Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Review: The Second Door by TC Blue

Sam and Mitch have been friends ever since Sam moved into Mitch's apartment block. Over that time they have grown close and have helped each other through some difficult times. Sam has been in love with Mitch for a while now, but has always set it aside, knowing that he's not Mitch's type, but things come to a head after Sam comforts Mitch through a bad break up. When it seems that they may be on the verge of a relationship, Sam panics because he doesn't want to lose the best friend he ever had.

I was really in the mood for this book which turned out to be a pleasant and engaging friends to lovers romance. The characters of Sam and Mitch are very much 'nice guys' as such there wasn't anything particularly unique or unusual about them, and they came across as a little bland at times. That doesn't mean to say I couldn't sympathise with their situation. I did. I like a good friends to lovers romance and one of my bug bears is when authors don't take the time to show the catalyst for the change in feeling. There must be something which initiates the change from a person seeing someone as just as friend to desire and love for them. In the case of this book I thought that TC Blue had done a good job in showing how Sam's contained love for Mitch suddenly deepens into much more, and how that then begins to affect how Mitch views Sam.

Once things are sort of out in the open the story then goes backwards and forwards as the two friends fight their attraction whilst trying to be sensible about it. This could have been a little annoying but the balance was right between the good reasons for them not entering a relationship and their growing feelings for each other. TC Blue always has an engaging narrative style and this was the case here too. We get lots of opportunity to be in the heads of both characters and to learn what each other is thinking and as such I felt happy with the way the story progresses. There's also a light humourous touch to the story in the writing which meant that it didn't get bogged down in the heavier themes but still handled them in a sensitive fashion.

One aspect I felt was handled well was the way that past experience affects the present actions of the men. Sam's abusive ex may never feature bodily in the story but his spectre hangs over Sam, dictating his actions and making him wary of commitment, especially if that commitment means he's possibly losing a best friend in the future. Mitch has been hurt in the past too, but he uses that as a springboard to go after what he wants and I liked the way he manipulated the circumstances in order to get his own way.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The characters may not have been wholly unique but there was enough about them to make them sympathetic. The pace was measured but not too slow and the writing good. I would recommend The Second Door, with a grade of 'Very Good', to those looking for a nice romance between two great guys.

Buy this book HERE.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Review: Junction X by Erastes

Junction X is not a romance rather it's a drama centred around a gay romance, or perhaps even an obsession.  It's a perfectly nuanced morality tale with a central character who tied me up in knots and made me experience such a wealth of emotion that it will be difficult to put down in words all my feelings for him.

The story is taken from the first person point of view of Ed, who is a British middle class man in his thirties, and set in the early 1960s.  He has a nice home; a good job; a reasonably good, if a little dull, relationship with his attractive wife and children; and a sort of 'friends with benefits' arrangement with his good friend and former neighbour, Phil.  All that changes when Ed falls in love with the teenage son of his new neighbours and he and Alex begin an illicit affair.

I read the first half of this book pretty quickly, caught up in the character of Ed, who I really liked.  His naivety was strangely endearing and I sympathised with the prickly relationship he has with his wife (they reminded me a little of Jerry and Margot from The Good Life), and the even more confusing relationship he has with Phil.  It seemed quite cut and dried to me that Phil was taking advantage of Ed, that he was his friend only because of what Ed could do for him, or to him.  One of the things I most admired about this story was the way that Phil turned out to be something rather unexpected in his friendship with Ed, and that all my preconceptions about him proved to be wrong, or misguided anyway.  Ed bumbles along in this first part, allowing life to happen to him, cocooned in his middle class world which dampens all his emotions.  He's a good man whose respectability is important to him but who isn't ambitious or forward thinking.  A lot of time is spent during this first part in allowing the reader to get a good feel for Ed and his life as it stands.  It wasn't dull by any means but I was a little puzzled at first as to when the romance aspect would begin.  Later though, I realised why it was so important to see Ed and his comfortable life in this way.  It lays down the foundations for the second half of the book, where circumstances and Ed's actions rocks his careful world and things change for him dramatically.

The romance between Ed and Alex left me feeling uncomfortable, and I think was a deliberate part of the book.  We're not meant to wholly happy with the situation. On one hand I could understand the passions of both men (although in the 1960's, 18 year old Alex was still classed as a child), and yet there was always a constant niggle that Ed held all the cards. He obviously loves Alex, and the passages where Ed tries to explain his feelings for Alex were convincing and quite tender in their description.  However, a few times suddenly I found myself trying to see things from Alex's point of view, the hero worship; the fierce love of a teenager; and the excitement of a secret affair mingled with the difficulties of hiding his love and the jealousy of being 'the other man'.  There's no doubt in my mind that Ed should have been more responsible, more perceptive.  He wasn't though, and that's ultimately where the tragedy lies in this story.

This second half of the book was a little difficult for me.  Not because it was badly written, if anything Erastes' lyrical prose and stark characterisation remained compelling, but rather because I knew where the story was heading. I read it in chunks of about 30 pages at a time, before putting the book down as I mulled over what was happening and my changing feelings towards Ed.  His naivety, which was so endearing earlier in the book now became a source of frustration for me, as did his inability to think through his actions or his words before he speaks.  True to character, Ed holds out on his feelings until he is forced to face them, and then his weakness allows things to get out of control.  His decline from a morally upright person into a selfish, lying cheat is so gradual that I was almost at the end of the book before I realised how he'd changed.  As a study in how much infidelity rips your life to shreds this was extremely well done.  The fall out, when it happens, was swift, over in a matter of a few pages leaving me strangely numb. Only after an hour or so after I finished reading the book did the emotions come as I mentally raged at Ed for his foolishness, his inability to understand the feelings of others and his sheer stupidity in the way he handled things.  Most of all I felt sorrow for what had happened, for the lives ruined.  There aren't many authors who can leave me so worked up about a character or a situation and it's proof of how intense and powerful the writing is in this book that I was so emotionally connected to a work of fiction.

Junction X isn't an easy read. It's not light and fluffy. There are no clear cut characters or situations - rather the complexity of the characterisation was breathtaking. Instead it's a study of how love can lead to ruin; how taking what you want may not always be the best course; how the perfect life can be anything but.  It's a beautifully written and vivid portrayal of a man's downfall. It may not have brought me to tears at the end, but it's a book which will stay with me for a very long time.  Grade: Excellent.

Buy this book HERE.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Guest Post: Winter Warmers by Clare London

Today my guest is the lovely Clare London who has joined together with four other of my favourite authors to produce an anthology of winter themed stories to warm the cockles of your heart.  She's here to tell us a little bit about the inspiration for the stories and give you a sneak peek into her own story, Lucky Dip.

Over to you, Clare!

I’m sitting at the window watching the grey sky of winter, hugging a mug of coffee, with my feet buried deep into furry slippers … yes, winter’s arrived! And wouldn’t it be great to lose myself in a book that’s a true antidote to the colder, darker season? That’s what prompted a group of authors including me, Josephine Myles, Chrissy Munder, JL Merrow and Lou Harper to create an anthology of seasonal stories.

The anthology has five delightful and diverse tales, like the mixed fruit and spices in a Christmas cake. There are stories set in Britain and the USA, there’s sexiness and sensuality, humour and poignancy, romance, daily routine, and a little twist of magic. And all of them are unashamedly hopeful and heart-warming.

My story Lucky Dip is based on my experience of a primary school Christmas Fair, the annual fundraising event where parents and teachers work devotedly with paper and paint to make the school hall look enchanting, and fill the stalls with crafts, Christmas tree decorations and endless jars of chutney. Then on the day, Christmas carols are piped loudly through the school P.A. system, the children dash about begging for multiple turns at the guessing games and Lucky Dip, the parents buy armfuls of Christmas gifts, and everyone can enjoy plentiful mine pies and mulled wine.

And that’s where we meet my characters, preparing for the Fair the following day. Andy is a relatively new teacher, full of enthusiasm and determination, which may or may not be up to the challenge of his lively class 2C. Then he finds he’s got to work alongside Greg, the man who dumped him a couple of months ago, and the stress starts building. Add in a few bottles of mulled wine when the two men find themselves inextricably forced into close quarters… and who knows what Christmas will bring for them?

We hope you enjoy the anthology, and agree that a heart-warming story is great at any time of year. As we say, “Winter Warmers” isn’t just for Christmas!


