Author Interview – Aleksandr Voinov

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My guest today has many strings to his bow with a successful publishing history in both German and English and now, additionally, as part owner of a highly successful publishing house, Riptide Publishing . Aleksandr Voinov’s work has been described as “darkly erotic, filled with gritty, violent, sexy incident” and I am very pleased that he has agreed to take the time to answer some of my questions.

Hi Aleks!

 Aleks: Hi Elin! Thank you for inviting me over for a chat!

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Speak Its Name’s Best of the Year 2011

Happy New Year!

Last year I said that it had been a bumper year for historicals and I had trouble keeping up with reviews. Well, this year it’s official. I haven’t been able to keep up with the releases at ALL. There are books out there, I know, that I haven’t seen, haven’t been advised about and even today I heard that a good friend of mine has two books coming out and I hadn’t a Scooby.

Part of this is because it’s been a busy year for me, troubles healthwise myself and troubles as my Dad has deterioated, but the GOOD part is that there are so many gay historicals coming out that it’s a flood – and one that I hope is never dammed. 😀

The genre is going from strength to strength and I couldn’t be more proud of it. It’s wonderful to see existing authors trying it out – and even more wonderful to see newly published authors who are obviously brilliant at it.

Our “best of 2012” picks are books that have been read and reviewed, not just books that came out in 2011. They are taken from the very small list of books that merited our Five Star  and Four and a Half Star ratings.

The awards (other than the Reader’s Choice) are purely subjective and you may not agree. That’s not a problem, please comment and let me know your favourites that you’ve read this year.

Speak Its Name’s Best Book of the Year

The best thing I read this year was The German by Lee Thomas. Gritty, multiple POVs, fascinating and endlessly re-readable. I can’t recommend this book enough.


bestnovel2012

A very close second was All the Beauty of the Sun by Marion Husband

Speak Its Name’s Best Cover of the Year

This was a difficult choice, purely because there was no stand out cover for me this year – don’t forget we are only choosing from the books that were reviewed – I was disappointed with the covers I came across this year, nothing seemed to pop the way the covers did from last year. However, my favourite of the bunch was Reese Dante’s design for Shadowboxing by Anne Barwell.

bestcover 2012

Runner up for me was The German by Lee Thomas.

Speak Its Name’s Best Author of the Year

This goes to Charlie Cochet, who made a spectacular debut and since then has been consistently good. Every single book of hers I’ve read I’ve been impressed with, and she writes her specialist era with such skill and clarity that you can’t help but be transported to the 1920’s and 30’s America.  Keep it up, Charlie!

  

bestauthor2012

And finally, the

Speak Its Name Readers’ Choice Award

which was done by Poll (HERE) so you can see the results were fair.

The winner is Aleksandr Voinov with his lovely, poignant novella set in WW2 “Skybound
Well done!
readers choice 2012
A Happy New Year to all the readers of the blog–thank you for supporting, for commenting and for buying the books. Let’s hope 2013 is even better.

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Review: Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov

Love soars.

Germany, 1945. The Third Reich is on its knees as Allied forces bomb Berlin to break the last resistance. Yet on an airfield near Berlin, the battle is far from over for a young mechanic, Felix, who’s attached to a squadron of fighter pilots. He’s especially attached to fighter ace Baldur Vogt, a man he admires and secretly loves. But there’s no room for love at the end of the world, never mind in Nazi Germany.

When Baldur narrowly cheats death, Felix pulls him from his plane, and the pilot makes his riskiest move yet. He takes a few days’ leave to recover, and he takes Felix with him. Away from the pressures of the airfield, their bond deepens, and Baldur shows Felix the kind of brotherhood he’d only ever dreamed of before.

But there’s no escaping the war, and when they return, Baldur joins the fray again in the skies over Berlin. As the Allies close in on the airfield where Felix waits for his lover, Baldur must face the truth that he is no longer the only one in mortal danger.

Available from Riptide Publishing.

Review by Sal Davis

Let’s cut to the chase. I’ll just nail my colours to the mast and say I absolutely loved Skybound, no ifs, buts or maybes!

Okay, fangirly moment over. Now I’m going to say why I think it’s such a good read.

First of all – the cover. Jordan Taylor has really delivered the goods with this deceptively simple monochromatic image of a climbing plane. No idea what type it is but I’ll lay good money that it’s both relevant to the story and a spot on accurate depiction of its kind. The strong type, echoing the ‘military armour plate’ design at the edges of the image to contain the bold outward bound diagonal of the plane, the subtle background saltires that draw the eye back into the image, the warm tone of the author’s name – a very clever and visually satisfying piece of work.

I would think that the amount of fact checking for this story was enormous but it’s expressed in tip of the iceberg fashion. The sense of time and place is established economically but without resort to cliche. The language is also economical, precise, considered, yet detailed. Care is taken in describing the little things, important things – a book, a meal – that take the characters mind off the War, though the thought of it is never far away.

