Monday, June 29, 2009

First Chapter Challenge (1)

To kick off my first chapter challenge, a personal challenge this summer to whittle down my review pile, I read the first chapter of 5 books that have been sitting on my shelf a long time to determine if I would keep them on my shelf or give them away.

The School for Dangerous Girls by Eliot Schrefer
Publisher: Scholastic
Release date: January 2009
One sentence summary: Bad girl Angela is sent to a reform school whose methods are questionable.
First sentences: All of the girls fell silent. The woman took a few seconds to look around the room, making eye contact with each of us. When she finally spoke, her voice was cold, with a slight accent that said she had lived years in places beyond our reach.
First chapter review: In the space of 8 pages, we are introduced to Hidden Oak, the girls, and a Dr. Spicer who asserts her absolute authority over the girls. We are also teased with flashbacks of what Angela might have done to be deemed dangerous - which is possibly murder. It's a solid start, but it's nothing that can't be put down.
Verdict: Return to TBR. The reviews I've read of this have been mixed, but considering David Levithan edited it, I'll give it a chance.

Suddenly Supernatural Book 2: Scaredy Kat by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Publisher: Little, Brown for Young Readers
Release date: February 2009
One sentence summary: Kat, who has recently discovered that she's a medium like her mother, investigates the disappearance of a boy in the abandoned house next door.
First sentence: The truth is, I find it very embarrassing when my mother talks to plants.
First chapter review: Although this is the second book in a series, I didn't get the sense from the first chapter that I needed to have read the first one to understand this one. The voice is fresh and fun and although I could've done without the e-mail correspondence, this is a nice set-up to what seems like a quick read with some spooky elements.
Verdict: This is one I definitely want to pass on to my favorite 11 year old. If I manage to get to it before I see her again, I'll read it myself. If not, I will pass it on to her with a good feeling.

The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Release date: March 2009
One sentence summary: 15 year old Catherine Howard catches the eye of Henry the 8th who wants to make her his 5th wife.
First sentence: The Thames is a messenger of fortune, rippling smoothly beneath the prow of this barge.
First chapter review: The first chapter is a mere 2 1/2 pages and has a very reflective, dreamy tone. In order to get more a sense of Catherine, I also had to read chapter 2, which introduces the central tension of the narrative. She's proud of being chosen as Henry's next wife but also terrified (considering what happened to Anne Boleyn). She knows she has to deliver another male heir or else... The writing flows well, but knowing what happens to Catherine is basically a retread of Anne's story, I'm not that intrigued.
Verdict: Pass on to a friend who loves Tudor historicals.

The Dracula Dossier by James Reese
Publisher: William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Release date: October 2008
One sentence summary: Dracula author Bram Stoker is the prime suspect in a series of killings that will be attributed to Jack the Ripper and he must work to clear his name.
First sentence: You do not know me, and you never will.
First chapter review: This dossier starts out with a letter from an unknown collector to a senior editor at William Morrow. With the letter he includes a lost diary of Bram Stoker which tells of his involvement with Jack the Ripper. It's a pretty dry start. I probably would've been more hooked had it immediately begun with Bram's diary whose first line states "It seemed wise to hide the bloodied knife."
Verdict: Meh. It sounds like an ok book, but I have a pile of books waiting with some amazing premises, so I think I'll pass on this. I'll donate it to the library.

Suffer the Children by Adam Creed
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Release date: none in the US yet, May 2009 in the UK
One sentence summary: After a paedophile is brutally murdered, Inspector Staffe must question the families of his victims.
First sentence: Staffe raises his head as high as he can, sucks in the underground air.
First chapter review: To be honest, I couldn't even finish the first chapter. It is written in third person present, which is beyond awkward, and the subject matter is just not my thing.
Verdict: Didn't hook me. Will donate to library. I did like this cover the most of the 5 though.

Anyone want to weight in and tell me if I making a huge mistake keeping or getting rid of any of these?


Diana Dang said...

I only read The King's Rose. It's a good book but a little slow. Your Tudor friend would like it very much tho.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Good luck wit this. I have been reading through some first chapters myself so that I can whittle away my pile.

