The Endless Quest For the Perfect To Do List App

I’ve been hunting for the perfect to do list app to organize my life for years and have tried what seems like dozens. I have yet to find my ideal app, although I’ve come close a couple times. I figured as long as I’m trying so many apps, I may as well write an article about it in the hopes that all my experimenting might help others find their own ideal app.

I make pretty varied use of my to do apps, including general tasks like “backup my photos”, tasks and events with specific due dates and times like school field trips and doctor’s appointments, ongoing and high turnover lists like grocery shopping lists, and sometimes even long term lists like “movies I want to watch”, “places I want to visit”, or other things I want to remember. Because of this, I need a fair bit of flexibility in my perfect app, but at the same time, a lot of the features in task management apps intended for business use are overkill for me.

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve had such a problem finding my perfect to do list app – I’m not really the target audience for them, so the free apps tend to be not quite adequate for my needs, but the premium apps have so many extra features I don’t need that I’m reluctant to pay for them, leaving me in a sort of awkward limbo where I’m never quite satisfied but nobody is stepping up to fill the gap either. Alas, I don’t have the coding skills to create my own perfect app, so the hunt continues.

Features I need:

  • Free or low cost
  • Web and iPhone apps, preferably with automatic sync between them
  • Unlimited or generous number of lists and tasks per list
  • Ability to set due time as well as due date (WHY is this so rare?)
  • Relatedly, the ability to sort tasks that are due on the same day by due time
  • Ability to set at least one and preferably two reminders per task, at times such as “1 hour before” or “15 minutes before”, preferably via iOS and/or web notifications rather than email
  • Recurring tasks, preferably daily, weekly, monthly, bimonthly, and annually at minimum
  • All Tasks and Today’s Tasks views, preferably also This Week’s Tasks view
  • Notes or comments on tasks

Features that I’d like to have, but which aren’t necessary include:

  • Easy to use and attractive design
  • Ability to hide tasks in certain lists (such as grocery list) from All Tasks view
  • Ability to share lists with one or more people
  • Ability to color-code lists
  • Folders/projects to group related lists, preferably an unlimited or generous number of them
  • Subtasks
  • Tags
  • Goal or habit tracking features
  • Gamification features
  • Significant user base and/or under active development

With that in mind, here’s my run-down of different to do list and task management apps.

The five apps that I’ve used most extensively are TickTick, Wunderlist, Toodledo, Todoist, and Remember the Milk. I’ve tried many more on a more limited basis, ranging from a few minutes to a few weeks.

TickTick - my favorite to do list app

TickTick

TickTick: To-do List & Task Manager with Reminder (AppStore Link) TickTick: To-do List & Task Manager with Reminder
Developer: Appest Limited
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $27.99 per year for premium

TickTick is the closest I’ve found to my ideal task management app in features, ease of use, and design. It has all but one of the features I need and most of the ones I want, including functional and easy to use yet attractive design in both web and iPhone apps.

The one thing that keeps it from being my ideal productivity app is the restrictions on free accounts. Free accounts can only have 9 lists, 99 tasks per list, 19 subtasks per task, and 1 user per list. I need more than 9 lists, but the rest of the paid features are things I don’t need or don’t want, and so far I haven’t wanted more lists enough to shell out $27.99 per year for just that one feature. But the restriction is a major annoyance to me, so I’m perpetually hunting for an alternative. So far, however, TickTick is my favorite and the one I’ve stuck with the longest.

Toodledo

Toodledo (AppStore Link) Toodledo
Developer: Jake Olefsky, LLC
Rated: 4+4
Price: $2.99 Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions (web),$2.99 iOS app, starting $19.99 per year for premium

Toodledo was the first to do list app that I used extensively, although I’ve only used the web version since I didn’t have a smartphone at the time I was using it, nor did it have native mobile apps. Since I used it back in the early 2010s, Toodledo has added native mobile apps and some new features such as habit tracking (5 habits in the free version), lists (30 items per list in the free version), outlines (30 items per outline in the free version), and a Notes feature that allows you to jot down your thoughts. (This is separate from the ability to add notes to tasks, which it also has.) I’ve recently been thinking about shelling out the $2.99 for the iPhone app and going back to Toodledo, thanks to my frustration with TickTick’s restrictions on the number of lists. It has many of the other features I need or want, and it’s especially well designed from a GTD perspective. It has native support for information like priority and context that adds an extra layer of detail to your task list.

The main reason I haven’t gone back yet is that it has so much information that it can look kind of cluttered and the design is not the most attractive or user friendly, even if you hide a bunch of unused fields. Still, the web app is excellent overall and if I like the iPhone app, I may yet go back to Toodledo.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist: To-Do List & Tasks (AppStore Link) Wunderlist: To-Do List & Tasks
Developer: 6 Wunderkinder GmbH
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $4.99 per month for premium

Wunderlist was a very popular to do list app and I used it for over a year before switching to TickTick, but I ultimately moved on because it was too frustrating not being able to assign a due time to tasks in addition to a due date.

