Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Extraordinary by David Gilmour

What?

What? That's it? That's the first line? Either it's the epitome of epic fail or it's pure genius. Maybe I'll flip a coin later. Anyway, next line:

You didn't know I had a sister?

How could I know? I don't even know who the hell this narrator is who's trying to talk to me.

Yes, Sally, a half-sister really.

Anyway, what follows is back story that is about as boring or fascinating (depending on your perverse tendencies) to read as going through a stranger's photo album. Then there are the attempts at profound thought:

Do the dead forgive us? I wonder. I hope so. But I suspect not.

Duh. Do you think? Anyway, I like the imagery in the next line:

I suspect they do nothing at all, like a spark flying from a burning campfire...

So even though there's a didactic undertone here, it's mildly entertaining and is written in an unpretentious narrative voice, though despite the familiar tone of the narrative, it still reeks of artsy-fartsy. Anyway, nice try, though.

Anyway, first thing said:

"I'm leaving you."

Though these spoken words are part of a back story dump and not part of any forward narrative, so I have no idea what this story is about on page one. Anyway, the life stories of the characters might draw some people in, but I'm thinking this could be a memoir so I'd better stop reading.

Random useless sentence smoldering with tone and attitude:

Anyway.

It's just too obvious.

Anyway:

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird



Monday, 30 December 2013

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

October 1916

I was dreaming of food.

So we finally encounter the infamous dream opening cliché. It's probably the biggest clichéd opening going and the one most modern writers make an effort to avoid. Despite this, it's inclusion here was inevitable.

To be fair this opening doesn't embrace the dream cliché in all its irrelevant glory. After reading this beginning, I realized there are two types of dream openings (or am I splitting nose hairs here?): The first is the dreamer actually dreaming a forward narrative of sorts - though nothing to do with the novel's actual story arch, and the second is the dreamer recalling a revealing dream like a fading synopsis. The first is worse and a big no-no. The second is only slightly better, deserving just one "no". Overall, one wonders what effect the writer intends when employing such a cliché.

Oh, and with the date inserted before the opening line, the reader's forced to make an inference that this person hasn't been dreaming about food for the whole month of October. Forcing a reader to make such an inference so early should please English teachers.

The next sentence describes the dream:

Crisp baguettes, the flesh of the bread a virginal white, still steaming from the oven, and ripe cheese, its borders creeping toward the edge of the plate.

This line started to make me hungry until ...the flesh of bread a virginal white... That's just weird. So I read on, as perhaps this dream isn't really about food after all...you know, flesh of bread, steaming oven, ripe creeping cheese...are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Of course the bed opening cliché is a must with the dream opening cliché and in this case the bed setting overwhelms the senses when later the character thinks, still in bed: I could taste the cheese.

If I had that sensation in bed, I'd be concerned.

Nevertheless, one wonders if the decision (never an easy one) to begin a novel with a dream is for the purpose of revealing character, perhaps Sigmund Freud style? That might work if the reader agreed with Sigmund Freud's theories - or hell, even understood them, but if not...well, what then? In any case, if this is the purpose, then this character seems to me to be a cross between Homer Simpson, always dreaming about food, and a dream E.L. James might have - if you use 2.68% of your imagination.

First thing said:

"Get off."

This comes at the end of the first paragraph so that's encouraging - though, it doesn't really do anything except announce the dream is over.

Verdict: Fail

I'm tempted to give this an even peevin' 2.5 stars or maybe 3, but there are the clichés, and so I can't in good conscience...

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Atonement of Blood by Peter Tremayne

Eadulf was staring moodily out of the window at the darkening sky above the fortress of Cashel, the stronghold of Colgu, King of Muman.

Th next sentence is some back story followed by another weather report much more detailed than the weather tease in the first line. Unless this whole book is about bad weather, I'm not hooked and not interested - yet.

A man staring moodily out of a window leaves me at a loss. What am I supposed to imagine? What exactly does it mean to be staring moodily - how does one do it? I get the internal action of being moody (given to unpredictable changes of mood), but staring moodily? I'm forced to picture a pouting teen, scowling, then grinning, then frowning, then weeping, then chuckling and so on at the weather and doing all this only with his eyes? Now, that's moody! So kids, let this be a lesson: Be wary of adverbs.

First thing said:

"It will snow before long."

Second thing said, in response to first thing said:

"Rain is more likely."

Is this novel filled with amateur meteorologists? The whole first page goes on with two characters discussing the weather as if they're at a loose end, waiting for the author to figure out how the hell to begin the story. For a minute I'm excited to have a weather story in my hands, until finally the writer bores of the weather and moves on to talking about food.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Unseen by Karin Slaughter

Detective Lena Adams winced as she pulled off her T-shirt.

The only conflict here is the pain being felt when taking off a T-shirt, and that raises only one question: why? So we get some exposition before finally learning that she's been bruised up at work. She's a police officer with a Glock. After reviewing a few of these modern crime mysteries, they all tend to blend into one beginning: introduce tough guy or gal with some attitude and some pain.

By page two, after several paragraphs of holding out, we learn Lena discovered four bodies. I would have preferred this first, rather than rely on the so-called character to hook.

First thing said:

"You just get in?"

The byline hooks though.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Friday, 27 December 2013

There was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

Mina Yetner sat in her living room, inspecting the death notices in the Daily News.

This sentence has an interesting angle. A character and a situation that suggest conflict. So this line gets a pass. The rest of the paragraph explains that the woman of the first line is looking for people older than her who've popped off before she finds the obituary of a neighbor.

However, the first page soon starts to show how ordinary it is as it soon feels about as exciting or interesting as visiting some old relative you barely know and who are so senile and smelly you start dreaming about anything else to take your mind off of where you are. Though for some people this would be a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon. There is a charm to the narrative that feels familiar.

First thing said:

"Oh, shush up."

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Revenge by Martina Cole

2012

"Hello!"

Wow, what a horrible first sentence to begin a story. Unfortunately, this counts as the first sentence, so critiquing it on its own is not really fair. The poor little sentence doesn't stand a chance. It offers nothing (conflict, setting, characterization, or even allegory, etc). To make matters worse, it sounds like a telemarketer bothering. What follows is a rant:

"Are you listening to me? My little girl has been missing for three...days. I think that might be worth your attention, don't you?"

This opening begins with a phone conversation. So besides the tiring missing child (though not a kid as we learn later, much older) premise to start this off, the dialogue doesn't sound really real. There is some swearing I left out, but even with the cussing it sounds like something someone would write in an email rather than scream into a phone. Thankfully, the writer spared us the fact that the phone rang before the conversation began.

