Monday, July 11, 2016

Shadows of the Dark Crystal by J. M. Lee Review

I have eagerly been awaiting this book since Jim Hensen Productions announced the Author Quest contest about two years ago. "The Dark Crystal" was one of my favorite movies as a kid, still is. I love Jim Hensen's and Brian Froud's artistry. I will forever be grateful to Jim Hensen for introducing me to Brian Froud.

So when I won the ARC from Goodreads I was overjoyed, especially since the winner of the contest was local author J.M. Lee and a local bookstore, Red Balloon Books, would be having a book launch party. I'm always happy to support local artists and independent stores. I'm also a giant book nerd and love meeting authors I've read.

I was very excited that the cover was done by Froud, and I was briefly disappointed that he didn't do the interior illustrations as well. Until Friday, I had only seen the placeholder art for the book. In fact, the first thing I did when I bought my official copy was to compare the art in the ARC with the polished art in the finished edition. The placeholder art showed me that I wouldn't be disappointed in Cory Godbey's artwork, it definitely captures the spirit and whimsy of the world originally created by Froud and Hensen.

This is J.M. Lee's first novel. (I think it was his first public reading of his work as well. He did a great job, but you could tell he was very excited and nervous. I hope his parents being there didn't make him more nervous.) It's always a bit nerve racking as a reader - probably as an author too - to enter into a much loved universe when there has been a change in management, particularly when that management doesn't have any prior documented experience. I have to say that I wasn't let down by the book. It definitely had all the heart of the original film.

Our protagonist is a young, strong-willed Gelfling girl, Naia, of the Sog tribe. Her people live in the swamp and she is desperate to see more of the world, like her twin brother, Gurjin. However, this isn't possible as she must train to replace her mother as the leader of the tribe. Her adventure begins when she spots a stranger while she is out hunting. She then has the opportunity to leave the swamp to find out what happened to her brother, who has gone missing from his duties as a guard at the Crystal Castle.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I hope that if finds an audience with to today's young adult readers and helps them discover Jim Hensen's lesser known works (which I think were some of his best). I am eagerly awaiting the next installment of the series.

J.M thanks for being so gracious in sharing with us a peek inside Froud's design notes and for signing both my copies of the book.

Happy reading!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman Review

The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman is the debut novel of Robin Gregory, I won my copy through Goodreads. Moojie is a historical/mystical fantasy aimed at middle grade readers. I think that the vocabulary may be challenging for many in this age group. This wouldn't be a book to give to reluctant readers.

Moojie is a disabled boy that loses two families and is searching for a place he feels he belongs. He struggles with bullies and to make friends. His quest for a new family focuses on a group that the villagers call the "Hostiles". Periodically, Moojie shows some strange abilities of unknown origins that cause unexpected and miraculous events.

As a debut novel, I think it was good. I found the pacing a bit slow in the beginning and had a hard time getting into the story. The second half of the book went smoother, and quicker, for me. I think the pacing of the book may have been deliberate on the author's part, as the chapter titles were very long and rambling in many cases.

I am a lover of the fantasy genre, but not so much when it comes to the mystical/existential stories. I am not sure if it was the mystical aspects, the pacing, or that I just wasn't in the right mood to love this story.

Happy reading!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Diary of a Burn

On December 21st, 2014, I had my first real burn injury. Not the little spatters that everyone gets while cooking, but a full-on freshly microwaved country gravy covering two of my fingers on my left hand. Just in case you aren't familiar with country gravy, it is basically fried grease, flour, and milk. It is very think and clings very efficiently. I would qualify this as my first truly serious injury.

I've been very lucky overall in my life when it comes to injuries. I have come through my years relatively unscathed. First grade seems to have been the worst year for me when it comes to injuries: I got a concussion when running under a friend on the swing and getting kicked in the back of the head, I got stabbed in the ear by a friend, and flew over the head of my pony and landed on my left arm with another kid landing on my back. The fall destroyed on the cushion in my shoulder joint, though I wouldn't know that for about 20 years (pre-MRI). I have scars on my shins from learning to ride horses in junior high. I pulled a thigh muscle in track during high school and ran on it for 6 weeks. I suppose that the scars of childbirth could be counted as injuries as well. My most recent injury prior to this burn was right before Christmas 2013, when I slipped and hit my head on the floor causing my glasses to cut the corner of my eye. So that is two Christmases in a row that have have been hurt. If it happens again next year, it'll be the beginnings of a Christmas tradition. This is not a tradition I want to start.