Baby, it's cold outside! Beat the chill with WINTER WARMERS - a seasonal anthology

Mulled wine. Butterscotch kisses. Hideous sweaters. Candy at the beach, or a trip to a sex shop in Amsterdam. And the man of your dreams, wrapped around you...

Winter warmers come in many shapes and sizes, from the tongue-in-cheek to the hot-as-hell. Enjoy a quintet of heart-warming tales of men loving men from Clare London, Chrissy Munder, JL Merrow, Josephine Myles, and Lou Harper that are guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face.

One thing's for sure—it's going to be a red-hot Christmas!

Lucky Dip by Clare London
 Andy Jackson always knew that class 2C's help in preparing for the annual Christmas Fair would be a mixed blessing. Then he's paired up on the Lucky Dip with Greg, the man who dumped him but now can't keep away, the pupils are either lecturing him on his lovelife or losing bladder control, and no one's fixed the broken handle on the storage room. It may all be one whoopee cushion too far for him.

Butterscotch Kisses by Chrissy Munder
 Matthew Morrison is determined to conquer his fear of heights and achieve a winning outcome. At least, that's what the best-selling, self-help book he's listening to promises. Being stuck on a three-story tower in the middle of a snowstorm wasn't part of the plan. With no St. Bernard in sight, it's Cute Ticket Guy Adam to the rescue, and an outcome Matthew never anticipated.

Wintertide by Lou Harper
 May meets December when Jem and Oscar chance on each other at the Santa Monica Pier, only weeks before Christmas. The two men are separated by age, social status, and their taste in candy, yet if they are both naughty and nice, they might just find holiday cheer together.

When in Amsterdam... by Josephine Myles
 Brandon is on his first visit to new boyfriend Jos's home country, just in time for their Sinterklaas celebrations. But an unexpected detour into a sex shop leads Brandon to new discoveries about himself, and a whole new dynamic to their relationship. The weather may be cold and damp, but Brandon and Jos soon heat things up!

A Pint of Beer, a Bag of Chips, and Thou by JL Merrow
 What's the best gift a young man could get for Christmas? Mohawked saxophonist Liam wouldn't have picked the hideous collection of knitwear he's presented with by his mum and his aunties. He'd rather have the gorgeous older man he sees every day while busking at King's Cross. But with a little Christmas magic in the air, maybe those garish garments are just the thing for attracting a silver fox...


I glanced over at the rather chaotic mess on our too-small table and wondered if it’d be ready in time, let alone compare to my ambitious plans on paper.

Over at the Lucky Dip, Greg seemed to be struggling as well. He had a small group of helpers who were meant to be sorting and wrapping the gifts, then filling the barrel with wood shavings. They were a couple of years older than my team, but their attention was already waning: being let off lessons was all very well, but only if they could spend the time on their Gameboys. Greg held a large sheet of paper which looked like a checklist, but as his team’s chatter grew louder and more restless, his expression looked more frustrated than festive.

“Mr Canbury needs help,” Amy said, rather unnecessarily, I thought.

“He can manage just fine.” Had I sounded too sharp? Amy peered up at me, nose wrinkling in that way she had. “Okay.” I sighed. “I’ll go and see if I can help. If you’re sure I can leave the stall for a moment…”

“Poppy poked Eddy in the knee with a chopstick. He’s paying attention now.”

I rolled my eyes and made my way to the Lucky Dip barrel.

“Andy,” Greg said, breaking into a smile.

My heartbeat really shouldn’t have quickened at that, but it’d been a while since anyone except my mother had smiled at the mere sight of me. “Do you need me for anything?”

He hesitated, for the slightest fraction of time. His gaze flickered down my body then back up. He blushed, and I think I may have, too.

“Yes,” Charlie from 4B announced loudly, standing at Greg’s heel. “We’ve lost our balls.”

I blinked, and for a moment I thought I heard Tommy’s giggle behind me. No, it couldn't be. I'd left him behind at the stall, untangling the twine we were using as spaghetti, in the hope of keeping him – and his lack of bladder control – out of mischief.

Greg cleared his throat but there was no mistaking the smirk on his lips. Or the way he quickly licked them, the moisture glistening under the hall lights.

I cleared my throat, too. “Problem with deliveries? There are a few parcels in the Parents’ Association room that haven’t been claimed yet.”

Greg nodded and smiled. “We’re missing the Glitter Jet Balls. Also…” He glanced down at the paper in his hand. “The Santa Whoopee Cushions.”

This time, I was sure I heard Tommy’s gasp of excitement in the background. I nodded to Greg and said, “I’ll go and see what we have in there.”

“Wait, I can help you.” Greg took a step so he was toe to toe with me. I could feel the heat from his body. We were all pretty sweaty from working all morning, but he smelled very good. Must have been the expensive aftershave. He took my arm and drew me away from the barrel. “Maybe we could find a quiet moment to talk. Andy, please…”

“I’ll help Mr Canbury,” Charlie announced.

“Me, too!” came the chorus from a group of boys behind him. They all appeared to have a similar disrespect for any job that entailed nothing more interesting than wrapping odd-shaped novelties in snowflake paper for hours on end.

“No thanks. None of you children is allowed in that room, remember?” I tried not to snap, but I didn’t seem to be able to think calmly with Greg’s hand on my arm. “Besides, Mr Canbury needs help here.”

Another, smaller figure pushed its way behind the Lucky Dip barrel, too quickly for me to see who it was, but a shiver of premonition ran down my spine. I pushed closer to Greg to try and see better. Our hips brushed, and he caught his breath. His fingers tightened on my wrist.


“Tommy!” I shouted.

I was never going to be in time: I just couldn’t move as fast as a toddler bent on release. All the other boys spun around, following my horrified gaze. Greg gave me a single, startled look then turned in one fluid move that showed how quickly he’d grasped the situation. What he actually grasped was a bucket, at the same time as reaching for a small, irrepressibly giggling boy who’d launched himself off a chair, on to the relatively soft landing in the top of the barrel, and had started to pull down his shorts.

None of us was ever going to be in time.

Thank you, Clare, for  stopping by to tell us all about Winter Warmers. If this post has whetted your appetite then you are in luck because Winter Warmers is out TODAY at Pink Squirrel Press.  Click HERE to go to the publisher site where there will be a handy buy link.

And that is not all!  Leave a comment on the post today and you'll be put into a draw to win a free download of Winter Warmers. Good luck!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Hot Head Winner

Thank you to all of you who left a comment on Damon Suede's guest post on Monday.  If you missed the post and want a chance to read, it's here.

Damon had offered up a copy of Hot Head as a prize and the winner is...


Congratulations, Tracy. I've passed your email onto Riptide Publishing and they should be in touch with you shortly.

Even if you haven't won, you still have a chance to win prizes as all the names have gone into the overall draw for the Riptide Launch Party.  See here for details of that, and good luck!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Review: Once a Marine by Cat Grant

This is the first of the longer books that I've read from the newly formed Riptide Publishing and it's a decent one to begin with. I generally like Cat Grant's books, finding her smooth writing easy to read, and her characters are generally likeable.  That was certainly the case with this book.

The story follows gay romance writer Marc who divides his time writing and working in a diner to make ends meet.  He's at the diner when Mr Hot enters in the form of ex-marine, Cole, who has been dishonourably discharged under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'.  When Cole leaves his phone at the diner, Marc drops it off for him and they hit it off fine, until Cole gets cold feet and kicks Marc out.  Marc is furious and hurt, mainly because he's been hurt by a Marine before, but when Cole comes apologising the pair decide to give it a go.

If I can think of a word to describe this book it's mellow.  There's a little bit of angst in the story with Cole suffering from PTSD, and Marc having a past of rejection to get over, but these problems are not overplayed with a heavy hand. Instead the story follows them through a series of ups and downs as the two men try and find a fit with each other.  Some readers may get a little frustrated with this as the story could come across as being too pat and perhaps insulting to the issues which are raised in the book.  I didn't see it like that though, as there's enough time devoted to looking at PTSD or DADT from Cole's perspective, and those issues are not wholly resolved by the end, as would be expected.

My favourite character was Marc who's fairly upbeat and forgiving.  He's perfect for Cole in that he understands the problems Cole is facing and is willing to work round him as much as possible whilst keeping his self-respect.  The sly nods to m/m romance made me smile and I liked the references to how Marc fits the writing in with his life.  I didn't like Cole as much, but then I'm never really fond of the sort of character he is.  He's too prickly for my liking and also at times very selfish. I understood that he'd had a bit of a hard time adjusting to life outside the military, and also that his father's rejection had hit him badly, but that didn't excuse some of his behaviour towards Marc where he seemed to expect him to be on hand whenever Cole wanted and to get lost when he didn't.  However, Cole did redeem himself by the end and I was happy for the pair to go into their HEA together.

