Shortly after I reviewed Gay Male Fiction Since Stonewall, I received a note from author Les Brookes suggesting I read At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’NeShortly after I reviewed Gay Male Fiction Since Stonewall, I received a note from author Les Brookes suggesting I read At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill [Scribner, 2002]. I took him at his word, and I am ever so happy that I did. This is an epic tale (576 pages) that has been compared to such heavyweights as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Flann O’Brien, and arguably so.
The setting is the village of Glasthule, near Dublin, Ireland, in the year 1915. Glasthule is a quintessential Irish village that O’Neill has populated with a cast of colourful characters: Jim Mack, the sixteen-year-old ingénue, unworldly to the point of being naïve; Doyler Doyle, similar in age but worldly in all the ways Jim isn’t, and a socialist-patriot; Mr. Mack, Jim’s father and an inveterate social-climber, both for himself and his son; Eveline MacMurrough, Glasthule’s local gentry and leading citizen; Anthony MacMurrough. Eveline’s nephew back in Ireland after his release from an English prison for ‘gross indecency’; Mr. Doyle, “Himself”, Doyler’s father and a veteran of the Boer War—which status he uses to illicit free drinks at the local pub; and the Catholic clergy-establishment represented by Brother Polycarp, a paedophilic conservative, and Curate Father O’Toiler, a devout, Irish nationalist.
Each of these characters is unique in some way, well-developed throughout, and each represents an element of traditional Irish society. Moreover, O’Neill has endowed them all—especially the poorer-classes—with a wonderfully quaint vernacular of Irish words and phrases; including Gaelic. He then goes on to surround these with an equally lyrical narrative that captures the lilt of the Irish language to a delightful degree.
At the beginning of the story Jim is a student at the Catholic college, a remarkable achievement for a lad of his modest, economic background, but it is only made possible by winning a scholarship. While this is a most credible accomplishment on Jim’s part, it also labels him a step below his wealthier classmates—a reflection of the classist-based stratification of Anglo-Irish society during this era. As a result Jim is somewhat of a loner; feeling neither at ease with his peers nor in his father’s pretentious, middleclass lifestyle. That is until he serendipitously encounters the rakish Doyler Doyle, a former childhood friend who has returned to Glasthule to assist his poverty-stricken mother and ailing father—i.e. “Himself.” Coming from the other side of the tracks, and employed as a “shit shoveller,” Doyler represents the lowest class of all on the economic scale; nevertheless he possesses a “what cheer, eh?” attitude, and a high level of fundamental honesty and principle—if one overlooks the occasional ‘sex-for-incentive’ activity.
Like a moth to a beacon, Jim is drawn to this outgoing, verbose, and also affectionate rascal, and together they find common ‘ground’ in swimming at “Forty Foot”; a promontory near Dublin, famous for nude bathing. Thus the two become dedicated to the swim such that they make a solemn pact to swim to Muglins Rock a year hence—Easter Sunday, 1916—as the pinnacle of their achievement and their growing friendship. Unwittingly, therefore, they have also laid the cornerstone of their romance, which will grow apace.
Here O’Neill has purposefully cut through the economic class structure of the day to find a more meaningful commonality to bind the two boys together, acceptably, while letting their romantic love develop almost imperceptibly at the same time. Interestingly, for a novel written in 2002, it is a classic assimilationist approach to gay fiction; i.e. an idealistic love between two males ‘unblemished’ by sex. The melancholy ending also reflects the unwritten, pre-Stonewall (1969) rule that covert or overt gay characters couldn’t be allowed an ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.
Representing the Irish Nationalist movement of the period, O’Neill has surprisingly assigned Eveline MacMurrough, and to some extent Curate Father O’Toiler—although his nationalism is firmly grounded in the interest of the Catholic Church as the national church. Ergo, the landscape of early 20th-century Ireland is painted in shades of conflict: conflict between the classes; conflict between Ireland and Britain; conflict between the Catholics and Protestants, and conflict between gays and the heterosexual establishment.
Jim and Doyler are also caught up in these conflicts regardless of their quite innocent and as yet unconsummated love. Jim’s bullying peers taunt him about his relationship with Doyler, Brother Polycart is darkly jealous of Doyler’s attention toward Jim, and Jim is torn between his religious belief and his growing sexual desire for Doyler—so much so that he ultimately experiences a nervous breakdown, and Doyler is driven away for being a socialist.
Rising above all this the two boys do eventually reach the apex of their love/relationship by swimming to Muglins Rock, where they finally consummate their love as well. However, having reached the pinnacle of their relationship there is no place but down when they are caught up in the ill-fated, 1916 Easter uprising.
This is a powerful and yet tender coming-of-age tale that engages the reader with layers of emotion, from the pinnacle to the depths and back again.
To me 12th-century England was a fascinating time, filled with knights, squires, wizards, and wonderfully mystical religioGerry B's Book Reviews
To me 12th-century England was a fascinating time, filled with knights, squires, wizards, and wonderfully mystical religions, all functioning in and around vast, primeval forests where Druids practised their ancient rites. Of these, the Greenwode, by J Tullos Hennig [Dreamspinner Press, January 18, 2013] is probably best known, i.e. all one has to do is add Rob of Loxley (or “Robin Hood”) to comprehend why.
As such, it is somewhat difficult to categorize this genre. It is mostly fantasy/fiction I suppose, since Robin Hood has never been proven to have existed, but otherwise it might be alternative history. Certainly Greenwood Forest and Druids existed, as did priories, convents, and the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church.
The problem I have with previous versions of Robin Hood, mostly created by Hollywood, is their ‘prettification’ of 12th-century England, with turreted castles (15th-century or later), impeccable clothes, and as one Hollywood Robin Hood put it, “Unlike other Robin Hoods, I speak with an English accent,”[Robin Hood: Men in tights]—albeit, a modern one.
Fortunately, this author has captured a good part of the dark and primitive atmosphere, which was circa-Crusade England, as well as the mix of old and new religions that existed at the time, and this scores well with me. After all, a period novel should be first and foremost true to the period.
I also like the plot, once again because it is consistent with the period. Rob is the son of a respected (yeoman) forester, but at the same time he is more than that. He is, in fact, a ‘crown prince” in the Druid religion—a future manifestation of the ‘Horned God.’
Gamelyn, his unlikely love interest, is the minor son of an earl, and a hidebound Catholic, but it is Rob’s simple nobility that eventually evens the playing field between them. Moreover, it is Rob who has the courage to question the horned god’s interpretation of the future.
This is a gutsy twist on a major classic that works. Not only that, but because of the realism, I believe it a step forward. A special mention as well for the absolutely stunning cover art. Five bees....more
At the risk of seeming Grinch-like at this time of year, I found "The Christmas Throwaway" by RJ Scott [Silver Publishing, 2010] a bit too saccharin for my taste.
The premise of the story is that Zachary Weston, an almost-eighteen-year-old castaway, thrown out by an abusive, homophobic father, takes refuge in a small town with a small police force and young cop (Ben Hamilton) who happens to be gay.
Moved by the young lad’s plight and the spirit of Christmas, Hamilton takes him under his wing and under the protection of his family—most particularly his nurturing mother. Zachary is readily accepted by all, except for Jamie—Ben’s married brother—who quite reasonably has some reservations about bringing a total stranger under his mother’s roof. Other members of the supporting cast are Ellie, Ben’s younger sister; Mark his long-standing, best friend, and Melanie—Mark’s wife and the town doctor.
After considerable toing and froing the inevitable happens, and Ben and Zach fall in love. The issue of Zach’s previous home life is also resolved—quite surprisingly in the end.
Journalistically, this is a well-written story. The premise, although somewhat lacking in originality, is also well-developed with some interesting plot twists here and there. Where it suffers, however, is in a noticeable lack of any real tension or drama. The characters are just too cloyingly nice to one another, and what tension there is comes across as mildly contrived.
Nonetheless, it is a feel-good story with likable characters and a happy ending, and if are looking for a good curl-up-beside-the-fire read, then this is a book for you. Three-and-one-half stars.
I understand that Lorcan’s Desire (Whispering Pines Ranch #1) [dreamspinner Press, May 30, 2011] is the first effort by a now “published Author”, SJD Peterson, so congratulations are in order. However, now that the ‘first born’ is out there, let’s see how it rates.
There is much to be said for this story as a first effort. The writing is strong, and technically it reads almost effortlessly—a good start. The style is straightforward with just enough description to make it interesting—particularly the sex scenes, which are as creative a sex scenes get. The plot is also interesting, if taken in a linear fashion without the twists and turns thrown in.
I was particularly taken by the opening in which Lorcon is introduced as a rebel with a cause, and therein the reader is sympathetically drawn to him. On the other hand, Quinn’s character is not as well developed, and to some extent he remains underdeveloped throughout—apart from carrying a lot of baggage from a previous relationship, and a debilitating fear of being outed by a vindictive and covetous neighbour.
After the introductions, however, the story departs from its nice clean narrative style to get bogged down in a complex of “does he, or doesn’t he’s” on both sides. I do understand that these are intended to convey the mental turmoil being experienced by both characters, but given that each has a hard-on for the other in every scene they appear together, it unfortunately comes across as more indecision than heart-felt anguish.
The introduction of Jess also took me by surprise. Once in, however, the relationship between Lorcan and Jess–a returning to a clean narrative style–was made much more agreeable because of it.
Having said that, there are some very nice highlights–the tense scene when Lorcan is being hit-on by Jess and Quinn sees them, and when Lorcan and Jess arrive back at the ranch after spending the night together. Also, if you like well-written homoerotica, Lorcan’s Desire is sure to please. Three and one-half stars. ...more
As someone who knows, I’ve always said that a sure sign of getting old is when nearly every topic begins with, “I used to.” Ruth Sims has captured this regrettable fact remarkably well in her poignant short story, Song on the Sand [Untreed Reads, 2010]. In fact Tony Dalby and I share quite a few “I used tos.” I was a former dancer who now only walks with the aid of a walker. I was also an actor and singer (who once played Curly in “Oklahoma”—like Jesse), so I could relate to Tony Dalby at a very personal level. However, unlike Dalby I have never developed a resentment for the loss of these abilities. That’s what makes Song on the Sand so poignant, though. Conflict and resolution, which Ms Sims weaves into the narrative with remarkable believability.
Tony Dalby is a somewhat bitter old man, irascible as well, confined to a wheelchair in an impersonal nursing home. He is in fact what we all fear about getting old; finding ourselves helpless, alone and lonely. Redemption is on the way, however, in the person of a handsome young stranger named Drew. He is a frequent visitor to the nursing home because his “cousin” Jesse is a comatose inmate—the victim of a hit-and-run. Drew befriends Tony and it is then revealed that Jesse (a former amateur actor and singer) is really Drew’s lover, but because same-sex relationships are not recognized as kin, Drew has had to fabricate a kinship in order to gain access to him.
The pathos of this situation begins to inspire Tony to help, and in fact gives him a reason to help himself. He therefore suggests a form of musical therapy by playing music from Broadway musicals, and one of these is Song on the Sand from “La Cage aux Folles,” in which Jesse and he have previously played the same role.
Will it work? Will Jesse respond? Those are questions that I will leave with you, but like me I think you will be as surprised with the answers.
This is a superbly written story about a topic we rarely see in GBLT literature, i.e. the elderly. Nevertheless those usually hot young things do get old, and I am so very pleased to see aging dealt with with such insight and understanding. Do read this story for several reasons. First—as I’ve already mentioned—because of the uniqueness of topic, and also for the masterful way inwhich Ms Sims has crafted it.
A 24-carat nugget of a story, and highly recommended. Five stars.
Mark Wildyr’s cross-culture novel “Cut Hand” [StarBooks Press, 2010] was a delightful find for me. To explain, I usually shy away from “Wild West” stoMark Wildyr’s cross-culture novel “Cut Hand” [StarBooks Press, 2010] was a delightful find for me. To explain, I usually shy away from “Wild West” stories because they tend to be little more than loosely strung together sexual romps, to which the plot only serves to move the characters from one tryst to another. On the contrary “Cut Hand,” while sexy, is a plot-driven, insightful look at “Two Spirit” customs within North American Native cultures. Moreover, since it places a white boy in the role of the wink-te (pronounced “wan-te” in this story) it is unique approach to it.
Billy Strobaw is the product of Tory parents (called “Loyalists” in Canada) who are unsettled as a result of the American War of Independence. He and his family therefore become outcasts in their own land, and after their untimely deaths young Billy decides to seek his fortune in the Far West. Enroute, his party saves a handsome young Indian named Cut Hand from certain death by a rival band. Thereafter Billy is surprised by his unexpected physical reaction to the Indian brave. Surprisingly Cut Hand returns his attention to not only steal Billy’s heart but also convinces him to live among his people. Thrust without preparation into a strange culture, Billy agrees to become Cut Hand’s winkte wife; an act that brings problems but not from the direction he expected. As the two men work to overcome the differences in their cultural backgrounds, Billy comes to appreciate the Native Americans for their oneness with the land and their staunch loyalty to one another.
To simply say that this story is “plot-driven” does not do it the justice it deserved. This is a superbly researched glimpse of “a time never again to be seen on the Great Plains,” and done with such credibility that it is a veritable history lesson in itself. Also woven into this is a sometimes poignant story of love between men: manly men; husbands and wink-te wives; warriors; and yet so human that anyone could identify with them.
While commenting on the superlatives inherent in this work, one shouldn’t overlook the cast of true-to-life characters. Wildyr has given each of these a distinctive character, and then goes on to develop and expand it as the story progresses. Moreover, he has resisted the pitfalls of stereotyping the Natives, especially, and has not attempted to ‘sanitize’ them, either.
Altogether, this is quintessential historical fiction encompassing a fascinating topic and period in history. Five stars.
I enjoy this type of family saga; especially if it involves interesting, colourful characters. In this regard, ”The City of Lovely Brothers” by Anel VI enjoy this type of family saga; especially if it involves interesting, colourful characters. In this regard, ”The City of Lovely Brothers” by 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.
Every once in a while I get a yen to read a gothic tale—something like the compulsion for a decaGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Every once in a while I get a yen to read a gothic tale—something like the compulsion for a decadent dessert—so when I came across one in the gay genre I just had to order a serving.
The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce [Lethe Press, 2012] is a gothic novel written in the classical style, with a quintessential brooding mansion atop a seaside cliff; a cast of eccentric servants; a young innocent (male); and a darkly-handsome master with a slightly sinister reputation.
Young Andrew Wyndham, driven by his ambition to study art in Paris, takes a position as tutor to the son of a wealthy, hardnosed businessman, Duncan Stewart. He therefore travels from his modest home in Manhattan to take up residence at “Seacliff,” Stewart’s remote seaside estate on the Atlantic Coast.
His arrival is none too encouraging when the first person he encounters is a grizzled man who warns him to flee for his life—and his soul. He nonetheless carries on, and eventually hears that Duncan is rumoured to have shot his father and his father’s friend in order to gain control of the family business.
However, this is not the only mystery hanging over Seacliff Manor, for Duncan’s protégé (and secret lover), pianist Steven Charles, disappeared a year before Andrew’s arrival and his absence has cast further suspicion on Duncan. But Duncan is a man who can be disarmingly charming, as well as irascible, and so Andrew is more intrigued by him than frightened.
Other characters populate this story, as well: The dour and suspicious butler; the (gay) brother and sister who own the neighbouring estate; Duncan’s son, Timothy; and the mute son of the housekeeper’s daughter (who leaped from the cliff when she found her lover had been murdered.)
