Book Review: Esperanza by Trish J MacGregor

Hi there!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been caught off guard by a book. Usually I know from the jacket or the first few pages what I’m getting into, but not this time. I couldn’t put it down until I figured out what happened next and even then I couldn’t stop reading until I found out how it ended…

To say the least, Esperanza by Trish J. MacGregor blindsided me. It’s like the recipe for a great meal. The plot intertwines a bit of romance with some horror, adds little history and some fantasy for good measure, and leaves you wanting more at the end. If I was to compare it to other stories, I found a bit of Quantum Leap in it, a little bit of Somewhere In Time, and a bit of the The Time Traveler’s Wife.

The story resolves around two tourists – FBI agent Tess Livingston and professor Ian Ritter – traveling through South America and find themselves visiting a strange town high in the Andes called Esperanza. On the journey to the town, they encounter their fair share of strange events and danger, but somewhere along the way they find themselves in love. We’re talking a “soul mate” kind of love connection here.

Once they got past the Rio Palo, they began learning more about the weirdness surrounding them. The town’s inhabitants never seem to age. And if that wasn’t strange enough, the hungry spirits of the dead called “brujos” hide in the fog and seek new bodies to experience life and love again in the physical world. Unfortunately, that sometimes causes death in the people they choose to possess.

If that was all there was to the story, I probably wouldn’t have made it too far through the book before I set it down. That wasn’t the case. There were hints at deeper mysteries dropped throughout the story and once I figured out MacGregor was playing with not only the boundaries between life and death, but time as well, I was hooked.

But throughout it all, the book never seems forced. It never strays too far from the main characters – Tess and Ian – but the writing weaves all of these various threads together with enough breathing room that even though I figured out where it was going, I really enjoyed the ride. And I still can’t figure out how she managed to smoothly transition from place to place, decade to decade, without being jarred out of the moment like a 4×4 bouncing along a Jeep trail.

If you’ve been looking for a great book that blurs the genre boundaries but still tells a compelling story, I’d strongly encourage you to check out Esperanza by Trish J. MacGregor. It’s worth the ride. Also, be sure to check out her website at TrishJMacGregor.com for more about this book and her other works.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Esperanza and some of these other items below at Barnes & Noble!

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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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DVD Review: Loose at the Zoo

Hi there!

It’s impossible not to like animals at my house. I’m married to a veterinarian, have two young daughters, two dogs, and two cats. My house is a zoo. So when we get a chance to learn something about animals in other parts of the country, in the wild, or in some of our nations’ best zoos, we tend to take advantage of it.

Loose at the Zoo is a collection of three episodes from the series by Smithsonian Networks and the Infinity Entertainment Group. Infinity has been doing a great job of distributing Smithsonian programs on DVD and this is no exception.

At Washington D.C.‘s National Zoo, they have a number of very successful breeding programs, including those for the Golden Lion Tamarin, the Sumatran Tiger, and the Kori Bustard. These animals (both parents and any offspring) are well taken care of by the zoo staff who feed, clean, and care for them 24/7.

In “Baby New at the Zoo,” we get a tour around the zoo to see some of its newest inhabitants. We see the Golden Lion Tamarins, swinging from the trees with nary a cage or fence in sight. We see three Sumatran Tiger cubs being fed and trained in preparation for their big public debut. We see a cute little Kori Bustard chick recently hatched and running around in the nursery. And we see a baby sloth bear learning to use his uniquely designed nose to get mealworms out of a log in his habitat.

In “Loose at the Zoo: Golden Lion Tamarins” we learn much more about these cute creatures who roam freely in a large area of trees at the center of the zoo. The keepers aren’t afraid they’ll go too far, for the Tamarins are very territorial and like to keep together, but that doesn’t keep them from exploring other nearby areas of the zoo or chasing the occasional squirrel invader.

It was quite interesting to see this family of four Tamarins skillfully moving from tree to tree, and how the zoo staff were keeping them entertained. From the use of a modified cooler for a nest to mop heads laced with mealworms, it’s obvious that the keepers (and many volunteers) are taking great care to keep these monkeys as wild as they can to eventually release them in their native habitat in South America.

And in “Tiger Tales,” we learn how the zoo is preparing three Sumatran Tiger cubs for their grand introduction to the public in their habitat. Through the use of training and gentle help to make sure that the cubs were safe in the lagoon in their enclosure, the keepers were keeping a close eye on the three big kitties before their big day. And mom was never too far away either.

Though we enjoyed the three episodes, it was quite apparent, watching them back to back, that there was a lot of footage duplicated between them. It was especially noticeable for the Tamarin and Tiger segments. And, like on some other Infinity/Smithsonian projects, there were no extras on the DVD beyond a promotion for some of the other Smithsonian series available.

Other than that, each episode was well constructed, with many facts to take away about each of the animals and tons of great footage. I know that my two girls enjoyed seeing these zoo babies and would have liked to have seen more.

If you’re a fan of cute zoo babies, and especially if you have kids, Loose at the Zoo should be right up your alley. Check it out!

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to check out Loose at the Zoo at your local video store or online.

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