Gerry B's Book Reviews

The Gathering: Common Threads in the Life Series, by Ronald L Donaghe

An inspiration for families of all types

 

 

Publisher’s blurb: The Gathering is the fourth book in the Common Threads in the Life series, which began with Common Sons, and continued in The Blind Season and The Salvation Mongers. The Gathering is set in 1999, four months before the coming new millenium. The Reece family had planned to gather to celebrate the new era by gathering on New Year’s eve. Instead tragedy strikes, and the family gathers for a very different reason.

About the author: Ronald L. Donaghe is a native of the desert Southwest, and he uses this mystical, wide-open place where the sky meets the universe, for the setting of many of his novels. He has published almost a dozen books in three fiction series, including the first book in a fantasy series known as “The Twilight of the Gods.” He is the editor of the online book review magazine, The Independent Gay Writer (http://www.rldbooks.com/Newsletter/Indy-NewsList.html). He is a book reviewer and feature article writer for Foreword Magazine. He lives in a hundred year-old adobe house in the historic district of Las Cruces, New Mexico, with his mate of many years.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

The Gathering [BookSurge, 2006] is the fourth of Ron Donaghe’s thought-provoking and heart-warming Common Threads in the Life Series. And quite apart from my recommendation to read it for both these reasons, I also recommend that the readers start with the first of the Series; being Common Sons [see my review].

Ron Donaghe is one of a handful of gay genre authors that I hold in the highest esteem for not only their story-telling talent, but also their dedication to quality of the written word. They have been an inspiration to many aspiring writers—including myself. I remember with great fondness that Ron Donaghe was the first to contact me with words of encouragement regarding my first novel Two Irish Lads, and I feel privileged to return those words with regards to the Common Threads Series.

The Gathering follows on the heels of The Salvation Mongers, and opens with a tragedy that has occurred in 1999. As a result the Reese-extended-family has gathered in support of Joel and Tom. Thereby, the main theme of the novel is established; that being, the love of family regardless of whether it happens to harbour gay members.

This is the unique aspect of Donaghe’s writing; for, to my knowledge, there are very few gay genre novels that focus on family values—i.e. love, loyalty, support and respect for one another. A further, somewhat unique aspect is that the author has explored the relationship of two men who are in their 50s, and shows that their love can be as strong and vital as that of younger men.

Altogether, it is a warm, inspirational and, yes … wholesome story that can be a model for families of all types.

Ron Donaghe has a new novel in the offing, A Summer’s Change. Watch for it.

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See a complete list of titles and authors reviewed.

See a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail.

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May 30, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction | 1 Comment

Strings Attached by Nick Nolan

A sterling effort from a first-time novelist!

 

 

 

Publisher’s blurb: Closeted teenager Jeremy is sent to live with wealthy relatives after his mother enters rehab. Struggling to fit into the posh world of Balena Beach, Jeremy joins the high school swim team, dates a popular girl, and begins to think he may have landed in paradise—until his aunt Katherine starts to dictate his every move … and a late-night phone call insinuates that his father’s accidental death was not so accidental after all.

As Jeremy grows accustomed to the veneer of a fabulous life, so grows his need for answers—as well as the danger of immeasurable harm. Weaving together a murder mystery, sexual ambiguity, and characters with hidden identities and agendas, Nick Nolan offers readers a deliciously witty page-turner about the “puppet” who wishes only to be real boy. Strings Attached is also a surprisingly heartfelt story about coming-out-age and coming out—not necessarily in that order.

 

About the author: Nick Nolan was born and raised in Los Angeles, the city he has haunted for over two decades. Working nights and weekends selling furniture to put himself through college, Nolan went on to direct a group home for homeless and abused GLBT youth. During his scant spare time, he began writing. Inspired by the works of writers like Armistead Maupin, Paul Russell, and Paul Monette, he penned his debut novel, Strings Attached, the first in a planned trilogy. Shortly after its release, Strings Attached was named the 2006 Gay/Lesbian Book of the Year by ForeWord Magazine, hit #1 in Gay Fiction on Amazon.com, and spent nearly a year in that genre’s Top 10. Two years later Nolan’s second thriller Double Bound won Book of the Year awards for Gay/Lesbian Fiction by both ForeWord Magazine and ReaderViews Nick Nolan was born and raised in Los Angeles, the city he has haunted for over two decades. Working nights and weekends selling furniture to put himself through college, Nolan went on to direct a group home for homeless and abused GLBT youth. During his scant spare time, he began writing. Inspired by the works of writers like Armistead Maupin, Paul Russell, and Paul Monette, he penned his debut novel, Strings Attached, the first in a planned trilogy. Shortly after its release, Strings Attached was named the 2006 Gay/Lesbian Book of the Year by ForeWord Magazine, hit #1 in Gay Fiction on Amazon.com, and spent nearly a year in that genre’s Top 10. Two years later Nolan’s second thriller Double Bound won Book of the Year awards for Gay/Lesbian Fiction by both ForeWord Magazine and ReaderViews.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

In Strings Attached [AmazonEncore, 2010] Nick Nolan weaves a complex tale from the prologue on. Seventeen-year-old Jeremy Tyler moves from a cramped and grubby hovel in Fresno, California, to the opulent—with a capital “O”—setting of Balena Beach. Although he descends from a wealthy family, he has never known wealth, himself; however, he is blessed with exceptional good looks and an innate talent for swimming.

Suddenly immersed in privilege, including a “Mr. Belvedere”-type butler to smooth the way, Jeremy quickly adapts to his new social strata; and even develops a fondness for it. However—and this is where the “strings” come in—nothing is without a cost. As a result, he soon discovers this truism when his demanding aunt Katherine begins to dictate nearly every aspect of his life, from his ‘respectable’ shoes to a preppy hairstyle. Feeling like a puppet, therefore, he accepts this as the price to fit in, and even takes it one step further by dating one of most popular girls in the high school; this, in order to counter his growing attraction to boys—especially hunky Coby Carson. Coincidentally, he also forms a friendship with a very ‘out’ homosexual by the name of Carlo.

Another element is added at this point when he receives an unexpected telephone call from his institutionalized mother, who intimates that the death of his father may not have been an accident.

Up to this point we have learned very little about his so-called “uncle,” Bill Mortson; who, as we discover, is as shadowy as he has remained thus far. With his ‘fleshing-out’ a new and somewhat sinister twist is introduced, and becomes a sub-plot while Jeremy sorts out his sexual identity. There are other shadowy elements as well. One of these involves the twin stars Castor and Pollux, and a star known as the “Father Star;” with an obvious connection to Jeremy’s situation.

Everything is resolved in the end, which contains some unexpected surprises as the complete story is finally revealed.

Strings Attached is an admirable start for a first-time novelist—as Nick Nolan was at the time. The writing style—that is the journalism—is top-notch, the pace is brisk, and it reads effortlessly. The characters are all interesting, well-developed for the most part, and remain relatively consistent throughout. Moreover, the highest compliment I can give it is that it has made me curious to read his second novel, i.e. Double Bound.

Having said that, however, I had some trouble connecting with all the characters at the start—including Jeremy, and it wasn’t until Chapter twenty-one that the younger ones really came together as real. In fact, the weekend episode at the mountain retreat was my favourite read of any of the chapters. The action and interaction between the four characters, while complex, was both human and entirely believable.

Overall, it is one of the better coming-out stories I have read, and it is highly recommended for anyone facing that situation; young or old. It is also recommended as a darned good read.

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See a complete list of titles and authors reviewed.

See a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail

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May 23, 2010 Posted by | Gay fiction | Leave a comment

Amazon Dot-CA & Dot-Com

The World’s biggest book seller seems to have forgotten those of us who buy and supply it.

 

 

On April 25th I ordered the book I was planning to review this week, i.e. Strings Attached by Nick Nolan. Today, May 14th, I finally got a notice that it had been shipped, “Express.”

I have previously complained about Amazon—not directly to them because trying to contact them directly is like writing to God. My complaint on that occasion was that they had neglected to include a ‘product description’ for my second novel, Journey to Big Sky. As you will no doubt understand, a book without a synopsis is a dead issue in the sales department. It was.

