Monday, 30 June 2014

Oath Bound by Rachel Vincent

I've never been very good with the word no.

This person is obviously not Canadian.

This first-person, singular, personal pronoun explains that it has trouble saying no and hearing no. As gripping as this little psychological sketch is, one can't help but think that its hidden purpose is to provide an easy transition to a scene - that this first-person, singular, personal pronoun is at a gate and has been refused entry. The pronoun's desire to pound in the guard's teeth further reveals character, in this case, the aggressive nature, illogical desires that defines us as humans. Of course, we tell ourselves that such violent thoughts and deeds are the exception - aren't really us - and that we are really fun-loving and angelically spiritual beings with souls that commune in the higher dimensions of pure reality and selfless love. When the world conspires against us, we have good reason to get pissed off, because we deserve so much better than what this measly world is offering.

However, this first-person, singular, personal pronoun overcomes the desire to beat someone up and takes a breath and counts to ten and tries again. But anger management fails and the pronoun must resort to violence just like Spiderman does here.

As soon as she's done kicking some butt, she realizes she is mistaken! She used the wrong name (you silly girl) when introducing herself. Oh, well, that's life. Too bad the guard has a broken nose, bloodied face, and a concussion, but, well, it's the mistakes that make all of us human. It's all part of the evolutionary process, so no need to apologize. Though after a closer reading of the text, I can't help but think she wanted to kick some butt as she says she had waited until there was only one guard before she introduced herself at the gate to avoid the snag of a second guard shooting her. Why would she wait for a guard to take a break when she was sure she didn't need an appointment and that these people would see her - unless she wanted to beat someone up? We may never know the answer as it got sucked into a plot hole the size of Rick Ross's toilet bowl.

A few pages later we start to learn why this pronoun is trying to meet someone, but not before we get some more violent back story of this character punching someone in the nose in kindergarten. The narrator goes on to say that in retrospect she overreacted, which suggests this person never learns, as the guard will gladly testify to.

Whoever this character is, they are annoyingly aggressive, pushing past or beating up every character in the opening pages, behavior that looks irrational, almost cartoonish and even garish. I personally don't believe it and without the believability factor, I can't get hooked. Plus, with such a character, I don't want to care. She sounds like a spoiled rotten child who is in desperate need of some spank therapy.

First thing said:

"Let's try this again."

The narrator is talking to herself.

I can't read past the first several pages. If anyone has read more and can verify that this annoying character is killed by page 8-9, let me know in the comments section, in which case, I will rush out, grab this book, gladly read on and savor her demise so as to redeem my faith in the human race.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Black Lies, Red Blood by Kjell Eriksson

"You're different," said Ann Lindell.

This opening line is a perfect example of why it is not a good idea to begin with dialogue. Who is this person who is different? We don't know. We don't know how they were before, so the author, in order to answer this question this opening raises, will be forced to go into, alas, back story to explain it, which is to say, he's already digging a black plot hole right on page 1.

Then we get character description that fills up the rest of page 1. Andres Brant has trembling eyelids, he's not a powerful man and his face was thin and lacked strong lines, just to paraphrase some of the opening sentences of paragraphs on page 1.

Then we learn that the change has to do with the two having fallen in love, or thereabouts. Even though we are spared a massive back story dump, there is enough here to stall the forward narrative.

There really isn't much else to say about this opening, it yawns for itself. This author really has no idea how to begin a novel with a hook, as evidenced in this one and the previous book by him we reviewed. He needs to attend our exclusive 10,000,456.36 dollar HMB course.

On a positive note, the last book reviewed was an epic 1-star fail, whereas this one is a 1.5 fail, so he is, in a sense, improving.

As a bonus we have a title that is descriptively bland, as well.

Verdict: Yawn

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich

I was perched on a barstool in a dark, noisy,overpriced restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey.

So what should come next? Why is this person perched in a dark, noisy,overpriced restaurant? Who is perched in a dark, noisy,overpriced restaurant? Perhaps introduce conflict? We don't need conclusions that would ruin or give away the rest of the story, just some reason to care that someone is perched on a barstool. Instead we get:

I was wearing a red dress that was too tight, too short, and cut way too low.

As this novel is part of a series I assume this has some significance that only those familiar with the series will understand. If not, it is a mere cliched fashion statement, objectifying and demeaning women. In any case its esoteric symbolism is lost on a newbie. The first paragraph ends with:

And I was wearing an earbud that connected me to a guy named Ricardo...

This is the first hint of conflict and a reason to care: someone is about to go down, suggesting that this pronoun is undercover or on a stakeout. Ending the paragraph with something important is fine and is a sign of good paragraph writing, but as this is the opening, the opening sentence should have the spotlight, not the end. It is the only paragraph in a story where the emphatic emphasis rule of writing (end strong) doesn't apply.

Then we get the Hardy Boys' backs story/marketing plug that begins with:

My name is Stephanie Plum.

Not long after we get some explanation regarding the situation. She is helping Ricardo stalk an untouchable and bring him in by sipping a drink, which needs explaining all in itself. The writer or narrator obviously doesn't trust that everyone knows the ins and outs of Sambuca.

First thing said:

"The room is clean."

Despite a little dilly-dallying to establish the tone - that working girl with attitude chick-lit tone, a scene unfolds with a little conflict, as an arrest is made. But it's not a really interesting scene, for once you've read one arrest, you've read them all. In fact, there are only a couple ways an arrest can go down - peacefully or violently. Neither are really that interesting to read about. They are fun to watch live though, film and post to YouTube.

Once the arrest is made, the plot dissipates as Stephanie goes back to her drink and wallows in the advances of Ricardo (no need for a description of Ree-CAAAAAR-Do; the name says it all.), as this turns into one of those romances, filled with melodrama, sentiment, corniness and innuendo before finishing up with a sort of twisted and satisfied sexual frustration that only White America is capable of.

So this opening has no mystery or puzzle or reason to care for the characters. Of course, as this is part of a series, the author assumes her fans are already hooked. That is all well and fine, but how to get new readers interested in a book, or in its series? If there is no hook that makes each novel stand out on a bookshelf in a store, can one rely on the byline hook to pull in new readers? I suspect so. It's the byline that sells, not the quality of the work. In a hundred years or even less, this junk will not be read - assuming the Theory of Evolution is not a theory. The only reason it's read now is that it's riding a marketing wave. With a byline and title inundating the market, powered by a nuclear PR engine, some poor saps will succumb and buy out of curiosity, some will buy out of habit because they lack the will to try something different, and some will buy because they are mindlessly addicted to the series, like people who can't stop scratching skin infected with ringworm or picking their nose. That is to say, as horrible as it is, it's kind of pleasant.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Baklava Club by Jason Goodwin

The man lives, or the man dies.

