Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Review: Divergent

After my "What to read after The Hunger Games" post, the one title you guys recommended I read next the most was Divergent, by Veronica Roth.

And I'm so glad you did.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic U.S. where everyone chooses to join one of five "factions" at the age of 16. These factions are basically personality types, so that the selfless, giving types and the brave adrenaline junkies each band together in kind to serve society in predetermined roles (government, security, farming, etc.)

Since I started this series of book recommendations with The Hunger Games, I'm going to use that as a reference again here.

I found the world setting of Hunger Games slightly more believable than Divergent, since dividing the population by geographical area and natural resources makes more sense than dividing them by personality, but all of Divergent's *characters* were more believable, more human. And since you spend most of your time focusing on a story's characters rather than its setting, I think Divergent still came out ahead on that score.

The heroine, Tris, is just as much of a bad-ass as Katniss, but she's not the reluctant hero; she embraces her new role. She's flawed, but only in ways that make her more human and relatable - never so much that you actively dislike her. If she gives in to hatred and retaliation, it's only when you agree with her that it's justified, if not exactly just.

I felt like the beginning of the story could have used a little more foundation before I was thrown into the action, but then again, that meant it was a wild ride from the start. Still, because I didn't feel like I knew Tris at first, her choice of faction confused me, and the sudden violence of the initiation process was a bit jarring - kind of hard to believe.

As the story progressed and I learned more about Tris, though, her choice made more and more sense, and my initial qualms were forgotten.

Action-wise, Divergent and Hunger Games are neck-and-neck. I couldn't put either down. Both are filled with violence and death, but Divergent was a tad less graphic. (There was one scene in HG I had to skim because of the drawn-out suffering. There's nothing quite that bad in Divergent.)

I always found the romance aspect of Hunger Games to be its weakest; while I really liked Peeta and his sacrificial love for Katniss, I didn't actually *feel* anything, because Katniss didn't. In Divergent, it's almost the exact opposite: we don't know quite as much about Four (Tris' love interest) and his motivations at first, but you really feel and understand her attraction to him, even if he's not your type. (When an author can make you fall for a character you wouldn't normally like, that's the mark of true talent!)

Also like HG, Divergent gives you a relatively satisfying ending while still leaving much to be explored and explained in the rest of the trilogy. (I put my library order in for Insurgent before I even finished.)

And finally, without giving too much away,  I want to talk about my favorite aspect of Divergent. Call it a moral, a theme, or an underlying plot thread, but from the beginning there's this kind of philosophical debate between selflessness and bravery. They start out as polar opposites in Tris' mind, and then throughout her ordeal she begins to understand that they can be one and the same. It's not an in-your-face, preachy kind of thing, but it's there, and it's beautifully done. The ending brings the two together so seamlessly that I almost didn't notice at first, what with all the action, but it made for a good take-away to digest afterward.

By contrast, I thought Hunger Games started out with a strong message: something about reality TV and societal decadence - but by the end of the series I was convinced there *was* no message: it was just a fun ride. That, or I missed what the author was trying to say all together. (Any of you feel that way?)

So, in conclusion: read Divergent. It's awesome.

Oh, and when you're done, (or if you've read it already) head over to Divergent's Facebook page to read a key scene (about 15 pages) from the story written from Four's point of view. It was just released about two months ago, and is a great addition to the story.

Ok, guys, your turn: what'd you think of Divergent? And because I restrained myself from giving anything away in this review, I'm giving you permission to post spoilers in the comments. Spoil away! I'm curious to see what you guys think! Just don't post spoilers for the next book, since I haven't read it yet. :)

So to reiterate: If you *haven't* read Divergent yet, then read the comments at your own risk! Spoilers ahead!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Quick Crafts Good On Paper

I have a few craft projects in the works right now, but for instant gratification nothing beats a quick papercraft. Check out these bows I made from old magazine pages:

This is a tricky fold, but once you get the hang of it it's a fun keep-your-hands-busy-while-watching-TV activity. Tutorial here, found via How About Orange. (Which is a great design & craft site, btw!)

Then I spotted some nifty dollar bill origami over on Instructables, and decided to give that a try:

I didn't use a fifty to show off; I did it to freak John out. ("What are you doing with my fifty?!") Hee!

You can stick any coin in the middle, so I grabbed this one from my stash of antique coins just to be different.

Then I started brainstorming what else you could put in the middle, and came up with this:

That's a clear glass pebble (like the ones you fill flower bowls with) with a printed message glued to the back. The bubble of the glass magnifies the message a little - kind of a neat affect.

Then while fiddling around with the design I realized you could fold the bottom of the heart under, flip it over, add some googly eyes, and get a penny-munching monster:

(Sadly I didn't have any real googly eyes, so I just used paper punch-outs.)

 Go here for the heart fold tutorial.

Not exactly a DIY, but have you guys seen this fun origami shot glass birthday card?

You might be tempted to make something like this yourself, of course, but the really cool thing is that the cup portion comes pre-creased, which allows you to assemble it in just a couple of seconds. (Hit the link above to see a quick video.)

You can order one here for $4.99.

And if you like this kind of thing, you might want to follow my papercraft board over on Pinterest; I've been pinning all the free templates & paper crafts I plan to try myself over there. (I think the 8-bit popup cards are next on my list!)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Procrastination Station 6/4/12

Remember this photo that made the rounds online a month or two back?

(That's Tom Hiddleston, aka Loki from the Avengers, with a young fan on his shoulders.)

No? Don't worry; I don't remember it either. But it's still awesome. And even better, the story behind the photo (plus a few more at the link) is absolutely delightful, and will give you a big ol' goofy grin. It's the stuff fangirls and boys' dreams are made of. Besides, I love hearing about fan encounters that go this well; really restores my faith in geek-manity, you know? (And thanks to Amanda for the link!)

Do you love Calvin &Hobbes? Do you miss it as much as I do? Then you're going to flip, laugh, cry, and generally fall in love with Dan &Tom Heyerman's stupendous...homage? Fan strip? How do you classify this? Whatever. Just read:

 Don't cry yet, though, because there are three more strips at their site, Pants are Overrated. (Scroll down & click "newer entries" at the bottom right to see the rest.) The third one will totally make you get all teary-eyed, if you're not already. And while you're there, please petition the guys to make more of these! (Thanks for the link, Sanna-Maaria!)

And while we're talking fan comics, have you seen Pocket Princesses? I remember when they first started coming out, but thanks to Kelly D. I just caught up on the series:

These oh-so-adorable comics starring childhood versions of the Disney princesses are by Amy Mebberson, and you can see all of them at her site here. Amy's taking a break from the series right now, but she'll be back with more in July. Can't wait!

This next one is far less fun, because it's about an idiotic article from the New York Times crediting men - and only men - with inventing the Internet and technology as we know it, but Xeni Jardon's brilliant and blisteringly sarcastic response made me cackle. Here's her Twitter blurb:  "You guys, ladies suck at technology and the New York Times is ON IT." Go read her article on BoingBoing for the rest - and then read the comments for some great examples of women who've contributed to tech over the past fifty years.

And that's the perfect segue for my final goodie today: Drive Like a Girl.

After my Maker Faire post last week, I had several of you send me information on the robotics organization F.I.R.S.T., which allows high school students to form teams, build robots, and then compete against each other in statewide competitions - very cool. Then Francesca A. told me about her all-female team from New York, the Fe Maidens (pronounced "Iron Maidens") which starred in its own documentary last year. The editing is a little slow at times, but talk about an inspiring 25 minutes: you'll see this group of girls design, program, and build a giant robot completely from scratch, completely by themselves.

Here are a few screen grabs:

There's also some insightful interviews with the team's advisers and commentary on how the girls on co-ed teams are usually overshadowed by the guys, and therefore relegated to non-power-tools tasks. If you have daughters, grab 'em and watch this together; I bet it'll inspire them to start playing with robots and power tools. :D (I can't embed the video, so click here to watch it on the team's website.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Ok, so maybe that's a stretch, BUT... guess what I've been up to this past week?

I'll give you a hint:


I just realized what that sounded like.

To clarify: I have NOT been up to baby-making the past few days. [John, not a WORD.]


I have, however, been photographing a new baby: namely little Ellie, the new resident of the cherry blossom nursery and daughter of our friends Ray & Julianne. When I heard they weren't getting professional pictures done until Ellie was several weeks old, I begged them to let me practice taking some newborn shots for fun. Happily they've been extremely tolerant, since not only have I never photographed a baby before, I've never photographed ANYONE before. (Well, nothing besides snapshots at outings, anyway.) So after three 4-hour sessions and hundreds of photos, here are a few of my favorites:

 Can't decide which version I prefer on this one - but I think I lean towards the full color.

You can probably tell I've just figured out how to colorize things in Photoshop, too, huh?  (SO FUN.)

I got so many great shots in this little basket. I also learned how to pose baby fingers and hands and arms. Considering this was the most contact I've had with a baby in, well, ever, that was another first.

All of my backdrops were comprised of a sheet or blanket clipped to the back of two chairs and draped over the floor.  For these next shots John & I bought a few yards of stretch velvet:

This session was on Saturday, so Ray (the dad) was there for this shot and also for some awesome father/daughter poses:

Oh! And when we couldn't find a ruffly diaper cover at the last minute, I bought some eyelet lace at JoAnn's & attached several rows to the back of a plain one. I can't sew a straight line to save my life, but I did it! Isn't it cute? (I know most newborn shots are done with the baby naked, but Julianne and I just weren't up for that kind of explosive challenge.)

Amazing what a difference a few filters can make. Again, I can't decide between this and the more gritty black & white version. (Fun fact: Ray is very ticklish, so any time Ellie would move he'd start cracking up, which would make her move more, which make him laugh more...and so on.)

Ellie was 10 to 12 days old in these shots - a tad older than most newborns in pro photos, apparently - and she still has her umbilical doo-dad on her belly button. We did our best to cover or hide it, but for this shot I had to 'shop it out. How'd I do? :/

Other than removing that and darkening the blacks/upping the contrast, this photo is pretty much how it came off the camera.

It's always fun to try something new, and I had an absolute blast playing photographer. Thanks again to Ray & Julianne, and to you guys for letting me share the girliness! Hope you liked it!

Boring Technical Stuff:

For lighting we just set up in front of a big window around 2PM, and then I occasionally had John hold a reflector to aim the sunlight. (The reflectors are cheap pop-ups you can find on ebay.) I used my new Canon 7D with a Sigma 17-50 lens for all the shots, and then adjusted everything in either iPhoto, PhotoShop, or both.

I spent a few hours online researching newborn poses, and then saved a folder of my favorites on my laptop to reference during the shoots. This article on newborn photography tips was also extremely helpful, especially in explaining how to pose a newborn.

And finally, John tells me if I don't include this shot, he'll edit this post while I'm asleep and add it in himself. So, here's me cosplaying as a baby photographer:

Now the world has seen my glowing white calves. Happy, John?