Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. JamesTitle: Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades, Book 1
E.L. James
Genre: Erotic Romance
Sensuality Rating: Erotic
Source: bought
Published: May 2011 by The Writers Shop Publishing House

When literature student Anastasia Steele is drafted to interview the successful young entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating. Convinced their meeting went badly, she tries to put Grey out of her mind - until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town hardware store where she works part-time.

The unworldly, innocent Ana is shocked to realize she wants this man, and when he warns her to keep her distance it only makes her more desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her - but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey's singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success – his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving adoptive family – Grey is man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a passionate, physical and daring affair, Ana learns more about her own dark desires, as well as the Christian Grey hidden away from public scrutiny.

Can their relationship transcend physical passion? Will Ana find it in herself to submit to the self-indulgent Master? And if she does, will she still love what she finds?

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

Joint Review

Brianna: I read Fifty Shades of Grey right before the book made the morning news shows circuit. There was quite a bit of buzz surrounding this BDSM novel on Twitter, which piqued my curiosity. I think the thing I was most curious about was the Twilight fan-fiction aspect.

J9: I skimmed it last summer when a friend, who likes BDSM erotica, recommended it.  I detest first-person narration so when I say skim, I mean skim.  But I re-read it this week and found it impossible to not think, “geesh, what’s the big deal with this book?

Brianna: I thought the same exact thing. From what I saw on Twitter, most people either loved this book or they hated it. And which ever way they gravitated, they felt pretty passionately about their verdict. Me on the other hand, I’m in the middle.

J9: I’m actually with you, I didn’t hate or love it.  But mostly I don’t see what the whole erotica hoopla is--this book is no different than many erotic romance novels out there; this one just went mainstream quickly.

Brianna: I don’t get what the hoopla is over this book either. I don’t read a lot of BDSM (I’m actually very new to the genre) but I can’t imagine why THIS book is all the rage. There surely has to be better BDSM books out there, right?

J9: I am in NO way into the BDSM lifestyle so I’m no authority but I’ve read more than a few BDSM books for review and this one seemed to use the same parts the same ways.  I do wonder though, if people (women) may like the uber-sexualization of the Christian/Ana relationship which was a YA romance in the Twilight books.

Brianna: Did you go into Fifty Shades of Grey knowing it was Twilight fan-fiction? And if so, did it scream TWILIGHT to you? I knew before hand but to be honest, I didn’t think of Twilight a single time when I read Fifty. Yes, I realize (now) that there are similarities (a lot of them actually) but when I was reading this book, I wasn’t thinking about it.

J9: It was common knowledge back last year when I read it that this was an erotic retelling of the Twilight romance so I also knew going in but I’m a totally weirdo and haven’t even read the Twilight books (don’t hunt me down!).

To me the best part of this book was the non-sexual emails between Christian (ahem, Mr. Grey) and Ana.  The email back-and-forth had real humor and heart, IMO.

Brianna: Yes!! That was probably my favorite part of the book. There lie the true feelings and words between these two characters. It was a shame they weren’t that true and honest with each other face to face.

J9: I agree.  But I have to give props to the author for introducing the BDSM lifestyle in such a simplistic, straightforward manner.  The author has Christian create a contract for Ana which introduces her to the boundaries (or lack thereof) in the BDSM relationship and this enables the author to make the BDSM lifestyle easily accessible to readers like me who are unfamiliar with it (and may find it creepy.)

Brianna: I understand the need for a contract but that contract became too much of a focal point. It was like every conversation between Christian and Ana mentioned that damn contract. It was like Christian was shoving it under Ana’s nose every chance he got.

J9: Oh yes!  This contract leeches the emotional connection out of this romance and makes it much more of a business agreement, so much so that Ana wonders if this makes her a whore.  I think the author included this fear of Ana’s suspecting that readers may feel the same way!

Brianna: I don’t know if this would be considered a ‘like’ or a ‘didn’t like’ but I give the author some kudos on creating such a sick f*ck of a character. The man himself said it best: Christian Grey is fifty shades of fucked up. That guy is seriously damaged. The whole Ms. Robinson thing was quite disturbing but what made it even more so was that Christian was okay with what went down and how it went down. He doesn’t see what was wrong with that whole relationship.

