A Reservoir Man by L.J. Ambrosio


A Reservoir Man by L.J. Ambrosio
Publisher: Film Valor
Genre: Coming of Age, Literary Fiction
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

A Reservoir Man, critics have hailed this explosive and timely work as “a must-read coming-of-age story of 2022.” Twists and turns further pull the reader in to Michael’s action-packed tale, with powerful themes, from betrayal and family to secrets and identity. “Be sure not to blink because you just might miss a pivotal moment in Michael’s rousing, larger-than-life story.” –R.C. Gibson, Indiestoday.com. “This book is a dream, a gamble, a utopia, even.” — Kalyan Panja, Bookmarkks.

This story spans the years from 1947 – the current time. Part coming-of-age, part an insightful look at one man’s journey through life in a very intense time of history, especially for a gay man.

It makes me think of an autobiographical memoir instead of fiction. The character of Micahel truly expresses the confusion he goes through trying to figure his life out and the pain he feels as he begins losing friends to AIDS.

Michael’s desire is to not be a reservoir man – not to be the kind of person who only does what’s expected of him instead of who he truly is. Michael’s sole aim in life is to find his own truth…and to help others find theirs. He does this throughout his life, and he finds he does some of his best thinking on a bench, watching the sunset. I really admired this character – in all his decisions, his main goal was to do the right thing.

The book was easy to read, and the dates at the beginning of each chapter helps ground the reader. There are some heartbreaking parts, especially the last chapter. But, even with that, the book ends on a hopeful note with the author stating “Non, je ne regrette rien.” (No, I do not regret anything)

Thank you, Mr. Ambrosio, for giving me the opportunity to find out a part of life I did not previously know much about.

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In The Shadow of The Apennines by Kimberly Sullivan


In The Shadow of The Apennines by Kimberly Sullivan
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Womens Fiction
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Rose

An American divorcée. An Italian shepherdess.
Separated by a century, united by common dreams

The sleepy little Abruzzo mountain town of Marsicano seems about as far as Samantha can flee from her failed marriage and disastrous university career. Eager for a fresh start, Samantha begins to set down roots in her Italian mountain hideaway.

At first, the mountain retreat appears idyllic, but an outsider’s clumsy attempts at breaking into the closed mountain community are quickly thwarted when the residents discover Samantha’s snarky blog ridiculing the town and its inhabitants.

Increasingly isolated in her mountain cottage, Samantha discovers the letters and diaries of Elena, a past tenant and a survivor of the 1915 Pescina earthquake. Despite the century that separates the two women, Samantha feels increasingly drawn into Elena’s life, and discovers startling parallels with her own.

What a beautifully written story! I absolutely love both the main characters – Samantha in the present and Elena in the past via the journals Samantha discovers in her new home.

I love the fact that Samantha takes back control of her life after her husband divorces her by completely moving away and trying to create a new life near the Apennines. What a beautiful area! The author’s descriptions make me want to go there myself.

Samantha, although wanting to fit in to the close-knit community, sabotages herself through her writing and finds herself completely isolated during the harsh winter- with only the journals of Elena for company.

The juxtaposition of Samantha and Elena’s lives make for fascinating reading. And I think this book would make a wonderful movie as well. Kudos, Ms. Sullivan! I’ll be on the lookout for more books by this author.

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The Sound Of It by Alison Jean Lester


The Sound Of It by Alison Jean Lester
Publisher: Bench Press
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Su, a divorced mother of one daughter, falls in love with Jeremy, a widowed father of two sons, they want to build a life together, but neither of their houses in Worcester is big enough for a family of five. They decide to build a dream house in farmland outside the city, in which to live happily ever after. For sound designer Su, it’s an opportunity to create an embracing home and heal past wounds of betrayal and loss, while failed entrepreneur Jeremy sees a chance to impress his overbearing father.

But what happens when hidden financial misjudgments cloud the horizon? What happens when some family ties grow strong and others don’t grow at all?

The Sound of It looks at parenting and at step-parenting, when expectations are high, dreams are big, and the Internet is very dangerous.

Dreaming is easier than making a dream come true.

The subplots about social media and Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response videos made this feel like a modern and fresh read. I’ve never read a book that included a character who knew about ASMR before, and was curious to see how it would be covered here. Their reaction to social media and ASMR told me a lot about that individual’s personality and added an additional layer of conflict that kept me reading.