Overall, I think it helped that I was in the mood for this read. I needed something light and entertaining but with a touch of drama.  That's certainly what I got with this book and that, coupled with a sympathetic hero in Marc, means that I'm happy to give this book a grade of 'Very Good'.  Those readers looking for something quick and undemanding with a healthy romantic core should pick this book up.  I enjoyed it.

Buy this book HERE.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Review: Slave Master's Choice by Kimberly Gardner

Slave Master's Choice begins with the character of Alejandro waking up injured in a strange house. He's the only survivor of an attack on his group of soldiers who were on a scouting mission in a neighbouring country to his own. Once just about recovered he sets off to the nearest city, hoping to find a way of getting back to his own country. However, things do not go to plan with Alejandro is captured and placed into slavery. His good looks count in his favour as he is sent to be a sexual slave in the King's household where he meets the slave master, Kedmund.

Those of you who have seen this book is a master/slave romance and have been put off by that idea, then don't be. The slavery theme is present in the book but it's also very mild, almost sanitised with many scenes happening 'off page'. In fact this was a bit of a criticism of the book, in my opinion, as I felt a little cheated out of reading the emotions around being forced into sexual servitude. Alejandro's first and subsequent times in the King's bed are all told to us second hand. In some ways I can understand that - some readers do not like any on page sex between characters other than the romantic pairing - but it did mean that the reader ends up getting told a lot of Alejandro's experience as a slave either through Alejandro's thoughts or through the observations of Kedmund, rather than experiencing it along with him.

Another reason not to be out off is that, given the subject matter, this isn't actually that heavy a read. There's some angst, but it's not as a result of the situation that Alejandro finds himself in. In fact he rather likes being the sexual favourite of the king because homosexuality is not tolerated in his own country. To me this seemed a little far fetched, especially when at the beginning Alejandro wants to return home, but suddenly seems to forget all about it and chooses life at the palace instead. It was little inconsistencies such as these which meant that I didn't empathise as well with Alejandro as I might have done if he'd remained the tough soldier-like man he is at the start.

I did, however, like Kedmund a great deal. He's an older man (although we are never told exactly how old) who was the previous king's favourite bed-slave and as such gained an important place in the household after the previous king's death. One thing I thought was explored well was Kedmund's tenuous authority within the palace and in particular how his status as a former slave makes him despised by some. I thought the fantasy world building surrounding the slaves and how they are integrated into life with the free people was well thought out and Kedmund's role where he straddles the line between free and slave makes him an interesting character. I also really liked his relationship with Pelli, the young man who works with the slaves, towards whom he has a father-figure type of role. This again made Kedmund a very sympathetic character in my eyes.

A final niggle was that the end of the book was a little jumbled and confused, with many characters acting rather irrationally with no real reasons given for their behaviour. In particular I was a little disgruntled that the villain of the story didn't get any comeuppance as I was waiting eagerly for his downfall, which unfortunately never came. The story does end on a HFN which suggests there may be a sequel in the works. In which case I'm hoping for a better showdown and defeat of the bad guy!

Overall, I had mixed feelings about this book. It was a really easy read with a fast pace and writing that flowed. Despite the theme, the story was fairly upbeat for most of the time, and the sexual tension between the characters worked in the story's favour. However, the fact that we get a lot of Alejandro's experiences second hand, and also some of the inconsistencies with his characterisation meant that it was a book I enjoyed but which didn't stand out from the crowd. If you like slave/master romances then you may well like this one, although it's very tame. If you don't like the more hardcore slave/master books but are interested in the fantasy theme, then this is a book you may well enjoy.  Grade: Good.

Buy this book HERE.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Review: Basic Training by Marquesate

It's been two years since the release of the rather excellent Her Majesty's Men, the last book by this author, but I was so impressed by that book that I've hung in there waiting for a new book to be published. Basic Training is that book, and in my opinion the two years have been worth the wait, especially as this book shows some increased maturity in the style of writing from this author.

Basic Training follows Col who is a platoon sergeant in the Royal Marines, in charge of new recuits as they face the 32 weeks of basic training. At the beginning of the book we meet him at a bit of a bad place. He's recently divorced and, after a drunk driving incident, recently demoted. Whilst he loves his job and feels pride in his ability to turn a rag-tag group of men into a fit fighting force, his private life is crashing around his ears with the knowledge that his failed marriage is likely to do with his disinterest in women. As the story begins, Col's about to begin with a new platoon of trainees. One of them, Christian (or Chris) has openly stated on his paperwork that he is gay. This opens up a whole can of worms for Col as he seeks both to keep an eye out for Chris as well as fight his attraction to the man. The book then takes us on a slow journey, spanning several years, where Col and Chris meet, start a relationship and then have that relationship develop over time.

There were two things in particular that struck me about the story, and which added greatly to my enjoyment of the book as a whole. Firstly, I enjoyed following the unfolding of the relationship between the two men, especially in Col's emotional journey towrads accepting his homosexuality. Those of you who may have read Marquesate's other books will know that her men are rough and tough; find it difficult to express emotion; and engage in almost brutal sex with each other. Whilst the first two are certainly the case here, the third element was very much toned down from previous books. Col's one of these men who prefers not to think about emotional mushy stuff, and definitely feels uncomfortable talking about his feelings. As a result he tends to adopt the 'think about it later' way of facing up to things which concern him, such as his changing views on his own sexuality. I loved the gradual way that Col deals with these difficult for him issues, and especially the small steps towards accepting himself. Some of my favourite scenes in the book were when Col really thought through his jumbled emotions, or when he bit the bullet and spoke to others. However, when in private with Chris, he does let his guard down and the sex between them was quite beautifully tender in places, whilst also containing some of the roughness that this author is known for. They matched so well as a couple, both of them riddled with their own insecurities and hang-ups whilst providing a solid support to the other. It was more than love or romance, it was friendship, comradeship and a solid foundation for a life long relationship and I loved reading about it.

The second aspect which I really liked about this book was the way that the life of a Royal Marine was so ingrained through every thought and action of both the main characters. There's enough detail given to understand the life of a soldier - both during the basic training and then on into a career in the Royal Marines - but not so much that I felt overwhelmed by knowledge that wasn't important to the story. The two heroes are at opposite ends of their careers - Chris is just starting out in the RM and Col, at 35, is nearing retirement - and I liked the way that Col acts as a guide for Chris, whilst having to make some difficult choices about his own future. At the beginning of the story much is made of Chris' struggles for acceptance as a gay man in the RM and this is contrasted with the closeted Col, whose struggles are more internal than those of Chris. As the story progresses the military theme develops to focus on the difficulties of an overseas tour for both the one away and the one left behind. By the end of the book I felt I had gained a really good understanding of life in the military from both the enlisted and the partner of the enlisted. It made me think a little, without ever feeling that I'd been preached to, whilst also providing an extremely entertaining and engrossing story.

I have very few niggles about the story except that maybe the pacing began to drag a little in the last 50 or so pages, but not so much that I wanted to stop reading. A second niggle is that, even though we spend nearly the whole book in Col's head, we never find out much about his past, except that he had a 'bitch ex-wife' and had served several dangerous tours in his military career. In fact we find out much more about Chris, than we do Col. I suppose though that this was because Col is private and unassuming, saving his boasting for when he needs to show that as 'Bulldog' he's fitter and stronger than the recruits he whips into shape. It's a curious contrast, but is also what makes Col such a great character.

This has to be the most romantic story I've read by this author so far. It never gets anywhere near sweet, but I loved the playful banter between Col and Chris. They resolve their problems by talking to each other and also through a careful consideration of the feelings of the other person, without rancour and bitterness because they understand each other's situation. I don't think I've read such a delightful and well matched couple in ages.

Overall, I can highly recommend Basic Training with a grade of 'Excellent'. If you like military themed stories and want to read a book with a pair of complex heroes who are drawn to, and complete, each other, then I suggest this book is for you. I only hope it's not another two years until the next Marquesate book!

Buy this book HERE.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Guest Post: Screw Up by Damon Suede

I'm pleased to introduce the wildly popular and delightful Damon Suede to my blog today. He's here as part of the Riptide Publishing Grand Opening Blog Tour which involves many, many blogs and the opportunity to win some fabulous prizes - go HERE to find out more about where you can find other posts in the tour and what you can possibly win if you leave a comment here today.

