Reviews, reviews, reviews. They matter a great deal

Reviews, reviews, reviews. They matter a great deal

There’s a reason why authors keep nagging about reviews

1.11% is a number that is greatly frustrating me. It’s the percentage of reviews I’ve received last year. Roughly one in a hundred book buyers actually left a review. In reality, the number is lower because some reviews are left by reviewers who work with advance review copies, i.e. books they don’t pay for. The low number of reviews isn’t just frustrating for me, it’s a source of great consternation for most authors out there. A couple of years ago, when Disease came out, I had been in touch with several Alzheimer’s associations around the world, and one of them, in Australia, said they’d be happy to mention the book to their members, as soon as I’d reached one hundred reviews. I got to thirty-one during that release cycle, having to work hard for every single review.

Why reviews matter

Disease was greatly received by the audiences, but after I had worked hard for those first reviews, they've pretty much stopped, even though the book still sells.

Disease was greatly received by the audiences, but after I had worked hard for those first reviews, they’ve pretty much stopped, even though the book still sells.

The sad truth is that reviews matter. For many reasons. Of course, I could tell you how much I love to read them, but I won’t lie to you. I usually don’t, simply because I’m unaware of them. Also because I have thin skin (I share this trait with most artists) and a negative review can ruin my mood for days. If someone emails me a positive review I walk on cloud #7 instead. Some readers think that authors learn from reviews. With all due respect: don’t overestimate your importance. I say this in all humility. That is not the job of a review, nor the job of a reviewer. By the time a book is released, it’s polished and looks exactly the way author and publisher intend it to be. Nothing left to change, except for some sad and overlooked typos. If you feel you need to teach an author a lesson, try to get involved during the alpha-, beta-, editing or proofreading stage. I know some freelance editors who itch to critique a finished novel as a way to pitch their services. I also know editors who have killed for less after having read such reviews. Just saying.

But reviews matter. The primary reason is commercial. The more reviews a book garners on a site, the more likely it will be highlighted by the site’s algorithms. There are differences, of course, but many reviews are always better than few or none. That is why they matter to the authors and publishers of the world. This isn’t just true for books, but any product sold online, and the main reason why we’re all asked for reviews, be it after a hotel night, a product purchase, by the apps on our phones and–duh!–authors and publishers.

I hate to leave a bad review

The cover for my new novel Deceit, book two in The Golden One. Cover by Natasha Snow. Reviews will help boost this novel in its fantasy category.

The cover for my new novel Deceit, book two in The Golden One. Cover by Natasha Snow. Reviews will help boost this novel in its fantasy category.

I think readers who are afraid to leave a bad or negative review make a big mistake. Firstly: if a book is full of plot holes, or poorly formatted, or if the story just doesn’t make sense, don’t you think other readers deserve a word of caution before they invest their money? It’s so easy to publish books today. Upload your word document, slap on a cover and you’re pretty much done. No editing, no proofing, no typesetting.

Equally, if you do not like a perfectly well-crafted book, I think people deserve to know. Let’s face it: there is NO book that is for everyone. If you don’t like that a book includes e.g. a descriptive sex scene, this is great customer information. It might actually attract readers who enjoy that sort of reading. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, but simply that it’s a book that wasn’t for you. You might not enjoy lengthy descriptions of locales in a story or how the dialogue is structured or, or, or… Someone else might love that. I hope that makes sense.

Finally, consider this: as much as I love a five-star review, and I am personally super lucky to get amazing reviews (the ones that I receive), but look at it from your point of view, as a reader. When you look for a product that is adorned with five-star reviews only, doesn’t that make you the least bit suspicious? Aren’t you more at ease when you see that there is a mix of reviews? Sure, we all want the majority of those to be favorable, but all of them? Which isn’t to mean that you should start to hand out one-star reviews, but rather than not leaving a review, wouldn’t a two- or three-star review be better? To balance all those five-star ones?

I don’t review because I’m not good at writing…

I get this a lot from people I talk to about reviews. Thing is, you don’t have to be a writer or author to review. Simply say what you like about a book, what was your favorite aspect? What didn’t work for you? Maybe explain why? I understand that many readers want to do the author justice, but remember this: your review isn’t for the author. It’s for other readers. Keep it simple, keep it short. There is no need for a review to be several paragraphs long. Yes, some reviews are long, they look at a great many aspects of a book, and being a reviewer myself, I can often write a thousand words or more in my reviews here. But let’s be honest: on Amazon, nobody’s going to read a review that is longer than 200 words. They might read the first couple of sentences and then move on to the next. Our attention span is limited. We look at the stars and then why those stars were awarded (or not.) Simple as that.

I used to review, but then got flak from the author

First, allow me to apologize on behalf of all authors, and I don’t give a shit whether they allow me to or not. To criticize a review is one of the taboos I hold dear in my job as a writer. So what if you get a bad review (see above.) It’s not a criticism of you as a person. I know, I know. Authors are sensitive flowers and read on a wrong day (heater broke, the youngest kid was sent to the principal’s office, car totaled) we are all extra sensitive to it. BUT, readers are entitled to their views in peace and quiet. And as authors, we have no right to go after them. And sadly, it happens.

But instead of giving up on reviewing altogether, please consider just sticking the middle finger to that particular individual. Continue reviewing other books you read. To my fellow authors, I say this: if a review rubs you the wrong way, for whatever reason, look the other way. Talk to a friend or a fan and let them pick you up from the gutter of your self-loathing (we’ve all been there.) But never, ever, take your frustration out on a reader. We all end up losing.

Reviews matter, they are probably the single best thing you can do for an author besides buying their work

I can’t stress this enough. Reviews are absolutely critical and on sites like Amazon where most Americans and Britons these days look for “stuff” (regardless of what it is), having reviews is essential to a book’s visibility. So if you have a moment, please go back to your orders and review past book purchases. We authors will be forever grateful for it. This is even more important for authors who are not published by the “big five” where marketing funds will make sure to highlight those books to potential readers. Indie authors and authors with small presses just don’t have that luxury. Reviews and sales are the only way to make a dent, to be seen among the fifty-plus million books that are on sale on Amazon. And without reviews, no/fewer sales.

Most people buy their books on Amazon. Like that fact or not, but a fact it is. Review there. Or leave it wherever you buy your book. If you have the time and feel inclined to, reviews on BookBub or Gollumreads are appreciated, even though the “average” reader doesn’t frequent those sites. They are geared toward very frequent readers, fans.

I just can’t…

 

Patreon is a service to help artists find people to keep creating their art through crowdfunding.

Patreon is a service to help artists find people to keep creating their art through crowdfunding.

I get it. And you are in good company. Unfortunately for us authors. But even if you can’t bring yourself to review because of bad experiences, lack of time or just can’t find the right words, there are still things you can do to help an author: why not recommend a book you like to a friend or two? Word of mouth is the best marketing method there is (hence reviews…) and if every reader were to get two more people to buy a book, most authors would have fewer reasons to complain about declining book sales.

 

If you are active on social media, and you see a post by an author you like, heart/like it. No need to comment, but those darned algorithms react to reactions. It doesn’t even take a second and you’ve done a good deed. Share, comment, encourage. Write your favorite author a letter/email and I guarantee you there will be smiles on the other end. Most of us who do not support ourselves financially with our writing “live and breathe” those messages. They truly make our days.

If all of that isn’t for you, but you have money for a couple of lattes to spare, consider sponsoring an artist through sites like Patreon. I just started my page after long consideration and I’ve just written a post explaining why contributions make such a big difference for us.

Thank you!

Please don’t read this post as a “lecture”. I have had several conversations over the past weeks and months on this subject with readers, and I’ve recently attended a seminar which really drove home the importance of reviews for me. Hence the above. I felt I wanted to address some of the concerns and provide perspective.

I would also like to say thank you: thank you to those who buy my books and others, to readers who reach out and care, reviewers and my first patrons. Art isn’t primarily about money. Every true artist keeps saying that, but the fact of the matter is that “love” and “exposure” don’t pay utility bills and they don’t keep us from maxing out credit cards.

Every author’s life is different, our circumstances vary and we do what we do for a great many reasons. I can only speak for my own. Thank you for supporting us, the arts, for allowing us to enrich human culture, to facilitate our continued growth and development, particularly “in these dark and troubling times”.

Thank you,

Hans M Hirschi
Author

Review: Beat Surrender by Bob Stone

Review: Beat Surrender by Bob Stone

Beat Surrender is an exciting mix of sci-fi and fantasy

I got to read this book, Beat Surrender, by Liverpudlian (yeah, who knew…) author Bob Stone through of our shared publisher, Beaten Track. Recently, they asked for people to proofread Bob’s latest one and since I had the time, I figured why not. Proofing is a somewhat different reading experience, but the book was in such excellent shape that it turned into a very enjoyable experience. For the author me, to find other people making mistakes was very refreshing (and soothing to the old self-esteem), too.

The Cover for Beat Surrender.

The Cover for Beat Surrender.

Beat Surrender is book two in a trilogy about Joey Cale, a young man from the Liverpool area in Northwestern England who ends up in a place he never could’ve dreamed of. Here’s the book’s blurb:

“Something came from somewhere else and crashed onto Trafalgar Square.”

Joey Cale thought he was going home but instead has ended up on another version of Earth just as dangerous as the last.

Aided by his friends, he must discover the cause of one of the greatest disasters Britain has seen. But a threat as old as time is pursuing him and will do anything to stop him.

Who are the sinister Green Jackets? Why are the birds gathering and watching? And what is buried in a wall deep beneath London?

Beat Surrender is the second book in the heart-stopping trilogy which began with Missing Beat.

Excellent read, in fact, a real page-turner

I haven’t read book one, yet, but I’ve purchased it. Therefore, I came somewhat unprepared to Joey’s arrival on the ‘other’ Earth. But even though I haven’t read what happened to him in the first story, I read this book without feeling I was missing things that hindered my enjoyment. I can always go back (which I will) and read the first one to get the background information. It works as a stand-alone. The book is excellently written. I was caught up in the story from page one and read it in three installments, simply because I had to take breaks every now and then to rest my eyes. I was proofreading after all, and I wanted to do Bob justice.

This is science-fiction I like, taking “ordinary” places we are familiar with, but adding a twist to them. No spoilers, but not unlike my own Golden One series, these seemingly regular people are more than meets the eye. While the concept of parallel Earths is one taken from sci-fi (or simply modern physics where the multiverse is a given), the talents our protagonists have are taken from the realm of fantasy. So are the villains.

Varying points of view keep it interesting

The story is told in what I found a most intriguing and captivating way. There are a handful of main protagonists: Joey, Raj and Emma, and about a dozen others who play secondary or tertiary roles. Yet the story is told in a standard chronological order, and every chapter has a different POV, sometimes two, clearly separated for reader comfort. Every chapter links back to the previous one and latches on, almost like a cogwheel, at times repeating a scene partially, but from someone else’s POV. Very well executed.

To heighten tension, new characters are introduced at times, even though they may only be mentioned right there and then. This is a risky endeavor, particularly since Bob can’t really flesh them out. But you don’t really notice, as you are too focused on the plot to wonder about a police officer or ambulance driver’s view of things. I was really impressed!

Yet in the end, the story always gravitates back to the main characters where Joey’s view is the most common one, followed by Raj and Emma.

Book one in the trilogy about Joey Cale, Missing Beat.

Book one in the trilogy about Joey Cale, Missing Beat.

Diverse characters and a very sensitive storytelling

Sometimes when I read books by het authors, I notice how truly blind mainstream WASP society is to the diversity all around them. Without labeling Bob (I truly don’t know, his bio reads as him “living with wife and cat in Liverpool”,) I am deeply impressed with his inclusion of the great diversity of people one will expect to see in the UK: people of color, LGBT, young, old, differently abled. This was, to a degree, not surprising, given that our publisher is specifically labeled as a “diverse publisher”, yet it was still refreshing, deeply satisfying and at the end of the book I felt this enormous gratitude. How often do you read a book that e.g. mentions someone in a wheelchair? I think I can go back on what I’ve read and count those instances on one hand.

