WRITER’S SHELF: The Popsugar Reading Challenge 2016 – Books 10 – 16

I know I haven’t posted about it in a while, but I’ve been chugging along with my Popsugar Reading Challenge for 2016  and I’m long overdue for an update. (If you want to check out the list I’ve been following go here for a printable list of categories, or follow my progress on Pinterest & Goodreads.).

So today I’ve got 6 more reviews for you:
Book #10
Popsugar Slot: “A book at least 100 years older than you”
pride-prejudice
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
When I admit to things like having never actually read “Pride and Prejudice”, I feel like the MFA police are going to come around and take back my degree.  I am familiar with the overall story and the characters, but I thought it was high time I actually sad down and read the damn thing.  And if they didn’t take my degree away before, they certainly will now.  This was a very long 228 pages.  VERY long.  (And I enjoy reading Dickens).  This stuff is just not for me.  It feels like an unending episode of “Real Housewives of the 1800s” #richpeopleproblems.  When it comes to literature I like ghosts, monsters,pirates, invisible men.  This whole going to balls and people just talking about stuff doesn’t work for me.
QUOTES:
 “…never had she so honestly felt that she could have loved him, as now, when all love must be in vain.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Plot is important.  Very important.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
I’d go with “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mister Hyde” by Robert Lewis Stevenson.  Everyone knows the story, because it’s had so many incarnations but the tale of one man facing his own dark side is always a compelling read.

Book #11
Popsugar Slot: “A book about a road trip”
amy-roger
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour
by Morgan Matson
Morgan Matson was in my very small grad school class and this book was the one she workshopped during our 2 years at the New School.  “Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour” includes receipts and postcards and different media elements (playlist!) that really bring the road trip vibe to life.  It was wonderful to see what had changed from her earlier versions and what remained the same.  Amy, our protagonist, has issues to overcome and when her ride with Roger takes an unexpected detour, we get to go along for all the ups and downs.  The story is sweet and engaging.  A great summer read when you want to escape.
QUOTES:
“Her name floated between us in the car for a moment, and I couldn’t help but notice that he’d pronounced her name differently, like her name, and only her name, contained all the good letters.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
A little bit of something unexpected can really bring a familiar story to a different level.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
For another YA roadtrip book, try John Green’s “An Abundance of Katherines”.

Book #12
Popsugar Slot: “A book that takes place during Summer”
butternut-lake
Moonlight on Butternut Lake: A Novel (The Butternut Lake Trilogy Book 3)
by Mary McNear
For a Summer book, I wanted something light and fun, like cotton candy at the fair, or floating on a lake in an inner tube.  I knew this slot had to be for a romance novel.  I hadn’t read the other books in this trilogy, but it didn’t seem to impede my understanding of the story. There was nothing earthshaking here, but I thought the two leads had nice chemistry and as a reader, I wanted to see where their story would go.  It could have used a bit more plot and forward momentum, but it was a nice summer distraction.
QUOTES:
“A kiss that was, as promised, just one kiss…But, in reality, it was actually many different kisses.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Be careful when focusing so much on one relationship.  There needs to be momentum in other parts of the story as well.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
For the ultimate summer book, I’d suggest a classic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare.  There’s magic and romance and fairies and gardens.  What else could you need?

Book #13

Popsugar Slot: “A book recommended by someone you just met”
glow
Glow (Sky Chasers)
by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Awhile back, I attended a SCBWI event (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators).  It was a little networking happy hour type deal, where there were books being raffled by SCBWI authors.  I ended up winning “Glow” by Amy Kathleen Ryan and figured I’d take that as a recommendation.  This is a YA book set in the future where two spaceships are set to colonize New Earth.  I typically don’t reach for sci-fi space reads, but this one was engaging from the start.  It’s fast paced and full of action, but it never gets convoluted or confusing.  The characters are compelling and multi-faceted.  If you enjoy futuristic YA this is a must read for you.
QUOTES:
“We are not as large, or as bright, or as eternal as the stars, but we carry humankind’s message of love across the galaxy.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
It is possible to keep up an incredibly fast pace throughout an entire book, but you need to skillful and circumspect in how you describe your characters and build the world.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
For another YA future dystopia try, “Feed” by M.T. Anderson

Book #14
Popsugar Slot: “A book that is published in 2016”
even-if-the-sky-falls
Even If the Sky Falls
by Mia Garcia
This is another story from one of my New School MFA writing peeps.  I had the pleasure of attending Mia’s book release party where I grabbed a copy of the YA novel, “Even If the Sky Falls”.  The events take place over one night in one of my favorite places on earth: New Orleans.  The locale is vibrant and you can’t help but fall in love with blue haired Miles, the love interest of our protagonist, Julie.  The structure of the story constrained some of the narrative, as important info had to be told in flashback.  It also made it a bit more difficult to connect with Julie when the story fills only a short amount of time.  Still, the book is a lovely little escape in a vividly drawn locale.  If you love YA romance with a touch of adventure, this will be right up your alley.
QUOTES:
“Sanctuary is a person, not a place.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Telling too much of the story in flashbacks can cripple the narrative.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
Sadly, I’d planned to suggest my own book, “Ice Maiden’s Tale” but the release for that is pushed until 2017.  Instead, I’ll recommend a title that I still want to read this year: “You Know Me Well: A Novel” by David Levithan and Nina LaCour.

Book #15
Popsugar Slot: “A book of poetry”
neruda
The Poetry of Pablo Neruda
by Pablo Neruda
I actually love poetry and have read quite a few poetry books, so I wanted to explore an artist I had less experience with. Cue my undertaking of a 1000+ page book of Pablo Neruda’s poetry. What made this book particularly interesting was that he inclusion of  different translations of the same poem.  It gave me a new respect for the art of translation.  Every word has a weight and a connotation that needs to be in balance with the author’s original intention.  I won’t claim Neruda is my favorite poet, but he has some lovely passages and I learned a lot from reading this book.
QUOTES:
“My soul is an empty carousel at sunset.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Every word counts.  The right adjective is everything.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
“The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” – because no matter how small you decide to live your life, poetry can make your world bigger.

Book #16
Popsugar Slot: “A National Book Award Winner”
goblin-secrets
Goblin Secrets
by William Alexander
Now who could resist a book about Goblins?  This book has beautiful, lyrical prose and presents a unique fantasy world called Zombay, where acting is banned and masks seem to take on a life of their own.  While the story progresses at a good pace, I occasionally found myself unable to visualize how things happened. I also didn’t feel quite as close to the protagonist, Rowan, as I would have liked.  I wanted to be fully invested in his heartbreaking quest to find his missing brother, but I wasn’t entirely there.  Overall though, the gorgeous passages and the unique setting make this a book worth reading.
QUOTES:
“Maybe this was how goblins changed.  Maybe, if enough people already believed that a child was goblinish, then the goblinishness became real and true.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
If you’re building a unique fantasy world, you have to be sure that the details give the readers enough visual to understand how things function.  You can’t overlook the small stuff, like how a creature moves.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
For another heartfelt middle grade, National Book Award winner try “Holes” by Louis Sachar.

So I’ve got lots more book reviews saved up (including a cookbook).  Check back to see if I manage to get them all in before 2017.
In the meantime I’d love to hear what’s currently taking up prime real estate on your bookshelf or in your kindle?

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.
QUOTES:
“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…”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Sometimes a concept is so complex that you have no choice but to sacrifice part of the story for it.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
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.
QUOTES:
“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.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
You can’t switch genres in the middle. You’re just going to piss someone off.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
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.
QUOTES:
“Was this how it was going to be? Always waiting for the next disaster?”
WRITER’S LESSON:
There is such a thing as too many damn narrators.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
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.
QUOTES:
“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.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Not everything needs to be Shakespeare. Sometimes instead of vegetables, you just need cotton candy.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
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.
QUOTES:
“The only easy day was yesterday.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
There is something incredibly satisfying by taking a familiar story and giving it an interesting new twist.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
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.
QUOTES:
“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?”
WRITER’S LESSON:
We always want just a little more magic.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
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.
QUOTES:
“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.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
If you’re going to be retelling a beloved story, you need to go big or go home.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
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.
QUOTES:
“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.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
It doesn’t matter what anyone says, “Once Upon a Time” is still the best beginning.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
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.
QUOTES:
“…if you’re afraid, you must still be a little bit human.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
The second book in a trilogy is where lots of crap really needs to happen.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
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?

WRITER’S SHELF: The Popsugar Reading Challenge 2015 & 2016!

Okay people, I’ll lay it out for you – I didn’t complete the Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge in it’s entirety. I just wasn’t strategic enough and chose 500 plus page books I ended up hated for slots that should have held fun page turners. I won’t make that mistake again with our brand new Popsugar Reading Challenge for 2016. (Click here for a printable list).
Our categories, dear comrades:

A book based on a fairy tale
A National Book Award Winner
A YA Bestseller
A book you haven’t read since high school
A book set in your home state
A book translated into English
A romance set in the future
A book set in Europe
A book that’s under 150 pages
A New York Times bestseller
A book that’s becoming a movie this year
A book recommended by someone you just met
A self-improvement book
A book you can finish in a day
A book written by a celebrity
A political memoir
A book at least 100 years older than you
A book that’s more than 600 pages
A book from Oprah’s Book Club
A science-fiction novel
A book recommended by a family member
A graphic Novel
A book that is published in 2016
A book with a protagonist who has your occupation
A book that takes place during Summer
A book and it’s prequel
A murder mystery
A book written by a comedian
A dystopian novel
A book with a blue cover
A book of poetry
The first book you see in a bookstore
A classic from the 20th century
A book from the library
A book about a road trip
A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
A satirical book
A book that takes place on an island
A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy

The 2016 categories are pretty daunting to me, but I’ve learned from this years literary missteps and am determined to complete every.single.one. (God help me).

Now I still have a few books I did manage to finish in 2015 so let’s take a looksee.

Book #20
Heart Shaped Box

Popsugar Slot: “A book that scares you”
Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel
by Joe Hill
I’d heard a lot of positive buzz about this horror novel and I was intrigued to see if Stephen King’s son could step up to the challenge of writing horror with the ghost of his father looming large. Speaking of ghosts, I found the one in this story to be quite scary and Joe Hill did an amazing job of making me identify with the main characters and rooting for them to survive. Overall the book was well written and had some really lovely descriptions about music. My only small qualm was that the pacing felt a bit off in some places, but it was so minor that it really didn’t impact an otherwise great book.
QUOTE:
“All the world is made of music. We are all strings on a lyre. We resonate. We sing together.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
It doesn’t matter how scary your villain or “big bad” is – the reader needs to care about what happens to the main character. They need to feel their pain, their injustices, their insecurities, and most of all what they want the most. If you do that successfully, any danger will seem terrifying.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
This will be an unexpected choice, but “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was the most terrifying story I’ve ever read. You watch a woman go slowly insane and over time she starts to see people moving inside the yellow wallpaper in her room.   She’s been locked because of her “condition” which was basically just being a woman in a time when women had as many rights as a piece of furniture. It’s painful and visceral and something everyone should read.

Book #21
The Invisible MAn
Popsugar Slot: “A book more than 100 years old”
The Invisible Man
by H.G. Wells
I’d always wanted to read this book but never actually got around to doing it. I feel like I learned so much. Putting aside the danger an invisible man could pose, there’s actually a ton of comedic potential. I don’t know why it never occurred to me, but if the guy’s not trying to kill you, his making stuff float around and people trip over themselves is pretty funny. Now onto the big question, was the Invisible Man a psychotic douche before he turned invisible, or did the invisibility drive him to it? It’s a question for the ages, but my vote is once a douche, always a douche.
QUOTES:
“Great and strange ideas transcending experience often have less effect upon men and women than smaller, more tangible considerations.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Things can be both funny and terrifying, and that combination can be quite entertaining to write about.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens is one of my favorite books. It’s the original soap opera and the image of Miss Havisham with her ragged wedding dress and dust covered banquet table is one of my most vivid literary recollections. It’s worth the page count, trust me.

Book #22
Why Not ME
Popsugar Slot: “A nonfiction book”
Why Not Me?
by Mindy Kaling
I got this book in a Popsugar sub box and while I’d never seen “The Mindy Project”, I’d found Mindy’s persona to be fun and intriguing so I thought this would be a funny read. Turns out Mindy and I have a lot in common: our age, hatred of weddings and writing aspirations. Generally I enjoyed her style and point of view, although like many super successful people I’ve known there are moments were you know they’ve lost the ability to truly understand the “everyman/woman” plight. It brought to mind a grad school event where a really successful writer a few years ahead of me was asked what her biggest challenges were. She said something along the lines of dealing with all the hassle of travel for the book tours. She was clearly in a different place and league than most of the people there. I got that same vibe from certain parts of this book – Mindy kept saying “I’m just like you” and I kept feeling “Oh honey, you so are not, but I appreciate the attempt”. On the bright side, it inspired me to watch Mindy’s show which turned into my latest Hulu addiction.
QUOTES:
“I will leave you with one last piece of advice, which is: If you’ve got it, flaunt it. And if you don’t got it? Flaunt it. ‘Cause what are we even doing here if we’re not flaunting it?””
WRITER’S LESSON:
Remember your audience. They want to identify with you, not feel a huge distance between their place in the world and yours.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
I really don’t read much Nonfiction since it goes against my deepest impulse to escape to imaginary places and hang out with imaginary people, but if I have to choose one, “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote is a compelling nonfiction read.  (As a bonus it will make you sound well read if you discuss it at parties.)
Book #23
Lost & Found
Popsugar Slot: “A book with Antonyms in the Title”
Lost and Found (Lost & Found Book 1)
by Nicole Williams
I’m going to be honest here, I chose this book because it fit the slot and was free on Amazon. This is a YA romance and for most of the book it’s just painful to read. The instant attraction between our protagonist, Rowen Sterling (yes that’s her name, and no this isn’t a fantasy book) and her “cowboy” is unearned, particularly since she is one of the most unlikeable narrators I’ve come across in a long time. The voice here also feels exactly like an adult writing as a teenager. Rowen always knows her motivations and why she behaves the way she does. It’s like half her brain is a therapist and the other half is an angsty teenager – you know those two voices you most want to read in a romance novel. The book does pick up toward the end and there are some lovely descriptive passages but the characters are poorly drawn and the plot nearly nonexistent.
QUOTES:
“I didn’t let myself hope either. That was the real poison that put the vacant expression in so many people’s eyes.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
Unlikeable narrators don’t work well in the romance genre. You don’t like them and you have no idea why anyone else would either.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
I got nothing. It was hard enough for me to find one book with Antonyms so you’ll have to come up with this one on your own.

Book #24
Popular
Popsugar Slot: “A book written by someone under 30”
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek (A Memoir)
by Maya Van Wagenen
When I saw the premise for this story I was super intrigued. A teenager picked up a vintage book on how to be popular and decided to follow the antiquated rules to see if it would work for her today (pearls, anyone?). I imagined lots of ridiculous adventures, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a very touching memoir. Maya’s inability to fit in at her mostly Hispanic school because she wasn’t Hispanic enough felt so similar to my own high school problems that I was instantly drawn in. Maya’s personal struggles are set against the harsh realities of going to school in a border town that faces so much crime and poverty. It’s an engaging and beautifully written book.
QUOTES:
“”I wanted popularity; I wanted other people to like me. But it turns out most people are waiting to be discovered too.”
WRITER’S LESSON:
The stories hidden inside and around the one you are telling can often be the most compelling.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath. Yes it’s dark, but also deeply moving and written before Sylvia turned 30.

Book #25
Christmas

Popsugar Slot: “A book set during Christmas”
There’s Something About Christmas
by Debbie Macomber
Since it was Christmas, I figured why not go all in and find something frilly and sugary and full of empty calories – cue the schmaltzy Christmas romance. And this one, was all about fruitcake. Yes, you read that right. Fruitcake as a metaphor for life. How could I say no? What elevates a trashy or syrupy sweet romance to something worth reading is the chemistry between your lead characters and sadly these two had none. Oliver’s dialogue to Emma felt really creepy, as she kept turning him down for dates and he kept telling her she wanted him. I kept envisioning that scenario in real life and me advising Emma to get a restraining order. There was no interaction or explanation for why playboy-esque Oliver suddenly wanted Emma but he just did, because..? Even if you love romances, heck because you love romances, skip this one.
QUOTES:
“Have you noticed that people either love fruitcake or hate it?” she said companionably. “There doesn’t’ seem to be any middle ground.””
WRITER’S LESSON:
You can have a character fall inexplicably in love with another, but it has to be earned in some way. It can’t just be there without anything to make it work.
BOOK SUGGESTION:
“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. This is my absolute favorite story of all. It has the best opening line in all of literature and it’s overarching story of redemption has been mirrored in so many subsequent tales.

My Full 2015 Popsugar Reading List

Book #1 A book based on or turned into a TV show Outlander Gabaldon, Diana
Book #2 A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet Every Day Levithan, David
Book #3 A book with a number in the title Room 702 Benjamin, Ann
Book #4 A book of short stories Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories Capote, Truman
Book #5 A book with magic A Darker Shade of Magic Schwab, V.E.
Book #6 A memoir As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride Elwes, Cary; Layden, Joe
Book #7 A book at the bottom of your to-read list Bel Canto Patchett, Ann
Book #8 A book that came out the year you were born The Neverending Story Ende, Michael
Book #9 A Pulitzer Prize-winning book Middlesex Eugenides, Jeffrey
Book #10 A book with nonhuman characters End of Days (Penryn & the End of Days Series) Ee, Susan
Book #11 A trilogy The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (The Mara Dyer Trilogy Book 1) Hodkin, Michelle
Book #12 A trilogy The Evolution of Mara Dyer (The Mara Dyer Trilogy Book 2) Hodkin, Michelle
Book #13 A trilogy The Retribution of Mara Dyer (The Mara Dyer Trilogy Book 3) Hodkin, Michelle
Book #14 A book you can finish in a day The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A Novel Haddon, Mark
Book #15 A graphical Novel Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened Brosh, Allie
Book #16 A book with a one-word title Ticker Mantchev, Lisa
Book #17 A book by an author you’ve never read before Doll Bones Black, Holly
Book #18 A book that became a movie Paper Towns Green, John
Book #19 A Classic Romance Persuasion Eyre, Jane
Book #20 A book that scares you Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel Hill, Joe
Book #21 A book more than 100 years old The Invisible Man Wells, H.G.
Book #22 A nonfiction book Why Not Me? Kaling, Mindy
Book#23 A book with antonyms in the title Lost and Found (Lost & Found Book 1) Williams, Nicole
Book#24 A book written by someone under 30 Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek (A Memoir) Wagenen, Maya Van
Book #25 A book set during Christmas There’s Something About Christmas Macomber, Debbie

Overall, I read 25 books and 8,763 pages. Not the best showing I must admit, but this was my first attempt trying to adjust my reading habits to match the categories so I think I’ll have a much better time in 2016.

How about you? Did you complete the Popsugar 2015 challenge or did you flounder like I did?