Gerry B's Book Reviews

Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir by Kevin Jennings

One man’s story of hope and inspiration

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Click on ghd cover to order

Click on ghd cover to order

Story blurb: Growing up poor in the South, Kevin Jennings learned a lot of things, especially about how to be a real man. When his father, a fundamentalist preacher, dropped dead at his son’s eighth birthday party, Kevin already knew he wasn’t supposed to cry.

He also knew there was no salvation for homosexuals, who weren’t “real men” – or Christians, for that matter. But Jennings found his salvation in school, inspired by his mother. Self-taught, from Appalachia, her formal education had ended in sixth grade, but she was determined that her son would be the first member of their extended family to go to college, even if it meant going North. Kevin, propelled by her dream, found a world beyond poverty. He earned a scholarship to Harvard and there learned not only about history and literature, but also that it was possible to live openly as a gay man.

But when Jennings discovered his vocation as a teacher and returned to high school to teach, he was forced back into the closet. He saw countless teachers and students struggling with their sexual orientation and desperately trying to hide their identity. For Jennings, coming out the second time was more complicated and much more important than the first–because this time he was leading a movement for justice.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I’m a bit late tonight, folks. I Had an unexpected but important project pop up earlier in the day, so this review will be brief.

Kevin Jenning’s life, as fascinatingly retold in Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir [Beacon Press, May 15, 2007], is a slice everyone’s life who grew up poor – and conscious of it: The clean but threadbare clothes; the avoidance of bringing your friends home; the white lies about how prosperous your father was; and the constant feeling of being ‘second-class’.

Jennings shares all of this for us to share, but throughout there is an ever-present love, and hope, and inspiration. His mother’s love and sacrifice, for example.

The other phenomenon that spoke to me is the drive to succeed that is so often manifested in poorer children: The will to be not only better, but to be the best at whatever they do. This was demonstrated by Jennings drive to win his scholarship to Harvard, and then to become a leader in the gay rights movement.

On the quibble side, I found it just a trifle self-indulgent in places. Not an unusual shortcoming in autobiographies. Four bees.

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March 30, 2015 Posted by | Autobiographical, Gay autobiography, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Harry’s Great Trek (The Empire Series #3) by Roger Kean

A history lesson in novel form … And a great read…

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To order, click on the above cover.

To order, click on the above cover.

What do you do when the person you have loved in secret since your schooldays finds happiness with another, leaving your heart bereft and your future a bleak, lonely prospect?

For Harry Smythe-Vane, junior officer serving in the British army at the end of the failed campaign to rescue Gordon of Khartoum from the Mahdist siege of 1885, finding childhood friends Richard and Edward united in love spells the end of a dream he knows was doomed from the start—more so, a dream condemned by society at large: the love of two men for each other.

Harry must now pluck up the courage to pursue an uncertain quest for an elusive new soulmate—his great trek to attain fulfillment.

From dangerous missions on India’s wild North-West Frontier to the deserts of Sudan, Harry forges a career and experiences fleeting friendships, but when a spell of leave takes him to London his heart is struck. He meets his almost-forgotten godson Jolyon Langrish-Smith, a troubled teenager in Oscar Wilde’s louche circle. It’s an encounter that pitches Harry headlong on a turbulent journey of emotional involvement, of hurt and joy.

Painting a vivid panorama of the British Empire at its height, with its multi-faceted but rigid society hovering on the brink of change, Harry’s Great Trek is an epic saga of love and war—alive with an engaging cast of the humble and the famous, the honorable and the scoundrels—which climaxes in 1900 amid the carnage of the Boer War. There Harry’s future is decided as one quest ends and a new journey begins…

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Review by Gerry Burnie

One of the most grievously overlooked genres in GBLT fiction is ‘the gay adventure story’. That is not to say there are none. There are – and good ones, too – but they are few and far between.

