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: Pack of Dorks by Beth Vradel

Scarlet @ Soccer
I hope you don’t mind if I do a little grandmotherly bragging. My granddaughter, Lou (age 9), has well-rounded interests. She’s a good friend, a good soccer player, and is quite the reader.

Lou has already read most of the Newberry winners, all the Harry Potter’s, the Lemony Snickets, plus all sorts of other children’s classic and contemporary books. Best of all, Lou has good taste in literature and can critically analyze what she’s read. Lou has joined her older sister in making good book recommendations to me.

One of the books Lou recommended recently is Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel. I’m rather fond of children in this age group covered by this novel. Kids in this age group (9 to 10 year olds) don’t quite have that fully developed verbal and social filter they’ll have in another year.

These kids interpret the world exactly as they see it. They are also trying to figure out how they fit into the scheme of things. When Lou told me to read Pack of Dorks, she said it would give me a good look at fourth graders. She was right. My goodness, she was so right!


To give you the flavor of the story I’m going to share with you the story’s beginning:

Pack of Dorks
This was the biggest recess of my life.

Today, I would become—officially—the bravest, most daring, and by far the most mature fourth-grader at Autumn Grove Intermediate School.

Today, as soon as that bell rang, I was on my way to becoming a legend.

Today, I was going to kiss Tom Lemming.

Here’s the plan: The whole class will run outside. Tom will head straight to the ball shed with Henry. Becky and I will check and double check that Ms. Drake and Mr. Peverell aren’t paying attention. Then we’ll sneak behind the shed too.


This incident is just the beginning of the high drama that will be a part of Lucy’s life in the fourth grade. She learns what it’s like to be one of the kids everyone else picks on, the one no one wants to eat lunch with. As Lucy become aware of the unique differences in all the kids in her classroom, she also has some challenges at home. The whole family, but especially her mom, become stressed when a new baby, who is “different,” joins the family. Lucy’s fourth-grade year is very challenging. Lucy comes to appreciate the wide range of individuals who people her life.

Lou Pack of DorksLou and I both loved this book. We believe the author really understands what it’s like to be this age. There were times in the story when the characters made us feel sad and mad, disappointed and concerned. But, there were also times when we laughed out-loud or just smiled. We identified with the struggles of Lucy, of the clueless girl who picked her nose, and truly felt the pain of the boy who wished people wouldn’t notice him. They were all very real.

We were critical of the adults in the story, particularly the teachers. We didn’t understand why the fourth-grade teacher didn’t notice that all her students were out back behind the ball shed. Or why she didn’t notice the boy in the front row who never talked. Not that all teachers are perfect, but these things seemed like they should be basics for all teachers.

We particularly loved the storytelling and the dialogue in Pack of Dorks. The issues – bullying, kids with special needs, and respect for individual differences was not above the understanding of fourth-graders.  This is the author’s first book, but we’re very hopeful she’ll soon give us another one.

Five star rating from both Lou and her Nana.

Pack of Dorks was published by Sky Pony Press, October 2014.

Book Review: Ryder: American Treasure by Nick Pengelley

Author Nick Pengelley has created a set of very smart mysteries. I’m telling you this right up front because I want you to pay attention. I say smart because these Ayesha Ryder mysteries will make various parts of your brain hum. And — they are new so I want you to read them now before everyone else does.

Ryder - American TreasureThe books have clue-filled plots, great characters, mysteries involving history and politics in addition to a murder mystery. If I was looking for specific genres to put these into, I’d say historic-political-thriller with a good dash of spy novel, murder mystery and conspiracy theory thrown in.

Although I am a part of the TLC Book Tour featuring Ryder: American Treasure, the second book in the series, I’m going to include a little bit about the first book. I liked the second book so much that I had to go back and read the first novel.

First, let me tell you about the series’ heroine: Ayesha Ryder. She’s an academic researcher who is an expert in antiquities. Born in Palestine, she has a good understanding of the history, culture and issues in the Middle East. After inheriting a house in London, she lives and works in England. She’s also very well-connected. She’s on a first-name basis with the prime minister and the head of MI-5.

In both books the murder mystery ties in with something that occurred in history that also has an effect on contemporary events. In the first book, Ryder: An Ayesha Ryder Novel (September 2014), a colleague of Ayesha’s, who was an expert on T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), was murdered. Clues were left specifically for Ayesha. They led to speculation about a possible document that proved the Holy Land really belonged to Palestine. All this occurred just as Israel and Palestine were about to sign a new treaty at the Tower of London.

