Month: February 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

The Dozen

It is that time of year again. No, not a birthday for one of my girls. Although it may as well be. Time for my annual “KU Won the Big 12 (Again)” post. Feel free to skip if you’re sick of these. I’ll probably end up repeating myself from the last 11 anyway.


Even I will admit that is dumb. It should not happen. It can not happen. This isn’t some hoops giant stuck in a league with a bunch of schools that consider basketball an afterthought. This is a league that, every year during KU’s streak, has been among the strongest in the country when measured by RPI. Most years the league has been #1 or #2. Mathematically, KU’s streak is impossible.

KU basketball scoffs at your math. Thus, 2016 is going to be inscribed on the Big 12 Champions banner that hangs from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters.

Why does this keep happening? Talent, yes. Coaching, sure. Allen Fieldhouse, of course.

But here’s the thing: the rest of the Big 12 always seems to get out of KU’s way when crunch time rolls around in February. Three years ago, when KU lost three-straight in the league and it seemed like the streak would end, no one was good enough to step up and stop it. Kevin Durant’s Texas team once had a two-game lead on the Jayhawks. They didn’t win the league, KU did. Every year KU would go on the road and win more often than night while each of the other contenders would slip up multiple times.

This year is no different. A month ago, when KU sat at 5–3 and seemed to be falling apart, Oklahoma appeared to be the team that would roar through the back-half of the schedule and win the league. Turned out it was the Sooners who fell apart, going 3–4 down the stretch, just as KU was getting its shit together. West Virginia, Iowa State, Baylor, and Texas were all in the mix a month ago. All of those teams are at least two games behind KU today, and West Virginia must sweep its final two games and hope that KU losses its final two just to force a tie in the final standings.

Every year it happens. There’s some kind of devil magic when it comes to KU and the rest of the league that goes beyond talent and history and coaching and The Phog.

That said, it should be noted that this team made incredible strides over the past month. Their struggles during that stretch where they lost three of five were probably over-stated. Two of the losses were to pretty good teams. But since all three were blowout losses in which KU completely fell apart in the second halves, there was justification for concern. When KU was 5–3, I seriously thought the best case scenario was for them to finish 12–6. And I figured 11–7 or even 10–8 was more likely.

But they got their shit together. Bill Self made some adjustments on defense that helped the team to ramp up its game on that end of the court. Devonte Graham took a leap in his level of play. Landon Lucas has played the best basketball of his life and solidified both the front court and the rotation.

The biggest factors, though, are how the team has A) developed toughness and B) turned into a collection of guys where someone is always able and ready to step up.

Winning in Norman, after being down 5 with 3:00 to play, was a huge moment. The crowd was roaring, Isaiah Cousins was woofing, Buddy Hield was draining threes and waving to the crowd. Frank Mason had just fouled out. That game was over. But Graham hit a couple huge threes, the Jayhawks got a couple massive defensive stops, Lucas grabbed every rebound, and as the final seconds ticked off, Oklahoma looked like a thoroughly defeated team. Same in Waco last week, when KU absolutely destroyed Baylor over the final 2:30.[1] A month ago did anyone think this squad was capable of being the mentally tough group that imposed its will late in road games against other contenders? I sure as hell didn’t.

Every night it’s a different guy who steps up. During their nine-game winning streak, Graham, Lucas, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk have each had games where they were the man and made the biggest plays of the night. That, inevitably, leads to the dreaded “Who’s their go-to guy?” questions on talk radio. But it also gives the team a sense of confidence. If Ellis isn’t hitting shots on a given night, someone else will.

This is a crazy-ass year in college hoops. There isn’t a dominant team. Just when a team seems to have made the case as the nation’s finest, they stumble. KU will take over the #1 spot in both polls this afternoon. A few hours later Texas has a great shot to end KU’s winning streak. The NCAA tournament could be the most wide-open and unpredictable in recent memory.

But one constant remains. Kansas as Big 12 champions.

Rock Chalk, bitches.

  1. Someone should do a master’s thesis on how poorly Scott Drew coached that game. He called his final timeout of the game with just under 7:00 to play in the second half. When his team had the lead. And the ball. It might have been the single worst timeout call in the history of college basketball.  ↩

A Window Is Closing

I’m feeling some tremors just below the surface of our house that signal a change is coming. M is growing up. This morning I was thinking about how that affects how I share stories about her. I realized that it’s one thing to share a story that could be embarrassing to one of your kids when they are a toddler. It’s another to do so when they are pre-teens/teenagers and the information you share about them could be found by friends (and rivals) at school.

Even with me stripping the site of most of the information that could be used to clearly identify my family and friends, there are still enough nuggets here that someone, if they were motivated enough to do the digging, could figure out who my spouse or kids are. I figure the next few years are going to be hard enough for each of the girls without their old man sharing the story of when they threw the fit about who got to sit on the love seat before breakfast[1] on his blog and everyone at school finding out about it because someone found the post.

Which is an extraordinary bummer for me. There are a couple awesome stories from the past few weeks, moments that made us laugh out loud in the privacy of our family, that I think are a little too personal to share with the world. Or, as I posted on Facebook, St. P’s recently had a superhero day and the girls all dressed for the occasion. While I took the obligatory picture before we left in the morning, M said, “Don’t put that on Facebook!” A couple of you made comments wondering who was running things in our house. I decided I’ve given my daughters enough reasons to spend time in therapy when they reach adulthood;[2] if I can occasionally give them a break, I may dial the public sharing back a bit.

But I will say that she is a piece of work. I’m not sure exactly how old she thinks she is – could be 16, could be 19, could be 28 – but she definitely thinks she’s well beyond her 11.5 years. Many people warned as that sometime between 11 and 12 was when it would start. They weren’t lying. Serenity now.

  1. Just an example. Not saying we had a two-kid meltdown about exactly that one recent morning.  ↩
  2. And will continue to for many years, no doubt.  ↩

Coaching Follow Up

One thing I forgot to include in my post this morning that Stace’s comment kind of reminded me of, was a Tweet from writer Drew Magary over the weekend.

That is 100% true. We were getting our asses kicked on the offensive boards Saturday. I think the other team had something like 15 OBs as they opened up a 10–0 lead to start the game. I’m not even exaggerating.

I grew tired of saying “Keep your hands up!” and “Rebound, girls!” and finally started yelling “GO GET THE BALL!”

Good times!

Kid Hoops Update

We closed out L’s first ever basketball season over the weekend, losing by 10 in our tournament semifinals. We were down by 20 at one point but somehow whittled that down to 8 with a couple minutes left. We ended up going 2–5 for the year, only beating the other St. P’s team both times we played them. Coincidentally perhaps, they were the only other team that had as many first graders as we did. So if nothing else the girls got bragging rights back in the school hallways!

Despite that record, the girls all really improved. In fact, we really should have beaten the team that ended up winning the tournament in our final regular season game. We could not buy a shot all day, but were down just 3 with the ball with about 3:00 to play. We got a foul and a girl who was 4–4 for the year from the line had a chance to cut it to one. She missed both.[1] Over the next three minutes we missed five shots right at the rim, including three lay ups by my daughter. We ended up losing by 7. Sad to admit that it took me a couple hours to get over that one. Beyond hanging with a good team for 40 minutes, the other cool thing was that all six of our girls scored, which is a huge accomplishment. One of our players would spend large parts of the game doing everything she could to avoid having to touch the ball or guard anyone. Sometimes she would stand near half court and watch what was going on while her parents yelled at her to find who she was guarding.

