First Line Frenzy: An Editor Critiques Your Book's Opening Line

17:00 EST - Nov 07, 2019

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Rebecca Faith Heyman Avatar

Rebecca Faith Heyman

Rebecca Faith Heyman has a BA/MA in English and American Literature from NYU, and has been a freelance editor since 2009. She is the founder and director of The Work Conference, an annual writers' event in New York City. She lives outside of Boston with her husband, two kids, and a precocious Siberian cat.

For this Reedsy Live, editor Rebecca Heyman hosted a video version of her monthly #FirstLineFrenzy event on Twitter. If you want to take part in the next one, just follow her on Twitter.

So, the first thing I want to say is that I have not seen any of these advanced. This is the same off the cuff feedback that you would get in a Twitter First Line Frenzy. And to that end, let's get started. I will read this to you and let you know what I'm seeing as I see it.

A small smile twists my lips as I look out at the bewitching landscape; the land cracked and red, clear of the smoke from the blazing plane behind me, is overlooked by distant black hills, accented by the blue and gold streaked sky.

That's a lot of description. This sentence, which is really two sentences, you're not fooling anybody with that semicolon, is really heavy on visual cues. What I would tell Sara is that you want to consider some of the other senses that you can help us experience in your landscape. So, this first clause about a small smile is completely irrelevant. I don't know how many times you've looked out at a landscape and just smiled and considered how bewitching it is, but it's certainly never happened to me. If you want to start with the description of land, you want to think about bringing us into the world instead of just showing us what the visual field experience is.

So, to that I would say this doesn't really bring me into a conflict, it doesn't really give me a strong sense of voice, and frankly, it gives me too much sensory information.

"Let’s be blood brothers,” Blake pleaded.

Okay. I often discourage people from starting their books with dialogue and part of the reason is that we don't really know who Blake is or who he's speaking to, and rather than making me wonder about the answers to those questions, I feel a little bit distanced from the manuscript. If you're going to start with dialogue it should be really pithy and maybe even a play on a well-known turn of phrase.

So, while I'm I guess interested in who Blake is interested in swapping blood with, I think that you could bring us into this moment with the sensation of flesh being cut, or bring us into the ritual of this without naming it as sort of baldly as this does.

What's the book? Murder Go Lightly, a cozy mystery by Sherry Wilson McEwen

I mean, it's a great title. And I think as far as cozy mysteries go, you want to get us interested in the empirical experience as quickly as possible so you're on the right track. But go with sensation instead of just naming this ritual that doesn't have a lot of meaning for us yet.

My mom named me Good Wednesday out of spite.

I love this. We're immediately drawn into a kind of voicey-ness, not so voice-y that this feels like it's trying to keep me away but certainly you're drawing me into your confidence by sort of confessing something about you that's interesting and unique. So, I think this is actually a really clever first line. It shows me there's some drama between Good Wednesday and her mother, which is always an interesting motif to work with. I think generally this is going to entice me to keep reading, for sure.

What's the book? Gwen, Pierre and the Big-Boy Pants. An adult retelling of Peter Pan by Elle Espiritu.

Oh, amazing. Okay, I think that's super exciting. I love that myth, the Peter Pan myth is actually far more complex and much darker than most people realize from the Disney-fied version most of us have consumed. So, this gets a gold star from me.

Jane stood in the truck stop vestibule facing the 24-hour café, the tantalizing smell of bacon and coffee wafting out to mock her hunger.

Again, I think this is a home run. You're hitting us with setting right away. We all understand the setting here, but more importantly, this author has activated more than one sensory cue. We have a visual cue, but we also have an olfactory cue. The tantalizing smell of bacon and coffee, which of course all of us can really quickly sort of identify with. Not only that but Jane is telling us something about herself, which is that she's hungry. Which is actually a fairly important thing to know about this woman. So, I think this is another gold star for me. Good job.

What's the book? The Marvels of Prairie Creek (Women's fiction) by Lynne Mickley

Women's fiction, okay, an interesting generic category. Probably a talk for another time, I will do another Reedsy Live about genre distinction sometime soon. Martin will have to get that on the calendar.

The smile dropped from Ellie's face first - then the mobile, it slipped from her hand, skimmed her jaw and bounced on the counter top before falling flat, the sound of Beth crying still pouring from its speaker.

The grammar here is a little wonky. This first clause, "The smile dropped from Ellie's face first." What we're trying to do is use a zeugma. A zeugma is a fun literary term where we're applying a verb to more than one noun. We're saying the smile dropped and so did the phone, but I think that the pithiness there is getting lost because of that hyphen, which should be an em dash. There are other problems, too. I think you need to reorder this initial clause so that dropped is more clearly applied to both the smile and the phone. So maybe you would want to say something like:

"Ellie's smile dropped in the moment before her mobile slipped from her hand."

Or, that doesn't really activate the zeugma the way you want to,

"Ellie's smile dropped, followed closely by her mobile, which skimmed her jaw and bounced on the countertop before falling flat..."

Et cetera, et cetera. That might be the way to go, just try to get both of the nouns a little closer to the verb.

What's the book? Once Upon A Murder: The Playhouse Prankster, a cozy mystery by Evita O'Malley

Rose realised immediately that something was wrong when Jack came home alone.

Okay, so is this a Titanic retelling? Because if it's not I think we need to talk about these names. I don't think anybody who was born after 1985 can hear the names Rose and Jack without thinking of the Titanic movie, so, you might want to consider that.

Rose realised immediately that something was wrong when Jack came home alone. It's a fairly innocuous and interesting line. It doesn't totally light my fire and I do find the twinning of Rose and Jack distracting. From a pop-culture standpoint, you have to understand the context in which you're writing, so there's going to be a large readership that this triggers. Is this like a post-Titanic rewrite where they both survive? I hope so. But if it's not then you might want to reconsider just how distracting that set of names is going to be for some readers. But otherwise I think this is fairly innocuous. It doesn't excite me, but it's not offensive.

What's the book? As I Love You. Literary fiction from James Athol Steel.

Frightened seagulls wheeled in the night sky, their raucous cries muted by the howling winds and thrashing rain.

Yeah, okay. Again, I think this is a piece of scene-work that is just a little blah. It doesn't really tell me a whole lot. This is a little too close to, "it was a dark and stormy night."  To be honest, right?

We don't want to start with anything that feels cliched. How do we know the seagulls are frightened? I'm not really sure. If it is the night sky, how clearly can we really see them? If their cries are muted by the howling winds and trashing rain, how can the narrator hear them, to begin with? I have a lot more questions than I should just about the logistics of this line, and for that reason I think it probably needs some rethinking.

What was the book? Dillon’s Rising by AG Lyttle, a historical thriller.

From his position on the balcony of Covent Garden’s Punch & Judy pub, Jack had a clear view of the man he came here to kill.

Okay. You know, I feel good about this. One thing that authors should understand is that when you get hyper-specific about setting — particularly when we're talking about a contemporary place — you're going to exclude some readers who are going to feel less curious about these places and more a sense of FOMO, right? A sense of missing out. They don't really know what it means to be at the Punch & Judy pub in Covent Garden.

So, how important is it to articulate the name of that place when, let's say, a lot of your American readers aren't going to distill a lot of meaning from that context? So could you say something a little more dynamic about the setting? A pub, is a pub, is a pub for the purposes of this line. Is there something more important that you could say about this moment? But, I like this. I think this is heading in the right direction for me.

What's the book? A crime thriller called Pressure Point by Kathy Fullerton

Yeah, great. I mean, I was going to say this is almost assuredly from a thriller, and I think you're definitely on the right track if I can guess the genre from one line.

The front gate slammed shut and Lexi woke with a start.

We do not wake people up in first lines, or in first chapters, or at the start of our book, ever. It is cliché. You are not an exception to the rule, nobody is.

I have heard it all: "Well, what if my character isn't really waking up but just regaining consciousness after being knocked out?" or "What if my character has been asleep for 900 years and is just coming to?"

I don't care, 99.9% of the time, waking up is a snooze. So, fast forward to whatever happens for Lexi that is different than the norm. Waking up is normal, show me what's different about today. Certainly, I'm not interested in the sounds that wake people up or the dog slobber or the scary dreams. Stop waking people up at the beginning of your book.

What's the book? Peace on Earth by Sarah Scally, a comedy sci-fi novel

It was two beers past noon when the phrase “bystanders were hit” caught his attention like a fishhook in the cheek.

Bravo. I love it. This tells us so much about our protagonist. And notice, we don't know his name, right? We just know that he's a day drinker, he is attuned to the news, and to this specific tragedy that has just occurred. I'm curious about the tragedy, I'm curious about the protagonist. I love everything about this. Gold star.

