Tag Archives: Review

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

(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: www.prestonchild.com

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

Review: Beyond the Ice Limit

   I finally finished Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s newest offering, ‘Beyond the Ice Limit’, the existence of which, as far as I know, was initially confirmed in an interview that I did with the authors a few years ago regarding their novel ‘White Fire’. 

   ‘Beyond the Ice Limit’, while a double sequel (in that it is not only a direct sequel to 2001’s ‘The Ice Limit’, but also holds the title as the newest entry in their ongoing ‘Gideon Crew’ series), does an amazing job setting itself as a standalone read. Knowing the backstories of the characters would definitely help make a faster bond with them, but overall the book does a good job of making those connections independently. 

   As always, Preston and Child craft a story that touches on multiple genres, without feeling confused about itself. ‘Beyond the Ice Limit’ captures the mood of the most Crichtonesq scifi-techno-thrillers, while weaving in details that echo the most clinical of Robin Cook novels, doing all this in an environment that could very happily reside on pages penned by Tom Clancy.    

   If you’re into action, adventure, excitement, or anything else that a Jedi doesn’t crave, then snag a copy of ‘Beyond the Ice Limit’ wherever books or ebooks are sold. If you’re too cheap for that, support your local library and find a copy there!


7/27/15: Imagine Dragons w/Metric Pepsi Center, Denver Colorado

7/27/15: Imagine Dragons w/Metric 

Pepsi Center, 
Denver Colorado
  Firstly, I really wanted to thank my friend Frenchie for the ticket hook up. He’s a back line tech for Metric (and works for a few other bands as well!), but unfortunately he wasn’t on this run with them. He’s actually one of the biggest reasons that I got involved in the music industry in the first place, but that’s a story for another day.
   I’ve been coming out to Denver for almost ten years and the Imagine Dragons show was the first time that I’ve been to the Pepsi Center. It was actually the first time that I had been to a huge arena show. I had been to smaller arenas, the biggest being the Mullins Center at Umass, but that venue is only 1/2 the size of the Pepsi Center’s 20,000 capacity. I also have been to huge outdoor amphitheaters that hold way more than that, but to be indoors, inside a giant concrete bowl full of screaming people, well, it was a slightly overwhelming sight. 
   The seats I had were super close, so binoculars weren’t necessary. I kind of felt for the people seated up in the nosebleeds, because to me they looked like tiny insects marching about, so I couldn’t imagine trying to watch the show from way up there.
   The stage was set up on one of the ends of the arena, with my seats a dozen rows up from the floor, in a section that was directly stage left, closest to the floor. Being that close to the stage was awesome, especially when it turned out to be such a fun show. On the flip side though, from that vantage I did noticed two very annoying elements.
   First off, and I honestly at the beginning thought it was because I was pretty close to side stage, the sound for Metric and the other opening act, a girl named Halsey, was absolutely horrible. In contrast, when Imagine Dragons came on the sound was as great as it was atrocious for the openers. Now, I’ve been involved with enough shows to know that often times big headlining bands have a soundboard and sound engineer specific to their set. Also, there are plenty of times where the openers aren’t allowed to utilize all of the channels on a soundboard or even to use all the speakers in the room. Another reason such a huge disparity can exist is because of either lack of the support bands having a proper sound check, or an inexperienced sound engineer working for them.
   Regardless of the reasons, the sound was mixed so badly for Metric and Halsey that I had an actual headache by the time Imagine Dragons started their set. The high end on the vocals was so shrill that it made it next to impossible to even distinguish them as words, even though I knew many of the songs. 
   I’ve seen Metric headline a few smaller venues and they completely blew my mind, so I had been really looking forward to seeing them perform their set on a huge stage. I was kind of pissed when it wasn’t as enjoyable as I knew it should have been.  
   I know that if I was a headlining act, I would insist on the sound being held to the highest standard. I understand if they limit the lighting and stage production, or even if a cap is put on how high the volume can be turned up, but honestly to someone who knows how it all works it makes the headliner look like douchebags to have such a night and day difference to the sound. To someone that doesn’t know the workings, it makes the openers look like they suck, and my question to that is why would you, as a headliner, want people to think you’ve taken out subpar bands on your tour?
   The second thing that struck me, had to do with the lighting. After learning to be a lighting director while I was touring with Man on Earth, the light show has become one of the most interesting parts of a rock show to me. The thing I learned about lighting from this show had to do with understanding your space.         
   There was a group of three spotlights that pointed across the stage providing a sort of ‘wash’ effect, keeping the band lit up from a slightly behind angle, that way most of the crowd could see them. What I’m not sure was taken in to account was, that in a venue where the seating was set up such as it was, the fact that the wash lighting, which tended to be constantly on, was blinding to everyone sitting in the first two sections of both sides of the arena. I saw numerous people wearing their sunglasses throughout most of the show. This upped my awareness as a lighting director for how what may look good on stage may not be the best thing for your audience. Being conscious of the crowd and how your lights affect them is an important part of the job.
   That all is not to say I didn’t have fun, all in all the show was absolutely great. Imagine Dragons had the crowd completely captivated, engaged, on their feet and dancing. Their sound, performance, lights and production easily shot them up to a top 3 show of 2015 so far for me. I just wish they’d show a little more love for their openers…