GregHorrorShow’s Non Gaming 2019 Round Up

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2019 was a big year for music, with the continued explosion of streaming and further disruption to how we discover and consume music. As time goes on I think curation, especially from friends, will have a strong focus – without guidance there is simply too much music being released to process. My favourite gigs from the year were Sophie and The Giants (Camden Assembly) and Carly Rae Jepsen (XOYO), both delivering fantastic sets and the chance to see a huge pop artist like Carly Rae Jepsen in a smaller venue was pretty awesome.

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I have a playlist of the year’s music, which I’ll embed below, but in amongst that I’d love to highlight a few favourites – Michael Kiwanuka delivered, for me, the album of the year along with excellent LP’s for Lewis Capaldi and Sam Fender. Fieh got their debut album out the door, most definitely worth a spin. Billie Eilish was everywhere but for good reason and The Big Moon continue to develop into a really strong band – looking forward to their album shortly. If you need pop then look no further than the immense trio of Halsey, Julia Michaels and Sigrid. Julia Michaels is one of the most underrated pop stars of the last few years, in my opinion. On a slightly more indie focus I’d also recommend checking out Palace and Liz Lawrence’s latest efforts – beautiful. And a quick shout out to the game Forgotton Anne, whose soundtrack was absolutely stunning.

 

Highlights from the year’s films for me were Zombieland 2 (more of the same but still enjoyable), Eternal Beauty (a tough watch but very rewarding) and The Aeronauts (a well made and interesting story of exploration and adventure). However my favourites were Frozen II, somehow just as good if not better than the first, and Knives Out, a stunning murder mystery that is excellently written and delivered with aplomb.

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Books-wise I read a few great titles this year – 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, Heartburn by Nora Ephron and The Psychology Of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas were all really enjoyable. On the graphic novel front Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson was cool but the stand out for me was Paper Girls (Vol 1) by Brian K. Vaughan. Brilliant and I look forward to reading the next volume that I got for Christmas 😊 I’m still making my way through the lengthy tome that is Yeah Yeah Yeah by Bob Stanley but it is a fantastic look back at the history of pop music. My book of the year though is Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler, a thriller set on a boat as the protagonist attempts to stay alive for the duration of the voyage. I found it really gripping and would heartily recommend.

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On the TV front it was a good year for returning shows – Barry, The Good Place and Stranger Things all came back with enjoyable seasons. Matt Berry is always a joy and Year Of The Rabbit, his Victorian cop show was great fun. Temple was intense but mostly thrilling and I really enjoyed Giri/Haji. For some light relief I found The Rookie to be a good slice of easy watching fun. Nathan Fillion continues his run as the good hearted, but out of his depth, leading man. Initially both Carmen Sandiego and She-Ra were intended to be shows to watch with the kids but I found myself enjoying them just as much, if not more! The animation on both are excellent and there are some interesting character arcs developing in both. Watchmen is brutal but brilliant, a different take on the universe which lays to rest concerns that the show couldn’t be made for TV. By, mainly, steering away directly from the comic the creators delivered a dark look at vigilante justice. My show of the year though came early in 2019 with Netflix’s Russian Doll. What a concept, what a story, what a soundtrack. The acting all round was great and Natasha Lyonne was amazing in the title role. It also didn’t outstay it’s welcome, a most refreshing change of pace from some of the bloated shows hitting our streaming services.

So there you go, a little look at the stuff I’ve been enjoying over the last twelve months. Gaming round up to follow!

The Everything Else of 2018

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I’ve decided to mix things up a little bit with my end of year round ups, for a start I’m moving away from the ‘award’ format itself but also I’ll be splitting things in a more simple way. One round-up for games and another for ‘Everything Else’.

So without further ado, let’s get into The Everything Else of 2018!

Musically it’s been a phenomenal year – full of big beats, guitars and wonderful pop. My Spotify round-up playlist is embedded below but some highlights were: Jade Bird, who continues her rise as one of the UK’s most under-rated female singer/songwriters, Billie Eilish, who delivers material well beyond what you’d expect from a 16-year-old, Sigrid, who is currently one of the best pop stars out there, Greta Van Fleet, who are on a mission to bring fun guitar music back, Robyn, who returns with another stunning single, Bobby Sessions, who brings a sense of levity and some political musings to proceedings and Carly Rae Jepsen, back again with a huge slice of pop goodness in ‘Party For One’.

I managed to do quite a bit of reading last year, a mix of fiction, fact and some great graphic novels. Of course the Overwatch graphic novel series continued with some really fun moments that help to flesh out the back story of the world and characters. The first volume of Lumberjanes was super fun, a nice collection of characters, it’s all about a group of girls at a summer scout camp. Everything is not as it seems though as strange creatures and otherworldly events transpire.

My favourite graphic novel this year though was Reborn from Mark Millar. Telling the story of Bonnie Black, an elderly lady who passes away on a stroke ward and suddenly finds herself in a new, younger body in a weird place called Adystria. Not only is this world some sort of limbo, it looks like she is the chosen one – here to save the world. It’s a standard fantasy set up but the art is lovely and its a clever idea. Word in the Summer was that Netflix have optioned Reborn as a TV series/film, should be an interesting watch!

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In terms of factual books, I thoroughly enjoyed Blood, Sweat and Pixels by Jason Schreier – a fascinating look behind the scenes on some of the industries biggest and most interesting titles. If you’re into games, this is definitely worth your time. But it’s hard to look past the epic tome that is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a big read but this look at how the world has been shaped by Humans is in equal measure spellbinding and horrifying.

Once I got past the heavy cockney accents in Gaie Sebold’s Shanghai Sparrow I found it be a really great read and look forward to exploring more titles in the series soon. I managed a double-header of Lee Child books in 2018; Night School and The Midnight Line, both of which I thought were good. It’s nice to see Child has diversified slightly from his well-worn (if enjoyable) formula to mix things up a bit. Another double was parts 2 (Authority) and 3 (Acceptance) in Jeff VanderMeer’s fantastically creepy trilogy that had started with Annihilation. I loved these and would recommend to anyone looking for something a little bit different. Probably my favourite books of the year, despite their unsettling nature.

I also stepped up my reading of some classics: Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway, The Trial – Franz Kafka, Chess – Stefan Zweig, Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton and Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Gabriel García Márquez. These were all great (they are classics for a reason!) but for me Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton was my favourite. I also really liked Chess and The Trial but the ending of Kafka’s story was just too much of a let down for me personally.

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On the TV front it was another great year. I enjoyed Erased, a Japanese show about time travel but wasn’t sure about A Discovery of Witches, which I just struggled to get into. There were plenty of shows that continued to be a good watch – Jessica Jones, iZombie, Legends Of Tomorrow and Blindspot all veered between the sublime and the ridiculous but kept me entertained. While I enjoyed Legion it definitely felt like a hard watch at times, the confusion from the first season continued but this season was even darker than the last. I caught up on seasons 3 through 5 of Marvel’s Agents Of Shield which, while still enjoyable, has got weaker as time goes on. The flip to space lost me but (as usual!) it is the time travel stuff that keeps me on board.

My favourites from the year though were The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, The Bodyguard, Glow, The Good Place, Howard’s End and Dark. Sabrina had the right amount of camp and scares for me, The Bodyguard was intense and full of twists, Glow was depressing and hilarious in equal measure, The Good Place continued to be a highlight, Howard’s End was a completely unexpected delight and Dark was a German language sci-fi show that crossed genres in different and strange ways.

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Film-wise I saw lots of interesting things this year. I loved the book so was really excited for the film version of Annihilation. While it was definitely a visual spectacle I really felt that perhaps Netflix might’ve been better to do the whole trilogy as a TV series. The Aftermath was a brilliant film, with great performances from Keira Knightly and Alexander Skarsgard. I thought Lean On Pete, the story of a young kid who gets into horse training but can’t let his horse go, was heartwarming. The London set musical Been So Long was a vivid, vibrant look at life in the capital. Meanwhile, Blue Iguana was a crime thriller with a more grounded trip to London.

I was also fortunate enough to see a couple of films that will be out in 2019 but were screened at festivals in 2018. Driven, the true story of DeLorean creator John DeLorean and Wild Rose, the fictional story of a country singer from Glasgow who dreams of visiting Nashville. I thought both of these were great but I did work on them music-wise so take that as you will 🙂

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I loved Bohemian Rhapsody, it was a really uplifting look at one of the world’s biggest bands. Just before Christmas I saw The Grinch, which I thought was a fun festive film and The Christmas Chronicles, in which Kurt Russell delivered the Santa I never knew I needed! I really loved this and suspect it will become an annual viewing experience in my house. My absolute favourites of this year though were The Incredibles 2 and Wreck It Ralph 2, both of which I thought had some great writing, music and (of course) visuals.

So there you have it – 2018 in a (large) nutshell. As always feel free to comment or reach out on socials to let me know what your highlights have been from this year and what I missed but should check out.

 

‘The Bad Place’ by Dean Koontz – Review (Book)

‘The Bad Place’ is one of Koontz’s more supernatural novels and tells the story of Frank Pollard.

Frank wakes up in an alley knowing nothing but his name and feeling an overwhelming urge that he’s being chased and needs to get away.

He hires a private detective husband and wife team to help him after suffering more blackouts and having no idea what is happening to him… Or indeed who he is.

As the story unravels and Frank’s past is revealed everyone finds themselves dragged into a dangerous game of cat and mouse – where the stakes are life or death.

Koontz is a master of the genre but I’ve found I do prefer his more recent books that are grounded in reality. ‘The Bad Place’ is a decent read though.

The storytelling is good and Koontz does a nice job of capturing the chemistry of a husband and wife team. The characters were likable but unfortunately I just didn’t connect fully with this novel compared to some of his other ones.

Rating: 6/10

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Pride And Prejudice And Zombies by Seth Graeme-Smith and Jane Austen – Review (Book)

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I’ve never really been one for the Jane Austen series of novels – the stories just never really seem to grab me.

However upon seeing this fantastic cover in the book store I was intrigued to see what Seth Graeme-Smith had done to a literary work held in such high esteem.

It is clear from the outset that Graeme-Smith has a lot of respect for the original work and that he is looking to make this re-imagining as fun as possible.

Having the Bennett sisters as highly trained ninja style defenders of the realm works and obviously leads to many a situation that never made it into the original novel.

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That Graeme-Smith maintains the language of the original and manages to retain the sense that both Austen’s parts and the ‘Zombie Mayhem’ are all in the same style is quite a feat.

Some artistic licence has been used and the story doesn’t play out in exactly the same manner as the original but Pride And Prejudice And Zombies should be praised for being bold enough to mix, what you would think would be, two completely unsuitable themes.

Overall I would most certainly recommend the book to anyone, even if you’re not a fan of Jane Austen’s writing. I wasn’t aware of the story previous to reading this book so don’t let that hold you back either.

I suspect it won’t be long until someone puts together a film version.

Rating: 9/10

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Relentless – Simon Kernick (Book)

If you’re looking for a nice breezy read Relentless is not the book for you.

The story starts at a breakneck pace and barely pauses for breath in the entire 450 or so pages.

I actually found this style, initially at least, to be a bit overbearing. It felt a little forced and I thought the characters response to the first set of events was slightly unrealistic.

However that is obviously just a personal point of view – the writing itself was fine (apart from an extensive use of the term ‘bodily’ which was quite jarring after the fourth or fifth time) and once I adjusted to the pace I found the book to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Tom Meron is an insurance salesman with a very average life – university lecturer wife, two kids, nice house etc – in London until the day he receives a phone call from an old school friend who he hasn’t seen in 3 or 4 years.

His friend sounds like he is taking a beating and eventually he utters six words to his attacker that change Tom’s world forever: the first two lines of Tom’s address.

Believing his friend to have been murdered and the murderer on his way to Tom’s house he grabs his kids and so starts a game of cat and mouse with Tom never entirely sure who to trust.

This was never going to be a book that required a lot of brain power, most of the twists are hinted at in advance of being revealed, but then sometimes it’s nice to read a book that is enjoyable without being taxing.

Rating: 7/10

Modesty Blaise – A Future Tarantino?

Modesty Blaise – by Peter O’Donnell

Firstly let me open by saying that this book has the campest cover of any book I have ever read. Quite why they went to the trouble of hammering home that Modesty is a WOMAN by making it bright PINK is beyond me – however the cover bears no real relation to the great novel inside.

This is an old novel – written in 1965 it is based around the then popular comic strip character Modesty Blaise and her sidekick Willie Garvin.

Without parents and roaming from place to place as a child Modesty learns different skills from the various people who take her under their wing and soon shows a propensity for combat and an intellegence to match. This leads her to form The Network – an international heist/robbery ring from which she retires when she makes £500,000, a figure she set herself many years ago.

The novel begins with the British Government deciding to bring Modesty out of retirement to work for them – they need someone to get hold of £10m worth of diamonds that have been stolen and figure Modesty is the best person for the job. If she agrees they will reveal the location of her ex-Network right hand man Willie Garvin, who is lanquishing in a jungle prison.

Modesty agrees and after busting her former colleague out of prison in the jungle the two embark on a mission to get the job done.

It’s a fairly short novel (around 250 pages) and the first third is mainly backstory and preparation for the explosive heist itself.

There are a few twists and turns along the way and the book is well written but on occasion is hampered by the era in which it was written – with regards to Modesty and Garvin’s sometimes blunt ‘i’m a girl / i’m a man’ features.

The characters are utterly devoted to one another through respect and loyalty but they are never romantically involved which made for a nice change.

Modesty Blaise is a great spy thriller which was a great read and I suspect I will give one of the other (11 I believe) Modesty Blaise novels a try at some stage.

Upon finishing I thought to myself, that would make an excellent film if done right i.e seriously.

I had a look on Wikipedia and discovered several versions had been made. The first in 1966 was a spy spoof and the follow ups left a lot to be desired. However a few years ago Miramax put out a straight to DVD version as a way of keeping hold of the rights to the property.

Then I spotted this:

“Quentin Tarantino has been interested in directing a Modesty Blaise movie for many years, and at one point Neil Gaiman even wrote a script treatment based upon O’Donnell’s novel, I, Lucifer. So far, nothing has come of these plans.”

If that’s true it would be awesome.

Tarantino and Gaiman? Very very cool indeed, perhaps Modesty will make it to the big screen in the film she deserves after all.