2016 in Review || Favourites
I find it can be so easy to be swept up into looking at my achievements, or lack thereof, especially through the lens of figures, like how many books I have read, or how much I have written as the cumulative result of a year, and judge my growth purely on those standards. But that would be to undermine the content of what one learns, and diminish the value of the small and precious details. Those can be invaluable gems in one's life and strengthen the foundation of who you are and what you believe, feel and think. It's amazing! That's why coming into this year, I am very much determined to be purposeful with this gift God has given me - the gift of time and the ability to read and write and learn.
I'll be up and honest here, I've only read a beggarly collection of 28 books - several of those were study-books for my examinations, in fact. When I compare this with my normal average of 50 books annually from past years, it feels pathetic. If I had been left free reign with time and energy and emotional strength, my reading list might have looked quite different and, to be honest, much richer and more satisfying. And yet, I can't beat myself up about it, because I learnt things, and experienced and developed a deeper understanding of words and literature and stories than I have probably in years. It's only been scratching the surface, but still, I have loved it and treasured discovering that deeper layer. I am excited for how much more I can tap into that this year, Lord willing!
In this light, I think of some of the memorable things of 2016, like sitting the Senior External Exams and learning so much through studying for them, finishing high-school at long last, traveling to the USA for the first time with my older sisters and attending the summer school with RZIM in Atlanta, making special new friends and reconnecting with dear and old ones; in writing, I did not write in any of my novels, but I got to practice my creative writing technique in short-story and flash-fiction format, and learnt what it is like to write academic essays. It's made me grow :). Christmas was a true blessing, in its own quiet way, with my beloved family - resting and finding joy in the little things.
What memorable things stood out for you during 2016? I thought I would spend time reflecting below on the new films and tv shows, the art, the music and the books that stood out to me and were, in a way, the best of the year, things that I thought about a lot and helped shape me during this past year.
Woman in Gold tells the true story of how Maria Altman sought to regain a world famous painting of her aunt plundered by the Nazis during World War II. Her quest is not only to regain what's rightfully hers, but also to secure some measure of justice for the death, destruction and art theft perpetrated by the Nazis. It's a very moving story and when I sat down to watch it with my family, I remember we were all brought to tears by the journey of Maria, and her pain as she recalled the loss of her happy life in Austria before the war.
The film is beautifully done, with an amazing cast, and an engaging true-life story, with beautiful music and a general feeling of art to the whole film. It's also very thought-provoking on the whole theme of the holocaust, memory and how the past should be regarded. There are some thematic elements, and brief strong language, but on the whole I highly recommend it!
I've heard different things from my friends regarding Thomas Hardy in general, however I was eager to give him a go in 2016, especially with the release of the film adaption of his novel Far From the Madding Crowd in 2015 starring Carey Mulligan. I picked up the novel during #booktubeathon and started reading it and was very quickly drawn to the lyrical style of the writing and its pastoral beauty. My studies got in the way of finishing the novel, but I did get to watch the movie, and with some reservations, I did enjoy it very much. It's a very beautiful film, and again, quite sad in some ways. I'm still trying to wrap my mind on how I feel about the story itself, morally, with Hardy's worldview in this novel and what the choices of the characters really represent.
In some ways, it has a "feminist narrative" with an independent and headstrong heroine that would normally irritate me in a story, doing foolish decisions and making a complete hash of her romantic-life choices. However, there were some things that I felt won me over to this story, and moved me, even. The characters were rich, and not stereotypical, portraying complex emotions. The themes were both post-Victorian, and yet not, and I was fascinated by how Hardy explored the nature of relationships, the role of men and women in Victorian England, as well as the human ability to overcome hardships through perseverance and faithful courage. The story is a romance in many ways, with a love-triangle at it's heart. . . but it is also about characters, and the choices we make, and what that means. And I loved the character of Gabriel Oak! :)
I can't vouch for how accurate this film is as an adaption, but I did love it on its own; it was fun watching a well-done period-drama and the music score by Craig Armstrong was gorgeous! I look forward to reading the book and seeing how the film compares.
Disclaimer: this film does have some mature romance content, which I strongly advice to be watched with care.
I was hesitant as to whether I should include this movie in this list, as it isn't a new favourite movie. However, it did leave a heartbreaking and deeply lasting impression on me, and it was beautifully filmed, so I feel it definitely deserves mentioning here. This is an autobiographical WWI film, about a British woman who recalls coming of age during the Great War - a story of young love, the futility of war, and how to make sense of the darkest times.
This story is heartbreaking. But also deeply moving and beautiful and just so sad. It has a beautiful cast of characters - some of those that stood out to me, personally were Alicia Vikander's Vera Brittain, and Colin Morgan's Victor Richardson. In its own way, this film is a piece of art. It looks at poetry and art, and the beauty of nature. It also gives a very chilling look at the tragedy of war. I really loved it, though it left me in need of lots of tissues!
Unlike most years, 2016 was highlighted with me watching some really great TV series' and miniseries adaptions. The absolute highlight, and my current favourite TV show, has absolutely been BBC's Merlin! This five-season series is a King Arthur-retelling that follows the story of the young legendary Merlin, discovering and learning to master his magical gift and finding what his true destiny is; he becomes a servant to the young crown prince Arthur in the royal court of Camelot. This series is full of adventure and heart and courage and sacrifice. Brimming with rich characters, this King Arthur retelling stirs something deep and epic, beautiful and heartfelt in you. I just love this TV series so much! <3
I had been looking forward to this new adaption of Queen Victoria's life since the start of last year, and I must say it did not disappoint. While I truly love the beautiful Young Victoria movie starring Emily Blunt, this ITV adaption does an amazing job of taking a more intimate and detailed look at Queen Victoria's early life, from her accession to the throne at the tender age of 18, her early days of reigning with all her mistakes and her turbulent but close relationship with Lord Melbourne, through to her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert. It's an amazing tv series, and I just really loved it! The cast was brilliant, especially in the leading roles of Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman), Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell) and Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), and moved me quite deeply by the depth and emotion of the characters and their relationship to each other. So excited for season 2!
While I discovered Doctor Who late in 2015, I continued my adventures in the TARDIS through 2016 as well, watching the episodes with the 12th Doctor, and revisiting old favourites with the 9th, 10th, and 11th and their companions. I absolutely love the Doctor Who show - despite its crazy, timey-wimey flaws and its absurd adventures, it has true heart and inspiration and it's just a good, fun ride! Hurry up and come, series 10!!
I only just started Robin Hood in December of 2016, and so far I'm still in season one, but I have so far loved this BBC adaption of the robber of Sherwood :D.
Days of Elijah - Robin Mark
When it came to music, 2016 was very much focused on instrumental movie soundtracks (I'm obsessed!) However, during a time when I was burdened with my studies, I found true soul-food and refreshment from Robin Mark's music, especially his album Days of Elijah. I remember frequently popping on my earphones, and playing the songs Be Unto Your Name and The Lion of Judah just before an exam and being so blessed and uplifted in my heart. Though Robin Mark's music is not new to me, I was so happy to rediscover him last year and listen and worship through those songs, at a time when I needed them most!
Refuge - Sons of Korah
I have raved about the Sons of Korah music team for a while now, but I have been especially thankful for their music over the past year with their 2014 album, Refuge. A diverse and dynamic album that covers a range of different genres of Psalms (this band put music to the psalms), with some intense and turbulent ones like Psalm 94, and others that offer praise and hope like Psalm 92 or Psalm 23. These guys are so talented, and it's amazing to hear the instrumental palette on this album of guitar and drums - with some beautiful and truly epic moments in Refuge, I have been just so blessed with hearing and singing the Psalms.
Merlin - Rob Lane
2016 was rich with my love and new-found discoveries of amazing movie soundtracks and scores for tv series'. Merlin soundtrack by Rob Lane, and Rohan Stevenson, James Gosling & Michal Paclicek, in much the same way that the show itself did, won me over completely and became an instant favourite. Sadly, they have never released series 5 OST, which makes me incredibly sad because there is some beautiful music in that season. But on the whole this series has truly an incredible and beautiful fantasy score - so inspirational and moving and epic. Rob Lane's music has a distinctive style, but he definitely borrows from the splendour that Harry Gregson Williams and Howard Shore created in their Lord of the Rings and Narnia movie scores, which is no bad thing, good readers!
Doctor Who - Murray Gold
So I am a little bit obsessed with Doctor Who music, okay? It's just so magical and epic and fairy-tale-ish. . . JUST GIVE ME SERIES 9 SOUNDTRACK NOW PLEASE AND THANK YOU! #needthisverybadly I kept listening to Doctor Who music on repeat, especially during the first half of 2016 - so beautiful.
Far from the Madding Crowd - Craig Armstrong
I only discovered the music of Craig Armstrong last year, but he is so good! My favourite is the score for Far from the Madding Crowd. It is so haunting and beautiful, and just LOVELY!
Martin Phipps is a favourite film composer of mine, and like the film itself, the music for Woman in Gold is pure art! I especially love the last 3 tracks "Final Testimony", "The Language of Our Future", and "I Lived Here"...
The Incredible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling
- Maryrose Wood
- Maryrose Wood
This is a clever little book, and so adorably cute! My friend Annie Hawthorne recommended this series to me, and I totally enjoyed this first book. This book contains adorable wolf munchkins, a prim and smart and totally endearing Victorian governess, haunted mansions and the craziest adventures in a proper Victorian household. I loved it! I hope to continue the series sometime this year, for sure.
Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte
Anne Bronte is one of my favourite Bronte sisters. Now that I've read at last Anne Bronte's 2 novels, I can't help feeling a little sad, because I really love her writing and faith and her earnestness. She isn't quite like her sister Charlotte with her brilliant literary talent - however her writing is solid and good and edifying! Agnes Grey shares in its pages a simpler, quieter tale than other Bronte stories. I loved the Christian worldview of Anne Bronte's characters - and how she infused her writing with moments of faith and trust in God. This was so refreshing, reading it from a classic.
I loved this book so much! It's just perfect in every way. I remember taking it along on a weekend-holiday to the beach, and being completely glued to the pages, all the while listening to the glorious sound of the ocean waves crashing on the sand. This book is just solid gold, and I dare you not to love Psmith - he's the best chap ever.
I haven't read an Agatha Christie in ages, so it was with such a delighted surprise that I got swallowed up in this particular mystery. But oh the suspects are many and the plot thickens... this possibly is one of Christie's best mysteries that I've read/seen so far.
I've had Cathy Gohlke on my radar of "to-be-read authors" for a while, so I was really glad to finally read one of her novels. Saving Amelie was a hard-hitting, moving novel that I found to be both gripping and engaging. I fell in love with the characters of Amelie, Lea, Oma and Jason - that is one thing I loved about this book: the vast array of characters and the richness of them. Gohlke deals with difficult themes of eugenics and the role it played in Hitler's Nazi Germany - it was very intense and emotional but also fascinating and rich, and heartbreaking, and I truly loved it.
The Great Divorce was amazing. And I mean, it really was so good! In allegorical style of a man's journey on a bus to heaven, this story tells of the separation of Heaven and Hell, of the glory of Christ, and the horror of sin, the murkiness and abject depravity of the human heart, and the wonder of the light of God and His grace in us. "Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light."
My introduction to Wilkie Collins, the plot of this mystery novel completely engrossed me, and Collins' Gothic, haunting writing style and his humour made me fall in love with the characters so much! Marian is a new favourite heroine in classic Victorian literature, that's for sure. I cannot wait to read The Moonstone, and hopefully watch the new tv adaption - also Wilkie Collins has quite a bibliography that I'm keen to dig into by and by. But this novel was so good - possibly one of my favourite of 2016! Read my full blog review.
I knew next to nothing going into this book, so because I loved this book so much with all its pain and beauty, I won't give anything away or even attempt to describe the story or plot. This book was so sad, the ache felt tangible and horrifying at certain moments. It dug deep into the emotions, the heartbreak and struggles of the human soul, and it resonated deeply with me. It's one of those few books that made me cry out-right, big ugly heart-tears. Yet this book is so beautiful, I don't have quite the words for it. It moved me deeply. I wrote a review of the book on my blog, in which I attempted to tap into the beauty of this story, so please check it out.
And thus, my dear friends, I've read my last of Jane Austen's famous 6 novels. Obviously she wrote more stuff, like Lady Susan and her Juvenile writings, but I think there was something about picking up this novel as her "last" proper novel, and just spending time savouring it with delight and awe. Mansfield Park, for always hiding within the shadows of its popular sisters, is actually one of Austen's most mature and beautiful works - a true masterpiece of writing and moral thought. The characters are wonderful too - well, I mean Fanny is! She's quite the underrated heroine, but brave and kind and steadfast and just the loveliest thing! Mansfield Park is now vying with Persuasion for my favourite Jane Austen novel... dear, oh dear.
So while I had fun reading The Lunar Chronicles series throughout last year, it mostly felt like a doze of light-hearted, slightly guilty-pleasure entertainment. The books were well-written and engaging, but I didn't feel like they were special favourites, or anything. Cress on the other hand, had a little something which made it truly delightful, and while I can't quite put my finger on one ingredient that made me love it so much, I can definitely say it was a truly enjoyable, and sweet story! It wasn't quite as dark as Cinder and Scarlet, and it had some special character and plot developments that were quite wonderful as well. I loved the characters of Cress and Thorne! They were really a sweet pairing; Cress was so cute and awkwardly adorable and selfless, and Thorne made me smile in every page he was on... well, almost all. I really loved the Repunzel retelling of their story - it was just lovely!
Two favourite parts of the book were when Cress and Thorne crashed on the desert, and when the gang infiltrated the palace on the wedding day - really fun.
2016 was dominated with me reading 20th century modern classics, like The Great Gatsby. And while I chaffed a little at not reading as much Victorian literature as I'd have liked, thanks to my English exam, I do feel grateful that I finally got to read my first Steinbeck last year, and fell in love with what he does with stories and simple tales, like his little novella Of Mice and Men. It's such a well-written story, but so sad and tragic. It was brilliant in the way Steinbeck made me invest in this two men, George and Lennie, and get so swallowed into their dream, that by the last page I was left breathless with a throbbing heart, and a tear in my eye. He's definitely a favourite American writer, and I'd love to read more of his novels in the future, like The Red Pony and East of Eden. Read my review on Goodreads.
I finally have read my first William Shakespeare play, and I can't explain just how much I loved reading and studying it, and even writing essays for it for my exam. Macbeth is such a rich tale, and I don't think I could even tap the surface of things I learnt and appreciated from it. But I did share one of my essays on Fullness of Joy a while back, which you might enjoy reading, flaws and all. Maybe I will post in another article some more of my thoughts regarding the moral dilemmas of this play, and the themes within it. But another thing I enjoyed in this play was... well, the writing itself! Shakespeare is pretty darn clever, with amazing turns of phrases and dramatic soliloquies. I have a feeling a lot of it went over my head, but what I did get amazed me with its brilliance. And sometimes just how profound he got. His writings had rich symbolism that I just loved, and was actually quite moved by!
Can't wait for my next Shakespeare!
This was another of those "study" texts that was a real joy to read & study for my exams. I had heard so many good things about it, but it caught me unprepared for how emotional it would actually be. I loved all the political philosophies and ideologies presented in this book in the form of a simple fable. It was gold! It was a rather sad tale, though, and amazingly, I felt quite moved by the oppression of the animals. I think it was accentuated by the fact that it was an echo of Soviet Russia during the reign of Stalin and the Russian Revolution, and therefore real in every sense of the word!
Also Boxer and Clover, the two horses, and even Benjamin the donkey, won me over and made me cry... aww, Boxer! <3 *sniffs*
Ahh, this book was so good. I've not read many YA fiction books, much less ones that I've truly enjoyed. But I was delighted by how much I loved Red Rising, and frequently surprised by its depth and maturity. I loved the character of Darrow so much, and also the writing style and world-building was just phenomenal in a YA dystopian/sci-fi novel. One of the things I loved in this book was the Roman/Greek mythology based world-building of Pierce Brown's novel. My Roman-loving heart was fangirling all the way!
Content-wise, there were a few things I would have preferred to have had toned down, mostly language wise, and once or twice a small romance scene, but on the whole this novel was far more mature and rich and ready to deal with moral themes that I found fascinating. I hope to review this book, possibly when I've read the full series, but until then, I'd recommend you read Suzannah Rowntree's review on Goodreads, as she basically says everything I ever could about this book. It was her review, in fact, that made me pick this novel up, so there's that too... :)
And thus, dear friends, I've listed in this giant post, some of my favourites of 2016. Please tell me some of YOUR favourites in the comments below, or if any of these books/films/shows/music caught your eye. I'd love to have a conversation! Stay tuned for my coming posts, including one with some reading, writing and study goals for 2016, which may or may not include something of a TBR.
Further up and further in!