You Had Me at Hola: In Search of Love and Truth in South America by Leigh Robshaw

This very personal story tells the tale of Leigh Robshaw when, as a twenty-something, she sets out from Australia in the 1990s to South America in search of adventure, but above-all, love. On her third day in Buenos Aires, she meets Gabriel, a beautiful and exotic young artist who makes jewellery to sell to tourists on the beaches. Even though they have no shared language, they communicate using the universal language of love.

What follows is a madcap time, where committed to her journey around South America, but longing to remain with the man she believes is her soul-mate, Leigh reluctantly heads off, convinced she’s left her heart in Buenos Aires. 

The adventures she has, the dangers and illness that befall her as she travels will leave your heart in your mouth! All the time, she longs for Gabriel. When they’re finally reunited, she discovers the love she’s sometimes questioned is returned. Instead of heading to England with her friend as per long-laid plans, Leigh stays in South America and, with Gabriel, makes a life for herself, traveling all over, selling jewellery, getting into incredible scrapes, behaving sometimes recklessly and meeting a range of fascinating, kind, but also wicked and exploitative people. 

In the end, however, Leigh is forced to question what’s she’s doing and confront the reality of the huge cultural differences between her and Gabriel – cultural and personal. But they’d already overcome so much, surely, their love, which is undoubted, would conquer all?

This is a book that will sweep you along in its narrative. Extremely personal, raw and honest, Leigh doesn’t hesitate to question her decisions, expose her choices for what they sometimes were, and plumb the depths of her own psyche as she takes the reader on this passionate, wild adventure – of love, of culture and of people.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, and am looking forward to the sequel. What a ride! What a life.

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The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott

Having recently finished The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle, I was really in the mood for another, fast-paced, escapist Atlantis-themed novel. Andy McDermott’s The Hunt for Atlantis, the first in what is a very long series featuring archaeologist, Nina Wilde and former British SAS soldier, Eddie Chase, appeared to fit the bill.

Raised by parents obsessed with discovering the location of the lost city of Atlantis, it’s natural that after their sudden deaths in Tibet years earlier, Nina should continue with their work. Believing she’s found the location of the lost city, it’s not until her application for a university grant to test her theories is rejected and she is picked up by a philanthropic Norwegian billionaire Kristian Frost and his organisation, that Nina can begin her hunt in earnest. But there are others interested in what Nina has found and her search, so much so, Frost hires a bodyguard to keep her safe – the crude but courageous, Eddie Chase. And so the adventure really begins.

From the snow-clad regions of Norway, to the heat of the Middle East, steaming jungles of Brazil, the dark depths of the Atlantic and dangerous streets of New York, the hunt to find Atlantis and the secrets the ancient civilisation has kept for millennia is on. Can Chase keep Nina and those in the Frost organisation keen to see her succeed safe from the deadly brotherhood determined to see her fail? Or will Atlantis remain hidden forever?

This novel started well. The pace was break-neck, the premise (if you suspended your disbelief) fine and the characters were solid enough. The descriptions of car chases, plane crashes, shoot-outs, explosions, and so many near-death experiences were cinematic to say the least. But after a while, the whole run, shoot, run, shoot, get captured, freed, run, shoot, repetitiveness became a little tired, even for this action-buff. Not only that, but the cliched dialogue and often sexist representations (beautiful women, handsome – once you get to know them – heroes and ugly villains), galled a wee bit too much. Then there was the unconvincing brain power of Nina the central figure who everyone was relying on to find Atlantis. Even so, they had to bring in her (pedestrian) professor and mentor to do some translating. As he begins, suddenly, Nina (after a hard face palm) remembers she CAN do it after all – d’oh! Do they send said professor home? No. he hangs around like a fart in an elevator and is just as odious. That’s only one example of the clever woman character versus unnecessary extra person failing in that regard. Then there was the lack of sexual chemistry between Nina and Eddie, the other characters with “doom” tattooed on their forehead (metaphorically speaking), so you knew from the outset what their fate would be – and so on. In other words, the novel became quite predictable very quickly.

In the end, while I enjoyed a great deal of the tracking location and various discoveries, it was all a bit too much, and I just wanted to the story to end. Overall, it was the escapism I thought I was after but, sadly, it didn’t allow me to escape from the fact I just didn’t enjoy the story as much as I’d hoped.

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Mosaic, by Michael C. Grumley.

Mosaic is the fifth book in Michael C Grumley’s fabulous Breakthrough series, a tale that keeps getting wilder, more intense and utterly immersive with each book. Grumley’s imagination, grounded in science, knows no bounds but also respects them as his tale of a group of ex-Navy seals, scientists, ethical politicians (yes, they exist in Grumley’s world) as power-hungry despots, conspirators and unscrupulous folk well as dolphins, primates and an assortment of others, gets taken to the next level.

Having rescued the young Chinese woman, Li Na Wei, John Clay and Steve Cesare as well as Alison and Neely cannot rest on their laurels. While international interest in not only the bacterium they’ve discovered and its implications for Earth’s future but where it’s come from intensifies, it’s the attention they’ve attracted from their own that poses the greatest threat to their mission. 

Once again, the wide cast of characters are expanded upon revealing their strengths and vulnerabilities. Readers who have invested in this series need to be prepared to lose a few favourites as well for surprises. Just when you think you know where the narrative might be heading, it explodes in a different direction.

Some old faces and new also make appearances and then, of course, there’s the endearing mammals – Dirk, Sally, the dolphin Elders, the gorgeous primates – all of whom have secrets to tell and wonders to share with their human companions. It’s so evident that Grumley really cares about this story and those he’s created to help him tell it – you cannot help but care as well and forgive the narrative if it sometimes slips or slides into over-telling or didactics (which he mostly avoids).

I was describing this series to a friend and while I don’t think this does it justice, it’s sort of Avatar meets Indiana Jones, meets James Bond meets Dr Doolittle. I am just astonished that a major publisher or production company hasn’t picked them up. James Cameron? Where are you? Grumley’s series is waiting for your treatment.

My only disappointment is that I have to wait so long for the next book. 

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Ripple by Michael C. Grumley

The fourth book in the really exciting Breakthrough Series, Ripple keeps the pace fast, the plot tight and the action going. In this book, the specially formed group overseen by Admiral Langford and operating under the radar are dispersed across oceans and continents, trying to unravel secrets left beneath the waves eons ago, and searching for another source of the remarkable biological entity they earlier found and which the Chinese and Russians sought to possess at any cost. An entity which can change the course of humanity’s future while at the same time throwing the past into question.

Once more, lives are in danger, the clock is ticking and as the group draw closer to the truth, the risks they take become even greater, the rewards if they succeed, do as well.

All along, the technology that’s allowed Alison, Deanne and their teams to communicate across species keeps learning and what it teaches the dolphins and primates is nothing compared to what these creatures are yet to teach their humans…

This series is just such a great read. Michael C. Grumley can not only write but inviting you to suspend your disbelief and douse your cynic gene, he takes you on an emotional and visceral ride that is breath-taking in scope and richly imaginative. I am utterly stunned a major publisher has not picked this guy up, but I am so grateful he keeps writing and that his following is growing. Cannot wait to read the next instalment in this series and see where he takes us, never mind his characters.

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Leap by Michael C. Grumley

The second book in the Breakthrough series, Leap, is a fabulous read. Fast-paced without sacrificing plot or character, it carries the reader back into the lives and amazing discoveries of the group assembled in the opening book, Breakthrough.

The story begins a year after the life-changing events in the first book. Still reeling from various encounters (including interspecies), findings unearthed and relationships formed, the core group consisting of Alison Shaw, John Clay, Steve Cesare, Lee, Chris and Will are once more brought together when a Russian sub is discovered lurking off the coast of South America. More suspicious, a Chinese ship is found in a minor port. Seemingly abandoned, it’s not until night falls that activity commences and a mysterious cargo, clearly taken from the local jungle, is stored aboard. What’s the cargo? Why all the cloak and dagger? What’s its purpose and, more importantly, what do the Chinese and Russians know that the rest of the world (aka the US) don’t?

Determined to discover what the Chinese are up to, no-one is prepared for what’s uncovered and what the cost of that is – a cost that only becomes clear once it’s understood the lengths the Chinese will go to ensure no-one else learns what they have.

It will take not only Alison, John and Steve and their friends – including Dirk and Sally – every ounce of talent and courage to uncover what’s going on, but also the skills of Deanne and her gorilla Dulce. But is the price of such knowledge worth it?

I found it hard to tear myself away from this book. Grumley’s writing, the way he creates such sympathetic and rounded characters, including the primates and dolphins is really remarkable. Finished this and immediately downloaded and started the next one. Amazing.


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