Book Review: Precise by Rebecca Berto

Book Review: Precise by Rebecca Berto

Image links to Amazon page!

Image links to Amazon page!

 

I’m super excited today to get to review the debut novel of Rebecca Berto. Some of you might be familiar with her blog, Novel Girl. A couple months ago, she released her debut novelette, PRECISE, which is a prequel to her forthcoming novel, PULLING ME UNDER. First of all, I owe her an apology, because posting this took me way longer than it ought to have. I was deep in revision-mode for SHRIKE for most of February, and March just sort of blipped by, and all the sudden it was April. As a result, this is me sort of shamefacedly tugging a lock of hair at you all and confessing my much-belatedness in this review.

So here we go!

ThreeStars

 

I would give PRECISE three stars.

The story is about a young woman named Kates, who (at the beginning of the book) lives with her husband Paul and her abusive mother. The book confronts this abuse head on through the eyes of Kates, who struggles both with her own feelings of intense confusion and her desire to create a better life for her new daughter.

Kates was a very strong character throughout the story. Her need to build a new existence with Paul and baby Ella pushes her outside of the realm of her comfort, and as a reader, I was drawn into Kates’ story. Throughout the narrative, the existent tension kept me reading as Kates tries to break free of a mother who has her fingers so tightly clenched around her life. Paul and Ella are the sole bright spots in Kates’ world, and she defends them in the best way she knows how.

Her mother, Rochelle, is terrifying. Even without being able to empathize with the experience of growing up in a home with a parent who wished you harm, it’s easy to put yourself in Kates’ shoes and imagine the trapped feeling.

The first couple chapters were a bit confusing to me, and they had a few turns of phrase that took me out of the narrative a little, but the story found its grip and held on tight after that.

While PRECISE took a little bit to find its footing, the sample pages from PULLING ME UNDER at the end of the book showed that the momentum gained throughout the rest of PRECISE was nothing if not amplified in the writing of its follow-up. PRECISE was a solid debut, and Rebecca shows an excellent talent for character development that makes the next installment in this series exceedingly promising.

Rebecca has just also released her first full-length novel, DROWNING IN YOU, which you can buy on Amazon (AND it’s climbing the ranks — as of this writing it’s at #179 in Paid Kindle Books!)

Stop by Rebecca’s blog, chat to her on Twitter, and leave her some love in the comments!

Want me to review your book? Check out my Request a Review page!

 

 

Happy Anniversary to Buffy!

Happy Anniversary to Buffy!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sixteen years ago today, Buffy’s first episode aired.

I didn’t have a television for most of the time the series was on, but I still remember the summer I first got into it. I’d just gotten back from Scotland and moved in with a total and complete Buffy fanatic who was in the middle of a rewatch.

It only took about two episodes, and I was hooked.

So this month, in honor of the sixteenth anniversary of Buffy’s arrival in Sunnydale, I’d like to dedicate my blog to the show that became one of my favorite stories ever told.

Stay tuned this month for plenty of Hellmouth hijinks!

 

 

 

 

Ready, Set, Go!

Ready, Set, Go!

The ultimate best-seller list. Which of these ...

The ultimate best-seller list. Which of these is your all time favorite? (Photo credit: AndrewDallos)

I saw today’s prompt on WordPress.com and thought, “What the hell?” I’ll set a timer for ten minutes and see what comes out.

If you’re wondering, erm, that was the prompt. With me so far?

I liked the prompt because it is its own little double entendre. There’s the very literal ten minute writing sprint I’m doing for you to read, and then there’s this week, which has given me all sorts of things to ponder.

That first thing to ponder is possibility.

Today I learned that the fabulous Julie Kenner (who I met through a blogging class a year ago and who not only read the first few chapters of my first completed novel, but who helped me with my query letter this fall) has just had one of her books hit the New York Times Bestseller List for the first time ever.

(Go check it out — Release Me is ready to land in your hot little hands!)

Those of you who are writers know what that means. It’s huge. It’s massive. And it couldn’t have happened to a kinder person. I can’t express how happy I am for her.

