Saturday, January 12, 2019

Miraculum by Steph Post: A Review

I was never one of those kids who wanted to run off and join the circus, but I was always rather fascinated with that gypsy, nomadic kind of lifestyle and the various dynamic elements at play in the carnival life. Who wouldn't love to travel around the country, meet new people, develop a sort of family with your workmates, and be part of the greatest show on earth?

Author Steph Post's latest book, Miraculum, comes out January 22, and trust me, this is a book you want to read.  I was provided an advance copy by the author; I read this book in October, and I mention that only because this book is still "with" me.  I still think about it and passages still come to mind at the most random times. The characters are so vivid, so finely drawn, that they are literally living and breathing right off the page.  Even the cover of the book is beautiful!

The story centers around Ruby and Daniel, although all of the carnival-type characters you might expect are there, too.  The setting is 1922, Pontilliar's Spectacular Star Light Miraculum, and from the first passage, as Post takes us down the midway with the barker cajoling customers to enter the various tents and freak shows,  I was hooked:

"I've got the Alligator Lady and the Lizard Man! I've got a Giant so tall he can barely fit inside the tent!"  

The mysterious, elegant Daniel Revont takes it all in as he walks the midway, and of course so do we.

There's nothing cliche about Post's narrative. As the story opens, the carnival is set up near the Louisiana-Texas border and Post makes fine use of the excellent imagery the region provides. The humid summer nights, the warm breezes that sometimes suffocate you, and the midnight blue velvet skies ablaze with stars provide the backdrop for the mysterious events that transpire. The novel is very descriptive and visual with imagery that crackles like the electricity running along the midway.

"Ruby leaned on the warped wooden door frame and raked her dark, tangled hair back away from her face. Already, the early July air was stifling, threatening to choke her if she breathed too deeply. She looked out at the lonely carousel, the garish horses frozen in mid-leap, the remnants of last night's show, paper cotton candy cones and sticky candy apple straws, strewn beneath their painted hooves."

Tattooed snake charmer Ruby is at once a sympathetic and intriguing character. The carnival belongs to her father who hires the enigmatic Daniel Revont to replace Jacob, "the geek" who has inexplicably committed suicide in the first pages of the novel, thus setting in motion the events that bring Ruby and Daniel together (and not necessarily in the way you might be thinking.)

I loved both of these characters so much and Post's writing brings them both to life in a way that stays with you.  There are other characters to love: the vulnerable and beautiful January, the lead dancer in the Girl Revue; Hayden who painted the ceiling of Ruby's wagon as well as the sides of the circus wagons, and even Samuel, the mysterious right-hand man who works with Ruby's father.

Steph Post is an exciting writer to keep your eye on; I love her Judah Cannon series which in fact have nothing whatsoever to do with a circus but are set in contemporary Florida which only shows Post's range and capability as a writer, in my opinion.

I'm not going to give any spoilers or tell you how this all unfolds, but just know that this book deserves a spot on your shelf next to Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked this way Comes, Gruen's Water for Elephants, and Morgenstern's The Night Circus

Post did a great deal of historical research for this novel and it shows, and even though there is a great deal of historical accuracy about the carnival life in that period, the novel has it's fair share of fantasy and magic that will captivate not just fans of the fantasy genre, but anyone who enjoys a good story with intriguing characters in an atmospheric setting.

Miraculum is a fun, engaging read and I highly recommend it.



Wednesday, January 2, 2019

It's Time to Put Books Along the Teche Literary Festival on Your Calendar


Shadows-on-the-Teche
It's time to start filling in your new planner with cool events for 2019!

The first thing going on my calendar this year is the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, which is scheduled for April 5, 6, and 7.

This year's featured Great Southern Writer is Rebecca Wells who is the author of The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood and other terrific books.

I went to this festival last year for the first time; I was fortunate enough to have been given a media pass and so we could participate in many of the events and it was truly a fantastic weekend.  In fact, there was so much to write about, I had to do it in two posts! The first one is here and the second is here.  Steve and I fell in love with the people and the entire area and we have made several trips back since then.

This is an absolutely terrific festival! On the agenda this year:

On Friday morning, start the day off with the Tastes Along the Teche Food Demo featuring professional chefs. Last year I met my food idol Marcelle Bienvenu! You'll get some new recipes and
Just hanging out with Marcelle Bienvenu!
learn some new techniques to raise the level of your cooking. Even better - you'll also get to sample everything!  Yum!

The Dave's Haunts and Jaunts bus tour through New Iberia is offered on both Friday and Saturday. If it's the same as last year, you'll climb on a lovely charter bus and tour historic spots around Iberia Parish and enjoy the fun commentary of Danny Bonaventure of Allons a Lafayette tours. This was a really entertaining event and as newcomers to New Iberia we learned a lot on this tour. It's definitely a must-do on your list.

Another event that should not be missed is the Opening Reception Friday night at Shadows-on-the-Teche, now a National Trust for Historic Preservation site. The home is beautiful and the grounds are breathtaking. You'll be right on the historic Bayou Teche. Music is provided by the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band and there will be a cochon de lait; last year there was also catfish and other seafood specialties.  As we arrived the band was playing on the front balcony; it was magical. At the end of the evening everyone did a second line through the grounds; this was one of my favorite events. I'd suggest squeezing in a tour of the house sometime during the weekend, too.

On Saturday night is the evening party at the Steamboat Pavillion with live music by the great Terry Huval and his group. You can learn to Cajun dance and eat delicious Cajun food. The best part of this event is how fun it is and getting to really visit with the local people! It truly captures the joie de vivre that epitomizes New Iberia. Oh, and the food was pretty darn good, too and there was plenty of it!

There are so many events planned that you'll need to check out the website and plan your agenda. Some of them overlap but the planners have worked hard to ensure that things are spread out enough where you can do the ones you really want to do.

Some of the events require tickets and some are free. The Academic Symposium at the library is free and features scholars and experts in a panel discussion on selected topics. I thoroughly enjoyed this last year. Other free events include various movie screenings throughout the weekend, an Art Guild Exhibit, a book fair along historic Main Street and you can purchase food from food trucks while you browse, a Live Oak walk along Main Street hosted by a local arborist, and a children's book panel.

Part of the George Rodrique exhibit at Bayou Teche Museum
I've barely scratched the surface here, but suffice to say that this is a festival that just gets better every year and will soon be one of Louisiana's most celebrated festivals.

In addition to the scheduled festival events, New Iberia offers many unique opportunities for the tourist such as the Bayou Teche Museum with it's George Rodrique exhibit, Konrico Rice Company where you can tour the oldest rice mill in America, Jefferson Island and the exquisite gardens, and Avery Island and the Tabasco factory. You'll need more than one weekend!

You really don't want to miss this one.

Further Reading:
Take a Trip to Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part I
Take a Trip to Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part II
Take a Weekend Trip to New Iberia (July 2018, SIGIS)
Books Along the Teche Literary Festival website
New Iberia Travel (tourism info)
Books Along the Teche (bookstore)
Books Along the Teche Literary Festival photo gallery (Acadiana Lifestyle)