Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

August 25, 1991

Dear friend,

I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.

There are first-person pronouns, second-person pronouns and third-person pronouns. The God of Pronouns has been well feed with characters regulated and sacrificed to pronoun hell with this opening line. Could this be any more vague? The only explanation is that this was written by a teenager. They are perhaps the vaguest people on earth, besides politicians.

What this line does do is establish tone and reveal character despite the pronouns.

First thing said:

"Boys and girls, I regret to inform you that one of our students has passed on."

This comes on the first page, so dialogue is used early to introduce a plot point and conflict. This is good as it let's the reader assume that dialogue will be used properly in this novel; that is, the characters will be allowed space to tell their stories without the writer's interference.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

There are songs that come free from the blue-eyed grass, from the dust of a thousand country roads.

I think the author is confusing poetry for prose. In the next sentence we get the rather haughty statement that this story before us is a song that came free from the blue-eyed grass - whatever that means. This is artsy-fartsy at its loudest.

It goes on with some unknown narrator talking about this story and how he came across it with plenty of back story and description. The most exciting thing that happens on these opening pages is that ink spilled onto the paper. Insomniacs- we have your cure here!

Chapter 1:

Robert Kincaid

On the morning of August 8, 1965, Robert Kincaid locked the door to his small two-room apartment on the third floor of a rambling house in Bellingham, Washington.

The first chapter is titled with the name of the person who is then promptly mentioned in the opening line. Sounds a little redundant. Anyway, so this is the inciting event. A character is leaving his home and going somewhere, presumably to the plot of the book. In any case, it is a fairly unremarkable sentence, though in its defense, it does provide some useful data, like a name, a date and a town.

First thing said:

"I might get a dog then."

This Robert says to the setting around him, in other words, he's taking to himself, which I think reveals something about the character, which is something dialogue should do. The earlier the better.

The opening of this short novel (there are toilet paper rolls that are longer) reads more like a series of snapshots than a series of events - which is, when you get down to it, what a story is.

Honestly, I kept reading this to find out what all the fuss is about, and even though it is a very short book, a novella really, to this day, years later, I have never finished it, and as you can see from the verdict below, I never will. I would rather lick a brick.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Monday, 28 April 2014

Blood on the Strand by Susanna Gregory

London, early May 1663

Matthew Webb was cold, wet and angry.

This line does not hook. We have an ageless male, though luckily with a name, and we learn little else other than he is cold (weather reference), wet (weather reference) and angry (also weather reference?). Naturally, the next line enters into a weather report, because I assume the writer fears the reader may be confused as to what cold and wet actually mean. After all, readers are stupid, right? They always misunderstand us intellectually superior writers and go off thinking the wrong thing, like, for example, this guy was just swimming or had taken a shower. So let's be clear, he's wet and cold, because it is raining. For some unknown reason, this is a very important plot point which the writer feels must be made clear before any story begins.

That's right, weather is not story or this would be a bestseller: Bob woke up and saw it was raining on his house. The end.

Next line:

The rain, which had started as an unpleasant, misty drizzle, was now the kind of drenching downpour that was likely to last all night.

So the opening conflict in this novel is bad weather. Been done before. Not interesting. The rest of the first paragraph develops how bad the weather is, in case you aren't clear. Actually, it reads like the author is trying to put the reader in the rain.

Honestly, even though so many novels begin with the weather phenomena, I can't understand how anyone would think weather in the first paragraph would hook. Who is interested in a rainy day, and who believes that weather is a gripping problem or an inciting event worthy of beginning a story? Who demands a novel begin with weather, because if it doesn't they just won't understand what is going on?

Of course, many will argue that weather establishes mood, but that is exactly what makes it a cliche.

To make it worse this character is walking - walking towards the plot and, one hopes, towards the opening conflict, but of course there are no guarantees. So with the opening prologue, we are confronted with two cliches so far. One more and this will be an automatic epic fail and be honored with the three-hit-cliche award. Curious if this will be the case, I read on.

Chapter 1:

Westminster, late May 1663

Hailstones as large as pigeons' eggs pelted the royal procession as it trooped down King Street from the palace at White Hall, and any semblance of dignity was lost in the ensuing scramble for shelter.

Hm. Another weather conflict. At least this weather report suggests a little more conflict than the previous one in the prologue. Hail the size of a pigeon's egg can hurt.

In general this novel opens with the proverbial lens zoomed out, as if we are up in an airplane looking down at the plot and characters as if they are ants, slowly coming in closer and closer for a landing where the plot is waiting. Zoomed out beginnings are less interesting. The prologue opening was a little more zoomed in in the fact that we had an actual character who was expressing negativity, though for unknown reasons.

With the zoomed out technique, the author chooses to set the setting before beginning the story. It is the old-school writing style and doesn't hook modern audiences like it did for those who lived in a world before photography and moving images. However, I do understand the motivation for being descriptive early, as this is an historical novel and establishing setting is important - just not at the expense of story conflict, you know, things happening to people, which does not include getting wet in the rain.

