Friday, 29 April 2016

Fever at Dawn

Author: Peter Gardos
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Paperback
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Publisher: House of Anansi
First Published: April 30, 2016
First Line: "My father Miklós, sailed to Sweden on a rainy summer's day three weeks after the Second World War ended."

Book Description from GoodReads: Twenty-five-year-old Holocaust survivor Miklós is being shipped from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to Gotland, Sweden, to receive treatment at the Larbro Hospital. Here he is sentenced to death again: he is diagnosed with tuberculosis and his doctors inform him that he has six months to live. But Miklós decides to wage war on his own fate: he writes 117 letters to 117 Hungarian girls, all of whom are being treated in the Swedish camps, with the aim of eventually choosing a wife from among them.

Two hundred kilometres away, in another Swedish rehabilitation camp, nineteen-year-old Lili receives Miklós’s letter. Since she is bedridden for three weeks due to a serious kidney problem, out of boredom — and curiosity — she decides to write back.

The slightly formal exchange of letters becomes increasingly intimate. When the two finally manage to meet, they fall in love and are determined to marry, despite the odds that are against them.

Based on the original letters written by Miklós and Lili (ninety-six altogether), Fever at Dawn is a tale of passion, striving, and betrayal; true and false friendships; doubt and faith; and the redeeming power of love.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

My Review: This short book details what life was like for two Holocaust survivors who have been sent to Sweden after the end of WWII.  It is a fictionalized story about the author's own parents and how they fell in love. 

Reviewing a memoir is hard because you're dealing with people's lives and memories.  While I found the premise of this book interesting and a lovely tribute to the author's parents, I had a few issues with the book that don't deal with the story as much as the delivery. 

First, the writing itself was quite simple and while I liked that there were snippets of real letters interspersed throughout the book giving it authenticity, they were added in odd spots which gave the book a choppy feel. There were also some instances where the author changed the narrative from an omniscient narrator (usually with Lili or Miklós as the subject) to the author referring to Miklós as 'my father'.  Perhaps we can chalk it up to translation issues but I found it confusing at times. 

Living in such circumstances after surviving a horrific war would have been an emotional and hectic time but that energy and emotion was lacking in this book. Several issues were touched on but not dealt with in enough depth for me to get engaged with the characters.  For example, the dialogue between Lili and Miklós was sweet but lackluster - not a relationship that 'becomes increasingly intimate' as the book description suggests.  The feelings between the couple were only touched on (and had a more desperate feel than love) and their brief times together didn't help to solidify their relationship to me.  

This book had promise but overall it fell flat for me. While Fever at Dawn lacks emotion and tension it is a quiet memoir and a nice way for the author to preserve and honour a part of his parents' history. 

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to House of Anansi for providing me with a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Where The Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find her Again

Author: Kimberly Williams-Paisley
Genre: Non-Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Crown Archetype
First Published: April 5, 2016
First Line: "Disease, by definition, alights on an individual."

Book Description from GoodReads: Many know Kimberly Williams-Paisley as the bride in the popular Steve Martin remakes of the Father of the Bride movies, the calculating Peggy Kenter on Nashville, or the wife of country music artist, Brad Paisley. But behind the scenes, Kim was dealing with a tragic secret: her mother, Linda, was suffering from a rare form of dementia that slowly crippled her ability to talk, write and eventually recognize people in her own family.
Where the Light Gets In tells the full story of Linda’s illness—called primary progressive aphasia—from her early-onset diagnosis at the age of 62 through the present day. Kim draws a candid picture of the ways her family reacted for better and worse, and how she, her father and two siblings educated themselves, tried to let go of shame and secrecy, made mistakes, and found unexpected humor and grace in the midst of suffering.
Ultimately the bonds of family were strengthened, and Kim learned ways to love and accept the woman her mother became. With a moving foreword by actor and advocate Michael J. Fox, Where the Light Gets In is a heartwarming tribute to the often fragile yet unbreakable relationships we have with our mothers.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: Anyone who has had a family member suffer the effects of dementia or Alzheimer's knows what an all-encompassing and devastating disease they are and how they can affect not only the person afflicted with the disease but their loved ones as well.
As someone who has lost both grandmothers to Alzheimer's I know that it's a very hard and emotional road.