All is revealed in the end, but in the meantime it is a fun read, almost reminiscent of suspects ‘popping in and out of doors’ in an Agatha Christie novel. Highly recommended. Four bees....more
You may have noticed I have a passion for WWII-vintage stories, and have reviewed several in theGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
You may have noticed I have a passion for WWII-vintage stories, and have reviewed several in the past. I like the era in general. It was a time when the free-world was drawn together by a war in two theatres, and men bonded together as warrior brothers—and sometimes more. Wingmen by Ensan Case (a pseudonym) [Cheyenne Publishing, 2012] captures the latter phenomenon with remarkable clarity and credibility. It is, in fact, one of the best war stories I have read.
Ensign Frederick “Trusty” Trusteau, one of two wingmen assigned to “skipper,” Lieutenant Commander J.J. “Jack” Hardigan. Trusteau is a handsome, capable aviator, who has honed his reputation as a “whoremaster” because that was (and is) the gold standard among predominantly male societies. It was very often a sham, or cover-up, but it was better than being considered the “odd-man-out.”
Jack Hardigan is a hard-drinking, hard driving skipper, who is dating a wealthy widow in Honolulu, but apart from a certain level of affection, there is no evidence of sexual activity between them. Therefore, there is no grand regrets when she breaks off their relationship for someone else.
The relationship between the two men starts, as it usually does, with earned respect on both sides; in this case as pilots of the famed Grumman Hellcats flown off the deck of a carrier. The bond grows stronger with each mission—warrior brothers—until it inevitably ends in a hotel room in Honolulu, where the line between brothers-in-arms and lovers is finally crosssed. However , if you are looking for a torrid, sexually erotic scene between two horny flyboys, you (gratefully) will not find it here. This scene is definitely sexy because of the circumstances—and the fact that we’ve been waiting for it for nearly two-thirds of the story—but in 1979 you didn’t write that sort of thing if you wanted to find a publisher—even an avant-garde one. Nevertheless, I think it is made a more realistic story because of it. This a story about men in love in war, and not about sex per se.
Of course the story wouldn’t be complete without an appropriate setting, and Case has provided it on board a fictional aircraft carrier, the Constitution. You can almost smell the sweat and testosterone in these scenes as they jostle aboard her. His apparent knowledge of naval aircraft is an asset as well, with just enough detail to help the reader understand without bogging the pace down in the process.
For those into WWII nostalgia there are also well-known battles, i.e. Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon, where most of the Japanese Imperial fleet was wiped out—60 ships and 275 airplanes. Case has also provided an insight into the gruesomeness of war in some tense scenes where men are shot down, blown apart, and drowned mercilessly in the fray, and in the end Jack risks his life to save his lover.
Nevertheless, I agree with several other reviewers that the story should have ended on a high in 1945. The last part is interesting, mind you, and wraps up some loose ends, but it is anticlimactical. Given the excellence of the preceding, however, I’m not letting it dampen my overall impression. Five bees....more
“Frost Fair” by noted author ‘Erastes’ (Cheyenne Publishing, 2009) is a love story set against the backdrop of Dickensian London and the frozen Thames“Frost Fair” by noted author ‘Erastes’ (Cheyenne Publishing, 2009) is a love story set against the backdrop of Dickensian London and the frozen Thames River, in 1814. This intriguing setting includes a carnival on ice, described by diarist John Evelyn as a “bacchanalian triumph,” thus completing the atmosphere for a superb, period romance. Moreover, Erastes populates this ‘unique happening’ with a fascinating array of characters: a handsome, honest tradesman; a kindly and loving patron; and a glib, wealthy cad.
Fiercely Independent tradesman, Gideon Frost, is a talented lithographer and printer struggling to make ends meet (no pun intended), even if this means occasionally selling his body in the courtyard of the venerable old St. Paul’s Cathedral—an interesting and historically accurate juxtaposition—and the equally intriguing street called “Lad Lane.” Beset by bill collectors, Gideon receives a lucrative commission from a wealthy gentleman-of-leisure, Joshua Redfern, who is secretly enamoured by this beautiful, young artisan. Unknown to Redfern, Gideon is equally smitten by him as well. Meanwhile, as a result of a “Little Ice Age” (c. 1770-1800), the Thames River froze solid to the delight of tradesmen eager to make a pound-or-two—Gideon included. It also attracted the curious of all classes, including one, Finbarr Thouless.
Now, one of the solid pluses of this novela is the well-developed cast of characters, and Finbarr Thouless is no exception. Delightfully ‘slithery,’ he is portrayed as a two-faced, self-centred, foppish cad with a vitriolic vengeful streak. Moreover, given the fact that he exercises considerable sway over Redfern, it does not bode well for him and Gideon. I hasten to add that there is nothing formulaic about this story, for it offers several twists right up to the ending; which is both surprising and gratifying at the same time. That, however, is for the reader to discover for him or herself.
Of particular interest to me, as a writer of historical fiction, is the authentic depiction of the ‘frost fair.’ This rare occurrence first came to my knowledge through Helen Humphries (“Frozen Thames”), who dramatized this phenomenon with colourful vignettes—including accounts of birds falling from the air cocooned in a coating of ice. Therefore, from my point of view a bit more descriptive elaboration would not have gone amiss. However, the story does move along delightfully with no unnecessary dawdling, whatsoever.
Not to be overlooked, either, is the stunning front cover art by Alex Beecroft—herself ‘no slouch’ as a writer. Coincidentally, my next scheduled review will focus on her novel “Captain’s Surrender.”
“Frost Fair” is a definite read for those who enjoy well researched, and well-written historical fiction, romance and a gay perspective.
Definition of a “catamite”: A boy kept for homosexual practices. Oxford Dictionaries
While this story doesn’t deal with a “kept” boy, (i.e. harboured or enslaved), it does deal with young boys—one older—and homosexuality. Therefore, when I first saw the title (and the evocative cover) of The Secret Catamite 1: The Book of Daniel by Patrick C. Notchtree [Limebury Books, March 19, 2012], I was intrigued to see how the author would deal with the subject matter.
You see, most writers shun the topic of adolescent and teen sexuality, even though they know it exists from having lived through it. I did, and I certainly don’t consider myself unusual in any way. Therefore, to pretend otherwise is like ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room—the one with pink wings and yellow polka dots.
Fortunately, Patrick Notchtree chooses not to demure from it in characterizing the sexual relationship between Simon and Daniel as being both natural and wholesome. To them, it is the evolution of a friendship that includes both the emotional and the physical; no secrets withheld, and no holds barred.
But The Secret Catamite is so much more than just a story of physical love. It is the story of a boy who is adjudged “different,” and because of this is made to feel different by many who are barely adjusted, themselves. The father who is emotionally maladjusted, wavering between indifference and disciplinarian; the schoolyard bullies who call him “bastard” and “simple Simon;” the teacher who tells him he should never have been born; and the Draconian headmistress who is quick with the hickory stick.
Given these two bookends, it is not at all surprising that Simon finds solace, comfort and a measure of security in Daniel.
There are also other positive moments as Simon struggles to overcome his afflictions; his small academic achievements; the excitement of being able to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on the family’s very own television set, family vacations, and learning to swim. These may not seem like notable occasions now, but in the late 1940s, early 50s, these were as good as it got for simple folk.
Altogether, for me this is a breakthrough book for its sensitive portrayal of adolescent sexuality, and its ability to relate to most people’s childhood experiences. There are some flaws, but I’m going to give it five bees, anyway.
For a real-life horror story involving adolescent sexuality read the following. For the full story click on the title link.
Gossip destroys a family
BY CHRISTINA BLIZZARD ,QMI AGENCY
This is a bizarre and scary story, about how one family has been destroyed – ripped apart by a snickered conversation between two children on a school bus.
Based on that unfounded hearsay, the school bus driver spoke to the school principal, the school called Family and Child Services who called the cops.
