Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I’m a bit obsessive about books. Not only do I read anything and everything (with Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance and Magic Realism being favourite genres), I also collect books. I have signed first editions, special order books and more eBooks than you can shake a stick at.
I do have my favourites though. I always find my way back to young adult books. It seems, as of late, to be the genre I live in most. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, Skeleton Creek and Dark Eden, The Iron Fey Series, The Blood of Eden, Prophecy of the Sisters. The list goes on. I’ve read and re-read all of these books many time each. One of my favourite series’, though, is Septimus Heap.
When Septimus Heap Book One: Magyk came out in 2005, I almost didn’t read it. It sounded like a young reader version of Harry Potter and I wasn’t too keen on it. But the book came with a nifty CD Rom (what was on that, I wondered) and as I flipped the book over I noticed a quote from Clive Barker. The quote read thusly:
Septimus Heap: Magyk is a book full of wonders, charms, and surprises. Beautifully written and richly imagined, it invites us into a world we never want to leave. Marvellous.
Now, I am a lifelong fan of Clive Barker. Unlike Stephen King, Barker does not do a lot of cover blurbs. And unlike Stephen King, I thought Clive Barker’s blurb would be truthful. So, because of Clive Barker’s quote, I ended up getting Septimus Heap Book One: Magyk.
I’m not sure what I expected, really. I thought I would read a few chapters and go “Well, that was cute.” I didn’t expect to open the book to the first page and get immediately and completely pulled into the story. The hours faded away as I fell under a Magyk spell that Angie Sage had weaved and I have looked forward to each book in the series as if Christmas came early.
Make no mistake, this is not a Harry Potter knock off. The Septimus Heap Series stands on its own merit. It you took a tiny bit of Harry Potter magic, mixed it with a world so well imagined much like Game of Thrones and added wonderful characters that you care for much like The Hunger Games and stirred in a magic so real, so captivating, like the Iron Fey. The Septimus Heap Series is all of that and more. It’s spellbinding, page turning, magical fun. I haven’t had such a good time with a series of books since Harry Potter.
As each book was published (Magyk, Flyte, Physik, Queste, Syren, Darke) my anticipation for the last book (Fyre) mounted. Angie Sage constantly topped herself, making sure that each new book was better, more thrilling and more magical than that previous one. There are even two add on books to the series: The Magyikal Papers, which is sort of like a prequel or a companion to the series as a whole, and The Darke Toad, an eBook that takes place between Magyk and Flyte.
I was anxiously awaiting April 16th so I could get my copy of Fyre. I haven’t been so excited for the last book in a series since Deathly Hallows, Mockingjay and The Dark Tower Book VII. By a happy accident, the ebook is still on pre order with release tomorrow; but the physical copy of the book was already in the bookstore down the street from me.
There was no choice, really. I had to have it. I took it home with me and ignored chores I should have been doing to lose myself in the story that Angie Sage had created. After only an evening and one morning of reading, I’m 102 out of 702 pages and I can’t wait to find out what Angie Sage has in store for me.
I can’t wait to find out what happens. After eight long years, the wait is over and the series will end. I’m trying to take my time with the book, to savor it as much as possible, but that won’t happen. If you haven’t discovered the Septimus Heap Series yet, what are you waiting for?
Learn more, play games, collect cards and more by clicking below:
The end is near. Won’t you read along with me and have a bit of Magyk for yourself? I have fallen in love with this series, with the world that Angie Sage has created so realistically.
I can’t wait to read the whole series over again, once I’m done with Fyre!
I have a real treat for you all today. The lovely Caroline has stopped by for a quick chat about her new book, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, which is published today! Happy Publication Day Caroline! So she’s taken time out of her busy schedule today to pay us a visit. Without further ado, on with the interview!
Jamieson: Hey Caroline! Welcome to the blog! It’s so lovely to have you visiting!
Caroline: It’s my absolute pleasure to be here. I’ve brought you a slice of lemon drizzle cake, topped with almonds.
Jamieson: Oh, lemon cake. One of my absolute faves. I’ll try and share, really. So, the reason we’re all here: Happy Publication Day! Can you tell me about your new release The Drowning of Arthur Braxton?
Caroline: Thank you! The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is what others have described as an unflinching account of the pain of adolescence. I’ve tried to layer in some dark humour, but the story is about the power of first love, about how that love can transform the most unhappy of lives into something extraordinary.
Jamieson: Now, as you know, I absolutely loved this book. It’s so different from your other books. A modern retelling of myth with portions of it told in dialogue, like a Greek morality play. It even had an audience with two of my favourite characters in the book, Kester and Pollock. You chose the Greek myths of Apollo and Daphne, Pollux and Castor, Jason and Medea. What was it about these particular myths that inspired you to entwine them together?
Caroline: A truly difficult question, simply answered by the fact that I adore all Greek mythology. I am obsessed with the tragedy and the beauty, I’m fascinated with how Greek mythology has changed over time to accommodate the advancement of their culture. All I’ve done is take three established myths and weave them into a very modern story. I wanted the stories in the novel to be able to stand-alone, I hoped that not knowing the Greek myths wouldn’t detract from the read, but that knowing the myths would offer an additional layer.
In terms of those specifically chosen myths, Medea has fascinated me for years. I’ve had a Post-it note to retell her story stuck to a corkboard since I wrote my debut. Her tragedy is compelling. I touch on Pollux and Castor in a minor way, creating characters bonded by love and sacrifice, a theme that threads through the novel. And finally the Daphne myth – being hunted by Apollo slotted into Laurel’s story with ease. It is possible that the myths chose me, but I fear that makes me sound somewhat insane.
Jamieson: You have always created such amazing protagonists. First it was Jude and then it was Ana and Nina and then Kate. This is your first male protagonist, though others do get page time. What inspired you to tell Arthur’s story?
Caroline: I was never going to write a male protagonist, if I’m honest the thought of
creating a convincing teenage, male voice terrified me. I write in first person, which would mean no escape from creating an undoubted voice and view of the world. Originally the novel was called ‘Madame Oracle’ and it was Laurel’s story. Arthur was a late addition, he happened when I faced up to the fact that something was missing from my narrative. I researched male voices for months and months, then I asked my teenage son far too many embarrassing questions in an attempt to get the character right. Creating Arthur Braxton has been my biggest challenge as a writer, but also one that I thoroughly enjoyed creating.
Jamieson: Can you tell us why language plays such an important role in your stories? In The Drowning or Arthur Braxton, you tell portions of the story in play like format. You’ve also used sign language, definitions, foreign dialects and more. In your first two novels, In Search of Adam and Black Boxes, you didn’t just use language, you played with the very form of the page and used it as a canvas. What is the inspiration?
Caroline: Language is my passion, my academic background is in linguistics. Storytelling is art, you’re right the blank page is a canvas, the words can be presented and formatted in so many different ways. In the past I’ve used white space, I’ve used altered fonts, I’ve used sign language to show silence and in ‘The Drowning of Arthur Braxton’ I use play script for Delphina’s voice. I have three protagonists – Laurel, Delphina and Arthur, but only Delphina’s voice is heard in this way. My reasoning is to offer an indication that Delphina is not as she seems, that she isn’t as rounded, possibly as real, as the other two characters. For the reader to not be able to step into her head, for the reader to not be able to see through her eyes, suggests that the reader is incapable of fully understanding Delphina. I do not open her up for scrutiny, she isn’t ever fully seen or heard.
Jamieson: Now, can you tell everyone where to get their hands on a copy of The Drowning of Arthur Braxton? I got mine from The Book Depository and I can’t wait for it to arrive! It’s got an eBook edition too, right? I already know it’s available from all good bookshops, of course. 🙂
Caroline: Asking at a local bookshop for them to order the novel would be very ace. Or
failing that, it is available on Amazon.co.uk in both Kindle and paperback editions. For those not in the UK, The Book Depository will ship abroad free of charge. It’s available in Canada on 12 April and in Australia on 1 June.
Jamieson: Oh! And where can people find you out and about? I know you’re on Facebook and are far more active on Twitter than I am
Caroline: Of course, I’ve an author page on Facebook and a website www.carolinesmailes.co.uk or I am often (too often!) found on Twitter at twitter.com/Caroline_S
Jamieson: I absolutely loved The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. It was breath taking and wonderfully gorgeous. I hope you sell millions of copies because everyone should get a copy of this book. If you want an amazing book to start your Spring off right, it’s this one. I understand that there might also be a movie?
Caroline: Thanks so much for your beautiful words! And yes, the novel was optioned for movie after the first draft was read by a rather perfect director. At the moment we’re waiting for news, so I’m keeping everything crossed and trying hard not to fantasize about my ideal cast.
Jamieson: Thanks so much for stopping by Caroline, it’s been an absolute honour!
Caroline: Oh Jamieson, the honor is all mine! Thank you for being such an amazing support. Now, let’s eat cake and tell each other more secrets.
Jamieson: Mmmm, cake.
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.
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 fall under its spell a second time.
It’s no secret that I love all of Caroline Smaile’s books. Each one of them is so different, so incredible, that each book has stayed with me long after I’ve read it. Her new novel, 99 Reasons Why, is no different.
In 99 Reasons Why, we meet Kate Jones. Kate isn’t like other twenty two year olds. She lives with her mother and her father and has a very important job to do for her Uncle Phil. She sits in her window every day and observes the goings on at the Kevin Keegan Day Nursery. Every day she writes down the comings and goings of the nursery in her notebooks.
One of the children, a little girl in a pink coat, catches Kate’s eye. She wants the little girl for herself. It’s when her mother and her Uncle Phil begin to make plans to steal the little girl in the pink coat for Kate that things begin to go awry.
The little girl in the pink coat’s father, Andy Douglas, has caught Kate’s eye as well and she wants him badly, even though her past experiences with love haven’t turned out so well. Then there’s the fact that she is Princess Diana’s daughter, her father is driving an illegal taxi, her mother is sleeping with Uncle Phil and she will soon have her very own child.
It’s a lot for a girl like Kate to keep inside. Sometimes she feels as if her head will burst with all the secrets that she must keep. However, even the most feared secrets will find their way out of the darkness and into the light.
When that happens, Kate’s small, carefully organized world begins to unravel. And then eveyrthing goes to hell in a handbasket, faster than Kate can order a Princess Diana commerative pin from eBay…
99 Reasons Why is an absolutely amazing read from start to finish. Caroline Smailes has penned an incredible story with one of the most fascinating characters ever to grace the printed page. Except, 99 Reasons Why is a novel with a difference.
There are eleven endings to 99 Reasons Why. Nine are included in the eBook and you get to choose your own ending to Kate’s story. If you read the book on your Kindle, you will be asked a series of questions to determine which of the nine different endings you will read. If you’ve got an iPad (like I do), you get to spin a wheel and leave your ending up to chance.
This would be a great gimmick if the writing wasn’t so amazing. Caroline gets better with every novel and 99 Reasons Why is her best yet. Even without the interactive feature of the eBook, it’s an amazing, heart breaking, harrowing read. It’s also quite funny in parts, which gives the book an incredible amount of depth. There is every emotion in the novel’s pages and when you finish reading, Kate will stay with you as will Caroline’s incredible writing. She has a way of making the mundane seem extraordinary. Combine all that with the interactive part of the eBook and you have something that is beyond incredible. Kate is not an ordinary girl, 99 Reasons Why isn’t your ordinary kind of eBook it succeeds on every level.
What I love most about the book were the characters and their story. Caroline writes it so well its as if we’re right there with Kate, going along for the ride. The novel pulls you in from the first page and doesn’t let you go until you finish it. After I read the first ending (I got number 3 on my first go), I went back and read all the others.
In short, 99 Reasons Why is incredibly brilliant in every possible way. It’s a fantastic story told in a revolutionary way. I started the novel on a Friday night and was done by Saturday. 99 Reasons Why is so good that I’m already half way through it for the second time.
Make no mistake: this is a dark thrill ride of a novel that will leave you with a jaw dropping ending (or a few of them) and Kate will stay with you long after you’ve finished 99 Reasons Why. That’s the power of a true storyteller and its something Caroline Smailes has in spades. Deft, funny, haunting and harrowing, 99 Reasons Why is amazing 99 times over.
Everyone dreams of having a superpower. Me? I’d love to be able to fly so I could avoid rush hour traffice or be able to remember each book I’ve ever read in its entirety. Everyone has also felt like a freak at one point or another in their lives: not fitting in, not being accepted, not part of the norm.
There are people, however, that we would classify as real freaks, not able to intermingle with society, keeping to themselves. You’ve seen these people: they fade into the shadows, they keep to the sidelines, they are quiet and speak rarely.
Everyone has been a freak at one time or another. That is what makes FREAKS! written by Caroline Smailes, Nik Perring and illustrated by Darren Craske so amazing. They have created a book that is for each and every person who has never felt as if they fit in anywhere.
FREAKS! is a collection of 50 short stories, some written by Caroline, some written by Nik, some written together. The stories are illustrated by wonderful drawings by Darren that bring the story to life in a way that transcends the short story genre.
Part collection, part comic book, part darkness, part hilarity, FREAKS! is a book that goes beyond the short story genre and makes it something all the more incredible.
I knew from the moment that I looked at the cover of FREAKS! that I was in for a treat of monumental proportions. Eschewing the traditional short story, the ones contained in this collection are flash fiction pieces, stories told in comic book form, stories told in mere paragrahps that pack whole pages worth of emotion into very few words.
I read FREAKS! in less than a day. I simply could not put it down. All the stories feature people with superpowers, real or imagined, and give us a brief look into their lives. Some of the stories are funny and downright hilarious, some end with a punch to the gut, some take a twist in the middle and leave you shocked. Others are haunting, harrowing and dark. However, all the stories in FREAKS! are beautiful.
I had a very personal reaction to this collection. I have always felt like a freak, as if I don’t belong, as if I was put on this earth to do something but had no idea what it was. I’ve always felt as if I was outside the norm and have never been sure if the norm was something I wanted to be a part of anyways.
In reading FREAKS! I felt as if I was reading about people I knew. I even recognized myself in a few of the stories. The stories, the characters, feel so personal, as if we are being presented with a moment in the time of their lives. I ached for this book of freaks and wanted them to know it was okay to be who they were.
Though short, the stories are written so well and so deftly that no further words are needed. Caroline Smailes and Nik Perring have outdone themselves with their stories; each can be read in a few minutes, but all of them will stay with you long after you finish reading the collection.
The illustrations are another amazing thing about this collection. Darren Craske has outdone himself, bringing the freaks to life in fantastic black and white illustrations that help the characters to jump off the page. The illustrations are so good that I felt I was reading a pulp comic book from days gone by. The stories are amazing and the illustrations just add to the over all perfection of the book.
I finished reading the paperback book yesterday morning and am reading the eBook now. While I love eBooks and primarily read everything on my iPad, FREAKS! is a book that you will want to hold, a book where you will want to thumb through the pages. Though I love eBooks, do yourself a favour and get the paperback. It’s well worth double the price you’ll pay for it as the stories will stay with you forever.
Whimsical, haunting, hilarious and harrowing, FREAKS! is like nothing you have ever read or will read afterwards. FREAKS! has turned the genre of the short story into a revolution. The literary world will never be the same again.