In this book Williams-Paisley brings her readers into her personal life and her mother's struggles with PPA (Primary Progressive Aphasia) - a rare form of dementia. You immediately get the feel that Williams-Paisley is a down-to-earth person who brings her readers into very personal moments in her life - especially her sometimes strained yet resilient relationship with her mother.  Williams-Paisley's writing is relatable and approachable which enabled me to easily empathize with some of her struggles. You quickly forget that she's on TV, in movies and married to a famous country singer.  In the end she's just a woman struggling to hold onto her mother while juggling commitments to her father, siblings, work and her own young family.

If I could give one criticism it would be that I wish Kim's mother and father were able to share their thoughts about the disease and how it changed their lives and relationship.  I realize that, at the time of Williams-Paisley was writing the book her mother may not have been able to share her experiences, but getting a glimpse into her own personal feelings would have been a great addition.  Her father, Gurney's denial of Linda's illness and her need for more care (and his need for more help) was very hard to read but his unquestionable love and respect for his wife was always clear to readers.  I have the utmost of respect for Williams-Paisley and her siblings for not allowing Linda's PPA totally overshadow their father's future happiness.  It would have been a very hard thing to experience for these siblings but in the end shows yet another struggle that some spouses and children of dementia patients must face.

If I could give two words to describe this book they would be: emotional and candid.  I appreciated that Williams-Paisley never sugar coats anything.  She's honest about her feelings, actions, struggles and her relationship with her mother before and after the diagnosis. Williams-Paisley shows how her thought processes and feelings changed once she started to look at not what her mother and the rest of the family were losing but instead focus on all the things they could still enjoy and gain from each other.  It's a simple shift in thinking yet sometimes quite a difficult transition to make.  Once they were able to experience that revelation was the Williams' family able to finally let the 'light get in' and take all they could from each experience with Linda.

Note: A touching foreword by Michael J Fox - fellow actor and health advocate - is the icing on the cake for this read.


Monday, 25 April 2016

Creamy Chick-Fil-A Coleslaw

As Spring slowly and stubbornly makes her way to us we here in the Baking Bookworm household have been hankering for summery foods - burgers from the grill, corn-on-the-cob and homemade coleslaw. 

Mmm, coleslaw.  That creamy side dish that's perfect to go alongside sausage on a bun, pulled pork or burgers.  But please don't confuse it with the coleslaw that some restaurants slap on your plate as a 'garnish' to your main course. I'm talking about the kind of coleslaw that is deliciously creamy with a hint of sweetness that you order, eagerly scoop up and ask for more.  That's what this recipe is all about.

This recipe comes from the American restaurant franchise, Chick-Fil-A.  Admittedly I have never been to this fast-food restaurant but apparently they made a wicked good coleslaw which they have recently discontinued.  To appease the masses they have shared their coleslaw recipe which I thought was rather cool of them.

This is a super easy and oh so quick side dish to whip up.  I've made it twice in the last week.  Yup, we like it.  It can feed a small group (just half the recipe) or can easily be doubled (or more) for a large crowed. This recipe will be making a few appearances this summer on our patio.  Enjoy! 

Also in picture: Pulled Pork Sandwiches and
Spicy Potato Wedges

1 cup mayonnaise
4 tsp white vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp dried mustard (I increased this to 1/2 tsp)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 bags (14oz) each shredded cole slaw mix

Yield: 6-8 servings

In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, mustard and salt.  Mix well.

Add coleslaw mix to a large bowl and remove any large chunks. Pour mayonnaise mixture over cole slaw and mix until well combined. 
Note: The mixture looks a little dry when you've first mixed it.  It comes out well after sitting but if you prefer a saucier coleslaw then try increasing the sauce ingredients by fifty percent.  I tried doubling the sauce the first time and it resulted it way too much liquid.

Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight - this will help the flavours to blend.  Keep refrigerated in a sealed container.  Stir well before serving.

Inspired byChick-fil-A

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Genre: Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Large Print Paperback
Pages: 656
Source: Random House Publishing
Publisher: Random House Large Print
First Published: April 19, 2016
First Line: "Well before his arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife."