Unfortunately for its many fans, Wunderlist was purchased by Microsoft in 2015 and in 2017 Microsoft announced that it would eventually be discontinued in favor of a new free app called Microsoft To-Do.

Microsoft To-Do

Microsoft To-Do (AppStore Link) Microsoft To-Do
Developer: Microsoft Corporation
Rated: 4+2.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free

Microsoft To-Do is the successor to Wunderlist. It also, as of this writing, does not allow due times to be set, sigh.

Todoist

Todoist: Todo List for Organizing Work and Errands (AppStore Link) Todoist: Todo List for Organizing Work and Errands
Developer: Ist Productivity Ltd.
Rated: 4+3.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $28.99 per year for premium

Todoist is another very popular app with a set of features that’s also pretty close to my ideal. I especially love the Todoist Karma gamification feature – it’s exactly the sort of thing that motivates me to achieve more.

Unfortunately, the free version of Todoist has several restrictions that make it unusable for me, especially the lack of notes on tasks. And just like with TickTick, I don’t need or want the other premium features enough to feel that it’s worth it to pay for them.

 

Remember the Milk

Remember The Milk (AppStore Link) Remember The Milk
Developer: Remember The Milk Pty Ltd
Rated: 4+5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $39.99 per year for premium

Remember the Milk is an older app that still has a loyal and dedicated user base. I’ve been experimenting with it to see if I prefer it to Toodledo as an alternative to TickTick. It’s a very flexible app with a useful Smart Lists feature that can be used to slice and dice your task list in many different ways. The UI in the web app is not as good as some other apps and is sometimes a little buggy, plus it has a few mildly annoying restrictions in the free version, most notably requiring notifications to be sent by text rather than push notifications, but overall a solid choice.

Producteev

Producteev by Jive - Task Management for Teams (AppStore Link) Producteev by Jive - Task Management for Teams
Developer: Jive Software
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $99 per month for premium

Producteev is a task management app designed for team collaboration. Although I have never used collaboration features in my to do list apps, I’ve been experimenting with Producteev along with Remember the Milk as another possible alternative to TickTick and Toodledo. The free version has most of the basic features I need, such as the ability to organize tasks into an unlimited number of lists (“projects”) yet see upcoming tasks all in one place and the ability to set due times as well as due dates, as well as some GTD-inspired bonus features like labels and priorities. While I prefer the UI of TickTick and the bonus features of Toodledo, this app has the potential to be a good compromise, as it has fewer restrictions on the free version than TickTick and a less cluttered appearance than Toodledo.

Any.do

Any.do: To-Do List, Calendar, Reminders & Planner (AppStore Link) Any.do: To-Do List, Calendar, Reminders & Planner
Developer: Any.DO inc.
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, starting at $2.09 per month for premium

Any.do is a popular to do list app. It is a solid choice with the basic features you’d expect from such a popular app, and a few useful additional ones as well. However, the design was a little too minimalist for my taste and it only seems to offer one reminder per task, so it didn’t suit my needs.

Nozbe

Nozbe: Tasks, Projects & Team Productivity (AppStore Link) Nozbe: Tasks, Projects & Team Productivity
Developer: apivision.com
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, starting at $8 per month premium

Nozbe is an attractive and well-designed app with a GTD focus. It is an older app with a loyal and engaged user base that has created an extensive collection of free nozbe.HOW templates for different tasks. The free version is limited to five projects.

Things 3

Things 3 (AppStore Link) Things 3
Developer: Cultured Code GmbH & Co. KG
Rated: 4+5
Price: $9.99 Download from the App Store

Price: $9.99 for iPhone app, $39.99 for Mac app (free trial available)

Things 3 is a highly regarded task management app, but the iOS app is on the expensive side at $9.99. Mac users can access a free trial of Things 3 for Mac to try it out, but I’m on PC, and I’m not willing to spend $9.99 on an iPhone app without some way to try it first.

Omnifocus 2

OmniFocus 2 (AppStore Link) OmniFocus 2
Developer: The Omni Group
Rated: 4+3
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: $39.99 for iPhone app, $39.99 for Mac app (free trial available)

Omnifocus 2 is another highly regarded task management app for Mac and iOS users. However, the iPhone app is $39.99 with no way to try the app in advance unless you have a Mac to get the free trial of Omnifocus 2 for Mac.

Other to do list apps I have tried or researched:

  • WeDo – promising, but one of the newest apps listed here and still a little buggy
  • HiTask – can only check off recurring tasks in calendar view
  • Nirvana – recurring tasks only in premium version
  • Doit.im – free version syncs once every 24 hours, or manually
  • FacileThings – no free version, premium starts at $7 per month, free trial available

Other Apps of Interest

During the course of my quest, I’ve focused mainly on dedicated to do list apps, but I’ve also checked out some apps that offer task management features, but don’t focus on them in the same way that to do list apps like TickTick, Todoist, or Wunderlist do. Here’s information about my experiments with some alternatives to to do list apps.

