Asmodeus: The Legend of Margrét and the Dragon by Brooks Hansen

Asmodeus: The Legend of Margrét and the Dragon by Brooks Hansen
Publisher: Star Pine Books
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi
Length: Full (272 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

…Here again, his natural figure crouched beside her in the dank darkness of the cave, watching her in silence as she slept, struggling with cravings which were new to him, both tender and violent, and which he could only really compare to hunger… (from ASMODEUS)

On the cusp of the Great War, an even more pitched battle is waged in the furthest corner of the Nordic highlands, the final chapter of a centuries-old rivalry, pitting a troubled bloodline of thieves, journeyman, and politicians against the last and greatest dragon of the hemisphere, Asmodeus.

Until now, the source of this antagonism has been a single gemstone, the fabled shamir, whose history traces to the coffers of King Solomon. The present clash, however, has been sparked by the emergence of an even more desirable, more defiant, and more powerful force than that.

Inspired by the golden legend of St. Margaret, Brooks Hansen’s Asmodeus is a masterfully woven tapestry of history, myth, and fantasy, in the tradition of J.R.R.Tolkien, Bram Stoker, and C.S. Lewis. By turns a romance, an adventure, and the darkest imaginable Gothic, his tale is also, as seen through the eyes of the maiden Margrét, an unflinching exploration of our divided nature — what makes us beasts, what makes us human, and what makes us divine.

Mr. Hansen offers a retelling of the legend of St. Margaret of Antioch. In his version, we get “the other side of the story.”

He explains how the dragon (Asmodeus) originally loses his special jewel (the shamir) and how the family that stole it from him regarded it as something almost sacred; something to be protected for all time.

Centuries pass and it’s the early 20th century– and a young shepherdess named Margrét comes to the attention of the Provost of the area, and he steals the shamir from his brother in order to use it to seduce her.

The book is well-written and the author tells a good story– I say “tells” because it was like reading a story from mythology. There’s plenty of detail, and we get to see what the various characters are thinking, but I didn’t really get the sensation of being lost in any of the characters.  The story-telling was a little distant for me.

The story itself is very interesting, however. It has some moments of slowness as the author sets up the story, but once I got past those areas, I really enjoyed the story itself. And there was some beautiful, lyrical writing.

One thing the book accomplished was to awaken my interest in St. Margaret herself… I would like to learn more about her. And, I will be looking for more of this author’s books.

Pedal by Louis K. Lowy

Pedal by Louis K. Lowy
Publisher: Panoptic Books, an imprint of Assent Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Inspirational
Length: Full Length (301 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Forty-nine and single. Fired from her lifelong passion: teaching music. Stripped of her self-worth. Can she reclaim her life through bicycle racing?

Joanne Brick’s thirty years as an elementary school music teacher evaporated into the rising sea of layoffs. A lifetime of dedication gone. At forty-nine, single with an ailing mom and bitter divorced sister, the future looked bleak. Family relationships soured as conversations moved to “the lettuce zone”-cold and crisp. Then one day, while cleaning out the garage for a yard sale, inspiration struck as she dusted off an old long-forgotten bicycle. And when she took her first ride she knew it was time to sink or pedal. “Onward! That was the answer that had eluded her earlier. There was dignity in that word. There was hope.” Never a sports fanatic and sorely out of shape, Joanne was barely able to ride straight, but she took up bicycle racing because it added purpose to her life. “Joanne increased her own speed. The wind whipped her face. The whirring of the spinning spokes and chains rose in pitch as she spun faster. She was flying again, beyond failed careers, spurned lovers, regrets, and mistakes. She spun even quicker. Her breath came in swift, hard grunts.” She pedaled past unemployment, failed relationships, family drama, and career loss. Her life began to fill with new friends, an inspirational Desert Storm vet turned cycling coach, and a sleek new physique from all the training. Then she ran into a brick wall in the form of Sheila Dominary, a women’s bike racing adversary. Will Joanne regain her confidence as she pedals toward redemption, romance, adventure, and life beyond unemployment? Pedal is an inspirational journey. It is a contemporary story that deals not only with family relationships, but also with life’s turning points and how ordinary people handle them.

When you lose everything you’ve ever worked for, what is there to push you forward again?

