not in the ways Ana is trying to express, so shush. Anyways, Bladerunner is Jose’s favorite movie, which gets her thinking about Jose and feeling bad that she’s left him hanging after his “attempted kiss”. Sweetie, no. The dude got wasted and assaulted you. You absolutely should not be feeling bad about giving him the cold shoulder from now on. Earlier in the chapter, it’s mentioned he tried to call numerous times that day. If he starts showing up, buy a stun gun and taze that bro. Aim for the nuts. He’s got it coming.

…………………………………………….

…………………………………………….

…………………………………………….

…………………………. *sigh*

It’s now been about two months since I wrote the last paragraph above. I keep opening this file, looking at where I left off, spending a few minutes thinking about where to go next… and then I close it and do some other stuff. And that last paragraph above was the last in a piece chipped together during another stretch of two months, where I became so exhausted and bent writing about this tripe that I’d add a paragraph, then do other stuff for a few days. Then add a paragraph, then do other stuff for a few days. Now I can’t even do that much. Now I just stare at the next blank line before giving up.

This book broke me.

I’ve read shit. I’ve enjoyed shit. I’ve gotten a kick out of going through shit just so I can discuss it with other people and share with them how shitty it is. But not here. With this book, this amateurish, unedited, lazy setup for a book that doesn’t hint at getting any better, all I am is exhausted. I haven’t even touched the thing in two months and the mere thought of doing so saps a bit of life from my soul.

And I haven’t even gotten to the kinky shit yet! This is all setup. This is all boring people having boring conversations and making boring introductions and getting the same boring backstory twice because someone couldn’t be bothered to tell the author that, no, her manuscript is not immune to a red pen. I haven’t even fulfilled the setup, but the setup for the setup is such a waste of words that I just don’t care. I got through the Twilight books just fine, even legitimately enjoyed stretches. This book just doesn’t have that same misguided spark to give it any life beyond the rote fanfic it is.

This is an awful book.

So far. Let me stress, so far. I refuse to fully condemn a book unless I read the whole things, but lord, something must be said for me not even being able to make it past Chapter 6. Hell, I had a final payoff for the game face joke I set out above, a perfect picture of Reb Brown mowing down opposition in front of an explosion… but I just don’t have the energy to finish the joke.

Hell, I don’t think I have the energy to finish the book.

……………………… However, I did make a commitment. I reached out to a pair of friends, both of whom made it to the end of this diaper padding, who agreed to discuss it with me in a podcast following my completion of the novel. I’ve already delayed things long enough that I’d hate to just scrub it altogether. So, yes, I will finish.

I don’t know how I’ll finish, or what format this will take following Chapter 6, but I’ll make myself get there somehow. I probably won’t keep the chapter-by-chapter format, and even if I do, I’m not going to dwell into as much detail as I have been. I might also do it in broader chunks, or just finish the damn thing whole and pen a single, all-encompassing review. I don’t know. I’ll figure it out soon.

As for the rest of this chapter, the two have dinner. Both clearly want to have sex, demonstrated by her biting her lip a lot and him saying how much he’d rather be the one biting her lip. He pulls out a reference to the classic novel whose name I don’t remember off the top of my head and don’t give enough of a shit to look up, asking if she wants him to be the lover who gently adores her or the one who ravishes and uses her. She says the latter, half jokingly, then he pulls out the non-disclosure form. She signs it. He says its time for her to see his playroom.

“You want to play on your Xbox?” I ask. He laughs, loudly.

Fucking give me strength, clapping pixies, because I’m about to run from this again.

He opens the door and stands back to let me in. I gaze at him once more. I so want to know what’s in there. Taking a deep breath, I walk in.

And it feels like I’ve time-traveled back to the sixteenth century and the Spanish Inquisition.

Holy fuck.

Points for not using a “crap” or “shit” there, “James”.

As I said, I don’t know when I’ll be back or what format this will be in when I do, but I’ve sat on this chapter long enough, and I hope to get through the rest of the book and take a stab at that podcast before the end of the year. Just give me a kick now and then if you don’t see me moving on it.

