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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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Book Review: That Chesapeake Summer by Mariah Stewart

That Chesapeake SummerThis is the sixth year in a row Mariah Stewart has given us a touching summer romance set in the small town of St. Denis. Thanks to her previous nine novels, I already know most of the prominent citizens. I always enjoy touching base with those people and then meeting a new two-some. In That Chesapeake Summer my new friends are Jamie Valentine and Dan Sinclair.

Jamie is an author and frequent talk-show guest. She’s written five books specializing in honest relationships. As we first meet her she has just suffered the sudden loss of her mother. (Her father died years earlier.) As she was cleaning out a desk drawer in her old family home, she discovered a set of documents which revealed she was adopted.

Jamie’s parents had never told her. Now in her mid-thirties, this was a major shock. Here she was, a person with strong beliefs in honest relationships and her own background was based on deception. Jamie was thrown for a loop, but calmly decided to pursue the truth. She would attempt to learn as much as possible about her background. She booked a room for a month at the old St. Denis Inn and set upon a plan of solid research.

Dan is the general manager of the St. Denis Inn. He took over running the Inn when he was only 22. He has slowly built it so that it is now the premier place to stay when vacationing in the area. Dan is also a widower and the father of two teenagers. His life is busy, full and complete, or at least it was until Jamie came to stay at the Inn. The summer proves challenging for both Dan and Jamie.

I enjoyed my latest visit with the people of St. Denis. I really love this little town and wish I could visit for real. I like how people keep growing and changing every time I come back for a visit. A reader could pop in for just one visit, but why would you want to? Invest the time and get to know the stories behind all those interesting people you meet. The story may seem to drag to some people. For me, this is the charm of these books. They are very laid back.

Mariah Stewart has written some of the books in this series for other times of the year, but I like best the ones that take place during the summer months. They have that calm, lazy-summer feel to them. Plenty of things still happen in the story. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that they inspire me (and maybe you) to take it easy. Just sit or lie back, sip something cool and let yourself mingle with the lives of the people on the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Thanks to the publisher, Simon & Schuster|Gallery/Threshold/Pocket Books, for my copy of the book. Thanks also to Mariah Stewart for all the hours of reading pleasure she has given me the past six years. Keep them coming, Mariah.

Reading While In the Big Woods

I’m back from a lovely time away from my regular retired life. I feel completely refreshed. I spent time in the wilderness, by the sea, visiting with family members, and time reading. I took along more books than I could possibly read, but what avid reader doesn’t do that? I managed to read five books! Yes, it was a very good vacation.

Death ComesUnfortunately, there were two books I didn’t like. Let me tell you about them and get then out of the way. The first disliked book may shock you. You know what a big fan of Agatha Christie I am, but Death Comes As the End was very disappointing. I think it was the setting — ancient Egypt. This was a Family Drama worthy of a modern soap opera. The father/leader is very rich and keeps his grown children under his control. He’s been away on business for several months, but when he returns he brings home a beautiful young concubine. She immediately begins to manipulate, behind the scenes, against members of the family. With great drama, she is soon murdered. Gradually, one by one, other family members are murdered.

I love the author’s stories of British murder. The setting is always British even when it is in the Caribbean or on the Orient Express. I like all the British cops and detectives too. I know Poirot is Belgium, but you know what I mean. This Egyptian novel didn’t have the feel of an Agatha Christie novel. The only thing that saved it in my mind was the clever plot. It reminded me of Ms. Christie’s earlier novel And Then There Were None. I believe this is the first Christie novel I can not recommend you read.

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Top Secret 21My second disappointment was Janet Evanovich’s TopSecret Twenty-One. I’ve been enjoying the Stephanie Plum novels for a long time and then I stopped reading them. The last really great one was Finger Lickin’ Fifteen. [Click the title to read a conversation about the book between my daughter Cerrin and I.] Since that fifteenth book, most of the books were pretty much the same thing over and over again. But then, a bookclub friend said she thought this newest book was back to the good quality of the earlier books. My friend was wrong.

In this twenty-first book in the series we find Stephanie Plum still working as a bounty-hunter with her side-kick Lula. She’s hunting a big-time used car dealer who also earns his money in illegal ways. Along the way there are some homicides so Stephanie mingles with sexy cop Joe Morelli. Security specialist, and equally hot Ranger asks for her help on one of his jobs.

