Monday, 27 August 2012

Buffet DIY - From Knotty to Sassy

About a year ago my good friends Beth and Chris posted on Facebook that they had an IKEA buffet that they were giving away.  Not one to pass up an opportunity I said I'd love to take it off their hands.   I had wanted a sofa table for behind our loveseat in our family room but a buffet would be even better since I could use it for extra storage.  The buffet looks onto our kitchen so it's a perfect spot to house napkins, placemats, cameras and our much used board games.

Now, I have nothing against knotty pine -- it's just not my thang and doesn't really 'go' with the other furniture/woods in my house.  Since this buffet was free I decided to throw my Type A/'what-if-I-screw-it-up?' mentality out the window and paint this puppy up!  Armed with only the advice of my Benjamin Moore dealer, my inability to judge how long tasks truly take and some free time while the kids were in school and Brad was in Romania on business I went to town on this buffet. 

I am truly thankful that I consulted my BM dealer before I began.  Apparently since this piece has oodles of knots in the pine I couldn't just use my regular Bullseye Primer.  It had to be a special primer otherwise the knots would suck up the paint differently and I'd have a blotchy buffet.  Huh.  This special primer, BIN 2,  is still my beloved Zinsser Bullseye but it also has shellac in it.  It worked wonderfully to give the piece a very consistent look and making the knots a thing of the past.  It's smelly as all get out but if you paint your piece in an area with good air flow you'll be fine.

Now, while I was hanging with my paint peeps I also picked up a very sassy 'Rapture' red (CC-66) in their Aura line of paints.  See, if I was going to put a lot of time into painting this piece I wanted a great quality paint and a colour that would stand out in my very beige and brown family room/kitchen.  With hints of green and red throughout the family room already I thought a big pop of colour is just what the room needed to bring it up a notch.  Was I a little scared of painting something a deep red?  You bet your sweet bippy I was but I got over my worrisome self, put my big girl panties on, picked up a brush and opened my can of primer! 

Note: This is me at my most bad ass.

You may notice in the picture below that I have an elastic band over the top of my primer can.  I gleaned this little tip from Pinterest (ie. crack for moms).  While it was very useful to remove the excess paint from my brush while I was painting, getting the elastic off the can without splattering paint on my person was a whole other story.  Needless to say I removed it out on the lawn ... and proceeded to splatter my legs in little bits of white shellac-laden paint.  Nice.  Live and learn.

Now that I have my paint and supplies ready I needed to get a place set up where I could paint in peace.  You know, some place professional to go in line with my mad, mad painting talent.

Ya, it's just my garage but it worked well.  Above is my set up with some old blankets as drop cloths and some food bins and cardboard boxes to set my doors upon.  Painting is nothing if not glamorous.

Things quickly changed with my set up.  With the serious heat wave that hit us there was no way that I could successfully (or without losing my mind) paint in my garage in the heat.  Therefore I moved my painting project into the kitchen.  Nothing makes Brad get that 'what were you thinking?' face happier than seeing me paint something red on our kitchen table while being distracted while I watch TV -- which is why I did this while he was in Romania.  The picture above shows the doors on my kitchen table with one coat of red.  Not bad but the brush strokes were pretty apparent.

After another coat of paint the cabinet and all its parts were looking mighty fine (but I did end up doing another coat because my Type A personality couldn't let go of the fact that I could see a few brush strokes still).

By this time the allure of painting a piece of furniture and making it my own was wearing off a bit.  I had been painting daily for about an hour and a half each time.  I was hot, my back hurt and I just wanted all my crap beloved things that I had taken out of said buffet to be put back into it and not remain in a pile in my kitchen.  The honeymoon with painting was over and I was in the home stretch.  Let's get 'er done!

I pulled a little more patience out of my back pocket and finished it up.  Once I was done the buffet, in all its various pieces, sat in my garage for 3 weeks so the paint could fully cure.  Because paint doesn't dry, people, it cures.  Brad says so.  During this curing process no one was to touch it, sneeze near it or even look at it wrong.  This paint was going to cure good and long so I wouldn't get any dings or scratches easily into my finished piece. 

