Ms. Cheevious in Hollywood by Lisa Jey Davis

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.

Lisa That said, here is my honest opinion of Lisa’s book, a memoir, rather than a novel, subtitled “My zany years spent working in Tinsel Town.”

I loved this high-spirited, well-written memoir of an adventurous young woman’s run at Hollywood. Lisa’s story of breaking in to show biz in the first decade of the 21st century is sprinkled with celebrity contacts, and rich with anecdotes about the famous and the weird. The “drooling date” and “Jack the Dripper” stories verge on hysterically funny. These are reminiscences no fiction writers could ever make up — though they could be proud if they did.

Lisa is humorously honest and tells her tales of good times and bad with a chatty candor that makes Ms. Cheevious in Hollywood a pleasure to read. Obviously told from a woman’s perspective, Lisa doesn’t stint on the gory details of relationships good and bad, parties, outfits, child-rearing and even the painful separation and divorce from a drug-using husband that motivated her to tackle her dream. It’s definitely worth a read for men, if for nothing else than the freely given insights into the opposite sex — insights that show just how much we all have in common.

The glimpse of the Hollywood lifestyle through the eyes of a talented writer is also well worth the read.

I spotted a few typos, though no more than you might find in any professionally edited book. For instance, “I pulled the reigns in a bit…” — should be reins. A reference to the events of 9-11 has the year as 2011, rather than 2001. It’s a just a tiny typo, and I easily understood what was meant, but the momentary “huh?” doesn’t help the narrative.

Nevertheless, these minor speed bumps do little to derail Lisa’s story as it rocks along:

“Lisa, the Dave Matthews band is not happy and about to leave,” he said. “We can’t let that happen. Can you do something?”

“What? Like, buy them a round of drinks?” I answered.

“I don’t know Lisa, I’ve got my own issues with the Goo (Goo Goo Dolls) in their dressing room. Can you just handle it? Get the house person on the headset and work something out.”

Hang out with Johnny while I handle my other love interest. Fine.

The “house person” was the event person who worked for the House of Blues. I got her on the headset and decided that rather than simply offer to buy them drinks, we would give them their own personal cocktail waitress, to bring them “things and stuff.” In my world, that means whatever they wanted from the House of Blues.

I didn’t have time to gush or be nervous. I walked up to the band’s “dressing” room—more of a meeting room, with tables and chairs—imaging them raging about show delays, managers and agents running around with their hair on fire, but no. It was just the band and perhaps a few friends, talking quietly. I walked into a room that was super-mellow.

It was like an album cover: my future love-slave (I can dream) Dave was sitting in the background with his band members in the foreground. I walked right up and said…

“I can dream,” Lisa says. Her memoir details the effort and determination with which she made her dreams come true. Though mostly fun and humorous, and certainly well-written, Ms. Cheevious in Hollywood is all the more compelling for having its roots in the depths of a shattered marriage.

Good job, Lisa!

Coming up
My Prison Without Bars by Taylor Fulks

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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RUN by Allen Levine

Honest Indie Book Reviews is on temporary sabbatical until I can get my own current writing project, ROGUE GODDESSES, completed. Thanks for visiting, and I hope to be back to reviewing soon!

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 RUN, a sports-oriented coming-of-age drama by Allen Levine.

Characters: High school senior Andy Rasson narrates the character-driven tale of his final year on the Westborough High School Cross Country team, and the emotional trials and ethical decisions he must face with his two best friends and fellow runners Chris Allred and Drake “Skids” Henry, and girlfriend and women’s CC runner Tiffany Hampton.

Allen does a terrific job of bringing his characters to life through description, dialogue and action recounted by protagonist Andy. Here, Andy introduces reader to Skids.

Skids is like my younger brother and best friend rolled into one. He’s pretty serious, like me, but he’s more action-oriented. As I said, he’s fearless and won’t take much shit from anyone. You’d have to be fearless to come out in seventh grade. Early on, he realized what was going on in his pants and made the declaration because he couldn’t stand the wrong assumptions the other kids were making. You see, Skids isn’t, and wasn’t, stereotypically gay. He’s pretty much just like any other guy. And that might be what saved him, mostly, from being more seriously picked on throughout his scholastic career (at least so far).

Skids’ one gay characteristic (other than the fact that he is into dick) is that he’s a bit of a clean freak. One day during our middle school’s track season, Drake Henry announced in the locker room (of all places!?!) that gay guys had cleaner butts than straight guys. He said that you could tell because gay guys never had skid marks on their underwear. That set off howls of laughter from some of the guys, while others looked a bit uncomfortable. Danny Minten (a dumbass if there ever was one) had pointed at Drake and for no reason yelled “Skidmarks!” In no time, all of the guys on the team began pointing and laughing and yelling as well. Over the next few months, the nickname was shortened to Skids. It was so commonly used that I and his other good friends even started to use it. Drake hated the name at first, but finally came to realize it wasn’t going away. And it was at least tolerable with the second half of the nickname dropped.

Skids is a monster runner, if not a natural one. While not being much of a morning person, he gets his miles in…

Allen is not afraid to take his time with character description, bolstering it here with an anecdote. RUN is liberally laced with such character-enriching anecdotes. Taken together they create a solid back story for the cast.

Narrator Andy is completely honest and forthcoming about everything. He sometimes verges on too much information. This is a characteristic completely in line with Andy’s hyper-conscientious, performance-driven, detail-obsessed character, giving the story a compelling credibility.

Plot: When “bad boy” runner Chad transfers in and joins the team, his behavior helps create ethical dilemmas for Andy and his friends, complicating and imperiling what should have been a fun, triumphant final cross-country season.

Setting: The story takes place in the fictional upper-class neighborhood of Westborough, and on the cross-country courses of various schools. Allen offers the minimum description needed to keep readers oriented in the story, but the external setting is nothing remarkable. The story’s true setting is Andy’s internal landscape, never more fascinating than during the book’s many running sequences:

We come out of the bend and hit a longer lower grade hill. It is my time to surge. But I’m not really surging. I’m full of adrenaline, endorphins, lactic acid, and a mountain of pain, and I think I’m reaching this odd zen-like place where I am speed. I am speed. I don’t need to see the damage I’m doing to Chad. I love this hill. I try to hear Chad’s footsteps , but I’m tunnel-visioning and tunnel-hearing. I have a clarity of purpose and focus. I hug the left line on the last turn…

What I thought could be done better: Not much. RUN hits on all cylinders. The only thing I would’ve liked to see Allen add is a bit more physical description of the characters. The action, dialogue and the narrative description of character traits is excellent. But what do these characters actually look like? Here’s our introduction to main character Chris:

He shrugs and smiles back. Without sounding too gay, Chris Allred has a handsome, honest face that people trust. If they only knew. . . He’s pretty serious about school and running, but otherwise he’s a key component of the psycho elements on our team. He makes it fun and, at the same time, exasperating.

Is Chris tall? Does he have curly blonde hair? Blue eyes with a mocking glint? If you follow my reviews regularly, you know lack of character description is a pet peeve of mine, though not one every author agrees with. Some feel character description is unnecessary. But I see nothing to lose and lots to gain by sharing a specific vision of a character’s appearance, just the same as sharing specifics of action, dialogue and character trait. “…handsome, honest face that people trust…” is something, but doesn’t really show me the character Allen envisioned.

What I thought was good: Lack of physical description aside, the narrative descriptions of character are outstanding, imho. Here we get a peek at Andy’s obsessive nature during a training run:

I feel my posse around me eating up turf. I look at my watch and start counting the number of times my right foot lands in fifteen seconds. Twenty-four is the answer. I multiply it by four and then double it to account for each footfall (although I don’t really need to) in order to know our stride rate is a cool 192. Right where it needs to be. I start to count how many times my right foot lands in twenty seconds, but then shake it off. In a training run, I have to fight the urge to constantly check the rate — fifteen, twenty, thirty second intervals, and then start over. Other times, if I’m running on a sidewalk, I’ll count off the number of steps it takes between the slabs of concrete — 1, 2, 1, 3, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 3 and on and on for miles. I know it’s messed up, but sometimes I’ll do that for a whole run if I don’t have a distraction.

The muscular descriptions of the runs are almost breathtaking. If you run, you’ll get it. If you don’t run, you’ll come as close to experiencing a run as words can bring you:

When we finally catch him, Skids is leading us along the river path past the university fields. The sun is really beating us up, as is the early surge game we just played. Still, though, we three run together almost in unison. All seems to be forgiven as we feel our muscles tighten and stretch, and our minds become lulled by the run’s hypnotic rhythm. There is really nothing I would rather be doing. I don’t think that last thought as much as I experience and seem to be that. I am the run. The run is me. This run, this act, cannot exist unless I am here to create it and see it from its beginning to its conclusion and WHOA!!!

A scary as shit dog runs out after us as we near Westborough High School’s fields where we sometimes try to knock out the last half mile on the track…

Foreshadowing? Perhaps. Here, Andy grapples with problems forced on him by new teammate Chad:

I make a mental pro and con list, but start with the cons because they are easier. He is a cheat. He does drugs. He’s a shitty influence on the team. He encourages others around him to get drunk or high. He creates divisions within the team. He has a bad attitude. He doesn’t fit in. He talks kinda like a thug sometimes. Skids thinks he’s hot. . . I don’t know why that last thought makes me shudder. I’m also not exactly sure why I put it in the con column. I’ll have to think about that. The negatives are a pretty good list. I’ll try to come up with more than one pro. . . He is a good runner. Yeah, that’s the given one, right there. Um. . . Hmm. . . Thinking. . . He seriously challenges Chris, Skids, and me in practice when he’s not hung over . That is a good one. He’s obviously got some serious issues, and CC probably does him a lot of good. OK, I’m sort of getting a handle on this. It is also probably good for us (Chris and me, and maybe even the team) to be exposed to people who are not like us. It is an opportunity to grow and cope. And, OK, Skids thinks he’s hot.

I feel a little bit better about Chad after the pro list. Except there are things that keep gnawing at me. I know drug use is prohibited in state high school athletics. Um, yeah, and they’re also fucking illegal. Chris, Skids, and I are honor and duty-bound to report the use. But get real. We’re not snitches. As bad as I feel knowing what I know, I also know that I would feel worse if I turned him in. And the drugs and drinking sure don’t seem to enhance Chad’s performance. So really, he’s just hurting himself…

Andy’s encounters with the shades of gray that are life bring a real ring of truth to RUN.

Overall: RUN rings true on every level. From the profane, juvenile banter of high school kids, to the descriptions of pushing through on hard runs and in competition, Allen’s prose is dead-on. There’s a bittersweetness in seeing these (mostly) likeable youngsters faced with adult issues, but watching how they cope makes for fascinating reading.

Great job Allen!

Honest Indie Book Reviews will take a brief sabbatical following this review, while I focus on completing ROGUE GODDESSES, sequel to AMERICAN GODDESSES. I expect to be back on the indie review trail by Spring 2015, if not before.

Meanwhile, 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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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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