Habitica

Habitica: Gamified Task Manager (AppStore Link) Habitica: Gamified Task Manager
Developer: HabitRPG, Inc.
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free

Habitica is a cleverly implemented productivity app that focuses on habit tracking to help you build good habits and get rid of bad ones. However, it can also be used as a very basic task manager. It motivates you to achieve your goals by turning your life into a role-playing game. Level up and win gold and other prizes by completing Habits, Dailies, and To Dos, lose health if you fail to complete them. Set your own rewards to purchase with the gold, or use it to purchase weapons, pets, and more. The app also offers some social features that allow you to compete with other users and join teams to help keep each other motivated to succeed. As a result, Habitica has a highly engaged user base with numerous inspiring and detailed explanations available online of different use cases that you can use to tweak the app to maximize its effectiveness for you.

Unfortunately, despite its unique and engaging qualities, Habitica didn’t meet my personal needs for a task management app because it only allows due dates to be set, not due times, and I didn’t like being limited to three lists (Habits, Dailies, and To Dos). The app is also a little awkward for handling something like a grocery list. After playing around with Habitica on and off for several months, I also realized that I’m not very motivated by rewards in general, and by RPG-style prizes such as weapons and armor even less, so it didn’t work very well for me as a motivational tool to get me to build better habits. Gamers, on the other hand, are likely to love this app.

Trello

Trello (AppStore Link) Trello
Developer: Trello, Inc.
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, starting at $9.99/month for premium

Trello is a popular and well-designed Kanban-style productivity app that seems like it would be especially good for visual thinkers. I’m not a very visual thinker, so it ultimately didn’t work for me, but it’s a great app with a well deserved following. From a task management perspective, it was also frustrating that the native reminders feature was extremely limited – one reminder 24 hours before a task is due. However, Trello has numerous integrations with other apps and these can be used to create more customized reminders.

In the Kanban category, I’ll also be keeping an eye on Zenkit, a fairly new app that currently lacks a native iOS app, but which has a modular approach to its feature set that appeals to me, including options for Kanban boards, lists, tables, mind maps, and more. The mind mapping feature in particular piqued my interest. Hopefully the iOS app will be out soon!

Asana

Asana: Team Tasks & Conversations (AppStore Link) Asana: Team Tasks & Conversations
Developer: Asana, Inc.
Rated: 4+4
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, starting at $9.99 per member per month for premium

Asana is a product management app intended to be used for collaborating with a team of people. I decided to experiment with some options in the project management field, because even though I haven’t used collaboration features with any of the to do list apps I’ve used so far, I thought it might be helpful to have team collaboration features in the future as my children get older and get phones of their own.

Asana is a highly regarded and popular app in the project management category, so I decided to check it out. I really liked its attractive design, but it had the same problem I’ve experienced with a bunch of to do list apps: no ability to set a due time as well as a due date. I also found it frustrating that the teams were kept completely separate. While I was experimenting with the app, I created two “teams” – one for personal projects and to dos and one for household tasks, chores, and events. I could not find any way to see all my upcoming tasks from both “teams” in one list.

Other project management apps I’ve tried or researched include: Wrike, Bitrix24, Basecamp, and Freedcamp

Cozi

Cozi - Shared Calendar, Reminders, Grocery List (AppStore Link) Cozi - Shared Calendar, Reminders, Grocery List
Developer: Cozi
Rated: 4+4.5
Price: Free Download from the App Store

Price: free with restrictions, $29.99 per year for premium

Cozi is a popular family organization app that offers task management features along with other useful features such as shared shopping lists and a recipe box that can be used to add ingredients automatically to your grocery list. It’s way more relevant to my needs when managing a household than more business-oriented team management apps, but ultimately I think it is likely to be more useful for my family in a few years when my children are older and have phones of their own. Meanwhile, Cozi is built more around a calendar format than a to do list, and I prefer the to do list format.

Amazing Marvin

Price: starting at $3.99 per month, free trial available

Amazing Marvin is a new productivity app that currently offers a web app only, so it doesn’t meet my needs at present, but looks well worth keeping an eye on as it develops in the future. Designed for procrastinators, freelancers, students, and other people with lots of unstructured time, it offers tools to help you structure your day and be more productive. It does not currently offer a free plan, but does offer a generous 30 day free trial period.

Boys (Jongens) Movie Review

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Review:

Boys (Jongens) stars Gijs Blom as Sieger, a 15 year old track star living with his widowed father and troubled older brother. When Sieger is selected to run in a championship relay race, he is teamed with free-spirited Marc (Ko Zandvliet) and falls in love. He struggles with accepting his newly realized sexuality and with his attempts to keep the peace between his father and brother, but ultimately this is a truly sweet and uplifting coming of age story about first love, and I highly recommend it for teens and adults alike.

[Read more…]

Lord of Scoundrels Book Review

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Review:

I was enjoying this book immensely right up until the point where the heroine shot the hero.

It’s pretty annoying how female violence against men gets brushed aside as inconsequential or even treated as a joke in media. If the hero had shot the heroine, people would rightly be horrified, but because she’s small and female and he’s a big brute of a guy, we’re supposed to be okay with it? Ugh.

