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The Naked Room by Diana Hockley

Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written two. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of The Naked Room, a mystery-thriller by Diana Hockley.

This is the story of classical pianist Ally Carpenter, and her harrowing ordeal at the hands of psychotic kidnappers. Diana does a fine job of describing Ally through Ally’s first-person narrative, though physical description beyond red hair about waist-long is wanting. Nevertheless, Diana clearly shows us a vivid picture of a spirited young woman struggling against dire circumstance.

Here, Ally encounters one of her kidnappers:

‘You total bastard!’ I launch myself at him. He tries to push me away; I clamp my teeth onto his finger.

My face explodes.

I’m spread-eagled across the camp stretcher, the metal pipes biting into my back, shocked and blinded by tears. My nose throbs. Warm liquid runs down to my lip, into my mouth and oozes down my throat. The warm coppery taste sends nausea swirling in my stomach. I swipe the back of my hand across my mouth and chin, but it does nothing for the lot I’m forced to swallow. Don’t give him the satisfaction of crying.

Ally is supported by a diverse cast of family, friends, co-workers and police, all desperately searching for her. Diana uses first-person for each of these characters as well, letting us view unfolding events from their multiple perspectives. We also get interesting views of other characters this way, including some physical description.

Here’s lead investigator Detective Senior Sargent Susan Prescott’s first impression of Ally’s alleged boyfriend:

He slouched against the wall, around 195cm of rampant testosterone, with superbly styled, gleaming black hair and designer stubble, enhanced by smooth olive skin. Graceful and model-gorgeous, he was every parent’s nightmare. And who’s going to protect him from me?

‘He’s got more than his fair share of hair,’ muttered follicularly-challenged Evan. I suppressed a smile. But was Briece Mochrie as careless with women’s hearts as his looks might suggest?

The first-person narrative device sheds great clarity on almost all the characters, but Diana draws the line at the kidnappers. For most of the novel, we see them only through Ally’s eyes, a frightening vision.

Plot: When criminals learn a secret about Ally, unknown even to herself, they kidnap her, hoping to cash in. The subsequent investigation reveals the mistakes and secrets of the past, only now coming to their full murderous fruition.

Setting: Most of the action takes place in Brisbane, Australia. While Diana offers enough description to enhance plot and mood — The weather outside looked chilly, the bleakness of the park landscape opposite Pam’s flat enhanced by wind-tossed trees. — she doesn’t provide the travelogue-type description you’d find in, say, an Ian Fleming tale. Brisbane could be any city, for the purposes of The Naked Room.

What really gave me a sense of place was Diana’s liberal use of Australian slang. She didn’t want to be there with us and “chucking a tantie” was a good way of making her exit. (my quotation marks). “Chucking a tantie” is throwing a tantrum, obviously, but does a great job of reminding us where the story is, in colorful fashion.

What I thought could’ve been done better: Not much. Just a few pages in, you realize you’re in the hands of a pro. I would’ve liked touch more physical description of Ally — also, Pam, Jess and other characters.

As I’ve noted with the description of Briece, when Diana wants to, she can and does give marvelous descriptions of characters both major and minor. But I wished there was more of Ally, at least, central as she is.

Also wouldn’t have minded a little travelogue description of the setting. I’m sure Brisbane is familiar, and perhaps ordinary to Diana, but to me, here in Kansas, it’s an exotic location on the other side of the Earth. So, perhaps that’s a minor missed opportunity in this day of global indie publishing.

What I thought was good: I’ll start with the “Aussie-isms.” Chucking a tantie is just one of many. Here are a few of my favorites, set off with my double quotation marks:

My chest heaves for whatever “skerrick” of air I can grasp… (in Kansas, we’d say “a skosh,” long “o.”)

Karen obviously thought I was a bad-tempered “drongo.”

‘Don’t come the “raw prawn” with me, mate.’

These figures of speech give the Australian-based novel some definite authenticity.

One of the reasons these colorful phrases work is that Diana has a good ear for dialogue. Her conversations are crisp and dramatic. They add to characterization as well as plot.

Diana is simply a good writer, using vivid verbs, similies, metaphors and other descriptive devices liberally. She does what a writer is supposed to — helps the reader to know what it’s like to be in the narrative.

Here, Briece and Ally’s father sneak out at night for recon of what they think might be Ally’s location.

A gentle breeze stirred the leaves of the branches like wind chimes, overhanging the pathway; the silky fronds flicked their cheeks. In the distance a dog howled, telling the night air of abandonment. An owl hooted and launched itself from a branch which arched overhead, a great feathered kite gliding on its hunt for prey. Small animals scurried for cover.

The best part of The Naked Room, in my opinion, is Diana’s artful layering of secrets and revelations, seen through the multiple perspectives of many disparate, but well-sketched characters. It’s a complex web, but she manages to keep things simple and clear nevertheless, while maintaining urgency and suspense.

Overall: The Naked Room is a compelling work. As a reader, I simply enjoyed the rich characterization and the many plot surprises. As a fellow writer, I admired Diana’s craftsmanship, including her ability to weave so many perspectives and sub-plots into a coherent, unified story.

I’m not coming a raw prawn with you, mate, when I recommend The Naked Room as a wonderfully entertaining and suspenseful mystery thriller.

Good job, Diana!

Coming up
Annwyn’s Blood by Michael Eging and Steve Arnold
Dragonfriend by Roger Eschbacher

And for sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thrillers, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords, and the newly published sequel Rogue Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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Super by Princess Jones

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


That said, here is my honest opinion of Super, a first-person superhero story by Princess Jones

Characters: Audrey Hart, under-achieving superhero, narrates her tale of fighting crime and helping others while trying to survive family relationships and the work-a-day world. She has more success fighting crime.

Audrey’s power isn’t particularly spectacular. She heals incredibly fast. Being hit by a car, or shot hurts her, just like you or me, but her body heals within minutes, though not without soreness and stiffness, again like you and me. Her super power is just enough to get her into the game, without making it easy.

Author Princess does a terrific job with Audrey, bringing her vividly to life on all three fronts — physical description, dialogue and action. Here’s Audrey’s description of herself, arriving late to work after stopping a purse-snatcher who had victimized a little old lady:

Mellie looked me up and down. “You get hit by a bus or something?”

If you only knew. I imagined what she saw: Reddish brown hair in a frizzy, messy bun with twigs and leaves sticking out of it. A brown smudge on my freckled cafe au lait face that I hoped was mud and not any of the various animal and human shit you might find in a New York City park. Nondescript business casual clothing–gray slacks, white blouse, sensible shoes–that had already seen better days before my little adventure. Various stains covering my shirt and pants.

Mellie, one of Audrey’s few friends, is part of a terrific cast of supporting characters that includes mom and dad, and over-achieving sister Ella. Ella, interestingly enough, has her own set of problems brought on by being brilliant and super-competent.

There’s also a bad, though clueless boss, an uncaring drycleaner — through the entire book, Audrey is unable to rescue her super-suit from the drycleaner’s — assorted petty criminals and thugs, and one nasty super-villain hidden away in plain sight, with a plan to — well, you’ll see.

Setting: Super takes place in Queens and Brooklyn. With the same sharp eye she uses for characters, Princess sets a wonderful stage. Here’s Audrey’s apartment:

I took a quick look around the one room apartment. Dirty clothes spilled out of a couple of laundry bags in the kitchenette corner. The unmade futon along the wall featured a jumble of sheets, the faded tee shirt I slept in every night, and my ancient laptop. Everything seemed just like I’d left it this morning. I spotted the dry cleaning ticket sitting on the coffee table on top of the pizza box from last night.

Streets, alleys and sidewalks of the underside of the big city are all wonderfully described, by an author, I’m guessing, who knows them well.

Plot: While trying to do what good she can in the urban district assigned to her by the superhero council, Audrey must also live a normal life of work, laundry, family and friends. While each, on its own, is do-able, together they create an almost insurmountable challenge.

What I thought could’ve been done better: I got nothing here. I enjoyed every delicious word of this delightful book. The only possible negative thing I could say about Super, is that it made me grind my teeth a little over how easy Princess makes it look. As an author, I know — it ain’t easy.

What I thought was good: Everything. Characters. Settings. Plot. Dialogue. The book is easy to read. Here’s a random sample from the beginning, where Audrey stops the purse-snatcher. Any other piece of Super I could’ve chosen would be just as good.

We picked up the chase right where we left off, the gap between us growing smaller and smaller. I’m not sure if that’s because I was running faster or if he was running slower. Either way, after a few more minutes of chase, I closed the gap between us.

I pulled the last of my stored energy and launched myself into him, tackling him to the ground. We slid into a messy tangle across the concrete sidewalk. I could already feel my skin ripping and bruises forming from skidding along the ground. It was small compared to what I’d already been through but I knew it would heal in just a few minutes, too.

He spoke first. I was too busy hyperventilating to push any words out. “What the hell, bitch?! Get your big ass off of me!”

Well that was just rude. But it gave me strength to lift myself off him and rise to my feet. He started to get up but I placed my foot on his neck to stop him. I looked down at him, using what I hoped was my most menacing face. “You know what the hell, asshole. Is that your purse? Do you shop in the Golden Girls section of Target? Give it back.” I moved my foot and made a gimme gesture. He handed me the purse.

He sat up and turned his head to spit, dislodging some of the dirt that he’d eaten when he hit the ground. “Fine. There’s no need for you to go all Jackie Chan on me.”

He looked young. Maybe not much older than fifteen. He was skinny, too. And honestly, he didn’t look all that smart, either. The glazed over look on his face didn’t exactly scream “criminal mastermind.” Suddenly, I wasn’t so proud of myself anymore. “What are you staring at?” I asked.

“You. You got hit by a car back there.” I repeated the assurances I’d said to humans most of my life. “It just clipped me. It looked worse than it was. Besides, it’s your fault because I was chasing you. What are you doing out here anyway?”

He gave me a sheepish shrug that made him look even younger. “I’m a rapper.”

“A rapper?”

He sighed. “I’ve been coming up with some rhymes and I got some beats but I need authenticity.”


The kid looked at me like I was an idiot. “Yeah. I can’t rap about living the life if I don’t live the life. You know?”

I was no expert on rap but I knew this was too stupid to work. “So you’re going to steal purses from little old ladies to help your rap career? That doesn’t even sound right. You’d have to deal drugs and shoot people or something.”

“You think I should deal drugs and shoot people?”

“No!” The last thing I needed was him getting any ideas from me. I pulled him to his feet. No one was paying too much attention yet but this was straight out of the handbook of how not to be discreet. I didn’t want to push my luck any further. “You should be in jail right now but I think you’re too stupid to survive in there. Now go do something with yourself. Go find something else to rap about.”

Okay, this excerpt is way longer than I normally use, but it illustrates everything I liked about the book. There’s action, great dialogue, physical description, self-deprecating humor, and more.

Overall: Super is a marvelous book on many levels. It’s a fun superhero adventure, and also a comedic look at contemporary life, work and family. Princess blends in a healthy dose of sympathy for the human condition. Most of all, it’s a good story, skillfully penned, about a sympathetic character, always ready to help, even though she can’t seem to get her costume back from the dry cleaners, get on her boss’s good side, or get along with her sister.

Good job, Princess!

Coming up
The Naked Room by Diana Hockley
Annwyn’s Blood by Michael Eging and Steve Arnold
Dragonfriend by Roger Eschbacher

And for sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thrillers, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords, and the newly published sequel Rogue Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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Ascent of Blood by Elizabeth Marx

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


That said, here is my honest opinion of Ascent of Blood, a unity-of-opposites vampire romance, by Elizabeth Marx.

Characters: Sebastian Pearce, the powerful heir to the vampiric House of Imperials; and the willful, beautiful American scholar of vampire lore Dr. Everleigh Marbut dominate this tale of a human woman who finds herself immersed in vampire culture. In Sebastian, Elizabeth has created a portrait of power and “…noble arrogance, untamed black-nut hair, prominent patrician nose, silver stakes for eyes and a hunters grace,” as Everleigh sees and describes him.

Sebastian finds Everleigh equally attractive.

She pulled her glasses down from a perch twisted in her hair and the long ropes cascaded around her shoulders. Her hair was a vivacious black-sable and blended exotically with her light olive skin. Her white button-up shirt was so pure it could have been used in the sanctity of a cathedral to place the sacrament on. The only indecent thing about it was the fact that it was unbuttoned one button further than it should have been.

He avoided examining the deep plunge. Who knew what desires that might propel him into. His eyes skimmed her trim torso before traveling the length of her legs…

Both characters are irresistibly, physically drawn to one another. But their powerful personalities clash in the strange circumstances of their forced association, creating a psycho-sexual tension that carries the story.

The pair is surrounded by Sebastian’s vampire tribe, including frightening Vivian, red-haired vampire rival for Sebastian’s love, a love human Everleigh doesn’t even realize she wants. Gifted with immortality and preternatural power, the vampires, including Vivian, are only tenuously kept at bay by Sebastian’s command and the force of Everleigh’s own personality.

Elizabeth describes her characters with wit, and even snark.

Vivian had the exotic eastern European look; over waxed brows, pale skin, and iron rod straight hair dyed to the unnatural color of London telephone box. Vivian was a woman who labored over her beauty like a thief counting his ill gotten gains.

Love that “ill-gotten gains” line.

The characters’ dialogue matches; it’s filled with snark, humor and menace.

“If I didn’t still need you—” Vivian’s teeth and claws extended and her eyes burned in a throbbing rhythm. “I’d drink your antique virgin’s blood from a teacup and rifle through your entrails on the saucer.”

Since vampires can’t breed, continuing a line of succession for the House of Imperials is a problem. Everleigh, it turns out, can breed vampire children, an incredibly rare characteristic in humans. Since she’s already carrying an immortal child, Sebastian holds Everleigh, against her will at first, in the vampire compound at Cardiff Castle, in the remote English countryside. There, she must face vampires whose lusts are barely held in check, revelations about her own nature, and her own conflicted but slowly growing love for the vampire prince.

Setting: Much of the novel is set in the “…frosty corridors and mysterious rooms” of Gothic Cardiff Castle, perched on a hill, where Everleigh is kept prisoner. Elizabeth describes enough to support the story, without distracting. The library, for instance — “…two-story walls chocked full of books, ledgers and scrolls… The scent of old parchment and the metallic smell of ink hung heavy in the air.”

What I thought could’ve been done better: Ascent of Blood could have used a good proofreading. I noticed around three dozen typos throughout. In several places, paragraphs repeated. Most of the errors were wrong word; omitted word; and punctuation, especially apostrophes.

For instance: Shades act as bankers, moving large chucks (should be “chunks”) of capital and natural resources without the human world any wiser. They profess to know, down to the last penny, the exact total of every countries (should be country’s) coffers…

In a book of this sophistication, I was a bit surprised to find so many typos. Easy to fix, though. I will add that I edit professionally, so I might be more prone to notice than some other readers.

What I thought was good: Ascent of Blood is rich with goodies. Elizabeth has created a vampire culture that exists alongside and even intersects with mainstream human culture in sustainable ways, though prejudices still exist. She explains it well and consistently. I enjoyed the different classes of vampires, from the polished, erudite “Imperials,” to the monstrous “Nosferatus.”

Elizabeth makes great use of simile and metaphor in her descriptions: “A large man with a beer belly that over hung his belt into the next county greeted her by removing his fedora and bending low.” Love it.

I’ve already mentioned the sharp, snappy dialogue, of which there is a great deal. Here’s Everleigh and Sebastian, as the vampire prince tries to reassure his reluctant guest.

“You’re taking me to creepy, ancient fortifications in the middle of the night, and your girlfriend is going to want to skewer me into pieces of sushi, but there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Gillian will keep a close watch on you and once Cain returns he will act as your personal guard. No one will dare touch you, but they might very well try to scare you by toying with your mind.”

“Oh, I do enjoy a game of mind fuck with immortals.”

Sebastian turned on her very slowly. “I do not care for your tone or words.”

“Well I don’t care for fucking kidnapping!”

“I’m not certain of your capabilities with embraced vampires,” Sebastian growled, “but if you speak to one in such a crude manner you best hope Cain’s nearby.”

“And why won’t you protect me yourself?”

“For practical purposes, it’s better if we stay away from one another. I’d rather not anyone notice our unusual connection.”

“Cain already knows.”

“But he is the soul of discretion.”

“Philabe knows.”

“Philabe knows that if he breathes a word of what he saw that I will skin him alive, one layer at a time.”

“This is your reassuring side, right?”

I also liked the chapter titles, dramatic and with a touch of poetry — Chapter 4 for instance — “All Unavoided is the Doom of Destiny.” Sweet.

Overall: This tale of a contemporary American woman deep in the clutches of centuries-old vampires is a fine addition to vampire lit. Everleigh is a spirited, hardheaded heroine, who calls it like she sees it, unafraid of terrible power that could snuff her in a second. In fact, the dread vampire prince has his hands full with the willful woman, almost in the tradition O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

In the end, neither is a match for the ultimate power of love. And in the form of Vivian, hate gives them a run for their money, too.

Good job, Elizabeth!

Coming up
Super by Princess Jones
The Naked Room by Diana Hockley
Annwyn’s Blood by Michael Eging and Steve Arnold
Dragonfriend by Roger Eschbacher

And for sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thrillers, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords, and the newly published sequel Rogue Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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Alone by Martha Fawcett

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


That said, here is my honest opinion of Alone, a character-driven science fiction romance, by Martha Fawcett.

Characters: This is the story of Mellé, a woman in the far future who has everything except happiness. In fact, the first line of Alone is “Mellé was crying again.” In her quest to escape the pain of her husband’s betrayal, Mellé runs across a rich cast of characters, from felines (don’t call them “cats;” it’s a slur in at least one alien culture) to aliens to androids to even a few fellow humans.

Mellé’s physical description is limited. Martha describes her as “pretty,” and about a quarter of the way into the book, she describes Mellé as having “apricot-blonde hair” and blue-green eyes. Personality traits get more attention:

She was eighteen years old, pretty, and ambitious. Her meager assets consisted of a 5,000-credit legacy from her mother and a will forged of something that made steel appear fragile. Fortunately, her will was clever, helping her parlay her meager 5,000 credits into a small business that, in time, brought her great wealth. Along with her will, The Muses had blessed her with the gift of a discriminate ear. As a child, she could identify the different songs of the many coral birds that sang outside her bedroom window. Later, she recognized that the sound of footsteps foretold who waited at her door. By the time she reached adulthood, her ears were finely tuned instruments of listening. Of course, she loved music and she could hear like no other soul inside creation.

Mellé marries a musician, Dulce Coeur, who is a human-alien blend. With him, though it’s all backstory, Mellé builds an interstellar music empire. Dulce, too is physically described in impressions, though dialogue and action are concrete and detailed.

Dulce had come to Mellé as love’s disciple, hot and dark with flashing Gathosian eyes. A potent memory stole Mellé’s mind and she saw Dulce run out of the surf and sink down before her in the sand. The day remained as clear as glass in her memory. “Did you miss me?” he asked and he kissed her lightly on the lips.

“You taste like the ocean,” she told him.

“You mean I taste like a woman.” He was clever and knew it and a slight smile betrayed his pride.

Other interesting characters include the galaxy’s premier maker of androids, the alien Jana Revba; and several of the androids, Michaels one and two, and perhaps my favorite character, Kyoto. Android Kyoto is modeled on a Japanese geisha, but “jumps” her programming, in a sort of analog to the “biological” players who also learn and develop, albeit more slowly and painfully.

Plot: After witnessing her husband’s infidelity with a seductive alien witch, Mellé buys a the space ship Intrinsic, complete with android pilot and major-domo Michael, and flees aimlessly across the galaxy in an attempt to find herself and leave heartbreak behind. In the process, she meets a range of beings who lead her to revelations about her own nature and the nature of love.

Setting: Alone is spread across nearly a century of time and countless light-years of space. While Martha delves deeply into the emotional journey, she doesn’t neglect the colorful back drop of the physical journey.

Mellé stood under the west-side portico of El Cantar, staring into the darkening sky as she waited for an airfloat taxi to appear. Dark green and purple auroras churned on the horizon. The sky grumbled like a sleepy old man and then huge raindrops splashed, sounding a rat-a-tat-tat of timpani on the marble walkway. The rainy season finally was beginning.

What I thought could’ve been done better: Alone, while a wonderful story, could’ve stood a good third-party proofreading. I love this description of Belleth, the alien witch who seduces Dulce, but the omission of the word “of” in the second sentence’s beginning provides a needless speed-bump.

Belleth displayed her hands— her magic tools— beckoning the crowd to gather round. Each her hands were small and dainty with three long fingers and an opposing thumb. Her nails were long, sharp, and lacquered red; her lips stained scarlet.

It’s a minor typo, and even the best-edited books usually have one or two, but left to proliferate they can put a bruise on an otherwise fine tale. I think about a dozen or so jumped out at me over the course of the book.

One thing that wasn’t quite clear for me — Mellé spends 81 years in space without aging. Eventually, she goes in search of Dulce, finding him still alive, while many of their contemporaries have long since died. Can Mellé’s agelessness be described by faster than light travel through space for 81 years? Perhaps, but I never found it satisfactorily addressed. Dulce remained planet-bound all that time, so how does that work?

It’s a clarity issue, though for me, a minor one.

What I thought was good: Martha has a wonderful writing style, liberally lacing her prose with the similes and metaphors that make the words come alive.

Belleth possessed a special talent. She had the ability to make her voice smooth, like sweet, melting ice cream.

“…like sweet melting ice cream.” Love it.

I also liked Martha’s imaginative scifi elements. “Xeytinic mold,” for instance, attacks Melle’s ship, the Intrinsic.

“It’s a terror that spares nothing,” said Michael. “Its mutation rate is exponential and deadly. Its favorite food is organic matter. Once the organic is gone, Xeytinic digests plastics until only metals remain. Eventually, Xeytinic alters its pH enough to consume selective metals until it reaches the ship’s hull. At this stage, Xeytinic possesses the ability to go dormant as if waiting for a new vehicle to make a jump to fresh territory. There were claims Xeytinic was a conscious lifeforms because of its apparent uncanny ability to anticipate that jump.”

The real star of Alone, imho, is Martha’s intense exploration of the different aspects of love and emotion.

Despite her sworn oath to extirpate the fragile taproots of love from her soul, love was still alive. She knew that now. “ Love is not a rose as Dulce always insisted. Love is a tenacious weed that can never be destroyed.” She was afraid of her need for love. If her love for Michael was still alive, did that mean her love for Dulce was alive too? She was crying again, this time for herself. Great tears of self-pity flowed; these were the bitterest tears of all.

As weeks rolled on, thoughts of suicide passed through her mind in the abstract. “Would it be as easy as finishing a game of astrological croquet?”

Martha’s love scenes are both passionate and articulate.

He gave her a look of pure love. He kissed her, drinking her in as she turned to smooth cream under his lips. “The need will never go away between us— it can’t,” he whispered. “The need is old, very old. When you uncover your oldest, most primitive self, I am there, your Genesis self— your need for completion.”

She’s not afraid to deal with sexuality either, whether it’s male on male or “bio” on android. I think part of the reason Martha is successful is that she keeps the sexual aspects firmly rooted in emotion, so that sex is not gratuitous, but a logical outcome.

Martha also peppers her story with gemlike observations, such as this one:

Life, the goulash of physical reality, again waited with confusing certainty for her interaction.

Life is a goulash, isn’t it? And I’d agree that life’s confusing nature is its one certainty. Well put.

Overall: I like reading romances from time to time, because they give me great insights for the female characters in my own writing. Alone features such insights in quantity and depth, finely put, and with the added bonus of an imaginative science fiction backdrop. In Alone, Martha offers a fine exploration of a galaxy teeming with sentient life, mirroring a similarly detailed exploration of one woman’s emotional universe.

In the end, Mellé may be an “every woman” — or perhaps an “every human,” seeking the same thing we all want, here or far away — a chance to love and be loved.

Well done, Martha!

Coming up

Ascent of Blood by Elizabeth Marx
Super by Princess Jones
The Naked Room by Diana Hockley
Annwyn’s Blood by Michael Eging and Steve Arnold

And for sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thrillers, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords, and the newly published sequel Rogue Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!


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Time of Death by Ellis Vidler

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


That said, here is my honest opinion of Time of Death, a crime thriller with a paranormal edge, by Ellis Vidler.

Characters: The narrative follows artist Alex Jenrette as she tries to stay alive while in the cross hairs of two hit men. Alex is gifted — though she might say “cursed” — with “automatic drawing.” When a spiritual power outside herself wants to communicate about violence or death, Alex’s hands itch and she finds herself sketching victims and crime scenes. Far from finding this ability helpful, the police she brings her sketches to invariably believe Alex must have been a witness, if not a perp.

In protagonist Alex, Ellis has created a fully formed, sympathetic, multi-dimensional heroine. It’s easy to like her since she cares about people and animals, and is willing to put herself in harm’s way when needed to protect those she cares about. Alex is emotionally damaged, however (who isn’t?) by a husband whom she adored, but who died in a motorcycle crash shortly after Alex learned he’d betrayed her with someone close to her.

“Goldy-haired” — as one character describes her — Alex is supported by an excellent cast, including her glamorous folk-singer aunt and fellow-psychic Isobel; handsome leading man and war-veteran Connor Moran, a D.A.; and a full complement of carefully, uniquely crafted heavies.

Ellis hits what I call the “character triangle” like it’s a musical instrument. She brings her characters into full three-dimensional life with physical description, dialogue and action. Though some of her characters have less space in the story than others, every one is fully formed. There are no “extras” or supernumeraries to be found.

Even the used Range Rover Alex buys after her Kia gets totaled, during an attempt on her life, gets a name — Sally Ride, and some descriptive love.

Plot: When shady real estate tycoon Donald Rollins mistakenly assumes Alex may have witnessed his murder of his partner, he calls in two hit men to silence her. Although she doesn’t realize it right away, Alex does know about a piece of evidence that can help establish the victim’s time of death, and nail Rollins — unless his killers get to her first.

Much of the action takes place on fictional Chicora Island, just off the coast of Charleston, S.C. Though the name is fictional, there are many such actual islands in that locale. The name Chicora, from a Native American tribe that once lived in the area, is also commonly found there.

Ellis does a fair job with the setting, slipping in details here and there, where they’re needed to understand a scene.

Alex stuffed her sketchpad and pastels into a canvas tote and slung it over her shoulder, then started out for the beach. Yesterday’s rain left a veil of mist over the landscape, wreathing it in mystery, and she hoped to capture the atmosphere in her drawings before it burned off.

She hurried. Instead of her usual route along the hard sand by the water, she cut across the road and through the trees toward the sheltered cove where her tree spread its welcoming arms.

There are some nice hints here and there, but I love this part of the country — southern and mid-Atlantic coast — and would’ve liked a little more.

What I thought could’ve been done better: Very little. Time of Death is a professional presentation that hits on all cylinders. My only suggestions are going to be unique to my own personal tastes.

First, as I’ve mentioned, I would’ve liked a little more description of Chicora. From the hints Ellis offers, it sounds like a wonderful, windswept little sandy piece of paradise, facing the great gray Atlantic on one side, and… well, you get the idea. Part of why I read, anyway, is to visit exotic locales like fictional Chicora. That’s not to say there isn’t any description at all. Ellis does what’s needed. But I would’ve like to have experienced the setting in the same three dimensions Ellis bestows on her characters.

Also — just a minor observation — the leading man as war-veteran is awfully common, in my experience. I don’t mind it — I’m retired Navy — but it seems like a shortcut to sympathy, sometimes. Not that it doesn’t work, which is why I guess it still gets used.

The only other thing is Alex’s “psychic artistry.” I liked it, and it’s a different take on psychic crime-solving abilities, but in this particular story, it seemed peripheral. Alex could’ve easily been a non-psychic sketch artist with almost no change to the story. I felt like that interesting character trait didn’t quite carry its weight in the narrative.

Really, the only reason I mention these minor crits is because I’m on record saying there’s always something that could be improved. Ellis earns high marks even in these areas, as you can see in the next section.

What I thought was good: As I’ve mentioned, Time of Death is a polished professional novel. I’ve also already mentioned the wonderful job Ellis does with her characters. The writing itself is tight and verbal, filled with wonderful figures of speech and turns of phrase. Here’s a typical passage showing Alex at work, drawing the scene of Rollins’ murder of his partner — which she doesn’t realize is a murder scene until later.

The bleached skeleton of a tree lay on its side, smooth and ghostly in the fog. Thin light from the morning sun touched the trunk, giving it a shimmering, ethereal glow. She began drawing, selecting pastels without conscious thought. She worked steadily, intent on capturing the scene before her.

When she was satisfied, she replaced the used sheet with a fresh one and shifted so she could see the old pier. The last wisps of mist hung there, creating the image of a translucent walkway floating above the water. The fog hid the broken board— senseless violence. She sketched without thought, her hand moving automatically over the paper. The pier faded from her vision as her fingers flew. A face, swollen and distorted, took shape under the charcoal.

She blinked, startled by what she’d done. Not the mist-shrouded wooden structure, but a dead face. The face that belonged to yesterday’s body, so misshapen she couldn’t tell if she’d ever seen it. Shaken, she ripped the paper off her board and crammed it into her bag. Later she’d examine it, think about what she’d drawn. Now she wanted only to get away.

Ellis doesn’t shy away from violence, and handles it well. Here, punchy and childlike ex-boxer Jelly, Rollins’ bodyguard and driver, tries to save Alex from the two hit men, Hunnicutt and Vargas. He’s blissfully unaware that his boss wants her dead, a sweetly ironic plot development.

Struggling for balance, Alex stumbled toward the side of the road. A hand snaked out and grabbed her. Hunnicutt.

“I ain’t goin’ after you again.” Those pale, flat eyes bored into her.

Locked by the man’s iron grip, Alex turned her head away and watched the two men circle each other, her heart pounding hard enough to shake her.

The knife flashed. Jelly dodged, but the knife sliced through his shirt, nicking his chest. He stepped in close, swinging both fists.

Vargas backed away, slashing at him, but the big man blocked the knife with his jacket, then feinted right while Vargas was off balance.

Jelly landed a solid left, slamming the man’s abdomen, and followed with a hard right to the jaw.

“Unnh.” Vargas grunted as his head snapped back. Holding his hand to his mouth, he turned his head and spat. Jelly charged, and they came together, their momentum carrying them to the ground. They grappled, rolling across the road. Vargas’s blade flashed in the waning light before Jelly knocked the knife from his hand.

A thin red line welled on Jelly’s right arm. Alex gasped, clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle her scream. She couldn’t distract him. The red line widened, ran down his hand. She twisted in Hunnicutt’s grip, kicked at his knee. He jumped back but didn’t let go, twisted her arm till she screamed.

“Do that again, I’ll break it.” The sound of a second car distracted him. A white SUV rumbled across the bridge. Hunnicutt called to Vargas, “Goddammit. Get up. Let’s go.” He tossed Alex toward the car like a sack of trash.

Note the vivid verbs, active voice and varied sentence lengths, all hallmarks of a pro.

Overall: Time of Death is a carefully plotted romantic thriller, filled with a full spectrum of finely crafted characters, from sympathetic to loathsome and every shade in between. Ellis’ tale is fast-paced and action-packed. If its paranormal aspect and setting description aren’t quite as central as I would’ve liked, Time of Death is still an entertaining, suspenseful read from a top-notch professional writer.

Good job, Ellis!

Coming up

Alone by Martha Fawcett
Ascent of Blood by Elizabeth Marx
Super by Princess Jones
The Naked Room by Diana Hockley

And for sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thrillers, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords, and the newly published sequel Rogue Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!



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Verliege by Micheal Rivers

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


That said, here is my honest opinion of Verliege, a story of a haunted castle, by Micheal Rivers.

Characters: If there is a main character in this story, it is the castle Verliege itself, named for its location near the fictional German town of Verliege. A parade of characters, human and spectral, run through its mysterious passageways, grand chambers and secret rooms, each with his or her own point of view, but all are overshadowed by the ancient castle.

One of the most interesting characters is Adrian Bolt, author and historian. As the castle’s most recent owner, Adrian is our entree into Verliege. Convicted of killing his wife while living in the castle, the imprisoned Adrian relates his tale to a psychiatrist, James Pellitere.

Micheal does a nice job with all his characters, defining them through description, dialogue and deed.

Adrian was small in stature, barely reaching five feet nine inches. Adrian’s reputation in James’s field made him larger than the man who sat here now. Nothing about him spoke of being a brave man, or for that matter a calculating killer. The neatly trimmed hair and tailored clothing only added to the air of mystery.

Plot: A congressman recruits psychiatrist James Pellitere to investigate whether historian and writer Adrian Bolt has been wrongly convicted of murdering his wife while the two lived in Verliege castle. While interviews with Bolt provide tantalizing clues to what happened in the haunted halls of the castle, the answers can only be found in a visit to the castle itself.

Setting: The setting is an ancient castle outside the fictional German town of Verliege. Here’s the town as described by Adrian in his talks with James.

“The village of Verliege is a sleepy little village straight out of a fairy tale. The streets are very clean and remind you of a roost for peasants during the days of feudal lords. Many of the houses date back to the early sixteen hundreds. The architecture is very hard to define. It would be my best estimate to say the average home consisted of five to seven rooms, with high ceilings and large fireplaces.

“In the beginning we found the local townspeople to be very friendly and polite to strangers. They did not show curiosity outwardly as I thought they would. We were treated as though we had always lived there.”

Adrian’s first encounter with the castle seems understated, with no hint of what’s in store.

“In the distance it stood before us, tall and proud in the morning light. We could hear the birds singing in the trees, and an old spotted dog came to greet us as we neared the entrance. Seeing the castle standing before me is a sight I will never be able to put out of my mind. Stepping back in time is an understatement.

“For me the castle was a curiosity, and I longed to see what lay in store for me behind the stone walls. Alicia wanted to tour the grounds before we went inside. I relented and we started to walk the grounds in search of all things ancient and tacky.”

As the story progresses into the castle, it begins to come alive, almost a character itself.

“The fourth floor of the castle had a way of keeping my interest. The walls were a combination of stained wood paneling and plaster. Not at all like the plaster that is used today. I felt as though I were living in another time. The glass panes in the windows were all original, held in place with lead. A rarity, I can assure you. If I was to compare this castle with the bulk of the others around the world, I would say it was surprisingly well lit during the daylight hours.

“There was no draft of any kind on this floor, and yet there were times when my curtains seemed to take on a life of their own. I would pull the curtains closed and minutes later they stood open as if I had never touched them. I dismissed this also, knowing I was starting to forget things I had done while I was working in there. Small, insignificant things at first, and later it began to progress.

What I thought could be done better: Occasional lapses in grammar such as wrong and omitted words were a bit disconcerting. For instance:

“How did you know that I wrote out these questions last night and that we would reverse rolls today?” Should be “roles.” And, “James had questions needed to be answered.” Adding “that” between “questions” and “needed” is the simple fix.

I also found the narrative wordy in places. “He picked up the phone and ordered a sandwich and coffee for him to enjoy while he finished his work for the night.” Maybe just “He phoned for a sandwich and coffee.” The next sentences let the reader know James is working into the night.

As the story moves from interviews with Bolt into an on-site investigation of the castle, personalities of the investigators begin to change. This is apparently because of the influence of the malign forces operating in the castle — or is it because some of the characters were simply opportunistic? My money is on the malign forces, but I would’ve liked that clarified a bit so I wasn’t left wondering “Why in the world are these characters suddenly behaving like that?”

What I thought was good: I enjoyed all Micheal’s characters, particularly Adrian Bolt. His first-hand account of the castle’s phenomena that begins gently but increases in severity is excellent. It reminded me of the literary ghost stories I read as a boy, where some resident of an asylum would recount the terrifying haunted house experiences that drove him or her mad.

The second half of the book takes us from the realm of hearing about the castle from Bolt to experiencing it through the eyes of Pellitere and his team of professional investigators. In this section, the book is less literary ghost story, and more Hell House, if you recall that excellent book by one of my writing heroes, Richard Matheson.

The castle is a dangerous environment for reasons that become clear as the narrative proceeds. Micheal does a good job of maintaining a sense of looming dread throughout this part of the book, in part because of the excellent set-up in the first half. Of course, ghostly phenomenon is the story’s star.

James used his flashlight just long enough to note what was around him. He spoke into the air, trying to provoke a spirit to make contact with them. “I wish to speak with any spirits here with me tonight.”

Silence dominated the room.

Carl followed them in, guiding them with his visual in the camera’s eye. Carl spoke softly, “A chair just moved to your right, James.”

James turned toward the area Carl where was pointing. “Thank you for letting me know you are here. Can you move the chair again for us?”

The air became charged with energy, and the room began to fill with an awful stench. It reminded James of a rotting corpse combined with garlic and vomit.

Without warning the chair lifted five feet into the air and was hurled at James with a force beyond his comprehension. Carl yelled, causing James and Weis to hit the floor in an instant as the chair barely missed crashing into them.

I also liked the fact that much of the phenomena Micheal uses in his tale is consistent with the literature of psychic investigation. For instance, many of the castle’s discarnate personalities are evidently held from moving on by more dominant entities, a paradigm familiar to investigators.

Overall: Verliege is a legitimately spooky tale of a severe, even murderous haunting in an ancient castle. Its heavy atmosphere of foreboding and dread easily overcomes minor flaws of wordiness and bad grammar. The action is both creepy and violent, gradual and sudden. In its depiction of a place where the spectral intrudes into the physical, and humans attempt to deal with discarnate entities, Verliege is a classic ghost story.

Good job, Micheal!

Coming up

Time of Death by Ellis Vidler
The Permeable Web of Time by Martha Fawcett
Ascent of Blood by Elizabeth Marx
Super by Princess Jones

And for sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thrillers, check out my own novel American Goddesses on Amazon or Smashwords, and the newly published sequel Rogue Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!



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