Monday, 30 September 2013

Reviver by Seth Patrick

Sometimes Jonah Miller hated talking to the dead.

Great first line. Maybe not the most original in the world, but then whose are these days, now that 80 billion plus brains have thought upon this earth since the beginning of thinking? And that's not including dolphins.

Yet there's a twist: That first line is not a metaphor. It is literal, which makes it a little more original than originally thought.

The woman's ruined corpse lay against the far wall of the small office. The killer had moved her from the center of the room; she had been dragged to the back wall and left propped up, slouched with her head lolled to one side.

This is how crime novels should start, with a crime, and not with some troubled detective character drowning in a bottle of cliche angst or with cute verbiage and even cuter sunscapes. With a crime comes questions. No mincing words here. The crime and description are gruesome and warns the reader of what to expect. Mood and tone established while plot races forward.

But what else do you expect from an author publishing his first book? He/she has to make their opening lines work. No space for word cream floating on the top of a  previous-body-of-work latte. First time authors make their sentences work their butts off.

First thing said:

"She's here."

Meaning that by page 3 Jonah has revived the mutilated corpse of a murder victim, and it starts talking...

Verdict: Cool (I want more)

Theodore Moracht

Taking Eve by Iris Johansen

He was ready.

Ah, an allusion to Shakespeare: The readiness is all. No, but seriously, another book that begins with a pronoun? Who here thinks pronoun is a portmanteau for professional noun? Is there a sale on pronouns somewhere someone didn't tell me about? The advertising slogan reading: Pronouns add mystery, intrigue and ambiguity to any story, leaving any reader confused, aching for more.

Jim Doane drew a deep breath as he locked the front door of the small cedar house behind him. All the searching and planning was at an end, and now it was time to put the plan into action.

This second paragraph raises questions like what plan? Unfortunately, the author refuses to reveal and instead tries to milk her plot for every word it's worth - to create suspense? Sadly, I'm not really trembling with suspense here. Then we have a POV switch:

Soon, Kevin. I know it's been a long time.

I assume that's Jim thinking.

First thing said:

"Doane, wait."

Which means we wait and the plot takes a coffee break while characters stand around at the beginning of their novel and chat about house-sitting and how wonderful children are. If you read the blurb this kind of makes sense, but I'm not supposed to tell you that because I'm not supposed to be reading the blurbs when reviewing novel openings, but I had to because I hate being confused. Oh, and do people still call people they know by their last names, Holmes? No, Watson, they don't.

The only thing this opening has going for it is that there's no prologue.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 29 September 2013

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki


This counts as the first line of the book. It sets tone, though is misleading. Is this the beginning of a coloring book with Mr. Tip? Next line:

My name is Nao, and I am a time being.

This works. Time being. Sounds interesting. I read on.

Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.

This sentence sounds like something someone on Sesame Street would say. The second assumes the readers are stupid and don't know. Very patronizing. Do you know what that means? Let me show you. Next paragraph.

A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and everyone of us who is, or was, or ever will be.

Ha-ha, good one. Roll eyes. Basically, she says time beings are people. What a letdown. Buddhist wit fail. It reminds me of Austin Powers:

Powers: "Hey, there you are."
Man: "Do I know you?"
Powers: "No, but there you are!"

What follows is a conversation the narrator is having to her/himself about you (me), the reader. Not sure for what effect the writer was going for, breaking the fourth wall like that. It really does read like a picture book. Perhaps that was the plan. Though it's not for little kids; that's obvious when the narrator starts wondering about the reader's sex life. It's all so confusing and complicated - it's hard to know what is intended.

Verdict: Fail.

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Crash by Guy Haley

It is in the interest of mankind, not simply of those of us fortunate to be burdened with the task of wealth creation and prosperity maintenance, to step outside the bounds of our solar cage, and commence the great adventure that has awaited our kind since the first time a man raised his eyes to the stares.

This comes from a speech that was given in 2153.

In the wake of the financial collapses of the early 21st century, living standards dropped across what was then termed the 'developed world,' in essence those states of Europe and their former colonies where the original inhabitants had been extirpated and a European society established...

This is an excerpt from a banned lecture. A lot of big words here, but after all, it is a lecture.


At first, Dariusz Szczecinski was dead, then he was not.

This is effective; it raises questions, conflict and a character, literally, so it seems. Too bad about the speech and lecture at the beginning.

Chapter one or part one finally begins:

Let's take a closer look at one of the star systems.

And thus begins an astronomy lesson.

First thing said:

"We've landed end on, and at an angle."

What's said next is more interesting:

"I don't know why you bother, we're all dead anyway."

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 27 September 2013

Robert B. Parker's Damned if You Do by Michael Brandman

Jesse Stone was sprawled out on the back porch love seat, having finished the last of his coffee, waiting for the caffeine to kick in.

Next paragraph is a weather report. Weather hooks only idiots...and birds.

His cell phone rang, and he reached over and picked it up.

"We've got a body Jesse. Surf and Sand motel. It's bad"

We've got a body and a crime, though for a mystery/crime novel that is not novel, but at least this is all on the very first page. I like this technique. There are many mystery novels that begin at the crime scene. As soon as page two, we get a description of the crime scene, but it doesn't seem as bad to me as it did to whoever said: It's bad. I guess I'm just jaded when it comes to fictional crimes.

The first line fails to deliver anything of importance, but the writer quickly comes to a murder that is the stuff crime novels are made of.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Empire and Honer by W.E.B. Griffin


When the Edificio Libertador was built (1935-1938) to house the headquarters of the Argentine army, known as the “Ejercito Argentino,” the twenty-story structure was the largest building ever constructed in Argentina.

This does not sound like the beginning of a story but rather the beginning of an encyclopedia entry. This is to establish setting, but I prefer to know first the story about to unfold. Joining plot and setting together seems like a lost art these days. Why read X number of words and pages about a place only to find that once the story starts, it stinks? And that is what happens here. The first page is about this building. Page two is a history rundown about World War II. Not bad if you need to prepare for a history exam.

