Friday, 31 January 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

There was a time in Africa the people could fly.

You have to read it twice and the rest of page 1 to understand that the narrator struggles with English grammar. So the first thing I'm hoping for is that whoever this narrator is, he or she better be a dynamic character, that is, one who changes in the course of a story - the first change being he or she learns how to write properly, or hire an editor. This is just a little too much reality in my fiction. A character being tortured and having their guts skewered over an open fire I can handle, but a narrator speakin' in so bad, ain't no good no how, 'cause it hard take meanin'. The only exception is Pygmy.

Other than the reality of the uneducated style of the narrative voice, this is an effective opening line. Unusual enough to attract attention and works well in conjunction with the title, which is always nice. Not so many opening lines work with their respective titles to create an effective hook.

The rest of the first section on page 1 is fascinating as characters are revealed and we are all reminded of the magic of childhood - that everything is possible.

First thing said:

"Handful, your grannymauma saw it for herself."

I like the name of the narrator, it reveals something about the child, Handful. If I ever have kids I now know what I will call them all.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Born in Chains by Caris Roane

Chained to a cavern wall, Adrien hung forward from his shackles, arms shaking.

With a title like Born in Chains, one can't expect anything less than such a sentence as the one above. Right to the point: Character, conflict, setting and some innuendo.

Then the guy starts hallucinating some back story. I would too if I were him.

I might mention, that this type of book, this genre, is not my thing, but for the purpose of this review that doesn't matter. The question is does this novel hook in the opening page? Does the opening line hold a reader's attention without wasting time? Does it raise questions? I think this one does, regardless if one is a fan of this genre or not.

First thing said:

"Adrien, talk to us."

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

The Guilty Ones by Lisa Ballantyne

A little boy was found dead in the Barnard Park [Heading to Chapter 1]

The air smelled of gunpowder when Daniel emerged from the Angel tube stop and headed for Islington Police Station.

With the allusion to guns, (without the mention of an actual gun we can't give this the gun cliché badge) this line foreshadows conflict and leaves the reader forced to ask a question. On its own this line gets a pass. It also introduces a character though fails to introduce characterization - just a name - Daniel, which is not much better than a pronoun, though I prefer a name to the clichéd melodramatic pronoun. Next sentence:

It was midsummer and airless, the moon slipping unseen into a bright, troubled sky.

Who cares about what the sky looks like? Does it matter? Will plot and characterization be meaningless without the weather plug? I mean, really, what's with the rush to insert weather into a novel? Why's it so overused in publishing today? What is it with writers, thinking that the reader just has to know about the weather before conflict and character is established? I don't mean to pick on this writer in particular, zillions are doing it and as one can see to the right of this blog in the labels section, the weather cliché opening is by far the most overused cliché on the market today. I blame pop culture; we've been brainwashed into talking about, reading about, and writing about the weather. Maybe because of all the talk about global warming, writers think weather is interesting? Even Edward Bulwer-Lytton would be annoyed by now.

And the last line of paragraph 1:

The day was gravid, ready to burst.

This made me laugh. Gravid with what? We never find out. It's just gravid, so there. However, it is mentioned later that it's just started to rain, so the sky and clouds can certainly be described as gravid. Therefore, I assume the author means the heavens are gravid - not the day, unless one thinks that the day is gravid with weather and the day will burst with rain, which technically doesn't make much sense - how can a unit of time burst with rain? I guess that's a liberty one can take with figurative language. I still think it's funny - a moment in which highbrow vocabulary triumphs over logic, reason and basic story-telling common sense.

Paragraph 2 informs us that the character is running through the rain, like in some of those cheesy MTV music videos from the 90's. This falls under the walking opening cliché. I'm all the more annoyed because now I can't get that Chariots of Fire theme out of my head.

First thing said:

"You got here quickly."

Anyway, a scene eventually gets going on page 2 that suggests a plot and conflict and the word murder is mentioned at the top of page 3, which is good, but the immediate beginning sinks this one.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Man in 3B by Carl Weber

September in New York City

It was one of those muggy Indian summer nights, where Detective Sergeant Dan Thomas of the 113th Precinct in Queens sat at his desk thinking about his latest case.

Weather and a grammatical mixed construction begin this novel. How can it be a night (a time) where someone sits? Think about this:

"Hey, John, where are you?"
"Why, I'm at the afternoon, dummy. Where are you?"
"I'm running late, I'm still sitting at the morning."

What follows is a run-on paragraph about swimming pools, second wives, a crime scene, a burned victim, instincts, neighbors singing "Kumbaya," and a dead messiah.

Chapter 1:

Four months prior

I stepped off the bus and briskly walked the eight blocks home, carrying two heavy shopping bags filled with groceries for my husband's birthday celebration, for which I planned to go all out.

POV switch? Not only does the reader have to get reacquainted with new characters and new problems after the prologue, (although fortunately there is no conflict to begin chapter 1 so not much mental effort or reason is needed to wade through the beginning of it) but also a shift in narrative voice.

Anyway, this begins with the character walking cliché - and don't think I didn't notice the fifth word in the form of a vehicle.

Odd idea:

I couldn't even get my husband, Avery, to look at me in a sexual manner, and the Lord knows I missed his touch.

Right. Figure of speech aside, I actually can imagine the Lord making a note of this with His grease pencil in His peeping tom notebook.

First thing said:


Classic. Dan.

The two purposes of dialogue (especially in the beginning) are either to move the plot forward or to reveal character. This does neither. Dan.

Verdict: Fail


Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Joyland by Stephen King

I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw's Beachside Accommodations in the town of Heaven's Bay.