This is the little piece of info people forget to tell you.  Don't go slapping on layer after layer of paint then expect to use it as soon as it's dry to the touch.  It ain't ready!  Let it sit a few weeks if possible and you won't regret it.  After those weeks of curing Brad and I put it all together, added my loverly black metal knobs and voila!  It's done!  My buffet has a big old make-over and I love it. 

And now ... the big reveal.  Drum roll please .....

A little red will bring out the sassy side of anything, right? 
Here's the before and after.  What do you think?
I have linked this project to the following blogs:
Our Delightful Home  Making
Sumo's Sweet Stuff Photobucket

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Ultimate Chicken Marinade

I'm not sure about you but I cannot believe that we have less than two weeks before the kids go back to school.  Usually by this time of year my kids are starting to get on each other's last frayed nerve and I'm ready for them to hit the books again and get out of my hair for a bit each day.  For some reason this summer is different.   Maybe it's because this seems to be the fastest summer EVER!  Maybe it's because I'm afraid it's the last summer I may be able to have off with my kids.  Or perhaps it's because we're packing in as much fun as we can into this summer which is making it fly by. 
See, at the beginning of the summer our family sat down and brainstormed a list of things that we wanted to do, visit, eat etc.  We called it our Family Summer Bucket List.  This list included things like going on hikes (check), going to Great Wolf Lodge (check), getting ice cream at a local organic dairy (check), going to the drive-in (check) and hitting the beach (check!), hitting the all-you-can-eat fish and chips at a local restaurant (hopefully next week), going to Wonderland (hopefully soon) .... 
So far, we're doing pretty well on our list of fun things to do and even added an impromptu trip to Niagara Falls this week.   Can I just say that I adore doing last minute day trips with my family?!?  Who doesn't love a nice drive with coffees in hand to get to a new place to explore, have supper out with no normal everyday things to distract us from just spending time together??  It's truly blissful for me to have my family all to myself!
One of the things in Niagara Falls that we loved was visiting some of the local tacky touristy attractions like Ripley's 'Believe It Or Not' and all the funky stuff that entails.  Below are some pics from one of our favourite stops.  You can see Oprah and I chatting about books and HP and I posing for the camera in Louis Tussaud's Wax Museum.  Our family had a blast taking various shots with (wax) celebrities.
Anyway, due to the fact that we're focusing on doing all things fun this summer I really haven't had the urge to try new recipes this summer.  Or maybe it's the heat.  Who knows why I've lost my cooking mojo?  Luckily, this week I had the sudden urge to try something new.  With Brad and Boy 1 back from a week long canoe/portaging trip in the wilds north of ... Kingston, Ontario I wanted to feed my menfolk something hearty and full o'love after their fun but exhausting week away.  Boring old BBQ'd chicken wouldn't do though.  I needed to jazz it up with a marinade and boy oh boy this was a great addition to regular old chicken breasts.  Slightly sweet from brown sugar, tangy from the balsamic and the distinct flavour of the sesame oil this makes a truly wonderful addition to my marinade repertoire.
I'm hoping that you've all had a wonderful summer!  What are some of the things that you've done this summer? Leave me a comment below.  I'm always on the lookout for cool things to do with the family!
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup grapeseed or olive oil
2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients until the sugar dissolves. 
Place chicken in a large Ziploc bag.  Pour marinade over chicken and marinate for 4 hours.  If possible, flip chicken half way through the marinating time to ensure that the marinade coats the chicken.
Grill chicken over medium heat until internal temperature reaches 165F (74C) and the juices run clear.  Serve immediately.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Castaways

Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Genre: Light Read, Modern Fiction
Type: 400
First Published: June 2010
First Line: "Because the accident occurred out on the water and not on the land that fell under his jurisdiction, it was unusual that the Chief was the first one to find out."

Synopsis: Tess and Greg MacAvoy live on Nantucket with their seven year old twins, Chloe and Finn.  On the surface life seems great for the couple as they approach their wedding anniversary but cracks have started to show in their marriage.  To get back on track the couple decides to sail away for the weekend to reconnect with each other.

