Thirty Firsts TBR Reading Challenge: Books in June and July

This year I’ve decided to tackle my TBR pile by reading thirty books from it that are the first in a series and assess my eagerness to read the rest of the series in terms of Yes / Probably / Maybe / No.

In June and July, I read five “first in a series” books, three from my original list, one that’s been on my TBR pile for a long time and one that just caught my eye when I was looking for something light.

None of the three books from my original list did anything for me but the other two are series I want to read more of.

I’ll start with the ones I enjoyed.

“An Expert In Murder” is a well-written, rigorously-plotted, character-driven mystery novel, with a perfect period feel and which I loved most for its empathy and compassion.

The selling point of this mystery series it that spins its mysteries around a fictionalised version of the life of Josephine Tey – in effect, a mystery writer, wrapped in a mystery, set in period costume.

“An Expert In Murder” is set in London in the 1930s and revolves around deaths associated with a production of Josephine Tey’s most successful play.

The plot is complicated and surprising and has evil at its heart. There is a suspect-rich environment with many people keeping secrets. The characters are strong and their relationships and moods shift in realistic ways.

While the plot poses an interesting puzzle, what called to me about the novel that it told a deeply compassionate story about the damage done to men by the war, the vulnerability of women and how the theatre could help them achieve independence and the small ways in which we all fail ourselves and each other.

“Elementary, She Read” is a fun cosy mystery that pressed lots of my MUST READ buttons (see the words in italics below).

It’s set in a bookshop, a Sherlock Holmes bookshop, in Cape Cod that is linked to Mrs Hudson’s Tearooms. The main character is a difficult Brit with a likeable, pretty American best friend and business partner. There’s an adorable bookshop cat called Moriarty who likes everyone except Gemma, our main character and Gemma’s soft love-me-feed-me pet dog.

What rescues the book from collapsing under the weight of its own cuteness is that, in Gemma, Vicky Delaney has created a wonderful, complex character.

Gemma is very bright, very observant but completely unable to see the world as anything but a frankly-not-that-challenging puzzle, constantly causes offence and conflict through inappropriate remarks and behaviour.

Gemma’s lack of social skills and her assumption that it will be obvious to anyone with even half a brain that’s she’s right, at least, it will once she’s taken the time to explain it to them slowly so they can keep up, land her as the prime suspect in the murder. Watching her dig that hole deeper without realising she’s doing it was a lot of fun.

Sadly, the rest of the series that I started were a lot less fun.

The best experience was with “Sandman Slim”, a frenetically-paced, relentlessly gore-splattered urban fantasy story, powered by some clever trope-twists on the Christian angel myths and told from the point of view of a magic-using anti-hero whose mood flips from maudlin self-pity through smart-mouthed aggression to lethal frenzied blood lust.

It’s delivered with punchy prose, unstoppable momentum and violence described with loving attention to detail. The magic and weaponry were clever. The descriptions of LA were sleazy and inventive. The humour was of the self-flagellating kind.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all that, I finished the book out of curiosity rather than enthusiasm. I’d have happily seen Sandman Slim ripped apart by any of the nasty things he went up against and not have felt any sense of loss. I won’t be reading any more of this series.

The next two that I tried, I abandoned without finishing:

I was fairly sure I was going to like “Splintered Silence”. The plot had a lot of similarities to “Blood On The Tracks” which I enjoyed. It has a strong but damaged female lead, a loyal but damaged dog, a murder to solve and a unique culture (Irish Travellers) to delve into.

I only made it through the dedication and the first chapter before I understood that this book wasn’t for me or rather, I’m not for this book.

I’m not nice enough to read this. It had barely started and I was already being distracted by how… wholesome the book felt.

I put the book aside because I knew I’d end up muttering “Yeah, right” and “Like that’s going to happen” and that wouldn’t be fair on me or the book. Lots of people will enjoy this, I’m just not one of them.

I was very surprised to find myself abandoning this book a quarter of the way through (a little over four hours of listening). I really enjoyed Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “The Dogs Of War” and I expected “Children Of Time” to be even better. I settled down for sixteen hours of epic science fiction and found that although the scale was epic, the storytelling was flat.

The premise of the story is a very clever way of looking at evolution (even when it’s being interfered with by a human-crafted virus) from a view quite alien to the human way of thinking and then setting up a struggle for survival with humans whose history has left them desperate and weak and stripped of their hubris. It’s one of the best ideas I’ve seen since Brian Aldiss’ “Heliconia” books. The scale is epic both in terms of time and in the range of ideas. All of the thinking works.

I abandoned it, after four hours, because I don’t care enough about the content to read through another twelve hours.

I think the scale is the problem. Tchaikovsky is more interested in describing the watch the blind watchmaker is building than in any of the moving parts. This meant that, after a while, none of the individual characters interested me, Tchaikovsky’s focus was on the species and the grand sweep of history in which individuals become footnotes at best.

In the first seven months of the Reading Challenge, I’ve read twenty of the thirty books I’d selected and another fourteen that I picked up as I went along. So now I have twenty series I’d like to follow up on. I have a lot of good reading ahead of me.

One thought on “Thirty Firsts TBR Reading Challenge: Books in June and July

  1. Hi. How do you decide which books are to be added in your TBR list? If you are not able to complete your book reading goal, do you drop it altogether or drag it to the next month/year?


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