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.
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.
“Power is best held by the ones who don’t want it.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“Fear and shame are the backbone of my self-control. They are my source of inspiration, my insurance against becoming entirely unacceptable.”
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.
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.
Popsugar Slot: “A book with a one-word title”
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.)
“Fall in love with me, not the idea of rescuing me.”
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.
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.
Popsugar Slot: “A book by an author you’ve never read before”
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.
“”It made him feel, for a moment, like maybe no stories were lies…Maybe all stories were true ones.”
Quiet lyrical prose can elevate an interesting story into art.
“So B. It” by Sarah Weeks is another beautiful lyrical story that focuses on the difficulties of being a child in a unique situation.
Popsugar Slot: “A book that became a movie”
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.
“It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined.”
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.
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.
Popsugar Slot: “A Classic Romance”
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.
“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequence of an unnatural beginning.”
You have to make at least one character likeable, in at least some small way, otherwise the battle is lost before you started.
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!