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Top 10 of 2016: Random Favorites

Just when you thought I couldn’t drag this party out any further, here are my top 10 random favorites of 2016!

While I enjoy things like music, and podcasts, I just don’t have enough of them that I really loved from 2016 to make a proper 10 ten list. So, I figured I’d gather then all into a list of random favorites. Unlike the previous lists, this isn’t a countdown. Instead, the items are grouped by category.

So if you’d like to hear about the other things (besides movies, TV shows, books, and comics) taking up my headspace in 2016, then read on for more!

Hamilton– 2016 was the year I bit the bullet and jumped on the Hamilton train.The reason I had held off for so long? I’m not really a hip-hop fan, and felt that I would judge the show based on musical preference, rather than the quality of the work itself. Fortunately, Hamilton is just one of those musicals that transcends genre. As someone who’s a fan of the American Revolution, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it: the characters, the songs, everything. Hamilton is proof that sometimes you’ll come across a work that truly is worth all of the hype it receives. The more I listen to it, the more I love it. I hope that one day, I’ll get to see it on stage.

Lindsey Stirling– Inspired by a post in Speculative Chic, in 2016 I really delved into the work of Lindsey Stirling, a crazy-talented violinist, composer, and dancer. Now, I own and love all three of her albums (my favorite one is constantly changing), have watched the DVD of her London concert, have seen most of her music videos (there are a lot of them!) and have read and enjoyed her memoir. Lindsey Stirling’s music is enjoyable on multiple levels. The more dance focused tracks can really get me energized, and because her songs are mostly instrumentals, I find them to be perfect background noise while reading. I know that she typically releases a new album every two years, but I really hopes that she breaks tradition and releases one next year. After gorging myself on all of her music at once, waiting for something new is just torturous! 

Utada Hikaru- Fantome Sometimes the best albums aren’t the one that grab you right off the bat, but the growers. This is the perfect description for Utada Hikaru’s long awaited 6th Japanese album. The songs themselves are deceptive. With the exception of the opening track, “Michi,” they’re not the catchy electronic-fueled tunes that Hikki has become known for. Instead, Fantome is an emotionally complex album, written in the wake of great tragedy (the suicide of a mother), and cause for celebration (the birth of a son). Fantome shows that despite her years away from the spotlight, Hikki continues to grow and develop as an artist. And the results are as high quality as always.

Writing Excuses– I’ve been a big fan of the Writing Excuses Podcast for years, but last year they brought things to a whole new level with their “Elements of Genre” series. This series did a fantastic job of breaking down genres to their basest elements and figuring out what made them tick. If you’re a fiction writer and haven’t listened to Writing Excuses yet, do yourself a favor and check out this series. You’ll have to go all the way back until January of 2016 to start, but from then you’ll have a year’s worth of helpful podcasts to dive right into.

Dear Hank and John- When it comes to the podcast I listen to, I ultimately want to laugh, be informed, and spend time listening to likable people. This is something that Dear Hank and John excels at on every level. This “comedy podcast about death” is put out by John and Hank Green, the masterminds behind vlogbrothers and oodles of other youtube channels. If you enjoy vlogbrothers, or any of those other channels, you are going to love this podcast. Highly recommend. 

Pokemon Go Radio– I’ll get more into the mobile ap that has consumed my heart and soul since August this year in a bit. Until then, let’s go into my favorite Pokemon Go podcast. Much Like Dear Hank and John, Pokemon Go Radio is put out by two brothers, and is incredibly funny. The podcast succeeds in both being a fun community show, a great place to learn about the latest updates to the ap, as well as a place to trade tips and tricks for gym battles. You can play Pokemon Go just fine without listening to this show, but if you want to play smart, then listen to Pokemon Go Radio

BlackNerdComedy- There’s a lot of great nerd-focused content on youtube. From SuperCarlinBrothers and their love for everything Disney/Pixar, to EmergencyAwesome‘s great coverage of comic book TV. But Andre from BlackNerdComedy has to be my favorite. He just brings this wonderful sense of genuine enthusiasm to the topic at hand. It doesn’t matter whether he’s talking about the latest big comic book movie trailer, or the so-bad-its-good movie Nine Lives (seriously, watch this video, it’s one of my favorites), but Andre’s nerdy/nostalgia fueled content is always a joy to watch. I look forward to see what he releases in 2017.

MyGreenCloset- I’m a bit of a sucker for beauty/fashion vloggers, but am not a fan of the excess that can come along with the genre. The perfect cure for this is Verena Erin’s MyGreenCloset. This minimalist shows that you can be excited about beauty without posting a single haul video, and care about fashion without sacrificing your ethics. Verena has recently upped the amount of videos that creates, and I enjoy watching every single one she posts. There’s just something so wonderfully calming about the way she speaks.

Pokemon Go– I know this is showing up on a lot of “worst of the year” lists if because of how many people have jumped ship. But I’m still here! Despite the fact that it can get pretty buggy, I am OBSESSED with Pokemon Go. It’s gotten me out of my house, and forced me explore new parts of my community Hell, I even bought a new phone so I could play (RIP Nancy’s old iphone 4). Months later, I am still completely on board with this game, and have 125 Pokemon in my Pokedex. The question is now, will I be able to complete my North America Pokedex before gen 2 is launched? The race against time is on!

Speculative Chic– This one is a little self serving, but Speculative Chic isn’t a project that I would be committing too, week after week if I wasn’t really excited about it. Speculative Chis is a fanzine that I, and several other awesome geeky ladies contribute to. We review books, discuss the latest movies, as well as make posts about TV shows. comics, video games, music and more. This year, I wrote several columns about comic books and superheroes, edited a weekly column called “My Favorite Things,” and contributed to many great group posts. You can find an archive of all of my posts here. Going forward, I will be sharing my posts here on Picking up the Pen as well (I’m thinking about doing an “in review” type post at the end of each month), but there are plenty of great posts that I have 100% nothing to do with. So do yourself a favor and check out Speculative Chic in the meantime. Even if I wasn’t a columnist, I would still be a fan.

Honorable Mentions: instagram (ap), Garnier Miceller Cleansing Water (skin care), Sword and Laser (podcast)

And that’s it! I’m closing the door on 2016. Doing these were a lot of fun, and helped to motivate me to dig into this blog again. I promise not to abandon you for several months again. One of my 2017 goals is to blog here at least once a week, after all. As far as the rest of those goals, well that’s going to be a future post. See you then!


Top 10 of 2016: Books

With movies and television taken care of, it’s time to tackle the category that is probably the nearest and dearest to my heart- books!

This list includes my favorite books of 2016. To simplify things, I’m only including books I experienced for the first time in the past year (as much as I enjoyed rereading the Glamourist Histories). Not all of these books are 2016 releases, but some of them are. Interestingly, I couldn’t help but noticing that as I was compiling this list, I ended up picking quite a few nonfiction titles. And while I certainly read more nonfiction this year then I have in the past, it didn’t make up THAT much of my reading, proportionally. Perhaps I just ended up choosing really good nonfiction titles!

Same as my last two lists, this is a countdown! So the number one book IS my number one book of the year.

10. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin– Clearly, the world agrees with my on The Fifth Season‘s awesomeness, as it won the Hugo Award this year! The Fifth Season works for me for three reasons. The characters are complex, the world building is fascinating, and the way the book is structured is fascinating for me as a writer. I have no excuse for having not read the sequel (The Obelisk Gate) yet. Don’t worry, I feel the shame.

9. The House of Hades by Rick Riordan– One of the things I tried to do this year is catch up on Rick Riordan’s Mythology books. And I did great, until The Hammer of Thor was published, and now I’m behind again (d’oh!). My favorite of them all was The House of Hades, which brought our characters into new and interesting directions, my favorite being Percy and Annabeth’s journey through Tartarus, where they must face their slain enemies. Really good stuff.

8. Cinder by Marissa Meyer– I actually read all four books in The Lunar Chronicles this year (plus the spin off novella Fairest. The short story collection, Stars Above, is still in my TBR). I felt like the strongest was the first book Cinder. It’s not that the later books were bad. I just prefer the smaller, more personal focus of the earlier books. Cinder does a fantastic job of retelling the Cinderella story in a sci-fi setting. I’m impressed at how well Meyer took a fairytale lead particularly lacking in agency and crafted a really satisfying protagonist out of her. The romance was also top notch.

7. The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard- The Story of Stuff is a fascinating look into the lifespan of the things we own, from how the raw materials are gathered, up until after it’s been thrown away. Throughout this process, The Story of Stuff takes a close look on its impact on the environment, and the people who live it. The Story of Stuff will dramatically change how you look at the stuff in you life, from the cotton t-shirt on your back, to the cellphone in your pocket, and it manages to deliver an immense amount of information in a way that both informative and highly entertaining. This book should be required reading in high schools.

6. Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold– I read a few of the Vorkosigan books during 2016 but my favorite- by far- was Borders of Infinity. This collection of three very different novellas tells three satisfying Miles Vorkosigan stories, tied together by unrelated framing story. This is a wonderful addition to an already wonderful series. I suspect it will be satisfying to both new and existing fans of the series. I fangirled about this one over at Speculative Chic this fall. 

5. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah– I’ve read my fair share of comedic memoirs, but Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime completely changed how I view the genre as a whole. On top of being funny, Born a Crime is also chock full of information about horrors of apartheid and its aftermath. The level of poverty the now cheerful host of The Daily Show experienced in his youth will be unfathomable to the vast majority of the book’s western audience. We talk a lot about checking your privilege nowadays, and that’s so important, especially when it comes to realizing what privilege really means in the context of the wider world. Born a Crime is a book that often left me in tears, which doesn’t happen all that often. I highly recommend reading this, even if you don’t watch The Daily Show.

4. The Supergirls by Mike Madrid- I write a lot about superheroes over at Speculative Chic. In preparation for that, I decided to brush up on my background reading. I started off with The Supergirls, by Mike Madrid, which is all about the history of female characters in comics. I had no idea that on top of being informative, that it would be such a page turner as well. Madrid clearly cares about the women he writes about here, and his enthusiasm comes through on every page. This is 100% recommended to anyone with any kind of interest in the role that female characters have played in comics from the Golden Age to the early 2000s.

3. City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong– I’ve been a big fan of Kelley Armstrong since I first picked up Bitten when I was in college, so the fact that she continues to wow me with great material, ten years later, really says a lot. City of the Lost is a fantastic thriller/murder mystery that takes things the next level thanks to its unique setting (focusing on a small community of people who live off the grid), tough-as-nails lead (have I mentioned recently that I have a weakness for awesome lady cops in my fiction?), and steamy romance (I thought I was going to hate it, but I was so on board by the end). I am chomping at the bit for the second Casey Duncan book A Darkness Absolute, which is supposed to be released this February. 

2. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda– A behind the scenes look at Hamilton, this tome-sized book chronicles the evolution of the musical from its initial inception up and through its runaway Broadway success. To fans of Hamilton, I could not recommend this book more. It’s like someone has handed you all of the hidden secrets of the musical. The fact that it contains the entire script (with footnotes from LMM!), and gorgeous photos is a wonderful bonus. If you’re a Hamilton fan and haven’t read Hamilton: The Revolution, do yourself a favor and hit up your local library.

1. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron– And now we get to my favorite book of the year, the newest book in my favorite series, The Heartstrikers. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished continues the story of Julian Heartstriker, the one nice dragon of a clan of greedy dragons, trying to get by in a post apocalyptic world. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished has a distinctly political air, and the fact that I found is so enjoyable during a year when real-life politics thoroughly depressed me, says a lot about the quality of Rachel Aaron’s writing. I know that she’s currently hard at work at the fourth book, and I can’t wait to dig into it. 

Honorable Mentions: Imago by Octavia Butler, A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

So those were my favorite reads of 2016. I’d love to hear how everyone else’s reading year went.

Next up, comics and graphic novels!