One of Winter’s simple pleasures is a snowy day spent indoors, with a good book, whether you tastes run to something escapist like erotica or chick-lit, , inspirational stories, photography, or unique fiction, here are eight unusual books for your consideration this month:
With the stunning success of “50 Shades…..” there is suddenly a proliferation of sex-oriented books. One that is both titillating and depressing, hits bookstores on March 13th (but you can read the first two chapters on the author’s web site now). The Hobbyist, a novel by writer Darryl Shelly (Bexley Press, March 2013) is fiction, but supposedly based on the author’s real life as a sex addict. “Hobbyist” is the name given to those who patronize hookers and escorts. A young teen known as”Dash” has his first sexual experience at a brothel, thanks to the father of a best friend. This experience fans the flames of lust for a lifetime. Dash arrives in New York City, gets a job, and slowly plunges deeper and deeper into sexual addiction. Living in a large City makes it easy to fuel his addiction for sex, and he learns to network with others who are like-minded. Eventually, Dash is paying for sex up to three times a day. One wonders if someone having that much sex, some of it unprotected, gets away with good health. Sexually transmitted disease is mentioned, but just lightly. And, while the descriptions of various escorts and hookers are fairly detailed, Dash’s emotional and ethical battles are not as defined. If you are interested in reading page after page of exploits with Dash and his sexual partners, along with those of his fellow hobbyists, you will find the book to be a real page-turner. I found it draining. I wanted Dash to come to his senses. Eventually, Dash makes a genuine connection with a woman who is not involved in this seedy world. But he can’t hold onto her because he just doesn’t know how. When he finally admits that his life has spiraled out of control, he joins a sex addicts group something like Alcoholics Anonymous. But in the end, it’s unclear whether or not this man is going to find the strength to stay away from the type of woman he prefers–someone who is paid to pretend she wants to have sex with him. Even more depressing were the group of hobbyists. They are mostly men with money, and they are spending literal fortunes to get their sexual itches, scratched. Is this book just another way to exploit alternative lifestyles and sexual addiction that seem “trendy” or is there real value to be gained? I’m not sure, but the view presented of the sex trade, and the men who can’t live without their sexual gratification from the women who make their living from it, seems authentic. On a message board Darryl wrote a quote from Anais Nin: ” “Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.” You can judge for yourself, by reading The Hobbyist.
Destined to Play, by Indigo Bloom (Avon Books, 2012) has graphic sexual content, but it is mixed in with a typical romance novel format. Like many women who simply have the knack for fantasy, Ms. Bloome is a 40-something married mother of two who lives in rural Australia. She has cooked up a hot book about another housewife. Psychologist Dr. Alexandra Blake is a married mother of two who also lives in rural Australia (write about what you know) who lectures around the country on various subjects. When he arrives for an important lecture, she meets up once again with a long-time love, the very famous (and for the classic purpose of erotica), wealthy and good looking Dr. Jeremy Quinn. Without giving away the thin plot, the two hook up in a hotel room for 48 hours, where Dr. Blake agrees to submit to whatever demands her old boyfriend, Dr. Quinn, makes. The idea is to push her sexual boundaries. From there, the book progresses through plenty of sexual content that should entice plenty of readers. The plot is for the most part, ridiculous, but if you’re into erotica, you’re not going to care about that. The book moves along at a fast pace read until the end, when the author somehow had to make it into a classic romance novel and then, add a mystery/crime story line into it. Will love prevail? Will the good guys survive? You’ll have to wait and see, because after all those pages of ” hot and steamy,” the author set up the ending of this book for the beginning of another book. This is just #1 in a trilogy. Stay tuned for more.
