Updraft ★★★★★

This book was pressed into my hands by a coworker, who swore it was amazing. In case the 5 star rating didn’t make it clear, she was right.

This book grabbed me right out of the gate. I started it one evening after work, and didn’t come up for air until after 1am. The world in which its set is unique, and complex, and fascinating. I labeled it as “young-adult” because the main character is a girl rising into adulthood, trying to figure out the world around her, and because I would have loved this book as a teen. That said, I love it now, as an adult. This book is in no way simple, or childish, it merely could speak to a very broad audience.

There is something absolutely intriguing about the world in which Kirit lives. Society is a bit broken, damaged, and disconnected. People live in organically growing bone-like towers, in townships high above the clouds. In fact, solid ground isn’t something anyone has ever touched, or even remembered. Fran Wilde is so brilliant at making this notable and different and immersive to the reader, but the characters themselves don’t note it at all. Why would they? It’s not the world they live in, there’s no reason for them to comment on it.

People in this world travel with mechanical wings. Passing the tests to earn the right to fly further abroad, between towers, is a transition into adulthood. They live in fear of invisible monsters, Skymouthes, who travel the skies swallowing citizens. Their society has a long memory of tragic pasts, and live under pretty harsh rules to stay “safe,” follow the laws, and protect the city. Tradition is everything.

There’s a pretty heavy element of classism in this society, the higher you live in your tower, the more important you are. The organic bone towers slowly grow, and as they do the lower apartments get smaller and smaller. In addition, people merely toss their refuse out into the air, so the lower you are the more trash is effectively thrown on your head. People progress by moving into new levels that appear very rarely at the top of the tower, and so lower levels are abandoned as they get too small and dirty. A tower also gains benefits by being closer to the center of the “city.” If your tower is deemed worthy, it might earn a bridge connecting it to a nearby tower, thus increasing trade, communication and travel.

Kirit’s mother is a trader: a lofty role (haha, I’m so funny) for someone who delivers goods and makes deals between towers all across the city. Its a dangerous job to fly such distances, but a glamorous one, for if a trader is good at barter, they will increase the wealth and the luxuries of their tower. Kirit and Ezarit recently gained the highest level in their tower. Kirit’s father disappeared many years ago, and so they were labeled as an unlucky family (the worst of epithets) and considered “lower level.” But Ezarit traveled to the center of the city, the Spire, and “made a deal” to earn her and her daughter the right to live in the highest level. And then, of course, everything changed…

Like I said, this book grabbed me, and didn’t let me go. The characters are compelling and real, the world is so different and creative, the pacing is perfect, the themes feel “right.” And best of all? No love triangles. See, young adult books without love triangles are out there, and hopefully they’re changing the market.

A final note: The copy I borrowed from friend actually had a completely different cover, but poking around on goodreads led me to this amazing cover art for what must be the 2nd edition of the book that hasn’t come out yet. Not that the other cover was bad, but this one actually feels like art. The water color effects, the feeling of “lift,” the tower coming out of the fog, and yes, the main character is not white! She’s gorgeous, she’s powerful, perched about to fly!

This book is excellent! Please read it.

Colette Myrtle ★★★★★

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This pattern is super easy, very flattering, fun and fast to put together. I don’t really have a bad word to say about it. You can use it with wovens and knits, heavier fabrics or things light and drapey. I’m not usually a fan of cowled drapey necklines, but in this case I liked it. I used Sprout Patterns with this pattern, so I didn’t even have to do the usual paper taping and pining. With the easy fit of this pattern, it is definitely the way to go! Check it out here.

You can see this pattern in action here: Pluviophilia Rain Dress

The Gullwing Odyssey ★★★★★

This book review has been waiting for me for a long time. I promised it as part of a birthday present, oh, 8 months ago or so. Well, finally, here we are.

This book was a riot. I actually listened to it on audio book, which I think really made the characters for me. Nominally it is a (young adult?) humor fantasy novel following the adventures of Marco Gullwing. He is a messenger boy, who in the course of a mission accidentally boards the wrong boat and ends up in places doing things he never expected. Its a classic coming of age tale as Marco really starts out as a bit of an ass, but starts coming into his own through various trials and tribulations.

I would call humor the main genre this book fits into. There’s also magic, and dragon people, hence the fantasy. And I assume it is mostly aimed at a young adult audience, as most books with an adolescent main character are, but I waver on that, as the sense of humor is definitely adult. The word-play is fantastic, the satire is delicious, and farce of it all is definitely fun for adults too.

All in all, this book really reminds me of the style of James Branch Cabell, an author in the 1920s who is best known for Jurgen, one of a series of comedy-parody-fantasy-romance novels. Except that Jurgen is chock full of awkward sexism and racism which we try to excuse by saying it is “a product of its time,” but still certainly makes it harder to appreciate in today’s world.

I would equally call The Gullwing Odyssey a product of its time, but in a positive light. This book tackles many of the same problems we face today, sexism, racism and fanatic religion, but is able to do it all with a laugh and a spin because of the overwhelmingly silly and farcical setting. The Gullwing Odyssey has a pretty fantastic female character in Dria, the young dragon princess who is forthright, intelligent, well spoken, and occasionally awkward, young, and normal. Not to mention the pirate queen Maria Giraldinha de Inez, Captain of Far-Reach, Owner-Operator of the Three Skull Privateer Group, Limited Liability Professional Corporation. The two species of humans and dragons definitely have some communication issues and species assumptions to work out. And the character of Barclay, the fanatical Knight, bearer of the word, bigoted and overbearingly righteous, speaks for himself.

As you can imagine, all the characters in the Gullwing Odyssey are parodies of themselves. And yet, the exaggerated characteristics don’t make them any less enjoyable to read about, or imagine in your head. Quite the reverse really. As I said, I listened to this book in audio form, and the narration was just perfect. (Full disclosure, the narrator is actually my dad. So I might be a little biased.) But he does all the voices. And if there’s one thing that makes an exaggerated character even better, its an exaggerated silly accent voice. Oh yes. You can even hear a sample on the audible page, check this out.

See what I mean? The characters come alive in your head, you can practically see the over-the-top costumes they’re wearing as they stride across the back of your eyelids in a vivid colorful world full of snarky dragon princesses, furious pirate queens, and slacker messenger boys.

I would heartily recommend The Gullwing Odyssey to anyone looking for a fun, charming, easy read.

Butterick Retro Dress B5603 ★★★★★

1lineartI love this pattern. It is easy to put together, and perfectly flattering. Given that, I will admit that its not perfect. I think there might have been some minor mistakes when Butterick translated from the retro original. The back skirt always ends up slightly wider than the back bodice for me, but its easy to fix with a dart tweak. I almost never use the given variations, and I find the bows horrendous.

But this pattern has become an amazing base for me to make up my own variations. You can see that it is easy to draft petal sleeves, create an interesting draped and pleated skirt structure, create a lace bodice top with sweetheart neckline, use a built in petticoat lining or separate petticoat, or anything else!

I never fail to get compliments on dresses I make with this pattern. And I’ve used it to make 7 different dresses over the years: 50’s Birthday DressScience Girl Eats50’s Mad Hatter Dress50’s SilkBridesmaid DressScience Girl is Sour

Butterick B5603 Misses’ Empire-Waist Dresses

 

Colette Zinnia Skirt ★★★★★

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This pattern has definitely become one of my favorites. Its a basic easy pleated skirt, which takes on a completely diverse character depending on what fabric you use. With a silk crepe, its slinky and flowy, with a thicker cotton sateen its got more body and floats along with you.

The fit is easy, as the only bit that really matters is the waist band. The pleats are easy to place, and the zipper and button combo in the back is secure, and even fun if you choose a cute button.

I’ve never made the gathered version of this, with buttons and top patch pockets, but I feel like it’d work equally well, and I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually. I already have three zinnia skirts, and I doubt I’m going to stop there.

You can see this pattern in action here: Colette Zinnia in Yellow Silk

Vogue Shirt Dress V8577 ★★★★★

6lineartThis pattern is a fantastic shirt dress pattern. It has really nice details that make it stand out. The pockets look complex and difficult, but the directions make it fairly easy. I’ve always intended to do a version with the sleeves and lapels, but haven’t yet bothered.

With a heavier linen, its a great fall and winter dress. Check out Purple Shirt Dress. Out of a lightweight crepe it makes an amazing summer dress, don’t believe me? See Summer Shirt Dress. Flexible and flattering and comfortable, I definitely recommend this pattern.

Comparative Connie Willis

So I have a very mixed reaction to Connie Willis. I was first introduced to her writings about a year ago with “To Say Nothing of the Dog.” I was amazed. It quickly became, and still is, one of my favorite books. I’ve reread it twice since then. Its a light-hearted story set about 50 years in an alternate future where time travel has been invented, but its pretty much useless to everyone because you can’t take anything from the past, you can take anything to the past, and its physically impossible to change the order of events. So the only people who use time travel are historians, who go back in time to study and record events in detail. Enter Ned and Verity, two scholars from Oxford, who find themselves together in the Victorian age. Ned is hiding from a rich patron of the history department who needs him to find an artifact from the past, and she wont take no for an answer. Verity is worried that she has somehow accidentally changed the future by saving the life of a cat. And so they’re thrown into a hilarious series of events that witness the first jumble sale, the ridiculousness rules of victorian love stories, and the ugliest statue ever to have been created. Willis also pays homage to a classic of the time, “Three Men in a Boat,” and her story is full of references to other literatures of the times, Alice in Wonderland, and the mystery novels that were just becoming popular and would eventually pave the way for Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. (Infact, it was this book that first got me reading the Lord Peter Wimsey series, for which I am eternally greatful.)

That December, Blackout and All Clear had just been released and I was ecstatic. It was that great feeling you get when you are introduced to an author, and you love them, and it turns out they’ve written tons of books you get to go catch up on, and they’re even writing more books, and you know you wont run out of things to read for a long time. So it was with happy anticipation that the day after Christmas I curled up under a blanket and opened Blackout….

One hundred pages later I was into the story, but not enthralled. Two hundred pages later, I was bored. Three hundred pages later, I was bored and annoyed. Eventually I made it to the end of Blackout, but I was not impressed. Why had this gloroius author failed me so badly? How could she do this, to me, personally?! Where were the silly time-travel hijinks? Where were the witty observations? The unlikely heros, the mystery to solve, the comedy of errors, all were missing! Sure, I expected more dramatic and serious book, it was set during World War I, there’s only so much comedy you can create. But I still expected a coherent and interesting plot. I’d read 512 pages, and the only thing that’d happened was to get three historians lost in London during the blitz. They coudln’t find the way out, and they couldn’t find eachother, and they spent every one of those pages saying “its ok, Mr. Dunworthy will find me eventually, all I have to do is this…” The reader has spent those 512 pages knowing that they’re all within a couple miles of eacother, and they’ve all almost run into eachother three or four times, but they’ve just narrowly missed eachother. A tragedy of errors you could call it. In a lighter book, it’d be amusing, but in this situation it just feels sad, and slow, and, well, annoying. And it sure doesn’t advance the plot at all.

I almost didn’t pick up All Clear, but in the end I decided to give Willis another chance. I rationalized it by saying she intended the story to follow the pace of the war. Long periods of boredom interspersed with terror and drama. Slow to start, full of hope in the beginning, eventually giving way to exaustion and despair. Well… Yes, that’s about how my emotions went during the readings of All Clear. Not because I felt worry for the characters, or was invested in the story. But just because I eventually resigned myself to the fact that nothing I wanted to happen was ever going to happen. I wont even mention the ending. I like to pretend that the final two chapters didn’t actually happen.

Now, nearly a year later, I finally picked up her previous novel “Doomsday Book.” I had sort of decided that “To Say Nothing of the Dog” was mostly a fluke, and I didn’t actually like Connie Willis at all. Yes, Doomsday Book had won all sorts of awards, and everyone loved it. But then again, Blackout and All Clear won all sorts of awards too… But I was bored, and it had been sitting on my shelf for awhile now, and I thought, why not, just one more try. And lo and behold I enjoyed it! Not with the same love I still feel for Dog, but it was a good book. I could see why people liked it. And then I realized, wait, it has the exact same plot as Blackout and All Clear… Lonely historian accidentally trapped during the beginning of the Black Plague in Englang. In danger, but unable to return. Circumstances in Oxford keeping them from rescuing her. Connie Willis just did the lazy author thing, she just rewrote Doomsday Book, made it three times as long (but didn’t actually add anything to the plot) and set it during a revered and honored time in history hoping to get more awards for it.

And it worked. Getting the awards for Blackout and All Clear, I mean. I still don’t believe the novels deserved them. I think she needed an editor to stand up to her, hand her a whole package of red pens, and tell her to get to work cutting out about 500 pages, and make it into one novel. Then, I might have enjoyed it.

I think Connie Willis sees that more books get awards for being heart-felt dramas than get for being light-hearted comedies. But her skills really truly lie in the happy endings, and she needs to realize that that doesn’t make a book less important. Her voice with Dog was amazing, and perfect. Her characters well-rounded, and likable, and believable. Definitely not the case with Blackout/All Clear, and even a little shakey on Doomsday. Its a lesson I wish all authors would learn.

More pages does not equal a better book! Dramas and tragedies are not automatically more important than happy endings and comedies. Silliness does not decrease the long-term value of a story!