When a Killer Calls: A Haunting Story of Murder, Criminal Profiling, and Justice in a Small Town #johnedouglas #markolshaker @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan’s review

In 1985, 17-year-old  Shari Smith was abducted in broad daylight at the end of her driveway while picking up the mail. The abductor made repeated taunting phone calls to the family, and a day later they received a haunting letter in the mail that contained Shari’s “last will and testament”. Knowing she was going to be murdered, she affirmed her love for them and appealed to her family to bravely carry on. Her body was found a few days later.

A short time later, nine-year-old Debra Helmick was abducted and killed. The killer called the Smiths and told them where to find her body. That’s when authorities knew both of these deaths were at the hands of a serial murderer. The author, John Douglas, an FBI agent in the Behavioral Science Unit who pioneered criminal profiling techniques, and is most well-known to us as the author behind the book and TV show, Mindhunter, was called in to assist with the investigation.  

My heart went out to the Smith family, who, after a devastating loss, showed incredible courage and bravery. They endured the taunting cruel phone calls, going above and beyond to assist the investigators, in an attempt to bait the killer into unwittingly revealing himself.

The first half of the book deals with the investigation and arrest of the perpetrator, and the second half detailed the trials for both his victims. His behavior in the courtroom was bizarre and he often blurted out inappropriate statements, refusing to answer questions, or offering rambling non-answers. His testimony lasted six hours due to his courtroom theatrics. Was he criminally insane or was this an attempt to be declared incompetent, thereby avoiding a sentence of death?  

I’m purposefully being vague, as this case was unfamiliar to me and I appreciated seeing the case play out as I read.  I recommend this to anyone who is interested in true crime and investigative work. This was a buddy read with Marialyce, one that left us both slightly disappointed. My interest lies mostly with the psychology behind criminals/murderers. I want to know the WHY.  I do wish we had been given more information about the perpetrator and why he was the way he was, and a bit less mundane details about the author himself. 

Marialyce’s review

Sadly, the book When A Killer Calls, was not as good as I was hoping. Certainly, the case when FBI profilers were a fledgling operation was interesting as well as the case the author is called upon to render expertise, but it did seem to go a bit flat.

Certainly, the man in question, Larry Gene Bell, was a devious and a hell sent individual. Accused of killing and murdering two young girls, he was cocky, sure of himself, and for all intents, (those of his own), he tried to paint himself as a mentally ill psychopath having among other things two personalities. Bell also phoned on numerous occasions the home of the older sister of the girl he kidnapped. Shari Smith, was a beautiful high school senior who was abducted while she collected the mail, from her home where she lived with her parents, a sister, and a brother.

Along with the calls which were planned from various telephone locations, the family received letters. It was Bell taunting them, but when they received one that was marked, Last Will and Testament, the family knew that their beloved daughter and sister was dead. The police coupled with other law enforcement agencies were on the case and John Douglas and his team provided a profile of the killer which helped the police finally find him.

In the meantime, a nine-year-old child playing in her yard with her siblings was abducted assuring law enforcement that Shari’s kidnapping was not the sole one. As the profile came into play, it became very apparent that the killer fit the descriptions that John Douglas and his team put together.

The case was harrowing as never before did the police come upon an unsub who was so calculating, devious, and criminal. Finally, in an effort to draw this maniac out, it was decided to use Shari’s sister as bait as his modus operendi was blonde blue eyes girls to which Dawn fit the requirements. She bravely put herself forward and tackled the phone calls that came into the home. Bell was convinced he was destined to marry Dawn. The whole Smith family showed absolute courage and strength relying in large part on their strong faith in the determination to see the killer brought to justice.

The Helmick family, parents and siblings of Debra, the young nine-year-old also sought the killer’s capture and day in court.

After capture, Bell displayed bizarre behaviors but eventually it was decided this was a manipulative front to escape punishment. The first trial concluded, the one for Shari and was a disgusting spectacle as Bell made plays for Dawn and the pity of the jurors. He was deranged but knew the difference between right and wrong. His narcissistic personality gave him the grand illusion that he was smarter than everyone else. A second trial for Karen was held in another venue and the jury returned the same verdict guilty with a death sentence conferred. After many appeals and years spent in prison, Bell was executed. He chose the electric chair as his fate, one that was justly deserved.

My issue with the book was that I thought the author inserted himself into everything, adding details such as how he dressed, what he ate, and so on, all of which weighed down the telling and created repetition and a tad phase of boredom on what should have been a riveting read.

Jan and I have been into the true crime stories lately and were disappointed, when holding this one up to the likes of some others, it fell short. It was a five star topic with a three star style of writing.

The bottom line however, is there are definitely some very sick people roaming about, and sometimes they seem to be the most harmless types of individual.

