Tag Archives: Authors

Fifty Shades of Grey: A Gay Perspective

13 Apr

I decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey not because I wanted to, but because I wanted to find out for myself what all the fuss was about. And I think that’s what the majority of people have done. They are buying into it because the publicity machine has gone into overdrive and we are intrigued by gossip and juicy details. Just have to look at the bookshelves full of celebrity gossip magazines which pry into people’s homes and lives to know that is what satisfies the general public.
WE are morbidly inquisitive and concern ourselves with things that don’t really bother us. But at the same time, we make feeble attempts to be detached and reserved in our opinions. Such is the nature of the British public anyway.

But I digress. I bought Fifty Shades in a charity shop several months ago. At the time, I seemed to have been in a period of reading a number of trilogies – The Lord Of The Rings, His Dark Materials, The Millennium Trilogy. So I thought, why not read this for a bit of light relief? (pardon the innuendo)

I read the first one. Nothing really happens except Anastasia or “Ana” Steele, a shy, academic 22 year old virgin is attracted to Mr Christian Grey, a 28 year old handsome and incredibly “hot” multimillionaire or billionaire even? who wears sweatpants, jeans or pants “off his hips in that way” whatever that means and they have sex or a mild form of BDSM. He cocks his head, she bites her lips, she says Oh My! Holy Crap! Oh Shit and other such eloquent words a number of times. It’s all very repetitive and TAME. She’s a virgin for goodness sakes and doesn’t know anything different. He’s a control freak and seems to take advantage of her no matter what. Even when she wants “to talk”. HE distracts her with his advances and “her inner goddess” unfurls, purrs and demures. How on earth does she know about her inner goddess when she doesn’t appear to know anything about love, sex, romance or life in general when she is such a bookworm? But then, she also has a more disapproving character in her mind that makes her think twice about what she is doing. However, her “inner goddess” always seems to win and they have the most incredible hot, sexy and amazing sex which always end in mind blowing, earth shattering climaxes. He always makes her come first! Such a gentleman!

Then, it just goes on and on. He buys her expensive gifts, takes her on a helicopter named Charlie Tango, they wine and dine in top restaurants, buys her food and orders her to “Eat” or “Drink” or “Sleep” and she acts like a petulant teenager. He finds it alluring and a massive turn on when she challenges him and in between they declare their undying love for one another in nearly every other paragraph or page.

After Book 1 establishes their great sex life, Book 2 “Fifty Shades of Grey – Darker” provides more insight into the mysterious “Mr Grey” and more one dimensional characters and events. We find out a little bit more about his family and Ana is still trying to come to terms with her rich boyfriends’ lifestyle. For two supposedly intelligent, academic and ambitious young people, their use of language is very simple, they swear a lot and don’t really say much. Oh! And there are numerous emails exchanged that are more annoying to read than allow the reader more insight or excitement. Like two silly teenagers exchanging texts, the emails don’t hold any information of importance or which allow the story to move forward. Just more flirtations between Ana and Mr Grey.

EL James tries to create an enigmatic character in Mr Grey but he fails on all accounts. He’s just boring and we don’t even receive a description of his penis or the size of it. All we know is that he is an arrogant, power crazed, control freak who likes to be Dom with his Subs. He has a mysterious past which does not amount to anything amazing, horrifying or shocking. In this trilogy, cliché after cliché abound and with several “major or traumatic experiences” including the appearance of one of his “ex subs with a gun” scenarios, it just doesn’t flow well at all.

But wait! Book 3 ” Fifty Shades of Grey – Freed” is even worse. Why on earth I bothered with it, god only knows. After a whirlwind romance and three months of out-of-this-world type sex, they discover they really love one another. They even get married and have 2 kids! YES! Really! In between all that, if Ana decides she’s had enough or makes way to leave, Mr ‘I’m so proud me I don’t want to speak to anybody’, breaks down in tears and she does likewise. Oh, she is SOO in love her head is spinning and she doesn’t know what to do. Her former boss who tried to seduce her earlier on ( and she found him creepy) attempts to blackmail her but she shoots him as she attempts to rescue her sister in law. He ends up in hospital, she ends up in hospital, her step dad ends up in hospital. Mr Greys ex is also in hospital but let’s keep all that quiet for now…
Considering how divisive the gun laws are lately, Ana is acquiring a taste for danger and adventure, but she knows how to use a gun and mentions several times to Christian, that she would prefer it if he had a gun. This appears to be a bit of a paradox for Christian, who, who despite his needs and whims for excitement and “kinky fuckery”, is anti-guns.

