Monthly Archives: August 2019

Review of KINDLE Ebook Children No More – Book 4 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name #Brainfluffbookreview #ChildrenNoMorebookreview

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I’ve really enjoyed this quirky military space opera series featuring solitary super-soldier Jon and his formidable sentient space ship, Lobo. It manages to deliver gripping adventures, nicely tempered with welcome humour, either in the snarky exchanges between Jon and Lobo, or the chatter of semi-intelligent machines as they bicker amongst themselves – see my review of Jump Twist Gate. However this time around, there aren’t so many laughs…

No child should ever be a soldier. Jon Moore knew that better than most, having learned to fight to survive before he’d hit puberty. So when a former comrade, Alissa Lim, asks for his help in rescuing a group of children pressed into service by rebels on a planet no one cares to save, he agrees. Only later does he realize he’s signed up to do far more than he’d ever imagined. Jon’s commitment hurtles him and Lobo, the hyper-intelligent assault vehicle who is his only real friend, into confrontations with the horrors the children have experienced and with a dark chapter from his past.

That is as much of the rather chatty blurb as I’m prepared to share, as it gives away far too many plotpoints in my opinion. The author clearly feels passionate about the subject of child soldiers – in the Afterword, he says that the groups trying to reintegrate these children have estimated that at present there are approximately some 300,000 child soldiers around the planet. As he says – that’s a shocking number of children whose childhoods have been devastated and turned into something horrific.

However, this isn’t some gritty non-fiction exposé on the issue – it happens to be the main spine running through a military space opera adventure story. So does it work? Yes, overall I think that Van Name has once more delivered a strong story with plenty of tension. I always find Jon a very sympathetic character and I enjoyed learning about the traumas in his childhood that led to him falling into the wrong hands, sealing his fate as mercenary. And in this book, we learn just how much he minds about that choice being taken away…

I love the villain of the piece in this story – it doesn’t hurt that he’s a politician, given that right now I’d happily put all the ones littering up Westminster on a boat and set them adrift in the Channel until they start behaving with some responsibility. There were also some moments of real emotional heft in the story where I had a lump in my throat. To be honest, I could have done with a few more laughs, but I do understand that Van Name’s own sense of humour wasn’t firing on all cylinders this time around – and I certainly prefer that he didn’t attempt it if he wasn’t feeling it.

Any niggles? The pacing was just a tad slow in the middle – something I haven’t experienced before in this series – I felt the lead-in to the final denouement could have come a few chapters sooner than it did. But overall, it wasn’t a dealbreaker and this was a gripping, enjoyable episode – though if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, please don’t start with this one. This is definitely a series which needs to be read in the right order.

Recommended for fans of gripping military science fiction.
8/10

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Friday Faceoff … and it was all yellow #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffTheRulesofMagic

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week is featuring a YELLOW COVER, so I’ve selected a book from one on my teetering TBR, The Rules of Magic – prequel to the Practical Magic series by Alice Hoffman.

 

This edition was produced by Simon Schuster in October 2017 and as soon as I read the subject for this week, it was a no-brainer. This is a beautiful cover that has me yearning to jump into this book. The sparkles… the face behind it… and for once I won’t be grumbling about the plain black font – it works brilliantly against the brightness of that cover. This is my favourite.

 

Published in November 2017 by Simon Schuster – what a difference a hardback makes! I confess to being rather puzzled as to why this edition is so completely different to the previous offering. Nevertheless, I do think it charming. My grizzle is with the font – why pink? And if you have to have pink – why Barbie pink?

 

This edition, published by Scribner in August 2018, is also beautiful. The amber colour of the cover is just lovely and I particularly like that you cannot see the girl’s face, while the detail of her hair, neck and shoulder is lovely. As for the font… rather ordinary and underwhelming, which is why this isn’t my favourite – but it is a close-run thing!

 

Produced by Uitgeverij Orlando in February 2019, this Dutch edition is also an eye-catching cover. I just love the freckle-faced girl glaring out at me in amongst the sunflowers. I particularly like the fact that she isn’t plastered in make-up. But I find the flat font very disappointing.

 

This Russian edition, published by Эксмо in October 2017 is the second cover with an abstract floral design – and in my opinion this is by far the more successful. I love the symmetry and striking colours – the dark purple background, with the teal leaves and orange/golden flowers is eye-catching and beautiful. While the title and author fonts are plain and on the dinky side of small, at least they look as if they are nested within the design, rather than slapped across the top of it. So… which is your favourite?

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths #Brainfluffbookreview #ARoomFullofBonesaudiobookreview

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I had seen this one on special offer on Audible and as this is a series I’m currently enjoying – see my review of The Crossing Places, it seemed like a good idea to get hold of it. Would I enjoy listening to these characters as much I relish reading about them, though?

It is Halloween night, and the local museum in King’s Lynn is preparing for an unusual event – the opening of a coffin containing the bones of a medieval bishop. But when Ruth Galloway arrives to supervise, she finds a nasty surprise waiting for her…

And yes – I’ve heavily truncated the blurb which is far too chatty and this occult-tinged thriller is far too good to spoil by knowing a raft of major plotpoints in advance. I needn’t have worried about whether I’d enjoy listening to this one – I absolutely loved it. Jane McDowell does an excellent job with the narration as Ruth’s dry humour came through particularly well. This is my favourite book of the series so far. That gothic element Griffiths is fond of introducing into her stories this time around works magnificently well. I loved the way the plot steps over into paranormal, before Griffiths then provides an alternative, more mundane explanation – while still giving the reader the option of which one she’d prefer to go with…

Griffiths’ superpower is characterisation and she gets under the skin of her character cast wonderfully well, to the extent that she is able to introduce contradictory traits in her protagonists without it jarring. In short, she is thoroughly at home with these people so they ping off the page in effortless three-dimensional detail that I love.

I found Ruth’s ongoing struggle to keep working while bringing up her small daughter all too familiar – and massive kudos to Griffiths for choosing to highlight this under-represented issue in her series. While the previous book left me feeling a bit tetchy at her hand-wringing over whether she was good enough – this time, her gritted determination to protect her daughter leads her to a heart-breaking dilemma.

As for the storyline – this time around, it kept delivering twists I simply didn’t see coming and made more memorable, compelling listening. After I’d finished putting the final coat on the bathroom cupboard at 10.30 pm, I sat in the kitchen and listened a while longer as there was simply no way I could switch off my Kindle without knowing what would happen next. In amongst the unexpected deaths, Griffiths also tackles the issue of bones held by museums and universities that were collected during the UK’s colonial era that their indigenous descendants now want back. I really liked

Ruth’s discomfort as she considers the arguments. In short – there wasn’t a single aspect of this book that I could fault. The characters and setting – Griffith’s strengths – worked every bit as well as I’ve come to expect, but in addition the plotting and handling of the climactic scenes which in the past have tipped into melodrama, this time around were dealt with really well.

This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far.
10/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 28th August, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #Can’tWaitWednesday

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Brightfall by Jaime Lee Moyer

#Medieval fantasy #Robin Hood retelling #Murder mystery

It’s been a mostly quiet life since Robin Hood denounced Marian, his pregnant wife, and his former life and retreated to a monastery to repent his sins . . . although no one knows what he did that was so heinous he would leave behind Sherwood Forest and those he loved most.

But when friends from their outlaw days start dying, Father Tuck, now the Abbott of St. Mary’s, suspects a curse and begs Marian to use her magic to break it. A grieving Marian bargains for protection for her children before she sets out with a soldier who’s lost his faith, a trickster Fey lord and a sullen Robin Hood, angry at being drawn back into the real world.

Marian soon finds herself enmeshed in a maze of betrayals, tangled relationships and a vicious struggle for the Fey throne . . . and if she can’t find and stop the spell-caster, no protection in Sherwood Forest will be enough to save her children.

I can’t lie – though I was intrigued by the blurb, once again it was allll about the delightful cover… This one is due out on 5th September and I will be reviewing it in due course.

