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: 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.


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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Book Review: Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Sycamore RowIf you are among the millions who read John Grisham’s first bestseller, A Time to Kill (1989), you are going to love Sycamore Row. It’s a great return to what you liked when you first started reading Grisham. I wouldn’t exactly call it a sequel. It’s more like a re-visit. The setting is the same – Clanton, Mississippi – and many of my favorite characters (Jake, Harry Rex, Lucien and Ozzie) make a return appearance.

Sycamore Row takes place three years after attorney, Jake Brigance, won in the Carl Lee trial (A Time to Kill). Jake hasn’t had a lot of good cases for a while but, overall, he’s doing okay. Then, one Monday morning, he received a letter from a wealthy man, Seth Hubbard, who lives in the country outside of town. The letter contains a holographic will, along with very specific instructions to Jake.

Jake learns that Seth Hubbard hung himself the previous day. He’d been dying of lung cancer and it was becoming increasingly more painful. He planned his death very carefully. All of his assets were easily accessible. As it turned out, his estate was worth somewhere around 24 million dollars.

In the new will Mr. Hubbard excluded his family and I could see why. They were not nice people. They seldom came to visit, even when they knew he was so sick and dying. When they learned that 90% of the estate was left to Lettie, Mr. Hubbard’s black housekeeper, they showed their bigoted, money-grubbing colors. Family members hired a whole herd of big-city lawyers to swoop in and challenge the willj. The legal wrangling was off and running.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story for me was that Jake Brigance was not really representing the housekeeper as Seth Hubbard’s family and everyone else kept assuming. Jake tries over and over to make it clear that he represents the wishes of Seth Hubbard. Naturally, it stands to reason that he would favor the housekeeper since that’s what Mr. Hubbard wanted.

All the legal maneuvering was equally as interesting. The big-cry lawyers knew all the tricks and spared no expense in their mission to overrun the will. But Jake is also good as legal strategy and he works hard trying to stay ahead of that crowd.

Sycamore Row was a story rich in characters and in the twists and turns of the plot. I enjoyed it completely. Near the end of the story I could only see two ways in which the outcome could be achieved. Fortunately, Jake Brigance/John Grisham came up with a third solution that was so much better than mine. And, that’s why I still love reading John Grisham’s legal thrillers.

I “read” this book via the audio version. It was superbly narrated by Michael Beck doing all the voices. I looked him up because I liked him so much and discovered he’s an actor. Better yet, he was born in Memphis, Tennessee which is probably why all those southern accents were so perfect.

I highly recommend reading this novel, and if you are able, do it via audiobook.

Wondrous Words #261

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.

A bonanza – I found two new words in one paragraph! I was reading JoAnn’s (Lakeside Musings) First Paragraph post. This is from Jeannette Haien’s new book The All of It.

Thomas Dunn, the head ghillie at the Castle, wasn’t telling Father Declan anything he didn’t already know: the river was too high and wild from all the rains, and the salmon, therefore, not moving, just lying on the bottom, not showing themselves at all, and the midges terrible, and only two days left to the season so of course all but the least desirable of the river-boats, number Four, was let already . . . 

A ghillie is a a man or boy who attends someone on a hunting or fishing expedition.

Midge was a nickname given to my mother. I had no idea it had a meaning beyond simply the name. But it turns out a midge is a small two-winged fly that is often seen in swarms near water or marshy areas. It also has an informal meaning which is a small person. I suspect my three uncles gave their baby sister this nickname because they thought both meanings fit.

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: Sycamore Row

I’m finishing up John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, Sycamore Row. It’s a visit back to some of  the characters and the countryside of Grisham’s earliest novel, A Time to Tell. I’m loving it. Here’s how it begins:

Sycamore RowThey found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected. He was at the end of a rope, six feet off the ground and twisting slightly in the wind. A front was moving through and Seth was soaked when they found him, not that it mattered. Someone would point out that there was no mud on his shoes and no tracks below him, so therefore he was probably hanging and dead when the rain began. Why was that important? Ultimately, it was not.  

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.


Book Review: The Code of the Hills

Author: Nancy Allen
Publisher: Harper Collins, April 15, 2014
Genre: Legal Mystery

Why I read this book: I like looking at issues through the double lens of the law and people who come up against the law. In the past I’ve spent a little bit of time in the Ozark hills and I’m acquainted with the culture there. I was curious to see if anything has changed.

Summary (from the publisher):

Code of the HillsTo uncover the truth, she’ll have to break the code of the hills …
In the Missouri Ozarks, some things aren’t talked about … even abuse. But prosecutor Elsie Arnold is determined to change that.

When she is assigned to prosecute a high-profile incest case in which a father is accused of abusing his three young daughters, Elsie is ready to become the Ozarks’ avenging angel.

But as Elsie sinks her teeth into the case, everything begins to turn sour. The star witness goes missing; the girls refuse to talk about their father, who terrorizes the courtroom from the moment he enters; and Elsie begins to suspect that their tough-as-nails mother has ulterior motives. To make matters worse, Elsie receives gruesome threats from local extremists, warning her to mind her own business.
While Elsie swears not to let a sex offender walk, she realizes the odds—and maybe the town—are against her, and her life begins to crumble. But amidst all of the conflict, the safety of three young girls hangs in the balance …

My Thoughts:

It took me quite a few chapters to get into this novel. The parts of the story about Elsie as a prosecutor and the cases involving children were very good. Elsie (and I think the author) has a passion for this side of the job. It showed the very nasty and frustrating side of prosecuting cases of incest and rape. My heart broke for the victims. I applaud the author for bringing these problems to the forefront.

