Ellie reads fiction

30 Jul 2015

Friday Favourites # 11: Sandra Schwab

After a short summer break Friday Favourites feature is back. Please welcome to the blog Ms Sandra Schwab, writer of historical romance, lover of cake and tea. Her book recommendations are more than curious to me and I ended adding a ton of books to my TBR pile. 




Friday Favourites


1. Favourite place
Gosh, this is a difficult question. The place I have the most visceral reactions to is Waldkirch, a small town in the Black Forest, where my family lived during my primary school years. The town is surrounded by low mountains covered with dark forest, and the sight of them does strange things to me. There is a very strong yearning inside of me to return to that place of my childhood. But I suspect that this yearning is in large parts due to nostalgia.

Apart from that, my most favorite place in all the world is probably Oxford in England. When I was 22, I spent three weeks there and fell in love with this beautiful, old, golden city. The many wonderful bookshops and museums are an added bonus. I could spend years in the Pitt Rivers Museum, an anthropological museum, staring at all the wonderful and weird objects on display. 

I learnt the word "slug" in that museum… 

2. Favourite food and drink
Now that one is easy! I LOVE cake (I also love baking, which is…useful *g*). One of my family's favorites is red wine cake: it's rich and chocolatey and oh so good! It's not a very good cake for summer, though, so as a summer cake, I really, really like Victoria sponge with a raspberry jam filling or with a filling made of mascarpone and lemon curd (homemade! the stuff you can buy typically tastes like dishwater). Yum!

As for my favorite drink, I love tea. I like a cup of plain black tea in the mornings or when I need a little down time. In addition, I've lately become obsessed with mint infusion, made with fresh mint leaves. It's so refreshing, even when hot, and it also makes a wonderful ice tea. And there are so many different kinds of mint! It's awesome! 

3. Favourite music/genre/artist/song
I don't listen to a lot of music these days, but I grew up immersed in classical music: When I was little, I went to music school because my Mum thought this would be a nice way to make new friends when we moved to the Black Forest right at the end of my kindergarten years. As a result, I took piano lessons from about age 6 or 7 to age 19. From the time I was very young and saw a production of a children's version of The Magic Flute, Mozart has been my favorite composer. There is a lightness in much of his music that is simply irresistible.

My piano teacher during my teenage years, when we were living once again in Frankfurt, often had free or cheap tickets to concerts in various venues in the area, which is how I ended up seeing my first classical ballet. I only realized when I arrived at the concert house that I was about to see a production of Swan Lake. Surprise! Not knowing anything about the story, I firmly believed it would have happy ending — after all, it's a fairy tale, right? Well, I was in for a rude awakening! I just couldn't believe it when the curtain fell and that was it. Oh gosh! To make matters worse, I was crying buckets when the lights came on again. Gah!

Despite the weepy parts, Swan Lake has remained my favorite ballet, and my favorite version of it is, hands down, Matthew Bourne's "all male" Swan Lake. His swans are such powerful creatures, and when the Stranger, clad in black leather, struts into the ballroom in Act 3? Oh. My. Gosh. *swoons* 

A few years ago, I also discovered my love for old musicals from the 1940s and 50s. I particularly like Gene Kelly as a performer. His rendition of "Singing in the Rain" is just magical, and his performance with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Away is so charming.

4. Favourite movie/TV series
I adore Studio Ghibli films. Adore, adore, adore them. I love the aesthetic of the films, the lush landscapes, and the story-telling. My favorite is probably My Neighbor Totoro, closely followed by Whisper of the Heart and From Up on Poppy Hill. 

5. Favourite hobby besides writing, if you consider writing a hobby
Since last winter I've been dabbling in 3D art — and I love it so much! I'm a very visual writer, and I've started to use the images I create to develop story ideas. I also like sketching, and I usually take a sketchbook along when I'm visiting a new-to-me place. Sketching is such a great way to explore a new city or new surroundings. It helps you to take note of the little things, and it's a fantastic conversation starter because a lot of people will stop and talk to you.

Favourite books — A Selection

Anything by Rosemary Sutcliff. She's been my favorite author since I was eight, and she made me fall in love with British history. I particularly like Blood Feud, The Eagle of the Ninth, Frontier Wolf, and Sword at Sunset, though this book ripped my heart out. 