Teaser Tuesday – 27th August, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

The Missing Diamond Murder – Book 3 of the Black and Dod series by Diane Janes

63% ‘Eddie and I went to Sidmouth today,’ Fran said. ‘And according to Mrs Headingham, who is an old friend of your husband’s grandfather, he told her years ago that the diamond belonged to a friend of his, a Frenchman called Georges Poussin.’ She watched their faces for any flicker of recognition, but all that greeted her was astonishment and doubt, part of which, she thought, was probably due to her casually mentioning Mrs Headingham’s name over dinner as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

BLURB: 1930. Frances Black is worried – divorce proceedings are under way and her solicitor has learnt of a spiteful letter sent to the court claiming that there is more to her friendship with her sleuthing partner, Tom Dod, than meets the eye. Fran takes Tom’s advice to get away, travelling down to Devon to help the Edgertons with their family mystery. After meeting the charismatic Eddie Edgerton and arriving at their residence, Sunnyside House, Fran soon learns that Eddie’s grandfather, Frederick Edgerton, died in mysterious circumstances when his wheelchair went off a cliff. Was it really an accident? And what happened to Frederick’s precious diamond which went missing at the time of his death? As Fran investigates, she uncovers family scandal, skulduggery and revenge, but can she solve the mystery of the missing diamond?

I have read and enjoyed the previous two books in this excellent series – here is my review of The Magic Chair Murder and The Poisoned Chalice Murder – and I’m finding this classic country house cold case a real treat.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Green Man’s Foe – Book 2 of the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGreenMansFoebookreview

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I absolutely fell in love with the previous book, which was one of my outstanding books last year – see my review of The Green Man’s Heir. This largely follows the genre conventions of urban fantasy where a protagonist with unique gifts helps to fight crime. The difference being that this isn’t in some city centre, it’s in the heart of the English countryside and the paranormal beings are dryads, naiads and nixes – not to mention the Green Man.

When you do a good job for someone, there’s a strong chance they’ll offer you more work or recommend you elsewhere. So Daniel Mackmain isn’t particularly surprised when his boss’s architect brother asks for his help on a historic house renovation in the Cotswolds.

Except Dan’s a dryad’s son, and he soon realises there’s a whole lot more going on. Ancient malice is stirring and it has made an alliance in the modern world. The Green Man expects Dan to put an end to this threat. Seeing the danger, Dan’s forced to agree. The problem is he’s alone in a place he doesn’t know, a hundred miles or more away from any allies of his own.

I dived back into this world with huge delight and immediately got swept back up into Dan’s problems. You don’t have to read The Green Man’s Heir to appreciate this one as each story is a standalone – but you are denying yourself a wonderful reading experience if you don’t. McKenna has managed to produce something unique – an urban fantasy adventure set in the heart of rural England. This gives the story a flavour all of its own as the countryside around the neglected stately home that Dan is working on is vividly described, along with the characters he encounters.

I liked the real sense of threat evoked by the creepy Aiden, a really well-rounded antagonist who I loved to hate throughout as he manipulates the lost teenagers who have drifted into his orbit because they come from socially deprived backgrounds with no prospects. The poignancy of their trapped existence is vividly depicted without any kind moralising or ‘telling’ by McKenna.

The aspect I also love about this series is the real sense of otherness about the supernatural beings – they are all disconcertingly odd and rather scary and despite the fact he is half-dryad, Dan doesn’t get any inside knowledge about their motivations. I read far later than I should have done as I couldn’t put this one down – but the snag is that I am now suffering from withdrawal symptoms as I am out the other side of this fabulous world and feeling rather bereft as a result. This is one of my outstanding reads of the year.
Highly recommended for anyone who has a pulse…
10/10

Sunday Post – 25th August, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been an intensely busy week as I have been organising the upcoming release of my new book Mantivore Dreams. I’m also working on a major editing project, as well as now editing the next book in the series, Mantivore Prey. On Friday, Himself and I went for a coffee and cake at the Look and Sea Centre, which has now reopened, thank goodness. So we were able to sit at our favourite spot, have a natter while enjoying views of the river as the weather has suddenly become warmer and sunnier again in time for the Bank Holiday weekend. Yay!

Today we will be driving over the Brighton to pick up the children and have them stay over for a few days. It’s a long time since we had Oscar to stay, so we are really looking forward to catching up with them both.

