Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Club: 50 Shades of Grey {Review}

I love to read {as you probably have gathered}.  I also love to see what all the fuss is about when there's a new breakout trend ~  whether it be in entertainment, fashion, food or something else.  So when the buzz starting building {and building...and building...and exploding} about E.L. James' debut novel 50 Shades of Grey, I knew I had to check it out for myself.

If you've heard anything about this book, you know that it's got the literary world all atwitter over it's graphic, S&M-based sex scenes.  If you haven't heard anything about this book, you have most likely been living in a cave, away from the internet, television, newspapers, and bookstores, in which case you probably aren't reading this blog anyway.

From what I've gathered from the plethora of 50 Shades articles, interviews, and tidbits, 50 Shades began as a Twilight fanfic, although it has nothing to do with vampires and werewolves. {If you're unfamiliar with the world of fan fiction, read Wikipedia's explanation here}.  EL James is a wife and mother living in England, and 50 Shades was her first attempt at writing a novel {which became a trilogy}.  Side note for the wannabe novelists out there {myself included} ~ usually, the first piece you ever write does not skyrocket to the number one spot on the New York Times' Bestsellers List; it just doesn't.  James' 50 Shades trilogy was never intended for mass publication, to my understanding.  It simply gathered so much attention and popularity as a strictly-downloadable set that it ended up transitioning to print, and James has sold the movie rights as well.  {I have no idea how this can be adapted into a mainstream movie; absolutely no idea}.

I figured I would review this book as I review any other book ~ read it; give you an synopsis that goes a bit beyond what the book jacket tells you, without giving the entire story away, and give you my overall opinion on it.  Now that I've knocked out 10 or so chapters of 50 Shades, however, I'm going to take a different approach.  I am going to review the book section by section, as I read it, because I think my feelings on it may change daily.  I think I will see it through to the end, although as of today I'm not quite sure.  Today, I need a break from Christian Grey, without a doubt.  So instead of plowing through and reading a few more chapters, I'll review what I've read so far.

I bought all three books at once, figuring I'd plow right through them.  Now, I'm not so sure...

Day 1:  April 23, 2012
Started 50 Shades of Grey today and read through six chapters.  These chapters lay the foundation for the rest of the novel ~ we meet Anastasia Steele, a young and naive college senior; we meet Christian Grey, a cold, successful-beyond-his-years millionaire who is in his late twenties; and we meet a host of secondary characters such as Ana's roommate and best friend Kate, Ana's long-time friend Jose {who has romantic feelings for Ana that are not mutual}, Christian's brother Elliot, and a smattering of Christian's employees and Ana's acquaintances.

I probably would not have noticed the Twilight correlations if I didn't already know that this started out as a Twilight fanfic, but I can see the similarities.  Both stories take place in the state of Washington.  Ana is clumsy and awkward, like Bella.  Christian is cold and dangerous, like Edward, and warns Ana to stay away from him for her own safety, as Edward does with Bella.  Jose is the Jacob of 50 Shades ~ a friend of Ana's {almost a best friend} who wants nothing more than to be in a romantic relationship with her.

There is nothing overly scandalous in these first six chapters.  We are introduced to the characters and their personalities, and while foreshadowing into Christian's dark ways is abundant, Ana and Christian don't so much as kiss.

Day 2:  April 24, 2012
I continue reading 50 Shades, and in these chapters the "naughty" nature of the book starts to show.  Christian has made it clear that he would like a sexual relationship with Ana, but his type of sexual relationship is different than virtually any other you've ever read about in any other book.  For starters, involves a non-disclosure agreement and an extensive contract outlining the nature and rules of the relationship.  Ana sees what Christian refers to as his "playroom" {full of sex toys and...paraphernalia?}, and she is given the option of whether or not to enter a relationship with Christian.  He has an all-or-nothing approach to his relationships ~ do it my way, or no dice.  He doesn't do romance, he doesn't do "girlfriend"; straight up kinky sex, and that's about it.

Upon finding out that Ana is a virgin, Christian decides that the world of S&M is no way to be introduced to sex, so he breaks his own rules and has "vanilla" {as he calls it} sex with her.  Even these "vanilla" scenes are incredibly graphic ~ much what I would imagine reading a porn script is like {do porn movies have scripts?}.

Christian does show a softness and affection towards Ana; he holds her hand in public, he sleeps in the same bed with her on more than one occasion {going against another one of his rules}; and he even introduces her to his mother when she drops by unexpectedly.  {This, the man who refuses to have a girlfriend, ever}.  Is this foreshadowing into a relationship that turns more romantic in the future?  I'm not sure, but it seems like it.

By the time I wrap up for the night, Ana still hasn't decided whether or not to enter into a dominant/submissive sexual relationship with Christian.  I'm going to guess she decides to go for it...

