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Wow, it's been over a month since I've posted here, and not because I haven't been reading. For some reason, October always ends up being a crazy month for me. Time to load up my cue because I've been reading a lot.
This week I'm highlighting my first non-fiction read here; The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston.
For those of you familiar with my book tastes it's not surprising this landed on my listening list. Real world Archaeology with hints of Indiana Jones and Mummy Curse-style adventure? Where's the buy button?
This is the description that caught my interest:
The #1 New York Times and #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller! A five-hundred-year-old legend. An ancient curse. A stunning medical mystery. And a pioneering journey into the unknown heart of the world's densest jungle.
Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and they warn that anyone who enters this sacred city will fall ill and die. In 1940, swashbuckling journalist Theodore Morde returned from the rainforest with hundreds of artifacts and an electrifying story of having found the Lost City of the Monkey God-but then committed suicide without revealing its location. Three quarters of a century later, bestselling author Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest.
So, did it live up to the promise of high adventure?
The beginning of this book is fantastic. Honduras is a fascinating place; between the Fer-de-lance snakes, necrotic protozoan parasitic infections (think a skin eating version of malaria) that preferentially attacks your face, drug cartels, dubious intents of local military escorts, helicopters and planes that maybe shouldn't be airborne, and having to smuggle the research equipment into Honduras - and that's not even touching the history of the place. Suffice to say, Honduras has a reputation for attracting trouble, both historically and in modern day. It is both tragic and riveting, and Preston paints a realistic picture of the issues faced pursuing archaeology in a difficult environment - both politically and environmentally. For the first half I couldn't put this down. For that alone I recommend grabbing this from your library or tossing an Audible credit it's way.
The second half, when the team gets together and they're looking for the lost city? Preston spends a lot of time detailing the behind the scenes politics and wrestling with the ethics of them being there. Should he be detailing the search for the lost civilization or should he be apologizing for trying? To his credit it's an interesting question; is this treasure hunting or archaeology? It's also a bit of a moot point. This was a National Geographic sponsored academic foray to look for evidence of a lost civilization and structures they may have left behind. To the general audience this book is aimed at, the ethics litmus test was already well and passed. The controversy and it's nuances are academic and became redundant as the telling progressed, and unfortunately I found it took away from the location, country, and civilization they were investigating. That was a shame because Preston has a unique perspective on the region and sensitively tries to paint a picture of the people who once lived there. It's a shame he dwelled so much on what boils down to an academic footnote.
Do I recommend this? For the first few chapters alone the answer is yes. Honduras has a history that attracts trouble. You might also find the in depth discussion of controversy fascinating so don't write it off for that reason alone. The end of the book which deals with the disease (no spoilers) that plagued almost all of the team including the local Hondurans is also fascinating.
Pass? If you aren't a fan of nonfiction to begin with, this isn't the book to start. I'd recommend Blackwater over this. Interested in the Lost City? Head over to the National Geographic coverage of the expedition - You'll get the short version and it has the bonus of pictures.
What do you think? Is looking for lost civilizations exploitation, necessary archaeology, a bit of both or some grey area in between? Also, tell me what you're reading!
Audible had a couple of huge sales this past month (I'm what people in the digital marketing world call a 'whale') from which I'm still reaping the audio benefits from. This week I blitzed through John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars, about an up and coming talent agent who is contracted to introduce an entire alien race to Earth. The problem? They have a severe image problem- they're hideously ugly and smell bad.
Disclaimer: I've never actually read a John Scalzi book. I've only ever listened to them, three in fact, so I have no idea if they read as well as they sound. This is in large part due to the exceptional narration by Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek TNG fame). My favourite Scalzi book is still Fuzzy Nation, but Agent to the Stars is worth a read if you don't mind the odd Sci-Fi and are a fan of dry humour that pokes fun at American celebrity culture. If you like audiobooks this is a definite listen since Wil Wheaton's performance really adds an entertainment factor.
Pass: If you are not a SF fan and just can't stomach the idea of aliens contacting a talent agent to work on their image...I'd still maybe give this (or Fuzzy Nation) a try.
Description from Amazon: The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity's first interstellar friendship. There's just one problem: They're hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish. So getting humanity's trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal. Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He's one of Hollywood's hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it's quite another thing to negotiate for an entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he's going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster.
Last long weekend (no post out of a deep-rooted respect for the long weekend) I made a return to urban fantasy, one of my all time favourite genres, after a very long spell submersing myself in decidedly non UF reading. Recurve, by Shannon Mayer, coincidentally ended up on my radar when I also decided to try Kindle Unlimited (out of curiosity) and my other interest in trying more indie authors (also out of curiosity).
So how did it go? By the end of the weekend I'd made it to book four.
Shannon's series is typical urban fantasy fare - a woman, named Larkspur, is a unwary chosen one for her species of magically gifted elementals (similar to elves or fairies) even though she is shunned by the very people she is asked to save. It's the kind of starting point that a hundred other urban fantasy series have started from and the plot follows a similarly predictable urban fantasy format: chosen one does battle with dark forces and we are introduced to a world of supernatural politics and a handful of potential love interests.
But man is it ever done well - and readable! Despite having a good idea where the plot is going I couldn't put these down. The world is imaginative and the characters interesting despite following a UF formula. Shannon's writing is so engaging I couldn't put it down.
Who is this for?: Love urban fantasy and don't mind some light romance? then give the samples a try.
Pass?: There is no way around it- this series is formulaic. That's not a bad thing. A lot of readers want urban fantasy, which this series popularity and Shannon's sales show. Another author and I likely would have put this down, but Shannon is such an incredibly engaging author I found myself unable to put this down.
From Amazon: “My name is Larkspur, and I am an Elemental.”
My people use the power of the earth to sustain life and defy our enemies. I should be at my father's side as a royal princess. But as a half-breed, bastard child, that isn't going to happen.
I've been accused of attacking the queen, my wicked stepmother, and my life is suddenly on the line. I have only two options left to me: banishment, or training to become one of the King's Elite Guards, an Ender.
Option one will kill me.
Option two is meant to break me but is the only way to survive.
Did I mention I have no power like the rest of the elementals, and my connection to the earth is worth next to nothing?
Could things get any worse? Of course they can.
Welcome to being an Elemental.