I also liked the everyday look into the life of a small town prosecutor. It’s not all glamour or necessarily meaningful work. The author showed there are those days spent prosecuting traffic cases and other petty cases.

My problem with the book has to do with the main character, Elsie. On the one hand she’s a good prosecutor, even if she’s only been at it four years. But, when it came to her personal life, she acted like a fourteen-year-old. I thought she had very bad taste in men. She seemed to only like the good-looking guys without thinking about how they treated her.

This is Nancy Allen’s debut novel. She’s spent her career as a prosecuting attorney in the Ozarks. That gave her novel a nice note of authenticity.

Book Review: The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato

Glassblower of Murano

Publisher: St. Martins Griffin, 2009

The Glassblower of Murano is a lovely historical fiction that tells two stories with great similarities. Set in Murano, a suburb of Venice, it intersperses the stories of a gifted glassblower, Corradino, in the seventeenth century with modern-day Leonora, an apprentice glassblower. Corradino is Leonora’s ancestor. She appears to have been gifted with his talent.

Leonora’s story isn’t as interesting as Corradino’s. She is a divorced woman who fled England to start a new life in Italy. When she gets a job at a Murano glassblowing factory she personally comes up against some controversy because of rumors that her ancestor gave the Murano glassblowing secrets to the French. (After all these years, there’s still bad feelings?) These rumors cause a co-worker at the glassblowing factory to sabotage Leonora’s work, so she attempts to find out the truth about Corrodino.

The high quality of the products produced by the glassblowing industry in the seventeenth century was exclusive to Italy and specifically Venice. It was fanatically guarded with governmental laws, etc. The workers were virtual slaves on the island of Murano. Spies from France tried to recruit Corrodino to travel to France to create special glass mirrors for King Louis XIV. The spies threatened him with death of both himself and a secret daughter. The question is: Did he do it or was there a way out?

As I said, I liked the old story of Corrodino best. It was much more dramatic and believable. There was a nice little romance for Leonora, but the rest of the modern story didn’t stack up for me. Overall, it was an okay read.

This was a book club selection and most members in the group liked it. As is our wont, we spent quite a bit of time on the social issues that came up in both stories. In particular, we talked most about the various aspects and evils of slavery – today and in the past.

I’ll recommend The Glassblower of Murano to readers who really like historical fiction as well as book clubs that love to discuss the issues raised in a story.

Wondrous Words #260

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 read The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger. Its the kind of book that’s told through memos, letters, emails, and in this case, through legal papers. In other words, an epistolary novel. (If that’s a new-to-you word, feel free to take it for your own Wondrous Words Wednesday.) I learned quite a few new words while reading this book. I’ll share some today and more next week.  Here are a couple:

vituperative: ” . . . your client, Dr. Durkheim, had a bitter and vituperative argument with his wife . . .”

Vituperative means bitter and abusive.


dilatory: “My wife has been using devious, dishonest, underhanded, and dilatory tactics in order to bully me into settling.”

Dilatory has two meanings but in this sentence I believe the meaning to be this: intended to cause delay.

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 Glassblower of Murano

I’m reading an interesting novel that features Italian glass. The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato  alternates between current day glassblowers and those of a few centuries ago. So far, I’m really enjoying it. Here’s how it begins:

 Glassblower of MuranoAs Corradino Mankin looked on the lights of San Marco for the last time, Venice from the lagoon seemed to him a golden constellation in the dark blue velvet dusk. How many of those windowpanes, that adorned his city like costly gems, had he made with his own hands? Now they were stars lit to guide him at the end of the journey of his life. Guide him home at last.

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: The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

Divorce PapersPublished by: Crown/Random House, 2014

An epistolary novel is a rare thing for me. I can only remember reading two other ones. I wanted to try The Divorce Papers because it seemed a little different, an interesting look behind the scenes, or should I say, in the locked file cabinets, at a law firm. It didn’t disappoint. Here’s the basic plot of the story:

Twenty-nine-year-old Sophie Diehl is happy toiling away as a criminal law associate at an old-line New England firm, where she very much appreciates that most of her clients are trapped behind bars. Everyone at Traynor, Hand knows she abhors face-to-face contact, but one week, with all the big partners out of town, Sophie is stuck handling the intake interview for the daughter of the firm’s most important client.
After eighteen years of marriage, Mayflower descendant Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim has just been served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at the popular local restaurant, Golightly’s. Mia is now locked and loaded to fight her eminent and ambitious husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology at Mather Medical School, for custody of their ten-year-old daughter Jane. Mia also burns to take him down a peg.

Sophie warns Mia that she’s never handled a divorce case before, but Mia can’t be put off. The way she sees it, it’s her first divorce, too. For Sophie, the whole affair will spark a hard look at her own relationships—with her parents, colleagues, friends, lovers, and, most important, herself.

This was pure fun to read. It was as if I was snooping in all the memos, legal forms, emails, and confidential papers of a real client I might know from the media. I was privy to how much money the client’s husband made and, thanks to the smart lawyer, Sophie, I knew the strategy of how the wife was going to get the maximum out of her soon-to-be-ex-husband.

I liked the character of Sophie. She had a good heart. She didn’t have an agenda when it came to the opposition. She wasn’t out for revenge on behalf of her client. She sincerely tried to get an equitable division of the assets and an amiable agreement between husband, wife, and the child. Although Sophie was inexperienced when it came to divorces, she was smart enough to study the law and also ask for advice. Sophie was also tough and she had her own way of getting justice and the best possible outcome for her client.

It wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it was quite humorous. I kept going from one document to the next. It was addictive and it satisfied my inner snoop.

This is the first novel for this lawyer turned novelist. I sure hope it won’t be her last book. I’d read more.