Stephanie is a good character, really. She’s smart, but a little clueless and a bimbo with principles. That worked in the earlier books in the series. Those books were so hilarious that my body would shake with laughter. The main problem with the series is that there are no new, creative plots or new, creative characters. It’s just the same old, same old. No need to bother with this one.

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And now I turn to the books that didn’t disappoint me. I’ll share a longer review of each one in the next couple of weeks.

English GirlThe English Girl by Daniel Silva (Contemporary Mystery)

When a beautiful young British woman vanishes on the island of Corsica, a prime minister’s career is threatened with destruction. Allon, the wayward son of Israeli intelligence, is thrust into a game of shadows where nothing is what it seems…and where the only thing more dangerous than his enemies might be the truth.

That Chesapeake SummerThat Chesapeake Summer by Mariah Stewart (Contemporary Romance)

Jamie Valentine is the wildly successful author of self-help books advocating transparency in every relationship. But when her widowed mother passes away unexpectedly, Jamie discovers her own life has been based on a lie. Angry and deeply betrayed, she sets out to find the truth . .

Enlish CreekEnglish Creek by Ivan Doig (Western Historical Fiction)

In this prizewinning portrait of a time and place — Montana in the 1930s, Ivan Doig has created one of the most captivating families in American fiction, the McCaskills. The witty and haunting narration, a masterpiece of vernacular in the tradition of Twain, follows the events of the Two Medicine country’s summer: the tide of sheep moving into the high country, the capering Fourth of July rodeo and community dance, and an end-of-August forest fire high in the Rockies that brings the book, as well as the McCaskill family’s struggle within itself, to a stunning climax.

That’s enough for now – more in the weeks to come.

In the Big Woods

Woods

Joyfully Retired is off camping in the Big Woods.

We’ll be back when we run out of S’mores – unless Bigfoot gets us first.

I’ve packed enough books to last months.

Even Bigfoot likes a good story.

A Legal Thriller: Reasonable Fear: A Joe Dillard Novel

Reasonable FearThis year I discovered this Joe Dillard series, legal thrillers by Scott Pratt. After four books, I have to say I’m truly enjoying them. What I enjoy the most is seeing legal problems from a wide variety of viewpoints.

Joe is an attorney in Northeastern Tennessee. He used to be a defense attorney, but then switched to the prosecution side. Now he’s the District Attorney for his part of the state. As Joe and others know, the legal system is not always an ethical one. Fortunately for Joe, Sheriff Leon Bates is both a good friend and an honest man.

Leon and Joe make good partners for the community, but in Reasonable Fear they face an unbelievably evil foe. Their first clue of a problem was the dead body of a young blond woman floating in a nearby lake. Soon two more blondes were found in the water. Good detective work followed and soon they had a good idea of who was responsible.

Almost as soon as they figured out who the killer was, they were warned off by nearly every important person in the state, including the governor. But – that was like waving a red flag in front of a bull for Joe Dillard. Even when he and his entire family’s lives were violently threatened – Joe would not back down.

This was a none-stop, extremely intense story. It definitely earned it’s thriller category. In Joe’s younger days he had been an Army Ranger. There was one scene in this book that felt like it was set on a battlefield rather than his home. Intense is the word I keep using because it was.

As to the ending of the story, all I’ll say is that it surprised me. It changed my plans for reading this series. I had planned to read one book in the series every other month. Not now. I can’t wait two months to get book number five. Its not that major story-lines were left dangling. No, those we resolved. Its just that Joe dropped a bombshell on his family and his readers at the very end. I have to find Conflict of Interest – Book Five so I can keep reading. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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If you would like to check out my thoughts on the first three books, you’ll find them here:

 1.  An Innocent Client

2.  In Good Faith

3.  Injustice For All

A Summer Reading Classic: Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher

Coming HomeFor years my summer reading always included a novel by Rosamunde Pilcher. Her character-rich stories always took me off to the English countryside to meet interesting people who would soon become my friends. Now that the author is no longer writing, I decided to go back and re-read one of my favorites.

Coming Home is big (977 pages), so I chose my re-read in the form of an abridged audiobook. Lucky for me, it was narrated beautifully by Lynn Redgrave. The abridged version didn’t bother me. I already know these people and the events of their lives. It felt as if I was visiting with Judith and we were reminiscing about the good old days.

