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: Looking For Salvation At the Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen
: Susan Gregg Gilmore

Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books, 2008

Genre: Southern Literary Fiction

Format: Audiobook, Read by Tavia Gilbert

From the time she was a child, Catherine Grace Cline’s main goal in life was to get out of Ringgold, Georgia. It’s not that her life was horrible. It wasn’t. There was just something inside Catherine Grace that made her long for the world outside her small town.

When Catherine Grace was six and her sister, Martha Ann, was four, their mother drowned in a nearby river. Her death caused distress to the girls and their Baptist preacher father. To Catherine Grace it was a personal blow that affected how she looked at life.

In spite of that, the girls managed to grow and thrive, thanks to their wise and steady father and the help of a savvy, loving neighbor, Gloria Jean. They were also watched by nearly every person in their small town. Being the “preacher’s kids” was often a big responsibility.

It was both fun and interesting as Catherine Grace told us what it was like to grow up in Ringgold. Along the way we met many of the residents. They added so much color to the story. There was the guy who ate the most at church suppers, the super-pushy grandmother, the show-off girls, and the guy at the Dairy Queen, just to name a few. My favorite was Gloria Jean, the next door neighbor who loved the girls in the sweetest way. Every motherless girl should have a Gloria Jean.

Catherine Grace never lost her desire to leave town. She headed for Atlanta on her eighteenth birthday. She found a good job, a great place to live and new friends. And then — disaster struck and Catherine Grace had to go back to Ringgold. This leads to a dramatic and surprising finale.

This is the type of book best enjoyed via audio. The narrator on this one, Tavia Gilbert, read it in a beautiful Southern accent filled with the qualities that make the South unique. In other words, it was warm and inviting, honest and charming, and quirky in a way only those from the “deep South” understand. Looking For Salvation At the Dairy Queen should not be read; it should be experienced.

Wondrous Words #271

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. This week I found my new word while listening.

I was listening to an interview by Terri Gros with Maureen Corrigan – the wonderful book critic on NPR’s Fresh Air. This time Ms. Corrigan was talking about a book she has written, So We Read On. It’s about The Great Gatsby and it’s author F. Scott Fitzgerald. At the end of the interview Ms. Corrigan talked about how sad it was that Fitzgerald didn’t live long enough to see how admired his book became. This is not an exact quote, but here is the new-to-me word and the gist of what she was saying:

I do believe in meritocracy. I believe great books will find their audience.

According to the dictionary, meritocracy is the holding of power by people selected on the basis of their skill. This could be a government, a society or class of educated or skilled people. I like that, don’t you?

If you’d like to listen to the interview, you can find it here: So We Read On

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: Looking For Salvation At the Dairy Queen

I love a good novel set in the American South. Susan Gregg Gilmore is a new author for me, but I love her style. I’m reading Looking For Salvation At the Dairy Queen. Here’s how it begins:

Dairy QueenMy daddy always said that if the good Lord can take the time to care for something as small as a baby sparrow nesting in a tree, then surely He could take the time to listen to a little girl in Ringgold, Georgia. So every night before I went to bed I got down on my knees and begged the Lord to find me a way out of this town. And every morning, I woke up in the same old place.

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: This Is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration

More Diverse Universe

I’m participating in Aarti’s reading challenge called A More Diverse Universe 2014. The goal of the challenge is to read books by authors of color. The challenge is only for the last two weeks of September. I’ve already read The Buddha In the Attic by Julie Otsuka. I wanted to read one more and I had started reading A Rage In Harlem by Chester Himes when I saw this children’s book at the library. (I’ll get to Chester Himes later.)

This Is the RopeThis Is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration is a book I wish I’d had five decades ago when I was teaching fifth grade in a segregated, all-black school. Back then our Scott Foresman reading books were filled with stories and pictures of all-white families. Even our persistent librarian couldn’t find suitable books. My students found it difficult to identify with the stories and it’s not hard to understand why they didn’t like to read.

There are so many ways I could have used this book with my class. First of all it’s an interesting story to read. It follows a rope that was found by a girl in South Carolina. She used it to jump rope, but then it was used by her family as they moved to New York City. Over the years the rope was used by the family to dry diapers, play games, tie up boxes when a daughter went off to college, or hang a sign for a family reunion.

This book could be used as the impetus for a personal family project. Where did your family come from (Geography, story writing)? Did anyone in your family participate in the Great Migration (history, research skills, story writing)? And so on and on. I can see how the excitement for learning could grow in a classroom starting with a simple, well-told book that includes full-page drawings in which all the people are African American.

Publishers: We need more books like this. Give today’s teachers and children books of substance that represent all ethnicities. Publishers have done a lot since “my day” but they need to expand it even more. Search hard for books by and about non-white authors. It’ll pay off when our children associate fun with reading.

This Is the Rope: A Story of the Great Migration was written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome and published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Book Group. Good for you, Nancy Pausen.

