Young Adult

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Cover Art

by John Swan

The debut novel by a new author can be a disquieting time for all concerned. The author worries about what the reviewers will make of his months – if not years – of hard work. Another worry is how the book will be received by the readers themselves. Professional reviewers – or at least those who pretend they are – hope that they will be among the first to proclaim an emerging talent and worry that other reviewers will not agree with them. In Your Dreams by John Swan is an impressive story for an author’s first outing and does not disappoint. John’s early influences included J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, and Robert Jordan and that influence – especially of J.R.R. Tolkien – shows in the prologue, A Lullaby of Ages. If the reader takes Mr. Swan’s Tolkien-esque world-building as an indication that The Aldaya Series will be merely yet another attempt to ride the coattails of Middle Earth, then they are making a grave mistake.

The scene is Aldaya, a large island on a water planet not too far – in astronomical terms – from our own. The civilisation there is not what it once was and after suffering a global catastrophe, a sort of dry rot has begun to set in. Sic transit gloria mundi. The squabbling of territories, which goes back over a thousand years, has intensified of late and alliances are on the brink of crumbling. War seems to be almost inevitable. In the centre of all this is High Lord Éolan, Steward of the City of Nausica, council member and spouse to the Premier-elect. Aside from all the disturbing things going on, Éolan’s dreams have been troubled of late. The subject has always been the same, year in and year out; a pale blonde waif-like girl. Those dreams have become much more frequent … and now, quite vivid.

It had taken place somewhere deep in the Endless Marshes to the east, and in an old canoe had lain the body of a girl. She was young, perhaps fifteen, and all the colors in the dream were muted shades of grays and blacks save her golden blond hair. She was ghostly pale, almost to the point of being translucent, and cold to the touch. Éolan had been having similar dreams of the girl off and on for many years, but lately they had become much more frequent.

The girl with the blond hair and purple eyes, of whom Éolan dreams, is named Mim and she has dreams of her own..

 A woman stood above her, her kind purple eyes shining with love, and radiant golden hair just as Mim had. She disappeared, and as Mim sat up the woman was now seated with her head turned away and staring into an ornate crystal hand mirror. Upon it were etched images of gods and goddesses dancing under the night sky and beneath ancient trees.

As she began to sing, the mirror began to glow, as did the woman’s eyes. The song was a tale of seven sisters that guarded the heavens, and the melody was so beautiful that Mim floated upwards and over to the woman’s lap. Her reflection showed a toddler, but Mim knew it was her and giggled. The woman began to laugh as well. She let go of the mirror, but instead of it dropping and shattering on the marble floor, it stayed suspended in the air.

Mim is fifteen years old, parentless and lives in a flyspeck of a town named Slaidburn in a blighted area of Endmoor, bordering the Endless Marshes. Slaidburn’s cash crop seems to be mildew and the benefits of civilization appear to be receding; the roads are in deplorable condition and lamplight has become more the rule than the exception. A foundling raised in foster care until the age of 12, Mim has been on her own for three years now, and lacking the necessary wealth for secondary education, works as a kitchen assistant at The Last Stand Tavern which provides her with enough money for clothes and a place to sleep. Like many people in Slaidburn, Mim is just barely getting by.

All of this is about to change for her because, on a chilly, misty night, three unwelcome visitors enter the tavern after closing. Two of them have no name but the third is a thin woman dressed in black who the reader learns is Morra Losis. Morra has an appetite for people … as dinner … and Mim is an intriguing morsel who might otherwise become the blue plate special except that the person – or thing – Morra serves would be quite interested in the girl and thus she decides to spare her but only just. There is nothing for it but to run; first to her rented shed and then to as far from Slaidburn as is humanly possible.

Her hope is to eventually make her way to the seat of learning in Aldaya, the Charis Vale. Interestingly, Lord Éolan is on his way there himself to attend an annual gala which will inaugurate the autumn term at that institution. The weather plays a key role in this story, no doubt because of John Swan’s Bachelor’s Degree in weather and climate. Because of a weather system that just won’t go away, Lord Éolan is forced to travel by coach along the southern highway, bordering the edge of the marshes, to reach the capital of Endmoor in order to catch a north-bound airship to reach his final destination. Their paths cross at the junction of the highway and the road leading to Slaidburn where Mim helps thwart an ambush by brigands. It is from this point forward that their journeys – and indeed, their fates – are intertwined.

The world of Aldaya is one most carefully crafted and John Swan’s prose allows the reader to sense the fetid miasma of the Endless Marshes, the dank atmosphere and crushing poverty of Slaidburn as well as the glories of the cities of Alastria and Iccobar. Those fortunate to read In Your Dreams will catch a glimpse of the terror that permeates both Mim’s encounter with Morra Losis and her perilous journey through the marshes. Through the power of Mr. Swan’s vision, readers will vicariously experience Mim’s sense of awe and wonder as her first journey on an airship lifts her above the mundane world and carries her far away from the blighted province she has known all her life. In fine, John Swan is a lexical mage, conjuring a pellucid world for all who choose to peruse this fantasy.

In a time before ours, when the universe was much younger, a great civilization lived upon the surface of an infant world not much different than our own. It was tucked away on our same distant arm of the galaxy, with its twin moons shining unblemished in the night sky, and its surface full of spirits both great and small.

These two opening sentences are so much more evocative than “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. “

John Swan’s vision for In Your Dreams was to write a story that was both readable and understandable by those thirteen years-old and above. It is this reviewer’s considered opinion that the author has ably achieved his goal. He has created an exciting and enthralling story that should attract readers with a passion for the fantasy genre. Do not let the fact that this is a Young Adult novel dissuade the reader in the least. YA fiction is a not-so-guilty pleasure for many people and In Your Dreams provides all of the reading pleasure with none of the guilt. Mr. Swan envisions the Aldaya Series as a six book saga and promises that this is merely the beginning with many more works to come. If In Your Dreams is any indication, he has a distinguished literary career before him.

My Rating:

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Cover Art

Cover Art

 by Katie O’Sullivan

Within the span of a few months, Shea MacNamara’s life has changed dramatically.

OpenQuote  To anyone watching him, he looked like a normal teenager, out walking his dog on the beach in the early morning. He wore a plain white t-shirt that clung snugly to his muscular frame, along with cut-off jeans and sandals. His long hair was the color of golden wheat and his tanned skin set off his bright green eyes. He looked like so many other local kids who spent a lot of time along the shorelines of Cape Cod. An ordinary boy. Except Shea no longer fit into that category.

He lost his father, moved from the Great Plains to Cape Cod, found his mother, found his grandfather, found a girlfriend and found out that he was Royalty. Oh yeah … one other thing … he found out he was a merman. A lot of changes for a fifteen year-old boy. However, finding things can be short-lived. Earlier that summer, Shea had a ringside seat to an attempted coup d’état which he and his girlfriend, Kae, helped to foil. His mother was being strong-armed into a dynastic marriage with a king young enough to be her son and Shea’s brother, but the coup has changed all that. Young King Theo was a casualty of the plot and Shea’s mother has departed to take over the sea throne of the Southern Ocean and his girlfriend is due to follow her once she goes to Atlantis to give testimony against the evil – you can ‘Boo’ if you want – Prince Demyan. Regent to the late King Theo, the not-so-bonny Prince was the power behind the coup and was last seen hot-footing it – or is it hot-finning it? – out of town.

On the morning of Kae’s departure, Shea is standing at the water’s edge, fulminating at the unfairness of life and perhaps secretly hoping for one final assignation with the love of his young life. She doesn’t show up. Her father, however, does. Kae is missing and what is more, she was last seen in the palace gardens the previous afternoon, holding hands with a young merman – a young merman whose name was not Shea. We will learn that Kae has been abducted and rather than joining the search for the missing mermaid, Shea is charged with the task of giving testimony before the high court of Atlantis in her stead. What is a young merman to do?

