When you don’t connect to a book on an emotional level…
A while ago, I reviewed the book of a friend of mine. It was the first time in a very long time that I was disappointed, and it wasn’t easy to give the book the three stars I gave it. I ended up not reviewing in on my blog because I felt it was too difficult, there was too much off in it. Instead, I wrote a much more generic post about one of its biggest shortcomings. Today, I review another book, by another friend, and this time I do review it, in an attempt to understand why this book didn’t floor me, as I had expected it to.
The cover of Toxic, by Avylinn Winter
Toxic, by Avylinn Winter, is by all means no “bad” book, quite the contrary. It took Avylinn exactly five minutes after I was finished and reluctantly had pressed send on my 3-star rating to call me. We talked about it, about the reason the book ends the way it does (genre and publishing house pressure) but I wasn’t ready to discuss it in any detail. My emotions were still too fresh and raw.
So let me get the difficult part out of the way first: it’s never easy to critique the work of people you care for, even less so when you can’t slap that five-star rating on them. I really like Avylinn. She’s a fellow author from Sweden, we’ve met a couple of times at author events, and I’ve known her since before she was published by Pride Publishing, a Bonnier subsidiary, one of the great behemoths of global publishing who acquired Pride in 2015 to make money off the back of the great gay romance surge of 2014. I wonder if they regret their decision, after everything that’s happened in late 2015 and onward… Oh well, their choice, and one they can afford. Back to Avy. I read one of her Wattpad stories (she’s quite the superstar there with hundreds of thousands of readers!!!), and I liked her direct and gritty approach to difficult topics, her excellent command of the English language.
I was looking forward to reading Toxic, a story about domestic abuse, simply because I am drawn to difficult topics, and this is something that I had never read from an LGBT perspective. The story is told from the view of Adam, written in the first person. I had listened to Avy read a chapter at a recent Con in Berlin and I felt the book had great potential. We had talked about it, the research going into it etc. What I didn’t realize was that the chapter she read was the first one. The book literally kicks off with a rape scene, or at least the sex (not very graphic though) is non-con, or “dubious consent” as the publisher dubiously calls it on the book’s homepage. Hence the warning labels at the beginning of the book. If you’re trigger happy, this may not be a story for you!
The chapter left my mind spinning: what about the backstory? How can Gabriel go from (presumed) “straight jock” evicting his childhood’s best friend from their shared dorm room to a “gay rapist”? The leap was enormous, and I just didn’t understand it. My first reaction was, of course, to take it slow. Many books start off with a bang, to capture the reader’s attention, often an editorial choice. I had to read the scene several times to actually understand what had happened. The actual rape is described very superficially, quickly, using romance genre key phrasing (“arousal”, “cage around his heart” etc.), and you miss it if you blink. I pressed on, eager to find out why Gabriel had become such a monster. I never got that answer. Maybe it’s due to the style of narration (first person) that makes it impossible for Adam to even know why Gabriel became who he is in the book, maybe it’s the genre that rules the story, maybe it’s the first-person voice. Every flashback to Adam’s childhood portrays Gabriel in a positive light, making the “change” in chapter one even more difficult to comprehend. I asked Avy and according to her it was a conscious choice since she wants us to see it from the “victim’s” perspective, and obviously, Adam wouldn’t know why Gabriel changed, and the fore, the first person narrative prohibits makes it impossible to divulge such information.
The challenge for me became even greater as I read on because I couldn’t relate to Adam either, not emotionally. I just don’t understand why he doesn’t leave Gabriel after the second beating, how he keeps internalizing all the blame, turning it on himself. And before you tell me, but “that’s the way victims of domestic abuse tick”, I know all that. I understand it, and I also understand just how difficult it is to get out from underneath it all. Maybe my hopes were that Avylinn would help me understand “why”, not just how. I still don’t. Maybe it was too tall an order, to begin with? Were my expectations too great? At every beating, at every abusive word, I want to scream at Adam “get out”, “leave”, but he doesn’t, finding ever new explanations why it is all his fault. It’s infuriating, frustrating, simply because I don’t understand why. It just makes no sense. I read the words, and I understand that Adam actually believes them, but why?