This is the question. Simple, suggestive not to mention brief, and we all know brevity is the soul of the hook. The next line:

It is a matter of the weather.

This must mean the weather plays a role in the conflict, like a tornado, a hurricane, or a snowstorm. If it doesn't then this would have to be the stupidest mention of weather ever. The next paragraph begins thus:

Tonight he will live: because the sea is smooth like watered silk beneath a crescent moon, the ship's wake fanning out like a tear.

I'm picturing the guy is hanging for dear life to a toaster oven in the middle of the ocean. But that doesn't make much sense, as a little later on we learn that there is an assassin on a ship picking the right moment to kill. The scene hooks as we watch the assassin watch the victim watch the sea from a railing and the assassin thinking how easy it would be to bash in the vic's head and flip him overboard. However, the "committee" wants this guy to disappear so the assassin decides to wait for a wind and the noise of the sea to drown out any annoying noises the victim might make to being killed as most people, after all, are too stupid to go quietly.

Chapter 1 is one page and as there are no long descriptive paragraphs, no back story or poetic musings this looks like it's to going to be a nicely paced novel.

First thing said:

"Good morning, Martha."

This comes at the beginning of chapter 2. Opening dialogue with polite banter is inauspicious, especially as this scene offers no immediate conflict, just someone showing up at some place looking for someone before the narrative takes a 180 nosedive into back story about the place. The great hook in chapter 1, which reads more like a prologue, as chapter 2 is with different people in a different place, disintegrates.

Verdict: Pass

Chapter 1 hooks; chapter 2 unhooks.

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

"Someone bloody famous," said the hoarse voice on the end of the line, "better've died, Strike."

Opening with dialogue puts an opening at risk of not hooking. The example above is a good example of how dialogue fails to hook.

This conversation begins because someone is upset that someone else (who is unshaven) is calling early in the morning. It's mostly incidental banter. There's lots of swearing on page 1 too, as if the Potter creator is trying to cleanse herself of wholesome writing. The swearing doesn't stop there either; it's as if someone is either paid extra to write swear words or the characters are really stupid. In real life people swear, but those who do it in every sentence and so aggressively are the ones most people like to avoid, unless these swearers are at a bar or getting shot at in some distant land. It just sounds forced, shallow and unnatural. I want to avoid unimaginative characters who swear as much as I want to avoid unimaginative real people.

Page 2 is mostly of the descriptive variety with walking as the characters get up and walk to converge on the first plot point. The description describes pointless things like a street and a cafe, broken up with some urination before describing Strike. He is dark and large with a grimy jaw and is bruised. By the sounds of it, this guy's name could be Stanley, but because he's been beaten up in that manly attractive way, he might be hallucinating into thinking he's called Strike, as in strike me.

I'm sorry, I like the other books by this author but the Robert Galbraith trademark stuff is not as good. I couldn't finish the last one and have no interest in this one, and that's saying a lot for someone who loves to read and write mysteries. Page 1 does not excite me so I dare not invest time in the other 400+ pages.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

June 1945

Just moments after the shots, as Serafima looks at the bodies of her schoolfriends, a feathery whiteness is already frosting their blasted flesh.

This whole paragraph tries to be clever with its deployment of the weather opening cliche, but it isn't fooling me, as evidenced in the second sentence.

It is like a coating of snow, but it's midsummer and she realizes it's pollen.

This causes me to pause and reflect: Is this opening paragraph about introducing dead prologies or is that merely a cover to tell us about the weather, which I'm beginning to think is a deep-seeded inclination in the human psyche when it comes to storytelling. By the way, it's cloudy at the time of writing this review and this reviewer is feeling the effects of the listless weather on his mood. I wrench at my tie in a futile effort to wiggle out of the conflict that is today's life.

The rest of the first paragraph:

It is like a coating of snow, but it's midsummer and she realizes it's pollen. Seeds of poplar are floating, bouncing and somersaulting through the air in random manoeuvres like an invasion of tiny alien spaceships. Muscovites call this 'summer snow.' That humid evening, Serafima struggles to breathe, struggles to see.

Forget about the dead schoolfriends - it's humid! Is this the conflict we're really supposed to be caring about? After all, it's what we can relate to more than dead schoolfriends. If one goes with the emphatic emphasis writing guideline (and of course there is no law that states one must), whatever a sentence or paragraph ends with should be what is most important. However, more than fifty percent of the opening paragraph is dedicated to descriptive weather than to the dead prologies, characters killed off in a prologue to hook bloodthirsty readers, usually in a gruesome and cliched sensational way involving dismemberment and explosions.

However, it's the figurative language that makes me giggle. It's like something I've read in some grade 7 homework assignment: The pollen is like invading space aliens? Of course, we all know what invading space aliens look like, right? So this image should be an easy one to reconstruct. I imagine a scene from Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!

The rest of the first page reveals Serafima's dilemma. She must testify, and she wishes she'd seen less and knew less. This leads to the only interesting question that's raised, which might hook the reader. Who are these children and why kill them, as these aren't just any children who've died. The problem Serafima is confronted with is what to tell and what to hide. Get it wrong and you lose your head. Which means, I assume with such a POV switch, that Serafima will be safe, but, you, the reader will die. So you better hope she gets it right.

Yet Serafima has a stake even higher than life and death: She's eighteen and in love.

Oh, my god, the hell this character must endure! First the bodies of dead schoolfriends, then the humidity, then testifying and now this! The absurdity of the hyperbole is mindbogglingly kitsch: "Love is more important than life and death!" she screamed from the mountain top as tempest winds whipped around her long golden hair that had been plucked from the golden threads of God's Codpiece.

Chapter 1:

Several weeks earlier

The best school in Moscow, thought Andrei Kurbsky on his first day at School 801 on Ostozhenka, and , by some miraculous blessing, I've just made it here.

Okay, this guy Andrei is thinking some stuff here but because the thinking isn't in italics it sounds like the end of that sentence which just so happens to also be the whole first paragraph is a POV switch. It's not, but you can see how easy it is to misconstrue the meaning. Wars have been fought over more childish misunderstandings and interpretations.

First thing said:
Seeds of poplar are floating...through the air...
like an invasion of tiny alien spaceships.

"These aren't just any dead children."

Despite the poor writing that lacks clarity, the opening line does attract attention in the form of young bodies. The rest of the prologue reveals the setting of post WWII Soviet Russia (it's 1945), which will interest many others.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Two Soldiers by Roslund & Hellstrom

She's been living here for so long.

Ms. Pronoun doesn't like to move or can't or likes the place she's at. The only question this raises is who cares? Next line:

It's mostly voices.
Maybe footsteps.

Prose that looks like poetry. And  maybe footsteps? That means maybe not; so if not, ignore that sentence then. Perhaps someone is making a run for some artsy-fartsy literary award? What follows is a paragraph with some curiousness. People pass by this pronoun's door and she wants to call them in so they can hold her hand. A little creepy. Then there is a break and more artsy-fartsy sentence fragments that sound like bits from a long lost Beatles' song written in a drunken stupor with Jimmy Savile:

Her face, so strange.
She's sixteen, maybe seventeen, or even eighteen.

I personally don't like sentences that offer no concrete information and whose only purpose is to further befuddle the as yet blank mind of the readers whose only reason to care so far is the fact they paid money for this book. Plus, it feels like beefing up the word count. Then:

But she looks old.

Eighteen is not old - well, it is if you are nine. Is a nine-year-old narrating?

Mind, these are separate paragraphs, even though they all should be part of one grand paragraph because they are all about one idea. They are separated into paragraph fragments to heighten some intensity that must only exist in the authors' (one?) mind, because I ain't feeling it.

The first two pages are broken up into four parts that on the surface don't have anything to do with one another. Briefly, in the first a pronoun is in a space she's lived in a long time and wishes to ask people in. In the second there is a pronoun who may or may not be dead, hands probing her body and a needle doing something again, again, again before giving up and breaking. In the third a pronoun is in a place with people screaming, there is pain she can deal with like her period, though it's more often and longer and someone had put her in an armlock. The fourth begins with the snowy weather outside a window the pronoun is looking out of where she'd made a snow angel before being dragged back in. There are guards, an ambulance and green uniforms. It feels jumbled and blurred which might be the intended effect, but the only questions this opening is raising is why am I reading this? I can't tell if this pronoun(s) is in an insane asylum, a torture chamber, or at daycare or all of the above depending on the holiday.

Then more short sections like:

Like waves. Like fire.
Something hitting, pressing, forcing. It's happening inside her body. But she has no control.

There is so much more of this style like:

The waves. The fire. The pressure. The pounding. The force.

At this point I've had enough of this pretentious attempt at creating tension and suspense. It reads like a six-year-old on a rampage with a dictionary. On page 5 we learn what this is all about and I laugh out loud.  All that for that? Hint: It isn't kidney stones. The wording doesn't fool me into getting hooked. Corny never hooks.
Her face, yeah, yeah, yeah, so strange, baby.

First thing said:

"Come on."

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Monday, 23 June 2014

Somewhere In-between by Donna Milner

Virgil Blue came with the land.

A short opening line is always a draw, as long as they introduce an unusual plot point that suggests character and conflict. I think this line does both. The next line and rest of paragraph:

Along with two draft horses, four cow-ponies, one hundred range cattle and a barn full of haying equipment, keeping the reclusive tenant, who occupied the old trapper's cabin on the six-hundred-acre ranch, was a non-negotiable condition of sale.

Here there is setting introduced, but not merely as descriptive filler, it's introduced in a way that connects to the initial conflict that opens the story: In order to buy this ranch the protagonists kind of have to let some old guy live with them.

The opening scene begins with the next paragraph, still on page 1, at a Tim Horton's as a real estate agent tries to sell the idea of an old trapper living on the land the protagonists are buying. Conflict continues to evolve as the wife watches her husband get deceived into thinking this is a good idea as it is his dream and not hers.

First thing said:

"You won't even know the old guy's there."

This opening offers a nice balanced mix of character, conflict, setting, an unusual situation together with some good writing.

Verdict: Cool (4 stars)

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Rathbones by Janice Clark

Moses knows what will happen.

It's comforting to know that someone knows what this story is about, but rather than be told this, I'd prefer to know myself. The rest of the first paragraph is confusing and raises questions, not about the story, you know, character and conflict, but about what was this author was thinking when writing this. Take a look t what's next:

Not just how the trials will go today, or what the fathers will do when their golden sons fail and how the boys' mothers will bear it. The green of his eyes has long since been burned away by the sun on the sea, and there is no window in the little room. But he sees it all anyway, from his high blue bed. He sees the whole sweep of it.

There are a lot of ideas in this paragraph and none of them feel related. We have trials, green eyes burned by sun on the sea, a little room, a high blue bed and seeing it, whatever it is. Then as if to explain everything the next paragraph begins with sperm whales! This is starting to read like free verse thinly disguised as prose. Anyway, that's enough of the prologue. On the plus, the prologue is short so you can whiz right by it. Let's see if there is a story, you know, with conflict and character, that begins chapter 1.

Chapter 1:

If I had not heard the singing voice that night, none of the rest might have happened.

This is preamble, a common variety the "if things had been different, than things would have been different" beginning. It's an awkward way to begin a story these days, as it's more about the how to tell a story than the what the story is. Fortunately I don't come across this type of opening enough to call it a cliche, but it by no means is creative. We should start a new label: If only... and collect other novels under the label that begin like that.

This occurs in 1859. The next paragraph gets interesting when we learn that Mama might still be carving her bones, another might still be lingering in the attic, both of the narrator's crows would still be accompanying him/her everywhere. So there is some strangeness here, that can take the form of a hook if you care to untangle everything.

First thing said:

"A race of giants once lived on a faraway island."

This begins a story within the story.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 21 June 2014

How to Fall in Love by Cecelia Ahern

How to Talk a Man Down

They say lightning never strikes twice.

Great, begin with a cliched phrase that belongs to the world, has no copyright and betrays a lack of creativity.

Next line:


Next line:

Well, it's true that people say it; it's just untrue as a fact.

I think we are supposed to laugh. In any case, tell us something we already know. Not very gripping and certainly not the way to hook the reader. With this type of fiction, the so-called chick-lit genre,  it is more important to establish the tone and attitude before introducing the story that is conflict and character. All I can say is that I'm glad the masses are finally tiring of this.

What comes next is what looks like a copied and pasted encyclopedic article about lightening and the odds of striking things. NASA-funded scientists discovered that cloud-to-ground lightning frequently strikes the ground in two or more places and that the chances of being struck are about forty-five per cent higher than what people assume.

