Gerry B's Book Reviews

Island: The Complete Stories, by Alistair MacLeod

This review is in commemoration of Alistair MacLeod (July 20, 1936 – April 20, 2014), the “bard of Cape Breton,” whose voice has been silenced in life, but his meticulously crafted stories will live on as long as people enjoy outstanding literature.

 

Island - allistair mcleod

“The genius of his stories is to render his fictional world as timeless.” —Colm Tóibín

 

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island - coverA thumbnail synopsis:  The sixteen exquisitely crafted stories in Island prove Alistair MacLeod to be a master. Quietly, precisely, he has created a body of work that is among the greatest to appear in English in the last fifty years.

A book-besotted patriarch releases his only son from the obligations of the sea. A father provokes his young son to violence when he reluctantly sells the family horse. A passionate girl who grows up on a nearly deserted island turns into an ever-wistful woman when her one true love is felled by a logging accident. A dying young man listens to his grandmother play the old Gaelic songs on her ancient violin as they both fend off the inevitable. The events that propel MacLeod’s stories convince us of the importance of tradition, the beauty of the landscape, and the necessity of memory.

 

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Alistair MacLeod reciving the Order of Canada from Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General of Canada.

Alistair MacLeod reciving the Order of Canada from Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General of Canada.

About the author: When MacLeod was ten his family moved to a farm in Dunvegan, Inverness County on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. After completing high school, MacLeod attended teacher’s college in Truro and then taught school. He studied at St. Francis Xavier University between 1957 and 1960 and graduated with a BA and B.Ed. He then went on to receive his MA in 1961 from the University of New Brunswick and his PhD in 1968 from the University of Notre Dame. A specialist in British literature of the nineteenth century, MacLeod taught English for three years at Indiana University before accepting a post in 1969 at the University of Windsor as professor of English and creative writing. During the summer, his family resided in Cape Breton, where he spent part of his time “writing in a cliff-top cabin looking west towards Prince Edward Island.” ~ Wikipedia

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Review by Gerry Burnie

There are only two ways one can go with a review of Alistair MacLeod’s works, i.e. short or long. While not a prolific writer—his one novel, “No Great Mischief” is his only lengthy work—his sixteen short stories, ranging from 1968 to 1999, are nuggets of the writer’s craft. Brought together in a single collection with a simple, but oh-so-appropriate-name of Island: The Complete Stories [Emblem Editions, December 3, 2010] they represent his evolution from an academic style of writing—i.e. tight, and word-perfect—to a more open form without loosing any of the precision.

I think what stands out about Macleod’s stories is the indisputable fact that he understood his characters. The same thing applies to his beloved Cape Breton setting, which is a continuing theme in all his stories, and which both challenges and shapes the people who cling to it.

Nonetheless, set against this rugged background is a quiet sort of love (of both people and loyal animals) that prevails in spite of the challenges. Like the wife who keeps an anxious vigil for her overdue husband until the trees seem to take on human forms to move in her direction.

There are also tales of family, like the miner who laments that his sons will probably leave the island to pursue an easier life ‘down the road’, and of the pull of ancestry versus fading memories and evolving attitudes.

There is something for everyone in the collected works of Alistair MacLeod, but most of all it is a celebration of excellence in short story genre. Five bees.

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 Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

 It is a collection of people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  The Family Compact of Upper Canada: Democracy has never come easily …

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If you would like to learn more about 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.

       

        

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April 28, 2014 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian Irish tradition, Fiction, non GBLT, Nova Scotia Setting | Leave a comment

The Forgotten Founders: Rethinking The History Of The Old West, by Stewart L. Udall (Author), David Emmons (Foreword)

“ The real story of the settlement of the West was work, not conquest” ~ Stewart Udall.

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forgotten founders - coverStory blurb: This book by distinguished author, Stewart Udall, takes on what he calls “the harmful myths about western U.S. history,” myths that put the wrong people (fur traders and gold miners) and the wrong subjects (“Manifest Destiny” and armed violence) at the center of the history of the Old West. With a lively and sometimes personal take, he wants us to replace old folk tales with “reality”-with the known stories of a greater diversity of men and women, natives and newcomers, who gave the West its distinctive character. Udall is particularly compelling when writing of his own and his wife’s great-grandparents, among whom was the Mormon who led the infamous Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857. Unfortunately, this only tends to replace one set of “heroes” with another, “the forgotten founders” who take center stage here only as strong, religious, fearless, hard-working folk without shortcomings. The trappers, miners and politicians who did in fact play a role in the West are elbowed almost totally out of the picture. Nevertheless, Udall’s version of the West’s past fits well with recent scholarly views, and many who read this book because of its author’s renown will gain solid knowledge and much pleasure. Maps, photos. ~ Legends of America.