The other irony is that my publisher, Createspace, is owned by Amazon.

Nonetheless, it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good, so it has given me the opportunity to become acquainted with Maureen Ash, author of  A Templar Knight series, and in particular Death of a Squire. A review of this delightful story is found below.

GAB

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May 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Death of a Squire by Maureen Ash

A classic Medieval mystery á-la-In the Name of the Rose and a damned good read!

  

 

 

Publisher’s blurb: After eight years of captivity in the Holy Land, Templar Bascot de Matins escapes with injuries to his body and soul. Now on a sojourn to Lincoln Castle, he is sometimes called upon to uphold the will of God and the laws of man

Late in the Autuman of 1200 AD, the townspeople are preparing to host the first meeting between the King of Scotland and King John. Days before their arrival a squire’s body is found hanging from a tree deep in the forest, and the castellan of Licoln Castle entrusts Bascot with the task of finding the killer.

When outlaws kidnap his trusted servant, Gianni, Bascot is surprised by his own familial feelings for the boy. Despite the unsolved crime and potentially murderous rumors, nothing becomes more important to Bascott than Gianni’s safe return. Could these two misdeeds be linked by chance or by cunning?

About the Author: Maureen Ash (c1939 – ) was born in London and developed a lifelong interest in medieval history. Visits to castle ruins and old churches provided the inspiration for her novels. She now lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada where, she says, she enjoys Celtic music, browsing in bookstores and Belgian chocolate. Bascot’s personal details arose out of her own experiences as a young child in London when she saw soldiers returning from horrific experiences in the Second World War. She is fascinated by the details of medieval life and aims to bring them alive in her stories.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Discovering this work by Maureen Ash, i.e. Death of a Squire [Prime Crime MM, 2007], was a happy conjunction of accidents. As mentioned above the first was not having received my book order from Amazon.ca, and because of this I resorted to browsing a bargain table of paper backs. Death of a Squire is the second of a four-part series (so far) called “Templar Knight.” I must admit that I haven’t read the other three, but I hope to remedy that omission in the near future.

The story takes place in the late autumn of 1200 AD. King John—of Robin Hood fame—is on the throne, and he is about to meet the King of Scotland in Lincoln. Therefore, the townspeople are busy preparing for this momentous occasion when the body of young Hubert de Tournay, an unpopular squire, is found hanging from a limb deep in the forest (adjacent to Sherwood Forest—once again of Robin Hood fame).  Lady Nicolaa de la Haye, Castellan of Lincoln Castle, calls upon Templar Bascot de Marins with his young, mute servant Gianni to find the killer—something he has successfully done in Ale House Murders, the first of the series.

Was the squire’s death a vengeance killing by peasants angry at the assault of one of their own? Or was it one of his fellow squires who hated him and might have secrets that Hubert would have been only too pleased to exploit? Or was his end perpetrated by one of the women he coerced by force or blackmail to comply with his advances? Complicating matters is King John who, sensitive to any slight real or imagined, has recently heard innuendos of a covert plan to depose him in favour of his rival Arthur. Therefore, was de Tournay’s murder the result of knowing too much about the wayward ambitions of some highborn nobles?

As de Marins goes about solving the crime we meet a colourful cast of characters, wonderfully developed, and learn more about the history of the time and place. In fact, for me this aspect was one of the real highlights of Ash’s writing; her in-depth knowledge of Medieval life, and the seamless manner in which she wove this into the story. The only quibble I have is that she unfortunately chose the climax of the story to introduce the backgrounds of several characters; i.e. Green Jack and Fulcher, which slowed the pace at an inappropriate stage. Moreover, although the ending is certainly unpredictable, it is perhaps a bit too unpredictable without any prior build-up. Nonetheless, it is a great read for the for the summer and for the whole family. I highly recommend this series by Maureen Ash.

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See a complete list of titles and authors reviewed.

See a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail, by Gerry Burnie. Read an excerpt.

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May 16, 2010 Posted by | Fiction | Leave a comment

Amazing Stories – WWI, WWII and the Canadian Navy

This year marks some very significant, historical anniversaries that should be remembered by all of us with gratitude. For example, it was 65 years ago on May 8, 1945, that V-E Day (Victory in Europe) was declared. Thus ending the second of two horrendously bloody conflicts in Europe to occur during the 20th century—the first being WWI, which ended on November 11th, 1918.

Similarly, on August 14th, 1945, V-J Day (Victory in Japan) was declared in United States. This conflict saw the first—and mercifully the only use of atomic weapons in warfare.

This year is also the centenary of the Canadian Navy (1910 – 2010).

I have therefore selected three books; one each on the First and Second world wars, and one commemorating the Canadian navy. All three are part of the “Amazing Stories” series published by Altitude Publishing Company.

About Amazing Stories: Amazing Stories™ features a variety of titles to entertain, delight, and fascinate. Dedicated to great storytelling, these true Canadian stories range from funny to daring to purely inspirational. The books are identified by genre – History, Biography, Women, Animal, Human Interest, Mystery, Romance, Business, etc.,– to help you identify the books that you are interested in, either for yourself or as a gift for others.
Each book tells the story of a fascinating Canadian or an event that has happened somewhere in Canada, from the earliest days up to the present. Taken as a whole, the series presents a portrait of the entire country, raising issues – such as regional differences, historical precedent, and cultural uniqueness – that contribute to the wider definition of Canadian identity.
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Mysteries, Legends and Myths of the First World War: Canadian Soldiers in the Trenches and in the Air – by Cynthia J. Faryon

Publisher’s blurb: This book offers a fresh, close-up look at the First World War as it was experienced by ordinary Canadian soldiers. This is the war as it was experienced by the tens of thousands of young Canadians. Reading their accounts offers a no-holds-barred picture of fighting, life in the trenches, the human cost in lives lost, and the physical and emotional aftermath for survivors.
About the Author: Cynthia J. Faryon is an internationally published author and freelance writer. Originally from Victoria, B.C., she now resides in Richer, Manitoba with her husband and their two dogs. Faryon focuses her writing on Canadian content, covering topics such as travel, family issues, biography and history.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I don’t think I could possibly do greater justice to this collection of vignettes than Cynthia Faryon’s superb prologue (quoted below in part). In it she puts herself in the mind of Edgar Simpson fighting in the trenches of WWI just before he is killed by enemy fire:

“I’ve got a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m not going to survive the day. I hope it’s only the usual fear and the strain of the inhuman conditions getting to me: the mud, exploding shells, human body parts flying through the air—and always, always being wet.”

“Oh my God, the shelling has started and look—smoke is covering no-man’s land, and I can see the enemy cutting through the rolls of barbed wire between us and them!

There are more German’s coming at us than I can count. They look like apparitions with bayonets. I’m shooting, and all down the line machine guns are chattering and men are falling. The water in the bottom of the trench is turning red with blood. There are bodies everywhere and wounded men are falling.

I sense the bullet before feeling it.

In stunned disbelief I look at my chest, at the hole and the blood. I look around for help, but my buddies are busy fighting for their own survival.

Darkness. I feel my body hitting the ground.

What next? Death is coming quickly and I’m engulfed in painless warmth. Then with a flickering consciousness, I’m leaving my body. The fear is gone and I’m strangely emotionless.”

In this imagined episode she has captured the fear, the sense of duty, the poignancy and the sacrifice of one ordinary soldier, in this case Edgar Simpson of Winnipeg, for all the others in the so-called “war to end all wars.”

Other stories included are similarly poignant, or heart-touching, such as “A Bear Named Winnipeg” (the true story of “Winnie the Pooh”), “In Flanders Fields,” and “The Hero of the Halifax Battle.”

Highly recommend, and a “Must Read.”

Unbelievable Canadian War Stories: Well Beyond the Call of Duty – Pat MacAdam 

Publisher’s blurb: Often little-known but extraordinary, the quiet heroes of one of the most destructive wars in his-tory left indelible impressions among those whose lives were touched by their actions. Up against firing squads, torpedoes, rogue waves, P.O.W. camps, and all the living hells of warfare, they persevered, they saved lives, and they valiantly served their country. Distinguished and decorated, these men used unconventional methods and quick-thinking tactics to excel on the front lines.

