five books I should have read in 2013, and one from 2104 #bookreviews #books

I stopped buying paperbacks to take on trips years ago because I am a fast reader. That means I read through them so quickly, reading is like having a “sugar high” for me.  I get into the book and then, in a few hours, I’m done, and I feel let down because I enjoyed the book and now it’s done…over!  But at the end of 2013 and into the first part of 2014 I was traveling constantly, and didn’t have the chance to finish these book that were in my queue that I had intended to review in January or February.  Even though it’s now April, the five following book reviews are the ones I selected for the beginning of 2014, and there is one additional book published in 2014, that will appeal to a range of people with different interests.  Let me know which ones appeal to you, and if you have read any of these, I’d welcome your comments –Alison Blackman Dunham, Editor in Chief,



book the natural

Back in the 2005 I reviewed a book for The Advice Sisters about how any man could become an accomplished pickup artist, called The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, by Neil Strauss.  I can’t find that book review now, or I’d link to it, but I remember distinctly being both fascinated, and repelled by its contents. I had a similar reaction to a new book by author Richard La Ruina called The Natural: How to Effortlessly Attract the Woman You Want (Harper One, 2014).    The thing about being a pickup artist is that a true pickup artist (or “PUA”) is a skilled actor who is motivated to hunt down and connect with women with an ultimate goal in mind, but that goal is not usually to connect with her for a relationship.  Every woman the PUA targets becomes something to conquer. A PUA is hooked on the art of the game.  The PUA is a hunter and a woman is the prey. The “trophy” is getting what you want out of the girl (usually sex) and what happens next really does’t matter, That is why pickup artists make my skin crawl. These books will show men all sorts of tips and tricks to get women to react certain ways so that a man can “play” her however he wants, damn the consequences.  If you doubt this, the cover shows you clearly — a bra hanging loosely off the cover.  Who cares about her feelings or lack of respect for her once the goal has been reached, as long as the PUA has added another notch to his belt so he can brag to his PUA community and feel great about himself? A very savvy woman will probably see one of these slick PUA tactics as clearly as tourists can see the gypsies coming to pick their pockets in Europe, but sadly, many women won’t.

But despite the potentially unsavory motives of the pickup artist, when it comes to what’s in this book, the author, a self-styled and self proclaimed pickup artist extraordinaire, actually does have some basically good tactics, tips and ideas that could be confidence builders for men who are socially stunted and don’t have a clue how to approach a woman.   At times the author really does seem genuinely authentic about his desire to share his secrets about how a man might relate better to relate to women, because he had such a rough time of it himself. Ruina admits to starting out with no game at all. He wasn’t just socially stunted, he was jobless and living with his mother and didn’t know how to dress, or talk to a woman let alone kiss or have sex with her,  But he figured it out (in part using “the Game” as his playbook) and made “Friends” with other “PUAs” who taught him how to play the game even better.  And he does add one sentence is the entire book that says if a man finds a very special woman he should treat her with the respect she deserves. Alas, that doesn’t address the feelings of all the other women the PUA will use for his own pleasure.  While a socially stunted shy man can learn a thing or two from Mr. La Ruina, he will not change himself (as the book proclaims) from a “zero to a hero” with this book unless he has the compassion and intelligence to take the tips and use them to wed, not bed, a very special woman. All this book will do is make him into a manipulator without a heart who uses women purely for the pleasure of the conquest.  That should never be condoned, and for that reason, I do not endorse The Natural.


Finding Solitary Contentment: Ways to Handle Grief and Embrace a New Life by Victoria D. Schmidt (Antigone Press, 2013).  After Schmidt became a widow, she was inspired by the support she received from the women in her church to put her life back together again, and to write this book to help others who wee also suffering from grief either from the death of a loved one, or divorce, or simply a bad breakup.  Her self-help guide, like so many others out there, is full of personal stories that women of all types can relate to, and there is plenty of comforting words, and compassion.  I liked the upbeat and hopeful tone of the book, but the author didn’t make it  stupidly Pollyanna-ish, which would turn someone off if they were truly grieving. The book is written in in two parts. Part One is about dealing with the realities of life after loss,  the first stages of Renewal including preparing for a “new life” whether you want it or not, and then Part Two is about moving forward to new life options  including new loves, new job, pets, and a new view of life in general.  That’s the good news. But like many of these books, there isn’t much under the sun that the author could have said that is new or different from any of the other self-help book out there on the topic of grief and moving forward. She’s not a very adept writer, and she doesn’t go into most of her advice in much detail.  Much more really could have been added to make the book more useful instead of just a pep talk. As a relationship expert, my real disappointment was with the dating section.  It’s bare bones and doesn’t focus on all of the options available to single women of a certain age, Some of the information is simply incorrect and ridiculously outdated. Schmidt would have done well to enlist the help of actual experts to provide modern, accurate information which single women really need to know if they want to move forward and have a full romantic life.  This book provides some good information and may soothe some shattered hearts temporarily, but there are much better road maps that women can find to rebuild their lives after the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a bad breakup.