Chapter 1 and first thing said:

“Let me have a look please,” SS-Brigadefuhrer Ludwig Hoffmann said...

They are looking at something from the periscope of a submarine and the war is just over. Inserted back story is pumped into the opening chapter, causing the forward story line to stall and backfire as it desperately tries to take flight. 

An SS officer doing his business after the war intrigues and hooks many, but it's the prologue that once again ruins the enjoyment of opening this book.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

So, then.

Um, not giving us much to work with Hosseini, baby.

So then.
So then....
So - then.
So, then!
So - then!
So, then?

So, then there are many ways to rewrite this all important opening line, but none of them really improve upon the original. So then I'm stumped.

You want a story and I will give you one.

Okay, so then can we hurry it up? Anytime soon, within the next paragraph would be great.

But just the one.

You're losing me. I opened the book, didn't I? So then why are you being such a tease?

Don't either of you ask me for more.

I'll be happy with one if you ever get around to starting!

It's late, and we have a long day of travel ahead of us, Pari, you, and I.

Oh, I get it. So then you aren't talking to me? So then am I supposed to be reading this novel to a three-year old? For some reason, I hear Jiminy Cricket's voice saying these lines. So, then paragraph two starts with:

Once upon a time...

...I stopped reading.

So, then:

Verdict: Fail.

Rudy Globird

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall.

Thus begins a prologue. This line successfully raises a few questions, one being which fall? But as this is a mystery novel, it effectively hooks, introducing a crime and dead bodies right away. For some reason there are many mystery writers reluctant to begin with the crime a.k.a plot of their novel asap.

One of them I knew and the other I'd never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue. 

What follows is a paragraph describing the man the narrator knew.

Paragraph two begins:

Pete Wolinsky was gunned down the night of August 25 on a dark stretch of pavement just off the parking lot at the Santa Teresa Bird Refuge.

Bad news and the beginning of a mystery as we learn about the circumstances concerning the deaths of the two men.

Chapter one:

On my way back into town, I stopped at the car wash.

Chapter one's opening line is lame, but by then the reader should be hooked. This novel gets a pass based on the prologue that for once does something and is not just pretty words to introduce the reader to a university degree or an author's awkward and uncertain stumbling into a beginning with purply prose.

First thing said:
"You know him?"

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

London, 1897

The moment she saw the young man walking down the darkened hall toward her, twirling his walking stick, Finley Jayne knew she’d be unemployed before the sun rose. 

There is nothing really bad to say about this and nothing really good to say. It has story elements in it: character and the beginnings of an inciting event. But it does not interest me.

Her third dismissal in as many months.

This second sentence raises a question, like why this person is going through jobs. Perhaps she hasn't found herself yet and needs to talk to a guidance counselor.

She tensed and slowed her steps, but she did not stop. She kept her head down, but was smart enough not to take her gaze off him. Perhaps he would walk right by her, as though she were as invisible as servants were supposed to be.

Felix August-Raynes was the son of her employer. At one and twenty years of age, he was tall and lean with curly blond hair and bright blue eyes. Every woman who saw him called him an angel. Most who knew him thought him the very devil.

A scene is unfolding as characters are revealed and there is tension. Just not my kind of tension. The last sentence and particularly its ending make this a pass (barely).

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado's great resort hotels burned to the ground.

There are two ways to approach this review. Does this beginning hook those familiar with the The Shining (though they are probably hooked already), and does it hook those who have no idea what the The Shining is (assuming such a person exists)?

First, for The Shining aficionados. A little disappointing: we already know what happened in the first book. Does King really have to remind us? What follows is back story about the hotel burning, getting totally destroyed, adding, so no one will confuse Kubrick's film with what really happened:

The hotel's off-season caretaker, John Torrance, was killed during an unsuccessful (and heroic) effort to dump the boiler's steam pressure, which had mounted to disastrously high levels due to an inoperative relief valve.

Notice how King with subtle mastery notes that John did not freeze to death in the maze. So please, get that damn iconic picture of Jack Nicholson out of your brain, thank you very much. Beginning with back story (a recap of book 1) is a little surprising coming from King. There is no fresh Doctor Sleep hook in the first chapter.

Let's see what comes next.

Wendy Torrance and her son received a settlement from the corporation that owned the Overlook.

I'm not scared yet. But I am relieved Wendy and Danny got something for the hell they went through at the Overlook.

Because this is the sequel to The Shining it reeks of automatic hook. But for someone who has not read the first book and knows nothing about it, what do we have? A hotel has burned down and someone's daddy died being a hero. It raises questions, which is part of a good hook. Yes, it's good to be introduced to the Overlook right away, the uninitiated reader will be curious and ask questions like who this man was who saved the day at the expense of his own life. By the end of chapter 2, the ominous character of the Overlook begins to take form.

The novel introduces its own first hook in the third chapter (all chapters are short in the beginning which is cool and the reader navigates quickly from back story to forward story): The decaying woman from Room 217 is loitering in Danny's bathroom in Florida. If you don't know who the lady from room 217 is, you soon will. Dang, the ghosts from the Overlook are stalking the poor kid. Well, they need a home too, as there's no longer an Overlook to haunt. All this by page 5.

King continues dropping back story into his forward narrative, sprinkling tidbits along the way, on a need to know basis. He is highly skilled at inserting back story in an unobtrusive and painless way.

For those who are familiar with The Shining, this novel's immediate beginning starts with a summary and is a fail, but is salvaged quickly. For those who know nothing about The Shining it is a pass. 

Verdict: Pass (barely). 

Rudy Globird

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.

Fail. Not! This is what it is to hook. I mean, come on, how can one not read on? We have a character and a ton of questions.

Next sentence answers one of them:

Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer.

We learn that the character as a result will be enrolled in a support group, presumably to help her cope with her impending if that will help. Nevertheless, we are on the side of the protagonist. What follows is telling, but this is a first person narrative and so, well, the character telling the story is telling a good story, so forget that rigid antiquated, show, don't tell rule. That rule does not apply here. Hell, rules are for amateurs, critics and literary agents. No place for any of those fools on this blog.

The first conversation only solidifies the reader's relationship to the protagonist:

Me: "I refuse to attend Support Group."
Mom: "One of the symptoms of depression is disinterest in activities."
Me: "Please just let me watch America's Next Top Model. It's an activity."
Mom: "Television is a passivity."
Me: "Ugh, Mom, please."
Mom: "Hazel, you're a teenager. You're not a little kid anymore. You need to make friends, get out of the house, and live your life."
Me: "If you want me to be a teenager, don't send me to Support Group. Buy me a fake ID so I can go to clubs, drink vodka, and take pot."
Mom: "You don't take pot, for starters."
Me: "See, that's the kind of thing I'd know if you got me a fake ID."
Mom: "You're going to Support Group."
Mom: "Hazel, you deserve a life."

That shut me up, although I failed to see how attendance at Support Group met the definition of life. Still, I agreed to go—after negotiating the right to record the 1.5 episodes of ANTM I'd be missing.

Verdict: Cool (I want more and more) 4.5 stars

Rudy Globird

John Jones's Dollar by Harry Stephen Keeler

On the 201st day of the year 3221 A.D., the professor of history at the University of Terra seated himself in front of the Visaphone and prepared to deliver the daily lecture to his class, the members of which resided in different portions of the earth.

Thus begins the opening line from a short story by the infamous Harry Stephen Keeler, dubbed by many as the worst writer ever. However, as shocking as it may sound, this line does not live up to his reputation. I have seen worse by him, as in the racist opening line of The Riddle of the Travelling Skull. For a sci-fi story it almost does all that it needs to do: establish setting, which is important if your story takes place in a different time and/or planet. It also establishes a character. But there is no conflict, and as this is a short piece, it should get to a problem as soon as possible, as the the writer is running out of time and space as soon as the first word begins.

The instrument before which he seated himself was very like a great window sash, on account of the fact that there were three or four hundred frosted glass squares visible. In a space at the center, not occupied by any of these glass squares, was a dark oblong area and a ledge holding a piece of chalk. And above the area was a huge brass cylinder; toward this brass cylinder the professor would soon direct his subsequent remarks.
Is this the face of bad writing?

This is paragraph two. This is not good. Describing the fantasy world in minute detail before giving the reader a reason to care? Even though this story is short, I never did finish it.

The title is weird, too, in respect to the opening paragraphs and genre.

But what do you expect from a man who was insane? At least his mother thought so, as it was she who submitted him to the Loony Bin Review.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáček’s Sinfonietta—probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. 

Beginning in a car? I've seen websites saying this is a no-no. I would like to know who first said that. Does anyone know? In any case, this does not hook. It raises no questions, no character, no problem, except that someone is stuck in a traffic jam, and they are not listening to the ideal music for such a dilemma.

The middle-aged driver didn’t seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.

Now, with the rest of the first paragraph we have a character and a simile.

How many people could recognize Janáček’s Sinfonietta after hearing just the first few bars? Probably somewhere between “very few” and “almost none.” But for some reason, Aomame was one of the few who could.

Then what follows is a history lesson on the piece of music in question.

I've heard great things about this book and have picked it up twice but cannot not get past this banal opening. I promised myself though that if I'm ever at a total loose end, like stranded on a desert island and all I have is my e-reader, I will give this another try. From all reports, I won't be disappointed. I'll just skip the beginning.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

East of the Tolly Club, after Deshapran Sashmal Road splits in two, there is a small mosque.

Setting. As sweet as this sounds, it's not much more than travel agent copy cranked out for commercials. The only thing it has going for it, is that it sets the mood, but as important as that it, this sentence needs to reveal more.

A turn leads to a quiet enclave. A warren of narrow lanes and modest middle-class homes. 

Mood and setting. It really does sound like this writer used to write travel guides. What follows is weather and the general tribulation it causes for the unseen expandable masses that one assumes populate the novel. Thus, we have a description of the lowland. Some characters are introduced living the best they can, and the story transforms from a travel guide excerpt into a National Geographic documentary.

Oh, and my copy of the book has no quotation marks to separate dialogue. I find this annoying. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but it looks pretentious, like work from those limp poets who used to write "i" instead of "I". Or are they just cutting back on ink to save a few sperm whales?

So, in the final analysis, this reeks of artsy-fartsy - a vocab tease. A moody celebration of quaint imagery; a prerequisite to any prestigious book award nomination. Therefore for this literary genre and the readers who enjoy it, this opening is effective.If there's no swearing in this, it might end up in school curriculum, turning yet another future generation of young teenagers off of reading, forcing them to take refuge in computer games and TV reality shows.

What else is there to say...

Verdict: Fail. 

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Dark Lycan by Christine Feehan

Mist drifted through the trees.

The rest of the paragraph describes an almost full moon and then returns to further ominous descriptions of the mist. Mist hooks not.

Paragraph two is where it gets interesting for the wrong reasons. It begins:

Tatijana of the Dragonseekers woke beneath the earth with layers of dark, rich healing loam surrounding her.

Um, surround is a verb, no? So, pray do tell, how is loam surrounding her?  Perhaps around would be the better word? And is not woke a transitive verb that requires an object? Example: The sound woke me. Intransitive would be awoke or woke up. This author has perchance overloaded on Stephanie Myers, me thinks.

Vital nutrients, rich in minerals, cushioned her body.

How do nutrients like zinc cushion someone's body? I must admit I'm intrigued, and correct me if I'm wrong but nutrients are minerals, right?

She lay for a long time, panicked, listening to her own heart beating, feeling too light, too trapped, too exposed. And hot. So hot.

This kind of does not make a lot of sense. I fear purple prose awaits.

While there is obviously a market for this story, I admit I am not the right person to review this book, it's just not my thing. However, I'm not reviewing the book, only the opening.

