Thursday, 16 February 2017

Cheddar, Bacon and Broccoli Soup

I love a good soup or stoup (thick stewy soup).  They warm all your chilly bits and paired with some crusty bread and a salad make for a great meal for those frosty days.

After a recent jaunt to Costco where I bought a huge bag of broccoli I decided to make a soup featuring a veggie that will not only nourish my family but will, in fact, torment my children.  They go on roller coasters, walk close to ledges in nearby gorges and cliffs yet continue to be afraid of broccoli.  I know, right?  To offset their immediate protest I thought I'd distract them from the 'green trees of yick' with some cheese and bacon.  It's the bait and distract method of feeding children.

This is a cheesy, delicious and filling soup that is not only great the first time around but wonderful for leftovers.  It's filled with veggies, a generous amount of cheese and some bacon for that smokey flavah!  It's reminds me of a cross between my Creamy Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup and my Cheeseburger Soup



Inspired by: Mel's Kitchen Cafe's Loaded Broccoli Cheese and Bacon Soup


6 bacon strips

2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups of chicken broth
3 cups potatoes - peeled and diced small
1 small onion - diced
3/4 cup carrots - peeled and grated
3 cups broccoli - small florets

2 tbsp reserved bacon grease (or butter)
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
3 cups milk ( I used 1%)
2 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese - grated

In a deep frying pan (or saucepan), cook bacon and garlic until the bacon is fairly crispy.  Remove bacon strips to paper towel and crumble.  Set aside.

In a soup pot, combine the chicken broth, potatoes and onion.  Bring this mixture to a boil, lower heat and simmer for approximately 8 minutes until the potatoes start to become tender.  Add grated carrot and broccoli florets and mix well.  Cook for another 5 minutes.

Drain all but 2 tbsp of the bacon grease from the frying pan (or use another saucepan with 2 tbsp of butter).  Heat grease over medium heat; add flour and cook for 1 minute or until mixture becomes golden in colour.  Add salt, pepper and dry mustard.  Mix well.  Slowly add the milk as you mix with a whisk.  Continue to cook for approximately 8 minutes or until mixture thickens, ensuring that you stir often.

Add the Cheddar cheese to the milk mixture and stir until cheese is melted. Gradually add the cheese mixture to the broth/veggie mixture.  Stir until well combined.  Add reserved crumbled bacon (you can save some to garnish on top of each bowl).  Serve with a green salad and fresh bread.

Side Dishes that work well with this recipe:
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
Olive Garden-esque Garlicky Bread Sticks

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Author: Eric Lindstrom
Genre: Teen, Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
First Published: February 14, 2017
First Line: "My big brother Nolan, used to say everyone has a superpower."

Book Description from GoodReadsFor sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?


My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I feel so torn about this book.  I enjoyed some aspects and others I struggled with so much that I almost gave up on the whole thing. 

Unfortunately, I found the bulk of the story slow-going with the focus being on teenage angst, friendship and relationships vying for top billing instead of mental illness. It isn't until two-thirds of the way through the book (when I had almost given up) that I finally could sink my teeth into the story. It's at this point that Lindstrom gets to the heart of Mel's struggle with bipolar disorder and the results are vivid and emotional.  From the intensity of her feelings, to her loss of control, delusions and finally her breakdown readers will witness the heart-breaking struggle within Mel and the enormous stress she is under to keep it hidden from people around her.  

One of my issue with the book is that there was too much angst and not enough depth or character development. There is a mixed bag of secondary characters with the residents of the nursing home where Mel works being my favourites with their sass, personality and heart. Some of the teenagers by comparison (Declan and Holly, I'm looking at you) faded so much into the background that they were easily forgettable. 

The other issue I had was that there was too much telling and not enough showing. I wanted to witness the connection or disconnection between Annie, Connor, Zumi and Mel so I could better understand Mel's hesitation to inform her friends of her mental illness.  Similarly, the romance happened too quickly, felt forced and too good to be true considering all the issues and drama that occur in their brief relationship. Unfortunately, I just wasn't invested in these relationships.

Also, when it finally came down to the big reveal about the reason for the rift between Zumi, Connor and Mel, the result was disappointing for something that was alluded to many times. I would have preferred a more in-depth look at other relationships - namely, Mel's relationship with her brother.  Her bond with him underlies much of the book yet is barely talked about. Or even a look at Mel's mother and how she has handled having so much mental illness within her family. 

It sounds like I wasn't a fan of this book and for a chunk of it I wasn't. But I will take away a better understanding of bipolar disorder.  This went from a book I almost gave up on to one that became a decent read due to the vivid and honest look at Mel's illness and her heartbreaking struggle to be seen as 'normal'.  While this wasn't a home run for me I applaud the author for giving his readers a better insight into the mental health of teens. 

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 10 February 2017

I See You

Author: Clare Mackintosh
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 374
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: February 12, 2017

First Line: "The man behind me is standing close enough to moisten the skin on my neck with his breath."

Book Description from GoodReadsEvery morning and evening, Zoe Walker takes the same route to the train station, waits at a certain place on the platform, finds her favorite spot in the car, never suspecting that someone is watching her... 

It all starts with a classified ad. During her commute home one night, while glancing through her local paper, Zoe sees her own face staring back at her; a grainy photo along with a phone number and a listing for a website called FindTheOne.com. 

Other women begin appearing in the same ad, a different one every day, and Zoe realizes they've become the victims of increasingly violent crimes--including murder. With the help of a determined cop, she uncovers the ad's twisted purpose...A discovery that turns her paranoia into full-blown panic. Zoe is sure that someone close to her has set her up as the next target.

And now that man on the train--the one smiling at Zoe from across the car--could be more than just a friendly stranger. He could be someone who has deliberately chosen her and is ready to make his next move... 


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review:  The premise of I See You is not only intriguing but quite appropriate since we live in a society that is determined to monitor our movements more and more. The idea that someone could monitor your daily movements without your knowledge is ominous and intimidating.  Worse still is the idea that someone might act on that knowledge for nefarious reasons.  This whole 'I'm watching you' premise is creepy as all get out, will give you the heebie-jeebies and cause you to look at your fellow commuters with suspicion. Oh ya.  It's that good.

This was my first book by Mackintosh and I quite enjoyed this suspenseful read.  The tension builds throughout the book with many prospective culprits and mighty fine twists brought into the fray.  I kept changing my mind about 'whodunnit' and while I had initially guessed the baddie I quickly dismissed him/her only to find out that my initial assumptions were true ... sort of.

I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book but when the big reveal happened (or at least the first part of the reveal) the ensuing scene was lackluster and felt oddly tacked on. Things pick up again in the last few pages but that one scene slowed the momentum of the book for me.

The story is told via three points of view - Zoe, a middle-class Mom trying to make ends meet; Kelly, the police officer determined to find the person who is hunting these unsuspecting women and lastly, the mystery person/baddie whose short, italicized chapters are interspersed to keep the creep factor high. 

While those sinister tidbits are scattered throughout it was Kelly and Zoe who tell the story.  Kelly's chapters are told in the third person showing her as an impulsive yet feisty cop.  I found her to be a more interesting main character than Zoe (possibly because we have more back story on her).  Zoe's chapters are narrated in the first person which means readers get caught up in her inner thoughts - many of which I thought put her in an annoyingly naive/doormat light.  The other characters are not as fleshed out as I would have hoped but play their parts - some are likable and others you can't help but dislike.

Overall, this was a very impressive, edge-of-your-seat suspense novel and while there were a few minor issues, it was an enjoyably sinister read.  Mackintosh takes her readers on one heck of a creepy ride and will make you look over your shoulder for awhile after reading it.  

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Berkley Publishing for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Winter Sea

Author: Susanna Kearsley
Genre: Historical Fiction (Scotland), Canadian author
Type: Paperback
Pages: 521
Times Read: 2
Source: Personal copy
Publisher: Allison and Busby Limited
First Published: January 1, 2008
First Lines: "It wasn't chance.  There wasn't any part of it that happened just by chance."

Note: Also published under the title "Sophia's Secret"

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen novelist Carrie McClelland decides to set her new novel in Slains Castle in Scotland and uses her ancestor, Sophia Paterson, as one of the characters, the novel begins to take on a life of its own and Carrie soon realizes that an unusual bond with her ancestor may be providing her with an immediate window into the past.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: The description of this book is accurate but doesn't come close to describing the rich characters, Scottish history and atmosphere that Susanna Kearsley brings to her readers. This was my second time reading The Winter Sea.  The first time was many years ago, and while I didn't recall the plot I always had images in my mind from reading the book the first time around.  The sign of a good book.

Kearsley's writing is rich in detail creating a vivid atmosphere for her story to unfold.  The story is told via two narratives - Carrie in modern day and Sophia in the early 1700's during a lesser known Jacobite rebellion.  Their stories intertwine, with a little help from a fantastical element, and while they were both compelling I admit to preferring Sophia's story line more.  There are some twists thrown into the plot and the characters, generally speaking, are easy to root for making it easy to see why this book is a fan favourite.

For readers looking for a bodice-ripper type read this is not it.  While there are some intimate moments they are only hinted at leaving the ensuing passion to the readers' imaginations.  Instead more focus was on their relationships, the beautiful setting and the Jacobites attempt to return James to England's throne to replace his half-sister, Queen Anne.

For people, such as myself, who only have a basic knowledge of Scottish history do not fear.  Kearsley explains some of the Jacobite history without a huge info dump while still keeping in line with her story.  Readers will enjoy reading the appendix at the end of the book where Kearsley explains which characters and events within her book are based on historical fact. 

The only criticisms I have for the book is that the ending is wrapped up a little too neatly.  Sure, it's a nice way to end the story but a little too easy.  I know that some readers weren't fond of one of Sophia's decisions in the book (I wasn't happy reading it either) but, in the end, that was probably a more realistic decision based on how things were in the 18th century.

Overall, I'm happy I could delve back into this book.  This time around I got to read my personalized, signed copy and that made it even more special.  For fans of well-researched Historical Fiction with a solid nod to genealogy, who like a good love story (or two) set in the beauty that is Scotland then this is a book for you. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A Perilous Undertaking

Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: e-book
Series: #2 in the Veronica Speedwell series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
First Published: January 10, 2017
First Lines: London, September 1887 - "For the love of all that is holy, Veronica, the object is to maim or kill, not tickle", Stoker informed me, clipping the words sharply as he handed me the knife.  "Do it again."

Book Description from GoodReadsVeronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries... 

London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer. 

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime. 

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....


My Rating: 4.5 stars

My ReviewIf you're told the book you're about to read is a Victorian murder mystery featuring a lepidopterist (butterfly collector) and her best friend, a taxidermist, it may cause you to question if the book is right for you. But with Deanna Raybourn at the helm, you can put away your doubts because you know you're in for a good ride.  Her writing is some of the best that I've read and the breadth of her vocabulary is wonderfully challenging (thank goodness for my Kindle's dictionary feature) and adds so much to the personalities of her characters and the era in which they live.

I have read a couple of Deanna Raybourn's previous books in her Lady Julia Grey series and quite enjoyed them.  I associate Raybourn with memorable, witty and well-rounded characters and her compelling writing. The first book in her Lady Julia Grey series, Silent in the Grave, features one of my all-time favourite opening lines ... 


“To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. 
Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.”

A Perilous Undertaking, the second book featuring Veronica Speedwell, was the first book I've read in this newer series.  For new-to-Veronica readers, you needn't worry about falling behind in character relationships or the plot if you haven't, like me, read the first book in the series, A Curious Beginning. Raybourn gives enough details without divulging the plot lines from the first book yet doesn't leave her readers with that niggling feeling that they're missing something by not starting with the first book.

