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50 Shades of Grey ~ Reviewed by Pearl Luke

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50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James

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Curious about all the hype surrounding 50 Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, I recently bought the book. How unfortunate that I did not ask for a  review copy instead. I could have bought lunch, or at least coffee and a bagel, with the 18 bucks I wasted. This is not a positive review, and it contains numerous expletives, mostly quoted from the novel. So if you dislike negative reviews and curse words, please move on.

Also, my preference is for literary fiction and good writing in general, so please bear that in mind. After all, no one has ever suggested that 50 Shades of Grey is great writing. Nonetheless, I was surprised at just how dreadful the writing is. By any standard, it is only slightly better than all those unedited 99 cent novels cluttering up Amazon of late.

The hype surrounding this book is much ado about nada. Great for Ms. James, and I’m always happy to see another writer hit the jackpot, but please, this is the breakout novel of the year? Really?

50 Shades of Grey is a very long romance novel that uses the promise of sex—in this case dominance and submission—as its hook and then delivers the Disney version of the “playroom” and what goes on inside it.

For sex scenes to be interesting, the plot and characterization need to have a bit of depth, and this story is so shallow that were it a puddle I could walk through and not get my soles wet. No sex happens at all until a quarter of the way through the book, and at least this creates some welcome tension. Holding off on the sex is a nice bit of foreplay for readers, who will likely be itchy for the characters to just get on with it, for heavens sake.

When the couple—Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey—(surrounded often by steel grey colours, no less) finally have sex, readers will be eager and forgiving if only because the plot has finally advanced.

But holy crap! Christian doesn’t make love; he f**ks. Hard. Or so he says. Holy shit, thinks Ana. That sounds so … hot. When she finally sees the playroom, “Holy crap,” and “Holy shit,” progress to “Holy f**k!” All these expletives associated with the word “Holy” and it’s easy to understand why the book has been banned in several southern US states.

And still readers must wait for the first sex scene as we learn in detail about the leather and wood, polished with a lemon scent—very pleasant—and the lighting—soft and subtle. We learn the colours of the walls and ceilings, and how the floor is old varnished wood.

At last Ana’s eyes move to the huge wooden cross on one wall, and as if to mess further with the christian right, she then notes the cuffs attached to each corner. This single artifact could be the subject of a religious studies dissertation, but we’re far from that level of intellect.

Inexplicably, Ana finds the whole medieval picture soft and romantic. She hesitantly touches the flogger. After a few more “holy f**ks” and numerous “ughs” while reviewing a contract—that a sensible idea, at least—Ana predictably admits she is a virgin, and poor Grey is at a loss.

“May God forgive me,” he says, groaning. Because he’s such a nice guy, he cannot now f**k her hard but must instead “make love” to her. Oh my, what a major complication!

Then follows a somewhat decent sex scene—plenty of foreplay, with none of the dreaded “throbbing members” or “steaming holes” one might expect given the quality of the writing. Instead, thankfully, James opts for the correct anatomical terms.

She does use the word “backside” numerous times, which struck me as ridiculous given the other choices, noted above.

I am reminded of a day last week, when I used the word “A-hole,” for what is possibly the first time in my life. Its use was neither convincing nor satisfying, and as soon as the word left my mouth to hang in the air, I wished I had cut loose a little, gone whole hog, and had chosen “asshole” instead. Similarly I think that given the nature of the text, discussing Ana’s ass would be much more in keeping with the tone of the story than the numerous references to her “backside.”

Aside from this oversight and quite a lot of “groaning,” I would argue that this first sex scene is the best in the book. From a writerly perspective it:

  • Raises tension by building slowly, in real time
  • Uses all the senses as they touch, smell, taste, hear, and see each other in the most intimate ways
  • Plays to several known fantasies, both male and female, dominant and submissive
  • Mostly avoids cheesy terminology
  • Is explicit enough to send a bit of blood surging in readers
  • Lasts long enough for readers to feel involved

All the sex scenes after this one are repetitious, right down to the way Ana thinks Holy f**k! and numerous times shatters into a million pieces beneath Christian. To be fair, for variety, she sometimes only shatters into a thousand pieces.

Readers are introduced to a bit of light bondage, some spanking, a harness, and a few other toys, none of it interesting as presented.

