September Favorites

Plus August Favorites, because we’re late writing this.

August Favorites

Life is Strange, decision based video game

I downloaded the first episode (of five) of Life is Strange just looking for something new to play, as I’ve been out of gaming lately. This was the perfect choice, especially while I was working. I’m more of a story girl, less of a combat girl (unless I’m saving the galaxy from Reapers, pew pew.) so this was a really nice way to unwind from wishing hundreds of people a good morning or afternoon. This game is now one of my favorites; the story is a compelling mystery as you uncover what happened to missing girl Rachel Amber, while also meddling with the protagonist’s newfound ability to reverse time. What I respected most was the bold decisions the game makes–there were several nights I went to bed still reeling from what had just happened in the game. It has a powerful emotional connection, whether the emotion is guilt, grief, or fear. I’ve been recommending it to all my gaming friends (cough, cough, and my husband) but they have yet to play it all the way through. It’s available on Steam, Xbox, and Playstation. (So there’s no excuse!) Come on guys, it’s mind blowing. Do it. -A

Philomena, film available on Netflix

A newly unemployed BBC journalist helps an elderly Irish woman find her long lost son. I was sure I knew how this film would end. When my predicted ending happened twenty minutes into the film, I thought, “Okay, what now?” Usually when this happens (being a playwright and having training in screenwriting as well) the film becomes wandering and aimless as the pacing is off. This film continued to surprise me with each plot point. A funny at times, painful at times lesson on forgiving those who have done you irreparable wrong, this film is probably in my top thirty films. -A

TheLife Changing Magic of Tidying Up, book by Marie Kondo

I’ve been eyeing this best seller for sometime, but I picked it up and read it at work as we prepared to move. If you haven’t heard of this book, it’s one of the corner stones of the popular new minimalism movement in the United States. The approach is this: you go around your house and hold every item and ask yourself if the item brings you joy. If it does, you keep it; if it doesn’t, you donate it. This was the perfect thing to do before we began packing, and we donated or threw away at least a hundred garbage bags of unwanted items. I can’t tell you what was in the bags, but we’re both glad to be rid of them. -A

Stranger Things, a Netflix exclusive television series

What to say about Stranger Things. When I recommended this show to Amanda, the way I pitched it was simple: if I ever made a television show, it would be this. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “This is the show I’d love to make.” Something strange (sorry) happens about a third of the way through the season – I saw it happen with Amanda, and I know it happened to me. The opening credits, with that synth theme music and flickering neon lettering, transforms into something new.

I told Amanda at the beginning of the second episode, “I love this part, it’s my favorite bit – right there, when the wings come out from the letters,” and she laughed. It wasn’t until episode four or so that I saw the gleam in her eyes during those very same credits, and knew the show had found her in ways only wonderful stories ever can. Stranger Things is about so many things it’s hard to boil down to a phrase, but I think at the end of the day it’s a story about heroism, about family, and about friendship. It’s an emotional, morally courageous story disguised as a science fiction, which in my opinion is the best sort of story there is. -R

Halo Top Ice Cream

We’ve been on a Keto diet (low carb and sugar) for five months now after finding out Ries is pre-diabetic. Which makes us very sad when it comes to ice cream, because we both love it, but one serving often has half of our daily carb allowance (50g of net carbs or less.) This ice cream is being advertised as a “healthy” ice cream (it’s still ice cream, guys) with higher protein, lower carbs, and is sweetened mostly with natural, plant based sweeteners xylitol and stevia, both of which don’t raise your blood sugar. My favorite is the birthday cake flavor, but I’ve seen posts about new flavors coming out soon. -A

Pillars of Eternity, RPG video game

He wants to bury the dead. A simple desire. Yet something about him unsettles me; in my mind’s eye, he’s looking to the left, looking to the right. He shifts on his feet, laughs too often, his teeth gleam in the light from my torch. I press him with questions but he answers evasively. Time is running out, and I have a bigger mission. I agree to help him. I fear I will regret it.

Two hours later I learn the truth and it is worse than I imagined. I take the headphones from my head and rub my face with my hands. Chills raise goosebumps on my arms. I knew he was hiding something. I was right.

Pillars of Eternity is a game that reminds me why I love gaming. The graphics – while utterly beautiful – are intentionally vague and leave much to the imagination. A deep fantasy universe with written cutscenes straight out of a novel, unforgiving gameplay mechanics which perfectly emulate the RPG style of Baldur’s Gate, and a haunting soundtrack combine to make the best PC experience I’ve had in many years. Not for the faint of heart. -R

Sabriel, fantasy novel by Garth Nix

When your heroine employs bells and a sword as her primary weapons, you know you’re in for a treat. Sabriel, the children’s fantasy by Garth Nix, is a strange little impossibility of a book. On the one hand, it’s not written very well (Sorry, Garth) but on the other hand, it’s so engrossing that it hardly matters. Books are sometimes blasted for “style over substance,” but with Sabriel almost felt it was an example of substance over style. There was a lesson to be learned here, too, for all the would-be writers in the world: a book doesn’t need to be pretty to be good. I would argue, in fact, that books like Sabriel are the nobler art - they are by their nature inclusive, and do not alienate readers the way many of their reputable cousins do. I am thinking now of the Thomas Covenant books, by Stephen Donaldson. While I admired Lord Foul’s Bane, there was something inaccessible about it. The words were chilly as stone.Sabriel doesn’t have that problem. It is a warm book with warm characters, housed in sentences too small for their souls. I loved it. -R

The Little Prince, a Netflix animated film

The Little Prince is a tricky film. It’s beautiful to behold and charming to consider, but beneath the storybook veneer there are razors black as night. One cannot help but feel while watching that there’s a severity to the film which is misrepresented by its color palette and method of delivery; the puppets inhabit a merciless world, magic notwithstanding. Light on morals but heavy on thought, The Little Prince charmed and dismayed me in equal measure. I waited to learn something from the film, but in the end I didn’t learn much. I felt much as I did after reading Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist – that I had witnessed something profound, but was unable to decipher its meaning. -R

September Favorites

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Yeah, yeah, I’m late getting on the train with this one again. Already a crowd favorite, this is an impressive collection of poetry, especially for a twenty-something. I think the first section is probably the best–the poems though short are razor sharp. -A

Uprooted, fantasy novel by Naomi Novik

Once in a while, a book comes along that saves me. I don’t mean it saves my life – my life is hardly in jeopardy, I think – but I do mean it saves my passion for narrative. Storytelling is a marathon of an endeavor. Sometimes, it’s easy to get discouraged - to feel like no book exists which can whisk you away the way books “used to.” The more you practice at writing, the more the cracks begin to show in all the stories you read. It all begins to pale, to feel rather futile. Bit by bit, the magic withers.

Then lightning strikes.

This time around, lightning came in the form of a book called Uprooted. I can’t say enough about it. It’s been a while since I looked for excuses to read (I think the last time I felt so passionate about a story and its characters was probably the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown) and Uprooted had me reading during every ten minute slot of time I could afford it. A wonderful fantasy with a terrifying enemy, Uprooted is a master class in the art of a compelling story. Oh, and it’s written well, to boot. -R

Annihalation, a novel by Jeff VanderMeer

“Annihilation! Annihilation! Annihilation!”

Best title reveal ever. I got chills reading this one. Hell, I get chills just thinking about it. I won’t spoil it - I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it - but it was a terrifying moment in a terrifying book. Rarely have I been so deeply unnerved by a book, despite the fact that the book itself wasn’t necessarily too violent. Jeff Vandermeer’s vision of Area X is at once alien and familiar; readers dismayed by a lack of answers will no doubt find it disappointing. I wasn’t disappointed - the mystery was the point of the thing, the questions it raised more important than any answers that might present themselves. The protagonist is unflappable and mysterious, revealing vital bits of her backstory over the course of the book in true Lovecraftian form. We do not trust her, but we believe in her. We want her to succeed. I cared for my nameless heroine, even if I wouldn’t ever put my back to her. Her fate, while ambiguous, resonated with me. I hope she made it where she was going. I hope she found what she was looking for. -R

1892 East Restaurant & Tavern

Located in downtown (or at least what we consider downtown) Huntsville, this locally sourced restaurant has options for just about everyone. I ordered a lamb dish with a kick ass chimichurri sauce and my first thought was, “This is exactly what I needed, but didn’t know I needed.” We also treated ourselves with dessert, and being the creme brûlée fanatic I am, I was not disappointed. -A 

Reparation, an independent film by Steve Timm and Kyle Ham

I’m a bit biased, because this film was written by one of my favorite professors, was filmed in the town and county where Ries and I went to school, and has won several awards. It’s now available on Amazon Prime, so go check it out! -A

Call the Midwife, BBC television show available on Netflix

This high rated television show based on Jennifer Worth’s memoir has swiftly become my favorite BBC program (easily beating down the more popular Downton Abbey.) I started watching this and wanted to show Ries one episode, and he started watching it with me because the writing is so well done. Though a word of caution, it’s a real punch to the emotions, so if you don’t like feeling things, this may not be the show for you. -A

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, film available on Netflix

I’m apparently really on a binge of films set in England pre-/during/post-WWII. This film has been on my Netflix watch list for quite a while, but I didn’t think it would be any good. I turned it on to play in the background while I was doing something else, and I didn’t get anything done. Amy Adams’ performance is brilliant in this film that debates marriage for stability vs. marriage for love. The scene where she sings “If I Didn’t Care” slayed me. So many tears. -A

…World of Warcraft

I don’t know if anything should be said about this. We’re classic WoW addicts–we play the new expansion, our attention fizzles out, and then a couple years later a new expansion comes out, I say we’re not getting back into it again, and yet, here we are again with activated accounts, leveling up baby characters, and testing out the new demon hunter class (which is awesome, by the way.) -A & R

That wraps up our favorites of August and September. Thanks for reading! 

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-A & R, Intercoastals