book review – ‘earth angel’ by alex apostol

eaThis is only the second time I’ve read a book by an author I’ve had contact with. I have followed Alex Apostol on Google+ for a while now, and when it came time for her book to be published, I offered to do a review of it. She graciously accepted (after looking at my other reviews, I am certain). But I’ll say (just to keep everything above board) – I do not actually know Apostol, and I’ve certainly received nothing in exchange for posting a review (other than a copy of Earth Angel). I simply love to read, and I like to then write reviews. So here we go.

Since I never do “book report” style book reviews (I rarely mention anything substantive from the storyline), I like to post the book blurb for my readers. The official title of the novel is Earth Angel: A Kamlyn Paige Novel (The Kamlyn Paige Novels Book 1), and the blurb reads: Kamlyn Paige is a young woman whose son was taken from her by a soul devouring demon. Now she travels the country overcoming evil while searching for revenge. On the way to freeing her son’s soul, Kamlyn comes across new and old friends who help her to learn new things about herself and point her in the right direction to vindication. Every moment for the past year of Kamlyn’s life has been leading up to this and now that she is aware of who she is, she may have a chance at survival.

Paranormal suspense novels are not my normal fare; I am typically more of the literary fiction genre reader, but this novel drew my interest. And for a person who rarely reads this type of book, I will say from the beginning – I enjoyed the read!

Now for a bit of a review…

By trade and training, I edit. I studied English, and part of what I do professionally is write and edit the writing of others. I know I am not perfect in that, but editing issues in a published text are a real issue for me. Earth Angel does suffer from editing problems, but I want to make a general clarifying statement about that – most books I read have some type of significant editing issue! [Insert plea for quality editors here.] Apostol has massive potential both as a writer and as a crafter of stories, but this particular novel suffers from a lack of technical and creative editing. Some of the language becomes clunky at times, but I could easily forgive these lapses because of the significantly stronger writing in other places (something that could have been corrected pre-print). The story needs detail help in some places, but again, this I could overlook because of the quality of the story at large. I hate to belabor a point, but a good editor could have made a few points in a few places and raised the quality of this book to superb (because Apostol has true talent!).

As a writer, Apostol is good. With more practice, she could be great. And her particular strength, like the strength of many other young modern writers, is that she tells a damn good story. Even when other things staggered, the story pulled me right along. Even for someone who typically doesn’t particularly seek out the genre, I couldn’t wait to see what was on the next page. And trust me, that’s saying something very good! Her use of language will continue to mature, and her authorial voice (which I must mention, is both unique and strong) will continue to define and improve. From one of my most important judging point of a book – can this person write – Apostol gets good marks, and the reader can tell that even better things will come.

One of the places all young authors need work is developing emotional depth in their characters, and Apostol is no different. There are several scenes where emotional development is stunted…like the way a teenager reacts to pregnancy and getting dumped by an immature boyfriend, and the way a mother reacts to the death of a child. Granted, these are very difficult scenes to write for anyone. One of the things I look forward to in Apostol’s later novels is seeing how she matures in this area. She tends to tell us about these situations, instead of showing us and allowing the reader to live the moment with her character.

Early on I desperately wanted more details about the characters, and I felt that the story was pressing forward at the expense of character development. Later, as I continued reading, I understood better what Apostol was doing. This press was helping the reader feel the intensity of the protagonist’s situation, and the detailing is filled in later through well-done flashbacks. Flashbacks are easy to mess up, but they are quite well handled in Earth Angel. This ‘pressing’ feeling might bother other readers, as it did me, but be patient, because it will be worth the tension.

I look forward to reading her next book (and the next in this series) Hunted Angel, due out January 2, 2015. (and I hope she won’t mind a review of that one as well!) To order books directly from the author, order from her website HERE.

You can buy Earth Angel: A Kamlyn Paige Novel (The Kamlyn Paige Novels) (Volume 1) here, now!

book review – ‘becoming julia de burgos: the making of a puerto rican icon’ by vanessa perez rosario

juliaThis is the first book from an academic press that I’ve ever tried to review, and one of the first (if not first) biographical type of books I’ve worked with from a reviewer’s perspective. I picked it up because I love poetry, I enjoy the Spanish language, and the description made me curious to learn about de Burgos.