What's the book? Delusions of Clarity, a literary mystery by Vern Bryk

Delusions of Clarity is a great title and I can tell you that the agents of my acquaintance are constantly on the lookout for literary thrillers and literary mystery. It's one of the most asked-for genres that I hear about from the literary agents of my acquaintance.

It all ends on the twenty first of May... Or, at least, I think it does.

So, keep in mind that numbers are hyphenated between the tens and the ones, so twenty-first should be hyphenated.

Em dash, not ellipses, "—Or, at least, I think it does."

I'm interested in this. It, as a first word, is a little weak. So, if you could be a little more specific about what it is standing in for. Keep in mind always that it is a pronoun and without a reference noun, without an antecedent it really doesn't have a lot of meaning. It's just a stand-in for something else. But you're not telling us what that something else is. So, if you can adapt this a little bit to eliminate it, I think you would have a much stronger opening line.

What's the book? The Time Curve by Hadia Abbas, a Fantasy

Mandy-Lynn Snow was running for her life, her crimson real estate blazer flapping in the wind, when her cell phone beeped that a text had come in.

Okay. I have mixed feelings about surnames in first lines, or really in any kind of immediate character building because they don't provide a lot of context unless you're talking about a world in which last names have significance. Like if we're talking about a royal family or if we're in a Games of Thrones situation where the last name 'Snow' would signal something important to us.

So, let's even say, "Mandy-Lynn was running for her life, her crimson real estate blazer flapping in the wind, when her cell phone beeped that a text had come in."

My challenge here is that if she's running for her life, is she really hearing the phone? I guess I'm interested, but I'm not thrilled by this encroachment of the cellphone on whatever this moment is. I'd like to know more about Mandy and her situation and less about her text messages. I'm not sure that anyone is checking their phone in this scenario, so this challenges my suspension of disbelief a little too strongly.

What's the book? Unreal Estate Series: One Crooked House by Patricia Srigley, Humor

I mean, the title is completely on point and I love it. So, I would work on just the specificity of the first line a little bit, but you've nailed the title.

Viewer Question: "How 'bout first names in first lines? Or is a simple she, he, I, or they better in the opening line?"

I actually like a first name in a first line,if we're looking specifically at one character. I tend to feel that the use of pronouns in first lines can feel too vague and a little overly stylized. I'm perfectly happy with first names or honorifics with proper surnames, so, "Mrs. Heyman sat at her desk, staring at her own reflection in the screen." It gives me a little something to attach to and might help you set a tone for the rest of your novel.

Spring had come to the Abyss.

Okay, this is another one of these lines that is really innocuous, which is to say it's nothing to write home about. I wouldn't slash it out, there's nothing inherently wrong with this, but I don't know anything about what the Abyss is, or if this is a space opera, or if this is a fantasy. You're not giving me enough information, so another way to approach this might be to show me the arrival of spring or sort of the way winter leaves.

So, instead of just telling me spring had come to the Abyss, you could show me something happening that signals the coming of spring in this specific world where the coming of spring might look a lot different. So, here in New England, I might talk about the year's first crocuses had finally broken through the still-frozen soil. Or something like that. That tells you a little something about where I am and it's a very specific signal about the changing season.

I would ask you to get a little bit more specific here and a little bit more activated.

Viewer question: "How about opening with a dream?"

No thanks. No thank you. I generally really dislike dreams, nightmares anywhere in the book. Sometimes they're important but most often they are a lot of navel-gazing. Oftentimes the inclusion of a dream or a nightmare is more about showing us how clever you can be with motif than with actually advancing the plot in any appreciable way.

So, I'm going to take a hard pass.

She cocks her hip, one arm raised high, and the audience roars approval once more, then flicks her hand to signal the light man to swing the spotlight away.

So, there's a lot happening here physically. I had to read it twice just to sort of digest what's going on here. I understand that this is a performance moment. We have an audience, we have a kind of dramatic posture, the grammar is a little squicky because you've named a new noun, which is the audience, and then you have this pronoun, her — "then flicks her hand." So, technically that pronoun actually refers to its nearest named noun. We're talking about the audience, not she, whoever she is.

This is just a little too busy for me. It's physically frenetic and it's a little too much, so I would say maybe combine the one arm raised high with the flick of the hand, eliminate the hip gesture, and put the audience noise in the background instead of giving it such a potent place at the center of the sentence.

What's the book? The Band Played On, upmarket fiction by Juni Fisher.

Upmarket fiction is sometimes called book club fiction. Upmarket is a way to signal that there's a certain literary sensibility without being literary. It's usually very plot-driven but with a literary finish on the style. It's a really broad category. It's okay to categorize your fiction that way. It is a branch of sort of general fiction or commercial fiction.

The night that Charlie died was a cold one.

Yeah, okay. I mean, it kind of makes the night that he died sound like a beer.

So, I think the fact that the night was cold doesn't really tell me anything about Charlie's death unless he died of hypothermia or he froze in the snow. Again, this is one of those lines that's just kind of innocuous. It's not doing enough heavy lifting and we want our first line to do a lot of heavy lifting.

I'd love to know if this was the first cold night of the season. I'd love to know if this was the last cold night before spring. There are just more interesting ways to give me this information that can do more work for your book.

What's the book? A City in Autumn by Joshua Insole. Horror tinged with Sci-Fi

The day began at three minutes past nine with Schumann's Fourth Symphony, but by nine twenty-seven it had progressed to murder.

Okay, great. I think this is a really interesting way to use time. You know that time in your novel has a lot to do with tension and how the audience feels the passage of time can have a lot to do with their general impressions of the pacing and tone of your book. So, this sentence has a lot to do with time so I would only suggest to the author that if that focus on the passing of time is critical then you've done the right thing. If this is just a way to draw us into the moment I'm not sure it's super effective.

This is a situation where I might actually ask to see line two before I made a final verdict about line one. It's an interesting line, but it is hyper-focused on time. So, as long as that's intentional I think this line is very effective.

What's the book? Malign Influence, crime fiction by Steve Prescott

On the first achingly bright morning of summer Lily Masters slowly opened her robe.

So, we do need a comma after "summer."

"On the first achingly bright morning of summer" is a dependent clause. The independent clause is, "Lily Masters slowly opened her robe." We have our subject, and our verb, and it's a complete sentence. And so the phrase that begins, "On the first achingly bright morning of summer" is dependent. So, get a comma in there.

Unless her robe has been closed for the last 150 years, I don't know why it's especially important that she's opening it now. I don't know why the opening of the robe is linked to the first achingly bright morning of summer. You're suggesting a kind of causation here, or at least a correlation. And I don't know what it is, or why it would be so. So, I have more questions about this than I should, I think it probably needs to be reworked.

What's the book? UnderCut, a romantic suspense novel by Lisa Lickel

The disintegration had been slow and insidious; first, the single vitamin bottle in the cabinet was replaced by prescription bottles, which multiplied, spilling onto the counter.

How do I feel about that semicolon? ...I feel good about it.

"The disintegration had been slow and insidious." So, a semicolon suggests that what follows can't be completely understood without what came before. And so that close link is what we're really looking for with a semicolon. Unfortunately, the strength of sentence one — which is a very good sentence — is somewhat diminished by the scrawling slowness of sentence two. When you say "first," I expect to see "second." I think you'd be wise to reconsider the part of the sentence that begins, "Which multiplied."

So, "The disintegration had been slow and insidious; first, the single vitamin bottle in the cabinet was replaced by prescription bottles. And second..." Or, "And second, those bottles had multiplied, spilling onto the counter." Treat them as two separate acts. If you start me with a "first," I expect to see a "second."

What's the book? Begin Again, Women's Fiction from Kimberly Dredger.

If this is a novel about dementia or memory loss, I would be interested to know that.

[Note: the author did reply, and it was about memory loss]

The eyes of the cougar sent an unrecognizable chill into Cassidy before she even knew she was being stalked.

Well, one of the challenges I have here is that we've sort of now disembodied an organ. The eyes of the cougar have a lot of agency. They, themselves, sent an unrecognizable chill into Cassidy. But if it's unrecognizable, how can it be named?

"...before she even knew she was being stalked." The sentence, grammatically, is a little fuzzy. I might consider that an unrecognizable chill can't be articulated, right? So, I would focus more on what Cassidy can feel and experience and that moment of awareness when she does realize she's being stalked. I think maybe you're just coming in a beat or two too early in terms of drawing us into this first moment of tension and action.

What's the book? Ardent, a YA novel by Janet Pearson

The massive coach pulled by four sleek horses was just outside Camberwell when its sole passenger began to stir from her absinthe induced stupor.

Okay. Not important that the coach is massive, nix it. You've already told us that it's pulled by four sleek horses so we know that this is an image of wealth, so you don't have to be redundant. The size of the coach is less important than the fact that it's pulled by these horses and I think that does the work of massive.

