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?