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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects 

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

I do like this author.  She is fresh and imaginative in her stories and writing style.  This is her first book before the overhyped Gone Girl came out.  

It is of a similar style to Gone Girl where the story builds up bit by bit and you learn new details about the characters in small ways that help the story build and progress.  It takes about a third of the book to actually get absorbed in it but this is down to the style as you cannot get into the characters until she reveals just the right amount of information about them - again very similar to the build up in Gone Girl.

I did guess the two "twists" that came towards the end but this did not lessen my enjoyment of the story as I was intrigued to see how they would be handled.

My criticism is about the end.  It all felt rather rushed and sometimes convenient.  I wanted the end to be written in a lot more detail and, after thinking about it for a while, I would have loved a full flashback section about life in the Preaker home when Marian was still alive and perhaps more detail about Camille's future at the end.  

I think an author with more experience would have made this a fantastic must read novel instead of the good, read if you can novel.  4 out of 5 from me and certainly an author I will enjoy reading in the future.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

The Butcher Boy

"When I was a young lad twenty or thirty or forty years ago I lived in a small town where they were all after me on account of what I done on Mrs. Nugent."

Thus begins Patrick McCabe's shattering novel The Butcher Boy, a powerful and unrelenting journey into the heart of darkness. The bleak, eerie voice belongs to Francie Brady, the "pig boy," the only child of and alcoholic father and a mother driven mad by despair. Growing up in a soul-stifling Irish town, Francie is bright, love-starved, and unhinged, his speech filled with street talk, his heart filled with pain...his actions perfectly monstrous.

Held up for scorn by Mrs. Nugent, a paragon of middle-class values, and dropped by his best friend, Joe, in favor of her mamby-pamby son, Francie finally has a target for his rage--and a focus for his twisted, horrific plan.

Wow what an interesting and disturbing book. It was very difficult to read for two reasons. The first being the writing style and lack of punctuation. This was on purpose though, as it was showing what went through the mind of a complete psychopath. The fact that this psychopath was just a child was very disturbing. This is the second reason why it was difficult to read. I was actually rooting for Francie and felt so sorry for him, despite the horrific things he did. 

It was interesting to be almost inside his head as it completely splintered. It was difficult at times to know what was actually happening and what was his ramblings and/or imagination.

I knew what was going on when he was in the house with his Da and was cringing throughout and wanted to do something for him.

Not an easy read and certainly not what one could call enjoyable but it was fascinating and such a clever author as he got it just right.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Upscaler ideas needed

Ok fellow upscalers, who can give me some inspiration.

I have this table, which is another old piece of furniture from the family home.  It is a pretty shape but in dire need of a refurb as it is scratched and ringed. 

But what to do with it!  I think I want to paint over the wood as the room it is in has a lot of wood in it.  It sits in the corner of our Formal Dining Room and is a very useful table for sitting the wine and spirits or the food overflow when one is entertaining guests.

My initial thoughts were to prime and paint it (no idea what colour) and then to do some sort of decal on the top of it.  Something like these ones from pinterest, although different pictures or words.

I also toyed with the idea of turning the underneath into a wine rack.  We don't really need more space for wine as we have quite a large wine rack and, quite frankly, wine doesn't stay in the rack long in this house, but I thought it looked quite pretty much like in this picture.
Julius Wine Table  
So your ideas, advice and any links to help me with my project.  Thanks Xx 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse


 Wodehouse’s most famous creations, likeable nitwit Bertie Wooster and his effortlesly superior valet and protector Jeeves, reach a kind of apotheosis in The Code of the Woosters,  in which Bertie is rescued from his bumbling escapades again and again by the ever-nonplussed gentleman’s gentleman Jeeves.

I had only really come across Jeeves and Wooster in the old British TV series of the same name, starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (yes the same one that is now in House in the US).   I thought of as a British farce and truly wondered if it would still be funny after all these years. 

This book was picked for one of my bookgroups and I was quite pleased to be "forced" to read such a different book from my usual fare.

What a Jolly Spiffing read, What Ho!!  Laugh out loud British farce and such clever writing.  It was particularly topical for me, coming after just finishing watching the TV series, Downton Abbey.  A look at the British aristocracy and quite how dated it is and how the staff behind the scenes keep things running and the master from killing himself.

The story was one that could be described as a Whodunnit set in a British country estate, I kept expecting Miss Marple to come into the drawing room through the French windows!!  Just as you thought someone was "bang to rights" up stepped good old Jeeves, in his understated way, and saved the day with a well placed idea.

Splendid writing and storyline and jampacked with school boy nicknames and japes that are so very funny.  

I am delighted to have been introduced to this author, even if it is 75 years later.  A keen reader should pick up at least one of the Jeeves and Wooster books and give it a go.  5 out of 5 for a thoroughly entertaining read.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation 

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.

There was something just very unbelievable about this book.  I realise that I have no experience, or indeed, knowledge of being a Chinese Immigrant, working in a sweat shop and living in abject poverty but it was the way everything was brought together that was unbelievable.

I don't doubt the existence of labour sweatshops or that places like the hovel of an apartment exist and are being lived in, or that a young girl could learn English so quickly without anyone speaking it at home, or that she could exceed academically or achieve perfect SAT scores or find love, or anyone of these things separately but could they all come together!  Not in my opinion.  It just seemed humanly impossible to do all these things at once, there just is not enough hours in the day, not if Kimberly got any sleep.

This lack of believability combined with the choppy writing style made it a book that I did not really enjoy reading.  I was also constantly annoyed at the beginning with the author writing out the language misunderstandings phonetically so that I had to read some of them several times to actually understand what was said and who Kimberley had actually misunderstood it.

One slightly redeeming factor was the ending section "Twelve Years Later".  The author chose the only ending, in my opinion, that was not too sappy or too unbelievable either.  This did not sae the whole book but at least I didn't groan out loud at the ending like I thought I would be doing.  Although, how Kimberley achieved all that on her own in the end with her new responsibilities (trying not to include a spoiler) did not seem possible either.

2 out of 5 from me and one I am looking forward to discussing at my book group as I bet some loved it and some hated it like me.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Big Dining Room Makeover

After the fun I had giving my daughters Bathroom a makeover, I thought I would start doing my own decorating and giving the rest of the rooms in my house a makeover.

We moved in two years ago and the people selling it clearly got someone cheap in to paint the entire house, woodwork and all, in cream matt paint and not very well either.  This is fine as it lets you see the rooms as a blank canvas and let us live in them until we could see what they needed to brighten them up and make them our own.

So I started with our formal dining room.  In an old house we painted the entire dining room in a dark red/claret colour which we loved and really gave the room some depth.  We wanted to incorporate this colour into our current dining room but I felt that the room needed some lightness to it as well.
This is where someone elses mistake actualy helped me choose my scheme.  We had a decorator give the kitchen and family room a coat of paint as we wanted it done quickly as we use these two rooms the most.  We chose the colour Valspar 3001-10B Milk Toast but the decorator got his quantities wrong and we were left with a ton of paint.  As it is quite expensive I wanted to incorporate some of it into my dining room scheme.

So lets see what we started with.  The actual walls were in pretty bad shape with a number of cracks and areas where wallpaper had been removed and just painted over without refinishing the wall.  So I took my time and went over and over the walls until I was 100% satisfied that my "canvas" was as perfect as I was ever going to get it.

Some black and white pictures that we hung, albeit very badly, as I knew I wanted them in this room and was waiting for the full makeover to frame them and hang them properly.

This is a view from the window end of the room.  We love the table as it is so big and it has a further extension so can fit about 10 people comfortably.
This is the view from the door into the room.  As you can see all cream and rather bland and no depth to the room.
The cocktail cabinet belonged to my Mother and her Mother before her.  I am sure it is worth something but as I would never sell it I have never investigated that.  I think it it a lovely piece for a dining room and holds most of our formal crystal glasses and a gorgeous tea set that was given to my Grandmother on her wedding.

What the room did have was this detail on the bottom half under the dado rail.  Some paneling that I knew could be made to pop out and really give the room some depth.
So this is the full room before I started.

The top half of the walls I completed in milk toast, as mentioned above, and I then found the colour Sun Dried Tomato which I thought perfectly complimented the Milk Toast.  On getting the paint this is where I proved to myself how important primer is.  I started to paint the panels in the Sun Dried tomato but only realised when I started that I had just got Latex Enamel paint without  built in primer.  Not a problem I thought as the walls were already finished and painted but the paint was very thin and went on horribly.  I thought I would need to paint it all back to cream and start again but I persevered and four coats later!, the colour and finish was as I wanted it.

Here it is all taped off to give the woodwork detailing a final coat of white gloss to make it all clean and to make the detail pop out.
So here is the finished room which is a lot warmer and has more depth than when we started

I reframed some of the black and white photos and then hung them using Command Picture Hanging strips  as I did not want to make holes in the walls and I needed the flexibility of being able to move them around as I add other photos to the wall.

This project drove home a number of lessons. 

1) Primer is very important and I will always buy Valspar brand paint and primer mix instead of the Olympic Latex paint on it's own.

2) I hate taping off edges but it is so important for a clean finish.  Putting the blue edging tape around the panel detail took over twice as long as the actual painting but it is worth it.

3) The preparation being 90% of the project is so true.  The painting is just the finishing and it is so important to spend a lot of time getting your surfaces perfect to make a better end result.

4) Who needs a gym, just get your workout while improving your house.

5) It is great fun and the feeling of achievement at the end is worth the work while saving all that money on hiring in decorators.

I hope you like it and look forward to hosting a number of people to dinner in our new and improved Dining Room.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You 

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book and it was appearing everywhere one looked, so after enjoying her other novel, The Ship of Brides, I thought I would give this a read. 

I expected to be blown away by it because of the hype and I wasn't.  It was a well written novel and a good story concept, one that was quite topical and brave to tackle.  

It will certainly open the general discussion on Assisted Suicide and the rights and wrongs of it.  I just felt that the author did not do it quite enough justice.  She seemed to try and make the characters and stories throughout a bit too light and whimsical, perhaps to counteract the seriousness of the main issue but it just didn't seem right to me.  I would have preferred a darker tale throughout - I know what could be darker than being quadriplegic and discussing Assisted Suicide - but that is kind of my point.  I felt the author was trying to be too "chatty" with the characters .

Don't get me wrong it was an enjoyable and interesting read but it just did not live up to the hype, in my opinion.  Still worth giving it a read as long as you go into it knowing that it will probably not blow your mind away.  I am struggling with my points as I am torn between a 3 or a 4 out of 5 for this for the above reasons.  I will go with a 4 as I don't want to put anyone off reading a good book, even if parts of it did not work well for me.