Lockdown Lessons: Things I’m Grateful For

A perhaps uncharacteristically sentimental post, but recent events have got me- and probably most other people- unusually glum and miserable. This year has been hard. Lockdown life has dramatically reduced options for things to do.

It’s been miserable, frustrating and dull. However, I like to look on the bright side. This year has shown me that I have a lot to be grateful for- some big, some small.

I think like other people I’m guilty of taking the good things in my life for granted, so it’s nice to stop and reflect on them.

  1. Having a place to live

I have spent a lot of time in my house this year, and I’m super lucky to have a place to call my own. Sometimes I get frustrated that my flat is so small and needs so much work done, but actually, I’m fairly lucky to have somewhere.

2. Food

God, isn’t food good? Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t really get more into cooking during lockdown- if anything, I’ve found myself less motivated than usual to cook- but I have eaten a lot, and I can confirm that eating food is always good.

3. Friends

I’ve barely seen my friends for months, but I really miss them- and that reminds me how much I love them, and what a lovely time we’ll have together next year.

4. Bed

Sleep is so good. Feeling tired? Go to bed. Feeling miserable? Go to bed. Feeling cold? Go to bed. I’ve fallen in love again with bed this year.

5. The internet

Imagine if this had all happened in 1990. Actually, let’s not. It’s too grim to contemplate.

I feel very lucky and blessed, and I am also intently aware of my privilege and comfort in comparison to many, many other people. I’m glad this year is almost over.

Offbeat Halloween movies to watch this week

It’s finally here! Spooky Season! The week of the witch! The night of the year where it’s appropriate to eat so much sugar you twitch for a whole fortnight! (Maybe the last one is just me.)

I watch a lot of films, and I have a special soft spot for horror- in particular, trashy B movies and zombie films, but I like all sorts of stuff. In this list, I’m going to give a few less obvious (and a couple which are less spooky!) Halloween film choices.

The Dead Don’t Die

This is a sort of frightening, but mostly just bizarre and very meta zombie film. The writing is razor sharp and it’s definitely got the strangest twist ending. It’s a got a great cast- Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver, Bill Murray- and it’s beyond weird. I imagine it’s a bit of a Marmite film, but I loved it.

Extra Ordinary

I actually really wish I hadn’t already watched this so I could watch it again for the first time. It’s a hilarious horror comedy which perfectly balances the extraordinary and the utterly mundane. It’s sweet and very funny. If you watch anything on this list, watch this one.

The Selling

I watched this the other day on Amazon Prime Video, expecting very little from it but being charmed by the trailer. It’s low on spookiness, but funny with a sweet heart and strangely charming characters. Well worth a watch.

Pontypool

This is one of those films that’s not super scary in terms of what you see on screen- although there are a couple of moments that are fairly frightening. What really makes this an effective horror is the way it builds up the sense of dread while taking place almost exclusively in one location. This one stuck with me for a while after I’d seen it.

Office Uprising

Another Prime Video find- there are loads of films like this- zomedies with hapless characters who somehow have to battle their way to safety in the face of sudden zombies. This one stands out because it’s pretty funny and because of the cast- Zachary Levi is scenery-chompingly brilliant as the bad guy and Karan Soni is hilarious.

Ghost Stories

I found this one absolutely terrifying in a really clever way. Definitely not one to watch if you’re a wimp like me- I spent a lot of it hiding behind a blanket- but it’s very, very smart and enjoyable.

Autumn/winter: a covid to-do list

This is my favourite time of the year. I love the late, dark nights wrapped in sweaters and scarves, sipping Baileys with my friends and wandering around the shops looking for Christmas gifts and decorations.

Sadly, this year isn’t going to quite be that, and I’m trying hard to remind myself that I also love being outside on cool crisp afternoons, cuddling up under a blanket and watching Christmas movies. In light of current circumstances, I think it’s a good idea to make a list of things that are still possible to do to enjoy the season.

So, without further ado, here is an uncomprehensive list of things I’m aiming to do before winter properly takes hold…

  1. Crisp autumn walks

I grew to love walking in the summer, in part because it’s one of the only activities left open to us in the covid times, but also because it’s good for my mental health. As the days get shorter and cooler, I’m going to get out and enjoy some brisk walks and lovely autumnal nature.

2. Decorate the house

For Halloween, for Christmas, for other holidays I’ve yet to invent… I’m looking for any excuse at the minute to make my house as warm, cosy and welcoming as possible, since I’m going to be spending a damn huge amount of time there. I’ve even taken up sewing and I’m making my own Halloween decorations. I’m planning on draping the house in fairy lights.

3. Cook some new stuff

I’m planning on going vegan in the new year, so this is a perfect time to practice my culinary skills before then. The cooler weather calls for heavy, carb-heavy meals and I am all about those.

