Best of 2017: Book Edition, Part 1

Thanks to some quality recommendations, 2017 was a great year for exploring new authors and series. You’ll find some of those books here, along with two familiar names. Here are the illustrious numbers 10 through 6!

10. Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

Once and for All

Still crazy about Sarah Dessen after all these years. Once and for All is one of her classic summer novels, this one following cynical Louna as she works for her mother’s wedding planning company. Although it won’t go down as one of my all-time favorites by Sarah, the story was entertaining. I especially liked the feeling of the makeshift family created by Louna, her single mother, and her mother’s business partner. Ambrose provides a lovably goofy romantic lead, and one scene of his buffoonery had me laughing hysterically.

9. Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Outcasts United

This summer I took a class about immigrant fiction, and Outcasts United was one of our assigned readings. The book is a wonderful example of journalism written in an accessible mode. Warren St. John follows one season in the life of a refugee soccer team in a Georgia town with a quickly changing population. Additionally, he intersperses the team’s challenges and triumphs with the personal stories of its coach and members, who come from many different countries. Even if you struggle with nonfiction, give this book a try.

8. The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls

The Girls is an introspective story based on the Manson Family in 1969. The narrator Evie is a lonely fourteen-year-old who is drawn to life on the dilapidated ranch after meeting three free-spirited girls who live there. Although the charismatic male leader is on the periphery, Evie’s true motivation is her friendship with impulsive Suzanne. Over the course of a hypnotic summer, Emma Cline investigates how the yearning for human connection can lead people into dangerous places and circumstances can change lives.

7. Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Den of Wolves

I was somewhat disappointed by the second Blackthorn & Grim novel, but this third installment was more satisfactory. Instead of traveling to another part of the country, Blackthorn spends most of the novel at court with familiar characters. Grim travels to the forboding house of Wolf Glen, where there are secrets to be unraveled. Along with an intriguing mystery, Den of Wolves sees pleasing developments in the lives of the two main characters. This could be the final book in the series, but the door is open for more. I would welcome it!

6. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling

This is the first of two books on my top 10 to be recommended by my friend Emmie. The girl knows where to find good fantasy! The first of a trilogy, The Queen of the Tearling is a classic fantasy story that avoids overused tropes. When Kelsea turns nineteen, she must come out of hiding and take her place as queen. However, she must contend with her uncle, who has served as Regent in her absence, and the sadistic queen of a neighboring country. It’s a fast-paced political story about finding out who you can trust and learning to trust yourself.

This is an exciting list, but the top 5 are even better!

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Best of 2017: Movie Edition, Part 2

I’m loving the diversity in this batch of films: two dramas, one comedy, one animated, and one classic. Not to mention, three out of five star non-white characters. I hope this is a reflection of changes in the film industry, but for now, please consider these superb stories. Enjoy numbers 5 through 1!

5. The Big Sick

The Big Sick

I watched The Big Sick on the flight back from London to Boston. Having recently had a conversation about how there are no romantic comedies being made, it was a relief to see this unconventional love story. Although the romantic relationship is important, the film gives equal weight to familial relationships. Both sets of parents are hilariously cast, but I especially loved Kumail’s conversations with his brother. It was refreshing to see an honest story about people reconciling different cultures in modern America.

4. Moana

Moana

First and foremost, Moana is visually stunning, but that wouldn’t mean much if the story didn’t have heart. Thankfully this story of an adventurous girl trying to save her island has that as well. I love the playful animation of Maui and his tattoos with Dwayne Johnson’s voice providing the perfect cocky attitude. The songs are spine-tingling, particularly “How Far I’ll Go.” And if you’re in search of adorableness, look no further than baby Moana in the opening sequence.

3. Manchester by the Sea

Manchest by the Sea

Like so many things this year, Manchester by the Sea is tainted by the flood of accusations about sexual misconduct in Hollywood. However, I decided to include it because this is not Casey Affleck’s film. It was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, and the lead role was originally intended for another actor. It’s an effective story about how people in grief struggle to connect, and the cold beauty of the New England seaside reflects the isolation of the characters.

2. Laura

Laura

Laura (1944) is a quick, perfect example of film noir. Dana Andrews plays Detective McPherson, investigating the murder of the much-admired Laura. His obsession with her grows as he pieces together the details of her life. With only a handful of characters and sets, Laura creates drama simply through the strength of its storytelling. The snappy dialogue and moody score are exactly what you want from noir, and Dana Andrews is the ideal of a dry-humored detective.

1. Moonlight

Moonlight

Believe the hype, movie fans. Moonlight is an incomparable exploration of what it means to be a black man in America. The film is divided into three parts, each a vignette of the main character’s childhood, adolescence, and manhood, respectively. Superb performances from all three actors create seamless transitions and a rich understanding of the character. The cinematography is otherworldly with motifs like the colored light seen above. Two films in this post made me cry, but Moonlight is the one that make me think deeply and feel a connection to a world completely different from my own.

