Five recent reads that I couldn’t finish

How often do you start a book and find that you can’t finish it? Maybe you didn’t like the writing, maybe you couldn’t connect with the characters, or maybe it was just the wrong book at the wrong time. I hate leaving books unfinished, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Luckily it doesn’t happen to me very often, but there have still been quite a few books that I’ve started reading recently and for one reason or another have had to abandon. If you’ve read any of these, do you think they’re worth trying again?


A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin

What’s it about?
A present day historian, Una Pryor, researches the lives of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV, and her brother Anthony, and begins to uncover the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.
What was the problem?
With my interest in the Wars of the Roses I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn’t. There were three different threads of the story, one narrated by Una, one by Elizabeth and one by Anthony – and they were all set in different time periods, which I found very confusing. The historical sections didn’t feel very atmospheric and the modern section seemed too disconnected. I’m sure that if I’d kept reading the three storylines would probably have been brought together eventually, but I gave up after almost 100 pages.
Would I try it again?
Probably not.

The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer

What’s it about?
Set during the Peninsular War, this is the story of Brigade-Major Harry Smith and his Spanish wife, Juana.
What was the problem?
This wasn’t a bad book but it wasn’t really what I’ve come to expect from Georgette Heyer. I read nearly a third of the book and it was very heavy on historical detail, particularly descriptions of army life and battles, which I wasn’t in the right mood for.
Would I try it again?
Maybe, but there are plenty of other Georgette Heyer books I’d like to read first.

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

What’s it about?
This is a classic historical adventure novel about seventeen-year-old David Balfour, whose uncle has him kidnapped in an attempt to steal his inheritance.
What was the problem?
I wanted to read some of the children’s classics I’d missed out on when I was younger and started reading this one on my ereader. I loved the opening chapters but when I reached a long section set at sea I started to lose interest.
Would I try it again?
Probably not.

Love and Summer by William Trevor

What’s it about?
Set during one summer in the 1950s, this is a story about the small Irish town of Rathmoye and the people who live there.
What was the problem?
I think it was probably just the wrong time for me to read this book. I had recently finished reading Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and this one seemed to have a very similar feel. I wasn’t in the mood for another quiet, gentle story so I set this book aside after a few chapters.
Would I try it again?
Yes.

The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn

What’s it about?
The story of Henry VIII’s wife, Katherine Howard, as seen through the eyes of her lady-in-waiting, Cat Tilney.
What was the problem?
I couldn’t get into this book at all and abandoned it after a couple of chapters. The dialogue was too modern and the characters didn’t feel like real people to me. Maybe if I’d kept reading I would have started to enjoy it more, but my instincts told me this wasn’t the right book for me.
Would I try it again?
No.

Have you read any of these books? Did you have better luck with them than I did?

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16 thoughts on “Five recent reads that I couldn’t finish

  1. Mel says:

    I think it is better to abandon than making a real chore out of finishing a book. I have not read any of these. I probably stop reading about one in five started books, but often I will go back and finish a novel, because as you say it can just be the wrong book at the wrong time. My most exasperating experience, still not finished, is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I have tried at least three times to get through that one and wanted to like it so much, but the writing style just made it inaccessible for me.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, definitely! Reading should be fun, after all. And I still haven’t tried to read Wolf Hall – I’ve been put off because I’ve seen other people mention having the same problem with the writing style. Hopefully I’ll get round to reading it soon.

  2. Katie says:

    I have ‘A Secret Alchemy’ although I haven’t read it. I think it’s probably going to malinger on my shelves a little longer now, or perhaps I should get it over with? I’m not sure. I’m chronically incapable of leaving books unfinished, no matter how long or how dire, so once I start I’m comitted for good.

    I read a different book by Suzannah Dunn earlier this year and had exactly the same problems with it that you had with this one, so I doubt that you’re missing much by not finishing it. It’s a shame when books are disappointing.

    • Helen says:

      Maybe you’ll enjoy A Secret Alchemy more than I did, Katie. Looking at other reviews it seems to be one of those books people either love or hate. And I’m glad to hear that I probably made the right decision to stop reading the Suzannah Dunn book!

  3. FleurFisher says:

    I have had exactly the same problems with Suzannah Dunn’s historical novels and gave them up a few books back. I gave up on A Secret Alchemy, but I liked it enough to try it again. And William Trevor I love, though I didn’t like Love and Summer as much as others – I’d recommend Felicia’s Journey and The Story of Lucy Gault.

    It’s always better to give up a book that you aren’t enjoying – the trick though is to know which to try again and which to ditch completely.

    • Helen says:

      I’m sure I’d probably like William Trevor, but Love and Summer was the wrong book at the wrong time for me. Maybe I’ll try one of the other two you mentioned instead.

  4. Deb Atwood says:

    For me, it’s often the wimp factor, as in mine. The foreshadowing of domestic violence was so heavy in Pat Conroy’s Beach Music, I never made it out of the barn loft (chapter one). Odd, because I enjoyed both book and movie versions of The Prince of Tides. I’ve had to forswear Thomas Hardy as well; I’m just unable to navigate the morass of hopelessness there. (Tess, just tell them! They’ll understand, trust me.)

    Weak writing and poor characterization turn me off, too. This week I gave up on Kat Martin’s Scent of Roses and Anne Rivers Siddons’ The House Next Door.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve never read Beach Music, but I don’t like reading about domestic violence either so might have given up on it for the same reason as you. And I do love Thomas Hardy but I can definitely understand why you might have a problem with the overwhelming sense of hopelessness!

  5. Jo says:

    It is really refreshing to see posts where readers admit to giving up books because it was not doing it for them.

    I agree that sometimes we have to be in the right place, the right frame of mind etc. I have struggled trying to get into The Loving Spirit and have to say no, put it down, it is not right for me at the moment reading was starting to be a chore. Once I let myself do this, I felt freer and readily lapped up the other books I have on the go.

    I have not read any of these, though seen the Suzannah Dunn one around for a while.

    • Helen says:

      I always find it difficult to leave a book unfinished but if it starts to feel like a chore I think that’s the right time to put it down and move on to something different. Sorry you couldn’t get into The Loving Spirit. I ended up enjoying it, but it did have quite a slow start.

  6. Jackie (Farm Lane Books) says:

    It looks as though we have very similar books in our DNF pile. I gave up the only Heyer I’ve tried. I couldn’t read more than a few pages of Katherine Howard and I didn’t enjoy Love and Summer or Secret Alchemy. Hope you find some better books soon. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy those books either, though it’s good to know I’m not the only one who struggled with them. Let’s hope we both have better luck with our future reads!

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