*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Murder Served Cold – Book 6 of the Langham and Dupré Mystery series by Eric Brown #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderServedColdbookreview

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I’ve enjoyed this cosy mystery series that deliberately harks back to the golden era of this genre – see my review of Murder Takes a Turn.

November, 1956. Lord Elsmere, an old friend of Donald Langham’s literary agent, Charles Elder, is in a pickle – his favourite painting, a Gainsborough, has been stolen from under his nose. What’s more, there’s no evidence of a break-in. The family heirloom was recently re-insured for a hefty price, and Elsmere is struggling financially. Could he have staged the theft, or was it taken by one of the guests? Old Major Rutherford, evasive beauty Rebecca Miles, Dutch war hero Patrick Verlinden, Elsmere’s son Dudley Mariner and his statuesque sculpture fiancée, Esmeralda Bellamy, are all guests at the manor. But who would steal the painting, and why? Private investigators Langham and Ralph Ryland take on the case and soon uncover seething animosities, jealousy, secrets and deception, before events take a shocking turn…

And if this setup seems as comfortingly familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa, then you’re right. This is the classic country-house murder mystery chock-full of likely suspects, with Donald and Ralph slogging through the forest of clues and red herrings to try and make sense of the puzzle, before tracking down the perpetrator. I really enjoyed this one. The murder mystery was intriguing, linked as it was to the theft of the Gainsborough and I particularly liked the denouement as it connected directly with the historical period when this story was set.

Brown’s writing superpower is depicting setting – the landscape he evokes in a future version of Paris in his science fiction adventure Engineman is outstanding and has seeped into my inscape. So having a thoroughly satisfying cosy mystery set in such a strong backdrop, where the social and political issues are taken into account is a real bonus. I’ve found myself thinking about this one several times since I finished it – always a sign of a successful book – and I highly recommend Murder Served Cold to fans of well-written country house murder mysteries.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder Takes a Turn – Book 5 of the Langham and Dupré Mystery series by Eric Brown #Brainfluffbookreview #MurderTakesaTurnbookreview

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I picked this one up because the author is one I enjoy – as well as writing this historical murder mystery series, he also has written a number of successful science fiction novels. Indeed, Engineman, has one of the most memorable backdrops I’ve encountered in science fiction, outside a C.J. Cherryh novel.

When Langham’s literary agent receives a cryptic letter inviting him to spend the weekend at the grand Cornish home of successful novelist Denbigh Connaught, Charles Elder seems reluctant to attend. What really happened between Elder and Connaught during the summer of 1917, nearly forty years before – and why has it had such a devastating effect on Charles? Accompanying his agent to Connaught House, Langham and his wife Maria discover that Charles is not the only one to have received a letter. But why has Denbigh Connaught gathered together a group of people who each bear him a grudge? When a body is discovered in Connaught’s study, the ensuing investigation uncovers dark secrets that haunt the past of each and every guest – including Charles Elder himself …

And if the cover and tone of the blurb remind you of an Agatha Christie novel, you’re absolutely right. The way the book unfolds is clearly a nod in the direction of the Grand Dame of Crime. I liked the main protagonists – it’s a refreshing change to have a dear old chap like Charles Elder right in the middle of things and his business partner Maria and her husband Donald are the couple who doing the sleuthing on this case. The location – a country house in an isolated part of Cornwall – is classically cosy mystery and the method in which the unfortunate victim dies is suitably macabre.

This is an ideal summer holiday read, which plenty of twists and turns and an entertaining variety of possible suspects. I did guess the identity of the murderer before the final big reveal – but only because I read all Agatha Christie’s novels longer ago than I care to think. That said, it didn’t put a huge dent in my enjoyment, because this was more about being bathed in the experience of revisiting an imagined past that I’m sure never existed – although I wished it had. Recommended for fans of well written historical cosy mysteries.
8/10

Review of Satan’s Reach – Book 2 of the Weird Space series by Eric Brown

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I happened to be in the library, browsing the shelves when this offering beckoned. I couldn’t resist, given that I enjoy Brown’s writing – see my review of Engineman, which has some of my favourite scene setting of any sci fi novel, ever…

Telepath Den Harper did the dirty work for the authoritarian Expansion, reading the minds of criminals, spies and undesirables. Unable to take the strain, he stole a starship and headed into the unknown, a sector of lawless space known as Satan’s Reach. For five years he worked as a trader among the stars; then discovered that the Expansion had set a bounty hunter on his trail. But what does the Expansion want with a lowly telepath like Harper? Is there validity in the rumours that human space is being invaded by aliens from another realm? Harper finds out the answer to both these questions when he rescues an orphan girl from certain death.

