I’ve been doing end of year best lists for almost 30 years now; somewhere I have a journal I dubbed the “Arlene Awards” in which I would list my favorite song, book, movie, TV show, band, concert/show, and so on. I didn’t have a problem narrowing things down to a single title or artist, but in the past couple of years, especially working as an entertainment writer, there’s been such an avalanche of new media that it’s nearly impossible to pick just one. I will try to contain myself and narrow it down to the best of the best, but don’t be surprised if this turns into a somewhat lengthy media dump.
Books: While I did not meet any of my reading goals this year, I almost don’t care because I can’t think of another year where I have read so many GREAT books, ones that I absolutely loved. The Madwoman Upstairs went straight to my ever Bronte-loving heart and made me long to be a part of academia again. Jane Steele was a weird and blissful twist on Jane Eyre (those Brontes again!), and The Quick was one of the very best takes on the vampire tale, ever. Think Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell meets Dracula and Frankenstein. It’s awesome! The Bookman’s Tale had a slow start, but in the end had me sobbing into the pages and praying nobody saw me do that. It’s the story of a young widower who is an antiquarian book dealer who lands a lead on a volume that may or may not have a connection to Shakespeare. There’s the delicious love of books, adventure, thrills, and ultimately romance in this novel that I think shouldn’t be missed. The Girl Who Drank The Moon was this year’s Newberry winner, and deservedly so. A truly magical tale of a young woman’s coming of age in this tale of magic, adventure, social justice, and of course love. When it came to non-fiction, I absolutely loved Samantha Ellis’ memoir of the books she loved as she grew up as an Iranian Jew in London, How To Be A Heroine. Many of her heorines are my heroines, and she challenged me to look at them in a new way. She also introduced me to some new heroines and added a few titles to my neverending TBR pile.
I’ve saved the best for last. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman was something entirely its own and it had such a profound effect on me. I had to put it down and walk away from it so many times because its insights on love, loss and life just did me in. This is the prequel to Practical Magic, the story of the aunts – and uncle – of the characters we meet in that book. Last year Hoffman’s Faithful did me in; I have a quote from it tattooed on my arm. Hoffman is hands down my favorite modern writer (yes, me, the science fiction/fantasy/horror nerd has chosen a literary fiction author to take to heart).
So, this year’s “Arlene Award” for Favorite book goes to: Fiction, The Rules of Magic, with The Bookman’s Tale the runner up; YA/Youth novel: The Girl Who Drank The Moon, with Wild Beauty as runner up; Nonfiction, How To Be a Heroine, with My Life With Bob as a runner up.
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Movies: Well alright, this is easy, it’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It made me feel the exact way I did 40 years ago when I say Star Wars in the theater for the first time. Gosh Wow!! I know a whole lot of people hate it for reasons I’m not quite sure I understand. When people say “this isn’t their Star Wars” or “that’s not my Luke” I think to myself, Star Wars was never mine, or ours – it’s something George Lucas invented and shared with us. If these new films have his approval of “yep, this is how the story goes” then who am I to be saying otherwise. But besides Star Wars, I was so lucky to have seen a slew of other great films, both genre and non genre. I loved Wonder Woman of course, and Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, and Thor: Ragnarok. I think Get Out was the best, twistiest psychological thriller of the year, and It was the best horror film, as it actually managed to scare this old cynic. The Shape of Water was a masterpiece visually, as well as storywise – just a lovely celebration of those things that bring us joy, and love. For non-genre films, The Book of Henry was a beautiful, unexpected tale of loss and survival, and Gifted – my choice for second favorite film of the year – hit me not only in the feels, but hit home, as the parent of a gifted child. If you haven’t seen this, it’s the story of a man (Chris Evans) raising his six year old niece (brilliantly played by McKenna Grace) who is beyond a genius at math. After years of complete non-communication, the man’s overbearing mother steps in and threatens to destroy his and the little girl’s lives. If this film doesn’t make you tear up, you may not have a heart.
The “Arlene Award” goes to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with Gifted as runner up. Best animated film is Coco – sorry I forgot to mention this gem by Pixar above.
Read my movie reviews at starrymag.com for my theater going experiences.
TV: Oh boy, I watch waaay too much TV. I live tweet so many shows, and while I don’t love all of them, I do truly enjoy most of them and can’t wait to watch every week. I’m going to just list my favorites, and then try to choose from there:
Stuff I loved but got cancelled: Outsiders, the story of a people who have lived in the mountains for generations without any contact with the modern world. Conflict arises when a new coal mining company rolls into town and wants to kick the families off their mountain. Themes of family, tradition, unemployment, the environment, prejudice and love are woven through this utterly unique drama that we lost when WGN was bought by Sinclair, who did away with all of their scripted programming. (I try to keep this blog relatively politics free, so no comment on Sinclair and how they felt most of these shows were too liberal or too un-Christian -like Salem – to keep on air. Oops, I went there. Sorry, not sorry.) The other show I loved that got cancelled because I’m not sure many people understood it, or because it wasn’t Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz, was Emerald City, a modern take on Baum’s books that ended up being closer to his books than almost any other adaptation. We think of Oz as yellow brick roads and ruby slippers, but the original Oz books were dark and full of socio-political commentary. Baum’s mother-in-law was a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony, but went even further afield than she, and Baum’s books reflected her beliefs. I loved that Emerald City tackled the Tip/Oz character, and I was completely enthralled by West (I miss tweeting with you, Anna Ularu). The relationship between Dorothy, the Scarecrow and Glinda – who was never as goody-goody as the movie made her out to be. I’m so sorry NBC didn’t stick with it and give it a second season. Bates Motel wasn’t cancelled but it’s tale came to a close with a powerful and surprisingly heart-rending finale. While not exactly Robert Bloch’s Psycho or the movie, this modern take on Norman Bates and his mother was certainly inspired by it. Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga gave the performances of a lifetime (although I understand Highmore is as equally incredible in The Good Doctor).
Satisfying my need for historical pieces (which seem never to fare well on network TV; I still miss Houdini and Doyle, and I don’t think this year’s Time After Time even got a fair shot) were Taboo, a twisted complicated thriller with Tom Hardy. It was brutal and violent and a bit twisted, but well acted, well written, beautifully filmed and fairly historically accurate. It’s been renewed, and I’m thrilled, because even airing on FX, I’m surprised it did as well as it did. My other favorite was Harlots, on Hulu, a piece about sex workers in London in the early 1700s. Social commentary relevant to today – you bet! But this was so well done, with so much attention to detail, that you really felt as if you were actually in London in the 18th century. To simplify, brothel owner Margaret Wells, struggles to raise her daughters in a fair to middling brothel. She dreams of a better life for herself, her family and her girls, especially her youngest, Lucy. But nothing ever goes well for harlots and whores, especially where Puritan madness runs rampant in the streets. Great performances, an interesting and intricate plot had me binge-watching all 8 episodes in a row without coming up for air. This has also been renewed for a second season, hallelujah! I can’t wait. Thirdly, there was Timeless, a show about a trio of scientists and historians chasing down a maniac trying to destroy history. This was so much fun, and even I, the history nerd, learned something new every episode. The show also had a lot of heart, a huge amount of heart. It was very nearly cancelled, but fans rose up en masse and we saved it – I think. It’s technically renewed, but there is no date yet for season two.
Here’s a list of TV shows I watched and enjoyed this year: iZombie, The Librarians, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, Gotham, Supergirl, The Flash, This Is Us, Elementary (which ended on a sad cliffhanger and I don’t know if it’s coming back or not), Once Upon A Time, Mary Kills People, Better Things, American Gods, Doctor Who, Blood Drive, The Orville, Happy, Superstition, Ghost Wars, Runaways, American Horror Story (although I disliked this last season), The Shannara Chronicles, and Ghosted. Oh, and The Tick on Amazon Prime was awesome!! I have yet to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime but I’m looking forward to it. I would be lying if I didn’t cop to being a Game of Thrones junkie, and Kit Harington did a bang up (almost literally) job in Gunpowder, a three episode miniseries about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. I also loved the miniseries Godless on Netflix, whereas I found The Defenders to be just okay. I think if Matt Murdock/Daredevil weren’t in it, I would have found it less than okay. I am one of the ten people who thought Bright was actually enjoyable.
But here’s my very favorite, and the winner of the “Arlene Award”- The Magicians. I love this show and everything about this show. The stories, the worlds, the effects but most especially the characters, who manage to be both annoying and endearing and so completely human. I love goofy Quentin, jaded Penny, badass Julia, conflicted Kady, total queen bitch Margo, complicated Elliot, and knowledge and magic hungry Alice (who is my favorite). The musical episode this year took the cake. I still haven’t read the books yet, although most of the cast have, but I know the characters are different in the books, but I don’t think I can picture Julia or Penny any other way. I love this show so much that when it returns January 10th, I’m stopping gaming on Wednesdays just so I can watch it and live tweet it as it airs. Here’s an article I did for Starry Mag about the show earlier this year: http://starrymag.com/five-awesome-reasons-to-watch-and-love-the-magicians/ Felicia Day joins the cast this year, and I’m totally chomping at the bit for January 10.
Follow my TV adventures on both Starrymag.com and talknerdywithus.com, and follow me on Twitter for live tweeting madness.
Music: I failed rather horribly here this year, unless you are talking about concerts, which we will, later. I confess I did not buy a whole lot of new music this year – I spent a lot of time catching up on older records and bands I may have missed. I did pick up the new Papa Roach, Crooked Teeth, but was a little disappointed in it, after loving their last album, Face Everything and Rise so, so much. I just downloaded Seether’s Poison the Parish, and I hope I love it as much as I have all of their other work. I picked up Nothing More’s The Stories We Tell Ourselves because Eric Bass of Shinedown said it was his favorite album this year. I like it but don’t love it. I also got Metallica’s Hardwired to Self Destruct, but it’s not my favorite of theirs. I did love Brent Smith’s recommendation of K. Flay’s Everywhere Is Somewhere, which introduced me to a whole new style of music that I hadn’t been familiar with, and I’m loving it!! I’m a huge fan of MK Ultra, an indie artist out of California who isn’t afraid to be himself and fully express his experiences and opinions and gives zero f**ks if you like it or not. I adored Generation Dead. Oddly enough this rocker chick adored country singer Granger Smith’s When The Good Guys Win, a blend of country/pop/rock with excellent lyrics. I fell absolutely madly in love with Sam Smith, like oh my god, so in love. His voice is like warm honey, just pour it on! I can’t stop listening to The Thrill Of It All.
So, the “Arlene Award” goes to: K.Flay, with Sam Smith as runner up. Favorite songs: Blood In The Cut, and Palace.
Concerts: I’m going to list everyone I saw, and then tell you my favorites. I very nearly thought the world was going to end because I got to see so very many of my favorites this year. A concert season like this hasn’t happened to me since the 1980s. Starting in January: Nonpoint, Jasmine Cain, Shallow Side, Pop Evil with Badflower and Red Sun Rising, Alter Bridge (finally, after waiting 10 years to see them), Metallica, Green Day, Lady Gaga, and Smith and Myers. I truly loved them all, as they were great performances in their own ways and I’m betting you think I’m going to give the Arlene Award to Smith and Myers, because it’s Brent and Zach of Shinedown, right? Haha, wrong. It was an amazing show, filled with warm and heart and incredible musicianship, with Brent’s knock ’em out of the ballpark vocals, and they played for three hours but no.
The “Arlene Award” goes to Green Day because that wasn’t a show, that was an interactive, holy shit, out of body spectacle. I haven’t walked away from a concert feeling like that since U2, and I’m willing to say Green Day is America’s U2. I love a band that speaks its mind, especially on the topic of social justice. Green Day had us eating out of their hands before the show even started; they played “Bohemian Rhapsody” and all 10 thousand of us were singing along. The boys are very audience friendly, pulling a young man up to sing along with them, pulling up another young man who had come all the way from the Dominican Republic to see them – they didn’t just make his night, I think they made his life. They also had a young woman come up on stage to play guitar with Billie Joe, and then he gave her the guitar. O.O He gave her the guitar! At one point they had us chanting, No racism, no sexism, no homophobia, and let me tell you there was not one dissenter. Of course they played for nearly 4 hours, all of their hits, including Basket Case, Jesus of Suburbia, American Idiot, Holiday, St. Jimmy, Revolution Radio, Bang Bang…they ended with Good Riddance/Time of Your Life, and 21 Guns, which is my favorite. I had tears streaming down my face. I’ve been saying concertwise, I’ve been ruined/spoiled by Green Day. As much as I love many bands, that’s going to be one hell of a show to beat.
Favorite band: This isn’t even a contest or question. It’s Shinedown.
I’ve been really bad about writing about music this year, and it’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions to remedy that. Mostly I write about music for talknerdywithus.com, but I may be branching out next year. Stay tuned.
Please feel free to share your favorites! My hungry little mind is always on the hunt for new media to explore and love.
Happy New Year to you all, and may 2018 bring you many, many blessings!