Colette Peony Dress ★★★

17lineartSo, I confess. I changed this pattern so much, its hardly the Peony dress anymore. If the Colette Moneta had existed at the time, I probably would have chosen to make that, as thats practically what I ended up with anyways.

So, the first heretical thing I did here was to make this dress out of a stretch knit. I removed the back zipper and made it a pull-over-the-head dress. Then I turned the skirt into a 3/4 circle skirt instead of the a-line skirt the pattern pieces show. I chose a sleeve length that is basically halfway between the short cap sleeve and the three quarter sleeve options.

Given that, I still had the same old bodice dart problems as I do with all colette patterns. The darts require re-sizing and repositioning for me every time. I also should have made this dress without the neck facing. I don’t know if its because I chose a knit fabric, or what, but the facing refuses to lie down and always ends up poking up like an errant tag in the back. Even after I’ve tacked it down in multiple places.

But if you ignore all my complaints, I still love this dress. And its not the pattern’s fault I went all over the map with weird changes here.

Check out photos of that fateful project here: Painted Dress

McCall’s Dress M6027 ★★★

14lineartI was a bit rushed when I used this pattern, so I don’t really know if the problems I had with the fit around the shoulders were really me, or it. But it honestly think the pattern is just fit weirdly. Other than that, its a very simple pattern, just a series of curved strips that build a dress. And I got many compliments on the finished dress, so it worked out well.

To see that dress, check it out here:Science Girl Goes To Space

Butterick Apron Dress B4790 ★★★

15lineartI so wish I could recommend this pattern. Its fun and unique and weird, and should be very comfortable and very easy! But… Clearly the transition from “retro” sizing to modern sizing lost something along the way. I’m not the only person who’s had trouble fitting this pattern. The darts are oddly placed, and weirdly sized.

There are people that have done work to make this pattern actually fit like it should, but for the most part I’m just too lazy and disappointed to try again. If you want to try your hand at it though, I’d recommend this tutorial.

I used this pattern in this project: Librarian Apron Dress

Butterick Corset B5662 ★★★

12lineartA decent basic corset pattern, if entirely unhistoric. There’s nothing creative about this corset pattern, and the fit isn’t perfect, but it works well in a pinch. It definitely wont serve as an actual silhouette altering or waist narrowing corset, but as an over the top costume piece or prom dress prop it works well enough.

For my project I removed the clasps/lacing from the front, and only had mine lace in the back, as I wanted more the idea of a boned vest bodice instead of a corset.

I used this corset pattern in an epic halloween project: Spoonflower Halloween – Phantom Circus

The Shambling Guide to NY ★★★

The Shambling Guide to Female Characterization…

I have mixed feelings about this book. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was definitely one of those books that just by changing one or two things it could have been FANTASTIC. The fresh look at zombies and vampires and fantasy creatures in a modern urban setting was nice. This is no True Blood, or Twilight, or even Charles DeLint, it is definitely its own thing, and I loved that unique view. I loved the concept, a human woman writing a travel guide for unnatural creatures visiting New York, awesome. It had a good sense of humor, definitely some silly moments, some witty lines. I understand that its supposed to be a fluff book, and I wasn’t looking for anything too serious.


But… I got so sick of plot twists that entirely revolved around the romantic history and sex life of the main character. Really? I mean REALLY?! She’s supposed to be a strong intelligent driven woman, so why is it always about the MEN in her life???

Why is it always about the fact that she slept with her last boss who was actually married? Why is her coworker a super sexy incubus who somehow talks her into going to a bdsm sex club and nearly having sex with her in front of a crowd. (Which, of course, she doesn’t protest at the time, but gets pissed about later). And of course, her next door neighbor just HAPPENS to be a super sexy knight in shining armor, employed by Public Works, the secret police force of the unnatural world. And OF COURSE the big evil of the climax of the book just HAPPENS to be her ex-boyfriend’s wife, who is a voodoo queen coming to take over New York City, and also has a personal vendetta agains the main character. I mean, really?!

That just pissed me off no end. The villain of the book is the wife of the man the main character slept with. Think about what that says for a moment. And, by the way, the married guy in question isn’t portrayed as evil, or a true shithead, just a kind of weak, icky womanizer. When the main character runs into him again, not only does she NOT kick him in the balls, or at least punch him in the nose, she saves his life. Twice. I’m not saying he deserved to die, and good for her taking the moral high ground. But she also doesn’t even TELL HIM HE’S A SHIT HEAD FOR LYING TO HER AND CHEATING ON HIS WIFE. Neither woman knew about the other, the guy is the one who’s really a freakin’ jerk AND YET its the two women who end up battling each other with constructs in central park. I’m not saying every woman who’s ever been cheated on by her husband is automatically a good person, but COME ON. That just left a nasty taste in my mouth. Especially since every other plot device was also SOMEHOW related to the main character’s sex life and the fact she slept with her last boss who happened to be married. Ick.