The author of Toxic, Avylinn Winter.
I know Avy’s done her research, and I know her descriptions are spot on, and I realize that many of the victims of abuse who have read the story love it, because it is such an amazing representation of how a victim of abuse thinks, feels. Maybe most people don’t need to understand why maybe they don’t even want to. I do. And this story didn’t help me learn more. I didn’t connect with the story emotionally. Usually, my tear-meter is a very good indication of how well I connect emotionally with a character. I never once shed a tear for Adam, throughout the entire book. It wasn’t until the epilog and a moment of catharsis that my eyes watered up, the storytelling was burning. It was then, at the very end of the story that I finally felt Adam. Great writing, right there in his childhood room.
It’s been a few days since I’ve put down this book and I still think about it. I try to understand why I didn’t connect with it. This is a romance novel, maybe knowing how it would end (the writing is clearly in the sky from one of the first chapters) ruined it for me? Maybe knowing that the whole abuse business was just a precursor to the inevitable happy ending? Maybe the tight corset of romance, with all the “rules” and rigid expectations ruins great storytelling? I don’t know, but just putting the words “romance” and “domestic abuse” next to each other, the way I’ve done in the heading, chafe in a way, don’t they? A square peg and the proverbial round hole?
Would I recommend you to read the book, despite the above? Absolutely, unequivocally, yes! And if you long for a happy ending even more so. Most romances do not deal with such taboo subjects, and I think Avylinn has done a great job fleshing out the monstrosity that is domestic violence. Adam is a believable character, so is his roommate Chris, his boyfriend Dante, and Cameron, the teacher. The only person we never really get to know is Gabriel, the monster, the abuser. He remains a sketch, a shadow, lurking behind the door of his dorm room, purposely so. If you’re a romance reader looking for something darker, this is for you. I’ll update my rating from 3 stars to 4, now that I’ve had time to think about it for a while.
The writing is impeccable, the language comprehensive and fluid. Avylinn has an amazing grasp of the English language (not her first), and the story is tight and there are no dull passages. So no qualms with the editing or the proofing (I only found one typo if that’s a factor). Toxic is published by Pride Publishing and available from Amazon et al. If you wish to follow Avylinn on her Wattpad journey, you can find her here.
Have you read Toxic? What am I missing? Let’s discuss. I’m eager to learn because I do feel that I’m missing something. I just can’t put my fingers on it. Your input is greatly valued, as always. If you like 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 Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a good weekend.
The latest installment of “Checking Him Out” works great as stand alone tackles crucial topics of our time
I was looking forward to reading this story ever since Leigh came into the picture (book 2 or 3, I don’t recall). Their condition, most easily described as a form of intersex, made me curious to learn more about their (Leigh’s chosen pronoun) background. As for Leigh’s love interest, Jesse, he has also appeared earlier and was always described in a very positive light, although he was always on the fringes of the previous tales. The Making of Us is the story of these two, their relationship, as it was alluded to at the end of book 3, told from Jesse’s point of view.
The cover of The Making of Us
I’ve reviewed many of Debbie’s books before, and I think I’ve loved all of them with the exception of one. There, it was my lack of understanding of English titles and nomenclature which left me confused. Here, this could’ve been an issue, as Leigh’s medical condition and some of the side effects of their biology could’ve been confusing. But it’s described very well and I’ve had no issues to follow it, even though I’m hardly an expert on the intricacies of intersex biology. Having read so many of Debbie’s novels, I often wonder what it is that makes her writing so appealing, so easy to read. Because her books are often low-key, they don’t throw the reader unexpected curve balls or include drama for the sake of drama. No, Debbie’s storytelling reminds me a bit of what it’s like to live an “ordinary life”, highly plausible, credible and totally believable. I hate to make comparisons, to TV shows, and I won’t, but since two of her main works have evolved (or are about to) into never-ending soap operas (in the best sense of the word!), reading these books is like being transported to England in general and Norwich and surrounding area specifically, to follow the lives of the people Debbie so lovingly describes. By now, after four books, I feel like I’m part of that greater family, they feel like friends or at least acquaintances.
That, and Debbie’s unique ability at describing her locales and locations make for great reading, and as a fellow author, I often envy her uncanny ability to draw pictures of a pub, or a house, or a beach, with just a few words. One more word about the aspect that this is book four in a series. I’m no fan of series, and I’ve shied away from Debbie’s other “universe”, that of “Hiding Behind the Couch” simply because it’s too daunting a task to tackle the x million words it’s grown into. I’ve read a couple of stand-alone novels from it, but I’ve sometimes felt that I’m missing a bit too much of the background, stretching over several years. If you’re like me, you need not worry about this particular book. In fact, The Making of Us works perfectly as a stand alone. Yes, there are mentions of other characters, and particularly the main protagonists from book 3 are mentioned frequently, but even if there had been no previous books, you could still read this without missing much.
Author Debbie McGowan has another great novel for us.
So what’s The Making of Us about, apart from teaching us about intersexuality and gender fluidity/queerness? On the surface, you might be lured into thinking this to be a romance, but you’d be disappointed. There isn’t as much as a breeze disrupting Jesse’s and Leigh’s relationship. Instead, it is mainly the characters’ internal struggle which is highlighted. For Jesse, it’s his weight and his life-long struggle to maintain, lose weight, as well as his severely challenged body image (self-esteem), as well as an interesting take on the inner workings of the LGBT community/communities, and how we work with our allies from the straight world. I won’t go into details in order not to spoil anything. There are very educational aspects to the novel, and yeah, it’s no surprise given that Debbie is both a teacher and a social scientist. She knows her stuff well. But they’re not the aspects of the story I will remember the most, and as befits great writing, Debbie allows both (or more) sides of the argument to be heard, and she doesn’t always resolve the inherent conflicts. Sometimes they endure, as they so often do in real life. Not all conflicts can be resolved, and the LGBT community is hardly a perfectly harmonious body.
My favorite aspects of The Making of Us are the instances where Leigh and Jesse get to know each other, intimate moments between the two (which btw doesn’t translate into ceaseless bunny-like fucking! If that’s your fare, look elsewhere), where insecurities come to light, be it their youth or inexperience, be it their struggle with their bodies etc. And more often than not, I found myself reminded of my own life, I recognized thoughts, wishes, and dreams I had when I was their age. That was very endearing and moving reading. It’s probably the most significant aspect of the story, the fact that I, I label myself a cisgender gay man, fully identifies with the emotions, the love & relationship of a bi-sexual, obese man and an intersex queer person. One of the great “morals” of this book: who gives a flying fuck about what your genitals are, what your gender is, love transcends it all and is the same for all.
Now, after all the accolades, is there nothing “critical” to mention in The Making of Us? Not really. This really is a good read, one I wish were mandatory high school reading, and compulsory for all “conservative” politicians. This book would make great educational material. There were a few instances where the “show” felt a tad “tell”, but given the importance of the subjects, it’s not only understandable but totally justified. If you’re curious about learning more about what we often refer to as “nonbinary”, gender-fluid, or gender queer characters and other social issues within the LGBT community, put this novel on your reading list. I guarantee that you won’t regret it.
The Making of Us is available from Beaten Track Publishing and is sold on Amazon and other outlets.
If you like 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 Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a wonderful weekend.
PS: Don’t forget to check back on Monday for an important message from me! 😉 #CoverRelease
Sometimes you get to read a book that makes you all gooey inside, “The Layover” is such a book
I don’t know what possessed Dreamspinner Press (DSP) when they refused Roe Horvat’s second story. I’ll get back to that in a while. Safe to say that I’m very pleased for my own publisher, Beaten Track Publishing, for picking it up though, particularly after reading Roe’s debut novella, The Layover, yesterday. But more about that and everything else further down. First the usual disclaimer: I received an advance review copy (ARC) to facilitate my review and the views are – as always – my own, and no one else’s, although I hope others will like this story as much as I do.
The cover of Roe Horvat’s debut, The Layover. Roe is also a skilled graphic artist by day.
Romance novels. Somehow, when you read & write gay fiction, you always need to relate to “romance”, that brightly shining sun at the center of the LGBT universe, although I sometimes think of the whole “M/M” monstrosity more like a black hole, swallowing everything that comes too close to it, or at least blocking the light of any other star trying hard to shine nearby. The Layover is dubbed a romance and judging from early reviews, others seem to think it is a romance. I’m not sure about the author’s views. But I can see why people can read it as a romance. Sadly, those readers miss an important point. The Layover is no romance. It is clearly gay fiction. The relationship between Ondro and Jamie, as it develops, is not at the core of the story, although you might think so. Evidence? The story doesn’t end when the boys seem to sail off into their HEA or happy for now. And what about Ondro’s inner journey? His struggle with […] and […] (read it, no spoilers) No, and without giving away too much of the plot, the ending is probably the most important part of the book. Remember the epilog in Jonathan’s Hope? Yeah, that kind of important.
I always hate to give away plot elements, so I’ll just leave you with the official blurb, because they always give you something, without really giving you anything, right?
Eight years ago, Ondro Smrek fled Slovakia and the bigotry that drove his first lover to take his own life. The demons proved impossible to outrun, though, and now, desperate for somewhere to belong, Ondro is returning to start over. During a layover in Basel, Switzerland, he meets Jamie, an American living in Scotland who is as brilliant as he is beautiful.
Jaded Ondro would never have guessed he could fall in love during a brief layover—until now. When he is put in a position to offer Jamie comfort without hope of recompense, Ondro doesn’t hesitate. Soon, he catches a glimpse of the home he longs for. But with their separation looming, confessing his feelings would only lead to pain and humiliation.
By the way, is it just me or why do some people still insist on calling our boyfriends or partners “lovers”? So degrading, as if all we ever do is fuck… Ondro and Peter were a committed couple for over two years. That’s hardly what I’d call a “lover”. I just hate that word. And I hate blurbs. Writing them is possibly worse than reading them…
It’s funny, how you read a book, and suddenly you find yourself knocked out of orbit, tumbling haphazardly through space. Lost, trying to grab a hold onto something, anything really, except maybe that black hole out there… While the plot of the story is relatively simple and straight-forward, the writing is brilliant, and I found myself envying Roe’s raw talent. What an amazing writer! Allow me to share a morsel:
“He was a breathing, talking oxymoron. The alcohol had this great effect on him—he said whatever came to his mind. Listening to him was enthralling. His head opened up, and everything was laid out on the table.”
True artistry is to come up with new, innovative ways of describing the mundane, or so I believe. What Roe does in this simple two-liner is nothing but sheer genius, combining the simplicity of straight forward everyday words with more unusual ones to paint a beautiful picture on her canvas. The last sentence is just “wow”. You may not agree, but I can virtually picture how Ondro sits across from Jamie and how the tipsy young man spills the beans about his life. Mind you, this is a debut, and English is not Roe’s first language. I bow my head to such talent.
Meet Roe Horvat, crazy author in their spare time, graphic designer by day, parent to two amazing kids and incidentally married to a Slovak…
I’m jaded, like Ondro, when it comes to love stories. I am soooooo done with the run of the mill romance where the author can’t seem to throw enough BS at the protagonists in between the (often) unrealistic sex scenes before they finally get their “release” into their HEA (happily ever after in case you’re not familiar with romance jargon). They lie to each other, there are constant misunderstandings and there is literally no trust. Every word is second-guessed to add to the thickening plot of “come on guys, get over it already!” I recently reviewed such a traditional romance, and while it had promise, neither the language nor the storytelling came anywhere near Roe’s, despite the author having great talent. But the rules of the romance genre are ruthless. I’m grateful that Roe defies those rules and told the story as it is.
There were a couple of instances toward the end of the story where I virtually sobbed. Per se not unusual. I’m a true Queen, and I love my tears, but what really moved me in the first instance was the straightforwardness of the characters and how they reacted. Unlike the romance, where we would have seen another turning point to build tension (a lie, a misunderstanding or what not), Jamie simply says what’s on his mind. Honest. Moving. A tear jerker. Mind you, there are misunderstandings, but they make sense, they come from that place we’ve all been to, when you’re in the middle of dating someone, in the middle of a budding relationship, and you’re not 100% sure of how to interpret the signals you receive from the other. Is he serious, or is he moving on? Any signal can be interpreted two ways. Is he interested or was it just for fun?