Joanne Brick loses her career as a music teacher after thirty years due to the district budget cuts. What is even worse is “music teacher” was her identity. Joanne finds herself out of a job, without money and at a loss as to who she is any longer. Joanne finds herself in a struggle that she never expected-to identify her inner passion and recollect her life.

Louis K. Lowy does an amazing job of showing how devastating life can be as well as intertwining how amazing life can be. Joanne is focused on the big picture, but like many of us, can miss out on what is happening in the right now. When life shakes her up, Joanne keeps pushing forward towards the goal. When the unthinkable happens and then the unimaginable happens shortly after that, Joanne proves that she is a fighter and refuses to give up.

Louis K. Lowy draws the reader in with a simple plot, to see Joanne put her life back together. Yet, what truly happens is that the reader becomes one in Joanne’s life, feeling her exuberance in training and then the crushing defeats that life hands her. The reader cheers for Joanne’s success and cries when she is down. All of this Louis K. Lowy draws in vivid detail, causing the reader to fully understand and see the life of Joanne Brick being shaped.

The ending of the book is one that many would not have imagined. Yet, when we look back at our own personal lives, we are often astonished to see where we are from where we began. This story is simply that, astonishing. I urge you to pick up a copy of Pedal and see if you have what it takes to make it to across the finish line!

Secret Crush: The House of Morgan by Victoria Pinder

Secret Crush: The House of Morgan by Victoria Pinder
Publisher: Love in a Book
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full length (254 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

For some, joining the FBI is a long-term goal. For billionaire John Morgan, joining the Bureau is a stepping stone to proving his father is culpable for his sister’s death. After his estranged father dies, John is forced to return home and face the ghosts of his past. That proves to be more difficult than he could have ever imagined.

Alice Collins lives a peaceful life. As a farmer’s daughter, she knows what it’s like to work hard for what you want. After losing her best friend under inexplicable circumstances, her world viewpoint shifted until her small town sensibilities convinced her to attend Mr. Morgan’s funeral.

Soon, the past and the present collide and Alice is caught in the crosshairs. John comes to her aid, complicating matters for both of them.

Can a handsome billionaire on a vendetta truly fall for a small town girl or does he have something else in mind? Can a small town girl, if she gives her heart to him, ever fit in the House of Morgan?

John Morgan, the rebellious son of the House of Morgan, loses his motivation when his father dies—John can’t bring a corpse to justice. He returns home seeking answers but soon finds himself struggling to protect the rather naïve Alice Collins whose life is in danger because of him. The problems of his dysfunctional family take a back seat as he concentrates on security for Alice who has a longtime connect with the Morgan family.

Secret Crush is a clean, easy-to-read manuscript that allows the reader to cruise right along with reading. The plotting is meticulously done and the characters all have distinct roles to play. However, even with lots of dialogue, much of the action and emotion is told to the reader rather than shown. Consequently, I never became involved like I usually do in a story of suspense, mystery, and love.

I did feel the need to finish the story to find answers for the many mysteries. As I continued, I found a real surprise about who was willing to do murder for money. But here again I felt I wasn’t allowed to know what changed that character from defending the law to being willing to break the law—there just had to be more than money for such a drastic change.

The love story had the conflict and the undeniable attraction that shepherded John and Alice through these conflicts in attention-keeping ways, taking them to their happy-ever-after. However, the story, even for a book in a series, ended with too many unanswered questions. I felt as if I had not finished reading the book.

I imagine these questions will be answered in future books in this series.

Into the Void by Emma Stein

Into the Void by Emma Stein
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Historical, Satire
Length: Full Length (215 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Rose

The country of Anglina is teeming with social upheaval, and its officials have found an unlikely national hero in a philosopher and social activist named Horace. The Anglinian government has appointed the effeminate, irreverent, and stubborn scholar to undertake a journey around the world to learn the secret of other countries’ success. Unfortunately for Horace, most of the societies he visits turn out to be drastically different from what he expected, and he repeatedly sends scathing but witty reports about his travels and the people he encounters. At the end of his journey, Horace encounters a series of communes whose inhabitants welcome him into their ranks and open his eyes to more a liberal and egalitarian way of life.

Into the Void is a very interesting book—consisting of letters from Horace to Addie detailing Horace’s visits to the different areas around Anglina to see if there is anything he can learn that will help clear away the rot that is present in their own land.

Each of his letters can be seen as satirical commentary on our own ways of living. In this it reminds me very much of Gulliver’s Travels. Where Swift examined governments, Stein puts human relationships and ways of living under the microscope.

The letters are interesting in themselves and, even though I’m not normally one to re-read books, I think I will make an exception here. I am interested in rereading several of the letters to dig a little deeper into the meaning behind it.

In addition to the foibles of the human condition that Stein provides, the letters also give us insight into Horace and his relationship with Addie that was quite interesting to discover.

Good job, Ms. Stein. A masterful achievement!

Murder Most Yowl by Quinn Dressler

Murder Most Yowl by Quinn Dressler
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Short Story (134 pgs)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Cat-sitting is a dangerous business.

Cameron Sherwood turned his back on law enforcement the night his investigation led to the death of an innocent gay man. Now Cam spends his time running a business that caters to his favorite animal, cats. But when Cam stumbles upon the body of a friend while feeding her feline, he can’t walk away. Dealing with a sexy yet stubborn sheriff, a matchmaking sister, and a terrifying blind date, Cam must somehow track down a killer, all while keeping the cats around him fed with his gourmet cat treats.

Cameron thought he’d left crime scenes and murder investigations behind him in his previous life. Owning a small store famous for his home-made cat treats, Cameron was determined to live a different style of life now. Until he discovers the murder of his client when going to feed her cat, Mr Muffin Top. Sherriff Jake O’Neill was not impressed by Cameron’s past, nor did he want or need any help with his investigation. The two men, however, continually bumped into each other and they both became more annoyed each time until they each realised they’d have far more success working together than in opposition.

I really enjoyed this book. I found it had an extremely strong mystery plot – the vast majority of the story was Jake and Cameron trying to solve the murder. Their relationship progresses very slowly, starting initially as them being quite antagonistic toward each other and butting heads with sparks flying. I loved the pacing, slow enough to really see and experience how Jake and Cameron slowly turned to each other and watching their relationship flourish. The murder mystery plot was also excellent to my mind. While I admit I guessed some of it fairly early on, there were plenty of red herrings and fake-clues which made me question my assumptions. Solidly written, it kept me totally hooked right to the end.

While there were more than a few steamy kisses, readers should be aware that there wasn’t really anything exceptionally erotic in my view. There is a single, brief M/M sex scene between Jake and Cameron right near the end of the story. While the bedroom door is definitely left open it’s not particularly explicit and the whole scene is quite brief, albeit deliciously written. Readers used to heavy erotic romances might not feel as if this is a “full on” erotic romance, and particularly readers interested only in the sexy, steamy side of a M/M relationship might find that this plot-focused story doesn’t tick the right box for them.

Personally I loved this book – a real, proper mystery story with a lovely hint of sexiness and a good, well-worked M/M relationship. I really enjoyed this and will happily read more by this author.

Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder

Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Biography
Length: Full Length (261 pages)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Gene Wilder was one of the great comic actors who defined the 1970’s and 1980’s in movies. From his early work with Woody Allen to the rich group of movies he made with Mel Brooks to his partnership on screen with Richard Pryor, Wilder’s performances are still discussed and celebrated today. Kiss Me Like A Stranger is an intimate glimpse of the man behind the image on the screen.

In this book, Wilder talks about everything from his experiences in psychoanalysis to why he got into acting (and later comedy-his first goal was to be a Shakespearean actor) to how a Midwestern childhood with a sick mother changed him. He writes about the creative process on stage and on screen, and divulges moments from life on the sets of the some of the most iconic movies of our time. He also opens up about his love affairs and marriages, including his marriage to comedian Gilda Radner. But the core of Kiss Me Like A Stranger is an actor’s search for truth and a thoughtful analysis of why the choices he made-some of them so serendipitous they were practically accidental-changed the course of his life.

There’s so much I didn’t know, but I do now… since I’ve read the rest of the story.

Gene Wilder is more than just a mildly eccentric comic with fantastic timing. There’s the cynical side and the manic side, but he’s more dimensional. This book showed the good, the bad and the human side of him.

