WRITER’S SHELF: The Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 – Books 6 – 10

It has been an exhausting year, but no worries, I’ve been keeping up with my reading for my 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge.  If you want to follow along, there’s even a handy dandy downloadable list for the book categories.  Head over here to check out my first five book reviews.

If you have some great book suggestions or want to see what’s coming up, head over to my Goodreads page and my 2017 List.

And if you’re working through the challenge and want to fill categories like a “A book that is a story within a story” or “A book that’s published in 2017”, consider picking up my book, “The Ice Maiden’s Tale”.
It’s available on Kindle Unlimited and digital copies are also on sale on right now for $3.03. (Not sure why, but hey palindromes are cool, right?).
Print copies are also available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Book #6
Popsugar Slot: “A book recommended by a Librarian”
The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror
by Joyce Carol Oates
When I went into the library, I noticed a display with suggestions from the Librarians.  Included with the books was “The Doll-Mater and Other Tales of Terror” by Joyce Carol Oates.  As is often the case with short stories, I found the different stories to be uneven.  The Doll-Master was by far the best story in the book and was particularly compelling.  The narrator draws you in and makes you empathize with him, then slowly unravels.  The progression leaves you unsettled and the story stays with you long after you’ve finished it.  I only wish all the other “tales of terror” were at the same level. The Gun Accident felt particularly uninspired. Overall, Oates is a skillful writer and this collection is definitely worth a read, even if not every story is up to par.
QUOTES:
“All your life, you yearn to return to what has been.  You yearn to return to those you have lost.  You will do terrible things to return, which no one else can understand.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
A very simple story can be given so much depth by giving the narrator a unique perspective.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
You’ll have to ask a Librarian!

Book #7
Popsugar Slot: “A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you”
The Steep and Thorny Way
by Cat Winters
I was so intrigued by this book that was a retelling of Hamlet, but set in 1920s Oregon.  Our protagonist, Hanalee Denney is the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man.  You follow her story as she deals with the KKK, the mysterious death of her father, and her friendship with the boy convicted of killing her father.  I found “The Steep and Thorny Way” to be well-written and particularly relevant as the US currently deals with the rise of the white supremacist movement.  Hanalee’s struggles were touching and the setting was rich and mysterious.  The novel did a beautiful job of addressing the difficulties in being a homosexual during that time period.  Definitely give this book a chance.
QUOTES:
“I believe that ‘love’ and ‘wrong’ are two deeply unrelated words that should never be thrown into the same sentence together. Like ‘dessert’ and ‘broccoli.’”
WRITER’S LESSON:
A character’s ethnicity is always part of the story – in one way or another.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
For a good book, by a character that is not my ethnicity, try Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros.

Book #8
Popsugar Slot: “A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long”
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith
This is one of those books I know I should have read a long time ago and never got around to.  It took me a while to get through, but it’s another one that seems a perfect fit for our current climate in the US.  This story takes us to the turn of the century, where we follow Francie as she grows up with her poor family in Brooklyn.  It was amazing to me that a whole century later, so many working people are still struggling just as much as the characters in this book. With all of our money and technological advancement, there are still people working multiple jobs and struggling to put food on the table.  This book should be required reading for all of our government representatives.
QUOTES:
“A lie was something you told because you were mean or a coward.  A story was something you made up out of something that might have happened. Only you didn’t tell it like it was, you told it like you thought it should have been.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Some stories are less about what happens and more about taking us to a different time and place and learning what it means to live there.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
You’ll have to figure this one out for yourself.

Book #9
Popsugar Slot: “A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited”
This Is Where It Ends
by Marieke Nijkamp
The author of “This is Where it Ends” is from The Netherlands, where I have sadly never visited.  This story takes us straight into YA territory, where we experience a school shooting along with teenagers at Opportunity High School in Alabama.  Moving from to student to student, the book gives life to different voices as the events unfold. Not only is there the anxiousness of what will happen to these teens, but the underlying mystery of why this shooter is driven to murder.  The topic of a school shooting could have easily become cliché and maudlin, but it’s handled deftly and with respect.  This was a page turner, and a must read if you enjoy the YA genre.
QUOTES:
“Dad always told me there are more stories in the universe than stars in the sky. And in every story, there’s the light of hope.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
When you are utilizing multiple perspectives of the same events, you really need each voice to be unique and each one to give a different insight into what’s happening.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
I’ve also never been to the UK, so I’ll recommend “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman.

