Books That Hooked You With Their Opening Paragraph

Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

Last night, I realized I had left my current book in my car. Already in my pajamas, I was too lazy to leave my apartment and trek in the rain for it. I did want any book hoarder would do. I grabbed a new book to start reading. I’m can’t just lay in bed with reading a few pages. No matter how tired I am. It seems like a waste if I don’t.  My home is quiet. My head is finally quiet after a long day.

The closest book to me (without having to get out of bed) was The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. I was not sure if I really wanted to invest in a new book while in the middle of another. I know, I know. I’m a promiscuous reader. I’m usually reading 2-3 books in tandem. Let’s just say my brain was tired, ok?

Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

I remember reading a review of it on The Relentless Reader and thought, “That sounds like an interesting novel.” I couldn’t remember what the book was about. Just that it sounded like a good read. I grabbed the book and propped up my pillows at the right angle for reading a hardback. You know what I’m talking about right? Hardbacks are bigger and heavier so the in-bed reading position is different compared to a paperback. It’s harder to read laying on my side with a hardback.

Usually I don’t pay extra attention to the opening lines of a book. However in The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, the very first line in the opening paragraph  of The Author’s Note hooked me and reeled me in:

I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written. I lost the first one here in Terminal B, where I became a writer, twenty-eight years ago, in the after-school hours and on vacations while I waited for my mother to return from doling out honey-roasted peanuts at eighteen thousand feet.

Does that make you want to read more? As soon as I finished reading the Author’s Note, I knew I was in trouble. Since it was 1AM, I forced myself to set the book down or I would be even more sleep deprived than usual.

I promised myself that if I got all my work done today, then I would pick up the The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards again.

Have you read any great opening paragraphs lately? What book was it from?

And if you’ve read The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, no spoilers please! I promise to read fast so we can talk about it!

I received a review copy of the book. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.


Book Club Day: Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

When a mother’s child is hurt, she tries her best to make him or her feel better. What if she’s unable to help?  In Rosamund Lupton’s  Afterwards, Grace attempts to discover the culprit who set fire to her children’s school but faces an obstacle that she cannot overcome.

Our book club members felt passionate about this novel and its themes. This was an intense for many of our members as there are a lot of mothers in our community.  Visit their blogs and join our discussion for Afterwards:



Are you dying to know who the arsonist was? Grab a your copy of  Afterwards and find out. In the meantime, you can also find Rosamond Lupton at her websiteFacebook page, and on Twitter.

Have you read Afterwards? What are your thoughts on it?

Book Review: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jody Cody Epstein

Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jody Cody Epstein

I love reading historical fiction because the stories give me a sense of what life might have been like during that time, as seen from the author’s eyes. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein opened my eyes to life in Japan during and after World War II. Like most Americans, I was taught the United States’ viewpoint of WWII: us=good and the Japanese/Germans=bad. Especially the Japanese. I only learned about the Japanese-American internment camps on my own, not in my American history class.

While there’s an entire cast of characters in The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, the bulk of the novel revolves around Yoshi, who grows up during this tumultuous period of Japan’s history, and her parents. There’s also the missing American pilot whose wife and baby waits for him back in Buffalo, NY. Billy, who grew up in Japan until the war because his architect father designed buildings that merged East-West concepts. The lives of all these characters are intertwined and eventually touched by a small intricate ring that changes hands many times through the novel’s thirty year span.

It’s obvious that Epstein did her research for the novel. Japan comes alive through Yoshi’s teenage eyes as she struggles to take care of herself and her mother, who seems to be suffering from depression. Though the setting in the novel alternates between Japan and different parts of the United States, the Japanese story line feels more important. We only get subtle details about a bomber pilot’s life or U.S. war rationing, almost as if assuming American readers would be familiar with WWII life on the home front. I couldn’t wait to return to Yoshi’s part of the novel.

Then there’s special ring that touches each character’s life. Based on the significance Epstein gave the ring in the first 30 pages, I expected it to be more pivotal to the novel. The ring’s introduction and set up and the characters’ chemistry seemed forced in the first chapter felt stiff. After the pilot’s plane is shot out of the sky, the ring’s story fades away, only making minor appearances through the rest of the book–until the end. The ring subplot felt too forced for me. I kept waiting and waiting for more with this special “Come home to me safely” ring (as one character called it). When the ring finally did reappear in the story, it was anti-climatic. Towards the end, the ring brings the story full circle, but I won’t give it away by telling you how.

I absolutely loved most of the characters in The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, especially Billy and Yoshi. They practically leaped off the page for me. As Americans, it’s important not to see war in black and white, but in subtler ways like Epstein shows her readers. The ring subplot just really bothered me, like a bra that does quite fit. It seems to fit, but I keep tugging and tugging at it, hoping to make me satisfied. It’s been three days since I finished this book and the ring part still bugs me.

Even with my issues with the ring, I definitely recommend this book for its flawed but real characters and its different viewpoint of World War II.

Have you read The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Book Review: Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon

Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon

Though I’ve been reading a bit too slowly for my tastes recently, I finally finished  Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon. I think one of the reasons it took me so long to finish reading it was because it was hard to follow. Let’s rewind a bit so I can fill you in on the plot.

Set in Wales, the novel revolves around Donald, an archaeologist who wants to dispel the myth of King Arthur. When his rival finds a burial site that is linked to the legendary king and Julia, an old friend introduces him to an old Welsh poem, Donald is compelled to solve the mystery of King Arthur. It’s part love story between Donald and Julia and part historical mystery about the ancient book of poems.