I'll stop blathering now and pass you over to Damon who's posting about those times in life when we mess up.

Screw Up 

Picasso once said that Art is never finished, merely abandoned.

How does anyone know when a piece of work is complete? That’s a hard call and the urge to “improve” a maddening itch. Nothing is never perfect. Every experience teaches us something and each piece of writing reflects its original context. I am not the writer I was last month, let alone last year, or the last decade. I often find myself looking at projects that have been printed and out in the world for YEARS and still wanting to twiddle and fiddle…against my will and better judgment, I spot mistakes and better word choices and things I could do better NOW than I did when I wrote the damn thing. Tough shit: the only thing that can get better is me and my writing.

Life continues. Art emerges. Writers grow. Fixations fix nothing.

Knowing how to turn the page is a vital skill for any storyteller. Dwelling on imperfections can paralyze us, and cripple the Muse, keeping us from moving forward. There is no way to edit without stopping to reflect, but there is no way to write backwards. And so writers run the risk of driving with their feet on the brake and the gas simultaneously. If we want to survive and thrive as creative professionals, we must walk a scalpel’s edge between the urge to look back and need to move on. Writing and editing are completely different actions and we mix them to our peril (and paralysis). Run fast. Stand still.

Here’s a secret: each new project teaches us how to solve the problems we built into the last one. Once you’ve spent a whole book struggling with murky plotting or vague objectives, those things elicit different care and attention the next go-round. If you saddle yourself with bland characters or minimal friction, you’ll damn well learn that lesson eventually or suffer the consequences. So you might as well learn to love your screw ups! The bigger and dumber the better!

Mistakes are how we learn.

Even if you believe something to be a complete failure, even if it IS truly a failure, the experience of creating it taught you something. And between thee and me, complete failure is rarer than rocking-horse shit. All too easy to obsess about the stuff we botched without noticing that by botching it, we learned how NOT to botch the same things next time. In the next project, complexity and leaps that seemed impossible before suddenly snap –click– into place effortlessly, as if we needed to fall down in order to learn how to walk.

Oh, wait….we do. :)

So fall down a LOT, fall down as often as you’re able. Crawl, walk, run, wreck yourself…rinse/repeat. Take big risks and never stop pushing at your own margins. If you never let yourself wipe out you’re never going to get off the ground. If you’re already waist-deep in your next project when you’re editing your last, you afford yourself the catch and fix a lot of foolishness you hadn’t noticed in the zone. That’s one of the best arguments for NEVER slacking off creatively. If you keep getting better you can might even be able to rewrite the past a little.

So buckle down and screw up.

You might just drag your creative output to the next level, but you MUST walk away sometimes. All blocks are self-created. The only way you can keep yourself from learning to walk is by sitting on your ass, playing in your poo. If you get tangled in all the impossible, sloppy, silly things you did you’ll never go off and learn how to fix them by starting a new project that builds on what you learned. Too often, young writers squat in a single project fussing and twiddling in a futile attempt to “perfect” it, which makes as much sense as keeping a baby in diapers until it’s a “perfect” infant. No such critter, my friends. The flaws of a creation are part of its magic, and anyone who believes in literal, material perfection spends much more time mired in disappointment than accepting joy.

Don’t postpone joy! As my mother used to say, there is no one so stupid that you cannot learn something from them. To that I’ll add, there is no disaster so great it cannot teach you something. Try to see the wisdom in your dumbest choices. Amaze yourself and you might amaze everyone else. Give yourself permission to risk everything or you will accomplish nothing. Fall down. Stand up.

And write forward.

Note: Damon Suede’s book Hot Head is currently in the semifinals for Best Romance of 2011 over at Goodreads. It is the only M/M novel so nominated and is up against titles by Nora Roberts, J.R. Ward, Nalini Singh, and Gena Showalter. If you’d like to see a gay romance claim that spot please take a moment to give it your vote.


Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to M/M, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at:

Thanks to Damon for a very inspiring post!  Not only can you have a chance of winning in the Riptide Blog Tour but Damon has also graciously offered a copy of Hot Head to a lucky winner who leaves a comment on this post (ETA the competition ends on Saturday 26th November at 11pm GMT).  Good luck!

Saturday, 19 November 2011


Over the last couple of weeks I've been offering up some prizes on either my interviews or guest posts. Well it's time to announce some winners!

The winner of the Josephine Myles Barging In blog tour was someone who commented on the post at Josh Lanyon's blog.

The winner of the JL Merrow Wight Mischief blog toddle prize was diannakay, who commented on Joyfully Jay's lovely blog (and BTW if you haven't found Jay's blog yet, I'd recommend it).

There are three winners for the Aleksandr Voinov Interview posts.The winners, chosen by are:

Copy of Scorpion - Adara O'Hare

Copy of Counterpunch - Orannia

A choice of the author's backlist - Emanuela

I have Orannia and Adara's email addresses which I shall pass on to Aleks, but I don't have Emannuela's email. If you could contact me and let me know your address I can get Aleks to send the books out to you.


Friday, 18 November 2011

Review: A Blinded Mind by Cari Z

I'm a big fan of Cari Z.'s writing and was really pleased when I found out that this novel was being published. Most of her other works are in short story form and I was interested to see whether she could sustain as story over a longer format. Her writing has always appealed to me being both engaging and with a lovely flow. That same strength in the writing is still present in A Blinded Mind, as is a story which is strong on character and setting. However, some of the choices in the narrative style meant that the plot was a little choppy, as I'll go on to explain later.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic future where war and WMD have laid waste to many parts of the world and people struggle to survive in a world where food and money are scarce. Living outside the walls of a city is almost impossible because of packs of wild dogs and insane people who are infected with a virus which makes them attack and kill those who are not infected. As the story starts, psychic Jonathan is recaptured after 10 years of freedom. As a child he was recognised as a strong psychic and taken to an institution, PsyCo, where he was imprisoned as possibly dangerous and his abilities were used to test the latest drugs. After escaping, he lived out of the spotlight of PsyCo before an error of judgement brings US agent Sam to his hideout. The pair spend a few weeks together until sickness forces Jonathan's hand and when the soldiers arrive for him, he gives Sam, and therefore himself up. Now he's imprisoned again with no way of knowing whether Sam is alive or not.

Let me start by saying what didn't quite work for me, and may also be off-putting for some readers. The story does not have a conventional linear pattern to it, which makes the narrative structure interesting and allows information about Jonathan's childhood, his relationship with Sam and the circumstances which led to his second imprisonment, to be given to the reader in a way that avoided dumping information. However, it also meant that there were a number of flashbacks and that the story jumped around a lot. This gave it a disjointed feel at times and I sometimes found it difficult to adjust to the new time period or to understand what was happening straight away. If that was the only technique used then I think I could have adjusted to the narrative fairly quickly, but the author used another technique to pass information to the reader. Whilst Sam is whiling away the long and lonely hours of imprisonment he makes up conversations in his head with Sam. These conversations last for a number of pages and are the primary way of giving information to the reader about Sam, Jonathan's involvement with Sam and some background on what Jonathan did with his 10 years of freedom. In some ways I can see why the author did this. It's better to give information through dialogue than in huge passages of info-dump, but most of the time these 'conversations' were happening I couldn't get past the idea that this was all just going on in Jonathan's head. Sort of like he was talking to himself. It left me feeling a bit odd and disconnected with what was happening on the page, plus it meant that more time is spent between 'imaginary' Sam and Jonathan than with 'real' Sam and Jonathan. It was a brave move by the author to use this as a way of finding out more about Jonathan and Sam, but in the end it didn't work too well for me.

What did work, though, was the excellent imaginative world building in the story. The whole set up with the psychic abilities and their use in National defense was well constructed and thoughtful. The post apolcalyptic world was chillingly realistic in its depiction of life both inside the 'safe' cities and in the wilds where no sane man would consider venturing. It said much about Jonathan an his abilities that he was able to survive for so long, isolated and alone in a place where danger lurks around every corner.

As a character, Jonathan had a delightful complexity. He is essentially a good man who has had his abilities used against him, and yet still retains that core of morality which sets him apart from some of the monstrous people he encounters in the book. The book shone for me in the way that we are shown how conflicted Jonathan is, he has a tremendous amount of power at his disposal but only uses it when he is directly threatened or to save others. This made him highly sympathetic and I was genuinely interested in him as a character and his story. This went a long way to my enjoyment of the book and counteracted some of the difficulties I had with the narrative form.

