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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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First Paragraph: The New Men

Hi everyone,

We are back from our super-celebration in Wyoming. The whole family came together to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and it was indeed memorable. Now it’s back to a sort-of-normal life. At least I didn’t stop reading. Life in the outdoors is just right for an avid reader.

I’m finishing a new novel for a book tour on Thursday. It’s a good historical fiction called The New Men. See what you think of the first paragraph:

New MenI am staring at a false horizon. Hovering before it, a great ocean liner churns a cerulean sea. The spray and the wake stand out vividly against the calmer surrounding waters, and the indistinct flags of sixty nations flutter from the ship’s smokestacks as though from the proud masts of clipper ships.

What do you think?
Would you keep going?

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

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I Am Unplugged!!

DisconnectedAll the camping gear is loaded in the truck, our bags are  packed, and I am almost ready to go. I just need to double-check my email and then this computer is going to be unplugged.

We are off to the hills – big hills. We’re going to spend a few weeks in northwestern Wyoming. Fifty years ago this year my husband and I were married. We honeymooned at Grand Teton National Park and have been back more times than we can remember. (We’ve actually tried to count it, but memory fails.)

When it came to the idea of a fiftieth-anniversary celebration, our only request was that the whole family gather together at the Tetons and camp. And now, we’re off to make it happen. Here’s what we’ll be looking at:

Tetons w:horses

It’s not my best photo. I’ll try to take a few better ones and share them with you when I return. See you in a few weeks.

Book Review: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

Author (and narrator): Fannie Flagg

Publisher: Random House 2013

I’ve been “reading” a lot of audiobooks. I particularly like the ones where the author reads her/his own work. There’s an occasional dud, but usually I like how they come across. It’s the way I think they came out of the author’s head. It feels personal. Such was the case with Fannie Flagg’s latest novel. From the very beginning, her voice alone made me smile in anticipation of the fun ahead.

Before I go any further let me share the description of the story (from the publisher):

All-Girl Filling StationMrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with is her mother, the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a secret about her mother’s past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future.
 
Sookie begins a search for answers that takes her to California, the Midwest, and back in time, to the 1940s, when an irrepressible woman named Fritzi takes on the job of running her family’s filling station. Soon truck drivers are changing their routes to fill up at the All-Girl Filling Station. Then, Fritzi sees an opportunity for an even more groundbreaking adventure. As Sookie learns about the adventures of the girls at the All-Girl Filling Station, she finds herself with new inspiration for her own life.

Nobody creates characters quite like Fannie Flagg. She made my heart ache for Sookie, the main character. Sookie tried so hard to please everyone, especially her mother. Then this bombshell is dropped in her lap and she scrambles to handle it all.

The other thing Fannie Flagg does so well is tell a story that is complete with layer after layer of characters and culture. And – she does this while also telling us a story with flashbacks to another era. In this particular novel the reader gets a full-bodied story of present day Alabama and World War II era Wisconsin, with lots of characters, story lines and details from both eras.

Fannie Flagg was the reader/narrator on the audiobook, but it felt more like she was simply telling me the story. Even though the author is also an actress, her voice is not your normal, professional-reader style. It’s a bit high-pithed, but with a wonderful Alabama accent. I listened to this over the course of several afternoons (it’s nearly eleven hours long) and by the end I felt like Fannie Flagg, in the form of Sookie Poole, was one of my good friends.

As you can see, I’m recommending this audiobook, especially to those of you who already love Fannie Flagg. If you’ve missed out on her previous books, I’d suggest starting with Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Or – see the movie version. Then come back to read/listen to The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.

Wondrous Words #263

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 have one new word this week. I found it in a new-to-me source. I was looking at the movie previews on my TV. There was a description for the movie, Mogambo. Here’s what it said:

MogamboMogambo, a 1953 Clark Gable, Ava Gardner saga of big game hunting and romantic intrigue in Africa, where a raffish safari guide leads an expedition deep into the jungle and becomes prey of an anthropologist’s lustful wife.

Raffish means unconventional and slightly disreputable, especially in an attractive manner. Clark Gable played the raffish character. Believe it or not Grace Kelly was the lustful wife. Good classic movie.

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: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

No one creates kooky characters like Fannie Flagg. After spending a little time with them, you swear you know them personally. Ms. Flagg’s latest novel is no exception. Here’s the first paragraph from The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion:

All-Girl Filling StationFirst Chapter: A Most Unusual Week

Mrs. Earle Poole, Jr., better known to friends and family as Sookie, was driving home from the Birds-R-Us store out on Highway 98 with one ten-pound bag of sunflower seeds and ten-pound bag of wild bird seed and not her usual weekly purchase for the past fifteen years of one twenty-pound bag of Pretty Boy Wild Bird Seed and Sunflower Mix. As she had explained ro Mr. Nadleshaft, she was worried that th smaller birds were still not getting enough to eat. Every morning lately, the minute she filled her feeders, the larger, more aggressive blue hats would swoop in an scare the little birds all away.

What do you think?
Would you keep going?

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

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Newberry Honor Winner 2011: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

OneCrazySummerPublisher: Amistad, 2010

One of my challenges this year is to read some of the Newberry Award winners. In my experience, these stories, although written for children, are some of the best around. One of my favorites in this book, One Crazy Summer, a book I first read in 2 011 and reviewed on the now defunct Quirky Girls Read blog. I pulled it out for a quick re-read. Its just right for summer, although you’ll need a couple of tissues.

What the Story Is About:

It’s 1968 and eleven-year-old Dephine and her two younger sisters have been sent from their Brooklyn home to Oakland to visit a mother they basically don’t know. Their mother, Cecil, left them right after the youngest sister was born. But now their father believes it’s time for the girls to know their mother and vice versa.

When they arrive, it’s clear they are not welcome. It’s a good thing Delphine knows how to take care of herself and her sisters, because their mother has no intention of caring for them. When they complain of hunger, she sends them up the street for take-out Chinese food. In the morning she tells them to go to the People’s Center for breakfast. They are to stay there all day and join the Black Panther Day Camp.

Delphine had high hopes of getting to know this mother she barely remembers. But, within a few days, Delphine believes she’s just crazy. Cecil has changed her name and calls herself a poet. Gradually Dephine changes her mind about her being crazy. It’s not until the end of the story that Delphine, and the reader, get a glimpse into the background of Cecil.

The other thing Delphine learned was a first-hand education in black history, black pride, and specifically the Black Panther movement. It’s all seen through the eyes of a child. Don’t worry, it’s not a heavy handed political statement.

My Thoughts:

Delphine is the narrator of the story and the reader sees every thing through her eyes. She’s fair and understanding of her sisters and the other people she meets. She’s such a little adult that I wanted to step in and tell her to go play. She and her two sisters are so loveable you want to hug them and give them special treatment.

Don’t let the fact that the story was written for middle readers deter you from reading this story. It’s a sympathetic and honest look at life for a set of children in turbulent Oakland in 1968. Of course, if you have a young reader to read the story with, that’s even better. I strongly recommend the audiobook version. Sisi Aisha Johnson does a superb job reading the story with all the various voices.

Book Review: Still Life With Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life W:BreadcrumbsPublished by Random House, January 2014

Over the past few decades I’ve enjoyed reading Anna Quindlen’s writing. Primarily, I’ve read her newspaper columns and nonfiction. I can only recall reading one of her novels (Every Last One). Still Life With Breadcrumbs caught my attention because the main character is sixty. The author is just a couple years older and I thought it might be reflective of her own life.

What It’s About:

Rebecca Winters has been a very successful photographer. Her photos are treated as fine art. She’s always lived well in New York City. Financially and professionally, her life has been going downhill for quite some time.

As the story opens we learn she’s been forced to rent out her very nice apartment in Manhattan and move to a rustic cabin in the country. With seamless flashbacks we learn all about Rebecca – her marriage and it’s failure, her parents, her son, her agent, and her career.

Being in the country is hard for Rebecca. There are so many things wrong with the rented cabin and she feels out of sorts being away from the city. It takes her awhile, but she starts hiking into the hills and looking closely at the country around her. The subjects of her photographs begin to change.

Gradually, Rebecca makes the best of her situation. She meets a younger man, Jim Bates, who helps her out. There’s also a woman in the small town who bakes the best scones and becomes a good friend.

My Thoughts:

I didn’t like Rebecca at first. She seemed focused too much on the material aspects of her life. She also seemed to be very sorry for herself. Fortunately, she had a lot of time for self-examination. As she thought about her past life and began to focus on her new surroundings, I gradually began to like her.

Last Monday was the author’s birthday and GoodReads featured one of her quotes that was the theme of Rebecca’s experience in this novel.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.

The book ended on a satisfactory and upbeat note. I liked that. There’s no doubt that Quindlen is an excellent writer. I’m quite comfortable in recommending Still Life With Breadcrumbs to you.

Wondrous Words #262

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 have two words today: one found on line and one found in a book.

I was reading a NY Times Book Review article written by Diane Johnson. In it she said this:

1.  bildungsroman:  “Michel Déon’s 1975 novel The Foundling Boy is a bildungsroman, an account of a naïve young person’s education and . . .”

A bildungsroman is a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education. Or, as we also say, a coming-of-age story.

 __________________________________________

 I found this word while reading Endangered by Jean Love Gush:

2.  gentrification:  “The owners were mostly absentee landlords who were just waiting for gentrification — which surely would happen, just a matter of when.”

Gentrification means the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.

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: Still Life With Breadcrumbs

This week I’m featuring a novel of one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen. Her latest novel is Still Life With Breadcrumbs. Here’s the first paragraph:

Still Life W:BreadcrumbsA few minutes after two in the morning Rebecca Winter woke to the sound of a gunshot and sat up in bed.

Well, to be completely accurate, she had no idea what time it was. When she had moved into the ramshackle cottage in a hollow halfway up the mountain, it had taken her two days to realize that there was a worrisome soft spot in the kitchen floor, a loose step out to the backyard, and not one electrical outlet in the entire bedroom. She stood, turning in a circle, her old alarm clock in her hand trailing its useless tail of a cord, as though, like some magic spell, a few rotations and some muttered curses would lead to a place to plug it in. Like much of what constituted Rebecca’s life at that moment, the clock had been with her far past the tine when it was current or useful.

What do you think?
Would you keep going?

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

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Book Review: Endangered by Jean Love Cush

EndangeredPublisher: Amistad, July 1, 2014

Endangered is a novel whose main idea is being researched and debated right now in areas around our country. The facts of the situation are startling: we are losing young African-American males to prison, drugs and death in record numbers. It’s been going on for a long time, but people are beginning to take a serious look and searching for viable solutions. A possible fix is suggested in this novel. The only catch is this new solution involves overhauling the juvenile justice system, from police officers to judges and juries.

Here’s the story:

Janae Williams and her son Malik live in the slums of Philadelphia. Janae has been diligent in raising Malik by herself, but, now that he is fifteen, his peer group has a lot more influence over him.

One day Malik and his friends were hanging out on the corner when the police swooped in. Everyone ran but Malik. His mother had taught him, whenever confronted by the police, to raise his hands and cooperate. Janae thought it was the best way to keep him alive. She never thought they’d arrest him for murder. In spite of Janae’s careful parenting, her son was locked up and scheduled to be tried as an adult for an act Janae knew he was incapable of committing.

Janae is employed as a cashier in a hospital cafeteria. There is no way she can afford a private attorney. She has no choice but to depend on the Public Defeder to help her son. The overworked PD has less than a minute to talk to Janae and is unable to even allow her to see her son.

Enter Roger Whitford, an attorney whose career has revolved around human rights issues. Roger is on a mission to use Malik Williams’ case to prove his belief that young black males are an endangered species and should be protected in the same way we protect endangered animals.

Roger’s theory inflames everyone, starting with Malik and Janae. They don’t like being compared to animals. The scoffing doesn’t bother Roger whose long career has been spent fighting all sorts of impossible ideas and legal challenges. He persuades Janae to “hire” him to represent Malik. Hiring Roger is chancy, but its free. Janae goes for it, and so does Malik.

Roger persuades his best friend, a partner at a big-time corporate law firm, to free up one of his top associates to help him on the case. Calvin, who is one of the survivors of the Philadelphia slums, is reluctant at first. Calvin was raised by his Grandmother Pearl who taught him to do what is right and to help his community. Calvin has a sharp legal mind and pushes himself hard, so he’s an excellent addition to the team.

My thoughts:
I really liked this book on a couple of different planes. First, I love underdog stories where the odds are stacked against the innocent/good guys and somehow, through heroic efforts, they win. I also like stories that make me think and then do a little research, and then talk to everybody I know about the issues.

I particularly like anything to do with the legal system, whether it’s a movie, a John Grisham tale, a memoir by one of the supreme court justices, or a Law and Order show (the original ones now only seen on cable TV). In Endangered the legal intricacies are especially interesting right from the beginning when Roger attempts to try the case in Juvenile Court rather than in adult court.

There were a few times when the story seemed to slow down, primarily, I felt, because the author added lots of details to the characters and the settings. It wasn’t a biggie – mostly my impatience.

As a mother, I strongly identified with Janae. She was a good character. Roger, also, was a good solid character. He was a little quirky, but in a good way. He knew what he wanted to accomplish and he knew he couldn’t change the system overnight. He was patient for the most part.

I got the message of the story loud and clear: As human beings, young black males are valuable and should be treated as such. They don’t need to be thrown into prison at age 14 or 15 where they learn to be professional criminals. Let’s value them and rehabilitate them.

Jean Love CushAbour the author:

Believe it or not, this is Jean Love Cush’s debut novel. I didn’t check her bio before reading the book, bur I had a hunch she was a practicing attorney. I was right. “A native of Philadelphia, Jean Love Cush worked for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office directly out of law school before spending three years as a family law attorney helping low-income women escape domestic-abuse situations. After moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana, she hosted a weekly radio show called A View from Summit, where she covered such topics as public safety, urban violence, and inner-city education. Cush now lives in Illinois with her husband and two children.”

I highly recommend Endangered. I believe legal thriller readers will really enjoy it.

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: TLC Book Tours

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