The way Bob handles diversity is a true joy and I wish we’d see more of this in literature, even outside the queer community who is, for many reasons, sensitized to it yet often fails this very task, too.

Read Beat Surrender and look forward to the final book in this astounding trilogy

Well first, if you haven’t, you should go back and read book one, Missing Beat, available from all reputable resellers including Bob’s own bookstore in Liverpool. Second, read Beat Surrender. If you like sci-fi and fantasy “light”, with aspects of thriller and crime novel, you’ll absolutely adore this trilogy. I for one am already looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.

I don’t hand out stars or rate the books I read. I simply recommend them. This is a high-quality story, very well written. Be mindful that sometimes, the characters speak the local dialect, which may require you to look up an expression or two, especially if you’re not from England. There is a significant body count aka deaths in this book and a certain amount of violence is depicted. A fair warning to those sensitive to that.

Beat Surrender releases today, March 23, from Beaten Track Publishing as an ebook and as a paperback.

Review: M.D. Neu’s “Contact”: we’re not alone!

Review: M.D. Neu’s “Contact”: we’re not alone!

Book one in a promising new Sci-Fi series

“If he mentions his dislike of series one more time I’m going to vomit!”

The cover of Contact, book one in the A New World series.

The cover of Contact, book one in the A New World series.

Don’t worry, I won’t. I think it’s well known by now. I was unaware this was the first book of several when I agreed to read the ARC of Marvin’s new book Contact. I had read and reviewed M.D.’s previous book about vampires in San Jose, The Calling. It was a promising debut and I was genuinely curious about what would come next from Marvin. Contact is very different from The Calling. Here’s my take on it.

What’s the book about?

I’m sure we’ve all thought about what the day would look like when aliens make first contact with humanity. What place would they choose? Which people/country? Would they be peaceful? Hostile? Judging by the movies made on the theme, from Independence Day to Mars Attacks, we can safely say that two things apply: a) the U.S. is usually the country in the focus and b) they’re usually hostile.

I’ll try to stay clear of any sort of spoilers, but given that Marvin is American, it’s a safe bet that the book plays out in the U.S. This isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the blurb of the book:

A little blue world, the third planet from the sun. It’s home to seven billion people—with all manner of faiths, beliefs, and customs, divided by bigotry and misunderstanding—who will soon be told they are not alone in the universe. Anyone watching from the outside would pass by this fractured and tumultuous world, unless they had no other choice. Todd Landon is one of these people, living and working in a section of the world called the United States of America. His life is similar to those around him: home, family, work, friends, and a husband.

On the cusp of the greatest announcement humankind has ever witnessed, Todd’s personal world is thrown into turmoil when his estranged brother shows up on his front porch with news of ships heading for Earth’s orbit. The ships are holding the Nentraee, a humanoid race who have come to Earth in need of help after fleeing the destruction of their homeworld. How will one man bridge the gap for both the Humans and Nentraee, amongst mistrust, terrorist attacks, and personal loss? Will this be the start of a new age of man or will bigotry and miscommunication bring this small world to its knees and final end?

At the core is Todd, and as the blurb announces, there’s this gap: what happens between “Todd Landon being one of these people” to Todd “bridging the gap”? What’s this “mistrust, terrorist attacks, and personal loss?” I can’t say without spoiling things, but safe to say, it’s well constructed.

A slow start…

The book has a slow start. Unlike his previous work, it takes seven chapters for Marvin to establish the premise, introduce us to the Nantraee, Todd and his family etc. Had this been a standalone novel, I would have criticized this. But given that Contact is book one of several, it makes more sense. The storytelling flows more slowly and M.D. takes his time to introduce us to the world of the Nantraee. The story is told from both the human and alien perspective, switching between on-world and off-world view of the same happenings. I quite enjoyed that.

