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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Book Review of a Classic: Emma by Jane Austen

: Jane Austen

Published: 1815

Genre: Classic Romance

Format: Audiobook Narrated by Flo Gibson

Emma Wodehouse is the star of this novel. She’s a beautiful young woman who has been raised in an upper class home in England in the early seventeenth century. Emma is the mistress of the house as her mother is dead and her older sister is married and living in London.

Emma is not completely alone. In addition to caring for her older, hypochondriacal father, she visits the poor and sick in the community and has a regular list of neighbors she calls upon and who call on her. Calling on people is the social norm for this group.

As the novel opens, Emma’s longtime governess and friend, Miss Taylor, is now Mrs. Weston. Emma is happy for Miss Taylor, but sad for herself. Her friend will no longer be devoting all of her time to Emma. To compensate, Emma befriends Harriet Smith and she becomes her project. Emma is determined to raise Harriet up in society and specifically to marry “properly.”

Emma chooses the vicar, Mr. Elton, to be Harriet’s future groom. Emma is skilled at nudging and manipulating both parties toward each other. There is, however, a couple of problems with her plan. Mr. Elton misunderstands Emma’s interest, and deep in her heart Harriet loves another man. Emma’s manipulations hurt Harriet and eventually herself.

There are other interesting “goings on” in the community. There is a Miss Jane Fairfax who comes to visit her aunt, Miss Bates, after a very long absence. Mr. Weston’s son, Frank Churchill, also visits after a long absence. And, Mr. Elton returns after four weeks with a very snooty wife. These changes are somewhat upsetting to Emma. Even her lifelong loyal friend, Mr. Knightly, is acting differently toward her.

Two people remain the same in Emma’s life: her father and her neighbor, the middle-aged spinster, Miss Bates. These two characters provide light humor to the story. Miss Bates constantly talks – about everything. She’s a great source of gossip, but she sees everything in a rosy, positive glow. Mr. Wodehouse, on the other hand, sees illness coming from everywhere, and not just bad weather. A baby coming to visit? Oh no, they carry too many diseases! Emma does a good job managing both of these people, with the exception of one incident.

Emma, the character, was thoroughly enjoyed observing. I didn’t like her as much at the beginning of the story as I did at the end. She grew up over the course of the novel. I think she became a better person. Emma, the novel, I also enjoyed, with the exception of the middle section. It seemed tedious with all the social chatter and machinations on the part of, primarily, the women. The novel is heavy with dialogue which I normally like. People in this book, however, talked on and on. I know its Middle English, but it was tedious.

That is my only criticism of Emma. I’m glad I read it. I also watched the movie version starring Kate Blanchett. She did a superb job of capturing Emma’s personality. I recommend both the book and the movie.

Wondrous Words #289

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.

In last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review there was an article about two books on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. It was an interesting review of the two books (article found here), but it also gave me two new-to-me words – both in one sentence.

He was a man of a thousand American parts — novelist, stand-up comic, travel writer, impresario, capitalist, full-time celebrity and coruscating social critic — whose ear for dialogue, nuance, slang and absurdity seldom failed him.

1.   impresario:  a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, or operas.

2.  coruscating: flash or sparkle

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: Emma by Jane Austin

I’m long overdue for a re-read of Emma. I just started it over the weekend and, of course, I’m enjoying it. Anyone have fond memories of Emma?

EmmaEmma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father and had, in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his home from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

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.


Agatha Christie: N or M?

N Or M?Publisher: Dodd Mead, 1941

As many of you know, I’m reading Agatha Christie’s novels from beginning to end. I’ve finally reached the books she published in the 1940s. To my surprise, N or M? features Tommy and Tuppence, a couple that haven’t appeared since the 1920s.

Twenty years ago they were young people just recovering from ravages of World War I. They married, solved crimes together, and went on to have a happy family life. Now, twenty years later, its 1940 and the war in England has begun. Both Tommy and Tuppence would like to be doing something, but aren’t allowed. They say Tommy is too old and that Tuppence is, well, a woman. Even though they once worked for British Intelligence, they are kept on the sidelines.

Finally, Tommy is asked to go undercover at a west coast hotel. British Intelligence wants him to figure out who in the area is actually working for German intelligence – the fifth column. Tommy is not allowed to bring Tuppence. He can’t even tell her where he is going or any of the other details.

Tuppence is not about to be left out. She very cleverly figures it out and actually gets to the hotel before Tommy does. Both of them are pretending to be someone else and, of course, cannot let on that they know each other. The hotel has some interesting people staying there. Some of them could possibly be spies. There are some locals who seem pretty suspicious as well.

Tommy and Tuppence do what they do best which is to observe the actions of people and figure out what doesn’t fit. They’re very good at people watching. They never believe people are who or what they say they are – except for a couple of times, which almost got Tommy killed.

