The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smiles

21 Mar

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Mythology is as old as the sands of time themselves. It is where our history started, our belief systems began, where story came from. They influence our habits, whether we know it or not, are reflected through history in a variety of different ways.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes is a new myth for the modern day-it is a twisting and entwining of the Greek myths of Apollo and Daphne, Pollux and Castor, Jason and Medea.

Smailes has created a tapestry of a story, an interwoven narrative that is entertaining in its own right. However, the awesome bit is that, if you know your history and myths and legends, the story takes on a new kind of resonance.

Instead of being a bland retelling of a myth, it becomes something of its own. Trust me on this one. I recently sat through a play set around Ovid’s myths. The stage was a two tier pool. The top one was in the centre of the stage with space in between where the actors would appear.

The actors really swam in both pools of water. The backdrop to this play was a dark and haunting electronic lines of blue and white-think Matrix here. The music was really amazing (except when there was singing) and the design incredible.

That is the kindest thing I can say about the play. I did however picture that set when reading The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. I have never been inside a proper bathhouse, so I wouldn’t have anything else to compare it to. I can only hope the author can forgive my imagination.

Smailes had typically written about troubled people before. Her debut, In Search of Adam, was about a girl trying to find herself. Black Boxes was about a woman who wanted to lose herself. Her third novel, Like Bees to Honey, an international best-seller, was about a woman who went looking for what she left behind.

That’s what makes The Drowning of Arthur Braxton different: its voice is predominately male. Make no mistake, you will meet many people in these pages. You have Arthur Braxton, neglected at home and beat up at school. He meet Delphina and Laurel in an old abandoned public bath that hides some pretty terrible things; and there’s Silver. Always Silver. It is the story of Kester and Pollock, two old men with a secret, it is the story of the world and the refuge that Arthur finds at the Oracle.

He is entranced with the always swimming Delphina. He skips school to spend time with  her. In doing so, he finds himself falling into modern day myth that was part comedy, part romance, part coming of age. Oh, and it a myth, so you can’t forget the tragedy.

I ached for Arthur, that is how brilliantly Smailes has written his story. I also cheered for him, yelled at him, thought of him, hoped for him. He was someone all of us know, that all of us have inside us. We are always trying do to whatever we can to fit in, even if it will cost us what we love most. At least we were-everyone remembers high school right? His story if incredibly well told. If I didn’t know the name on the cover, so convincingly has the author told Arthur’s story.

Caroline Smailes has always delivered and her stories always have a character that you’re drawn to. First it was Jude and then it was Ana and Nina and in her eBook novella, 99 Reasons Why, we are given the story of Kate. Her protagonists and their story are her greatest achievement. From the first page her characters grab hold of you, the story sinks into you and then you are held enraptured. For a little while afterwards, everything you try to read doesn’t draw you in. You are left haunted by the story for a little while and want to read it again; at least I do.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is no exception, but it is the first time Smailes has chosen to write mainly from the point of view of a male. It’s a bold move. Something that takes the book into the stratosphere. Think of the brilliance of The Fault With Our Stars by John Green, anything by Meg Rosoff (especially There is No Dog), mix in a little Christopher Moore (particularly Sacre Bleu and Fool) and you’ve got something that is close to the brilliance of this book.

When I first started reading, I wondered what story Caroline Smailes had gifted us this time around. Instead, like a very good story, after a few words, I stopped wondering and just enjoyed.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is a brilliant retelling of myth, a fantastic reference to pop culture with a bit of magic thrown in. If Caroline’s intention was to put a spell on the reader, the consider me spellbound. I urge you to pre-order this book, no, I implore you. I want you fall under the spell that her novel creates.

