Gerry B's Book Reviews

The Academician (Southern Swallow #1) by Edward C. Patterson

A credible plunge backward in time to an intriguing realm –



Click on the above cover to purchase.

Click on the above cover to purchase.

“A bigger fool the world has never known than I – a coarse fellow with no business to clutch a brush and scribble. I only know the scrawl, because my master took pleasure in teaching me between my chores. Not many men are so cursed . . .” Thus begins the tale of Li K’ai-men as told by his faithful, but mischievous servant, K’u Ko-ling – a tale of 12th Century China, where state service meant a life long journey across a landscape of turmoil and bliss. A tale of sacrifice, love, war and duty – a fragile balance between rituals and passions. Here begins the legacy of the Jade Owl and its custodian as he holds true to his warrants. The Academician is the first of four books in the Southern Swallow series, capturing the turbulence of the Sung Dynasty in transition. Spanning the silvery days under the Emperor Hui to the disasters that followed, The Academician is a slice of world events that should never have been forgotten.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I am always in the search of a unique story, that is a story or setting that is off the beaten path, and The Academician (Southern Swallow #1) by Edward C. Patterson has both.

Set in 12th century China, which in itself is unique enough, The Academician is also chock full of unique characters who, in their variety, resemble a Chinois tapestry of the same period.

The story of Li K’ai-men begins as a brilliant student, top of his class, who is challenged by his renowned master, Han Lin, to fulfill a number of missions. This he does successfully, and as a result he is elevated to the position of superintendent of Su Chou. Again, he proves his metal by restoring this neglected province to its former prosperity, which in turn catches the attention of the emperor himself. Li then finds himself tutor to the emperor’s son and prince of the realm.

Of course, the history of Imperial China is fraught with wars and political unrest, and in the midst of this Li K’ai-men must protect his young protégé, the prince, and also the secrets surround the legendary Jade Owl relics.

Told from the point of view of K’u Ko-ling, Li’s faithful servant, this is a credible plunge backward in time to encompass 12th-century China with remarkable detail.

The writing is first rate, of course, but what really stands out for me is the strong character development that captures the essence of the time.

Highly recommended. Five bees.


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Interested in Canadian history?

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Click on the logo to learn about my books to datre

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February 16, 2015 Posted by | China, Fiction, fiction/autobiographical, Gay fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical period | Leave a comment

Shadow of the Wind, by Mackey Hedges (Author), Robert Sigman (Compiler), Joelle Smith (Cover Design)

The Real Deal….


shadow of the wind - coverStory blurb: Shadow Of The Wind, while a fictional novel by definition, is based on true-to-life individuals. It is the long anticipated installment to Mac Hedges’ award winning Western novel, Last Buckaroo. In Shadow, Mac brings important generational back-ground to the colorful characters created in the earlier novel while providing readers with rich and authentic descriptions of Western culture and heritage.

Cover illustration: “Old Friends” by the late western artist, Joelle Smith

About the athor: Mackey Hedges was born in 1942. His 90 year old mother says that she can never remember a time when he wanted to be anything other than a cowboy. “He and his younger sister would play by the hour pretending that they had a big ranch where he was in charge of the cattle and she was the ranch nurse or cook. We got him his first horse when he was six and he has been riding ever since.”

When asked about his lifestyle Mackey says, “I use to dream about having my boys with me when I got old but the life that I grew up with is pretty well gone. I wouldn’t wish what’s left of this onto them. Low wages and the constant battle with the environmentalist and the Bureau of Land Management have taken a lot of the enjoyment out of being a Nevada rancher. It’s a good-enough life for a few old drifters like me but it’s sure no life for a young man with a family.”


Review by Gerry Burnie

shadow of the wind - adam jahielAs you may have noticed, I am a great fan of western-style tales, especially if they are reasonably true to the true cowboy lifestyle—which was by no means glamorous, or filled with gratuitous sex. This interest led to my discovery of Nevada’s “Great Basin” through the incredible photography of Adam Jahiel (see: “Search for the Last Cowboy”), so when I saw that Shadow of the Wind by Mackey Hedges [CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010] was not only written by an actual cowhand, but also set in the Basin, I had to read it.

The extensive blurb for this book covers the plot every bit as well as I could, so I will simply quote it here:

Dean McCuen is a young man fresh out of the Army. The son of a widowed father who owns a large and long established cattle ranch in Nevada. Dean tells in “first person” of his family’s’ rags to riches heritage; being brought up by wealthy “Eastern” relatives, and the life experiences that have shaped his character. After being discharged from the Military, Dean decides to go out on his own and gain some first hand experience before seeking his place in the family business.

Tap McCoy, a 60 year old who is a cowboy for life, is recovering from a very debauchedshadow of the wind - last cowboy and regretful week. On the outskirts of town, Dean picks up a very dazed Tap with only his most important possessions – his bedroll and saddle. And so, the destinies of Dean and Tap become entwined. For Dean, it is a chance to learn from “experience;” for Tap, it is a quick “getaway” out of town.

Readers are introduced to many characters including, a grumpy old ranch owner that hates everyone, an attractive, flirtatious girl that enjoys having men fight over her, alcoholic cowboys that spend all their hard earned money on week long drunks, prejudice that includes Indians, Whites and Blacks and an eccentric desert hermit as well as a host of other interesting characters.

There is nothing fictional about this story other than the plot. The characters are real, the adventures actually happened and the country and ranches exist. Every fight, bucking horse ride and wild wreck actually took place. It is a factual description of the working lives of the Great Basin buckaroos during the mid 1900’s. Like Last Buckaroo, it captures a time period that has all but come to an end.

Each chapter is episodic – a story within itself. Shadow Of the Wind is steeped in history with adventure, friendship, romance and a slight degree of mystery. This “buddy story” is fast moving, written with colorful descriptive language to give the reader an accurate idea of the location and view of the country without distracting from the action.

Shadow of The Wind is a “must read” for anyone interested in the everyday lives of the people that live and work on the ranches of he west.

And, as far as a plot is concerned, the author has covered this as well.

This is not a western shoot ‘em up type of cowboy story; in fact it really doesn’t have much of a plot. It is a story I wrote for my own enjoyment while I was healing up from a broken leg.

shadow of the wind - RebThe way cattle are being run in the west is changing so fast that a lot of the old ways are being forgotten as well as the way people talk and think. I wanted to try and capture a little of this for future generations.

I make no claims to being an author. I am a buckaroo (high desert cowboy) that enjoys putting his thoughts down on paper. Because I have no formal training or education in the literary field my style drives professionals crazy. In fact when the editor got hold of what I had written he almost had a fit. He had more than a small amount of difficulty finding the correct spelling for many of the western slang terms that are used. However, the thing that came closest to driving him nuts was the fact that, as he said, “It is nothing more than a series of short stories strung together by a thin thread of unrelated facts!”

My answer to that was, “SO WHAT? It’s not supposed to be a novel. It’s a little bunkhouse tale about the lives of a couple of high desert buckaroos. It was written with the intent and hope of passing on information in an enjoyable manner.”

shadow of the wind - horse shadowI guess what I am trying to say is that if you are starting out to read this with the objective to criticize you are going to find plenty to work with. On the other hand if you want to get a first hand view of real western life ranging from boring to thrilling I think you will find it in these pages, at least I hope so.

Like my first book, all of the fights, brawls and bucking horse rides are real. The characters, although fictional are in part based on the lives of actual people. Even the ranches in this story are distinctively similar to actual cattle operations I have worked on or visited. In other words “ This is the real deal” even if the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

And that, dear friends about says it all. It reads like an authentic western because it is, and that means it is more entertaining and informative than perfect. Highly recommended for true “buckaroos.” Five bees.

Note: All photographs by Adam Jahiel.


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July 1, 2013 Posted by | fiction/autobiographical, non-GLBT, The great basin, Traditional Western | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To Every Thing There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story, by Alistair MacLeod

Bookshelf copy

A short story you’ll want to make part of your Christmas – 


to every thing - coverStory blurb: The story is simple, seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy. As an adult he remembers the way things were back home on the farm on the west coast of Cape Breton. The time was the 1940s, but the hens and the cows and the pigs and the sheep and the horse made it seem ancient. The family of six children excitedly waits for Christmas and two-year-old Kenneth, who liked Halloween a lot, asks, “Who are you going to dress up as at Christmas? I think I’ll be a snowman.” They wait especially for their oldest brother, Neil, working on “the Lake boats” in Ontario, who sends intriguing packages of “clothes” back for Christmas. On Christmas Eve he arrives, to the delight of his young siblings, and shoes the horse before taking them by sleigh through the woods to the nearby church. The adults, including the narrator for the first time, sit up late to play the gift-wrapping role of Santa Claus.

