A letter to E.L. James

Dear E.L. James,

Longtime fan, first time caller.

(Or should I say writer? Never mind, I digress.)

I have wanted to write this letter for quite some time. I’ve had a lot of things on my heart and mind that I’ve wanted to tell you for what seems like forever, and I have finally found the time to do it.

So here it goes…

You changed my life.

Your books changed my life.

Let me explain.

I can still remember the first time I read your book Fifty Shades of Grey. (I say first time because I have honestly lost track of how many times I have read that book, and the others that came after it, over the past years.)

A picture from that beach trip back in 2012.

It was the summer of 2012 right before my senior year of college. I was on a beach trip with one of my best friends, and she had brought the book to read at the beach. I had seen the book around and was curious what it was about, since I had yet to really look into it. My friend told me it was a romance that she could not put down, and I knew if she loved it I would too, so I immediately made her take me to the bookstore so that I could get my very own copy.

Fast forward about 48 hours later and I had devoured the entire series. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning each night reading Fifty Shades of Grey on that trip. I read Fifty Shades Darker the entire car ride home from North Carolina to Maryland, and when I got home from that trip I drove straight to Target to get the third one. Fifty Shades Freed was finished about 5:30 the next morning as the sun was coming up.

It was official: I was hooked, lined, and sinkered to your words and your characters and your books from that moment on.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had been that intensely addicted and consumed by a book or series. Probably not since I read the Harry Potter Series or The Twilight Saga years earlier, or even or The Hunger Games Trilogy that I had devoured earlier that year. I thought about your characters, I became invested on such a real level to them, and I just couldn’t get enough of them.

The moment I finished your books after that fateful beach trip, I started them again because I just wasn’t ready for them to end. I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Christian or Ana or what they allowed me to feel with them as I experienced their story. I wasn’t ready for their love story to come to a close. I just wasn’t ready for it to be over yet.

I can remember wanting to talk to everyone about your books after I read them. I talked to my friends at home and my friends at school about them. I even talked to my boss at the time because she was reading them too, and we had many discussions about everything Christian and Ana. I couldn’t stop talking about them, or thinking about them, or wanting to find more people to talk about them with.

Until I read your books, I had never read a book or series like yours. And I don’t just mean because there was sex or BDSM or themes of dominance and submission. I mean that I had never read a story with a love that was that intense or real or raw or that vulnerable at times. I had never been on that kind of an epic and whirlwind emotional and love filled journey with characters before. I had never felt quite so connected and entranced by everything I was reading and experiencing before.

I mean sure I’d walked the halls of Hogwarts, and fallen in love with a vampire (and a werewolf), and even defeated a dystopian empire a few times by then, but I’d never before felt what I did when I read your books.

You see I had never read real romance before.

I had never ventured into that aisle of the bookstore until I read your books.

Sure I’d read my fair share of love stories in young adult novels and even in some of the women’s fiction books I loved, but I had never read anything that was truly a romance. I had never read a story where the love story was the focus. I had never read a book that gave me every complicated and wonderful and emotional and consuming and heartbreaking and magical moment of falling in love and meeting that one person who changes everything.

I had never read anything like that until I read your books, and it completely changed my life as a reader going forward.

I have always been an avid reader as long as I can remember. My parents quickly figured out that taking me to the bookstore meant I was going to grab as many books as my little arms could hold onto. You could find me in those aisles of young adult and mystery and fiction novels for hours at a time…and after I read your books, I found a whole new set of aisles to explore.

Romance.

And all the many subgenres that come with it.

I’ve always LOVED to read, but it was your books, and your words, and your characters that pushed me into the wonderful world of romance and those new aisles….and it is where I’ve been happy to stay ever since.

As I went into my senior year of college, I found myself rereading your books on a never ending loop. You see I was deep in the middle of my student teaching internship, other classes, and working part time at a children’s shoe store, so free time was a luxury I didn’t have. I loved to read, but didn’t have the time to jump into new books, so I reread yours. Again and again. That, along with a serious amount of caffeine and support from my friends, is what got me to graduation.

