Young Adult

Chasing Destinyby M.Schaefer

Waiting for the 2nd installment in a book series is a lot like waiting for Summer vacation. You know they are both coming and in the case of summer vacation, you at least have a pretty good idea as to when it will begin. Books are subject to the vagaries of both writers and publishers.

Thus, when I heard the next book in M. Schaefer’s Destiny series was ready, there was much rejoicing. In preparation for my review of Schaefer’s Chasing Destiny, I opened her captivating story, Awaiting Destiny, in search of a few details and tidbits. I use the word ‘captivating’ because its sirenic qualities caused me to read the book once again.

The Story Thus Far

For those who may not be familiar with Awaiting Destiny, here’s a quick catch-you-up. Destiny Mariner is a 14-year-old girl living on her father’s sailboat at the Enchanted Cove Marina. Her mother has been missing – presumably at sea – for 14 years. Her father, Jacob Mariner, still keeps a candle burning in the window of his heart for his missing wife, Shellene. Destiny misses the mother she never knew but manages to assuage her loneliness by pitching in baseball games.

Acting on a letter delivered to her by persons unknown, Destiny steers the ship’s dinghy to a particular spot offshore and sets off on a journey of discovery where she finds:

  1. She’s actually a mermaid who can’t seem to get the tail bit working.
  2. A rather handsome merboy, named Kincade, who’s a few years older than she.
  3. Her mother is a princess which makes her, every young girl’s dream, a princess as well.
  4. That her mother has been, shall we say, indisposed for around 14 years. A reunion is imminent.

And that is all I’m going to tell you.

And now . . .

Two years later, when Chasing Destiny opens, we find Destiny still residing at the Enchanted Cove Marina, with her reunited parents, in as much pubescent bliss as any 15-year-old girl can expect. Her sixteenth birthday is just a few weeks off and with that comes the long-awaited driver’s licence. Oh yeah, there’s one other thing. She and Kincaid made a pledge to reunite by the time of her sixteenth birthday. They’ve been corresponding – by mermail, of course – every week, so she knows he’s still interested.

On this day, however, the mermailman brings her a not-so-nice letter from someone who is not Kincade; Queen Bali of Ameru – Kincade’s mother. It seems her son, who is traveling all the way from the Kingdom of Ameru[i] — against her wishes, of course – is missing, and she holds Destiny responsible. Our girl has until the next full moon to locate Kincade, or Queen Bali will rain all sorts of trouble on her grandfather’s kingdom.

There is not a moment to lose and the plucky girl is ready to go rescue Kincade. But first, Destiny needs a little more information. The best place for that is the local soothsayer who is conveniently located at the Mystique Boutique in town.

Nadja, the Greek fortune-teller, has been waiting for Destiny to come in and she agrees to help her, but at a price. In exchange for her help, Destiny must find Nadja’s long lost true love by the next full moon or all sorts of trouble will rain down on her. Obviously, the next full moon is going to be a busy one if things don’t go as they should.

And, She’s Off!

Having no choice but to accept, if she wants to rescue her own true love, Destiny accepts the offer. The fortune-teller gives Destiny some baffling portents. (Aren’t they always like that?) Thus prepared, it’s time for Destiny to put her golden tail in motion.

Their smiles held a thousand unspoken promises for the future. Destiny looked into his eyes and realized sharing moments like this made the risk of love worth it.

Destiny will embark on a harrowing journey across the sea to avoid being cursed, prevent catastrophe befalling her grandfather’s kingdom, and most importantly, rescue her one true love. If this is not empowering young girls, then this reviewer doesn’t know what is. Chasing Destiny is an exciting, enthralling adventure for both middle-school readers of the female persuasion as well as those at the lower end of the Young Adult range. (Mothers and Fathers take note; the holidays are on their way.)

Fathers have a way of making their daughters feel safe, no matter how old they are.

