Indie Book Review: Without Benefits by Nicole Tone

I have a confession to make. Well, a couple of confessions.

First, the illustrious Nicole Tone is my cousin. I did buy my copy of Without Benefits, though, because I am a staunch believer in supporting authors I know by contributing to their sales.

Second, Without Benefits is definitely not my typical read. Women’s Fiction, is not really something I am all that familiar with. I am more of a fantasy, science fiction, horror chick, so as a result, I am not confident that I fully ‘get’ this story.

Alright, confessions are done and so without further ado, here is my review of Without Benefits.

Emma is living a life she doesn’t quite fit in with. She has a job that she’s good at, a boyfriend, Connor, who seems to dote on her and a comfortable apartment in a posh neighborhood in Seattle. She’s convinced herself that this is the life she wants, but there’s still something just at the edges of her dream come true that haunts her. After 9/11, Emma moved from NYC to Seattle to attend school at the Conservatory. Her real passion is playing music, something that she hasn’t touched since graduating ten years previously. Her decisions in life are all thrown up in the air with the sudden re-emergence of her college crush, Owen, and his request for her to play with him in the Symphony.

Now, I stated before that this was not my typical read. There were some things that I didn’t quite understand as far as Emma being in the upper reaches of middle class. The feel of the story was different than what I am used to and I liked it. It was an intriguing window into a society that I am not at all familiar with. It was a page turner because Nicole did a good job at generating a sense of investment in her characters. There were some things I hoped she’d go into more detail with like the interactions of Emma and her friends, the decision to partner with one of her friends on a project, and so on.

One of the downfalls of this story is that I don’t quite understand why the main character made the decisions that she did. I can safely say that I would not have made those same choices, but that is also the beauty of getting into another person’s point of view; it makes you re-examine yourself and your own reactions. The character of Emma had some interesting thought processes to hook the reader, but some of her reactions to other characters caused a few great moments of built up tension to fizzle. These moments left me feeling a little unsatisfied. At the same time, some of the lack of a reaction was what drove me to keep turning the page; there had to be a bigger reaction to all of the drama at some point. As a fellow writer, I further confess that there were some plot points that felt a little forced to me, still this may be a result in a differences in story-development styles.

I have conflicting emotions about the ending of this story, but in the spirit of not giving away too many spoilers, I will not address them here. Get your copy of Without Benefits on Amazon and tell me what you think of it! We can have a book discussion! Also, check out my cousin’s website at



Indie Book Review: The Scary Girls by JD Kaplan

I recently had the pleasure of reading JD Kaplan’s The Scary Girls. The Tucson Festival of Books was where I was picked up a copy of not only The Scary Girls, but also JD’s wife’s book Unmasked (more about this one later).

The Scary Girls is a Sci-Fi modern fantasy that centers around Trick, a guitar player that was just dumped by his girlfriend. Heartbroken, Trick auditions for and joins another band of beautiful, otherworldly women that he affectionately calls the scary girls (viola! Title). It becomes quickly apparent that the scary girls are not quite human. There are small hints that Trick may not be fully human either, but exactly what he is isn’t readily apparent.

The themes of this book seem to be family, acceptance, and a bit of self-discovery.

I love how Celtic mythology plays a role in this story. It’s a mythos that isn’t too widely known or regarded and the use of it makes me happy (except for the description of the Morrigan). Also the vivid descriptions and the overall concept are stunning.

I do feel that this story could have benefited by being written in third person instead of first, however. The reason for this is while there are amazing opportunities to do a self-discovery story line in first person, in this particular tale, there are too many other elements that get in the way. Also, there’s a lot of internal monologue that gets repetitive at times. This results in a more tell, don’t show vibe from the story telling perspective. If it were in third person, I feel this would be cut down quite a bit.  Having the main character explain everything and react to everything around him doesn’t quite lend itself to the conclusion of the book; it betrays too much emotion and feeling.

There were some bits that the pace dropped off and left me a little bored. Alternatively, there were also some parts that I was confused as to what purpose they served. It seems that the scenes in the dreamside are more in reference to another book by JD (Waking Dreams: the Torment of Colin Pierce) than really having anything to do with Trick’s tale.

