Beauty and Hope Delivered by Disaster and Monsters

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A Book Review of The Threat Below, by Jason Latshaw

Find it on Amazon HERE.

Mountaintop. Humanity’s last stand, after near obliteration from the Threat Below, by which Jason Latshaw’s epic book is titled. The humbled hundred or so inhabitants of Mountaintop, called the Kith, rely on legend mixed with history of the Apriori, their ancestors who once ruled the earth. The Kith are walled into their home in the sky by fear and the persistent Cloudline that obscures vision of Down Below. Their world is meager and desperate, their society stratified and rigid. In the first few pages, a hard line is drawn between main character Icelyn, the prissy, intelligent Cognate daughter of the Kith’s leader, and Adorane, her Veritas best friend and possible brave, brawny love interest. Segregation and prejudice are accepted here as the way for a fragile existence to survive.

Not thrive. Imagine the peak of a mountain at the top of the world, after civilization has fled a deadly, mysterious plague and the planet has probably been flooded by rising oceans. The air is thin. Scrubby trees are more like bushes. Acorn cakes are a staple. Later in the book, Icelyn finds a comb Down Below and she marvels at it. Has she never brushed her hair? You’ll be amazed when you find out what ultrabears and ultralions are. Yes, Mountaintop is the kind of place that, should humanity survive, what’s the point? It’s clear this place is only half of the story. Almost immediately, Icelyn and Adorane wander beyond a rotting, three-hundred-year-old barrier between the apparent safety of Mountaintop and the rumored certain death of Down Below, and there is no doubt about where our heroine and her beau will end up.

But Latshaw keeps his readers guessing right along with the sheltered, pampered Icelyn. The mystery is compelling, even darn right frightening, and each revelation along the way is worth it, not rushed or predictable. In fact, every time I thought I’d figured it out—what the Threatbelows are, or how humanity met its fate, or even who Icelyn herself is—I was surprised by Latshaw’s imagination. He speaks through his vivid characters, some that I adored and others I’d like to choke, and the action happens in their choices, dialogue, and thoughts. Whether the cowardly Kith leader is squirming, the devoted and fearless Eveshone is rescuing Icelyn again, or the constantly shifting morals of Torrain are playing out, this world is revealed by those living in it.

My favorite part, however, is that Latshaw isn’t afraid to delve deeper than his own story. Though fantastical and unique, his world bears enough resemblance to ours to stoke fear and tickle conscience. Gun violence in Mountaintop mirrors the debate over our right to bear arms, especially when these fictitious leaders are using guns to proliferate fear and violence as a means to control the population. One of them has found an ancient text and quotes Jenny Holzer, “Fear is the most elegant weapon. Your hands are never messy. Threatening bodily harm is crude. Work instead on minds & beliefs, play insecurities like a piano.” Latshaw is good at turning a phrase to grab attention, and we find essential truths in gentle statements as well: “So much of life is lived looking away from each other, afraid to face a person as they really are, deflecting feelings and ignoring vital moments.” Or, not so gentle: “They live in a world of magic, but take it all as a matter of course. They didn’t realize it, but they were Gods.” This last is spoken of the extinct Apriori, when Icelyn sees their cellphones and flat screens in a memory. Gods who invented their own demise? Nervous laugher from the crowd…

The Threat Below would be equally enjoyed by both genders, with a strong, admirable heroine (feminine and regal, with very little whining) and plenty of action and violence (gruesome, though not gratuitous). Latshaw’s writing is top-notch, and teens ready to move onto more adult literature should be able to handle the language and the length of this book. Adults will love it just as much, because there are many layers of understanding in The Threat Below, sort of like a Disney movie that is fun for kids but only truly understood by their parents. Not that this book is an easy fairytale read, and don’t be looking for a sweet ending tied up in a pretty package. The journey is worth it, though, and you’ll love every step. Latshaw delivers beauty and hope in a way you’d never expect.

This review was written for YA Books Central. Check it out HERE to find out more about the book and the author.

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An Interview with Michelle Lynn

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Author Michelle Lynn has a new novel out this month called Choices. It’s a romance and I am really looking forward to reading it, since I greatly enjoyed her dystopian Dawn of the Rebellion. Read my review HERE.

SW: Michelle, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. Tell me a little about Choices and your inspiration in writing it.

ML: Choices is about the idea that certain worlds need to be kept separate because they can’t possibly mesh without negative consequences. We’ve got Michaela, a young woman who has never had many options in her life. She is from a prominent family that has certain expectations. They’ve pushed her to date the right boy, to associate with the right people, and even to go to law school. She’s reached a point in her life where she wants to choose anything that is not that life. When she gets the opportunity to live her own life, she forsakes everything from before. The book is about her journey to discover that she may not have to choose between the two lives.