Anything by Dorothy Dunnett, another favorite author of mine. What she does with language is just mind-boggling. If you want a long, epic series of historical novels, try The Lymond Chronicles (though these might also rip your heart out), but her stand-alone, King Hereafter (yes, this one, too, will rip your heart out), and her contemporary mysteries are also great.


Terry Pratchett is another author I much admire. I love his humor, and I enjoyed many of his Discworld novels, in particular Witches Abroad and Guards! Guards!.


Among my comfort reads are several of Georgette Heyer's novels. I love Bath Tangle, Venetia, The Grand Sophy, and especially "A Clandestine Affair" from the anthology Pistols for Two.


Jacqueline Gilbert is another comfort-read author for me. She wrote for Harlequin Mills & Boon in the 1970s and 80s, so her books tend to be a bit old-fashioned, but still lovely! What I find particularly intriguing is that many of her books are set in the world of theatre. Among my favorites are Poppy Girl (which contains lovely references to Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles!!), Scorpio Summer, and Dear Villain


Author Bio and Links

Award-winning author Sandra Schwab started writing her first novel when she was seven years old. Thirty-odd years later, telling stories is still her greatest passion, even though by now she has exchanged her old pink fountain pen for a black computer keyboard. Since the release of her debut novel, The Lily Brand, in 2005, she has enchanted readers worldwide with her unusual historical romances.

She holds a PhD in English Literature and lives in Frankfurt am Main / Germany with a sketchbook, a sewing machine, and an ever-expanding library.



~~~~
Just in time for its tenth anniversary, Ms Schwab re-released her debut novel, The Lily Brand, which was originally published by Dorchester in 2005

Synopsis 

Troy Sacheverell, fifth earl of Ravenhurst, was captured in France. He'd gone to fight Napoleon, but what he found was much more sinister. Dragged from prison to an old French manor on the outskirts of civilization, he was purchased by a rich and twisted widow. And more dangerous still was the young woman who claimed him.

Lillian had not chosen to live with Camille, her stepmother, but nobody escaped the Black Widow's web. And on her nineteenth birthday, Lillian became Camille's heir. Her gift was a plaything: a man to end her naiveté, a man perfect in all ways but his stolen freedom. Yet even as Lillian did as she was told, marked that beautiful flesh and branded it with the flower of her name, all she desired was escape. In another place, in another world, she'd desired love. Now, looking into burning blue eyes, she knew there was no place to run. No matter if should she flee, no matter where she might go, she and this man were prisoners of passion, inextricably linked by the lily brand.

And while her heart remained locked in ice, his burnt with hate. Would they ever find true happiness?

Purchase links: Amazon / Kobo


Review: Focus on Me by Megan Erickson


Title: Focus on Me (In Focus #1)
Author: Megan Erickson
Date of publication: 21 July 2015
Genre / Themes: Romance / New Adult / MM

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Synopsis


Colin Hartman can now add college to his list of failures. On the coast-to-coast trek home from California, Colin stops at a gas station in the Nevada desert, and can’t help noticing the guy in tight jeans looking like he just stepped off a catwalk. When he realizes Catwalk is stranded, Colin offers a ride.

Riley only intended to take a short ride in Colin’s Jeep to the Grand Canyon. But one detour leads to another until they finally find themselves tumbling into bed together. However there are shadows in Riley’s eyes that hide a troubled past. And when those shadows threaten to bury the man whom Colin has fallen in love with, he vows to get Riley the help he needs. For once in his life, quitting isn’t an option…

Review


It's the second book in the In Focus NA m/m series by Megan Erickson. I liked book1 (review) though I had some issues with it. This one worked better for me - it was a bit darker, deeper in terms of the issues the characters were struggling with. It felt more realistic and easy to relate to.

I love the road trip trope and it worked brilliantly here. It places the characters in extraordinary circumstances forcing them to share  with each other more and much sooner than they would under normal circumstances. It felt a bit reckless and dangerous at the beginning the way Colin decided to give a total stranger a ride but it might be just me being overcautious and suspicious. 

Both Colin and Riley had issues they were struggling with though without downplaying Colin's doubts in himself and sense being a failure, Riley's issues were really serious and the author treated them as such. I loved their interaction - there was a strong initial attraction between Colin and Riley but a lot of secrets. Their trip was made up of a series of adventures on the road but each one had a deeper meaning to both of them and the pressure was buildin until it came to a head at some point.

Ms Erickson explores some serious mental/physical health issues with Riley and I really think she did it in a very caring and thoughtful manner. I felt all the insecurities and fears tearing Riley and I could related to the concern/love/protectiveness Colin felt for him. I like how they acted like grown-ups and sought help. Their love for each other helped Riley get better but it wasn't presented as a magic cure. Serious issues need professional help.

Another aspect of the story I appreciate is that there were no truly bad/uncaring/downright cruel families in this story. Both Colin's and Riley's parents were supportive in their own way, they loved and care about their children and it was refreshing to read a story where the characters' issues were not presented as the result of them having dysfunctional families.

Overall this is a sharper, edgier story of two people becoming too dependant on the other, coming to rely solely on the other person for them to move on. Colin has come to accept that he is a quitter, that he just gives up when the going gets though. His relationship with Riley shows him that he can stand up and fight for the things that matte to him. He feels good because Riley needs him but at the same time realises how wrong this situation is both of them.

We see more of Justin and Landry and I like their role in the story despite the fact that Riley's letter to Justin are not my favourite plot device. The happy end for both couples still shows that staying healthy and being in a healthy relationship was a work in progress for everyone.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / iTunes 

28 Jul 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Burn It Up by Cara Mckenna

Waiting on Wednesday is a book meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and it features books that we are eagerly awaiting to be released.

Title: Burn it Up (Desert Dogs #3)
Author: Cara McKenna
Genre: Contemporary romance, Bikers

Release Date: 3 Nov 2015
Add on Goodreads


Pre-order links: Amazon / Kobo




Synopsis

After a decade spent chasing shadier pursuits, Casey Grossier has come home to the badlands to settle down in Fortuity. Vowing to put his days of dirty money behind him, he’s cleaned up his act and become co-owner of Benji’s Saloon. But despite his efforts to be a better man, he can’t shake his crush on his sweet-faced bartender, even though the woman screams trouble.

Abilene Price hopes she can outrun her mistakes and build a safe, respectable life for herself and her baby. So she’d be wise to keep her distance from her boss, Casey, and the rest of his roughneck motorcycle club, the Desert Dogs. But she just might need their help. The return of a violent figure from Abilene’s past ignites a powder keg—and it’s only the beginning…\

*** *** ***

Why am I waiting for this? - I'm a big fan of Cara McKenna's books and I have been following this series from the start and enjoying it very much. I'm looking forward to Miah's story (which will come last) but in the meantime, Casey is so cute and totally lost soul and I'm excited to see things work out for him.


Check my reviews of the previous books in ths series:
Drive It Deep (Desert Dogs #0.5) - 4 Stars
Lay It Down (Desert Dogs #1) - 5 Stars
Give It All (Desert Dogs #2) - 4.5 Stars


Review: Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell


Title: Sutphin Boulevard (Five Boroughs #1)
Author: Santino Hassell
Date of publication: 31 July 2015
Genre: MM romance, gay ficiton

Santino's links:
Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads 
Add on Goodreads 

My rating: 4.5 Stars


Synopsis


Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.

Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.

When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.

Review


I still haven't finished ICoS series co-authored by Santino Hassell and Ais (I'm almost there though) but I was super excited when I got the chance to read Mr. Hassell's debut contemoporary mm romance and dropped everything to start it. It's the first of a series of stories set in New York and my reaction can be summed in the succinct I LOVE IT.

It's a raw and gritty story powerfully told. It felt to me more like gay fiction than rtaditional romance and I very much appreciate that the focus is on Michael's journey, including love but not exclusively.

The writing is brilliant, engaging and true-to-life, draws you in the story and never lets go. There is intensity and action and twists and turns that keep you on the edge all the time. It's a rare thing for a romance story to be so intense, a true can't-put-down book.

The story is told in 1st person POV (Michael's) present tense. It gives us an unlimited access to his thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes and presents everything and everyone through his, sometimes biased, perspective. We get a good feel of his best friend, colleague, partner-in-crime, lover Nunzio but for me this is Michael's story. Nunzio is his rock, loyal, always there, 100% supportive.

Mr. Hassell draws these intriguing characters in all their complexity and their relationships. They are all multi-faceted, diverse but a mix of basically good people making mistakes, fumbling around, a little lost but also occasionally making the right decisions, being supportive and understanding, helping each other and finding moments of bliss and harmony. Michael's journey presents an exploration of the realtionships of a modern gay man in NY - with his family, his colleague, friends, lovers, with himself.

The story deals with some heavey issues and Michael is not easy to love sometimes though his character is portayed with such deep sympathy by the author that it makes it impossible to feel deeply for him. The problem of addiciton has an important place and I very much like how it was treated, as a serious issue that needs professional help, not a minor character flow or plot device. There is no miraculous cure, for all his love and understanding Nunzio (nor Ray or David) can help Michael until he gets professional help. It took him some brutal honesty and hard work coupled with his friends support.

In terms of romance this is a friends-to-lovers story which really took off with some outside help. I was pleasantly surprised how well David fit into the story and even though I'm not a big fan of menage, the threesome scene worked really well here.

This is not your sappy, over-the-top romance of tender loving, grand gestures and promises of everlasting, undying love. What the author gives us instead is a deep, time-tested love coupled with intense sexual chemistry. There is no artificial angst and dwelling on could-have-beens but a realistic view on life, love and all inbetween.

I loved the supporting characters, the school atmophere, the NY feel, though I have no personal experience of either i felt they were compeling written and made me feel there in the actual story.

My only minor quibble is that the ending felt rushed. I would have love to see more of Michael and Nunzio as a couple and I felt some issues were left unresolved. That said, I'm really excited about the next book, coming out in December 2015. I admit that I was taken by surprise who the next couple will be and I'm very much curious how things will happen between them. 

Pre-order: Dreamspinner / Amazon / ARe

23 Jul 2015

Release Blitz for Truth or Beard by Penny Reid

My to-go romantic comedy author, the fabulous Ms Penny Reid just released her latest book, Truth or Beard. It's book 1 in her Knitting in the City spin-off series, Winston Brothers. Meet one of the twins, Duane and follow his courting of one Ms Jessica James, local math teacher and childhood friend/nemesis. It's bound to be a bumpy ride full of crazy shenanigans (as is the usual modul operandi of all Penny Reid's heroine (and heroes)).

TruthOrBeardBlitz


Tour: Truth or Beard by Penny ReidTitle: Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers #1)
Author: Penny Reid  
Publication Date: July 23, 2015 
Amazon  Nook  Kobo  iBooks

Add to Goodreads



Synopsis


Beards, brothers, and bikers! Oh my!

Identical twins Beau and Duane Winston might share the same devastatingly handsome face, but where Beau is outgoing and sociable, Duane is broody and reserved. This is why Jessica James, recent college graduate and perpetual level headed good girl, has been in naïve and unhealthy infatuation with Beau Winston for most of her life. 

His friendly smiles make her tongue-tied and weak-kneed, and she’s never been able to move beyond her childhood crush. Whereas Duane and Jessica have always been adversaries. She can’t stand him, and she’s pretty sure he can’t stand the sight of her…

But after a case of mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a massive confusion kerfuffle. Jessica James has spent her whole life paralyzed by the fantasy of Beau and her assumptions of Duane’s disdain; therefore she’s unprepared for the reality that is Duane’s insatiable interest, as well as his hot hands and hot mouth and hotter looks. Not helping Jessica’s muddled mind and good girl sensibilities, Duane seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the local biker gang, the Iron Order. 

Certainly, Beau’s magic spell is broken. Yet when Jessica finds herself drawn to the man who was always her adversary, now more dangerous than ever, how much of her level-head heart is she willing to risk? 

Series Description: Everyone in Green Valley, Tennessee knows that the six bearded Winston brothers have been imbued with an unfair share of charm and charisma… and are prone to mischief. Truth or Beard is book #1 in the Winston Brother’s series. Each book is a standalone, full length (110k words), contemporary romantic comedy novel, and follows the romantic exploits and adventures of one of the six Winston Brothers.


About Penny Reid

Author-Photo-Penny-Reid-300x300
SEX! It all started with sex, between my parents. Personally I don’t like thinking about it, but whatever works for you is a-ok with me. No judgment. The sex happened in California and much of my life also occurred in that state until I moved from the land of nuts (almonds), wine, silicon… boobs, and heavy traffic to the southeast US. Like most writers I like to write, but let’s get back to sex. Eventually I married and gave birth to 2 small people-children (boy-6, girl-4 as of this writing). 
By day I’m a biomedical researcher with focus on rare diseases. By night I’m a knitter, sewer, lino block carver, fabric printer, soap maker, and general crafter. By the wee hours of the morning or when I’m intoxicated I love to listen to the voices in my head and let them tell me stories. I hope you enjoy their stories.

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