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”

Colour My World

You know how some people want to know your star sign? And as soon as you admit you’re a Taurus, they offer a sage nod before telling you stuff you didn’t really need to hear. Or have heard before. A hundred times. We Tauruses are not stubborn, by the way. We’re determined. Huge difference. For stubbornness, look to your neighbourhood Aries.

I don’t make a habit of asking people their star sign. Instead, I want to know your favourite colour. I know the favourite colours of all my friends. I don’t attach any mystical theories to the knowledge but it does come in handy when I’m buying gifts. Also, colour is important to me and always has been.

Orange and purple
Like this, but with more purple in between.

When I was a kid, my favourite colours were orange and purple. Together. My bedroom was a bit of an eyesore, but I loved it. I had these brilliant curtains decorated with huge orange flowers and purple leaves and when the sun shone through from behind, the flowers glowed. My wardrobe was painted bright purple and we called it the Purple People Eater. My chenille bedspread was orange and I had a purple rug on the floor. I loved my room. It was every four-year-old’s dream.

I don’t really remember what came after the orange and purple phase. We moved a lot and usually rented our houses, so I didn’t really get around to a lot of personal space personalization. When we finally settled just outside of Washington DC, however, I finally got to decorate another bedroom and I chose a blue floral pattern. Looking back, I’m not sure why? I think I was heavily influenced by my mother. We’d bought an old farmhouse and she had definite ideas about what it should look like, inside and out.

argyleAlthough I’d settled on blue as my favourite colour during my teens, I did go through an odd phase in eighth grade where I only wore grey and yellow clothes. I even had this amazing pair of grey and yellow argyle socks that I would wash out every night so I could wear them again. And again.

I was so weird.

(To my never ending amusement, Google completed my search for grey and yellow argyle with the word socks and then provided me with dozens of wonderful pictures. I might have to order a pair!)

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“Wagon Wheel” from the grey on grey on grey period.

In tenth grade I chose an art elective because I thought it would be an easy class. This simple choice would impact my life in a number of ways. It wasn’t an easy class. Our teacher was a working artist with an extensive knowledge of art history. We started with hard black pencils and gradually moved through the numbers. Then we got to use charcoal, then conte, then ink washes. Finally, after six months of grey on grey on grey, we were allowed to use colour. My first painting was a black stick figure surrounded by flecks of every colour imaginable. It was my mind exploding—in all the good sorts of ways—and it was during these months that I first thought I might like to be an artist. My love of art has coloured my life ever since.

kissable_lips_by_sisimka_d5nbct1-pre
“Kissable Lips” from my more colourful period. (Portait of Solange)

One of the things I love to do is sketch the bare outline of a face and then flesh out my portrait with coloured pencils, building layer upon layer of colour until I get the right skin tone, the contours of cheek and nose, and every hint of colour in the hair.

Blue was still my favourite colour when I was a teenager, and I remember associating a lot of my personality with the supposed traits of blue: I was a loyal and steadfast friend. I was honest and fair. Or I wanted to be.

I had also decided around then that yellow was a terrible colour; that it stood for cowardice and shame. And grey wasn’t really a colour at all, was it?

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The Ballroom Forest (Cam Blake Photography)

As I grew into my twenties, my favourite colour changed to green and there’s a simple explanation for this. I traveled a lot and a lot of my travel included hiking up and down mountains and through rainforests. There is a place in Tasmania called the Ballroom Forest and it’s absolutely enchanting. The name comes from the green carpet of moss that covers much of the ground, and the way the trees curve around and up, giving the few clearings the feel of an enchanted ballroom. It’s a beautiful place, as is much of the untouched wilderness of Tasmania, and even now, I can never get enough of those shades of green.

My house now is decorated in a mixture of blues and greens, with blues for the sleeping rooms and greens for the awake rooms (kitchen, dining, family). I have twelve acres of forest behind me and one of my favourite things to do is to look out of the window from the couch to see the green of the forest framed by the green of the family room wall. It’s harmonious.

And right now, if you asked me my favourite colour, I’d probably say green.

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His name is Max.

But I just bought a red car and it’s the most gorgeous shade of red imaginable. Ford calls it royal crimson and it’s like a black cherry—dark and rich and delicious. I also chose red as the colour for the new logo for our bagel shop. A bright, vibrant red. Red is cheery. I always feel happy when I look at red. I like red wine! I also like red apples, but not those cheating red delicious that are never delicious at all. I love Twizzlers. Red is good.

I did think about getting a blue car. My previous car was blue and I loved the deep indigo colour. I also thought about a dark grey. But the other colour I considered did come as a bit of a surprise: competition orange.

competition orangeNow, I don’t really think I could drive an orange car forever, but look at this orange. It’s gorgeous. So warm and sunshiny! It’s a really nice colour and looking at it reminds me that orange is and has been for quite some time, my second favourite colour. It’s warmer than red. Friendlier. It’s hard to feel sad when you’re surrounded by orange. My four-year-old self was on to something.

Is there a point to this post? No, not really, except as an excuse to ramble on, because I haven’t had the chance to do that much lately, and so when I got the idea to write a post about colour, I got all excited. There hasn’t been enough rambling about nothing on this blog!

So, what’s your favourite colour?

My Favourite Things: 2014

It’s time to collect all my favourite things and play show and tell! Highlighted entries point to reviews and rambles on this blog.

Books

BooksI read 292 books this year. That’s a lot. Consequently, I awarded many five-star ratings. 72, to be exact. Narrowing down a list of favourites that wouldn’t make your eyes bleed was really, really hard. In the end, I decided on the books that were the biggest surprises.

Science fiction was the most difficult field to narrow. I read a lot of great science fiction this year. I read a lot of great and surprising science fiction–books that did something different, or took an idea and twisted it. I also read a number of books that could be counted as instant classics. Maybe not so new and different, but just such a wonderful illustration of why I love the genre. Among these would be Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold, The Martian* by Andy Weir and Trial by Fire* by Charles E. Gannon.

But the book that did it all differently makes my science fiction book of the year.

Science Fiction: The Flight of the Silvers* by Daniel Price 

Super powers, alternate dimensions, cosmic cycles and beautifully flawed characters. The Flight of the Silvers has it all, and more.

Fantasy: Sword of the Bright Lady* by M.C. Planck and Control Point by Myke Cole

A tie, in which two authors took fantasy and finally did something new and different with it. In Sword of the Bright Lady, M.C. Planck fictionalised the table-top gaming experience, right down to how XP is earned and magic is used. It’s a damn good story too. In Control Point, Myke Cole militarised magic. Gathered sorcerers under the banner of the United States military and then f*cked with the formula until they bled. Both books feature top notch characterization.

Graphic Novel: East of West, Vol. 3: There Is No Us* by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

Stunning art work and storytelling: The Four Horsemen are having a difference of opinion. Death’s not ready to continue the cycle of apocalypse that has claimed this world over and over. (My reviews of volume 1  and volume 2 have more detail.)

Non Fiction: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

An audio gem that captured me for weeks. A large part was due to the skillful narration by Dion Graham. He interpreted as he read, adding tone and inflection that personalised this memoir. By the end, I felt I knew Dave Eggers and his brothers. That I had grown up with them. Also, it’s just a damned good story.

Romance: Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell

The entire four part “Seasons” or “Something Like” series is wonderful. A tale of three men whose lives and loves intersect as they come of age and learn to navigate the world as adults, lovers, and gay men. The third book, Something Like Autumn, wrecked me. Even a month afterwards, just thinking about it put a lump in my throat. And yet, I don’t regret reading it because the author managed that ultimate surprise. Despite the ending, I felt hopeful. Despite my tears, I gained a sense of peace. That’s REALLY hard to do.

Young Adult: Red Rising* by Pierce Brown

I generally don’t have a high opinion of Young Adult books, that’s why this one is the surprise. I discovered it in the audio lending library and, because it was new—they don’t add speculative titles that often, I decided to give it a go. I was pretty much blown away by the end of the first chapter. Part of it was the narration by Tim Gerard Reynolds. He voiced every character with depth and emotion and even sang when the book required it. The greater part was that the character of Darrow and his story. It’s epic. It’s also complicated. Darrow makes so many mistakes, and he doesn’t always learn from them first time ‘round. The final part is the plot. It’s harrowing and clever. And it’s NOT bright young things against the crusty old establishment. Actually, it is, but not all the young are bright and not all the old are evil and/or stupid. There’s a good balance. Red Rising is more an illustration of a society that is eating itself from the inside out.

I just finished the sequel this morning. It’s stunning in it’s intensity and scope and I can’t wait to share my review.

(Books marked with a * were published in 2014)

Movies

MoviesIn Theatres: Interstellar

Until I saw Interstellar, Fury could have been my favourite film this year. I’m a fan of David Ayers as a writer and director. Just knowing he had a film coming out put Fury on my “must see” calendar. It’s the story of a five man tank team who complete a heroic mission behind enemy lines toward the end of World War II. It’s blood, gritty and very, very real.

What can I say about Interstellar? How about: at the end, my husband, daughter and I sat silently for about five minutes. We had to digest. Then, when we tried to pick it apart, we figured out a solution for every perceived hole. And they were elegant solutions. At the heart of it all, though, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan told a bloody good story.

The acting in both movies was wonderful.

On DVD: Draft Day, Lone Survivor, The Normal Heart, The Kings of Summer, Prisoners and Rush

Only six five star ratings, so they’re all listed here. Again, it’s a somewhat eclectic mix. 🙂

TV

TVWhile Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. continued to enthrall me, my two favourite shows were watched via Netflix. Strike Back and Marco Polo. Strike Back follows a fictional division of British Intelligence into terrorist hot spots where they kick ass and take names. It’s shocking, violent and twisty, with the script and acting to pull it off. Marco Polo consumed Husband and I for eight days. Twice, we watched two episodes at once because we had to. The show is gorgeous, gripping and probably the best TV I’ve seen in years.

Games

GamesA lot of fun was had as the family continued our co-op play through of Borderlands 2.  We’ve started the Prequel-Sequel. The game I wanted to break into tiny little pieces was Assassin’s Creed III. I’m so scarred, I’ve yet to play Assassin’s Creed IV. I enjoyed Thief up until the end. I still don’t understand what happened at the end, but this game called to the loot hound inside me. DMC Devil May Cry has one of the most tightly encapsulated plots I’ve ever seen. And it’s freaking gorgeous. The most anticipated game was Dragon Age: Inquisition, and so far, it’s living up to the promise of all those years of waiting. Likely, it will top my personal chart in 2015. For this year, however, my favourite game was another surprise:

Favourite Game: Saints Row IV

Downloaded on a whim over a free preview weekend. Ten hours later, I was totally hooked. The surprise was everything I didn’t expect: story, heart and soul. And fun. Tank Mayhem FTW. I had an idea the Saints Row games were all about pretending to be a “gangsta”. They’re not. While some folks might think the inherent violence in the game is an issue, really, it’s a hell of a lot more tame than may others I’ve played. And there are plenty of quests that have nothing to do with being the fastest draw. But, let me just say that after a long day of edits, running a tank over a few pixelated souls is good therapy.

Music

MusicI didn’t listen to a lot of music in 2014. I spent a lot of time writing and I don’t listen to music when I write. Not usually. Listening to audio books while doing chores and driving also cut into music listening time. But I did discover a new artist and an album I was able to rave about.

Favourite Album:  Hozier by Hozier

If you haven’t listened to “Take me to Church”, click through and give it a listen. Then come back and tell me if that voice gave you chills.

Favourite Song: “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay

Like a lot of Coldplay songs, this is one I will be able to listen to for years without getting bored.

Food

A trip to New Orleans served up the best burger, ever.

Favourite Dish: Tableau Cheeseburger

Three 2 oz. grass fed beef patties from Gonsoulin Farms. topped with American cheese, housemade pickles, and sliced onion on an onion bun. Served with Housemade ketchup. Crystal aioli and pommes frites. Served by Tableau Restaurant, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Activity

When not tweaking my blog theme, I read a lot and wrote a lot. Both continue to be my favourite activities, because both take me on a journey. Also, this year, for the first time, my writing interfered with my reading. While writing the male-male science fiction romance series I’m co-authoring with Jenn, I found I couldn’t read any other male-male romance because my head and heart were consumed by our own story and characters.

So, I could say writing was my favourite activity, but instead, I’m going to dig a little deeper.

Favourite Activity: Collaborating with my co-writer, Jennifer Burke.

Chaos Station is not the first book we’ve written together, but this is the journey that’s taken us the farthest so far. We live and breathe these boys, their lives and their story, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Chaos Station is available for pre-order and is due to be released on March 2, 2015. We just handed in the final line edits for Lonely Shore (book 2) and that is scheduled for some time in May 2015. Up next is developmental edits on Skip Trace (book 3).

I also wrote two solo novels and two short stories, all of which feature romantic themes. I’ve a few projects in development for next year. Jenn and I need to write books 4 and 5 of the “Chaos Station” series. I also want to delve into a world I’ve been putting together for a while now, start developing and telling stories there. I have a couple plotted out, I just need to see which set of characters starts talking the loudest.

That’s it, my list for 2014. I hope you all had a great year. 2015 has a lot of exciting stuff in store for me (three scheduled book releases and a bunch of conventions!). I hope it’s a good one for all of you.

My Favourite Things: 2013

2013 GraphicEveryone else is doing it! Not sticking their head in ovens, publishing lists of their favourites. So, here’s mine. Highlighted entries point to reviews and ramblings on this blog.

Books

I awarded thirteen five star ratings this year. That’s out of a total ninety-seven books read. I’ve picked five to post here, which will represent five different categories.  Yes, I just love to break things down. It has been mentioned before—on this blog—that I keep lists of my lists.

Science Fiction: Leviathan Wakes by S.A. Corey

Space opera, creepy alien technology, politics, a small lesson in sociology, lots of blam blam and fisticuffs and two at-odds heroes to choose from. I loved them both.

Fantasy: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrobmie

Bloody and brilliant. I think my friends are tired of hearing me talk about this book. Two of them are reading it right now. They probably think doing so will shut me up. It won’t. When they’re done, we’ll all talk about it together.

Fiction: Hawk Quest* by Robert Lyndon

I got lost in this book. I lived and breathed it. I squealed with delight when I discovered Lyndon was working on a sequel. Engrossing historical fiction.

Romance: Private Dicks by Katie Allen

Is it perverted of me to admit that I really like reading male/male romance novels? (Two penises are better than one!) Erotic content aside, this is a really fun read. The characters are engaging and endearing. They’re guys, through and through, and the angst isn’t overwritten.

Art Book: Last Man Standing: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter* by Dan Luvisi

This is another book my friends are tired of hearing about. Sucks to be them.

(Books marked with a * were published in 2013)

Movies

I saw a lot of movies this year, in theatres and safely ensconced in my own couch. I did say in. My couch is the enveloping sort. And it has a name. On to the movies.

In Theatres: Star Trek: Into DarknessAmerican Hustle

Until I saw American Hustle (the day after I drafted this post), Star Trek:  Into Darkness was easily my favourite film of 2013. Loved the reboot, loved Into Darkness more. I enjoyed the plot, but what really made this film work for me was the exploration of the characters. Relationships were tested and deepened. Abrams took the strands of what he created and thickened them. Gave them substance. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this crew.

I can’t say enough about American Hustle. I went to see it because I am a dedicated Christian Bale fan. The story also appealed, as did the return to the seventies, including hair, outfits and music. The hair. Oh my God, the hair. The outfits. The music. The science oven! The accents. I loved everything about this movie, from beginning to end. The story hooked me, but what kept me entertained was the performances of each actor, all of whom embraced their roles in such a way they ceased to be people I recognised.

On DVD:  Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Django Unchained, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, The Great Gatsby, Chasing Mavericks

As these were the only movies I rated with five stars, I decided to list them all. Also, the odd mix of titles makes me smile. There, encapsulated, is the wide range of movies I like to watch. Also: Leo.

TV

I both do and do not watch a lot of TV. I tend to follow series one by one, watching recordings and back episodes at lunch. Highlights this year were Dexter, the final season, and Spartacus: War of the Damned, which also served as a final season. It’s hard to let both shows go, but in my opinion, they ended well.

I’ve picked up a couple of new shows this year. The two I’m most excited about are Almost Human and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

Games

It was a good year for games, for me. I only played two that were published in 2013. I’m kinda slow. I replayed Mass Effect 1-3. I played Fall Out: New Vegas. I finally got through Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and then went back to play Assassin’s Creed II and Brotherhood. I finished the big quest in Skyrim! I bought Red Dead Redemption and wondered what all the fuss was about. Loving Borderlands 2. Oh, and Tomb Raider. I got a lot of joy out of watching myself get impaled in 101 imaginative ways. It’s tempting to name Mass Effect 3 my favourite game, for the second year running, but I had a lot of fun with a lesser known title out of Russia.

Favourite Game: Metro: Last Light

The sound track got me first. It’s not symphonic, it’s a haunting, bluesy guitar. The story is integral to the game play experience, not just a framework from which to hang events. I achieved total immersion, which is always a plus in an RPG. The graphics were really nice (pretend I inserted some technical jargon here to tell you just how nice). What I liked most, aside from the story, was fact you could play this game in several ways. You could hack and slash your way through using a number of tactics and weapons. But you could also sneak past the guards, or choose to knock them unconscious. There were also a number of quests that didn’t focus on killing and collecting. Also: it’s a post apocalyptic world, which I’m always a total sucker for, but it’s not just zombies. There’s something else going on. It’s a really cool game.

Music

Oh, yeah, we’re (me, myself and I) listing it all. Long live the list!

Favourite Album:  2nd Law by Muse.

Yep, it was released in 2012. Who cares? I bought it in 2013 and I thrashed it. In fact, I played it so much, my audio player is convinced I cannot live without a daily dose of muse. The shuffle function now sorts between the Muse albums, throwing in the occasional Philip Philips song just to keep it real.

Favourte Song: Stay by Rihanna (ft. Mikky Ekko)

Makes me shiver and weep. Not all the time? But… You get the idea.

Food

Sure, why not. It’s nearly lunchtime (as I write this) and I cooked up some fabulous new food this year.

Favourite Recipe: Penang Hokkien Noodles

The sounds my husband and I made while consuming these noodles were rude. Very, very rude. Hot, spicy and delicious!

Activity

My favourite? Sleeping. What I did a lot of? Sleeping. I also wrote a lot. I really enjoyed tending my blog this year. I can’t say I enjoyed having my novella published; it was nerve-wracking in the extreme. I did love writing it, though. I’m enjoying writing the sequel. I also wrote three short stories this year, and another novella length fan fiction. Oh, and I finished editing a book I wrote last year. So, when not sleeping…

Favourite Activity: Writing

Okay, I’m done. Hope you enjoyed the list.