Despite being younger, shorter, and less experienced that all but one team, our girls got a little better each week. In week one L. was clearly our best player and I wasn’t sure what the other girls could contribute. By the end of the year I had a girl who was fantastic on defense and another who had turned into our best scorer. Sadly, I could never figure out how to teach them to run any kind of offense. Our girls generally either dribbled until they could take a shot or lost the ball. Sometimes we passed, but rarely was it to a specific teammate who was open. More often it was just chucking the ball somewhere in a panic. Our best offensive play tended to be dribbling around the perimeter over-and-over, never looking at a teammate, then suddenly realizing the defender had gotten lost/disinterested and taking the clear lane to the hoop. Then we still often missed.

L. had a solid year. She was, generally, one of the best dribblers in the league. And if she had a path to the rim she took it quickly. But she also refused to use the backboard when she was close to it, which cost her a few buckets each week. She ended up averaging around 8 points per game, but never matched her week one total of 12. She did have one sweet move Saturday. She was on the left side of the lane, accidentally did a killer-crossover, lost her defender, took a stop to the right, and swished her only jumper of the season. I let out a “WHOOO!” and was sure Tim Hardaway would have approved.

As for the coach, it was an interesting experience. I had coached, or helped coach, soccer four times before. Then I always used the excuse of never having played soccer as a defense against any struggles I might have. But, as I learned watching M. play kickball and C. play softball, sometimes it’s harder to coach the game you know. There is plenty of nuance and complexity to soccer, but at its core, you’re trying to score in this goal and trying to defend that one. Once you get past U6 soccer, I think most kids understand that.

Basketball seemed a lot harder to teach. I, and the parents who helped me, had a hard time teaching the girls how to move the ball on offense. One night at practice I worked on blocking out on rebounds, as we consistently got killed on the offensive glass by the older, taller teams we played. The problem teaching both of those concepts is no one really looks at the ball. They’re all kind of running in circles, or staring at the person they’re guarding. They don’t know to run to space, get their body in front of the defender, and then be ready for a pass. The dribbler is just staring at the ball, trying to keep control of it, rather than keeping their head up and looking for an open teammate. And on defense they rarely had any idea of when a shot went up, so even if they understood the concept of boxing out, they didn’t know when to utilize it.

The bottom line, though, is that the girls had fun. Even when we were getting smoked by the two best teams, they would be all smiles after the game. Following Saturday’s game, L. proudly said, “That’s the most baskets I’ve scored this year!” I was so shocked that I couldn’t be a good parent and just let her believe it. “No it’s not!” I responded. “You scored more than that at least four times this year.”

To be young, oblivious, and just happy to be on the court!

  1. Same girl had TWO three-point plays on Saturday. She’s a second grader, but not any taller than L. She also has two older sisters. I joked with her mom after one game that you could tell she has big sisters, because she always faked a shot before she took it. She’d had her weak stuff thrown at home for years!  ↩

⦿ Friday Links

We’ll kick this week’s edition off with a couple music-related links.

Stereogum is excellent when it comes to putting together long profiles of artists just before they release a new album. Ryan Leas’ deep look at the recording process of The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream played a huge role in setting expectations for that album. Here he catches up with Frightened Rabbit as the prepare to release their fifth studio album. They’ve reached the proverbial moment of turmoil in their career, although perhaps turmoil is a bit strong. Regardless, there have been a lot of changes surrounding the band since their last album. And Leas makes it clear those changes have affected their music. Fingers crossed their new direction continues their excellence.

Old Storms In New Places

Second, Consequence of Sound profiles Alejandra Deheza as she releases the final School of Seven Bells album.

School of Seven Bells: Our Time Is Indestructible

I like reading articles like this, outlining a plan to eliminate all time zones. I enjoy them because of the logic behind the plan and the planners’ faith in their idea. And I enjoy anticipating all the complaints, both rational and irrational, and knowing this will never, ever happen.

The radical plan to destroy time zones

Next a couple articles about how we treat women in our “modern” society.

