Thursday, 31 October 2013

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw.

It took me a second to figure out what the hell this sentence means. I think I got it: Hope should be the color of the sun because like the sun, they rarely saw any hope. Yellow is also the color of corny. This sentence paints a rather simplistically childish picture of bleakness, suitable for the opening of a horror episode of Sesame Street. It also suggests confinement, though I might be inferring too much.

Despite the critical analysis, in the end, it is exposition. Perhaps that's all life really is - exposition. Although it indicates conflict, the opening line doesn't state directly or even hint inadvertently what that conflict might be. Talk about obstinate plotting techniques.

After that prologue we have chapter one:

Truly, when I was very young, way back in the Fifties, I believed all of life would be like one long and perfect summer day.

The writer is stalling now, dragging it out by beginning with an adverb. One wonders how much longer we have to listen to the narrator brooding nostalgically before we get to a story worthy problem. It's bland and a shame to waste any more time writing this review.

I know the premise behind this book and the idea intrigues. I saw the movie as a kid and never looked at my mother the same way again - that's right, you can't trust anyone, not even your own mother. However, I've picked this book up on three different occasions and can never get past chapter two. The narrator is just too self-absorbed to be interesting. I want to knuckle slap him or her or whatever it is that's telling this story. After all, I'm just a reader, not the narrator's bloody psychotherapist.

First thing said:

"Take off your boots in the foyer."

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Selected Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

In honor of H.P. Lovecraft and it being Halloween and all, I thought I would review the opening sentences of several of his stories. As it's been a while since I've read any of his work, I wasn't sure what to expect. His writing style is unique though considered by many to be overly verbose and in some weird way, unnatural, at least by today's standards. However, no one can deny the man's imagination and ability to print fear. I was surprised by how well he begins his stories, always a sign, in my book, of a great writer.

The Outsiders
Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness.

This hooks on an emotional level. There is a sense of foreboding and hopelessness attached to this sentence. It is disturbing on another level as well - that of a troubled childhood, a childhood filled with fear. The look of fear on a child's face is without a doubt one of the more troubling images out there.

Yet it's far from being his best; it lacks a concrete problem.

Verdict: Pass (3 stars)

Pickman's Model
You needn't think I'm crazy, Eliot - plenty of others have queerer prejudices than this.

This line raises a question or two. It introduces a character and it suggests conflict, as if the narrator and Eliot are having an argument. And what is this queer prejudice?

It's a nice lead in but not really a hook that forces the reader to read on.

Verdict: Pass (barely 2.5 stars)

The Silver Key
When Randolph Carter was thirty he lost the key of the gate of dreams.

This hooks as it raises a question: there is a key to the gate of dreams? There is a gate of dreams? It suggests any number of pleasant or unpleasant possibilities. Is the gate open or locked? What nightmares could come gushing forth, or what is being held back?

As well, losing something in the opening line offers conflict.

Verdict: Cool (4 stars)

The Rats in the Walls
On July 16, 1923, I moved into Exham Priory after the last workman had finished his labors.

This offers nothing, no foreboding or scary image, no conflict, no disturbing idea or thought. Just the date and a place. Beginning with the date is just a mathematical way of saying: Once upon a time...

Verdict: Fail (2 stars)

The Music of Erich Zann
I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never  again found the Rue d'Auseil.

A missing street that's seemingly vanished into thin air hooks. It suggests another worldly realm, in a Twilight Zone sort of way. We've all had those, I could have sworn... moments.

Verdict: Cool (4 stars)

The Call of Cthulhu
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.

This is a frightening thought and one of the reasons why H.P. Lovecraft is so well-loved. He manages to scare intellectually with ideas rather than with violence, blood, or creepy imagery alone. Not understanding is scary, and Lovecraft makes it a personal revelation, something the reader is forced to identify with.

Verdict: Cool (4 stars)

The Haunter of the Dark
Cautious investigators will hesitate to challenge the common belief that Robert Blake was killed by lightning, or by some profound nervous shock derived from an electrical discharge.

A little mystery that hooks in its own quaint little way. It introduces a problem that we assume will resolve by the end: How did this man die? But there are just a couple adjectives too many in this sentence for me to stomach. Adjectives are like salt and give my brain indigestion.

Verdict: Pass (3 stars)

The Dunwich Horror
When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of the Aylesbury pike just beyond Dean's Corners he comes upon a lonely and curious country.

The only part of this sentence that hooks is the end: lonely and curious, but it really isn't enough. It would be better if a hint of what is curious was mentioned rather than telling the reader in general terms, which is boring.

Verdict: Fail (2 stars)

The Thing on the the Doorstep
It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer.

It is not really the fact that the narrator has shot his best friend six times in the head that hooks, it is the fact that he shot his best friend six times in the head and insists he did not murder him that hooks. It seems like a paradox of sorts and raises lots of questions. By far this is the best opening line from those I've picked to review.

Verdict: Coolest  (4.5-stars)

Happy Halloween  -  have fun being scared.

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman


Hobbled by a flat tire, Ashlynn's fire-orange Mustang convertible limped to a stop on the main street of the abandoned farm town.

What a weird sentence. Hobbled is the past participle form of the verb which in this case indicates passive voice, not wrong, mind you, just not really right either. Can a person be hobbled by something? Hey, Dad, Tommy hobbled me again!

