Here in the United States, The Sound of Music is a holiday tradition. It’s always on television at least once between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas—sometimes several times. Over the years, “My Favorite Things,” one of the movie’s most popular songs, has also become something of a holiday tune, played freely between traditional Christmas carols and “Last Christmas” by Wham. I suppose it’s due to all those mentions of sleigh bells, warm woolen mittens and snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes.

Riley Sager

Riley Sager

In that spirit, I’d like to share a few of my favorite things. Some of these loves have stayed with me since childhood. Others are more recent obsessions. And if few of them have much to do with the holidays, I’m fine with that. Neither do raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

The Sound of Music

Since we’re on the topic of The Sound of Music, I might as well declare, without shame, that it’s one of my favorite movies. Yes, I know it’s too long, more cloyingly sweet than a Christmas trifle and that Christopher Plummer has on several occasions referred to it as “The Sound of Mucus.” I don’t care. I’ve loved it since I first watched it as a six-year-old sitting on my grandmother’s lap. And there is a lot to love, from its gorgeous Austrian scenery to Julie Andrews’ sweet-but-spunky performance to possibly the best line-up of songs in any musical ever. (I will fight anyone who mocks “The Lonely Goatherd.”) I even traveled to Salzburg to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. While there, I took the official Sound of Music bus tour, walked the same streets the von Trapps walked and learned a valuable lesson from my tour guide. “Apple strudel shouldn’t be crisp,” she said. “If you get crisp apple strudel, then something went terribly wrong.”

Horror movies

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has read my debut thriller, Final Girls. The book is a veritable love letter to slasher flicks from the 1990s. Call me crazy, but I love being scared. There are few sensations more satisfying than having that chill zip up and down your spine. Movies, I’ve found, are the best way to get my chill fix. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of great horror films, from classics like The Exorcist to 2017’s spectacular Get Out. My favorites, though, are Halloween and Scream, which find horror in suburban life and feature plucky heroines notable for how darn normal they are. That normalcy—and sense that bad things can happen to even the most sensible of people—makes them all the more frightening.

Walt Disney World

Because Final Girls deals exclusively in murder and mayhem, strangers are shocked to learn that I’m a full-fledged Disney nerd. I love the movies, the music, the man himself. When Final Girls became a bestseller, I rewarded myself by buying Walt Disney’s autograph from a collectibles dealer in Southern California. But Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, holds a special place in my heart. Nostalgia is a big factor, of course. My first trip was when I was a six-year-old too scared to ride Space Mountain. Now I go every year and make sure to conquer that coaster every time. And take a ride through The Haunted Mansion. And have a drink or two (or more!) at World Showcase in Epcot. All worth the trip. Yet the main reason I make that annual pilgrimage is because it’s an escape. From the dullness of daily life. From headlines that get more dire each day. From the fact that Donald Trump has somehow, inexplicably become president. I suspect I’m not alone in this need to trade the Real World for Walt Disney World. It seems to be a universal desire. Example: During my most recent trip, I struck up a conversation with a man who was wrapping up a two-week holiday with his family. I asked him where he was from. With pride, he said, “Manchester.”

Fiona the Hippo

This year, America was blessed with a new superstar. She’s not an actress. Or singer. Or model. She’s Fiona, a hippo born six weeks premature at a zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio, who struggled to survive her first days on earth. Now almost one, Fiona is healthy and happy. She’s also a diva in the best sense of the world, giving even Beyoncé a run for her money. Whether photobombing marriage proposals or starring in her own Facebook show, Fiona has become a full-fledged social media darling. She doesn’t just love the camera. She owns it. But Fiona is more than just a roly poly ball of adorableness. She’s an inspiration to anyone who’s ever struggled, proof that precarious situations can be overcome, a refreshing reminder that hope can come in any shape, size and species. In a year of frequent bad news and political insanity, that’s something to embrace.

Snowy Days

I know, I know. This list is already too cuddly. So much so that I risk losing serious thriller-writer street cred. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love a good snow day. This wasn’t always the case. Back when I worked in newspapers, I had to get up and drive to the newsroom no matter how foul the weather. The result was many hours spent white-knuckling my way through blizzards most people would kill to avoid. But now that I’m a full-time writer who works from home, I say, “Let it snow!” I’ve grown to love those days when the weather outside is frightful and the only thing to do is wrap myself in a blanket, have another cup of tea and read a great book. It reminds me of childhood and Christmas and long, snowy Sundays spent feeling cozy and warm. And if I ever start to feel too cold or snowbound, I simply remember that those silver white winters eventually melt into spring. And then I don’t feel so bad.