Everest Shmeverest

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

The conquest of the world’s highest mountain has become humdrum.  Everybody’s doing it.  Some die while waiting in line to reach the summit and snap their all-important selfie.  Me, I set my sights on less lofty peaks.  On my summer vacation in southwestern France, I conquered three “perched villages”.  Bruniquel perches at an elevation of 820 feet; Puycelsi rests at a less-than-dizzying altitude of 919 feet; and Cordes-sur-Ciel soars above the clouds at a modest 1,050 feet.  These heights may seem paltry to the thrill seekers who tackle Everest, but I defy anyone who hasn’t made the trek to Puycelsi on a scorching hot day to sneer at the effort required.

Eight hundred years ago, a heretical Christian sect (the Cathars) built bastides on the tops of steep hills in the Tarn countryside to defend themselves against the Catholic crusaders whose mission it was to exterminate them.  I imagine the sight of Bruniquel, looming high above the Aveyron River, gave many a crusader pause.  It definitely gave me pause.  But fueled by croissants and a pilgrim’s curiosity, I lifted my eyes toward the medieval walls and started to climb.

The narrow trail wasn’t as crowded as the route up Everest, but it had its challenges.  My hiking companions and I were forced to dodge runners and mountain bikers plunging downhill as we ascended. We bushwhacked through patches of tall, spiky grass and navigated around a large party of horseback riders struggling to control their skittish steeds.  We wended ever upward, huffing and puffing and sweating like the dickens.  Did I mention la canticule?  France experienced a record-breaking heat wave in June that drove temperatures as high as 115 degrees in places.  It wasn’t as daunting as frostbite on Everest, but it hurt.

We persevered until at last we gazed down from the pinnacle to the valley floor where the crusaders’ giant catapults once hurled stones at the besieged castle.  After refreshing ourselves with a frisky little rosé, we spent the night in a charming 17th Century hotel, but soon learned that centuries-old buildings don’t come hazard-free.  Stumbling to the W.C. in the middle of the night, we bumped our heads on ancient roof beams and banged our knees against an oddly located wooden bathtub.  A few lumps and bruises, ce n’est pas grave.  The next morning over a plate of warm, buttery croissants, the tribulations of yesterday were forgotten.  We filled our water bottles and pressed on toward Puycelsi.

The path followed along a shining river, led through a verdant forest, and skirted sun-dappled fields.  The air was perfumed with the scent of wild broom, birds sang, the stone gates of the city gleamed in the distance.  With less than a mile left to climb, I collapsed like an oxygen-starved Everest climber, unable to go on.  As Dinah Pelerin so often does, I envisioned my obituary: Wussy Crime Writer Couldn’t Take the Heat, Conked Out Short of the Mark.  Galvanized by embarrassment, I picked my wussy self up and staggered through the gates victorious.

      

The coolest place in town was the interior of the church where we noticed an unusual sculpture of a pig.  It seems that during one of the town’s many sieges, with food supplies exhausted, somebody came up with the bright idea of running the town’s last pig around and around the ramparts so the enemy watching from below would think there was an abundance of pigs and that continuing the siege would be a waste of time.  The trick worked.  The enemy withdrew, but the savior of the village ended up as the main course in the celebratory feast.  C’est la guerre.

Our overnight accommodation turned out to be a death trap.  The chatelaine prohibited shoes in the house and the 18th Century spiral staircase was as slippery as a waterslide in our sock feet.  The unlit ladder from the hall into the common room was an invitation to a broken hip for guests of our vintage, and an unseasonable mistral gusted willy-nilly through the house, slamming the massive doors and threatening to squash anyone caught passing through.  Toujours les hazards.

We awoke grateful to be alive and forged on toward Cordes-sur-Ciel.  Founded in 1222, the village welcomed Cathar refugees fleeing the crusaders and by so doing, incurred the wrath and cruelty of the Papal Inquisition.  Today it’s an enclave for artists and a favorite destination of tourists.  We arrived footsore and weary, but strode into town with the same sense of triumph Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay must have felt when they topped out on Everest in 1953.  In the rarefied air at 29,000 feet, they enjoyed the view for only ten minutes before they had to descend.  Modern-day conquerors spend even less time savoring their grand achievement.

I don’t mean to gloat – well, maybe just a little – but my friends and I luxuriated for two glorious days in a chateau perched a measly thousand feet above sea level, embellishing our tales of danger and survival and drinking French wine.  Everest Shmeverest.

