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Sample Saturday: 3 Doorstep Novels

My Sample Saturday spotlight this week is turned on three of the chunkiest books on my TBR shelves. As a reminder, Sample Saturday is where I look at all the books I own but have yet to read, and decide which I should part company with and which I should keep.

A sticker on my copy of Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas tells me that I paid £2.50 for this in a charity shop. I have no idea why I wanted it because I’ve never read anything by hi; not even his much acclaimed novel The Slap. Maybe I was trying to expand my reading of Australian authors?

Tsiolkas’ novel is about the hopes and dreams of Danny Kelly, a 14-year-old working-class boy with an immense talent as a swimmer. He and his family sacrifice everything to help him become a golden boy in his sport and put him on a path to represent Australia in the Olympic Games. His selection would also silence the rich boys at the private school to which he won a scholarship. But the plan goes horribly wrong.

I’ve read about 20 pages of the book and it hasn’t wowed me. It feels two-dimensional and too much of a “this happened, then that happened” style. Can I take 510 pages of this especially when I’m not particularly enamoured of sports-based narratives? It feels like it would be a plod.

The Verdict: Set Free

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker Translated from French by Sam Taylor

This 614 page book by Swiss author was a huge it in Europe when it was published in 2014 though its reception in the United States was more muted. Some critics there thought it was cliched and lacklustre. The Guardian reviewer commented:

So many critics seem to have been knocked on their behinds by Dicker’s novel that I can’t be sure I’m not missing something in filing what you might call a minority report. They see a masterpiece; I see a completely ordinary, amiably cartoonish and well aerated page-turner that does nothing interesting in literary terms at all.

The novel is a thriller set in a coastal  town in New Hampshire where the young successful Marcus Goldman heads in search of inspiration for his next book. While staying with his college professor, Harry Quebert, the body of a 15-year-old girl is found on the property. She’d gone missing 33 years earlier. Quebert is accused of her murder, Marcus sets out to clear his old professor’s name and to uncover the truth. His publisher sniffs a good opportunity and offers a multimillion dollar advance for a book about Goldman’s investigation.

Do I want to read this? The story moves along quickly – by page 40 we’ve already had the discovery of the body. But that’s not surprising for a thriller. I can live with that providing the quality of writing isn’t sacrificed for pace. But from the pages I’ve sampled I fear this book is nothing special.

The Verdict: Set Free

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

This comes in at a hefty 884 pages but then, as the title indicates, it’s actually four novels published between 1957 and 1960.

Durrell called it “an investigation of modern love”; a novel in which he experimented with a premise that people and events seem different when considered from different angles and periods. So he presents three perspectives on a single set of events and characters in Alexandria, Egypt, before and during the Second World War.

The four volumes concern the same characters, but each of the several narrators tell the novels’ complex tales from their own viewpoint, and they write at different times.

I’m tempted to give this a go, by reading at least the first book. I’m attracted by some reviews I’ve read that say one of the novel’s strengths is the way it evokes the city as a melting pot of cultures.

The Verdict: Reprieve

So that’s two fewer books on the TBR shelves. Did I make the right choices?? What would you save from these three??

Sample Saturday: Gifts And Giveaways

My Sample Saturday spotlight this week is turned on three books that I never purchased myself. I either won them in a giveaway or they were given as a gift. As a reminder, Sample Saturday is where I look at all the books I own but have yet to read, and decide which to part company with and which to keep.

The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer. The blurb tells me that Otto Laird is an architect once renowned for his radical and controversial designs. Now he lives a quiet life communing with nature and writing eccentric letters to his friends, that he never posts. His peaceful existence is disrupted when he learns that his most significant and revolutionary building, a 1960s tower block estate in South London is set to be demolished.

I see that the book is described as a “charming debut that will restore your faith in second chances”, “funny and poignant.”. That doesn’t fill me with confidence. Books described as charming rarely hold much appeal for me.

