by Pete Tarsi
Some things just keep on getting better. Each of us can probably think of at least one item to which the preceding statement applies. This reviewer submits Pete Tarsi’s Flipping the Scales series is indeed, one of those things and it is wonderfully evidenced by the release of the second book in his series, Skipping the Scales.
It is summer once again in New England and cousins Hailey and Jill, along with best friend Meredith, are now high school graduates with summer jobs. Meredith is an intern at a public aquarium while Jill spends her days as the facility’s costumed mascot. Hailey is working as an entertainer at kids’ birthday parties and loving every minute of it.
On the morning of the summer season’s first full moon, Hailey is up at dawn, hoping that her mermaid friends, Marina and Lorelei, will return for a visit even if it’s just for the day. She has been waiting on the morning of every full moon since the previous summer and it has been a disappointing year.
Once again, she is about to call it quits for the day when she hears her BFF – Best Friend with Fins – call her name. Marina has returned with Lorelei in tow. Rather than a one-day sightseeing trip, Marina has something else in mind.
In the world Mr. Tarsi has created for this series, merfolk have the ability to shuck their tails on the day of the full moon and walk amongst us. Their tails are an iridescent skirt-like garment which once removed, must be carefully hidden near the sea lest it fall into the wrong hands. Without it, they will be stranded on the shore, unable to return to their ocean home.
Now, one summer later, Marina has returned to begin the search for her mother who was apparently lost on land, eighteen years ago. This search will take at least a month and Marina wants Hailey to take care of her tail in the interim. Hailey will, therefore, get to fulfill her dream of dreams; the dream of becoming a real live mermaid, if only for a little while.
Although the Jill and Meredith have pledged to assist the search, their time is taken up with summer jobs. Marina will find that the search for her mother will proceed in fits and starts with dead-ends along the way.
Marina will also discover time and tide wait for no mermaid. The object of her brief summer romance has moved on to someone else. Jill’s brother, Jeff, made this move not because of disloyalty, but simply because he has not heard from Marina since the previous summer. Fear not, gentle reader, their romance is rekindled. It will be all the more interesting to see where Pete Tarsi takes this portion of the plot in future installments.
Although many of us would dearly love to trade in our legs for a tail and spend our lives in the sea, things beneath the waves are not always as nice as they may seem. In fact, there is something one might call ‘tail-ism’. Hailey learns a Mer’s place in life depends upon the colour of their tail. For example, those with green tails serve as scouts for the Mer school. Yellow tails harvest plankton for the school, while blue-tailed Mer are tasked with keeping predators away. The purple-tailed are at the top of the social order and the orange-tailed? They are very few and very far between.
Indeed, there is only one mermaid with an orange tail in the school – Marina. Her tail colour makes her something of a sport in the school. A sport which the school’s tail-ist leader is determined to rid the ocean of. Early in the story, when mer-mad Hailey reveals her costume tail is orange rather than the anticipated pink, it is little wonder that Marina’s eyes fill with tears. She is no longer the only one. Someone wants to be like her.
It would be easy for some to dismiss Marina’s search for her mother as simply a Disney-esque plot device. After all, most Disney heroines have lost at least one parent and in some cases, both parents are missing. In Marina’s case, her quest is heartrending because of the barriers she must overcome. There is, of course, the alien elements of the surface world and its culture. There is so much she has yet to learn and understand, not least of which is the complexity of life above the waves.
Marina is indeed fortunate to have friends like Hailey, Meredith, Jill, and Lorelei. Hailey might argue she herself is the truly fortunate one as she gets to be a mermaid for a month. It is these interactions between the characters which make Pete Tarsi’s story all the more charming.
A Wonderful Story
Simply put, Skipping the Scales is a sweet, smart, and poignant story that should touch the heart of any mermaid enthusiast. Age and/or gender is decidedly not a limiting factor regarding this story. There are those touching moments where the reader can easily feel the character’s sorrow, fear, or joy. When a story can make a reader, who is the diametric of the target audience, feel these things, it is the hallmark of a talented author.
It is little secret that this reviewer often views YA Mer-fiction as a vast wasteland littered with cliché-ridden stories. There are, of course, some novels which make the best of the seemingly inescapable mermaid clichés. Otherwise, this reviewer feels he could easily be like Carnac the Magnificent, holding the novel to his forehead and describing the plot therein.
