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.
I’ve just republished a short story called ‘Dear Mom . . .’ on ColonyIsland.com. This story was originally published on Goodreads.com and was done as part of a contest. I won, but only because there were just 2 or 3 entrants. The story concerns Penelope’s cousin, Lindsey Tench, and will be expanded to be half of the third book in the Tails From Colony Island series.
There is another short story with a merfolk theme which I will republish in a few days or a few weeks. It has nothing to do with Colony Island and everything to do with S.K. Munt’s Fairytail Saga. Ms. Munt held a fan fiction contest following the publication of Heads or Tails, the third novel in the series. My entry sort of violated the parameters for the contest and I really didn’t mean it as a contest entry. It was more a writing exercise dealing with a person in a very dark emotional state. In Urban Mermaid, the title character starts off in a dark emotional state and I felt that this would be good practice for me.
Nonetheless, I sent it in, more curious as to what Ms Munt would say about it than as an actual entry in the contest. S.K. Munt is a very gracious lady. The story took first prize and was published at the end of Stained Glass, the concluding story in the series.
Dear Mom may be found as a menu item under the Writing Urban Mermaid tab on Colony Island.com. You can also cut to the chase by going to http://colonyisland.com/dear-mom/. I hope that you’ll enjoy the story.
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.
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.
by Brenda Pandos
Over the past four years, Brenda Pandos has entertained readers – both young and old – with her Mer Tales series. Evermore is the latest and hopefully, not the last, installment. Like its predecessors, Evermore is a fast-paced story with copious plot twists and turns which will keep fans guessing until the very end.
The story opens following a very eventful five months for both Ashley Lanski and Finley Helton. Fin has saved Ash’s life, the couple have become promised mates, Ash has become a mermaid, Ash has discovered she was originally born a mermaid, the couple have been part of a coup d’etat in Natatoria, and all this only begins to scratch the surface.
Now, the two are preparing to return home from Natatoria, the aquatic realm beneath the earth’s mantle with a political system worthy of a dozen doctoral dissertations, and reunite with her adoptive parents. If only things were that simple. Ash and Fin will arrive on the shores of Lake Tahoe to find they are in hot water with the authorities, Ash’s parents, and there are still four more weeks of school left before graduation. Throw in the announcement that Ash and Fin are engaged and plan to be married in August and you have the beginnings of a perfect storm.
My heart gushed with happiness as I listened to him defend his love for me, that I was his everything.
Natatorian males have a persuasive way about them and no, this does not mean brass knuckles. They possess the ability to sing their way out of most situations involving humans and Fin is quite capable when it comes to handling things. This is precisely what Ash does not want him to do. She is tired of watching her family enter a zombie-like state whenever Fin warbles their way out of sticky situations.
Ash would prefer to handle things with carefully thought out and honest – well, mostly honest – explanations. This desire is honoured more in the breach than the observance as there are just too many odd things happening and too many sights which should not be seen. This conglomeration is something that simply cannot explained away as their wedding day approaches. Ash fears her human family will wind up with minds of mush before it’s all over.
As if there was not enough drama, Ash discovers she is in the family way and the wedding needs to take place sooner rather than later. The reason for this is because Brenda’s mermaids have a radically foreshortened gestation period. While it is not too unusual for human brides to be carrying something in addition to a bouquet as they walk down the aisle, Ash will be on the cusp of an exponentially expanding baby bump when the wedding takes place three weeks hence.
With the bride’s three month planning schedule contracting into three weeks, additional help is needed to stage this wedding before the bride starts experiencing contractions. Help arrives in the form of Natatorians, most of whom have never been out of their native waters. Most are eager to pitch in while some – like Ash’s biological mother – are simply nosey. There’s plenty to be done – building a honeymoon cottage is high on the list – and before too long, a sense or organized chaos takes hold. Now, if only the hired help would remember how to act and speak like humans.
Brenda’s genius for writing and imagery really comes to the fore at this point in the story and she has expertly crafted action which is readily visible in the mind’s eye. Fantasy writers will often place constraints on their characters to limit what they can or cannot do in various situations. Superman and Kryptonite are one such example. In the case of Brenda’s Natatorians, their Kryptonite is sunset – a time of day when they revert back to their natural fishiness. Throughout the Mer Tales series, the reader has been treated to scenes of Fin shredding his blue jeans and board shorts because he’s pushed the envelope just a little too much by talking to Ash on the phone longer than he ought to.
“I know we’ve had our issues, but I feel like this wedding has healed us. That by bringing Fin into our family, I finally understand you.”
Evermore sees Ash, the newly minted mermaid, run afoul of the setting sun. Fin has persuaded the Lanski family that Ash needs to go to her room and study every evening and once the door is closed, they are not to disturb her. Meanwhile, Ash will open her window, climb down a conveniently placed trellis, and dash for the lake in those last fleeting moments of daylight.
On one evening, Ash is caught out by a poignant scene with her mother where veils and wedding plans are discussed. Ash makes it to her room in time to close the door but not in time to slink down the trellis and she must spend the night in the bath tub. Of course, her bratty younger sister, Lucy, is no help at all. Such are the dangers of being a mermaid in the world Ms. Pandos has created.
It is against this reviewer’s policy to divulge details of the latter part of any story. The goal, of course, is to give the potential reader a taste of what is to be found within the story in the hope that they will want to buy a copy and learn the rest for themselves.
Rules are meant to be broken – or at least bent a little – and this reviewer will divulge two phrases that describe the action in the Evermore’s later chapters.
It’s now upon the reader to find out just what is meant by those phrases – preferably sooner rather than later.
Once again, Brenda Pandos has given us ample proof of her marvelous skills as a spinner of stories. Her memorable characters of Ash and Fin are guaranteed to find their way into the reader’s heart and stay with them for many years to come. It does not matter if the reader is in their Young Adult years or decades past that point, Brenda’s gift of Evermore will be a lasting treasure.
No doubt, many readers – including this reviewer – assumed Evermore was to be a last hurrah; a victory lap of sorts wherein all loose ends would be tied up and the beloved characters of this series would swim off into the sunset. Apparently, this is not the case as Ms. Pandos has asked her followers if they would like to read more about Ash and Fin. If Brenda Pandos can maintain the level of crisp, engaging story-telling demonstrated throughout her Mer Tales series, then the answer is a resounding, unequivocal, “YES!”
In the interest of full disclosure, I was provided an electronic copy of Evermore in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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
- I loved the rhythms in the narrative
- I loved the illustrations
- 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.
It goes without saying that I’m a big fan of mermaid tales. No, I’m not obsessive compulsive about them; you only need to see my pipe collection to understand the true meaning of the term OCD. I’ve found many of the YA (Young Adult) mermaid stories to be a LOT of fun.
It’s refreshing to be able to forget about being an (older) adult for a while and lose yourself in the much simpler problems of those much younger. (Just wait ‘till you have to start worrying about retirement & Medicare, kiddos!)
YA Author, Brenda Pandos has a new installment in her Mer Tales series titled, Evermore. I’m one of the lucky few who get to read this story in exchange for a fair and honest review to appear online no later than Nov. 23rd. That gives me 12 or 13 day window to finish the story and cobble a pithy review. Besides being posted on The Parsons’Rant, it’ll also appear on Goodreads.com, Amazon, B&N, and any other place I can post it.
Believe you me, I’ve been looking forward to this. In the meantime, I have another 3 chapters to review in what is rumoured to be the final, final, absolutely final edits of Urban Mermaid. I’ve got a fun, fun, fun week-end ahead of me.
While I’m on the subject of Urban Mermaid, Brenda Pandos, Derrolyn Anderson and several other authors will get a shout-out in the story. These mentions will be in the form of subtle references to their novels. Don’t blink or you’ll miss them! To find out for yourself, you’ll just have to buy a copy.
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!
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.