First Lines of Best-selling Books: How Many Can You Guess?

Open Book

It’s 71 degrees outside as I write this, the sun is shining for the first day in weeks, and there’s a gentle breeze tickling the suddenly budding tree branches outside my office window. As you can probably imagine, I’m having a LOT of trouble concentrating on work.  So I thought I’d share something fun with you.

I always wonder how much of the books we love actually stays with us. So let’s do a test. I’m going to list a series of first lines from best-selling books in the Christian market. Immediately following will be three best-selling titles. Your job, should you decide to accept it, is to figure out, without cheating of course, which book those first lines belong to. (answers are at the end)

Ready? Here we go!

1. The morning sun shone brightly on the canvas of the covered wagon, promising an unseasonably warm day for mid-October.

a. Prairie Promises, Kelly Eileen Hake

b. Scattered Petals, Amanda Cabot

c. Love Comes Softly, Janette Oke

2. I once listened to an Indian on television say that God was in the wind and the water, and I wondered at how beautiful that was because it meant you could swim in Him or have Him brush your face in a breeze.

a. Just Like Jesus, Max Lucado

b. Love Does, Bob Goff

c. Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller

3. November days, being what they were in southeastern Pennsylvania, held an icy grip all their own.

a. The Silence of Winter, Wanda E. Brunstetter

b. The Shunning, Beverly Lewis

c. Waiting, Suzanne Woods Fisher

4. A glowing sun-orb fills an August sky the day this story begins, the day I am born, the day I begin to live.

a. One Thousand Gifts, Anne Voskamp

b. Soul Detox, Craig Groeschel

c. All In, Mark Batterson

5. March unleashed a torrent of rainfall after an abnormally dry winter.

a. The Chance, Karen Kingsbury

b. The Shack, William P. Young

c. The Negotiator, Dee Henderson

6. Emotions aren’t bad.

a. Unglued, Lisa TerKeurst

b. Let. It. Go., Karen Ehman

c. Battlefield of the Mind, Joyce Meyer

7. Alex Stafford was just like Mama said.

a. A Vote of Confidence, Robin Lee Hatcher

b. Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers

c. Chasing the Sun, Tracie Petersen

8. I first experienced the presence of God is a setting of exquisite beauty.

a. Experiencing God, Richard Blackaby

b. Crazy Love, Francis Chan

c. Jesus Calling, Sarah Young

9. “call now. Desper8.”

a. Truth-Stained Lies, Terri Blackstock

b. Dark Justice, Brandilyn Collins

c. I, Saul, Jerry Jenkins

10. Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

a. Galatians

b. Romans

c. Titus

Okay, to end this bit of fun, here are two one of my all-time favorite openings for novels, one Christian, one general market:

The first time I saw the sin eater was the night Granny Forbes was carried to her grave. I was very young and Granny my dearest companion, and I was greatly troubled in my mind.

“Dunna look at the sin eater, Cadi,” I’d been told by my pa. “And no be asking why.”

Being so grieviously forewarned, I tried to obey. Mama said I was accurst with curiosity. Papa said it was pure, cussed nosiness. Only Granny, with her tender spot for me, had understood.

The Last Sin Eater, Francine Rivers

It’s Nathan’s fault I became God.

It is, as I would learn, hell to be God.

Nathan, to begin with, is a close to a genius as anyone I ever expect to know. If this story has any moral at all, it is that you should stay away from geniuses.

The God Game, Andrew Greeley

How about you? What are your favorite first lines/beginnings? 


1:c, 2:c, 3:b, 4:a, 5:b, 6:a, 7: b, 8:c, 9: c, 10: b

14 Responses to First Lines of Best-selling Books: How Many Can You Guess?

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton January 29, 2014 at 4:41 am #

    Hi Karen,

    I would love some warm weather. I woke up to -1, and that’s before the windchill.

    I love your post today. Yesterday I was studying first lines as I prepare to enter the Genesis. Your examples are great.

    Do you think stories written in first person POV have better opening lines?

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Avatar
    Jennifer Dyer January 29, 2014 at 6:22 am #

    Fun post. As I read this, it’s 19 degrees. I shouldn’t have any temptation to venture outdoors today.
    My daughter has been reading the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. One of his books, I believe Mark of Athena, opens with “Even before he was electrocuted, Jason was having a very bad day.” Certainly got my attention. 🙂
    Thanks for the wealth of great posts you all provide.

  3. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka January 29, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    I am embarrassed at how few of those opening lines I was certain of. Sigh. Well, it was fun to read them and consider which books they might belong to. 🙂

    I have said it before, but I love the first line in almost every one of Susan May Warren’s books. She has a way of drawing the reader in pronto.

    You’ve given me some good lines to consider so I can craft a good one for my book. Thanks, Karen!

    PS What do you think makes for a great first line?

  4. Avatar
    Martha Rogers January 29, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Great post as usual, Karen. Weird, but I got all but one right and I’d only read 3 of the books plus Paul’s letter. If the first line attracts me, I’ll read on down the page.

  5. Avatar
    Catherine Hackman January 29, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    I got Number 5 and Number 10 correct. Here’s my fave first line: “On the day Cheyenne disappeared, two out-of-the-ordinary things happened. I got a flat tire, and I asked Beth Woodall for help with trig. At least, that’s what I told the police.”

    • Avatar
      Jackie Layton January 29, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

      Catherine, what book is that line from?

      • Avatar
        Catherine Hackman January 30, 2014 at 7:16 am #

        Jackie, it is from a story I wrote called “Pieces.” You can read it on my website. I’m not trying to sell it, so I thought it might be alright to include it here.

  6. Avatar
    Kathleen Jaeger January 29, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    I was pleased and surprised to get 9 out of 10 correct! I hadn’t read any of the books for the one that I answered incorrectly. I sure have enjoyed scrambling into my books looking for favorite first lines,

    “For the first fifteen years of our lives,Danny and I lived within five blocks of each other and neither of us knew of the other’s existence.” The Chosen by Chaim Potok

    “The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.” The Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

  7. Avatar
    Janet Chester Bly January 29, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    I love looking at first lines in my fiction library when I need quick creativity spark. Here’s some I just pulled out:
    1) Millicent Mannings Hollander could not stop looking at evil.
    Deadlock, James Scott Bell
    2) We’re out of control.
    The Breaking Point, Karen Ball
    3) The young man sat holding the .357 Smith and Wesson revolver, polishing its stainless steel with his mama’s scarf until he could see in it his distorted reflection.
    Dominion, Randy Alcorn

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball January 30, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      Aw, Janet, thanks!


  8. Avatar
    Cristine Eastin January 29, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    One of my favorite opening lines: “It’s not about you.”
    Raise your hand if you know who wrote it.

  9. Avatar
    Robin Patchen January 29, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    I’m a little late to the party, but this is my all-time favorite first line of a book. The book was good, though a bit too long for the story, but the first line propelled me to the end: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

    From “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving. (Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a CBA book–it isn’t. But it is a great line, isn’t it?)

  10. Avatar
    Janet Chester Bly January 29, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    “It’s not about you.” Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life.

  11. Avatar
    Philip Wade (@Brandywinebooks) January 30, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    Hurrah! I guessed about half of these, but not because I’d read the books. I don’t think I notice first lines, though I do remember loving the opening for P.D. James’ _Original Sin._ For instance, one of my favorite books begins, “‘Morning, Jeeves,’ I said.” That’s not a zinging opener.

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