While the mystery itself had some good twists and kept me guessing, this book is much more of a character focused read.  Even secondary characters, namely spunky old Lady Wellington, add much to the plot and humour.  But it's the bond between Veronica and Stoker that really drew me into this book.  They have a deep connection to each other that is based in respect and love but is sprinkled liberally with witty banter and some delightful romantic tension. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  With it's stunning cover, humorous exchanges, solid historical mystery and colourful main characters this book has it all.

Recommended.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Basement Renovation - Part Ten - Trim and Doors and Tile, oh MY!

We are officially in the final lap of our 2-year basement renovation!

Over the past 27 months we have gone from digging a plumbing trench, to sound insulating, drywalling, painting, flooring and furniture buying etc.  It's been a labour of love but it was all worth it because now we have the space that we dreamed of. We opted to do a lot of the work on our own (because we like DIY and saving money).  But, we're also wiser now that we're firmly in our 40's. We know what we're good at, what we aren't and when to hire professional help. I'm talking about skilled tradesmen like drywallers, fine carpenters etc.  They have some seriously mad skills.

Door Frames, Doors and Trim
In this last push to finish the basement we brought in a local family-owned company to complete the baseboards and door casings, install the barn doors, install the tile backsplash in the bar and the stone around the fireplace.  

We were asked by some why we didn't just buy ready made doors and frames from Home Depot and hang them ourselves. Two reasons: A) since we went with the thicker 5/8-inch drywall we couldn't order standard door frames and B) we didn't want to.  Brad has been working 80+ hours/week for months and I didn't want him installing door frames instead of spending time relaxing or with the family.  So, we had our fine carpenter, Rich, custom make our door jambs and they look fab-u-lous! Who knew doors and door frames could make a girl swoon?

I'm also happy that I pushed for the five paneled doors. They are definitely more expensive than the typical builder six panel doors but they make a much bigger statement in the rooms and fit with the Craftsman style we were going for. We decided on simple black knobs and hinges that mimic the barn door hardware and the knobs on all the custom cabinetry for a nice cohesive look.  With the addition of the simple and taller Craftsman-style baseboard I think the trim, doors and hardware really add to the style of the overall space.



Rich the Carpenter also hung our barn doors into the Den - see below.  We - meaning moi - will need to paint the wooden board behind the track when we (again, I) paint the trim.  We love these doors and are happy we had the space to use them. All of the doors will be painted in the Spring when Brad can use our paint sprayer to paint those bad boys in the garage.  





Here's a look into the Den. It's a big room but furniture-wise it's a mish-mash of old IKEA office furniture and an old, nasty loveseat. Not the look we're eventually going for but for now it works.  I love the look of the double closet doors at the end of the room as well as all of the extra storage these closets provide.  The next step will be to get a new desk (and get rid of that old love seat).  Brad and I have plans for a double T-shaped desk for the den.  I have a few ideas up my sleeve so we may DIY it - stay tuned. 


Bar Seating
We love our new bar as a place to hang out, use for extra storage and house our extra fridge.  We didn't go with a sit up bar due to the amount of floor space they take up and the fact that guests would have their back to the main area.  Instead, we opted to build a wet bar and buy a rustic looking sofa table and a few bar stools.  We have two wooden stools with comfy padding and backs on them ...


as well as two stackable, metal, industrial-looking stools we can pull out for extra people since the table can seat four comfortably. 


The table has a rustic, thick wooden top and metal 'X' legs for that industrial feel we like. We use this table all ... the ... time. We love that it faces the TV and we still have lots of room to walk around it in the bar area.

The Bar Backsplash
To add some finishing touches to the bar I went with a simple white subway tile (with no bevel) and a medium gray grout. Brad was ready to lose his mind if I reminded him one more time to tell the contractor that I didn't want a beveled edge on the tile.  I'm not fond of a beveled edge on tile. 



I think the white tile brightens up and finishes off the space but the gray gives the tile a bit of pop too. The last step will be to put one (possibly two) rustic wooden shelves above the sink area to display a few bar items that I will neglect to dust regularly.




The Fireplace Stonework
Last but certainly not least we added stone to the front of our fireplace.  Not one, not two but at least three people assumed that the stone board that we had on the fireplace for the past year was the finish we were going for.  Um, no.  Just no!  It had gaps and screws in it, people!  We are slow and picky, not lacking in style!



Ok, so admittedly it took us a loooong time to find stone that we liked.  Some were too dark, others were too sparkly and many just didn't wow me.  We had this unfinished fireplace for over a year.  Maybe that's why they assumed it was the style we were going for. Yikes.  

I knew I wanted a stone with lighter background with bits of gray and hints of browns in it.  And we finally found it!  



The tradesmen who installed it did a fantastic job and ended up cutting every piece except for one due to the shape of the space.  We appreciate their hard work and know it would have taken us many more hours and possibly the cost of a divorce lawyer.  Now that it's finished it's become a great focal point of the room.  Sometimes it pays to be patient ... and picky.




A little bit of stone, a little wood, a little white, a little dark.  It all works well together.

So that's where we stand with the final steps for our basement transformation. In my final basement renovation post I'll be showing you before and after pictures of the entire space.  Such a transformation - from dark basement to a fabulous, cozy family space.


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Crooked Kingdom

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Teen
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 540
Series: #2 in the Six of Crows duology
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
First Published: September 20, 2017
First Line: "Retvenko leaned against the bar and tucked his nose into his dirty shot glass."

Book Description from GoodReadsKaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

My Rating: 2 stars

My Review: I enjoyed the first book in this duology, Six of Crows.  It had action, a little romance, a big heist and some unforgettable characters with witty banter t'boot. Unfortunately, Crooked Kingdom didn't match up.  

Not even close.

Slow, Scattered Pacing and Lack of Direction
I am in the vast minority with my feelings.  So many people loved this book so I was surprised at how much I struggled to stay with it.  It has the same group of characters (who continue to have some great lines) but it was loooong with barely any plot direction and poor pacing. You'd have moments where the story plodded along and then Bardugo would throw in an amazing, tension filled scene and I'd think "OK, this is where things pick up!!" ... only for the pace to drop back down to snail level for another bout of overly descriptive telling.  This 'up and down' momentum continued for the entire book which was the exact opposite of Six of Crows with its plot and awesome suspense scenes.  

This book should have been whittled down considerably because the plot got lost in the unnecessary details.  I had to push myself to finish it. It felt scattered, with no direction, or more precisely too many directions because the plot kept jumping around to various smaller plots which, in the end, really didn't get much closure anyway!  These smaller plot ideas are barely tethered together, have rough transitions between them and Bardugo didn't give her readers enough time to be invested in any of them.

Weak Character Development
In Six of Crows we're introduced to a strong, varied cast of characters but their unique issues are lost in this book.  First, Kaz was a perpetual jerk and he had only one weakness: his relationship with Inej.  He was too good to be true since almost everything he did worked out, always keeping him a few steps ahead of his nemesis' plans.  That's hard to believe and boring to read. 

I enjoyed the tension and 'star-crossed lovers' vibe between Nina and Matthias in Six of Crows but in this book, that tension is non-existent.  Their relationship was a huge let down and one scene in particular felt like Bardugo added it merely to shock her readers and jump start their interest in her dwindling plot.

I think the characters deserved a better ending.  They were so strong and unique in the first book but the lack of character development and definitive plot in Crooked Kingdom killed this book for me.  This book can be summed up in the following words: underwhelming, scattered, unresolved.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Master Bedroom Reveal

Our master bedroom is finally done! We've had three houses in our almost 20 years of marriage but there was always some other room that had to be done first. Our bedroom wasn't a romantic retreat so much as a place where outdated furniture went to die.  Old bookcase. Check.  Old pine furniture set?  Check.  Old desk?  Yup. It had an Ode to University days mishmash feel to it.

