My Favourite Things: 2018

It’s time for my favourite post of the year, and thank goodness for that. Did anyone else think 2018 was a long year? Time’s supposed to speed up when you get older, isn’t it?

I needed all the time I could get, though, to write the last book of the This Time Forever series, a final novella for Marc and Henry, edit everything I’d written last year, this year, and what felt like an entire library full of books, and then promote it all. I also taught three writing workshops and continued my volunteer work at the library. And my husband bought a bagel shop. And my daughter is preparing for college. And…

But, still, I found time to read, to watch, to play, and to fall in love with a year’s worth of stuff. ❤

 

Books

FTBooks

I read nearly 220 books this year, which is a little more than average for me. I’m honestly not sure how I found the time earlier in the year, but I do know that a lot more of my reading is now done with my ears. I’ve always been a fan of audiobooks, but as my days become increasingly busy, listening to a book is so often the only reading time I get—and a great way to switch off my own thoughts for a while. Half of the books I’ve chosen as this year’s standouts were listened to as I walked the neighborhood, drove to town, cleaned bathrooms, and mowed the lawn.

 

Bitter Legacy by Dal Maclean (Mystery/Thriller)

Extremely compelling. I had a really hard time putting this one aside to deal with real life.

I really enjoyed the mystery aspect of this novel—more than I thought I would, actually. I liked the slow collection of clues and the “procedural” feel of having them snapped together, one by one, but not always in the right order. I’d love to read more mystery written by Dal Maclean. I think she demonstrates great talent.

The romance aspect of the book was a little more difficult to… like. This isn’t a happy, fluffy contemporary. But it totally worked for the characters. Jamie is so new and so inexperienced when it comes to relationships that it was easy to imagine him making the excuses that he did. His hesitancy and heartbreak were also really well written. I felt them both quite deeply.

I did have a hard time accepting the reconciliation at the end, but justified it in much the same way Jamie did: love can overlook a lot of faults, especially when we think we’re getting what want/need. Also, if Ben isn’t to be a bitter, twisted, and lonely old man, someone has to take a chance on him.

I’m really looking forward to reading Maclean’s follow up novel, Object of Desire.

 

Dangerous Women (Anthology)

One of the reasons I love short story collections so much is the opportunity to try new authors, and I will forever be thankful to this anthology for introducing me to Lawrence Block. This is otherwise a solid collection. I skipped a few stories, mostly those set in worlds I wasn’t all that familiar with (Jim Butcher, G.R.R.M.). I imagine those stories would work better for existing fans, but S.M. Stirling’s entry really worked for me.

The stories I enjoyed the most:

  • “Some Desperado” by Joe Abercrombie. A Red Country story. This was a great intro to the collection.
  • “My Heart is Either Broken” by Megan Abbott. Really well done.
  • “Raisa Stepanova” by Carrie Vaughn. Fantastic piece of historical fiction.
  • “Wrestling Jesus” by Joe R. Lansdale. This was one of my favourites. It was just so quirky and out there.
  • “Neighbors” by Megan Lindholm might be my favourite story. It was so well written and complete.
  • “I Know How to Pick ’Em” by Lawrence Block encouraged me to give one of his novels a try.
  • “Second Arabesque, Very Slowly” by Nancy Kress was amazing. Perhaps the best in the collection.
  • “Pronouncing Doom” by S.M. Stirling – An Emberverse story. Had me wondering why I never got back into the Emberverse books.

 

Dedicated (Rhythm of Love, #1) by Neve Wilder (Romance)

I just finished reading Neve Wilder’s Center of Gravity (Nook Island, #1) last night and considered replacing this with that, but in the end chose to stick with Dedicated because for as much as I loved Center of Gravity (to the tune of almost half a box of tissues toward the end), I feel Dedicated is the better book. It’s a little tidier and tighter, story-wise, and is one of the best rock star romances I’ve ever read.

What really make this novel work are three things. The first is the almost flawless integration of plot and romance. I’m one of those readers who require quite a lot of story with my steam, and this has that. Second are the tropes: friends to lovers and fake relationship. Yes! Third, the interview snippets interspersed throughout the book. These are awesome, and taken alone, give wonderful insight into the characters personalities. Along with the story, they’re gold.

 

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell (Historical)

Fools and Mortals had been on my wishlist for a while, and after I finally read it, I almost wish I hadn’t so that I could read it all over again—for the first time. Briefly, it’s the story of the first production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as related by one of William Shakespeare’s younger brothers.

The history of the play itself would have made a fascinating story—and Cornwell’s attention to detail stood out here with facts so expertly interwoven with fiction as to give the book that peculiar weight of good historical fiction. I came away feeling as if I’d learned something, and with a desire to read more about the subject.