Larry Gene Bell
Dawn Smith
Debra Helmich and Shari Smith

Bone Deep: Untangling the Betsy Faria MurderCase #charlesbosworthjr #joeljschwartz @janberlisle @absltmom

Book Cover

Jan’s review

Imagine arriving home after a night out with friends to find your wife dead, stabbed 55 times, with a knife sticking out of her neck?  Imagine the police so convinced you are guilty of murder they ignore evidence that doesn’t fit their narrative, and you are charged.  Imagine going to trial with an inexperienced prosecutor and judge who prevents the jury from hearing key evidence. Imagine a prosecutor guilty of misconduct in the courtroom, yet allowed by the judge. Imagine a case based only on conjecture, without a shred of evidence against you, but plenty of evidence that it would have been virtually impossible for you to have murdered your wife. Imagine, despite all of this, being convicted and sent to prison.

Sounds like an implausible premise for a fictional novel, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it happened to Russ Faria when his wife Betsy was murdered in December of 2011. The case has been in the news for years, was featured on Dateline six times, a podcast aired in 2019, and a limited series based on the case airs in March of 2022.

Judge Chris Kunza Mennemeyer

 With so much already out there about this case, do we really need a book about it? Yes, we do. One of the author’s is Joel Schwartz, Russ’s defense lawyer. It’s an insider’s look into this unbelievable case from start to finish with new revelations and previously undisclosed evidence.  It details what can happen when those who are sworn to defend the rights of victims and the innocent fail to do their duty.  It gives us the details of a person so evil and diabolical, someone who lies and changes their story multiple times, yet not one second was spent by investigators making sure her story checked out. 

It demonstrates what happens when a defense attorney and reporter is dogged in their determination to make sure that justice prevails. It demonstrates  the power of national media attention. But it also highlights the terror of what might happen to the wrongly convicted if they have no one on their side.  Despite a judge and prosecutor who were seemingly determined to make sure Russ did not get a fair trial, the defense team and reporters made sure that after this sham of a trial, justice would be served. The conviction was overturned and a new trial was scheduled. But this time key evidence was disclosed. It was gratifying to read the evidence properly disclosed and the rule of law followed in court. Fortunately for Russ, he was found not guilty. Unfortunately for Russ, he spent three long years in prison for a crime he did not, and could not, have committed. 

Leah Askey prosecuting attorney

Marialyce and I found this a riveting story from beginning to end, rivaling many crime fiction books. At times, I could hardly believe what I was reading.  The sheer incompetence and hubris of the judge and prosecutor was mind-boggling and if I were to read this in a fiction book, I would call it silly and implausible. Scooby-Doo would have done a better job.  

This is gripping and a must read for fans of true crime and courtroom dramas. The story is told based on transcripts and audio/video recordings, with every word based on truth, not memory.

Having served on a jury for a few times, I often say that if I ever had to go before a jury I want them all to undergo an IQ test to make sure they are indeed a jury of my peers. But how do you protect yourself against an incompetent prosecutor and judge?  It’s a frightening scenario that makes one wonder how many innocent people are imprisoned with no recourse open to them to prove their innocence. 

Russ now spends time giving back and paying forward by working on behalf of the wrongly imprisoned via the Innocence Project:   https://innocenceproject.org

Betsy and Russ Faria
How the awful murder of Betsy Faria inspired a true crime phenomenon – Film  Daily
Pam Huff

Marialyce’s review

Would you kill for $150,000? Could you stab your victim over fifty-five times in what seems like a fit of rage! Could a husband, a friend, or anyone do such a thing? The case of Russ Faria is one that will go down in the annals of criminal injustice. Russ was accused of brutally killing his wife, Betsy, a woman who was just diagnosed with stage four cancer. However, Russ had an ironclad reason he could not have done such a thing. Yet, the police team in Troy, Missouri, along with the prosecutor, Leah Askey (Cheney), were certain they had their man. They didn’t and fiasco of a trial ensued led by an incompetent judge. Russ was defended by Joel Schwartz, who firmly believed Russ was innocent and is one on the coauthors of this book, the other being, Charles Bosworth Jr. These two assembled a book that will make you question how this defendant couldn’t have received a fair trial.

Then there is Betsy’s best (or so she claimed) friend, Pam Huff, who seemed to possess a shield that deflected any eyes turning in her direction. She was the master deflector, claiming a plethora of injuries and an even bigger story changer that was summarily ignored by the prosecution and police.

Why was this sham and what followed allowed to happen? How could the prosecutor, the judge, and even the jury been so wrong?

This book is a true crime story and one that made me wonder, is this fiction? The utter incompetence, the disregarding of facts, the sheer hypocrisy of this trial left me breathless. Then I found myself asking why? Why would they fixate on Russ? Why would they not cast a questioning eye at Pam Huff? Why would they possibly seem to frame Russ for a crime he obviously didn’t commit?

Jan and I were beyond appalled that our criminal system could produce a prosecuting attorney and judge such as the ones assigned Russ’s trial. We were in awe of the sheer railroading of Russ and the total lack of fairness.

It was beyond frustrating as we could feel Joel Schwartz realizing that not only his hands, but also his feet were tied. He believed in Russ and fought valiantly for him. However, they had gotten their ”man” and were not going to change a thing, facts be dammed, and truths be buried.

