Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: The Sparrow

Ok, so I've gotten rather far behind in my book reviews, and I figure it's about time to get caught up.  Since it has been several months, this review won't be quite as fresh as they normally are, but an old review is better than no review.  So, the first book that my book club (Sword & Laser) chose for this year was The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.


The Sparrow can pretty much be summed up as "Jesuits in SPAAAACE!"

(space-space-space-space)

(We get an echo in here now.  What?)

Anyway, the premise of this story is that the human race detects a signal from a distant planet that clearly shows signs of intelligent life, and, being humans, decide they have to go stick their noses into the affairs of others.  Specifically, the Jesuits decide to make it their next great missionary project, and agree to foot the bill.  The story is set in the-not-so-distant-future of 2019-2060 (space flight, relativity, etc. accounts for the time lapse), when non-governmental space flight is possible, though still uncommon.  A bit more inventive is the type of spacecraft they use - a hollowed out asteroid.  The events in the book are not told chronologically - the story jumps between the present (2060) and the past (2019) to build up suspense as to what happened on the alien planet.  Although this is clearly a work of science fiction, the story is much more focused on the relationships of the characters rather than the technicalities of space travel.  This is most clearly evident when, upon arrival to an alien planet, it becomes incredibly apparent that none of our astronauts had ever read the works of H. G. Wells.  It's not much of a spoiler to say that things to do not end well, and the journey leaves the survivor(s) in pretty bad shape, both physically and emotionally.

The major element of this story is the characters and their relationships.  Much of the first half of the book consists of bringing the crew together and setting the stage for the sort of interpersonal drama that can only happen when you are trapped for several months inside of an asteroid traveling at light speed.  The crew consists of several Jesuit priests - Emilio Sandoz (a younger, attractive Puerto Rican who has an incredible talent and long training in learning new languages), his mentor D. W. Yarborough (compete with Texas twang), and two redshirts other priests.  It also has several non-Jesuit specialists - Anne and George (an older married couple, George was head of the program that located the original signal), Jimmy (George's employee, who actually found the signal originally), and Sofia Mendes, the requisite MPDG (an AI specialist).  One thing I appreciated about this story was that the relationships between the characters felt rather believable, and, well, adult.  I'm a big fan of many of the YA series available, but, I have to admit it was sort of refreshing to read a story where the world didn't have to be saved by a fifteen year old.  Granted, with this many characters the standard love triangle was bound to take shape, but at least it wasn't the central theme of the story.  On the other hand, while I found the relationships to be believable, the characters themselves seemed a bit over-powered.  They were all super intelligent, highly skilled, and extremely pretty.  Or they at least had enough of a personality to compensate if they fell short on that last bit.  Now, granted, if you were going to send a mission to a new planet, you would want to hire the smartest and most-skilled people you could find.  But it seemed a bit odd that these hyper-intelligent, über-humans could foul things up so incredibly poorly when they reached the alien civilization.  All of their mishaps were just believable enough that you could perhaps understand how they made their mistakes, but, honestly, they were all built up a bit too much to completely believe in their epic fall.

Overall I have to say I thought this book was ok.  The story does its best to tug at your heartstrings, repeatedly, and I have to admit that I was sort of over the tugging by the time I got to the end of the book.  Not that I'm so callus as to not have felt anything, but, well, when so many bad things happen it is a bit easy to get dulled to the pain of it all.  Suffice it to say, if you are looking for a pick-me-up sort of a book, this isn't it.  It also wasn't the sort of a book that I felt compelled to pick up while I was reading it - I sort of had to force myself to finish it in a timely manner for the book club.  The writing itself wasn't bad - it was actually quite good - I just wasn't motivated by the characters or their story.  Which is a bit funny, because several months later I can still remember many of the characters quite vividly.  I don't think my estimation of the book has grown over that time - no, I haven't come to the sudden realized that this is the best book ever - but I do remember much of the story in more detail than I had expected I would several months down the road.  So, there is that.  In summary I would have to say that if SyFy and Oxygen got together to make a TV-miniseries special, it would probably come out something like The Sparrow.  I can't really give a positive or negative recommendation - this book has things I enjoyed, and things I didn't.  It is the sort of book that I think a certain audience would really enjoy, I just don't think I'm part of that certain audience.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Newsflash: New Summer Butterick Patterns

The latest patterns from Butterick are here.  I think this collection can pretty much be summed up in two words: snooze fest.  Seriously.  It's like all the trends we've been seeing (jumpsuits, voluminous tops, culottes), only the most dull version we've had so far this season.  Overall, I'm not too impressed.  There are a few patterns that look like simple sews that would be easy to wear for summer, but overall, not too much to get excited about this time around.

B6206 - Simple maxi dress, looks like a good summer staple.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Newsflash(ish): Summer Simplicity and New Look Patterns

The latest offerings from Simplicity and New Look are here.  Overall I have to say that the designs are pretty similar to what we've seen from all the other pattern companies lately - voluminous tops, basic dresses, and lots of jumpsuits (or jumpsuit-looking-separates).  Nothing I'm super excited about (except maybe some of the costumes), but enough here that I might pick a few up at the next pattern sale...

S1114 - Jumpsuits everywhere!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Newsflash: June Burda Early Preview Posted

The first look at the June issue is up on the German website.  At first glance I am torn between being cautiously optimistic and not excited at all.  There are a few things that pique my interest, but, honestly, I think there are a lot of things that Burda has done better in past issues.  Definitely going to have to wait for a full preview to make an assessment of this one...

Jumpsuit - the hot pattern style of the season.
I'm actually sort of liking this one.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Burda Diana Modem and I Need to Learn Russian!

So, in my perusing of the Russian Burda Website I Happened across this Page Advertising the new Burda Diana Modem . I am not exactly sure what this magazine is - when did Burda get another offshoot? The translated description of the new magazine advertisement is:
Otprintovannye chic and plain Fabrics: cotton batiste, Jacquard, silk satin, twill stretch of High-tech materials: Textile leather, with silver svetshirt gloss and so on. - The first thing you Notice, But ITS worth not only Them. Simple Blouse- top with V-Neck A Short complemented by ZIP polo and General Drawstring Under the Gum on the bottom. Jacket with zipper Round Neck, "Stretched" in width, beveled Edge sleeves and hem and pockets Patch, A cut line, respectively the Lower Edge. A simple midi sundress with spaghetti straps on the Upper Edge Laid inverted pleats, and in the Side seams - pockets. Cropped pants with belt Wide-Shaped STRAP, providing elegant Landing on Figure A, complemented by Slightly sloping pockets in the frame and Short cuts Along the Side seams of trousers. Wide lace Dress with two seams and cut Short sleeves Single Combines perfectly body-Fitting Dress is put on the straps as cover. even beginners CAN sew Easy to Update your wardrobe with Fashionable novelties. The Magazine goes on sale May 7th.
Not that I need another sewing magazine subscription, but some of these designs do not seem too bad!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Newsflash: Summer McCall's Announced

The new McCall's summer patterns can be seen here.  I have to admit - I'm actually really excited about this collection.  Perhaps it is because I saw this collection at 3am after a week of low levels of sleep, but even though there are a lot of simple silhouettes in this collection I'm still wanting to dole out a lump of cash to add too many of these to my stash.  To be fair there are a lot of patterns in this collection that are sort of dull (and there are a lot of kids patterns, which I don't concern myself with overly much), but there are enough cool things to keep me interested too, which hasn't been the case for many pattern releases this year so far.

In any case, let's take a look:

M7167 - Jumpsuit with cup sizing.  I'm actually rather liking this one.

Newsflash: May Burda Preview Posted

The latest issue of Burda is available for preview here.  Normally May is the fun summer dress issue.  While there are certainly a lot of dresses this year, I can't say I'm as excited about this month as I have been in previous years.  Although I will say there are a few more designs I'm interested in than I've seen in previous issues from this year.  So, maybe this is the start of a Burda upswing?  Or at least a bit less of the overwhelming meh-ness we've had so far this year.