by Val Tobin
Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can 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, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.
NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next?
Genre: Historical Fiction
My house stands at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones.
My father, Judah Rare, built this farmhouse in 1917. It was my wedding gift. A strong house for a Rare woman, he said. I was eighteen. He and his five brothers, shipbuilders by trade, raised her worthy from timbers born on my grandfather’s land. Oak for stability and certainty, yellow birch for new life and change, spruce for protection from the world outside. Father was an intuitive carpenter, carrying out his work like holy ritual. His callused hands, veined with pride, had a memory for measure and a knowing of what it takes to withstand the sea.
Strength and a sense of knowing, that’s what you have to have to live in the Bay. Each morning you set your sights on the tasks ahead and hope that when the day is done you’re farther along than when you started. Our little village, perched on the crook of God’s finger, has always been ruled by storm and season. The men did whatever they had to do to get by. They joked with one …
Would you turn the page? Vote now.
Today’s Book Revealed
Today’s book is The Birth House by Ami McKay.
Blurb from Amazon
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of Rares. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing. Dora becomes Miss B.’s apprentice, and together they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. Filled with details as compelling as they are surprising, The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to have control of their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.
Would I Turn the Page?
If this was all I had to go on, I’d find it uninteresting and providing too much information in the form of telling to grab me. For me, it’s missing a hook that drags me into the story. This is the problem with many stories that open with prologues.
When I first started studying the craft of novel writing, I read that many editors, agents, and even readers don’t read prologues. I didn’t understand why that would be. Isn’t the prologue an important part of the story? I’ve observed since then that no, it often isn’t. Often, the prologue is superfluous and tedious to read.
In this case, as far as the first page is concerned, it’s a lot of extraneous information that, as a reader, I don’t care about yet. I do like the writing style, so as an editor or agent, I’d skip past the prologue and start reading the story to see if I’d want to work on it. As a reader, I’d put the book back on the shelf if all I had to go on was that first page.
Luckily, it’s not. I’ve read Ami McKay’s Witches of New York and enjoyed it, so I was anxious to read The Birth House. I enjoyed the read and finished the story. I even recommend it to others. I’m also planning to read more of her work, in particular, The Virgin Cure.
Funny thing about first pages: they don’t always tell the whole story.
What do you think?
Does this passage from The Birth House 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.