In general, the scene has promise: someone or something is buried, but the writer focuses less on moving the plot forward or developing character and more on setting and flowery prose. Cutting much of that out would speed the scene up, catapulting the reader deeper into the plot and characterization without loosing interest.

And so with satisfying reluctance...

Verdict: Fail.

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 20 September 2013

Never Go Back by Lee Child

Eventually they put Reacher in a car and drove him to a motel a mile away, where the night clerk gave him a room, which had all the features Reacher expected, because he had seen such rooms a thousand times before.

What follows, in case you were wondering, is a paragraph that describes a dismal room. Could the writer have just said it was dismal? Yep, he could have, because he did. After describing dismal, he labels dismal.

But still dismal.

Cars pull up, people appear, all accumulating in the first words spoken in a novel that seems annoyed it has to start and actually entertain its reader.

"Are you Jack Reacher?"
"Who's asking?"
"We are"
"And who are you?"

Where have we heard this kind of conversation before? This conversation is so hackneyed, done to death a million times over that I wouldn't be surprised if this chat can be traced back to that ancient first conversation God had with the first human just out of the proverbial spiritual diapers.

All in all, this opening is a victim of the "series syndrome" some writers nurse, thinking that hooking a new readership with each book in a series is a waste of time. For readers of this series, I'm sure it's like slipping into an old slipper. For me, knowing nothing about anything in this series, it just smells like a wet, old slipper.

Verdict: Fail.

Theodore Moracht

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

It's early September.

Opening sentences obviously aren't important to this writer. Not the best first impression. In fact, a very bad first impression. The sacredness of the opening sentence has been violated. You only get one first line per story and this writer chooses to tell us what month it is. How could this be anything but an epic fail?

Let's explore the rest of the paragraph.

Jodi Brett is in her kitchen, making dinner. Thanks to the open plan of the condo, she has an unobstructed view through the living room to its east-facing windows and beyond to a vista of lake and sky, cast by the evening light in a uniform blue.

That was painful to retype, and several times I wondered why I'm bothering. It sounds like a 1950's detergent commercial or the voice-over of a documentary about foreign housewives. The paragraphs that follow continue on about her condo and her cooking. One can assume a layout of the condo is important to know right out of the gate because it is leading up to some awesome revelation, but if not, well, thanks for wasting some time.

I know this is a best seller, and people call it a thrilling book, because, well, it's a thriller. But the opening line, paragraph and scene are not thrilling. Anything but.

First thing said:

Some person cursing. Not worth repeating. It does not sound natural. There are too many simple sentences followed by a compound sentence with incorrect punctuation. Another graduate of the writing school of Stephanie Meyers perhaps?

Oh, and all right is spelled all right, not alright, all right? For us morons that populate the masses it doesn't matter, but a "professional" writer paid millions, should understand the mechanics of what they're doing, just like employees at McDonald's have to know the ins and outs of their job or they'll get fired. It's in the paragraph on the third page, that begins awkwardly, like how a drunk cardboard robot would talk: It came to pass on a rainy morning in spring.

That's right, it's not September anymore. So what's that first sentence about again?

Verdict: Epic Fail

Theodore Moracht.

Inferno by Dan Brown

I am the shade.

To be honest this sounds like bad poetry, over-the-top melodrama. Worst of all, there's more:

Through the dolent city, I flee.
Through the eternal woe, I take flight.

I don't know if I'd use commas, but as this is poetry, I guess anything goes. So to recap we have yet another prologue attempting to titillate the reader with a cheap thrill. It describes a person being chased through Florence presumably, one hopes, by villains bent on killing him. However, Mr. Brown, ever the tourist guide, makes sure this man running for his life takes the scenic route.

Chapter one:

The memories materialized bubbles surfacing from the darkness of a bottomless well.

Mr. Brown can't resist tapping the inner poet. Too bad for us.

A veiled woman.

Let me explain what follows since if we let Mr. Brown do it, you'd fall asleep. The main character, some guy named Robert, seems to have lost his memory and must rely on hallucinations in order to piece together the mystery that is this plot. That's right, it's all already happened. All we know is that Robert wakes up in a hospital and bad guys are chasing him. The lady doctor becomes the love red herring interest that tags along as they run for their lives. Basically, this means that the climax of the novel has already happened, and just as soon as the protagonist remembers it (or the writer figures out what it is), he'll tell the readers and then...well, the end.

I read on for about another 140 pages before I lost interest. Too much running around. I felt like I was reading a travel voucher for convicts on the lam. This formula grows weary after fifty pages, but drones on in this book. If the byline on this was of some unknown schmuck like me, it would fail miserably. I suppose I was hoping this would have something of the Umberto Eco to it, but alas...

The biggest crime is associating Dante with this jogging/tourist excursion thriller.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

On a warm night in July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time.

Why not rewrite the weather out of this. It reeks of: It was a dark and stormy night when... the only interesting thing about this line is the name of something called the Interestings, which is unusual, and the phrase long-evaporated year. I read on.

They were only fifteen, sixteen, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony. Julie Jacobson, an outsider and possibly a freak, had been invited in for obscure reasons....

This is what can be termed a cheap hook: possibly a freak...obscure reasons.... a clothes pin rather than an effective, deadly, metal fishing hook. And this might work for some people who like mysterious wording without any real mystery.

The first paragraph is long, as is the second, and rightfully so, as they are filled with the usual cliche teenage angst, flowering with obligatory self-doubt and self-deprecation that I have paid thousands of dollars in therapy to forget. What follows is more dense paragraphing, filled with back story dumps that are interspersed with curse words to provide a realistic sense of the teenage world.

First thing said:

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Zero Hour by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown

Thunder shook the unlit cavern as an immense, blue-white spark jumped between a pair of towering, metal columns.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? It's a little misleading though, because it's not happening to somebody and we don't know if it's happening because of someone. It is just something that is happening.

I could do the same thing for a pot of boiling water:

The metal pot rumbled with the scorching bubbles exploding inside, causing the lid to tremble as billowing sweltering wisps of vapor soared up into the unlit kitchen.

Anyway, what follows is a description of an event involving plasma and flames. Fortunately, this is not a description of the Big Bang, there are characters witnessing this event that by the end of the prologue, we learn, is what caused the San Francisco earthquake. Yeah, it's 1906. Everyone in the prologue is killed.

I'm intrigued despite my love of Thomas Hardy, but because it's a prologue, I know chapter 1 will not continue where the prologue left off; it will begin with different people, in a different time period, on a different part of the planet, and with a different problem. So before I even finish the prologue, I'm sad. Talk about yanking an unfinished meal off the table.

Chapter One:

December 2009

In the midst of a growing tempest, Patrick Devlin stood on the aft deck of the Java Dawn, an oceangoing tug linked by a single massive cable to the rusting hulk of a cruise ship known as the Pacific Voyager.

The novel begins with a character in a storm. How can this interest anyone? Weather sucks, yes, so deal with it and move on. At least it introduces someone and it raises two questions: What happened to the rusting cruise ship that it needed to be hauled? How the hell is this related to an earthquake from a 100 years ago? I could see this hooking many people, especially Cussler fans. Not me, though.

First thing said:
"Is that it?"


Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

They said I must die.

Pronouns at the beginning of a story is a Mr. No-No, but I sense this is referring to the proverbial "they" so Hannah is forgiven, because this first sentence is hookoholic.

They said I stole the breath of man, and now they must steal mine.

Damn, is that a tear in my eye? There are some questions here: What is she accused of? Who are they? Is she stealing the breath of man, as in mankind? How are they stealing her breath? If readers finds themselves wondering, it means they're hooked.

Chapter one begins with a public notice informing the public that there will be an auction selling everything from the hay to the horse. Short and tolerable.

Then comes a letter that begins thus:

Thank you for your worthy letter from the 14th, where you wished to be informed of how we attended to the burial of Petur Jonsson from Geitaskard, who is said to have been murdered and burned on the night between the 13th and 14th of this month, with Natan Ketilsson.

From the names we may surmise a Scandinavian setting, always cool, and a murder. That should keep the pages turning until the reader cares about the characters.

First thing said:

"There's a messenger from Hvammur outside, Toti."

Verdict: Cool (I want more)

Theodore Moracht

Out of the Black Land by Kerry Greenwood

In the name of Ptah, in the name of his consort Mut after whom I was called and his son Khons who is the moon and time, in the hope that my heart will weigh heavily against the feather and I may live and die in Maat which is truth, I declare that my name is Mutnodjme and my sister is the most beautiful woman in the world.

So basically all this to say: My name's Mut something and my sister's hot. (I'm paraphrasing, mind you.) Talk about making a municipal dump site out of a cigarette butt. All that - 68 words - to say, hi.

The next paragraph rambles on about some life story. Why should anyone care though? Who is this person? The MC? Do we really need the info on his birth certificate so soon, before the story begins?

Paragraph three: A police description of Mut something. With lots of foreign words, the attention miser's eyes start to glaze over, and s/he starts thinking of doing something else, anything else to stop reading this book.

First thing said:

Egypt is called the Black Land, because of the rich soil deposited by the river.”

Is my grade 11 history teacher in this book? If not, this was most likely written for grade 11 history teachers.

Chapter Two shows promise:

It is a serious business, marrying a Pharaoh.

Unfortunately, I never got that far.

Verdict: Fail.

Rudy Globird

Touch and Go by Lisa Gardner

Here is something I learned when I was eleven years old: Pain has a flavor. 

Hooking isn't hard. Opening with a conflict, or an unusual character; a situation that intrigues or with a puzzling statement, like the above. Pain has a flavor. Hmm, does this character suffer from synesthesia? In any case, this line has hooked my attention. A good first line. Too bad about the second one:

The question is, what does it taste like to you?

Now the writer is unhooking me. Oh, why not go ahead and break the fourth wall. She doesn't even bother to be polite and ask: Excuse me, may I ask you a question? I hate it when a writer tries to pull me into their story, especially if the story sucks. And what if the reader does not have that weird condition called synesthesia? Or is this a rhetorical question? Is the writer collecting answers on her website?

Next sentence, new paragraph.

Tonight my pain tasted like oranges.

Kinky. I want to laugh, but I need to go to the washroom. The rest of the page and chapter talk about food, a restaurant, a date and some back story about money and plumbing. Or something like that. I don't care anymore.

First thing said:

"Gonna eat?"

Verdict: Pass (barely - on the weight of that first sentence)

Rudy Globird

A Sunless Sea by Anne Perry

The sun was rising slowly, splashing red light across the river.

What else needs to be said? What else can be said? Great opening line. Filled with conflict, tension, pathos, drama, horror, love, character, and of course setting. It makes you tremble, it makes you want to read on. It wastes no time, and tells the reader that this is going to be one of those books you won't put down, one that you may never put down; a book you'll carry onto death, insisting on being buried with it, to spend the rest of eternity immersed in the sweet suffering of that opening sentence echoing in your soul for all eternity.

The rest of the paragraph describes rowing a boat on the Thames in 1864. Oh, and there's a comparison made between the red light of the rising sun and blood or wine - foreshadowing via simile. 

I was at a loose end or would have stopped reading, and then - a miracle: a hook that begins the fourth paragraph; yes, we have a hook:

The scream came again, shrill with terror, and suddenly a figure appeared, black against the shadowy outline of the sheds and warehouses on the embankment.

If only the book started with that line and then followed with back story and plugging previous books in the series. It wouldn't be too hard with the copy and paste feature on most word programs. But some writers who write series get lazy, relying on previous work and previously hooked fans. It's shameful, and there is no excuse. I suppose it makes it hard for these types of books to succeed on this blog, but thems the breaks. One of our rules of reviewing a novel that's part of a series is that we cannot have read previous books of that series, or we may be falsely hooked going into the review and be biased. Each book and each opening must stand on its own.

The only thing that saves this opening from being honored with an Epic Fail is that first line of paragraph four. But, by God, if anything deserves an Epic Fail medal, it is the first line of A Sunless Sea.

First thing said:

"What is it?"

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore

This is a story about the color blue. It may dodge and weave, hide and deceive, take you down paths of love and history and inspiration, but it's always about blue.

This is the beginning of a prelude. It goes on - briefly, thank god - to explain subjectivity: one man's blue is not necessarily another man's blue, though navy blue is always navy blue and baby blue is always...

It ends:

Blue, she is like a woman.

Smurfette? Or in French La Schtroumpfette, as the title of this book is in French. Anyway, more words crawling out of the sludge of a primordal plot, destinied to be elimanted by the process of natrually short attention spans. Fortunately, this ode to blue is only a page, well worth skipping, if you have the time.

Chapter One

On the day he was to be murdered, Vincent Van Gogh encountered a Gypsy on the cobbles outside the inn where he'd just eaten lunch.

Wait a second, Van Gogh was murdered? I checked online, and learned there is some doubt in regards to his suicide. Nevertheless, this opening line works for a couple reasons: it warns of future nastiness, and conflict and introduces some characters, one of which we already know is nuts. It wastes no time.

The first thing said is the second paragraph. 

"Big hat."

It's nice when characters start talking so soon in a book, because, let's face it, we're all nosy biddies (yes, you guys too; biddy is a neuter(ed) word now) and love to listen in on other people, and who doesn't want to listen in on Van Gogh the day he died?

The rest of the chapter also has dialogue galore.

Verdict: Cool (I want more)

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Requiem by Frances Itani

Black outside.

Okay. It's night.

A solid blur of black.

Okay, it's really night.

A wall of mountain behind.

Lost me. Behind what? Black? How can anything be behind black? This makes no sense; could it be because: It's. A. Sentence. Fragment?

A man moving about out there would instinctively raise his hands to push his way through the dark.

That's subjunctive mood, which means there isn't actually a man out there, so what does it matter? Thus ends the first paragraph of yet another inexplicable prologue. I think I'm beginning to understand what Elmore meant, rest his soul. These prologues which come crashing in from outer space should be illegal, unless it actually tells a story. More often than not they are the result of an overly introspective writer, high on vocabulary or...well, high on something.

Next sentence:
Inside, lumps and shadows cast by the kerosene lamp. 

How does a lamp cast a lump? Oh, wait a second, I get it, this is poetry, isn't it?

First dialogue:

"Hiroshi. You are number-one son, born in the year of the monkey. You are a strong boy and you will grow up to be a strong man. Because of your fate, you will be skilled at whatever you choose to do."

Thank-you, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Chapter One:

The call from my sister, Kay, comes in the evening.

When we use a definite article (the) it means that both speaker (writer) and listener (reader) know what the hell the noun is referring to. The call. What is "the call"? I guess it depends; if you are an actor or waiting for someone to die so you can get your grubby little hands on their cash. I don't see why it's important to say evening. I suppose I will have to read on to see if it matters that it was evening. But I'm losing interest.

Second call in a week.

Implying impatience? Tension? Because calling someone twice is obsessive and must mean conflict.

Next line, new paragraph:

"He isn't dying, Bin."

First paragraph has been salvaged. Still, why begin with superfluous info that doesn't contribute to conflict or character. Unless it's to say: Hey, look, this is getting better with every sentence, isn't it? Aren't you lucky to be reading this! Some people think they need to set up a story before they tell it, or set up context before they tell a story instead of trusting the reader is smart enough to figure things out as the story is being told. This is just a very small example: Leave what will actually interest the reader for later. But a writer is taking a giant leap of faith assuming the reader will remain. Fortunately for this book, it gets to the point sooner than later.

Oh, and mesmerizing the reader with vague wording neatly folded away in a prologue is not hooking anyone but pedantic virgins, easily turned on by a clever syllable. Um, whatever that means.

I give this a pass (barely), because of Chapter One where the story should actually start, a first chapter which works for the most part, but it would have scored higher if it weren't for the pretentious prologue that begins like stuck-up words climbing out of the sludge of a primordial plot.

[EDIT: I've changed my mind. This is a fail. See comment above regarding prologue]

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

The Homecoming by Carsten Stroud

There was this Chinese Lear, first in line at Mauldar Field, locked and loaded, an arrow in a full-drawn bow, jets spooled up, brakes smoking, flaps flapping - the tower phone starts to shrill - a loud metallic howl - John Parkhurst, the tower boss, snatches it up, and what he gets - he told the cops later - is this shrieking raging rant from this loudmouthed -

Whoa, what drug does the reader need to be on to digest all this; can you guess, kiddies? That is the first line and first paragraph. I have no idea what is happening, who it is happening to, where it is happening, if it is happening or why I should even care if it's happening or not. Talk about overload; talk about jamming a whole McChicken - McFeathers and all - down a guy's throat when all he wanted was a McNugget. It's like a gory car crash with 67 victims strewn all over the highway and, damn it, I can't stop staring. I admit defeat, I've been manipulated; I read on.

Anyway, this should appeal to any typical brainwashed, pathetic, 21-century creature with little attention span. It kind of feels like a TV channel flipping session while waiting for an ex-girlfriend to show up at your door begging for a second chance, promising she'll do anything this time around. Yeah, I'll turn that page.

First line of paragraph two:

Okay, to help this make sense, Parkhurst is a part-time Pentecostal minster...

Nope, that doesn't clear things up. So I must keep reading, I just can't let this kind of confusion rot in my brain.

First thing actually said by a verifiable character:

"Hey, dudes."

Right... I keep reading, but now I'm wondering: Are all the characters going to sound like stupid teenagers trying to sound like stupid, inebriated adults?