At the Movies: This Is Where I Leave You




Finally, a decent movie at the theater. (It’s been a bad year.) This Is Where I Leave You was not only decent, but it had good characters, a good story and something to think about. It went beyond my expectations.

This is the story of the Altman family. The four grown children have returned home following the death of their father. Their mother (Jane Fonda) insists it was their father’s dying wish that they all “sit shiva” for him. This means that they must stay together in their childhood home for seven days of formal mourning.

This Is Where I Leave YouAnyone who is an adult sibling and has spent long periods of time together with fellow siblings will understand the dynamics at work in the Altman family. Each of the four adult children love each other, but within a few hours they slip back into their family patterns from years earlier.

The previews for this movie called it “amazingly funny.” I disagree. There were many laugh-out-loud moments, but this is not a funny slap-stick movie. I’d call it a humorous drama. It’s especially humorous for adult siblings who’ve ever been in this situation.

Tina Fey and Jason BatenabThe four actors playing the four Altman kids did a sensational job. I expected superior performances from Jason Bateman and Tina Fey – and got it. In the picture above they are chatting on the roof outside their childhood bedrooms – something they did back then. Adam Driver and Corey Stoll surprised me with their wonderful interpretations of the oldest and youngest siblings. In fact, I’m going to look for other movies that include Adam Driver. I liked him. Jane Fonda, who was cast in the role of the mother, simply played Jane Fonda. (I’m not a fan.)

There is also an excellent ensemble cast around the family members. There’s a wife, a husband, a funny two-year-old, a rabbi, and other friends and ex’s. Some of the things these people do are aggravating, some are maddening, and many are funny. They all added a great deal to make this a See-It-On-The-Big-Screen movie.

In my opinion, the movie celebrates the institution of the family with all of its idiosyncrasies and funny moments, but also all the basic love. Watching the interactions of the Altman family made me feel good about the families that surround me.

This Is Where I Leave You was adapted from a book (same title) by Jonathan Tropper. He also wrote the screenplay.

Book Review: The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

Long Way HomeOne of the top reasons I love Louise Penney’s books is the quality of her continuing characters. Armand Gamache, the main character, is for me, the rock at the center. The supporting characters, circle around Gamache as they play various roles in the drama.

The other top reason I love these books is that each one is a different story that explores a different part of the “community” of Three Pines and Quebec. We met Clara and Peter in Still Life, the first book in the series. As the series progressed we saw the conflict grow between them. It was complicated, but what it boiled down to was Peter’s jealousy of Clara’s growing success as an artist.

At the end of the last story, How the Light Gets In, Clara and Peter separated. They agreed to spend a year apart with no communication. They said they would meet up on the same day a year later. But now, it’s a year later, Peter did not show up, and no one has any idea where he is.

Reluctantly, Clara asks Armand Gamache for help. She’s reluctant because Armand is now retired and enjoying his stress-free life in Three Pines. Gamache is a man who willingly helps his friends so, of course, he helps Clara.

Helping to find Peter isn’t that easy. Armand turns to his former sidekick (and now son-in-law) for help. Jean Guy helps track where Peter has been via his credit card. That works until Peter goes off-line. Friends from Three Pines take turns visiting some if the places where Peter went in order to gather the clues.

Finally, Armand, Jean Guy, Clara, Myrna, and a new character travel way up north to the last place Peter was known to be. It’s there that we witness the very dramatic conclusion.

As much as I wanted to read The Long Way Home within a couple of days of it’s release, I read it slowly as part of a four week read-a-long sponsored by the publisher. I’m only partially glad I did that. I liked reading it slowly and thoughtfully, but I didn’t like all the negative, nit-picky comments on the read-a-long website. Many of the commenters read the whole book and then commented (with spoilers) during the first week. I quit after the second week.

LouisePennyI admit to a prejudice toward loving these novels based on all ten of them. I like spending time with these characters, and I like the setting of a small village in Quebec. In every novel I learn something interesting. In this novel I learned a lot about art and what motivates good artists.

My only complaint about this novel was this: I missed the former Chief Inspector’s investigation of a murder. He still went into action to solve a mystery. It was very satisfying, but not a murder mystery. In past novels Gamache has solved complicated crimes while fighting corruption within the police and political system. Now that he’s retired, all that is behind him. I think Louise Penny is going to have to bring him out of retirement in future novels. He’s too valuable to hide out in Three Pines.

That’s my recommendation for Louise Penny but, what do I know. She’s a very smart author and I won’t be surprised if she comes up with something different in future novels. And that’s why I will continue as a Louise Penny fan. In additon, I recommend Louise Penny to you. If you haven’t read any of her books, do start at the beginning. Here’s the list, in publication order. To read my review, click the title.

Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead
A Trick of the Light
The Beautiful Mystery
How the Light Gets In

I read this book via audio. I’m very fond of hearing Ralph Coshon’s voice as the narrator for these books. (I think he really is the chief inspector.) Macmillan audio has very kindly offered a snippet of the audio version so that you can see why I prefer the audio. Just click this link:

Wondrous Words #270

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 still reading The Competition by Marcia Clark. There are quite a few new-to-me words in this mystery novel. I came across this one sentence that had me looking up two words.

The killers, looking like evil personified in their camouflage jackets, boots, and black balaclavas, stalked down through the bleachers and strafed the students with a bloodlust that was palpable even on these small screens.

Balaclavas (baləˈklävə) is a close-fitting garment covering the whole head and neck except for parts of the face, typically made of wool. (photo from my computer’s dictionary)

BalaclavaStrafe is a verb meaning to attack repeatedly with bombs or machine-gun fire.

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 Long Way Home by Louise Penny

I have been waiting so long for this novel. I pre-ordered it on February 6th, and it was a long wait until finally released on August 26th. Was it worth the wait? Oh yes, it was. Chief Inspector Gamache has not slipped at all. Even in retirement. Here’s how the story begins:

Long Way Home   As Clara Morrow approached, she was wondering if he’d repeat the same small gesture he’d done every morning.

   It was so tiny, so insignificant. So easy to ignore. The first time.

   But why did Armand Gamache keep doing it?

   Clara felt silly for even wondering. How could it matter? But for a man not given to secrets, this gesture had begun to look not simply secretive, but furtive. A benign act that seemed to yearn for a shadow to hide in.

 What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

This post is linked to First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intro sponored by Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea.


Book Review: The Buddha In the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Buddha In the AtticPublisher: Anchor

Picture brides, in The Buddha in the Attic, refers to Japanese girls and women who sent their pictures to Japanese men living in California. The men sent letters to the females offering marriage and life in America. Very few of the accompanying stories about themselves were true. They weren’t bankers or lawyers or big businessmen. But then, the passage was paid for by the men, and they did promised a life that was often better than their lives back in Japan.

The story starts with the brides’ boat trip and progresses on to their first night of marriage, a look at where they lived and the work they did, on through to talk about their babies and children, how the “whites” treated them, and ends with their enforced removal to internment camps during World War II.

There are no specific characters for the reader to follow in this novel. It’s written in the first-person plural which, at first, threw me off. The plot follows the whole group of women with occasional specific names mentioned.

For me, The Buddha In the Attic felt more like an essay mixed together with a good historical story. I liked it. It was very interesting, actually quite educational. Instead of connecting with a specific characters, I felt connected and very sympathetic to the entire group. Life in general wasn’t kind to them, but they were spunky and tried hard to survive and do well in their adopted country.

The writing was excellent. It often felt very lyrical, like a song or a beautiful poem. The author won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Book Prize. She was also a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award. It was a short read but one that stayed in my head for a long time.

I read this book as part of Aarti’s A Diverse Universe challenge. The challenge is only for the last two weeks of September so, if you’re interested, you still have time to join in.

More Diverse Universe

Book Review: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

YaYa Sisterhood

Author: Rebecca Wells

Publisher: Harper, 1998

I’ve just spent nearly 15 hours with a group of female friends who live in central Louisiana. It wasn’t actually a physical visit. It was a mental and emotional visit via my iPod, but it felt so real that you can’t tell me those people aren’t still alive.

Vivi, Caro, Teensy and Necie met as young girls in the mid-1920s but they’re now nearing 70. They were full of fun and imaginative play. The girls loved to play pranks and were in sync with each other their entire lives. Their bond was as close as loving and supportive sisters. Together they formed the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The four of them have been there for each other, fixing everything as they go.

Now its Vivi’s daughter, Sidda, who needs their help. Sidda is a successful director of stage plays and is engaged to a wonderful man. But – Sidda decides to postpone her wedding because she truly believes she’s incapable of love.

Sidda has always had a rocky relationship with her mother. Vivi has so many demons in her past that they effected her ability to always be there for her children. Vivi didn’t always show love to Sidda and now Sidda feels she might be like her mother.

The Ya-Yas convince Vivi to to send Sidda a scrapbook Vivi has been filling all her life. Its called the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The book is filled with mementos but it also takes an in-depth look at the events in Vivi’s life as well as those of the other women. For Sidda it contains the answers to what made Vivi a, sometimes, unfit mother.

Initially I did not like Vivi, but as Sidda began to uncover the secrets in Vivi’s life, my opinion changed. It softened as I saw what Vivi’s mother did to her and some other tragic events as well. The support Vivi received from her “sisters” was something not seen often. They trusted each other completely and rescued each other without question. In Vivi’s case, they saved her life. It was a beautiful friendship to observe.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood was a book club selection. We were in agreement in our love for the story and the characters. The catholic church played a part in this story which lead to a good part of our discussion. Over half of our members are catholic and I enjoyed how they compared their experiences with those of the women in the book.

The author has written two more books in this “sisterhood series.” It includes the same characters and, based on that, we all want to read at least one of those books. We felt we will need another visit with the Ya-Yas. This makes an excellent book club selection.

Highly recommended.