The book has mildly erotic moments, different I assume for each reader, and Ms. James covers the gamut, in the tamest way possible, so that nothing ever feels threatening, and everything remains in fantasyland.

The fact that most readers will remain undisturbed by the content is likely part of the appeal. Ana can negotiate her contract with Grey, she has a “safe word,” she is curious and game for anything, and yet she remains feisty and will paricipate only when she chooses to.

In this way, she is not the best submissive, perhaps, but romance readers can close the book feeling happy and safe, nothing in their world shattered into a million pieces. Or even a thousand.  Mission accomplished on the author’s part.

I suspect that E.L. James meets the expectations of the genre. She introduces something a bit different, something not everyone knows about, and then she keeps it soft enough that no one is likely to be offended. Except the religious right. And those of us who value exquisite language, original characters, and a good plot.

Still, I wish I’d written it. I’d be writing this on my new yacht, while taking a break from the press, and from concerns about how to invest several million dollars.

Pearl Luke is the author of Madame Zee and Burning Ground and is the founder of www.be-a-better-writer.com


For a book I enjoyed much more, a memoir, please see: The Road to Keringet by Maggie Ziegler


And something fun: Three Golden Sisters on 50 Shades of Grey


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53 Comments for “50 Shades of Grey ~ Reviewed by Pearl Luke”

  1. Agreed. The other women I work with absolutely adore the series, particularily Grey’s character, but I just didn’t understand the appeal. I suppose once I got a little more information into Christians’ history, I felt his charcter wasn’t quite so insidious, but then he became this weepy, needy little man I had begun to hate. I am suprised by the amount of hype surounding this series. From that I really expected a lot more.

  2. I was talking to a friend about how after 1.5 years of issues my hubby and I were looking like we were going to work things out together. She immediately tells me I need need to read the 50 Shades trilogy …SMH …I hardly buy an ebook with out at least reading a few reviews or scanning through the trial pages, but I thought this was perhaps a series on couples relationships on a psychological level. Wasted $30 for this sorry excuse of a novel. It was however hard to put down, I just found myself skipping through the love scenes because by the 3rd one I was very disinterested. I think what I kept hoping for was for Anastasia to run off with Ethan. To repeatedly tell women to fight their gut instincts and look for the logic in Christen’s reasons for doing things ie; (SPOILER ALERT) stalking her even when she went to GA, interferring with her job to the point in buying ownership simply because she was hired there and so far my very least favorite bathing his ex-sub. Women should be encouraged to flee from a man like that, not towards them! This book is preposterous on so many levels that I think it shows the decline of reading actually being done now days. If this made millions, I may start writing too!

  3. Are you in a relationship/married and like the book 50 Shades of Grey? WELL, I am working on a magazine article and we are interested in finding couples whose relationships were affected by the great book phenomenon that is 50 Shades! Don’t be shy, you aren’t alone in this world! Be proud and say it out loud!


  4. Out of curiousity i bought the book. I’m still reading it and all i can say… I wasted my money.

  5. well sorry to disagree with a lot of you but i really enjoyed the books they are no works of art but i wasnt expecting them to be.i just really enjoyed the story it explained why he was the way he was by being abused as a teenager and i loved the characters in the book light holiday reading lol

  6. Pearl, thank you for such an honest review and a review I totally agree with! Been waiting for a review like this..Thanks

  7. I read the book and could not stop laughing!!!!! I am a Dominatrix a the SM scenes described in this book are so off base.

  8. Bought the book after hearing so much about it and I’m an avid reader and like to keep up on what’s new. Bought it after accidentally showing up 1 hour early for a business meeting in a different time zone. Anyway…..I find this book a total and complete waste of time and space after the all the hype….very disappointed. Do not recommend it. The story line is incredibly weak and the characters not well developed or believable. I’m mid 40′s so maybe I’m too old for it. The premise of the book with its Dom and Sub subject matter would be intriguing but is so banal in its portrayal that I am struggling to the finish the book as I can’t even be bothered to find out what happens next. A good book will keep me up all night and finished in 24 hours. I find the “Inner Goddess” referrals plain annoying and am wondering just who got paid so much for such poor writing.

  9. Absolutely agreed! I am myself a great fan and collector of written erotica and romance, even wrote few short stories myself. I’ve just finished reading Fifty shades of Grey and deeply hesitate to even begin reading the sequel. The overall quality of this work is so shallow and even rudimentary primitive it is sometimes hilarious. (The use of profanity in the insanely childish mind of the 22 year old female protagonist is as if a Disney Mickey Mouse club member turned mad…e.g. “holy fuck” etc.) Ridiculous descriptions as in “biting her lip” while inspecting the playroom turn boring so fast…well maybe a final proof, that only utterly shitty and low quality pulp with a fake and phony “wannabe a great novel” notions can strike wide audience. Anyone with at least slightly above avarage inteligence and more importantly taste should avoid this. Sorry for possible misspelings, I am not a native english speaker. Thanks for the review!

  10. I got the first book as a gift and just got past the first sex scene – I could not be more annoyed. Grammar, punctuation and use of language aside, the storyline and the characters are just too stupid for words. I get that it’s all fantasy but I found myself wanting to smack both Grey and Ana multiple times (especially Ana) and can’t believe anybody could really identify with either of them. I’m all for a cheesy, quick-read now and again but this is just silly and so over-the-top that it’s hard to stay focused on the story, if we can even call it that. I understand the laws of attraction and seduction but the guy is clearly a nut and I kept wanting Ana to get away from him but she sticks around to sign dumb contracts and be dominated by this wacko. Could she be any more dense?? Furthermore, I don’t care how attentive and sensitive the partner is…NOBODY’S first time is ever even close to being like that. The exaggeration is so ridiculously excessive that it was unbearable to read so I skimmed it and am now debating whether I should carry on. Having read other reviews, there’s very little story or depth and loads more of overblown sex. I’m only 1/4 into it and have no idea how this book started such hype.

  11. [...] This scathing review points out that the book lacks “exquisite language, original characters, and a good plot.” I agree. Warning: this review is also full of expletives quoted from the book and explicit sexual details. [...]

  12. I can only assume that the popularity of this book lies in the fact that too many students skip the book reading list in high school and grow into adults that have never been exposed to great literature.

  13. …and yeah, no one orgasms on demand in life…yet she seemed to everytime he told her too…(sigh) I tried to like this wretched series that wasted all.those printed pages..I digress *shrugs*

  14. I was beginning to think I was the only one who was not impressed- at all! The repition of so many words was annoying, after a while as I read all I heard was “don’t bite your lip, I love you so much, your all mine, don’t ever leave, eat yor food” ! By the third book I began to just skim through the pages interested mostly in the “jack” part of the story! The sex was also not as impressive as I had heard it was so repetitive and for being a modern book the terminology did not match up I had just about enough with most of the sexual lingo that was also repeated over and over again!!!!!!! Great review thanks for keeping it real!!!

  15. At last! A review I can agree with. I am not a native english speaker, and I read books in English and not in my language so that I can learn the language better. What a WASTE. Waste of money, waste of time. At the beginning, I told myself, okay this could be good. Until I read the first sex scene. “Holy cow”, “Holy shit”, “Holy this” Holy that”. “Oh my”. “My sex”. Oh, please. Spare us James. I would normally say that I am not the right person to judge the quality of writing, but in this case, I can safely say that it is garbage. Now as far as the plot is concerned, I have nothing to comment on, I just deleted the e-book from my iPad. Total rubbish. It is obvious that the people who actually liked the book are the ones who were turned on by the sex scenes. People who were interested in the plot, the quality of the writing and generally the book would never like this. Ana is a manufactured character that noone would relate, except if they were some weirdo. Seems like the author could not bare to film a porn movie, so she decided to write it down. Maybe she shouldnt decide to do so. Thats my opinion

  16. Thank holy f*ck! Finally a review of this book I agree with!!

  17. this review vindicated my admittedly skeptical judgement on this book, I haven’t read it, but every single ounce of feedback I got from the girlfriend and all the women in work made me think it was another case of twilight. The hype has obviously overtaken every critical and logical judgement of the writing quality and story, putting peer pressure way ahead of reason. I am glad I didn’t fall into temptation and read it just to make the girlfriend happy. She wont be happy that I just quoted some funny comments from here on facebook though…

