SDP View Club,  Writer's Life

View Club Favorites 2023

2023 is about done, so we’ve taken a look back at all we’ve watched and read and experienced this year to pick our favorite moments. A lot of them are disturbingly murder-y, which happens a lot with this group! Thankfully, at least one of us is filled with gratitude. <3

Sahar Abdulaziz

poster for the tv show the chelsea detectiveThe Chelsea Detective

Have you ever been in the mood to watch something that is not too heavy, not too light, not corny but witty… but with fascinating characters?

I’m not a big TV watcher. In fact, I barely watch TV at all, but once in a while, when my mind needs a break, and I want to be entertained, I’ll indulge in a movie, or preferably a series, and I love a good mystery! That’s when I dive into ACORN or BRITBOX, where inevitably, I will find something of substance to watch. So far, I have not been disappointed.

Take The Chelsea Detective, which takes place in “London’s Chelsea neighborhood— “a beautiful borough for beautiful people. But it has a dark underside of deception, violence, greed—and murder. Bodies have a way of showing up, and things are rarely what they seem. DI Max Arnold, played by Adrian Scarborough, and his partner DS Priya Shamsie (Sonita Henry), must root out the truth and bring those responsible to justice, no matter their wealth or status.”

Juicy murder mystery, am I right? Popcorn. Blanket. ACTION!

I wound up watching Series 1 & 2, loving it but disappointed that there were only two series provided. HEY ACORN! [HINT!] Put up more shows! They’re killing me. (Sorry for the pun.)

It’s terrific acting with real-life-looking humans, not catwalk models whose lipstick and Botox smiles never fade or move. There are lots of layered mystery plots, which I enjoy immensely, but not a whole lot of gratuitous violence—if one doesn’t consider dead bodies strewn around while forensic teams putter about taking fingerprints and body temperatures. But hey, I did say this was a murder mystery.

Enjoy mysteries, action, superb acting, and in-depth plots, but also a giggle here and there and witty dialogue? This is your show. There’s even a sub-plot or two and, if I may, unrequited romance. I’m dead serious! (Okay, puns done.) 

Belinda M Gordon

poster for the TV show murder cityMurder City

If you’ve been following our reviews, you know by now that I’m a big fan of mysteries; I have been since I was a kid—books, movies, TV series, it doesn’t matter what format. I’ve also gotten to know the British actor Kris Marshall through his work on Death in Paradise. So when I stumbled upon the TV Series Murder City, which included both things, I had to check it out.

Although the series came out on British TV in 2006, I hadn’t heard about it before. And sadly, it only lasted 2 seasons. The show follows a team of detectives as they investigate homicides in London. Usually, they are working on multiple murders at a time which seem completely unrelated, but they end up being connected cleverly by the time the detectives solve the case. The cast of characters among the detectives is another thing that makes the stories so entertaining.

Sadly, I sped through the episodes and have watched them all! If this is your kind of thing, I highly recommend checking out the series. You can watch it free with ads on Prime Video’s Freevee.

Evelyn Infante

poster for the tv show the fall of the house of usherThe Fall of the House of Usher

I typically avoid horror movies and books as I do not want disturbing scenes to linger in my mind. However, if a movie is based on the occasional creepy book I have read and found to be well-written, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I watch the movie.

When the trailer for The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix popped up on my feed, I had to check it out. Bruce Greenwood, one of my favorite actors in The Resident, plays the central character, Roderick Usher. Years ago I read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. I wondered how the director, Mike Flanagan, would tell that tale. From the first episode, I was intrigued. Borrowing from Poe’s other works through his character and chapter names or pieces of dialogue, Flanagan’s take on the 1840 short story brought Poe’s work into the modern world while keeping the gist and feeling true to his masterpiece.

We first meet Roderick and his sister, Madeline as children, living with their sick and religious mother who believes Jesus is all the medicine she needs. When the mother passes, Madeline immediately takes over, making decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. I gotta tell you, the first episode had the creepy element I avoid, but I was in it and fascinated. In this first episode, we meet Verna (an anagram of raven—Clever!). Poe’s The Raven is subtly represented, and to my delight, the famous poem is recited at the end of the series. I later heard from a friend that the names of the episodes are borrowed from other Poe works giving you a clue of what that episode will look like. Some of the character names are also borrowed. The whole series is peppered with references to Poe’s body of work. In my opinion, this production was skillfully written.

Verna is a supernatural being appearing to the family just before they die, but Roderick sees her more often. Interestingly, after their first meeting before agreeing to Verna’s proposition, Verna doesn’t appear to Madeline until much later in the series. There are many flashbacks of Roderick and his sister as children and of Roderick’s first wife, revealing how the Ushers made a deal with Verna and how they acquired their wealth.

