Book Review #15: Prodigy

Prodigy by Marie Lu

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Middle book syndrome is a common concern of most authors writing trilogies. No matter how well the first book does, there’s always the fear that the next installment will drag, or over-explain, or lack new development.

Marie Lu’s debut novel “Legend” landed her on the New York Times bestseller list, and if that isn’t a lot to live up to, I don’t know what is. And though my opinion may make me unpopular, I think that “Prodigy” not only avoids middle book syndrome altogether, it’s actually better than “Legend.”

Loads better.

All of the things I loved most about book one were completely amped up in book two. The action was bigger and crazier. I had to actively force myself not to race through certain scenes or chapters, because I wanted to know the details as much as I wanted to know the outcomes. There were a whole bunch of plot twists, ranging from the ‘wow-that’s-so-depressing-I-never-knew’ to ‘oh-my-God-why’ mingled with explanations of shock.

Not to mention the chemistry between Day and June. Anyone else thinking of a certain scene early in the story? I know I am. 🙂

In all seriousness though, the strengths of “Prodigy” as a story all tie back to the changing relationship and interactions between the two leads. Their relationship had so much more conflict this time around, and even physical separation doesn’t lessen the tension between them. Awesome climactic scene aside, I was dying to reach the ending just to find out what would happen to them.

If you loved “Legend,” you’ll love “Prodigy.” And if you were a bit more lukewarm, definitely give it a shot.

Just be prepared to gnash your teeth and wait on pins and needles for the next–and final–book!

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Good Delays

For those of you who follow or have followed this blog with some regularity, I’m sure you’re wondering why there have been very few mentions of Positively Anonymous in the last few months. I talked about the story a ton back in February and March, in part because I was under the impression that I was almost ready to query. And then, once I became a member of a regular critique group, because I thought that the majority of the editing I had left to do was minor.

Spoiler alert: I was wrong.

It’s never a fun thing to realize you aren’t nearly as far along on a manuscript as you thought, especially when time constraints of one kind or another have led to four or five different drafts in just under two years. And it removes a lot of the enjoyment from a project when people whose work you love and whose opinions you’ve grown to respect tell you that there’s still a reasonable amount of work to do.

And yet, there’s something refreshing about the constant feedback I’ve been getting on Positively Anonymous. Even though I have to straighten my spine before diving into each new set of comments, it has been fascinating to watch other writers suggest ways to improve my story that I–in all my haste–might never have thought of. For every note that makes me cringe because the person who made it was 100% correct, and how could I have sent out a drift with that issue, and oh my God, I suck, there are others that alight my imagination with all these new possibilities.

Listing all the things that need to be fixed, or adjusted, or tweaked sends my mind in all these directions I wouldn’t have given a second thought to when I began. No matter how many pages I fill with critique notes in one of my journals, one thing never changes. I always come away from those sessions ready to get to work.

That’s the positive thing about delayed plans, the thing that no one ever mentions. With the anxious anticipation of preparing to query completely off my radar for the time being, I no longer worry about rushing the story. I’m much more content to get a whole manuscript worth of feedback, develop ideas to make Positively Anonymous more engrossing, and take my time with what will hopefully be the final round of edits before I start sending it out.

I’m not going to make the same mistake I made with The Recruited. This time, I’m going to sit on my hands for as long as it takes to whip this story into the absolute best shape I can.

Now that I have a whole host of awesome writers to brainstorm with, I’m actually looking forward to that process!

Book Review #14: Reboot

Reboot by Amy Tintera

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I’d been hearing plenty of buzz about “Reboot” long before it came out, without ever thinking I should read it. Then I saw it named on a list of anticipated YA Novels and fell in love with the premise. I added it to my pile and kept my fingers crossed that–when I got to it–it’d be worth the wait.

When I checked this out, it came with a stack of other books. Most of those had been on my TBR list much longer, and I promised myself I would read through the novels in order or oldest to most recently added.

That lasted almost a week. Maybe. As soon as I picked up Amy Tintera’s debut, I read the first 80 or so pages without stopping. If I hadn’t had to get up early the next morning, I would’ve kept going.

Though I’ve read a lot of great YA novels with hardass female protagonists, I was immediately taken with the idea of a girl who follows orders without emotion because she doesn’t know what else to do. Reboots are young people who have come back to life after death. Wren, who was dead much longer than the others, is the most powerful reboot in what remains of the U.S. And until she starts training the significantly weaker Callum, she doesn’t bother to question who commands her loyalty.

The questions of humanity and what defines it were a large portion of what fascinated me about this story. Watching Wren make the subtle shift from being removed from reboots and humans alike, to learning to recognize the humanness she still possesses was what made Tintera’s novel shine. In spite of what both sides have been taught to believe, humanity in this post revolution world is far more complex than being on round one of life or not.

The side characters shone brightly, and the revelations Wren makes about some of them accounted for many of the most moving parts of the story. Callum, in particular, was an awesome character–one whose eternal cheerfulness acts as his own defense. Usually love interests who actively pursue the protagonist garner more suspicion than interest on my part. And yet, I can’t help feeling that what we’re going to learn about Callum in the next book will only make me like him more.

If I had one issue with “Reboot,” it was the abruptness of the ending. Even though this is only book one, I expected a lot more complications in the final climactic scene. From the minute the final plan goes into effect, I thought Wren and the others had way too easy of a time reaching their goals and putting phase two into action. Part of me was expecting some large kicker of an ending, something that would befuddle and mesmerize me, leave me salivating for the next book. Instead of being desperate for more pages, I was confused that we’d reached the ending so easily.

With any luck, Tintera will up the tension like crazy in the sequel, but regardless, “Reboot” is definitely worth the wait.

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Pathfinding, or the Ongoing Saga of Rewriting

Whenever I hear about or meet other writers who can write a first draft without changing too many of their basic mechanics later, I can’t help my twinge of envy. By ‘basic mechanics’ I mean the type or number of POVs, or the age range, or the genre. Every MS I’ve finished that has undergone more than one draft has seen at least one–if not more–of these facets change.

Even though I’m learning to give these basics a lot more thought before I start the outlining process, much less the actual writing, I still tend to overreach or attempt something that I’d like to work well, but probably won’t.

If you’ve been waiting for my explanation regarding the rewrite of Facing the Music, this is it. The first draft I completed involved two POVs–one male, one female. The story was written in third person past tense. I saw a lot of promise in that completed draft, but there was also plenty wrong with it.

After I’d identified the majority of my problems with that first completed version, I came to the same awful conclusion I’d faced several times with The Recruited. Not only did I have to cut back to one POV, I’d have to rewrite most of the manuscript to do so.

That was the bad news. The good news is that I’m already close to halfway through the next draft of Facing the Music, and I’m already liking this version so much more. I’ve chosen to focus on Evan’s POV, not just because his is more interesting to me, but because his provides a much more unique insight into Leslie’s. There’s also a lot more tension, thanks in part to the existing characters having more depth and the removal of the characters who mostly took up space.

Although the latter half to two thirds of the plot are close enough for government standards to the original that I haven’t had to brainstorm much new material, the sequence of events has required some alterations. Amazingly, those alterations have made the rest of the story fit together much more tightly.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to have plenty more editing to do once the rewrite is finished. At the same time, it’s an incredible confidence-booster to me that the rewriting process has become so much easier for me with each passing draft. Maybe with more practice, I won’t have to spend quite so much time fussing with the structure before moving on to more exciting revisions.

What about you? Is there some aspect of revising you constantly struggle with? If so, what is it?