Su and Jeremy repeatedly made rash decisions that left me shaking my head. They struggled to predict logical consequences for their actions or to verify things they were told that sounded too good to be true. I found myself wishing that these character flaws had been explained better. Did both of them have mental or physical health conditions that affected their cognitive abilities and short-term memories? Was there some other explanation for their illogical behavior? How did the author expect her readers to react to these scenes? These would have all been excellent themes to explore in depth and I would have happily gone with a higher rating if that had happened. As it was, though, I found myself shaking my head at their poor decision-making skills even though I otherwise liked them as individuals.

I enjoyed seeing how the relationships in this novel evolved in general. It takes work to blend two families together, and the process won’t always necessarily be a smooth one. The relationships between Su, Jeremy, her daughter, and his sons were probed from every possible angle. It was interesting to compare how the relationships between individual stepparents, stepchildren, biological parents, and biological siblings varied not only between individuals but also over time as they all got to know each other better.

The Sound Of It was a thought-provoking read.

Running Scared by Elizabeth Lowell


Running Scared by Elizabeth Lowell
Publisher: Avon Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Risa Sheridan knows everything there is to know about gold-its history, its secrets, its allure, its perils. Her boss, Shane Tannahill, is addicted to the stuff, having already made the precious metal the theme of his ultrasuccessful Las Vegas gambling establishment, the Golden Fleece. Now an ancient Celtic piece is being offered to Shane for his collection, and the casino owner is hooked. But though she shares Shane’s enthusiasm, Risa is wary — because something about this particular artifact is troubling; something about it says “stay away.”

It is a voice that should be heeded but is not. And the artifact is placing them at the center of an insidious plot in the mad whirl and blinding glitter of Las Vegas.

A whole lot of heat and gold.

I had never read anything by Elizabeth Lowell before this book and I’m glad this was recommended to me. This was a fantastic book. I’m not really into romantic suspense, but this one was a big hit. Lowell writes a spellbinding story and kept me riveted to my seat throughout the story.

Risa is a smart woman, but she’s had hard knocks in life. She knows what she needs to do–she’s the person you turn to when you want a rare piece of jewelry handled. Is it real, is it fake? How old is it? She’s your girl. Shane Tannahill is her boss and is obsessed with having the best gold collection at his hotel in Vegas. It doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome, too.

I liked that there are a lot of threads running through this story. There’s the sort of romance between Risa and Shane, the gold that shows up, the show Shane wants to put on and Risa’s past. Keeping the threads separate and straightened out could be confusing at times, but it definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the story.

If you’re looking for a story that’s a bit breathless, a lot mysterious and even a little romantic, then this might be the one for you. I’m on the lookout for more by this author.

A School of Daughters by Kate René MacKenzie


A School of Daughters by Kate René MacKenzie
Publisher: Red Lace Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Rated: 5 stars
Reviewed by Rose

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

It’s funny how things sneak up on you…

Kate Willoughby is a champion for throwaways—discarded dogs and cats, abandoned horses bound for slaughter, and all creatures great and small. But now it’s Kate who’s alone in a hostile world like a dog dumped by the side of a road. Is there a champion for Kate?

After 22 years of marriage, Kate loves her husband, Brian, with an even greater passion than when she spoke her vows. “My world spins on his axis,” she often says. But when Kate finds a love letter to Brian from Micky, she’s torn between proving Brian’s innocence and nailing him to the wall with his guilt.

Throughout her marriage, Kate has been trusting and trustworthy —to a fault, friends have said. Now, she steals into Brian’s emails and accesses his credit card accounts, phone records, bank statements, friends and activities, discovering the metaphoric iceberg beneath Brian’s affair.

Turning to the one constant in her life, Kate is guided by her family of animals: shelter dog Molly; Premarin horse Quinn; packrat Winston; owls Albert & Victoria; Stubby, the chipmunk; rattlesnake Cassandra; and Phineas, the determined grosbeak. These wise and wonderful teachers, along with a wild menagerie on her Arizona ranch, deliver lessons on life, love, and letting go. But it’s Molly, in a heartbreaking act of courage, who leads Kate back to her true self, before she became lost in love with Brian.

Shining a light on the childhood events and adult choices that, like steppingstones, brought her to this moment, Kate illuminates a familiar and well-worn path. Narrating her story with equal doses of heartache and humor, Kate comes to understand that nothing sneaks up on you that isn’t already here. Learning from Phineas, the determined grosbeak, Kate realizes that even after a devastating injury, you can soar again.

A School of Daughters is a beautifully written, lyrical book that delves into the heart of the main character, highlighting how her current life is rooted in her past, from childhood abuse to the desperate desire for stability at nearly any cost. There is truth here that shines through, and I admire the author for taking her life and sharing it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This story hit me hard, in a good way. I was completely engrossed in the story and could see myself and friends in similar situations. Even after finishing the book, I could not stop thinking about Kate, what she was going through, and how her friends and, especially, the animals in her life not only helped her through the pain, but also taught her important life lessons.