J9: I agree, the author made Christian a totally messed up character but what disappointed me most in his characterization was that THAT messed up sexuality was all the readers know about him.  He’s so two-dimensional in his BDSM lifestyle.  I suppose this may be due in part to the first-person narration by Ana so she can only tell readers what she knows about Christian but his refusal to examine his unhealthy introduction to the lifestyle was a real miss in my opinion.  

Brianna: You’re right, I think we did miss out on quite a bit about/from Christian’s character because the story is told from Ana’s POV. There’s so much more to Christian and his ways. I’m wondering if the reader gets more from Christian’s past in the next two books...?

J9: There may be; I haven’t read them and I’m not going to.  I’m a little squeamish about the BDSM sex as it mixes with power so much and that’s slightly uncomfortable for me to read.  I think this kind of BDSM pushes the envelope on what romance is versus erotica.  In fact, I’d argue that since there is no HEA (happy ever after) that Fifty Shades isn’t even romance.  I also think this book is a classic example of people wanting to say it’s a romance since few people admit to reading erotica. 

Brianna: I don’t know how I would classify this book. Erotica seems to be fitting. Speaking of ‘pushing the envelope’, there’s a scene at the end of the book (97% into the Kindle edition) that just felt so wrong (read: belt). It was demoralizing and very disturbing. I don’t understand why Ana let herself be degraded and hurt for as long as she did. Why didn’t she say one of the safe words?!! That was the million dollar question that was screaming in my mind when I was reading that scene.

J9: I was totally wigged out by that scene too.  And I felt the scene was made worse because Christian seemed so emotionally disconnected from Ana’s pain.  I also have to talk about this other scene where Ana’s biology becomes sexualized with Christian.  I can’t say too much without giving everything away but it icked me out because it was a bodily integrity issue for me (think shaving rules, clothing rules, birth control rules!) and Ana gave this away to Christian so easily.  Plus, as a woman I can’t imagine this-thing-I-can’t-say being sexualized in ANY way!

Brianna: I know exactly which part you’re referring to. This scene, too, stood out for me (and not in a good way). I’ll say it - one word: tampon. Those who have read Fifty Shades of Grey will know exactly what what we’re referring to. And for those who haven’t, let’s just say that tampons and love scenes do not make for smexy times. Do I even need to explain why? And what happens with said tampon is just disgusting. It completely ruined the scene for me.

Another problem for me was the lack of editing. In the beginning of the book especially, there was an abundance of facial expressions used. It’s like the author went through every single type of smile imaginable: wryly (twice), pleasantly, kindly (twice), a ghost of a smile (twice), suppresses a smile, rueful, humorous, a hint of a smile, small, widens, all within the first 10 pages. I think we get the gist; there’s a lot of smiling going on. I did a search on my Kindle for this book and, I kid you not, there were 286 results for ‘smile’ in this 380-page book. Smile much? And don’t get me started on the blushing! I searched this too and there were 119 ‘flush’es plus 39 ‘blushes’. 

And who the heck whispers that much? Christian and Ana whisper when there’s no need. Okay, maybe I’m being nit picky but it was annoying.

J9: Ah! I agree, the editing was laughable in the original e-book (before Random House bought the rights) And the “blushes” and “flushes” were S.I.L.L.Y. mostly because this was used to illustrate Ana’s innocence and that’s lazy writing in my opinion in “telling” and not “showing”. 

Brianna: While I didn’t love Fifty Shades of Grey, I didn’t hate it either. But I will admit that it’s book crack; I simply could not put it down until I had finished reading it. I give Fifty Shades of Grey 2 frogs. Will I read the next 2 books? It’s hard to say. I can’t justify paying 10 bones for each ebook. I *might* read the next two for sheer curiosity, if nothing else.

J9: Curiosity killed The Book Vixen? LOL Post your reviews here since I’m not reading the next two! I didn’t love or hate the book.  But I would have been upset to have wasted ten bucks on the book, so I guess that means I recommend borrowing it from the public library--even if the wait is 6 months, as I hear it is for most public libraries!  And nope, I’m not spending any money on the next two books.  In fact, since I have no emotional investment in Christian and Ana, I’m not going to borrow the next books from my library either.  I'd rate it 2 frogs.