The puzzle to be solved was a good one for a mystery reader. There were clues along the way, but unfortunately I ignored them. I had a hunch about who N was, but I completely missed the person who was M. Each of the two main characters were in some very dangerous situations. They lived, but it will be another 27 years before Ms. Christie brings them back for another adventure.

N or M? was different from most of Ms. Christie’s other novels. It was a nice change. I liked that it featured England during World War II. I also liked that it was mostly light-hearted. There was genuine humor in there, even if it was somewhat understated. I recommend you read this novel for a nice change of pace.

agatha_christie_rcIt has been five years since I first started  this challenge. N or M? is the 33rd novel I’ve read. I’ve also read 7 of her short story collections. That means I’m almost at the half-way point! I’ve decided to change my goal and read just the novels. Since there are 66 novels, my status is now 33/66 – still only half-way there. I hope it doesn’t take me another five years to finish my goal, but if it does, that’s okay. I have already read most of these books at an earlier time in my life. I enjoy them so much that it’s not a chore for me. Thanks for staying with me while I read and tell you about the books.

Book Review: The American Heiress

American Heiress

Author: Daisy Goodwin

Publisher: St. Martins Press, 2011

Genre: Fiction

Set around the turn of the twentieth century, the American heiress in this novel is Cora Nash, the daughter of an extremely wealthy, industrialist father and a social climbing mother.

The strongest influence on Cora is her obsessive mother. In today’s world the mother would probably be accused of child abuse. A steel rod in her daughter’s back every day for three hours? The girl couldn’t do anything that didn’t serve the advancement of her mother.

When Cora reached marriageable age she was taken to Europe. Her mother wanted a titled son-in-law to brag about. It did’t take long for Cora to meet and marry an eligible duke. Ivo, the duke Cora found, is the classic handsome, brooding bachelor duke of a crumbling English mansion. Ivo needed Cora’s money so, for him, it was a no-brainer.

There were plenty of things to complicate this romance. It started with the two mothers. I didn’t think it was possible to be as horrible as Cora’s mother, but Ivo’s mother succeeded. She was an evil witch. There were also all the normal misunderstandings that occur between a couple, but especially two people who hardly know each other.

I liked following the development of Cora from naive young woman to a bit more mature wife and mother. It was slow. It took until nearly the end of this almost 500 page novel to see it. For example, it took forever for Cora to understand how one of her so-called friends was attempting to sabotaged her and her marriage. Ivo (the duke) was not as well developed a character as Cora. For me, he was just okay.

The American Heiress wasn’t marketed as a romance novel, but it does have most of the elements of one. On the plus side, it isn’t filled with the petty squabbles that most romance novels depend upon. The novel is interesting and, in my opinion, falls more into the category of a literary fiction novel.

There were other elements to the novel that put it in the fiction category. For one, there was a small, yet good look at American and English society during that time period. Granted, it was a look at the super-rich and the old English royal system, but there was also a look at society through the eyes of Cora’s black personal maid. She experienced life differently in America and England.

There were obscene amounts of money spent on simple things like the 90 dresses for Cora’s trousseau – dresses only to be worn once. There were corsets purchased that would pay the salary of Cora’s maid for 20 years! Those obscenities disturbed me.

Overall, it was an interesting story to experience. It wasn’t something I could say I loved, but it was a good story.

Wondrous Words #288

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.

There were no new words in my reading adventures this week. My Word-A-Day does a good job of keeping me updated with new words. Here’s one from this past month that I found interesting:

The word featured was zwieback. This was not a new word for me as I’ve eaten these twice baked crispy crackers/pieces of bread for years. On the back of the zwieback page was a short discussion about how, centuries ago, food had to be handled differently in order to keep it from spoiling. The sentence went like this:

” . . . people needed to carry comestibles on a long journey.”

I didn’t know this, but a comestible is an item of food. Its a nice word, but somehow I don’t see it becoming a part of my everyday vocabulary. “Let’s go out to eat. What kind of comestibles are you hungry for?” I can see the look now.

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: The American Heiress

I’m listening to The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. Its a good tale of an extremely rich American girl who marries an English duke. Here’s how the novel begins. I apologize for the long first paragraph.

Chapter 1
The Hummingbird Man
Newport, Rhode Island, August 1893

American HeiressThe visiting hour was almost over, so the hummingbird man encountered only the occasional carriage as he pushed his cart along the narrow strip of road between the mansions of Newport and the Atlantic Ocean. The ladies of Newport had left their cards early that afternoon, some to prepare for the last and most important ball of the season, others so they could at least appear to do so. The usual clatter and bustle of Bellevue Avenue had faded away as the Four Hundred rested in anticipation of the evening ahead, leaving behind only the steady beat of the waves breaking on the rocks below. The light was beginning to go, but the heat of the day still shimmered from the white limestone facades of the great houses that clustered along the cliffs like a collection of wedding cakes, each one vying with its neighbor to be the most gorgeous confection. But the hummingbird man, who wore a dusty tailcoat and a battered grey bowler in some shabby approximation of evening dress, did not stop to admire the verandah at the Breakers, or the turrets of Beaulieu, or the Rhinelander fountains that could be glimpsed through the yew hedges and gilded gates. He continued along the road, whistling and clicking to his charges in their black shrouded cages, so that they should hear a familiar noise on their last journey. His destination was the French chateau just before the point, the least and most elaborate creation on a street of superlatives, Sans Souci, the summer cottage of the Cash family. The Union flag was flying from one tower, the Cash family emblem from the other.

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: A Week in Winter

Week In Winter


Author: Maeve Binchy

Publisher: Orion, 2012

Genre: Fiction

Format: Audiobook, Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

I feel as if I’ve just had a week’s vacation in Ireland. I spent a week listening to the lilting voice of Rosalyn Landor as she read Maeve Binchy’s last novel. I swear I saw the craggy landscape and smelled the scent of the ocean, and talked with all the people I met there.

The story revolves around Chicky Starr who grew up in a small Irish town on the west coast of Ireland. She left her home for America when she was in her twenties. She worked hard in a boardinghouse and took baking and cooking classes. In addition, Chicky was careful about saving her money.

After about twenty years Chicky went back to her small hometown in Ireland with an idea. She wanted to create an expanded bed and breakfast. Her dream was of a home for visitors wanting a restful week’s vacation in this beautiful country. It would be a place for people to rejuvenate from their busy lives.

Chicky partnered with an elderly woman who owned Stone House. Together they restored the house to its original beauty. Chicky created menus, a list of things to do in the area and other thoughtful touches around the house.

I enjoyed the story of Chicky that took up the first half of the novel. Equally enjoyable was the second half which contained the stories of each one of the guests who came to the Stone House during the first week Chicky was open for business. Here are my favorites:

  • The young librarian who created a club within the library for people of varying interests,
  • the two doctors who had seen too much death,
  • and the young man with a passion for music, but who was expected to devote his life to his father’s business.

The author did a great job of filling me in on the backstories of all the guests. Each person had some sort of conflict in their lives that needed to be resolved. Although there were quite a few characters in the book, I felt they were all fairly well developed in a short time frame.

This is the first time I’ve read a Maeve Binchy novel. Friends have told me her books tend to be formulaic. Intellectually I can see what they mean. I had no complaints, but this is my first book. I intend to read at least one more. Then, perhaps, I can comment on the formula.

I truly love novels that make me think, but every once in a while I like reading a book that just makes me feel. That’s exactly what happened to me during my Week in Winter.

Book Review: In Flames: A Thriller

In Flames

Author: Richard Hilary Weber

Publisher: Alibi, February 2015

Genre: Thriller

Format: Kindle e-reader

Dan Shedrick has just graduated from Princeton with a degree in architecture. The economy is so bad that he can’t find a decent paying job in his field. It seems his only option is a job on San Inigo, an island in the Caribbean.

As soon as he lands, Dan knows he isn’t going to be living on an island paradise. Armored tanks and canons surround the airport. The ride into the capital city takes him past numerous shantytowns. The capital city where he is to live is a “protected” city, but still that’s not confidence building for Dan.

As Dan settles in, he feels most comfortable when he’s at a golf or country-club style resort. He chooses to spend most of his free time there and then moves there. A steamy love affair with the wife of the resort’s manager follows, and then a murdered body. It’s not long before he is kidnapped, taken to the jungle, tortured, and finally rescued.

My Thoughts:

There wasn’t much to like about Dan. There wasn’t much to hate about him either. He never really came alive for me. Although I couldn’t connect with Dan, I plodded through. It looked like this might be an interesting murder mystery. I’m always up for that.

Unfortunately, things went off course somewhere in the middle of the book. I normally would have given up and just stopped reading. Since this was a book for a book tour, I stuck it out until the end. I’m very sorry to say, In Flames didn’t redeem itself for me in the end. I sincerely hope it was just me.

This is the eighth book I’ve read from the new Alibi Publishing group, a division of Random House. The books are all e-readers, generally less than 250 pages, fast-paced and really good. I guess it’s okay to have one or two mis-steps when you’re starting out.

Just because I can’t recommend this book to my friends, doesn’t mean I won’t stop recommending Alibi books. In particular, the works of Nick Pengelley and Michael Murphy really deliver a fun and hang-onto-your-seat reading experience. Try those.

Wondrous Words #287

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’ve been reading In Flames: A Thriller by Richard Hilary Weber. My review will be up tomorrow. In it I found this word:

crepuscular:   “ . . . but at sunset each day you felt a kind of happiness there, when for a few moments you indulged crepuscular insights . . . “

Crepuscular is an adjective meaning of, resembling, or relating to twilight.


While reading a blog post at Book Dilettante I found this sentence and a new-to-me word:

magus: “ . . . at the behest of the friar and magus Roger Bacon, carrying a secret burden to His Holiness Clement IV.”

A magus is a member of a priestly order of ancient Persia OR a sorcerer. I should have known this. It’s related to The Magi.

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.