Last week I read:

The Green Man’s Foe – Book 1 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna
When you do a good job for someone, there’s a strong chance they’ll offer you more work or recommend you elsewhere. So Daniel Mackmain isn’t particularly surprised when his boss’s architect brother asks for his help on a historic house renovation in the Cotswolds. Except Dan’s a dryad’s son, and he soon realises there’s a whole lot more going on. Ancient malice is stirring and it has made an alliance in the modern world. The Green Man expects Dan to put an end to this threat. Seeing the danger, Dan’s forced to agree. The problem is he’s alone in a place he doesn’t know, a hundred miles or more away from any allies of his own.

I loved the first book in the series and the sequel is every bit as good. It’s a joy to read a cracking contemporary adventure set in the heart of the English countryside, featuring magical creatures from our own long, colourful history.

 

Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had sworn off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined.

Try as she might, she can’t just walk away from Arland. It doesn’t help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.

Another fabulous read – this has been a wonderful reading week! I treated myself to this one, once I realised how well Mantivore Prey has turned out as a reward from me to me😊

 

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

This African-inspired epic fantasy is an impressive debut, given it’s ambition and scope and Barron has triumphantly succeeded in depicting a vivid, dangerous world rife with vengeful seers and lethal magic. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Know Your Rites – Book 2 of the Inspector Paris Mysteries

Friday Faceoff featuring Catching Fire – Book 2 of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Mantivore Dreams Cover reveal and available arcs

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Novacene by James Lovelock

Teaser Tuesday featuring Sweep of the Blade – Book 4 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Old Bones – A DCI Bill Slider Case by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Sunday Post – 18th August 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

#writers, what #writinginspiration can be found in your #homestate? In #Winsconsin, one #setting to spark your #storytelling is #theHouseontheRock https://jeanleesworld.com/2019/08/22/writers-what-writinginspiration-can-be-found-in-your-homestate-in-wisconsin-one-setting-to-spark-your-storytelling-is-thehouseontherock/ She’s not kidding… This place is UNBELIEVABLE! I’d love, love, love to visit!

Monday Musings https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/monday-musings-5/ Rae is a remarkable lady who has a passion for books and teaching – I loved this article she posted…

Sparoi 2019 https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/08/18/spraoi-2019/ Once again, Inessa’s camera takes me to another place far, far away from my own desk in the corner of my lounge and I love her for it.

Friends Do Lie: Normalization of Lies in Fiction http://melfka.com/archives/16489 Joanna raises a really interesting issue in this thoughtful article…

Monday Chatter: Why Plagiarizing Reviews is Bad (Because Apparently It Needs to be Said)
https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/monday-chatter-why-plagiarizing-reviews-is-bad-because-apparently-it-needs-to-be-said/ I was shaken to read this – fortunately I’m aware it’s rare, but it is a real shame that anyone thinks it is acceptable to steal anyone else’s writing – especially when discussing your personal reaction to a book!

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Know Your Rites – Book 2 of the Inspector Paris Mystery series by Andy Redsmith #Brainfluffbookreview #KnowYourRitesbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Breaking the Lore, so immediately requested the arc when I saw this sequel come up on Netgalley – and was delighted to be approved.

Inspector Nick Paris, now also known as ‘the one who stopped the demons’, has become an unlikely celebrity in the magical world. He is desperate to return to tackling more ordinary crimes on his home turf of Manchester. However, the fates aren’t in his favour when he is called upon again by his more unusual police colleagues to solve a gruesome killing. The only suspect is a dwarf trying to make it in the rap business. But are there more mysterious matters afoot? Paris is thrust back into the world of magic and murder – but who will face the music?

I remembered the first book clearly so it was a pleasure to be reunited with Nick Paris, his magical girlfriend Cassandra, Bonetti his rather thick sergeant, and the team who helped him in the last desperate adventure. Once again, I found the contrast between Nick’s worldweary, rather cynical outlook and the world of elves, dwarves and talking crows an enjoyable one. The storyline carries on from the adventures in the previous book, so my firm advice would be to read Breaking the Lore first, otherwise you will be missing too much of the backstory to make sense of what is going on.

Humour is highly subjective. What has one person roaring with laughter will leave someone else blank-faced and yawning, so do be aware of that with regard to my following comments. While I initially enjoyed the humorous aspect of the story, I quickly decided that Redsmith is trying too hard to make me laugh, rather than immerse me in an engrossing portal fantasy whodunit. There are too many times when scenes are included or extended for the sole purpose of yet another pun or wordplay, rather than for the sake of deepening the characterisation or advancing the storyline. Consequently I felt that the jokes got in the way of the story, rather than embellishing it.

That said, I still had no trouble turning the pages and finishing this murder mystery and will be very happy to read another slice in Nick Paris’s adventures. Recommended for those who enjoy paranormal murder mysteries – but please be aware that this series is nothing like Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant mysteries. The ebook arc copy of Know Your Rites was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10

Friday Faceoff – The book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffmovietieincovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is MOVIE TIE-IN. I’ve selected Catching Fire – Book 2 of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Mostly because I think both the book and film are more successful than most notoriously difficult second-in-the-series efforts.

 

This edition was produced by Scholastic Press in September 2009 and is a strong design that catches the eye on the shelves (I know – I bought this edition, having seen it on said shelves). Red and gold are always a strong colour combination and the design and the unusual bird give a sci fi feel to this cover. If I have a moan, it’s that blocky, rather uninspired font.

 

Published in November 2011 by Nemira, this Romanian edition is very effective, with the face half-hidden by those red leaves. The detail of the raindrops beading the leaves gives a nice three-dimensional aspect. But then they went and botched it by plonking the title font bang in the middle of the cover in the same shade of red. It both clutters the overall design and is difficult to read – hard to imagine how they could have made more of a mess of it, really.

 

This edition, published by Scholastic in October 2014, goes for a different suite of colours no less eye-catching than the red and gold. I love the treatment of the font which is both attractive and imaginative. However, that negative effect on the mockingjay makes it look like a fossilised pterodactyl, which isn’t an accurate portrayal of the book. I suppose I can give them a pass on this one – by 2014 you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of The Hunger Games, but it goes against the grain to have a cover that doesn’t accurately reflect the book’s genre.

 

This movie tie-in edition, produced by Scholastic in October 2013 is an underwhelming effort. It certainly doesn’t work all that well in thumbnail – all you see are those roiling clouds. Katniss merely blends into the background wearing her hunting attire. I think this is the least effective of all the covers.

This Scholastic Singapore edition, published in October 2014, is my favourite. Just look at the bird on fire against the black background. Gloriously simple and yet so beautiful and visually compelling. It is also one of the movie tie-in covers and if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know it works really well as a nod to that terrible scene when it all does, indeed, catch fire… Which is your favourite?

MANTIVORE DREAMS Cover Reveal and available ARCS #MantivoreDreams #GriffinwingPublishingbooks

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I am delighted to announce that I am about to release the first book in a new series, Mantivore Dreams. The Arcadian Chronicles follows the fortunes of a forgotten human colony and what happens to the aliens already living there.

Again, the cover has been designed by my awesome buddy Mhairi Simpson and I think she’s done a fabulous job. While continuing the branded look she has created for me, this design also gives a clear idea of the story with Vrox’s mantivore eyes lurking behind young Kyrillia.

I am also offering review copies for anyone who would like to read and review this book – there are currently 15 arcs available and here is the link where you can download a copy:
https://booksprout.co/arc/19092/mantivore-dreams

As I am offering it through Booksprout, there is a final date by which the review has to be posted, which is 10th September on Amazon – it doesn’t have to be more than a few lines.

I know many of my readers have fallen in love with Lizzy, so I am hoping that some of you will also find a place in your heart for Kyrillia and grumpy old Vrox, who I personally care about far too much. I’ve included the blurb and the opening scene to give you some idea of whether this one will tick your box…

BLURB: Seventeen-year-old Kyrillia Brarian has an imaginary friend, a kindly mantivore called Vrox. She can’t recall a time when he wasn’t there. And over the years, Vrox has been her main source of comfort and strength as she drudged for her mother and nursed her brain-damaged uncle, so she’s never given much thought as to how he got there. Of course, he can’t be real. But when only three or four other people in her dusty village even smile at her, Kyrillia isn’t about to turn her back on the happy, warm images crowding her mind.

Until a family quarrel spirals into something darker – and Kyrillia is forced to wonder if Vrox is imaginary, or even friendly…

CHAPTER ONE

I held my breath. At last! I’d begun to think I’d never track down this music site. A picklist unfolded and I gawked at the strange words. Classical. Youth Cultures. Popular Cultures. Devotional. Ethnic.
What did they mean? Surely music was just a dance tune, or a song? I jabbed at the first one. Yet another picklist unpeeled onto the mat. Much longer. The words tasted strange as I sounded the musicians’ names aloud. “Beethave- no -hoven… Mozz-art…Ta-ch— simply don’t have the time to sound that one out.” I went for a short name – Bach. What did his Family do, to earn a Name like that?
My eyes slid down the picklist of his tunes and found a piece about organs with something about a minor D. Probably a comedy. I hoped so – I could do with a laugh.
“Play.” I breathed in the thick, sweet smell, storing up the sensation of Facs-mining on the Node – something I didn’t do nearly enough. Looking across at the bubbling organi-packs glowing in their transparent tanks, I wished I could spend more time here, rather than snatch these forbidden stints when Mother was away.
The sound pealed out. What was the instrument? The notes seemed to stop, then to stack up on each other as they roared around the room, making Mother’s flower vases buzz on the stone floor. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Torrents of melody attacked, drowning me in a rush of yearning. Everything seemed bright, and achingly beautiful.
The final crashing chord faded into silence.
Vrox sways, crooning with delight…
“Again.” I closed my eyes as the monumental music thundered around me. I was Tranced by Vrox’s joy as his emotion rolled through me, swept along by the reverberating climax—
I was stunned by a hard blow. And another. My hurt-hot ear rang with the impact. My cheek felt numb and heavy; my mouth filled with blood.
Vrox rears up, startled – sorry he hadn’t noticed her approach…
“Turn it off! Turn it off!” Mother shrieked over the music. Her distorted face shivered in my vision for a shock-stalled eternity. Snatches of her rant filtered through Bach’s bone-buzzing crescendo, making her fury seem even worse, “…-icked girl… -ways think you know best… –dare to override my passwor…” The organ tune stopped abruptly, just as she screamed, “…ate you! I hate you…
Her words echoed horribly in the small room.
I jerked to my feet. She’s finally admitted it. Axe-sharp hurt immediately snuffed out the flicker of relief, that I’d been right all these years. “Think I don’t know?” My voice shook, on the edge of tears. But grown girls of seventeen shouldn’t cry in front of their mothers. I spun round, stumbling over a vase, and ran. Out into the hot sunlight. Past the stable, whose sharp smell reminded me I still hadn’t mucked out the camel stall or goat pens. I scrabbled at the keycode on the sidegate, my shaking fingers making a hash of it.
She ran after me, yelling my name. Her panting echoed between the house and high fence, getting closer. Finally, as Vrox focused, I got the sequence right. The gate snicked open as she grabbed for my arm. I twisted away, the burn of her nails raking my skin. Skidding through the gate, I slammed it shut in her face. I sprinted across the front yard and past the first startled Node enquirer of the day, over the village courtyard, heading for Westgate. Heat settled like a greasy coat as I raced down Main Street, dust clotting my nose and throat.
At Westgate, Cupert Peaceman, the village security guard, dodged out of the way. Just as well, because I wasn’t stopping for him, or anyone else. Ignoring several calls, driven by the need to get away, I finally slowed, winded and hurting, on the open road where the verges were widened to discourage hostile wildlife. The sun beat down in a suffocating sheet.
Haven’t got a sunscreen – better find some shade. I tottered along on chewed-string legs, coughing up dust. Mother would say it was my punishment. The thought of her pushed me on.
Turning onto Mantivore Way was a relief. The palm tree clumps offered shade and the smell of the water strengthened my legs. I pushed through the shoulder-high reeds, which used to swish over my head, swallowing me whole. Moist leaves slapped against my sore legs. I broke off a brown-brittled stem, whipping it around and stamping noisily to frighten off any lone jaspers or nemmets sheltering from the sun. River silt seeped through my sandals, soothing my feet as I paddled in the murky water. Reaching my sanctuary – a stranded treetrunk – I sat down and rested my eyes on the river.
Sunslit water glitters through the swaying stalks. Scents of river ooze and crushed leaves tickle Vrox’s nostrils. Wind rocks the reeds with a sighing rattle…
See? I was right. She really hates me… For once Vrox, my imaginary childhood companion, was wrong. He reckoned mothers found their daughters annoying, but that, deep down, they cared.
Vrox croons comfort noises, his vari-colour scales flickering in shades of green and blue.
His image flashed on my inscape, while his sympathy finally broke my resolve not to cry. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed until no more tears would come, while the mantivore paced and huffed his sympathy. Finally, I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and stared across the river, where a cargo boat laden with olives throbbed downstream, headed for Reseda. I watched it disappear around the bend, wishing I was on the deck. But then I’d forfeit my right to be Brarian. Waste Uncle Osmar’s painful effort. Besides, I wanted the job – the Node was the only place I felt truly happy. Other than this place. I stared hungrily at the peaceful patterning of light and water. If I came here more often maybe life would seem worth the effort it takes to breathe.
Vrox churrs a strong agreement…
A swishing of reeds warned me, so he faded from my consciousness before I heard the voice. “Kyrillia?”
I relaxed. “Here, Onice.”
“You braced?”
“I’ve been better.”
She high-stepped into the small space surrounding the treetrunk, and carefully sat on the trunk, lifting her skirts clear of the muddy water. “Saw you pelting down the road, so I figured you’d be here.” Handing me a sunscreen, she added, “You’d better borrow this.”
Typical of Onice to worry about me getting fried to a greasy spot. “Oh! Many thanks. I’ll get it back to you tomorrow.”
“She on to you, again?” Onice’s forehead creased in concern.
Grabbing at a reed stem, I rolled it between my fingers.
I hate you… Mother’s wrath-reddened face blazed through my mind as I opened my mouth to frame the words. And closed it. What could I say? I’d watched Onice bask in her parents’ affection with shocked envy ever since I’d been old enough to understand it. She knew that Mother and I fought – she regularly tangled with her own father. But she’d never make sense of Mother’s loathing for me.
And if she did, maybe she’d realise I wasn’t worth her friendship. I stared at the river. “Found that Music site on the Node and played a song. That was when she caught me.”
Onice clicked her tongue. “Bet what had her steaming was you breaking through her passwords and sneaking onto the Node. Again.”
“Hm.” The reed stem mashed to a papery pulp between my fingers. Onice never understood why I persisted in using the Node, despite Mother’s strict ban. But then, I hadn’t told her about Vrox and his constant longing for the Node, either.
“There’s talk about restarting an inter-village apprentice network, Da says. Some girl drowned herself last month in Pistacia cos of her family’s beatings. Maybe you could get yourself signed up for it.” So Onice figures I’ve angered Mother to breaking point.
I hate you… I pushed the memory away, trying to think straight.
“And if I get apprenticed away from here, what happens to Uncle Osmar? She wouldn’t take proper care of him.” I tore at another reed stem.
Onice shrugged. “You got to live your own life. Your Uncle’s had his chances.”
I sighed. It seemed a hard way to treat the old man, especially after all he’d taught me. But it was a sharp-edged situation and if there’d been an easy option I’d already have taken it.
Onice stood up. “Got to get back. Just wanted to make sure you were alright.”
She’s worried I might follow that poor girl into the river. So she dropped all her chores and came after me. I let go of the reed and hugged her. Hard. “Thanks for coming.” I struggled for a solid way to show my gratitude. “If you’re working late, I’ll come by and lend a hand.”
She shook her head, laughing. “Well if I’m working late, you’ll be slogging even later, you crip-wit!”
“S’pose so.” I shakily joined in the laughter, before she left to face certain punishment from her parents, who didn’t like me.