One of the best writers in this genre is Roger Kean, and his latest offering Harry’s Great Trek (The Empire Series #3) [Reckless Books, February 1st 2015] is proof positive of this estimation.

His Empire Series has taken us through the hot spots of Imperial Britain’s golden age of domination and plunder (always for ‘their’ own good, of course.) Nevertheless, it remains one of my favourite eras for an overall commitment to ‘God and Empire’. It is probably the last example of a people willingly committed to a state that was ‘politely’ corrupt and exploitive, through-and through.

The blurb provides as good a synopsis of the story as I could write; therefore, I will contain my comments to some of the highlights as I see them.

First of all, I like the cover art and design by Oliver Frey. It has a rugged, masculine look about it that suits this type of novel. With a few notable eceptions, adventure novels tend to be written by male authors, and so anything less rugged wouldn’t have met my expectations.

I also love Kean’s choice of names, i.e. Harry Smythe-Vane, and Jolyon Langrish-Smith. How delicious zany! I have often observed that authors don’t give enough attention to names – especially historical names – but these certainly do add a ‘stuffiness’ to the era that fits.

The introduction of certain celebrities of the day – especially young Winston Churchill – added a whole new dimension to the already interesting historical events. There are also some who also say that Baden-Powell had an interest in boys beyond scouting, and so these characters can add wonderful fodder to a story.

The writing is, of course, top notch (if, perhaps, a bit over-expansive), and so I am going to award this novel with a five-bee rating.

♠♠♠

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Interested in Canadian history?

Want to learn 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: Louis Cyr… The ‘strongest man in the world.’

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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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March 23, 2015 Posted by | a love story, Afghanistan, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay military, Historical period | Leave a comment

Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity, by Robert Beachy

The veritable ‘golden age’ of gay, self-identity…

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Click on cover to order

Synopsis: An unprecedented examination of the ways in which the uninhibited urban sexuality, sexual experimentation, and medical advances of pre-Weimar Berlin created and molded our modern understanding of sexual orientation and gay identity.

Known already in the 1850s for the friendly company of its “warm brothers” (German slang for men who love other men), Berlin, before the turn of the twentieth century, became a place where scholars, activists, and medical professionals could explore and begin to educate both themselves and Europe about new and emerging sexual identities. From Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German activist described by some as the first openly gay man, to the world of Berlin’s vast homosexual subcultures, to a major sex scandal that enraptured the daily newspapers and shook the court of Emperor William II—and on through some of the very first sex reassignment surgeries—Robert Beachy uncovers the long-forgotten events and characters that continue to shape and influence the way we think of sexuality today.

Chapter by chapter Beachy’s scholarship illuminates forgotten firsts, including the life and work of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, first to claim (in 1896) that same-sex desire is an immutable, biologically determined characteristic, and founder of the Institute for Sexual Science. Though raided and closed down by the Nazis in 1933, the institute served as, among other things, “a veritable incubator for the science of tran-sexuality,” scene of one of the world’s first sex reassignment surgeries. Fascinating, surprising, and informative—Gay Berlin is certain to be counted as a foundational cultural examination of human sexuality.

About the author: Robert Beachy (born January 5, 1965, Aibonito, Puerto Rico) is associate professor of history at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1998. Beachy specializes in the intellectual and cultural history of Germany and Europe, and is known for his work on the history of sexuality in the Weimar Republic, under the Nazis, and in Germany after the Second World War. ~ Wikipedia.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

While many think that ‘gay openness’ had its naissance with Oscar Wilde, or perhaps “Stonewall” or the “Bathhouse Raids” in Toronto, Canada, but Robert Beachy makes the very convincing case in Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity [Knopf; 1st edition, November 18, 2014] that it actually started in Prussia as early as the 1860s.

Along the way he reveals a fascinating history of pre-Weimar Germany, refuge for notables like Christopher Isherwood, etc. Indeed, the first spokesman for gay rights was almost unquestionably a lawyer by the name of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. In a speech before Sixth Congress of German Jurists, he urged the repeal of laws forbidding sex between men.

