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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: A Week in Winter

Week In Winter

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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.

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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.

First Paragraph: A Week In Winter

I’m reading/listening to a great Maeve Binchy book. It’s A Week In Winter. Already I want to be in this small town on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. I’m meeting some wonderful characters. I know I’ll be sad when my “week” is over. Here’s how the story starts:

Week In WinterEveryone had their own job to do on the Ryans’ farm in Stonebridge. The boys helped their father in the fields, mending fences, bringing the cows back to be milked, digging drills of potatoes; Mary fed the calves, Kathleen baked the bread, and Geraldine did the hens.

Not that they ever called her Geraldine—she was “Chicky” as far back as anyone could remember. A serious little gel pouring out meal for the baby chickens or collecting the fresh eggs each day, always saying, “Chuck, chuck, chuck,” soothingly into the feathers as she worked. Chicky had names for all the hens, and no one could tell her when one had been taken to provide a Sunday lunch. They always pretended it was a shop chicken, but Chicky always knew.

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.

firstparagraph

Book Review: Gray Mountain

Gray Mountain .
Author
: John Grisham

Publisher: Doubleday, October 2014

Genre: Legal Thriller

Gray Mountain is a fictional mountain in the Appalachian Mountains. It was one of those mountains that had it’s entire top cut off so coal could be extracted easier than mining for it. This practice has ruined not only the beauty of this part of the country, but the lives of many residents as well as the local economy.

It’s costly to legally fight the big coal companies. Their high powered law firms know how to stretch out a lawsuit so that most people are dead or give up before it ever comes to a settlement. There’s a crying need for good legal aid.

The setting for this story, Brady, Virginia, happens to have a good legal aid clinic, but there’s only two lawyers, a paralegal and a secretary. Another lawyer sure would help. Enter Samantha Kofer, an attorney who has only a few years experience and its all been in corporate law in Manhattan.

The firm Samantha has been working for is feeling the pinch from the recession (its 2008) and they are forced to lay off associates. Samantha is offered a “special” deal. She can keep her seniority with the firm by doing “charity” work. The firm won’t pay her, but if they are in a position to rehire, she can come back with seniority. As Samantha goes down her list of possible places to work, she learns the recession has hit most places and even the “charity” jobs are getting taken.

Working for the legal aid clinic in Brady, Virginia is not the kind of law Samantha wants to practice, but she’s out of other options. There’s something about the challenge of the variety of cases she encounters. There’s also the people who really need her help. Samantha finds herself in the middle of some interesting and controversial cases. It’s a huge learning curve for Samantha, who has never been in a courtroom or practiced law that helps with the basics of human civility.

This is pure John Grisham. I particularly like how I always get really mad while reading one of his books. The bad guys are big and evil, with all the power and money on their side. The little people don’t stand a chance without some pretty smart and determined legal minds.

The characters in Gray Mountain are very good. Mattie Wyatt, the woman who founded the legal aid clinic is sharp, both legally and strategically. I also liked her nephews, one of whom is a legal shark fighting against the big guys. I was also sympathetic to the main character, Samantha. I really enjoyed seeing her clients, the whole community, and their unique problems through her perspective.

If you’re a John Grisham fan, you’ll enjoy this one. Don’t delay. Get it now. If you haven’t read a John Grisham, this is a good one to read.

Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun

I'll Give You the SunAuthor: Jandy Nelson

Publisher: Dial/Penguin/Brialliance Audio, September 2014

Genre: Young Adult Literature

Format: Audiobook Narrated by Julia Whelan and Jesse Bernstein

As the story opens, twins Jude and Noah are 13. They’ve always been competitive with each other, but now that the teen years are upon them, it seems to be ratcheted up a couple of notches.

The twins have always played games with each other. One of their favorites is dividing up the universe and claiming different parts for themselves. Parts of the universe are used to barter with each other when one has something the other wants. For instance, when Noah has a picture of an extremely attractive boy, Jude trades the sun for the picture. Hence the title of the book, “I’ll Give You the Sun.”

Both Noah and Jude are artistic which has been encouraged by their mother. Noah draws almost continuously and compulsively. As Noah works his way through the trauma and drama of middle school social life, he finds himself at odds with the other kids, especially as he works through his growing awareness that he is attracted to boys. Instinctively, he knows he has to keep this a secret, not only from his sister, but his sports-loving father as well.

Jude is fearless. She’s a cliff-jumper and a surfer (they live near the ocean in southern California). Jude is one of the popular girls, but she’s also a little strange. She believes that she can see and hear her grandmother who was, when alive, a bit kooky. Jude also believes in all sorts of superstitions. She’s likely to have an onion or other unusual objects in one of her pockets.

The story is told from the perspective of both Jude and Noah. At the beginning I heard primarily Noah’s story. When Jude’s story comes, its three years later. As the story unfolds, questions  were raised in my mind. I know something happened to the twin’s mother, but what? Also, there’s a talented sculptor. How does he fit into the lives of this family? Ah, I decided. This story is part mystery. But – there’s more.

The relationship between the twins was interesting to examine. There was no doubt they loved each other, but had grown apart. Their separation was painful for them and painful to watch. I felt that, if they would just spend some solid time together, they could get rid of the dishonesties and work out their misunderstandings.

The relationship is the heart of this story. Traumatic events happen to the twins, but their inability to mature and find happiness stems from their broken relationship.  There is a quote at the beginning of the book that is so appropriate to the story.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. — E.E. Cummings

The teenage years are tough for almost all of us. That final push into adulthood can be so treacherous. Noah and Jude’s experience may have been a dramatic one, but I think there’s something in here for all of us to identify with. It’s  not all gloom and doom. I found myself laughing as well.

I’ll Give You the Sun ranks up there with The Fault In Our Stars, Eleanor and Park and Fan Girl. This book will probably be on my best-of-the-year book list. I never would have read this book if it weren’t for my eldest granddaughter, Q. She is the one who recommended it. This girl really knows how to pick the best books and I’m glad I pay attention to her. Thanks Q.

UPDATE:  I’ll Give You the Sun was awarded this year’s Printz Award by the American Library Association.

Wondrous Words #290

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.

Last week I finished reading the classic Emma by Jane Austen. The two hundred year old language is, of course, not the way we talk today. The conversations tend to be stilted and very wordy. I thought I might discover quite a few new/old words. I actually only found three.

1.  approbation: “Mr, Knightly was expressing . . . his approbation of the whole.”

Approbation is a noun meaning approval or praise.

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2.  perturbation: . . . and the “Oh, Miss Wodehouse, what do you think has happened?” which instantly burst forth had all the evidence of corresponding perturbation.
Perturbation means anxiety or mental uneasiness. The origin of the word is late Middle English.

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3.  ochre: “Miss Fairfax has done her hair in so odd a way. I never saw anything so ochre.”
Ochre is another Middle English word meaning a pale brownish yellow color.

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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.

Wondrous Words #286

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 past week I found a couple of new-to-me words while I was out and about on the web. My first word comes from GoodReads. I was reading a book review trying to decide if I wanted to read it or not, when I discovered this new word. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember what book review I was reading.)

1.  stodge: “Good, solid Victorian stodge.”

Stodge has two meanings: It can mean food that is heavy, filling, and high in carbohydrates or it means dull and uninspired material. In this case I believe it the later meaning, i.e., the book is dull. Don’t read it.

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And then, I saw that JoAnn at Lakeside Musings is reading The Warden by Anthony Trollope. She shared the first paragraph with us which included this new-to-me word:

2.  beneficed: “The Rev. Septimus Harding was, a few years since, a beneficed clergyman residing in the cathedral town of ——; let us call it Barchester.”

Benefice is a noun meaning a permanent Church appointment, typically that of rector or vicar, for which property and income are provided in respet of pastoral duties.

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: Gray Mountain by John Grisham

There’s  not much that can beat a good John Grisham novel for me.  I love the dilemmas he always presents. They all have an element of good vs. evil, but they’re much more complicated than that. Gray Mountain is John Grisham’s latest book. It’s set in the coal mining area of Appalachia. In this first paragraph, the author is setting the scene for why a young corporate attorney would find herself working to help poor people.

Gray Mountain The horror was in the waiting—the unknown, the insomnia, the ulcers. Co-workers ignored each other and hid behind locked doors. Secretaries and paralegals passed along the rumors and refused eye contact. Everyone was on edge, wondering, “Who might be next?” The partners, the big boys, appeared shell-shocked and wanted no contact with their underlings. They might soon be ordered to slaughter them.

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.

firstparagraph

Book Review: Reconstructing Amelia

Reconstructing AmeliaAuthor: Kimberly McCreight

Publisher: Harper 2013

Genre: Literature/Women’s Fiction

Format: Audiobook Narrated by Khristine Hvam

Kate is a junior partner in a big New York law firm. She is always under a lot of pressure and feels she must work long, long hours. Kate is also a single mom to Amelia, a smart, level-headed teenager.

Caring for Amelia hadn’t been a problem for Kate because she’d always had a nanny. But, now that Amelia is fifteen, she no longer wants a babysitter. This means Amelia is home alone for long periods of time and, of course, Kate worries more. Mother and daughter have a good relationship. There is love and mutual respect.

One day, while at work, Kate receives a call from the private school Amelia attends, asking her to come immediately to the school. When she arrives she is told that Amelia has committed suicide. The only possible explanation is that Amelia was suspended for plagiarizing on an English paper and must have been upset about it.

Kate is shocked and devastated, and finds it hard to believe. The police investigate, but declare it a suicide. As Kate works through her grief, she tries to understand what was happening in Amelia’s life prior to her death. There is so much of Amelia’s life written down on Twitter, Facebook, emails, Instagram, and all the other modes of modern communication. Kat e asks a computer genius at her law firm to help her recover all of it, even the deleted messages.

As Kate sets about to “reconstruct” Amelia’s life, she receives an anonymous text saying Amelia did not jump. This, and some of the other things she uncovers, sends Kate back to the police. She is assigned a more sympathetic detective who is persuaded to help Kate find the truth.

Reconstructing Amlia was a fascinating tale in many ways. The mystery concerning how of Amelia’s death was one thing. The why was even more intriguing. The secret girl’s club and their hateful hazing and bullying was a big factor. Amelia’s self-centered best (and only) friend was also to be considered. But there was more than that. The teachers, headmaster, counselor, and parents all contributed to the problems in Amelia’s life.

For me, a sub-theme of the novel was the enormous amount of the story that could be reconstructed from Amelia’s electronics. The amount of detail that has become available within the last decade or so is amazing to me. Because this is so new to us we don’t really know what to make of it. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I think we are still working to understand it all. As time goes by, I’m sure we’ll develop sane ways to deal with it.

This was a book club read. Almost all of the club members are mothers and grandmothers. Our discussion was long and lively. Nearly everyone had personal stories to share about similar situations with grandchildren, electronics and experiences with bullying.

We spent a good deal of time talking about Kate, the mother. We understood her feelings of guilt and helplessness. I will tell you that one lone member of the group thought this “whole mess” (with modern teenagers) is the fault of mothers who work outside the home. That’s when the rest of the group really got “lively.” Rest assured — the fight for women’s equality is still going strong in northern California!

Overall, Reconstructing Amelia is an excellent book for book clubs as well as the reader who wants to look at the invasion of electronic gadgets into our personal lives. On top of that, it was a good, well-written story.