Gerry B's Book Reviews

Warrior Prince, by J.P. Bowie

Recommended as a good read

 

 

 

Blurb: Set in the early turbulent years of the Roman Empire, and seen through the eyes of three men, Warrior Prince tells the story of a love that will not be denied, of courage in the face of adversity, of political intrigue, betrayal and death. Against this backdrop of death and mayhem, Lucius and Callistus, two estranged lovers, meet at last, but can their love overcome the enormous odds they must face when it seems that every man – and the gods – are determined to tear them apart once more?

About the author: J.P. Bowie hails from Scotland – and has lived in the States for the past 30 years. Originally a singer, J.P. turned to stagecraft, working at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas for the illustrious magicians, Siegfried and Roy.

J.P. began writing seriously in 2000, self publishing a series of books featuring a young artist living in Laguna Beach. The series was successful and since then J.P. has been published by TEB Press, a UK based publishing company, and MLR Press under the auspices of Laura Baumbach.

His recent series of vampire stories, originally only available in ebook form, will now be available in print starting June 2009.

212 pages. Available in Kindle & Nook formats, 298 KB

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

This is the first J.P. Bowie novel I have read, but judging from “Warrior Prince” [MLR Press, 2009] I conclude that he is an accomplished writer. Certainly his prose is well constructed and also flows along at an easy-to-read pace. Moreover, the characters are quite well developed, and for the most part believable.

Lucius, a middle-class Roman, leads a quite comfortable life except for an unrelenting longing for his departed lover, Callistus. The latter is a former fugitive slave with Spartacus’s defeated uprising, and Lucius is uncertain whether he is alive or dead.

Reminiscent of a decadent, pre-Christian Rome, a vastly wealthy merchant introduces Lucius to a handsome tribune, Flavius Sedonius, who is sexually indifferent between male and female, and after a brief affair with Lucius, Flavius mentions that he is marching back to Gaul to do battle with a Prince Callistus.

Encouraged by evidence that Callistus lives, Lucius signs-up with the army in the hope  of finding Callistus, but ends up in another part of Gaul, while Flavius is captured by Callistus in the other. In another twist of fate that Roman Legions free both, and Callistus is taken back to Rome to die in the arena.

I won’t spoil the ending by talking about the outcome, but it does add a touch of drama to a fairly tame romance by imperial Roman standards.

Overall it is a good read with some interesting twists, some drama, and enough sex and romance to satisfy. My strongest quibble, however, is that it takes some unacceptable liberties with the period. This is particularly so regarding such anachronistic phrases as “to tie the knot,” referring to a marriage, which dates from about the 13th century, A.D. Also, “he should make an honest woman of her,” which the Online Etymology Dictionary dates from about the 17th century.Laving said that, I recommend Warrior Prince  as a good read. Three and one-half stars.

Read an excerpt from my in-progress novel, The Brit, Kid Cupid, and Petuniaan M/M light comedy & adventure. Comments welcome. Add your comments, or e-mail them to me at gerry@gerryburniebooks.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Last week 293 visitors viewed Gerry B’s Book Reviews – up 5.4% from the week before. Thank you all. GB 

 

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay romance, Historical period | 3 Comments

Secret Historian:The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade, by Justin Spring

Will the real Samuel Steward please stand up…

 

 

 

Blurb: Drawn from the secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, Secret Historian is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the twentieth century. An intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, Steward maintained a secret sex life from childhood on, and documented these experiences in brilliantly vivid (and often very funny) detail.

After leaving the world of academe to become Phil Sparrow, a tattoo artist on Chicago’s notorious South State Street, Steward worked closely with Alfred Kinsey on his landmark sex research. During the early 1960s, Steward changed his name and identity once again, this time to write exceptionally literate, upbeat pro-homosexual pornography under the pseudonym Phil Andros.

Until today Steward’s many identities have been known to only a few—but an extraordinary archive of his papers, lost since his death in 1993, has provided Justin Spring with the material for an exceptionally compassionate and brilliantly illuminating life-and-times biography. More than merely the story of one remarkable man, Secret Historian is a moving portrait of homosexual life in the years before gay liberation.  

