Author Spotlight

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


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

M/M romance

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
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My rating: 4 Stars


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…


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 

Cara McKenna

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
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Pre-order links: Amazon / Kobo


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

Penny Reid

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)).


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

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.

Elle Kennedy

Waiting on Wednesday: Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy


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: Him
Author: Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy
Genre/Themes: M/M romance, hockey
Release Date: 28 July 2015
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Pre-order links: Amazon / B&N / iBooks / Kobo


They don’t play for the same team. Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions—can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend...and a big one to learn about himself.

*** *** ***

Why am I waiting for this? - Sarina Bowen's Ivy Years series is my favourite NA romance series and I quite enjoyed Elle Kennedy's The Deal and The Mistake, so I'm prett excited about their collaboration on a M/M hockey novel.

Jill Shalvis

Review: Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis


Title: Second Chance Summer (Cedar Ridge #1)
Author: Jill Shalvis
Date of publication: 30 June 2015
Genre / Themes: Small town romance

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

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My rating: 4 Stars


Cedar Ridge, Colorado, is famous for crisp mountain air, clear blue skies, and pine-scented breezes. And it's the last place Lily Danville wants to be. But she needs a job, and there's an opening at the hottest resort in her hometown. What has her concerned is the other hot property in Cedar Ridge: Aidan Kincaid-firefighter, rescue worker, and heartbreaker. She never could resist that devastating smile . . .

The Kincaid brothers are as rough and rugged as the Rocky Mountains they call home. Aidan has always done things his own way, by his own rules. And never has he regretted anything more than letting Lily walk out of his life ten years ago. If anyone has ever been in need of rescuing, she has. What she needs more than anything are long hikes, slow dances, and sizzling kisses. But that can only happen if he can get her to give Cedar Ridge-and this bad boy-a second chance.


Jill Shalvis is an autobuy author for me and I was excited to read Second Chance Summer which is her first book in a new series, Cedar Ridge.

Like most of her books, this one left me warm and fuzzy inside, a sweet story of second chance at love for two very lovable characters.

Having read Ms Shalvis somewhat extensively by now, I notice some similarities in her books and some of them work for me, others - not so much. this time things mostly worked well for me. The heroine, is very typical for Ms Shalvis, a young woman at a crosspoint in her life, a little lost. she is forced to return to her small hometown years after escaping it after a terrible tragedy. and she comes face to face with her first (only) love. Both feel hurt by the past and are unwilling to try a relationship but can't stay away from each other and with a little (lot) help from friends and family they find the way to be together.

I very much enjoyed the slow built of the romance, the typical good-natured fun and brother?familial relationships. It's one of the things I like so much in Ms Shalvis' books - she creates this warm, caring families/friends who keep driving each other crazy, yet who stand by one another 100%. I love both the humour and the sense of loyalty, of community, of people caring for the others.

Sometimes the drama and the obstacles before the couple getting together feel too artificial and contrived. There was a bit of this here too - Aiden's reaction to a particular situation was so over the top that it appeared ridiculous. It's not a major drawback, just a little thing that I find annoying. It seemed just like plot device to create tension and conflict and not a real, natural element of the story.

Protective, sexy, caring and loyal. Lily doesn't want to acknowledge she needs help, support, someone to lean onto when the going gets tough. they were a perfect match. I like how Ms Shalvis brings her characters together but they manage to keep their individuality, there are no major sacrifices to be together, no one changes the other to their liking.

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

Cara McKenna

Review: Drive It Deep by Cara McKenna


Title: Drive It Deep (Desert Dogs #2.5)Author: Cara McKenna
Genre: Romantic suspense, Bikers
Release Date: 16 June 2015

Author's links:
Website / Twitter / Tumblr / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars
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Jeremiah Church and Raina Harper have been close since they were kids, back when life was all about hot Nevada summers spent running wild on the backs of their motorcycles with their friends. Now in their thirties, their lives are changing, and so is the way Miah looks at Raina—a sizzling tension has begun to smolder, impossible to ignore.

Miah is a man of simple pleasures—after a long day overseeing his family’s cattle ranch, a cool drink in his hand and a barstool under his backside are all he needs. Except lately, Miah’s begun looking at his bartender differently. Raina is Miah’s polar opposite—she’s as hot-headed as he is self-possessed, as wild as he is steady. And though they’re a recipe for disaster, the mutual attraction brewing between them is too tempting to deny.

But when bottled-up desires hit this hard, this fast, after so long, the results are positively explosive. And while the affair is hot enough set the badlands on fire, when the flames burn out, will their lifelong friendship survive, or go up in smoke?


It's a novella telling Miah and Raina's story set two years before the events in the book 1 and 2. It was slightly weird reading it, because I knew there won't be any HEA for the characters, yet I was curious about them and their relationship. 

The best thing in this short novella was Miah. I can't love the guy more, it's uncanny how close I felt to him, to his views on life, love, family. He is not perfect by any means and his little quirk (I wouldn't call it an issue) worked perfectly in the story, made him real and human. 

We already know so much more about Raina, since Ms McKenna told her story in book 2, yet it was nice seeing her fall for Miah. At first it felt easy and natural and then it grew bigger and more passionate. Two life-long friends becoming lovers, having tons of chemistry, yet ultimately breaking up because they are not compatible in the long run. I respect Raina's honesty and strength but I also hated her for hurting Miah so much. 

There was a lot of anger and hurt in this story. It was not a regrettable affair for both Miah and Raina, in a way it seemed a necessary part of their lives' journey but it was painful nonetheless. 

This is a very vivid, well drawn story. I appreciate the insight we got into Miah's character, he was more elusive so far. Now I'm even more excited about his book which will be the last in the series, after Casey's story coming later this year.

Purchase links: Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes


Waiting on Wednesday: Heart-shaped Hack by Tracey Garvis-Graves


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: Heart-shaped Hack
Author: Tracey Garvis Graves
Genre/Themes: Romance, lawyers, hackers
Release Date: 25 Aug 2015

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Pre-order links: AMAZON / B&N / iBooks


When Kate Watts abandoned her law career to open a food pantry in Northeast Minneapolis, she never dreamed it would be this difficult. Facing the heartbreaking prospect of turning hungry people away, she is grateful for the anonymous donations that begin appearing at the end of each month. Determined to identify and thank her secret benefactor, she launches a plan and catches Ian—a charismatic hacker with a Robin Hood complex—in the act.

Ian intrigues Kate in a way no man ever has. But after learning he’s snooped around on her personal computer, she demands retribution. Impressed with her tolerance and captivated by her spirit, he complies and begins to slowly charm his way past her defenses. Time spent with Ian is never boring, and Kate soon finds herself falling for the mysterious hacker.

But Ian has enemies, and they’re growing restless. In the hacking world, exploiting a target’s weakness is paramount, and no price is too high to stop an attack. And when Kate learns exactly how much Ian has paid, she’ll discover just how strong her love is for the man who has hacked his way into her heart.

Why am I waiting for this? - I haven't read anything by this author before but I've heard a lot about her series, On the Island. It was the cover of this book that caught my eye first, it's so colourful and just cute, then I read the blurb and was sold on it right away - a  romance between a mysterious hacker benefactor and an ex-lawyer now running a food pantry - how could I resist. 

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