What made this book so special, though, was Richard. He’s a compelling character in his own right with a very Dickensian life story. I loved his point of view and enjoyed his unique insights into the character of his older brother William. I actually became so engrossed in the lives of the players in Shakespeare’s company that I could have kept reading forever.

 

God Country by Donny Cates (Comic/Graphic Novel)

How do you even describe a comic book like this? The shelving label on the back reads “Epic Texan Battle Fantasy” and there is a quote inside the front cover from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the WestGod Country lives up to both. It is a western. But it’s also a fantasy that borrows from Norse mythology. And it’s the story of a family devastated by Alzheimer’s.

I most often buy comic books for their art and it’s gorgeous here, with the style definitely working in support of the story. But what made this comic one I was keen to shelve in my library with a reverent stroke of the cover as I slipped it into place, were the spontaneous tears that caught me about five pages from the end. I’m a self-admitted sap. I’ve cried in more Star Trek episodes than anyone else on this planet. But I’ve only teared up over one comic book before, the poignant Roughneck by Jeff Lemire.

I might have to start a new Goodreads shelf.

 

Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins (Contemporary)

I loved Now That You Mention It from the first chapter, the first page, the first paragraph—the first line!

The first thought I had after I died was: How will my dog cope with this?
The second thought: I hope we can still go with an open casket.
Third thought: I have nothing to wear to my funeral.
Fourth: I’ll never meet Daniel Radcliffe now.
Fifth: Did Bobby just break up with me?

Everything you need to know about this book is right there, in black and white. Nora is obviously at a turning point in her life, and she has questions. What follows was a funny, deeply thoughtful, honest, romantic and just a damn fine story about a woman finally coming to terms with herself. As always, the secondary characters were wonderful, populating the small island off the coast of Maine with authenticity and charm. I particularly loved Nora’s mother and niece. The dialogue was amazing—effortlessly flowing through every subject—and the romance was sweet without overwhelming the true message of the book.

I loved every minute spent within the covers of Now That You Mention It and can’t wait for my next Kristan Higgins. She has become one of my favourite authors.

In contemporary fiction, I also really enjoyed Less by Sean Andrew Greer. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara isn’t a book you could say you enjoyed, but the reading of it consumed a part of my soul this year and I’ll carry the story of Jude with me forever.

 

The Dark Defiles (A Land Fit for Heroes, #3) by Richard K. Morgan (Fantasy)

I tried to read The Steel Remains, the first book in this series, several years ago and put it aside after only two or three chapters. I can’t remember why, but the usual reason for putting something aside is simply a lack of connection. It’s frustrating when it’s a book I really want to read, so I’ll often return later, or try it on audio. That’s what I did here and I immediately became invested in the first book, then the second, and finally the third. As soon as I finished, I ordered books two and three to go with the first on my keeper shelf. This is a series I want to revisit and remember.

It’s not always a pleasant read. The violence is brutal and the themes quite dark. But Morgan has a way of drawing you into a story almost unaware, and making you care about characters who aren’t even particularly “nice.” He did it with Takeshi Kovacs and again here with Ringil. If I had a favourite character at the beginning of the series, it would have been Egar, but only because he’s typical. He’s a man meant for more. Arceth’s story is fascinating and she grew on me as the series progressed.

But Ringil. He was hard to love, but once there, impossible to shake off. I adored his caustic wit and unrepentant attitude toward his homosexuality. If ever a character was who he was, it would be Ringil. Society reviles him, his family despairs for him, and yet… and yet. Without giving away too much, Ringil doesn’t bloody care, except for when he does.

I loved the ending, and what I presumed to be Ringil’s fate. Even more, the coda afterward that hinted at Arceth’s epilogue (and maybe the fulfillment of a certain prophecy), and the circumstances surrounding the birth of a certain baby. I shed a few tears throughout. I laughed, too. I stood silent sentry at every funeral. But that last chapter of the coda. I pretty much lost it there, as Morgan tied up every loose end and brought us back to the beginning.

This was a great year for fantasy (for me) and I had a hard time choosing a favourite. The other contenders were Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, and The Blinding Knife (Lightbringer #2) by Brent Weeks.

 

Touch by Claire North (Science Fiction)

I invented chores to keep listening to Touch. I baked muffins. They were horrible because I left them in the oven too long because I was listening to this. But I did get all the bathrooms cleaned and even vacuumed my stairs. I hate vacuuming stairs.

What drew me to Touch was the premise: Kepler is a being that can pass from host to host through touch. There’s also a mystery. Kepler is trying to solve the murder of his most recent host, a woman killed while Kepler was “in residence.” Toss a mystery plot into a novel with speculative elements and I can’t help myself.

Touch was exciting, compelling, different, but not weird. There was a logic to it all and it was kind of beautiful. I don’t think it made quite the comment on gender that some reviewers seemed to think it did, though. I thought was actually more about self and love.