You need to think it out for a second. (I took less than that though). Hobble and limp are synonyms so I suppose we should be lucky he didn't write: Limped by a flat tire, because then the problem becomes obvious.

The personification is funny, too. A car limping onto the main street of a farm town. I have an image of a cartoon, something like Susie the Car, though she's blue.

I've never heard a rural town called a farm town. It makes me think of a town with a series of farms on the main street. Having been once rural myself, I have heard the term farming town. I assume farm town is some local expression, though when I google "farm town", I only get a plethora of computer games.

The next paragraph describes said farm town. You don't need to read it if you have imagination enough to imagine what a ruined ghost town would look like. In fact, it's better if you don't read the description, since you'll understand the scene better by not reading it. It's almost midnight, and the protagonist (it's that person's POV) is able to see little details like dirty shards of glass in the gravel. No matter how bright the moon is, moonlight doesn't shine as brightly as the sun at high noon. Even at high noon, who would notice dirty glass in gravel? This isn't the only example of descriptive incongruities in this so far (and I hate to contradict Lisa Gardner's plug at the back of the book, but...) very non-gripping and non-moving thriller. Though, so far it is shocking - for a grammatician, which me ain't.

Chapter one:

Christopher Hawk drove west on Highway 7 into the emptiness of rural Minnesota, leaving civilization behind him with each mile away from the city.

Christopher Hawk? What a name. It's only slightly better than Steve Stifler or Tugg Speedman and slightly worse than Buck Rogers.

Then there is the second part of this sentence: ...leaving civilization behind him with each mile away from the city. The author is abusing the usage of "away", an adverb which means: from this or that place, or in or to another place or direction, or toward another direction, and it modifies a verb. The problem is there is no verb "away" can modify in the above clause. So it sounds like each mile is away from the city? You can be a mile away from the city but each mile can not really be away from the city. Well, technically they can be away: This mile is away from the city. I hope that doesn't make sense to you. It should be: ...with each mile Hawk drives away from the city.

I'd just delete the delinquent, offending word "away".  In any case, the phrase is awkward, and the sentences don't get better with practice, as shown in the next one:

Staring at the horizon between his windshield wipers, he could have sworn the world was flat, and he hoped there was a sign ahead to warn him before he sped off the edge of the earth.

...horizon between his windshield speaking figuratively or literally? Take your pick. It sounds like the horizon is literally between the wipers, but that's not possible. It must be speaking figuratively; though, in a sense if you wrote the sentence with clarity, the horizon is between the wipers, though off in the distance from them. The sentence is written in two-dimensional terms when it needs to be in three-dimensional terms, so to speak. So this sentence is not quite literal and not quite figurative. What is it then? Figurlitlively?

And unless he's hallucinating, why would Hawk hope there is a sign up ahead warning him about the edge of the earth? Or is this supposed to be a joke?

By paragraph two the writer succumbs to his skill level as a writer and describes the weather with expressions like bumpy clouds and swollen ditches. How does a ditch get swollen, that is, bigger than it was, when in fact, the water is overflowing or swelling out of it? When a pot overflows, we don't say the pot is swollen.

Of course throughout these openings we have no conflict (except for a limping car) and little characterization (except for a cross-eyed dweeb with no depth perception). Tone? Uh-uh, unless you want to count the horrible attempts at figurative gymnastic attempts at bad poetic poetry, which I literally mean figuratively.

First thing said:


Verdict: Epic Fail

Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn

"Heard you drove another one off a cliff."

Which is wrong; the car was blown up, as we learn on the next page. The next sentences are as follows:

He spat a thin brown stream of chewing tobacco into an empty paint can, or maybe not that empty. Yellow paint, the yellow of egg yolks, now with a brown swirl in the middle: there's all kinds of beauty in life.

A weird image and rather gross, followed by a strange conclusion on the reasoning of life. Brown spit in a yellow paint can is not where I'd go looking for beauty. A person would have to be on some pretty powerful meds to go along with that one. Christopher would have freaked out reading this. Nevertheless, tone is established, though off the top of my head, it sounds like the beginning of a macho western, which, if the cover and blurb are any indication, is as it should be.

This gets 2.5 stars for the opening line and paragraph that establishes tone and  mood. It does attract attention, but the opening line is not an honest hook as it ends up being just two people gabbing on about false rumor. In other words the hook is in the telling of what the story is not. It's all set up, and I don't like being set up.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 28 October 2013

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz


I have often reflected upon the strange series of circumstances that led me to my long association with one of the most singular and remarkable figures of my age.

So begins Watson, introducing none other than Sherlock Holmes - a name that hooks just about anyone interested in a good mystery. The question is, is Sherlock Holmes safe in the hands of any writer other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Many have tried, in fact there seems to be an endless legion of writers writing Sherlock Holmes' stories. I have not been much interested in them, but if anyone is qualified to write a Sherlock Holmes' story, it is Mr. Horowitz. I thoroughly enjoy watching his adaptations of Poirot with David Suchet.

Plus, this beginning arouses some curiosity: What are these strange circumstances?

First thing said:

"Influenza is unpleasant," Sherlock Holmes remarked, "but you are right in thinking that, with your wife's help, the child will recover soon."

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A Dark Anatomy by Robin Blake

According to the case notes, and checked against my private journal, it was on Tuesday the 18th of March, 1740, that a succession of disturbing events ran their course through the life of our tidy Palatinate town of Preston.

