Fantasy

Skipping The Scalesby 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.[1]

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[2] 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[3]. 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.
My Rating:


[1] For those of you who are not familiar with the first book, please see the review of Flipping the Scales, published in January of 2015.

[2] 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.

[3] If you are interested in a mermaid tale, short on clichés, for older readers, please read Urban Mermaid by Howard Parsons. This is a shameless plug, but I have bills to pay.

Awakened Fate seriesby Skye Malone

  • Awaken
  • Descend
  • Return
  • Abide (Novella)
  • Arise
  • Become

Reading a five and ½ book series in less than a week leaves one in a somewhat breathless state. That breathlessness is exacerbated by the fact that the series of books was extremely difficult to put down. However, sleep, meals, and showers eventually prevailed.

Rather than review each book individually, a daunting task in and of itself, this reviewer will look at the series as a whole. This reviewer will also dispense with his standard examination of the first 45% of the story.

Overall, the Awakened Fate series is a non-stop, action-filled adventure and Young Adults – as well as older readers – will get their money’s worth and well more. For those of you searching for a simple recommendation, this is a good point to stop and click on the ‘Buy’ button.

This reviewer has read so many mermaid–themed books over the past five years, that he’s lost track. While it has been fun, this reviewer has learned to recognise mermaid clichés. Although it’s hard for authors in this sub-genre to avoid them, it is how they are employed which makes all the difference. Skye Malone has artfully woven them into a thrill packed adventure series where they are hardly noticed.

The protagonist in this series is a 17 years-old red-head named Chloe Kowalski. She has spent all of her life in the American mid-west – Kansas to be specific – and has been blessed (or cursed – you decide) with a set of hydrophobic, nutso parents. The parental Kowalski’s have done everything in their power to obliterate references to the sea in their lives. Naturally, Chloe loves the idea of the sea, and as a result, has been grounded so many times, she ought to think she was a gopher. Her parents would no doubt like that.

Her best friend and next-door neighbour, Baylie, is off to see the other half of her blended family in Santa Lucina, CA and invites Chloe along. Being your normal late adolescent in a YA novel, Chloe agrees to go. She also fails to tell her parents.

An Awakened Fate

Chloe’s visit to the beach in Santa Lucina is one of those watershed moments in a person’s life. One of those moments where one starts to discover they are not what they thought they were. This moment sets off a roller-coaster ride of capture, imprisonment, escape, flight, surprise, terror, torture, threats to Chloe’s life, and duplicity. Lots and lots of duplicity. A lesser person would have cried ‘uncle’ after the first or second book. Fortunately, Chloe has a strong survival impulse. She also has some good friends in her corner.

Among those friends are two boys, Zeke and Noah. These two could not be more different. One is a merman – a prince to be precise – while the other is a greliaran. In case you’re wondering, these are beasts of magical origin, programmed to kill any merman or mermaid – referred to as dehaians – that dares to set foot or fin on the shore. Fortunately, Noah – along with his father and brother – is a changed being who has curbed his primal instincts.

While one may sigh that it’s just another ‘which one do I choose’ scenario[1], this one is different. It also contains an unexpected end. The reader is kept guessing until the story’s conclusion.

Magic

In a previous paragraph, I mentioned the ‘M’ word; Magic. The Awakened Fate series is infused with magic. This can be tricky, however. It is often used as a crutch to support a weak plot. In other cases, it is a driving force within the story. Skye Malone has done a brilliant job of weaving the magical element into the series.[2]

There are car chases across the country as well as numerous plots against Chloe’s life. One of these includes a demonic version of Dr. Cliff Huxtable. (The irony is intentional.) This reviewer could blether on and on about the worthiness of this series but Awakened Fate speaks for itself and stands on its own merits.

No matter if you are YA, NA, OA, or even OF,[3] the Awakened Fate series is a must read for anyone who likes a mermaid-themed thriller with plenty of action and a healthy dose of magic. 

My Rating:  Four Pipes


[1] For a more traditional version in a mer-themed context, please read The Fairytail Saga by S.K. Munt

[2] For a mermaid story with a bare minimum of magic, please read Urban Mermaid by Howard Parsons. This is a shameless plug, but I have bills to pay.

[3] Young Adult, New Adult, Older Adult, Old Fart.

Cover Art

Cover Art

Happy St. Andrews Day!

I am pleased to announce Urban Mermaid, the first installment in the Tails From Colony Island series, is now available for purchase in both paperback and e-book editions. The book is published by Moonlight Gardens Publications, an imprint of Gazebo Gardens Publishing, LLC.

I would like to thank Shelly & Caitlyn Moore at Gazebo Gardens  for all their hard work in getting this book ready for publication, Ilsie Om at The Woodsy Fawn for her wonderful cover design, Emm Cole, S.K. Munt, Pete Tarsi, and everyone else who contributed in one way or another to the pre-publication process.

Finally, I would like to thank Judi, my bride of 40 years for all of her encouragement and ongoing support as well as reading the first draft, even when fantasy books just aren’t her thing.

Given that the holidaze are upon us, I am forgoing the traditional launch parties, blog tours, etc. until after the first of the year. Everyone has so much to do between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Stop by colonyisland.com to keep up with The Latest.

ISBN
978-1-938281-72-3 Paperback
978-1-938281-73-0 E-Book

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.

I’ve always enjoyed reading stories intended for those who are rather younger than one’s self. I remember way back in 3rd or 4th grade when I checked out Make Way for Ducklings from the DuPont Elementary School library. There was flurry of notes between the librarian, my teacher, and Mom concerning the book. There was worry that I was regressing or that my reading skills were seriously lacking.

Actually it was because

  1. I loved the rhythms in the narrative
  2. I loved the illustrations
  3. It was about ducks

It seemed like a perfect trifecta to me!

Years later, teachers found it appalling that I read “grown-up” books in the 11th & 12th grade.

Tera Lynn Childs penned the Forgive My Fins series which seemed to be targeted at 8th or 9th graders but the books were such a romp that I felt sorry for anyone in high school and above with an interest in mermaid tales who did not read it.

Since the series ended, Ms. Childs has written several short stories and one novella featuring the characters. Some of you are hoping that she will write one more novel about Princess Lilly and her friends – both above and below the surface – a few years after the end of the 3rd book. All I can say is, please keep on hoping. However, there is a bit of relief at hand.

Tera Lyn Childs has written a short story titled Princess Lessons and it’s available on her Goodreads blog. So, if you need a ‘Lilly fix’, have at it.

The Colony Island website just went live. Still a lot to do but at least we’re on the air!
http://colonyisland.com

The word is out! One of my followers on Facebook has already pointed out that the heroine of Urban Mermaid has the same last name as my mother’s family.

Rest assured that there are no mermaids – or mermen – on either side of my family. (Damn!) My mother’s maiden name is Tench, which is a species of freshwater fish ( Tinca Tinca ) found in the UK and elsewhere on the east side of the pond. Since I had to give reasonable names to my characters, Tench was too much of a ‘gimme’ to ignore.

Most of the residents of Colony Island have fishy/aquatic/nautical last names, most of which can be found in any phone book. Given names are pretty standard fare – Bill, George, Ilene, Ethyl – with only one or two exceptions.

As for the merfolk – known as Ferals – who live full time in the sea, they have a single Hellenic name courtesy of Chirs Howard’s Seaborn name generator at saltwaterwitch.com. (Thanks, Chris!) If you have yet to read his Saltwater Witch series, please take the time to do so. It is well worth it!

Getting back to Colony Island, there are a few ‘punny’ names as well, but that’s all I’m going to say. Gotta save something for later!

sower_comes by Melissa Eskue Ousley

Believe it or not, there are some things even more mind numbing than waiting for the last day of school, having a job you hate or waiting to be “grown up”. One of those things is sitting in a desert, endlessly counting grains of red sand without pause. It is so mind numbing that one could easily forget their own name. That is precisely the situation in which Abigail – sometimes known as Abby – Brown finds herself in the opening chapter of Melissa Eskue Ousley’s The Sower Comes, the third and final installment of her Solas Beir Trilogy.

This, then, is The Wasteland – the world that serves as a place of perpetual punishment. Blessed with a dome of cobalt blue sky, it offers nothing else but red sand as far as the eye can see, and is only reachable through a portal between the worlds of Ms. Ouseley’s vivid imagination. It is not important at this moment to know just how Abby wound up in this place. As for herself, counting those red grains of sand is the most important thing; not escaping.

At first, Abby doesn’t notice that she’s suddenly not alone. It takes the instant pecking of a large, black as night raven. This bird is named Brarn and has been a somewhat minor, but nonetheless significant, character since the first book in this series, The Sign of the Throne. Brarn doesn’t have a speaking part, so we don’t expect him to say “Nevermore” or other such pithy phrases. Brarn does, however, know the way back to the world of Cai Terenmare; he knows the way home. It is up to Abby to follow.

Suddenly, she felt very small. She looked down at her fingers, her hands, but they were gone. In their place were white wings. She was the white raven once again.

The black raven cocked his head toward her and then dove through the glass of the mirror. Abby followed.

A lot has transpired since Abby was sidetracked into a career as a sand-counter. Lucia, who seemed to die at the hands of Tynan Tierney once her usefulness to him was over, has been restored to health and now occupies a cell in the dungeon, awaiting trial. The havoc that she has wrought upon Cai Terenmare’s inhabitants is equal to the damage done by Tierney. David, the Solas Beir, will sit in judgement and given that she was both responsible for his abduction and indirectly responsible for the brutal deaths of David’s foster parents in The Sign of the Throne, Lucia is going to have to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat in order to avoid a sentence of death.

The Dowager Queen Eulalia is due to marry the knight of her dreams and will soon be followed in matrimony by Abby and her betrothed, David. There are a couple of issues that threaten to put a damper on things such as Abby’s childhood friend, Jon, being MIA and presumably still held captive in the city of the Eastern Oracle. And then, there are the strange deaths in a fishing village and in the highlands to the north. Yes, there are worrisome things in the offing but nothing will spoil the happiness of the two upcoming weddings.

One of this reviewer’s favourite quotes of all time comes at the end of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride and serves to convey – at least to the reviewer, anyway – a sense of what is to come in Cai Terenmare.

However, this was before Inigo’s wound reopened, and Westley relapsed again, and Fezzik took the wrong turn, and Buttercup’s horse threw a shoe. And the night behind them was filled with the crescendoing sound of pursuit. . . .

The ‘what’ or rather, the ‘whom’ that is to come is The Sower, an offspring born from the unholy coupling of David’s father and the Western Oracle of the day who was, by anyone’s standards, a nasty piece of work. However well-intentioned his father’s liaison may be been in order to protect his kingdom and his son-to-be, it is that same son, David, who must deal with the results of that pairing – the monster which Tynan Tierney has finally unleashed upon the world of Cai Terenmare.

Something was rising from the pool, something dark with reptilian scales like armor and a spine ridged in horns. The spikes protruding from the creature’s back looked sharp enough to impale him.

David’s fear increased tenfold. He’d been hoping to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a man, and, worst-case scenario. Figured he would have to battle Sholto’s spirit animal. But he had no idea that the Sower would be a leviathan like this.

“Fantastic”, Jon breathed. “It’s a freaking Godzilla.”

All too often, the final instalment of a series turns out to be the final wheeze from the author who has somehow lost the concept somewhere along the way. A series that started out so brightly is met with a discordant sigh of relief when the reader turns the last page and closes the book.

This reviewer is happy to report that Melissa Eskue Ousley has avoided that fate and has done so quite handily. Her writing is as fresh and as riveting at the end of The Sower Comes as it was in the opening pages of The Sign of the Throne. Ms. Ousley built upon that early momentum in The Rabbit and the Raven and maintained it superbly throughout this final installment.

Adolescence is a time when young minds begin to stretch themselves and wander through both strange and familiar realms of possibilities. The Sower Comes and its predecessors place the Young Adult reader in the heart of a marvelous and chilling adventure that may very well seem as real as life itself. Is the plot of this story and the situations which it presents a metaphor for the life and choices that we must all face at one time or another? It is up to the readers to determine that for themselves. It cannot be denied, however, that Ms Ousley’s books are among the best in contemporary Young Adult Fiction.

When the entire courtyard was alight, David spoke one last time. “It is the power of the light and the power of love that ensure peace and prosperity for all in our kingdom.”

He turned to Abby, and as one, they let their orbs go, guiding them gently into the air with their hands. Around them, everyone released their cerulean spheres.

Together they watched the shimmering orbs float up into the night sky until they were indistinguishable from the stars.

With cover art for Urban Mermaid in the works and a batch of edits on their way to me – I hope – in time for the Memorial Day week-end, there’s not much else I can do at the moment except work on the sequel which is what I did this last week. One of the major themes of this story is a – very – silly crush which one of the peripheral characters has on one of the central characters in UM. If asked, she would tell you herself that the aforementioned crush is silly – the word ‘obsessive’ also comes to mind – and totally impossible yet it is her primary form of entertainment. The trouble is that this crush is causing problems and winds up driving a wedge between the character and her VBFF. The chapter I’m playing with at the moment contains one of the turning points in the story which leads the character to move beyond this crush – OK, it’s almost a monomania – and begin developing an actual life of her own.

I spent a considerable amount of time during our Bermuda cruise last week – It was terrific, thanks for asking! – explaining all this to my wife as well as why I have to walk a fine line in writing the Colony Island series. It is worth noting here that my wife of 40 years – August 3rd is the precise date – has little or no interest in reading fantasy novels or going to movies with fantasy themes. While she did insist on seeing the Lord of the Rings saga, it was easy to tell that she would have rather been doing something – almost anything – else during that time. (To be honest, I did feel that way during The Two Towers.)

I suppose I should take a moment to explain that the series, Tails from Colony Island, deals with merfolk who have moved from the sea on to land and try to live a normal – read human – existence. Indeed, they are pretty much like the rest of us – except for the fish tail bit. The world of Colony Island changes all because a mermaid living and working in the big city falls in love – much to her chagrin – with a human. The sequel is a love story as well which kinda-sorta makes me a romance writer. (How successful a romance writer I’ll be remains to be seen.)

The fine line has to do with how I create, develop and employ my characters. As I mentioned earlier, they are pretty much like the rest of us. If I make them too much like us, then the story becomes rather dull and our lives are hum-drum enough as it is. On the other hand, if I make the characters too different and exotic, I lose the premise for the series and the stories become something else entirely. So far, the main differences have to do with sex and marriage. That alone should be enough to draw people into the tent. Whether you’re a NASCAR driver or an author, the hardest thing in the world is to be consistent and consistently good, at that. I’ll start to have an idea as to how I shape up come the end of Sept.

Exciting, to say the least!

Exciting, to say the least!

Urban Mermaid will be published under GGP’s Moonlight Gardens imprint.

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