Reviews

Cover Art

Cover Art

 by Melissa Eskue Ousley

The second book in Melissa Ousley’s Young Adult Solas Beir series is as exciting as the first and leaves the reader wondering where things will go next. Her first book, Sign of the Throne ended with David Corbin installed as the new Solas Beir or ‘light bearer’ in his home world of Cai Terenmare. Although he was originally born  there as Artan, son of King Ardal and Queen Eulalia, he was abducted in infancy by his aunt Lucia and raised in the ordinary and indeed, mundane world which we all inhabit. A hallmark of stories in the Young Adult genre are plot lines wherein young people are suddenly thrust by the course of events into positions of power and responsibility and so it is with David. One day he is facing a pre-planned life of marrying the perfect girl for him and starting work well up the ladder in his father’s business and the next day he is suddenly the ruler of a parallel world.

David is not the only one who has had power thrust upon him. In Sign of the Throne, Abigale (Abby) Brown discovered that her way with dreams was more than an annoying nuisance which plagued her sleep. Since her escape into Cai Terenmare, she has discovered that there is a lot more to her abilities than was once thought. Coincidence or not, she and David have become quite interested in each other as well. There is one lingering question that is not resolved in The Rabbit and the Raven; how did a girl with such abilities wind up in the decidedly un-magical world we inhabit? An unfortunate by-product of the escape from our world into that of Cai Terenmare was the release of Tynan Tierny from imprisonment in the parallel world known as the Wasteland. Tierny was incarcerated in the Wasteland for commanding the assassination of David’s father and has now been sprung by Lucia. Tynan Tierny will – in one way or another – dominate the story of The Rabbit and the Raven as it unfolds.

Melissa Oussley’s narrative begins within hours of Sign of the Throne’s conclusion. Newport Beach, California is infested with Kruorumbrae and though Abby is relatively safe in Cai Terenmare, her parents back home are not. The Brown family are not alone in this, either. Jon Reyes, Abby’s childhood friend, escaped with Abby and David to Cai Terenmare and his mother, Blanca, is just as exposed as the Browns. Faced with this dilemma, David, Abby and Jon conduct a rescue sortie to Newport Beach and return not only with their families but Marisol Cassidy, a mutual acquaintance as well as a girl whom Jon rather fancies. There is a lot to learn now that everyone is – supposedly – safe in Cai Terenmare. Both David and Abby have much to learn about their newfound abilities. David’s kingdom is under threat and he will need to begin to pull things together and quickly. Abby’s power with dreams is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that she and David can arrange a rendezvous in their dreams. The curse is that the royal road to the subconscious is Tynan Tierny’s road to Abby’s mind. It will seem that Tierny knows quite a bit about Abby – perhaps more than is good for her – and he uses that knowledge in his attempts to undermine and control her.

Abby could feel the beast’s hot breath on her skin. Don’t show fear, she thought, planting her feet in a fighting stance and drawing herself up to look taller, brawnier. Look him straight in the eye. If you’re going to die, at least have a little dignity about it. She stared into his eyes and spoke his name: “Tierney.”

Not to be forgotten in all of this are the Kruorumbrae; the thoroughly evil stuff of which nightmares are made. These creatures can shift from one form to another and find humans to be rather tasty. Lacking human or animal flesh to consume, other Kruorumbrae will do nicely. Added to the threats facing Cai Terenmare is the fact that their numbers have rapidly increased and Tynan Tierny has promised them a feeding frenzy of their very own if they help him come to power. No place, not even our own mundane world, will be safe from them. It falls upon David to help repair a village suffering from the depredations of the Kruorumbrae – or is it something else? – and to gain the allegiance of the four Oracles who govern the peripheral territories of Cai Terenmare. The Oracle of the North is loyal to the Light and the post of the Western Oracle – once held by a particularly nasty siren – has been given to a more friendly creature of the sea, the mermaid Nerine. It is the Southern and Eastern Oracles who are the big unknown factors and neither lives within easy travel of Caislucis, the seat of the Solas Beir. David, Abby, Jon and Marisol will have to traverse a perilous rainforest and somehow cross the barren desert to reach the city of the Eastern Oracle.

“Well, David Corbin, you may be the Solas Beir, but you are just one man, and there are greater things at work here than you. Keeping me safe is not your job.” He stared at her, shocked. “It’s not? I kind of thought it was.” Abby put her hands on her hips. “Nope. Your job is to stand up for your people and to serve the Light. So is mine. At some point, we’ve got to trust that the light will prevail, even if it means we have losses of our own.”

With the publication of her second YA novel, Melissa Eskue Ousley effortlessly maintains the action and story flow that so well defined Sign of the Throne. She has extended her well-deserved reputation for storytelling, the rendition of that story into the exacting artistry of the printed page and it goes without saying that the plaudits accorded Ms. Ousley in the first installment of this series most definitely appertain to The Rabbit and the Raven. If she continues to follow the standards she has thus far set for herself and her writing to the third book of this series, The Sower Comes, Melissa Eskue Ousley will undoubtedly achieve a literary trifecta. The Rabbit and the Raven is an enthralling and exciting story for Young Adults. The central characters – David, Abby, Jon and Marisol – are heroic, each in their own way and while there may not be a Cai Terenmare connected to our own mundane world, it is nonetheless a fascinating place to visit via the written word. The reader will find themselves caring about what may befall them throughout the course of the story and nurture the hope that all of this will somehow work out for each of them in the end. Melissa Eskue Ousley continues to follow the benchmark of quality writing she set in Sign of the Throne and it is hoped that this reviewer will hear more from her once this series so stories is complete.

In the interest of full disclosure, the reviewer was provided with an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

My Rating:

Melissa’s website may be found at melissaeskueousley.com/

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Cover Art for Urchin

Cover Art for Urchin

by S.K. Munt

When the Australian author, S.K. Munt, burst on to the literary scene in the spring of 2013 with her book, The Marked Ones, she ushered in a fresh take on mermaid stories for adults. Once considered to be the stuff of children’s stories and Young Adult paranormal romances, the mermaid story suddenly became more sophisticated and well … interesting. No undersea warriors in hand-to-hand combat with monsters. No running battles between mermen and humans. No kings and … OK, there is royalty involved but it would not be a fairy tale without some royalty, would it? Aside from the royals, most of the characters were relatively ordinary merfolk, trying to make a living, trying to protect the environment and trying to hide the fact that their normal lifespans were measured in centuries. Oh and there is one other thing; the ladies have the upper hand.

The Marked Ones was followed in succession by Three Rings and Heads or Tails and S.K. Munt gained a loyal following that spanned the globe. When the last word on the last page of the third novel was written, readers assumed that Ms. Munt had finished with her saga and the characters would now live happily ever after . . . or not. Fortunately for her fans, she had more stories waiting to be told and Urchin is one of those as well as her first foray into the Young Adult genre. While much of The Fairytail Saga’s pre-history was described or intimated in one way or another throughout the series, there were still plenty of questions that wanted answering.

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned   The Mourning Bride (1697) by William Congreve

Urchin starts at the very beginning of S.K.’s world and tells the tale of Anna L’Autienne, an 11th century peasant girl living in Perle Des Bois, a remote town in Brittany. Anna has not had an easy go of it. Her father is an alcoholic sea captain whose way of parenting is not to be emulated. She has 3 older brothers, one of them adopted, and three younger brothers – triplets. Anna is the lone female in her father’s house as her mother died in childbirth –  perhaps escaped is the better word for it – and is as low in the family pecking order as can be. Aside from her duties as cook, maid and punching bag for her adopted brother, Anna is a practicing apothecary, dispensing herbal remedies to all and sundry. She has saved almost enough to buy a one-way passage to Italy and with a little more time she should have enough.

Unfortunately, time is not on her side. Her father arrives home from a twelve month voyage earlier than expected and though he makes a rough attempt at parenteral affection, nothing much has really changed … especially his thirst for ale. Though she is a peasant, Anna does have friends in high places – the son and daughter of the local baron – and it is the latter who sends the Prince du Sang her way in search of relief for his frequent migraines. As it so often happens in fairy tales, the Prince is instantly smitten – smitten and besotted – with Anna and wants to marry her. She harbours no such desire – having seen firsthand the woman’s lot in life – and indeed, has vowed never to marry. The Prince – on the cusp of turning 18 – sees things differently and his parents – ever eager to see to their son’s happiness – are inclined to accede to his wishes even if the Queen sees Anna as a gold-digging, social climbing guttersnipe. Anna’s less than adoring father connives to put his less than appreciated daughter in the best possible light. The king and queen are more interested in her fecundity and when her father reveals the propensity on both the paternal and maternal sides of Anna’s family to produce male children – lots and lots of males – she is looked at in a wholly  different light. A deal is done and Anna is to become the future queen in in a few days’ time.

I wished I hadn’t had to take his name, but I allowed myself to take a little comfort from not being branded with my father’s name anymore. But why should I bear the name of the man who had taken responsibility for me at all?

And that is exactly what happens. Her final chance at escaping to Italy is thwarted, Anna quickly becomes Princess Anna L’Court and her handsome prince quickly claims what is his by right. Anna’s freedom, childhood and innocence are gone in less than a day. It should be mentioned that at this point in the story, her prince is really not a bad person but merely a weak and spoiled young man, rather used to getting what he wants and who is disappointed that his new wife does not instantly love him the way that he instantly loved her. Nonetheless, his blandishments continue and Princess Anna falls pregnant within the month … with twins … both of them girls. Within a year, the prince has ascended the throne and Anna has fallen pregnant once again … with a girl once again. The only positive thing that may be said for this point in time is that Anna has at long last fallen in love with her prince and they are happy together … at least for a while.

Let it never be said that the nobility loves to see someone from the bottom rungs climb to their level or even higher. Through no fault of her own, Anna has made enemies along the way; all the young ladies who wanted to have a go at the prince are now jealous young ladies and the principle that no good deed goes unpunished has entered from stage left. Her skills as a healer has led to charges of witchcraft and Princess Anna is hustled off to a remote island – without her daughters – to hide until the prince can collect the necessary evidence to disprove the charges. Although Anna’s seclusion is only intended to last a relatively few weeks, those weeks turn into months and her prince comes to visit less and less frequently. On his final visit – just before Anna is due to deliver – he attempts to drown her but Anna doesn’t drown. Something else happens.

Urchin, is told through a narrative written by Anna L’Court nearly seven centuries after the fact and buried on the same desolate island that she lived upon for the duration of her second pregnancy. Anna’s great grandchild, Ivyanne – Queen Ivyanne – has searched for this record of her great-grandmother’s beginnings in the hope of finding answers; answers to how things really began, answers to a question she must deal with in the future.