The rant continues onward to comical proportions with lines like this:

"Her mother is giving me serious grief..."
"I need to know where she is, people."
"I know she isn't exactly what you might call a wilting...violet and, believe me, when I locate her I will personally launch her into outer space for this."
"I am not a man who is known for his patience, and I have a very low threshold for idiocy."

Whoever this idiot character is, he swears like a drunken Barbie doll pissed she's broken a fingernail and consumes the first page with his annoying ego. Personally, I want to punch this moron or rip out every page of the book which has him in it. What this means is that the writer is doing something right with the characterization, just that this character slips right into a one-dimensional portrayal as easily as a dollar bill slips out of my wallet.

Then there is some back story about the daughter who is not very dependable before the narrative derails with a description of the ranter:

Micheal Flynn was dark-haired and dark-skinned...

Read that in a deep voice Bob Barker.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Command Authority by Tom Clancy with Mark Greaney

The flag of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics flew high above the Kremlin in a rain shower, a red and gold banner waving under a gray sky.

A flag in the rain begins the prologue. Nothing to see here. No story, no problem, no characters and quite toneless. Pretty barren sentence. It is all setting: place and weather.

First thing said:

"Vkhodi!"

The translation follows: Come in! It's great there is a translation. This little display of foreign words is only to establish atmosphere. The dialogue that follows is in perfect English, readers only need to imagine that it should be Russian and if they like, can play Putin speeches in the background while they read.

Chapter 1:

The black Bronco shot through the storm, its tires kicking up mud and water and grit as it raced along the gravel road, and rain pelted the windshield faster than the wipers could clear it.

Yawn. Sigh. Another first chapter that takes place in a different time and presumably in a different place, at least that's the impression the Bronco gives. Two cliches are deployed: Vehicle and weather. It reads like an annoying car commercial, exactly what I try to avoid by refusing to own a TV. I hate commercials and advertising so much that when I walk down the street I walk with my eyes shut.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Alpine Vengeance by Mary Daheim

My teenage daughter is pregnunt by a married man who used to be my husband but isn't her father (far as I know) and she wants to keep the baby, but I got four other kids (besides her) so we'll be too crowded with only two bedrooms and one bathroom (outside) and the roof leeks' - that's L-E-E-K-S.

Those aren't typos, so either this author can't write and spell, or more likely, this narrator can't, as it's hard to get a good education in a trailer park.

So this long sentence reveals character and conflict and setting all in one go. The situation is a little unusual, though perhaps in some places (where the fish bite) it isn't so unusual for a guy to hook up with his stepdaughter. The only negative thing I have to say about this sentence is that it is long, but it's a good long because the length is part of what gives it its charm. It's a run-on sentence written by a character who has a lot to get off her chest and a reader can't help but smile.

It continues with the narrator suggesting that the daughter get a job because the narrator's boyfriend was layed off and Mama can't help because she has something called emfasima, and Dad left years ago with the narrator's second husband. It's an amusing life story all on one page. Yes, it's back story, but it does more than act as an info dump - it entertains, presents conflicts and reveals character. Most importantly, it's brief.

However, I'm thinking is this person who can't spell or write correct sentences going to be narrating this entire novel? Because if so, I don't think I want to read it. I have enough problems writing my masterpieces without reading a book narrated by an illiterate character. I'm young and impressionable - it might rub off.

Nevertheless the opening sentence hooks despite its obvious drawbacks.

First thing said:

"Oooh!"

And then:

"Why did I ever thin it was a good idea to write an advice column?"

Verdict: Pass (definite)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill

It's been a long time since I thought of Iris or the summer she died.

This line begins a paragraph placed before the first chapter, and even though it is not identified as being anything I assume it's a prologue that serves as a preamble. It ends with a girl being found drowned in a pool surrounded by dead dolls. Eerie image to be sure.

Chapter 1:

He turned off the alarm clock at the first buzz. Eight a.m.

So a pronoun in a bed setting starts this one off. There is nothing more to say. This is a cliched way to begin that offers nothing but stating the obvious: people wake up in the morning. Then Mr. Pronoun goes to the washroom, and of course showers, a deed that is interrupted with tidbits of back story ending with:

He dried himself vigorously...

On the first page all we learn is that Mr. Pronoun had been travelling and is in Barcelona. The only conflict presented is whether Mr. Pronoun should shave or not. Yawn.

First thing said:

"Hector..."

At least now we have a name. I like the title; it's the best thing about it, in regards to grabbing attention from the store bookshelf.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

Vera Stanhope climbed out of Hector's ancient Land Rover and felt the inevitable strain on her knees.

The next sentence:

Hector's Land Rover.

Sounds like a record skipping. Let's repeat the vehicle and make it a fragment so it hangs in the paragraph like an over-sized love tumor. In any case, not only does this novel begin in a vehicle, it obsesses over the vehicle in order to set us up for the coming back story. The first paragraph then insinuates a problem in the back story before going on to say it's October and describe what October looks like.

So the first paragraph does almost nothing except say Dad died years ago and it's time to forgive him - maybe. That is to say, preamble. Yes, folks, don't worry, there's a story here and we will begin any moment now, maybe paragraph 2? Nope. Vera goes grocery shopping in paragraph 2.

First thing said:

"What the s^!t do you think you're doing?"

Swearing with the first thing said. Not that this is bad, but it does sound out of place in this instance. True, the character is taken by surprise, and when a person is surprised, they swear; that is common knowledge, yes?

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Rasputin's Shadow by Raymond Khoury

Prologue
Ural Mountains, Russian Empire
1916

As the high-pitched shriek reverberated against the walls of the copper mine, Maxim Nikolaev felt an unusual pinch deep in his skull.

This line has character and conflict which raise questions. So this sentence works, then the rest of the first page fades back into ordinary sentences whose function is to describe or present back story.

Chapter 1:

Queens, New York City
Present day

The vodka didn't taste like much, not anymore, and that last swig had scorched his throat like acid, but that didn't stop him from wanting more.

Opening with drinking has now been added to our list of cliched openings. I am seeing it enough to warrant the addition. It doesn't do much. Unless this is an alcoholic, it doesn't establish character. It suggests a problem if the person is drinking to forget something but fails to present a concrete problem, something we can shake the bottle at. What follows in this case is a preamble about this being a bad day of many bad days. I'd rather see this than be told. The first few pages go on with telling, back story and overly sentimental exhibitions of suffering.

First thing said in chapter 1:

"That's right!"

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Because the prologue does raise some questions.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

Reuben was a tall man, well over six feet, with brown curly hair and deep-set blue eyes.