I could say more about how this effected me and brought out so many strong emotions. There is so much to this tale, that one needs to be encouraged to read. They say truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and, in this case, truth takes a seat far back in this courtroom. You are going to ask yourself, how could this have happened and yet it did!

Bottom line is truth is stranger than fiction!

This story is soon to be a series on NBC staring Rene Zwellinger as Pam Huff.
Thank you to Charles Henry Bosworth, and Joel Schwartz, Citadel Press, and NetGalley for a copy of this tale due out February 22, 2022.

the authors

The Whistler #2

The Judge’s List @JohnGrisham @doubledaybooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

Book Cover

Jan’s review

I had forgotten how much I enjoy a straight up legal thriller/investigation  with a linear timeline, only a few characters to keep straight, and no crazy twists. I flew through this book in 24 hours without a single eye roll or picking up my phone out of boredom.

Lacy, an investigator with the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct investigates complaints of judicial corruption. Murder has never been one of the complaints, until now. She has a clandestine meeting with Jeri, a woman who is so frightened she uses multiple aliases to avoid detection. Twenty years ago, her father was killed and the case went cold. For twenty years she has conducted her own investigation and discovered a string of murders all using the same method. The commonality among the victims? Judge Ross Bannick. She knows the motives and she knows the method. But the judge is highly intelligent, patient, knows the law, and knows how to avoid detection. He is the pillar of the community, both personally and professionally.

Lacy is skeptical and initially refuses the case on the ground that her department does not investigate murder. Eventually she relents and with her most trusted investigators, the cat and mouse games begin. We know from the start who the murderer is, so the thrill is not who, but how. I also loved the information about serial murderers and the dark web sprinkled throughout.

I loved both of these women, especially Jeri, and I hope one day she gets her own book. The woman has skills!  This is the second book in a series, with The Whistler being the first, (a book I forgot I read and from my GR rating, not one I enjoyed) but I’m glad I gave this one a chance. No need to read book #1 first, as this one works perfectly as a standalone. After a string of disappointments and dnf’s my reading buddy Marialyce and I found this one a joy from start to finish.  Grisham is at his best, with excellent writing and characterizations, and I can’t wait to read his next one. 

Marialyce’s review

The John Grisham I love is back with a thriller that certainly got my attention. I so enjoyed how a true storyteller can weave a tale without the benefit of “tons” of characters, eye rolling circumstances, and things that have you shaking your head with their absurdities.


In this tale, we met two strong women, Lacy Stoltz, a lawyer who investigates “dirty” lawyers on the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct,  and Jeri Crosby, who has a plethora of many In this tale, we met two strong women, Lacy Stoltz, a lawyer who investigates “dirty” lawyers on the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct,  and Jeri Crosby, who has a plethora of many pseudo names. Jeri comes to Lacey after exhausting all other avenues in a search for the killer of her beloved father. She has been on the trial of the killer for twenty years and over that time has discovered many “interesting” things about a particular judge, Judge Ross Bannick. Lacy initially is reluctant to take on what seems to be a murder investigation, she insists it’s really a police matter, but Jeri is persistent and wears her down.

What these ladies find with the help of some others make up the story that is filled with all the things we who have read Grisham love, a tight story, a page turning thriller, and a desire to see justice prevail. Jan and I so enjoyed our foray into this Florida Pan Handle environment and were very so pleased with seeing once again Grisham at his best.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the story, but revealing more just might spoil the path this one takes. Interestingly, my eldest daughter is an attorney, who does this job on a federal level so she, of course, put this book at the top of her reading list. 


Overall, a very strong recommendation for this story comes from this reader. It has all the elements that make a thriller exciting, motivating, and so believable and a wonderful story to read with my reading companion, Jan. We deserved a five star read and got it with this story.

The Christie Affair @ninadegramont @stmartinspress @absltmom

Book Cover

My review

Agatha Christie was a well known author writing sixty-six novels as well as fourteen short stories. Her name was known far and wide so when quite mysteriously Agatha went missing for eleven days, everyone was in an uproar. Certainly this disappearance was the stuff of Mrs Christie’s novels. One thousand policemen joined in the search as well as civilians and the famous Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers.

The newspapers had a field day wondering what happened and of course adding some spectacular items to the disappearance. Her car was found near a pond called The Silent Spring so this place definitely of intense interest. Scouring the lake, Agatha was not found. Her husband, Archie, was also a suspect as he was a philanderer and had a mistress. However, Agatha with all the people looking remained wherever she was until she was found at a hotel named Harrorgate supposedly not remembering a thing. She had changed her name assuming that of her husband’s mistress. She seemed to be enjoying life and had met a number of upper class people who frequented that hotel.

In this book, Nina de Gramont visualizes for the reader what might have transpired. Of course, one must acknowledge that all of this is conjecture, but I found it to be clever conjecture indeed. This is a strange tale and of course over the years many have guessed as to the cause. However, Agatha went to her grave without letting anyone know what had really happened over the eleven days.

I enjoyed the story and the guessing game the author led us through. Although somewhat long, it was an entertaining story that kept me busy during a long car ride home.

Thank you to Nina de Gramont, St Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for a copy of this story that will publish on February 1, 2022
and that cover is gorgeous!

English crime writer Agatha Christie and her daughter, Rosalind, are featured in a newspaper article reporting the mysterious disappearance of the novelist, 1926. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Hydro in Harrogate, Yorkshire, later to become the Old Swan Hotel, pictured c1890. It was here that British crime novelist Agatha Christie was found following her 11-day disappearance in 1926. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Harrowgate

The Heights @louise_candish @AtriaBooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

Book Cover

Jan’s review

The book opens when Ellen Saint sees Kieran standing on the rooftop terrace of a building. How is this possible? She KNOWS he died two years ago. Seeing Kieran creates a rage in her that can’t be extinguished. How is it possible this monster is still walking the earth and what will she do about it?

From here we go back in time to when Ellen and her family meet Kieran. She considers him the catalyst that sent her family down a path of pain and destruction. Kieran ends up paying for his actions but it’s not enough for Ellen so she starts a public campaign to destroy him in the court of public opinion. No punishment is enough for Ellen. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away here because most of the pleasure of reading this novel was in seeing the story unfold.  

Ellen is a flawed and most unpleasant and unlikable person. You’ve heard the saying, “Revenge is a dish best served cold”? In Ellen’s case, no amount of time will cool the burning hot fire of hatred and her desire for revenge.  Is Ellen’s hatred clouding her judgement and blinding her to the flaws in her own family? Her sighting of Kiernan sets in motion a series of events that ends in an explosive and surprising ending. 

The most compelling question I had: Is Ellen’s hatred of Kieran clouding her judgment and blinding her to the flaws within her own family?

Told in four parts, Part One details the events that destroyed her family, Part Two tells the story from the POV of Vic, Ellen’s ex-husband, and Part Three is the current day.  Interspersed throughout the book are magazine article and book excerpts, while Part Four is the explosive ending. Each part adds missing pieces and gives the reader more insight. Where does the truth lie? No one is likable so if that is a requirement then it’s best to steer clear. 

Ellen also suffers from a condition known as High Place phenomenon, which is an urge to jump from a high place. Her fear and obsessive thoughts add to the tension as a counterpoint to her obsession with Kieran. I was kept on my toes and although I got a few things right, there were still surprises in store. This could be considered a slow burn but I enjoy strong character-driven novels so I loved this aspect of the story.

A buddy read with my friend, Marialyce, we both found this to be  interesting and entertaining, as well as thought-provoking.  This was my first book by this author and won’t be my last. 

Marialyce’s review

Hate, it consumes one, makes you irrational, unable to use common sense, morals, and humanity while it drives deeper into your heart, mind, and soul.

When thinking of the character, Ellen Saint, I picture a ball of fire, consuming her every minute of every day. True Ellen and her ex-mate, Vic have a valid reason for hating Kiernan, a new friend of their son, Lucas, and believe Kiernan to have been the devil who led their son done a path to drugs, partying. After all, Lucas had been an angel of a son before Kiernan entered the picture. However, there was much more to the story of Kiernan, who seemed to immediately feel that Ellen would be his nemesis forever.

There were many things that made me grate my teeth about the parenting skills of Ellen, Vic, and her new husband. They seemed to omit the word “no” from their parental dictionary and one might call their skills (or lack thereof) progressive.

As foretold tragedy happens, when the car Kiernan is driving plunges into the water and Ellen is seething and as Kiernan is tried and sentenced to two years in jail, she demands more. She sets up on online group that demands longer sentences for crimes such as these, and of course attracts all the hate filled followers she can.(sounds like our social media platforms these days) In the meantime, her relationship with Vic has fallen apart, and she has met, married, and has a daughter with her new husband (aptly named Saint btw)

Time is a great healer they say, but in Ellen’s case, time only fuels the fire raging within her especially when one day she catches a glimpse of Kiernan in a building’s penthouse garden. She is appalled, nearly slipping out of her skin, for she knows that Kiernan is dead or so she thought. She and Vic had had taken care of this, had they not? What or how is Kiernan still walking the planet? Hell has not opened up and consumed him.

All this leads to a roundabout story of revenge that had five years to smolder, but burns ever so bright now. Ellen will have her revenge. She will make sure his life is one that ends in whatever way she can arrange.

There are lots of twists which set this story up to be an intriguing read, and although it had some holes, the web of the story held true. Jan and I enjoyed our foray into Ellen’s madness. There are never any guarantees that once revenge is accomplished that one will feel better. For Ellen, her end seems to make things come round full circle as she exchanges places with the boy she came to abhor.

Thanks to Louise Candish, Atria, and Edelweiss for a copy of this story that will publish March 1, 2022

Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’sDeadliestDay @peterzuckerman #amandapadoan @wwnorton @JanBelisle @absltmom

Book Cover

Jan’s Review

One mark of a terrific read is when I go down a rabbit hole online to read more about the subject and search to see if a documentary was made. This book met those criteria.

The subject is one of the worst climbing disasters in history on K2, the deadliest mountain range for high altitude climbers. The death toll is roughly 30%, so what drives climbers? I’m not sure, but one thing is certain, the Sherpa who accompany the foreign climbers do so because with a lack of opportunity in an area rife with political unrest and war, it’s the only way to lift them out of poverty, put food on the table and put their children through school.

This is not just another climbing disaster book. The authors do a fantastic job introducing readers to the culture, beliefs and customs of the ethnic Sherpas. We follow two, Chhiring and Pasang from their childhood to the fateful climb in the summer of 2008, and we meet their families. I particularly appreciated that we were given the story through a Sherpa’s perspective, giving them recognition and a voice in a sport that typically highlights the Western climbers who gain fame and fortune through corporate sponsors. Sherpas make the climbs possible, doing much of the laying of the lines and the heavy work.

In 2008 eighteen climbers started out, but only 7 survived. The factors that led to such a devastating loss of life are varied and still the subject of some controversy. One thing for certain is that it was not just one thing that went wrong, it was a perfect storm of circumstances, timing, and poor decisions. Failing to adhere to the turn-around time, necessitating a climb down from the summit at night, and a falling serac (a block of glacier ice) which destroyed the lines needed played a major role. 

The facts of what happened in this disaster are thoroughly and painstakingly recounted and it was riveting reading. The details of the grueling climb, the effects on the human body, the reach to the summit and the disasters and dangers during the descent kept me glued to the page, as if I was right there beside them.  As in all disasters, there are true heroes depicted.

The question that Marialyce and I had as we read was mostly “WHY?” But then we are both missing the ‘danger gene’ and are more couch potato than adrenaline junkie.

I finished this book with sadness for the lives that were lost, but also with a newfound understanding and admiration for the Sherpas.

Marialyce’s Review

Surely to climb mountains is a great aspiration for some. It takes preparation, stamina, strength, and a will to conquer what others have tried but few have succeeded in doing. It also involves the overhanging threat of death.

K2 is the second highest mountain on Earth, with an elevation of 28, 251 feet. It is also the second most dangerous mountain, a claim made by many climbers. On August 1, 2008, climbers from various teams around the globe were about to climb this treacherous mountain. They had prepared for the conditions they would face or so they thought. There are many obstacles facing the men and one woman, altitude sickness, oxygen deprivation, weather, the falling of seracs (,a pinnacle or ridge of ice on the surface of a glacier.) and of course avalanches. Assisted by Sherpas and high-altitude porters, the group prepares to head out. Along the way there are four camps for them to acclimatize themselves to and so the ten groups after waiting two months for good weather travel out to achieve their goal.

Time is of the essence and to start their issues, the groups head out later than anticipated. As the wonderful Sherpas head out at midnight to fix lines for the climbers, the most experienced Sherpa, Shaheen Baig has to go back down because he is suffering high altitude sickness (vomiting, tiredness, confusion, headaches and dizziness). His absence will be sorely missed as he was the only one to have previously climbed K2 and was able to communicate in the various languages that the climbers and their team spoke. It seemed like a foretelling of disaster. However, continue they did and after some issues involving which side to climb, they continued along unknowing that the rope lines had been laid out too soon, and they eventually ran out of rope. They were at the dead zone an area that contained the infamous Bottleneck where there was room for just one person at a time. So, at 3pm, a time that was surely too late, they set out. Delayed by having to climb back down to retrieve the rope previously used, more time was lost.


Soon, the deaths would begin. At this point two climbers fell Mandic and Baig when Mandic unlocked himself to let another climber go before him, he lost his balance and fell more than 300 feet. In a rescue attempt that ultimately failed, Jehan Baig, suspected of having high altitude sickness fell to his death. The mountain had claimed two people so far.
For the rest, the summit is reached much later than safety would require, and them they were required to climb in the dark. Disaster struck again as a serac fell cutting all the fixed lines leaving the area more treacherous than it originally was. The choice was to descend in the dark with no lines or spend the night in the dead zone.


The next morning, another serac falls, leaving the Korean team entrapped by their ropes hanging. Although some tried to rescue them, it was a futile effort, and the mountain claimed more lives. Another serac and an avalanche was to fall missing a climber by inches. He later found the remains of another climber.

Meanwhile some Sherpas went back up the mountain to try and assist those who remained. It was a futile effort as another serac and avalanche descended sweeping four men to their deaths.


In all, eleven climbers lost their lives attempting to conquer the mountain, while the others were injured losing toes to frostbite, hurt seriously trying to follow their passion of climbing the world’s most dangerous mountain.


In this book, we are given details, some of which are murky from survivors’ remembrances of this fatal adventure. Jan and I read this book, and questioned as to why anyone would want to do such a thing. This driving compulsion to climb, to place their life on the line, to challenge nature, to be one of the over three hundred who have summited this mighty mountain. Was it worth the risk, exposing one’s body and mind to subzero temperatures with death sitting on your shoulders. I guess only a mountain climber could answer that question.


What should never be neglected is gratitude and recognition for the Sherpas and high-altitude porters for without their unfailing courage, the climbs would not be possible. They are a special people raised in higher altitude conditions with an exceptional respect for their gods and goddesses who they feel dwell in these mountains. They risk life and limb for what to us seems little pay so that their families can live a better life than the poor lives many have in front of them.


This is an amazing story, scary grisly at times which points to the fact that people will always do the things that call to them, no matter the risks involved, or the death that may await them at the next step they take.

The Ballerinas @RKapelkeDale @StMartinsPress @absltmom

The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

My review

Requiring ultimate strength, endurance, precision and the willingness to literally give up your life, the life of a ballerina might to some look like a glorious adventure into the world of beauty and fairy tales. We watch these girls glide across the stage, perform amazing leaps, testing their balance as they place the weight of their body onto the toes of their feet.

This wonderfully done book makes the reader understand so well what indeed the life of a ballerina is like. We meet three young girls, Delphine, Lindsay, and Margaux who become fast friends at their esteemed ballet school, the Paris Opera Ballet. It’s a hard life as the girls whose goal is to be a solo dancer, the main ballerina involved them in a world of pain, love, and the reminders that life is more than the dance. Yet, to these girls, it is their life.

We enter into a world of jealousy and the underpinnings of the depth many go to in order to be the best. The physical strain the training puts upon their young bodies, the condition of their feet with blisters constantly forming, and bloody sore s amassing, makes one wonder why anyone would want to do this. The girls constantly eye not only themselves but those who might eventually surpass them. Always vigilant for the next best thing, the girls are encouraged to work harder, stay super slim, and not to grow beyond a certain height.

Delphine, the daughter of a famous Prima Ballerina, knows she has a sword hovering over her as she strives to be just like her mother. Eventually, as a solo ballerina, she walks away from the Paris Opera, and ventures to Russia where she meets a Russian choreographer who enchants her, but fourteen years later she is back in Paris, recognizing what this man really is, a user, one who harbors jealousy for Delphine when she embarks on a choreographer career. Delphine is ready to once again embrace the life she had with her friends. Over the years, the girls would meet up sporadically and the friendship endured with its bumps along the way and the secret that Delphine and Margaux hold is drawing them into a territory where they know they should venture but are afraid.

The author does a fine job of conveying the many intricacies of being in a competitive arena. I did reflect on the similarities I personally experienced with a daughter who was a competitive figure skater. The drive is in these girls, they can’t seem to deny the allure and attraction ballet has for them as if it is written into their souls. The devious men and women who enter their lives seemed only to be focused on one thing, a narcissistic need for them to succeed using the girls, entrapping them at times, while making their needs always foremost.

It was sad reading this story, but a totally believable story of lives ruled by passion and finally perhaps the ability to see beyond what you think you need to be. I know this book has not received glowing reviews, but for me the affinity I felt for the girls probably was enhanced by what we saw and dealt with when my daughter competed.

Ballet looks so exquisitely beautiful, yet it hides a dark secret it can often threatening the life of the people who want nothing else but to be seen.

Thank you to Rachel Kapelke-Dale, St Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for a copy of this intriguing book.

The Cost Of Applause: 77 Pics To Celebrate Ballet Day | Bored Panda
Prima Ballerina | LoveToKnow
Misty Copeland: 5 Facts From Her New Book "Ballerina Body" | Allure

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident @Deadmountainbk @ChronicleBooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

Book Cover

Jan’s Review

Dead Mountain, in the Ural mountains, seems aptly named as this is where nine Russian hikers died on a 1959 expedition. What makes this story so compelling are the inexplicable circumstances surrounding their deaths, which remains unsolved to this day.

The hikers appear to have fled their tent in the middle of the night in sub-zero weather, without shoes and scantily clad. What would cause experienced hikers to do something so irrational and foolhardy? When a search party found the hikers some weeks later, autopsies revealed that several of the hikers experienced unexplained traumatic physical injuries. There were other strange details at the scene, which eliminated a natural occurrence as the cause of death.  

Several theories have been debated over the decades, which include an avalanche, animal attacks, a military conspiracy, attack by the indigenous Mansi people, and nuclear experiments. The suppression of information about the incident by the government fueled conspiracy theories.

The problem is that all these theories have evidence to the contrary, and none hold up to close scrutiny. The author, with access to the hiker’s diaries, official records, as well as interviews, decides to retrace the hiker’s steps and develops his own theory.  Despite the GR blurb claiming that: “here for the first time is the real story of what happened that night on Dead Mountain”, I’m not sure that is true, but it is certainly an interesting theory. 

The story of what happened to the hikers alternates with excerpts of the author’s experiences as he made the trek. Well-written and thoroughly researched, I found this incident so compelling I was inspired to find out more and watched a documentary on Amazon Prime, An Unknown Compelling Force, which I found fascinating. I love it when a book leads me down a rabbit hole to find out more.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyatlov_Pass_incident

What Happened on Dyatlov Pass? 'Dead Mountain' Reveals All - The Moscow  Times

Marialyce’s Review

Dead Mountain, the name alone might scare one. However, nine intrepid hikers decided to take on the mountain and not a one of them survived the incident. What exactly happened to these young experienced hikers and how does one explain the conditions under which their bodies were found?


The time was 1959 while Russia was still under the arm of being Soviet Union. Jump to the present and the author, Donnie Eichar, and others have decided to retrace the steps taken by the nine to see if they could find the reason for the unexplained deaths. The circumstances are eerie, finding the hikers having fled from their tent, in temperatures 20 to 40 degrees below zero, ill-equipped to handle the cold. Many of them were scantily dressed and when discovered had often come to violent ends. Interestingly, their clothes contained higher levels of radiation, and a frightening last photograph was found. Various theories abounded as to the why of this bizarre happening. Could it have been nuclear tests, and alien invasion, an attack by the local Masi tribe, or something else?


Donnie Eichar was determined to know and so he enlisted the journals, the records, and experts on science, hiking and weather conditions who lent a hand to a theory that seemed quite different than any that had been proposed.

I was glad to have read this story with Jan and though at times repetitious, this story was interesting and provided many details of a trip that cost so many their lives. It has always amazed me that people would find such pleasure in such a death-defying sport. The weather alone would have happily kept me indoors in front of a roaring fire. Jan and I both agreed that we do not do well in temperatures below 60!

This was a quick read and one that would be well received by those who enjoy hiking and searching for the unsolved mysteries of the world. Although Mr Eichar’s solving of this mystery left many doubts in our minds, perhaps we will never know the real reason behind this unfortunate loss of life.

https://www.the-sun.com/lifestyle/tech-old/2233832/dyatlov-pass-incident-mystery-solved/

The Dyatlov Pass Incident: What Killed Hikers at Dead Mountain?
Mystery of Russia's 'Dead Mountain' where 9 hikers found 'naked, missing  eyes and tongues' may have been SOLVED
Mountain mystery | Drama Quarterly

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyatlov_Pass_incident

This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce and one we both enjoyed. The bottom line is we will never know what really happened, but for those of us fascinated by unsolved mysteries, this is an engrossing account of the tragedy.

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth@sallyhepworth @StMartinsPress @janbelisle @absltmom #dorie

Book Cover

So very pleased and thrilled to have Dorie join us on this blog for this fun and highly enjoyable book!

Dorie’s Review

THIS WAS MY LAST READ OF 2021!!!! This is the most fun I’ve had with a thriller in a very long time.

The plot was very clever and the characters were interesting – everyone has their faults and neuroses.

Except for our patriarch, Stephen Aston, OR SO IT APPEARS!!

He is a 60 something physician, still attractive, getting married to a much younger woman!! He has done well and has a beautiful home, one that Heather designed! He loves his family, including his ex-wife Pam whom he has just divorced!! The book opens with their wedding ceremony!

Looking on as “bridesmaids” are Stephen’s daughters, Tully and Rachel. Tully is married with 2 young children, Rachel is single with a thriving business. Neither is happy about the wedding and they are sitting with their still very much alive mother, who has dementia.

I started to get excited about this book and really couldn’t put it down!!

The book switches to before the wedding for a long time :

While visiting her mother at the nursing facility, Tully has heard her mother talk about how Stephen had hurt her so many times!! Rachel hears her mother complain that he was a terrible man!!

The plot moves along quickly, the three young women start to question if Stephen is the perfect dad and husband that they thought! Pam was young when she was diagnosed with dementia and she often had bruises, although the girls don’t remember her being clumsy. Did her dad abuse her in some way???

Heather wakes up one morning after a girls night out. She remembers coming home to Stephen waiting for her, then she envisions what he did to her. She’s about to leave him when she sees Stephen at the kitchen table, HE HAS A BLACK EYE AND A SCRATCH ON HIS FACE!!

What is going on??? Are these women finally seeing who Stephen really is, or are they mentally creating a picture of a different man??

Lots of great surprises and mind games!! The ending is left to the reader’s design!

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher, St. Martin’s press, through NetGalley.

***This was a buddy read with Marialyce and Jan and we had great fun discussing this one and all enjoyed it! Check out their great reviews!

Jan’s Review

The book opens at a wedding when, as the happy couple go to the sacristy to sign the marriage license, the guests hear a thud, a scream, and the celebrant comes out covered in blood. What happened? We are kept in the dark as to who, what, why as we go back in time.  

Stephen is a successful cardiac surgeon, still married to Pam, who suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease and resides in a care facility. Imagine the shock and surprise of his two grown daughters, Rachel and Tully, when he invites them to a luncheon to meet Heather, his very young fiancé.

Heather is the product of a troubled childhood and  is unsure in social situations, always expecting the worst from people, including her husband-to-be. Rachel and Tully both have their own issues. Tully is married and living an upper middle-class lifestyle that is crumbling around her as she hides a dangerous secret, while Rachel is single and has a secret trauma from her past.

As the daughters go through their mother’s things, they find a hot water bottle filled with cash and the theories begin to fly. Told from the perspective of the three women, a group think begins to occur and past events and motivations are assigned to Stephen that may or may not be true. As they sift through their memories and come to conclusions, are they correct or have they been tainted by time, assumptions, and innuendos?

This is a brilliant exploration of memory, as well as early trauma affecting our perceptions and beliefs. The ending could be open to interpretation and it’s one I re-read several times. I have my own belief and interpretation based on my own experiences, as I’m sure others will interpret it differently based on their beliefs and experiences.  I didn’t find it ambiguous but other readers may. Which, when you think about it, proves the author’s point brilliantly. 

It’s been a long time since I had such a page-turner that I was glued to the page past my bedtime. I rate according to genre, how fast I flip the pages, and how much a book makes me think. This may not be an in-depth character study but for a terrific lighter read with substance you can’t go wrong. I read this as a buddy read with Marialyce and Dorie, and it inspired an interesting and lively discussion. This would make a terrific book club selection. 

*I received a digital copy for review from NetGalley

* Publication date April 5, 2022 by St. Martin’s Press

Marialyce’s Review

I have not been a big fan of Sally Hepworth, but I must say this book changed my mind. There is so much to it both in the story itself and the discussions I was able to have with my two book friends, Jan and Dorie, but the very questions it left in our minds as to who or what managed to complete an awful act.


So much is left to the imagination, and this book does make one wonder what lines might have been crossed and how often we can be deceived by what seems to be right in front of our eyes.


People with issues and problems present themselves in so many ways. Stephen, the head of the family, a successful doctor is currently married to Pam, but sadly Pam is in the hold of dementia and is confined to a home. Stephen has also met and fallen in love with Heather, a young woman his two daughter’s age who is ever so anxious to become something, to climb out of the hole her family seemed to have placed her in. The two daughters, Tully and Rachel are products of trauma and both hide their mental states to all, even in Tully’s case from her husband.


And so, this mixture of people come together to both prepare for the upcoming divorce and marriage of their saintly father. However, is he the saint we are all led to believe or is there once again a hidden self that lies within Stephen that seems to set them all down a road, they never believed they would travel.


Intensely interesting and page turning, this book keeps one engrossed in the happenings of this family and the inevitable end that they seem to be headed for. Definitely recommend this one for its probe into the very essence of family and what the mind believes.
Thank you to Sally Hepworth, St Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for this story due out April 5, 2022.

On the Way to Casa Lotus: A Memoir of Family, Art, Injury, and Forgiveness @ljuncomargain @absltmom #independentbooksellers #forgiveness #medical #memoir

Book Cover

MY REVIEW

On the Way to Casa Lotus: A Memoir of Family, Art, Injury, and Forgiveness, tells the story of a beautiful, artistic, wealthy, young Mexican girl named Lorena Margain. She is married to a wonderful man and together with family and friends they share a perfect existence. Perfect that is until, Lorena, pregnant with her third child starts to feel sick.

Nothing is wrong, the doctors say, but Lorena knows differently. All blame seems to fall on the pregnancy, Lorena’s busy life style, and the rigors of being a wife and mother. The family offers compassion, but there is little they can do other than to try and allay her fears. Lorena has her third child and looking for relief from the pain and suffering, she finds none to be had. She goes to see an endocrinologist and from there it is discovered that she has a growth on her adrenal gland. Although not cancerous, it must be removed and so Lorena schedules the surgery as soon as possible.

Of course, she and her family realize that the surgery will not make things better immediately, but as Lorena heals and goes home, the pain and suffering grow to major misery. She can’t function and for a woman who once had a zeal for life, she blames herself for not being better. Doctors suggest perhaps it’s psychosomatic and once again she wonders if indeed, she is the one creating this untenable life.

As she sinks deeper and deeper into pain, she becomes depressed knowing she is no wife to her beloved husband, Edwardo, or mother to her three young children. The family bands around her doing all they can to allay her situation. It is truly a loving family, one that supports each other no matter what.

Unbelievably, she eventually returns to her endocrinologist, and to both their shock and amazement, they find that the surgeon removed the incorrect gland and Lorena must endure surgery again on the other gland. The surgeon does her best and is able to save a part of the gland, but now Lorena must live differently from what she once was able to do.

Lorena and Edwardo, along with the family, are furious and want to sue the surgeon who made such a blunder, but as Lorena comes to fully understand both herself and life, she decides to not seek revenge against the surgeon.

In this horrible occurrence, Lorena learned that she must trust herself, know what her body feels and not rely on others’ opinions to set a course for her. It’s a cautionary tale, where so many of us who rush to find a cure to what ails us, perhaps, should listen more to our inner voice. We know ourselves better than anyone and we should always be our own health advocate, not afraid to question, and certainly always knowing when something is wrong.

This story of courage, strength, love, and the willingness to forgive and to move on, is a good lesson for us all. Perhaps if there was more forgiveness in our own life, we could go on as Lorena did, just happy to be alive with her husband, children, and family surrounding her.

Thank you to Lorena Margin, Independent Book Sellers, and NetGalley for this story.

And here’s the author:

Lorena Junco Margain - YouTube

Art collector, philanthropist, author of the USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling memoir, On The Way To Casa Lotus!