Brianna and J9’s Rating:
2 Frogs

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Our question for you - Now that we’ve read the uber-popular Fifty Shades of Grey (and you know what we liked and didn’t like), what BDSM book(s) do you recommend we give a try?

About Brianna: Supermom by day, naughty reader by night. Addicted to chocolate, Twitter, her iPad, her Kindle, and 99¢ Kindle deals. You can follow Brianna on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram.


  1. Thanks for posting this review, it made me smile! I'm really in two minds about whether to read the book because the sample chapter didn't hook me, but I almost feel like I should because of all the publicity, plus I write erotic romance. I think the fanfic bit puts me off, and I only like 'light' BDSM, but all the comments make me curious. I'm still undecided, but thanks for a great review - so many of the comments on this trilogy are love or hate, without much constructive in them!

    1. By 'so many of the comments', I meant to add 'that I've read elsewhere'!

    2. Thanks how I felt - I had to read it to see what all the fuss was about. And even having read it, I still don't understand what all the fuss is about! LOL

  2. I think you should give my True Romance / Erotica series a try.

    Here is what one reader had to say about it (in comparison to 50 Shades of Grey:

    "I read the first volume of 50 Shades and really did not enjoy it at all. Why? I thought the characters were weak and not well drawn, the writing (and yes I know the author is a PhD) was very 'thin' - I especially didn't like Ana - to me she read like the stereotypical Harlequin heroine of the 1980's. I've read the first three of Summer's journey and loved them. Why? Well written, main character every woman can connect with, funny, and each word/sentence/page = evocative writing."

    My series is getting great Amazon reviews (110 reviews to date with a 4.7 out of 5 Star average), but I am lacking more widespread exposure.

    Here's a link if you want to take a look at the Amazon reviews / etc. ...

    I'd be happy to provide review copies for your reading/review convenience.

    Thanks for your consideration,


    P.S. I compared Shades of Grey to the Tiger Woods effect on my blog recently. I think anything that brings more "fans" to the genre is not all bad by any means. ;-)

    1. After reading this post, I will never trust another Amazon review again.

      I will still check out your books and see what my friends on Goodreads thought.

    2. Thanks for sharing that. Horrible but sadly, expected. Hustlers have advanced.

    3. I saw that post too! I know this is going to go into geeky girl mode, but I like statistics (stay with me here!) and one of the fundamentals of it is sample size and I apply that to Amazon reviews big time! But I also think this allows readers to factor in Amazon reviews but don't make decisions sole on them--let's use goodreads and blogs.

  3. What a great review from the both of you! I'll admit that I read this as fan fiction first which was known as Master of the Universe at the time. I've read the trilogy in it's altered form and it's basically the same, word for word. That made the price for each book somewhat outrageous, so I borrowed them from a friend instead. Note to all, you may want to do that if you're not sure if you'll like or hate it. I'm a huge fan of well written BDSM/erotica stories. Admittedly, MoTU got me started, but since then I have broadened my horizon and find Ms James' version of it sorely lacking. If you want to dip into that world, no one writes BDSM like Cherise Sinclair. Her books have heart, humor, erotica and romance. I like my BDSM books to be about more than just kinky sex.

    - Cherise Sinclair
    - Melissa Schroeder
    - Kallypso Masters

    Those are my top three.

    1. I haven't read 50 Shades yet, but I agree with you as far as others who have "mastered" the genre. Kallypso Masters if fairly new to the genre but she has managed to do a great job with her stories. They are well written, very romantic, playful and the topic is well researched. Cherise Sinclair is one of my favs. I will however give 50 Shades a try, just because I keep reading mix reviews about it.

    2. I want more than kinky sex too. I'll check out your recs. Thanks!

  4. What an honest review!

    As for recommendations, you can try "Gabriel's Inferno" by Sylvain Reynard. This is not a BDSM story (even though the lead male character has experienced it in the past). Many think of this book as "The antidote for Fifty Shades of Grey". And I would agree.

    All best.

