Great First Paragraph(s)

Here are two EXCEPTIONAL novel intros that immediately hooked me. Please let me know what you think in the comments. What are your favorite first chapters? 

The Martian by Andy Weir

The_Martian_2014Chapter 1

Log Entry: Sol 6

I’m pretty much fucked.

That’s my considered opinion.


Six days in to what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned in to a nightmare.

I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.

For the record…I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.”

And it’ll be right, probably. Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.

This intro does so many great things:

Bold use of “fuck” in the first sentence. A sure way to gain the attention of your reader.

It quickly explains the situation. Our main character is alone on Mars after some kind of accident.

It sets the mood. Dangerous. Life-threatening. Unhopeful.

It develops character. An astronaut. A survivor.

It sets the tone of casual, journal entry format. Fragment sentences and the use of “cause” instead of “because.”

Its develops setting. On Mars, obviously. And the Wikipedia reference sets us in recent time.

If this genre in any way interests you, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to pick up this book!


The Zoo by James Patterson

Book 1, Chapter 1zoo

I woke up shaking.

I panicked at first, thinking I was having a stroke or something. Then I opened my eyes, relieved, as I remembered it wasn’t me that was shaking, it was my apartment.

Outside the wall of dusty, industrial-style windows beside my bed came what sounded like a regiment of giants rhythmically striking concrete with their rifle butts in a parade drill. But it wasn’t the jolly green marines. I knew it was the elevated number 1 Broadway local, rattling to shake the dead back to life next to my  new fifth floor Harlem loft apartment. Hadn’t gotten use to that train yet.

I winced, covered my head with my pillow. Useless. Only in New York did one have to actually pay for the privilege of sleeping beside an overpass.

But I was so broke I couldn’t even afford to complain. I sat up. I couldn’t even really afford to sleep. I couldn’t even afford to think about money. I’d spent it all and then some; my credit was in the sewer. By that point, I was in  tunnel-vision mode, focusing my entire life on one desperate need: to figure things out before it was too late.

(False) shock to hook the reader. The world is shaking!

Character- building. A broke New Yorker with something to prove.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up? Whatever it is, it will tell us a lot about your current life situation. The same is true for fictional characters, and Patterson gives us that before we even know our character’s name.

Sets the tone. An honest first-person narrator open to telling us his struggles.

Develops setting. A dingy New York apartment next to the train tracks.


Character Writing Prompt

Think of a character. Now write a paragraph describing them BUT… here’s the kicker…do not describe their looks, what they are wearing, or what they are thinking. Write in third person and use the description of their surroundings to tell us something about the character. 

Here is an example from Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves”. Notice how the items she surrounds herself with tell us something about her character.

Aged and frail, Granny is three-quarters succumbed to the mortality the ache in her bones promises her and almost ready to give in entirely. A boy came out from the village to build up her hearth for the night an hour ago and the kitchen crackles with busy firelight. She has her Bible for company, she is a pious old woman. She is propped up on several pillows in the bed set into the wall peasant-fashion, wrapped up in the patchwork quilt she made before she was married, more years ago than she cares to remember. Two china spaniels with liver-colored blotches on their coats and black moses set on either side of the fireplace. There is a bright rug of woven rags on the pantiles. The grandfather clock ticks away her eroding time.

Looking for a character? Try one of these…

character 2 character 3 character 4 character1

The Martian Book Review

The_Martian_2014If I had to limit this book review to one word, it would be HILARIOUS. I don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard or so often while reading. But, thankfully the internet does not limit our opinions and encourages us to ramble.

Things I Loved:

  • The story. Its unique, fun, and intriguing.
  • The suspense is constant and lasts until the very end. 
  • The intelligence mixed with imagination. Andy Weir’s mix of talents and interests is not common. The amount of scientific research that must be behind this novel is overwhelming to think about. His ability to balance humor, suspense, science, plot, and character is exceptional. v58E6SgE
  • Mark Watney. He’s hilarious, light-hearted, optimistic, vulnerable, tough, smart, resourceful, independent. He laughs at himself, makes 3rd-grade boobie jokes with the whole world watching him, figures out a way to grow food on a planet where nothing grows, and sometimes despises the little amount of help he actually receives. In literary terms, he is round.
  • The story behind the story. The Martian was originally self-published in 2011, then Crown Publishing bought the rights in 2014 and now in 2015, the story is being made into a major motion picture!
  • The first chapter immediately hooks the reader. I don’t know how anyone could read the first page and not want to buy this book! Future blog post to come on this topic! If Weir even tried to publish through normal channels in 2011, I’m shocked someone didn’t pick it up based on the first chapter alone!
  • Puns.  A novel about a man left alone on Mars is territory that has never before been explored.

