Gerry B's Book Reviews

Calico, by Dorien Grey

(This marks the 150th post to date)

An excellent, engaging, and well-written story – 

Story blurb: It seemed like a simple job—guide Josh and Sarah to Bow Ridge to live with their aunt until they reached their 18th birthday. It was want [sic] their aunt Rebecca wanted, and the best choice Calico Ramsey thought he could make. But someone wants them dead, which makes no sense to Calico. Neither do the feelings aroused by the nearness of the handsome young man from Chicago-feelings that seem to be returned, and nothing in his past has prepared him for either.

Available in paperback and e-book format –  344 KB

About the author: If it is possible to have a split personality without being schizophrenic, Dorien Grey qualifies. When long-time book and magazine editor Roger Margason chose the pseudonym “Dorien Grey” for his first book, it set off a chain of circumstances which has led to the comfortable division of labor and responsibility. Roger has charge of day-to-day existence, freeing Dorien—with the help of Roger’s fingers—to write. It has reached the point where Roger merely sits back and reads the stories Dorien brings forth on the computer screen.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I love a good western—especially if it is written in the classical style of Calico, by Dorien Grey [Zumaya Publications, 2006]. To me this genre speaks of an earlier, simpler time, populated by strong, independent men and women who set the foundation of our present-day nation(s). They were simple folk, and yet they possessed a nobleness of spirit based primarily on the “Golden Rule,” i.e. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” [I hasten to add, however, that my preference does not run to gratuitous, rodeo-like romps from one bed to another; which I generally pass up.]

Calico Ramsey fits the bill of a hard-working, dedicated cowboy,[1] raised by a kindly rancher , “uncle Dan,” who took him in when he was orphaned. To get the plot rolling, Dan is unexpectedly named guardian of his twin, seventeen-year-old niece and nephew, Sarah and Josh, who are on their way from Chicago.

Nevertheless, tragedy strikes when Dan is murdered, and Calico picks up the task of meeting the twins at the railway station, and also delivering them to Dan’s sister, Rebecca, who lives in far off Colorado. Moreover, the plot thickens when it becomes evident that someone is out to kill them.

Since Calico is the oldest (at 27) he assumes the role of leader, and also undertakes to protect Josh and Sarah from harm; a not-so-easy task when confronted by fires, rock slides, stampedes, and the like. But, as the old saying goes: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” all this adventure draws the three of them closer together—especially Josh and Calico, who like most trail mates gradually build a bond of mutual admiration and respect. Comrades first, and then lovers when a handshake isn’t enough.

Having said that, I should point our that while this is a sweet, romantic relationship, it is strictly Platonic when is comes to sex. In other words, there ain’t none.

This, I presume, has to do with it being targeted toward a ‘young adult’ readership, which has never really been satisfactorily defined in my mind. Most adolescents could give us chapter and verse on sex and sexual practices, so where does one draw the line? Nonetheless, most writers pussyfoot around the topic of adult/youth relationships in the 16 – 20 year-old category [the age of consent is 16 in most jurisdictions], and so there is no real breakthrough here.

Nonetheless, while I demand a good plot, I am very content with a story that is sensual rather than erotic. I mean, how many ways are there of doing ‘it’ that haven’t been written about? So Dorien gets full marks on the romantic side.

My only complaint has nothing to do with this excellent, engaging, and well-written story. Rather it has to do with the story blurb, which has to be one of the poorest I’ve read (including a rather blatant typo).  So someone should get their knuckles rapped for this one.

Otherwise, I loved “Calico,” and I think you will, too. Five bees.

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Visitors Count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 30,256

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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. This week we set a new milestone of 30,000 visits. On behalf of myself and all the remarkable authors represented here, I thank you!


[1] I hesitate to use the term “cowboy.” When asked about cowboys and cowponies, legendary rancher Granville Stuart replied, “There weren’t no ‘boys’ and there were no ‘ponies.’”

July 29, 2012 Posted by | Coming out, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Traditional Western, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Private Gentleman, by Heidi Cullinan

A thinking-person’s read, and one that comes enthusiastically recommended from this reader –

To seal their bond, they must break the ties that bind.