I’ve applied my 30 pages test and the tone isn’t wowing me.

The Verdict: Set Free

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sánchez. Translated from Spanish by Lucy Greaves

And now for the book with the longest title in my collection. I can’t remember how I came to own this one. It’s a hardback edition so I’m unlikely to have bought it for myself.

Goodreads describes it as “A fiendishly fun and charming novel” Oh dear, that word charming again.  I’d be tempted to let this one go but for the blurb inside the front cover. It begins: “Atticus Craftsman never travels without a supply of Earl Grey and a favourite book.”

A man after my own heart in fact.

It might be the most ridiculous idea to base my decision on a fictitious character’s tea drinking habits, but I’m tempted. I can tell from the first few pages that it will be a light read but maybe that’s just what I’ll need in coming months.

The Verdict: Reprieve

Overdrawn by N J Crosskey

This one turned up in a Secret Santa with some bookstagrammers in Wales. It’s a sombre dystopian novel that follows a couple in their 60s who are battling against serious health issues. The setting is Britain, a country where the health service has been privatised and ill and elderly citizens are encouraged to “Move On” – a euphemism for euthanasia. 

The Guardian chose this as a book of the month and described it as ” often a harrowing read, though one which offers redemption and a modicum of hope.”

This could be a challenging read but one that asks some searching questions about our attitudes to care for older people. Not one I can face reading in the current climate but I’m putting it back on the shelves for when I feel more mentally equipped

The Verdict: Reprieve

So that’s one more less on the TBR shelves. I’ll give the other two a reprieve for a year – if I haven’t read them a year from now, they’ll be given away too. Did I make the right choices?? What would you save from these three??

Sample Saturday: Impulse Buys

I’m still on the quest I started in 2019 to bring a degree of control over my TBR stack. Step 5 in my 9 point plan was to take a close look at the books that have been on my shelves, unread, for at least five years.

When I did a count at the start of 2019, the total was 95. I’ve been slowly making inroads into the stack by reading those books or giving them away unread (I confess that more have been given away than have been read).

Those of you who follow Kate at Books are My favourite And Best will have heard of Sample Saturday. It’s where she looks at all the samples on her Kindle and decides which to part company with and which to keep.

I’m taking a leaf out of her book and using this approach to help me make decisions about all the physical and e books books remaining on my “owned but unread” shelves.

Let’s kick off this series with a trio of books that were bought on a whim.

Yiyun Li

Gold Boy Emerald Girl by the Chinese-American author Yiyun Li is a 2011 collection of short stories, or vignettes about modern China. The Guardian review described it as gloriously stark group of nine tales about people who are frustrated, alone in the world, and often railing against it. 

I bought this purely because it was in on sale at a ridiculously low price in The Works right at the time when I was trying to expand the geographic scope of my reading. I didn’t pay enough attention to the author’s biography so didn’t realise at the time she is the Chinese-American author Yiyun Li

Since I’m not a fan of short stories I think this is one I feel comfortable about sending to a new home.

The Verdict: Set Free

Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I bought this 2011 in Chicago airport while returning from a trip to the USA. I was in a hurry to get to my departure gate but needed something as a back up in case the book I already had, proved to be a dud. I rushed into the only bookshop in the airport and got swayed by the assistant’s recommendation. Of course I never even opened the book.

It’s a non fiction account of the 1893 Chicago World Fair, focusing on two key individuals. The architect responsible for the construction and a fake doctor who turned out to be a serial killer. He’d built a hotel near the fair site to which he lured his victims.

I’m curious how these two strands get woven together.

The Verdict: Reprieve

Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

I honestly don’t know where my brain was on the day I bought this. I must have confused it with an entirely different book. It’s a collection of sixteen essays. In some Chabon explains how he came to write a few of his best known works. In others he defends his work in genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and comics.

Since I have only a vague idea of who Chabon is and I have little interest in any of the genres mentioned, this is not earning a place on my shelves.

The Verdict: Set Free

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