Try a Chapter Challenge

Like most readers, I own a lot of unread books. It’s hard to resist cheap, interesting-looking books at the used bookstore or the library sale shelves. But as I have limited shelf space for new(er) books, I need to go through them now and then and get rid of the books I’m not going to read again, or– in the case of the unread books– the ones I’m not going to read at all.

Hence the Try a Chapter Challenge, wherein we select a handful of unread books, read a chapter or two, and decide if we’re going to keep the book or get rid of it.

I picked five books that have been on my shelves for a while. I bought them at the used bookstore, the library sale shelves, and from a friend in one case, so I didn’t spend much on any of them and won’t be annoyed at myself for getting rid of a book I paid a lot for.

What I chose:

Though the color scheme is quite yellow, I promise there was no real rhyme or reason to the books’ selection, save that they were all used books I own that I haven’t read.

And now, I will read the first chapter or two of each one to see what I think.

I’ve read a few of C.S Friedman’s books before, most notably her Coldfire Trilogy (Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, Crown of Shadows), but it’s been a while since I read even those. When I found an old mass-market paperback of Feast of Souls for less than a dollar on the library’s sale shelves, I figured I might as well give it a shot. That was a few years ago, and the poor thing has languished on my shelves ever since, despite the fact that I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

I finally read the first two chapters the other day, and I am definitely intrigued. Friedman’s writing is elegant without being overwrought, and she has a wonderful ability to develop an eerie mood and atmosphere without making the characters feel like they’re at arm’s length, and it has the sort of gothic tone that I look for in dark fantasy books, but rarely find. It feels like Friedman could be at the top of her game with this one, and because the story so far is intriguing, I will definitely be keeping this one and will read it soon.

I’ve heard about Michael J. Sullivan’s books all over the internet: on BookTube, Bookstagram, blogs, fantasy news sites, whatever. But I’d never bothered to pick up any of them until I found Theft of Swords on the library sale shelves for around a dollar. I figured I would give it a shot. It was just a dollar. What did I have to lose? That was about a year ago, and I still hadn’t tried it. It’s just been staring at me from the TBR shelf in my living room, that bright yellow cover catching my eye and reminding me that it’s there, and is a fantasy adventure series that is loved by pretty much everyone who reads it.

So what did I think of the first couple of chapters? It’s a promising start. The two main characters are clever and quick-witted, and the writing is effective and fast-paced without feeling too abrupt. It reads like a book that will have plenty of adventure and funny one-liners that will keep me turning the pages from start to finish. And a bonus: Sullivan really seems to know what he’s talking about when he talks about medieval weaponry, as there is a character who has a bow drawn for a very long time, and one of the main characters points out that this indicates that the bow is not well-made and will not work very well. It annoys me when modern writers think of bows as analogs to modern guns, and that’s not how they work at all. So huzzah for Michael J. Sullivan and his research! I will definitely be hanging onto this one. It seems like it will be a great book to curl up with on a snowy winter day.

I think I bought this at the used bookstore downtown a year or so ago. I’d never heard of Joanna I, and as I’m always interested in reading about medieval figures, I decided to give it a shot. That was a while ago, of course, so I took it off my history shelf to give it a try.

The verdict? Nancy Goldstone certainly knows how to hook a reader. The first chapter sets its scene in Avignon in 1348, as Joanna arrives in the city after being summoned there by the pope. The mood is grim– the Black Death is ravaging Europe while political turmoil abounds. But Joanna arrives in the city in royal splendor as if none of this bothers her. Why is she in southern France, though, and not in her kingdom? Because at age 22, she stands accused of poisoning her husband. Thus begins the biography. Goldstone’s writing is perfectly suited to the biography. She provides a wealth of historical detail without making it seem dry or boring, and provides remarkable insight into not only Joanna’s life, but into the world that she lived in. I will definitely be reading this one soon. It sounds fascinating.

I bought this book and its sequel from a friend online. She was no longer interested in the series, and because I enjoy a good steampunk novel, I thought I would give it a try. That was either last spring or winter, and I hadn’t done anything more with it than dust it occasionally, so I grabbed the first book and read the first twenty-five or so pages.

I was, unfortunately, not impressed. Hodder’s writing is meant to feel fast-paced and emotional, but it ends up feeling choppy and melodramatic– and not melodramatic in the overwrought way of a good gothic novel. It started out feeling more like a bad soap opera, and as I couldn’t stand that style, I decided to put it aside. I will see if the used bookstore wants it and the second book. It’s disappointing, really. I like steampunk novels, but finding really good ones is often a challenge.

This is another find from the used bookstore. I’ve seen the movie that was based on this book– The Duchess, which stars Keira Knightley as Georgiana. It was fine, though I must admit that the 1700s is far from my favorite historical era. Georgiana seems like a fascinating person, thanks to her political influence, her fashion-forwardness, and the possibility that she and a friend were in a sort of menage-a-troi with her husband, so I wanted to read more about her. So when I saw it on the shelf, I bought it and of course didn’t bother getting around to it.

Alas that I wish I hadn’t bought it. Though one of the reviews on the back compares Amanda Foreman favorably to Alison Weir, the first twenty-five pages were so dry I felt like I needed a pitcher of water to get through it. Instead of providing a portrait of the lively girl Georgiana must have been and sketching the outlines of her family, there are ponderous details of how much things cost and what so-and-so’s allowance was and things like that. This would be a good book if you need something to put you to sleep at night, but that’s not what I’m looking for in a book. I still want to read a biography of Georgiana, just not this one.

I will definitely being doing more Try a Chapter Challenges, as it’s been a good way to get a taste of my unread books to see which ones I’ll truly like, and which can go by the wayside. I may even do it with some of the library books on my TBR. We shall see. I have plans, but we all know what the universe does when you go and make plans.

So stay tuned! There will be more book samples in the future. I already have another stack of books to try out.

11 thoughts on “Try a Chapter Challenge

  1. What a great idea. I too have way more books than shelf sapce (used book stores are dangerous). As a general rule I give each book one chapter or 25 pages to make or break my attention.

  2. What a great idea! And you actually managed to get rid of a couple. Perhaps this is something I should try sometime. Maybe it’d even be a good idea before deciding to buy a book. 🙂

  3. Pingback: It’s a new month, what’s in your pen cup? – Chronicles of a Fountain Pen

  4. Pingback: It’s a new month, what’s in your pen cup? – Chronicles of a Fountain Pen

  5. I’ve been considering to do this for similar reasons since I just organized my shelves and was once again forced to notice how many unread books I own.

  6. I’d forgotten how useful the Try a Chapter challenge is to help winnow down the unread TBR. I have an app where I can keep track of all my books, and the number next to the ‘To Read’ category hasn’t been shrinking until recently.

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