Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book Reviews: Across The Universe & Off To Be The Wizard

I've got two great books to share with you guys today, so let's get right to it!

Oh, but first I have to say: I absolutely love that there are so many authors reading this blog. I have a standard policy of accepting pretty much any book offered to me, but I make it clear that I won't necessarily read and/or review it, just to keep the pressure and expectations off. Even so, I get a little thrill every time someone tells me, "I love Epbot, and I wrote a book! Want one?"

So anyway, that was the case with Beth and her book, Across the Universe:

This book grabbed me by the gut by the third sentence, and it refused to let go. When John asked me how I liked it after the first few pages, the best word I could find was "gripping."

It's not that there's immediate action or nonstop suspense; the story just sucks you in with this unbelievably vivid description of undergoing cryogenic freezing, and the first person narrative makes you practically FEEL the sterile room, the needles, and the painful cold.

The story is equally fantastic, and everything you could want from great science fiction. A ship is sent out to colonize a distant planet, with a society onboard that hasn't seen Earth in more generations than anyone can remember. Then people start dying. The heroine, Amy, teams up with a boy named Elder to find out what dark secrets the ship's leadership is hiding. (Dun dun DUNNNNN.)

I loved just about everything with this book, from the characters to the mystery to the chilling commentary on power, control, and human nature. The ending was a perfect mix of resolution with some lingering mysteries left for the two sequels, which I look forward to reading.

I will say this is definitely a more adult Young Adult book due to sexual content - although not in a romantic sense - so I'd advise parents read it first before handing it over to their teens. Specifically, there's an attempted gang rape that gets a little graphic, and which spoiled what would have otherwise been the perfect sci-fi mystery/adventure for me. But then, you guys already know I'm pretty sensitive to that kind of thing, so unless you have similar or stronger qualms, don't let that keep you from reading Across the Universe.

(By the by, I was surprised at how much controversy/conflict my last review stirred up on that count, when I mentioned not being about to stomach certain things in my entertainment. I really didn't intend for it to be that big of a deal, which is why it's kind of funny how many book recommendations since then have included an enthusiastic, "... and there's no rape!" Ha! Anyway, here's hoping you guys know I *do* judge a book by more than just that - and also to take my own "sensitivities" into account whenever you're reading my reviews.)

Ok, next up is a book I'm super DUPER excited to tell you guys about, for three very important reasons:

1) My friend Scott wrote it.

2) I had the honor of being the final proofreader/copy editor for it. Yep, you can pin any misspellings or grammar errors ON ME. [gulp!]

3) It's freaking awesome.

 Off to Be the Wizard, by Scott Meyer

Here's the official blurb:

"It's a simple story. Boy finds proof that reality is a computer program. Boy uses program to manipulate time and space. Boy gets in trouble. Boy flees back in time to Medieval England to live as a wizard while he tries to think of a way to fix things. Boy gets in more trouble.

"Oh, and boy meets girl at some point."

This is a light, fun read reminiscent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and/or some of Terry Pratchett's work. It's not nonstop zaniness, though; the story stays grounded just enough to make the funny bits really sneak up on you. Those unexpected, laugh-out-loud moments were my favorite, simply because it's so rare for me to laugh out loud while reading. (That's one of the perils of writing humor for a living; you get pretty jaded to other people's attempts at humor.) Happily Scott was able to catch me off guard several times, though, and his use of the occasional geeky homage is the metaphorical cherry on top. (Btw, Scott didn't implicitly say that he included the one Ghostbusters reference just for me, but I'm going to go ahead and believe that's the case anyway. Cool? Cool.)

While Scott doesn't bill it as a YA title, Off To Be The Wizard is perfect for pre-teens on up. Anyone who's a little bit geeky and/or old enough to remember Commodore 64s will probably appreciate the tech and pop-culture humor the most, though.

You may already know Scott from his web comic, Basic Instructions, which also blends smart humor with the occasional dollop of geekery. If so, then I can tell you firsthand that Scott and Missy are pretty much exactly how he depicts them in the comic - and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. ;)

Off to Be the Wizard is $3.99 for the Kindle version, or you can grab the paperback for $9.99 here. Best of all, you can also read the first 35 pages here, for free!

As always, I welcome your book suggestions in the comments! And if you're looking for more of my reviews and recommendations, be sure to check my book review page, where I've listed them all by author and title.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Steam 3/30/13

I almost dedicated today's whole post to this AMAZING jewelry I discovered the other week by Justin Gershenson Gates - but then I found a few more goodies to cram in, too. :) But, first:

How cool is this?!
I am over the moon for this style, you guys. It only looks like the face slides open - the pendant is fixed that way - but the suggestion of a hidden mechanical element is just brilliant.