Hardcover – 496 pages; also available in Kindle format – 898 KB

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

It’s difficult to know what to say about Secret Historian by Justin Spring [Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010]. It is the type of story that overwhelms while you’re reading it, and stays with you long after you set it down. Moreover, while I liked and admired Justin Spring’s writing, and the nostalgic look at the twentieth century, I disliked the principal character, Samuel Steward, as being disturbingly egocentric and self-serving.

Having said that, I will start by saying that even though Spring was the beneficiary of nearly thirty boxes of Steward’s journals, papers, photographs, etc. (a horde that most writers—especially me—would give their souls to find), he still had to sort and categorize these into a meaningful order for the rest of us. Not an easy task, given Steward’s will-of-the-wisp nature. In this regard, I believe has done a masterful job of tracing Steward’s development from a displaced youngster in a stiflingly, religious-bound backwater, to the avant-garde salons of Paris; overseen by such literary giants as Gertrude Stein and Alice B Tolkas.

On a personal note I identified most sympathetically with Steward’s small town beginnings, whereby he learned very quickly how to be deceptive because it was what others wanted, i.e.

[The situation was that Steward had written a ‘love’ note to a salesman who had unethically made it public. Thereby, Steward’s father (a drunken, drug-using Sunday school teacher) found out about it and confronted his son.] “I want to know what the hell a son of mine is doing writing love letters to another man.” Steward recalled him saying in his journal, and then went on: ““I think,” I said, drawing on my new vocabulary from Havelock Ellis, “that I am homosexual.”

“…Don’t give me any of your smartaleck high school rhetoric!” He [his father] bellowed…[And] that was the way the conversation went on for about an hour. When I saw that he wanted to believe that I had not actually sinned, the game became fairly easy…I pretended to be chastened, to be horror-struck at the enormity of [what I had proposed to the salesman]…I worked it to the hilt, falling in easily with his suggestion that perhaps I should go to see a professional whore—that such an experience might start me on a heterosexual (he said “normal”) path.””

It was the first lesson that he, and we, learned about being homosexual in pre-Stonewall days—pre-bathhouse-raid days in Canada (1981). Deception and compartmentalization were the prices paid for pursuing an alternative lifestyle; not because one wanted to live a lie, but because others were uncomfortable with the truth. Oh, and the understood cure for deviance was the “Royal Fuck,” as a friend of mine once coined it.

It is not at all surprising that Steward could juggle multiple lives; including, incidentally, a (alcoholic) professor of graduate studies. Moreover, his students apparently loved him, and he loved them; one in particular, for whom he traded “As” for blow jobs.

One of the things I found quite interesting was the absence of the term “gay” when referring to himself or others as homosexual. Rather, he used the more clinical descriptor “invert,” “deviant” or, occasionally, the pejorative “queer.” This is no doubt due to the fact that “gay,” referring to a homosexual, dates from after WWII (1945). It, too, was used as a pejorative until it was adopted by the gay community.

Another aspect that fascinated me was the treatment for syphilis in the pre-penicillin era, i.e.

“The best treatment then available was ‘a three year ordeal—[including] weekly shots of Neosalvarsan from a doctor…’”

“The painful weekly shots gave Steward both purpura and a skin ulcer. After the course of neosalvarsan came a mercury ointment that he had to rub into his armpits and groin, and then a course of saturated solution of potassium iodide ‘which caused the skin to erupt all over [my] back in what looked like Job’s boils.’”

The fact that Steward contracted syphilis is not at all surprising, for he was a twentieth-century Satyr with an insatiable sexual appetite, and who kept his own ‘scoreboard’ on 3” x 5” file cards that he referred to as his “Stud File.” These included sailors, thugs, underage hustlers, Rudolph Valentino, Thorton Wilder (“Our Town”), students, policemen, ex-cons, priests, Hells Angels, scripted orgies, and brutal S/M sessions (both scripted and otherwise). Indeed, so prodigious was he that it surprising he found the time to do anything else.

Nevertheless, Justin Spring, like a good biographer, never judges; rather, he leaves it to the readers to draw their own conclusions. In this respect, while Secret Historian is a valuable look at gay history throughout much of the twentieth century, it is seen through the slightly distorted prism of one man’s exploits. Enthusiastically recommended for biography fans, and students of the twentieth century. Four stars.

Last week 310 visitors viewed Bashed, by Rick Reed. Thank you for your insterest. Gerry B.

February 20, 2011 Posted by | biography, Historical period, Homoerotic, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Bashed: A Love Story, by Rick R Reed

I’m a fan!

 

 

 

Blurb: Three haters. Two lovers. And a collision course with tragedy. That October night, Donald and Mark had no idea their lives and love were about to be shattered by fag bashers, intent on pain, and armed with ridicule, fists, and an aluminum baseball bat. Bashed charts the course of a journey that encompasses suspense, horror, and–ultimately–romance.

About the author: Rick R. Reed has been described as the “Stephen King of gay horror” by Unzipped Magazine. And Dark Scribe magazine said, “Reed is an established brand — perhaps the most reliable contemporary author for thrillers that cross over between the gay fiction market and speculative fiction.” Reed also chronicles the emotional lives of gay men in his work, with an increasing eye toward exploring the romance genre.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

This is the first Rick Reed novel I have read, but after reading Bashed: A Love Story” [MLR Press, 2009], I have become a fan.

Right from the first few pages you get the notion that the author is in control of his craft, and that this is going to be an action-thriller worthy of the label. Moreover Reed delivers, consistently, from start to finish.

To begin, Donald and Mark are two lovers who, through no fault of their own, are victimized by three, thrill-seeking punks, under the malevolent influence of Ronny—a sexually confused, twenty-something psychopath. Out of this group we also get to meet Justin, not a bad kid who is somewhat overwhelmed by the prevalent forces in his life—his sinister friend Ronny, his gay uncle Walter, and a society that isn’t clear on the point, either. Ergo, bashing fags is the thing to do in order to prove your manhood on a Saturday night.

From a story standpoint, these characters are all superbly developed—with the exception of Luis, who seems to disappear after his walk-on part. Nevertheless, character development is one of the very strong points of this novel; standing side-by-side with a cleverly constructed plot that keeps the reader involved from start to finish. “Masterful” is a term that comes to mind, again and again.

There are some minor quibbles, however. As I have previously mentioned, Luis is a character that had me wondering why he was introduced. On the other hand, I didn’t entirely buy into the ghost scenes as being palpable. I hasten to add, however, that these anomalies didn’t seriously detract from the overall quality of the story or the writing.

Enthusiastically recommended as a darned good read. Four and one-half stars.

Last week, February 4th to 11th, 247 visitors viewed Gerry B’s Book Review. Thanks!

GB

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay romance | 1 Comment

A Shared Range, by Andrew Grey

Not one of Andrew Grey’s best efforts

 

 

 

Blurb: After a year in medical school, Dakota Holden returned home to take care of the family business full time and help his father cope with multiple sclerosis. Devoted to his family, Dakota allows himself just one week of vacation a year, which he spends in some exotic location having all the fun he can stand. On his last vacation, a cruise, Dakota struck up a friendship with Phillip Reardon, and it fills an important role in Dakota’s life. So when Phillip decides to take Dakota up on his invitation to visit the ranch, Dakota is happy to see him and meet his veterinarian friend, Wally Schumacher. Despite Wally’s inclination to help the wolves Dakota’s men shoot to protect the cattle, he and Dakota find they have a lot in common, including a fierce attraction. But they’ll have to decide if the Wyoming range is big enough for Dakota’s cattle, Wally’s wolves, and their love.

Review by Gerry Burnie

I have reviewed Andrew Grey’s work once before, and was duly impressed (four stars); however, A Shared Range [Dreamspinner Press, 2010] simply doesn’t measure up.

In my former review, I said that I liked the way his characters were developed; strong, distinct and consistent throughout. In this latest effort, however, none of these characteristics apply to the same extent, particularly as it applies to ‘consistency.’ In this respect they can go from happy to sad, angry to loving, cold to horny in a mere two pages—leaving the reader to wonder what the core dynamic is.

This inconsistency also applies to the plot development, for it seems that Dakota’s father goes from nearly comatose to revival in time to give Dakota some sage advice regarding his love life. Likewise, wolf-hating ranchers become accepting, macho cowboys embrace their gay boss, and a pint-sized Easterner punches the lights out of a farm hand and a burly football player.

Having said that, I still respect Andrew Grey’s writing. His “Love Means…” series demonstrates his skill and sensitivity, and I recommend those to you. Two and one-half stars.

February 3, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay romance | Leave a comment

   

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