guide to cocktails

Some books are just too cute to pass by. You just want to pick them up and look inside. That’s how I felt when I saw the two penguins sitting at the bar on the cover of An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails: 50 Classic Cocktail Recipes, Tips and Tales by Orr Shtuhl with illustrations by Elizabeth Graeber (Gotha 2013).  I meant to put this in my holiday book review round-up and somehow just didn’t get to it in time, but the book is really an adorable gift-able. for wedding showers, the new graduate, and as a little thank-you for those weekend hosts later this year.  Classic cocktails are classic for a reason, and they all have a backstory, brought to life in this little book.  And of course, the recipes are included.  For those who are already mixologists, this book isn’t going to bring you anything new in terms of inspirational concoctions, it’s really just fun to look at and read, but for a beginner, the book does distill the most beloved drink recipes down to those you’ll want to master the most.  There are suggestions to adjust the drinks for modern times as well, and of course, the illustrations are adorable.  This book is just so much fun to look at and read that you’ll want to leave it out on the coffee table, even though it’s “petite” in size. Everyone is going to pick it up and take a peek.


Did you ever read a book that initially captivated you, but then you just couldn’t get through it to the end without putting it down a number of times and taking a break from it? That’s what happened to me when I read Carry On, Warrior, Thoughts on Life Unarmed, by Glennon Doyle Melton (Scriber 2013).  I had this book sitting on my night-stand for months and every time I picked it up I just felt lectured to and put it down again.  The author was an alcohol, food and drug addict and hiding her secrets and shame for years. But one day she changed her life, and in this book she shares her personal struggles, her insights, and her thoughts about things we can all relate to: fam ily, marriage, motherhood, faith, addiction and recovery. The content is mostly stories and popular material from her web site,  This woman writes with a powerful heart and a motivating voice. In small bits, I can see why she became an online sensation. But in a concentrated whole like a printed book, her “wisdom” began to feel like it was smothering me.  I wished it was a blog that I could read in tiny bits. Not every blog or web site translates well into a book.  As a book, that’s all I could take…tiny bits. It took me months to get through it. If I wanted to read this author’s writing, I’d do it online, and for free.


I’ve been reading a lot of erotic literature, and most of it simply focuses on hot sex with little regard to the plot, but in The Summoning by Hemenway Stephen (Xlibris 2013)  the sex spans two different centuries in two parts (or two different novellas).  “Anna” is the daughter of the owner of a 19th Century English estate.  She and her partner make money from “clients” ranging from field hands to nobleman, under the nose of Anna’s family.  And in the second book set in modern day Ohio “Melissa” is connected to this past life in ways she never imagined.  I won’t say more.   I found the idea unique and amusing, but the problem I had with The Summoning is that it was so implausible that I couldn’t focus on it very well and found my attention, wandering at times.  Due to this, I didn’t even find the erotic aspects very titilating.   But it was still unusual, and I give the author points for coming up with something that was a bit different. You won’t be bored.


Some people covet shoes and for others, it’s handbags.  For the latter lovers,  there is The Art of The Handbag – Crazy Beautiful Bags by Clare Anthony (Race Point Publishing, 2013).   Ms Anthony has covered both objects of delight and lust as she is the also the author of Shoegasm: An Explosion of Cutting-Edge Design. which The Advice Sisters reviewed in February 2013.  Like Shoegasm, The Art of the Handbag is do drool-worthy, you’d better have a tissue handy.  Flip through the page of this book and see spectacular color photos from 25 of the world’s most renowned handbag designers.  If the champagne and caviar bags studded top to bottom with crystals  by Katherine Baumann don’t make you sigh heavily, there is sure to be a couple of other styles of bag that make you go “ooh!”  These are objects of art and so you can think of The Art of the Handbag as an art book. In other words, don’t try to find these in your local department store. They are not really acquisitional,  but more aspirational and inspirational. The book is just so stunning in beauty and unique design that it’s fun to keep on a coffee table.  You will find yourself sneaking a peek now and then just because it will make your heart beat just a little faster, and it just feels good!  Buy it for a friend’s birthday, or just because!

About Advicesisters

Alison Blackman Dunham aka. “Advice Sister Alison” and “The Advice Sisters” is a writer, photographer, online advisor, and lifestyles consultant. She has built her reputation offering readers a unique perspective on life, in print, in person and through the camera lens. Her focus is on advice, beauty, fashion, lifestyles, relationships and things that help make life easier, more successful and more fun. Please follow Alison on Twitter @advicesisters and check out her other web (advice-related) sites: &

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