I’d loved the work of Gene Wilder since I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child. For the longest time, I thought of him as Willy Wonka and the man who helped Gilda Radner while she battled cancer. Trust me, there is so much more to him.

I loved how he told the stories of his childhood. It wasn’t all roses and comedy. He spent time in a military school and worked hard to make his parents proud. He dealt with the death of his mother and trying to find his way as an actor. Talk about taking the long road…he certainly did.

He shows his human side as well in this book. Some actors don’t want their past revealed. He talks about his struggles with women, his adopted daughter, balancing his acting life with his inner demons and finding real love in his life. Wilder holds nothing back. I could relate to some of his experiences and respected him more as an actor.

The stories about his movies injected a human quality to them, as well. He’s not just an image on the silver screen but a person. I gained a lot of respect for him.

If you want a book that will make you laugh, cry, think and love…then this might be the book for you.

Three Modern Shorts: The Park Stories by K. Kris Loomis

Three Modern Shorts: The Park Stories by K. Kris Loomis
Publisher: Lililoom Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (22 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What happens when a distraught teen and a whacky old woman meet in the park? How about a couple that weaves tales about spies and incurable diseases? Or when a father and daughter are presented with the opportunity to get to know one another better under unusual circumstances?
In these three modern short stories, author K. Kris Loomis offers us glimpses of universally shared moments in everyday relationships and life. They are humorous, thought provoking, and written to be read in one sitting.

Small dramas unfold at the park every single day.

In “Lovely Horns,” an old woman named Muriel struck up an unusual conversation with a troubled teenage girl, Lucy, who had a strange problem. Muriel thought she might have a solution for it. It took me a while to decide how I wanted to interpret the problem and the solution. There were several different ways to look at both of them, and that made for a fascinating reading experience. I especially liked how the final scene was written. Not only did it give me a nice sense of closure, it also fit Muriel’s offbeat personality beautifully.

There were some parts of “Friday Afternoon” that I had trouble understanding. While I really enjoyed the funny tales Paul and Angie told each other about what they imagined the lives of the other people at the park had been like, I found it hard to relate to these characters themselves. The hints about what was actually going on between them were so subtle that I was never sure that I was accurately understanding the subtext in their conversation. It would have been helpful to have a little more information to work with in those scenes.

The complicated relationship between Jimmy and his adult daughter, Carley, in “The King Stomper” made me curious to know why things were a little strained between them and what would happen to them next. Watching them interact with each other answered enough of my questions to keep me satisfied, but their chat also made me think of more topics I wished they’d discuss. This story ended up being my favorite on in the book because of how good it was at exploring these characters’ personalities and challenging me to come up with my own theories about why they behaved the way they did.

I’d recommend Three Modern Shorts: The Park Stories to anyone who has ever wished they could peek into a stranger’s life for a moment.

Hellfire by Jeff Provine

Hellfire by Jeff Provine
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Full Length (206 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Locomotive fireman, Nate Kemp, uncovers a conspiracy around the miraculous Newton’s Catalyst, a powder that makes fires burn hotter than they should—secretly releasing the fires of Hell. Now, more is beginning to slip through, and the Rail Agency tries to tuck him away in a mental institution. Nurse Ozzie Jacey helps him escape. They must warn the capital, Lake Providence, before Hell literally breaks loose.

Hellfire is a Steampunk novel with all the steam, smoke, coal dust and dirt that steam engines bring. Gloriana cannot exist without its steam engines for trains, mills and other commercial engines. Newtons Catalyst is used to enhance the output. Railway fireman Nate Kemp finds the side effects of using this chemical are disastrous but those in charge will do anything to keep their secret.

I found the beginning of the book confusing and had difficulty keeping my attention focused. The story hopped from character to character and none of them seemed to have any depth. I’m glad I kept reading though as half way through the book the story picked up. Until this point the reason for the monsters and what made them so terrible had not been clear.

Then the excitement built with each passing chapter, making me want to find out what was happening, and how it would be resolved. The conflict between good and evil evolved and the character strengths deepened with every wave of tension. Good joined ranks to fight against the impossible odds of the Rail Agency marshals and their bodyguard hunchbacks, but these are only the frontmen. To beat the monsters Nate and his companions must find who is behind the monster invasion..