There are several attempts to inject some tension, drama and tragedy but the threads don’t really flow and we are left bewildered and confused. The two main protagonists tend to contradict themselves. One minute they declare there undying love for one another, consumed with passion, love and lust. But when Mrs Grey declares to Mr Grey that he is pregnant – bearing in mind at that point they are married – he shouts something along the lines of “we’ve known each other for five fucking minutes. I wanted to show you the world and now…Fuck. Diapers and vomit and shit!” Oh My. She doesn’t actually say “Oh My!” at that point but I thought I’d throw it in as she might as well have said it, she says it so often…That’s indicative of the type of language used throughout this tale of poor virgin meeting big shot yet oh-so-sexy Mr Grey.

This trilogy is similar to Dan Browns Da Vinci Code and The Blair Witch Project. It’s not the novel, film or the writing that is great. The stories aren’t even memorable to be honest. What they have behind them is great PR machines. They are in over drive and we have fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

Fifty Shades of Grey is as dull as dishwater and I think, a crime against literature. No wonder it’s finding it’s way into the charity shops in the last few months. The fad and fuss is nearly over. I thought is it one of the worst trilogies I’ve ever read or THE worst. I’ve decided it’s the WORST one ever! It just irritated the hell out of me and I can’t wait to get it out of my house and into the charity shop. I may just even give it to my friend who said she would like to read it. I know she wouldn’t but she’ll keep it on her bookshelf to make her seem more “current and topical”. It may make its way into the discount stores or bargain basements and in a few years, we’ll be asking what was all that out!? We’d forget about it because they’d be another Fifty Shades of book out there that’ll be making headways. But next time, I’ll make sure I’m definitely not at that gravy boat to all things Grey in more ways than one!

The Learned Kat


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: A review

1 Apr


“The Circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it…It is simply there, when yesterday it was not” 

So reads the blurb on the back cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

I was intrigued. I turned to the front cover and was still unsure. I opened the book and skimmed through several paragraphs. I turned to the cover again. I was swayed by the Edwardian/Victorian feel of the image used and decided this was a book worth reading.

So, I sat down and read it. I enjoyed the imagery, the introduction of many characters, the game/challenge or competition that was set up. The premise of the novel is that two young children, Marco Alisdair and his counterpart Celia Bowen, are chosen to be trained, mentored and taught how to be inventive with the use of magic. As readers. we are drawn into a whimsical world of fantasy, magic and beautiful illusions. We share the same thoughts as the performers, followers of the Circus known as “rêveurs”, who all dress in black but are distinguishable with a dash of a red item like a red scarf, rose, umbrella or handkerchief and other speculators who do not quite know how the magic of the circus exists.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect.  The initial objective appeared to be that Marco and Celia, with their respective mentors, experience and training in their own separate arenas and not knowing of one another for years, would eventually meet and it would culminate in an explosive end game. However, that was not meant to be…

It seemed to lull me into a false sense of security: with the unexpected death of two of the characters, I thought the novel would become a murder mystery. However, as the story unravelled, it appeared to change direction and the language appeared to be stilted and more contemporary in style. It seemed as if Erin Morgenstern was rushed by her agent to try and end the novel or find some sort of resolution. Two thirds of the novel flowed really well, the style of writing, the plots and sub-plots, the use of a diverse range of colourful and interesting characters and the dream like quality of each circus tent. Even having “followers” of the circus appeared to be a social statement on our perspective or views on the world of “celebrity”. That was all read in good faith. Then, when I was hoping or expecting a great climax, a love connection is made between Marco and Celia. The Night Circus becomes their way of symbolising their love, devotion and commitment to one another without having to be in each other’s company. That’s when I thought the novel became a little twee and saccharine in content and substance.