This is old school, classic exposition. No inciting incident or conflict, no distinguishable character - just the promise of a story that I kind of expected anyway as it is, after all, a book that I picked up. I assumed there would be a succession of events and don't really need to be told there will be a succession of events.

However, as I said, this is an example of classic exposition and a relatively harmless way of easing into the story and problem which comes quickly with the second sentence.

That was the day on which, three hours after dawn, Dolores, wife to Squire Ramilles Brockletower of Garlick Hall, was found lying in the forest in her riding clothes, beneath an ancient oak tree.

We assume dead, but that is not immediately made known until the next page. In any case, not much time is wasted before the story begins to unfold. As well, old school intros are quaint.

First thing said:

"Well, Jonah. What's the matter?"

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Night Watch by Linda Fairstein


Melodrama. One word sentences offer little except the melodramatic and are highly sought after and showcased in prepubescent poetry.

Human bones the length of a man's thigh. I stopped short at the sight of more than a dozen of them stacked like a cord of firewood just steps in front of me.

A cord of firewood is not equal to a dozen bones. An image is created in the reader's mind of stacks of bones, four feet high by four feet deep by eight feet long, when in fact there are only a dozen, so the writer successfully plants a mixed image, confusing the reader, exaggerating the scene to hook falsely. Other than that, a problem is successfully introduced. Finding bones means there is a mystery.

First thing said:

"It's some kind of sick joke..."

Let's hope not or where will this story go?

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Cold Wind by C.J. Box

He set out after breakfast on what would be his last day on earth.

Not bad, but it begins with an empty pronoun. Who is he? Why should I care? Thousands of people are experiencing the last day of their lives every day, so what makes this one special? I read on to find out who "he" is but the writer won't bloody well tell me! It's like a symphony of pronouns. What's worse this beginning is a little too long winded for my taste.

He was an old man...
...he honestly entertained...he would never break down...
He'd recently taken to riding a horse...
He rode a leggy black Tennessee walker...
He owned the sandy and chalky soil...
He owned the water...
...he was a man who'd always owned big things...

No context. Pronouns will do that every time. The pronoun motif goes on and on; after all, it is an easy word to spell. Of course one could argue, that at this stage it doesn't matter who this person is - just another murder victim, another statistic.

First thing said:

"Oh, come on."

Nevertheless the opening line does hook in its own little way. We keep reading, hoping this he-man will bite the bullet, and we aren't disappointed. Chapter one ends with the Man With No Name getting shot, destroying his iPod in the process. But by this point, I'm not interested. Just the beginning of another mystery which fails to stand out.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Fifth Grave past the Light by Darynda Jones

The dead guy at the end of the bar kept trying to buy me a drink.

Knowing nothing about this novel or the apparent series, I must say this line hooks. It's weird and funny. It establishes tone, as does the sentences that follow. However, reading on and once familiar with the premise behind the series, it starts to impress less, as being dead, it seems, is the new alive. It reminds me of Beetlejuice - not that there's anything wrong with that.

First thing said:

"C-come here often?"

Other random sentences from page one:

Which figured.
Turned it down!
I felt violated.
Especially tonight.
But I was oozing interest. 
And I wore makeup. 
And I had cleavage.

Not a novel to study for its sentence structure, unless you're in love with sentence fragments, pretentious cliches, and sassy, over the top chick-lit lingo. It'd probably sound fine reading it aloud while chewing a pack of Hubba Bubba though. Like, totally, you know.

Not much to add, the opening sentence speaks for itself.

Verdict: Cool

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor

This is the story of a woman and a city.

Why make the first sentence of a book sound like a boring log line? This is the epitome of telling and not showing. The rest of the first paragraph describes a city: shimmered like the new Jerusalem... I smelled the sweetness of the land and sensed the nearness of green, growing things...

Not very effective descriptive writing. Sweetness of the land could use a simile or some concrete odor to help place those readers whose imaginations have atrophied, and using the word things to describe something is just begging for a misinterpretation. I watched The Slime People last night and I'm associating, quite unintentionally mind you, that green, growing things refers to the slime people who'd invaded America from the sea. Using a word like "thing" suggests one is at a loss for words (on a subconscious level at least) or too bored or has read too much Rilke ("Thing" was apparently his favorite word). I was beginning to think this is a miserable attempt at artsy-fartsy, but then paragraph one goes ahead and ends with the date: Sunday, 2 August 1778.

The descriptive writing gets better in subsequent paragraphs as a plot desperately tries to force its way past the scented words wafting across the page. It emerges that New York is under attack.

First thing said:

"It's as if the town has been sacked."

With those words an inciting event is taking form. Unfortunately, because of that redundant opening sentence, this novel beginning must get a fail.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Monday, 21 October 2013

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

August 11, 1492

Dawn is a pale bruise rising in the night sky when, from inside the palace, a window is flung open and a face appears, its features distorted by the firelight thrown up from the torches beneath.

Some figurative language begins this novel. I have nothing against this (after all, I've been to university) as long as it contains the kernel of a story and is not obtrusively verbose. This sentence establishes mood, tone, some style and yet manages to set an unspecified event in motion. It doesn't really hook per say, but it's better than most of the first lines dying slow deaths in bookstores.

First thing said:


Which is the second paragraph and in all caps - obviously meant to convey what, shouting? I'm thinking: wait a teenager wrote this? I google the author's name and frown. So, what's with the all caps? IF THIS WAS A YOUTUBE COMMENT, THE AUTHOR'D GET FLAMED!!!!!!!!!!!! [Extra exclamation marks (for clarity) are mine.]

Paragraph three begins with some bitter sweaty words:

Inside, the air is sour with the sweat of old flesh. Rome in August is a city of swelter and death.

No conflict (After all, the dead have no problem being dead) and no character, only setting, but I've got nothing better to do for the next couple of minutes while I wait to pass that TV dinner with 5 grams of trans fat, so I read on.

So, to sum up, congratulations:

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Rudy Globird

Sunday, 20 October 2013

A Delicate Truth by John Le Carre

On the second floor of a characterless hotel in the British Crown Colony of Gibraltar, a lithe, agile man in his late fifties restlessly paced his bedroom.

So this novel begins with an image and not a very interesting one. Sure, there's tension, as exhibited in the word "pacing". But does the act of pacing by itself elicit tension (of the type Humphrey Bogart made famous) in this day and age, like it did in bygone days?

Of course, there's more setting in this line than anything else, which is as it should be, because after all, it is an image. A characterless hotel. This does nothing for me. I googled "characterless hotel" and whatever came up still had some character. When I added "Gibraltar" to the search I got anything but characterless. Also, lithe + late fifties works, but agile + late fifties takes more mental prowess to imagine. Bottom line: even though there is an image here, it is a very characterless one.

Next line:

His very British features...

I wonder what that means? Ugly and pale? White? Big nose and ears? Mousy hair? Or are we referring to the very David Beckham British look? Lithe? Thankfully, the author explains a little: pleasant and honourable...So that's what it means to look British...Obviously someone forgot to tell Johnny Rotten and Simon Cowell.
First thing said:

characterless hotel?
"Can't have you wearing that, Paul darling, now can we?"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton


Her name had been out of the headlines so long that he was sure no one was searching for her when he fit the key into the lock for the last time.

Once again a beginning with pronouns as if the reader is supposed to know what's going on before even opening the book. The writer knows what the story is, but she's refusing to tell it to the reader. The pronouns make it vague and mysterious and confusing which is supposed to create atmosphere except it doesn't. But fortunately by paragraph two the author is showing signs of life:

First came the blindfold. Next, the handcuffs.

What follows is another maniac kidnapping a girl storyline. I don't know what it is, perhaps the fact that this story line has been done to death, but this does not hook like it did in the 1970's. We can only hope that at the end of the prologue said maniac is dead. That's what I infer. A happy ending. Oh, wait...there's more.

Chapter one

Tuesdays are always a test, and getting to his office is the hard part, but twenty-two-year-old Reeve LeClaire has never told her psychiatrist about her route.

What follows is a poetic GPS retelling of San Francisco Bay. Also on page one, there is a hair reference. After reading The Face on the Milk Cartoon I now can't help thinking it's awkward to find hair on the first page of a novel. Honorable mentions, allusions or allegories concerning hair make me think of that book. It's serious. But that's me; I won't let it influence the verdict of this opening. In all fairness, I guess it's kind of important to mention her do, as it's maroon color. But I already figured out that Reeve has issues, as she after all has a shrink.

First thing said:

"Turn around and open your mouth."

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Quentin rode a gray horse with white socks named Dauntless.

Um, does anyone know what a misplaced modifier is? How can anyone not think the gray horse is wearing white socks. Though horses do wear socks from time to time. Or maybe the white socks are named Dauntless? If so, the next question is: does he name the pair of socks Dauntless or does each sock get a title? For example, Dauntless Senior and Dauntless Junior, or should it be Dauntless 1 and Dauntless 2 and which is the first, the right or the left sock? This is how wars get started! But what type of weirdo gives their socks names?

Little kids love this kind of confusion. I like it too, because this is the stuff that makes writing reviews fun.

The rest of the paragraph describes what he's wearing (we assume Quentin, but it could be the horse. If that's the case, then why is what the horse is wearing more important than what Quentin isn't wearing?) before ending the first paragraph with:

He was hunting a magic rabbit.

This line tugs at my by now wandering attention. As someone mildly interested in fantasy, I must admit I'm a little curious about what a magic rabbit is. Maybe something to do with the magic rabbit in the hat trick? However, as the hunting scene drags with character development, I begin to lose interest until we learn that the magic rabbit can tell the future.

With my curiosity satisfied, I do as commanded with the first thing said in this novel:


Yes, that's right - I stopped reading the book with white socks named The Magician King.

Verdict: Epic Fail

Rudy Globird

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris


The New Orleans businessman, whose gray hair put him in his fifties, was accompanied by his much younger and taller bodyguard/chauffeur on the night he met the devil in the French Quarter.

This sentence starts off like the complete first sentence of The Fire Witness, but instead of stopping with only a character's age, this one goes further and hooks with a slightly unusual situation. Though it seems half the stories set in the French Quarter of New Orleans have the devil. So I'm not that impressed. But this sentence could have been much worse in the hands of most of the writers reviewed on this blog.

Chapter One:

The morning after I raised my boss from the dead, I got up to find him sitting half-dressed in my backyard on my chaise lounge.

Another sentence filled with weirdness and establishes tone and mood. I've not read any of these Sookie books. I once saw an episode of True Blood though, but I didn't like it (maybe it was the inane TV commercials that ruined it). Fans of these books were hooked years ago, so their opinions on this opening don't count, but for those beginning with this book, they should be hooked enough to read on. There's dialogue early, too, which is a bonus.