Painfully introverted and rendered nearly mute by a heavy stammer, Lord George Albert Westin rarely ventures any farther than the club or his beloved gardens. When he hears rumors of an exotic new orchid sighted at a local hobbyist’s house, though, he girds himself with opiates and determination to attend a house party, hoping to sneak a peek.

He finds the orchid, yes…but he finds something else even more rare and exquisite: Michael Vallant. Professional sodomite.

Michael climbed out of an adolescent hell as a courtesan’s bastard to become successful and independent-minded, seeing men on his own terms, protected by a powerful friend. He is master of his own world—until Wes. Not only because, for once, the sex is for pleasure and not for profit. They are joined by tendrils of a shameful, unspoken history. The closer his shy, poppy-addicted lover lures him to the light of love, the harder his past works to drag him back into the dark.

There’s only one way out of this tangle. Help Wes face the fears that cripple him—right after Michael finds the courage to reveal the devastating truth that binds them.

Available in ebook format, only – 494 KB

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I think it was the lush cover that first attracted me to A Private Gentleman by Heidi Cullinan [Samhain Publishing Ltd, 2012], but once I got into it I found an equally pithy story inside.

Lord George Albert Westin is an opiated (my invention) recluse, whiling away his days with his beloved plants and gardens. Naturally, for a hobby like this, there is a certain quest for achievement involved, and when he hears of a rare orchid in the possession of a Michael Vallant it is enough to lure him out of his self-imposed exile.

However, Michael Valliant isn’t your average, nerdy garden enthusiast. Far from it. He is, in fact, a “professional sodomite,”[1] i.e. a high-class male prostitute (with a procurer, no less). The explanation is that he suffered an abusive childhood–as the son of a courtesan–and this has left him psychologically scarred into adulthood.

This is the ‘launching point,’ so to speak, and the rest of the story is how these two scarred individuals find mutual ground in a complex and conflicted way.

I personally liked “Wes” and Michael. They are superbly developed with layer upon layer of complexity, and yet they are not over the top in any way. One can readily understand that a severe stutter in the 1800s was a far greater affliction than it is now, and for this Wes would want to shun society’s misguided stares and taunts.

Likewise, even with my limited grasp of psychology, I have read that self-degradation (i.e. prostitution, etc.) is one symptom of childhood abuse, and so Michael’s torment is understandable as well.

I also liked the gradual way in which the author worked them through their afflictions, although I did find some quibble with the overall pace. It was inconsistent, going from doldrums to near hectic and back again.

While I’m on the topic of ‘likes’, I give full kudos to the author for holding back on the homoerotica  in favour of the superbly turned plot. It is not to say that it lacks sex, not at all, but it is nicely balanced with the story line.

Altogether it is a thinking-person’s read, and one that comes enthusiastically recommended from this reader. Four and one-half bees.

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WE DID IT! Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews (10:30 AM, 26/07/12) – 30,010. The 30,000 goal has been reached!

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Notice to all those who have requested book reviews

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

Thanks again!

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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. As mentioned above, there are only 272 more visitors to go before we reach the 30,000 mark. I’ll be posting an update every day until we reach that goal, so drop back and follow the progress. Thanks again.


[1] I’m not certain this was a common term used in the 19th-century. I’m familiar with “libertine” and “catamite,” but not a “professional sodomite.” However, I only mention this in passing.

July 22, 2012 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period | 2 Comments

Secret Light, by Z.A. Maxfield

Superb atmosphere and character development –

Story blurb: Rafe Colman likes his life. He has a nice home, a good job, and a wonderful dog. But he’s exhausted by living a lie. When his home is vandalized because of his perceived German ancestry, he can’t even share the irony with friends.

Officer Ben Morgan falls for Rafe’s dog first, but it isn’t long before he’s giving her owner the eye. He thinks they have more in common than the search for Rafe’s vandals, and he’s willing to take a chance and find out.

If life in 1955 is tough on a cop in the closet, it’s even tougher on a refugee who’s desperate to hide his roots and fit in. Rafe knows from tragic experience how vicious prejudice can be. Every second with Ben is stolen, every kiss fraught with danger.

When Ben’s partner threatens to ruin everything, Rafe and Ben have to fight to protect what they have but they’re tired of hiding their secret light.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Editorial comment: The Goodreads’ posting of this book comes with a caveat, i.e. Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices,” which I find ‘objectionable’. Were this a heterosexual story with heterosexual ‘sexual practices’ would it have the same caveat? I think not. Therefore it is demeaning at best.