I don't know whether to give this the car opening cliché award or the walking cliché award or just the preamble badge. Whatever this opening line is, it's set up and nothing spectacular - though I like the attention to details. The first paragraph or section rambles on about great times and broken hearts. The next section, still on page 1, begins like this:

Through September and right into October, the North Carolina skies were clear and the air was warm even at seven in the morning, when I left my second-floor apartment by the outside stairs.

Weather on page 1 deserves the weather opening cliché award no matter what the first line of the book deserves. The line that follows is about what the character is wearing, the standard follow-up to the weather opening cliché.

Overall, page 1 and 2 are boring. My eyes glaze over reading the two above sentences written by Stephen King, and my mind squirms as it desperately tries to overpower these two comatose inducing sentences with infinitely more interesting thoughts like: What did I last clean my toilet bowl with, Pine-Sol or Comet?

I have better things to do than be bored, so I stop reading.

First thing said:

"Where does that leave me?"

Obviously, the hook is in the byline.

Verdict: Boring Fail (1.5 stars)

I predict our 1.5 star reviews will be short. There is nothing really to say about them. The work speaks for itself.

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Humans by Matt Haig

(An illogical hope in the face of overwhelming adversity)

I know that some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state that they do actually exist.

This preface is meant to establish the fact that this is partly sci-fi. Obviously, if the narrator is talking about humans as if they are aliens to aliens, that then means...yes, the narrator must be an alien to humans! The satire, I mean preface, continues for another page and reminds me of The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human, though not as funny. If this premise was new and fresh and had never been done before then this opening line would be powerful, direct, shocking even. I don't know, but to begin with irony like this doesn't bode well. It feels forced.

Part 1
I took my power in my hand

Chapter 1 [Not identified as such]
The man I was not

So, what is this?

So this is what we can expect from this book: tone and mood, man. Attitude. The priority of this writer is to get the narrator's tone down, man, before establishing character and conflict. Maybe the thinking was that the premise would be enough to keep the reader reading? Unfortunately, we don't read book blurbs at this blog. Next line:

You ready?

What's with all the questions? I thought the reader was the one who was supposed to be asking the questions that a good beginning with a hook raises. Next line:


Okay, got it. Next line:


Okay, inhaling - though I don't need to be told. On the plus side, this little build up to god knows what is amusing. And the next line:

I will tell you.

I exhale with a few milligrams of annoyance. This line equals preamble and more tone and mood, man.

The premise might hook some people, hell even most people, but taking the premise on it's own - an alien anthropologist/traveler/whatever to Earth etc.- doesn't hook me. This has been done before - a lot. So it has to have something else. Perhaps a murder that the alien is forced to solve as he gets the hang of human ways? That would be cool, but there is no such plot line in the opening pages, only preamble and set up.

So I move on to the next book. I just don't want to waste my time reading X number of pages before it actually gets interesting with character and conflict. (Actually the narrator wonders where to start the story at the end of chapter 1 and then announces that he is starting the story in chapter 2) So, if you want the story, the book starts at chapter 2. If you want tone and mood, man, you can begin at the beginning, though that is so passé nowadays.

There is only so much tone and mood and setting and premise a reader can take, before it starts to taste funny, like eating a concoction of spices without any meat, fruit or vegetables.

But to be fair, the narrator isn't telling the story to humans on Earth, but to aliens of his own kind. So maybe they like their story beginnings oozing with tone and mood and setting and preamble and think character and conflict (things happening to people - or aliens) is way overrated. If that was the intended effect, it's clever. The next story I write I will write for aliens so if anyone says that it sucks I can say. "Ha, but it isn't intended for you. Only my very own fictional aliens can appreciate my work!"

First thing said:

"It's a miracle."

Yes, that I actually got this far.  The end.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 27 January 2014

Widow's Tears by Susan Wittig Albert

Rachel Blackwood got up early that morning.

A bed setting. Yawn. No pun intended. The rest of the paragraph continues by informing us that this Rachel person did not sleep well - and we can blame that on a three-year-old kid with a sore throat. Intrigued yet?

The second paragraph clarifies: actually, it is not only or not really the kid that kept Mom awake but the crashing of waves. Does this clarification have you riveted to the edge of your seat? The second paragraph transitions, succumbing to a weather report: It's hot, damn hot, so hot people are dying, even animals are keeling over. Then more weather reports, back story, and another weather report. Thus begins a prologue that I'm now itching to skip.

Chapter 1:

"I'm outta here," Ruby said, coming through the connecting door between her shop and Thyme and Seasons.

Then another weather report: It's warm for early May, naturally followed by a fashion report of what the person is wearing so we better understand just what the weather is like. This is also the first thing said in the book. Nothing was said in the prologue, there was no space - what, with all the weather reports.

Verdict: Epic Fail

Rudy Globird

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Stranglehold by Robert Rotenberg

This was not the way Ari Greene had expected to be spending his Monday morning.

Preamble. How many thousands of novels begin with something like: This is not how Random Character wanted/expected/planned to/on being/doing this/that today/this week/ this month/this year. On the cover it says this author is Canada's John Grisham. If he is, he certainly doesn't begin like Grisham.

Next line:

No self-respecting homicide detective would be caught dead driving a motor scooter.

Is this supposed to be where conflict is introduced? If so, I don't really care. This doesn't seem like a problem I want to read about. Or is it comic relief? Or a funny way of inserting some exposition? Unless this guy is caught dead on a motor scooter there are better ways to begin a story, and with a mystery what better way than with a crime? So does this one begin that way? No. And a scooter counts as the car opening cliché - which means the character begins the novel traveling to the conflict and plot rather than beginning with conflict, suspense, mystery and tension, all of which are sacrificed for some character development and back story. But some people like to know who they're reading about before they need to know what they are reading about.

