Wondrous Words #307

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 in an interview on NPR’s Terry Gross show, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was talking about his new book, Between the World and Me. As always, it was a very interesting interview. I heard the writer use a word that I’ve heard before, but never stopped to figure out what it really means. I decided the time had come to look it up. The word was:

draconian:   “We’ve spent the last roughly half a century or so growing increasingly Draconian . . . ”

Draconian (drəˈkōnēən) is an adjective that applies to laws or their application, and means excessively harsh and severe.

There’s a little history here that helped it make sense to me. In the 7th century (bc), there was a legislator in Athens named Dracco. He codified or systematically arrange the Athenian laws so that they were was notorious for their severity; for instance, the death penalty was imposed even for trivial crimes.

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 Widow’s Son

This week I’m featuring the first two paragraphs of a new novel I’m reading for a book tour. I read the author’s previous book earlier this year and enjoyed it. I was sure this one would also be good. The Widow’s Son by Thomas Shawver is a good historical mystery.

Widow's SonChapter 1

Exit 214 onto I-80. Twelve years in that 8’ x 14’ cell behind me. Never want to see them red bluffs again. Bus ain’t bad now that I got that monkey mouth bedhind me to shut up. Thirteen hours to K.C. countin’ piss and eat stops. Good barbeque I hear. What else? Hell if I know. Gotta be better than Rawlins. Best get some sleep.

“Who was the deceased?” the investigator from the coroner’s office asked as the Fire Department EMTs packed up their respirator. “And why is he dressed in that getup?


What do o=you think?

Would you keep reading?


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


Two “English” Books: English Creek and The English Girl

Two of the books I read this past month have the word “English” in their titles. English was also important within the stories.

English CreekIn English Creek by Ivan Doig (Scribner 2005), it’s all about a whole forestry division in northeastern Montana during the 1930s. Fourteen-year-old Jick McCaskill’s father was a Forest Ranger responsible for this part of the state. Nick accompanies his father on the first trek of the summer to inspect as much of the territory as possible.

As young Jick learns, the job includes more than just watching over the trees. They count sheep and cattle in this high country, note the depth of the rivers, and touch base with the various people who inhabit the high country. Before the summer is over Jick will see and do things he’s never experienced before, including helping to feed fire-fighters battling a dangerous forest fire.

This was an excellent and satisfying story. Althouh the narrator is only fourteen, it’s not a young-adult book. It’s written for adults. It has that innocent feel to it that often comes with stories of the 1930s. Life has come down to bare bones as far as material goods are concerned, but rich in all the other things that make life enjoyable. This is the first book in a trilogy centered around the McCaskill family. I’m looking forward to Book 2: Dancing At the Rascal Fair.


English GirlEnglish in this next book refers to The English Girl by Daniel Silva (Harper 2013). On Corsica someone has kidnapped an English girl and is holding her for a huge ransom. Why is she so valuable? It turns out she is the mistress of the prime minister of England. If he doesn’t pay the ransom, it could mean the end of his career and possibly his government.

The man in charge of the Intelligence Services calls upon an old friend within the Israeli Mossad, Gabriel Allon. He trusts Gabriel’s skills, intelligence and discretion to find and get the young woman back.

Gabriel begins his search in Corsica, where he meets an old-world don and begins to realize that this is more than a simple kidnapping. His search will take him to Frane, Russia and England. He realizes that finding out who the “girl” really is becomes as important as finding her.

Gabriel Allon is a great main character. He’s a master spy with great detective skills as well as a man who restores damaged art. I had no idea he is the star of a whole series of books. This one turned out to be number 13. I didn’t feel as if I had missed any content by starting so late into the series. The book certainly was able to stand on its own. I’ll definitely read more.

I highly recommend both of these books.

Wondrous Words #306

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. Lucky for me, I find new-to-me words all over the place.

This week I was looking for a recipe for a good pasta salad. I found both a good recipe and a new word. Here’s the sentence and the new word:

Pasta Saladriffs:  “Ripe for riffs, the salad is also delicious with cheese-filled tortellini.”

I know the word riffs as it applies to music. I often hear the short, repeated phrases in guitar music. But how does riff apply in a salad recipe?

Thanks to the Urban Dictionary, I learned riff also refers to a monologue or short improvisation, especially a humorous one. I’m going on my own here, but I think the recipe writer was using riff to say the salad could be made in a variety of ways. In other words, you could improvise, do an improv, with a variety of ingredients.

What do you think? Am I stretching the definition? 

Have you ever used/heard the word before?


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: English Creek

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 reading English Creek by Ivan Doig. It’s affording me the chance to spend a summer in Montana. Here’s how the story  starts:

English CreekThat month of June swam into the Two Medicine country. In my life until then I had never seen the sidehills come so green, the coulees stay so spongy with runoff. A right amount of wet evidently could sweeten the universe. Already my father on his first high patrols had encountered cow elk drifting up and across the Continental Divide to their calving grounds on the west side. They, and the grass ad the wild hay meadows and the benchland alfalfa, all were a good three weeks ahead of season. Which of course accounted for the fresh mood everywhere across the Two. As is always said, spring rain in range country is as if halves of ten-dollar bills are being handed around, with the other halves promised at shipping time. And so in the English Creek sheepmen, what few cowmen were left along Noon Creek and elsewhere, the out-east farmers, the storekepers of Gros Ventre, our Forest Service peopl, in just everyone that start of June, hope was up and would stay strong as long as the grass did.

What do you think?

Would you keep reading?

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.


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.


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


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.


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