A worker from FACS Niagara talked to the two boys. Little brother Mike recalled a time when they’d been wrestling on the ground and touched each other’s privates – outside their clothing. Their father had intervened and given them a time-out and told them to stop rolling on the floor.
The FACS worker decided to call in police.
The police officer spent another 45 minutes interviewing Mike, who steadfastly maintained that his brother hadn’t molested him, but that another boy had.
Shortly after, late one afternoon, the Smiths got a call from the Niagara Region police officer saying they were going to arrest Bobby at school the next day.
His parents asked why they’d do that in front of his peers – and said they’d bring him to the police station the next morning.
The officer balked, until John insisted that if they were going to arrest Bobby at school, he’d keep the child at home.
He is, after all, just a 12-year-old.
Bobby was forced to move out of the family home – away from Mike. Bobby and his dad moved in with the children’s grandparents in Hamilton, thinking it would be a temporary measure.
FACS told them if they didn’t do that, Bobby would be put in a detention centre.
He hasn’t been home since.
When they could no longer stay in their grandparents’ basement, and when they failed to have his bail conditions lessened, the only option was for the family to sign a temporary care agreement, which put Bobby in a group home for six months. The visiting hours when Mary and John can see their son have been limited, and Bobby has limited access to other children.
Suffer the little children? They certainly do in Niagara....more
It’s unanimous: Barry Brennessel’s novel The Celestial [MLR Press,LLC, September 6, 2012] is a great story! Most reviewGerry B's Book Reviews
It’s unanimous: Barry Brennessel’s novel The Celestial [MLR Press,LLC, September 6, 2012] is a great story! Most reviews I have read have dipped into the superlative bag for apt descriptors, and I must agree.
My approach comes from my passion and accompanying research into American frontier history, including the California mining communities of the mid-1800s, and I must say that the author has captured the tone of these rough-and-tumble, gritty and grotty settlements remarkably well.
Set against this rugged backdrop is the wide-eyed naïveté of farmboy, Todd Morgan, and his companion Lâo Jian; both innocent romantics who just want to live and love in the midst of this harsh environment.
Part of Brennessel’s strength as a writer is his ability to create vivid characters who are both interesting and unique. Each character has a distinctive voice that sets him (or her) apart while contributing to the over all story. So, whether it’s Ned Calvert, Todd’s irascible uncle, or the young Irish miner, Breandon (on whom Todd has an early crush), they all contribute in their own way.
One of the regrettable aspects of frontier society was the degree of prejudice against certain ethnic societies, i.e. Native Americans and certain foreigners, especially–to the miners–the Chinese, who were called “Chinamen,” “Johnny Pig Tails,” or “Celestials” (because they came from the so-called “Celestial Empire.”)
The miners resented them because they saw them as competition, and distrusted them because they tended to stick to their own communities, which is not surprising since they were generally shunned elsewhere. As a result the Chinese were subjected to all manner of abuse, even murder, and Brennessel has done quite a credible job of portraying this.
Nonetheless, Todd and Lâo Jian persevere primarily because of the strength and love they derive from one another, and this is the inspirational theme that underlies the whole story. Highly recommended. Five bees!...more
I am always on the lookout for unique stories, or at least stories that have a unique aspect to them, so when I read theGerry B's Book Reviews
I am always on the lookout for unique stories, or at least stories that have a unique aspect to them, so when I read the intriguing blurb to Gives Light (Gives Light Series#1) by Rose Christo [self-published by Rose Christo, July 2012], I knew I was onto something quite unique.
Gives Light is the first of a trilogy by that name, and although I haven’t read the other two editions, I think it might be best to start the series with this particular volume. It is described as containing 353 pages (estimated) but when the spaces are deducted—between the block-style paragraphs—it is probably half that number.
If a story can be summed up in one word, then the word that applies to this story is “sweet.” There is not a lot of tension or angst, and even the sexual content is limited to kissing and a bit of petting, so unless the standard is particularly puritanical it would be quite appropriate for young adults.
The story is told from the point of view of Skylar St. Clair, a 16 y.o. Shoshone Native who has been mute since his throat was slashed during the murder of his mother some five years previous. From that time he had been living with his father until his father mysteriously disappears as well.
He is then put into the custody of his estranged grandmother who resides on the Nettlebush Reserve, and from then on it is the story of adjusting to reservation life; including learning the traditions, and getting to know its cast of characters.
For the most part these are all quite charming, typical teenagers, who readily welcome Skylar into their midst; all except for the enigmatic Rafael, son of murderer who slay Skylar’s mother. Yet, the two of them are gradually drawn together by both their commonalities and differences, and when they do finally unite it is like a blossom that blooms in the shadow of the forest; pure and fragile.
I found very few quibbles to mention: The writing is strong; the characters engaging; and both the plot and pace kept me involved. However, there were a few minor disparities that left me wondering. For example, it was never really explained how Annie Little Hawk learned to sign. ASL training is not universally available, and I would think less so on a remote reservation. Moreover, I occasionally thought Skylar’s language was a bit sophisticated for his background. One phrase that comes to mind is, “…Regardless of his administrations.” Grammatically it is quite correct, but not the sort of language a 16 y.o. would be likely to use.
I have already used the term “sweet,’ and now I’ll also add the terms “inspirational,” “heart-warming,” and “thoroughly enjoyable.” Four and one-half bees....more
If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for gay/historical/miGerry B's Book Reviews - www.gerrycan.wordpress.com
If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for gay/historical/military/genres. It is a natural outcome of my passion for history, and my self-identification with those who have faced the harsh brutalities of war. Courage like this should not be forgotten lest we make the same mistake again.
In Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov [Riptide Publishing, 2012] we find yet another reason to care. Two individuals caught up in the confict, Germans, seeing the evil regime of which they are part crumbling around them, and yet fighting on through a stalwart—but misplaced—sense of duty.
Well … One of them is, anyway. Baldur Vogt, a Luftwaffe ace, bold, handsome and dashing, flies his missions because it is what he does. On the other hand, Felix, a ground-crew mechanic does what he does to keep the man he loves (Baldur) as safe as he can make him, and with that simple revelation the whole perspective of war changes.
But that is only one thread in this complex tapestry, for Felix despairs that Baldur will ever respond in the way he (Felix) has dreamed. For one thing, Baldur comes from money, compared to Felix’s humble background, and even if this could be brushed aside, man-to-man love was an anathema in Hitler’s Arian scheme of things—a veritable death sentence.
Nonetheless, fate will have its way, and when Baldur somewhat miraculously escapes a bullet that otherwise had his name on it, he celebrates by taking Felix away for a few days of relaxation.
Once away from the harrowing events of the day, love blooms—a quiet, tender affection that emerges as naturally as a breeze on a warm summer’s day. Indeed, when it happens one cannot imagine it being any other way.
However, once the point is made, and given that the only world they know is crumbling around them, how does one go about getting a ‘happy ever after ending’ out of that?
That remains for readers to discover, but it is almost a textbook example of the short story art; i.e. get in, make the point, and get out, which Voinov does very well. In addition the various ‘flavours’ are as concentrated as a brandy that lingers, agreeably, on the palate. Five bees....more
Eric Arvin is a ‘friend’ on my Facebook page, and I frequently delight in his off-the-wall-type,Gerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Eric Arvin is a ‘friend’ on my Facebook page, and I frequently delight in his off-the-wall-type, ribald wit, and so I was pleased to see it present in Galley Proof [Dreamspinner Press, 2012], his latest in quite a long list of titles.
The topic–writers and writing—is a natural for any author, but it is not without its risks. It’s like ‘talking shop’ to someone who is not in the field, and readers of course are not. There is a twinge of this in talking about ‘writer’s block’—which I personally believe doesn’t exist—but Eric rather skilfully avoids this by focussing on the personalities and their interactions.
The main character, Logan Brandish, is surprisingly conservative for a writer, with his ‘suburilicious’ cat and equally conservative boyfriend, Curtis. But since nothing ever remains constant for long, enter the rakishly handsome Brock who—like most alpha males—instinctively wants to dominate Logan ‘because he can.’ The methodology is fairly typical, as well; i.e. by attacking Logan’s self-confidence through his creation—most writer’s Achilles’ heel.
Logan’s reaction is fairly typical as well, almost trite, for he dumps Curtis and succumbs to this hunk’s manipulation like smitten spinster; eventually ending up in his bed. However, I hasten to add that it is Eric’s skill and wit as a writer that makes this seems fresh and above all entertaining.
It is not without its insights, either, and like his witticisms these are embedded like bonbons throughout; asides and observations that either make you smile or think.
It is the first of Eric’s novels that I have read, but I hope to be able to get around to others in the future. Four and one-half bees....more
As a self-proclaimed homoerotic novel—“one-handed reads,” as I refer to them—The Broken H, by J.L. Langley [Loose Id LLC 2007] is better than some. OhAs a self-proclaimed homoerotic novel—“one-handed reads,” as I refer to them—The Broken H, by J.L. Langley [Loose Id LLC 2007] is better than some. Oh, there are plenty of sex scenes (15 in all, give or take one or two), but journalistically speaking the writing is quite solid, and the author has made an attempt to build a plot between the romps in the sack. Admittedly the plot is a bit short on originality, but the point is that there is one.
Shane Cortez is a runaway with a mysterious past—although we don’t find out what that is until quite late in the story. Nevertheless, he now seems well adjusted as foreman of The Broken H Ranch. The Hunters, a remarkably liberal family—including their gay son, Grayson—have unofficially adopted Shane as a son, and Grayson has fallen lustfully in love with him. It is nonetheless a rocky romance, made more difficult by a teenage bimbo who accuses Shane of knocking her up. Her father, a somewhat stereotypical loudmouthed redneck, then sets out to demand that Shane make an ‘honest woman’ of her.
Meanwhile, he and Grayson are filling page-after-page with “homoerotic sex” at the drop of an elastic band [see the story for an explanation].
If a nice light read without too many challenging plot twists is your forte, then this story is bound to fill the bill.
As far as I can determine, Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory [Etopia Press, 2012] is the debut nGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
As far as I can determine, Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory [Etopia Press, 2012] is the debut novella for this author, and as such it is a worthy effort.
Set in ancient Greece the story focuses on Philon, a sculptor’s apprentice, who is characterized as a somewhat shy but talented boy. His character is rounded out be his fellow apprentice, Anatolios, a precocious thirteen-year-old.
Playing opposite them are Aristion, the bratish son of a wealthy patron, and his older cousin Hilarion. Due to Aristion’s bullying of Anatolios, Hilarion and Philon meet and are immediately attracted to one another. However, Aristion remains resentful and even vengeful, and when he threatens Philon, Hilarion comes to his lover’s defence and all is agreeably resolved.
This is a sweet, uncomplicated story that focuses on romance in a romantic setting. It is well written, and the characters are appealing rather than complex. In fact they are rather standard fare. Philon is the struggling good boy, Aristion is the spoiled rich kid, Anatolios is the impish-catalyst, and Hilarion is the mature kid who is attracted to the good boy.
There is nothing wrong with this type of character development, and it makes for a good solid read, but it doesn’t break any new ground, either.
Altogether, Alike as Two Bees is a happy-ever-after story that will pleasantly fill an afternoon at the beach, or an evening curled up in your easy chair. Three and one-half bees. ...more
I love a plot-driven story, especially if the plot is as meaty as “Fortunes of War,” by Mel Keegan [Dreamcraft, 2005]: the intrigue-ridden court of ElI love a plot-driven story, especially if the plot is as meaty as “Fortunes of War,” by Mel Keegan [Dreamcraft, 2005]: the intrigue-ridden court of Elizabeth I, war and rumours of war, likable lovers and pirates. It has them all.
The story is written in two parts; the first part being an introduction, and here Keegan has done a masterful job of introducing the main characters while capturing the conspiratorial nature of the Elizabethan court. The two main characters, Robin and Dermot, are ably supported by a cast of interesting personalities—the cold-hearted Earl of Blackstead (Robin’s father), the aging Spanish ambassador and Dermot’s uncle, and the villainous Earl of Bothwell, to name a few.
The underlying conspiracies are interesting, as well; Catholics against Protestants, England against Spain, and foe against foe, all cleverly woven into the fabric of the story.
Five stars for the first part, therefore.
However the second part starts out rather slowly, almost cumbersome in spots, and for a brief while the story looses its momentum. Another minor drawback in second part is with the characters—Guillaume in particular—who come across as rather stereotypical. These are not major blemishes, but they are enough to detract from what would otherwise be a five-star achievement.
Nevertheless this is a superbly written, intriguing and captivating story that will have you turning pages to discover what will happen next.
Upon seeing that The Auspicious Troubles of Chance, by Charlie Cochet [Dreamspinner Press, 2012] waGerry B's Book Reviews - www.gerrycan.wordpress.com
Upon seeing that The Auspicious Troubles of Chance, by Charlie Cochet [Dreamspinner Press, 2012] was a story involving the French Foreign Legion—that romanticized bastion of rugged masculinity set in the middle of a desert—it peaked my curiosity. Although it is the type of setting just begging to be used in an M/M story, it has somehow been overlooked. Equally puzzling is that it didn’t figure into the front cover design. That said, it is a charming story populated with interesting, colourful characters.
Chance Irving is an orphan dropped off at a New York orphanage when he was seven years old. Subsequently he escapes to a life on the streets, and is thereby rescued by a young actress, who, along with her fellow thespians, give Chance a substitute family and home. Tragedy strikes, however, when the theatre is torched by a mobster, and Chance's closest and dearest friends die in the fire.
Alone once again, he then descends into a life of debauchery until he turns his back on it and New York, and ‘runs off’ to join the French Foreign Legion. Now, in the 1920s and until fairly recently, the Legion was where the down-and-out went to hide from life—unhappy love affairs, scandal and even petty crimes—but it was also reputed to be the toughest outfit in the world; a place where ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the unwritten rule.
Nonetheless, Chance is a rebel in the ranks until he encounters the commandant of an unusual company, Jacky Valentine. Valentine is a people person, gifted with insight and a disarming wit and charm. He also has a special relationship with three charming characters, whom he refers to as his “brats.” These are a trio of salvaged bad boys, similar in background to Chance, and who play a seminal role is Chance’s redemption.
It is a good story. The outstanding features are the effortless prose and the recreation of the period (1920s). A nice bit of research has gone into describing the Foreign Legion as well, but here I would have liked to see more. The character development is also excellent: Chance’s background and motivation are both credible and interesting, Jacky Valentine is the perfect foil, and the “brats” are funny and charming.
What took the top off for me was the beginning and end. The first person narrative got me off to a rocky start, mainly (I think) because it couldn’t go deep enough without sounding self-pitying or boastful. However, the middle redeemed itself quite admirably, and held my interest until the end.
The pluses outweigh the quibbles, though, so for an interesting, well developed plot I give it four bees....more
Unfortunately this is the first Dorien Grey novel I have read. I say “unfortunately” because reaGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Unfortunately this is the first Dorien Grey novel I have read. I say “unfortunately” because reading The Peripheral Son [Zumaya Boundless, 2011] has made it clear just what pleasure I have missed.
It is in fact the fourteenth in the Dick Hardesty Series that Dorien Grey has developed, but I didn’t find this an impediment to enjoying the story—other than wanting to go back to see how the characters developed along the way.
The story blurb provides an outline of the plot, as have other reviewers, and so I will concentrate on what I found the be particularly enjoyable about Dorien Grey’s work.
Right from the start the author’s skill in bringing the characters to life is apparent. Almost text book examples, in fact. Victor Koseva’s peculiarities as a fastidious, gay, hardnosed investigative reporter, sets the stage and even the rationale for his murder. Moreover, his status as the ‘peripheral son’ is a stark contrast to quiet domesticity of Dick Hardesty, his lover Jonathon, and adopted son Joshua.
Likewise, the supporting cast—both good guys and bad—are all interesting while contributing to and enlivening the plot.
[I will also include in this category an editorial note: I am so pleased that the author chose to emphasize the ‘happy’ side of gay life; as apposed to what I have come to term “the persecution complex.” Yes, persecution has been, and still is, a very real part of the gay experience, but it doesn’t rank the predominance that some writers give it.]
The plot, particularly the mystery elements, demonstrates the same understanding of progressive form that guides—not drives—the story from beginning to end. Indeed, it is the subtle laying out of clues (and possibilities) that tempts the reader onward—as every good mystery should do.
The story also moves along at a nice pace—necessary, I think, for a thinking-mystery—and the narrative is sophisticated and stumble-free; almost a given for writing of this calibre.
I also like the nostalgic bits sprinkled like bonbons throughout the plot, i.e. Sony-Walkmans, etc.
Altogether it was a very satisfying read, but may I suggest a nice cognac and a rendition Jean-Joseph Mouret ‘s “First Suite in D” (the theme tune of Masterpiece Theatre) to go with it. Five bees....more
I have long maintained that the most interesting history of any society lies not with its kingsGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
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 the British seemed to be interested in. That is when he decided to go farther a-field to offer it to the Germans in 1935. He therefore walked into the German embassy a salesman and walked out a spy.
Inevitably in the world of espionage and counter-espionage Mi5 eventually learned of his activity, and Owens subsequently became the first double agent on record.
One of the key areas Owens able to serve British intelligence was to identify German agents, who were then given the offer of working with Mi5 or facing a firing squad. Needless to say very few refused this ‘charming’ offer, and so Britain was kept quite well informed about Hitler’s activities leading up to the war in 1942.
The end of his spying activity—but not his ballsy luck and attitude—came in 1941 when the Nazis accused him of being a double agent, but mysteriously let him return to England. Thereby he was interned in Dartmoor prison for the remainder of the war.
Following the war, fearing retribution from both sides, he exiled himself to Canada and then to Ireland. In the meantime, however, he threatened the British government he would go public with his story and was paid-off an undisclosed amount of money. That’s what I like about this character; traitor or patriot, Owens had balls!
A couple of interesting side notes to this story, as well. Apparently, Owens’ son had no idea of his father’s activities until his mother told him, nor was he aware of his half-sister by Owens’ first wife. Indeed, Patricia Owens was a Hollywood movie star appearing opposite Marlon Brando and James Mason.
A fascinating story for history buffs and fans of true-life spy adventures. Five bees.
Having written over ten successful novels to date, it seems author Erastes has decided to challenge herself with a devilishly complex theme, i.e. loss of memory, which is what Muffled Drum [Carina Press, July 4, 2011] centres around. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, she has also chosen an obscure but bloody war, The Austro-Prussian War— 14 June – 23 August, 1866.
Although I have in my possession a sabre/bayonet from this very era, inscribed “Cavalry de La Chat, 1867,” it is a not a war I am familiar with; nor is it a period that has been frequently exploited as a background or setting for novels
In this story, Captain Rudolph von Ratzlaff and First lieutenant Mathias Hoffman, two young, handsome, army officers, have decided to resign their commissions and run away together. However, there is one more battle to fight, and following that Hoffman follows through with his resignation, but von Ratzlaff has sustained an injury that has left him with “selective” amnesia—meaning he can remember everything except the past two years and his lover Hoffman.
As is Eraste’s wont, there are delicate touches of irony sprinkled throughout that remain on the palate until the story is finished, i.e.
“The scent of sweat and horse rose up in the heat they generated. Concentrating on the unique taste and feel of Mathias’s mouth, Rudolph swore to remember this moment throughout the day to come. When I’m cold from the death around me, or blazing with the thunder of the charge, I will remember this—this moment. It is this that men fight for—Mathias is my reason to fight, my haven. My home.”
Such was not to be, however, and also complicating the scenario is a Frau Ratzloff & family who are waiting at home, and a predatory ex-lover whom von Ratzlaff seems to be remember for all his non-predatory charms.
However, in the end love triumphs over adversity, and so the story ends in a typically romantic fashion.
Critically speaking I give full marks for the bold tackling of a complex issue, such as a lover, still very much in love, faced with the dilemma of his partner’s amnesia—especially since the former has gambled his all for a “happy ever after” relationship.
The choice of such an interesting, but little remembered war, was also a bold but typical Erastian venture, and her attention to detail—i.e., “leutnant” for lieutenant, and “rittmeister” for captain—add greatly to the credibility.
My one quibble (although it does not change the ranking) is that I did not find this story as compelling as some of her other novels. However, since these were five-star stories too, it is merely a matter of degree. ...more
Until I serendipitously came across “Undefeated Love,” by John Simpson [Total-E-Bound, 2011], IGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Until I serendipitously came across “Undefeated Love,” by John Simpson [Total-E-Bound, 2011], I hadn’t previously encountered a novel about WWII from a Nazi perspective; and definitely not a gay-Nazi perspective.
To set-up this unusual scenario, the author begins with life in pre-war Berlin(1930s); a sort of avant garde society captured dramatically by the 1966, Broadway production of “Cabaret,” a musical based on a book written by Christopher Isherwood [starring Jill Haworth—Sal Mineo’s romantic opposite—and Joel Grey], which had some barely-concealed, homosexual undertones.
From there the author gradually introduces Naziism by way of some high-ranking, sexually ambivalent SA officers (Sturmabteilung – “Stormtroopers” or “Brown shirts”), the precursors to the dreaded SS-(Schutzstaffel – “Protection Squadron”), and the ambitious but well-intentioned ingénue, Kurt. He is endowed with such outstanding, ‘poster-boy’ looks that he not only attracts the attnetion of the SA officers, but also captures the heart of another young man named Stefan.
Stefan is in love with Kurt, and vice versa, but the ambitious side of Kurt sees security in the SA, and so accepts the invitation to join the staff of a SA officer with the much elevated rank of Colonel. It is a step into quicksand, of course, and with each new event Kurt is drawn ever deeper into the morass. The problem being that Stefan is inevitably drawn into the sinkhole as well, and in order to protect him Kurt is eventually forced to reveal his hidden love.
I am only generally acquainted with Hitler’s rise to power, but I do know that it was gradual and insidious—similar to the way the author has preInted it. In Simpson’s story, each event leads to the next with a sort of sinister intent, and this—along with his well-researched knowledge of the times—gives the story the degree of credibility necessary to pull it off.
I thought the violence was handled well, too. The difficulty of setting a story in the Nazi camp is to go overboard with the brutality, but Simpson has maintained a balance between glossing-it-over and sensationalizing it. Moreover, the real violence came at a later date from this story.
The characters, Kurt and Stefan, are well developed and likable, and the same can be said about their relationship, but I didn’t share the portrayal of the Nazi officers to the same extent. It wasn’t a serious flaw, and I can’t think of how I would have treated them differently, but they all seemed just a little off the mark.
There was room for a bit more drama at the ending, too, but only by a notch. Otherwise, I have no hesitation in recommending this story to those who enjoy a love story set against a despairing background. Four Gerry Bees....more
I first spotted The German by Lee Thomas [Lethe Press, 2011] in the fall of 2011, but it is onlyGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
I first spotted The German by Lee Thomas [Lethe Press, 2011] in the fall of 2011, but it is only recently that I got around the reading it. At first blush it appeared to be too dark to prompt my immediate attention—and it is quite dark in places—but overriding this is its insightful and uncompromising look at human nature, of which the gory violence is only a symptom.
In his own words, Thomas describes it this way:
Cruelty is not taught. It is as certain as a compass point. One can be instructed in the specifics of cruelty, like one can be taught to use a spoon, a knife, a fork, but even without these skills a man will still eat.
The setting, which has been described as “richly atmospheric,” is a small town in Texas during the latter part of WWII. As small towns go, it is typically insular with tinges of redneck sentiment among the baser-class residents, and Thomas has done a masterful job of capturing this and the oppressive nature of it.
The main characters are Tim Randall, a likeable teenage boy struggling to come of age without the guidance of his father, who is overseas, and a working mother fretting about her husband; Sheriff Tom Rabbit, the town’s sheriff who reminds me of the sheriff in “Deliverance”—level-headed and not easily deceived; and Ernst Lang, a former Nazi officer who has been to the brink of death and back, and longs for nothing more than peaceful anonymity.
The gay element, though not a dominant one, is that Ernst Lang sleeps with men—not overtly but unapologetically. It is therefore a ‘gay content’ novel, and not an “m/m romance” as it has been described.
Otherwise, it is a who-done-it mystery that begins when a boy is discovered savagely murdered with a snuffbox stuffed into his mouth. Moreover, this snuffbox(certainly not indigenous to middle-class North America) contains a note written in German. And if this isn’t sufficiently bizarre and gruesome to get the whole town talking, another lad is discovered under similar circumstances. Not surprisingly, therefore, the focus turns to the small German community within the town, and specifically on Ernst Lang.
What a masterfully conceived and prolific mix this is: Two vicious murders with an obvious German connection; a small, redneck town in the midst of supporting the war against the Nazis; and a reclusive, ex-Nazi officer who is also homosexual. No wonder the author chose to take his time slow-cooking these ingredients so that the reader could savour each and every one to the surprising ending.
In addition it is a portrait of the cruelty that lurks in the hearts of men, even the “good” ones if it is allowed to come to the surface, and the tyranny of the majority to make a wrong a right.
The German is one of a handful of great books I have read. Highly recommended. Five bees....more
When it comes to man-on-man, historical romance and adventure, the name Erastes invariably comes to the fore, and her latest creation, Mere Mortals [Lethe Press, March 23, 2011] is perhaps her best effort yet. It is in my mind, anyhow, and I’ve read and reviewed many of her novels and short stories in the past.
The first thing one notices about this novel is the subtlety with which the story unfolds, and the leisurely, measured pace that is so in keeping with a nineteenth-century theme. For example, the story opens with a coach ride through the countryside setting, and with this clever device the reader is invited aboard to see it for him/herself, i.e:
“There was nothing here to write about, or so it seemed. After so many years spent at school in the well manicured quadrangle and playing fields of Barton Hall, this new landscape seemed empty, untidy and bleak. A light mist covered the land as far as the horizon, little more than a thin vapour, but it was enough to drain all colour from the scene passing by the carriage window. I gave a wry smile. Colour that mainly consists of bleached dead reeds, brown ditches and brown muddy pools
“Since leaving Yarmouth the coach had travelled slowly north, following the coast road, such as it was. The coachman had warned us passengers that the roads were bad at this time of the year and he wasn’t wrong; more than once the three of us – for that’s all there was, travelling in the filthy weather – had to alight, braving the vicious biting wind to assist the coach out of one of the larger ruts we encountered. Even inside the coach with the curtains drawn, the wind sliced its way through any small gaps in the woodwork.”
Ergo, in one deft stroke the author sets the tone, the pace, the theme, as well as introducing the narrator and some of the characters. This is writing at a very high level of the craft—almost a textbook example—and it is why Erastes has earned the respect she enjoys.
Mere Mortals is very much a Gothic story with the requisite manor located on a bleak mere, secret passageways, sphinx like servants, and a handsome but mysterious master. All of them playing their parts delightfully, as do the three boys. There is tension, too; plenty of it. Tension that is velvet-wrapped in mystery. It permeates the atmosphere but never becomes blatant or oppressive until it surfaces near the end; when the secret of Bittern’s Reach is revealed.
If you are a fan of M/M romance, historical fiction or Gothic tales, all superbly written, then Mere Mortals is bound to please on all counts. ...more
Until I came across "Eromenos" by Melanie McDonald [Seriously Good Books, 2011] I had never befoGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Until I came across "Eromenos" by Melanie McDonald [Seriously Good Books, 2011] I had never before heard of Antinous of Bithynia, or his legendary affair with the Emperor Hadrian. Just how I could have missed such a charming page in history (referred to as the “real life version of Zeus and Ganymede”) I don’t know, but I am certainly grateful to Ms McDonald for introducing me to it in such an entertaining way.
Antinous was born in the town of Bithynion-Claudiopolis, in the Greek province of Bithynia, and the story is told in his voice as a recollection. At about 12 years Antinous is sent to Nikomedia for his education, and it is there that he catches the eye of Hadrian on one of his many tours. With a ready eye for beautiful young boys, Hadrian invites him to join his imperial retinue as a page.
This is fairly heady stuff for a farm lad from one of the Greek provinces, but even more honours were to follow when Hadrian asked him to be his personal attendant on a hunting trip, and eventually into his bed.
As one might expect, however, being the catamite of a living god had its ups and downs, as Antinous would soon discover, for Hadrian was by profession a general as well as emperor, and thereby firmly in command of everyone around him. Nonetheless, Antinous somehow learned to cope with the vagaries of both the emperor and the imperial court for some seven years.
Nevertheless, as he approached manhood (around 19) he began to realize the he could no longer be Hadrian’s lover because of public opinion and because Hadrian preferred younger boys; therefore, Antinous decided to sacrifice himself to the gods and the man he loved. At least that is how the story goes, for no one really knows for certain.
One researcher has put it this way:
“One may well wonder why a young and vibrant man would sacrifice himself for his Emperor and for Rome. There is the obvious answer that people often do strange and illogical things for love. Antinous may well have believed that he would win immortality in the waters of the Nile and hence may not have seen his death as an end to his life. And, although there is no direct evidence that Antinous was suffering from a depression, he had to have realized that he was passing the age of eromenos. Within a year or two at most Antinous would either have to give up his position as royal favorite or accustom himself to the condemnation, “pathetic.” Whatever would become of Antinous after his decline from favorite could only be a lessening of position and if he truly loved Hadrian he would undoubtedly be alarmed at the prospect of ending their relationship not only for reasons of status, but for reasons of the heart. Or, perhaps, Antinous had simply grown to feel shame at his position and was driven into the waters with a sense of helplessness and lack of self worth that could scarcely be considered rare in teenagers of any time period.” http://ladyhedgehog.hedgie.com/antino....
The days following Antinous’s death brought great emotional upheaval and strain to the emperor. Trudging through a despair and sense of guilt, Hadrian’s first impulse was to follow his beloved into the otherworld. However, Hadrian was emperor and his life was not really his to give, and so in compensation he declared Antinous a god.
For whatever reason Antinous entered the waters of the Nile, therefore, he did obtain a form of immortality. Had he passed quietly from his role as favourite he may well have disappeared from history, but with his death and Hadrian’s response to it, he was assured a place in future remembrance—such as this book.
This novel is a textbook example of how historical fact and fiction should meet in a seamless, agreeable balance, so that one does not outweigh the other. Moreover the characters are well developed, and as far as I could determine, historically accurate. I rate is fairly-well faultless. Five bees.
