Ms. Margie

Dull, uninspired writing about things no one cares about. Stephanie Meyer could write better crap. Fortunately, I don't have cats, so I'll never write about them.

Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein Like Lightreads, I'm having trouble reviewing this because my reaction to it so visceral that I almost can't talk about it. I keep looking at the book lying on my nightstand and want to pick it up again so that I can crawl back in and rewind it. I miss being part of the story. It hurts almost as much as reading it hurt.

In my opinion it's ultimately about friendship. It's also about bravery and resistance and WWII and strong women and lots of other things. It's achingly moving.

'Kay, done. Just read it. It's marketed as YA, but like much good YA, it's written so well that it's completely engaging and real and appealing (though that's not really the right word) to adults.

I moved it up in my to-read list because of Lightreads' review, but Nancy is the one who gave me the book. Thank you, Sister.
Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" - Leigh Crutchley, Margaret Powell I'm almost tempted to call this a quick read, but that would be misleading. It is indeed a short book, readable almost in one sitting. And the author's voice often comes across as a bit breezy. But it's not a 'lite' book.

Margaret Powell went into service as a kitchen maid at the age of 14. She eventually moved up to the position of cook. Her description of what goes on downstairs isn't particularly revelatory, but her discussion of the attitudes of her fellow servants toward their work is really interesting. She was a keen social observer and feminist. She was also well-read and eventually took university-level courses when her children were grown. So her voice in her memoir is both working class and well-informed.

I really enjoyed reading this. Not because of the description of her work while she was in service, but because she wrote an intimate portrait of her life and struggles.
The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith Whatever she calls herself, Rowling is a brilliant author.

This mystery is an insightful character study, and an interesting addition to her body of work. Reading it made me appreciate the nuances of characterization she employed in the Harry Potter series.

Although there's a murder/suicide mystery as the backbone of the book, the most interesting part is the characters. She definitely seems to be setting up a series (hooray!), in that the characters seem to have a lot of backstory available. We know that she had well-developed backstories for the characters in the Harry Potter series, and that same attention comes through in this book.

I'm looking forward to the next book about our detective Cormoran Strike.
The Redeemer - Jo Nesbo At first I thought this was my least favorite of the Harry Hole series. Then I realized just how brilliant Nesbo's character studies are. He builds such complex stories around characters that we don't even get to know much. Which leads to a point I need to make - this particular book in the series works best if you know some of the characters already. If you read it as part of the through-story it's brilliant, but might be confusing if you pick it up as a one off.

The book starts slowly, and the Redeemer is distant and hard to understand. It builds and gets terrifically interesting toward the end.

I'm going to continue picking these books up as they become available to me, but this book especially made me want to read them all in order.
Sexually, I'm More of a Switzerland: More Personal Ads from the London Review of Books - David  Rose These are marvelous. Best loo reading ever.

If you have an appreciation for British humor, these lonely hearts adverts will have you laughing. A lot.
The Children's Blizzard - David Laskin When I lived in Nebraska, we always heard about the brave young teacher who saved her students by tying them together as they walked to safety. We also heard about the people who froze to death while trying to find their way from their barn to the house, just 50 yards away.

White-out conditions can mean not being able to see your hand in front of your face. This storm hit on a balmy day with such suddenness and fury that people who were outside couldn't find their way in. People who were already inside froze to death after burning all their wood, furniture, and anything else that would burn.

The storm was horrific.

[a:David Laskin|92055|David Laskin|]has written a book which captures the terror and fury of the storm, but also gives us the information necessary to understand what happened and how it happened. He skillfully blends the stories of students, teachers, farmers, and mothers at home with (or without) their children, with clear explanations of the atmospheric causes of the storm. He also interweaves the story of the weather forecasters. I use the term 'forecasters' cautiously. At that time, they didn't forecast so much as report what they called 'indications'. They were essentially taking reports from a variety of stations, mapping the data, comparing it to what had happened over the past six hours, and then making an estimate of the weather trends.

The freak atmospheric conditions that created the blizzard could not have been anticipated with the state of understanding of weather during that period. And given the technology of the time, warnings could not have gone out to the general public in time to do anything. It was a complete tragedy.

I highly recommend this book. It's a chilling account (no pun intended) of a freak storm and the lives it ruined.
Waste Land: The Savage Odyssey of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate - Mike Newton Living in Nebraska from the late 70s through the early 90s, I heard about Charles Starkweather periodically, but never learned anything about him or the murders. I had no idea, for example, how young he and Caril Ann Fugate were at the time (Caril Ann was 14!).