"Just outside of Camberwell when its sole passenger began to stir from her absinthe induced..." needs to be hyphenated because it's acting as an adjective modifying stupor. Because you could just say, "began to stir from her stupor," we know absinthe-induced is an adjective phrase, and you should hyphenate it.

But, I like this. I think it's an interesting way to tell us something about the person inside the carriage. That she is likely... He or she... No, she. She is likely wealthy, or perhaps had been kidnapped by a wealthy person. I'm intrigued.

What's the book? "The Race for an Earl." A Regency Romance by Frank Dorn

Oh, yeah it was. Regency Romance, one of my absolute most favorite genres. If I am not working or reading, actually physically reading a book, I am probably listening to a regency romance as I sort of totter around the house, and cook, and clean, and take care of my family. So, great, glad to see it.

I was pretty sure that the sound waking me up was a helicopter, but when you live in The Sticks, there are a lot of things that you have never actually seen, or heard, except on television.

So, the sticks, as a term, like the boondocks, is not capitalized. If the sticks is an actual place here, like District 13 in The Hunger Games, then you're right to capitalize it as is.

The voice here is very casual, which is fine. I would guess that this is YA based on the narrative mode, first-person. I don't know.

Waking up, it's never going to light my fire. I'm sorry. Fast forward me 10 minutes to whatever's going on after this person wakes up to a sound that they've never heard before. See how things go when you start there instead of starting here. That's what I would recommend.

What's the book? Hello, World by David Reim (Sci-Fi)

Viewer Question: "What about very short first lines in general? You didn't like any of them so far, but are the two short sentences worse than one sentence twice as long e.g., for an action/exciting opening?"

You know, I have seen some really dynamic, excellent, short, pithy first lines. But again, a first line is doing a lot of heavy lifting. There's so much that has to happen in one line one and so doing it in a few words is just more of a challenge. If, like me, you're obsessed with reality TV cooking shows, then you know that cooking something simple is a big risk because every component has to be perfect. And even just a little bit of missing salt can cause something simple to just collapse.

So, I think it's okay to have a really short first line but I think you have to be super-confident that it's doing the work you need it to do. And to that I say: it depends. It can be done. I don't want to just see long lines for the sake of length, I want to see strong lines with powerful verbs and very specific nouns. That kind of language choice is going to make a short sentence have a great impact.

My soup is ruined.

And here I'm talking about cooking shows. You could not have set this up better, "My soup is ruined." Okay, but, how or why? I would love just a little bit more information. Is this soup that came out of a can, and you microwaved it in the aluminum can, and now the whole microwave is on fire? Is the soup ruined because you mistook sugar for salt? Give me something a little bit more specific and activated.

I am intrigued by details, so I would love to know what it is that actually destroyed the soup. Soups can be very forgiving, so I'd really like to know what the death knell of this particular soup was.

What's the book? Crush on You, a contemporary romance by Amelia Wilde

Great. I love romance. I know Martin is going to ask me later about what I like to edit and I wish all of you looking for freelancers on Reedsy would send me more romance. Rom-com it up, ruin the soup, destroy the cake, get locked in a walk-in freezer. Whatever it is, I love the antics and the shenanigans. You know, tell me details. I want to know.

The city centre has been masticated and spat out into an infinite number of pieces: condom wrappers, takeaway wrappers, flyers for mediocre rappers, Rizla papers, newspapers, self-shamers, hell’s neighbours.

There's so much rhythm obviously, this almost reads like spoken word. There is beautiful interior rhyme here, there's a lot of just movement and action at the line level. Not big action, like bodies moving or explosions happening, but action within the line that makes it easy and enticing to read.

I'm not sure how effective the chewed up and spit out analogy is here. I think there's another way to say that the city has been used and used up that might be more effective. I would like to see that initial metaphor a little pithier, a little tighter, so that the list can shine — so that the items in series can shine brighter because that's obviously really where the play is in this sentence. I would get the point across faster in that initial clause.

And again, I would rethink the chewed up and spit out, I don't think that's the right descriptive language here.

What's the book? Mourning by Michael Murphy

Anderson didn't like burying people, but he was fond of Suzy.

Okay. I think he's burying Suzy? Or he's burying somebody for Suzy? That is really unclear, and as you can tell a really critical distinction. So, I think we're on to something here but I think we need just a smidge more specificity about who Suzy is and whether or not she's the person being buried, or perhaps the person on whose behalf Anderson is burying somebody else.

What's the book? Nobody Drowned by Peter Kingsmill, a Canadian Cozy Mystery

[note: The author replied and the guy being buried is Keith, Suzy's husband.]