Note: I note the Seriously Good Books is a new publisher with a worthy mission. i.e. “SERIOUSLY GOOD BOOKS hopes to survive and thrive as a small, independent press publishing historical fiction of lasting quality. Here you will find solid historical fiction that enlightens as well as entertains. From time to time, SG Books may select a work of literary fiction, a notable thriller, or some other surprise, so be sure to bookmark and visit these pages frequently.” See: http://www.seriouslygoodbooks.net/#!_......more
I have long lamented (grumbled) that many GBLT books tend to be angst-ridden, depressing tales, with generous side orderGerry B's Book Reviews
I have long lamented (grumbled) that many GBLT books tend to be angst-ridden, depressing tales, with generous side orders of self-doubt regarding one’s sexuality. Admittedly, these have been, and still are, a regrettable part of GBLT life, but from my experience there have been many more humorous moments than sad. So when I saw the cooky cover of Shy, by John Inman [Dreamspinner Press, 2012], I felt it was time for a little humour.
The basic story has Tom Morgan, a SAD sufferer (“Social Anxiety Disorder” – not to be confused with “Seasonal Affective Disorder”), going to a party hosted by his ex-boyfriend and hisnew boyfriend—a real nogoodnic-cad named Stanley.
At this party he meet’s Frank Wells, a displaced farm boy, who also happens to be Stanley-the-cad’s brother. By coincidence Frank also suffers from a social anxiety complex, and so the two find comfort in one another’s limitations.
As it happens Frank’s father is critically ill back on the farm, and so Frank is called back to keep things going, taking Tom (an urbane New Yorker) with him.
Also playing the comic relief role is a loose-bowelled chihuahaua by the name of “Pedro,” a razorback hog, and a flock of chickens the size of Galapagos Islands. Therefore, there is no shortage of comedic circumstances, and Inman delivers on most of them.
I connected with this story in a number of ways. I too was a farm boy, and as such I took a sort of perverse pleasure from watching my urban cousins trying to steer themselves around chicken dropping, which are like trying to sidestep snowflakes. So I got a good chuckle from some of Tom’s fastidious antics.
I liked the banter as well, but here I thought it was perhaps a bit overdone. In other words, I sometimes felt that what was meant as repartee was merely bitchy, and made Tom look like a GECQ (“grand eighteenth-century queen”.)
I also join others in thinking that Stanley’s ‘no-good-ness’ was a bit overdone, but I defend the author’s choice regarding his fate. It’s his license. He created the characters, and so he can dispose of them the way he wishes. Therein lies the ‘author-as-god’ syndrome.
Altogether I thought it was a fun read with some limitations. Three and one-half bees....more
I have frequently bemoaned the fact that GBLT stories tend to be, for the most part, a gloomy affair, dominated by persoGerry B's Book Reviews
I have frequently bemoaned the fact that GBLT stories tend to be, for the most part, a gloomy affair, dominated by personal struggle and angst. So when I saw the off-beat title for this one, i.e. My Roommate’s a Jock? Well, Crap!, by Wade Kelly [Dreamspinner Press, December 31, 2012] I had to check it out.
Now, contrary to the seemingly carefree nature of comedy it is difficult genre to write. It takes a combination of wit and cleverly devised circumstances to pull it off successfully, and happily Kelly does a fairly good job of bringing the two together.
The circumstances revolve around a nerdy (and prickly) physics student, Cole Reid, whose last choice for a college roommate would be, and is, a soccer jock. Nevertheless, through a set of perverse circumstances he ends up with just such a one in Ellis Montgomery, and not only him but his two jock-type friends as well.
Cole and Ellis nonetheless come to an understanding, and eventually beyond as time goes by. While this bonding is somewhat based on the principle of ‘opposites attract,’ Ellis has a secret characteristic in common with Cole that comes to the fore: He is in fact latently gay. However, their first attempt at consummating this new found love turns into a bit of a disaster.
I’ll leave it to the readers to discover how and where the story goes from there, but being a light comedy it does have a HEA ending.
Over all, I liked the story and the author’s treatment of it. There were, however, some elements that didn’t work. I’m speaking primarily of spreading the point-of-view around to include 3rd and 4th level characters whose views were not all that relevant—principally the mother’s. There may be stories in which this has worked, but otherwise it is merely a distraction.
Rob and Russell were likeable enough, and complimentary to the two main characters, but I found it just a little incredible that someone so seeped in religion could be so ambivalent regarding homosexuality. Of course Mike is the intended ‘heavy,’ so it wouldn’t do to have too many negative voices.
This is one of those novels for which there will as many opinions as there are readers, so I encourage you to decide for yourself. Three and one-half bees....more
The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colGerry B's Book Reviews - www.gerrycan.wordpress.com
The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colourful history, or, indeed, real life adventurers the equal to Pat Garrett and Davy Crockett. Moreover, Holly Quan’s brief biography, Sam Steele: The Wild West Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie (Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2003) makes a good appetizer for larger and more detailed biographies, including Sam Steele’s own autobiography: Forty years in Canada: reminiscences of the great north-west (sadly not listed for sale on Amazon.ca).
Samuel Benfield Steele was born on the family farm in 1851 in Simcoe County, Upper Canada (now Ontario), and spent much of his youth in the nearby Town of Orillia learning to ride and other useful skills that would serve him well in his later life. At age 14-years he enlisted in the militia formed to guard against Fenian cross-border raids, and from there he volunteered for the federal militia called together to restore order with the Métis in what is now Manitoba.
“The journey was an exercise in endurance,” writes Quan: “The troops marched across southern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, where they boarded ships bound across Lake Superior to what is now Thunder Bay. That was the easy part. From the lakehead, 965 kilometres (600 miles) of rock, rivers, muskeg, and heavy forest lay between the troops and their destination, Fort Garry on the Red River (now Winnipeg). There was no railway yet, and the road was nothing more than a trail blazed through the bogs and bush. In fact, for the most part the “road” was a water route of interconnected lakes and streams with numerous difficult portages through mud, swamps, and dense forest.”
Unfortunately, for Sam, the uprising was over by the time they arrived so the troops turned around and marched back to Ontario again. However, Sam stayed with the militia—now promoted to corporal at age nineteen—but when the new provincial government was in place the militia was disbanded as well. Nevertheless, the new Canadian government decided it wanted its own army to replace the British troops, traditional peacekeepers, and Sam quickly joined the recently established Canadian army—being the 23rd person to do so.
Two years later however, in 1873, the federal government established a mounted police force for the West, the North West Mounted Police, and Sam saw his chance to get back to his beloved frontier. Therefore, in 1874 the now Sergeant Major Steele (age 23) began one of the most rugged marches that have ever taken place in Canada, across the vast, uncharted territory of the West.
“The going was tough for the already beleaguered group. Grasshoppers razed the grass, and rain turned the wagon track to deep mud. Quicksand was another hazard many men had never experienced. Sam, among the strongest in the troop, was continually called on to help wrestle horses, oxen, and cattle of boggy deathtraps.”
That was only part of the adventure. Having little grass to eat the horses became so weak that they frequently collapsed in their tracks. Therefore the men had to lift them and encourage them to walk a bit further before collapsing again. This prompted one of them to quip. “I thought I’d have an easy ride to the Rockies with a good horse to carry me. Instead I’m having a tough walk to Edmonton, with me carrying the horse.”
The march to Edmonton, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), ended on October 31, 1874, but not without one last struggle with nature.
“Sam was preparing for sleep when someone shouted that a horse was in trouble in a nearby creek. Grabbing a rope, he waded into the ice-cold stream and deftly passed the rope around the struggling horse, tossing the other end to men on the bank. But before Sam could get out of the water, the horse slipped, dragging Sam and several men down. In the dark, with only moments before men and horse succumbed to the freezing current, the quick-thinking man made it out of the water, then he hauled the next man out, and so on, until troops and horse were all free of the ice and water.”
This, then, was the stuff Sam Steele was made of, and only the beginning of his remarkable career that included chasing criminals, defying native leaders, upholding the law—and having the time of his life. Indeed, he saw the establishment of a nation, the signing of treaties, the resolution of a rebellion, the building of a railway, war in South Africa, and action in WWI.
In my opinion this bit of Canadian history should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country, for therein is the essence of Canadian pioneer culture: Dedication, adherence to standards and perseverance. ...more