Den is a likeable chap in a tricky situation, which gets steadily trickier as this fast-paced, enjoyable space opera progresses. This is space opera where the universe is heaving with multitudes of aliens and faster-than-light travels occurs such that zipping between planets takes a matter of weeks. That’s okay – I can happily cope with that. Brown evokes a vivid range of worlds with differing climates, customs and lifestyles in amongst the mayhem, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also liked the very efficient and adaptable spaceship Den has managed to snag for himself.

Initially, I thought it was all a bit too good to be true, but Brown manages to nicely weave into the storyline the reason why said ship is quite so nifty and needless to say, it all ends in tears… I liked the fact that Den’s gift of telepathy comes at a terrible price – he finds it painful to mindread, particularly alien minds so spends most of his time heavily shielded. He is also rather withdrawn, preferring his own company, which I found entirely plausible.

The story development is excellent – just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did so that I read far later into the night when I should have put the book down and got some sleep. Any niggles – I could have done without the romantic element as I thought it out of character for both the protagonists concerned. But as there are two more books in this series, I’m guessing it isn’t all going to run smoothly from hereon in.

Overall, a cracking read from a writer who really knows his craft and if you like your space opera with plenty of excitement and enjoyable worlds, then this one is recommended.
8/10

* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of EBOOK Morning Star – Book 3 of the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

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I picked up the first book, Red Rising – see my review here – last month and was blown away by the full-on action, the twists and turns and the climactic ending. Yes… I’m aware that there is a Hunger Games vibe that runs through it, but given that I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy anyway, and that Brown’s detailed worldbuilding had the savage winnowing embedded within the culture that Darrow is rebelling against, I didn’t have a problem with it. The second book, Golden Son – see my review here – was equally action-packed, with a similarly cataclysmic ending that had me longing to get hold of the third book.

morning starDarrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

As it happens, I didn’t have to wait too long, as it was released a few days ago – yippee! Would this final book continue to engross me? To be honest, it did have a slightly sticky start. Brown’s forthright pacey style stuttered, and I found the opening pages a bit of a trudge as it seems to backtrack, rather than plunge headlong into the galloping plot. However, I persevered as I had really enjoyed the first two slices of this adventure, and was very curious to see how it would all pan out. About a quarter of the way in, the book picked up pace as Darrow was busy trying to stay alive, lurching from crisis to crisis as the rebellion kicked off around him.

I like his character. Brown manages to provide the classic, driven alpha male who nonetheless is assailed by doubts and painfully aware of the consequences of some of his actions. I also enjoyed the fact that although there are regular outbreaks of bloody violence throughout the trilogy – this is not one for the squeamish – those deaths continue to impact on the action, both personally and politically. I like the fact that it mattered when some of the characters died – and went on mattering throughout the trilogy.

Once Morning Star found its feet, the plot barrelled forward with Brown’s usual explosive energy. There is also a fair amount of humour running through the story and some moving moments as Darrow strives to hold onto the group of people he has befriended during his roller-coaster progress, though those friendships are constantly threatened by the sense of betrayal they feel at his duplicity. I also enjoyed the dilemma Darrow faces as he becomes the poster boy for the rebellion due to a particular piece of film repeatedly shown to inspire the Reds to rise up for justice. How can he move on from his bereavement and invest in another relationship, when he is defined by his heartbreak and grief?

Not that Brown breaks his stride when presenting his character this particular problem – he is too busy creating yet another crushing problem for Darrow to endure. So, did he accomplish a suitably climactic and convincing ending? Yes, he did. It was a fitting conclusion to a really entertaining and enjoyable read – and if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, don’t start with Morning Star, get hold of Red Rising. Pierce Brown is One To Watch.
8/10

Review of Golden Son Book 2 of the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

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I was very impressed with the first book in this series, Red Rising – see my review here – which charts Darrow’s struggles to establish himself after tragedy strikes and he is left for dead. Would I enjoy this second book that takes the story further?

golden sonDarrow is a rebel forged by tragedy. For years he and his fellow Reds worked the mines, toiling to make the surface of Mars habitable. They were, they believed, mankind’s last hope. Until Darrow discovered that it was all a lie…

That is as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m willing to share, given that you may be inspired to track down the first book. All I will add is that Brown writes with great intensity and pace, so that Darrow and his followers pack an awful lot into this engrossing dystopian, coming-of-age science fiction thriller. I very much like the way the society is structured – after civilisation crashes on Earth, the survivors aspire to rebuild humanity using the precepts of the ancients. So there is slavery with the Reds right down at the bottom of the heap – both literally and metaphorically, and the Golds are the ruling elite with all the genetic gifts, being waited on hand, foot and finger as all the advantages or wealth and power accrue to them.

There is a catch, however. In order to survive as a Gold, you have to fight among your peers to the death, as there is a savage winnowing to ensure the most dangerous and amoral survive. These ruthless killers are the future leaders of this dystopian society, where everyone is rigidly confined within their colour to serve in the capacity preordained by their birth. Moreover it matters little if they are not suited to that task, because if they aren’t, they simply will not live all that long… And if you’re thinking that this setup will inevitably mean this book will contain a degree of violence – you’re absolutely right. This offering is not for the faint-hearted. Limbs are lopped off and people are cut down in a range of savage fights and battles.

This is foot-to-the-floor, full-on adrenaline fuelled action more or less from the first page, right to the startling denouement at the end… Brown is an accomplished storyteller who navigates the twists and turns within this story with deftness and confidence.

Darrow experiences a roller-coaster ride in his fortunes among the Golds, with the tight-knit team he has acquired from his adventures in Red Rising. However, he is also horribly isolated and that loneliness is increasingly weighing heavily on him as he wonders about the point of his mission. I really enjoyed the way Darrow’s character continues to develop throughout this book – he is all the more human and sympathetic for it. And we also need these interludes, in amongst the killing and the mayhem, to allow the reader to rebond with this main protagonist.

For if we don’t care what happens to him, then the whole structure of the book is immediately undermined, as it is the classic embittered hero striving to bring the structure down on the heads of all those around him, while hoping to rebuild something better from the ashes. Brown doesn’t have him slavishly following this path, however. And it is his questioning and doubts that open up the story to a far more interesting set of questions about what he has turned into and whether unleashing this amount of violence upon a lot of innocents, including servants and children, can ever be justified.

And once more – the ending is a doozy. I certainly didn’t see that coming… This is a cracking addition to the trilogy – no middle book slump here. And if you are looking for a new science fiction adventure with plenty of action and excitement, then track down Red Rising.
9/10

Review of Red Rising – Book 1 of The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

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I scooped this offering up from the shelves because it was labelled Science Fiction and I liked the cover. As you can see, I’ve all the depth of a pavement puddle when choosing my next read…

redrisingDarrow is a Helldiver, one of a hundred generations of people who live beneath the surface of Mars, spending their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that once day, people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left. Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie.

This truncated version of the rather chatty blurb sets up the opening stages of this dystopian science fiction adventure with the strapline: Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games. Hm. Not sure about that one. While there are definitely elements of The Hunger Games to this adventure, this is grittier.

I love the character of Darrow – his first person narration is punchy and memorable. He has a range of extraordinary talents, yet as he is constantly floundering in amongst a group who know far more about what is going on than he does, he doesn’t come off as too invulnerable. I have strict rules about not verging into spoiler territory, so discussing this particular dystopian fast-paced adventure in any depth immediately poses some challenges. However, I can assure you that one major difference between The Hunger Games and Red Rising is that Darrow isn’t in the middle of a love triangle.

In order for a dystopian science fiction adventure to work, the world has to be convincing; the faultlines within the society have to make sense and the progression into the sorry state the world finds itself also has to be plausible. There also needs to be sufficient complexity to provide plenty of realistic tension to continue giving the protagonist challenges as he struggles to change things in a believable manner. All in all, this is a hefty list – and it is the most common reason why a significant selection of dystopian science fiction offerings go flying across the room, no matter how personable the protagonist.

But Brown manages to tick all the boxes on that score – he has a detailed backstory, with a layered, unequal society and strong, plausible reasons for it to be that way. The description of Darrow’s daily life as a Helldiver in the mines of Mars is extremely well done, providing a vivid insight into what makes him tick, which is really important when he makes some daft decisions later on. But it also meant that I strongly bonded with him – also crucial further on in the book when he takes some dark decisions. All in all, this is a memorable, engrossing read and I’m in the process of tracking down the second book, Golden Son.
9/10

Review of ebook Engineman by Eric Brown

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This Kindle edition of Eric Brown’s interesting offering caught my eye as I enjoyed Brown’s Bengal Station trilogy. The most professionally produced ebook I’ve read so far, I didn’t notice any typos or mistakes and the formatting was flawless. Once I finished the novel, there was an additional collection of short stories, all set in the same world.