She wanted to swim, desperately-needed to feel the thump of her tail against the waves-but she had more important matters to deal with first; Silencing the only human man who knew the story.

It often falls within the reviewer’s province to advise the prospective reader as to whether they should or should not buy and read the subject of the review. It has fallen to this reviewer to do likewise but to also include a caveat. If your tastes in literature include mermaids, the middle ages, S.K. Munt’s Fairytail Saga, or wronged women on a rampage, then by all means read Urchin as soon as possible. If your literary tastes include a stonking good Young Adult paranormal romance, then this book is for you. If you are simply looking for a good read, then you should consider giving Urchin a go.

Urchin is suitable for older Young Adults, New Adults and above. Middle range and younger readers may find some of the imagery in this book to be disturbing.

As mentioned above, this reviewer’s advice comes with a caveat. Simply put, prospective readers should  bear in mind that in reading Urchin, no heart will remain unmoved and that no soul will remain unstirred. Ms. Munt is an author of no mean talent and she has admirably exercised her gift of spinning stories once again. Those who follow ascendant authors will do well to take note of her as this is her fourth literary outing and S.K. has again delivered what most readers – Young Adult and older- look for in a story; A riveting and entertaining tale that both satisfies and yet leaves them wanting more. All good things must come to an end sooner or later and The Fairytail Saga is no different but things are not quite done with.  The fourth installment, Stained Glass, is presently scheduled for release in April of 2014.

It is standard practice for reviewers to give some sort of rating for a particular book. The most common form is to award the book one to five stars or in the case of The Parsons’ Rant, one to five pipes. It is here that such rating systems fall short, for in the case of S.K. Munt’s Urchin, five stars are not enough and the author must content herself with what is available.

In the interest of full disclosure, the author provided an Advance Review Copy (ARC) in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Follow S.K. Munt on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/skmuntor on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7159848.S_K_Munt/blog

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Cover art for Keeping Merminia

Cover art for Keeping Merminia

by Emm Cole
We are all familiar with the old conversational chestnut that “something” is going to be a tough act to follow. We have all seen examples of that pronouncement ringing true. When this reviewer learned that Emm Cole was working on a sequel to Merminia, he said the same thing to his faithful cat, Rankin, who was sleeping behind his PC monitor at the time. Today, as Rankin sleeps behind the monitor once more, this reviewer is pleased to say that Emm Cole has more than successfully followed her own “tough act” with her sequel, Keeping Merminia.

In Merminian pre-history, two princes fought an ever-widening war over their late father’s estate. Adessia, daughter of one of the warring brothers, implored them to end their fratricidal war but to no avail. Desperate to end the conflict that swept up innocent commoners in what was a simple dispute over what had been bequeathed to each son, Adessia created a ring from tokens gifted by her father and uncle and then threw it and herself into the sea as a sacrificial offering to the fates that controlled the world. The fates complied and the armies of Adessia’s father were engulfed by the sea and transmogrified as merfolk. Although, they had gotten the better part of the bargain, the merfolk devolved into warring clans, all the while searching for the ring of Adessia and the ultimate power it gave to it’s possessor. In the concluding pages of Merminia, Ulric, of the Litiant clan obtains the ring and invades the land in what is essentially a continuation of the original conflict.

In Keeping Merminia, Ulric has taken over the land-based kingdom and changed its environment to suit himself and his Litiant followers. They are here to stay and the sea has suffered for it. Food becomes scarce while more and more merfolk, Merminians as well as the neighbouring Julgrenians give up the sea in the hope of surviving on land even though this change of venue robs them of their scales and their powers. Things are becoming dire and it falls to
Selinne, leader of the Merminians, to act; to end the turmoil and chaos that is affecting her clan and her beloved sea.

In the back of my mind, I recognize what I’m supposed to do next. I remember my dream. I can hear my dead father’s message on repeat. The fates want you to take the ring back from Ulric, he said.

Even with the ocean crying out, even as the bravest mermen flee from the waves—I hesitate. I can’t imagine the horror of being without my tail. How can I leave my home? If I do manage to stop Ulric, will there even be a home left to come back to?

And so, Selinne and Arimis, her protector, embark on a perilous quest to leave the sea behind and stop Ulric at any cost. They are not alone on this journey as they are accompanied by Gabriel, the Litiant who was Selinne’s first love, and Walter, the parentless 9 year-old child who saw Ulric first come ashore near the south coast fishing village. Their guide on this journey will be Yuri, an odiferous, drunken ale trader.

It is at this point that your reviewer dates himself by comparing the party’s perilous journey to that taken by the commando team in the 1957 movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai. The task of the commando team was to destroy the Japanese railway bridge. The task of Selinne’s party is to destroy Ulric. In both cases, the overland journey is long and arduous. The commandos will have to deal with Japanese patrols while Selinne’s party will have to deal with wild beasts and enchanted beings that pose an even greater threat than the patrols. There are hardships and wounds. As the movie-goer wondered if the commandos would reach the bridge in time, the reader wonders if Selinne and her followers will arrive in time to end Ulric and take back Adessa’s ring.
As one might imagine, an overland journey is not easy on those whose usual method of travel is in and through the water. Emm Cole brilliantly articulates the sense of loss and separation from the sea experienced not only by Selinne but by other merfolk – both Merminian and Litiant – as well. This longing is best expressed by Zara, the wife of Ulric.