Nonetheless, there are authors today who can and do deliver something new, something fresh, something exciting. Pete Tarsi is one such author and his ‘Scales’ series is a shining example of what stories in this sub-genre could and should be. This reviewer doffs his cap in respect to Mister Tarsi and his accomplishment. We are not worthy.
 In Biology, people previously used the word “sport” to refer to abnormal specimens. The scientific usage is broader, referring to any organism differing from the type ordinarily found in nature.
Urban Mermaid has been on the market for less than a week and I’m starting to see a few sales. Since book publicists cost an arm and a leg – I’m sure they earn every penny of their fees – I’ll be doing a lot of the publicity myself.
There’s a perfect opportunity to do this in Greensboro, NC on Jan. 2 & 3, 2016 and I’m going to have to miss it because of my regular job. I will go into work around 10:30 PM on Jan. 1st and will not be done until 3 or 4 AM. Driving directly to Greensboro from Richmond, VA might have been an option in my college days but it’s definitely off the table now.
The event in Greensboro is a sort of mermaid convention and is an ideal place to stir up interest and maybe even some sales. There’s bound to be other opportunities in other towns . . . just none as good as this one.
Besides putting up the tree and baking gingerbread cookies over the holidays, I’ll also be devoting a good bit of my time to working on publicity and getting the word out. After the first of the year, I’ll be running a series of give-aways on the official website – ColonyIsland.com – and plan to have some serious swag up for grabs towards the end of January. Just one more reason to stop by ColonyIsland.com and see what’s happening.
Oh rapture! Oh bliss!
Seriously, I’ve discovered that there is light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not merely an oncoming train. Urban Mermaid now has a firm release date – November, 30th, 2015. Be still, my heart!
The thirtieth of November is St. Andrew’s Day. For those of you who may not ken, Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and since one of the main characters is named Macpherson, I think that the 30th is quite appropriate.
I had originally planned to hold a launch party on the release day but the Holiday season will be in full swing a week from today. Trying to shoehorn a launch party in everything involved with the run-up to Hanukkah, Christmas, and the feast of Mithras is a non-starter. Instead, I’m going to try and see if I can get something going on January 30th – maybe a launch party/book signing at Barnes and Noble in Charlottesville.
Meanwhile, there’s fruitcakes to bake and gifts to buy. Yes, Virginia, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
By The Way, I’ll make a formal announcement on the 30th of November. Stay tuned.
As of 10:30 this morning, 11 ARC copies of Urban Mermaid were on their way to the lucky few who get to read Penelope’s story before anyone else does. I had originally planned to mail them out during lunch on Friday but decided to wait 24 hours so they’d receive the coveted Hopewell, VA postmark. (Remember, not EVERYTHING is postmarked “Hopewell, VA 23860”.)
Now, it’s all up to the Urban Mermaid Review Crew. I’ll know in about a month or so. Then, it’s off to the printer’s and on to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and any other place that sells books. For those of you with e-readers, there’s a digital version as well.
So in October, I’ll take my tweed jacket with the elbow patches to the dry-cleaners and fish out my horn-rimmed glasses. I’ve already got the pipe!
British author Madeline Bell’s series of twelve – so far – Gabby novels chronicles the misadventures of a young British cycling phenom from the cusp of turning thirteen to the end of his fifteenth summer. Along the way, Drew develops as a force to be reckoned with in the field of Junior cycling. Drew also develops in other ways to be discussed later. Drew is cursed with the misfortune of being cute, a description that sets his teeth on edge. The appellation is not used in the context of “I met this really cute boy named Drew Bond” but rather in the “Drew is such a cute girl and I’m jealous of her” frame of reference. In fact, Drew is regularly mistaken for a girl and the fact that he winds up in female costume from time to time does not help matters at all. At first, it was all a bit of a lark; attend a school dance with his – mostly female – mates dressed as characters from Japanese Anime but that has brought with it a whole set of problems, not the least being that one of his good mates, Clive, takes a fancy to the new girl in town.