The book skips back and forth from present day to situations in her past with not only her husband, but her childhood, other romantic relationships, and with different animals in her life. It is a revealing look on how a person can be strong and yet still give up parts of herself without even realizing it.

Her journey was heartrending, yet the reader is, in the end, left with a sense of hope that Kate will make it through to the other side. Kudos, Ms. MacKenzie. I will definitely be on the lookout for other books by this author.

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Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ The Akseli by Dianne Duvall, Kirsten Potter (Narrator)


The Akseli by Dianne Duvall, Kirsten Potter (Narrator)
Aldebarian Alliance, Book 4
Publisher: Self-Published, Tantor Audio (Publisher)
Genre: Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Simone has hunted and slain psychotic vampires night after night for hundreds of years and desperately needs a change. When the leader of the Immortal Guardians offers her an opportunity to guard ten mortal women who are venturing to another planet, she dives right in and finds traveling into space and meeting amazing alien races just as exciting as she’d hoped… until an enemy attacks. Simone saves everyone she can before she’s thrust into an escape pod and the ship explodes. Alone, fearing some—if not all—of her friends have been killed, she vows to seek vengeance.

Despite his fierce reputation and propensity for violating the law, Janwar has formed a friendship with strait-laced Prince Taelon of Lasara. When the prince’s ship is destroyed, Janwar joins the massive Aldebarian Alliance-wide search and rescue mission and soon locates the Gathendien ship that launched the attack. An odd thing happens, however, as he and his crew stealthily approach it. The lifeforms inside begin to perish, two or three at a time in quick succession. Much to his surprise, someone else has reached the ship first: one of the very Earth women he hoped to rescue.

Fascinatingly fierce, Simone bands together with Janwar and his crew to search for her missing friends and wreak havoc upon those who wish to harm them. She also widens eyes, drops jaws, and sparks laughter and mischief as she banishes the warriors’ world-weariness and makes each day seem like a new adventure. The friendship that grows between Janwar and Simone swiftly deepens into love. But the enemy warriors they face are tenacious and boast more weapons in their arsenal than the alliance knows. Can Janwar, Simone, and such a small crew vanquish them?

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE!

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) by Terri-Lynne DeFino


The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) by Terri-Lynne DeFino
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

A whimsical, moving novel about a retirement home for literary legends who spar, conjure up new stories, and almost magically change the lives of the people around them.

Alfonse Carducci was a literary giant who lived his life to excess—lovers, alcohol, parties, and literary rivalries. But now he’s come to the Bar Harbor Home for the Elderly to spend the remainder of his days among kindred spirits: the publishing industry’s nearly gone but never forgotten greats. Only now, at the end of his life, does he comprehend the price of appeasing every desire, and the consequences of forsaking love to pursue greatness. For Alfonse has an unshakeable case of writer’s block that distresses him much more than his precarious health.

Set on the water in one of New England’s most beautiful locales, the Bar Harbor Home was established specifically for elderly writers needing a place to live out their golden years—or final days—in understated luxury and surrounded by congenial literary company. A faithful staff of nurses and orderlies surround the writers, and are drawn into their orbit, as they are forced to reckon with their own life stories. Among them are Cecibel Bringer, a young woman who knows first-hand the cost of chasing excess. A terrible accident destroyed her face and her sister in a split-second decision that Cecibel can never forgive, though she has tried to forget. Living quietly as an orderly, refusing to risk again the cost of love, Cecibel never anticipated the impact of meeting her favorite writer, Alfonse Carducci—or the effect he would have on her existence. In Cecibel, Alfonse finds a muse who returns him to the passion he thought he lost. As the words flow from him, weaving a tale taken up by the other residents of the Pen, Cecibel is reawakened to the idea of love and forgiveness.

As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible….

My mind is blown by this novel. How do I even write this review? If you’ve read the synopsis – it’s the best synopsis I’ve seen in many a day. This last sentence, “As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible….” encapsulates the charm, the wit and wonder, and the romance of different levels of love a person can experience. Some loves make you smile, some leave you wistful, some leave you longing for days gone by, and some transcend the physical, making a person better, more content and fulfilled. Love is, or can be, healing. It can transform pain into joy, and can leave a lasting impression, a legacy if you will. This story with the rather long title, The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses), is an unexpected gem that I’m very pleased to have read.

