What’s Making Me Happy: January 2016

The month of January has one bright spot, when my husband and I, along with our family and friends, celebrate his birthday. Beyond that, it is without question the dreariest month in the calendar year. The color of Christmas comes tumbling down, leaving only brown grass and bare trees in its wake. The cold weather descends without pity even on north Georgia, where I live. (I stay rooted in Georgia, not out of any special “Southern pride” even though I do love that Atlanta is one of the country’s most geek-friendly cities, but out of my deep loathing for the cold.) It takes forever for the sun to come up and no time at all for it to set. All in all, I often catch myself wishing I could fast forward through all the bits of January that don’t involve my husband’s birthday.

It behooves me, therefore, to make a special effort to find the positive, and now’s the time to start a new blog series to follow up my end-of-2015 post. Here are a few things that are making me happy in this frigid January of 2016:

1. Audiobooks.

To get to Life University, where I teach Composition and Literature and sometimes Public Speaking, I have to travel from my home in Gainesville down to Marietta, GA, an often (no, usually) sticky commute. I always take my iPod, but I find I can’t enjoy music when I’m crawling in traffic at a pace that would embarrass a snail. Until recent days my habit had been to turn to the news when traffic got slow, but the Presidential campaign has made listening to the news an altogether too depressing experience. So sometime last year I theorized that I could make my commute more bearable by listening to audiobooks — particularly audio versions of print books I’ve already read and loved. As Christmas drew near, I made out my Amazon.com wish list accordingly.

My husband, who makes me smile in countless ways, gave me the Audio CD version of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, one of my favorite reads of 2014 but so huge (well over a thousand pages) that the prospect of re-reading it from cover to cover is a bit daunting. I’ve been listening to it, and it turns out I was absolutely right: listening to a well-told story does indeed make a traffic crush more bearable, and it even brightens my morning coffee and Internet-surfing on my days off. It would seem I’ve never outgrown my childhood pleasure at being read to, even when I could read the books for myself. Next up is the Audio CD of Mercedes Lackey’s The Wizard of London, a gift from my father-in-law.

Thanks to Amazon.com gift cards, I’ve been growing my audiobook collection. I’ve added Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch (a book I haven’t read yet) and Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, the even-better sequel to The Way of Kings. I learned a few days ago that a series I adore, Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters Trilogy — Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, and Child of the Prophecy — is due for a big Audio CD release this coming May. I can already guess one thing that will be making me happy in June 2016.

2. Django Wexler’s The Price of Valor.

Few things make a fantasy reader happier than a series that just keeps getting better. I liked the first book in Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series, The Thousand Names. I liked the second book, The Shadow Throne, even more. I’m over halfway through Book Three, The Price of Valor, and I like it best of all. This is the very book a Goodreads reviewer criticized for having “too many female characters,” and I can see what he meant; thus far, every chapter has been marked by the significant presence of at least one female character. But a flaw in one reader’s eyes is a virtue in another’s, and I love the heck out of it. The first book revolved around military action, and the second around political machinations and competing philosophies. In this third book, we get both, as Winter, the heroine, takes the lead on the battlefield while Marcus, the hero, deals with the politics and investigates an attempt on the life of his Queen. The best part: the series has two more books to come!

3. C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner.

This is the most “literary” of the books I’m currently reading, as Cherryh is one of the most highly regarded science fiction writers living and working today. One of her great strengths is her facility with creating detailed and believable alien societies and complex and intriguing nonhuman characters. In this one we get to know Bren Cameron, an ambassador and representative of humanity surrounded by atevi, black-skinned aliens who dwarf him in size and bewilder him in spirit. The book makes an interesting contrast piece to Cherryh’s The Pride of Chanur, in which the point-of-view character is Pyanfar, a female commander of the lion-like Hani race who must learn to communicate with the “alien” — a human male — who has stowed away aboard her ship. Both stories deal with the problems encountered in any attempt to reach across barriers of language, culture, and appearance, yet there’s a heartening optimism at their core that I find very winning.

4. The return of iZombie.

Rob Thomas’s iZombie is my second favorite among the TV shows that premiered last year, with its appealing trio of good guys, clairvoyant zombie Liv (a female Other protagonist — nearly always a plus for me), medical examiner Ravi, and detective Clive. While Liv does have a romantic relationship, for me her solid friendships with Ravi and Clive, all-too-rare examples of male/female friendships with no sexual tension, are much more interesting. (One distinct flaw in the show is that Peyton, Liv’s only female friend, shows up far too rarely.) In the return episode, Liv helps Clive investigate the death of an actor on a show called “Zombie High.” One of the extras, in zombie make-up, says he’d like to see “a show about zombies where a zombie’s the star.” Clive’s response: “Sounds boring.” Bits like that — along with lines like Ravi’s brilliantly delivered, “Yes, Olivia, there is a Santa Claus brain” — are a big part of why I enjoy this show.

5. The return of Agent Carter.

This is my absolute favorite of the TV shows that premiered last year. I mean to devote an entire post to this one, once I’m further into the season, but for now I’ll say that Peggy Carter is the kind of heroine I wish with all my soul had been kicking butt and pursuing justice (and looking gorgeous while doing it) when I was a teenager in search of a TV role model. I’m still not too old to look up to Peggy. I’ll share this quote from a Tor.com recap:

Peggy is life, Peggy is world, Peggy is ALL. Peggy Peggy Peggy.

6. The return of Downton Abbey.

This show will also get its own post. For now I’ll give an example of what I feel is its greatest virtue. When I watched Season 1, Lady Edith Crawley, the wallflower “middle sister,” was my least favorite character, a sniveling whiner looking for every opportunity to stab her gorgeous elder sister in the back (not that Lady Mary didn’t deserve it, in her way). Now, as I watch Season 6, Lady Edith is my favorite character, the one with whom I most identify and for whom I am rooting the hardest. Her journey from character I loathe to character I love has been hard-won, complex, and believable.


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