About the author: Stewart Lee Udall (January 31, 1920 – March 20, 2010)[1][2] was an American politician and later, a federal government official. After serving three terms as a congressman from Arizona, he served as Secretary of the Interior from 1961 to 1969, under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

His previous books include: The Quiet Crisis, 1963; 1976: Agenda for Tomorrow, 1968; America’s Natural Treasures: National Nature Monuments and Seashores, 1971; To the Inland Empire: Coronado and our Spanish Legacy, 1987; The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation, 1988; In Coronado’s Footsteps, 1991; The Myths of August:–A Personal Exploration of Our tragic Cold War Affair with the Atom, 1994; Majestic Journey, 1995.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Although published in 2002, I chose Forgotten Founders: Rethinking the History of the Old West by Stewart Udall [Island Press; 1 edition, September 1, 2002] because it so closely parallels my own thinking regarding the settlement of both U.S.A. and Canada. Indeed, Udall could be speaking for me when he writes:

“A shortcoming of histories that concentrate on broad outlines of events is the absence of human faces and stories of ordinary folk that would reveal what animated individuals and families and indicate the experiences they had. Yet only by considering individual human experience can we begin to develop a sense of what these men and women faced and an idea of the magnitude of their achievements.” p. 37.

And again at page 135 where he quotes Thomas Jefferson, probably one of the great populists of all time, i.e.

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests, by the most lasting bonds.”

He also credits religion as being one of the founding forces, a point on which I have some misgivings, but nonetheless it cannot be denied that in the 19th century it formed the spiritual heart of most communities, and in many cases the vanguard as well.

Most particularly, however, Udall downplays such historical stereotypes as Lewis and Clark and the fur traders, as well as the 49ers as having little enduring impact on frontier development. He also downplays the importance of mining, ranching and other large-scale activities after the needs of the Civil War were met. Moreover, he is critical of the U.S. Military’s campaign to “pacifying” the Indians, pointing repeatedly to their unjust and callous treatment, as well as that of Chinese immigrants in the early history of the West. He also dismisses dime novel and Hollywood-created legends, such as “Butch” Cassidy and Billy the Kid, as “transitive outliers.”

Udall’s point is that we have replaced the true heroes of the West with straw men, the romanticized creations of pulp novels and Saturday-afternoon movies, and that this is what has prevailed to the detriment of those who might have benefited from emulating the pioneer work ethic.

All of this I agree with almost uncategorically. However, Udall’s thesis is not without its overreaching assumptions and journalistic hyperbole. For example, the 49ers may have been an influx of opportunists flocking to the most “hare-brained ventures” in history (132), but of these many stayed to homestead in California and elsewhere. Likewise, miners lured to the prosperous discoveries went on to establish towns and cities that exist today. Therefore, they too form part of the faceless heroes who collectively settled the West.

Nonetheless, it is one of those books that needs to be read to truly understand the ying and yang of North American settlement. Four bees.

*Available from Legends of America Bookstore for $6.47 (basic).

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Viewers of Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 67,148

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 Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

 It is a collection of people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  Miles Gilbert “Tim” Horton : The Tim behind Tim Hortons.

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If you would like to learn more about 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.

        

Notice to all those who have requested a book review

 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.

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April 20, 2014 Posted by | Academic study, American History, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Vivaldi in the Dark (Vivaldi in the Dark #1) by Matthew J. Metzger

A story that goes beyond its entertainment value as a young adult romance and coming out tale…

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vivaldi in the dark - coverStory blurb: Out-and-regretting-it comprehensive attendee Jayden Phillips turns his cast-iron plans for life upside-down by falling in love with private-school violinist Darren Peace, a sardonic boy with the craziest hair Jayden’s ever seen.

But all is not what it seems, and Jayden’s bullying problem becomes meaningless when he is confronted with what the music does to Darren. How do you stop a dangerous depression rooted in the same thing that makes someone what they are? Dark moods, blank apathy, and the undertow of self-loathing all simmer beneath Darren’s dry and beautiful veneer, and Jayden feels powerless to stop them.

Then a mugging gone wrong takes the music forcibly away, and Jayden is finally given the chance to change Darren’s life — and, quite literally, his mind.

About the aurthar: Matthew J. Metzger is an author of primarily gay romance novels, both adult and young adult. He is looking to branch out into mainstream fiction, other non-traditional sexualities, and fantasy.

Matthew had two novels published in 2013, and so far has three contracted for 2014 release. He doesn’t even want to think about 2015.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Although it has been longer than forever since I was a teenager, Vivaldi in the Dark (Vivaldi in the Dark #1) by Matthew J. Metzger [Queerteen Press, December 8, 2013] resurrected many memories of days gone by: the naïveté, the wonder, the uncertainty and the vulnerability, are all there, and the author has done a remarkably fine job of portraying them.

Jayden Phillips is a quiet sixteen-year-old, sort or out [I rather disagree with the story blurb that suggests he’s “Out-and-regretting-it,” because he’s only truly out to his girl friend “Charley], and although bullied at the school he attends, he has a fairly realistic grasp on life. Darren Pearce is roughly the same age, living the life his middle-class parents have set for him—including becoming a virtuoso violinist—but to cover his unhappiness he has developed an outer shell of cavalier artificiality.

