"POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE" spelled in stenciled letters with the first word in red and the latter two in lavender in front of an illustrated bookshelf.
Courtesy of Lillian Pearce.

The 2023 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge marks the ninth annual consecutive challenge created by the eponymous lifestyle media company, which is dedicated to “expanding the horizons” of readers with a list of 50 specific prompts. The prompts range from standard suggestions like “A book about a family” to niche proposals like “A book with a rabbit on the cover.” 

This is the third installment of Daily Arts’ ongoing undertaking of the challenge, which will hopefully serve to strengthen morale and inspire other readers. Read more to find out how we have completed the prompts, and what our thoughts are on the books that we’ve read so far.

Check out the first installment of this series here, and the second installment here.

A book you meant to read in 2022

“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I didn’t intend to put off “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” for as long as I did, but the truth is I just got distracted with all the other books taunting me from my bookshelf, beside my bed and on my Goodreads “to be read” list. Now that I’ve finally read it, though, I’m slightly underwhelmed. It wasn’t a bad book by any means — in fact, the story was riveting, page-turning, even. But the biggest issue to me was that so few characters were likable. That isn’t always a problem, of course, but usually, even when characters are unlikable, there’s still something to root for — love, justice, hope. But with “Evelyn Hugo,” I found myself more and more adrift from that all-important thing to root for, that thing that makes you not only keep reading but actually makes you feel a connection to the novel and its characters. The titular Evelyn Hugo was larger than life, but that made her seem too out of touch and out of reach at times. Monique, the reporter telling Evelyn’s story, is one of the few characters that was tolerable, but despite being so interwoven with the story at hand, she’s left on the sidelines until the end. The plot kept me going, but the characters (especially those in Evelyn’s circle of fame) were at times sickening. That being said, I think that’s sort of the point of the book. It peels back the layers of fame — the good, the bad and the ugly. And there’s a lot of ugly. I suppose at the very least, I can now say I understand why Taylor Jenkins Reid signed a copy of “Evelyn Hugo” with lyrics from Taylor Swift’s song “The Lucky One”: because even when you’re beautiful, the scrutiny that comes with fame and attention can be ugly and painful. Evelyn Hugo knows that all too well.

— Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami

“Stay True: A Memoir” by Hua Hsu

I have to admit I first bought Hua Hsu’s memoir because I was taken by its cover — a photo of a man taking a photo lit by a bright orange background. It sat (foolishly!) on my TBR pile all last year, all the while gaining much recognition and attention (like the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Memoir or Autobiography). Hsu’s memoir focuses on a friendship he shared in college with a boy, Ken, initially so unlike everything Hsu stood for. Hsu rejected anything mainstream — from Pearl Jam to Nike shoes — but Ken embraced it. But more than helping Hsu see that there is more to life than feigning originality, Ken’s friendship and presence in his life taught Hsu that it is OK to be known. 

Hsu speaks of their friendship with memories and inside jokes, but also with philosophical thought. The memoir is a braiding of sorts as Hsu weaves together memory and ideology, all of which are rooted in the concept of friendship and the irreplaceable love it fosters — a love that will always remain, well after the end.

— Daily Arts Writer Lillian Pearce

“Have I Told You This Already?: Stories I Don’t Want to Forget to Remember” by Lauren Graham

As one of the world’s biggest “Gilmore Girls” fans (a self-appointed title), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read my favorite TV mom’s newest memoir. “Have I Told You This Already?” is a question that Lauren Graham says became a joke among her family and close friends because of how often she asks it. This collection of essays captures that kind of conversational, familial vibe. I can hear Graham telling the stories on the page as if she were in my room, telling them to me in person. She goes on tangents that aren’t exactly connected to the specific story she’s telling, but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. Her story about needing to pad her bra in the early days of her career ends with a full paragraph of boob-related puns that made me roll my eyes (in a good way; she came up with so many it’s hard not to be impressed), and her inventing the word “squozen” (past tense of squeeze?) in another anecdote made me crack up — of course she would write something like that.