I do not recommend burning yourself, especially with anything sticky and clinging. This makes the burn so much worse as the substance doesn't just pass over the skin briefly. I am not one to run to the doctor or emergency room easily, I'd rather just take care of it at home. If I had gone by the look of my skin immediately after the incident, I would not have gone to the ER. It took hours for the blisters to start to truly form. However, the pain was beyond anything I had ever felt in my life. I can say without exaggeration that I wanted to cut my hand off to end the pain for a good 30 minutes. I put my hand under cool water just as one should, until that too began to hurt terribly. So I put in under water on and off periodically. Do not put ice on a burn as they told us to do when we were kids. It can exacerbate any potential nerve damage. My daughter was very helpful and concerned during all of this, she witnessed the whole thing. She even fetched my husband when I realized that I'd need to go to hospital.

I am including pictures to show the progress of my injury. If you are squeamish, I suggest not looking any further.



These first two pictures were taken very shortly after the burn happened. You can't even see the redness in the photos.  The burn seems quite innocuous. However these pictures are deceiving, the pain was rampant. The pain ebbed and flowed, at times I considered not going to the ER, but I knew better as I had seen a burn on a hand before. I knew that despite the appearance, the fact that the gravy had clung meant that it was likely that it was a second degree burn. I am so glad that I knew enough to take off my wedding ring at the very beginning, it would have had to been cut off my finger if I had waited to remove it. Taking off the ring was something that required some teeth gritting. Despite the lack of redness and blisters in the pictures, the second one shows that my digits had already begun to swell a bit.




I am very glad that I decided to go to the ER and get treated, though I had to wait for several hours to be seen as there were much worse injuries and illnesses involving vomiting in the ER with me. I actually ended up carpooling to the ER with my father- and mother-in-law because she was in the beginning stages of a seizure. It was a very strange day. The real blisters didn't begin to show up until about an hour and a half after I got the burn. It was while I was waiting in the ER. The blister started out so tiny and ordinary. I was able to wait patiently, and even read for a little while, before the pain waves became more intense again. Then I had to pace in the waiting room to help cope with the pain. I even ran cool water over my hand periodically because the skin stung from what felt like an intense sunburn dryness.  I even had to get a nurse to help me go to the bathroom because I couldn't get my jeans button undone one handed.



My reward for my patience at the ER was some pain medication, some excellent burn cream, and some free gauze. Though I really needed about 10 boxes of gauze instead of the two they gave me. On the plus side, I got a wonderful lobster claw hand for the holidays.The fingers had to be individually wrapped within the larger bandage to prevent them from sticking together. If you've ever hurt your fingers, you'll be familiar with this practice. This detail became very important as my body tried to heal itself. It was pretty funny to watch me try to write at work the first couple of days. Luckily, much of what I do involves typing. Though I think, even that was a bit funny and awkward looking. It certainly was uncomfortable, and even painful, towards the end of the day.



Over the next couple of days, I was amazed and kind of grossed out over the blisters that developed. I think the best description of my feelings would be "fascinated horror". The one on my ring finger became particularly large, the size of a whole other finger. I continually marveled at what my body was doing to try to heal itself and terrified that the skin at the edges of the blister would simply rip apart from the amount of stretching that it was doing. It certainly felt like it was on the edge of tearing apart. I also worried about the skin over the blister spontaneously bursting because the skin couldn't stretch anymore. It took two days for the blisters to reach their largest size. I couldn't help but stare at them when changing my bandages.


 
At times, it was tempting to pop the blisters. This was something I knew I shouldn't do, as they are there to protect the new skin, so I was very protective of my blisters and tried to keep them intact as long as I could I was defeated by a need to consumer summer sausage. Cutting myself a few slices, the pressure of pushing on the knife caused the largest blister to pop. It was 6 days after the burn was received. In some ways this was much grosser than the blister itself. I left the skin so that it could continue to protect the new skin underneath. Plus, any manipulation of that skin caused a bit of pain. The blister on my middle finger had started to reduce on its own at this point, which was good, my fingers had been forcibly separated into a Vulcan greeting for a week (though no one could see it through the bandage) and the muscles were fatigued. It was a relief to not have to hold my fingers at such an awkward angle anymore and there were a surprising feeling of freedom, now that I could wrap my fingers individually and have a range of motion that more closely resembled normal.


I think the next stage of my recovery was my favorite. As the skin from the blisters dried out about 8 days after the original injury, my hand started to look like something out of a zombie movie. Though the hard, dry skin was a bit uncomfortable and would sometimes poke the tender new skin underneath it. I had to make sure I kept my fingers moving to help the new skin stay elastic. I wanted to use moisturizer on my dry skin but couldn't. So instead, I kept applying the burn cream like a good patient.





It was very difficult not to peel the skin off once the scabs started flaking off. It's like that compulsion to remove torn labels, almost irresistible. I admit that the angry redness and the tenderness of the newly exposed flesh was helpful in resisting this temptation, but only at first. Also, knowing that doing so would likely increase any scaring. I'm not overly vain, but I've always thought I had pretty good skin, and I didn't want to screw that up.



My slavish obedience to the doctor's directions and my resistance to the temptation to pop the blisters or peel the scabs prematurely has apparently paid off. The burn scar is barely noticeable on my skin. There is some tightness to the burn area and it seems to dry out more quickly than the skin around it. My ring finger seems slightly bigger than previously, but I was able to put my wedding ring back on. (Though it's uncomfortable to try to take it off.) The area is still slightly red and is occasionally tender to the touch. Extreme cold seems to bother it more than heat.

Getting such a burn is not an experience I want to repeat, but I think I healed up rather well. I hope that you never get such an injury, or any injury for that matter.

I hope you have a wonderful 2015!










Saturday, December 6, 2014

2014 Christmas Stockings

I made three Christmas stocking for family/friends' babies this year. I don't know why they didn't listen when I commanded that no one else I know have any babies.

One of the stockings this year was for a baby that has already had one Christmas, I found out too late in the year to get it finished for his first Christmas. It was also a very complex, detailed design. This particular stocking was inspired by the art of Miles Pinkney. He did a great Steampunk Santa magazine cover picture. I took the Santa and gears from this cover art to create a Steampunk stocking. Unfortunately, the picture doesn't really show the fact that the ray gun and name are made with sparkly thread.

This year one of my friends from high school and his wife were blessed with their second son. They are more traditional in their tastes, so I went with a Victorian style Santa Claus design. I didn't design this one myself, it came from a magazine.

The final stocking I created this year was for my newest niece. Her mother requested a Nightmare Before Christmas design. I chose a sparkly night sky fabric to try to capture the feel of the movie, though the picture makes the sparkles a little hard to see. This stocking was designed for 30 count fabric, but is completed on 32 count because the perfect color was only available in that size. I made some adjustments, but the stocking came out a little smaller than intended.

I feel that my designs and patterns are getting better with each attempt. I have avoided using back-stitching and french knots in my patterns until the Nightmare Before Christmas stocking. That is going to take some time to perfect as an art, I even asked some people to beta test the pattern to see if they have any suggestions on improving the back-stitching details.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and that you can celebrate with those and in a way that brings you true joy.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Contaminated by Em Garner Review

Contaminated by Em Garner is a post-apocalyptic YA novel, I won it on Goodreads. It's the story of Velvet and her sister, Opal. They are orphans as a result of a prion disease outbreak that is the result of a diet drink, ThinPro, being contaminated with unsafe proteins. The disease results in aggressive behavior, loss of speech, increased clumsiness, and other symptoms that give the infected a zombie-like appearance but without them actually being dead.

The book begins with Violet going to a kennel, where the neutralized, contaminated people (or Connies) are kept so that family members can reclaim them. The contaminated people are neutralized with a shock collar. Violet is looking for her mother.

Violet is struggling to survive and support her sister in this new world, she goes to school for half a day and then works the rest of the day. Though the contamination affect different areas of the country in different degrees, many basic services haven't been restored. There is martial law and curfews. Feral Connies still show up periodically, as the illness can lie dormant for extended periods of time based on how much a person drank and how contaminated the batch was.

I haven't read any of Em Garner's novels for adults, I hadn't even heard of her until running across this book on the FirstReads giveaway list. The story is an easy and quick read, it is well paced. The characters are pretty believable. There were a few spots that even made me laugh, especially one bit about kissing, boys, and pizza. It's an infection story more than a zombie one, but the world she set up works well. I look forward to reading the next book.

Happy reading!