Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: Eon, Eona, & The Iron Thorn

I've been reading quite a bit the past few weeks, so I'm going to try and catch up with some quick reviews of several titles:

Eon & Eona, by Alison Goodman

I read Eon many months ago, and then finally snagged the sequel Eona from my library just recently. I love these books for their heft (570+ and 630+ pages each, respectively), their gripping story-telling, and their rich, unique world setting. 

The story follows a familiar arc of a girl masquerading as a boy in Eon, but in a Far Eastern-inspired world of dragons, Emperors, warriors, and magic. The culture is what really sets this story apart, and it was so refreshing to be taken away from the familiar forests and mountain of usual Fantasy books and plunked down into paper-screened houses and Zen-like gardens - not to mention these dragons all have beards. :)

The story is definitely for older YA readers, with darker undercurrents of sexual tension and even an attempted rape, but nothing graphic or excessive. There's also plenty of action, death, and intrigue to keep the pages flying by, with characters beautifully fleshed out - flaws and all - and a heroine you can both admire and relate to.

Eona sheds her masculine disguise in the second book, and the story follows her plight in assisting the Emperor to reclaim his kingdom. She's a bit more mature here, and far more powerful, so it's interesting to watch her growth (and regression, in some ways) as she struggles with life-and-death responsibilities and her own morality. Again, tons of action, great characters, and a story that I just didn't want to end.

Eon did not have a very neat ending; it was definitely one of those cliff-hangers that will force you to run out for the sequel. In fact, I wish I hadn't waited so long to read Eona; there are enough characters that I was a bit muddled for the first chapter or two, what with the action picking up immediately where Eon left off. There are only the two books, though, so you get a nice wrap-up and resolution with Eona. So all in all, I highly recommend these for any YA fantasy lover.

The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kittredge

Billed as a steampunk novel, The Iron Thorn is set in an Alt-Victorian world plagued by madness and monsters. The heroine, Aoife (whose name I still have no idea how to pronounce) sets out to find her lost, mad brother, facing plenty of horrors along the way.

[UPDATE: per the comments, Aoife is pronounced "Ee-fah" or possibly "Eve." Thanks, guys!]

This story starts out well, and clips along merrily for most of the book. In some ways it tries to pit the supernatural world and its magic against man and his machines, but that's not clearly spelled out, and I felt the steampunk elements were a bit weak when compared to, say, Cheri Priest's Boneshaker. To be honest, I was hoping for more gadgets and goggles. Even the strongest steampunk element, a mechanical house, was portrayed as more magical than mechanical. I want to see the gears and smell the grease in my steampunk; not just be told that something magical is really clockwork on the inside. But that's a minor complaint, so let's move on to the actual story:

Again, the story clips along well, until about the 3/4 mark. Then it takes an abrupt left turn, with a major plot twist/revelation that was so unbelievable I felt the author lost credibility. It was like someone drawing back a curtain and going, "TADA!! I've been hiding a Yeti over here the entire time." It just didn't make sense with the rest of the story, and I flat-out didn't believe the author.

Needless to say, from there I had a major disconnect from the rest of the story, and when it ended with the mother of all cliff-hangers, with absolutely NO plot resolution, I was a bit miffed.

And while I'm being negative over here, can I take a moment to ask what is up with that cover art? It's a book about a Victorian-age teenager fighting off monsters; so why does she look like she's about to be ravaged by Fabio on the Moors?

Seriously, there is very little romance in this story, and even that is comprised of a few chaste kisses. I'm pretty sure nobody gets to second base, much less unlaces anyone else down to wardrobe-malfunction zone. So what... the heck? And isn't it a little insulting that a strong female protagonist has to be portrayed as a half-clothed vixen fresh from a roll in the engine room to sell a book that isn't even a romance novel?

Sorry; I know I got a little tangent-y there. This was another Kindle read for me, so I'm starting to realize just how much the cover art can influence your thoughts on a book, both before and after reading it.

So, to sum up: The Iron Thorn isn't as bad as I'm probably making it out to be, but it's also not going in my favorites list. If you're looking for something in this vein, I'd recommend either Boneshaker or Leviathan for better steampunk, and Foundling (aka The Monter Blood Tattoo) for better slightly-steampunky monster fighting. If you've already ready all of those, THEN you can read The Iron Thorn. ;)

I still have two more reviews to write, but I've rambled long enough for one post. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Red Shirts and Bossy Pants in a few days, and as always, feel free to share more book recommendations in the comments!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Timey-Wimey Doctor Who Quiet Book

BB was inspired by that adorable Star Trek Quiet Book that went viral some months back to make a Doctor Who version for her two-year-old son. A few months and a lot of stitching later, BB's got one heckuva fabulous, timey-wimey book!

The yarn tentacles are genius.

Yeah, what IS hiding in K-9, BB? Your blog doesn't say!

Pose? I'd be making him dance!

And finally, this page wins both "Most Terrifying" and "Most Hilarious":


We can only hope BB's son isn't too traumatized. Ha!

Head over to BB's Tumblr to see the rest of the pages - there's a Dalek "Accessorize" page, mkay? You want to see this. And a huge thank you to BB for sharing the fun!

(Oh, and BB? Please, get some watermarks on these images, STAT. I predict it's going to be everywhere online soon, and I'd hate to see you not get full credit!)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday Steam 8/18/12

Penelope P. spotted this chic industrial chandelier by Michael McHale Designs:

There are lots more where this came from, too. Hit the link to see all the other designs. (They're crazy expensive, of course, but they don't look *too* hard to DIY.)(And we STILL haven't made a proper fixture for our steampunk dining room. I am hanging my head in shame.)

From the same artist who made that intricate carasoul horse from watch parts...STEAM BUNNY!

I've never wanted to snuggle a metal bunny so much in my entire life. Squee!

And here's another of Susan's new pieces, "The Beast of the Machine":

Absolutely astounding. I can't even begin to imagine how she does this! (And am I the only one who first thought, "Aslan!"?) Check out All Natural Arts' FB page for more of Susan's work. And thanks for the link, Sandra M.!

Of course, if you wanted to try something a little simpler, you could buy some random watch parts on ebay and make a turtle pendant, like Jacie A.'s husband:

Jacie tells me that after she kept showing him all the steampunky jewelry she loves online, her hubby got inspired and made this for her as a surprise! Aww. That's a keeper right there, Jacie. (And your husband, too!)

Speaking of husbands, John has *demanded* I post this:


Well, more accurately, it's "Professor Pignassus & his Cinsational Flying Machine." See?

Julie S. spotted this guy in Cincinnati as part of a city-wide art project - which I guess explains the "Cinsational" spelling. He has a propeller on his nose, giant leather wings, and a rump porthole full of gears and doo-dads:

What's not to love?

This week BuzzFeed listed 10 Steampunk Celebrations held around the world, including a cruise, some conventions, the Edwardian Ball, and more:

Hit the link up there for more pics and links to each.

I don't think I'll ever get tired of steampunk jewelry, but it is getting harder to find truly unique styles. Fortunately Maple directed me over to Aeroglow on Etsy, where this cameo necklace caught my eye:

It's been sold already, sadly, but hit the link up there to see a few more nifty creations.

And for my fellow steampunk decor enthusiasts, check out this fab industrial side table with a working side crank:

Amber K. spotted this over on the Arhaus website, and it can be yours for only $800!

After I pinned the table last week, Martha e-mailed to say she'd spotted the very same one at a shop in Ontario, and was kind enough to send along a quick demonstration video:


So my problem is this: John has declared his undying NEED for this table, but I will never in this lifetime permit him to spend $800 on a side table.  I think it'd be pretty dang hard to DIY - unless one of you knows where I can get a crank assembly like that? Maybe? Please? Anybody? [hopeful Bambi eyes]

And finally, are you ready for some EPIC Epbot epic-ness??

Then behold!


Da da da DAAAA! Da da da da da DAAAH!
(That was my attempt at dramatic theme music.)

Hilary P. surprised us with this awesomeness the other week, and I seriously can't get over how many details from our costumes she included. From the chains on my glove to each key on my necklace - and look at our ray guns! So perfect!

Check out Hilary's DeviantArt for more of her creations, and if you like, you could even order a print of this to hang on your bedroom wall, superhero-style, so John and I can inspire you with our steamy bad-assedness. :D (Really, shouldn't we have our own comic book in this style? Or is that just my sexily tousled hair talking?) 

Hope you're having a fantastical weekend, everyone! And as always, if you have something steamy to share, hit me up on FB, Twitter, of via e-mail!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Resin Jewelry (Mis)Adventures!

I've wanted to make resin jewelry for years, and this past week I finally got down to trying.

After my first two batches of experiments, I can now proudly say I've had one or two successes, three flat-out failures, and a few not-too-horrible learning experiences.

Let's start with my one true success, so my ego can bear the rest.

I started with broken bits of jewelry:
 (The flowers came from a separate necklace, if you can believe it. I just clipped off the back loops & the top loop from the drop pendant.)

I super-glued these bits together quite precariously:

Dropped them in the mold with some mixed resin:

Waited 24 hours, flexed the tray, popped out the pendant, and squealed and jumped around like a little girl:

Then I trimmed off the edges with a pair of scissors. :)

How cool is this??

Resin is a dream to drill through - like buttah! - so I didn't really *need* to use my new Dremel drill press, but I've been waiting for just this excuse to give it a test spin:

(The poster board was to prevent the pendants from falling through the hole in the drill platform.)

Once the pin hole was drilled, I attached a silver bail, strung it on a spare chain, and rushed out into the 95 degree heat to take some photos in the sunlight:

I can't get over how pretty and sparkly this pendant looks. The resin catches the light beautifully, and I don't think the pics show just how much fire the gems have when you turn it this way and that.

Now to balance things out, let's take a look at my three failures, and what went wrong with each:

All three were ruined on two counts, the first of which being that I must have mixed my resin with just slightly off proportions, because all three never hardened completely. They're rubbery, and you can bend them almost in half with your fingers.  The annoying thing was this was my second batch of resin, and the first cured perfectly. I did everything exactly the same, so I'm not sure how I got my proportions off - but then, I was mixing such small amounts it'd only take a tiny discrepancy either way to get it wrong.

Even if the resin had cured correctly, though, each has additional fatal flaws. Here's what I learned:

This one was my experiment to see how small Swarovski-type crystals would react in resin. The answer? They disappear completely. At first I honestly thought they'd dissolved, since all you can see are the silver foil backs (those three circles). On closer examination, though, I think the resin just obscured the crystals' facets, making them, in essence, disappear. They were pale green, but even the color seemed to vanish. (The crinkly bits of iridescent foil, however, look pretty darn awesome. I bet if you added an opaque white backing, this could look like an opal.)

Considering how much I adore crystals and was looking forward to dumping them in every resin piece I make, this was a major bummer for me.

LESSON LEARNED: Loose crystals and resin do not mix. (Dang it.)

Btw, I think the crystals in my first pendant still sparkle because their backs and sides are in a metal setting, with only the fronts of the crystals exposed to the resin. But that's just a theory.

In a similar fashion, the plastic green crystal button also looks melted in the resin - but again, it's not; just obscured. You can still kind of see the large facets. The button also kept bobbing up and poking through the back of the resin, forcing me to push down one side or another every hour for several hours, but even after it started to harden it STILL managed to cure at a wonky angle. Grrr.

LESSON LEARNED: Light stuff floats in resin. A LOT.

My largest pendant was the closest to being a success, in that at least all the elements inside look great together in the resin:

The problem is that all the elements shifted and floated and bobbed around, and since I couldn't see past the bird charm from above, I had no idea my large gear had floated directly in front of its face.  Boops.

The bird charm is actually paper card stock, so it, too, wanted to bob to the surface and shift position constantly, forcing me to push it back down into the resin, causing all the other bits - my gears & wire coils - to shift as well. It also caused more bubbles each time I pushed it down, which was a pain.

You might recognize the bird charm from this Jolee's Boutique sticker set:

(Sorry for all the crappy night shots; as usual, I was crafting at 3AM. Hee.)

You can find them at Wal-Mart or your local craft store for just a few dollars, and the photo corners they're attached to pop off easily. The metallic finish is *gorgeous* in resin, so you can bet I'll be trying this one again.

LESSON LEARNED: To get a layered affect with several elements, do two separate pours: one for the front (in this case, my gears), and another for the back, once the front cures. So far as I know, this *should* work - and it's what I'll be trying next. Cross your fingers for me!

I have a few more resin experiments to share, but I want to get another batch under my belt before I show them to you.

In the meantime, I've really been enjoying the blog and tutorial videos over at Little Windows Photo Jewelry. There are tons of great ideas on the blog, and the videos are beautifully done.

As for materials, the resin I used is called EasyCast clear casting epoxy. I don't know yet if I can recommend it, since one out of my two batches never cured - though I realize that was probably my own fault somehow. It does dry crystal clear, though, and I didn't find bubbles to be much of a problem; breathing on the surface and some careful swipes with a toothpick seemed to take care of almost all of them. It's also super cheap on Amazon right now; less than $12 for 16 oz, which I paid $22 for at Hobby Lobby. (And yes, I feel like a dolt now.)(Oh, but shipping is an extra $7, so that makes me feel better.)

I've heard a lot about ICE Resin, but with a single ounce costing nearly $25, I'm just too cheap to try it.

Little Windows also sells her own, home-bottled epoxy, which is unusual in that it has a 2:1 ratio, unlike the others which are 1:1. Her 12 oz kit, which includes mixing cups & stir sticks, is $36. I may end up buying some of her molds, if nothing else, since she has some nice simple shapes in multiples, which allows you to make from 3 to 8 of the same shape at a time:

 This set of molds with a template for cutting inserts is $15, plus $2.55 shipping.

You can also use candy molds for resin, so check your local bakery goods supply for options. (Just make sure you never use them for anything edible again!)

When I mentioned all these different epoxy options to John, he pointed out (with all due incredulity) that an entire *gallon* of bar-top epoxy (which dries crystal clear) is only about $65. I have to wonder what, if any, difference there is between that and these "jewelry-grade" epoxies. Anyone know? Or is this just some giant re-packaging scam?

I'd love suggestions and advice from you resin crafters, so if you know of other brands or resin resources, please, tell me in the comments! And if you've used any of the ones I've mentioned, I hope you'll share your reviews, too. This is one of those crafts that can get expensive fast, so I'm counting on you guys to steer me in the right direction!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Eight Inspiring Geek Girl Costumes

With my own costume debut approaching fast, I thought it'd be fun to take a look at some of your cosplay triumphs. So here are a few Epbot readers (and some Epbot readers' kids) showing off their geeky awesomeness:

This is Jake M.s 4-year-old daughter, Lyndi. The best part is Jake made the whole costume, and the proton pack started out as a plastic paint tray and a bunch of hardware store odds and ends. Too cool! Head over to his Imgur album to see in-process photos; they're pretty amazing. [Editor's note: My original post incorrectly credited another reader for these photos - so sorry, Jake!]

And here's Amy A's daughter, Audrey, who I'm told plans her costumes two years out.  Last year she was Mary Poppins, and next year she'll be an evil Queen. Hooray for a fellow Dizgeek!

Practically perfect in every way.

Berber W. was inspired by all my convention pictures to do her first cosplay ever last month at the London Film & Comic Con - and doesn't she make a lovely TARDIS?
Berber made the dress herself with the help of a friend, and another friend wired her hat so the light really works! (And I am seriously digging those shoes.) I like that she found a fellow con-goer in a Dalek dress to take a picture with; aren't they a great pair?

And speaking of great pairs: CALVIN & HOBBES! AAAIEEE!!

Dawn B. made these Halloween costumes for her two kids. The entire Hobbes costumes (and the Hobbes plush!) is made from scratch, and yes, there's a tail in back. :D

I have to say, I love cute and girly geeky costumes so much more than "sexy" versions. Not that there's anything WRONG with sexy, of course, but when it comes to dressing like a Wookiee, I'll take Emiliy M.'s costume over a fur bikini any day:

Isn't she adorable?? And it's Emiliy's first cosplay, too! Apparently Epbot is inspiring a lot of you to play dress-up - which makes me so, so happy.

Emiliy wore this to Pax East, which was also her first convention, and she reports she is now "totally obsessed" with cons.  She had so much fun being in costume she even wore it both days! (And in case you're curious, her turtle's name is Edgar. [I asked.] He has his own website. That is all.)

Time for more kid cosplay with this squee-worthy little girl Robin:

Shawnette F. first sent me this pic of her daughter back when I posted Katie's story about being teased for liking Star Wars. Little "Robin" here was only two at the time, and obviously didn't care that the original Robin was a boy; she just wanted to be a superhero alongside her brother Batman. Shawnette tells me a lot of people were confused or mistook her for a boy, but that didn't phase this little geek girl in the least. Here's to that awesome attitude never changing!

Sheri H.'s 12-year-old daughter Caitlin loves The Princess Bride, but when it came time to choose a costume, she opted not for Buttercup, but rather The Dread Pirate Roberts:

This made me yell some exuberant compliments that aren't entirely appropriate for young eyes, so instead I'll just say: HOLY SCHMOLY THIS IS AWESOME.

[IDEA: Steampunk DPR, complete with bandolier of Iocane powder vials. Eh? You're welcome, someone awesome who will make this happen.]

And finally, Jessica V. sent me one of the most inspiring cosplay photos of all. She was going through chemo for breast cancer last year, and so decided to ditch the wigs she was wearing every day and take advantage of her smooth noggin for Halloween. So with about $50 worth of craft foam, hot glue, paint, and some battery-operated Christmas lights, Jessica became...

Jessica...OF BORG.

(Jessica is a pro photographer in Pasadena, btw. You can check out her site (and see her un-Borg-afied) here.)

Can I tell you how amazed I am by you readers and your costumes? SO AMAZED. So if you've got one to share, please, e-mail me!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

DIY Steampunk Lightsaber!

Some of you might remember this vintage flashlight I bought almost exactly a year ago with the hazy idea of turning it into a lightsaber:

Well, with my Lady Vadore costume shaping up in a timely fashion, John and I were able to squeeze this in as an extra accessory. I won't make you wait for it this time, either; here's the finished product:

[heavenly chorus singing]

As you can see, it also makes a nifty night light.

This is a relatively simple mod that you can probably do with any vintage flashlight. The one essential piece you'll need is a plumbing extension pipe, which you'll want to cut down at an angle for the business end of the 'saber:

We took it a step further and drilled vent holes around the pipe so our LED could shine through, but that's not necessary. This plumbing pipe is solid brass, so both cutting and drilling it is no easy feat. Watch out for sparks and sudden starts and stops with both. (Or get John to do it for you. I'm sure he won't mind. :D)

To disguise some of the scuffs and scratches that came from drilling the pipe, John came up with the brilliant idea of sanding the metal to give it a brushed look. The inside of of the pipe is especially beautiful because it's a bright brass -  so it's kind of a shame no one will see it with the LED in place.

Here's the sanded/brushed pipe with the light inside:

The really cool part is that the pipe snaps onto the flashlight body snugly as-is, so we didn't need any glue or extra rings to connect the two. How's that for a happy accident?

Once you have those two pieces joined, it's really just a matter of jazzing up the body with doo-dads to make it look less like an old flashlight and more like a steampunk lightsaber. 

I started with the grip:

I wanted black vertical lines to resemble Vader's actual lightsaber, but the leather strips I tried first were too thick and looked all wrong. John found the solution in screen splicing, which is a hard rubber cord with one flat side and one rounded:

It glues on easily, and actually makes the grip extra comfortable.

Next I dug through my junk box and found a few leftover scraps of brass mesh from our radio makeover. We used E-600 to glue strips of it on the top and bottom, plus a small "control panel" section below the switch:

Here I'm testing out different sparklies on the control panel. I decided I wanted one to look like a little dial, though, so I went with this metal button instead:

I'm hoping that looks like a tiny dial and two indicator lights. (Humor me.)

I also discovered that the original switch was the perfect size for a rhinestone. It's glued directly to the original button, so the switch even still works!

The bottom end of the flashlight had a big Eveready logo on it, so to cover that I cut a circle out of my brass mesh, and then topped that with a silver gear and dome button:

The last thing we did was fill the threads on the pipe with epoxy putty:

...and then paint that band a flat black. Now from a distance the band just looks like a rubber ring:

And that's it! The only things I had to purchase (other than the original $4 flashlight) was the rubber splicing and plumbing pipe. Oh, and also the LEDs, but since we got a bag of 12 and only used 1, I don't think it's fair to count that cost (about $10) in entirely.

Speaking of which, these LEDs are AWESOME. Seriously. They're small, cheap, self-contained, last up to 100 hours each, and come in several different colors. WOOT! I think all of my crafts are going to light up from now on. :)

Here's the LED package, in case you want to hunt some down yourself. They're in the floral aisle next to the glass marbles and other vase fillers, which is probably why most of us have never seen them before:

(I almost wanted to keep these a secret and let you guys think we're wiring geniuses, but they're just too awesome not to share. Heheh.)(Oh, and bring a JoAnn's coupon for these; regular price is about $18 for the bag.)

To light the  'saber all we did was cut out a hole in the original flashlight end, drop a LED down (the hole is smaller than the body of the LED), and add a bit of stiff fabric inside to keep the light in place. Of course it'd be cooler if the flashlight switch controlled the light, but for as easy as this was to do, I think I'll live.

The LEDs are surprisingly bright, so we also stuffed a tiny bit of bubble wrap around the bulb to dim it just a tad:
Although since it will only be pointed at the floor (hanging from my belt) for my costume, the odds of my blinding anyone with it are pretty slim regardless.

Of course, once this was finished I made the mistake of googling "steampunk lightsaber," and now I have SERIOUS 'SABER ENVY.  Ugh. They're all so pretty! And better than mine! make...more...!

I hope you guys enjoyed! And to those of you clamoring for final Lady Vadore photos; paaaatience. I'm waiting for a few extra bits in the mail to jazz up my boots, and then we'll do a photo shoot for ya. 

Oh, and check it out: my Vadore mask is starting to make the rounds online! Over the past two days it's been on the Daily What, Fashionably Geek, & Steampunk Costume, to name a few. 

I'm always so excited to see Epbot stuff elsewhere on the web; with Cake Wrecks it's a non-stop barrage of scraper sites and content thieves, but with Epbot most everyone is wonderful about giving proper credit, so it's the complete opposite: like getting a friendly "attagirl!" from my fellow geeks. Which just goes to show: geeks are better people.  :)


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