Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Bookshelves (My TBR Shelves)..... oh, and puppies.. :)

Well, here it is, New Year's Eve 2014. Jo has been getting posts on her Facebook page from friends as far away as Australia with photos of their various fireworks. One of the things the Internet is good for is that instant contact from distant realms. So neat! We plan a quiet evening ourselves, chatting with friends online, reading, maybe watching some of the New Year's Specials on TV. Every year, the CBC (that being Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has their New Year's Eve comedy specials; the Royal Canadian Air Farce, This Hour has 22 Minutes and a special show from the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. We may watch some of that, although we do need to catch up with Major Crimes.

Lucky me, I got my last Christmas prezzies from Jo today. She had ordered me some books but they didn't arrive on time. Who cares! Not me. I love books, as you well know. I got two of the Shetland series by Ann Cleeves; Red Bones and White Nights. I will be starting that series in 2015, at the very least. She also got me the second and third books in The Hunger Games series. I do hope to read them all this upcoming year. As well, I got a couple of new wallets. Mine has definitely seen better days.

I decided to take some pictures of the bookshelves where I keep the majority of my 'to be read' books, aka my TBR shelves. For the past couple of years or longer, I've kept them all in the den, stacked on a couple of shelves, with the overflow on the floor in front. Jo suggested that maybe I could move them off the floor and offered a shelf in the Lounge. I also thought maybe I could pull my Reading Group challenge books and some of my Individual challenge books and locate them in my bedside table, well, after I removed 3 or 4 years of envelopes and bags that I hid there. I used to wrap Jo's prezzies up there and all the bags and envelopes were hid in those drawers. Silly, huh? Well, anyway, that's what I did and lo and behold there are no books sitting on the floor in the den. I've taken a few photos to show you.

But, first, while I was taking pictures of the shelves, the dogs were outside, so I took a couple of pictures them as well. They had their winter haircuts just before Xmas and they both look adorable. Too bad they don't act that way.. just kidding...

Bonnie making sure no birds invade her yard
Clyde thinking of pouncing on Bonnie
And so it begins!! woof!!

By the way, that picture was taken 31 December 2014. Yup, no snow.. and I don't want any!!

So now, onto bookshelves and TBR books. According to Goodreads, one of the places I track my lists, I have 591 books that I need to read. Adding in the 4 new ones, well, that means 595. So at about 100 a year, I've got a good 6 years worth of books. The list might not be totally accurate, as I do vet periodically and while I remove from my spreadsheet list (yes, I love to make lists), I don't necessarily do so with my Goodreads list.. Speaking of lists, Jo bought me a replacement Books I've Read book for Xmas this year. I'm still figuring out how I want to lay it out, but I'm so happy... One of the best prezzies she ever bought me, one I take book shopping and it was getting kind of full in some of the letters.

Anyway, got sidetracked there a bit. Just because I have that many TBR books, I probably won't stop buying, but I will try and behave a bit better this year. I do feel a responsibility to help our local bookstores mind you and I will be finally retiring in Nov 2015, so I do need to have a good stock to read. Don't you think?

TBR shelf Number 1 - H's to Z plus extra oversize books
So the first shelf. Right in front of it is our computer desk and when I had all of my over-size books laid out in front of it, two deep, it made it difficult to get a book if it was on the bottom row, behind the front row. So now that those books have been moved, there is a bit more room there. What you see is basically the letter H authors - bottom shelf in behind front row, working up to the top outside row, the end of the alphabet. Also there are a few of the oversize books that didn't get moved to the lounge. So basically they are stacked three high and two deep.

Just to the right of the first photo, what's behind the doors?
A - H books
What I used to keep in here at one time were all my oversize books, lying down and squeezed in. But last year in one of my re-orgs, I thought I'd move the oversize to the floor and start in here with my letter A authors and just work up to the top, then carry over to the shelves to the left. Once again, you've got them two deep and each shelf organised alphabetically. So where did my oversize books go you ask? Next picture. We move to the Lounge and the built-ins. (Check out the link to the left for my original post on my book storage.

The bottom left shelf (next photo a bit bigger)
The oversize books
What used to be on this shelf was a small book stand containing 10 or 12 books, including the Moomin books that I'd purchased for Jo a couple of Xmas' ago. She was of the opinion, a darn good one too, that that stand could be moved upstairs to the extra bedroom and this shelf could more efficiently store my oversize books. So there you go, they do look better there than on the floor, eh? No finally, I went through my TBR shelf a couple of days ago and pulled out the 12 + 4 challenge and another 20 or so that I hope to read in 2015 and moved to my night stand. See below for photo.

My bedside table
Jo and I saw this table at the Dogwood Antique festival in Chemainus BC 10 years ago or so and thought it would make a nice addition to the house. I haven't used it very efficiently, as I mentioned, using the two bottom spaces for bags, receipts and envelopes and sundry other items. Check it out now.

Some 2015 planned reads
On the right side, as you're looking at it are the 16 books I chose for my 12 + 4 challenge, the first books in 16 series that I haven't had a chance to start yet. On the left are two rows of books, a mixture, for my Individual challenges; classics, SciFi, standalone mysteries, fiction, non-fiction, etc. I'll move others into that space as 2015 progresses.

So there you have it, my TBR bookshelves and my last post of 2014. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everybody a Happy New Year and the very best in 2015. And keep on reading!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Year End Summary AKA What I Read in 2014.

So here it is, the 28th of December. Our Xmas celebrations (which were relaxing and just what we wanted) are over. Xmas Day was excellent; we lounged around all day, chatted with family, had an excellent Xmas dinner, watched some excellent TV (the BBC Xmas day shows). Since then we've talked about leaving the house, but other than walking the dogs, really haven't done all that much. I've enjoyed the Xmas footie season, the full days worth of games, with New Year's day still to come. I'm off until the 4th so I get to read and enjoy spending time at home. The weather has been excellent, fresh, cool, sunny for the most part. I've managed a couple of runs in the a.m. Last night, Jo and I watched two entertaining movies; Captain America: The Winter Soldier (I had already seen and enjoyed) and The Judge, a drama starring Robert Downey and Robert Duvall. Different movies but we enjoyed both.

So I've been trying to organise some of my books for the start of 2015, but am taking a break today to do my year end review of what I managed to accomplish this past year. Overall, I'm very happy with my selections this past year and with how much I managed to complete. So let's start with some totals -

Total Books read - 104 (plus the one I'm currently reading and which I plan to finish by year end - 105 books)
Total Pages read - 34, 795 (Plus the one I'm reading, which will add another 217 pages)
Total Books purchased - 147 (I fell behind somewhat as you can see, will have to behave a bit better in 2015)

Star Ratings - (Check out my previous BLog for my Top Ten list of the year)
5***** - 7
4****   - 50
3***     - 46
2**       - 1

Favourite Book - Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford (published 1924 - 28)
Biggest Disappointment - Mimic Men by V.S. Naipaul (published 1967)

Male/ Female Author breakdown

Male - 62/ Female - 42 (this will increase by one when I finish The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie.)

Fiction (Classic - my judgement) - 4
Fiction (Modern) - 7
Western - 1
Graphic Novels - 3
Horror - 4
Poetry - 1
Fantasy - 6
Humour - 1
SciFi - 2
Mystery (this was by far my favoured genre, so I've tried to break it down somewhat)
- Historical settings - 10
- Classics (e.g. Christie, Marsh) - 10
- Forensic - 3
- Psychological - 3
- Thriller (Child, etc) - 18
- Police (mostly British) - 17
- Scandinavian - 6
- Spy/ War - 2

So that is basically it, but one more breakdown. Below were some of the challenges I decided to try out this past year and how I did with them -

12+4 Reading Group Challenge

I managed to complete this challenge, finishing the 16th book on the 30th of Nov. My favourite book and my least favourite came from this list. I had a reasonable mix, that was my intent at the beginning of the year; 3 Classics - 1 - 5 star and 2 - 4 star; 2 Fiction - 1 - 4star, 1 - 2 star; 4 Non-Fiction - 4 - 3 star; 4 Mystery - 1 - 5 star and 3 - 4 star; 3 SciFi/ Fantasy - 1 5 star, 2 4 - Star

 Alphabetical Mystery Author Challenge

I renewed this challenge from my 2013 challenges, starting at the 'H' and alternating from there with the end of the alphabet. I ended up reading 19 books in this challenge, with my favourite being Black Diamond by Martin Walker. There were no real disappointments in this challenge and it introduced me to a few new authors who had been residing on my TBR shelves for awhile; Charles Todd of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries and Peter James of the DS Roy Grace mysteries. There were, of course, others. It did help me become more acquainted with the many varieties of mysteries/ thrillers out there. It's a great genre.

Bed-Time Authors

This was a new challenge, the purpose to try and make a dent in some of the many series that I've started. The plan was to read two books by each author selected. It was definitely a satisfactory plan. I managed to read 38 books in this challenge (well, it'll be 40 when I finish this year as I will have finished how I started, with two Agatha Christie mysteries). So many excellent series on my shelf, from MC Beaton's Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeth books through Lee Child's Jack Reacher series to the classics, like Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey and Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn. There were a lot of 3 star reads in this grouping, but I wasn't dissatisfied with any of them.

A - Z Challenge

I've tried this challenge a few times in some of my groups so this year I used a variation that I kind of borrowed from other folks. I chose authors whose last name spelled out the names of our puppies; Bonnie and Clyde. 'Y' was the most difficult letter but fortunately I had a couple books written by Chic Young, based on his Dagwood and Blondie comic strip. It wasn't a classic but it was a fun selection.

Anyway, there you have it. As I mentioned previously, I have one final book to complete before 31 Dec, that being Agatha Christie's The Seven Dials Mystery, which was originally published in 1929. This particular Bantam edition, which is the one I'm reading came out in Oct 19, 1980. It is a standalone mystery, not featuring her more famous sleuths, Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot. I'm getting into it now and enjoying very much. One of the nice things about the past year has been taking the opportunity to read more of these classics and I've enjoyed very much.

So as the year winds down, I'm also looking at the challenges I've made for next year and have been setting aside some of the books on my list. I'll probably reorganise my bookshelves again before year end. What fun!

I want to take the time to thank anyone who takes the time to read this BLog. I hope you enjoy and that it gives you some reading ideas as well. Enjoy the rest of 2014 and I wish you happiness in the new year. Happy 2015!!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Top Ten Lists - My Favourite Reads of 2014

Over the past week or so, I've been featuring some of my favourites (Top Tens) of the past year; from actors/ actresses to movies and TV shows and then some of the songs that I've enjoyed listening to the most. So today it's time for my last Top Ten List (and most appropriate to a Blog on Books), that being my Top Ten favourite books of 2014. By that I don't mean books that were published in 2014, rather those books of the 100+ that I read this past year. They vary from Classics to mysteries to Sci-Fi. In my next Blog I'll summarize my year in reading, but for today, let's look at those 10 books.

10. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (published in 1908). I have tried to read a few more classics in the past couple of years. This was one of those books that I was more familiar with as a movie, but even there, only bits and pieces. It was a movie that Jo has enjoyed and that did make me want to read it. (She is often an influence, without even knowing, on the books I read or the music I listen to, or the shows I watch.) It was one of the first books I completed this year and this was my review. "This isn't normally a book in my comfort zone as of late I do prefer mysteries and Sci-Fi but it's the second E.M. Forster book I've read in the past couple of years and I do enjoy his writing style. The story flows very nicely and I like how it developed and how the characters interacted. I've never seen the various movie versions from beginning to end, just snatches but as I discussed with my wife, it seems they were very faithful to the book. It is a classic and I liked the ending, it was most satisfying. Overall, I'm glad I took a chance and dove in. "

9. The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch (published first in German 2008, then the English translation in 2010). I heard about this book first in one of my Goodreads' groups and as I have enjoyed some of the historical mystery series I've tried, I looked this book up. It didn't let me down at all and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I will definitely track down the other books in this excellent series; which continues with The Dark Monk, The Beggar King and The Poisoned Pilgrim. This was my review. "An excellent historical mystery set in 17th Century Germany (Bavaria) after the 30 Years war, following the efforts of the Hangman of Shongau and his daughter and the young doctor of the town to solve the murders of orphan children and also prevent a woman from being executed as witch. Great characters, interesting plot and intriguing mystery. My first book by Oliver Potzsch, but I will read his others."

8. The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola (published in French as Au Bonheur des Dames in 1883). I first heard of this from the BBC adaptation that Jo and I watched over the past two years. I was surprised to find out it was originally set in Paris and was based on a story by Zola, an author I'd never read. It also turns out that this is the 11th novel of the Rougon-Maquart series; yep, I didn't know that either. Anyway, this was another surprise; I enjoyed it very much. Will I read the others? I don't know, but I may look for them and see. This was my review. "I decided to read this because of the BBC TV series, The Paradise, which was based on Zola's book. At its core, it is the story of the development of the major department store (set in Paris) and its impact on the people of the city and especially those whose smaller shops surround The Ladies' Paradise and are threatened by its very success. The story focuses on Octave Mouret, whose vision and enterprise make the Paradise what it is, and on Denise Baudu, who arrives in Paris to live with her uncle (owning the shop across the road), along with her two brothers. Denise has nothing and finds that she must find work elsewhere as her uncle's shop can't support her. So begins her career, off and on, at The Ladies' Paradise, as a shop clerk. Fascinating story, the development and success of the store, Mouret's developing love for Denise, Denise's troubles within the store and with her family. The very impact of The Ladies' Paradise, based on actual stores that developed during the 1800's, on the city is also very interesting. At times it's a very depressing story, especially as the negative impact on the surrounding shops grows and grows, but it also portrays an interesting picture of the times and the culture.. Most enjoyable. There are other books by Zola that make this a series, if I read his biography correctly, with The Ladies' Paradise being the eleventh book. I may have to try and find the others."

7. Black Diamond by Martin Walker (published in 2008). This is the third book in Martin Walker's series featuring Bruno, the Chief of Police of a small French village. I took a chance on the first book; Bruno, Chief of Police and enjoyed immensely. I loved the characters, the setting and the story. I've since read the second book, The Dark Vineyard and this year finished Book three. I can't recommend this series enough. I love good story telling and well-developed characters and this series offers both. This was my review. "There is something about this series that I love. I picked up the first book, Bruno, Chief Of Police, because I was firstly attracted to the cover. And then when I read the synopsis, I had to give it a try. I wasn't disappointed, quickly falling in love with Bruno's life, his village and friends. I've since read the second book, The Dark Vineyard, which was even better, further developing Bruno's character and letting us know more about his friends and his village. I finished this third book this morning; I had to find out how it would end. I have to give this a five-star rating. I find that Martin Walker writes the story in such a way that I find myself drawn into the life of the community of St Denis in the district of Perigord. I find myself caring for Bruno, worrying about his future, his personal life and the lives of his close friends; the Baron, Pamela (the English resident), the lovely Fabiola (the doctor) and all of the others. This story is filled with action, from illegal truffle activities, illegal Asian immigrants, gang wars and political intrigue. But even with all that, there is time to delve into the community that Bruno patrols and into Bruno's life. He loves his community and will do anything to protect it. The people are colourful and different from my own experiences and Walker describes them gently and lovingly. And the food... ah, the food, my mouth waters as I watch Bruno prepare his repasts. At any rate, it's an excellent series and I'm happy to discover that there are at least three follow-on books for me to find and see what will happen next? Will Bruno settle down with Pamela? Or someone else? :) Enjoy!"

