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.
To all my author friends and anyone who loves YA fiction, I am happy to announce my new position as a Staff Reviewer at YA Books Central!
This is a wonderful opportunity for indie authors to have their books reviewed right alongside traditionally published authors. We’re excited to bring some much deserved recognition to the indie scene.
So, send your work in, pronto! Here’s the skinny:
YA Books Central indie review requests are now open. Please send ONE pitch letter per book to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. A pitch letter should include the book’s title, genre, publisher (if any), link to Amazon listing (if available), release date, synopsis, and contact person’s name and email. If we think our staff reviewers would enjoy your book, we’ll contact you with instructions. Most of the time we will request ebook ARCs, but occasionally we will request print copies to be included in our monthly book haul video, which goes out to our readers and all of our staff reviewers.
Please note that not all requested books are reviewed, and some books might be reviewed several months after we’ve requested a review copy. Please do not send more than one pitch email per book. You will not receive a reply unless your book is requested.
While you wait, we encourage you to add your Indie book to our database here http://www.yabookscentral.com/add-books there is a $3.99 charge to add a book (even the publishers pay to list books with the site so that’s not just for indies).
Not that Meg hasn’t deserved YouTube for a while, but darn it I had to learn to use Adobe Premiere before I could make a trailer! I guess you could say I was a video virgin, but now that I’ve popped my own cherry, how did I do? Sorry, just keeping to the book theme here and feeling a bit exhausted. Indie authors are super heroes.
So now I’m an artist, and author, and a videographer. Thanks again to Her Last Boyfriend for doing the music. Take a look and get the book, HERE on Amazon. If you have no idea what Wicked Lover is, go HERE.
I have to give an obnoxiously loud shout out and virtual air kisses to Joss Radillo today, for hosting Tristan’s coming out party as part of her 100,000 blog visits celebration! If Joss hadn’t reached out to me to to participate in her special occasion, I may never have written this character study or admitted to this beautiful face (Lee Williams) haunting the entire writing of my new serial novel, Catchpenny.
When I first began writing Catchpenny, I had just seen a mini-series called the Forsyte Saga on Netflix. The Welsh actor pictured here, Lee Williams, made such an impression on me that his is the face I’ve always pictured for Tristan throughout the whole writing process of Catchpenny. The mini-series was actually released in 2002, and Lee Williams is now 41-years-old, so he wouldn’t actually play Tristan today. Tristan is 17, just turning 18 in the book. But, here’s a good idea of how hot he’ll be as he matures…
And here’s a closer look at Lee/Tristan’s “Mentholyptus” blue eyes, which Meg often mentions in Catchpenny…
A Short Synopsis of Catchpenny, Part One: Wicked Lover
Have you ever wondered about that girl at the edge of the crowd? The one who has dark, bushy hair that hides her eyes while she’s reading, but tight shirts that don’t even try to hide the size of her breasts? You’ve heard the rumors, you know the rude nicknames, and you wonder what she really does when she’s not in school. She never comes to parties and she lives in a neighborhood where nice girls never venture. Everyone tries to ignore her…but there is something about her that’s impossible to ignore. Especially for the star quarterback, apparently. Because he just asked her to the Homecoming dance, after dumping the head cheerleader.
Catchpenny tells the story from the eyes of “that girl,” and Wicked Lover is just the beginning of this coming of age serial novel. The small town minds of Shirley County have underestimated Meg Shannon for too long. She’s even more fun than she is trouble…but maybe she has finally met her match.
Who is Tristan Jameson?
Tristan is, of course, the quarterback mentioned in the synopsis. He has played by the rules all his life and he’s over it. Meg is fun, honest, and real, in a way that most of the friends in his crowd are not. At first, he seemed to have asked Meg to the dance on a whim, but as the story develops we realize he’s had his eye on her from afar, for a long time. He thinks she’s the most interesting girl in school—it just took him a while to work up the nerve to breach the social barriers that he’s been cocooned in for so long. As he gets to know Meg throughout the course of the evening, she continually surprises him. He’s fascinated and his feelings deepen more than either of them were prepared for. She’s an enigma to him, and he’s ready to take some risks, too.
An Excerpt from Wicked Lover
A narrow column of rock jutted up from the valley, separated from the main cliff by about two feet. We had always called it the exclamation point (or just “the point” for short) when I was a kid, because that’s exactly what it looked like. It was the first and smallest of the buttes, as the valley below met the canyons, and the mountains on either side squeezed the land into a bottleneck, with violent rapids rushing below. The point was wide enough for a couple people to sit on, maybe four people to stand on carefully. I hopped out onto the column of stone, my bare toes gripping the stone when I landed, steady and sure. I’d done it a million times. I focused on the moon; it looked as big as a planet about to crash right into the earth. A yellow sphere of Swiss cheese, in planetary proportions.
“The wolves will be out in force tonight,” I said, then threw my head back in a long howl. A prompt response echoed in the distance, the owner of which was more likely a hound dog hunting with his master than a roaming wolf. I laughed and looked back to see my date turning green behind me. “Don’t worry, I’ve got good balance—my mom says I’ve always been a mountain goat.”
He shook his head, sizing me up from the rear. “More like a mountain lion. Please come back, though.”