Book Review: Beyond the Gates by Jason D. Morrow

************

Title: Beyond the Gates
Series: The Starborn Redemption, Book 1
Author: Jason D. Morrow
Narrator: Stacy Gonzalez
Publication Date: April 20, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic

************

Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes

************

Beyond the Gates
The Starborn Redemption, Book 1
Jason D. Morrow
Narrated by Stacy Gonzalez
Jason D. Morrow ,April 20, 2019
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

The Containment Zone is a 500-mile radius surrounded by mountains and closed in by gates. No one can leave, and anyone who tries will die. Within are lawless bandits, corrupt soldiers, and once-human greyskins that hunt down people to spread the virus. Some say the Containment Zone is where the greyskin virus originated. Others say the people inside are little more than lab rats being studied by the nefarious Screven government.

When 12-year-old Skylar and her father, Liam, are caught trying to escape, they are taken to Vulture Hill, a government prison camp no one has ever left alive. Inside the prison, Skylar learns that the facility is little more than a testing site for finding people of a certain bloodline – the Starborn. These are people with special powers that manifests in various spectacular ways, and Screven wants to exploit them.

Skylar has always known there was something special about her family. For years, her father has had the ability to completely numb pain with just a thought. Lacerated skin, broken bones, they can all be ignored with enough concentration. Learning that her father is a Starborn means Skylar is probably one too, placing them both in extreme danger.

Now, father and daughter must do the impossible and break out of a prison known for killing so many. But Liam has leverage the government may be willing to buy – the cure for the greyskin virus.

The first two books of The Starborn Redemption are set 40 years after The Starborn Ascension and 17 years before The Starborn Uprising. Each Series can be listened to independently.

There are a couple of things that set Beyond the Gates apart from so many post-apocalyptic zombie tales. First, one of the two protagonists is a 12-year-old child but this is not a middle grade book. Second, the other protagonist is her father and his primary goal is her safety, a refreshing change from the usual macho guy who has to be a hero. Skylar and Liam are an appealing pair and I felt they were pretty well fleshed out but I thought most of the secondary characters were more two-dimensional except for Nine.

While the core story is intense, dwelling as it does on the imprisonment of these two in separate sections of the prison—reminding me quite a lot of the separation of parents and children that’s happening on our border—I wanted to know much more about the world before the virus struck and a brutal government came to power. Strong worldbuilding is crucial in science fiction but it’s lacking here and, since I haven’t read anything by Jason D. Morrow before, I don’t know if he normally saves the background work for later books in a series. I hope so because I enjoyed spending time with Skylar and Liam and Nine in this perilous society and I can see a really good series in the making.

Stacy Gonzalez had the perfect voice for Skylar, imbuing her with a mix of fright and compassion while allowing her intelligence to come through. Nine was also a vivid character but Liam and other male voices were less successful, not so distinguishable from females. Ms. Gonzalez has good pacing and intonations, though, that reflect the situation and I enjoyed listening to her narration.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

About the Author

Jason D. Morrow is the author of more than 15 books in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, including The Starborn Uprising, The Starborn Ascension, The Starborn Redemption and Prototype D.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram

************

About the Narrator

Stacy Gonzalez is a Chicago based narrator and commercial voice actor. She is feisty, bright and expressive. Stacy specializes in YA, self-help and romance, especially when the narration calls for a good handle on comedy, wit and sass. Audiofile Magazine has praised her pace and her ability to create bold characters. Stacy, who is half Colombian, speaks conversational Spanish. She has a great love for Old Hollywood—watching the movies and listening to audiobooks about any and every aspect of it! Follow her on Twitter at @stacygonzalezvo or visit her website at stacygonzalezvo.com.

Twitter // Facebook

************

Follow the tour here.

************

Waiting On Wednesday (115)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Nanny
Gilly Macmillan
William Morrow, September 2019
Mystery, Psychological Thriller

From the publisher—

When her beloved nanny, Hannah, left without a trace in the summer of 1988, seven-year-old Jocelyn Holt was devastated. Haunted by the loss, Jo grew up bitter and distant, and eventually left her parents and Lake Hall, their faded aristocratic home, behind.

Thirty years later, Jo returns to the house and is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her mother. But when human remains are accidentally uncovered in a lake on the estate, Jo begins to question everything she thought she knew.

Then an unexpected visitor knocks on the door and Jo’s world is destroyed again. Desperate to piece together the gaping holes in her memory, Jo must uncover who her nanny really was, why she left, and if she can trust her own mother…

In this compulsively readable tale of secrets, lies, and deception, Gilly Macmillan explores the darkest impulses and desires of the human heart. Diabolically clever, The Nanny reminds us that sometimes the truth hurts so much you’d rather hear the lie.

Why am I waiting so eagerly? For one thing, it appears to be a neat twist on the usual the-nanny-is-an-evil-person trope so I’m interested to see if it really is. Also, I’m curious as to why the child was so very adversely affected by the nanny’s disappearance and, of course, this sounds like a really intense psychological thriller which I happen to like. Fingers crossed this one lives up to the promise 😉

Review: Shamed: A Novel of Suspense by Linda Castillo

Reprinted from Kevin’s Corner
Initially posted on August 15, 2019

************

Review: Shamed: A Novel of Suspense by Linda Castillo

Kate Burkholder, Chief of Police of Painters Mill, Ohio, is back in Shamed: A Novel of Suspense and dealing with a murder and subsequent nightmare of a missing child. The old Schattenbaum place hasn’t been lived in since the flood of 1969 damn near took everything. Before the flood, as a child, Mary Yolder was out there all the time. She still comes back to wander the abandoned property in order to cut flowers and harvest the walnuts that fall from nearly a dozen trees. These days Mary Yolder is a widow, sixty years old, and grandmother and she keeps the collecting of walnuts tradition going with her grandkids. On this day she is out there with her five year old granddaughter, Annie, and her seven year old sister, Elise.

Long before the day is done, Mary Yolder is dead by the work of an angry and vicious killer and Elise has been taken by that same person. Annie is left behind, badly traumatized, and of little help to Chief Burkholder or to her sister.

A kidnapping is always difficult to deal with, but especially in the Amish community where privacy is highly valued. The family is a respected pillar of the community, but it seems pretty clear as the initial hours pass, that they are keeping secrets. Secrets that may or may not have a role in the horrific crimes that have rocked everyone in the area.

Shamed is the latest in the long running mystery series that began many years ago with Sworn to Silence. The latest read is another solidly good read. It is also one that could be read by readers new to the series as the references to earlier cases are kept to a minimum. For those of us old hands at this great series, author Linda Castillo weaves another tale of mystery and intrigue and does so with all the usual series regulars and a few new folks one is glad to meet. Shamed is another good book in a great series and well worth your time.

For another take on the book, make sure you read Lesa Holstine’s review from July.

Shamed: A Novel of Suspense

Linda Castillo

http://www.lindacastillo.com

Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s Publishing Group)

http://www.minotaurbooks.com

July 2019

Hardback (also available in audio and eBook formats)

304 Pages

$26.99

Material supplied by the good folks of the Dallas Public Library System. My library copy came from the Forest Green Branch.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2019

Book Review: The Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre @MsAnnAguirre @midnightinkbook

The Third Mrs. Durst
Ann Aguirre
Midnight Ink, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-7387-6131-2
Hardcover

Marlena Altizer left home as soon as she could—she had a mother addicted to meth and younger brothers and sisters who had different fathers. The children often went hungry and Marlena was raped by one of her mother’s boyfriends when she was eleven. She scraped together enough money to buy a bus ticket to Nashville when she was sixteen and lived on the streets, where she met another teen runaway, Jenny Song. She caught the attention of a talent agent, who got her a modeling job. Her career took off, and she travelled to Europe for modeling jobs and attended classes at a Germany university.

Marlena was determined to find a rich and powerful man, and leave poverty behind. However, the man she found, Michael Durst, was rich and powerful but also cruel, controlling and sadistic. He concocted a false history for her, and arranged for her to be adopted by a Croatian couple. All her movements were watched by henchmen of her husband.  Marlena realized she was in over her head and she couldn’t see a way to escape.

While I enjoy a good tale of revenge, Marlena is not a very likable or sympathetic character. She uses her husband, who gets what’s coming to him, but she also manipulates her bodyguard in a cold and calculating way, who was one of the only people on her husband’s staff who was kind to her.   While she is loyal to her sisters and her friend Jenny, they also become entangled in the dangerous world of Michael Durst. A violent and gritty tale of deception and control.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, August 2019.

Book Review: The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan @HankPRyan @ForgeReads

The Murder List
Hank Phillippi Ryan
Forge Books, August 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-19721-4
Hardcover

Launching on August 20th is Hank Phillippi Ryan’s latest novel, The Murder List.  It is exciting, well-plotted, character driven, and eminently readable.  I would have said it is a terrific beach read if CNN didn’t beat me to it, choosing it as an “Ultimate Beach Read”!  That said – and with due respect to CNN – The Murder List is so much more than that.  The story revolves around Rachel North, a law student who has scored a summer internship in the office of a well-known and powerful Assistant District Attorney (“ADA”).  One problem, though, Rachel’s husband, Jack Kirkland, a brilliant criminal defense attorney is opposed to her taking the job because he and the ADA have history and do not like each other.  However, Rachel and Jack have a plan to be partners defending people charged with murder after Rachel finishes law school and gains the qualifications she needs to be put on the murder list (that is, attorneys qualified to handle murder cases).  So, Rachel is unwilling to pass up the opportunity to see how murder cases are handled from the prosecution side.  Arriving on her first day, she meets her fellow interns and her boss, ADA Martha Gardiner.

In the first hour, Gardiner takes her to the scene of a murder where Rachel is left outside to babysit the suspect’s nephew, leaving her with the feeling that her boss doesn’t really think much of her.  But after a court appearance the next day Gardiner invites Rachel to lunch.  From then on, their working relationship grows to the point where the ADA invites Rachel to work on a murder case she is personally handling.  For Rachel, this is a great opportunity because if she and Jack follow their plan, Rachel will need to be on the murder list, as Jack already is.  And, of course, Rachel who is not even out of law school, is nowhere near qualified to get on that list.  But the experience she will gain assisting the ADA will give her budding career a big boost.

While Rachel works on the murder case, her fellow interns are working on other matters which, according to them, are not at all as interesting as her case.  But, as Rachel’s work progresses, the evidence in her murder case is mounting against someone close to her which is making her anxious and frightened.  Forbidden to talk with anyone but Gardiner about the case, Rachel is unsure what to do but, as ordered, keeps all case-related information to herself.

As mentioned above, The Murder List is an exciting read with its unexpected twists and turns.  My only complaint is that I lost sleep over it – I didn’t finish it until 3:00 a.m. but I just couldn’t put it down.  Don’t miss this!

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, August 2019.

Book Reviews: Overturned by Lamar Giles and The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke @LRGiles @Scholastic @HistoriaFrankie @JollyFishPress

Overturned
Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-81250-4
Hardcover

I am always seeking books that will immediately intrigue ‘my’ students. Many times, I’ve been sucked into a suspense-filled, action-packed, heart-pumping mystery…surrounding a subject they could not care less about. Aptly, of course, young adults are not the intended audience—I am.

But.

Young adult readers deserve thrilling books.

Mr. Giles seems pleased to provide. And now, I may be the only person looking forward to school starting. I cannot wait to share Overturned.

The setting: the very casino where 16-year-old Nikki Tate works…as well as resides, stimulates the reader’s senses. At a blush, that life-style—for a high-school student—sounds kinda fabulous. And it was. Once.

Without her dad around to run things, the responsibility falls straight through her mother’s trembling fingers into Nikki’s own hands. She can handle it. Has to. Knowing, with her whole heart, that her father is not capable of murder doesn’t keep him off death row. Someone has to support the family—not just the three of them; the trusted and treasured employees of Cosmos matter, too.

Otherwise, she would never consider running her own after-hours, under-the-table card games. Which were not really a big deal. There’s only one human better at poker than Nikki and he’s not here right now. Gavin may still be in his teens, but his bulk makes him the perfect bouncer. Maybe he has a few butterflies when her invitations are extended to some shady characters, but Nikki knows she’s got this.

Until something even odder than the initial arrest and murder charge. New evidence, and an attorney more than pleased to represent Mr. Tate, appears. Conviction overturned and Mr. Tate is head of his casino once again.

Nikki’s delight with his return was fleeting. She once believed he was always there when she needed him. Now, his presence is so far past smothering, she seethes when they share the same space. Determined to make up for the lost time, and hoping to find the sweet, happy Babygirl he remembers; her dad dives deeper into her life.

Although Nikki doesn’t see it at first, Mr. Tate is not as angry as he is horrified and frightened by what he finds. As dad works diligently to get his daughter out of the quick-sand she doesn’t know she’s standing in, Nikki consistently (albeit unintentionally) blocks his way with a combination of teen-age infatuation and obligatory rebellion.

Overturned by Mr. Giles is absolutely every single thing I wish for when I want to wow ‘my’ students with a Book Talk.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2019.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure
Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-63163-239-6
Hardcover

I don’t know if Ms. Durkin and Ms. Cooke colluded to create a tiny tome that would call to all; from the self-dubbed non-reader to the basic bookworm, but that’s exactly what this groovy graphic-novel does.

Filled with fascinating facts, in the same way a teeny car contains a multitude of clowns, this was a particularly pleasing read for me. An at-a-glance timeline from 5,000 BC through 30 BC took up only a tiny portion of a page, but was packed with information. I had no idea that Egypt was divided and reunited so many times! Nor could I have fathomed the complicated process of turning papyrus into paper.

The “novel” is in the narration. The Histronauts, a quirky crew, complete with a cat, needed an indoor activity on a rainy day. Their museum visit morphs into an adventurous Egyptian exploration. As the kids take in the sights and ask amazing questions, I am completely captivated, learning about ancient Egyptians and their way of life. And if all of that isn’t enough, there are even activities through-out. From making jewelry to flatbread or simply solving puzzles, these were engaging additions.

I believe that reluctant readers will enjoy this because of the tantalizing trivia and the graphic-novel-format seems to be more appealing for shorter attention spans. I think avid readers will be reeling from the intriguing information. I was totally into it. And truly, who knew there more than 2,000 ancient Egyptian gods? Or that music was such an imperative part of their lives?

The Histronauts also embark on a Roman adventure and I am already looking forward to joining them.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.