Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review: The Devil all the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Fire and Brimstone in the Midwest

This book didn't let me take a breath

Pollock gives us multiple stories with a host of characters that become intertwined. In the beginning there's really no way to see how they are going to connect but like trains set to crash directly, the links confront each other and it is powerful.

The characters are so fleshed out that they seem jarring and real. Each one, is so vividly portrayed and so harshly exposed that at some points it was uncomfortable but so fascinating.

There are some overarching themes in this book, including religion that has become misguided and warped by those who have taken it to extreme. There is also a fair dose of graphic darkness and criminal mindsets in this book that give it a macabre feel. In all of it there is a beauty to the writing even if the subject matter is disturbing. Powerful storytelling. . .  I would recommend this one.

Book Review: The Painter by Peter Heller

A Journey in an Artist's Mind

Art, Anger, Sorrow, Violence and Retribution

Meet Jim, an unexpected successful artist despite his ability to sabotage himself. Grief consumes him and his anger causes him to lash out. While his paintings are masterpieces and visual poetry, the rest of his life is in chaos except when he is fly fishing.

I don't want to give much away in this story but his narrative is fascinating. As he describes his painting you see the process and it's a cathartic expression, making sense of his life as he navigates emotions. I didn't think I would be able to identify with a middle age man in recovery with his demons but his voice resonated with me.

This is a wonderful book that I can't pigeonhole into a category. It stands by itself and was a great read.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Book Review: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

A Thriller

Beatrice flies back to England when she finds out her younger sister Tess is missing. Bee alternates between present time and recollection, narrating her story to an attorney, and also to her sister, as she tries to locate her.

As the story unfolds, Beatrice goes from planning a lecture to her artsy and impulsive sister who she fully plans to locate quickly, to defending her and finding out what truly happened when her death is ruled a suicide.

This book didn't stop with the twists. Everyone that Bee comes into contact with is a suspect and as a reader it's hard to figure out who might be involved.

During this journey, Bee also finds that being the uptight and scheduled person she is does not make her the better or more responsible sister. This story also is the musing and self discovery of an older sister that truly loves her younger sibling.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Book Review: The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Greatness. . . Think The Great Gatsby

I loved this one. 

I really don't know that I can say enough about how much I enjoyed this particular book. I don't use the comparison to The Great Gatsby often, but it's well deserved in this case.

The time period might be a little later, but the voices of the characters and the descriptions reminded me so much of that classic novel. Much of the story follows the theme of materialism and consumerism as we follow Katey Kontent's chance meeting at a bar in Greenwich Village with Tinker Gray, a charming banker who seems to have it all. This introduction connects Katey with a new group of people, the upper class located in Manhattan and their world.

As Katey and her friend Eve, rub shoulders with a new social class, we learn that life is not always what it seems. The glitter often dazzles but there's still raw emotion of envy, inadequacy, and all the things that everyone experienced. This book is also about networking at its finest. Before social media's inventions of LinkedIn and Twitter, showing up at an event was often enough to propel a person to new opportunities.

What I liked about this book was that we met Katey in present times when she sees photos of Tinker Gray at an exhibition and that triggers her reminiscing of the pivotal year of 1938 she experienced. Listening to her tell her story, and the story of all her friends in the past, shows a marked change of dialog and tone, than the present tense.

I found this book just fascinating. Enjoyable and fun. Read this one! 

Book Review: 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

Sometimes I seem to read books sequentially in themes. . .

Another related to WWII but again, a different perspective.  In this book the war is over but not the aftermath, as Silvana travels from Poland to join her husband in England. Her 8 year old son Aurek must get to know his father, a man he has never met, and share his mother with this stranger. After years of surviving, and living in the forest, they must become acclimated not just back to society but learn a new country and language. Silvana's husband's intent is to become a proper Englishman, and he tries to follow a rule book he has created in his mind to transform their family. But both Silvana and her husband Janusz are not the people they once were and they both have secrets and shame about the war. This books shows how love and sacrifice can take many forms.

I recommend this one.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Review: All the Light we cannot See by Anothony Doerr

A Story of War and the Lives of those who are Impacted

There are many stories of World War II and there have been many that have gone beyond the story of the Holocaust specifically and are often real tear jerkers. One that sticks in my mind is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which followed the lives of those who were in the resistance in France. In some ways, All the Light we Cannot See remind me of this different perspective as it follows the lives of both a young girl who is blind, and a German boy, a Nazi soldier, in alternating stories. While at first it seems implausible that their lives will intersect, of course they do, as their paths cross during a battle to gain control of the walled citadel of Saint-Malo.

Marie-Laurie's story begins in Paris, where her father is the master locksmith for the Museum of Natural History. When she begins to go blind at six, her father makes it his mission to help her adapt to the world so she can continue to be independent. This includes building models of their city, in miniature so that she can learn the routes to everything. Because of the war, they are forced to leave the city she has learned to navigate independently, fleeing to Saint-Malo, to live with a great uncle by the sea. Unbeknownst to Marie-Laurie, her father has helped to smuggle a treasure from the museum to prevent it from falling into the Nazi's hands.

Werner is an orphan who is trying to escape the bleak future of the mining company that he will have to join as soon as he is old enough to work. It's the future for every local, and there aren't many choices for an orphaned boy. He finds an old broken radio that he manages to fix and this demonstrates an aptitude for mechanics and science which can be his way out of the town for him and his sister. This radio also provides a lifeline to the outside world, while the Nazis are beginning to come into power. Becuase of his talents, he is discovered and ultimately is awarded a spot in an academy for Hitler Youth, and ends up serving in the war, using his skills with radio equipment and numbers. Werner sees the brutality of his role as he tracks the resistance, leading him to Saint-Malo.

Both of their stories were fascinating and the moment that they merge is the culmination of the building plots. There ends up being more than one connection. The prose in this story is lyrical, even in the brutality and tragedy of war.

I highly recommend this book. I don't think I could say enough about it. Despite the subject, I found empathy not just for Marie-Laurie but for Werner as well. This is a testament to the author's ability to really make these characters living beings with dreams, loves and hope.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

DIY - Retractable System for a TV in a Gazebo

A TV that is safe from the Rain

Hinges and Pulleys and Unistrut

We recently made the investment in a Gazebo for our backyard. I love it outdoors and would probably spend my entire life out there if I didn't live in Michigan. . . While we had a deck with comfortable furniture, we knew we wanted to make some improvements so that we could extend our time outdoors.

One of the challenges with outdoor furniture that has cushions is that rain is the devil. I don't know if it's the foam stuffed in those things, but they seem to absorb about 10X the water that they should and if they get wet it is literally DAYS until they dry out. We have had two protective covers over the past two summers and they both ripped. The tarp that we "upgraded" with was quite the sight.

Putting the furniture under the gazebo, strategically, has proven to be a much better solution. With the shift of just a couple of pillows, we can prevent the waterlog. Before, if it was going to rain in the next 24 hours, I would debate about pulling off the covers, and bringing out the TV. TV? Yes, I know that for some having a TV outside might not be in tune with communing with nature. All I can say is watching a scary episode of Supernatural in darkness is a really nice family bonding moment. It's also a way to encourage kids to spend time with us if they can watch their favorite shows on HULU or Netflix.

The TV was something I had to deliberate about more than taking off the cover. Before the shelter provided from the Gazebo roof, the TV was either stored in the garage or the basement. Now, I know these are first world problems but lugging the TV and putting it into place, and then having to reconnect power and internet, was not always an easy task and it certainly was something we second guessed if we were only going to be spending a half hour outside on a school night. . .

When I first asked my own personal MacGyver if he could rig something up with this gazebo he had to think about it. I could see those gears turning and this is the results. Now, right now it may not be pretty but the plan is to wrap all the mechanics of this project in bamboo. I just wanted to be able to show you how to accomplish this before we moved on to the decorative part.

The TV itself is connected to two pieces of Unistrut with replacement screws that go into the holes in the back of the TV. These two strips of strut are then fastened to two perpendicular strips that have been attached together with Unistrut fittings. A third bar runs parallel to the two attached to the TV for more stability. This entire framework was attached to two large hinges so that the Unistrut is suspended from the interior beam of at the bottom of the roof.

On the bottom horizontal strip, a loop of rope was created that can be attached to a carabiner that is on the end of a longer rope that is positioned between three pulleys. When the TV and this carabiner are attached, a person can simply pull on the other end of the rope, and retract the TV up into the interior of the roof, away from any rain.

This literally takes seconds to pull up and we just secure the end of the rope to a hook on one of the gazebo's posts. To bring the TV back down you simply reverse the actions, unsecuring the rope from the hook and lowering the TV down with a slight pull in the other direction. The rope with the carabiner is then detached from the TV so it's not blocking the view.

As you can see from the photo, there's a roll of bamboo fencing ready to go to wrap around the Unistrut structure. We aren't going for an industrial theme in our backyard but more of a kitschy Tiki type thing. We think the bamboo would be the perfect addition.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This Book was Almost the End of Me

Months. I have months into this book. That was why I was gone for so long. I started this late summer and somehow was stuck deep within it until well after the first of the year. Months. Literally months.

Usually, I just switch to a new book when I'm stuck. I am not sentimental and am ruthless about ending a book in the middle but I just couldn't do that with this one. I somehow became connected to Theo, our main character and protagonist that I wanted to personally strangle many times through our journey, that I couldn't give up on him, even when he gave up on himself.

This book is almost a series of smaller books about Theo that could be compartmentalized. First his mother is killed in a terrorist attack in New York City when a museum is bombed. This begins the connection and obsession with the Goldfinch painting that Theo steals during the incident. His connection to this painting is a common thread in this whole book as he goes from NYC to Las Vegas and back to New York as we follow the chronicles of his life.

I went through this book in spurts, putting it down but always coming back. In the end it was worth it. It won a Pulitzer Prize for a reason. I just had to remove myself from Theo and his world many times so I could come back and still enjoy it.

Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Zombies: A More Human Version

Yes, another movie that apparently I'm the only one who had not seen so the book was new for me. I also am not the hugest Zombie fan and can't stand to sit through an entire episode of Walking Dead as they moaning gets on my nerves.

This is different. R, a zombie, is having an existential crisis. See he kind of remembers being a human and is trying to reconnect the circuits to his memory. He's also madly in love with the girlfriend of one of his victims. . . he has absorbed the emotions of the young man along with his actual brain.

This is comedic of course, and also very sweet. It's not my typical book but I really did enjoy it. Looking for clip art today, I found that there's a prequel and another book in the series. I will have to check them out.

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Momentum Builds

Yes, I know it's a movie and maybe I'm the only one that didn't know the twists that would come but I so loved this book. I highly recommend it. Watch a woman who at first seems desperate and miserable with her life, unravel the story behind her personal failures to realize that not everything is how it seems.

Great book.

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This Book is Both Beautiful and Sad.

I had to sit with it for a while. It's been months to reflect (I read it in the fall) if I enjoyed it our not. It was complex and had me running through a series of emotions that were often hard to decipher.

The story is about Lydia, who has died, drowned in a pond near her home. Lydia was scared of water and how did she end up there?

This story is about so much more than Lydia as we watch the family struggle to come to terms what happened and why. Lydia is the beloved daughter in a Chinese American family. That heritage is important to this story as we watch the family untangle in their grief. Each member plays an important role in this story.

Besides for the intrigue, and often melancholy content, this book is beautifully written. I wouldn't call it a happy read by any means but the prose is often like poetry.

Book Review: Gypsy Brothers by Lili St. Germain

This was a Moment of Weakness that Lasted 7 Books

Yes, you heard me right. I'm going to call it a "moment of weakness". 

I absolutely devoured these books. Then I read the epilogue too.

This was recommended as the series to read if you were having withdrawal from Son's of Anarchy. Yes, I love SOA too. I'm admitting all kinds of things that maybe I should keep to myself.

Now these books aren't deep and they aren't going to be life changing, but they are fun. Follow Juliette's plan to avenge her family's betrayal at the hand's of his motorcycle club, which includes the new leader (who betrayed him) and his seven sons. She has some pretty diabolical plans on ending all of them.

This is violent of course, and not very realistic, but neither was SOA. Somehow in a book form without the actual blood and guts to see, I found it very easy reading. Sometimes I did have to turn away when I watched SOA.

This is a good escape. I read them in a weekend. Short and easy to read. Enjoy.