  18. Thank goodness I am not alone in this. I couldn’t bear to hear another “Holy F” or “Holy ” anything! Not because of religion but mainly because it makes me think how my 14 year old daughter speaks daily. I don’t know many 20 year old that speak like this. Basically, this story is about a young girl who obviously has not had enough attention in her lifetime. I mean really, 20 years old and I never had a boyfriend? Then a multi-millionaire stud comes along and buys her electronics and a car and such. The girl is a self centered, irrational, jealous brat who doesn’t deserve for anyone to shed such graces on her in my opinion. The only moral she shows is the resistance to accepting his gifts and money but in the end she takes it. All of it is horse crap. I have read the second as well since, thank God I didn’t purchase them. Again do not waste your money. We could all be millionaires if this kind of mess keeps selling.

  19. I completely agree with Ms. Luke’s review. The writing is atrocious and the characters are cardboard. Why does James insist on making her characters American? The dialog is strictly British: “I will collect you at seven” and “how are you getting on?” Not only does she write about her subject matter as if she took a correspondence course in it rather than researching it “properly” but she fails at creating any characters who are remotely American. (Ms. James, we don’t all live on pancakes and bacon, ad we don’t say “Holy crap!” every five seconds.) Thankfully, I borrowed this from the library so all I’ve wasted is time.

  20. Absolutely agree with everything you’ve said. I have only read up to consummation, but the terrible, uninspired writing that is this book was immediately apparent from the first page. The person who leant me the book forewarned me about its poorly written contents, but considering all the hype, I, thought how bad could it be? Well, it’s so bad I am not sure I want to waste any more time on it.

  21. Yes, I concur with most of these comments. Half way through the first book and I am really wondering what all the hype is about, given the lack of credibility. Yes, we may wish to be seduced and brought to heightened orgasm but a guy like this, but his ‘contract’ (what legal mind produced this?) and self centredness has to be the ultimate turn off. There are indeed many superior reads out there.

  22. im glad i started reading the book before reading your review! i love the book. i picked it up looking for some light entertainment, not requiring too much thought and another world in which i can escape from the kids etc, and thats exactly what i got! i had no expectations of the writing style, and to be fair, i think the style is appropriate for the protagonist. some of the readers seem to have forgotten that slag is usually quite regionally specific, so although i havent heard anyone described as ‘dreamy’ lately, hunk isnt far off the mark. maybe its used a lot in the author’s circle.

    i think going down the path of religious studies desertion would have totally wrecked the book. the book is about the relationship between Ana and Christian. i dont want to know that much detail about his grimy past -just enough to help Ana make sense of where he is coming from (other than behind her). if i wanted a book exploring a persons inner struggle with religion or their own tortured soul, i would read Poe.

    my criticisms of your criticisms are many and varied, but suffice to say, judging the book on its merits, what i assume the author was trying to do, and my own expectations of it, im hooked! its a page turner without getting bogged down in anything too hevey. the money talks!

  23. I absolutely hated this book. The editor should be slapped with the authors thesaurus. From the misused punctuation to the awful, constant repetition and often with weirdly timed, obscure words (clamber, really?) it’s a mess. I’m going to have to try that drinking game for murmur, but toss in gaped too, someone was always gaping at something, except of course for those many pages where there were no dialogue tags at all. And disjointed; I kept having to read back because one second we were here, doing this and the next it was a completely different place and scene, with no visual break or clever segue to mark it. As far as the sex goes, I was bored by the juvenile language choices. Would it have killed her to say ass? And the “lifestyle” content; ugh. That author did just enough research to make the masses think that’s what kink is, except she made it sound all dirty and demeaning. The only parts she got right (besides naming some toys) is that it’s the sub who holds the true power, and safe words are used during play scenes. She didn’t even write a convincing Dom.

  24. The writing….what more can be said about how terrible it is? It seems the author’s only known adjective is ‘impossibly.’ and in an era where the characters are using Blackberrys and iPods, girls use terms like ‘dreamy’ and ‘hunky’ to describe males in this novel. And without a hint of irony.
    In spite of that, I’ve enjoyed the eroticism and dare I say, began to get intrigued by the end of the first novel. What the hell? Everything I read doesn’t have to be top-notch, it was great escapism for the plane ride!