You can find The Drowning of Arthur Braxton here:

http://www.amazon.com/Drowning-Arthur-Braxton-Caroline-Smailes/dp/0007479093/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1363823485&sr=8-5&keywords=Caroline+Smailes

If you want the paperback (and you will, it’s just that good) you can order one from The Book Depository with free shipping worldwide:

http://www.bookdepository.com/Drowning-Arthur-Braxton-Caroline-Smailes/9780007479092

You can always read the eBook while you’re waiting for the paperback copy to arrive. Like all good myths, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes goes on the keeper shelf. It’s a modern classic on par with The Wizard of Oz or Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.

All I can tell you is to read this book. That it is a beautiful story incredibly told. I can’t wait to read it again when my paperback arrives.

Pulse by Patrick Carman

8 Mar

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The year is 2051 and the world as we know it is gone. In its place is a vast wasteland, abandoned buildings of long ago and few of humanity who remain. Most of the population lives in one of the States, portions of the world held safe against the new terrors of the world. Others choose to try and live a “normal” life on the Outside, beyond the protection of the States.

One of these people if Faith Daniels. She has been moved to a new school along with her friend Liz as there are so few outsiders left, school populations have to keep merging. Not that there is much teaching going on in the schools anymore. Everything from learning to entertainment has been replaced by Tablets, devices capable of changing their shape from pocket sized to larger. Want to study Shakespeare? Use your Tablet. Want to watch television? Those don’t exist anymore, so use your Tablet. Songs and books can be downloaded, too, making everyone’s reliance on technology complete.

It’s good to know that some things haven’t changed, even if the world has moved on. Faith is captivated by bad boy Wade Quinn. Wade and his sister Clara are hoping to compete in the Free Games, what now passes for the Olympics. Wade is far more than an athlete, however, and is hiding something dangerous.

When Faith is hurt by Wade, she comes under the protection of Dylan Gilmore. He knows that Faith is more than just an ordinary teenager living in a dying world. She has the Pulse, the power to move objects with her mind, and the possibility to be a great asset. There is a war coming and Faith has already lost more than she knows. Will Dylan be able to prepare her for what is coming, even as he dreads endangering her and putting her in the line of fire?

If they want to win the coming war, he doesn’t have a choice. Faith will have to trust someone she barely knows so that the world as she knows it ceases to exist all together…

I was stoked when I heard that Patrick Carman was writing a dystopian novel. The once budding genre now feels overburdened and I knew if anyone could put a new spin on what is quickly becoming tired and cliché it would be Patrick Carman. Why is that? Well, having read The Skeleton Creek Series, the Dark Eden Series and the 3:15 app of short stories, there’s a few things I know for sure: Carman is a superb writer. He manages to combine history, myth, legend and lore into truly thrilling reads. I also know that one of Carman’s main strengths is his characters.

One major failing of a lot of Dystopian fiction is that the focus is on the technology, the gadgets, how the world ended and what people are doing in the new world order to survive. However, because of the focus being on the world building and the technology (or in some cases, lack thereof), the characters and their development kind of take a back seat. Not so with Patrick Carman. It’s as if he imagines the characters first and then dreams up where he will put them.

Both the setting and the characters work to great effect in Pulse. Faith is likeable but stubborn and has her own secrets to hide. Liz is sympathetic and reminiscent about the past and a better life. Hawk is delightfully silly and tongue in cheek. Wade is dangerous and you love to hate him while Clara won’t win any Miss Congeniality Awards. Dylan is the white knight perhaps with a secret or two of his own.

By the end of Pulse, these are characters you care about (well, maybe not Wade and Clara) and the twists and turns of the plot keep you emotionally involved with Faith. She is a strong, likable heroine who will need to grow up fast to support the weight on her shoulders.

The writing and the characters impressed me, but what about Carman’s version of a Dystopia? I loved it. It was so understated, so quiet. It didn’t need to come out with guns and laser beams blazing, it simply was. There was one part in the novel where Hawk holds a book for the first time and Liz tells him that a book is always better than a Tablet. It was this heartwarming scene that really highlighted what Patrick Carman’s version of Dystopia was for me: It’s not about what we’ve gained. It’s about what gets lost in the process.