As an aside, Touch reminded me of another of my favourite books, Purpose by Andrew Q. Gordon. If the premise of Touch appeals, I’d suggest you add Andrew’s book to your wish list as well.

 

Movies

FTMovies

I’m going to share a secret: if you go to the theatre at about four or five in the afternoon, on a Friday, you can see a new release film at matinee prices, and pretty much have your pick of seats. It’s not a “cool” time to go to the cinema, but it works for me. I can be home and in bed by about eight. You know, like the old folks. 😉

2018 was a great year for movies, seeing me in theatre seats forty-four times. That’s… nearly every week. And I didn’t really see a movie I regretted. My picks for favourites are a bit surprising, though, and not what I would have predicted going in.

In Theatres: Crazy Rich Asians

I had such a good time watching this movie! The story, the characters, the sheer spectacle of it. I laughed and cried and just felt good the whole time. I was thoroughly entertained, which is about all I ask for when I buy a ticket.

My other favourites in theatres this year were Hostiles—one of the most moving Westerns I’ve ever seen, plus… Christian Bale. I’ll always go to see Christian Bale. And Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse, which I expected to be good, and was better than good, almost taking the top spot.

I can’t let the year pass without mentioning Love, Simon, which I saw twice. The kiss at the end was everything. Also, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit more than the book.

On DVD: The Rider

One of the most quietly touching movies ever made, The Rider pretty much broke me and Jay. By the end, we had a box of tissues on the couch between us and were shamelessly grabbing handfuls. The two standout scenes were the campfire, where the guys shared their songs and stories, the faith that keeps them going, and Brady’s dedication to his family and best friend.

I also enjoyed The Wedding Banquet and I Feel Pretty.

 

TV

FTTV

2018 was the year of The Walking Dead.

I normally limit myself to one episode a day of whatever show I’m watching. By the time I got to season six of The Walking Dead (I picked up where I’d left off with season two sometime in January), I was devouring four episodes at a time. I couldn’t stop, even though the story was so, so dark, and the world outside was so, so dark, and life itself was… Well. March was tough. Romancelandia exploded, a blizzard dumped three feet of snow in northeast Pennsylvania, and I got the flu. And one of my favourite Walking Dead characters died. I recently caught up with season eight and might actually have to buy season nine instead of waiting for it to hit Netflix. But then I’d have to wait nearly a year for more, and…

I also got heavily invested in The Americans, which I watched from beginning to end (seasons 1-6) over the summer, sobbed my way through two seasons of Queer Eye, and thoroughly enjoyed season two of Iron Fist, which I thought was even better than the first.

 

Games

FTGames

Game of the Year: The Evil Within

Horror Survival is a genre. Who knew? My daughter showed me the trailer to this game and despite all the blood, I thought the story looked pretty good. It is pretty good. Also, the game is phenomenally fun to play. It has a similar feel to Dishonored, in theme and in appearance, with that sort of open world feel that gives you enough space to move without letting you wander off the path. The scarcity of resources reminded me a little of The Last of Us, and the way I had to plan out each encounter became addictive. Outside of the blood and gore and blood and blood, this game is one long logic puzzle, and I loved it.

Another game I really, really enjoyed was Rise of the Tomb Raider. It was pure fun from beginning to end, with a story that wrung a few tears from my eyes, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

I also played through two installments of Assassin’s Creed this year. I found Syndicate a little boring, but quite enjoyed Unity, which felt like a return to Assassin’s Creed II style of play—lots of story, compelling characters, and a thoroughly invested world.

Right now I’m playing Fallout 76 and having a lot of fun with it. While I’m hoping there are plans for more story than there is right now, and fewer disconnects, the game so far is everything I love about Fallout: a world I can explore on my own, quirky quests hidden in odd places, crafting, and lots and lots to do.

 

Music

FTMusic

The increase in audiobook listening this year meant a decrease in music listening. I’d miss music sometimes, and so tune in to Pandora while editing. Or occasionally spend an evening flipping through my somewhat outdated collection. But I did discover a couple of new (to me) songs in 2018, two of which wormed their way into my subconscious, and then into the playlists for two of my releases this year.

“You’re Somebody Else” became the theme song for Renewing Forever, my melancholic romance featuring a couple trying to bridge a gap of thirty years. The lyrics and the feel are so damn perfect that the first few times I heard the song, I’d think about the book and weep a little.

“Broken” by lovelytheband became the theme song for Chasing Forever, and the upbeat melody and lyrics are the perfect antidote to my first choice.

I still love “Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragons, who seem only to be getting better with age (and they started out pretty good!), and I bought the soundtracks for both A Star is Born (every time Lady Gaga sang in that movie, I cried) and Spider-Man.