Unfortunately their sail ends tragically leaving Chloe and Finn orphans.  The three couples that are Tess and Greg's closest friends are given the task of picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the accident.  As they grieve for their friends shocking secrets and betrayals are revealed.

My ThoughtsI've seen many books by this author (and have even been gifted a few of her books) but I've yet to actually read any of her work until recently.  I picked up this book because it received some pretty high ratings from readers.  Unfortunately, this book didn't impress me at all and left me wondering why my take on the book was so different from other readers.

I picked up this book hoping for a great summer/beach read.  Nothing too heavy.  A little murder mystery/tear jerker which includes seeing how the friends band together to help raise the two orphaned children.  Unfortunately what I got was a convoluted storyline that didn't seem to go anywhere.  This book was filled with six (clichéd) main characters who had secrets (very similar secrets at that) which weren't even all that interesting and only helped to make it harder to keep track of who was married to who.

One of the main issues that I had with this book is the excessive character building.  It's great to give the reader a little background of the characters so that they seem more realistic and relatable.  The problem here is that it is done ad nauseum.  Each of the six main characters shares their history which really bogged down the momentum of the storyline and took the focus away from, what I thought was, the main issue -- the death of the two friends and helping raise their twins.

Also, using the six point-of-views of the main characters to tell the story really hindered the mystery aspect.  If the reader knows what everyone is thinking it makes for not only a confusing read but how can the reader be surprised at the ending?  Why does the reader need to be inside each character's head? 

Random Question to Self: Why, oh why, have I been selecting so many books lately that have multiple POVs?!?

This book had a very Melrose Place vibe to it.  For a group of supposedly close knit friends they sure did have a lot of backstabbing and secrets from each other.   Maybe that's why I didn't feel like I connected with any of the characters.  I just didn't like or care for any of them and for the amount of back stories we were given on each character you'd think that that would help endear at least one to me.  Sadly, no.

Ok, so one couple is killed and leaves two small children behind.  Heart breaking, right?  What's even more sad is the fact that these poor orphaned children (as well as the other couples' kids) were left on their own by these 'seemingly' good parents.  The older children took up the childrearing reigns and got the job done while the parents were immersed in their lies and deceit.  It just made the adults look juvenile and didn't endear them to me at all.

Finally, there was also so much foreshadowing that there was literally no 'ta-da' moment at the end of this 'mystery'. It just kind of sputtered out at the end leaving me feeling a little jilted out of a good read.

NoteI'm starting to think that I'm becoming a little jaded when it comes to reading 'fun, light reads'.  After reading so MANY books over the years I think that my standard of a 'good read' has increased dramatically. I have no issues with a light read but it still has to have substance and keep my interest.

Would I recommend this book?  Only if you're a castaway on a deserted island and this is the only book available.

My Rating: 1/5 stars

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Second Empress

Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction (France)
Type: Kindle Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Publication Date: August 14, 2012
First Line: "Cairo, July 25, 1798 -- You will see in the newspapers the result of our battles and the conquest of Egypt, where we found resistance enough to add a leaf to the laurels of this army."

Synopsis: The terror of the French Revolution is still fresh in the minds and hearts of France when Napoleon is at his peak of power in the late 1800's.  A ruthless and powerful ruler Napoleon is feared by many but there is one thing that Napoleon still needs.  An heir.

After Josephine's downfall Napoleon is focused more than ever on having a legitimate heir for his empire.  He casts aside Josephine and sets his sights on eighteen year old Maria-Lucia, the daughter of the Austrian king and the great-niece of the infamous Marie Antoinette.  Maria-Lucia has lived a quiet, idyllic life with her family.  She is well educated and spends her time painting and looking forward to marrying than man she loves. 

She is therefore shocked when Napoleon 'honours' her by requesting her hand in marriage.  Maria-Lucia has a wonderful life in Austria but to ensure her family and country's safety in these tumultuous times she decides to do her duty and marry the ruthless, power hungry leader.  