I tried really hard to like this novel but it was just too confusing. Julia and Donald are academics and they often discuss Welsh history or literature. For someone who is not familiar with those topics, it was hard to follow all the different authors, poets, and historical events. At points in the novel, the author attempts to educate the reader on Welsh history or literature (in context to Donald’s ruminations). These lessons felt awkward and I found my mind wandering.

The novel meanders around the plot line, with those awkward history and literature lessons. Perhaps as an American, I don’t understand how Arthurian legend permeates British history and thought. Maybe if I were shown more of it instead of jumping right into the mystery, I would feel compelled the same way Donald did about the ancient texts.

I wanted to love and embrace this novel because I love stories that bring the past alive. Unfortunately Finding Camlan didn’t do that for me.

Have you read this book? What’s your opinion on it?

I received a review copy of the book.


Book Review: Finding Lucas by Samantha Stroh Bailey

Finding Lucas by Samantha Stroh Bailey

Finding Lucas by Samantha Stroh Bailey

Reading literary fiction is my first love, but some of the books can be quite intense. That’s when I like to dive into the a fun, light read. Finding Lucas by Samantha Stroh Bailey was just what I needed to relax and unwind after a hectic day.

In Finding Lucas, our heroine Jamie is stuck in a dead end relationship with her boyfriend of five years. Instead of being the cool Derek she fell in love with, now he’s worried more about his skin, hair, clothes, and his high powered job.  He’s also convinced Jamie that she’s not good enough for him and she needs to exercise more, wear make-up, and curse less. Thank goodness she finally comes to her senses and dumps her jerk of a boyfriend. As the assistant producer of a Jerry Springer-like television show, Jamie’s latest mission is to reunite people with their long lost love. Live on the air of course. During her research she becomes obsessed with tracking down her high school sweetheart, Lucas. She has convinced herself that once she finds Lucas, she’ll find happiness. Her tunnel vision keeps Jamie from seeing what’s been under her nose the entire time.

As a happily married woman whose husband loves me for who I am and reminds me of it often, I became annoyed with Jamie’s critical self-talk. Her lack of confidence in her talents and her looks made me want to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her! Still, I’m familiar with emotionally abusive relationships and the way Jamie feels is to be expected.  As a reader, I am grateful that Jamie had two strong female friends to hold her up when she’s down and encouraged her to go after what she wanted. Heck, Hanna and Lucy kept me going after hearing Jamie’s negative self-talk!

Jamie’s journey to love is fun, so I won’t give away too much of the story. The novel was funnier than I expected. Jamie is embarrassed by her nontraditional family, but I found them highly entertaining, in a granola, hippie kinda way. I know Jamie is the lead in this novel, but Hanna is my favorite character. Hanna owns a high end lingerie boutique, knows how to have fun, and refuses to settle down with one guy. I hope there’s a spin-off novel (sequel?) with Hanna as the main character in the works.

Connect with Samantha Stroh Bailey on her blog or Twitter. She’s very lovely (and doesn’t bite).

I received a copy of  Finding Lucas for review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue

The MapMaker's War by Ronlyn Domingue

The MapMaker's War by Ronlyn Domingue

Every now and again, I read a book that reminds me why I love reading.   The Mapmaker’s War: A Legend by Ronlyn Domingue is one such novel. Domingue weaves a tale of love, ambition, loneliness and belonging that will resonate within all of us.

Aoife (pronounced ee-fah) is the mapmaker in this story. Born a girl in a far away land in a time long ago, her path in life was set: grow up, marry, and produce children. Instead, at a young age she falls in love with charts and maps. A childhood friend, who also happens to be the crown prince, learns of her desire. Pretty soon, she is apprenticed to the kingdom’s mapmaker.  Aoife enjoys the freedom and privilege not common to girls her age.

In her travels to map the kingdom’s land, she discovers another land. Word spreads of the Guardians’ gold paths and various riches, and soon Aoife’s kingdom is ready for war. She attempts to advocate for the Guardians’ peaceful, almost Utopian world, but to no avail. Aoifee is eventually exiled and adopted into the Guardians’ community. While her new community is understanding and embraces her, Aoife struggles with her past, her betrayal, and her inner demons.

Wow, did that sound like I gave away the entire story? Don’t worry, there are no spoilers. The book jacket reveals even more details.  The beauty in this story is Aoife’s evolution, transformation even. The novel is told in second person narrative, which threw me off at first, but I quickly adjusted.  As Aoife retells her life story, I think this perspective gives the reader an outsider’s view, uncolored by rash emotion (as our narrator calls it).

Aoife grew up in a land that had strict expectations and roles based on your gender and class. She did not grow up surrounded by love.  When she finally finds a family, albeit non-biologicial, she does not know how to accept their love. In a world where we’re all surrounded by negativity, Domingue’s novel is a gentle reminder that there is love in the world–we just have to accept it.

The novel’s pacing might be slower than many of us are used to in other books, but Domingue allows her readers time to digest each nuance of Aoife’s journey. I imagine if I re-read The Mapmaker’s War: A Legend, I will discover different and more nuances hidden within its pages.

I’m so in love with The Mapmaker’s War, I’ve already borrow a copy of her debut novel The Mercy of Thin Air from my library.

I just noticed on the book jacket that a sequel The Chronicle of Secret Riven will be released in 2014. It’s totally on my to be read list.

Have you a read a book that makes you appreciate reading?

I received a copy of the novel for review. All opinions are my own.

I also learned that the author lives in Louisiana, where I grew up!  Totally random, but it’s a fun connection. If you want a chance to win a copy of The Mapmaker’s War and 15 other books, 16 authors are hosting a huge giveaway!