My first fantasy novel, ever. Yeah, I admit, I haven’t even read LOTR, the language had me asleep before I got to chapter two in The Hobbit. So why on earth would I want to read a novel about fairies which the title not so subtly alludes to? One reason really: the author. Meghan Maslow is a friend, albeit a rairly recent one, but a good friend nonetheless, and I always read what my friends write, no matter how bad or “out there” their writing seems to be. Meghan sort of attached herself to me and a friend at the San Diego version of GRL, the annual reader-writer convention of people who love gay romance literature, and where I, for some odd reason, have found a home, even though I don’t belong there, since, yeah, I don’t write romance. Meghan is witty, she’s smart, and she’s one hell of a writer, or so I discovered after having read her first foray into what some people refer to as “m/m” (you know how much I despise that word).
The cover of By Fairy Means Or Foul by Meghan Maslow
Ergo me reading By Fairy Means or Foul, a novel with more innuendo than anything I’ve read for a long time. Let me get this out of the way right now, before Meghan, who I’m sure will be reading this, gets her dreads in a twist. And just to say this again, just because I’m friends with Meghan, this is an honest to the bone review, as you’ll see shortly. Here it goes: Meghan is an insanely talented writer, and you can tell by all the subtleties that she’s also well educated and knows her genre, probably a gazillion times better than I do (since, yeah, my first, remember?)
Here’s the blurb, to save me summarizing it:
“The last thing half-dragon, half-fairy private investigator Twig Starfig wants to do is retrieve a stolen enchanted horn from a treacherous fae, but there’s no denying the dazzlingly gorgeous unicorn who asks Twig to do just that. Literally, no denying, because compelling the reluctant detective is all part of a unicorn’s seductive magic.
To add to his woes, Twig is saddled with the unicorn’s cheeky indentured servant, Quinn Broomsparkle. Dragons are supposed to want to eat humans, but Twig’s half-dragon side only wants to gobble up Quinn in a more . . . personal way. Making matters worse, it’s obvious the smokin’ hot but untrustworthy sidekick is hiding something. Something big. And not what’s in his trousers. In the PI business, that means trouble with a capital Q.
Throw in gads of zombies, a creepy ghost pirate ship, a malfunctioning magic carpet, and Twig’s overbearing fairy father’s demands to live up to the illustrious Starfig name. Naturally, an old but abiding enemy chooses this time to resurface, too. Those inconveniences Twig can handle. The realization he’s falling for a human who isn’t free to return his affections and whose life may hang on the success of his latest case?
Not so much.”
I’d hate to give things away, right? Reading a book about fairies and dragons and men in slavery just never really made it to my remotest level of interest, but oddly, I found this an amusing read. I chuckled a lot, shook my head in disbelief even more often, whether it was about the powers of dragons or witches or unicorns, and how they “really” are in terms fo strength of character (or lack thereof) is quite amusing. And the story flows freely and is well paced. No boring spots here. I absolutely enjoyed the plays on the genre “rules” that I think Meghan bends, and warps, but without turning hard-core fans off (I hope). Sadly, I can’t be sure, since I don’t read the genre, but yeah, I get the impression that she gets away with her plays… Don’t believe me? Read the reviews online…
Meghan Maslow’s pirate escorted Her Majesty to the party in San Diego. I guess that costume explains a thing or two about the expanse, right?
Now, to the parts that didn’t please me quite that much, and they’re part of the genre “gay fantasy” or – shudders – “m/m fantasy”, the way the human always has to be succumbing to the beast (whether a werewolf, a werecat or a dragon). Meghan has an interesting twist on that (no spoilers), but I’m deeply troubled by the whole notion of “active – passive”, “top – bottom” and their portrayal in gay romance, and how it’s really just a prolongation of “saving the damsel in distress”. I’ll grant you, I skipped the sex scenes because it’s even worse to read it than seeing it on screen, so I can’t say if the dragon ever bottomed, but it would somehow defy the genre expectations, wouldn’t it? This is a series, and – Meghan, if you read this – there’s hope… I certainly know Meghan’s heart and mind are in the right place in what we call “IRL”.
What I did like was the “of course” attitude of the fantasy society to gay love or relationships/mating. It was refreshing to read that, but it also reminds us just how “fantasy” fantasy really is, or is it vice versa? I can never get that right. The other aspect I didn’t enjoy was some of the predictability associated with the romance genre, like the misunderstandings in all the right places, the sex scenes, again, and again, and again, like the pistons in an engine, but even here, Meghan manages to surprise us one more time with a [no spoiler].
Conclusions? This is a brilliantly written novel (phew, that makes seeing Meghan again in two days so much simpler), playing the genre like a virtuoso (I think), with really well fleshed-out characters, a fun and action-packed story and the promise of more of the same as the series continues. If you love your boys hot, your stories “out there” in the paranormal fantasy realm, then you absolutely MUST read this book. By Fairy Means or Foul is available on Amazon right now. I give it four stars there, the fifth star withheld not because it isn’t a brilliant book but because I just don’t enjoy this sort of stuff. It’s amazing that Meghan wrote a story I read to the end without suffering too badly.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week. This Friday, I’ll be posting from Denver, and this year’s GRL.
In his Eyes is so beautifully crafted, it feels almost too fragile to read
Larry Benjamin’s What Binds Us, his award-winning time piece once inspired one of my novels. I was curious to read In his Eyes, particularly as I’d seen some reviews online which were puzzling. Larry calls himself a wordsmith, and I have no reason to doubt his assessment. Yet somehow, I wonder if the word is accurate. When I picture a -smith of anything, I see fire, I see an anvil, hammers and coarse tools. Larry’s tools most certainly include the fire of this passion for writing, but his writing reminds me more of calligraphy than forging a tool. Not sure that makes sense.
The cover of Larry Benjamin’s In your Eyes.
In his Eyes is the story of four young men who meet in college many years ago. I tried early to set the stage in terms of timing and I guess it begins in the seventies and ends in 2005. Four men who meet, form two couples, break up, meet others, yet through the years, their lives’ paths keep crossing, again and again. No spoilers. The way the novel is constructed is like a collage of little vignettes, small portraits, glimpses into the lives of the four protagonists and the people they meet. We have a narrator, but we also often get to see things from the individual points of view. In a way, the novel feels like a puzzle, where you as reader are challenged to add the various pieces to each other, to get to the final end result. What that result turns out as, I believe, is entirely up to each and everyone of us.
It’s taken me days to read this story. Larry’s writing is carefully crafted, and not as fluent as someone who writes more subconsciously. Which makes reading an effort, and in order to really enjoy and enjoy it, one needs to pace oneself. You need to take it slow, be shielded from outside interruptions or disruptions. I tried to read on my way to town or as my family was watching TV, but failed. Finally, last night, with my husband focused on his work, I was able to read in peace and quiet. It’s like listening to a piece of classical music. You have to focus, but you’ll be rewarded for your attention.
Our word smith, or calligrapher, Larry Benjamin
I can’t say I “liked” the plot of the story, because it is dark and belongs to a time I hope remains in the past, most certainly for us in the West. I know that for large parts of the world, this may still look like a bright future… It highlights not only the plight of black gay men in the United States, interracial relationships and their challenges, re “snow queen”, but also the darkness of our existence in a society from pre-AIDS where being gay was still largely frowned upon. Larry is the storyteller of that era, and he does it amazing justice. I usually try to avoid those times, because they are, by and large, quite depressing for our people, with so much misery and sadness. Larry showcases not only that misery, that loneliness, even when in company with others, society’s brutal judgement, but also the small progress, intimacy and how love can take so many different shapes. In Larry, that time is brought to light, and even though I hope we may never have to see such days again, it is still valuable to have that time period accurately reflected and brought to light, as undoubtedly many of our young who grow up under more hopeful circumstances may not even be aware of our recent history. For those of us who witnessed it, it’s slightly different, painful reminders of a recent past, of things we have lived through and endured ourselves.
In his Eyes is a beautiful story. Not an easy read, but a true work of art. If you like to read meticulously crafted books, and you have the time to really let go and focus on a slow read, I highly recommend you to take a journey into the past and re-live (or experience for the first time) what things were like for gay men in the past four or five decades. Well done, Larry, very well done.
In his Eyes is published by Beaten Track Publishing and is available on Amazon and other fine online retailers as e-book and as paperback. You can learn more about Larry and his craft on his website.
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a wonderful weekend.
Hans M Hirschi
In Dirty Mind, Horvat brings a fresh approach to storytelling
My biggest beef with romance is knowing on page one how it ends. Why watch a movie if you know how it ends? Why read a book if you know how it ends? I know millions of people do. I used to be one of them, but I just grew tired of the same old, same old. I mean why throw a tornado or a shark at a couple? It doesn’t matter what you do, in a romance, the ending is a given. When Roe asked me to read her first book, published by gay romance giant Dreamspinner, I agreed because we are friends, not because I was really wanting to read it. I don’t regret reading Layover, it is a good book, a very good story. Would her second book, released just two months later be any different? I was curious because DSP had refused it. So had another romance publisher, which is why I directed Roe to my publisher, Beaten Track. They are open-minded to all sorts of great diverse storytelling. And they took Roe under their wings, and Dirty Mind is published today, September 1.
The cover of Dirty Mind, by and from Roe Horvat. Yes, Roe is also a very talented visual artist.
Another romance, yet (according to the refusal letters) not romantic enough. I was intrigued. The story is interesting, and whether it’s the age difference (my husband and I are also exactly twelve years apart) or whether it’s Horvat’s storytelling I don’t know, but I gobbled that story up in one go. And even though it has the obligatory happy ending, it is a refreshing take on romance. See, Roe spent the first tender years of their life behind the Iron curtain in what is now Czechia before moving to Sweden a few years ago. Swedish storytelling tends to be, how can I put this politely, fifty shades of gray? No pun. Maybe it’s because most of what we produce here is either Bergman style suicide inducing drama or simply run of the mill crime novels. I don’t know what the mood is like in Czechia, beyond what I hear from Roe (and that’s pretty depressing as well). The mood of her 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.
Our two protagonists in Dirty Mind, Alexander and Christian are very realistic and as believable as fictional characters get. I saw a great deal of myself in Christian, my own suffering at the hands of my mom (although differently), the life of being away from home to study, forming friendships, being an outsider (a six on the Kinsey scale, too.) I also had a best friend who was a great deal older at that time, and yeah, we even tried to see if we could make it work. We did not. Maybe that’s where life differs from fiction. Although my friend was very different from Alex, nonetheless, plenty of points of recognition.
The story is extremely well-edited, as I’ve come to expect from Beaten Track, and the ARC I was given to read was as stable as many a software on release day. I’m sure by Friday’s release it’ll be perfect. Now I know you readers probably think “what’s the catch?”, and quite frankly there is none, at least none major. Because even if I felt that Roe’s description of a thirty-year old as “older man” and Alex’s thirty-year crisis felt a bit over the top, the fact is that there IS such a thing as the great gay death at the age of thirty. Many men eighteen to twenty-five will never even look at anyone above thirty, quite simply because they’re “old”… I remember being like that myself, and the pain when I crossed the chasm myself and how suddenly the only (younger) guys who’d approach you were looking for a daddy. Sadly this is a bit of a thing. Gay men can be very ageist, sadly. Thanks for that reminder, Roe…
If you like to read great romance storytelling, need that happy ending in the end, but look for a fresh story, a fresh approach to romance, Roe’s your author. Two great stories out of two. It can’t get any better… Dirty Mind releases today Friday, September 1 from Beaten Track Publishing. It’s currently available for $0.99 on Amazon, so why not take advantage of a dirty cheap deal? This book is worth so much more!
If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend.
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.
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