Review of ‘Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever’

Books are like movies. There’s rarely ever a new plot out there. In fact, every single book ever written is probably a variation of one of five basic plots, in my opinion. So it takes some skill to make what you write seem like something completely new. It takes even more skill to pull off and maintain reader interest when you write something that you explicitly want people to associate with something that’s been done before. L.V. Lewis managed to do that with ‘Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever’ and that’s why I wanted to dedicate my last post before I go into writing mode to her book.

Here’s my review. Please read it! And then buy her book here.

Happy Reading!
-Nia-

Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever (The Ghetto Girl Romance Quadrilogy, #1)Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever by L.V. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fifty Shades of Jungle Fever is not at all what you might think.

For starters, I should say that I have a love-hate relationship with the Fifty Shades trilogy by E.L. James. I think the writing wasn’t . . . well, whatever, but let’s just say I wasn’t impressed by her craftsmanship. But (and this is a BIG but) she had something that many writers who are great craftspeople don’t have – she had a definite ear for what resonates emotionally. Despite my eye-rolling over some of her word choices, I had genuine emotional shifts while reading the story she crafted. But this is not about E.L. James. This is about L.V. Lewis (see what she did there? even her pen name is a play on the prior series – nice), a writer who has both emotional and verbal eloquence. And to top that all off, wit as well. Not just the ability to interject funny one-liners, but true intelligent wit that comes through loud and clear in her writing.

So if I had to say what I most enjoyed about this book, it would be that. She also paired an unlikely hero and heroine in virtually unbelievable circumstances and gave them such strong voices that you could see them and believe that they do in fact exist, or that they could.

No one is more surprised than I am that I loved this book. I hate – yes hate – the term “jungle fever” to refer to interracial relationships. (And I could go on forever about why, but I won’t.) And the only time I use the word “ghetto” is to refer to places not people. And come to think of it, not even then. So I was a little biased from the outset. But as has been the case with almost all my biases, I was proven wrong. The title is parody wrapped up in irony cloaked in social commentary with a healthy dollop of humor. So that takes care of the title. So don’t be afraid of it because of that . . . now about the plot.

I know, I know. The innocent-and-the-billionaire has been done to death. First up, Keisha is no innocent. She is a smart-mouth, streetwise, intelligent and driven woman who is not about to be led down anyone’s primrose path. But having said that, she has the wind knocked out of her by the force of her attraction to Tristan White (hah! the choice of surname, again demonstrating the author’s humor)and embarks on an unconventional relationship, being indoctrinated into the exciting and pleasurable world of BDSM. And, as was the case in that other Fifty Shades series, she is as surprised as anyone that she loves “all that kinky shit”.

L.V. Lewis walks us through her internal monologue and has Keisha thinking things that you could totally imagine you might think if presented with an extremely attractive new lover who just happens to want to tie you up and “punish” you a little bit. The exchanges between Tristan and Keisha were humorous, sexy, clever and oh-so-true-to-life, considering the utter unlikelihood of the situation. And I don’t mind telling you that the sex scenes increased my pulse, I mean, considerably. And hey, I write sex scenes, so I know how clinical the writing of it can be, but the reading of these . . . let’s just say, not clinical. At all.

Having read the other Fifty Shades series, I know what is likely to happen between Keisha and Tristan, but already it’s clear that L.V. Lewis is an artist in her own right, not someone doing a cheap knock-off, because the places where she chose to depart from the other series (not just the obvious – like the interracial relationship, girl-from-the-‘hood aspect) were smart choices. So now I’m curious to see in the remaining parts of the quadrilogy where she goes. My only complaint is that there will be three remaining parts (I hate series) but who the heck am I kidding? I’m going to buy them all.

View all my reviews

Snarky: When Good Critiques Go Bad

Click image to read the full review.