This is the second of Z.A. Maxfield’s stories I have reviewed (see: St. Nacho’s, February, 2010) and I am happy to say that Secret Light [Loose ID LLC, 2011] is generally of the same well-written calibre.

Set in 1955, a period when the memory of WWII is still fresh in many people’s minds, we find Rafe Colman, an gay Austrian DP (displaced person) with his own, tragic memories of the war. These include the death of his parents and the murder of his dearest friends, a gay couple, and so he is understandably and profoundly affected by these events.

As is so often the case (it certainly was in mine) he has learned to cope by adopting a persona that ‘fits’ mainstream expectations; especially for a single man–nice guy with an eye for the ladies, friendly with everyone but seldom personal, successful with a medium-high profile. The problem with role playing of this nature is that it sublimates the real person inside, and no one can be allowed behind the scenes for a closer look.

Of course, this doesn’t prevent some busy bodies from drawing their own conclusions, rightly or wrongly, and from acting on them on account of prejudice or spite. So, when Colman’s house is vandalized because he is perceived as ‘German,’ the police become involved in the person of officer Ben Morgan; a closeted gay man, himself.

Call it “gaydar,” or whatever, the two of them come to recognize themselves in the other, and a relationship is formed based on mutual understanding, honesty and caring. It is not all cotton candy and roses, however, but at least the promise of an HEA ending is there.

While the plot circumstances aren’t particularly original, as they were in “St. Nacho’s”, the same attention to detail and atmosphere has been used to give the reader a sense of time and place. The character-development is also topnotch, which adds greatly to the credibility of their actions, and the pace allows the reader to appreciate both these aspects.

The drawback for me was the somewhat obvious story manipulation, resulting in resolutions that were just a bit on the convenient side. I hasten to add that these were not incredible in nature, but they were noticeable enough to affect my score.

Altogether, though, I have no hesitation in recommending Secret Light as an enjoyable read for all its great parts. Four bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 29,343

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It’s so gratifying!

Although it was published in 2008, Two Irish Lads is still ranked #4 on the Old Line Publishing Best-Seller list. In the past, the Two Lads have also been awarded the iUniverse’s “Editor’s Choice,” “Publisher’s Choice,” and “Reader’s Choice” awards. As they say, “Them’s my boys!”

Oh, by the way, Nor All Thy Tears, is ranked #6 on the Oldline list, as well.

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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.

      

Thank you for dropping by! We are approaching a milestone of 30,000 visitors, so I hope you will continue to come back.

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period | , | Leave a comment

Bonds of Earth, by G.N. Chevalier

A great debut novel. Enthusiastically recommended.

Story blurb: In 1918, Michael McCready returned from the war with one goal: to lose himself in the pursuit of pleasure. Once a promising young medical student, Michael buried his dreams alongside the broken bodies of the men he could not save. After fleeing New York to preserve the one relationship he still values, he takes a position as a gardener on a country estate, but he soon discovers that the house hides secrets and sorrows of its own. While Michael nurses the estate’s neglected gardens, his reclusive employer dredges up reminders of the past Michael is desperate to forget.

John Seward’s body was broken by the war, along with his will to recover until a family crisis convinces him to pursue treatment. As John’s health and outlook improve under Michael’s care, animosity yields to understanding. He and John find their battle of wills turning into something stronger, but fear may keep them from finding hope and healing in each other.

Available in ebook format – 240 pages

About the author: G N Chevalier has lived in Ottawa, Toronto, Québec City, and Montréal, but currently resides in Nova Scotia with her partner of many years. A long-time student of history, she is particularly interested in helping to tell the hidden stories that are only now being rediscovered. Some of her hobbies include playing music, video remixing, and photography.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Although I have conducted an active search to find Canadian writers of GLBT fiction, it was only this week that Bonds of Earth, by GN Chevalier [Dreamspinner Press, 2012] came to my attention. Perhaps, this is because it is her debut novel, or perhaps it is because the Canadian connection just never made it to the surface.