There was one snafu (which I'll get to) but otherwise we are very happy with our new and much improved Master bedroom.  

When last I blogged about our Master boudoir we had just finished installing the paneled wall.  There was a lot of planning and prep involved, it took many evenings to install but wasn't an overly hard project.  To get Brad fully on board with my vision of paneling I promised to paint the paneled wall myself.  And I did.

I spent an entire Friday painting the 27 'boxes' on the wall.  We still had our TV in the bedroom so I put on movies that I loved but already seen for some background noise. Movies like Nottinghill, The Breakfast Club and Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.  I will admit that I was surprised at how long it took to prime the MDF paneling and then give the entire wall two coats of paint.  Time estimating time is my Achilles heel.  Just ask Brad.

Choosing Paint
First things, first.  I had to choose the paint.  I scoured various paint sites, Pinterest etc to find the right colours for the room.  We ended up going back to Benjamin Moore (our basement was done entirely in Sherwin Williams).  We like both paint companies equally - their quality of paint, low to no VOC paints but without one of SW's big sales, BM is easier on the wallet. 

I had a general idea of what I wanted for style and colours for the room.  We had new bedding for inspiration that I had bought from Bouclair months ago in the hopes of getting a new bedroom set.  It's the Adnan set and not only was it on sale but I loved the colours and pattern. 



In the end, we went with the following Benjamin Moore colours ...



We used Revere Pewter (one of their most popular neutral colours) for three of the walls, Chelsea Gray on the paneled wall and we'd accent (with curtains, pillows etc) with a yellow similar to Chestertown Buff.

Prepping the Wall

Now that we had the paneling on the wall ...



... our next job was to fill in the nail holes, dings in the wall, edges where the planks meet the outer walls and seams where the horizontal boards met up with the vertical boards.  This is SO much fun (said nobody ever). This is the crappy work that no one praises you for but must be done. I knew that I didn't want to use wood filler again because when we used it on our large DIY planked wall in the basement it was dry, crumbly and not fun to use.  Instead we went with a spackling compound that we picked up at Home Depot ...



Yes, it's a Pepto-Bismol pink!  This compound went on easily with a small spackling knife. It goes on pink and when it dries to white you know it's ready to paint.  Our MDF planks were tight against the wall so we didn't spackle around the inside of each square. Thank goodness!



Painting
Now the wall was ready to paint so the first thing I did was prime all the MDF and any knicks in the wall that we had filled with spackle. Fun times.



The next step was to add some Chelsea Gray paint.  This is my favourite part.  It's the big 'Voila!' step!  I edged the panels twice ... 



... and then rolled within each square and on the MDF planks twice.  It took longer than I had expected but I love the result. It's exactly as I had pictured it.





Furniture
After 19 years of wedded bliss we got rid of our pine bedroom set and bought something much more suited to our current tastes.  The pine set was okay and what we could afford when we first got married but our styles have changed so we went with a black, clean lined king-sized set.  KING, baby!!

We bought it at a local, family owned furniture store.  It's from Vaughn-Bassett and called Reflections in Ebony. The bed (the Mansions Storage Bed), and the set in general, gives us much more storage space. The bed has two very deep drawers at the very end, we each have a huge side table and our own dresser (the TV will be mounted on the wall above my long dresser at some point).



Even Scout, our mini Schnoodle (pictured here in his Napping Old Dog yoga pose), agrees with our choices. 



Lamps
We bought side table lamps from Costco ...



I liked how the base wasn't chunky and let the paneled wall show through more. Simple, functional, a great price for the pair and they fit with the style we were going for.

Curtains
We ended up finding curtains at The Bay. I had been checking for curtains online and in stores for awhile.  No one had what I wanted. I found some options at Wayfair but didn't know anyone who had used that site and wanted to be able to physically take them back to a store if I didn't like them.

I ended up ordering SEVEN pairs of curtains during a sale at thebay.com. I immediately loved two pairs (the other pairs I returned to our local Bay store).  



I'm a very visual person and wanted to make sure that I loved my choices so we put up the new rod and both sets of curtains to see which we liked best ...



I loved both!!  The yellow set (Exclusively Home - Neptune Sundress) brings out the yellow in the duvet cover and gives the room a pop of colour.  But I equally like the curtains with the gray medallions (Exclusively Home - Sedgewick).  I got them for 50% off so I kept both and figured we can swap them out when the mood strikes me.  The window is eight feet wide so these panels will just stay at the edges to look nice, not to cover the entire window.

Here's the snafu I spoke of at the beginning of the post -- the yellow curtains were really wrinkled so we (self-proclaimed Type A peeps) followed the washing instructions to the tee and hung them to dry.  When I heard Brad utter "Oh sh... shucky darn!" (perhaps it was a stronger sentiment) I looked and saw that the curtains were now 7 1/2-inches shorter.  What in the name of all that is good and holy!?!?  I was not happy and called The Bay -- they were willing to exchange them since they had shrunk so badly even after following the instructions but they had no more stock. Just ... my ... luck.

So either I keep them or return them and have no curtains. I sent pictures to my two sisters and friend Allison for advice. I was immediately asked by my sisters how many people traipse through our boudoir on any given day to make this an issue. Huh. Don't beat around the bush, sistas!  Their point?  If it's only Brad and I that are usually in the room and we love the curtains then keep them.  All three of my Phone-A-Friends agreed - so the curtains were a little (lot) short and looked like 'floods' pants but they would be tucked behind Brad's bedside table and his tall dresser and I loved them, right?  So, in the end, we kept them and I'm still working on being okay with the shorter look that no one will notice but me.

So that's where our most recent renovation/revamp is at.  We are thrilled with the results.  We just need to get a bit of wall art, perhaps a comfy reading chair for moi and mount the TV on the wall above my big dresser.  Oh and repaint our ensuite - but I won't spring that one on Brad yet. We adore the new furniture (which, being dark, I've come to believe is a dust magnet) and we are very proud of the vast changes we made on the walls simply with some MDF and paint.

FYI - Our huge basement renovation is also done (if you don't count the fact that we have to paint the baseboards, trim and new five-panel doors).  I'll be posting the final pictures of that renovation soonish.  Stay tuned.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Study in Charlotte

Author: Brittany Cavallaro
Genre: Suspense, Teen
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 320
Source: Local Public Library
Series: #1 in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (a Harper Collins imprint)
First Published: March 1, 2016
First Line: "The first time I met her was at the tail end of one of those endless weekday nights you could only have at a school like Sherringford."

Book Description from GoodReads: The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.


My Rating: 2.5 stars

My ReviewA Study in Charlotte follows Charlotte Holmes and James Watson, descendants of the famous detective duo Sherlock and Watson, at a boarding school in Connecticut. This was an interesting premise and, honestly, the reason I picked up this book at my local library.  Charlotte and Jamie find themselves in the thick of a few crimes that mimic the famous mysteries that their great-great-great grandfathers solved 'back in the day'.  While it had a good premise, an interesting twist with Charlotte being a teenage girl and a decent (if a bit befuddled) mystery, there were some inconsistencies/issues that bothered me. 

First, Charlotte felt too similar to the original Sherlock. Just because she's (distantly) related to Sherlock, does that necessarily mean that she must be brilliant, socially unaware and an egocentric jerk most of the time?  I was hoping she'd have her own unique elements - perhaps a more human, softer side so readers can relate to her.  But she didn't have a uniqueness to her apart from the characteristics people relate with Sherlock, nor did she have the depth of character that he possessed. She was Sherlock 2.0 and I was hoping for a bit more.

Watson, on the other hand, came off as a wienie. Sure, he was funny at times but he was like a lost puppy blindly following Sherlock around waiting for moments to admire her (which often had a creepy vibe).  I just couldn't understand why he was so into her when she was perpetually in a bad mood, rude, mean, insensitive, brash, egocentric .... the list goes on and yet there is Watson just beggin' for her attention.  And don't get me started on the unnecessary romance angle.

This book addresses many serious issues - murder, date rape and a lot of drug use. These issues played a bigger role in the plot than I was expecting and I wasn't comfortable with Charlotte's drug use or the lack of explanation for it.  But, more importantly, I was shocked and very disappointed with how the date rape was handled in the story.  More specifically, not handled.  For a book whose audience is mainly teens I think the author missed a very important opportunity to address this serious subject.  




*** Spoiler Alert ***

Most of the people at her school think the rape was Charlotte's fault so Charlotte keeps this information to herself.  She doesn't want to reveal the attack to her family for fear of being another disappointment to her famous family. The reader must assume that Charlotte is totally alone in her torment because the rape is barely acknowledge for the vast majority of the book. I just don't understand, besides being a plot device, why the date rape was included.  I could see a person such as Holmes burying her feelings and memories of the rape but the reader never gets to see her deal with it. We only see it through Watson's eyes and that just seemed wrong.


*** End of Spoiler ***


While this book had a great premise it just wasn't the book for me.  I found the mysteries to be predictable and disjointed in their telling and I was left struggling to stay interested in the characters and plot which was much darker than I had expected. Perhaps true Sherlockians will enjoy this but I'll be taking a pass on the next book in this trilogy.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

A Quiet Kind of Thunder

Author: Sara Barnard
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Teen
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Publishers Group Canada - MacMillan Children's Books
First Published: January 12, 2017
First Line: "Millie Gerdavey cheated on her boyfriend again."

Book Description from GoodReadsSteffi doesn't talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can't hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn't a lightning strike, it's the rumbling roll of thunder.


Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. 

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a teen romance between a Deaf boy and a girl who has Selective Mutism.  As a former Sign Language Interpreter, the addition of the Deaf character was the reason I picked up this book in the first place.  Unfortunately, the book is only told from Steffi's point of view so we don't get a great representation of Rhys, the Deaf teen.  

Steffi suffers from anxiety and Selective Mutism - a debilitating condition where she is unable to speak in social settings. But, over the course of the book, it didn't seem like her mutism effected her daily life as much I would have expected.  There were a few instances where she was unable to speak to people but, for the most part, she seemed to be able to overcome her social anxiety and mutism without much trepidation.  Steffi's behaviour could be explained by medication and therapy - I just thought there would be more issues surrounding her condition.  With Selective Mutism being new to me I wasn't sure if this was an accurate portrayal.  

This was a slowly paced story about a sweet teen relationship but I was expecting their communication issues, social anxiety and Deaf culture to play bigger roles in the plot. Instead the focus was on the teen romance which had that sweet, first love feel to it.  Ah, l'amour! That said, I felt their connection developed too fast with their bond having an Insta-Love vibe to it.  And while I applaud the author for including BSL (British Sign Language) into her book I felt that Steffi picked up BSL unbelievably easily - we're talking about a whole new language. 

This book addresses several relevant issues - mental health, teen sexual health, first love and a strong nod to relationships with parents and best friends.  I liked seeing the different ways in which Steffi and Rhys' families dealt with issues surrounding Deafness and Selective Mutism as well as Steffi's relationship with Tem, her BFF.  These secondary relationships were well drawn and added diversity to the cast.

Overall, this was a decent, slow burn kind of read which gives readers a general idea about being Deaf in a mainly hearing world as well as what it's like for someone living with Selective Mutism and social anxiety.  I think other readers (who have more romantic souls) will enjoy this book more than I did.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to MacMillan's Children's Books at NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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