Best Coast singer and songwriter Bethany Cosentino wrote this piece sharing her observations on what it is like to be a front-woman in a rock band. People are kind of the worst.

Burgers, Bitches, and Bullshit

No, Mitch Albom is the worst. What an absolute piece of shit. I received one of his books for Christmas. Not sure I feel like ever reading it now.

Mitch Albom Would “Feel a lot happier” if Erica Kinsman Donated Her Settlement Money

This has been stuck in my Instapaper queue for months and I finally got around to reading it this week. It’s a fascinating look at our media, our government, and how stories are told and myths are created.

What Do We Really Know About Osama bin Laden’s Death?

And finally, The Americans released its season preview video this week. Not sure I can wait until the new season begins.


When DIY Goes Wrong

Another addition to the list of stories I share so you can make fun of me.

Ya’ll know I’m not the most handy guy in the world. I can do some basic, minor repairs around the house. But when it comes to things behind, below, or under walls that involve electricity or plumbing, I recognize my limits and am happy to write a check to get things done. That need for outside help has been aided in recent years by our next door neighbor, who can handle just about any project. In the four years he’s lived next to us, he’s helped repair some exterior wood damage, installed a new garbage disposal, installed new light switches, and put a new part into our boat, along with a series of other minor jobs. I buy him beer, S. prescribes meds when his kids are sick, and it all evens out.

A few weeks ago we decided to finally put a water softener in. All the nice granite and fixtures we put in six years ago were beginning to look awfully dingy from our hard, Indiana water. Our neighbor had installed several softeners over the years and was happy to help. He went shopping with me, helped find all the hardware we would need, and over a couple hours, helped me get in installed. And when I say help I say he did 90% of the work and I handed him the tools he needed.

Our water was soft. Life was good.

A week later, after getting all the girls showers and to bed one night, I heard a bang somewhere in the house. I checked in each girl’s room to see if they had dropped something. Nope.

I walked downstairs and heard water running, like the dishwasher was operating but open. I checked it, but it was not on. The washing machine wasn’t on. Hmmm.

The noise seemed to be coming from the basement so I went to check there. Maybe the toilet was running or a faucet was on somewhere. When I got to the basement the sound got louder. Water wasn’t running out of a faucet, it was gushing somewhere. I ran into our utility room and found water pouring from our main line where we had run Pex line to plug the softener into the system. I waded through the ankle-deep water and turned the main valve off.

As I got the water to begin draining I looked to see what had gone wrong. One of the seals on the supply lines that connects the Pex to the softener had blown open. Cripes!

I called my neighbor to explain what had happened. Unfortunately, he was out of town so we were going to have to go without any water in the house until he returned the following night. Facebook friends may have seen the notes that L. put on each toilet to remind us not to flush.


The next day I ran out and got a replacement supply and some other materials. After school, he and I got to work making repairs. Things seemed to be ok. He went home, I went upstairs to eat dinner.

Midway through dinner I thought I heard water running. I rushed to the basement and found water pouring out again. The replacement supply line had already failed!

We had used the only supply lines that Menard’s carried. My neighbor had never used that brand before. He sent me to Home Depot to get the ones he had used. We got the new supplies hooked in and, knock on a lot of freaking wood, everything has been fine since.

Thank goodness both times the line failed we were home and awake. Had the first failure happened a few hours earlier, when I was at L’s basketball practice, our basement would have likely been full of water by the time we got home. Fortunately both times I was able to turn the main line off before the water spread beyond our utility room.

To say I’m a little paranoid about the whole thing now is an understatement. Anytime I hear a strange noise in the house, I freeze and listen carefully, then go turn on the nearest faucet to make sure we still have water pressure. Tuesday night everyone was having trouble sleeping after the five-day break. I kept imagining I heard noises from the basement. Once, at around 4:00, I was sure I heard water noises. I went down to check and about lost my mind when I heard the sound of water moving through pipes, like when the washing machine is running. Turned out the softener was just going through its regular recharge cycle, which involves pumping new water in and draining some of the old. No leaks, but I still sat around for 15 minutes until the cycle finished to be sure.

Sure, the same thing could have happened if I had hired a plumber. But the odds were lower. It’s good to have a neighbor with a lot of knowledge and a garage full of tools when we need to knock out a project. But sometimes it might still be worth writing that check.

A Relic On The Calendar

It’s Winter Break time at St. P’s. Otherwise known as the most annoying weekend of the winter. For some reason, our school has scheduled a five-day weekend anchored by President’s Day as long as we’ve had girls there. Just over a month after Christmas break ended, and with two short weeks in-between. Some years spring break has been less than a month down the road, too. It’s kind of maddening for us – well for S. and I; I’m pretty sure the girls like it – but I imagine it’s an even bigger pain for families that have to come up with childcare plans for their kids in the middle of winter.

The good news is this is our final winter break. We have a new principal this year, and about a month ago he released the revamped academic calendar for next year. He eliminated winter break, tightened up the parent-teacher conference schedule in October, got rid of the monthly, early-dismissal Fridays set aside for teacher “professional development,” and made a few other minor changes.

Being a good dad, I shared this news with the girls after school without giving them the payoff up-front.

“So, no winter break next year!”
“No early dismissal Fridays!”
“Parent-teacher conferences are just one day instead of two!”
“But guess what? You get out of school a week-and-a-half earlier than you ever have before!”
“WHAT?!?!? HOORAY!!!!!!”

Our girls have always complained that St. P’s gets out later than just about any other school. They’ve had to miss the first few days of swim team the last two summers because they’ve still been in school. But next year, baring a bunch of snow days, they’ll finish up on the Friday before Memorial Day. Which we all think is awesome.

Despite the long weekend, we’ve had a rather quiet break. L. had a birthday party to go to on Friday. Saturday S. continued her project of revamping each girl’s room, painting M’s room. Sunday we had volleyball and basketball games. We got enough snow that afternoon that the girls could play outside for a bit after their games. And yesterday we just ran some errands. We know lots of people at St. P’s who squeeze a trip into this weekend. But with two trips on our calendar already, we figured we would just relax at home.

We’re heading to Orange Beach, AL over spring break, which is late (for us) this year. We won’t leave until April 1 or 2. And we just scheduled a week-long trip to Boston for right after school ends in June. We’ll get to hang out with our family up there and explore the city, something we’ve never had a chance to do in our two trips there over the years. And hopefully I get to go to a Red Sox game.

Pitchers and catchers are about to report. College basketball is entering crunch time for conference races. There is a little more light each evening. By Friday we’re supposed to be over 60, with two days in the 50s right behind it. Winter’s not done with us, but all the signs are there that its days are numbered.

Friday Vid

“God’s Eyes” – Spookyland

Digging this song a lot right now. There’s a certain mid–90s vibe to it, from that final blast of the alt rock revolution before everything became derivative and poppy. From the first word, you can tell these lads are Aussies.

Musical Interlude

Some words about music.

I’m wrapping up my first week of a rather grand experiment: avoiding iTunes/Apple Music and using Spotify in their place. I cancelled my subscription to the now defunct Rdio streaming service and went all-in with Apple Music as soon as it went live back in June. While Apple Music wasn’t perfect, I liked how it was the only service that could combine all the music I’ve downloaded over the past decade, plus stream new music, and then give me access to all those songs across all my devices. At least in theory.

As time has passed, though, I’ve grown more and more frustrated with Apple Music. My biggest issues are how songs that I’ve downloaded onto my computer often show up in different forms on my i-devices because Apple Music gets confused by the metadata attached to the original file. For example, instead of hearing the version of “Animal” from Def Leppard’s Hysteria that I grew up on, my iPad will play some terrible live version. This doesn’t happen with a ton of music, but enough to be annoying.