Before this, though, she’s written many other books — many of which have done awesome and been on the USA Today bestseller list for multiple weeks. The point is that when these success moments come, these landmarks, crossroads, whatever you want to call them, they come after a lot of other things. Mostly, they come after years of preparation.

The theme of today’s post works well for that.

Ready

Whenever there’s a huge goal you’re shooting for, whether it’s adding that NYTBA in front of your name (New York Times Bestselling Author) or getting into Harvard or into the White House or out of debt, it requires preparation.

People don’t see that time. They don’t see the hours you spend at home instead of guzzling beers down at the pub with your friends. They don’t see the studying, the hair-pulling, the tooth-gnashing. They see the output, which doesn’t really show up in the Ready Stage.

Set

You’ve done your homework. You’ve put in the groundwork and the toil, and it just comes down to waiting.

Waiting is hard. It’s lonely. It can be maddening. It can be painful, your muscles burning for the release that comes with the gunshot.

But at this point, it’s all you can do. Until…

GO

When this moment comes, all the long hours are the fuel.

All the waiting becomes worth it.

The time you’ve put in paying your dues ignites, and you propel yourself forward.

Onward.

To the next leg of your journey.

This week, I’m seeing Ready and Set become GO for so many people, and I couldn’t be more excited for them.

So let’s go, gentle viewers. Let’s go. Where are you going? Sound off about your preparation, your waiting, and your moving forward in the comments!

Four Years

Four Years

Birthday, Cake with candles

Birthday, Cake with candles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in November, Spouse told me that I had a present for my birthday, but that it wouldn’t happen until January 23. That present was to go see the band Ra Ra Riot at 9:30 Club in DC.

This week rolled around, and Spouse hadn’t bought the tickets yet. Then we looked it up online, and the show was sold out. I was dismayed — I’d been really looking forward to the concert and getting to see this band again.

When I first saw them back on December 12, 2008, I was rather blown away. Here’s what I wrote about that experience four years ago:

I had listened to these guys on their MySpace a bit before going to the show. I often end up going in blind to these things, not really knowing what to expect, but this time I knew two things:
1. Their old drummer passed away in the not-so-distant past. (2007)
2. Their sound had evolved a lot between the release of their first EP to the release of their current record, The Rhumb Line.
and, because Princeton mentioned it during their set,
3. They touch each other a lot on stage.

When they did finally get up there, one thing was immediately evident. This band has an almost palpable, tangible chemistry. They get up on stage as a cohesive unit. Yeah, they do touch each other a lot as they play. They move close to one another, make eye contact often, and primarily do everything together as they play. Another thing was a little more subtle, but something more profound. Their late drummer, john pike, may have passed on, but he is so solidly there within the circle of their band that I felt like I could almost see him onstage. It is painfully, heartbreakingly clear that they lost a limb. I’ve never met these people. I don’t know them in any way. But watching them look at each other was watching the inside glances of a family. I’ve never seen a band so tight, and I’m still very moved by it. …

Their music bears witness to the life of their friend–he was one of the co-writers of everything they did. Most of the songs on The Rhumb Line (which I bought) were co-written by him. Onstage, you can see him there. For me, knowing just those two or three simple things about this band coupled with what I saw did exactly what a live show is supposed to do.

Seeing them perform was one of the more intensely emotional musical experiences I’ve had in a long while. Their music is solid, with a breadth and scope that isn’t seen often in modern culture. Their sound is akin to names like Vampire Weekend, The Cure, and Arcade Fire. The string lines (cello and violin) are fluid and velvet beauty. It works. It’s just plain good. It’s interesting, and above everything else, it’s real. Ultimately, their music is a crystal clear reflection of what death is supposed to be–a catalyst for new life.

Ra Ra Riot playing at the 9:30 Club in Washing...

Ra Ra Riot playing at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I saw them for the first time in Nashville at Exit/In (a decent-sized venue), there was an okay crowd, but the place was still sparse. What drew me to them was their evident bond manifested in the way they performed together, paired with music that is steeped in feeling.

