For all the time I spent reading, watching, and playing, I have fewer favourites this year than any other. I was actively trying to read less, and I spent more time rereading than I have ever before. Similarly, I saw fewer new movies but rewatched many, many favourites. I’d have played more games but for the fact the indie hit Valheim all but consumed me. I did still watch a lot of TV, though.
So, here it is, my annual list favourites, starting as always with books.
I read just over a hundred books this year, which is about half my usual number. Being that several of these were rereads, the number of new books I read is even lower. I don’t think the number accounts for my record low number of five-star reads, however. I believe it’s that the four books I did give five stars to were so superlative in every way, that everything else dimmed in comparison.
What did I love more than anything else?
Blackwater by Michael McDowell (Horror/Family Saga)
Blackwater is without a doubt, my ‘book of the year’. The absolute standout, and probably the reason little else measured up.
What’s it about? Well, everything. It’s a southern gothic horror family saga, where people die suddenly and horribly or purely to prove a point and/or inconvenience others. But it’s also the story of one family through several generations and their history with the land. It has to be one of the most intriguing books I’ve ever listened to. The narrator is superb. I savored this audio, listening for about four weeks during which I lived the lives of the Caskey family in the small town of Perdido, Alabama.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (Science Fiction)
I adored The Martian. I had never heard of the book when the publisher reached out to me to review it and was delighted to hear it would soon be a feature film. I can only hope Project Hail Mary receives the same treatment because it’s an AWESOME story. In fact, I liked it even better than The Martian, and that’s saying a lot.
So, in brief? Ryland Grace wakes up to find himself in a small, laboratory-style room with two dead bodies in the beds next to him. He uses science to figure out where he is, and a combination of memory (given as flashbacks) and science to figure out why. Turns out he’s supposed to be the savior of humanity. If only he could remember what he was supposed to do. And how.
The Lost Colony by A.G. Riddle (Science Fiction)
These books had been on my radar forever. I finally dove into Winter World shortly after the New Year and quickly burned my way through The Solar War and The Lost Colony. I loved every book, though perhaps the first and the last more than the second. The first book, Winter World, is everything I love about near-future/first-contact science fiction: a highly plausible tale about the human response to an alien threat. I lived for all the details about the planned missions to space, the tech, the hopes, the dreams. The results. I loved the action, and the relationship between James, Emma, and their companions. The final book, The Lost Colony, is a wild ride. I was just starting to get worn down by the constant stress when the plot behind the plot started to roll out. Very good stuff.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (Historical Fiction)
A completely unexpected delight. I can’t remember why I picked this one up, but once I started listening (another fab audio), I couldn’t stop. It’s a wonderful story of growing up and coming to terms with truth. I think the highest compliment you can pay a book is to say you wish it would never end.
Other Notable Reads
I rated ten books 4.5 stars and they include some of my favourite authors.
The Absolutist by John Boyne, Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby, Hate Notes and Not Pretending Anymore by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland, who have become my go-to romance authors, Well Fed by Keith Blackmore, The People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, and Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz, who always seems to make my end of the year list.
Recommended reads from new to me authors are:
Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson, How Lucky by Will Leitch and Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram.
The rereads I enjoyed the most were:
White Fang by Jack London, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, and the first three novels of the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.
If you think my favourite books this year were an odd bunch, wait until you see which movies I loved.
My movie of the year is Stowaway
I thought this was outstanding. The story is simple, the cast small. What raised this above and beyond, for me, was the emotional impact. I felt every choice. The ending was perfect. Technically, this story could have been set anywhere and didn’t necessarily need to be science fiction, but I thought it played very well off the setting, which is always important to me. Highly recommended.
I’m putting two Christmas movies on my list this year. Single All the Way, which really only rated four stars but for the snowplow driver who spends all year writing his own lyrics to a Christmas song, then performed in his reflective vest. I need his movie next. In all seriousness, though, this is the gay rom-com I’ve been waiting for. Then, we have Klaus, which is a last-minute addition to this list and easily one of the most joyously entertaining movies I have watched this year.
In newer films, I also enjoyed King Richard and The Courier.
I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey again this year (for about the fiftieth time—seriously) and loved it as much as I always have. In my opinion, it’s one of the most perfect movies ever made. I also enjoyed Star Trek: Into Darkness, Prometheus, and Aliens the most out of all of the Star Trek movies and all of the Alien movies. Yes, I rewatched every single one.
I watched a diverse selection of TV this year, with shows ranging from limited series memoirs to animation to the utterly bizarre. We also finished our Star Trek: Voyager rewatch and will be moving on to DS9 once we’ve caught up with the new seasons of The Expanse and Witcher.
The best show I watched this year? Arcane: League of Legends
I checked this out on a whim. The animation looked cool and the previews piqued my interest. I was sucked in completely by the first episode and emotionally invested by the end of the second. Kinda wrecked at the end of the third and constantly asking, “How am I so involved with a show I just started watching?” I continued the series, delighting in the unfamiliar lore, superlative characterization, and voice acting, and finished the final episode both struck with awe and delight that the series would continue.
Whether you’re familiar with the game or not, this series is a tightly structured story that will draw you in fast and keep you hooked from episode to episode. It’s one of the best shows I’ve ever watched.
I also very much enjoyed Maid, Squid Game (even though it made me cringe. A lot.), Mare of Easttown and I May Destroy You, which was at the top of my list until Arcane came along.
I was contentedly working my way through Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla when a little indie game called Valheim dropped and took over my life. I already have two posts dedicated to it on my blog, so I won’t go on and on here, except to point out how many hours I have invested in the game.
That’s about triple what I’ve spent on any one iteration of Assassin’s Creed, for not even half the content. Not even a third, realistically. There are no quests and only five bosses. Not as many weapon sets. A far simpler mode of combat. Not much lore, to speak of—though it is there if you look for it. It’s a deceptively simple game. You land, pick up a stick and a rock, bind them together to make an ax, and then build your way up to a point where you’re equipped to take on the last boss. That’s it. And yet, somehow, I managed to spend over 400 hours doing it. Twice. You can read all about my first run-through here and some of the highlights of my second can be found here.
My game of the year is most definitely: Valheim
I also very much enjoyed The Last of Us, Part II. Not while I was playing it. In the moment, I didn’t have a good time and sometimes hated what I was doing. After completing the story, however, I could only admire the beautiful complexity of it all and review my playing experience through an entirely new lens. Also, I’d kept playing, so it couldn’t have been all bad. Spoiler: it really wasn’t. It’s just… mentally and emotionally taxing. Which, um, makes it a worthy sequel to The Last of Us? If you’ve played the game, you can read more of my thoughts here. Note, the post is full of spoilers.
If not for Valheim, my game of the year would have been Dying Light. A tight story, a great world, as difficult as it needs to be, and just really fun to play. I’m very much looking forward to Dying Light 2.
2021 was the year of kale. I even wrote a blog post about it, which, bizarrely, is my best-liked post this year. Rather than wax poetic here, I’m going to simply link you to over there, where I do try to get poetic. It’s sad. Very sad. But my joy regarding kale is not!
I spent more time than ever in my garden this year, including spreading fresh mulch, which is something I strive to do every two to three years, and finally fencing several beds. My efforts were rewarded with perhaps my best display of flowers ever. I loved the profusion of blooms and colors so much, I often simply stood outside to admire them.
And, that, really is what gardening is all about. Working hard to maintain a beautiful space that you can enjoy. I spent a lot of time on my patio reading and now and then, I’d look up from my book and just admire my garden, appreciate the hours I’d put in, and feel an incredible sense of peace and gratitude that I got to live in such a beautiful space.
Next year, I hope to plant another bed I cleared this summer, and to maybe, finally, get started on a veggie patch.
Well, that was my year. Difficult in some ways—it always is, isn’t it? But rewarding in others. Thankfully, all things considered, it was a rather quiet year for us, allowing me to work hard and mostly relax when I needed to. I hope your year was as productive and peaceful and wish all of us good things to come. 🙂