What the hell. Let’s share one last game face for the long, clumsy, unedited road ahead.

Fifty Shades of Grey, chapter 5

In the last chapter, I pointed out how C.F. Grey was playing the Edward Cullen bad boy YA trope card of the push/pull. He displays obvious horniness and desire, constantly thrusting himself into the heroine’s life, even to the point of crossing the bounds of respectability, but his “nobleness” is demonstrated through his acknowledgement that what he’s doing is stepping over the line and dangerous. “The smart thing would be for you to stay away from me while I constantly keep appearing in your life. No, seriously, you don’t want to be near me, which is important to remember as I hover over your every move.” It’s the old trick of making someone an awful human being, but then saying they’re good because they’re aware of and regret how awful they are, while continuing to be awful.

Welcome to an entire chapter of this.
Continue reading

Fifty Shades of Grey, chapter 4

Oy. Sorry for the massive delay before the post of chapter 3 yesterday, but chapter 4 killed me. A few weeks back, I read it, I sat down at the computer… and stared at a blank screen for an hour. I had absolutely zero interest in writing about what happened here. And, no, it wasn’t anything shocking or perverse or controversial. It was just boring. This book has officially become Fifty Blands of Meh before the main plot has even managed to kick in, and I was suddenly looking at the remaining 22 chapters as something I had no desire to pursue.

But the show must go on, dammit! The last thing this site needs to be known for are projects that go unfinished!

…oh.
Continue reading

Fifty Shades of Grey, chapter 3

“He was visiting the farming division of WSU. He’s funding some research,” I mutter.

“Oh yes. He’s given the department a $2.5 million grant.”

Wow.

“How do you know this?”

“Ana, I’m a journalist, and I’ve written a profile on the guy. It’s my job to know this.”

“Okay, Carla Bernstein, keep your hair on.”

*facepalm* This dialogue is going to be the end of me, isn’t it.

So, yes, this chapter opens with Kate being ecstatic that Ana is scoring her some photos of the ever elusive Christian Grey, but where ever shall they find a photographer! In an act of monumental stupidity, it actually takes a minute for Kate to suggest Jose, because heaven forbid Ana’s dear old friend, a photographer, shouldn’t instantly come to mind the moment she hears mention of that profession. Anyways, despite he being a photographer of landscapes, not people, Kate blackmails him into doing the shoot and Ana gets all flustered calling Grey to set up the appointment, made all the more flustery by Kate picking up on feelings and poking her friend with them.

This chapter was like trying to drive a race over speedbumps as I finally see a lot of the problems people are having with “James”‘s writing. The above snippet of dialogue is representative of many of the exchanges here, but there’s other aspects that betray a severe lack of editorial guidance.
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Fifty Shades of Grey, chapters 1 & 2

Here’s what I know about Fifty Shades of Grey

British television executive Erika Leonard, under the name E.L. James, under the name Snowqueens Icedragon, wrote a trilogy of Twilight fan fiction novels titled Master of the Universe which, contrary to expectations, does not re-imagine He-Man as a Sparklepire. Instead, it re-imagines the characters of Bella, Edward, and Jacob in a non-supernatural, adult setting where all the sex they never had has now been replaced with full on jiggies that are gotten with, as well as experimentations in the BDSM realm. If I’m mistaken on any of that setup, again, this is just what I’ve heard, and I’ll be proven correct or in- over the next few weeks.

Leonard James Icedragon put a strike through the Icedragon and settled on James as her nom de plum when she decided to change the names of the lead characters and turn her Twilight AU fic into a piece of published “original” fiction, now known as Fifty Shades of Grey. Much controversy arose. Is this legal? Well, she hasn’t been sued yet, and I hesitate to comment due to some schooling I received recently on fanfic legality. Is this ethical? Well, that’s the question, and I guess it all rests on how ethical you think most publishing in general is.

Argument: She took something that was previously/is still available on the internet for free and now charges people to read a bound version of it.

