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! 

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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!

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

The Way of Men, by Jack Donovan

The difference between a ‘good’ man, and good at being a ‘man.’

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Click on thr cover to purchase

Click on thr cover to purchase

Blurb: The so-called experts give the answers that suit their masters. They tell just-so stories to protect their ideology, their religion, their way of life. They look to women for a nod of approval before speaking. They give socially acceptable answers and half-truths.

If what they have to say resonates with men, it is only because they manage to hint at the real answer.

The real answer is that The Way of Men is The Way of The Gang.

Manliness — being good at being a man — isn’t about impressing women. That’s a side effect of manliness.

Manliness isn’t about being a good man. There are plenty of bad guys – real jerks –who are manlier than you are, and you know it.

Manliness is about demonstrating to other men that you have what it takes to survive tough times.

Manliness is about our primal nature. It’s about what men have always needed from each other if they wanted to win struggles against nature, and against other men.

The Way of Men describes the four tactical virtues of the survival gang.

The Way of Men explains what men want, and why they are rapidly disengaging from our child-proofed modern world.

The Way of Men examines the alternatives, and sketches a path out of our “bonobo masturbation society” through a new Dark Age.

About the author: Jack Donovan is an American author known for his writing on masculinity and for his criticisms of feminism and gay culture.

Donovan is currently a contributor to AlternativeRight.com, Counter-Currents, and anti-feminist, men’s rights blog The Spearhead.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

When I first saw the title The Way of Men, by Jack Donovan [Dissonant Hum, April 10, 2012], I thought, “Oh dear … This is a mine field if ever I saw one,” for a topic like this can either be a rehashing of grievances against feminists, or brilliantly insightful, or someplace in between. In this case it’s a bit of all three.

Donovan’s thesis proposes that there is a (gaping) difference between being a ‘man’ and being a ‘masculine man,’ i.e. “A man who is more concerned with being a good man than being good at being a man makes a very well behaved slave.”

As a paradigm he goes back to the roots of masculine culture, whereby men travelled in well-defined cohorts for friendship, protection, and hunting, and although these proclivities have been discouraged in favour of domestication and gender-blurring, some traces still survive.

The bottom line is that innate gender differences do exist, have existed, and in spite of unprecedented and frequently insidious emasculation and feminization, will always exist.

The wider state does not escape Donovan’s looking glass, either. For, apart from times of war, it has a stake in maintaining the “well behaved slave.” Bonobo men are not inclined to fit comfortably into ‘le system’ or to give socially acceptable answers and half-truths, and so they are shunned as renegades and/or shit-disturbers.

If any of this rings a bell with you, you might want to grab a copy of Jack Donovan’s thought-provoking dissertation. Four bees.

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Interested in Canadian history?

Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.  It is a collection of people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  CC1 and CC2 — British Columbia’s Submarine Fleet.

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Visit my other blog, too: “Stop the Bull!”

Its a lively commentary on whatever happens to be current. Here’s an example:

Click on this cartoon to go to the blog.

Click on this cartoon to go to the blog.

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Notice to all those who have requested a book reviewThank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.Thanks again!

 

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August 4, 2014 Posted by | Academic study, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | | Leave a comment

Stanley Park: A Novel, by Timothy Taylor

A fun, slightly tongue in cheek, read that scores more times than misses.

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Click on the above cover to purchase.

Click on the above cover to purchase.

Story blurb: Jeremy Papier is a Vancouver chef and restaurateur who owns a bistro called The Monkey’s Paw. The novel uses a “Bloods vs. Crips” metaphor for the philosophical conflict between chefs such as Papier, who favour local ingredients and menus, and those such as his nemesis Dante Beale, who favour a hip, globalized, “post-national” fusion cuisine.

Papier also endures conflict with his father, an anthropologist studying homelessness in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, who draws him into investigating the death of two children in the park.

About the author: Timothy Taylor is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. Born in Venezuela, he was raised in West Vancouver, British Columbia and Edmonton, Alberta. Taylor attended the University of Alberta and Queen’s University, and lived for some years in Toronto, Ontario. In 1987 he returned to British Columbia. Taylor currently resides in Vancouver.

Taylor’s short story “Doves of Townsend” won the Journey Prize in 2000. He had two other stories on the competition’s final shortlist that year, and is to date the only writer ever to have three short stories compete for the prize in the same year. He subsequently served as a judge for the 2003 award.

His debut novel, Stanley Park, nominated for the Giller Prize and chosen to be the 2004 One Book, One Vancouver, was followed by Silent Cruise, a collection of eight stories and one novella.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. Ranked among the worlds most  outstanding parks

Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. Ranked among the worlds most outstanding parks

Two things attracted me to Stanley Park: A Novel by Timothy Taylor [Counterpoint; Reprint edition, September 25, 2003]: It’s Canadian through and through, and it’s about food.

I’m a self-confessed—and self-described, ‘foodie.’ Not the faddy fusion foods, or the trendy I-eat-it-because-it’s-the-thing-to-do dishes, but good, well-prepared standard fare. I think I may be a ‘Blood’ too (as apposed to a ‘Crip’), but I must confess I have no idea what these two terms mean, let alone their derivation.

Taylor’s novel has three lines of focus: Food, Stanley Park, and corporate domination. Regarding food, his attention to, and reverence for, the preparation of imaginative dishes may be a bit slow reading for non-foodies, but otherwise it’s entirely in keeping with the theme. It is also, in some ways, a metaphor for dedication and loyalty to a conviction in spite of forces to the contrary.

'Gastown'. Vancouver, British Columbia. One of the best known downtown neighbourhoods.

‘Gastown’. Vancouver, British Columbia. One of the best known downtown neighbourhoods.

Regarding Stanley Park, one can hardly discuss Vancouver without including ‘Gastown’ or Stanley Park. To Vancouver it is what High Park is to New York, so it is quite natural that the author would lavish it with detail—to put it on the map, so-to-speak. And what other way is more appropriate, or imaginative, than to have the main character Jeremy Papier’s father live there studying the homeless.

The imaginative choice of names is clever, too—i.e. Jeremy Papier (“Jeremy Paper”) and Dante Beale (owner of “Dante’s Inferno”). I have long maintained that authors don’t give quite enough consideration to names. In my opinion, they are as important as choosing just the right descriptor for anything else. In any event, Beale is corporate-lowest-common-denominator-mentality personified, and Taylor has a great deal of fun tweaking this concept (while take a well-deserved pop-shot at Starbucks.)

Whether these three somewhat disparate themes stitch together effectively is a matter of opinion. They worked reasonably well for me, although I must admit some disorientation at times. Nonetheless, there have been comments expressed on both sides of the discussion.

What I found didn’t work—although I understand the author’s wish to include it as a bit of local lore—is the unsolved discovery of the two skeletons in the park. It is a sub-plot that just didn’t fit, and left this reader looking for a resolution that didn’t come.

Altogether, it’s a fun, slightly tongue in cheek, read that scores more times than misses. Four bees.

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Interested in Canadian history?

Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.  It is a collection of people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  Pioneer education in Canada, Part II: Taught to the tune of the hickory stick.

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July 28, 2014 Posted by | Canadian content, Fiction, non-GLBT | , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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Review by Gerry Burnie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If you would like to learn more about my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

        

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

White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America, by Don Jordan, Michael Walsh

The ‘lost slaves’ of history brought to the fore by two distinguished journalists. A truly fascinating read.

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white cargo - coverStory blurb: White Cargo is the forgotten story of the thousands of Britons who lived and died in bondage in Britain’s American colonies.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more than 300,000 white people were shipped to America as slaves. Urchins were swept up from London’s streets to labor in the tobacco fields, where life expectancy was no more than two years. Brothels were raided to provide “breeders” for Virginia. Hopeful migrants were duped into signing as indentured servants, unaware they would become personal property who could be bought, sold, and even gambled away. Transported convicts were paraded for sale like livestock.

