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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At the Movies: This Is Where I Leave You




Finally, a decent movie at the theater. (It’s been a bad year.) This Is Where I Leave You was not only decent, but it had good characters, a good story and something to think about. It went beyond my expectations.

This is the story of the Altman family. The four grown children have returned home following the death of their father. Their mother (Jane Fonda) insists it was their father’s dying wish that they all “sit shiva” for him. This means that they must stay together in their childhood home for seven days of formal mourning.

This Is Where I Leave YouAnyone who is an adult sibling and has spent long periods of time together with fellow siblings will understand the dynamics at work in the Altman family. Each of the four adult children love each other, but within a few hours they slip back into their family patterns from years earlier.

The previews for this movie called it “amazingly funny.” I disagree. There were many laugh-out-loud moments, but this is not a funny slap-stick movie. I’d call it a humorous drama. It’s especially humorous for adult siblings who’ve ever been in this situation.

Tina Fey and Jason BatenabThe four actors playing the four Altman kids did a sensational job. I expected superior performances from Jason Bateman and Tina Fey – and got it. In the picture above they are chatting on the roof outside their childhood bedrooms – something they did back then. Adam Driver and Corey Stoll surprised me with their wonderful interpretations of the oldest and youngest siblings. In fact, I’m going to look for other movies that include Adam Driver. I liked him. Jane Fonda, who was cast in the role of the mother, simply played Jane Fonda. (I’m not a fan.)

There is also an excellent ensemble cast around the family members. There’s a wife, a husband, a funny two-year-old, a rabbi, and other friends and ex’s. Some of the things these people do are aggravating, some are maddening, and many are funny. They all added a great deal to make this a See-It-On-The-Big-Screen movie.

In my opinion, the movie celebrates the institution of the family with all of its idiosyncrasies and funny moments, but also all the basic love. Watching the interactions of the Altman family made me feel good about the families that surround me.

This Is Where I Leave You was adapted from a book (same title) by Jonathan Tropper. He also wrote the screenplay.

Book Review: The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

Long Way HomeOne of the top reasons I love Louise Penney’s books is the quality of her continuing characters. Armand Gamache, the main character, is for me, the rock at the center. The supporting characters, circle around Gamache as they play various roles in the drama.

The other top reason I love these books is that each one is a different story that explores a different part of the “community” of Three Pines and Quebec. We met Clara and Peter in Still Life, the first book in the series. As the series progressed we saw the conflict grow between them. It was complicated, but what it boiled down to was Peter’s jealousy of Clara’s growing success as an artist.

At the end of the last story, How the Light Gets In, Clara and Peter separated. They agreed to spend a year apart with no communication. They said they would meet up on the same day a year later. But now, it’s a year later, Peter did not show up, and no one has any idea where he is.

Reluctantly, Clara asks Armand Gamache for help. She’s reluctant because Armand is now retired and enjoying his stress-free life in Three Pines. Gamache is a man who willingly helps his friends so, of course, he helps Clara.

Helping to find Peter isn’t that easy. Armand turns to his former sidekick (and now son-in-law) for help. Jean Guy helps track where Peter has been via his credit card. That works until Peter goes off-line. Friends from Three Pines take turns visiting some if the places where Peter went in order to gather the clues.

Finally, Armand, Jean Guy, Clara, Myrna, and a new character travel way up north to the last place Peter was known to be. It’s there that we witness the very dramatic conclusion.

As much as I wanted to read The Long Way Home within a couple of days of it’s release, I read it slowly as part of a four week read-a-long sponsored by the publisher. I’m only partially glad I did that. I liked reading it slowly and thoughtfully, but I didn’t like all the negative, nit-picky comments on the read-a-long website. Many of the commenters read the whole book and then commented (with spoilers) during the first week. I quit after the second week.

LouisePennyI admit to a prejudice toward loving these novels based on all ten of them. I like spending time with these characters, and I like the setting of a small village in Quebec. In every novel I learn something interesting. In this novel I learned a lot about art and what motivates good artists.

My only complaint about this novel was this: I missed the former Chief Inspector’s investigation of a murder. He still went into action to solve a mystery. It was very satisfying, but not a murder mystery. In past novels Gamache has solved complicated crimes while fighting corruption within the police and political system. Now that he’s retired, all that is behind him. I think Louise Penny is going to have to bring him out of retirement in future novels. He’s too valuable to hide out in Three Pines.

That’s my recommendation for Louise Penny but, what do I know. She’s a very smart author and I won’t be surprised if she comes up with something different in future novels. And that’s why I will continue as a Louise Penny fan. In additon, I recommend Louise Penny to you. If you haven’t read any of her books, do start at the beginning. Here’s the list, in publication order. To read my review, click the title.

Still Life
A Fatal Grace
The Cruelest Month
A Rule Against Murder
The Brutal Telling
Bury Your Dead
A Trick of the Light
The Beautiful Mystery
How the Light Gets In

I read this book via audio. I’m very fond of hearing Ralph Coshon’s voice as the narrator for these books. (I think he really is the chief inspector.) Macmillan audio has very kindly offered a snippet of the audio version so that you can see why I prefer the audio. Just click this link:

Wondrous Words #270

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’m still reading The Competition by Marcia Clark. There are quite a few new-to-me words in this mystery novel. I came across this one sentence that had me looking up two words.

The killers, looking like evil personified in their camouflage jackets, boots, and black balaclavas, stalked down through the bleachers and strafed the students with a bloodlust that was palpable even on these small screens.

Balaclavas (baləˈklävə) is a close-fitting garment covering the whole head and neck except for parts of the face, typically made of wool. (photo from my computer’s dictionary)

BalaclavaStrafe is a verb meaning to attack repeatedly with bombs or machine-gun fire.

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 Long Way Home by Louise Penny

I have been waiting so long for this novel. I pre-ordered it on February 6th, and it was a long wait until finally released on August 26th. Was it worth the wait? Oh yes, it was. Chief Inspector Gamache has not slipped at all. Even in retirement. Here’s how the story begins:

Long Way Home   As Clara Morrow approached, she was wondering if he’d repeat the same small gesture he’d done every morning.

   It was so tiny, so insignificant. So easy to ignore. The first time.

   But why did Armand Gamache keep doing it?

   Clara felt silly for even wondering. How could it matter? But for a man not given to secrets, this gesture had begun to look not simply secretive, but furtive. A benign act that seemed to yearn for a shadow to hide in.

 What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

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


Book Review: The Buddha In the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Buddha In the AtticPublisher: Anchor

Picture brides, in The Buddha in the Attic, refers to Japanese girls and women who sent their pictures to Japanese men living in California. The men sent letters to the females offering marriage and life in America. Very few of the accompanying stories about themselves were true. They weren’t bankers or lawyers or big businessmen. But then, the passage was paid for by the men, and they did promised a life that was often better than their lives back in Japan.

The story starts with the brides’ boat trip and progresses on to their first night of marriage, a look at where they lived and the work they did, on through to talk about their babies and children, how the “whites” treated them, and ends with their enforced removal to internment camps during World War II.

There are no specific characters for the reader to follow in this novel. It’s written in the first-person plural which, at first, threw me off. The plot follows the whole group of women with occasional specific names mentioned.

For me, The Buddha In the Attic felt more like an essay mixed together with a good historical story. I liked it. It was very interesting, actually quite educational. Instead of connecting with a specific characters, I felt connected and very sympathetic to the entire group. Life in general wasn’t kind to them, but they were spunky and tried hard to survive and do well in their adopted country.

The writing was excellent. It often felt very lyrical, like a song or a beautiful poem. The author won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Book Prize. She was also a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award. It was a short read but one that stayed in my head for a long time.

I read this book as part of Aarti’s A Diverse Universe challenge. The challenge is only for the last two weeks of September so, if you’re interested, you still have time to join in.

More Diverse Universe

Book Review: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

YaYa Sisterhood

Author: Rebecca Wells

Publisher: Harper, 1998

I’ve just spent nearly 15 hours with a group of female friends who live in central Louisiana. It wasn’t actually a physical visit. It was a mental and emotional visit via my iPod, but it felt so real that you can’t tell me those people aren’t still alive.

Vivi, Caro, Teensy and Necie met as young girls in the mid-1920s but they’re now nearing 70. They were full of fun and imaginative play. The girls loved to play pranks and were in sync with each other their entire lives. Their bond was as close as loving and supportive sisters. Together they formed the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The four of them have been there for each other, fixing everything as they go.

Now its Vivi’s daughter, Sidda, who needs their help. Sidda is a successful director of stage plays and is engaged to a wonderful man. But – Sidda decides to postpone her wedding because she truly believes she’s incapable of love.

Sidda has always had a rocky relationship with her mother. Vivi has so many demons in her past that they effected her ability to always be there for her children. Vivi didn’t always show love to Sidda and now Sidda feels she might be like her mother.

The Ya-Yas convince Vivi to to send Sidda a scrapbook Vivi has been filling all her life. Its called the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The book is filled with mementos but it also takes an in-depth look at the events in Vivi’s life as well as those of the other women. For Sidda it contains the answers to what made Vivi a, sometimes, unfit mother.

Initially I did not like Vivi, but as Sidda began to uncover the secrets in Vivi’s life, my opinion changed. It softened as I saw what Vivi’s mother did to her and some other tragic events as well. The support Vivi received from her “sisters” was something not seen often. They trusted each other completely and rescued each other without question. In Vivi’s case, they saved her life. It was a beautiful friendship to observe.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood was a book club selection. We were in agreement in our love for the story and the characters. The catholic church played a part in this story which lead to a good part of our discussion. Over half of our members are catholic and I enjoyed how they compared their experiences with those of the women in the book.

The author has written two more books in this “sisterhood series.” It includes the same characters and, based on that, we all want to read at least one of those books. We felt we will need another visit with the Ya-Yas. This makes an excellent book club selection.

Highly recommended.

Wondrous Words #269

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 found a new word while reading The Competition by Marcia Clark.

unis: “We need to have the unis ask around about Otis.”

Unis is used often in this mystery set in the (fictional) Los Angeles Police Department. I figured it was some kind of “in-word” in the law enforcement world. I thought maybe it was like perp – short for perpetrator I hear on TV. I had to search widely for a definition, but I finally found it in the Urban Dictionary. Unis refers to uniforms police officers.

Have you heard/read the word before?

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 Buddha in the Attic

I’m currently reading Buddha In the Attic by Julie Otsuka for the A More Diverse Universe challenge. I’m almost halfway through, and I’m overwhelmed by it. As you can see, the writing style is different. Trust me, its quite effective.

Buddha In the AtticOn the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves. Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many more of us came from the country and on the boat we wore the same old kimonos we’d been wearing for years—faded hand-me-downs from our sisters that had been patched and redyed many times. Some of us came from the mountains and had never before seen the sea, except for in pictures, and some of us were the daughters of fishermen who had been around the sea all our live. Perhaps we had lost a brother or father to the sea, or a fiance, or perhaps someone we loved had jumped into the water one unhappy morning and simply swum away, and now it was time for us, too, to move on.

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: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

One SummerPublisher: Anchor, October 2013

Prior to reading this book I could recall a couple of things I might associate with the late 1920s. My mom was born in 1920 and she talked a lot about her childhood, so I thought I knew the important stuff. But, once I started in on One Summer: America, 1927, I was quite taken aback by the large number of significant events that occurred all in one year. Here are the highlights:

  • Charles Lindbergh became a world-wide hero when he flew his plane alone, nonstop, across the Atlantic Ocean. He was the first person to ever do so.
  • Babe Ruth proved himself the best baseball player when he became the first person to hit sixty home-runs in one season, a record that would last for decades.
  • Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian anarchists, were executed despite very weak evidence at trial.
  • Al Jolson starred in The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length “talkie.”
  • Technology made strides with both radio and the invention of television.
  • Al Capone was at the peak of his power with control of illegal liquor sales, municipal governments and police forces.
  • The lower Mississippi River flooded after unbelievable rains across the south causing massive damage.

That’s just an outline of some of the events from One Summer. Bill Bryson looked at 1927 with his eyes wide open to not just the events, but the backstories. I love backstories. For example, Babe Ruth was a bigger-than-life person in 1927, but the author told me more than just the details of his amazing baseball achievements. I learned about the clothes he wore, what he did for fun, what he ate, how he squandered his money and his predilection for a wide variety of women. In other words, I saw Babe Ruth the person.

One Summer: America, 1927 is the most amazing nonfiction book I’ve read in quite a while. It was  juicy and fun and a great way to learn history. Why can’t all history books be written this way? Highly recommended.

Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun

Evil Under the SunPublisher: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1941

Evil Under the Sun is one of Agatha Christie’s A-class novels. In my opinion. Its up there with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, Murder On the Orient Express and Body In the Library – all books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and rated A+.

Setting: The Jolly Roger, an exclusive island beach-resort off the southern coast of England. An isolated setting is a classic technique Ms. Christie has perfected. It means all the characters are gathered together with very few people who come and go. That’s a key factor.

Characters: Too many to be listed. The resort has attracted a good collection of upper class, mostly English guests who have come to rest and play in the sun. All the guests get to know each other quite well. However, two of them have come to know each other a little too well. There are two married couples. The husband of one couple is having an affair with the wife, a beautiful actress, of the other couple. In the midst of the gathering is Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective.

Plot Summary: The scandalous affair isn’t conducted in a discreet manner. The husband of the actress pretends not to notice, but the poor little schoolteacher wife of the cad of a husband is distraught and pitied by everyone. It doesn’t stop anyone from swimming or playing tennis or any of the other fun activities.

And then — the actress is found dead on the beach. Of course, all the main characters were either in plain sight of everyone else or otherwise accounted for. Also, no stranger came to or went from the island. It has to be one of them. I thought it was either the actress’s husband or the poor pitiful wife. The police think it could have been the actress’s step-daughter or possibly a former girlfriend of the husband. Fortunately, Hercule Poirot has been quietly observing everyone and everything. His little “grey cells”  have other ideas.

As usual, Agatha Christie gave us all sorts of clever clues that could have lead the reader in the same direction as Monsieur Poirot but, again, I did not pay attention. I was completely shocked by the conclusion. And, that’s why I love reading the Grande Dame.

Of course, I highly recommend this one to you, but I have a suggestion to make the experience even better. I first read the story on my kindle, but then I saw an audiobook of the story on Audible.com. It was only 2 hours and 17 minutes so I said, why not. It was a re-ensactment of the story done almost completely in dialogue. There were seven different actors playing the roles but it seemed like thirty. It was published by BBC Worldwide and definitely lives up to the BBC’s high standards. Check it out here: Evil Under the Sun