So needless to say, after that my feelings were more mixed.

Overall, though, I have to say Lord of Scoundrels was a pretty terrific read and I can see why it’s considered a classic of historical romance.

Most of the first half of the book is taken up by what’s essentially a game of Chicken – he one ups her, she one ups him, things escalate, and then escalate even more (somewhere in there, the gun shows up) until she ends up suing him for a considerable quantity of money and he goes for Ultimate Chicken and proposes marriage, figuring if she’s going to live comfortably for the rest of her life on his wealth, he may as well get something out of it.

Or at least, that’s what he tells himself. The reader certainly isn’t fooled!

Aside from the shooting incident, I liked the heroine, Jessica Trent, a lot. She was smart, sensible, determined, and definitely gave as good as she got in her verbal sparring matches with Dain (and we all know how I adore a bickering couple). I had a few more reservations about Dain himself. Any tender-hearted reader (and I’m about as big a bleeding heart as they come) will feel bad for him due to his appalling childhood and the considerable internalized self-loathing he developed as a result, but his tendency to jump to conclusions and assume that Jessica was thinking the worst of him got more annoying the more evidence accumulated to the contrary.

Nevertheless, their arguments were witty and frequently laugh out loud funny, and the sexual tension delicious, though the language in some of the sex scenes got a little too romance novel-y for my taste. (No “quivering members” though, thank god.) My issues with the shooting and a few other things aside, I did have a LOT of fun reading this book.

By the way, romance novel covers are often terrible, so I’m not going to pick on this one too much, but it is pretty terrible. I guess it’s prettier than some, but, uh, not only does the picture bear almost no physical resemblance to Jessica Trent as described in the novel, but the impression it gives of her personality couldn’t be more incorrect. Jessica shouldn’t look so melancholy and pensive, she should be staring out at the reader with fire in her eyes!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Carry On Book Review

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Review:

Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl was one of my favorite reads in 2015. The main character, Cath, writes fanfiction for a fictional series of fantasy novels about a boy called Simon Snow and his roommate and arch-enemy Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch (aka Baz). In Fangirl, Simon and Baz are thinly disguised stand-ins for the characters of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy and fictional Cath writes slash fic about them much as real life Rowell wrote slash fic for the extremely popular Harry/Draco pairing from Harry Potter. (As of July 2015, Harry/Draco remains the most popular Harry Potter pairing and the 9th most popular pairing overall on An Archive of Our Own, with more than 11,000 fics dedicated to the pairing. More fics, in fact, than the next two most popular Harry Potter pairings – Harry/Snape and Remus/Sirius – combined.) However, Rowell apparently couldn’t get the characters of Simon and Baz out of her head, because she ended up writing Carry On.

Attempting to describe Carry On is a meta experience, to put it mildly. It takes place entirely during Simon and Baz’s final year at Watford School of Magicks, but it’s not intended to represent the final novel as written by fictional author Gemma Leslie in Fangirl. Nor (despite the title) is it supposed to be “Carry On, Simon,” Cath’s novel-length fanfiction about Simon’s final year at Watford. Carry On is explicitly Rainbow Rowell‘s take on the characters of Simon and Baz, not a fictional novel (or fanfic) by a fictional author brought to life. For that matter, Rowell didn’t just “file off the serial numbers” (a la Fifty Shades of Grey) of one of her Harry/Draco fanfics, either. Though they share some basic similarities, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the World of Mages of Simon Snow as laid out in Carry On are distinctly different. Yet at the same time, many aspects of the novel are clearly directly inspired by Harry Potter, Harry Potter fanfiction, or both.

I’ll let Aja Romano, herself once a BNF (Big Name Fan) in the Harry/Draco fandom, give you some examples:

Carry On utilizes so, so many of the plot points of Harry Potter. So many of the trappings of Potterdom are here: awkwardly backward wizarding customs; Simon’s mysterious parentage and a prophecy decreeing him the chosen one; the deadly forest and banal animal caretaker both inexplicably on school grounds; class hierarchy between the magicians and other magical creatures; Simon’s outsider status as the only “Normal”-born magician; his enmity with the aristocratic and sinister Baz, whose ancient and powerful family is at war with Simon’s equally powerful protector, the Mage; the presence of a strange figure called the Humdrum, which has apparently tried to kill Simon every year since he’s attended the Watford School of Magicks; and many more.

And Rowell goes even further: She directly engages with tropes that are a huge part of the fabric of Harry/Draco fandom. There’s a momentous handshake the moment they meet (only this time it’s Baz, not Simon, who hesitates); she gives Baz and Simon their own tower with a private suite, in a throwback to fandom’s penchant for inventing an “astronomy tower” in the castle suitable for snogging; she makes Baz a vampire in homage to a virtually endless amount of fanfiction in which Draco is a Veela or a vampire or otherwise possessed of a dangerous ability to exert a thrall over other people; she devotes a huge amount of attention to the moment when they switch to first-name basis, as countless H/D fics before her have done; Baz toys with the famous “Draco in leather pants” trope; Simon obsessively stalks Baz throughout their early years, seeking proof of what he believes is his evil nature, until their relationship subsides into something more mature and subdued—all while he exudes the righteous savior mentality that draws Baz to him long before his moral conflict about his own family and their penchant for war sets in.