Bonds of Earth is a historical fiction set in the period directly following WWI. The “Great War”, or the “War to end all wars,” was by all accounts a horrendous experience for those who participated. “Trench warfare” meant months of standing in muddy ditches, with “trench foot” attacking your feet, and the sounds of enemy artillery shells passing overhead for hours on end. It also meant all-out charges through and over ‘razor wire’ while being shot at by machine guns and sniper rifles.

Out of this hell came two men, Michael McCready, the son of poor Irish immigrant and a brilliant medical student, and John Seward, a wealthy recluse, both indelibly scarred by the experience.

Their coming together is fateful, which is the way fate often works, when Michael is coerced into taking a rural job as a gardener, and ends up on John’s estate (actually belonging to an aunt). The fact that Michael is the equivalent of a massage therapist, and that John is handicapped is serendipitous as well.

If that was it (the plot) it would be a “so-so” book at best, but Chevalier (a name tailor-made for a writer) shows great insight by pitting them together as antagonists to start. This bit of angst greatly contributes to the characterization of the two protagonists, and leads inevitably to the resolution.

I also liked the way she gave character to the supporting cast; each one serving a secondary role but interesting in their own way.

The tenor of the times is captured nicely, as well, and the pace is good … right up until (as it has been mentioned at least a dozen times) the epilogue. It’s not a fatal flaw. In fact I wouldn’t even call it a serious flaw, but being anticlimactical it detracts from the overall enjoyment like one-too-many desserts.

Enthusiastically recommended. Four bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 28,937

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What’s your opinion of cross-genre themes?

Lately there has been a surge of so-called “crossover” themes, i.e. cowboys and aliens, vampire-romance themes, etc.

  1. Have you written a crossover theme story?
  2. Have you considered writing one?
  3. Would a cowboy/Theban warrior theme interest you?

Share your comments below.

Notice to all those who have requested book reviews

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

Thanks again!

 

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.

      

Thank you for dropping by. We are now approaching 30,000 visitors, and your continued visits will get us there. Drop back often.

July 8, 2012 Posted by | Canadian author, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, Gay romance, Historical Fiction | Leave a comment

Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan

 

 This being Canada Day, I have chosen one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors (regrettably deceased). MacEwan’s work emphasises once again the remarkablly colourful history that is Canada’s. Although it has been discontinued by the publisher, it is still available at both Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Story blurb: Western Canada has a long history of cattle drives. In Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, historian Grant MacEwan has brought together an entertaining collection of history and tales from these trips. Originally  published in 1962, this classic book recounts many stories starting with the first cow and steer to arrive in Manitoba to the later, more challenging trips through the Rocky Mountains into British Columbia.

Available is paperback & hardcover – 223

About the Author: John Walter Grant MacEwan, OC AOE best known as Grant MacEwan (August 12, 1902 – June 15, 2000) was a farmer, Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Dean of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba, the 28th Mayor of Calgary and both a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the ninth Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Canada. Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta and the MacEwan Student Centre at the University of Calgary as well as the neighbourhoods of MacEwan in Calgary and MacEwan in Edmonton are named after him.

MacEwan produced the large majority of his historical books after his ‘retirement’. His books, mostly biographical, were based on history, but often left out references, a bibliography or even analysis of historical events. For this, critics continually attacked his unprofessional approach to history. He only gave one response to these comments, saying in 1984, “I don’t know what the scholars will think of it. Nor do I care. I’m not writing for them, I’m writing for Canadians.” He also taught numerous courses at the University of Calgary and Olds College. He became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Because there are so very few of them available, I get genuinely excited  when I come across a history of Canada that tells the stories of the “average Joe or Sally” pioneer. That is how I felt when I discovered Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan (himself a pioneer) [Fifth House; Revised edition, 2000]. MacEwan certainly hit the nail on the head when he declared, “I’m not writing for them [academics], I’m writing for Canadians,” and thank goodness he did. Otherwise, these delightful anecdotes might have been lost forever.

There are forty anecdotal-vignettes in all, which are told in an easy-to-read, journalistic style. In fact, it is their lack of ‘academic rigidity’ that makes them accessible to a wide range of readers, both young and old.

Adam and Eve of the Cattle Kingdom

Anyone who knows western Canada will immediate think of multi-acre ranches and thousands, if not millions of cattle. The fact is, however, that the first of their numbers started with just two critters, a bull and a cow named “Adam” and “Eve.” In 1811 these two were brought from Oxford House, a remote Hudson Bay Company trading post (about 400 miles north of what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba) in–of all things–a canoe. Proving the pioneer’s motto: Where there is a will, there is a way.

English Stallion for Red River

An even more astounding feat was conducted in 1831, when a Hackney stallion by the name of “Fireaway,” and later an English thoroughbred by the name of “Melbourne,” were both transported from York Factory, on the western shore of Hudson Bay, to Winnipeg; a distance of roughly 700 land and water miles–including 36 portages–by freight canoe. As MacEwan observes:

“Even the most ardent horse lovers will think of adventures more inviting than sharing a canoe or York boat with a frisky stallion, no matter how he might be dignified by a fine pedigree.”

The Hackney Fireaway was to become legendary as a producer of speed and endurance. Indeed, as late as 1877, settlers in Portage la Prairie revived their affection for the memory of that horse which was the first purebred of his race in all Western Canada.

A stranger driving a fast horse blew into town a day or two before the 24th of May and promptly challenged all comers to a matched race. With the honor of the community and the reputation of local horses at stake, townsmen came together for serious discussion. Settlers with swift horses were remembered, and thoughts turned to Farmer Macdonald at High Bluff who had a nimble great-great -granddaughter of Fireaway. A message was dispatched: “Bring your mare to town at once. We need her for a race.” 

“Macdonald was plowing with a two-horse team when the exhausted courier reached him. Reluctantly, he unhitched the good mare and her mate from the walking plow, rehitched them to his democrat and drove to Portage. Farmers and town people couldn’t honestly expect a homesteader’s plowhorse to win a race against a barnstorming flier from St. Paul but they recalled her breeding and nursed a silent hope. It was a great race; every pioneer who saw it agreed, and sure enough, the blood of Fireaway was still virile if not invincible and Macdonald’s mare, drawing a democrat and an exultant Scottish settler, came down the Portage la Prairie street to leave the professional racer from Minnesota a convincing distance behind.”

The Trail from Stowaway to Cattle King

Life for Joseph Blackburn Greaves began in Yorkshire, England, in 1831, and at the tender age of eleven he ran away from home, stepmother and England by stowing away on the sailing ship Patrick Henry, bound for New York.

When he was discovered the angry Captain assigned him to feeding the ship’s pigs (used to eat up food refuse and furnish pork when needed), so when the Patrick Henry docked, young Greaves promoted himself as an “expert” in the art of feeding swine, and was immediately hired by a farmer with a barn full of them.

Three years later he joined a wagon train heading to California, and there he worked as a labourer before embarking on a career as a butcher.

Word of gold on the Fraser river then reached Greaves who decided to pursue it, but with a butcher’s reasoning he took some meat animals with him–sheep! It was 1859 and poor trails and rough water still offered the only means of transportation, but after trailing them for 400 miles, Greaves managed to sell the flock at Fifty Mile House, British Columbia, for prices unheard of in the south.

He then went back to Oregon for more, but this time he brought cattle for sale and profit. However, on his third trip (1863) he found the market failing. Undaunted, he turned the cattle loose and went back to butchering for a while. When at last he rounded up his cattle he found them fat and multiplied, and so he undertook a few drives to Westminster (about 250 miles south east).

By 1880, however, cattle  population in the interior of British Columbia had outgrown demand, and so Greaves rounded up about 4,000 head (some of them seven years old) and started south, crossing the border at Osoyoos through Oregon, and then west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, a year later, he loaded them onto Union Pacific boxcars bound for Chicago.

In 1882 Greaves and five others formed a syndicate known as the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, and in the years to follow twenty thousand head were sometimes on the ranch, and the person who had come to the continent as a stowaway, friendless and penniless, continued to direct the huge operations until his 80th birthday.

[Interestingly, although this is the first time I learned the Greave’s story, it parallels almost exactly the story of my cattle baron in Coming of Age on the Trail.]

These are but three (of forty) fascinating anecdotes contained in this rare collection of Canadian folk lore, so if you’re a Canadiana buff like me I highly recommend it. Five hearty bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 28,581

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Notice to all those who have requested book reviews

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

Thanks again!

♠♠♠

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 interest is what I work for.

July 1, 2012 Posted by | Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 1 Comment

   

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