Gerry B's Book Reviews

Mordred, Bastard Son, by Douglas Clegg

An audaciously innovative take on an old chestnut!

Publisher’s blurb: A young monk becomes enthralled by the story that a wounded, mysterious prisoner in his care begins to tell. That prisoner is Mordred, the traditional villain of Arthurian legend, and his story is one of ambition, power, and betrayal. Here, Mordred recounts his own conflicted feelings toward the father who betrayed him, and his passionate love affair with a knight in King Arthur’s court. From his birth into his youth, Mordred’s soul is forged by the great forces of Camelot, and of the shadow-legend of a father who has sought the death of his only son.

About the author: Douglas Clegg’s first novel was published in 1989 by Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books — launching Clegg’s career as a novelist. He  began writing a book a year, as well as dozens of short stories. His novels and stories explore the nature of evil, whether in his horror fiction, psychological thrillers or fantasy fiction. His fiction-writing career currently spans more than 20 years of constant writing and publication.

He has won the Bram Stoker Award, the International Horror Guild Award, and the Shocker Award

Review by Gerry Burnie

Like millions of others around the world, I have always been—well, for seventy-five years, anyway—a fan of the Arthurian legend and the outrageously fictional  Camelot. Moreover, I suppose I could say that during that time I have been brainwashed into believing that the ‘bastard son,’ Mordred, was the worm in the  apple. Imagine the audacity of Douglas Clegg, therefore, to challenge that idea with his revisionist novel Mordred, Bastard Son [Aylson Books, 2007].

However, that’s the fun of writing a story about a story; there’s always the other side, and after 600 years I suppose Mordred was due for some favourable press.

Judging from the reviews, it seems that a lot of other people had the same difficulty adjusting to this radical idea as well. It is a story that you either like or  not, but having said that: I liked it. In my opinion it is a tour-de-force of fantasy, and although I had difficulty grasping the story at first, once I got into it I was hooked.

The difficulty, I think, is with the myriad of gods and goddesses, plus Celtic festivals, i.e. Beltane and Samhain (pronounced “sah-vwin,” by the way) that must be  introduced in the first chapter, and this is quite a mouthful to digest all at once. Also the transition between the third-person opening, and the first person  flashback was a bit awkward. However, as I have already said, once I got passed this the rest of the story ultimately made up for it.

There are some quite interesting innovations, too. For example, the idea that Arthur raped his half sister, Morgan-of-the-Fay, runs amok with the Arthurian legend built upon his infallible character. Likewise, the idea that Arthur ‘stole’ the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake doesn’t exactly show his good side. Nevertheless, Mordred is divided in his feelings (at least in this first book of the series) toward his father—hate, on one hand, and an odd sort of affinity on the other.

Morgan le Fay remains Morgana, darkly beautiful with sinister edges, although she is unusually cast as a victim in this story. The ‘heavy’ on the distaff side is her sister  Morgause, who turns into something of a ‘Malificent’ [Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”] in the latter part of the story. In fact these two, plus Viviane (the “crone”)  makes the society within which Mordred is raised a sort of matriarchracy.

On the other hand there is Merlin who, as in all of his other reincarnations, is timeless. He is also omniscient, and having apparently given up on Arthur, has  taken Mordred under his wing as a student of the “magick.” This sort of thing opens the doors wide to a flight of fancy, and Clegg takes full advantage of it;  a real virtuoso rendering of imagination if ever there was one. Principally however, Merlin teaches Mordred the art of “ravelling” and “unravelling” (the mentally
sharing of memories, feelings, etc., with another, and, of course, retrieving memories in the same manner). Also, “vesseling,” i.e. mental telepathy–sort of the cell phone of Arthurian times.

Another departure from traditional Arthurian legend is found in Clegg’s depiction of Lancelot as a hermit, and also gay—or at least bisexual. In one version of  Arthur, however, Lancelot is deceived by the Fisher King’s daughter into thinking that she is Guinevere, and the resulting liaison results in another bastard, i.e. Galahad. Hearing of this, Guinevere banishes Lancelot, and he is said to have lost his wits and wandered in the wilderness. So, perhaps the hermit characterization is not so removed from the original.

Apart from these innovations, one of the most refreshing departures from the usual GLBT story for me is that, while it is a sexy enough, there is not one really explicit  sex scene throughout. It is therefore a love story between men that relies on sentiment and plot to make it happen. Bravo! Five stars.