There are elements, characters and scenes which don’t really add anything to the narrative but are stitched together to carry it along.

I liked the overall reading experience of the novel, the manner in which scenes are created or depicted, the way it captured my imagination  and the writing style. But I was left feeling disappointed with the eventual culmination of the tale, the resolution of the two main characters. and the  ending of The Night Circus.

Saying that, I would still keep it in my book collection.

The Learned Kat

Oz The Great and Powerful

12 Mar


I’m a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz (1939). As a child, I read most of the Oz books, and over the years, have watched Judy Garlands’ Dorothy time and time again. 

From the technicolour  trailers, I thought and assumed this is one production I must watch. After the complete hash job of ‘Return To Oz’ in 1985, the “unofficial sequel” to the 1939 production, I thought they could not or would not attempt to make another attempt to return to Oz, so to speak.

However, this version was touted as a “prequel”. Naturally, being an avid fan, I expected great and powerful things. We arrived at the cinema and handed our tickets to the attendant. “Just follow the yellow brick road” he said. I thought he was being sarcastic until I looked down and saw a vinyl yellow road taped down onto the hardwearing industrial carpet. It led us to the IMAX screen. We’d never been in there before. We had to have a different type of 3D glasses to the ones I had brought in especially for the occasion. We settled down and watched the large images in front of us.

Sam Raimi, who brought us ‘Drag Me to Hell’ and the ‘Spiderman‘ trilogy , created his version of how a mere mortal, Oscar Diggs, played by James Franco, a small time Kansas con-man/magician with an eye for the ladies, came to be the wonderful wizard of Oz.

Taking inspiration from the original classic, this version also starts in black and white. The scene is set and we catch a glimpse into the world of late 19th century entertainment with a menagerie of circus acts which includes contortionists, strong men, hoopla and clowns. I couldn’t help but feel that it was “too staged” for my likings. In comparison to The Artist, which was shot completely in monochrome and silence which added to the feeling that one was watching a silent movie from that era or transported back in time , the use of black and white here was too clinical. It appeared to lack depth and had a touch of a modern day soap opera. A little bit hammy and lacking in chemistry between the character actors.

As Oscar is a bit of a “player”, he toys with the emotions of a naïve, attractive woman and as a token or gesture of their relationship, he hands her a wooden music box with a sad tale of how it belonged to his grandmother. The young woman is infatuated with him but her real boyfriend or husband finds out and threatens to kill Oscar, who in turn, attempts to escape in a hot air balloon.  He does this with glee, but once again, with reference to the original, is soon trapped in a tornado and is hurtled into the middle of the storm. He prays to be kept alive and promises that if he does survive, he will be a changed man.

Like Dorothy, who moved from the bleak black and white room and through the doors into the wonderful technicolour world of Oz, Oscar is also transported in similar fashion. He is shifted from a crouching position in the basket of the balloon and only when he puts his head above the parapet, does the colour glow into his cheeks and we are seduced by the colourful offerings in this new land of Oz.

Oscar, or Oz, as he refers to himself, is befriended by a young witch named Theodora. She initially believes him to be the saviour of Oz, but he informs her otherwise. They develop a close friendship and he seduces her with his charm. However, any romantic notions Theodora has towards Oscar are short lived when her sister Evanora, informs her that Oscar also attempted to seduce her and brings out a wooden music box.

Theodora becomes upset and cries.  As I watched this scene I thought “Tears that arise from a breaking heart burn and sear the pain”. The tears literally burn her face. As Theodora feels humiliated by the taunts and words of her sister, she becomes more enraged and embittered. Her sister then encourages her to eat an apple in order to seek revenge. This scene appeared to be a rehash of the scene in Disneys’ Snow White, when the evil witch, disguised as an old beggar woman beguiles and preys on the vulnerable and gullible young heroine. Once bitten, Theodora realises  the identity of the true evil witch and the one who wants to rule Oz. She begins to change and turns green with envy. The term “hell hath no fury…” came to mind and it was good to see the morphing of a “good girl gone bad”. Thanks, Rihanna!

It is then that the mood of the film begins to change from a fairly light story into a more darker and sinister tale which again is typical of Disney.

Relying more heavily on being action driven rather than plotlines, Oz The Great and Powerful is a visual feast of delights, an Avatar for the younger children.  There were times when I thought this production was typical of Disney studios. There were scenes when Oscar would walk down the yellow brick road and I almost imagined or expected him to burst into song like “Zip a dee doo dah” . Then, when Oscar is enraptured by the beauty of the land, there were scenes which reminded me of the talking flowers in Alice in Wonderland. Introducing new characters like China Girl and Finley the monkey, voiced by Joey King and Zach Braff respectively,  allowed the film to develop themes of family, friendship, companionship and a bit of humour.  Like the monkey in Aladdin and the Gingerbread Man in Shrek, they added the “Aaah!” factor.

James Franco shows what a versatile actor he is with the simultaneous release of this film and with the release of Spring Breakers in which he plays an off the wall drugs dealing character. Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch was too mature and didn’t really bounce with goodness or charm. Rachel Weisz  looked as if she relished the role of playing the evil witch  Evanora and Mila Kunis as her sister Theodora made the role her own.  I could believe in her portrayal of the Wicked Witch as she demonstrated consistency and, I assume in her research, added cackles and mannerisms to her character which are definitely in line with the Wicked Witch in Oz that we know and love/hate over the decades.

The inclusion of black actors, especially a character named Knuck, played by Tony Cox, made this production and the dialogue feel “too modern”. It was good to see that it was trying to appeal to a wider audience but at times, it felt it lacked the sentiment, whimsical charms of the original but was a more superior and value for money production better than “Return to Oz”.

The Learned Kat

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht

11 Mar

This book was recommended by my local book club, the Bearwood Bookworms. I wasn’t too sure about the choice made as we’d only finished reading The Leopard (Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa) and someone had mentioned The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga).

There seemed to have been a big cat/feline theme going on…

I requested a copy from my local library and when I got home, I started to read it:

A young female doctor goes in search of her late grandfathers’ last resting place and his personal belongings. She describes her relationship with her grandfather, who was also a doctor, and the associated memories of him. This is interspersed with him telling her stories of his youth and his subsequent meetings with “the deathless man”.

The tiger of the novel is a relatively tamed species, which is kept in a zoo that the young doctor frequently visited with her granddad. manages to escape from a bombed zoo and in its attempt for survival, prowls the land in search of food and shelter. It is in one village that the tiger is seen, and “hunters” are dispatched to kill it. Unbeknownst to the local villagers, a deaf-mute woman, who also happens to be an “Outsider” finds a way to feed and care for the tiger. This leads to speculation, alienation and fabrication.

The story is interwoven with characters from different eras, but at the same time, the themes of desperation, survival, dying/death, fear and quality of life remains. There is uncertainty, trying to draw out fact from fiction, the question of cultural identity and the role of compassion and humanity in times of destruction.

I wouldn’t say he was a central character, but because he appears several times as a “constant”  throughout the novel, the “deathless man” has to have a mention as a very clever literary device. To me, the deathless man is symbolic of what the old doctor had known for most of his life: death which is known and unknown. For most of his young life, the doctor had either seen, heard or witnessed death. It was his experiences that drew him to try and help people and keep them alive. But it was also his knowledge of observing the signs and symptoms of death,  dying and the search for salvation that seemed to allow him to have pleasant conversations with the deathless man. Having the figure of the deathless man in the stories seemed to make the doctor, although sceptical and angry at the initial meeting, begin to develop  a relationship of some sorts over the years. Sporadic meetings allowed the doctor to question why the deathless man would come to him and what he gained from his visits. I think the deathless man represented the doctors own conscience, as he would look around during the war years and would question the futility of it all. It was at these times that the deathless man would appear and they would either argue or wrestle with what may be the consciousness.

The deathless man offers hope and preparation, not fear and uncertainty. He is a quietly strong, confident and practical being. In his own way, like the doctor, he offers salvation, resolution and peace. Maybe because the doctor has seen so much death in his time, that is why he would not accept it in a “lifeform!” It makes it more tangible and “real”. It is there, waiting and ready for everyone no matter what the circumstances.

Relationships are explored, either superficial or deep, loss and love are prominent in the telling of the search for the grandfather. Friendship, support and understanding are also key issues which Tea Obrecht explores with passion and instinct.

Having won the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011, I can now fully understand and appreciate why. The author draws you into a story within a story. Descriptive, seamless and enchanting, Obrecht relates the horrors of modern day wars with the wars of yesteryear. It was similar to The Book Thief ( Markus Zusak) and The Diary of Anne Frank but told through the style of The Arabian Nights. Full of sadness, melancholia, dark humour and shocking endings for some of the characters, it combined fables and folklore within communities bombarded by war, death, segregation, religion, superstition, fear and possibly ignorance.

My initial uncertainty was unfounded. It was an engrossing, page turner and at the end, I was overcome with the desire or wish to see this novel turned into a film. Every bookshelf ought to have a copy.

The Learned Kat


Word press & Me: Why I’ll never be Freshly Pressed.

28 Feb

I started blogging because I thought I had a lot to say.  I used to write quite a bit on Facebook . not that often but when I did, my status update always used to receive a verbal response from friends and others. You have so much to say for yourself, especially the reviews about the books you read and the films you watch, why don’t you write a blog instead?  or they said you seem to have an opinion on everything, you need to channel your energies on a  book or something.

So I thought long and hard about my opinions and views that I store in my mind and vocalise with close ones or people who know me well and the idea of  sharing that personal information in a blog. It’s not like  Facebook where you can choose who you want to add as a friend. Someone mentioned WordPress amongst other free blogging websites, and I decided to do a bit of research before settling on WordPress. I chose it because the format, and style appeared to be easy to navigate. Then, with bated breath, I typed my first post. Not knowing what to expect or what to do next. Then, I just started typing and waited to see if I received any comments, responses or likes. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed when I received some comments and “likes”. I appreciated the feedback.

Then, I started to read other blogs on this website and some blogs I disregarded and others caught my interest. Then, I started to read and analyse the other blogs, the style of writing, the content, the descriptions, the feelings evoked . I started to look at the photos, how they were being used and  the impressions they left on me. I looked at the categories and tags used and how some articles or posts were “Freshly Pressed”. Posts which were or are chosen for FP tend to be witty, original, creatively  written in ways that I would never thought possible, inspirational and innovative. It made me think that maybe my style of writing is staid, linear and slightly old fashioned. I don’t think I could compete or compare myself to writing styles which appear to be more fresh, and place a different slant or perspective on life events.

I know I’ll never get freshly pressed or receive many “likes” or comments. But I have found that I do enjoy the writing processes, which I find therapeutic and  almost addictive. I find that when something happens or I have something on my mind, recording it all here makes it seem as if I am talking to a close friend or maybe even a Counsellor. I’m also picking up ideas and finding ways to be more discerning with what I write and share. I find blogging enjoyable and for now, fills a void and hopefully, with time, it will enable me to hone my skills and be able to write more freely, and concisely.

I find that I tend to write when my other half goes to bed and I can be sitting up until 2am writing. Just me and my laptop. Sometimes, I have the television switched on in the background. Other times it’s a distraction. But once it is switched off,  all I hear is the hum of the machine on my lap and the ticking of the clock on the wall. I don’t know about other bloggers, but it can take me ages to think about what to write or how to write what I’ve got to say. But then, that’s why the blogging world is full of creative, thoughtful, individuals or writers established, published or otherwise. Blogging is a platform for speakers of the 21st Century, another form of the chattering classes.

I just hope I can keep up the momentum in the long term and remain motivated to write, share and express myself as freely as I can without giving up the notion that my voice will not be heard as I realise that it’s very much part of  culture today to have a blog.  You can start a blog with good intentions but sometimes you can be either too overwhelmed with life in general or just give up on the interest as it’s deemed to be “just another piece of technological communication, alongside other forms of social media”. I intend to keep writing, either here as a blog or on a Word Document.

Hypothetically speaking, I think all bloggers hope to become published or established writers one day, don’t we? If not, why are we here? But it doesn’t matter. After all, if you’ve got something to say, say it or share it with others. You’re bound to come up smelling of roses one day, won’t you?