All of this is the stuff of H/D fanfiction. It is the stuff I lived and breathed for years, returning to me in a new form.

But Rowell doesn’t just parrot these ideas. Instead she uses them to directly address countless criticisms that HP fans have leveled at the series over the years: Dumbledore’s mistreatment of Harry; the lack of significant characters of color; the lack of any queer characters at all; the lack of ambiguity between the “good” and “evil” Hogwarts houses and the pointlessness of labeling a child for life before they’ve even been through puberty; the misjudgments of Harry himself about the people around him; the lack of narrative agency given to characters ranging from Hagrid to Ginny Weasley. The tropes in Carry On are narrative versions of the criticisms I’ve leveled at Rowling’s texts for years, in everything from fanfics of my own to Tumblr tags (“I’ve got 99 problems and J.K. Rowling’s unintentional meta-narrative is all of them”).

I’m glad Aja brought up Rowling’s “unintentional meta-narrative,” because, for me, it was one of the most interesting points of comparison between Rowling’s series and Rowell’s novel. As Aja says, Rowell did “correct” some of the issues that I as an adult reader of Harry Potter had with the series. In particular, I was thrilled to get MAJOR CARRY ON SPOILER evil!Dumbledore, because I had huge issues with his character and relationship with Harry in the HP books and Rowell made the true creepiness of his aloof yet manipulative behavior very evident.

Making Simon and Baz canonically queer also made my slashy fangirl heart dance. Here’s Aja again:

Unlike actual slashfic, Carry On lacks the anxiety of proving itself. Because fanfiction exists in a direct relationship to its canon, it tends to carry the weight of an argument. Especially when that argument is a hard sell—like the idea that pairing the beloved hero in a gay relationship with his antagonistic rival would be the best thing for both of them—fanfic is always having to prove itself, over and over, not only as it exists in a culture that dismisses it, but as it exists in contradiction and often opposition to the word of the author.

In Fangirl, that anxiety was transferred directly to Cath herself, to the fangirl who worried her hobby wasn’t enough. That she wasn’t enough.

But at the end of that book, she’d come into her own, acknowledging that her fanfiction needed no justification—just as Rowell herself did somewhere along the way. The result is that Carry On doesn’t have that anxiety, that sense of urgency; and because it doesn’t have that anxiety, it has the luxury of unfolding the relationship between Simon and Baz as naturally and organically as the plot itself.

In other words, it has the luxury of being canon, of being taken for granted. Because after all, why shouldn’t our heroes be queer? Why shouldn’t it be a queer redemption narrative that saves us?

As a Harry/Draco fan, as someone who longed and argued for this very thing in fanfiction for years, seeing this narrative play out in the pages of Carry On, so familiar and yet so new, is inexpressibly meaningful and delightful—and even though I know fanfiction doesn’t need validation, it’s so, so deeply validating. It’s the stuff slash fangirl dreams are made of.

(By the way, Aja, if you find this, I’m sorry for quoting you so extensively here, but I agree with so much of what you said that I’d just have ended up paraphrasing you anyway, and you put things better than I would have.)

Although I was never much of a Harry/Draco shipper (my fondness for bickering couples notwithstanding, I’m not a huge Enemies To Lovers fan; I prefer Friends To Lovers), as a frequent slash shipper, I understand all too well “the anxiety of proving itself.” Some recent comments by Anthony and Joe Russo, the director of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, have sparked a lot of conversation in the Marvel fandom, particularly among Steve/Bucky shippers. A Tumblr user lamented:

What I hate about heteronormativity is that you will get the most mind-blowing, realistic, palpable chemistry between two characters of the same gender in a show and the writer/cast will bend over backwards to pretend it’s in the fans heads or make out it’s some amusing and impossible joke, yet you’ll get the dullest, most rubbish, forced, stilted ‘romance’ shoved in your face and be expected to just go with it because hey, it’s a man and a lady who are white and moderately attractive, of course it’s true love. Of bloody course.

In this particular case, the Russos have been more respectful of slash fans than implied by this statement (which was general, not referring specifically to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Captain America films), even stating that while they personally regard Steve and Bucky’s relationship as “two brothers,” they encourage others to interpret it however they want and do not intend to explicitly define it within the films. At the same time, however, they have stated that “we can only keep Cap romantically uninvolved for so long.” Thanks to the unbalanced gender ratio of Marvel’s films, that leaves a rather limited selection of female characters that Cap even could fall in love with. Assuming they don’t introduce a new character or somehow make Peggy young again, there are precisely four, by my count: Sharon Carter (the most likely candidate, due to their history in the comics, but not without problems due to the ick factor of her blood relationship with Peggy), Natasha Romanoff (unlikely – the Russos themselves have stated Steve and Natasha’s relationship is platonic in the films, plus she’s supposed to be mooning over Bruce for reasons understandable only to Joss Whedon and her romantic history in the comics is much stronger with Bucky), Maria Hill (to be honest, I’d prefer this over either of the first two), or Wanda Maximoff (I’d prefer this, too, but it’s probably unlikely due to her history with Vision in the comics.) Steve and Natasha’s relationship is the only one of the four that comes even remotely close to the deep intimacy that Steve and Bucky share. Even his relationship with Peggy, as much as I love it, was fleeting by comparison – a few years, tops, versus a lifetime of familiarity. And yet I guarantee you, the possibility of making Steve romantically involved with Bucky was never given a moment of serious consideration by Marvel Studios.