Book Description from This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: Going into this review I feel the need to admit that after two attempts in the past I have yet to read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice the whole way through (I think I've gotten half way through twice).  Shameless, I know.  So I'm going into Eligible with a faint knowledge of the Bennett family and their story which, of course, includes the desire for Mrs Bennett to marry off her five daughters and the contentious and often complex relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Armed with a bit of background on the Bennett family I was ready to see how this modern version would stack up.  Sittenfeld has written a very engaging book featuring this famous clan and has transported them from early 19th century England to a modern Cincinnati in 2013, modernizing their story lines accordingly with great success.

We're still dealing with Mrs Bennett obsessing over the fact that her five daughters have yet to marry but Sittenfeld has thrown in some modern issues as well including: reproductive freedom, love, secrets, racism, homophobia, feminism, sexuality, LGBT and gender identity.  These were a lot of issues within one book but overall I think it worked. Sittenfeld also features story lines involving modern realities such as Reality TV dating shows, paleo diets, Crossfit, reproductive options and all sorts of modern and technological innovations of which modern readers can relate.

Humorous retorts add much levity throughout the book, most of which stem from Mr Bennett's muttering as well as some atrocious behaviour from Lydia and Kitty, the free-loading twenty-something sisters.  Mrs Bennett's blatant racism and tunnel vision when it comes to her daughters' lack of nuptials was a little over the top and even grating at times.  Her comments and behaviours were nothing if not predictable (and oh so very snooty and bigoted).

There are a lot of characters in this book but Sittenfeld manages to give them quite distinctive personalities which make it easy for the reader to remember them.  But it is Lizzie who is the heart of the book.  She's likeable, makes mistakes and has nothing but good intentions for her family members. Lizzie's biggest role is that of 'family fixer' as she tries to help everyone get along and succeed which is admirable (and necessary when you look at the rest of her family) but this aspect became a little annoying to me as I felt she went from 'fixer' to 'doormat' fairly quickly with certain people.

Fitzwilliam Darcy and Lizzie's connection was good but I guess I was expecting a little more. They are drawn to each other yet often don't get along and misunderstandings between them abound.  One such misunderstanding Lizzie has about Darcy feelings for her fell a little flat for me especially when a simple text could have cleared things up.

This is a light-hearted read but also deals with many modern issues with knowledge and sensitivity.  The Bennetts aren't your typical family and most are quite annoying or downright offensive but they're a hoot to read about. I liked going into this book a little blind to the plot of the original story yet having an idea about the characters personalities.  Since I haven't read the original all the way through I cannot comment on how this book relates to Austen's book but I will say that I enjoyed this read on its own merit. Perhaps Sittenfeld has put a fire under me to finally try to read Pride and Prejudice from beginning to end.  The third time may be the charm.

Don't let the size of this book scare you away.  With its very brief chapters (some spanning only a few paragraphs) Eligible was an enjoyably quick read. This is a witty, cheeky beach read that you'll devour in a flash.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Sister Dear

Author: Laura McNeill
Genre: Suspense
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Published: April 19, 2016
First Line: "In her final minutes as an inmate at Arrendale State Prison, Allie Marshall's body pulsed with tension."

Book Description from GoodReads: All Allie Marshall wants is a fresh start. But when dark secrets refuse to stay buried, will her chance at a new life be shattered forever?

Convicted of a crime she didn't commit, Allie watched a decade of her life vanish; time that can never be recovered. Now, out on parole, Allie is determined to clear her name, rebuild her life, and reconnect with the daughter she barely knows.

But Allie's return home shatters the quaint, coastal community of Brunswick, Georgia. Even her own daughter Caroline, now a teenager, bristles at Allie's claims of innocence. Refusing defeat, a stronger, smarter Allie launches a battle for the truth, digging deeply into the past even if it threatens her parole status, personal safety, and the already-fragile bond with family.

As her commitment to finding the truth intensifies, what Allie ultimately uncovers is far worse than she imagined. Her own sister has been hiding a dark secret; one that holds the key to Allie's freedom.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: This book is about secrets, lies, deep rooted jealousy, betrayal and forgiveness.  At the heart of the book is Allie, a mother who was convicted of a crime she swears she never committed.  After ten years in jail she has returned to her small town in order to pick up the pieces of her life and to reconnect with her now 15 year old daughter.  As Allie tries to get back into her former life the reader gets a better understanding of what life is like for someone who is released from jail and goes back to their small town.  Allie struggles to fit back into her former life with family, friends and work.  Things don't go smoothly and Allie quickly vows to find the real culprit of the crime for which she was blamed.  This is where the action happens.

The story is told via flashbacks from 2006 to the current 2016 using a few different characters - Allie, Emma, Caroline and Sheriff Gaines.  Seeing the story pieced together via their points of view was a good way for McNeill to slowly divulge her plot to the reader as she provides several viable options for the real culprit.  I found myself questioning my guess of 'whodunnit' for the first half of the book.  After that I guessed the culprit but the rest of the book was still enjoyable with some edge of your seat action thrown in to increase the energy level.

This book, I will admit, took me a little while to get into.  The premise was good, there were some decent twists but I never felt really connected to the characters.  Some characters felt a little over the top with the reasons for their actions not feeling quite warranted enough.  There was one character that stood out for me and I enjoyed seeing my view of her change over time as I learned more about her and her truly devious and twisted side. 

Overall, this was an impressive and engaging book where secrets and deception abound.  With the addition of multiple red herrings and some action I found this to be an entertaining read.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary ebook copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 18 April 2016

The A to Z of Normal

Author: Helen Barbour
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: E-book
Source: from author
Publisher: Silverwood Books
First Published: June 15, 2015
First Line: "We arrived home before our guests."

Book Description from GoodReads: Clare Thorpe’s need for order and symmetry governs everything she owns – from tins and toiletries, to cushions and clothes.
Yet she has always managed to hide the compulsions dominating her world. Until now.
When long-distance boyfriend Tom proposes, her secret life begins to unravel. How can she share a future with the man she loves, if she can’t even share her space?
And when the only way forward brings a threat greater than any compulsive behaviour, do they have a future together at all?

A poignant and humorous story of love, family, secrets…and military precision.  

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review:  This book was an interesting and compassionate look into OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and how it affects the life of Clare, a young woman who comes from a dysfunctional family.  The author shows how Clare's OCD, which focuses on symmetry and order, influence her personal space and ultimately her social and love life.

Clare is the heart of the story which focuses on her relationships with her boyfriend Tom (which was sweet), Michael - a man from her support group and her extended family. After becoming engaged to Tom, Clare is forced to confront how her OCD is affecting her relationships and how it could affect her future with Tom.  But it was her relationships with her father and overbearing sister that helped me to get a look at perhaps how and why Clare came to develop OCD as well as some issues her family members also suffer from which stem from the loss of Clare's mother.

Barbour gives the reader a personal look into the life of someone who lives with this mental illness.  The reader really gets inside Clare's head - her frustrations, her compulsions, her desperate need for order.  I appreciated that the author wrote Clare's character as someone functioning in her daily life with OCD.  She could be anyone you know because her OCD was manageable within her work/social life or at least not to the extent of the stereotypical view of OCD that is often portrayed on TV.  And while co-workers may not notice her OCD tendencies it's obvious that it influenced many aspects of Clare's life.

Clare was an easy to like protagonist.  She's sweet and you want to root for her but sometimes her decisions, for a woman of her age, felt too juvenile and impulsive.  I kept wondering why Clare didn't want to share her OCD diagnosis and daily struggle with the man she planned to marry.  I found a few of her relationships frustrating to read - namely with Michael and also her very dysfunctional relationships with her father and sister with whom Clare always either felt ignored or like the family doormat.  Though these scenes were sometimes hard to witness they also give the reader reasons to why Clare is the way she is.

Overall, this was an informative read.  I applaud the author for educating me on the subtle differences within the various types of OCD and while some of the story lines fell a little flat for me I found this to be an enjoyable read.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Helen Barbour for providing me with a complimentary ebook copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Scream of the Butterfly

Author: Jakob Melander
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 394
Series: #2 in the Lars Winkler series
Source: Publisher
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
First Published: November 2015
First Line: "Fog stretches across Provestenen."

Book Description from GoodReads: The mayor of Copenhagen is found murdered in his luxury apartment. Detective Lars Winkler is put on this sensitive case, which is further complicated by the fact that the victim’s mother is the leader of the country’s most radical political party and the current minister of finance. Lars notices the minister and her husband are strangely untouched by their son’s death. When he begins to dig into the mayor’s past, he slowly uncovers the dark story of a young, idealistic man, who had only one wish: to free himself of his family and live his own life. Dark and chilling, The Scream of the Butterfly is Scandinavian crime at its best.  

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: This book is a Nordic noir political thriller with a murder thrown in for good measure.  It is the second book in the Lars Winkler series.  I hadn't read the first book in the series but I didn't have too much trouble getting into the plot or characters.  The story is told via many flashbacks which, at times, became a bit much.  With the two different time lines there were quite a few characters to keep track of but once I got the characters straight this was a fairly fast paced read that kept my attention with multiple twists.

Lars is a good protagonist but lacks energy and isn't quite as interesting as I was hoping.  He has personal issues, is a good investigator but still lacked that special something that will make him memorable to an avid reader like myself.  The most interesting character was Seraphine who often felt like more of a main character than Lars.  I felt that the issue surrounding Seraphine (I don't want to give it away) was explored with compassion, sympathy and respect.  Unfortunately the bulk of the secondary characters blend into each other with no one really standing out with enough character development to be interesting.

While this book has suspense and deals with crime it's much more of a political thriller which isn't a genre I'm drawn to.  The author gives readers enough details about the Danish government without bogging down the story but I still didn't find that aspect of the book quite as riveting as others might.  I enjoyed the twists the author throws at the reader but the big reveal at the end was a little lackluster and I think that stems from the fact that the secondary characters aren't given enough depth.

In the end this is a political thriller with a side order of murder mystery.  While I'm not a fan of political thrillers, Melander provided enough twists to keep my interest. Fans of the Nordic Noir genre may enjoy this book.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to House of Anansi Press for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Our Basement Renovation: Part Seven - DIY Planked Wall

Some of you may remember the wee planked wall we did behind our TV in our basement media room in January of this year.  It adds some modern/rustic cache to the room and some interest behind the TV.  We love it.  And it was a great way to practice for a bigger decorating project -- a large planked focal wall which is the first thing people see as they descend into our basement.

For this large planked wall we opted to use wider planks of underlayment. What I love about underlayment is that it's light, easy to work with and it's pretty cheap with a 4'x8' sheet costing about $21 here in Canada (and about $13 in the US).  With the wall behind the TV we went with 4" planks which suited that small space but for a large wall we wanted more oomph.

Some of you may be wondering what underlayment is.  Underlayment is a thin sheet that is used on top of a foundation or subfloor to absorb roughness and imperfections so that the flooring can be installed on a smooth surface and also give the flooring an added bit of support.  It's the Spanx of the flooring world.

I've been wanting to do this large planked wall for evah ... ok, months.  Brad was on board and the guru when it came to installing the wall but this baby was my vision.  He completes me.  For this large planked wall we went with 7-3/4" planks (this would maximize the 4x8' sheet of underlayment and also takes into account the thickness of the blade). After cutting our planks we were left with wee strips - about an inch or so in width - that we immediately thought would be perfect as a trim piece along both sides to give the wall a more finished look.  Waste not, want not.

Installing the wall
One of the biggest differences between our small planked wall and this bigger one is that I didn't paint the wall dark gray beforehand.  This saved us on paint (which can be costly) and time.  Looking back I still would do it this way but this method may add a little extra work later on.

I've outlined some of the earlier steps in my posted titled DIY Small Planked Wall which includes buying underlayment and getting your planks cut at the store so you can check out the finer details in that post.

