Gerry B's Book Reviews

Taking Chance, by Laura Harner

A fine example of the western genre from a M/M perspective.



takin chance - coverStory blurb: Officer Chance Carter is pretty sure he’d still enjoy being on either end of a good ass reaming—just not the one from his supervisor that lands him on an involuntary extended vacation. Another holiday season with nothing to do except visit an old friend.

Former hospital corpsman Bryan Mitchell doesn’t feel less than honorable, but that’s what his discharge paperwork states. Now he’s down and out in Kingman, Arizona until the charity of a stranger lands him a temporary job for the holidays.

When two federal employees go missing during a highly controversial wild horse roundup, the two Willow Springs Ranch newcomers are drafted to help in the search, but if rumors of a local anti-government militia are true, Chance and Bryan may be in serious trouble—and from something far more dangerous than their mutual attraction.*

*Available as a free download on Goodreads (


Review by Gerry Burnie

Taking Chance (Willow Springs Ranch #3) by Laura Harner [Hot Corner Press; Second edition, June 2, 2013] is number three in a series, and I am obliged to admit it is the first I have read. Therefore, I have no background with character like Cass and Ty. However, I didn’t find this to be a disadvantage.

The story line is quite conventional. Bryan Mitchell has been given a dishonourable discharge from the navy, due to ‘conduct unbecoming,’ and because of this stigma he finds himself down and out. Fate leads him to Willow Springs Ranch, and since he and Ty both have navy backgrounds, he is hired on.

In the meantime, Chance Carter screws up on his sensitive job and is given an extended leave of absence; therefore, fate once again, leads him to Willow Springs Ranch.

Both are strong personalities. but from different perspectives, so their first meeting is rather feisty; however, when they are called upon to help find two government workers who have gone missing on a controversial horse roundup, they get to know one another both emotionally and physically.

[I don’t review sex scenes since I generally scan over them, (I mean, how many ways are there that haven’t been written about?) but for those who like a little spice with their story, there are plenty to satisfy.]

Things get dicey on this search, including one of them being kidnapped, but it provides a nice bit of drama as befits a good western.

I am somewhat of an aficionado of the western genre. I’ve read dozens of biographies and autobiographies, plus the same number of fictional adaptations, and this one can take a respectable position among them all.

It’s more of an adventure than a romance (which it should be), but being an M/M story it has to have some. I also liked the fact that the romance part didn’t stray into ‘Harlequin Romance’ territory.

That said, it didn’t break any new territory, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is the difference between a good novel and an outstanding one—in my opinion, anyway. Four and one-half bees.


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Protest the Homophobic attack on human rights and dignity in the former Soviet Union of Russia.

sidney_crosbySidney Crosby, Shea Weber Say They Oppose Russian Anti-Gay Law

Sidney Crosby, the 26-year-old captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Shea Weber, the 28-year-old defenceman of the Nashville Predators, on Sunday came out against a Russian anti-gay law.

The hockey players made their remarks during a news conference to kick off Canada’s Olympic training camp, the Calgary Herald reported.



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 books as well. Latest post: Sheriff John S. Ingram: Two-fisted town-tamer.


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August 26, 2013 Posted by | Gay fiction, Gay western, M/M love and adventure, Traditional Western, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

The Real Deal….


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

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

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

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


Review by Gerry Burnie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: All photographs by Adam Jahiel.


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

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

End of the Trail, by Jane Elliot

An enjoyable western novel written in the classical style – 




end of the trail - coverWill Connors is struggling to hold together a failing farm; his wife has died, his son has gone, he’s not without enemies and he’s dealing with the after-effects of a debilitating accident. It’s a life of toil which doesn’t allow for very much pleasure, and he’s in danger of becoming embittered until a chance acquaintance wanders back into his life and everything begins to change. The problem, however, is that John Anderson has a price on his head – and, very soon, Will and John find themselves desperately concealing more than one dangerous secret.


Review by Gerry Burnie

A brief overview of the books I’ve reviewed will reveal that I like westerns, especially those written in the classic style, and here’s another one: End of the Trail by Jane Elliot [Manifold Press, February 23, 2013].

I was first attracted to it by Robert Plotz’s cover image—two men riding hard with unfurled lariats in their hands. It is evocative of the old ‘penny westerns,’ with lots of action portrayed; however, the only problem being that it has little to do with the story except the western theme.

The story itself is set in the old west, although no specific time period is mentioned. The main character, Will Connors, is a lonely rancher: hard working; honest; and mildly handicapped (game leg). He is also a widower whose son has gone east, and so he is left to work the ranch on his own.

He first meets John Anderson three years prior when Anderson rides onto his property, wounded. Connors and his wife nurse him back to health, but it is only after he leaves that they learn that Anderson is an outlaw. In the meantime Connors’ wife dies, and John Anderson unexpectedly reappears looking for sanctuary. In need of both the help and company, Connors consents, and the two men form a friendship that ultimately evolves into a sexual relationship as well.

I like the pace the author uses to bring it about. These are mature men, after all, and Will is anything but impetuous, so there is no hopping into the sack at the clank of a belt buckle. Neither are there any moments of high drama: i.e. shootouts, stampedes, or murderous villains. There is one scheming neighbour who is trying to for Will into a sale, but no range war erupts. Which brings me around to the blurb.

Story blurbs are important because these help the shopper decide whether the plot is interesting enough to invest money into it. Consequently, the writer usually gives it their best shot with a handful of colourful adjectives and superlatives. However, one must also be careful not to over do it either unintentionally or intentionally. In this case, while the blurb was well written, I felt the story didn’t quite reach the dramatic level suggested by it.

Mind you, I hasten to add that I was quite satisfied with the story as it was.

All-in-all, I feel justified in recommending End of the Trail for your reading enjoyment. Four bees.


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April 8, 2013 Posted by | Coming out, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Traditional Western | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Longhorns, by Victor J. Banis

An enjoyable read in the style of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour


longhorn - coverForty-year-old Les, the trail boss of the Double H Ranch, works for its beloved chatelaine, the elderly widow Miz Cameron, “a little dumpling of a woman, dressed in black.” Les rides herd over a crew of rowdy cowboys, roping steer and sleeping around prairie campfires. Young drifter Buck, part Nasoni Indian, catches up to them on a roundup. After proving himself an expert sharpshooter, rider and roper, Buck celebrates his initiation to the group by luring one of their number, Red, into his bedroll. But Buck is really after Les, sandy-haired and significantly endowed.


Review by Gerry Burnie

I had previously passed on  Longhorns by Victor J. Banis [Running Press, July 13, 2007] several times, fearing that the title was a euphemism for long (male) ‘horns,’ but seeing the reaction it has received from so many readers, my curiosity finally got the better of me.

What I found was a pulp-style western, written (for the most part) in the classic vernacular. These are both good features from this reader’s point of view. Moreover, Victor Banis has also done quite a good job of capturing the atmosphere and camaraderie of a 19th-century cattle roundup; ruggedly independent men, interacting man-to-man, and free from the disruptive influence of women.

And, yes, there was sex between some of them [see: Queer Cowboys by Chris Pickard]. It was common for men in early Western America to relate to one another in pairs or in larger homo-social group settings. At times, they may have competed for the attention of women but more often two cowboys organized themselves into a partnership resembling a heterosexual marriage. This is reflected in a poem by the renowned cowboy poet, Charles Badger Clark, i.e.

longhorn - lost pardnerWe loved each other in the way men do
And never spoke about it, Al and me,
But we both knowed, and knowin’ it so true
Was more than any woman’s kiss could be.
We knowed–and if the way was smooth or rough,
The weather shine or pour,
While I had him the rest seemed good enough–
But he ain’t here no more!
The range is empty and the trails are blind,
And I don’t seem but half myself today.
I wait to hear him ridin’ up behind
And feel his knee rub mine the good old way
He’s dead–and what that means no man kin tell.
Some call it “gone before.”
Where? I don’t know, but God! I know so well
That he ain’t here no more!

Nevertheless, as can be seen from the above, it was seldom if ever overt, and this is where the story lost credibility with me. Buck was just a bit too out to be believable—or to have even survived, for that matter. Moreover, as several other reviewers have already noted, his fellow cowhands were also incredibly accepting of a way of life that was still considered “unspeakable.”

These are not fatal flaws, just niggling drawbacks, so I want to stress that this is an enjoyable story with some really strong writing, and a bang-on style. In fact, the style is every bit as authentic as Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Three and one-half bees.


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Glory Hallelujah! – I am pleased to announce that I have finished the pre-edited draft of my WIP novel, Coming of Age on the Trail. It has taken three years, 227 pages, 133,500 words, and a good deal of sweat and tears. I also feel behoved to mention that I had to fight Microsoft Word (“Microcrap”) every single line, paragraph, and page along the way. In fact, I have given it an un-dedication at the front of the book. To learn more, click on the above link or image.

stag dance copy2


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 28, 2013 Posted by | Coming out, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, M/M love and adventure, Traditional Western | 2 Comments

Calico, by Dorien Grey

(This marks the 150th post to date)

An excellent, engaging, and well-written story – 

Story blurb: It seemed like a simple job—guide Josh and Sarah to Bow Ridge to live with their aunt until they reached their 18th birthday. It was want [sic] their aunt Rebecca wanted, and the best choice Calico Ramsey thought he could make. But someone wants them dead, which makes no sense to Calico. Neither do the feelings aroused by the nearness of the handsome young man from Chicago-feelings that seem to be returned, and nothing in his past has prepared him for either.

Available in paperback and e-book format –  344 KB

About the author: If it is possible to have a split personality without being schizophrenic, Dorien Grey qualifies. When long-time book and magazine editor Roger Margason chose the pseudonym “Dorien Grey” for his first book, it set off a chain of circumstances which has led to the comfortable division of labor and responsibility. Roger has charge of day-to-day existence, freeing Dorien—with the help of Roger’s fingers—to write. It has reached the point where Roger merely sits back and reads the stories Dorien brings forth on the computer screen.


Review by Gerry Burnie

I love a good western—especially if it is written in the classical style of Calico, by Dorien Grey [Zumaya Publications, 2006]. To me this genre speaks of an earlier, simpler time, populated by strong, independent men and women who set the foundation of our present-day nation(s). They were simple folk, and yet they possessed a nobleness of spirit based primarily on the “Golden Rule,” i.e. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” [I hasten to add, however, that my preference does not run to gratuitous, rodeo-like romps from one bed to another; which I generally pass up.]

Calico Ramsey fits the bill of a hard-working, dedicated cowboy,[1] raised by a kindly rancher , “uncle Dan,” who took him in when he was orphaned. To get the plot rolling, Dan is unexpectedly named guardian of his twin, seventeen-year-old niece and nephew, Sarah and Josh, who are on their way from Chicago.

Nevertheless, tragedy strikes when Dan is murdered, and Calico picks up the task of meeting the twins at the railway station, and also delivering them to Dan’s sister, Rebecca, who lives in far off Colorado. Moreover, the plot thickens when it becomes evident that someone is out to kill them.

Since Calico is the oldest (at 27) he assumes the role of leader, and also undertakes to protect Josh and Sarah from harm; a not-so-easy task when confronted by fires, rock slides, stampedes, and the like. But, as the old saying goes: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” all this adventure draws the three of them closer together—especially Josh and Calico, who like most trail mates gradually build a bond of mutual admiration and respect. Comrades first, and then lovers when a handshake isn’t enough.

Having said that, I should point our that while this is a sweet, romantic relationship, it is strictly Platonic when is comes to sex. In other words, there ain’t none.

This, I presume, has to do with it being targeted toward a ‘young adult’ readership, which has never really been satisfactorily defined in my mind. Most adolescents could give us chapter and verse on sex and sexual practices, so where does one draw the line? Nonetheless, most writers pussyfoot around the topic of adult/youth relationships in the 16 – 20 year-old category [the age of consent is 16 in most jurisdictions], and so there is no real breakthrough here.

Nonetheless, while I demand a good plot, I am very content with a story that is sensual rather than erotic. I mean, how many ways are there of doing ‘it’ that haven’t been written about? So Dorien gets full marks on the romantic side.

My only complaint has nothing to do with this excellent, engaging, and well-written story. Rather it has to do with the story blurb, which has to be one of the poorest I’ve read (including a rather blatant typo).  So someone should get their knuckles rapped for this one.

Otherwise, I loved “Calico,” and I think you will, too. Five bees.


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[1] I hesitate to use the term “cowboy.” When asked about cowboys and cowponies, legendary rancher Granville Stuart replied, “There weren’t no ‘boys’ and there were no ‘ponies.’”

July 29, 2012 Posted by | Coming out, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Traditional Western, Uncategorized | Leave a 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.


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

The City of Lovely Brothers, by Anel Viz

A cleverly conceived family saga




Story blurb: “The City of Lovely Brothers” is a family saga, the history of Caladelphia Ranch, jointly owned by four brothers, Calvin, Caleb, Calhoun and Caliban Caldwell – how it grew and prospered, and how rivalry between the brothers led to its breaking up and decline. As the story evolves, it focuses on the love affair between the youngest brother, Caliban, who is lame, and Nick, one of their ranch hands, and how their relationship set the stage for the already open feud to explode and ultimately caused the demise of the ranch.


Review by Gerry Burnie

I enjoy this type of family saga; especially if it involves interesting, colourful characters. In this regard, The City of Lovely Brothersby Anel Viz [Silver Publishing, November 2010] has a full cast of them.

The author’s approach is to conjure up a fictional city, “Caladelphia,” Montana, as though it actually existed. Moreover, by referring to its street maps, city limits and equally fictional landmarks—i.e. “Hokey Hill Mall,” he does a very convincing job of it, as well. It is also a clever way of introducing the Caldwell family, their history, and the four disparate brothers—Calvin, Caleb, Calhoun and Caliban. There is also a sister, Callie, who plays a supporting role to the others.

Calvin, the oldest of the siblings, is a stern, humourless man who assumes the role of head of the Caldwell clan after both parents die. He fills this role quite well, too, and apart from being somewhat dictatorial he is a good manager; expanding the ranch until it is one of the largest outfit in the territory.

Caleb is the next oldest, boisterous and a hard drinker—which ultimately contributes to his destruction.

Calhoun is a strong personality in his own right. It is inevitable, therefore, that these two should clash in an extreme case of sibling rivalry; especially when Calvin undertakes to severely discipline him for impregnating a servant girl.

Finally, Caliban is the baby of family blessed with good looks that are almost “Too pretty to be a man.” Moreover his good nature matches his looks, such that “No one could resist his laughing eyes and kind smile.”

Part II of the story then goes on to trace the rising fortunes of the Caldwell ranch, later named Caladelphia—meaning “The City of the Cal Brothers.” But the Greek translation could also mean “pretty” or “lovely” brothers. Ergo, the title.

Along the way a number of events transpire that are meaningful to the story. Needing a woman keep house, Calvin sets out on a quest to find a wife, and returns with one; a quite realistic touch, for it was often done that way without undue wonderment on anyone’s part.

Secondly, Calvin administers a humiliating whipping on his fifteen-year-old brother, Calhoun, for impregnating a servant girl; causing a lifetime rift between the two. And, thirdly, Caliban is thrown from a horse; sustaining a hip fracture that is poorly treated by the local doctor. This necessitates a trip to the populated community of Billings, Montana, where he is properly treated but requires several months convalescence. The time is well spent, however, because he advances his education through reading; such that he becomes reasonably well read. His brother Caleb comes to Billings to escort Caliban home, and also to further his sex education—although nothing physical transpires between them.

All of this is artfully woven together and advances the story at a pace that keeps the reader’s interest moving along. This pace continues as Caliban, concerned about how he might support himself when his hip gives out, decides to become a teacher. This necessitates a two-year absence from the ranch, and while in Laramie he is approached at least once by a man who is drawn to his beauty. However, Caliban rebuffs him.

While he is away Caleb decides to marry, and Caliban decides to ask one of his stable hands, Nick, to share his remote Cabin. Their friendship had been growing quite close, and since they were both single it seemed like a practical thing to do. Calvin objects on the basis that Caliban would be fraternizing with an employee, but Calvin is overruled by his wife, Darcie. On his return, therefore, Caliban and Nick discover that they share more than just a cabin, and for the first time Caliban is in love.

In Part III, Caliban and Nick are now a couple; albeit covertly, and the author has cleverly introduced a fictional diary that Nick has been maintaining since childhood. This gives their love story a certain aura of authenticity, and through their eyes we see the relationship between the other brothers deteriorating—particularly between Calhoun and Calvin. This situation is exacerbated as Calvin begins to subdivide the home-section of the ranch into a village-type development—which Calhoun criticizes as taking away from the ranch. In short, there is no middle ground for these two characters, and thereby the seeds of destruction of Caladelphia as a ranch are sown.

There is much that can be favourably said about this story. It is cleverly conceived; it is well written; and the first and second parts move along quite nicely. However, in the third part the pace is burdened by superfluous detail that doesn’t seem to add anything to the story. Moreover it is frequently repetitious, giving the impression that the author has lost control of the narrative.

Apart from these reservations, it remains a good read and is recommended on that basis. Three-and-one-half stars.


 Here is the cover for my ‘in-progress’ novel, “The Brit, Kid Cupid, and Petunia“. Click on Image to read an excerpt.





December 4, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Traditional Western | Leave a comment

All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy

It’s about manliness, friendship, loyalty, honour and integrity, and it just doesn’t  get much better than that!



All the Pretty Horses is the story of John Grady Cole, the last of a long line of west Texas ranchers. Upon his grandfather’s death and his parents’ divorce, the sixteen-year-old Cole finds himself landless, penniless, and possessed of skills that mean nothing in a country transformed by highways and a world war, where cowboys are as doomed and marginal as the Indians they once displaced. With his friend Lacey Rawlins, John Grady sets off for Mexico. They have no idea what they will find there: on their map, the area south of the Rio Grande is blank. They have between them two horses, a rifle, and their bedrolls. The year is 1949.
In the months that follow the two boys–who are soon joined by a third, the unlucky Jimmy Blevins–will journey backward in time while simultaneously going forward into a precocious and saddened manhood. They will find their way to a place where a horse is still a thing of value and breaking one is considered a worthy feat, a place where love can still burn like a cold fire. But in Mexico love also has the power to destroy a reputation, and one can encounter obstacles of medieval severity. Stealing a horse–even one that is by all rights his own–can get a man killed. Or subject him to ordeals that amount to nothing less than the death of his former self.

Winner of: National Book Award for Fiction (1992), National Book Critics’ Circle Award (1992),

Motion Picture (2000): Miramax Films; Director: Billy Bob Thornton; Starring : Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Lucas Black, Penelope Cruz.


Review by Gerry Burnie

 When discussing Cormac McCarthy’s writings, such as his All the Pretty Horses [Vintage, 1992], the discussion invariably turns to his unorthodox use of English grammar, i.e.

He dismounted and unrolled his plunder and opened the box of shells and put half of them in his pocket and checked the pistol that it was loaded all six cylinders and closed the cylinder gate and put the pistol into his belt and rolled his gear back up and retied the roll behind the saddle and mounted the horse again and rode into the town.( 257)

Nonetheless, when reading it in context one cannot imagine it written any other way. In fact, it struck me as being almost blank verse, and quintessentially suited for the vastness of the great Texas and Mexican landscapes. Indeed the setting of a story dealing with the very spirit of The West calls for it. There is a naturalness about it, unhindered by stops and starts or artificial boundariesIt is therefore free to grow as if it were evolving in the here and now. Yet there is purposefulness to its growth, for each new idea or thought builds on the last with the same organic freedom—like a living vine.

McCarthy also uses a number of Spanish words and phrases (untranslated), and many reviewers have criticized this choice for leaving the reader(s) in the dark. However I think that it was a very intentional choice, and very much part of the relationship of the reader to the story. In other words we are tagging along with John Grady, and unless we speak Spanish we would otherwise be in the dark to know what they were talking about. It is another touch of realism that in its subtlty never interferes with the gist of the story.

For me, however, the most impressive aspect of this read isthe credibility of the characters. In the story John Grady Cole is 16 years old in 1949, which means he was born in 1933; however, according to the code he lives by he could just as easily have been born in the 1800s; when a man’s word was his bond. For example, John Grady (and Rawlins) are joined by 13-year-old Jimmy Blevins who tags along uninvited, he’s a pain and he screws them in big and little ways. JGC and Rawlins are provided plenty of opportunities to move on without him, to leave him to the fate he deserves. But John Grady sticks his neck out for Blevins especially when he deserves the opposite. That, to me, is the true spirit of the West.

Lacey Rawlins is quite distinct from JGC, but just as credible, and—in my opinion—absolutely delightful! In many ways the two of them remind me of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn ‘gone West’. The interaction between them is primarily presented in dialogue form, but with such authenticity that one never doubts for a moment they are who they are supposed to be. i.e.

John Grady and Rawlins are talking about being born:

Rawlins lay watching the stars. After a while he said: I could still be born. I might look different or something. If God wanted me to be born Id be born.

And if he didn’t you wouldn’t.

You’re makin my goddamn head hurt.

II know it. I’m makin my own.

They lay watching the stars.

So what do you think [about running away to Mexico]? He said.

I don’t know, said Rawlins. 


I could understand if you was from Alabama you’d have ever reason in the world to run off to Texas. But if you’re already in Texas. I don’t know. You got a lot more reason for leavin’ than me.

What the hell reason you got for stayin’? You think somebody’s goin to die and leave you something?

Shit no.

That’s good. Cause they aint.

If, from this, you can picture two teenage boys lying under the stars and talking seriously about life, then you get my meaning about credibility. An evocation of another, simpler time, and lush with memories for some of us.

Finally, some criticism has been raised about the Alejandra /JGC relationship for not being romantic enough. Not from my point of view. In my opinion this story is not about boy-meets-girl; rather it is about manliness, friendship, loyalty, honour and integrity, and it just doesn’t get much better than that.

Visit My Blog

See a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail: An M/M adventure and Romance

See an interesting collection of cowboy photographs from c. 1900.

August 8, 2010 Posted by | Fiction, Historical Fiction, Traditional Western | Leave a comment


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