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!

   

Weekend at the Gorge Pt. 3.1

…Cont.
Part 3.1: Heaven’s Amphitheater 
(Yeah, yeah, yeah…. this is late. Like real late. Far later than it should be, for sure… On top of that, it was getting so long winded that I’m going to pull a Mocking Jay and split the last bit into two parts. Hate me if you want! <I’m talking to you, Annie!> That’s the biggest conflicting benefit of not having a deadline, however; the stress isn’t there, but neither is the impetus…)

<Refresh on Parts 1&2

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 2>
…Cont…

   I was awakened the next morning at about 8 by a cackling laugh from a few campsites over. As quickly as I cursed them, I chastised myself. I’d put money on that we were just as annoying the night before to people who were trying to sleep.       

   Stepping outside of the tent and seeing the grounds in the daylight was a whole new experience. There was a general hustle and bustle that was about the camp, even at such an early hour, that let you know there was going to be a Dmb show that night. People were already milling about, cooking themselves breakfast, playing tailgate games, many even drinking morning beers. 

   The smell of bacon overrode my initial plan to have the fruit that I had brought for breakfast, so I walked up to the vendor village that had been set up between our grounds and Gen Pop. The vendor village had a bit of everything, a burger tent, one that had pizza, another with dumplings… In addition to food there was also various tents selling a smattering of wares; sunglasses, clothes, basic electronics, and such. I found a place that was selling the best breakfast crepes that I’ve ever seen outside of New York City. Happy with my discovery and with crepe in hand, I made my way back to home base. 

   We spent the day hanging out with our new neighbor friends. We cooked, ate, drank, played cornhole, and swapped enough stories to make Aesop jealous.

   I decided to go into the venue before everyone else because I wanted to get a lay of the land and scope it out for best vantage points, plus I wanted to check out the openers to see if I felt they were worth checking out all 3 days. 

   The walk from premier camping to the venue was a solid 15 minutes, again making me question the venue’s use of the word ‘premier’ in referring to our campgrounds. I arrived and made my way through security, then followed another main path from the entrance to the top of the lawn of the venue. 

   There aren’t really words that can correct express the feelings of seeing the amphitheater for the first time. As you crest the hill and the stage and it’s backdrop come into view, it feels as if you’re looking at a painting. (As a matter of fact, I saw an artist at the top of the hill painting the landscape all weekend). If you have ever been to the Grand Canyon, I kind of compare it to the feelings that seeing that for the first time evokes. 

   After meandering through the venue a bit, I decided to hit the merch booth and get one of the venue specific event tees and some other stuff. The line, as always was super long, but I just wanted to get it of the way so I didn’t have to think about it the rest of the weekend. 

   The biggest surprise for me was the rabid fervor over the limited edition show posters. Each show, the merch booths collectively sell about 1,500 numbered prints of a poster made specifically for that night; also available was a whole weekend poster. People were lining up for when the gates opened each day of the weekend to try to secure a copy of that day’s $50 collectable. They invariably sold out pretty early in the day, so it wasn’t uncommon to overhear people trying to buy the posters off of people who had been lucky enough to get one…. for two or even three times their original price. 

   By the time I waited out the line and got my stuff the first opener, a band called The Lone Bellow had taken stage. The band was a folk based Americana act, but they honestly skewed a bit too much towards country music to hold my attention. Even though I was trying to maintain an objective attitude because I knew I was going to be writing this, my brain automatically regulated the music to background noise. 

   Annie and Matty Ice texted that they were on their way in, so I made my way back to meet them on the main entrance path. Somehow, I found them among the cascading river of people that were now flooding into the venue. Seeing the look of awe on their faces as they summited the hill was worth the early solo trip in. 

   After giving them the grand tour, (that hour and a half that I was in by myself clearly made me a Gorge expert!), we made our way to the front of the lawn on stage right, where Matty Ice had hometown friends. They were sitting next to a large pole, on top of which was a huge speaker. Because the pole obstructed view of the stage, it created a natural pathway for people to be coming up and down the lawn. This also meant that a steady stream of inebriated concert goers would be sauntering by like aimless cattle on their way to a watering hole. 

   For the most part, the evening went well. Opening with The Best of What’s Around into one of my favorites, Big Eyed Fish, was epic, but going into my friend Kelly’s favorite, Satellite, well, that just made it all too special. 

   The rest of night one galloped along at a breakneck pace, even the 20 minute jam out of Seek Up not weighing down the flow. 

   Somewhere towards the beginning of the set a kid who was clearly heavily under the influence of some sort of psychotropic drug came literally crawling through the crowd, almost squishing Matty Ice’s friend and her child that sitting on the ground in the middle of our people circle. Matty Ice spotted the danger before any of us, and quickly Don Corleone’d the situation, snuffing the impending crisis in the bud. 

  The only other extraneous excitement for the evening came when one of our camping neighbors texted that he ‘needed help finding himself’, as the full day’s worth of whiskey had gotten the best of him. Annie stepped into the role of ‘show mom’ and retrieved our wayward brother, and soon we were all back together, dancing like fools. 

   Besides Denver, all the DMB shows that I had been to had been east coast shows. I’m not sure if being in a different region was a factor, or maybe it was the fact that many of the people in the crowd had spent the day traveling, but there was a marked difference in the temperament of the crowd. The east coast shows that I had been to, especially at my home venue of SPAC, have what I can best describe as a rabid feel to them. The crowd sings every lyric and dances to every note, creating a palpable vibe unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The crowd at The Gorge was different. From my mid-lawn vantage things felt muted. I saw many people sitting, many standing in what felt a stoic fashion, and very few people were singing along. I made a mental note to see how the rest of the weekend’s vibe was. 

  The rest of the evening played out, coming to crescendo with a killer All Along the Watchtower. As quickly as the evening had progressed, it was over. Not wasting any time, we made our way along the path back to our camp. We hung out enough to have a few drinks, and then crawled into our tents, slipping into the sweet oblivion of sleep. 

   

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!