The catalyst for the plot pivots on one person, Cecibel Bringer. She is the sun, and the other characters are the planets and moons who orbit her, and whose influences make the sun that is Cecibel shine brighter and warmer. I honestly can’t get the words out to describe the relationships between her, Olivia, Switch, Alphonse, Sal, Fin, Judi and Richard. The relationships between everyone were delightful, heartwarming and heartbreaking. This novel and the amazing personalities that flavor it kept me flipping the pages and marveling at the humanity of its characters. I cried. I felt. I experienced a myriad of emotions while reading this book. All of that thanks to the writing skills of Ms. DeFino. I mean, the last chapter turned me into a blubbering fool. It was bittersweet, beautiful, touching and a testimony to all the people in the story that worked their magic on Cecibel. It’s a happy ending in its own way. More realistic, I guess, and very well written.

There is romance of a sort within its pages. There’s a story within a story about a romance that was doomed but never died. There is romance from the past that flavors the present, and a gentle romance, like a flower growing in spring, that tender bud that eventually blooms from the love, care, and nurturing it’s given. Cecibel is the flower that blooms in this book.

I’d have to give this novel a spicy rating, not because it’s intended to be a romance in that vein, but because the views into the past showed the characters during some of their passionate interludes with those they loved. Some were wild, like the one between Alfonse and Cornelius – that was a desperate passion, especially since it happened sometime in the 1950s when those types of relationships were frowned upon – and gentler ones from … well, a reader has to make up their own mind whether it was real or imagined, and the kind one expects in a romance story. I didn’t expect to see those particular scenes because of what I’d read up to that point, but for a change, I didn’t find it gratuitous. It was a major plot shift for a certain character. Then there was the story within the story that had the trappings of a typical spicy romance in a Romeo and Juliet-esqe type fashion.

I’m very glad I happened upon this story, that the book blurb grabbed my interest and, although it’s a book I typically would not read, the synopsis had that special something that spoke to me and said give this story a chance. I’m glad I did. I read it in one day and re-read the final chapter at least four times.

If readers enjoy stories that focus on character relationships in all their fallibility, larger-than-life personalities with secrets to hide, wonderful dialogue and a nicely done wrap-up, then please do give The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) a try. It’s a definite recommendation.

Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski


Buzz Kill by David Sosnowski
Publisher: 47 North
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Pandora Lynch lives in Alaska with her single dad, an online therapist for Silicon Valley’s brightest and squirreliest. Homeschooled by computer and a self-taught hacker, Pandora is about to enter high school to learn how to be normal. That’s the plan at least.

NorCal runaway George Jedson is a hacker too—one who leaves the systems he attacks working better than before. After being scooped up by a social media giant, will George go legit—or pull off the biggest hack ever? Not even his therapist knows for sure, but maybe the headshrinker’s daughter…

After meeting in cyberspace, the two young hackers combine their passions to conceive a brainchild named BUZZ. Can this baby AI learn to behave, or will it be like its parents and think outside the box?

With a hilarious and deeply empathetic narrative voice, this elegiac and unapologetically irreverent novel is both humorous and tragic without ever taking itself too seriously.

This novel reminded me of a combination of movie inspirations from the Kingsman: The Secret Service, Thanos from the Marvel Universe and I, Robot. The author took real life events that I clearly recall and cleverly and deviously wove them into a disturbingly fascinating ‘what-if’ scenario that is scarily plausible. Not probable, but plausible.

The story focuses on one main character, Pandora, who, through the author’s descriptions, gave me the impression that she looked like a young Linda Moulton Howe, an American investigative journalist I once saw on an episode of Secret of Skinwalker Ranch. That’s the image that came to mind and it stuck with me throughout the story. There is a secondary character, George, who is pivotal player for most of the tale, and Pandora’s dad, Roger. The other influence in Pandora’s life is her grandmother, Gladys. Those handful of people carry the plot and character development to various degrees.

It’s told in third person point of view from mostly Pandora’s side of things, but George’s perspective is told as well. It was interesting to see the author introduce readers to the main characters individually and slowly pull the strings that brought them all together in unexpected ways.

I saw George get built up, then torn down by an unlikely means. Even when you know the downside of something, doesn’t mean it won’t still happen; even when you say no, something happens to make you say ‘yes’. Those are the kinds of mind games that goes on during the course of the book and some made me pause and think while others I wanted to deny and yet quite a few, like I mentioned earlier, reminded me of movie plots and characters I’ve seen before but in no way are copied in the telling of this tale. It’s all unique, and when the direction of the program that George and Pandora starts to gel, fans of the science fiction genre will probably guess where it’s going, but not how it’s going to end. The thing about George’s character that I questioned was his ‘voice’. Supposedly he was a teenager, but as the story continued, I didn’t ‘hear’ the voice of a teenager, no matter how smart he was, he was still supposed to be a kid. He eventually sounded like a fully grown adult, and that kind of threw me.

I looked up the genre of this book because I had a difficult time trying to choose which ones Buzz Kill fell under. One had humor listed. I did not find this book humorous. Maybe some of the dialogue was cute, and the pop culture references made it relevant and interesting, but at no time was I tempted to grin, laugh out loud or chuckle. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I felt more anxious and worried as the story rolled out. I guess that’s called, suspense. The format is not laid out in a typical storytelling format, it took me a good portion of the book’s beginning chapters to get into the author’s rhythm and style.

What ultimately happens fits perfectly into conspiracy theories I’ve heard bandied about over the last ten years or so. Thing is, with all the advances in technology lately, Pandora and George’s thinking and ideas aren’t out of the realm of possibility. I think that’s why this book is effective. It’s not a horror story, but it easily could be.

Buzz Kill isn’t what I was expecting. Nor is it the type of book I typically read. Honestly, I’ve had this book on my TBR pile for a while; I think it’s because I felt I had to be in a certain ‘mood’ to read it. Guess today was that day as I read all 400+ pages in one sitting. There were times I felt overwhelmed from all the computer tech talk and theories and explanations, and underwhelmed with the ending. I expected it to be more impactful, more emotional or at least a bit more realistic considering the mess the prologue alluded to. I mean, the writing itself was well-done, the family dynamics between Pandora, her dad and grandmother were the easiest parts of the book to read, and I think that’s one of the things that kept me turning the pages. I liked Pandora’s character and I really appreciated her relationship with her grandmother and the reasons why she gave her the Furby. I even liked finding out about the true giver of the blue flowers. The book has its good moments.

Buzz Kill was interesting, thought-provoking, and I think more on point now with regards to the advances in artificial intelligence than when the book was first written. That’s the theme that can easily jump from science fiction to science fact. In both scenarios, I agree with the sentiment of the book – it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and be careful for what you wish for because you may not like the end result. That’s my takeaway from reading this novel. As a cautionary tale, I think this book is well worth reading.

Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann & Lily Williams


Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann & Lily Williams
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Middle Grade, YA, Contemporary, Graphic Novel
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Good friends help you go with the flow.
Best friends help you start a revolution.

Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are fed up. Hazelton High never has enough tampons. Or pads. Or adults who will listen.

Sick of an administration that puts football before female health, the girls confront a world that shrugs―or worse, squirms―at the thought of a menstruation revolution. They band together to make a change. It’s no easy task, especially while grappling with everything from crushes to trig to JV track but they have each other’s backs. That is, until one of the girls goes rogue, testing the limits of their friendship and pushing the friends to question the power of their own voices.

Now they must learn to work together to raise each other up. But how to you stand your ground while raising bloody hell?

A guide to periods, but with friends and not a manual? I’m in.

I wish I’d have had this book when I was the age that I got my period. While I got the cursory explanation at school, this would’ve been a lot more helpful. Periods are normal. They’re something menstruating people deal with. It’s scary when periods show up the first time, but it shouldn’t be. This book helps get rid of the stigma.

Sasha is a younger student at the high school and one day she gets her period. Some make fun of her, but a few girls take her in, help her out and help her feel normal. It’s a common thing that happens at schools all over the place. Abby, one of the friends, realizes there are issues with getting period products at school. There is a bit of a political bend to this story, but it’s not so much to take away from the story. It showcases that there are issues some deal with and others won’t ever understand.

I liked this story of friendship, finding a place to belong, finding a cause and standing up for one’s self. It’s a cute tale and does take the stigma out of getting your period. If you’re looking for another way to talk about this topic, then this might be the right book for you.

September Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Duck For Cover & Other Tales: A Collection Of Short Stories by Barbara Venkataraman


Duck For Cover & Other Tales: A Collection Of Short Stories by Barbara Venkataraman
Publisher: Next Chapter
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Fourteen short stories with a twist, Duck for Cover & Other Tales is filled with surprises.

The Yes Man is about a woman who looks after her elderly father with dementia, only to discover he still has life lessons to teach her. Living My Best Life tells the story of an aging rock star who finds his legacy lives on in a way he hadn’t imagined. Thicker Than Blood is about the dilemmas caused by modern technology when a trio of siblings is asked to make the hardest decision of their lives. The Devil’s Workshop is the story of a young man being scared straight from a life of delinquency by a clever probation officer and an ex-con.

Topical, relatable and just plain fun, these and many other stories in this collection deal with friendship, kinship and the complexities of the modern world, and are sure to leave you with a smile.

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE!