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.)

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.

 

Welcome to the Dark Side

One of my most memorable gaming experiences was the final choice in the Imperial Agent quest for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Not long being free of my “attachment” to World of Warcraft, I had decided not to play SWTOR. I didn’t want to get sucked into another MMO. But my husband bought it, and my resolve lasted for the thirty minutes I watched him play.

Even though I caved and bought the game and a six-month subscription, I never really got into the MMO part. While my friends were swinging their lightsabers around and apparently saving the galaxy I decided to explore the dark side. I chose the Imperial Agent story because it sounded interesting. Also, the voice actor for the IA sounded pretty sexy. I loved the story for all its twists and turns, but more so, I enjoyed the discovery that a universe famous for being black and white was really all shades of gray. Continue reading “Welcome to the Dark Side”