  1. Schaefer has modified her approach to telling this story from that used in Awaiting Destiny. Here, she alternates the focus in her narration between key characters. This means that part of her tale is focused on mermales, a sadly overlooked and under-represented class in stories like this. It also escalates the drama because the answer to the current crisis – and there are plenty of them in this story – is not always found at the start of the next chapter.

Chasing Destiny is also a very clean read with minimal typos, This means the reader gets to enjoy the story for itself rather than deal with editing blunders. Given the target audience is middle school and early high school, it is important that the necessity of good spelling and good grammar – this review excepted – are reinforced in young people.

As for the Future

What does Chasing Destiny portend for the future? Well, there are signs of a rapprochement between Destiny’s father, Jacob, and Shelleen’s father, Dolphinium, King of Mertopia. Destiny’s grandfather did not approve of the union.

Kincade’s mother, Queen Bali, certainly does not approve of his interest in Destiny. She is, after all, only a half-breed. There is good potential for conflict here. Will Kincade’s relationship with Destiny repeat that of her mother. Since he is Destiny’s one true love, it is obvious they will continue to show interest in each other. Only time and M. Schafer will tell us.

Recommendation

Chasing Destiny is an exciting and fun read that should be enjoyed by all who consider life as a mermaid to be an intriguing career choice. If you like mermaids – and merboys – then you must read this story. Those who are older, and bear the scars of dating and relationships gone wrong, will also enjoy M. Schafer’s story. Imagine, being only sixteen and finding your one true love.

I had dreams to backpack around the ocean, maybe meet an exotic, handsome merman to sweep me off my fins


[i] Ameru is located under the waters of the French Polynesian sea. Think of where Tahiti is and you’ll be fine.
My Rating:

Skipping The Scalesby Pete Tarsi

Some things just keep on getting better. Each of us can probably think of at least one item to which the preceding statement applies. This reviewer submits Pete Tarsi’s Flipping the Scales series is indeed, one of those things and it is wonderfully evidenced by the release of the second book in his series, Skipping the Scales.[1]

It is summer once again in New England and cousins Hailey and Jill, along with best friend Meredith, are now high school graduates with summer jobs. Meredith is an intern at a public aquarium while Jill spends her days as the facility’s costumed mascot. Hailey is working as an entertainer at kids’ birthday parties and loving every minute of it.

On the morning of the summer season’s first full moon, Hailey is up at dawn, hoping that her mermaid friends, Marina and Lorelei, will return for a visit even if it’s just for the day. She has been waiting on the morning of every full moon since the previous summer and it has been a disappointing year.

Once again, she is about to call it quits for the day when she hears her BFF – Best Friend with Fins – call her name. Marina has returned with Lorelei in tow. Rather than a one-day sightseeing trip, Marina has something else in mind.

In the world Mr. Tarsi has created for this series, merfolk have the ability to shuck their tails on the day of the full moon and walk amongst us. Their tails are an iridescent skirt-like garment which once removed, must be carefully hidden near the sea lest it fall into the wrong hands. Without it, they will be stranded on the shore, unable to return to their ocean home.

Now, one summer later, Marina has returned to begin the search for her mother who was apparently lost on land, eighteen years ago. This search will take at least a month and Marina wants Hailey to take care of her tail in the interim. Hailey will, therefore, get to fulfill her dream of dreams; the dream of becoming a real live mermaid, if only for a little while.

Although the Jill and Meredith have pledged to assist the search, their time is taken up with summer jobs. Marina will find that the search for her mother will proceed in fits and starts with dead-ends along the way.

Marina will also discover time and tide wait for no mermaid. The object of her brief summer romance has moved on to someone else. Jill’s brother, Jeff, made this move not because of disloyalty, but simply because he has not heard from Marina since the previous summer. Fear not, gentle reader, their romance is rekindled. It will be all the more interesting to see where Pete Tarsi takes this portion of the plot in future installments.