First thing said:

"I do not like you."

At least the opening dialogue offers conflict.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore MOracht

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

May 14, 1924

Dear parents,
Last night I visited a club in Montparnasse where the men dress as women and the women as men.

What makes this sentence work is that the date is 1924. If this was a modern story set in 2014 it would not have the same impact, though undoubtedly still hook some people.

The rest of the first paragraph:

Papa would have loved it. And Mama's face would have crinkled in that special smile she has for Pap's passion for everything French.

I like that the password to get in is: Police! Open up! The exposition at the beginning is interesting and pulls the reader in as it establishes time and place and character. I think it's because of the letter writing style, which just tells the news, giving the reader the feeling of eavesdropping.

First thing said:

"Why not?"

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Us Conductors by Sean Michaels

I was Leon Termen before I was Dr Theremin, and before I was Leon, I was Lev Sergeyvich.

I like unusual lines. This one suggests slightly unusual circumstances and therefore raises a few questions, though there's probably a perfectly reasonable explanation. Nevertheless there is a hit of foreshadowing of some conflict: either the person needed to change his name for political reasons or this guy has multiple personality disorder. With a name like Lev Sergeyvich I assume the former.

What follows is some exposition about an instrument and how it could have been named before revealing they are on a ship called Stary Bolshevik that sort of expands upon the Russian theme.

First thing said:

"All right, Lev."

Verdict: Pass (barely)

This opening only mildly interests me. There is not much else to say about it, nothing bad about it except that it's not remarkable or memorable, which is the worse thing about it, I suppose. The writing is fine and I see no reason for people interested by the blurb to read on. I however, didn't read the blurb so will move on to the next book in my quest to find the perfect beginning.

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 25 April 2014

When is a Man by Aaron Shepard

Paul slammed on the brakes.

Paul in a car opening. Ahead of him are emergency lights flashing. The reason Paul didn't see this ahead of him and had to jam on the brakes is that this scene appeared behind a blind corner in what seems like a rural area. So no surprise the emergency vehicles are there, must be lots of accidents in the blind corner type places that are out in the countryside.

Actually, Paul wasn't paying attention and had been just imagining the riverbank as a good place to sleep which becomes an excellent opportunity to introduce weather, season and back story. If you want to find out what's up with the emergency vehicles, you'll have to wait and sift through several paragraphs of back story and geography before we come back to the present and Paul's bladder.

First thing said:

"Cliff, what's it this time?"

Actually the first thing said is Cliff! but that sucks, so I decided to add something beyond the mere name calling. Then we get a description of the cop at the side of the road (like I care) and then some thick, bloated paragraphs of more back story, before we return to the story, I mean the forward narrative and the body of a child is pulled out of the water and I wonder if this is a mystery novel. I'm curious, but the next couple pages descend into more back story and I'm wondering how full a life this guy's had prior to the publication of this novel. I don't want to find out. This opening is buried in too much back story too soon.

I lose interest and don't even care if I understand enough of what is going on to write this review.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

The phone rang while I was elbow-deep in sudsy dishwater.

The phone opening cliche makes it seem like the plot is calling to see if this is the place and time for it to make an entrance. A ringing phone is not a problem for most people, so no conflict in the opening line, and the fact the phone is ringing shouldn't be foreshadowing conflict, except in novels it always does, contrary to the vast majority of real life. If I was a character who agreed to be in a book, I would refuse a phone. However, as people become more obsessed with their phones, they demand that phones take a prominent role in the novels they read, especially in the beginning.

First thing said:

"I'll get it."

It is only after this early dialogue that comes in the second paragraph that things get interesting, at least for those who would be interested in this kind of book.

A werewolf pack that eats together stays together...

This first line of the third paragraph almost got this a pass by the hair of its chinny chin-chin. If this is part of a series, then people will not be surprised by the mention of werewolves. For the rest of us illiterates, picking this book up cold, as we are supposed to on this blog, it is good to reveal the premise early and in such an offhand manner, makes it work all the more.

The first page continues by discussing food and the dishwasher, school and the dishwasher some more before someone answers the damn phone. Overall, it sounds absurd that werewolves are doing the dishes, like it was 1952. However, I understand why I feel this way: I'm not hooked.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Don't Ever Look Back by Daniel Friedman

In my misguided youth as a Memphis police detective, I wrecked a fair number of motor pool cars.

The narrator continues for the rest of the first paragraph to say he's damaged property and violated constitutional rights, often with a rolled-up phone book, which reminds me of an episode of Monk when Captain Stottlemeyer, without a phone book, improvises by whacking someone with a laptop computer instead. I mention this because I like stories that take old ideas and turn them around, even if only a little.

Even though this opening line is back story, it instantly establishes character and tone. As it is brief, the reader may not recognize that this novel actually begins with back story. The character/narrator that emerges, though is a bit of a cliche, the over the top Hollywood detective that in the opening pages reminds me of Dirty Harry as a disrespectful teenager, which is to say: This is fun to read. Reading on, it's even more hilarious as the narrator is an old man.