But enough about that. One of the other things I really liked about this book is that the author is local. Not in a super flattering light, but its still mentioned. And that makes me smile, because I love where I live, and I love that interesting people who are succeeding at their dreams are living here too.

While this book definitely had things I didn’t like about it, it had enough things I did like about it that I will continue to read works by this author. I want to support local authors, but also because I think the flaws that so bothered me are somewhat from her being such a new author. This is apparently her first largely published book, I’m excited to see where she goes. Hopefully she’ll find her strengths in her humor, and her fun new look at urban fantasy, and NOT in her sense of “romance” or dependence on male characters as plot points.

The Rivers of London ★★★

Midnight Riot(US) or The Rivers of London(UK): A Book of Two Misleading Titles

Before I even opened it, this book had a pretty conflicting set of first impressions. In the negative column: 1. A quote by Charlaine Harris appears on the front cover. Yes, I’ve read most of the Sookie Stackhouse series, but that doesn’t mean I trust her taste in literature. Lets just say that its not a ringing endorsement. And 2. It was described to me as similar to the Harry Dresden series. I very much did not like that series.

However, to balance those facts… Positives: 1. A quote by Peter F. Hamilton appears on the back cover. I am much more likely to trust his opinion on books. 2. It may be just a repeat of the Dresden Files, but this one is set in London. Its true, London is almost always a more interesting setting for a mystery than some random American city. (I think Harry Dresden might have been Chicago, but I would also believe New York. If I can’t even remember, that tells you something about how well the setting was written…) 3. It was suggested to me on my blog. That doesn’t happen often enough, and it still makes me happy and excited when it does. I probably never would have come across this book without intervention on the internet, and in the end I very much enjoyed it, and I’m glad it was suggested to me.

Right, so, those were my thoughts as I cracked open this book. It is the story of Peter Grant, a recent graduate of London’s Metropolitan Police Academy. He wants to be a detective, but his superior thinks he is an ideal candidate for the desk job side of the force. Luckily, he sees a ghost who claims to have been the only witness to a violent murder, and he ends up being apprenticed to an old (who knows how old?) detective (Chief Inspector Nightingale) who is part of a secret agreement to use magic to keep the Queens Peace within the city’s supernatural forces. They proceed to solve a series of murders that seem to have been committed by an enraged ghost.

The book still has some of the same flaws I find unappealing about the Dresden files. First of all, it is written in first person perspective. I really don’t like first person, it’s extremely difficult to do well. The main character always comes off as self-involved and shallow. I always wish I could be reading the thoughts and impressions of some more interesting side character instead. In this case specifically (though not as badly as in the Harry Dresden series), the voice of the writing is so unsubtly male that I find it (unsurprisingly, I suppose) hard to identify with the main character. There are some authors who I’d never be able to guess their gender without looking at their name, and then there are some authors who have an equally female voice. And yes, sometimes that annoys me just as much as the male authors. Whichever way it goes, heavily gendered writing usually makes characters of the opposite gender feel flat and stereotyped. Peter is a nice, competent man, who is just awkward enough to be “adorable” to his coworkers and female friends. Most of whom he has a passive crush on, and would sleep with given the chance. In fact, that applies to just about any female he meets, whether that be his fellow constable Leslie, or a supernatural girl who happens to be a personification of a river “Beverly Brook.” (Pun much?)

One thing I really did like about this novel was the way Aaronovitch created his magic. Which is saying something, because that is usually what turns me off of books in the “urban fantasy” genre. Magic is hard to blend with the modern world: is it just a form of science we don’t understand, or is it the anti-science, powered by ritual and belief? Both of those choices come with solid stereotypes and giant plot-holes. And this is just a personal pet peeve, but I don’t understand why everyone uses Latin as the go-to language for magic. They try to say that magic is old old old, and so they name the oldest language they can think of. Latin? Really? No one says Greek, or Hebrew, or ancient Egyptian? Mandarin? Sumarian? Anything?

