Monthly Archives: October 2013

This past Sunday was an outstanding example of a fall day here in central Virginia; sunny, not too warm, not too cool. In other words, it was the perfect day to attend the Central Virginia Highland Games and Celtic Festival. This event has returned to the old State Fair grounds near Mechanicsville after following the State Fair up to its new home near Doswell, VA. (I’m going to skip relating the soap opera that was Atlantic Rural Expositions & its departure from Strawberry Hill.)

My wife & I locked up the house in Hopewell and drove up to Richmond dressed in traditional Scottish-American attire: I wore a kilt & she wore slacks – cargo pants to be exact. This jaunt was a bit strange for us as it was the first time in five years that we’ve attended one of these events and we were not hosting a clan tent. Back in the auld days, we – or at least I – attended 3 to 5 of these things a year, loading up the truck or the car with everything we needed to represent Clan Macpherson and/or Clan Grant and then driving off on Fri. evening or Saturday morning to wherever we were supposed to be.

The recession of ’08 had a lot of side-effects and one of them was a mortal blow to a number of these events. Highland games depend upon the fees garnered from Clan societies and vendors as well as proceeds from the gate in order to stay afloat. In the case of the small to medium-sized events, putting them on is a labour of love mostly and if they break even, it’s a good year. Nonetheless, it is all a house of cards. The public won’t come if the Clan Societies and vendors aren’t there and if the public is not going to turn out, then the vendors don’t want the hassle of paying the necessary fees and setting up shop. It’s the same way with the Clan Societies. Most of the tents are funded by the people who host them and are thus even more sensitive to disappointing turn-outs. If there is little or no chance of recruiting new members then why shell out the $$ and loading up the car/truck when you could be home watching football.

People lost jobs during the recession and the extras that made life fun – like attending Highland games – were curtailed or eliminated altogether. The folks who loaded up their cars couldn’t afford to do so anymore which brings me back to our day at the Central Virginia games. The Clan tents were there but fewer than 5 years ago. The vendors were there though not quite as many as before. The crowds were fairly decent but we only saw a handful – and a wee handful at that – of people from before the recession. Some, of course, had reached that certain age when it was time to stop doing stuff like this while others may have relocated, but the rest . . .

What I can report is that we had a fairly good time that afternoon. We got to hear “Oh Shenandoah” on the pipes which is second in chills-up-the-spine only to “Highland Cathedral” and saw an athlete hit a perfect 12 o’clock with a tossed caber. The only downside was the poor excuse for a meat pie that I was forced to endure. And when we had our fill of the festivities, we simply walked out to our car & drove home instead of having to wait until 5:00 or 6:00 before we could pack everything up and then hit the road.

Cover art

Cover art

by Tracy Lane

Princesses, mermaids growing up unawares on land, life or death battles for the sanctity of the seas, charming men who show up out of nowhere to inform you of your destiny; all these are common plot devices found in many of the new wave in fantasy stories known as Mer-fiction. Considering the massive upwelling of these stories over the past few years, it almost seems that some authors are choosing one from column A and two from column B. As common as these elements may be, it takes a real artist to take these bog-standard devices and turn them into a fun and entertaining story and that is exactly what Canadian author Tracy Lane has done in her first novel, The Call of the Deep.

Enter Mericle Edwards, a twenty-something student of veterinary medicine living with her pre-med roommate in a one bedroom apartment in Fort Collins, Colorado. Mericle was found floating in the sea by her adoptive parents in an odd sort of water-filled bassinette.  In case you are wondering, she was her adoptive parents’ miracle baby and they substituted Mer for Mir due to the fact she was found at sea.

One may also wonder what brought Mericle to Fort Collins, Colorado and it is definitely not the labs for the National Institute of Standards. No, Mericle is there because although she grew up in Miami, she has an acute case of Thalassophobia and Colorado State University is far enough away from the sea to suit her. Mericle shares a cab one morning with a quite handsome young man named Matt who informs her that they’ve met twice before and that everything in her life is about to change.

One year later, nothing has changed and Mericle has almost forgotten about Matt. Her roommate, Kelsey, coerced Mericle in to going on a blind date that includes a cruise on the local reservoir. Mericle is knocked overboard and her blind date, Jeff, saves her. This is the start of an intense mutual attraction that scares the bejeebers out of Mericle and she pushes him away. Jeff isn’t too happy about this development but he nobly gives her some space.

This just the start of things. Gaining the ability to read minds, learning to control water, deciding that she’s ready to begin exploring a relationship with Jeff – who promptly disappears from the face of the earth – are amongst the long foretold changes to Mericle’s life.

We stood, nose to nose, gasping short breaths for what felt like an eternity, but only a few seconds.   Jeff wrapped his arms tight around me and I found myself lost in his deep green eyes and intoxicating smile.

The atmosphere changed.   I knew we were alone but if felt like someone or something was there with us.   A ghost or a presence of some sort, or maybe an electric current?   I wasn’t sure, but it had to be more than hormones.   But as tempting as it was, I couldn’t take my eyes off Jeff – even for a second – to see if the room had been infested with spirits or engulfed in flames.

There is, of course, a certain amount of chemistry between Matt and Mericle. Matt has devoted his life since the age of eleven to her welfare and it stands to reason that he would care for her deeply. For her part, Mericle is hard pressed to ignore the fact that she finds herself attracted to Matt. Things, become even more confused for her when Jeff enters the picture and subsequently disappears. For those readers who are weary of triangles, this is more an abortive romance rather than the old game of “which one do I choose?”

The dramatic tension in The Call of the Deep comes from the very reason why Mericle is where she is in the first place. Mericle’s parents were once the rulers of an undersea kingdom and her father supposedly went his separate way before her birth. In reality, he had taken up with a sub-aquatic sorceress and returned with an army of mutant creatures bent on taking over not only his old kingdom but as many other kingdoms as he can get his hands on. At the tender age of eleven, Matt was charged with carrying Mericle to safety and keeping watch over her until she can return to save life in the sea as we know it.

Matt has been a stand-out protector and guide for Mericle but he’s just not telling her some things she ought to know before she actually needs to know them. For example, her relationship with Jeff would have been off to a much easier start and she wouldn’t have wasted so much time obsessing over Matt if he had simply informed Mericle about just how the mating game works in the deep. This brings up an interesting point in Ms Lane’s telling of her story. In Meri’s post-rescue encounter with Jeff, she is frightened . . . nay, terrified of what appears to be happening and the overwhelming attraction that she suddenly feels for him. Conversely, however, Mericle’s reaction to Matt telling her that she is a mermaid and a princess is almost blasé’ by comparison.

Tracy Lane has developed an interesting cast of characters. There is, of course, Mericle whose character does start out a bit mild in the beginning but picks up steam as the story unfolds. Matt is the ultimate Boy Scout; cheerful, brave and ready to do whatever is necessary for Mericle to realise her true potential. This includes acting as body guard, grand vizier, and court magician all rolled into one.

Jeff, Mericle’s hunk-ah-hunk of burning love,  is a bit of an enigma in that he only has a relatively few scenes with her and, besides the obvious fact that he’s head-over-heels crazy about her, is hard to get a read on. After all, he does appear to vanish from the face of the earth about a quarter of the way through the story. Fortunately, Tracy Lane has provided an intermezzo whereby the point of view switches to Jeff for four chapters so the reader is able to learn the reason for his sudden disappearance and what his role will be for the remainder of the story.

The uneasy sense of mutual attraction between Matt and Mericle is resolved by the appearance of two escaped mermaids from a Southern Atlantic kingdom:  Jayna and her sister Sparrow. It seems that Sparrow is more a perfect fit for Matt and they do have a bit of history together.

Of all the central characters – aside from Mericle, herself – the one that stands out the most is the human; Mericle’s roommate, Kelsey. She is a stand-up kind of girl, protective, loyal to a fault and willing to do anything for her best friend. Once Mericle and company are on their way to kick some tail, it is Kelsey’s task to return to Fort Collins, CO. This reviewer has become rather attached to Kelsey and hopes that Ms Lane will see fit to employ her again.

Ms Lane has created a fun and exciting story in The Call of the Deep and this reviewer is eager to see what comes next in books two and three of the series.  Her novel appears to be aimed at the upper end of the YA market and the lower end of the NA (New Adult) market. It is the firm opinion of this reviewer that anyone above the age of fifteen  with an abiding interest in mermaids and mermen will thoroughly enjoy the story.

Love, fear, change, discovery; The Call of the Deep is about a lot of things but most of all, it is about finding oneself. It is about learning who you really are and where you really came from.

Now I understood.   I was remembering a former life.   I had forgotten how beautiful it was – the diverse array of plant and animal life swaying back and forth with the current along the reef.   The shifting sand of the endless ocean floor and the way the school of bluefish sped along side us one moment, as if to say hello, then off in another direction the next.

The gentle hum of the underwater world was both energizing and calming all at once.

I was home.

Americans are always surprised by the myriad things that come to us from Canada. Excellent Mer-fiction can now be added to that list. Tracy Lane’s sequel, Return to the Deep is expected to release in the spring of 2014.

My Rating:

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Now that I’ve reviewed S.K. Munt’s Three Rings, I’ve got a few weeks to spare before the third book in her FairyTails Saga makes its debut. With that in mind, here’s what I have on tap:

At the moment I’m (re)reading Call of the Deep by Tracy Lane and hope to have that review published by next weekend. I read this book earlier in the year but had fallen behind with my reviews and thus it was put on a back burner.

Running right behind that is Born of Oak and Silver by Marie McKean. This book is a departure for me in that it does not involve female specimens of Homo Ikhthues. (Actually, I read a fair number of other books.) With any luck I should have Marie’s book done and reviewed by Oct. 31st.

Hot on the heels of these two books is S.K. Munt’s Heads or Tails due for release on October 31st. I was a bit slow in getting off the mark for her second book so I’m hoping to be able to pounce on that title the moment it’s released. That is, if my heart can take it!

Last but certainly not in anyway least, there is Keeping Merminia by Emm Cole. You may remember that Emm was the subject of one of my first interviews here on The Parsons’ Rant. The author has suggested that it be read at my leisure so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I need to do more work on my warm-up chapter for Urban Mermaid. A week-end in Hopewell just might do the trick.

Three_Ringsby S.K. Munt
It is without a doubt that S.K. Munt is a master story-teller. Hot on the heels of her acclaimed debut novel, The Marked Ones, comes Three Rings which is guaranteed to take readers through an emotional wringer.

Things have changed on Bracken Island. Ivyanne has brought home not one but two suitors for the hand of the Princess. There was a third suitor but everyone thought he had died in order to bring Lincoln Grey, Ivyanne’s adolescent sweetheart, into the world of the Mer.  That suitor would be Ardhi, Ivyanne’s childhood friend who is a mystic; that rare sort of Mer who can – amongst other things – “turn” humans into Mer and live to tell the tale. His intentions were to take out Tristan Loveridge, give Lincoln to Ivyanne and die in the process, etching his memory forever in her heart. As it turns out, everyone – including Ardhi — was wrong about this.

Tristan survived his seemingly mortal wound and Ardhi survived “turning” Lincoln. Tristan is now locked in a jealous rivalry with Lincoln and Ardhi is now a loose cannon whose schemes and actions will shape the course of this story until the very end. As Lincoln Grey was held prisoner by his past and Ivyanne Court was held prisoner by her future, Ardhi’s actions have created a new kind of prison containing Tristan, Lincoln and Ivyanne where the two suitors duke it out in a game of one-upmanship. Although many females might enjoy two men fighting over them, it has the opposite effect on Ivyanne. If there is an eventual victor, will Ivyanne be in any kind of emotional state to become the spoils of victory?

She just wished that both men understood the position she was in – had an inkling of what she was going through. Every time they pulled her in opposite directions, she could feel the flesh of her heart rip a little further. What was she going to have left to love either with, when they were through?

S.K. Munt has a wonderful ability to create characters that readers can’t help care about and there is almost no way that one can read her stories without becoming emotionally committed to one or more of them . . . even Ardhi. For good or for ill, her characters will haunt the reader well after the final paragraph of Three Rings. To understand the characters is to understand the story.

Tristan is the fair-haired boy. The golden child who is the equivalent of captain of the football team, class president and major heart-throb all rolled into one. Lesser men cheer him on because he is everything they wish they could become but never will. Men in Tristan’s league curse him because he is their stiffest competition. He is a mermaid magnet and quite handy with human females as well. It seems that Tristan almost always gets what he wants. Will he succeed this time?

Lincoln is more of an everyman. He has had the things he loves repeatedly taken from him and when he has the chance to claim what he most desires, he runs the risk of losing it once more. Like the rest of us mere mortals, Lincoln has the recurring tendency to shoot himself in the flukes with pin-point accuracy. His gift is apparently the ability to take blow after emotional blow and yet stagger to his feet once again. Staying down for the count is not an option. The reader will wonder if Lincoln will be able to survive the fatal blow if he loses the one thing that has controlled his life since he was a teenager.

Ivyanne is the prize in the emotional tug of war amongst her suitors. Every time she seems to grasp that one bit of elusive happiness, it is snatched away from her. She is akin to an emotional weather-vane, constantly spinning whichever way the winds of fate happen to blow. Aside from her summer love when both she and Lincoln were both in their teens, Ivyanne is an innocent abroad having been sheltered and groomed for the day when she will do her duty to the kingdom by choosing from a handful of candidates, the best possible mate to perpetuate the bloodline. Love is a side issue and her inexperience shows. While it seems like everyone has something to lose in this story, Ivyanne stands to lose the most. Unlike a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, there is no guaranteed happy ending for the parties involved.

Ardhi has already lost something . . . his mind. Love, desire, the quest for fulfillment will change almost any person. That combination along with the seemingly limitless power he now possesses has turned Ardhi into a delusional mer-monster. His plan is to eliminate Tristan, lure Lincoln away from Ivyanne and then claim what is rightfully his . . . no matter whom is hurt or killed along the way.

‘Ssh,’ he brought his finger to his lips and smiled, feeling giddy. ‘We have time, princess. I’ll let you get through this weekend, and play the happy bride-to-be, and I’ll even play along.’ He backed up another step. ‘But once these guests leave, and you can drop the pretense that he fulfills you the way you always dreamed of, I want you to think about what just happened, and how right it felt-then come to me.’

The Seaview resort could well become the Heartbreak Hotel if it has not done so already and S.K. Munt eagerly serves as your tour-guide. Her writing brings to mind the following excerpt from The Man with the Blue Guitar:

They said, “You have a blue guitar,

You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied, “Things as they are

Are changed upon the blue guitar.” – Wallace Stevens

In this case, it is S.K. Munt who wields the blue guitar. She has strummed up what might have been an ordinary fantasy story about merfolk into an emotionally gripping tale of love and loss, success and failure. Those readers who follow along on Ms. Munt’s blue guitar tour will be changed by the end of Three Rings and they will be left wondering what can possibly happen next. Needless to say, this story is not for the faint of heart.

Tristan, who seems to have never cared for love in the past has finally admitted to his self that he loves Ivyanne. Will she turn out to simply be one more accomplishment in an already charmed life or is she the one and only person who can permanently change the world of this pretty-boy merman.

And Lincoln; he used to be human and now he’s mer. Can he keep himself going in a world where everything about his life and allegiances have changed? How many more body blows to his heart and soul will he be able to take?

S.K. Munt is well on her way to becoming an author of note. She writes with a style that takes no prisoners other than the reader. There is no escape from her spell at the end of Three Rings and readers will find themselves longing for the next installment in her Fairytail Saga, Heads or Tails.

Whatever one may think of fantasy novels in general and the mermaid sub-genre, Three Rings is well worth the time spent falling under its spell. If the reader interested in this novel  has not heard of or read its predecessor, The Marked Ones, by all means read it posthaste. This is not a series where the reader can dive in around the middle and easily figure out what has happened before that point. The story Ms. Munt has crafted is much more complex than that. Love, hate, joy, despair and bedroom scenes that will curl your tail fin; S.K. Munt’s FairyTail Saga seems to have it all.

My Rating:

Visit S.K. Munt’s website at skmunt.com

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Among other things, my sainted mother took second place in a state poetry competition and was the salutatorian at her class’s commencement. She dreamed that my brother and I would follow in her footsteps by becoming writers, authors, etc. My brother was the only one to fulfill her dream while all I did was write computer code and invent programming languages. She never really understood what I did for a living but then again, neither did my wife.

A week ago, I published a short story that has apparently been well received and has left some readers begging for more. Suddenly, this idea for a fantasy novel that I’ve had for a number of years, is beginning to take on a life of its own. I’ve bought a block of ISBN’s and have been accepted into the Goodreads.com author programme. The target release date is August 8th, 2014 – my 39th wedding anniversary and probably the day when my wife says that she’s had enough of playing second fiddle to a book. It may be released sooner or it may be released later; this is the first time that I’ve ever done anything like this.

The Goodreads.com author programme includes my very own blog. That does not mean – by any stretch of the imagination – that I am abandoning The Parsons’ Rant. I will continue to use this blog for book reviews, techno-rants© and general whingeing. I will however blog the development of this novel from the first pixels on the screen on through to its release on Amazon.com, et al. If you want to keep up with things on the writing front – there’s not much out there at the moment – got to Howard’s Goodreads Blog  at  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7315319.Howard_Parsons/blog. The Goodreads blog will be added to the blogroll below and I’ll ditch a couple of non-starters at the same time.

Wish me luck.

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