Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Year-End Wrap-Up

My most liked Instagram pics of 2016. From top left: A used bookstore in Jimbocho, Tokyo; a new keyboard; crackers and cheese for the Readathon; The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder by Rachel McMillan; a Sherlock word poster; southwest sunset; moi at the Hollywood Roosevelt; Calypso wants a cookie; and geisha in Kyoto.

The end is nigh... The end of the year, anyway. I know a lot of my internet peeps are happy to see 2016 out, but personally I had a pretty good year. I got to go to Japan (!!!), which was amazing; I published my first cocktail book, The Introvert's Guide to Drinking Alone; and my friends and family are all healthy and happy (insofar as the existential horrors and toil of daily life allows, of course). All told, 2016's probably been one of the better years I've had in awhile.

hakone open air museum
My personal favorite photograph that I took in 2016.

But enough of that, let's talk about something we really care about: books! I did not read many books this year at all (according to Goodreads the count is currently up to 85), but on the plus side there were more high points than there were last year. Some books of note:

the hating game
Favorite Romance Novel: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

This is by far the best romance I read this year, maybe even in several years. I'm a sucker for books where the hero and heroine fight all the time, but Thorne takes it to another level by making Lucy and Joshua's "games" hilarious and ridiculously entertaining. These two had crazy-ass chemistry and their romance was so intense I never wanted to put the book down. Plus the entire world of Lucy and Joshua and their office is wonderfully realized and fleshed out. If you're wondering if the hype about this book is true, it is. Read it!!

a study in charlotte
Favorite Sherlock Adaptation: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

I read quite a few Sherlock adaptations this year (shocking, I know), but my favorite of all was A Study in Charlotte, a YA novel narrated by the modern-day descendant of John Watson, Jamie Watson, and featuring the misadventures of Sherlock Holmes' great-great-great granddaughter, Charlotte Holmes. There was some pretty dark stuff going on in this book, but it never turned dour, thanks to Jamie's self-deprecating humor. There were also a ton of fun easter eggs for fans of the original Conan Doyle stories. Can't wait for the next volume!

drops of god
Best Binge-Worthy Series: Drops of God by Tadashi Agi

I spent most of July mainlining this manga series, which follows the adventures of Shizuku, son of a famous wine critic, and Miyabi, his friend and a sommelier-in-training. The plot revolves around Shizuku trying to figure out what the "12 Apostles" of wine are before his rival, Issei Tomine, does. It sounds like a nutty basis for a manga, but it totally works. I love the multi-dimensional characters, the storyline feels like it moves organically, and the art is absolutely gorgeous. Even if I didn't enjoy learning about wine, I'd still be all about this series.

drops of god
Tasting DRC Richebourg, Drops of God, art by Shu Okimoto

and then there were none
Favorite Classic/Audiobook: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

I'm not a huge fan of Agatha Christie, but after watching And Then There Were None on PBS, I was curious enough to give the audiobook a try. First of all, Dan freaking Stevens. It's so nice to hear his voice. I missed him so much! Second of all, even if you're completely familiar with the plot, the story is still a compulsive read. It's not about ten strangers stranded on an island so much as it is about moral ambiguity and facing personal demons. All of the characters deserve what they get, yet there's a sense of horror in their comeuppance nonetheless. While I would have preferred it if Christie had left the question of whodunnit unanswered, this is one of those deceptively simple novels that nearly anyone can get into.

marrying winterbourne
Biggest Disappointment: Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas

This was probably my most anticipated book of 2016. I loved Cold-Hearted Rake, Kleypas' previous novel in this series. But what I loved MOST about that book was the romance between Lady Helen and the department store magnate, Rhys Winterborne, which ended in a cliffhanger to TBC in this book. I was all set to be swept up in their romance, but it's hard to be swept into a story when NOTHING FREAKING HAPPENS. I swear to god I felt like I was watching paint dry. For the first half of the book, every other paragraph was exposition and backstory. DO. NOT. CARE. I nearly DNF'd it and I have never said that about a Kleypas book, not even the ones I thought were stupid. Total waste of time.

the black widow
Runner-Up: The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

I'm not even sure I should count this one, since I kind of abandoned it 50 pages in. Not in a firm DNF way, more of in a I-don't-really-want-to-read-this-right-now-and-oh-look-it's-due-at-library-shrug-oh-well kind of way. Usually Silva can pull me right into a story, but that didn't happen with this book, and I think part of the reason was the politics. Of course all of Silva's novels are political, but in this one it felt like the political aspect overshadowed everything else, including the plot and character development. I just wasn't in the mood to deal with it. This might be the book where Silva and I part ways.

a lady in the smoke
Favorite Mystery/Debut Author: A Lady in the Smoke by Karen Odden

Finally, I have to mention A Lady in the Smoke, a book that has pretty much everything I could ask for from a Victorian mystery: trains, romance, aristocratic ladies hiding their true identity, family secrets, crusading journalists, a scrappy pickpocket that could give Artful Dodger a run for his money. There were a few boring sections, but by the end I was an extremely satisfied reader. The romance subplot was really well-done, too. I hope Odden publishes more books in the future!

2016 By The Numbers:

  • 85 books total (a lot less than I wanted to read, tbh)
  • 17 of those books were romance (probably the first time since I started keeping track on Goodreads that romance hasn't accounted for at least half of my reading)
  • 19 books were mysteries
  • Only 3 were classics. Compare that to 2015, where I read 19 classics
  • 23 books were by male authors, 56 were by female authors, and 6 were either a male/female team or idk–pretty much the same percentages as last year
  • Of those 23 books by male authors, nearly half were nonfiction reads: 10
  • 22 books were published in 2016, less than last year

Tell me about your reading highlights this year!

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday Snapshot

Sophie is ready for winter.
I was planning to do this Sunday, then time got away from me. So instead of a Sunday Snapshot, this week we have a Monday Snapshot!

Currently Reading:

Black Ice by Anne Stuart: I thought I'd read this one before, but now I'm not sure. I remember literally nothing about it.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: Decided to finally give this book a try.


A lot!


rogue one
Rogue One, starring Felicity Jones and Diego Luna

I went into this movie only knowing that it was a "Star Wars story." In some ways it's everything you'd expect from a Star Wars movie: a ragtag group of unlikely companions, consisting of droids, Rebel Alliance soldiers, criminals, misfits, and reluctant heroes, join together to fight the big bad Empire. In other ways it deviates from the Star Wars franchise dramatically. The first hint that this isn't your typical Star Wars movie is the soundtrack: while Alexandre Desplat's score has hints of Star Wars' iconic orchestration, it's darker and more muted. There's also no scrolling summary of where we are in the story as there have been with all the previous Star Wars movies, so it took me a while to figure that out.

But the major difference between this movie and the other Star Wars films is that the Star Wars franchise specializes in campy adventure. Entertaining adventure, but campy nonetheless. Rogue One, on the other hand, is closer in tone to a WWII movie. There are few "good guys" and "bad guys": both the Rebels and Empire do terrible things that are morally ambiguous at best, and what victories they gain seem small considering the cost. One might be left wondering if it was at all worth it, if one hadn't seen episodes 3-6. It's like Star Wars for grown-ups, basically.

As for whether or not I enjoyed it, at first the movie felt very episodic and pulpy, but once Jynna met with Saw Gerrera, the story sucked me in. The cinematography and acting are both top-notch. The script could have used a little (lot) more character development and the "inspiring speeches" were just like, whatevs. But I'm willing to forgive a lot in this movie because the last scene with Darth Vader was so awesome and badass.

If you like Star WarsRogue One is worth seeing. It's light years better than Lucas' wreck of a prequel, and more original than The Force Awakens.

This week in heidenkindom:

Less than a week till Christmas! Is anyone ready? If you are, you're leaps and bounds ahead of me. I have nothing wrapped, a mere scoach of presents and cards sent out, and I haven't even finished shopping yet. Awful. But I'm sure it will all get done. Eventually. Then I'll be bored. It's a never-ending cycle.

Anyway, if I don't post next Sunday, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas filled with hygge, cookies, friends, family, Netflixing, and reading. Happy holidays!


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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Virtual Advent 2016: Favorite Christmas Albums

virtual advent blog tour

The Virtual Advent is hosted by Sprite Writes. You can check out all the Advent stops on Sprite's blog. Thanks for hosting again this year, Sprite!

Usually for Virtual Advent, I share my favorite "not holiday" movies, but this year I decided to switch it up a bit and focus on something else I enjoy: music.

Back in the days before iTunes and listening to music on your computer, people listened to albums. While I'm A-okay with shuffling my 8,000-song library at any given time, when it comes to Christmas I still gravitate toward listening to one album at a time. Maybe it's because there's something nostalgic about it; maybe it's because holiday albums help set a mood where listening to a random selection of singles can't. Or maybe it feels like it slows life down just a bit to pick out an album and then pay attention to it instead of having a continuous loop of music playing.

Either way, I enjoy my Christmas albums, but of course I have some favorites that I thought I'd share to put you in the holiday spirit. Remember Christmas Day is only one week away!

the little drummer boy a christmas festival
The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival by the Harry Simeone Chorale

This was a record (an actual record; I still have it) that my grandparents owned and I was OBSESSED with when I was little. I would listen to it over and over and over. It basically tells the story of Christmas (the Jesus one, not like A Christmas Story) through traditional carols. It might seem strange that a young child would be that into a Christmas album like this, but what can I say. I was a strange kid. You can stream the entire album on YouTube.

john denver and the muppets christmas album
A Christmas Together by John Denver and the Muppets

This is another childhood favorite. As a kid growing up in the '80s, of course I loved the Muppets, and my mom was a huge John Denver fan, so that was win-win for the whole family right there. My favorite songs on this one are Miss Piggy's rendition of Christmas is Coming, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

You can also stream this one on YouTube!

peter paul and mary christmas album
A Holiday Celebration by Peter Paul and Mary

Another group my mom was really into was Peter Paul and Mary. This is probably why I love folk music today. Anyway, it's not Christmas without the PP&M Christmas album! I love the mix of unusual Christmas carols on this album, especially Light One Candle (which I guess isn't a Christmas song per se) and A Soalin'.

This is another album streamable on YouTube, you lucky ducks.

a colbert christmas
A Colbert Christmas, the Greatest Gift of All! by Stephen Colbert, et. al.

How do I love Stephen Colbert, let me count the ways. This album–and the Christmas special it comes from–is a pure, subversive delight from start to finish. A few of my favorite songs include Toby Keith's Have I Got a Present for You and John Legend's Nutmeg. Stephen and Elvis Costello singing There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In always makes me cry, because I am a sap.

weezer christmas album
Christmas with Weezer, by Weezer

If you're tired of caroling and want to put some electric guitar and drums into your holiday carols (and who doesn't), Christmas with Weezer is perfect! There appears to be several versions of this album available online, but it's short and fun no matter which you choose. I particularly adore their rendition of O Holy Night.

michael buble christmas album
Christmas by Michael Bublé

I feel like I spent my entire adult life waiting for Michael Bublé to put out a Christmas album. Is that weird? Anyway, he finally did, and of course his voice is like butter and he's basically the Frank Sinatra of our time, so. You can stream it on YouTube, or! stream any of his annual Christmas specials as well.

What are some of your favorite Christmas albums?

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Snapshot – Of Beasties and Blinds

Graffiti in the "Golden Gai" section of Tokyo.

Currently Reading:

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie: It seems like it took forever for Miss Marple to show up.


Reviews of three books about or related to wine over at Book Riot.


deadpool movie
Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin

I'll admit that when this movie first came out, I didn't want to see it because the previews made me think, "Hey, I have enough misogyny in my life; let's not introduce any more into it." Plus, I've been highly suspicious of comic book movies everyone loves ever since Guardians of the Galaxy put me to sleep TWICE.

However, I was wrong, and I apologize. I knew this movie would have my undying loyalty when the opening credits listed "Writers: the true heroes of this story." It was entertaining from start to finish and I loved the sarcastic humor of Wade/Deadpool. I also thought Morena Baccarin, whom I shall always think of as Inara, did an excellent job. Yes, it had dark humor, but it was the kind of dark humor where you tell someone they suck because you love them so much. Warm fuzzies all around. It wasn't even that misogynistic by Hollywood standards. Can't wait for the sequel!

fantastic beasts and where to find them
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, starring Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston

Newt Scamander travels to New York City by ship (apparently wizards can't apparate across oceans; don't ask me why because I wouldn't be able to tell you) with a bagful of invasive, non-native magical species. Naturally, they get loose and wreak havoc, but that seems like the least of Newt's problems once the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA, rhymes with yakuza) gets involved, all worried the muggles will figure out magic exists.

This is an excellent film, from beginning to end and top to bottom. Everything is on point and wonderfully executed: the script, the art direction, the special effects, the acting. Redmayne does a fantastic job, not that I'd expect anything less from him; but the actor who stole the show for me was Alison Sudol, who plays Queenie. That's a difficult character to make likeable and give depth to, but she managed it perfectly. I knew as soon as I saw her I recognized her from somewhere, but IMDb was completely unhelpful. Then I realized she's the singer known as A Fine Frenzy! She also writes screenplays and movie soundtracks. A very talented woman; keep an out for her.

Anyway, there's absolutely no reason not to like this movie, and I did enjoy it. But at the same time it didn't pull at my emotions or suck me into the story the way the Harry Potter movies and books do. Idk, maybe if I'd read the book first I'd have been more engaged. Still, definitely a brilliant film. You won't be wasting your money if you go see it.

This Week In Heidenkindom:

Whelp, I haven't gotten any Christmas shopping done yet and I'm buried in work. But instead of taking care of any of that today, I decided to fix a blind in my bedroom that's been broken since the Bush administration. The online instructions said it wouldn't only take 20-30 minutes!

ha ha no

The project was beset with difficulties from the very beginning:

  • Couldn't get the end pieces off. Had to ask my dad for help.
  • Couldn't find a needle to thread the new strings through the blind. Jerry-rigged an ornament hook for the job instead.
  • Strings kept falling off the guides, so I had to ask my mom to hold them while I slid the end pieces back on.
  • Re-threading the cord lock was impossible. Had to ask my dad for help again. He said, "On a scale of difficulty this is an 11 out of 10."
  • FINALLY got the whole thing put back together. Stuck it back up on the blind brackets. Pulled the cord. Brackets broke and the whole thing crashed down on top of me.

cats in blinds

I am so done. Who needs blinds anyway.


holiday cocktails

Check out these winter cocktail recipes from Penny Watson over at Book Bloggers International.

Have an awesome week, everyone. Drink safely.

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