My family is very close. We love each other but we are also very different people. I have one sister in particular who everyone always tells her how she should live her life – at least those outside our immediate family do. I guess I wanted to write a story about becoming independent from the expectations of others without leaving the person you used to be behind.

SW: What are some fun things to know about your characters? Do you ever fall in love with your own fictional love interests (I do!)?

ML: I fall in love with my characters all the time. It’s one of the fun things about writing. In my main character, Jason, I was able to create my ideal man. He’s sweet and loyal. He takes care of the people around him. Plus, he’s a hockey fan. He isn’t perfect but where would the fun be in that?

SW: No fun at all, I agree. You’re used to writing about less than perfect worlds, though, right? Your last series of books was Dystopian, but this new release is Romance. Why did you decide to switch genres, and do you think that’s a risky thing to do as an author?

ML: It can be risky, yes. I have no clue how my readers are going to react to this book. When an author switches genres it’s almost like starting over. You have to go after a completely new set of readers. This book is a bit older so that will be a new challenge for me when it comes to marketing.

The third book in my dystopian trilogy was very heavy. Between the action, the deaths, and finding a perfect ending, it was so emotionally taxing to write that I had a hard time writing anything for months. I would start them and then not be able to go on, feeling drained. I needed something light, which I thought this would be. It ended up being a little more complex than I planned, but books tend to take on a mind of their own.

SW: So, what is it about the Romance genre in particular that interests you?

ML: It’s very pleasant to write. Some of the characters have troubled backstories, but there’s nothing truly dark. I’m used to writing about the end of the world. That takes something out of you. The romance genre as a whole is more about hope.

SW: You’ve talked about your books having some New Adult themes, yet you classify them as Young Adult. Why is that?

ML: The term ‘New Adult’ has come to mean something more than just the age of the characters. It used to be that YA characters were teenagers and NA characters were twenty-somethings. That was the distinction. Now NA is more R rated than PG-13. There’s nothing wrong with that, I read smut, but it just isn’t my book. My characters are in their twenties but the more adult themes are implied rather than spelled out.

SW: Yes, I wish we had a little more control of the changing distinctions as authors. Genre choosing is already such a slippery slope.

You’ve written quite a few books at this point! Do you have any tips for writers just getting started? What was the most helpful thing you learned along the way, and what was the biggest pitfall?

ML: The most helpful thing I’ve learned is to not do it alone. Where’s the fun in that? It truly takes a village – editors, cover artists, beta readers. I’m a writer, I leave the rest of it to the people who can do it better than I can. It’s one of the mistakes I made when I initially published my first book. Since then, I have found amazing people to work with and an incredible writer’s group that I can’t imagine what I ever did without.

SW: I believe you’re speaking of YAAR? Yes, Young Adult Author Rendezvous is an excellent, diverse group of authors.

Family is a big theme in your books. Why is that? Does your own family enter into your novels?

ML: I love my family. We’re very close. But, they aren’t really represented in this book as much as my trilogy. Michaela is close to her brother, but her family is a bit messed up – as is Jason’s. My family would do anything for me and they’d accept me no matter what I did. Michaela’s family is learning to be a bit more like that, but they have a long way to go.

SW: What has been the hardest criticism to take about your work? Did it help or hinder your writing? How about your favorite praise?

ML: The hardest criticism is when someone doesn’t like your book but fails to tell you why. Those pesky one star ratings. Even if it isn’t fun to hear, I like to know why someone didn’t like my work. I realize it isn’t for everyone. Criticism teaches us a lot more than praise does.

SW: Have you ever experienced writer’s block. If so, how did it hit and how did you get over it?

ML: Yeah (laughs), how about right now? It’s less about not being able to write, and more about actually making myself sit down and do it. It’s a discipline. It usually hits me when I reach a relatively slow part in my book. I’m excited to write actions scenes, less so for the mundane stuff that has to go in a book for it to make sense. Sometimes, I just have to force myself away from any distractions and pound it out.

SW: That’s funny. I feel the same way about writer’s block and experience it in much the same way. I could do it…but I really don’t feel like it right now.

Tell us something weird about yourself that very few people know.

ML: I have one of those weird memories that forgets important, every day stuff, but remembers random things. As you can tell by my book, I’m a hockey fan. Just call me the stats master. I might remember certain players shooting percentage while forgetting to feed my bird. Or, I can remember exactly what someone said to me two weeks ago but forget an appointment for that day.

SW: Well, then I must read Choices, because I know absolutely nothing about hockey. It’s settled! Thanks so much again, Michelle, and good luck with your new release.

Find Choices on Amazon HERE.

Connect with Michelle on her website, http://www.michellelynnauthor.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Read more about Michelle’s author group, YAAR, on their website and blog, http://yaarendezvous.com.

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