As much as I love my iPad and eReader, books always come first for me. I couldn’t imagine living in a world where books did not exist. Thankfully, with Patrick Carman’s literally pulse pounding ride in Pulse, I don’t have to imagine it. I just have to open Pulse, begin reading and lose myself in this compelling, creepy and dark world not unlike our own.

Before His Time by Darren Craske

22 Jan

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When we last left the Station Guard and his talking Rat companion, they were eager to head for Switzerland in order to find the other humans that remained on Earth.

After a massive intergalactic catastrophe, all of Earth’s humans are gone. All except for the population of Switzerland, which somehow avoided the peril that befell the rest of Earth and the Station Guard.

With only the foul-mouthed talking Rat for company, the Station Guard is eager to embrace those human’s that remain. After a brief stop at Marks and Spencer to get some winter outer gear (and the blowing up of a shark), the Station Guard and the talking Rat are catapulted through thought and space to Switzerland by Astrid, an articulated python.

Except that there’s a problem. A Very Big Problem. If the Station Guard and the Rat act, they could prevent the whole catastrophe from happening in the first place. If they don’t act, they risk getting lost in history itself. However, they must be careful. For anything they do will have an effect on what will become of the Earth and the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. Add to that the fact that their lives are in grave danger and you’ve got the makings of a blockbuster adventure!

I’ve never appreciated how hard it is to write a review for a sequel without giving anything away or anything away from the first novel in a series. Why the hesitancy in giving anything away? Well, I said it before and I’ll say it again: This book is so good that it deserves to be discovered on its own and dived into.  However, if my plot summary seems especially meager this time around, that’s because I’m trying to be conscious of those who don’t like spoilers or those who haven’t read the first book.

I absolutely loved Above His Station. It was one of my very favourite books of 2012. I wondered if the sequel, Before His Time, would live up to the first book and figured it would. I needn’t have worried. Before His Time is Darren Craske at his most wonderful and inventive best.

Filled with laugh out loud humour, fantastic characters, a lightning quick plot with hair turns and twists aplenty and more meta references than you can shake a stick at, Before His Time is a comedic masterpiece on par with The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

The great thing is that, if you haven’t read Above His Station, Craske gives readers a hilarious take on “The Story So Far” that had me laughing out loud before the novel even really began.  Once the introduction chapter is over, we’re thrown headlong into one of the best novels I have ever read, period. The plot goes places I never envisioned and I have rarely had such a good time.

With pop culture references that cover everything from Back to the Future , Jerry Lewis, Star Wars all the way to Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, Craske is a writer with his finger on the vein of hilarity. What’s skillful about Craske’s writing is how seamlessly he works the humour in. It comes naturally to his writing and never feels forced. Make no mistake however: this is a madcap adventure that will either have you laughing out loud or holding your sides as you laugh internally. It should probably come with a warning for people who don’t like laughing in public places. However, if you don’t mind laughing yourself silly with the occasional person staring your way, than full speed ahead, I say!

We’re only a hop, skip and a jump into 2013 and Craske has already topped himself again. Before His Time is a skillfully written comedic novel that touches on everything from time travel to history and back again. And I couldn’t have been more thrilled to have taken the ride.

Now would be a very good time for a chocolate digestive biscuit…or two. Oh, and mind the trees. They like to sing on occasion…

Cupcakes at Carrington’s by Alexandra Brown

21 Jan

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Georgie Hart loves her job. She works as a sales associate in Carrington’s ladies bag department. Though she works on commission, she loves it. Carrington’s holds all the wonderful memories of her childhood with her now deceased mother. She still gets a thrill every time she steps through the shops doors.

Okay, so she’s in debt up to her eyeballs and hasn’t had a date for Valentine’s Day in years, since the breakup with her ex-boyfriend. However, she finds solace at Cupcakes at Carrington’s, the café run by her best friend Sam, and the occasional Red Velvet cupcake.