When I first met Judith Dunbar she was about to leave home for boarding school. Her mother and sister were joining her father in Singapore. Judith would be alone if it weren’t for her Aunt X who will take her during school breaks. At school Judith was lonely and at odds until she made friends with fellow student Loveday Carey-Lewis. When Judith was invited home with Loveday, she was immediately welcomed into the entire extended family. Within this family Judith was introduced to the the aristocracy and wealth, as well as the values of family and loyalty.

Coming Home MovieComing Home is a subtle look at the question of where is home. As we examine Judith’s life from the middle 1930s through the end of World War II, we see a variety of answers to that question. Loved ones are separated by war and death but still manage to define home whenever they are together.

I discovered a movie based on this book, thanks to my local library. The photography of the English countryside was so beautiful. The young actress who played thirteen-year-old Judith was Keira Knightly (Pride and Prejudice). She was stunning in the role. Happily, the movie did a good job of mirroring the book.

If you’ve never read a Rosamunde Pilcher novel, you really should try one. Don’t let the length put you off. The stories are worth digging into. You could do the abridged version as I did this time, but really, only if you already an experienced Pilcher reader.

Book published by St. Martin’s Press 1988

Movie produced by Yorkshiree TV in 1999

Wondrous Words #305

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.

My words this week were found online.

1.  juxtaposition:  I was reading Martin Edward’s blog and saw this word.

“ . . . I wanted to try to create a story that could in some way be a juxtaposition of the Golden Age and the much newer Nordic Noir.”

Juxtaposition means the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.

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2.  cruft:  On a Goodread’s book review I discovered this word.  The context doesn’t help and I was curious what word this man taught his four-year-old.

     “I taught him “cruft” yesterday.”

Cruft is a noun that comes from the computing world. It means badly designed, unnecessarily complicated, or unwanted code or software.

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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: Coming Home

firstparagraphEvery Tuesday I join Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea and friends to share the first paragraph (or two) of a book I’m reading or about to read. Feel free to join the fun.

I’m a long-time fan of Rosamunde Pilcher. I love her portrayals of family relationships. In the past I always enjoyed reading one every summer. Now that she has retired, I’m “forced” to go back and re-read my favorites. Coming Home is one of those favorites. Here’s how it begins:

Coming HomeThe Porthkerris Council School stood half-way up the steep hill which climbed from the heart of the little town to the empty moors which lay beyond. It was a solid Victorian edifice, built of granite blocks, and had three entrances, marked Boys, Girls, and Infants, a legacy from the days when segregation of the sexes was mandatory. It was surrounded by a Tarmac playground and a tall wrought-iron fence, and presented a fairly forbidding face to the world. But on this late afternoon in December, it stood fairly ablaze with light, and from its open doors streamed a flood of excited children, laden with boot-bags, book0bags, balloons on strings, and small paper bags filled with sweets. They emerged in small groups, jostling and giggling and uttering shrieks of cheerful abuse at each other, before finally dispersing and setting off for home.

What do you think?

Would you keep reading?

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

Graveyard.

Author: Neil Gaiman

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2008

Genre: Children/Middlegrade

FormatAudiobook Narrated by the author

Awards: Newberry Medel Winner 2009

I’m on a course to read all of the Newberry Medal winners that I missed over the last couple of busy decades. I must tell you that I put off reading this book earlier because, when I first started it, it made me a bit squeamish. I’m not a lover of ghost stories either. But, so many people love this book that I pushed myself forward. The library offered an audiobook version read by the author. This turned out to be the best way to experience this award-winning novel.

As the story opens, a killer is systematically killing the residents of a house. Mother, father and big sister have already been killed when the year-and-a-half-year old baby bounces out of his crib, down the stairs and out the door. Lucky little guy that he is, he manages to get inside a nearby graveyard. There the residents/ghosts of the graveyard agree to protect him and give him a home. A man named Silas, who is neither dead nor alive, promises to be his special guardian.

The boy is named Nobody (Bod, for short) because no one knows anything about him other than he is only safe within the graveyard. The boy grows past the toddler stage and on into boyhood. He learns the alphabet from letters on the tombstones, his numbers as well.

As you would expect, Bod is curious about life outside the graveyard. When he is about five he makes friends with a little girl whose mother brings her to the adjacent nature preserve. Its a short-lived friendship as his attempt to go to a regular school. Bod knows how dangerous it can be outside the graveyard. Jack, the man who killed his family, is still looking for Bod. Jack’s goal is to kill him.

As Bod gets closer to his fifteenth birthday, we see him as a nearly mature Bod. Its a good thing because Jack (and quite a few other Jacks) now know where he is. There is a well thought-out plan to lure him out to where they can kill him. The conlusion is as spine-tingling as the rest of the story and quite satisfying.

