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

#Review: “The Calling”, debut paranormal novel by author M.D. Neu #amreading #ASMSG

#Review: “The Calling”, debut paranormal novel by author M.D. Neu #amreading #ASMSG

The Calling is a new – and refreshing – take on the age-old vampire theme

The Reunion

The cover of The Reunion

Disclosures first. I met the author of The Calling, M.D. (or Marvin) through a writers’ group on Facebook. We try to support each other mentally and sometimes through reviews, beta reading or just by discussing various topics that affect our lives and our writing. As gay writers, tiny droplets of sweet water in the ocean that is “m/m”, the group provides a much-needed breathing hole. Marvin had offered me his recent short story The Reunion to read, and I was deeply impressed. This isn’t a review of that work, but if you like a paranormal novella with a twist, read it. I can’t say much about it without giving away much, but it’s going to have your mind go for a few loops! Amazing writing. So I was curious about his debut novel, but his third book, The Calling, a new take on vampirism.

Captivating…

I finished The Calling yesterday, after spending nearly every free minute of my vacation reading it. It IS that captivating. More disclosures: I don’t like paranormal. I like realistic fiction, contemporary, set in the real world. Vampires, werewolves, fairies, dragons, and whatnot are about as fun to read about as religious dogma. It’s fantasy, and I prefer to stay in the real world.

However, every now and then, it’s fun to just let it all go, and escape, and see just how far human imagination can go. I have recently reviewed another paranormal story which goes in an entirely different direction. I liked that, and I certainly enjoyed reading Marvin’s The Calling. It amazes me how people can come up with all those intricacies about vampires, that renew a stuffy and moldy concept. I’m old enough to have grown up with the quintessential Count Dracula, the one, and only Bela Lugosi. I wonder how many millennials have seen his movies on TV… Anyway, back then, vampires were vile creatures who killed mindlessly to drink blood and stay alive. You kept them at bay with garlic and killed them with a wooden stick through their heart, or – if possible – daylight.

Vampirism…

With the Twilight books and films, vampires changed (please accept my apologies for my ignorant take on this. I really don’t read this stuff and I’m sure it’s a lot more complex), at least for me. Suddenly, vampires could be both good and honorable, and rather than becoming dust, they glowed like diamonds in the sun. How very romantic… They still drink blood though, and if I’m not mistaken, beheading also kills them. But basically immortal they are. Whether inspired by Twilight or not, Marvin spins on the good and evil theme, as his dark and light vampires are introduced in The Calling, and the story (I have a hunch, given the ending, that this will become a series) focuses on our main character, Duncan, and his becoming a vampire.

The story…

I really don’t want to talk about the plot, so here’s the “official” blurb for the book:

The_Calling_Cover

The amazing cover by Natasha Snow, who also does my covers… 😉 She’s immensely talented.

“Being a nobody isn’t Duncan Alexander’s life goal, but it’s worked for him. He has a nondescript job, a few good friends, and overall he’s content. That’s until one fateful trip to San Jose, California, where he is “Called” to meet the mysterious Juliet de Exter. Juliet is a beautiful, wealthy, powerful Immortal who is undertaking The Calling—a search for a human to join her world of Immortals. Inexplicably, Duncan’s calling is more dangerous than any of the Immortals, even Juliet, ever thought it would be.

There is more to this nobody, this only child of long-deceased parents, than anyone thought. When Duncan experiences uncontrollable dreams of people he doesn’t know and places he hasn’t been, Juliet and the other Immortals worry. Soon, his visions point to a coven of long-dead witches. The dreams also lead Duncan to his one true love. How will Duncan navigate a forbidden romance with an outcast Immortal? How will he and the others keep the balance between the Light and Dark, survive vicious attacks, and keep the humans from learning who they truly are? More importantly, who is this implacable foe Duncan keeps seeing in his dreams?”

My take…

I absolutely loved The Calling, the way the vampire theme is used, expanded upon and the intricacies of the plot. Shyalaman has found his equal! So yeah, no spoilers. Here’s the biggest compliment I can afford: I really don’t like paranormal books, normally. But here, I can’t wait for the sequel. If it’s as exciting as the first book, I’ll be stuck in a corner, reading it in one go, again.

The Calling is a gay novel, published by Nine Star Press. However, the gay theme is really toned down and not in your face. Quite the contrary. I’ve asked Marvin about it, and if you come back on Monday, you’ll be able to read what he has to say in his “defense” (not that he needs to). It’s quite refreshing to read gay fiction where being gay is as boring/normal/ every day as being straight. You’ll see what I mean.

No go forth and purchase this book, it’s an incredibly well-written (and edited) debut novel. It’s available from your usual outlets, including behemoth Amazon, and from the publisher itself. The Calling was published this Monday, New Year’s Day, and is available as e-book or paperback. Buy it!

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, and don’t forget to check back in on Monday for the interview with Marvin.

Hans

PS: A word to blow my own horn. I finally received a Kirkus review for one of my books, Disease, and they’re quite gracious, calling it “a must-read for anyone in the throes of an ordeal involving Alzheimer’s disease” (Kirkus Reviews, 1/3/18)

 

#Review: Roe Horvat’s third is a foray into the depths of the human psyche #LGBT #amreading

#Review: Roe Horvat’s third is a foray into the depths of the human psyche #LGBT #amreading

Release Day Review: A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat by Roe Horvat

A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat

This is what Horvat’s writing reminds me of, and that is not a bad thing.

I will never know why I came to think of architecture when I first read Roe Horvat’s debut, Layover. Her second novel reinforced the imagery, although I still hadn’t quite found the words to describe it. A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat evokes these same odd images in my head, of abandoned industrial buildings, turned into gentrification hotspots, lofts where the modern bourgeoisie would dwell. Beautiful, yes, bare, absolutely, rough around the edges, most certainly, and that is no critique, even though the words are often used in that manner. I finished Horvat’s third novel with the insanely long title A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat, and once again, I am reminded of these industrial buildings.

But even more so, I’ve been forced to look at my own writing through the same lens, which is, of course, precarious, as one is never unbiased toward one’s own work. Either you think your God’s gift to the pen – or, much more likely – you suffer from imposter syndrome.

A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat

The interior of such an industrial building à la Horvat… Bare, yet polished, crude, yet beautiful.

Not the ideal judge, eh? I know but bear with me for Roe’s sake…

Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat

What Phetra H Novak’s writing reminds me of…

Still, this seems like a rather harmless exercise, as my subconscious has done the same with other authors dear to me, Phetra H Novak, and Debbie McGowan. All authors I’ve reviewed frequently, and whose work continue to inspire my own writing.

When I think of Phetra’s writing (may she forgive me), I picture an Old Norse great hall, where the Vikings would sit and partake of great feasts, drink mead and tell each other of their stories of conquests. Phetra’s storytelling is rich, meaty, painted in bold strokes, grandiose. She evokes images that are absolutely stunning.

Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat

What Debbie McGowan’s writing reminds me of…

With Debbie, I picture a typical countryside English pub, a good homecooked meal, fish & chips, that sort of thing, a cold (I can’t stomach the warmish stuff) beer, and quiz night. Debbie’s writing is intelligent, well-informed, and educative. Kind of like quiz night and no other author I know evokes vivid images of the English countryside, nobody does descriptions quite like Debbie McGowan. Debbie is the quintessential contemporary English storyteller.

My own writing? I’m reminded of my dad’s work (he was an architect) and his “philosophy” with regards to architecture if you will. Nothing fancy, but rather sturdy, homey, a place where you’re comfortable, traditional even. Straight to the point, practical, nothing out of the ordinary. Seems my dad’s career has had a greater impact on me than I ever could’ve imagined…

A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat

What my own writing reminds me of…

See, as I compare those writing styles, I’m drawn back to Roe, and the writing of A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat which shall henceforth be called by his Christian name, Simon. What a bloody long name (brilliant? nuts?). Anyway, there are so many descriptions in that book, of streets in Praha, Heidelberg, meals, psychological disorders etc. Horvat is Czech, so the intimate knowledge about all things Czechia (and Slovakia ) is never in doubt. What really surprises me is the astonishing grasp of the English language, obviously not Horvat’s first, far from given in a country of the former ‘east block’ (as Horvat does mention in the novel at some point.)

I think I’ve said it before, in my review of Dirty Mind:

The mood of Horvat’s writing reflects that. It’s raw, it’s in your face, it’s open, honest to a fault, brutal even at times, but never crossing that line that would make it offensive or off-putting. It’s simply realism at its best.

Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat

Great cover. And the style is typical Horvat. I can tell that this character means a lot to the author. There’s so much love and affection in this design.

It is that realism that has me draw parallels to that industrial loft and I won’t exhaust the metaphor because it has limits. So what is this book all about? The title of Simon (yeah, not writing that a third time, fuck off SEO engines!) gives us clues. He’s the sad man, and while I’m not going to give away details or clues, let’s just say this is a psychological novel, an excellent one at that. Horvat is married to a psychiatrist, so I needn’t even double-check the assertions made. Besides, given my limited exposure to psychology, what’s happening seems plausible enough, credible, and – yes – perfectly in tune with the above quote.

I most likely read the book differently than most others. I had a hunch (I’ve been in the industry long enough) where the end would lead, and yes, you could even label this a romance (though, God forbid, not one off the Harlequin branch of the family), but rather a love story, although you’d miss the actual topic of the book (re D). I wish I could’ve seen more of Matéj and Simon, as a couple, not just the coupling, in the end, the obligatory happy ending, because I know, Roe and I have spoken about this on several occasions, her writing doesn’t require a happy ending. However, and I have no reason to doubt it given what I know about Simon, that he needs it. More importantly, he deserves it (don’t we all?). Given the story of how this novel came to be (for Roe to tell you), that is all I need.

If you haven’t read a book by Roe Horvat, now’s your chance. I order you to! Pick one up, any of them. Read them, cherish them. This is an author destined for greatness. These first three stories we’ve seen this year are astounding works of art, fine literature, and I personally feel privileged to have been able to follow the development of this amazing talent from up close. Now go forth and buy A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat, releasing today from Beaten Track Publishing.

If you like my reviews, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. The next issue is due next week. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend and enjoy the third Advent weekend.

Hans

PS: Are you still following the Rainbow Advent Calendar? If not, the stories are still up there for you to read… My story is published on Christmas Eve… 😉