A scene unfolds quickly, beginning while still on page 1. The narrator has to explain why he went after someone with an axe. I start to sympathize with the character and want to read more about him. It isn't so much the situation that hooks as it is the character - who's interesting in the sense that he speaks his mind and is a take-it-as-it-comes kind of guy who is quite capable of shrugging off an axe attack. So this character is a breath of fresh air in a world where etiquette and politically correct speech suffocates pre-1990's conversation. That is: this is great escapist fiction with interesting dialogue, which gives the characters plenty of opportunity to express themselves and tell their own stories.

First thing said:

"What can I say?"

Verdict: Cool

The 4 stars are not so much for the opening line, but more for the overall opening pages with its mixture of tone, conflict, character and dialogue. Very easy to get pulled into this novel. My evening's just been - booked.

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Target by David Baldacci

Four hundred men lived here, most for the rest of their time on earth.

This is the first line and first paragraph of the novel. The next line:

And then hell would get them for the rest of eternity.

Beginning a sentence and a paragraph with "and" is not grammatically sound, so why do writers do this? One possibility is that it makes what follows sound more dramatic. That is to say, grammar and syntax is used to make a sentence more conceptually powerful, suggesting that what is expressed in the sentence is not powerful enough on its own, so the deployment of special grammar and punctuation to ensure that said sentence is gripping is used. This second sentence is also a paragraph left on its own, presumably so it will stand out more. Personally, I feel that if the And then was removed from that second sentence and it was tagged onto the first paragraph, it would have the same power, if not more. It would certainly look less like narrative text. Its writing like this that makes writing look like writing. However, most people do not notice this, nor do they care.

Nevertheless, there is a hook here. The story begins right away, with four hundred characters locked up. This sentence raises questions which pulls the reader into the story with conflict. As well, it's a bonus there are no cliches, which is a breath of fresh air.

The first full proper paragraph (not that the others were absolutely improper) is a descriptive and back story paragraph, which is important (now that conflict has been established) to provide some context. It's effective back story, not only because it's brief, but because it raises more questions. In general, I could do with less description, but in this case, it suggests more conflict in the form of a grimy prison, so it's acceptable.

In the beginning of a story, in the first couple pages, the way to hook is through conflict. Bad things happening to characters, emotional trauma, horrible back story, and/or an oppressive/trying setting, as well as ominous mood, etc. If writers do this, there will always be readers hooked, and hopefully enough to make plenty of money to pay for that second swimming people or those vital botox treatments.

By the end of the first page an actual character is revealed as the conflict is further developed.

First thing said:

"What in the hell do you have to smile about, Earl?"

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Lost Souls of Angelkov by Linda Holeman

April 1861

The day his son was stolen, Konstantin had noticed the difference in the air.

I was scrolling through many books today with horrible, boring first sentences at the Google bookstore before I finally came across this opening line which I like. I wanted to write a review about a good opening line today.

Unfortunately, the next line describes the smell of the air as something that means the end of winter. I assume it is that muddy spring smell. In any case, the second line is about weather, which does not further conflict but instead only tells us the season, which is totally unnecessary because the date is already given and if readers want to imagine April, they can so so perfectly without the descriptive prompt.

I never will understand why the weather needs to be reported in the first paragraph of a book. It never hooks. It may create some mood and establish an element of setting, but without conflict, setting does not hook -  especially something as flimsy as the weather. I am getting tired of reading book openings day after day that begin with weather, it's starting to turn me off to opening a book at all. Weather is not creative, it is cliche for the millionth time already. Books that do not begin with weather or have very little weather at the beginning are starting to look like works of genius to me now.

Fortunately the opening line does hook. There is a character and a major conflict plot point.

First thing said:

"Papa, someone's coming."

This is still on the first page and the scene quickly unfolds as the abduction takes shape on page 2. It definitely hooks.

Verdict: Pass

I would score this higher if it hadn't wasted my time with the weather so early on.

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Intercept by Dick Wolf

Bassam Shah had driven through a day and two nights from Denver, stopping only for gas, eating fried pies, drinking red bull, and urinating into a plastic milk jug between gas station fill-ups.

The writer's brain must have stepped out for fresh air when this opening line was written. Let's use ours to see what this sentence means. The character stops only to fill up gas, but doesn't stop to urinate? So the image I have is that the guy is peeing into a bottle while behind the wheel and driving.Giggle-giggle. LOL-LOL-LOL. That's like a Peter Griffin or Homer moment. Imagine what he must look like, one eye on the road and one eye on the one-eye crybaby and all without any spillage? The only question this raises is why the guy can't stop to take a leak? Is he scared to leave a DNA trail? Is someone following him with dogs that can sniff him out, or is he a conscientious citizen unwilling to contaminate the side of a highway?

Then there is the car opening cliche to contend with. A character driving to the plot of the novel, instead of being introduced with the problem - that is, why he is driving and peeing at the same time and what is so urgent to drive a man to such lengths. On the plus side, this line does contain some foreshadowing.

First thing said:

"Where are you going?"

Has Bassam been stopped by the police for peeing and driving? Read on to find out.

Verdict: Fail

I was tempted to rate this higher for the laughable peeing and driving scenario, but I don't think that was the writer's intention: to make me laugh; so this gets the standard 2-star car fail for deploying a cliche.

And with a name like Dick Wolf, I was tempted to add the byline hook label, but then I thought: That would just be mean.

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For by Jeffrey Archer


Sebastian tightened his grip on the steering wheel of the little MG.

Car opening cliche. Cliche betrays a lack of creativity. On the plus side, this sentence introduces a character and the fact that he (or she depending on how wild your imagination is) is gripping the steering wheel has an element of foreshadowing. But this is what any opening line should have.

Chapter 1:

Harry Clifton was woken by the sound of the phone ringing.

Bed setting cliche and phone call cliche in one sentence.

First thing said:

"They're trying to kill us."

This is more like it. The dialogue works at revealing a rather important plot point, so top marks for the opening dialogue not being something redundant like,"Hey!"

Verdict: Epic Fail

Sorry, Jeff, but this gets the epic fail award because it hits a three-cliche-opening home run in the prologue and in chapter 1. Cliches are overdone and fail to hook anyone who reads more than 30 books a year. But I suspect the writer knows this and knows that the hook is in the byline.

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 18 April 2014

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

This line works because of the firing squad. This is conflict. There is no indication that this man will die by firing squad, but it is a predicament that the reader becomes curious as it raises questions, like why is this character in front of a firing squad in the first place. What makes this line more than simple conflict is the memory the man has facing death. It is an odd recollection and raises even more questions.

The whole first page is one long run-on paragraph that could easily be broken up, but one wonders if this was not part of the plan. In any case, it turns the modern reader off. However, the opening line is enough to hook readers and make them wonder about ice and firing squads.

First thing said:

"Things have a life of their own."

While perhaps not moving plot forward, this opening bit of dialogue does have substance.

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. One Hundred Years of Solitude comes in as the 19th greatest novel of all time. I was planning to start at 100 and work my way down, and have several reviews already completed, beginning with Gone with the Wind at 100, but with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's tragic death, he's been fast-tracked.

Verdict: Cool

RIP. The world has lost a great writer. If one looks at the writers left, topping the New York Times best seller list, the tragedy of this man's death becomes all the more acute.

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Kill Fee by Owen Laukkanen

The billionaire picked a heck of a day to die.

This opening line has some potential. It's short; there's foreshadowing so blatant it borders on preamble, though helpful for all those people who had trouble with their grade 6 reading comprehension. Nevertheless, we have a character in the form of a rich man who seems to be capable of picking his death day which suggests suicide. Names aren't necessary as long as readers have more than a pronoun to work with. Because this tells us about an impending death, it sets up the ticking time bomb plot device. We read on, anticipating the sentence in which the billionaire dies.

Unfortunately, with the next line, this opening falls flat on its face with with the overused and abused weather report.

It was a sunny Saturday in early April, [Isn't that always the way?] a beautiful afternoon in downtown Saint Paul, the kind of day that seemed to chase away memory of the long Minnesota winter just passed.

The next line:

It was not the kind of afternoon for murder.

Which makes me wonder: What is the best afternoon for murder? This is how preamble can make an opening go melodramatically stupid.

First thing said:

"This is what I'm talking about, Stevens."

This is said in reference to the weather. In the end, this scene unfolds as if it were the beginning of a movie and not the beginning of a book, which it is, so go figure.

There are 219 chapters in this book, which suggests they are short and quick, which in turn suggests this is fast paced.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

I'll give this 2.5/5 on the strength of the opening line, but I can't help but feel I'm being too generous.

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen


He told him this: how as a boy fugitive on a scorched day of wartime, crossing the railroad yards of some defeated city, he is drawn closer by a twitching in the shadow under the last boxcar in a transport shunted off onto a siding.

This opening line of a short one-paragraph prologue is intentionally abstruse I fear. The pronouns, the indefinite articles and indefinite pronoun all contribute to a prologue that needs a preface. It's as if a fog is slowly lifting from the novel.

I assume this has the weather opening cliche in scorched day, unless that means something else. I can't tell; it could mean many different things.

At the end of the day, when all is said and written, the use of rich language shunts off with a scorched shadow of twitching pretension. Though well written, it makes no sense to use pronouns at the beginning like: He told him... Who told who? It's a cheap way to raise a question, and not a question about story conflict but a basic question like what the heck is happening to who - I no good understand. What follows is a little weird, almost like a dream of something twitching in a shadow, a tentacle like a thin tongue and other similes. The emphasis of this opening is obviously on language and vocabulary, which distracts the reader from the story, which is smothered by a writer high on words from sniffing too many newly pressed dictionaries, I imagine.

Chapter 1:

He has flown all night over the ocean from the New World, descending from moon stare and the rigid stars into the murk and tumult of inversion shrouding winter Poland.

What the hell does that last part mean - into the murk and tumult of inversion shrouding winter Poland? I suppose I could stop reading and spend some a few seconds contemplating it, but talk about pulling a reader out of the story. This is, like, so totally overwritten, you know. Can it be any more ambiguous? It's more poetry than prose. I can just imagine the crowd who loves this stuff gathered in their hemp sweaters around their herbal teas in university library cafeterias planning their next protest to ban wooden toothpicks and stroking their chins, snickering at the rest of us meat-eating morons with brains rotting from too much TV as we struggle to grasp the deeper social and philosophical ramifications of Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss.

First thing said:

"Like black icicles!"

The first thing said is a simile? Even the characters are poets.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

I give this a 2.5 stars for all those artistic-fartistic wordsmiths out there. There is a place for this style of writing, but not on my bookshelf.

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Dead Heat by Linda Barnes

With sweaty fingers, Spraggue yanked a crumpled scrap of paper from the pocket of his running shorts.

In memory of the Marathon Bombing and to mark the one year anniversary, I've decided, for better or for worse, to review the opening of Dead Heat, first published in 1984, with the ominous subtitle: Murder at the Boston Marathon. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon copy at a library sale some time ago, as I've heard it is out of print.

In this opening line we are introduced to the detective and protagonist, Spraggue, but little else. There is no conflict, but there is some foreshadowing, hopefully, suggesting something untoward in the form of the crumpled piece of paper. We aren't disappointed as a couple sentences later we are told that the note says:

3 P.M. 

By the third paragraph we learn that the detective is in the middle of a run with runners all about.

First thing said:


And then:

"Over there!"

The dialogue does not offer much, but is expected from a simple murder mystery. It's not fair to expect something witty or philosophical. However, this opening dialogue does move the plot forward - sort of, and introduces another character.

Because of the events of a year ago, reading this now, takes on a slightly different flavor - a little creepy.

Verdict: Pass (Barely)

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 14 April 2014

Murder, She Barked by Krista Davis

It hadn't been the best day.

In general, I like a mindless read and cozy mysteries with all their various themes and premises can fit the bill, but I don't like preamble, which is what this line is. Some will argue that this line represents foreshadowing, but foreshadowing requires some skill and is an art, hinting at some specific conflict to come. This line does not do that; it merely tells us that a story is coming - that there is conflict. Since I'm holding a book in my hand, I can infer that without needing to be told.

Next line:

And now rain fell so hard on the windshield that the wipers whisked back and forth in overtime.

Double cliche: weather opening and car opening. The conflict revolves around rain and little gas in the tank. And starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is annoying. And I hate when writers do this. And I will say no more about it.

For some reason, most cozies start this way, about the weather, idyllic or otherwise, and about someone going somewhere, usually to the cliched idyllic setting. The focus in the immediate opening seems to be on setting, rather than on character and conflict. In this case, the setting revolves around a hotel where people can vacation with their dog, and readers may assume that dogs play a role in the detecting.

And the first thing said:

"Been in there two months."

In general, the hook for these books is the premise, which one should read on the back before opening the book, as well as the cover and the punned titles, which I could do without, but must admit they are clever in most cases. In other words, the hook is not in the story beginning itself.

I've been coerced into reading large chunks of cozies; coerced by pretty covers and promising blurbs many a time, before wising up and chucking them. This genre can be so tedious at times (with all the social interaction that is either plotless or fattening up subplots that may or may not tie in to the main story arch) that I don't even care who the killer is or how the story ends.

I guess what I'm saying is that these novels feel like they're padded to attain a desired word count. Murder, She Barked may be an exception but after page 1, I've lost interest in being proved wrong.

Verdict: Boring Fail

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 13 April 2014

I've Got You Under My Skin by Mary Higgins Clark

Dr. Greg Moran was pushing three-old Timmy on the swing in the playground on East Fifteenth Street in Manhattan, not far from the apartment.

This is the first sentence and paragraph of the prologue. It is a short prologue of two pages and I skipped to the second page after reading this boring opening sentence to learn that another prologie dies in front of Timmy. At least there is a crime early on in this crime novel.

Chapter 1:

Laurie Moran looked out the window of her office on the twenty-fifth floor of 15 Rockefeller Center.

There certainly is a lot of effort to reveal the right addresses of the scenes in both these opening lines; nothing artistic mind you, just a GPS type announcement that;s supposed to help the reader navigate, though readers who know nothing about New York will not care what address these things are happening at. The opening paragraph of chapter 1 is rounded out with a weather report and skaters.

First thing said:

"Two-minute warning."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Warriors by Ted Bell

Lord Alexander Hawke rose with the dawn.

The waking up cliche begins this novel. The only cool thing (or funny thing depending on your humor) is the name: Lord Hawke. What follows is some mood inducing prose. Nothing wrong with that, but this opening line is lame.

Chapter 1:

Bill Chase picked up the phone and called 1789.

Phone call cliche. The only cool thing (or funny thing depending on your humor) is the name: Bill Chase. The names are more exciting than the plotting that opens this novel! Not a good sign. Plus, this would be cool if he was phoning the year 1789, then the phone call cliche would be forgiven. I read on hoping he was calling the year, without wondering how he could possibly do that as phones hadn't yet been invented in 1789. But alas, that plot point is not meant to be. In the next sentence we learn that 1789 is a restaurant.

First thing said:

"Quite the brute y've got yerself here now, m'lord."

Uh-oh, written dialects give people headaches.

I don't know how much of a thriller this one is, but if the opening is any indication, I don't think readers are going to burn too many calories reading this one.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 11 April 2014

And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass

She saw him through the trees, and she almost turned around.

First off, I don't like titles that begin with ...And. It reeks of artsy-fartsy and honestly sounds pretentious. After consulting my elementary school grammar book, I'm confident to say that and is a conjunction, a joiner and putting it at the beginning of a title makes it impotent. So this title really is: The Dark Sacred Night and the Impotent Conjunction.

I'm uncertain why anyone does this but I assume it's because it implies that there is more to the title than a dark sacred night and we will need to read on to understand what it is because the author is being stingy so as to create suspense. Another reason may be that authors are now being paid by the title word count and so adding that ...And at the beginning means twenty percent more money. That would be cool. Or maybe it's to ensure that the book turns up first on online book lists?

However, despite this annoyance and my 156 word rant, beginning a title with ...And wouldn't keep me from reading the book.

On the other hand, the pronouns in the opening sentence are more annoying, used to create, I don't know, mystery or melodramatic effect? I put a question mark at the end of the previous sentence because I'm not sure why writers start a novel with a pronoun anymore. It's as if they're holding back the story on purpose because they are stingy with it or something, thinking that by slowly drawing out the plot with unknown pronouns, they're hooking a reader. I just skip those boring parts - or depending on my schedule, I skip the rest of the book. What makes me mad is that I can't skip the opening line; unfortunately, opening lines are unskippable.

Then there is the word almost used before a verb. It almost sounds weird. Why write what a character is not doing? She almost woke and then almost had breakfast before almost going outside for a walk. Then she almost received a phone call, before almost going home...etc. You almost get the point?

The opening paints a scene without much conflict, which is fine for a landscape painting, but this is supposed to be a novel with, you know, that nifty little thing called conflict - that thing that makes a story a story - not the backdrop drawn with words - though important, shouldn't begin a book; it rarely hooks.

Chapter 1:

It is the time of year when Kit must rise in the dark, as if he were a farmer or fisherman, someone whose livelihood depends on beating the dawn, convincing himself that what looks like night is actually morning.

The only conflict here is that someone needs to get up early. While a hellish prospect for some, it's not really that interesting to read at the beginning of a novel. Though, I think its main purpose is more to establish setting than conflict, so it's a sneaky way of beginning with setting. You see, at first I'm thinking this is taking place in a rural area. I am unintentionally associating this way (I always do this with uneventful sentences) because of words like farmer and fisherman, but we learn in the next sentence that this guy must get up early because he is a father. So this novel begins how the creative writing textbooks say it should: with exposition and in bed.

Theo (the blog admin) now forces me to attach at least one compliment to each negative review I give, so here goes: You James Bond fans will be almost disappointed. Not only because this does not start with a bang, but also because it is well written.

First thing said:

"What, not practicing?"

Verdict: A Potent Fail

Rudy Globird

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

It was one of those Tuesday afternoons in summer when you wonder if the earth has stopped revolving.

I guess I am not the target audience for which this novel was written, as I have never had a Tuesday which I thought the world had stopped revolving. In point of fact, I don't think I've ever had an afternoon of any day of the week, in any season in which I thought the world had stopped revolving.

However, I did have a day when I thought the world had stopped revolving around me, but that, if memory serves me correctly, was a Monday morning in spring, so if this opening line were to speak to me on a level I could understand, the opening line would be: It was one of those Monday mornings in spring when you wonder if the earth has stopped revolving around you. But of course, this opening line isn't written for me and I know this because of that Monday morning, when I not merely wondered but actually realized the world does not revolve around me. Sadly, I was only 10. But this review is not about me, it's about the opening of the Black-eyed Blonde.

The rest of the paragraph goes on about describing what the world would look like if it stopped revolving, but I'm not convinced. I'm no physicist but I think we'd be having a problem with something called gravity.

Anyway, so after this seemingly meaningless attempt at metaphor, wit and/or hyperbole that is actually thinly disguised preamble, we get a scene of a girl walking into an office.

First thing said:

"The name is Cavendish."

Despite there being the word Russian in the first couple pages, this fails to grab me from the get-go. However, on the plus side, it is well written and there is the mention of Philip Marlowe so I'm intrigued to read on. I guess the hook is in the subtitle.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Something Borrowed, Something Dead by M.C.Beaton

The recession was biting deeper into private detective Agatha Raisin's finances.

This suggests conflict of the person vs. society variety. It also suggests that either this detective sucks at her job or there are no crimes to solve. Either way, it's a letdown. With the rest of the first paragraph we are left with the possibility that either this detective isn't very good or that people are too cheap to hire her.

As with most cozy mysteries, this one eases you in. Setting and character are introduced first. Unlike Agatha Christie's novels though, by page 3 (or page 2 since the pages are small and the font size larger) there is a glimpse of a murder about to happen.

First thing said:

"Come in, Mrs. Raisin."

Nevertheless, as a series book, this fails to hook readers from the get go. Those familiar with the series and the characters won't care how uninteresting the opening is.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Women’s Murder Club series by James Patterson

IT IS AN UNUSUALLY WARM NIGHT in July, but I’m shivering badly as I stand on the substantial gray stone terrace outside my apartment.

These books have been hailed as terrible, so I thought I would see how their beginnings stand up. Book one entitled: 1st to Die, begins with weather and a shivering somebody on a substantial stone.

I’m looking out over glorious San Francisco and I have my service revolver pressed against the side of my temple.

I assume the person is going to jump and blow his or her brains out as they fall, just to make sure. A very dramatic beginning and every bit as eye-rolling. As we have no idea who this is, why should we care?

First thing said:

“Goddamn you, God!”

Evil thing to say. And theoretically difficult to understand: How can God damn God? And why blame it all on God?

I'm interested to see what this character is going to do. I'm only dimly interested why, though.

Verdict: Pass (barely)


Raises one question: Why the preamble? Answered in the rest of the paragraph:

He recognized the terrifying sounds the instant they cracked through the night. His body went cold all over. He couldn't believe that someone was shooting a high-powered rifle in this neighborhood.


K-pow, k-pow, k-pow . . . k-pow, k-pow, k-pow.

I love these sound effects like in the comic books. There are more later, too, presumably to fluff the word count.

First thing said:

“Get down!”

Just some shooting - not vitally interesting.

Verdict: Fail

IT WAS A CLEAR, calm, lazy April morning, the day the worst week of my life began.

Weather opening again. Beginning with the worst week of my life does not hook. Preamble never does. Readers assume when they pick up a book that it will be about something nasty happening to someone, presumably the worst thing of that character's life, as that is the story worth telling. So preambling is redundant. It is saying, in a less dramatic way: The weather was like this when this story begins with a story worthy problem, buy for 9.99 and read on. 

Do we really need the assurance that this story is about the character's worst week and clarify that this story will not be about the second worst week in their life when Bubbles the kitten went missing when said character was five.

From there we must relive everything that leads up to this worst week  - beginning with some jogging and back story.

First thing said:

“So, how did it go last night?”

Verdict: Fail

I think three books are enough.

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Ghost by Sandra Brown Rarey


Elizabeth Barrett's house sat on the edge of a promontory that jutted over steep cliffs like a bony finger pointing at something beyond the foaming, angry seas; or, perhaps beckoning something unknown to come closer.

Besides being overwritten and using a semicolon when one is not necessary, this opening contains only a character and a setting which is angry and foaming. The house is situated in the ideal Gothic cliched setting. You can't get more melodramatic than an isolated house perched on an isolated cliff. Some people may get hooked by setting like this, especially if they live nowhere near such a backdrop. Personally, I need conflict to hook me and the assurance that the writer isn't going to waste my time leading up to conflict for x number of pages.

Fortunately, the prologue is brief and the long and short of it is that Elizabeth lives with a ghost, Angus, (hence the wildly creative title) who has been dead a long time.

Chapter 1

Winter's early darkness was rapidly taking over the cold, damp day.

Weather report. What follows is a scene with trees in the woods. Mood is established, but how many of you when telling your friends about the exciting thing that happened to you yesterday begin your tale by establishing mood? If you do, how many friends do you still have?

First thing said:

"Angus, I'm home."

This happens when...her mouth was smiling. This means that presumably the character is not smiling, just the mouth, which is what mouths do - in any case, the clarification is pointless. In general the dialogue sounds forced and unnatural.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Ripper by Isabel Allende

"Mom is still alive, but she's going to be murdered at midnight on Good Friday."

I don't think a title with the word Ripper hooks anymore. It's overused by one title too many. But this opening line gets the brain a little fired up, as it sort of employs the ticking time bomb scenario that creates tension.

It's nice when murderers work according to a schedule, but why midnight? Is that a cliche or is there some other mystic reason?

This is also the first thing said, so dialogue moves the plot forward, which is always a good thing. Then a murder is discussed as back story, but as it's murder it will interest most people who enjoy this genre.

This book wastes no time, diving right into conflict and character.

A short review like this means the work speaks for itself.

Verdict: Pass

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Shadow People by James Swain

Something didn't feel right.

Next line:

It wasn't the setting.

So begins an obvious ploy to introduce setting. We get a paragraph describing the setting which is not part of the problem, not part of the something that doesn't feel right.

Then the next paragraph:

Nor was it the other guests sitting at the table with Peter Warlock.

Then we get a description layered with back story of the people who are also not part of the problem, not part of the something that doesn't feel right. Plus, what a name Warlock. Basically, this opening tells us all about what the conflict is NOT. I, however, am not going to fall for this obvious attempt to make back story and exposition seem suspenseful.

The next paragraph begins thus:

Everything looked the same, yet something wasn't right.

Suddenly, I'm reminded of Boris Karoff narrating Dr. Seuss books. Yes, kiddies, something just wasn't quite right. You know the voice. Then the clock strikes midnight and I realize what isn't right: the cliches.

First thing said:

"Ready for take off?"

This is in reference to beginning a seance, and no, they are not at an airport.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Beast by Faye Kellerman

It was the stuff of nightmares, starting with the slow walk down the courtroom aisle: as if his stall tactics had the power to stop the inevitable.

The wording is great and creates a sense of tension, but words can be misleading. By page 2 we still have no idea why this is the stuff of nightmares, except that this person is being asked questions he'd sooner forget about : ...that day had started out so normal and within minutes had turned into something almost deadly.

Almost deadly? Kind of disappointing, that word: almost. And beginning with the day had started out so normal is preamble that anyone in grade 7 or higher could pull off. No offense to those in grade 6 or under.

There is also some educational info about law on page 2:

"You were a dream for the prosecution: completely credible, plainspoken, and damn cute."

Being cute is part of the legal process? This is good to know. Of course, this book is set in the US, so it's completely credible that being cute is a legal issue or could set a precedent.

Satirical criticism aside, if this opening bit sets the tone, and we can assume it does or why have this so soon, then I'm not interested. It's flippant and well...plain old dumb. Though, at least now, I can theorize what the title refers to.

First thing said:

"I'm going to change and get dinner ready."

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts

Winter 1263

Near the shadow of the castle, deep in the green woods, Sorcha led her children through the gloom towards home.

Despite beginning with characters walking, this opening line raises a question, though not a very interesting one I'll admit: Why are they walking? Actually, saying it out loud makes it sound kind of stupid. The question, I mean, and that makes me wonder why I'm asking at all. If the word had been fleeing or racing then it might have been more interesting. The answer to the question found a couple sentences in is not interesting.

Despite that, there is some inkling of foreshadowing in this line with the word gloom and a character with some setting with phrases like shadow of the castle and green woods. though, are woods any other color? Why, yes dummy, so this tells us that it's not fall, yet the cover looks like it's fall. So, don't judge this book by its cover. And then there's the fact that it's winter 1263 so how can the woods be green - or is that pine green? The image in my mind is Ireland green. When I describe woods as green, I add the modifier to say that the woods are greener than normal green, like west coast rich and vibrant green.

Anyway, who cares?

What follows are several words like cennfine, bannocks and Imbolg, which is annoying. The scene drags because of the terms and setting set ups. I lost interest by the end of page 2.

However, people who like fantasy and feel that weird made-up, foreign or obsolete words give them a sense of fulfillment might enjoy this opening more than I did.

First thing said:

"Mind your sister."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Black Lightning by John Saul

Five Years Ago -
Experiment Number Forty-Seven

It was a ballet the man had danced so many times before that the first steps had become familiar enough to be performed automatically, with little if any thought at all.

This is the opening line of the prologue. Since it is being performed automatically, there is no need to add at the end: with little if any thought at all - as that is what the word automatic means. In fact, this wordiness suggests either an intentional effort to inflate the word count, or an author uncertain his readers are intelligent enough to understand the word: automatically. Other than that, there is no conflict; indeed, quite the opposite, it seems that this dancing man is falling into the steps of success.

Chapter 1:

The cracked white face of the clock stood in stark contrast to the institutional green of the wall upon which it hung.

The only problem with this line is the institutional green wall. I don't see how the clock stands in stark contrast; I don't even see how  it would even be mildly noticeable. That is to say, the image presented in the text isn't properly conveyed or expressed or convincing. I guess we just have to take the author's word for it. The clock is in stark contrast to the wall - trust him.

First thing said:

"Something wrong?"

Uh-oh - conflict, maybe?

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Idiots of Muffy School by Larry Ornywall

The grade three class watched in horrified fascination as their teacher, Miss McMinty hanged herself over her desk

The very fact that this takes place in school is conflict enough for most little people, so the fact that a teacher is hanging herself in front of her class is a conflict bonus. The opening line has most of the ingredients that keep people reading: character and conflict, a dash of weirdness and some setting and tone to boot for all you exposition freaks who are disturbed by too much conflict too soon in your story and demand to be eased in with a weather report and a fashion review.

Most importantly, this line manages to raise a couple questions: Why is the teacher committing suicide? Is it because of these kids? Are they that bratty or perhaps evil spawn? How will the kids grow up? Will they be scarred for life and end their days in mental institutions babbling on about misplaced morals and dangling teachers?

But more importantly, readers are left wondering what this book is about and whether or not it is appropriate for kids aged 6-11. The fact that the author is in prison at the moment probably is not a selling point either.

First thing said:

"Now, boys and girls, no peeking when you go to the washroom, and no cheating because I'll be watching ever so very closely!"

Verdict: Pass

Rudy Globird