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review 2018-02-12 13:33
If you enjoy well-researched international thrillers and love team-spirit, don’t miss this one.
The Violin Man's Legacy - Seumas Gallacher

I had read Gallacher’s Self-Publishing Steps to Successful Sales (you can check my review here) a while back and had several of his books waiting to be read but had not managed yet. But when his first novel, The Violin Man’s Legacy became available in audiobook format, I knew I had no excuse.

Although I tend to use the text-to-speech facility on my e-reader, I haven’t listened to many audiobooks (mostly my own) so I was intrigued by the experience. I found the narrator, C.C. Hogan, engaging, able to hold my attention, and very good at keeping the characters separate (and there are quite a few!) and individual. He is also very good at accents and managed the international locations and names without faltering. Unfortunately, my Kindle is quite old by now and could not accommodate the Whispersync option, that would have made it easier to check some things (like names and details), as I also had a copy of the Kindle version of the book.

I’m not a huge reader of spy novels, and although this book is classified within the crime and suspense thriller category, this international action-thriller reminded me in style of many spy/international conspiracy novel, although with a more European feel, and less frantic in pace than many American spy thrillers. There is plenty of action, and even some sex (and yes, the main character is incredibly skilled, can fight like the best of them, and outwit his opponents, although the brains behind the operation is his boss), but there are also slower moments when we learn the back story, not only of the main characters, like Jack and his teammates, but also of some of the people they collaborate with, and even some of their enemies. This allows us to get to know more about the players and to understand how they got to where they are. (The story behind the title and the way it relates to Jack’s past is particularly touching).

The book is narrated in the third person, from a variety of points of view. We mostly follow Jack Calder (as it should be, as this is his series), but we also are party to the thoughts of many other characters, although there is no confusing head-hopping, and even in the narrated version, it is clear which point of view we are being privy to at any given moment. This helps create a more complex story, with layers of information and to get a better grasp of what the different players have at stake. There are those who are only interested in money, others involved in power games and politics, and others for whom reputation and loyalty are the main objects.

The story takes us from London to Amsterdam, Hong-Kong, and South America, and the author is meticulous and well-informed, providing credible settings and a detailed exposition of the procedures and operations that brings to mind the best police procedural novels. But although we follow each detail of the investigations and the operations, there are always surprises to keep us on our toes.

Jack Calder, the central character, is a breath of fresh air in a genre where heroes are almost superhuman and can fight entire wars single-handedly. Although Jack, an ex-SAS captain, is indeed great at his job, he is traumatised by a family tragedy; he is self-deprecating and knows when to give credit where credit is due. He can follow orders and acknowledges his bosses’ superior planning skills. He is also a friend of his friends, and a loyal team-player and the novel highlights how important good relationships and contacts are in the world of international security firms and businesses.

I loved the fact that the characters talk like real people talk (yes, they use clichés sometimes, make bad jokes, and sometimes are lost for words), and, although there is violence and terrible things happen (justice and law are not always on the same side of the divide), there are also very funny moments.

The writing style is fluid and the pace ebbs and flows, with moments that are fast-paced and others that allow us to catch a breath and learn more about the ins and outs of the businesses and the characters involved. Readers need to remain alert, as there are many characters, locations, and plot threads, and, it is important to pay attention to the details.

I recommend this book to those who love spy and international intrigue thrillers, especially to readers who like complex situations and stories with plenty of twists and turns, but who don’t mind stopping to take a breath every so often. A great first book in the series and many great characters I hope to meet again.

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review 2016-05-02 02:20
Deep Rivers
Deep Rivers (The Texas Pan American series) - Jose Maria Arguedas

My edition of this book (which has the same ISBN as the edition I chose, but looks different and comes in at just under 250 pages) took me over 2 weeks to read. Over 2 weeks for fewer than 250 pages. Clearly, I did not love it. This book bogged down my reading, big time, and I have a huge stack of library books I might not get to because of it. Ah well, I can always request them again.
From everything I have read (the intro, the afterword by Llosa, and the goodreads description), this novel is a semi-autobiographical account of Arguedas' childhood. Brought up by Indians, when he re-entered Latino society, he found he did not fit in. But he didn't fit into Indian culture either, being Latino and not native.

I know I have to be missing some (read: many, or maybe all?) cultural clues in this book. I struggled to know who was Indian and who was not—at the seminary school, the boys have a huge hierarchy (very Lord of the Flies-esque, another book I did not love). I could not understand how this hierarchy was determined. Wealth? Looks? Smarts? Plain old popularity? To me, this book was about a boy who had been brought up on the road, traveling with his father from town to town and not getting to stay anywhere for as long as he would like. And his father then leaves him at this seminary. And yes, he does not fit in, but that is because he has never needed to or had the opportunity to live amongst the same people for long, and his father does not visit nor write. He is all alone, trying to make friends (and he does, though it is hard and he is an outcast). He simple does not know how to function in a stable society.

