Read an E-book Week

Welcome to the 10th annual Read an E-book Week. The Smashwords site is offering A Place in the World ( set in the Colombian cloud forest) for $1  this week only. (As of last night Amazon was also matching the price on their Kindle books – let me know if you have trouble with that).

You will find thousands of other e-books that are free or deep-discounted this week through March 9. These include multi-formats (Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple users, Kobo and more) in their e-catalog. If you find books you recommend on this site  please let others know by commenting below.


Wikipedia says “The main reasons more people are buying e-books online are  lower prices, increased comfort (as they can buy from home or on the go with mobile devices) and a larger selection of titles…In the space that a comparably sized physical book takes up, an e-reader can contain thousands of e-books, limited only by its memory capacity. Depending on the device, an e-book may be readable in low light or even total darkness.”

The last two sentences are the reasons I take my e-reader when I travel, but then, I confess, I often prefer to hold a”real” book (unless it is more than 300 pages or so!).

What about you: e-books or print?

The Latin Sound: How the Rumble became a Roar

When I visited the US as a little kid the only Latinos famous there (now “here” to me), were Desi Arnaz and Rita Moreno. Like many people I recognized him from “I Love Lucy” on TV, which was “Yo Quiero a Luci” in Colombia on Friday nights (boy were we surprised to find out Americans watched what we thought was a “Colombian” program!).  But Desi Arnaz was a famous bandleader in Cuba before he married Lucille Ball, before I was born, his conga “Babalu” was well known.i-love-lucy

A lot of Latin music, especially from the Caribbean incorporates an African beat; the queen of salsa, Celia Cruz personified this. She recorded many gold albums with the celebrated bandleader Tito Puente in the ‘60’s.Going farther back to the 1930s, dance halls in New York City embraced the sound of big band Cuban music – the salsa cha-cha and rumba. By 1950 mambo was all the rage and Tito Rodríguez, Tito Puente, and Machito were among the early bandleaders.




Then Rita Moreno starred in West Side Story and went on to win an Academy Award.  Moreno had no one to emulate, but famous American Latinas today, such as Jennifer Lopez, credit her as their role model.

The “unsung” singers: Latino music appeared to disappear in the 60s but in fact the artists were merely camouflaged under English names. Ritchie Valens (born Richard Valenzuela) hit it big with “La Bamba; (He died along with Buddy Holly in plane crash; he was only 17 years old, but is remembered especially for the song.) cover170x170

Sam the Sham’s real name was Domingo Samudio – here he is singing “Wooly Bully” :; Rudy Martinez sang “96 Tears” with a Latino band – the children of migrant farm workers; “Wasted Days and Wasted nightshtps://       was performed by Freddie Fender aka B. Garza Huerta.  (For some reason this was first a big hit in New Zealand in the 70’s!).  The list goes on.

And then Jose Feliciano, a Puerto Rican who refused to change his name, appeared.  I loved his rendering of the Doors’ “Light My Fire”  before I knew who the Doors were. That song shot him into mainstream pop fame. j-feliciano

Next on the scene was Carlos Santana.  When I came to college in the States I was pleasantly surprised to find Americans listened to Santana, because I assumed he was a Costa Rican I’d been listening to there! In fact he is a “Chicano” from L.A.

Okay so maybe you weren’t alive in the 60s …or the 70’s – you may not know the songs much less the names of these artists.  If you want to hear the music click on one of their songs above – betcha’ you’ve heard it before.

Since the second half of the 20th century a number of artists popularized the romantic Latin ballads, such as Julio Iglesias, his son Enrique Iglesias, Selena, Marc Anthony (Marco Antonio) and Cristian Castro. In the latter half of the 20th century, with immigration from South America and the Caribbean increasing every decade, Latino sounds influenced popular music from jazz, rock, rhythm to blues.



 Puerto Rican Ricky (Enrique) Martin hit fame with “Livin’ La Vida Loca“; Cuban icon Gloria Estefan fused pop with Cuban music starting with “Conga.”


Gloria Estefan

Top of the charts Jennifer Lopez, became a pop diva and then an actress (first playing Selena)… but there are too many Latino actors to name…

I’d have to start with Cantinflas and we’d be here all day! images

(And I already have to apologize to all the Latino artists I have failed to mention in this limited space.)  Viva la Musica!

Did I leave out someone you liked?  I love your comments. Please leave one below.

Love of Rainforests – growing up global

wfall Hana Rd_840ps

Waterfall in a Rainforest

I grew up overseas, first as an “air force brat” and then as an (embassy) attache’s daughter. We lived in Europe and Latin America and after college I moved to New Zealand.  So you can see why I am attracted to various cultures and settings.  These places have beautiful natural scenery and fostered my love of nature and inclination for conservation.

When I was a kid, my father told me  “they will never conquer the jungle.”  He was a pilot and this was after yet another fruitless search and rescue mission for a plane that went down somewhere in the tropical forests between Costa Rica and Panama. I wish they had found the plane, but I also wish he had been wrong about de-forestation.

Resplendant Quetzal

The rare Resplendant Quetzal ( lives only isolated jungle spots between Guatemala and Colombia)

I remember flying over emerald forests in the 1960’ and 70’s that looked like endless crumpled velvet. Thankfully half of Costa Rica’s existing forest cover today is under the protection of national parks or biological reserves, but 80% of their original rainforest was already gone over 15 years ago.  The primary cause of deforestation was cattle ranching. (You’ve heard of the “hamburger connection”?)

Brazil and Colombia are the two most biologically diverse countries on Earth due to the Amazon rainforest.  The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world covering over a billion acres (stretching into parts of Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela as well).

exotic flowers_7604ps

Colombia lost 30% of their forests to diverse causes – ranging from logging, mining, development of hydro-electricity,  agriculture to cocaine production. The primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazonas – like in Costa Rica – was cattle ranching.

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Most of the pictures in the slide show above( unless they have my initials) come from people who share their wonderful photos on Pinterest (for more see ). This is a rehash of a post I wrote over two years ago when I first started this blog. I figure I can do this as most of you who now follow this blog didn’t “know” me  back then. (And I hope those of you who did and do won’t mind – at least there are new pictures!)   Still valid today.

El Libertador: Simon Bolivar (the movie)

I saw an interesting movie the other night. “El Libertador” (The Liberator) is about Simon Bolivar (played by Édgar Ramírez, who also appeared in Zero Dark Thirty). The movie is a great primer for those unfamiliar with this crucial bit of South American history and the director managed to keep this epic story to 2-hours in length.


Few people outside of Latin America are familiar with this fascinating leader, who led the revolution for independence from Spain in the early 1800’s and united Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia into the country of Gran Colombia. The lush sets stand in contrast to the tyranny of the Spanish empire: massacring the indigenous, enslaving Africans, and crushing those opposed to colonization.

Simon Bolivar

Simon Bolivar


Born into a wealthy family, Bolívar might have been immune to such injustices, but orphaned at an early age he was raised by a slave he called “mother” and tutored by a socialist-leaning teacher. Hence he bonded and sympathized with people of different classes and ideas – an extraordinary trait in an aristocratic land holder at the turn of the 19th century.


Edgar Ramirez in title role

Edgar Ramirez stars as Simon Bolivar.


Maria Valverde stars as the love of his life


The loss of his young  wife Maria Teresa, to yellow fever, is the turning point in his life. (The love scenes are minor but beautiful.)  He finds his cause in the fight for freedom, equality and dignity for all and becomes a skillful general and inspired leader.


His heroic military campaigns covered tens of thousands of miles of difficult territory, including jungles and the snowy Andes Mountains. (Confession – I rented this on Netflix and fast-forwarded through the many battle scenes.)


A man of the people

A man of the people

Bolivar finances the war using his own wealth, with the support of British businessmen, and galvanizes the multiple races, tribes and neighboring states around the idea of fighting for a united sovereign country.  He freed the slaves in 1816 and the Republica de Gran Colombia (the territory previously called Nueva Granada) was formed in 1820 with Bolivar as president. He continued the fight in Peru and Bolivia for the next four to five years before they too won independence and joined the republic .


Bolivar merged the vice-royalties (states) into the  Republica de Gran Colombia


Sadly internal divisions sparked dissent throughout the nation as different leaders fought for power and eventually the republic was divided into separate states. Bolivar died in 1830, officially of tuberculosis, although the movie suggests a controversial assassination. Parks and plazas around the world, and especially in Latin America, are named in his honor (as well as the currency of Venezuela and Bolivia).

The movie is in English and Spanish (and occasionally French) with English subtitles. The colonial sets and cinematography are wonderful. It made the shortlist of best foreign language film category of the Academy Awards this year. Produced in collaboration with Venezuelan and Spanish companies and given a majestic score composed by Gustavo Dudamel of the LA Philharmonic. See this film if you like sweeping, romantic movies or want to learn some history crucial to South America.

Were you familiar with Simon Bolivar’s story before reading this? (His-tory).  If so, are you from Latin America?

My 100th post: A Thank You to Readers and Reviewers!

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has reviewed A Place In the World.  Two special bloggers recently took the time to review and post on their blogs, Amazon AND Goodreads.  Rosie Amber of the UK generously connects readers and writers, and Jessie, who is part of Rosie’ s Book Review team. Both women are avid readers and book reviewers. Rosie posted her review yesterday and her author interview of me today

Jessie has her own lovely blog, Behind The Willows, about life, motherhood and of course books. I urge you to check out both websites as places to go for book recommendations.

garden from Pinterest

Here is a snippet of Jessie’s review:

… this is a lovely little book, set in Colombia, amongst the beauty of rain forests on a coffee farm, where a woman leads her life the best she can…an American who has lived for many years in Colombia, she handles things with an amazing blend of the two cultures.  Stepping back and forth between them so well  that the big drama fades into the background,  leaving the focus of the book right where it should be, on the young woman in search of her place in the world.

It just so happens that her world is run by men, contains active volcanoes, guerrillas, , coffee crops and an occasional iguana in the water tank – making it infinitely more interesting to read about than our own.

Would I recommend it? I would. Drama aside, the information on the culture, rain forests and coffee growing would have been enough to keep me interested.

This is an excerpt from Rosie’s review:  rosie-gardening-02-smaller

I’m happy to give this 5 stars…The moment I read the description of the finca in a cloud forest I began falling in love with… the flora and fauna… so well written that you could almost hear the birds calling and feel the moisture on the leaves.

(at) the finca, Las Nubes, there is no mains electric, no piped water, no telephone, and the road ways are often just tracks…They live a simple life…There are hardships too, a road accident, bandits and a volcano which erupts covering the ground in ash and burning the coffee plants with acid rain. But through all this the author fills you with the Colombian people, their way of life … the coffee trade at the mercy of politics, the weather and the market…

This book took me to a new world, that I’d never given much thought to and I really enjoyed it.

I’m so pleased with both of these reviews and their insights. It’s wonderful to hear that a reader likes what you’ve written – and even better when someone takes the time to post a review. Many thanks to both Rosie and Jessie and another recent reviewer, author Rita Gardner  (Only space prevents me from acknowledging all the others, but please know that each review is greatly appreciated and helps readers decide whether they want to read the book.)


AWARDS :front-cover-place-in-world2014-ContestSEMIFINALIST

A Place in the World won three modest awards this year:

the Kindle Best Book Award 2014 (Semifinalist in Literary Fiction); Runner up (2nd place) at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference     in the indie category and last month Honorable Mention in the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category for Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published Book Awards.

The following is the comment by a judge for Writer’s Digest’s Book Awards:

A Place in the World is a rather quiet book tackling powerful issues. Alicia who has been a child of the world, marries a Colombian and heads back to one of her favorite places. Although she is there under some misleading information, she settles in on the family finca and learns all about growing coffee in isolation on the edge of the cloud forest.  Background issues include guerillas, active volcanoes, wild life, shy natives and family indifference.

Following an automobile accident, Alicia’s husband deserts her and … Alicia makes her way alone on the coffee plantation. Alone, she is able to pursue her studies in biology with her illustrated journals becoming a centerpiece for the narrative. A fellow American who visits the finca infrequently becomes more than friend to her.

Alicia’s passion for her place, the people there, her son, her studies and for her lover holds the reader throughout the book.  The author paints pictures with her words just as Alicia illustrates her journals with her findings. The reader is drawn into the story and the place on every page. MacKinnon has enlightened us about the biodiversity of the cloud forest, growing beans, and about the frailties and strengths of relationships.

The conclusion presented in the voice of Alicia’s son serves to tie all the bits and pieces together in a most satisfactory way. Everyone in the story has found her or his place in the world. A Place in the World should attract a wide audience.

Thank you “anonymous judge 59!”

So to celebrate, my 100th post is written in appreciation of all of my readers, supporters, editor and reviewers. It’s been a wonderful year. (For more reviews see  )

Please note if you would like to write an honest review of my book, I will send you a (free) ebook file or PDF. Just let me know how to contact you, below (or privately on the Author/Contact page of this website).

False Friends (Spanish-English)

Opps! I planned to reblog this  amusing and educational post from “Fine Roadkill Cuisine” but when I went to schedule it apparently broke the link.  So sorry followers! A cut and paste proceeds after my comment below.

I’m bilingual, but I can’t do instantaneous translation (except casually) as it often comes out literally.  As kids, my bilingual friends and I inadvertently  and grammatically incorrectly would say “don’t molest me” as a common phrase when other kids bothered us.  You can see from the list below why we made this mistake – in Spanish “no me moleste!” is what you say, but it cannot be translated literally into English!  CM

Most mistakes in translated texts are the result of overly literal translation, in my experience. When we translate word by word instead of creating an idiomatic translation, the result includes strange and sometimes incoherent phrases or sentences. For instance, “He waited a minute or two” can be translated literally: Él esperó un minuto o dos, but it sounds more natural to say, Esperó un par de minutos “He waited a pair of minutes” or Se detuvo un momento “He paused for a moment,” because these are Spanish idioms.

Note that in English every sentence has to have a subject, in this case “he.” In Spanish the subject is omitted when it is clear from context and conjugation, as in the latter two examples above. A common error made by native Spanish speakers translating into English is to omit the subject in such sentences. This is especially tricky in sentences that don’t ever have a subject in Spanish, like Está lloviendo, which they might translate as “Is raining” instead of “It‘s raining.”

In the worst cases, a literal translation produces completely incorrect meaning, especially when false friends are involved. For example, a Latin American family took their son to the emergency room because he was dizzy and almost unconscious. They didn’t speak English, and when they tried to explain to the (English-speaking) nurse that the boy appeared to have been poisoned, she heard the word intoxicado and thought they were saying that he was drunk. The result was tragic, because the doctors saw little urgency in attending to someone who was drunk, and by the time they discovered the real problem, it was too late.  “Intoxicated” can refer to poisoning in English, but its primary meaning is “inebriated.”

False friends are constant reminders of the dangers of literal translation. “A gracious hostess” is polite; on the other hand, una anfitriona graciosa makes us laugh. “The teacher molested the children” is a horrible situation, but El maestro molestó a los niños could mean something totally trivial.

The website is a great source of examples of translated words and phrases in context, extracted from  published text. It’s the site I most use when I’m translating documents. Of course, you have to look at the context to see if the examples are relevant, and you have to take care because not all of the translations are correct.

Following are false friends starting with G-O:

Gracioso: “funny”
Gracious: “polite, kind, hospitable”

Idioma: “language, spoken or written tongue”
Idiom: “figure of speech”

Inconsecuente: “inconsistent, contradictory”
Inconsequential: “trivial, of no importance”

Intoxicar: “poison”
Intoxicate: “inebriate”

Introducir: “insert”
Introduce: “make known by name”

Justo: “just, fair; exactly, precisely”
Just: “fair, equitable; only, barely; precisely”

Lenguaje: “terminology, jargon”
Language: “the tongue used by a community”

Maquinista: “train engineer, bus driver; machinist; machine operator”
Machinist: “lathe operator”

Molestar: “bother, pester”
Molest: “abuse sexually”

Noticia: “news”
Notice: “announcement; warning”

Ostensiblemente: “obviously, visibly”
Ostensibly: “supposedly”

This post was stolen  from “Roadkill Spatula” the handle for a fellow Colombian expat who works as a translator and is married to a lovely Colombian singer. He will be posting more False Friends no doubt; you can find his blog here :

Only two more days to Win the Book Giveaway: A Place in the World

Are you a member of Goodreads (GR)? GR is a large site for readers to review and/or find book recommendations. They are sponsoring a giveaway of A Place in the World ….. “an award-winning, multicultural-literary novel laced with romance and adventure.”

book cover          2014-ContestSEMIFINALIST
Alicia, a young American expat, marries Colombian Jorge Carvallo and they settle on his family’s remote coffee finca  in the Andes Mountains. Educated as a biologist, she revels in the surrounding cloud-forest. However, following an idyllic year, calamities strike one after another……

For more information or to win a softcover copy (several are being offered so 3 chances!) here:



KIRKUS Reviews – A Place in the World

In this novel set in the ’70s and early ’80s, a free-spirited American girl struggles to fit in on a coffee plantation in the Colombian Andes.

thumbnail cvr

Debut novelist MacKinnon tells the story of Alicia Collier, a young woman with no particular home and little connection to her family… Alicia has lived all over the world, especially South America … By the time she begins college in Virginia, she has spent more time outside the U.S. than in it, so it’s no surprise when she decides to follow her Colombian boyfriend, Jorge, to his country for the summer…  Alicia rapidly becomes a part of the Carvallo coffee farm and, after a series of calamities, ends up running it alone… That is, until Peter Shalmers arrives from America. .. As he accepts hospitality from the Carvallo family, he and Alicia gravitate toward each other. An aspiring botanist, Alicia (takes) Peter on tours of the forest, and her affection for him grows beyond her control. In the midst of this familial and romantic drama are many compelling, detailed descriptions of the rain forest. MacKinnon brings to life the forest’s flora and fauna, the ominous and ever-present wildlife, and the tribal people hiding in the forest. The author’s meticulous detail and knowledge of the locale bring a unique richness to the novel…through the glory of the surroundings she describes.

A quiet romantic adventure well-suited for those who enjoy travelogues.


Kirkus Reviews is a well-respected book review magazine that has been around for at least 80 years. Librarians and bookstores rely on their critiques and getting a positive review is coveted by writers so I am delighted to receive this  review.  I also received a review on Goodreads from a Canadian writer that has me glowing:

(excerpted) This well-written, riveting plot captures strong elements of friendship, love, freedom, perseverance and endurance amid all the physical and emotional challenges, heartache and pain. The pages of this novel are filled with the beauty, the grandeur, the sights and sounds of nature in the Andean cloud forest.  whitefaces
The characters are well-developed, their personalities adding depth and dimension to a story that’s heartwarming and emotionally-riveting. Alicia is an educated, lovely young woman with a soft-heart, who’s determined, capable and stubborn. She befriends Carmen, the Carvallo’s housekeeper, an illiterate, earthy Colombian woman with strong maternal instincts . Together they form an unshakeable bond that transcends class and nationality…The strength of this story not only lies in a well-developed plot and characters but in the sense of historical, political and economic change that affects Colombia and its people in the late 1900’s. It’s a fascinating and moving story…see the full review on review.

I feel like here is a reader that really understands what the book is about and nothing is more rewarding to an author – but she went the extra mile and wrote so eloquently.  Thank you Wendy from Ontario.  It has been a good week!

El Dorado

Muisca_raft_Legend_of_El_Dorado_Offerings_of_goldColombia is where the great myth of El Dorado originated with a tribe called the Muiscas.  In a ritual, the ruler El Dorado, entered Lake Guatavita (located 35 miles NE of Bogotá) covered in gold dust. The people then threw offerings, which included gold, into the sacred lake. Hearing about El Dorado, conquistadores began an arduous journey from the coast up the Magdalena Valley with hundreds of men in search of the Muiscas gold; only a fraction of the force survived.

So begins European history in South America with the brutal conquistadores:  the Indians were enslaved and forced to convert to Catholicism. Over the decades the class system evolved as Europeans genes mixed with those of the indigenous people as well as the Africans and the terms mulatto, mestizo and crilloas arose.

(BTW Bogotá has what may be the most impressive Gold Museum in the world and includes artifacts from Lake Guatavita).