In all fairness, this writer combines and balances several elements like character development, back story and general exposition fairly well, just that it isn't hooking me.

First thing said:

"I told them I'd do the job until Christmas, not a day longer."

Which is part of a back story dump.

Verdict: Fail

I would have given this 2.5 stars if it hadn't been for the preambling opening line.

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Hector Moreno and Jerome Ribbons sat in the car on the ground level of the Atlantic Regency Hotel Casino parking garage, sucking up crystal meth with a rolled-up five spot, a lighter and a crinkled length of tin foil.

So begins a book in a car, though in this case the line is not all about the car; you know, a car chase, a car crash, a car in a traffic jam, a car with a lost character in it, etc.

The second paragraph improves with the hint of a plot line:

There are three good ways to rob a casino.

So for all you aspiring crooks, pay heed.

Chapter 1:

Seattle, Washington

The shrill high-pitched chirp of an incoming e-mail was like a bell ringing in my head.

This line falls under the phone call opening. And the next line reveals that the character is in bed, so the next line after that naturally means the character looks for a watch and then reaches for a gun. Some people just don't like getting e-mails I guess. Before the end of a short page one, we are thrown into a gooey back story dump.

First thing said:

"Got your house picked out yet?"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 24 January 2014

Wonder by Dominique Fortier

It was snowing confetti on Saint-Pierre.

Every time authors start a story they must decide how to begin. Many choose to begin with setting to set up atmosphere, mood, and/or tone. To each his own. However, even though these are story elements and important, they are not in themselves the story. So, no matter how one justifies it, the novel does not begin with the story - things happening to people.

Think of it like this: Something happened to you, perhaps you were accidentally pushed from a subway platform onto the tracks and the next day you want to tell your friends what happened - that is to tell the story. How would you begin? It was a sunny day when I walked into the subway station filled with the dank smell of the herd of humanity as it wondered aimlessly through time and space.

Your friends would get pretty pissed, pretty quick if that is how you start your stories. The short of it is, beginning with setting, atmosphere and mood is just not how a story instinctively starts. Well, perhaps that is not entirely correct, mood and atmosphere can be established from word 1 simply in the telling of how conflict unfolds with some setting, which may be necessary, like this: You wouldn't believe what happened to me - I was pushed off the subway platform!

This is much better than: You wouldn't believe what happened to me - I was pushed!

But the setting is only important because it is vital to understanding the conflict.

Anyway, there are many different ways to begin and perhaps in the grand scheme of things, none of them are wrong. All I know is that the opening of Wonder does not hook me.

From a purely technical point of view, for descriptive writing, it is wonderful and the author obviously exhibits a talent for writing - a real wordsmith. Sometimes I wonder though, if that is the only purpose for such flowery and descriptive openings- to show off the chops. Don't get me wrong, good writing is important, but by itself, it does not hook. Character and conflict do.

First thing said:

"I am ridiculous."

This is on page 2 when we are introduced to a character describing himself, so the descriptive preamble does not last too long, though there is still vivid description between things said. So, if you like verbose description then this should be right up your dandy alley.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Until She Comes Home by Lori Roy

A Couple of Days Before

Malina Herze stares down on her dining-room table, her lovely dining-room table, and clutches a red-handled hammer to her chest.

This opening line is full of anticipation, which pulls the reader through the opening narrative, creating suspense. These types of sentences are hard to write because they depend on the rest of the scene just as much as the rest of the scene depends on them.

With the repeating of her lovely dining-room table, some tone and character are established. However, it's the hammer clutched to her chest that stands out and gives the scene it's tension and color.

As the paragraphs roll along an unpleasant image of Mr. Herze emerges - that of a jerk husband who doesn't appreciate his wife and who is a little over-domineering. It's an archetypal character that's commonplace in literature, one that is usually joined for entertaining contrast effect with the timid and submissive archetypal wife, a -by now- cliché of sweet nuptial antagonism.

First thing said:

"And who the hell you think you be?"

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Devil in Silver by Victor Lavalle

They brought the big man in on a winter night when the moon looked as hazy as the heart of an ice cube.

The irresistible urge to mention the season and hence allude to the weather makes its appearance in this opening line. In this instance the season and weather are not important in the opening line, at least not for plot and character, but of course the mention of season is vital for the simile's survival - a simile perfectly placed to show us the author's prowess with words.

Despite my scorn, I do like the simile. If nothing else it establishes tone, though the tone changes later. The other problem is the pronoun: they. Is this the proverbial they or will these pronouns be assigned names, some history, and annoying needs?

They continue:

They threw him in their undercover cruiser...
They shouldn't have brought him there.
When they reached the hospital...

They do a lot of other things too. They certainly sound like the proverbial they as they arrest the big man. It's all very ominous and secret sounding, designed to build suspense all for your reading pleasure. Except it doesn't.

First thing they say:

"Now he's scared."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Black List by Brad Thor


On August 17, 1975, Senator Frank Church appeared on NBC's Meet the Press to discuss the results of his full-scale investigation into America's burgeoning intelligence capabilities.

A preface means history, back story and/or the inspiration behind the story - in short a black tie intro, with information that could easily be inserted elsewhere once I'm ready to care. However, because it is supposed to be interesting the author might be thinking that this could be a nice little true-to-life hook, even if it is out of context and out of chronological order with the actual forward narrative. Too bad. Little do some authors know that a preface hook does not keep a reader reading. It's preamble. It's like someone coming out before the movie begins and starting to blabber. How many people actually enjoy that? Not many, so authors will just have to hook all over again. Most don't bother - thinking that aspect of their work is done.

What's worse, this preface is a little on the didactic side. You can skip it. Trust me - you can skip it.