The Learned Kat

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa

13 Feb

The Bearwood Bookworms decided that we should read ‘The Leopard’ by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa and Archibald Colquhoun (ISBN-10: 0099512157)
So, after making enquiries at the local library, and several phonecalls, the request was unsuccesful. I resorted to Amazon for my copy, and thought that £2.05 was a bargain for a difficult to find book.
I looked at the front cover, and was impressed by the design and layout. The smell, of the pages as I flicked through, was musty but acceptable. I read the first page and looked forward to a fictious piece of history…

Set in the Spring of 1860, the Prince of Salina, Fabrizio, rules over thousands of acres and hundreds of people, including his own family. Then Garibaldi arrives, and the socio-political climate changes…

Although the story was very well written, a rich tapestry of detail, describing palaces, chambers, the appearances of characters and episodic events combined with the inner thoughts, anxieties and feelings of the main protagnist, I found the whole book laborious and irritating. Many critics have lauded it, calling it a “modern masterpiece” and a “classic tale” but I felt it was too concerned with the minutae of detail and not enough substantial content to allow the reader to be brought in and ‘feel’ or understand the core of the tale. The characters flit in and out and the plot does not really advance forward. It seems like the Prince is recollecting life events and how he felt at the time, but his passions and power over the local population holds him in high esteem although he himself feels indifferent. Somewhat symbolic and semi-autobiographical, it comes across as a pleasant romp through a turbulent political time of upheaval.

The only highlight or real sub-plot is the “love affair” between his nephew, Tancredi, and Angelica, the daughter of another rich landowner. It transpires that the landowner is really the descendant of a peasant, but the dynamics of that storyline is not explored. There is also an element of jealousy. scorn and bitterness when Fabrizios’ own daughter, Concetta, mistakenly believes that Tancredi is to ask for her hand in marriage.

The chapters are snapshots or presented as written tableaux of life at the time, but it ends at the early part of the 20th century when we are left with the three daughters of the famed Prince, who are now elderly Spinsters and living in a home filled with religious relics, some genuine, some fake.

I can’t imagine how ‘The Leopard’ has earned it’s reputation as a “classic” as it is a relatively unknown novel and was the only book Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa had published before he died.

The Learned Kat

Shadows of The Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

1 Feb



This is the sequel to ‘Call The Midwife’ by Jennifer Worth. A keen story -teller and obviously she had an eye for detail, a great passion for her vocation and the people she met. I was expecting a similar line of nostalgia as detailed in the first book, but this tackled darker themes of childhood abuse, incest and the horrors of war. Once again, set in the docklands of the East End in the 1950’s, it is another piece of social history  which tells the stories of the people Jennifer encountered as a midwife.

There is Jane, who appeared to be the general cleaner and helping hand at Nonnatus House who was left at the workhouse as a child. Siblings Peggy and Frank who are left to fend for themselves after their parents die and not only do they also find themselves in the workhouse but separated for a number of years before being “rescued”, only to seek solace in each others arms and so begin a seemingly unquestionable relationship, the eccentric yet philosophical/ Spiritual Sister Joan accused of shop lifting, the Reverend Thornton-Appleby-Thornton, a missionary from Africa who is unwittingly matched up to Jane as a suitable wife, and Joe Collett, an Old Soldier who recalls the pain and agony of War.

There are some light and amusing lines wrapped around dark and heavy themes and plots. The no holds barred approach to inform and explain in explicit detail the plight of the poor, the poverty, the abhorrent living conditions (compared to todays standards) the forms or different levels of abuse and the history of each individual leaves one shocked, saddened, bemused and glad or grateful to be living today.

What stands out to me is when Joe, the Old Soldier said that the young men were nothing but “cannon fodder”. I can’t help but feel that in todays political climate and the way of the world, this phrase still rings true….

Although Shadows of the Workhouse offers another fascinating and insightful look at a slice of history, I couldn’t help but feel that in the stories, especially Joes, the facts were too well-researched or clinical and in parts, it didn’t seem to ring true. To me, it just seemed to lack the warmth, humour  and empathy that was so evident in  Call The Midwife…but as we know, fact is stranger than fiction.


The Learned Kat