The Best Things I Read, Watched, and Listened to in 2018

Best Books I Read in 2018

  1. The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
    These six books are the most melodramatic historical novels I’ve ever read.  Francis Crawford of Lymond is an arrogant genius with an alarming amount of self-hatred who willingly plays the villain in order to play a long game of justice, so like, he’s my exact favorite kind of character.  These are DENSE books that somehow fly by, and the fourth book (Pawn in Frankincense) had me literally screaming at the pages.  I’ve been avoiding Dunnett’s second series, The House of Niccolo, because I know they will once more overtake my entire life.
  2. Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel
    I haven’t yet read something by Oppel that I don’t like, but Every Hidden Thing tops my list of his books.  It’s a Shakespearean story of star-crossed lovers from competing families of archeologists scrambling to discover new dinosaur fossils in the Badlands in late 1800s.  If that doesn’t immediately grab your attention, then…I don’t understand your brain.
  3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    I was entirely surprised to find myself won over by Mitchell’s book, since before this year I only had bad memories of watching the movie in Memphis in a theater full of Yankee-hating Southerners.  But Mitchell is a phenomenal writer!  The story is surprisingly feminist, an unflinching examination of a woman who is willing to flout societal gendered expectations in order to ensure her family’s survival.  It’s messy and inspiring and depressing – three of my favorite things!
  4. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
    This is satirical fantasy with a heart, where a bunch of over-the-hill champions have to reform their warrior team to save a daughter from an evil bunny-man.  Which is ridiculous, but also the bunny-man is legitimately scary?  And in the very good sequel, Bloody Rose, there is a hero bunny-man who actually made me cry, so…satire with a heart.  At one point they hide from giant trolls who are idly arguing about whether one is using the word “literally” correctly, and I think that sums up the feel of the book quite nicely.
  5. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    How would the world change if women suddenly woke up with the ability to conduct electricity?  This was a depressing and fascinating story that stayed with me for a long time.  There’s a sense of satisfying justice in the beginning, as women who have been abused or belittled for years suddenly have the power to defend themselves.  But it doesn’t end there, ultimately positing that when power comes from physical force, there can never be equality.  The parts that were especially compelling to me were the eerie echoes of women defending their power (“it wasn’t rape, because he liked it”) that throw real life problems into excruciating clarity.
  6. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
    Not nearly as sexy as its title would have you believe, this is both a murder mystery and an empowering story of overlooked women finding camaraderie and joy through sharing, well, erotic stories.  It covers generational immigrants and their conflicting priorities, the inner lives of those whom society labels irrelevant, and the dangers of the patriarchy.  It was entirely unique for me, and I adored it.
  7. Saga (volumes 1-9) by Brian K. Vaughan
    WHAT A SERIES.  These graphic novels had me hooked within a couple pages, and I am so sad to have reached the end of what is currently published, so now I have to wait for the next installment very impatiently.  This very adult story is about two worlds at war, both of which want to kill the child of two pacifists who abandoned the fight.  It is INCREDIBLY creative, with a nation of robots that are just grey people with televisions for heads, and the higher in status they are, the more modern the tv (royalty’s screens are in color).  And, like Kings of the Wyld, this might sound ridiculous, but it’s all played seriously, and yes, I did also cry because of one of the robots.  There’s a lot of crying in this series, because it covers years of this family’s fight to survive, and a lot of people help them and suffer for it throughout the way.  I don’t honestly know how to describe its brilliance, so here’s just this:  It’s my actual first favorite thing I read all year.

Best Things I Watched in 2018

  1. Call Me By Your Name
    This movie is absolutely beautiful!!  It is sumptuous, capturing a lazy summer in Italy with just, an incredible attention to the physicality of a moment, whether that’s the slap of wet feet in sandals or the magnetic embrace of someone newly in love.  I saw this four times this year, and I accidentally cried while describing it to someone.
  2. Stephen Universe
    This cartoon! is! amazing!  I binge-watched all five seasons currently out, and while it started as cute 10-minute adventure segments, the world slowly expanded and got very emotionally compelling!!  It is one of the most good stories out there, by which I mean its hero genuinely wants to help everyone, even his enemies, and his heart is just so big and so beautiful!  This is one of those shows that I think could actually make the world a better place if everyone were forced to watch it.
  3. Queer Eye
    This is another series that could change the world for the better if everyone were forced to watch it!  This is reality tv with massive heart, as five gay men do total life makeovers for straight men.  And I mean total life makeovers.  While there is the requisite hair and clothing changes, the real magic of this show comes from the inside-out transformation of men blossoming under male attention and learning to express their emotions.  I cry a lot while watching this show, and
  4. Terrace House
    For someone who thinks she doesn’t like reality tv, it’s weird to have two on my list this year!  But this Japanese reality show is so sweet!  It’s a classic “six strangers have to live together” scenario, but instead of in-fighting, they generally support each other’s goals and politely discuss any conflict in the house.  And rather than vote people out, a person can stay until they feel they’ve accomplished their goal (which can be anything from ‘launch a ski clothing line’ to ‘fall in love’), they leave and someone new comes in.  It’s all really lovely, non-confrontational, and funny.  Because oh yeah, there’s a panel of Japanese comedians who interrupt the show twice per episode to make jokes about what’s going on.  Genius.
  5. I, Tonya
    I wasn’t around for the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle, but that did not affect my enjoyment of this movie in the slightest.  Okay, “enjoyment” is a strong word.  It’s an excellent movie about abuse, made even more amazing by how it traces her abusers from her mother to her husband…to us, the viewers who judged and opinionated and laughed at her.  It’s also just very cleverly done, intercutting flashbacks with dialogue from the present day.  Inspiring and depressing…hmmm, there’s a trend here.
  6. She-Ra
    Except for these wonderful cartoons with not a bit of depression in them!  The She-Ra remake ALMOST made me want to have kids, because both girls and boys could be so benefitted by its diverse representations of girls and boys.  It’s all about the power of friendship, and it’s also just so healthy.  At one key point, a sidekick begs She-Ra, “You have to fix this!”  Overwhelmed, she admits, “I can’t.”  And instead of forcing or guilting her, the sidekick says, “Okay,” and hugs her, preparing to be destroyed together.  Spoiler, they aren’t, but that moment of grace made me cry actual tears.  Also, there is a princess prom and Catra and Adora have mad chemistry, and I cannot wait for season two!!

Best Podcasts I Listened to in 2018

  1. Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard
    Sometimes he interviews famous friends (or his famous wife, Kristen Bell, whose episodes are always my favorites), and sometimes he interviews mostly unknown experts in various fields (I loved the episode with Dr. Drew about addictions).  It’s a long show, and I don’t listen to every episode if it’s a celeb I don’t care about, but it’s always a fun listen.
  2. Buffering the Vampire Slayer
    Two women review Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, but they spice up their routine with character jingles, a sexual tension award, and a legit good song about each episode.
  3. Failed Missionary
    Hosted by Corey Pigg, former missionary in Germany, this podcast tackles some very real problems in the missionary world like the white savior complex (fittingly discussed by Ugandan men and women).  It’s updated irregularly, but every episode is amazing.
  4. Hoist the Colours I didn’t stop being obsessed with Black Sails this year, and luckily there are still people creating new content about the world’s best television show.  This podcast focuses on the numerous queer characters in the show, tracking their character arcs through the seasons, and it literally makes my heart spike every time I see a new episode uploaded.
  5. Milleneagram
    An irreverent podcast about the Enneagram that’s for “babes and trolls, kids and queers,” it maintains the complexity and beauty of learning from the personality test while including a lot more cussing and real talk than the enneagram podcasts made by middle-aged men and women (which I also love, but they are not my favorite).
  6. Queerology
    An amazing podcast for LGBTQ+ people to discuss their relationship with Christianity.  It’s…just exactly that simple, and I love it.
  7. The Daily
    I am very bad at keeping up with the news, but this half-hour podcast makes me feel a little less uninformed every day.  I especially like it because the current topic is framed in a historical context that makes it all a lot more interesting and relevant.

What were some of your favorite books, movies, tv shows, and podcasts this year?
Tell me in the comments, and maybe they’ll make my 2019 list.

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This is Why I Love Luke Skywalker!!

When most little girls (and all the older women) were falling in love with Han Solo, I was OBSESSED with Luke Skywalker.  I loved him, I chose to be him when playing “Star Wars” with my cousin Bess, and I was super excited to see him return in The Last Jedi.  And unlike the people who shouted their complaints about Luke’s mischaracterization in that film, I thought it was perfect and I loved him even more at the end of it all.  But I didn’t have the words to explain why.

Here are some words that someone else said in a video review of Return of the Jedi:  “Luke wins by being a stubborn idealistic twerp.  ‘Love will save the day, father!  Love…and friendship!'”

Actually, just watch the whole thing now.  It’s really well done.

Because YES, that is exactly the Luke that I fell in love with: a man defined by his compassion and faith.  It’s worth pointing out that Jill Bearup made that video in 2015 before either film in the newest trilogy had been released, which is why it’s so perfect that I find those words to be perfect descriptions of Luke’s emotional arc in The Last Jedi.

The Luke we meet is a grumpy hermit.  Why?  Because this extremely compassionate man experienced a moment of judgment because he lacked the faith that Ben Solo could resist the allure of the Dark Side.  So he almost killed his nephew, and the consequences of that almost-action were devastating.  Death, destruction, and the loss of his identity.

But in meeting Rey, in being reunited with R2 and Chewie, and in seeing his sister’s famous hologram that once summoned his noblest impulses so long ago, Luke regains his compassion and faith.  He chooses to stop Kylo Ren in a way that will not harm him in the faith that his friends will escape, survive, and win the fight without him.  Which is…exactly the same faith he showed in Return of the Jedi.

Luke has changed when we meet him in The Last Jedi, and like, yeah? But even though he is at his darkest when we reunite with him, he doesn’t stay there.  His emotional journey is one of recovering his truest self, of reclaiming his compassion and faith.  Oh Luke, you stubborn idealistic twerp.   I love you!!

Ranking Toby Stephens’ Work

When I was a teenager and checking out every Josh Hartnett movie from Blockbuster, I thought my obsessive celebrity love would be something I would outgrow.  Yet here I am over a decade later, watching as many things with Toby Stephens in them as possible.  For (probably only my own) your enjoyment, a ranking of everything I’ve seen Toby Stephens in!

1. Black Sails

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This is the show that brought Stephens’ genius to my awareness (and through my inability to shut up – to many other people’s awareness as well).  As James McGraw turned Captain Flint, Stephens is electric.  He is the personification of “hurt people hurt people,” and throughout four seasons we see him wrestle with the trauma of his past while he steps all over people in pursuit of a better world.  He is my sweet murderous baby, and there is no contradiction.

Watch on Starz or Hulu

(If you want to read my episode reviews and essays, head on over to my separate Black Sails website.)

2. Mangal Pandey: The Rising

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One of the great joys of searching movies by actors is that you wind up finding treasures that would otherwise have eluded you.  Such is the case with Mangal Pandey, a Bollywood movie about the British empire/comany’s influence in India and the uprising against them.  Stephens is a Scottish officer who befriends Mangal and questions his allegiance when Mangal rebels.  It’s glorious, and I’m so glad my obsession led me to such a beautiful film.

Watch on YouTube

(make sure you use Closed Captioning for English subtitles)

3. And Then There Were None

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This is a deliciously moody adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, and while it is FULL of excellent British actors, my eyes were only on Toby Stephens (okay, and Aiden Turner).  His increasingly anxious and paranoid Dr. Armstrong is a delight, and the scene in which the final four have a cocaine-fueled party?  MY FAVORITE.

4. Jane Eyre

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As an adult, I know that Mr. Rochester is all shades of sketch, but he plays right into my “sassy authoritative man who would die for you” fantasy, so Teenage Tricia is very gratified to see Stephens playing one of her longest lasting fictional crushes.

5.  Vexed

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God bless Twitter for letting me know that this comedy police procedural starring Toby Stephens is now available on Netflix.  Unlike everything else on this list, Vexed is Toby at his silliest.  It’s pure British comedy, which is sometimes painful and other time hilarious.  Toby’s character is a lazy asshole who is still somehow charming (perhaps I am blinded by his Toby-ness), and the crimes are very much secondary to the interpersonal conflict and humor between him and his amazing partner Kate.  Just how I like it.

Watch on Netflix

6. Die Another Day

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This movie is TERRIBLE, but Stephens is a wonderfully sneer-y villain that would have defeated Bond if I’d had my way.  I mean, I can’t stress how bad this movie is – horrible action sequences, 90s filming techniques, painful innuendos, everywhere sexism – but I also cannot stress how gratifying it was to see Stephens running around sword fighting in a white tank top with suspenders.


 

*TO BE UPDATED AS I CONTINUE TO WATCH TOBY STEPHENS’ FILMS*

Recommendations welcome!

LIVEBLOGGING: The Moon-Spinners

When I was a kid, we had the VHS version of The Moon-Spinners that I absolutely loved.  I watched it multiple times, and when it was released on DVD I got it for nostalgia’s sake.  But I haven’t watched it yet!  I brought it with me to Greece (because it’s set here), and I had two very important questions I needed answered:

  1.  Is the guy still as hot as I remember?
  2. Is the cheetah still as awesome?

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  • Yuck, I hate how movies used to put loads of credits before the film without even a cool James Bond montage of psychedelic symbolism. 
  • Crete is on my destination wish list, but not the public transit there…in the 60s, at least. 50s?  70s?  I have no sense of the recent past. 
  • Hayley Mills is British? Huh, I didn’t remember that.

Fran:  I say, I wonder if you’d be so kind as to put that (dead fish swinging in her face) somewhere else?
Man: *stares uncomprehendingly*
Nikki:  THE FISH. COULD YOU PUT IT SOMEWHERE?  IT’S A BIT STRONG. COULD YOU PUT IT SOMEWHERE ELSE?
Man: *continues to stare uncomprehendingly*
Fran: I don’t know why one always thinks foreigners will understand English if one shouts.

Film and Television
No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX/Moviestore Collection (1659596a) The Moon-spinners, Joan Greenwood, Hayley Mills Film and Television
  • I understand the Greek!! It’s like, the simplest words, but still!
  • Of course they enter town on donkeys while a fancy wedding is taking place. That has not been my experience…maybe I need to tour island villages until it happens. 
  • Telegram? Is this the 40s??? When did telegrams happen?
  • Musicologist? That sounds like a cool job, traveling around to find and record folk songs. 
  • You can tell they’re the female protagonists because instead of getting upset by some truly rude behavior, they put their hands to their foreheads and chuckle about it. 
  • “I bet the Englishman is super old and boring,” she says, not realizing he is a dreamboat. I HOPE HE’S AS MUCH OF A DREAMBOAT AS I REMEMBER. 
  • Those short shorts and THAT ACCENT as he vaguely threatens his stalker!  

Continue reading

Packing for a Year in Greece: Entertainment

Based on this blog, it should be obvious that I take entertainment very seriously.  Ingesting stories is how I grow and/or stay alive.  So when it comes to preparing to move to Greece, the majority of my planning has revolved around books and media.

The one problem?  I have to pack a year’s worth of possessions into two suitcases and a backpack.  While I would LIKE to take two suitcases full of books, even I know that is impractical.  So I’ve improvised.   Continue reading

Disney Challenge

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Rainy Thursdays has been doing a Disney Challenge, so I thought I would give it a go!  All at once though, because why not?


Your Favorite Character

This is impossible to answer with just one person, but I’ll say Tom Sawyer in Tom and Huck, as played by Jonathan Taylor Thomas at the height of my love for him.  He’s a troublemaker with a heart of gold, which….has always been my weakness.

Your Favorite Princess

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Belle!  It was so cool for child-Tricia to see a brunette girl who loved to read saving the day, turning down handsome jerks and learning to love the unlovable.  I saw the best version of myself in her.

Your Favorite Heroine

I really liked Rapunzel for her naivete and optimism.  She has had a literally sheltered life, but she uses her pain to create art and dream of a better future.  And I adore the scene when she first leaves the tower, alternating between ecstasy and fear.  Very accurate, very funny.

Your Favorite Prince

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Probably Aladdin.  He’s a smart-aleck, street-wise sweetheart.  He takes care of his friends, has a pet monkey, and takes Jasmine on a carpet ride through the clouds.  All the things I look for in a man.

Your Favorite Hero

I’ll go with a literal (Greek) hero:  Hercules!  Really I just want to include this movie in the list, because it’s so much fun, from the singing Muses to sassy Megara to sassier Hades.   Continue reading

StumbleUpon Sunday (18)

StumbleUpon is a great way to lose hours of your life.  Luckily, I braved the Internet vortex so you don’t have to.  This week I found these especially interesting websites:

  1. Fully-Customizable Tiny Homes Start at an Affordable $22,000
    Cut to:  Tricia, hyperventilating.  I WANT A TINY HOME SO BAD.  These are adorable.
  2. To the New Culture Cops, Everything is Appropriation
    As a tumblr user, I see the term “cultural appropriation” a lot.  I really liked this article’s balanced view of the subject.
    “At one time, such critiques were leveled against truly offensive art — work that trafficked in demeaning caricatures, such as blackface, 19th-century minstrel shows orethnological expositions, which literally put indigenous people on display, often in cages. But these accusations have become a common attack against any artist or artwork that incorporates ideas from another culture, no matter how thoughtfully or positively.”
  3. 14 Cool Psychology Tricks You Need to Try
    This is basically just manipulation tactics, but…..I still find them extremely interesting.  My favorite (that I hadn’t heard before) was the suggestion that you can end a repetitive mental song by intentionally remembering the end of the song, since closing the loop allows our brain to stop latching onto unfinished things.
  4. 14 Brilliant Re-Imagined Names For Everyday Objects We All Need
    Hahaha!  I like the “people shelf” and “t-rex deer.”
  5. 14 Stories that Prove Animals Have Souls
    I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying.
  6. You May Not Need These 19 Things, But You’ll Definitely Want Them Pretty Badly
    There has never been a more accurately named post.  Give me that divided frying pan immediately!!
  7. A Fast Food Purse
    Um, this is GENIUS.
  8. Here are 20 Animals That You RARELY Get to See as Babies
    The bison!  And reindeer!  And that little chameleon all curled up into itself!!
  9. Witnessing Beautiful Autumn’s Transformations
    Excellent documentation proving that autumn is the most beautiful season.
  10. 10 Fun Movie Facts
    “Because Bruce Lee was so fast, they actually had to run his films slower so you can see his moves.”