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Nonfiction Review – The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

 

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

Review by Gail P. (TinkerPirate)

Picture yourself looking through a bookshelf and randomly picking up a book titled “The Lost City of the Monkey God”.  The premise is a group of scientists are searching for a lost city in a deep South American jungle.  You figure you are in for a finger-nail biting, thrill ride.  Then, you learn that many of the scientists develop symptoms of a mysterious disease that takes trips to far-away countries and months to diagnosis.  Oh, yes, you know you have a book that will keep you up at night.  Lastly, you see that the author is Douglas Preston.  Now, you know you have a great read in your hands and you clear your calendar for non-stop reading.  Then, comes the unexpected curve…it’s all TRUE!  “The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story” is Preston Douglas’ eyewitness account of a 2012 expedition in search of this lost city. 

The book set in an area of eastern Honduras called La Mosquitia that consists of tropical rain forests, marshs, and savannahs.  It contains the largest wilderness in Central America and is considered largely unpopulated.  While there are some areas inhabited by people, the vast majority of La Mosquitia is home only to animals that can amuse you, annoy you, or kill you.   In addition to being considered a World Heritage site, it is reportedly the location of a legendary city of immense wealth.  That city is called La Ciudad Blanca (the White City) or Lost City of the Monkey God.  

The search for the Lost City of the Monkey God is not for the faint of heart.  Since the time of the conquistadors, men have been trying to find this lost city.  Many have boasted of finding it, but none have provided evidence of its existence.  Preston provides descriptions of a number of these previous attempts.  His narrative of those expeditions are not only entertaining, but informative.  Along the way you will discover interesting pieced of history about Honduras and the role the United States has played in creating its present state of unrest.  I was surprised to learn the origin of the term “banana republic”.

I went into the book expecting a good read about an expedition into the unknown and some history into indigenous culture. What I got was much, much more.  While the first 60 pages or so were slow, Preston does an incredible job of presenting dry subjects such as Central American politics, archeologic processes, epidemiology, etc. in a way that makes the book a real page-turner.  He brought me into the adventure as an eye-witness to one of the greatest discoveries in the 21st century.

Key things I walked away with: 

  1. Great civilizations fail for the same reasons. 
  2. Humans have an amazing capacity to protect natural and historical wonders, but, unfortunately, more of us just want to exploit whose wonders. 
  3. In a battle between nature and humans, nature wins. 
  4. One of the greatest dangers to us has been around since dinosaurs walked the earth and little is being done to control it. 
  5. Never under estimate the power of a dream. 

 

 

Fiction Review – Prester John

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Prester John by John Buchan

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

The beautiful cover of the Oxford World Classics edition of Prester John (1910) hints that Buchan’s descriptions of landscape are pleasant in this novel.

I could scarcely believe my eyes as I ran towards [a gleaming lake], and doubts of a mirage haunted me. But it was no mirage, but a real lake, perhaps three miles in circumference, with bracken-fringed banks, a shore of white pebbles, and clear deep blue water. I drank my fill, and then stripped and swam in the blessed coolness. After that I ate some luncheon, and sunned myself on a flat rock. ‘I have discovered the source of the Labongo,’ I said to myself. ‘I will write to the Royal Geographical Society, and they will give me a medal.’

Ah, the daydreams of a 19-year-old.

Another plus is that the teen hero freely admits to being at the end of his tether on numerous occasions and he feels the physical effects of his ordeals, both of which are rarely admitted in adventure novels of any time. Although not quite as thrilling as Greenmantle, this is an admirable story, packed with chases and escapes. Aside from the total of absence of female characters, modern readers may be put off by the ethnocentrism and imperialism, enlightened or not. What balances the typical opinions of a man of his nation, class, and time, I think, is Buchan’s relevant idea that civilization is fragile, “a pane of glass,” and that savages come in all guises.

 

 

 

 

 

Audiobook (Fiction) Review – The Bette Davis Club

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

The Bette Davis Club by Jane Lotter

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

On a recent work trip, I listened to The Bette Davis Club by Jane Lotter.  Unbeknownst to me, Jane Lotter passed away in 2013. The forward by her daughter Tessa highlighted Lotter’s sense of humor and life as a writer. It was an unexpected and touching way for the book to begin.

Margo Just is a middle-aged woman who is in California for her niece’s wedding.  Dreading the day because of her very strained relationship with her half-sister Charlotte, Margo is drinking double martinis and hoping to get through the event unscathed.  When her niece Georgia disappears before the wedding, Margo is offered $50,000 by Charlotte to go after Georgia and bring her back, along with property that Georgia took without Charlotte’s permission.  Margo has no idea what this mysterious property is and doesn’t want to get involved but finds herself in need of the money and decides to accept the challenge.

Margo finds herself in her father’s classic red 1955 MG convertible with Georgia’s jilted fiancé Tully.  This is the start of a long car ride of awkward discussions, petty arguments, a search for clues of Georgia’s location, and a reality check on the state of her relationships and life.

I thought The Bette Davis Club was a funny and heartwarming novel.  Margo was self-deprecating and seemed like she was in denial but she was funny and charismatic.  Margo’s life had been punctuated by hurt and disappointment that colored her life choices but through the journey to find Georgia, Margo managed to find herself and come to grips with the losses she had endured.

I have since learned that Lotter wrote her own obituary and, after reading it, I wish I would have had a chance to know her in life.  Funny and witty with a great grasp of just the right words to use, Lotter was a humorist of the highest order and I highly recommend her novel.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Appleby on Ararat

Monday, July 9th, 2018

Appleby on Ararat by Michael Innes 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In this 1941 mystery, series hero John Appleby is returning to London from The Sunburnt Country (i.e. Australia) by ocean liner with a zany bunch of passengers. After the liner is torpedoed, the plucky band washes up on a deserted island in the South Pacific which turns out to be not so deserted. One of the passengers is murdered, making the island into a classic locked room. With a few silly elements, the story is more adventure a la John Buchan than a restful whodunit. 

Another attraction is among the cast is an archetypal  Australian woman, the intrepid and fearless prototype and paragon, that Innes used in other novels like The Man from the Sea (Innes taught EngLit in the U of Adelaide, in the 1930s and 1940s). 

This one is fun. It isn’t too wordy or frighteningly erudite so it does not feel too long, as ones set in country houses (Death by Water) and colleges (Seven Suspects) sometimes do.

Thriller Thursday – The Spies of the Balkans

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This spy novel is set in Greece in the perilous months running up to the Nazi invasion in April, 1941. The story stars Costa Zannis, a police detective who heads the office of sensitive cases. That is, with his brains and tact, he handles delicate crimes involving the rich, the famous, the dignified though you’d never know it by the way they act up. A ladies man, Costa has relationships with an old GF, a British spy, and the wife of ruthless tycoon. We readers need the romantic angle as a break from the tension of Nazi cruelty and our rueful previous knowledge that Greece is doomed to Nazi occupation.

Zannis becomes involved in three secret operations. He helps a society woman in Berlin smuggle out Jewish people who have to escape or be interned in concentration camps. The British notice that Zannis has experience with escape routes so they pressure him into going to Paris to smuggle an important scientist back to Greece. The British also back an operation in which Zannis is sent to Belgrade to assist in the (historically accurate) coup by a group of pro-Western Serb-nationalist Royal Yugoslav Air Force officers commanded by General Dušan Simović.

The settings all have evocative details of Salonika, Budapest, Berlin, and Paris. Furst is also effective at getting across the mundane details of ordinary people doing their best in trying circumstances – such as the fine scene of his family packing to flee and the reaction of their worried sheepdog Melissa. The irrepressible S. Kolb, British agent, shows up in this one playing the ghost in the machine that he did so well in Dark Voyage and The Foreign Correspondent.

I recommend Furst’s novels highly but don’t read them too close together, otherwise the formula is a little obvious.

 

 

 

Literary Fiction Review – The Possible World: A Novel

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Review by Cheryl G. (Poncer)

 

Have you ever opened a book and fell right in? Fell hard from the 1st paragraph? Like in 7th grade when you had a huge crush on someone and just needed to be near them, learn all about them, hear and understand every word they said? Well, this is that book.

I read this book in a day and a half. I raced through the first 300 or so pages, then slowed to a crawl because I did not want it to end.

And If it is possible to have more than one favorite character in a book, then I have 4. Each character is diverse and individual, but come together to create a magical, heartwarmning, heartbreaking and beautiful story.

The past and the present come together flawlessly, and the future seems filled with hope.

Dr. Schwarz is an amazing storyteller. She weaves lives and times together into beautiful patterns.

Read this book and share the story with those you love.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Trouble in Triplicate

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Trouble in Triplicate by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This is a collection of three novellas that were first published in a weekly called The American Magazine: Before I Die (April 1947), Help Wanted, Male (August 1945) and Instead of Evidence (May 1946). I’ve thought for a long time that many of the novellas starring investigators Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin were perfect in their wit and force. The plot unfolds briskly with just the right amount of characterization, cutting but lively conversations, and Manhattan atmosphere.

The first one Before I Die is set during WWII. Because of food rationing, Wolfe is yearning for more animal protein in the form of meat so he cuts a deal with a black marketer. The gangster asks Wolfe to clear up family problems that border on absurdly implausible until we remember our own families probably look chaotic to outsiders. Not once but twice is Archie almost snuffed. A violent, funny story that alternates between making us readers tense and making us laugh.

At about 25,000 words the second one Help Wanted, Male is the longest of the trio here. It is also set during WWII. Archie is petitioning a general to assign him to combat service because he feels he is missing out on the signal event of his generation. Wolfe perceives a threat to his life so serious that he hires a double to distract a would-be killer. The upshot of that decision is hilarious. Sure, the plot is wildly implausible in this one, but it’s so much fun, who cares?

Instead of Evidence also starts with a victim trying to hire Wolfe to prevent more victimization. A successful manufacturer of novelties suspects his weird partner of plotting to kill him to take over the business. A murder in fact is committed: an exploding cigar takes out the victim in funny gruesome scene. A fine story, so giving more details would detract from the pleasure a reader would get on her own.

Stout valued clear thinking, justice, courageousness, and humor. He has Wolfe Wolfe crack wise about lawyers: “They are inveterate hedgers. They think everything has two sides, which is nonsense.” This is typical of Wolfe’s inflexible ethics which we simultaneously admire and know is nonsense. Hey, it’s only a story.