Sunday, May 27, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Charlinder's Walk by Alison Miers

Release Date: October 16th, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace (self-published)
Page Count: 484
Source: Complimentary copy provided by Novel Publicity for review (thank you!), as part of the Charlinder's Walk book tour

In 2012, the Plague ended the world as we know it. In 2130, Charlinder wants to know why.

The origin of the disease remains a mystery. Their ignorance of its provenance fuels a growing schism that threatens to destroy the peace that the survivors’ descendants have built. Unwilling to wait for matters to get any worse, he decides to travel to where the Plague first appeared and find out the truth—which means walking across three continents before returning home.

Charlinder has never been more than ten miles from home, has never heard anyone speak a foreign language, and he’s going it alone.

He survives thousands of miles of everything from near-starvation to near-madness before he meets Gentiola. By then he’s so exhausted that the story she offers to tell seems like little more than a diversion... until he hears it.

Nothing could have prepared him for what he learns from her, and no one ever told him: be careful what you wish for. The world is a much bigger place than Charlinder knew, and his place in it is a question he never asked before.

What Stephanie Thinks: For me, this book is full of contradictions because it encompasses the most complex and diverse of political issues—the universal ones that apply to both our world, and to the world of Charlinder that Miers carefully illustrates—and yet is so grossly simple at the same time. The story itself overflows with ideas, a few of which I'll touch upon (but all of which, I won't have nearly enough space for!) but I still get a sense that there are areas that are highly unrealistic, perhaps too idealistic and too 'best-case scenario', to really constitute for a heavy and considerable dystopian novel.

A self-proclaimed coming-of-age book, Charlinder's Walk is first and foremost an adventure. It embarks on Charlinder's aspiring journey of discovery, but not before introducing the time—post-apocalypse (referred to as post-Plague); place—Paleola, a small village east of the Appalachians; destination—Italy, westward; and goal—to find the origins and secrets of the disease that created Charlinder's world as he knows it. As readers, we know that Paleola has a community that is very different from our modern, industrialized environment. We discover later that other villages featured have commodities and values that are far, far stranger. 

I'll admit the 'adventure' here isn't too exciting. Yes, Charlinder meets countless new faces and is exposed to countless little complications and countless unfamiliar cultures throughout his voyage, but they mostly pass as a blur. Things always work out a little too well for him: he always finds shelter right when he runs out of food/energy/motivation, he never really encounters serious barriers (lingual, topographical, physiological, and so on), and he goes on his trip and returns, finding just what he wanted, and without any twists or surprises, so there's nothing particularly memorable. How dull.

The history of the Plague is pretty surprising, I'll give credit where it's due, and Gentiola, the only enigma of a character, enchants me, but the so-called 'secret' seems to be minor in the book, compared to the 400-some remaining pages which describe everything else that occurs.

What I do find fascinating, however, is how Miers finds a way to shove a huge, all-bound sociology debate into her novel. Some topics broached include science and medicine, literacy, gender roles, domestic values, sexuality, religion, diplomacy, human ethics, and even a touch of magic, which laces in the fantastical elements to the plot. They're all subjects that make me think hard, and are what made this book most engaging.

Miers's style is pretty ordinary, but I appreciate how it is straightforward and chronological (no tricky play on perspective or memory, here!). My biggest complaint is that it is agonizingly wordy. Descriptive writing, I'm all for, but when the descriptions do near nothing to further the plot, it gets tedious. For a 484-page novel, this one is not so elaborate and masterful as I would expect; I feel it could have been written in half its page count without much being retracted.

Charlinder's Walk is a quickly paced, fairly easy read that makes me want to jump into arguments about all the global and political affairs it bestows. Kudos to Miers for being able to fit all that into one storyline and still make it relevant, and even more impressively, enjoyable. This isn't just a cheesy read; it actually has substance. However, in structure and in overall theme, it's quite shallow and nothing I will praise strongly. Some places are awfully awkward (for instance, one thing that irks me is how the characters all 'do sex' with each other when I've been taught to 'have' it) but that's nothing too big of a crime. Pick it up during the summer if you've plenty of free time and an open mind.

Stephanie Loves: "...there is no end to the ways that people are limited by societies hiding behind the safety of routine. It may help maintain stability, but tradition should never be used as a substitute for thinking for oneself. It is a support system for life ... not the other way around."

Radical Rating: 
7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Sunday, May 13, 2012

❤author: Ryan George Kittleman Interview and Giveaway!

❤ Today, as part of a fantastic book tour alongside JKS Communications, I'm thrilled to welcome author, Ryan George Kittleman, to the blog today. Welcome to ¡Miraculous!, Ryan! Will you please share a short bio with us?

Originally from upstate New York, I've called San Francisco home for the last eight years. By day, I run a boutique law firm with a focus on the art and entertainment industries. At night, I write fiction and compose music. Occasionally, I sleep.

Tell us little bit about your novel, The Great Peace.