What You'll Need
- underlayment planks
- brad nails
- pneumatic brad nailer

- stud finder
- long level and/or laser level
- sliding compound mitre saw
- table saw
- sanding block with fine sandpaper
- stud finder
- 6-8 coins for spacers (we used two pennies glued or taped together)
- a good primer (we used Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer)
- paint (we used Sherwin Williams 'Grizzle Gray' - SW7068)
- good paint brushes (a good paint brush and Dollar Store artist brush)
- painting tarps to protect your floor
- painters tape (if needed)
- safety goggles

Step One - Finding Studs
Mark off the studs in your wall because whenever possible you'll want to be nailing into a stud for added support.  Use a stud finder to find your stud and use the laser level (if you have one) or a long level to mark off in pencil where your studs are vertically on the wall.  By doing this you won't have to continually find the studs and the planks will cover up any pencil marks.

Step Two - Installing Your First Row of Planks
We started at the top left corner of our wall. Because this wall has a few bulkheads along the top, a window and two electrical receptacles to deal with we knew that we would have to use a saw (sliding compound mitre saw) to cut down the length of several boards to fit our space.  It's a pain but a necessary one. We (meaning Brad) measured the first space along the ceiling which butts up against the corner and the edge of a bulkhead.  Then we cut the board and sanded down the edges to get rid of little gnarly pieces just waiting to become slivers in our hands.

This next step is important.  Your first plank MUST be level. Not almost level.  Totally level. You may end up with a bit of a gap above it due to your ceiling not being straight and that's fairly normal because walls/ceilings are often wonky.  Them's the breaks.

Place your first board on the wall and, using a long level or laser level under that plank, ensure that it's level.  You'll want another set of hands to help hold the board/level.

Once you're sure it's straight, pop some brad nails in with your pneumatic nailer every eight inches or so, top and bottom ensuring that you hit as many wall studs as possible.  

The pneumatic nailer.  Loud but awesome.
If you have a long wall you'll have to add another section of board to finish off that first row. Measure the size of the board needed and cut it with the saw. 

We did this wall in February which is cold here in Canada
so we set up shop in our garage to do the cutting.
Next, lightly sand the edges and ends of the plank (watch out for fine slivers!!). Place the plank on the wall and ensure that you tuck the edge of the second plank up tightly against the first.  Double check that it's level and secure with brad nails. 

Now you're ready to do the second row!  If you have leftover plank from your first row use it as the first board in your second row.  This will help to stagger where your planks join together along each row (you don't want your seams in a vertical row).  This will help to give your finished wall that casual, devil-may-care feel that we're going for.

Spacers: Before securing the second row of planks you'll need to put spacers between the bottom of the first row and the top of your second.  We used sets of two pennies adhered together.  We used to different ways to bind the pennies together - 1) with electrical tape and 2) we glued two pennies together.  Gluing was the easier choice.  If you're going the tape method just make sure the electrical tape isn't influencing the spacing of the planks.  (You can see more about spacers in my previous planking post here)

You can see our penny spacers as well as
the bulkheads that we had to contend with.

Place one set of coins towards one end of the plank and the other at the other end (you can add more spacers depending on how long your board is). For an 8 foot board I'd use at least 3 spacers.  Place the new board up tightly against the pennies (this is where having an extra set or two of hands is required). Using the level make sure this second row of plank is level.  Nail that sucker in top and bottom along the length of your plank (into studs as much as possible).

Keep going with this method - ensuring that you're level at least every couple of rows.  With this wall we also had to deal with two electrical outlets but they weren't as scary as I was predicting. The plate that goes around the receptacle will hide the not-so-straight cuts. S'all good.

When you get to your last board you may have to cut it less than the original width to have it fit against your baseboards.  We opted to go right to the floor and may or may not add baseboards along this wall.  For this long cut we used a table saw and two sets of hands to guide the plank to ensure that it was cut straight.

Ain't she a beaut!?!?  I'm in love.

Step Three: Wood Fill

Now it's time to fill all those little nail holes with paintable wood filler.  Squeeze a bit on your finger (it's fairly dry and sandy) and wipe it into each hole.  Ya, it's not fun and it's messy.  You may opt not to fill the holes if that's the look you're going for.  With a sanding block, lightly sand the wood filler until it's smooth with the planks. Vacuum any dust off the wall.
Step Four: Priming and Painting
This is my wheel house, y'all. While I think the natural 'wood' look looks kind of good on its own I was more than eager to see this planked wall transform into dark gray bliss.  But first we needed to prime.

With a brush I brushed primer over all of the seams and edges first making sure to get in all the grooves. 

Then, with a small foam roller I rolled the primer on the boards.  If I found a spot within a groove that wasn't primed I went over it with a very fine painter's brush (a cheap craft brush from the dollar store).  Then comes the fun part ... painting on the colour.

Sherwin Williams' 'Grizzle Gray' (SW 7068).
Ain't it perrty!?
I used the same method to paint two coats of the Grizzle Gray onto the wall.  This is some awesome paint and I'm so happy with it as our accent wall colour.

Using a normal sized brush didn't quite get into all of the cracks and crevices between the boards so I ended up using a small artist's brush to do touch ups after the first coat of gray went on.  This step added a little more work but painting the entire wall in gray before the planks went on would have cost a lot more and also added time. 

We are so happy with how this wall turned out.  It adds some interest and texture to the basement without being too much.  We still have to do trim work around the windows and baseboards but all in good time.  For now, I'm happy which means that Brad is also happy. :) This was a big project that we broke up over two weekend.  I couldn't be happier with the result.

If you'd like to see the progress of our basement renovation check out the tab at the top of my blog 'Our Home Renovations'.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Be Frank With Me

Author: Julia Claiborne Johnson
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: February 2, 2016
First Line: "Because the station wagon blew up in the fire, Frank and I took the bus to the hospital."

Book Description from GoodReads: Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years, but now she’s writing her first book in decades and to ensure timely completion her publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.

When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders.

As she gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who his father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

Full of heart and countless only-in-Hollywood moments, Be Frank With Me is a captivating and heartwarming story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world.

My ReviewWhat drew me to this book initially was the title.  I loved all of the different meanings you could draw from it, the idea of a quirky boy ... and the cover is teal - a colour that I'm drawn to, what can I say.

Unfortunately the honeymoon ended there. Be Frank With Me had all the makings for a great read for me but then it didn't deliver and I struggled to get engaged with the plot and its characters.  Sadly, I found myself skimming through some of the chapters in the second half.  The premise was great, Frank's quirkiness was intriguing but the plot didn't have enough purpose.

The story is told from Alice's point of view and this was a problem for me for a few reasons.  First, she has the personality of lukewarm oatmeal.  Sure, she's a fish out of water when it comes to taking care of the ultra quirky Frank but on her own she's rather bland.  She has a sweet relationship with Frank but that's about it.  She's involved in a sudden romance that really could have been omitted for all that it added to the plot.  I think that if part of the book was told from Frank or even Mimi's eyes I would have been more engaged and been given a deeper understanding of where these characters came from.

Frank is the gem of this book and the reason I kept reading.  He's smarter than 99.7% of the population and is filled with various obscure facts (but how he learns these facts is unknown since he doesn't visit libraries or go online).  He imparts this knowledge to unsuspecting people (whether they want to know the fact or not) and is a connoisseur of old films.  Plus he's a snazzy, off-beat dresser preferring a suit, top hat and monocle (and sometimes pith helmet and racing goggles) to jeans and a T-shirt like other boys his age.  These quirks lead to Frank being ostracized by his peers leaving him to be quite a lonely child.

Frank brings some levity to the book but at the same time it made me sad to see just how lonely and misunderstood he was by others.  He lives in a very small world with Alice and his mother, Mimi being his epicentre.  Mother Mimi is a force to be reckoned with and is portrayed as a mean-spirited, nasty recluse and while there are moments of maternal love towards Frank her nasty attitude towards Alice didn't feel warranted and Mimi was pretty much left a mystery to the reader.  Honestly, I felt bad for Frank - this uber quirky kid who has a mother who appears to care about her son one minute then hides away from him for hours/days on end to finish her book.  It just didn't make sense.  She was abrasive and unlikeable except for those rare moments of mothering.

I know that there are many other readers who have sung this book's praises but Be Frank With Me just wasn't for me.  It had a good premise but underneath it all it suffered from a thin plot, rather blaw, one dimensional characters (with the exception of Frank) and no real evolution in the characters' relationships or personalities.  By the end of the book I was left wondering what the point of the whole book was supposed to be. I  think Be Frank With Me was supposed to have a light-hearted, even funny, feel to it but overall I just felt sad for Frank.  He's a unique, quirky child who seems to have a lot of people around him but still feels very much alone in the world. 

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Monday, 11 April 2016

Roasted Lemon and Herb Chicken

Sometimes making a big roast chicken meal seems intimidating and a lot of work.  But once you figure out that roasted chicken is super easy, especially if you roast two chickens at once and use the leftovers for various other dishes, you'll come to understand that roasted chicken is easy and worth it.  So very worth it.

My typical go-to recipe for roasted chicken is my Rotisserie-Style Roasted Chicken which involves a delicious spicy rub (this spice makes for awesome gravy and chicken noodle soup!) but the skin comes out on the drier side.  Extremely tasty but not golden so I went online and found a recipe that fit my needs.  I had a bag of lemons, a rosemary plant just begging to be used and two gorgeous chickens.  Sounds like a roasted chicken night!

You'll notice that I have two chickens in this recipe.  For our family of five one 4-5lb bird won't cut it but you can easily half this recipe if you only want to make one chicken. I just figured when you're roasting one chicken you may as well roast two.

The only negative I'd have to say about this recipe is the flipping of the bird.  No, I'm not talking about saluting anyone with the raising of middle fingers, I'm talking about turning the chickens a couple of times during roasting so you get a nice even browning on all sides.  It was awkward but in the end I had two nicely browned birds.  Having two pairs of hands would have made this part of the recipe a little easier.

All said and done, this is a keeper.  The chicken was extremely moist and had a slight lemony flavour and the addition of the fresh rosemary was perfect.  I wouldn't suggest making gravy with the juice though since there is a whooooole lotta butter in it. We did make gravy this time out but it was overpowered with lemon which, when poured over mashed potatoes, wasn't a hit.  The chicken, on the other hand, was a slam dunk.

Overall, this is a great addition to your recipe repertoire.  Easy, moist and a great way to feed a crowd or make enough chicken that you can make all kinds of wonderful leftovers.  Chicken casseroles, chicken salad sandwiches, chicken pot pie ....

1 large lemon
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup butter - softened
1 tbsp fresh rosemary - finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp lemon zest

2 - 4lb whole chicken
1 onion - peeled and quartered
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 garlic cloves - peeled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water (or white wine)

Preheat oven to 425F and ensure that your baking racks are set to the lower section of the oven to allow for your roasting pan.

Zest the lemon and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine garlic cloves, butter, 1 tbsp rosemary, thyme and lemon zest.  Mix well and set aside.

Remove any giblets/neck from inside the chickens.  Rinse chickens well - inside and out.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Generously season the inside of each chicken with salt and pepper.

Note: At this point you could stuff the chickens with extra quarters of onion and lemon.  I actually forgot this step and didn't notice any difference in flavour. 

Set chickens in a large roasting pan - breast side up.  Gently make a pocket between the skin and the breasts of the chickens.  Gently push half of the butter mixture in these pockets.  This will get some of the herby-garlicy flavour right onto the meat.

Spread the rest of the butter mixture on the outside of the chickens, including the thighs and wings. The butter mixture will look chunky, that's okay.

Quarter or slice the lemon that you zested.  Place onion quarters, rosemary sprigs, garlic cloves and lemon slices around chickens in the pan.  Add 1/2 cup of water (or white wine if you have some).

Roast for 30 minutes or until chickens are starting to brown.  This is what they should look like after their first bout in the oven.

Using tongs in one hand and a spatula in the other flip each chicken so the breast is facing down. This is an awkward step but worth it.  Baste with juices. Roast for 20 minutes more.

Remove from oven and using your tongs and spatula, gently flip the chickens again so the breasts are facing up.  Baste with juices and if your juices are a little low, you can add another 1/2 cup of water at this point.

Roast for 20 minutes longer or until a pyrometer/meat thermometer inserted into the thigh or breast registers 155-160F and the juices appear clear.  Remove chickens to a large cutting board and cover with lid of your roasting pan or tin foil.  Allow chickens to sit for a few minutes.  Slice and serve immediately.

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