This is where the life changing part comes in.

That next summer, after I found my job as a special education teacher, I finally had the time to go back to my first love: reading. And I promptly started devouring every romance book I could get my hands on. After rereading your series again, I jumped into the Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day, then it was Unteachable by Leah Raeder, right after that it was the Breathless Trilogy by Maya Banks, and so on and so forth with so many books and love stories.

It was right in the middle of that that I got the idea to start a book blog. This book blog. It was just a random idea I had one day, but it was one I could not get out of my head. At that time I didn’t know anyone who had a blog, but I did know that I LOVED reading. I also knew that I especially loved reading romance. I wanted to find a way to share that with the world and connect with others who shared that love. So I pulled my less than stellar technological skills together and created The Never Ending Book Basket.

I never knew when I started this book blog that it would bring me into a community of authors, bloggers, and fellow readers that I will NEVER want to leave.

This community includes self-published indie authors, hybrid authors, traditionally published authors, bloggers, editors, formatters, and readers of all kinds. It has people from around the world, in dozens of countries, who come from all walks of life. It has some of the most amazing and incredible people I have ever met within it, who have since become some of my closest and dearest friends. This is a world I didn’t even know existed 5 years ago when I read Fifty Shades for the first time, and 5 years later I don’t know what I would do without this world or the incredible people in it.

I would have never known about any of it or any of them, or been lucky enough to find and join this amazing community, if it wasn’t for you E.L. James.

You changed my life.

You changed my world.

And I do not say that lightly.

Your books, your words, and your epic love story of Ana and Christian were the catalyst for bringing me into this world. It is what made me a lover of love stories and romance. It is what brought about this very book blog. It is what brought me into this amazing and wonderful and inspiring book community of readers and authors and bloggers and other professionals, who just love a damn good love story. It is what has brought me some of my most treasured friendships, it has allowed me to connect with other readers around the world and down the street from my own house, and it has let me experience so many unforgettable moments over the last 5 years.

And honestly, I can’t thank you enough for that.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I could say it a million times, and I don’t think it would ever be enough. It wouldn’t even scratch the surface of being enough. It wouldn’t be enough to truly capture what your books and characters and words gave me, what they opened inside of my own head and heart, and the doors and pathways they opened in the world around me.

I have so much respect for you as a writer, as a businesswoman, and as a human being. I hope one day I have the pleasure of meeting you and thanking you in person for all that you’ve given me and brought to my world. (I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will happen next month at Book Bonanza in Denver.) If that ever happens I’ll l try not to go completely fangirl crazy, but I make no promises. I’ll also try to remember to use words and to not flail with excitement. I’ll try not to tear up and cry too, like I’ve been doing the entire time writing this post, but I especially make no promises with that one.

I just truly can’t say thank you enough for everything.

For the books, for the movies that came after, for the memories and moments you and your stories have created that I will never forget, and for bringing me into a world that I will be forever grateful for.

I could seriously go on and on about how much you and your books have given me.

I could tell you about the time my best friend and I were snowed in at the movie theater and saw Fifty Shades of Grey twice in the same night. (I mean what else were we supposed to do?! I think we made the best decision that night.) I could tell you about how I’ve been to every midnight showing of the movies with some of my closest friends, and how immediately after I go to another showing with my brother and his best friend. (He loves the movies, he just won’t admit it out loud yet.) I could tell you about that time I got a signed copy of Grey in my Bookworm Box and almost cried, while simultaneously shrieking so loud my dad was highly concerned about my welfare.

I could tell you about how the soundtracks from the movies and the ones from the books are usually on a constant loop of some sort. (And I may or may not be listening to the Freed soundtrack right now as I write this post.) I could tell you about how I still find myself going back for a quick minute to reread one of my many favorite scenes from the books, which usually then turns into an hours long rereading of whichever book I’m rereading. I could tell you so many things, so many other memories or moments that you were the catalyst for, but I’ll try to wrap it up here because I really could go on and on for quite some time about all that you and your books and your words and your movies have given me.