Georgie doesn’t mind living the quiet life. However, her world is given a shakeup of the first order when everyone at Carrington’s is informed that sales are declining thanks to the recession and Carrington’s will be going through a makeover where some people will have their jobs declared redundant. The makeover is being done by the evil Maxine who is wielding her axe with a well-manicured hand and a breathy, phone sex voice. She creates instant dislike on first sight. Georgie is heartbroken to learn that she will now be in competition with all the other sales associates. Only those with the highest sales will be able to keep their jobs.

However, there is more than the possibility of being jobless for Georgie to contend with: Her best friend Sam has met Nathan, the man she claims is “the one”, her boss James, who is married, begins to flirt with her, her best mate Eddie is depressed when his boyfriend dumps him for someone else, her estranged father contacts her and Georgie wrestles with whether or not to forgive him and her mountain of debt is growing.

All in all, Georgie’s life has gone upside down. Thank goodness for the red velvet cupcakes that Sam makes. Otherwise, there would be no relief!

When I first got the eBook of Cupcakes at Carrington’s, I figured I was in for a chick lit novel filled with delicious food and a slapdash plot filled with hilarity. Thankfully, Cupcakes at Carrington’s by Alexandra Brown is so much more than just a chick lit novel. It has the humour of Sophie Kinsella, the warmth of Cecelia Ahern and the wit and wisdom of Maeve Binchy and the cheek of “Are You Being Served? “. Even more wonderful is that Cupcakes at Carrington’s is Alexandra Brown’s first novel.

I absolutely loved Cupcakes at Carrington’s. I would even go so far as to call it the perfect novel: secrets, laughter, love and cupcakes. What more do you need? How about characters that are so real they leap off the page? A plot that had many twists and none of them predictable? Characters you love and those you love to hate? Or an ending that will leave you filled with joy? Cupcakes at Carrington’s has all these and more.

I was torn between wanting to take my time reading Cupcakes at Carrington’s and wanting to read it as quickly as possible to find out what happens. The novel is an unputdownable page turner of the highest order and Georgie Hart is a protagonist you will fall in love with and root for.

Not to be outdone, Alexandra Brown’s secondary characters are all wonderful and the perfect complement to Georgie. None of them are cardboard cut outs. Instead, Brown has created an incredible cast of characters to people Carrington’s. Alexandra Brown writes with a deft pen and creates a world I want to live in and characters I’ve grown to love. The result is nothing short of magic.

Thankfully it’s the first book in a delicious new series and the second novel is coming out in November 2013. This is one of my favoutie reads of the year so far and I can’t wait to find out what happens to Georgie next. In the meantime, I’ll wait patiently for the paperback to be released here in Canada so that I can read Cupcakes at Carrington’s for a second time!

Of course there is one thing: the book left me with a hankering for Red Velvet cupcakes. I’ve never had Red Velvet cake but, because of Cupcakes at Carrington’s, I plan to change that in the very near future!

Kissed by a Vampire by Caridad Pineiro

7 Nov

 

As a two thousand year old vampire elder, Stacia is haunted by her mortal past.

Though Stacia finds pleasure and arousal in the taking of blood, she also knows that she can’t let herself love again. Betrayed by the only man she ever loved, she has carried the hurt of the betrayal for two thousand years and won’t open her heart to anyone.

That all changes when she meets the mortal DEA Agent Alex Garcia.

For years now, Alex has been plagued with nightmares of a demon. She comes to him in his dreams as she came to him years ago, while he was on the brink of death. While working on another case, he is stunned to come face to face with the demon from his dreams.

Alex spots Stacia in a local club, The Widget, while working on a case to find five missing women. He is shocked to see his demon in the flesh. For her part, Stacia can’t place Alex but cannot deny that the connection between them is incredibly strong.

As the connection and attraction grows between them, Alex and Stacia each deal with their own demons: Stacia believes that she is not worthy of love, that no one could love a vampire. For his part, Alex believes that vampires can’t possibly exist.