Drawing on letters crying for help, diaries, and court and government archives, Don Jordan and Michael Walsh demonstrate that the brutalities usually associated with black slavery alone were perpetrated on whites throughout British rule. The trade ended with American independence, but the British still tried to sell convicts in their former colonies, which prompted one of the most audacious plots in Anglo-American history.

This is a saga of exploration and cruelty spanning 170 years that has been submerged under the overwhelming memory of black slavery. White Cargo brings the brutal, uncomfortable story to the surface.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Yes, I know, today is St. Patrick’s Day: a day when we celebrate an Irish saint who was born in Rome, who wore blue (not green), and who didn’t really drive all the snakes out of Ireland because there weren’t any to begin with. However, green beer and silliness aside, the history of Ireland and its people has been (unfortunately) far from celebratory, and Don Jordan and Michael Walsh (two distinguished journalists) have brought yet another dark chapter to light in their  extensively-researched book, White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America [NYU Press, March 8, 2008].

white cargo - prisonersI first became aware of “white slavery” when I was reviewing The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England, by Diane Rapaport, and in it she cited the case of two Irish lads (11 and perhaps 14) who were kidnapped from their beds and brought to Massachusetts as indentured “servants.”  They were sold to a magistrate to work on his estate, and some years later they appealed to the court (on which their master sat) for relief from their servitude. They lost.

Thereafter, I mentioned this case to several people who were utterly shocked that such a thing could happen.

But happen it did, and in great numbers. It began when James I sold 30,000 prisoners to the American colonies as slaves, and in 1625 he proclaimed that Irish political prisoners were to be transported to the West Indies. Therefore, by the mid 1600s Irish slaves amounted to 70% of the population of Montserrat. Moreover, in the early days of slavery in the New England colonies, the majority of slaves were actually white.

white cargo - slave adIreland was the main source. In the decade following the failed Irish Rebellion of 1641, it is estimated that 300,000 Irish rebels were sold as slaves, and thereafter 100,000 children between the ages of 10 to 14 were taken from their parents, 52,000 (mostly women and children) were sold, and 32,000 men and boys went to the highest bidder in slave market from the West Indies, to Virginia and New England.

The African slave trade was just beginning during this period, and African slaves were therefore more expensive, i.e. £50 sterling (compared to £5 sterling), and so white slaves were often treated more harshly than the other. Moreover, it was quite legal for Blacks and Indians to own white slaves. In fact, the practice became so prevalent that the Virginia Assembly passed a law prohibiting it, i.e. “It is enacted that noe negro or Indian though baptized and enjoyned their owne freedome shall be capable of any such purchase of christians…” ~ Statutes of the Virginia Assembly, Vol. 2, pp. 280-81.

This is a fascinating read with enough research to make it reliable, but written in a journalist’s easy-to-read fashion. Highly recommended. Five bees.

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

 It is a collection of people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post: Today’s history curriculum is “bound for boredom” ~ Bill Bigelow

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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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March 17, 2014 Posted by | American History, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

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

The Real Deal….

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

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

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

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

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Review by Gerry Burnie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: All photographs by Adam Jahiel.

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Thanks again!

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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: Overlanders of 1862.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by. Happy Canada Day to all.

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

Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson, Jr.

A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history  equal to any in the world for colour, drama and interest.

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grass - coverStory blurb: Three cowhands with a dream of owning a cattle ranch make a heroic pioneer trek across uncharted mountain ranges to open up the frontier grasslands in northern British Columbia during the early 1930s.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Considering that my next novel is partially set in the same district of British Columbia as Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. [McClelland & Stewart, 1978], I can hardly believe I hadn’t  found it until now.

In my own story (based on an actual cattle drive from Hanceville, B.C. to Teslin, Yukon, in 1898), one of the things I worried about was that people wouldn’t believe 10-foot snowfalls—on the flat—and surviving minus-forty degree temperatures, but those are really rather tame compared to what Hobson and his partner endured in real life.

The first thing to emphasize about this story is that it is true pioneer history–with allowances for the cowboy’s tendency to exaggerate–made at a time when there was still room for a man to shape his destiny with courage, hard work and determination. That is to say, it probably wouldn’t be possible today, given all the emasculating government rules and regulations. For one thing, you’d probably need a building permit to build a simple shelter.

In addition, adventurers like Hobson, Stanley Blum, and ‘Panhandle’ Phillips, are harder to find these days, as is their ability to withstand hardship—the rougher the better. As they say, “They just don’t make them like they used to.”

grass - chilcotin2The basic tale is about Hobson and Panhandle setting out from Wyoming to the wilds of British Columbia to find a goldmine in “Free grass reachin’ north into unknown country. Land— lots of it— untouched— just waitin’ for hungry cows, and some buckaroos that can ride and have guts enough to put her over.”

So with little more than that, they head for Canada in  an obsolete panel delivery Ford, distinguished by large printed letters across its body, “BOLOGNA— BLOATERS— BLOOD SAUSAGES.”

Across the border they followed the “Old Cariboo Trail’ (the ‘ Trail of  ’98’), which:

Wound its way for more than a hundred miles along the face of a cliff, with the Fraser River twisting like a tiny thread through the rocky gorge a thousand feet below. In places small slides blocked the highway, and we shovelled enough rock out of the way to carry on. Once a driver, whom we nearly pushed over the bank, found it necessary to back up a hundred yards to a place in the road where we could squeeze by him. We thanked him.

grass - black wolf2“That’s all right,” he said, “but watch it ahead— the road narrows up.”

That was merely the beginning!

Following that they endured frost bitten feet; warded off giant, killer black wolves circling the camp; survived when the waters under the frozen ice sucked them and their cattle and horses down into the freezing deep hole; stared a Grizzly down; and gambled the horses and cattle could make it across ice encrusted snow 20-feet deep below.

It should also be added that there are no offensive bits to navigate, and so it is appropriate for children—in fact I encourage you to share the history with them. Let them know that Canada has a history equal of any in the world in colour and drama. Five (solid) bees.

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Visitor’s count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 45,653

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thank you for dropping by! I’m very excited about this week’s find, and I hope you enjoy it too.

February 25, 2013 Posted by | biography, British Columbia history, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Historical period, Homesteading in Canada, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 4 Comments

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

Bookshelf copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review by Gerry Burnie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 40, 290

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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!

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

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


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

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

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

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.

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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.

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

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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!

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

It is a collection of 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”.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

       

Thanks for dropping by. I’d love to hear from you so I can express my thanks personally. It’s easy to do. Just send a note to gerrybbooks@yahoo.ca, 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

Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan

 

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

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

Available is paperback & hardcover – 223

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

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

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Review by Gerry Burnie

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

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

Adam and Eve of the Cattle Kingdom

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

English Stallion for Red River

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

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

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

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

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

The Trail from Stowaway to Cattle King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notice to all those who have requested book reviews

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

Thanks again!

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by. Your interest is what I work for.

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

To Wawa With Love, by Tom Douglas

My nomination (if I had one) for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour –

Story blurb: When Tom Douglas’s father returned home after the Second World War, he was forced to move his family from Sault Ste. Marie north to Wawa, where he was the timekeeper at the Helen Mine. Although his parents were upset by the move, Tom was thrilled. In the forties, Wawa was still a wooden-sidewalked mud wallow of a mining town, and for a city kid, nothing could have been more exciting.

To Wawa with Love is a nostalgic collection of true stories about a time in northern Ontario that still exists only in the author’s imagination. These are light-hearted stories about a town teeming with colourful characters, like Doc MacTavish, Wawa’s veterinarian and part-time dentist; magical places, like the Lions Club Hall, where a quarter could buy a kid an afternoon at the movies; and comical adventures, like the rescue of Rocky Mitchell from the bottom of the school outhouse on a sub-zero January day.