The Usher family is led by Roderick and Madeline, who we later learn are twins. Together, they control the lives of Roderick’s spoiled adult children and run a pharmaceutical company. There are mysteries surrounding the Ushers and how they took over Fortunato Pharmaceuticals developing an addictive drug called Ligadone. At times, I found myself feeling sorry for the pitiful Roderick, perhaps because I like the actor so much, despite the revelation that he keeps his wife addicted on purpose. (Oxycodone and the opioid epidemic reference).

When the movie opens, Roderick is at the church for the funeral of his deceased child. There he sees the apparitions of his children who died before. His heirs’ ghosts appearing before him is a continuing theme throughout the series. Those secrets are revealed after the heirs begin to die one by one mysteriously, and with every death, Verna has visited. She has come to collect on the contract made with the twins—the whole world for the death of your bloodline. 

 All alone with his fears, Roderick calls upon C. August Dupin, his childhood friend, who for years has tried to have Roderick convicted, without success. There, in a dimly lit room of the mansion, he confronts Roderick, who sometimes sees and hears things the detective does not. Impatient for the confession Dupin hopes to hear, Roderick continues to tell the story from the beginning. Without giving away the ending, I will say that the tension builds up and Dupin, who does not believe in the supernatural, finds himself reacting to Roderick’s fear.

The title says it all. The Ushers do fall one by one.

Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Roderick Usher and Carla Gugino’s role as Verna is exceptional. They, along with Mary McDonnell as Madeline, and Carl Lumbly as Dupin, deserve awards for their performances.

Kelly Jensen

The Raven Cycle

I spent two months earlier this year utterly absorbed by The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. One guess as to which I have enjoyed more. The Raven Cycle follows a group of teenagers—Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah—for about a year as they unite on a quest to find and resurrect a dead Welsh king. Along the way, each will make discoveries about themselves, learning not only who they truly are, but about the unique powers they wield—powers that aren’t always supernatural.

I don’t read a lot of Young Adult books, but the four novels of The Raven CycleThe Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and The Raven King—are an utter delight. The writing is gorgeous. I have to stop now and again to savor Stiefvater’s word choice and the cadence of a sentence or phrase. I also adore the characters and the paths they’ve taken. It’s been a difficult road for all of them, and they’re all champions in their own right. They’re also all very much themselves and I appreciate them for who they are and what they bring to the story. For their unflagging loyalty, even when they’re not exactly happy with each other. On top of all of that, they’re also written as teenagers. They’re young and they behave much as I’d expect young people to behave. Their crushes and romances felt so age-appropriate. Their hopes and fears are quite real.

I also appreciated that the adults are often kind, caring, and supportive of their children’s endeavors. Not all of them, but most. Blue’s family is completely awesome and the books would not have been the same without the ladies of 300 Fox Way.

Beyond all of that, though, I loved the story. So often when I’m reviewing books I adored, I talk about the experience of reading them—how moved I was; when I laughed, and when I cried. Books that make me feel, and feel deeply, are always my favorites. When reading, I’m always looking to be taken on a journey through my emotions and imaginary landscapes; these books have it all.

Susan Moore Jordan

In June of 2022, the world of music was electrified by the remarkable, beyond-his-years talent of Yunchan Lim, an 18-year-old pianist from South Korea. Lim won the prestigious Van Cliburn Piano Competition with his performance of Rachmaninoff’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3.

The “Rach Three,” as it’s sometimes referred to, is my most-loved composition. I’d loved the Second Concerto since my early teens and discovered the Third Concerto by purchasing a CD that contained both. The more I listened to the third concerto, the more I realized the depth of the music and how much it had to say to the listener. So, when I heard about Lim’s win and the piano world raving about his performance, I, fortunately, was able to find it on YouTube.

As many times as I had listened to the piece in the past…and that was at least in the hundreds…as well as I thought I knew the piece, parts of it were given more depth, more beauty, more emotion by young Mr. Lim. I heard an interview in which one of the judges for the competition, when asked at an after-party following the concert how someone so young could play with such emotion and depth, responded with one word: “Otherworldly.” 

The Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto was an important part of my most recently released novel. It has great meaning for some of the primary characters. Hearing Mr. Lim’s performance—which I’ve listened to numerous times since first hearing it—revealed sections of the concerto performed as I had never heard them before. It brought me to tears more than once. As did most people, I marveled at this young pianist’s understanding of the work.

Young Mr. Lim played with remarkable respect for the composer and never got in the way. His love of the music shone through his entire performance. It was apparent he saw it as an arc—from the first note, he understood where the composer wanted to take his listeners: to a remarkable place where the universe opens and reveals its glory through the music, in a way nothing else can.

If you want to share this incredible experience, you can find the concert on YouTube. Look for the “remastered” video; the original video was remastered to give the listener a better sense of the experience those in the audience had that night. And watch as you listen, and you’ll completely understand why the audience’s reaction was overwhelming.

M.A. Moore

First, what this is not. I did not read a fabulous book that demands a rave review, or watch a fantastic movie that everyone should see. I did not listen to a great concert that kept me high on adrenaline for days. What I did, is come down with the flu over Thanksgiving, and I give thanks for that.

You may wonder why anyone would call coming down with the flu the Best of 2023. The fever, sore throat and nose. The coughing. The sleepless nights, tossing and turning. And, I lost my voice for five days of enforced silence, unable to do much but grunt or croak. Even worse, the lack of energy kept me in my chair watching endless TV re-runs and playing computer games between cups of lemon water with honey to soothe my throat and Tylenol to break my fever. Now that I am on the mend, I recognize the flu for what it gave me. Quiet. Solitude. And the time to realize how blessed I truly am.

First, the tale of a woman who joined me for dinner on Thanksgiving Day. I thought I just had a head cold then. She’s a couple of years older than I. After graduating with a Mount Sinai nursing degree, she headed to relatives in Ireland to escape a bad situation at home. Fatherless at age six, her relationships with her mother and sister could only be called antagonistic. They called her the black sheep of the family. While abroad, her first heart attack came at age twenty-one due to a congenital heart defect that she shared with the Irish uncle who took her in. She spent several years of her working life as a nurse in Ireland during the years when the Irish troubles were at their worst. Like a battlefield nurse, she spent her nights either smuggling gasoline to needy farmers or tending to victims of the IRA’s brutality. She looked evil in the eye nightly. The stories she told me after a glass or two of wine….

She came back to the States, I’m not exactly sure why. A broken heart from a failed love affair? I don’t remember his name, just that she didn’t feel worthy of his affections. Perhaps no one remained that she cared enough about. Her beloved Uncle Tom died mere months after she left. After another twenty-five years, she retired from nursing suffering significant health problems. Two years ago, her heart stopped twice during surgery, each time for several minutes. It started again spontaneously, the doctors can’t explain how. She remembers nothing about being dead. No white light at the end of the tunnel. No loved ones welcomed her home. She spent a month in hospital recovering. She moves slowly now with a cane. Her dark brown hair has faded to dull grey. She lived next door to me for several years, that’s how I got to know her. Over endless cups of tea and stories. No longer able to take care of the home she built upon returning to the States, she lives in a small trailer independently. However, her neighbors are often cause for concern. She’s lonely, and claims I am her only friend. I listen to her stories and know I should write them up. But somehow, they seem too personal.
Some are outrageously funny, and others are so very sad.

Six days later: Feeling better, anxious to get out of the house yesterday, I put on a mask to prevent spreading germs in either direction. After a long overdue haircut, I still possessed some energy, so I stopped at CVS and stared at the woman walking toward me from the cashier.

I stopped.

She stopped.

Each of us tried to put a name to the other.

“I didn’t recognize you!” she finally exclaimed. Hardly surprising seeing that my hair was now a lovely silvery shade rather than red. More than half my face hid behind a mask, and my new glasses had a radically different style. She and her husband were writers that I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. I asked how she and he were doing. Then her tears began. Her sister had died, and they had lost their daughter to cancer only months before. Her husband has developed a rare debilitating disease that is sapping their energies. Perhaps the worst blow for her, he has turned his back on God. She is a devout Catholic. Since God did not save their daughter despite the thousands of prayers and petitions said for her, her husband will not return to church.

I wanted to hug her, but I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t pass on a remnant of my flu to her. I told her I would pray for them both and to stay strong.

So why do I say that getting the flu is the Best of 2023? It forced me to stop. I’ve had my share of grief this past year. My usual way to deal with it? Stay busy and ignore the pain. Now it stared me in the face. But what I realized is how incredibly fortunate I am. This flu serves as a mere bump in the road for me. In a few days, I will be able to walk among the woods and enjoy bird song again. Alone or with a good friend. Nature rejuvenates my soul. Most of us never realize how fortunate and blessed we are. Despite all the pain and suffering in this world, I encourage you to dig out a little quiet time to count your own blessings. Appreciate the small things. The beauty of our world and the warmth of good friends. A simple kindness. The worst doesn’t last forever, but neither do the good times. Don’t take any of them for granted.

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