The ending was not what I expected, and I was pleasantly surprised at it. That being said, I do think that elements of it could have been executed a little more precisely and hinted at earlier on in the book. Red Herrings abound, but there is a lack of foreshadowing that would really balance it out.

All in all, The Scary Girls has a compelling story line. The characters are diverse and there’s great potential with their dynamics together. I think the characters themselves could be fleshed out a little more and taken to a deeper level, but overall, they drive the plot forward effectively.

If you are interested in experiencing The Scary Girls for yourself, you can find it at



Writers Helping Writers: Cultivating Your Book Idea

There are you are, minding your own business, walking down the street when BAM! It comes out of nowhere. The best idea for a novel EVER! You have to get it written down somehow, there’s no way this idea would be bad! The world NEEDS this story!

We’ve all been there. We’ve all had that genius story idea that would be perfect. But how do you get from incredible lightning strike from your muse to published work? Well, this blog series is aimed at the tough in-between times of idea and publication. We will start where every novel starts and that is the idea.

Ideas, especially story ideas, as a general rule are not fully formed. Often times they come only in bits and parts and it is up to us to string those bits together to generate a decent full-blown novel idea. When you have that spark of an idea, write it down and don’t just stop there. Ask questions of it. What if scenarios. Who are the players? Keep a record of what you discover.

Sometimes not all the answers are apparent, either. This is where novel ideas require some patience. It takes time for an idea to evolve. It takes careful cultivation in an information dense pocket of your mind. The way to create such fertile ground that is to learn new things constantly. Always expand your horizon. You never know if what you are reading about is really an aspect of your story in disguise.

Keep adding to your idea over time. Don’t let it just sit in the corner, keep playing with it in your thoughts. It’ll tell you when it is done growing. Talk about it with people you trust. Sometimes someone else can give you a new perspective or ask the right question that will spark a growth spurt of this idea.

Don’t fret too much if your idea isn’t wholly original. With 7 billion people in the world, it’s almost a guarantee that there are no ideas that have not stemmed from somewhere. That doesn’t mean stealing someone else’s work and calling it your own though. It means to start with a common theme and then look for ways to make your version unique.

Save all of the things that don’t quite fit too. I keep a file of “story bits” on hand for all of the ideas and tangents that I manage to capture as I am daydreaming and thinking.  When I am working on a new idea, I will go through that file to see if anything fits. You never know what you will need for the next idea you have.

Happy Writing!


Phoenix Comic Con and the Struggle of Independent Creators

Azra is taking a break from his parenting blog this week to allow me to speak about something that is near and dear to my heart: Independent Creators.

Phoenix Comic Con is this week. It is the biggest show we (Five Smiling Fish and Hellbat Publications) do all year. We worry, we prep, we stress about having the right product and enough product to sell to the hordes of people turning out for the event.

It’s really hard to do when you are an independent creator. You have to somehow capture the imagination and the attention of passersby enough to make them stop and take a closer look at your wares. That’s why so many people do fan art: popular characters and stories already told have a HUGE fan base. That ironic picture of Harley Quinn and that reimaging of Stitch is what draws people in.

But what about your own original ideas? What about your original characters and story lines? In all the madness of pop culture today, it seems that originality is only good for twisting what is already popular into a new product or image. It’s disheartening when your original creations are passed over for yet another super hero logoed item.

So many creators that attend Phoenix Comic Con and other events like it hoping to build their fan base. They want to connect with the public and have their work known and appreciated.

It takes a lot of work and even more courage to put your creations out for public consumption. Believe me.

I tell you this to highlight the struggle these local artists and businesses go through. In our instance, the crafts we make, the plush, the perlers, the tails, the ears, the keychains. . .  all of it was a way to pay for our real dream: creating our own publishing company and getting our books out.

Now, we are fighting to get our original content out there and create a fan base.

It’s almost like screaming into the void.

 So while you are out having fun with your friends and showing off your elaborate and impressive cosplay design, stop by artist alley and take a look at some original creations. Compliment what you like, maybe even buy a piece. Most importantly, go and look and recognize all the work and all the guts it takes to make something original and put it out there to see.

                Happy Hug an Indie Creator Weekend!


                PS- Five Smiling Fish and Hellbat Publications will be at AA529 and AA531. Stop by and say hi!