These warm and humorous vignettes about the way life used to be will delight readers of all ages.

Available in paperback only – 156 pages

About the author: 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. He has also worked with The Canadian Press and served as the publisher/owner of a weekly newspaper in Australia.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I have long admired Tom Douglas for his writings on the topic of Canadian military history [see my review of Valour at Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I], but I do believe To Wawa With Love, [Lorimer Press, 2012]—a charming, witty and hilarious collection of intimate tales—has to be my favourite for the following reasons:

Apart from the socio-economic impact of the returning troops, and the sudden demand for post-war housing, etc. (mundane topics devoid of any real colour or humanity) there are very few portraits of the men (and women) themselves, or of their families.[1] In this short memoir, Tom Douglas has done his bit to address the oversight, stating: “I have set down these few memories about that time and place in an effort to prevent it all from slipping away, without a trace down a sinkhole of history.” p.8

And what did the families think? Well, in young Thomas Douglas’ case—pumped on gangster movies etc, and not having seen his father in five years—he was convinced he was a murderer who had somehow beguiled his mother and was about to murder them all—except that young Thomas was ‘on to him,’ and ready to spring into action at any given moment.

Mind you, his younger brother Greg had no problem adjusting, but as the author points out, “My brother Greg sold out for a pair of white boots. He always did come cheap.

There was a slight pause in the pending drama to accommodate the adventure of moving to “Sinterville,” a company dormitory community near Wawa, Ontario. It was little more than a huddle of temporary housing set in close proximity to the mine, where:

The lung-searing sulphur fumes rolled in on the wind. Those who dared venture out of their clapboard shelters tied handkerchiefs over their mouths to prevent a fit of gagging and choking. Tears streaming down their cheeks, the hapless victims of this latest gas attack dashed from one spot to another, hurrying to do whatever had to be done.

“As the sun came up, vaporizing the puddles of overnight rain, the sulphurous air turned steamy and dank, inviting another onslaught of blackflies and mosquitoes that left everyone in their murderous path covered in bleeding sores.

“If the supply train had managed to get through that morning, chances were that the bread was mouldy and the milk sour from sitting in an unrefrigerated boxcar while the crew strained to remove a rock-slide or fallen tree from the railway tracks that provided the lifeline from the civilized south.”

And yet, to young Thomas it was an adventure where he would hone his bargaining skills by talking the local merchant into a 100% increase in his weekly wage (from $1 to $2.00); become a singing sensation at the Christmas concerts; be a white knight for his younger brother (even if he did have to bite the bully’s finger to get the upper “hand,” so to speak); and rescue one of his classmates from the depths of an outhouse hole, e.g.

You’ll never know what being really miserable is until you’ve had to sit in an unheated outhouse in forty-below weather. And I’m talking Fahrenheit, where water freezes at thirty-two degrees about the zero mark.”p.49

I was seated at my desk, staring out my window at the whirling snow and mentally mushing my huskies to the nearest outpost with a bottle of lifesaving medicine in a leather pouch slung over my shoulder. Suddenly, I became aware of Miss Grexton standing there with a slight smile on her face, waiting for my reply.

““I was asking you, my little daydreamer, if you’d mind going to see what’s keeping Rocky,” she repeated. “He’s been gone an awfully long time.”

“After a hazardous five-hour trek, that in reality lasted about thirty seconds, I reached the outpost, having had to shoot and eat all of my sled dogs along the way. Well, okay, I actually polished off the remains of a peanut butter sandwich I’d found in my pocket. I scrabbled the wooden door of the outhouse open with ice-numbed fingers and peered inside the unlit cubical. Where Rocky should have been sitting in frigid misery, there were two empty “thrones.” Too young to realize there was something amiss, I let the spring-loaded door slam back into place and turned to run back to the warmth of the classroom with the news that Rocky wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

“Lucky for him, the perpetually howling wind died down just then, and I heard a faint, eerie call for help from inside the ice palace. Prying  open the door once again, I tentatively called out, “Rocky?” and almost ran for cover when I was answered by a disembodied voice wailing, “Down here!””p.54

“Only in Sinterville,” you say, well there’s even more to read for your amusement and edification in To Wawa With Love.” Do get yourself a copy. You’ll be glad you did. Five bees.

Note: For more colourful Canadian history, go to my reviews at: https://gerrycan.wordpress.com/?s=amazing+stories, or http://www.lorimer.ca/adults/#

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 26,188

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An announcement regarding  Coming of Age on the Trail.

I’ve never thought of myself as being particularly ‘verbose’, but the more I work the new novel, Coming of Age on the Trail, it keeps getting longer. It is now up to 115,248 words, and growing, and so I have decided to publish it as a two-part series.

This is in keeping with the advice that a novel–especially in the western genre–should ideally be in the 90,000-word range. Personally, I don’t know how valid this is [perhaps someone could tell me] but it does make sense in this abbreviated world, where everything is in “tweet” size. Therefore, Part One should be out this summer, and Part Two should follow in the fall (ideally for the Christmas Market.

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Introducing a new author and her new Novel.

Altered-Revelations, by Shawnda Falls-Currie is new on the Kindle market.

Story Blurb: Abandoned by her family, Lacey is sent to a juvenile detention center known as Clear Waters. Her teen years don’t look promising until she is befriended by a mysterious stranger named Taylor, a gorgeous guy whose captivating eyes seem to stare into her soul. Convinced she is in danger at Clear Waters, Lacey joins Taylor in a daring escape. As she meets Taylor’s group of friends, she discovers that they’re more than they seem – they’ve been sent from the future to head off an evil corporate plot that will lead to a world war unless averted. With Lacey as their only hope to prevent a grim future, Taylor shows Lacey how to tap into her psychic abilities known in his time as evolved humans. Travelling with her new friends, she discovers the magic of love while she grows into the powerful warrior chosen to make the difference to the world.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

        

 Thank you for dropping by! Your participation is appreciated.

    

 


[1] I have long complained about this aspect of Canadian recorded history, for it leaves the impression that Canada has no history worth bothering with.

May 20, 2012 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Dreaming of the Dead: Personal Stories of Comfort and Hope, by Marilou Trask-Curtain

Despite its name, Dreaming of the Dead by Marilou Trask-Curtain [Llewellyn Publications, 2012] is a warm and embracing biography, very nearly a ‘love story’ in nature –

Story blurb: From the age of three, when a near-death experience brought an angel’s healing touch, Marilou Trask-Curtin has been able to communicate with spirits, primarily in unusually vivid and realistic dreams. Over the years she has interacted with the ghostly forms of several spirits and experienced dream visitations from many others such as her first true love, her beloved grandfather, and even British actor Jeremy Brett, with whom she’d grown close through years of correspondence.

Marilou touchingly recounts her visitations with spirits who have come to offer advice, reassurance, or to let her know they have died or are about to pass on. This includes her companion animals who return to show they’re as full of health and joy as their human counterparts in spirit. The author also tells of dream visits from historical “mentor” figures such as Samuel L. Clemens and Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as many others.

Dreaming of the Dead will take you on a compelling and beautifully comforting journey—with a glimpse of what awaits us on the other side of life’s doorway.

Book design by Donna Burch

Available in e-book format – 1323 KB

About the author: Marilou Trask-Curtin (Oneonta, NY) is an author, playwright and screenwriter. Marilou and her husband still live in her childhood home where many of her spirit encounters occurred—and still do to this day.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I have had only one time-of-death encounter, when my little dog came to me at the time of her death by a road accident, but I can swear that it was very real. So much so that I could feel her lick my hand as usual when she came to my bed. Beyond that I cannot comment on the phenomenon one way or another. What I can do, however, is to cite Ms Trask-Curtain’s biographical work as an engrossing and even inspirational story.