Even when he was young, Drew’s sister used him as a dress-up doll and that tradition continues in his circle of friends who are mostly female. His appearances as ‘Gabby’ become more and more frequent and of longer duration. A six week student exchange trip to America and allowing his cousin to do part of his packing lands Drew in ‘Gabby’ mode for most of the trip. There are a (very) few discerning adults who twig that this cute teen-aged girl is really a boy but their numbers are reduced as the series progresses and even those who do know the score are still wont to think of him as a her. His family’s relocation to Germany offers a chance at a fresh start as Drew but unfortunately, that change fails to bring the expected relief. His new instructors tend to think of him as Fraulein Bond and his circle of friends there is almost exclusively female. Most – if not all – of his school mates think of Drew as a cute – if somewhat tomboyish – girl and when he is chosen by the great and the good of his town as their ‘Wine Queen’ for the coming year, all hopes of resurrecting ‘Drew’ seem to go out the window.
It appears that nature has conspired against him as well. Drew has had some increasingly worrisome medical concerns. At first, it was anemia that played havoc with his endurance. Then he began developing breasts. The doctors were concerned that puberty had yet to begin. Trouble was, it already had. It took a cat scan at a German clinic to reveal that Drew had ovaries and a uterus. But wasn’t Drew a boy? Well, yes and no. A karyotype of his chromosomes revealed that Drew had Klinefelter’s syndrome.
For those of you who slept through high school and/or college biology, a brief explanation follows. If science tends to make your eyes glaze over, you are welcome to skip the next 2 paragraphs.
Most humans have two chromosomes that determine whether they are male or female and are commonly known as the X and Y chromosomes. Females have two X chromosomes whilst Males have an X and a Y. People with Klinefelter’s have three sex chromosomes; XXY. This is the result of a ‘sticky’ X chromosome that follows its partner during Meiosis rather than staying with the other 22 chromosomes that will comprise the ovum or the sperm cell. When fertilization occurs, the resulting embryo will have three sex chromosomes; XXY. On the whole, most individuals will develop as males and live normal lives without knowing of their genetic condition. Some will develop the various traits associated with the syndrome and a small minority will develop as either intersex or female.
To complicate matters a bit, one of the two X chromosomes becomes inactive following fertilization. Nonetheless, this inactive chromosome does influence things. Females with only one sex chromosome have Turner’s syndrome and are subject to a whole raft of physiological problems. See The Physiological and Behavioral Manifestations of Abnormal Numbers of Sex Chromosomes in Humans. H. Parsons, 1973 – NC Wesleyan College.
Drew Bond is one of that minority who develops as an Intersex child with a strong female bias. He looked all the world like a male in his pre-teen years but as puberty entered the picture, secondary sex characteristics and gender identity complicate things. Though Drew may express indignation at his lot in life, staunchly proclaiming his male-ness, his body and brain have other ideas. As the series progresses, his appearance and behaviour becomes more typical of a teen-aged girl rather than a boy. As his cycling prowess increases, so does his obvious femininity. Even Drew recognises that he has no future as a male but that does not mean he has to like what fate has ordained and he rages against the coming of the pink. Resistance is futile.
Madeline Bell has created an addictive series of stories in her Gabby novels and it is quite entertaining to see the scrapes her hero(ine) gets him/herself into. While the series is aimed at young adults, older ones can and do easily get hooked and bewail the fact that Ms. Bell cannot turn out the next installment as fast as they would like her to. The author caters to an international audience with illustrations and footnotes that help explain linguistic, cultural and geographic differences. Ms. Bell also provides the reader with an intimate look into the world of bicycle racing. Who knew that there was so much strategy involved? At the end of the day, Drew’s stories helped make this year’s Tour de France much more interesting.
The series is not without its flaws, however as the earlier installments suffer from spelling and punctuation errors. While Madeline Bell has released a few revised editions of earlier installments, many of the errors remain. Things are remarkably better in the later installments but still, some problems persist. The stories are told in a combination of both first and third person and while it seems to work overall, there are instances where it is difficult to determine just whom is speaking.
Flaws aside, The Gabby Series is a fun and enthralling read for both young and old and well worth the time spent. If anything, they are difficult to put down, even for a few minutes. As a final note, Madeline Bell donates a portion of the proceeds from each book to a British charity which provides support for gender variant children and for that, the author deserves a special round of applause.
Real authors probably encounter this situation on a regular basis so a rank amateur like myself should not be surprised to face one as well. I had a (very) small scene in mind which was not critical or even the slightest bit necessary, but I wanted to use it as a bit of character development for Penelope. My question was: “How do I insert it into the plot?” It comes after the out-of-sequence Chapter (yes, another one!) I finished last week and as it stood, had no place in the following chapter.
To get around that problem, I wrote a sort of framework host the scene and had it lead off the following chapter. (At least it looks like it belongs there, now.) Just one wittle problem – I’m quite chuffed with the framework but don’t like the scene at the centre of it all.
Do I dump the scene but keep the framework? (If so, what do I replace it with?)
Do I dump the whole thing and forget about it?
The holidays are almost upon us and since Black Friday – or Black Thursday as it is starting to look like – is coming up fast, many of you may be wondering about just what to give your favourite mer-fan. If not, the you may be wondering just what you’re going to do with the Hanukkah and/or Christmas gelt that is sure to come your way. Submitted here for your consideration is one possibility.
Life as a mermaid can be suffocating.
Sometimes following your heart can end up destroying the ones you love.
When seventeen-year-old Eviana Dumahl is faced with the responsibility of an arranged marriage and clan leadership, she is forced to choose between the life required of a mermaid and one of a teenage girl simply infatuated with the wrong guy. Kain, her devoted fiancé would make a wonderful husband except that she’s been in love with Brendan, a shape-shifting selkie, ever since they were kids. Choosing to abandon her family, her clan, and her life with Kain will have dire consequences far beyond anything she could have imagined.
A war is brewing amongst the clans and Eviana unwittingly becomes a pawn in the intricate schemes of a twisted mastermind. With Brendan’s life on the line, she has no choice but to involve those who she once considered friends. Amidst encountering senseless tragedies and immense loss, Eviana discovers that she is more valuable as a clan leader than anyone ever suspected. Her survival is not only dependent upon the loyalty of her friends, but also on her acceptance of a life that she had so adamantly tried to escape.
Promises is the first book of The Syrenka Series trilogy following Eviana and her friends through the perils of growing up in a discrete world that inherently threatens human society.
About Amber Garr
Amber Garr spends her days as a scientist and nights writing about other worlds. Born in Pennsylvania, she lives in Maryland with her husband and their furry kids. Her childhood imaginary friend was a witch, Halloween is sacred, and she is certain that she has a supernatural sense of smell. Amber is a multiple Royal Palm Literary Award winner, author of Waterproof, The Syrenka Series, The Leila Marx Novels, and the upcoming Death Warden Series. When not obsessing over the unknown, she can be found dancing, reading, or enjoying a good movie.
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.
by Melanie Niles
This novella is Ms Niles second installment in her Adronis series. Since it is the policy of this reviewer to include spoilers from the current book, those who have not yet read At the Water’s Edge are advised to read that novella – or at least the review – first. Otherwise, here is a (very) brief recap of the last part of At The Water’s Edge:
Sara returned to the Bahamas in search of closure. The attractive and attentive pre-med student has been something of a blessing but try as she might, Sara feels nothing for him. She is haunted by what sounds like Darien singing at night and finally spots him in a crowd. It is indeed Darien and the pre-med student is out of the running. Darien asks Sara to go home with him to the undersea city of Adronis but with the caveat that she can never return. After her arrival, Darien takes Sara to meet his mother; a real piece of work if ever there was one. While Mom is reluctant to consent to their union, she finally agrees with the proviso that Sara become one of them post-haste. Sara is finally able to swim with Darien and they live happily ever after – or so they think.
Sara – or more properly, Lady Sara – has settled into life with Darien beneath the surface. Although she misses home she has been occupied on a more important project for the past seven months; attempting to fall pregnant. Like many land-based females, Sara finds that it is not as easy as it sounds. Moreover, her husband’s position requires that he produce an heir. Then, there are her studies; more like a forced march, actually. She must learn the language of her new people as well as history, customs, etiquette, etc. In addition to all that, she must have a daily drink of this foul-tasting juice to maintain her vim, vigour and vitality.
To add to this misery, a delegation from the only remaining city of their kind, Emphali, is due to arrive and Sara will have to meet, greet and entertain the Regent, his wife and two daughters, the youngest one is a nubile sexpot. Sara is under pressure to not embarrass her in-laws and, by extension, the citizens of Adronis. One underlying reason for the visit is to tempt Darien with a more suitable wife for a man of his station; one that will be able to give him an heir. None of this is Darien’s idea as he’s still deeply in love with Sara and is steadfast in his belief that she will make a wonderful first lady of Adronis.
Behind all of this is Sara’s mother-in-law, the Lady Riona. She was against their marriage from the outset and is doing everything within her considerable powers to break up the marriage. Sara can never go back to life on land but this is of no concern to Lady Riona as long as she just simply goes away; the sooner the better. Factor in Sara’s usual insecurities as well as the distrust/hatred of people from the surface which has been drummed into the heads of the Adronians and it is easy to see why she is a mental and emotional wreck.
“My lady,” she said in as polite a voice as she could manage. Riona blinked with a satisfied smile on her face – feeding her ego seemed to work well on her, although it left a bitter taste in Sara’s mouth. “If I will one day be the Guardian’s wife, should I not also spend time with the regent and his family?” Like the First Lady or a queen, the spouse of the true ruler but still well-respected and under a microscope. Riona’s lips twisted. “Perhaps later. You hardly know Adronis and would embarrass us.” The words stung, but something inside Sara insisted on fighting this woman. “I would only be observing.” “No. Attend to your studies.” “But – ” Riona stepped close, her eyes smoldering with something wicked. “You are not one of us. That is the embarrassment.”
Aside from Darien, Sara may have an ally in all of this in the form of Ethan, the “pre-med student” from At The Water’s Edge. Ethan had been despatched by Lady Riona to test Sara’s loyalty in that book and had failed to shake her bond with Ethan. Along the way, it appears that Ethan has developed a significant crush on Sara which certainly does not please Ethan. The fact that he is Lady Riona’s button man only increases Sara’s suspicions. Just whose side is he on?
Stir in some suspicious activities by the Regent’s daughters and you have a pretty good undersea suspense novel. While there was a degree of mystery in the first novella in the Adronis series, it is fully developed in this story. There are – as before – a few issues of logic in the back-story for this series, they do not detract from the overall story.
For her part, it is extremely easy to have sympathy for Sara’s character. While she is bending over backward to do the right thing at the right time for everyone, her mother-in-law continues to cast her as the completely improper, inappropriate and infertile screw-up who can do no right. This reviewer has suffered the outrageous slings and arrows from Lady Riona’s human counterpart and can readily attest that the character is drawn from real life with amazing accuracy. Sara’s insecurities are back in full force for this story and now they simply exacerbate the situation.
Darien does his best to protect Sara and promote her many virtues but he is unaware of the extent of his mother’s perfidy until it is almost too late. Lady Riona has been all too successful at poisoning the minds of the visiting delegation by playing the land-dweller card and thus Darian has to deal with threats from multiple directions.
Like its predecessor, At The Water’s Edge, Beneath The Crashing Waves is a quick yet engrossing read that is well worth its price. It is both entertaining and thought-provoking thus leading the reader to wonder just what they would do in a similar situation; assuming, of course, that there actually is a technologically advanced race of people living deep under water near the Bahamas.
Ms Niles has written a number of multi-novella series and this reviewer is left wondering if she plans to continue with a third installment. While Beneath The Crashing Waves does have a bit of finality to the end of the story, so did At The Water’s Edge. Although there is no massive amount of threads left hanging, there do seem to be enough to launch a third installment. For example, only a few citizens of Adronis know that Sara was originally a land-dweller. What – if anything — will happen when they find out? Sara misses her parents and sister terribly. At one point in the story, she gets a call through to her mother to let her know she’s all right and promises to call again in the future. Does she ever get to make that call? Does she ever get to see her parents again? Will they ever learn that they are grandparents? If Sara and Darian are finally able to have children what will they tell them of the world above the surface?
This reviewer hopes that Melanie Niles will give serious consideration at some point to continuing the Adronis series. He also suspects that her fans will feel the same way too.
Mellanie Nilles’ website is at melanienilles.com
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