However, along the lines of ‘opposites attract,’ each having negative and positive polarities, they meet and are immediately attracted to one another. Jayden is drawn to Darren’s swagger, and Darren is drawn to Jayden’s simple devotion. It is then that we start to see below the surface to discover that Darren is suffering from an undiagnosed form of depression. Nonetheless, Jayden’s devotion never waivers, and even though it is sometimes challenged by the ups-and-downs of depression and the ordinary vicissitudes of life and a relationships, together they persevere to a happy-for-now resolution.

The basic structure of the plot is somewhat formulaic—boy meets boy in a coming-out scenario with complications—but what raises this particular story above the ordinary is the author’s apparent insight and sensitive exploration of youth-oriented depression that frequently goes undiagnosed and untreated. Since this story is also oriented toward young adult readers, it should serve as a positive resource beyond its entertainment value. Four bees.

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Viewers of Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 66,859

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 Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

 It is a collection of people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  The Winnipeg General Strike – 1919 : The beginning of organized labour in Canada

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If you would like to learn more about 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.

               

Notice to all those who have requested a book review

 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.

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April 14, 2014 Posted by | a love story, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay romance, Young adult | Leave a comment

Well Traveled (Gideon and Jedediah #1) by Margaret Mills, Tedy Ward

Altogether, a very enjoyable story

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well traveled - coverStory blurb: Gideon Makepeace, a young man of twenty, knows who he is and what he likes: decency, men and women too, horse training, and fun… and in Livingston, Montana, in the lush autumn of 1895, he finds he likes a Lakota Sioux Indian better than he might ought to.

Jedediah Buffalo Bird is seriously wounded and seeking medical care, and Gideon helps Jed when some bigoted townsfolk might have done otherwise. Jed, who knows the wild far better than Gideon and feels indebted to him, agrees to repay him by being his guide to San Francisco.

Their trip takes them across thousands of wild miles, through the mountains men mine and the Indian reservations dotting the plains. Facing a majestic West, they learn from each other about white folks and Indians alike. Gideon’s interest in Jed is clear from the start, but will Jed give up the life he knows for a young, brash white man he has perhaps come to love? Or will he push Gideon away in favor of the peace of nature and the personal freedom of having nothing to lose?

About the author: Margaret Mills is a professional technical writer and editor; branching into narrative fiction seemed like a natural extension of the pleasure that writing has always been for her. A California resident, Maggie enjoys hiking in the nearby hills, reading, walking the dog on the beach, and writing with her co-author, Tedi Ward. Maggie met Tedi in a writers’ group, and their personalities mix almost as well as their characters’ do; they enjoy writing the kinds of stories they love to read.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I was in the mood for a male adventure story this week—for which there are suprising few—when this one came into view. Well Traveled (Gideon and Jedediah #1) co-authored by Margaret Mills and Tedy Ward [Dreamspinner Press, October 18, 2010], is a somewhat epic journey undertaken by two boys of different racial backgrounds in 1895.

Gideon Makepeace is white, twenty years old, working in Livington, Montana for the summer, and is about to return to California to reunite with his parents in San Francisco. Jedediah Buffalo Bird is slightly older, a mixed-blood Lakota Sioux, a product of the dreaded boarding school experience, and a victim of some redneck bullying when they first meet.

Gideon, a decent kid with a slight leaning toward men, nurses him back to health, and thus starts a—Platonic at this point—relationship between them. The problem is that Gideon has used up his train fare in the process, but after a little good-natured ribbing regarding Gideon’s tenderfoot condition—which raised a question for me since the latter had spent the summer training horses—J edediah agrees to guide him to California—something like 1,100 miles through rugged wilderness and mountain country.

The journey therefore becomes the challenge; nevertheless, after the relationship has blossomed, there arises some tension regarding how a couple of mixed race can fare in either culture. This threatens a solid commitment on Jedediah’s part, and so it is this question that has to be resolved in the end.

This is a well crafted story. The premise is credible—an eleven hundred mile trip was not out of the ordinary in 1895—and it placed the two players in a context in which romance could logically take place. The race issues were real. Indians were ill-thought-of by the whites, and an Indian of mixed blood  (a “Breed”) was disliked by both cultures. Nonetheless, the two authors wisely didn’t succumb to the temptation to moralize.

The pace is a bit slow, but given the cultural issues it takes time to develop these complexities. Moreover, it didn’t bother me that it took quite a few pages (I didn’t count) to get them into the sack. I’m of the school where sex is the piquant, not the main course—or shouldn’t be.

Altogether, quite enjoyable: Four and one-half bees.

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Viewers of Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 66,498

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Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

 It is a collection of people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  Who says Canada doesn’t have super heroes?…Step aside Captain America.

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If you would like to learn more about 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.

                    

               

Notice to all those who have requested a book review

 

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!

Thanks for dropping by! I’ll have another novel ready for next week, same URL, so drop back soon.

April 7, 2014 Posted by | a love story, Coming out, Cross Cultural romance, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Gay western, Historical Fiction, Mixed race | Leave a comment

   

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