My Favourite Things: 2020

For the past few years, I have begun my annual favourite things post by talking about what a hard year it has been and how glad I am it’s over. You would not be wrong in expecting me to start this year’s post the same way. After all, it is 2020. But although it’s been a difficult year (perhaps the most difficult), I have found much for which I am grateful.

My small family has always been close. We’re separated from our relatives by continents and oceans, and so used to celebrating holidays alone. To being three of us against the world. We didn’t, therefore, find isolation all too hard. We had moments of friction, as all families do, but I’ve never been more grateful for my husband and daughter. We held each other up this year. We forgave more easily, learned to communicate more clearly, and have almost mastered the art of letting each other exist in their own space for a while. (Or I have. Sometimes.)

I’ve also been amazed and delighted by the joy others have found over the past year. The news has often been universally bad, and yet someone, somewhere, has always had something to share. The wonder of small things has never been more true. 

The other aspect of being home all year has been more time to devote to my hobbies. And what I read and watched and listened to is a reflection of that. 

As always, we’ll start with what I read.

Continue reading “My Favourite Things: 2020”

Unfinished Business

We’re taught from an early age to finish what we started, and for a kid, it’s pretty good advice. Our memberships in the “Clean Your Plate” club might not have been the healthiest idea ever, but our parents and guardians meant well. They were trying to teach us that persistence is rewarded—and that we have to eat our veggies. Or they were trying to get a little value out of the ten-pack of dance/pottery/ukulele lessons you begged for. The library was an hour away, so we really needed to finish that huge, thick book we chose (with no pictures, because we wanted to read something “grown-up”) before we could go back. Anything worth doing is worth doing properly, and we had to finish what we started.

Now that I’m over fifty, I’m on a mission to quit stuff. “Life’s too short to read a bad book,” I’ll say, flinging a hapless paperback aside, or touching the back button on my Kindle. I often still feel guilty, though. Anything unfinished will niggle at me. Netflix hates it when I don’t finish a show and will insist I continue watching, months after I quit. My Steam library is full of unfinished games. I have a box of books I’ve “tossed,” but haven’t quite moved out of the house.

But, outside of certain tasks like the seventeenth read-through of a book I have a contract for and really need to submit soon, or making sure my child has clean underwear for school tomorrow, and paying things like the mortgage, I don’t really have to finish anything. I mean… would the world end if I had to wear my underwear twice?

If the world did end, I’d probably be wearing it for a week at a time, and washing out that one pair for months. My focus would be on something other than clean undies and finishing a book I wasn’t really enjoying.

What have I quit recently? It’s actually a lot. Over the past couple of years, my life has become more complicated, which ticks me off a little as it’s supposed to get easier when you get older, right? But with free time suddenly more precious than ever, I’ve had to reevaluate much of what I do and ask myself: “Do I really enjoy this?” Sometimes, it’s a simpler question, like, “How will I feel tomorrow?” (That one’s usually related to alcohol consumption.)

I’ve also developed a way to stick to the things I either can’t quit, or don’t want to. If I really want to read a book, for example, and know I’ll have a hard time staying focused, I’ll get the book on audio. Audiobooks have turned me into a non-fiction reader. I’ve always wanted to read non-fiction, like memoirs and history and science books, but haven’t been able to get through the sometimes dry prose. I also sometimes have difficulty with an author’s style. I adore Charles Stross’ books, but his writing is, like, higher plane stuff. I only grasp about half of it. But when I listen, I absorb more. I now prefer to “read” epic fantasy with my ears. A 1000 page book will defeat me before I even pick it up, but a 40-hour audio? Bring it on. I can live in that book for weeks. I’ve listened to lectures on everything from mythology to astronomy. I am fully convinced that if I could get a degree just by listening to all of the course material, I could actually go back to school.

I also break things I really want to do, like attend webinars, into small chunks. I’m usually not around when the webinar is live, but and honestly? I would have a hard time sitting there for an hour, watching my computer screen while people talk. I have to move when I’m listening to stuff. So I wait for the recordings and I listen to them ten minutes at a time, taking notes. The big tasks that have to get done, like spreading the mulch? I can’t quit, I need the driveway back. I set aside an hour a day. I paint rooms one wall at a time. I write my books scene by scene.