Her hands dip into the pond. She traces the surface, making the water curl under her fingertips. “I miss the salt of the ocean soaking into my fins. I miss the way the current rocked me to sleep. I think about the freedom of somersaulting through a lit haze of jellyfish. I’m scared I’ll forget how the morning tide sifted sunlight. I’m lost in this place. I hate not being able to float, Ulric. These weighted legs make me feel like I’m constantly sinking to the ground.”

Aramis is Selinne’s long-time body-guard and unrequited lover. He will strike up an easy-going relationship with Gabriel even though they were once sworn enemies and had both sought her affections. Although Gabriel was her first love and Aramis was treated more like a long-term close friend by her, the reader will see the tide shift from Gabriel to Aramis. Gabriel is meant for other things and though he loves Selinne like no other mermaid, he understands that the tide is turning and must turn in Aramis’ favour.

You captured my heart because you weren’t afraid to look Merconius in the eye when his trident was at your neck. I’d never had that kind of confidence in front of him before. I adored you because you insisted on being yourself for better or worse. You refused to accept his judgments. I’d give anything to go back—to tell him that I didn’t need his acceptance and love if it came with conditions. I want to believe you’re still that fiery soul—the one who wasn’t twisted by him. I want to trust that this hideous war hasn’t changed you like it has changed Ulric. But if you’re going to let your fear of what the fates might do—or how I might feel about it stop you from going after Aramis—”

Most of Keeping Merminia takes place on dry land rather than in the sea and while this reviewer had potential reservations about mer-fiction where the venue was dry land rather than salt water, Emm Cole has indeed made it work and work very well. Ms Cole is an author of no mean talent and it shows in every word, sentence, and paragraph of this story. Emm Cole has accomplished something very special here and this reviewer is eager to what she will bring to future works The only adjective that is adequate for Keeping Merminia is Brilliant.

Regrettably, this story is most likely the last that readers will hear of Merminia. Emm Cole has no plans to extend the series and has turned her considerable talents towards other projects. Though her fans will miss additional stories from the hidden gardens of Merminia, they will nonetheless be grateful for the time she has taken to build and share this underwater world with them. If this is the first you have heard about Merminia, then do not read this story and expect to somehow fill in the gaps. The story of the Merminian world is much too complex and enthralling to be absorbed and understood in one go. Read Merminia first before embarking upon Keeping Merminia. Getting caught up in Emm Cole’s underwater world is perhaps one of the best things that a reader can do.

My Rating:

Emm Cole’s website may be found at emmcole.com

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Son of a Mermaid Cover Art

Son of a Mermaid Cover Art

by Katie O’Sullivan

Most of us are familiar in some way with the ballet, Swan Lake; lots of female dancers in white and a couple of token male dancers. In 1995, Matthew Bourne launched his own adaptation in which the female corps de ballet is replaced by male dancers and the focus is shifted away from Odette and towards Prince Siegfried. Since its debut, this ballet has not been off the stage – somewhere in the world – for more than a few months and was the longest running ballet on Broadway and London’s West End.

Katie O’Sullivan’s Son of a Mermaid is like Bourne’s adaptation in that the central character is male and it follows in the footsteps of Zoraida Cordova’s Vicious Deep series. Although both books share elements of similar themes found in female focused Mer-fiction, they provide a refreshing take on an oft told story and it is hoped that Young Adult males as well as the traditional female audience will enjoy both of these stories.  Whereas Zoraida Cordova’s series is definitely geared more towards the upper end of the YA age range, Katie O’Sullivan’s Son of a Mermaid serves the lower end of the range quite ably.

Shea MacNamara keeps losing members of his family. His mother left when Shea was a baby, his Uncle and Grandfather lost their lives when a rogue wave hit their fishing boat off of Cape Cod and most recently his father was swept away in a tornado that struck the family farm in Plainville, Oklahoma on the eve of Shea’s  15th birthday. Indeed, the only remaining relative is his paternal grandmother, Martha, whom he has never met. Martha MacNamara arrives in the days after Shea loses his father to take him “home” to Cape Cod, a place to which he has never been. While Oklahoma was almost as far away from the ocean as one could be,  the shores of the Cape were as close  to the ocean as one could be without actually being in it. However, in the ocean is one place that he has been told not to go. It’s just as well since Shea’s father, Tom, was never keen on his being in the water or learning to swim.

While Shea is homesick for his friends and school back in Oklahoma, living with his grandmother does have one benefit as he is finally able to learn something about his mother. Tom MacNamara was silent on that subject and asking questions about his mother had been a no-go area for all of Shea’s 15 years. Rather than dying in childbirth or abandoning Shea and his father entirely, his mother is still very much alive and his parents have kept in touch over the years. There is so much more to learn but the answers will be slow in coming. The biggest question Shea has is “Why?”

To pass the time, Shea walks up and down the beach with the family dog every morning to collect the detritus of human life that finds itself upon the sand, either en route to or returning from the ocean. While he is pondering “why” and “how”, Shea is being watched.

Hiding amidst the waves, she’d watched him walk the length of the beach and back again, gathering up the debris that’d become all too common along the shoreline. Something about him fascinated her.

She wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers at the beach. That was a hard and fast rule that she’d only broken once before. But those had been girls, and they’d been much younger. This was a boy…and a cute one at that.

