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