The “How To” on “50 Shades” Kind of Fun

Far be it for HeadLitzyDitz to ignore what her readers are looking for.

I crack up every time I check my blog stats only to find people are still reading my review on “50 Shades of Grey.” Of all the books I’ve read this year and last, it really ranks as one of the worst. But, it does fill a void. People like to read the hot stuff, too.

The other trend that has come to my attention is how people get to my review—a lot of the referring searches have to do with “how to.” Which made me think—are people reading “50 Shades” and scratching their heads at some of the more alternative sex acts? Even the happiest of relationships may occasionally need help to spice things up. So, because I aim to please, I thought I’d give you the low-down on two upcoming sex manuals—the books you need to read after “50 Shades.”

Great Sex Made Simple
Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson
Available December 2012

This may be the book for, um, the more academic approach to sex. It’s all about tantrics, and the authors are very serious about this topic. “Tantra” means to “stretch, extend and expand,” so you can imagine this book is all about taking your 5 minutes in bed to 5 hours. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read this part of the introduction:

“We love sex; it is very important to us, but even the most sexually active person spends only a limited amount of time at it. If you devote two hours a day to making love (only a tiny minority of people can claim to do this) and eight hours to sleeping, you are still left with 14 hours of wakeful living to do.”

Ha! Let’s forget the 2-hour commitment altogether—I’m still stuck on the 8 hours of sleep. But I digress—the point of the book is to bring tantric practice into your life and your bedroom. Their focus, through 54 mini-chapters, is to teach sex that brings a couple together, focusing on each other instead of just their selves. You’re going to see the word “mystical” and “transcendental.” These make me giggle like a school girl and not take it seriously at all. But that’s not to say that approach won’t work for you. The chapters are short enough that you can quickly knock off a couple before bed and try to put them to practice.

The one thing I found a little off-putting, at least for me, was the imagery. It reminded me of something from the late 70s I would have pulled off my parents’ bookshelf, or, like my co-worker copped to, reading while babysitting for the neighbors. Very “free love.”

Now, this next book? My guess this is more up Anastasia Steele’s alley:

The Little Book of Sex Secrets: Red-Hot Confessions, Fantasies, Techniques & Discoveries
Nicole Bailey
Available February 2013

Geared toward the “Holy cow, I just saw ‘Magic Mike’ and want to Get.It.On!” crowd, or perhaps the girl that thinks she’s the one that will win Tucker Max’s heart, this manual is the one all the good-but-secretly-naughty girls will be keeping in their bedside drawer.

This book is set into four distinct sections: Naughty, Sizzing, X-Rated and Ecstatic, making this read accessible to the woman who has never tried anything, EVER, to the well-seasoned pro in the sack. To give you an idea, topics under “Naughty” include talking dirty and phone sex,  whereas “Ecstatic” cover items like bondage, spanking and secret sex toys—yeah, that Christian Grey stuff. The sections, like the first book, are quick reads, and frankly, would probably serve as easy-to-read erotica for the couple that’s more easily intimidated.

The author’s intro sums the book up nicely—it’s about being a confident seductress, taking foreplay to another level, and treating sex as an adventure instead of just an act. The imagery is much more akin to the inside cover of a porn DVD (a classy porn DVD), or, the raunchier of the romance novels. Still, much like the first book, I found myself giggling like a schoolgirl and thinking, “Seriously? People DO this?”

But, let’s be honest—sex is sex is sex, and if no one did it, none of us would be here. Might as well have fun while you’re at it.

Sharp Objects

Looking for a quick, can’t-put-it-down psychological thriller? Look no further than “Sharp Objects.”

The book, author Gillian Flynn’s first, debuted to critical acclaim when it was published in 2007. It’s getting renewed, and well-deserved, attention thanks to Flynn’s success this summer with “Gone Girl.” Themes? Where do I start? Family dysfunction, serial killers, pain, loss, grief, rejection, batshit crazy people … it’s all packed nearly into 252 pages.

Chicago crime reporter Camille Preaker is sent back to her southern Missouri hometown to cover the possibility a serial killer is stalking the sweet little girls of Wind Gap. Camille’s upbringing was less than spectacular, and throughout the story, we’re slowly introduced to the hell that was her childhood—so much so you’ll shake your head and say out loud, “Girl be messed up.”

Camille’s trip back in time has her revisiting her past sins, along with that of her family and friends—it’s got to be tough to go home, only to discover not much has really changed. Boys are still jerks, mean girls are still mean, and yep, Mommy still doesn’t love you. Still, she soldiers on, determined to figure out who is killing feisty tween girls and why the heck they’d be interested in keeping their teeth as a souvenir.