Ryder - Ayesha RyderIn the second book, Ryder: American Treasure (January 2015), Ayesha is asked to investigate an old rumor that the British confiscated treasured items from the White House during the War of 1812. An old gavel, purportedly belonging to James Madison, has surfaced and is said to be a part of that 1812 treasure. But then, the curator who discovered the gavel is murdered and Ayesha is somehow blamed for his death.

In Ryder: American Treasure, Ayesha is still intermingling with some pretty high profile people: the English prime minister, the head of MI-5, the home-secretary, the U.S. secretary of state and the president’s chief of staff. I like that high level people are a part of the story. They seem quite real. Also real are the supporting charters. There is a bad guy who is really evil. His mission in life is to kill Ayesha. I’m trying not to spoil this for you but, trust me, you’ll like hating this guy.

The publisher of both books is Alibi, a new division of Random House. Alibi publishes only e-books so don’t look for these books in your local bookstore. These books you’ll want to download to your kindle, nook or other e-reader. On top of being excellent mysteries, they are also a bargain. Each book is now $2.99 each! I don’t know how long that price will last. These are quality stories that are worth a lot more. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Book Three: Ryder: Bird of Prey will be published in May. This is one reader who can’t wait.

About the author: Nick Pengelley

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 wife, Pamela.

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 tour, visit here: Nick Pengelley Tour

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Wondrous Words #284

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 week’s NY Times Book Review, I found an interesting “Bookends” feature. The two writers, Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Allen Kirsch (Why Trilling Matters) debated “Why We Are Obsessed With the Great American Novel?.” I found two interesting words in that article.

1.  megalomaniac:  “Moby-Dick,” the most obvious GAN (great American novel) candidate, is centered on a vengeful megalomaniac;

Megalomaniac is a person obsessed with the exercise of power, especially in the domination of others.


2.  infanticide:  “Beloved” is about slavery and infanticide.

Infanticide, as awful as it sounds, is the practice of killing a child within a year of it’s birth.


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: I’ll Give You the Sun

I’m reading an exceptionally good young adult novel, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. It didn’t start out that way for me. It took a few pages for the story to grab me. So — I’m curious about what you think. If you’ve already read this book, tell me what you think.

I'll Give You the SunNoah
Age 13

This is how it all begins.

   With Zephyr and Fry—reigning neighborhood sociopaths—torpedoing after me and the whole forest floor shaking under my feet as I blast through air, trees, this white-hot panic.

   “You’re going over, you pussy!” Fry shouts.

   Then Zephyr’s on me, has one, both of my arms behind my back, and Fry’s grabbed my sketchpad. I lunge for it but I’m armless, helpless. I try to wriggle out of Zephyr’s grasp. Can’t. Try to blink them into moths. No. They’re still themselves: fifteen-foot-tall, tenth-grade asshats who toss living, breathing thirteen-year-old people like me over cliffs for kicks.

What do you think?
Would you keep reading?

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: Deadline by John Sandford

Publisher: Putnam / Pegquin Audio 2014
Audiobook Narrated by Eric Conger

The last couple of years it’s become a part of our holiday road-trip to listen to a Virgil Flowers story. This year on the way back home we listened to Deadline. This the eighth book in John Sandford’s series.

In this new adventure one of Virgil’s old buddies asks Virgil for his help and advice concerning a serious case of dog-napping. So Virgil hooked up his boat and went down to the eastern section of Minnesota, right on the Mississippi River. This was, of course, during Virgil’s free time.

Virgil had only been in the small town of this isolated area a couple of days when a local reporter was murdered. Virgil’s boss, Lucas Davenport, asks Virgil to investigate. Virgil is perfect at nosing around this sort of crime in a small town. Most good people trust Virgil and they are comfortable telling Virgil all sorts of things.

Gradually, Virgil became aware that the reporter had been investigating and writing a story about corruption within the local school system. What’s going on at those secret “personnel” meetings? Virgil will dig and dig and make new friends and push his way into figuring everything out.

Virgil’s main focus becomes solving the reporter’s murder, but he also takes time to work on the dog-napping case. He also discovers a big-time meth lab in the backwoods and he helps out the DEA with that.

I really like the characters that John Sandford creates. I think he outdid himself in this book. The dog-napping group almost become a comical vigilante group that Virgil used for a beautiful ending. The members of the school board were almost over the top. The small town and backwoods people were spot on. I especially liked a boy who lived in the backwoods. He helped Virgil with several crucial pieces of information.

Book #8 was another fun experience with Virgil Flowers. Traveling with him makes the interstate boredom fly by. We chuckle and often laugh out loud. I highly recommend the audio version of Deadline, especially if you have a road trip coming up.

Each book in the series can stand alone, but are more enjoyable when read in order. Here is the list of all the Virgil Flowers books. Click the titles to read my reviews.

Dark of the Moon

Heat Lightning

Rough Country

Bad Blood 

Shock Wave

Mad River

Storm Front

Book Review: An Innocent Client

Scott PrattI’ve discovered a new-to-me author: Scott Pratt. I just finished reading the first book in his Joe Dillard series and I’m excited. You know I love good legal thrillers and, in An Innocent Client, Scott Pratt has given me one. Now I want to read the rest of the series (there are six more) and some of his stand-alone novels too.

Scott Pratt is a writer and a lawyer living in Johnson City, Tennessee. He’s a husband and father of two college-age children. While reading An Innocent Client I couldn’t help but feel it was rather biographical. I don’t know that for a fact, It’s just a hunch.


Innocent ClientAuthor: Scott Pratt

Publisher:  Onyx, 2008

Genre: Legal Thrillers

Format: Audiobook, Narrated by Tim Campbell

An Innocent Client is the story of a disillusioned attorney named Joe Dillard. He practices in a small town in eastern Tennessee. Everyone in town believes he is equal to all the scumbag clients he defends.

At Joe’s core he’s an honest and ethical guy. He believes in giving his clients the best possible defense. We’ve seen this before in other legal thrillers such as the Lincoln Lawyer and the works of John Grisham. It’s tough for defense attorneys to disassociate themselves, professionally, from their clients. They all know the justice system is often messed up. They find it hard to leave.

But, Joe Dillard has a plan. He and his very supportive wife, who handles all the finances, are saving for the day he can quit. They are getting close. Joe’s one wish before he quits is to have just one client who is really innocent. He wants one where he has no doubt.

One day Joe is approached by a very savvy businesswoman. She asks him to defend one of her employees working at the “Gentleman’s Club” she owns. The night before one of the customers gave her employee a hard time, and now he is dead. The man was murdered. She’s pretty sure her employee is going to be charged with the crime. The young woman appears to be quite innocent. Could this be the one innocent client Joe is looking for?

The story is fast-paced and wide-ranging. Joe’s life is complicated and so is this case. Although I kept guessing, I did not figure it out until the end. (I like it that way.) Joe Dillard is a great character – one I felt great sympathy for. I also felt as if I understood, and greatly appreciated Joe’s wife. The two of them have a great partnership. In spite of all the ugliness present in their lives, they sincerely try to do the right thing.

All the characters were well-drawn. There was one evil client of Joe’s who was the definition of sociopath. Also, the guy who was murdered was a well-known, well-liked preacher, but even he wasn’t all that nice. If he was that good, what was he doing in a “Gentleman’s Club?”

I should warn you, this is not a squeaky-clean, no-swear-word-type mystery. It was too close to real life to do that. But then, I like stories that reflect real life and it was great being introduced to the life of Joe Dillard. His life wasn’t easy, but I liked how he managed to take charge of it. I’m going to tackle the next six books in the rest of the series, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you like a good legal thriller, try Scott Pratt’s.

Wondrous Words #283

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’m offering a couple of new words from my Word-A-Day calendar.

1.  moue:  “She made a little moue, shrugged one shoulder, dipped her head ever so slightly to set the artificial bird atop her hat in motion.”  (from The Road to Wellville by Coraghessan Boyle)

It’s a small word but it eluded me. Moue (pronounced mo͞o) means a little grimace; a pout.


2.  devoir:  “The Grand Master, having allowed the apology of Albert Malvoisin, commanded the herald to stand forth an do his devoir.”  (from Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott)

Devoir (pronounced dəvˈwär) means  duty or responsibility.