Here's another:

In addition to the deconstructed watch faces, Gates also makes gorgeous bird pendants from watch innards like this:

Plus intricate gear wheels painstakingly soldered together like these:

All of these pieces have already sold, but you can see much more at Gates' etsy shop, A Mechanical Mind. I'm going to be stalking it from now on in hopes of snagging a watch face pendant some day!

Now on to the other steamy goodies that have caught my eye since last time:


This gorgeous sculpt is by artist Tim Wollweber, and I'm gobsmacked by how perfect it is. That detail! That paint job!

In case you don't remember the original Gizmoduck from DuckTales, here's a reference:

See more pics of Wollweber's sculpture over at NerdApproved.

Speaking of cartoons getting a steamy makeover, Ellie R. spotted these Adventure Time illustrations by Mica Anunciacion over at io9:

I immediately told her I wanted to see them cosplayed, and whaddaya know, some people already have! Hit Mica's link up there to see more illustrations and cosplay pics, plus tips on how to build the costumes yourself. Fun!

Which reminds me: I've read that Adventure Time is FINALLY coming to Netflix ... today! WOOT! I can't wait to hop on the fan bandwagon; I've never seen any of it, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

Psst. Hey. Looking to do a little steampunky decorating on the mega-cheap? Then check this out:

The Library of Congress has released a huge online gallery of over 400 vintage prints and photographs like this, and they provide handy download links in case you want to print them at home!

Prepare to lose a good 20 minutes browsing, because there are TONS of great hot air balloon illustrations and ads in there:


In fact, I'm eying a spot on my living room wall RIGHT NOW that could use a pair of these. I see some printing and framing in my near future!

Well, I think that's enough for now; I'll save the rest of these goodies for next week. I hope you're all having a wonderful Easter weekend, and as always, please share your steampunky finds and creations in the comments, or over on the Epbot Facebook page!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jen's Gems 3/28/13

I'm not gonna lie, you guys; I've been neglecting Epbot to play BioShock: Infinite with John. By which I mean I sit and *watch* John play BioShock while occasionally yelling out instructions and/or eating junk food. Meaning it's pretty much THE PERFECT JEN VACATION.

The cover art is reversible! And I'm already determined to make a Songbird doll.

I'm liking Infinite even better than the first BioShocks because - at least so far - it's much less dark and scary with creepy bad guys jumping out at you. It's still pretty gruesome with the violence in places, and the fact that the bad guys' society is based on hardcore racisim was a bit of a jolt, but overall it's a ripping good adventure with jaw-dropping graphics and plenty of treasure hunting. Plus I *still* giggle every time John searches a dead bad guy and finds a hotdog. I just like imagining all of these big baddies getting ready for their usual day o' killing and thuggery by stuffing their pockets with hotdogs, bun and all. :D

Ok, so. In non BioShock news, here's some of the best goodies I've seen cross the mighty interwebz this week:

Andrea M. (and a bunch of others) sent this gem in: a STELLAR (get it?) Star Wars nursery!

I love the MLP collection on the shelves, the pink-and-black lightsaber lamp, the James Hance art on the wall, and, and, well, EVERYTHING. See lots more over at GeekMom!

I feel like I saw these on Pinterest ages ago, but Mary Ellen reminded me of them this week and they're too gorgeous not to share: Test Tube Chandeliers!

The colored liquid was just made with food coloring, so you'd have to add that yourself - but think of all the color possibilities! You could do an ombré version of your favorite color, like, say, ORANGE? Just spitballin' here.

For the same price you can also get this style:

Next up, my fellow Dizgeeks are going to FLIP over this detailed review of an uber-exclusive dinner INSIDE Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. (When I worked at WDW I knew a guy who provided entertainment at similar dinners inside the WDW Mansion, and I was always so, SO jealous.)

Anyway, the best part to me - besides the fact that these 34 lucky ducks got to eat INSIDE one of the most classic and beloved Disney attractions ever - were the desserts. Big surprise for me, I know, but LOOKIE:
THAT, my friends, is an edible sugar glass globe (!!!) containing a cylinder of chocolate mousse with Madam Leota's face screen printed on it. Her hair is purple spun candy floss, and the entire thing was set on a color-changing light disc, which made each globe glow. And, oh yes, everybody got one:


Head over to The Disney Food Blog to see the rest of the pics and review, and also for video of the globes in action. AJ, who runs the blog, has already suggested this be my next Epbot craft project. I gave a hearty laugh at the thought, of course, but you know I'm about to go google "sugar glass blowing" anyway.

I don't have many celebrity heroes, but when it comes to being a Maker, I'm an Adam Savage fangirl all the way. The funny thing is I'm not a big Mythbusters fan - although I've watched plenty of episodes with John - so I'm pretty late jumping on the Savage-fan bandwagon. Adam and Jaime started a new website last year called Tested, and there you'll find - among other things - videos and podcasts featuring Adam building things, talking about building things, and/or showing off his jaw-dropping collections of props and handiwork and tools. AND I LOVE IT.

In one recent video he built a custom case for his Blade Runner gun replica completely from scratch, and in this one he shows off just a small portion of the prop collection and collectibles he keeps at home:

Not everyone's cup of tea, of course, so some of you may find this a bit dull, but as a wannabe maker myself I eat this stuff up. I aspire to someday be as handy in the workshop as Adam!

Next here's a video most everyone can appreciate, even if you're like me and still don't fully understand how this whole Minecraft thing works. Set it to full-screen and turn up the volume for a super-duper fun Beetlejuice themed rollercoaster ride!!

(Found via BoingBoing)

Plus, dubstep Beetlejuice? I think I like it! (John doesn't, though, and he just made me turn it off mid-way through my impromptu treadmill desk jam session. BOO.)

And finally, I'm gonna have to agree with my friend Renee that these new blind-box toy balloon unicorns are MUST-HAVES:

These three-inch-tall cuties are $7.95 from KidRobot, or I'm sure they'll pop up [smirk] at any of your local shops that carry blind-box toys. I'll be looking for them at local conventions from now on!

And FINALLY finally, it's time to pick a winner for this month's art give-away! So, my randomly selected winner IS ...

Tracy W.!!

In case there's more than one Tracy W. out there, it's the one who mentioned making flip-flop hangers for her aunt in Florida. Congrats, Tracy, and please e-mail me your address and choice of prize from my Pinterest give-away board! (Or the Leia from this month's roundup, since I haven't gotten her added to the board yet.) 

Happy Thursday, everyone! Hope you guys are having a great week!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Steampunk Laundry Room Reveal!

It's done! IT'S DONE!! My creation, it is done! Mwuah-ha-ha-haaaa!

I'll post details and quasi-tutorials for a lot of this later, but for now, let us bask in the dimly lit, poorly photographed glory of my new laundry room/pantry:

 Bask, you fools! BASK!!


Our water heater is now a faux steam boiler, and the tangle of water lines and electrical cords that used to drape across the walls are hidden away inside those big black pipes:

Made from a $4 wall clock and an antique gas lamp valve from my junk box. The rusty metal paint job has been my labor of love for the past two afternoons - and I feel like it needs more, so it's probably not done yet.

The left side of the room:
The shelf brackets are made with lead plumbing pipes. The second black box on the wall is covering more water lines, shut-off valves, and electrical wires.

The hinged door allows us easy access to the shut-off valves and surge protector.

 Both "metal" boxes are flimsy wood panels that easily lift away from the wall. John did a stellar job on them, don't you think?

Some things I couldn't hide or theme, but I guess the cat genie & vacuum prove this really IS a functioning laundry room and pantry. Heh.

The right side of the room:
Would you believe I've had that wall art tucked away in a closet for years? They're actually big stickers, so there's no frame to bonk the barn door when it opens. (If you missed it, you can see my tutorial for building your own sliding barn door here.)

The hooks are for my mop, broom, and duster, but my current ones are too ugly to photograph - and if you think I'm buying all new cleaning equipment just to match the theme of my room, then you are absolutely correct. :D I just haven't found the new ones to buy yet. (Next project: steampunk a Swiffer.)

This room redo gave us so much extra storage I actually got to re-shuffle most of the house's closets to free up room elsewhere, plus I *still* have an empty bin up top and room behind the barn door.

This shelf may look just decorative, but it's actually valuable storage; everything here was in my "brass box" of junk and bits I plan to use for future projects.

Up top are some recent antiquing spoils:

I fell in love with that vintage band hat a few weeks ago, and determined that I will someday build an entire costume around it. (I WILL.) 'Til then, though, it's nice to have a place to display it. It's sitting on a leftover bronze vase from my closet, and the little lamp is an ice skating lamp, I think. (None of this stuff is expensive, btw; the lamp was my biggest splurge at around $20.)

In fact, everything here except the basket and bins is from my storage closet, so even decorating helped me free up space!

 The fabric bins were about $5 each from Walmart, and the big metal ones were more like $20 each (ouch) from Home Goods:

K, one last photo, and then I'm off to play hooky. It's a gorgeous day, the sun is shining, the breeze is breezy, and - oh yeah - Bioshock Infinite just came out. :D

I hope you guys liked all the pics! More later!


UPDATE: To all of you disappointed in my non-steampunk-ified washer and dryer: I KNOW. I'm metaphorically nudging John in the ribs with every comment. Ha! My original plan DID involve painting/covering them like the water heater, but since they're older and may be replaced soon that took a back seat to the more permanent parts of the room. Now that you guys are putting the pressure on, though, maybe I'll convince John to let me at 'em with some rivets and copper paint after all. ;)

Friday, March 22, 2013

March Art Roundup

It's time for our monthly art attack! And thanks to MegaCon, I have a bunch of new artists to introduce to you guys.

I managed to restrain myself pretty well this year, so I only bought, um, six pieces of art. o.0 First up, these Star Wars prints by Joe Martin:

C'mon. LOOK AT THEM. Kind of a fun, graffiti-like style, right? The prints were only $15 for three, and then Joe threw in a fourth for free when he saw I couldn't make up my mind. WOOT!

Right now you can only buy these from Joe in person, although he has a few prints of other pieces available on deviantART. However, I actually bought Leia specifically to add to my give-away board, so if you like her, be sure to comment! She's an 8.5X11 print and signed by Joe on the bottom in metallic ink.
Next I commissioned Kate Carleton to draw me a Doodlez sketch of the worm from Labyrinth, because for only $15 WHY WOULD YOU NOT, amirite? This is her Doodlez style:

 And here's my new worm!

I know it's a little hard to tell that's his nose, but that hair flip kills me. :D

And finally, I got these TMNT stickers from Mike Victa for $10:

The stickers are each about 3 inches tall, so I plan to frame them all together. They're not signed anywhere, so it actually took me a good 20 minutes to track Mike down through the MegaCon website. As far as I can tell he doesn't have any kind of online store, which is a shame; his dragon art is also supah cute.

Though we didn't buy it, John and I were sorely tempted by the original of this creepy cute Vader:

 "Frenemies," by Diane Romero (Prints start at $12 for an 8X10)

And I lingered over this one a while, too:

 Steampunk Octopus Dance, $10 by Kellee Art

I don't see it for sale, but Kellee also has this lovely steampunk Alice in her deviantArt gallery:

Moving on to non-MegaCon finds, Ashley G. tipped me off to the wonderful works of Casey Robin, and I am LOVING her style:
 The Silver Doe, $40 for a 13X9 print

She has a bunch of great Harry Potter art like this, some stunning watercolor fairies, and adorable retro pinups like this one:
 LadyBugs: Amelady, $20 for 8.5X11 print


Teresa G. found this bit of nostalgia-laced sweetness:
"Growing Up Geek," 8X10 print $20


You know how some art you want on your wall, and some art you want on your t-shirt? Well, I want this on a t-shirt:
Ghostmuppers! Haha! It's by Kenny Durkin, who has lots more Muppet mash-ups in his DeviantArt gallery.

Here's my other favorite:
And I'm in luck, because this one IS available as a shirt over on Redbubble! Woohoo! (I may have to buy the Swedish Chef one for John, too.)

And finally, Mary B. found the most powerful Harry Potter fan-fiction(?) art I've ever seen. It's called "In Another Life: Wake Up," but I think I agree with Mary's title: "Snape's Heaven." I should warn you, though: it only confused John, who is an ÜBER Potter geek, and then he argued with me about eye color, and then I accused him of over-thinking it, and, well, just see what you think:

By Lily-Fox on DeviantArt. Hit the link to read her thoughts behind the piece, or you can buy a print at her Etsy store for $18.

Ok, guys, you know the drill: leave a comment on this post if you'd like to enter my monthly art drawing! The winner will get to choose any piece from my Pinterest give-away board, so make sure there's something over there you'd like to have. I'll choose a winner at random next week, and as always, I'll ship anywhere - so comment away, internationals!

[The give-away has ended, and the winner is Tracy W.! Congrats, Tracy, and please e-mail me your mailing address and choice of art!]

And finally, it's not required for the give-away or anything, but if you're on Facebook, please consider liking the Epbot Facebook page. It's a fun way to share links and photos with both me and your fellow readers, plus I post occasional updates there that you won't find anywhere else.