He held out his hand, obviously closer to the rim than he was comfortable with, but I ignored it. I turned back to the moon. “It’s not full yet.”
“Looks pretty full to me.”
“No, it’s still waxing. It’ll be full tomorrow.”
“Want to bet?” He stuck his hand out further, daring me to accept a shake on it.
“Okay. I know I’m right.”
The instant my hand made contact with his, his grip turned to iron and he yanked me towards himself, off the point and across the chasm. I crashed into his chest and he moved backwards with me—solid, not stumbling. His arms wrapped around my shoulders like steel girders, his body immovable and his face unflinching.
“You’re dangerous,” he mumbled, eyes blazing.
I tried to say, “You should talk,” but I’d somehow lost my voice.
“Away from the sheer drop.”
“Okay.” I nodded, glad to finally produce a sound with my startled vocal chords. I let him thread his fingers through mine, and he led me back to the car.
In the safety of the limo, he lounged back onto the seat, his eyes smoldering as he watched me. I settled myself opposite, arranging the beads of my cocktail dress and fluffing my curls, not really sure what had just occurred between us. Maybe he was angry with me; he sure looked it. I said, as innocently as I could manage, “Are you afraid of heights?”
“Afraid of having to dive off a cliff to catch you, maybe.”
I snorted. “Right.”
“Reckless,” he sighed, shaking his head.
“Sorry? You’re not like any girl I’ve ever met, Meg. It’s a lot to take in, but there’s no reason to be sorry.”
I fumbled with my beads a little more, unsure of how to proceed. I felt the car start to roll and I looked up in reaction, to see a door in the ceiling just over Tristan’s head. I had an idea. “Hey, we can get a perfect view of the moon from in here. That’s a sunroof, right?”
He looked above his head and his expression cooled. “Actually, I’ve been wanting to try that ever since I first got in.”
“You mean…ejector seat?” I met his spreading grin and he nodded, then reached over to push a button by his armrest. The window in the ceiling slid open and Tristan grabbed my hand, pulling me over to crouch with him on the seat below the skylight.
“Ejector seat!” we yelled together, springing up through the open roof, him laughing and me cheering like a five-year-old. The sky spread over us like velvet lavender, a blanket of winking stars around the glowing lunar orb. It felt so close I wanted to reach up and touch it—moments like that are the closest I ever get to church.
We watched the sky together in silence. I slid my eyes in Tristan’s direction and saw his own closed, his face content. The air was getting cooler, twilight fading into night, and I shivered as Barney picked up speed. My hair started to whip around my face and I grabbed as much of it as I could in one hand to save the ringlets, gripping the roof with the other. I wondered if my “frizz eliminator” would hold up to such abuse, and I squeezed eyelids shut against the wind and frenzy of escaping curls. Strong fingers encircled my wrist, pulling it down and trapping it behind my waist. My eyes snapped open and found him so close I could feel the tickle of his cheek against mine. My hair whirled around us like a tornado.
His voice was deep and urgent in my ear. “Don’t put your hair back.”
“It’ll be an afro in a minute.”
“I like it wild. I like you wild.”
I turned a fraction and my lips brushed against his. His eyes watched my mouth. “Kiss me, Tristan.”
He cupped my face with his hands, so large and warm I felt my cool cheeks blaze instantly, but so gentle he was barely touching me. He looked at me and hesitated, holding my gaze as if he were about to say something first, his face close enough I swear I could feel a spark between our lips. I couldn’t wait another second. I found the heat of his mouth and slid my hands inside his jacket and around his waist. He answered me, caution forgotten along with the moon. Was that him who moaned in relief or me? I couldn’t tell, melted together as we were. As one.
Both our knees gave way and I felt myself collapsing onto the seat below, then toppling to the floor. His arms were around my shoulders and under my thighs, catching our fall in an expert roll. He landed on top, hovering over me and devouring my neck while I locked my ankles around his back. His lips were as soft as his body was hard, and I felt an electric zing at every point where we connected. All thoughts of preserving my pristine Homecoming costume faded into the smell of his skin, the taste of his mouth, and the hills and valleys of his body. I blended into the texture of him.
And look for this scene, a favorite of another awesome book blogger, Romorror Fan Girl, who awarded Wicked Lover 5 Stars:
And that is the opinion of a licensed mental health counselor! Imagine my joy, when I read her Amazon review–especially the way she describes my main character, Meg, as “a beautiful blend of just the right amount of spunk, softness, kindness, insecurity and stays true to her very nature and spirit.”
And then she thanks ME: “Thanks for doing all the teen girls justice and getting it right!”
I definitely should be thanking HER, because it was so important for me to get Meg right. My editor Racquel Henry was constantly reminding me about “word choice” and warning me if I started to “lose the teenage voice.” But most of all, I was afraid that Meg was too real for people to stomach. She’s not a sweet little angel who says all the right things and follows all the rules, and it was important for me to show her authentically, warts and all. She bucks the rules, gets in trouble, and is very sexually uninhibited. I do have a warning for parental discretion in the beginning of the book, but still…
To hear from a professional that works with teens on a daily basis, who thinks it’s “refreshing to see an author portray the raw emotions that teen girls feel and struggle with on a day to day basis” ?