Although many of us would dearly love to trade in our legs for a tail and spend our lives in the sea, things beneath the waves are not always as nice as they may seem. In fact, there is something one might call ‘tail-ism’. Hailey learns a Mer’s place in life depends upon the colour of their tail. For example, those with green tails serve as scouts for the Mer school. Yellow tails harvest plankton for the school, while blue-tailed Mer are tasked with keeping predators away. The purple-tailed are at the top of the social order and the orange-tailed? They are very few and very far between.

Indeed, there is only one mermaid with an orange tail in the school – Marina. Her tail colour makes her something of a sport[2] in the school. A sport which the school’s tail-ist leader is determined to rid the ocean of. Early in the story, when mer-mad Hailey reveals her costume tail is orange rather than the anticipated pink, it is little wonder that Marina’s eyes fill with tears. She is no longer the only one. Someone wants to be like her.

It would be easy for some to dismiss Marina’s search for her mother as simply a Disney-esque plot device. After all, most Disney heroines have lost at least one parent and in some cases, both parents are missing. In Marina’s case, her quest is heartrending because of the barriers she must overcome. There is, of course, the alien elements of the surface world and its culture. There is so much she has yet to learn and understand, not least of which is the complexity of life above the waves.

Marina is indeed fortunate to have friends like Hailey, Meredith, Jill, and Lorelei.  Hailey might argue she herself is the truly fortunate one as she gets to be a mermaid for a month. It is these interactions between the characters which make Pete Tarsi’s story all the more charming.

A Wonderful Story

Simply put, Skipping the Scales is a sweet, smart, and poignant story that should touch the heart of any mermaid enthusiast. Age and/or gender is decidedly not a limiting factor regarding this story. There are those touching moments where the reader can easily feel the character’s sorrow, fear, or joy. When a story can make a reader, who is the diametric of the target audience, feel these things, it is the hallmark of a talented author.

It is little secret that this reviewer often views YA Mer-fiction as a vast wasteland littered with cliché-ridden stories. There are, of course, some novels which make the best of the seemingly inescapable mermaid clichés[3]. Otherwise, this reviewer feels he could easily be like Carnac the Magnificent, holding the novel to his forehead and describing the plot therein.

Nonetheless, there are authors today who can and do deliver something new, something fresh, something exciting. Pete Tarsi is one such author and his ‘Scales’ series is a shining example of what stories in this sub-genre could and should be. This reviewer doffs his cap in respect to Mister Tarsi and his accomplishment. We are not worthy.
My Rating:


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

[2] In Biology, people previously used the word “sport” to refer to abnormal specimens. The scientific usage is broader, referring to any organism differing from the type ordinarily found in nature.

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

I am currently rocketing through a 5 & ½ book series – the ½ book is a novella – which was categorized on Amazon as “Teen and Young Adult”. This caused a double-take as I had previously believed the ‘Young Adult” designation to be a polite term for “Teen Fiction”. It would appear that readership categories are built upon shifting sands.

Up to now, my understanding was that “Young Adult” (YA) covered the 13 to 17 years’ age range while the awkwardly named “New Adult” (NA) covered 18 to 25. Those readers younger than 13 were classed as Pre-teen, Juvenile, etc. The boundaries of YA are a bit wobbly as some mavens set the lower limit as 14 years whilst others set the upper limit as 18 years.

One possible reason for this inexactitude is that the 13 to 18 age range spans several levels of maturity. Given that boys are a year or two behind girls, with regard to maturation, it’s easy to see why the boundaries are a bit fuzzy.

The same holds true for the 18 to 25-year age range. Your understanding of life at 18, when you’re leaving high school and headed for college, is much different from that at 25 when you’re married and trying to hold down a job.

What’s more, the categories themselves are not universally adhered to. At the 2016 BookExpo/BookCon in Chicago, the manager of the IBPA booth was barely aware of the NA category and thus placed Urban Mermaid on the shelves for Juvenile books.  Based on this, any child receiving a copy for their birthday is in for a big surprise.