I could go on and on, and it still wouldn’t be enough.

And while I feel as if my words will never be enough to truly thank you and to really capture all you have brought to my life with these characters and this series, and what you’ve done for this wonderful book community and world, I truly can’t say it enough.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

You changed my life. You changed my world. And I will be forever grateful to you for that and for everything else along the way.

All my best,

Megan Cooke

(One of your many fans.)

Advertisements

Why Francis Lawrence is My New Best Friend.

Something monumental has just occurred in my life.

Sadly I haven’t met that special someone who is  named after my favorite bread. (Jeez mom, calm yourself down, it’ll happen.) I also still have yet to discover how to make something from Pinterest look like it did on the damn website.

What has happened to today is bigger than that.

I have made a new best friend. His name is Francis Lawrence.

He’s a kind, gentle soul, and many people would say he is downright awesome. He listens, he cares, and he is there for you. Never heard of Francis Lawrence? Well let me enlighten you. Who better to do that since I am his new best friend?

Francis Lawrence is the director of Catching Fire the second book in the enthralling Hunger Games series. He’s also going to direct Mockingjay. He is a simply wonderful man who I have never actually met before. But don’t worry, we’re still best friends.

Acca-believe it.

Before you ask, yes I took a picture of my Catching Fire book next to a candle with a woodland scene on top of it. Have some respect. That candle is from Yankee Candle and it smells heavenly.

Before you ask, yes I took a picture of my Catching Fire book next to a candle with a woodland scene on top of it. Have some respect. That candle is from Yankee Candle and it smells heavenly.

Francis Lawrence is my new best friend because his adaptation of Catching Fire was out of this world. If you haven’t yet seen it, go now. Stop what you are doing immediately, and go pay $10 and go see it. It is worth every penny, even if you’re one of those strange people who hasn’t read the books yet. (Yes I am talking to you Aubrey!)

I have seen this movie twice already, once with a very fun cast of characters I call my friends, and once in IMAX with my goober aka my little brother. (It should be noted that both of these showings I saw were less than 15 hours apart. That is how good this movie is. Or that is how strong my addiction is. It’s either one or the other, specifics don’t really matter.)

As Francis Lawrence and I are now best friends I found it only right that I take the time to commend him on a job well done, and point out the many things he did to make Catching Fire one of the best movie adaptations out there. Period.

Thus without further ado, what set me on fire about this movie: (This is where you should stop reading if you’re one of the 3 people who haven’t seen this movie or read the book yet.)

  • Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. I love, and I mean love these two as Katniss and Peeta. Their performance in this movie was outstanding, and it really had me believing exactly what they were trying to portray: Two people who care for each other deeply, but are still trying to figure out what that all means.
  • Two words: Finnick. One word: Love him. Finnick Odair is by far my favorite character (besides Katniss and Peeta) in the whole entire series. He honestly is the character that really made me adore these books. He was also the one character I really cared about casting with. In my mind they had to nail him, or I was not gonna be sold and would probably shed a tear for my dear Finnick. Boy was I happy though with Sam Claflin’s portrayal of Finnick. He did that character justice. He made me love him and want to hug him, and if I wasn’t already newly best friends with Francis Lawrence, I’d be best friends with him too by now.
  • Jena Malone is crazy in the best kind of way. Jena Malone portrays Johanna, a very unique victor from District 7. I have a soft spot for Johanna, because I like me some crazy, and that girl is crazy in the best possible way. Jena Malone plays into that crazy perfectly, and when times were really tense in this movie she added the fun and wildness that was necessary for that little comic relief.
  • The merry band of previously victorious victors. All of the actors chosen to play the other victors for this round of The Hunger Games were phenomenal. Even if they only had one line, I loved every minute of them being on-screen. Mags is by far the stand out of this group. Well done Lynn Cohen.
  • The chemistry between Katniss and Peeta. Don’t get me wrong, in The Hunger Games I believed that Katniss and Peeta “liked” each other as they did in the book, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by their “likeness.” But in Catching Fire I was amazed at how much these two characters and actors were able to make me believe that they really cared for one another. And let’s be honest it just looked like they liked each other a hell of a lot more in this movie.
  • The arena. Let me tell you, it took me a while when I read Catching Fire to really picture where they were competing for their lives. I just couldn’t pin point an image in my head. The arena they created in this movie, blew my mental picture out of the water. That arena is the definition of how CGI and real locations can be used to create something mind-blowing.
  • The up, close, and personal IMAX experience. I had never seen a movie in IMAX until this one. Let me tell you it was definitely an experience, and it added to the great visuals of the last half of the film. Also, if you’re looking to learn how many freckles each cast member has on their face, IMAX is your new best friend. The image was so clear, I am pretty sure I was able to see the actors faces clearer than I have ever seen my own.

While I LOVED this adaptation, there were only two small details that put my fire out just a smidge:

  • The one scene I wanted in this film, was cut. Now I know that I preach on here to be happy with what you get, and I am ecstatic about this film, but the one scene I liked didn’t make the cut. For those who know the story it involves two people escaping to District 13 that Katniss briefly meets. Was this scene vital to have? No. But I still liked it, and wanted to see it. (Don’t worry Francis, we still cool.)
  • The Fifty Shades of Grey moment. I love me some Fifty Shades, I do. But I did not expect that in Catching Fire there would be a scene where Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick all make the noises I would expect to hear in that movie. Don’t get me wrong, the scene is great, but I couldn’t help but giggle at that moment like a twelve-year-old girl who sees people kissing. Maybe I am a tad immature, but the sounds in that scene threw a little wrench in the dramatic acting taking place. (For those that have seen the movie, this is the scene when Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick are “washing off” their burns in the water)

Have you come back from seeing Catching Fire yet? If not, it still isn’t too late.

Suffice to say this movie was by far one of the best book to movie adaptations I have ever seen. It did a fantastic job capturing this book, and presenting a story that I and so many others fell in love with.

Francis Lawrence you are my new best friend.

You have set the bar higher than any of the trees Katniss could climb, and I applaud you for that. You may not care that what I think, but you should.

We are best friends after all.

Fireworks Over Toccoa

Welcome back fellow book addicts. While we may have made a slight detour on our journey of book addiction with the fun yet very enlightening discussion about the Fifty Shades of Grey cast, the time has come to discuss another book from my Never Ending Book Basket.

Today we travel back down to the south to discuss Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff.

Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff

I know what you’re thinking: Are all the books on here going to be about the south or take place in the south?

The answer to that question is no, but be forewarned now, I LOVE the south and many of the books set there. I find it very easy to slip myself into a southern state of mind. (It must be the Marylander in me) So it is very likely that a good number of the books discussed on here will take place in the south, but I promise you that each book will have you wishing you lived there, breathed there, and simply felt there.

Now for Fireworks Over Toccoa.

This sweet and charming book is set in the small town of Toccoa, Georgia in a time long ago right after the second World War. The story centers around Lily Davis Woodward and Jake Russo as happenstance brings them together despite their past and present lives. Lily is currently married to a man she hasn’t seen in over three years because of the war. Jake is an Italian American war veteran coming to town with a troubled but endearing past, and brings with him the gift of fireworks for the town of Toccoa.

What ensues when these two meet is a charming story about what happens when you meet someone who you know is going to change your life forever.

