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horace_hamster
08 February 2016 @ 03:48 pm
Oh, how I love summer. Really, really LOVE summer. Yes, it's hot: nineties. Yes, it's dry: a month or more since we've had rain. I don't care. I freaking love summer.

Courgettes/zucchini: Holy crap. We only put in a few plants, but they are so prolific that I am supplying dozens of other families as well as my own. Beans: they all got munched by evil slugs, but fortunately the neighbours have heaps and heaps, so they've given us enough to freeze down for an entire winter. Tomatoes: mostly still green, but if I can beat the chickens to them we should get a shedload of them to make tomato sauce/paste. Capsicums, ditto. Chili peppers the chickens aren't interested in, and our two little bushes are chockers, so we should do well there (with plenty to donate to Indian friends who use them heavily in cooking). Pumpkins: a dozen or more well on their way to maturity, and between the neighbours and ourselves, we are supplying half the local Indian/Bangladeshi community with rampant overgrown pumpkin vines. (Which are apparently a delicacy. I find it a bit sour and unpalatable, but they love 'em.)

Cow: not pregnant, but I've kind of put that into the too hard basket, and meanwhile she and her extremely delicious looking bull-calf (still madly sucking away at her udder despite being well over a year old) are happy, fat, and sassy.

Bees: again, holy crap. We should get somewhere in the vicinity of 20 kgs/40 pounds of honey in this, our first season, off a couple of hives. I've been stung a couple of times lately, which is less than pleasant, but OMG honey is lovely to bake with, and to eat on toast, and, well, to just suck off a spoon or finger. Runny, rich, clover-y, and just pure delicious.

Flowers: a bit wilted with the heat and drought, but thanks to the bees producing seed heads like mad, so everything should self seed for next year. Yay!

Chickens: Holy crap. We have had soooooo many chicks this year I can't keep track of them all. We will be eating a lot of chicken this year. Yay! Still supplying half the world with eggs, too. And the baby chicks are so cute it's just unspeakable.

It's astonishing how much you can do with less than two acres, if you get a sustainable ecosystem going.

Plus, the pantry is almost done (built to my specs by dearly beloved) and is awesome. Heaps of storage room, and to see my jars of pickles and other preserves shining on a shelf is a thing of beauty.

In other news: just a few weeks till semester starts (ick) and I'm back to teaching. Full time this semester, half time next semester unless another part time job shows up for the third (fourth?) time. Though I must say I'm kind of hoping it doesn't, as I'd quite like to try working part time and having more time at home to start/continue with my hobbies.
 
 
horace_hamster
It's December, and:
1. I'm off work for 4 weeks (annual leave).
2. We finished remodeling the bathroom. I can now take a shower. And a bath. And be warm.
3. We are remodeling the funny little room off the office/kitchen area, which used to be the dog's den until the dog decided she'd rather live on the couch in the living room. It's about 5 foot x 8 foot: too small to be a bedroom, too large to be a closet. We are turning it into a walk-in pantry. I got to knock down the walls with a crowbar. Very satisfying.
4. In the process of #3, we've got the hang of pulling down walls, installing installation, and putting new wallboard up. We can now do this to the rest of the house over the next several years, and get the whole place insulated.
5. We have baby chicks in the brooder box, having just hatched in the incubator overnight. Peep, peep, peep!
6. I'm still only part time (0.6 FTE) at work, but have picked up another 0.4 FTE contract working for The World's Best Boss Ever, until July next year.
7. The beehives are doing very well, and we've learned enough over the last year that I actually taught a session at the new beekeepers' course last month and had useful things to day.
8. My new strawberry bed, made out of the old cracked bathtub (see #2), is producing the most delicious, sweet, yummy strawberries I've ever tasted.
9. We got restructured at work (for the third time in two years) and I'm now in a department of normal people, with none of the asshats who have made my life miserable working directly with me. It's a huge relief.

Some things are less than perfect -- the cow is not pregnant, the steer has a testicle and is acting bullish (except for being fertile and getting the cow pregnant), and the raspberries are infested with horrible little worms -- but in the grand scheme of things, I reckon the balance is well and truly tipped on the side of Pretty Danged Good.
 
 
horace_hamster
17 January 2015 @ 04:34 pm
At least, not at the day job.

Idiot colleagues are:
1. Overloading me with work I knew nothing about.
2. Deliberately ignoring student plagiarism issues, and calling me a 'troublemaker' when I point out that second year university students should know better than to copy/paste 300+ words from websites into their assignment answers.
3. Creating a divisive 'them versus us' atmosphere in the laboratory restructuring.
4. Continuing to screw over the technical staff.

On the other hand, we've had the very first honey out our of beehive (delicious!!!);, and had an adventitious pumpkin plant take over half our garden, said plant which promises to produce an awful lot of fruit. Plus, wifey's broken foot is healing as well as can be expected (which is not as fast as she'd like, but normal for such a bad break.) So, home life +3, work life -4. I guess it balances out.... but I'm really sick of the day job sucking as much as it does.
 
 
horace_hamster
01 January 2015 @ 08:25 am
Humans: sciatica, broken bone, job disestablishment.
Humans' family: death (sister), cancer (brother), MRSA infection (Mum).
Animals: Milk fever, glaucoma, heart failure.
Equipment failures: car, lawnmower, weedwhacker.

Here's hoping we've had sufficient things-in-threes for a while, and that 2015 will be better.
 
 
horace_hamster
Darkglass Mountain series
Author: Sara Douglass
Publisher: Harper Voyager
The Serpent Bride (2007)
The Twisted Citadel (2008)
The Infinity Gate (2009)

Big epic ye-olde fantasy. Big, as in huge. Each book is 600+ pages. The author has endless imagination, her prose is good, and her main storylines are engaging. But....for me, it was overload. Way too many plotlines, many of which ended up going nowhere. Way too may POV characters, many of whom just died and were never mentioned again by anyone when they got past their use-by date in the plot. Way too many unnecessary scenes. Most of the characters are male. All of the characters are heterosexual. There are only a handful of female MCs. All of the baddies are redeemed by love; if they don't find love, they end up unredeemed. All of the MCs are complex, but in a way that renders them largely unlikeable. It ends with the reader knowing that there will be more books, as the Heroine and the Antagonist are both pregnant with the Hero's babies, and so it's obvious where this is going. The fact that I read all 2000 pages (no, not exaggerating) tells me that this author is doing something right, but for me it was all just too much, and I don't see myself looking for the sequels.
 
 
 
horace_hamster
16 March 2014 @ 10:23 am
Libriomancer
Author: Jim C Hines
Publisher: DAW (2012)

A fun romp of an urban fantasy. It's PG rated at most, yet it deals with very mature concepts re relationships and romances. The MC, Isaac, is a libriomancer -- someone whose magic lets them reach into books (fiction or nonfiction) and draw forth objects. He's a spec fic geek, so he tends towards ray guns, magic potions, and cloaks of invisibility. Mostly, he reads and catalogues books, to identify new novels that contain objects you wouldn't want anyone to ever pull out -- incurable diseases, indestructible rings of power, etc. But the mild-mannered librarian has to pull out more than a ray gun when he's attacked by vampires who want to destroy all the libriomancers. Fortunately, he's got an ass-kicking, motorbike-riding dryad to protect him.

It's engaging, exhilarating, imaginative, and refreshing. The dryad is overweight -- and that's just fine! She's way stronger and faster than him -- and that's just fine! She's got a lesbian lover -- and that's just fine! He's in love with her, which throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the works, but that just makes the book even more fun. So Isaac struggles with love, lust, and free will, along with the bad guys who want to kill him. There ending is upbeat and happy, but with a very unexpected twist. I must now run out and buy the sequel.
 
 
horace_hamster
13 March 2014 @ 08:18 pm
Authors often compare their books to others similar in tone, style, genre, or target market. They also compete, at least mentally. Is their book better, or worse, than others? Why do readers rave about Author X when X writes, well, crap? Should they finish the book they're writing if someone else has just released something similar? Why are sales and advances and marketing so unfair, so opaque, so frustratingly unpredictable?

I don't know the answers. What I do know is this: No single author on this planet can write enough books fast enough to satisfy my reading itch. Hell, ten of y'all put together can't write fast enough. Authors I read introduce me to new authors -- whether by blogging a review, or by Kobo's "you might also like", or by turning me on to a new genre.

I read Stacia Kane's first Downside book. I promptly ran out and bought all her other books, and waited with hysterical impatience for the rest of the Downside series; meanwhile, I bought her short stories in the same world, and also went looking for other urban fantasy books -- a genre I had thought I didn't like till Stacia changed my mind. That in turn introduced me to Kelly Meding and Lilith SaintCrow.

Christa McHugh offered the first book in her series for free on Kobo. I downloaded it along with a bunch of other free books. The others didn't grab me, but McHugh's sure did. I promptly bought all her other books -- three? Four? Can't remember.

I admire Jim Hines' blog, so I bought one of his fairy tale retellings. Loved it. Bought the other five or six or whatever, and have recently bought his Libriomancer novel.

Kelley York's "Hushed" was recommended to me. I bought it and loved it. While waiting for her next book, I browsed through her publisher's listings and bought a novel by Jane Kindred -- which I liked enough to buy the next two books in the series.

I got a deal on a trilogy by Paula Freeman. Kobo then told me -- correctly -- that I might also like Amanda Downum's books. And Aliette de Bodard. And Naomi Novik. And Sara Douglass. And Rachel Neumeier.

I follow Beth Bernobich and Cat Hellison on livejournal because they are interesting people. Interesting people write interesting books -- which hook me enough that I run out and buy the next book, and the next, and the next. Now I'm impatiently waiting for them to publish more books so I can buy them and read them.

And those are just the names off the top of my head whose books I've read on my Nook in the last year. There's probably at least another dozen I'm forgetting. Let's see, what have I bought in the last month and not read yet? Lois McMaster Bujold, Barbara Hambly, Guy Gavriel Kay....

Readers read a LOT of books. I go through 50 - 100 each year. So, go forth, forget about what other authors are doing, and WRITE FASTER, DAMMIT.
 
 
horace_hamster
11 March 2014 @ 10:24 am
The River of Souls trilogy: Passion Play, Queen's Hunt, and Allegiance
Author: Beth Bernobich
Publisher: Tor (2010, 2012, 2013)

Renaissance-style fantasy with court intrigue, power plays, wars, magic, reincarnation, and, of course, passion. The main character, Therez, is a fifteen year old suddenly betrothed by her father, against her wishes, to an older man who she finds handsome and fascinating but also very frightening. She's right to be frightened -- he's controlling, vindictive, abusive, and would make a really rotten husband. So, with no time to plan or enlist help, she runs away and changes her name to Ilse. (Not an unusual start to a fantasy novel.) And, not surprisingly, Ilse runs into more trouble than she left. (What's worse than one controlling, misogynistic, abusive man? Thirty of them.) The trouble she lands in is a lot more horrible than most fantasy heroines experience. It's portrayed realistically, while refraining from being graphic and detailed enough to turn the reader off.

Ilse finally gets away and after a lot more false starts finds a home, a career, and a new life as secretary to Raul, a nobleman estranged from court. Raul, she gradually learns, is very politically active in a behind-the-scenes kind of way, trying to prevent his king from starting wars with the neighbouring countries, (in between carrying on a torrid affair with his male lover). Part of this involves trying to find some magic jewels that all the kings are searching for; the kings want the jewels' power, and Raul's 'shadow court' want to keep them out of warmongering hands. Ilse gets drawn in and becomes a major player. She and Raul also fall in love.

It's a complex story with a complex plot and lots of players. Sexualities are pleasantly mixed -- Ilse is bisexual; Raul is a bisexual castrato; one of their compatriots is a courtesan by profession, lesbian by nature. Most of the characters are non-white, another nice touch. While Ilse's age didn't work for me -- running away at fifteen and landing in trouble worked, but her wisdom, maturity, complexity, knowledge, skills, cleverness, sophistication, and complex relationship with Raul were that of a thirty or forty year old, not a seventeen year old -- I just mentally added twenty years to her age and happily carried on. It's a beautifully written, engaging, and addictive series; once I started reading, I couldn't stop till I'd finished all three books.
 
 
horace_hamster
17 February 2014 @ 12:49 pm
Hild: A Novel
Author: Nicola Griffith
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2013)

I'm going to preface this review with a big caveat: I read this book when I was stoned on morphine/tramadol due to severe sciatica, so I may well not have given it a fair read, and I may not be remembering a lot of the details correctly.

This is a hefty historical novel, set around 600-ish AD Britain, and follows Hild, a prince's daughter who became a saint (and that's pretty much all that's known about the real Hild). The prose is, as expected, superb; the setting is, as expected, meticulously researched and vividly drawn. But I didn't like this book as much as I expected to. I wanted to love it, and I just didn't, even though I am an avid fan of historical fiction.

Hild's mother was most definitely a piece of work (in a love-to-hate-her kind of way), and I adored the basic concept -- Mum prophesied that her kid would be a seer to the king, so the kid has no choice but to become a seer (which means knowing everything while pretending she gets her information magically instead of how everyone else does). It's a terrific plot twist to base a story on. But I struggled with the vocabulary of the period and with the many characters who all had similar names, and I found the omniscient narrator took something away from the characterisation. I found the MC a little too perfect -- a five year old Mary Sue who is cunning enough to outsmart all the adults including the king. And I found the scope of the book disappointing -- it covers Hild's life from about age 3 only to about 15, when for political reasons she converts to the new Christian religion. Given it's size -- 500+ pages -- I thought the book would take her from go to whoa, not stop midway.

I would read the subsequent books, but I reckon I'll wait till the whole set is out and then read them all at once. I checked the author's blog, and re the next Hild book she says "Not anytime soon". So... I guess I'll put this one on the back burner and revisit it in a couple of years.
 
 
horace_hamster
When The Sea Is Rising Red
Author: Cat Hellison
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2012)

Though billed as a YA fantasy novel, Rising Red is sophisticated, dark, and complex. Hellison manages to create lyrical-but-invisible prose, quiet-but-vivid characters, an astonishing-yet-believable fantasy world, and a sad-but-happy ending. How she does it, I haven't yet figured out.

Felicita, as the daughter of a wealthy house, is useful to her family only as a marriage pawn. Her best friend commits suicide rather than enter a forced marriage. Felicita, whose own unwanted marriage is looming, runs away and reinvents herself in the poor part of town, joining a gang. But this novel isn't your trad fantasy, with an overt focus on sexism and classism and magic and coming-of-age, and little else to distinguish itself. No, here you get characters of several races; romances of the heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and asexual kind; themes of betrayal, murder, and vengeance. Fierce hatreds, bleak choices, inevitable consequences. All this, plus a girl whose hair leaks nightmares. This will go in to my to-be-read-again pile.