    1. The antidote for Fifty Shades of Grey - Interesting. I'll have to check it out!

    2. Just so you know, "Gabriel's Inferno" was also a TwiFanFic (The University of Edward Masen) before it got published, but the story telling/writing is better than Fifty Shades.

    3. Thx ;) I did know. Seems like a lot of books from that publisher (pub of GI) are TwiFF.

    4. Indeed. Omnific and TWCS promote a lot of published FFs, and I believe it's a calculated move on their part considering those two stories were some of the highest rated and most reviewed/most popular FFs at the time of their completion.

  5. A very honest review! I like that! I haven't yet read Fifty Shades and I don't exactly intend to read it. Not because it's fanfiction, but because I don't exactly feel the...draw, the curiosity to read it.

    As for really good BDSM books, I agree with mwilson on Cherise Sinclair and Kallypso Masters. Their books are amazing.

  6. Great review. The excerpts I read of 50 Shades were so horrendous I know I can't handle it. I'm referring to the adjective and adverb overload you mentioned, the lazy writing. Once that sort of thing is pointed out to you as a reader/writer, you can't unsee it. It's first draft quality writing, but when it's not cleaned up for a SEVEN FIGURE DEAL I just scratch my head and more on to a book I can trust. I'm all for a fun guilty pleasure, but I still expect quality. :)

    Again, very much appreciate a thoughtful review on such a polarizing book!

    1. I agree, guilty fun reads are great but I also expect quality, not just in editing, though that's nice, but more so in character development and plot progression.

  7. Thanks for commenting on the review. I'm always curious what other readers think of the book I just reviewed. I always am willing to try authors if there is a genre-consensus on their books. It looks there is here; thank you!

  8. I doubt I'll ever read this book but I think the reason it got such hot press was because of the tie to Twilight, which is just all kinds of wrong and gross in my

  9. I think you both have brought up a lot of great points. I really wasn't getting the hype for this one and I honestly wouldn't even bother calling this BDSM! The author spends way too much time explaining the lifestyle choices of BDSM. Um as a reader of such erotic books I already know what the lifestyle is so I don't need the author's research notes on it to be in the book. This was the part that upset me the most, this isn't erotica!

    It also bugs me that so many people will push you away from this at the store not because they know anything about it but because they think it is dirty since it is classified as "erotica" which it shouldn't be.

    I have read better BDSM stories and the one thing that kept me going on to read the second book was the fact that I did like Grey and Anna. There are certainly problems with this series that one can choose to overlook such as the writing not being that amazing if they want to better enjoy the story.

    I do think that the second book is much better than this first one and several of the issues I had with the series get cleared up in book two. I am excited for to read the last book at this point but it was rough to get there.

    Thanks for the great review.

    1. Interesting, Alexa, so you'd argue that it isn't erotica because it has a story and I'd argue it isn't romance because it doesn't have a HEA. :) Where do you think it should be classified?

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  10. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my TBR list. My 65 year old mother just finished it (GASP). She said it was TOO erotic, but ironically she kept reading. :)


  11. What I heard about the books (both before the hype and as it started) really agrees with what you say near the start of the review. People who read erotica/bdsm erotica say that it's a bit 'meh' in terms of the genre - ok, but nothing special. Other people seem to be reading it now as though it's the invention of erotica.
    I don't think I'll be reading it just now, but perhaps some day in the future if it's on sale & I don't have a stack of other things waiting to be read.


  12. I have come this close to buying this book at the store but I didn't because I have heard it was bad from so many bloggers about the editing, and I know it was based on twilight fan fiction. I don't mind reading the bdsm stories and I read and liked The Relunctant Dom
    thanks for the review and the honesty.

  13. @Julie, the print book was purchased and published by Random House so I suspect the editing got much better from the ebook version.

  14. The phenomena when a book gets that super spotlight of attention and absolutely everyone is reading it is quite fascinating and one reason I won't read this. Thank you for an excellent post and super question to recommend 'better' choices if you don't want to read 50Shades. On the other hand, I could be embarrassed I even bothered to check for more reviews of it, so maybe in a way I've succumbed. I am trying to find reasons not to read it?


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