Pentagon City
Present Day

There were a lot of places in which Caroline Romero could envision being murdered - a dark alley, a parking lot, even a nature preserve -  but a shopping mall in broad daylight wasn't one of them.

God, when is this book going to start? What's with the introductions? Anyway, this prologue indulges in several pages just to kill a prologie. At least that's what we assume. The writer leaves it hanging. Cliffhanger endings don't hook, just like being vague does not hook. But this isn't really a cliffhanger ending, it's a slithering-into-the-fog ending, whisked away by an imploding plot.

Chapter 1:

Rural Virginia
Forty-eight hours later

Kurt Schroeder glanced down at his iPhone while his Nissan subcompact crunched across the estate's pebbled motor court.

Two clichés for the price of one. A phone and a car. Except in this case there is no signal, so the phone call opening is impotent. But the intent is clear. If there's a phone, it gets the phone call opening cliché award. The phone doesn't have to be ringing or buzzing or even being held in a hand, it just needs to be there, teasing the reader: "Oh, my God, there's a phone!"

Listing the setting particulars as subheadings to a chapter rather than showing it is (in my book of writing rules) a sign of bad or lazy writing - take your pick. The rest of the pages ponder the mysteries of a novel opening without the luxury of having a phone signal before launching into back story. So the forward narrative of a man in a vehicle with a useless phone (oh, the horror) stops and we back up before anything interesting happens. How can that be anything but a total and utter fail?

First thing said:

"Where have you been?"

The two main purposes of dialogue (especially in the beginning) are either to move the plot forward or to reveal character. This does neither.

I'm tempted to say something witty about the title for my review, but I've got better things to do.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Monday, 20 January 2014

Vigilante by Stephen J. Cannell

The filthy rug limped along the sidewalk on swollen plastic baggie-wrapped feet, hunched against the chilly February wind.

I did a double take after reading this line and it took me a second to get it. The image I get is a smelly Chewbacca or a ratty Snuffleupagus padding down the street. In any case, the wording is amusing and this line attracts attention because of the imagery.

There is weather in this line so it will be honored with the weather opening cliché badge, but in this case the weather is not just a forced insert to create some mediocre atmosphere; it's needed to explain why someone is wearing a rug. Though this is set in LA so, for me at least, it would be more believable if Mr. Rug is dressed in a carpet because he's gone L.A. wild and not because it's L.A. cold.

The scene that unfolds is just as fascinating to read as it would be to watch (from a safe distance) a crazy person acting weird on a public street. We can't help but take a staring peek. What fun!

Page 2 gets an awkwardly obvious shift from forward narrative to back story dump but it's not long - only a paragraph.

First thing said:

"Excuse me, sir, but you're unzipped."

Verdict: Pass

Rudy Globird.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

A Corpse's Nightmare by Phillip DePoy

The dead can dream; I'll tell you how I know.

A little philosophy goes a long way, especially if it morbidly unusual - unusual at least for the everyday brain. The narrator does tell us how, or at least begins to tell us, but he certainly loves to beat around the bush, or in this case, beat around the page.

Overall, this is an example of how an opening line works well in conjunction with a title.

First thing said:

"Do you recognize me?"

At the end of my library copy a reader leaves a note about a plot hole but that might not mean there is one, though the handwriting is elegant and looks intelligent so maybe it is a problem. I will have to see.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Hard Target by Howard Gordon

Amalie Kimbo had learned long ago to keep her mouth shut.

So begins a prologue that is all resolution. The end. Boy, that was fast - next book.

Sarcasm aside, some people might care about how Amalie learned to keep her mouth shut and what that mouth used to spew forth. If so, the next paragraph explains that Amalie used to tell kids about demons and spirits whose presence she felt. As this must be before the days of Harry Potter and being metaphysically weird was cool, her mother suggests that unless she wanted to be mistaken for a witch and sent away, she needed to shut up. Then we get a David Copperfield back story dump that is hard and long.

Chapter 1:

Gideon Davis scrutinized the Windsor knot in his yellow tie in his rearview mirror as he waited for the stoplight to change.

Car opening cliché. I like how the last name is inserted as if this were the beginning of a formal essay or memoir. It's not wrong, just not really necessary and would have made this opening sentence shorter, which is to everyone's advantage (usually) when it comes to opening lines. Then there is back story which hints at the coming scene. The second paragraph is a GPS insert, a style of writing essential to the car opening scene cliché. Then more back story. A couple pages in, a forward narrative begins so I skip ahead to an actual scene.

First thing said:


Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 17 January 2014

Mr. Monk Gets Even by Lee Goldberg

I'd never gone so long without a murder.

Not a bad opening line. Direct and to the point for a mystery novel. And raises a question as to the character of the character.

Unfortunately, what follows is back story about the character of Adrian Monk who somewhat enjoys a fame that borders on cult status. If a reader is aware of the TV show then this might be interesting; if they are not aware, it is barely enough to get them interested, unless they're fascinated with OCD (and who isn't!). Nevertheless, the back story doesn't really need to be thrown in on page 1. It reminds me of how the Hardy Boys and other such novels begin. It sounds forced of the preamble variety and style. To sum up, there certainly is a lot of telling.

First thing said:

"Excuse me, sir."

The opening line is interesting but because there is no conflict (story) on page one (except back story) this fails to hook. The hook is obviously in the title character.

I like the TV series and will continue to watch episodes as they become available, but the books, or at least this one, I will put back on the library bookshelf.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Racketeer by John Grisham

I am a lawyer, and I am in prison.

When you think about it, writing an effective opening line is rather simple. Take this one. It has character. Yes, it is a pronoun but at least we know the pronoun's profession so the pronoun is not an entire blank. And there is some conflict - a lawyer in prison is not unusual but still rather awkward and this provides some setting.

