Gerry B's Book Reviews

Ransom, by Lee Rowan

An officer, a gentleman… and a sodomite. The first two earn honor and respect. The third, a noose.

 

 

***

Publisher’s blurb: Even as he finds himself falling in love with his shipmate, William Marshall, David Archer realizes it is a hopeless passion. Not only is Will the son of a minister, his first act aboard ship was to take pistol in hand and dispatch an older midshipman who made offensive advances. Davy realizes that Will would probably not shoot him if he expressed his feelings, but their affectionate friendship would surely end, once Marshall learned of Archer’s “unnatural” yearnings.

William Marshall has never given much thought to any feelings beyond duty, loyalty, and honor. For a young Englishman in 1796, the Navy is a way to move beyond his humble origins and seek a chance at greatness. While others spend shore leave carousing with willing wenches, Marshall is more likely to be curled up with a navigation text.

Captured by accident when their Captain is abducted, Archer and Marshall become pawns in a renegade pirate’s sadistic game. To protect the man he loves, David Archer compromises himself—trading his honor and his body for Marshall’s safety. When Will learns of his friend’s sacrifice, he also discovers that what he feels for Davy is stronger and deeper than friendship.

The first challenge: escape their prison. The second: find a way to preserve their love without losing their lives.
Ransom, the first book in the Royal Navy Series by Lee Rowan, introduces readers to the appealing characters of Lieutenants Marshall and Archer. Become part of the story as they discover their shared love against a backdrop of intrigue, mystery, and danger.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

This is the first Lee Rowan work I have read, but after reading Ransom [Bristlecone Pine Press, 2009] it won’t be my last.

Indeed, it takes only a paragraph or two is get the impression that this author is very much in control; both of the story and of the reader’s interest. That’s a good thing, too, because most of the tale involves some fairly complex and prolonged suspense that could very well become unravelled if it were not for Ms Rowan’s masterful writing skill.

The same is true regarding David’s and Michael’s developing romance, which evolves from devoted friends to lovers throughout the first two-thirds of the novel. Consequently, without the strong, guiding hand of the author this gradual pace might have become frustratingly lethargic. Coquettish. As it is, however, apart from a few too many apologies between them, the pace seems quite credible for two navy lads of the eighteenth-century.

The balance of characters is nicely thought-out, as well. Captain Smith, being the most senior in rank, age and experience, represents a “stiff upper lip” example for the two younger lads to emulate, and the somewhat psychotic, pirate captain is the antithesis of Smith and the morality of the day. He is also ‘deliciously’ sinister, and a nice foil for the other characters.

Put all this against a background of intrigue and mystery that is exacerbated by the mounting sexual sadism of the pirate captain, the unfolding escape plans by Davy and Michael, as well as Captain Smith, and the brilliant sleuthing on the part of Lieutenant Drinkwater, and it makes for a page-turner for certain.

Having said all that I felt the story should have ended two chapters earlier than it did. I found the final two chapters anticlimactic, and almost an afterthought to include some graphic sex for the one-handed readers.

I am happy to say, however, that this is only a minor quibble—perhaps not even shared with readers of homoerotic fiction—and otherwise it is an outstanding example of 18th-century, naval historical fiction. Four and one-half stars.

 

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August 29, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Historical Fiction, Naval historical fiction | Leave a comment

Voyageurs, by Keira Andrews

Manly love in a manly setting

 

 
Jack Cavendish needs to get to his station at Fort Charlotte, a fur-trading outpost in Grand Portage, Upper Canada. The fort is only accessible by canoe, and there’s just one man willing to take him on the perilous, thousand-mile journey from Montreal this late in the summer. Young Christian Smith, the son of an Ojibwe mother and absent British father, needs the money to strike out on his own, so he agrees to take Jack deep into the wild.

As they travel endless lakes and rivers, at times having to carry the canoe over land, the arduous expedition takes its toll. Yet the attraction between Jack and Christian, two men from vastly different worlds, grows ever stronger. Locked in a battle against the wilderness and elements, how long can they fight their desire for each other?

This book is available in e-book and Kindle formats.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

Voyageurs, by Keira Andrews [Torquere Press, 2010], is one of a series called “Spice It Up” wherein each story features a different spice—in this story it is the clever uses of turmeric. Otherwise it is a period story (somewhat historical) set in the year 1793. I make the distinction because, apart from a few historical references—i.e. Upper Canada, the North West Company and the existence of Voyageurs, also coureur des bois—there is very little actual history that one can point to. I hasten to add, however, that the author does a very fine job of capturing the ruggedness experienced by adventurers of the time. It is also a very credible depiction of romance and love between two manly men in a primeval, wilderness setting.

Journalistically speaking the writing is very strong, and the plot is well thought out and progresses at a nice pace. It also unfolds logically so that the reader is never left to wonder how an element came about, or where a certain character came from. And speaking of characters, although they are understandably few in this story, the twoo protagonist are well-developed and credible. Jack’s evolution from a pampered Englishman to competent outdoorsman is believable, and Christian’s transformation from a resentful half-breed to accepting lover is equally credible.

What I would have liked to see, however, is more historical authenticity. For example, reference is made to “Grand Portage” being hypothetically located in Upper Canada, and the large lake they encounter suggests Lake Superior.  This implies that they were heading north/west from Montreal, but what route did they take? For Canadian readers, especially, this sort of inclusion would have greatly added to the story.

Once again I hasten to add that these are only minor quibbles that do not seriously detract from the romantic element of the story. Four stars.

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August 22, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction, Gay fiction, Historical period | 1 Comment

Pirates of the Narrow Seas 1: Sallee Rovers, by M. Kei

A swashbuckling tale full of colour, adventure and romance – a good read!

 

 

 

Publisher’s blurb: Lieutenant Peter Thorton of the 18th century British navy must struggle to come out gay while surviving storms at sea, ship-to-ship battles, duels, kidnapping, and more in his quest for true love and honor. The Sallee Rovers, Book One of The Pirates of the Narrow Seas Trilogy is an expertly crafted swashbuckler brimming with authentic detail and fully realized portraits of life at sea, written by a tall ship sailor and internationally acclaimed poet.

Awards: Winner of a Sweet Revolution Award for “Best Full Cast” and “Judge’s Pick”

(Note: The book if available in Kindle format).

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

The Sallee Rovers by M. Kei [Bristlecone Pine Press, 2010] is the first of the Pirates of the Narrow Seas trilogy and, according to his bio, the author is not only an experienced sailor, but has also experienced many of the risks and challenges described in the story. He can therefore rightfully claim his status as an authority. Having said that, I must admit that I wouldn’t know the difference between a marlinspike and a hat pin. Nevertheless, when the discussion got tactical I had no difficulty following it, nor did I find that it burdened the story—that is, not at first.

In this book we are introduced to Lieutenant Peter Thornton, a likeable sort but insecure in his role. This is partly due to being eclipsed by his best friend, Roger Perry (with whom he is secretly in love); being a partial orphan, and being new to his commission. As luck would have it—or perhaps not—he and Perry are both given assignments aboard HMS “Ajax.” The not-so-lucky part is the rather pompous and acerbic master—i.e. Captain Bishop. Moreover, matters are made worse for Thornton because Bishop takes an arbitrary disliking for him, such that he can do no right.

The plot thickens when the Ajax comes upon a sinking Spanish galleon in distress, and Peter and a crew are sent aboard to free the enchained, galley slaves in order to give them a chance at survival. One of these is a commanding, Sallee Turk, who prior to his capture was a high-ranking captain of the Sallee Rovers (i.e. pirates).

Somewhat true to his nature Bishop sets them adrift to save his own skin, and Peter and two other crew members are abandoned aboard the sinking galleon. Joining forces with the Sallee Turk, Captain Tangle, the galleon is saved and Peter becomes the right-hand confident of the swashbuckling Tangle. Thus begins a relationship that covers the gambit from admiration to frustration, and from conflict to romance.

As mentioned previously, the first half of this story moves with the pace of a schooner under full sail, and adventure abounds on the ‘bounding mane.’ Peter is likeable, Perry is charming, Bishop is a pompous fool, Tangle is dashing in an ‘Errol Flynnish’ sort of way, and the supporting characters are all distinct and credible. The naval strategies and skirmishes with the Spanish off the coast of France are exciting and engaging such that you want stand up and cheer for the good guys.

However, to me the pace seemed to slow in the second half when the story delved (perhaps a bit too much) into the belief’s and practices of the Islamic religion. Understandably, the author wanted to make a distinction between Islam and Christianity that Peter had to consider, and because it is all very interesting, but an overabundance of detail at the point where the reader is looking forward to a climax makes the story drag rather noticeably. Not seriously, but enough to detract.

Having said that, this is a good solid read and I look forward to reading the others in the trilogy, Pirates of the Narrow Seas.

 

August 15, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Historical Fiction | 2 Comments

All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy

It’s about manliness, friendship, loyalty, honour and integrity, and it just doesn’t  get much better than that!

 

 

All the Pretty Horses is the story of John Grady Cole, the last of a long line of west Texas ranchers. Upon his grandfather’s death and his parents’ divorce, the sixteen-year-old Cole finds himself landless, penniless, and possessed of skills that mean nothing in a country transformed by highways and a world war, where cowboys are as doomed and marginal as the Indians they once displaced. With his friend Lacey Rawlins, John Grady sets off for Mexico. They have no idea what they will find there: on their map, the area south of the Rio Grande is blank. They have between them two horses, a rifle, and their bedrolls. The year is 1949.
In the months that follow the two boys–who are soon joined by a third, the unlucky Jimmy Blevins–will journey backward in time while simultaneously going forward into a precocious and saddened manhood. They will find their way to a place where a horse is still a thing of value and breaking one is considered a worthy feat, a place where love can still burn like a cold fire. But in Mexico love also has the power to destroy a reputation, and one can encounter obstacles of medieval severity. Stealing a horse–even one that is by all rights his own–can get a man killed. Or subject him to ordeals that amount to nothing less than the death of his former self.

Winner of: National Book Award for Fiction (1992), National Book Critics’ Circle Award (1992),

Motion Picture (2000): Miramax Films; Director: Billy Bob Thornton; Starring : Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Lucas Black, Penelope Cruz.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

 When discussing Cormac McCarthy’s writings, such as his All the Pretty Horses [Vintage, 1992], the discussion invariably turns to his unorthodox use of English grammar, i.e.

He dismounted and unrolled his plunder and opened the box of shells and put half of them in his pocket and checked the pistol that it was loaded all six cylinders and closed the cylinder gate and put the pistol into his belt and rolled his gear back up and retied the roll behind the saddle and mounted the horse again and rode into the town.( 257)

Nonetheless, when reading it in context one cannot imagine it written any other way. In fact, it struck me as being almost blank verse, and quintessentially suited for the vastness of the great Texas and Mexican landscapes. Indeed the setting of a story dealing with the very spirit of The West calls for it. There is a naturalness about it, unhindered by stops and starts or artificial boundariesIt is therefore free to grow as if it were evolving in the here and now. Yet there is purposefulness to its growth, for each new idea or thought builds on the last with the same organic freedom—like a living vine.

McCarthy also uses a number of Spanish words and phrases (untranslated), and many reviewers have criticized this choice for leaving the reader(s) in the dark. However I think that it was a very intentional choice, and very much part of the relationship of the reader to the story. In other words we are tagging along with John Grady, and unless we speak Spanish we would otherwise be in the dark to know what they were talking about. It is another touch of realism that in its subtlty never interferes with the gist of the story.

For me, however, the most impressive aspect of this read isthe credibility of the characters. In the story John Grady Cole is 16 years old in 1949, which means he was born in 1933; however, according to the code he lives by he could just as easily have been born in the 1800s; when a man’s word was his bond. For example, John Grady (and Rawlins) are joined by 13-year-old Jimmy Blevins who tags along uninvited, he’s a pain and he screws them in big and little ways. JGC and Rawlins are provided plenty of opportunities to move on without him, to leave him to the fate he deserves. But John Grady sticks his neck out for Blevins especially when he deserves the opposite. That, to me, is the true spirit of the West.

Lacey Rawlins is quite distinct from JGC, but just as credible, and—in my opinion—absolutely delightful! In many ways the two of them remind me of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn ‘gone West’. The interaction between them is primarily presented in dialogue form, but with such authenticity that one never doubts for a moment they are who they are supposed to be. i.e.

John Grady and Rawlins are talking about being born:

Rawlins lay watching the stars. After a while he said: I could still be born. I might look different or something. If God wanted me to be born Id be born.

And if he didn’t you wouldn’t.

You’re makin my goddamn head hurt.

II know it. I’m makin my own.

They lay watching the stars.

So what do you think [about running away to Mexico]? He said.

I don’t know, said Rawlins. 

Well.

I could understand if you was from Alabama you’d have ever reason in the world to run off to Texas. But if you’re already in Texas. I don’t know. You got a lot more reason for leavin’ than me.

What the hell reason you got for stayin’? You think somebody’s goin to die and leave you something?

Shit no.

That’s good. Cause they aint.

If, from this, you can picture two teenage boys lying under the stars and talking seriously about life, then you get my meaning about credibility. An evocation of another, simpler time, and lush with memories for some of us.

Finally, some criticism has been raised about the Alejandra /JGC relationship for not being romantic enough. Not from my point of view. In my opinion this story is not about boy-meets-girl; rather it is about manliness, friendship, loyalty, honour and integrity, and it just doesn’t get much better than that.

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August 8, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Historical Fiction, Traditional Western | Leave a comment

The Broken H, by J.L. Langley

The Broken H needs a bit of repair

 

 

Publisher’s Blurb: A rocky past that sent Shane fleeing his home and seeking refuge on The Broken H has kept him from the one thing that has always been dear to him. Grayson.

Sheriff Grayson Hunter hasn’t felt like he belonged for a long time. Once he loved The Broken H, his ancestral home, and Shane Cortez with all that he was. Now he tries to stay as far away from the ranch and the man as possible until an accident brings them together.

Gray didn’t count on Shane’s decision to let go of the past…and get a hold of Gray.

Publisher’s note: This book is a male-male love story and contains homoerotic sex acts that may be offensive to some readers.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

As a self-proclaimed homoerotic novel—“one-handed reads,” as I refer to them—The Broken H, by J.L. Langley [Loose Id LLC 2007] is better than some. Oh, there are plenty of sex scenes (15 in all, give or take one or two), but journalistically speaking the writing is quite solid, and the author has made an attempt to build a plot between the romps in the sack. Admittedly the plot is a bit short on originality, but the point is that there is one.

Shane Cortez is a runaway with a mysterious past—although we don’t find out what that is until quite late in the story. Nevertheless, he now seems well adjusted as foreman of The Broken H Ranch. The Hunters, a remarkably liberal family—including their gay son, Grayson—have unofficially adopted Shane as a son, and Grayson has fallen lustfully in love with him. It is nonetheless a rocky romance, made more difficult by a teenage bimbo who accuses Shane of knocking her up. Her father, a somewhat stereotypical loudmouthed redneck, then sets out to demand that Shane make an ‘honest woman’ of her.

Meanwhile, he and Grayson are filling page-after-page with “homoerotic sex” at the drop of an elastic band [see the story for an explanation].

If a nice light read without too many challenging plot twists is your forte, then this story is bound to fill the bill.

 

See a preview of  Coming of Age on the Trail: An M/M adventure and romance

See a collection of interesting photographs of cowboys taken around the turn of the century.

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

   

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