6. The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen (published in Danish in 2007 and in English translation in 2011). I've enjoyed some of the Scandinavian mystery series I've tried; Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole books, Karin Alvtegen's unique series and I've got others on my bookshelf. I looked at this book, the first in the Department Q series for quite awhile before I decided to give it a try. Was I glad that I had! Excellent first book, intriguing characters and a very interesting plot. I will definitely find the others as well. This was my review. " What a surprisingly excellent mystery and story. I've had it on my bookshelf for awhile and am so glad that I finally pulled it down to read. The mystery, the cold case involving the disappearance of Merete, was different from any I've read before. The main characters, Carl Morck, head of new Division Q and his assistant, Assad, were so well-crafted. Carl is a police detective just coming back to work after he and his two partners were ambushed, one killed, one a cripple still in hospital and Carl, recovered, now trying to get back to work. His boss assigns him to a newly created unit as its chief, partly to keep him away from the other detectives. Carl avoids work until his new assistant, Assad brings him the cold case involving Merete, who became missing, presumed dead, five years ago on a ferry to Germany. The story weaves between Carl and Assad, working their way through the old case and Merete, working from the past, 5 years before, until the present as she tries to adjust and sort out where she is and why she was abducted in the first place. Carl is an interesting character, his personal life also slowly being developed and his investigating talents becoming more visible. All in all, it was an excellent story, witty, but also with a great deal of tension as the story winds up to its climax. Loved it and am looking forward to reading more Department Q mysteries."

5. The Falls by Ian Rankin (published in 2001). Back in 2007, Jo bought me the whole Inspector Rebus series for Xmas. We had enjoyed the TV series, the one starring John Hannah, then the other starring Ken Stott, both playing grizzled Scottish police inspector John Rebus. I prefer Stott's characterization, he is more of how I perceive Rebus; tired, hard - living, cynical, but still an excellent cop. I've been reading two or three of the series a year, savouring the development of Rebus' character and that of his friends, especially his assistant, Siobhan Clark. The Falls is the 12th book in the series and I enjoyed it so very much. Rebus has grown so much and Rankin's story-telling is getting better and better. I've just finished the 13th, Resurrection Men, as well and enjoyed it almost as much. Such an excellent series. Anyway, here is my review. "It's been about a year since I read my last Rebus mystery and I'm sorry it's taken me so long to read the next, The Falls. I can't recall when I've more enjoyed a mystery. Rebus and the gang are involved trying to solve the disappearance of a young woman, the gang including Siobhan Clark, Ellen Wylie, and new boss, Gil Templer. Rebus is looking at his life, as always, trying to sell his flat, develop a relationship with a potential new lady friend, fend off Templer's attempts to make him see a doctor, while investigating the disappearance. He finds similarities to old cases and heads down past byways, while Siobhan is investigating a computer - based role-playing game that the missing girl was involved with, meaning involvement with a cryptic online 'Quizmaster'. The story was so well-crafted and presented and I just enjoyed getting involved with Rebus, his life and his friends. It's nice about these stories that Ian Rankin takes the time to develop the characters of those around Rebus and to get them deeply involved in the cases as well. Excellent and most enjoyable read. "

4. Disordered Minds by Minette Walters (published in 2003). I've read a few of Minette Walters' mysteries/ stories over the past 7 or 8 years; The Ice House, The Scold's Bridle, Acid Row, to name a few. She is a unique writer, her stories are standalones, each unique in its own right. She focusses on the psychological aspects of story - telling and creates such interesting scenarios. Disordered Minds was probably my favourite book of hers to date. I highly recommend. Now to my review. "Excellent 'mystery' by Minette Walters. I think she is one of the most unique mystery writers I've ever read. Each story I've read is unique in its own right and covers different aspects of human behaviour. In this story, two investigators, one a university professor and the other a town councillor, Jonathan and George, delve into the past to try and prove that a convicted murderer, a young man with mental difficulties, who committed suicide in prison, was, in fact, innocent of the murder. The trail of their investigation is an interesting one, involving many twists and turns, potential suspects, deceit, etc. As well, they both must deal with their own issues, that may or may not colour their investigation. Walters has a unique style of writing, this story is partly written in emails, case transcripts, etc. I liked both Jonathan and George and their book editor, Andrew Spicer and the other characters are interesting and full of mystery. Excellent story and highly recommended."

3. Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey (published in 2011/ 12, the omnibus edition which covers the first 5 books was published in 2012). This was another book recommended to my by friends in my Goodreads group. I found a copy at my local bookstore and decided to take a chance on it. Once again, I'm so glad that I did. It was one of the most unique and interesting Sci-Fi stories I've read in a long time. I have started reading more science fiction the past few years, after taking a long hiatus from the genre and Wool presented me with a fascinating world and interesting, strong characters. Here is my review. "Wow! What a great story, courage, bad guys, good guys, interesting concept and characters that you can enjoy. The story of the people of Silo 18 (you'll have to read it to find out what it is) whose daily lives move along, a relationship from floor to floor, all contributing in their own way; Mechanical, Medical, IT, Farming, Law, but at the same time there are secrets and plots. The story starts off with Sheriff Holston who is dealing with the death of his wife three years before, who chose to go on a 'cleaning' (more for you to read about) and decides to join her. The Mayor and deputy go down to Mechanical in search of the new Sheriff (Juliette.. a lovely, brave, wonderful character), much to the dissatisfaction of Bernard, Head of IT, who has ideas of his own for running Silo. The implications of this conflict form the basis of the story, which, in this Omnibus edition, run for 5 Chapters (Books). Silo will be turned upside down, new heroes discovered; Juliette will go on her own journey and there will be discoveries that will shock many of the residents of Silo. I can't say enough about this story. I want to get the next books, but am also kind of hesitant as Hugh Howey indicates in a Q&A at the end of the book, "There is always a story to tell, just maybe not the one that the readers expect." Great story, hard to put down and enjoyed every minute of it, even if some were with trepidation."

2. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence (published in 1928). This is one of the Classic's I chose to read this year. I had meant to do so in 2013, as part of one of my Goodreads groups Erotic fiction challenge but didn't have time to do so. When the genre came up again this year, I took a stab at this Lawrence book. I didn't have high expectations; last year I'd read Lolita and was somewhat disappointed with it. However, Lady Chatterley's Lover surprised me to no end. I loved it. It was so much more than I expected, more than an erotic tale, rather, a carefully crafted exploration of Lady Chatterley's life and ideas. Fascinating and I'm so glad that I tried it. My review. "Definitely a book out of my normal comfort zone, but such an excellent read. I had ideas about what to expect; a banned book, due to its rawness, explicit sexual language, but I was surprised. It's a thoughtful story of a woman, living in a marriage with a broken man; physically broken from the war, but also emotionally broken. Constance loves Clifford Chatterley anyway, cares for him, comforts him, but finds her life to be stagnant, loveless, emotionless. She meets Oliver Mellors, an other ex-soldier who now works as the game keeper on the Chatterley estate and finds herself drawn to him. The story is about their developing relationship, both emotional and sexual. I expected the sex to be graphic, raw, but other than some language, it was crafted very lovingly, very gently on the whole. The story itself is interesting, the characters as well and the interludes describing the countryside, coal mining country are also well-crafted. An excellent story and I'm glad I finally pulled the book off my shelves to read."

1. Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford (published between 1924 and 1928). This is another book that I took a chance after both listening to a BBC radio dramatization of the book and also a BBC TV miniseries starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It's made up of 4 books set mainly in England and on the Western Front during WWI. Once again, a pleasant surprise, great character development and superb story telling; emotional, psychological, dealing with love, the effects of War and so much more. My review. " This was a challenging, but ultimately, an enjoyable, and interesting read. The book is made of four separate books, Some Do Not, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up and, The Last Post. It is set in England and France, before, during and after WWI. It deals with Christopher Tietjens, his wife Sylvia and Valentine Wannop, a young woman who has captured Christopher's heart. Around these people are family members, Christopher's brother, Mark; friends, associates and many others. Christopher's relationship with his wife is bitter and harsh, she goes out of her way to destroy his life, even though she won't grant him a divorce. At the same time, Christopher has fallen in love with the young woman, Valentine, who he met as a result of his father's friendship with her mother. Amidst these personal issues is the war, life in the trenches, all these matters. The story is detailed, it takes time to get used to the flow of the story, but when you do, it is most enthralling. The second and third books, which deal more with the War itself, I personally found the most interesting. Critics have said that there needn't have been a fourth book, that Christopher, himself, isn't really even present, but ultimately, I found that it wrapped up so many of the unresolved issues very nicely. Definitely worth reading, if you want to try a classic."

So there you go, my Top Ten books of 2014. I think it's a nice mix. I'll summarize the sum total of my 2014 reading in a follow-on Blog. Maybe after Xmas.. Have a Merry Xmas and happy holidays.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

2014 Top Ten Lists - One Last Music List - Top Ten Songs on my USB

I was going to write my post containing my top ten favourite books read in 2014, but since I'm still a bit in a mood for music, I've got one more music related post before I list my favourite books. I've got about 500 songs on my USB and I regularly update it; hence my previous posts related to the songs from the '80s, '90s, 00's and 10's. This next list just contains those ten songs that, whenever I hear them on my USB, I enjoy so very much. This list could be so much longer, as you may have noticed I've already provided 40 songs in my other lists. I'm pretty happy with this list, hope you like the songs too.

10. The Veronicas - When It All Falls Apart - This is definitely one of my all-time favourite groups, started when I first heard Untouched. That got me and Jo exploring their music (she likes some of their songs too) and I've enjoyed so very much of their music. This is probably my favourite song. They have great vocals, harmonies and such a fantastic pop sensibility. Check out their other music.

9. The Band Perry - If I Die Young - This is one of those beautiful songs that always chokes me up. It doesn't matter if it's country or pop or whatever, just a lovely song. Jo prefers the version she heard on Glee and she's quite right, it's also very beautiful.

8. Lisa Stansfield - Change - It's definitely difficult to pick one Lisa Stansfield song, but she is such a wonderful, jazzy, cool singer. I think this song highlights all of her great singing attributes. It features her great voice, it's a cool song and it makes me feel great.

7. The Stranglers - Golden Brown - Jo introduced me to this song and I've loved it from the very first time I heard it. I love the keyboards at the beginning and throughout, it's such a unique sound. It's like riding a carousel kind of beat, up/ down, gets your head bobbing. I never tire of hearing it.

6. Kate Morgan - Boys with Girlfriends - If you check out my other top ten lists you'll probably notice that I do appreciate talented female artists; their music, their voices, there is so much variety. I found this song a couple of years ago, Kate Morgan is a Canadian singer and I so enjoy listening to this song. Great beat and just a super pop song.

5. Kaiser Chiefs - Ruby - This is my anthem song, first heard it when I was stationed down in Victoria and driving myself through the city back and forth to work. It was a strange time, away from Jo and the puppies while they were in Comox. When I hear it, it does make me appreciate being back together and knowing that we don't have to put up with that again.

4. Caro Emerald - Paris - This is one of those singers that I've become acquainted with over the past few years, Dutch singer Caro Emerald. She has a unique jazzy style and I like every song I've heard by her. This song, Paris, highlights her wonderful voice, and the jazzy style. The orchestration is quite simple and it makes the song that much better.

3. Girls Aloud - Something New - I heard this first when Jo and I went to visit her sister Sue in England for Christmas in 2012. It's one of those songs that I have to play loud whether I'm driving or out jogging. I love how the music changes, great group vocals, then featuring each girl in turn. Great upbeat pop song!!!

2. Demi Lovato - Skyscraper - The first time I heard this song it choked me up, brought tears to my eyes. Not a good thing when you are driving. It's such a heartfelt song, wonderful voice, powerful lyrics.. Beautiful song.

1. Belinda Carlisle - Sun - I like Belinda Carlisle and have enjoyed discovering how talented she is over the past couple of years. Summer Rain is a great song and she has so many others. This was a lovely, pleasant discovery. Great beat, great lyrics; "Indescribable, indefinable, undeniable... ".. love it.. Perfect song.

So that's my last music post for 2014. I'm sure you're happy. Next entry will be back to books, with my ten favourite reads of 2014. Then it'll be 2015 before you know it and I can start discussing new books.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Top Ten Lists - Songs from my USB, Music of the 2010's +

Ahhh, the weekend is here. We had some rain, but also some nice sunny weather. I got my new glasses this morning, finding them very comfortable so far. Also this is my last day of shaving until the end of February; for out No-Snow Fest Beard Growing contest. Sorry, Jo, expect some whiskery smooches for the next little while.

So I'm winding down my Top Ten Lists for 2014, this one is music from the 2010 - 2014s added to my USB this past year. There were so many new groups/ artists that I discovered this past year, many from the Virgin Radio song charts, but also from BBC Radio 2's weekly playlist amongst others. Some excellent songs will have to rest as 'shout outs'; music by Hey Ocean!, Lana del Rey, Trevor Guthrie, Ballet School and Ariana Grande amongst others. I hope you like my Top Ten. Without further ado, here they are.

10. Shawn Hook - Every Red Light - Starting off with a British Columbia boy, Mr. Shawn Hook. This song is from his 2012 album, The Cosmonaut and the Girl. It's a great pop ballad and I do like how the pace and tempo change around the middle. A great thumping beat throughout. Excellent song. Check out So Close as well.

9. Imogen Heap - Run-Time - I've only started listening to English singer/ songwriter, Imogen Heap, this past year and I've really come to love her unique sound. She's been around since the late 1990's, both as a member of Frou-Frou and as a solo artist. This song came out in 2014, love her voice and the orchestration. Check out First Train Home as well.

8. Elle Henderson - Glow - Next is X-Factor contestant Elle Henderson. What a voice! I didn't know what song of hers, from her first album, to pick, this song or her first single, Ghost. Both are excellent. But Glow is such an awesome song, which builds and builds and always features her wonderful voice.

7. First Aid Kit - My Silver Lining - First Aid Kit are a Swedish duo, Johanna and Klara Soderberg who remind me somewhat of one of the groups Jo likes, The Pierces, but with more twang to their music. Once again, I've had difficulty between two of their songs, My Silver Lining and Stay Gold. Enjoy this song and try and check out the other.

6. Mamas Gun - Hello Goodnight - Back to England for this great group, Mamas Gun, described as an electric groove band. The group is from London and I've got three songs running around my head at the moment; Red Cassette which reminds me of Steely Dan, Only One which features Beverley Knight and this song, Hello Goodnight. What a great sound!

5. Kylie Minogue - Into the Blue - I could have picked a Kylie Minogue song from each of the other three periods if I'd discovered them in 2014; she's such a talent. Not the best voice in the world, but her songs suit her voice and she has such a great pop sensibility. I had two songs in mind for my Top Ten; I Was Going to Cancel and Into the Blue, both of which have been released in 2014 from her album, Kiss Me Once. Into the Blue is the more intricate song and definitely a grower. Such a beautiful woman!

4. Jesse J - Bang Bang - (with Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj) I think I heard this song first about a month ago and it's quickly become a favourite of mine. This is my finger snapping song of this period. Try and stop. :) The girl can sing and the others aren't too bad either.

3. Clean Bandit - Extraordinary - Clean Bandit is a British electronic (classical) group out of Cambridge and features Jack and Luke Patterson, Grace Chatto and Milan Neil Amin-Smith. This is one of my favourite groups of the 2010's and I've been troubled trying to pick between 3 songs; Rather Be (featuring Jess Glynne on vocals), Extraordinary (featuring Sharma Bass) or Mozart's House. I've picked Extraordinary because it's such a joyous, beautiful song and features a wonderful mix of electronic and classic sound. But make sure to try all three of the songs, each is unique and great.

2. The Adventure Club - Gold - Moving over to Montreal, Canada for song number 2. The Adventure Club is made up of duo Christian Srigley and Leighton James and features some powerful electronic music. Try out Gold or Wonder, both are excellent.

1. The Bombay Bicycle Club - Luna - Moving back to London's Crouch End for my final selection. The Bombay Bicycle Club is an Indie rock/ folk band and I love how Luna builds, such a wonderful song. I love how it starts off slowly, then builds and I like the orchestration and even the video. The song features the haunting voice of Rae Morris, a young singer out of Blackpool.

There were so many songs to choose from for this period. I hope I've provided a mix and that you find something you can enjoy.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Top Ten Lists - Songs from my USB for the 2000's

Had another nice day, even though the weather has turned pretty wet and miserable since noon. The base had it's annual Xmas party; as we call it Sticky Floors. Each section has their own little party, people wander around visiting other sections, just a relaxing afternoon. I left a little early so got to spend some quality time with the missus and the puppies. Now we're relaxing after dinner; the dogs are resting again after running around with their toys; Jo is watching Blue Bloods and I'm about to post my Top Ten additions to my USB in 2014 for the 2000s (the Oughties?). So many good songs from this period, but I'm pretty happy with my artist/ song choices.

So here we go -

10. Delta Goodrem - In This Life - Two of my last three artists from the '90s were Aussie singer / songwriters. Starting off the '00s with another Australian. This song came out in 2007 and was Number 1 in Australia. I had a couple of others of her songs as possibilities; Innocent Eyes and Sitting On Top of the World, but I like how this song builds. Her voice gets stronger as the song progresses.

9. Anastacia - I'm Outta Love - You may have noticed over the past couple of decades worth of songs that I'm partial to strong female vocalists. I love the variety and I love their voices. Anastacia is an American singer/ songwriter who has released six albums since 2000. The song I'm Outta Love came from her debut album and was very popular throughout Europe. It's an upbeat, powerful dance song, love it.

8. Rilo Kiley - Portions of Foxes - Rilo Kiley were an American indie band formed in LA in the late '90s. Portions of Foxes was released in 2008. The sound does remind me of other bands; although I can't think of any specific names at the moment. I like the guitar and the beat.

7. Mandy Moore - In My Pocket - It was only recently that I discovered Mandy Moore's music. I had a couple of possibilities for this selection, both quite different. Have a Little Faith in Me is a lovely ballad, but I do lean towards the upbeat and I do like the Middle Eastern feel of In My Pocket.

6. Caro Emerald - A Night Like This - One of my favourite singers over the past two or three years has been Dutch singer Caro Emerald. She has found a niche for herself with a great jazzy sound. She's kind of quirky, but I love her voice and I love her music. The instrumentation for this song is quite simple, a plinky piano with a nice bass beat. A throw back to an earlier time. :0) Enjoy.

5. Beverley Knight - Come as You Are - A very talented lady, Beverley Knight is a singer, songwriter, record producer, radio presenter.... whew.. I had a couple of songs lined up, Come As you Are and another of her hits of the '00s, Shoulda Woulda Coulda.. I like the rock sound of Come As You Are; Knight is another great female singer.

4. Girls Aloud - Love Machine - I didn't know anything about Girls Aloud, other than that they were a girl group, until Kimberley Walsh appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and quickly became one of my favourite celebrity contestants. That same year, the group released Something New and performed it the BBC's Kids in Need special. Since then I've checked out their music and have enjoyed a few of their songs very much. I love how the vocals are coordinated. Every lady is a great singer and each one brings a unique quality to the group. Love Machine is an upbeat song; finger snapping good and I like the video as well.

3. Agnes Carlsson - Release Me - My last female performer for my '00 selections is Swedish singer, Agnes Carlsson. I'm sure I've heard this song before, but it was only recently that I became aware of it again. I do love her voice in this; it suits the orchestral feel to the song. One of those excellent songs that give me chills. I like how it changes pace and feel.

2. Bernhoft - Streetlights - Staying in Scandinavia, but moving across to Norway for my next song. This was another new discovery for me. It has a definite Jamiroquai sound to it, jazzy, funky, excellent song.

1. Shaun Escoffery - Days Like This - Finishing off the '00s with a soulful, R&B sound (it should be right up Jo's and her sister, Sue's street). Shaun Escoffery is a British R&B singer, with an awesome voice and sound. Great song.

So there you have my Top Ten USB songs of the '00s. I hope you like them as much as I do. Next will be the 2010s to finish off the music category..

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Top Ten Lists - Songs from my USB for the '90s

Yesterday I listed my top ten new songs (discovered by me during the past year) from the '80s. Today my list will be artists/ songs from the '90s. There are a couple of repeat artists but, of course, I can't stop them having hits in two decades.. :0) (As before, if you want to listen to the song, click on the song title.)

10. Sonique - It Feels So Good - This is a relatively new song to my USB, one I heard only recently. However, it caught my attention immediately and I can blame my missus for my new found attraction to this House/ Dance music. This song came out in 1998 and was a number 1 in the UK and popular throughout Europe and the USA.

9. Swing Out Sister - Am I the Same Girl - I featured Swing Out Sister in my Top Ten of the '80s. I think I prefer this song, it gets under my skin. Great singer and a nice Big Band sound.

8. Edwyn Collins - A Girl Like You - I did feature Edwyn Collins in my Top Ten for the 80s. He was the lead singer of Orange Juice, which had a hit with Rip It Up. He pursued a solo career since 1985 and in 1994 had a hit with this cool, funky song. I like the drum beat.

7. Lisa Stansfield - Live Together - Lisa Stansfield is one of those singers I discovered only through my relationship and marriage with Jo. Stansfield is an English singer from Manchester who has had a prolific career but who had basically passed me by until the past few years. And I've got to thank Jo and her sister Sue for introducing me to new music and exploring different sounds, especially from the UK. I love Lisa Stansfield's jazzy, bluesy sound and she has such a wonderful, powerful, but clear sound. This song came out in 1990. I love it and everything I have heard from this talented artist.

6. Voice of the Beehive - Monsters and Angels - I also featured Voice of the Beehive in my 1980 selections. I do like their sound. I think I prefer Don't Call Me Baby from the '80s, but this song is a close second.

5. Everything But the Girl - Driving - It seems that a few of my selections are on the cusp of the '90s. This next selection was also release in 1990. Everything But the Girl was an English duo made up of lead singer Tracey Thorn and guitarist and pianist, Ben Watt. I have to admit that she sounds a bit like Lisa Stansfield. I like this song very much, jazzy, cool.

4. Karyn White - Romantic - Karyn White is listed as a New Jack swing singer, if you know what that is. At any rate, this is a great soulful song, reminiscent of Janet Jackson and Vanessa Williams, I think. It was one of her most successful songs, ranking number 1 in the US.

3. Vanessa Amorosi - Absolutely Everybody - Jo introduced me to this song by Australian singer / songwriter Vanessa Amorosi. It was used for the closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics. Lovely upbeat positive song. Almost makes me want to get out onto the dance floor. :)

2. Tina Arena - Chains - I'm sticking in the land down under for my 2nd last song, another great female artist, Tina Arena. Another great voice and a great pop ballad. I love how it builds, great song, gives me chills.

1. Belinda Carlisle - Summer Rain - I used to like the Gogos very much, loved their beat and their harmonies. Over the past couple of years, I've discovered how many excellent songs Belinda Carlisle released as a solo artist. This song has quickly become one of my favourite ever songs. I love the orchestral elements, the song itself, her voice. And I have to say, she has the most beautiful hair. (silly, eh?) This is beautiful, heartfelt song that strikes me to the core. Oooh, those violins again.. Beautiful.

So there you go, my Top Ten from the '90s. What do you think?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Top Ten Lists - Artists/ Songs from the '80s

My next few Top Ten lists are a bit convoluted. Over the past couple of years, I've picked the ten favourite songs added to my USB over the course of the year. This past year, my wife, Jo, her sister, Sue and I (with sometimes additions from other friends on Facebook) have been picking favourite songs from individual years; starting with 1974. This was partly due to a couple of Facebook posts of mine decrying the quality of songs in that year. It kind of led to a bit of a competition (if you want to call it that) where each week we'd post favourite songs from a specific year. As of this week, we're pretty well finished; we're now at 2013.

Anyway, this little contest of ours has had me running through song lists from the years; checking out playlists on BBC Radio 2 from specific shows, like Songs of the '80s, the Jo Whiley show, etc. and also even the Virgin Radio playlists. This has helped me add to the quality of the music on my usb; I do enjoy listening to music as I drive to and from work and while Jo and I drive around town on our weekly errands.

So I've broken down my list of artists/ songs for this year's Top Ten List by decades. This post will cover the '80s and includes new songs to me that I've discovered this year and have become favourites. With that lengthy preamble here are my Top Ten songs from the '80s, as discovered this year.. :) (Click on the red link if you want to hear the song)

10. Visage - Fade to Grey - Visage were a British new wave band. The band was founded by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan. Fade to Grey came out in 1980 and was their second single. I like the orchestral feel to the song and also kind of like the French monologue interspersed through the song.

9. Simple Minds - Promised You a Miracle - Simple Minds is another British band; this formed by Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill and Mel Gaynor. It's a band that I had heard about but only recently began to appreciate the excellence of their music. I love the soaring nature of their songs and the great vocals. Promised You a Miracle came out in 1982 from the album New Gold Dream

8. Swing Out Sister - Surrender  - Another of those bands that I've only recently discovered. I love the cool jazzy sound and the excellent vocals of Corinne Drewery. Surrender was a top ten hit for them in the UK and came out in 1987 off the album It's Better to Travel.

7. Orange Juice - Rip it Up - Orange Juice was a Scottish band fronted by Edwyn Collins. Rip it Up reached Number 8 on the UK charts in 1983. I love the punkish sound, great guitar and Collins has a wonderful voice.

6. JoBoxers - Just Got Lucky - This was a band I found by accident, I'm pretty sure either from Sara Cox's Sounds of the 80's or it made the charts on Canada's RPM listing in the 80's. JoBoxers are a British New Wave group formed in 1982. Just Got Lucky came out in 1983. I like the beat, the piano, the peppiness of the song. A great driving song.

5. Living Colour - Glamour Boys - Living Colour was an American funk band (for the life of me I would have sworn they were British) who formed in 1984. Their song Glamour Boys came out in 1989. Another song with a great beat, you'll find it difficult not to bob and weave with it. Just plain cool!

4. Donna Allen - Serious -  Donna Allen is an American dance-pop singer. I had a couple of choices of her songs, this one and Joy and Pain. I prefer Serious. She has a wonderful voice and the song is very evocative of the time, funky, great dance beat..

3. One 2 Many - Downtown - I'm heading off to Norway for my number 3 song, an excellent ballad from Norwegian band One 2 Many. I love the opening piano sequence, reminds me somewhat of Billy Joel's Angry Young Man opening segment. The tone of the song merges nicely into a very upbeat orchestral middle and continues to build perfectly. Dag Kolsrud provides the excellent piano and Camilla Griehsel sings beautifully.

2. Voice of the Beehive - Don't Call Me Baby - Voice of the Beehive is a quirky, catchy New Wave/ poppy group. It features two sisters from California who moved to England and formed Voice of the Beehive. Don't Call Me Baby came out in 1988 and was a hit in the UK. They remind me of The Bangles or maybe The Gogos. Another great driving song...

1. Alison Moyet - Love Resurrection or Is This Love? - Alison Moyet was a member of popular group Yazoo and afterwards went off on her own and had success as a solo artist. I've highlighted two songs from the '80s for my Number 1 choice. Love Resurrection was her first single and came out in 1984, reaching Number 10 in the UK. Is This Love? reached number 3 in the UK. I love her voice and the orchestration of both songs.

So there you go, my Top ten songs from the 1980s. I hope you enjoy. Next post will feature songs from the 90s.

Monday, 15 December 2014

2014 Top Ten Lists - Favourite TV Shows

Yesterday was a productive day. We're slowly getting into the Xmas spirit. I fixed up some of the outside lights (we'd gone out on Saturday and bought some replacements). Jo's started on the Xmas tree; the puppies were very excited with all the activity. They didn't really know what was going on. By the end of the afternoon, poor Clyde was just pure tuckered out from running from one side of the house to the other to make sure he didn't miss anything. I hope we get another sunny day so I can finish the outside lights this afternoon. But it's looking quite nice so far. The whole neighbourhood is looking pretty good actually, very bright little crescent in the evening.

At the moment everyone is lying down somewhere downstairs having a nap. So I'm going to continue with my Top Ten lists before I head out to do my last bit of Xmas shopping.

Today's list is TV shows and as I look over my list, they all are British series or non-main network shows. Not to say we don't watch the main networks; we still enjoy CSI, L&O:SVU, a few comedies, Agents of SHIELD, etc. Jo's list would be somewhat different I'm sure as she'd be adding The Good Wife, Suits, White Collar and a few others. But here we go with my list.

10. Halt & Catch Fire (AMC). This is an AMC show. What Mad Men did for advertising, this show has done for the computer industry. It's set in the early '80s and it follows a group of people, led by Lee Pace, trying to introduce competition to IBM by developing a laptop computer. It's a fascinating show with an excellent cast. Jo and I were quite hooked on it, pretty well from the first episode. Lee Pace is excellent as the renegade IBMr trying to prove to his father that he can make it successfully on his own. The remaining cast, including Scott McNairy and MacKenzie Davis all bring their own unique perspectives and issues to the series. It's been successful enough that Season 2 will be coming out in 2015.

9. The Game (BBC). A show that Jo and I discovered almost by accident on BBC Canada. One of those excellent BBC mini-series, it's set during the Cold War and is a spy-thriller set in the world of espionage. A group of MI-5 officers, led by Daddy, Brian Cox, try to solve the mystery of a KGB operation while all the while trying to discover the identification of a mole in their organisation. It's got lovely pacing and excellent intrigue. It was one of the nice surprises of the year, excellent show.

8. True Detective (HBO). A powerful, intense detective mini-series starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as to Louisiana cops being interviewed about an old case, which seems to relate to a current series of murders. Both must relive this old matter and the show is shown in a series of flashbacks. Some of the most powerful television I've seen, especially an episode where the two cops go to Texas into a Hell's Kitchen of drug criminals; I found it hard to watch, it was so intense. A strange murder case involving bizarre ritualistic murders that leads them on a wild and weird chase. Season 2 will supposedly involved different detectives in a different location. It will be interesting to see if the directors can maintain the quality of the show.

7. True Blood (HBO). After 7 seasons on HBO, True Blood, the vampire series set in Bon Temps, Louisiana and based on the books by Charlaine Harris finally finished this past year. Jo and I have enjoyed this since the beginning, a bit shocked by the graphic quality of the show in the very beginning but drawn in by the fascinating stories and the excellent acting. I had read a few of the books before the series started and enticed Jo into giving it a try. We weren't disappointed and have enjoyed every season. This last season was full value for entertainment and was an excellent way to finish things off. I'll miss Vampire Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) the most.. :0( but every member of the cast was excellent.