Once the Enginemen pushed bigships through the cobalt glory of the nada-continuum. But faster than light isn’t fast enough anymore. The interfaces of the Keilor-Vincicoff Organisation bring planets light years distant a simple step away. Then a man with half a face offers ex-Engineman Ralph Mirren the chance to escape his ruined life and push a ship to an undisclosed destination. The nada-continuum holds the key to Ralph’s future. What he cannot anticipate is its universal importance – nor the mystery awaiting him on the distant colony world.

And there you have it. This isn’t full-on, action-stuffed adventure that whisks you up on page one and doesn’t let you catch your enginemanbreath until the closing sentence. This is an adventure, alright and it steadily gains momentum as the book progresses, but this particular world is an intrinsic part of the story and as such, Brown is at pains to set the scene. Paris is vividly described as a fading city, overrun in parts with alien vegetation as the population continues to move away to more thriving places, both on and off Earth. The previously bustling port and centre of the bigship industry is sliding into inexorable decline – I felt there was a strong comparison to the Port of London after cargo containerisation became the norm. And just as parts of Paris are no longer vital, neither are the Enginemen – those once elite corps of men and women whose brainwaves ‘pushed’ the bigships into the nada-continuum while in a trance-like state called the flux, allowing the ships to travel thousands of light-years in a matter of weeks and months. However, once interfaces were invented so that people could actually walk or drive through to colony planets, the Enginemen were obsolete and unwanted…

The book explores the plight which echoes that of generations of men and women through the ages who have found their skills are suddenly redundant.  Many of these highly skilled people, hungering for the neural high they can only achieve when pushing bigships, take refuge in the religion of the Enginemen – while others cannot manage to grasp at the comfort that this spirituality offers.  This is science fiction at its best – looking at contemporary issues through a futuristic lens…

Brown’s world is so engrossing, the story running through it was almost a distraction and I wasn’t wholly convinced by the ending, which I felt was a bit too unconvincingly upbeat, given the gnarly issues that Brown addresses. However as it got going, it drew me in and I particularly became involved in Ellie’s plotline. I think that Brown’s female protagonists work better than his men – a tendency that is emphasised in the short stories. That said, the characters were all suitably complex and interesting and held my interest throughout.

Any grizzles? Well… it might be a picky point – but as the world is so carefully constructed, it did somewhat jar that as all this alien vegetation engulfed chunks of Paris, at no point did anyone mention any attempts to control or monitor what was growing. Even in a rundown area, I still think there would be – at sporadic intervals – fully overalled, masked teams stomping through, spraying various noxious substances around the place, probably with a glorious disregard for human health, this being a Brown novel. Even if it wasn’t effective, humanity’s hang-ups about the ‘other’ would not tolerate such a laissez-faire attitude to rampant creepers punching through buildings…  In the scheme of things, though, this is a relatively minor point and despite my misgivings about the ending, I think Engineman is an excellent read, raising some pertinent questions about how technology is constantly stranding groups of people who strained to train to acquire a skill – only to find themselves on the scrapheap a few years further down the line.

Which brings me onto the short stories. As they were set in the same world, often addressing the same themes and echoing some of the plotpoints in the novel, I got the impression that a number of them were written alongside the book, helping Brown ‘write his way’ into the storyline. As a result, I found a number of them were so similar in tone and plot to aspects of the novel, I don’t think they offered very much in the way of extra insights into the world. This is particularly applicable to The Girl Who Died for Art and Lived and the award-winning The Time-Elapsed Man. Both were excellent stories, but I do question whether they should have been at the end of this particular book. However, a couple did break away from this tendency and I found Big Trouble Upstairs and The Pineal-Zen Equation really enjoyable reads.

Overall, I thoroughly recommend this ambitious book, which will leave me pondering some of the ideas it raises for a long time to come.

8/10

Friday Faceoff – Once Upon a Horrible Time… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofffrighteningfairytalecovers

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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 60s HORROR. I generally don’t read horror – I certainly didn’t read it in the 1960s when I was a child. Except… someone gifted me with a beautifully illustrated copy of Grimms Fairy Tales. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??? They terrified me. Some of the characters regularly featured in my more lurid nightmares. So this is my offering for this week’s theme. Have you read this collection?

 

This hardback edition, produced by Nelson Doubleday Inc in 1963 wasn’t the edition that I recall, but it was quite similar. And yes – I still think it’s very creepy and not really appropriate reading material for a precocious, rather over-imaginative little girl prone to nightmares. That cover hints at the horrors lurking within the stories for all it’s colourful, apparently child-friendly boldness and clear font. I hate it…

 

Published in March 2019, this Kindle edition isn’t pretending to be appropriate for children, thank goodness. That Rapunzel is clearly looking distressed and that wood is creepy, while the font isn’t in the jolly primary colours designed to lure unsuspecting kiddies. This is much better!

 

This edition, released in May 2014 by Red Skull Publishing is also clearly designed for adults who prefer their fiction on the darker side. That image on the cover isn’t remotely child-friendly and while the stories are staples of the nursery, these versions are all far more savage, as the cover makes clear.

 

The Kindle, released in May 2016, has gone for a very pared-back effect. I really like it. The classic red on black/dark brown gives a sense of menace and that ribbon of red becoming increasingly clawed as it snakes down the cover is simple, yet very effective. And for once, I am not going to moan about the plain font, which works well with the overall design. This is my favourite – not going to remotely appeal to any misguided adult looking for an engrossing read for their child, or said child with pocket money burning a hold in her hot little hand.

 

This paperback edition, released in February 2019, has used this cover for a variety of editions, including one said to be suitable for children. Looking at that wicked old crone and those lost children, I have my doubts… Frankly, it’s the Blair Witch Project of its time, as far as I’m concerned. Which is your favourite? Is there a book that you were given as a child that terrified you?

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.

Friday Faceoff – Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffpiratecovers

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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 PIRATES. I’ve selected How to Be a Pirate – Book 2 of How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, which is one of my favourite children’s series ever…

Yes, for the second week in a row I’m featuring a children’s book. This year I seem to be reading rather a lot of them – just as I’d given up on making children’s fiction part of my reading challenge as I’d failed to read a reasonable number for the past three years in a row…

 

This edition was produced by Brown, Little and Company in May 2005. It is suitably quirky with a Viking-cum-pirate character clearly somewhat intellectually challenged as the main image on the cover. I like the background of planked wood, the quirky font and – unusually for me – I love the textbox looking like a treasure chest’s key plate and the dagger for the author name. However, that main image is rather unwhelming, I feel.

 

Published in February 2010 by Brown, Little and Company, I think this cover is more visually appealing, while keeping a lot of the successful aspects of the previous cover. I love the more eye-catching teal background colour and the fact that the textboxes are still enjoyably part of the overall design. However that image in the middle actually features a boat, a worried-looking Hiccup and a threatening dragon emerging from the waves… We get a sense that this is a proper adventure as well as being very funny.

 

This edition, published by Hodder Children’s Books in June 2017 was all set to be my favourite. I love the scaled background, the way the Viking longship bursts from the middle of the cover on a surfing wave – so clever and eye-chatching. And then I paused to take in the actual wording of the quirky font. And changed my mind… I’ve been listening to the series recently and frankly, it’s doing my head in. There are twelve books – and not one of the modern covers sees fit to inform the reader where in the series they come. In fact, the actual title of the book is dwarfed by the series name emblazoned across the top – very annoying! It’s a dealbreaker for me – so this isn’t my favourite, after all.

 

This Spanish edition, produced by SM in August 2006, demonstrates what a huge impact changing the backdrop can have. This cover features the same main design of the first cover – but what a difference. I don’t much care for it – that interlinking pattern doesn’t shout Viking to me and tends to give the whole cover a rather cluttered feel, which isn’t a good look for a children’s cover.

 

This German edition, published in June 2014, has decided to feature the dragon – I love that fantastic image of those two dragon eyes, snout and fangs peering out at a small Viking boy, presumably Hiccup. BUT that large title across the top of the cover is the series title – and once again there is no indication that this is Book 2. Without these issues, this would be my favourite alongside the Hodder edition – but this is such a major omission, I am going to have to plump for that second cover, which gives all the necessary details for a reader. Which is your favourite? Do you mind if a cover doesn’t provide all these details, so long as it looks good? I’d love to get your opinion on this issue!