Fiction of Noirvember

noirvember reads

I wish I could pretend that two books in one month is a lousy accomplishment, but these days it’s pretty good for me. And for both books to be recent roman noir, written by ladies?

OUTSTANDING.

Kim Cooper is the driving force behind the 1947 Project, which turned into Esotouric, the crime bus tours that someday I will have both the time and money to go on. Mary McCoy is a friend of a friend, with whom I bonded over Code Name Verity–I mentioned that I’d recently read a historical novel in which the characters knew how to knit and it wasn’t a thing because everyone knew how to knit, and she asked if perhaps it was Verity, and we became blood sisters on the spot (not really). Mary is a librarian and was a writer for Kim’s project On Bunker Hill.

Basically, these ladies are who I want to be when I grow up. And they’ve both written outstanding novels. The Kept Girl features a 1920s Raymond Chandler following a trail of money and missing persons and uncovering a strange cult. Dead To Me (out in March), set in the late 40s, is about a teenage girl investigating the attempted murder of her older sister, whom she hasn’t seen or heard from in four years. Both capture the voice and setting of period noir perfectly, give a great peek into Los Angeles past, and utterly captivated me.

Review and Giveaway: Kung Fu Knits

kungfu-cover

Okay, I love this book. It is a knitting-themed comic book with knitting patterns, or maybe a knitting pattern book with a comic.

The comic book portion is super cute. It has great illustrations–not too complicated (I hate distracting stuff in comics) but with tons of detail (I hate lack of detail too, which makes me difficult to please). But am I its intended audience? I asked my children to come read it with me. Sam, who is eight, read Liam’s dialogue, and I read Elizabeth’s. Grace (four) was disappointed that there is no little girl, but she loved the hedge dragon. Sam couldn’t believe how quickly it was over.

“AWWW. That’s IT? I wish there was MORE!”

Well, there you have it. Kung Fu Knits is kid-tested and mom-approved.

The patterns are straight-forward and relatively easy, with clear directions. These projects are not for a true novice, but an adventurous beginner with all basic knitting skills mastered could manage. At the same time, there is enough going on that I would happily knit one of the projects without fear of getting bored. (After all, Gilmore Girls is on Netflix. I am going to keep mentioning that until I have time to watch all seven seasons.)

I am giving away a copy of the e-book. To enter, just leave a comment on this post by next Wednesday, October 8th. You can comment about anything, but if you need a topic, how about your favorite martial arts movie? Please include your email address and/or Ravelry username so Elizabeth can send the book to the winner.

If you just can’t wait to get a copy:

Kung Fu Knits is available for digital download for $9.95 at Ravelry or in paperback for $15.95 at Cooperative Press (comes with the digital download). I believe it will be on Amazon soon as well, though you will not get the digital download with the paperback if you purchase there.

I also have a discount code that’s good for any of Elizabeth’s self-published patterns: you can use the code kfklaunch for 15% off.

Here is the rest of the blog tour schedule! Lots of great stops.
22 September | Mixed Martial Arts & Crafts blog
24 September | Fibretown podcast
28 September | Must Stash podcast
29 September | Through the Back Loops blog
2 October | Through the Looking Glass blog (you are here)
5 October | The Knitgirllls podcast
10 October | Makewise Designs blog
15 October | Sunset Cat Designs blog
17 October | Joeli’s Kitchen podcast
22 October | Slate Falls Press blog
3 November | Wattsolak blog

Review: Firmoo Glasses

Remember how I spent over a year suffering from daily headaches? Yeah, that was fun. In September I decided to do something about it. I had an eye exam, got glasses with my current, correct prescription, and bought a better pillow. I’ve gone from taking ibuprofen 2-3 times a day to taking it 1-2 times a week. No kidding.

Right around the time I was making all of these changes, a company called Firmoo contacted me to invite me to review their glasses. I usually turn down review offers but I had literally just been fretting about wanting to have a spare pair, and who the hell turns down free stuff that they actually need? Not me, I tell you what.

I’ve always been highly skeptical about ordering glasses online. When I chose frames in-store, I tried on every pair that I even kinda liked, and one pair suited my face. ONE. But again: free. No risk. Firmoo has a virtual try-on option, where you upload a photo and input your pupillary distance so it can approximate how the frames will look. I chose a pair that I thought looked the most okay on me. (I wanted to get a similar style in red, but they were out of stock so I went with this grey one.)

I was very surprised to discover that the virtual try-on was fairly accurate!

Downsides:

  • The frames do not sit entirely evenly on my face. This is because my ears are at very slightly different heights, so it is not Firmoo’s fault–however, it is a problem with ordering online vs. in person, since a brick and mortar store would have adjusted the arms for me.
  • The arms are very thick, which looks cute but causes me to see them in my peripheral vision. Because of this I keep thinking that I am experiencing blurred vision. Again, something that would not have happened with a brick and mortar as I would have known ahead of time and not chosen these frames.

Good stuff:

  • My prescription is spot-on. In fact, I think it might be slightly better than the lenses in my (insurance) paid-for glasses.
  • They also smudge less readily than my other glasses, though I admit it’s possible that’s because I wear them less frequently.
  • The glasses came with both a hard case and a soft carrying case, a lens cleaning cloth, and a small glasses repair kit. That’s more than my optometrist gave me! (I am going to fiddle around with the repair kit to see if I can adjust the arms to fit better.)

Overall, I would absolutely recommend Firmoo. Every new customer gets their first pair free (you pay shipping, which I believe is quite reasonable–I did not pay shipping for my review pair).

I use mine as a spare/back-up pair, and use them primarily for watching TV/movies since I don’t use my peripheral vision for those. If you find the right frames, you could conceivably get your only glasses from Firmoo. And they have sunglasses too! The prices are very low compared to many other stores, and the virtual try-on is superior to other similar websites (I did a little research in the form of uploading my picture and trying on glasses all over the internet). My only real complaint is that none of the available frames are cat eye shaped.

Q is for…

Q-is-for-Quirky

Okay, I realize it’s bad form to start with an aside, but can we just quickly talk about how adorable this little illustration is? ADORABLE. I love the idea that knitting is a quirky, but also spy-worthy, skill. My very first career aspirations included Spy, you know.

So. Secret Agent Josephine is the secret identity of author Brenda Ponnay–or possibly Brenda Ponnay is Secret Agent Josephine’s secret identity, I’m not entirely sure which. :)

Brenda has written and illustrated three awesome children’s books: Secret Agent Josephine’s ABCs, Colors, and Numbers. They’re available as paperbacks and as digital books for on the go.

SAJ-covers

I have the Kindle versions, which of course show up black and white on my old-school Kindle (I didn’t buy Colors for obvious reasons), but even without the cute, quirky colors the books look fantastic. Tell the man standing on the corner that the oyster owns a fine wristwatch.

I adore Brenda’s artwork almost as much as I adore her. I’ve read her blog for years and years, since before we both became moms, and Sam and Bug have played together a few times. Combine that with Sam’s current obsession with counting, and you can probably imagine how excited I was to be asked to participate in this book tour!

I love these books. LOVE THEM! Sam and I read Numbers together, and he was very into the counting part, but the spy stuff went a little over his head. Oh well, I bet by next year he will be way into it–or Grace will! They both love the ABCs already, and I’m going to get a print copy of Colors for them.

I’ve got three treats for you! One, a video of Sam counting.

He was busy playing Zelda on the 3DS, hence the attitude that he is clearly doing me a FAVOR, I mean GOD, MOM. If only I’d given him my Kindle instead! (The video may take a minute to load. You can view it on flickr if it doesn’t cooperate here.)

Two, a mystery! Can you name my stealthy assistant?

spy-assistant

She is in disguise, so don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize her.

Three, a chance to win a print from Brenda! Comment here by December 14 and you could win an 8×10 art print of Q is for Quetzel from Secret Agent Josephine’s ABCs. Yay!

Review: Time On My Hands (knitting e-book)

timeonmyhands
My fellow knitting designer Becky Herrick recently gave me a copy of her e-book, Time On My Hands.

The book is a single PDF containing nine patterns for gloves (some with fingers and some without); eight of the patterns can be purchased as individual PDFs, but the ninth is available only in the collection.

The presentation is amazing. The layout and photography are excellent, and each pattern has a clock motif in the corner of the page (drawn either by hand or computer, I couldn’t tell!), which I found utterly charming. The gloves themselves are lovely, with a nice variety and clear, easy-to-follow instructions.

teatimeI had intended to knit Tea Time (pictured at left) for myself to go with this review, but, um. I kind of got stuck on yarn choice. I love Shelter, the yarn the pattern calls for, but it comes in too many pretty colors and anyway I am not supposed to be buying yarn and so before I knew it I’d waited too long and had no gloves to show.

Please do not allow my inability to plan well to dissuade you from this book. Here, I will get the review back on track.

In short: this is an excellent e-book and you should buy it if you have any interest at all in knitting gloves.

But wait! Before you buy it, comment on this post to enter to win a copy! Just answer this multiple choice question: Do you prefer gloves, mittens, or fingerless gloves?

Stardust: because Hollywood thinks you are stupid

I wanted to enjoy Stardust. It’s a good book and should have made for an entertaining movie.

I am definitely not one of those people who thinks that movie adaptations of beloved books should be faithful to the source material — in fact, that usually makes for a pretty crappy movie. Certainly there are always aspects of a book that make it magical and translate well to film, but often the things the fans cling to do not make for a good motion picture, so I never go into an adaptation expecting it to be like the book.

I also think that fantasy stories are hard to film. I have fairly low expectations for fantasy movies (really for most movies): I want to be entertained, and I want a little magic.

So it was a pretty big shock to me that I hated Stardust. And so did Will. So much that we turned it off a little more than halfway through and sent it back to Netflix. I know a lot of people enjoyed this movie and I am stuck somewhere between envy and incredulity.

I did like a few things about it: the lead performances were just fine, and even quite good in places; it was shot beautifully for the most part; I really appreciated the simplicity of making Dunstan a single father and eliminating the little hairy guy by having Tristran’s mother be the one to give him the candle; and I loved every minute of the Lords of Stormhold, especially the first murder when the dying Lord (Peter O’Toole!) laughed his ass off.

Almost everything else sucked.

Let’s start with the special effects: OH MY FUCKING GOD. It’s like they shot a perfectly fine-looking movie and then watched the rough edit and some guy with a cigar said, “Well, this movie’s all right but let’s make it flashier. Can we the magic be BRIGHT FUCKING GREEN? And how about some sparkles? I hear there’s a popular book full of sparkles, the kids love those.” Or possibly they finished the movie under-budget and said guy with cigar was all, “Let’s throw a couple million dollars at this shot here. And that one. Oh heck, let’s sparkle ’em all up!” And the dead Lords of Stormhold? They looked like the ghosts on The Young Ones.

Next: the narration. THE NARRATION. What the hell? Folks, just because you got Sir Ian McKellen to read it does not mean it was a good idea. IT WAS NOT. At first I thought oh, clever, get the backstory out of the way. Then I thought oh, hmm, unnecessarily changing the backstory… well, it’s an adaptation, I’m sure it will be fine. And then there was 15 minutes of backstory. Painfully boring backstory that we did not need because we could have had 30 seconds more narration instead. My only guess is that the narration was added after the movie was finished, by that jackass with the cigar when he finally ran out of sparkles and/or when he realized that he didn’t understand the plot so obviously movie-goers wouldn’t get it either, forgetting that he has the IQ of a lemming while the average audience member is actually perfectly capable of figuring out what’s going on given a few minutes and a decent script.

Oh, wait. The script sucked, or at least the movie they shot from the script was full of bad choices and I can only assume that most of those were in the script (since Matthew Vaughn wrote and directed it).

All right, I know I said above that I thought the performances were fine, but I have to kind of renege. In a vacuum, they were each fine, but holy hell. Charlie Cox and Claire Danes could not possibly have had LESS chemistry. The multiple scenes of manufactured conflict to make it seem as though they had even a shred of chemistry were insulting both as a viewer and as a person in a relationship. (Speaking of manufactured conflict, what the bloody fucking hell was the point of Humphrey? There is no reason for Tristran to know that he has competition for Victoria’s affection; she needs only to not be interested in him. I assume that in the end he defeats Humphrey in a swordfight, but I will never know unless one of you tells me.)

OK, and why on earth did they reveal that the star is a girl immediately? As the camera was swooping down I said, “Oh god they’re going to show it.” And they did. And we should have turned it off then.

And I can’t believe they wasted all those special effects when they could have had a unicorn-lion fight. Really, I’m pretty sure that was a smart cut, but it could have been awesome. It seems they only did it so Yvain could escape before Tristran trusted her — in the book he just leaves her with the unicorn while he goes to get food, and I think I actually prefer him chaining her up. But still. It seems that they picked and chose scenes to include based on coin toss or something, with no attention paid to story.

And lastly, Robert De Niro and the Pirates of the Cumulonimbus. Here is what I have to say to you, Mr. De Niro: go back to Analyzing Billy Crystal. The whole sequence was so fucking insulting. On every fucking level. We didn’t even finish watching it — we turned the movie off after the reveal.

Look, I liked Pathfinder. I liked Van fucking Helsing. You have to try really hard to make a movie I hate, and even harder to make one I won’t finish watching. Shame on Matthew Vaughn and Paramount.

O, Books!

(Title is because I couldn’t think of one, so ripped off Willa Cather. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.)

I took a bath last night, and brought in Stephanie‘s book, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, which I was about one chapter into. I’d torn through about half of it when I dragged myself out of the cold water and into bed.

I left the book on the back of the toilet, which is where I get the most reading done anyway if I am being honest. Late this morning I went into the bathroom to wash my face, and half an hour later discovered that my face was still dirty because I was leaning over, reading the book.

So I brought it into the living room and cuddled with Sam on the couch while I read. Sam fell asleep for his first nap of the week (let’s not talk about that) and I finished the book.

And I cried.

It. Was. So. Good. And you guys, I am totally biased because I knew Stephanie ten years ago (I tell people we dropped out of Antioch together) but really. I loved this book. It’s not a book I would have written and it’s not a book I knew I wanted to read. And yet: love.

(ETA: that kind of didn’t make sense. I knew I wanted to read it because Stephanie wrote it, but I didn’t know that the story and the characters would resonate the way they did.)

On the other hand, I have not been writing my novel. I’m not sure what’s holding me back, maybe perfectionism or lack of outline or a hook or the fact that I wish it was YA… Really I think it’s just whatever burnout has been keeping me stagnant in the rest of my life, and hope that I will get over it soon.

Especially because I have an idea for a second novel. It’s just a little germ of an idea, barely even a theme, but it’s there and it’s growing.

NOTE TO SELF: you may not write a second novel until you write the first one. For one thing, it is NOT HUMANLY POSSIBLE and for another SHUT UP. Stop making excuses and write the damn rockabilly novel.

O, Books! (That is my new swear. It’s even better than Bullocks.)

You can enter to win Stephanie’s book here, or buy it here.

Rockabye

In lieu of an actual review*.

One day last week I took a bath. After I’d started the water running I wandered into the living room and announced that I needed a book.

Will: “What about that alterna-mom book?”
Me: “I finished it.”
Will: “Oh, I thought you were still reading it. I’ve been reading a page at a time so as not to lose your place.”
Me: “Dude, it’s yours.”

He finished it in a day.

Later: “I kept thinking you’d written that book. It was like reading your blog.”

Thank you, Crystal, for having a contest to win the book. Thank you, random number generator, for choosing me. And thank you, Rebecca, for writing a really spectacular book.

Wanna be best friends?

*A real review would probably read something like this, anyway:

You guys! I read a book! Full of words! No pictures! (In fact, I would have liked some pictures, but that might reflect the fact that it’s written by a blogger and you know. Blogs have pictures.)

In conclusion: Book good.

Iron Man (no spoilers)

So, not only have they gone and made a superhero movie based on a comic book that–

  • kicks ass
  • surpasses the comic
  • is totally fucking awesome
  • kicks ass
  • is well-cast and full of spectacular performances
  • has fight scenes that the audience can actually follow
  • has great visual effects
  • and

  • kicks ass
  • but

  • it also is incredibly well-written, and even has good dialog.

I know. What. The. Heck?