Stay tuned for the grand finale: my top 10 books of 2017!

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Best of 2017: Movie Edition, Part 1

As usual, I’m a little behind the times when it comes to movies. You may find yourself thinking, “I remember when everyone was talking about that movie…last year.” Well, these are the movies that crossed my path in 2017—the ones that most touched or excited me. Grab a seat for numbers 10 through 6!

10. Jackie

Jackie

Jackie is an impressionistic film filled with dreamy imagery. It follows the experience of Jackie Kennedy in the days following her husband’s assassination, as framed by a conversation with a journalist shortly after. The centerpiece of the film is Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie, which is an eerie embodiment of her famous accent and mannerisms. From the cinematography to the music, Jackie is a emotionally harrowing but worthwhile experience.

9. Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher

I consider it a mark of a good film when I feel invested in something that would normally hold no interest—in this case, wrestling. Of course, Foxcatcher is really about the relationship between two brothers and the man who becomes their patron. Steve Carell received the most attention for his performance and rightfully so. The comedian disappears into John du Pont, a millionaire so desperate for camaraderie that he funds his own wrestling team.

8. The Beguiled

The Beguiled

I don’t always feel a huge connection to Sofia Coppola’s films, but The Beguiled is an ideal showcase for her skills. In the story of a wounded Union soldier taken in by a Southern girls’ school during the Civil War, Coppola’s talents for visual mood and emotional anguish are put to perfect use. It’s engrossing to watch how the startling presense of a man disrupts these characters’ lives. Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst are fantastic as subtly dualing forces of femininity.

7. Their Finest

Their Finest

On many occasions, I heard my friend Jenny refer to this as “the movie about making the movie about Dunkirk.” Most confusingly of all, it has nothing to do with Dunkirk, the Christopher Nolan epic that also came out this year. Their Finest is a small movie about British filmmakers trying to make an uplifting war movie in the midst of the Blitz. Sam Claflin is positively charming as the cynical writer, as is Bill Nighy as a pompous aging actor. And if you adore 1940s fashion, my friend Katie dubbed it “a festival of excellent knitwear.”

6. The Martian

The Martian

Although science-fiction doesn’t always catch my attention, some films demand it. As with Gravity back in 2013, the focus on one astronaut’s survival made it easy to become invested in The Martian. Obviously the visuals are breathtaking, and the incorporation of other characters and locations keeps the story from ever feeling monotonous. Matt Damon had less success with his starring roles this year, but it’s easy to buy him as a square-jawed astronaut.

Tomorrow I’ll be back with my top 5 movies of the year!

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Best of 2017: Music Edition, Part 2

2017 saw album releases from huge artists like Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, and I devoured them along with everyone else. It strikes me that most of these songs have a positive leaning, which happily reflects a year of positive changes in my life. I hope you enjoy numbers 5 through 1!

5. Ed Sheeran, “Happier”

Ed Sheeran’s new album had a lengthy run in my car rotation this spring. He doesn’t exactly break new ground, but the album is a satisfying installment for fans. In a lineup of perhaps one too many love ballads, I gravitated toward the relative simplicity of this heartbreaker. Can’t most of us relate to the conflicting emotions of seeing a former love happy in their new relationship? I’m always a sucker for vulnerability, and no one can pine quite like Ed.

4. Spoon, “Hot Thoughts”

“Hot Thoughts” is an irresistible groove from the very beginning of the year. Spoon is another band that makes me feel nostalgic, this time for college, and this song takes the best of their signature sound and makes it feel current. I love the hushed and twitchy vocal delivery throughout. As some of you have probably figured out, a high-quality sultry song is always welcome on my playlist.

3. Cage the Elephant, “Whole Wide World”

Cage the Elephant is perhaps my favorite band on alternative radio today. Oddly enough, “Whole Wide World” is a song that I knew from the Will Ferrell movie Stranger Than Fiction. Bringing the two together was a match made in my personal heaven. The earnestness of the lyrics is offset just enough by the raucous backdrop of guitars and strings. Guaranteed to lift your spirits.

2. Lorde, “Green Light”

I believe I had an initial distaste for this song when I heard it, probably because it doesn’t sound like “Royals.” Yet I kept listening, and before long it was in my music library. If the images are a little off-kilter, everything is reconciled by Lorde’s powerful voice. Most importantly, the bridge and chorus are unstoppable. With its echoes of The Great Gatsby, the sentiment of “waiting for that green light” propelled me through much of the summer.

1. Taylor Swift, “Call It What You Want”

Now you know that I’m being honest with you. As much as I love a good indie band, Taylor Swift was the biggest musical moment of the year for me. There are many interesting directions taken on Reputation, but this sweet and infinitely catchy song is my favorite. When “Call It What You Want” was released, I joked to my friend Lauren that “this is my life now.” With production by Jack Antonoff, the layering of sonic elements is sublime. I defy you not to smile when she repeats, “At least I did one thing right.” It’s a grownup love song for a person who still makes you feel like a romantic.

Tomorrow we go to the movies!

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Best of 2017: Music Edition, Part 1

The time has come, my friends, for the Best of 2017! First up, my top 10 songs encountered this year. This half of the list is mostly populated with songs that I listened to during my summer walks. It was a transitional time in my life, and these triumphant songs kept me hopeful. Feast your ears on 10 through 6!

10. alt-J, “In Cold Blood”

I can’t understand half the lyrics of this song, but for some reason that doesn’t lessen my enjoyment. From the moment I heard the opening lines of binary on the radio, I was hooked. Typical of an alt-J song, I listen in anticipation of hearing that one great line—in this case, the crooning of “In cold bloooood” slightly after the two-minute mark. It’s bizarre, melodic perfection.

9. The Wind and The Wave, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” 

I’ve never been averse to a good cover song, especially when it makes a creative departure from the original version. In this case, The Wind and The Wave turn an iconic 1980s tune into a toe-tapping, country-tinged indie rocker. You can have all your nostalgic Breakfast Club feels with a modern twist and be reminded of the emotion behind the synthesizers.

8. The Revivalists, “Wish I Knew You”

This song was all over alternative radio this year, but somehow I never got sick of it. Must be due to the unrelenting forward motion of the groove and the lyrics. True to the band’s name, “Wish I Knew You” takes you to church, provided the church is connected to a dive bar music venue. The pace is also perfect for a determined walk around uptown.

7. The Killers, “The Man”

The Killers bring me right back to high school when their album Hot Fuss was all the rage. I wasn’t sure about “The Man” when I first heard it, but its tongue-in-cheek swagger quickly grew on me. The lyrics are basically a series of proclamations that are great for car singalongs—my personal favorite being “USDA certified lean!” Also check out “Run For Cover” off the new album.

6. Bleachers, “Don’t Take The Money”

When he’s not busy making pop music gold with Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff is creating his own magic as Bleachers. Like “Rollercoaster” two years ago, “Don’t Take The Money” was an exercise anthem for 2017. I love the range of Antonoff’s voice, and I can’t get enough of the bombastically pleading chorus. “You steal the air out of my lungs / You make me feel it.” Yes please!

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Photo Friday: Columbia Road Flower Market

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My favorite thing about going to Columbia Road Flower Market was that as you get closer, you see more and more people walking in the other direction carrying flowers and plants. We concluded that buying fresh flowers must be a more common occurrence in the UK than in the US.

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London Tales: That Hipster Life

Street art in ShoreditchFall 2017 038

On our first day of not being destroyed by jet lag, Amy and I headed east to Shoreditch to visit Brick Lane Market. Shoreditch is a well-established hipster neighborhood that’s famous for its ubiquitous street art. The way the locals talked about it reminded me of how Minneapolis residents talk about uptown: if they don’t live there, they probably avoid going there. However, we were tourists eager to experience that London hipster life, so go we did.

The market is found down narrow streets crowded with tiny shops and restaurants. In a bizarre moment of global culture, there was a band outside playing “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both Amy and I found trinkets in the market. I bought coasters with Queen Elizabeth’s face, and Amy went for a far classier item. We also wandered into a courtyard of sorts with food trucks and tables, which was perfect for our lunch. Even better, it was an ideal place for people-watching and eavesdropping on British accents.

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Fast forward to our last day, we visited another part of East London for a less polished hipster scene. After an English breakfast in Bethnal Green, we walked through the famous Columbia Road Flower Market. (A Photo Friday of the market is forthcoming.) Waling this crowded, narrow street was the time I felt the most oppressed by crowds during the trip. Thankfully my claustrophobia was quickly cured when we walked toward Haggerston Park and stumbled upon Hackney City Farm. I never fully understood the function of the space, but it had farm animals and rustic charm up the wazoo.

This day was also one of several walks we took along Regent’s Canal. The concept of a canal boat wasn’t completely foreign to me, but I wasn’t aware that they were found in London. In fact, both sides of the canal are packed with moored boats. In addition to classy or creative paint jobs, some boats were decorated with strings of lights or potted plants. Amy pointed out that owning—and perhaps even living in—a canal boat would be the ultimate hipster move.

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My next post will return to the posh side of London when we visit a palace or two and have a decadent afternoon tea.

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