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: An Innocent Client

A new year, a new book, a new series. I’m almost done reading An Innocent Client by Scott Pratt. I really like this one. I may have to keep reading the rest of the books in this series. An Innocent Client is book #1. Here’s how it starts:

Innocent ClientPart I
April 12
7:00 A.M.

It was my fortieth birthday, and the first thing I had to do was deal with Johnny Wayne Neal. The forensic psychiatrist I’d hired to examine him said Johnny Wayne was a narcissist, a pathological liar, and a sociopath, and those were his good qualities. He called Johnny Wayne an “irredeemable monster.” I’d asked the shrink not to write any of that down. I didn’t want the district attorney to see it. Monster or not, Johnny Wayne was still my client.


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: The Valley of Amazement

Valley of AmazementAuthor: Amy Tan

Publisher: Ecco, November, 2013

Avid readers usually say they love to read because it takes them to places they’d never go in person. That is so true of The Valley of Amazement – at least for this avid reader. The story centers around a high-class courtesan house in Shanghai back in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. It all seemed so real that I’m sure Amy Tan must have done an enormous amount of research.

The Valley of Amazement is first told by Violet, who is the daughter of Lulu, the Madame of the house. Violet is a rather spoiled and willful child. She believes she’s better than everyone else because she is American. The truth is she’s only half American. Her mother is American and her father is an unknown-to-her Chinese man.

The first half of the story is quite interesting. It focuses on the women and the goings-on in this exclusive courtesan’s house. We don’t get all the details, but the reader gets to learn a great deal about the culture of the place. This time period is when China was experiencing political difficulties and it became difficult for Americans to stay there. Lulu and Violet are set to sail for San Francisco, but only Lulu leaves. They are both tricked and Violet is sold as a virgin courtesan and forced to work for another courtesan house.

In the second half of the book we learn of Lulu’s background and how she came to be in Shanhai and how she became a courtesan. The story also continues to follow Violet and switches back and forth between China and San Francisco. Eventually, there is also the story of Flora, Violet’s daughter.

There is no doubt in my mind that Amy Tan creates unique characters with great storylines. I’ve known that since The Joy Luck Club. She focuses on relationships between women, especially mothers and daughters. She adds other minor themes to her stories such as forgiveness, which always make me stop and think about my own experience. To top it off she writes in beautiful and elegant prose.

My only disappointment in The Valley of Amazement was that it was too long. It felt as if she were telling the same story in the second half as she told me in the first section. It definitely could have been condensed down to about 400 pages. Of course, it didn’t keep me from reading all 589 pages. After all, this is Amy Tan.

Will I read her next book? Of course I will. No one but Amy Tan can take me to another world where life doesn’t compare to my own experience, but at the same time make me feel a real kinship with the people in that new world.

I recommend.

Book Review: All That Glitters

All That GlittersPublisher: Alibi, 2015

A couple of months ago I read The Yankee Club (my review). It was set in New York city in the 1930s. Jake Donovan, a former detective, now a mystery writer, investigated the death of a good friend. While investigating he uncovered a conspiracy to overthrow FDR’s new government.

Now in All That Glitters, its a few months later and Jake is traveling with his girlfriend, Broadway actress Laura Wilson, to Hollywood. Laura has a contract with Carville Studios to star in a new movie.

The very night that Jake and Laura arrive in that glittering city, there is a Hollywood-style party. Lots of glamour everywhere and then – the son of the studio-head is murdered. Unfortunately, Jake is the main suspect since he had an argument with the man earlier.

Jake, of course, is innocent. Not to worry. Jake is very resourceful. I know he’ll get himself out of trouble and find the real killer. Watching Jake (and Laura) do all of that is loads of fun. Yes, a murder mystery can be very serious, but in this case there is lots of humor along the way. I love the inclusion of real-life celebrities in the story – one example being Louella Parsons, the legendary gossip columnist. I’ll admit to not liking this addition in the last book, but I was sold on it in All That Glitters.

Michael Murphy has a good thing going with this great new historical mystery series. After reading the first one, The Yankee Club, I really wanted more. The same is true of this second one. The books are short, fast-paced and a good look back and an interesting era and the people in it. The publisher, Alibi, is a new wing of Random House. They are specializing in quick-read, murder mysteries that are strictly e-books. I’ve read several Alibi books now and I will say it again:  Alibi (and Michael Murphy) has a good thing going.

Thanks to Alibi 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:  TLC Book Tours

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