Camille’s much younger half-sister Amma features prominently, as does her mother Adora, who makes Joan Crawford look like Carol Brady. Just like Gone Girl, there’s not too much I can say that won’t give away the ending. But really, you don’t need me to tell you. I promise you that it won’t take long to finish, and you’ll be highly entertained. If “Gone Girl” was your first Gillian Flynn experience, run, don’t walk, to get this one.

Sharp Objects
Gillian Flynn

The Midwife of Hope River

What a lovely book.

That probably sounds contrite—and I certainly don’t mean it that way. But it is—”The Midwife of Hope River” is really, a lovely book. Engaging, romantic, quiet, introspective, sad … it’s not as gripping a novel as say, “Gone Girl.” But the story of Patience Murphy latches on to you emotionally, making it difficult to put the book down.

Murphy is, as she almost always has been, on the run. An orphan on the run, an almost-widow on the run, and now a possible felon, having played a role in the death of her activist husband, Patience has now since settled in the foothills of Appalachia in 1930, still grieving the two men she loved and the loss of her mentor, Mrs. Kelly. She would just as well be left alone if it weren’t for being the only midwife in town.

The book ebbs and flows on the birth of children in a place where no one can afford to pay for her services. Prejudice plays a role, as Patience takes on a boarder by the name of Bitsy, the African-American daughter of a housemaid in town. Love also comes to town in the form of Dr. Hester, the local vet. It’s a long, drawn-out affair that puts “50 Shades” to shame when it comes to romantic tension.
Who needs handcuffs when you can read this:

“Lightning flashes, then thunder a few seconds later, so close and so loud that it shakes the barn walls. He unbuttons the two top buttons of my dress and I let him, my heart pounding so hard that I think if it weren’t for the sound of the now-continuous claps and booms, he might hear it. When we stand, the moonshine has affected me more than I realize, and I almost fall into him.”

Sure, there feel to be a few loose ends too conveniently closed at the end of the story, but I’m not going to nitpick—author Patricia Harman did an exquisite job of making me feel for Patience at every turn, and wanting for her happiness maybe even more than she did.

The Midwife of Hope River
Patricia Harman

The Age of Miracles

The hell?

I’m not sure who or what told me to read “The Age of Miracles.” And let me be clear—I am not disappointed I did. But seriously …. what the hell?

This debut novel from Karen Thompson Walker was as disturbing as it was entertaining. And by entertaining, I mean that it swallowed up my day whole. I didn’t want to put it down, mesmerized by the desperate plot line. Sixth-grader Julia narrates a year in her life, beginning with a cataclysmic event—the slowing of the Earth’s rotation.

I drew an immediate connection from this book to Tom Perrotta’s “The Leftovers”—easily one of my favorites in the last couple of years. It’s the end of the world as most everyone knows it, and of course, people handle that news differently. Some deny, others accept, still more adapt. Julia’s family is a representation of those who freak, those who falter and those who simply put one foot in front of the other for no other reason that that’s really all there is to do, besides stock up on canned goods.

For fear of giving too much away, I can’t delve much more into the story. Julia’s story—the pain of adolescence, only to be exacerbated by “the slowing,”—intersects with so many others struggling to find their way. Her parents, her crush—the sad, sad Seth Moreno—her grandfather, those bitchy middle school girls you hated when you were in middle school, the “real-timers” …it’s a sad story and heartbreaking in so many ways, but so incredibly well-written and one that book clubs would love to dissect.

Go get it, read it, and someone call me to debrief! Argh!

The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker

Gold

If I’d read this before the Olympics, maybe I would have followed the cycling more intensely.

Chris Cleave’s latest, “Gold,” pits frenemy against frenemy as cyclists Kate and Zoe go head to head for the right to represent Great Britain in the Olympics. It’s Cleave’s third novel and his follow-up to the very popular “Little Bee”—a book that made me bawl.

So first things first. Is it as good as “Little Bee?” Hmm.  That’s a tough one. It’s kind of like asking which Harry Potter novel is the best one. Everyone will have a preference. I suppose I liked “Little Bee” more, but only because it evoked a stronger emotional response. But with that out of the way, I would also highly recommend “Gold.” Once I had the opportunity to sit and read for a few minutes, I couldn’t put it down. Took it in the car with me when we went out for dinner. Ignored kids and husband. Kept reading through family movie night. I had to find out—who goes to the Olympics?

And does Sophie live?