Katie O’ Sullivan has followed up on her 2013 success of Son of a Mermaid with the equally exciting Blood of a Mermaid. Katie writes in a fun and captivating style that should enthrall both young and older adults. Targeted at the younger end of the YA spectrum, her latest novel is suitable for middle schoolers and perhaps younger readers when enjoyed in the context of a library reading circle. This reviewer is pleased to find a novel in the YA sub-genre of Merfolk stories that is equally appealing to both boys and girls.

Shea has his own set of problems. Aside from discovering that he’s not human – at least in the conventional sense – and not your ordinary sort of merboy, he has been told to stay out of the water lest he becomes too easy a target for abduction or worse. And … there’s one other thing. It seems that his choice of Kae as a girlfriend isn’t going over well with some people – especially her father, Lybio. It would appear that sub-surface royalty marry much more often for alliances and connections than for actual love.

Lybio let out a long sigh, cursing under his breath. He turned his head to look at Shea. “It may not be your choice, my Prince. Royals are never free to marry whom they choose.” He let his words sink in for a few moments before adding, “In the end, you, my Prince, will always need to do what’s best for the clan.” Shea thought of his own mother, having to leave her husband and child behind. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He would never let that happen to him. Royal or not, he wouldn’t abandon the people he loved, not in a million years.

Like any good father, Lybio does not want to see his daughter drawn into a hopeless relationship, no matter how nice the boy may be. For his part, Shea isn’t too keen on this Prince business, either. It helps to explain his birthmark but has not brought much in the way of tangible benefits. While he may have a brilliant career as a merman awaiting him, living in Oklahoma did have at least some benefits. For one thing, no one called him ‘My Prince’ there. It goes without saying that Shea’s struggle to have a relationship with the one he chooses rather than the one who may be chosen for him will be a continuing theme through the rest of this series.

As Shea makes his way to Atlantis, he will have to rely on his wits to save both himself and those who are traveling with him. Katie O’Sullivan’s story of intestinal fortitude is a fine example of her values in writing for this particular target audience. Both Shea and Kae demonstrate examples of courage and determination in this series where – so far – the good guys are really good and the bad guys are truly wicked. Even the mage who plays such a pivotal role in Kae’s abduction demonstrates remorse and redemption by the story’s end. Ms. O’Sullivan has penned a truly good and exciting story for young readers; one that parents, et al. should not worry about those in their charge reading. For those of us who are – ahem – somewhat older, Blood of a Mermaid is a fun and exciting story from a time that recedes in the rear-view mirror with each passing day.

If you – and by that, this reviewer means readers who are young and/or young at heart – enjoy fantasy, adventure, young love and all those intangibles that make our lives what they are,  Blood of a Mermaid by Katie O’Sullivan is a fun and very worthwhile read. One need not be fascinated with those living beneath the waves who swap their fins for feet to enjoy this story but the reader may very well find the world of merfolk to be a rapture of the deep.

 
My Rating:

Katie’s website may be found at katie-osullivan.com

Katie’s blog may be found at katieosullivan.blogspot.com

Buy your own copy of Blood of a Mermaid.
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 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/

Buy your own copy of The Rabbit and the Raven.
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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 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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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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Melissa Eskue Ousley

Melissa Eskue Ousley

We continue our interview with Melissa Eskue Ousley, author of the forthcoming Young Adult novel, Sign of the Throne.

Melissa Eskue Ousley is the author of The Solas Beir Trilogy. Sign of the Throne, the first book of this young adult fantasy series, will be released this September by Castle Garden Publications, the young adult division of Gazebo Gardens Publishing. She is currently working on the second and third novels in the trilogy, The Rabbit and the Raven and The Sower Comes.

Melissa has also published numerous academic articles in peer-reviewed journals such as The Journal of College and Character and The College Student Affairs Journal. Having received her Ph.D. in Higher Education from The University of Arizona, she has taught psychology courses and worked within higher education on diversity issues, serving underrepresented students and conducting research. She has presented her research at professional conferences throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association. Her expertise in psychology and interest in culture and mythology have heavily influenced the themes and character development in Sign of the Throne. Melissa lives in Oregon.

Large Q Queen Eulalia and her sister Lucia seem to be polar opposites. Why do you think that is?
Large A Lucia is the dominant sibling-she’s older and has taken charge throughout Eulalia’s life. Eulalia admires Lucia’s spirit and strength, and as the more introverted and empathic sibling, was content to let Lucia have her way. Lucia and Eulalia come from a noble family. Lucia distinguished herself from other women by taking a leadership role and serving on the Solas Beir’s court council, while Eulalia preferred a quieter life, remaining at her family’s estate. Everyone thought Lucia would be chosen as queen. When Eulalia was chosen instead, it was a surprise, and caused a rift between the sisters.
Large Q Lucia appears as someone else through most of the story. How did this come to be?
Large A Lucia and Eulalia were born to magic, but Lucia’s powers were enhanced when she aligned with the Kruorumbrae. She gained the power to steal a human body and disguise herself as that person, a skill which involves the darkest of magic.
Large Q Abby is befriended by Cassandra and Riordan Buchan. What can you tell us about them and how often do you think Riordan wears his kilt(s)?
Large A I’m fairly certain Riordan wears his kilt as often as he can get away with it. Some people wear cowboy boots; Riordan wears a kilt. It lends him swagger, and he thinks of it as his lucky charm to help him write. Riordan reminds me a bit of my own dad (who is more of a cowboy boot kind of guy). Riordan is a good father, adores Cassandra, is passionate about his interests, and has a great sense of humor. He and Cassandra are unconventional in the way they approach the world, but that works for their relationship. They become mentors and parental figures for Abby, helping her bridge Newcastle Beach culture.
Large Q We don’t hear very much from Abby’s parents and as the story develops, one gets the feeling that they are going to be in a very vulnerable position. Will her parents – and indeed, Jon’s mother – figure elsewhere in the triolgy?
Large A You’re right-they are in a vulnerable position, and will make an appearance in the second book. However, just as Cassandra and Riordan become mentors to Abby, other people in Cai Terenmare will become mentors for her, David, and Jon as they navigate their new world. It’s a lot like what a first generation college student experiences. When you are the first in your family to attend college, your parents may be supportive, but academic culture is new to them as well, and they can only help you so much. You need someone familiar with the culture to mentor you.
Large Q Why Newcastle Beach, CA as a locale?
Large A Newcastle Beach was inspired primarily by Santa Barbara, California, after a memorable trip with my professor friend. The Newcastle Beach Inn is modeled after the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara and the Arizona Inn in Tucson, Arizona. My husband and I used to live near the Arizona Inn in a neighborhood where the houses had a lot of character. Our apartment was located at the end of a cul-de-sac that was almost hidden from the main street. At the start of our winding road, across from the Arizona Inn, was a mysterious, seemingly abandoned house hidden by trees and a large fence. I always wanted to explore the property, but it was off limits. It became the inspiration for the ruined mansion in the book.
Large Q How did you divise the plot for SOTT?
Large A In On Writing, Stephen King compares writing to unearthing a fossil. As you carefully excavate your find, you learn more about what lies underneath the soil, the size and shape of the story. I didn’t know it at the time, but that is what I was doing in writing Sign of the Throne. There wasn’t a plot. Different, unrelated ideas began to gel, and the more I learned about my characters, the more the story took shape.
Large Q What part of the creative and writing process did you enjoy the most?
Large A The best part of writing is when the story takes on a life of its own, and I’m watching it unfold, scrambling to transcribe what I hear and see. The characters find their own voices. I know that sounds strange, but I’m not the first writer to describe it this way. It’s exhilarating to see a story take shape, and to be the first reader, surprised by the twists and turns. Because this book is part of a trilogy, there has been some plotting to keep the series cohesive, but I don’t like to force plot because the writing starts to feel stale and contrived. I’m more of a “pantser” in watching things unfold, and allowing the characters to develop, adjusting things to stay true to what the story wants. I’m still writing the third book in the series, and although I have an idea of the basic shape of the story, I continue to “listen” to the characters, staying open to what they need. I’ve enjoyed being surprised.
Large Q Sign of the Throne is an amazing bit of writing and some folks have a hard time believing that this is your debut novel. What is your secret?
Large A Although I’m new to writing fiction, I’m not new to writing. For many years, I worked with an outstanding research team at the University of Arizona conducting social science research. Although we were writing about research findings, we were still telling a story, and the basic elements of writing were the same. You still need to communicate your thoughts clearly through a framework and good grammar.Still, fiction is much different from an academic article. The playfulness of it was a nice reprieve from the rigors of writing about statistics. My fellow researchers are close friends, and one of the things I loved about working with them is that we had enough of a rapport to be able to offer each other critical suggestions for revisions on our research papers. This proved to be a huge advantage in writing fiction, because my friends felt comfortable offering me critical feedback, asking intelligent questions that helped develop the characters.I also have to give credit to Jessica Morrell, a writing coach who offered very helpful advice. Her feedback led me to work with Laura Meehan, an editor from Indigo Editing and Publishing who specializes in the young adult genre. Like my friends in academics, Laura has a knack for asking brilliant developmental questions. She was a tremendous help in revising this book. I also have to thank the team at Castle Garden Publications for their additional suggestions for revisions. All of these people have made the book much stronger than it was originally.
Large Q How has Sign of the Throne been received thus far by the reviewers?
Large A So far, so good. I’ve been fortunate to receive strong praise from a number of people. I know at some point someone will hate the book, but I’ll try to view the criticism in a positive light, using it to strengthen future writing. I will, however, reserve the right to a chocolate binge to ease the sting.
Large Q Once the last word on the last page of the last installment in your series has been written, what do you plan next? More YA fantasies?
Large A I believe so. I have a few ideas percolating in my head, but for now I’m focusing on writing the final book in The Solas Beir Trilogy
Large Q Is there anything else before you go?
Large A Thank you again for your amazing review and for the opportunity to share more about Sign of the Throne. I hope your readers have enjoyed hanging out behind the scenes with me.

Read Part I of our Interview with Melissa.

Read the review of Sign of the Throne.

 

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Melissa Eskue Ousley

Melissa Eskue Ousley

Today, we have a real treat in store. To mark the upcoming release of the Young Adult novel, Sign of the Throne, we have an exclusive interview with the author, Melissa Eskue Ousley.

Melissa Eskue Ousley is the author of The Solas Beir Trilogy. Sign of the Throne, the first book of this young adult fantasy series, will be released this September by Castle Garden Publications, the young adult division of Gazebo Gardens Publishing. She is currently working on the second and third novels in the trilogy, The Rabbit and the Raven and The Sower Comes.

Melissa has also published numerous academic articles in peer-reviewed journals such as The Journal of College and Character and The College Student Affairs Journal. Having received her Ph.D. in Higher Education from The University of Arizona, she has taught psychology courses and worked within higher education on diversity issues, serving underrepresented students and conducting research. She has presented her research at professional conferences throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association. Her expertise in psychology and interest in culture and mythology have heavily influenced the themes and character development in Sign of the Throne. Melissa lives in Oregon.

Now, let’s get on with the interview!

Large Q How did you get started as an author?
Large A I always loved reading and writing, and have a BA in English Education, but it took me a long time to become a writer. My background is in education and psychology (I have an MA in Counseling and a PhD in Higher Education). I enjoyed working in those fields, conducting research and teaching college classes in Arizona. Eventually though, I realized writing was something I had to do. When my husband and I moved to the Pacific Northwest for an opportunity with his career, I decided to focus on my writing. I jumped in with no plan B, but lucky for me, doors opened and I was able to connect with a wonderful press.
Large Q What led you to write Sign of the Throne?
Large A The book was inspired by Jung’s collective unconscious and the idea that many of the bogeymen from various human societies have similar characteristics. I imagined these creatures had a common origin in a world parallel to our own, and had crossed over to Earth, inspiring our myths. I love mythology and psychology, so this book is brimming over with concepts and references from both of those fields. Some of the characters’ names have symbolic meanings. For example, Tynan Tierney means dark lord.
Large Q Was there any particular literary inspiration for your “world-building”?
Large A Great question. When I was 13, I read The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. It was unlike anything I’d read before-a story set in two worlds: ours, and The Territories, a parallel medieval world with magic and monsters. I also love Stephen King’s Dark Tower series because he’s created a rich fantasy world with its own culture, language, and monsters (not unlike Tolkien). Sign of the Throne is also influenced by The Chronicles of Narnia, although Cai Terenmare may be a darker and more dangerous place than Narnia. We’ll get to travel quite a bit in the second book, and meet new monsters.
Large Q Are there any real people or fictional characters that influenced the development of your own characters for Sign of the Throne?
Large A None of the characters are autobiographical, although some of them share similar traits with me or other people I know. There is one character, however, that is based on a real person. Cassandra Buchan is modeled after a very dear friend who is a force of nature. My friend is a brilliant statistics professor, and is every bit as fun, caring, and charismatic as Cassandra. I always love it when her eyes sparkle and she grins and says, “Okay. Are you ready?” I never know what I’m supposed to be ready for, but it never fails to be interesting.
Large Q Let’s talk about the main characters. What can you tell us about Abby – both outside and inside?
Large A Abby is attractive but she can’t see it-she sees herself as average, if not boring. Her eyes are on the future-working hard to save up for college so she can build a more exciting life for herself. She admires her parents, who are also hard-working, but she doesn’t want their life. She finds herself drawn to Newcastle Beach because it is so different from her middle-class neighborhood. To her Newcastle Beach has magic, even without the actual magic hidden within its circular border. Newcastle Beach represents a life she can only dream about, but that motivates her to work hard at her job and in school.
Large Q Abby has these strange dreams, doesn’t she?
Large A That she does. Because she is empathic, she can also connect with others through dreams. Some of the dreams are prophetic, but sometimes the dreams are more symbolic than literal, and it is difficult for her to make sense of them. My own dreams can be pretty crazy, so some of them have inspired Abby’s dreams. In one of her dreams, a shadowed creature emerges from her closet-that was actually one of mine.
Large Q
Large A David is kind of like Sleeping Beauty, except that he’s a dude. He’s not literally asleep, but he’s walking through a scripted life in a blissful daze. He’s let his parents make choices for him, and it hasn’t occurred to him that he might not want the life they’ve planned for him. Why would it? He has everything he could ever want, materially at least. He is wealthy, educated, and is about to move to an exciting city for a promising career. His girlfriend, Amelia, is kind and beautiful, and both sets of parents have high hopes for their relationship. Emotionally though, something is lacking. It is not until he meets Abby that he realizes he is missing a crucial part of himself.
Large Q How do you think his character will develop over the course of the series?
Large A First, David is going to have to figure out who he is, and who he wants to be. Then he’s going to have to figure out how to be a good leader for his people. He is going to have to make some hard choices and some sacrifices.
Large Q The troika of central characters is rounded out by Jon, Abby’s former boyfriend. What should we know about him?
Large A Jon works hard to keep up his reputation as a loveable rogue who doesn’t take things seriously, but in truth, he is serious about several things. He values friendship and loyalty. He adores his mother and Abby and would do anything for either of them. He acts like he doesn’t care about school, but he’s intelligent and takes college classes on the sly. He masks a lot of his feelings with humor.
Large Q In many ways, Jon is a sort of sidekick to Abby. What do you think will happen with this arrangement going forward?
Large A Abby and Jon are opposites. He’s more extroverted and she’s more introverted. Abby helps Jon stay grounded, and Jon keeps Abby from being a stick in the mud. They’ve been friends forever and balance each other out. It will be hard for Jon to let go of Abby as she enters into a more mature relationship with David, and this causes some conflict. However, Jon values his friendship with Abby too much to risk pushing the boundaries she’s drawn for him. He is mature enough to set his feelings aside and find common ground with David, and as he finds his own love interest, he will find more balance. He’ll still keep his sense of humor though.

Read Part II of our Interview with Melissa.

Read the review of Sign of the Throne.

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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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Brenda Pandos
This is Part II of our interview with the author of Young Adult paranormal romance novels, Brenda Pandos. Part I of this Interview appeared on July 29th, 2013.

