Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: Tick Tock Man by R.M. Clark

by R.M Clark
Month9Books LLC
Upper Middle Grade
237 pages

When the clocks in town stop, thirteen-year-old CJ discovers an unusual "clock world" where most of the citizens are clock parts, tasked with keeping the big clocks running. But soon the seemingly peaceful world is divided between warring factions with CJ instructed to find the only person who can help: the elusive Tick Tock Man. 
With the aid of Fuzee, a partly-human girl, he battles gear-headed extremists and razor-sharp pendulums in order to restore order before this world of chimes, springs, and clock people dissolves into a massive time warp, taking CJ's quiet New England town with it.


It's Thanksgiving for CJ and his clock-loving family, but when he's the only one who notices that the clocks are all stuck on two, the adventure begins.

The author has created a fantastic world where clocks are so much more than they seem. It's an intriguing world and surprisingly easy to envision and learn about in the process. Although the beginning of the tale starts at a slower pace and allows the reader to sink in first, these first details fall into place around a steady  adventure the rest of the way through. The world is vivid and grows without slowing down the plot. There's so much for CJ to discover and all the things which seem unfamiliar at first, grow until they are hard to let go.

CJ is a thirteen-year-old boy who has some things to learn, but this 'growing up' message slides nicely into the adventure. It's no problem to feel for him, especially when faced up with his not understanding relatives. Fuzee, a part human girl, helps CJ mold into the world. But it's actually her who brings the tale to life. She's strong and adds so much zest to the story, making her a real treat. This mixture makes a great book girls and boys are sure to fall in love with. And this is a tale to enjoy. Before one knows it, the story captures and doesn't let go until the very last page.

And here he is. . . 

R. M. Clark is a children's book writer who lives in a small New England town with his wife, two sons, one dog and one cat. He is currently at work on his latest middle grade project. Clark is represented by Mel Stinnett of the Starlight Literary Agency. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: The Case of the Stinky Stench by Josh Funk

by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Sterlings Children's Books
Picture Book
ages 3+
40 pages

"Uncle,” Crossaint said, “the fridge is in trouble! 

A mystery stench turned a whole shelf to rubble! 
I’m the last hope or the fridge will be lost! 
Help me or else we’ll be cooked, served, and sauced.” 
There’s a stinky stench in the fridge—and our favorite foodie friends must solve a smelly mystery! Sir French Toast’s nephew, Inspector Croissant, begs him and Lady Pancake for help in finding the source of the foul odor. Could it be the devious Baron Von Waffle? A fetid fish lurking in the bottom of Corn Chowder Lake? Featuring the same delectable wordplay and delicious art that won critical raves for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast—there’s even an actual red herring—his fun follow-up is an absolutely tasty treat for kids!


With a fantastically delicious dive into the world hidden in the depths of a fridge, Inspector Croissant teams up with Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast to embark on a delightful, somewhat quirky but always mysterious adventure.

Something stinks, and Inspector Croissant is determined to figure out what it is. With the help of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, he heads across Marshmallow Coast and over Mount Everbean to seek out the potential culprit and not-so-trustworthy Baron Von Waffle. And it's only the beginning of the jaunt through cuisine.

This is one packed adventure and that in only 40 pages and without intimidating amounts of text. Through silly rhymes, which flow smoother than Applesauce River, the three characters travel over a world delicious enough to make any reader's eyes sparkle and stomach tingle for glee. The wording is clever and every word sits. Even the occasional sprinkle of tougher vocabulary lands like droplets of sugar on the tongue. 

The illustrations overflow with color and fantasy, luring in and guaranteeing hours of visits to search out details and discover overlooked surprises again and again. The characters remind a bit of Sponge Bob and invite with their easy mannerisms to join in through even more dangerous places such as Corn Chowder Lake as the real culprit is sought out.

Among the mystery and whimsical travels through donuts and cheese, there's also a warm-hearted good deed to make the ending close with a guaranteed smile and promise of sweet dreams. And for little explores whose curiosity knows no bounds, there's an explores map at the end to help guide any visitors ages three and up through the wonders of this bright and scrumptious land.

And here they are. . .

