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. ❤
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 West. God 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!)