Archive | March, 2013

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smiles

21 Mar


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:

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:

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



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.