In my limited time blogging, I haven’t been shy about saying what I don’t like about a certain popular trilogy.  In fact, I’m rarely shy about anything, even admitting when I’m wrong. Yesterday, I grabbed a link from somewhere that led to a particularly lengthy takedown of the series, the characters, the editors, the readers and finally, the author. It was easily a 2,000 word tome, this “review”.  And I use the word review loosely because the writer/reviewer seemed to have spent as much time grabbing movie clips online as she did critiquing the content of the books. She freely admitted to having hated the first one from the very first sentence, and nevertheless being inexplicably drawn to read the second and third installments. And at some point, what began as amusing and creative became a cesspool of pure, unadulterated snark. Meanness of the worst kind, bordering on cruelty.

Now there is no doubt that writers voluntarily put themselves out there when they put pen to paper and publish their work. Generally speaking, we want to hear what people think and keep our fingers crossed that there is some segment of the reading public who will like what we’ve done.  And with this particular series, there is no doubt that a significant percentage of the public liked what this initially self-published author did. So much so that not only publishing houses, but Hollywood came calling and she landed a seven-figure deal for the film adaptation of her work.  Now, say what we will, this is every self-pubbed author’s dream scenario. We can pretend that we would be equally satisfied if we had no public support but plenty of critical acclaim, but I don’t buy it. Ideally, we would have both, but my guess is that if forced to choose, a majority of us would take the cash.

That’s likely what’s behind a lot of the snark about this series. The awareness that with negligible talent, this writer was able to pull off something that happens to one lucky author once every decade, if that. She has become the Kim Kardashian of the literary world – someone who is viewed as famous with very little natural ability to justify that fame, and the wealth that’s come along with it. I don’t even have to imagine how much that’s pissed off the literati, all I have to do is Google the name of the books and the word ‘review’ and a flood of snark will come cascading my way, some of it well-meaning and much of it funny, but most of it just plain nasty.

I had the series recommended to me by a family member who said she loved it. I told her I’d heard about the hype and would read it, so I did. I admit that by the time I finished the first few chapters of book one, I felt somewhat like a hostage to my impulse to finish all reading material that I start. And by the end of the trilogy, I was downright resentful at the series’ success. That feeling lasted for about a week.  And then common-sense returned. And following that, empathy.

Here’s the thing folks: it takes extraordinary bravery to share what you write. Few of us who do feel completely confident about what we have committed to the page. And fewer of us still will write something and go on to share our work despite our insecurity about how it may be received. Even praise doesn’t banish our uncertainty. One bad review can negate all the good ones, no matter how numerous they are. Hence all the jokes about book critics with that novel hidden in the bottom of their locked desk drawer. And let me tell you, when you read some of the reviews of this popular trilogy, almost all have flourishes that reek of  “frustrated-unpublished-novelist.”

I think the writer of this trilogy, however technically flawed her product, spoke to something that women are feeling today.  I for one am intrigued about what that might be and what it says about us. So lately I’ve begun to focus more on that question, and less on the millions of dollars this author is earning, some say unjustifiably. I’ve also decided to focus on the guts it took to put herself out there, knowing that legions of armchair critics would be polishing their swords, ready to eviscerate her for having the temerity to think she had something to write worth reading.

I say more power to her.  And to those purveyors of snark, go ahead, let’s see some of your work. I dare you.

More, more, more: A Word on Sequels and Trilogies

I’ve never been a fan of the sequel, and even less so of trilogies. In fact, with the exception of J.R.R. Tolkien and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I’m not sure it’s ever been done well. So with that said, it will probably come as no surprise that the recent rash of romance and erotica trilogies drive me insane. One author has been promoting an eight-part Fifty Shades-esque series online, which frankly boggles the mind. My theory (and I use that word intentionally, because of course, reasonable minds may differ) of story-telling is that as writers we should create the impression that we’ve dropped in on the lives of our characters just for a spell. Like an omniscient being, we open the door and peek in, taking a look and sometimes hearing their thoughts. But only for a little while. We journey with them for that brief moment in time and then quietly shut the door, leaving them to carry on.

My issue with sequels is that they destroy the illusion that our characters do in fact carry on, and reinforce the notion that they actually don’t exist unless we are witnessing their lives. In a factual sense, we know that to be true, of course, but the illusion of their reality is what makes characters compelling.  The books that have moved me the most are the ones that permit me to imagine what happened after I’m done reading it. It’s like pining for someone you’ve met, with whom you fell in love a little, but who you will never see again. Sequels and trilogies hammer you over the head, inundating you with more and more information and situations until you finally grow weary and fall out of love, moving on to another book, another author, another fictional love-interest.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s incredibly flattering when someone reads something you’ve written and ask you for more: I want to see what happened next! My reaction to that is always to say, I don’t know what happened next. Nor should I. What do you think happened?

The idea of revisiting a character over and over again, dropping in on their life repeatedly would feel a little like stalking to me. I would much rather open my omniscient writer’s eyes, survey the universe and see who else might be worth dropping in on. There’s nothing more delicious than that feeling, like discovering someone new and falling in love all over again . . .

Sexing it Up

Okay, so the title of this post is a shameless attempt to reel you in. But lately, I have in fact been considering two questions: what value do sex scenes add to my work? And, how much is too much? 

Sex scenes serve several valuable purposes in novels in my view. For one thing, they can reveal very intimate things about characters that they might not say in dialogue, for instance their capacity for intimacy, whether or not they’re comfortable with themselves, the relationship they have with the other character, and the power dynamic in their relationship. And let’s face it, if done well, sex can help maintain reader interest. But the harder question for a writer is how do you do sex scenes well and without overdoing it?

In the Fifty Shades trilogy, there was a lot of sex. Almost every encounter between the main protagonists resulted in intercourse. It was incredibly titillating to be sure, and no doubt played a huge role in the series’ success. And as a device to explore the shifting power dynamic between the characters, it was at times essential: in the beginning of the series, it appeared that Christian held all the power and later, it became clear that Ana was also powerful (and perhaps more so) because his desire for her was something she could wield over him to change his behavior and move him toward the kind of relationship she needed to have. That to me, was incredibly interesting. I was not particularly impressed by the writing, but thought the writer was genius at understanding that element of relationships, one that transcends the BDSM world.

When I read ‘Fifty Shades’ and the other two installments, I was hooked by that element  – the assumption that he was dominant was challenged when it became apparent that while Ana was able to change him in fundamental ways, she remained largely the same person she had always been, though she grew more self-confident. Her self-confidence grew as she realized the power she had over him, and that her feelings of powerlessness at the onset of their relationship were illusory.

So that’s what was good about the sex. Now what was not-so-good.

At one point, I felt as I read the books that the sex was distracting me from the more compelling underlying themes. I actually skipped past the sex scenes at one point; they grew tiresome to read not only because they were so numerous, but because they grew increasingly graphic and devoid of meaning. Here’s one example of  what I mean: toward the end of the first installment of the trilogy, Ana and Christian have intercourse while she is menstruating after he removes her tampon. He asks whether it bothers her that she is bleeding when they have sex, and she responds that it does not. However, in the final installment of the trilogy, she is unwilling to pee with him standing several feet away but in the same room. Huh? That inconsistency was hard to reconcile with the prevailing theme of the trilogy, which was her realizing the inherent power her body has over him and becoming more confident and self-assured because of that realization.

At that point, I decided that the author may have become so engrossed in creating more and more sex scenes that pushed the envelope further each time that she was inattentive to what the sex was telling her reader. She became overly attentive to the shock-and-awe aspect of the sex her characters were having to the detriment of its other messages. Now you may argue that in erotica, all bets are off and the more sex the better. I would disagree. The line between erotica and pornography, I think, is just that. Knowing where the line is and toeing but never stepping over it.

This taught me something very valuable as a writer. I write neither porn nor erotica, but the ‘Fifty Shades’ series clarified for me that sex in novel-crafting should be like sex in real life: sometimes you should do it just because it feels good, but sometimes you should do it because it means something. And since novelists must be economical in our use of words, I would err on the side of doing it more often when it means something. As for real life, well, we each have to make our own call on that one.

Happy Reading!

And if you’ve a mind to, please check out my books ‘Commitment’ and ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ on Amazon.com. And leave me a review! I want to hear what you think!