First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or planning to read soon.

This week I’m featuring Cleopatra’s Sister by Penelope Lively.

Howard Beamish became a palaeontologist because of a rise in the interest rate when he was six years old. His father, a cautious man with a large mortgage, announced that the projected family holiday to the Costa Brava was no longer feasible. A chalet was rented on the north Somerset coast instead and thus, on a dank August afternoon, Howard picked up an ammonite on Blue Anchor Beach.

He presented it to his parents. ‘What’s this?’

It’s a stone,’ said his father, who was listening to the test match.

‘No, it isn’t,’ retorted Howard, an observant child.

‘It’s a fossil, dear,’ said his mother. ‘That’s a very old sort of stone.’

‘Why?’ persisted Howard after a few moments. The single word embraced a vast range of query, for which he did not have the language.

His mother, too, paused to consider and was also defeated, though for different reason. She evaded the issue by offering Howard a tomato sandwich, which he accepted with enthusiasm while continuing to pore over the ammonite. During the rest of the afternoon, he collected five more fossil fragments, including one embedded in a slab of rock weighing several pounds.

Penelope Lively is one of my favourite authors, so I’m expecting to enjoy this book. I’ve quoted more than the first paragraph as I loved the conversation between Howard and his parents and the description of the scene on the beach as Howard ate his tomato sandwich and collected fossils. It shows the influence of chance on our lives – and I’m also fascinated by fossils.


Detached and unwordly paleontologist Howard Beamish is on a journey that is to change his life. Travelling to Nairobi, his plane is forced to land in Marsopolis, the capital of Callimbia, where Cleopatra’s sister entertained Antony. Also on the flight is Lucy Faulkner, a journalist with a sketchy knowledge of Callimbia’s political turbulence. As chance throws them together, Howard and Lucy become embroiled in a revolution that is both political and personal.

‘Every sentence is a pleasure to read’ Sunday Express

‘A fluent, funny, ultimately moving romance in which lovers share centre stage with Lively’s persuasive meditations on history and fate. . .a book of great charm with a real intellectual resonance at its core’ The New York Times Book Review

What do think – would you read on?

12 thoughts on “First Chapter, First Paragraph

  1. Oh, I like this beginning, Margaret. That question – why? – just says so much. And I do find history really interesting. I’ll be looking forward to your review.


  2. Yes, I think that’s a fun beginning. I’d keep reading. And may I ask, don’t tomato sandwiches get a little soggy? We do put tomatoes on sandwiches, but there are usually other things – meat or cheese. Always wondered that. LOL


    1. Yes, Kay – I remember eating soggy tomato sandwiches. I think that’s one of the things I like about this scene – tomato sandwiches give it almost a physical feeling..


  3. This looks fun! I love mystery with just a little bit of romance and I also love fossils and most stories dealing with artifact hunting, etc. Enjoy your reading this week!


  4. I’ve only read one other book by Penelope Lively, A Stitch in Time, but I loved it and so did the children in my grade 5 class. This books sounds like one I would like. Thanks for sharing. Here’s the link to the beginning of my current read which sadly highlights the cruel life possible for women in Bible times and, in some parts of our modern world, still today:


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