Who cares what this person looks like before conflict, unless he is about to lose his legs, making him two feet shorter, or have his hair catch on fire or get his eyes poked out by a crazy blind person waving a cane around.

Paragraph 2 begins with this hunk (I assume) walking up a hill. Sorry, steep hill (This makes it more intense.) There is back story and description tangled up with each other on page 1.

There isn't much else to add; this beginning is pretty boring and doesn't even make good fodder for flaming. Like so many other books on the market these days, the hook is in the byline. Shame.

First thing said:

"The real thing."

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Unintended Consequences by Stuart Woods

Stone Barrington dreamed terrible dreams, then he jerked awake and immediately forgot them, as he always did.

Stone Barrington? Let me guess - an American. So, Stone begins this one with a bed setting. We're not privy to the nightmares and what they are, and from the looks of that first line we never will be. How do I know this without reading the whole book? Because it says that Stone always forgets them.

By the end of the paragraph Stone Barrington does what every other character does whose story begins in bed, he looks at the clock. It's 9:46. To be honest I was expecting it to be around 3 A.M. as that's usually the time characters are awoken at the beginning of a book. So kudos for surprising me there. But then Stone does the second and third most common thing after beginning this story in bed, he gets up and goes to the washroom - you see his bladder is bursting. Perhaps that's what the nightmares are about, slime people crawling out of his bursting bladder.

Random horrible clause:

He relieved himself noisily...

After that, the rest of the second paragraph develops the bathroom scene in greater detail and the only question this raises is why the hell am I reading this? Who cares about a character's daily morning routine in the can?

Paragraph 3 promises no relief as the bathroom scene switches from the bathroom sink to the shower. Then we learn he's wounded:...found two tiny wounds in the vein. Finally a story worthy question with a dash of conflict.

Then from the bathroom scene it moves to breakfast.

First thing said:

"That won't be necessary."

Verdict: Epic Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird




Thursday, 19 December 2013

Battered to Death by Gayle Trent

It had been a long, bleak winter in southwest Virginia.

A weather report. Are authors paid more if they begin with the weather? Besides, call me a fanatical Canadian, but I can't picture Virginia having a long, bleak winter, at least not what I would consider a long, bleak winter.

Next line in paragraph 1:

Even though I was born and raised in the small town of Brea Ridge and should be used to the cold, often snowy winters, I was a warm-weather gal at heart.  

A history report, à la Dickens. The character continues to contemplate herself, as most self-absorbed people do, and as with most people it's not very interesting.

First thing said:

"What are you doing?"

Throwing this book away and going on to something better, thanks for asking.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Shoot the Woman First by Wallace Stroby

Four hours after she got off the plane in Detroit, Crissa was parked on a downtown street, watching a rust-eaten Subaru with half a million dollars in the trunk.

Even though this begins in a car which is old and moldy way of opening a story, at least there's more than someone sitting in a car pondering life in a traffic jam. We have a name and a location and what the character is doing, watching another car with a ton of money in it. So this line does manage to introduce a situation and set a story in motion.

First thing said:

"You sure that's it?"

This is the second paragraph. So we have dialogue early, which is nice. The person asks if they are watching the right car. If they're not, this beginning will crash and burn. It's kind of a stupid question. Another person answers:

"That's it."

Making the first conversation in this novel superfluous - that is, providing nothing to move the plot forward or reveal character. It's just two people blabbering, presumably in love with the sound of their own voices. The only thing this dialogue might do is illustrate how one character may not trust another. But that doesn't interest much, as we don't know the relationship between the two speakers.

This gets a 2.5 star pass based on the opening line and the questions it raises: Whose money is in the trunk, and what's it doing there?

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Death Relic by Chris Kuzneski

The phone rang in the dead of the night.

Fearing perhaps the reader isn't paying attention by this point the writer adds the next sentence for our further understanding pleasure:

One ring, then a second.

A mysterious or otherwise phone ringing does not hook. Some writers might argue that readers will be intrigued and even frantic to find out who is calling the usually nameless opening sentence character, but they are wrong. Granted, it does raise a question but an uninteresting one of this sort: Is this elevator going up or down?

 Next sentence:

He sat up in bed and turned on the light.

Great, Mr. Pronoun in a bed setting. Of course, since this book begins with a phone call in the night, the overdone cliche wouldn't be complete without Mr. Pronoun looking over at a clock in a befuddled state, as if waking up in a fog is an intense plot point.

It rang a third time as he rubbed his eyes and focused on the clock. 
It was 2:43 A.M.

It was 2:43 A.M., gets its own paragraph because, one assumes, it's an intense time of night and deserves to be offset with its own paragraph to give it the attention such a moment demands. Unfortunately, almost all phone calls in the night happen around 3 A.M., so no surprise there.

First thing said:

"Daniela?"

And so begins another child kidnapping plot. It seems like every second book I pick up these days has this for a premise or starting point. What's up with this? Do writers really think it is a sure-fire way of hooking a reader after being done a million times? Are parents the target audience?

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

The Games by Ted Kosmatka

The boy lay motionless in the tube as the machine moved all around him.

I appreciate the author's avoidance of the pronoun in this opening line. The sentence is mostly effective as it raises questions: What is this machine? Why is the boy in it? What is the machine doing to him?

The scene quickly unfolds with a boy going through tests for which the doctors are looking for: Gross abnormalities.

So there's a hook here, the only problem is that this is the prologue so even though the author may have hooked the reader, never fear, the reader can most likely get unhooked with chapter 1, because in most novels chapter 1 begins with different people, in a different place, and in a different time than the prologue. Many chapter 1's I've reviewed, which follow an interesting prologue, are usually problemless in their immediate openings because the writer thinks that he or she has already hooked the reader. It's a fatal mistake that's often perpetrated. Hooks must constantly line a book and the opening of chapter 1 is a strategic must for a hook as it is the true beginning of a forward narrative story line.

First thing said which begins the second paragraph:

"Look into the screen, Evan."

There is lots of dialogue early, which always helps to pull a reader into a story, as opposed to dense long paragraphs of telling, description and back story. As well, the dialogue doesn't feel unnatural or forced.

Chapter 1:

Somewhere in the blackness a videophone rang.

So chapter 1 begins with a phone ringing, which is a cliche (Videophones count). Almost always when a book begins with a phone ringing, the next thing that happens is the character looks at the clock and we get the time. This one follows the cliche to its bitter end:

Through force of will, Silas brought the glowing face of the clock radio into focus: 3:07 A.M.

I will give this 2.5 stars for the interesting prologue. But (surprise, surprise) chapter 1 fails to follow up.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Until the Night by Giles Blunt

We heard the plane before we saw it.