Silly and fun and just right for a “feel good” on a bleak day, or when you’re traveling, is Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Married, by Heather McElhatton (Harper Collins 2012). Cinnabon-frosting-addicted Jennifer Johnson is today’s Bridget Jones, one of a gazillion young women stuck in a routine job, full of “issues” and searching for love. I didn’t read the author’s first book: Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single, but obviously, in this book, Jennifer has hit the supposed jackpot. She gets lucky at her job and marries the handsome and wealthy son of the owners. Not all is as it should be, however. Their honeymoon (at a Christian resort) is a disaster, and upon returning home their newlywed life is immediately overwhelmed by the demands of Jennifer’s new in laws, and her husband’s desire to get to the top of the corporate heap in the family department store. And now Jennifer is not an employee, but part of the owners. Who can she trust? The book has plenty of unlikely scenarios, such as a talking refrigerator that screams curses in Japanese, but the entire style is light-hearted. I laughed all the way to the end. The personal style of this chick-lit novel is just plain old good fun!
Book reviews are highly subjective, so it is with caution that I am saying women who think anything about babies is cute, will probably coo over the clever paperback, Little Trouble in Tall Tree, by Michale Fertik Tall Tree Enterprises, 2012). I was a bit astounded that this very thin 82-page paperback is being marketed by the author for a whopping $29.00 (the E-book version is $4.99). Then again, the author divulges that he got the idea for a bunch of baby gangsters because he is so besotted with his own, real life kid around whom he created a world (in true “Noir” fiction). The cast of baby-sters include his son’s alter-ego, “Squeezy the Cheeks” and friends such as “Soggy” and “Baggy the Load.” If the infantile poop references don’t nauseate you, you will probably continue reading. For this reviewer, the idea was adorable, but the execution, including just too many scatalogical references, was a total turnoff. After the first couple of chapter full of poop, boobies and bad stuff going on with these “nefarious” newborns, I’d had enough. The author, Mr. Fertik, is the founder of what the publicity literature touts as the “world’s leading cyberthinker in digital privacy and reputation.” I am sure he had a great time translating his love of his chubby cheeked baby into a pulp fiction character. The book has merit for being fun for his family, but it’s “criminal” to expect anyone to pay close to $30.00 for the paperback version. If you want, you can read the first chapter for free, then pay for a download of the e-book.
Whether you simply snap photos of friends with your smart phone, or you have a collection of cameras and lenses, and are proficient as a photographer, there is nothing better than finding a good book that offers tips on how to make photographs, even better. One newbie for photography buffs, along with the coffee-table allure of full color photographs of celebrities (a stunning photo of Richard Branson in his space suit graces the cover) is Secrets of Great Portrait Photography by Brian Smith (New Riders 2012). The author is a Pulitzer prize winning photographer (for his photos of the Los Angeles Olympics) who clearly knows his craft. His access to celebrities around the world has landed his work in publications as diverse as Time, Elle, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times Magazine. As with many of these books that are clearly not written for professional photographers, a lot of the advice is common sense (e.g. “hone your people skills” or “set the stage”) but the way the author has illustrated these tips makes for entertaining reading and viewing. Even if all you want out of this book is to enjoy the beautiful and unusual celebrity photographs, some of the advice about how to take better photos of your “celebrities” will stick with you. You will wonder why you have never thought of posing your subjects the way the author suggests, and the next time you lift your lens to take a picture, you may have some new ideas that will add new life to your photos. The photo of Donald Trump dressed in an ivory suit and sitting on a huge ivory swan, is a good example of how a traditional portrait can be turned into something spectacular. This is really a great book for photographers and those who just want to learn how to sharpen their creative skills. It’s a keeper.
George Minot’s fiction novel Om Love (Alfred A Knopf, 2012) follows the romance of “Billy,” a man who is an artist, uses to living the NYC high life with all its excesses. He is reborn, so to speak, into a yoga lifestyle and, fittingly, falls in love with a young yoga instructor. The point of the book is less about the story, which is a basic boy meets girl, but more about a man’s journey to a “better path” through new age- isms and a yoga lifestyle. The book is nicely done, and I wanted very much to like it. Alas, I didn’t. Mostly, I couldn’t stand the format. What makes it unusual, is what also makes it completely annoying. The writing format is a quirky stream of consciousness, but done in a Hemmingway-esque style of brief sentences and short phrases. Even more annoying is the way the author literally peppers the books with so many “Oms” and other yoga terms that (if you aren’t versed in yoga) you won’t really understand and may find irritating. Perhaps the point is to make sure the readers know that there are spiritual messages to be savoured, but the writing style makes it hard for only the most emotionally engaged to follow it to the end. Maybe, like yoga, the striving is the point.
Teenagers, parents and just about anyone with a heart will be moved by the personal account of Regine, a typical, lively, popular, teenage girl whose life was changed in an instant, when she learned that she had a very aggressive form of leukemia. Regine’s Book a Teen Girl’s Last Words by Regine Stokke (Zest Books 2102) is the journey she endured from the time she was diagnosed, to her death some 15 months later. Upon learning of they had cancer, some people give up, fall apart and withdraw, but Regine used her illness as an opportunity to do something positive. She chronicled her battle and eventual demise from this cancer in this book, edited and completed by her mother. It contains her personal diary and blog and comments from family and friends, plus some photos, as she endures both the emotional and physical trials and tribulations of her 15-month struggle with the disease. She goes into enough detail about the procedures and side effects and how they impact her daily life and is open with her fears. No one really knows how they’d react themselves unless in a similar circumstance, but for a teenager to channel her waning energy to share with others, is remarkable. Not all is bleak in Regine’s life. Encouraged by those around her, she takes up photography, has actual exhibits of her work, travels a bit, goes to concerts, enjoys her friends and her cat, and advocates for registering as a blood and bone marrow donor. Regine was Norwegian, but she could be a teenager anywhere in the world: enjoying shopping, listening to her favorite bands, and being a bit star struck by her favorite soccer team. How easily some people say “I just want to die” when they are frustrated or upset, without really knowing what facing up to that eventuality, would be like. We are hard-wired to survive, and Regine had an amazing will to live. While it became clear that she wouldn’t survive, she didn’t give up, and used her journals and blog as a way to leave a legacy. The book is not a feel-good, but it’s a good read. Get it, then share it with someone who seems endlessly frustrated by the petty annoyances of everyday life. As heartbreaking as the end may be, there are plenty of lessons for living life, better.
Another book about battling a serious illness is one with a happier outcome: Saving Each Other, Mystery Illness- A Search for a Cure- A mother Daughter Love Story by Victoria Jackson & Ali Guth, Vanguard Press 2012). Almost every beauty fan has seen the info-mercials for Victoria Jackson Cosmetics, in which bona-fide celebrities extoll the virtues of the product. Victoria, married to Bill Guthy, the info-mercial king of Guthy-Rener, seemingly has it all with money, fame, her own line of cosmetics, and mother to three lovely children: Evan, Ali, and Jackson. But in a real life twist that no fiction novel could fabricate better, Victoria’s daughter Ali, starts to exhibit symptoms of blurred vision and an ache in her eye. Ali’s horrifying diagnosis is Neuromyeltis Optica (NMO) is a little understood, incurable, and often fatal autoimmune disease that can cause blindness, paralysis, and life-threatening seizures, and afflicts as few as 20,000 people in the world. At the age of 14, Ali was given a terrifying prognosis of between four to six years to live. When something this catastrophic happens in a family, they have to work together. Without giving away the book or the journey, Ali survives and the family creates the Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation, dedicated to funding basic science research to find answers that will lead to the prevention, clinical treatment programs and a potential cure for Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) Spectrum Disease. I liked the format of Ali’s comments, and Victoria’s comments. It was personal, and gave balance to the book, which was a bit wordy in places. And, like Regine’s book above, this family didn’t just give up, they acted and did whatever they could to change what seemed like certain doom. You may not know what you are capable of until you are placed in a situation you could never imagine. But a family’s love, and determination, is a powerful and inspiring tale. The actions Ali Gunthy and her mother have taken even while their own family was close to danger, benefits not just themselves, but others who are suffering from the disease, and who are seeking cures.