 

Food

Hot Bagels Gold (1)2018 was, without a doubt, the year of the bagel. My husband and I bought a bagel shop, meaning we kind of live and breathe bagels. I still like them—but it’s only been three months. A long three months. He gets up at 3:00 a.m. to bake and I head in late morning to work the lunch shift and close the shop. And clean and clean and clean. I’ve never washed so many dishes in my life!

My favourite bagel is still the sesame, especially when it’s fresh from the oven–crisp and chewy on the outside and tender in the middle. Toasted lightly and spread with cream cheese, sprinkled with capers and piled high with lox. Yum!

 

Activity

IMG_0491

I’m tempted to say sleep, but really, getting out to hike became super important again this year. It’s not a new activity and I’ve always appreciated my time out on the trails, but with everything that happened this year, to crowd my headspace and my workspace, I needed the quiet of the forest more than ever.

I took several hikes with my dad this year, which added to the fun, and discovered a few new trails, including those around Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park! I look forward to getting out there again as soon as I figure out how to get time away from the shop!

That’s another year quantified! It was productive and busy and I’m hoping 2019 at least begins a little more sedately. We’ll see. Hope it was a great year for all of you and that the New Year is better still. ❤

(For those of you looking for my writing plans for 2019, stay tuned! I’ll be posting sometime next week!)

My Favourite Things 2017

Here it is, my favourite blog post of the year, the one where I share all the things I fell in love with over the past twelve months.

For many of us, escapism became all the more important in 2017 as we searched for ways to deal with disappointment, disillusionment, and sometimes the sheer terror of what each day might bring. For me, the year started slowly with a lot of books, movies, and TV shows not living up to their potential. So I stepped outside of my comfort zone. Read things I might not have a year before. Took recommendations I wasn’t sure of. Watched movies that should have been terrible and weren’t.

I found a lot to like and actually picked up a new favourite author. I’m going to start this year’s list right there. As always, links refer back to reviews and posts on this blog.

Books

Mystery/Thriller: The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

This book consumed me for the nearly two weeks it took me to read it. It’s long and involved and completely absorbing. Briefly, The Power of the Dog covers nearly thirty years of America’s “War on Drugs” from the late seventies up to the new millennium. The most astonishing aspect is the fact that it’s all facts—and that author Don Winslow found a way to add a story in there with characters you come to care deeply about. This book wrecked me in so many ways. Even without knowing the consequences were real, they felt true.

I never would have picked this book up on my own. As it was, I borrowed it from the library without even reading the back cover because the waiting list for The Force was months long and I wanted to read Don Winslow now. Best incidental recommendation, ever.

Currently, I’m buddy reading the sequel, The Cartel. It’s almost as good. The research is just as thorough and the presentation of facts just as absorbing. I’ve also started Winslow’s Neal Carey detective series and really enjoyed the first book!

Fantasy: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I’ve always meant to read more N.K. Jemisin and so when The Fifth Season showed up as either an Audible Daily Deal or in one of their sales, I picked it up and gave it a listen. And was immediately drawn into a richly detailed world that felt real, even though completely unfamiliar. I seriously envy Jemisin’s world building. It’s seamless and effortless. If ever you have to ask why, it’s usually along with the inhabitants of her world, and the question is one that will be answered by the story at the proper time.

I also really enjoy her characters. There is an even-handed quality to them. She doesn’t write “strong female characters” and “emotionally mature men,” she writes real people who transcend gender and archetype.

Then there’s the story. It’s epic but relatable. I realized going in that The Fifth Season was the set up for a much larger story, but it’s by no means incomplete. The second and third books in the series rely more heavily on the fact you’ve already traveled the roads of book one, but still manage to include complete story arcs. The final book is truly amazing. Better than I imagined it could be and with a resolution I did not quite expect. The whole series is brilliant and I’m really looking forward to more news about the planned television series.

Science Fiction: How Great Science Fiction Works by Gary K Wolfe

Technically, this isn’t a book. It’s a series of lectures from The Great Courses. I’m a huge fan of these series, particularly the audio versions, because I find it difficult to concentrate on non-fiction in print. Listening, I can do, however, and because I’m not tempted to skim, I absorb a lot more information.

And information there is in this course. These twenty-four lectures cover the genre pretty thoroughly from origin to present day to what the future might bring. Each subject was fascinating and I found the Wolfe’s opinions and commentary extremely balanced. He had his favourites (which more often than not aligned with mine), but also talked about books that are simply important to the history of science fiction.

My reading list grew as did my re-read list (which is something I might actually get to now that so many titles are available on audio). What I most enjoyed about this series, though, was Wolfe’s obvious and genuine love and enthusiasm for the genre and the people who have strived to excel within it.

Other notable science fiction reads this year included the Frontlines series by Marko Kloos and, as always, the continuing saga of Miles Vorkosigan.

Romance: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

More than a love story, Aristotle and Dante is an homage to the very real pain of youthful discovery. Of all the YA love stories I’ve read with LGBT characters, this is the one I’d most like to see made into a movie.

Fiction: Kith and Kin by Kris Ripper

I adored this book and never wanted it to end. Ripper introduces the reader to a family that is quirky, enmeshed in drama, a little bit broken, and most importantly, there for each other when it matters—even if they don’t really want to be. Essentially, it’s a book about just that, about what it means to be family, whether by blood or by choice. It’s about being an adult and how freaking hard that is. It’s also about growing up and taking responsibility, and about accepting who you are and being okay with that. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book, and I hope we get to visit with the Thurman family again sometime.

Manga: My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame

This gentle manga is the antidote to 2017. I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but am forever grateful. It’s about a Japanese man, Yaichi, his daughter Kana, and their house guest, who just happens to be his brother’s husband. Sadly, the brother passed away, and his husband, the delightfully robust Canadian, Mike Flanagan, is visiting Japan to connect with family.

While the series is light and a lot of fun to read, it also deals with homophobia and cultural differences by answering questions anyone might have had in a straight forward and unabashed manner. For me, though, the growing friendship between Yaichi, Kana and Mike as they become a true family is the real delight.

Movies

In Theatres: Logan and Wonder Woman

I saw a lot of really, really good movies in theatres this year. Usually, it’s easier to choose just one for the top spot, but not between these two.

Logan is the movie I most looked forward to in 2017, even though I knew it was going to break my heart—and it did. But so beautifully, which might sound anachronistic when you consider the rating of this film. Honestly, though, this story couldn’t have been told any other way. It’s a fitting tribute to a favourite among the X-Men and one of the finest performances I’ve seen from Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart.

Wonder Woman has changed the way I will watch superhero movies forever. I didn’t know how much I needed this film until I watched it. I think the moment that sums up my feelings best is when Diana Prince climbs out of the bunker when no one else will. Yes, she’s basically bullet-proof, but the message of that action goes much deeper. A woman gets things done. A woman’s bravery is unquestionable. I cried as she walked into the dark and I cried again when she leaped to the top of the church. And inside my heart, a loud voice was singing, this what a woman can do.

Because this was such a great year for movies, I have a bunch of “Honorable Mentions.”

War for the Planet of the Apes – Another highly anticipated movie for me as I have thoroughly enjoyed this series reboot and the greater story arc of these three films in particular. This was the most powerful, by far, and for longtime fans, the movie that ties it all together.

Dunkirk – Story aside, this is the most carefully and brilliantly crafted movie I’ve seen in a long, long while.

Blade Runner 2049 – Exceeded all expectations and they were pretty high.

I also enjoyed The LEGO Batman Movie, The Fate of the Furious, and The Foreigner.

On DVD: Hidden Figures and Get Out

I didn’t get to as many movies on DVD as I usually do this year, but these two were well worth the time.

TV

Black Sails

This series is EVERYTHING. If I were to compile a master list of Favourite Things at the end of the decade (ooh, another list!) Black Sails would probably be at or near the top.

For all my thoughts on this phenomenal series, read the post, “Welcome to the Dark Side.” (Spoilers are kept to a minimum, but as this is a four season show, I can’t guarantee I didn’t slip up somewhere.)

This year I also enjoyed Broadchurch, The Killing, season two of The Expanse, and Dear White People.

Games

Favourite Game: The Last of Us

Oh, this game. So, so good. Dark and gritty and completely unexpected. I loved the story, the characters, the setting, the mood and the gameplay. The attention to detail, from the scarcity of resources to the little Easter Eggs dotted throughout the map. This is a game designed to involve and destroy you, and it does so very, very well. The voice acting is superb and I was surprised to learn Troy Baker (Joel) also voiced Mitchell in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. He has an incredible range.

Then we have the soundtrack. One of the best, ever.

For all my thoughts on The Last of Us, read the post, “Parenting in the Time of Zombies.” (Though I don’t directly give anything away, my defense of Joel could be considered spoiler-y.)

I played a lot of games this year, which is probably why I didn’t get to as many DVDs. I also enjoyed The Nathan Drake Collection (Uncharted 1-3), Horizon: Zero Dawn, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Dishonored 2, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue and am currently playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which I am enjoying very, very much.

Music

Song of the Year: “Something Just Like This” — The Chainsmokers & Coldplay

This song will probably appear on the playlist of every book I’ve written this year—and for a very good reason: these are the guys I love to write. The heroes who aren’t super. The ordinary men (and women) who go the extra mile simply because they’re in love, or it’s the right thing to do, or because that’s who they are.

Other music that resonated strongly with me this year was the main theme (and soundtrack) for The Last of Us, Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” (for the movie Logan) and “High” by Sir Sly.

Food

Is this the first time you’ve read my list? Yes, I also do food and 2017 was the year of the Instant Pot. I joined the cult of the latest culinary obsession, and if you give me just five minutes, I’ll convince you to join too! Take a look at some of my favourite recipes:

Pulled Pork (pictured)

Indian Butter Chicken

Chana Saag – Instant Pot {Chickpeas and Spinach Curry}

Activity

I’ve always got a game going, but in 2017 I got back into gaming in a big way—partly because having a PlayStation helped me separate gaming from working (normally I’d play at the PC sitting under my writing desk). Being able to switch off after a long day and head downstairs to play encouraged me to play more often. As did the ability to lie back in the recliner with a beer bottle wedged into the seat cushion next to me.

 

Also, I took a break from epic length strategy RPGs to enjoy a series of short and sweet shooters and action adventure games. Additionally, we met more frequently with our board game buddies and spent many days happily hunched over a wide variety of adventures from card collecting co-ops (The Grizzled) to all out competitive warfare (Adrenaline)—and everything in between.

And that’s another year sorted. It’s been long and interesting and sometimes more difficult than I imagined. There were a lot of low points and I’ve had to draw on reserves I didn’t know I had. But we made it to the end and I can only hope that the template for dealing with sh*t I’ve put in place will serve me well in the years to come. On that note, I wish you all happiness and health and all the best for a bright and prosperous 2018.

 

Music That Moves Me (Movies)

When this post extended past a few pages on movies alone, I realised it was the first of a two part series. This one is for the movies. The second installment will be for video games.

I am an annoying person to watch movies with. I don’t chatter and spoil the surprise, but I will make a comment now and then, usually along the lines of:

“Check out the composition of this scene.”

“This is directed by <name>. They did <film>. Remember that one?”

“Oh, wow, check the cinematography here.”

“Wasn’t this actor in <film> and <film>?”

and, more often than not:

“Have you been listening to the soundtrack? I wonder if it’s <artist/composer>.”

I nearly always notice the soundtrack, and it’s one of the reasons I love to watch movies at home. There I can sit with my phone in hand, IMDb app open, so I can look up the other films for that particular actor, check out the director and find out who was responsible for and/or composed the music. I’ve discovered some of my favourite artists and composers through film.

Music has been an important part of the movie experience for the entirety of my lifetime. When I think back to some of my earliest movie experiences, the soundtrack, or just the theme immediately comes to mind. It’s as indelibly planted in my memory as the name of the film and the actor(s) who starred. Who directed. 2001:A Space Odyssey, Apocalypse Now, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Star Trek, Chariots of Fire, The Mission. Even if you haven’t seen Deliverance, you know about the dueling banjos.

The first movie soundtrack I ever purchased was The Mission. I was pretty blown away by Ennio Morricone’s haunting pan flute melodies. I love the movie, but I’m not sure it would have the same impact without Morricone’s music. One of my favourite renditions of “Gabriel’s Oboe” is by John Williams on classical guitar. It’s from the album John Williams Plays the Movies and I own that too.

Morricone’s score for all three films in The Dollars trilogy is the very definition of iconic…and I’m going to move on before I digress into a blog post on Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone and the Spaghetti Western. 😉

Another series I adore are the Star Tracks albums featuring the most beloved science fiction TV and movie themes of the last century. The first CD came with a bass level warning. It’s…awesome.

An exciting moment in movie music for me was the soundtrack to Sunshine. I adore this movie. It combines so many of my favourite things: a director I avidly follow, a writer I favour, actors I love and a completely transformative soundtrack. Sunshine is an apocalyptic tale, which is totally my thing. It’s tense and frightening. The story asks the big questions. But the film is also full of hope, which is another of my things. I don’t mind if I’ve used a box of tissues by the end as long as I feel hope in my heart.

The soundtrack for Sunshine played an important part in my understanding and enjoyment of the film. It’s one of the most wonderful movie scores I’ve stumbled across and I love it dearly—especially as it introduced me to John Murphy. As soon as I looked him up, I fell quickly into the black hole of OMG, he did the music for this! And this! He has in fact done the music for many notable Danny Boyle films, most recognisably 28 Days Later (also written by Alex Garland and starring Cillian Murphy!).

When I discovered that John Murphy worked in collaboration with one of my favourite bands, Underworld, on a number of these projects (Underworld has a solid history of scoring Danny Boyle’s films too), my black hole got pretty geeky. I lost a couple of otherwise productive weeks immersed in movies and music as I rewatched and listened to everything I could get my hands on.

As you can imagine, I also enjoy movies about musicians and music. I cannot watch the scene in Immortal Beloved featuring the excerpt of Beethoven’s 9th, Ode to Joy, without weeping. The part where he is floating in the pond of stars (5:15)? Forever imprinted in my brain.

At another end of the spectrum, I enjoyed The Doors so much I often used to put it on just to listen to the soundtrack. It’s rare that you get a selection of greatest hits in chronological order! As an aside, I often did the same with 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’d put the movie on, close my eyes and just listen. It’s a completely different movie experience.

Recently, I watched Begin Again, starring Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine. What a pleasant surprise! I bought the soundtrack before the credits rolled…and constantly question the fact I am actually listening to Keira Knightly sing.

I don’t just get off on movie music. Sometimes it’s the sound effects. The swish of doors opening in any science fiction film? I grin every time. It’s like they have a button on every mixing console marked “SciFi Door”. The tricycle wheels in The Shining. The hum over hard flooring punctuated by the silence of carpet. It’s just so damned creepy. The aforementioned Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Who doesn’t know that sequence of notes by heart? Next time you watch it, listen for the echoes throughout the film. Then we have The Revenant. I actually popped out of suspension once or twice just to lean back in my theatre seat and let go of a silent “wow”—not for the music, but for the crackle and groan of ice. The sound of air. Leonardo DiCaprio breathing. I was pretty blown away, especially when I did my customary research after the film and learned that director Alejandro González Iñárritu used ambient sound throughout. Moviegoers were actually listening to the ice crackle and DiCaprio breathing. The air moving, the wind through the trees, and so on. I could devote another blog post just to this film. Instead, I’m going to drop the trailer right here, which takes full and bloody amazing advantage of both the musical score and Iñárritu’s innovative direction.

So, I’ve got a category missing. Several, probably. Movies and music are inextricably linked. For this post, however, I’m going to wrap up with genre that combines both—the musical. I’m not a huge fan of live theatre. Shock, horror, I know. Call me low brow, but I just prefer movies. I find it easier to be swept away when I’m in the theatre—also, I can pause, rewind and rewatch my favourites, over and over and over. Oh, and movie tickets generally only cost twelve bucks.

I do like movie musicals, though! I rewatch The Sound of Music every year, and absolutely adore Mary Poppins. I love Disney movies. The Lion King is an absolute fave. The scene where Simba climbs Pride Rock? “It is time.” I sing every time my cats climb out on the rock overlooking the creek at the back of our garden. Yeah, you all knew I was weird.

While we’re talking animated films, the music for Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films is always well considered, and the sound effects for The Wind Rises are very cool.

I wish I could ramble on forever, but I will show some restraint and leave you with one last video, which is from Curious George. Going to see this movie with my daughter resulted in another immediate soundtrack purchase. In my defense, I was already a Jack Johnson fan going in.

For a good list of movies with unforgettable music, visit: The 50 greatest film soundtracks

 

My Favourite Things: 2015

I always wait until the last possible moment to write this post because, in the last two years, I’ve had to update a couple of the entries as I go to one last movie or find the book I couldn’t have made it through my life without reading. This year, the delay again proved worthwhile as I became absorbed in December by some of the best television I have ever seen, and a number of startlingly good books.

As always, highlighted entries point to my reviews and rambles.

Books

2015Books

I read about 270 books this year. That’s twenty less than 2014 and, consequently, I awarded fewer five star ratings. I had 64 to choose from when trying to decide which books to rave about. Narrowing my list of favourites wasn’t as hard as last year, however, as there were some clear standouts.

Science Fiction: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

This book kinda blew me away. Actually, there’s no ‘kinda’ about it. This book hit all my buttons: impending apocalypse (okay, it’s Armageddon, but good enough), deeply drawn characters and a sprawling sense of space—a universe you could live in, would recognise when you returned to it—poetry and a compelling narrative. Six compelling narratives, actually. Told from the consecutive points of view of six of the seven men and women making a pilgrimage as the galaxy prepares for war, this book is a saga in one volume. It’s three love stories and a treatise on military action. It examines humanity, religion, philosophy, art and politics. The story bends time and rules. It’s just nothing short of amazing.

I also enjoyed Kevin Anderson’s return to the Seven Suns universe in the Saga of Shadows, Pierce Brown’s follow up to Red Rising (last year’s top SF pick from me), Golden Son, and everything I read by Peter Clines.

Fantasy: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Long. Oh my goodness, so long. Every word is worth it, though. Every. Single. World. This book, these characters, this world! SIGRUD! Also, there’s a sequel coming out next year and I already have the ARC for it. *pause for epic flailing*

What sets this book apart is the world building. It’s truly unique. I have never read about a world like this one, and the world is such an integral part of the story. It’s nearly a character in its own right.

Close runner-up is Theft of Swords (Riyria Revelations #1) by Michael J. Sullivan, a new to me author who is now an auto-buy author. I will read anything this man writes. A part of the charm of this series is the fabulous narration by Tim Gerard Reynolds. If you can afford to do this on audio, go for it.

Horror: The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

This is a new category. I don’t usually read horror, but The Girl with all the Gifts is one of those stories that caught me by surprise. I can’t reveal much about the plot without giving away the magic, but what made this book work for me was the extraordinary journey of one of the characters. I despised this character at the beginning. I began to understand them halfway through. I was utterly besotted with their arc by the end—and then there’s a scene that just… Yeah, I’m haunted.

Graphic Novel: Commencement (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, #1) by John Jackson Miller

For me, this story combined elements of the original three movies and the world fabulously imagined by BioWare for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Great storytelling, decent art and fifty chapters to keep you invested for a good long time.

Romance: Waiting for the Flood by Alexis J. Hall

My review for Waiting for the Flood was a quote from within the book which, for me, defined the very essence of romance:

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted, really. Someone to make tea for. To know how they like to drink it, and share some pieces of time with them at the end of long days, and short ones, good days and bad, and everything in between.”

Movies

2015Movies

In Theatres: Furious 7

Apart from the fact this movie is a must see for every Furious franchise and Paul Walker fan, it really is the best one yet. The story, the stunts. The cast. The ending is bittersweet, as it had to be. I cried and, for about a month afterward, every time I heard the song See You Again I got all misty eyed.

I also really enjoyed both Southpaw and Creed. Southpaw was a shoe-in for me. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal? I didn’t have to be asked twice. Creed—you’ve seen Rocky (and a handful of the sequels), right? Why not treat yourself to Stallone acting, and doing a damn good job of it.

Yes, I have seen The Force Awakens and yes, it was a great film. I also really enjoyed San Andreas!

On DVD: Lilting, St. Vincent, Begin Again, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

I didn’t watch as many movies on DVD this year. I was too busy streaming season after season of television shows I’ve missed.

TV

2015TV

Broadchurch, Sense8, Grace and Frankie, The Expanse

These shows are about as disparate as you can get. The Expanse is the space opera I’ve been waiting for since BSG drew its last breath. Grace and Frankie explores interpersonal relationships between family, friends and lovers in so many wonderful ways. Sense8 is spectacular—cinematically and for the story. Broadchurch WRECKED me. Not sure when I last sobbed in front of the television in such a distraught manner. Thank goodness no one came to visit me.

Games

2015Games

Favourite Game: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Geralt…

Sprawling, endlessly entertaining, well-written, beautiful and…Geralt in all his grey glory.

I also finished Dragon Age: Inquisition which left me wanting and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Music

2015Music

I don’t listen to music when I write and I wrote a LOT this year. I also listened to a lot of audio books, which really cut into my music listening time—particularly when driving. But I still managed to get caught up by a couple of new to me bands and did have a few favourite songs.

Song of the Year: Hold Each Other (ft. Futuristic)

I adore Great Big World. I love apparent simplicity of their lyrics and melodies and the depth I always feel beneath—whether that’s due to the stories I apply to their songs, or the stories they’re telling me. In this song, I really like the three perspectives. And the video is REALLY cute.

Mark Ronson’s Uptown  Funk! ft Bruno Mars was my favourite danceable track this year and every time it plays, I think of a couple of my guys, Alvaro and Daniel, from Wrong Direction, which makes me happy. 🙂

I discovered The Weeknd well after everyone else, and well after FSOG, thank goodness. I heard The Hills as I was driving and nearly crashed trying to enlist Google’s help in identifying it.

I also discovered Twenty One Pilots and am still listening to Stressed Out over and over.

Fooddoughnut

This was the Year of the Doughnut. I discovered a Krispy Kreme about an hour and a half from my house and spent a stupid amount of time visiting other doughnut stores up and down the East Coast.

Activity

Being Offline

As I mentioned earlier, I wrote a lot this year and because of the volume and increasing importance of writing in my life, I’m planning a separate post dedicated just to that! Given I spent so much time at the computer, by year’s end, my favourite activity actually became disengaging from the internet. Escaping to the real world to remember what the sun feels like. Taking day trips to reacquaint myself with my surroundings (and hunt for doughnuts). Hikes. Connecting with friends, face-to-face. Talking about anything other than writing, editing and publishing. Not being thoroughly confused and dismayed by social media.

That’s it, my list of favourite things in 2015. As always, the list is incomplete. I read so much, watched so much, listened to so much—and my tastes are so wide ranging and varied. I get a lot of joy out of mixing it up—leaping from a love story to a mystery, falling into a fantasy world and then jetting out to the stars. It keeps every adventure fresh and new.

Happy New Year and best wishes for your 2016.