Heidi Willis said...

I haven't read any of these, so I can't weigh in on the mistake thing.

However, I love how you have this organized! What a great overview and quick glance reference!

It does make me think long and hard about the first pages of my own writing though!!

Literary Feline said...

This is such a great idea, Lenore. A friend of mine does this with her TBR books now and then too, and I've been wondering if I should start.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Diana - That's kind of what I thought. I know my friend will happy to read it.

Nicole - OOOh! I want to hear your results!

Heidi - You definitely should ;) First pages are not only necessary to hook agents and editors, but also (imapatient) readers!

LF - I just needed to a make a decision on many of these books since my pile is so overwhelming. Wanted to give every book a semi-fair shake! After all, most of them I did pick up for a reason.

a flight of minds said...

I really like this idea. It's helpful to you, but also to anyone who reads it. :) I've read The School for Dangerous Girls and it was okay, if pretty gruesome and depressing. There's definitely better books out there though.

- Alex

Kristen said...

That's actually a helpful challenge and probably helps a lot on narrowing down what you'll read next. :)

Memory said...

Hehe, I don't think I'd ever finish anything if I set myself this challenge! It usually takes me a good long while to connect with a book.

Steph Su said...

I haven't read any of these books, but I think that from your mini-summaries you made the right decision. This is such a good idea! I think I might have to give it a try one time.. :)

Ali said...

This is a great idea. I may have to do this with my stacks of library books so I can return some of them!

Kristen M. said...

This is a great idea! I don't have quite that many books on my TBR pile but it's a good way to even choose what to read next. Usually I just spread out a few choices and keep reading jacket blurbs. If I did first chapters, one would most likely hook me!

One night I thought I was in the mood for The Dracula Dossier and I read the first chapter or two and let me tell you, it starts getting really bloody really quick. I was getting queasy so I put the book down and still haven't decided if I want to ever read it or not.

PJ Hoover said...

So none made you keep reading. Very interesting. Or was this against the rules totally?
I find this really interesting!

Amee said...

I'm glad my TBR pile isn't completely unmanagable. I'd never be able to do this! Sometimes I read the first half of a book and don't have strong feelings, but then the second half grabs me, and I end up loving it. I would wonder how much I missed out on if I did this, but I think for reviewers with so much to read it's smart!

Lenore Appelhans said...

PJ - It is kind of against the rules...but of course if a book really grabs me, I am not going to put it down!

avisannschild said...

I love this idea, Lenore! Can I borrow it?

ReaderGirl said...

That's an AMAZINGLY fab idea Lenore! Borrow? *prettyplease*

caite said...

I must agree that I love the cover of Suffer The Children. A shame the book failed the 'challenge'.

Staci said...

I like the way you decided to go through some of your books. The people you're passing them on to will love them!!!

Elizabeth said...

What an awesome idea for a post... and a way to whittle down your TBR pile. Mine remains towering. The library has taken out a contract on me.

Angela said...

What a great way to whittle down the daunting TBR pile!! I don't think you're missing anything by not reading THE SCHOOL FOR DANGEROUS GIRLS. Can't say about the rest of them. I tried to read THE KING'S ROSE, but could just never get into it.

Petunia said...

I love this idea. I'll have to give it a try. Will you be doing more of these kinds of posts?

trish said...

I love this idea! I think I'll do this as well. I MUST go through my review pile and my personal pile, because they're seriously out of control. The only problem is that once I start a book, I feel guilty if I don't finish it. Hmm...looks like I need to get over that fast!

Alyssa F said...

Hmmm... I haven't read any of these, so I can't comment on your decision. Personally, I really, really, really want to read The King's Rose, but I am a Tudor-fan too. :-)

This is a great idea. I really need to do this to my bookself. My TBR pile is getting ridiculous.

Zibilee said...

I would probably hang on to and read The King's Rose, but I am a sucker for that time period and story. I think if I wasn't really enjoying any of them I would get rid of them also, so don't feel too bad about it.

Kelly said...

What a great idea for whittling down your TBR pile. I might steal it. :)