But, before this post soars into an uplifting essay on how to finish stuff, let me return to the things I haven’t finished—and plan never to return to.

Warning: there will be spoilers ahead.

Breaking Bad

Every time I tell someone I quit watching Breaking Bad at the end of the second season, they spend about half an hour telling me why I need to go back and keep watching. I tune them out. And if you leave a comment telling me why I need to go back and keep watching, or email me, I’ll ignore you. I didn’t like it, okay? I found the premise intriguing and actually enjoyed the first season in a “this is hilariously dark” kind of way. The second season disturbed me greatly and at the end, I decided I was done. Even if a redemption arc was in the works for Walter White, to my mind, nothing could bring him back from what he’d already done, which was allow that girl to die. When I explain this to the folks who are trying to convince me to keep watching, they tell me that’s not the point. That it’s not about his redemption. And this is why I just can’t anymore. We all like what we like and I agree that dark, heartless characters can be compelling, that their spiral into the depths can be fascinating. But following those particular journeys just isn’t my thing. I don’t watch documentaries about serial killers and I like my heroes and heroines to win at the end of the day. Call me simple; I am who I am.

I did learn something from quitting this series, though, and from continuing to stay “quit” in the face of vociferous persuasion: Live and let live. I mean, yeah, I always knew this was a thing, but it doesn’t need to be about the important stuff. It can be about books and TV. If someone said they didn’t like it, and respond to your first entreaty with, no, that still sounds like it’s not for me, step back. Let them go. Not everyone has to love Breaking Bad. Not everyone has to agree that the book with a thousand five star ratings is a literary masterpiece.

So I’m trying to take a step back, too. When I think about how many hours of my own life I might have wasted trying to convince someone to do something they really didn’t want to do, I cringe. Over-fifty-Kel isn’t going to do that—is going to try not to do that. At the risk of sounding utterly millennial, you do you, okay?

 

The Handmaid’s Tale

We started watching this just recently and buzzed fairly quickly through the first season, pausing only to binge The Umbrella Academy (which you should totally watch, you know, if you want to). I liked the first season a lot, especially as I gained the sense toward the end that the story was going to continue past the book and into the epilogue.

It might? But in episode three of season two, Offred is recaptured at end of a thrilling chase, and the minute it happened, my husband and I turned to each other and said, “I’m done.” We haven’t continued with the series.

Why? It’s entirely possible, and probable, that the resistance will gain ground and that Gilead will be challenged and eventually overturned. I hope that happens. But in the meantime, I’ll have to watch more rape and torture and I just don’t want to. One of the reasons I often lose interest in a series (TV or book) is because of recurring villains. The ones who are supposed to be dead, or who show no remorse. The ones who make me, as the audience, feel hopeless. I don’t want to feel hopeless. I just don’t.

 

Moby Dick

You know those lists that circulate social media every so often, full of books people either lie about reading, or are supposed to have read? Moby Dick is on ALL of them, and I was suckered. About ten years ago, I decided I was going to read the damn thing. I’d seen the movie, sort of. It had Sir Patrick Stewart in it and he was brilliant and I wanted to appreciate all of his brilliance, but I really only remember a lot of grey water, his voice, and the fact I was probably surfing the ‘net on my phone for over half the movie. Then I tried the book and got to the end of the first chapter and decided. Nah, nope, life is too short. So, this is a double fail.

I know it’s on all those lists for a reason and I do actually remember what I learned from reading other classics in high school and beyond, but, ugh, shouldn’t there be an alternate? I mean laying out the themes of a particular classic and assigning your students to find and experience (watch, read, listen to) a book that either compliments or dissects. Wouldn’t that be more fun?

It’s possible I could do Moby Dick on audio and if I needed it for a class, I guess I’d try that. But maybe my above suggestion would be worth a try also. Let’s start thinking outside the lines!

 

Full Metal Jacket

I have walked out of two movies in my life: Full Metal Jacket and A Clockwork Orange. In Full Metal Jacket, it was right after he got shot in the ankle (I don’t remember who or where or why). That was my tipping point. I was in my early twenties and a somewhat delicate little flower and I just couldn’t with the blood and blood and blood. Now I recommend Cormac McCarthy novels to everyone I meet (mostly for the dialogue, but also for the stories and the writing and the should be expected by now blood), so it’s odd that this movie got the best of me. I made it through Apocalypse Now. The difference is probably the context.

I just didn’t like A Clockwork Orange. It was weird and disturbing. My daughter thinks it’s amazing. It’s okay for me to think otherwise and she respects that. We’ve talked a lot about letting people have their own opinion. 😉

 

House of Cards

Everyone was so awful! Like, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Watching this show made us feel dirty.

 

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Holy disappointment, Batman. Also, boring. And… boring. Mostly, though, it was a case of expectations not being met. The Mass Effect trilogy is my holy grail of gaming. Andromeda just didn’t measure up.

 

Fallout 76

We all know what the definition of insanity is, right? I killed my way down to the basement level of that building in order to activate my shiny new power armor FOUR times, and four times, the machine bugged out and wouldn’t do the thing.

Done. So done.

 

Horizon Zero Dawn

I nearly finished. But that final boss fight! After dying about fifty times, I realized I needed better gear, more ammo, more potions, and just more everything, and that in order to do that, I’d have to go back several hours—probably more than ten—and play through to the end again. I’d seen my husband defeat the boss and I’d seen what came after. I called it a day.

True story, though, when I quit a game before it’s done, 80% of the time, it’s because I can’t get through a fight. I hate this. It kills my love for a game like nothing else. So, I really appreciate when a game either helps you along by advancing you to the next stage of the fight after a certain point, or allows you to adjust the difficulty. I’m all for a challenge, but sometimes I just want to see the end, you know?

Because of my history of epic fails in gaming, I have been known to say, “If I could beat that game, you can.” 😀

 

Ancillary Justice

This book might get moved to the list of exceptions one day. I’ve heard such good things. My mistake in this instance was opting for audio. I just couldn’t get along with the narrator. I’d just finished listening to the same narrator read Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear which I wanted to love and just didn’t. My jaw ached from gritting my teeth at the end, mostly because of the narrator’s style of, gather ‘round, children, and let me tell you a story. It thrust me out of immersion, and combined with Bear’s penchant for including all of her research (which is pretty amazing), I was tired of feeling schooled. So, when I started a new book and heard the same voice, I was predisposed toward quitting early, and quit early I did.

I’ll try reading this one for myself one day.

 

I have 90 other books on my not-for-me Goodreads list. Some of them I tossed at 90%, when I just couldn’t anymore. But there are exceptions…

 

The Witch of Cologne

Tobsha Learner killed my favourite character (perhaps ever) in this book. I read the scene three times to make sure she’d actually done it before putting the book aside. Then I grieved. It’s a testament to the power of her writing that I felt the loss so keenly. I ached and wept. I decided not to finish the book because without him, how could I go on? What was the point?

About two weeks later, I picked it back up again and read to the end and I’m glad I did. The book ended well, in some respects, and I was satisfied. But I also felt the author was able to transmit both her own distress over the loss of that one character, as well as the sadness of those left behind. The ending was uplifting, in a way, but also melancholy. And also very much suited to the subject matter and time period. It’s now one of my favourite books and one I recommend often.

 

Dune

Have you ever seen one of my best of lists? Dune is at the top. I own six print copies and one audio edition. I’d collect more if they happened my way. I think it’s one of the most brilliant books ever written. I cannot wait for Denis Villeneuve’s new movie adaptation. But the first time I read this book, at the encouragement of my father, I didn’t get past the hand in the box scene. I was bored and not interested and bored and it just wasn’t my thing. I couldn’t feel the promise. Also, it was a thick book and I was a teenager afraid of thick books. I liked my thin and pulpy sci-fi paperbacks.

But I LOVED the movie and the mini-series, so when I started getting seriously back into audiobooks, I decided to try again. I’m so glad I did. I lived and breathed this book and the sequel, Dune Messiah, for the couple of weeks it took me to listen.

I think a part of it was that I was older and more able to understand and appreciate the intricacies of the plot. And maybe having seen the movie, I was better able to picture what was happening. But listening to the book was a completely separate experience. I enjoyed it for its own merits and got so much more out of the story than I had before. I felt more and got more involved in the world. It’s an audiobook I’ve listened to more than once, which is rare, and one I might even listen to again sometime.

 

The Walking Dead

I actually came back to The Walking Dead after quitting around the third episode of the second season. My reason for quitting was twofold. I was bored. The first season had been nonstop action and now they were sitting around a farmhouse being all reflective. I also didn’t like Shane. He was the nasty character I wanted someone to deal with. An almost recurring villain.

But I kept hearing how good the series was and I loved the premise, so I decided to try again, picking up where I left off, and burned through six seasons over a period of weeks. I’m glad I went back, because season five in particular was amazing, and overall, this has been some of the best TV and the best writing I’ve encountered. I could write a whole post about why I love The Walking Dead and I might get a little carried away if you tell me you don’t want to watch it. I’ll try not to. Remind me who over-fifty-Kel is.

 

I could easily list another ten disappointments and another ten moments of enlightenment, but I’ve rambled on long enough for one post. If there is a point (and there often isn’t), it’s this: life is too short to suffer through something that, at the end of the day, has little consequence. Stop reading the books you think you should be reading, or the books everyone else is reading. Especially stop reading the books you know you’re going to dislike, but everyone else thought it was great, so…

Yeah, don’t do that. Read something you really want to instead.

Mostly, though, stop telling other people what they should be reading. Keep the recommendations coming. We all love to hear about new books. But if someone says, no, I don’t think that’s for me, respect that. They could be wrong. They could be missing out on the experience of a lifetime. But you know what? Maybe they’ll use the time to experience something that changes them in other ways. Their very own form of enlightenment.

So, what do you think I should be reading or watching? (If you recommend Breaking Bad, so help me…) Or what have you quit in the middle because you realized life was just too short? (Hey, it’s okay if it was one of my books. I nearly quit most of them in the middle as well!)

(Featured image created using Canva. Yes, I have boxes of unfinished puzzles.)

The Library Project

When we built this house nearly thirteen years ago, we planned to use the front room, what regular folk might call a formal sitting room, as a library. We even thought we might put a piano in there one day. We were pretty broke after moving into our brand spanking new house, though, and had to consider things like cooking pots, washing machines, and the mudslide that was the backyard.

I had a few old bookcases I’d bought in Texas, so we lined those up along one wall, threw down a rug, and put in a craft table and chairs for my daughter and the neighborhood kids I babysat every afternoon to use for homework and projects.

I was keeping books in there, but it wasn’t much of a library. The guitar collecting dust in the corner didn’t really do much for the atmosphere, either. Eventually, we moved the craft table to the basement and I bought a few more bookcases. They weren’t an exact match for the ones I’m brought up from Texas, but sort of close.

Then the cats moved in. I’m not sure when they acquired so many toys, but the fact we needed an entire room for their possessions clearly points to their residential status.

Meanwhile, I continued collecting books.

You could say it’s a hobby, but sometimes it feels more like an obsession. I volunteer at my local library, sorting book donations for the annual sale. We receive tens of thousands of books a year and most of them pass through my hands. It’s not unusual for me to have made a pile of three or four I’d like to take home about five minutes after I’ve arrived and started sorting. I also used to review books for several publications and I’m still on the list for a lot of publishers. So, sometimes books just turn up in my mailbox. Then there are the books I preorder—the signed, hardcover editions from my favourite authors. The books I buy after I’ve either read the ebook version or listened to on audio—the keepers that need a spot on my shelves. The select few I’ve carried from country to country, house to house. The ones I’ve kept from childhood. The books that wander in unannounced. The ones that breed, quietly in the dark.

I own a lot of books—about two thousand at last count. That was this morning, and doesn’t include the two new keepers I just ordered from eBay. Or my burgeoning collection of ebooks, of which there were over a thousand early last year. Thankfully, I don’t have to shelve those.

What I wanted was a nice space to put them in, and, objectively, the front room was not… nice. Looking at the photos of now versus then, I can’t believe I ever thought it looked merely okay.

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Hence, the library project.

As many wonderful projects do, ours started with a trip to IKEA. We did consider hiring someone to build really nice shelves with cabinets down below, glass doors for the older, crumblier tomes, and a nifty ladder. Maybe some lights. But we have a child to put through college, and we’re still collecting cats, so IKEA it was! I selected the Billy Bookcase, with which I have a fond history. My dad is still using the Billys we bought yonks ago. Like, eons. Maybe forty years? They still look good. After careful consideration, I chose the black-brown shelves, hoping they’d compliment our cherry hardwood floors.

Our first trip (we’d only planned one), ended with us struggling to fit about half the shelves I wanted into the back of our Durango, along with about $500 worth of other “stuff” we’d picked during our tour of the store. Being limited to only half of the shelves I needed turned out to be a good thing, as it gave me a chance to measure the space again, fiddle with the configuration, and make a good plan for how we were going to deal with the HVAC intake vent and thermostat thoughtfully placed in the middle of one of the walls.

I built the first batch and then emptied several of the old shelves in preparation for the new. The sight of a good portion of my books on the floor was kind of shocking. Like, the old shelves had been crowded, but seeing all of the stacks of the floor made a greater impact. There were a LOT of books.

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I had resolved to sort them a little as I re-shelved, slotting fiction in with the science fiction for one long wall of delightful neighbours. I managed to part with, um, ten books. In my defense, I have gone through these shelves before, tossing books I don’t feel super connected to. So, yeah.

Then it was back to IKEA for the second batch of shelves. Another Durango load, and, mysteriously, another $500 worth of extra crap. I’m really glad our closest IKEA is over an hour away. It’s more dangerous than Target.

I finally finished building the shelves last Thursday and completed the shelving about a day later, teaching myself the Dewey Decimal System for the non-fiction section. I reserved one of the cubby shaped holes for my vinyl collection, and used another of the narrower bookcases for board games, all of which had previously been sorted in that room. We put together the two easy chairs we’d picked up at IKEA (they were right there, okay? And on sale), and I contributed a pillow I’d bought ages ago, apparently knowing I’d need something blue and tentacly one day. Eventually, I’d like to get a nice rug for the floor and maybe a puzzle table near the window. The piano is permanently on hold. A) We have no room for it and B) we already have too many hobbies, including the one called work. Maybe after we retire, as something to do between naps.

I had hoped to move some of the books from the denial shelves (the TBR piles shelved in our guest bedroom) downstairs. And the books from the teeming piles behind my desk. I had thought I could shelve my own books upstairs, and my writing reference books. The stack of game boxes leaning against the wall. As it turns out, once I unstacked every old shelf, all of the double and triple layers, I didn’t even have room on the new shelves for every book that had originally been in that room. Crazy, right? Who knew!

My husband, apparently.

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I’m absolutely thrilled with how the room turned out, though. It looks amazing and I find myself stopping just to stare nearly every time I walk past. I love seeing all of my books on display—the blend of colours and shapes, and all of the memories. I’ve always been in the habit of visiting with my books. I don’t just collect them; I commune with them, often. Now, I can sit in the library and read as well. Take my notebook in there, recline with a view across the front lawn, and dream up new stories of my own. Indulge in a nap.

Of course, the cats still think the room is theirs, so I might have to fight them for a seat on occasion.

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The full project, from start to finish:

 

 

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.

 

Five Years!

WordPress just informed me that my blog is five years old today! In honour of my blog’s fifth birthday, I thought I’d share five of my favourite posts.

Ramble: The Weed

This is one of my earliest posts, and one I reread on occasion because it reminds me of the fact that sometimes, it’s the little that make life special.

May 6, 2012

I try to spend at least an hour a day in the garden. It’s good for my daughter and it’s good for me.  I’m sure it’s good for the garden too.  As soon as the spring sun peeps from behind the last winter cloud, I don my sturdy boots and stiff new gloves and set to work pulling out all those weeds I was able to ignore when snow or leaves covered the ground.

When I lived in Texas, I battled with more than weeds. The previous year’s vegetable patch often continued to enjoy success in the form of tomato and cucumber seedlings popping up in the most unexpected places—usually the middle of the lawn. Often, I mused that if we went away for a month, we would return to find a tangle of cucumber vines covering the lawn, robust tomato plants poking up between. Sometimes, instead of plucking them out, I just mowed them down, curious to see if they would shoot back up by the end of the week.  They did.

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