Friday, May 31, 2013

Books: The Forsaken

The former US has joined with Canada and Mexico to form the United Northern Alliance (UNA), a fascist society that uses mind-altering chemicals to keep its populace under control. Those immune to the drugs are sent to a prison island with savage living conditions; few there live past age eighteen.

After failing the government's genetic profile testing, sixteen-year-old Alenna Shawcross is sent to Prison Island Alpha, otherwise known as the Wheel. She soon joins a band of villagers, falls in love, trains as a warrior, joins an expedition to find a way off the Wheel, and learns just how corrupt and unstable the UNA has become.

This book is supposed to be the first in a trilogy, which is a tired trend. Especially since the premise for the novel is a Lord of the Flies, Lost, and dystopian genre mash-up - not highly original material.

What's more, the book has little or no character development, is ill-paced, has a poorly constructed plot, and the writing is mediocre. The relationship between Alenna and Liam is not authentic or exciting, as is the love/hate relationship between Gadya and Alenna. And the idea that Alenna can be seen as a warrior after one week of training and a couple of skirmishes is equally ridiculous. Frankly, I expected more from this librarian author.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Books: Disappointing Sequel

Cassia has escaped to the Outer Provinces to find Ky. She teams with Indie, a secretive and resourceful female, and together they navigate the Carving, search for Ky, the Rising, and its mysterious Pilot. Ky also escapes to the Carving with the help of others, but he knows more about the Rising and Pilot than he's willing to share.

Cassia and Ky soon find each other, but Ky's secrets about the Rising and Xander, as well as Indie's interference, nearly tear them apart. Will joining the Rising save or destroy them?

I did not enjoy this book as well as Matched. The story moved slowly, added little, and was altogether ho-hum. Xander's secret, Ky's secrets, Indie's secrets, the Society's secrets, the secret Rising - too many secrets, not enough heart and momentum.

What connection I felt with Cassia, Ky, and Xander in Matched did not exist for Crossed. The principal characters are less likable and interesting in this second installment, despite all their secrets and revelations. Part of me still wants to read Reached and finish the trilogy, but I'm not sure I should.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Crafts: Michelle Patterns

I really like Michelle Patterns. I have quite a few of them (see this post). They are all easy to make and produce great, little products.

To get a feel for the Secret Pocket Envelope Clutch I started with Size 5, the smallest. Naturally, it was a quick and easy project, and I now have a coin purse to hold foreign currency.

The only change I would make (this size only) is to omit the fleece and use medium-weight interfacing for the "C" pieces. The fleece, while nice to the touch, makes this small clutch puffier than necessary. Plus, I found it made the clutch more difficult to turn out and neatly hand-stitch closed. Otherwise it's perfect, and a great way to use scraps and present gift cards (or hold loose change).

I next made Size 2. This size (5.5" X 8.25") was easier for me to sew, and the fleece provides the right amount of padding.

And when paired with Michelle's Idea Pouch, you have an excellent tech package. My mom now has a pretty pair of cases to store her eReader and tablet, just in time for her birthday.

Happy Birthday and belated Mother's Day, Mom!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Crafts: Washi Dress and Tunic

I've made a dress and tunic using Made by Rae's Washi Dress pattern. I sewed the dress last year, but I made the tunic just this week.

While I am not in love with either piece, I am very pleased with how well the bodice fits me. I cut a size small but used extra-small bust darts, and the fit is perfection. The bodice template alone is worth the pattern purchase price.

To clarify, I do like the dress. Besides the "U"-shaped cutout (which reveals more cleavage than I like and snags my necklace), everything is fine. The dress is comfortable, well-constructed, and the shirring and pockets are brilliant. I don't know if the dress is exactly figure flattering, but I think the length of the bell makes it look more like a dress and less like maternity-wear.

The tunic, on the other hand, does look and feel like maternity-wear. The empire waist and shorter hemline are best suited for round bellies, not flat ones. Without child, I find this look rather unbecoming.

I may never make another Washi, but I can see myself using its bodice template with different patterns. Rae taught me some new techniques along the way, too, which I'll use as well: in-seam pockets, shirring, and bust dart finishing.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Books: Sookie Stackhouse

As a whole, I've enjoyed the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Series. The last four books were decidedly less fun to read, to include Dead Ever After, but the first nine books make up for those.

Dead Ever After is formatted differently than previous books, and readers are introduced to several nameless characters (the slender man, medium man, businessman, etc.). I assume this was done to add suspense, or to make things easier for True Blood writers and its director. No matter the reason, the changes are not favorable ones; the departure from novels past breaks continuity.

Although Harris doesn't immediately reveal some characters' names, it's not difficult for those who've read the series to figure out who they are. The final book is a bit of a reunion for series characters, after all.

The resolution of Sookie's relationships with Eric and Sam is no surprise either. Readers have known what would happen for a book or two, possibly four. The treatment of both relationships leaves much to be desired, in my opinion, but the outcome is no less predictable.

The only mystery is what trouble Sookie will find. We know from the publisher's review Sookie is arrested for Arlene's murder, but it can't end there. What else do these "nameless" characters have in store for her? This is what will keep devoted (and even disappointed) readers interested.

The draw of this series, for me and I suspect for others, is the setting, characters, misadventures, and steamy romance. Most of the books deliver, especially with that last part, but there's not much of it in the final four installments.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Crafts: Teacher Appreciation

It's Teacher Appreciation Day!

My son and I have been suffering seasonal allergies, but I managed to make this little pouch for his teacher without sneezing on it.

I knew I wanted to make a gift using Ayumi Takahashi's Patchwork, Please! Books-for-Baby Quilt block, possibly for a reading time floor pillow or a library book tote. But time was short once I sat down to sew.

Still, this pouch ought to hold pens and pencils, stickers, flash cards, lunch tickets, thank you notes, or other odds and ends a kindergarten teacher needs within easy reach.

Cole has been using my school-aged copy of Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Animals to draw lately, so the fabric choices are rather fitting. Of course, he now wants an identical pouch for himself.

I have another Patchwork, Please! project in the works, and I'll share more about the book then.

You can see last year's teacher appreciation gifts here.

Books: Dystopia

One more pair!

Five factions exist in an unnamed city: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Abnegation lead selfless, homogenous lives as well as the city; Amity are peaceful and grow food; Candor are brutally honest business men and women; Dauntless are brave yet reckless punk rock protectors of the city; and Erudite are intellectuals and the city's doctors, scientists, and researchers. They were established with the hope they'd produce and maintain a society free of violence and cruelty.

At age sixteen people in this society choose their faction and determine the vocation of their life. They fear failing initiation and becoming factionless, a group who belong to no faction and thereby have no "purpose" in society. And they also fear leaving the factions they were born into and abandoning their family.

Beatrice Prior was born into Abnegation, but she has never felt worthy of the faction. She's curious, opinionated, and must work to meet faction expectations. She longs for the wild freedom on the Dauntless, though she can't explain why.

During her aptitude test Beatrice discovers she's Divergent, or well-suited for more than one faction (in her case, three). She also learns this information is dangerous.

As part of Danutless initiation Beatrice (now called Tris) must do things she never imagined and feel what she's always suppressed. Her weeks-long transformation is fairly extreme: meek and mild to fearsome. And in the process she finds friends, enemies, and love.

Once initiation is complete, however, she and her newfound faction are forced into battle. The Erudite have enslaved the Dauntless with a mind-controlling simulation serum, and force them to execute the Abnegation. Only the Divergent are immune from mind control, and Tris soon learns why she and those like her are a danger to this society.

These books have reader and critic approval, but I found it difficult to embrace Tris's Dauntless personality. Her rough and tough attitude is a little too strong for me. Also, to me, acts of bravery and reckless endangerment are not the same.

Today I read the final Sookie Stackhouse novel, Dead Ever After.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Books: Post-Apocalypse

Here's another pair of post-apocalyptic books, but in these galactic storms have altered Earth's landscape. Some of the population has sought refuge within pods, and many of those on the outside have formed tribes to survive.

The pods' "Dwellers" spend nearly all of their time in the Realms, a virtual reality which allows them to "experience" all things without pain or fear. Much like today's cell phones, Dwellers have a Smarteye - an uplink to the Realms - attached to their faces at all times. They fraction between the "real" and various realms, which are meant to be "Better Than Real!" Without a connection to the Realms they feel lost and alone (Hooray social media!).

But the galactic storms, known as Aether, have grown in strength over time and are laying waste to the many pods, tribes' compounds, and their farming and hunting grounds. The situation has forced alliances between some Dwellers and Outsiders, each side having its own agenda. They all hope to find the Still Blue, a place rumored to have a blue sky free of Aether, and they'll risk life and love to get there and claim it as their own.

The books are told from Aria and Peregrine's perspectives, one an exiled Dweller and the other a hunter from the Outside. Veronica Rossi has done an excellent job developing these characters and their relationship, and they are the heart of the story. Their adventures are fast-paced and action-packed, with a perfect balance of suspense and romance. They share these adventures with an interesting band of characters, too, and I'm excited to see what happens to them as they go Into the Still Blue.