The girl’s name is Kae and Shea will meet her on occasion as the days go by. She is something of an oddity as Kae doesn’t seem to understand the basics of life like wearing blue jeans or riding a bicycle. Another oddity is added to his life in the form of Hailey Thompson, a 13 year-old  transplant from New York City with a voracious appetite and a penchant for rapid fire questions and pronouncements. Stir in a helping of quirky neighbours and Shea has an interesting  summer ahead of him. This includes things like taking Hailey fishing – or rather, Shea going fishing with Hailey tagging along. Thanks to Hailey, Shea winds up tumbling off the dock and like a stone, sinking to the bottom where he discovers – after some anxiety — that he can breathe water. It appears that there are indeed some things about which he needs to learn.

It is Kae who becomes his teacher and she tells Shea who and what he really is. He is a merman and the son of Princess Brynnelania. At some point in their lives, most young boys dream of being able to rescue their mom from something or other and Shea is presented with the perfect opportunity. His mother is being coerced into an arranged marriage for political reasons and the fact that her prospective fiancé is only 6 years old makes her situation even worse. Though Shea himself is only 15 years old, he intends to do something about the situation and getting from the shore to the King’s Summer palace requires a different form of locomotion than he is used to. Kae shows him how easy it is by rubbing a special stone and repeating some special words.

Having never even been in the ocean before, or any large body of water for that matter, each new sensation amazed Shea. Every new sight, every new smell, every different texture that he reached out to run his fingers across. Everything was so completely different than anything he’d ever imagined.

Each nuance of his new appendage, the shimmering tail that was suddenly a part of him, continued to fascinate and distract him. All five of his senses threatened to overload from the sheer pleasure of the cool ocean current caressing his body. He felt like the ocean was running its fingers through his hair, welcoming him home. He wondered if he’d ever be able to get used to the feeling enough to ignore it completely.

Son of a Mermaid is a fun and enjoyable story and Katie O’Sullivan has done an outstanding job in bringing Shea MacNamara’s  story to life.  There is mystery and adventure in this tale of tails as well as enough young romance to interest YA girls. The romance will probably also interest YA boys as well though they most likely will not admit it. Although Shea does play the hero in this story, MS O’Sullivan has definitely included Kae in the action and this rescue against all odds in not a one mer-man show. Katie also artfully educates the reader concerning the growing problem of trash that both intentionally and unintentionally finds its way into our planet’s oceans.

By the end of the story, readers will want to know what happens next as there are some questions left unanswered. Fortunately for everyone – and that includes this reviewer – Katie O’Sullivan has planned more books in the series, the first of which is due in the Spring of next year (2014). Do not let the fact that her exciting and mysterious coming of age story is aimed at the younger YA market put you off. Among other things, reading should provide a fun and entertaining escape from the mundane experiences of everyday life. Son of a Mermaid provides exactly such an escape and this reviewer believes that anyone interested in mer-fiction will enjoy losing themselves in this story.

My Rating:

Katie O’Sullivan’s website is at katie-osullivan.com and her Blog may be found at http://katieosullivan.blogspot.com

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Cover Art

Cover Art

by S.K. Munt

GORDIAN KNOT: The Gordian Knot is a legend of Phrygian Gordium associated with Alexander the Great. It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem (disentangling an “impossible” knot) solved easily by cheating or “thinking outside the box” (“cutting the Gordian knot”). – Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Thunderdome. Two men enter, one man leaves.

The long-suffering Lincoln Grey is back to being a second-class citizen again. After Tristan’s untimely death, Lincoln stepped up and became the fiancé of Ivyanne Court. Things were finally starting to work out and it looked like he would marry the love of his life when the unthinkable happened. Tristan Loveridge came back from the presumed dead on the night of the engagement party. Link could already see things starting to slip as one more round of plaudits were added to the Loveridge legend. Things went from bad to worse when Ardhi killed Ivyanne’s parents forcing the mantle of leadership upon her about a hundred years too soon and then hit rock bottom when Ivyanne broke the engagement in order to prevent  Lincoln from becoming a target for the mad mystic merman, Ardhi. Tristan Loveridge is now back in the running and nothing is guaranteed for either suitor.

Heads or Tails opens in the aftermath of her parents’ murder and Ivyanne is struggling to find at least some semblance of safety. She is the only heir to the throne and if she should fall victim to Ardhi’s madness then all continuity will be lost and the fragile kingdom will be in serious trouble. Ivyanne closes up her parent’s home on Bracken Island and relocates to a more defensible house on the mainland. Garridan, her head of security, has suggested a guard be formed for her protection and suddenly, the two rivals for her hand find themselves sharing the same roof with a queen who is struggling to come to terms with the responsibilities that have suddenly been thrust upon her.

Tristan is the same old Tristan or so it would seem. He’s  in Sydney trying to repair the damage to his company caused by his absence and presumed demise when he is called to spend a couple of days in Ivyanne’s new home. In The Marked Ones and, to some degree, Three Rings, Tristan Loveridge has appeared to be the sort of devil-may-care kind of guy who would simply move on to other conquests if he was unable to claim Ivyanne’s hand.  In Heads or Tails, S.K. Munt has painted him with more vulnerability and the reader can easily see that he will be hurt if he does not persevere.

Tristan was in love with her. Really and actually in love with her. Lincoln had doubted before but he didn’t now. The guy was on the level, and as vulnerable as Lincoln himself.

Meanwhile, back at The Seaview, Lincoln is trying to keep the resort afloat and adjust to not only being Mer but being a demoted Mer at that. The verbal sparring between he and Tristan will resume and Lincoln will have to keep up. Tristan will continue to hold over his head the fact that Lincoln is alive only because he saved him from drowning in The Marked Ones and took a knife wound for his troubles. To be sure, Lincoln will get his digs in and even gain some ground with Ivyanne, but he will continue to be wrong-footed by Tristan.