Book #10
Popsugar Slot: “A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017”
Before I Fall
by Lauren Oliver
Okay so “Before I Fall” is like Groundhog’s Day, but without humor, fun and cleverness.  The main character, Samantha, is supposed to start off unlikable and then grow and change from her mean girl persona, as she learns a lesson by living the worst day of her life over and over again. Unfortunately, she never becomes a character I really like, identify with or even care all that much what happens to. There are some lovely sections of prose, but they often feel overdramatic. It all culminated in an ending that to me, didn’t quite fit the story.  It felt like the author wanted to go for something unexpected and forced a conclusion that wasn’t earned.   For me, it just didn’t work.  This story was a good concept that was poorly executed.
QUOTES:
“That’s when I realized that certain moments go on forever. Even after they’re over they still go on, even after you’re dead and buried, those moments are lasting still, backward and forward, on into infinity. They are everything and everywhere all at once.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
You can’t force an ending just because you want to be clever or edgy.  It has to fit the story.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
It looks like an amazing movie and the source material is wonderful, so go with the classic “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie.


Thanks to the library and my long commute, I’m making excellent progress on my list and I’m determined to hit every category this year—including the “Advanced” ones.

What’s currently on your bookshelf?

WRITER’S SHELF: The Popsugar Book Challenge Update! Paper Towns, Clockwork Hearts, Doll Bones & More!

It’s time again for an update on my 2015 Popsugar 2015 Book Challenge. It’s a reading challenge that lists books from various categories that you need to complete (like a scavenger hunt).  I’m overdue for my next batch of reviews.

End of Days
Book #10

Popsugar Slot: “A book with nonhuman characters”
End of Days (Penryn & the End of Days Series)
by Susan Ee
This is actually the third book in a trilogy, so you’ll want to read the first two before diving into this one. You’ve seen post-apocalyptic YA before, but rarely do you see the cause of it as Angels declaring war on humans. This series gives us a main character that steals an archangel’s sword, names it Pooky Bear and then sets out to save a world filled with angels, demons and all kinds of strange hybrids. Romance plays a key element amidst the action and horror sequences, so if you like your fights with pangs of forbidden love, this series might be for you.
QUOTE:
“Power is best held by the ones who don’t want it.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
When writing a series pace the overarching story so that your final installment isn’t in a rush to tie up every loose end and cap off every relationship. Build some of that into the earlier books.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
Vampires have a bad rap in the literary world, but the Elemental mysteries series by Elizabeth Hunter has a fresh and well written spin on our favorite undead species. Mixing historical detail with a unique take on vampire abilities, it brings a new spin to the genre.

Mara Dyer Mara Dyer 2 Mara Dyer 3
Books #11 – #13

Popsugar Slot: “A trilogy”
The Mara Dyer Trilogy
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Book 1)
The Evolution of Mara Dyer (Book 2)
The Retribution of Mara Dyer (Book 3)
by Michelle Hodkin
This is a three for one deal. It follows the story of “Mara Dyer” as she discovers unsettling and horrifying secrets about herself, her family and those around her. The pacing of the first book was very slow and it was hard to connect with the protagonist. I’m not sure I would have stuck with the series if not for this reading challenge, but I’m very glad I did because the second book was amazing and the third was extremely enjoyable. This is a YA read that promises horror and romance and really starts to deliver in the second book. There are some lovely passages and the central theme of struggling with one’s own monstrosity deeply resonates. It’s definitely worth a read if you can make it past the first book.
QUOTES:
Book #1:I twisted my arm to curl him behind me and he unfolded there, the two of us snuggled like quotation marks in his room full of words.”
Book #2: “This was the boy I loved. A little bit messy. A little bit ruined. A beautiful disaster. Just like me.”
Book #3: “Kill the right people and you become a hero. Heal the wrong ones, and you become a villain. it is our choices that define us, not our abilities.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Pacing is of the utmost importance in a trilogy. The first book has to make you want to keep reading, otherwise we’ll never get to the awesome and compelling second and third novels.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
Another trilogy with uneven pacing but very interesting themes is “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman. It can be a bit dense to get through at times, but there are some brilliant ideas and a must read for science fiction buffs.

 Curious Incident
Book #14
Popsugar Slot: “A book you can finish in a day”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A Novel
by Mark Haddon
This was one of those books that had always been on my “to read” list but I’d never gotten around to actually reading. Our narrator is a young autistic boy and it’s his voice that makes this story so compelling. The book gives you an in depth understanding of someone with a completely different way of viewing the world and its possibilities.  Very compelling.
QUOTES:
“I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
One of the greatest things we can hope to accomplish as writers is giving someone a view into the world in a way they’d never been able to imagine or understand without our help. Someone who’s never seen the ocean can feel the sea breeze against their face as they captain a ship, and someone who’s never even met an autistic child can understand the unique challenges they face when interacting with the world.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
For a quick read, “Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion is a lot of fun and strangely touching. It’s a retelling of Romeo and Juliet but with zombies, and that’s as awesome as it sounds.

 Hyperbole & a Half
Book #15
Popsugar Slot: “A graphical Novel”
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
by Allie Brosh
This is a graphical novel about struggling with depression. It’s an offshoot of the wildly successful blog “Hyperbole and a Half.” I’ve really enjoyed  the website so I assumed I’d love this book as well. I liked this book and its cute drawings but found it to be too much of a regurgitation of the blog. I had expected more new material so I was a bit disappointed.
QUOTES:
“Fear and shame are the backbone of my self-control. They are my source of inspiration, my insurance against becoming entirely unacceptable.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
You can’t keep telling the same funny anecdotes and have them be funny. You either need to change them up or get some new material.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
I don’t read a ton of graphic novels, but “Blankets” by Craig Thompson is lovely and is another book that deals with deeper emotional issues in an interesting way.

Ticker
Book #16
Popsugar Slot: “A book with a one-word title”
Ticker
by Lisa Mantchev
This book had the coolest premise ever: a girl with a clockwork heart. It was Steampunk and had good reviews so I was positive I would love it.   As so frequently happens when overconfident- I was wrong. This book was only 276 pages. Some of the longest pages I have ever read (and I once took a graduate class in “stories without stories”).   The narrator is unlikeable, the sentences have an awkward cadence and the Steampunk elements are shoved down your throat. There are some really interesting story ideas, but they are lost amid endless discussion of cakes, unnecessary abbreviations for things and the narrator’s penchant for stupid behavior. Someone physically weak (with a bad heart) constantly throwing herself into danger for no foreseeable reason is a selfish idiot. Brains can often be more useful than brawn, a lesson our flighty narrator never learned. There is also a romance which is not in the least bit romantic. It’s 276 pages of missed opportunities and cakes.  (For a book about appendages being replaced with clockwork versions, there is a surprising amount of discussion about confections.)
QUOTES:
“Fall in love with me, not the idea of rescuing me.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Do not let a stylistic element of your story take it over. No matter how compelling a setting or style can be, it needs to feel seamless with the plot and dialogue. If not, it becomes a running gag and distracts from the actual story.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
I’m always on the lookout for a well-written Steampunk book and I really enjoyed “Gears of Wonderland” by Jason G. Anderson. It combines Alice in Wonderland, Steampunk and just a hint of Neil Gaiman for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Doll Bones
Book #17

Popsugar Slot: “A book by an author you’ve never read before”
Doll Bones
by Holly Black
I thought I’d sneak in a middle grade book for this slot.  Holly Black is an author with a lot of good reviews that I hadn’t yet had the privilege of reading and since Doll Bones is a Newbery Honor winner, it seemed like a great choice. This book uses the story of three friends and a mysterious, creepy doll to explore the changes children go through as they move into adolescence. It’s eerie and  beautifully written although I did wish for a bit more closure at the end.  Still that’s a small complaint against an otherwise wonderful book.
QUOTES:
“”It made him feel, for a moment, like maybe no stories were lies…Maybe all stories were true ones.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Quiet lyrical prose can elevate an interesting story into art.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
“So B. It” by Sarah Weeks is another beautiful lyrical story that focuses on the difficulties of being a child in a unique situation.

Paper Towns
Book #18

Popsugar Slot: “A book that became a movie”
Paper Towns
by John Green
You know when you open up a John Green book that you are going to get a narrator that feels too smart for his age and full of insights most adults wouldn’t have. Unfortunately, Paper Towns feels even more indulgent on those two points and as a reader, I could feel John Green trying to press his ideas into my brain versus having an interesting story whisper them to me. I loved the idea of  chasing this crazy girl on a pseudo-scavenger hunt but sadly most of the book was our narrator just making poetic observations.  Most characters felt like they’d been stolen right from John Green’s other novels (Looking for Alaska, in particular). The prose is beautiful and eloquent but this book felt like a shiny Christmas ornament: Gorgeous on the surface, but ultimately hollow.
QUOTES:
“It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
You need to show a reader the way to a beautiful realization – your story needs to earn those bits of gorgeous prose, otherwise it’s just a sermon wrapped in a pretty bow.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
There are lots of books made into movies, so I’m opting for a slightly unexpected choice: “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” by Winifred Watson. I thought this was full of interesting characters, a relatable protagonist with a compelling backdrop (1920s).  It’s a fabulous retro read.

Persuasion
Book #19

Popsugar Slot: “A Classic Romance”
Persuasion
by Jane Austen
This is another revelation that will probably make you question my writing degree, but I’ve never actually read a Jane Austen novel. (Did a thousand dead Lit teachers just roll over in their graves?) Her work seemed a good fit for the “classic romance” slot so I opted for “Persuasion” because the story was unfamiliar. To summarize the plot for a modern audience: #richpeopleproblems. Lots of rich people talking about how they aren’t rich enough (but don’t worry they’re still rich) and who should marry whom. I get it’s satire but I just don’t have the stamina for that much exposition.
QUOTES:
“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequence of an unnatural beginning.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
You have to make at least one character likeable, in at least some small way, otherwise the battle is lost before you started.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
For my list, I went with a classic novel to fill the “classic romance” slot, but for my suggestion I’m going a different route. Now try not to roll your eyes but I’m suggesting Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook.” Serious, I’m totally serious. When you hear the word romance you want a box of gooey chocolates, not a plate of broccoli (Sorry, Jane). “The Notebook” is honestly the only Sparks’ novel worth reading and for all it’s faults, it is absolutely romantic.

I’m still trying to decide on the “A book a friend recommended” so I’d love to hear your book suggestions and what you’re reading!

WRITER’S SHELF: THE POPSUGAR 2015 BOOK CHALLENGE! – Book #3 – Room 702 by Ann Benjamin

It’s that time again for one of my book reviews for the Popsugar Book Challenge. After my last review, I was approached by an author, Ann Benjamin, who asked me to review her novel, Room 702. I thought it was a great idea to include a self-published author in my list.  As a struggling writer, I feel it’s important to support new authors, so I opted for Room 702 to be my “book with a number in the title”.
Book Cover
This book presented an intriguing concept. Our perspective on the story is from a single hotel room as various people move through it. This brings us many characters and stories; some of which intertwine and develop while others will only appear in isolated flashes.

The book starts off with an unfortunate and overly detailed description of the hotel room that reads like a giant advertising brochure. There are pages and pages of unnecessary detail—even down to the brands of toiletries.  These all basically just tell us that this is a super-fancy pants hotel suite in a super fancy pants hotel. As readers, we’re going to spend over 300 pages in Room 702, so there will be many opportunities to describe the bedspread or the mini bar.  A shorter, simpler description could have described the luxury in a more compelling way.

We get introduced to a lot of characters and stories, some are successful, many are not, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why some storylines receive more attention and others don’t. My favorite was one of the smallest, where a gay couple is supposed to have a romantic weekend and instead get ill together. It’s a short flash, but the dialogue and scenario felt far more authentic than some of the recurring stories like the NBA basketball player who receives counseling.