Outrage followed, but not to the degree that one might have expected, and so the wedge of liberation had been introduced.

What followed was quite extraordinary (for the time), and has been admirably synopsized by Alex Ross of the The New Yorker magazine, January 26, 2015:

In 1869, an Austrian littérateur named Karl Maria Kertbeny, who was also opposed to sodomy laws, coined the term “homosexuality.” In the eighteen-eighties, a Berlin police commissioner gave up prosecuting gay bars and instead instituted a policy of bemused tolerance, going so far as to lead tours of a growing demimonde. In 1896, Der Eigene (“The Self-Owning”), the first gay magazine, began publication. The next year, the physician Magnus Hirschfeld founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the first gay-rights organization. By the beginning of the twentieth century, a canon of gay literature had emerged (one early advocate used the phrase “Staying silent is death,” nearly a century before AIDS activists coined the slogan “Silence = Death”); activists were bemoaning negative depictions of homosexuality (Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” was one target); there were debates over the ethics of outing; and a schism opened between an inclusive, mainstream faction and a more riotous, anarchistic wing. In the nineteen-twenties, with gay films and pop songs in circulation, a mass movement seemed at hand. In 1929, the Reichstag moved toward the decriminalization of homosexuality, although the chaos caused by that fall’s stock-market crash prevented a final vote.

Magnus Hirschfeld and two cross-dressers, outside the Institute for Sexual Science.

Magnus Hirschfeld and two cross-dressers, outside the Institute for Sexual Science.

High praise is reserved by Beachy for the aforementioned Magnus Hirschfeld. A year before his founding of the  Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, Hirschfield able disappear. “Through Science to Justice” was his group’s motto.

During the arguably ‘golden years’ preceding 1933, when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor, gays and lesbians achieved an almost unprecedented level of visibility not seen since Grecian era. in popular culture. They could see themselves onscreen in films like “Different from the Others”—a tale of a gay violinist driven to suicide, with Hirschfeld featured in the supporting role of a wise sexologist.

Pejorative representations of gay life were not only lamented but also protested; Beachy points out that when a 1927 Komische Oper revue called “Strictly Forbidden” mocked gay men as effeminate, a demonstration at the theatre prompted the Komische Oper to remove the offending skit.

Altogether, it is a most fascinating and informative read. Five bees.

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Interested in Canadian history?

Want to learn 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 Great Rogers Pass Avalanche – March 4, 1910

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March 16, 2015 Posted by | Academic study, Gay non-fiction | Leave a comment

Spadework, by Timothy Findley

A rare bargain…

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This is a bargain book on Amazon, with prices ranging from .01¢ to $1.00. Bargain books are new but could include a small mark from the publisher and an Amazon.com price sticker identifying them as such. Details

 

click on the above cover to order.

click on the above cover to order.

Story blurb: Lust. Infidelity. Betrayal. Murder. On a summer evening in Stratford, Ontario, the errant thrust of a gardener’s spade slices a telephone cable into instant silence. The resulting disconnection is devastating. With the failure of one call to reach a house, an ambitious young actor becomes the victim of sexual blackmail. The blocking of a second call leads tragically to murder. And when a Bell Canada repairman arrives to mend the broken line, his innocent yet irresistible male beauty has explosive consequences.

In Spadework, Timothy Findley, master storyteller and playwright, has created an electric wordplay of infidelity and morality set on the stage of Canada’s preeminent theater town. In this fictional portrait, intrigue, passion, and ambition are always waiting in the wings. Findley peoples the town with theater folk, artists, writers, and visitors (both welcome and unwelcome), and with lives that are immediately recognizable as “Findley-esque” – the lonely, the dispossessed, and the sexually troubled.

A story that ripples with ever-widening repercussions, a sensual, witty, and completely absorbing novel, Spadework is another Timothy Findley winner.