Just so everyone is straight on this, Urban Mermaid is for readers 18 and older. This does not mean the book is specifically aimed at the New Adult market. It is the author’s opinion that readers in the NA & Adult readership categories will relate to it more than YA readers. It was written in a style to attract the NA segment as well as older readers. Given that ISIS is regularly lopping off heads in the Syrian desert and the 2016 Presidential race makes you want to select “None of the above”, we could all use a simple, sweet, escapist kind of story.

Mer Tales # 4

Mer Tales # 4

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.

  • Heart-breaking
  • Heart-stopping

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.

My Rating:

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

Actually it was because

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

It seemed like a perfect trifecta to me!

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

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

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

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

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.

sower_comes by Melissa Eskue Ousley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pouraka Cover Art

Pouraka Cover Art

by Dianne Lynn Gardner

Nihil novi sub soleThere is nothing new under the sun. This Maxim from Ecclesiastes could certainly be said to hold true within the realm of mer-fiction as it is a ground which has been plowed many, many times. Plots involving vast undersea cities, sub-aquatic strife, sea-witches, battles with monsters and/or humans, unrequited love, and of course, the perennial favourite of a teen-aged girl/boy suddenly discovering that they are in actuality, a mermaid/merman. This is not to say that such stories boasting these plot-lines – or variants thereof – are dull-making or not worth reading. Indeed, they can be fun, exciting, thrilling, endearing, and a veritable fin-fest. Every once in a while, however, the devoted connoisseur of mer-fiction yearns for something new, something different.

All is not lost. Of late, there have been two mer-novels that have covered fresh territory and have proven to be quite enthralling. The first, Flippin’ The Scales by Pete Tarsi, has already been discussed by this reviewer. The second entry, Pouraka by Dianne Lynn Gardner, is the subject of this review and is undoubtedly a quite noteworthy book.

We poor, landlocked humans are inclined to think of mermaids – and mermen, of course – as living a wild and free existence in the oceans of the world, having the occasional dolphin sidekick with whom they pass the time of day and are happy and joyous 24 x 7. The world which Dianne Garner has created for this story is far different than the one of our imaginations. It is a world where merfolk are a hunted species under constant encroachment by humans, tourists, and oil rigs. The ocean waters that border the land are rapidly becoming an inhospitable place to abide, evocative of the book of Amos, 7:17. “ . . . your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided by line; and you shall die in a polluted land . . . “ Their dire situation invites the reader to apologise for being human.

Tas is a merman who can no longer remain silent or idly by while his clan slowly dwindles. They continue to be hunted by humans and first his beloved mother fell victim and now his older brother has been wounded by their harpoons. To spend another season where they presently are risks extinction for the entire group. His idea is to take the members of his clan – including the aged and the wounded – North where the hope of a better life – or even simply life itself – beckons.

Conditions are somewhat different for merfolk to the North where Barnacle Bay lies. The merfolk have, overall, a better life and their home cavern – called in the mer tongue, Pouraka – has long provided a comfortable home and although pollution has impacted their food supply to a certain degree, they are much better off than those who live to the South. One of their advantages is that they and their home are protected by the humans who reside in the town beside the bay.

Cora is one of Pouraka’s denizens and she is rather fond of the humans who live on the shores of barnacle bay. Though the magic of Pouraka’s waters, which are jealously guarded by the merfolk, Cora is able to leave the sea behind and walk amongst her shore-bound neighbours, not the least of whom is her best friend, Beth. While Cora is always quick to defend her human friends and protest that not everyone who walks on two legs is a threat to mer-kind, she is nonetheless somewhat naïve as to how the world above the water’s surface works.