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Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 13,751

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Progress on the rewrites to Coming of Age on the Trail – 107/178 pages.

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Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky is now #3 out of 66,000 books on the Barnes & Noble “Romantic Fiction” list. In addition, it and Two Irish Lads are in the top 5 of several lists on Goodreads.

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September 25, 2011 Posted by | Fantasy, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period | 2 Comments

Home Fires Burning, by Charlie Cochrane

You can always be assured of a good read with Charlie Cochrane’s name on the cover.

Story blurb: Two stories, two couples, two eras, timeless emotions.

This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense: It is 1914 and The Great War is underway. When the call to arms comes, Nicholas Southwell won’t be found hanging back. It’s a pity he can’t be so decisive when it comes to letting his estate manager Paul Haskell know what he feels before he has to leave for the front line. In the trenches Nicholas meets a fellow officer, Phillip Taylor, who takes him into the unclaimed territory of physical love. Which one will he choose, if he’s allowed the choice?

The Case of the Overprotective Ass: Stars of the silver screen Alasdair Hamilton and Toby Bowe are wowing the post WWII audiences with their depictions of Holmes and Watson. When they are asked by a friend to investigate a mysterious disappearance, they jump at the chance—surely detection can’t be that hard? But a series of threatening letters—and an unwanted suitor—make real life very different from the movies.

Charlie Cochrane, author of the delightful Cambridge Fellows series, brings her familiar romantic, roguish style to the two novellas that together are “Home Fires Burning.”

Review by Gerry Burnie

You can always be assured of a good read when it has Charlie Cochrane’s name on the cover, and her latest work, Home Fires Burning [Cheyenne Press, August 2011] is no exception. Mind you, I must admit a weakness for vintage British style, and also the sentimentality of love during wartime. Even the title evokes this, being taken (I think) from a patriotic ditty composed by Ivor Novello with lyrics by Lena Gilbert Ford in 1914, i.e.

Chrous:

Keep the Home Fires Burning,

While your hearts are yearning.

Though your lads are far away

They dream of home.

There’s a silver lining

Through the dark clouds shining,

Turn the dark cloud inside out

‘Til the boys come home.”

This Ground Which Was Secured At Great Expense:

The blurb captures the gist of the story fairly well, and so I will limit my remarks to those aspects that I found particularly appealing.

I believe you can recognize a master writer within the first two dozen pages by the way the story develops, i.e. not too fast nor too slow in the same way that life or fate unfolds. Surprisingly it is easier said than done, for it requires an almost innate sense of timing to get the pace just right and maintain it. This is particularly true of a period novella like this one, for life in the early twentieth century—particularly for the upper classes—moved at a much more leisurely pace than we in the “fast food” era know it. Having said that, Ms Cochrane did a very fine job of capturing this civilized pace indeed.

Another aspect that registered with me was her depiction of the naïveté leading up to WWI. As part of one’s manhood it was very much expected that you would go off and fight whether you wanted to or not. There was also a measure of arrogance in the belief that Britain was invincible, and so, like Nicholas, many went “to get it over” by Christmas. Like Nicholas, however, they soon discovered that trench warfare was a very different war from anything they had experienced. The gruesomeness of it almost defies description, but I think the author has captured enough of it to give the reader the idea without emphasizing the macabre.

I also like how Nicholas, Phillip and Paul all maintain their masculine identity throughout, which would have almost certainly been the case in 1914. The unhurried pace at which Nicholas and Phillip entered into a sexual liaison is also credible, as is the uncertainty that existed between Paul and Nicholas. All pluses.

My only quibble comes with the sex scene that seems to be tacked on late in the story, but to discuss it further would risk spoiling the ending. Five stars.

 The Case of the Overprotective Ass

This story is a light hearted tale, once again written with a real sense of style. The protagonists, Alistair and Toby, are two quick-witted cinema personalities of the 1940s. They are also lovers. Having just finished a portrayal of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, they are asked by a theatre friend to find his missing male secretary. This sets them off on a adventure around London, conducting interviews and collecting clues—all the while indulging in witty banter.

In reading this story I couldn’t help but see Jonty and Orlando in disguise, and some parallels with the Cambridge Fellows Series. Or maybe it is because Charlie Cochrane is the author of both. Regardless, it was a delightful read and highly recommended. Five Stars.