First thing said:

"This is really the Devil we're going to see?"

Verdict: Pass

Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler

Elisabet Grim is fifty-three years old.

This is not where a story starts. How do I know? Because there is no story in telling someone's age. The rest of the paragraph is no better.

Her hair is streaked with gray, but her eyes are bright and happy, and when she smiles, one of her front teeth juts out impishly.

I'm bored now, and I can't help but think that that is the intention. The only thing I like about that first paragraph is the last word, impishly, mostly because it is the last word.

Then we get back story dump: this woman is a nurse and works in a troubled girls' school, blah, blah, blah...blah

Of all the Lars Kepler books, I've only read the first one, The Hypnotist. It was okay and had a couple of real creepy moments, but I remember it dragging a lot. This is the second book by this couple we're reviewing and it's beginning to look like they have no idea where to begin their books.

Fortunately, the chapters are short (and there's no prologue, yay!) and by the end of chapter one, which is a page and a half, there is a story developing with a problem being introduced. I think that first page could have been shortened and put more to the point. The first chapter gets a pass, but the opening line is a fail.

First thing said (often apparently):

"It's the nice girls who end up here."

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Murder by the Book by Susanna Gregory

Poitiers, September 1356

On a warm autumn morning, two armies faced each other across a gently rolling plain.

Here we have a situation. It begins with weather, but I blame the peculiar modern psychological habit of visualizing life and art in terms of a TV episode; thus, this reads like the beginning of a show: fade in to a cheap CBC production with setting and tense stand off.

By paragraph two the battle begins. The prologue ends with a murder. I like this prologue. It is not merely an info dump to set the record straight and establish context so the forward narrative will make sense, but is entertaining in its own write - I mean right.

Chapter One:

Cambridge, June 1958

The corpse was on its back, eyes fixed sightlessly on the sky above, arms flung out to the sides and legs dangling in the river.

A mystery novel that begins with a corpse shows great promise. Mystery right away shows that this writer understands the expression: Brevity is the soul of wit. Brevity is also, I might add, the soul of the hook.

Personally, I prefer this to the Agatha Christie formula of cramming a crowd of people down the reader's throat before the murdering begins. Not that that formula doesn't have its advantages, as, even though the murder has not occurred, clues are still gushing forth - just that by the time the crime is being investigated, the reader has a hard time remembering the million details that begin the book, making it almost impossible to solve the crime. It's a sort of cheating on Ms. Christie's part, but it works - people love being surprised at the end. However, the formula in which the detective and reader enter at the moment the crime is committed is fairer, and as far as beginnings go, more hookable than the Christie method.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 14 October 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James


It was generally agreed by the female residents of Meryton that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn had been fortunate in the disposal in marriage of four of their five daughters.

This sounds like Jane Austen in more ways than one. Marriage and Bennet in the first line. What follows is a description of Meryton, but not the usual, hackneyed how many trees or weather variety, but instead about entertainment or lack thereof and how gossiping is the drug of choice.

Chapter one:

At eleven in the morning of Friday 14th October 1803 Elizabeth Darcy sat at the table in her sitting room on the first floor of Pemberley House.

Darcy. Okay this is really ripping Austen off. So I went against the rules of review on this blog and took a peek at the blurb and sure enough this is a retelling of sorts of Pride and Prejudice. So all is forgiven.

First thing said:

"It was a happy day for us all, madam, when Mr. Darcy brought home his bride."

This is a hard opening to review. It is in the style of Austen and the question is, does that style hook readers today? Obviously, it does for some, even though Austen is not as well read today as she'd been in the past; most modern book buyers today probably haven't read a Jane Austen novel. Anyway, it's difficult to judge this opening knowing it is a retelling and by P.D. James. It is more the concept of the novel that hooks rather than the opening lines.

The prologue opens well but chapter one does not.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Jacob's Folly by Rebecca Miller

I, the being in question, having spent nearly three hundred years lost as a pomegranate pip in a lake of aspic, amnesiac, bodliless, and comatose, a nugget of spirit but nothing else, found myself quickening, gaining form, weight, and, finally, consciousness.

This line was written with a hook in mind. Despite the awkwardness of the sentence (and 12 commas), it has a lot of weirdness in it that raises questions. This sentence is of the 1984 variety. It preys upon normality.

The next sentence is an apology of sorts for the style of the first sentence.

I did not remember dying, so my first thoughts were confused, and a little desperate.

Which only raises more questions.

First thing said:

"They were mewing all night."

Verdict: Cool ( I want more)

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Columbus Affair by Steve Berry


Christopher Columbus realized that the decisive moment was approaching.

This raises a question or two, but only barely do I care. By the end of the first paragraph though, I'm losing interest with the history lesson.

Chapter One

Tom Sagan gripped the gun.

It sounds thrilling, but having a gun doesn't hook today's generation like it did with grand dad's generation.

First line of paragraph two:

He simply did not want to live any longer.

Then we get a Tom Sagan bio, which I'm hoping will be an obituary. It's sad and boring, you can skip most of it by reading key sentences (usually first in paragraph) that stand alone like this:

He'd once been an investigative reporter...
Tom received his third Pulitzer nomination...
They took his back.
Then his father disowned him.
Then his divorce.
Finally his firing.
Self-pity was his intoxication.
Would anyone even care he was gone?
What would it be like to be dead?
Time to end this.
Women. Another failure.
But he failed at sports, too.
He brought the barrel to his temple.
The metal touched his skin.
Rap, rap, rap.
A man stood outside the front window.
...held a photograph...
He knew the face.
His daughter.

Right. Chapter two begins with the daughter bound and gagged. We assume Daddy won't blow his brains out just yet. No surprise there - another false climax.

First thing said:


Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Friday, 11 October 2013

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin's feet were placed in a tub of cement.

With this review, I'm cheating a little, as I've already read this book and enjoyed it a lot. However, I remember beginning the novel and how that opening line has stayed with me. We have setting, character and conflict and questions - all great ingredients for a great hook.

It employs the in media res device, frowned upon by some. It's a device that hooks, but in a way it's cheating, as climatic moments are usually always exciting. It hooks, but it is not the beginning of the story and some have argued that this beginning in the middle of things is a technique employed by poor writers. However, here, it's only a line and as the reader reads the book, this line is always in the back of the mind.

The opening shifts to how it all began - with a girl and the opening scene unfolds quickly hooking the reader before the first chapter ends.

First thing said:

"You know whose place this is?"

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Betrayal by Danielle Steel

The two men who lay parched in the blistering sun of the desert were so still they barely seemed alive.

Another image, however this one works better than some of the ones reviewed earlier. With image there is usually an element of setting. We have a desert and the blistering sun. But we have two men who seem barely alive. This raises a question? Why are they in the desert?

Next line answers this. I like the 'one sentence raises a question and the next answers it' formula.

There had been shattering explosions in the distance earlier, and one of them was covered in blood. Although they had been enemies, one of them now held the other's hand, as the lifeblood trickled from him.

The first three lines of this book work hard at hooking the reader. We have a difficult setting, an explosion, and enemies holding hands. One dies.

Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the novel. The next paragraph and first thing said:

"Cut!...and print."

That's right, it is a movie scene being filmed. The dead man, just an actor, gets up and throws back a cool one. Feel robbed? You should. The writer just did the Ha-ha, made you look! trick. This is as bad as opening a story with a dream, a hallucination, or with an exciting story that has nothing to do with the present boring story you paid money for.

This was going to get a pass but gets an epic fail for its cheating hook. Creating a hook that has nothing to do with the story - unless the book is about the movie being filmed in the first paragraph is pathetically childish. Already a page in and still having not been introduced to the story of this novel, I put it down. I will not allow this writer to waste any more of my time, as she obviously does not respect it.

Verdict: Epic Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

In the beginning, you lived inside the egg. That is where Crake made you.

I wonder if this is the result of listening to the Beatles too much.

Obviously, from the summary that opens this book, it's important to have read the other books in this series. However, I skipped the summary to judge objectively  the opening line and scene in this book and its ability to stand alone.

Yes, good, kind Crake. Please stop singing or I can't go on with the story.

This reminds me of something else I've read recently.

The Egg was big and round and white, like half a bubble, and there were trees inside it with leaves and grass and berries. All the things you like to eat.

I'm guessing this is some kind of artistic swing opening that established writers like to get off on before they begin their book. It's weird, which is good, but weird in a conventional sense (normal weird), which is bad. I used to write just like that when I was a teenager; it wasn't important if people understood me or not. In fact, the more confused everyone was, the prouder I was of myself. It's kind of reminiscent of the beginning of Kubrick's 2001: The Space Odyssey.

I assume the book begins with this unidentified first chapter:

About the events of that evening - events that set human malice loose in the world again - Toby later made two stories.

Instead of telling me there's a story, and wasting precious seconds of my time, just tell the story for god's sake!

First thing said:

"We need to go now."

Yes, let's.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Kate O'Hare's favorite outfit was her blue windbreaker with the letters FBI written in yellow on the back, worn over a basic black T-shirt and matching black Kevlar vest.

This would hook if it were true: a girl who goes on dates wearing a Kevlar vest. But we learn quickly that this is actually just her work outfit, meaning she's an FBI agent and she just likes her job uniform. The authors use a bit of the tongue-in-cheek literary device to hook, only to fall flat with the punchline: the "ha-ha, made you look" technique.

Next line:

The ensemble went well with everything, particularly when paired with jeans and accessorized with a Glock.

With everything? I'd love to see her in her Kevlar vest and bikini at the beach or in bed in her PJ's.

What follows are some cardboard characters engulfed in a scene bursting with active verbs pumped up on steroids: blew past, pushed past (like a guided missile), yelped, stunned, fanned out, slapped (a piece of paper down), locking (her intense blue eyes), until we are finally saved with some back story that begins: eighteen hours earlier...

First thing said:

"Don't shoot."

I know this will titillate sheeple, but seriously if you read at least a book a week, this style of writing stinks, as if it were regurgitated by TV, perhaps once belonging to an 80's episode of the A-Team. It will certainly hook the one-book-a-year club, sadly keeping them reading at least something so their withering brains never entirely atrophy, but for everyone else who actually enjoys reading more than watching TV this opening fails.

However, early, by the second page, some story begins to emerge, which keeps this opening from being a total write-off.

Nevertheless, I stop reading. I will wait for the computer game version.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

One sunny, crisp Saturday in September when I was seven years old I watched my father drop dead.

This sentence begins poorly but ends well. Unfortunately, unless the narrator is still eleven, this stinks of back story. But still the reader is forced to read on despite him/herself to see how dear Daddy dies. We aren't disappointed. The narrator is playing with a doll while Daddy's mowing the lawn; then he drops dead, and the lawnmower keeps on going down the hill. The narrator, we assume a girl, later buries her doll, Sweet Cindy. A nice set of images.

Fine writing that evokes sympathy. Early in the story we begin to care about a character. Forward narrative blends seamlessly with back story. Yet, even though the author gets me caring for the character early, she hasn't given me a reason to care, unless I have the Mother Teresa complex: caring for caring's sake. What I mean is, there's no early forward narrative conflict - only some interesting character bio.

It goes on and on with back story, though luckily back story that's interesting, revealing an unusual character who decapitates her Ken doll and cuts off Barbie's hair with fingernail scissors. Characters with quirks always hook me, as they do for most people. Other people's insanity always turns heads. It is on the strength of the characterization that gives this a pass.

First thing said:

"This made him so happy."

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 7 October 2013

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

His children are falling from the sky.

Hooked. Too bad it's not people but instead, we learn by the beginning of paragraph two, hawks.

He watches from horseback, acres of England stretching behind him; they drop, gilt-winged, each with a blood-filled gaze.

I like how setting is introduced - as a brief aside - to place the scene in a open field. As this is a historical novel, some setting is vital, just that the author doesn't dump it into our brains right from the first word. Other writers could learn a thing or two from reading this. You know who you are.

First thing said:

"Your girls flew well today"

And then we learn that the birds are named after a dead wife and sister. This opening combines, setting, character and back story effortlessly. There's even a bit of conflict - if the "children" aren't supposed to be falling from the sky.

Verdict: Pass.

Thoedore Moracht

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Nightmare by Lars Kepler

In the light of the long June night, on becalmed waters, a large pleasure craft is discovered adrift on Jungfrufjarden Bay in the southern Stockholm archipelago.

An image of a drifting boat raises a question. By the end of the page we learn a dead woman is on the boat, and thus ends a short prologue. Prologue hooks (though it's a bit of a cheap, hackneyed device: brief scene of violence to start things off) and there's still chapter one to review.

Chapter One

A cold shiver runs down Penelope Fernandez's spine.

But no shiver runs down mine and that's what I want when I read these kinds of books, and as I'm part of the "now culture", I want my shivers now, not on page 2, not on page 30 or wherever - but now. And where am I now? Meandering on the first page of chapter one.

What follows is some boring interview Penelope does on TV, which coincides with the first thing said. You be the judge of where this sits on the bore-o-meter.

"Penelope Fernandez, in several public debates you have been critical of the management of Swedish arms exports. In fact, you recently compared it to the French Angola-gate scandal. There, highly placed politicians and businessmen were prosecuted for bribery and weapons smuggling and given long prison sentences. But here in Sweden? We really haven't seen this, have we?"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Motherland by William Nicholson


Alice Dickinson sits in the back of the Peugeot, though she would prefer to sit in the front, watching the orchards of Normandy roll by.

What follows is a Driving Miss Daisy type scene, as Alice goes in search of an address.

First thing said:

"Get an abortion. I'll pay."

The dialogue is well written and draws the reader in nicely, and there's lots of it, which keeps the pages turning, and that's what gets this novel a pass - that and I'm in a good mood.

Part One
Chapter One

The staff cars are pulled up by the coastguard cottages, close to the cliff edge.

Cars pulling up to begin a novel is not a good sign. What follows is a scene of officers inspecting of an amphibious landing drill by some Canucks wearing inflated Mae Wests, which quickly turns effortlessly into some girls and guys conversing about marriage and stuff.

Writing dialogue is no easy task and that is a strength of this writer.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 4 October 2013

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

We arrived in an undignified heap of witch and vampire.

This is just unusual enough to hook those hot on vampires and witches, and even those who aren't. The image is as funny as it is bizarre, compelling the reader to read on. It is simple - as in blunt. As well, there are questions, like who are these people and what just happened?

The rest of the paragraph:

Matthew was underneath me, his long limbs bent into an uncharacteristically awkward position. A large book was squashed between us, and the force of out landing sent the small figurine clutched in my hand sailing across the floor.

A scene sets the tone.Not much else to say. If it works, it works.

First thing said which begins paragraph two (nice that there is dialogue so early on):

"Are we in the right place?"

Verdict: Pass.

Rudy Globrid

Thursday, 3 October 2013

419 by Will Ferguson

A car, falling through darkness.

I had originally written: A car falling through darkness, and thought that it was okay, but then I realized I forgot the comma, and once having added it, realized the genius of it, despite how it sounds like bad, pretentious beatnik poetry:

A poem, oozing off the page, like,
Death, bossing around a fledgling businessman at a corporate food fair.

Anyway, fun aside, the opening scene reveals a car accident as seen in paragraph two:

End over end, one shuddering thud following another. Fountains of glass showering outward and then - a vacuum of silence collapsing back in.

For some reason I can't or don't want to get my head around the image of a vacuum of silence collapsing back in. So, then I define this as overwriting. Mr. Writer has a scene of interest but he's trying to smooth talk me with figurative language and a Thesaurus. We have only one adjective but two metaphors - talk about pregnant. Perhaps this is a prerequisite to winning awards: fountains of words showering outward and then...a vacuum of mystification collapsing back in.

With the third paragraph the writer starts to come down from his verbose high and speak an English we all know and love, at least with the first sentence; the second, however, introduces a POV switch and more low-frequency vocabulary words one might only hear at Starbucks:

You could see the path it had taken through the snow, leaving a churned trail of mulch and wet leaves in its wake.

Um, no, I can't see that? How can I - I'm not there. At least I don't think I'm in this story. Who's you? You?

First thing said:

"Sir, can you hear me?"

A favorite sentence style:

Glass, catching the light.
A sky heavy with the promise of rain. (I think he forgot a comma after sky)
And of course: A car, falling through darkness.

Definitely a travel writer he was.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Rudy Globird

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Twelve hours into his SDR Nathaniel Nash was numb from the waist down.

I know I'm reaching here, but a name that's an alliteration? A proud tradition following the footsteps of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse?

And what is SDR? Or FSB and SVR for that matter? The other abbreviations or acronyms littered about on the first pages: CIA, KGB,  MARBLE, NPPD, and US, I can figure out. There's lots of spy slang used early too: being black, The Game, seeing coverage and (I'm not sure if this is jargon or bad poetry) the belly hairs of surveillance. (All from paragraph one.)

Nevertheless the opening line raises a question and presumably introduces some tension or conflict, as being numb from the waist down cannot be a good thing. However, this sentence confuses more than incites curiosity - as if the writer is trying to hook by confusing readers so badly they must keep reading or go insane from discombobulation.

What follows is exposition and back story. Writer introduces the characters instead of the characters introducing themselves. Forward story: Nat is knackered.

First thing said:

"Good morning, Nathaniel."

Horribly written random line (from page 3):

MARBLE walked unhurriedly forward. 

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Threat Vector by Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney


These were grim days for former operatives of the Jamahiriya Security Organization, the dreaded national intelligence service of Libya under Moammar Gaddafi.

What follows is exposition that sounds more like a disposition, using key words like Al-Qaeda, PERSEC, and NATO. This might interest some or maybe even most obsessed with this genre. The prologue does what prologues usually do, takes a big back story dump, a clever technique that always risks losing readers. But as this prologue reads like a news paper article, some might find it interesting; nevertheless, I didn't.

Chapter 1:

The five Americans had been lying low in the decrepit hotel room for hours, waiting for nightfall.

Followed by weather. However, there is a scene unfolding as some agents prepare for an operation and need to spread out for optimal effect. Chapters are short and paced well, as one can expect with a Clancy novel.

First thing said:

"We'll head out one at a time."

I will give this a pass (barely) because of chapter 1 and the scene that sets the story in motion. The prologue info could have been dumped somewhere else.

RIP Mr. Clancy.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Rudy Globird

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

On the hottest day of July, trolling in dead-calm waters near Key West, a tourist named James Mayberry reeled up a human arm.

Right to the point. Though why mention it's the hottest day of July? I would still understand the plot point without the month and the weather.

Nevertheless, the scene hooks as James and the captain have a somewhat comic conversation about their catch, and neither seems phased; on the contrary, they both seem annoyed by arm ruining their day. Then another conflict unfolds, as this is James's honeymoon and he doesn't want to tell his wife about the arm because she didn't want to go fishing in the first place. Ah, marital bliss, but that's what happens when couples find random disembodied arms while out fishing on their honeymoon.

First thing said:

"What are you waiting for?"

Verdict: Pass

Rudy Globrid

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Alive by Loren D. Estleman

Valentino watched the mover strap the refrigerator-size crate to his hand truck and tilt it back to engage the wheels.

Character+situation+question (what is in the crate) makes this a pass (barely). I'm only mildly interested as to what's in the crate or why Valentino is moving house, if that's what he's doing. I don't really care either way. People move every day. No big deal.

Then comes the first conversation while we're still on page 1 and it hooks as we get a tentative answer to what's in the crate.

"Heavy. What is it?"
"Just one of my vital organs."

That's weird enough to arose the curiosity of even the most comatose cat. The novel begins with a nice mix of narrative and dialogue. It addition to the conversational hook, there's the title and cover that pull me in. However, those distractions don't count with this type of review.

I would have preferred beginning with Frankenstein's monster or something. Then again, we still aren't sure what's in the crate.

Verdict: Pass

Rudy Globird

Hell by Robert Olen Butler

"From Broadcast Central in the Great Metropolis where all rivers converge, all storms make a beeline, and all the levees look a little fragile, it's the Evening News from Hell."

This sounds quirky to the uninitiated, right? But for those who have quirkiness surging through their veins, they roll their eyes and mutter, read that. You would think that as the book is called Hell, the writer wouldn't necessarily need to establish setting, but instead just roll out some conflict.

 It continues thus:

"And now here's your anchorman, looking a little fragile himself, Hatcher McCord." The voice of Beelzebub, Satan's own station manager, mellifluously fills Hatcher McCord's head from the feed in his ear.

This sounds weird and fun, though slightly overwritten. All these lines do is establish the tone of the book. This is important, but not enough to hook someone who reads tons and must choose between this and, say, The Demonologist. We don't have anything that hooks except an unusual setting - which isn't so unusual for anyone who reads too much Edward Lee. That is to say: Hell is cliche or kitsch - take your pick.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globrid