The tone, like, totally, changes, girl. Like, really.

Anyway, after that comes paragraph 3 with some different tone and a weather report. The narrator says she found herself somewhere she had never been before and then goes on to explain that that is not a metaphor for a new psychological space, but that she is in a new geographically new place. Really. Talk about over explaining.

Despite the narrative mood swings, scientific information dumps, weather reports and back story, there is a scene buried in chapter 1, in which the narrator tries to talk some guy out of killing himself, but it is all telling and poor Simon, the suicide guy, sees no way out of this novel other than put the gun to his head and pull the trigger. Fortunately, for the rest of us, all we need to do is close it to be rid of it.

First thing said:


Verdict: Epic Fail

Rudy Globird

Friday, 20 June 2014

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

On a soft, winter evening in Manhattan, the fifteenth of December, 1937, it started to snow; big flakes spun lazily in the sky, danced in the lights of the office buildings, then meted as they hit the pavement.

Before the opening pages of text there is a 1938 map of Europe which helps to establish the genre; however, the line above ruins any pleasant expectations I might have had.

The only thing worse than opening with a weather report is opening with a poetic weather report. I blame TV for this line. The author is trying to establish a visual before story: conflict and character. It does not hook, and I can't help but feel my time has been wasted. The description does not end with this line either. The whole first paragraph reads like a travel ad to New York, yes, come visit 1937.

Only with the second paragraph do we get a character together with the headlines of the international news, that of marches, riots, assassinations etc. and some history lessons about Franco before this opening drops into back story regarding this character walking in the snow in New York - with a briefcase. We can only assume there is something important in the briefcase, so readers should watch it closely.

There is a scene here, but it is of a man walking, so the scene is broken up with back story and other expository things to provide context of who this is and why they are walking, yet none of makes me care. It is almost as if the author created the walking scene to break up the back story, and why not? After all, this is usually the purpose of the walking opening, to have characters walking towards an actual plot, and with each step the characters take, we learn about their moods, family history, motivation, fashion tastes and if we're lucky what they had for breakfast.

In general though, what we learn is that the Soviets are doing this and the Nazis are doing that etc.

First thing said:

"Hello, Christian."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma

Lucky girl.

We begin with character and a vague characteristic. Not much else to say. The only question this can raise is - if we infer that this girl is lucky because things turned out well despite bad things happening - what bad things happened? Next sentence:

That's what I was told from the first moment I can remember.

There are lots of hints dropped as to why this girl is lucky without coming out and just saying what it is. It's like a guessing game, with each hint readers may or may not come closer to figuring out the back story all by themselves. Then at the end of page 1 it becomes obvious that this girl was adopted from China, or how the narrator words it, salvaged by rich Americans. When you put it like that, yes, this girl is lucky. There are tons of YouTube videos called gothcha clips that show mostly God-fearing White Americans picking up terrified screaming orphans from Chinese orphanages. It's sad really, as most of the kids are abandoned only because they are girls and/or have some physical defect. It makes even me want to go there and adapt a baby, not that that is possible as I'm an unmarried man, and an unmarried man trying to adopt a baby girl can only mean one thing: maniac!

If one is interested in this topic than this will hook. It hooks me. The narrator doesn't seem to think she's so lucky but as the alternative is an unknown, I think, all things considered, she is. But I have a feeling the narrator is about to challenge that assumption.

First thing said:

"Not worth ruining your life."

There's a lot of pathos, drama and moody angst early on in this, which is spread on thick across the pages like frozen peanut butter.

The opening line is only interesting in the greater context of the opening; it can't really stand on its own though, so it fails. But the opening, even though there is no scene and it's mostly telling, it hooks. Sometimes showing is not always the best beginning, so there, you creative writing teachers and experts, take that.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Robert B. Parker's Iron Horse by Robert Knott

Virgil was sullen.

So begins another novel with a dead author as a part of the title, hook, plug, whatever, etc. We have a moody character to start things off. There's conflict implied as why else would Virgil be sullen, unless he's the original emo kid. The next line explores the sullenness of Virgil:

Other than "yep and "nope," he hadn't said much in the last few days.

Then we get some setting, nothing more than a GPS report really before Virgil breaks his silence with the first thing said:

"A good pointer don't run through a covey."

Whatever that means. Perhaps one needs to be a cowboy to understand. I can surmise the gist of it, so I'm happy I don't have to google it. If I'm mistaken and don't actually understand it, I don't mind. Virgil and the narrator go on to have a conversation about pointers and pragmatism until we come to the cusp of the situation: Virgil is in love.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes

Vertigo 42, the City
Monday, 6:00 P.M.

It was far too high to see Old Broad Street down below, but the windows that traveled all the way around the lozenge-shaped room gave as great a view of London as he'd ever seen.

Before I did anything else, I added the byline hook label to this review. I'm sure many writers at this level still want to have beginnings that hook, but there are just as many more that go with being wordily annoying instead, eager to show off their writing chops.

Beginning with setting only works if it's an unusual setting, like if the story is set in the belly of a whale or on a snowy day in the Sahara desert. With this opening line we have a person in a skyscraper. Nothing suspenseful about that, at least not yet,but when the suspense will start is anyone's guess at this point. Some conflict comes at the end of the first paragraph:

He was so high up...he'd almost had an attack of vertigo...

But this is not the intense conflict that forces readers to turn pages. The first page spends ink describing and explaining setting, so I surmise after a quick glance. I already know I'm not reading this. There is no hook on page 1 and there are so many other options out there.

First thing said:

"My favorite view."

So begins some incidental dialogue that further turns me off this opening. You know, things like:

"Sorry about that."
"No problem."
"You like stuff?"
"Some stuff, yeah."
"I love stuff."
"Thanks for talking to me."
"No problem."

In Martha's defense, she does a slightly better job at the incidental chit-chat than I've done above.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 16 June 2014

Winners by Danielle Steel

Lily Thomas lay in bed when the alarm went off on a snowy January morning in Squaw Valley.

Two cliches in the opening sentence are not as common as one might think. I'd say about the majority of the books I open have some sort of cliched, uncreative opening, but usually not in the same sentence. Individually they are, or they wouldn't be cliches. I'm not sure which is worse, the bed setting or the weather report. I suppose the weather report is abused more, so it's worse.

The whole first paragraph is about the weather and the problems it's sort of causing because Lily likes to ski and has the hots for a certain instructor, Jason and may not be able to see him because of all the snow. Damn snow.

