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My Best of 2019

Sun, 29th December 2019

Every year, I like to create a list of my favourite books, movies, games, and music. I try to keep the items as current as possible (i.e. from this same year), although that does not always hold true (due to me missing stuff from past years or only just getting around to something I've neglected for quite a while). Below are my favourites from 2019.

Best Book: 11/22/63 - Stephen King

Honourable mentions: Cross Her Heart - Sarah Pinborough, Children of Time - Adrian Tchaikovsky

11/22/63 was one of those books that I didn't want to end. Following Jake's adventures in the 1950s was exciting, entertaining, and very informative. I could tell that King very much enjoyed researching the period and writing a story set within it. Often, I would find myself becoming less interested in Jake's goal of preventing the Kennedy assassination, being quite content to live in the late 1950s and explore the period. At 850 pages, it's a long book, but never feels so; I would have been happy for it to go on longer.

Sarah Pinborough's Cross Her Heart is one of my favourite books of hers. Following the story of Lisa, a single mother to a girl called Eva, we slowly begin to uncover a very disturbing secret from Lisa's past. It's hard to talk too much about this one without giving a lot away, suffice to say that the life that Lisa thought she'd escaped and left behind comes back to haunt her in a terrible way. Sarah slowly bleeds these details in and the book comes to a very satisfying finish. Unlike a lot of Sarah's other books, there are no supernatural or horror elements to be found here, and the novel works just fine without them.

Children of Time is the first novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky that I've read, and he produced one of the most original stories I've come across in quite some time. It's no wonder that it won the 2016 Arthur C Clarke award. The plot of spiders being (accidentally) uplifted by a scientist aiming to accelerate the evolution of monkeys made for a fascinating read; seeing them move from stage to stage of their evolution, learning new technologies, and fighting a war against ants was even more exciting than the parallel plot of the struggle of the last remaining humans in the universe, trying to find a way to survive on a spacecraft suffering its own upheavals.

Buy 11/23/63 from Amazon >>>

Best Album: The Specials - Encore

Honourable mentions: Lost Girls - Bat for Lashes, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 1 - Foals

The Specials latest album was one that was exceptionally well timed for the period we live in. Essentially a protest album, there were several standout tracks to really caught my ear; Vote For Me is especially timely, and I can see it as a track that may well show up and be played for many years to come during elections. Embarrassed By You is another such track that could do the rounds for similar reasons. The Specials aren't a band that I could say I follow a lot, but hearing songs from this new album being played on BBC Radio 6 Music, I decided to pick it up and give it a go. I wasn't disappointed. The album also came with a second disc that contained a number of The Special's classic tracks recorded live at various venues in England. What was brilliant about this was that the tracks had been cleverly mixed to make it sound as if they were all part of the same set. Great stuff!

I've always loved Natasha Khan's voice, and Bat for Lashes turned out another great album this year. Lost Girls feels like the soundtrack to an 80s vampire movie that exists in another universe (and one that I would love to see if it's anywhere near as good as the songs on the album). The 80s theme is quite clear throughout, including the instrumental track Vampires. At 38 minutes, it's not a terribly long album, but this is certainly quality over quantity.

Buy The Specials - Encore from Amazon>>>

Best Song: Juice - Lizzo

Honourable mentions: The Runner - Foals, Haim - Summer Girl

Juice was my top song of 2019. Being a song about being self confident and happy with oneself, the track is full of positive energy, upbeat, and always put a smile on my face whenever I heard it play on the radio. I'm happy to say that Lizzo succeeded in her goal of making people feel good about themselves.

The Runner by Foal was a track that grabbed me the minute I heard it. There's massive confidence and swagger throughout and it never lets you go from the outset. Indeed, the lyrics speak of never giving in, no matter what happens. Yannis's signature vocals work to their fullest here.

Finally, Haim's Summer Girl was a beautiful summer song. There's a somewhat melancholy feel to the song, but what's also very clear is the theme of hope in the face of adversity running throughout.

Buy Lizzo - Juice from Amazon>>>

Best Film: Avengers: Endgame

Honourable mentions: The Hateful Eight, The Theory of Everything

I did a number of things when it came to Endgame that I have never done before: I pre-ordered my movie ticket a month before release, I attended the film on the day it came out, and I went to the 10am showing. Was it worth it? Absolutely, 100% yes. For me, Endgame was the perfect conclusion to the MCU 22 movie story arc. I cheered at that moment at the commencement of the final battle (and remained silent from then on as some other cinema-goers turned to look at me!), and felt quite moved when the credits rolled. I'm not sure that a superhero movie will ever reach such heights again, but I was so very glad that I was able to be a part of it.

As many do, I caught up on some movies that I had missed over the years, only finally getting around to watching The Hateful Eight. An incredible film, so well acted and produced, it was a shame I didn't see this in the cinema when it first came out. Well worth the wait and you should definitely give it a watch if it also slipped past you on first release.

The Theory of Everything is not the sort of film that I would normally watch, but positive word of mouth when it turned up on Netflix convinced me to give it a go. The performances were sublime, with Eddie Redmayne providing an incredible portrayal of Stephen Hawking. I learned a lot about Hawking's life from the film and never realised he possessed such a great sense of humour. Again, give this one a watch.

Buy Avengers: Endgame from Amazon>>>

Best Game: Spider-Man

Honourable mentions: Detroit: Become Human, Days Gone

I was late to Spider-Man, the game being a late 2018 release and me not picking it up until February of 2019. This is by far the best Spider-Man game ever made; swinging around New York City itself was such a joy, and the developers really captured Spider-Man's character, with his wit and charm. On a technical level, it is another game that pushed the PS4 to its very limits. One would never think that such an ageing system (8GB RAM, mobile GPU) could turn in such incredible results. There was enough variety in the gameplay to stop things from going stale, and chasing the platinum was an absolute joy.

Detroit: Become Human was a game that I'd had my eye on for a while, ever since enjoying Heavy Rain. In my humble opinion, Detroit exceeds that game, both in terms of atmosphere, story, characters, and (naturally) technical accomplishment. This was truly a game where I felt that my decisions made an impact, and also that the ending that I got was how the story was meant to finish (not unlike Until Dawn). My favourite character was Conner, who felt the most human of them all.

Days Gone was actually a far better game than the critics made it out to be, and I very much enjoyed my time with it. Deacon is a likeable character, who looks out for all those around him, and the missions themselves were all great fun to do. Even during the day, the Freakers instilled fear. I have yet to finish the game (one negative point is that the game is somewhat on the long side), but I'm looking forward to returning to it in 2020 to complete the story.

Buy Spider-Man from Amazon>>>

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