WRITER’S SHELF: The Popsugar Reading Challenge 2016 – Books 1 – 9

It’s time for an update on my Popsugar Reading Challenge for 2016 so prepare yourself for lots of book reviews. (If you want to play along you can click here for a printable list of categories, or follow my progress on Pinterest & Goodreads.).

As a writer, I go into novels with the idea that I can learn something. Even if the book is so terrible I want to toss it into the Hudson River, I can still learn something valuable, so I always include some writery stuff with my reviews.
Now to the stories!

Book #1
Life After Life Book#1

Popsugar Slot: “A New York Times Bestseller”
Life After Life: A Novel
by Kate Atkinson
This book has some lovely writing and a crazy intriguing concept where our protagonist keeps dying in different ways and then reliving her life. You can see the colossal impacts of seemingly small choices. As you can imagine this idea gets pretty confusing and it takes quite a while before you can really understand what’s going on and feel grounded in the story. Unfortunately, the concept overwhelms the narrative and the longer you read, the more it renders that narrative, meaningless. Every dramatic moment can and will be undone, every consequence will evaporate like smoke and nothing ever feels quite real. Because of this there is a cognitive dissonance that never allows you to really identify with the main character. Still, Atkinson tackled this absurdly difficult concept with grace and skill, so it’s worth a read for that alone.
“And in the end we all arrive at the same place. I hardly see that it matters how we get there.” It seemed to Ursula that how you got there was the whole point…”
Sometimes a concept is so complex that you have no choice but to sacrifice part of the story for it.
For another New York Times Bestseller, I recommend “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. The book is so much better than the movie, and if you haven’t picked it up, you absolutely should.

Book #2
Here on Earth Book #2
Popsugar Slot: “A book from Oprah’s Book Club”
Here on Earth
by Alice Hoffman
So there were a few categories on the list that made anxious and the “Oprah Book Club” pick was at the top, so it seemed best to get it out of the way early.   I learned my lesson that except for the classics, Oprah’s book choices just leave you miserable and somehow worse off than when you started reading. To offset the impending doom, I opted for a favorite author of mine, Alice Hoffman. Her writing is so poetic and beautiful, that even when she is depressing the hell out of you, you sort of still enjoy it. And honestly, this book was everything I expected from an Oprah choice. We start off feeling like this is a romance novel about lost love and we end up with domestic violence, depression and suicide. Thankfully I had some lovely prose to keep me company on the misery express, but I’d recommend skipping this one and opting for something like Hoffman’s “The Ice Queen” instead.
“But what do they know about love? You make bargains you’d never imagine you’d agree to, and you do it over and over again.”
You can’t switch genres in the middle. You’re just going to piss someone off.
Just go with one of the classics from the Book Club list. You can’t miss with one of the Faulkner novels.


Book #3
In the Unlikely Event Book #3

Popsugar Slot: “A book set in your home state”
In the Unlikely Event
by Judy Blume
I got this book in a Popsugar sub box and since it is one of the few novels set in the Garden State, I thought it would fit well in this slot. Blume used autobiographical details including a series of freak plane crashes that occurred in Jersey back in the 1950s. We’ll start with the good part, this book does a great job with placing us in the time period with lovely little details that felt authentic. Unfortunately, the rest of this book is not as successful. We have something like over 20 narrators, some of which we only spend like a few pages with before they die in a fiery plane crash. You’ve got to remember things like the cousin of a friend’s sister who someone was dating or the sister of the woman who works in the dentist office with the Dad of the best friend. This isn’t Game of Thrones and you shouldn’t have to draw diagrams and take notes to remember who people are and their point in the story.
“Was this how it was going to be? Always waiting for the next disaster?”
There is such a thing as too many damn narrators.
For another book set in Jersey, try David Levithan’s “Boy Meets Boy”.

Book #4
A night in with Audrey Hepburn Book #4

Popsugar Slot: “A book with a blue cover”
A Night In With Audrey Hepburn
by Lucy Holliday
After plane crashes and character diagrams, I needed something light and fluffy, so when I saw a book where the protagonist gets Audrey Hepburn as an imaginary friend I knew I had to read it. I fell in love with Breakfast at Tiffany’s late in life, and since I’m living in an apartment stuck in a time warp and spend all my time in the Upper East side, Audrey Hepburn has sort of become my spirit animal. This novel was lighthearted and fun, exactly the type of read you want on a vacation. Besides a few sections that felt a bit forced, it was very well written for the genre. This book is actually the first in a series, so apparently our protagonist will be hanging with some other dead icons like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly as well.
“And though I’ll never have her cheekbones, her waistline, or her ineffable style, I feel like I might just be able to achieve a bit of her poise and grace, if I really make the effort.”
Not everything needs to be Shakespeare. Sometimes instead of vegetables, you just need cotton candy.
For another light hearted, blue covered book, try “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster.