A good conclusion to what eventually became a clever steampunk story.

Legacy of Truth by Christy Nicholas


Legacy of Truth by Christy Nicholas
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full (358 pgs)
Heat: Sensual
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Popppy

Set in late 18th century Ireland, Esme must grow up quickly in small, isolated northwestern town. Her parents are leaving for America, abandoning her and her sister to fend for themselves. As she struggles to find her place, she finds it difficult to keep hold of what’s left that’s precious to her.

Once married and in a new town, Esme’s only friend, Aisling, helps her through difficult times, as her Traveler husband stays away longer and longer plying his trade.

While Esme has had some comfort in her small family, she must now find comfort on her own, as her treacherous sister tries stealing the family heirloom to sell, a brooch reputed to have mystical powers, which had been left to her by her grandfather. Esme must learn to cope with her dwindling family and growing despair in order to keep the brooch safe.

Richly detailed and well written, Legacy of Truth is a treat for fans of historical fiction.

This is not a book for someone looking for a light read. The author has loaded up this story with a remarkable amount of historical details. I found I could only read a few chapters at a time and then needed to stop and give my poor brain a rest! I was fascinated by the tale, though, as I’m not overly knowledgeable about the time period in Ireland (like the fact that Catholics couldn’t buy land at one time, for instance). I really enjoyed the learning that went along with the plot.

There was a very slight paranormal twist involving a magical brooch, but for the most part this is just really historical fiction. I admit I struggled to get involved at first. We meet the family and not much happens for the first few chapters. Truthfully, I have a low tolerance for books that take time to find their footing, and had I not been reading this for review, I might have stopped. I’m glad I didn’t–and if you enjoy historical fiction, I suggest you continue on, too!

The author does a good job investing the reader in the characters, but I was surprised how my opinions of just who was “good” and who was “bad” changed as I turned the pages. So well done! I did struggle a little with the ending, because I really prefer a truly happy one, but this turned out the only way it could have, I think, and it wasn’t exactly unhappy either. Times were difficult then, and the author injected a certain amount of realism in her story.

All in all a satisfying historical read. If they made history in school this interesting, everyone would pass with flying colors!

Turbo Jetslams: Proof #29 by Jass Richards

Turbo Jetslams: Proof #29 by Jass Richards
Publisher: Magenta
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (126 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

You ever have a neighbour whose behaviour is so mind-bogglingly inconsiderate and so suicide-inducingly annoying that you just want to ask him, in a polite Canadian way, to please stop? TurboJetslams isn’t like that.

Jass Richards’ new novel, TurboJetslams: Proof #29 of the Non-Existence of God, tells the tale of one person’s pathetic and hilarious attempts to single-handedly stop the destruction of a little piece of beautiful Canadian wilderness by the increasing numbers of idiots who couldn’t care less.

A cottage by the lake, peace, quiet and embracing nature. Wouldn’t we all like to be able to do this? Vic had saved hard for ten years and at last achieved her goal. A cabin on the edge of Paradise Lake. She settled down to live a life of bliss and this lasted for fifteen years while she made the cabin her own. Then modern day life caught up with her. Jetslams, speedboats, ATVs and all the noise associated with them came to Paradise Lake as sections which had stood vacant for years began to be sold along with the noise of new houses being built.

I found this book totally absorbing. I smiled at Vic’s attempts to persuade her neighbors to respect other people but when these failed dismally, she took the law into her own hands.

Vic did all the things we wished we could do when faced with similar situations. How often have people wished they could sink someone’s speedboat because their noisy races intruded on peace and quiet? An afternoon bird watching spoiled when loud music frightens away the birds. A peaceful night on the deck watching the moon and stars reflect on the water spoiled by idiots careening around throwing empty beer cans into the water. There are ways to stop this, but such attempts usually result in a visit by the police.

Vic’s actions weren’t legal and at times they were lethal, but it seemed every time she got rid of one hazard, another reared its ugly head. The book has to be read from beginning to end. I mean I had to read it as I needed to know if she succeeded in recovering her peace and quiet or did she have to move? Good book, unusual topic but well written.