Ah, yes—Sophie. She belongs to Kate and Jack, the man who drifts between Kate and Zoe, and the reason they’re frenemies. Jack loves Zoe. No, he loves Kate. No, he loves … rest assured, Jack does seem to make up his mind, but not without serious repercussions. But I digress—back to Sophie. At wee 8 years old, she’s fighting the battle of her life, quite literally, trying to outwit leukemia and keep the peace in her home. After all, no one wants to be the reason Mum doesn’t make it to the big race.

It’s superb chick lit, and definitely a book you won’t put down often between chapters. Maybe a little contrite, but I’ll take it over a Jodi Picoult-style ending. Lord knows what would have happened to Sophie, Kate or Zoe in that version.

Gold
Chris Cleave

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I wanted to hate this book.

When I first saw it, while mildly intrigued, my first snarky thought was “Yay. Another woman goes on some completely unrealistic vision quest and writes a book and gets Oprah to dote on her, and really I’m just jealous I can’t take a 15-minute walk without one of my kids needing my attention and isn’t she just special?!?!?!”

But, yeah. It kind of kicked ass.

It didn’t take but a few pages to realize I shouldn’t be jealous of, or envy Cheryl Strayed. Instead, I found a certain kind of empathy for her.  At the time she took her monumental hike, she was in her mid-20s, a few years out from the all-too-soon death of her mom, and weeks out of a marriage she acknowledges she destroyed. Emotionally adrift at the loss of her mom and without any kind of solid relationship with her bio-Dad and her sibs, Strayed turned to drugs and random sex with strangers for comfort. Though not necessarily characterized this way, the hike appears to be Strayed’s last-ditch effort to straighten out her life. To come to terms with her choices. To grieve the loss of her mom. To prove herself.

This was no easy challenge—in the world of expert hiking, relatively few have actually accomplished the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s not for beginners. Yet, Strayed was one. Undaunted, losing toenails, in constant pain, and really, unprepared, she soldiers on alone, connects with others and finds herself.

People are going to come at this from all different perspectives, and everyone will get something out of it. For me, I found myself more drawn to the physical challenge of the hike and her tenacity. For others, it may be more about her emotional journey. As someone who has experienced the loss of immediate family, and unexpectedly at that, I could relate to that feeling of being lost, and how she moved through her grief.

And the book I promised I would hate left me teary-eyed at the end, amazed at Strayed’s accomplishment, and grateful I read it.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Cheryl Strayed

The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity

History geeks, grab this book.

I took this book with me on a vacation to Washington, D.C.—the perfect setting to dive into presidential history. Beginning with the unlikely friendship between Presidents Hoover and Truman and culminating with President Clinton’s visit to the White House briefing room to support President Obama’s tax/budget package, readers will learn much more about the political machinery that is the White House than you’ll ever discover from CNN, MSNBC or Fox. Believe it or not, Republicans and Democrats can get along.

I’m a little bit of a political junkie, but not so much that I would ever call myself an expert—I often find the written topic too dry to follow for more than a few paragraphs and end up frustrated that I can’t speak from a more educated position on all things historical. This book was particularly refreshing in that, because it’s told from the perspectives of relationships between people, it was much more engaging. It was from this book that I learned the seeds of Vietnam were sown during the Eisenhower administration. That Johnson was so damn needy. That Nixon really was a master manipulator. That Ford was much more eloquent and humble in his service than bumbling. And that while he couldn’t save Nixon from himself, he could save Clinton.

It’s no surprise you have to be the mother of all egomaniacs to run for president, let alone hold the office. So you can imagine the personal difficulty in transitioning from being the most powerful person on the planet to a private citizen. The Presidents Club is like a permanent halfway house for a very, very select group of men that gladly offer themselves up for service at just about any turn. Their motives aren’t necessarily up for debate—I got the feeling that aside from Nixon, these are men who truly care for their country and the office and want nothing more than to make the world a better place—but for whatever reason, the Presidents Club is a great mechanism to seize their power and use it to move personal and professional agendas forward.

A great nonfiction read—I would go so far as to say if you have high schoolers embarking on a US History class, this provides great insider perspective. Don’t miss.

The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity
Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

The Sandcastle Girls

You know the term “investment piece?”

We hear it a lot in fashion and furniture. Sure, it’s not exactly trendy, and it costs more, but it lasts longer. You’ll use it forever. It’s well-worth the larger financial and/or emotional investment.

That’s “The Sandcastle Girls.”

This book isn’t going to blow up the summer reading charts in the same fashion as the “50 Shades” trilogy or Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” But it certainly isn’t any less worthy of accolades. It’s simply a really tough read. It is about a love affair, but it’s not traditionally romantic. Set in the early 1900s in Aleppo, Syria, young Katherine Endicott has traveled from Boston on a goodwill mission to aid victims of the Armenian Genocide. It’s fiction set in fact—while the story of Katherine and her true love, Armen, may not be real, the atrocities around them are—thousands upon thousands of women and children marched hundred of miles through the desert, essentially, to their deaths. Author Chris Bohjalian leaves little to the imagination, making the reading of this book hard on the heart. And that’s really the point, I think. When should reading about a genocide ever be easy?

Still, the tale is touching and the investment Bohjalian makes in each character results in an engaging narrative. Katherine, Nevart, Hartoun and Armen sink into your soul while you read their story. And in typical Bohjalian fashion, the ending includes a twist that leaves you yelling, “Noooooo!” —not something I expected in this novel, but nonetheless, I was left breathless.

From one reader to another—historical fiction set in the Middle East has never been my bag. But Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors, so despite the occasional thoughts of abandoning it (and for no other reason than because its descriptions of the atrocities are really depressing), I kept on—and am glad I did. Bohjalian’s prose never fails me, and in the end, it was a beautiful love story. I’d love to know what other people think of Katherine’s decision in the end.

The Sandcastle Girls
Chris Bohjalian

One Breath Away

It’s another hit for Heather.

“One Breath Away,” Heather Gudenkauf’s third novel (“Weight of Silence” and ‘These Things Hidden” are also excellent), is a great modern mystery, taking readers on a terrifying journey to find out just who would walk into a small-town Iowa school and take a classroom hostage.

Gudenkauf’s storytelling style of alternating the narration between characters suits this story well, so that we can experience the hostage experience from all sides—the parents, the teachers, and the police. The only person missing from the circle of narrators is the gunman himself, and for good reason. If he talked, we’d know who he was and why he was there. And mysteries are so much more delicious when you have to wait until the bitter end for the big give. The story pretty much gives equal time to all parties, with maybe just a bit more page time spent on Meg, one of the town’s police officers and first responders, and Augie, one of the children inside the school.

The characters are well developed and plot line well established. I guess I’d like to know a little more as to why Augie and PJ’s mom, Holly, comes across as so damaged. It’s as if there was some childhood experience that hardened her to her dad and small-town living, but I didn’t feel like that was especially well-defined. It’s funny—in reading the standard book club Q&A, there was a question about the snowstorm that enveloped the town during the hostage standoff, and “How did that relate” … and all could think was … “It was snowing? Damn, I just want to know who the crazy guy is!”

The one thing that really did stick out for me? EVERYONE (Well, almost …) is divorced. Holly, Meg, Stuart, the Craggs … in one scene, the gunman frustratingly asks if any kid in the town knows who their father is, whereas I would have asked, “Does anyone stay married around here?” What’s the message? That life is fragile? Relationships are temporary? Broken Branch has a bitchin’ singles scene? Hmmm ….

If you need a quick book for the weekend, the beach, the pool, the car, the plane … this is a great selection. Just know you won’t be able to put it down very easily.

One Breath Away
Heather Gudenkauf

Kat Fight

Headed to the beach and need a quick, fun read?

Grab Kat Fight.

Author Dina Silver is making headway in the chick lit genre with her second novel, a follow-up to “One Pink Line.” Silver’s protagonist, Kat, is a young twenty-something navigating a frustrating relationship while living single-style in Chicago and working at an ad agency. Though not auto-biographical, Silver draws from her personal experiences to craft this fun read. (Had she gone in a different direction, the girl could be Mrs. Skin, after all — hilarious!)

It’s got many of the elements we’ve come to expect in a beach book—gay best friend, meddling-but-loving sister, intense best friend (and subsequent participant in the also expected love triangle), bitchy-but-not-really-a-bitch boss, and jackhole ex-boyfriend who only realizes how awesome you are when you finally are ready to move on with someone else.

Why I liked it: Like “Calico Joe,” it was a book I could take a long afternoon with and just enjoy—not too heavy on the brain, easily accessible characters and finishable in a day. If I were to nit-pick, I felt like I kept waiting on some resolution to Megan’s issues with either being a mommy or being married to someone a bit hapless in the father department. But really, when it comes to character development, one character out of a dozen isn’t bad, and does provide just the fodder necessary for book club discussion. “Is Megan being too demanding? Is she jealous of Kat? Maybe Miles isn’t Henry’s and and he knows it!” (Just kidding, that last thought is the question that gets asked after the third glass of wine.)

Silver’s books are easy to relate to because they come from real life. Maybe not straight from real life, but enough so that you can feel a bit of “been there, done that” while reading. Here’s hoping she has a few more stories to share!

Kat Fight
Dina Silver