25 September 2012

Here it comes...

Okay, I admit it - in trying to choose a topic for today's post, I've stumbled across far too many of them and don't feel like picking one.  I could go with the three-ring circus that the US election season has spawned, but the whole thing just gets on my nerves.  Life sentence for Amy Bishop, the prof who opened fire at a faculty meeting and, y'know, possibly also murdered her brother when she was a teenager (that's local, even).  But that one disgusts me.  Nepali earthquake?  That's pretty scary, I've got Nepali friends, but they're all over here in the states, so no personal stake there.

But there is one thing happening this week that I can say with reasonable confidence will actually be of interest to my fellow Burrowers (as well as millions of other readers around the globe).  And that's the highly-anticipated release of J. K. Rowling's first adult publication coming up on Thursday.

I am massively looking forward to this, I will readily admit it.  I read like a maniac anyway, and, since my teaching day has been cancelled this Thursday due to a school open house using my room, the plan is to get my arse home from the bookstore after my shift and devour it in one enormous gulp.  I'm not expecting the Second Coming (of Harry Potter, I mean, not that whole religious mess) or anything, but I'm very curious to see how she follows up such a generation-defining series.  I've been a hardcore Potterhead for about 13 years now (hell, I'm listening to Stephen Fry's narration of Goblet of Fire right now); this was the door that got me back to the fantasy authors that I'd loved as a kid and led me to discover dozens of new ones.  So even if by some weird twist of fate it sucks, it'll still be money well spent as far as I'm concerned.  I don't care how much money she already has, the amount of enjoyment I've gotten from her work over the years is surely far more than I've paid for it.

Besides, she gives lots of money to MS research.  So she's awesome.

Now, nobody bug me on Thursday!

13 September 2012

My yearly delusion

It happens every September.  I think I can make a nice neat job of assembling my teaching schedule from the wild jigsaw pieces all my students submit, and then I sit down with it and realize that 5 people want the same time and nobody wants the middle of Thursday and how am I going to work around the orchestra, anyway?

There are upsides and downsides to being self-employed.  I thought one of the major ups would be getting to set my own schedule, but when I'm working around everything that my students get up to besides playing the viola (and most of them get up to quite a lot - sports, art, dance, babysitting and driver's ed for the older ones, and then all that annoying school-and-homework stuff) it turns out that I don't actually get a lot of say in the matter.

And then the new kids sign up, and I have to joggle them into place (please let there be new kids! {Not only could I use the money, all my returning kids are up to at least ASTA Level 2 [that's "American String Teachers Association"] and I kinda miss the littl'uns.}) without actually getting to meet or talk to them first.  They changed the registration process on us a few years ago, which at first looked like it'd be wonderful but has turned out to suck.  When you've got someone right in front of you, you can work out a compromise, but when all you've got is a piece of paper that says "Monday at 5" and that's it because they didn't understand that you're supposed to give a window, not just a start time, it's a little harder.

I suppose my greatest delusion is that I can actually make a living in the field I hold my degrees in.  And yet, I've been doing it for a decade (whoof, that makes me feel old).  Granted, with some help on the side from other jobs, but whatever.  Maybe I should go collect a few more degrees now that the first two are paid off.  A handful of doctorates that I could deal out like a deck of very big cards.  Of course, it would be utterly delusional to think I could PAY for that...  I wonder what the scholarship market is like for 30-something polymaths?

04 September 2012

A Giant of a Loss

Michael Clarke Duncan was a giant, in all senses of the word. At six feet, five inches, and weighing over 300 pounds, he was perfect for the role that would make him a household name. Indeed, the character of John Coffey, the typical 'gentle giant' wrongly condemned to die for a crime he did not commit, seemed tailor-made for him.

A bodyguard before he found fame - to the likes of Will Smith and the Notorious B.I.G. among others - he quit his day job when the latter was violently killed. That, to me, suggests that this gentle giant also had a gentle soul.

The world is a sadder place without him.

Michael Clarke Duncan, December 10th 1957- September 3rd 2012

Image from wikipedia.

03 September 2012

Last Escape-reads of Summer

Here in my neck of the woods, today is the last day of summer vacation - tomorrow, kids start back to school, parents breathe a sigh of relief, and teachers embark upon the next round of brain-filling.  May I suggest spending the day with one of these tales?  All published since May, all fantastic reads (with awesome cover art to boot), and all a chance for one final imaginary trip.

A Confusion of Princes - Garth Nix

I'm the first to admit that science fiction is generally not my thing; I can count on one hand the number of space operas I've read.  But I've really enjoyed Nix's previous books so I figured, eh, why not?  Glad I did, because this is one amazing ride.  Prince Khemri has been raised in luxury, knowing he is being groomed as a successor to the Emperor - of, you know, the whole damn universe.  What he doesn't realize is that he's only one of about ten million princes vying for that honour - oh, and most of them will try to kill each other at the drop of a hat.  The world building is excellent, the journey (both physical and emotional) that Khemri goes on is completely believable, and I for one am kind of annoyed that the ending left little to no room for a sequel.

Widdershins - Ari Marmell

Okay, technically the first one came out in February, but the second hit shelves in June, so I'm going with it.  If you like your fantasy with a side of smartarse, you'll love Widdershins, a thief with a complicated backstory (you get most of it by the end of the first book) who, erm, kind of has a pet god. Set in a quasi-French society (definitely pre-Revolution) where the gods are demonstrably real, but there are a set number of them in the Pact - and Olgun, Widdershin's god, is definitely not among them.  His only remaining worshipper after a horrific massacre two years before the opening of the first book, Widdershins calls on his powers to help her evade capture on her thieving expeditions after he essentially crawls into her head.  Since she's suspected of having committed that aforementioned massacre, she's on the run with a new name (she's got about four, so make sure you keep up).  The satire sometimes goes a LITTLE over the top, but once again the world-building is extremely thorough and believable.  Plus my roommate keeps borrowing them, so they must be good.

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

At the age of 17, Celaena Sardothien was the most feared assassin in the country - until she was captured and sentenced to the salt mines as punishment for her crimes.  When the crown prince rescues her a year later with the idea of making her his champion in a contest to appoint a new royal assassin, she gets out of the mines and into the palace, which is half glass and hiding some secrets of its own.  With her identity hidden behind a false name, she begins training hard again in secret while outwardly presenting as a noblewoman; befriends a prince, a princess, and a guardsman; and stirs up some long-buried secrets on her way to her ultimate goal.  This one does look like becoming a series, and I'll definitely be reading whatever comes next!

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

If the acknowledgments are any indication, Maas and Bardugo are friends, which gives me a good feeling about all our multiple Burrow-y endeavours.  Anyway, this time we're in a quasi-Russian landscape, in a world where a giant swath of darkness spreads across the country from north to south, cutting off most of the country from its port cities.  The Shadow Fold (as it's known) can be crossed, but as it's pitch black and filled with murderous beasts, it's not always easy - and when Alina, panicking over the death of one friend and the threatening of another during the crossing, suddenly and spontaneously emits a strong light which drives off the dark-loving predators, she is immediately taken to the Darkling, who works out a plan to spirit her away for training. You can think of him like a very powerful wizard, but he's also a descendant of the Darkling who created the Fold in the first place.  Loving this so far (yeah, just started it, oh well, it's GOOD, so it goes on here).

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

Okay, this one is seriously my new favourite book.  It's got music, it's got dragons, the dragons all seem to be Aspies, and it is BRILLIANT.  I devoured this one, have been recommending it right and left all summer, and will be super happy if everyone who reads this goes and buys a copy so the author is properly motivated to crank out the sequel.  Seraphina Dombegh is an excellent musician, which has already won her a job at the age of 16.  Her stepmother is pleased enough to get her out of the house; she studies with her uncle, her deceased mother's brother, and as that backstory comes out you just want to shout "Well played!" at the author.  Throw in the community of dragons, who can take human form; the forty-year peace between dragons and humans which is threatening to unravel; and a collection of odd people who live mainly in her own head, and what you have is an immensely satisfying read which is a hell of a fabulous escape.

Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore

This long-awaited sequel to Graceling finally arrived back in May, and what a pleasure it was to dive back into this world.  Katsa and Po reappear, but the focus this go-round is on 18-year-old Queen Bitterblue, an ordinary girl in a world of people with extraordinary talents (the Graced, marked by heterochromia) who is trying to rebuild her country after the ravages perpetrated by her mad and evil father.  When she sneaks out of the palace and walks the streets anonymously, she discovers that her advisors have been hiding the truth of how bad things are and is determined to do something about it, so with the help of old friends and new she embarks on a coming of age adventure for both herself and her country.  The ending ties to Fire, and leaves things open for more tales from this world, which I will await just as eagerly as I did this one.

I think that's enough to choose from for this one last summer day, so what are you waiting for?  Grab one and go for it!