Tristan grimaced, feeling a trace of guilt. When it came down to it-Lincoln really was a hard luck case. He’d finally gotten a ring on the finger of the girl of his dreams only to have her take it off the night of the celebration. The fact that Tristan had kissed her in that damn closet during the party made him feel like a heel.

The cast of characters in Heads or Tails is augmented by the Ms Munt’s promotion of Grace Londeree from her cameo role in Three Rings to a full supporting role in this story. Grace is the niece of Tristan Loveridge and, in many ways, an 18-year-old feminine version of him. Both are achingly beautiful and both won’t stop until they get what they want. For Grace, her want is Lincoln Grey and the fact that she is more mature than a number of the characters in this drama makes her quest all the more interesting. Will she ultimately succeed and will Lincoln ultimately succumb or is Grace simply a teen-aged flirt enthralled by the hottest man on the planet?

Through her extraordinary gifts for story-telling and writing compelling dialogue, S.K. Munt has created the perfect Gordian Knot with the third book in her Fairytail Saga, Heads or Tails. Solving this twisting tail of love, desire and royalty will definitely require that one think outside the box; way outside the box. While some may argue that this is simply the same old romantic triangle with scales, it is so much more and though the question of whom Ivyanne chooses will finally be solved, Ms. Munt seems to have laid the ground work for a fourth book in the series. This is in addition to the YA prequel that she is already at work upon.

To be sure, S.K. Munt keeps  the pot bubbling in Heads or Tails and the reader is kept off-balance and one step behind in divining the final outcome. When one factors in the uncertainty of how, when and where Ardhi will choose to strike along with the heartbreak that is certain to befall at least one of the suitors, you have a dark and suspenseful novel that is difficult to put down. If this is the first that you have heard of The Fairytail Saga,  by all means, go and read The Marked Ones and Three Rings first. The reader will know firsthand the kind of story that S.K. Munt is capable of spinning. If, however, the reader is familiar the first two books, this reviewer strongly suggests that one find a comfy chair or sofa, a bit of something to eat, a few tissues and prepare to submerge themselves in this story. While some readers might not like how Heads of Tails ends, the story is so well told that one simply has almost no choice but to like it. Though some readers may find that romantic triangles are overdone, sometimes it is not so much the story as how the story is told.

There is a bright spot in all of this. Those readers who have followed the entire series will remember Remi, the red-headed barmaid at The Seaview resort. Remi is a mermaid married to a human man for the past 10 years. Mixed marriages usually don’t go beyond a decade and a half because the human partner will inevitably notice that their spouse has appeared to age little, if at all, and in order to protect the secret the spouse will have to disappear . . . no matter how much they may love their human. The only way that the human may enter the Mer world is to be “Turned” by another Mer. Except for the occasional individual who is gifted with the ability to “Turn” at will, this act is fatal to the Mer. Ardhi  is the only one currently known to have this ability and he has gone mental.

There’s tension in Remi’s marriage as she doesn’t want children due to having to leave so soon. Her husband, Michael, knows nothing of what his wife is really facing and has begun drinking more than is good for him. It’s a busy evening at The Seaview and Michael has had too much and wandered off. Lincoln goes in search of him only to find Michael mostly drowned in the resort’s pool. Lincoln revives him but Michael’s life won’t ever be the same. Lincoln has discovered that he can turn humans and live to tell the tail. Remi has her marriage back and Lincoln’s a hero. Will his new-found gift help him in his quest to become Ivyanne’s husband? This reviewer is honour-bound to not spill the beans.

For those who crave at least one little nugget as to how Heads or Tails ends, this reviewer will allow one minor revelation. One of Ivyanne’s first acts as queen is to offer a Knighthood to the person who can take Ardhi down. There is no “winner-take-all” in this story. For he who obtains this rare honour, this reviewer would like to pass on the following bit of advice from a another Knight:

No, you can’t always get what you want
No, you can’t always get what you want
No, you can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need – Sir Mick Jagger

My Rating:

In the interest of full disclosure, an ARC was provided by the author in exchange for a full and honest review. (Which she would have received anyway!)

Follow S.K. Munt on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/skmunt?ref=br_tf or on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7159848.S_K_Munt/blog
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Cover art.

Cover art.

by Marie McKean

In 1975, the American artist, Jamie Wyeth, created a painting called “And then deep into the gorge” which depicts a person driving a buggy led by a team of two white horses. The buggy leaves the dappled light of the forest behind as it proceeds down a road and turns to the viewer’s left – always a bad sign in paintings – into the leafy gathering gloom of darkness, a foreshadowing of what is to happen to the person driving the buggy.

This painting came to mind when I first saw the cover art for Marie McKean’s Born of Oak and Silver and that feel of it was certainly reinforced as I read more and more of her down right dark and creepy tale.  Wyeth’s creation portends the automobile accident that will severely cripple his wife. Such a tragedy would be the least of the troubles that Daine Caradoc Dalton will have to endure. We encounter him as a very young boy who has come under the tutelage of Bram Macardle, a trifle odd but generous neighbour of his parents who live outside of Strasbourg on France’s eastern border. Bram is something of a naturalist and takes the young Daine on rambles through the surrounding countryside and provides him with an early introduction to the natural world.  For his part, Daine has a yearning to go fishing like the other boys do and since his father is constantly at work on orders for bespoke furniture, Bram offers to act in loco parentis for piscatorial activities in exchange for seeing to Daine’s education. In effect Bram becomes Daine’s patron and rather than attend a regular school, Bram will personally tutor the boy.