4. Video games

Well, obviously.

5. Work through the Netflix to-watch list

Does anyone else have this problem? In the modern world, where I have a frankly ridiculous amount of streaming services, I actually can’t keep up with how much there is to watch. I am constantly ‘adding things to the list’ when people recommend things, but in reality, there isn’t really a list, just my dawning sense of panic at the thought of loading up Netflix.

Under The Autumn Moon [That’s A Christmas- Cole Reviews Festive Hallmark Movies]

One of my favourite Hallmark tropes is ‘big city businesswoman goes into the country and falls in love with both nature and some sort of country boy’. This is absolutely a film with that trope as its main plot.

A lot of the effectiveness- or lack thereof- of these films comes from the charm of the main characters (because, if we’re honest, there’s very little plot in one of these bad boys). Alex is our main character here, a pleasant businesswoman struggling to fit in at her job as part of a sportswear retail company. She’s fine, I guess. Good hair. Josh Ketchum is the romantic interest, and he is automatically more interesting than Alex because his name makes me think of Pokémon. He doesn’t want to sell the ranch he loves and runs with his sister, but they’re out of money, and Alex’s company wants to buy it. They have some nice chemistry in the bland, inoffensive way of these films.

The most interesting character by far is Alex’s utterly bizarre boss, a sort of fleece-wearing Steve Jobs type who insists on having meetings halfway up a climbing wall and rides a bicycle around the office. There’s also a fairly cute side romance between two other visitors at the ranch.

The mild drama in the film is in the form of Josh’s ex-girlfriend, a woman with excellent boss bitch sunglasses who also wants to buy the ranch. There is also a guy who works with Alex who she’s up against for a promotion. Both of these people want the ranch for nefarious purposes that I guess we’re meant to believe are less morally good than Alex’s reasons.

This Hallmark film is a bit on the weaker end of the scale, I think. It was fine, but didn’t hold up to some of their better (slash more cheesy) entries.

Pumpkin Pie Wars [That’s A Christmas- Cole Reviews Festive Hallmark Movies]

This series of posts is named after MBMBAM‘s segement That’s A Christmas To Me, which is a delight if you love dreadful festive movies.

I am a strong believer that ‘guilty pleasures’ is a dreadful phrase, and that you shouldn’t be ashamed of liking cheesy things. I write romance novels, so maybe I’m biased about this, I don’t know.

Hallmark festive movies are weirdly compelling to me. They’re not without their flaws- god knows they’re pretty much all white, cisgender, heteronormative nonsense. They all have basically the same plot and possess possibly the lowest stakes possible for a film to still claim it has a plot. That said, they’re like catnip to me, especially as we enter this cooler, Christmassy time of the year. I inevitably watch about a dozen each year, so I have decided to review them, because I can.

Pumpkin Pie Wars is a new one for me this year. The ‘plot’ basically involves the adult children of rival bakeries entering the pumpkin pie competition that their mothers first forged their intense hatred of each other in a decade ago. The issue is that Casey cannot cook, as she is a business graduate (top of her class, apparently, although for some reason works at her mum’s bakery) and Sam wants to be a proper chef, not a mere baker. They forge a plan to help each other in secret, and, well, it’s a Hallmark film, so there’s some PG-rated smooching and they fall in love.

This is a very short film, coming in at fewer than 90 minutes, and I am sort of loath to say this about a Hallmark movie, but it could have done with being longer. The ‘misunderstanding’ that one expects in a romance film came 15 minutes from the end, and then there was another key plot point thrown into the mix about five minutes later. Carnage, obviously, for the last ten minutes.

The main characters were about as bland and politely charming as you’d expect in this, but their mothers were amazing and vicious to each other. The whole thing plays like Romeo & Juliet but without all the stabbing.

It’s trash, and the pacing is off, but the delicious animosity between their mothers is delightful, so I’d say this is a good medium-bad Hallmark movie.

Video Games Consoles I Own (And Ones I Really Wish I Did)

I just like collecting consoles and games. I probably like collecting them more than I like playing them.

Consoles I Own

PS4

My favourite console ever I think. I absolutely love my PS4. It’s the console that gets the most use by far.

Xbox One

I am very guilty of not using this as much as the PS4. In fact, I’ve cancelled my Xbox Live subscription. It’s nice, but I don’t think it’s as fast as the PS4, and I think mine struggles a bit with age.

Xbox 360

I have had about six of these and always seem to end up with one in my possession. The current one isn’t plugged in, just sat in a bag beside my TV. I should probably plug it in- I could go for a Mass Effect replay.

Playstation 2

Also not plugged in at the minute. I honestly haven’t played this very much. I need to get on it.

Wii

I love Wii Fit but don’t use this for much else. I really need to get some more games for it.

Nintendo 3DS

Amazing console, although sadly slightly ignored since I got the Switch. I love Phoenix Wright on the 3DS.

PS Vita

I mostly got this for playing otome games on. It is such a cute little console. The games are quite expensive and hard to get hold of, though.

Nintendo Switch

The Switch is amazing, obviously. Animal Crossing is life.

Gaming PC

This one doesn’t really count but… I love it so much.

Consoles I Want

PSP

I have a Vita but I feel like the PSP has a great game library. Plus, the pink one is super cute. I’ve been pricing these up a lot recently and I’m very tempted to pick one up. There still seems to be a lot of games available second hand, and for much cheaper than the Vita games tend to be.

Gameboy Color

Oh, the throwback. I’m fairly sure I did have one back in the day. I’d love to enjoy those old Pokemon games again.

GBA

I don’t think I ever had one of these, but aren’t they super cute?

Wii U

I really, really want a Wii U. I know they’re a bit weird, but I just love them. Any sort of weird gimmick in a console sells it to me.

In conclusion, I have far too many consoles- I probably shouldn’t buy any more.

But I probably will.

Book Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

This is a wonderful book. I was initially drawn to it because it deals with life after the end of the world, which is a subject I find fascinating, but I feel like this book is actually so much more than that.

The novel takes the form of the diary entries of our main character Jon, who takes it upon himself to record the events that happen after the world ends. He is staying in a hotel in Switzerland for a work conference when the nuclear bombs fall, ending civilisation as it currently exists.

After the bombs fall, Jon must adjust to life in this post-apocalyptic setting. He stays at the hotel with a host of other interesting characters and, as they try to carve out their way to survival, they make a grizzly discovery: the body of a young girl in a water tank in the hotel.

Jon becomes obsessed with solving this crime, and the novel does an amazing job of showing his descent mentally as his obsession devours him. Jameson constantly toys with the reader, using the unreliable narrative to twist reality.

As time goes on, tensions rise in the hotel as people turn on one another. The other characters in this book were great; I loved their different personalities and the exploration of how different types of people might cope with this sort of experience. As their society begins to inevitably crumble, characters start to break down, and their slice of civilisation is further tested when it becomes apparent that they might not be the only survivors. Isolated and vulnerable in a lonely hotel, the characters plight is genuinely unsettling.

I adored this novel. I felt Jameson did a great job of writing a twisty, unpredictable narrative that went beyond the constraints of genre. It’s not a light read, but it certainly an addictive one that stays with you.

Reasons to read:

  • A unique take on what life might be like at the end of the world
  • Well written characters
  • Good range of diversity in the characters
  • Unpredictable and unsettling

Possible trigger warnings:

  • Suicide
  • Drug use
  • Mental health topics
  • Death and violence
  • Domestic abuse
  • Discussion of rape

Book Review: Loveless by Alice Oseman

This is an absolutely gorgeous book and I think everyone should read it. Alice Oseman is a powerhouse of a human. Her comic Heartstopper is amazing and she has a real gift for capturing the strange feeling of being a young person.

Loveless is a novel about a girl named Georgia who has never had a crush on anyone. As she begins her university life, she sets out to change this and to find love- after all, she loves love, thinking about it constantly and obsessing over fanfiction. With the help of her seemingly confident and knowledgeable roommate Rooney, and her best friends Jason and Pip, she embarks on her university journey towards true love.

Except- it doesn’t play out that way. As the novel progresses, Georgia has to come to terms with the fact that, actually, she doesn’t experience romantic or sexual attraction at all. With the help of Sunil, the aromantic asexual president of the Pride Society, she begins to accept her sexuality.

One of the amazing things about this novel is the characters- even the secondary characters feel fleshed out and believable, with their own quirks and personalities that make you love them. They are all real, flawed people, who are capable of doing both good and bad things and react in believable ways to the things that happen. Rooney was a particular favourite of mine; she is an absolute treasure and, as the story developed and I learned more about her, I just adored her.

The interaction between the characters felt so authentic; the group starts a Shakespeare Society and a lot of the story involves their attempt to put on a showcase of some of Old Shakey’s most romantic plays. The fact that Georgia is trying to come to terms with who she is around this is really affecting. The core message of the book is that the love between friends is just as important and as authentic as the love two humans can share romantically. This works so well here because the friendships depicted in the book are so raw and real.

In addition to Georgia’s journey of self-acceptance, there is also the absolute treat of the enemies-to-lovers, will-they-won’t-they romance between Pip and Rooney. I love this trope so much, and seeing it done so effectively between two queer female characters is a delight.

There is absolutely nothing I didn’t like about this book. It feels like an important piece of #ownvoices writing and a truly authentic and heartfelt story.

Reasons to read:

  • A heartwarming, authentic story about an aroace character discovering and accepting themselves
  • Diverse characters
  • An amazing cast of characters who feel real and who are delightful
  • Queer women in an enemies-to-lovers extravaganza
  • Wholesome content

Possible trigger warnings:

  • Mentions of past abusive behaviour
  • Acephobic references
  • Some experimenting with a character without them knowing

July 2020

This year is such a blur. I imagine everyone feels exactly the same way about it as I do. It’s almost time to get the Halloween decorations out! It’s almost… dare I say it… Christmas. With some restrictions easing up in my part of the world, I’ve had a slightly more interesting month than last month, but life is still far from back to normal. I don’t love having to plan ahead in such detail to go out.

Things I Watched

Spaced
I missed Spaced the first time around because I was, well, a tiny child. It isn’t perfect, but it is definitely hilarious and feels like a very specific moment in time captured.

Onward
I’m not as into Disney/Pixar films as a lot of people; I think I just didn’t watch enough as a child, so it isn’t a part of my life in the way it is for other folks. That said, Onward was adorable and very worth a watch.

Bad Times At The El Royale
This wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was awesome- really entertaining, very slick, very well-written. A great film.

Things I Read

Happy Fat- Sofie Hagen
I love Sofie, and this is such an affirming, amazing book. I mentioned it last month and just finished the audiobook this month.

The Last- Hanna Jameson
I’m planning on writing a proper book review of this one, but I adored it. One of my best reads of the year. If you’re into post-apocalyptic settings, this is definitely worth a read.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper- Hallie Rubenhold
A really interesting non-fiction book about the lives of the victims of Jack the Ripper. If you’re interested in this period of history, it’s a fascinating read. I loved how this book disproved the myths around these women.

Things I Played

I am still on my Animal Crossing binge. I have also been dipping my toes in the mobile otome game Obey Me but I’m not sold on it yet.

Other Stuff

I have been really getting into walking, and just generally being outside. I spent years of my life thinking that I hated being outdoors, but it seems I was wrong. I have even bought a bike.

Looking Forward

I’m off work until September, so August is going to be about relaxing, catching up with friends, working on some projects and generally having a nice time.

Ranking My Animal Crossing Islanders

Two Animal Crossing posts in a row? On my blog? It’s more likely than you think.

I have finally managed to get my full dream team together on Luna, my lil Animal Crossing island. I feel like it has taken me way longer than other people to get my AC island sorted, in part because I started later and in part because I am well lazy. I am still paving the damn place and I owe Tom Nook a lot of money still (a situation which is not wildly dissimilar from my actual life, in which I need to sort out my yard and pay off my mortgage). Despite this, I have managed to get ten amazing islanders, and I love them all.

Some people are Team Dom, Team Marshall or Team Raymond, but I do not care for these popular cuties. Instead, please find my ranked list of my islanders, and know that I love them all- just not equally, otherwise it wouldn’t be ranked.

10. Olaf

I can’t explain what I like about Olaf. He dresses a bit like a bullfighter, and he is fairly strange to look at. He is haughty and really stands out as different from the general vibe of the island. His hairstyle is great, though. He looks hilarious in glasses, too.

9. Norma

She frequently gives me gifts and has a real ‘drunk aunt at the party’ vibe I’m all about. A bit weird, but always nice.

8. Gonzo

This old man is constantly complaining about being old and looks amazing in a variety of hats. I like to imagine he brings some much-needed maturity to the island. I think Mint has a bit of a crush on him, too, so he’s clearly the George Clooney of Luna.

7. Al

Al is, without a doubt, the islander I have who is most hated by other players. I have seen him on several lists of the worst characters, and I think that, although he is strange looking and has strange banter, he is indeed sort of charming.

6. Pietro

This lad. What is his whole thing? Why does he dress like this? I love him.

5. Ketchup

This absolute babe looks inexplicably like an adorable tomato. Absolute cutie. That fringe would look dreadful on anyone else and you know it.

4. Molly

Absolute queen- she is adorable and loves to read. We stan a literate cutie. Her whole vibe is very cottagecore and I am here for it.

3. Mint

Not going to lie, I think Mint is a bit of a Karen. She has started calling me ‘hun’ which only cements my theory. That said, she is always very pleasant to me (although I imagine she often goes to complain to Tom Nook) and frequently wears the clothes I give her.

2. Muffy

This goth sheep is absolute goals. Her whole look is iconic and she is a friendly queen. I don’t know if I want to be her friend or if I just want to be her.

  1. Peanut

The ultimate. The pinnacle. The angel. Peanut is always delighted, always delightful and exceedingly cute. I love her so much. I want her zest for life injected into my veins.