Verdict: Cool (I want more - I may regret it later, though )

Theodore Moracht

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm...Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly.

Thus begins a pre-prologue, I think. Not bad, despite being a small group of words loitering at the beginning of the book. I'm now interested in Lettie; she reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes type that dreams the world into dramatic irrelevance. I'm hooked.


I wore a black suit and a white shirt, a black tie and black shoes, all polished and shiny: clothes that normally would make me feel uncomfortable, as if I were in a stolen uniform, or pretending to be an adult.

Huh? Ah, I wanted more about Lettie. Now it's a wardrobe review? What is this book about, a Gap hoedown? Anyway, to recap: We learn that this character usually isn't a sharp dresser and is under the legal age. Conflict? Yes, kids hate dressing up like Dad, but not really revealing. I've wiggled free of previous hook.

Paragraph ends:

I was wearing the right clothes for a hard day.

Oh, now it makes sense. Award-winning Writing Rule 8, sub-section 3.4, paragraph 5.872 states: Never let your character go out to face story-worthy problems until the reader knows that said character is properly dressed for the occasion. It always bothers me when I read about a character caught in a snow storm, but am never told what they're wearing, if anything all all. Therefore, I'm forced to assume they're naked. But in this book, I now know they are dressed and that this isn't a Hair rip-off.

Finally, after a couple false starts, we get to Chapter One, which, you know, is traditionally where the story of a book is supposed to begin, or is it? Can stories actually begin not at the beginning? As impossible as that sounds, many writers reviewed here are trying - and failing.

Nobody came to my seventh birthday party.

I had a kid in my grade 8 writing class who started a story just like that. It was neat that time; he got an A-. But reading it again in a published book, by a successful author, gives Mr. Gaiman a C. And I don't mean the vitamin or the influence.

First thing said:

"Mrs. Hempstock?"

Verdict: Fail.

Rudy Globird

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies.

Uh-oh, a simile means description. The reader wonders what the buzz is about so reads the next sentence. Mind you, we're reading yet another prologue.

Photographers stood massed behind barriers patrolled by police, their long-snouted cameras poised, their breath rising like steam. Snow fell steadily on to the hats and shoulders...

Weather. Finally. I was wondering what it was like outside. Anyway, to make a long story short, after more painfully drawn out paragraphs, we learn that a girl has been murdered. Or at least that's what you'd learn if you managed to endure the first two pages. Why not start by saying a girl was murdered right from the get-go? I don't know; go ask Robert. It's almost like the writer didn't want to tell us, but finally relented after intense pressure from his editor. Maybe he was threatened with a lawsuit if he didn't get to the point.

First verifiable character to say something?

"Where's the bloody ambulance?"

Yep. That's how cops talk when they're standing over the bloodied dead body of a poor, innocent murder victim. Though, can we say anyone is ever truly innocent these days?

The only good thing about the prologue is it's short. That's right, a good prologue is a short prologue.

Chapter One:

Though Robin Ellacott's twenty-five years of life had seen their moments of drama and incident, she had never before woken up in the certain knowledge that she would remember the coming day for as long as she lived.

So...will she remember the coming day or not? Does this mean she never has and may never or never has and may today? And what are these other moments of drama and incident? No, forget I asked. I hope we aren't going to get a ten-page back story dump explaining it all. Again, Mr. Writer is holding back, he's teasing us, or he just doesn't want to say what's up, and would rather draw it out, slowly, as if he's paid a 100 bucks a word and 200 bucks for each stunning example of punctuation.

Flipping through the next couple pages reveals massively huge, overweight paragraphs, all in danger of going into cardiac arrest. Never a good sign. Knowing that this was written by the notorious J. K. Rowling forced me to read on, the schmuck that I am, but by page 157, I stopped being a schmuck.

The only hook in this book is the name of the revealed author.

Verdict: Fail.

Rudy Globird

The 34th Degree by Thomas Greanias

It was on the Feast of the Ascension, forty days after Easter 1943, when an agent of the British Secret Service turned up at the doorstep of the Monastery of the Taborian Light and Philip knew his life as a monk was over.

Well, this sentence seems to have it all, offering exotic locales, troubling times, secret agents, and a monk who is going to experience big change, setting said story in motion. All in all, a nice little recipe for conflict. It is 1943, so one can expect that whole war ugliness to come into play (I peeked a look at the cover and the swastika kind of confirms it). However, the sentence does feel a little overloaded with information, though good information, that triggers the story by actually getting down to telling it. Imagine that.

Key words in the first chapter: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Nazis, impregnable, humility, and ambition. Quite the mix. The writing is stylish, yet not pretentious. And the first chapter is only two pages, making for easy consumption. Except for a lull in paragraphs 3-5 with some expository and descriptive stuff, the story pushes forward with precise nouns and strong verbs (always appreciated by us attention misers).

The first chapter ends with the monk asking the agent what he wants. Answer:

"The Maranatha text...the one the apostle Paul wrote...the one that dates the end of history and the return of Christ."

The Nazis want this text, too.

Verdict: Cool (I want more)

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Burning Soul by John Connolly

Gray sea, gray sky, but fire in the woods and trees aflame.

There are a couple things wrong with this sentence and one thing right about it. Let's analyze, shall we? Gray sky is dangerously bordering on opening a book with the weather. Google "Should I begin my epic award-winning novel with the weather?" and you will get laughed at. But this sentence is not quite about the weather, just enough not about the weather to make you wish it were. What else is wrong: gray sea and woods on fire? Um, wait a second, where is this happening, on a beach with a forest or in a forest on a beach? Or perhaps the setting encompasses an entire state? 

Yet it embraces conflict of a sort.

The first paragraph is a whooping nine sentences, compound and complex sentences galore. It's long, almost the whole first page. 

Random sentence from first paragraph:

There was mortality in the air, borne on the first hint of winter breezes, the threatening chill of them, and the animals prepared for the coming snows.

What a horrible sentence. Why not: Mortality was (or lingered, hung etc.) in the air. Nevertheless, it sounds cool. But the rest of this sentence sounds like it was written by someone who was paying as  much attention to writing that line as I am to writing this review: while watching the hockey game, cooking dinner and cutting my toenails.  ...the threatening chill of them... Um, of what? Breezes are made up of threatening chills? Are the animals being threatened? This is where the sentence falls flat on its face. What is this sentence, some kind of weird hybrid of vague ideas (mortality, winter breezes, threatening chills, animal preparation) joined together with cunning punctuation?

Anyway, the first paragraph is all about the wildlife and the tribulations and joys they suffer with the onslaught (my word) of winter. So, the point is, even though the first sentence does not explicitly talk about the weather, the first paragraph does. Only The Call of the Wild is allowed to do that.

I'm exaggerating a ton, but that first paragraph does sound like the beginning of an episode of The Nature of Things.

First thing said:

"Anna! Anna! Anna!"

According to Elmore Leonard, this writer has used up all his exclamation marks for the rest of his book.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Bombshell by Catherine Coulter

She'd drunk way too much.

Great, a book that begins with a pronoun. Is this a narrative nudge-nudge, wink-wink tactic used to hint that most of this book will be intentionally vague?

Moving right along. Next sentence:

She was an idiot.

Cool. Now, we have a writer who thinks her opening character (possibly a major character) is an idiot. No wonder there is no name. Or am I supposed to infer that that is what the character thinks of herself? Damn it, I hate having to infer, it feels like I'm reading this for high school or something. Personally, if I thought my character was an idiot, I'd use "she" too. Wink-wink.

The question I ask myself (and this is not a question that has anything to do with anything like plot or characterization) is: Do I really want to read about an alcoholic idiot? Sorry, I meant about a character overflowing with tragic flaw syndrome.

Or perhaps this is foreshadowing: Reader, this character is so dumb that many bad things will happen because she is dumb. Yes, great conflicts lie in store for the unsuspecting reader, but not to worry, Gifted Reader, you will feel sorry for above mentioned idiot - partly because she is an idiot, but mostly because she is a likable idiot.

The second paragraph is one sentence:

She was very sure at that moment she didn't want to know.

Yep, that sounds like an idiot.

No dialogue in chapter One. Tell, tell...tell....snoozing.

First thing said:

"Rich, thick and dangerous."

No, it does not mean what you think it means - which is kind of disappointing.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship.

Oh, this reminds one of how Charles Dickens began a novel or two. This sweet and short three-sentence paragraph ends better than it began.

The Golem's master...had smuggled her aboard in a crate and hidden her among the luggage.

This is a little confusing. How could life began in the steamship when the Golem has just been smuggled onto the steamship? Shouldn't life have begun for Golem while being smuggled onto the steamship? Damn it, does this mean I've been hooked and must read on? 

Anyway, what follows is some expository stuff about some furniture maker's son, not particularly fascinating or gripping, though who knows, once I care who these people are, I might want to flip back to the beginning and re-acquaint myself with some life history. Not.

The fourth paragraph begins with something that got my attention, akin to how someone else's cell phone ringing would.

The wife was the larger problem.

Now I'm asking a real question: is she fat? and I want to read on for a bit more because I like Al Bundy type fat jokes. Unfortunately, what follows is some more expository stuff. 

Further in the paragraph:

Women were disinclined to be alone with him.

Personally, I'd be disinclined to use that word: disinclined.

By page two we get to some dialogue. The first thing actually said in this book with a cool cover?

"Are you Schaalman?"

Fortunately, there is no answer.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell

Titian, Rubens, and Van Dyke, it is said, always practiced their art in  full dress.

This line, though informative for history buffs, offers no clue in regards to this novel's plot, character, or even setting. It does not excite nor induce curiosity and fails to entice the reader to read on, unless they're eager for a history lesson. But isn't this a thriller? Nope. It's a historical thriller. So there. If a reader who happens to find history boring, happened upon this book, they'd groan or grunt. 

Wait a minute. Titian, Rubens, and Van Dyke are artists. Could it be that Mr. Writer is creating a clever parallel between these artists and (we hope) a character who approaches murder as an art form? This hypothesis came to me after rereading the title. Nevertheless, the first paragraph continues with an explanation of what full dress means. In case you're wondering and don't want to buy the book, it means taking a bath, dressing in fine clothes, donning best wigs and hooking up with a cool diamond-hilted sword. 

However, in conjunction with the first line of the second paragraph this beginning takes a turn for the better.

The artist of death had similarly prepared himself.

This first line of the second paragraph makes plodding through the first paragraph somewhat worth the effort. Now, we have something. The opening paragraph is salvaged, and instead of the sword, we learn at the end of paragraph two that our opening character carries a razor.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

Last night I had the dream again.

Thus begins a prologue, though it is not identified as such.
The line that follows:

Except it was not a dream.

Um, okay, so what is the first line about then? Juxtaposition?

Chapter one "proper" entitled Uncreated Night begins with the line:
The rows of faces.

What a way to begin - with a fragment. Why Mr. Writer needs a full stop after faces, is beyond the confines of reason...or is it? Anyway,  is there conflict? No. What about characterization? No. Setting? No. Plugging a Pink Floyd video? Hmm. So what does he do next? Why, he gives us another fragment.

Younger and younger each term. 

What is younger? The rows? The faces? Ah, no, seriously, I understand; it's all starting to make sense. No sense in reading further, though I did read another page before stopping. There's a lecture about Milton's Paradise Lost. I laughed out loud when the poor suffering professor melodramatically tightens his hold on his daughter's imagined hand, a hackneyed attempt to solicit sympathy. But it's too soon for any reader to turn on the waterworks. Come on, how can any reader feel sorry for this as yet one-dimensional stranger? He comes off as a pathetic, self-centered introvert. I wanted to slap him. 

I try to be fair, but enough of me; I'm not a laptop tickler.

Verdict: Epic Fail

Theodore Moracht