Written in first person present from Felix’s POV, the book plunges straight into the action with a breathless sequence as Baldur’s squadron comes in to land. Felix impressed me very much by getting on with his business despite his anxiety to be sure Baldur wasn’t injured, but he won my heart completely with his thoughts about the Karl May books he still reads, thrilled by the close friendship between the protagonists, dreaming of similar acts of selfless devotion, but with too much humility to cast himself in the role of the sacrifice. He never doubts that his love for Baldur will be unrequited so expresses it with the care and devotion with which he repairs, maintains and fine tunes Baldur’s plane. When his peaceful reflection is disturbed by Baldur, who plonks himself down and bums a cigarette, Felix is unprepared and is made to feel foolish. That Baldur is interested in him is shown subtly by signs that the reader can pick up but that baffle the inexperienced Felix. It’s a tender moment and sets up the relationship well for the action to follow.

Since the POV is Felix’s, we never get to see what he looks like. He is a little smaller than Balder, who shortens his stride so Felix can keep up, and has very short hair. Balder’s appearance is described a little more fully but the important things to Felix are not what one normally finds in romances. I particularly enjoyed how Felix made particular mention that Balder’s very short nails are cut rather than bitten, with all that implies of self control and nerve.

Felix spends a lot of time reflecting on their situation, which could have felt contrived but actually suits his character. He is a man apart from his fellows and recognises that distance in Balder too, though he is too naive to realise what it means. Balder won my heart too by the care he takes in allowing Felix the time to realise and his kindness once the connection is made.

The last days of the war were horrifying enough without the added problems offered by starting a proscribed relationship, yet the two lonely young men are unable to resist when an opportunity is offered. As the story progresses, tensions are drawn between love and duty, and the recognition that while honour is absolute, it’s worth taking chances to grab what little comfort they can. Felix and Baldur are in an impossible position and as it comes down to the wire, the question is not will they survive but will they die together or apart, killed by the Americans or the Russians.

When one spends the last third of a book sick with worry, and occasionally hyperventilating a bit, one can assure the author that they are doing it right! It’s a “rush through to the end, then re-read immediately to savour it” kind of book. I wish it was on paper so I could cuddle it. No hesitation in giving this five stars.

Review: Test of Faith by Aleksandr Voinov and Raev Gray

July, 1187: Saladin has defeated the Crusader army at The Horns of Hattin. Thierry de la Tour Rouge, a Templar Knight, has survived only to be taken prisoner by the Saracens. Stripped and tied like an animal to the pole of a tent, Thierry fears torture in the attempt to break his faith. Abdul Basir is French by birth, a convert to Islam and an advisor to Saladin.

Thierry has been bought for him and while Abdul owns him, he cannot guarantee that Saladin will spare Thierry’s life. In the spirit of acceptance and forgiveness, Thierry chastely kisses Abdul, hurtling them both into a clash of faiths and a contest of wills. One man motivated by the fulfillment of a long-lurking fantasy and the other by the need to keep his faith intact. They come to show each other mercy, kindness and trust—enough to reveal their desire for one another. As Saladin holds the fate of Thierry’s life in his hands, can Abdul keep this honorable crusader safe?

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS
Review by Sal Davis

Normally I would start with comments about the cover but that can wait. Instead I need to warn that this is quite a short book and I can’t really talk about the things that interest me most about it without giving away some really major spoilers. So I’m turning my review upside down. This has an excellent plot, it is set in a fascinating competently researched period of history, the characters are interesting and their situation compelling. I enjoyed reading it but it has some issues that might not suit other readers. If you want to read it and don’t want to be spoiled I’d stop reading this now if I were you.

And NOW I’ll talk about the cover for a bit to act as a spoiler buffer.

There was no cover on the review copy and I didn’t bother to look it up before reading it. That was a pity because it’s an attractive piece of work, richly coloured and nicely layered. I’d like to see a larger version some time because I’m guessing a bit, but I think there’s a distant landscape of the Holy Land overlaid by two male profiles, an early illustration of Jerusalem from the Madaba Mosaic and a period correct sword. After that it would be no surprise to discover that the story is about the Crusades. It’s a very lovely image, complementing a story that, while a good read, is just as bleak and hopeless as those dreadful conflicts were.

Thierry, a knight of Britanny, is captured at Hattin and given to Abdul Basir, once also of Britanny but now converted to Islam, who plans to indulge his desire for revenge on the Christians who expelled him by taking it out on Thierry’s body. Naturally things don’t go as planned and Abdul discovers not only that he would sooner have a willing lover than a victim but that he wishes to keep Thierry safe in his arms. The only way he can do this is by persuading Thierry to abandon his faith and embrace Islam but Thierry refuses, preferring immediate death to what he considers to be heresy and eventual consignment to hell. The decision made, they find peace together before Abdul hands Thierry over for execution.

