Book Review: 2012: The Secret of the Crystal Skull by Chris Morton and Ceri Louise Thomas

Hi there!

The Mayan calendar poses an interesting challenge to thinkers in the modern age. On one hand, it is one of the most complex and accurate astronomically-based calendars that we have found in mankind’s historical record. And on the other, it predicts, according to some anthropologists and archaeologists, the end of time on December 21, 2012.

As always, humankind has very different responses to this date. Some claim it signals an apocalypse or armageddon. Others say that it will bring a sea change to human consciousness. Still others say it will be just another day on Earth. I have to admit that I fall into the last category, though I’ll be interested to see what happens in three years.

It was obvious that authors Chris Morton and Ceri Morton Thomas put a ton of hard work and research into their book 2012: The Secret of the Crystal Skull. And it provides yet another point of view on the subject. Their protagonist, Dr. Laura Shepherd, is an archaeologist with a specialty in Mayan hieroglyphics. When a colleague dies mysteriously in the possession of a strange crystal skull, Shepherd is put in charge of determining where it came from and what its significance may be.

Never has writing a report for a superior provided more of a winding path. Laura’s path takes her to a hidden Mayan temple and into one of the most technologically advanced labs in the United States, not to mention her journey to what may be a parallel universe… But I won’t spoil that spiritual quest for you.

Evidently this novel began as a screenplay that may have inspired Roland Emmerich to create his latest big budget disaster film2012. And the authors’ previous best-seller (The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls) may have inspired the last Indiana Jones movie – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Cystal Skull. So they seem to have a knack for getting Hollywood’s attention.

It reads like a screenplay a good portion of the time with a ton of visual detail. And though I enjoyed the second half of the book and found the last 200 pages to go extremely quickly, the first half was tough sledding and took a long time to get rolling.

At one point, Dr. Shepherd spends a few chapters reading a journal written in the 1930s by the daughter of the archaeologist who actually discovered the crystal skull on an expedition. I felt that section could have been written to summarize the journal entries rather than including several long, detailed entries in the text of the book. I was reminded of Mary Shelley‘s classic Frankenstein, which is written as a series of journal entries that I have never finished after multiple attempts. So this may be more my failing than that of the authors.

In another part of the book, Dr. Shepherd remembers how her daughter died in a choking accident involving a piece of candy. As a parent, the scene was almost too detailed and graphic to read without thinking about how I would react if faced with the same situation. It was one of the stronger scenes, yet somehow fit awkwardly into the grander scheme of things. Again, I feel it might have been edited a bit to smooth out this rough patch.

However, from the point where Laura enters the jungle in search of the Mayan temple where the crystal skull had been found 80 years ago, I felt more connected to the story. It was at that point that the author’s knowledge of Mayan history and architecture really shined through and the adventure kicked into high gear. From there to the end, it’s a great thrill ride reminiscent of something you’d see in an Indiana Jones adventure.

Ultimately I enjoyed 2012: The Secret of the Crystal Skull by Morton and Thomas, but I wish it got going a bit faster than it did. If you’re fascinated by the Mayan calendar, the impending date of December 21, 2012, and the mystery of the crystal skulls, be sure to check it out at your local bookstore.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this book and other 2012-themed media at Amazon!

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Book Review: The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Hi all…

Though I had heard through the grapevine that The Lost City of Z was a great book, I find myself reading much more fiction than non-fiction and never managed to pick up a copy. When I finally had an opportunity to read it, I was drawn into the story from the opening pages and held until the very end. And when I put it down, I told my wife that I had read novels with less compelling plots than this true story about obsession and the lure of the unknown…

Percy Harrison Fawcett disappeared in 1925 into the dense, unforgiving jungles of the Amazon and never returned. At age 57, he had more experience exploring the then unmapped parts of the world than nearly anyone else alive. What was to stop David Grann, a writer for The New Yorker, from disappearing on the same quest a mere 81 years later?

Grann’s seamless prose manages to weave past and present in a coherent tapestry, intertwining Fawcett’s story with his own as he develops his own fascination with the legendary City of Z Fawcett and so many others lost their lives pursuing. Would I want to accompany either of these men through the jungles of South America in search of rumors, hearsay, and legend? Probably not. They each risked their lives and the lives of others in a part of the world where the flora and fauna make the lasting works of society such as roads, buildings, and monuments disappear seemingly overnight. Thankfully, Grann is able to share his experiences and his research with his readers.

On Fawcett’s last expedition, the fateful trip from which he never returned, he took his son Jack and his son’s best friend Raleigh along as young, strong, fearless adventurers dedicated to the quest. They sought traces of what may have been El Dorado, the City of Gold, when Europeans first entered the jungles. The stories of such riches and the knowledge that the Amazon hid such a wealth archaeological and anthropological knowledge from the world was enough to drive Fawcett to research all he could.

After a long series of successful quests to map the jungles, his last expedition had been a failure and he’d been forced to retreat. But he vowed to go back and he did. Unfortunately he and his young companions were never seen again.

Grann spoke to Fawcett’s remaining family, spoke with experts far and wide, and eventually kissed his wife and baby son goodbye to travel to South America himself. He was hot on Fawcett’s trail. And he eventually found the truth he sought…

For me, reading about these harrowing tales was enough to make me appreciate their heroism and steadfastness from afar. As a bestseller on the lists of the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Denver Post, and others, obviously I wasn’t the only one who found the story irresistable. This book is not for the squeamish in a few spots, where Grann goes into great detail about some of the diseases and critters who see see the human body as a host or a meal. However, I found it fascinating to learn about some of the more horrific things the Amazon has in store for visitors.

If you have not yet been bitten by the bug, be sure to check out The Lost City of Z by David Grann, which is now out in paperback. It’s part Indiana Jones, part Sherlock Holmes, and fascinating from cover to cover.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this amazing book at Amazon below!

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Book Review: The Mudhogs by Dalton James

Hi there!

When I heard about a bright 8-year old boy who had written and illustrated not one book, but three – I was intrigued. My own daughter has similar aspirations, so I decided to check out Dalton James’ imaginative fiction. And I have to say that I was impressed by what I read!

The Mudhogs tells the story about a clubhouse for a group of three little pigs. Told from the point of view of Fangs, a tick on Piggy’s leg, we hear the tale of how the three pigs deal with a mud shortage. Piggy, Piggles, and Piglet try everything they can think of to make it rain, so that they might make even a little mud. But no rain came.

They tried a rain dance. That didn’t work. They tried to cast a spell. That didn’t work. They even tried putting on a play, complete with thunder and lightning, but that didn’t work either.

Finally they decided they’d go on an adventure in search of mud. None of the towns had any mud. None of the states had any mud. Even the countries they visited were without any mud. But when they got home… they discovered it had been raining while they’d been away and there was plenty of mud for everybody!

Though the artwork was childlike, I was fascinated by the story and the imagination used to create it. My favorite part of the book is when the pigs are traveling and go to the towns of Piggsburg, Hogsbreath, Swineville, and Slopton. As if those weren’t good enough, they then visit the states of Pighoma, Snortesee, New Hog, and Piggselvania. And while you’re still giggling at the first two waves of names, they then go to the countries of Pig of Mud States, Pigsia, Hogico, and Barnia.

It’s obvious that 8-year-old Dalton James has quite a career ahead of him in publishing if he keeps up the great work. He should be an inspiration to kids and parents everywhere to go out on a limb and be creative. You never know who you’ll meet or where you’ll end up. Personally, I’d like to travel to Slopton, Piggselvania, and Barnia. They sound like fun places to visit!

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these other books by Dalton James at Amazon!

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