Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review - Paper Towns

Photo credit: John Green's website

Last week, I read John Green's PAPER TOWNS. As a big fan of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, I was excited to read another book of his, though the books are pretty different from each other. PAPER TOWNS is the story of high school senior Quentin Jacobsen, or Q, as his friends call him. One night as Q is falling asleep, the girl-next-door, Margo Roth Spiegelman, shows up at his window asking if he wants to help her get revenge on some of their classmates. This takes us through part one of the book: the story of Margo's revenge plan, which is wild and meticulously planned. Throughout this section, we get a very clear idea of who both Margo and Q are.

Characterization is a huge component of this book, maybe even more than in TFIOS. At its core, PAPER TOWNS is a study of the individual. It asks the question, "How well do we really know the people around us? And can we ever really know them at all?" Green spends part one setting up an identity for both Margo--the carefree, fun-loving girl--and Q--the quieter, more sensible one. And then he spends part two shattering those images.

Part two begins right where part one ended: the day after Margo's vengeance mission. Q has to deal with the fallout from that long night. He also learns that Margo has run away, something she does often enough that no one is particularly concerned at first except Q. And then it becomes the story of Q trying to find Margo. Sometimes his friends help, sometimes he's alone, but he spends the entire section trying to trace a series of clues to narrow down her location.

This is where the theme shifts, and we're introduced to the questions about how well we know the people around us. Q struggles with that throughout the section, wondering he really knew Margo, or if he only knew the version of her that she projected, the version that others thrust onto her. And through his journey, both he--and we--learn that she's not necessarily the person we thought she was. And neither is Q.

I don't want to give too much away about the ending, so I'll say that if part three has a theme, it's probably the same as the book's overall one: we're all connected. It's a long road for Q to get to that conclusion, but I think that's where he winds up.

I wasn't entirely certain of my reaction when I finished reading the book. John Green is a fantastic author, and I appreciated the lyrical twists and turns of his sentences maybe more than I appreciated the plot. While I liked the characters well enough, there weren't any that I was overly fond of. And I felt that sometimes the book got bogged down in its own rhetoric. The themes weren't subtle; they were hammered in with a sledgehammer. But the story was engaging, and I found myself power-reading through it because I was so curious to find out how it ended. Overall, I'd give it a 3 1/2 out of 5.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Grammar Check - "affect" vs. "effect"

This is another topic I'm hoping to make a regular series on my blog. Once a month, I'll post grammar rules, tips, and tricks. As the person in my inner circle most likely to care about minute grammar rules, I'm the de facto phone-a-friend lifeline whenever someone I know has a question. Most grammar rules are pretty simple once you know them, so hopefully you'll all find this a valuable resource.

This first topic is one that I get asked a lot: What is the difference between "affect" vs. "effect"?

The answer is usually pretty clear-cut. Most of the time, "affect" is a verb, and "effect" is a noun. A quick and dirty way to remember that? If you affect something, it's an action. If there's an effect, it's usually an event.

Of course, there are always exceptions. There is a noun form of "affect." It means, "An expressed or observed emotional response."[1] This is mostly used in a psychological capacity. For example, a person can have a flat affect, where they don't show much emotion on their face.

And "effect" can occasionally be a verb, meaning, "To produce as an effect."[2] Used in context, you could say something like, "She effected a change using Pavlovian methods." I'll be honest: I had to look this one up because I don't believe I've ever used "effect" as a verb.

There you have it. Like I said, 99% of the time, you'll be safe if you use "affect" as a verb and "effect" as a noun. Don't overthink it too much, and you should be good to go!

If there are any topics you want me to cover in this series, leave me a comment or email me at

Friday, January 23, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday - Late Spring Fall

Prompt: Candy Apple Red

Late Spring Fall

Red was Diane's favorite color, so when they threw the party, Marty insisted everything be red. Red balloons, red flowers, red decorations, even red icing on the cake.

Red bike, red blood, red cross, red signs in the hospital.

He enlisted the help of all the guys on the football team to turn Diane's backyard into a fall festival in late spring because he knew autumn was her favorite season. Bryan Fitzpatrick--who was a stellar baker--made apple, cherry, and pumpkin pies, and Gallagher Murphy got his rich uncle to fly in all kinds of fall vegetables from somewhere in South America where they were growing fresh.

When it really had been autumn, Diane had been a month into her coma with no sign of coming out of it. She'd missed the whole season.

Marty called it a Welcome Home party. Diane called it a Thank God You're Alive party.

Over a hundred kids from school flooded the backyard on the day they finally released Diane from the hospital, and she cried when she saw them all. They came up to her one by one, hugging her and telling her how much they'd missed her, bringing her food and drinks before she even asked and pushing her around the yard in her new wheelchair so she could see everything Marty and his friends had done.

Later, Diane told Marty that she she was pretty sure at least half those people hadn't even known her name before the accident.

When it was over and everyone was gone, Diane kissed Marty and told him it was the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for her. She pressed one of the red flowers in a book of poetry that she hardly ever read.

When she found the flower fifteen years later, it was still the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for her, and she still cried at the memory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pack Supremacy Update

Photo credit: The copyrights for the images are held by Katie Little |, James Hearn |, and Michael Shevlin. The copyright for the cover is held by Patricia L. Miller.

Since it's now a few months past when I'd hoped to publish Pack Supremacy (THE CAPITOLINE HILLS CHRONICLES book 2), I thought I'd give a little update on its progress. I really have no one to blame for the delay but myself (ah, the curse of self-publishing). I gave the first draft to my beta readers last February, and they got me back comments by the middle of March, which was amazing of them. And then I looked at those comments and... did nothing. By the time I finally got myself back on track with my edits, it was August, a mere two months from when I hoped I'd be published.

Still, I sent a second round of edits out at the end of August, and again my fantastic beta readers came through, reading it within a week and getting back to me with in-depth critiques. Unfortunately, some of those critiques suggested I still had quite a bit of work to do before this book would be publication-ready. Which is fine. I'd rather the book be really ready than to put it up early and know it's not. But it did mean that I missed my deadline.

I took time off for NaNoWriMo and then the holidays, but for most of October and since the new year started I've been hard at work on another round of edits. I'm hoping to have those to my betas by the end of the month. I'm hoping some of the changes I'm making in this round will fix a few of the big problems that were pointed out to me.

In the upcoming months, I'll keep you posted on its progress, including a new publication date once I know it. If you haven't read Pack Mentality (the first CAPITOLINE HILL book) yet, you can buy a copy on Amazon or Smashwords.

Friday, January 16, 2015

TV Review - Scorpion

This is a new blog series. Once a month, I'll be posting a review of a television series I watch (or have watched, since once in a while I'll endeavor to write a critical review of a show I don't watch anymore). I'm open to suggestions as well. I watch about 40 TV shows a week, so there's a fair chance that if you suggest something, I've at least watched an episode or two (if it's on American broadcast channels; I don't watch quite as much on cable nor much at all outside the U.S.).

I'm kicking it off this month with one of my favorite new shows this season, Scorpion.

The show is loosely based on the real life of Walter O'Brien, a genius who founded Scorpion Computer Services. The Walter in the show is recruited--with a group of other geniuses--by Agent Cabe Gallo to consult with Homeland Security. The team is filled out by Sylvester, a "human calculator"; Toby, a world-class behaviorist; and Happy, a mechanical prodigy. And along the way, they pick up Paige, who, when we meet her, is a normal waitress with a genius son.

There are a lot of things I like about this show. I like watching them solve the problems. People who are smarter than I am have expressed some concern over the believability of their solutions, and they're probably right. They definitely stretch the limits of reality. But to be honest, I don't care. It's fun to watch.

I also like the pacing of the show. I was worried when I first saw trailers that it would be all blowing things up and crashing cars. And while there is a fair bit of that, there's substance to balance it out. There are slow periods of emotion and contemplation that really heighten the excitement of the action. There's quippy dialogue mixed with the brainy dialogue that's mixed with the action dialogue. (What exactly is action dialogue? You know, "Run!" "No!" "Look out!") And there's almost always a great, non-action ending that leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy.

Which brings me to the thing I like the most: the relationships between the characters. By themselves, the characters' quirks can be too much, especially Walter's emotional detachment and Sylvester's pile of phobias. But together, they balance. While Walter is the star of the show, Paige is the emotional center. And she brings out the best in the other characters. Suddenly it's not about an annoying trait, but how the character works through it. And it's about how they connect with the other characters, even though it's difficult for them to function socially. It almost always leads to me sniffling on the couch.

Are there negatives to it? Sure. It's got pretty standard procedural plotlines, with a problem-of-the-week that's solved in 45 minutes or less. As I mentioned before, it stretches reality in both the situations they find themselves in (they wind up in Bosnia in one episode) and the ways they solve them. But the negatives seem small compared to the positives, and it's worked its way up to one of my most highly anticipated shows each week.

Scorpion airs at 9:00 on Mondays on CBS.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - 1/13/15

Photo credit: Barnes & Noble

I've been meaning to read The Princess Bride ever since I saw the movie, and I finally realized the library had ebook copies to check out. Score! So far, it's every bit as quirky and fun as the movie.

Anyone who lived through the 1980s may find it impossible—inconceivable, even—to equate The Princess Bride with anything other than the sweet, celluloid romance of Westley and Buttercup, but the film is only a fraction of the ingenious storytelling you'll find in these pages. Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that's home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.”

The rules for Teaser Tuesday are:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
  • Then hit up Should Be Reading to add your link.

And the teaser:

The horse’s name was “Horse” (Buttercup was never long on imagination) and it came when she called it, went where she steered it, did what she told it. The farm boy did what she told him too. Actually, he was more a young man now, but he had been a farm boy when, orphaned, he had come to work for her father, and Buttercup referred to him that way still.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday - Blankets

Prompt: Suitably warm


The heat had shut off in the middle of the night again. Katherine poked her head out from the pile of blankets and felt her nose freeze almost immediately. She yanked the covers over her head again and tried to ignore the alarm ringing on the other side of the room.

"You know," Tristan's voice was so warm she thawed a little listening to him, "you should probably talk to your landlord about this."

He snapped the alarm off and slid back into the bed. Katherine gasped as his chilled skin came into contact with hers. "Get away!" she yelped. "Why would you go out there without clothes?"

He waggled his eyebrows, surprising a laugh out of her. "Can't you warm me up, darling?"

But Katherine jerked away as he moved closer again. "No. No, I can't."

Another guy might have been annoyed or at the very least sobered. Tristan just smirked and yanked the covers until he was rolled up like a burrito--and Katherine's bare behind was exposed. She yelped again and tried to yank them back, which started a war for the covers, which rolled Katherine right back into Tristan's arms.

"You did that on purpose," she grumbled, though by this point he was quite warm, so she was actually kind of pleased to be pressed up against him.

"Did not."

"Did too."

"Did too," he agreed, and he kissed her so hotly she completely forgot she was supposed to be cold.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Year, New Resolutions

So 2014 passed by in a whirl of lights, color, sounds, and very little writing. I kept only one of last year's resolutions (I finally finished a nonfiction book), and I don't think I fared any better with my personal resolutions, though for the life of me I can't find where I wrote them down. I really hope being more organized wasn't one of them.

But it's a new year and a chance to reapply myself. And with that comes another attempt at becoming a regular blogger. Hopefully this will be the year when it sticks.

Aside from that, I've made a few other new year's resolutions:

  1. Make writing a priority. Last year, writing often got shuffled to the side for other things. Sometimes they were important--family and work in particular. But sometimes they weren't. I'm a big television watcher, and while I do still hope to make a career out of it someday, there's nothing that can't be watched later so I can make some time for writing.
  2. Make writing fun again. It goes hand in hand with #1, to be honest. It's not enough just to carve out the time; I need to make the time something I look forward to as well. For part of NaNoWriMo this year, I wrote some fanfiction to get the juices flowing, and it reminded me of when I used to write in middle and high school and how much fun it was. I want to recapture those feelings this year.
  3. Publish Pack Supremacy, the second Capitoline Hill book. This is pretty self-explanatory, right? I was really disappointed that I didn't get it out last October like I'd planned. I'm working on a fresh round of edits that should be completed by the end of the month, so I'm optimistic that I can have it up in the first half of the year.
  4. Submit more short stories to magazines and competitions. The only way to really get your name out there is to publish more, right? Plus, themed submissions allow me to try new genres and styles.

And that's about it. How about you guys? Any new year's resolutions you want to share?