Not bad until the next line:

The storm that had howled around us for three days and nights had finally limped away, leaving a thick cloud cover over the stillness that unfolded in its place.

Of course the obvious problem with this line is that it's about weather, but in this case, it is acceptable, as the bad weather is part of the conflict, indicating that these characters have been stranded or cut off from civilization for a bit. Though, to personify weather as a limping creature that's been beaten, is offensive to both Mother Nature and common sense.

First thing said:

"Who the hell's that?"

Chapter 1:

A wild wind blew across Lake Nipissing, so loud it woke John Cardinal up and got him out of bed before his six a.m. alarm had even gone off.

Now this weather opening impresses less. What follows is some weather explanation in bed and sure, you can learn something, but it's hardly entertaining. I don't mind reading about weather once I'm hooked, but not before. But I like winter and descriptions of it so this might be an interesting read come summertime when we are immersed in blistering heat.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

I Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum

There's nothing beautiful about her, and she has no control.

The pronouns are annoying; nevertheless, this line introduces something a little out of the ordinary about someone or other.

The next sentence:

She can't control her eyes, which dart about, or roll up into her head, so that only the glistening whites are visible.

Creepy image. This brief description of character pulls the reader in. We learn, still on the first page, that this is a girl of 9 or 10 and is confined to a wheelchair. The entire description is quite fascinating to read. Page 2 shifts and we learn something about the narrator as he/she tries to maintain a grasp of reality. It reminds me of Poe's style.

The tone and mood of this opening have all the hallmarks of a Scandinavian novel: slightly off-kilter, dark, and just psychologically penetrating enough to leave the reader disturbingly puzzled.

First thing said:

"Hi, it's Lill Anita here."

This comes on page 45, which means lots of telling. Personally, I would prefer a little, no, a lot more dialogue.

The chapters are short, making this quite hard to put down.

Verdict: Cool ( I want more)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

November 1930

A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the cafe.

This is a fancy way of saying: Ms. Pronoun walked into a room. On the surface there seems like a lot of information here: date, person, place, and weather...but in fact it's barren with no conflict or no problem - in short - no story. And I sense a weather report in the pangs of birth.

Second sentence:

She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside.

A poetic weather report does not a better weather report make; in fact, it makes it worse. Mind, if a weather report is placed somewhere else, anywhere else, except at the very beginning, it goes unnoticed. Why anyone would begin their awesome story with a weather report is beyond me. Perhaps to create atmosphere, you say? But can't that be done as the story, the problem, the conflict unfold with characters doing and saying things? It almost never matters if it's raining at the beginning of a book. In this one, it definitely doesn't matter. Rain doesn't hook. I suspect the writer understands this, so overcompensates with an attempt to hook using the ornate-language approach.

The short of it is, Mrs. Pronoun (or Ms. or Miss) enters some place to meet Mr. Pronoun. There are lots of German words used, one presumes to establish a sense of place and more atmosphere.

The next chapter also begins with weather:

An icy rush of air, a freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin.

Am I the only one who thinks this sentence is unfinished? Perhaps the author had a deadline to meet and hopes we'll figure it all out, or more likely, this is born from the school of artsy-fartsy. Anyway, it's about another pronoun caught in bad weather.

First thing said:

“Guten Tag, gnädiges Fräulein."

Which is German. My German is not so hot, but I think this means: Gluttonous skin tag and g'nagging frown line. So I'm a little confused.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Monsieur LeBlanc leans against the doorframe, his arms folded over a belly grown on pork crackling.

Besides the image of a disgusting guy, there isn't much else to impel one to read on. But for some strange reason the disgusting guy is enough so I read on, and a scene that reminds me of Balzac's work - because of the French names maybe - unfolds. A family of three daughters and a mother have just lost the husband and father and are on the verge of being thrown out onto the street by this M. LeBlanc. I guess this is a theme Balzac touched on once or twice as well - you know, money rules the hardened heart. Charles Dickens may have employed it too, come to think of it.

A story that begins with good people in poverty usually pulls at the heart strings if it's done well without being melodramatic or too sentimental. This opening is neither.

First thing said:

"But, Monsieur LeBlanc, we just put my dead husband in the ground."

This dialogue comes at the end of the first paragraph, so little time is wasted before we hear the characters speak - a definite plus. As well, it's encouraging when the first thing said is something that reveals plot. In this opening, characters begin to tell the back story, their story in their own words, rather than an author dumping paragraphs of back story - which to me usually suggests a lack of writing skill.

In this opening, however, the writing is excellent, and readers who enjoy historical novels - and even those who don't - should easily get pulled into this one right from the first page.

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Criminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen

They came into the bank around one-thirty, a man and a woman.

This is not gripping. Hell, this is not even mildly interesting. A mute burping would attract more attention. Two people walk into a bank...it sounds like the beginning of a joke written by someone staring at the wall, bored out of his skull after just getting stood up. This line does not hook and never will.

Next sentence:

Both of them wore ski masks, and both carried guns.

This is better because it suggests a problem - ski masks and guns don't mix. In Toronto the police can shoot you for much less. However, why this couldn't be incorporated into the first sentence like: A man and a woman came into the bank wearing ski masks and carrying guns. The time is not important yet, if it will ever be. Also, notice the lack of pronouns in this revision. It still sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but this revised first sentence would at least get to the point, instead of pointing to the point. After all, it's the first sentence of a novel. It should be special, more so than:

They came into the bank around one-thirty, a man and a woman.

First thing said:

"On the ground."

Followed by:

"Don't be a hero."

I roll my eyes. Where did these characters learn English, watching Ed Wood films? The dialogue that follows is of the same caliber.

"Tomorrow, babe. Promise."
"Thirty grand."
"Rock and roll."
"That was awesome."

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Affliction by Laurell K. Hamilton

My gun was digging into my back, so I shifted forward in my office chair.

I hate when that happens. The realism of this sentence is shocking. The usage of pronouns bold and the lack of conflict revealing.

Next sentence:

That was better; now it was just the comforting pressure of the inner-skirt holster, tucked away underneath my short royal blue suit jacket.

Gun? Check. Short royal blue suit jacket? Check. This girl's ready. That is to say, the gun is all a part of the look and this girl is a mean accessorizer. You go girl!

Fortunately, the fashion review ends, but unfortunately, it ends with back story. I'm not sure which I don't want more.

With the mention of zombies, I'm ready to put this down. For those of you who can't get enough of zombies, I say go to the mall. But if that's not enough, then you might like this book. In any case, whether I like zombie stories or not, this opening does not hook. It reeks of the typical shallow Hollywood set up, which tries to sell us the annoying behavior of characters we don't know or even care about. Behavior like, you know, acting tough, despite the inevitable character flaws and weaknesses that will create tension later in the plot. Cliche and kitsch wrapped up like a cake on fire.

In this case it isn't so much the character or event that's cliche but the tone of the sentences that is. That's right, tone and narrative voice can be cliche.

First thing said:

"What's wrong?"

I don't know - maybe that I stopped reading?

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Corporal's Wife by Gerald Seymour

Prologue

He was already awake.

He's in bed. He hears something, a whimpering, a shout.

He was Johnny.

Except he's not. What follows is back story and other "fun" trivia facts about Mr. Pronoun alias Johnny. After a couple pages it's revealed that Mr. Pronoun is in a prison. But the short of it is: this prologie dies.

The writing on the first page stumbles a bit as the forward narrative is constantly interrupted to provide context, but only serves to slow things down. Other than that, the writing is fine and the forward narrative manages to draw one in.

Chapter 1:

He was sitting on the bed and the girl, in front of him, knelt on the floor.

So Mr. Pronoun is in bed, presumably a different bed (and a different Mr. Pronoun) from the one showcased in the prologue. As the pages unravel, the forward narrative is constantly interrupted, and conflicts that hook have a hard time breaking through. Also, I wouldn't use commas to offset in front of him, but that's just me.

First thing said:

"Don't let them see your fear or they'll have won."

How many times have you heard this cliche?

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Friday, 13 December 2013

13 by Kelley Armstrong

Typical guy.

Sentence fragment. Next line:

You fight through hell - literally, hacking through legions of beasts and zombies and demon-spawn - to sneak home and spend a few stolen minutes with him...and he's not there.

Why is this typical? Guys aren't allowed out of the house? This lady has some possessive issues to work out. Right off the bat, I'm less inclined to continue if it's intent is to belittle men, or should I not feel that way? If I wrote a book that began: Typical woman, I'd hear about it. However, the good thing about the second line is that it establishes tone, as does the first; both in their own good or evil way.

Next paragraph begins with a distracting POV switch from second person to third person. I was expecting it to be first person, but to end up third person is somewhat jarring. Anyway, so begins another "woman looking for her partner" opening scene. At least she's not in bed.

Chapter 1:

I led my half brother Bryce away from the rubble of the exploded lab, ignoring his protests, and ignoring Adam, who was sticking close and wincing every time Bryce coughed.

Okay, another distracting POV switch, this time to first person. At least this sentence induces a story-line. What I like best about this opening is the tone of the novel, not that that is enough to keep me reading, mind you.

First thing said:

"Where the hell are you, Kris?"

It's a pointless question because the character is alone and talking to herself.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

The Last Man by Vince Flynn

Jalalabad, Afghanistan

The four dead men were lined up on the living room floor of the safe house.

Another book that begins with violence and dead bodies. In this case as it's Afghanistan, I suppose that's all right? Anyway, four dead men sets off an investigation and a mystery begins to unfold which we can assume will have epic, international proportions.

Some of the names of characters are a little funny like Rapp and Rickman which make these characters seem like they are oozing testosterone. All in all, the opening scene of murdered bodies is dull, having been done to death in a billion other novels. At least I'm dull to them. But for some, violence and death hook, that's just how many modern brains are hardwired I guess.

Plus, there's a typo in that first paragraph which does not bode well.

First thing said:

Some swearing basically stating that all this death is all really, really bad.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Dexter's Final Cut by Jeff Lindsay

It's not that bad being dead.

This is the first sentence of an introduction that is all in italics, which makes it hard on the eyes.

Confession time: I must be one of the few people who has neither read any of these books or seen the TV show. So this line is a little confusing. Is this a paranormal series? I assume it is; either that, or someone's on a drug pretending to be dead, in which case, they aren't really dead, making this sentence redundant. Either way, the line raises questions and is striking. Being a short sentence doesn't hurt either.

Reading the rest of this introduction (call it what you want, it's still a prologue) reveals that this is part of a filming scene. So whoever said he was dead is not, just acting - ha-ha. A deception on the part of the author to hook falsely. The classless ha-ha, I made you look technique that is used more often than one might normally imagine. It is an unimaginative way to hook a reader and is cheating, like advertising a product that isn't actually for sale. Shameful.

Chapter 1:

It all started so peacefully, just a few short weeks ago, on a lovely day in early autumn.

How quaint. What a preamble. How boring. The next paragraph wastes more time, ink and page space by describing what it's like to drive in Miami rush hour.

I would have given this a mere fail but the execution of the ha-ha made you look trick riles me.

First thing said:

Who cares.

With an opening like this, I'm tempted to create a new category for zero stars. I might call it the Black Hole Dexter Fail.

Verdict: Epic Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Criminal by Karin Slaughter

A cinnamon brown Oldsmobile Cutlass crawled up Edgewood Avenue, the windows lowered, the driver hunched down in his seat.

Another novel that begins in a car, using language that makes the car somewhat like a person or bug with the verb crawl. I wonder if writers think that by using words that can have the effect of personifying a vehicle that it makes it all right to begin a book in a car? It doesn't make the car more exciting, and it doesn't invoke any sympathy for the car.

What follows is a man looking for a ten-minute date with a street walker. There are a lot of names in this chapter and it seems to switch scenes without notice and without a break. A lot of names - I stopped counting after ten.

However, what might draw some people into this story are the characters involved in the fascinating occupation of selling themselves on the street and that kind of life - and with all the drippings that are the cliches and stereotyping intact. Honestly, it doesn't feel fresh, to quote agents and editors who are in the mood to reject unpublished authors.

In other words, if you've got a platform, or have been published (especially if you have lots of stock in the remainder bins) or can sell books with your marketing savvy and degree or have had plastic surgery in California, then you may draw deeply from the well of stereotypes and sculpt a cliche a day and publish lots of "books" to pay for all those annoying pool maintenance bills.

If not, then you unpublished writers are out of luck; you'll have to write a masterpiece that's out of this world - something that will make War and Peace look like it was written by a drooling idiot to pay for the ketchup that will go with your Kraft dinner tonight and for the candle you'll need to heat up the leftovers for breakfast.

That's just the way the publishing world works. Trust me, it's fair.

First thing said:

"Just a little bit of time."

With the millions of books out there, time is not something this reader has. Next book.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz

Before dawn, I woke in darkness to the ringing of a tiny bell, the thimble-size bell that I wore on a chain around my neck: three bursts of silvery sound, a brief silence after each.

Another beginning-in-bed saga with some person, hiding behind the veil of a pronoun, waking up in as confused a state as the reader is forced into by this line. The only thing different about this bed setting is the ringing bell. The author explores this unusual manifestation further on the first page.

By paragraph two the author reveals the season (I'm glad, as it was bugging me not knowing) but recovers with the protagonist meeting up with a guy who has: a desire to commit a few murders.

By the end of the first page, the forward narrative comes to an abrupt halt with some terse back story.

First thing said:

"Daylight savings time doesn't start for another five days."

With this line, a character tells us what time of year it is. So there was no need to mention the month earlier. Why do people insist on creating redundancies in their writing and so close together? Do today's writers value a reader's time, or is it that they think their readers are just too stupid to remember, calculate or infer for themselves? In this case, it is minor, but I've come across so many examples of repetition in openings, which I've reviewed on this blog, that it's really starting to annoy.

I give this a pass because of the character and the situation he's confronted with on the first page, you know, the guy with the desire to commit a few murders.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

My husband wasn't in bed with me when I woke up that January morning.

We assume then that he was with her that December morning. Some people might be alarmed by such a sentence and consequently hooked but not me. I like it when my significant other isn't in bed when I wake up; I can stretch around or whatever.

The page goes on about Brendan - the husband missing in action - not being in bed with her, restating this fact again and again. I understood the situation with the first sentence and repeating it does not garner sympathy - only annoyance. Mrs. Pronoun is in bed - alone and overreacting. Despite the author's insistence of conflict, I don't really care.

Second sentence of paragraph one:

The mid-winter sky was bruised purple and yellow outside the window.

Ah, the infamous weather report, clarifying that January is in fact mid-winter. The image may be vivid but adds nothing to the story at this stage. However, I actually expected an early weather report with the title of the book being what it is and all.

First thing said:

"Brendan?"

Of course that would be the first thing said. A wife is in search of her husband. Sounds like this might work well as a computer game.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Nurse Thornton dropped into the long-term-care ward a little before eight with a hot bag of blood for Charlie Manx.

Thus begins the prologue. It has none of the obvious cliches, which means this line is capable of getting at least a 2.5 rating if nothing else.

It's considerate of the writer to introduce two characters with some context (The reader can navigate a little, understanding the relationship between the two.) There is setting which is a hospital, and finally there is a bag of hot blood. This raises a question or two. Why drop in with a hot bag of blood? What's it for? Is this a vampire story? The line is unusual enough to keep most people reading.

Chapter 1:

The brat was eight years old the first time she rode over the covered bridge that crossed the distance between Lost and Found.

Again, an opening sentence that raises questions. I particularly like the covered bridge between Lost and Found. It makes me curious, and I'm able to overlook the car in this sentence and that it reeks of back story.

First thing said:

"Hello, Mr. Manx."

Verdict: Pass 

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Honey Queen by Cathy Kelly

Lillie Maguire kept the letter tucked into the inside zipped compartment of her handbag, a battered beige one Sam had bought her in David Jones one Christmas.

This sentences introduces a bag and some nostalgia, as we learn a page or two in that Sam is dead.

Chapter 1:

Frankie Green woke bathed in cold sweat.

So begins another book in bed; someone waking up in the middle of the night because she has issues. Another character enters the story sleeping which kind of shows what some people think of this opening. The character gets up, slips into the bathroom and becomes introspective - meaning we are introduced to the friendly back story dump.

First thing said:

"It's the history of our family, I should have taken this on years ago."

Can anyone say comma splice?

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Matter of Choice by Nora Roberts

James Sladerman frowned at the toe of his shoe.

This sentence needs more than a man frowning at the toe of his shoe. Though it is a little unusual. I mean how do shoes have toes? Actually, I know what is meant, but clarity is a writer's friend.

The next sentence:

He'd been frowning since the summons...had reached him in the squad room that morning.

That's a lot of frowning. I guess, that's what happens when you spend too much time staring at your shoe's toe. The plot in paragraph 2 backs up a little with back story.

Chapter 1:

Fall touched the trees and stung the air.

A weather report as told by Lord Byron on acid.

Against the hard blue sky, the colors were vibrant.

Sorry, make that Lord Bryon on Ecstasy.

First thing said:

"Sergeant Sladerman?"

Ultimately, reading this will be a matter of choice. Mine:

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Then We take Berlin by John Lawton

West Berlin: May 1963

Christina Helene von Raeder Burkhardt had too many names, so was known simply as Nell.

I can't think why this sentence and the info it contains is so important that the opening line of the book is wasted on it, before, you know, a story problem. It doesn't hook me. Perhaps a genealogist, but not a normal person.

The other sentence works better at hooking:

She was attending the first of her twice weekly meetings with the mayor to agree an itinerary for the impending visit of President Kennedy.

This line manages to introduce an event, which is something stories are made of. But it mocks the first line and makes it look even more boring, superfluous, lazy and just plain old out of place. Maybe the sentences in this novel held a contest to see which one would win the prize to be the coveted opening line, and this one won. Oh, well, that's life, I guess.

First thing said:

"McGeorge Bundy gives me a headache."

More weird names (which I prefer over pronouns), but dialogue begins quickly in this book, the second paragraph, in fact, and that is a bonus and one great way to drag people into a novel quickly. It also suggests that this novel won't beat around the bush too much and that the characters will tell the story, and not the author. So despite that horrible opening line, this book shows promise.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Friday, 6 December 2013

Outlaw by Ted Dekker

My dearest son, whom I was allowed to birth for reasons far beyond my own understanding.

This begins a note from one character to another and is not interesting to quote in full. Moving right along to the real beginning:

The story of how I, Julian Carter, and my precious two-year-old son, Stephen, came to be on that white sailboat, tossed about like a cork on a raging dark sea off the northern tip of Queensland in 1963, is harrowing, but it pales in comparison to being abandoned in that tempest.

Another beginning which functions more to plug a story than to begin a story. Though in all fairness, this begins a story more than only plugging one, as it reveals two people caught in the open sea, in a storm and promises worse things to come. But readers have strong hearts, no need to ease us into the conflict, or warn us of it, just lay it on us as suddenly as possible. Let us feel that rush of beginning without preambling.

By page two the reader is being carried along as a tense scene unfolds. Back story is lightly scattered throughout and not distracting. If it wasn't for the preamble, this would get a solid pass.

First thing said:

"Slave Regina, what have you done with my slippers?"

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

When I was seven, I knew exactly who I was: a thoroughly American girl in race, manners, and speech, whose mother, Lulu Minturn, was the only white woman who owned a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai.

Thus begins an epic exercise in exposition, though it's a mix of plot, back story, setting and conflict. 

Nevertheless, this opening line introduces setting, character, and conflict, or at least an awkward situation, as being white with a courtesan house in Shanghai can't be all smooth sailing.

What follows is a historical and psychological character analysis executed with dense paragraphs. For the first few pages every first sentence of each paragraph has an "I" or a "my" in it as the narrator unleashes her story on us.

First thing said:

"You spoke Chinee to a Chinee beggar and that makes you Chinee.”

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs

Heart pounding, I crawled toward the brick angling down to form the edge of the recess.

Thus begins a rather intense conflict-riddled scene of a chase, though it's a little confusing at first. It's a scene filled with hate, violence and lots of cursing. No surprise that it's a prologue, which are usually violent and out of proportion to the rest of the story. But does a scene of a sadistic maniac repeatedly punching a girl senseless before being shot hook? What kind of person reading this would say, "Yeah, I'm getting into this!"

Chapter 1:

I've been held prisoner before.

The first paragraph ends with: But this captivity exceeded all others for pure physical pain.

It turns out, the narrator is not being held prisoner on some lonely farm with Robbie the Rodent Rapist Redneck, but is in a courthouse. In other words, this opening employs the: Ha-ha, made you look hook.

First thing said:

Insults, cursing and violent threats.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

On the day the world received its first phone call from heaven, Tess Rafferty was unwrapping a box of tea bags.

An unusual idea opens this book. It is a little annoying though when a writer tries to emulate the sound of something - in this case the sound of a phone: Drrrrrunn. That's not what I think a ringing phone sounds like. I'd use Urrrrrrriingkhuk.

Of course, Tess misses the call, but it goes to answering machine and Tess's mother leaves a message. Funny thing is though, Mom's been dead for four years. She has something to tell her daughter. All this happens on page one. No time is wasted. No need to introduce the weather, a gun, a car, or a bed. Very little back story, only what is vital for the forward narrative: Mom's dead. What follows is lots of great dialogue that pushes the plot forward, reveals character and establishes tone. A refreshing change from some of the schlock I've been reviewing lately.

Oh, and in this case, as opening with a phone call is vital to the premise, it's forgiven.

First thing said:

"Hello?"

Verdict: Cool (I want more)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Death on the Pont Noir by Adrian Magson

The gleaming black Citroen DS with the curtained rear windows ghosted along the deserted country at a steady 70 kph, its hydropneumatic suspension making light of the undulating, pitted surface.

Another book with an opening set in a car. As I get car sick, these beginnings make me nauseous. How does a car ghost along anyway? Is it hovering? At first I thought that's what hydropneumatic suspension meant, until I googled it.

The next sentence is odd:

Inside the car, its two occupants were as shielded from the cold tarmac underneath as they were from the frost-glazed mud of the fields on either side, warmed by the controlled whisper of heated air wafting gently around them.

What a roundabout way of saying two people in a warm car on a cold day with fields on either side. Or is this an artsy-fartsy way of saying it's cold outside? It just seems obvious that if people are in a car they are protected from the outside in some way. The weather is mentioned, but it is not obtrusive.

A scene quickly unfolds by page 2, but that first page begins the novel just so awkwardly, right down to how unnaturally the characters' names are revealed, that it doesn't deserve a passing grade. But I am kind.

First thing said:

"Belt up tight."

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Cross My Heart by James Patterson

I trudged aimlessly through the dark, empty streets of Washington, haunted by the memory of my son Ali telling me that the only way to kill a zombie was to destroy its brain.

After reading this opening line, I will now add a new label to this blog called: walking opening. In such an opening a character is walking. To where and why is hardly ever made apparent up front. Characters are, as in this case, just wandering aimlessly. They are sometimes emotional, drunk or simply at a loose end. In any case, it feels like the character is late for the beginning of the book and is walking to the first major event. In a best case scenario he is walking away from the first event of the novel. Does it ever occur to anyone to begin the novel with the event instead of walking us towards it or away from it? In any case we are starting to see a lot of this, which means it is on the verge of becoming an uncreative cliche.  Books like The Long Walk excluded of course.

Despite the walking there is the faintest glimmer of something interesting flickering from behind the words. I don't like zombies but that isn't really the point with this line. It raises a question. However, next sentence and paragraph don't:

It was 3 a.m. Storms punished the city.

The time and a weather report. At least with this report we get the specific time. Walking in bad weather is even worse, as we learn a couple of paragraphs later.

Not even the pouring rain could slow me or soothe the agony that burned through every inch of my body because of what had been done to my family.

I don't know about you, but I'm visualizing scenes from this music video.

Chapter 1 (begins sixteen days earlier):

Sitting in a parked work van on Fifth Street on a beautiful April morning, Marcus Sunday used high-definition Leica binoculars to monitor Alex Cross's house and felt a genuine thrill, thinking that the great detective was sure to make an appearance sometime in the next half hour or so.

That first sentence is also the first paragraph. A bit of a run-on sentence. It could easily be broken up into a couple of sentences because of with the multiple ideas conveyed. Naturally, this sentence is set in a vehicle and mentions the weather. Then the next paragraph begins:

After all, it was Thursday and seven thirty in the morning.

Why start a new paragraph? And time should be written out as numbers, as in 7:30. I know the author knows this because he starts doing so later. Consistency is our friend.

First thing said - somewhere in chapter 2:

"Not another one?"

That's exactly what I'm thinking about this author's books.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Please Don't Tell by Elizabeth Adler

It was a winter afternoon, and a stormy sky was looming.

Congratulations! The line: It was a dark and stormy night... has been ousted. Now, I know what you traditionalists are going to say: You can't improve on the dark and stormy night hook, but open your minds people, this line includes the season and suggests bad weather - anticipation rather than realization. Besides looming is such a suggestive word.

What follows is a pronoun sitting in a vehicle parked in the darkest part of a parking lot. He's having chest pains. As expected, Mr. Pronoun kills a prologie in the usual sadistic run of the mill shocking and violent manner. Yawn. At a certain point one must ask oneself: How much prologie blood must be split to satisfy the lust for fictional blood? For me, none is enough. However, the weather gets the final say. Take that Mr. Pronoun, you insignificant maniac.

Chapter 1:

It had started out as an ordinary morning for Fen Dexter.

This sentence implies that despite the ordinary mundane beginning, the story will get better, maybe even extraordinary; it's a promise. Until then, the writer proceeds to explain the average ordinary morning, which naturally begins in bed, followed by a back story dump that is so conveniently organized chronologically by ex-husband that it would make any grade 7 English teacher weep for joy.

First thing said:

"Elaine."

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell

One day in the cold month of July, 2002, a man by the name of Jose Paulo opened up a hole in a rotten floor.

Besides the honorable mention of weather, this line induces a little curiosity. Perhaps there is a body down there. However, the rest of the first paragraph explains that opening this hole is being done only to use the floorboards as firewood, so my imagination had leapfrogged over the sentence. Perhaps that was the intention, to create a little misdirection? What follows is a back story dump about Paulo - a typical prologue report.

Chapter 1:

It was 1904.

Couldn't this have been a subtitle to chapter 1, instead of serving as the opening line of a book? Next line:

June.

Couldn't this second line have been integrated into the first? As in: It was June, 1904 - which, doesn't make the the opening any better, mind you.

A scorching hot tropical dawn.

In the end, the first paragraph is broken into three sentence fragments with the purpose of giving us another weather report - all melodramatic like.

First thing said:

"It's been lying there under the floorboards for ages."

So there is something under the floorboards. Well, that's something, but I have already passed judgement. I'm giving this a fail. There is no excuse for starting both prologue and chapter 1 with weather.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Vicious Circle by Wilbur Smith

He came fully awake before he moved or opened his eyes.

I don't think this sentence means what I want it to mean. What follows is a herd of pronouns all for the sake of creating mystery and suspense, except it doesn't. This fog of pronouns is as annoying as beginning a movie with all the actors's faces blurred out for the same effect. That's what a pronoun does when one introduces a character with one.

Then to rub it in, paragraph two begins with a partly disguised sunrise in bed. So this opening uses a couple of cliches to stitch it together.

We at Hook My Brain had a conversation and agreed that if an opening had three cliches, it was an automatic epic fail. That includes: bed opening, car opening, weather opening, gun (especially if it's a Glock) opening, sunrise opening to name a few. Mix these cliches with pronounology, preamble, adverbs, errors and we might just have to create a new score: The Medal of Pure Stupidity: The Armageddon Zero. For such authors worthy of this honor, we might start a form just to ridicule them, hopefully to shame them into getting their lackluster lazy brains into gear and learn how to write a beginning that actually engages people intellectually, visually, imaginatively and emotionally.

So let's sum up Wilbur's opening: Bed opening? Check. Sunrise? Check? Pronounology? Check. So this one is on course for an epic fail until....

First thing said:

"Stop staring at my big fat belly and give me a kiss."

I like the first thing said. It actually conveys information in regards to plot and character rather than being a one-syllable grunt, and so it saves this from being an epic fail.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

"I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one."

Right off the bat, we have a "he's the one" moment. So whoever this is they're talking about joins the hallowed halls that Luke and Frodo walk. What follows is a dialogue between two people we know nothing about, talking about people we know nothing about. If there were dialogue tags and a name here or there, we might be able figure something out, but the author is being stingy with context. I wonder if this is where the Matrix got it's idea for it's opening? The intended effect is to be mysterious, the actual effect is enigmatic pronounology.

The dialogue sounds funny in places.

"If the buggers get him, they'll make me look like his favorite uncle."
"All right. We're saving the world, after all. Take him."

It sounds like two old perverts are chatting over a game of chess about their next victim. At least, it could be contrived like that. I mean, what would you think if you heard a conversation like that at the mall?

Dialogue doesn't get any better when the kids start swearing.

Verdict: Fail

Speaker of the Dead


In the year 1830, after the formation of Starways Congress, a robot scout ship sent a report by ansible: The planet it was investigating was well within the parameters for human life.

The date is a little confusing, but one has no choice but to assume that this is not referring to our 1830. I googled ansible. It is a fictional machine capable of instantaneous communication. Typically depicted as a lunch-box-sized object.

Chapter 1:

Since we are not yet fully comfortable with the idea that people from the next village are as human as ourselves, it is presumptuous in the extreme to suppose we could ever look at sociable, tool-making creatures who arose from other evolutionary paths and see not beasts but brothers, not rivals but fellow pilgrims journeying to the shrine of intelligence.

I guess when you have had a successful novel you can begin your next one with a personal statement based on a philosophical outlook that most people couldn't care less about. In fairness it is disguised as a letter from someone to someone, but it is still didactic no matter how you disguise it.

First thing said:

"It is another chance God has given us."

Verdict: Fail

Xenocide

Today one of the brothers asked me: Is it a terrible prison, not to be able to move from the place where you're standing?

This is the best opening sentence of the first three books. It presents a problem and an unusual one at that: a prison in which you have to stand and are not able to move.

This intro section ends with:

You who speak languages, you are such liars.

Again a little bit of a lesson from the author via a character, but in this case I don't mind, as it's a cool thing to say. And so with that, I think it is best to end on a high note, rather than take a look at the fourth book.

Verdict: Pass (3.5 stars)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr

To the murder of Professor Grimaud, and later the equally incredible crime in Cagliostro Street, many fantastic terms could be applied - with reason.

So begins one of the most famous locked door mysteries out there, by one of the most celebrated mystery writers from the Golden Era of Mystery. This opening line is better than most from those times but today this line would struggle to compete in an already crowded market. It is not much more than a preamble, though an interesting one, as it does mention a murder or two. But its function seems to be one more of plugging the novel (it reads like a tagline) rather than starting the story with conflict or an inciting incident. Yet it is one of the better preambles, as a character and a crime do get introduced. There are worse ways to begin, that's for sure.

It feels like it should be written in first person, but instead is in third person, as if the author is telling you the story in your ear. Some like this, especially if they're reading this on a dark and stormy night. I find it annoying. But a couple pages in, thankfully, one barely notices it anymore.

First thing said:

"Frankly, what puzzles me is your attitude towards the whole business."

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Dead Water by Ann Cleeves

Jimmy Perez stopped for breath and looked out to sea.

Poignant like a Turner painting, but I prefer viewing a painting rather than reading one.

A still, calm day, the light filtered through high cloud so that the water was shiny grey, like metal.  On the horizon a bank of fog.

If the author's mission is to bore me, she's succeeded. The only problem here is the moody character. There is a simile and some pathetic fallacy. But I find neither device entertaining in themselves.

Page 1 rambles on about pebbles in pockets and more description of a hill and lambs salted with some back story. Some lady called Fran is dead.

First thing said:

Some swearing at the end of chapter 2.

The only thing this opening does is make me want to travel to Shetland. Consequently, I imagine this book filling bookshelves in travel agencies around the world or serving as a resource for amateur meteorologists interested in the region.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird