Seeking Sorrow by Zen DiPietro

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 Seeking Sorrow, subtitled “Guardians of Terath,” a character-driven sword-and-science fiction fantasy.

Characters: In large part, Seeking Sorrow (love that title), is the story of Kassimeigh, a strong, authoritarian woman, who through the course of the story, discovers unsuspected depths of power and emotion within herself.

Kassimeigh — not sure how to pronounce it — “Kass-eh-May,” maybe? — is the gem in a ring-setting of four other main characters, written as an ensemble. Together they create a fine chemistry as they grow to know one another through action and time.

Kassimeigh’s associates include handsome young men Arc, a gallant archer; and Will, a swashbuckling fighting-man or “blade.” Also part of the ensemble — Luc (pronounced “Luke,” I believe), is a middle-aged “manahi,” — a sort of psychic engineer who can manipulate the energy fields known as mana which which permeate Zen’s world of Terath. Rounding out the group is Izzy Gin, a snarky, but good-hearted young woman who is a “reader” — a powerful empath.

Zen does a lovingly detailed job bringing her characters to life in all three character dimensions — dialogue, action and physical description, along with narration of their thoughts and feelings.

Here’s Izzy Gin as seen by Will when they first meet at a museum.

Fine, light blue hair grazed the woman’s jawline in a blunt bob. The unusual shade was surprisingly well-suited to her whiskey-colored eyes and lightly tanned complexion. She was a good bit shorter than he was, and in her mid-twenties, he estimated. She wore a long, casual dress that did not shy away from the curves underneath. His appraisal skidded to a stop when he noticed her wide mouth curving into an even wider smile. Like his own, her gaze remained on the artwork, but she nonetheless had realized that he was studying her. And she apparently found it amusing.

I found Kassimeigh and her four cohorts reminiscent, though not derivative, of D’artagnan and the three Musketeers; and Frodo, with Sam, Merry and Pippin. In a stretch, I could see Luc as a Gandalf-type, though on her website, Zen suggests Luc’s character was influenced by Jean Luc Picard. However, I found nothing less than originality in all of them.

Lesser and supernumerary characters are also finely crafted. These are fully realized beings, and because Zen obviously loves them, I found I did too.

Plot: After the town of Sorrow is suddenly and absolutely obliterated, Magistrate Trewe recruits a team of five specialists to learn what happened and who is responsible. The team’s investigation leads them to the remotest corners of both Terath and their own souls.

Setting: Seeking Sorrow takes place in Terath, a somewhat earthlike world. Terath appears technologically advanced in some ways. There’s a global monorail and electronic communication, but weapons seem limited to sword, and bow and arrow technology. The narrative takes readers through three main areas of Terath — the temperate, garden-like “Mid Lats,” and the northerly, inhospitable lands of Sub-Apex and Apex.

While Zen offers some decent landscape description, her settings don’t get the love she gives her characters. Here’s a glimpse of Apex.

The terrain remained uninspiring even though it shifted from broad, flat expanses to peaks that rolled down into plateaus. The variability of the land in Apex perplexed him. It was always barren, and rocky, and ugly, but sometimes it was mostly flat and sometimes large rock formations loomed up, slowing their progress, and requiring them to navigate around to maintain their heading. At least Sub-Apex had been uniformly flat.

Her interior settings, often reflections of her characters, get more detailed descriptions.

What I thought could’ve been done better: While characters are close to being perfectly rendered, I thought Seeking Sorrow had some minor omissions of clarity and detail. For instance, in the group’s investigation into Apex, Luc senses a “mana signature,” which might be tied to the use of mana in the destruction of Sorrow. Where is this signature coming from? How do they know if it’s good or bad? These questions are not answered, and yet the team feels the appropriate response is to return with a fighting force of 300. Zen’s narrative, however, offers no clue as to why this is an appropriate response, or what the 300 might be up against — until, a little later in the narrative, they do come up against it.

Also, in Terath, Zen has created an intriguing world, but is short on the details of what that world is like. She drops interesting clues here and there, but in the main, I would’ve liked to know more. What for instance, is it like to ride on that monorail? The motorized carts our team uses for transport into the wilderness — I envisioned a sort of motorized oxcart, but would’ve liked some help from the narrative. There are many interesting, revealing conversations over meals, but few hints as to what the food and drink are like.

“Izzy broke off to help herself to another bite of vegetable.” Okay, what’s that vegetable like? Sweet and spongy? Maybe Izzy likes the vegetable’s crunchy, slightly acidic taste? These kinds of minor details, folded into action and dialogue, would help to make Terath as real and alive as the characters it hosts.

What I thought was good:
Zen’s writing is crisp, active and verbal. Her prose is rich with metaphor, simile, personification and other gem-like figures of speech. “He heard an impact, a guttural sound, and a gasp just as the ground broke his fall with a jarring lack of sympathy.”

“…jarring lack of sympathy.” Love it.

While there is a lot of dialogue, Zen handles it well, and it moves the story along briskly. I would’ve liked a little more in the landscape description arena, but Zen’s emotional landscapes are superb. Here’s Kassimeigh, wounded after a skirmish; and Arc, providing unwanted medical attention:

She drew in a ragged breath. He wondered whether she would first tell him her name or thank him for helping.

“You’re a manahi!” she accused. “You healed me!” Her outrage put a flush on her pale cheeks.

“You’re welcome.” He ran the hand not smeared with her blood through his hair. “But you know I’m not a manahi. I have no idea what just happened. I really, really wish I did.”

She pressed her face into her palm. His mind filled with questions about who she was. He touched her cheek without meaning to. When his skin brushed hers, he again felt the tingle he now knew to associate with her.

“I keep feeling that when you’re near,” he told her softly. “What is it?” He knew he shouldn’t have touched her. She was still a justice, no matter what had just happened. He only hoped she’d choose talking to him over kicking his ass.

She dropped her hand. She wanted to look away from him but failed. Her failure to control her reaction pissed her off. She knew he was seeing her now. As a person, not just as a shiv. And what he’d just done . . . The air surrounding her seemed too thick to pull into her lungs.

When Zen does address setting description, it’s good. Here’s the “Apex glow,” the Terath version of Northern Lights.

As they stepped away from the high walls of their shelter, the sky opened to them in a massive expanse of swirling, gleaming color. They walked into the cold air, bathed in a dream world of iridescence.

“Wow,” Izzy exhaled. “I’ve heard of Apex glow but never realized it was so . . .” She failed to find the right word and fell silent. She stretched a hand up toward the sky and her skin became pinkish. She laughed and did a slow twirl in the light.

Arc lifted his hand and it glowed indigo. His laugh of simple delight joined Izzy’s. Not to be outdone, Will lifted both his hands, and they shone an icy blue. “My hands match your hair!” He grinned at Izzy.

Kassimeigh raised her own fingertips toward the sky, and saw pink and purple light dance across her digits. She waggled her fingers slightly, and color wafted around them in lazy whorls. She smiled at the colors dancing around her hands, in spite of the fact that her exposed skin grew quite cold. She ignored the chill. The colorful display trumped the discomfort from elements.

While the ratio of dialogue scenes to battle scenes skews heavily to dialogue, Zen’s two main battle scenes are action-packed and vivid. The second even qualifies as apocalyptic, imho.

Overall: Though Seeking Sorrow might have had a bit more detail about this interesting world of Terath, and a touch more clarity here and there, it serves up plenty of wonders and horrors. The writing is crisp, vivid and action-packed, filled with delightful turns of phrase, and is more than enough to overshadow any perceived flaws.

Zen’s characters are rich, fully developed and sympathetic. Their journey of discovery into themselves, each other, and the fate of Sorrow, are a fine contribution to the literature of fantasy and the quest.

Good job Zen!

Coming up

Verliege by Micheal Rivers
Time of Death by Ellis Vidler
The Permeable Web of Time by Martha Fawcett
Ascent of Blood by Elizabeth Marx

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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A Requiem Dawn by J.L. Forrest

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 A Requiem Dawn, a post-apocalyptic sci fi fantasy by J.L. Forrest.


Characters: A Requiem Dawn‘s characters are detailed and varied, from our heroine Nyahri and the superhuman high-tech alien female she comes to love and serve, Sultah yw Sabi, to sentient insectoid life forms hosted by human and animal bodies, and a terrifying technological demon made of nano-particles.

As a chieftain’s daughter, Nyahri is no princess, or maid to be wooed, but a warrior, huntress and horse-rider. She’s in line of succession to lead her tribe, which appears modeled on 18th and early 19th century native American culture — Arapahoe, I’m guessing — though the story takes place in the far future, centuries after a global cataclysm known as “Eventide.” It’s a world in which humanity and nature have only just begun to reassert themselves.

In Nyahri, through action, dialogue and description, J.L. pens a clear portrait of a superb young woman, dark-haired, freckled, with cinammon skin, who loves and is loved, but will not be owned or reined in — at least not until she meets yw Sabi:

A woman stood before her.

A devil! Nyahri thought.

The devil stood a hand taller than the tallest E’cwn men, her hair blacker than the darkest E’cwn hair. Her opalescent skin glinted. She appeared human but for her coloring, for the long litheness of her arms and legs, for her slender fingers…

“Help me!” the devil growled, grabbing Nyahri’s wrist, the Atreiani’s skin as smooth as sun-warmed, polished stone.

Her hair drank the sunrays, no light reflecting from it. For a moment Nyahri looked into the devil’s eyes— coal irises on black pupils, depthless but for a grieving flood of panic.

A viper’s eyes, Nyahri thought.

J.L. lovingly details every character in the book, from protagonist down to the smallest supernumerary.

Plot: An alien demi-goddess awakes after a global cataclysm 50 centuries before. With Nyahri, who grows to be acolyte and lover, she determines to destroy the rest of her hibernating kind, before they too can wake and re-enslave mankind. But along the way, the pair must help each other survive the frightful perils of a primeval world, and the malignant vestiges of an alien technology.

Setting: The names have changed, but the locations appear to be what was once North America. On their quest to destroy alien citadels where the Atreiani slumber, the pair traverse geography that sounds like the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. Here, they’re escorted by tribesmen from the wooded foothills.

Throughout the day they kept a brisk pace. The trees opened onto the high meadows, and the company broke from the cedars into the open valleys, veering westward on a deep-trodden path.

A path of generations, Nyahri thought, surely the same my father took in his boyhood.

Dhaos knew the high trails, keeping the travelers clear of mires. During the early afternoon they crested a saddle pass which dropped into wildflower meadows. The troop paused, eating and gazing at the gelid peaks, now closer and larger and crisper. Snow plumes whisked from the pinnacles. As Nyahri marveled at the view, Dhaos sat on his heels beside her.

“There is an alpine pass,” he said, pointing, “between those mountains, quite high. We will cross it before the heaviest snows come, or not at all till spring.”

“I have never seen anything like this, never been so much in the sky. It is hard to breathe.”

Settings are one of the stars of this novel, every bit as vivid as the characters, but integrated into the narrative, so as to be contribution and not distraction.

What I thought could’ve been done better: I got nothing here. I think J.L. is a better writer than I am a critic. A Requiem Dawn appears professionally edited; has full, colorful character and setting descriptions; uses active voice and vivid verbs. The novel covers everything on my checklist, and then some.

I just have two minor points. These aren’t even criticisms, just two things I, personally, think might’ve been kind of neat. First, J.L. has evolved an amazing fantasy vocabulary used throughout the book. In a note at the book’s conclusion, he explains the pronunciations — for instance, “Sultah yw Sabi is pronounced Sŭ• ltă ū Să• bē. (Yw combines from ē and oo and shortens merely to ū.)”

I wish J.L. had put a word about this note in the book’s beginning — I would’ve enjoyed the language aspect even more, had I known there was a guide I could consult throughout.

The next one is tougher — I wish there had been a map showing Nyahri’s (pronounced Nī• ăr• ē, btw) world, superimposed over the outlines of North America, as we know it today. The map could trace the journey, and show the major landmarks of the story and the times. Not exactly a writing-thing I know, but would’ve been fun.

What I thought was good: Everything. Dialogue, description, imagination, action — in my opinion, this is a masterful work, as good or better than anything published by the major houses. The narrative is powerful and riveting, but also written with a kind lyrical quality.

Here, yw Sabi uses some sort of alien sonic technology to destroy a band of C’naädii marauders who ambush the Oudwnii tribesmen guiding her and Nyahri through the snowy mountains:

Four more men surrounded Nyahri, one leveling his axe and shouting, berserk and furious. He swung the weapon over his head, stepping forward to drive it through her. She sidestepped but the haft struck her arm, even as she rolled forward and buried her knife in his thigh.

Nyahri cried out.

Three men remained, moving to finish her.

Sound! Furious sound, as at Abswyn but far worse. Deep like mountains’ roots! High like heaven’s ceiling! Like a river-flood it crashed over Nyahri, chaining her intestines, coiling within her lungs. She lay like a straw doll, her eyes wide, her limbs like sand. All the C’naädii dropped like brained cattle. The Oudwnii fell like sacks.

No one fought anymore. No one ran.

In all this forest, Nyahri thought, nothing moves save the breeze and the horses.

Unable to budge, she wondered for a moment if she’d died. But snow chilled her skin and crows called among the trees. The axe-wielder fell against her side, her longknife hilt still in her bloodied hand. The horses stood unaffected, swishing their tails.

Slow footfalls approached through the snow. Sultah yw Sabi slipped the longknife from Nyahri’s hand, pulling it from the man’s leg. Blood darkened the ice, steaming where it spread into the cold white powder. Nyahri felt her limp body hoisted, the Atreiani’s arms beneath her. Yw Sabi carried her clear of battleground, setting her gently against one of the shelters. Then she knelt, caressing Nyahri’s cheek, looking into her eyes.

“Let yourself go,” yw Sabi said, “don’t fight it, lovely one. The scepter cannot kill unless I beat someone over the head with it. Relax. Let the waves take you and the pain will go.”

Yw Sabi kissed Nyahri’s brow. She held the gore-plastered blade in one hand and the scepter in the other, distorted symbols scoring its surface and witch-fire pulsing from it, like heat rising from a metalsmith’s furnace.

Then yw Sabi walked away from her. Obeying, Nyahri abandoned the struggle to regain her body and an intoxicating warmth washed over her. Nyahri wanted to cry, though even her tear ducts refused to work.

Yw Sabi walked to the first C’naädi in her path. She grabbed a fistful of his hair, lifted him like a bag of feathers, and cut his throat from his windpipe to his spine. His heart, still beating, sprayed the snow with blood. She walked to the next man and did the same, and Nyahri knew: Each man is as I am, each can feel, each knows what is coming.

She watched the Atreiani’s face, watched her calmly go about her work as if threshing grain or shearing sheep. She slaughtered the next man and the next. Yw Sabi raised a naked-faced boy from the snow, no more than twelve, his rusty longknife useless. Yw Sabi slit his throat, frowning and watching his life ebb, and then she dropped him.

One by one she slaughtered every C’naädi. The Atreiani spared none.

Nyahri listened to the blood-wet spatters, the gurgling, one after the other. She wanted to scream.

Apologies for the lengthy excerpt, but I think it’s just so good. This one passage has both gentleness and violence, poetic sensibility and brutal prose. It has high-tech and primitive weaponry. There’s battle and there’s slaughter. They create a unity of opposites, that in my mind, verges on the sublime.

And it is easily representative of the rest of the novel.

Overall: The book shouldn’t really be reviewed at Honest Indie. It should be in the New York Times or Washington Post, or at least in Fantasy and Science Fiction. The fact that it is small press — Robot Cowgirl Press — only goes to show what gems there are to be found in the indie and small press community. A Requiem Dawn is a compelling adventure, written with elegance, power, imagination, passion and compassion. In my opinion, a true virtuoso performance.

Good job, J.L.!

Coming up

Guardians of Terath: Seeking Sorrow by Zen DiPietro
by Micheal Rivers
Time of Death by Ellis Vidler
The Permeable Web of Time by Martha Fawcett

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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False Allegiance by E.L. Lindley

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 False Allegiance, a mystery crime-drama by E.L. Lindley

Characters: False Allegiance‘s protagonist, red-haired, impulsive Georgie Connelly, is a documentary film-maker and a Brit. She instinctively knows when things aren’t right, and has an irresistible urge to get to the bottom of said things, and fix them. Alas, before things get fixed, Georgie’s methods usually cause a substantial amount of “deconstruction.” Imho, Georgie gets unfairly blamed for a lot of the damage, which occurs when bad guys react, usually with violence, to Georgie’s sometimes unsubtle probing.

However, Georgie is surrounded by a cast of characters, who do blame Georgie for her tendency to charge in where angels fear to tread. They include her lover, James, and several friends and associates. Critical and argumentative as they are, they generally see that Georgie is right in spotting wrong, and are there for her in the resulting maelstroms, though not without friction. Here’s Georgie and James:

“James, get out here quick! We have to get to the hospital.”
James opened the bathroom door, still wet from his shower and towelling his hair vigorously.
“Sean’s been in an accident, we have to get to the hospital.”
“What happened?”
“He was knocked down by a car. Come on get dressed, we need to go.”
“Yes, now! What the fuck’s wrong with you?”
“Georgie, just slow down. It’s after eleven, we need to call the hospital and check on his condition. There’s no way the hospital is going to allow visitors at this time if it’s not life or death. Plus we aren’t family.”
Georgie stared at him, her eyes cold with contempt.
“Oh fuck off, James. Why don’t you tell the truth, you’ve never liked Sean? Well, I’m meeting Julie at the hospital so you can just do what you like. For your information, he’s in a bad way and he doesn’t have anybody else. You really are a selfish prick sometimes.” James reeled from the force of Georgie’s tirade.
“I’m a selfish prick? Why? Because I am pointing out the obvious, that we are not close family and so the hospital is not going to let us in to see him at almost midnight?”
Giving him a final look of utter disdain, Georgie stalked out of the bedroom, picking up her bag as she went. “I’m calling a cab.”
James began grabbing clothes out of the closet, pulling them onto his still damp body.
“Hold on, Georgie. I’m going to drive you but don’t expect them to let us in.”
“Don’t bother; you don’t give a shit about Sean anyway.”
“Oh stop being so Goddamn childish!” James exploded, struggling with a t-shirt that had become twisted and stuck. They found James’ car and endured a tense, silent journey to West Hollywood.

That’s one of the things I love about Georgie. She doesn’t let common sense stand in the way of doing what’s right. E.L. gives Georgie a description to match. Here’s how one of the cops, Martha Chapman, who gets sucked into Georgie’s unofficial investigation, sees Georgie at first glance — She took a moment to consider the other woman, whose chestnut hair seemed to cascade everywhere, softening a face that was all angles and sharp watchful eyes. “Wild, almost feral beauty,” is another of Martha’s observations of Georgie.

Plot: When Joely, a promising young college, turns up dead of a drug overdose at a sorority party, her mother suspects murder and enlists Georgie to find out what really happened. Meanwhile, Georgie and James’ best friends, Eric and Callie, undergo a catastrophic break up.

Setting: The setting is Los Angeles, but really could be almost any metropolitan area. E.L. offers enough description of immediate locales to orient readers in scenes, but there aren’t any landmark descriptions of L.A., the beaches, sea or the surrounding hills.

What I thought could’ve been done better: False Allegiance, like many indie books, mine included, could stand a look-over from a good proofreader or editor. There are several instances of wrong word — “…he walked straight passed her towards the bedroom.” Should be “past,” of course — is one of the most frequent.

As a sequel — False Allegiance is the fourth novel in the Georgie Connelly series — I felt the story could have used a little more back-story for the returning characters to help the book more solidly stand alone. I read — and thoroughly enjoyed — the first Georgie Connelly novel, Business as Usual, so I had some familiarity with the characters going in. I’m pretty sure the novel’s considerable strengths will tide new readers along, but bringing them up to speed to begin with could only enhance an already enjoyable read.

What I thought was good: The characters of False Allegiance make the book a completely entertaining read. I think there’s maybe two characters who aren’t stubborn, volatile personalities. This results in a narrative that’s constantly popping, filled with emotional fireworks, as the characters argue with, and shout at, each other through sometimes dangerous moments. I know a lot of people like that; the constant bickering, recrimination and disagreement over everything — most spurred by the peppery Georgie — brings an air of almost comic reality to the story. The fact is, in real life, people ARE difficult, and E.L. captures it beautifully.

Georgie opened her mouth, thinking Julie was done but she had been merely taking a breath. “You will never change. I don’t know why I’m even surprised. It was the same with Petrov. You almost got me killed, for Christ’s sake! And don’t even get me started with Jed Monroe.”
Marilyn began patting Julie’s hand.
“Don’t get worked up, darling, you’ll do yourself no good. There’s no point in trying to reason with her. I think it could be some sort of mental imbalance from her father’s side. But then again, her father always spoiled her, indulged her every whim.”
“I am in the room, mother!” Georgie snapped before turning her gaze onto Julie. “And if you’re finished, maybe I could point out that I have made more progress than the rest of you put together.”
“Actually, she’s right,” Eric stated.
“Shut up!” Julie barked at him before whipping back to Georgie. “That’s not the point and you know it.”
“Okay, I’m sorry. There, are you satisfied?”
Sean cleared his throat and tried to sit up straighter, wincing in pain as he did so.
“Listen, let’s move passed all this crap and work out what to do next.”

I think E.L.’s dialogue is wonderful, real, raw and powerful, even when dealing with inconsequentials:

She smirked as she observed Eric already stuffing a piece of pizza into his mouth.
“Glad you still have an appetite.”
“I’m starving, I haven’t eaten all day.”
“You’re a pig,” Georgie snapped, as he devoured the slice in two bites.

I love Georgie, but I’m glad I don’t have to live with her.

I enjoyed the plot and the convoluted way Georgie got involved in investigating the upper crust fraternity and sorority. E.L. has a real talent for showing the messiness and uncertainty of life, giving her narrative a powerful ring of truth.

Overall: Fiery Georgie Connelly is one of the most memorable characters I’ve met, indie novel or otherwise. Her occasionally rough language, her refusal to bow to inhibitions, and her single-minded drive to do what’s right as she sees it, consequences be damned, make for vastly entertaining reading. While the novel could use a bit of editorial polish, it still roars along at a furious pace, just like Georgie, to a realistic conclusion, and what looks like number five in the Georgie Connelly saga.

Good job, E.L.!

Coming up
A Requiem Dawn by J.L. Forrest
Guardians of Terath: Seeking Sorrow by Zen DiPietro
by Micheal Rivers
Time of Death by Ellis Vidler
The Permeable Web of Time by Martha Fawcett

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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Cassidy Jones and the Luminous by Elise Stokes

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 Cassidy Jones and the Luminous, a young adult superhero novel by Elise Stokes.

Characters: Super-powered 15-year-old Cassidy Jones narrates this tale, the fourth novel in her series. Supporting her in her exploits are her best-friend, the mysterious Emery Phillips; and her “kind-of” boyfriend, Jared Wells.

Elise does a nice job with her characters, starting with just enough physical description. Here, Cassidy describes Jared:
Jared had his father’s dirty-blond hair, angular face, and athletic build, but that was where the similarities ended. Where Jared was noble and trustworthy, his father was a snake. He’d left Jared’s mom Eileen when Jared was three. That was all I knew about him. Jared rarely talked about his dad.

and here’s Emery:
Emery was the spitting image of his father. The same jet-black hair, black, intelligent eyes, milky complexion, and chiseled good looks. The only thing six-foot-four-inch Gavin had on Emery was four inches and muscle mass, both of which I had no doubt Emery would one day match. As it was, he wasn’t one of those tall, scraggly high school boys. Emery was mature beyond his years, in more than just physicality.

Cassidy is a solid, grounded, kid, though impetuous. She has a deep sense of responsibility about her powers, and loves her family. Family is a theme throughout the book, and parents and siblings of Cassidy, Emery and Jared all play major supporting positive and negative roles. Elise has a knack for creating interesting characters. Even her minor ones get quirks and characteristics that give them real life as seen and noted by her protagonist.

Plot: A strange aquatic life form, “The Luminous,” imprisoned deep with the earth for eons, has accidentally been set free, and is intent on taking over. Only Cassidy Jones, backed up by her friends and family, have a chance at stopping them/it, and not a very good one.

The story takes place in Cassidy’s hometown of Seattle. There’s not much in the way of tourist details, like Pike Place or the Space Needle, but Elise gives enough setting description to visually frame her story.

Here, Cassidy, Emery and Jared have “borrowed” Jared’s dad’s yacht to go out on Lake Washington. They’re investigating a report of people disappearing into the Lake.

My eyes dropped to dark water below, squinting, trying to penetrate the black. I couldn’t see very deep. Overcast skies hid the moon and stars, leaving only the artificial glare that emanated from the 520 Bridge that linked Seattle and Medina as the greatest source of light. I estimated we were around a mile away. The misdirected beams from the bridge didn’t touch the darkness surrounding us, nor did the residential lights that dotted the shores on either side of the lake.

Setting description, like character description, is important, imho, to help readers “see” the story’s action. Elise does a fine job of bringing home the visuals.

What I thought could’ve been done better: Make no mistake, despite being an “indie” book, Elise is easily a professional-caliber writer. The book itself adheres to the highest editorial standards. I think I found one typo in the whole book — “Why didn’t I thought of it?” she asked herself. That’s it. One typo. Even with professional editing and proofing, that’s a high standard for a novel, beyond many a publishing house book.

The only other thing I’ve got is purely a matter of personal taste, and I can’t say it’s right or wrong. Elise makes some unusual choices for attributives. “And Cassidy doesn’t go anywhere without me,” Emery informed, crossing his arms stubbornly, getting in on the dominance display.

I’m not sure “informed” works as an attributive the same way “said” does, and it has a funny ring to me, one that takes me out of the story for a millisecond. I’m pretty sure it’s grammatically correct, but adding a pronoun after “informed” might make it work better — “…Cassidy doesn’t go anywhere without me,” Emery informed us…

What I thought was good: I enjoyed this novel as a fan of superhero fiction, and as a fan of good, colorful, verbal writing. Elise has a master’s grasp of vivid verbs and active voice that keeps her prose speeding along.

“This is not your decision.” Dad lashed the words like a whip. “You are not her father.” Note the use, in this one snippet of dialogue, of a muscular verb “lashed” and a similie “like a whip.” These and other good writing techniques, all through the novel, make for crackling copy that even editors can appreciate.

But for a reader who grew up on Marvel and DC superheroes, it’s the action that’s the real star. Elise comes through here as well.

The thief directed a flashlight into the hole. He had no clue that he was no longer alone on the rooftop. I slunk up behind him and tapped his shoulder. He started, but didn’t scream or drop the flashlight. The guy was a real pro.

He whipped around. I introduced my fist to his jaw.

The blow snapped his head backward, and his body followed the motion. My hand shot out and secured the harness. The man dropped the flashlight, which tumbled into the hole, but his abrupt stop caused him to whiplash in the harness. A series of pops rippled along his spine.

I winced. I hated the sound of cracking joints.

And I love superpowers. Elise doesn’t disappoint here, either. Here, Cassidy is talking with a friend.

Before answering, I took a moment to categorize what Joe knew and what he didn’t know, in order to avoid revealing too much once again.

He knows that exposure to an undisclosed substance in the laboratory of Emery’s mother Serena had mutated me last October, resulting in ultra-enhanced senses, super strength and speed, and skin that can turn rock-hard. He also knows that I have the ability to learn fight moves just by watching them, and to heal from almost any injury, which might make me immortal.

I grimaced. I tried to avoid thinking about immortality.

While it’s unknown if Cassidy is immortal, I’m here to tell you — she’s certainly memorable.

Overall: Well, 58 years old must qualify as young adult, because I thoroughly enjoyed Cassidy Jones and the Luminous. Elise hits on all cylinders with this novel. The writing is snappy, the characters colorful, and the action is swift. While “YA” is convenient for classification purposes, the novel easily transcends this label and is simply a great fun book narrated by a sympathetic teen protagonist that I can sum up in two words: “Love it.”

Good job, Elise!

Coming up
A Requiem Dawn by J.L. Forrest
False Allegiance by E.L. Lindley
Guardians of Terath: Seeking Sorrow by Zen DiPietro
by Micheal Rivers
Time of Death by Ellis Vidler
The Permeable Web of Time by Martha Fawcett

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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My Prison Without Bars by Taylor Evan Fulks

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 My Prison Without Bars, a psychological horror story of abuse, resilience and ultimately, redemption, based on true events, by Taylor Evan Fulks.

Characters: The narrator of this first-person story has the same first name as the author, underlining, for me, anyway, that at least some of the events have a basis in the author’s personal experience. The characters include Taylor as a baby, a girl, a teen and an adult.

Along the way, she encounters and describes varying degrees of awfulness from family members, acquaintances, strangers and friends. Here’s how Taylor describes herself as college student in the 1980s:

I won’t say I was a raging beauty, at least not fashion-model beautiful, but I didn’t feel the need to hide out until dark, lingering in the shadows, fearing exposure. More like the girl next door— pretty. I had a lean body, good skin, and great hair. Being the early 1980s, I had dark auburn hair halfway down my back as thick and straight as a horse’s tail, perfectly feathered on the sides, then curled and lacquered with hairspray. Gale-force winds couldn’t disrupt my coiffure. At least I had thought so when I started out of the dorm that morning. I had Hispanic genes, so I was able to tan to a toasty brown, with a smattering of freckles here and there. Angel kisses, my mom always said. I had a thin oval face, high cheekbones, and— my best feature— eyes of aqua green. Boobs? I had two. A long waist and athletic legs— thunder thighs, if you asked me—finished off the package.

The personable description with a touch of humor — “Boobs? I had two” — tells as much about Taylor (the character) as the description itself.

Plot: The memoir-style narrative has no plot as such, other than can Taylor, a likeable protagonist, escape what seems to be an endless vicious cycle of abuse. Most of it, such as the sexual abuse she suffered as a little girl at the hands of her step-father, seemed to result from forces beyond her control. Later as an adult, there were times when I almost shouted aloud, “Walk away, Taylor! Don’t give the SOB the benefit of the doubt!”

Finding the strength to do that — the “key” to the prison — is what Taylor’s story is about.

Setting: My Prison Without Bars is set mostly in rural Oklahoma, with episodes that take place in Texas, Ohio, West Virginia and even Daytona Beach, during a harrowing spring break episode. Author Taylor has a talent for description of place, as well as person; here’s her quick look at a small Oklahoma town where her mother gets a teaching job:

However, most of the homes had been neglected, left unkempt. The yards were neither mowed nor groomed. Junk and abandoned cars littered the yards. Torn and tattered curtains, bordered the windows from the inside, while chipped and dangling shutters swayed in the wind.

What I thought could’ve been done better: A few minor typos are about the only thing that gave me pause as I read, other than the egregious behavior of most of the characters. For instance, a minor character, an attorney, is introduced as “Herald Spearman,” but later referred to as “Harold.” I think I marked four such errors throughout the course of the book, but nothing that derailed the reading experience. The only other thing I might’ve suggested is that Taylor use another name for her protagonist. Using a name similar to her own muddies the waters, in my opinion.

What I thought was good: Taylor writes in a conversational, matter-of-fact voice that gives great credibility to the terrible ordeals her main character encounters. As I’ve mentioned, she does well with description, using vivid verbs, similies and other figures of speech to give life and vibrancy to the narrative. Here, Taylor’s (the character) husband has just learned of his father’s death:

The night sky was cold, clear and moonless, stretching like an endless maze of twinkle lights above the monotonous highway as we headed south from Columbus. After the phone call from Stan, I found Tony huddled in the corner of our shower, cold water beating down on him. He moved like an automaton as I got him out of the shower, void of animation. I dried him, dressed him, packed for him, and led him to our car. He did not speak. He barely blinked. I drove, and he stared in a dry-eyed stupor at the black horizon rushing by his window.

When Taylor (the author) uses these techniques to describe the episodes of abuse, her scenes have a terrible, heartbreaking intensity. I couldn’t help but think, as I read them, and as I write this review, that someone is probably going through such experiences even now. I’m betting that kind of awareness is something the author wants to engender in readers — correct me if I’m wrong, Taylor — and she did.

There are several scenes where the grown-up (character) Taylor has to deal with murderous attacks. Author Taylor handles these with a gritty, verbal realism that any writer of action-adventure could be proud of — but in these cases, I hoped against hope that these were indeed part of the fictionalization.

Overall: My Prison Without Bars is both easy and hard to read. It’s easy because of the author’s writing skills and confiding, conversational tone. It’s hard because of the subject matter. And while not every one of Taylor’s (the character) relationships were physically, sexually or emotionally abusive, some of them were cruel just by their absenteeism when she struggled. Her story made me look at myself. Have I truly been there for those I care about when they needed me? I hope so, of course. Having read Taylor’s story and seen the difference some kindness and effort might’ve made in the right circumstances, I’m paying closer attention.

Harrowing, heartbreaking, personal, but ultimately triumphant, this is the story of a fighter.

Good job Taylor (author and character)!

Coming up
Cassidy Jones and the Luminous by Elise Stokes
A Requiem Dawn by J.L. Forrest
Guardians of Terath: Seeking Sorrow by Zen DiPietro
by Micheal Rivers
False Allegiance by E.L. Lindley
Time of Death by Ellis Vidler
The Permeable Web of Time by Martha Fawcett

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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Groovy Cool Writing Techniques by Cinta Garcia de la Rosa

groovyI’m confident that all of us who write regularly, amateur or pro, have thought about the art and craft of writing. We’ve pondered why sometimes it’s so hard to get anything written, while at other times the stories and chapters seem to almost write themselves.

Cinta Garcia de la Rosa has obviously thought it through, and taken the time to set her ideas down in conversational, accessible form. Her new book, Groovy Cool Writing Techniques is a lot like sitting down with a favorite writing friend and talking about writing. Cinta’s cheerful narrative acknowledges the bugaboos that plague us all, from self-doubt to lack of ideas to just not knowing how to begin or end. Then she happily shares fun exercises, examples and encouragement to get the ideas and ink flowing.

Those first words, for instance, often don’t come easy. Cinta provides the “word shaker.” You create a table like the one below, then combine random words from each column to create the first sentence of a story.


I got “Bright winter captivates death quietly with passion.” Maybe not a polished first sentence, but it could easily be a start.

Another way to begin, Cinta says, is with the end. Edgar Allan Poe would likely agree. He once wrote you shouldn’t begin a story until you know the ending. Cinta suggests envisioning a random scene, such as A man gets out of the bus, takes his shoes off in the middle of the street, throws them into a litter bin, and walks away barefoot. Then, write the series of events that leads to this scene.

Cinta calls this “the exact ending.”

There’s also “the general ending.” At the end, my protagonist learns how to say no to others’ demands. What motivates that change? How does it happen? These are the seeds for stories.

Along the way Cinta offers tried-and-true techniques for gathering material and honing the writing edge, such a carrying a notebook and keeping a journal. She talks about observing and listening, but also suggests entertaining exercises for putting observation to work in the service writing.

Groovy Cool Technique #7 Communicating Vessels, was one of my favorites, offering a key to not only observing things around us, but imbuing those things with the emotional content necessary for all art:

Make a list of ten random objects, the first ones you can see from your desk: pencil, window, hard-drive, fireplace, telephone, calendar, heater, dictionary, door, ink. Look for the communicating vessel between you and a pencil, between you and a window… Like the pencil, you also get consumed. Like the window, you open and close too.

Along with observation, Cinta discusses tapping memory, doubts, empathy and impulsiveness to spark our creative fires. She demonstrates how simple, everyday objects can help define characters. Perhaps your protagonist is a teacher? What does she collect? Possibilities are endless, Cinta says. Unopened sugar packets? Porcelain owls? High-heel shoes? Novels with lots of typos? Or maybe she collects razors?

Not only do the characters possess objects, but objects also possess the characters, taking hold of their conflicts and problems, hiding their mysteries , and keeping or revealing their secrets. What if those unopened sugar packets reflect our teacher’s tendency to deprive herself of the simple pleasures of life?

In Groovy Cool Writing Techniques, Cinta deals with issues common to us all, from self-doubt to gathering material, from crafting the first sentence to writing the ending. Along the way, Cinta peppers her narrative with wonderful gems like That’s why the job of writer is so difficult: it requires pushing a tornado through a keyhole without reducing it to a mere breeze. “Pushing a tornado through a keyhole…” Love it. So true, and so hard, but Cinta’s book offers some great clues as to how it’s done.

About the Author

Cinta Garcia de la Rosa

Cinta Garcia de la Rosa

Cinta Garcia de la Rosa has loved the written word since she was five years old and reads at least one hundred books every year. She has a B.A. in English with minors in Literature, Art, and Creative Writing from Oxford.

Cinta is an award-winning author who spends her time in the United States and Spain with her amazing husband. Along with writing, her career encompasses beta-reading, editing, proofreading, and translating Spanish to English and English to Spanish. Cinta has published:

A Foreigner in London (anthology Blessings from the Darkness)
Never Again (under the pen-name Rosa Storm)
The Funny Adventures of Little Nani
Deadly Company
(Rosa Storm)

The Funny Adventures of Little Nani won a 2014 gold medal winner in the Children’s category of the International Readers’ Favorite Book Awards.

Coming up
My Prison Without Bars by Taylor Fulks

Guardians of Terath: Seeking Sorrow by Zen DiPietro

Cassidy Jones and the Luminous by Elise Stokes

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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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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