The bigger issue is how Apple Music syncs data across devices. Ever since I began using iTunes in 2004, my default playlist is one called “Newest Latest” that includes everything I’ve added to my iTunes library in the past 40 days. That way I was always sure to be listening to and evaluating the most recent music I had downloaded. Since flipping the switch on the iTunes Music Library feature, though, the software keeps making duplicates of that playlist. Right now iTunes tells me I have seven different versions of that playlist, with four different combinations of tracks in them. Every few weeks I’ll go delete all the extras instances, but they just reappear shortly after. I’ve also had a hard time adding songs to playlists on my iPad or iPhone then seeing them show up back in iTunes on my Mac.

It’s also frustrating that Apple Music does not play nice with, the service I’ve used to track my listening data since 2005. That’s why I had to stop sharing my monthly listening stats: music up in the iTunes Music Library cloud will not get counted in the stats.

And I hate that it is so hard to find the latest releases on Fridays when new albums get released.

I’m not really sure what the final trigger was, but last week I decided to go ahead and give Spotify a shot. So far, I’m digging it. I like that it seems pretty seamless across devices. I like that is built in. I enjoy seeing what my friends who are Spotify users are listening to. The music recommendations seem a little more true to my tastes than what Apple Music offered. And while it’s still a bit of a chore to find new releases on Fridays, especially compared to how Rdio listed them, it is still easier than Apple Music makes it.

Making the switch also gave me a chance to simplify my music catalog. The thousands of songs I’ve ripped, downloaded, and purchased over the past decade are still sitting in my iTunes library when I want to access them. But rather than importing everything to Spotify, I spent a few hours working through my catalog and only loading the songs I consider vital into my new Spotify library. Instead of thousands of songs, I’m dealing with a few hundred now, but with the ability to stream anything else at a moment’s notice. That’s also made it a little easier to focus on the newest music.

Sure, I could have done a lot of that in iTunes by just deleting much of the cruft from my library there, but then I’m still left with all of my other complaints about the service.

Odds are Apple will fix some of the issues with it’s music service and software, and if it ever reaches the point where it is more usable than Spotify, it’s easy to switch back. For now, though, I’m sticking with Spotify. If you’re on it, look me up.

In other music news, I’ve been a huge fan of music critic Steven Hyden’s writing for many years. I first found him when he worked for the AV Club. He moved from there to Grantland. Now, like many Grantland refugees, he’s a bit of a free agent. While our musical tastes don’t completely overlap – his is necessarily broader than mine – I’ve generally found the bands, albums, and songs he gets most excited about are pretty similar to mine. And he’s written some wonderful, long-form profiles of some of my favorite acts as well.

His first post-Grantland project is a podcast called Celebration Rock.[1] So far he’s had some good interviews, but the most interesting episode is #4, on which he and fellow critic Ian Cohen run through their ten favorite rock albums of the ’10s up to now. Perfect gym listening material!

That episode kicked off a nice Twitter thread where listeners share their favorite 10 albums of the decade. It’s a fun thread to read through. It reminded me of a few albums I haven’t listened to for some time, has me interested in a few I’ve never listened to, and provided confirmation that a few of my favorite albums are loved by many others.

Perfect excuse to share my list, right? It was tougher to put this together than I expected. There are some great albums that others mentioned, but which I just don’t listen to much any more. If it’s going to be on my list, it needs to be something I go back to often. And a few albums I wanted to include were from just before the decade began. Still, I came up with 10. In order:

1) The War On Drugs – Lost In the Dream
2) Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium
3) Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse[2]
4) Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams[3]
5) Japandroids – Celebration Rock
6) Spoon – They Want My Soul
7) Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams
8) Arcade Fire – Suburbs
9) Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
10) School of Seven Bells – Ghostory

  1. Named for the most excellent 2012 Japandroids album.  ↩
  2. New FR album this year!  ↩
  3. New Ryan Adams album (or two, or three…) this year!  ↩

January Books

A slow start to the new year, with only three books completed. But I did have some other things going on in January. I polished off my first book of February Sunday night, so I’ll include it in this list.

The Whites – Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt
Richard Price is one of the best crime writers around. In addition to his own novels, he was a contributing writer on The Wire. He felt he needed to get away from the weight of his previous work, so chose to write this book under a pen-name. Which I found a little strange, because this novel deals with cops and crime and the blurry lines between good and bad in that realm. So kind of what he’s always been writing about.

In that transition, he lost none of his quality. This is another fine, gritty crime novel.

The Polish Officer – Alan Furst
Book three in the Night Soldiers series. As with the first two, Furst moves time just a little bit forward and to another part of Eastern Europe. This time things begin in Poland, just after the German invasion in 1939, as the surviving elements of the Polish armed forces make plans to escape and fight for Poland from different soil. Our hero is Alexander de Milja, who flees to Paris and, after it is occupied, builds an intelligence service that helps to harass the Nazis and prevent an early invasion of Britain.

The Water Knife – Paolo Bacigalupi
I found this on a Best Of list somewhere, the AV Club perhaps, listed as one of the scariest books the reviewer had read last year. It was supposed to be scary because of the truth within its plot. It wasn’t about a super-flu that wiped out half the world like in The Stand or Station Eleven, or a science experiment run amok like in Justin Cronin’s Passage trilogy. Rather this was about our water supply disappearing and the resulting havoc that would cause. Which seemed like an interesting concept.

Too bad the book didn’t deliver. It takes place sometime in the fairly near future in Nevada and Arizona. The water supply in the western US has diminished dramatically. States, and the paramilitary organizations that work on their behalf, are fighting over who actually owns the original rights to the waters that flow across state borders. Las Vegas, thanks to a ruthless CEO of its water authority, flourishes while Phoenix has turned into something out of the Mad Max films.

The Water Knife is the CEO’s main fixer, a guy who secures water rights when they must be secured and who eliminates threats to Nevada’s water supply without remorse. So the book is about him, right?

Well kind of. We’re introduced to him early. But not told that he is in fact the Water Knife until deep into the book. Was the Water Knife a person? A law? A military operation? A new invention that solved the water crisis? We’re introduced to other characters who are made to seem sympathetic. For the first 200 pages or so I wondered which character was the lead and who I should be paying the most attention to. This problem is muddled further in a chaotic, climatic scene. There are double-crosses and surprises, but I’m never sure who I’m rooting for.

Another big flaw is we’re never really told what the cause of the water shortage was. Simple overuse over time? Global climate change that wiped out precipitation in the southwest? Water being blocked elsewhere? There are hints to all of these, but never full answers. Which is kind of maddening. And we’re never told if this is just a southwestern US thing or if the entire world is facing the same disaster.

The Water Knife is built on a fascinating concept, but failed to deliver.

The Magician King – Lev Grossman
Finally, I jumped into book two of Grossman’s Magician trilogy. Which, you may know, is now a series on the SyFy channel. It picks up shortly after the first book left off: our heroes have become kings and queens of Fillory, a magical kingdom in a different plane of reality from our Earth. They set upon a quest, which goes awry a few times, and eventually pours into a larger quest to save not only their world, but perhaps all worlds. Along the way, we get the origin story for our oddest hero, Julia, who came to the group by a different path of magical education.

While Grossman kept his same light tone – his books have been called fantasy for people who don’t like fantasy – this one is a bit more of a slog than book one. I found the first half-to-two thirds rough going. There was momentum in the story, but the pace seemed awfully slow and, at times, not super compelling.

But in the last 150 pages or, it all comes together very, very nicely. Like so many book twos of trilogies, it is as much about setting up the big finish in book three as providing a satisfying ending. Some loose ends are wrapped up, but in terms of setting up the final book, it is perfect.

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