This book draws on a lot of the previous literature about Starkweather and Fugate. Newton seems to do a good job of sifting through the various sources. Of course, it's difficult to know where bias comes in when writing a book where the guilt or innocence of real people is in question. Newton clearly believes that both of them were guilty. It'll be interesting to read [b:Pro Bono The 18year defense of Caril Ann Fugate|16160379|Pro Bono The 18year defense of Caril Ann Fugate|Jeff McArthur||21759678] to compare his outlook to that of Caril Ann's defense lawyer.

It's a difficult read, not because Newton gives a ghoulish, graphic description of the murders, but because Starkweather was so clearly a psychopath and Caril Ann very much a liar. Their indifference to the murders they committed was horrifying.

Very well written, but will probably only appeal to a select group.
What We Talk about When We Talk about God - Rob Bell Rob Bell is enthusiastic, funny, forward-thinking, and generally a right on kinda guy. He has a lot of interesting, hope-filled things to say. I like his message.

A little disappointed with the book because after a while it felt as though he was padding - going over the same bits too much. He had lots of good points, but it was a little hard to find them. I found myself skimming in order to not get bogged down. He struck me as very earnest; the message came across that he really, really, really wants to explain this wonderful thing about God, and is willing to go to great lengths to explain what he means but gets so caught up in the wonderfulness of his ideas that he gets a bit lost but it's all good because everything is just so exciting and tremendous...and rather exhausting.

I have to admit that I was hoping for something like what I hope [b:Fluent in Faith: A Unitarian Universalist Embrace of Religious Language|15847206|Fluent in Faith A Unitarian Universalist Embrace of Religious Language|Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar||21591787] will be. I'm hoping that it's about how to talk across religions about what we believe. Rob Bell remains firmly in the Christian tradition. A lot of what he writes has to do with Jesus and the resurrection. The book might have been more accurately titled, "What Christians Talk About When We Talk about God."

Last thing. Never, ever, ever print a book in a sans-serif font. Never.
A Thousand Mornings - Mary Oliver This book makes me want to add a shelf for "beautiful, luminous, loved it."

Oliver writes so plainly, drawing us in and commenting simply and beautifully on experiences. I've been reading the poems at breakfast, which is the perfect time to read them. Not all of the poems are about mornings, but they're refreshing, and a good start to the day.
My Antonia - Willa Cather Did you know that in parts of Nebraska, you can still see the Oregon Trail? Not the highway that goes along the route of the trail, but the actual wagon wheel ruts. I foresee a day in which people forget what they are, and are puzzled by them. I thought about the wagon wheel ruts while I was reading this, wondering if the day is coming (soon) when people will forget what it means for hired men to "work out" or to be "batching it."

The history Cather gives us here is so part and parcel of Nebraska that it's hard to separate the story from the land, which is exactly the wonder of this novel.

The first time I read this, I thought it was quite evocative. Now that I've lived in California for 20 years, I find it heart-wrenchingly evocative. It is simply written, and gorgeous in a sweltering, dusty, frozen, windy way that perhaps only Nebraskans, Dakotans, and Utahans will understand.

The book is a masterpiece.
From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking - Denise Dreher, Randall W. Scholes, Randall Scholes, Beth Sanders, Gerry Zeck What a great find! A very useful book.

If you've never followed a pattern or tried to figure one out using techniques not described in the Big 4 pattern instructions, you will find the book frustratingly vague. It does not walk one through a single project.

However, it has a plethora of information and useful tips that will be invaluable to the costumer or sewer who wants to improve her millinery skills.

There are a few basic patterns in the back for representative hats from various time periods (one each male and female for Ancient Egypt, Ancient Mesopotamian, Early Gothic, etc.), but if you're looking for something specific, you won't find it here.

I highly recommend this book.
The 21-Day Yoga Body: A Metabolic Makeover and Life-Styling Manual to Get You Fit, Fierce, and Fabulous in Just 3 Weeks - Sadie Nardini Won it in a giveaway, but never received it.

Amazon listing says it won't be released until November 5, 2013.
How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read - Pierre Bayard This lovely, philosophical book reminded me a lot of some of [a:Alain de Botton|13199|Alain de Botton|]’s books. Light and engaging, but deeply philosophical as well. Bayard proposes many instances in which we talk about books we haven’t read. He does so while examining human behavior and books as transactional relationships.

Whilst reading, I thought a great deal about [a:James Frey|822|James Frey|]’s book [b:A Million Little Pieces|1241|A Million Little Pieces|James Frey||3140930]. My friend Sara recommended it to me – she may have even loaned me a copy. We talked about it before I read it. She was excited about it. I had heard a lot of buzz, but hadn’t read it yet. But we were able to have a conversation about the book I hadn’t read, based on my impressions of it and Sara’s excitement about it. It was published eight years ago. At this point I’ve forgotten most of it. But Sara and I could still talk about the book, even though we may have forgotten most of it. The things we remember about it will be different, and will have been bent, or glossed, by our personal experience of reading it. Perhaps we enjoyed certain parts, or questioned certain parts – those reactions will color our memories. The conversation would be interesting, based on our fragmented memories of the book.

I could talk to my friend Mark about the book. I don’t think he’s read it. Yet he and I could talk about it based on both my reading (and forgetting) the book, and his awareness of the book and the scandal surrounding it. We could talk about the scandal, about the value of the book on its own merits versus the misrepresentation of the book as truly autobiographical.

Mary Jo and I could have a different conversation about the book. I don’t think she’s read it either. Her participation in the discussion might be colored by being an English Lit major, or by her impression of me as an avid reader, or by other books she’s read which are autobiographical or about recovering addicts. We might discuss how the book is similar to, or different from, books we’ve both read. Thus we would base our conversation not on the book itself, but on our relationship to each other and to the canon of ‘books we’ve both read.’

All of these types of conversations are opportunities, according to Bayard, to talk about books we haven’t read. They are valuable; they give us opportunities to relate to one another, to learn more about the books we’ve read, and about books others have read. I enjoyed his thinking about these opportunities, and enjoyed his writing style. I recommend the book.
Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed - Glennon Melton One of the things that I appreciate most about this book is that it makes me think a lot. About what a book is versus a blog, about whether or not I agree with Glennon, and about whether or not I like her.

Overall, I like her, I like what she has to say, and if we consider this a collection of short pieces of writing, it works as a book. It works especially well if the book reader is not a regular reader of Glennon's blog, Momastery. And of course, as a collection of short pieces of writing, this is best consumed in small chunks over the course of time.

Glennon writes well. She writes about being a mom, a wife, a sister, and most of all, a person who struggles. She shares what is at once a very positive and also very realistic, acknowledging-the-hardness viewpoint. I can definitely appreciate her outlook, even though I'm no longer the mother of a small child, and am neither a wife nor a Christian. A good deal of what she writes is applicable to most of us, whether we struggle with the same issues she does or not. It seems rather wonderful that she can write about her very personal, specific issues, and yet make them so accessible.

So this is a pretty glowing review so far. There are certainly areas in which the book will disappoint some readers. She's Christian, and might alienate some people. But she tends to write more about struggling with faith than about things specific to Christianity, so to me it's sort of a 50-50 chance that you'll hate it. Take it for what it is, or leave it.

She's also primarily a blogger. Again, it's best to take these pieces in small chunks. My final thought on possible drawbacks is that Glennon can be a bit high maintenance, but without the personal insight and humor that someone like Jenny Lawson - The Bloggess brings to her writing about herself. She has lots of good points, but some readers might be a bit turned off.

I'm going to recommend reading this one with an open mind, and taking from it what works for you.
Phantom - Don Bartlett, Jo Nesbo, Jo Nesbo My love affair with Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series continues.

I found this book to be compulsively readable. By which I mean that I had insomnia and finished it in one night. But even if not for the insomnia, I would have wanted to have stayed up reading.

I can't say much about this particular entry in the series without giving too much away. I'll just say that if you're thinking about plunging into the series, for the love of god don't start with this one. Read at least three others first.
Those Elegant Decorums: The Concept of Propriety in Jane Austen's Novels - Jane Nardin One of these days I'm going to disagree with one of Elizabeth's reviews and write something scathing about her.

This is not one of those days, nor one of those books. I am absolutely in love with this book. It makes me want to re-read all of Austen, and then re-read Nardin's book again.

Usually lit crit makes me think and consider and perhaps ponder. But to make me want to jump up and re-read all of Austen before I do anything else (such as cooking dinner) is unheard of. This book did it, though.

Nardin's take on Austen is (to me at least) fresh and exciting. She's the only writer who has made me seriously reconsider Persuasion, for which I give her high marks.

For a wonderfully complete review of the book, read Elizabeth's. In this case (as in so many far), she's right on.

As an aside, Nardin writes using the generic "he". It results in some stunningly difficult sentences. "...Only if the individual concerned is obeying the rules for the right moral reasons - and not merely, like Lady Middleton, because he wishes to appear well-bred, or from habit." She's writing about Lady Middleton, but uses "he" to refer to "the individual". Sad, really.

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