Gerry B's Book Reviews

English Bloods: In the Backwoods of Muskoka, 1878 by Frederick de la Fosse: Edited by Scott D. Shipman

“I often wonder why, when governments and communities erect monuments to heroes, they forget to erect one to the honour of the Pioneer.”Frederick de la Fosse (1860 – 1950)

 

 

 

Story Blurb: Farming in the Canadian backwoods in the late 1800s was a prospect that enticed many young Englishmen to cross the Atlantic. One such fellow was Frederick de la Fosse, whose well-meaning uncle paid £100 per annum for his young nephew to serve as a farm pupil in the northern reaches of Muskoka. Some years later, de la Fosse wrote an illuminating and humorous biographical account of the trials and tribulations of the “English Bloods,” the local epithet attached to these young lads attempting to hone farming skills in a land never intended to be agricultural. And, in so doing, de la Fosse chronicles the realities of pioneer life in the area.

__________________________________

Review by Gerry Burnie

From the outset of Frederick de la Fosse’s English Bloods, (Heritage Books, 2004) one is struck by the level of naïveté that existed regarding this new land of Canada. Firstly, by nineteenth-century English society, generally, and by Frederick’s uncle in particular. For example, as a going-away gift Frederick received a saddle and was told to be certain to let them know when he “captured his first wild horse.”

De la Fosse is also quite candid in enunciating his own level of naiveté, and if there ever was a ‘pigeon’ ready for a plucking it was young Frederick. Indeed, within hours of his arrival he had been conned out of $10—quite a hefty amount in 1878—by some wily Canadian con artists.

He was also quite a source of amusement to some seasoned Canadians when he mentioned that he had actually paid money to learn how to “farm”, i.e. chop trees and clear land. It didn’t help his image, either, that he was attired in a shirt a tie for the tasks.

Some of the characters de la Fosse encounters along the way are also quite colourful. One such was a Mr. Yearley, whom de la Fosse describes as weighing nearly three hundred pounds. He therefore describes the experience of having to share a bed with him and his son, John Yearley.

“Good-night, boys,” said Mr. Yearley as he blew out the light, and darkness fell on the scene. Then with a mighty tug he pulled the blanket off us both and coiled it around himself. “Say, Pop,” protested Master John from the outskirts, “what are yer givin’ us?” But there was not answer from his parent. He was already in a comatose condition and snoring in a highly stertorous and alarming manner. Before many seconds had passed, the three hundred pounds of flesh was heaving in a terrific fashion. In the course of a somewhat checkered career, I have come across many snorers but never one who could come within miles of the power possessed by that venerable being. After enduring an hour of the most rending torture I gave a heave which sent Johnny flying to the floor, and followed after him myself. The commotion caused by this sudden action had no effect on the old man. He snored serenely on. Johnny muttered a few imprecations and crawled in bed again, and I thankfully curled up where I had fallen. The mosquitoes had a lovely time with me for the night, but even they were preferable to the agony that I had been enduring.”

As it transpired, his mentor in the art of farming, a Captain Harston, knew very little more about husbandry than young Frederick and the three other, similar apprenticed lads, but he was very good at expounding on the topic while the boys did the actual work. Nevertheless they kept a ‘stiff upper lip’ and muddled on regardless; becoming hardened to the rigours of the job in a relatively short time. It is remarkable, therefore, how the human spirit can adjust to even the most challenging set of circumstances.

As one might imagine the experiences encountered by such an uninitiated novice were many and varied; some harrowing and some hilarious.  One of these might have fit into both categories.

“The Hayes family consisted of himself and four or five children. The eldest of them, a girl, was perhaps seventeen years of age. I had paid several visits to the cottage and got to know the family well. It was rather a surprise to me, however, to see Sandy enter our room one Sunday morning for the purpose of paying a visit for we were not intimate friends. The others had taken advantage of the beautiful morning and had gone to the lake for a bath, but I had preferred to remain in bed, so Hayes and I had the whole place to ourselves.

The first I knew of his appearance was when the door slowly opened and I caught a glimpse of his frowsy, unkempt head as he leaned forward to see if anyone was in. “Come in, Sandy,” I said, “what’s brought you here this morning so early?” But Sandy was a taciturn individual and vouchsafed never a word in reply. He slouched into the room and without more ado sat down on the edge of the bed and began to chew viciously at a straw. He was quite a picturesque specimen of humanity, owing to his general getup and commanding figure. He stood fully six feet high and with his red shirt, his trousers tucked into his boots, and a flaming tuft of carroty hair sticking upright through a hole in his greasy straw hat, he might have posed as a model for one of Garibaldi’s warriors. He was evidently in a very serious mood; so I concluded to let him take his time. The minutes flew by, and still Sandy chewed and said nothing. I was just about on the point of again asking what had brought him to our abode at that unconscionable hour when he brought his heavy first down on my leg with a resounding smack and broke the silence by ejaculating “Say!” “Yes,” I gasped out; but the poor man was again floored and could get no further. Then he began to whistle and after he had got through two or three bars of “Protestant Boys” started to perambulate round the room. This behaviour was beginning to get on my nerves and I jumped out of bed and started to put on a few things. “You’ll excuse me,” I said, “but if you will have what you want to say figured out by the time I come back from my bath, I’ll see what I can do to help you.” This showed him that time was precious and that he had better unbosom himself. He stopped in his stride and burst out with another “Say!” “Yes,” I again answered.

“Oh, hell,” he cried in desperation. “What do you say to getting’ hitched up to our Maggie, boy?”

This is a charming and heart-warming tribute to the unsung pioneer, written in a dry-martini-like-humour that is sure to please regardless of where in the world the reader might live.

Special mention should be made of Scott D Shipman who not only did an excellent job of editing the writing, but who also spent eight years researching other, related parties mentioned in the story.

Highly recommended for everyone in the family!

__________________________________________

See a complete lit of titles and authors reviewed

See a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail.

__________________________________________

 

April 24, 2010 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content | Leave a comment

Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

Masterfully written ‘prattle’ (meant positively)

 

 

 Story blurb: Though he’s been accepted by Brown University, 18-year-old James isn’t sure he wants to go to college. What he really wants is to buy a nice house in a small town somewhere in the Midwest—Indiana, perhaps. In the meantime, however, he has a dull, make-work job at his thrice-married mother’s Manhattan art gallery, where he finds himself attracted to her assistant, an older man named John. In a clumsy attempt to capture John’s attention, James winds up accused of sexual harassment! A critically acclaimed author of adult fiction, Cameron makes a singularly auspicious entry into the world of YA with this beautifully conceived and written coming-of-age novel that is, at turns, funny, sad, tender, and sophisticated. James makes a memorable protagonist, touching in his inability to connect with the world but always entertaining in his first-person account of his New York environment, his fractured family, his disastrous trip to the nation’s capital, and his ongoing bouts with psychoanalysis. In the process he dramatizes the ambivalences and uncertainties of adolescence in ways that both teen and adult readers will savour and remember.

About the author: Peter Cameron was born in Pompton Plains, New Jersey in 1959 and grew up there and in London, England. He spent two years attending the progressive American School in London, where he discovered the joys of reading, and began writing stories, poems, and plays. Cameron graduated from Hamilton College in New York State in 1982 with a B.A. in English Literature.

_____________________________________

Review by Gerry Burnie

I use the term “prattle” in a positive way. It is a literary device that can be very effective when used by a master ‘wordsmith’ like Peter Cameron; a form of improvisation that I envy. However, when it gets too-clever-by-half it can be become oppressive. That is the situation with “Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You” (Picador; Reprint edition April 28, 2009.)

On the positive side the characters are all well developed in such a way as to be ‘interesting’; like green hair. James is precocious, brilliant and cynical. We never do find out what he likes—except Anthony Trollope, his co-worker, John, and his grandmother Nanette—but we do find out what he doesn’t like: people his own age; nearly everything about modern society; and college because of the previous reasons.

His family, e.g. mother, father and sister, are a pretentious lot, and a thinly-veiled representation of “Yuppy” society. His mother, thrice married, has picked another ‘winner’ and ends the marriage before the honeymoon is over. His father, the senior partner of a Manhattan law firm, eats steak because it is a sign of success, and his sister is cynical but without James’ smarts to make it meaningful.

However, the plot is a bit more difficult to nail down, precisely. One gets the feeling of tagging along with James with no particular destination in mind. We tag along to his mother’s art gallery where the featured exhibition is a collection garbage cans with no name (“art should speak for itself”), and peer over his shoulder while he ‘sabotages’ John’s attempt to find a mate on the “Gents4Gents” website.

We also accompany him on a particularly ‘awful’ workshop, known as “The American Classroom” in Washington DC, and sit with him while he undergoes therapy. However, none of the foregoing ever seems to get resolved. It just meanders, and this is where the “prattle” becomes just that.

Nonetheless James is a likable kid, and from his point of view it all makes sense. Moreover, there is much about this story that resonates long after one puts it down. Cameron raises some very thought provoking notions, and for this reason it gets my recommendation.

___________________________

Click here to see a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail.

________________________

April 18, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | Leave a comment

Transgressions by “Erastes”

Masterfully written as usual, and a very inspirational topic – Recommended

Publisher: Rnning Press Book Publishing

 

 

Story outline: 1642, England: David Caverly’s strict father has brought home the quiet, puritanical Jonathan Graie to help his dreamer of a son work the family forge. With war brewing in Parliament, the demand for metal work increases as armies are raised.

The fair David is drawn to his father’s new apprentice. And though his father treats them both as if they were brothers, David’s feelings toward the shy Jonathan develop as they hide their growing physical relationship. Until the fateful moment when local gossips force David’s father to banish him, to protect the family name.

Freed, directionless, and whimsical, David is eager to experience the drama and excitement of war, and follows two soldiers headed for battle, but the reality is a harsh awakening for his free-spirited nature. Seizing the opportunity to desert, David heads to London to lead a secret life, unaware that Jonathan too has left the forge in search of him. Lost and lonely, the vulnerable Jonathan quickly falls in with the Witchfinders, a group of extremists who travel the country conducting public trials of women suspected of witchcraft. Jonathan is drawn to the charismatic Michael, finally embracing a cause for truth so wholeheartedly, he doesn’t recognize the danger—physical and emotional—that Michael represents. For the fanatic puritan is desperate to purge Jonathan of his memories of David in any manner possible….

_______________________________

Review by Gerry Burnie

The storyline of Eraste’s recent work, “Transgressions: A M/M romance,” (Running Press Book Publishers, 2009), has been well served by the product description, so I will cut directly to the elements of the story. 

To begin, all the protagonists—David Caverly, Johnathan Graie, and Tobias—are good, strong characters; well-defined and distinct. Likewise their personalities are distinct, and except where circumstances require it they remain consistent throughout. David, the indolent and ‘typical-teenager-type’ who matures under fire (literally), and who comes to seek and honour love over hedonism; Johnathan, the serious-minded-Puritan and wide-eyed innocent of sorts, who is mesmerized first by the more head-strong and charismatic David, and later by the possessive and sinister Michael; and the worldly Tobias who is content to screw his way through partners until he meets his “virgin farm boy.” All are quite believable, as well; although I did find Johnathan a bit hard to fathom at times.  

As usual Erastes has chosen a powerful atmosphere and setting in the English Civil War(s) (1641-1651), between the forces of Parliament and the Royalists; more specifically, between Oliver Cromwell and Charles I. It was a truly brutal conflict on both sides, with an estimated death toll—from all causes including war-related disease—of 190,000 individuals; or nearly 4% of the population. 

Socially, it was a brutal time as well, that divided families against one another, and afterward the so-called “Loyalists” were hunted down as outlaws. 

Erastes has also included the equally powerful and brutal practice of hunting witches. This was an ongoing religiously-sponsored atrocity that lasted until it was finally outlawed (in England) in 1735. Nevertheless, in spite of the dark era that all this represented, love prevailed. A celebration of the indomitable human will to find beauty in the midst of darkness. 

Masterfully written as usual, and a very inspirational topic.an absolute-must addition to your bookshelf. It would make a great gift for the kids as well!

____________________________

See a preview of Gerry Burnie’s forthcoming novel, “Coming of Age on the Trail” See some interesting “Related Images”; Read an excerpt

____________________________

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Gay historical fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Texas Surrender by Claire Thompson

An interesting look at BDSM as a topic

 

 

When JD Reed shows up at the Circle R horse ranch, Avery Dalton is fully prepared to hate his guts. Tapped by his aunt to help out at the horse ranch, the greenhorn thinks he can just step in and run the show, but Avery’s not having any. JD’s got a line on Avery’s secret, though barely acknowledged, need to be sexually dominated. A loner used to making his own way, Avery’ll be damned before he submits to the arrogant Yankee. JD Reed can never resist a challenge, and Avery Dalton is no exception. Determined to seduce and claim the tattooed, tough guy, JD teases and taunts his prey until he goes too far. In a battle of wills that turns physical, the sexual tension seething just below the surface explodes like a Texas tornado that sweeps them both off their feet.

________________________________

Review by Gerry Burnie

 This is the second Claire Thompson novel I have read, the first being Polar Reaction, and by comparison I prefer the latter.

Texas Surrender [Romance unbound, 2009) features BDSM as a main theme, and while it is certainly erotic the story is short on depth and imagination. Moreover, I found the characters (all of them) generally lacking in conviction.

Sous-chef JD Reed, living in New York at the opening of the story, encounters a string of misfortune when he is laid-off from his prestigious position. In addition, he discovers his subservient boyfriend is serving another ‘master’ behind JD’s back. Add to this the death of his uncle in Texas, and the scenario is set for his return to country life.

This includes working on his late uncles ranch—although he hasn’t done this sort of work since he was a boy—and assisting the ranch’s only employee, Avery; a closet gay who travels out-of-town to indulge his sexual needs. For JD it means having a bit of fun with this macho stud, and ultimately dominating him.

The plot from there on is rather basic and in places a little contrived. For example, it is difficult to imagine a New York chef mucking out horse stalls—physically, if nothing else. It is equally unimaginable for JD to best Avery in a wrestling mach. Nevertheless, the story is predicated on exploring BDSM as a topic, and two hunky cowboys as a vehicle.

The story is interesting, however, for a look at the not-so-common world of BDSM (for me, anyway); what it means, the rules, the nature, the strength and weakness—even though JD often violates its edicts regarding trust, and Avery seems just a bit too compliant overall.

For those who are looking for something light and sexy it makes a fairly good read.

See a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail

Complete list of authors and titles

April 6, 2010 Posted by | Gay fiction | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: