Ellie Reads Fiction

6 May 2016

Review: Live by Mary Ann Rivers

Title: Live (Burnside #1)
Author: Mary Ann Rivers
Date of publication: 21 Jan 2014
Genre: Contemporary romance

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

My rating: 4.5 Stars



Blurb

If there’s an upside to unemployment, Destiny Burnside may have found it. Job searching at her local library in Lakefield, Ohio, gives her plenty of time to ogle the hottest man she has ever laid eyes on: the sexy wood-carver who’s restoring the building. But as the rejection letters pile up, Destiny finds an unexpected shoulder to cry on. With his rich Welsh accent, Hefin Thomas stirs Destiny so completely that, even though he’s leaving soon, she lets herself believe the memory of his scorching kisses will be enough.

Hefin can’t help but notice the slender, confident woman with ginger hair who returns each day, so hopeful and determined. So when the tears start to fall, his silence—penance for a failed marriage—finally cracks. Once he’s touched her, what Hefin wants is to take her back to Wales and hold her forever. But Destiny’s roots run too deep. What they both need is each other—to learn how to live and love again.


Review by Ellie



I read my first book by Mary Ann Rivers, The Story Guy, back when it was released in 2013 and have been meaning to try her Burnside series ever since but as it often happens, I got sidetracked. Recently a recommendation of Live by a trusted friend on Twitter brought this book back to my attention and it was just the right time to dive into it.

Now, having read it in just two days, I wonder what I was thinking waiting so long.

This a tender love story  of a Welshman, stranded in Ohio, the wonderful caring beta hero Hefin and a local girl, rooted in her neighbourhood and her family with the mystical name of Destiny.

I really enjoyed this very introverted, slow-burning but very deep and intense romance. I liked how the author focused on the complexity of life and love in modern times - the efforts it take to keep your family together, the struggles with unemployment and a dire financial situation, moving across the world for the person you love.

Life and love are not simple, they are not just about us but they also affect all the people we care about and who care about us. There are no easy solutions and both Des and Hefin's problems seem real and easy to understand. The struggles they face, the decisions they have to make are unique to them but in a way also, universal to people in love.

The plot is rather simple - what do you do when you meet the right person at the wrong time. How do you make it work? And there is no easy answer but I do believe the right one is really to look into your heart and follow it.

Des had to deal with a lot of family-related stress and problems and grief, oh there was so much grief both characters experienced, that at times their HEA seemed impossible. She was strong and determined in an unobtrusive way, and I very much loved that about her. She is not some super woman  - strong and tough and unbreakable, but she is resilient, just a human being with strengths and weaknesses, insecurities and moments of doubt. 

Hefin was a rare beta hero and I absolutely loved that about him. It made him real, human, someone grieving the failure of his marriage, someone at a crossroads professionally, someone who doesn't want to hurt people but help and care about them. But at the same time he was broken inside, lost and needed the comfort and support of family, home, loved ones.

All this made their romance both intense and heart-breaking and their HEA even sweeter. On the surface the obstacles they had to overcome seemed mostly practical, but the truth is they were buried deep within them and both Hefin and Des needed to find their inner strength and resolve for their romance to happen.

I mostly enjoyed the writing, which is very lyrical and one could say flowery but it worked well for the characters. At times I found it a bit overdescriptive and felt the story needed more action and less brooding and self-doubt but I have come to realize it is just not that kind of story.

If you like tender love stories with lots of angst and self-examination and character growth, I can greatly recommend this one.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / Publisher




2 May 2016

Review: Branywine Investigations: Open for Business by Angel Martinez

I have some exciting news about the blog to share with you. I have a new reviewer joining me. Please meet Edwin, who will be posting a couple of reviews a month. Here is what he says about himself as a way on introduction: 

Hi everyone! I'm Edwin, and Ellie's been kind enough to lend me her space occasionally to share my thoughts. I read far too much, both for a living and for fun, and I'll be reviewing mostly in m/m romance, SF & Fantasy, and the overlap between the two.

And here is his first review. Enjoy it!