The magic in this series seems to have bee mostly developed during the Baroque Era, and that sort of birth of the golden age of science. In fact one of the main books used by Peter is Sir Isaac Newton’s secret second book on the principles of magic. (I guess that sort of justifies the use of Latin in this case, any sort of scholastic works of that time were based in Latin. But I still grate my teeth.) His teacher Nightingale seems to be more interested in the history and tradition of magic, than in the why and how of it. But that fits his character as a who-knows-how-old gentleman who was definitely alive in the Victorian era and doesn’t own a cellphone. Even given its mysterious and unexplained roots (and the apathy of his teacher), Peter Grant does not take the use of magic for granted. He has no idea how it works in our world driven by science, but at least he is curious. He develops tests (they even vaguely follow the scientific method) to better understand the effect of magic on technology. Which, by the way, is not good. Magic seems to negatively affect most higher technologies we use today, and Peter ruins several cell phones figuring this out.

I like that this magic has several rather important flaws built into it. It’s not a catch-all problem solver; it’s not as easy as say this word and no lock will stop you, say that word and you instantly find the one important clue, memorize enough special words and you can rule the world. It is difficult and time consuming to train your brain to appropriately use magic, and spells have limited uses that build on each other. Nightingale tells Peter it will take about 10 years to graduate beyond apprenticeship. And if someone is exposed to more magic than their brain can handle, the inside of their head turns to mush.

Also not following the usual cliches are the supernatural beings that Peter runs into. There are vampires, but they’re not sexy blood sucking cults. (*cough Dresden Files, and a billion other urban fantasies cough*). We don’t have werewolves yet, but I’ll be interested in seeing how Aaronovitch makes them different. (Though the second book is titled “Moon over Soho” and if that’s a blatant werewolf reference I might get annoyed.)

What we do have are the personifications of localities: Mother and Father Thames, and their children the various tributaries and branchings of the rivers of London. (Evidently the UK version of the novel is titled “The Rivers of London,” which has a much prettier ring to it, but has less to do with the full plot of the book. Though now that I think about it the midnight riot isn’t exactly the plot of the book either, but is closer, I guess… However, the rivers are definitely my favorite side-plot.) I like the characterizations of the rivers, and how they have their own family drama they’re dealing with. And if there are personifications of the rivers and sewers of London, what about the old historical buildings? That would be interesting. Do each of the outlying villages and suburbs have their own protector? Perhaps someday we will meet the goddess of London, herself?

All in all, I can’t call this book an enthralling masterpiece of fiction, but I’ll be interested to see if the series improves on the few flaws it has. I hope the characters start to gain a little bit of depth and non-stereotyped-personality. I hope we continue to see creativity in the layers of supernatural life in London. I hope we get to find out more about Nightingale’s past, and his strange maid Molly, with the sharp teeth, taste for blood, and extreme protection of her master. I hope Peter gets some taste and doesn’t try to sleep with two new women in each book (even if he does do it in an endearing and passive way.)

NOTE: After reading back over this review, I definitely took a little too much pleasure in bashing The Dresden Files. That probably wasn’t necessary because this book can stand on its own perfectly fine without being constantly compared to that series. I guess its just because so many people have recommended the Harry Dresden books to me, that when I finally got around to reading them, they were rather a big disappointment. I have trouble seeing why people who’s taste in books is usually so similar to my own actually enjoy those books. Maybe I had too high expectations, or maybe I should have given them more time (though I did get all the way through book one, and halfway through book two before giving up. I’m not going to read six books just to find out if the seventh might get better.) Anyways, the chance to voice exactly what I didn’t like about the series, and the opportunity to compare it to someone who did something similar, but did it RIGHT, was too good to give up. So if you’re a fan of the Dresden series, I’m sorry for bashing your books, and you’ll still probably really enjoy this series because there are lots of similarities. If you’re not a fan of the Dresden series, feel free to give these books a try and see if its any better for you. If you’ve never read the Dresden series, you can certainly enjoy these books all on their own, uninfluenced by any previous bias one way or the other.

My overall rating compared to similar Supernatural Urban Mysteries (Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, etc): * * * * *
(Considering that this is a genre I’m not in love with, this book deserves a great rating. This book proves that the genre has potential, if only people would stop screwing it up.)
Characterization: * * (Still better than Harry Dresden)
Creativity: * * *
Will I continue to follow the series: Yep, unless the author make some stupid plot move that’s too annoying to read. If the second book is all to do with werewolves, or if there starts to be too much Relationship Drama, I’m out.

Vogue Dress V8360 ★★★

8lineartThis pattern is weirdly complicated, and not super flattering once I finished it. However, that said, I did change quite a few things about it. And its not perfect for my body type. And in the end, I did quite like what I ended up with, it was just more effort than I thought it would be, and didn’t quite work like I expected.

It claims to have different bodice pieces for different cup sizes, but you shouldn’t trust these. It also required sew in bra cups to really work for me. The skirt also has a lot less fabric and flow than you might expect from the line art.

You can see photos of this dress here: Words of Fire Dress

The Cat Who ★★★

I confess, the main reason I decided to pick up this book was not the author; I’m not a huge Heinlein fan, though his books are “classic” sci-fi, and I agree he is definitely necessary to the evolution of the genre. I can admit to his worth as a writer without being an ardent lover of his writing style. I picked up this book on a whim, and because it had the subtitle of “A Comedy of Manners.” If there’s one thing I can almost always enjoy, its a narrative comedy of manners. Add in some science fiction and space travel, and how could I resist?

In my mind, I can break up this book into three distinctly separate books. The first third was filled with all the little details that really make “a comedy of manners” in my mind. We meet an ex-army man and his new (as of two hours ago) wife fleeing from the bureaucracy of space-station life after a complete stranger is awkwardly killed at their table in the finest restaurant after delivering a mysterious message. They pick up a companion in the form of a man from the slums who was paid to kill them, but joins their side after promising not to kill them and help carry their luggage. They teach him about the importance of always being polite, and give him the charge of protecting the little bonsai tree they (for some reason) are determined to save while escaping the space station known as “Golden Rule.” This third of the story is all about adventure, and travel, and about solving the mystery of why Richard and Gwen are being hunted down and who killed the stranger at their table.

The second third of this book is all about some free-loving. Heilein was well known for his very open views on sexuality, and they definitely make an appearance in this book too. Some of the mysteries resolve, as we find out that Gwen has a interesting history, across several time-lines and parallel universes. She takes Richard home several centuries in his future, to her large, complicated, and polygamous family who all happen to be members of the Time Corps who are trying to save various universes by rescuing the first intelligent computer from history.

The final third of the book is shorter in length than the first two, but dense in ideas. Its mostly a philosophical rambling about the possible nature of time and reality. Its rather heavy on the exposition and explanation, but nontheless contains some intereting ideas. In this book, Heinlein claims that all universes are real, everything that could possibly happen has happened, somewhere and somewhen. Even ficitonal universes and characters are real, what Heinlein called “The World as Myth.” Richard meets his the hero of his childhood tv series, and contemplates on the morality of creating fictional villians that will become a reality in some universe. Heinlein fans will enjoy this portion of the book more than those who haven’t read many of his works because a good number of his characters from his previous books make an appearance, furthering his ideas that fiction is just as real as “reality.”

The book ends abruptly, with Richard and Gwen in the middle of the mission to save Mike (the intelligent computer) probably at the cost of their lives. It is revealed that the whole of the story has been narrated by Richard, in this moment speaking into a recording devise. And he poignantly asks the reader, who is the author who is causing such pain and despair? Who is the author who wrote this universe and is forcing him to live, and die, in these circumstances?

While I loved the initial set-up of the story, I ended up rather disappointed with the end. So many of the mysteries that intrigued me were never answered, or even worse, were poorly answered in awkward exposition that left plot holes an elephant could fall through.

The development of the charming and witty relationship that evolved between Gwen and Richard was put aside in favor of annoying justifications for “free love” and polygamous marriages.

Had the story continued in the same vein as that first third of the book, I think this novel could have won five stars from me, but Heinlein lost the thread of the most important piece: the actual plot. His priorities were obviously more on describing his idea free-love society, and on his World as Myth philosophy. While I did find the latter interesting, I think there may have been better ways to incorporate it into the story than pure exposition and long non-plot centric conversations.

Girl Genius Comparison ★★★

Well well, where to begin? Begin here. If you’ve never been introduced to the multiple Hugo Award-winning online web comic/graphic novel of Girl Genius then your life has been emptier than you knew. And its about to be more full and colorful and steampunk-adventure-filled than you could ever guess. I apologize in advance, its going to become difficult to leave your computer for the next few days. Possible side-effects when you reach the last page include symptoms of intense withdrawl, possible temporary depression followed by strange desires to build clock-work friends. And in one rare, but well documented case, plans to kidnap the writers with giant laser cannons and force them to write at gunpoint.

If you’ve read Girl Genius before, then you know what I’m talking about. You’ve been through the crushing defeat of hitting the “next page” button and having nothing happen. Of realizing you’re reading the most recent page, and nothing you can do can make the next chapter appear. Three pages a week just isn’t going to cut it, and life is never going to be the same again. Luckily, you can go back to the beginning and start all over again with Agatha H and the Airship City. Yes, thats right, the creators of Girl Genius have decided to go back and create a novelization of the story from the very beginning. Agatha H covers the first three volumes of Girl Genius.

Girl Genius tells the story of a girl named Agatha, and the desperate adventure she’s thrown into. Agatha’s world is one full of chaos, conflicting rulers, harsh empires, and complicated politics. A few people every year are born with “the spark.” This appears to be an intense drive, impossible to resist, to use mad science to create life from machinery. Sparks are often called “madboys” by the normal people, because while they have the brilliance to create, they don’t often have the will to control their creations. Most of them end up dead at the hands of their constructs, or at the hands of the locals when the constructs destroy whatever village it was born in. The few that aren’t killed locally are usually taken out by a neighboring Spark who feels their territory is being threatened.

Years ago, the populace was helped and saved by a group of heros and adventurers who happened to be some of the few sane sparks. They were led by a pair of brothers known as the Heterodyne Boys. The only problem is, the boys disappeared sixteen years ago when their home and families were destroyed by an unknown villain called merely “The Other.” Since then, most of the lands and smaller kingdoms have come under the control of the tyrant Baron Wulfenbach.

Agatha is a quiet girl, raised by her parents and uncle in the smaller but less anarchic city of Beetleburg. Her uncle left them 10 years ago, and since she came of age Agatha has been studying at the local Transylvania Polygnostic University. The only problem is, she’s not very good. Everything she builds just falls apart, and on the unlucky days does it with a ball of fire and smoke. She’s only merely an unrespected lab assistant on the day the Baron comes to inspect Beetleburg. Before she even really knows whats happening, the Baron has killed her teacher and protector, taken over the city, and her parents are missing. Mostly by accident, she is taken aboard the giant flying airship of Castle Wulfenbach, and only then does she really begin to learn about her family, and the world outside Beetleburg.

The original webcomic of Girl Genius is brightly colored and expertly drawn. (They publish high-quality physical volumes of them now, and they are well worth owning, even though you can read it for free online.) Its highly imaginative, filled with images of strange clockwork devices, expressive characters, and expansive cities and landscapes. The plot instantly draws you in with romance, and wonder, and silly science, and hilarious creatures. Agatha is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever read, especially in a graphic novel. Comics have been written for boys for so long that its about damn time someone wrote a female character that is not a side kick, or a love interest, or helpless, or just there to look good. She’s smart and smoking hot, and can kick all the boys butts with her use of science and her plain stubborn will-power. And they know it, and adore her for it.

If I have one problem with the Girl Genius comics its just that they are too complex and involved to read in a page-a-day format. I actually have to force myself to stop reading and checking up on it on a daily or even weekly basis. I enjoy the story much more when I actually ignore the website and every six months or so go read the newest volume. And sometimes I can’t help but reread the whole thing from the very beginning.

It was during this most recent reread that I found out they’d actually published a novelization of the first three volumes. Oh the wonder, oh the glory! Same loved story, but new and different and exciting format!

Well, I can’t possibly say I didn’t like it, because the Girl Genius story was there, and was just as good in its basic elements. But I feel like they didn’t utilize the power of the novel as well as they could have. The written version definitely has some of the back story explained that isn’t in the graphic novel. But I don’t feel that they translated the scenes from the comic very well. It was written very… descriptively. It felt more like they were just trying to describe everything they’d drawn, but copied over the dialogue nearly verbatim. It fell into the classic problem of telling the reader everything instead of showing us and letting us imagine some for ourselves.

I think if they had just accepted that capturing the visualization of the graphic novel was going to be impossible, and instead fleshed out the power of the words more it would have gone better. A book is just so different than a comic, you shouldn’t try to make them similar. Just work to the strengths of each of them. I would rather have seen more of the emotional changes in Agatha and gotten a glimpse inside her head as her life is being turned upside down, than just read another pale description of a room in the castle that I’ve already seen drawn in full technicolor. They could have gone so much more into the motivations and true personalities of all the characters, and instead spent time just describing everything around the characters.

The authors have mastered the creation of a brilliant plot and lovable characters, they’ve excelled at witty dialogue, their imagination is broader and more colorful than we could ever believe… But this novel is merely a “good first try.” I fully hope that they’ll keep trying, and that they realize there is room for improvment, because right now their writing style outside of the speach bubbles is rather juvenile. Keep trying guys, I know you can get there!

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