What I adored about this book:

  • The setting of the story. You knew this was coming right? The setting is set up well, and it is very easy to picture Toccoa Georgia in 1945. It is written so eloquently, I swear you can even feel the heat on your skin. Toccoa creates a nice backdrop for the story unfolding in the book, and provides the reader with an unforgettable experience. The background and history of Toccoa is also a nice added feature that fits in seamlessly with the characters of the book.
  • The theme of love. I won’t reveal too much of what happens in this story, but it is obvious that this book is about love, which is something near and dear to my heart. The varying levels and displays of love in this book are heartwarming, and makes for a story that will simply make you feel the love. All over.
  • Lily Davis Woodward. I adore a strong female character. (Is that really hard to understand? I am a female, hello?) Lily is a very unique and vibrant character, and is one that does not fit the exact mold of what you think a young woman would be like in post war America. Simply put, Lily defies the mold, but in a way that makes you love her for her vibrancy, tenacity, and desire to simply feel something out of the ordinary.
  • Hello, it’s a love story. What else can I add to that? This is a love story. Plain and simple. Similar to others out there, but Fireworks Over Toccoa is set apart by how the love story is presented and told. Past, present, and future collide here. It also has an air of mystery to it, because while reading there are many ways the story could go. The story simple isn’t told. You feel it. You breathe it. You are immersed in it.

Not to put a rain cloud over all of what I adored, but as always there were a few aspects that left me a wee bit sad:

  • What was left unsaid. I won’t discuss too much about how Lily and Jake’s stories come together, or how they end, but I will say while reading I found myself wanting more for each of the plausible endings that could have happened. This story presents many distinct options for how this book will end, and while I was satisfied with the ending I was left wanting to know more. I know beggars can’t be choosers, and that readers often want more when they come to the end of a book. (Believe me I’ve read a ton of books where that happened) I just felt more information could have been presented about everyone involved in the story, without needing to change the actual plotline.
  • The pace. This is a very fast paced story. I won’t tell you a timeline, but let’s just say it ain’t slow in any way shape or form. I do think the pace was done intentionally this way, and while it keeps you on your toes, I found myself wishing at times things would just slow down. I wanted more time immersed with the characters and the love, and I didn’t feel like I really got that chance.

Fireworks Over Toccoa is a lovely story set in a time that many of us never had the chance to see. It does a nice job of presenting a love story set to an amazing southern backdrop. This story will leave you wanting more for many reasons, but simply put, it is a love story. It is easy to dive into, and immerse yourself in for a short while.

Reading this book is easy as pie, and it will have you waiting for the day that that certain someone will come into your life and change it in ways you never thought possible. And of course, there will be fireworks.

 

If you’d like to learn more about this book the links below will get you to the author’s website and Facebook page. Enjoy.  🙂

http://jeffreystepakoff.com/

https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyStepakoff

It’s High Time We Pull Our Head’s Out of Our Butt’s

Today is a big day for our country, and the world itself.No, world peace has not been reached. (Somewhere out there the current Miss America is silently crying) And sadly we still cannot turn on a red light in front of my neighborhood. Something bigger than that happened today:

The first pictures of the two leads in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie have been released to the all-consuming masses. (Please pause here to let out an audible scream/shriek of some kind)

Photo Credit: Amazon

Photo Credit: Amazon

While you may not be inclined to admit you read these books, (though I’m not entirely sure why…) God knows almost every person in the free world could probably tell you something about this book series. Be honest, whether or not you read these books, you have an opinion of some kind on them and the movie.

Now if you are not that familiar with me, you may not know where I lie on the spectrum of Fifty Shades fans. Let’s just say judging by the number of people who posted on my Facebook wall, combined with the number of people who texted me about the pictures today, it’s safe to say I have a “slight” obsession/love and hate relationship with these books. (And it’s definitely more love than hate!)

So, since I am sure you are all dying to know what I think about the casting choices, and the newest pictures of Christian and Ana, I will fulfill your greatest wish. Lucky you. Today is your day.