Aha! Yes, okay. Great. It's really important to at least know that someone's being buried on Suzy's behalf, I think.

Any city built on ancient ruins had its secrets, and Shadow Kissed, the deadliest one of all, was sharpening her blade.

So, I'm confused because we're saying that any city built on ancient ruins had its secrets, so, Shadow Kissed, grammatically, is the name of a city. Not a person — but a city can't sharpen her blade. This is a bit of a humdinger for me.

I think there's a misfire. If this is an analogy, and we are referring to Shadow Kissed — which is a city — as a she... I'm confused. I think just the grammar here is a little impenetrable so I would modify a little bit to be more clear about who or what Shadow Kissed actually is.

I had hired a limousine for the four of them, a stretch black sedan similar to the vehicle that in a few months would carry just three of them.

Okay. I think it's nice that you're planting a central mystery, the disappearance of the fourth person. I'm not in love with the repetition of the pronoun them, I think it's a little weak. If you can modify this to be more specific about how we can classify these people, whether they all have the same job or whether or not they all have the same gender; maybe they're four women, maybe they're four stock brokers. I don't know, but if you could give me a little bit more about who these people are I would care more about the fact that one of them disappears.

Etta Bernard loved her five children – not equally, no, she knew people who said they loved each of their children equally were lying to themselves.

Wonderful. This is a situation where I think using a first and last name actually does a nice bit of vocal tone setting. So, I like this here. There should be another em dash after no, the phrase " — not equally, no." It should be offset as a parenthetical phrase, so you can go ahead and replace that second comma in line one with another em dash and then I think we have a really nice opening line here.

What's the book? Our Mother's Birthright by Elizabeth Roberts, literary fiction.

Lucy Holiday was twenty-five, never married, and still getting accustomed to her fourth name.

Okay. "Fourth name" is a little curious because we have Lucy Holiday so if we're talking about a completely different name, like an identity change — that's sort of the impression I get here. But if it's a fourth name as in a name added to her own name that keeps morphing into new names, then we would obviously need to see a different name at the outset. Lucy Holiday would have to have more components.

So, if I'm right that this is a complete transformation and it's a totally new name, "Twenty-five, never married, and still getting accustomed to her fourth name." Very cool. I'm interested in Lucy and I'm interested in why she has this naming problem, or naming habit. Great first line, really good.

What's the book? Windblown: On the Wing by Ellen Ann Callahan

Could you go to prison for reaching through a phone line and strangling someone?

So, we get a nice hit of voice right at the front. We know this person might be short-tempered, we know that they are kind of sarcastic and pithy. I feel pretty good about this. It gives me a little bit of a chuckle, and I would keep reading.

What's the book? The Wedding Planner and the Demon Bride (working) by Amity Hu

I never thought of death as being a living, breathing thing -- until now.

You know, okay. It feels a little bit like you're trying to go, "Gotcha." And I don't love that feeling. I think you could activate this a little more effectively by saying, "Death was a living, breathing thing..." Comma, show me how that's true and then maybe end with another dependent clause or work it in somewhere else, this idea of, "I never thought this way until now."

"Unbeknownst to me until this moment, death was a living, breathing thing..." Comma. And then activate it. Show me how death is a living, breathing thing. Because otherwise, this is just a little bit of a generalized cliché.

What's the book? Daughters of New Eden by J. Marthee Blevins

Brynne ignored the wolf whistles as she stepped onto the wrestling mat, and the stench of anticipation assaulted her nose like gasoline vapors.

I love this. The setting is right there. You're telling us something about our protagonist, that she has grit, she's a wrestler. How interesting. She's either a wrestler or she's someone involved in the wrestling match somehow, but I feel like the wolf whistles indicate that she is actually here to wrestle, which I love. Generally, I hate the notion of smells assaulting people, I see this all the time. It just makes smells seem extremely aggressive. But I think in this context, and with this analogy, "Like gasoline vapors." This is probably one of the better uses of that verb in that context that I've seen. So, I love this.

What's the book? Two Sisters Woods, a YA Contemporary Fantasy by Kate Johnston

Mother died and took the memories with her.

Beautiful. I would be surprised if this isn't literary fiction. It feels very quiet and here's an example of a short line that does a lot of heavy lifting. The formality of mother as opposed to mom or momma, this idea that there's something unknown that can never be known because of the mother's death. I think this does a lot of work to set a stage here. This is really well done.

What's the book? Life Begins with Murder (working title) by Sam Muller

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