Neil GaimanMy own personal history was changed with this book. I am no longer an anti-ghost story person. I give all the credit to Neil Gaiman. He’s both a creative, gifted writer and a skilled genius-level narrator. His descriptions, his dialogue and plot development are so complete that he created this moving picture in my head. I loved all the voices in my ear as well. He brought a variety of English accents and loved his Scottish brogue.

There were times when the story scared me, made me say “Yuck!” right out loud, and gave me goosebumps. In spite of a lifetime of believing so, I did not have nightmares during or after this book experience. In fact, I have thought and talked about The Graveyard Book so much that my behavior my be considered obsessive. The bottom line is that this book is now on the list of best books of the year.

This book is for middle-graders — ten to twelve year olds. Parents and teachers will decide whether their child is ready. A long time ago I was a fifth-grade teacher and, as I read this book, I thought about those fifth-graders. I could see their faces, particularly their eyes, change as they listened. How much fun it would be to listen to this story together as a group. I’m sure this idea is not original with me. I believe there are many classrooms already doing this. Wouldn’t you love to be a part of that?

If you haven’t already, do read this book. To double your pleasure, let Neil Gaiman read it to you.

Book Tour: The Case of the Invisible Dog

Case of the Invisible Dog.

Author: Diane Stingley

Publisher: Alibi 2015

Genre: Cozy Mystery

In the start of a charmingly imaginative cozy series sure to delight fans of Carolyn Hart and Diane Mott Davidson, Diane Stingley introduces a blundering detective who believes herself to be the great-great-granddaughter of the legendary Sherlock Holmes.

After failing to launch her career as a Hollywood actress, Tammy Norman returns home to North Carolina, desperate for a regular paycheck and a new lease on life. So she accepts a position assisting Shirley Homes, an exceptionally odd personage who styles herself after her celebrated “ancestor”–right down to the ridiculous hat. Tammy isn’t sure how long she can go on indulging the delusional Shirley (who honestly believes Sherlock Holmes was a real person!), but with the prospect of unemployment looming, she decides to give it a shot.

Tammy’s impression of her eccentric boss does not improve when their first case involves midnight romps through strangers’ yards in pursuit of a phantom dog—that only their client can hear. But when the case takes a sudden and sinister turn, Tammy has to admit that Shirley Homes might actually be on to something. . . .

My Thoughts:

This was as fun and cozy as a Cozy Mystery can get. I can’t remember the last cozy I read that made me laugh and chuckle. Both the plot and the characters were creative, and they moved right along.

What was the most fun for me was the Shirley Homes and Sherlock Holmes connection. I should warn you, there is a little controversy on this score. Here’s where I stand on the issue: I’m with Shirley. Who says Sherlock Holmes didn’t really live? Some people may think its silly, but they just don’t understand. Sherlock is alive in many formats. (No offense, Shirley, but my favorite is Benedict Cumberbatch. Robert Downey, Jr. is good too.) I consider myself a serious Sherlock Holmes fan and I wasn’t put off. I don’t think you should be either.

I liked Tammy, the first-person narrator. She has a funny “I-tell-it-like-it-is” style of talking/writing that fit the story. She’s self-deprecating, but can point out the foibles in others as well. I do hope she’ll be in future books in the series. She’s working on being a good Watson.

In all the years I’ve been a tour host for TLC Book Tours, I don’t believe I’ve ever been the last stop on the tour. So, this book tour set a record. I’ve enjoyed following what everyone else thought about the book. If you’d like to check out other bloggers on the tour, you’ll find the schedule HERE.

Thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book and to TLC Book Tours for letting me be part of it all.

tlc tour host

Wondrous Words #304

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.

David Brooks has a new book out, The Road to Character. I was reading an interview with him  in Christianity Today, when I saw a couple of new-to-me words:

1. capacious: “Augustine is quite simply the most capacious mind and intelligent man I’ve ever encountered.”

Capacious (kəˈpāSHəs) is an adjective which means having a lot of space inside or roomy. Imagine that — A roomy mind! I’m going to be thinking about this idea for quite some time.

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2. rhetorician:  “He was a successful young rhetorician . . .” (He’s still talking about Augustine.)

Rhetorician (retəˈriSHən) is a noun meaning a speaker whose words are primarily intended to impress or persuade.

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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.