Book #5
Popsugar Slot: “A graphic novel”
Fables Book #5
Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
by Bill Willingham (Author) & Lan Medina (Illustrator)
Fairy Tales are my bread and butter so you’ll see them run throughout my book choices. I played an awesome video game called “The Wolf Among Us” that was based on the Fables graphic novels. It’s like Once Upon a Time meets film noire, and I immediately fell in love. The idea is that fairy tale creatures were driven from their homes by a malevolent force and are now living in a secret community in NYC. It’s dark and compelling. If you love twisted fairy tales, definitely give this series a try.
“The only easy day was yesterday.”
There is something incredibly satisfying by taking a familiar story and giving it an interesting new twist.
Sadly, my familiarity with Graphic Novels is quite limited, but I’m working on remedying that.

Book #6
The Ocean at the End of the Lane Book #6

Popsugar Slot: “A book set in Europe”
The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel
by Neil Gaiman
Since I am a lover of fantasy and fairy tale, then you can pretty much assume I love Neil Gaiman. This book has his usual unearthly quality and excellent writing although it felt a little rushed. The narrator suddenly remembers these miraculous events that happened in his childhood, but the characters presented are so wondrous and complex, it felt like there should have been more story to explain them all. So while this wasn’t one of my favorite Gaiman books, I enjoyed it and it was most certainly worth the read.
“Adult stories never made sense, and they were so slow to start. Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?”
We always want just a little more magic.
For another Gaiman book set in Europe try “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman. It’s got an Alice in Wonderland appeal that is undeniable.

Book #7
Popsugar Slot: “A YA Bestseller”
Dorothy Must Die Book #7
Dorothy Must Die
by Danielle Paige
I was kind of obsessed with the Wizard of Oz as a kid (and Judy Garland for some reason)—I even adored the horrifying and head-scratching 1980s “Return to Oz” film, so when I saw this series about Oz being reimagined, I knew I had to read it. Paige’s writing style was wonderful and full of lovely prose. I thought the pacing was excellent and her twist on the world of Oz really gave it all a different spin beyond even the Wicked franchise. I’m hooked and will be reading the entire series.
“With all the magic in Oz, with all the magic the witches had taught me, there was one trick I still hadn’t mastered: how to make people stay.”
If you’re going to be retelling a beloved story, you need to go big or go home.
For a YA bestseller, you can’t do better than “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. There are a few books out there that are absolutely perfect and this is one of them.

Book #8
The Sleeper & the Spindle Book #8

Popsugar Slot: “A book that’s under 150 pages”
The Sleeper and the Spindle
by Neil Gaiman
A feminist take on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty with gorgeously gothic pictures? What’s not to like? If you enjoy the macabre side of fairy tales rather than the purified Disney type, this will be right up your alley. Gaiman mixed the elements of fairy tales that are most familiar to modern readers and added a touch more darkness and a lot more girl power. The illustrations are lovely and if you enjoy Graphic novels, you might want to grab this one.
“Learning how to be strong, to feel her own emotions and not another’s, had been hard; but once you learned the trick of it, you did not forget.”
It doesn’t matter what anyone says, “Once Upon a Time” is still the best beginning.
For a short read, “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros is the lyrical story of a young girl told in vignettes. It’s both heartbreaking and heartening and definitely worth more than its page count.

Book #9
The Wicked Will Rise Book #9

Popsugar Slot: “A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy”
The Wicked Will Rise
by Danielle Paige
I figured the best way to guarantee that a book I hadn’t actually read would bring me joy was to opt for a sequel of a book I loved. Naturally, I nabbed the next book in the “Dorothy Must Die” Series. This story crammed quite a bit of action into the tale and introduced some ideas that I’m actually exploring in my own YA horror trilogy. Being a hero has a price, and the ramifications of what it means to kill and try to keep your humanity is a particularly compelling concept.
“…if you’re afraid, you must still be a little bit human.”
The second book in a trilogy is where lots of crap really needs to happen.
Since I can’t personally guess what makes you happy it’s hard for me to make a suggestion, but if you don’t fall in love with the world of Harry Potter, I doubt much literature will really bring you joy.

So I’ve got lots more interesting books to come including a cookbook, a self-help book and (god help me) a “political memoir” so be sure to check back.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what’s currently taking up prime real estate on your bookshelf or in your kindle?

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