Josh Funk is from MA where he spends his days writing computer language and his free time writing picture book rhymes. His first published picture book was Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (Sterling) and he is the author of Pirasaurs (Scholastic), Dear Dragon (Viking), and the upcoming Albie Newton (Sterling, 2018).Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conference. You can find Josh at and on twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Brendan Kearney specializes in illustrating children's books. He currently lives in the UK. Visit
him at and follow him on twitter at @BrendanDraws.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: Mystery at Manatee Key by Nancy Stewart


by Nancy Stewart
Guardian Angel Publishing
Children’s Picture Book
36 pages
ages 7 to 10

Bella and Britt love to explore along the beach and at more remote places like Manatee Key as well.  It is there that they discover a manatee smuggling ring. 

The manatees have already been netted, so the girls must act fast!  But a kidnapper snatches Bella, hustling her into their hideout.  When Britt sneaks a look in the window, she discovers that the ranger is being held, too.  Now it’s up to Britt.  But what can a single girl do?

Mystery at Manatee Key is available at Amazon


This is the fourth book in the Bella and Britt Beach Series but can be read without a problem as a stand-alone.

Bella and Britt discover a baby manatee swimming near shore all by itself. When they fetch the rangers to help search for its mother, they discover that a ranger has gone missing. Soon, the two girls are involved not only in a mystery but discover unexpected danger.

I have a soft spot for books with lesser known animals, and these manatees don't only fit that bill but are super cute as well. The illustrations are done in water colors, and although rough in some ways, this form proves to be lovely in presenting the manatees. The colorful illustrations cover each page spread and help bring the scenes to life.

This is quite the adventurous book and holds pace the entire way through. Although it's a short picture book at only thirty some pages, the plot, vocabulary and writing level is fitting for ages seven and up. A couple of less known terms could have been defined a bit better, but the dialogue and word choice comes across very natural for the age group. The read, in general, passes over quickly, making it great for more reluctant readers. The stakes are fairly high, but the author makes sure that the characters act with responsibility. The layers of the mystery are fairly thin as the plot is kept simple and quick, and may not hold the attention of true bookworms. However, especially manatee fans will enjoy the jaunt into this world and enjoy the illustrations.


A dark animal circled slowly in the shallow water of Manatee Key. Walking closer, Bella whispered. “A baby manatee. And it has a patch of white near its snout.” Britt frowned. “But where’s the mother? It must be hungry. We should tell the ranger.”
“Yeah,” Bella said. “This one’s too young to be without her mom. Let’s go.”
The friends worked their way through the jungle-like brush back to their bicycles. Britt took the lead. “It’s really hot, but we gotta make time.” 
After a twenty minute ride down dusty paths leading to the main road in their coastal town, they reached the ranger station. “It’s quiet in here today,” Bella said.
 The ranger’s assistant glanced up from his reading. “Hi, girls. Can I help you?”
“We need to see the ranger and report an orphaned manatee,” Bella said.
He frowned. “She hasn’t come in today, and that’s not like her. I’ve called her phones. Nobody answered. And no one’s seen her. Have you by any chance?”
“No,” they answered at the same time.
 “Well, it’s a mystery,” he said. “I won’t call the police yet. But I’m getting worried. Now, about that manatee. Can you take me to it?”
 “Sure,” Britt said. “If you can bring us back to town. We rode our bikes here.” He nodded. “Of course.”

And here she is . . .

Nancy Stewart has been an elementary school teacher and a professor of education.  Having lived in London for ten years, she was a consultant to the University of Cambridge. She is the author of the Bella and Britt series picture books and the authorized biography of Katrina Simpkins, a young girl whose life was forever changed by Winter, the dolphin (Guardian Angel Publishing.)  Her writing of One Pelican at a Time was featured on the PBS special, GulfWatch in 2011.  Nancy’s YA-LGBT novel will be published by Interlude Press autumn of 2017.  She is a member of the Rate Your Story organization as a critique judge.





Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review: The Future Architect's Tool Kit by Barbara Beck

by Barbara Beck
Schiffer Publishing
Middle Grade Non-Fiction/Activity
ages 9 to 12
48 pages

Children with dreams of designing buildings will discover how architects actually work in this workbook, which builds on the concepts introduced in The Future Architect’s Handbook. It walks readers through the drawings created by Aaron, a young architect building his own home. Going a step further, children will learn the steps necessary to create their own drawings and build a model of their design, using an included tool kit consisting of graph paper and an architect’s scale, pencil, and drafting eraser. Finally, readers are challenged to design homes for an eclectic group of clients. Freehand pen-and-ink drawings bring the instructions to life. This book is the perfect introduction to what an architect does at work and why buildings look and function as they do. Ideal for middle grades ages 8–13, but creative adults will also find it inspiring.

Available through Schiffer Publishing: here


This tool kit will have young architects' hearts beating faster. . .and lure in curious adults too.

Designing a house is more than just grabbing a pencil and paper, and this kit leads the way through the basic concepts, concerns and how-to tips. Through step-by-step chapters, the basics of architectural design are revealed and everything from floor plans, surrounding landscape and future owners' tastes are explored. Since learning is doing, a architect's scale, graph paper, pencil and eraser are included with the book.

Opening the kit is a bit like diving into a present. The hard cover version of The Future Architect's Handbook immediately catches the eye, but it doesn't take long to see the side compartment holding simple architect's scale, a pencil and a white eraser, as well as the pad of graph paper tucked in with the book. This alone is a treat. The case itself is thin cardboard but fairly robust, and the Velcro tab insures that the lid can be opened and closed many times, making a perfect storage place.

The book is around 45 pages and rich in illustrations. These are black and white, and help to bring clarity to the information presented in the text. The author does a great job of giving a general overview, while bringing just the right details which will interest kids to light. Everything is explained in an easy to read way, and even the architectural terms are described in a way readers ages 10+ can grasp. Unfortunately, there isn't a glossary to describe the individual terms again at the end of the book.

The chapters are fairly short, letting readers soak in the information bit by bit. This also gives them time to start to nibble on ideas of their own. Everything from the location of a house, types of houses, floor plans and individual desires is discussed. At the end, there are examples of how to draw different items (stairs, sinks, toilets, etc) on the graph paper.

There's quite a bit of information packed in the pages, and the illustrations and examples come from basic architectural design. So kids would recognize the elements again if seeing a professional design. This is what also makes it interesting for curious adults; the information doesn't really talk down to the kids, but gives an honest, quick overview into the world of basic architecture in a way they can understand.

If you'd like to get a good feel for the kit, go on over and take a look at my Youtube Review.

Want to learn more about Barbara Beck?

Then check her out at

Review: Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Song of the Current, Book One
by Sarah Tolcser
Bloomsbury Children's Book
YA Fantasy
373 pages

JUNE 6th, 2017!!!

Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. For generations, her family has been called by the river god, who has guided their wherries on countless voyages throughout the Riverlands. At seventeen, Caro has spent years listening to the water, ready to meet her fate. But the river god hasn’t spoken her name yet—and if he hasn’t by now, there’s a chance he never will.

Caro decides to take her future into her own hands when her father is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious crate. By agreeing to deliver it in exchange for his release, Caro finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies, with dangerous pirates after the cargo—an arrogant courier with a secret—and without the river god to help her. With so much at stake, Caro must choose between the life she always wanted and the one she never could have imagined for herself.

From debut author Sarah Tolcser comes an immersive and romantic fantasy set along the waterways of a magical world with a headstrong heroine determined to make her mark.


This book sets sails into fast-paced adventure with a girl, who no man should ever dare to take on. . .or offend her ship.

Caro's content sailing with her father over the rivers and delivering cargo. She dreams of taking over the small trading ship herself someday. But fate has other plans. When her father is captured and locked away, she must deliver a secret cargo or never see him again. This cargo, however, isn't what it appears to be and soon, the entire world seems to be after her.

There's something magical about pirate ships and open seas full of unknown danger, and this story has tons of both and more. Caro is a spunky character, who is daring, brave, and more capable than anyone gives her credit for. But these skills aren't inborn. She's spent years learning the trade and makes her fair share of mistakes. This is what makes her so endearing. 