Today, as I was coming home from work, I got a text from Spouse saying that he’d managed to find two tickets to the show, and that we could go after all.

Color me thrilled, because I was.

The 9:30 Club is not a small venue. It’s not a stadium, but it holds a lot more people than Exit/In by a few hundred. And it was sold out.

They packed the place. I saw them one additional time in Nashville, when they went on tour with Death Cab for Cutie. But now they’re headlining their own tour and selling out places like the 9:30 Club. In four years, they’ve moved forward in success, and when I saw them tonight, I had a few moments where a couple tears escaped.

Not only did their music get me through a rough winter in my life four years ago, but that cohesion, that bond that shows so evidently when they play together — that’s still there. They are still just as much of a joy to watch. Their music has matured, but they still played almost all the songs from their first full-length. I can’t help but think part of that is due to the memory of the friend they lost.

Four years ago, they weren’t well-known. They’d never been on national television (that I know of), and they weren’t selling out mid-sized venues. Or okay-sized venues. But they had something magical about them, and tonight I saw several hundred people recognizing that magic.

Four years. Four years of hard work, long hours, long tours, and striving for a goal. They’ve moved forward, but their essence is exactly what I remember drawing me in back in 2008.

The tears I had during a few of their songs were pure joy. Because I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a band to succeed more. These people, in my mind, deserve absolutely every good thing that comes to them. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so happy for total strangers.

So Ra Ra Riot, here’s to another four years of running toward your dreams.

It gives me hope, even though I’m in a completely different industry. Where will I be in four years?

Where were you four years ago? Where do you want to be four years from now?

Resurrecting the Dead

Resurrecting the Dead

How is it Sunday again, gentle viewers? When did the week happen, and how did I miss it?

How I missed it or not, Sunday means it’s writer day round these parts, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the GIFs.

Sunday My Prints Will Come: Trunked Manuscript Edition

Whenever I go back and read something I wrote a long time ago, I approach the manuscript like this:

What is it, precious?

I think everyone’s had that experience. Well, writers, anyway. When you sit down to write a manuscript, your brain whirs along thinking, “Wow. This idea is pretty brilliant. This is gonna be great. This idea will rule the world. This novel’s going to get me on Conan. And the NYT bestseller list. And The Daily Show! Yeah, The Daily Show. Jon Stewart‘s awesome. Never mind that he doesn’t have fiction authors on much. Or at all. I’m gonna be awesome. Everyone’s gonna love this.”

Okay, maybe not those exact words, but there’s an effervescence that comes with starting a new project. You sit down with the lightbulb bright above your head, and you go like this:

Boom. NOVEL.

But then time happens. It goes by, and with it, life. Pretty soon it’s a bunch of years later and your first manuscript is gathering dust somewhere. Most of the time the reason it’s gathering dust is because you realized somewhere along the line that it sucked and you should write something else if you ever wanted to see the light of publication.

That’s about what happened to me. I wrote my first novel over the course of about four years, then the next one in about two and a half after that. I wrote a lot of other things in between. A lot of blog posts and partial novels that were really awful (the partial novels, not the blog posts…I hope). When I finally finished the second half of the second book and plowed through the first half of the third (this was a trilogy), it took a lot of steam.

My First Mistake

Honestly? Sitting on the first book for three years. I finished it in 2008. If I’d really worked and tried to learn about revision and editing THEN, it might have gotten published. Instead, I was oddly tunnel-vision about getting the second book done before I tried to query the first. But hear this, gentle viewers: if I’d tried to get it published back then when the vampire trend was gaining all sorts of momentum and various other physics terms, it might have happened, and I might be in a whole different world now. Or, you know, the same world. But published.

When agent Ginger Clark said, “If you’d brought this to me four years ago, I could have sold it in a heartbeat” at WDC last January, the inside of my head did this:

When someone like that says something to that effect in your direction, it leaves a bit of a sour taste in your mouth. Of course, she hadn’t read the book. This was after hearing my 30 second pitch. Regardless, I left the conference feeling a bit cranky about my own OCD.

