Tag: Book Review

Reflections on Peter Pan

Peter Pan: The Story of Peter and Wendy (A Thrushwood Book, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, New York, 1911 edition)

Peter Pan, by Scottish writer J.M. Barrie.

A play turned novel, published in 1911.

I can hardly believe I’ve never read it before, but I haven’t. I’ve seen a version of the play, in Stratford. I don’t remember much of the play. Saw the Spielberg movie Hook; don’t remember much of that either.

A friend gave us the novel years ago, as a gift. It appears to be a first edition, though half the first page is torn. I stumbled upon it a couple of weeks ago and picked it up to see what all the fuss is about.

The first thing that struck me is that it’s funny. Laugh out loud funny at least twice. The second thing that struck me is that while being a product of its time (the indigenous people of Neverland, although portrayed as a noble tribe, are saddled with a most unfortunate name, one recently ditched by an American football outfit), its wit and cleverness and whimsy stand the test of time, for this reader at least.  

A dog as a nanny. A boy returning for his shadow and a girl sewing it back on. Imaginative. Children who can fly. Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. Evocative. Pirates and fairies and Indians and mermaids. Adventure! A boy who refuses to grow up. The stuff of myth, and the Big Idea behind the book, what makes it tick even more than the crocodile who swallowed the clock.

The book rings true in part because it’s brutal and mean. This ain’t Disney. Barrie doesn’t write what he thinks you want to read. Peter Pan is selfish and inconsiderate. Charming and charismatic, but narcissistic and cruel, with a lousy memory to boot. He’s nobody’s idea of a good friend, at least not after you’ve grown up and know better. And the whole lot of them, all the lost boys, are bloodthirsty murderers. Sure it’s pirates they’re killing, and it’s all based on make-believe, but it’s a proud thing in this tale to have run somebody through with a sword.

Characters are deftly drawn, some at least. Peter flies right off the page. Hook is surprisingly complex. Mr. Darling is hardly believable but you can see him, hear him, laugh at him. Wendy lives and breathes and even grows. Tinkerbelle is jealous, spiteful, not much to redeem her, and then, rather callously, is dead and gone before you know it, just like Mrs. Darling, dispatched with hardly a backward glance.

It’s a good thing Peter Pan (or Peter and Wendy, as it was originally called) was published in 1911. It would not see the light of day today, I don’t think. Not with hundreds of thousands of books published a year with which to compete. The boy who never grows up is a terrific concept, but it wouldn’t stand much of a chance against J.K. Rowling’s the boy who lived, so much richer and better realized.

Still, I’m glad Barrie wrote it, and I’m glad it was successful enough to have endured long enough for me to have found it now, at the age of 57. There’s enough of a kid left in me for it to have resonated. And the adult in me respects the craft behind it. The creativity, the skill. The confidence, the whimsy.    

Wish I’d read it when I was ten, though.

I might have adored it then.         

What the Wind Brings: A Five Star Book Review

Matthew Hughes, at the top of his game

Matthew HughesWhat the Wind Brings is a compelling tale of slaves shipwrecked on the coast of Ecuador attempting to secure their freedom by establishing their own nation (it’s based on a true story). It’s also a captivating tale of outsiders trying to find their place in a frequently hostile world. And it’s historical fiction with engaging dashes of magical realism.

This is the work of an experienced, accomplished writer working at the top of his game. Hughes believes it’s his best work; I will not argue the point. Hughes clearly put a lot of thought, effort and research into What the Wind Brings and it shows in the best possible way. The detail is entirely convincing and not overbearing; Hughes knows how to evoke a place and time while getting on with the interesting bits.

But the story, while fascinating and expertly told, is not the best part. The best part is the characters. Alonso, desperate to make himself useful. Anton, an escaped slave turned war chief and possibly his own worst enemy. Alejandro, a young Trinitarian monk seeking captives to shepherd, entirely without guile. And most compelling of all, Expectation, a Nigua hermaphrodite and healer, and our guide to the spirit world, tolerated (if not hated) by those who benefit from her unique skill set. Along with a host of other characters no less expertly drawn despite less page time.

What the Wind Brings was published by Pulp Literature Press, a Canadian Small Press (one of the few left). They only started releasing novels in 2017. The quality of the physical copy I read (the trade paperback edition) is on par with that of any publisher, large or small. The book is lovingly put together, from its Willem van de Velde cover art (I do love a nice matte cover) to its professionally copy edited interior, always a joy (and relief) to see.

What the Wind Brings is a superb book by a skilled storyteller that I strongly suggest you move to the top of your Want To Read list.

Grace upon Grace: Book Review

A lovely little book

Grace Upon Grace is the aptly named memoir of Grace Fraser Henry’s experience with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a progressive immune disorder that wreaks havoc with one’s immune system. Like other sufferers, Grace has experienced diminished physical and cognitive functionality.

In just over 62 pages, Grace lets us see her life before and after MS. We glimpse her as a healthy child, climbing trees and running faster than anyone else. We see her as a young adult touring with a popular Jamaican Gospel group, getting married, and starting a life in Canada. And then, once MS strikes, we witness it derail her successful teaching career, but fail utterly to derail anything else about Grace. Her spirit and faith and courage live on despite her prognosis.

Grace frequently draws parallels between memorable events in her life that resonate with her challenges with MS. The result is a concise, lucid, and charming memoir, full of hope and light, just like, I suspect, Grace herself.

Thrice Burned Review

(Reposting this review after noticing the formatting of the original was kinda messed up. We can’t have that!)

Thrice Burned
Thrice Burned

As with the first book in the series (Jewel of the Thames), Thrice Burned consists of three casebooks, or mysteries, each told in the first person by Portia herself. Each casebook concerns itself with at least one mystery, each one carefully crafted. The clues are tantalizingly distributed, drawing the reader in, allowing them just as much fun as Portia herself has in trying to solve the mysteries. But there is much more on offer here than mere riddles. There are elements of historical fiction too, as each casebook is set in nineteen-thirties era London, England, featuring Scotland Yard Constables and street urchins and reporters and clergy men and plenty of other skillfully drawn characters, right down to their authentic clothing choices and distinctive accents.

Thrice Burned is the second book in an ongoing series of mysteries featuring the brilliant young consulting detective Portia Adams, who comesby her gifts honestly as the granddaughter of not only the great Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes’ friend and chronicler Watson as well. It is a nifty conceit for a series, and author Angela Misri makes the most of it. Portia Adams is utterly believable as the direct descendent of the iconic detective and his sidekick, inheriting every ounce of Holmes’ gifts for observation and deductive reasoning, but leavened with Watson’s humanity.

Each casebook features a stand-alone storyline and a neatly resolved ending, but Misri is not satisfied to let it go at that. Like many a modern era television series, each episode builds upon the last, throughout both this book and its predecessor, from casebook to casebook. As in real life, Portia and her friends continue to mature and develop. Relationships are never straightforward. Portia herself, although gifted, is no superhero, suffering from the same feelings and emotional frailties as many young women her age. Misri delves into Portia’s inner life just enough to make her real, but not at the expense of the adventures and mysteries that are the real appeal of this excellent series.

Already top-notch from the get-go, Misri’s plotting and characterization improve with each casebook, increasing in complexity and depth. This bodes well for future books in the series.

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