And then deep into the gorge

And then deep into the gorge

The education that Daine receives is unlike any other boy in the neighbourhood will have. Bram Macardle is a Druid and what’s more, Daine is one of Druidic descent. Daine does not take this bit of news very well and wonders if his tutor is barking mad. Given a day to consider the direction for his life, Daine walks home, intending not to return, and wanders through the bounds that constrain Maurelle, a subordinate member of the Sidhe Royal Court. The Sidhe are the faery people of Irish folklore and in Born of Oak and Silver, they are not of the variety that may be found living at the bottom of the garden. The Sidhe Royal Court are intent on making our world theirs and are, in and of themselves, nasty pieces of work. Even though Maurelle is pretty low in the Royal pecking order, she is nonetheless not one to be trifled with.

Daine survives his encounter with Maurelle and considers that Bram Macardle may not be off his nut after all. That Maurelle has designs on him – and not in a nice way – is impetus enough to convince Daine to train to be a full-fledged Druid.  Reviewer’s Note – There are an estimated 50,000 neo-Druids in the world. 30,000 of them are in North America.

When Daine is 17, Bram proposes to take him to Ireland in order to complete his education. Though his parents are sorry to see their son leave the nest, this opportunity for him to travel and become a man of the world is too important for him to pass up. And so, Daine Caradoc Dalton says good-bye to his parents and the only home he has ever known.

I couldn’t help but feel a deep sadness at the imminent departure of my childhood, and the constant presence of both my mother and father. And though I fought to hide it, at seeing my mother and father both attempting to act so bravely for my benefit, but failing to hide the tears that now escaped both of their eyes, I too allowed myself to fully mourn the passage of what once was.

The train began to move slowly forward.

I raised my right hand, and planted it spread on the window pane beside my face. My parents both raised their hands in farewell.

I watched them fade away until I could no longer see them on the quay huddled together and waving. When all signs of them were gone, I leaned back and drew my hat down over my face feigning sleep. The hat my father had just given me conveniently hid the flood of tears that now coursed down my face.

Marie McKean has a wonderful and amazing gift for descriptive writing. The passage about Daine leaving his home and parents behind becomes even more poignant  when the reader later discovers that this moment is the last time that he will ever see them alive. There are more scenes  in which you not only see the action but feel  like you are in the scene itself and Marie has chosen to begin her tale with a sterling example of her abilities.

Today has been just another hot and stickily humid day in a seemingly endless string of many. Neither night nor day has offered any relief from the oppressive heat. Even the nonchalant insects seem to be overly burdened by the tyrannical sun. Not that there is anything noteworthy about this during the summer months. In Mississippi, it has always been this way.

The sun has just begun to set, splaying a soft pink glow between the darkening thunderclouds in the distance. The air is thick with an imminent promise of heavy rain. Sparrows exude an unspoken urgency as they quickly skim and dart in the skies, looking to make a quick meal out of the mosquitoes that hover unconcernedly amid the southern dusk. Thunder rumbles threateningly somewhere along the horizon, and a welcomed breeze that was not there a moment ago, suddenly picks up.

You can feel the flies starting to bite in advance of the  approaching storm. The first impulse of this reviewer was to stop after page 4 and simply review Chapter One but Ms. McKean’s writing style calls the reader on to experience more. If this reviewer was fortunate enough to teach a course in creative writing, Chapter One would be presented as an outstanding example of what a writer is capable of doing and, yes, it would be on the final exam.

Marie’s characters are crafted with the same extraordinary care. For example, Daine is a latter day Job who does not lose all in a day, but rather, loses the people he loves – one by one – as the story unfolds. He is a Druid of untapped power and potential but despite all this, he seems powerless to stop the darkness and tragedy hurled at him by Maurelle and the forces she represents.  The most bitter losses are saved for the last.

Another example is Daine’s mother, Carine Dalton. We see her not as a mere secondary character in a story but as a real life flesh and blood mother. The love and concern she shows for her son is most palpable and extends beyond the grave. This reviewer intends to use Carine as an example when he develops his own characters. Bram Macardle, Daine’s father, Bram’s grand-daughters, Maurelle herself; the list could – and does – go on and on.

Born of Oak and Silver fills a void in fantasy subjects as Druidry has received scant attention. This story may well become the “gold standard” for other authors who chose Druids as a theme for their stories. But Ms. McKean’s story is about so much more; Deciet, Betrayal, Evil, Perseverance , Heroism, Sacrifice and unending Love are  all to be found between the opening sentences of Chapter one and the final words of Chapter Twenty Three. To that list, one may add Frustration as the sequel, Born of Ash and Iron, is not due to release until October of 2014.

Sometimes, the greatest accolade comes not from a reviewer but from a fellow author. Emm Cole, author of the Merminia series has declared Born of Oak and Silver to be her favourite indie book of the year. It is easy to see why. In the final analysis, it is left to you, the reader, to make the ultimate decision. Born of Oak and Silver is not for the faint of heart nor is it for the casual reader in the fantasy genre. By all means ,do take the time to purchase and read Marie McKean’s novel. The journey is well worth it. This reviewer is expecting great things to come from her future efforts and is eager to see what else is to pour forth from her keyboard.

My Rating:

Marie McKean’s website is at mariemckean.com

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Cover art

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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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by Melissa Eskue Ousley

Sometimes, things come between you and your sister. Sometimes, she takes up with a mortal enemy. Sometimes, she steals your child from his cradle. Rather than spiriting the child away to some mountain hide-away or foreign strand, your sister takes him though a portal to a different world . . . known as Earth . . . and after destroying the portal, hides in the quaint seaside city of Newcastle Beach, CA. What’s a mother to do? Well, Queen Eulalia of Cai Terenmare does know what to do and thus follows her sister, Lucia, through a second portal between the worlds. Lucia, however, has planned for this eventuality and has booby-trapped the portal thus leaving Eulalia horribly disfigured, and stranded in the ruins of a house, both unable to leave and unable to reach her child.

So begins, Melissa Eskue Ousley’s new book, Sign of the Throne, taking the reader on a breathless roller-coaster ride that spans two worlds. This adventure begins on Cai Terenmare, a parallel world to our Earth that is filled with – of course – magic, shape-shifters, mythological creatures and some pretty blood-thirsty monsters. There are and have been some of the same sorts of creatures here on earth and their numbers will only increase if Queen Eulalia cannot find her son and take him home before his 23rd birthday.

While David Corbin is a prince in his home world, he leads a somewhat similar life in ours. Left on the doorstep of a childless well-to-to couple, he is raised by them and grows up as a sort of an American prince with his life, career and future spouse all planned out for him. The trouble is, David is not exactly enthusiastic about his future and he becomes even less enthusiastic when he meets Abby Brown.

Abby’s life is far from that of David. She is a somewhat introverted, wallflower type of person working as a cabana girl at the Newcastle Beach Inn. Her family is of modest means and she is working various jobs during her gap year to help pay for college. Abby is, however, unusual in that she is – to use a term from David’s home world – a c’aislinger or dream walker and may well be destined to be one of the greatest seers in Cai Terenmare’s recent history.

For his part, David is destined to be the Solas Beir – roughly translated as a “light bearer”; that is, of course, if he can return home before his 23rd birthday. In order to do that, he must make his way past his formidable Aunt Moira and the dark creatures – known as the Kruorumbrae— that are becoming weary of biding their time. In order to do this, he will need help from Abby . . . even if he doesn’t know that yet.

Portals, parallel worlds, monsters and kidnapped heirs are all part and parcel of Young Adult fantasy stories. It is not so much that a story contains these elements as it is what the author does with them. Melissa Ousley wields and shapes these elements with an almost preternatural ability that makes the process of writing appear to be an effortless exercise. In the following sample, a world-weary Queen Eulalia apprises Abby of their chances of success:

“I have been imprisoned here a long time, Abby. These years in your world have made me tired and weak. But I have learned a great many things in that time. One is that I should trust in my dreams, and I have seen that this time we will win. The other thing I have learned is that even when I was in my lowest, most desperate state in this place, the universe has provided for me. It is when things seem impossible that miracles happen.”

As with most Young Adult novels, there is an element of romance. The whole romantic angle in Sign of the Throne is very smartly written from an unusually mature point of view. In many YA novels, the whole execution of the romantic element seems to be rather gloppy like overly thick porridge. In Melissa Ousley’s novel however, there is something resembling a triangle but it is decidedly skewed to one side; at least in this first book of The Solas Beir Trilogy. David and Abby are mutually interested in each other and while Abby does have a friendly relationship with Jon, her former boy-friend, he is more of a dark horse in this book than anything else. There are still two books to go in this saga and there are sure to be complications and separations between David and Abby but, thus far, there is not the usual angst which, in and of itself, is quite refreshing.

In a novel of this scope, it is often a bit difficult to keep up with all the characters and remember exactly who or what so-and-so was. Ms. Ousley goes the extra mile in Sign of the Throne by providing a listing of the dramatis personæ, a glossary of places and terms and a map of Cai Terenmare; surely a help to a reader in absorbing the rich fantasy that Melissa has laid before them.

Sign of the Throne is Melissa Eskue Ousley’s debut novel and she is off to a brilliant start. The reader will find it hard to believe that she is not a more experienced writer, but there is nothing amateurish with this book. Sign of the Throne is an extremely well written story that is remarkable in its clarity of concept and execution. This reviewer firmly believes that it should serve as a landmark – both to aspiring authors of young adult fiction and to young adults, themselves. This is what outstanding writing both looks and reads like.

Kudos must also go to the editorial team at Castle Gardens Publications for providing an extremely clean read. While copious typos are the hallmark – and bane – of both self and much of commercial publishing, Gazebo Gardens Publishing — the parent of Castle Gardens — has demonstrated the distinct advantage that a good publishing house can give to a novel.

In the final analysis, Sign of the Throne is a book which stands head and shoulders above a considerable amount of current Young Adult fiction. Inasmuch as there is a lot of good Young Adult fiction out there at the moment, this is no small accomplishment. Even if Young Adult fantasy novels do not number amongst one’s favorite genres, this story is still well worth consideration. Given the intense reading experience provided by  Sign of the Throne, this reviewer can hardly wait for the next installment in this series.

In the interest of full disclosure, the reviewer was provided with an ARC – Advance Review Copy – by the publisher.

My Rating:

Read our interview with the author, Melissa Eskue Ousley.

Melissa’s website may be found at melissaeskueousley.com/

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