I've not reviewed many Grisham books but the ones I have also had a nice first line. It's nice that a writer of this caliber takes the time to perfect that first line. Either that or he's a born natural. In any case, it shows the reader that this writer takes every line of his story seriously and wishes to waste no time pulling the reader in.

The back story that follows isn't the best technique to use to follow up with, but some explanation of why this lawyer is in prison is necessary and it moves quickly with conflict and events that feel like a forward narrative type of back story - the best kind of back story.

However, my library copy has the page folded to start chapter 2, which is an ominous sign.

First thing said:

"Racine sent this."

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Blind Spy by Alex Dryden

August 1971

Lieutenant Valentin Viktorov walked carefully and with evident hesitation through the labyrinth of Aleppo's covered souk.

The next paragraph describes what this guy looks like, as if that matters on page 1. As a protest, I refuse to imagine the character as the writer is describing him. In my mind he has a mustache and is six months in with estrogen therapy. Why? Because I can. That's right, I will read this book anyway I choose.

The first page also has KGB written twice, as if that's supposed to scare the hell out of everyone and hook us all into reading this. And what the hell is a souk? Oh, yeah, a mall. How many people know that without Google? But souk sounds better. Ultimately, what this means is that the writer will use lots of foreign words people don't understand in order to establish setting and create atmosphere. Why? Certainly not because there lacks a talent or time to create mood using English words.

So begins a prologue in a time past with people sinking into back story.

Chapter 1:

January 8, 2010

The black S-class stretch Mercedes crossed beneath the Moscow ring road on Entuziastov at just after 5:30 in the morning.

So we have a car opening with a GPS insert, not that anyone would know what the hell a ring road is, unless they know Moscow; for all we know, they could be next to Red Square. So again the reader would have to google if he or she cared, but they don't - why? Because it doesn't matter where they are in Moscow. By paragraph 2 they aren't even in Moscow anyway, making that first line quite redundant. Next line:

It was snowing harder...yadda, yadda, yadda - weather. Why do writers feel compelled to begin books set in Russia with weather (usually cold weather) in the first sentence, or in this case the second and establish something we already know? It's a special cliché that the Russian setting has all to itself. So for all you authors out there writing a story set in Russia, start with the story, not a weather report. Trust me, readers aren't so stupid that they need everything typed up for them. If you believe you are an exception, please leave a comment below identifying yourself.

First thing said:

"There it is."

That sounds like something Austin Powers would say.

Verdict: Fail

The title's cool though. There, I said something nice, Theo.

Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King

Wednesday & Thursday
September 18 &19, 1929

The envelope reached Bennett Grey early Wednesday afternoon.

This opening sounds like it is of the phone call opening variety. A message or communication of some sort is coming. Why not begin right away with the message? Instead the page continues in a roundabout way to tell us there is a letter and the receiver is not keen on opening it. So this does raise a question: Does it hook? Then, to draw out the suspense, the writer describes the weather, a technique used to build up tension by way of delay. But I'm too smart for that; I just skip ahead by reading the first sentences of paragraphs until I'm back on track with the forward narrative. Only a couple pages later do we get the letter, and it's a bit of a let down until we learn about the photos and the terror in them. So the hook comes at the end of this preface, a little risky, with all the attention deficiencies going around these days.

Chapter 1:

The morning exploded.

Which is a poetic way of saying the character is in bed and the sun is rising - and as usual in this type of opening, Mr. Character looks at his watch to find out what time it is.

The chapters are short and the endings are more interesting than the beginnings, like mini cliffhangers, so the narrative should pull most people in, if they are willing to invest time at the beginning and if you've already bought this book, I suppose you will be.

As for me, I'm off to the next book.

First thing said:

"Not today, friends."

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 13 January 2014

Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III

At first there is only the coffee table in front of him, a swath of sunlight across its glass surface.

I know what you're thinking: So begins a story about a coffee table, but you're wrong. What follows is that game called "there is/there are" - words used six times on the first page. What's with all the expletives?

And even though there is no sunrise or sunset that we can be sure of, there is sunlight so this opening manages to escape that cliche one would assume.

What this means, in case you don't get it, is that there are lots of things on page 1, including a floor and a wall! The tone of this is amusing. It sounds like something Forrest Gump would write and would be edited by the Count from Sesame Street.

First thing said:

"I ate wrap."

This is an interesting thing to say and unusual enough to interest the reader a little. So if you get that far you might keep reading. However, the description on page one should be enough to stop anyone reading as it does not hook. Perhaps the hook is in the byline?

The paragraphs are thick dense jungles, with so much black ink that it looks like a mosquito holocaust was perpetrated on each page.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain

Archie Sheridan had a paper birthday hat on his head and six bullets in his front pocket.

Juxtaposition usually works. Birthday hat and bullets. This raises two obvious questions. The bullets tag along for a while as the narrative moves forward, keeping the reader wondering. I'm thinking this guy is planning to shoot someone or everyone (well, at least six people). Whether I'm right or wrong, this one simple opening line has enough force to pull me through pages, even if nothing is happening, though there is a scene unfolding. The opening line adds tension to the developing scene that is quite pleasurable. Chapter 1 ends with the announcement of a homicide.

I rarely do this - continuing to review into chapter 2 but this continues to hook. First line of chapter 2:

The man lying on the bathroom floor of the Gold Dust Meridian looked to be in his mid-fifties, but it was hard to tell because part of his head had been blown off and was dripping down the wall over the toilet.

So this is a mystery that has a body early - by chapter 2. Chapter 1 is effective even though it does not begin with a body because we are led into thinking something bad might happen, all the while revealing characterization through behavior and dialogue, rather than telling it in verbose back story, which is the hackneyed way. So this chapter 1 is very refreshing, and if this blog is anything to go by, not as common as one might think.

First thing said:

"How was the bridge traffic?"

Doug asks this while still on page 1. It's clever how the author decides to have characters talk about traffic rather than have the story begin in a traffic jam cliché, like many writers seem to be subconsciously itching to do.

Verdict: Cool

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Dream Eyes by Jayne Ann Krentz

The dead diver was wedged like a bone in the stone throat of the underwater cave they called the Monster.

A problem, a dead character, and a visually interesting simile make this line earn its position as the opening line of a book. The scene that unfolds in chapter 1 is filled with tension as a man tries to find his way out of the monster cave before his oxygen tank empties. It's well done and keeps me reading to chapter 2 which has the opening line:

"You're too late," the ghost in the mirror said. "I'm already dead."

This line raises some questions and by now the reader is hooked and should have no problem reading a bit of back story that helps answer some of those questions.

Verdict: Cool

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 10 January 2014

Second Watch by J. A. Jance

We left the P-2 level of the parking lot at Belltown Terrace ten minutes later than we should have.

The characters storm out down the street and are followed by a description of Seattle and the street they are on, which suggests nothing more than a more concentrated effort of reading Google Earth. This prologue is about a man going into surgery and ends with him praying that when he wakes up the first thing he will see is his wife, waiting for him.

Chapter 1:

Except she wasn't.

This continues the prologue making me wonder if the prologue should be called chapter 1 and chapter 1 should be called chapter 2; however, relabeling one's chapters is a pain in the butt, so may be better to leave it as it is. Does it matter? Not in this case.

The man wakes up in recovery - so this counts as a bed opening, but acceptable as it's in a hospital and after an operation and not merely some lazy character lying about in bed at home wondering how to start the novel.

There is some conflict in chapter 1 with the wife missing and the man being a little confused at first about what is going on, but there's no need to drag that out for several pages interspersed with back story.

First thing said:

"Are you okay?"

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Longbourn by Jo Baker

There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September.

This opening sentence is trying to be unusual but falls short. The only problem that follows is someone has to do the dirty laundry old style, by hand on a cold morning. A problem but not one that hooks. I was thinking to add the weather opening cliché label to this one but the cold weather is part of the boring problem and not obtrusively described, so I'll let it go.

The third paragraph interrupts the forward narrative as it tries to paint a picture of a setting with flowery language like:

Sheep huddled in drifts...
Birds...fluffed like thistledown...
...cows huffed clouds of sweet breath... [Ugh, I can't get my mind to buy and sell that one.]

And that's just a taste; it goes on and on. Definitely on the overwritten side of purple. The paragraphs are long, thick and crowded.

First thing said:

"You don't know how lucky you are, Hill."

Obviously there is a fan base and market for this kind of book or it wouldn't exist. So hats off to that world.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Anno Dracula 1976-1991 Johnny Alucard by Kim Newman

Even before the War, Transylvania was the country of the dead.

For a book that has Dracula in the title, one can expect nothing less than it beginning in Transylvania. It's so expected it reeks of cliché.

The next line:

These forests and mountains were homeland to the dead that walked.

This line does sound cool, and for die-hard vampire fans, I suspect the author's giving them exactly what they want. That's it for paragraph one. The next paragraph is where it gets mildly interesting, so at least we can say the author wastes no time.

The boy had no fear of vampires. Nor of the Germans and the Russians. Nothing more could be done to him.

Then back story enters the equation and I begin to feel my attention wandering to the next book on my list to review. It's a fine line between too much back story and too much forward narrative. Too much forward narrative (especially the kind that rushes forward without explanation) and readers might be confused without context or grow bored not caring about the characters they know nothing about. Too much back story (especially the kind without conflict) and the story stalls and the reader gets bored without having the context of a forward narrative - you know, what is at stake. It's a fine line that needs to be balanced very tenderly in the beginning of a novel. This is the art of writing. Personally, in the first few pages of a book, I'd go with forward narrative with back story inserted sparingly on a need-to-know basis, as forward narrative is the story.

Chapter one:

A treeline at dusk.

So the author is setting up setting again in an attempt to begin by establishing mood first. In horror novels this is a good idea, I mean to establish mood early, but certainly not at the expense of conflict and story, which is where hooks lie in waiting.

First thing said:

"You are wrong, my son."

This gets 2.5 stars on the strength that Dracula is in the title and it opens in Transylvania. But I can't help feel I'm being generous. I'm sure Rudy will make up for it in some other review.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

I have to wonder whether any of the true highlights of my fortysome years have had to do with food.

This sentence falls under the category of unusual thoughts. These types of sentences work wonders in hooking people if the lines are intelligent and unusual. I think this line is both; it's something that we can all ponder. Food plays a bigger role in our lives than anything else. Try not eating for a day and see how empty the day will feel. The rest of the paragraph explores this thought further and raises some interesting points:

Oddly, for something I do every day, I can't remember many meals in detail...

On the third page we gt the announcement:

We are all animals...

Blunt and frank and for some people who don't know who they are, quite risky. I like the tone this one is taking with me. But overall, there is something of preamble in all this. There is no forward narrative conflict yet, just narrative, but it's unusual enough to keep one reading until some conflict will eventually show up.

First thing said:

"Slack Muncie called this morning."

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Hit List by Laurell K. Hamilton

The main piece of the body lay on the ground, on its back in the middle of a smooth grassy field.

The key phrase here being: the main piece of the body. As always, it is much appreciated when a mystery begins right away with a body. This might just get a three-star pass, oh wait...unfortunately, the second sentence turns me off.

In the predawn gloom everything looked gray, but there were scoffed and paler places around the field; I think we were in standing in the middle of a softball field.

A typo or misprint in the second sentence of your book does not bode well: ...we were in standing in the middle of a softball field.

But it could be worse: It could be in the first sentence.

The other thing is that in the first sentence we are told the setting is a smooth grassy field and in the second sentence we are told it is a scoffed softball field. I know I'm reaching a little for a complaint, but sending the reader slightly mixed images from sentence to sentence makes me wonder how the rest of this book is written. A mystery novel needs more than a gruesome murder to entertain me and compete in the market. Precise imagery is vital, or how am I expected to solve the crime before the fictional detective, which gives me that sense of intellectual superiority I so desperately crave?

First thing said:

"Is this the body lying on its back, or its ass?"

God, I hope that's not how US Marshall's really talk when investigating a crime scene. How vulgar, how disrespectful. Is this the world we live in today? Or is it the author trying to solicit emotion from the reader - namely annoyance?

Then another detective asks, "Does it matter?"

And the response: "I guess not."

These don't sound like very good detectives to me.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht


Twitter conversation with Laurell K. Hamilton:

She never responded to my tweet (Maybe she is consulting a lawyer?). Basically in her tweet she is saying that professional detectives in America like FBI, etc., when investigating a murder or violent death, make crude remarks about the corpse of a body like,  "Is that the ass?"  and then say they don't care if it is, which in my view doesn't indicate a very accurate investigation. If she says that her dialogue is based on research, then she should be prepared to cite her sources. If this is pure fiction of the author's imagination, that's fine, but then my original statement stands, that these are stupid and unprofessional detectives and who wants to read about stupid characters? Stupid people?

And even though she may be happy with her imagery, there are readers that are not, but perhaps that is not important for her: that people don't understand what she means, as long as she understands what she means.

Oh, and children, let this be a lesson: just because a person writes a book, does not mean that that person is intelligent. And just because millions of other people, intelligent or otherwise, buy said book - it still does not mean the author is intelligent.

I must admit that after this brief exchange, this writer has pissed me off, and I have now added her books to my collection of horribly written books bookshelf - placed honorably and with reverence next to Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, V.C. Andrews and Harry Stephen Keeler to name only 0.1% of the legions of meh writers. Nevertheless, I cannot give the opening of Hit List a 1-star epic fail because the first sentence is still effective. Damn.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt

In Moscow I was always cold.

Not only is this about weather, but it tells me something I already know, and I suspect everyone else with a Grade 6 education knows as evidenced in the next line:

I suppose that's what Russia is known for. Winter.

The whole first paragraph is dedicated to telling us in no uncertain terms that it really, really, really is winter and it really, really, really is cold. Anyway this is a prologue so it doesn't really matter much. Eventually the weather report disperses into a fog of back story filled with Russian words and Russians speaking bad English. With the abbreviations CIA and KGB one might assume that is where the hook is, but as they've been used and done to death, they bore more, despite the flimsy mystery that is suggested towards the end.

Chapter 1

The first defector was my sister.

Not bad, but this sentence is unfortunately followed by back story of the Kodak moment variety. With this opening is one to expect the story to start and stall throughout, as the moods of the author change from vivid description to nostalgic, sentimental back story with only snippets of forward narrative?

On the plus side, (Theodore is making me add plus sides to failed openings) there are lots of little tidbits of details that make the characterization come alive, but for me (according to the definition of a story) those "living" characters need to be immersed in conflict and not reminiscing of past tensions. Reminiscing can come later.

First thing said:

"Why is your mom crying?"

Which was said in a back story moment.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Monday, 6 January 2014

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach

It was the last day of summer.

This is the first kid's book to be reviewed on this blog and a nice choice as I am what is considered an anti-Stratfordian, you know, the alien believing idiots who actually don't see how anyone can actually assume Shakespeare is the author of the plays.

This line however doesn't hook. There is some conflict perhaps for kids - the last day of summer means school, not a pleasant prospect for most kids.By the end of the first paragraph, we learn that the hero is not only starting school tomorrow but it is a new school and she will be stepping of the bus into a sea of strangers. Other than this there isn't much else to interest. Besides the new school the rest of the chapter unfolds like just another day in the life of type of opening.

First thing said:

"You got the best room."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 5 January 2014

War of the Roses by Conn Iggulden

Bowls of dark royal blood lay beneath the bed, forgotten by the physicians.

After 17 pages of maps and genealogical lists we get the prologue. This line raises some questions and establishes some setting. A scene unfolds with a sprinkle of back story to establish some context but no large info dumps. Nice.

First thing said:

"I am here, Edward."

Chapter 1:

England was cold that month.

Weather cliche opening. The whole first paragraph is dedicated to the weather - is an ode to the weather - not to character, not to conflict, and not to irony - to the weather. And in case you're wondering, weather does not hook, not even the most rosy cheeked Canadian, no matter how excitedly the wind is blowing and no matter how menacingly the cold air is biting. But after this hiccup, a scene starts to unfold with dialogue and action.

This opening is so close to getting sucked into that tired mass of cliche-novel openings in which most writers are content to wallow that I fear for its rating.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Blood Crows by Simon Scarrow

The column of horsemen struggled up the track to the crest of the hillock and then their leader raised a hand to halt them as he reined in.

This is classic set-up for a scene that - one assumes - will be much more interesting than the set-up. So why not begin with the actual scene instead of beginning with the story line trying to arrive at the beginning of the story? In this case it would mean beginning the moment the horsemen stumble upon the bodies of defeated comrades on pages 2-3.

First thing said:

"We're too late."

On the first couple pages there isn't really much happening. Back story and establishing setting (which is well done) consumes most of the space and there is little glimmer of a forward narrative until page 3. There is some character development, but nothing that stands out and says: I want to read about this person for the next several days.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 3 January 2014

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

It was a Friday night, about nine weeks into the project.

I'm assuming this is a prologue, though it is not identified as being anything. It raises a mildly interesting question: what project? But without more to go on, one can't say one is hooked. So since this line isn't really great, I'll give this a second chance with the next section (chapter 1?).

There is no Internet here, not even dial-up.

In today's world this is a major catastrophe. Conflict galore. Reading on and between the lines, the reader can't help but feel there's a secret behind the plot in this book, though it's a little frustrating - as a mystery and hook are dangling before our eyes but obstinately refusing to reveal it early.

First thing said:

"I'm scared."

This is on the first page and part of a video call so that counts as a phone call opening, but better from a writer's point of few because there is more to work with as both characters can usually see each other and react to facial expressions and so on.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A Final Reckoning by Susan Moody

Until the screams began, the house was quiet, wrapped in an expectant pre-Christmas hush.

So begins a prologue, though it's not identified as being anything. It's all in italics, which is annoying. The scene that unfolds is disjointed with chaotically inserted bits and pieces of dialogue like:

Don't! Stop! Mum! Please, Mummeee, oh don't! Ouch!...etc

Dialogue continues from various disembodied voices, interspersed with various forms of footsteps. It's effective because it feels like the reader is in a dark room when all this is occurring, creating a sense of confusion, always a necessary ingredient for fear.

Chapter 1:

Where do you begin a story like this one?

Not like that. This is preamble and is actually a really stupid question. Why is the author asking the reader about a story the reader has no idea about? Of course, I suspect it's a rhetorical question, but what's the purpose of being rhetorical? To introduce a narrator that has no idea how to tell a story, making an excuse up to ramble? If that's the case, I'm ready for closure - next book.

Next line and paragraph:

Do you start with your characters, build up a portrait of them, small accretions added for the reader: who they are, what they do, where they're're going, what they want?

Ending with:

That way, you make them known,...which holds the attention even before you launch into your story.

Um, wrong. Just because a writer shows there is a character in the story does not guarantee the reader's attention is held. I meet lots of real people, who actually bore me - people I insist on avoiding. So it's more likely than not that as soon as I get to know a character and all their cliches, I will be turned off. And whether you like to admit it or not, we all have these misanthropic tendencies towards strangers.

The next paragraph begins:

Or do you begin in medias res, plunging slap, bang into the defining events from which your narrative springs?

More preamble. All of this is to say basically there is a story that will start soon, but remember it is only a story. So thanks for wasting my time with musings on creative writing which reveal nothing.

Only after the first three paragraphs do we get the inkling of a story (things happening to people):

I was nearly thirteen when my sister died.

So the writer decides to begin with neither character portrayal or in medias res, but instead with a huge back story dump. Ah, I hope it felt good writing that out. From this point one realizes that one must shore oneself up for a long bout of back story dumping before a forward narrative presents itself - if at all.

Fortunately, I will never find out.

Verdict: Epic Fail

Theodore Moracht

The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice

It was the beginning of December, deeply cold and gray, with the rain pounding as always, but the oak fires had never burned brighter in the vast rooms of Nideck Point.

A mindless weather report hoping to establish setting, mood and atmosphere but bores instead. There's a footnote explaining how to pronounce Nideck but who cares? I mean, is pronouncing it properly in my head when reading important to the plot or something? Oh, and before chapter 1 there is a The Story so Far bit, which of course I ignored. That's cheating. I judge a book opening on its own merit and this one fails. Incidental weather doesn't hook. I don't understand why that is so difficult to understand - and so avoid.

First thing said:

"I'm not doing nothing."

This is dialogue of things said once upon a time and not part of a forward narrative. One might think back story is important in a series book and on page 1, but it's not. Think about it. Those who are reading the series already know this stuff, and those who are picking this up mid series without a clue don't care yet; in either case readers want the story of this book first - on page 1, starting with sentence 1. At least I do; not a fictional history lesson. Of course, many series books can't stand on their own no matter and no how, which is a weakness, as if each series book has had a lobotomy and each piece of the "story" brain is scattered through time and space, or whatever.

As usual with a writer of this calibre, the hook is in the byline, as evidenced by how much space the author's name takes up on the cover.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend

Thursday January 1st
Bank Holiday in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales

These are my New Year’s resolutions:

1. I will help the blind across the road.
2. I will hang my trousers up.
3. I will put the sleeves back on my records.
4. I will not start smoking.
5. I will stop squeezing my spots.
6. I will be kind to the dog.
7. I will help the poor and ignorant.
8. After hearing the disgusting noises from downstairs last night, I have also vowed never to drink alcohol.

Hmm, I guess the entire list is part of the first sentence, so this constitutes a mild form of cheating, but who cares? Not I. Beginning with a list offers up a few possibilities and lit devices like foreshadowing and misdirection. This list will keep the reader guessing throughout and most likely keep the reader going back to this opening line as he/she reads. I love the resolution of helping the poor and ignorant. The last resolution sets up the next line:

My father got the dog drunk on cherry brandy at the party last night.

Not only is this funny but reveals characterization. It sets the tone for the whole novel.

If the RSPCA hear about it he could get done. Eight days have gone by since Christmas Day but my mother still hasn’t worn the green lurex apron I bought her for Christmas! She will get bathcubes next year. Just my luck, I’ve got a spot on my chin for the first day of the New Year!

First thing said:

"You've got a lot to learn, son."

I think this is the first thing said. As this is a diary there isn't much dialogue in the beginning and this comes several pages in.

Verdict: Cool ( I want more)

Happy holidays from the Hooked/Unhooked Brain staff.

Theodore Moracht