About the author: Timothy Irving Frederick Findley (October 30, 1930 – June 21, 2002) was a Canadian novelist and playwright. He was also informally known by the nickname “Tiff” or “Tiffy,” an acronym of his initials.

He was raised in the upper class Rosedale district of Toronto, attending boarding school at St. Andrew’s College (although leaving during grade 10 for health reasons). He pursued a career in the arts, studying dance and acting, and had significant success as an actor before turning to writing. He was part of the original Stratford Festival Company in the 1950s, acting alongside Alec Guinness, and appeared in the first production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker at the Edinburgh Festival. He also played Peter Pupkin in Sunshine Sketches, the CBC Television adaptation of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.

Findley’s first two novels, The Last of the Crazy People (1967) and The Butterfly Plague (1969), were originally published in Britain and the United States after having been rejected by Canadian publishers. Findley’s third novel, The Wars, was published to great acclaim in 1977 and went on to win the Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction. It was adapted for film in 1981.

Timothy Findley received a Governor General’s Award, the Canadian Authors Association Award, an ACTRA Award, the Order of Ontario, the Ontario Trillium Award, and in 1985 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. He was a founding member and chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and a president of the Canadian chapter of PEN International.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

As you can readily see, I went looking for Canadian content this week, and it doesn’t get any more Canadian than the late and lamented Timothy Findley.

Originally published by Harper Collins in 2001 (a year before Findley’s death), Spadework by Timothy Findley is set in the otherwise quaint little  town of Stratford, Ontario [home of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival], and is primarily told from the point of view of Jane Kincaid, a southerner from Louisiana. She left the south to escape her conservative-minded family, and also adopted an new persona when she met her husband, Griffin Kincaid.

Griffin is a hunk, and also a rising young Shakespearean actor. Otherwise, they lead quite an ordinary, suburban life, with an ordinary house, a kid, a live-in housekeeper/nanny, and a dog named “Rudyard.”

Nevertheless, Griffin’s ‘hunkyness’ is the catalyst that gives rise to a number strange (bizarre) events. Jane begins to suspect other women might be coveting him as well: principally Zoë Walker, his on-stage partner.

Meanwhile, one of Jane’s former boyfriends shows up to jerk off all over her face and dress, and then goes out to be killed in a car accident. In addition, the town is stunned by the shocking rape and murder of two women by an addict, Jesse Quinlan, who (because he cannot reach his support in life, his nephew Luke – the gardener who severed the telephone line) he goes on a drug-fuelled rampage until he takes his own life. And, if all this wasn’t enough, Jane receives a cryptic letter from her mother to say her sister has recently committed suicide.

In some way lack of communication figures into all these events, but the crucial stroke comes when the gardener Luke inadvertently plunges a spade through the main communication line. Thus, his uncle Jesse has his meltdown, but, in addition Griffin cannot reach his director, Johnathon Crawford, with his answer to an ultimatum – the ultimatum being that he either enter into a sexual relationship with Crawford or lose out on a coveted, leading role.

The result is that he loses out, but he agrees when he is offered a second meeting with Crawford.

Meanwhile, a veritable Adonis of a telephone repairman has arrived on Jane’s scene, and in no time has agreed to pose for a nude portrait.

Lack of communication and sexual desires figure prominently in this novel, but in spite of the resulting chaos things do settle down with a return to a happy ever after ending.

My thoughts

Findley’s prestigious awards speak for themselves. He was a brilliant writer, and there are flashes of this in Spadework, but considering that it was published so close to his death I cannot help speculating there might have been other things on his mind.

It’s only a hunch, but this, his last novel, seems rushed to me: As though finishing it was the overriding priority.

Mind you, it is still a good read with all of Findley’s intricate plot twists present, and for the embarrassingly low price of .01¢ you can hardly go wrong. Three bees.

♠♠♠

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Interested in Canadian history?

Want to learn 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 Great Rogers Pass Avalanche – March 4, 1910

Introducing…

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Theatre Orillia is a community based theatre company located in Orillia, Ontario – the setting of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Small Town. As is not usual for community theatres, it could use a helping hand, financially. If you would care to be a theatre ‘angel’, just navigate to the following URL: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/886814721/theatre-orillia-summer-season-2015?ref=email.

Click on the logo to learn about my books to datre

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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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March 9, 2015 Posted by | Canadian author, Canadian content, Fiction, Gay fiction | Leave a comment

Behind Locked Doors, by Nicholas Kinsley

A BDSM novel that leaves that ‘other’ one in the dust.

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click on the above cover to purchase.

click on the above cover to purchase.

Story blurb: Edward Taylor is a man torn between his honourable façade and his forbidden carnal desires. Outwardly a proper Victorian family man, Edward secretly craves pain and lusts after men. Isaac Sinclair is a struggling writer forced by poverty to supplement his income with less savory pursuits, including discreetly inflicting “professional punishments” upon wealthy gentlemen. When Edward catches Isaac in an act of petty theft, the chance meeting seems to offer an ideal opportunity for both men. Neither man, however, is prepared for the escalation of social and personal risk occasioned by falling in love.

About the author: Nick Kinsley has been writing since a very young age. After going through school focused on computer science, he discovered that he would rather be a professional author. He grew up with few friends and a love of books, and hopes to create worlds in which others can find enjoyment. Kinsley currently attends community college in Maryland and plans to study abroad and major in Literature. He also plays guitar, and loves music.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Bondage, Domination, Submission and Masochism (BDSM), seems to be quite popular these days – due to the release of a movie based on that other BDSM book (which I read, but chose not to review), so I decided to offer one that is a superior story in many ways.

Behind Locked Doors by Nicholas Kinsley [Fantastic Fiction Publishing, February 17, 2015] is Kinsley’s debut novel, and a worthy effort it is, too. I would also add that I classify it as “sexy” as apposed to “hard-core” S&M.

Edward Taylor is a respected Edwardian, upper-middle class gentlemen, although he was born a bastard. However, because his biological father did the right thing, he is now a prosperous factory owner with money enough for dalliances – like Isaac Sinclair, a struggling writer who supports his ‘addiction’ by servicing gentlemen with special, exotic pleasures – i.e. BDSM.

His chance encounter with Sinclair comes about when he witnesses the latter stealing bread, and in a rather mutually agreed arrangement he coerces Sinclair into partaking of his services.

This continues, commercially at first, but as time goes by it becomes deeper – emotionally – until they are both inextricably in love.

Complicating matters is the fact that Taylor is married with a son. It is a rather odd arrangement whereby he married a French girl on a fling in Paris, thinking he would have to marry eventually – for appearances sake as much as anything else – and out of it came a somewhat estranged son.

The son is a sub-plot, for in loving Sinclair he also learns to love his son.

Overall, it is an engrossing story with strong main characters. Both Taylor and Sinclair are credible, and the story is plot-driven as apposed to sliding along on a stream of sperm. Likewise, the S&M is judiciously used as a piquant, rather than a gratuitous kink.

The insights into 19th-century mores are also well created, which suggests some research.

On the quibble side, flashbacks (retro-views) are tricky. I’ve read dozens of books that have used them, but only a few have done it well. I can’t say don’t use them, because it depends on how necessary the past is to explain the present, but otherwise use some other device, like a prologue.

Another quibble is the ‘fee’ Sinclair apparently charged for his services. Fifty pounds in the 19th century was a significant amount of money. For example, a skilled engineer might earn £110 per year if fully employed.

Which, I suppose is the other lesson this review might bring: Write about flying monsters and horned aliens with impunity, but miss a fact by a day or an inch and someone is bound to catch you up on it.

A solid read. Four bees.

♠♠♠

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Interested in Canadian history?

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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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March 2, 2015 Posted by | a love story, BDSM novel, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay romance | Leave a comment

   

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