Unfortunately, the unique construct of the book is what ultimately makes it unsuccessful. It tries to be too many things all at the same time – quirky romance novel, spy thriller, ghost story, and literary drama.  To make the ordinary moments more compelling you need super tight dialogue and a knack for lovely prose and while Benjamin’s writing is satisfactory it doesn’t have the heft to make those quiet moments sparkle. And because we are constantly being introduced to new characters, there is a ton of exposition which slows the book down. With this type of setup, the characters need to shine through actions and dialogue otherwise we’re reading page after page of backstory.

After reading through the many different types of stories, I felt that the author was most at home with the more romantic exchanges (particularly the lighthearted and comical ones). In my opinion, this is where the writing and story seem to have the best flow and I’d love to see Ms. Benjamin focus on that type of tone.

I appreciate the level of effort that went into this book and I think Ms. Benjamin had a wonderful concept that just needed a lot of editing and revision. I commend her for attempting a book that would be difficult for even the most experienced and talented of writers to successfully complete.

WRITER’S LESSON:
Don’t let a unique concept or idea hold your writing hostage.
As a writer, you’ll be struck by great moments of inspiration that push you to do things like write your entire story in 2nd person or decide that having 10 different first person narrators will be awesome.  You have to temper that unique idea with staying true to your characters and your story. Sometimes those great, wonderful ideas can hold you back and no matter how amazing they *could* have been, or how much time you spent fleshing them out, you just have to let them go.

QUOTE:
Because of the myriad of characters and stories, it was too hard to find a quote that felt like it jumped out at me. So instead, I’m going to grab one from Robert Browning that highlights the great aspirations of this book. “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

BOOK SUGGESTION:
If you’re looking for another book with a number in the title and a unique construct try Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

So what are you currently reading for the Popsugar Book Challenge?

 

WRITER’S SHELF: THE POPSUGAR 2015 BOOK CHALLENGE! – Book #2 – Every Day by David Levithan

So it’s time again for a book review for my Popsugar Book Challenge. After my intensely unhappy experience with Outlander, I decided that I needed to choose a category that was more likely to lead to a book I’d enjoy. I opted for “A book from an author you love” with the desperate I hope I wouldn’t somehow end up with another accidentally rapey book.

I chose David Levithan not just for his amazing writing abilities, but for his teaching as well. I was privileged to attend the graduate Creative Writing program at the New School and David Levithan was the professor for all our children’s literature classes. From the mockery of the ellipsis abuse in “Go Ask Alice” to our Q&A with authors like John Green, my time in his classes remains among the most remarkable experiences of my writing career. That’s why he was the perfect author to fit this category on my list.

I am embarrassed to say that Every Day has been on my “to read” list since almost forever, so I knew it was the one to choose.
Book Cover“We all contain mysteries, especially when seen from the inside.”
This book begins with a most intriguing (and unsettling) premise. Imagine every day you wake up in a different body? In a different stranger’s life? You could be a boy or girl, gay or straight, a broken loner or the Queen Bee. Every day your life reboots and you’ve never known anything else. You have never had your own face, or family, or home. All you’ve ever done is borrow little bits of other people’s lives for a day at a time. The concept itself is both exhilarating and terrifying.

This story starts with A, who isn’t a boy or a girl, but a conscious entity that moves through lives trying to be of as little disruption as possible, until A meets Rhiannon and falls in love with her. Like Cinderella, when midnight hits A will be pulled from one life to another, but after A falls in love, one day is just not enough.

While this book is a love story, it grapples with larger issues of identity and how we as humans discover who we are. Imagine you don’t have your father’s eyes, or your deep voice? Imagine that you’re not a girl or a boy? Imagine the place you sleep every night is not the place you will wake up. The world is both full of possibilities and yet somehow missing something inextricably precious.

This novel was beautifully written and interspersed with so much lovely prose. A’s plight will break your heart especially when A describes being a child and arguing with different Mommys that “goodnight” means “goodbye”.  There are a lot of niggling unanswered questions that I hope will see some resolution in a sequel and at times A was a bit hard to relate to, but overall this book was moving and thought provoking. The story and prose will stay with me for a very long time and I recommend it to anyone interested in literary YA.

WRITER’S LESSON:
Make every word count. Descriptions should flow and have a music of their own. When you hit just the right words at just the right moment in a story, it’s magic. Sometimes that means being brave and cutting phrases and words you love, but always remember the sacrifice is for the greater good.

QUOTE:
I could fill this entire post with quotes I loved from this book, so here’s just one of the many beautiful passages:
“He was the corner that her eye always strayed toward. When she closed her eyes to go to sleep, it was thoughts of him that would lead her into her dreams.”

BOOK SUGGESTION:
If you’re looking for another Young Adult book that has supernatural elements, (along with a body jumping narrator) try Laura Whitcomb’s “A Certain Slant of Light”.

So what are you currently reading for the Popsugar Book Challenge and what did you think of it?

WRITER’S SHELF: THE POPSUGAR 2015 BOOK CHALLENGE! – Book #1 Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

For 2015, I added a writery blog feature and christened it with the Popsugar Book Challenge. I know a bunch of you were excited to join me in this reading treasure hunt. For those who missed it, we’ve got a list of book categories we need to complete before the year is out. It’s not too late to join us, so if you want in, head over here for a printable list.

For my first book I decided to tackle the category of “A book based on or turned into a TV show”. I’d heard so many amazing things about Outlander (both the book and the show) so I was certain I would love it (which is almost always the setup for disaster). I mean romance, time travel, and a hot ginger hero, what’s not to love?
Book Cover

Now before I begin, if you love Outlander, and Diana Gabaldon is your favoritest author to ever author, then look away now. Come back when I’m talking about awesome mascara, or the latest Birchbox. Seriously, I’d like to be friends when this is all over.

Now for those of you left, here’s what you should know going in. This book has more attempted rape in it than a maximum security prison. Attempted rape pretty much sums up the entire plot, except when we get to the successful rape. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First let’s start with the most unlikeable heroine I have ever encountered in a romance novel. Claire is cold and detached and at first I thought this was a set up so that we would see her blossom as she time travels from her boring 1940s life with her kind, (but unexciting), husband to 1700s Scotland and the younger, hunkier Jamie. But once again I was wrong. Claire’s reaction to time travel is the following: “They must be doing a reenactment. Oh wait, no one would use real bullets in a reenactment. I must have traveled back in time.” The end. That’s it. Imagine for one damn second, that you just went poof and were back in time. YOU WENT BACK IN TIME. MAGIC IS REAL. YOU ARE ALONE WITH NOTHING IN THE 1700s. What the hell is running through your mind? What is the first thing that hits you? The smell. IMAGINE IT. There is no running water. There are no regular toilets and you can die of gangrene faster than you can blink. Where is the panic? Claire is very, very (very!) frequently almost raped and she reacts to this with as much alarm as you might reserve for a hang nail.

Now, putting aside these issues a romance novel lives and dies on its sex scenes. An awesome first kiss or steamy sex scene can totally transform an otherwise mediocre book. The scenes in Outlander move from clinical disinterest to violence with not much in between. I don’t need the flowery language that pervades too many romance novels, but no sex scene needs the word “testicles” in it. Ever. Sorry, it’s just not sexy and it never will be. Also, I mentioned Claire is married before she time travels from the 1940s, right? Because she forgets this 99.999% of the time. In fact she marries the hunky Jamie, bangs him like a billion times and doesn’t feel guilty until halfway through the book. Halfway through a 642 page book. So it took her over 300 pages to feel bad about cheating on her husband with her new husband. (And yes, I actually read all 642 of these terrible pages, for you people, just for you).

You know the best part of time travel books, where you watch the main character struggle to deal with the dramatic changes in the world? Yeah that never happens. She just easily adapts. We never hear much about her difficulties with hygiene or anything she misses from her old world. After 300 pages she finally does freak out about the possibility of bedbugs. But at this point she’s been living in the 1700s for months. I mean just think of how much you miss your own bed after a trip? Imagine losing your entire world? For example, I caught the Vh1 show Hindsight the other day that also features a time-traveling heroine, except she’s only going back 20 years (from 2015 to 1995). It was gloriously entertaining to watch her try to explain to her best friend that you can watch anything on your phone at any moment and listening to her friend ask if we finally have flying cars in 2015. The fish out of water experience is the BEST DAMN part of a time travel story. And we get 642 pages and none of it. Sigh.

Okay so back to the rape, which you will never leave for long in this book. We also have many many many many (did I say many) whippings. And our villain, well, he’s a homosexual and it portrays being gay with this type of gleeful evil that is hard to stomach. And don’t worry you’ll get lots and lots of details about that successful rape. You know, because graphic, violent rape is why we all pick up romance novels.

Because this is my writer’s feature I figured I’d include some writer extras with each of my reviews including: a book suggestion, interesting quote and something I learned about writing. Thankfully you can often learn more from books you hate than ones you love, so no story is ever a waste.

WRITER’S LESSON:
This book is written in first person, where the viewpoint is of a character writing or speaking directly about themselves. This is a great perspective to use when you want to put the reader right into a character’s thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, it means that when you don’t give us a character’s feelings/ reactions it can make that character unlikeable and distant. If this book had been written in a third person view, it might have been far more successful at creating likeable, engaging characters. I think that stories really have a will of their own and each one has a perspective that works best for that particular tale. If you can’t figure out if your story should be in first or third person, try writing a page in each format and see what feels like home.

QUOTE:
This book has some pretty prose from time to time and I thought this quote was lovely.
“Those small spaces of time, too soon gone, when everything seems to stand still, and existence is balanced on a perfect point, like the moment of change between the dark and the light, when both and neither surround you.”

BOOK SUGGESTION:
If you’re looking for a time travel romance that has a bit more well, romance, try Jude Deveraux’s Knight in Shining Armor.

So what did you choose for your first book of the Popsugar Book Challenge and what did you think of it?

NEW FEATURE! WRITER’S SHELF & THE POPSUGAR 2015 BOOK CHALLENGE!

Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2015 with my own resolution. This year I’m focusing on progressing my writing career and to celebrate that I’ve decided to add a new feature to the blog called Writer’s Shelf. This will highlight my literary adventures along with the bumps and turns in the road to becoming a published novelist.   But fear not, I have not forgotten my sub box roots so you’ll be seeing plenty of box posts as well.

For my very first feature of 2015, I’ve got a great Reading Challenge from the folks at Popsugar (who you may know from the Popsugar Must Have Boxes). If you want to be a good writer, the first step is to read a lot—including things you hate or things you’d never imagine grabbing from a shelf. This challenge asks us to read books from all the categories listed below. I’m challenging myself to complete a book from each category (so I’m not letting one novel count for more than one slot). If reading more is on your list of resolutions, I invite you to join me.   Here’s a printable list from Popsugar so you can check off as you go.  I’ll be posting with my choices and some book reviews so be sure to check back if you want some suggestions.  Happy Reading!

THE CHALLENGE LIST

A book with more than 500 pages
A Classic Romance
A book that became a movie
A book published this year
A book with a number in the title
A book written by someone under 30
A book with nonhuman characters
A funny book
A book by a female author
A mystery or thriller
A book with a one-word title
A book of short stories
A book set in a different country
A nonfiction book
A popular author’s first book
A book from an author you that you haven’t read yet
A book a friend recommended
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book
A book based on a true story
A book at the bottom of your to-read list
A book your mom loves
A book that scares you
A book more than 100 years old
A book based entirely on its cover
A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t
A memoir
A book you can finish in a day
A book with antonyms in the title
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
A book that came out the year you were born
A book with bad reviews
A trilogy
A book from your childhood
A book with a love triangle
A book set in the future
A book set in high school
A book with a color in the title
A book that made you cry
A book with magic
A graphical Novel
A book by an author you’ve never read before
A book that takes place in your hometown
A book that was originally written in a different language
A book set during Christmas
A book written by an author with your same initials
A play
A banned book
A book based on or turned into a TV show
A book you started but never finished