  25. Questions for Ms. James:

    1) Year 2011. Very intelligent college graduate, Kate, doesn’t know how to search the internet and doesn’t know where her belly button is, but rivals Linda Lovelace on her first try??

    2) Wouldn’t Grey’s tie get wrinkled? Is that a new tie each time?

  26. I’m so glad that I was able to download this book rather than buy it, because it would have been a total waste of money. I could have written this better when I was in the 9th grade! This definitely was a disappointment, especially with the author repeating the same words over and over again. I haven’t even finished the book and I’ve had it with the phrase “Holy Shit”, and “Holy” this and “Holy” that. Seriously this author needs to invest in a writing course because her writing skills are lacking.

  27. I picked up this book because everyone told me how amazing it is. What a waste. The only use I see for this book is a drinking game. Every time someone murmurs take a shot, every time Ana looks at her hands take a shot. You’d be smashed by the 9th page. Maybe the drunken haze would make the book better…

  28. Oh my!hahaha

  29. Well said. Oh, and if she used the phrase “hitching” his or her/breath one more time, I was going to plotz! What a waste of paper!

  30. I am almost done with the series and bought them on my e- reader because everyone could not stop talking about these books but “Oh My” this book is just one huge let – down. I am an avid reader of all types of books but if not for the adult sex theme, I would think that this was a pre-teen book. I keep reading because I am just waiting for some justification/ plot to reveal itself. The writing style will not sit well for anyone who has more than an 8th grade education that much is for sure. The repetition is beyond annoying and the simplistic nature of these characters dialog is so boring. The sexual nature does not bother me, although that is not a lifestyle choice for myself – I could see how some people would be intrigued by the sexual situations. They could be very erotic if practiced by two equally respecting, consenting adults. But in the context of this book it takes on a bit of a disturbing aspect.I know it is a work of fiction no doubt a fantasy but if you met someone like this guy in real life – most if not all would definitely be running for the hills! Had there been better writing and more developed and likeable characters( even if they were bad) I suppose I would think that it was entertaining reading but I just keep waiting for something really good to happen and it doesn’t. Someone please tell me the end of the book is worth it!

  31. What a load of rubbish this book is….not well written and so cliche that I didn’t like either character and couldn’t care less to finish the book.

  32. I absolutely loved these books! Nothing negative to say at all. I don’t understand all the hype about the “shocking ” material and that it is “mommy porn”. I have read a lot worse. Love Mr. Grey:)

  33. Seriously……this book is garbage……don’t get what all the hype is about. Wish I could get my $20.00 back and my 2 hours of my life back that it took to read it!

  34. I am half way through the first book and I purposefully just went online to figure out whether I was the only person in the world who thought this book was garbage. I am glad to see that there are other like-minded people, although this review was not easy to find and I had to read many positive reviews before finding this one. I wish I could see the appeal in this book, I really do. I am not a hater and for the most part I enjoy cheesy romantic easy-reads – the kind of books you take to the beach and enjoy almost as a guilty pleasure, when you know you should be reading real literature. But 50 Shades of Grey really just crosses every line for the worst, and I am not referring to the sexual preferences expressed in the book (to be honest, I am a fan of all things different), I am referring to the complete absence of a plot and character development. Not to mention the failed use of language. I struggle to understand how this book can turn anyone on and how it has become a best seller, I really do. To me, this novel is nothing more than a random collection of dirty scenes. As much as I try to connect with the characters and tune in, I can’t (which is a huge shame).

  35. I agree with the criticism regarding the literary quality of the writing. However, I have read many books and this one is hot and steamy. I loved it for that reason. I wouldn’t know what to buy when it comes to erotic books, so in that way I found it a welcoming surprise.

  36. I’m almost done the 3rd book, and other than the correct term for a certain part of female genitalia, I have yet to find the word penis, vagina, or slang terms for either?? This is one of my biggest frustrations with this book: you have BDSM as the main plot driver, yet you use terms like ‘erection’ and ‘my sex’? Give me a break! I loved your review, spot on, once I work through the last 100 pages of the 3rd book I’ll be sharing my own review. I can’t believe women who say this book changed their lives. Really? Seriously?!