Day 3:  April 25, 2012
I need a day off from the world of Christian and Ana.  50 Shades of Grey is a heavy book.  Not in weight {it's pretty standard in that department}, but in the tone of the book.  Christian is a dark, brooding character with a lot of issues {I think that's obvious}.  I also have no idea how realistic the having-to-sign-a-contract thing is ~ is that how S&M relationships work?  E.L. James says she did a lot of online research for this book, so I guess I'll take her word for it.  Still...

You can't possibly enter into the world of 50 Shades without knowing that there will be graphic, explicit sex scenes.  It's the reason there is so much buzz about the book in the first place.  I think it's fair to say if you are even remotely easily offended, this is not the book for you.  I am not easily offended, and I haven't even gotten to the S&M parts of the book yet, and already I just want to shout "Stop telling me about the sex already!  I don't want to know anymore!"  I'm just over it.  That's why I'm not sure I will wind up finishing the book ~ if I'm this over the sex scenes now, how I'm I going to feel halfway through the book, or three-quarters of the way through?

To be continued....?


{photo credit for first photo:}

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yummy "Fettuccine" Dish!

Yes, "fettuccine" is in quotes.  Why?  Because this post is all about a Hungry Girl pasta swap that uses tofu shirataki noodles instead of real pasta.  Wait...keep reading!!!

Okay, it took me a good six months of reading my daily Hungry Girl email newsletters {where she often touts the amazing product that is the tofu shirataki noodle} before I actually worked up the courage to give this recipe a whirl.  For most of us, when we think "tofu" we think "ew".  I'd never actually tried anything tofu before, but I still thought "ew".  But sometimes you've got to step outside the box a little and try something different;  you never know if you don't try!  Hungry Girl offers a million and one {this might be a slight exaggeration...but only slight} recipes that utilize tofu shirataki noodles; the one she boasts about most often, however, is her Hungry Girlfredo.

There is nothing healthy about Fettuccine Alfredo.  Nothing.  Well, okay, the gallons of cream do have calcium...but that's about it.  Depending on the brand of pasta you use, a cup of white or whole wheat traditional noodles will cost you around 40 carbs {and who really has ONE cup of pasta?  Anyone?}.  Now, carbs are good for you; carbs are great for you, actually ~ they provide your body and your brain with the fuel you need to exercise, think, and function.  But carbs are in everything, not just grains ~ carbs are in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, as well as breads, pastas, and other grains.  When you're trying to cut back on calorie intake and not go overboard on the starches, these tofu noodles make a great swap for traditional pasta ~ at 40 calories and 6 grams of carbs for a whole bag of noodles, how can you go wrong?

 I found the House Foods Tofu Shirataki Noodles that Hungry Girl recommends at my local Whole Foods {my Stop and Shop doesn't carry them}.  They were in the dairy/refrigerated aisle near the other tofu products.  The secret to these suckers is to dry, dry, dry them!  Open the package, dump the noodles into a colander, rinse them thoroughly, and spend at least the next five minutes patting them dry with paper towels.  These noodles hold onto a lot of water, and if you don't dry them thoroughly, you will wind up with a watery "Alfredo" sauce ~ not the effect you're going for.

Would you fool friends in a blindfolded taste-test into thinking that this is real-deal, made-by-an-Italian (or even made-by-the-Olive-Garden} Fettuccine Alfredo?  No, I don't think you would.  The texture is a bit different {these noodles are a little chewier than traditional pasta}, and of course this dish isn't doused in cream sauce.  But with a bit of salt and pepper for seasoning {I use garlic salt as well ~ yummy!}, this really does make a great, livable substitute.  I prefer to have mine with some grilled chicken, but plain works just as well.

A serving of Hungry Girlfredo {the entire recipe} has 99 calories and 2 Weight Watchers PointsPlus.  For the rest of the nutritional information, check out Hungry Girl's post here.

Hungry Girl's Hungry Girlfredo

1 package House Foods Tofu Shirataki Fettuccine Shaped Noodle Substitute
1 wedge Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss cheese
2 tsp reduced-fat Parmesan-style grated topping
1 tsp fat-free sour cream
Optional:  salt and black pepper {*I also use some garlic salt or powder}

Use a strainer to rinse and drain shirataki noodles well.  Pat dry.  In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave for one minute.  Dry as thoroughly as possible, using paper towels.  Cut noodles up a bit, using kitchen shears or a knife.

Add cheese wedge, grated topping, and sour cream, breaking the cheese wedge into pieces as you add it.  Microwave for one minute.

Stir well.  If you'd like, season to taste with salt and pepper.  Enjoy!