Title: Brandywine Investigations: Open for Business (Brandywine Investigations #1-3)
Author: Angel Martinez
Date of publication: 27 April 2016
Genre: MM Urban Fantasy

Author's links:
Add on Goodreads

Edwin's rating: 4 Stars



Blurb


When humans forsake the temples, the gods need to find other employment. Hades opens Brandywine Investigations after his divorce and his subsequent move to the modern world. If he was hoping for boring infidelity cases and lost dogs, he’s sorely mistaken as murder and mayhem find his agency and his extended family at an astonishing rate.

Includes:
Canines, Crosshairs & Corpses: Brandywine Investigations #1
No Enemy But Time: Brandywine Investigations #2
Dragons, Diamonds & Discord: Brandywine Investigations #3


Review by Edwin


First off, it's important to note that this is an omnibus of three previously released long novellas/short novels. Apparently they've been revised and a total of 18,000 words in total has been added, but I'd read all 3 previously and didn't notice huge differences, so if you've read them in their original release it's probably not necessary for you to buy this.

If you haven't read them, though - and shelving counts on Goodreads suggest not that many have - I highly recommend picking them up. The conceit of the series is that gods need human contact to survive, and with the worship of many only pantheons dying out, the gods need to live in the human world and take on occupations to get themselves that contact. The focus of these books is on Greek gods, but various creatures and deities from other mythologies pop up as well. Using myth as a framing device is a good idea, and Martinez does some quite interesting things with it, using the myth framing to justify making some of the stories a bit fairy-tale like and sometimes critiquing romance tropes, and using the modern day setting to critique some of the elements of the myths.

The first story, Canines, Crosshairs And Corpses, sees Hades picking up his life after he's been kicked out of the land of the dead by Persephone. We get quite a pointed comment about how bad on the whole consent thing the classical deities were. To fill up his time and maintain mortal contact, Hades starts a detective agency, Brandywine Investigations. This idea of a detective agency forms the plot drive for the whole series: we get various (in fairness slightly half assed) mysteries that the various characters have to solve. In this case, Hades is trying to find out who is murdering homeless people in his area. He - shock - meets a homeless guy, Tiberius, who he falls for pretty quickly. Instalove usually annoys me, but it fits quite well with the Greek myth-style smitten deity getting with a mortal.

The second story, No Enemy But Time, focuses on Hades' son, Zagreus, and his guardian angel, Michael, who fell from heaven when he fell in love with Zagreus. This story is quite hard, in a way. Bad things happen to good people (though there is a happy ending!), and love doesn't solve everything. In fact, the whole story is a pretty obvious rebuke to the too-common tropes of "BDSM as therapy" and "love as therapy". Michael and Zagreus have a loving kinky relationship, but Michael has significant issues - exacerbated by some nasty divine intervention - that love just can't solve. The fact that they end up with a happy ending despite this I think makes it even more rewarding.

Finally, we get Hades' nephew, Hermes, in Dragons, Diamonds, and Discord. He's the messenger god, and a trickster god, so of course his modern business is in internet comms and digital security. His love interest is Fafnir (yes, Fafnir from the Ring Cycle), who is a dragon slash children's book author (which is adorable!). Fafnir is stealing jewels and collecting a horde, which is bad for his mental health, and Hermes, his cousins, and his uncle try to work out what's causing his kleptomania. At the same time, Hermes is falling for him. And we get an interesting Aesop's fable dynamic here on the value of generosity.

The details of each novella aren't really what make them attractive, though. They're perfectly competent, but it's the aesthetic that I really like. Warm, empathetic, a wink and a nod to the source material, and the occasional laugh. A lot of fun, but unexpectedly brainy underneath the fluff, I really enjoyed all of it. Highly recommended for urban fantasy readers, and recommended for m/m readers who can tolerate a bit of fantasy in their romance.

Purchase links: Amazon /B&N / Kobo / Mischievous Corner Books 


27 Apr 2016

Review: First and First by Santino Hassell



Title: First and First (Five Boroughs #3)
Author: Santino Hassell
Date of publication: 18 April 2016
Genre: Contemporary MM romance

Author's links:
Add on Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb

Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.


Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.


As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.


Review


Third book in the series and my favourite so far. Caleb and Oli's story stands out with its exquisite and powerful writing, great character development, and it is oh, so hot.

In a way it's the hottest book of the Five Boroughs series so far, yet it is also the most romantic for me. Caleb was so unlikable when we met him in the previous books, though I admit I had a soft spot for him from the start. He appeared emotionless and cold, yet his love for David rang true and sincere to me. He just didn't know how to be with someone, how to make them love him. And as this book shows, it all stems from  him not being able to be open about who he is and what he wants. It's uncanny how much I could relate to his fears and uncertainty.

When Oli unexpectedly enters Caleb's life, his whole world gets throw off its axis. Following their relationship develop was such a pleasure to read - sizzling sexual chemistry, repressed desires, shared fantasies, some of them even acted out, some angst and self-doubt, all leading to sharing of secrets and fears and a vision for a future together. 

It was a story of revelations for both of them. As see things from Caleb perspective only which made it a bit more difficult for me to relate to Oli, yet the way he acted with Caleb and later with Aiden (and Jace, and Mere), I couldn't help but fall in love with him.

What I love about this series, and Mr. Hassell's contemporary romances in general, is the complexity of the relationships between the characters he creates. And here I mean all the characters, main and side ones, they seem so vivid and alive and intriguing that I can't help but wanting their to know their stories too.

On the surface, this romance should have been difficult for me to relate to - the setting (the NY super rich) and the lifestyles (somewhat kinky) are quite distant for me and not something I read often. Yet, the intimacy, the personal elements in the romance aspect really spoke to me. Deep down this is a super sexy story but also full of feels and free of judgement, the things I love the most in romance novels. This is a story about figuring out who you are (regardless of your age and background), how to be person who you want to be and also how to be with the person who makes you happy.

Caleb goes on a journey of sexual and personal exploration. I loved how Oli helped him learn to love and not be ashamed of himself and in this process he somehow managed to teach Oli how to accept and cherish the love that had been given to him. 

I like what Mr. Hassell shared in his interview on Just Love Romance, about Caleb realizing that he enjoys his fantasies as such and being able to talk them with his partner but he didn't necessarily needed to have all of them acted out. He didn't go all the way from being repressed and very much closeted about his desires, to being the ultimate party animal either for his own sake, or just to please Oli. I actually don't believe in such fundamental changes and they always strike me an realistic and unbelievable when I encounter them in romance. Caleb grows and opens a lot and ultimately learns to enjoy himself loving someone and being loved, while fundamentally he remains monogamous at heart, a little shy, a little awkward and that's fine. Not everybody can be Oli and there is no need for that. They work perfectly for each otter.

Oli also undergoes his journey though we see less of it (and I so wished we had more insight into his mind). He fights with his own misconceptions about himself, his fear of commitment, his belief that he is not suitable/meant to be a partner a long-term couple.

In short, I LOVED this book so much and urge anyone who likes a good romance with plenty of sexy times and a somewhat brooding, angsty hero to read it! It works well as a standalone, though I'd say it's better to read the first two books, Sutphin Boulevard (review) and Sunset Park (review) because they are just so good!

Purchase links: Amazon / Are / B&N / DSP / Kobo


25 Apr 2016

Review: Act Like It by Lucy Parker

Title: Act Like It
Author: Lucy Parker
Date of publication: 30 Nov 2015
Genre / Themes: Romance / Theatre actors / British

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

My rating: 4 Stars






Blurb

This just in: romance takes center stage as West End theatre's Richard Troy steps out with none other than castmate Elaine Graham

Richard Troy used to be the hottest actor in London, but the only thing firing up lately is his temper. We all love to love a bad boy, but Richard's antics have made him Enemy Number One, breaking the hearts of fans across the city.

Have the tides turned? Has English rose Lainie Graham made him into a new man?

Sources say the mismatched pair has been spotted at multiple events, arm in arm and hip to hip. From fits of jealousy to longing looks and heated whispers, onlookers are stunned by this blooming romance.

Could the rumors be right? Could this unlikely romance be the real thing? Or are these gifted stage actors playing us all?

Review 



It's Ms Parker debut novel and what a delightful surprise it has been! Funny and sweet, well written with a strong British and theatre flavour, this book is perfect happy, pick-me up read for when the times get rough.