There were many other things I liked about the story such as Jonathan's sweet and tender romance with Sam; his touching relationship with Tai, a fellow prisoner; and the end of the story which was graphic and slightly shocking but retained a hopeful note for the future. The ending to the story is rather open, and I'm hoping this means that we get to see more of these characters and in particular more development of the relationship between Sam and Jonathan.

Overall, I had mixed feelings about the story but thought that the setting and characterisation made up for the weaknesses in the narrative form and, as such, I could happily recommend A Blinded Mind with a grade of 'Very Good'.

Buy this book HERE.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Review: Wight Mischief by JL Merrow

I'd been looking forward to this new release by JL Merrow for a while. I'm a huge fan of her writing and have pretty much read everything she's published so far (except the shifter books because they're not really my thing). I was particularly attracted to the Isle of Wight setting because, although I've never been, I've heard quite a lot about what a charming and beautiful place it is.

The story begins with two best friends, Will and Baz, arriving on the Isle of Wight for a camping holiday/opportunity for research as Baz is wanting to write a book about ghost sightings on the island. Baz isn't a huge fan of camping but he's humouring Will, and things get off to a pretty good start when two attractive girls happen to be camping on their site - well it's a pretty good start for Baz who quickly hooks up with one of the girls, leaving poor Will to fume silently about being left out in the cold, literally. Will heads off for a walk and accidentally trespasses on private land where he sees a pale ghostly figure disappearing into the sea. It turns out not to be a ghost but rather elusive author Marcus whose grisly past forces him to keep away from everyone. When Baz gets permission to speak to Marcus over the ghosts on his property, Will sees his error and spends the rest of the book trying to get to know Marcus better. However, ghosts, suspicious accidents and over-bearing guardians all get in their way.

I'm going to start with what I didn't like about the book. Firstly, Baz. I really didn't like him too much and in my opinion he had far too much page time devoted to him. My main annoyance with him was the way he treated Will, who was just a lovely man. One minute Baz was being all pally and nice to Will and the next he would lash out in a sarcastic way, or put Will down, or just be plain nasty to him for no real reason, or lead him on with sexual suggestions only to then dump him for a woman. I spent most of the book wondering why Will puts up with him and it actually reflected badly on Will as a character that he allowed Baz to walk all over him, take advantage of his good nature, or that he believed the lies that Baz tells him. In fact my favourite scene between Will and Baz is when Will finally stands up for himself and walks out on Baz. The majority of the story is taken up with Baz and Will's travels around the island as Baz supposedly visits places of ghostly interest. It's not difficult to see that this is just a cover for something else, and again it annoyed me that Will doesn't question Baz about this. In contrast the page time between Will and Marcus is much less and really for the romance to have worked better for me I would have liked to have seen more of Will and Marcus together and less of Will and Baz. Towards the end of the book the focus does shift better towards Will and Marcus, and Baz seems to fade out the book somewhat, although that was too little too late for me as a reader.

I'm going to be a bit spoilerish now so skip this next paragraph if it bothers you.

My other gripe was about the portrayal of Marcus' guardian. This is partly because I have a severe dislike of any villainous character who holds absolute power over one of the heroes, which was definitely the case with Leif. It was also because he turned into a huge caricature moustache twirling villain. The whole 'if I can't have Marcus and his money then no-one can!' showdown was rather far-fetched as was his frankly ridiculous attempts to kill off Will and Baz for no sane reason.

There was still much to like about the book, despite some of my negative feelings. I really liked Will. He's gentle and unassuming, always willing to go the extra mile and genuinely caring about other people. He's hardly met Marcus before he decides that Marcus needs his help and protection, and so sets about trying to make Marcus' life better. Admittedly some of that is due to lust too, and his internal musings about Marcus' body made me smile. Marcus too was a character that worked for me. His albinism was an unusual feature and I thought that was handled both realistically and sensitively in the story. The two men have a sort of hurt/comfort relationship which, I have to admit, is a bit of a favourite of mine and so I liked the way their different attributes complemented each other. I just wish there had been more page time devoted to their romance without the annoyance of Baz or Leif to muddy their relationship.

Another part which worked really well was the setting of the Isle of Wight. Baz and Will spend much of the book driving all over the island and visiting various places of interest. It really gave me a great flavour of what the island is like, whilst also showing the obvious affection that the author has for the place. I love it when a book is so firmly grounded in place and this was a definite positive feature of this book for me.

Overall, as you can see, I had a bit of a mixed response to this book. On one hand I really liked the setting and the characters of Will and Marcus, and thought their romance was quite lovely. On the other hand the characters of Baz and Leif didn't work for me and as such I got annoyed at how much the story seemed to focus on them and not on the romantic couple together. This book is still worth reading though, and it gets a grade of 'Good'.

Buy this book HERE.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Review: The Rifter Part 9: The Iron Temple by Ginn Hale

This review can also be found at the DIK blog.

Things are really starting to hot up now in this penultimate part of The Rifter. The story stays with John all the way through as he adapts to his new name of Jath'ibaye and attempts to use his Rifter powers to aid the Fai'daum in their fight.  The story opens with John and a small band of Fai'daum rebels who have learned that the Ushiri priests are capturing suspected witches and imprisoning them. Even more horrifying is when it is discovered that the women are being raped in an attempt to increase the numbers of the Ushiri.  When the daughter of an influential man is taken, the whole city of Giza is in uproar and John and the Fai'daum take advantage of this to attempt a rescue.  Meanwhile, further south Ravishan and Ji are fighting a battle of their own.

There were a couple of things which struck me in particular about part 9. Firstly, the focus of the story has narrowed considerably from part 8. In the previous part the story was busy with rich description and the introduction of many new secondary characters.  In this part we focus on John and a small band of Fai'daum rebels, led by Lafi'shir, and there is less in terms of lengthy description of setting and more in terms of dialogue and action.  I found this much easier to keep track of who was who as each of the men have distinct personalities and attributes. Each man or pair of men spends a specific amount of time with John so that by the end I felt as though I knew them as well as John does.  This also allowed a rather sweet romance sub-plot to strike up between two of the men and provided some much needed emotional relief from some of the heavier violence that permeates this story (I'll talk more on that later).  Relief was also found through the camaraderie between the men, which again seeks to bring everything down to a much personal level for John. These are no longer faceless rebels or a huge mass of people living together underground, but rather people who John is growing to respect and like a great deal.  I have a feeling this is going to important in the last part of the book.

Secondly, this part is almost non stop action scenes with only a few small quieter scenes to break up the tense and often horrific action.  Here we see just what a destructive force is inside John as he, seemingly without thought, kills and maims to reach his own, and the Fai'daum's, goals.  John's knowledge that he cannot be killed not only shows him his immortality, but it also makes him less caring of the mortality of others, in particular those who work for the priests or carry out their evil deeds.  This is such a great contrast to both the John we see at the beginning of the book and the Jathi'baye from the sections set in the future, that it's a little disconcerting to read.  The John here is black and white in his ideas of what constitutes right and wrong and anyone who doesn't fit with his view deserves all they get - even former friends.  Having said that, I can see that it is also necessary to see this side of John.  For us to understand the Jathi'baye of the future we need to know what led that gentle John from the start of the book to unleash his powers upon Basawar.  It's almost frightening to see just how out of control John becomes as this part draws to a close, and yet it is still in keeping with the man we know will do anything to save those he loves.

A word of warning, there's a lot of violence in this part of the book, much of it done to John, and it's rather gruesome in its description in places.  Don't let that put you off though because after the quieter and more descriptive foundations laid in part 8, part 9 comes as a whirlwind of action which gripped me from the start.  The final part is only a few weeks away and in some ways I'm dreading it.  It not only means the end of a book I've thoroughly enjoyed, but it's also going to be quite emotional and perhaps terrible in some of the things that are going to happen.  Mostly though, in my mind is a couple of questions: Will John ever get back to Earth and does that even matter now?  We shall see.

You can either buy this ninth part - and then any of the other parts - separately for $3.99 each, or buy the whole book at $29.95 and each month the new part will be sent to you via email. More information about this and the buy now page can be found HERE.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Review: Long Way Home by Carolyn Gray

Long Way Home is a sort of follow on story to the tremendously popular A Red Tainted Silence reviewed hereFans of that book have been waiting years for more from this author and so there’s a certain amount of expectation behind this book. For me, having only read A Red Tainted Silence last year, the wait has not been too long and whilst I was looking forward to this book, I didn’t come to it with the fervour that some readers have. Perhaps that is why, whilst some of the book absolutely shone for me, for the most part I felt it to be a little unrealistic and overblown.