Our 20-Question interviews usually run more than 20 questions in length and this makes for one rather long and tiresome post for the reader. In order to keep things interesting, We have started dividing our interviews into at least two parts in the hope that it will be be somewhat easier to read.

If you somehow wound up here in Part II first, you can go read Part I and then come back to this page. Now, let’s return to our scintillating interview with Brenda Pandos!

Large Q What is the overall theme of the books and the series as a whole?
Large A The themes are ones of rescue and of honesty.
Large Q Fin is – well – Fin who, despite his aquatic heritage, seems to be a fairly normal young adult male. Nonetheless, it seems like sometimes he’d rather be somewhere and/or something else. How come?
Large A Fin’s unique in that he has experienced life as human’s do, unlike most mermen, and enjoys his freedom, along with the sun and fresh air. But falling for a human girl would make things difficult, considering he couldn’t act on his feelings without revealing his secret.
Large Q Ash loves her family – younger sister included – but she goes through some significant changes in Evergreen. How will her new knowledge – and body – affect her view of them?
Large A Without giving away too much, I’d say a lot. And this might also explain why she has such a difficult time connecting with her mother.
Large Q Goldschlager? Really??{{1}}
Large A Why not? Actually, alcohol isn’t kind to a mermaid’s delicate constitution.
Large Q Ash and Fin have a significant degree of commitment to each other throughout both books. What does this say to your target audience?
Large A Wouldn’t it be nice if a kiss could keep one in perpetual bliss? I’d hope my readers would be smart enough to know that this isn’t reality. But I do say, when you know, you know, and typically one doesn’t marry the first person they fall in love with.
Large Q Towards the end of Evergreen, Ash suddenly goes from being the older sister to a younger one. Add in her commitment to the revolutionary cause and that major change in outlook. Would you say that her acceptance of all this is because of Fin or because of something else in Ash’s makeup?
Large A All I can say is the truth set her free to be who she needed to be.
Large Q How have the first two books in the Mer Tales series been received by both fans and the critics?
Large A Well, I’d say positively. The series holds a 4 star average on Goodreads and closer to 5 on Amazon. I get letters and facebook posts from fans who love my stories often. Again, there’s a smattering of mean reviews and snarky people who have nothing else better to do than be mean, but I try not to let their silly opinions bother me.
Large Q Can you give us any hints about what to expect in Everlost?
Large A It’s a jungle down there. Treachery and secrets galore rule Natatoria. Tatiana has rough waters ahead of her. She’s going to have to grow up, pull on her big girl panties, and face reality without her parents.
Large Q Is Everlost the conclusion of the Mer Tales series or will we see more of Ash and Fin?
Large A Right now, things end at a nice place, though there’s room for more books. We’ll have to see if the characters talk to me more. Right now, a new story is brewing in my mind and I’d love to finally give it some attention.
Large Q Do you plan do write any more novels – or a series, perhaps – with a Merfolk theme?
Large A This next book will be a dystopian with zombies and other creatures.
Large Q Do you have any other projects in the works?
Large A The tagline for the new book is, “What would you do differently if you knew the date you’d die?”
Large Q Before you go, is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Large A Thank you, Howard. I’ve enjoyed reading your reviews and insight of my stories so much. You see things I didn’t know or hadn’t entirely planned on including in my novels, and that makes me feel super smart. I appreciate you taking the time to interview me.

This concludes our interview with Brenda Pandos. It is worth noting that while Brenda intended for Everlost to conclude her Mer Tales series, she has remarked elsewhere that she is considering a fourth novel which would follow Ash and Tachi as they go off to college. We can but hope.

[[1]]In Evergreen, Ash is taken out on the eve of her 18th birthday by her best – human – friend who insists that Ash have a few shots of Goldschlager to celebrate. Mermaids cannot handle strong drink and this is the first real inkling that there may be more to Ash than meets the eye. Brenda’s choice of Goldschlager is rather appropriate since it is a cinnamon-flavoured liquer and Ash has read hair.[[1]]

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