Try A Chapter Challenge #2

After the success of my previous go at the Try a Chapter Challenge, I decided to do it again, only with some of the library books I had on my StoryGraph TBR. So I stopped at my usual branch of the public library and picked up another handful of books so I could read the first chapter or two and see if I wanted to read them at a later date. Not in December. I have enough to do this month.

I didn’t take a picture of the stack, as I took them back the day after reading them.

Here’s what I picked:

  • Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
  • Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji
  • The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge
  • The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss
  • White as Snow by Tanith Lee

Here’s what I thought of the books:

Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

I heard about this book on a list of must-read Dark Academia titles, and after I read the synopsis on the StoryGraph, I added it to my TBR. It sounded like a dark and suspenseful book about academia, and I’m a fan of books like that. The premise of the book is that, during their first year at Oxford University, a group of friends began a game that started out as a series of childish dares that grew in scale and consequence until, fourteen years later, the remaining members of the group meet up for a final round of the game– and who knows how better to break you than your own friends?

Sadly, I quickly decided this was not the book for me. Within the first ten pages or so, I hated both the writing style, which was choppy and dry, and the main character. Sure, there are plenty of unlikeable characters and unreliable narrators in Dark Academia novels, but when their every word makes you want to shove them down the nearest staircase, it’s a good bet that you should just let the book go by the wayside.

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji

I was primed to like this one based on a review by a BookTuber whose tastes usually match mine, and whose reviews have always pointed me to good books, so I put it on my TBR a while back with the intention of reading it sometime this winter. I thought I would give myself a little preview of the story with this round of Try a Chapter, so I checked it out and gave it a shot. It’s a science fiction novel about a generation ship that has been traveling through space for centuries on its way to deliver a group of colonists to their new home. Braking Day, when the engines will begin slowing the ship for its long descent to their new home, is nearing when Ravi, an engineer in training, starts seeing impossible visions of a girl in space. No one else can see her, but the visions become more persistent until Ravi realizes that something is very wrong and that he will have to choose between his position in the ship’s hierarchy, or his family’s reputation.

Sadly, we did not get along. There was something about the writing style I found off-putting. It was a little choppy and felt oddly young. I know the main character is a young person, but it didn’t quite feel like the writing matched the story somehow. After about thirty pages, I threw in the towel and removed it from my TBR. Perhaps Oyebanji’s style will have matured a bit in his next novel, and I’ll enjoy that one. I’ll have to keep an eye out for whatever he writes next.

The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge

The Carnival of Ash was on my list of anticipated books for 2022. It’s about the fantastical city of Cadenza, where poets rule and the skyline is dominated by the towers of libraries. Young Carlo Mazzoni, a poet with dreams of poetry and fame, arrives in the city just as the word goes out that the city’s poet-leader is dead. Instead of spending his days reading and writing, Carlo is wrapped up in the political intrigues of a city in turmoil, while war with their rival city of Venice looms just beyond the horizon.

I enjoyed this one from page one, which is reminiscent of the conversation between Hamlet and the gravedigger in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. The wordplay was witty, the humor subtle and smart, and the writing was lovely. Though Carlo was being rather melodramatic in his opening scenes, Beckerlegge counterbalanced it with the gravedigger’s no-nonsense practicality and wit. I wanted to continue reading this after the first couple of chapters, so it is definitely staying on the TBR.

The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

I don’t remember where I heard about this one. I might have seen in on a list of StoryGraph recommendations, but I’m not completely sure. It’s a Regency-esque novel about a young woman, Lucy Derrick, who is from a good family but has a bad reputation thanks to a poor decision she once made. She’s on the brink of accepting a marriage proposal to a man she doesn’t like and spending an unhappy life with him when the rakish young Lord Byron appears on her doorstep, apparently under a curse, with a message for Lucy. With that, Lucy’s life is turned upside down, and she finds herself in the midst of cataclysmic events that pit man and modernity against nature and the magical world.

Now, I love a good Regency novel as much as the next person. I mean, Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite novels. But I didn’t enjoy this one. In the first thirty pages, there is little but exposition about Lucy’s early life. Every time the narrative took a halting step forward, the book would stop to reminisce about something Lucy did or saw when she was a child– even after Lord Byron made his dramatic appearance. It felt like the book was constantly interrupting itself to talk about things that felt like they had little or nothing to do with the plot. After those first thirty pages, I was bored, so I set the book aside and removed it from my TBR.

White as Snow by Tanith Lee

White as Snow is a fairytale retelling of Snow White where Arpazia, an aging queen and near-prisoner in a warlord’s castle, lives a cold life with only one great passion: the mysterious huntsman who roams the trees of the old forest. Arpazia’s daughter, Coira, is unloved and ignored by both her parents. She wanders the castle halls alone until she falls under the spell of a voice from a mirror and is drawn into the woods.

I recently read Lee’s famous short story, ‘Beauty’, and was impressed by how she took the story of Beauty and the Beast and turned it about. In the first chapter or so of White as Snow, it feels like Lee did the same with the tale of Snow White, and with the same lyrical writing. I also wanted to keep reading this one, so it will stay on the TBR.

After this round of the Try a Chapter Challenge, I’ve removed three books from my TBR, and kept two on it, which feels like a good result. As of this writing, I have 132 books on my StoryGraph TBR, though that total is likely to rise soon thanks to all the upcoming releases videos that the BookTubers I subscribe to will be releasing in the next few weeks. But I’m not bothered by that fact, as it always means that I have books to look forward to reading, and I can always do more of these challenges to sample the books on my TBR.

2 thoughts on “Try A Chapter Challenge #2

  1. I remember enjoying your previous challenge where you looked at books already on your shelf, and I liked how it was a good method of winnowing down your library to a stronger selection. And I think you’d mentioned also using it on books you didn’t yet have, which is what we see here. Why add something to your shelf, even if a virtual one using library books, if the beginning just doesn’t work for you, especially if the writing style is off-putting. The story may get better as you read but most often the style will not. I’m giving more and more thought to trying this with some of my own books. Even if I don’t use it to actually get rid of anything it could be useful in choosing what order I want to try books in.

  2. I definitely recommend this method to help winnow some of the TBR. And you’re right: an author’s style doesn’t usually change from beginning to end, so if the first couple of chapters aren’t to your liking, it’s not likely the rest of the book will change that.

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