We also get to know Todd, his husband Jerry, his place of work in some detail. Given that Todd is the main character, that makes a lot of sense. The current political situation in the U.S. is also weaved into the story. Names are changed but you still get the impression that Trumpism is beginning to affect literary works in the States, with authors having to relate to the new reality. It’s virtually impossible to simply ignore it, particularly given the fact that an alien arrival necessarily will involve an administration at some point. Makes total sense.

An abrupt ending…

I found the ending of Contact harder to swallow. It simply ends with the promise of a continuation in a novel called Conviction. Yes, the initial contact is established, Todd is embarking on “bridging”, but that’s about it. In a stand-alone novel, we’d been frustrated. In the context of a series, it makes more sense, because Marvin will have plenty of time to tell his story. I do understand the challenges of telling a “big” story, one that can’t be told within the confines of one book. I’m currently doing the same. It is a fine line we’re walking. Allow me to use the original Star Wars movies as an example. When A New Hope was released, the story ends positively with the by now famous award ceremony. We realize that this is only the beginning, but had George Lucas not been able to secure additional funding, the film would have worked stand-alone. The second movie, Episode V, was different. By then, Lucas knew there would be an episode VI (not just in his mind, but financed!) and the ending, while it worked was much more open and we all knew we’d only have to wait a year or so for the next one.

Contact is different. I presume that Marvin knows that a continuation comes for sure and the story doesn’t end. Only the book does and he has us readers long for that continuation. I don’t know at this stage when it will be released. Given that his debut released a year ago, we might have to work until next January for Conviction to drop in bookstores

Who’s this book for?

Contact is sci-fi light. Yes, there are starships, there are aliens, but the story plays out in the now and mostly on Earth (and Earth’s orbit), so the amount of world-building is limited. Even if you’re not a huge sci-fi fan, this is a book you can enjoy. It is no different than a story of e.g. the first encounters between Europeans and Americans or Africans. What happens, how do the different cultures look at each other? How will they build trust? Communicate? How do you bridge the cultural differences? Personally, I found the latter aspects the most intriguing ones and I have a hunch that this will be Todd’s main challenge going forward. This isn’t a story with phasers and wars, at least I don’t think so.

The characters aren’t fully developed and some feel very square and sketched, but I’m confident that we’ll get to know them better in the coming books. There is no rush. I’m sure all will be answered in time. Personally, I’m looking forward to Conviction and the continuation of Todd’s struggle.

Contact is releasing today from Nine Star Press and is available on Amazon et al. as paperback and ebook.

Book review: “The Seed of Immortality” by Wayne Goodman

Book review: “The Seed of Immortality” by Wayne Goodman

An interesting take on ancient Chinese myths, and the game of Mahjong

The Seed of Immortality is not a book you easily come across, it literally disappears behind all the naked torsos that dominate the Gay & Lesbian section. Yes, it’s on sale on Amazon, but I don’t think I’ve ever searched for a book under “Chinese” or “Historical” in my life. Instead, I happened to talk to the author, Wayne Goodman, about his writing after he’d interviewed me for his podcast Queer Words. Coincidences. He graciously made the book available to me and I read it with gusto over the Holidays.

I’ll be frank and admit that I have no clue how to play Mahjong and after reading the story, I’m no more interested to learn the game than I was before. To each their own. But even if you’re like me, you might enjoy this book for its story. This is an extremely well-written tale, and I don’t say that out of a false sense of gratitude toward Wayne for granting me a spot on his podcast. No. I really think this is an interesting story, in part because he so aptly captured the way Chinese conversation flows, how he depicts the time period and the flow of the narrative.

A great fan of China

The cover of The Seed of Immortality, by Wayne Goodman

The cover of The Seed of Immortality, by Wayne Goodman

The author is a China aficionado, he clearly loves the culture and the heritage that stretches thousands of years back in time. It’s easy to agree with him. I’ve traveled to China twice and the Chinese have a lot to offer the world in terms of knowledge, philosophy, and life wisdom. Sadly, the west doesn’t seem to appreciate the Asian cultures and their millennia of culture and history (nor Africa or the Americas for that matter.)

There are a great many words and terms used in The Seed of Immortality and the author explains them at the end of the book. I read it on my phone and it makes the getting back and forth a bit cumbersome. I would imagine this being a lot easier on a paperback with a bookmark at hand. Alas, it is what it is. But I applaud Wayne’s decision to not explain the terms in the story as he tells it. It would distract and it would risk pulling you out of the comfort of slipping back in time to the period in which the story is told, a good two-thousand-two-hundred years ago, starting with the reign of emperor Qin Shi Huang. The story ends a couple of hundred years later, but I won’t spoil that for you.

How to tackle homosexuality centuries before the expression was coined?

How do you write a story about gay people (and I use the term as loosely as I can) millennia before the term was first used? In an era where people’s thinking about gay people and gay acts were completely different than what we consider today? Well, Wayne Goodman does a marvelous job. See, we’ve always been part of human society, and if you doubt that you probably belong to the group of people who also believe that dinosaurs were part of Noah’s Ark. Hashtag facepalm. I’ve used Alexander the Great as an example, who lived in those days, and we have Hadrian, the builder of the wall between England and Scotland, the first man in history we know of to get married to another man. So much for “traditional marriage”… Alas, I’m digressing.

The real difference is that back then, people didn’t use sexuality as an identifier or a way to distinguish themselves from others. I just read an article about contemporary Afghanistan, and the ancient tradition of Bacha bazi, a form of gay behavior that still isn’t seen as such, not unlike similar traditions in ancient Greece. In Turkey, to this day, you’re only considered gay if you’re bottoming in a relationship. Odd, I know, but imagine if you don’t even have a word for it? As a linguist, I’m familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which roughly states that we are unable to imagine that for which we have no word. On the other hand, we can easily imagine things we have a word for, even though they don’t exist, e.g. Warp speed or “beam me up”. A simplification of course. What the Chinese of the period did was to circumscribe behaviors, mannerisms and Wayne makes good use of those terms. They’re also defined in the glossary of The Seed of Immortality.

But more importantly, the characters don’t define themselves as gay. At first, I found that almost offensive (to me, as a gay man), but I have to hand it to the author. How could they when they “literally” couldn’t? The way–and I won’t offer any spoilers–the author delicately describes the altering attitudes and behavior on an individual level, particularly within the mind and thinking of our main protagonist, Hao Lan. Color me impressed!

The story pulls you in, like a fairytale, and keeps you hooked

I don't know how to play the game nor will I likely learn it (although, you never know...) But no matter what, you'll enjoy this story.

I don’t know how to play the game nor will I likely learn it (although, you never know…) But no matter what, you’ll enjoy this story.

I won’t offer a synopsis of the story, as it’s weaved like a tapestry of small scenes within the larger arc that is the immortality and how to stay immortal for the eight immortals that exist in Chinese mythology. The story is told from Hao Lan’s perspective, from his arrival at a health retreat to play Mahjong and regain his health to the end of the book where he departs on a mission west on behalf of the Chinese emperor, two hundred years later, right around the time our modern time begins, with the alleged birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

The story weaves in dream sequences where Hao Lan is in communion with a mythical blue dragon, who provides Hao Lan with foresight and also gives him tasks to accomplish. These dreams form the backdrop that weaves the tapestry of the arc story and they lead our protagonist and his huoban from tale to tale. It is most intriguing.

The dialogue is exquisite. I find it hard to put my finger on exactly what it is because obviously the story is written in contemporary English, but the dialogue feels Chinese, reminds me of how my Chinese friends and business associates speak English.

Mahjong or not, give this story a try…

I don’t play Mahjong, not sure I ever will. I learned long ago never to say never. I thoroughly enjoyed The Seed of Immortality, including its rather abrupt ending (how else can you end a tale about immortals?) There might be a continuation at some point and Wayne recently told me that it was originally conceived as a trilogy, so who knows. For now, this serves as a most excellent stand-alone. Don’t let the cover distract you from the treasure within! This is a book I most certainly will return to, knowing that more details are hidden, things I may have overlooked the first time I read the story.

To learn more about the author and his work, contact him on this Facebook page. Wayne Goodman is also curator of an excellent new podcast I regularly enjoy listening to, whether you’re an author or reader, Queer Words.

Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

Silent Terrorism: Saudi Arabia, a scary and chilling thriller by Phetra H. Novak

Silent Terrorism – a book that is difficult to read, and a slap in the face of those who believe in the West’s moral superiority

I’ll admit it. I’ve read an early draft of this story, over a year ago. There were discussions about how the story might be perceived in the light of the U.S. elections, Brexit and the alarming increase of Islamophobia around the world. I’ve been allowed to read it again, in its final version. The book is published tomorrow. Silent Terrorism had the same effect on me as it did when I first read it: disgust (at some of the descriptions of violence and torture, and – frankly – some other scenes) but also a feeling of deep respect for the author and the publisher, for writing and putting this story out there. Some will not like it, neither in Saudi Arabia nor in Sweden (representing the western world, as the author states in her afterword), but this is a book that deserves being read.

Current events

The telling cover of Silent Terrorism.

The telling cover of Silent Terrorism.

In a way it’s sad the book was delayed by a year. We now have a crown prince in Saudi Arabia hell-bent on modernizing his country. Women get to unveil, drive cars and leave the house without a male guardian. What’s the country coming to? Civilization? Alas, even crown prince Mohammed doesn’t ever talk about LGBT rights, because, and this is expertly explained in Ms. Novak’s Silent Terrorism, Saudis believe that they don’t have any LGBT people in their midst. It’s supposedly a Western thing (odd given that we all descend from common African ancestors, but alas.) Against the backdrop of current events in Saudi Arabia (which includes both the secret police and the religious police forces), reading the novel showcased the research done by Ms. Novak. Impressive!

A fast-paced political thriller

The story as such is very high pace. There is hardly any downtime, the characters are chiseled out as they run, hide, leap, yell at each other or suffer torture. But they are, all of them, very much real-life human beings, very believable, credible. The only caricatures are the Swedish politicians portrayed in the novel, and I can only assume that to be purposely done, as they are indeed to act as stand-ins for much of the Western world and how we kowtow to black gold.

I haven’t read a thriller in a long time, and it was refreshing to indulge in the pace, the complexity of the plot and never really knowing how things end. Ms. Novak certainly does throw more than one curveball to make sure the reader stays on their toes and at one point I had accepted my fate and figured, “okay, this is it!”, but alas, I was wrong, again. Brilliant.

The finer points

Did I like everything about the story? Yes. However, I’ll grant you that I thought there was too much swearing, cursing and yelling. I don’t think I can remember any conversation (except at the very, very end) that does not involve people upset, screaming at the top of their lungs. I’m not a big fan of that kind of language/discourse, but that is, of course, a question of taste, and to a degree certainly warranted given the situations the characters constantly find themselves in. But yeah, sometimes less is more.

Silent Terrorism is like Ms. Novak’s My Name is Ayla, an important book in today’s world. The LGBT community needs dissonant voices. We are grateful for stories with happy endings, stories with fluff and rosy cheeks. But we also need the world to know that yes, there are still 76 countries where being LGBT is illegal, 13 countries where being LGBT carries the death sentence, and the het majority needs to hear this side of the story, too, not just about out and proud gay athletes and actors marrying their sweethearts. We’re not home free yet. I’ve bought the book (after Ms. Novak provided me with a free ARC to facilitate this review) because Phetra pledges to donate 50% of the proceeds to a sadly much-needed LGBT organization.

Silent Terrorism is releasing tomorrow

Silent Terrorism is released tomorrow, March 17th, from Beaten Track Publishing as paperback and e-book and is available on Amazon (for pre-order) and your other favorite sales channels. If you enjoy a political thriller, like exotic places and would like to learn more about the plight of the LGBT community in a country like Saudi Arabia, give this book a chance. You will not regret it.

Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend. I’ll be back on Monday with a post about racism in the publishing industry and how racism is a red thread through much of my own writing…

Hans

#Review: “When Heaven Strikes”, divine story by F.E. Feeley Jr. #amreading #ASMSG #LGBT

#Review: “When Heaven Strikes”, divine story by F.E. Feeley Jr. #amreading #ASMSG #LGBT

When Heaven Strikes: the cover image is really foreboding of what’s inside…

Disclosures first. While I haven’t met Frederick personally, we are online acquaintances. The “pool” of gay fiction authors is, after all, quite small. For some time, I’ve wanted to read his book When Heaven Strikes, as I had heard a great deal of good things about it, just recently e.g. from my friend Tracy Willoughby. This week I finally got the chance to relax and read this book on my flight back from Madeira. I most certainly didn’t regret buying it.

When Heaven Strikes

The stunning cover of When Heaven Strikes

The setup

When Heaven Strikes starts with a scene that takes place in the past. Family at the beach and a storm approaching. Ominous, dangerous, lives are in danger…

The rest of the book reminds me a little bit of the film “Short Cuts“. We get to know an array of different characters, some more, some less. At some point, all those lives touch each other in one way or another, and the ominous storm depicted both on the cover and title plays a major role in the overall arc. I won’t give away any details, but at some point, I was also reminded of my own novel, Jonathan’s Hope, as the novel also deals with a topic that is addressed there. Frederick takes a very different approach than I did, and I found it very interesting to see how differently the same “conundrum” can be dealt with.

Core themes

When Heaven Strikes tackles a couple of major topics with his book. One is that of gay relationships, of deserving happiness, and the challenges of our generation, the first one to really have access to marital bliss and boredom. Do we really deserve it? What makes someone marriage material, particularly if we’ve been led to believe we’re not. And what is love? Would you recognize it if you met love on the street? We have, after all, been led to believe by a lot of people that being gay isn’t about love, that we’re sexual predators, perverts, and sinners.

This points of course to the other major topic, that of faith. Religion is, particularly in the rural USA, a big deal. Having lived stateside myself and having many American friends, I know just what an enormous role churches play in people’s everyday lives. And recent political developments to the contrary, many congregations are extremely hateful of anything LGBT and have used the most recent election to prop up their failing dogmas. When Heaven Strikes plays out in the mid-west, the heartland of evangelism, of Baptist churches, and how it affects the lives of people. Frederick paints a beautiful picture, as scary as it may be at times, and he deals with faith very delicately. I quite enjoyed reading those aspects.

Frederick Eugene Feeley Jr. author of When Heaven Strikes

Frederick Eugene Feeley Jr., author of When Heaven Strikes

The Writing

When Heaven Strikes is a beautifully written book. Frederick takes great care to describe landscapes and locales, to draw characters that are flesh and blood from page one. Whether it’s Anderson, Ted or even Jeff or Gary (***no spoilers, sorry***), two main and two side characters, all equally human. The way Frederick paints landscapes and sceneries is almost photographic and even though my own experiences of Iowa are limited, I had no trouble picturing both towns, landscapes or individual buildings etc.

What is When Heaven Strikes?

It’s a question us gay authors have to deal with, as our books swim (or drown) in the sea that is gay romance. There is certainly an aspect of romance in the story (which isn’t a bad thing) and a tad too much sex for my personal taste. But it certainly is no romance novel, even though I have a hunch that Frederick was subconsciously influenced by his surroundings when he wrote When Heaven Strikes, just as I was writing Jonathan’s Hope. You just can’t help it. When Heaven Strikes is great contemporary literature, social commentary and – maybe more importantly – a book that is a must read particularly if you are gay and troubled by your faith, or maybe lost faith altogether? When Heaven Strikes is available on e.g. Amazon as an e-book, paperback, and audiobook. I can’t wait to read Frederick’s coming novel, Closer, published by my publisher Beaten Track in March. You can pre-order it now.

Finally…

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Hope your start to 2018 was as good as mine… Have a good weekend.

Hans