The cast surrounding her adds all the right spice and life. Caro's best ship mate, Fee, is frog folk and although she only speaks one word at a time, by far the wisest and most interesting crew member in the book. Caro's parents add a constant push and pull, while putting in a sense of family and the support only blood bonds can give. There's a hero too--arrogant, snippy, but with a warm heart. He comes across a bit ridiculous at times and wasn't always easy to sympathize with. But the romance, with all of it's sharp back and forth, creates an air of fun without overwhelming the main, action-packed plot. There is an intimate scene, but this is by no means explicit and demonstrates definite mutual consent.

My favorite part of this tale is the world building. The author sets up a magical world, which is easy to get submerged in and feel at home. The play of 'gods' and supernatural abilities is delivered with a subtle tone and never overpowers the importance of sweat, clever thought and hard work and experience. 

There were a few stumbles in some of the background information--the opposing political desires and plots were a bit mumble-jumbled. And the ending, although wrapping up the loose ends, didn't hold the power it might have, smoothing down with too much ease and grace.

Fans of high-sea adventures, kick-butt heroines, snarky romances and action pure will surely enjoy this book. Especially since there are so many possibilities still unexplored, which promise an exciting series in the future.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Your Stories Matter Tour: You're So Clumsy Charlie by Jane Binnion

by Jane Binnion
Illustrated by Colin Shelbourn
Picture Book
ages 4+
48 pages

You're So Clumsy Charley written by Jane Binnion & illustrated by Colin Shelbourn throws us into the wonderful world of Charley who is dyspraxicand always seeming to get into trouble by accident. Fed up of school because he feels different from the rest of the children it isn’t until he meets his Auntie Bella that everything changes

Purchase on Amazon UK |


With colorful, fun illustrations and situations that many kids can relate to, this story is a lovely way to gently introduce the problems of Dyspraxia.

Charley isn't happy with life. Everything he touches seems to go wrong. When he visits his Aunty, she's  not only unconcerned but thrilled, telling him that he's just like her. Soon he learns that his little accidents aren't nearly as important as he believes them to be.

Charley is a kid who doesn't feel comfortable with himself, and this book does a great job of bringing across the message that little quirks aren't anything bad, and that everyone is good at something. Even kids without dyspraxia will sympathize with the message and learn something from the story. But it's not that this message feels overly preachy. Although it does take center stage in the book, Charley's journey is fun to follow. 

The illustrations are a mixture of black and white, and color. They are enjoyable, colorful and bring the story to life. It's easy for young readers to flip through them even when no one happens to be reading aloud.

At the beginning of the book, a short list of various difficulties children might have as well as a short, but informative description of each one. 

Based in Kendal, Cumbria Paul Johnson is the founder of Your Stories Matter and the parent publishing company Explainer HQ which provides creative video, audio, animation and print to the business and education sector. All Your Stories Matters titles are published in paperback and are available to order from online retailers including

For more information please visit: and follow on Twitter @ysm_books

Your Stories Matter Blog Tour

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Sneak Peek: Rise of the Sea Witch by Stacey Rourke

Rise of the Sea Witch
by Stacey Rourke
 YA Fantasy/ Fairy Tale and Folklore
Cover Designer: Najla Qamber Designs
 Anchor Group Publishing
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR

 Details of the sea witch’s banishment have been exaggerated. The body count that preempted it was not. Once an illustrious princess, her hands and tentacles were stained with the blood of thousands. No one could comprehend how the hooks of madness dragged her down from her life of privilege.  
Born Princess Vanessa of Atlantica, the ambitious young royal was one of two children born to the great King Poseidon. She and her brother, Triton, were groomed from birth to rule. Yet only one would ascend that coveted throne. While carefree Triton flits through his training with a cavalier demeanor and beguiling charm, Vanessa’s hunger for her father’s acceptance drives her to push herself to the limits of magic, and combat to become a leader worthy of her people.   
When war against the humans ravages their once regal kingdom, political sides are chosen. Factions from the seven seas challenge the existing leadership, pitting Vanessa against her brother in a vicious battle for the crown. Traitors are exposed, dark family secrets revealed, and a once strong sibling bond is strained to its breaking point.
Only when the ink black waters from the ultimate betrayal rescind, will the truth be known of how the villainous sea witch rose with one name on her vengeful lips--Triton.

RONE Award Winner for Best YA Paranormal Work of 2012 for Embrace, a Gryphon Series Novel
Young Adult and Teen Reader voted Author of the Year 2012
Turning Pages Magazine Winner for Best YA book of 2013 & Best Teen Book of 2013 
Stacey Rourke is the author of the award winning YA Gryphon Series, the chillingly suspenseful Legends Saga, and the romantic comedy Adapted for Film. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two beautiful daughters, and two giant dogs. She loves to travel, has an unhealthy shoe addiction, and considers herself blessed to make a career out of talking to the imaginary people that live in her head. 

Visit her at
or on Twitter or instagram at Rourkewrites.
I admit that in the past I was a princess. They weren’t kidding when they called me … well, a spoiled twit.” Tentacles rolling and churning beneath me, I turn to the newest member of my little garden with effortless grace. Arms thrown out wide, I grant the shriveled polyp a beguiling smile. Those around him tremble in fear, pulling as far away from him as their roots deep within the ocean floor will allow. “Through rather unfortunate circumstances it became mandatory I mend my ways. And, yes, some of the techniques I employed earned me the title of villain.”
“Never, my Queen,” Floteson murmurs. Coiling around my upper arm, he drapes himself across my shoulder.
Jetteson’s oily scales lovingly brush my cheek. “Every one of them was deserving of your wrath.”
Shoulders curling in, I pucker my lips which are freshly glossed by a crimson sea-flower and tenderly scratch each of them under their chins. “How horrible can I be to be so adored by such sweet babies?”
“She shows us nothing but love,” my darling zebra sharks chorus.
Their unwavering dedication soothes me, allowing me to expel a calming breath that bubbles in a wreath around my face.
“I am not the horrible beast many think me to be. Yet I feel it is your own misconceptions that brought you here, and led to … well, you know.” Floating passed my ornate vanity mirror, which seems out of place in the dreary cave I call home, I suck in my cheeks. Turning my head one way and then the other, I inspect my reflection. A smug smile curls the corners of my lips. The woman staring back at me is positively voluptuous with power, mayhem swirling within her clay-gray eyes. “Undoubtedly, you’ve heard rumors of my banishment.”
Hitching one eyebrow at my newly planted polyp, I watch him squirm under the weight of my attention.
“Do you even know my true given name, I wonder? Before hateful whisperings from the farthest reaches of the Seven Seas dubbed me The Sea Witch, I went by another name: Princess Vanessa of Atlantica. I harbored dreams of bringing peace and happiness to the kingdom … as their noble queen.”
Jabbing my hands on to my ample hips, I turn in a swirl of black and purple. “I’m not sure if that pitiful pout is caused by your deep longing to hear more, or if you’re mourning the loss of your shriveled limbs. But,” with a theatrical roll of my wrist, I snap my fingers—my cauldron sparks to life, an ethereal green glow simmering from within, “I choose to think the former because it’s about me … and all of my favorite things are.
“It would be predictable for me to say it all began with the death of my mother. Predictable and false.”
Water rushes beneath me with one mighty flap of all my tentacles. The power of the act propels me over to my alchemy shelves, where my fingers flick over the exposed vials. Some days I seek to terrorize my captives, calling out each ingredient or dangling it over their heads before tossing it into my brew.
Tongue of porpoise.
Eye of cuttlefish.
Shell of sea turtle.
I won’t lie and say watching their complexions green and bug eyes bulge isn’t a guilty pleasure of mine. For the moment, however, a wave of generosity—brought on by the mention of my mother—prompts me to toss them in without my usual theatrics. Each is received into the cauldron’s wide-mouth drum with a puff of smoke and spray of sparks.
“As much as I loved my mother, losing her didn’t drive me to madness as some would have you believe.” Hearing the melancholy in my tone, I bristle. “Far from it, in fact. I would have subjected myself to an abysmal existence of the mundane in honor of her memory. No, it was after the black flags of mourning had been strung through the kingdom, after the spectacle of her funeral procession had passed, that my descent began.”
Throwing one final ingredient into the cauldron, a veil of greasy smoke wafts from its rim. Images begin to form within the haze: the king’s regal quarters, and a formidable frame seated in a high-backed chair behind a massive stone desk.
Crouching down, I position myself eye level with the miniscule scene unfolding. My tentacles coil into tight knots beneath me. “This was the night … the night when I was touched by magic for the very first time … and loathed it to my very core.”
Within the ghostly image, the curtain to the king’s quarters is pushed open. A heavy set nursemaid with stripes of gray in the messy twist of her bun swims in. On one hip she balances a cherub-faced baby that’s only two months shy of his second birthday. Blond ringlets halo his head. Both his eyes and cheeks are ruddy from crying. The frazzled servant’s other hand clings to that of a raven-haired princess who rubs at her tired, violet eyes with a chubby, toddler fist.
“If you aren’t following along yet, that princess is me,” I explain to my captive audience. “The maid softly shushing my younger self is Loriana. Oh, how dear she was to me. She was a servant in the castle, tasked with tending to my brother and I. That little sunset orange tail poking out from behind her belongs to her son, Alastor. He was Triton’s best friend and would become much more than that to me ...”
“Sire,” respectfully bowing her head, Loriana readjusted her hold on Prince Triton, “I hate to interrupt.”
My father, King Poseidon, pushed his chair back from the desk in a swirl of water and sand, and rose in greeting. To the rest of the kingdom, he was known as simply the supreme ruler of Atlantica. To me, and my juvenile ignorance, he was the God of the Sea who towered over us all. I envisioned all of his enemies, and anyone that ever wished me harm, falling to their knees and trembling before his commanding presence. His hair and thick beard were the red of Precious Coral. Muscle rippled over every inch of his exposed torso. His narrow waist tapered into an emerald green tail that perfectly matched the shining jewels of his eyes. Countless times I had examined the lines of his face in search of some similarity between the two of us. None could be found. Triton had his smile, and later—when adolescence hit—he would inherit his strong chin. Me? Every inch of me was a lackluster shadow of my mother’s regal beauty. Where her eyes and tail sparkled like freshly polished amethyst, mine seemed dull by comparison. Or, perhaps the lighting from the pedestal I’d built for her in my mind shone for her with a more flattering shimmer.
“The hour is late. I welcome the interruption.” Poseidon set his fish bone quill onto the desk top, and positioned its stone cradle on top of it. “How can I be of service, Loriana?”
 “It’s the children, Your Highness.” Her face a mask of maternal sorrow, Loriana gave my hand a quick pulse of comfort. “This is the first night they have ever tried to go to sleep without a lullaby from their dear mother. I’m afraid I can’t seem to calm their troubled little hearts.”
Poseidon’s broad chest expanded with a deep inhalation, and tipping his head he exhaled a flurry of rushing water and bubbles. “This is a troubling time for us all,” he agreed. Crossing the room with one stroke of his tail, he extended his hands to receive Triton. My brother waved his arms in eager delight, wriggling into the security of Father’s strong embrace. Inching forward, I blinked up at the mighty king. He floated past without so much as ruffling my hair. “I’m afraid I don’t have your mother’s gift of song, but perhaps we could sit a spell and find peace in our togetherness.”
Honoring her position outside of the room, Loriana gave me a gentle push forward to follow my father. Casting a tentative glance over my shoulder, I did just that. Poseidon swirled Triton around, eliciting a giggle that crinkled the corners of his ocean blue eyes, before the king collapsed on the sea sponge sofa with his darling son on his lap. I perched on the very edge of the far cushion, uninvited and unnoticed.
Before that moment our father had been more of a … hmm, how to put this delicately? A figurehead in our lives. We knew of him and regarded him fondly, but unfortunately his kingly duties allowed our primary interactions to be those staged for political potency. Our mother, the lovely Queen Titonis, spent her days caring for my brother and I with only Loriana to aid her. Now, Poseidon had no choice but to pick up the yolk. For Triton this transition seemed to be going swimmingly. I, however, was getting as much attention as the Orca-bone end table.
Hands under the little prince’s pits, Poseidon turned Triton to face him. “I was so proud of how you behaved during the processional today,” he gushed. “You honored not only me, but your mother’s memory when you clasped your tiny fist over your heart and held your head high as her carriage passed.”
“Follow Nessa.” Triton looked to me with love, his tailfin a muted clap when connecting with Father’s lap.
“Your sister has two whole years of further training and experience than you, my boy.” Poseidon’s shoulders raised, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “You exhibited the poise of a true leader.”
My lips clamped shut to stifle a sob, his words stinging like a slap. I had just as much right to the throne as Triton, but this was the first moment I became painfully aware of who he longed to see succeed him. It would not be the last … or the most painful.
“She held her curtsy so long, merfolk threw flowers!” Alastor, a year and a half older and far more eloquent than Triton, darted into the room to brazenly interject. Mahogany waves curled over his earlobes, adding dimension to his round little face that resembled a bubble. The boldness of his gesture quickly shriveled under Father’s menacing glare.
“The son of a servant entering the king’s quarters?” Father boomed, one eyebrow raising in question. “One might question your upbringing, lad.”
“A thousand apologies, Your Majesty!” Loriana blushed from her neck clear up to her earlobes and snapped her fingers at her wandering boy. “Alastor, come here at once!”
Shoulders sagging like a stone cast to the depths, Alastor returned to his rightful place in the hall. The heat of his topaz stare bore into me as he paddled along, searching for even the slightest acknowledgement of his noble deed.
I had none to offer.
My own gaze had drawn away from my brother, laughing while Father tickled his cheeks with his beard, to scan the items neatly arranged on father’s desk. Inanimate objects which earned his attentions daily just by being. On the right side, closest to his scrawling hand, sat the quill. Its fat little ink pot was perfectly positioned perpendicular beside it. In the center of the desk, weighted by stones carved with the royal crest, rested a stack of scrolls awaiting the king’s notice. On the left-hand corner, Poseidon’s late night snacking needs were met by a plate of rolled and seasoned seaweed puffs.
The ink pot lured my attention back as if calling to me.
I had never had to work for attention in any capacity. My mother had always given it freely, and in limitless supply. Since she had been taken from me, I had unquenched needs: hugs, stories, and all of that … drivel. So, yes, I thought about acting out. I toyed with the idea of knocking over that little clay pot and letting the ink flow to ruin the staged perfection of father’s space. More than that, I wanted to. I wanted to hear him shout out my name in his menacing vibrato, because at least then he would have to acknowledge me. While my hands stayed folded neatly in my lap, as the good little mergirl I was, something within me I had never felt before reached out. Palpable energy, only I seemed privy to, crackled through the water to cradle the pot in its hold. I could feel it, poised and ready, awaiting my command. Biting my lower lip to fend off a threatening grin, my essence gave barely a nudge and the ink pot tumbled. A thick black cloud exploded over my father’s desk, staining the scrolls and ruining the once delectable wraps.
“Vanessa!” thundered my father, rocketing off the sofa. “Look what you’ve done!”
I turned toward him with feigned remorse … and screamed. The howl of terror tore from my chest until my gills ached and my throat was raw.
There was a buzz of activity: Poseidon calling to the nursemaid, Loriana swimming in as fast as her fins could carry her, Triton wailing in fear, Alastor trying to shush his friend from the doorway to which he’d been banished. I neither saw nor heard any of this.
Floating in the center of the room, bobbing with the current, was my mother.
Not the serene vision of loveliness I had known her to be that was full of life and love. Heck, I even would’ve happily settled for the slumbering beauty she appeared to be during her funeral. In vast contrast, the entity hovering before me had chunks of flesh gnawed away by assorted sea beasts. Cracked, ashen lips curled into a snarl. Black ooze bubbled through her teeth, dripping from her chin and clouding the water. My scream reached a fevered pitch, spots dancing before my eyes. The ghoul, who in life sang me to sleep, reached for me with one hand that had been gnawed to bone.
You see, by using magic I opened a door and allowed the darkness in. The cost being more than I could bear, I vowed to myself—as my consciousness waned—never, ever to dabble with such things again.
Oh, the lies we tell ourselves …