Issue number one – that one of the protagonists dies, and that it is known that he will die for a good part of the story – would be a deal breaker for people who like their romances with at least a HFN. I found the tragedy of it quite satisfying in a morbid way. It would have been too easy to have Thierry give in to Abdul’s urging, abandoning his faith for love. As it is, what happens is true to the characters and the period. Speaking of which, the research is meticulous.

The other issue is stylistic. The point of view is 3rd person omniscient – the reader can see into both characters’ heads. It seems as though the two authors role-played the characters as the POV flickers from one to the other. I know that this ‘head hopping’ is unusual, but it didn’t bother me too much as I’ve been used to reading role-played fiction. There were occasions when I had to re-read a sentence and adjust my expectations of who was speaking, but that didn’t detract, too much, from the story. However there was one thing that gave me pause, and I believe that this is also due to the role played nature of the piece. The emotional atmosphere of the story is heightened right from the beginning, despite a good batch of ‘telling’, but once the two characters start to interact the needle whizzes off the chart. Thierry’s fear, his agony of thirst, Abdul’s rage and anticipation of Thierry’s defeat are on a very high note, and this sense of passion is sustained through much of the story. But at the end, at what should be the emotional climax, the style becomes quite cool and detached and is ‘told’ again. I must admit that after the skin crawling emotions earlier in the story I felt a little shortchanged. It’s possible this was deliberate – an indication that Abdul was feeling so much that he was in shock. It’s also possible that it was deliberate so not to take anything away from the last three paragraphs of the story [which I thought were fantastic and which I am NOT going to spoil].

Stars – yes, I enjoyed the story, the history, the period details, the bravery of killing one of the protagonists, very much. But … the head hopping! Only 3, I’m afraid. But a very appreciative 3!

Raev Gray’s website

Aleksandr Voinov’s website

Buy from eXcessica (ebook)

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Review: Lion of Kent by Aleksandr Voinov and Kate Cotoner

Squire William Raven has only one goal—to finally receive his spurs and become a knight. When his lord, Sir Robert de Cantilou, returns from a five-year crusade in the Holy Land, William wants nothing more than to impress him.

After Sir Robert’s return, noble guests arrive from France, bringing intrigue to the castle. William is oblivious to the politics, as he’s distracted by nightly visits from a faceless lover—a man who pleasures him in the dark and then leaves—a man he soon discovers is none other than his master, Sir Robert.

But William can’t ignore the scheming around him when he overhears a plot to murder Robert. He becomes intent on saving his lord and lover from those who would see him killed…

Review by Sally Davis

Mailed fists, velvet gloves, illicit passion plus the tension of a planned assassination attempt – Lion of Kent is a romping read and the authors have packed a lot into about a hundred pages.

First of all the cover made a very good impression on me. Lovely font, attractive design, two models suitably kitted out as hard man knight and pouty youth. Possibly, in retrospect, the youth is a little too pouty for William and the armour is way too late for 1176 but I can forgive Carina for that. From a design point of view, plate armour is much more interesting to light than mail. It’s a GOOD cover, so ignore the quibble.

The whole story is written from the point of view of William Raven. He comes across as a little out of place. He is older than the other squires, illegitimate, totally dependent upon the goodwill of his overlord for advancement. Consequently he has a huge chip on his shoulder and is willing to defend his honour against any perceived slight. He even challenges Sir Robert, verbally, when they meet. This is a young man desperate to prove himself, yearning for action and not overfond of thinking things through. I liked the character very much and loved the means the authors used to get this tension in him across:

The thought of fighting alongside his lord made William curl his hands as if to grip a weapon.

He’s ready to fight at the drop of a hat – or a gauntlet – but also has the nous to rein in his aggression when absolutely necessary.

Sir Robert, his master and eventual lover, is self-contained, self-controlled and civilised. I liked his ease with the French contingent and his forbearance under the verbal lash of his obnoxious churchman brother, Stephen. He also shows a lot of patience with hot-headed William. If there’s a war, I would like Sir Robert on my side, please.

Their relationship builds slowly leaving plenty of time to explore the other plot – the assassination of Robert – and didn’t ignore the illegality of what they were doing. The authors trod a fine line, using Roberty’s privileged position and the way of life at the time to allow the protagonists steamy encounters. For instance their first encounter takes place in the great hall at night. All the squires, men at arms, servants etc are bedded down together. The shutters are closed, the fire has died, the candles are out, the darkness is complete so nobody can see, and the sounds William and his visitor make are masked by those of other lovers nearby. This lack of privacy, appalling to our minds, becomes an aid to fulfillment in the hands of Kate and Aleksandr.

Great stuff.

Aleksandr Voinov’s website
Kate Cotoner’s website

Buy at Carina

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