Category Archives: Arts and Entertainment

Review- The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story- by Douglas PrestonĀ 

(By: Steve Michaels- Denver, Co. 12/26/16)

   Nonfiction offers its own unique reading experience as opposed to most fiction. Whereas a fiction story is carried by the author’s ability to weave a compelling narrative and pepper it with enough facts and details to make it interesting and believable, a nonfiction writer has to do just the opposite. Armed with as many facts, data, personal accounts, and other bits of information that their research provides, the writer has to compile these in a way that doesn’t sound as if they are writing an encyclopedia article, or a school textbook (unless, of course, that is their goal. I’m specifically talking about nonfiction that is written more for entertainment, as opposed to something written as a clinical or educational piece).

   The Lost City of the Monkey God, also known as The White City, has been a staple of Honduran folklore for generations. This city was said to be a place of refuge and a storehouse of treasures for the indigenous peoples during the time of the Spanish conquest of the area. There are rumors of a deadly curse that guards the area, one whose existence is bolstered by strange happenings and often inexplicable occurrences surrounding those that have gone to look for the lost city.

  Undeterred by this, in 2012 author Douglas Preston joined an expedition to the rain forest of southern Honduras to map areas of interest using a relatively new application of a laser imaging technology called Lidar, which bounces 100,000 individual laser pulses per second off an object and records distance in a way much like radar does with sound. It can be used to penetrate gaps in dense foliage to model a map of what’s below. This generated map offered sufficient evidence for the mounting of a second expedition in 2015, which Preston also joined. This time they were headed in on the ground, with the hopes of using the aerial maps to ‘ground truth’ their findings. Preston details his journeys in his gripping newest release “The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story”.

   Preston’s background as a writer for such publications as National Geographic, Smithsonian, and the New Yorker, mixed with his prowess as an engaging bestselling author of page turning thrillers makes for an extremely informative yet harrowingly engrossing read. In a narrative that feels like an excerpt from the adventures of Indiana Jones, Preston chronicles the expedition as they deal with corrupt governments, drug cartels, jungle animals, the unforgiving environment, parasitic diseases, and pretty much any other staple of hellish condition known to man. 

   The motley crew that comprises the expedition make up one of the most eclectic group ever brought to page, in fiction or nonfiction. Preston does an amazing job of bringing their personal motivations and drive to bare, as well as each of their diverse personalities. A personal favorite was the foul mouthed, corpulent, murdering, drug smuggler named Bruce Heinicke. Let’s just say that if it had been him that Greedo had cornered in the Mos Eisley Cantina, well, there would be no question as to who shot first.

   Time spent in the jungle and the repercussions of gave Preston ample motivation for rumination. While reflecting on the lessons to be learned from the past, Preston looks into our future as a species and how our actions as a society can and will affect us on a global scale; culturally, socially, and environmentally, as evidenced by the example of the echoes of past civilizations that lie buried and forgotten.
The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story is available everywhere 1/3/2017


  Very special thanks to Caitlin at Hachette Book Group and Grand Central Publishing for the advance copy!


Sarah’s Space: Review- Joshua Bell

By: Sarah Michaels- Great Barrington, MA

“Dress like you have more class than anyone in that theater”.

That was what I kept telling myself. I didn’t want to dress so causal that I was looked down on, yet I didn’t want to dress to the nines like I was going to a black tie gala. Simple black dress, matching black heels, hair tied up, clean. Neat. Put together. I walked out of the front door forgetting how cold it was. In New England I’ve always found the month of October difficult to dress for.
I’ve been to see Train, Dave Matthews Band, The Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20, and a bunch other concerts where the environment is completely different. At rock shows, wearing shorts and a T-shirt is the norm; you don’t need to look all fancy. Honestly I like that. I am far more comfortable in my jeans and sweatshirt than I am in a dress. This wasn’t like those concerts, however.
The Mahaiwe Theater is one of the more well-known landmarks of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A small little theater in an equally small little town, yet The Mahaiwe’s reputation is big enough to attract a world renowned violinist and his extremely talented pianist.
I had only ever been to the theatre once before, and that was for an event nowhere near as as formal as this.
My sister and I arrived at the theater about an hour before the show. Looking across the sea of people lined up at the entrance I felt a bit out of place. You could smell the perfume of an old rich lady, the cologne of the fancy young man. Everyone carried themselves as if they were a somebody. As my sister and I walked in we found a familiar face in the crowd, got our tickets from the box office, and waited in the line that led to our seats. In this time I think I probably was pushed and shoved out of the way at least 10 times as self-important people cut their way past those who are being patient enough to wait their turn to enter the auditorium. I did my best to maintain my manners, always being the one saying “excuse me”, yet going unnoticed as the rude and inconsiderate carried about their business unaware of anything beyond their bubbles.
We reached the main auditorium entry doors and made our way to our seats. Our tickets had us in the upper balcony, which meant stairs… A twisted ankle, a frustrated usher, and 10 minutes of confusion later, my group and I finally found our seats. Being in the upper balcony we had a nice view of the stage, overlooked by the beautiful woodwork that adorned the inside of the Mahawie. Lights lined the ceiling, some of the spotlights pointed towards the stage while others remained turned off. I was seated for about 20 minutes before the lights dimmed and the director of the Mahawie came out and gave her spiel thanking the sponsors. Once she was done, the audience applauded her as she walked off the stage. The lights stayed dim, as we were told about emergency exits, in the prohibition of photography.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the real show started. Joshua Bell walked on to the stage, a beautiful 1773 violin and bow in his hands, his pianist following behind him. Both men looked extremely sophisticated, dressed in well tailored suits.
I honestly had no idea what to expect, but after the first song had been played, I was completely stunned. Not a single sharp or flat that didn’t belong was played. Obviously, they had months of practice together, but the fact that neither of them had played a single incorrect note in the first 20 minutes of their performance amazed me. Each note that resonated throughout the theater somehow seemed more beautifully than the one that came before it. Every crescendo and decrescendo was in perfect control as it flowed from Bells’ instrument.
Many of the pieces played dated back to the times of Bach and Beethoven. As someone who has played the violin for seven years, this artist represented everything I aspire to be.
The performance lasted for about two hours with a 15 minute intermission. During the intermission I ventured downstairs and met up with my friend and fellow orchestra member, who was also at the show. As we stood in line at the concession stand he and I talked about how we were both amazed at the way Joshua Bell carried himself. His confidence radiated all around him. If there was a shred of nervousness, you couldn’t tell. The intermission ended, so we made our way back at our seats, eager for what was next.
To open the second half, Joshua Bell came back on to the stage alone and started playing an amazing solo. He had the ability to make it sound as if there was more than one instrument being played. His extremely delicate violin was able to fill the small theater perfectly, without having to be amplified at all. Still, not a single incorrect note was played.
When the solo came to an end, Alessio Bax (the pianist) came back onstage for another duet. The two of them playing together sounded like a small orchestra, their music filling The theater to its farthest reaches. The fluidity of each note into the next was like water, steady and unrelenting. Still, there wasn’t a single error.
I honestly think that’s what amazed me most. All of the pieces played sounded as if they were recorded versions being played directly off of a CD.
After the last note of the night was played, the entire audience gave Bell and Bax a standing ovation. The roar of the crowd continued even after they had exited the stage. It continued for almost 10 minutes before finally subsiding. The lights came back on and I gathered my things. I started walking down the stairs, one of the songs stuck on repeat in my head.
I believe everybody in the theater that night would say it had been an experience that they would never forget. If you’ve never been to a classical concert with a modern violinist, I feel it is without a doubt something you should put on your bucket list. If you’re young like I am, it’s something that can shape your future. It can show you what you could be if you try hard enough. For me, it makes me want to try even harder to become that good.
When I got home I sat on my bed and took off my heels. I thought to myself that even though I had stepped outside of my comfort zone and dressed up in a different way than I normally would, I realized that people weren’t there simply to show off their looks or fashion or stature. They were there for the same reason I was, and that made us all the same. They were there for the music.

Review: The Obsidian Chamber, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

(Note: While I shall do my best to avoid spoilers of any sort, I feel the need to mention that The Obsidian Chamber is NOT a stand alone novel. It is actually the sequel of all sequels, not only picking up directly where 2015’s Crimson Shore left off, but also the continuing of a much larger story arc that began back in the early 2000’s. My suggestion is, if you are caught up on the Pendergast series to date, then by all means read on. If not, well, put down your phone, your tablet, or whatever other device you are reading this on and head down to your local book store. You have some homework to do!)

I’ve been a follower of Preston and Child since their first novel, Relic, back in ’95. Having read every one of their books since, I found The Obsidian Chamber to be unique on a number of levels.

One of the biggest problems with creating a series such as the Pendergast one that Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have is, no matter what happens to your centric character, as an audience we know that they will triumph. Like I said in my preamble, The Obsidian Chamber is a direct sequel to Crimson Shore, the ending of which left our beloved FBI agent presumed dead. Instead, though, of quickly addressing the elephant in the room of how Pendergast returns, the authors step outside of their norm and evoke something akin to a Walking Dead ‘Glen Dumpster Plot Device’.

Whereas most times a deferment of plot progression can be angering, I found Preston & Child’s use of the stall to be a refreshing respite. It allowed not only a large amount of focused development to happen with a usually satellite character, it also fleshed out the novel to a more satisfying length.

Once our favorite detective was back in play, the writing style continued to have a different flavor than usual about it. For one, there seems to me to be far more glimpses into Pendergast’s personal relationships than usual. Of particular interest was seeing certain interactions between himself and another character that he considers one of his contemporaries. We are so very used to seeing Pendergast as an almost Holmes-esque, nearly omnipotent character. Sure, we’ve seen him at his lowest points; broken, out matched, wounded, and hopeless. Whenever he is working a case, however, he is the alpha. Seeing dynamics where he is reciprocating mutual respect? Well, that’s a refreshing new angle.

The Obsidian Chamber winds up in a place where many loose ends that have been floating around in the series find themselves stitched back in. I think that’s what the objective of the novel was; to tell a story that resulted in the right amount of closure. It seemed to me to be, to use a television term, a season finale of sorts. As I read the last sentences I felt a sense of surcease, the type that now leaves the door open to forge back into new territories, ones of less grandiose of a scale. That’s not to say that the events of The Obsidian Chamber won’t be expounded on soon. I guess we’ll have to wait another year to find out!

The Obsidian Chamber is available tomorrow, 10/18/16, everywhere books are sold

More about the authors:

Very special thanks to Shelby at Grand Central Publishing for the advanced copy!

Weekend at The Gorge pt.2

 …Cont. from Pt. 1

Click this link to read Pt.1

Part 2: Introductions
   The solution to my concert dilemma began to present itself when my mom and sister surprised me with lawn tickets to The Gorge for my birthday, along with enough sky miles to cover my flight to Seattle. This left me only to have to figure out ground transportation and lodging. My work situation was also conducive for me to be able to take the time off at the end of summer. Everything, for once, seemed to be working out!

   For a few years I have been a member of a DMB Facebook group, on which I found a couple of people looking for someone to jump in and split the costs of camping and car rental. After a few bumps in the road regarding flight booking, and a hurricane scare that affected one of my soon to be fellow campers, we all met up in Seattle the Thursday afternoon before the show. 

   My flight arrived last, so by the time I disembarked and made my way through SeaTec Airport, my two soon to be travel companions had already met up with others from our Facebook group and were posted up at an empty counter by baggage claim, being barraged by other travelers who dimwittedly assumed that they were employees at an information kiosk. While many of the others in our Facebook group have met in real life before, this was my first time having corporeal contact with any of them. 

   To be completely honest, while I was in the planning stages of the trip, the idea of flying to an unknown airport, meeting up with strangers who, not only would I be spending a considerable amount of time with, but would also be trusting to uphold a financial obligation with as regards to our travel expenses, and then going to camp and three nights of shows all the while surrounded by 30,000 people that I had never met before, well, it honestly was an intimidating concept. 

   Putting on my adventure hat, I walked up and introduced myself. The preconceived idea of awkwardness vanished instantly, as I was greeted with handshakes and hugs all around. It felt less like the meeting of strangers, and more like a high school reunion, one where you haven’t seen people in years, but you had a general notion of what everyone has been up to along the way. 

   After a bit of talking, my camping group and I said our goodbyes to everyone and headed to pick up our rental. We opted for a minivan, given their function and comfort over form. Shortly, we were on the road. 

   Since all of us had flown in, our plan was to hit up a local store for supplies and then make the drive to the venue. We stopped at a Walmart in Renton, which turned out to be the same sketchy one that I had stayed in the parking lot of back when the Man on Earth tour last came through Seattle. Heading in, we quickly discovered that every other DMB fan that flew in must have had the same idea as us. The camping section was bare, save for a few sleeping bags and a handful of air mattresses. We grabbed our food and what other minimal items we could for the weekend, and decided to head out and search for supplies in another store. After a few phone calls and a stop at a Fred Meyer, we found a Target that had what we needed in stock. Van packed to the gills, we finally actually hit the road. 

   The ride out was fairly uneventful, which gave the three of us, all who had never previously met, plenty of time to become acquainted. By the time we rolled into the campground, there was no shred of informality left among us. 

   It was almost dark, so we set our camp up as quickly as possible, managing to do so before the sun completely set. For some reason nicknames proved easier than using our real names, something that I kind of attributed to the sense of escapism that surrounded the whole weekend. I very easily fell back into my tour moniker Michaels, a botched introduction earned our female camper the name Annie, and rounding off the group was the man who came to be known as Matty Ice. 

   Annie had set up a ‘meal plan’ with another camp for the weekend, in which she had paid a flat rate for 3 hots a day. Since we were all set up, we said a quick hello to our camping neighbors, then headed off to find Annie’s grub hub. 

   The campground was a sprawling collection of tents and RVs set in the middle of a non-cultivated farm field. We were in premier camping, which to my surprise wasn’t top tier camping. We weren’t even second to the top. Not that I was complaining, it turned out that we had real bathrooms and showers in our tier that were available for no extra charge. The people over in standard camping (or as we came to call it ‘Gen Pop’ or ‘District 9′) had only Honey Bucket port-a-pottys and pay per use showers. After a bit of wandering, we found Annie’s people. 

   Site B, as I called it, was more of a small city then it was a camp site. If he wasn’t Canadian, I would definitely believe that the guy who organized it was a FEMA employee. 30 or so people had met up outside the campground and all rode inside in convoy so as to ensure they all could camp next to each other. They had set up and connected 3 20’x20′ canopy tents that were at least 10’ tall at their peak. One tent was set up as a kitchen, with coolers full of food and drinks, gas grills, and the like. On the opposite end, the other tent was set up as a living room type of area. Actual couches and chairs were arranged in a circle around a gas fire pit. There was even a few tapestries hanging on the walls. Connecting the two areas was the third tent, which was set up as a dance floor. Outside, behind the triple living area tents the group had set up their sleeping tents, definitely keeping the sense of community flowing that was so prevalent inside. The scale of Site B’s operation made you forgot for a minute that we were actually in the middle of a field in the sticks of Washington state. 

   We hung out for a bit, and soon enough people broke out guitars and started a singalong while passing around a bottle of Fireball Whiskey. Matty Ice commented on his hatred of cinnamon and need for another beer, so the three of us decided to head back to our home base. 

   When we got back our neighbors had all finished setting up their camps and were spending their evening hanging out. The campers in the RV on our passenger side were in their own world on their passenger side, but as we sat down our other adjacent neighbors struck up conversation and offered us shots. Nicknames were again the soup of the day, so we met Goldie, Tommy Gun, Ming Chang (who I called Harambro, due to his love for the dearly departed Harambe), and Ian (Annie started that one, she said he looked like an Ian, and it stuck like gum to a shoe). Our new bros were drinking Jack Fire, and of course not wanting to be rude, Matty Ice set aside his hatred of cinnamon for a moment and did a shot with us. Or six. Or something. I lost count after three. 

   2 am curfew came quickly, and not wanting to be evicted on our first night, we all went to bed. The day’s travel finally caught up to me and kicked me in the head, causing me to fall far quicker than into the blissful oblivion of sleep than usual….