Well, yes, but people are publishing their blogs all the time these days. Mark Does Stuff and Cleolinda Jones’ Movies in Fifteen Minutes are fine examples. Here at Made of Fail, we have season one of our Deconstructiong Moya: A Farscape Rewatch available for the Kindle for $1.99.

Argument: But it’s based on someone else’s characters. Surely this is plagiarism.

Yes and no. If James had tried to publish it with the names Bella, Edward, and Jacob, she’d likely have about as much luck as LadySybilla had trying to get Russet Noon out there. By changing the elements that came from Twilight, she’s turned it into little more than the typical derivative work that already floods the market, which I’m not knocking, because for every poor regurgitation like Eragon, you get something good like Star Wars, or the films of Quentin Tarantino. Derivative is in itself not a bad thing and doesn’t prevent something from being original in the way it presents its derivations. As to Fifty Shades of Grey, I hear it’s a highly revisionist take of Twilight with more parallel allusions than it has actual connections. I have read the Twilight books, so this level of connectivity is something I look forward to exploring over the course of this project.

Argument: Leonard was just manipulating Twihards in the first place by taking a largely original work and tying it to Twilight just so she could win herself a pre-existing audience.

Welcome to marketing. When Twilight came out, what came out with it? A flood of derivative works trying to play off the existing Twihard fanbase. This is unethical but that isn’t? No, that’s targeting a market. As long as the work is ultimately good and people like it, no, fans haven’t been tricked. They liked something and someone said “this is similar, give it a try”. If it’s something that legitimately appeals to them, bam, you just exposed a group to something new (relatively speaking). If it doesn’t appeal to them, they’ll spread the word amongst their peers and move on. Is this manipulation? Yes. But it’s acceptable manipulation and common manipulation, and to say it represents a new low in how books are sold is very naive. And it’s worth noting than neither Icedragon James Leonard nor her publishers have ever shied away from admitting the books’ fan fiction origins.

So if Twilight fans felt dissatisfied or tricked, why did they stick with the fanfic as chapter after chapter were released over the course of three volumes? Why did they buy copies once the names had changed and it had been published? Why did they follow it to a new publisher and spread the word and help drum up the interest that’s made the book a best-seller?

In this case, the Twihards are hardly a blind flock that’s been swindled. If you want to debate this in the comments, I’d be happy to hear further arguments, but now it’s time for me to get to the book itself.

Before we move on, however, I want to thank Ceilidh from The Book Lantern and The Sparkle Project for providing me with copies of the series. For this installment, I’m working off the version of Fifty Shades of Grey published by The Writer’s Coffee Shop in 2011. If anyone is aware of any significant differences between this and the 2012 release by Vintage Books, let me know. Additionally, if anyone knows of significant differences – aside from names – between this and the original Master of the Universe, I’d love to find out.
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The Cowboy and the Cossack, Part 2 – aka, Ladies’ Night!

Let the joyous dance battle over the man seed begin!

In our first installment, we learned about the former Soviet nation of Karistan, which has been reclaimed by its native tribes of nomadic warriors, who also recovered the coding device to several still active nuclear missile silos they’re using to hold back any advance from their neighboring enemies in Balminsk. The elderly chieftain of Karistan has recently died, leaving control of the device and his people to his granddaughter Alexandra Jordan, who had, till now, been working as a noted fashion designer in Philadelphia.

Hoping to avert a nuclear disaster, the clandestine US department OMEGA orders Agent Nate Sloan – codename: Cowboy – to infiltrate the Karistan people by bringing them the gift of a prize-winning breeder horse, Three Bars Red. While he’s doing this, Agent Maggie Sinclair – codename: Chameleon – will go undercover and join a UN nuclear exploratory committee heading into Balminsk.

Nate shows up in Karistan, being all “aw shucks” and cowboy like in his jeans and denim as he starts eying Alexandra, is eyed by her cousin Katerina, and is given a lot of vodka by the guys. In Balminsk, Maggie, the master of disguise, has nerded herself up with makeup and is instantly fed up with the UN committee leader, nuclear physicist Richard Worthingon, a gangly mama’s boy who keeps tripping on things and beating Maggie up by accident.

Back at the camp, Nate takes advantage of a quiet moment alone with Alexandra to shove her against a wall, pin her arms to her sides, and forcefully kiss her, calmly smiling and shrugging when she threatens to have him flayed should that ever happen again.

Suddenly, people start screaming!

Let’s dive into Chapters 5-8 of The Cowboy and the Cossack!

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The Cowboy and the Cossack, Part 1

Hi, I’m Noel. Some of you already know me as the one who sends Dayna into grossed-out spittakes and who stapled himself to Kevin’s coattails so as to better ride them. The latter is why we’re here today as I set out to further my goal in copying everything he does by temporarily taking the reins of this site and sitting down to read my very first – and, hopefully, very bad – romance novel.

Well, that’s not entirely true. My very first, and most definitely bad (note the lack of very), was the Twilight saga (yes, I’ve read all four), but that’s a discussion for another day. For now, I’m here to suffer for your pleasure through a novel entitled The Cowboy and the Cossack.

Getting some initial predictions out of the way, I bet we can all guess where the Cowboy aspect will go. He’ll be a dashing dude in boots and a wide-brimmed hat who squints and talks in a very clipped, tight-lipped manner and smolders at the woman when she brings some brightness to his dusty life. As for the Cossack, I haven’t got a clue. Like most of my fellow Yanks, when I hear the word Cossack, the first thing that springs to mind is this:

I can do without the swords, but if I don’t get some spinning leaps and squat kicks during a sex scene, I’ll be sorely disappointed.

The cover clearly establishes the male Cowboy, with his jeans, boots, and saddled horse, but I’m trying to figure out how a very bare female leg, complete with anklet chain, that looks like it just walked off the Santa Cruz Boardwalk evokes a Cossack. I doubt it, but maybe there’s a cultural tie to the way he’s feeling up her thigh.

There’s a synopsis on the back, but why spoil the fun. Let’s dive right in!


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Pregnesia, Part 2

Or, Even Badass Airplane Thieves Need Love Too

Apologies for the wait. Between a heavily reduced ability to internet from work, an upswing in personal responsibilities, and an impending interview, I’ve been a bit strapped for review time.

Basically, I’ve started writing a story, getting ready for the North American Discworld Convention in a week or so, continued to work on Deconstructing Moya (which has been getting really good you guys), recorded our third anniversary episode for Made of Fail… I’ve been busy.

This book has been interesting so far. The characters are defined, the plot immediately presents itself without a false start, and what’s even more impressive is that the author knows how to use adjectives, and more importantly, how to stop. Color me impressed.

However, I’ve only read the first chapter. So away we go!


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Pregnesia, Part 1

Or, Make sure you check your trunk EVERY DAY.

There’s a bit of hype involved in this book, and I really hope it can live up to expectations. It’s a bit complicated, and some of you may be wondering what the big deal is here, so I’ll explain it. This third review begins with a story.

It was Episode 23 of Made of Fail (FACE PUNCH!!), and our guests Rinna and Cleolinda were discussing romance novels. Specifically, there was one book Rinna told us about whose title just nabbed us from Word One. The title, of course, was Pregnesia. Apparently, there’s a girl who is pregnant and has amnesia, so you pretty much get what it says on the tin.

The book itself is fairly infamous, though I’ve specifically avoided reading reviews or other discussions of it (including that one I’ve linked to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), because when I started this site, I promised both Rinna and Cleolinda that I would eventually review this.

What I didn’t know was that this was a Harlequin imprint. Now, I try not to judge a book by its cover (as it were), but I’ve definitely Heard Things About It. Of course, that won’t change the fact that I’m going to read the thing, and I may be pleasantly surprised.

(Speaking of the cover, why the hell is he grabbing her thigh like that she is not a bucket of fried chicken. That looks extremely painful for her and he should put on a glove if he moves any further inward is all I am saying.)

(What the hell, romance novel covers?)

Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come. Lock your trunks and set your alarms, because this is about to get real.

Let’s begin.


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