I'm reading When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes by Jay Feldman.
These earthquakes occurred at the end of 1811 and the beginning of 1812, centered on the fault that lies in the southeast part of Missouri. Three of the quakes would have measured near 8.0 on the Richter scale, if such a thing had existed at the time. Felt as far north as Canada, all the way to the east coast, and south to New Orleans, the New Madrid series destroyed towns and even made the mighty Mississippi run backwards for a short time.
I became interested in the subject when I was researching true events for background in my historical novel manuscript, Wishing Caswell Dead. This is how we get sidetracked by research. I've been reading history of the Illinois area in the early 1800s ever since.
Maybe it's odd to think about first sentences in non-fiction history books, but I thought Feldman had a good one:
"Accompanied by an entourage of Shawnee, Kickapoo, and Winnebago warriors, the Shawnee chief strode decisively through the Creek village of Tuckhabatchee."
The book I recently finished was In the Woods by Tana French. This debut novel is mystery/suspense set in Ireland with a cop protagonist. A cop with a secret.
The winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for best first novel is so well written that it made me jealous. I can't wait to read French's new book, The Likeness, which was released in 2009. Instead of continuing the series with the same cop protagonist used in In the Woods, French apparently takes the cop's former partner as her new lead character. I think that's a nice variation on series.
The first sentence of In the Woods is in a prologue:
"Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film sent in small-town 1950s."
The two-page prologue sets the scene--the Irish countryside, the small village, the summer season, and a foreshadowing of the terrible things that happened that summer. French ignored all the advice that says no prologues, no long narrative openings that focus on setting, and don't open with backstory. I'm glad she did it her way, because it works beautifully.
What are you reading these days? Do you have something great to recommend?