However, when Stacia reveals her vampire side to Alex, both of them must deal with their demons if either of them will have a chance at love.

I love everything that Caridad Pineiro writes, but I especially love her vampire Calling Series. It’s been a long time since the last book in the series, Fury Calls, was published in 2009. There have, of course, been vampire novels aplenty since then but few reach the caliber and beauty that Pineiro gives her vampires.

Kissed by a Vampire is absolutely flat out incredible. I have always loved Stacia ever since she showed up in the Calling Series and have always wanted her to find a true love to melt her cold heart. I wondered what it would be like to have her as a heroine when she’s been a supporting character throughout the series. I’m so thrilled that Stacia got her own book and it was well worth the wait to see her in the spotlight.

Stacia is a very unconventional heroine and meets her match in Alex Garcia. Both characters meshed really well for me and the romance between them moved naturally with no forced moments. Instead, the love affair between them is genuinely touching and wonderful to watch as it unfolds.

Not only is Kissed by a Vampire incredibly well written, it flows so smoothly that you’ll be done the book before you realize it. It’s filled with characters that live beyond the printed page as you’ll carry them with you long after you turn the last page.

The plot was thrilling, the romance hot and spicy, the action fantastic. Kissed by a Vampire has everything you could want and then some. I loved Kissed by a Vampire so much that I hope Stacia and Alex get another book to themselves so that we can see how their relationship develops over time.

Caridad Pineiro has written an incredible tale of betrayal, love and redemption. It hooked me from the first page and held me spellbound until the last page. In fact, I’d say that it’s her best book in the series so far and I loved every gorgeous moment.

If you read one romance this winter, read Kissed by a Vampire. It’ll heat up your night and warm your heart.

A Face in the Crowd by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan

9 Oct

 

Dean Evers is lonely.

Having recently lost his wife, he has moved to a Florida condo and has been filling his time with meaningless tasks, cooking meals for himself, books and baseball. The baseball games on television help to fill his nights when he is missing his dead wife the most.

One night, while watching the Rays duke it out against the Mariners, the game takes on a whole new meaning for him when he sees someone who couldn’t possibly be at the game. Sitting in the third row, right above the umpire, is his old dentist Dr. Young.

Dean thinks this is impossible, absolutely impossible, but he can’t look away, even though Dr. Young must have passed away fifty years ago. However, there is no mistaking the coke bottle glasses, the pack of Lucky Strikes in the pocket of his shirt.

The next night, there is another game on. Dean tries to avoid watching by enjoying a Harlan Coben novel but his hand reaches for the remote anyway and turns the television to the game to see who else from his past might appear to him…

To say anything else would be to give away more of the plot and this is a novella that you have to experience rather than read. I thought I had the story pegged out plot wise, but King and O’Nan had me fooled. This is not your average day at the ballpark.

Whatever you think is going to happen doesn’t happen and the result will leave you breathless. I finished this novella in practically one sitting and it’s an amazing read. Not only is it incredibly well written, there are plot twists you won’t see coming a mile away.

King and O’Nan write seamlessly together, so it’s never clear who wrote what. That doesn’t matter, though. What matters is the story is good. It’s better than that; it’s flat out amazing and King and O’Nan have written a home run of a novella.

What surprised me most, for such a short read were two things:

First, the depth of character. We spend the entire novella with Dean Evers and, at the end of its fifty pages, we know him. We know what makes up his character, internal and otherwise and I found myself aching for him and the choices he made throughout his life. Pulling off that kind of depth in such a short span of pages is an incredible feat and King hasn’t always been so successful in his eBook originals (I’m thinking of the enjoyable but lackluster Mile 81 here).

However, King and O’Nan succeed incredibly well with A Face in the Crowd. You are drawn into Dean’s world and it is an eerie, haunting work that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

Which brings me to the second thing that surprised me most: how genuinely frightening the novella was. As I’ve said, the plot twists keep you on the edge of your seat and, by the novels end, you have absolutely no idea what is coming. And what comes is nothing short than one of the best endings I have ever read in a novella, mostly because it came right out of left field.

King and O’Nan could have gone over the top horror or gross out horror, but instead, they went with honest to goodness psychological terror; because they have written such a great character in Dean Evers, and we are drawn so well into his world, we feel his fear. It is our own.

By the novels dénouement, nothing about baseball will ever be the same for Dean Evers. In fact, nothing will ever be the same for him again.

I was absolutely thrilled with every aspect of this book. It’s well told with a compelling protagonist and brilliantly drawn secondary characters, a plot you won’t see coming a mile away and an ending that will leave you breathless with shock. Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan hit it out of the Park with A Face in the Crowd.

So take me out to the ball game, buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I ever come back…

A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink

9 Oct

 

Helen Cartwright’s world is about to change, but not necessarily for the better.

When her mother comes to her bedroom one evening, Helen is distraught. Downstairs, she can hear voices raised in anger and what sounds like a dangerous fight. Her mother quickly packs a valise for Helen and gives her some chilling advice: “Do what I tell you and stay hidden. Otherwise, they will kill you and all will be for nothing.”

Helen’s mother opens a hidden door in her bedroom wall and shoves her daughter inside, giving her a piece of paper with instructions on how to get out of the house unseen and where she must go. She must find Griffin and Darius and they will take her to Galizur.

With these mysterious words, Helen’s mother shuts the wall and blocks the hidden entrance. It is the last time she sees her parents alive. She hears voices on the other side of the wall but they can’t find her. What they decide to do, however, is set her house on fire.

Following her mother’s instructions in order to flee her burning house, Helen finds herself at Griffin and Darius’ house. Stepping across the threshold, Helen enters into a strange world that she is already entwined in.

Unbeknownst to her, she has been trained her whole life as a Keeper, one of the Dictata, an organization that must protect the Earth and keep the balance of good and evil in check. As if that isn’t strange enough, Helen is told that she is from a line of people descended from angels and that she must help protect the world.

Helen will have to rely on everything she has learned, and the help of Griffin who stirs a desire inside of her, if they are all to save the world with their souls and their hearts intact.

After all, why should life be simple, even for an angel?

In A Temptation of Angels, Michelle Zink has written an apocalyptic tale set in a Victorian steampunk world that succeeds on every level. Not only is the story one that keeps you flipping the pages madly to find out what happens next, she has created characters that seem so alive, it’s as if I know them in real life itself.

My meager plot summary doesn’t even come close to describing how epic and amazing this novel is. Anything you think you know about the young adult genre is thrown out the window and the reader is treated to a tale unlike any other I’ve ever read. Full of passion, thrilling adventure and amazing plot twists that will leave you in shock, A Temptation of Angels is her best novel yet.

More than anything though, it’s a very intense study of what is good and what is evil. It’s a story of a young woman who must grow up quickly in order for her to claim her birthright and find her place in a hidden world to which she belongs. It also takes all the young adult novels about angels and adds something fresh, new and different in an already crowded genre.

Not content to follow the norms with young adult novels featuring angels, Zink’s world and character building are top notch as she takes us deeper into a dark world where nothing is what it seems and everything, even life itself, is at stake. I’m used to being impressed with Michelle Zink’s novels, but A Temptation of Angels blew me out of the water. I read it twice in eBook format and then read the hardcover for a third go around.

Perhaps the most amazing element of this novel is the fact that, even after I finished the novel, the characters stayed with me, haunting me in the daytime, their story embedded in my memory. The mark of great fiction is a story that stays with you.

If that is the case, then A Temptation of Angels is certainly a story for the ages. To read A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink is to witness a master at her craft and I for one couldn’t be happier to let Zink enthrall me, enchant me and leave me wanting more.

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