Conscious that paranormal visitations are not common to most people, she devotes the first couple of chapters to defining the difference between ordinary dreams and visitations.

Perhaps the dead choose to come in dreams because that is when our defenses are at their lowest ebb or do not exist at all. We are more vulnerable when we are deeply sleeping, and that creates a portal through which all manner of dreamtime communications can occur.

This also explains the ability to remember these encounters with remarkable detail—sights, sounds, smells, emotions and touch.

Of equal descriptive detail are the vivid portraits she creates of her beloved grandparents, Edward and Myrtle McNally; her “first true love”, Butch; and of her soul mate, the British actor Jeremy Brett, etc. In fact, using Ms Trask-Curtain’s descriptions I am sure I could pick these individuals out in a crowded room. Moreover, for many of us they evoke memories of our own grandparents, parents and friends.

Another aspect that stood out for me was that, although certainly poignant at times, her various encounters were positive (except for one crone), and the subjects all seemed to be quite content with their lot. I think this should be comforting for anyone thinking about their departed loved ones.

Altogether this is a fascinating read, superbly written and totally engaging. Highly recommended. Five bees.

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Addendum

Dream Journeys: As an aside, I was struck by the similarities between Ms Trask-Curtain’s “dream journey” experiences and the beliefs of the Dene Thaˊ First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest. According to anthropologist Jean-Guy Goulet, the Dene Thaˊ all believe (‘know’) that dreams are journeys of the soul in which it communicates with inhabitants of the “other land” and/or sees things unfolding in our land. Indeed, there are many accounts of visits by relatives to their deceased in the other land.

Two Spirit Connection: Following death, individuals seek a woman’s womb to be born again. This view is central to the Dene apprehension of themselves. Although the reborn child is addressed in his/her previous kinship terms and is teased with reminiscences of past lives, (s)he is expected to behave and lead the life of her/his present sex. That means to eventually marry with an opposite-sex partner and have children. In a rare case when a reincarnate wanted to retain his perceived previous (female) sex, social pressure was applied to trigger his transformation into a heterosexual male with a complete personal identity

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 25,774

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

Yamanhdeya is the traditional Great Spirit of the Dene Thaˊ. They have also adopted the Christian god, whom they call Ndatwotá, but he is a secondary entity in their hierarchy.

Yamanhdeya made it possible for humans to inhabit the earth by killing off the monsters that devoured them, and in my story he rules over both the animals the land—especially in British Columbia—and all other gods (such as Apollo) must acknowledge him if they enter his territory.

He dwells in the “other land” (paradise), which lies on the other side of the “crossing over place,” and when it is time to cross over Yamanhdeya sends a message to that individual via a Sasquatch.

Admittedly, it is a blending of Native beliefs, but otherwise is quite authentic.

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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.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

       

Thanks for dropping by! This is the ‘little blog’ that grew with your help. Please drop in often.

May 13, 2012 Posted by | Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Wild Canadian West, by E.C. (Ted) Meyers

A collection of meticulously researched and entertainingly-written historical vignettes that prove once and for all that Canada has a rich and colourful history equal to any in the word. Superb! –

Story Blurb: The history of the Wild West for too many years, has been considered the exclusive domain of the men and women who inhabited the South-western states of Kansas, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Canada had her share of men and women, good and bad, who opened the west for exploration and exploitation. Many famous gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers and lawmen of the Wild West were Canadian. This book exhibits the differences between Canadian settlers and their American counterparts. It shows how the law was enforced in the west even though lawmen were few in number. It touches on the naivete of some settlers and the lack of judgement shown by some leaders. It also seeks to show the injustice that was done to the native people who neither knew nor understood the white man’s law.

About the author: E.C. “Ted” Meyers, has seven non-fiction books published. Two concern the history of the Royal Canadian Navy. Two others are of the Old West. One, “Wild Canadian West”, concerns lawmen and outlaws who were part of Canada’s Old West. The other takes place in the American Old West. It tells the story of Wyatt Earp’s darkest secret. “Mattie: Wyatt Earp’s Secret Second Wife”, narrates the tragic life of Mattie Blaylock (1850-1888) who, from 1871 was Earp’s second wife and then, from 1882 until Earp’s death in 1928, was his darkest, most closely guarded secret.

E.C. Meyers was born at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1931. He served several years in the Canadian Armed Forces during which time he visited many parts of the world. He saw action in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952 and served in Canada’s peacekeeping effort in the mid-east following the 1956 Israeli-Egytian War. Following his CAF service he worked for the Ontario Government until retiring in 1991. Since then he has spent his retirement years actively researching his greatest interest – the Old West on both sides of the border and writing on a variety of other subjects.

At present he is busy writing an account of the 1877 Nez Perce War in which less than 200 warriors from five Nez Perce bands humiliated the US Army of the Northwest. Led by Chief Joseph, Chief White Bird and Chief Looking Glass the Nez Perce warriors defeated General Oliver Howard’s forces in a series of battles and skirmishes over a period of five months. Then, within 45 miles of the Canadian border and safety, fate turned against them and they were forced to surrender although some did manage to escape into Canada. For a future work Mr. Meyers is considering a book about little known adventures of the Northwest Mounted Police in the late 1800s.

Available from Hancock House Publishing in paperback – 208 pages.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

As many of you may know, my byline is “Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered.” It is meant as both a mission statement and a lament. E.C. “Ted” Meyers also alludes to this in the above blurb for Wild Canadian West [Hancock House Publishing Ltd, 20007], i.e. The history of the Wild West for too many years, has been considered the exclusive domain of the men and women who inhabited the South-western states of Kansas, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.”

Ironically, many of the famed gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers and law men of the American west were not American at all. They were Canadian, as Ted Meyers reveals. For example:

  • Bat, Jim and Ed Masterson all hailed from Quebec.
  • George Currie, better known as “Flat Nose George” from Prince Edward Island. He amalgamated his band of rustlers with Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch.”
  • “Canada” Bill Jones, generally acknowledged as the greatest card sharp of the old west, was from Ontario.
  • Pearl Heart, from Ontario, was a stagecoach robber who later joined Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as a—you guessed it–lady stage robber.

There were also several notable American who came to Canada to make their mark, such as Bill Miner, the “Gentleman Bandit” who is said to have originated the term “hands up,” and who made a living robbing trains.

  • Nellie Cashman, known as “The Angel of the Caribou” for her humanitarian work among the miners who fell upon hard times.
  • Armor de Cosmos from California (otherwise known as Jim Smith) who founded the British Colonist Newspaper [which I refer to several times in my forthcoming novel Coming of Age on the Trail].
  • Charlie “One Ear” Brown who was killed by vigilantes; James Barry (gambler) and Frank Spencer (rustler and gunfighter) who both ended up at the end of a rope. Etc.

However, the Canadian West had plenty of its own home-grown heroes and villains, many of which I had never heard of until Ted Meyers presented them here. For example there was the “Two-Fisted Town Tamer,” John Ingram, a no-nonsense lawman who tamed two frontier cities, Winnipeg and Calgary, before turning his attention to Rossland, British Columbia. To leave it there, however, would be to treat Canadian history the way it has generally been taught—i.e. colourless. Fortunately Meyers goes on to tell how Ingram (while still chief of police) was fined $10 for being a “found-in” at a whore house in Winnipeg, and that he later ran the Calgary police department from the backroom of a pool hall. Moreover, he seldom resorted to a gun, but relied instead on a pair of ‘ham-hock-sized’ fists, knocking his suspects senseless with a well placed punch.

Then there was “British Columbia’s Hanging Judge,” Sir Mathew Bailie Begbie. Begbie was an Englishman who, after being released or rejected by every law firm he had ever had contact, was appointed a judge in “The Colonies,” i.e. Vancouver Island. It should also be mentioned that prior to this his love life had been no more successful, for his fiancé eloped with his brother.

Begbie  arrived in Victoria, BC, in 1858, and was immediately assigned the entire area of what is now the Province of British Columbia (364,800 sq.mi. of sparsely-inhabited wilderness). Ironically, he was given the epithet of “The Hanging Judge,” but he actually disapproved of capital punishment. He therefore recommended to the lieutenant governor that most death sentences be commuted in favour of life in prison. He also had his own opinions on the issue of guilt or innocence, and did not hesitate to instruct the jury as to which verdict he deemed appropriate. Moreover, he would become more than a little irate when the jury went against his wishes, and would lecture them unmercifully as a result.

And for those who like a good ole fashioned shoot-em-up, there’s the tale of “The Shootout at Fortier’s Café,” which Meyers describes this way: “Its (Fisherville, B.C.) second claim to notoriety was the 1864 gun fight on the main street that made the gunfight at Tombstone’s OK Corral appear tame.

Ironically, the dispute began between two factions who each wanted to be the law in Fisherville, and after much threatening talk the two agree to meet to talk things over. The players were a group of Americans under the leadership of William “Yeast Powder Bill” Denniston (a.k.a. Bill Burmeister), Robert “Overland Bob” Evans and Neil Dougherty. The opposing side, mostly Canadians and British, was lead by a hot-tempered, vocal Irishman named Thomas Walker. His lieutenants were William “Dancing Bill” Latham, John “Black Jack” Smyth and “Paddy” Skie.

“The talk started peacefully enough but within a few minutes the two [walker and Dinniston] began shouting. Tom Walker, his temper boiling over, pulled his revolver from its holster, levelled it at Yeast Powder Bill and squeezed the trigger.

“The range was point blank when the heavy pistol roared but, unfortunately for Walker, his hand was unsteady. The .45 slug missed Bill’s expansive chest by ripped away the thumb from his right hand. Walker tried to fire a second shot but his gun jammed. Yeast Powder Bill, howling in shock and pain, drew the pistol from his left holster and shot Walker through the heart. Walker died where he stood. It was his great bad luck that Bill was ambidextrous.

“When Walker’s gun fired, Overland Bob Evans commenced shooting. This brought immediate return fire from Walker’s friends. Within seconds the shooting had become general and Evans lay prone in the dust with at least two bullets in his body. Although Evans was down his companions, thinking him dead, continued shooting.

“Walker was dead, there was no doubt about that, and his friends, intent on avenging him, kept up a steady barrage of fire into the ranks of the Americans. For several minutes the scene was one of sheer chaos. The men who were armed with clubs closed and began to beat on each other. When the shooting finally stopped the air was heavy with the acrid smell of gun smoke. Both sides retreated to count casualties.”

My Review

The above abstracts are only a few of the twenty-one stories that make up this remarkable, and in some respects unique anthology, for many of these tales have never before been published. Nevertheless, I believe these examples are sufficient to show that Canada does have a rich and colourful history that has been hidden from view by the apathy of governments and educators. Therefore we owe a great vote of thanks to writers and historians like E.C. “Ted” Meyers for bringing  it to the fore in a readable and entertaining way. Five bees.

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About Hancock House Publishing Ltd: Hancock House has been a wonderful find for me. Located in Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, its focus is on non-fiction regional titles, emphasizing western and far north history and biographies, Native culture, nature and wildlife, cryptozoology and folklore. In 2008 Hancock House launched its first e-books. Check out their many fascinating titles, i.e. “Stagecoaches,” “Dreaming Wolves,” “Outposts and Bushplanes” and “Crooked River Rats.”

News, etc.

I have entered Gerry B’s Book Reviews in the Independent Book Blogger Awards contestIt is my first contest ever, so I would really appreciate your support. Please take a few minutes to vote. Just click the “vote” link below.

Vote for this blog for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

 Vote

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 24,211

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

The Stampede

“Few occupations are more cheerful, lively and pleasant than that of the cow-boy on a fine day or night; but when the storm comes, then is his manhood and often his skill and bravery put to test. When the night is inky dark and the lurid lightning flashes its zig-zag course athwart the heavens, and the coarse thunder jars the earth, the winds moan fresh and lively over the prairie, the electric balls dance from tip to tip of the cattle’s horns then the position of the cow-boy on duty is trying far more than romantic.

“When the storm breaks over his head, the least occurrence unusual, such as the breaking of a dry weed or stick, or a sudden and near flash of lightning, will start the herd, as if by magic, all at an instant, upon a wild rush. and woe to the horse, or man, or camp that may be in their path.” Joseph G. McCoy

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Introducing SCD Goff from Dublin, Ireland, and her new novel Lady Languish.

 After her uncle attacks Evangeline Languish at her sixteenth birthday party, she is sent away to boarding school where she is ostracised and bullied. She has been abandoned.

When she eventually makes it home, her uncle visits again, terrifying her with crazy stories about her father … Evangeline resolves not to believe them, but when she discovers a strange young man, injured and alone, she is forced to change her mind about everything she thought she knew.

Evangeline, gifted but innocent and almost alone, must face Malachy once more before she can be free. But can she kill him before he kills her and those she loves?

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by. I look forward to your visit every week!



April 15, 2012 Posted by | Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Canadian outlaws, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 2 Comments

River Thieves, by Michael Crummey

A superb weaving of fact and fiction set in the Canadian wilderness –

Story blurb: River Thieves is a beautifully written and compelling novel that breathes life into the pivotal events which shaped relations between the Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland and European settlers. Following a series of expeditions made under the order of the British Crown, the reader witnesses the tragic fallout from these missions as the Beothuk vanish and the web of secrets guarded by the settlers slowly begin to unravel …Told in elegant sensual prose this is an enthralling historical novel of great passion and suspense, driven by the extraordinary cast of characters. And with it Michael Crummey establishes himself as one of Canada’s most exciting new talents.

Available in e-book format – 2058 KB

About the athor: Born in Buchans, Newfoundland, Crummey grew up there and in Wabush, Labrador, where he moved with his family in the late 1970s. He went to university with no idea what to do with his life and, to make matters worse, started writing poems in his first year. Just before graduating with a BA in English he won the Gregory Power Poetry Award. First prize was three hundred dollars (big bucks back in 1987) and it gave him the mistaken impression there was money to be made in poetry.

He published a slender collection of poems called Arguments with Gravity in 1996, followed two years later by Hard Light. 1998 also saw the publication of a collection of short stories, Flesh and Blood, and Crummey’s nomination for the Journey Prize.

Crummey’s debut novel, River Thieves (2001) was a Canadian bestseller, winning the Thomas Head Raddall Award and the Winterset Award for Excellence in Newfoundland Writing. It was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the IMPAC Award. His second novel, The Wreckage (2005), was nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and longlisted for the 2007 IMPAC Award.

Galore was published in Canada in 2009. A national bestseller, it was the winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean), the Canadian Authors’ Association Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for fiction.

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Review by Gerry Burnie
My bio reads in part: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered, and River Thieves by Michael Crummey [Anchor Canada, 2009] is a case on point.

The Beothuk (pronounced “beo-thuk”) people of Newfoundland, a.k.a. “The Red Indians” because of the red ochre they smeared on their bodies, are truly one of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of it. They are referred to as a “population isolate” because they developed their unique culture in total isolation, starting around 1 A.D. until—with the death of Shanawdithit (“Nancy April”) in1829—they were declared officially extinct.

Part of the extinction process was as a result of being retreated into areas that could not sustain them; European diseases (particularly tuberculoses) for which they had no immunity; and anecdotes of genocide in which they were hunted like wolves. Indeed, the extinction of such a shy, peaceful and unique people is a black mark in Canadian history.

