Gerry B's Book Reviews

Harry’s Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save It, by Harry Leslie Smith

Need a reality check? Then this is the non-accusatory read for you! 




As ‘Black Friday’ quickly approaches, with people already camped out to get first dibs on the latest bauble or gadget, I thought you might enjoy this perspective on life until you pick up your credit card bills next month. J
Click on the cover to purchase. Also available in Kindle format.

Click on the cover to purchase. Also available in Kindle format.

‘As one of the last remaining survivors of the Great Depression and the Second World War, I will not go gently into that good night. I want to tell you what the world looks like through my eyes, so that you can help change it…’ ~ Harry Leslie Smith
In November 2013, 91-year-old Yorkshireman, RAF veteran and ex-carpet salesman Harry Leslie Smith’s Guardian article – ‘This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time’ – was shared almost 60,000 times on Facebook and started a huge debate about the state of society.

Now he brings his unique perspective to bear on NHS* cutbacks, benefits policy, political corruption, food poverty, the cost of education – and much more. From the deprivation of 1930s Barnsley and the terror of war to the creation of our welfare state, Harry has experienced how a great civilisation can rise from the rubble. But at the end of his life, he fears how easily it is being eroded.

Harry’s Last Stand is a lyrical, searing modern invective that shows what the past can teach us, and how the future is ours for the taking.

Harry Leslie Smith is a survivor of the Great Depression, a second world war RAF veteran and, at 91, an activist for the poor and for the preservation of social democracy. His Guardian articles have been shared over 60,000 times on Facebook and have attracted huge comment and debate. He has authored numerous books about Britain during the Great Depression, the second world war and postwar austerity. He lives outside Toronto, Canada and in Yorkshire.

*Note to copy writers: While your trendiness is noted – converting most everything into a mnemonic – the problem being that only you and a handful of others know what the hell you are talking about. Communication is still a two-way process.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and Harry Leslie Smith represents nearly 100 years of history in his seminal book, Harry’s Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save It [Icon Books, June 5th 2014].

Browsing some of the reviews already published, I notice that the majority of them make some reference to disregarding the opinions of seniors as being outdated.

Overlooking the other issues with this way of thinking (e.g. stereotyping), it is also illogical. Who best to ask other than someone who has ‘bin der, and done dat’?

This is Leslie Smith’s point as well, and so, in a non-proselytizing way he sets out to tell you his story: from first fighting a war against tyranny, and subsequently the battles to win old age retirement benefits, social assistance for the poor, and universal health coverage, to name a few. No sooner had these been achieved, in whole or part, when the entire scenario changed with the social revolution of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Old, tried and true standards, were tossed in favour of mass consumerism that the corporations quickly embraced with an array of slick new gadgets to addlepate the public even more – a world of never-ending bliss with the newest model of automobile, TV, or smart phone.

Individuals like Leslie Smith, having been raised according to stricter standards, could see the banality of all this, of course, but as the other reviewers have already noted, his opinion (and others) were considered outdated and irrelevant in the face of such wonderful entertainments and gadgets.

To his credit, Leslie Smith does not assign blame to any one or group; rather he lays out his observations for everyone to see, in terms everyone can understand, together with his manifesto for the future.

This is inspirational reading. It is like sitting down with ‘the old man of the mountain’ for a chat about the real realities of life that seemingly are lost on modern society. Highly therapeutic and recommended. 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: Thalidomide! Canada’ tragedy.

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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.

November 24, 2014 Posted by | Autobiography, Military history, non GBLT, non-GLBT, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two, by Allan Bérubé


Edition of Gerry B’s Book Reviews



Some interesting facts

  • Remembrance Day was originally known as “Armistice Day”
  • In Canada it became Remembrance Day by Act of Parliament in 1931.
  • It is known by our neighbours and allies to the south as “Veteran’s Day”.
  • The poppy is the symbol that individuals use to show that they remember those who fought and died in the service of their country.
  • The idea of the poppy originated with the 1915 poem “In Flanders Field” by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer in the First World War. His poem reflects his first hand account of what he witnessed while working from a dressing station on the bank of the Yser Canal.
  • An American woman, Moina Michael, was the first person known to have worn a poppy in remembrance.

If you never read another historical account of this era, read this one! Outstanding!


coming out under fire - coverStory blurb: This major study chronicles the struggle of homosexuals in the U.S. military during WW II who found themselves fighting on two fronts: against the Axis and against their own authorities who took extreme measures to stigmatize them as unfit to serve their country. From 1941 to 1945, more than 9000 gay servicemen and women purportedly were diagnosed as sexual psychopaths and given “undesirable” discharges. Based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, augmented by 75 interviews with gay male and female veterans, social historian Berube recounts the purges in the military into the Cold War era when homosexuality was officially equated with sin, crime and sickness. The book reveals that the first public challenge to the military’s policy came not from the gay-rights movement but from military psychiatrists who studied gay servicemen and women during World War II. This evenhanded study brings into sharp focus an important chapter in American social history.

About the author: Allan Ronald Bérubé (December 3, 1946 – December 11, 2007) was an American historian, activist,independent scholar, self-described “community-based” researcher and college drop-out, and award-winning author, best known for his research and writing about homosexual members of the American Armed Forces during World War II He also wrote essays about the intersection of class and race in gay culture, and about growing up in a poor, working class family, his French-Canadian roots, and about his experience of anti-AIDS activism.

Coming Out Under Fire earned Bérubé the Lambda Literary Award for outstanding Gay Men’s Nonfiction book of 1990 and was later adapted as a film in 1994, narrated by Salome Jens and Max Cole, with a screenplay by Bérubé and the film’s director, Arthur Dong. The film received a Peabody Award for excellence in documentary media in 1995. Bérubé received a MacArthur Fellowship (often called the “genius grant”) from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1996. He received a Rockefeller grant from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in 1994 to research a book on the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union, and he was working on this book at the time of his death. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Review by Gerry Burnie

If I were asked to design a definitive course on the history of Gays and Lesbians in North America, I would include three books  as required reading: Gay  American History, by  Jonathon Katz; From  the Closet to the Courtroom, by  Carlos Ball; and Coming out Under Fire, by  Allan Bérubé [Free Press, 1990]. Moreover, I think the students would thank me afterward  for choosing books that are authoritative, informative and relatively easy to  read.

For me personally, Allan Bérubé’s seminal work represents an eye-opener like few others I have read. Indeed, I was moved from profound sadness to outright rage when I learned the systematic
persecution that these innocent men and women had to endure in the service of their country. That, perhaps, is the greatest benefit that this retrospective can provide, for those who cannot
remember the past are condemned to repeat it

The following is a précis of Bérubé’s thesis, but it is by no means complete or in depth. To really appreciate the full story of coming out under fire I urge you to read the original.


When the  war clouds started to descend over Europe in the 1930s the United States  military did not exceed two hundred thousand soldiers, and so to overcome this Congress  passed the nation’s first peacetime conscription act. Consequently, conscripts began to fill the Army’s ranks in astonishing numbers (16 million in 1940-41).

With so many men available, the armed forces decided to exclude certain groups, including women, blacks, and—following  the advice of psychiatrists—homosexuals (although this term was not yet widely used).  Traditionally the military had  never officially excluded homosexuals, but in World War II a dramatic change occurred.  Seeing a chance to advance their prestige, influence, and legitimacy of their  profession, psychiatrists promoted screening as a means of reducing psychiatric casualties before they became military responsibilities.

In 1941, therefore, the Army issued a  directive which disqualified “homosexual proclivities” as a “psychopathic personality  disorder.”  This was in keeping with the  prevailing belief that homosexuality was a neurological disorder—i.e. the first  signs of a brain-disease caused by heredity, trauma, or bad habits such as  masturbation, drunkenness and drug addiction.

Moreover, the military encased this  idea in “characteristics that were considered inferior or “degenerative” by  virtue of their deviation from the generally white, middle-class, and
native-born norm.” (Location 536).

“The  framers of the Army’s interwar physical standards listed feminine  characteristics among the “stigmata of degeneration” that made a man unfit for  military service. Males with a “degenerative physique,” the regulation explained,  “may present the general body conformation of the opposite sex, with sloping  narrow shoulders, broad hips, excessive pectoral and public adipose [fat]  deposits, with lack of masculine hirsute [hair] and muscular markings.”” (Location 536).

Bérubé then goes on to explain, “The  reason for excluding these as psychopaths was that, like other men in this “wastebasket”  category, they were considered to be irresponsible troublemakers who were  unable to control their desires or learn from their mistakes and thus  threatened the other men.” (Location 568).

To make matters worse, this sort of quackery  was widely promulgated in training seminars for recruiters and physicians  throughout the United States, and even published in medical journals for wider  distribution.

On the other hand, because of women’s marginal status in the military prior to WWII, neither the Army nor the Navy had developed policies and procedures concerning lesbians. Therefore, women
recruits were never asked the homosexual question, and were therefore able to enter the military undetected.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed, however, the rules were relaxed to accommodate the demands of war, and the military was forced to accept and integrate most gay selectees. In fact, it was privately  acknowledged that gay men had become vital members of the armed forces. Moreover, the gay recruits found ways to fit in and even to form close and lasting relationships with “buddies.”

Sexual activity was at a minimum until the recruits learned the rules, and then discrete opportunities could be found where there was a will.

“Not all trainees who approached other men for sex were gay. Heterosexual recruits who had had the most sexual experience with women or who felt strong sex drives could initiate sex without being afraid that they were queer, especially if their partner was gay and played the “passive” role. Teenage recruits who were just fooling around with each other, especially if they had been drinking, found themselves unexpectedly becoming sexual. Some older soldiers with more sexual experience in the military taught younger men how to have sex without getting caught. On the other hand, recruits who knew they were gay before entering the service were sometimes the most reluctant to have sex.” (Location 1103).

Meanwhile, Army and Navy officials struggled with how to manage the homosexual behaviour, and several approaches were developed. When challenged from the outside, particularly by concerned
parents or clergy, their public stance was to condemn behaviour considered to be immoral in the wider culture, including  profanity, drunkenness, erotic pictures, extramarital sex, lesbianism, homosexuality, and prostitution. Within the organization, however, military officials took a more understanding approach—forced into it by the need to hang onto trained personnel.

Trainees usually learned on their own how to put up with one another’s differences in order to get through basic training. They also received pleas for tolerance from the war propaganda which
portrayed American soldiers as defending the ideals of democracy, equality, and freedom against the totalitarian Axis. But inspired more by necessity than idealism, male trainees responded to the demands of basic training by developing their own pragmatic ethic of tolerance: “I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me.”

One of the areas where blatant effeminacy was tolerated—even applauded—was in the “all-soldier variety show.” These began as a diversion, but soon became a popular form of frontline entertainment even under fire. These were all-male shows to entertain each other that almost always  featured female impersonation, and coincidentally provided a temporary refuge for gay males to let their hair down and entertain their fellows.

“The impulse to put on shows and perform in dresses generally came from the men themselves—soldiers without women, as well as gay men, had long traditions of spontaneously dressing up in women’s clothes. But during World War II, the military officials, pressured by GIs, their own morale personnel, and leaders in the civilian theatre world …found themselves not only tolerating makeshift drag but officially promoting female impersonation.” (Location 1677).

In 1941, strained by the demands of a massive war mobilization that included a large influx of gay soldiers, the military could no longer handle its homosexual discipline problems by sending all offenders to prison as required by the Articles of War.[1] Therefore, based on the belief that homosexuality was a mental illness, there was a concerted effort to discharge homosexuals without trial while retaining those whose services were deemed essential. However, this policy ran contrary to the common law that held homosexuality as “an infamous and unspeakable crime against nature,” and that the military had a responsibility “to prevent such crimes with severe punishment
and to protect the morals of the nation’s young people under their jurisdiction.”

Underlying all this was a sort of political upmanship among various factions of the military bureaucracy. For example, having sodomites released into the care of psychiatrists would greatly enhance the standing of psychiatry as a legitimate science, and for their part the generals resented the  interference of the legals in the Judge Advocate’s office. Therefore, the unfortunate men and women awaiting jusice were helplessly caught somewhere in the middle.

There was also the question of what sort of discharge would apply–i.e. honourable medical discharge or dishonourable? An honourable discharge, it was argued, might lead to homosexual activity or declaration in order to escape compulsory service. Dishonourable discharge (so-called “section eights” or “blue cards”), on the other hand, were generally used only for men who had been convicted of a crime and who had served their sentences. These had been used successfully to eliminate social misfits–alcoholics, chronic liars, drug addicts, men who antagonised everyone—but technically did not include homosexuals. In the end (1943), however, the military issued a directive that steered a compromise inasmuch as sodomy was still deemed a criminal offence, but it allowed for an exception where force or violence had not been used. These individuals would be examined by a board of officers “with the purpose of discharge under the provisions of Section Eight.

It was intended as a more humane way of dealing with “offenders” but, as gay men and women would soon find out, it was fraught with difficulties of its own.

As officers began to discharge homosexuals as undesirables, the gay GIs who were their targets had to learn how to defend themselves in psychiatrists’ offices, discharge hearing rooms, hospital wards, and in “queer stockades.” There they were interrogated about their sex lives, locked up, physically abused, and subjected to systematic humiliations in front of other soldiers.

“The discharge system could drag any GI whose homosexuality became known or even suspected into seemingly endless maze of unexpected humiliations and punishments. Some gay male and lesbian GIs first entered the maze when they voluntarily declared their homosexuality, fully expecting to be hospitalized
and discharged. But others, following the advice in basic training lectures to talk over their problems with a doctor, psychiatrist, or chaplain, were shocked when medical officers betrayed their confidences by reporting them for punitive action ad “self-confessed” homosexuals, or were disappointed and frustrated when more sympathetic psychiatrists could not help them at all. Caught during their processing for discharge in battles between friendly and hostile officers, they found themselves thrown around like footballs in a game over which they had no control.”
(Location 4442).

Nor were things to improve when they were returned home to civilian life. Gay veterans with “blue” or undesirable discharges where stripped of his service medals, rank, and uniform, then given a one-way ticket home where they had to report to their draft board to present their discharge papers. The stigma attached to these discharges was not an accident. Rather, it was intended to punish homosexuals and prevent malingering, and the requirement that the GI report to his draft board ensured that his community would find out the nature of his discharge. Therefore, they were forced to come out to their families and communities. Wherever blue-discharge veterans lived, employers, schools, insurance companies, veterans’ organizations, and other institutions could  use their bad discharge papers to discriminate against them.

One of the most vindictive punishments meted out to these veterans was the denial of GI benefits that included federally subsidized home loans; college loans with allowances for subsistence, tuition, and books; unemployment allowances; job training and placement programs; disability pensions and hospital care. Top officials at the Veterans Administration were responsible for this denial, contrary to Army policy and Congress, but nonetheless the VA refused to drop its anti-homosexual prohibition. Consequently, many blue-discharge veterans found it difficult (impossible) to find employment, and when they applied for unemployment insurance, or small
business loans, or college assistance, they were denied in a Catch-22 situation.

One of the side effects of this discrimination was that having survived fear and death on the battlefield, some gay combat veterans began to cast off the veil of secrecy that so seriously
constrained their lives. For them, “coming out” to family and friends was not nearly as terrifying as facing the enemy in battle. Moreover, the popular press began to take notice of the blue-ticket discharges, and their plight, and started to publish columns on the “Homosexual Minorities,” characterizing them as “anther minority which suffers from its position in society in somewhat the same way as the Jews and Negroes.”

Unfortunately, this period of ‘liberal’ attitude was short-lived, for in the late 1940s a preoccupation with conformity brought a fearful scapegoating of those who deviated from a narrow idea of the
nuclear family and the American way of life. However, you will have to read this most remarkable book to learn the outcome of this.


What I have included above only covers a small portion of this fascinating, sometimes heart rending, story. If you never read another history of this period, I urge you to read this one. Five Bees, and if I could give ten I would!

Under the Articles of War, the maximum penalties for Army enlisted men and
officers convicted of sodomy were five years confinement at hard labour,
forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and dishonourable discharge or dismissal.
Under the Articles for the Navy, the maximum penalties for enlisted men were
same but with ten years of confinement at hard labour.


Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 15,978


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November 11, 2013 Posted by | Coming out, Gay documentary, Gay Literature, Gay non-fiction, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | 3 Comments

A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home (1954-1956)

“It’s not often one has the chance to become 20 again…”


A world ago - coverStory blurb: A World Ago chronicles, through one young man’s journal and vivid letters to his parents, his life, adventures, and experiences at a magical time. It follows him from being a Naval Aviation Cadet to becoming a “regular” sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga on an eight-month tour of duty in the politically tense Mediterranean Sea.

Learn to fly a plane, to soar, alone, through a valley of clouds, experience a narrow escape from death on a night training flight, and receive the continent of Europe as a 21st birthday gift. Climb down into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius, visit Paris, Cannes, Athens, Beirut, Valencia, Istanbul and places in-between; wander the streets of Pompeii, have your picture taken on a fallen column on the Acropolis, ride bicycles on the Island of Rhodes, experience daily life aboard an aircraft carrier during the height of the cold war—all in the company and through the eyes of a young will-be-writer coming of age with the help of the United States Navy.

A World Ago is a rare glimpse into the personal and private world of a young man on the verge of experiencing everything the world has to offer—and discovering a lot about himself in the process.

About Dirien Grey: Born Roger Margason in Rockford, Illinois, far too many years ago, Dorien emerged, like Athena from the sea, full-blown with the first book in the Dick Hardesty Mystery series in 2000. Roger, a lifelong book and magazine editor, is in charge of all the details of day-to-day living, allowing Dorien full freedom to write books and blogs. The Dick Hardesty series was followed by the Elliott Smith Mystery series, which now alternates with the Dick Hardesty series.

Dorien emerged partly because Roger has always resented reality. It is far too capricious and too often unkind and unfair. Roger avoids reflective surfaces whenever possible. Having Dorien as an alter ego allows the “duo” to create their own reality, and worlds over which they have some degree of control.

Both are incurable romantics, believing strongly in things which reality views too often with contempt, such as happy endings, true love, and the baic goodness of people.

As the real-life spokesman for the pair and using “I” for both, the one personal characteristic in which I take great pride, and which has been my rock throughout life is that I never, ever, takes myself too seriously. If one has a choice between positive and negative, why would anyone (though too many people do) opt for the negative? Life is not always kind, but it is a gift beyond measure, and one which must all too soon be given back. I really try to enjoy and be thankful for ever single day allotted to me.

For most people, children are their posterity. For me, as a gay man, it is my words which will, I hope, stand as evidence that I was here (albeit, no matter how long I may live, never long enough to suit me).

And because written words are nothing unless someone reads them, I am heavily reliant on my readers, who I sincerely consider to be partners and traveling companions on every journey my writing embarks on.


Review by Gerry Burnie

There isn’t a great deal of critical comment one can make about a book like A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home (1954-1956) by Dorien Grey [Untreed Reads Publishing, April 8, 2013]. It is a charming look into one man’s life at an interesting age and time I would say; although, the older Roger Margason, a.k.a. Dorien Grey has the depth of character I prefer. Therefore, I will limit my remarks to some personal observations.

I am a great advocate of journal keeping for very selfish reasons. They are absolutely invaluable when it comes to recreating someone’s life and times. Therefore, I am utterly amazed that he had the foresight to save these epistles intact. Otherwise the memories they contain might have been lost forever. Moreover, for informal writings, they are remarkably literate and easy to read.

At the time the letters where written, 1954 – 1956, Dorien was between ‘grass and straw’—as the old cowpokes would say, i.e. past puberty but not quite matured. Interestingly the letters show this, for there is a perceptible maturing as they progress in time.

One is also struck by the candid nature as well. They may have been edited for journalistic reasons, but one does not get the impression they have been altered in the process.

His powers of observation regarding the exotic places he visits, i.e. Paris, Cannes, Athens, Beirut, Valencia, Istanbul, etc. is like reading a travelogue of the time, and as an amateur historian I found this intriguing.

Altogether, therefore, this is a fascinating insight into a personality and the times, and not once did I feel it lost my interest on account of self-ndulgence. A truly interesting read. 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!


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

It is a collection of little-known facts and events in Canadian history, and a bibliography of interesting books I have collected to date. Latest post: Superintendent Sam Steele of the North West Mounted Police – Canada’s toughest gentleman police officer.



CoA6edit3 - medI thought I would take this opportunity to update the news regarding my work-in-progress novel, Coming of Age on the Trail. The rewrites are coming along well, and it looks like it will be published in time for the Christmas market.

I also plan to publish  it as a two part series. Already the manuscript is up to 140,000 words (387 pages in book form), and that is far too long for a novel of this type. Part One will therefore contain the introduction, while Part Two (scheduled for the spring of 2014) will contain the conclusion.

I will update you again as the work progresses.


If you would like to learn more about my other 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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July 22, 2013 Posted by | Historical period, Military history, Naval historical fiction, Non-fiction, Semi-autobiographical, Twentieth century historical | | 1 Comment

A Life Apart, by Roger Kean

Superb writing, refreshing break-though plot, and bang-on history –


a life apart - coverStory blurb: 1884—Deep in the Sudanese deserts a crazed religious fanatic spawns violent bloodshed.

In Victorian England Edward and Richard enjoy a blessed life at home and at their elite private school for boys, and with prospects of army commissions ahead.

But then a dreadful secret and a woman’s greed tears them apart and destroys their comfortable world. Even though their love is forbidden, for Edward there is no other in his life but Richard, and for Richard a life without Edward is unbearable.

Has fate determined that they must lead their lives apart?

As members of the British force engaged in a doomed bid to save heroic Gordon of Khartoum, besieged by the frenzied armies of the Mahdi, Edward and Richard, cruelly separated by events, and ignorant of the other’s presence, are thrown into their own desperate adventures as the conflict rages on around them… 

One an officer, the other a lowly cavalry trumpeter, both find Muslim allies willing to risk all to see them through… Two lovers far from each other in a hostile world of enervating heat, unforgiving sand, rocky wastes, but also burning passions—will the young men overcome the ordeal of a life apart to achieve their dream of a destiny together?

Front cover art and design by Oliver Frey.

About the author: Film-maker, journalist, publisher, Roger Kean (also writing under the names Roger Michael Kean and Roger M. Kean) has written about subjects as varied as the utilization of electronic publishing techniques for pre-press, video games, and gay life in London. His published books include histories of the Roman Emperors, Byzantium, Ancient Egypt, and pirates. Fiction includes five boys’ adventure stories available from Smashwords, and two for Kindle on Amazon, Storm Over Khartoum and Avenging Khartoum.

He now divides his time between website design and writing gay-themed novels with illustrations by his lifelong partner, the artist Oliver Frey (a.k.a. Zack). Their first collaboration, published by Bruno Gmünder, Boys of Vice City and its sequels, Boys of Disco City and Boys of Two Cities are available as ebooks in various formats and in print from Amazon. The fourth in the series, Boys of the Fast Lane will publish in the summer of 2013.


Review by Gerry Burnie

A Life Apart, by Roger Kean [CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, January 11, 2013] can be categorized by several genres: historical fiction, historical, gay romance, and even young adult. It is also a refreshingly different story set in an exotic and somewhat uncommon setting.

The story opens on Edward and Richard Rainbow, purportedly twin brothers, and also students at the prestigious Benthenham College in England. Their relationship can be described as ‘loving,’ both in the ethereal and physical sense, but such “dirties” as transpired between them are always couched in euphemistic language—i.e. “hardness,” “bitties,” or “stiffness,” etc.

Indeed, Richard and Edward are utterly charming adolescents, and Kean has done quite a good job of portraying them as normal, mischievous and inquisitive schoolboys, who indulge in the “dirties” as naturally as they play soccer or go swimming.

However, an unexpected and devastating revelation emerges from the past, and because of it Edward is ripped from Richard’s arms and his family.

a life apart - mahdistsSkipping forward, Richard has received his commission to the army, and England has become caught up in Egyptian affairs to protect its financial interests and the Suez Canal.  Consequently, it is also drawn into a vicious guerilla war instigated by the Islamic cleric, Muhammad Ahmad, who has declared himself ‘Mahdi’ (a messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith).

After considerable bloodshed, the English decide to withdraw from the southern regions, including the Sudan, and Major-General Sir Charles Gordon is sent to oversee the evacuation of Khartoum. In the process, however, he becomes isolated and trapped by the Arab and Mahdist forces. A relief expedition led by Sir Garnet Wolseley is sent to rescue him, but due to several delays they arrive too late to save Gordon. At the same time, however, it is the perfect opportunity for fate to reunite Richard and Edward, and Kean takes full advantage of it.

The writing is superb, the plot is refreshing, the description is vivid, and the history is bang-on. Five bees.


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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!


I’ve been censored:

I’ve been censored by Huffington Post! The article dealt with “Female Board Directors Better At Decision Making: Study…” [see:“]

My comment was “I am so damned weary of the press perpetuating this myth of male/female differentiation. The right person will always make the best decision regardless of gender. To appoint either on the basis of gender is not only contrary to common sense, it is also utterly stupid.

I realize this crap sells papers to the non-thinking, but it is also an unmitigated bore to anyone who has moved past this manufactured debate. Please do move on!”

This is what Huffington post had to say: “This comment has been removed. Most comments are removed because of an attack or insult on another user or public figure. Please see the guidelines here if you’re not sure why this comment was removed.”

I guess I shouldn’t have criticized the press!”


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. I`ll have another great find next week, so hope to see you then.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Coming out, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history | 2 Comments

Skybound, by Aleksandr Voinov

A textbook example of the short story art –

Story blurb: Germany, 1945. The Third Reich is on its knees as Allied forces bomb Berlin to break the last resistance. Yet on an airfield near Berlin, the battle is far from over for a young mechanic, Felix, who’s attached to a squadron of fighter pilots. He’s especially attached to fighter ace Baldur Vogt, a man he admires and secretly loves. But there’s no room for love at the end of the world, never mind in Nazi Germany.

When Baldur narrowly cheats death, Felix pulls him from his plane, and the pilot makes his riskiest move yet. He takes a few days’ leave to recover, and he takes Felix with him. Away from the pressures of the airfield, their bond deepens, and Baldur shows Felix the kind of brotherhood he’d only ever dreamed of before.

But there’s no escaping the war, and when they return, Baldur joins the fray again in the skies over Berlin. As the Allies close in on the airfield where Felix waits for his lover, Baldur must face the truth that he is no longer the only one in mortal danger.

Available in ebook, only – 198 KB

About the author: Aleksandr Voinov is an emigrant German author living near London where he makes his living as a financial journalist, freelance editor and creative writing teacher. After many years working in the horror, science fiction, cyberpunk and fantasy genres, Voinov has set his sights now on contemporary and historical erotic gay novels.

Voinov’s characters are often scarred lonely souls at odds with their environment and pitted against odds that make or break them. He described the perfect ending for his books as “the characters make it out alive, but at a terrible cost, usually by the skin of their teeth. I want to see what’s at the core of them, and stripping them down to that core is rarely pleasant for them. But it does make them wiser, and often stronger people.”


Review by Gerry Burnie (

If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for gay/historical/military/genres. It is a natural outcome of my passion for history, and my self-identification with those who have faced the harsh brutalities of war. Courage like this should not be forgotten lest we make the same mistake again.

In Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov [Riptide Publishing, 2012] we find yet another reason to care. Two individuals caught up in the confict, Germans, seeing the evil regime of which they are part crumbling around them, and yet fighting on through a stalwart—but misplaced—sense of duty.

Well … One of them is, anyway. Baldur Vogt, a Luftwaffe ace, bold, handsome and dashing, flies his missions because it is what he does. On the other hand, Felix, a ground-crew mechanic does what he does to keep the man he loves (Baldur) as safe as he can make him, and with that simple revelation the whole perspective of war changes.

But that is only one thread in this complex tapestry, for Felix despairs that Baldur will ever respond in the way he (Felix) has dreamed. For one thing, Baldur comes from money, compared to Felix’s humble background, and even if this could be brushed aside, man-to-man love was an anathema in Hitler’s Arian scheme of things—a veritable death sentence.

Nonetheless, fate will have its way, and when Baldur somewhat miraculously escapes a bullet that otherwise had his name on it, he celebrates by taking Felix away for a few days of relaxation.

Once away from the harrowing events of the day, love blooms—a quiet, tender affection that emerges as naturally as a breeze on a warm summer’s day. Indeed, when it happens one cannot imagine it being any other way.

However, once the point is made, and given that the only world they know is crumbling around them, how does one go about getting a ‘happy ever after ending’ out of that?

That remains for readers to discover, but it is almost a textbook example of the short story art; i.e. get in, make the point, and get out, which Voinov does very well. In addition the various ‘flavours’ are as concentrated as a brandy that lingers, agreeably, on the palate. Five bees.


Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 34,566


Last week I announced a new look and URL address for “Coming of Age on the trail” (, and Gerry Burnie Books. This week I want to ‘show off’ my new banner/logo for that site, as well. Click on the banner to go to the site.

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!


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. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve switched the publication day to Monday. Looking forward to seeing you soon.


October 8, 2012 Posted by | Coming out, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, M/M love and adventure, Military history | 3 Comments

The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles), by Robin Neillands

A must read under the heading: “Lest we forget.”

Story blurb: The Dieppe Raid is one of World War II’s most controversial hours. In 1942, a full two years before D-Day, thousands of men, mostly Canadian troops eager for their first taste of battle, were sent across the English Channel in a raid on the French port town of Dieppe. Air supremacy was not secured; the topography—a town hemmed in by tall cliffs and reached by steep beaches—meant any invasion was improbably difficult. The result was carnage: the beaches were turned into killing grounds even as the men came ashore, and whole battalions were cut to pieces.

In this book, Robin Neillands has traced numerous surviving veterans of the Raid, in the United Kingdom and Canada, to tell the harrowing story of what actually took place, hour by hour, as disaster unfolded. He has also exhaustively explored all the archival evidence to establish as far as possible the paper trail of command, of who knew—or should have known—what was happening, and whether the whole debacle could have been prevented. The result is the definitive account of one of the Allies’ darkest hours.

Available in hardcover and paperback only – 292 pages

About the author: Robin Neillands is “one of our most readable military historians” (Birmingham Post [UK]) and author of several acclaimed books on World War II and military history, including The Bomber War; The Conquest of the Reich; The Desert Rats; Eighth Army; The Old Contemptibles; and Battle of Normandy 1944. He lectures on military history worldwide, and is a member of the British Commission for Military History.


Review by Gerry Burnie

Today, August 19, 2012, marks the 70th anniversary of the storming of Puys beach, a small seaside village two kilometres east of Dieppe. The landing parties, including 4,963 men and officers from the 2nd Canadian Division, 1,005 British commandos, 50 US rangers and 15 Frenchmen, were already late as the sun rose, giving the Germans plenty of advance notice. The shore batteries opened up while the landing craft were still 10 metres from shore, and at 5:07 AM the first of the Canadian soldiers dashed forward in the noise of machine-gun and mortar fire that targeted them. They fell, mowed down by bullets and hit by mortar shells. Some tried to reach the seawall bordering the beach, hoping to find shelter. They were to be made prisoner after a few hours of useless resistance.

A few kilometres away, to the left near Berneval and to the right near Dieppe, Pourville and Varengeville, other battalions landed, more men were killed by machine-gun fire and struck by mortar shells. Several platoons managed to break through enemy defence lines and closed in on their targets. Their determination was no match for the formidable might of the German army. Order was given to pull back at 1100; Navy personnel did the utmost to retrieve as many assault troops as possible. The raid was over. As the tide rose, the wounded who remained on the beach were carried away by the waves with the dead.

The objectives of this ill-fated venture weren’t particularly significant. These included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove it was possible and to gather intelligence from prisoners and captured materials while assessing the German responses. The Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings. “Dieppe raid was also a “pinch” raid for the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) overseen by Ian Fleming. A group of No. 30 Commandos were sent into Dieppe to steal code books, setting sheets and a German-made Enigma code machine for encryption and decryption of secret messages.” Wikipedia

The cost, however, was significant. A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Royal Air Force lost 96 aircraft (at least 32 to flak or accidents). The Royal Navy lost 33 landing craft and one destroyer.

So what went wrong? Almost everything says Robin Neillands in his meticulously researched treatise, “The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles)” [Indiana University Press, 2005], from the earliest planning stages, to the lack of combat experience by the British and Allied officers to make a proper assessment of the risks of such an operation.

As one reviewer has summarized it:

“In seven bloody, smoke-filled chapters, the author tells the waterlogged tale of men struggling in the ocean and along the seawall — the assault boats of No. 3 Commando blundering into a German convoy — bullet-ridden landing craft loaded with dead and wounded — virtually every radio set destroyed right from the beginning — heroic soldiers charging gun pits with fixed bayonets — Churchill tanks hopelessly stranded on the promenade — bodies rolling about in the waves — hundreds of men cowering behind knocked out tanks and landing craft along the shingle — eventually, abandoned men on the beach swimming for miles to reach withdrawing ships. Mr. Neillands’ remarkable reconstruction of the battle from east to west makes clear the troops had little chance of success.” Michael L. Shakespeare 

When it is all said and done, Robin Neillands’ book may be the best thing that came out of the aftermath; that and the lessons learned when it came to the amphibious raids that ultimately led to VE Day, May 8, 1945.

A must read under the heading “Lest we forget.” Five bees.


Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 31,651


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!


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

It is a collection of little-known people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  Barbara Ann Scott: “Canada’s Sweetheart”.



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. I’d love to hear from you so I can express my thanks personally. It’s easy to do. Just send a note to, or add a comment. See you next week. 

August 19, 2012 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Wingmen, by Ensan Case

A superbly written epic of manly love set in WWII –

Story blurb: Jack Hardigan’s Hellcat fighter squadron blew the Japanese Zekes out of the blazing Pacific skies. But a more subtle kind of hell was brewing in his feelings for rookie pilot Fred Trusteau. As another wingman watches – and waits for the beautiful woman who loves Jack – Hardigan and Trusteau cut a fiery swath through the skies from Wake Island to Tarawa to Truk, there to keep a fateful rendezvous with love and death in the blood-clouded waters of the Pacific.

In the author’s own words: I wrote Wingmen in 1978 at the age of 28. Avon Books in New York published it in 1979. After one printing, sales stopped. I turned to other pursuits.

In 2011, during a move, I discovered my original file box of notes for the work. On a whim, I googled “Wingmen Ensan Case”, and was stunned by the result. The book is apparently more popular now than it was in 1979. I have begun the process of regaining the publication rights from Avon Books, and republishing the work in paper and ebook formats. Progress has been good, and it should be available by the first quarter of 2012.

Review by Gerry Burnie

You may have noticed I have a passion for WWII-vintage stories, and have reviewed several in the past. I like the era in general. It was a time when the free-world was drawn together by a war in two theatres, and men bonded together as warrior brothers—and sometimes more. Wingmen by Ensan Case (a pseudonym) [Cheyenne Publishing, 2012] captures the latter phenomenon with remarkable clarity and credibility. It is, in fact, one of the best war stories I have read.

Ensign Frederick “Trusty” Trusteau, one of two wingmen assigned to “skipper,” Lieutenant Commander J.J. “Jack” Hardigan. Trusteau is a handsome, capable aviator, who has honed his reputation as a “whoremaster” because that was (and is) the gold standard among predominantly male societies. It was very often a sham, or cover-up, but it was better than being considered the “odd-man-out.”

Jack Hardigan is a hard-drinking, hard driving skipper, who is dating a wealthy widow in Honolulu, but apart from a certain level of affection, there is no evidence of sexual activity between them. Therefore, there is no grand regrets when she breaks off their relationship for someone else.

The relationship between the two men starts, as it usually does, with earned respect on both sides; in this case as pilots of the famed Grumman Hellcats flown off the deck of a carrier. The bond grows stronger with each mission—warrior brothers—until it inevitably ends in a hotel room in Honolulu, where the line between brothers-in-arms and lovers is finally crossed. However , if you are looking for a torrid, sexually erotic scene between two horny flyboys, you  (gratefully) will not find it here. This scene is definitely sexy because of the circumstances—and the fact that we’ve been waiting for it for nearly two-thirds of the story—but in 1979 you didn’t write that sort of thing if you wanted to find a publisher—even an avant-garde one. Nevertheless, I think it is made a more realistic story because of it. This a story about men in love in war, and not about sex per se.

Of course the story wouldn’t be complete without an appropriate setting, and Case has provided it on board a fictional aircraft carrier, the Constitution. You can almost smell the sweat and testosterone in these scenes as they jostle aboard her. His apparent knowledge of naval aircraft is an asset as well, with just enough detail to help the reader understand without bogging the pace down in the process.

For those into WWII nostalgia there are also well-known battles, i.e. Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon, where most of the Japanese Imperial fleet was wiped out—60 ships and 275 airplanes. Case has also provided an insight into the gruesomeness of war in some tense scenes where men are shot down, blown apart, and drowned mercilessly in the fray, and in the end Jack risks his life to save his lover.

Nevertheless, I agree with several other reviewers that the story should have ended on a high in 1945. The last part is interesting, mind you, and wraps up some loose ends, but it is anticlimactical. Given the excellence of the preceding, however, I’m not letting it dampen my overall impression. Five bees.

News, etc.

Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 22,526


Meet the characters, etc., from my forthcoming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail

Occasionally the cattle drive had to pass through small communities along the way, as this drive did in the 1890s.

Barkerville is mentioned quite prominently in Coming of Age on the Trail. It was the notorious goldmine town founded by Billy Barker–The first man to discover gold in the William’s Lake area of British Columbia. Billy Barker is rumoured to have spent most of his $500,000 fortune at the saloon, and another successful miner spent some $40,000 in one marathon session of boozing, treating, and trashing, before he left the saloon flat broke.


Introducing Lucas Porter, pianist

An exciting new, 21-year-old artist from Nova Scotia, Canada, presently studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

Lucas was recently featured on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Next” series, part of a high-profile project created by the CBC Radio 2 program In Concert in which promising young classical musicians reveal their artistry.

Click here to listen, and please pass it on.


Meet Kerry Sullivan, an Irish-American poet about to break onto the scene with his first collection of poems. The following is an example of a shorter poem. To learn more you can contact him at:

I quarrel with the sunshine,

And in the rain there’s pain.

Every mood I have today,

So surely would I trade,

For simplicity.


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! Please come back often. 

March 18, 2012 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history, Naval historical fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snow: the double life of a world war II spy, by Nigel West and Madoc Roberts

A fascinating story for history buffs and fans of true-life spy stories.

Story blurb: SNOW is the codename assigned to Arthur Owens, one of the most remarkable British spies of the Second World War. This ‘typical Welsh underfed type’ became the first of the great double-cross agents who were to play a major part in Britain’s victory over the Germans. When the stakes could not have been higher, MI5 sought to build a double-cross system based on the shifting loyalties of a duplicitous, philandering and vain anti-hero who was boastful and brave, reckless and calculating, ruthless and mercenary…but patriotic. Or was he? Based on recently declassified files and meticulous research, Snow reveals for the first time the truth about an extraordinary man.

About the Authors: Nigel West is the pen name of Rupert Allason, a military historian and author specialising in intelligence and security issues. He is European Editor of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence. He was awarded the first Lifetime Literature Achievement Award of the US Association of Former Intelligence Officers and was voted ‘the experts’ expert’ by a panel of spy writers selected by The Observer.

Madoc Roberts has worked in television for thirty years. He is managing director of Barkingmad TV and as a producer and director has made history programmes for Channel 4, Channel 5, Discovery and the History Channel. As an editor he has worked on feature films and made award-winning programmes for all the major networks including Timewatch for BBC 2 and Time Team for Channel 4. He was also the main editor on the long-running BBC 2 series Private Life of a Masterpiece. In the 1970s he was lead singer with The Tunnelrunners. He now lives in Cardiff with his wife, the artist Susan Roberts.

Available in e-book format – 1419 KB


Review by Gerry Burnie

I have long maintained that the most interesting history of any society lies not with its kings and politicians, but with ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Okay, maybe Arthur Owens wasn’t your average person, but his exploits certainly prove the point. Fortunately for us, Nigel West and Madoc Roberts have brought this fascinating story to light in a recently released, non-fiction tale of espionage in WWII; Snow: the double life of a world war II spy [Biteback, October 2011].

To start, Arthur Owens was a Welsh battery salesman who was out to sell his invention that no one in Britain seemed to be interested in. That is when he decided to go farther a-field to offer it to the Germans in 1935. He therefore walked into the German embassy a salesman and walked out a spy.

Inevitably in the world of espionage and counter-espionage Mi5 eventually learned of his activity, and Owens subsequently became the first double agent on record.

One of the key areas Owens able to serve British intelligence was to identify German agents, who were then given the offer of working with Mi5 or facing a firing squad. Needless to say very few refused this ‘charming’ offer, and so Britain was kept quite well informed about Hitler’s activities leading up to the war in 1942.

The end of his spying activity—but not his ballsy luck and attitude—came in 1941 when the Nazis accused him of being a double agent, but mysteriously let him return to England. Thereby he was interned in Dartmoor prison for the remainder of the war.

Following the war, fearing retribution from both sides, he exiled himself to Canada and then to Ireland. In the meantime, however, he threatened the British government he would go public with his story and was paid-off an undisclosed amount of money. That’s what I like about this character; traitor or patriot, Owens had balls!


A couple of interesting side notes to this story, as well. Apparently, Owens’ son had no idea of his father’s activities until his mother told him, nor was he aware of his half-sister by Owens’ first wife. Indeed, Patricia Owens was a Hollywood movie star appearing opposite Marlon Brando and James Mason.


A fascinating story for history buffs and fans of true-life spy adventures. Five bees.


Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 18,379


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.


Happy New Year to all, and thanks for dropping by!

January 1, 2012 Posted by | biography, Military history, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 1 Comment

The Great Pagan Army, by Vaughn Heppner

Recommended for those who enjoy a well-written historical action

Story blurb: This is the year 885 A.D., when a thundering army of hardened cutthroats, berserks and axmen trample its way across Western Europe, raping and pillaging at will. They are the Great Pagan Army—the largest array of Vikings ever assembled into one host. No army or city can resist them; no one dares… until a crippled young count finds an old Roman book on tactics.
With a handful of desperate knights, Count Odo fortifies the river fortress of Paris and awaits the savage host. Neither he nor the Vikings realize that this will be young Paris’s most brutal siege and of incredibly fateful importance.

Available in Kindle format – 1007 KB


Review by Gerry Burnie

Note: Although this novel was found on’s “gay historical fiction” list, it is not a GLBT story. I don’t believe this is in any way the fault of the author, it is nontheless sloppy shopkeeping on the part of Amazon, and misleading as well.

Author Vaughan Heppner has chosen a most interesting period in history as the setting for his novel, “The Great Pagan Army” [Amazon Digital Services, 2010]. Beginning in the 830s AD, the Vikings did indeed exploit internal divisions within Charlemagne’s empire, and several times attacked Paris—the last taking place during 885 – 886 AD.

The main chronicle of this siege is the “Bella Parisiacæ Urbis” (“Wars of the City of Paris”), the eye-witness account by Abbo Cernuus, (“the Crooked”), poet of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. Heppner refers to this account in his Historical Notes, and so the events of this occupation are as accurate as Cernuus made them.[1]

At the opening of the story we get to meet Peter the Monk, a bookish fellow devoid of any knowledge or understanding of life beyond the cloister, and charmingly naïve because of it. It is for this reason we are ready to forgive him the fact that he is on his way to rob the Abbot—to pay off a blackmailer (Lupus) armed with knowledge that, in a moment of weakness, Peter gained carnal knowledge of swine herder’s daughter (Willelda). However, his scheme is rudely interrupted when a gang of marauding Northmen attacks the Abbot’s house and Peter is captured.

One of the attackers, Hemming, the son of the brutish Norse leader, Ivor Hammerhand, is roughly Peter’s age and comparatively naïve as well, and so it is a clever bit of business to cast these two similar but different neophytes on a parallel plane.

After witnessing the destruction of the abbey, and the slaughter of his fellow monks, Peter makes a penitential vow to the Abbot that he will find another holy relic (for which the abbey was known) and replace the abbey, itself. He then manages to escape, and when he finds that Willelda  has been captured by the Vikings, he and Lupus set out for Rome—and, coincidentally (on Peter’s part), to rescue Willelda.

Meanwhile, after witnessing the slaughter of his fellows, Hemming is captured—along with his father—by a vengeful group of Berserkers. And when his father is brutally murdered, Hemming sets out on a journey of destiny—a journey inspired by the revenge of his father’s death.

We next get to meet Odo, Count of Paris and later (888-898) king of West Franca. Once again there is a similarity between the Count and Peter inasmuch as the Count is in love with a woman, Judith, the illegitimate daughter of a bishop, but since she has been sent to a convent, Odo cannot openly marry her without alienating the powerful Bishop of Paris.

These two therefore team up to obtain a rare treatise on war, De Re Militari, written by Flavius Vegetius (390 AD). Odo is convinced that with this knowledge he can defend Paris against ‘The Great Pagan Army,’ and perhaps win Judith. For his part Peter agrees to copy the book if the Count will aid in the rescue of Willelda.

And finally we meet the woman Judith, a headstrong girl who is forced to use her wits and guile to circumvent the highly patriarchal society that prevails all around her.


As I have already mentioned, this is an interesting period of history that has not been exploited in the past. Pity, for it is full to the brim with the sort of politics and power-plays that make intriguing reading, so I was delighted to see that the author had captured the essence of this very well.

I also thought the characters were well developed, particularly in distinguishing between the classes. Peter was to Lupus what Odo was to Peter, and yet they needed one another in a practical way. The same might be said of Hemming and the Beserks, for Hemming was one step above the others on the evolutionary scale.

There are also some great battle scenes, featuring both period weapons and tactics, and the author has done a fine job of bringing these to life with the written word.

Historically, I think it is as accurate as it could be—although some medieval scholar might challenge me on that. I suppose one could quibble the fact that Count Odo’s wife, Théodrate of Troyes, was not the illegitimate daughter of a bishop, but to me such is part of an author’s license.

However, at times I thought the author stretched my credibility factor a bit beyond limits—Peter and Lupus’ finding the bones in Rome, for example. My biggest quibble, however, was with the lack-luster ending. After all the great battle scenes and individual combat, I thought the ending—however historically accurate—was less than heroic. Nonetheless, I can recommend this story for those who enjoy well-written historical action. Four Gerry Bees.

[1] Some historians dismiss Cernuus’s account as being a somewhat fanciful version commissioned and written for Count Odo.


Vistor count  to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 16,450


To order any of my books, click on the individual cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are now available in Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price is $4.95.


Thanks  for dropping by!!

November 20, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history, non-GLBT, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dreaming Sparta, by Richard Favio

A bold and interesting premise.



Story blurb: In ancient Greece, Demetrios trains to become a Spartan soldier but grows depressed over the loss of his mentor, Andreas. His desire for them to retain their monogamous relationship is overcome by Lysandra’s devious attempts to have Andreas fulfill his duty as her betrothed.

In present day New York, Andrew’s life is in shambles when his father threatens to evict him for being gay.

When, Andrew stumbles into Demetrios’ world through a dream portal, their encounters provide each with the incentive to confront their demons … together.

Cover design: J.M. Snyder, with photography by: Vulkanette, Frenk and Danielle Kaufmann, and Igor Kovalchuk.

Available in eBook format – 197 KB


Review by Gerry Burnie

Richard Favio has an extensive résumé of literary reviews, short fiction and poetry, and I understand that Dreaming Sparta [JMS Books LLC, 2011] is his second novella.

The premise is an interesting one, whereby two pairs of soul-mates—Demetrios and Andreas from Ancient Sparta, and Andrew and Demetri from modern-day New York—somehow intersect spiritually across the continuum of time. Right there we have almost endless possibilities of contrast and comparison, some of which the author exploits quite nicely.

Andreas and Demetrios are erastes and eromenos, a mentoring and hands-on relationship that was accepted and encouraged for the benefits to society and the state. For example, the erastes (mentor) taught his young lover (eromenos) the proper etiquette and duties of a citizen. Indeed, it is believed by some that Spartan militarism and the well-being of the state depended on sexual love between men, i.e.:

“Older men chose young male lovers. There was no real age of consent in ancient Sparta. Childhood innocence had no meaning in the warrior state. All aspects of the life cycle were subjoined to the aim of making soldiers fit for war and the preservation of the common weal. Its practice was such an integral part of Spartan life that Plutarch writes: “By the time they were come to this age (twelve years old) there was not any of the more hopeful boys who had not a lover to bear him company.” Without a realization of the profound male love relations that animated it, no understanding of Spartan society is possible. Sparta was a homosexual state by law.”Sex and History” a blog by Stanley Pacion.

However, once a certain age had been achieved it was expected—for the benefit of the state—that these would marry and procreate. Nonetheless, this was, once again, a mere extension of underlying male-oriented society, i.e.:

“Though encouraged into homosexuality from youth and conditioned to it by the institutions in which he lived, the law nonetheless required him to marry. Lycurgus [the legendary founder or Sparta] not only excluded bachelors from participation in the greatly appreciated naked processions of women, but also prescribed, “…in wintertime, the officers compelled them [the bachelors] to march naked themselves round the market-place, singing as they went a certain song to their own disgrace, that they justly suffered this punishment for disobeying the laws. Moreover, they were denied that respect and observance which the men paid their elders.” The need for children as well as the preservation of duty to the state inspired this contradictory legislation for Sparta.” Ibid.

The wedding night, as described by both Favio and Pancion, appears to leave a lot to be desired by modern standards:

“The wedding night also fell under the jurisdiction of Lycurgus’ legislation. In a tender passage Plutarch describes the legally prescribed ritual of consummation in Spartan society: “… she who superintended the wedding comes and clips the hair of the bride close around her head, dresses her up in mans’ clothes, and leaves her upon a mattress in the dark; afterwards comes the bridegroom, in his every-day clothes, sober and composed as having supped at the common table, and, entering privately into the room where the bride lies, unites her virgin zone, and takes her to himself; and after staying some time together, he returns composedly to his own apartment, to sleep as usual with the other young men.”” Ibid.

On the other hand, Andrew and Demetri are just discovering their attraction to one another; an attraction that is frowned upon by society (as represented by Andrew’s father), and erstwhile by the state.

Modern technology was a source of contrast explored by the author, making for some humorous observations on the part of a visiting Demetrious.

Nevertheless, for me there were a number of shortcomings. The first is that I never did catch the reason that Andrew was ‘dream-transported’ back to Sparta in the first place. Perhaps it was there and I missed it, but it was a question that stuck in my mind throughout.[1] Secondly, as pointed out by Stanley Pacion, there were some very well established and interesting reasons for Andreas and Demetrios’ loving relationship, and although these are alluded to in Dreaming Sparta, I felt they could have been further developed.

That said, Dreaming Sparta is an interesting concept, and the author does include some interesting details regarding Sparta, so it is well worth the price. Three and one-half Gerry Bees.

[1] Since I am using the same scenario in my next novel (i.e. spiritual connectedness), I was especially interested to see how the author dealt with it.


Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 15,776


To order any of my books click on the individual cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in Kindle and Nook formats. The publisher’s price is $4.95, exclusive of tax where applicable.


Thanks for dropping by!!

November 6, 2011 Posted by | Coming out, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical period, Military history | Leave a comment

Undefeated Love, by John Simpson

Readily recomended for those who enjoy an adventure with their romance.

Story blurb: Two young men fall in love just as the Nazi Party is coming into power in Germany. One man is talked into becoming involved with the S.A., and then the SS while his lover looks on horrified. When their love is discovered, both men become the victims of the institution that one of them helped protect.

Available in eBook format.

About the author: John Simpson, a Vietnam-era Veteran, has been a uniformed Police Officer of the Year, a federal agent, a federal magistrate, and an armed bodyguard to royalty and a senior government executive. He earned awards from the Vice President of the United States and the Secretary of the Treasury. John has written articles for various gay and straight magazines. John lives with his partner of 35 years and three wonderful Scott Terriers, all spoiled and a breed of canine family member that is unique in dogdom. John is also involved with the Old Catholic Church and its liberal pastoral positions on the gay community.


Review by Gerry Burnie

Until I serendipitously came across “Undefeated Love,” by John Simpson [Total-E-Bound, 2011], I hadn’t previously encountered a novel about WWII from a Nazi perspective; and definitely not a gay-Nazi perspective.

To set-up this unusual scenario, the author begins with life in pre-war Berlin(1930s); a sort of avant garde society captured dramatically by the 1966, Broadway production of “Cabaret,” a musical based on a book written by Christopher Isherwood [starring Jill Haworth—Sal Mineo’s romantic opposite—and Joel Grey], which had some barely-concealed, homosexual undertones.

From there the author gradually introduces Naziism by way of some high-ranking, sexually ambivalent SA officers (Sturmabteilung“Stormtroopers” or “Brown shirts”), the precursors to the dreaded SS-(Schutzstaffel – “Protection Squadron”), and the ambitious but well-intentioned ingénue, Kurt. He is endowed with such outstanding, ‘poster-boy’ looks that he not only attracts the attnetion of the SA officers, but also captures the heart of another young man named Stefan.

Stefan is in love with Kurt, and vice versa, but the ambitious side of Kurt sees security in the SA, and so accepts the invitation to join the staff of a SA officer with the much elevated rank of Colonel. It is a step into quicksand, of course, and with each new event Kurt is drawn ever deeper into the morass. The problem being that Stefan is inevitably drawn into the sinkhole as well, and in order to protect him Kurt is eventually forced to reveal his hidden love.


I am only generally acquainted with Hitler’s rise to power, but I do know that it was gradual and insidious—similar to the way the author has preInted it. In Simpson’s story, each event leads to the next with a sort of sinister intent, and this—along with his well-researched knowledge of the times—gives the story the degree of credibility necessary to pull it off.

I thought the violence was handled well, too. The difficulty of setting a story in the Nazi camp is to go overboard with the brutality, but Simpson has maintained a balance between glossing-it-over and sensationalizing it. Moreover, the real violence came at a later date from this story.

The characters, Kurt and Stefan, are well developed and likable, and the same can be said about their relationship, but I didn’t share the portrayal of the Nazi officers to the same extent. It wasn’t a serious flaw, and I can’t think of how I would have treated them differently, but they all seemed just a little off the mark.

There was room for a bit more drama at the ending, too, but only by a notch. Otherwise, I have no hesitation in recommending this story to those who enjoy a love story set against a despairing background. Four Gerry Bees.


Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 15,487


If you haven’t done so already, drop by Charlie Cochrane’s Live Journal and read my interview with her. Charlie is the author of the very popular Cambridge Fellows Mysteries Series.


Good ole Nor All Thy Tears is still hanging-in at #11 out of 67,000 books on the Barnes and Noble’s “Romantic Fiction” list—with Debbie Macomber and Nora Roberts.


To order it and Two Irish Lands, click on the individual covers below. Both are available in Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.


Thanks for dropping by!

October 30, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history | 1 Comment

No Apologies, by J.M. Snyder

“No Apologies” requires no apologies.


Story blurb: Donnie Novak and Jack Sterling have known each other forever. Growing up together in a small Midwestern town, they were best friends. After high school, they both enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the same time, and somehow were assigned to the same company before being stationed on the U.S.S. Oklahoma together.

One night on leave, Donnie crosses an almost imperceptible line between friendship and something more. A stolen kiss threatens to ruin what Donnie and Jack have built up together all these years, and the next morning, he can’t apologize enough.

But a squadron of Japanese bombers has their sights trained on Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row, and in the early hours of December 7, 1941, Donnie might not get a chance to set things right.

About the author: An author of gay erotic/romantic fiction, J.M. Snyder began in self-publishing and now works with Amber Allure, Aspen Mountain, eXcessica, and Torquere Presses.

Snyder’s highly erotic short gay fiction has been published online at Amazon Shorts, Eros Monthly, Ruthie’s Club, and Tit-Elation, as well as in anthologies by Alyson Books, Aspen Mountain, Cleis Press, eXcessica Publishing, Lethe Press, and Ravenous Romance.

In 2010, Snyder founded JMS Books LLC, a royalty-paying queer small press that publishes in both electronic and print format. For more information on newest releases and submission guidelines, please visit JMS Books LLC online.


Review by Gerry Burnie

Ah, young love!

“No Apologies” by J.M. Snyder, [JMS Books LLC, 2011], is a gem of a short story that captures the heart and attention right from the start. I would even go so far as to suggest that almost every gay male will be able to identify with this story from personal experience; i.e. that one buddy you fell in love with early, but didn’t know if he ‘swung that way.’ To make matters worse, he didn’t know either, and so each touch was like a prayer leading to disappointment. And then came that inevitable occasion when you crossed the line, in Donnie and Jack’s case with a furtive, liquor induced kiss, and so began the panic of losing a cherished friend on account of it.

