by Val Tobin
Happy New Year! May your 2019 be filled with joyous reading.
Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is right for them by reading the first page of the manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I’ll post the first page of a book and you’ll vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.
After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.
While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece and voted, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.
Today’s errand had become routine for the woman who was currently calling herself Chris Taylor. She’d gotten up much earlier than she liked, then dismantled and stowed her usual nighttime precautions. It was a real pain to set everything up in the evening only to take it down first thing in the morning, but it wasn’t worth her life to indulge in a moment of laziness.
After this daily chore, Chris had gotten into her unremarkable sedan — more than a few years old, but lacking any large-scale damage to make it memorable – and driven for hours and hours. She’d crossed three major borders and countless minor map lines and even after reaching approximately the right distance rejected several towns as she passed. That one was too small, that one had only two roads in and out, that one looked as though it saw so few visitors that there would be no way for her not to stand out, despite all of the ordinariness she worked to camouflage herself with. She took note of a few places she might want to return to another day – a welding supply shop, an army surplus store, and a farmers’ market. Peaches were coming back in season; she should stock up.
Finally, late in the afternoon, she arrived in a bustling place she’d never been before. Even the public library was doing a fairly brisk business.
She liked to use a library when it was possible. Free was harder to trace…
Would you turn the page? Vote now.
Today’s Book Revealed
Today’s book is The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer.
Blurb from Amazon
In this gripping page-turner, an ex-agent on the run from her former employers must take one more case to clear her name and save her life.
She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn’t even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning.
Now she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They’ve killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon.
When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it’s her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous.
Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.
In this tautly plotted novel, Meyer creates a fierce and fascinating new heroine with a very specialized skill set. And she shows once again why she’s one of the world’s bestselling authors.
Would I Turn the Page?
Yes. That snippet catches my eye for a number of reasons: there’s mystery, intrigue, and the hint of danger. It raises many questions about the main character: who she is, and what’s happening to her.
I had read the Twilight series because someone had given me the set and I felt obligated. It wasn’t a terrible experience despite frequent eye-rolling over the high-school dramas it contained. I think if I’d first read it when I was twelve I’d have become a huge fan of the series. However, when I read it, I was a granny in her early fifties and had no interest in YA stories. I don’t read many of them because they don’t hold my attention. I’m worlds away from the YA years. I’m not the target market for these books.
So, when a friend handed me a copy of The Chemist, I procrastinated on reading it because I assumed it was YA. However, when I finally read the blurb for it, it reminded me of the first novel I wrote (containing assassins and a corrupt agency), and I discovered it’s not a YA novel. I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did.
I enjoyed the read even though it does feel a little high school in parts. In fact, I forgot I was reading it and was part-way through another book when I saw it and remembered I hadn’t finished it. I know that’s not a raving endorsement for reading it, but it has all the elements I enjoy in a thrilling read: action, challenging situations, intrigue, and suspense. Most of all, it has a fluid style that makes it an easy read.
As soon as I finished it, I picked up the copy of The Host (also by Stephenie Meyer) that I had sitting here since spring 2018. While that is definitely YA, I’m enjoying it. Meyer has a wonderful imagination and a readable style. I did set it down once to read two other books. However, these were books I had to read within a set timeframe, so it’s not Meyer’s fault I digressed this time. I didn’t forget I was only a third of the way through the book and looked forward to picking it up again.
All of this serves to remind me of something an editing instructor once told our class when I was studying book editing and design way back when we still used typewriters: you can’t reasonably critique something if you haven’t read three examples of it. In this case, he was referring to Harlequin romances. Our editing class had a great many students who viewed Harlequins as “garbage.” At the time, I was included in that majority. The teacher said, “Garbage is what you throw something into when you’re done with it” and assigned us to read three Harlequins for homework.
Harlequins never became my preferred reading material, but now I can tell you exactly why, and I don’t dislike them. The point is, I had to judge Meyer’s writing on more than her Twilight series to give her a fair shake. To be clear, I read romance and I write romance. My preference is for stories that have complex characters and suspenseful, intricate plots. The relationship should evolve organically between a hero and heroine and provide insights into the complexities of human interactions.
While The Chemist contains romance, the love story isn’t the plot’s singular driving force, which kept me interested. Speaking of romance, I’ll slip one in there in the coming year — one that I enjoy unabashedly — and see how many of you find it compelling reading even if you’re not a romance fan. No hints as to what month that’ll be. The next two months will be more literary. After that, who knows?
What do you think?
Does this passage from The Chemist intrigue you? Does it make you want to turn the page and continue reading? Will you run out now and buy the book? Borrow it?
Val Tobin writes speculative fiction and searches the world over for the perfect butter tart. Her home is in Newmarket, Ontario, where she enjoys writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading.