Consider Her Dead by Jan Ryder

Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.


That said, here is my honest opinion of Consider Her Dead, a romantic thriller by Jan Ryder that I finished reading last week.

Characters: Protagonist Samantha Shelley is a surprisingly typical young woman. Samantha is blonde, attractive, but with no special powers or skills other than being smart and hardworking in the boatyard bequeathed to her by her recently deceased husband Adam.

Jan also gifts her heroine with persistence, and a desire to get to the bottom of things. Sam, however, is burdened with guilt about her husband’s death. Sam wants the same things many a responsible young woman wants — a family, a home, to be loved and cherished, and someone she in turn can love and cherish.

Jan surrounds Sam with men, including her boatyard workforce, police and government agents, both legitimate and rogue. From Sam’s reasonable woman’s point of view, the men, even those closest too her, seem hulking, vaguely threatening, almost like alien creatures, all with their own hostile agendas.

Which of them are friends and which are enemies? Nothing is as it seems in this treacherous male minefield, yet Sam does her best to navigate it with pluck and determination. Those characteristics take her only so far, however.

Plot: Bad guys are out to kill Samantha — both those involved in a conspiracy to possess a super high-tech prototype military killing machine, and others who want her dead for more personal reasons. How hard can killing her be?

Settings: Jan has a gift for describing settings. The coastal locations, British and Spanish, are practically additional characters. Jan wastes no time in offering the flavor of the boatyard locale.

The freezing dawn was getting lighter. Samantha Shelley trudged along the water’s edge, her boots marking a lonely trail on the hard, wet sand. She shivered and zipped her padded jacket all the way up. The faded green fabric covered a worn fisherman’s sweater slung over shabby blue dungarees, the legs tucked inside her muddy Wellington boots.

Herring Gulls were soaring across the towering red cliffs, wheeling and diving in a graceful ballet. She listened to their desolate cries, halting briefly to look back the way she’d come, to her boat yard at the eastern end of the golden, curving bay. Higher still was her house, a Victorian brick pile on the cliff top, its single gothic tower jutting into the sky.

Jan does a great job using settings to orient readers in the time and space of her tale.

What I thought could be done better: This is another one of the books where I really have to stretch to come up with something. I don’t believe I saw a single misspelled word — topnotch mechanics.

If I have to criticize — and I do, to be balanced — I’ll start with personal description. I like personal description. I want to see the characters the way the author sees them. The only way that can happen is if the author describes the characters. Oval face with a heart-shaped mouth, pert nose, and green, feline eyes?

And Jan delivers this for every character except Sam. She has fair hair, and that’s about all we get. On the other hand, here’s a fairly minor character, Detective Inspector Chapman:

The DI was a different breed of police officer from the steady PC Fuller. A shiny suit enclosed a tough thirty-something body. Deep blue eyes stared out from a hard-jawed face topped by black hair gelled flat to his scalp.

Once in awhile, not often — again, I’m reaching here — there’s what I would consider a clumsy turn of phrase:

Constable Tom Fuller’s chunky, dependable frame strode in.

I can just hear my many writing teachers, both journalistic and creative, asking “His frame strode in? What about the rest of him?”

Using the verb “to be” where direct action verbs should be used is another pet peeve of mine. Jan does this hardly at all. In fact, her writing is so wonderfully verbal and action-packed, that the few instances where “to be” does creep in makes them stand out, at least to me. Probably only to me. But there are two examples in the previously quoted passages from the “Settings” section:

“The freezing dawn was getting lighter.” Try “The freezing dawn grew lighter.”
And “Herring Gulls were soaring across the towering red cliffs, wheeling and diving in a graceful ballet.” How about “Herring Gulls soared across the towering red cliffs, wheeling and diving in a graceful ballet.”

Ninety eight percent or more of the book is written with just such splendid direct verbs. Pretty sure Jan does a better job with them than I do in my own books.

What I thought was good: Even in the preceding critical section, I think I commented on much of what I liked in this terrific story. The vivid verbs and the physical character description, along with the fine settings make Consider Her Dead an easy, entertaining read.

Dialogue is also life-like. I’m not British, but I watch a lot of BBC programming and lines like the following — Constable Fuller’s criticism of DI Chapman — has the ring of real speech to me:

“This DI’s keen. Wants results. He’s new. Takes shortcuts. A city boy. Doesn’t understand tides and suchlike.” PC Fuller’s upper lip curled into a half moon of distaste, revealing his feelings about city boys.

I can just hear that “…and suchlike.”

Here’s the vivid verbs again — not in any climactic battle — just cars pulling up in a hurry:

More vehicle tires screeched to a halt, sending a gravel hailstorm clattering on the front wall.

I enjoyed also how Sam, despite the fact that nearly everyone and everything in the story is bigger, stronger and meaner than she is, is not afraid to deliver her share of kick-ass.

She stepped in and swung the heavy wrench two-handed. She put her whole weight behind it. He must have sensed the danger. His head came round. His shoulders followed the thought, bringing the pistol to his right. His left foot sidestepped. He had no time to complete the movement. The crushing blow caught him on the right temple. He swayed, took two faltering steps, and crumpled to the ground.

Billy threw his hood back. He stared at her, open-mouthed. His amazed expression was almost comical.

She grinned at him, triumphant. “Are you all right?” she yelled.

I think what I like most, though, is the impenetrable moral landscape. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad? Samantha thinks she knows, then events force her to change her mind, then other events force her to change it back again, and the truth is…well you’ll have to read it for yourself. No spoilers here. But just like life, I’m not sure anyone, even the people involved, know what’s truly happening.

Overall: Consider Her Dead is an absorbing, action-packed read. It’s drenched in mood and filled with vivid, well-described characters and places. The gemstone in this finely wrought setting, however, is protagonist Samantha — a woman like so many I know in real life — who faces obstacles unflinchingly, who never loses her ability to care and love, and who, like in the old Chinese saying, when knocked down seven times, gets up eight.

Good job, Jan!

Coming up
RUN by Al Levine

Honest Indie Book Reviews will take a brief sabbatical following this next review, while I focus on completing ROGUE GODDESSES, sequel to AMERICAN GODDESSES. I expect to be back on the indie review trail by the end of the year.

And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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The Bones of Odin by David Leadbeater

Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.


That said, here is my honest opinion of The Bones of Odin, by David Leadbeater, a military action-adventure thriller with a slight occult twist.

Characters: Matt Drake, former British special forces commando, tops a colorful, multi-national cast of good guys and bad guys, friends and enemies, psychos and innocents. The only physical description I could find of Drake has him as “well-built and capable,” but his dialogue and actions show him to be all hero and tough guy.

Drake sidestepped hurriedly, delivered a blow to the kidneys and a stiff dagger-hand to the solar-plexus. The man-beast didn’t even flinch.

An old bar-fighting adage came back to him then- if your opponent takes a hit to the plexus without wincing then you’d better start running dude, cos you’re in deep fucking shit. . .

Drake backed off, warily circling his unmoving enemy. The Serb was huge, lazy fat over solid muscle, with a forehead big enough to break six-inch concrete blocks. The man lumbered forward, arms wide. One slip up and Drake would be crushed to death, squeezed and popped like a grape. He quickstepped away, feinted right, and came forward with three instant jabs.

Eye. Ear. Throat.

All three connected. When the Serb squeezed his eyes shut in pain, Drake executed a risky dummy roll into a flying kick that generated enough momentum to knock even this brontosaurus off its wide feet.

David also gifts his protagonist with a bit of angst. As part of his recent backstory, Drake is just coming back from bankruptcy and alcoholism after the untimely death of his beloved wife. The agonizing seems behind him though, as he hurls himself wholeheartedly into the job of saving the world.

Along the way, he meets Kennedy, a New York homicide detective haunted by a devastating development in her own career. He also comes face-to-face with Alicia Myles, a former special forces teammate who has gone over to the dark side, where she can give fuller expression to her longings for carnage.

Plot: Psycho-billionaire Abel Frey is stealing occult artifacts that once assembled, will show him the way to the Tomb of the Gods, where he plans to possess the greatest archeological treasure of all time. Drake, his young computer-nerd friend Ben, Kennedy, and his friends in British and Swedish special forces must stop Frey’s private army, because disturbing the Tomb of the Gods will trigger the end of the world.

Settings: The globe-trotting story takes place in locations from Paris, York, New York, and Vegas; to Sweden, Germany, Hawaii and Iceland. Don’t look for Ian Fleming-style travel descriptions though. These locales are mostly just backdrops for mayhem. Immediate settings get enough description to orient readers in the action, however.

And occasionally there’s a vivid little gem like this description of Icelandic volcanic wasteland:

The skies overhead were laden with snow and drifting ash, enforcing a premature dusk. The sun didn’t shine here, it was as if Hell had gained its first foothold in the Earthly realm and was clinging on tight.

But a travelogue really isn’t the point of this story.

What I thought could be done better: Not much; just my pet peeve of personal description. I’d like to see Drake and Alicia Myles the way the author sees them. Lesser characters get some description. Here’s the sister of Drake’s sidekick, Ben, whom the evil Frey has captured as a hostage:

She was his property now. She sported short-cropped blonde hair, a nice fringe, and a pair of wide eyes- though Frey couldn’t be sure of the colour at this pixel quality. Nice body- not the skinniness of a model, more curvy, which would no doubt appeal to the lower masses.

This obviously says something about Frey, as well as Ben’s sister, Karin, and is nicely done. Why not do the same for the major players?

What I thought was good: I like vivid verbs, metaphor, simile, color and action — David is generous with all of them. Not much in the way of passive voice here.

Masked men descended the swaying lines, disappearing behind the catwalk. Drake noticed guns strapped across their chests as a wary hush began to spread through the crowd. The last voices were those of children asking why, and then even they went quiet.

Then the lead Apache unleashed a Hellfire missile into one of the empty shops. There was a hiss like a million gallons of steam escaping, then a roar like the meeting of two Dinosaurs. Fire and glass and fragmented brick exploded high across the square.

This helicopter raid on a museum in York to steal an archeological treasure starts off our tale, and the sounds and images of gunfire, explosions and hand-to-hand combat are never far away.

Note the nice similes — “…a hiss like a million gallons of steam escaping,” and “…a roar like the meeting of two Dinosaurs.” Though I have to wonder why “Dinosaurs” is capitalized.

David works a bit of humorous perspective in occasionally with this technique. I loved this one:

The wind picked up outside the house, rushing around the eaves and wailing like an investment banker who’d had his bonus capped at four mil.


David manages to work in some emotional development as Drake and Kennedy, both damaged individuals, begin to fall for one another. Like the settings, however, relationships aren’t the point of this action-opus.

Overall: The Bones of Odin is simply a good, old-fashioned, rip-roaring action-adventure yarn. It’s likely as as close as you can get nowadays to the lurid pulp-fiction of the 1930s, full of two-fisted heroes, and slaveringly evil bad guys. One updated difference is that women aren’t relegated to damsel-in-distress, but are just as tough, if not tougher than the boys.

The Bones of Odin is a blast — and I mean that literally.

Good job, David!

Coming up
Blood Pool by Jan Ryder
RUN by Al Levine

Honest Indie Book Reviews will take a brief sabbatical following these reviews, while I focus on completing ROGUE GODDESSES, sequel to AMERICAN GODDESSES. I expect to be back on the indie review trail before the end of the year.

And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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Army of Worn Soles by Scott Bury

Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.


That said, here is my honest opinion of Army of Worn Soles by Scott Bury, an extraordinary novelized memoir of a Canadian citizen forcibly inducted into the army of the Soviet Union during World War II.

Characters: This remarkable true account centers on Canadian Maurice Bury, who lived with relatives as a young man while going to school in Poland. Though told in 3rd person by son-in-law and professional writer Scott, the story lets readers see clearly through Maurice’s eyes. Here, in the book’s beginning, Maurice meets Bohdan, who will become Maurice’s best friend, and who will play a pivotal role in Maurice’s life.

“You want a cigarette?”

Maurice looked up at a thin man his own age, with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He held a pack of cigarettes toward Maurice. “You look like you need one.”

Maurice drew one from the pack. “Thanks,” he said, and dug matches out of his pocket.

The young man shook a cigarette loose for himself and let Maurice light it, then sat on the step beside him. “I’m Bohdan.” He held out his hand.

“I’m Maurice. Where are you from?”

“Here. Peremyshl. You?”

“Nastaciv. A little village near Ternopyl.”

“You nervous about Brother Michael’s chemistry class? I don’t blame you. The Brother is a tough bastard.”

“Chemistry is not my strongest subject. I’m better with languages.”

Scott’s dialogue, in particular, brings the characters to life.

Plot: After graduating from school and getting a teaching job, Maurice receives a Red Army induction notice. Canadian birth certificate in hand, he dutifully reports. In Scott’s retelling, I imagine I can almost hear Maurice’s reminiscence of that chilling bureaucratic moment:

Maurice felt sure he had a better argument than the man in front of him, who said his employer, a machine shop, absolutely could not do without him. “Wonderful, comrade,” the officer said. “The army needs skilled machinists like you. You will ship out today.” The shocked machinist sputtered incoherently as a soldier took his arm and led him to join the other recruits at the train station.

Maurice stepped to the table. “Good morning, sir. I know you’re busy, so I would like to quickly help you resolve an error— my draft letter is a mistake.” He put it on the table in front of the officer. The officer looked up, arching one eyebrow. “That’s a new one. What kind of mistake?”

“I am not eligible for service, as I am not a citizen of the Soviet Union. I’m a Canadian.” He showed his birth certificate.

The officer struggled to sound out the Roman lettering. “Doh-meen-i-yon off Kanada,” he read. He frowned, then shook his head and looked Maurice straight in the eyes. “You are still required to report for duty, comrade.”

“But I’m a Canadian citizen.”

“It doesn’t matter, tovarisch. You live here now and you must help defend the Motherland.” He was already looking at the next man in line. “Report to the train station by seven tomorrow morning or you’ll be arrested. Next.”

The young teacher is then catapulted into the maelstrom of war and experiences that take their toll on the souls of Maurice and his fellow troops as much as on the soles of their boots.

Setting: The story takes place in parts of Poland and the Ukraine. While there’s not much description of overall landscape and architecture, Scott always does a nice job of showing the immediate scene as witnessed by Maurice. Here’s the station where Maurice catches the train to take him to boot camp:

The train station was surrounded by military policemen carrying rifles. Maurice also saw other men in peaked caps with maroon bands— the NKVD, the Soviet security police. They strutted, ordering people around in rough and guttural Russian, smoking and looking officious.

The platform was crowded with young men and their families saying goodbye. Like Hanya and Tekla, all the inductees’ parents fussed over them. Mothers wept, fathers gave their sons brave smiles and manful kisses on each cheek.

Maurice thought of his father in Canada and wondered whether he worried about his family in Russian-dominated Ukraine.

What I thought could be done better: Although Scott does a great job of showing everyone and everything from Maurice’s point of view, I don’t recall ever getting details of Maurice’s own appearance. I’m guessing he was of average size and appearance. It’s hard, I know, to describe your protagonist without going outside his or her point of view, and without resorting to the “mirror” cliche.

I also wouldn’t have minded a little overall description of landscapes and architecture, but I’m sure those details weren’t on Maurice’s mind as he fought to keep himself and the men of his anti-tank unit alive.

What I thought was good: This is a war story, and Scott’s recounting of Maurice’s memories, filled in with research, ring true.

“Pull back,” Maurice yelled, and the boys picked up the guns and ammunition and ran, crouching low as they could to the next trench, where they joined several other odalenje. Maurice’s boys hurriedly set up the guns and aimed at the Panzers.

They were too late.

The tanks swept past them, crushing wounded men under their treads. Andrei and Nikolai swung their gun around. “Aim at its back,” Maurice said. “FIRE!”

The gun whooshed and the shell hit the Panzer’s cylindrical fuel tank, oddly exposed on its rear deck behind the turret. The tank’s rear end lifted high and Maurice thought it would flip over. Shards of metal flew in every direction and the tank’s hull split and burned. The explosion rang in Maurice’s ears for minutes.

I also liked how Scott shows the overall picture of what’s going on.

Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union had been on a scale the world had never seen. Millions of men, hundreds of thousands of tanks and trucks and airplanes swept across the plains of eastern Poland, Ukraine and Belorussia, and then into Russia itself. Outgunned, undertrained, lacking almost everything except sheer numbers of men, the Red Army retreated until they were surrounded and destroyed or captured. The Germans boasted about capturing whole armies, hundreds of thousands of men.

Most prisoners did not survive until the end of the war.

One of those prisoners was Maurice. Here’s the POW camp.

Within a week, Maurice’s uniform was stinking, stiff, caked with dirt and cordite and tattered. Lice crawled on his scalp and the shrapnel scar on his left knee ached. His hands stung from breaking rocks into gravel for the Germans to make new roads. The only thing that kept him from weeping was knowing his men, and the hundreds of thousands of other Red Army conscripts around him, suffered even more from starvation rations, cold and forced labour. Starving and exhausted, they had no energy, privacy nor time to even dream of escape.

Maurice dropped his sledgehammer and joined the lineup for supper. The sun was already down and the air was chill. No one had the energy to complain. They shuffled ahead to where a German private ladled soup from a barrel into small metal bowls. Fish heads floating in water, that’s what the Germans called soup for the prisoners on the eastern front.

When the prisoners staggered back to the camp the next day, Maurice could barely hold onto his sledgehammer. Supper was more generous, a piece of dry bread, another bowl of soup, but this time it was a little thicker, with a piece of strange-tasting meat. Maurice wondered about that. It was tough and tasted bad, but he ate it. That night, he had no trouble falling asleep.

He learned about the meat a week later.

I think what I like most about this story is Scott’s simple, straight-forward, unpretentious telling. He uses his art, craft and expertise to let the events and experiences speak for themselves, almost as if Maurice himself was telling the story.

Overall: This true story is a must-read for so many reasons. One is the old addage — “those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it.” A quick glance at the news reports about Ukraine today show that many of the same kinds of tensions that convulsed the region in the late 1930s still simmer, closer than ever to boiling over.

More than that, Army of Worn Souls is the personal perspective of an ordinary soul swept up in cataclysmic events. It’s told simply and without pretention. Maurice, the protagonist, is gone now, but Scott has set down this memoir as part of his family history, that this story might not be forgotten.

The story is worth telling and should be read because it’s our family history too, for we’re all in the family of man.

Good job, Scott!

Coming up
Bones of Odin by David Leadbeater
Blood Pool by Jan Ryder
RUN by Al Levine

Honest Indie Book Reviews will take a brief sabbatical following these reviews, while I focus on completing ROGUE GODDESSES, sequel to AMERICAN GODDESSES. I expect to be back on the indie review trail before the end of the year.

And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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A Kiss at Kihali by Ruth Harris

Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.


That said, here is my honest opinion of A Kiss at Kihali by Ruth Harris, a mystery-romance set in Africa, which I finished reading last week.

Characters: The story features two main protagonists, both clearly drawn and intriguing. “Lanky, dark-haired” Renny Kudrow is director of the Kihali Animal Orphanage in Western Kenya. He’s an authority on animal communication. He can’t actually talk to animals like Dr. Dolittle, but he’s only about one step away.

Renny is assisted by the new veterinarian, Starlite Higgins (LOVE that name), who has yet to prove herself, as the book opens, to Renny.

Ruth doesn’t go overboard with the physical description, but offers enough so that readers’ own imaginations can get a picture. Here’s Starlite. Did I mention I love that name?

She is already dressed, wearing the same outfit she wears every day—beat-up jeans, a grungy rumpled tee, a pair of well-worn hiking boots. Her fair skin is freckled and peeling from sunburn and her unruly copper-colored hair is braided into messy pigtails.

A third protagonist is a baby black rhino “Zuri” (Swahili for “beautiful,” according to an author’s note in the book’s beginning), orphaned by poachers in a heartbreaking first chapter.

The supporting cast includes other animals, and staff at the orphanage among others. All are well-characterized.

Plot: Killer poachers are on the loose, and it’s up to Renny and company, working with an understaffed Kenyan constabulary to stop them. Meanwhile, Renny, Starlite and Zuri fight to come to terms with the emotional devastation in their pasts, and Renny and Starlite struggle to come to terms with each other.

Setting: A game preserve in Western Kenya is the book’s setting. Ruth gives a nod to description of this strange and colorful land, which I visited in the 80’s as young Navyman.

Here, Renny takes to the air in search of the poachers, and we get a look at what he would see if he wasn’t so preoccupied with finding the bad guys.

The little plane dips and soars over the lush savannahs, the sparkling rivers and streams of Nakuru but Renny, focused on finding the murderous criminals, hardly notices.

He barely registers the snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro in the distance. Doesn’t marvel at Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake, glittering below in the triangle created by the intersection of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. His mind directed elsewhere, he doesn’t even properly take in the herds of zebra and impala, giraffe and eland or even sprawling acres of the unsullied emerald forests of the Nakuru Reserve below.

Most of the story takes place in the orphanage compound. There’s not much description of this fairly generic setting, but once in awhile, Ruth offers a nugget like this:

He is sitting on the veranda of the main cottage of the Orphanage, drinking his first mug of hot, sweet, milky tea and watching as the night’s dark sky gives way to the light of the rising sun and turns the tall, yellow grass of the distant savannah gold.

What I thought could be done better: Not much. This is a professionally written book, and Ruth hits every number from copy editing to character and setting description to plot and theme.

That said, I’ll offer my own completely subjective opinion — one that I could easily argue the other way. I feel that the book’s own high quality — intriguing characters, exotic locale, important theme — all deserve a longer, more in-depth treatment. I’m not saying A Kiss at Kihali is incomplete, or that it should be padded.

But it is wrapped up quickly and neatly with a minimum of fuss and mess — that may be a plus for some readers. I think the story’s frame could easily support more context — details of the day-to-day life of these interesting characters in this fascinating locale and situation.

And while Ruth offers glimpses of her amazing setting, it’s not the “extra character” that such a setting has the potential to be.

What I thought was good: Here’s where I contradict what I just wrote. A Kiss at Kihali is cleanly and economically written, making it a fast read — it’s already more of a novelette than a novel. It’s also written in present tense, which gives the story an immediacy and intimacy.

The story is obviously well-researched. Along with action, drama and romance, readers get insight into the terrible problem of African poaching, delivered on a personal level.

Of course it’s the characters who drive the story, and Ruth’s tightly scripted emotion-driven characters are compelling.

He is courteous but distanced and Starlite, ashamed of her failure during the rescue, is uncomfortably aware of his displeasure.

“I’m sorry about the air gun,” she says. “I’ve been in dangerous situations with animals before so I’m experienced. I do know how to handle the problem—” She doesn’t expect to be comforted but she does think her apology might at least be acknowledged, if not accepted. Instead, Renny doesn’t reply and the silence between them stretches out awkwardly.

“I have to convince you that you can trust me, don’t I?” she asks finally. Her fingers fiddle nervously with a braid that has come partially undone as she blames herself for her lapse and thinks that, before she can convince Renny Kudrow to trust her, she must first convince herself.

“Yes,” he replies bluntly, his craggy, not-quite-handsome features dark with disappointment and disapproval. “What happened to you out there?”

What happened is something Starlite can’t summon the language to discuss.

Ruth’s story does not miss a beat.

Overall: If the only criticism is “I was left wanting more,” then I think you have to say the story is a success — and A Kiss at Kihali is all that. It’s filled with satisfying slugs of danger, drama, action and attraction between sympathetic characters, with overall themes of selflessness, love and compassion.

Good job Ruth!

Coming up
SPECIAL PRE-LAUNCH PRE-REVIEW: Army of Worn Soles by Scott Bury
Bones of Odin by David Leadbeater
Blood Pool by Jan Ryder
RUN by Al Levine

And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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Fat Assassins by Marita Fowler

Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.


That said, here is my honest opinion of Fat Assassins by Marita Fowler, an action-comedy with a touch of romance which I finished reading last week.

Characters: Plus-sized 20-something southern ladies Shasta and Ulyssa walk high, wide and handsome through this comic scenario of mobsters, lawmen and West Virginia rednecks, both male and female, old and young. Shasta narrates the tale with humor and a keen eye, starting with Ulyssa, her best friend since they escaped a “fat camp” together as children.

Here’s a the first glimpse of Ulyssa:

“Happy Birthday Hooker! Ready to get sideways?” Ulyssa asked mischievously, poking her head into the bathroom. She was wearing a sheer black top over a red satin tank top with snug fitting black jeans tucked into a pair of slouchy black boots. Her dark glossy hair was piled high on her head with stray ringlets surrounding her face.

I liked Ulyssa right off, especially once I read this line a few grafs later:

“Let’s go, Shasta! Them beers ain’t gonna drink themselves.”

The gals’ “plus-size” aspect doesn’t actually get much play, not nearly as much as their feisty characters and talent for moving the action along. Here, Shasta, who begins the novel as a Wal-Mart employee, goes after a shoplifter:

It is estimated that the store had lost over $3000 in stolen goods (vitamins, baby formula, diapers, clothing, etc) since Daisy started ‘shopping’ at our store.

Not on my watch. Today that shopping spree ends.

I pivoted from my position at the register and began to sprint towards the door. I felt a battle cry erupt from deep inside me.

“Aaaaaaarrrrrggggggghhhhhh!”  I threw my body sideways to block the exit. 

Daisy must have been running on pure adrenaline, as she spun the buggy on two wheels side-swiping the alarm indicators on the side of the door while leaping over my outstretched grasp. Stunned inbound shoppers stared as I scrambled to my feet and gave chase. Daisy hopped on the cart, using the momentum to speed through the parking lot and blow through the stop sign.

Damn it! 

Shasta and Ulyssa interact with plenty of other characters with names like Tater, Buck, Cornnut and of course, Bubba. Here’s Crazy Ronnie, a little before he goes off the deep end:

Crazy Ronnie was sitting in the garage watching the windshield and sharpening a giant bowie knife.

“Howdy, Ronnie! How’s the deer meat?”

“I got it hanging in the smoke shed… making jerky. It was a twelve point buck, so I stuffed the head and hung it in my house. It really fancies up the place. Kinda like one of them hunter cabins.” 

While some of the characters are hillbilly redneck stereotypes, they’re all fun. Marita and her protagonists Shasta and Ulyssa appear to have a genuine fondness for every one.

Setting: Nitro, W. Va. is the backdrop, named for a WWI ammunition plant. Though much of the tale takes place in bars, cars, homes, stores and other “backdrop” locations, Marita treats us to some unique areas of this sometimes quirky part of the country, including the annual Roadkill Cook-off and Festival.

“Howdy, there!” A twangy accent greeted us from under a straw hat.

“Morning!” We responded inhaling the thick scent of spices and unidentifiable meat.

She chuckled at our flaring nostrils. “It ain’t ready yet. Should be fit to eat after the parade.”

“Um. What is it?” Mitsy asked. She pointed at the chalkboard propped against a reclining, fuzzy black bear.


Plot: Unjustly fired from their jobs on the same day, Shasta and Ulyssa find employment as exterminators. They discover too late that the pest they’re expected to get rid of is of the human variety, and a dangerous, unpleasant specimen as well.

What I thought could be done better: Fat Assassins could use a good proofreading. It contains its share of misspellings, wrong words and grammar problems:

“I don’t event believe in the occult, what’s wrong with me?” Of course, the word should be “even,” rather than “event.” Two independent clauses joined by a comma, rather than a comma and a conjunction, such as “and,”; or a semicolon, is a run-on sentence.

Every book will have a few of these — and Fat Assassins‘ narrative is strong enough to overcome these small flaws, but it’s an easy improvement for an e-book.

I had to stretch just a bit to accept the central premise of the book — that Shasta and Ulyssa get hired as hit-women under mistaken assumptions by themselves and the mobster who hires them.

I think more physical character description could help Fat Assassins as well. There are an awful lot of colorful characters in this book. I’d like to see the characters as the author envisages them, or at least get a few hints to help me see them.

Is Shasta’s shoulder-length hair platinum blonde, or is it the color of wheat? Do people tell her that her strong chin, aquiline nose, high cheek bones and green eyes make her look Irish? These sorts of details would make Fat Assassins‘ characters even more vivid than they already are, or at least help readers to see them more clearly.

There is some description. Here, Shasta fantasizes about Deputy Hodde:

His tall, muscled body moving with the precision of a Spartan warrior as sweat curled the edges of his brown hair against his Greco-Roman face. His eyes met mine. They were the color of ripened, Italian olives.

I love olives. 

What I thought was good: Marita’s writing is strong and verbal, filled with good sensory cues that help you see, hear, even smell the scenes.

We were both chugging blended mochas as the morning sun blasted through the gauzy living room curtains.

“So, who do we know that could get us a gun? It’ll have to be untraceable, like the car,” I said, squinting at Ulyssa. My eyes were hurting from the sunlight and it felt like I hadn’t slept in months.

“I don’t know,” she replied slurping her mocha.

Though I’ve mentioned that the story could use more physical character description, where Marita does include description, it’s terrific. Here, the gals talk with Tamera, a video store clerk, while renting action movies so they can get ideas for their assassination assignment.

Tamera was checking herself out in a compact mirror and teasing her dyed red hair. Her bangs were tightly rolled into a single downward facing curl that reminded me of Whitesnake’s lead singer during the early 80’s. Her makeup was a weird orange shade that looked like it was part of the Oompa Loompa color palate. She was wearing a tight fitting tank top that showed at least four tattoos. I could make out the rose and butterfly on her chest, but I wasn’t sure about the other ones. Here we stood looking like a couple of cream puffs bundled in plus size fuzzy sweaters with no skin art. While Tamera looked like the type of tough girl you’d expect to be an assassin.

Fat Assassins has plenty of action, cars and guns, and lots of things blowing up. Alas, the explosions are usually unintended, as in this scene at the black market gun dealer’s bunker, where Shasta, inexperienced with firearms, pretends for a moment to be Al Pacino’s Tony Montana from “Scarface.” I loved that pic.

I immediately recognized the gun laying on the glass top.  I grabbed it and spun around imitating Tony Montana.

“Say hello to my little friend!” I yelled, in my best Cuban accent.

My right arm cramped under the weight of the gun, curling my finger around the trigger.

Fire exploded from the end of the gun as I spun in a circle, propelled by the force of the recoil. The noise was deafening as the bullets bounced around the walls like a real life pinball game. A bullet clipped my shoulder making me fire a final round before dropping the gun and filling the room with silence. Ulyssa threw both hands straight in the air dropping something from her left hand.

Tink. Tink. Tink. A grenade hit the ground at Ulyssa’s feet and bounced across the floor.

And that’s just our gals shopping.

I haven’t mentioned much about the romance, but that’s in there, too. It’s done with the same manic humor as the rest of the book.

Overall: Despite a few minor flaws, mostly in the typo department, Fat Assassins is pure fun country dee-light, e-cover to e-cover. Marita pokes kindly affectionate fun at country culture from the point of view of two heroines capable of broad (no pun intended) humor.

Lucy and Ethel, Laverne and Shirley, and Thelma and Louise will all recognize Shasta and Ulyssa as kindred spirits.

Good job Marita!

Coming up
A Kiss at Kihali by Ruth Harris
Bones of Odin by David Leadbeater
Blood Pool by Jan Ryder
RUN by Al Levine

And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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Beers in Heaven by Ford Forkum

Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.


That said, here is my honest opinion of Beers in Heaven by Ford Forkum, a gently comic look at the afterlife which I finished reading last Sunday.

Characters: Beers in Heaven tells the story of 20-year-old Zack Preston and his struggle to make sense of his life and adapt to Heaven after an untimely death.

Zack is a sympathetic, though slightly alienated character. He meets the phenomena of life and after life with a kind of resigned skepticism. Here, he talks with Stan, an “orientation guide” in Heaven, after just having relived an unpleasant episode in his life.

“So how far along are you with recovering your memory?” Stan asked.

“I can remember everything up to the time I graduated high school.”

“Good job. It must be a relief to finally remember who you are.”

Zack shook his head. “Well, I’m aware of what went before, but it doesn’t really comfort me.” He pondered for a few seconds. “Now that I think about it, there are lots of things I would rather not have remembered.”

“Yeah, I know. Everyone has experiences like that. But the bad times help make us who we are. You know that saying— anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

“So I’ve heard, but I don’t necessarily agree unless, by some twist of logic, things like phobias and post-traumatic stress are considered strengths.”

Stan shrugged and tilted his head. “But it’s all over now, so who gives a crap, right?”

“It doesn’t feel like it’s over. I just experienced it!”

Not all of Ford’s characters get physical description. Perhaps Zack, as an “every man” in some sense doesn’t need any. But Stan gets some description ~ he has “thin brown hair” and tinted glasses, and wears a red Hawaiian shirt. His cohort, Lucy, is a “glamorous blonde woman.”

One of my favorite characters is Woobles, the talking giraffe:

Standing at only around eleven feet tall, the creature appeared oddly refined. The pattern of spots on his hide looked unnaturally uniform, and its hair brightly colored and soft. But its most remarkable feature by far was unmistakable self-awareness in its eyes.

Ford’s characters, all of them quirky, are mostly defined by their dialogue, including God.

“Well,” God said, frowning and crossing his arms, “excuse me for having trouble keeping up with billions of requests all day, every day! It’s a damn miracle I can get anything done at all!”

Of course, God gets some physical description.

Suddenly, a blinding light flashed before them all, with such overwhelming intensity that nothing could be seen beyond the mausoleum but pure, white light. When the light subsided, they saw him.

It was God.

It took everyone’s eyes a few seconds to adjust. Looking directly at God at the wrong time can be like staring straight into the sun through binoculars.

Plot: Zack Preston’s after-life threatens to become as dysfunctional as his life.

Setting: Heaven is the setting — a sort of resort community spread across a series of clouds set in the firmament. It seems to be run like a benevolent but slightly dotty corporation.

What I thought could be done better: I would’ve liked more character description. Certainly, Zack, as the protagonist, should get a little description. Does he have a perpetually quizzical expression, perhaps? I’m sure Ford, as he wrote, visualized Zack. It’s a stronger story, imho, if he shares that visual.

Likewise with Amber, the angel. She’s described as wearing “professional business attire,” and that’s something, but awful little. Does she have red hair and green eyes? I don’t mind using my imagination to see the characters, but in my ‘umble, it’s the author’s job to give the reader something to work with. I’m aware that not everyone shares that opinion, so I offer it here FWIW.

What I thought was good: I loved the gentle, quirky humor. Ford has a sharp sense of the ridiculous, but expresses it in ordinary, prosaic terms, which points up the absurdity. Here, a newly created and as yet nameless Woobles tries to decide on a name for himself.

The giraffe belched up some cud and began to chew on it. “Hmm,” he thought. “How about ‘Girafferty?’ No, that’s too generic-sounding. Besides, I shouldn’t derive my name from my species; people wouldn’t take me seriously. How about ‘Gerry Rafferty?’ No, that’s still too ‘giraffy.’ I need something distinctive and original.”

He swallowed his cud and began to rotate counterclockwise as he drifted along. “How about…’ Poobar Balubu’?’”

Just plain silly, but I had to laugh — “Poobar Balabu.” I’ve been referring to one of my dogs as Poobar Balabu all day. And I’m dying to use the phrase “too ‘giraffy'” in a conversation, but don’t believe I’ll ever get to, outside of a conversation about this book.

“That’s a nice coat, hon, but maybe a little too giraffy?” No, I guess not.

I knew I’d enjoy Beers in Heaven right from the beginning. In the Foreword, since the book has “God” as a character — and you know, and Ford obviously knows how people can be about religion — he has this great disclaimer:

This book is a work of fiction, and all characters and people mentioned are not based on real people or things. These facts must be given special consideration because there is a supporting character in the story referred to as “God.”

To deflect potential accusations of blasphemy, the aforementioned character is not intended to be the God. The character is instead a fictional god who also happens to be named God. The role this fictional character plays is the all-knowing and omnipotent creator of the universe, the one whom people communicate with in their prayers.

Now that that’s out of the way, readers of all religious persuasions can enjoy this book knowing that their personal deity isn’t being made fun of.

Ford also fills the narrative with puns and plays-on-words. In the Prologue, for example, as he describes God’s troubles with trying to create life, which evidently is tricky, even for God, there’s this little gem:

“Damn it!” he whined. “Why is life so hard?”

Dialogue is snappy and fun. This passage, where Zack first learns from a minor Heavenly official named Max that he’s died and gone to Heaven is, I think, reminiscent of Monty Python:

“This may be somewhat difficult to accept, but you’re dead.”
“Excuse me?”
“You’re dead, as in deceased. Kicked the bucket. Or, in the parlance of political correctness, you’re ‘mortally impaired.’”
“What? I’m not dead!”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Indeed! Then why don’t you check your pulse?”
Zack checked his pulse with his left hand, and then his right. He checked his neck and placed his hand on his chest. “I don’t have a pulse.”
“I hate to be an ‘I-told-you-so.’”
“But If I’m dead, then how am I standing here talking to you?”
“You’re in Heaven.”

I can just hear Eric Idle and Graham Chapman doing this bit. In its combination of attention to detail and imaginative whimsicality, Beers in Heaven is also, imho, reminiscent of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

But I also found a touch of profundity in the book. As Zack ponders the meaning of his short life, I thought of Socrates’ observation that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Overall: Beers in Heaven is a lovely, light amusing read. It pokes gentle fun at certain tenets of Western religion, but always, I thought, with a certain kindness and respect. And as offbeat as this satire is, who’s to say that it’s not close to how Heaven really does operate? Not me.

Good job Ford!

Coming up
Fat Assassins by Marita Fowler
A Kiss at Kihali by Ruth Harris
Bones of Odin by David Leadbeater
Blood Pool by Jan Ryder

And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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No Strings Attached by Lily Bishop

Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.


That said, here is my honest opinion of No Strings Attached by Lily Bishop, a classic character-driven romance which I finished reading earlier this week.

Characters: Lovely blonde admin assistant Laura Todd has aspirations of moving up to marketing consultant with the help of a newly minted masters degree.

Wealthy, handsome businessman Fox Thornton is on the rebound from a failed relationship that ended just short of marriage.

Though standard chick lit characters — handsome, powerful man; beautiful, but down-to-earth woman taking care of her younger sister — Fox and Laura generate real chemistry together, in part because of author Lily’s snappy, but authentic dialogue.

Here they are at a first romantic dinner together:

All that mattered was the here and now and the way her nerves stood at attention. She twirled one curl around a finger, feeling Fox’s hot gaze on the cleavage created by her suit jacket.

“So you were going to tell me about the name Fox.” Laura sat back and slid her shoe back on, hoping to move the conversation back to something neutral.

“I hated my name as a child, so I gave myself a new one.”

“And your mother didn’t object?”

“Of course she objected, but she could see my point.”

“Why? What was your name?”

He looked around, as if to verify that no one could hear him. “Marion.”

“Marion?” Laura asked, dumbfounded. “But that’s a girl’s name.”

“Or an old family surname from way back. Marion Scott Thornton.”

Laura tried to contain her humor, but the giggles burst forth. “Get beat up much in elementary school?”

In keeping with steamy romance tradition, Fox and Laura are attractive. Lily does a nice job showing each from the other’s point-of-view. Here’s Fox, falling for Laura at first sight during a blackjack session at the casino where they first meet.

He blamed his losses on the gorgeous blonde at the end of the table and her sexy silver dress. How could he leave with her if she made no effort to leave?

Her hair reminded him of wheat in summer and it curled around her shoulders with a devil-may-care attitude. Her eyes shone like dark amber whiskey and glowed with an inner fire when she smiled— which was often— and frequently in his direction. She leaned forward and he caught a glimpse of a little dark hollow between her breasts. He stifled a groan.

No Strings Attached features other characters you’ll recognize from the hallowed halls of romantic literature, such as the insightful and influential parent and the reckless sibling who creates plot complications. Lily draws them each well enough that they seem more like old friends than standard “types.”

Plot: Shortly after their chance meeting in Vegas ignites into a night of passion, by strange coincidence, Fox and Laura find themselves drawn into an embezzlement investigation — with Fox as the investigator and Laura as a possible suspect.

Setting: No Strings Attached features settings in a luxury Vegas hotel, a yacht, a company office, and a resort island, among other locations. Lily gives each its descriptive due.

I’m retired Navy, so I loved the yacht:

“Nice ship. I like it,” she said offhand, still thinking he walked behind her.

“It is, but that’s not it. She’s over here,” he said. Laura looked up and her jaw dropped at the size of the yacht behind him. Rising three stories from the pier, it dwarfed all of the other ships.

“You said it was a yacht, not a cruise ship,” she mumbled.

He took her hand and helped her across the gangplank to the main deck, a vision of crisp white paint and burnished brass, sleek lines and smoke-tinted glass. They followed the spiral stairs up to the sundeck, and Laura stopped, stunned by the view of the marina and beyond to the high-rise hotels on Miami Beach.

“How many staterooms?” she asked when he stood beside her.

“Six, plus the crew quarters. Would you like a tour?”

“I’d love one.” When would she get the chance to be on a ship like this again? He led her to the state-of-the-art bridge, with its deep leather seats and computerized displays.

While Lily doesn’t overdo the settings, she gives enough description to let readers see the scene.

What I thought could be done better: Normally in this section I like to stick with objective points such as grammar or clarity issues — things that I can actually pull from the text as an example.

Lily’s writing is clear and the grammar is good. All I really have is subjective — just one guy’s opinion. Here it is. And I hope this isn’t a spoiler.

At one point in the narrative, Fox kidnaps Laura, hoping to isolate her and get the truth out of her. This section is as well-written as the rest of the story, and enjoyable to read, but seemed over the top, based on the persona Lily has created for her male protagonist.

However, this is Lily’s story, and if that’s what happens, then that’s what happens. I could just as easily argue that Fox acts irrationally in kidnapping Laura because his normally shrewd judgement has been shredded between love, desire and suspicion based on having been betrayed previously by a fiancee.

If that’s the case, it might’ve been set up a little better, so that when it happens, the response is “Oh yeah, I should’ve seen that coming,” rather than “Wait a minute, where’d I put that jar of Suspension of Disbelief, because I need a dollop now.”

Of course, anyone can say “the plot should’ve gone this way or that,” so I’m not really sure it even is a valid criticism, but it’s about the only thing that made me pause for a moment in this otherwise fast-paced and seamless story.

What I thought was good: As I’ve already mentioned, No Strings Attached is a fast-paced seamless, classic piece of chick lit storytelling. Not my first choice in reading, but I believe that reading outside my favorite genres from time to time makes me a better writer.

Characters are well-defined and mostly (see previous section) believable. Lily describes her settings well, giving reader imaginations plenty to work with. Love scenes are steamy without being vulgar.

One of my favorite moments in the story is when Laura reports to work after returning from Vegas — only to find her lover sitting with the boss.

“Nice of you to join us, Laura,” Lloyd said. She barely suppressed a shudder at his sarcastic tone.

“I’m not going to repeat everything, but in case you haven’t heard, Vaughn Bruce is no longer with us. You’ll be working for our interim director, Fox Thornton. I’m sure he will fill you in after we finish here.”

Time stopped. Laura’s head shot up like a cat who had just heard a dog. How could she have missed him there beside Lloyd, larger than life? When she first glanced in that direction he had blended in with all of the other men in white dress shirts. He stopped flipping through his report and watched for her reaction. Everyone else faded away as the memory flashed between them.

She blinked, trying to get her bearings. Why was he here? Seeing him in Miami felt wrong on so many levels, as if she had joined a meeting in progress with a space alien. She broke eye contact and looked down at the pad in her lap. The blood rushed out of her hands until they felt like ice.

That is a true “Yikes!” moment. Did you catch the line “Laura’s head shot up like cat who had just heard a dog.”? Lily’s writing is filled with strong similies like that. “The evening flew by like a missile with a hard lock on its target.” is another.

Add plenty of active voice and vivid verbs, and the story transcends “romance” and just becomes a good story. Plenty of romance in James Bond novels too, by the way.

Speaking of the Bond books, No Strings Attached also has some nice passages about cuisine, here, a Caesar salad:

“What are those?” she asked, unsure about the dark brown strips that looked like mushrooms that had turned.


Laura gulped. “I’ve never seen anyone add real anchovies,” she said after a minute, skeptical.

“Then you haven’t had a real Caesar,” Fox teased as Kirby plated the salads, topping each with thick, crusty croutons. He grated fresh Parmesan cheese for each of them.

The salad was a work of art, but would she like it? She pushed the lettuce around with her fork, looking for wayward anchovies, still hesitant to take a bite. The anchovies apparently disappeared into the dressing, which covered everything. If she didn’t like it, she would be stuck. Maybe she should have asked for it on the side. She took a bite and her eyes widened.

I particularly liked the story’s themes of trust, communication and loyalty. If Fox and Laura had only trusted and communicated with one another a little more, they’d have avoided a lot of heartache. Of course, then there wouldn’t be any story.

Overall: Despite Fox’s wealth, and Laura’s beauty, Lily has created characters I could relate to. I’m not sure I would’ve ever kidnapped the lovely Anita, from back in my old school days, but she did make me crazy, and that’s a fact.

Sexy, emotional and with well-described locales from boardroom to bedroom; from luxury yacht to corporate jet, No Strings Attached is a deeply satisfying classic romance. Though entertaining, it explores some important themes — the most important, of course, being love.

Good job Lily!

Coming up
Beers in Heaven by Ford Forkum
Fat Assassins by Marita Fowler
A Kiss at Kihali by Ruth Harris
Bones of Odin by David Leadbeater

And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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