We’ve all been there, and it is made even worse if the next morning your friend and soul mate—your hoped-for ‘lover’, even—isn’t talking or seems distant. Then the heart rending really begins, along with the guilt and the desperate attempts to make it right.

J.M. Snyder has not only captured this bittersweet situation, but he has also maintained it throughout the story until the very last paragraph. Along the way this reader was on tenterhooks wondering if young love would prevail, or if they would even survive the infamous bombing of Pearl Harbour—which was going on at the same time.

No Apologiesrequires no apologies. It is a tender love story set against the obscenity of war in a paradise. Five Bs


Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 14,468 (up 421 visits over last week).


If you are a Canadian author of gay fiction, I’d love to hear from you. Submit your book for a review, or add it to my “Best Gay Canadian Fiction” list on Goodreads.


If you have read a Canadian content book (any genre), and woud like to add it to my “Proudly Canadian” list, I’d love to welcome your input.


To order any of my books, click on the individual covers below. Nor All Thy Tears and Two Irish Lads are now available in Nook and Kindle formats. The publisher’s price is $4.95 (not including exchange and taxes where applicable).


October 9, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history, Naval historical fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The White Rajah, by Tom Williams

A fictional tale of history that could itself be fiction

Story blurb:  Invalided out of the East India Company’s army, James Brooke looks for adventure in the South China Seas. When the Sultan of Borneo asks him to help suppress a  rebellion, Brooke joins the war to support the Sultan and improve his chances of trading successfully in the area. Instead, he finds himself rewarded with his own country, Sarawak.

Determined to be an enlightened ruler who brings peace and prosperity to his people, James settles with his lover, John Williamson, in their new Eden. But piracy, racial conflict, and court plotting conspire to destroy all he has achieved. Driven from his home and a fugitive in the land he ruled, James is forced to take extreme measures to drive out his enemies.

The White Rajah is the story of a man, fighting for his life, who must choose between his beliefs and the chance of victory. Based on a true story, Brooke’s battle is a tale of adventure set against the background of a jungle world of extraordinary beauty and terrible savagery. Told through the eyes of the man who loves him and shares his dream, this is a tale of love and loss from a 19th century world that still speaks to us today.


Review by Gerry Burnie

When I first encountered the novel The White Rajah by Tom Williams [JMS Books LLC, 2010] I had never heard of this very real, historical character, James Brooke, nor his exploits. Even so, the romance the title evoked—in the sense of an Errol Flynn adventure—intrigued me.

I liked the fact that Mr. Williams chose a third-person narrator, John Williamson, and that Williamson had an intimate role to play. However, given Williamson’s lowly station in life, I found him a bit erudite for his character—although that’s not a real drawback to the story.

The story, apart from a sea voyage around the horn of Africa to the Far East, takes place in and around Borneo, of which Sarawak was a province in turmoil when Brooke arrived in 1841. Therefore the Sultan of Brunei asked for his assistance in fighting off piracy and insurgency, and as a reward he granted Brooke Governorship of Sarawak, which then became an independent state in 1842. Moreover, the Brooke dynasty retained control over Sarawak until 1946, when it
became a British Protectorate.

This is interesting stuff, factually speaking, but it has always been my fervent belief that the real story is in the personalities who made it happen, and in this regard Williams has done a fairly good job of doing so through John Williamson as narrator, and also as Brooke’s (supposed) lover.

I think he has done a fair job of capturing the base motivations of the characters: The ravenous greed of the East India Company; the politics of the Brunei Sultanate, and the conversion of an idealistic Brooke into a potentate. It is all there, and it is historically credible.

However I did find some less than credible aspects, such as Williamson’s rather incredible knowledge of the Far East in such a short time.

Nonetheless this is an enjoyable story, regardless of your knowledge of history or the time, and so it is recommended as such. Four stars.


I’m happy to announce that Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky was officially lanched August 4th, 2011, and that it will be available in eBook format shortly.


Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews: 12, 429


Progress on Coming of Age on the Trail: 172/180: Projected release date September 2011

Hope you are having an enjoyable summer!!  Reviews are updated Sunday of every week. Please drop back again.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history, Naval historical fiction | Leave a comment

Men of Honor: Pirates of the Narrow Seas, #2, by M Kei

A swashbuckling adventure and Romance

Peter Thorton and his lover set out on a quest to rescue a captive duke who is the pretender to the throne of Portugal. Thorton is arrested and placed on trial for desertion and sodomy. Men of Honor continues the further adventures of a gay officer during the Age of Sail, replete with perils, excitement, and nautical detail. Alex Beecroft, author of ‘False Colors,’ says it’s “a book which can stand comparison with C. S. Forester’s Hornblower.”

Available in eBook format

Review by Gerry Burnie

Some time ago I reviewed Pirates of the Narrow Seas 1: Sallee Rovers, and gave it a five star rating—even though I had some minor reservations about pace. I also have some reservations about M Kei’s latest in the series, Men of Honor: Pirates of the Narrow Seas, #2, [, 2010] but there are enough good things to say about it that I think I can go five stars as well.

M Kei is a good, solid writer. Therefore all the technical stuff regarding sentence and paragraph structure, as well as syntax, are a given. Likewise his descriptions—especially of things nautical—are vivid and colourful, and therefore the reader has no difficulty being transported back in time. However, since I wouldn’t know a marlin spike from a hat pin, I agree with one reviewer who observed that the tactical side of the sea battles were a bit mind boggling. On the other hand, they certainly were pulse-raising with their violent bombardments, and gratuitous blood shedding.

As regards characterization, in volume #1 I disliked Perry as being too stuffy and ambitious, liked Tangle for being swashbuckling, and sort-of liked Peter Thornton as being idealistically naïve. Shakil, of course, had just been introduced toward the end of #1, and so it was really too early to tell, In Men of Honor, however, I found Perry just as dislikeable (for the same reasons), Tangle an opportunist, and Peter just as naïve, but a little less likeable [e.g. his automaton’s sense loyalty toward the British Navy that had little toward him in the past]. Nevertheless, I believe it was the author’s intent to give Peter these less-than-ideal characteristics, and as such things like “like” and “dislike” are at the discretion of the reader.

As for Shakil, it is difficult to say. I liked him, even admired him for having a core of steel draped in velvet, but I could not quite get excited about his personality.  He just seemed too ‘perfect’ for me. However, once again I suspect the author has introduced him as much for a future reason as his role in this novel. We will see.

Altogether I have no hesitation in highly recommending Men of Honor: Pirates of the Narrow Seas, #2, as being a darned good read, and look forward to reading volume #3—the finale. Five Stars.


Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews: 12,152

Watch for the Kindle and Nook versions of Two Irish Lads coming next week. The publisher this time round is Maple Creek Media. Check them out for good service and good prices.


I have approved the interior concept for Nor all Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky, and am awaiting the final cover proof. Once both of those had been approved, it will go to press. The release date has therefore been shoved back to early August.


Progress on Coming of Age on the Trail: 145/182 – It should be ready for a September/October release.

Have a great summer!


July 24, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history | Leave a comment

Muffled Drum, by Erastes

A Romantic novel featuring handsome cavalry officers, and Erestian touches

Blurb: They met in a port-side tavern, their lust-filled moments stolen from days of marching and madness. After eighteen months, Captain Rudolph von Ratzlaff and First Lieutenant Mathias Hofmann have decided to run away from everything they hold dear. Resigning their commissions is social suicide, but there’s no other
choice. Someone will eventually see Rudolph’s partiality toward Mathias.

Now their plans have gone horribly awry… When Mathias goes to Rudolph’s tent after their last battle, his lover looks at him without a hint of recognition. Mathias can hardly believe the man he knew is gone. He wants to fill in so many of Rudolph’s missing memories, but the doctor says a shock could result in permanent damage. The pain of seeing Rudolph on a daily basis, when Rudolph doesn’t remember their love, is excruciating. Now Mathias must decide whether he wants to fight for the man he loves or forget him completely…

Available in eBook format.

About the author: Erastes is the pen name of a female author of gay historical fiction. Having circumnavigated the globe in the ’80s with nothing more than a handful of dollars and a backpack, she’s lived and worked both sides of the equator, but other than Venice she’s found nowhere she loves to live as well as the Norfolk
Broads, where she lives now—firmly under the paw of three demanding cats. Author of eight novels and more than twenty short stories, Erastes is a Lambda
award finalist and a keen lover of history. She began writing full-time after leaving the legal profession, finding it stranger than any fiction.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Having written over ten successful novels to date, it seems author Erastes has decided to challenge herself with a devilishly complex theme, i.e. loss of memory, which is what Muffled Drum [Carina Press, July 4, 2011] centres around. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, she has also chosen an obscure but bloody war, The Austro-Prussian War— 14 June – 23 August, 1866.

Although I have in  my possession a sabre/bayonet from this very era, inscribed “Cavalry de La Chat, 1867,” it is a not a war I am familiar with; nor is it a period that has been frequently exploited as a background or setting for novels

In this story, Captain Rudolph von Ratzlaff and First lieutenant Mathias Hoffman, two young, handsome, army officers, have decided to resign their commissions and run away together. However, there is one more battle to fight, and following that Hoffman follows through with his resignation, but von Ratzlaff has sustained an injury that has left him with “selective” amnesia—meaning he can remember everything except the past two years and his lover Hoffman.

As is Eraste’s wont, there are delicate touches of irony sprinkled throughout that remain on the palate until the story is finished, i.e.

The scent of sweat and horse rose up in the heat they generated. Concentrating on the unique taste and feel of Mathias’s mouth, Rudolph swore to
remember this moment throughout the day to come.
When I’m cold from the death around me, or blazing with the thunder of the charge, I will remember this—this moment. It is this that men fight for—Mathias is my reason to fight, my haven. My home.”

Such was not to be, however, and also complicating the scenario is a Frau Ratzloff & family who are waiting at home, and a predatory ex-lover whom von Ratzlaff seems to be remember for all his non-predatory charms.

However, in the end love triumphs over adversity, and so the story ends in a typically romantic fashion.


Critically speaking I give full marks for the bold tackling of a complex issue, such as a lover, still very much in love, faced with the dilemma of his partner’s amnesia—especially since the former has gambled his all for a “happy ever after” relationship.

The choice of such an interesting, but little remembered war, was also a bold but typical Erastian venture, and her attention to detail—i.e., “leutnant” for lieutenant,  and “rittmeister” for captain—add greatly to the credibility.

My one quibble (although it does not change the ranking) is that I did not find this story as compelling as some of her other novels. However, since these were five-star stories too, it is merely a matter of degree.


As a writer there are a couple of times that are particularly exciting. One of them is getting the block proof back from the publisher, as it begins to take shape, and the other is actually holding the finished product in your hand. Those are the two stages of Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky I’m awaiting just now, and so I’m right on schedule for a July release. Like most writers my books are my ‘babies’–gestation period and all–and the characters are the same. The Two Irish Lads, Sean and Partrick, are still ‘my boys’, and although Sheldon and Colin are quite different, they have a special place in my heart, too.


Meanwhile, I’m working every day on Coming of Age on the Trail–69/185 pages so far–so I predicting a release date of mid-September.


Vistor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews: 11,896

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history | Leave a comment

Secrets of Lake Simcoe: Fascinating Stories From Ontario’s Past, by Andrew Hind & Maria Da Silva

This is Canadian history that needs to be preserved as part of our culture and heritage. Three stars.

Blurb: A lively book illustrated with archival photos, Secrets of Lake Simcoe is a valuable addition to local history collections and provides a refreshing way for anyone to view what some consider to be Canada’s sixth Great Lake. At the heart of central Ontario, Lake Simcoe has played an important role in the province’s history for hundreds of years. Today a popular destination for pleasure-seekers and cottagers, it helped open up the region to explorers and fur traders, settlers and entrepreneurs. The lake has secrets aplenty and this book offers a selection of stories of dramatic episodes from the lake’s past. There are shipwrecks, stately resorts, vanished industries, forgotten forts and even murder most foul.

About the authors: MARIA DA SILVA has always had a passion for history and ghost stories. ANDREW HIND is a freelance writer who lives in Bradford, Ontario. They are co-authors of several other titles in the Amazing Stories series, most recently Rebels Against Tories in Upper Canada 1837.


Review by Gerry Burnie

*This is not a GLBT book.

Having grown up and spent most of my entire seventy-three years around Lake Simcoe, Secrets of Lake Simcoe: Fascinating Stories From Ontario’s Past by Andrew Hind and Maria Da Silva touches a nostalgic part of my heart.

As the authors point out, Lake Simcoe is an ancient lake—being the remnant of a giant inland sea that once covered the area—it has figured into nearly every aspect of eastern Canada’s history; from Pre-European times to the present. It is also known worldwide as a tourist destination for vacationers and anglers—being dubbed the “Ice Fishing Capital of the World.”

In an attempt to make it more palatable for the average reader, Hind a Da Silva have taken an anecdotal approach to the history; an approach I agree with to a certain point [a discussion on this point later]. They have therefore avoided the “great blight of academia” by giving the characters and events some personality and colour. History, after all, isn’t merely the dusty facts, figure and dates that most scholars would have us believe. Moreover, even the all-too-often named players (kings, politicians, generals and such) had some interesting quirks about them.[1] For example, John A. MacDonald had the parliamentary pages all trained to bring him a tumbler full of gin in the House of Commons, because it most resembled water.


And now to the book: There are fourteen different topics covered, in more-or-less chronological order, from “Fort Willow and the Nine Mile Portage,” c.1812, to “The Briars Resort and Spa, 1977.[2] Fort Willow was a revelation to me. I am well acquainted with the official version of the 1812 war, of course, but not the part that gravitated north to Georgian Bay. So for day-trippers this fort may make an interesting outing—see Secrets of Lake Simcoe for the location.

The Ghost Canal” might also prove interesting for folks visiting the Newmarket-Holland Landing area, where the evidence of this canal is still quite visible. It would be a great way to get the kids interested in history, and Ontario history in particular.

Not all Victorian characters were paragons of virtue (not even the Old Queen herself), and “A Real Rogue: Joseph Anderton” was a prime example of roguery. Moreover, he was also the (now) City of Barrie’s first mayor, and so you can draw your own conclusions on that. Oh, and like modern politicians, he got away with it.

And then, there is “Murder Most Foul in Morning Glory.” As I mentioned above, anecdotal history is fine provided that the facts are more-or-less correct. However, in reference to the so-called “Morning Glory murders,” I take issue with some of the stated facts.

To state my case, my great grandfather, James Burnie, owned and operated the Morning Glory Inn from c.1863 to c.1870. In fact, my grandfather, Alfred Burnie, was born at the Inn in 1869. William Sager acquired it after this, and only operated it until is burned c.1872-73. From childhood discussions with my grandfather, prior to his death in 1949, I was aware of the “murders” well before the discovery of the bones in 1971.[3] Moreover, his version of the couple’s disappearance was very different from the one related here. However, that is perhaps understandable since both versions are based on hearsay.

Apart from the foregoing, to the best of my knowledge there was never a “hamlet” named Morning Glory in the area. Certainly there is none marked on the attached map dated c. 1878[4] [see map]. The property surrounding the Morning Glory Inn was a formidable swamp; the properties to the west and south were all farmlands, and there were no “businesses” per se—in particular no “general store” or “a sawmill situated on the nearby creek.” There was a brick yard near Virginia, but it was operated by A.E. “Ted” Arnold.

Unfortunately this lowers the book’s rating from a four or five-star classification to a three, but I still want to recommend this collection of historical anecdotes for the rest of it. This is Canadian history that needs to be preserved as part of our culture and heritage. Three stars.

[1] See my discussion “Canada has a colourful and interesting history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered,”

[2] The Briars estate was originally built in 1840, but the resort and spa dates from 1970s.

[3] I was privileged to see the bones before they were sent to Toronto, and what I recall is that the man’s femur bone came well above my knee. Ergo he must have been an exceptionally tall man.

[4] Illustrated Historical Atlas of York County, Toronto: Miles and Co., 1878.


The manuscript for Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky goes to the publisher Monday. It has been three years in the making, and so it is a very satisfying time indeed. It has also taken me about ten years to learn how to create a composite photo using Photoshop. The cover design to the left is the result. The publisher was originally scheduled to design the cover, but I was concerned that their image of the main characters might not be the same as mine. These two lads are as close as I could come using stock photos. They were acquired from CanStock, which has the best collection I have found to date. The book should be ready for lat July, 2011.

Two Irish Lads is also scheduled to be released in e-book format in July. Amazon has quoted me a price of $350 – $375 to convert the ms to Kindle format. Why, I don`t know. It`s their exclusive format, and so it means more sales for them. However, Maple Creek Media has a price of $149 which includes a Nook formating as well. It also includes sumitting the finished product to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They also have a very good publishing offer, so you might be interested in checking them out.

Visitor count to Gerry B`s Book Reviews: 11,459

June 26, 2011 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

The Soldier of Raetia: Valerian’s Legion, by Heather Domin

This stoy builds gradually like an orgasm, and climaxes nicely too



Rome, 10BC. New soldier Manilus Dardanus is sent to apprentice under General Cassius Valerian in the hope of securing a military sponsorship. Dardanus is idealistic and naive, Valerian brusque and restrained – but each soon discovers the other is not what he expected. In the legion Dardanus finds purpose and strength; in Dardanus, Valerian finds hope. This bond will be tested on the northern frontier, as Valerian and Dardanus each realize the true nature of their connection just as war and betrayal threaten to end it – and possibly their lives.

Available in soft cover & Kindle formats (542KB)

Review by Gerry Burnie

Although my specialty is Canadian history, I have a great appreciation for all history, and I certainly bow to Heather Domin’s knowledge of Augustinian Rome, as demonstrated in “The Soldier of Raetia: Valerian’s Legion.

I also like her writing style. She provides just the right amount of description to make both characters and settings vivid without slowing the pace. The characters are also well developed and distinctive although I did find Elurius and Pertinax somewhat similar in nature. This applies to their respective relationships with Dardanus and Valerian, as well. The author has also made very good use of dialogue (very credible), without being contrived.  What I liked most, however, was that the story builds to a climax gradually—like an orgasm—and the climax was gratifying.

The synopsis of the story is that young Manilus Dardanus has come to Rome at his father’s insisstance. The father has arranged an introduction to the wealthy and illustrious general Marcus Cassius Valerian, who commands Augustus Caesar’s twenty-fourth legion. Crusty General Valerian is hardened by battle and tragedies of the past, and at first assumes that Dardanus is like the other sons of sycophants who have sought his favour—i.e. with the idea of an adoption in mind. Despite these reservations, valerian gives him a place within his household and arranges for him to be trained as a soldier. Theirs is an awkward relationship, but in spite of this they both undergo significant changes; Valarian re-discovers deeply buried emotions within himself, and Dardanus grows from a callow boy to a self-sufficient man. He also discovers friendships bonded from hard work and the heat of battle, as well as loyalty asa soldier and for his idol, Valerian.

Having said all that, I had some minor reservations. I certainly bow to Ms Domin’s knowledge of Roman history, but did they travel in carriages (I mean the four-wheel variety) is 10BC Rome? I don’t know, but it seemed at little ‘modern’ to me. Their were some other anachronisms aswell, For example, the phrases “working his ass off,” and “Cut them off at the pass,” also seem a bit modern. However, these certainly didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the story.

Highly recommended. Four and one-half stars.

News: Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews is currently 10,656

The rewrites of Nor All Thy Tears are progressing:137/191. To read an excerpt, click here.

A bittersweet story of love, obsession, treachery, murder, and finally solace under the northern lights of Big Sky, Saskatchewan.

(Soon to released as Nor All Thy Tears, July, 2011)

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

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

Enter a homophobic cop who is willing to go to any lengths to tie Cartwright into the crime simply because he is young, handsome and well-educated, and the stage is set for a political crisis of headling-grabbing proportions. 

May 23, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history | Leave a comment

Here’s What We’ll say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy, Reichen Lehmkuhl

A timely look at the anachronistic  ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy.




Blurb: Reichen Lehmkuhl is perhaps best known for the ambition, intelligence, and athleticism that won him the grand prize on CBS’s Amazing Race. Since winning the million-dollar prize, Lehmkuhl has gone on to find success acting in film and television. However, he played the biggest role of his life long before his professional acting debut, when he was forced to hide his sexuality to comply with the Air Force’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Here’s What We’ll Say tells the harrowing inside story of what happens when cadets who are committed to serving their nation’s military figure out that they are in fact gay. With no way out and no place to turn for protection, a new code of conduct emerged among gay and lesbian cadets that helped ensure their safety. Gathering secretly in various locations, cadets formed a hidden network. To guarantee the privacy of individuals in attendance, however, each meeting opened with, “Here’s what we’ll say…” — a pledge so sacred that the group had it inscribed on the inside of their class rings.

About the author: Reichen Lehmkuhl is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, a former captain in the Air Force, an actor, an international model, a flight instructor, winner of CBS’s Amazing Race, and a gay rights advocate. He lives in Los Angeles.

Review by Gerry Burnie

Given the current debate regarding the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy, Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy” by Reichen Lehmkuhl [Da Capo Press, 2007] is a timely topic. Regretfully those that need to read it most—the religious fundamentalists and dogmatic, small-c conservatives–will probably never see it.

Lehmkuhl’s story relates his troubled childhood; the breakup of his parents’ marriage, the feeling of not being wanted, and the psychological impact of all this. His feelings of inadequacy are also exacerbated by the stigma of living in a trailer park—i.e. the perception of being “trailer trash.” However, apart from being Lehmkuhl’s own story there is nothing unique about this. Nor is there anything about it that would necessarily be deleterious to a person’s later life. Therefore, I question the author’s choice of devoting 50% of the book to the telling of it when a quarter of the 368 pages would have said it all quite nicely.

Fortunately the second 50% somewhat redeems the prosaic first part, and finally gets down to the business of his coming out and the U.S. Air Force Academy, as stated in the title.

Although I was vaguely familiar with the discipline of a military academy, the pseudo-sadistic hazing rituals, etc., Lehmkuhl’s intimate knowledge of such has revealed much I didn’t know. For example, I knew nothing about the demeaning practice of running the “strip” [see photo to the left], which Basic Recruits are required to do between classes, or the memorizing of meaningless passages for the sake of being able to spout them on demand. It all seems rather mindless, but it is something that has worked to develop men for decades, and in the case of Westpoint Military Academy has worked since the time of Thomas Jefferson.

More odious is the systematic scourging of homosexuals at the official level; a point that ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ doesn’t address. This umbrella approach does not preclude being investigated or ‘outed’ by someone else. It also doesn’t preclude significant numbers of raunchy, virile young lads from indulging in ‘extra-curricular activities’ in spite of the risk.

To counteract this ever-present risk, Lemhkuhl describes how he founded an ad hoc brother and sisterhood, referred to as the “family,” which operated on the pragmatic basis of you lie and we’ll all swear to it, in order to protect one anothers’ asses. While one might argue the ethics of such a principle, Lemhkuhl makes a compelling argument for its validation on the basis of counteracting an even greater injustice.

Overall I found this story to be a worthwhile read on account of its look behind the anachronism of  ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. Three and one-half stars.

January 31, 2011 – A new threshold for viewership has been achieved! Thanks to you, January was the best month ever with 1,104 viewers. I am humbled by your interest, and sincere in my thanks. Gerry B.

January 29, 2011 Posted by | Autobiography, Military history, Non-fiction | 4 Comments

Achilles: A love story, by Byrne Fone

Of gods and humans, highly recommended



Story blurb: The story of the war at Troy, as Homer wrote it in the Iliad and as I re-imagine it in Achilles: A Love Story tells of a violent clash of cultures that remains for us even now a dreadful exemplar of the horrors of war and the folly of those who engage in it. But as the ancients all knew, the story of the war at Troy was also a tale of love between men-of the devotion of Achilles, unrivalled hero, terrible warrior, and so it is said in legend, the most beautiful man in the world, to another great warrior, the handsome Patroclus. Their names resound in the catalogue both of heroes and of lovers; their story remains one of the greatest, most emblematic, and earliest gay love stories ever told. In the Iliad Homer also tantalizingly hints at another love story, the love of Antilochus, son of King Nestor and Prince of Pylos, for Achilles. In Achilles: A Love Story I tell the story of Antilochus and Achilles through Antilochus’ point of view and in his first person voice, fleshing out what Homer only hints at and inventing what he does not, as it plays out against the background of the last year of the Trojan war. Achilles: A Love Story creates the story of Antilochus and Achilles, and one both epic and tragic, that has been told, so far as I know by no other writer.

About the author: In the 1970s Byrne Fone, PhD, began working in the new field of Gay Studies. At the City University of New York he introduced one of the earliest university courses in the field, in which he is a recognized pioneer, in the United States, and later taught Gay Studies at the University of Paris and at the CUNY Graduate School. His work in the field includes the largest and most comprehensive anthology of gay literature, The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature, as well as a study of early English and American gay literary history in A Road to Stonewall: Homosexuality and Homophobia in British and American Literature (Scribners). His book on Walt Whitman, Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text (S. Illinois University Press), explores both the poet’s homosexuality and how it is manifest in his poetry. His most recent study in the field is Homophobia: A History ( Holt and Picador) which examines the history of homophobia over a period covering almost two millennia. In addition to this scholarship, Fone’s interest in architectural history led him to write Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait, which is the first full-length history of the City of Hudson.


Review by Gerry Burnie

I greatly enjoy the romantic stories of legendary Greek heroes, especially if they do not shy away or gloss over the practice of pederastric love between men. Supported by both historical fact and legend, the reality is that such liaisons were encouraged as a means of schooling younger men (the “eromenos”), and bonding warriors together; first in bed and then on the battlefield—for example, The Sacred Band of Thebes. To his credit, Byrne Fone does not shy away from this topic. In fact, “Achilles: A love story” [CreateSpace, 2010] is an unapologetic celebration of male love and valour.

The story follows Homer’s poetic version of ‘The Fall of Troy’ (the Illiad), but for the semblance of detail Fone has created a fictional chronicler, Dionysos of Tenedos. It is a clever device that effectively fills-in the gaps in Homer’s overview.

Another clever device is his decision to narrate the story in the first-person voice of Antilochus, son of King Nestor of Pylos [See the excavation of his palace at right]. In Homer’s Illiad Antilochus has the unenviable task of informing Achilles of Patroclus’ death, and after his death Antilochus was the closest to Achilles. “Indeed,” as Fone notes, “the reliance becomes more intimate, for Homer says that Antilochus’ ashes were interred in the great tomb on the Trojan Shore along with those of Achilles and Patroclus. Thereafter, as Homer notes in the Odyssey, the three friends are reunited in the underworld and walk together in the eternal fields.”

Quite apart from Homer’s ageless epic, however, Professor Fone has done a masterful job of fleshing out his characters in all their heroic proportions, as well as their human weaknesses. Agememnon, for example, has been lionized as a king among kings for centuries, and yet his character is far more believable as the self-promoting, glory-seeker by which Fone has depicted him.

Similarly, the legendary Achilles may have been physically invulnerable—except for his ‘Achilles’ heel’—but emotionally he is described as being quite prone to petulance, uncontrollable rages and fathomless love. In other words he is only half divine, as Fone has realistically made him out to be.

So, if you are a devotee of history, fiction, romance, and a darned good read, I highly recommend “Achilles: A love story” as the fulfilment of them all. Five stars.

Thanks to you, Gerry B’s Book Reviews has welcomed it’s 6000th visitor–a full 1000 more than December. Thanks for your interest!

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history | 2 Comments

Sam’s Hill, by Jack Ricardo

Mr. Ricardo has a flair for historical fiction, but…




Story Blurb: A young man coming to grips with his homosexuality during the latter half of the 19th century, through four years of The Civil War, the Indian Wars with General Custer’s 7th Cavalry, into the rough and tumble town of Cheyenne and up into the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory.

*Available in Kindle format, 382KB



Review by Gerry Burnie

A revisiting of the American Civil War is not a new theme, nor is gay, Union and Confederate soldiers, but “Sam’s Hill” by Jack Ricardo [Amazon Digital Services, 2010] contains some of the best, graphic descriptions of battlefield action I have ever read; the carnage, the confusion, the fear and the impersonal killing are all there in almost tangible detail.

The plot—at least for the first half of the story—is equally well conceived with some quite unexpected twists.

Sam Cordis is a young Union volunteer from New Jersey; green, innocent, seeking to become his “own man” and heading west when the war is over, “…a mere two or three months, he was sure.”

After a taste of war, and the reality of it, i.e.

“The order came. “Tear Cartridges.”

“Sam did exactly that. He poured powder into the barrel of his musket, dropped a metal ball inside, stuffed the ramrod down to push the ball into position, and carefully placed a cap under the hammer.

“When he heard the first shot, the taut skin of his neck strangled his throat, his heart stopped. The woods began bleeding with an indistinct jumble of men in gray yelling ferociously, shooting indiscriminately. Sam wanted to run for cover. There was none. And there was no interference when he lifted his musket.

“He stayed his mind, focussed his eyes, spied his target. He couldn’t see the Rebel clearly. He didn’t know if he was young or old, an officer or a volunteer. He was merely a target. Sam aimed the weapon with ease, as if marking a jackrabbit on the banks of New Jersey’s Rampo River. He pressed the trigger and squeezed as his older brother taught, gently, caressing the tender skin of a newborn calf. The report of the musket was lost in the din.

“Sam didn’t wait to see if the ball hit its mark. He followed the example of the others, crossing the former path, running wide, stumbling, turning, reloading, firing again, this time with haste. As hastily as the enemy fired at him.”

Under such perilous circumstances men frequently bond out of necessity, and the mores of a conventional society are either relaxed or shirked in favour of a new reality. So it was with Sam and his young companion, Davie, when a tender friendship gradually blossomed into love, like a flower amidst the ruin. Just as quickly, however, it was snuffed by a sniper’s bullet, but not before Sam had discovered a love that would not be denied.

As the war dragged on Sam found himself in Savannah, Georgia, with Sherman’s army, and during a lull in the hostilities he is drawn to the docks in search of male companionship. It is a mixture of intrigue and inert desire until he encounters an older man who almost succeeds in fanning his smouldering desire into a flame. However, in an unexpected twist, he is mugged and then rescued aboard a gunboat where the stranger is first mate. Romance nearly blossoms there as well, but when the gunboat is attacked Sam is thrown overboard during the mêlée. Miraculously he is washed ashore on the coast of Florida, and making his way inland he encounters a regiment of Black, Union soldiers, who are themselves captured by Confederate forces.

A forced march then proceeds to a POW camp somewhere in South Georgia—a non-regulation compound where corruption and cruelty prevail. A “King Rat” type-of-character also rules, and he sets his sights on seducing Sam. On the other hand, Sam befriends a badly wounded youth who would otherwise die. These are the characters that will play a significant role later in the story, but for now they are certainly interesting enough.

When peace if declared Sam and the now rehabilitated youth start for their respective homes in the north, where Sam’s several family members await, but first there is another character to be met; an Indian brave named Kehoe.

To this point I would have no hesitation in giving this story a five-star rating. The journalism is first rate, the characters are interesting and credible, the action is breathtaking, and the pace compelling.

Regretfully, the second half of the story begins to bog down under the burden of characters that, in their numbers and complexities, nearly overwhelm the reader. Likewise, to accommodate each of their parts, the story looses its linearity to twist and coil around the various subplots.

There is no question that Mr. Ricardo has a flare for historical fiction, but sometimes less is more. Four stars.

Happy New Year! Thanks to you, Gerry B’s Book Reviews has reached nearly 6,000 visitors, up almost 1,000 from last month. I am humbled by your interest.

Gerry B.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history | 2 Comments

Last Good War, by Charles J. Brauner

A solid read, and a fascinating twist on history




Book blurb: The Japanese Rape of Nanking and her sneak attack on Pearl Harbor along with Nazi Germany’s villainous use of the gas ovens gave the World War Two Allies a moral justification seldom found in warfare. Yet the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have cloaked the last days of the Pacific war in endless controversy ever since. Was Japan so badly battered by August 1945 that she would have surrendered anyway? Why didn’t America explode one on a nearby deserted island and let the enemy surrender without such horrific loss of life? The Last Good War addresses these issues in a vivid and violent re-enactment of the final months of conflict.

Soon after Pearl Harbor two mature fifteen year old Canadian cousins enlist in the U. S. Navy and become radioman-gunners flying in dive-bombers in the Pacific. As seasoned combat aircrewmen off the U.S. aircraft carrier Brandywine, the two Canadians take part in a 1945 attack on the Japanese naval base across the bay from Hiroshima. The aerial battle reshapes the conduct of the war. As a result Aviation Radioman’s Mate Second Class Carson Braddock and ARM2/c Max Bryson are called upon to help the crew of the Enola Gay on their historic flight to Hiroshima. Soon after, two young Japanese sailors confront Carson and Max in combat. With great courage and ingenuity Gunner’s Mate Takijiru Sugihara and Bosun Chikonori Kaijitsu provide their country with a fresh opportunity to redress the balance of military power. A major moral decision must be made. The outcome of the war is in doubt. Indeed, Carson and Max face an enemy who is eager and able to use the most cruel weapon in anyone’s hands. And in the struggle that ensues the two cousins discover what veterans world-wide have learned from war over the last half century. What separates warring nations is their beliefs; What unites enemies on the battlefield is their courage.

About the Author: C.J. Brauner was raised in America during the depression. The death of his father in the South West Pacific led him to quit high school to fly in U.S. Navy dive-bombers during WWII. After the war he worked as an installer for N.J. Bell Tell. The G.I. Bill enabled him to earn a B.A. and a teacher’s certificate from The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He took his Masters at Columbia Univ. in NYC. In the 1950s he taught English in the Michigan public schools until he received a Fulbright Scholarship to Greece. After his wife’s death at the American Farm School in Salonica he brought his infant daughter back to the U.S. and earned his Doctorate at Stanford U. in California. His early academic career took him to Purdue U., Syracuse U., and Ohio State Univ. For 30 years he was a professor at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada where he resides with his second wife and four grown children.


Review by Gerry Burnie

If you like solid adventure and raw action that moves at a heart-pounding pace, then The Last Good War by C.J. Brauner [Trafford Publishing; Reprint edition, 2006] is right up your alley. Indeed, within the first few pages one of the protagonists, Carson Braddock, is involved in a good-ole-fashioned punch-up with a brawny Southerner; thus setting the tone for what is to come.

And for these two—including Max Bryson—there was plenty to come, i.e.

“A flurry of one-inch shells rose to meet them and mark their speed and precise direction. Black puffs from three-inch shells blossomed above and below to bracket their altitude. Five-inch shells spiralled up to their flight level for effect. Audible bursts that erupted beneath the wings rocked the blue dive-bombers like angry hands on a cradle.

““Christ,” Max Bryson commented. “They’re throwin’ up enough tonnage to beat our bomb load five to one.”

“And explosion just ahead of Carson’s banking dive-bomber sent the sizzle of hot steel rushing through the propeller arc and along the slipstream. The shredded smoke filled his cockpit with the bitter tang of cordite. Regardless of the hazard and discomfort, however, both Canadian rear-seat gunners concentrated on the final preparations for the dive.

““With gunnery like that,” Carson Braddock observed, “the bastards don’t need the proximity fuse.”

“Suddenly, a Japanese four-inch shell blew the cowling off a Helldiver in the leading flight as it dove into a narrow gorge. The wounded pilot slumped forward and struggled with the controls. The battered dive bomber banked hard as the pilot pulled the plane into a steep stall. Slowly, she flopped over on to her back, dove down, rolled right side up, and fell off into a violent spin. The fatally injured pilot smeared blood all over the inside of his cockpit canopy as he fought to gain control and unload his bombs. The five-hundred-pound bombs spilled away from the plane like pebbles from a wagon wheel. Knifing down, they exploded and the trees as the damaged wingtip began to fold.

“MAY DAY! MAY DAY!” the radio-gunner in the rear seat broadcast. “This crate is coming apart like a peeled banana!”

“In slow motion, a nylon parachute blossomed from the rear seat. Caught in the spin and the churn of the slipstream, the canopy snagged on the tail fin and wrapped the rudder and the elevators in white cloth. Wild centrifugal force tore the hlpless gunner out of the cockpit and spun him around at the end of the shroud lines in a wide and accelerating arc. Shedding cockpit covers and torn wing panels, the doomed plane dropped far into the steep and incredibly narrow valley. As the fliers above watched, the parachute’s long nylon cords whipped the your airman into the face of a cliff just before the plane crashed and exploded. Crushed like a fly on a windscreen, the inert body of Chris Foreman from Gila Bend, Arizona, clung to the sheer granite wall as flames and smoke engulfed it.

““Their luck ran out,” Chief Flannigan declared in a somber voice over the squadron frequency. “Now let’s all get back to work.””

It is this sort of ‘visual’ realism that makes this novel darkly fascinating and compelling to read. One is at once repelled by the violence and bloodshed portrayed, and yet drawn into at the same time; wondering if our young, likeable heroes’ luck can hold out against the odds.

In this regard, all the characters are well developed; however, the introduction of Miss Shirley Hashimoto seemed oddly out-of-place in an otherwise, decidedly male story. I may be a bit biased, as well, but I thought the scenes involving her were somewhat contrived.

Altogether a good solid read, and an interesting twist on history. Four-and-one-half stars.

Progress report on Coming of Age on the Trail. It is now in the hands of the editor. Probable release date, January, 2011.


November 11, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Military history, Naval historical fiction | Leave a comment

Convoys of World War II: Dangerous Missions on the North Atlantic, by Dorothy Pedersen

Canada’s almost forgotten navy

Non-fiction works of this nature are not star-rated.

Book blurb: Nine men tell their personal stories of life at sea during World War II. In extreme danger, they battled seasickness, injury, and less than comfortable living conditions while avoiding floating mines and torpedoes in their efforts to guide ships safely across the Atlantic Ocean.

About the author: When she was six years old, Dorothy Pedersen obtained a copy of Charlotte’s Web from the Clydebank Public Library, in Clydebank, Scotland. By the time she was finished the book she knew she wanted to be a writer. She came to Canada in 1964 where, alas, school teachers discouraged her from pursuing writing as a career. After an assortment of jobs she trained in equine studies and horsemanship, worked for the horse industry for a period of time, and continues to this day to write about it. Dorothy enjoys designing and creating handknits and crocheted garments, and is an animal rights supporter, and boxing fan.


Review by Gerry Burnie

Within hours of Canada’s declaration of war on September 10, 1939, the Canadian government passed laws to create the Canadian Merchant Navy to provide a workforce for wartime shipping. The Canadian Merchant Navy played a major role in the Battle of the Atlantic bolstering the allies merchant fleet due to high losses in the British Merchant Navy. Eventually thousands of Canadians served aboard hundreds of Canadian Merchant Navy ships.

That is what most history books have to say about it, but what was it like aboard one of these ships? In her prologue to Convoys of World War II: Dangerous Missions on the North Atlantic[Amazing Stories series, Altitude Press, 2007], Dorothy Pedersen gives us a glimpse us a glimpse as follows:

“’Torpedo ahead,’ the lookout yelled.

With thudding hearts, a pair of Canadian sailors watched the torpedo skim the water in front of their corvette. It was racing straight for the tanker—one of the 35 ships in their convoy and only a hundred metres away. With a deafening impact, the shock of the explosion almost blew the sailors off their ship.

“The tanker’s cargo of fuel, destined for the Allies’ war efforts in Europe, spewed into the ocean and ignited into a hissing, spitting, roaring fireball. As the tanker burned, the horrified witnesses heard only weak cries. After a short time, these too were drowned out by the thunder of the angry fire. The sailors knew there was no point in the convoy’s rescue ship sticking around.

“Escorted by armed navy vessels, the convoy of Canadian and British merchant ships raced onward, trying to put distance between them and the visible and invisible dangers of the North Atlantic. Despite the reputed safety of the pack, another of their ships was stricken quickly. Lifeboats had been lowered but some sailors barely had time to grab a life ring before hitting the frigid water. The rescue ship was ordered to stay for them as the rest of the convoy again sailed on.

“Choppy seas made the rescue agonizingly slow and difficult. Scramble nets were thrown over the side of the rescue ship for the desperate men to haul themselves aboard. Half an hour later, only a few men and boys had been saved. Many more were losing the fight with the frigid water.

“Then the order came that was even more chilling; “Abandon the rescue.” Once again under attack, the convoy had signaled for help. The rescue ship revved up its engines.

“In the ocean, the weakening hearts of the remaining sailors sank alongside their ship.”

Nature itself could also be unforgiving, as one young sailor recorded in his diary:

“What a miserable, rotten hopeless life . . . an Atlantic so rough it seems impossible that we can continue to take this unending pounding and still remain in one piece . . . hanging onto a convoy is a full-time job . . . the crew in almost a stupor from the nightmarishness of it all . . . and still we go on hour after hour.”–Frank Curry, Royal Canadian Navy, 1941 during the Battle of the Atlantic, a battle that would be called the longest in history.

Although Canada’s Merchant Navy is grouped in with the British Commonwealth’s, it is estimated that the Commonwealth merchant navies suffered 30,000 casualties from 1939 – 1945—most of those in the Battle of the Atlantic. Even so, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the merchant navy finally got recognition for their contribution to the war effort. “We really were the forgotten veterans of the unknown navy,” Earl Wagner is quoted as saying (p.68).

*September 3rd is “Merchant Navy Remembranch Day.”

Dorothy Pedersen has done as masterful job of bringing this history to our attention, and I highly recommend “Convoys of World War II” as an interesting and informative read.

This is part of my Remembrance Day tribute. A new memorywill be added each day until November 11th. Lest we forget!

November 10, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Valour At Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I, by Tom Douglas

They said that it couldn’t be done…

Non-fiction works of this kind are not star-rated

A defining moment in Canadian military history. A much-needed Allied victory. A show of valour and heroism. The battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 saw Canadian troops storm a strategic 14-kilometre long escarpment that was believed to be impregnable. This was the first time in the nation’s history that a corps-sized formation fought together as a unit under its own meticulous planning. Canadian troops persevered under heavy fire to take the ridge, demonstrating incredible discipline and bravery. The battle became a symbol of sacrifice for the young nation and a turning point in its role in the global theatre of war.

Amazing Stories Series–Altitude Press, 2007

Tom Douglas, an award-winning journalist and author, lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Gail, also an author in the Amazing Stories series. Tom’s father, Sgt. H.M. (Mel) Douglas, was part of the Invasion Force that stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Tom is a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, worked as a Communications Advisor for Veterans Affairs Canada, and has written speeches for the Minister of National Defence. Recently, he self-published a book, Some Sunny Day about his family’s experiences in Northern Ontario following his father’s return from World War II.

Review by Gerry Burnie

They said it couldn’t be done, and thousands of French and English had tried it, but four battalions of Canadians succeeded; not without 10,602 Canadian casualties, including 3,598 fatalities, however.

It was known as the “Great War,” and “The war to end all wars,” but history has proven that World War I was not the war that ended all wars. What it was, was a bitter, bloody conflict with over 15 million (combatants and civilians) killed, and 22 million wounded between July 28, 1914 and November 11, 1918.

This conflagration started with the assassination of an obscure prince, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, which led to posturing between two, now forgotten states—Austro-Hungary and Serbia. Serbia’s ally, Russia, then began to assemble troops, which brought in Germany as ally to Austro-Hungary. England and France then came to the aid of Russia, and this automatically brought Canada—as a dominion of England—into the fray.

Nevertheless, a nationalist fervour gripped Canada to aid the “Mother Land,” even though the militia numbered just over 3,000—and volunteers poured into recruiting stations so that by September of 1914, more than 30,000 set sail for England; making it the largest convoy to cross the Atlantic.

However, these patriotic young men who had dreamed of glory in a far off land soon learned that they had been sold a bill of goods, and that there was nothing glorious about existing like an animal in filthy, disease-ridden trenches that scarred the landscape, or seeing your friend—or lover—blown to bits by an enemy mortar shell.

Indeed, the recruiting posters showing clean-cut lads in freshly pressed uniforms sipping wine at outdoor cafés in Paris didn’t contain any scenes of a corpse-strewn no-man’s land—that stretch of barren ground that separated the trenches between the two opposing sides. “Nor were there any close-ups of a diseased rat crawling over your face as you tried to grab a few hours’ sleep before having to go “over the top” to raid the enemy trench just a few metres away from yours.”

“No mention of German snipers waiting for you to emerge from the relative safety of a muddy shell hole so that he could blow your head off. No depiction of life in the trenches, where foot rot, lice, and the stench of death were your constant companions,”

Vimy Ridge was a promontory near the River Aisne where, after a failed attempt to take Paris, the Germans were ordered to dig in to protect themselves. When the allies realized that the German trenches were a formidable obstacle, they dug in as well.

“After a few months the opposing trenches stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier. For the next three years, neither side was able to advance more than a few kilometres along the line that came to be known as the Western Front. But living conditions in what amounted to little more than deep ditches wasn’t anything like the cozy bungalows or college dorms or rural family homesteads the young Canadians had left behind.”

Life in the Trenches

As part of this introduction to the battle, Author Tom Douglas describes the conditions:

“[N]o story about World War I—and in particular the magnificent achievement of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge—would be complete without a basic understanding of these inhuman and seemingly insurmountable obstacles that had to be overcome on the road to victory.

“The excavations along the Western Front were built in threes—the front line, support, and reserve trenches. This trio of long, snake-like ditches covered between 220 and 550 metres of ground from front to back and could wind for several kilometres across the terrain parallel to the enemy fortifications.”

“Running perpendicular to these channels were communication trenches for fresh troops, equipment, and supplies to move up the line and wounded soldiers to be taken to the rear.”

The trench was too deep to allow its occupants to be seen over the top, so a small ledge called a fire-step was added. The soldiers would crouch down on this protrusion, then pop up to take potshots at the enemy before ducking down quickly to avoid having their heads blown off by a camouflaged sniper who’d been lying motionless for hours in no man’s land.”

“The front-line trenches were protected by gigantic bales of barbed wire placed far enough forward to prevent the enemy from getting within grenade-lobbing distance. So impenetrable and tangled were these obstacles that they acted like the steel web of a monstrous spider, impaling any hapless soldier who came close enough to get tangled in the trap. Before a battle troops would be sent out with wire cutters to chop a path through the razor-sharp wire. It was one of the more hazardous duties to perform because of those ever-present snipers.”

 To make matters more difficult the Germans occupied the high ground, forcing the attacking allies to charge uphill while loaded down with weapons and equipment. Moreover, the allies—French, British and Canadians—were only a few feet above sea level, and would frequently find themselves standing ankle deep in water.

“Waterlogged trenches meant wet feet for days and weeks on end—and wet feet led to frostbite or the dreaded trench foot that, if left untreated, could result in amputation.”

“Dysentery was another killer that accounted for thousands of death in the trenches. Needless to say, sanitary conditions in these waterlogged ditches were appalling. Latrines were dug behind the lines, but these soon filled up and spilled into the trenches. In addition, many of those excavations had been dug in areas were corpses from earlier battles had been hastily buried, and the decaying bodies were another source of deadly germs.”

“A steady diet of canned beef, mouldy biscuits, boiled sweets, and coffee made from ground turnips left the men susceptible to boils, scabies, and other skin eruptions.”

As the author points out, a great number of soldiers suffered from mental illness after weeks and months of living under such conditions. The term “shell shock” was coined to describe this condition, but many officers and even doctors refused this as a reason to remove the victims from the battle front.

“The rallying cry “for king and country” soon took on a cynical overtone.”

The Author then goes on to document the charge up Vimy Ridge from the personal perspective of the soldiers and officers who took part; many of them being awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery—some posthumously.

At this time of remembrance, this is Canadian history that should not—cannot be forgotten. If a country’s history forms its heritage, then this is what we are all about.

This is my Remembrance Day tribute. A new memorywill be added every day until November 11th. Lest we forget!

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | 5 Comments

The Book of War Letters: 100 Years of Private Canadian Correspondence by Audrey and Paul Grescoe

Those who do not heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes…




book of war lettersPublisher’s blurb: Duress – the extreme experience war produces – brings out the most remarkable human qualities, and letters written in wartime contain some of the most intense emotion imaginable. This anthology includes letters that date as far back as the Boer War (which began in 1899) and extend up to 2002, when Canadian peacekeepers served in Afghanistan. Between are letters from the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and a number of peacekeeping missions. It contains some of the most powerful writing that Canadians – whether reassuring loved ones, recounting the bitter reality of battle, or describing the appalling conditions of combat–have ever committed to the page.
The letters Canadians have written during wartime are proud and self-deprecating, stoic and complaining, brave and fearful, tender and violent, funny and poignant. The Book of War Letters tells us something about what it means to be Canadian, and what it means to be alive.

About the Authors

Paul Grescoe has been chronicling Western Canadian entrepreneurs for decades–from the legendary Vancouver billionaire Jim Pattison (“Jimmy”) to the Winnipeg couple who founded the Harlequin romance empire (“The Merchants of Venus”). With his wife, Audrey, he is also a compiler of three recent volumes of private correspondence that illuminate Canadian history. The Grescoes live on Bowen Island, a world away from the rest of British Columbia.

Audrey Grescoe has been a freelance journalist and a newspaper and magazine editor; more recently she has written books on travel and nature.
Paul Grescoe has contributed to most of the major Canadian magazines and has also written books, including detective novels and “The Merchants of Venus, about the Harlequin publishing empire. They live on Bowen Island, near Vancouver, B.C.


Review by Gerry Burnie

The Book of War Letters: 100 Years of Private Canadian Correspondence [McClelland & Stewart, 2005] is the second of a three-part series by the husband and wife team of Paul and Audrey Grescoe; the other parts being: The Book of Letters and The Book of Love Letters.

As I have oft stated in the past, it is a real cause for celebration when I come across personal journals, first hand observations, or in this case letters that tell us things about our ancestors and our past that history books can only hint at. Moreover, the several generations covered in this collection may be the last to speak in such a manner, for telephone calls cannot be bundled and e-mails can’t take us back to our ancestors’ ways of behaving and thinking and viewing the world.

This is a monumental work (442 pages of letter) from the Boer War, 1899-1902, The Great War, 1914-1918, The Second World War, 1939-1945, Korea. 1950-1953, The various “Peacekeeping” missions, 1954—, and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, 2003—. However, these should not be viewed as just “war” correspondence, for they cover the gamut of emotions from patriotism to disillusionment; from protestations of love to “dear John letters; from “fear” lurking between the lines to reassurance for the folks back home. They are also happy-go-lucky, sad, resigned, and condoling when written by an officer or chaplain regarding a casualty.

Of course they all contain the admonition that “war is hell,” but the difference here is that this was written by individuals, boys, men, women, who were there, i.e.

About 1:30 the bombardment increased to an indescribable intensity, and shrapnel began bursting overhead. Through the din we could hear bullets whistling over the trench with a sound like the strings of a violin touched sharply and the beating of a gigantic bass drum. Word came down that the Germans were coming over, and we all got up and went back up the trench. The colonel was ahead up on the parapet waving on his men—a hero to the last. The bombardment stopped as suddenly as it begun. Instead the air was cleft and cut and sawed by millions of machine gun bullets. What they saw going on up the trench seemed to madden the fellows. We passed a man with a hole through both ankles, walking toward us. Another with both legs shot off at the hips, fast bleeding to death looking at us in mute appeal as we stepped over his mangled body. An then—but what’s the use—there were hundreds, one as bad as the other … I say we were maddened. It was not bravery nor bravado, nor patriotism, nor fear of being shot that drove us on … I think it was animal instinct and vengeance that prodded us on…

Barlow [Whiteside], July 1916

Having read this message written nearly 100 years ago, the question it has to raise is: Why do so-called ‘civilized’ nations, leaders, men and women continue this barbarous way of settling disagreements? Perhaps it might be of some good to send them all a copy of this outstanding look at the human side of war–with but one word emblazoned on the dust cover, i.e. “Why?”

The Book of War Letters is highly recommended for history buffs, writer and scholars specializing in military history, and for all those who have an interest and fascination in human nature.


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

It is a collection of little-known people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  Springhill Nova Scotia Mine Disaster – Oct. 23, 1958“The Springhill Bump”


If you would like to learn more about my other 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.




Get an autographed copy of my e-books, Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears throughAuthorgraph. Click on the link below to learn how.

Get your e-book signed by Gerry Burnie

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.

June 20, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, non GBLT, Non-fiction, War correspondence | Leave a comment

Sam Steele: The Wild Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie by Holly Quan

It should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country



Once or twice in our lives, some of us are lucky enough to witness or even to participate in an event of historical importance. Sam Steele made a career of it. During the pioneering years of the Canadian West, Sam Steele was not only present but took an active role in virtually every significant historical event. Sam Steele was an adventurer and a heroic figure who commanded awe and respect. He just did the right thing. At the right time. In the right place.

About the Author: Holly Quan lives in the foothills of southwestern Alberta among the poplars and coyotes. She’s the author of two guide books, in addition to writing magazine articles on travel, food, horses, marketing, and whatever else piques her interest. When she’s not working on her novel manuscript – a work now many years in the making – she loves to ski, ride, hike, swim, drink wine with her friends, and howl at the moon.


Review by Gerry Burnie

The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colourful history, or, indeed, real life adventurers the equal to Pat Garrett and Davy Crockett. Moreover, Holly Quan’s brief biography, Sam Steele: The Wild West Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie (Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2003) makes a good appetizer for larger and more detailed biographies, including Sam Steele’s own autobiography: Forty years in Canada: reminiscences of the great north-west (sadly not listed for sale on

Samuel Benfield Steele was born on the family farm in 1851 in Simcoe County, Upper Canada (now Ontario), and spent much of his youth in the nearby Town of Orillia learning to ride and other useful skills that would serve him well in his later life. At age 14-years he enlisted in the militia formed to guard against Fenian cross-border raids, and from there he volunteered for the federal militia called together to restore order with the Métis in what is now Manitoba.

“The journey was an exercise in endurance,” writes Quan: “The troops marched across southern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, where they boarded ships bound across Lake Superior to what is now Thunder Bay. That was the easy part. From the lakehead, 965 kilometres (600 miles) of rock, rivers, muskeg, and heavy forest lay between the troops and their destination, Fort Garry on the Red River (now Winnipeg). There was no railway yet, and the road was nothing more than a trail blazed through the bogs and bush. In fact, for the most part the “road” was a water route of interconnected lakes and streams with numerous difficult portages through mud, swamps, and dense forest.”

Unfortunately, for Sam, the uprising was over by the time they arrived so the troops turned around and marched back to Ontario again. However, Sam stayed with the militia—now promoted to corporal at age nineteen—but when the new provincial government was in place the militia was disbanded as well. Nevertheless, the new Canadian government decided it wanted its own army to replace the British troops, traditional peacekeepers, and Sam quickly joined the recently established Canadian army—being the 23rd person to do so.

Two years later however, in 1873, the federal government established a mounted police force for the West, the North West Mounted Police, and Sam saw his chance to get back to his beloved frontier. Therefore, in 1874 the now Sergeant Major Steele (age 23) began one of the most rugged marches that have ever taken place in Canada, across the vast, uncharted territory of the West.

“The going was tough for the already beleaguered group. Grasshoppers razed the grass, and rain turned the wagon track to deep mud. Quicksand was another hazard many men had never experienced. Sam, among the strongest in the troop, was continually called on to help wrestle horses, oxen, and cattle of boggy deathtraps.”

That was only part of the adventure. Having little grass to eat the horses became so weak that they frequently collapsed in their tracks. Therefore the men had to lift them and encourage them to walk a bit further before collapsing again. This prompted one of them to quip. “I thought I’d have an easy ride to the Rockies with a good horse to carry me. Instead I’m having a tough walk to Edmonton, with me carrying the horse.”

The march to Edmonton, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), ended on October 31, 1874, but not without one last struggle with nature.

“Sam was preparing for sleep when someone shouted that a horse was in trouble in a nearby creek. Grabbing a rope, he waded into the ice-cold stream and deftly passed the rope around the struggling horse, tossing the other end to men on the bank. But before Sam could get out of the water, the horse slipped, dragging Sam and several men down. In the dark, with only moments before men and horse succumbed to the freezing current, the quick-thinking man made it out of the water, then he hauled the next man out, and so on, until troops and horse were all free of the ice and water.”

This, then, was the stuff Sam Steele was made of, and only the beginning of his remarkable career that included chasing criminals, defying native leaders, upholding the law—and having the time of his life. Indeed, he saw the establishment of a nation, the signing of treaties, the resolution of a rebellion, the building of a railway, war in South Africa, and action in WWI.

In my opinion this bit of Canadian history should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country, for therein is the essence of Canadian pioneer culture: Dedication, adherence to standards and perseverance.

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March 14, 2010 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, Non-fiction | 1 Comment


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