“Gilmore Girls” comes up every once in a while, but it’s not the focus; that was reserved for Graham’s first memoir, “Talking as Fast as I Can.” That being said, I can still imagine Lorelai Gilmore saying every word of this book in an episode of the show. Somehow, it makes the book feel more genuine knowing that this is really Graham, and not a character she’s playing. “Have I Told You This Already?” is equal parts hilarious and wholesome, and an all-around good time.

— Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti

A book about a vacation 

“Happy Place” by Emily Henry

I feel like reading Emily Henry’s books are always vacations from my real life, and “Happy Place” was certainly no exception. The story follows Harriet and Wyn after they’ve broken off their engagement, trying to pretend that they’re still together so they don’t ruin their friends’ annual summertime vacation. Featuring the second chance romance trope, a fake dating plot and a dual timeline, the novel keeps readers entertained until the last page. We watch Harriet and Wyn circle around each other, in the past and present, and spend the whole novel wondering just what happened that made them drift apart from one another — and what it will take for them to find their way back to each other. As with nearly all romance novels, there are moments when the protagonists become infuriating, as you sit there wondering why they can’t see what’s right in front of them. But the magic of a romance novel is knowing that there’s always going to be a happily ever after. Harriet and Wyn have to do a lot of work to earn that happy ending, but by the time the credits roll, so to speak, we’re left with a smile on our faces. And though “Book Lovers” will always be my personal favorite EmHen novel, “Happy Place” was no disappointment. If you’re looking for a beach read this summer (pun intended), Emily Henry has got you covered. 

— Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami 

“Every Summer After” by Carley Fortune 

In order to properly describe “Every Summer After,” I’m inventing the term “lake read” — it’s like a beach read, where it’s light and romantic enough to take with you on vacation, but it has a more mellow vibe that captures the feeling of reading a book on a private, shady dock instead of in the sand on a hot and crowded beach. Never mind that the story itself takes place at a lake house, which makes my description figuratively and literally perfect.

Told in dual timelines, “Every Summer After” follows Percy growing up in the summers at her family’s lake house and her relationship with the Florek brothers, who own the house next door. Percy and Sam, the younger of the two brothers, are inseparable from the moment they meet, and their connection grows to something beyond a summer friendship. But in the present, they aren’t speaking and Percy hasn’t been back to the lake in years. Once they reunite, it’s clear that there’s still something there between them, but it isn’t until the two timelines converge that readers figure out what happened. As someone who’s a sucker for the friends-to-lovers trope, I was all over the slow burn between Sam and Percy. Charlie, Sam’s older brother, is a fun addition to the summer shenanigans as well. The only problem I had with this story was its ending — the true reason why Sam and Percy broke up seemed too big to be forgiven as quickly as it was. But if you’re planning an up-north vacation and are in need of good reading material, look no further.

— Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti

“The Unhoneymooners” by Christina Lauren

So it’s no big secret that I love a good contemporary romance novel. While some may find the colorful cartoon covers garish or their occasionally predictable tropes overdone, I find them charming and delightful. And I can certainly never pass up a good enemies-to-lovers story complete with forced proximity, a one-bed trope and a side of mutual pining — a list of romance novel must-haves that perfectly describes the plot of “The Unhoneymooners.” When chronically unlucky Olive Torres finds herself the sole survivor of a food poisoning outbreak at her twin sister’s wedding, she jumps at the chance to enjoy her unexpected good luck by cashing in on her sister’s all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Maui. Though she may have to lie through her teeth and pose as her identical twin in order to secure her ten-day stint in paradise, it seems as though good luck has finally come her way. That is, until she discovers her long-time nemesis Ethan will be along for the ride, posing as her groom. The fake relationship between Olive and Ethan is absolutely endearing, serving up plenty of banter, biting remarks and a healthy amount of flirting to the reader on a silver platter. Not only is “The Unhoneymooners” a book about a vacation, it’s also a book perfect to read on vacation, whether as a lighthearted beach read easy to pick up and flick through during your out-of-town downtime or a quick pick-me-up that’s sure to make you smile as you pass the time in a crowded airport or train station. No matter where you’re spending your time this summer, be it at home, on a beach or across the globe, “The Unhoneymooners” is a sweet and trope-filled romance you won’t regret sinking your teeth into. 

— Senior Arts Editor Annabel Curran 

A book published in Spring 2023

Quietly Hostile” by Samantha Irby

I’ve had an Advance Reader Copy of “Quietly Hostile” on my hands since January, which made it that much more upsetting when I found myself to be disappointed with the collection. Samantha Irby, known for her blog and work on TV shows like the “Sex and the City” reboot, has a few nonfiction works to her name. “Quietly Hostile” is her third collection of essays, which begins with her recounting her last “normal” day before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and ends with her New Yorker piece “Please Invite Me to Your Party.” While some of the essays (including the latter) excel in their comedy and pacing, others are tarnished by tangential spiels and superfluous, random details. I was let down by several unorganized, disjointed pieces, but did find some essays amusing, like her piece titled “What If I Died Like Elvis.” This essay recounts Irby’s experience with an intense allergic reaction, and while yes, scary, her storytelling made it hilarious. In the end, I wasn’t sorry to have read “Quietly Hostile,” but it’s not a collection I’d enthusiastically recommend. 

— Daily Arts Writer Lillian Pearce

“Romantic Comedy” by Curtis Sittenfeld

The moment I picked up Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Romantic Comedy,” it seemed like love at first sight. The cover was adorable, the synopsis was intriguing and the obvious parallels between main character and comedy writer Sally’s place of work and the real-life show “Saturday Night Live” seemed promisingly charming rather than dangerously kitschy. However, I must confess that for “Romantic Comedy” and me, it just wasn’t meant to be. Though laden with wit, dry humor and enjoyable exchanges of dialogue, the story was sadly lacking in terms of romance. Sally and celebrity love interest Noah Brewster exchange plenty of quips and banter, but despite their plethora of humorous exchanges, their chemistry as characters felt lacking. Sally was a main character that was difficult to connect to, serving seemingly as a mouthpiece for Sittenfeld’s undeniable charm and humor rather than a compelling character in her own right whose romance I was rooting for. Despite this, there were several things about “Romantic Comedy” that I truly enjoyed: The plethora of Indigo Girls references, the frequent romantic repartee and the profound yet flirtatious email exchanges between love interests, to name a few. Seriously, if anyone wants to attempt to woo me with expertly crafted and scintillatingly clever emails, my inbox is always open. “Romantic Comedy” is an occasionally touching and often amusing story about self-discovery and personal growth. Unfortunately, it’s just not my perfect match. 

— Senior Arts Editor Annabel Curran 

“Moorewood Family Rules” by HelenKay Dimon

In “Moorewood Family Rules,” Jillian Moorewood returns from prison to get vengeance on her conniving, conning family. The premise of the story is great — who doesn’t love to hear about heists? Combined with the family drama, the headstrong and clever female protagonist and a side plot romance with a bodyguard, Dimon’s book is certain to draw readers in. The biggest downfall of the book is, frankly, its incorrect categorization. It’s marketed as a heist story or something similar to “Knives Out,” with generational drama and secrets waiting to be spilled. That isn’t exactly the case, however. Rather, “Moorewood Family Rules” is more about the family than the cons they pull. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself; it’s just not necessarily why I picked the book up in the first place. That being said, Jillian’s interesting character and the secrets she holds close to her chest kept me reading. While not necessarily what I had imagined or hoped for, the book was still a pleasant read. If you’re in the market for a heist story, though, this might not be the book for you. 

— Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami 

Daily Arts Writers Hannah Carapellotti, Lillian Pearce, Annabel Curran and Sabriya Imami can be reached at hmcarp@umich.edu, pearcel@umich.edu, currana@umich.edu and simami@umich.edu.