When she arrives in France, Marie-Louise (as she is now called) is shocked at the decadence of the French court and the rancorous personality of her new husband.  Despite her fears she is adamant that she will be a good wife despite her husband's flamboyant and ruthless reputation.  

She quickly learns that she has enemies in the French court, namely the women who dominate her new husband's life - his former wife and true love, Josephine and Napoleon's sisters Caroline and Pauline.  Pauline has a very peculiar relationship with her brother and is fiercely loyal to him.  She has always pictured ruling Egypt alongside her powerful brother just as the ancient pharaohs once did and doesn't take kindly to Marie-Louise's interruption in her plans.

As Napoleon's need for power reasserts itself war is on the horizon again and this time it threatens Marie-Louise's homeland and family.  She decides to use the power that she has been given and takes matters into her own hands to ensure the safety of those she loves.

My ThoughtsI know I've said it before but Michelle Moran continues to be one of my favourite historical fiction authors.  So it should come as no surprise that I was more than thrilled (I 'may' have done a happy dance) when I was given an ARC to review for this upcoming book.  

Although "The Second Empress" feels a little lighter in detail and length than her previous works I had no trouble delving into the lives of this very famous and highly dysfunctional family.  Once again Ms Moran provides her readers with a riveting fact-based historical read that was hard to put down. 

Although this is a historical read it is not weighted down with too much detail and tended to be very character driven.  The main character, Marie-Louise is a dignified, brave and sympathetic main character who you can't help but like.  Here's this young girl who has her life planned out and is looking forward to a quiet life with the man she loves. Suddenly this infamous tyrant comes into her life who basically only wants to rent out her uterus. Their wedding is done by proxy (ahhh, l'amour) and Mary-Louise's life is thrown off course. 

Marie-Louise is a total contrast to the conniving Pauline Bonaparte who would give everything (yes, everything) she has to be in Marie-Louise's shoes.  She is a vile woman whose obsession with her own brother and increasing the Bonaparte family's power knows no end. 

Napoleon is portrayed as I've always pictured him - a power hungry, egotistical and temperamental {little} man who is out to prove himself.  He's prone to embarrassing the women in his life, he's difficult to please and with his mercurial disposition no one knows what he'll do next.  Yet, Moran delves even further into his personality quirks giving me a much better picture of him as a person.  Yes, he's all those things that I just described but you also see a more human/weak side to him as well. 

Here's a guy who is hopelessly in love with Josephine yet cannot be with her if he wants an heir.  We also get a glimpse of his fear and weakness which intrigued me.  He's a ruthless military dynamo who is not as brave as you'd think and is so in fear of those around him not being true to him.  He NEEDED to be the foremost thought in his family and followers' lives -- even Josephine whom he cast off.  He is this powerful man who is so obsessed and overly attached to the main women in his life that it's almost sad.  I was almost to the point of having the teensiest bit of sympathy for the wee man.  Almost.

While I realize that this book focuses more in the relationships of the Bonaparte family I would have loved to see more of his strategic military thinking and to see how and why so many people followed Napoleon.  What was his true motivation for conquering everything in his path?  How did he become so twisted and power hungry?

There are many characters in this book but the reader is told the story using the points of view of three people -- Marie-Louise, Pauline Bonaparte and Pauline's Haitian chamberlain, Paul.  I think that giving the story three viewpoints helped me better understand the storyline but unfortunately I didn't feel like I got to know Pauline or Marie-Louise as well as I would have hoped.  Paul gave an interesting point of view especially since he's torn between his love for Pauline and his growing compassion for Marie-Louise but I never really took to him.  I had a hard time believing that power hungry Napoleon took the time to ask the advice of a 'lowly' servant.  Plus, I don't think it helped that I just never saw what he saw in Pauline.

Overall, this was a fairly quick, yet engaging character-driven read that kept me interested the entire way through the craziness that is the Bonaparte family.  As someone who knew little of Napoleon I found it easy to follow along (and learn a bit in the process) with the general storyline.  While it is a shorter book than I'm used to from this author it did give me a good insight into that era.

