Favorite books of 2018

“What does that mean? Whatever you want it to mean. Are these movies “the best”? Are they our favorites? Are they “movies we got to see before the deadline”? In my case, it’s some combination of all three — but I’m really quite happy with the aggregate results.” — Jim Emerson

This year’s end of year piece is bigger than previous ones I’ve written. 2018 was my biggest reading year in a long time. My job duties changed and I am spending more time driving, so I decided to make the most of it and started listening to audiobooks. By far, my greatest consumption was audiobooks. Because of the higher number I decided that I would err on the side of robustness for my end of year round up.

The form I eventually settled was: Book of the Year (on because there was one), top reads of the year (not limited by release year), and finally a longer list of notable reads (2018 releases, re-reads, older releases, graphic novels, and non-fiction).

Book of the year: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese – On the surface, Indian Horse is about hockey and the Indian Residential School system in Canada, but it encompasses so much more: trauma, loss of culture, loss of identity, growing, and the long hard path to righting your ship when so many forces were hell-bent on sinking it. It’s told in an intimate, confessional way that draws you into the narrative, deeply investing the reader into the story of Saul Indian Horse.

Top 10 read of 2018

Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello – This fantastic essay collection uses the form of a bestiary and well known animals as a starting point to explore various topics. It is witty, insightful, and entertaining as hell. If you ever have  chance to hear/see the author perform the final essay, do so (Koko the gorilla using her limited vocabulary to tell the infamous joke, The Aristocrats).

Brother Anhia Ahlborn – Brother is sharply told, has characters that will evoke strong feelings, some you will support, some you will loathe. By the time you suspect where the story is heading it is too late, you are strapped in for the ride. And as bad as you think it will get, it winds up being worse.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay – Potent mix of home invasion story and end of the world story. Probably the tensest book I read all year.

Cockblock by CV Hunt – Cockblock is a fresh take on the zombie story, one for the Me Too era. It also acts as a critique on the pervasiveness of technology and how quickly information can spread. The world created here is a patriarchal system cranked up to 11 with women leading the larger resistance that must take place to stop the President. It veers from the horrific to the humorous while maintaining a relentless drive forward.

The Fifth Season by NK Jemison – NK Jemison won the Hugo award in 2018 for The Stone Sky, the third book in the Broken Earth series. Her consecutive wins  courted some backlash from those against a more inclusive genre. This seemed to be the perfect time to read one of her books, so I went to the library and grabbed a copy of The Fifth Season. The Fifth is a sophisticated book that demands the readers attention. You start off in the deep end of a of a new world and Jemison masterfully doles out information and developments as needed to control how the world expands and opens up and succeeds in keeping the reader hooked.

The Last Cowboys by John Branch – An insightful book about a multi-generational ranching family increasingly relying on a multi-generational dominance in the sport of rodeo. This is a fascinating peek into a world that is shrinking with time.

Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima – The most original piece of fiction I read all year. There is an astounding amount of imagination on display here.

Spy of the First Person by Sam Shepard – A fractured narrative about a dying man, written by a dying man, each fracture is a crystalline moment that provides yet another fleeting glimpse of the themes that Sam Shepard grappled with. No conclusions are reached at the end of a life examined. We wouldn’t have Sam Shepard’s final book any other way.

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley – I was a big fan of Hurley’s God’s War from a few years ago and I look forward to each new book she writes. This one is from last year.

There There by Tommy Orange – Tommy Orange takes a braided approach to give the reader a cross section of modern Native American life in America, specifically in Oakland California. And it ain’t always pretty. Sometimes it is messy and sometimes it is raw. But it will always be real.

Notable Books by Category

Notable 2018 ReleasesThe Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy, Space Opera by Catherynne Valente, Green Sun by Kent Anderson, Sunburn by Laura Lippman, The Line That Held Us by David Joy, Where the Bullets Fly by Terrance McCauley, Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias, Lost Films anthology, Pull & Pray by Angel Luis Colon

Notable re-readsSadie When She Died by Ed McBain, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain, Shane by Jack Schaefer, Lew Griffin series by James Sallis, Fat City by Leonard Gardner, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, Warlock by Oakley Hall, A River Runs Through It by Norman McLean

Notable older releasesThe Dead Mountaineer’s Inn by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, The Rider by Tim Krabbe, Death Wish by Brian Garfield, The Day the Cowboys Quit by Elmer Kelton, Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia, My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Notable Graphic NovelsTetris by Box Brown, Paper Girls by Brian Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, Saga by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples, The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling by Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno, Cousin Joseph by Jules Feiffer

Notable Non-fictionKillers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, Lady Killers by Tori Telfer

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Advent Day 1: Hap and Leonard

 

 

Fuck Sundance.

And fuck Netflix for not picking up this amazing series.

Hap and Leonard managed to touch on issues related to race in an entertaining and comedic way, delivering a tremendous cast, awesome storylines, and one of the best shows ever created.

So fuck Sundance for canceling it for no fucking good reason at all. And fuck Netflix for not picking it up. Sundance, who once produced the brilliance of Rectify … Sundance is dead to me now.

 

 

 

 

Advent Day 2: Bosch

Advent Day 3: I’m Sorry

Advent Days 6, 5 & 4: The Bleak Worlds: The Man in the High Castle, The Leftovers & The Handmaid’s Tale

Advent Day 7: Trail of Lightning

Advent Days 10, 9 & 8: Horror (It Comes at Night, Heredity, It & bonus, Castle Rock)

Advent Day 11: Barry

Advent Day 12: Salt

Advent Day 13: Blackkklansman

Advent Day 14: Dark

Advent Day 15: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Advent Day 16: Terror is our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horror

Advent Day 17: Freeze-Frame Revolution

Advent Day 18: Haunting of Hill House

Advent Day 19: Wind River

Advent Day 20: Letterkenny

Advent Day 21: Black Mirror

Advent Day 22: The Oddling Prince

Advent Day 23: The Americans

Advent Day 24: Fight Fascism

Advent Day 25: Bodyguard

Advent Day 26: Baskets

Advent Day 27: Literature

Advent Day 2: Bosch

Some series start off strong and flounder later. Others, like Bosch, continue to get better and better. Having some mad Titus Welliver love doesn’t hurt, and there’s a deep bench of actors on this show who can all hold their own. Jamie Hector and Lance Reddick are both Wire alums. Nothing more needs to be said there. Amy Aquino is beyond brilliant in her role and my husband and I worship Crate and Barrel, the unsung heroes. I think we’re at the point where bad cgi can’t even be referenced in evaluating a show because it’s so prevalent, but it’s pretty much the only thing that keeps this show from being perfect.

 

 

Advent Day 3: I’m Sorry

Advent Days 6, 5 & 4: The Bleak Worlds: The Man in the High Castle, The Leftovers & The Handmaid’s Tale

Advent Day 7: Trail of Lightning

Advent Days 10, 9 & 8: Horror (It Comes at Night, Heredity, It & bonus, Castle Rock)

Advent Day 11: Barry

Advent Day 12: Salt

Advent Day 13: Blackkklansman

Advent Day 14: Dark

Advent Day 15: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Advent Day 16: Terror is our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horror

Advent Day 17: Freeze-Frame Revolution

Advent Day 18: Haunting of Hill House

Advent Day 19: Wind River

Advent Day 20: Letterkenny

Advent Day 21: Black Mirror

Advent Day 22: The Oddling Prince

Advent Day 23: The Americans

Advent Day 24: Fight Fascism

Advent Day 25: Bodyguard

Advent Day 26: Baskets

Advent Day 27: Literature

Advent Day 3: I’m Sorry

As much as I have an appreciation for the future vision of the dark fiction masters who write dystopian tales, I’ve come to appreciate comedy more and more in recent years. I’m Sorry is a show that is so wrong, but funny, and like the best comedy it touches on very provocative issues in a way that resonates. There’s nothing quite like having your young child appear in blackface at a party with other adults or discovering that so-and-so’s mom from preschool used to be a porn star. And Andrea has absolutely no control over her mouth. The secret ingredient in this show, though? Jason Mantzoukis. Oh lord, he’s one of these guys who makes every scene he’s in better. Thanks to Jeff VanderMeer for the recommendation.

 

 

Advent Days 6, 5 & 4: The Bleak Worlds: The Man in the High Castle, The Leftovers & The Handmaid’s Tale

Advent Day 7: Trail of Lightning

Advent Days 10, 9 & 8: Horror (It Comes at Night, Heredity, It & bonus, Castle Rock)

Advent Day 11: Barry

Advent Day 12: Salt

Advent Day 13: Blackkklansman

Advent Day 14: Dark

Advent Day 15: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Advent Day 16: Terror is our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horror

Advent Day 17: Freeze-Frame Revolution

Advent Day 18: Haunting of Hill House

Advent Day 19: Wind River

Advent Day 20: Letterkenny

Advent Day 21: Black Mirror

Advent Day 22: The Oddling Prince

Advent Day 23: The Americans

Advent Day 24: Fight Fascism

Advent Day 25: Bodyguard

Advent Day 26: Baskets

Advent Day 27: Literature

Advent Days 6, 5 & 4: Dystopian TV

The past few years in the U.S. has probably done more to convince people that the world isn’t a perfect place and that the future may not be brighter than anything else has in a long while.

Writers have had dark visions of the future for decades, and TV has adapted some classic stories to show variations of these bleak futures or alternate realities. TV has also brought us some original dystopian tales. I’m going to touch on 3 TV shows that I watched this year that fit this category.

The Man in the High Castle

I thought this season was exceptional. I spent a good chunk of it blubbering over a character who wasn’t even there. In this alternate reality with alternate realities, Germany won WWII, formed an uneasy alliance with the Japanese, and the former United States is split into 3 main parts; the Nazi-controlled East, the Japanese-controlled West and the Rocky Mountain States, aka the Neutral Zone. The core story follows characters primarily from the East and West, although the Neutral Zone is regularly visited. Of course, the East follows Nazi laws, including eugenics laws, and when a teenage boy from a prominent Nazi family discovers he has a genetic condition, his parents plot to send him to South America to save his life, but he turns himself in and is terminated. Let’s give it up for some amazing acting by Chelah Horsdal. In fact, her performance is comparable to Keri Russell’s in The Americans. Let’s hear it for the women who are fighting to maintain their composure while their world is coming apart. It’s like 7 degrees of acting. You have to be convincingly devastated and then convincingly restraining that devastation to act in a way that’s socially acceptable or necessary to save your life, and your devastation is compounded by anger and guilt because you can’t even properly grieve. I digress. This is a great show for many reasons, and I devoured season 3. Can’t wait to see where it’s all going in season 4.

The Leftovers

This HBO show may be a few years old, but I didn’t get into it until this year. And then I couldn’t stop watching it. One day, a whole bunch of people just disappeared. Some said it was the rapture. Some said it was a punishment. Some said it was a gift. Some thought they were still alive. Others thought they were dead. Nobody knew.

And thus, chaos ensued. Cults were formed. People didn’t want to grieve, then did grieve, then felt guilty if they moved on with their lives. Whether they were trying to hold it together or not, everyone was a mess. And the premise? The ultimate answer to it all? It was just so simple, and the ultimate conclusion? Heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.

Handmaid’s Tale

You knew it was coming, right? I was as addicted to season 2 as I had been to season 1. Offred’s pregnancy may spare her in the short term, but will it save her in the end, or will the loss of another child devastate her and destroy her? This is a quiet season that sneaks up on you in many respects. But the reception that the Waterford’s got in Canada? Priceless. (Because homosexuality is punishable by death in Gilead, in case you don’t watch the show.)

 

Advent Day 7: Trail of LightningTrail of Lightning

Advent Days 10, 9 & 8: Horror (It Comes at Night, Heredity, It & bonus, Castle Rock)

Advent Day 11: Barry

Advent Day 12: Salt

Advent Day 13: Blackkklansman

Advent Day 14: Dark

Advent Day 15: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Advent Day 16: Terror is our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horror

Advent Day 17: Freeze-Frame Revolution

Advent Day 18: Haunting of Hill House

Advent Day 19: Wind River

Advent Day 20: Letterkenny

Advent Day 21: Black Mirror

Advent Day 22: The Oddling Prince

Advent Day 23: The Americans

Advent Day 24: Fight Fascism

Advent Day 25: Bodyguard

Advent Day 26: Baskets

Advent Day 27: Literature

Advent Day 7: Trail of Lightning

51zyshlrvtl-_sx329_bo1204203200_My husband picked this book out for me, and I’m really glad that he did. I originally reviewed it here.

Maggie Hoskie is a monsterslayer, living in what’s left of the United States after the big floods have wiped out most of the country. This is the first entry in The Sixth World series, and it’s a dystopian storyline focusing on Indigenous people after near-global destruction.

The world-building is exceptional. The author doesn’t gloss everything over and pretend that elimination of the financial centers on the East Coast and the U.S. government is going to produce a Utopia overnight. There are complications in this new world; police are corrupt, everyone is concerned about their end and fear and superstition can be as important as currency. Maggie is something of an outcast; one of the things she needs to work through is accepting herself. The author weaves Indigenous beliefs (about the coyote, for example) into the story but modernizes the beliefs to blend in with her futuristic dystopian tale, and it works so well. Highly entertaining, with a kick-ass female protagonist who handles herself.

Still got Christmas shopping to do? Get out there and add this to your stocking stuffers. Teens and adults alike will appreciate the edge-of-your-seat intensity of this action-packed novel.

Advent Days 10, 9 & 8: Horror (It Comes at Night, Heredity, It & bonus, Castle Rock)

Advent Day 11: Barry

Advent Day 12: Salt

Advent Day 13: Blackkklansman

Advent Day 14: Dark

Advent Day 15: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Advent Day 16: Terror is our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horror

Advent Day 17: Freeze-Frame Revolution

Advent Day 18: Haunting of Hill House

Advent Day 19: Wind River

Advent Day 20: Letterkenny

Advent Day 21: Black Mirror

Advent Day 22: The Oddling Prince

Advent Day 23: The Americans

Advent Day 24: Fight Fascism

Advent Day 25: Bodyguard

Advent Day 26: Baskets

Advent Day 27: Literature

Advent Days 10, 9 & 8: Horror

There’s a slim possibility that I may have to adjust my advent list before I’m finished, and not for the first time. Blackkklansman was something I watched less than a week ago, and we’re on a new show now that just might make the cut.

So, it’s a bit of a gamble putting all three of these movies out there already because it limits what else can be taken off, but I figure if I really get stuck I’ll just add a bonus item.

This was the year that I finally let Brian indulge his inner horror film geek in October, although only one of these three films is from that month. I honestly don’t think much of slasher flicks. Back when they were new, the 80s versions of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and Chucky freaked me out, and not in a good way.

This year, I watched a number of horror films that I liked. Three made my list.

Hereditary

This likely comes as no surprise, since it was a big hit this year. I had to pick up a dead bird’s body the next day at the dog park, though, which was not cool. Not cool at all.

It Comes At Night

Psychological horror at its best. I was really surprised by this story. Some aspects of it are beautifully simple, but I think that’s the key.

It

I never watched the original and I saw this version alone. Really well done. Strong cast. No surprise it was well received.

 

PS: If you’re in the mood for more horror, Hulu had a strong showing with Castle Rock. There’s an episode with Sissy Spacek that’s absolutely amazing. If I was doing a list of the best episodes of the year, there’s no doubt in my mind that episode would be on it. The entire season would be worth watching  just for ‘The Queen’, as though the amazing cast and fascinating storyline wasn’t enough of a reason to watch already.

Advent Day 11: Barry

Advent Day 12: Salt

Advent Day 13: Blackkklansman

Advent Day 14: Dark

Advent Day 15: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Advent Day 16: Terror is our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horror

Advent Day 17: Freeze-Frame Revolution

Advent Day 18: Haunting of Hill House

Advent Day 19: Wind River

Advent Day 20: Letterkenny

Advent Day 21: Black Mirror

Advent Day 22: The Oddling Prince

Advent Day 23: The Americans

Advent Day 24: Fight Fascism

Advent Day 25: Bodyguard

Advent Day 26: Baskets

Advent Day 27: Literature