Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book Review: The Last Dragonslayer

I keep zipping through books and then forgetting to review them, so here's one of my latest reads for your consideration:

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde 

I first read The Eyre Affair - Ffords's most famous book - about ten years ago, but at the time I'd never read most of the classical works Fforde riffs on - not even Jane Eyre! - so I spent most of the book in a vague state of confusion. I tried one of his Nursery Crimes books next, but again felt like there was something I just wasn't "getting."

Enter my friend Sharyn, who recommended Fforde's first YA effort, The Last Dragonslayer. And, a-ha! PAYDIRT.

Fforde has a superb Terry Pratchett zaniness going for him; mundane details in his world are side-splitting eccentricities in ours. Phantom moose, corporate-sponsored Dragon Slayers, magicians who unclog drains; it's all completely ridiculous, and that's what makes it fabulous.

The silliness does keep you at arm's length, though, making it impossible to really connect with any of the characters or care overly much what happens to them. This is exacerbated by little-to-no character descriptions, to the point that I found myself wondering what kind of clothes people were wearing (I think it's set in modern times, but the fantasy twist makes it hard to tell) and what the main characters looked like in even the most general terms.

The first half of Dragonslayer is pure fun and games, with a healthy dollop of quirk. I loved it.
By the second half, though, the laughs give way to teeth-gritting frustration and dismay, since, to put it bluntly, the world of heroine Jennifer Strange sucks. She battles against her own nation of greedy, corrupt, back-stabbing citizenry to save the last dragon in the world, and it's made clear that she really is the sole example of human decency left in the land - a pretty grim picture. With no allies on hand save a younger foundling she's been made responsible for, it really is Jennifer vs The World.

I found the ending a little puzzling. Without spoiling anything, the big finale SEEMS like a big deal, but then it's explained that very little actually changes afterward. Which felt... empty. Like I'd been cheated out of my big finish.

Upon looking up the book's cover for this post I uncovered the reason: there is, of course, a sequel. (Dragonslayer is book one in "The Chronicles of Kazam.") [eye roll] Still, at least Dragonslayer gives us an ending; we all know plenty of YA series that just string us along with cliff-hangers, am I right? (I'm looking at you, Enclave!)

So even with a less-than-wholly-satisfying ending and a frustrating second half, I'd call The Last Dragonslayer a good read. The first half is perfection, and the characters and whimsical madness of Jennifer Strange's world will most likely have me coming back for more.


Next week I'll review the most deceptively marketed book I've ever read: The Raven Boys. And oh yes, I HAVE THOUGHTS ON THE MATTER. [decisive nod]

If you're looking for more, check out my Book Review Page! I've starred my top favorite titles, so you can easily scan the list for my recommend reads. Also, don't see your favorite on there? Then suggest it in the comments!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Easy Masquerade Mask Display Stand

I've had my White Rabbit mask haphazardly stashed on a back bookcase, but I really wanted a proper display for it. I'm actually quite proud of all the geeky creations John and I come up with, so I figured, why not use them as decorations around the house?

I hit the web looking for mask display options, but all I found were plastic mannequin faces. Meh. Not to mention a bit creepy when you're strolling past in the middle of the night for a glass of water. o.0

After some brainstorming and balancing the mask in my hand, I came upon a forehead-smackingly simple solution.

All you need (besides your mask) is a metal clothes hanger and a large candlestick, like this:

The only stipulation is that your candlestick needs to have a groove somewhere near the top. Why? Because you'll be cutting your hanger and wrapping the metal around that groove, like so:

See how the groove helps support the wire?

Here's a side angle:

Test the fit by placing your mask's eye holes over the two wire ends. The forehead of the mask should rest against the top platform of the candlestick, which may make the bottom want to slip forward. To prevent this, trim the wires to size and use pliers to bend up the tips of the wire just a teensy bit.

Because my mask is heavy leather and I worried the wire might dent it over time, I had John hammer the two metal ends flat before bending up the tips:

That's not necessary if your mask is plastic or resin, though. (For porcelain masks you might want a bit of felt or rubber for padding.)

And that's it!

Well, unless your candlestick requires a makeover, like mine did: a quick layer of brown spray paint, followed by a brushed on mahogany stain:

And then...


If you look closely, you can just see the metal tip supporting the right eye hole. (Click the pic to enbiggen.) I was going to paint the hanger wire gold, but since it barely shows I decided to take the lazy route.

Considering the whole mask is only supported at three points (the eye holes and the forehead) it's surprisingly sturdy; I can carry my new stand around by the base with no worry of the mask tumbling off or slipping.

The new finish matches my Vadore helmet stand pretty well, too:

Here's a look at the side and back angles:

My mask's leather straps aren't removable, so I used two small velcro strips (the kind used for bundling computer wires) to tie the straps together in the back, so they wouldn't dangle.

And now that I've decided to go ahead and let my geek flag fly in the main areas of the house, the front buffet cabinet has a whole new look!


John just pointed out we should add his Cheshire Cat top hat up there.  Maybe we'll squeeze that in next to the Mickey ears. ;)

Well, I hope this helps some of my cosplaying and/or mask-collecting friends out there! Happy crafting, everyone!


PS: And now, the randomly-selected winner of this month's art give-away IS... ZeaBunny/Michelle! Congrats, Michelle, and please e-mail me your mailing address and choice of prize from my Pinterest art give-away board! (Although from your comment, I think I know which one you want. ;))

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday Steam: Creepy Jewelry, Geared Tattoos, Cthulhu Lamps, & More

I've kind of missed Saturday Steam, so I thought I'd bring it back every now and then - you know, just when I find stuff that's extra, EXTRA awesome.

Like this:

 Cthulhu wall lamp. HECK YEAH.

That's Karl Dupéré Richer's latest assemblage lamp sculpture, and I think it's his best yet.
He used patio chairs, PVC pipes, flower pots, bike tires, garden hoses, car parts, and other found items to assemble the piece, which is a whopping four feet tall. So. Cool.

Looking for some steampunk tattoo inspiration?

By tattoo artist Rob Richardson, found on reddit

Found some! :D

Or for a less permanent, more DIY option, how about 'punking up your arm cast? 

Woot! Nicely done, Alia Z.!

I stumbled across this little guy on Pinterest last night, and I am completely smitten:

 "Puff the Steampunk Dragon" by Cassia Harries of Monster Mind Sculpts

Cassia's sculpting skills will blow you away. Check out her rhino "Blaylock" here:

This was a commission for Brian Kesinger, so there's even a tiny copy of Walking Your Octopus in the backpack's side pocket! Love it!

Cassia also made the cutest little Cthulhu ever, and it looks like she'll have these guys available via Kickstarter next month:

Watch her website for updates - I know I will.

Because my quest for the perfect steampunk chandelier continues:

I think I'd switch it so the bulbs face down - but the beauty is, that's super easy to do! Go see Camilla's post on Something is Done for a helpful breakdown on all the materials you'll need & instructions to make your own.

Here's a heartwarming story: ModVic founder Bruce Rosenbaum (designer of the house that first made me fall in love with steampunk) held a design contest to create a steampunk wheelchair for 14-year-old Kyron:

This is the winning design by Greg Hurley, and now Bruce is raising funds at indiegogo to construct two of these chairs: one for Kyron, and one to be exhibited on the road. If all goes well, maybe someday soon even more fans will have their own customized chair!

This was the part that got me, though:

"With these tricked out Steampunk wheelchairs," Rosenbaum said, "the conversation changes from 'How did you lose the use of your legs?' to 'Where did you get the cool chair!?'"

Yes. This. (Is it dusty in here?) 
Read more at the full article here, or head over to the Indiegogo page if you'd like to chip in.

And finally, here's a fascinating read I found over on BoingBoing: From Hummingbird Heads to Poison Rings: Indulging Our Antique Jewelry Obsession.

There are plenty of fantastic pictures with the article, too, from creepy hair chains to gorgeous pendants like this:

Hard to believe this Memento Mori ring was made in 1700!

(The stuff made of hair and bird heads, not so much. Heh.)

Have something steamy to share? You know I love seeing your projects! Post links in the comments, or share your pics over on the Epbot FB page!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Haunted Mansion Mickey Ears

Here's a quick craft I actually did ages ago, but just recently got around to displaying:

 Modified Haunted Mansion Mickey ears!

If you're not familiar, the ears are sold at the parks looking like this:

Those bright teal ears are a crime against nature and all humanity, but the back side is even worse, if you can believe it:
 [whimper] Scary for all the wrong reasons. 

(I think the ghost patches glow in the dark. Not. Helping.)

Even so, the body of the hat is gorgeous, so when I found a pair at a Disney clearance outlet for 8 bucks I snatched it up.

The ear makeover was fairly simple: remove the chains, carefully tape off the hat with a plastic bag, and then spray prime the ears with plastic primer. Next, a coat of sprayed metallic copper. Once that dried, a coat of flat black, which I rubbed off in spots with a rag dipped in mineral spirits. And finally, a little watered-down teal craft paint dripped in the design's nooks and crannies, to give it the look of copper patina.

The ears have been in my closet for nearly a year now, but when John brought in this fantastic copper candlestick from the garage I knew it was a match made in Haunted Heaven. Don't they look great together? It's the perfect addition to our front buffet table - pics of that coming soon.

Unfortunately I'm still not done with the back of the ears, though. It was almost impossible to get the ugly ghost patches off, so I finally had to use an iron to melt the glue and peel them off bit-by-bit. There's still glue residue left over, so at some point I'd like to add a faux copper name plate to cover the spots. I'm open to suggestions, though, if you guys think of something else that would be fun!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January Art Roundup!

John came down with a head cold at exactly 4:30 Friday afternoon, which I tried to tell him was against every law of nature and, like, totally not cool, but to no avail.

So, I spent the weekend playing sick with my actually-sick husband, meaning we spent it on adjoining couches mainlining the last season of The Office on Netflix. :) Playing sick when you're not actually sick is pretty awesome, btw. I highly recommend it.

Anyhoo, so far I've managed to dodge the germy bullet, and John's feeling a lot better tonight, so... LET'S LOOK AT SOME COOL ART, PEOPLE!

First up, these adorable ACEO prints by Craig Michael Scott are only $4 each:

FOUR DOLLARS. I mean, c'mon.

He also has larger sizes and more geekery galore over at his Etsy shop, so hit one of the links up there to see the rest.

I've been a fan of Hannah Lynn (formally Hannah Disney) for years, but I don't think I've ever featured her work here on Epbot. Fixing that riiiight.... NOW:

"Mermaid Pirate" 8X10 print, $11.99

Hannah has hundreds and hundreds of prints to choose from, so good luck picking just a few favorites. Her 8X10s are all $11.99,  and her open edition ACEOs sell for just $3. (She also has LE edition versions that are hand-embellished, and bidding over at Ebay starts at $10. Pretty sweet!)

I'm especially loving her Alice in Wonderland set:

Head over to Hannah's Ebay store to see Alice, the White Rabbit, Cheshire, and lots, LOTS more. Or visit Hannah's website; she sells at both places.

(Just remembered I still have one of Hannah's hand-embellished ACEO's on my give-away board, so you can also enter to win that one!)

I'm a sucker for travel posters for fictional places, and these ones by Ali Xenos (aka Teacup Piranha) are awesome:

The Shire, 5X7 print, $8.50 (larger sizes available, too.)

Up Set of Two, starting at $13.60 for 5X7 prints (more sizes available)

I'm going to need someone to base an entire nursery around that UP set, please.

As far as I can tell Jennifer Valano Karp only sells at conventions, which is a shame, because LOOKIE:

"Pirate Ivy & Harley" by Jennifer Valano Karp, aka "NoFlutter" on DeviantArt

 She also has a whole Facebook album of people cosplaying her art, which is so. cool. (Here's Pirate Ivy & Harley!)

In fact, I've even seen her most famous trio cosplayed out at MegaCon in years past:

C'mon. How awesome is this?

I don't know about you guys, but there are days when I think I may scream if I see one more Disney Princesses variation. You know, princesses with beards, princesses wearing college clothes, princesses as robots...  Wait. Actually, I'd like to see that one.

That said, there are still artists out there doing it right, and they make all the rest worth wading through. I saw two fantastic examples last week. First, Sadyna over on DeviantArt did a Warrior Princess series, and it is stunning:

The only problem here is that I see no way to purchase any of Sadyna's work. Sadyna! Open thee an art store, STAT!

Oh, and she made Cinderella a Cyborg, so I guess I get my Robot Princesses wish after all:
:D Now go see the rest!

I especially love it when artists put their own spin on the princesses, instead of making them look exactly like the movies. Sadnya did it perfectly, and so did Heather Theurer, who I hope will be making an entire set of fine oil paintings like this:

Show of hands: who's hearing "See the Light" in their heads and getting a little weepy? Just me? (It's that song, I tell you. THAT SONG. Gah.)

So far Heather has also painted Cinderella, Mulan, and this gorgeous Merida:

 Head over to NerdApproved to see the others, or go to Heather's site to see the rest of her work. (Sadly I don't see any more Disney or geeky characters, though, and no prints, either! Boo! Maybe we'll get lucky and she'll paint enough princesses to make a calendar.)

And finally, my favorite from Katie Cook's most recent sketch-posting spree on Twitter:


Katie is one of my favorite artists of all time, and I know most of you love her, too, so you'll be delighted to learn she's FINALLY opened up commissions in her online store again. (A custom ACEO is only $10!) Act fast, though; I doubt those will last long!

And, of course, I still have 3 or 4 original Katie Cook ACEO's on my give-away board, so there's a freebie option for ya. :)

K, guys, you know the drill: comment below to enter to win the art of your choice from my Pinterest Art Give-Away Board! (I was tallying it up today, and it looks like roughly half of the board has been given away by now. So let me apologize in advance for all the goodies you're going to see over there that have a big "NO LONGER AVAILABLE" underneath. Heh.) 

I'll announce the winner in a few days, and yes, I'll ship world-wide!

The give-away has ended, and the winner is ZeaBunny/Michelle! Congrats, Michelle, and please e-mail me your mailing address & choice of prize!