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Best of 2021

Making the Most of It!

2020 started out with such promise, didn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I really thought we had seen the worst of COVID and that by spring of 2021 life would be pretty much back to normal. Sigh.

I will admit, summer was pretty good, but here in Alberta fall brought us a vicious fifth wave of the disease, and for the first time it hit really close to home. Like, right on me, lol. Yup, despite being double-vaccinated and following all the public health recommendations, I got Covid in the last half of September. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. At that point it was hitting my little town pretty hard and all of a sudden I knew more people with Covid than without it. Yeesh.

Happy to report that it wasn’t a bad experience. More like a very light cold…with a bit of breathlessness half way through that quickly cleared up. I am very thankful that it wasn’t more serious.

At any rate, here we are at the end of 2021 and it still seems like there’s no end in sight to this pandemic. Sigh. But as I did last year, I thought I’d cast away gloomy thoughts and share with you all the “Bests” of 2021.

Books

I felt like this was a bit of a dry year for me, book-wise. I read quite a few books, but I didn’t love most of them. They were all kinda meh, to be honest. But, there were a few stand-outs that I’ll mention here, in no particular order. Except for Tolkien, of course. He is always #1!

The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Ok, this is like the bajillionth time I’ve read it. And I’m not done yet, as it’s been a Sunday afternoon treat, saved for the times when I can sit down with a hot cuppa and savour the journey of Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry as they set out from the Shire. My kids got me a special three-volume set of LOTR for Christmas last year, which includes a companion volume with lots of notes and background info, and I’ve been moseying through it slowly. But oh so happily. This series is one of my very faves, and I’ve loved spending time in it this year.

Rage of Dragons (The Burning, #1), by Evan Winter. If you would have asked me after I finished this book if it would make my best of 2021 list, I would have said NO. But, here we are! I will have to do a longer review of this in the New Year, but I’ll say that it’s a book that has kept me thinking about it long after I finished it, so there’s that! I did love the setting and the African-inspired feel to this epic fantasy. Time Magazine named it as one of their top 100 fantasy books of all time, and while I wouldn’t go that far, I will say that the writing was crisp and the story intriguing.

 

 

Jade City, by Fonda Lee. This Asian-inspired fantasy set on an Earth-like world was a pleasant surprise to me at the end of 2021. I quite enjoyed the Godfather/Kung-Fu take on the story of a ruling clan whose elderly head has been replaced by one of his sons. Plenty of interesting sibling drama, plus cool martial arts fighting, along with the addition of magic jade-enhanced abilities adds up to a solid beginning to the Green Bones trilogy.

The Sterling Directive, by Tim Standish. I reviewed this on the blog earlier this year, and then had the privilege of interviewing the author as well. There is lots to love about this steampunky/spy/alternate history novel set in an alternate London. It’s really a lot of fun. Can’t wait to read the next one!

TV/Movies

The Mandolorian – by far my favourite viewing experience this year. How wonderful to see a Star Wars story done RIGHT. Fabulous story, great acting, special effects and, well, Baby Yoda. Even the soundtrack was a  perfect fit for this story that explores another corner of the Star Wars universe. More, please!!

Only Murders in the Building – I’m really enjoying the trio of Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Selena Gomez in this light comedy/drama about true crime podcast fans who stumble across a mystery of their very own to solve. A treat.

The Kaminsky Method – Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin are two of my fave actors, and they must have had a great deal of fun making this show. At turns poignant and humorous, this exploration of the trials of getting old and the value of friendship has kept me coming back for more.

Dune – true confession: I tried to read the book when it first came out and I just couldn’t get through it. All that history, warring families, blah blah blah….But I love Denis Vilenieuve (Canadian director, yay) and I knew he would do a good job on this. It didn’t disappoint. Lush settings, great special effects, a grand tale told on a big stage. I might have to revisit the book this year….

Paul McCartney, 3,2,1 – how can anyone not love this rambling discussion about the genius of the Beatles songs by Sir Paul himself? I love eavesdropping in on this conversation between him and Rick Rubin and I learned some new things about songs that I thought had been discussed to death. Mind you, I haven’t seen the Peter Jackson Beatles documentary yet…saving that as a holiday treat….

Shadows and Bone – this Netflix series based on the popular fantasy novel series was better than I had expected. I have a few quibbles with the plot, but it could be that the book does a better job of explaining some of the weak areas that puzzled me. My favourite characters were the Crows, the band of misfits led by Kaz Brekker, ably played by actor Freddy Carter. This show was grittier and darker than your average YA fantasy, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m glad that there is a Season 2 coming!

The Dig – I reviewed this movie about the discovery of the Sutton Hoo treasures earlier this year, so ‘tuff said. Probably my fave small-screen movie that I saw this year.

Here On the Blog

I spent a lot of time mucking around in St. Cuthbert’s grave this year and pulling out various treasures for us to examine. I really enjoyed this series and I’m glad I’ve got one more to share in 2022. The artistry and skill of the 7th century Northumbrians never fails to amaze me…

I had two author interviews, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Suzannah Rowntree and Tim Standish about their wonderful books. If you haven’t read these interviews yet, you should!

One of the posts that I really enjoyed writing was the contribution to my Battles of Anglo-Saxon England series on the Battle of Hatfield Chase. I did quite a bit of research on this, putting it all together, but I enjoyed the fascinating deep dive into history.

But probably my favourite post from this year was my reflection on what makes a good historical fantasy story. It was a good exercise for me to do a bit of a deep dive into this genre and discover what I like and what I don’t like, and why. It was a good exercise for me as a writer, and hopefully it helped you to sharpen your ideas about it, too.

Conclusion

I’m not sad to see the back of 2021, but all in all I really don’t have a lot to complain about. We’ve felt the effects of the horrible wildfires in our neighbouring province which brought thick smoke to us for part of the summer, we are currently immersed in the deep freeze over the Christmas break, and of course, COVID continued to wreck merry havoc with many hopes and plans this year.

But all in all, life has been good. So here’s to 2022! I’ll put up some thoughts and goals for the New Year in January, but in the meantime, thank you for your time and attention this year. A writer can hardly hope for more than that. Many of you have bought books or otherwise supported me this year, and I am so very grateful to each and every one of you.

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