About the Author: Patrick (Pat) MacAdam is a native Cape Bretoner who has made Ottawa his home since 1959. He holds bachelor’s degrees in arts and education from St. Francis Xavier University. He paid his way through university by writing for the Sydney Post-Record, Halifax Chronicle-Herald and Fredericton Daily Gleaner. He spent three summers in the Canadian Officers Training Corps in Camp Borden, Ontario, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. His entire professional life has been in public relations and politics. He was a researcher, speechwriter, and aide to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker from 1959 to 1963. In 1983, he joined his university friend, Brian Mulroney, as his first employee and most senior aide.

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The design of the new Canadian War Museum used the theme “ordinary Canadians doing extraordinary things. This book contains vignettes of some of them from the heroic to the outrageous, but always getting the job done in the service of their country and the rest of us. Therefore, it is important that these—representative—deeds of courage and valour be remembered on behalf of those who have gone before.

Indeed, many of them have already been forgotten. For example, “Canada’s Most Decorated Hero of WWII,” Johnnie Fauquier, who was buried in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery with full military honours and then forgotten.

“Had Johnnie Fauquier been an American,” observes Pat MacAdam, “Hollywood might have passed over Audie Murphy, Congressional Medal of Honour winner and United States’ most decorated soldier, for star treatment. The movie “To Hell and Back,” which starred Audie Murphy himself, told the story of his heroism.

“Johnnie Fauquier went to hell and back 100 times on bombing raids over Berlin, other key German targets, and the Peenamunde V2 rocket bases on the Baltic Sea. The normal tour for a bomber piolet was 30 raids. He did three tours and then some. He was the first Canadian to comman a bomber squadron in battle, commanding both the crack RCAF 495 Pathfinder Squadron and later the RAF’s legendary Dambusters, Johnnie Fauquier was awarded the Dstinguished Service Order Medal (second only to the Victoria Cross) three times—more than any other Canadian warrior. He also wore the distinctive ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Cross on his tunic.”

Yet, his plain grey granite grave marker simply records that Air Commodore John Emilius Fauquier is at rest there.

Highly recommended for those of us who want to remember.

 

Unsung Heroes of the Royal Canadian Navy: Incredible Tales of Courage and Daring During World War II – Cynthia J. Faryon

Publisher’s blurb: At the outbreak of World War II, the Royal Canadian Navy consisted of just 13 warships and about 3000 permanent and reserve members. By the war’s end, however, it had grown into the third largest navy in the world, with 365 warships and more than 100,000 personnel. The men and women of the Royal Canadian Navy came from all corners of Canada to fight in the sea war against the enemy. Together, they exceeded even the highest expectations of their allies.

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These are the stories of the men who go down to the sea in ships, and those ships they sail in. Like all war stories these are filled with acts of courage—both individually and collectively—pathos, skill and daring. Even the mascots are remembered as a dog named “Bunker B”—a listed casualty when the Athabaskan  sank under fire—and a cat named “Ginger” on her sister ship, the HMCS Haida.  

In a chapter named “Abandoned Ship, Abandoned Survivors” it tells the heart-breaking and hear-warming story of what happened when duty clashes with the natural instincts of loyalty and compassion. In war, duty wins.

“The Haida trembled and vibrates as the turbines throb. Petty Officer HP Murray and Telegraphist SA Turner are still on one of the scramble nets trying to rescue survivors as the ship starts to move. They look at the hands reaching out to them and grab for one more. The ocean current around their legs gets stronger and, handing off the last of the survivors, they both struggle to unhook themselves from the nets. The waves are now waist high, and the force is making it impossible to climb up. Hands from above reacdch down, gripping … pulling … tugging, but it is no use. The Haida picks up speed and suddenly the rope breaks. The wake surges over the two men and washed them straight into the turning screws.”

On the other hand.

“Far out in the Channel, the Haida’s cutter is slowly making its way home. The men are wet and cold. But with hard tack, water, and malted milk tablets, they are better off than those left at the site of the sinking. Suddenly, on the horizon looms a German mine sweeper thqt changes course and heads directly for the small boat. Darting into a mine field, the men pray the Germans will give up. For a moment it looks as though the vessel is planning to fire on them. It hesitates, then swings around, leaving the survivors to their fate. Every man on that little boat knows their situation is desperate and that the odds are against them.

“The Haida’s cutter is finally spotted by a squadron of RAF planes and the exhausted survivors are picked up by an Air/Sea Rescue launch and taken to Penzance. By midnight they are resting, warm, and comfortable. But a disquieting thought stays with them all. “What about the rest of the gang?””

Like the others, this comes highly recommended for truly inspirational reading that will leave you with goose-bumps and a warm feeling in your heart!

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In memory of my sister Beverley Hill, 1934 – 2010.

See a preview of my up-coming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail, read an excerpt.

See an alphabetic list of titles and authors reviewed.

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May 7, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | 2 Comments

Arson!: The Dakota Series, #1, by Cap Iversen

A gay western in the Louis L’Amour tradition!

 

 

Publisher’s blurb: People look up when Dakota Taylor rides into town. His legend precedes him and if that legend isn’t always founded in reality … well, Dakota’s not about to disappoint folks. Nor does he want to disappoint the handsome Bennie Colson, who has a job for him. Trouble is, Ben’s job means taking on a whole town of angry cattle ranchers.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Pretty well everyone enjoys a cowboy story; especially if the principal characters get out of the sack long enough to ride a horse or chase a cow. Cap Iversen(?)[1] has therefore struck an agreeable balance between the two types in “Arson!: The Dakota Series, No.1” [Alyson Books, 1st edition, 1992].

Dakota Taylor is a gunslinger—a ‘hired gun’—the fastest in the West. He has a pair of custom-made, silver-plated colts on his hip, and an instinct for calculated eradication of people’s enemies.

He is juxtapositioned with Benjamin Colsen, a Harvard law student, who hires Taylor’s gun to avenge the Colsen family’s brutal murder—father, mother and siblings—on their mountain-top, sheep ranch by a group of unknown assailants. The issue seems to be a drying-up of the water supply that has mysteriously struck the valley, and the overall cast of suspects includes the cattle barren, James T Anderson, and practically everyone else in the dusty town of Turnpike.

There are the usual supporting characters: A fat, incompetent and cowardly sheriff; a slick-talking merchant; a ‘meat-head’ butcher; and the weaselly manager of the local meat packing plant. However, there are a few that are slightly out of the loop, i.e. Ryder McCloud, another gunslinger, who has been hired by Anderson. McCloud and Taylor have had shootouts before, but these generally involved fleshy weapons between sheets. Nevertheless, with McCloud’s arrival the plot definitely thickens.

Anderson’s young son, Seth, enters the picture as well. He is your typical brash, young Turk; enamoured with McCloud and not at all adverse to romping with Taylor.

Meanwhile a sub-plot is developing, which involves a fabled Eternal Spring that only the Shoshone Indians and a few others—including Dakota Taylor—know about. Dakota is the adopted son of a Shoshone Shaman, and also becomes the confidante (and bed mate) of his warrior-like grandson; therefore, the only other(s) to know about it must also be the murderer(s).

I will not go further for fear of spoiling the story; however, I will say that the writing style, told in a first-person narrative, is both colourful and appropriate. Moreover it has the air of authenticity, and it reads almost effortlessly. Whoever Cap Iversen is he or she is/was definitely not a novice writer or journalist.

I do have some reservations regarding the number of gay characters that pop up quite ‘coincidentally’ in what is otherwise an insular and isolated community. There are, I believe, six such individuals, which is perhaps stretching the laws of chance and probability. In addition, the story seemed to lose its compactness toward the end.

Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted story, and I look forward to reading the other two, i.e. “Silver Saddles,” and “Rattler.” Recommended.


[1] “Cap Iversen seems to be a pseudonym. The best authority I have is that ‘she’ was a real estate agent in Texas. Albeit, Cap Iversen does not seem to have written anything before “The Dakota Series,” nor afterward.

See a complete list of titles and authors reviewed.

See a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail, read an excerpt.

May 1, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction | Leave a comment

   

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