My Favorite Things with Betsy Whitt

They might not be raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but that doesn’t mean that we love them any less. Welcome back to My Favorite Things, the weekly column where we grab someone in speculative circles to gab about the greatest in geek. This week we sit down with Speculative Chic contributor Betsy Whitt. What does she love when she’s not preparing her next post for the blog? Spoiler alert: geeky nails, an all-time favorite author who actually completes her series, a unicorn who believes that little girls are real, an animated urban fantasy, and cooperative gaming. Curious? Read on for more!

This time it’s my turn to wax poetic about all my favorite things and why you should check them out, too. It took me a long time to put my list together, but I’ve done it. A few of these are recent or current favorites, while others have been on my radar of awesomeness for quite a long time. These are not in any sort of order, so don’t skip to the end to find my MOST FAVORITEST THING. They’re all my most favoritest. 

My first favorite are nail wraps by Jamberry. Aside from the fact that it’s a nifty product in and of itself, the reason I’m including it in my favorites is because they have several fantastic themed designs, including 10 Wonder Woman options, 27 Star Wars choices, and more. Each of these categories also has several versions in kid sizes, for the pint-sized fangirls in your life. Honestly, it makes me wish I was inclined to decorate my nails more often.

My second favorite, and worth mentioning literally every single time someone first asks me for a book recommendation, is anything written by the lovely Carol Berg. I say this not because I know the lady in question (though I do, now), but because every one of her stories is phenomenal. Seriously, if you’re at all interested in epic fantasy, you need to be reading her books. Unfortunately (for me), she doesn’t have any novels on the immediate horizon, though there are several shorter pieces here and there. Fortunately (for anyone who hasn’t discovered her yet), every one of her series is currently complete, which means you can binge-read everything without ending up stuck on a cliffhanger. There are 15 to choose from, and you can see which ones are best to start with here, where they’re listed in sets. I cannot choose a favorite, so don’t ask me to. They’re all special and brilliant in their own way. If one catches your eye and you want to know a bit more, feel free to ask! 

My third favorite is for my daughter. She is about to turn 5, and is firmly planted in the horses, princesses, and unicorns phase. (She also likes dinosaurs and robots and fishing, to be fair, but her own declared favorites are unicorns.) Imagine my delight to find Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, an extremely cute picture book with art by Brigette Barrager.

Uni is just like all the other unicorns . . . except for one thing: she believes that little girls are REAL.”

I love it, and I’m pretty sure my daughter is going to love it when she gets it for her birthday coming up. And there’s already a second one, too!

Fourth up is a classic and a mainstay of my fantastical development: Disney’s Gargoyles. It only ran for a couple of years between 1994 and 1996, but it had everything a good story needed — a team of superheroes hiding in one of the world’s biggest cities, a (female! minority!) detective defending justice, a diabolical antagonist with essentially limitless money and tech savvy, another who had cheated death for millennia carrying a huge grudge, star-crossed lovers, genuine magic, and a whole layered cast of Shakespeare-influenced characters. As I think about it, it’s a quintessential urban fantasy, and probably the first such thing I ever encountered. It made me want to read more, to find the origins of the stories they referenced, explore physics, all kinds of things. I had a mega crush on Goliath, and I still can’t take the Halo or Mass Effect games seriously because Keith David has such a recognizable voice that I can’t get past Goliath not belonging in those games. Basically, it has everything you could ever want, and the biggest tragedy at present is that you have to buy the episodes on Amazon rather than being able to stream them for free. And that’s only an obstacle because I’m cash poor.

My fifth favorite is a bit of a combo… and also sort of my non-spec-fic selection, because none of them are strictly fantastical, even if two that I’ll mention can certainly be interpreted that way. But first, some background: my husband and I do our best not to play games against one another. This applies to board games, tabletop games, and video games, and it extends to nearly any form of individual competition. Even ping-pong gets dicey if we’re keeping score. If others are also playing, it’s less of an issue, but playing anything one-on-one — from Mario Kart to Settlers of Catan — is usually bad for our marriage. Thus, in an effort to avoid more grudges like the one he still holds against me for winning a game of LIFE, we almost only ever game together if we can do so cooperatively. Given how much we both like games, this threw a bit of a wrench in our style for a while. We settled for video games with co-op modes, but there’s something really lovely about sitting at a table with a game laid out between you, talking as you take turns, and we missed that for a long time.

