Monday, January 20, 2020

Favorite Movies Watched in 2019

And....drumroll! Time for my annual recap of all the movies I watched last year, plus my picks for favorites. Note that not all of these movies were released in 2019; these are just the ones I watched last year.

I reviewed just 16 movies last year, compared to 22 in 2018 (though I didn't have time to review every movie I saw). We are definitely watching fewer movies as the TV options continue to expand and improve. You can see the full list and genres below, with my favorites marked with *, but I only review movies that I like, so all of the movies listed below are worth watching. I didn't see any documentaries (second year in a row!). It was tough to categorize many of the movies, so some of my choices are sort of random. More and more, movies are blurring the genre lines: funny mysteries, dramas with plenty of humor, musical comedy dramas, etc. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood alone could have gone into three different categories! I saw a lot more movies in theaters the past two years, so more of these are recent releases than usual for me. Thank you, recliner theaters!

You can see my full list of movie reviews, covering several years at the Movie Reviews tab.

And now, for my top picks - do I have to choose? Some of these are very tough choices:

 Best Action/Suspense/Thriller
Classic action thriller and dark, gripping drama

Best Drama
Everything I saw in this category was great but Lion blew me away.

Best Comedy
Knives Out
So many great funny movies! This humorous whodunit took the prize.

Best Sci Fi/Fantasy

Best Musical Drama
Music, warm drama, comedy - this uplifting movie had it all and we both loved it!

I created this category for this movie because it is SO good, combining drama, humor, and suspense with a hefty dose of nostalgia and a very clever twist.

What were your favorite movies watched in 2019?

All Movies Reviewed in 2019:
My favorites are marked with *, but I only review movies I enjoy, so all of these are worth a try:
Secret in Their Eyes
* Shaft 
* Widows

* The Art of Racing in the Rain
* El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie 
* Lion
* Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

* Edge of Seventeen
* Like Father
Murder Mystery
* Knives Out

* Smart People 

Sci Fi/Fantasy
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald
* Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Musical Drama
* Yesterday

It's Monday 1/20! What Are You Reading?

Whew, busy week! Lots of appointments, doctors, etc. but some fun stuff, too, with both friends and family. I went out with my two closest friends for a long overdue meet-up Friday night, for dinner and a movie. Our three sons have been best friends since Kindergarten (in their 20's now), and we used to see each other once a week. Life's just been crazy lately! I think this was the first time all three of us got together since November.

Then, on Saturday, my husband and I took our sons to dinner and to see Jersey Boys at our local theater - this was one of my Christmas gifts to my three men. It was nice to have time together, and the show was wonderful!! I smiled from beginning to end (and sang along, quietly). Such a fun show with incredible music; even our 20-something sons recognized many of the songs.

Now, my husband is off on a business trip, and my son and I have more appointments scheduled this week! Hoping for some quiet time otherwise, though.

And, of course, quiet time means...BOOKS! Here's what we've all been reading this past week:

I finished reading Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, a Christmas gift from my son. I've wanted to read this novel since its release in early 2018, and it appeared on many Best of 2018 lists that year. It definitely lived up to my expectations! The novel is told in 3 separate but connected parts. In part 1, called Folly, a young assistant editor named Alice falls into a romance with a much older, famous writer named Ezra Blazer in the years after 9/11. Part 2, Madness, centers on an Iraqi-American man named Amar who gets stopped in customs at Heathrow while trying to visit his brother in Kurdistan and spends the weekend in a holding room there, all while flashing back to his childhood, college years, and earlier visits to the war-torn region and how it differs from the only home he has ever known, in America. Part 3 pulls things together in a very clever, unique way. The writing is exquisite and completely pulled me into each story, making me care about the characters and wondering how their stories would eventually intersect. It is a thoughtful, intricate set of stories filled with details that make you feel as if you really know these people. It is sticking with me, too; I find myself still thinking about it a week later.

Now, I am reading Recursion by Blake Crouch, a sci fi novel I have been dying to read! I really loved the author's novel, Dark Matter, and got this newer novel for my husband's birthday last fall ... so I had to wait for him to read it first! I can't say too much about the plot without spoiling it, but the narrative starts out moving back and forth between two characters: Barry, an NYPD detective, in 2018, and Helena, a neuroscientist hoping to discover a way to help her mother and others with Alzheimer's preserve some of their memories, in 2007. The premise deals with memory, time, and perception in that super-twisty, mind-blowing way that Crouch demonstrated in Dark Matter, too. I love this kind of thought-provoking stuff! As expected, I am completely immersed in the original and compelling story and can't wait to get back to it (and staying up too late at night reading). Both Dark Matter and Recursion are listed as movies in development, which makes me very, very happy!

On audio, I am continuing my focus in January on books I've wanted to read for a long time, listening to A Man Called Ove, my first-ever Fredrik Backman! I've heard such great things about this novel, its author, and all the other novels Backman has written since. The novel begins by describing the daily routines of Ove, a grumpy, solitary man living in Sweden who's recently been forced into an early retirement that he never wanted. Ove is very practical and wants to be useful, but he is also set in his ways and quite judgemental about those who approach life differently than he does! As the story progresses, the reader/listener discovers Ove is dealing with some serious challenges. Quite against his will, he begins to get to know some of his neighbors. I started laughing from the very first minutes of listening and also appreciate the emotional depth, so I am definitely enjoying it so far.

My husband, Ken, finished reading a new Christmas gift that our son gave him, The Raven Tower by Anne Leckie. The two of them enjoy the same kind of fantasy novels (they are also watching Game of Thrones together on DVD), so our son had fun picking this one out for his dad (he hasn't read it yet, either). I see that this is Leckie's first fantasy novel, but she has won Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke awards, so she must be a good writer! Patrick Rothfus, an author whom they both enjoy, said of this novel, "It's a delight to read something so different, so wonderful and strange." Ken said it was indeed quite different and not his typical kind of book, but he did enjoy it. I'm sure our son will want to borrow it now that his dad has finished it - like mother, like son! 

Our son, 25, is still reading The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, part of The Witcher series. It's a prequel explaining how the main character got his Witcher start. You have probably heard all the hype recently about the new Netflix TV show (and apparently, a best-selling video game, too) based on this book series, and even though he hadn't read the books yet (usually a requirement in our house), my son jumped into the Netflix show the first day it was released and is enjoying season 1. So, when he received The Last Wish as a Christmas gift, he quickly set his other book aside to read it. He's enjoying it so far and says that having watched the TV show isn't ruining the book for him, since the action in this book takes place before the TV series. He's loving both!

Last week's blog posts were all related to 2019 Wrap-Ups! Check out my favorites of 2019 (top movies to come later today):
Favorite TV Shows Reviewed in 2019 - my top picks plus the complete list - all great shows!

Books Read in December & 2019 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

Best Books Read in 2019 - my reading stats, top picks, and best of lists - great reading year!

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.   

What are you and your family reading this week?

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Best Books Read in 2019

Finally, here it is--I know you've all been waiting--my wrap-up of my 2019 reading year and picks for my favorite books! I'm a bit late because I read a lot of books in December, so it took me a while to catch up on all the reviews.

First, I'll share some stats and fun facts about my 2019 reading year, then my top picks, and finally, my Top 10 (or whatever) lists in each category. I read some outstanding books last year, so these were tough choices! You can see a complete list, with links to reviews, of all the books I've read in recent years on my Book Reviews page.

Stats and Facts

NOTE: the numbers in ( )  are my 2018 stats, for comparison.
Total Books Read in 2019 = 87 (88)

Adult Fiction = 50 (45)
Nonfiction = 14 (17)
Teen/YA = 12 (15)
Middle-Grade = 12 (10)
Graphic Novel/Memoir = 15 (11)
Audiobooks = 27 (28)
(note that categories overlap)

Women authors = 54 = 62% (43 = 49%)
Diverse books = 37 = 43% (22 = 25%)
From My Own Shelves = 45 = 52% (33 = 38%)

You can also see how I did on my 2019 Reading Challenges.

Top Picks - Best of the Best

Best Adult Novel
(loved it so much in April, I am re-reading it next month!)

Best Nonfiction
The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
(powerful, moving true story, especially on audio)

Best Memoir
Becoming by Michelle Obama
(moving, powerful, warm, and funny & great on audio) 
Best Teen/YA
Threatened by Eliot Schrefer  
(wonderful novel and inspired me to read Jane Goodall's memoir)

Best Middle-Grade
 Remarkables by Margaret Peterson Haddix
(unique premise & in-depth characters)

  Best Graphic Novel
Old Souls by Brian MacDonald and Les McClaine
(compelling, chilling story about reincarnation)

Best Audio Book
Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt 
(warm, funny memoir about grief, family, and moving forward)

Top Ten (or whatever) Lists of 2019
(each list is in no particular order, and some books appear on more than one list)

Top 11 Novels
The Likeness by Tana French
My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee 
The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
True Grit by Charles Portis
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead   
Plus Honorable Mentions to these 3 which were re-reads 2019 and are STILL on my Best Of list!
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Top 8 Nonfiction Books
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt
An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography by Paul Rusesabagina, with Tom Zoellner
Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman

Top 5 Teen/YA Books
Grimoire Noir by Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch  
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Threatened by Eliot Schrefer
Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman

Top 5 Middle-Grade Books
Guts by Raina Telgemeier
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
Remarkables by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Stargazing by Jen Wang
Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm   

Top 5 Graphic Novels/Memoirs
Grimoire Noir by Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch
Guts by Raina Telgemeier  
Old Souls by Brian MacDonald and Les McClaine
Stargazing by Jen Wang
Top 10 Audio Books
Becoming by Michelle Obama  
The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh
The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Remarkables by Margaret Peterson Haddix
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman
The Widows by Jess Montgomery