Despite the initial impulse of some merfolk to turn away the refugees from the South, they are given shelter and in time, absorbed into the Pouraka colony. It is through this gift of sanctuary that Cora meets Tas and he soon begins to play an increasingly important role in Cora’s emotional life. Sadly, whatever respite the southern merfolk might have gained by seeing refuge in Pouraka is short lived. The northward progression of oil hungry humans continues bringing with it arrogance, death, greed and plunder. The merfolk may be able to run but they cannot hide and a time is fast approaching when hard choices will need to be made.

Dianne Lynn Gardner has woven a thoughtful and provocative story for young adults that is as much about the choices in life which we all must face as it is about scales, tails and survival below the surface. Through the eyes of the mermaid, Cora, readers will learn that life and the world in which we live is not always as simple as we would like to believe. There are two romances in MS Gardner’s story and before the final word on the final page, irrevocable choices will need to be made and each will result in a sundering. Readers – both young and old – will enjoy this story for the plot itself as well as the thought provoking questions which it presents.

Dianne Gardner is without a doubt one of those multi-talented people that those of us who fall into the realms of ‘ordinary’ and ‘really ordinary’ cannot help but envy. Aside from being an author, she is also an illustrator, oil painter and filmmaker. Pouraka is Dianne’s first real foray into the genre of mer-fiction and it is this reviewer’s considered opinion that she seriously contemplate one or more return visits. If she can maintain her fresh approach to the subject, MS Gardner will find a ready and enthusiastic audience.

My Rating:

Visit Dianne Lynn Gardner’s Website at gardnersart.com

Flipping The Scales

Flipping The Scales

by Pete Tarsi

Some of you just may remember that episode of The Smurfs where Smurfette put on these magical dancing shoes and then couldn’t get them off her feet and was forced to keep dancing and dancing. Well, that episode was based on The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson who also wrote The Little Mermaid. Since neither of these stories – as originally written – had the sort of Disneyesque ending that people prefer these days, we’ll end the comparison with Flipping the Scales by Pete Tarsi right here. Just hold on to that idea about Smurfette not being able to get those shoes off her feet for the next few paragraphs.

It is sunrise one morning and summer vacation is already two weeks old. At least it is for teen-aged human girls. However, the two girls coming ashore on an island beach are not human; at least not in the conventional sense. The girls are named Lorelei and Marina and they are mermaids looking to spend a day amongst the human population to enjoy all sorts of things like ice cream. At least Lorelei is – she’s done this before. Her companion isn’t so sure and would happily turn tail and head for deep water at that moment. In the world that Mr. Tarsi has created for this story, 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.

Lorelei has done this many times but Marina is a novice who is finally cajoled into hiding her tail and joining her best friend for a day of adventure. Marina is not the only teen-aged girl who has been cajoled into doing something she would rather not. Jill and her best friend Meredith are on their way to that very same island to spend three weeks with Jill’s cousin, Hailey, and her parents. Pete Tarsi doesn’t name the island in question but it’s OK to think of Block Island or Martha’s Vineyard if you like.

Meredith is an extremely bright young lady with two over-achieving parents. Her mother is no Princeton Mom and has thus lashed her daughter to a treadmill of no fun, no boys and no dating until she is well established in her career, some twelve or fifteen years hence; even longer if she decides to pursue one or more advanced degrees. Meredith is heavily into extracurricular activities and she is permitted to enjoy them as long as they serve to further burnish her high school transcript. With all that knowledge stuffed into her head, she regularly plays the pedant, much to the annoyance of Jill and most everyone else her age. Meredith’s main objective for the next three weeks is reading, reading and more reading. No time for anything resembling fun.