Until! One day I was reading a magazine, skimming a piece about holiday gift ideas or some such thing, and my eye caught on a cooperative board game — and my mind teetered to a stop. How had I never heard of such a thing? Where could I buy one? Shortly thereafter, we acquired a copy of Pandemic. Its premise: the players are part of a CDC team tasked to research four epidemics, develop cures, and distribute them. If you can do so in time, you win! If not, everyone loses. The mechanics are pretty involved for beginners; expect a bit of a learning curve for the first few times anyone plays, but once you find the groove, it’s great fun. When one of us wants to play, we usually ask the other, “Want to save the world tonight?” Any game that makes me into a modern epic hero is a good one in my book.

The second cooperative table game we bought was Forbidden Island. It has a modular board a bit like Settlers of Catan, so no two games are the same, and the premise is that the players are treasure hunters, gathering relics from a sinking island’s various temples, and if all four treasures are retrieved before the island sinks, the players win. This one, we’ve found, is a bit easier for newcomers to catch on to, especially if they’ve played Catan before. It’s also really easy to pack along in a suitcase if you’re traveling, since the box is pretty small and lightweight.  

And now my actual favorite, our new favorite, since Santa just brought it to us this year. It’s the sequel to Forbidden Island, and it’s called Forbidden Desert. The board is again modular, but this time the squares move around, opening new paths and blocking others, and players must keep track of their water levels (different specializations have bigger or smaller canteens) and navigate sand dunes building up on the moving tiles. For all that, it’s no more complicated to understand than Forbidden Island. We would have stayed up playing far later if we didn’t have kids we knew would still wake us up before dawn. It’s terrifically well-designed, the art is great, and the mechanics are well balanced and logical. It’s really a refinement of the first — and a worthy continuation of the line.

Do you know of another cooperative game we should try? Let me know in the comments!

Betsy Whitt is tall, blonde, and easily distracted, which probably accounts for the wide variety of things she keeps attempting to accomplish. Most of her time is consumed chasing her two young children these days, but she also writes novels (which she hopes to publish sooner rather than later), hikes, and quilts in her spare time. She has been a Subway Sandwich Artist, a bank teller, and a short order cook, worked for tech support, sold bikes and skis, driven limos for a car service, and served as administrative office assistant to a nonagenarian — the common thread in nearly all of those being that she could often read while getting paid. She usually reads epic fantasy, plays Guild Wars 2 and Borderlands, watches most any movie with vehicle chases and excessive explosions, and drinks craft beer. Or wine. What girl doesn’t like wine?

She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Eastern University, a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and a Certificate of Theology and Ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary. She has lived in Colorado since 2006, and hopes never to have to leave.

Author photo by Jared Hagan (2017)


  • pngzimmermans January 8, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    Ha, I just played Desert yesterday, but I was playing with 6 year olds so we died of thirst twice. I recommend Robinson Crusoe! Escape from the island/rescue a damsel/avoid cannibals as a team! Brandon also likes to play Mage Knight cooperatively but that is a multihour game which is a problem if you are playing in between putting kids to sleep and going to sleep yourself… I tried out a co-op Cthlulu-themed game last month with a friend but it was verrry complicated so i don’t think i’ll recommend that one.

  • Lane Robins January 8, 2018 at 10:05 pm

    Oooh, you reminded me I have three Carol Berg books sitting on my TBR shelf. Guess I know what’s moved up next in the queue! She is awesome.

  • Kelly McCarty January 10, 2018 at 12:43 am

    I’ve never tried Jamberry because I can’t tolerate the feeling of polish on my fingernails. But those purple ones are better. Pandemic sounds interesting and makes me wish I had someone to play board games with.


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