I've seen this book talked a lot in the romance community and I'm always on the look out for witty romantic comedies, so I decided to give it a try and I'm so happy I did.

The story is told from dual POV and flows with great ease. It is so distinctly British in everything that I had trouble with some references but nevertheless enjoyed it very much.

In essence, it's a simple fake couple to real couple story but wittily and engaginly told which makes it a great entertainment. This may not be my favourite romanc trope but it was refreshingly done here and I quite enjoyed it. It was coupled with an element of enemies-to-lovers which just made it even more delicious.

Elaine was the type of heroine I absolutely love - strong and smart and independant and witty and at the same time hiding a soft heart and some vulnerability when it comes to men and personal relationships.

Richard started as the guy everybody loves to hate - priviliged, successful but also arrogant and snobbish. The more time Elaine and the reader spent with him, the more open and real human with flaws and weaknesses, he becomes.

The romance is mixed subtly with sarcasm and critism/mockery of some of the values of modern pop culture - media scandals, starlets, celebrities, even the snobbism of the "true" acting on stage as compared with the plebeian entertainment of TV series.

All in all, this is a light, funny and very entertaining and relaxing romance. I highly recommend it and can't wait to see what Ms Parker will come up with next. 

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N


22 Apr 2016

Author Interview: Santino Hassell talking about the Five Boroughs series, writing techniques and life hacks


Author Interview: Santino Hassell talking about the Five Boroughs series, writing techniques and life hacks



ER: Hi, Santino and welcome to my blog! I’m so happy to have you as my guest today!
I want to start this interview with some general questions on your writing.
As someone who has been reading fiction all my life (I even have a degree in literature) but also someone who never had the desire to write, I’m curious how you decided to start writing. And what made you chose romance rather than any other genre?

SH: When I was a kid, I was a journaler. After a while, writing in the journal helped me to develop this narrative style and voice that transitioned to creative writing classes where I wrote short stories and poetry. Later on, I wrote songs. However, it wasn’t until I discovered slash fanfic, and later original slash and gay romance, that I decided to try my hand at longer pieces.

In terms of why I chose romance—honestly, romantic stories about LGBTQ people were something I’d constantly sought as a youth. As a bisexual kid, I never saw my stories told in a way that was hopeful. I found that romance was the only genre willing to give me something other than gloom and doom for queer people.

ER: Continuing in these lines – what is the best and the worst thing about being a writer?

SH: The best thing is receiving feedback from readers who read my stories and were able to relate to them. The worst thing is the way I get caught up in expectations. I’m very aware of what the majority of readers appear to want versus what I want to write, and sometimes it’s hard to make that jive.

ER: Can you share some more details about your writing process – I already know you use NaNoWriMo but are there any other writing methods and strategies that you use in your writing?

SH: My main strategy is to set a SMART goal. That’s super teachery of me, but a smart goal is a goal that’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. These days, my goal for writing is to finish one scene per day (in the book with a deadline) on weeknights, and two scenes per day on weekends. I also use a variety of apps to stay focused and shut off distractions.

ER: What is the easiest and the most difficult thing for you when it comes to writing?

SH: The easiest thing for me is dialogue. I’m not sure why, but the flow of two or more people conversing, with multiple character voices, is my strength. What’s hard for me is fleshing out a narrative. My writing used to be very terse.

ER: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SH: A total plotter. These days, I’ve been outlining an entire book by chapter and then each scene in the chapters. It helps me stay focused so I can set goals.

ER: And final question on your writing process before we move on to talk in more details about your books. What is your favourite subgenre to write in?

SH: I love writing contemporary romance.

ER: You have written In the Company of Shadows series with Ais and now Strong Signal with Megan Erickson. How does co-writing work for you? Is it easier or more difficult than writing on your own?

SH: I think it’s easier. You have a whole other person keeping you accountable and plotting with you!

ER: Besides being co-written Strong Signal was also self-published. Is it your first self-published book? How was this process different from working with a publisher?

SH: Actually, After Midnight was my first self-published book but Strong Signal was a much more successful endeavor. Megan really knew what she was doing in terms of marketing and promo, and we got great advice from several people. However, it’s so much more work than working with a publisher. That’s the hardest part, I think. Figuring out, and planning, all of the pieces and making sure they come together on time.

ER: So, that’s enough questions about Cyberlove series and now I’m really dying to know more about the Five Borough series, which is my favourite of your books. First off, I’m curious to know how you came up with the idea for this series. (Is there an initial plan that you are following or the stories you want to write/are actually writing change in the course of working on this series?)

SH: Initially, Sutphin Boulevard was supposed to be a romantic comedy about teachers (insert laugh track here). From there, I started thinking about various things—the impact of home life on a teacher, the stress of administration, the attack dog policies of the mayor during the Bloomberg era—and the story expanded. I guess you can see while creating this cast of characters, I fleshed out a lot of their stories to figure out how they would all interact with each other, and realized I would definitely want to tell their stories too. My plan was to write a novel set in each of the five boroughs plus a bonus novel that revisits one of the couples, BUT… I now have more stories in my head than there are boroughs.
  
ER: The latest release in the series, First and First, just came out this week and I can honestly say, it’s my favourite in the series so far (all because of Caleb, I admit). Can you share more about how you came up with the idea about this story? It’s markedly different from the first two books.

SH: I was intrigued by who Caleb was and part of that is because he was cast in such a negative light in both SB and SP. He was said to be boring, a cold lover, not affectionate, and yet he was determinedly pursuing David and super insecure about Raymond. When I thought about him as a fully-fledged character and not just “David’s ex”, there was a lot of meat to his story. The filthy rich privileged man who appears to have everything except someone to love him. Also, exploring his history of repression was fascinating.

ER: I love Michael and Nunzio but my favourite character in this series is definitely Caleb? It may seem unfair to ask this but do you have a favourite?

SH: Raymond is my favorite. I love writing him so much.

ER: Which book in the series so far was the easiest to write and which the most difficult?

SH: The easiest to write by far was Sunset Park. I wrote it entirely during NaNoWriMo. The characters were amazing together and had so much chemistry that the story kind of fell out of my fingers. The most difficult so far has been Sutphin Boulevard. A lot of it hit very close to home and was emotional to write. Also, I was writing knowing there would be readers who would see alcoholism as a shameful weakness, and not understand why someone would be loyal to an abusive parent, but I decided it was a story I wanted to tell anyway.

ER: And now question I know all the fans of the series what to ask – what can we expect next in the Five Borough series and when is it coming our way?

SH: Book 4 revisits previous couples and I will say now—NO WORRIES. THERE IS NO CHEATING. There were a couple of HEAs that I felt were owed a stronger finale than they got if you catch my drift. Book 5 is about a character who is introduced in First and First. His name is Ashton, and I’m in love with his story.

ER: OMG, Ashton is getting his own book?! #DayMade

ER: Speaking of upcoming releases, what can we expect next from you?

SH: I have a paranormal romantic suspense trilogy coming out with Riptide Publishing starting Fall 2017! And Fast Connection, the second Cyberlove story with Megan Erickson, will be out late in the summer.

ER: I really enjoy crossover series which include all kinds of couples and forms of love, do you plan to have het/trans couple in the Five Borough series? Or to write any non-mm romance in general?

SH:  Among the 5B stories circulating in my brain, there is a M/F story and a F/F story. I also have high interest in writing contemporary M/F romance in general.

ER: If you had total freedom what to write it, what is the wildest/most outrageously different story you want to write? (Please, think of doing so in a perfect world where you don’t have to worry who will publish it and whether people will want to read it)

SH: My biggest dream is to write a queer YA or NA series that gains traction with those age groups.

-          Same question but about a story you want to read.

SH: I’d love to read more epic queer SFF romance.

ER: And my final question is what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

SH: Don’t get discouraged. Keep writing!

ER: Thank you very much, Santino for doing this interview!


SH: Thank you so much for having me!

*** *** ***

Author Bio and Links: 

Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.




Santino Hassell's latest release, First and First, came out earlier this week. It's book 3 in the Five Boroughs series but can be read as a standalone and I strongly recommend it to you. 


Blurb

Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.

Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.

As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.

Purchase links: Amazon / Are / BN / DSP / Kobo


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