Fortunately, Jill and Hailey are pretty much normal girls and they see it as their duty to make sure that Meredith has something not unlike a normal summer vacation; for her sake as well as theirs. Three weeks with an insufferable stick-in-the-mud is not their idea of fun. Once Meredith has been kitted out for some time by the sea, the girls head for the water, crossing the private beach in front of Hailey’s house – the very same beach on which our two mermaids had come ashore. Meredith finds this piece iridescent fabric that resembles a skirt. Even though she is not clothes crazy – or hair crazy or boy crazy – like Hailey and Jill, Meredith nonetheless decides to try it on. Surprisingly, it fits very well – too well, in fact – and things start to happen. Try as she might, Meredith can’t take it off and before you can say ‘Ariel’ three or four times, her legs are history and in their place is an orange mermaid’s tail.

When Marina and Lorelei return to the beach as sunset approaches, they discover that Marina’s tail has gone missing. Sunset waits for no mermaid and Lorelei returns to her natural element while Marina spends a long and lonely night by the water’s edge. It is not until the next day that she and Lorelei encounter the three girls and discover their mutual problem. There are no exceptions to the rules and both Marina and Meredith will have to wait until the morning of the next full moon before they can trade places and return to their normal lives. In the meantime, Marina is going to try and pass for human with Jill and Hailey’s help and Lorelei has the unenviable task of trying to help Meredith pass for mermaid. The next four weeks are going to be long ones for all concerned.

Pete Tarsi has three very fortunate daughters. He wrote Flipping the Scales for them and it is very much a fun read, easily surpassing almost any bedtime story imaginable. He has taken the simple idea of a human girl and mermaid accidentally switching places and has fleshed it out into a captivating story with five likeable characters with whom young ladies can easily identify. Mr. Tarsi’s story is suitable for readers from middle school to well within the high school age range. Anyone who has ever wished that they were a mermaid – or merboy – will delight in the world which he has created.

There is much more to Flipping the Scales besides the tail switch. There are a couple of nascent romances, an exploration of life both below and above the waves, an elementary physics lesson or two, and a couple of mysteries as well; not the least of which is just what sort of secret is Hailey hiding behind her bedroom door. There is plenty of action, adventure and discovery in Pete’s story and those who take the time to dive into this tale of tails will be happy to learn that the author plans to develop this into a three-book series.

As a reviewer who has read more than his share of mermaid stories, I am more than pleased to say that Pete Tarsi’s wonderful story is a welcome addition to the genre and is a ‘must read’ for anyone – female or male – who wants to explore this particular realm of fantasy. If you like and enjoy stories about mer-folk, do not let the book’s intended target audience put you off. Simply take the plunge and enjoy this wonderfully refreshing story.

My Rating:

Anime_Days Summer_Girl The_Visitors Once_Upon-A_Time_In_America
Bits Girls_Girl Changes More_Changes
Dress_Up Wheels Wunderkinde Its_A_Swiss

British author Madeline Bell’s series of twelve – so far – Gabby novels chronicles the misadventures of a young British cycling phenom from the cusp of turning thirteen to the end of his fifteenth summer. Along the way, Drew develops as a force to be reckoned with in the field of Junior cycling. Drew also develops in other ways to be discussed later. Drew is cursed with the misfortune of being cute, a description that sets his teeth on edge. The appellation is not used in the context of “I met this really cute boy named Drew Bond” but rather in the “Drew is such a cute girl and I’m jealous of her” frame of reference. In fact, Drew is regularly mistaken for a girl and the fact that he winds up in female costume from time to time does not help matters at all. At first, it was all a bit of a lark; attend a school dance with his – mostly female – mates dressed as characters from Japanese Anime but that has brought with it a whole set of problems, not the least being that one of his good mates, Clive, takes a fancy to the new girl in town.

Even when he was young, Drew’s sister used him as a dress-up doll and that tradition continues in his circle of friends who are mostly female. His appearances as ‘Gabby’ become more and more frequent and of longer duration. A six week student exchange trip to America and allowing his cousin to do part of his packing lands Drew in ‘Gabby’ mode for most of the trip. There are a (very) few discerning adults who twig that this cute teen-aged girl is really a boy but their numbers are reduced as the series progresses and even those who do know the score are still wont to think of him as a her. His family’s relocation to Germany offers a chance at a fresh start as Drew but unfortunately, that change fails to bring the expected relief. His new instructors tend to think of him as Fraulein Bond and his circle of friends there is almost exclusively female. Most – if not all – of his school mates think of Drew as a cute – if somewhat tomboyish – girl and when he is chosen by the great and the good of his town as their ‘Wine Queen’ for the coming year, all hopes of resurrecting ‘Drew’ seem to go out the window.

It appears that nature has conspired against him as well. Drew has had some increasingly worrisome medical concerns. At first, it was anemia that played havoc with his endurance. Then he began developing breasts. The doctors were concerned that puberty had yet to begin. Trouble was, it already had. It took a cat scan at a German clinic to reveal that Drew had ovaries and a uterus. But wasn’t Drew a boy? Well, yes and no. A karyotype of his chromosomes revealed that Drew had Klinefelter’s syndrome.

For those of you who slept through high school and/or college biology, a brief explanation follows. If science tends to make your eyes glaze over, you are welcome to skip the next 2 paragraphs.

Most humans have two chromosomes that determine whether they are male or female and are commonly known as the X and Y chromosomes. Females have two X chromosomes whilst Males have an X and a Y. People with Klinefelter’s have three sex chromosomes; XXY. This is the result of a ‘sticky’ X chromosome that follows its partner during Meiosis rather than staying with the other 22 chromosomes that will comprise the ovum or the sperm cell. When fertilization occurs, the resulting embryo will have three sex chromosomes; XXY. On the whole, most individuals will develop as males and live normal lives without knowing of their genetic condition. Some will develop the various traits associated with the syndrome and a small minority will develop as either intersex or female.

To complicate matters a bit, one of the two X chromosomes becomes inactive following fertilization. Nonetheless, this inactive chromosome does influence things. Females with only one sex chromosome have Turner’s syndrome and are subject to a whole raft of physiological problems. See The Physiological and Behavioral Manifestations of Abnormal Numbers of Sex Chromosomes in Humans. H. Parsons, 1973 – NC Wesleyan College.

Drew Bond is one of that minority who develops as an Intersex child with a strong female bias. He looked all the world like a male in his pre-teen years but as puberty entered the picture, secondary sex characteristics and gender identity complicate things. Though Drew may express indignation at his lot in life, staunchly proclaiming his male-ness, his body and brain have other ideas. As the series progresses, his appearance and behaviour becomes more typical of a teen-aged girl rather than a boy. As his cycling prowess increases, so does his obvious femininity. Even Drew recognises that he has no future as a male but that does not mean he has to like what fate has ordained and he rages against the coming of the pink. Resistance is futile.

Madeline Bell has created an addictive series of stories in her Gabby novels and it is quite entertaining to see the scrapes her hero(ine) gets him/herself into. While the series is aimed at young adults, older ones can and do easily get hooked and bewail the fact that Ms. Bell cannot turn out the next installment as fast as they would like her to. The author caters to an international audience with illustrations and footnotes that help explain linguistic, cultural and geographic differences. Ms. Bell also provides the reader with an intimate look into the world of bicycle racing. Who knew that there was so much strategy involved? At the end of the day, Drew’s stories helped make this year’s Tour de France much more interesting.

The series is not without its flaws, however as the earlier installments suffer from spelling and punctuation errors. While Madeline Bell has released a few revised editions of earlier installments, many of the errors remain. Things are remarkably better in the later installments but still, some problems persist. The stories are told in a combination of both first and third person and while it seems to work overall, there are instances where it is difficult to determine just whom is speaking.

Flaws aside, The Gabby Series is a fun and enthralling read for both young and old and well worth the time spent. If anything, they are difficult to put down, even for a few minutes. As a final note, Madeline Bell donates a portion of the proceeds from each book to a British charity which provides support for gender variant children and for that, the author deserves a special round of applause.

My Rating:

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