If you haven't picked up a book by Ms Moran before I highly recommend "Nefertiti".  Also, as a little background French Revolution history lesson I'd suggest reading "Madame Tussaud" by this author.  It's not necessary but that era is referred to in this story so having that information in the back of my mind helped me understand the terror that influenced France's history.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Michelle Moran and Crown Publishing Group for providing me with this Advanced Reading Copy for my honest review.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

My 3rd Bloggaversary & Salted Caramel Almond Pretzel Bark

Note : Due to the unexplained (and extremely irritating) fact that my computer came down with a scortching case of the dreaded "Blue Screen of Death" last week I have been unable to blog.  A blogger without her blog is like a cupcake without icing, like a library with no books, like Ryan Reynolds without his pecs.  You get the picture.  It ain't pretty. 

Currently my beloved laptop is on life support and its prognosis doesn't look good I'm afraid.  Due to this rather large hiccup I've had to curtail my blogging efforts which also include celebrating my third bloggaversay.   Thanks to my kids for letting me use their dilapitated laptop (what kind of parents give such a piece of crap to their kids?!?) in order for their dear ol' mom to share a recipe with her peeps that our family truly enjoyed.  Below is the post that I had planned for August 9th.  Sadly, the picture that I took of this recipe will have to be added at a later date.  You'll have to trust me that this treat looks wicked awesome!!

Without further adieu, my 'better late than never' blog post ...

Happy third bloggaversary to me!!  I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that I've been blogging for three whole years.  Who knew that I had that much to say?  Ok, truth be told, the people who know and love me realize that I do like to talk ... a lot.  But when I look at my stats and realize that I've posted 691 times about my blathering, opinions, reviews and recipes I'm still a little gobsmacked.

In order to celebrate this accomplishment I decided to share a truly delicious and really easy treat.  I'm talking 'my-thighs-ain't-gonna-love-me-tomorrow' it's so easy to make.  If you can spread, melt and break something you've got this recipe in the bag!

This is one of those recipes that feeds the sweet-salty beast that dwells within me.  This treat balances the sweetness of the caramel and chocolate with the saltiness of the pretzels and the sea salt lightly sprinkled on top!  Oh m'gravy it is good.  It's one of those treats where you keep telling yourself that you'll just eat that little piece that seems all on its own in the pan.  Then you see another all by itself and another until all of a sudden you have three kids who have snuck up on you and caught you redhanded schnorffing down the new treat that they were told they had to wait for.  Um, this image is totally hypothetical. :s

So, if you're looking for a treat that is quick, tasty and a crowd pleaser give this a try.  You can easily accomodate allergies by adding or removing various add-ins.  For those with peanut allergies try Blue Diamond Almonds as a safe tree nut option.

Also, if you're thinking that you should have given me a bloggaversay gift do I have an idea for you!  I'd really love it if you'd spread the word about my wee blog.  Have you liked me on Facebook?  Have you signed up for the email feed (so you're the first to know when I have a new blog post?  And don't forget to leave me a comment so I don't feel like I'm just talking to myself here in Blogland!!  No one likes to talk to themselves, right?  All of the various Facebook/email etc info is in the upper left corner of the blog.

Here's to another three years of my incessant blathering!!  I hope you enjoy this treat!

Salted Caramel Almond Pretzel Bark
Inspired by: Southern Hospitality

250g bag of pretzel sticks (enough to cover one layer on a jelly roll pan)
1 1/4 cups almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
sea salt

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  Spread pretzels and almond pieces onto the pan in a single layer.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and brown sugar, stirring occasionally.  Bring this mixture to a boil.  Once this mixture begins to boil allow it to continue boiling for 3 minutes without stirring.  It'll bubble up quite a bit.  Do not fear.  You are witnessing the birth of caramel!