From a financial perspective, ignoring Steve and Bucky’s chemistry and making them “brothers” rather than lovers is unquestionably a good decision. Two of the biggest markets – Russia and China – might go so far as to ban the film if it has gay themes. But from a storytelling perspective, is it really?

Comics Alliance made a very salient point:

[I]f Bucky Barnes were a woman, this would be a love story, played out with all the same narrative beats. If Peggy were the brainwashed assassin kept frozen through the decades, this movie would definitely end in a kiss. Everything about the love, pain, and intimacy of the Steve/Bucky relationship on the big screen is typical of a romance, and that’s something fans are right to respond to — something the filmmakers may even be playing into, though surely not with any formal sign-off from Disney.

[…] Imagine this; if we lived in a world that had no hang-ups about same-sex relationships, no hate, no prejudice towards the idea of two men or two women together; do you doubt for a second that this movie would actually be a romance?

If everything else about this movie were the same, but we were different, wouldn’t it make sense for Steve and Bucky to kiss?

This movie looks about as gay as it’s allowed to be. One day we’ll get a movie like it that’s actually gay enough.

Anyway, suffice to say that as a slash fangirl, I’m used to having to “prove” my preferred ships and I’m long past the point where I expect (or even necessarily want) my shipping preferences to be validated by canon. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t really wonderful when they are! So thanks, Rainbow Rowell. Maybe you can do Sirius/Remus next? 😉

Nice as it was to have some of my issues with the Harry Potter series “corrected” in Carry On, it also had a bit of an unintentional meta-narrative. One, incidentally, that is shared by some of the Harry/Draco fics I’ve read, and which was one of the reasons I could never really get into the ship. In order to make Draco anything other than a racist git, many Harry/Draco shippers end up making him sort of right about some things. In Carry On, evil!Dumbledore wanted a revolution, particularly in the treatment of certain other magical species. Powerful Mage families like Baz’s opposed his reforms. While the methods evil!Dumbledore used to accomplish his goals were obviously wrong, the goals themselves seemed fairly admirable to me. Unfortunately, it’s not really made clear that the traditionalist elements won’t just roll back the reforms after evil!Dumbledore is defeated. Baz himself seems to make peace with the fact that he’s alive as a vampire when his very traditional mother literally killed herself rather than become one but there’s not really any indication that the rest of the World of Mages has come to a similar peace with the existence of other magical creatures. So while I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to call the book “problematic” as certain corners of fandom are wont to do, I think the meta narrative could have been better considered in what is otherwise a largely progressive story.

In addition to issues specific to the Harry Potter series, Rowell also took on some common yet stupid Chosen One tropes. One that stood out to me was Agatha Wellbelove’s decision to break up with Simon near the start of the book. The hero is supposed to get the girl, but Agatha doesn’t want to be “the prize at the end” and she tells Simon as much to his face when she dumps him. You go, girl! Many people seem to have found Agatha annoying and I did myself as several points, especially when she was mooning around after Baz mainly in an effort to horrify her parents (which Baz called her out on, go Baz), but overall I thought she was a good character. Not good in the sense of admirable,  necessarily – she is undeniably selfish and cowardly – but realistic. I liked her ending (especially the way she chose to honor Ebb) a lot.

In fact, the ending (meta-narrative issues notwithstanding) was excellent in general. One of the themes through much of the book was how dehumanizing it is to be “the Chosen One” and be seen always for what you’ve done or are supposed to do rather than who you are. I really liked that Rowell dealt with the aftermath of both the dehumanization Simon experienced and the trauma he (and his friends) went through. No jumping 15 years into the future to see the adorable next generation – Simon and his friends are actually shown having to learn to cope with what they’ve been through. There’s even therapy involved!

Finally, I wanted to put in a good word for the magic system, which is all about the power of words – literally. In Simon’s world, spells are phrases, and their power waxes and wanes with their popularity in the Normal world. For example, “up, up, and away” is a levitating spell, “ladybird, ladybird, fly away home” gets used to turn away an unwelcome visitor, and “these aren’t the droids you are looking for” gets used to conceal something in plain sight. I thought it was clever and fun.

So, to sum up, I thought Carry On did a lot of things very well and some other things not so well. It never grabbed me the way that the Harry Potter series did (from the very first sentence even) and it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll end up devoting a couple years of my life to the fandom, as I did for Harry Potter. I missed Rowling’s whimsical touch and she had six more books to develop characters and relationships, so they felt more fully fleshed. However, I still found it a very enjoyable read, with some great lines and much to love in the characters. (Penny was my favorite.)

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

The Deal Book Review

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Review:

The whole time I was reading The Deal, I was thinking that the style of writing seemed familiar, and when I finished, I finally realized that it’s because Elle Kennedy is also the co-author (with Sarina Bowen) of Him, which I read and reviewed last summer. D’oh! Even the same sport.

The Deal uses the same alternating point of view as Him, and follows Hannah Wells, a music major, and Garrett Graham, a star college hockey player.

I enjoyed Him, but I liked The Deal more. As I’ve mentioned, I imprinted on The Cutting Edge at a rather impressionable age, so I adore a good bickering couple, and Garrett and Hannah’s bickering was lots of fun to read and never descended into mushiness after they got together. I also have to say that I ended up really liking Garrett. He comes off initially as a bit of a cocky, arrogant douchebag, but proves himself to be a real sweetheart and much more respectful of women than he seemed at first.

I am not a big fan of rape as a backstory (or abuse either, for that matter), but I thought it was handled okay in The Deal and it didn’t have me rolling my eyes or anything. I just wish it wasn’t such a common trope in New Adult romances.

Overall, a pretty enjoyable read.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

A Seditious Affair Book Review

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Review:

The historical m/m romance novels of KJ Charles have been one of the best literary discoveries of 2015 for me. I especially enjoyed her novel Think of England and also really enjoyed A Fashionable Indulgence, the first in her new Society of Gentlemen series. A Seditious Affair is the second in the Society of Gentlemen series and I have to say I liked it even better than the first.

Each book in the series deals with a different couple from the set of friends who make up the titular “society of gentlemen,” but while they’re technically standalone, I think you’ll enjoy the series more if read in order. The first few chapters of A Seditious Affair deal with some of the same events as A Fashionable Indulgence, but in much more concise fashion, so I think the conflict would seem somewhat easily resolved and unsatisfactory if you hadn’t read the first book.

A Seditious Affair dealt heavily with some of the same politics and social issues that I enjoyed about A Fashionable Indulgence, but I also related more strongly to the main characters – proper, dutiful Dominic Frey and gruff, principled Silas Mason – than I did to the well-meaning but somewhat feckless Harry and the sharp-witted dandy Julius of of A Fashionable Indulgence. Despite (probably because of, actually) the two men’s differences, I felt the emotional connection between them more strongly than Harry and Julius – Dominic and Silas were a true meeting of minds, as well as physical attraction and sexual compatibility, and both of them changed and influenced the other over the course of the story.

The sex scenes were also super hot, despite the use of some rather unsexy (to me) period slang. I’ve mentioned in the past that I enjoy Dom/sub elements in romance, but often feel a little uncomfortable with Dom/sub relationships between men and women simply because of the existing social power imbalance between the sexes. With m/m Dom/sub, that problem ceases to exist, and any potential discomfort due to class inequality issues was also handily avoided in this book by the fact that the lower class man was the Dom and the gentleman the sub.

KJ Charles also has a gift for creating intriguing and memorable secondary characters that make you want to learn more about them. I’m delighted that we’ll finally be getting some insight into the enigmatic David Cyprian in the next book in the series, A Gentleman’s Position, and the revelation that Will Quex was born Susannah makes me hope we’ll learn more about him as well (a strong possibility, luckily, since he and his partner, Jon Shakespeare, are friends of Cyprian).

A great read!

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

Back To the Future Movie Review

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Review:

Would you believe that I’m over 30 years old and I had never seen this movie? In honor of Back to the Future day (October 21, 2015) the other day, I finally decided to remedy that, and was really pleasantly surprised. I kind of expected the movie to be corny and/or have terrible special effects, but I ended up enjoying it a lot. The story held my interest from beginning to end and there were some extremely funny lines. (Two days later, I’m still occasionally bursting into random giggles over “it’s already mutated into human form!” and “better get used to those bars, kid.”) The special effects definitely weren’t up to modern standards, but they weren’t terrible or silly looking like some older movies either.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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The Martian Movie Review

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Review:

Topping my list of 5 Movies I’m Looking Forward To Seeing This Fall was The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, which has been one of my favorite reads of 2015 so far. (Check out my review.) And I didn’t waste any time going to see it!

The Martian is the best space movie I’ve seen since Apollo 13, and it’s very similar in theme. There’s no human antagonist in this film, only the harsh realities of outer space, which Mark, his fellow Ares mission crew members, and scientists from around the world must struggle against in order to, in the words of the film’s tagline, Bring Him Home. Like Apollo 13, it’s full of really smart, competent people being really smart and competent. The science is quite a bit less detailed than the book (and there are fewer disasters and near disasters), but there’s more than enough to get a feel for it without overwhelming the audience with exposition dumps. Despite going in knowing the story, I thought the film did a great job of keeping the tension high.

The cast is amazing. Matt Damon as Mark Watney obviously has the largest role, but the supporting cast is also full of outstanding actors, including Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, and more, to the point that a bunch of them actually felt underutilized. I really appreciated how diverse the film was, with many women and characters of color presented casually and without comment as skilled and respected scientists and leaders.

Although I thought the other five members of the Ares crew (Chastain, Stan, Mara, Pena, and Aksel Hennie) were among the most underutilized as actors, they did provide much of the film’s emotional depth and heart. The mutual friendship and respect they all shared with Mark was palpable and resulted in several powerful and emotional scenes as they confronted together the possibility that he might not survive. At the same time, they weren’t afraid to tease each other. Pilot Rick Martinez (Pena)’s first message to Mark after the crew discovered that he’d survived was especially funny, and Mark’s distaste for Commander Melissa Lewis (Chastain)’s love of disco music made for a great running joke.

Most importantly, I hope this film is a huge hit because after spending trillions on wars over the last decade and a half, I’d really like to see the next decade and a half spend money on things that actually move humanity forward, like science and space exploration. A manned Mars mission? Would be awesome. And though the movie is unflinching about the harshness of life on Mars (and the book even more so), it’s impossible not to look at the amazing Martian landscapes (actually Jordan’s Wadi Rum) and not want humanity to someday set foot there. So go forth, watch this film and be inspired!

Note: this review is for the standard version – I hate how dark 3-D films are and avoid watching them whenever possible.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)


 

5 Movies I’m Looking Forward To This Fall (plus a bonus Maybe)

Now that I’m finally making it to see movies in theaters a little more often, I’ve started paying more attention to upcoming films again. Here are five movies that I’m hoping to see this fall:

The Martian – October 2

This film, about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars after his mission gets aborted, probably would have been on my to watch list anyway due to the cast, which includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and Sebastian Stan, but I also read the novel by Andy Weir over the summer and really enjoyed it (check out my review). Based on the trailer, it looks like it’s likely to be a serious contender for Oscars in several categories. I’ve also enjoyed the clever viral marketing campaign, which has included releasing “archival” footage from the astronauts’ preparation for their trip and a video by nerd god Neil Degrasse Tyson. See the Ares:live YouTube channel for more.

Edit: watched it!

Suffragette – October 30

With elections coming around the corner again next year, it never hurts to be reminded that women weren’t “given” the right to vote, we fought, bled, and died for it. This film stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and screen goddess Meryl Streep (as Emmeline Pankhurst no less), so it’s guaranteed to be well-acted.

If this movie looks appealing to you, too, be sure to also check out the American side of things in Iron Jawed Angels.

Less than 100 years, people. There are people still alive today who were born before women could legally vote. Don’t take it for granted!

Okay, mini political rant over. Seriously, though. VOTE.

Brooklyn – November 6

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for period dramas (and also Irish accents, I won’t lie). This one, about an Irish immigrant girl in New York in the 50’s, looks sweet and is already getting great reviews.

Legend – November 25

This trailer for a biopic of London gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray caught my attention because Tom Hardy. TWO Tom Hardys, in fact, and if that’s not a win-win situation, I don’t know what is! The action scenes also looked great – as I’ve mentioned before, I like hand-to-hand fight scenes much more than gunfights in general.

I am not as fond of gangster movies as my husband (whose favorite movies include The Godfather trilogy, Pulp Fiction, and Goodfellas) and I don’t know much about the Kray twins, but I think this one will be worth watching.

The Good Dinosaur – November 25

Two Pixar movies in one year? Heck yeah, baby!

Bonus: One Movie I Might Want To See

Crimson Peak – October 16

As I mentioned above in my comments about Legend, gangster movies aren’t really my thing, but I appreciate a good one, so I do watch ones that look good. Horror movies really, really aren’t my thing, and it takes a lot to get me to even try them, let alone sit through one to the end.

However, I do slightly better with gothic horror than other types, and this trailer had a genuinely creepy gothic vibe that came off sort of The Sixth Sense meets Rebecca, which piqued a certain wary interest in me, compounded by the cast, which includes Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain (busy year, Jessica!), and Mia Wasikowska. If the reviews are good, I’ll probably give this film a shot, though I’ll definitely have to drag my husband along so I can climb into his lap if necessary! (Yes, I am a certified wimp – it’s why I don’t usually do horror.)

TV Shows I’ve Watched

This is a probably not 100% complete list of TV shows I’ve watched in whole or in part. (Watched deliberately, that is, not just because I happened to be in a waiting room somewhere with the show on in the background.)

I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of television growing up, mostly educational shows on PBS and some classics my parents had enjoyed when they were younger. In college, I didn’t really have time – we had a standing date with a bunch of my friends for The West Wing and Law & Order, and for awhile I got hooked on reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but other than that, I didn’t watch much of anything. As an adult, I watch more television than I used to, but still not a lot, and I tend to lose interest in shows relatively easily if they start having storylines I don’t like, as you’ll see by the mere handful of shows I’ve watched from beginning to end.

Bold: watched all episodes (aired to date)

Italic: watched some episodes

Regular – watched pilot only

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