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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 50 First Pages Experiment

With some time off over the holidays, I'm doing some much-needed house cleaning in the Ruins, taking care of the towering TBR pile before it topples and totals our toddler. While I had the best of intentions, life (as is so often the case) intervened in some major ways that I won't bore you with here. The issue, for me, is that the longer a title waits for a review, the more pressure I feel, and the more pressure I feel, the less I tend to enjoy the reads - which isn't fair to anybody.

So, with the end of the year fast approaching, I made the difficult decision to make a clean break and start fresh with the new year. Over the past two weeks I indulged in a little something I call the 50 First Pages Experiment, giving each title 50 pages to make an impression. To be honest, it's probably one of the best decisions I've made. Without the pressure and the obligations I was able to really open up and make a fair and honest evaluation of the pile.
  • Backlash by D.L. Thomas: Despite an awkward opening paragraph, this quickly turned into an reassuringly familiar adventure tale. I felt it was light on description, especially in places where I really wanted to get a feel for the scene, and there was some info-dumping early on, but the dialogue was natural. It was a bit simplistic, and lacked the kind of edge I prefer in my adventure novels, but I can see the appeal.
  • Imora by Daniel Steeves Connaughton: I really enjoyed this. It starts out with a suitably epic fantasy feel, as a small group of thieves infiltrate a dragon's lair, only to draw her out into an ambush. From there it takes on a faery tale or folktale sort of feel as the dragon barters the promise of death for her own healing. The twist here is that the entire tale is told from the dragon's perspective. A novel concept, and remarkably well done.
  • SanClare Black by Jenna Waterford: While undoubtedly dark and violent, with some interesting cultural ideas, this is still a coming-of-age tale about characters who didn't make an impact with me. I've heard that the book does get more interesting in the second half, but I've also read that readers were turned off by the abuse of children, and I have to admit that gives me serious pause.
  • Sins of a Sovereignty by Jack Plague: This was an interesting twist on the typical epic fantasy, set in a world of racism, chemical warfare, and both magic and mechanics. It's clear from the start that nothing is quite what it seems, with betrayal and conspiracies everywhere. It's a very dark sort of fantasy, and one that looks realistically at the consequences of genocidal war. Sir Clark Pendragon is a damaged old war hero, but a perfect protagonist for such a world.
  • Miranda by Ayrich Mutch: As thrillers go, I'm not sure they get off to a stronger start than this. Action, drama, humor, and some legitimate mystery all wrapped around a young man with a double life and the dangerous woman who 'handles' him. The characters immediately leap off the page, and the dialogue is quick, crisp, and realistic. It's a very confusing, very paranoid sort of read, but that's precisely what a good spy thriller should be.
  • The Tinsal Deck by Elaina J. Davidson: This one didn't work for me at all. The immense depth of the tarot card readings turned me off right away, and the abrupt changes of perspective were jarring. Just not my style, I guess.
  • Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck: Like so many other reviewers have pointed out, reading this really is like reading the accompanying back story for a MMORPG, with fighting, collecting treasure, and gaining/losing levels. It has an interesting hero (even if it's all too convenient that he was a hobby swordsman in our world), but portal fantasy has been done to death and there's nothing in these initial pages to make it fresh or original again.
With that said, there were three titles that compelled me to keep reading. As a quick wrap-up, the titles that I would recommend to anybody with a little room upon their TBR shelves are:


To those authors I wasn't able to get to this year, I do apologize, and I thank you sincerely for sending your books my way.

3 comments:

  1. The Tarot card stuff would've turned me off.
    Happy New Year, Bob!

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  2. I must say if a book can't persuade me within the first 50 pages, I normally stop reading. There have been few exceptions so far:
    - When I promise to review a book, I read the whole book
    - If reviewers I trust promise me that book will get better within the next 50 pages

    After reading your "Sword of the Bright Lady" comment, I removed the book from my list.

    Thank you for all the good stuff you posted in 2014.

    Happy New Year and continue to enjoy reading!

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  3. I think this is a great experiment, especially for small pub and indie books - there's a lot out there that interests me, but that's a double edged sword. How to get right down to it and find the ones that stand out? 50 pages is more than fair to give the story a chance to win you over.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

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