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(1) The Proudly Canadian list of boks. (2) The Best Gay Canadian Fiction list of books. I have recently created two lists in Goodreads’ Listopia to help celebrate both Canadian books and Canadian authors. The Proudly Canadian list is open to all, so if you have a book that qualifies as Canadian feel free to add it. Or cast your vote for one that is already there. The URL of the list is: http://www.goodreads.com/list/user_votes/3715526

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Re-writes to Coming of Age on the Trail are coming alon slowly, i.e. 98/177 pages.

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Nor All Thy Tears and Two Irish Lads are now available in Kindle and Nook formats. The publisher’s price is $4.95 ea., but this price may vary from vendor to vendor. To order click on the individual covers below.

      

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September 19, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay Literature, Gay romance, Historical period | 4 Comments

Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky, by Gerry Burnie

Note: A busy week of promoting my new novel, Nor All Thy Tears, has put me behind in my reading for this week’s review, and since I want to do the featured novel justice I have decided to display some of the reviews that have been received so far. Thanks for your indulgence.

Story blurb: Love, obsession, treachery, murder, and finally solace under the northern lights of Big Prairie Sky Country, Saskatchewan.

Sheldon Cartwright is a young, exceptionally handsome and gifted politician with a beautiful wife and two charming children. His career is also in ascendance, and given all that the sky seems the only limit to this talented, blue-eyed lad.

However, Cartwright also has a hidden past that one day bursts onto the front page of a tabloid newspaper with the publication of his nude photograph. Moreover, the inside story alleges that he was once a high-end male prostitute with a romantic connection to an ex-con whose body has been found mutilated beyond recognition in a burned-out apartment–the suspected victim of a blackmail attempt gone wrong.

Enter a homophobic cop who is willing to go to any lengths to tie Cartwright into the crime, simply because he is young, handsome and well-educated. With his career in a crisis, and his personal life as well, Cartwright is unexpectedly joined by an ally in Colin Scrubbs, a ruggedly handsome rancher from Saskatchewan. But can they salvage Cartwright’s career from the brink?

*Now available on Amazon.co.uk.

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Review by Avery Lighthouse [This review first appeared on Amazon.com].

Having read Gerry Burnie’s first novel “Two Irish Lads,” a charming story of love set in the 19th-century wilderness of Upper Canada, his latest, Nor all Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky, was quite a surprise to me, but it certainly attests to the remarkable versatility of this author.

The story involves the rise and near fall of Sheldon Cartwright, a `Monday’s + Tuesday’s child’ for certain–i.e. fair of face and grace. It begins at the zenith of his political career, fresh from besting the prime minister on national television, and being considered for the leadership of his political party at the relatively young age of twenty-eight. However, the discovery of a mutilated body and a provocative photograph are about to cast a shadow over him. This photograph, a nude image of him at age sixteen, then comes into the possession of a homophobic cop with a loathing for “faggots,” as well as younger, successful men with higher educations—both of which apply to Cartwright.

The story then reverts to Cartwright’s early childhood in the remote farming community of Pefferlaw (a real place by the way–as are most places mentioned in the story), and his loving relationship with his mentoring mother. This is a really charming segment of the story, reminiscent of Burnie’s first novel, and for anyone growing up in the 1950s and 60s it is a wonderfully nostalgic time as well. In this part we also learn of his sacred vow to his mother, and of his first encounter with the psychotic and violent Trace Colborn–a real “nasty” if ever I’ve read of one.

The next segment takes him to 1960s Toronto as a university student, struggling to balance academic demands with a late night job at the White Chef Restaurant—a notorious hangout for young male hustlers. It is here that Trace Colborn re-enters Sheldon’s life, and like J. Worthington Foulfellow [“Pinocchio”], Colborn tempts Sheldon with visions of an easy life that Colborn can arrange. Desperately driven to achieve a university education Sheldon naively agrees, and he is then introduced to a “Papa Duck” (the equivalent of a madam in male prostitution circles) who operates a secretive “call boy” service for high-end clients. This leads to Sheldon’s meeting with Edward Deere, a multi-millionaire, who is moved to take him under his wing as a protégé and lover–albeit a paid one.

In the meantime Sheldon meets Susan Koehler, the daughter of a wealth Rosedale matron, and before long Sheldon has fallen in love. However, although they have secretly decided to get married after graduation, he must maintain his other life in order to fulfill his sacred vow to his mother—i.e. to complete his education. He is therefore forced to walk a thin line between his two disparate worlds–e.g. juggling separate relationships with a wealthy patron, a handsome younger lover (Kevin Smyth), the psychotically possessive Colborn, and a full-time girlfriend.

The third stage finds him married to Susan with two charming children, and living the typically suburban life of a young family man in the early 1970s. He has become fairly well-connected too, and this leads to an invitation to stand for election as the Member of “St-Bartholomew-on-the-Hill” (I love that name!), which he wins “on the strength of his boyish good looks and wholesome family-man image as much as anything else.”[2]The story then seamlessly carries on from where it left off in part one, and in this third part we get to meet Colin Scrubbs, the ruggedly handsome Member of Parliament from Saskatchewan, who at first bonds Platonically with Sheldon, but inevitably their bonds deepen into an affair of heart. Nevertheless, Sheldon staunchly chooses to honour his vow to Susan.

It is then that all the elements begin to converge when the damning photograph is released to a tabloid newspaper, and the whirlwind of political and personal scandal touches down to engulf Cartwright with almost devastating effect.

It should be noted that I have purposefully left out several events that would otherwise be spoilers if included; however, this story has it all elements of a good thriller: Humour, pathos, homoerotic sex (both gentle and violent), vengeance, betrayal and murder. Having said that, the author never goes over the top with any of these, and although there is plenty happening at any given time, the storyline never falters at any point from beginning to end. It is, in fact, a masterful balance of control and flow that makes it both exciting and easy to read at the same time.

This is a most worthy piece of literature, equal in some ways to “Catcher in the Rye,” and it is one that riveted my attention from the first line to the last.

****

Review by Scotty Henderson [This review originally appeared on Amazon.com

Quite simply this is a great story that captured my interest from the first line and held it there to the last word. It has everything: great characters, a page-tuner plot, superbly written narrative, and a really romantic ending. I especially liked Lisa and Wally (Sheldon’s children). They added both humor and warmth to a pretty dramatic story, overall. There were also some tear-jerker moments, but it would be a spoiler I mentioned what they were. You’ll have to read it for yourself. Do that, because you won’t be sorry.

****

Review by J. Fraley “Trailboss “Trailboss” [This review originally appeared on Amazon.com].

After having already read Mr. Burnie’s “Two Irish Lads” and finding it an excellent read, I was hoping for at least its equal or better. I was not disappointed. Even better. This story was great.
Nor All Thy tears delivers!! A believeable story from the beginning, it’s filled with drama, intrigue, and suspense, all the while delivering a glimpse into Canadian life and government.
This story moved at a good pace and each scene set way for the next. I was compelled to read without putting it down. And the story continued strong until the end. An excellent novel of love, passion and relationships in a dramatic setting. Two thumbs up!!

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Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 13,233

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Vist my new Gerry Burnie Author’s Page, on Amazon.com.

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Calling all Canadian authors of gay content novels. I would really love to review your stories, and also add your title to my Goodreads “Best Gay Canadian Novels” list. Contact me, or submit your novel in PDF format to: gerry@gerryburniebooks.com.

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 Both “Nor All Thy Tears” and “Two Irish Lads” are now available in Nook and Kindle formats. The publisher’s price is $4.95; however this price may vary from retailer to retailer.

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 To order any of my books click on the individual covers below.

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September 10, 2011 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, gay politician, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Homoerotic, M/F/M bisexua;, Male bisexual, Toronto history | Leave a comment

Moral Authority, by Jacob Z. Flores

My nomination for the most outstanding debut novel of the year!

This is a re—release (May 22, 2013). It is not yet available on Amazon, but copies can be obtained through Wilde City Press.

moral authority - coverStory blurb: In the year 2050, America has changed. Profoundly. Homosexuality is a crime, cursing in public is a punishable offense, and lifestyle legislation keeps American citizens on a prescribed moral path. The country lives in a Moral Age, all thanks to The Moral Authority, the nation’s fourth branch of government, which has held dominion for the past thirty-five years. Yet the Moral Age comes at a price. Americans either live like mindless cattle or in fear. Told from three points of view, Mark, the brash young hero, who finds true love in the most desolate of places; Isaac, the renegade, who searches for redemption, and Samuel the dictatorial megalomaniac intent on maintaining his power, Moral Authority exposes what happens to a nation that continues to restrict, instead of broadening, civil rights.

About the author: Jacob Z. Flores lives with Bruce, his partner of eight years, and their three children, Pilar, Ainsley, and Carson in Victoria, Texas. Jacob is also a Professor of English at Victoria College.

*Available in paperback from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

“Moral Authority” [Wilde City Press, May 22, 2013] is author Jacob Z. Flores’ debut novel, and what a debut it is! Flores has conceived a dystopian plot every bit as prophetic and sinister as George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” except that in this case the unforgiving focus is on homosexuality as the ‘thought crime’ and homosexuals as the prescribed enemies of ‘the common good’. Therefore, my hat goes off to him for having tackled (successfully in my opinion) a demanding literary challenge of this complexity so early in his career.

The story centres on Mark Bryon, a quite average graduate student who in ordinary circumstances wouldn’t attract any undue attention apart from being young and attractive. However these are not “ordinary” times when every move, both public and private, is subject to scrutiny by those who have voluntarily subjected themselves to a morally-incorrupt, corrupt state: i.e. “The Moral Authority.” Therefore, there is a very Orwellian tone throughout, including a ‘Big Brother’ in the person of Samuel Pleasant, ‘Newspeak,” and the subjugation of free thought.

There are also the usual twin pillars that form the basis of most fascist regimes, e.g. a simplistic reason for being, and a perceived enemy—both within and without. For example:

According to Randy Gonzales, over the past thirty-five years the United States managed to save itself from moral corruption because of the newest branch of our nation’s government. Since its inception by President Sarah Palin in 2014 and the constitutional amendment she and the Republican majority helped pass the following year, the moral downslide the country experienced then had not only been halted but come about at least 180 degrees. Gone were the days of media violence and pornography. All illegal drugs and associated crimes had been virtually eliminated. Murder, rape, gang violence, thefts, domestic crimes, prostitution, and even vandalism accounted for less than 10% of the overall crime rate in the entire nation. As a result, communities within the United States enjoyed a golden age. 14

And the perceive enemy:

Constitutional amendments and which all had their origins from within the Moral Authority, freed this country from such unhealthy lifestyle choices that caused many health and societal problems, such as homosexuality, obesity, smoking, alcoholism, and even profanity. To commemorate the thirty-fifth anniversary, the Supreme High Chancellor of the Moral Authority, Samuel Pleasant, planned to address the nation the following week. Speculations already abounded that Supreme High Chancellor Pleasant intended to unveil further social legislation to better streamline this nation’s morality. This came about due to recent attacks against moral law instigated by a group of domestic terrorists calling themselves the Human Rights Campaign.  15 [Emphasis mine].

The story then builds on this theme, and as it progresses the plot gets darker and darker in very much the same fashion as totalitarian states rule by edict and the point of a gun. However, at no time does the author push any of this over the top so that credibility is strained. Even in the latter parts of the story when the Moral Authority’s “K3s” are at their cruelest (i.e KKK, the equivalent of the Nazi’s SS elite guard), the reader is never caused to doubt that it could happen.

Along the way, however, the author does make some cogent observations in the context of the narrative, i.e.

According to Mark’s research, the number of Americans cited with violations of the moral code of respect had risen in many major U.S. cities. The manpower and resources alone used to enforce such petty violations could be better redirected to rehabilitating offenders who committed more egregious crimes in the nation, 33

which is a point that applies beyond this fiction to real life. I might add, as well, that the hidden cost of every law—large or small—that is made and enforced is a diminution of our civil liberties. I think this is the message to be gained from this story.

On the other hand, I think I could be tempted to accept a law that restricted unruly children in restaurants, i.e.

The mother and father looked exhausted, and he could see why. Their two preschool aged boys were in the middle of a pretend sword fight with their chopsticks as stand in swords. Obviously, there were no moral officers here as the parents would certainly be in violation of the code of respect concerning the appropriate behavior of children in public. 35 [Emphasis mine].

Altogether this is an engrossing story from beginning to end, a real page-turner and superbly written. I nominate Moral Authority by Jacob Z. Flores as the most outstanding debut novel of the year. Five Stars.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by. Your continuing interest is greatly appreciated.

 

September 4, 2011 Posted by | Fantasy, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay Literature, Gay romance, Homoerotic | 5 Comments

   

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