Things That Bored Me:

Maybe the title is a little harsh, but there were certainly moments I was glad to be listening to The Martian on audiobook so I could fade away for a bit.

  • The science was too much at times, very necessary, but sometimes boring and over my head. I’m sure science geeks loved it!
  • Predictable. Three-fourths of the way through the novel, I felt like the same thing kept happening over and over. Watney found himself in a horrible, life-threatening situation and then he worked his way out of it with scientific creativity. The hurdles he had to jump over were very unique, but I began to loose the intensity of the danger because he was always turning out okay.
    • At one point I told two coworkers that I hoped Watney would die, simply because I wanted to be surprised. Both of their jaws dropped and several wide-eyed seconds of silence followed.


4.5…maybe 5 Stars

I loved the novel and will recommend it to anyone who has even the slightest interest. I’m not a science person, yet I loved it. The humor alone is worth the read! And I look forward to going to the movie this weekend!

Zoo Book Review

zooI haven’t read many James Patterson novels but whenever I do, I learn something new. His books are intelligent and thought-provoking. Zoo is no exception. Its filled with facts about animal behavior and zoology and it will force you to take a second look at how the actions of humans are effecting our environment.

Plot and Timeline

Animals all over the world start attacking human beings, literally turning the world into a zoo. This James Patterson novel, which has recently been adapted into a TV series on CBS, is a short but thrilling novel.

The novel begins in a very detailed, day-by-day structure. Fast-paced and action packed. Animals escape from a zoo in LA, lions attack and kill entire villages in Africa, loving pets turn into vicious monsters, attacking the same people they have lived with for years.

Then halfway through the novel the plot suddenly jumps ahead 5 years. Patterson explains that not much development of the animal epidemic happens during those 5 years, but a lot has happened with our main character. He has fallen in love, got married, and had a son.

Although this 5-year jump makes a lot of sense for the plot, I don’t like it from a character perspective. Falling in love and becoming a father can completely change a person and I didn’t feel like those changes got the attention they deserved. Zoo is definitely a plot-based action novel but a novel will never feel complete without a solid, realistic character in my eyes.



Smooth, descriptive writing makes Zoo an easy read. Here is an example of a memorable character description.

“The big boisterous fool is squatting against the truck of a tree, wheezing like a concertina from the exertion of the morning’s uphill march. Kahlil is fat as a swine and smokes like a broken truck. And as slow moving as sap in January.”

TV Show

I have watched the first few episodes of Zoo on CBS and think the show is interesting but I don’t expect it to get renewed for a second season.

I would recommend the TV show over the book, but neither are at the top of my list.


2.5 stars. A good action-based thriller. The exact kind of novel that makes a best-seller list, as this surely did, but it lacked character development.

Writing Prompt based on The Martian

Here’s a Monday morning writing prompt to get your week started off right! 

Based on The Martian

Create a story outline (or heck, write the whole thing!) about a character exploring territory that has never before been touched by humans. 


All the Light We Cannot See Book Review

all-the-light-we-cannot-seeThe Washington Post book review praises All the Light We Cannot See to the extreme, stating it is “enthrallingly told, beautifully written and so emotionally plangent that some passages bring tears..” The Post’s review also describes “unbearable suspense.”

I wish I felt the same way, and apparently many people do because it spent 58 weeks on the best-sellers list, won the Pulitzer Prize, and the Andrew Carnegie Prize for fiction.

Too Slow

Unfortunately, I thought the novel moved too slow. 530 pages of slow.

I didn’t feel the strong emotions described in the Washington Post book review and suspense did not exist for me. Although the writing and the characters were enthralling, the story as a whole fell flat for me.


Anthony Doerr has an exceptional ability to turn a phrase. His writing, descriptions in particular, are extraordinary.

Because one of the main characters is blind, Doerr is forced to use the other senses to describe was she experiences. This inspired some truly great and unique descriptions.

Read my previous post, Sounds and Smells from All The Light We Cannot See, for more quotes. Here are my favorites:

“From outside comes a light tinkling, fragments of glass, perhaps, falling into the streets. It sounds both beautiful and strange, as though gemstones were raining from the sky.”

“Madame Ruelle, the baker’s wife–a pretty-voiced woman who smells mostly of yeast but also sometimes of face powder or the sweet perfume of sliced apples–…”


Does this picture trigger your sense of smell?

Characters and Setting

The characters were round, interesting, and memorable. The differing characters worked beautifully to tell different sides of the story.

I became fond of both of the main characters, a blind girl in France and a teenage boy in Germany. Even though they were opponents, fighting for different sides of the war, I wanted the best for both of them. I believed both of them were good people caught in a horrible situation, and that always makes for a good story. 

Historical Fiction is no where near my favorite genre but I did enjoy the realistic, foreign setting and the 1930s/40s time period. I enjoy learning while reading fiction. 


3 stars. Beautiful descriptions, lovely characters, but the story was just too darn slow for me.

Sounds and Smells in All the Light We Cannot See + Writing Prompts

all-the-light-we-cannot-seeIts always a bit of a challenge to include all 5 senses in my writing. Personally, I am always heavy on sight and slacking in taste, scent, and sound. Even with that knowledge of myself, the senses still slip my mind when I’m writing.

All the Light We Cannot See has opened my ears in a way no other fiction has. One of the main characters is deaf, forcing the author, Anthony Doerr, to rely on the other senses for description. Instead of physical features to describe a character, Doerr describes the quality of their voice or their typical scent.

Read a few quotes from the book and then challenge yourself with the writing prompts below!

Smell Quotes

“Madame Ruelle, the baker’s wife–a pretty-voiced woman who smells mostly of yeast but also sometimes of face powder or the sweet perfume of sliced apples–…”

“They smell of stale bread, of stuffy living rooms crammed with dark titanic Breton furnishings.”

“The cross a seething thoroughfare, then go up an alley that smells like a muddy ditch.”

Sound Quotes

“Always there is the muted rattling of her father’s tools inside his rucksack and the distant and incessant honking of automobile horns.”

“From outside comes a light tinkling, fragments of glass, perhaps, falling into the streets. It sounds both beautiful and strange, as though gemstones were raining from the sky.”

“Marie-Laure hears the fsst of her father lighting another match.”


Writing Prompts

2) Write a few sentences including as many senses as possible. Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Taste.

My Examples:

With an ice cold glass of bitter lemonade freezing my hand, I close my eyes, sink into the cushioned lawn chair, and smell my neighbor’s freshly-washed bedsheets that look like ghosts unafraid of the sun.

I scrape the heels of my once-white tennis shoes along the pavement, sending echoes of clattering pebbles up and down the dark, rancid alley.

The musty closet smell that lingered around her like smoke didn’t help her olive-corduroy-and-faded-t-shirt look that alone made me want to gag on my first bite of grilled cheese.

As piano music drifted into the room from somewhere far, far away, he took in the shine of her lipgloss that tasted like cheery pie, the familiar scent of a perfume he would never know the name of, and ran his finger along the thin scar on her wrist.

2) Create a character description using NO visuals.

My Example:

I kept my eyes focused on the book in my lap as I heard the whisper of swishing pant legs and the quiet crunch of shoes on gravel approaching. My bench gave a gentle jerk as the stranger sat on the bench back to back with mine. Deep, soft grunts accompanied the thud of a dropped bag on the ground and the sinking into the bench. The stench that followed sent a lump into my throat that I forced back down with a swallow. I held my breath until I was able to open my mouth again, refusing to breath through my nose. When I was in high school, my dad bought brussels sprouts in attempt to add variety to our diet; they sat in the back of the fridge for weeks until my friends and I decided to fill a pizza box with the most disgusting things we could find and leave it on a friends doorstep as we rang their bell and ran. The smell of the rotten brussels sprouts and the green face of my friend as she opened the pizza box has never left my mind. I have never smelled anything as horrid as those rotten brussels sprouts but the stranger who sat on the bench behind me came in a close second. As I continued to read my book, the smell became palpable; I began to breath through my nose again because the stench began settling on my tongue with a texture like honey. As the sun beat down on our shoulders, the stranger began to snore. Quick, growling snores that came irregularly and without warning. I slipped my book into my canvas bag and rose from the bench, trying and failing not to look over my shoulder as I walked away.

Classic Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit451I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for the first time in middle school. I remembered it had a futuristic story and big meaning. Other than that, I didn’t remember much so I decided it was time to read it again. Especially after I picked it up at a book sale for $1. :)

Futuristic Story

Setting novels in the future takes a lot of creativity but also a lot of knowledge. A great futuristic setting will be believable, with specific or vague science/theory to back up the created reality. Ray Bradbury certainly had the vision in 1953 when he published Fahrenheit 451.

Wall-sized, interactive TVs. Fireproof homes. Robot dogs. And of course, a society that limits the public’s ability to think freely.

Thankfully our society hasn’t stooped to book burning yet, but some of his imaginative predictions are not so far off.

Big Meaning

I remember Fahrenheit 451 having a strong affect on me in middle school. Growing up in a country where free speech is encourage at every corner and individuality is praised, it was strange to think of a world without those things. Thankfully, the magic of books helps us think outside our tiny little worlds.

Rereading the novel now, I was not impressed. I thought it lacked substance, emotion, and depth.



2.5 stars. Unfortunately, I found a lot of the characters to be dull. The pacing was inconsistent, slow and first then too fast at the peak of the action. That being said, I still believe this is an excellent book for middle age readers. It will open their eyes to a world different than their own without too much violence or depression. The reading level is also perfect for the middle school kid.

Interesting Fact: 

Did you know Fahrenheit 451 was originally published in a shorter version and titled The Fireman?!

Life of Pi Book Review

2002 Yann Martel Life of PiI read Life of Pi believing it was a real story. And it was. It was so real.

Okay, okay, so a 15-year-old Indian boy didn’t actually survive on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific for 227 days with a full-grown tiger but Yann Martel certainly makes it feel that way. Journey. Expedition. Adventure. None of these words quite capture the magic felt while cruising the Pacific’s current with Pi Patel, a zoo-keeper’s son who practices not one, not two, but three religions.

Pi Patel’s father decides to sell off the the remains of his zoo and move his family to Canada. As the Patel’s are crossing the Pacific with dozens of animals being sold to America zoos, their ship unexplainably sinks. Pi safetly gets to a lifeboat, only to find he shares it with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger. Every one of the next 227 days will threaten Pi’s life.

Although the book is often referred to as “fantasy adventure” or “magic realism”, Life of Pi fights those bindings of genre. This is a story of love, faith, companionship, humanity, and nature. Its a story about believing what you cannot see, believing exactly that which is hard to believe. Readers firmly planted in reality may have a hard time enjoying this novel. But to those who enjoy opening their mind to fiction will cherish it, as I certainly do.

***Check out my previous post for some great Life of Pi Quotes!

Life of Pi was included on Arts.Mic’s list of 11 Twenty-First Century Books Our Kids Will Be Taught in School.


Martel structures the novel to encourage the story’s reality. It begins by the author, Martel, having a chance encounter with an old man who tells him about a story that will “make him believe in God.” After the old man tells the narrator about Pi’s story, he seeks him out and “interviews” Pi as an adult in order to write his story.

The middle and majority of the book is written in Pi’s first person perspective as he struggles to survive with a tiger on a lifeboat in the vast Pacific.

SPOILER AHEAD: The end of the novel also ends with an interview; Pi being interviewed by two Japanese men investigating the sinking of the ship. This creates the full circle plot as well as


I don’t like to talk about theme in my book reviews because I think theme too often shrinks the imagination of the reader. To put a story in a neat, themed box (Example: The Harry Potter series is about how love conquers evil.) is too simple. Every novel has layers of meaning and every reader should be able to interpret it how they see fit.

So, without cramming Life of Pi‘s theme into a single word or phrase, it is about… Humanity. Peace. Storytelling. Faith. And how we interprets these things. What we choose to believe and how we push away the improbable as impossible. Every reader should have fun deciphering these themes for themselves. You may not discover the same things I did in this book, but I doubt you will come away empty handed.

The author of Life of Pi, Yann Martel, said the following was part of his inspiration for the story:

“The idea that life is an interpretation, that between us and reality lies our imagination, which shapes our vision of reality…” – Yann Martel in a Q&A on

5 Stars!

Life of Pi will likely make my list of favorite books read in 2015. The inspiration and humanity this novel exposes feels as real to me as the keyboard I’m typing on.

Life of Pi Quotes

This entire novel is a good quote but here are a few I picked out that specifically pleased me. Enjoy! 

2002 Yann Martel Life of Pi“I wish I could convey the perfection of a seal slipping into water or a spider monkey swinging from point to point or a lion merely turning its head. But language founders in such seas. Better to picture it in your head if you want to feel it.”

“When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.”

“…Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”

“Ten thousand trumpets and twenty thousand drums could not have made as much noise as that bolt of lightning; it was positively deafening.”

“I cannot think of a better way to spread the faith [than leaving sacred writings like the Bible where weary travelers might rest their heads]. No thundering from a pulpit, no condemnation from bad churches, no peer pressure, just a book of scripture quietly waiting to say hello, as gentle and powerful as a little girl’s kiss on your cheek.”

“It was as unbelievable as the moon catching fire.”

“At moments of wonder, it is easy to avoid small thinking, to entertain thoughts that span the universe, that capture both thunder and tinkle, thick and thin, the near and the far.”

Beautiful photo taken from

“There were many seas. The sea roared like a tiger. The sea whispered in your ear like a friend telling you secrets. The sea clinked like small change in a pocket. The sea thundered like avalanches. The sea hissed like sandpaper working on wood. The sea sounded like someone vomiting. The sea was dead silent.” 

“Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher.”

“If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” -from the Author’s Note


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