Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Crafternoon! Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects

 photo StickyFingers_9781936976546_shadow_zpsa25d05ab.jpg Title: Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects
Author: Sophie Maletsky
Publisher: Zest Books
Publication Year: 2014
Read: August 2014
Where It Came From: Paper review copy from publisher
Genre: Crafty How-To

The Basics

Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects is pretty much what’d you expect with a title like that—it’s a how-to book that covers the basics of making all sorts of accessories and doodads out of duct tape, and then provides tutorials for over 70 different projects, from simple things like bows and flowers, on up to wallets, purses, desk organizers, and all kinds of other crazy things that might make you think, “You can do that with duct tape??” From information about different brands of duct tape to consider using, to what sort of work surface works best with the material, to hints on ways to use up the last little bits of tape on the roll and then the cardboard center of the roll as well, this book pretty much covers the subject of duct taping crafting from crash course through 400-level class. Both of us decided to take ‘er for a spin before writing up our individual takes on the book, so read on for opinions and project photos!

Alyssa’s Take

I feel like I’m turning into a crochety old person when I say this, but I remember when I was in junior high and high school, and my friends would make stuff out of ye olde silver duct tape (‘twas all there was, doncha know)—mostly wallets and backpack repair patches and decorations on skateboards and stuff like that. It’s so funny to me that it has exploded into this whole new genre of crafting—funny and cool! Though I like to have at least one good craft project going in my life at all times, I had never tried my hand at duct tape artificery until this book arrived in the mail.

I found the book to be comprehensive, easy to understand, and concisely written. I liked that it started out with the basic background info—types of work surfaces to use, ones to avoid so you don’t end up damaging furniture, the different types of tape available, where to buy them, tapes that won’t work, how to set up both basic and advanced portable work stations…all kinds of stuff that it might not even occur to the duct tape noob to think about. Following that is an invaluable chapter about making the basic duct tape components you will need to craft the projects that follow, and then there are seven chapters full of those projects themselves: quick crafts, wallets, purses, wearable accessories, school supplies, room d├ęcor…wow. So much!

Feeling inspired by the bow trend, I decided to try my hand at the fan-fold bow—simple enough that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and ragequit, but cute enough that I might actually turn it into a hair accessory someday. In an homage to my teenage years (and my laziness about getting to a store to buy the pretty stuff), I used the classic silver duct tape I found living in my garage. Here’s how the process went, and the result:

 photo photo1_zps1807b750.jpg  photo photo2_zps380e924b.jpg  photo photo3_zpsc3c12bf0.jpg  photo photo4_zps79adedc2.jpg  photo photo11_zps2491b905.jpg  photo photo21_zpse3923f9d.jpg  photo photo31_zps5b9a5da5.jpg

My bow turned out a little bigger than I had expected, but I quite like it and think it might look extra nice if I steampunkify it with gears and such, if I feel ambitious. I found the instructions easy to understand for the most part, and the full-color photos accompanying each step were really helpful. I also appreciated that there was a skill level rating for each project and an estimate of the time needed to complete it (although I wasn’t totally clear if the time required to make the initial duct tape “fabric” needed for each project was included in that estimate).

A lot of the projects are things I probably wouldn’t use or wear (the tie and the money keeper are a little too goofy for my tastes, for instance), but some of the things like a sunglasses case or a makeup pouch for inside your purse could be fun. And some of the ideas, like using clear packing tape to make an ID holder window, or stealing the zipper from a Ziploc bag to use in constructing a pouch, are pure genius! Most of all, I like the author’s emphasis on taking the basics and her ideas to use as a jumping off point for bringing your own duct tape ideas to life. For me personally, I’d rate the book 3.5 stars, since many of the project ideas aren’t really my style, but for kids, teens, scout troop leaders looking for project ideas, those who are already into duct tape crafting, or those who are looking to start, I’d bump it up to 4 stars, since the book is comprehensive and has very diverse project offerings. I think some of my younger relatives would probably really get a kick out of this, and I’d have fun trying out some of these projects with them.

Susan’s Take

I am not a crafter. My catalogue of unfinished craft projects is far larger than my collection of completed ones, especially if you look at things produced after say middle school, when the state no longer required me to spend some 6% of my instruction time in a visual art class, the number of finished projects drops precipitously. Yet when Alyssa said she was interested in this book, there were so many exciting color photos, and it seemed like it would be so darn easy (after all, my tiny cousin-once-removed says she gets loads of duct tape for her birthday) that I said of course I'd try it out.

Ha. It's like if your friend says, "Let's run five miles," and you've gotten rides home after walking half a block. Because duct tape crafts are deceptive. They look so bright and cheery that they seem to suggest an eternal essence of good humor, when in reality they are the most irritating things in the world to piece together. To be fair, however, I am basing my assessment of duct tape crafting only on my experience in making a tote bag from the instructions in Sticky Fingers. I could be missing an entire world of angst-free duct taping.

And suuuuuuure, a good portion of my problems in duct taping stemmed from my disinterest in every project in the book except for a tote bag. I love tote bags. Out of the projects in the book, this is one of the hardest: it's 5-stars difficult. Yet, the book claims it's just a simple matter of combining some woven duct tape fabric pieces (a project rated only 3-stars of difficulty), and furthermore tells me that it should take a mere 2 hours.

Thus after finding the tote bag craft, I headed to my nearest craft stores and located their duct tape shelves. All the pretty duct tape is expensive, but some, I found, had price tags that seemed to be made in a different currency to justify the mark-up. My mother and I searched through the book for guidance on how many rolls of duct tape I needed, and decided that based on the advice to start with only three rolls, two patterned rolls and one solid roll would suffice for one project. This turned out to be the case, but it was quite a bit more confusing than I thought it needed to be for me to figure out how much tape to buy. It's relatively easy to pick through books and find things that catch your eye before you realize their size, and I would have found it helpful for author Sophie Maletsky had given some estimates of tape use for her project. This was particularly the case in the tote bag project. To make the tote bag, all you need are two pieces of 10x10 woven duct tape fabric, and three 10x5's. If you turn to the page about basic weaving method, you will find advice about the quantity and length of strips you'll need to make square pieces of woven cloth, but in this case I would have preferred a table for quick reference.

The other problem we had in the craft stores was that we just couldn't figure out which colors and designs to pair with each other. We noticed that the example of the tote bag in the book used three complementary patterns, but partially from budget and partially from an inability to find an appropriate third roll of tape, I only bought two. A few pages about how to choose colors and patterns to contrast with each other would have been very helpful in this respect, though perhaps the target audience is experienced crafters who innately understand this skill.

Once home and crafting, I had even more trouble. The instructions for basic duct tape strips (the material for the woven fabric) would have been better if they had explained that your best way to avoid bubbles and creases is to start folding the tape at the center of your strip. Several of my strips bear the scars of my attempt to start with the ends, as per the first picture in the instructions. It wasn't until later that I realized the instructional picture was showing someone smoothing the tape out to the ends. The pictures showing how to piece together the bag are even more confusing, failing to show at what step you put the tape on the interior of the base of the bag.

But by far, the most frustrating thing to me was seeing the time estimate for the beach bag as 2 hours. Nope. A solid six hours after starting, I had a bulging and kind of tattered looking duct tape bag with no handle.

I imagine that this book would be fine for many a crafter like Alyssa, but next time I'll stick to my five-mile runs. 2 stars for me, but I'll join Alyssa in estimating better enjoyment for people planning projects for scout groups, camps, and the like.

I'm heading to a wedding this weekend, but I'll come back and add photos when I finish the handles on the tote. And fix the fraying top. And support the sagging side. And...and... Oh dear. Let's just hope I finish.

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copies, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: The Green Teen Cookbook

 photo TheGreenTeenCookbook_ZestBooks_9781936976584_zpsb24ca43e.jpg Title: The Green Teen Cookbook
Editors: Laurane Marchive & Pam McElroy
Publisher: Zest Books
Publication Year: 2014
Read: August 2014
Where It Came From: Paper review copy from publisher
Genre: Cookbook
Rating: 3 Organic Tomatoes

We can’t believe summer is nearly over (right?!), but we thought we’d prolong the sunny days of fun just a little bit longer by joining Zest Books’ Summer Bloggin Blog Tour and reviewing a couple of their books about cooking and crafting. Up today is The Green Teen Cookbook, a tome of cookery full of “recipes for all seasons—written by teens, for teens.” This is a cookbook with a lot of ideas: the primary ones are that teens around the world are experienced cooks with sophisticated tastes, and you, too, can Eat Green. As to what green eating means, there are six essays prefacing the recipes that give you perspectives like Eat Seasonal Vegetables, or Buy Organic Produce. This is basically stuff we agree with. But (and of course there was going to be a but with that setup), our overall impression is that there are too many ideas to fully coalesce into the sort of cookbook we’re going to grab off our shelves every time we get hungry.

As far as we can tell, most of the greenness of this book comes from the first chapter, “A Rough Guide to Healthy, Environmentally Conscious Cooking.” It’s comprised of the abovementioned six essays covering such topics as eating healthfully and seasonally, what “organic” is all about, vegetarianism, the locavore movement, and fairtrade. They are written with varying degrees of skill and helpfulness, but we enjoyed “How to Eat Seasonally” and “What is Fairtrade?” and thought they contained a lot of interesting information. On the other hand, both the vegetarian and the meat eater were a little nonplussed by the tone and lack of focus in “Vegetarianism.”

What disappointed us a little was that the green eating ideas from these essays didn’t carry over into the rest of the cookbook as much as we had hoped. Each recipe has icons indicating what season it is appropriate to prepare the dish in, and the end of each chapter includes seasonal variations on a single classic dish such as pie, sandwiches, or lasagna, but it might have been nice to have some sort of overall seasonal arrangement of the recipes, and to situate them within the other realms of green eating in some way.

We found the cookbook more satisfying when focusing on the “for teens, by teens” aspect of it. It’s organized into meal-themed chapters, with such categories as breakfast and brunch; soups, salads, and sandwiches; snacks and sides; main courses; and desserts. Each recipe has a photo of the teen who submitted it, with a quote from them about the recipe serving as the header text. The recipes range from the simple, like hummus and guacamole, to the more complex or ones that utilize more unusual ingredients (for example, the Oaxacan squash blossom quesadilla with chipotle crema). Teens from all around the world contributed to the book and as a result it has a very international vibe, with recipes for curry, sushi, and sancocho (a soup from the Dominican Republic), among others. It also covers the basics, though—steak, mashed potatoes, oatmeal cookies…things like that. Though the photos of the dishes aren’t at the level of food art you might see in some cookbooks out there, they showcase the food well and give you a good idea of how your cooking should turn out. (But where is that delicious-looking watermelon drink from the cover?? We couldn’t find it anywhere in the book. :c)

One of our favorite chapters was the one dedicated to recipes for making your own kitchen staples (these recipes were written by the editors, not the teen contributors). It’s cool to see how simple it is to make things like vinaigrette, tomato sauce, pesto, mayonnaise, peanut butter, and stock from scratch, so you can enjoy them without preservatives and other additives, and at a lower price than you would get purchasing them ready-made at the grocery store.

Other nice features of the book include a resources section at the back with a list of some of the best farmer’s markets in the U.S., info about locating one near you, directions on where to find info about Community Supported Agriculture, and a list of good cooking-related websites and blogs. The helpful tips sprinkled throughout the book also help the reader boost their cooking skills up to the next level.

Overall, we would emphasize The Green Teen Cookbook’s success as a crowd-sourced teen cookbook more than it being super-green. And while it’s by no means a master class in green eating and cooking, it covers the basics and would serve as a good primer for teens interested in the topic and inspire them to further research. The book may not hold as much interest for those well-versed in the ways of green or for experienced chefs and home cooks, but we think it would make a great gift for kids and teens interested in getting started cooking, or for college students cooking on their own for the first time and looking to make environmentally-conscious decisions in the process.

(Note: We had hoped to include our interview with the book’s editor in this post, but we’ll update it with that as soon we get her responses!)

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Genre-ally Speaking: Lock In, by John Scalzi

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: August 26th, 2014
Read: June 2014
Where It Came From: Paper ARC from BEA*
Genre: Sci-Fi-Mystery-Thriller
Rating: 4 Threeps

It’s been over a month since I read Lock In (tore through it in a matter of days, in fact), so this review probably won’t go into specifics as much as I usually do. And I think that’s a good idea for this book—part of the joy of reading it is trying to puzzle out the threads of the mystery for yourself as the stakes for the characters increase and the tension ratchets up. But first, let’s talk plot!

Chris Shane is a new FBI agent, working a murder case in the D.C. area with his partner Leslie Vann. It sounds like the beginning of your usual crime thriller, but here’s the sci-fi twist: The world Shane and Vann live in is one that has been shaped by a flu-like virus that swept the globe 25 years previously. Most people who catch the disease just experience mild flu-y symptoms, but 1% of the infected—which doesn’t sound like much, but amounts to millions of people in the US alone—end up “locked in.” That means they are in their bodies and fully conscious, but are unable to move, respond, or make use of those bodies beyond just being, well, alive. The world has changed in many ways to deal with the situation and accommodate victims of Haden’s syndrome (they’re called Hadens for short), such as with the development of the Agora, an online space for Hadens, and the creation of robot-like devices their consciousness can inhabit to move around in and interact with the physical world. Another salient point—some non-Hadens have the ability to be an Integrator, or someone able to let a locked in individual inhabit their body for a time and experience the world as the non-locked in do.

So, back to Shane and Vann—they are working on a Haden-related murder case, and it looks like an Integrator is their prime suspect. This complicates the situation in ways I’m sure you can imagine. Was the Integrator himself the perpetrator? What if he was integrated with a Haden at the time? Surely there must be safeguards against that…? Hmmm… As they trace the trails leading out from the murder in many directions, the mystery expands to encompass politics and greed on a much larger scale, while also focusing down on those caught in the crossfire of the hidden players in the game.

I quite enjoyed Lock In. Shane is an engaging narrator, and his first-person voice propels us through the story. In typical Scalzi fashion, it is a very smooth, fast-paced reading experience, with writing that feels effortless and pages that fly by. The world is certainly different from the one we inhabit now, but it’s still similar enough as to be very recognizable—no flying cars and vacation jaunts to outer space here, but rather a vision of a near future that has been altered by something easily conceivable (like, y’know, a huge epidemic we are ill prepared for), but that humans are adapting to. People keep on keeping on, doing normal human things, both good and bad. I also love how the story conveys the far-reaching effects of the murder and the plotting behind it, since it is certainly something with consequences for the entire world, but also narrows in on the effects on a very personal level for the main characters and other people involved.

Some of the things that really stood out to me in Lock In:

  • The pacing. This is probably one of my top awesome things in the book. Scalzi really nailed it, creating a reading experience that is relaxed enough for you to be able to process all the information coming your way, but still be a page-turning thriller that keeps you guessing what lies beyond the next chapter. From reading the jacket copy you know Chris Shane is an FBI agent, but then on page two you find out he is a Haden—boom, first surprise (which may then cause you to consider your pre-conceived notions you didn’t realize you had about characters, as it did for me). Also wonderfully paced was the information about who Chris Shane is—he is the narrator, so it’s difficult for him to hide things from the reader, but since his background is so obvious to himself, he is able to sort of obliquely think around certain details of his life, with the result being that we know he is somehow famous, but we don’t know why. Scalzi teases us with it as we wonder why the heck everyone knows who Chris Shane is, and the suspense and anticipation that build leading to that reveal is pretty damn great.

  • The humor. The trademark Scalzi humor was definitely present in this book, but at the same time it didn’t seem like quite as much of a focus or its own character as it is in some of his other books. And that is in no way a criticism—just an observation. Like in Redshirts, or the funny bits in Old Man’s War--they have a style of writing and kind of witty, punchy humor that I have come to associate with Scalziness, and Lock In feels a little different. Humor is still very much present in it and very recognizably Scalzi, but it comes through the filter of Chris Shane and his situation in this world. For me, it’s a new facet of Scalzi funniness, and I like the versatility it demonstrates.

  • The twisty-turniness. The whole situation with Hadens, Integrators, and threeps (the machines Hadens can use to function in the physical world) quite brilliantly lends itself to all sorts of twists and surprises in the mystery as you try to figure out and predict who precisely is involved, and why, and with what motivations, and where they are, and WHO they are, and what are they doing, and—well, you get it.

  • The smooth-like-buttah reading experience. I already went into this a bit, but the ease and speed with which I tore through Lock In is really a testament to the skill behind the writing. To create an entertaining, suspenseful, and emotion-tugging mystery that’s this much fun and speed-inducing to read is an art.

The only part I had questions about involved some of the details of the climactic scene. Without getting into spoiler territory, there were some scientific-technological aspects that I, with my not super techno-savvy skills, tried to follow through mentally to their ends, and I wasn’t sure I was completely clear on it all by the time the scene wrapped up. But it didn’t have a negative effect on my enjoyment of the book as a whole—it merely gave me ideas of questions I could ask Scalzi if I ever see him at Phoenix Comicon again. :) Overall, I really enjoyed the book—it is both sweeping as a thriller on the grand scale, and also affecting on the micro scale of individual human interactions and emotions. It's a good one for Scalzi fans and sci-fi fans, of course, but I’d also recommend it to general thriller and mystery audiences; I think it’s definitely a book with crossover appeal. (…there may not be any semi-colons in Lock In, but I thought there needed to be at least one in this review!)

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

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