6. Scott & Bailey (ITV). One of those excellent cop / mystery shows that the British churn out with ease and skill, this show was written by Sally Wainwright and features Suranne Jones as DC Rachel Bailey and Lesley Sharp as DC Janet Scott, as long as Amelia Bullmore as DCI Gill Murray. In this 4th season, Rachel Bailey is made a Detective Sergeant when her partner Janet Scott turns down the promotion and DCI Murray must deal with the aftershock of an attack from the previous season as well as her impending retirement. The dialogue and the stories and the characterisations make this an excellent series and a joy to watch. This may have been the last season; fingers crossed that Sally Wainwright might have another season or two up her sleeves.

5. The Newsroom (HBO). This is definitely one of if not the favourite show of my wife, Jo. She has cried her way through this last season, the last of the series and I can see why. I have also enjoyed it very much, excellent cast (my personal favourites being Olivia Munn as financial reporter Sloane Sabbith and Jane Fonda as station owner, Leona Lansing), intelligent writing and fascinating story lines. It's about wanting the news broadcasters to report the news intelligently to an audience that still wants real news. I have enjoyed this very much, the characters were developed lovingly and the stories acted with drama and humour, nice when both can be combined successfully.

4. The Bletchley Circle (ITV). Another British gem, I enjoyed Season 2 of this mini-series as much as the first year. It follows 4 women who all worked as code breakers at Bletchley during WWII who are trying to find their way in the aftermath of the war, each working at different jobs but coming together to help solve mysteries. Anna Maxwell Martin leaves the series in this season but is replaced by Hattie Morahan. The ladies must help Rachel Stirling, who is involved with the black market and finds herself embroiled in a slave trade, mistreatment of wounded soldiers and police corruption. Intense series and some excellent acting by the four women. Loved it. Will there be a season 3? *fingers crossed*

3. Masters of Sex (Showtime). This was another of those series that we discovered almost by accident and were so glad we did. It is loosely based on the book by Thomas Maier and stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as sex pioneers, Masters and Johnson. It is set in the '50s and '60s and is basically a biography of their lives. Once again, a series with an excellent cast; the stories may revolve about Masters and Johnson and their developing relationship but the supporting cast are well-developed and have lives that are also of great interest. Season 2 was as fascinating as Season 1 and I look forward to Season 3 with anticipation.

2. Game of Thrones (HBO). There were so many good shows this past season that I almost forgot Game of Thrones in the shuffle. Thank you, Jo, for reminding me. Jo and I have been deeply involved with this series (based on the books by George R.R. Martin, since the beginning. It's definitely not a show that Jo would normally watch as she doesn't like the graphic violence, but for some reason, the first show hooked us both. We do like a well-crafted fantasy series and this is definitely that. There are a multitude of fascinating characters, the plot is deeply involved and moves from location to location; the far freezing north (Winter is coming) to the hot tropical south. Characters move in and out of the series; there is no loyalty to anyone in particular, evidenced by the execution of Sean Bean, Lord Eddard Stark, relatively early in Season 1. Season 4 was as good as the first three, was filled with action, excellent stories and continued shocks. Fascinating new characters were introduced, some were killed off, some will further enhance the story in Season 5 which comes to us in 2015. Excellent series!

1. Orphan Black (BBC America). My favourite series in a long time, starring Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany, as, well as many characters as you can think of. A science fiction adventure drama about cloning, which allows Tatiana to portray, well, so far at least six clones of as different personalities as you can imagine. Season 2 was as fascinating as the first and left the door open to so many more surprises in the upcoming season 3. Tatiana is an acting tour de force, each character she portrays is an individual in her own right and each character is fascinating and well-crafted. Add a great supporting cast and this was my favourite series of the year.

So there you have it, so very hard to pick just 10. It meant leaving out network shows like Grimm, the Big Bang Theory, Scorpion, amongst others and other series like The Walking Dead, The Left Behind, The Returned (a French series that I enjoyed very much), Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, etc. I hope you like my choices and they cause some discussion.

Next I'll start exploring my top usb songs from the past year.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

2014 Top Ten Lists - Favourite Movies

I will start this post by stating that Jo and I don't go out to movies anymore (unless we happen to be out of town in a place with a big cinema) because we can't sit comfortably in the seats at our local cinema. So we tend to catch the new releases when they make it to our video channel.  But, having said that I think we've caught a reasonable number of movies from 2014. Only one of my choices came out in late 2013, but we only saw it in 2014. :) OK with that out of the way, here you go with my Top Ten list...

10. Gravity (2013) , directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. This is the movie that came out in 2013. Both Jo and I loved it, such great acting by Sandra Bullock. The cinematography and the concept were both excellent. You could feel the loneliness and the vastness of space. Excellent movie.

9. Edge of Tomorrow (2014), directed by Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. An excellent, fast-paced, action-filled Science Fiction adventure with overtones of Groundhog Day. I'm definitely warming to Tom Cruise as an action star, especially when he displays some humour as well, and Emily Blunt was excellent.

8. The World's End (2013), directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. OK, well, it seems that maybe more than one of my selections comes from late 2013. Ah well. Still, this was one of the films that we didn't manage to see until 2014 and like Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it starts buddies, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It's exactly what you expect it to be, a buddy film in which everyone, from Pegg and Frost to their mates, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsden, Rosamund Pike and many others just seem to be having a great time. Lots of laughs and fun to watch.

7. Non-Stop (2014), directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore. Liam Neeson must be one of the busiest actors in movies for the past couple of years and his movies seem filled with action and adventure. In this movie, he plays a tired air marshall on a trans-Atlantic flight who must discover who on the plane is a threat and enlists the assistance of Julianne Moore in his efforts to track down the villain. Once again, filled with action, and who cares whether it's believable or not. Just pure entertainment.

6. The Monuments Men (2014), directed by George Clooney and starring George Clooney and Matt Damon (and many others). Excellent movie set during World War II which finds a group of US and international art historians trying to save the great art of Europe during WWII. Based on a true story, it's got a great cast, is well acted and delivered and is quite a thoughtful, interesting movie.

5. Draft Day (2014), directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner. I do like a good sports movie and Draft Day is one of those. Kevin Costner has made a career out of playing in excellent sports movies, even though they usually focus on baseball. This movie stars Costner as the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns NFL football team, with Jennifer Garner as his money manager. Costner must try to rebuild this team and come out of the shadow of his illustrious father, while trying to get the right draft picks to set the team up for the coming season. This was a surprisingly good movie and might even make my Top Ten Sports Movies some day.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Chris Evans and Scarlet Johansson. The Marvel comic empire has become one of the most successful movie empires of recent years. They have put out such entertaining movies based on their comic books (graphic novels) and not just action filled movies. Not that they aren't full of action but the mix in humour and drama easily. The Captain America series feature Chris Evans as Captain America, of course. In this second movie of the series, he must delve into his past and also try to find out who is betraying SHIELD. With the help of the lovely Scarlet Johansson as the Black Widow and also Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, they must battle Hydra and secret enemies to protect the world! Loved it.

3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), directed by Peter Jackson and starring Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage. Yes, this did open in 2013 but not until December. Peter Jackson has turned the JRRR Tolkien books into a vast, sprawling action filled movie series featuring dwarfs, trolls, wizards, dragons, elves and, of course, hobbits, plus countless other creatures and beings of the Middle Earth. This is the second movie in his hobbit series and I preferred it to the first, maybe because there was more story and adventure. Either way, I enjoyed very much and loved how the story has been progressed.

2. About Time (2013), directed by Richard Curtis and starring Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams. Yes, yes! It didn't come out until November 2013 and we never heard about out here in the sticks until it came out on the Movie Channel. Lovely, touching little romantic love story about a young man who discovers he can adjust his present actions by going back in the past and resetting the course of events. Rachel McAdams is a wonderful actress and Domhnall Gleeson was excellent and their love story was beautiful. Throw in Bill Nighy as Gleeson's dad and their touching relationship, you've got an excellent movie.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), directed by James Gunn and starring Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana. Another of movie from the Marvel universe, definitely my favourite of the year. Fun, action, great acting and lots of adventure. The Guardians are Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Vin Diesel (Groot), Bradley Cooper (Rocket) and Dave Bautista (Drax), an unlikely partnership of humans and aliens who must save the universe from Lee Pace (Ronan) who possesses a device that can destroy civilisations. There are laugh out loud moments, touching moments, action-filled moments and a super story. Excellent!!

So there you have my Top Ten movies. I hope you check them out. Next will be my Top Ten TV shows/ series.

Friday, 12 December 2014

2014 Top Ten Lists - Favourite Actresses

In my last post I highlighted some of my favourite actors of the past year. In this Blog, one of my favourite lists, that of my Top Ten Favourite Actresses. I find this my most difficult list; I like so many.. :0). So here you go, in no particular order, my Top Ten list....

10. Evangeline Lilly - Canadian actress, Evangeline Lilly, hasn't really been on my radar, other than that I was aware she was one of the main actresses on Lost, a series I didn't really follow. But this past year when I watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the 2nd in the series, she portrayed Tauriel, an elf warrior. It might have been her pointed ears or the fact that she was one of the few women in a movie full of testosterone; albeit elf/ dwarf/ hobbit testosterone, but she stood out for me. She was an honest, likable, good-hearted heroine and very believable. I've seen the movie a couple of times now and my opinion hasn't changed, in fact, I like her more. I'm looking forward to seeing how she does in the follow-on movies and I notice that she I in the upcoming Ant-Man. So with any luck, thanks to Peter Jackson, her career may have received a nice push.

9.  Zoe Saldana - Zoe Saldana is another actress whose career has kind of passed me by. I enjoyed her in Star Trek, didn't watch Avatar, so missed her there, liked her in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I noticed her most recently on my flight back east when I watched Guardians of the Galaxy, in which she played Gamora, one of the Guardians. Like her character in Avatar, she was disguised as an alien, but even through that, there was a quality that drew my attention. The movie was excellent and entertaining. Zoe was also excellent, there is an honesty and openness about her; she was just excellent. I'm hoping that they do a Guardians sequel.

8. Rachel Stirling - English actress, Rachel Stirling, has been in two of my favourite series of this past year, The Bletchley Circle and The Game. Whether it's in a major role or supporting, she does dominate the screen. I particularly liked her in The Bletchley Circle, where, with the help of her friends from Bletchley (the code breakers of World War II), she becomes a crime solver. She has a strong, dynamic personality in both of the shows I mentioned. Having such excellent actresses as Stirling make shows that much more enjoyable. I will have to find The Detectorists, a series that came out in 2014 and see what that is about, another that she starred in.

7. Tea Leoni - Tea Leoni is an actress who pops up once in awhile in movies I quite enjoy; A League of their Own, Spanglish, Ghost Town, Deep Impact but she seems to only do one or two things a year. This past year she has starred in a new TV series, which Jo and I quite like and which we hope stays around for awhile. The series is Madam Secretary, where she portrays ex-CIA agent, now Secretary of State for the US. Some mysteries are working along in the background, which she is working to solve, even as she works to help solve various world crises. I have to say she is very believable in her role (wouldn't the US love a Secretary of State like her) and she's a joy to watch, beautiful with such a great voice. Both Jo and I have been pleasantly surprised by the series and we're enjoying seeing her on a regular basis.

6. Carrie Preston - She's been on my list in the past and I see no reason not to include her again. I think she's a bit of a chameleon as an actress and I have no idea why she hasn't been nominated for an Emmy, especially as a guest actress for her part in The Good Wife. In the past year she has reprised her role of Arlene Fowler for the last season of True Blood, appeared on Person of Interest in a small but semi-regular role and as such an excellent character, Elspeth Tascioni, on The Good Wife. Each character is so different and she is so believable in each. Beautiful, intelligent, excellent actress, happily married to one of my Top Ten Actors, Michael Emerson; quite an acting marriage.

5. Emily Blunt - She's one of those actresses that I've liked everything I've ever seen her in; The Devil Wears Prada, The Jane Austen Book Club, the quirky, strange Sunshine Cleaning, The Adjustment Bureau and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. She's another very intelligent actress who brings a lovely quality to her roles. This past year was a bit of a change of pace as she became an action heroine in Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow. The movie was entertaining and Emily was most believable in her role and held her own with Cruise, who is one of the action movie stars of late, bringing a nice quality of humour and intelligence to a simple action, SciFi movie. She's great!

4.Tatiana Maslany - Another Canadian actress on my list, Tatiana has been around for quite awhile, her first role was in 1997 and she was in a series which we watched somewhat, World without End. But over this past year, I started watching and got Jo hooked on one of the most unique series, starring Tatiana, Orphan Black. It's SciFi, about genetic cloning and Tatiana plays so many different characters, all clones, all with different personalities and lives, and all believable and just an acting tour de force. From street-wise Sarah, who discovers she is not alone, to mad, but in some way endearing Helena, to science nerd/ lesbian Cosima and through conservative, high strung, suburban soccer mom Alison, she makes each character interesting and believable. When they are on the screen together, each character is an individual and unique. There are other clones she portrays as well, even a brother, that was surprisingly excellent. For some reason, she hasn't been nominated for an Emmy and has once again been missed for this year's Golden Globes. I don't know what they're missing as you won't see a better acting performance. I'm so looking forward to the next season of this show.

3. Scarlet Johansson - Scarlet Johansson has been acting since 1994 and I've liked, not loved her in some of the movies I've seen her in; The Horse Whisperer, Lost in Translation, In Good Company, Scoop, The Prestige, to name a few. But I do like me a lassie that can sink her teeth into a action heroine - type role and just run with it. Scarlet has done that over the past few years, taking on the Marvel super hero part of Natasha Romanoff, AKA The Black Widow, an agent of SHIELD. She's just great and I love her in that part; OK OK, it doesn't hurt that she wears a nicely fitted leather outfit. But she holds her own and probably out acts her male partners in these movies, and that's saying a lot, considering that includes Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, etc. This past year, she reprised the role in Captain America, Winter Soldier, a film I enjoyed very much on my flight back home to Jo and the puppies, in November. It's a more serious effort for the Marvel super machine and she showed that she could handle that as easy as she does the more light-hearted (if you can call it that) adventures of The Avengers. She is an extremely busy actress but I do hope she continues to make room in her schedule for the super hero movies.

2. Amelia Bullmore - A regular on my list, Amelia, I've enjoyed her ever since Jo introduced me to the cop show, Scott & Bailey, where Amelia plays the boss, DCI Gill Murray. She is such an intelligent actress and I love listening to her talk. She's one of those people (and I think Jo would agree with me on this) that I'd love to have over for dinner. This past season (the last season?) her character has had to deal with more issues; pending retirement, bad memories from an assault in the previous season, but she has come through it on a positive note. She's a talented actress and also a talented writer. I hope she finds something new to keep her occupied.

1. Sarah Shahi - For the past 3 season, Sarah has starred on Person of Interest as an ex-CIA hit man, now working for Michael Emerson and alongside Jim Caviezel, trying to help people named by the 'computer'. I have previously enjoyed her in the series Life and also Fairly Legal, but I particularly like her in this role; a sociopath in a way, but one who has slowly started to develop and display a dry humour and personality that suits her character and the series so well. She is an excellent counter point to Caviezel and her interactions with the other characters and especially, Bear, the Belgian Malinois, are priceless and some of the highlights of the series.

So there you go. I've left out so many other favourites, some supporting actresses on series; Bree Turner and Bree Turner on Grimm, Sarah Rafferty (AKA Donna) on Suits, to Maggie Q on new series Stalker. But I hope you enjoy my selections and have fun making your own.

Next list will be my Top Movies.
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