The Layover is published by Dreamspinner Press, the largest of the LGBT fiction, or should I say “M/M romance” publishing houses, and it releases July 19th. It is available for pre-order from the publisher, Amazon, et al. It clocks at 37,000 words and is therefore considered a novella. I know what some people might say, that it could’ve been longer, with more Jamie back story and what not, but in all honesty, I think this is just the perfect balance. Make it longer and it becomes a different book, and this is the story of Ondro, told from his unique perspective, and I quite enjoyed being in his head for a bit, seeing his tough outer shell and the soft core, the struggle to reconcile his upbringing and the difficulty of being raised in one of Europe’s most conservative countries, and the impact of the anti-LGBT referendum held in Slovakia in 2015.
I can’t understand how DSP would refuse Roe’s second novella, except that, apparently, it wasn’t romance enough. Well, neither is this, at least in MHO, but I’m glad that Roe gets the boost of having a debut published by a large publisher. It will certainly boost the authorship and help with the coming story that was picked up my own publisher, Beaten Track. Their loss for sure, although it probably made sense from a purely financial point of view. DSP knows romance like few others…
Anyway, I’m rambling. Pre-order The Layover today, you won’t regret it. I will return my attention to my cruise and today’s destination, Croatia, a country not unlike Slovakia with regards to LGBT rights and anti-LGBT referendums.
If you like 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 Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a wonderful weekend.
Plot holes, oddities and other (near) misses which could easily have been remedied
I read a lot, at least when I’m not writing, and most of the books I read are amazingly written. But every now and then I come across a book that is, for all intents and purposes, not finished yet. The research is sloppy (if researched at all), there are plot holes etc. Why? I do a lot of research into my novels, recently even traveling to the area that is included. But even when I can’t go to the area, the research conducted is extensive.
It’s easier to see Sacré-Coeur from The Arc the Triomphe than vice versa. But you have beautiful views from the elevated vantage point of the famous basilica. Photo: Aarya through Wikimedia Commons
Let me exemplify. You write a scene taking place in Paris. Your protagonist resides in a hotel up on Montmartre, near the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, with a beautiful view over Paris, looking southwest. Describe what you see? Landmarks, rivers etc. Well, given that we are in Paris, what would you see from the elevated vantage point that the place provides? Yes? No? Well, allow me to help, since I’ve actually been both in a hotel in that scene and seen the view on many occasions: You see you see the Louvre, Bois de Boulogne, you see the islands in the Seine with the Cathedral Notre Dame (almost due south), the impressive tower of Montparnasse, you can spot Le Trocadéro etc., but most importantly, you see the Eiffel Tower, probably the most important sight in Paris. However, you may not see the Seine, or only a tiny sliver, because of the buildings that are in the line of sight. The same is true for e.g. the Arc de Triomphe, impressive if you stand on the Champs Elysées or any of the other streets approaching it, but from afar? You might not be able to spot it.
Whether your readers have been to Paris themselves, or not, is not essential. If they have, they’ll relive wonderful memories of vacations past, if they haven’t, they most likely will have seen a picture of Paris, either in a newspaper, on TV or in a movie. Now, follow me a bit further: imagine a story where the protagonist is looking over Paris at night, relishing the sights. The author beautifully describes the views but forgets to mention the Eiffel Tower… Would you notice?
Where’s the Eiffel Tower? Didn’t you just say you could see it? I did, but it all depends on the angle and where on Montmartre you stand… It’s around the corner to the right, the people in front can probably see it. Whether you see it, or not, you’ll need to let people know why! The devil is in the details… Image: Neo007 via Wikimedia Commons
Well, would you notice if an author described London without Buckingham Palace? New York without Manhattan? How could something like this happen? I can only assume two things: the author hasn’t been on site, and they haven’t done their research. Because you can’t go to certain places and not notice these things. I once wrote a scene on a Caribbean island involving a jetty and a path leading to that jetty from the airport terminal. However, I hadn’t been on the island myself, and my research online was inconclusive. I couldn’t be 100% sure if the pathway was leading all the way or if there was a fence in the way somewhere. I was lucky. Three months after I published the book, I was on site to walk the walk myself. This was a tiny detail, and nobody would’ve noticed if you hadn’t been on site. Pathways from small airports are not common knowledge, other things are.
See? You can see it, it’s just a matter of vantage point.
Colloquialisms are another pitfall. While English is a global language, there are countless local varieties in its use, and even native speakers don’t always catch the finer details. I’ve made mistakes myself in this area. Color me very embarrassed. But I’ve also seen authors use fairly well-known terms the wrong way, by the wrong people, in a failed effort to sound a certain way. Thing is, the devil is in the detail.
One more example: plot holes. What if your story has a plot hole you are aware of? How likely do you think your readers are going to see it, too? Particularly if you mention it in the book as an inconsistency? Make it a “thing”? Leaving it unresolved is just going to get people confused. Keeping a story “plausible”, “credible”, “believable” is important, even if you write fantasy or science-fiction.
So, how do you avoid such mistakes? The easy way out is to write about that which you know, which is probably the easiest way. I’ve read books from authors that all play out in the same city. Or, you could make up a town, thus making the story more generic. I did that in Jonathan’s Hope. Or, you have to do your research. I got myself into a lot of trouble when I decided to use a street called “fifth avenue” in my most recent book. No, not New York, but the character makes that reference, too. And then you begin to research where, if at all, such a place exists… It affected the rest of the book immensely because that bloody place is in a state that affected my protagonists in many ways.
Do mistakes like that affect your enjoyment of a book? Sadly they do. Particularly when there are many such mistakes in one single story. Does all the blame fall on the author? No. Unless they self-publish. I’ve seen how some publishers are more thorough in their editing, and there are some publishers I avoid these days, simply because they don’t care enough about the quality of the works they publish.
Readers, what is your experience? Is this something that bothers you when you read? Authors, how do you research your stories? Have you made mistakes you’re ashamed of? Let’s hear from you…
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My name is Ayla is a much needed story about honor or what honor is not
Two Novaks in one month? The girl is productive. Just a couple of weeks ago I reviewed her novel Love of the Game here and it’s already time for a new release from this productive Gothenburg author. My name is Ayla was originally commissioned as a Holidays short story, with a Christmassy feel to it, but once Phetra got going, it developed into something else entirely. My Name is Ayla is a novella I wish every high school kid would read, particularly if they live in a city like ours, Gothenburg, where people from over 130 cultures live together, mostly peaceful, but yeah, not always.
And a pretty cover it is… Ayla looks stunningly androgynous and the main canal of Gothenburg so peaceful. But don’t let the calm deceive you!
I once wrote a blog post about honor, and how what many cultures consider honor is the very opposite thereof. Young men and women are locked up, locked in, abused, and sometimes even killed in the name of preserving their family’s “honor”. I have to use quotation marks, because there is no way that family “honor” can ever be used without that. I had an incident last year, where I made sure that my family compensated an elderly woman after a minor (!) traffic accident where a relative of ours handled the situation below par. I felt it was the honorable thing to do. But make no mistake. This wasn’t about the Hirschi Family honor, this was more about me being able to look myself in the mirror. I felt very sorry for the old woman and wanted to make it right. Now, point two here: no violence. Not like I sought her out to take her lights out. Quite the contrary. We sent her flowers and chocolates and a nice card apologizing for the emotional trauma the accident had put her through. Afterward she called my uncle (I did this in his name) and she was very happy.
But to keep people from loving the person they choose or fell for? NO, that’s never honor. That’s cowardice. To claim that a woman’s virginity (which biologically doesn’t even exist) is what upholds a family’s honor? Says more about the men in that family… But it’s not about honor. It’s about misogyny and cowardice. Phetra dives right into that. Now I know Phetra, she’s a great friend and I know she really, really cares about these issues, and she would probably singlehandedly save every single boy, girl or person threatened by their family. But alas, how? And who?
My Name is Ayla is a story about educating people about the risks of the so called “family honor”. Ayla is a trans woman who is almost beaten to a pulp at the beginning of the story, and I got to read an early ARC to facilitate my honest (as always) review. I didn’t know what to expect from this book. The cover looks so innocent, the cover model androgynous and beautiful, the view of the city peaceful, but this book is anything but peaceful. The pace is fast, a lot happens in the 40K or so the story comprises. And it’s hard to talk about the story without giving away the plot. But needless to say, you’ll need plenty of tissue before you’re done with it. This story will shred you to pieces emotionally, because the story of Ayla, while fictitious, has far too many parallels to the real world, from Fadime Şahindal to countless others, in Sweden and around the world. Often, such cases never even make the light of day, because victims and perpetrators hide behind the veils of their cultures.
Here’s the odd thing about “family honor”: our western societies, where we’ve mostly left this shit long behind us, do not understand what is going on, how girls suddenly disappear behind veils, or are locked up after school, we often choose to ignore the shiner under their eyes or their bodies. Even deaths are often mislabeled as suicide, because we just don’t expect a mother to push her daughter over the balcony on the fifth floor. Instead, it’s an accident or suicide. Worse, it is really difficult for anyone to talk about this. Given the tensions between the western world and the Middle East, the refugee crisis, the terror by ISIS etc. anyone who criticizes people from the Middle East for their actions or deeds (or culture) is quickly labeled an islamophobe. However, and this is really the crucial thing here. This is about culture, not about religion. And it’s not limited to the Middle East. This occurs within Christian families as much as it occurs in Jewish families or Muslim families (Shia or Sunni), and the Middle East is home to orthodox Christians in several countries, from Turkey, to Syria, Egypt, There are pockets of Jewish populations in Iran, too.
I couldn’t agree more! Phetra is an extremely talented writer with a heart the size of a small town!
Ayla’s family is Persian, and they’ve lived in Sweden for a long time. Ayla’s parents were born here, so you assume they’re well “integrated” (a cultural buzzword here) or even assimilated. They even celebrate Christmas, even though they are Muslim. But when Ayla comes out as a trans woman, all hell breaks loose. My Name is Ayla is a story you do not want to miss. You will be touched by it, and at the end of it, you, too, will want to do something about this.
I can’t recommend this story enough, even though it’s still painful to think about it. My Name is Ayla is published by “Cool Dudes Publishing” and releases today May 1, so head on over to Amazon to get your copy!
Have a wonderful week, and if you like what you read, subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading, or feel free to interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram.
Love of the Game will have you crying, laughing and horny, maybe all in one chapter, most certainly before you’re done reading!
The fair Lady Phetra warned me, repeatedly, before sending me the ARC of Love of the Game:
“This is not a book for you Hans. It’s about hockey and BDSM. You don’t have to read it!”
She’s like a mom, you know? Never knows when to quit the hovering and protecting. Y’all know how much I like a challenge, right? So of course I insisted on reading it, even though Phetra used her best tricks to delay the inevitable, including sending the ARC form a server where she must’ve known that the .mobi file would be removed as a potential threat to public health and safety… I had almost given up before I finally had it in my hands! Alas, now I’ve also read it. And yeah, as you’d expect, this review is entirely based on my own views. Trust me, you’ll see why when you read it… Phetra’s going to kill me!
The cover of the book. Created by Ian Brown, IB Art Studio
So, yeah. Another venture into BDSM (whiny ‘yay!’), but like Caraway Carter’s masterpiece 7 with 1 Blow which I reviewed last fall, this is not your run of the mill BDSM novel. I’ve read a few of them by now, and the more I read, the more I learn. In Love of the Game Ms Novak explores the differences between “domination” and “abuse”, and I think it’s fair to say that I agree with her distinction. Caraway made the same one as the premise for his book. He just took off in a very different direction. I don’t claim to fully understand BDSM, nor to know how it feels to have that urge, that need to dominate someone or to feel that need to submit, sexually or otherwise. I guess that unless you feel it, you can’t really understand it, and no matter how much I read about this, I will always be at a loss, at least to a degree.
I understand that Charlie, one of the protagonists of the book has gone through hell. That’s abuse. I also understand that part of the allure of submission is the release of control to your master or dom. Marc and his husband Luc are the poster boys for a happy dom/sub couple in the book. I have always understood that, I just didn’t get the perks, the benefits of it. And make no mistake, this isn’t Ms Novak’s fault, quite the contrary. Seems it took for me to read her book to connect some of the dots in my own life (which doesn’t mean I crave BDSM, quite the contrary). Some of the key aspects of domination are “control” and “trust”. And I look into myself, I look at my own marriage, and I wonder, how is this different from being “vanilla”, which is how I’d define myself?
Falling in love, for real, with someone is (imho) all about relinquishing control. I know so many young people who are afraid of “letting go”, of trusting their hearts. Their relationships keep failing, because they just can’t let go, afraid to be hurt.
But to really love is to trust someone else implicitly with your heart and soul (and all that comes with it).
I trust my husband implicitly, and I know he feels the same. Yet we are not in a BDSM relationship, because we don’t do the whole submission thing (mentally or sexually), nor the pain thingy: the spanking, the toys and the bondage and whatever else people into that lifestyle toy with. Pardon me if I need to stay personal for a moment longer, but there is one (sexual) aspect where I personally experienced the aspect of “letting go”. As I grew up as a “little gay boy”, I would always top, never bottom. And this wasn’t about being a better man, some misguided machismo or that sort of bullshit. It was the fear of what could happen if the roles were reversed, and abused. People who bottom and the het ladies out there will understand what I mean, what it implies to “let go”, to trust someone enough to have that someone else physically enter your body: it can mean utter devastation or an orgasm the like of which you’ll rarely experience (to put it bluntly).
I wish I could get her to turn around, but she’s camera shy, our Phetra. You should check out the video from which this shot is taken though, when Phetra and I were talking about her books and writing.
Once I had learned to trust a guy with that, and was able to relinquish that control, trust him not to hurt me, that’s when I began to enjoy sex both ways. TMI, I know. My apologies. I’m learning from my reading.
In a nutshell, that is what Love of the Game is about. For Hannes and Charlie to find that place of implicit trust. It’s easy for Hannes, but given Charlie’s abuse, that’s a different beast. Yes, there are additional aspects being explored, including the sexual “pain” aspects, mostly philosophically, although there is one scene, where Hannes and a friend get up close and personal, and while I normally skim sex scenes in books (I prefer to watch), squirming about the weird language used to describe one of the most basic human endeavors, that scene left me squirming in a different way. I was so horny that I thought my pants would burst! Great writing Ms Novak, and I’ll send you the dry cleaning bill… But yeah, I still don’t get it. Pain and pleasure are two centers in my brain that just don’t want to be connected…
On the surface, Love of the Game is constructed like a traditional romance novel, an ice hockey story, playing out around a tight-knit Canadian NHL team. The protagonists meet, there’s a spark (first turning point), there’s separation, a chance (fated?) reconnection, and plenty of stuff happening before finally, after the second dramatic turning point, the two get to skate off into the sunset, together (for now). Within the premise of that, Ms Novak tells a riveting, sometimes very funny, sometimes tear-jerking story of young Swedish NHL rookie Johannes Alm, his first season in Montreal, and journalist Charlie Morin, who is battling the demons of a really bad and abusive relationship.
Ms Novak is not one to hide her convictions under a rock, and she’s found a great spokesperson in Hannes, the young hockey pro. The scene at his first press conference is one for the history books. If only the real NHL coaches had as much cojones as Hannes’s coach. But alas, in real life, being out and proud in the NHL is still “fiction”. Hopefully it’ll be a reality sooner rather than later.
Author Hans M Hirschi reads quite a few books and has published ten novels. He also reviews books on this site, regularly from a personal point of view.
If you like BDSM stories, you should definitely read this. No dungeons, no prolonged sex scenes with nipple or cock torture await you though. If that’s your fancy, look elsewhere. And if you cringe at the mention of those four letters, like I do, you should still give this story a go. Maybe you’ll finally be able to “get it”, the way I have after reading it. While it’s helped me understand some aspects of what attracts people to BDSM, I still don’t understand the whole submission or the pain aspect, probably never will, even though Caraway did a great job at explaining it in his novel. Phetra’s story doesn’t quite go that far.
Love of the Game is an unusual book, and boy do we need more of those. Great job Phetra!
Love of the Game is published by Beaten Track Publishing and is available for purchase on Amazon et al.
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Have a wonderful week,