Flawless by Sara Shepard

Flawless by Sara Shepard 2007 – A Pretty Little Liars Novel

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I don’t normally read sequels unless I love the first book, but Shepard had me hooked with Pretty Little Liars and I wanted to know what happened to our four spoiled rich girls and if –A was revealed.

It begins with creepy Toby Cavanaugh, the brother of Jenna, who was blinded in a freak fireworks accident. He keeps appearing in their lives and the girls are sure he’s –A who keeps sending messages to the girls. In this book, the messages are more menacing.

Shepard knows how to build tension and intensity. She also knows how to create sympathy and loathing for her four main characters.

Aria and her brother see their father renewing his affair with MFA student Meredith. Aria is pressured to confront her mother about the affair by –A and attends Meredith’s yoga class and then visits her apartment.

The boys are featured more in the second boy with Sean, who is the virgin pledged ex-boyfriend of Hanna, showing an interest in Aria.

Hanna’s father tries to make nice with her and plans a big dinner with his new wife and stepsister Kate, who sets her up to look like she’s using drugs. Her mother is sleeping with cop Wilden without needing to. So Hanna, who hoped for a reconciliation with her family, is more alienated than ever.

But Spencer is even more alienated from her family than Hanna. Spencer stole her sister Melissa’s boyfriend Wren in the previous book, and she sleeps with him. She goes out with Andrew and then alienates him when he overhears her talking to Wren on the phone. Spencer hears Wren is a player and she keeps calling him until he breaks up with her over the phone. Then her evil sister Melissa brags about sleeping with him one last time to ruin Spencer’s life. Makes me glad I don’t have an older sister.

Emily had planned to quit the swimming team to be with Maya, but the coach makes her captain. Ben threatens to tell others about her being a lesbian and attacks her in the hallway. Toby Cavanaugh comes to her rescue and they attend the big charity party together.

The party is the big climax with Spencer, Hanna, and Aria trying to find Emily who is with Toby. They think she is in danger, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.

There are two more books in the series.


Perfect and Unbelievable are remaining books.


Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard 2006

Pretty Little LiarsThese books were made into a television series which I did not see so I read the book without any preconceptions. A lot of characters are involved in the story and I kept a list to try to keep them straight. The story begins when five best friends are in the eighth grade and the leader of the group, Alison DiLaurentis disappears.

The story picks up three years later after the four remaining friends have drifted apart.

The POV bounced back and forth between the four main characters and notes may be necessary to keep the characters’ storylines straight.

Aria Montgomery along with Alison witnessed her professor father making out with a student. He moves the family to Iceland for two years to repair his marriage. Aria changes her image from dork to sophisticated young lady. Before school begins she meets Ezra at a bar and they hit it off. Unfortunately, Ezra is her AP English teacher.

Emily is into swimming and Ali was her best friend and knows a secret about the “Jenna Thing” which is revealed only partially in the end. She always thought she liked Ben but when Maya St. Germain moves into the old DiLaurentis’s house, her feelings for Maya confuse her and causes a scandal when Ben catches the girls kissing. Also throw in the fact Maya is black and Emily’s parents reveal they are prejudice and don’t want her to be friends with the new girl.

Spencer was Ali’s next door neighbor but not as good as Ali in sports. Spencer is never as good as her older sister, Melissa, except for distracting Melissa’s boyfriends. When Melissa brings home her fiancé Wren, he has more interest in Spencer and trouble follows. Her parents practically disown her.

Hanna was the ugly duckling in the group and “not it” along with Mona Vanderwaal. Hanna and Mona become the hot girls at school in Ali’s absence. They also enjoy shoplifting. Hanna’s boyfriend has taken a virginity pledge and the pair borrow his father’s BMW and wreck it. But Hanna’s mother has a special way of keeping Hanna out of trouble.

Throw a bunch of preppy boys who also attend the exclusive Rosewood Day School and you have plenty of subplots to sort out.

The ending of the book sets up the sequels that follow.

The characters do bad things, but you can’t help but feel sorry for them because under all the pretty exterior are girls who are hurting and want to be loved. Writers could learn from the complexity of the characters who don’t have to be pretty, perky, and perfect to be a leading lady. Add flaws. In fact the plot was pretty thin, and the story relied on the backstories that introduced the four friends and the troubles they faced to keep you turning the pages. It is soap opera at its best with trouble following every character no matter how hard they try to avoid it. There is no happily ever after ending for this book, and I can’t wait to see what trouble they fall into in the next book.


Review of “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

Dec. 29, 2017 Outlander by Diana GabaldonOutlander-TV-cover

I read the 550 ebook pages of Outlander this past week. If you do the same, allow plenty of time. I also have watched the television series based on the book. Sometimes a book is better. Sometimes the movie or television series is better. This was a close one to call. Because the television series is filmed in Scotland, it brings the descriptions in the book to life, and the characters are more alive by actors portraying them with the mud, rain, and pain part of the reality. The book filled in some of the missing information about the characters’ backgrounds and family scheming and betrayals that aren’t as evident in the series. Black Jack is definitely scarier in the series. Although the descriptions are graphic in the novel, the impact is stronger, if not horrific, when viewing them. The series also allows more than Claire’s point of view and the sound of Gaelic as the actors speak it. Which is better than me trying to pronounce it. I think the book and series are an excellent example of marrying the two and both being equally enjoyable.

What do you think?


Writing a young adult novel

Every writer should attend conferences or classes to improve their craft. I attended the 34th Annual Western Reserve Writer’s Conference Sept. 23 at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. The event was free and had a variety of workshops and speakers.

What you need to know about the Young Adult market by J T Dutton, assistant professor of English and creative writing at Hiram College and author to two teen novels.

Know the voice of a teen – the want to make their own decisions and stakes are high

  1. Love is first love, crushing love, eternal love
  2. Story about loss – first loss, excruciating loss
  3. Adventure – fate of world hangs in balance

Don’t teach a lesson; celebrate a complex, deeply felt phase of life.

See the world at the teen’s level who has to work out problems herself.

Teens like complicated stories with social problems – characters can be good and bad at the same time.

The protagonist discovers right and wrong for herself.

Use reasoning, humor, and emotion to express teen.

Teens push against the moral code and want to figure right and wrong out for themselves.

They want to take on complex ideas and reason out complex problems.

Maintain playful goofiness of young years mixed with adult philosophy.

The importance of I – The POV should be first person or close third person perspective – the protagoinist speaks to a personal friend or confidant and lays the soul bare.

Create and show inside jokes and language (create slang that only the teens in your story use – don’t copy any real slang because it is outdated quickly.)

When writing as a teen, speak in a distinct language – create private language for them. Language should be consistent and character derived.

Give them a chance to see things differently than the people around them.

Describe an event with teen commentary to show their perspective.

Use present tense or past tense without the long lens of reflection to keep story in now. It should be a recent perspective.

Validate a teen reader’s experience of time and place even when using a historical setting – address present day social concerns or illuminate generational similarities. Ex. “Catcher in the Rye”

Historical novels for young adults – they look at the past in new ways and how to relate to the present. Capture stories not told in history books.

Teens want to see themselves in the book. “Anne Frank” showed her teen experience.

Foreshorten the adult world, minimizing the interference of authority (many protagonist are orphaned in some way) so they are facing problems alone.

Adult character should speak differently from teens. In the televisions show, 90210, the parents were nerds. The kids were cool.

Use verbs that pop – listen to the sounds of language and focus on cadence.

Honor ethnicity and personal origins. Expand ideas about identity using background and roots so that story belongs to everyone.

Use cynicism and snarkiness but understand the ways in which language protects or hides deeper feelings.

Use the honesty of a teen narrator to cut through hypocrisy in their setting, not to diminish or reduce.

The acceptance as closure to a story – narrator understands that life isn’t perfect

The story works through the problem, accepts understanding of self and the world is not perfect.

The view the world as adult in a more complicated way.




Writing real crime stories


Posted Aug 16, 2017 at 10:45 AM

HUDSON — What if you wrote about a gangster’s moll in a non-fiction historical novel and a descendant of the woman called you?

What if the caller lived in the house behind you?

Award winning non-fiction author Jane Ann Turzillo, of Akron, had just such an experience. She will be the first speaker in the “Writing to Publish” series returning this year to the Hudson Library and Historical Society, discussing research for writers Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

In Turzillo’s “Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio,” a woman named Akron Mary is a gangster’s girlfriend who likes having a good time.

“The book was out two weeks, and the phone rang, and the man was her grandson,” Turzillo said. “He was pleased with the way I wrote about her and told me much more about her that I didn’t know.”

It turned out the connection was closer than Turzillo thought, as she discovered the man lived in the house right behind her.

“I’m always careful what I write,” Turzillo said. “In my current book, I’ve talked to their descendants so they know what’s coming.”

As one of the original owners of an Ohio weekly newspaper, Turzillo covered police and fire news and wrote a historical column. Later, she taught writing and literature at the college level.

Her book, “Unsolved Murders and Disappearances in Northeast Ohio,” was nominated for an Agatha Award and won the Ohio Professional Writers award for adult nonfiction/history. It was given an Honorable Mention from the National Federation of Press Women. “Ohio Train Disasters” also won the Ohio Professional Writers award and won top honors from the National Federation of Press Women.

Research about murders and disasters is essentially historical detective work, Turzillo said.

“I like following the facts, following the trail,” Turzillo said. “When it comes to the disasters, I like to present the human side of the story and not just the crash, burn and explosion.”

Turzillo said she will discuss the best places for research such as libraries, historical societies, county archives and other places writers may not consider.

Research is more important than ever with fake news, Turzillo said.

“If you’re writing anything that is nonfiction, you have to be sure of your facts and know what you’re writing about,” she said. “You may have to defend what you’re writing about.”

Talks like Turzillo’s are part of a series begun by local best-selling mystery author Amanda Flower, who is also the adult service librarian at the Hudson library. The series offers insights into the competitive occupation of a published writer.

Other topics in the 2017 series include “Editing Your Work” with editor Jennifer Sawyer Fisher Sept. 25 at 7 p.m.; “Social Media Platforms for Writers” with literary agent Jennifer Wills Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.; and “Writing for Children” with author Tricia Springstubb Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. Registration is required. For more information visit hudsonlibrary.org or call 330-653-6658 ext. 1010.

A writer writes, Turzillo said, especially if they want to be published. Don’t allow distractions, she said.

“You can’t dream about it,” Turzillo said. “If you only write a sentence a day, just do it. You have to be tenacious. The more you do it, the better you get at it.”

Email: lfreeman@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9434

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP

Ulysses S. Grant visits Ohio

Ulysses S. Grant visits grave of his grandmother

By LAURA FREEMAN Reporter Published: July 18, 2017 4:00 AM

DEERFIELD — “Heritage is History squared,” according to Ulysses S. Grant’s portrayer.

Dr. E.C. Fields, Jr., played Civil War Commander Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (and later 18th president of the United States) July 17 at Deerfield Township Cemetery, where Grant’s grandmother, Rachel Kelly Grant, is buried.

Rachel Grant was born in June 1746 and died April 5, 1805. She came to Deerfield in 1804 with her husband, Noah and seven children. Her husband set up a tannery west of Deerfield Circle and lived in a home built by Owen Brown of Hudson.

On the marker, Rachel was “known for her spinning.”

Fields, as Grant, discussed his humble roots.

[“I come from humble stock,” he said. “Rachel was a woman of the Ohio frontier. She worked hard and did her best.”

“Grant” then placed flowers on her grave — and encouraged children not to simply read about history, but to take opportunities to live it.

“Bringing the little ones speaks well of you,” Grant [Fields] said. “For the little ones are the future of our past. Take them everywhere you can where there is history.”

Fields said history is one dimensional on a page.

“Learn it, read it and know it, but heritage is history squared,” Grant [Fields] said. “Heritage is right here where you can come and stand with my grandmother. You can visit the cemetery and honor an ancestor whose blood flows through my veins.”“

Heritage, he added, is visiting Vicksburg, Gettysburg and Shiloh and 10,000 reported battle sites in the 48 months of the Civil War.

“Ohio acquitted itself well during the Civil War,” Grant [Fields] said. “Be proud of the people you came from.”

The event was sponsored by the James A. Garfield Civil War Round Table, which hosted Grant at the Big Red Barn in Valley View for “An Evening with General Grant.”

Sally Sampson, secretary of the Deerfield Township Historical Society, said Commander Benjamin Frayser of the Garfield Civil War Round Table contacted them about the ceremony, and they were happy to make arrangements.

After visiting the cemetery, “Grant” visited the Township Square and the Civil War memorial. He suggested the historical society research the 20 names on the monument and find out more about them, especially the three men with the same last name who died in different battles.

The historical society surprised Grant [Fields] with a visit to a red brick home south of the Township Square where the Grants lived in the building which was reported to have been built by Owen Brown of Hudson. Heather and John Larkin have lived in the home for 19 years and discovered five fireplaces, black walnut floors and a brick walkway beneath the grass.

Fields is a living historian and has appeared as Grant at remembrance ceremonies and reenactments across the country, including the James A Garfield National Historic Site (Mentor, Ohio), Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Appomattox Court House and for the Discovery Channel.

Fields is a member of numerous historical societies and foundations, and contributes to several Civil War publications. His website is GeneralGrantbyHimself.com

The James A Garfield Civil War Round Table was founded in 2015 with a commitment to share and expand members’ passion, knowledge, and understanding of the American Civil War. The Round Table serves communities of Southeastern Cuyahoga County as co-host of the annual Garfield Symposium, with participation in local history fairs, donations of winter-weather protective clothing to local homeless shelters and preparing United States flags for proper retirement.

The round table is named in honor of President James A. Garfield, a native of Cuyahoga County and a Civil War veteran, attaining the rank of major general. Information on the activities or membership participation can be requested fromJamesAGarfieldCWRT@gmail.com

Email: lfreeman@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9434

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP

This story appeared in the Record Courier July 18, 2017

New TV show Timeless

Instead of books, I’m going to talk about a new television show, “Timeless” on Monday nights at 10 p.m. on NBC.  It went on winter hiatus but should be returning soon.

I love history, which is why I write historical romance, so I enjoy the premise of time travel.

The Time Tunnel was a sci-fi television show in 1966 and 1967 with James Darren and Robert Colbert who are lost in time and bounce from one historical event to another trying to return to 1968 (which was not a good year).

In “Timeless” historian Lucy (Abigail Spencer), special agent Wyatt (Matt Lanter) and time machine expert Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) travel through time in a prototype machine after terrorist Garcia (Goran Visnjic) steals the one in the lab.  The team of three go back to stop Garcia from changing the past and therefore the future.  Ultimately they fail and the future is changed for better and worse.

But how often can the future be changed?  And when her mother asks why Lucy isn’t wearing her engagement ring, is there another Lucy in the present wearing one?

I liked the characters, even Garcia, who may not be as bad as he appears.  He had a notebook belonging to Lucy that he was using as a guide.  Also the lab owner is using Rufus to spy on Lucy and Garcia, and he kept his project a secret from the government.  Suspicious guy.

There are plenty of questions to keep viewers tuning into find out what is going to happen next.

I think their time travel rules will cause problems, though.  They insist a person can’t travel into a time where they existed, and they can’t travel back to a time they just left to avoid meeting themselves.  In other words, they only have one chance to fix Garcia’s chaos.  Once they return to the present, they can’t go back and try again.

This is different from the Back to the Future time travel stories and even in the Time Tunnel, Tony met a younger version of himself (if I remember correctly).

Do you have a favorite new show and what makes it interesting?

I also have questions about the notebook Garcia possessed.  He said Lucy hadn’t written it yet, so is he from the future?  What do you think?

After watching a few episodes, I also think it will have elements of “Lost” with the secret society bent on controlling the characters and maintaining power.


Review of Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb

Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb

I’ve read nearly every Death mystery by J.D. Robb and very few have failed to satisfy.  Robb aka Nora Roberts, writes more books than I can count, and any writer of romance or mystery should read some of her books. She begins her mysteries with a dead bo_mg_4928dy, and in this one she has twelve.  Eve Dallas is the detective in future New York with her super rich husband Roarke lending a hand. The Death series is mostly detective, a good portion of romance, and a bit of science fiction thrown in to the mix.  Robb builds her story like Dallas builds her case, slowly, methodically, and eliminates suspects with the reader as a witness of everything she learns.  Even if the reader figures out who the bad guy is before the end of the story, Dallas has to gather evidence to prove the killer did it, and arrest him. Usually the arrest is climatic to the story, but this one was a bit tame and rather disappointing.  But every book in a series cannot be the same and this ending adds variety.  If you plan to write a series, begin with the early books to see how Robb establishes the regular characters and uses them in different stories.  She also reveals the very dark past lives of Dallas and Roarke slowly, bit by bit, with their romantic ups and downs to keep the reader coming back to learn how their marriage is progressing.  The early books appeal to the romantic reader as well as the mystery reader.


A checklist for writers

Checklist for writers:

Are the hero and heroine different enough at the beginning to make their coming together a challenge?

Is the villain evil enough to emphasize the strength of the protagonist? Or take advantage of his/her weaknesses?

Is there a love triangle or a rival to make it a challenge for the hero to win the heroine or vice versa?_MG_3559

Are the supporting characters interesting/challenging to add to the interaction of the protagonist?

Is the problem difficult, personal and important enough for the protagonist to take on at the beginning of the story and see it through to the solution at the end?

Are there external and internal problems for the protagonist?

Are there enough challenges throughout the story to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonist and teach a lesson that needs to be learned by him/her?

Do you build to the climax and the final problem before the resolution and does the solution come as a result of a change in the character?  What does he/she learn?

Does the plot proceed with ups and downs to challenge the protagonist?

Pacing should be varied.  Fast pace with short sentences to give the reader necessary information and slower pace with more detail for the important scenes like an encounter, romantic interlude or confrontation with an enemy. Think vegetables and dessert. The vegetables are necessary but can be eaten quickly. The dessert is for pleasure and should be savored.

Is there a subplot and is it resolved? Are all the loose ends of the story resolved before the final climax or does the story need an epilogue?

Are all the clues and foreshadowing used by the end of the story?  All questions answered, especially in a mystery genre?





Writing like Plum

I’ve read nearly every one of the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich and a few of her other books.  What have I learned from Stephanie?  Stephanie is an every girl.  She’s average looking with a job she needs to pay the bills.  The average woman can easily relate to her.  That’s the first thing about creating a character.  The reader has to identify with her.

Stephanie may be the girl next door but she’s surrounded by crazy, interesting people who complicate her life.  Her family drives her nuts because they want her to be normal and settle down.  She has more than one man in her life but doesn’t want to give up her independence. What modern woman can’t relate to interfering relatives and man troubles?

Each book is a series of bizarre blunders, much like an “I Love Lucy” show, that reveals Stephanie’s spunk, ingenuity, and perseverance – all qualities we hope to harbor and yank to the surface in a crisis.  Evanovich uses short, detailed description to keep the various settings, characters, and details of the story in the reader’s mind.  For authors who spend paragraphs detailing the smallest item, take a lesson and write short and sweet.  It’s fast paced writing without a lot of depth or introspective, but that’s on purpose.  Sometimes Stephanie thinks more about her life than other times, but she never makes a hard decision.  She’s forever 29, and the reader is along for a joy ride.