The Great Peace is a satirical novel about the contemporary art scene. It imagines a world where a group of starving artists decide to overthrow the government of a small city, and chronicles the folly that ensues. The book is a comedy first and foremost, where the absurdity of setting and scene help illustrate larger social points. In short, it's a serious book that doesn't take itself seriously.

What inspired you to write it and then how did you get published? Tell us your call story.

I've been in and around the art world in one form or another for most of my life, so my mind naturally drifts in that direction. Art brings out very strong and often polarizing opinions which is useful in constructing a narrative, and there's certainly no shortage of eccentrics, so I didn't have to look far for interesting characters. Unfortunately, my publishing path wasn't particularly interesting. The manuscript began circulating very early on and passed through a lot of hands over the course of two years. Eventually, someone said Yes, and here I am.

❤ How much of your actual life gets written into your fictional stories?

I think it's imperative to put yourself into a story as much as possible. Without a certain level of personal truth or artistic honesty, a story can feel forced. It might not always be apparent, but I think The Great Peace is an accurate snapshot of my mindset at the time I wrote it.

❤ How would you describe your writing style and tone?

Like a 19th century aristocrat telling a very dirty joke. Ha!

Well, that more than has me hooked. Give aspiring writers a piece of advice you wish you had known before getting published.

Be open to change and don't get too attached to your early drafts, chances are they are not as solid as you think. Also, listen to your editor!

❤ Very sound suggestions. What about you would surprise your readers?

Like Rufus Wiggin, I was once a pole-vaulter, albeit briefly. Not surprising would be the fact that I was terrible at it.

❤ What's a question you always want to be asked during interviews? How would you answer it?

As a kid, I always enjoyed being asked to state my favorite color. I don't really get that question much any more. So I'll take this opportunity to answer: green. I mean blue. Red, perhaps? Wow, this is harder than I thought. Can I take some time and get back to you?

❤ HAhahaha. What’s the most interesting comment you have ever received about your books?
The most interesting and constructive comments came from friends who were kind enough to read the manuscript as it evolved from first draft to final draft. They deserve a medal for their patience. It's always a treat to have someone interpret a passage or theme in a way that I hadn't considered. It reminded me that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to reading fiction. This message was voiced by two different editors at two different major publishers, both explaining that they just couldn't justify taking a risk on an unknown author. That was enlightening.

 What's next for you?

I'm about halfway through the first draft of a new novel, which is something of a departure from The Great Peace. So far, so good.

Where can you be found on the web?

I have a website and all the various social media doodads (e.g. Facebook, Twitter). I have to apologize in advance to anyone who visits though — I'm not the most tech-savvy or socially-connected person, so new content is often slow to arrive.

Thanks to Ryan and JKS Communications, we've got one print copy of The Great Peace up for grabs! To enter, leave a comment or question for Ryan on this interview. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour, (schedule found here) as well!

Giveaway runs through May 27th, 2012 at 11.59 pm (your time).
Open to US readers only!
Please include your email address in your comment! If I don't know who to contact once you are chosen as the winner, your prize will be forfeited.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥: The House of Order by John Paul Jaramillo

Release Date: December 17th, 2011
Publisher: Anaphora Literary
Page Count: 105
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via Novel Publicity, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!), as part of the John Paul Jaramillo book tour

The House of Order, the first collection of composite stories by John Paul Jaramillo, presents a stark vision of American childhood and family, set in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Manito Ortiz sorts family truth from legend as broken as the steel industry and the rusting vehicles that line Spruce Street. The only access to his lost family's story is his uncle, the unreliable Neto Ortiz.

What Stephanie Thinks: Urban 20th century Chicano culture is resurrected through Jaramillo's compilation of short, but vivid vignettes. Each of his stories packs a powerful punch in teaching life lessons and the scary side of human emotion through a Hispanic, yet completely universal, point of view.

Even though each of the anecdotes come together well, I can't say I particularly found this book fascinating. The writing style is rather dull, and the entire plot, I just don't get. I know there are different perspectives and different events that shape Manito's family's past, but oftentimes these shifts in narration are confusing (mostly because they aren't explicitly stated, and if they are, it's about halfway through the chapter) and the events seem to have a greater meaning and symbolism to them, but are not thoroughly explained.

Jaramillo has a keen sense of detail and recurrence in his prose, but for someone with an MFA in creative writing, I can't say his style is anything extraordinary—I would consider it less than satisfactory, in fact. It not only lacks intrigue, but also coherence—so much, that I found myself lost in between the pages of this collection of stories multiple times.

When it comes to family sentiment and cultural significance, however, this one hits high notes that I think will settle well with fellow literature nuts. Manito's story carries potent blessings and heartbreaking revelations that all audiences will be able to understand and enjoy.

Stephanie Loves: "If he hadn't been so restless, he wouldn't have wanted to escape the Jefe's house as much as possible to explore and imagine."

Radical Rating: 
6 hearts: Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back. ♥♥♥♥♥♥