Looking for some other tofu shirataki noodle recipes?  They come in fettuccine, spaghetti and angel-hair shapes {and macaroni, but that's newer and hard to find}, and Hungry Girl has plenty of recipes for them.  Follow this link for more HG tofu noodle recipes, or type "shirataki" into the search bar on the Hungry Girl website.  {Hint:  the "Know Your Noodles" guide has links to about a half-dozen of her past tofu noodle recipes}.  I've also tried the So Low Mein with Chicken recipe {even better warmed up for lunch the next day}, and the hubby and I are planning to whip up the Humungous Shrimp and Veggie Noodle-Fry this week {both use the spaghetti-shaped shirataki noodles}.

I know the word "tofu" is scary to some, but with the Hungry Girl recipes, you'll find that you can slash the calories on some of your favorite dishes instead of giving them up entirely!



photo credit:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Club: Little Earthquakes {Review}

Well...hmmm.  I didn't not like this book.  I just didn't love it.

I've heard, of course, the old adage ~ "never judge a book by it's cover".  But, you know something?  I do often judge books by their covers.  I'm more drawn to certain books on the shelf or the "new release" table based on the visual appeal of the cover.  Regardless of the cover, if it's a book in the genre I tend to read {usually chick-lit, fiction, female-protagonist pieces, although not always}, I always read the back cover or inside flap to find out what the story is all about, and I usually flip to the first page right there in the store to see if the book grabs me right from the get-go.  Sometimes the book with the most interesting cover has me zoning out before the first page is over ~ then I know it's not for me.

Not only do I use a book's cover to help draw me to it, but I usually form an opinion about the tone of a book from the cover as well.  A James Patterson mystery's cover is probably going to look very different than Elizabeth Berg's newest novel about a wife and mother trying to find her own identity outside of her family role; and the vibe of both those covers will be different still from the picture-heavy tome featuring the history of Boston's working class, or the unauthorized autobiography of Justin Bieber.  So, you can see why I feel somewhat comfortable throwing caution to the wind and ignoring that famous pearl of wisdom, and in fact judging a book by it's cover.  But I've come to realize that while the cover may be able to tell you some things, there can be a lot more under the surface that the cover doesn't even hint at {maybe those old wives do actually know what they're talking about...}

When I saw the cover of Little Earthquakes, with it's pretty pastels and chubby baby legs {not to mention just a hint of diaper-butt}, I figured I was in for a lighthearted story of new motherhood.  The Miami Herald quote on the front cover told me that this book was "hilarious, heartbreaking, and insightful", so I figured I could expect some serious moments ~ you know, giving a grounded portrayal of marriage and motherhood, not just a head-in-the-clouds idealized version.

Instead, I found very little hilarity in Little Earthquakes ~ it was far too serious and borderline depressing to be funny.  Is motherhood really that much of a bummer for the average Jane?  I don't have kids myself, and while I don't expect that being a mother is all sunshine and rainbows, I'd like to think that there's something enjoyable about it ~ otherwise, what's the point?

When we meet the main characters, they are three very pregnant strangers who meet in a pre-natal yoga class.  Becky, Kelly and Ayinde form a fast friendship {out of convenience and the fact that they have impending motherhood in common, initially}, and the novel sees them from pregnancy, through delivery, and into full-fledged motherhood.  Each woman has her own issues and personal problems going on, which is fine ~ we all have our own drama to deal with, and marriage, motherhood, and life isn't all sunshine and rainbows.  Their issues range from a meddling mother-in-law to financial worries to infidelity.  A fourth main character, Lia, is dealing with her own baby issues and personal struggles.  Lia is outside of the yoga-friends loop but winds up being a friend to the girls as well {after basically stalking them for months in a fairly creepy fashion...but whatever}.

So many elements of Little Earthquakes are far-fetched and unrealistic ~ starting with the rapid formation of the women's friendship.  Perhaps most annoying to me?  Ayinde's husband is a professional athlete; when she is in labor, the nurses and doctors all but ignore her except when they're asking when her famous husband is going to arrive, at which point they follow him around like puppy dogs.  I've known both professional athletes and healthcare professionals; people are impressed with celebrity, yes, but they are not usually quite so ridiculous about it; also, giggling, ooh-ing and aah-ing over a high-profile patient {actually, a patient's high-profile spouse} in a hospital setting goes against just about every code of professionalism.  The parts of the book that mention how everyone Ayinde encounters thinks her husband is so amazing, drooling and falling all over themselves and saying ridiculous things, was so irritating to me I almost couldn't stomach it.  I think it's safe to say Jennifer Weiner has not spent any length of time with any public figures, or any labor-and-delivery nurses either.

I wouldn't tell you to not bother reading this book; if you're caught up on your to-read list, your favorite shows have gone into reruns, and you're looking for something to fill the time, it's definitely not the worst book you could read.  Hey, I read it start-to-finish;  when I really dislike a book, I can't even make myself do that.  In a nutshell, it was just more of a downer than I was expecting {those chubby baby legs are so misleading!}, there were so many unrealistic or unbelievable elements, and it just wasn't the best effort that Weiner has ever put out. 

{photo credit:}