The story is simple, short and sweet, but with a foretaste of sorrow. Not a word is out of place. Matching and enhancing the text are black and white illustrations by Peter Rankin, making this book a perfect little gift.

Available in e-book – 287 KB, 48 pages.

to every thing - macleodAlistair MacLeod was born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, and raised among an extended family in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He has published two internationally acclaimed collections of short stories: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986). In 2000, these two books, accompanied by two new stories, were published in a single-volume edition entitled Island: The Collected Stories of Alistair MacLeod. In 1999, MacLeod’s first novel, No Great Mischief, was published to great critical acclaim, and was on national bestseller lists for more than a year. The novel won many awards, including the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Alistair MacLeod and his wife, Anita, have six children. They live in Windsor, Ontario.

Peter Rankin was born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He specializes in illustrating the traditional way of life there. A fisherman as well as an artist, in 2004 he illustrated Making Room, a children’s book by Joanne Taylor that was published by Tundra Books, for which he won the 2004 Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration. He lives in Mabou Coal Mines with his wife and their five children.


Review by Gerry Burnie

To those who might not be familiar with Cape Breton Island, here is a brief orientation via Wikipedia:

cCape Breton Island is part of the province of Nova Scotia, Canada. The 10,311 km2 (3,981 sq mi) island accounts for 18.7% of the total area of Nova Scotia. Although physically separated from the Nova Scotia peninsula by the Strait of Canso, it is artificially connected to mainland Nova Scotia by the 1,385 m (4,544 ft) long rock-fill Canso Causeway. The island is located east-northeast of the mainland with its northern and western coasts fronting on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence; its western coast also forming the eastern limits of the Northumberland Strait. The eastern and southern coasts front the Atlantic Ocean; its eastern coast also forming the western limits of the Cabot Strait.[1] Its landmass slopes upward from south to north, culminating in the highlands of its northern cape. One of the world’s larger salt water lakes, Bras d’Or (“Arm of Gold” in French), dominates the centre of the island.[2]

to every thing - landscapeTo Everything Thing There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story, by Alistair MacLeod [McClelland & Stewart, 2012] harkens back to the 1940s, but like most rural communities, including the Ontario one in which I grew up, its roots go back to a much earlier time. Indeed, in Cape Breton, its roots go back to a time when:

“…the English set out to destroy the clans of Scotland, [and] the most independent of the Highlanders left their homes with the pipes playing laments on the decks of their ships. They crossed the ocean and the pipes played again when they waded ashore on the rocky coast of Cape Breton Island.”– Hugh Mclennan

In the 1940s, rural communities were predominantly ‘closed’ communities with a proud, self-sufficient way of life, i.e.

“Most of the families, if they did not live in the town or work in the mines, would have a small farm where cows and sheep and pigs and hens and a small garden provided a living. Things would be easier with the help of the wages of a husband or son who worked on the fishing boats or in the woods or, like young Neil in the story, on “the lake boats” in Ontario.”

to every thing there is a season - lobster treeThere were few indulgences, therefore, except for Hallowe’en and Christmas, and MacLeod—in his flawless and evocative style—has captured this anticipation in the voice of an eleven-year-old boy.

“We have been waiting now, it seems, forever. Actually, it has been most intense since Hallowe’en when the first snow fell upon us as we moved like muffled mummers upon darkened country roads.”

Indeed, this entire story is a collection of evocative memories, seemingly random at times, but always moving the story forward at the same time.

“The ocean is flat and calm and along the coast, in the scooped-out coves, has turned to an icy slush. The brook that flows past our house is almost totally frozen and there is only a small channel of rushing water that flows openly at its very centre. When we let the cattle out to drink, we chop holes with the axe at the brook’s edge so that they can drink without venturing onto the ice.

“The sheep move in and out of their lean-to shelter, restlessly stamping their feet or huddling together in tightly packed groups. A conspiracy of wool against the cold. The hens perch high on their roosts with their feathers fluffed out about them, hardly feeling it worthwhile to descend to the floor for their few scant kernels of grain. The pig, who has little time before his butchering,  squeals his displeasure to the cold and with his snout tosses his wooden trough high in the icy air. The splendid young horse paws the planking of his stall and gnaws the wooden cribwork of his manger.”

For those of us who grew up on a family farm, one can almost hear, feel and smell these scenes, and for those who didn’t it is a wonderful glimpse of a simpler way of life when people had time to notice such things.

And to put the topping on it, it is  illustrated throughout with the marvellous sketches of Peter Rankin—of the same Rankin clan as the world-renowned “Rankin Family” musicians.

This is a short story (only 47 pages long) that you will want to make part of your Christmas tradition. Five bees.


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Thanks for dropping by. At this time of year, may I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and much happiness and prosperity. Regards, Gerry B.

[1] Named in commemoration of explorer and navigator, John Cabot, who landed on the coast of Cape Breton Island in 1497.

[2] Bras d’Or Lake is where Alexander Graham Bell had his summer home at Baddeck. It is also where his design of a heavier-than-air-aircraft (the “Dart”) was the first to fly in the British Empire (which included Canada), in 1917. The pilot was J.A.D. McCurdy, who would later be named Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Nova Scotia).

December 17, 2012 Posted by | Canadian author, Canadian content, fiction/autobiographical, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

For a Lost Soldier, by Rudi van Dantzig

A powerful story of coming of age –

Story blurb: Forty years after the fact, Dutch choreographer Jeroen Boman recalls a wartime romance. During the Allied liberation of Holland, the eleven-year-old Boman entered into a tender relationship with a Canadian soldier. Back to the present, Boman attempts to incorporate his experiences in his latest ballet work, a celebration of the Liberation.

The printed version of For a Lost Soldier is no longer available, but the film version (written by director, Roeland Kerbosh) is available on DVD.

About the author: The choreographer and director Rudi van Dantzig (August 1933 – January 2012) played a major role in the development of classical ballet in the Netherlands. Many of his ballets contain a strong thread of social criticism; he was not afraid to explore difficult subjects. The vividly theatrical Monument for a Dead Boy (1965) told the story of a boy who discovers his hitherto repressed homosexuality and is ultimately destroyed by his own desires. This ballet brought Van Dantzig international notice and was mounted for several major companies.

He also had a second career, which developed later in his life, as a novelist. In 1986 he wrote an autobiographical novel, Voor een verloren soldaat, about his love affair while a young boy with a Canadian soldier, which became a great success. It was awarded several times and a film was made of it. An English translation, For a Lost Soldier, was published in 1996.


Review by Gerry Burnie

In preparation for this week’s review, I went in search of a gay Canadian novel in all the usual places (including, but I may as well have gone searching for a unicorn! All I found were a couple of pages of outdated, academic, and even American offerings (i.e. The Best American Short Stories 2012). To add insult to injury, my own novels weren’t even included.

All was not entirely lost, however, for I came across a book I had read some time ago, For a Lost Soldier, by Rudi van Dantzig, [Gay Men’s Press, 1997], which is now out of print. However, a DVD film version (written and directed by Roeland Kerbosch, and starring Maarten Smit as young Boman, Jeroen Krabbé as the adult Boman, and Andrew Kelley as the Canadian soldier) is still available.
The book and the film differ quite significantly, especially in the way the ending is constructed, but the basic story outline is the same.

Near the end of the war in Holland, eleven-year-old Jeroen Boman is sent to live in the country due to a food shortage in Amsterdam. However, despite a relative abundance to eat he is wracked with loneliness for his parents and friends.

This is subject to change when the village is liberated by a group of Canadian Troops, and Jeroen encounters a 20-something soldier named Walter Cook. Jeroen revels in the attention shown by Cook, and a relationship is formed between them that eventually becomes sexual in nature.

A dark cloud forms, however, when Cook’s regiment moves on, and he leaves without saying goodbye to a devastated Jeroen. Even the photograph of him—the only token Jeroen has left—is damaged by rain.

The remainder of the novel is dedicated to Jeroen’s life when he returns to Amsterdam, and the desperate but fruitless search for his first, lost lover. Eventually Jeroen is forced to realize that all he has left are memories.

Given the controversial nature of man/boy love, even when it is pseudo-autobiographical (as it is in this case), a number of people will be put off by this point alone. However, the sexual aspect in the novel is delicately handled, and in the film it is so subtle that one might actually miss it. What remains is a powerful story of coming of age, and the lifelong impact of first love. Five bees.


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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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Thank you for dropping by. It appears almost certain that we will reach 40,000 by year’s end. Congratulations!

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Coming out, fiction/autobiographical, Gay romance, Historical period | Leave a comment


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