The descriptions of the natural world--birds, bugs, landscape--were my favorite parts. I googled many of the trees and birds to see what they really look like. It made me laugh when one of the birds turned out to be a South American mockingbird. And yes, the description sounded like one!

Interestingly, the 1001 books summary sees this book more how I read it. The clueless non-Latin-American interpretation, perhaps.

Also, much of the language in this book reminded me of Calvino's Invisible Cities (which I did enjoy). I read both in translation, which strikes me as--odd. Something about the cadence of the writing.

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review 2015-12-20 00:59
The Invention of Nature
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

The Humboldt Current. Humboldt County (CA and NV). Humboldt State University (CA) and Universidad Humboldt (Venezuela). These and the many other "Humboldt" place names aren't honoring different Humboldts. They are all honoring one--Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt.

And while Americans are not very familiar with Humboldt, in Germany and especially in South America, he is very well known.

So who was Alexander von Humboldt? In the early 19th century he traveled through much of South America studying plants, geology, rivers, animals, and the economic systems in place. He climbed mountains and rafted rivers. He met and corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, knew Goethe, and was long supported by Prussian nobility (even while living in Paris during Bonaparte's reign). He later, at the age of 60, traveled through Russia to the China/Mongolia border and back. He wrote many, many books on natural history, geology, and occasionally on politics.

In this biography, Wulf introduces this man, whom most readers will not be familiar with at all. Even though we know the name "Humboldt" as a place name. Even though we know his ideas—that plants and animals live in zones determined by elevation and latitude; that man's actions can destroy nature (deforestation, over-irrigation); that nature is a web, with all parts acting together. He was the first naturalist to use drawings and diagrams rather than paragraphs of text alone to illustrate ideas. He first used isotherms (those lines that connect same/similar temperatures on maps). And we know well those he influenced with his  books, travels, and ideas: Simon Bolivar, Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, and John Muir. Students of ecology might recognize some others as well: Ernst Haeckel and the artist Frederic Edwin Church.

As Wulf suggests, we know longer know his name because so many of his ideas have become the norm.

A well- and thoroughly researched biography. I have only 2 complaints: on page 55 the word "watershed" is used when "divide" is meant. Twice in one paragraph. As in "All the scientific understanding of the day suggested that the Orinoco and Amazon basins had to be separated by a watershed because the idea of a natural waterway linking two large rivers was against all empirical evidence." Separated by a DIVIDE. The basins mentioned are each a watershed. UGH how does this stuff get through? And, second, rather than footnotes (my favorite) or properly noted endnotes, this books uses those annoying endnote-style notes that are NOT noted in the text. So you don't know when to refer to them. Annoying and frustrating.

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review 2015-11-11 00:33
Lost Worlds of South America (The Great Courses #3120) by Edwin Barnhart
Lost Worlds of South America - The Great Courses,Professor Edwin Barnhart,The Great Courses


bookshelves: ttc, spring-2013, published-2012, autumn-2015, under-100-ratings, nonfic-nov-2015, nonfiction, skoolzy-stuff, dip-in-now-and-again, south-americas, history, tbr-busting-2015, paracas, peru, penguins-puffins-boobies, chile, ancient-history, rituals, recreational-homicide, recreational-drugs, shamanism, supernatural, bolivia, a-cut-above, teh-brillianz, treasure, totalitarian, rumble-in-the-jungle, phrenology, ouch, lifestyles-deathstyles, lifesa-beach, life-is-cheap-around-here, hell-breaks-loose-one-night-ashore, gulp, fascinating-fayre, famine, execution, decline-disintergration-degradation, cults-societies-brotherhoods, cult-yah, colonial-overlords, art-forms, archaeology, architecture, anthropology, assassination, religion, ecuador, plague-disease, holocaust-genocide
Read from March 05, 2013 to November 10, 2015


Lecture 1 South America’s Lost Cradle of Civilization ✔
Lecture 2 Discovering Peru’s Earliest Cities ✔

Lecture 3 South America’s First People ✔

clovis point.

The Milodon Cave near Puerto Natales

Among the most amazing finds in archaic South America are the Chinchorro mummies. More than 1,500 mummies have been found in the Atacama Desert, dating back to 5000 B.C. These are by far the world’s oldest mummies, many of them 2,000 years older than Egypt’s oldest mummies.

The Huaca Prieta Site

Lecture 4 Ceramics, Textiles, and Organized States ✔

Garagay dates somewhere between 1640 and 900 B.C. It is in a horrible state because it was mined for decades for construction fill. Similar modern destruction occurred in Lima during its 20th-century development.

Lecture 5 Chavín and the Rise of Religious Authority ✔

Fanged tenon heads

Lecture 6 Cupisnique to Salinar—Elite Rulers and War ✔

Cupisnique pottery

Lecture 7 Paracas—Mummies, Shamans, and Severed Heads✔

Lecture 8 The Nazca Lines and Underground Channels✔

Nasca Culture Aqueduct

Lecture 9: The Moche — Pyramids, Gold, and Warriors✔

Lecture 10: The Moche — Richest Tombs in the New World✔

The Lord of Sipán tomb is a Moche culture site in Peru, found intact and untouched by thieves.

Lecture 11 The Moche—Drugs, Sex, Music, and Puppies✔


Lecture 12 Enigmatic Tiwanaku by Lake Titicaca✔

Projected Reconstruction of Tiwanaku

Lecture 13 The Amazon—Civilization Lost in the Jungle✔

Amazonia Bolivian style

Lecture 14 The Wari—Foundations of the Inca Empire?✔

This pyramid in Lima, Peru was built by the Wari civilization, who pre-dated the Incas.

Lecture 15 The Chimú—Empire of the Northern Coast : 900-1470 ✔

Chimu city of Chan Chan

Tumi (decapitating knife)

Lecture 16 The Sican—Goldsmiths of the Northern Coast✔

Lecture 17 The Inca Origins—Mythology v. Archaeology: The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century, and the last Inca stronghold was conquered by the Spanish in 1572.(wiki sourced)✔

Lecture 18 Cuzco and the Tawantinsuyu Empire✔

Cuzco 16th century lithograph

Coricancha (Temple of the Sun)

Lecture 19 The Inca—From Raiders to Empire✔

Aguas Calientes

Lecture 20 The Inca—Gifts of the Empire✔

terraces for potatoes and corn

The llamas were trained to use the rope bridges but Spanish horses wouldn't/couldn't be cajoled into passage

Lecture 21 The Khipu—Language Hidden in Knots✔

Lecture 22 Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley✔

Hiram Bingham III at his tent door near Machu Picchu in 1912

Lecture 23 Spanish Contact—Pizarro Conquers the Inca✔


Pizarro meets Atahualpa, from the 1969 film of the play 'The Royal Hunt of the Sun' by Schaffer.

Lecture 24 Remnants of the Past—Andean Culture Today✔

José San Martín and his forces liberated Peru and proclaimed its independence from Spain on July 28th, 1821.


CR White Mughals
5* A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts
3* Rome and the Barbarians
4* Field Notes From A Hidden City
3* The King's Jews: Money, Massacre and Exodus in Medieval England
CR A History of Palestine 634-1099
3* Charlotte Brontë: A Life
3* The Alhambra
5* A Long Walk in the Himalaya: A Trek from the Ganges to Kashmir
3* Buddhist Warfare
4* A Gathering of Spoons
AB A Brief History of Roman Britain - Conquest and Civilization
4* Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination, 1830-1880
3* Food Safari
4* She-Wolves
3* India: A Portrait
2* The Archaeology of Ancient Sicily
5* Classics of Russian Literature
CR The Battle of Salamis
5* Lost Worlds of South America


4* History of Science 1700 - 1900
5* A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts
TR Secrets of Sleep
TR Turning Points in Modern History
TR Apocalypse
4* Myth in Human History
3* A History of Russia
TR Classic Novels
5* London
4* Re-thinking Our Past
4* The Vikings
5* Lost Worlds of South America
3* Rome and the Barbarians
TR Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon
OH History of Science: Antiquity to 1700
TR Albert Einstein: Physicist, Philosopher, Humanitarian
TR Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche
5* From Monet To Van Gogh: A History Of Impressionism
5* History of the English language
TR The Late Middle Ages
3* Great American Music: Boadway Musicals
5* Classics of Russian Literature

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review 2015-08-02 01:59
The Shipyard
The Shipyard - Juan Carlos Onetti

Juan Carlos Onetti was a very well-known Uruguayan author. I had not heard of him before picking up this book. How did I find it? I was looking for a book that was both on the 1001 books list and would get me some points for an international challenge in a goodreads group.


Also, I have a huge gaping hole in my reads for works published between about 1940 and 1980. Huge. Gaping. Hole. Nationality and original language are irrelevant. For reference I graduated from high school in 1987—so my gaping hole includes the years of my childhood and those years that had yet to produce "classics" that we read in school. The Shipyard was originally published in Spanish in 1961. My translation is from 1968.


And this book is interesting. Also, unusual and a bit hard to follow. Largely because there is a lot of references to what happened before. When the shipyard was a working shipyard. Why Larsen was run out of town. Why he changed his name. Why he came back. What is he hoping to gain by working for a salary he never receives and may never receive. And why do his 2 colleagues do the same. Why why why? And would this all make a touch more sense if I knew more (or really, anything) about Uruguayan history?


Per 1001 Books, I now know there is a second volume, The Body Snatchers, that is the follow-up, but explains the years before. It is not on the 1001 books list, but I am soooo curious I want to read it.

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