Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Sampling September: The last few books

The Honours by Tim Clare The Honours (2 April 2015) by Tim Clare

The premise: It's 1935 and 13-year-old Delphine Venner is determined to uncover the secrets of Alderberen Hall - a country estate, but also the home of a sinister secret society which has ensnared her parents. The Honours is described as 'a dark, glittering and dangerously unputdownable novel which invites you to enter a thrilling and fantastical world unlike any other.'
First line: The girl with the gun crouched waiting. The dark shape hung over the belt of poplars, then banked, swooping out across the salt marsh.
What I read: The prologue and chapters 1-2 (up to 10% in the ebook).
Would I read the rest of it? I must admit, the thing that attracted me most about The Honours was its beautiful and mysterious cover. I didn't know anything about the plot when I started it, nor whether it was intended for adults or children. The prologue is heavy on the fantasy element and rather comically gruesome; chapters 1 & 2 read more like historical fiction with a mystery twist, and although I thought these were more readable, I found my attention wandering. If something isn't keeping my focus this early on - even with the promise of a secret society! - then I'm pretty sure it's not for me. A scan through a few other reviews tells me it is definitely predominantly a fantasy novel, and whether it's meant this way or not, it also has the tone of something written for a young adult audience. I think I would really have enjoyed this when I was a teenager, but it's not the right book for me now.

Church of Marvels by Leslie ParryChurch of Marvels (7 May 2015) by Leslie Parry

The premise: In late 19th-century New York, the lives of three strangers - a cleaner who discovers an abandoned baby, a girl who works as a circus sideshow act, and a woman who finds herself incarcerated in a lunatic asylum - become entwined. The story has been described as 'The Night Circus meets Water For Elephants.'
First line: I haven't been able to speak since I was seventeen years old.
What I read: The prologue and chapters 1-2 (12%).
Would I read the rest of it? There's something about circus stories, isn't there? I don't know what it is, exactly, but if the huge success of The Night Circus is anything to go by, I'm obviously not the only one to think so. Maybe this magic ingredient also explains why I found the circus segment of The Church of Marvels' opening chapters, the story of sisters Odile and Belle, far more interesting than any of its other threads. I'm probably not being entirely fair on this book, reading it so late into this sampling experiment, and I think my reaction to it is suffering from the fact that I have already tried books with various similarities to this that I preferred: The Gracekeepers for a story featuring a circus, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street for historical fiction with three strangers' lives intersecting, and City on Fire for multiple characters with multiple stories across New York. I don't think I'll be reading more of this anytime soon, but that probably says more about my reading exhaustion than it does about the book.

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough The Death House (26 February 2015) by Sarah Pinborough

The premise: Toby lives in the Death House, where he and his friends are studied by Matron and her team of nurses - scrutinised for signs of changing health. They all live in fear of being sent to 'the sanatorium', from which no one ever returns. 'But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes...'
First line: 'They say it makes your eyes bleed. Almost pop out of your head and then bleed.'
What I read: Chapters 1-4 (11%).
Would I read the rest of it? This is another one I think I would categorise as young adult, although I didn't expect that before I began it; I thought it would be more similar to another book I've read by Sarah Pinborough, The Language of Dying, about a family dealing with grief. All the main characters in The Death House are teenagers, diagnosed as 'Defective' and sent to live together in the austere Death House - though I'm not sure yet whether this is all an allegory or a fantasy story. I know from The Language of Dying that Pinborough is a great writer of effective characters and emotive situations, and I do find the setup pretty intriguing, but yet again - with all the other good books I've sampled this month waiting in the wings, I can't see this making the cut.

Throughout September I'll be working through some of my 2015 to-read list, sampling the books and cataloguing my thoughts on each of them. Find all the posts in this series here!

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