Paragraph 2 is a back story dump about past Christmas breaks, where they were taken and with whom and for what. In paragraph 3 we return to the bed setting and Lily stretching as she dreams about Jason. Thankfully, this is interrupted with paragraph 4 as the narrative yo-yos to more back story, unfortunately, about her father, simple beginnings in a mining town, school, etc. It's like being in bed with Lily as she daydreams about Jason and shows you a photo album of her life at the same time. I want to run.

First thing said:

"I was wondering if you were going to sleep in."

The title is boring and sounds like a department store, that's just how nondescript it is. Obviously, the hook is in the byline. This author has her readers who buy this regardless of how it opens. But I wonder how new readers, picking this up author up for the first time get hooked. The romance element, a girl in bed on a snowy day dreaming about a boy, must do it.

Verdict: Boring Fail

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body.

I like this opening line. It introduces a charged situation and character that raises questions and hints at conflict. Unfortunately, the next line is:

One Saturday in March, fog crept through the river valley and froze overnight. 

Weather and setting to establish mood is rather cliche nowadays. It's eye rolling because while we are interested in getting an explanation for line one, we are interrupted with the: it was a dark and stormy night technique. With such a line, I expect Lon Chaney, Jr. or Bela Lugosi to crawl out of the river valley fog. That is to say, it's a little too much of the 1930's melodrama flavor. The weather description/moody setting doesn't stop with that line either. It goes on in the same first paragraph with ghostly landscapes, dead trees, thick crusts of hoarfrost, and black birds before someone finally says: It was eerie.

Then we get some back story of Cheri. It's moody and Poe-like, which is attractive, but the forward narrative, the essence of a story, is stalling.

First thing said:

"You behaving yourself while the gravedigger's gone?"

A nice first thing said. Unusual and revealing a little character.

The title is nice, but I already know what a liter of blood weighs. My point being that the title is leaking a little too much artsy-fartsy sediment, I mean sentiment, for my taste.

If it weren't for the weather and back story so soon, this would have scored four stars easily.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Isaac Asimov's I, Robot: to obey by Mickey Zucker Reichert

Chapter 1
June 27, 2036

Brilliant summer sunshine struck glimmers from the window rims and ledges of Manhattan Hasbro Hospital and lit up the bobbing signs of the usual horde of protestors.

If we linger on this sentence for several minutes and reread it several times like they do on that kid's show the Wiggles, we are able to ascertain that this line is not very good, and rather annoying. The natural instinct is to get as far away from it as possible. Some will read on; some will close the book. Beginning with weather is a fail, transitioning to a hospital setting does not redeem the weather report, or justify it. Ending with the word protestors with an 'o' is the only thing this line has going for it, as protesters suggests conflict.

Naturally, what follows is some back story, for context purposes, stunting the forward narrative before it has a chance to spring to life. This means that in order to understand the beginning of a story you need to understand the pre-beginning of the story. This means there is confusion as to what is the beginning and there shouldn't be. If a writer begins and then needs to back up, he or she is not beginning in the right way/place.

On my quest to find the first thing said, I notice that several paragraphs begin with "Susan". That's right it's all about Susan.

First thing said:

"As you all know why you're here and how this works, I don't see any need for preamble."

At least the character knows how to tell a story.

This will sell because of the title and Asimov connection, which is a marketing trend we are starting to see a lot more often. Dead author resurrected by living writer equals sell books.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

They waited at the dock, the three Venetians, for the fool to arrive.

There is a preface that explains what the setting of this book is. I skipped most of it after reading the first part of the first line: ...mythical late-thirteenth-century Italy. Because it's mythical, I will myth it out in my head without author aids. The rest reads like a data crammed wiki article about politics...or some such thing.

Then we have a sepia-toned antique map of Italy and then Act 1 which has some poem that's yelled out by a chorus of people like in ancient Greek theater. I skip that to. After the first line,  Rise, Muse! I think I've had enough. If the chapter 1 opening hooks me and I'm pulled into this novel against my will, then I can always go back and read that stuff.

The design of the book might hook some people, though one should never judge a book by its cover or it  blue-stained page edges. Is this a gimmick, or an expression of the soul?

Now, to the above opening line. Here it is again:

They waited at the dock, the three Venetians, for the fool to arrive.

Despite the pronounology this line does whet my curiosity with the mention that these three men are waiting for a fool. I like fools; fools hook me. I like reading about them; I like picking them out of crowds, which is to say I enjoy fool watching; I like staring at them; and I like laughing at them and making fun of them. There's nothing like a good fool to make us feel good about ourselves and believe that the world according to us makes sense.

First thing said:

"An hour after sunset, I told him."

This is the beginning of the second paragraph in the book, so it's encouraging that dialogue begins so soon and that something is said that further develops the conflict of three men waiting for a fool that is apparently late.

The dialogue has a tint of the Shakespearean to it, so you've been warned - but not enough to give you a headache or make you feel like you're in a foreign country or visiting a Brooklyn crack house. As these three men wait, they talk about the situation so the reader can begin caring about this scene and just to make sure a monkey is thrown into the conversation. Nevertheless, I sense my attention wandering. On the next page the fool arrives and this book begins to read more like a play being performed by university students who believe in the liberal, bleeding heart myth, before graduating and inevitably joining the polluting world of business and consumerism whereupon they move to the Republican suburbia to eke out a mediocre existence until they're claimed by God and cancer.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Rudy Globird

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Black Horizon by James Grippando

Two words, and life changes forever.

This is foreshadowing, but in such general terms, it could be foreshadowing anything on earth. Here are a few:

Game over.
No way.
Go away.
No, thanks.
Hello, there.
Why not.
Check, please.
I'm leaving.
I quit.

The next line:

Nothing new for a criminal defense lawyer.

So that would mean the two words are "Not guilty"? Next line:

This time, however, Jack Swyteck wasn't waiting outside a jury room for a verdict of "not guilty." He was rehearsing his most important line.

I do.

You see what the author did there? A little misdirection. We were all thinking that this had to do with a court case, after all it is a crime novel. But instead those two words are about a wedding. So before we get on with what this novel is really about, let's take a break to discuss a possible marriage.

However, this wedding was having all kinds of problems and there's a couple paragraphs of back story to fill you in on why the wedding is having problems getting off the ground, which is mostly because of bad weather.

First thing said:

"Ready, dude?"

Horrible dialogue; really, it is, and there's more. Most characters can't manage more than three or four words at a time.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Airtight by David Rosenflet

The tabloids called it "The Judge-sicle Murder."

This is the opening sentence and opening paragraph, a trend that is growing at an alarming rate. What is this compulsion to begin a novel with one sentence paragraphs?Do authors think that by isolating them, these openers will stand out more and thus read better, look more intense. It might work sometimes, but sometimes it looks pretentious, especially when the next sentence and new paragraph are still on the topic of the opening line.

It was a ridiculous name for an event so horrific and tragic, but it sold newspapers, and generated web hits, so it stuck.

The rest of page 1 goes on to provide the circumstances of the case of the judge-sicle murder, which have some interesting details that are a little puzzling; for example, the times don't match up, and the fact that the victim, a judge, was found with a melted Fudgsicle.

I like the opening line, despite its narrative isolation. It introduces a crime, which is a key plot point in a crime novel which should be revealed sooner, rather than later. I like how the murder is given a name and how peculiar that name is. It's effective because of what it reveals about plot, or foreshadows.

First thing said:

"I can't make it tonight."

One word titles are usually at a disadvantage. This title like many one-word titles suggests many possibilities. Perhaps that is one reason why such titles are attractive.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

The world begins anew, starting now.

This opening makes me involuntarily roll my eyes. It's pretentious and cliche and been said a million times. Burying such a line in a novel is fine but opening with one is not. It's supposed to present some lofty idea about beginnings and worlds and time, but it's really a waste of ink. Those who have not heard such a line, need to read more. If we take this line apart we find there is no character introduced, nor conflict, nor foreshadowing of conflict. No setting, no mood, no theme, no figurative language, just tone: pretentious. Ugh. What is really happening with this opening line, in point of fact, is that the author is saying: This new book starts now. Duh!

So instead of plagiarizing Buddha or whoever, the author could have just begun with the story. As well, as if to make this line more melodramatic it is also the first paragraph. The next paragraph begins thus:

I pick my kurta up off the floor and put it back on.

So this is where the story begins, with something actually happening to someone, but it's just some nondescript pronoun getting dressed so it's worthless, that is, until the next line:

The blood makes it stick to my skin.

Finally conflict. Though to be fair, it didn't take long, only three sentences, and now we have questions: why is there blood on it? Why is this person putting on a blooded kurta? Questions like these are the hook. So why not make the hook the first sentence? If this had been the opening sentence, it would have stood out more and pulled more people in causing more satisfaction, instead of the impotent psychobabble that is the opening line.

Then we get more useless sentences:

This is a soap opera. It can't be real.

I hate when authors do this: Have a character ponder and comment on a situation for which the reader hasn't the slightest clue about. What are we supposed to do? The author and an army of nefarious marketers will say: read on! But why should we, when all indications suggest that the author is playing with us, wasting our time by waving a vague plot point in front of us like we're rabbits eyeing something that may or may not be a carrot?

Fortunately, by the end of page 1, we learn that the narrator has been attacked and wounded, so despite the minor runarounds like don't-need-to-know-now back story and melodramatic sentences, the plot moves forward quickly enough on page 1 to pull people in, though it does become a little Dan Brownian with all the scenic escaping by page 2.

First thing said:

"I'm sorry, I forgot, I need to pay in cash."

I'm not sure why this was chosen to be the first thing said as it does not reveal character or move the plot forward. Maybe to break up the monotony of narrative "I'm escaping" text as this dialogue is on page 4. The next bit of speaking doesn't come until page 11. In addition, that second comma is distracting me to no end.

Verdict: Pass

I really don't like giving this three stars because the writing style bugs me, but to be honest (or objective), there is plenty of conflict and tension in scene 1 on page 1 to hook. Giving this opening three stars tears into the very fabric of my being, scarring it forever. Who ever said being a critic was easy?

Rudy Globird

Monday, 9 June 2014

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford


William Eng woke to the sound of a snapping leather belt and the shrieking of rusty springs that supported the threadbare mattress of his army surplus bed.

There aren't too many ways to make a bed setting opening interesting. After all, it's just someone waking up. People do that hundreds and thousands of times in their lives. It is not gripping. One could make the argument that every story should begin with the character waking up but it's just as possible to assume that the character woke up and is awake to react to the inciting event that actually begins a story. Waking up is rarely, if ever, an inciting event. So why do authors do it? Have we been mistreated by society with an overwhelming overdose of cliche, so much so, that our brains are now pickled cliches? Some will argue that usually the bed setting scene is employed to establish setting. I,on the other hand, prefer a story to start with conflict.

In this case, with this novel we get a sense of the setting and that it might be harsh in that William is sleeping on a surplus bed, but as we don't know who William is, a man or a child, we can't tell just how horrible this opening line is. The snapping of a leather belt sounds promising though. Perhaps someone is getting beaten. Many readers would infer this and so get hooked.

As we read on, still on page 1, we learn that William is at an orphanage and that the sisters like to beat kids who wet the bed and believe that bed wetting is the result of unsavory, nay sinful, self-touching, so the boys are tied to the bed. Apparently this works. So we learn that beds are related to some conflict, which salvages the opening and cancels out the bed setting cliche.

In general this opening is all about the evil sisters who abuse orphans in the 1930's. This premise is filled with conflict, just that it's been done before. But people can't get enough of evil nuns who beat children, so it will hook most people.

First thing said:

"I told you it would work."

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.

Preamble. The days of an author doing a student's homework by stating what a story is about before it even begins are over. But this is what can be expected from novels from this time period. Too bad that style isn't in vogue today, as it's easy to do - you know ramble on about the book, filling it up with a respectable and profitable word count.

If the machinery of the Law could be depended on to fathom every case of suspicion, and to conduct every process of inquiry, with moderate assistance only from the lubricating influences of oil of gold, the events which fill these pages might have claimed their share of the public attention in a Court of Justice.

More preamble. It looks like the PR person helped write this opening. It's a plug, pure and simple. Of course, it's better to tell a story rather than tell about a story, but that wasn't really invented until Cat in the Hat.

Chapter 2 shows less promise:

It was the last day of July. The long hot summer was drawing to a close; and we, the weary pilgrims of the London pavement, were beginning to think of the cloud-shadows on the corn-fields, and the autumn breezes on the sea-shore.

A historic weather report.

First thing said:

"I don't know what would have happened, Walter."

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. The Woman in White comes in at number 95.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Morachta

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hašek

"And so they've killed our Ferdinand," said the charwoman to Mr. Svejk, who had left military service years before, after having been finally certified by an army medical board as an imbecile, and now lived by selling dogs - ugly, mongrel monstrosities whose pedigrees he forged. 

What is there not to like about this line? It has conflict, in that World War I is about to begin with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It establishes the main character of Mr. Svejk as a "certified" imbecile who sells dogs, which is amusing and sets the tone for the novel. Plus there is the bizarre mention of forging pedigrees that raises questions.

This line has the wit that other modern novels (particularly of the chick lit vein) reviewed on this blog have, but it is not just witty for witty's sake. There is information that allows a plot to move forward.

So this gets the first five star rating on this blog. Perhaps it is because I'm in a good mood, or perhaps it is because the author is dead and I don't have to worry about anyone gloating, but mostly because this line hooks. It has everything this kind of book needs. I'm ashamed to say I haven't read this, but I will, ASAP.

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. The Good Soldier Svejk comes in at number 96.

Verdict: Pure Genius (Can't get this out of my head; MUST read on - I've been manipulated!)

Theodore Moracht

UPDATE: I've been informed of another translation:

“So they’ve done it to us,” said the cleaning woman to Mr. Švejk. “They’ve killed our Ferdinand.” 

Friday, 6 June 2014

A Song for the Dying by Stuart MacBride

"Now I'm no' saying he's gay - I'm no' saying he's ho-mo-sexual - I'm saying he's a big Jesse.'

Beginning with dialogue is always a risky business. It'd better be something engaging as most people are not interested in listening in on strangers because listening in on random blabbering is never as much fun as it is to blabber. Overall, this line reveals a little about a character, but I'm really reaching for something nice to say when I say this. Even though this is not gay-bashing per say, it is somewhat tired, overused and worn out. It just doesn't have the conflict punch it once had in the 1950's.

Then the next character says:

"Not this again..."

Then we get some epic purple prosy descriptive writing, the kind writers write when they were in high school and think they are in love for the first time. I'm speculating, but this is the kind of writing that might be the result of love coupled with teenage angst or of overactive hormones and lack of experience, or a combination of all of the above if it's really bad. This is really bad. We are still on page 1. Take a look:

A crescent moon makes a scar in the clouds, glowering down at them as Kevin picks his way through the frost-crisped grass, breath streaming out behind him. Nipples like little points of fire. Fingers aching where they stick out past the end of his sleeve, wrapped around the torch. The legs of his glasses cold against his temples.

Looks like someone is making a run for the Man Booker! There's more, but you get the idea.

Kevin might want to get those obtrusive man-nipples examined, and perhaps surgically removed. The disembodied body mimicking subjects of sentences sounds pretentious, acting as if they have minds of their own: breath streaming, nipples pointing, fingers aching, legs cold - well that last one maybe not; they're not human legs anyway, only optometric legs. This prosy stinks about as bad as those stale air fresheners in twenty-year-old cars driven on a rainy day by overweight, sweaty men with gastronomic problems.

I hope this author is merely trying to impress an assistant editor with an overwritten opening, because I don't think I could stomach 500+ pages of this crapola.

Verdict: Epic Fail

Rudy Globird

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Prophet of Bones by Ted Kosmatka

The Prophet set his nine-millimeter on the kitchen counter.

This is the first sentence and first paragraph. The opening line gets its own paragraph, one presumes, because the author thinks that this sentence is special, when in essence it is nothing more than a nickname putting down a gun in the kitchen. I mean just because there is a gun we are supposed to be hooked? The set up is so Hollywood (sorry Hollywood if I've offended thee) with a total lack of creativity that the only thing interesting about this line is that it can actually make someone read on. Perhaps opening with a gun is something that hooks patriotic Americans and Russians but for the rest of us, it's like, whatever.

He leaned forward bleeding hard into the sink, the only  sound a rhythmic tap of blood on stainless steel.

This second sentence and beginning of the second paragraph is somewhat incongruous. Mr. Prophet is bleeding hard in the first clause, but then only dripping in the second clause. When I first read bleeding hard I pictured the guy gushing blood. But drip, drip, drip is in no way as dramatic. Even if the droplets are dime size. But then again, what do I know, I've never been shot in the head. Yep, the Prophet is suffering from a head wound, yet can still turn on the tap and talk. Without being clear about the nature of the head wound, it's actually funny. Well, I laughed.

First thing said:

"My disciples, I knew you'd find me here."

Dialogue on the first page is nice. In fact, a scene like this on the first page encourages a reader to be pulled in. Creepy disciples watching the prophet make this scene rather weird in a pleasant way and one can't help but feel a sense of foreboding.

Then the Prophet takes off his shirt so the author can describe his chest and body, as if nothing in the story will make sense if I don't know this on page 2. Though to be fair, except for the lean and dark torso, a little hint of back story is insinuated by mentioning the scars and tattoos. Suddenly the Prophet looks like Danny Trejo.

Then many paragraphs start beginning like this:

The Prophet splashed cold water on his face...
The Prophet peeled loose his tattered sweatshirt...
The Prophet turned....
The Prophet shook his head.
The Prophet leaned back...
The Prophet wiped a runnel of blood from his face.
The Prophet sipped beer.
The Prophet didn't answer. 
The Prophet lowered his eyes.

All in the first three pages. There are more The Prophet does.... sentences on the final two pages of chapter 1, as well. The point I'm trying to make?  Monotonous sentence structure stands out.

I will give this a 50/50 pass because in all fairness the scene manages to hold my attention, despite the writing. However, I do start to lose interest when we get into characters talking about things the reader can't know anything about, dropping hints and insinuations designed to impel us to read on but are in point of fact, a little confusing.

Some say that a good story is 80% idea and 20% technique. But in this case only 5% technique is employed putting the story idea, caked in cliche, at a disadvantage. To be honest, I'm starting to have a hard time telling these kinds of novels apart. You know, the crime novels and thrillers that are printed out in the millions by the likes of Cussler, Baldacci, Dan Brown, Ted Bell, Lee Child, Robert Harris, Brad Meltzer and hundreds of others, many much worse. Am I the only one who thinks they could all have been written by one person? Or perhaps, graduates from one cliched school of writing?

On the cover there is a quote from Clive Cussler: A Masterwork...An eye-opening and page-turning read without parallel. Except this reads like every other book of it's genre. Personally, I'd sue someone if Clive Cussler's name was on the cover of my book, plugging it. Most readers can make up their own minds without reading graffiti on a cover.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

My name is Namima - 'Woman-Amid-the-Waves'. 

A character introducing him or herself is no hook, no matter what her name means. Well, if it meant something like, I-who-kill-indiscriminately, then perhaps. However we do not have to wait long for a hook. There is one in the third sentence:

I am a miko. Born on an island far, far to the south, I was barely sixteen when I died.

Not only is that last line the hook but it introduces something of the premise as well. A narrator that is dead should raise questions, though with people already overdosing on vampires and other undead novels, maybe not. Even though there are some interesting ideas on this opening page, like living amongst the dead, and that the narrator is very, very angry, this opening opens awkwardly with preamble, as evidenced with the beginning of the second paragraph:

This tale may be spun from my words but I speak for the goddess, the one who governs the Realm of the Dead. 

This also sounds a little campy. By page 2 I'm losing interest as the narrator begins explaining the etymological significance of the goddess's name and the vocabulary of some non-English language before succumbing to back story that begins:

I was born on a tiny island....

Wasn't that already mentioned?

First thing said:

"Namimia, you are not supposed to be here."

This first bit of dialogue comes in on page 14, so be prepared to wade through descriptive setting (poetic geology/geography) and back story.

This would have achieved a 50/50 pass for the third line, which after the tenth reading isn't as impressive as the first time around. By page 2 whatever hook there had been, disintegrates with etymology, linguistics and back story. I need forward narrative and a problem first; that is the only way I will care about back story later. Not the other way around.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

The cardboard box trembled.

Four words...that work. As far as first sentences go this gets five stars. Why? It has everything an opening sentence needs in order to succeed. Of course there could be more, like character and setting and tone and mood and theme and simile or heck even an onomatopoeic word or two, but then the line would run the risk of trying to do too much. This sentence does not need all that other junk because this line has the one thing an opening sentence must have: conflict, or to be more precise, the foreshadowing of conflict that raises a question. In this case: What is in the box? It's so simple that this almost sounds like the classic question that all stories should begin with: What is in the box? Being curious creatures, we are forced to read on.

Prior to chapter 1 is the heading: 1943, World War II, No Carnival. I like headings; they save a lot of time. There is also a map of Trinidad just after the title page which further illuminates the setting without me needing to read much. I like this, too.

The next sentence:

The panicked squeals from inside it grew louder as I hurried through the overgrown grass.

Even though by sentence 2 we can pretty much infer, at least in general terms, what is in the box, but whether it be a let down or otherwise, the first sentence has done its job in spades at hooking the reader. The scene that begins with the first sentence is interesting enough (the narrator needs to kill whatever is in the box) to hold my attention, as there conflict a plenty.

First thing said:

"Can't be lucky if you's a coward."

This bit of dialogue occurs on page 1, which is nice, but it is something a character 'had always said', that is, part of some back story. I prefer the first thing said to be part of a forward narrative, not something said once upon a time. On the other hand, the advantage to opening with back-story dialogue is that it is almost never of the superfluous chit-chatty type, but instead reveals plot or character. In this case the later.

The only thing I take issue with is the artsy-fartsy title; you know, the ones that begin with an ellipsis..., or a preposition or has a pronoun like: A River Runs through IT or a title that begins with 'And'. Then there's the ones that begin with where, when or how. They ooze pretentious fiction babble. However, in a way an artsy-fartsy title is a blessing in disguise, for with such a title, at least I've been warned. Not that I have anything against artsy-fartsy; it's just that those books tend to be didactic and long-winded with vocabulary that's been found buried deep in the armpits of some dictionary, bursting with imagery that tries to reprogram (or scramble) my brain, by making something as simple as the sun look like the last vestibule of hope in the eye of a dying god. Whatever.

Verdict: Cool

The verdict is high on this because of how effective that little opening line is, and how the opening scene unfolds. If the dialogue in this had been forward narrative speak and if the title didn't bug me so much, this would have been a perfect five-star opening.

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 2 June 2014

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

Citizens, gather 'round your loudspeakers, for we bring important updates!

This is an unidentified prologue. From the structure and tone of this sentence, it's easy to assume that there is more than meets the eye in this opening line. This is confirmed a couple sentences later with the first sentence of paragraph 2:

In local news, our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il was seen offering on-the-spot guidance to the engineers deepening the Taedong River.

Setting is established right away with mention of the Dear Leader. What follows on page 1 are more unusual announcements to North Koreans: News of doves flocking to the Dear Leader as he lectured to provide shade for him, winners of a  cooking contest, American aggressors, and cruelty to sharks. It's the North Korean version of news that blares through loudspeakers and it feels more argumentative than merely informative.

Anyone interested in this fringe mentality, will be fascinated by reading on and might even get a glimpse of what it would be like to be brought up on a steady diet of outlandish propaganda. The Russians are in a similar position now, getting all kinds of bizarre news about Ukraine and the rest of the world from the Russian government who are making efforts to soften people's minds into accepting all kinds of absurdities. It's brazen and arrogant in that there isn't even much effort made to make the lies feel real or palatable.

Part 1:

Jun Do's mother was a singer.

This line does not offer much. A character and a tidbit of back story. No conflict yet, or anything even mildly unusual. But perhaps that's not necessary, as the prologue in this case, has done a good job at hooking. However, the first paragraph and the rest of the page flow nicely as back story reveals sadness and conflict.

That was all Jun Do's father, the Orphan Master, would say about her. The Orphan Master kept a photograph of a woman in his small room at Long Tomorrows.

First thing said:

"Are you Pak Jun Do?"

Opening dialogue is of the incidental chit-chatty variety. Nothing meaningful, like moving a plot forward or revealing character.

Nevertheless, I'm giving this a high rating for the prologue and its realistic, toned-down show of North Korean propaganda, revealing how subtly detrimental it is.

Verdict: Cool

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Jonathan Harker's Journal

3 May. Bistritz. __Left Munich at 8:35 P. M, on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late.

So the only conflict we have in the opening from this great novel is a late train. As this is presented as a journal, it's not really reasonable to expect the journal writer to begin with something like: I felt the fangs in my neck.

On the plus side, there is a character and some context and set up with the mention of a journey. But today's reader needs more than this to hook them, though who knows, Twilight is worse than this and it did well, so maybe all it takes to hook today is a reader mental meltdown.

The rest of the first paragraph:

Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible. The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most western of splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule.

Having been to Buda-Pesth and Transylvania, I think I have an idea of what this narrator is going through. But anyone who hasn't been there may not, though the description is not bad, sprinkled with a few facts.

First thing said:

"The Herr Englishman?"

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. Dracula draws in at number 97.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht