Happy New Year’s weekend, everyone! Welcome to my year-end wrap-up, along with a few recommendations for amazing stuff to watch and read that I discovered in 2016. Although this year kind of sucked for obvious reasons, it wasn’t all bad. Here’s the proof.
On to the wrap-up!
In 2016, I published:
- The Dante Deception (thriller, Natalie Brandon #2)
- The Carmelite Prophecy (thriller, Natalie Brandon #3)
- The Cherbourg Bodyguard (romance, Cherbourg Saga #2)
I have two more books coming soon:
- The Cherbourg Rogue (romance, Cherbourg Saga #3)
- The Sinner’s Bible (thriller, Natalie Brandon novella)
I’m also planning the next Natalie book:
- The DuBarry Diamonds (thriller, Natalie Brandon #4)
And maybe giving up sleep to finish:
- Tiara Tuesday – the book (What should I call this darn thing? I need a better name!)
On to the recommendations!
I didn’t read as much as I wanted this year because I was so focused on publishing, but I did find a few gems.
- The Cartel by Don Winslow (sequel to The Power of the Dog). If you haven’t read The Power of the Dog, start there. They’re both fictional versions of the rise/reign of the Mexican drug cartels. It’s not a topic I’m normally interested in, but I couldn’t put either of these down. Fox grabbed the movie rights to The Cartel – IMDB lists it as in production, but I’ve seen Ridley Scott attached as the director. Normally, this would be an Amazon affiliate link so I could make a few cents if you bought the book, but I enjoy Don Winslow’s writing so much I’m sending you to his site so he can get a cut instead.
- The Star of Istanbul by Robert Olen Butler. This is a World War I thriller series by a dude mostly known for literary fiction. I loved it. It’s not as fast-paced as traditional thrillers by the likes of Baldacci or Silva, but it’s got more character development and an amazing sense of time and place. (Amazon affiliate link – if you buy, I get a few extra cents in the research slush fund.)
If we’re not already friends on Goodreads, add me. I’ll be that nosy friend who’s always wondering what you’re reading.
I discovered podcasts in May, and now listen to them non-stop during my commute. Here are the ones that I look forward to most.
- The Land of Desire. A woman with one of the loveliest voices I’ve ever heard talking about French history and culture in a way that’s accessible and easily digestible. She did a 6-episode arc on The Dreyfus Affair that made the whole thing intelligible, something none of my college courses could do. I kid you not. At first, I was like, what? Six episodes? No way. YES WAY, TED. She pulled it off and I was hooked.
- The History of England. This guy cracks me up. He’s telling the entire story of the history of England with dry humor, quotations from eyewitness accounts, and a very enjoyable narrative style. It’s not stuffy or fussy at all, but the guy does his homework – you get the benefit of all his research and distillation, no advanced degree required. Score.
- Liar City. This guy tells the stories of famous liars and con men (and women). One of my favorite episodes was about a mobster who pretended to be mentally ill to escape the justice system. He also did an episode on Milli Vanilli. I still have that cassette around here somewhere, believe it or not.
- Hardcore History. Dude. Dan Carlin’s series on World War I wrecked me. It’s called Blueprint for Armageddon, and it’s the best WWI coverage I’ve ever heard/seen/read. I’d listen in the car on the way home from work and not be able to function for hours afterward. He makes it all so real with the depth, the detail, the research…if Ken Burns had turned The Civil War into a podcast, it would end up like this.
I probably watch too much TV, even though I don’t have cable or get any actual channels (country life, y’all). That being said, I Netflix the hell out of stuff. These are the two shows I’m dying for more of.
- Spotless (Netflix/Esquire). I stumbled on this without knowing what to expect. It’s about two French brothers, now living in England and working in crime-scene cleanup. When a dangerous British gangster needs their services for obvious reasons, they get sucked into his world….and we get sucked into theirs. Compelling storylines, great acting, and realistic characters. The big brother became my favorite character – his scenes with his niece killed me. Has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating, if that means anything to you. Also, the dangerous British gangster is played by the dude who played Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey.
- Versailles (Netflix/Ovation). OMG. This show is my dream come to life. If there’s a heaven, for me, it would look like Versailles. The first two episodes are a little jerky and confusing, but stick with it. You will be cheering, yelling, and bawling your eyes out by episode 10. I think I’m in love with Philippe, which is unfortunate for reasons you will understand if you watch the show or are a French history buff. Also, the theme music is Outro by M83. I routinely blast this at full volume when no one else is home. Also, Henriette’s dresses are SO PRETTY. Also, did I mention I’m in love with Philippe?
I listen to a little bit of everything – pop, country, classical, opera, world music, soundtracks, you name it. I tend to make a playlist of recent discoveries, name it “New,” and listen to it for, like, a year until it’s so not new. This year was no exception. My “new” list still has Macklemore on it. I regret nothing.
- Sicario soundtrack. It’s been awhile since I found a soundtrack I can write to. This fits the bill. It’s got menacing tracks, a couple romantic tracks, but nothing too booming or crashing to take me out of my thoughts. The movie was all right, but the soundtrack is better. The link is to a YouTube playlist with the whole album. Try before you buy.
- Low Love by Brian Fallon. Brian, the lead singer of Gaslight Anthem, went solo this past year. This song isn’t on his album – but I found it on YouTube. Several hundred of its views are just me, playing it over and over. He’s a little Springsteen, a little punk, and a little melancholy. This is a slow song, but he’s got plenty of up-tempo stuff, too. 2016 was also the year I got his cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “I Do Not Hook Up” listed on The Atlantic’s page of most transformative covers.
- America’s Sweetheart by Elle King. This is going down as one of my personal theme songs. It’s one of those I-am-who-I-am anthems that make me feel like I can do anything. It has a thumping, country-influenced beat and she basically says, “Yeah, I drink. Yeah, I’m heartless. No, I’m not your poster girl for anything. But I’m me. So screw it.” I’m not loud, and I don’t have any tattoos, but I’ve always done things my own way. This song makes me less alone for doing that. On the minus side, as much as I like this song, if I hear “Ex’s and Oh’s” one more time, I’m going to burn the radio. A few times was nice. A few billion is too many.
- Lord Huron by Lord Huron. I’ve been trying to come up with a bitchin’ way to describe this album and failing miserably. It’s part rockabilly, part folk, part gloomy indie rock a la The National. People who say “do yourself a favor and ____” make me want to punch them in the face, so I won’t say that here, even though that’s basically what I mean.
Now it’s your turn!
What books, shows, and songs moved you in 2016? Give me something new to obsess over this winter while I’m waiting for season 2 of Versailles.