Let’s start with what I love: (Be warned this list will be longer than what I don’t like)

  • The overall look of Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. These actors look very close to what I (notice I say I) pictured in my head when reading these books. I will also take a tiny leap of faith in saying that they fit the general description of the characters.
  • Jamie Dornan. For those of you who haven’t seen Jamie Dornan and his acting skills, be prepared for him to blow your socks off. I know him from the T.V. Show Once Upon a Time, and he was spectacular on there. He also has the look of a tall, dark, and handsome guy who will be unbelievably sweet one moment, but in a flash can turn to the red side. (And yes, red was used for a reason in that sentence)
  • Dakota Johnson. Dakota Johnson has a lot going for her. She is rather unknown to the mass public, which is what was needed for Ana’s character. Her physical appearance is also spot on for Ana. She is tallish, dyed her hair to brown (as if they’d really leave it her natural blonde people), and she is very striking in a subdued way. Definition of Ana. Period.
  • What they’re wearing. I cannot begin to describe how much I love the clothing they chose for these pictures. I think I will have the mental image of Jamie Dornan in a suit ingrained in my head for quite a while. Am I also the only one who noticed that the dress Dakota/Ana is wearing is plum colored? Cough Cough, that is a dress used majorly in the book. THAT IS ATTENTION TO DETAILS PEOPLE! (That is clearly a very good sign!)
  • Their chemistry. They have not begun shooting this movie yet, so no one really knows the extent of chemistry these actors have, but looking at them in these pictures gives me an exorbitant amount of hope.

    Photo Credit: Entertainment Weekly

    Photo Credit: Entertainment Weekly

Now for the things that aren’t exactly my favorite:

  • Dakota Johnson looks a little older than 22 in these pictures. In real life, Dakota Johnson is 24. She definitely looks older than that, but that’s probably because she’s not like most females in Hollywood at her age, and actually has her crap together. This isn’t honestly a big issue for me because she still looks younger than her costar, and let’s be honest about how many actors/actresses have played people significantly younger than their actual ages. (Feel free to insert the name of any “teen” show or movie here.)
  • They need to get their thumbs away from their mouths. ASAP.  I know what you’re all thinking, nothing makes me like a person more than them posing with their thumb near their mouth. As if. This isn’t an ad for thumb suckers anonymous, so do us all a favor and put your hands/thumbs/and various other appendages on each other and not your mouths. Please and thank you.
  • Jamie Dornan needs to be a smidge more scruffier. I’m not saying he should look like he’s on the last day of No Shave November, but a little more five o’clock shadow could go a long way. And it’ll make his appeal sky-rocket even more. Believe me, girls tend to like a little scruff.

So there you have it. My brief, albeit essential opinion of these actors and their first pictures as these characters. Before I depart a few simple side notes:

  • These are their first pictures as the characters, so given them an f*%$ing break. This isn’t the be all end all of the movie. This is step one of like a thousand. Be patient, more will come in time.
  • You may have had a specific mental picture for these characters, but news flash, the production company can’t read your mind. And if they make it perfect for you, it ain’t gonna be perfect for someone else. Get. Over. It.
  • Admit it to the world already that you read these books, and are going to see the movie. They are not that bad, and it is okay for you to like them, have an opinion on them, and even pay money to buy the books and see the movie. If we can all get over all the other horrible crap that’s happened in this world, we can surely get over the fact that you spent $12 to buy a book about love and BDSM.
  • When it comes to ANY adaptation of a book, crap will be different. That is the bottom line; accept it. It is time to get over what will and could be different. We all know you can’t have everything. The production company, director, actors, and the damn author are doing their darndest to make this movie for you. Be grateful. They’re only trying to please us.

Thus, it is high time we all pull our heads out of our butts, and realize that this movie has the makings to be fantastic. (Even if you don’t want to admit it.) Sure they have a lot of aspects they need to get right for this movie to impress us, but they are on definitely on the right track.

So let’s all do ourselves a favor: take a deep breath, pull our heads out of our butts, and put our big girl panties on. This is the real thing people, and love it or hate it, it is here to stay.

p.s. I will also be accepting a monetary donation from those people who HATE the actors and choices now, but in a year and a half will be praising the movie to everyone they know. You know you’re out there, so start saving your pennies now. My piggy bank is ready.

Update: See the Official Fifty Shades of Grey trailer below! Can I tell you how flipping excited I am to see this movie?!

It should also be noted that I’ve officially watched this trailer more times than is probably necessary, but I am still sold on this cast and movie, and I hope y’all are too!