Try a Chapter Challenge: Library Sale Edition

I have bought a lot of inexpensive secondhand books thanks to my public library’s annual book sale and the sale shelves at my usual library branch. On the last day of the annual sale, the price drops to five dollars a box, while the prices on the sale shelves at the neighborhood branches run from $.25 to $1. At those prices, I’ll pick up a book and if the summary looks vaguely interesting I’ll go ahead and get it. If I don’t like it, it’s not a big deal because I haven’t spent much on it.

As a result, though, I end up with a lot of unread books on my shelves. Because I’m constantly trying– and usually failing– to reduce the number of unread books I own, I decided to pull five books I’ve bought at various library sales and do the Try a Chapter Challenge.

In this challenge, you take any number of unread books that you own, read the first chapter, and then decide if the story is compelling enough to make you want to continue. If you like what you’ve read so far, you keep the book. If you don’t like it, away it goes.

The Books I Chose:

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The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot
Historical fiction
503 pages

Marguerite and Eleanor are nobly-born sisters who grow up to become queens of rival kingdoms: France and England. Their respective husbands have fatal flaws that could damage both their marriages and their countries. The two queens must set aside their differences and draw strength from each other to survive the troubled political waters they find themselves in.

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Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon
Historical Fiction
204 pages

Two wandering adventurers ply their hands at multiple trades– some honest, and some not– until they find themselves entangled in schemes and battles following a coup in the medieval Jewish kingdom of the Khazars.

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Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
Historical Fiction
368 pages

To rescue her family from poverty, seventeen-year-old Orchid competes to become one of the Emperor’s many wives. When she is selected to be one of the lower-ranking concubines, Orchid discovers that the Forbidden City is full of danger and haunted by ghosts of the past. She connives and bribes her way into the Emperor’s bed, even as China begins to collapse around them all.

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The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay
Historical Fiction
336 pages

In 1925, treasure hunting is a man’s world. Irene Blum is passionate about her work but is passed over for a coveted position as a museum’s curator because she is a woman. Seeking to restore her reputation, Irene sets out to find a lost temple that is said to house the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer civilization. As the travels from Shanghai to Saigon to the forests of Cambodia, Irene comes across a cast of flawed characters mysteriously entwined with her past.

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The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
Historical Fiction
485 pages

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists gathers at a manor on the banks of the Thames to spend a month creating great new works of art. By the end of the month, though, one woman is dead, another has disappeared, and a priceless heirloom has disappeared. One hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, an archivist in London, discovers an old leather satchel containing a photograph of a beautiful Victorian woman and a drawing of a gabled house by a river. Elodie seeks to discover the identity of the woman and figure out why the house seems so familiar.


What Did I Think About the Books?

The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot:

I was not impressed by the writing style of the opening pages of this book, and the girls, Marguerite and Eleanor, felt entirely too modern. I realize that part of the point of historical fiction is to humanize historical figures and make them understandable to the modern mind, but these two women lived during the 1200s. If it’s true that the past is a foreign land– and it is true– then I would expect the characters within to feel as though they’ve stepped out of their time period and are translating their stories to a modern audience. I don’t want them to feel like modern young women magically transported to the past. I’ll be selling this one to the used book store.

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

The writing style in this feels like something Alexandre Dumas might have written while telling stories about the Three Musketeers. I was thoroughly entertained by the opening chapter, and I definitely want to find out what happens to the main characters we meet in it. This one is sticking around.

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

I was unsure of this book once I reread the synopsis. It seems like every book I’ve read starring a female protagonist set in imperial China is about a royal concubine who sleeps her way to the emperor’s side. Sure, they’re smart and competent women who are fully capable of ruling, but it’s starting to feel like I’m reading the same story over and over again. That said, Anchee Min’s writing is lovely and succinct, so I will hang onto this one for now and give it a shot.

The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay

This book opens in the middle of an intriguing scene, clumsily written, which is soon interrupted by a long aside wherein the history of the relationship between the main character and her friend is plopped onto the reader like a sack of wet flour. It never bodes well when an author decides to interrupt the critical opening scene to tell the reader that the main character and her friend met when they were children, went to school together, giggled about schoolgirl crushes together, and then went on to do this and that together. Why I am supposed to care about any of that when I barely know the main character’s name? I decided to pass on this. The idea is interesting, but the execution was not well done.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

I did not enjoy this one, either. The writing style was dry and distant, and Morton primarily told what the characters were doing, rather than showing what they were doing. Sure, there are many cases where an author needs to tell the reader what’s happening, but doing that through an entire book is pushing it. I even flipped forward to a random page in the middle, and the writing there was exactly the same as the first chapter. I will pass on this one. It’s a shame, because the synopsis sounded interesting.


Out of five books, I have decided to keep two: Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon and Empress Orchid by Anchee Min. The rest went into the box to go to the used bookstore in the new year, where I will get credit for books.

I will be doing another round of this soon, and I’ve already picked out five books to try. Stay tuned!

8 thoughts on “Try a Chapter Challenge: Library Sale Edition

  1. Absolutely love this idea and might even consider trying it since I have, like you, been unable to control my urges during library sells and whatnot, thus creating an awesome wall of bookshelves with unread books that I sort of know I won’t get around to. In fact, among those books, there’s a Michael Chabon book that seemed pretty interesting! Thanks for sharing, Kim. πŸ˜€

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