Carefully pour the hot caramel back and forth over the pretzels and almonds in the prepared pan.  Don't worry if you have a few bare spots lacking in caramel.  It'll work itself out in the oven.  Pop this into the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the caramel/pretzel/almond mixture.  After a few minutes spread the chocolate evenly over the top of the bark using a spatula.  Sparsely sprinkle with sea salt.  You just want a hint of salty.  Place the pan into the fridge to help the chocolate harden a bit (30 minutes).  Break into bark pieces. 

Store extras in a sealed container in the fridge (preferrably behind the broccoli where your loved ones won't think to look so you can nibble at this at your leisure!).

Note:  I plan on trying this treat using Craisins in the mix as well.  The list of options is really endless.  Even some Teddy Grams would be a good add in.

Monday, 6 August 2012

No Substitute for Murder

Author: Carolyn J Rose
Genre: Mystery
Type: Kindle ebook
First Published: January 2012
First Line: "The problem with getting your life back on track is that there's usually another catastrophe hurtling down the rails to knock you off again."

Synopsis:  Barbara Reed has hit a major slump in her life.  Recently divorced and out of a job she's hoping that something good will be on the horizon.  Unfortunately it doesn't seem like Barbara's life is on an upward swing yet.  Her con-man/philandering ex-husband has decided to move into the same apartment complex and her unemployment cheques are about to run out.  Desperate to make some money to make ends meet she decides to take a job as a substitute teacher at the local high school.

Barbara is worried about dealing with hundreds of teenagers each day but that is the least of her problems.  Her stress level skyrockets when she finds the stodgy old history teacher, Henry Stoddard, strangled in his classroom.  Henry was a mean spirited old curmudgeon who had blackmail material on most of the staff.  Unfortunately, since Barbara was the person to find the body people assume the worst of the new supply teacher.  Barbara vows to clear her name but with the police suspicious of her already Barbara needs to work fast.

My Thoughts:  This was one of those books that received very favourable reviews in the Kindle store so I took a chance and bought it eager to find a new mystery writer/series.  Unfortunately I disagree with the numerous 5 star ratings and, quite honestly, I'm confused by them.  In my humble opinion, this book was not at a 5 star level for various reasons.

First of all, if the dog in the book has a huge roll and more of a personality than the human characters you know you're in trouble.  Cheese Puff the dog got a lot of page time in this book.  While he may be cute he should have been off on the sidelines more so the mystery could be showcased.  I think the author was going for cutsie/quirky but I was hoping for a lot more suspense and less cutsie canine.

The other characters, with the exception of quirky neighbour Mrs Ballentyne, were all one-dimensional and very blaw.  No one really stood out and they all started to blend together.  This was proven when I kept getting various teachers that Barbara works with mixed up. 

Mrs Ballentyne, while more of a well-rounded character, still wasn't as interesting as she could have been.  Her nefarious past and connections were hinted at but not used to benefit the story as much as I would have hoped or expected.

But I think it's Barbara's relationship with her sister that bothered me the most.  I find it very off putting when a main character has the backbone of a squished slug.  She's the family doormat and allows her sister to steam roll over her.  I just don't like reading about someone taking verbal abuse/bullying and not standing up for themselves.  It just doesn't appeal to me.  Also, the sister didn't add anything to the overall storyline so I'm not sure why she had to be added.

As for the mystery part of the story?  It was very slow and never really felt like it had any oomph from the get go.  The suspense was nonexistent since there were no cool twists or shockers thrown in to shake things up.  Even the conclusion of the mystery wasn't a surprise.  Not the sign of a good mystery.

Finally, at the beginning of each chapter there was a quiz about substitute teaching.  Perhaps if I was a substitute teacher I'd appreciate those quizzes but after the first few chapters they just got annoying and I skipped them.

Unfortunately this mystery didn't pan out as well as I had hoped.  The writing style was decent but the suspense and memorable characters just weren't there.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Before I Fall

Author: Lauren Oliver
Type: ebook from library
Genre: Young Adult
First Published: 2010
First Line: "They say before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that's not how it happened for me."