All of this Michael Crummey has captured with remarkable insight, and a superb sense of time and place. His approach of fictionalizing historical events and persons (while not unique) is certainly affective in making them come to life in the context in which they existed, i.e. the rugged and austere wilderness of Newfoundland in the early nineteenth century.

British naval officer, James Buchan, [a real historical figure] is sent to the British Colony of Newfoundland to establish productive relations with the mysterious aboriginals. In order to accomplish this mission he recruits the help of the Peyton family—a sort of backwoods aristocracy led by the tough-minded John Peyton Sr., a ruthless Beothuk persecutor [yet another real individual and fact]. However, his son, John Jr., although dominated by his father, is also vested with a conscience and becomes Buchan’s ally.

Rounding off this complex household is Cassie Jure, the enigmatic housekeeper, who is surprisingly independent for a female servant of the 19th-century, but she nonetheless adds a feminine perspective to a dominant cast of men.

Crummey’s poetic style is a real boon here, for the setting is very much part of the story—both the harshness and austere beauty of its topography and climate. He has therefore woven it into the tapestry as though it were one of the characters, emphasizing the hardy resilience of its occupants—like Joseph Reilly, a transported (“exiled”) Irish thief turned trapper. Likewise, his research and portrayal of 19th-century mores and terms gives it a solid credibility that invests the reader from beginning to end. For all these reasons, it is highly recommended. Five bees.

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One of the historical events portrayed in this story is “The stealing of Demasduit (“Mary March”).

Demasduit was a Beothuk woman who is thought to have been about 23 years old when she was captured near Red Indian Lake in March 1819.

The governor of Newfoundland, although seeking to encourage trade and end hostilities between the Beothuk and the English, had approved an expedition led by captain David Buchan to recover a boat and other fishing gear which had been stolen by the Beothuk. A group from this expedition was led by John Peyton Jr. whose father John Peyton Sr. was a salmon fisherman known for his hostility towards the small tribe. On a raid, they killed Demasduit’s husband Nonosbawsut, then ran her down in the snow. She pleaded for her life, baring her breasts to show she was a nursing mother. They took Demasduit to Twillingate and Peyton earned a bounty on her. The baby died. Peyton was later appointed Justice of the Peace at Twillingate, Newfoundland.

The British called Demasduit Mary March after the month when she was taken. Later bringing her to St. John’s, Newfoundland, the colonial government wanted to give Desmaduit comfort and friendly treatment while she was with the English, hoping she might one day be a bridge between them and the Beothuk. Demasduit learned some English and taught the settlers about 200 words of Beothuk language. However, in January 1820 while making the trip back to Notre Dame Bay Demasduit died of tuberculosis before reaching her kin. Source: Wikipedia.

News

Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 21,811

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

Norman Lee’s Route (click on image to elarge)

The inspiration for this fictional tale comes from Norman Lee’s epic, 1,500-mile cattle dive from Hanceville, British Columbia, to the gold fields around Dawson City, Yukon Territory, in 1898. Fortunately, Lee had the presence of mind to keep a journal along the way, and so we have a first-hand account of his remarkable feat just as it unfolded over a century ago. It is fortunate as well that Eileen Laurie of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation took an interest in this unique piece of Canadian history, and that the Lee family generously allowed it to be published. [See: Klondike Cattle Drive: The journal of Norman Lee, Touch Wood Editions, Surrey, British Columbia, 2005]. Consequently, many of the scenes depicted in this fictional version are taken from Lee’s actual experiences.

Once again this remarkable adventure proves that: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered.

Read an excerpt.

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If you haven’t done so before, do drop by the InnerBouquet website.

The InnerBouquet mission is to spread the word about & celebrate LGBT ARTS, CULTURE & ATHLETICISM from past to the present. The site features bios, reviews, critiques, interviews, photos, news, videos, songs, poems, etc. – all related to the contributions of LGBT icons world-wide. On a personal level, the InnerBouquet founder and creative director, David-Paul, in his “FlashBack Diary” reveals poignant moments from his gay journal.

This week David-Paul has added new and poignant information about Steve Walker, renowned Canadian artist who passed away on January 4 2012.

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I’ve added new pages: If you haven’t noticed already I’ve added an “About” and “Gerry Burnie Books” page.” You’ll find the links at the top of the page. Hope you find them interesting.

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Protest Paypal. Recently, Paypal started to refuse transactions for books which do not meet a set of narrowly-defined criteria, i.e., teenage sex (16 is the “age of consent”), rape, incest, etc. This is de facto censorship, and not the business of money broker. If you would care to send a letter to Paypal execs, etc., here is a list of email addresses you can use.

mbarrett@paypal.com,
executiveoffice@paypal.com,
harbor1@paypal.com,
ppelce@paypal.com,
complaint-response@paypal.com,
abuse@paypal.com,
Europeanservices@paypal.com,
resolutions@paypal.com,
appeals@paypal.com,
compliance@paypal.com,
webform@paypal.com,
Unmonitored <service@paypal.com>,
spoof@paypal.com,
aup@paypal.com,
Let public relations know you are filing complaints <press@paypal.com>,
apires@paypal.com,
pending_reversal@paypal.com,
global2@paypal.com,
intl@paypal.com,
ppe_courtesycredit@paypal.com
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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

       

Thanks for dropping by. The numbers are growing, thanks you!

March 4, 2012 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical period, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Merlin-444, by Rejean Giguere

An ambitious concept that doesn’t quite fly

Story Blurb: In small town Saskatchewan Bobby Morrison is trying to piece his life back together. Losing a father has stopped him and his mother dead still. The only thing he has going for him is his Hot Rod.

Bobby’s need for speed rips him out of his small town life and thrusts him headlong into the past. He takes on the power and history of the Rolls Royce Merlin. The ensuing insanity hurls him into the Battles of Britain, the Atlantic and the Pacific. When the past presents a mission, can he complete it? Can he find his way?

About the author: Rejean Giguere is an avid outdoorsman, adventurer, photographer and artist. He enjoys fishing, hockey, golf, tennis, skiing and snowmobiling, his V-Max

motorcycle and vintage Corvette. He grew up in Canada and Europe, and enjoyed a business career in Toronto and Ottawa.

Available in e-book format – 266KB

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Review by Gerry Burnie

When I first came across Merlin-444 by Rejean Giguere [Smashwords, 2011], two things attracted me to it; i.e. it is a Canadian story by a Canadian author, and secondly it features the legendary Merlin engine and the Battle of Britain. It is not to suggest there aren’t lots of good Canadian authors to choose from, many I have reviewed (like Cynthia Faryon, and Tom Douglas), but the combination was the clincher.

The concept is a complex one—one might even say, “daunting.” The main protagonist, Bobby Morrison, is a likeable teenager with small town values, which include foregoing his own interest to look after his mother in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan (population 610). Like most small towns life is slow-paced, and so Bobby occupies his time pumping gas and working on his suped up ’77 Camaro.

His boss—and second protagonist—is an “old guy” [sic] known only as “Mr. G,” who seems to operate the service station more as a hobby than a business. Therefore Bobby is pretty well free to tinker with his hot rod.

His nemesis, known as “Digger,” owns a hot rod too, plus an obnoxious ego to go along with it. He is also dating Suzanne, Bobby’s secret love interest. However, this story is not intended as a romance, so Suzanne and Digger are mostly sub-plot overlaid by the preponderating action.

The real story begins when Mr. G suggests they put a Rolls Royce, Merlin engine, in the garage truck—which is quite a feat considering the Merlin V12 engine packed an amazing 1,470 hp (1,096 kW).

Even more incredible is when Bobby first fires it up and experiences some sort of time warp, by which he is transported back in time to the cockpit of a Spitfire. Moreover, he is the midst of a dogfight as part of the Battle of Britain (1940).

More such ‘flights’ were to follow, during which we learn for whom and for what reason he is being mysteriously called back in time, and the answer is quite poignant—not quite a tear-jerker, but satisfying.

My observations

The cross-over nature of this story—i.e. young adult-cum-historical fiction-cum-fantasy—would be enough to give any writer grey hairs just thinking about it, and so I think this author has given himself a fairly tough row to hoe from the start. In fact, I think he may have over extended himself to tackle it in the first place.

It is not to say that there aren’t some very nicely written parts. The dog fights for example are particularly intense, and the author’s straight forward style suits this sort of action, but overall I felt the story was rushed without regard to development. Instead, characters were unexpectedly introduced with chunks of information to cobble it together.

There are also some issues with repetitive phrases that stood out like stumbling blocks in places. For example:

Jumping up he ran to the truck squinting, shielding his eyes. As the light and noise finally settled, the dust floated to the floor of the cab. He yanked open the door and pulled the kid out, dragging him to a chair. God, he took in a quick breath, there was blood on the kid’s shoulder. 

The kid was alive, but sure seemed drained. He watched carefully as Bobby slowly came to. He saw the distant look in his eyes, while he watched the kid get his bearings back. 

Finally the kid looked up, shaking his head, “Incredible Mr. G.. Out of this world.” P.52

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I realize that this isn’t a particularly favourable review at first blush, but hopefully it will make for one in the future. There is enough good about this story to suggest it. Two and one-half bees.

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January 22, 2012 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical period, non-GLBT | 4 Comments

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

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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!

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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.

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

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

     

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

Lone Star Christmas, by William W. Johnstone

A  Western tale in the classic dime-store-novel style.

Story blurb: Smoke Jensen, Matt Jensen, Falcon and Duff MacAllister—Together For The First Time

They just wanted to get home for Christmas . . . but fate had other plans.

It’s December 1890. A Texas rancher named Big Jim Conyers has a deal with Scottish-born, Wyoming cattleman named Duff MacAllister. Along with Smoke and Matt Jensen, the party bears down on Dodge, Kansas, to make a cattle drive back to Forth Worth. But before they can get out of Dodge, guns go off and a rich man’s son is killed.

Soon the drive turns into a deadly pursuit, then a staggering series of clashes with bloodthirsty Indians and trigger-happy rustlers. And the worst is yet to come—the party rides into a devastating blizzard, a storm so fierce that their very survival is at stake.

From America’s greatest Western author, here is an epic tale of the unforgiving American frontier and how, amidst fierce storms of man and nature, miracles can still happen.

Available in e-book format – 689 KB

About the author: William W. Johnstone started his writing career in 1970, but did not have any works published until 1979 (The Devil’s Kiss) and became a full-time writer in 1980. He wrote close to two hundred books in numerous genres, including suspense and horror. His main publication series were Mountain Man, The First Mountain Man, Ashes and Eagles and his own personal favorite novel was The Last of the Dog Team (1980). He also authored two novels under the pseudonym William Mason.

Johnstone had lived for many years in Shreveport, Louisiana, yet died in Knoxville, TN, at the age of 65. His death remained officially unconfirmed for nearly three years and was the subject of continuous debate in the forum on his web site. No statements were issued, however until the 2006 paperback release of Last Gunfighter: Devil’s Legion, which, on its copyright page has, indeed, confirmed that “William W. Johnstone died” and that a “carefully selected author” has been chosen to carry on his legacy. J. A. Johnstone is continuing William W. Johnstone’s series. – Wikipedia.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

As you may have noticed I have a fondness for Western novels, especially the classic variety, so when I saw the evocative  cover [no credit provided] of “Lone Star Christmas” by William W. Johnstone [Pinnacle Books; Original edition, 2011] I chose it as my Christmas book blog.

As a classic Western tale it has it all; i.e. winsome maidens, gallant gentlemen, good and bad gunslingers, fallen angels, cattle drives, rustlers and renegade Indians, so in some ways—with a bit more sophistication—it is a revival of the dime store novel.

No problem there.

The story begins on a train where we meet the winsome maiden (Rebecca Conyers) and the gallant gentleman (Tom Whitman) from Boston. Whitman is travelling nowhere in particular, just escaping a painful past, and so when he happens to rescue the winsome maiden from two churlish cads she offers him a job on her father’s spread, “Live Oaks,” which Whitman accepts.

Okay, right here we know that this is a throw-back to the ten-cent novel when a tender foot from Boston takes on the job of a rugged ranch hand—successfully, as it turns out. On the other hand, how else is the gallant Tom Whitman going to get romantically inclined toward the winsome Miss Conyers?

“Big Ben” Conyers is a sort of Ben Cartwright-type: A self-made cattle baron, paternalistic, and imbued with high moral standards in spite of having sired Rebecca by a woman other than his present wife. Therefore, he refuses to tell Rebecca about her real mother, and forbids her from pursuing a romance with the gallant Tom Whitman.

It is at this stage in the story where the plot begins to thicken, and also strain the fetters of credibility to the max. The winsome Rebecca, now the “headstrong Becky” is romantically rebuffed by the gallant Tom Whitman, and so she disguises herself as a cowhand and signs on with a cattle drive to Dodge, Kansas.

Ulp! Now that’s a bit of a stretch. From what I know about a woman’s anatomy (which admittedly doesn’t go beyond the obvious) there are certain physical features that are difficult to disguise—like beardless skin, small hands, and—okay—boobs. Moreover, we are talking about a cattle drive with seasoned cowhands who, like Andy Adams, Charlie Seringo and “Teddy Blue” Abbott, had probably been driving cattle since they could sit a saddle.

There are some other incredulities, too—like shooting a crab-apple-sized apple off someone’s head, and three strangers who appear out of a blizzard to lead a pregnant woman to the safety—but this is fiction, after all. So I’m going to buy them all, for in spite of these it’s an entertaining read.

Having said that, I’ll saw it off at three bees.

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Relive some of my memories of Christmas in the 1940s by visiting my personal blog: Gerrybuurniebooks.wordpress.com.

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The sale figures are in for Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears, and while I can’t retire in luxury they are quite gratifying indeed. Thanks you to all those who bought and read them. 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.

   

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December 25, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Historical period, non-GLBT, Traditional Western | Leave a comment

The Sharpshooter, by Kit Prate

A short story celebration of the classic Western tale.

Story blurb: Clete Benteen was a kid one minute and a man the next. The son of a sharpshooter, he grew up when his pa was brought home across the back of a horse, back-shot. Making a place for himself among hard cowboys, Clete must use all the skill he has to provide for his family and to find his Pa’s killer. But is he tough enough to survive?

Kindle edition – short story – 121 KB – .99¢

Review by Gerry Burnie

Although “The Sharpshooter by Kit Prate [Western Trail Blazer, 2011] is not a GBLT story, or a particularly long read, nonetheless I liked it for its adherence to the classic Western genre; i.e. a deep sense of justice, stoic determination, and a clear distinction between “good guys” and “bad guys.”

As the blurb tells us, young Clete Benteen (14 years old) is forced into manhood to support his widowed mother and fellow siblings, as well as avenge his father’s murder. This brings him into contact with his father’s employer, a powerful rancher by the name and style of Judge Terril, and a group of sinister, hired guns that Terril employs to enforce his power.

What makes Clete equal to the others in some way is his skill as a sharpshooter; a skill he has both learned and inherited from his dead father. Other traits he has either learned of inherited are his fierce independence and self assuredness.

I bought into his sharpshooter’s skill because one of my main characters in an upcoming novel (“The Brit, Kid Cupid, and Petunia”) is a teenage shootist, but I was a little more questioning about Clete’s precociousness. Or, maybe it was the willingness of the adults—Terril especially—to let him get away with it. It is, however, only a minor quibble.

As the story moves along there is a nice build up of tension, especially with his capture by the bad guys, and the contest of wills as his captivity continues under sometimes cruel and abusive conditions. After all, it wouldn’t be a true western if the good guys had a ‘cake walk’ of it.

Altogether this is a great little read for the money, and worth every cent of it. Four and one-half bees.

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The sale figures are in for Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears, and while I can’t retire in luxury they are quite gratifying indeed. Thanks you to all those who bought and read them. 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. Check back next week for my Christmas pick.

December 18, 2011 Posted by | Fiction, Historical period, non-GLBT | , , , , | 2 Comments

The Sacred Band, by Janet Morris and Chris Morris

A scholarly tale of pathos, romance, and adventure

Story blurb: An adventure like no other. Two Sacred Bands, united for the first time. The Sacred Band of Thebes lives on, a world away, in this mythic novel of love in war in ancient times. In 338 BCE, during the Battle of Chaeronea that results in the massacre of the Sacred Band of Thebes, the legendary Tempus and his Stepson cavalry rescue twenty-three pairs of Theban Sacred Banders, paired lovers and friends, to fight on other days. These forty-six Thebans, whose bones will never lie in the mass grave that holds their two hundred and fifty-four brothers, join with the immortalized Tempus and his Sacred Band of Stepsons, consummate ancient cavalry fighters, to make new lives in a faraway land and fight the battle of their dreams where gods walk the earth, ghosts take the field, and the angry Fates demand their due.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

This is another book purchased from Amazon.com’s ‘Gay Historical   Fiction’ list, but apart from a few vague references to homosexuality it is   not a GLBT story.

At 570 pages (929 KB) The Sacred Band (Sacred Band of Stepsons) by Janet Morris and Chris Morris [Paradise Publishing, 2010] is an epic tale of heroes, gods, and demigods. I also understand that it is a continuation of a series, but it is the first I have read.

There are a number of good things to be said about this story. The evidence of major research stands out first and foremost. This was a time when every life force was governed by some god or goddess, major or minor, and to sort all these out is no slight task. I did, however, have some questions about weaponry—particularly cross bows and throwing stars in the third century BC. It is true that the authors did admit some anachronisms here, but for me these took me outside the time frame.

The plot is also well constructed, with drama, romance, pathos and destruction, woven together in a compelling and interesting way.

The journalism is of a high order as well, but here we begin to experience some difficulties. Technically it is good but convoluted by an overabundance of esoteric description; so much so that I found myself skimming over paragraphs, even pages, to get to the next point.

Individually the characters were both distinct and interesting, but collectively (by name) they were overwhelming. This was made even more mind-boggling by the fact that many of these had two or three names used interchangeably, i.e. Tempus/Riddler/Avatar; Nikodemus, Niko, Swift; and so on.

However, for me the most critical shortcoming was a book of 570 pages in length, involving the Sacred Band of Thebes, and not once did it mention same-sex sex by name or practice. Indeed, the only time when one male character makes a brief pass at another—in a whore house—it was treated with something like, “I’m not that way.”

Recmmended for the good points mentioned. Two and one-half Bees.

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November 27, 2011 Posted by | Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a 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

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Note: Although this novel was found on Amazon.com’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.

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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.

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

The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England, by Diane Rapaport

An agreeable balance of law and journalism

Publisher’s blurb: Diane Rapaport’s previous book was New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians, so it seems only right that she would share her own most exciting archival finds. As its title suggests, The Naked Quaker bares seldom-seen aspects of Colonial New England life. Representative chapter headings include “Witches & Wild Women,” “Coupling,” “Parents & Youth,” “Tavern Tales,” “Slaves & Servants,” and “Neighbor vs. Neighbor.” Glimpses into a vanished world. 

About the author: Diane Rapaport, a former trial lawyer, has made a new career as an author and speaker, bringing history to life with true stories from early New England court records.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Note: This is not a GLBT book.

Being a former law professor and a rabid history buff, The Naked Quaker: True Crimes and Controversies from the Courts of Colonial New England, by Diane Rapaport [Commonwealth Editions, 2007] was right up my alley. It is a collection of cases gleaned from the archival court records of Puritan New England, c. 1620s to the latter part of that century. 

Although we think of the present as being a litigious time, and in some ways it is, it doesn’t hold a tallow candle to the inhabitants of 17-century Massachusetts. Moreover, many of the causes are remarkably familiar even today—i.e. drunkenness, unlicensed sale of liquor, unpaid debts, unwanted advances, and obstreperous youth, etc. Therefore, as Ms Rapaport points out, “Goin to law” was a common remedy for large and small issues. 

It was also a source of spectator entertainment that came around usually every quarter (Courts of Quarterly Session)—but more often as required—and people would gather from miles around to watch or partake. Lawyers were hardly ever retained, judges were sometimes commissioned from the ranks of the previously convicted, and the courtroom was generally a tavern. All of this Ms Rapaport reveals as part of her meticulous research. 

In fact, going through the pages of The Naked Quaker is like taking a front row seat at some of the sessions. For example we have Mrs. Elizabeth Goodman, a notoriously outspoken widow, who was accused of being a witch on the basis that she had an uncanny knowledge of her neighbours affairs, and that, after Mrs. Goodman admitted “some affection” for a certain gentleman, his new wife suffered “very strange fits” after the wedding. Nonetheless, the judges decided that the evidence was “not sufficient … take away her life,” and so she was set free.

Then we have a “lascivious meeting” of unmarried men and women in the fall of 1660. This group, including Harvard students and their young women friends, drank wine together at a tavern, and then moved on to Harvard Yard where they were witnessed holding hands.  One witness even described a girl sitting on a boy’s lap, and other amorous behaviour that shocked the sensibilities of proper Puritan judges, and so the participants were admonished to “avoid the like loose practices in the future.” 

On the other hand, a husband and wife were severely punished for playing and allowing to be played games of cards at their home. 

Outright religious intolerance was not only rife, particularly between Puritans and Quakers, it was legally sanctioned. For years the Massachusetts authorities had engaged in unrelenting persecution of Quakers—the General Court issued a series of laws penalizing the “accused sect of heretics”—and it was illegal for Quakers to meet together or to teach others about their beliefs.74 It was also unlawful (whether Quaker or not) not to attend church on the Sabbath, and Lydia Wardell and her husband had been fined for missing (Puritan) services on twenty consecutive Sundays. Consequently, Lydia did attend one Sunday in 1663—only she did it naked. 

Slavery was quite acceptable to Puritan society, and it frequently extended beyond people of colour–Africans and Native Americans–to include the Irish and Scots. For example, two boys (11 and perhaps 14) had been kidnapped from their beds and brought to Massachusetts as indentured “servants.”  They were sold to a magistrate to work on his estate, and some years later they appealed to the court (on which their master sat) for relief from their servitude. They lost.

Although this is a chronicle of digested court cases, the reader need have no concerns about it being a dry or dusty read. On the contrary, probably because of her experience as a speaker on the subject, Ms Rapaport has struck an agreeable balance between law and journalism. In addition, given the direct quotes in the arcane language of the day, and the grassroots insight into everyday life, it could also be a valuable resource for writers working on that era.

Highly recommended for his buffs like myself. Five stars. 

News

Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Review: 12,574

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This has been a busy month for me with the publication of an eBook version of Two Irish Lads, The paperback publication of Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky,”  and completing the first draft of Coming of Age on the Trail. I am also happy to say that both Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears have received 5-star reviews on Amazon.com. Therefore the count stands this way:

 Click on the individual images (except Coming of Age) to purchase.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

   

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