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.
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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!
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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,
When reviewers have conflicting views it gets really interesting…
You may have heard… I released a new book yesterday, Last Winter’s Snow. Congratulations to me! And for a couple of weeks or so, reviews have been coming in, and they have mostly made me very happy, because a lot of the things I’ve read were very encouraging, and positive. However, and this is the really interesting part, and this post will look at reviews from both a reader perspective and an author perspective, I’ve had two reviews that took opposing sides on a single issue. I’m not going to take sides, but let’s hear from the reviewers themselves:
The cover of Last Winter’s Snow.
One reviewer writes: “I would have cut out some of the “travelogue” passages about Swedish cities, flora and fauna, etc., in favor of some scenes to establish the couple’s unique personalities and why they were a good match.”
Another says: “One of my favorite parts of the novel is how Sweden is almost itself a character. I was utterly captivated reading about the different places, their history and culture. It was a little like a whirlwind tour, and it left me wanting to know more and to see the sights for myself.”
Did they really read the same book? 😳
Now, I had my reasons to include the “travelogue” aspects, and if you don’t believe me, you can ask my editor. We did discuss this at length. I won’t justify my decision here, not the point of this post. However, isn’t it interesting that one person’s “lowlight” was another person’s “highlight”?
Reviews from a reader’s perspective
Reviews can be a great tool if you are a reader on the hunt for your next great read. But unless you read a thousand books a year (it’s a thing apparently) and/or have an unlimited budget for DNFs*, you may want to do your research, before you “one-click”.
If a review speaks to you somehow, look at other reviews from that same source. Have your read the same books already? What was their take then? Don’t just trust a single review. I do this when I look at hotel or restaurant reviews. I spend a lot of time trying to find out who the reviewer is. If they only review ONE place and trash it, likelihood is they just had a bad experience which cannot really be applied as a thumb rule for an entire establishment. I would argue the same is true for book reviews. (*DNF – Did Not Finish the book)
Just the other day, my publisher noticed a two-star review on one of the books they publish, a book that isn’t even out yet! I’ve had the same happen to me before. Quite honestly, we don’t know why that particular reader did that, but trust me when I say that there are a lot of trolls on Goodreads. So don’t trust just any review. Learn what they say about other people’s stuff. It’ll help you determine if you really are on the same wavelength like the writer of the review you’ve read.
Once you know the reviewer is reliable and not a “troll”, this is really going to help you to find books you can trust. Just remember, reviews are kind of like the news: you have to be mindful of the source(s)! Personally, when it comes to books, I’ve never been a big fan of reviews to find the reads I like. Most of what I read isn’t “pleasure” reading, but part of my professional development, and I often read books outside my personal comfort zone. I read mostly ARCs** and review those here on my blog. But every now and then I’ll read a book for pleasure and I go either by personal recommendation (which I’ve lived to regret more than once) or I simply read the blurb and look at the cover, like so many others, and yes, I’ve lived to regret those, too. (**ARC – Advance Review Copy, usually an edited, but not finally proofed version of the book which is sent to professional reviewers before publication)
Reviews from an author’s perspective
I’ve written about this before. Here, for instance. When you get positive, constructive reviews, it’s easy to feel happy. I grinned like an idiot the other night after reading a beautifully crafted and very generous review. We’re all entitled to that, particularly if you don’t get that monthly check from Amazon to makes you smile… My check makes my bank weep, that’s for sure. However, and I think that is important, when you get two conflicting, professional reviews like the ones I quoted above, you, the author have to chill for a moment.
Why did they say what they said? Could it be that they don’t much care for descriptions of locales? I once reviewed a book by the insanely talented Posy Roberts. In her novel Silver Scars, Posy describes an amputation and the process of healing at great length. I had just published my own book Jonathan’s Promise, where I had described something “similar”, yet completely different. And just like Posy and I put our emphasis on different aspects of our characters, focus on different things, so will reviewers. One will miss the emphasis on character interaction, another will be happy that the focus wasn’t there etc. Don’t take that criticism personal. It’s not their book. It’s yours, and you’re entitled to write the story any way you damn well please.
This is even more the case when you receive bad reviews. I have long ago stopped reading my reviews on Goodreads. I have my trolls, I get my one-star reviews and that is fine. I actually quite enjoy them, or at least knowing they’re there. I means someone is really upset with whatever success I have, which means I’m getting noticed. Just getting such troll attention lends my authorship credibility. And as long as my composite score on Goodreads is higher than Shakespeare’s, who am I to complain? Really? It’s all a matter of perspective. Then again, I’d readily accept a lower score than the great poet if it meant larger sales. Again, a matter of perspective.
But if you insist on reading bad reviews, ask yourself this: why are you doing it? What do you gain from them? Apart from a potentially masochistic pleasure? I’ve had more than one writer tell me that they gain insights on what works and what doesn’t work in a novel. I guess that is also why so many authors use beta readers, to finely tune their product to a specific market. Nothing wrong with that. But you didn’t see Michelangelo do beta studies of his Davide. If your writing is a craft, and you write to a specific audience, cater to a carefully developed niche or genre, I understand the need for beta readership to make sure a product will work. But as you can pick up from my choice of words, such books aren’t works of art, they are a craft, a product, aimed at entertaining, pleasing a very specific audience. No one else will care. Ain’t nothing wrong with that approach! It’s usually the approach that sells, right?
However, artsy books are different. They tell THE story they’re supposed to tell, whether people care to read it or not. They’re what we sometimes call “literary”, aka “books no one reads”. Do they have a readership? Yes, but they usually don’t climb the charts, neither at Amazon nor at the New York Times. And they piss off an equal amount of people they please. It’s what art does: it provokes. It asks the important questions in life. Can crafty books do that? Yes, but they do so within the well specified parameters. Allow me to explain:
For instance, you could write a romance novel about “death”, but there are certain things within the genre you have to stick to, e.g. the relationship is paramount. Not death. And there may be other details to consider, how much sex you need to include, how explicit it may be. Heck I’ve even read somewhere that “monogamy” is a core ingredient in hardcore romance novel recipes. In an artsy book, you can still have a relationship, but it doesn’t have to be THE theme, death can be. And you can include sex, on the page, off the page, or leave it by the wayside, and the characters can fuck whenever with whomever, as long as it makes sense to the story you’re telling. There are no rules to follow, as long as your editor is happy, and they look primarily at things like:
- consistency: leave home in a Volvo, you better come home in a Volvo (or explain what happened)
- believability: why is there an Alien spaceship in the back yard?
- credibility: she died and came back from the dead? How is that possible?
Reviewers may take “offense” at anything in everything you write, and if you break genre rules, I’m sure you probably already knew you were going to be trashed for it. The same is true for artsy books, the only difference is that you can readily dismiss such comments. Why? Because some people are just really stupid. Sorry if I’m being harsh, but if a reviewer complains about a non-romance book “not being romance” or a “thriller” being too exciting, then it’s not the author or the publisher who is to blame, but the reviewer for simply being too damn stupid. Yes, it’s still upsetting to read, and you may still need to have that review on your book’s Goodreads page, but honestly, give readers some credit, too.
If your book is listed as a “mystery” or “thriller” (or whatever), and a review complains that it wasn’t a “romance”, don’t you think people will disregard said review as exactly as imbecile as it is? Quite the contrary, it will even make sure that other romance readers won’t pick up your book and be disappointed by said lack of loooove, sending more bad reviews your way… Incidentally, you might actually get other readers to pick up your story because it was dissed as a non-romance. Imagine, there is such a thing as a readership for non-romance novels. Two sides to every medal.
Author Hans M Hirschi reads quite a few books and has published ten novels. He also reviews books on this site, regularly.
Reviews aren’t easy, for readers, for authors nor reviewers. But they are an essential part of our strive to reach our readers (old and new), and I am very grateful for the reviews I get, particularly the ones that I ask for, where we, as part of the marketing effort send out ARCs to professional reviewers. They don’t know what heads their way, which is why some will like it, and others won’t. That is part of the business. Nevertheless I’m grateful for the professional courtesy they show to our work. Naturally I’m also happy for others who review one of my books they’ve loved (or hated), I just may never see it. So thanks! 🙂
What is your take? How do you see reviews? As reader? Author? Let’s hear it…
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Have a wonderful weekend,