Reflections on the Boulevard by L.J. Ambrosio

Reflections on the Boulevard by L.J. Ambrosio
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Historical, Literary Fiction, Coming-of-Age
Rated: 4
Review by Rose

Michael’s story continues from A Reservoir Man (2022) where we find him teaching at a university ready to retire. He unexpectedly meets a young man named Ron who becomes his protege and journeys in a haphazard adventure with him throughout America and Europe, each twist and turn of the road bringing unexpected adventures. The journey taken is one of joy, friendship and discovery.

This is the continuation of the author’s previous book A Reservoir Man (reviewed here) and was thoroughly enjoyable. Michael has learned through his life about living his authentic life, and now he has the chance to pass on what he has learned.

Ron is a young man who is drawn to Michael from the first. Even though it took a while on Michael’s side, he recognized a need in Ron. This is the story of their journey – not only in life, but throughout the United States and Europe as well. It’s part memoir, part road trip story told in a stream-of-consciousness style. Not only do we get to take a road trip with two interesting people, we get to see Michael relive a trip he once took, but we get to see Ron learn more about who he is as a human being. And, their platonic life together is bookended by the roadtrips.

I loved the relationship that develops between Michael, an older gay man, and Ron, a straight man. The lessons that Ron learned, that Michael shared, are universal in scope. Not everything is smooth sailing in their relationship, especially when things are discovered but, because of that, it’s a very realistic look at friendship, mentorship, and relationship.

Thanks, Mr. Ambrosio, for a further look into Michael’s life. 4 stars.

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Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Violette Toussaint is the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne, France. Traversing the grounds by unicycle, tending to her many gardens—and being present for the intimate, often humorous confidences of visitors—Violette’s life follows the predictable rhythms of mourning. But then Violette’s routine is disrupted by the arrival of Julien Sole, the local police chief.

Julien has come to scatter the ashes of his recently deceased mother on the gravesite of a complete stranger. It soon becomes clear that Julien’s inexplicable gesture is intertwined with Violette’s own complicated past.

What would it be like to be a young caretaker of a cemetery? What would you learn and experience from this? Violette often ponders the lives of the dead as she looks at their birth and death dates. She has her own issues to deal with as well. She wants to be happy. She is deserted by her husband and loves her daughter; then tragedy hits.

The years roll on as Violette describes her life, her loves, family, friends, and the search for answers. Her narration and insights are written as if a friend were speaking in an elegant way, but she makes many lists throughout the story. Her thoughts and observations offer readers a lot to think about and touch upon many emotions.

The book is layered and complex and crosses time and characters’ perspectives. It starts with Violette appreciating the good she could find in things around her, but the book takes a turn into more serious territory.

It is an intelligent story with cleverness abounding. Turns of action and discoveries will take readers by surprise. The mood is enveloping, and one will be treated to French culture along the way. Why not check out this character-driven tale of a woman with unusual life circumstances and be entertained while being given plenty to think about?

The Forever Heart by Diana Bolianaz

The Forever Heart by Diana Bolianaz
Publisher: Tellwell Publishing
Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance
Rated: 3 stars
Review by Rose

Liza is a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl who comes from a strict Mennonite background. She lives at home with her mother, brother and domineering father. When Liza meets Melvin, a handsome young Black journalist, they fall madly in love. She has to keep the relationship a secret from her family because she knows her father would never approve. When Liza becomes pregnant, her world is turned upside down.

This book reads more like a third-person memoir of Liza’s life than a romance…almost a “as told to” story. The main character shows a lot of growth during the course of the book. The supporting cast are good friends for her, and the story itself is a fascinating look at a young adult from a strict family who is breaking out on her own. There’s the dawning of young love, and also the heartbreak that can also come along with that.

However, the style of the writing is very “tell not show.” There are some editing issues that took me out of the flow of the story. This could very easily be because I was an editor in a previous life, so I’m a bit more sensitive to things than a lot of readers.

When Liza meets Melvin, she falls and falls hard. I liked the way, though, that even though they both fell in love quickly, they took the time to let the relationship develop. Melvin introduced her to his family and other people that helped Liza develop into a strong woman. The book did have some special moments, such as the lessons she learns from the people she meets. For a slow, sweet look at Liza and Melvin’s lives, give The Forever Heart a try.

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Secrets of a River Swimmer by S.S. Turner

Secrets of a River Swimmer by S.S. Turner
Publisher: The Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Rose

As Freddy gazes at the majestic river gushing past him in the depths of a Scottish winter, he’s ready to jump in and end his life. But what happens next is not what Freddy expects. From the moment he enters the river, Freddy starts a journey which is more beautiful, funny, and mysterious than he could have imagined. And through this journey Freddy’s story becomes interweaved with a cast of unforgettable characters who are equally lost and in search of answers. Eventually they all unite in their quest for an answer to the biggest question of them all: will the river take them where they want to go?

In the tradition of inspirational works of fiction like The Alchemist and Life of Pi, Secrets of a River Swimmer is at once a profound exploration into living with meaning and an affecting story of people on the cusp of change.

This is a beautifully written, almost lyrical, account of one man and how the river saved his life – quite literally. Freddy is tired of life – tired of modern living, tired of cell phones, tired of the rat race. He’s ready to give it all up and slips into a cold winter river – to let his life slip away.

And, in one sense, it does just that. It slips away and he is left with so much more at the end of the book than when he started. Between the beginning and the end, he learns about himself, about life, about death, and he makes friends along the way with a very wise fish who has wonderful comments and commentary on life.

This book not only held my attention throughout, wondering what would happen to Freddy next, but it also gave me things to wonder about and things to ponder. It’s magical at times, tragic at times, laugh out loud funny at times. It not only entertained me, it uplifted me. It’s hard to believe this is the author’s first book.

Kudos, Mr. Turner. I will definitely be on the lookout for you in the future. 5 stars.

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Songs to New York by Myrtle Brooks

Songs to New York by Myrtle Brooks
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Genre: Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (131 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

A benevolent woman of quiet mystery who smiles in welcome greeting each time one visits her; whose distinct perfume is remembered long after one’s departure:

Author Myrtle Brooks’ love affair with the Big Apple served in ten allegorical slices depicting everyday people experiencing miraculous events throughout the five boroughs. “The Sanctity of the Mails:” observed in Heaven via the Brooklyn Post Office. A Staten Island-raised engineer who escapes city living, only to find the city within himself. A mysterious floor in a Queens apartment building reachable through attainment alone.

Songs to New York crosses the threshold between impossible and occurrence: “Only in New York.”

Like the pearls of an exotic necklace, these stories each add a touch of beauty to the whole of which they are a part. There are several tales with the theme of life in New York, a wonderfully diverse place bustling with activity and flavored with its unique atmosphere. Reading these stories brings a reader right into this world. The author has excelled at painting a picture of the setting.
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Though each story is different, they all feel so New York. If you don’t know what that is, you will after reading this special collection. Another thing the tales have in common is a sense of magic or otherworldliness touching upon the reality of daily living. It’s an interesting mix. There’s a slight supernatural tone weaving throughout the lives of these characters.

The stories are different from each other though, with a variety of characters and plotlines. Readers will find their favorites and their less-than-favorites among these pages. Most of the stories drew me in, but it really is a matter of personal taste. Each reader will be drawn more to some stories than others.

The first story, The Cyclist, is really charming. A writer and his cute cat have one heck of an adventure. Their story is told with poetic, eloquent writing. There are also down-to-earth scenes and deep ponderings of life. The writing is fresh and expressively creative.

Other stories include The Diamond, a sad tale but filled with hopeful anticipation. It’s about faith. The story entitled The Bar has more of those great descriptions of really life in New York, the neighborhoods, the people, the scenery…It’s philosophical and reflective.

Getting really creative concerning a point of view, we have the story The Earthworm. Faith is a theme, as is respect for life. In The Addressee, we read about an encounter with an angel. In The Request, a little girl gets a quick trip to heaven. We are treated to a child’s magical description. This story is about the meaning of honor.

In the last story, we are treated to the tale of a hard-working family and a nice teenager who is just trying to help his family and others. This story involves a mystery and is good for inspiring curiosity. There is a theme of morality and kindness.

Overall, these are quality stories and very creative. They leave a reader with many ponderings and a smile. It’s like talking to someone with an upbeat attitude who has some wild stories to tell. This is a recommended story collection.

Searching For Meaning in Gailana by John H. T. Francis


Searching For Meaning in Gailana by John H. T. Francis
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: Short Story (94 pgs)
Rated: 3.5 stars
Review by Rose

Gailana is the central island of the world; Aurganots, Reminos, Hindarassis, Pelanese, and Free People, different societies with different customs and values, live in it. Gailana is old, with a history rich in events and civilisations. The mother island has undergone important changes in recent decades, including a devastating war from which the Aurganots emerged victorious. Following this war, Aurganot has become a country of wealth, technology, and power, dominating all others.

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In this fictional first part of The Story in Three Parts, John H.T. Francis tells the story of Levon, a young and sincere soul looking for meaning in a changing world. This short novel will take you on a journey through Gailana, shows you its diversity, and brings you close to many of its human aspects. Events will develop fast on the island, and Levon is about to be in the midst of them.

This author brings us a well thought out treatise on searching for meaning on Gailana, the central island of the world with several different societies living on it. I think it’s more than a coincidence that Gailana is very similar to Gaia, the Greek personification of Earth.

The author takes a look at the role of Story through this small book in three different ways. The first section is about Levon, who is trying to discover the one meaning for everything that people do. In the second portion of the book, the author shares his feeling about Story in in a philosophical way – I have to admit, this was the hardest part of the book for me to grasp my mind around. And, in the final section, we go back to stories and their importance for people.

This book, though short in pages, is long on concept. The idea that all of us are connected by Story and of our perceptions of the world is one to think on and ponder about. I believe it will take more than one reading to fully see everything the author is examining.