My Second Mistake

I didn’t know how the fuck revision worked four years ago. I thought you looked for comma splices and bad grammar. I didn’t fully understand how to wrangle a 120,000 word novel into workable form. (The other invaluable advice given by Ms. Clark? Chop it by 20K. I chopped 25K.) My second draft had consisted of going through the first draft and retyping the entire thing, with a few minor changes. The third was an eentsy bit better, but I still didn’t know how to recognize major structural problems, and I really had no idea what I was doing. My revision process was like throwing confetti on a fire and hoping it would turn to gold.

Like a boss.

What the Query Shark would have done if she’d known about this.

I knew nothing about structure aside from what I’d absorbed from reading over the years. Which is to say, stuff was vaguely in the right spot, sort of. But it lacked precision. It lacked oomph. And it lacked quality.

Cough.

So after realizing these two gargantuan mistakes and a suitable period of chagrin in which I stuffed my rejection letters under a pile of sticky notes on my desk and buried that under a ream of printer paper, I shelved my trilogy.

Until this week.

For whatever reason, I got curious this week. I’m halfway through my current WIP. I have the first draft of my new urban fantasy series just chillin’ while I wait for my brain to distance itself enough to revise it like Christian Bale would in American Psycho. And between writing heaps and heaps of words and games of Bejeweled Blitz (and the day job), I decided to pull out the third, half-finished book in the trilogy just for shits and giggles.

I waded into the manuscript. And not without some trepidation.

Is it going to eat me?

Much to my utter shock, it didn’t suck.

Far from it.

After the first ten pages, I wanted to pick myself up and do this:

Bad Emmie.

Not because it was awful, but because it was solid. I’d written it in the tail end of 2011′s NaNoWriMo, and I honestly expected it to be total shite. It wasn’t. Sure, there were some sloppy instances of word choice, but it read smoothly and packed a lot of power behind it. Like I said, it’s a trilogy. And as the final book in said trilogy, there were a lot of loose ends that needed to coalesce into some sort of nicely woven hammock to support the Big Bad Finale.

What I was shocked to see was that I’d accomplished those things much, much better than I had anticipated. Reading it re-convinced me that I’d had something with the idea. The characters had depth and emotion. There were a lot of storylines, but they were woven together seamlessly. And apart from one WTF POV moment, all the voices sounded unique.

After beating myself up for ignoring it for so long, I sobered up and stared at my screen for a while.

Always a glutton for punishment, I went back to the second book.

The beginning made me wince a bit. Not gonna lie. I started writing the second book originally before I started writing the first book (and realized I hadn’t started at the beginning of the real story), so the first chapter was embarrassing. I skipped through about half of it until I got to where I’d left off a few years ago. Where I’d picked it back up in November of 2011, it got good.

And it built to a KILLER finale for a second book.

If I went Hulk Smash after finishing what I had done of the third, finishing the fourth and seeing that it wasn’t, in fact, a steaming pile of dung, created this reaction:

Blown.

I’d been trying to figure out the Big What Next for a while. I’m still slogging through the Query Trenches with two books queued up to submit as soon as they’re (properly) revised. Now I know what I want to do: resurrect the trilogy.

It has a lot of potential, but it’s going to erm…need heaps of work. The first book and a half will need more or less a page one rewrite. Which, in screenwriter speak, pretty much means start from scratch, you sad, unfortunate bastard.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I still love the story. I love the epic fantasy elements married with the contemporary fantasy setting and paranormal/urban fantasy creatures. Yes, it’s got vampires. Which’ll make it a tough sell. But there are options, and this is a project that will make me feel good.

I like the feeling that I didn’t “waste” 250,000 words of writing.

I love that I’ve found they might be salvageable after all.

My plan? Crawl back into it and see what happens.

So, writers. What have you written and trunked that you later found wasn’t as awful as you thought it was? Anything you want to spruce up (or tear down and rebuild)? Should writers even do this, or should we just keep moving forward?

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