As introduction, the blurb…While it is rare for a poet to become a cultural icon, Julia de Burgos has evoked feelings of bonding and identification in Puerto Ricans and Latinos in the United States for over half a century. In the first book-length study written in English, Vanessa Pérez-Rosario examines poet and political activist Julia de Burgos’s development as a writer, her experience of migration, and her legacy in New York City, the poet’s home after 1940. Pérez-Rosario situates Julia de Burgos as part of a transitional generation that helps to bridge the historical divide between Puerto Rican nationalist writers of the 1930s and the Nuyorican writers of the 1970s. Becoming Julia de Burgos departs from the prevailing emphasis on the poet and intellectual as a nationalist writer to focus on her contributions to New York Latino/a literary and visual culture. It moves beyond the standard tragedy-centered narratives of de Burgos’s life to place her within a nuanced historical understanding of Puerto Rico’s peoples and culture to consider more carefully the complex history of the island and the diaspora. Pérez-Rosario unravels the cultural and political dynamics at work when contemporary Latina/o writers and artists in New York revise, reinvent, and riff off of Julia de Burgos as they imagine new possibilities for themselves and their communities. (source Amazon)

The beginning of this book was perfect – setting up and explaining to the (potentially) unfamiliar reader some of the Puerto Rican struggles with history, place, identity, and destiny. It then moved into a brief but substantial overview of literary (and political) responses to the struggles of the island nation. As a US citizen, I’ve been exposed to very little of this history or viewpoint, and I found it educational and tragic. Especially saddening was the fact that I knew so little about the Puerto Rican paradigm.

The book then moves into the strictly biographical portion of the text. All told, this was probably about half of the total length of the text. Initially I found this troubling, because I expected (wanted) a hefty biography about an individual – but this book does something a little different, which also is an important undertaking.

Even as we learn about the specifics of the life of de Burgos, we are also looking at the more general situation of immigrants in the US, using the eyes and experiences of de Burgos as our lens. Especially important in this book is the specific situation and personal experience of de Burgos, but also the wider experience of Latino/as and African Americans in New York City. There are following sections of the book looking at her work, particularly her poetry (for which she is most famous), and her writings as a journalist (which seems to get very sparse critical attention, though speaks very powerfully).

The final sections of the book view the different ways that de Burgos has been taken up as a role model by later generations of writers, performers, and visual artists. Interesting to track is the way she has been used not only by Latino/a and African American artists, but also by other groups which have faced persecution and marginalization, particularly LGBTQ and feminist groups. I thought a lot of this section was weaker than other parts of the book, seeing that Rosario (the author) pulls largely from other writers and ideas to fill out her perspective – but as I continued to think about it after my reading was finished, I also realized that this section of the book was not only informative, but was also important for understanding the development of (especially) minority LGBTQ and feminist writers of color in the US. This last section of the book ended up being very good, and supporting the author’s larger purpose (I just selfishly wanted the end purpose to be shining more light on de Burgos – but her larger goals were just as important).

My final wrap-up and thoughts…this was definitely more of an academic approach to the life and works of Julia de Burgos than a personal/traditional biography (which makes sense, given the publisher). It puts her firmly in a particular place on the Puerto Rican pantheon of writers and thinkers. Though academic, this is a highly readable book, giving the reader ample background and context, as well as providing quality translations of de Burgos’ writings (also includes the Spanish-language original texts). There is a good deal of analysis of her poetry, which is also contrasted with what her predecessors and contemporaries were writing, as well as the writings of those who followed in her footsteps. We also get quite a glimpse into the related politics, since she was heavily involved in political commentary and protests.

“Fashioning the Self” was my favorite section of the book, which traced her own struggles with societal expectations versus what she wanted for her self…expectations versus personal ideals. I left straight from my reading of this book to dive into the poetry of Julia de Burgos, and I will end with link to one of her poems – ‘To Julia de Burgos,’ which is essentially a poem from the private Julia to the public persona. Enjoy!

You can buy Becoming Julia de Burgos: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon