Hi! My name is Margot. My blog is about the things I love to do. That could be what I'm reading, places we visit, my family, food, or whatever else is happening. I hope you'll stay and visit a while. Contact me by email: joyfullyretired (at) gmail (dot) com.

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"I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place." - Anne Tyler

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Book Review: Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

Bel Canto.

Author: Anne Patchett

Publisher: Harper Collins 2001

Genre: Literary Fiction

My personal summary of Bel Canto:

Once upon a time the leaders of one of the countries in South America decide to throw a lavish dinner party for a wealthy Japanese businessman. They hope to impress him so much that he will locate one of his factories in their country. It was a very fancy party and all of the most important people were invited. That included the world’s most beloved opera singer. You see, the Japanese businessman was a great lover of opera.

The evening was going along splendidly with only a couple of missteps: The president of the country did not attend and then, a large band of terrorists crashed the party and took all the guests hostage. (The terrorists snuck in through the vents.)

The terrorists stated their demands. The opposition also made demands. After a few days the women and children were released with the exception of the opera singer. The stand-off continued for weeks. Soon there was very little distinction between terrorist and captive. The only joy anyone found was in the opera.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anne Patchett is undoubtedly a beautiful writer. After every few paragraphs I kept saying “lovely writing.” And indeed, there is no doubt, it is a beautifully written novel. But — the story didn’t measure up. It was too fanciful. I mean, seriously, sneaking in through the vents with no one noticing? The entire group dynamics breaking down over the voice of the opera singer?

In spite of all that bothered me, I continued reading and enjoying the story. I told myself this was meant to be like a fairy tale. There was something like a “once upon a time,” and there would be a “they lived happily ever after.”

And then I hit the ending. I won’t spoil it for you other than to say I was let down. It was as if the author was tired of the story; she snapped the book shut and said, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Maybe I no longer like fairy tales. Or it could be that I prefer stories that are more realistic. It could also be that I don’t get the whole opera thing. Whatever it is, Bel Canto disappointed me. Its a shame because I’ve been looking forward to reading an Anne Patchett novel. Perhaps I picked the wrong one. Several friends have suggested I read the author’s State of Wonder. I believe I will. In the meantime, I’m afraid I can’t recommend Bel Canto.

Book Review: Rules of Prey by John Sandford

Regular readers of Joyfully Retired know how much I love John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers series. But, I’ve only read one of Sandford’s “Prey” series, so I thought I’d go back and start at the beginning. The main character, Lucas Davenport, is Virgil Flowers’ boss and I thought it would be interesting to see the origin and development of Lucas.

Rules Of PreyI started with Rules of Prey, the first book in the series. Here we meet the somewhat flawed young detective. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I like this guy. Lucas seems different from my impression of him in the Virgil Flowers’ books. Of course, in the Virgil Flowers books he’s older, married, and quite respectable. Maybe Rules of Prey is Lucas’ young-and-the-world-be-damned version of himself. I’ll have to wait and see.

In this first book Lucas is a lieutenant-level homicide detective who doesn’t work well with a partner. He’s better on his own. He seems to be anti-police and anti-rules, well, other people’s rules. He will stay within the letter of the law, but on some things, just barely. Also, Lucas is a single guy who has no problem sleeping with two women at the same time, even if one of them is pregnant with his child.

What makes Lucas valuable to the police (and an outstanding character) is his intelligence. He is your basic super smart guy, but he’s also people smart. He understands how people think and act. He has a huge network of snitches and informants all over the place. In addition, Lucas is smart enough to have created and successfully sold some electronic role-playing war and strategy games.

Lucas’ gaming skills certainly helped in the case under investigation in this story. A guy they call Mad Dog is killing women just for the pleasure of it. He enjoys the gaming aspect of researching the right victim, plotting out and staging the crime. Mad Dog is also extremely smart. His signature is leaving a different note on each victim stating one of his “rules” for committing murder. He’s a good match for Lucas Davenport.

A couple of things kept me moving quickly through this story. One is that Mad Dog narrates part of the story. I, the reader, knew what was about to happen but, at the same time, I could see what was happening with Lucas and the police. Another thing I liked was all the quirky characters which included various members of the police and the always self-serving and not helpful media. I didn’t like any of them.

Overall, I enjoyed my introductory look at Lucas Davenport. I didn’t fall in love with him right away as I did with Virgil Flowers, but I did admire and respect his detective work. I suspect he’ll become more likeable as the series progresses. Rules of Prey was written in 1989 so Lucas has had more than twenty years to develop as a character.

At this point I’m not sure I want to stay with him all the way. After all, there are now twenty-five or so books. I have decided to at least read the next book in the series. I’m curious about what is going to happen with the baby. I wonder if it will soften Lucas a bit. We’ll see.

Warning: Lucas has quite the foul-mouth and loose morals so, if this offends you, I’d skip this book or be prepared to quickly skip pages.

Thanks to my local library for lending me this book.

Wondrous Words #301

WWWEvery week word-lovers post new words they’ve discovered while reading. It’s called Wondrous Words Wednesday and was created by Kathy at Bermuda Onion’s Weblog.

I only found one new word while reading this week. I found this word in my local newspaper. Its a word I should have known, considering where I live. You see, I live in Sonoma County, California, one of the U.S.’s major wine region. The newspaper article was talking about upcoming events.

viticulture:  “This summer, a host of speakers representing the worlds of viticulture, agriculture, visual arts, performing arts and architecture will share some of the many ways to consider “The Good Life” in this place we call home.”

Viticulture is a noun meaning the cultivation of grapevines or the study of grape cultivation. 

Okay, that’s it for me this week. I hope you found some words worth celebrating. Feel free to join Wondrous Words Wednesday. Be sure to visit Kathy for the details.

First Paragraph: Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

I am more than half-way through this charmingly written story set in a fictional South American country. The story revolves around a well known opera singer. I find it very compelling. Here is how it begins:

Bel Canto

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. Maybe he had been turning toward her just before it was completely dark, and he was lifting his hands. There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss. They did not SEE a kiss, that would have been impossible. The darkness that came on them was startling and complete. Not only was everyone there certain of a kiss, they claimed they could identify the type of kiss: it was strong and passionate, and it took her by surprise. They were all looking right at her when the lights went out. They were still applauding, each on his or her fee still in the fullest throes of hands slapping together, elbows up. Not one person had come anywhere close to tiring. The Italians and the French were yelling. “BRAVA! BRABA!” and the Japanese turned away from them. Would he have kissed her like that had the room been lit? Was his mind so full of her that in the very instant of darkness he reached for her, did he think so quickly? Or was it that they wanted her too, all of the men and women in the room, and so they imagined it collectively. They were so taken by the beauty of her voice that they wanted to cover her mouth with their mouth, drink in. Maybe music could be transferred, devoured, owned. What would it mean to kiss the lips that had held such a sound?

What do you think?
Would you keep going?

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea asks us to share the first paragraph of a book we are reading. As you can see it’s called First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros. Visit Diane to read more First Paragraphs.


Book Review: Injustice For All

Injustice For All.

Author: Scott Pratt

Publisher: Penguin, 2010

Genre: Legal Thriller

This is the third book in Scott Pratt’s Joe Dillard series. Joe used to a defense attorney, but has crossed over to the other side. He’s an assistant district attorney now in east Tennessee.

A judge is supposed to be impartial, but as we see in this novel, a judge can make or brake an attorney. It is especially true in a relatively small community. Joe’s good friend, Ray Miller, has been the target of an unethical judge. The judge ruined his reputation and career and leads Ray to the brink of suicide.

When the judge is found dead, hanging from a tree, law enforcement heads straight for the Miller house. Joe Dillard knows the Millers so well that he is positive they could not have killed the judge. He does whatever he can do to help.

There are quite a few sub-plots to this story. Overall, they added to the richness of the story. But, there were a few instances when I felt that some elements were confusing or a bit too much. I was very sympathetic to one of the characters, Hannah, but her story jumped around in odd places with no set-up. That was disappointing.

Although the third book may have had a few rough spots, it hasn’t deterred me from continuing to read the series. As of now, that is four more books. For you, I recommend you read this series in order. They can stand alone, but it’s much more enjoyable to follow along one book at a time.

Here are the first two books in the series. (Click the title to read my review.)

An Innocent Client
In Good Faith

Agatha Christie: Towards Zero

Towards ZeroPublished by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1944

(Original dust jacket, thanks to Wikipedia)

Towards Zero is one of the lesser known novels among Agatha Christie’s enormous repertoire. It’s also one I’ve never read before. You won’t find one of Ms. Christie’s well-known detectives such as Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple in here. Superintendent Battle (from Scotland Yard) and his nephew is all that is needed. [An adaptation for TV found Miss Marple substituted for Superintendent Battle. Miss Marple was played by Geraldine McEwan.]

What is special about Towards Zero is the premise with which the author began the novel. Ms. Christie’s premise is that the actual murder itself is the zero-point. Everything else — the people, places, weapons, motives, and so forth — is what makes up the murder. So, the beginning of a murder could be years before with perhaps the first angry moment or that first desire to gain someone’s money. As a result of her premise, the author was very detailed in the telling of this story.

Towards Zero is classic Agatha Christie. Numerous characters who could each be considered a suspect, are gathered together at a country house for a couple of weeks. In this book an elderly woman, Lady Tresillian, invited various relatives and a few others to her home. Unfortunately, its Lady Tresillian who comes up murdered. Now its time to gather all the details that came before the zero hour and start analyzing them.

As usual, I enjoyed this Agatha Christie novel. Towards Zero was both a fast read and an interesting read. I have one small criticism. It came at the end. There was suddenly some extra details from a minor character that were suddenly dropped in at the end. It didin’t fit the rest of the story. It was just too convenient.

What did Agatha Christie think?

When asked in 1972 which of her books were her personal favorites, Ms. Christie named Towards Zero as one of her ten favorites. She said, “I found it interesting to work on the idea of people from different places coming towards a murder, instead of starting with the murder and working from that.” [The full list of Ms. Christie’s favorite books can be found here: AgathaChristie.com I recommend you try Towards Zero. Read it and see why it was one of Agatha’s favorite books.

I’m still participating in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge. Towards Zero is book #35 for me. 31 to go.


Wondrous Words #300

Today is a special day and I’m celebrating! 300 Wondrous Word Wednesday posts is a lot! Kathy at Bermuda Onion is the genius behind the idea. We were both involved in a Blog Improvement project sponsored by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. Kathy said she wanted to start a meme devoted to new words we find in our reading. I jumped right in because I always loved vocabulary words.

Keeping an eye out for new words as I’m reading has been a very good discipline as I  read. I read with a different kind of alertness, and I like that. It has spilled over into everything I read, not just print books. I’m quite grateful that the world of words  in  constantly  expanding with new words being created all the time.

vocabularyToday I’m sharing with you the first two words I  submitted on my first post back in February 2009 along with the cute word detective you see  above. I still like these two words and I hope you do too.

Detritus – as in “. . . strung from end to end with the detritus of a thousand teenage beer and reefer parties. . .” Detritus means waste or debris of any kind. This was in Montana Creed – Logan by Linda Lael Miller. (Yes, Romance novels can have big words, too.


Somnambulant – as in “. . . or of the somnambulant governmental establishment that presided over the catastrophe.” Somnambulant means sleepwalking. I found this on the New York Times Opinion page in a Frank Rich column. (Yes, its possible for someone to read both Romance novels and the New York Times.)

Thanks for joining me on my nostalgic word journey. I owe all the fun to Kathy who has patiently and faithfully sponsored this meme every week without missing a beat. I know some weeks were rough, but THANK YOU KATHY for sticking with it. Be sure to visit Kathy and say thank you too.


First Paragraph: Injustice For All

Injustice For All is the third book in a legal thriller series I’m determined to read. So far, there are seven books. I haven’t started it yet, but I will in the next couple of days. If its like the previous two books, I know I’m in  for an intense story. The story seems to start out pretty calm, but I know that can change quickly for Joe Dillard, the small-town lawyer. Here’s the first paragraph:

Injustice For AllPrologue

Three years ago. . . .

My name is Joe Dillard, and I’m leaning against a chain-link fence watching a baseball game at Daniel Boone High School in Gray, Tennessee, on a spectacular, sun-drenched evening in early May. The sky is a cloudless azure, a mild breeze is blowing out toward left field, and the pleasant smell of freshly cut grass hangs in the air.

What do you think?
Would you keep going?

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea asks us to share the first paragraph of a book we are reading. As you can see it’s called First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros. Visit Diane to read more First Paragraphs.


Book Review: Ryder: Bird of Prey

Author: Nick Pengelley

Publisher: Alibi (May 5, 2015)

Genre: Mystery

This is my third Nick Pengelley novel. [See my reviews here.]  Each  book gets better and better. In this newest book I was hooked by the time I hit page 3. The emotions of the story tugged at my heart and I just had to keep reading. Let me pause here and share the book’s description with you:

Bird of PreyAccording to the last words of a dying man, the Maltese Falcon was no mere legend: The fabulously jeweled golden bird really existed—still exists, in fact. And Ayesha Ryder is hot on its trail. Rumor says the Falcon conceals clues to the burial place of Harold II, the conquered Anglo-Saxon King of England—and to an artifact of astonishing significance that few besides Ryder would understand. 

Hunted by Scotland Yard, MI5, and those who seek the Falcon to break up the United Kingdom, Ryder joins forces with Joram Tate, a mysterious librarian with a reputation for turning up things that don’t want to be found. Soon Ryder and her handsome, erudite new companion are venturing through lost tombs and ancient abbeys, following a trail left ages ago by the Knights Templar.

Ryder knows she’s close to a game-changing secret, hidden for a thousand years beneath an English castle. But with ruthless killers waiting in the wings, Ryder must go medieval—to defend her life, her country, and the world as we know it.

Does that make you think of Indiana Jones or some other fictional adventurer? Well, Alysha is more than a simple detective — she is an Adventurer! And in this third book she gets to have a very handsome and smart companion along with her. I thought this new book was even better than the previous two.

You know that, in fiction, if the main character isn’t someone you can understand and root for, the story isn’t worth it. I am completely in Alysha’s camp. She’s smart, but not smart-alecky. She’s very knowledgeable about history and politics and historical artifacts. She’s been through some very rough times and they have touched her heart, which in turn makes her vulnerable. She’s willing to take chances and put her life at risk, and she’s also loyal to her friends. Now – isn’t that the kind of character you want to spend  time with?

I strongly recommend you get a “copy” of Alysha Ryder: Bird of Prey. (The Matese Falcon connection is very satisfying to any vintage movie fan.) Just remember that all of Alibi Publishing’s products are ebooks. High-quality ebbs is their mission. I’ve read close to ten now and not one has been bad. They are doing something right.


Nick PengelleAbout Nick Pengelley
Nick Pengelley is the author of the political thrillers Ryder, Ryder: American Treasure, and Ryder: Bird of Prey. Australian by birth, he’s had careers in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom as a law professor, legal consultant, and analyst on Middle East politics, which is his passion. Pengelley lives in Toronto with his family.



Thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book and to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be a part of it all. To see other stops on the book tour, visit the schedule here: Nick Pengelley Tour Schedule

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Book Review: Officer Elvis

Officer Elvis

Author: Gary Cusik

Publisher: Alibi, April 2015

Genre: Mystery

Tommy Reylander is a police officer, but in his spare time he loves performing as — Elvis! Yes, this part-time job gives him great pleasure. But alas, one night, after performing for a group of senior citizens, he is killed.

The detective assigned to the case is Darla Cavannah, one of the best investigators working for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. Tommy (the now-dead Elvis) used to be Darla’s partner, so she actually begs her boss to have this case. She gets the case, but she has only three days to solve it.

Darla is not sure why Tommy was killed. It could be related to his police work or it could be related to his Elvis impersonations. Or it might be something else. Darla has earned her reputation honestly as she really is a good detective. When additional Elvis impersonators are killed, Darla starts looking in that direction. She uncovers some seriously bad characters: mob guys.

Officer Elvis was a solid and thoroughly well devised detective novel. The author, prior to his writing career, was a Creative Director for an advertising agency. It shows in the story. This is a creative story that includes intelligent use of humor. Laugh-out loud humor. There’s one more thing I liked: a nice creative twist at the end.

This whole phenomenon of Elvis impersonators has been something of a puzzle to me over the years. I’m old enough to remember the real Elvis Presley. I was a little past 20 when he gained massive popularity. That’s a little past the swooning age, but I still felt a strong “connection” whenever I’d hear one of his songs. I can also remember exactly where I was when I heard that Elvis had died.

Elvis was not just popular with girls. All the guys I knew loved his music too. In fact, my husband and I went to an Elvis Presley movie for our second date. (Our first date was a blind date, so on this second date we were all alone. Well, along with Elvis up on the big screen.)

Gary CusikMy husband and I have talked about the Elvis impersonators. We really aren’t sure why impersonating Elvis is so popular. Some times it seems as if they are making fun of him, but I prefer to think its because the impersonators really like him and/or his music. It could alsol be that impersonating Elvis is just a fun thing to do. I thought the use of Elvis impersonators in this story was a clever part of the plot.

I strongly recommend Officer Elvis.


About the author:

Gary Gusick is the author of The Last Clinic. A former advertising executive with more than thirty years experience as a copywriter and creative director, Gusick has won numerous national and international awards for creative excellence in advertising.


Thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book and to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be a part of it all. To see other stops on the book tour, visit the schedule here: Gary Cusik Book Tour

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