Synopsis: Samantha Kingston thinks that she's living the perfect teenage life.  Not only is she very popular but she's dating the guy everyone adores, hangs around with the ultra popular clique and has a bright future ahead of her.  All in all, she has no regrets and can only see a bright future ahead of her.

Everything changes on the evening of February 12th.  That night, Sam and her friends go to a house party and are involved in an accident on the way home.  Sam dies.  Sam awakens the next morning only to find out that it's February 12th -- again.  Sam relives her final day over and over and initially doesn't understand why she's caught in a "Groundhog Day" repetition.  Slowly Sam gains more insight into her life and how some of her choices as well as how she treats others need to change.

My Thoughts:  I want to start this review by saying that I have heard about author Lauren Oliver for quite some time now but, for some reason or other, haven't picked up one of her books until recently.  "Before I Fall" was Oliver's first book and I have to admit that I was impressed by it.  It's kind of a cross between the movies "Groundhog Day" (remember that movie with Bill Murray?) and "Mean Girls".

Oliver starts off with a fairly typical high school scene but she inserts such an interesting premise that I was hooked pretty early on.  This repetition of the same day could have easily gotten bogged down and boring each time Sam had to relive her day but Oliver managed to keep me interested. At first the changes in Sam were very small but slowly she gains a different perspective on her life and doesn't like what she sees. It's that evolution and Sam's self-realization that kept me turning pages.

I really didn't like Sam (or her popular cronies) very much at all in the beginning of the book.  They showcased all the callous, mean spirited behaviour that I hate.  Ever so slowly, as Sam begins her self discovery, I began to like her more and more.  Especially once Sam realizes just how much she's allowed herself to be influenced by others which resulted in losing who she really was in the process.  Sam's changes are done in a realistic way and aren't rushed to get to the desired effect.   She sees how every little choice - whether it's stealing a parking space from another student, to making a rude comment to another student, to deciding to go to a certain party, can have a ripple effect and change events.  

Sam transforms from this fairly clueless and shallow young woman to slowly seeing where she has gone wrong in her life. It's like she's finally opening her eyes to how empty her life was before the accident.  During this transformation Sam goes through several emotions during the seven repetitive days. It's these emotions ranging from anger, denial, sadness, resignation to finally acceptance and a willingness and desire to change that made her transformation fairly realistic.  That said, I don't think Sam's motives for her change were altruistic.  She never really owned up to all of the 'bad' things that she did to others or allowed her friends to get away with. Most of the time her motives to change were fueled by her need to impress a nice guy. An ok start for change I suppose but it took more priority than I was hoping initially. Is that perhaps more realistic for a teen?  Who knows.  I'm just an 'old' Mom of three. ;)

While I did like Sam as the main character, her BFFs (ie the Mean Girls) were good enough to hate.  They were spiteful, self-obsessed girls whose goal was to be the centre of the high school social scene no matter the cost to the 'peons' around them.  That's not to say that they were totally clichéd.  Each had her own good points and bad points or at least you can see why they are the way they are. It was hard to hate even the meanest 'Mean Girl' once you saw a glimpse into her life.  These girls didn't evolve as much as Sam but they also weren't given seven re-dos to get it right either.   They also helped to show just how far Sam has come in her transformation.

I suppose I'm lucky in that I don't remember high school being quite so ruthless.   There were cliques, of course, but I never really saw the brutal bullying that was portrayed in this book.  Can I get a hallelujah!?!  Sadly, high school nowadays is a totally different affair.  If this book realistically portrays the current climate of high school we are in a very sad state of affairs.  I guess what shocked me the most was how much power and control Sam and her friends had over other students and even staff.  I was more than a little shocked at how everyone (teens and teachers alike) let these popular teens get away with horrible behaviour just because they were popular.

I think that Oliver has successfully given a realistic 'teen voice' to this book. She shows the cruelty that can sometimes occur (ok, often times) in high school. She focuses on the issue of bullying, teen sex, drinking etc in a believable and realistic way.  While I didn't love the ending I still really enjoyed this book.  If nothing else hopefully this will change how some people view their actions and the consequences of those actions on others.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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