  37. I found it a ok read the second and third book where much and I do mean much better……but that being said I am not sure what all the shock and talk was about this book. I have read much more erotic books.

  38. Well, holy sh*t, I’m from the South and we say all of those things. I had no idea the book(s) were banned around here. Color me surprised.

    What drove me bat sh*t crazy (see, here I am using sh*t again) was the amount of MURMURING these folks did. If it was worth saying, apparently it was worth murmuring. Or whispering, in Ana’s case.

    This said, I loved the books, if only for the guilty pleasures they provided, and the all-too-terribly-unrealistic adventures of being pampered and doted on in such a significant manner without having to give much ado to the minutia of life like balancing the checkbook, calling a customer service line, or dealing with a flat tire. Who wouldn’t want to have such smoldering adventures with little consternation over whether the sitter is sick, or the dog just messed on the carpet (most of us don’t have Gail Jones to the rescue)? There were a couple of times where I mentally had to re-write the sentence in my head to be able to choke down the prose, certainly, but I knew what I was doing when I bought the book. Go ahead and judge away…(sigh).

    I bought the books on my Kindle for $9.99/each, and that was more than I had hoped to pay. They seemed overpriced, especially when I scored The Hunger Games for free on my Amazon Prime trial period.

    “50 Shades” is no Hunger Games.

  39. Thanks God that I found some sane people. I started reading the book because amazon said it is a best seller. I thought it is an interesting and descent novel till I reached the first sex scene. Wao it is just an erotic series of sex scenes. I threw it away. I could have spent that money on porno movie. Unfortunately I have the three books. I am not going to read any, what a waste.

  40. Thanks for the review! I have friends who are raving about this book but as a lover of all things well written I have to say I am not going to bother – a book where I lose brain cells while reading is not overly appealing to say the least.

  41. I downloaded onto my iPhone “…grey” at the urging of a colleague..HUGELY disappointing. Not literature…hardly more than porn with a sick premise and demeaning tone. After the first sex scene I flipped through the rest of the pages, read the last couple of pages and was GREATLY relieved I did NOT waste another minute reading…yes back to “Pride and Prejudice” indeed!

  42. LOVE this review, spot on. Wish I’d read it before I spent the cash and wasted the hours reading it. God help the female sex if this is apparantly the book that has got us all reading again…Jackie Collins is much better if you like that sort of thing..this was more Mills & Boon trying to be racy

  43. This Book Is Amazing :) I Brought it Today At Big W And Ohh My I Cant Get My Eyes Away :) Its Well Written. E L James Did A Good Job :)

  44. Wish I had read the reviews before I bought this book. I don’t know what all the fuss is about, this book is quite boring, the plot (if there is one) is ridiculous. I read and skipped over half the pages, have no intention of finishing this book. I also found it quite demeaning to women. Not a book I would recommend, a waste of money, certainly won’t be purchasing the sequels.

  45. Wow, Pearl, I don’t think anyone could have said it better! Your review really hits the nail on the head. I especially love your comment about it being the breakout novel of the year. I read The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay after this book so I could regenerate some brain cells

  46. Thanks for confirming that I am still sane… what a really %$#@ read…. :-) After 600 pants, 250 whispers, 1000 looking through eyelashes…. I got 30% down and decided – HUNGER GAMES is much much more worthwhile!

  47. I said before that she is nothing more than the modern day Jackie Collins which actually use to leave me sexually desired but not this..it was so what …in my book

  48. As an almost 50 year old…I thought it was more about give and take as any relationship is then sex…it was good reading..but growing up with Jackie Collins I felt it was the same but with more direction for anyone that hasn’t “explored”. I did not find it sexually exciting that I wanted to bleep my husband …just like Jackie Collins a good quick read not needing much attention

  49. I started this book while I had the flu a couple of weeks ago and didn’t finish it. The private jet did me in…oh come on. It is definitely no equivalent to Pride and Prejudice which has the best dialog in English Lit. I think.

  50. Now, if we could just figure out how to harness all that hype and promotion for truly deserving books…

  51. Carolyn, aren’t you sweet! Just don’t hold your breath while you’re waiting…it’s coming, but I’m not sure when.

  52. Pearl, thanks for saving me all that money. I was wondering what all the hype was about! I’ll save my funds for your next book.

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