The story continues almost directly from the previous book, although I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have read the previous book to understand this one. Here the focus is on Lee, the bass player of Nick and Brandon’s band, Dream. The story begins as the band is winding up its very successful tour. Nick is puzzled when he receives anonymous tickets for the ballet at their final tour destination of Dallas, and persuades Lee to come with him. In fact the tickets were for Lee, and when they watch the ballet, Lee is shocked to discover that one of the dancers is Gev, who is the brother of Lee’s best friend from childhood, Stefan. Stefan was snatched from the park as a young teen and never seen again, and Lee has carried the guilt of this around for years. The pair get together after the show and it’s at that point that life begins to change for both of them, starting with a grizzly murder.

I’m going to start with what didn’t work for me. The story is pretty much a roller-coaster ride all centred around a series of terrible events, murder, attempted murder, bombings, violent acts, and a final dramatic showdown. Listed this way, it makes the story sound very exciting, and taken at a basic level it was. However, it also had the effect of making it all a bit too busy, especially when there are so many secondary characters fitted into the story. What I also found, much to my annoyance, was that each time something dramatic happened it was never dealt with in a realistic fashion or it was dismissed. After the initial murder and the investigation, which was done in a realistic way, every time something happened to Lee or Gev, they just seemed to walk away from it without dealing with it properly. By rights the two men should spent most of the time at the police station either reporting incidents or answering questions, but that never happened. In a way I can understand, it would be a dull book indeed if they had done that, but I spent far too much time whilst reading thinking that you just wouldn’t act in that way. Another reason I found it overblown was because the bad guy was far too much the cartoon villain. Even when all was revealed I thought that the whole thing that happened 15 years before could have been avoided with a call to the police and a restraining order. It just added to the lack of realism.

One final, and more minor niggle was that there was a continuity error in regard to Gev’s dancing job. At the beginning of the story Gev tells us that he now doesn’t have any rehearsals because they are going to be rehearsing something new soon and so are taking a break. Then, almost the next day he has to go into work because of a scheduled rehearsal. we are also told during the book that Gev could take two weeks off dancing but towards the end of the book he says he needs to go back to the studio because he is tightening up after two days. This error, plus a name switch during the book is very unusual for this publisher, and pulled me out of the story a little.

Having said that, one of the plus points for me with this book was Gev’s career as a dancer. In fact one of my favourite scenes is when Gev is dancing with a ballerina and we see how much he loves dancing. The scene then switches to Lee who is watching Gev, aroused by the display of talent. It was a pivotal moment in their relationship and one which sent shivers down my spine. In general I liked the romance part between Lee and Gev, especially in the pull and push between them. This author writes very convincing emotional scenes, and it was when the story focused on the development of the romance, or the emotional impact of the events in the book that was when the story really shone for me. This was particularly true in the loving relationship that Gev has with his sister and nephew. Gev grows a lot in this story and his sister is a support for him the whole time. I liked the way that family was used in this way, especially as it contrasted with Lee’s loner status.

So, overall, whilst I enjoyed parts of this book, I also found that the sheer amount of plot, character and action scenes muddied the waters and that the lack of realism left me a little unconvinced by the story. I’m not giving up on this author though and hope that there won’t be such a long gap until the next book. Grade: Good

Buy this book HERE.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Guest Post: The Haunted Isle by J.L. Merrow

Today I'm delighted to introduce the lovely JL Merrow to the blog. I've been a huge fan of JL's books ever since I stumbled across her first ever published short story and was pleased to find it contained a character from Bradford!  JL has a new book out just yesterday - Wight Mischief (see below for a blurb and buy link). Today she's here to tell us why she chose ghost hunting for the reason why Baz and Will visit the Isle of Wight. Over to you JL!


The ostensible reason for Baz and Will's visit to the Isle of Wight—claimed to be the most haunted island in the world—in my new novel Wight Mischief is so that Baz can research a book on ghosts. He's after a bit of "local colour" to pad out his stories of ghostly carriages, ladies in blue, and spectral soldiers.

Carisbrooke Castle, one of the settings for Wight Mischief, which apparently houses more ghosts than you can shake a stick of Isle of Wight rock at.

No not this type of Isle of Wight rock.

This type of Isle of Wight rock!

Baz, it has to be said, doesn't actually believe in ghosts, but he knows a sensational subject when he sees one. Will is more prepared to keep an open mind—so much so that when he first sees Marcus skinny-dipping by moonlight, his initial reaction is to think him a ghost. (There may have been the odd beer or six involved!)

So why is the island so haunted? One theory puts it down to the conjunction of ley lines. For the uninitiated (i.e. me) ley lines are theoretical connections between places of historical, spiritual or geographical interest:

The Isle of Wight is down the bottom, appropriately enough next to no.13.

Apparently ley lines, and their conjunctions, are considered by some to be magical "hot-spots" where you're likely to find all kinds of ghostly goings-on – it's similar to living on the Hellmouth like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (remember her?). Only with a rather less good-looking cast, and a LOT less sunshine.

So is the Isle of Wight really all that haunted?

Alas! Living there all my life until I went to university, and frequently visiting since, I have to confess I've yet to see a single spook. ;)

Further reading:



A stranger could light up his world...or drive him deeper into darkness.

Will thinks a camping trip with his friend-with-benefits Baz will be a fun break from his usual job as a personal trainer. But the trip turns into a rollercoaster ride as he meets author Marcus - and Marcus' mysterious guardian Leif.

Journalist Baz is supposed to be researching a book on ghosts, yet he seems curiously interested in secrets lying in the reclusive Marcus' past. But these are secrets that someone's determined they should let lie - and if they're not careful, Will and Baz could end up adding to the Island's ghostly population...

Product Warnings: Contains perilous cliffs, elusive might-be ghosts, a secret tunnel, and skinny-dipping by moonlight.

Available now from Samhain and Amazon.

Everyone who comments on any of my Wight Mischief blog posts will be entered into a prize draw for this sterling silver Isle of Wight charm (1" wide; I've put it on black cord but it could also be worn on a bracelet):

I’ll make the draw on 15th November, 9pm GMT, so you have until then to leave your comments

Friday, 4 November 2011

Review: Counterpunch by Aleksandr Voinov

How much you love this book will depend on a couple of things. Firstly, whether you like sports-themed books, and in particular the world of boxing, and whether you can buy into a world where slavery is part of society.  Those of you who have read Rachel Haimowitz's book Anchored: Belonging, will recognise this world as Aleks has taken the world she created in that book and used it as a background to this book.  However, this story is very different to Rachel's book.  In Belonging, Rachel focused on a man who was born into slavery (or at least had been a slave from a very young age) in Counterpunch Aleks takes a man who was sentenced into slavery after he murdered a woman.  Thus Brooklyn is a man whose very personality fights against  his slavery  and as such is a wholly different man from Daniel from Belonging.

The story opens with Brooklyn winning a boxing match. After he became a slave he was bought by a boxing syndicate, called the management, and since then he's risen through the ranks of slave boxers.  He's only a couple of matches away from winning the slave heavyweight title and all his aggression and focus is on winning that prize.  As well as boxing, Brooklyn's owners pimp him out after matches to rich people who want sexual favours from such a strong man.  One of those clients is Nathaniel who surprises Brooklyn with his gentle nature. After a few times together the two men form a bond, but secrets and the legality of slavery mean that things are not easy for them.

Let's face it, the character of Brooklyn is pretty magnificent.  He's a man who fights with all his being against what he has become but also recognises that he has to play the system or suffer the consequences. He likes boxing, taking pride in his boxing achievements, and yet he also knows that without his slave status he would never have had the discipline or opportunity to excel in the sport, a thought that sits uneasily with his frustrations.  He's also essentially a good man, despite his pent up aggression. He grieves for his lost life, his past actions which led him to this point, and suffers from flashbacks to the time when his life changed completely.  One of the things I found particularly clever about the book was the way that our perceptions of Brooklyn slowly change as more and more is revealed about him.  This information is drip fed through the book until by the end my understanding of Brooklyn as a person had been turned on its head.  It was skilfully done in a way that avoided dumping information, and also allowed for a development of Brooklyn which left him a complete and realistic character by the end of the book. I love it when authors can surprise me like this and it showed a maturity in the writing which I admired a great deal.

I have to admit, I'm not too keen on sports books. I'm also not a huge fan of boxing, as I find it rather a brutal sport.  The boxing side of things is described very vividly in this book with some matches shown almost in full, and some only alluded to.  These scenes were visceral and blunt in the way that the fights were shown, so much so that they made me wince a little inside.  The book is from Brooklyn's point of view so we get his thoughts during the boxing scenes. In a way this was helpful as there was a good mix of cold analysis, as Brooklyn plotted his next punch, and almost bestial emotions because Brooklyn is so filled with raw adrenaline, that he reacts with instinct.  Other aspects of the boxing life are dealt with in detail too, from Brooklyn's interactions with his trainer to how his fights are managed and publicised.  Those who like boxing will find this aspect fascinating, and it certainly adds considerably to the almost flawless setting and background to the novel.  Brooklyn is immersed in the boxing life, and the detail in the setting allows us to see how the structure of boxing dominates his life.  Having said all that, for someone like me who isn't particularly interested in the sport, I found myself less engaged when the fights were taking place, or when we were shown what life for a boxer is like.  This is just a personal preference though and not really a criticism of the writing, as I can see how some people would find those parts very interesting, and the fights thrilling.

It's slightly unfortunate that when compared to the very much larger than life Brooklyn, Nathaniel fades a little into the background.  I can understand their attraction, and I thought it rather clever the way that Nathaniel was able to see what Brooklyn needs and gain his trust by exploiting that.  We don't get Nathaniel's thoughts and so it wasn't always easy to understand his motivations. That possibly could have been the point - we, along with Brooklyn - don't know whether to trust him or not, but even by the end when all the secrets have been revealed, I wasn't completely convinced of his feelings for Brooklyn.  However,  I liked the fact that they are opposite in personality and lifestyle, and some of the dynamics of their relationship especially in terms of power play, was very intriguing.

I do have one niggle about the story which involves Brooklyn's trainer, Les.

This bit might be a bit spoilerish so skip this paragraph if that bothers you.

At the beginning of the story, Les and Brooklyn get on well, and there's even a bit of sexual attention between them.  Then later, after an incident where Brooklyn and Les are separated, Les turns on Brooklyn and treats him with coldness and disdain, even allowing others to physically hurt Brooklyn.  For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why this is.  Was it because Brooklyn had broken a slave 'rule'? In which case that didn't reflect on Les because he wasn't even in charge of Brooklyn at the time.  Was it because Brooklyn had been taken away from him and he was jealous that another person had trained Brooklyn? In which case it wasn't Brooklyn's fault because he's a slave and has to go wherever anyone tells him.  I just wish there had been a conversation between Les and Brooklyn which gave us some indication of why his feelings had changed so dramatically.  Brooklyn seems to accept this change and doesn't question it, although he is surprised at first.  This was an, albeit minor, blip in the characterisation which bothered me a little.

Those people who read Belonging and found it a little too much in terms of the slavery theme shouldn't be put off this book.  Brooklyn's feelings towards his slave status are explored thoroughly, as is the legal side of slavery in England, where this book is set.  There were a lot a little incidental details about life as a slave which built to provide a decent picture of the way slavery works in the book.  However, those who want to know more about the history of how slavery had developed won't find it in this book.

How to sum up my feelings for this book when they had been rather varied!  On one hand I loved, loved, loved the character of Brooklyn and the detail in the setting was breathtaking in its scope and breadth.  The story was complex with a high emotional content which made the story very engaging at times.  On the other hand I wasn't keen on the scenes in the boxing ring, found the sports stuff didn't hold my attention as much and thought Nathaniel a little dull compared with Brooklyn.  Overall, despite those few misgivings, I can still recommend this book, especially if you are a fan of boxing and it gets a grade of Very Good'.

Buy this book HERE.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Author Interview: Aleksandr Voinov Part 2

I'm delighted to welcome back Aleksandr Voinov for the second part of my interview with him. The first part was on Tuesday and if you missed it then it's here. The first part concentrated on Aleks as an author and what inspires him to write, today the focus is on some of the books he has written. It's always great to read about the inspiration and reasons behind the books we love and here Aleks has done that for us. On with the interview!

What was the inspiration behind the character of Kendras in Scorpion?

Good question! I’m not entirely sure where Kendras came from – I was on holiday in Turkey (sweltering heat and basically spending the first days clinging to the aircon just to breathe), and suddenly I got this “voice” in my head. A messed up soldier with a broken foot after a lost battle. Marvellous. I was intrigued and spent most of that holiday typing frantically what I was seeing in my head. I didn’t even want the book – I went to Turkey with an idea to sit near the pool and finish my WWII novel, but Kendras had different ideas.

I think several little inspirations came together: the landscape and climate (and food) in Turkey, a chat I had with a friend on Dubrovnik, Glen Cook’s “Black Company” (which I read ages ago), and a scene where a king is being married to the sea – a death/rebirth ritual with orgy conducted by an utterly corrupt, power-mad priesthood (this bit might have turned into its own story – I didn’t yet know it belonged to the Kendras story, but it fell very nicely into place).

What was important about Kendras (and his officer) was that they weren’t white. I witnessed the “race fail” debate, during which I was accused of being a racist because my characters are usually white. So I’d grappled for a months with how a white writer with extremely limited experience of black people can write about black people. What issues can you write about? How to avoid the fetishization that’s always a danger? (You really don’t want to write about “chocolate cocks” for example – it is pretty offensive). Is the character’s world ethnically diverse? How do non-black people respond to black people? Is there such a thing as racism? I’d wrestled with these issues for a while, and then realized that Kendras was black (I didn’t “design” him black, it was something I discovered). Yet, that is not all he is, he’s many other things that are more important to him than his skin colour. Kendras’s ethnicity will play a bigger role in the next book, but it’s not his defining characteristic. He just happened to be black and I happened to come across that. (Don’t you love it when characters suddenly turn into something/body else?)

How much planning did a book like Scorpion take and what was your basis for the political, religious and social structures that you have created in that book?

No planning. I wrote the first 40% of that book in one go, in about five days, with alternating viewpoints of both Steel and Kendras. Then I hit a wall (right where Kendras decides to not stay with Steel but go out and find his comrades). My very nebulous idea that Kendras and Steel would end up together evaporated, because clearly, Kendras didn’t trust Steel enough and I just didn’t see them really fall in love, and I couldn’t force them. That was the moment the book almost died. Feeling like a hack and a loser, I pushed it away for a couple months, during which I started my new job that attempted to kill me with stress (I’m never, ever, returning to journalism), but after I talked to some friends and worked things out, I realized I just had to trust Kendras to do what he wanted.

I eliminated Steel’s point-of-view entirely (about 8-9k), rewrote everything into Kendras’s viewpoint, and let him do his thing. He then did what he had to do, and I just wrote what I saw. The twists in the book (the big revelation about the officer, for example) weren’t planned. The stuff just happened, it all came together. It was like watching a movie. I loved it.

There are two structures – one is political, the other religious, and of course they are all tangled. Dalman, while the old imperial city of a bygone era, is effectively controlled via corrupt high priest’s puppet king. The old “military outpost”, Fetin, is the rival power – basically a military autocracy. Vededrinye is run by the Elder – who’s both the spiritual and the worldly leader of his people. As a historian, I’d say Venice under the Doges, the Vatican as a priest-state, and possibly Sparta are inspirations, albeit seen through my (very) twisted imagination.

In Counterpunch you have taken the AU world created by Rachel Haimowitz and adapted it for your story. How easy was it to work from someone else’s ideas? Was it better or worse than starting from scratch with your own ideas?

When I read Rachel’s “Anchored: Belonging”, my biggest gripe was that the slave, Daniel, is extremely limited in how much he can resist the system keeping him enslaved. The system itself fascinated me (I’ve done some studies on slavery at university, and that Ancient History degree definitely raised its head again here). I wanted to look at a slave who’d fight the system all the way and would be defiant with every breath.

I asked Rachel if I could run with a slave boxer, and she said I could. So, while her story is set in a version on the US, I went with Britain and Europe, which meant I could develop my own stuff, as long as it fitted into the greater concept. We discussed things like the role and attitude of slaves and Companions, manumission (setting a slave free) and other legal concepts, but I could very much do my own thing, so, apart from some chats and coordination to make sure our concepts didn’t clash, I didn’t find it any different to writing from scratch.

You seem to have a fondness for Soviet characters or at least those with a leaning towards Communism. Why is that?

I’m a child of the Cold War (born in 1975). As a teenager, I was completely convinced that I wouldn’t grow into an adult, as both the US and the USSR would turn Europe into a nuclear wasteland. As a Western German, we were brought up to think the US was the bee’s knees, but I couldn’t help being fascinated by the other side – the Soviets. I tried to understand what was going on. You know, the whole Sting “The Russians love their children, too” thing. It’s never left. It caused me to read widely on Russian history and culture, but I failed at learning the language (I can read the alphabet, which came in handy when I went to Moscow last year) and I have a huge respect to all “real life” Russians I’ve met and talked to.

I slowly realized the terrible damage they’ve all sustained under the totalitarian system/s. That alone would fill several books and I could go on and on about it, but totalitarianism is the bane of humanity, whether you call it Stalism, Nazism, Fascism doesn’t even matter. And again the German background plays a role – half my family vanished behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Germany and was subjected to Socialist totalitarianism. Those scars are still there. I’m just trying to understand, so I put these things out into characters and see what they do. Mikhail Volkov, Vadim Krasnorada, Nikita Kazakov – they all have their issues and biographical wounds. I also, strangely, find the Russian “mentality” easier to write about than many others.

What interests you about the dynamics of dominance and submission and why does this feature in many of your books?

I’ve talked to BDSM lifestylers about that, and apparently what I do is not always BDSM, but when it called “power exchange”. It’s fascinating when people negotiate power. When there are no roles that people just assume for the sake of the author or the good old alpha/omega dynamic that many seem to fall back on. My guys are just guys, and they have varying levels of sexual/erotic flexibility, but all of them are aware of power, power dynamics and issues like control and trust and status (I might have hung around bankers for too long!). When you meet somebody, you don’t know how they work, and there’s that delicious dance of getting to know each other – what the other person likes and what are hot buttons. That negotiation, that insecurity, that lure and danger of the unknown fascinates me endlessly.

Transit is a very different book to your others in that it’s a straightforward and quite sweet contemporary romance. How did this book come about?

We started work on this when the call came out for I Do, Too (a charity anthology about love and marriage). I really wanted to donate a story for this very worthy cause. But Andrew and Javier just kept going, and we wrote twice the amount of words that were allowed for the anthology.

Transit was definitely a case when you hope that that bone belongs to a small animal, but it didn’t. While we worked on that story, the global economy was going to hell, and I’d talked about a friend who works in advertising and what was going on in the industry at that point in time. I wanted to write about all that, but with an uplifting angle.

It’s a very Christmassy story, too, and Christmas has always been a time of reflection for me. “Am I where I want to be? And how the hell did I end up doing this?” My character, Andrew, thought he was really slick and doing well, while the corporate politics were slowly strangling his enthusiasm and joy. I admire people greatly who are capable of stopping in the middle of all that stress and horror of a bad job and ask (and answer) the hard questions. Where do I want to go? Is this the best/healthiest/sanest I can be? What needs changing? What about my soul/heart/emotions?

I did enjoy writing it, but it sits oddly next to the others, I admit.

I’ve loved all your historical novels. How does writing an historical compare to a contemporary or fantasy/sci-fi? Do you have plans for more historical?

Thanks! Historicals are about a hundred times more work than anything else, probably because I’m completely neurotic about accuracy, like my history professors are watching while I type. It’s that bad. In fantasy, you can take history, twist the bits you like and ignore the stuff you know nothing about (hence Scorpion feels “pseudo-historical” – clearly, there’s a lot of my history background in there, but it’s only adhering to its own internal logic). It still needs to be well-written and make sense, but you can hand-wave issues like “were there atheists in the Middle Ages?” and just posit that Kendras is so cynical he is basically an atheist in a world where a lot of people are not.

If I write about a Templar like William Raven from Deliverance, I’m looking at his weapons, his ideology, his personal take on it, his background as a noble from a specific area in Europe, and his overall mentality and attitude (also about sex, gay sex, “being gay”). If you take Deliverance – there’s a training combat scene of maybe 500 words that took 3-4 days of research. The boar hunt in Lion of Kent is the result of ten days of research - we’re talking maybe 2-3k words here. But it is as accurate as I could make it without acquiring an MA in Medieval Hunting or going on an actual boar hunt myself (I had the funds and the times to do things like that, I totally would, though).

And, yes, I’m getting less neurotic about historicals (less fear, more confidence). Kate Cotoner and I have started work on Lion’s Share, the next part in William Raven’s story, so that’s medieval.

Then I’m joking that in 2012, I will be living in the Second World War. I have three, maybe four stories set in WWII, and two of them are definitely novels. I know the shapes of those two – the rest might be novels or novellas or might not happen at all. It’s way too early to say anything about them.

I’m going to devote the whole year to those two novels. I’m not rushing it, if I need to read tens of thousands of pages of research to get them exactly right, that’s what I’m going to do. I couldn’t forgive myself if I got those wrong. Once you’re writing historicals about what’s still inside “living memory”, the stakes go up tremendously. WWII created the modern world as we know it, too many people died – I just can’t take this lightly. I’m still grappling with the whole event, what it did, what it meant, but I feel there are untold stories and they’ve come to me to be told.

You are very active over the internet with your own blog, Twitter, Facebook, Good Reads and commenting on other blogs. How important is it for authors such as yourself to keep up an internet presence?

Apart from as a procrastination tool? (Laughs) I guess most of my friends and “close contacts” are “virtual people on the internet”. That’s my tribe, that’s where I feel comfortable and where I go to unwind after a rough day at the day job. I just hang out and enjoy myself. I like discussing what we’re doing and networking with other writers, readers and other fans of the genre, bloggers and reviewers. I’m all that too; writer, reader, blogger and reviewer. It’s a great way to stay abreast of news and trends, what people complain about and what they like. Some discussion topics (like “race fail” or “violence in romance”) caused me to look at my own writing and my own attitudes, sharpening my understanding of what it is what I do and how other people see it. Sometimes I might even have a clever idea to contribute. It’s one gigantic conversation, and I’m too interested to hear people’s opinions to shut up and sit back.

But, yes, if you’re an indie author in our space, you have to have a website and/or blog at least. Readers that loved your book will check out your website/blog, to learn about other books, maybe even the brain behind it all.

You have a new book coming out...tell us about it.

There are several (I’ve had an incredibly busy 2011): The Dark Soul series from Riptide, and Break and Enter from Samhain in December, but let’s go with the novel out just right now: Counterpunch. Slave boxers (the fighter, not the garment). The blurb does a great job of summing it up:

Fight like a man, or die like a slave.

Brooklyn Marshall used to be a policeman in London, with a wife and a promising future ahead of him. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose father was a Member of Parliament and had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the overcrowded prison system, Brooklyn was sold into slavery rather than incarcerated. Now, he's the "Mean Machine", a boxer on the slave prizefighting circuit, pummelling other slaves for the entertainment of freemen and being rented out for the sexual service of his wealthier fans.

When Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn's services for a night, it seems like any other assignation. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it "love"—such things do not exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to help get Brooklyn's conviction overturned, he dares to hope. Then, an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he has worked so hard to achieve and sending him into the most important fight of all—the fight for freedom.

As all of my books, it has men fighting for what’s important to them, power exchange, hot sex, intrigue, politics, and men with big issues that eventually work things out. It’s pretty intense and I’m really proud how it has turned out. In terms of my novels, it’s the best I’ve done so far on my own, with Scorpion a close second.

What’s next for you?

I’m going to slow the hell down. (Laughs) 2011 has been such a ride that I honestly need a breather. I want to finish Lion’s Share in 2011, but for 2012, my only goal is to relax and write my WWII novels. From a reader’s perspective, 2012 will be really quiet. I might do some shorts – they might just happen in between as I stumble over some dinosaur bones – but that year is filled up with the historical novels, and they are the Big Priorities. Yep, that’s it.

Thank you for the interview!

Thank you very much for hosting me on your blog!

You can find Aleks on his website or at his blog or on Good Reads or on Twitter as @vashtan.

Many, many thanks to Aleks for these comprehensive and very enlightening answers. Don't forget that if you leave a comment on either (or both) of today or Tuesday's posts then you can be in the running for a copy of Scorpion, of Counterpunch and one choice from Aleks' backlist. Good luck!