Tag Archives: best of 2014

Best of 2014: Book Edition, Part 2

You guys, these books are so good. I hope you enjoy my top 5 books of the year, and when you’re done enjoying, maybe go check one out. (Or, you know, all of them. Whatever.)

5. Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss is the first in a series of related books, and I could easily have included any of them on my favorites list. However, there’s something special about Anna, the story of a high school senior sent to a boarding school for Americans in Paris. It has just the right balance of wish-fulfillment and relatable characters. I love Anna’s interest in cinema, not to mention her swoon-worthy Paris romance. Stephanie Perkins creates a world that I was all to happy to live in for two more books.

4. Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places

While reading Dark Places, I was constantly trying to solve the mystery, even when I wasn’t actually reading. Libby is the lone survivor of the night her brother killed her mother and sisters, a childhood trauma that has turned her into a less than functional adult. However, an unlikely alliance with real crime enthusiast/nerd Lyle leads her to rethink what she thinks she knows about the night that changed her life forever. The plot unfolds with fiendish tenacity between Libby in the present and her brother Ben on day of the murders. I defy you to stop turning the pages. (Click here for further discussion.)

3. The Other Typist, by Suzanne Rindell

The Other Typist

Friendship can be a transformative influence, as several of the books on this list attest, but The Other Typist deals with a darker transformation. Rose Baker is a by-the-book typist for the New York City police department, until a new typist joins her precinct. Odalie is a Roaring Twenties daydream worthy of Jay Gatsby. Beneath the trappings of speakeasies and flapper haircuts, this novel is an engrossing study of identity. Is it truly possible to change who we are? (I had plenty more to say in my full review here.)

2. Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments

Reading Attachments is like watching a really good romantic comedy, one that’s genuinely romantic and funny. In the early days of office internet, Lincoln is hired to monitor employee emails for a newspaper. In the line of duty, he reads the messages between two women and falls in love with one of them. The premise may sound far-fetched, but Rainbow Rowell has a knack for bringing realism to any scenario. One of my bookstore coworkers asked which Rainbow Rowell character would be my ideal boyfriend, and I had to say Lincoln. He’s the perfect combination of sweet, awkward, and self-deprecating.

1. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity won the Printz Award for good reason. It opens with a British spy writing her confession in a French Gestapo prison. However, she uses the time and paper to tell about her best friend Maddie, the transport pilot who flew on this already-doomed mission. The story is absolutely gripping, made all the more so by the fierce bond of friendship that the reader can feel between the two friends. Code Name Verity has everything going for it: strong writing, characters, and plot. It’s also covers two of my favorite genres (young adult and historical fiction), making it an easy pick for my favorite book of the year.

Thanks for joining me on this year-end retrospective. Catch you in 2015!

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Best of 2014: Book Edition, Part 1

I followed my reading goal of two-books-per-month again this year, and it was difficult to narrow them down to ten favorites. That’s what I call a good problem to have. Enjoy numbers 10 through 6!

10. Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire is a companion novel to Code Name Verity. The protagonist changes, but some characters reoccur. During World War II, young American Rose Justice travels to Britain to volunteer as a transport pilot. However, bad luck in the air over France lands her in Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp. I’ve read a lot about World War II, but Wein does a fantastic job of showing the camaraderie that can arise between people in desperate situations. Rose and her fellow prisoners make a pact to “tell the world,” and by writing this book, Wein helps to fulfill her character’s promise.

9. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green & David Levithan

Will Grayson x2

First and foremost, Will Grayson, Will Grayson is hilarious. John Green’s writing always has a dose of humor, but this novel made me laugh out loud more than any other. When two Chicago teens meet, and are both coincidentally named Will Grayson, the hilarity ensues. One Will Grayson is struggling with his sexuality; the other is struggling with his general apathy and a flamboyantly gay best friend named Tiny Cooper. Tiny alone is worth the price of admission, but the novel boasts a delightful cast of characters.

8. Longbourn, by Jo Baker

Longbourn

A novel about the servants from Pride and Prejudice could have been an epic failure, but not in the capable hands of Jo Baker. Longbourn only deepened my understanding of the world surrounding the classic story, while also providing compelling characters of its own. If you enjoy the “below stairs” aspect of Downton Abbey, consider this a more sophisticated version. And if you think that Jane Austen is all people sitting around in drawing rooms, then the uncertainty of a servant’s existence might better suit your fancy. (You can read my full review here.)

7. The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides

After years of good intentions, I finally read The Virgin Suicides. Now I understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to Jeffrey Eugenides. His writing style is a bit off-kilter, which is perfect for this story about a family of teenage girls cloistered by their parents. It’s a downright Hitchcockian example of the male gaze to female object, or as the wise John Green might say, “failing to imagine others complexly.” And aside from the English major speak, it’s just a beautifully written novel. (You can read my full review here.)

6. Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects

Just like the work that came after, Gillian Flynn’s first novel cuts to the bone. Camille Preaker is a reporter sent to her Missouri hometown to investigate the murders of two girls. The assignment forces her to rekindle a relationship with her mother and the teenage half-sister she never really knew. These women all demonstrate Flynn’s bravery when it comes to creating female characters with a healthy dose of menace about them. Sharp Objects is small town depravity as seen through Camille’s mind, which is as twisted as the rooms of her mother’s Victorian house. (Click here to read further discussion.)

Let’s do this one more time tomorrow!

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Best of 2014: Movie Edition, Part 2

A documentary, an animated film, and some psychological thrillers. I’m glad to see that my year in movies was an eclectic one. Here are my top 5 movies of 2014!

5. Blackfish

Blackfish

I’m not usually much for documentaries, but Blackfish (2013) came highly recommended. Does being a documentary novice make my recommendation mean less or more? Regardless, the story of killer whales in captivity is presented cohesively, with a wealth of Sea World footage and interviews with former trainers and scientists. Blackfish follows the life of a particular whale involved in at least three human deaths, from his questionable treatment at a Canadian park to his current situation with Sea World. His portrayal feels as nuanced as any human biography, which only strengthens the documentary’s message.

4. Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity 1

If you’re looking for femme fatale perfection, look no further than Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944). Even a film noir novice like myself enjoyed watching her wrap Fred MacMurray around her little finger. To MacMurray’s credit, he’s positively charming as insurance man Walter Neff. Although the action is narrated by Walter after the jig is up, it’s fascinating to watch the yarn unravel. The story may not suit our modern ideals of realism, but between MacMurray’s smooth talk and Stanwyck’s smirk, Double Indemnity is a visual pleasure. (Read my full review here.)

3. Zodiac

Zodiac

Watching Zodiac (2007) made me realize that David Fincher was the perfect director for Gone Girl. This movie scared the bejesus out of me in unexpected ways. Yes, the scenes of the Zodiac’s murders are frightening, but Fincher can do just as much with three men interviewing a suspect in an industrial break room. Jake Gyllenhaal is impressively awkward as the newspaper cartoonist who became obsessed with the Zodiac case. If the film’s ending feels inconclusive, it’s only holding up a mirror to real-life events. No one could make a hippy-dippy Donovan song as creepy as Fincher. Man, I love that guy.

2. Frozen

Frozen Castle

Frozen was a source of pure joy. I get that people are probably sick of hearing about it by now, but that doesn’t change my opinion. I still remember those first minutes in the theater, unable to keep a goofy smile off my face. I’ve been a fan of Kristen Bell (the voice of Anna) since her Veronica Mars days, and the entire vocal cast is stacked with talent. Why do you think “Let It Go” was so ubiquitous this year? Because it’s a sentiment to which people of any age can relate. And when a story of self-acceptance and sisterly love comes wrapped in an icily gorgeous package, all the better. (Read my full review here.)

1. Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

How do I say what I love about this film besides everything? I saw it near the beginning of 2014, and even then I suspected it would come out on top. It’s portrayal of mental illness may be imperfect, but David O. Russell succeeds in making it just one facet of complex individuals. Bradley Cooper is bipolar perfection running around in his sweatsuit and garbage bag. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a speech about liking the crazy parts of herself that I still think about sometimes. It’s a movie about trying to love the people in our lives, even when we can’t understand them. I hope that’s a message any human being can appreciate.

Come back tomorrow for bookish good times!

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Best of 2014: Movie Edition, Part 1

My year in movie viewing was a mixture of new releases and Classic Hollywood, and you’ll find both in my top 10 list. Bust out the popcorn bowl for numbers 10 through 6!

10. American Hustle

American Hustle

I discovered two new favorite filmmakers in 2014, and the first was David O. Russell. I saw The Fighter (2010) during my early days of Netflix, and although I really loved it, most of my focus was on the acting. It was his two subsequent films that really cemented my love for the director. American Hustle (2013) draws cast members from both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, but remixes them with a serious 1970s aesthetic. Between the costumes and the con man plot, American Hustle is more of a confection than his previous films, but the cast still delivers dynamite performances. And I’m not just talking about Bradley Cooper’s perm and Amy Adams’s cleavage.

9. The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars Poster

As a huge fan of the novel, I was seriously nervous about this adaptation. How could Hollywood possibly be trusted to communicate the subtleties of John Green’s story? For some reason I was much more suspicious about Shailene Woodley as Hazel than Angel Elgort as Augustus. Well, I couldn’t have been more off-base. Woodley nails Hazel’s quiet strength, not to mention the physical toll of her illness. It was pure joy to see the Amsterdam trip translated to the screen, complete with canals and the Anne Frank House. And yes, I cried on at least three separate occasions. The sensitivity of this adaptation was the year’s most pleasant surprise.

8. His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday

Early in 2014 I went on a bit of a Classic Hollywood binge. His Girl Friday (1940) was one of my favorites to come out of that period. The film is famous for its mile-a-minute dialogue, and watching Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s verbal acrobatics is endlessly enjoyable. The costumes and newsroom nicknames only add its charm. Based on Russell’s matching hat and blazer ensemble, how could this woman not be an ace reporter? She tells Grant, “You’re wonderful in a loathsome sort of way,” but after ninety minutes of schemes and screwball comedy, you’ll be inclined to think he’s just plain wonderful.

7. Gone Girl

Gone Girl - 2014

My other favorite filmmaker of 2014 was David Fincher. While I admire David O. Russell for his focus on characters, Fincher is a master of ambiance. That makes him an ideal director to adapt Gillian Flynn’s work, which similarly hinges on the mood of a place. Few adaptations can fully satisfy the avid reader, but Gone Girl comes close. Its deviations are easy to forgive because it’s just a quality film. My greatest wish was for the movie to feel unsettling, and Rosamund Pike under Fincher’s direction makes that a reality. On a lighter note, best use of a cat for subtle character development! (Read my full review here.)

6. Rear Window

Rear Window

Oh, Jimmy Stewart, you excellent creeper. Rear Window (1954) was the obvious progression from multiple viewings of Vertigo (1958) in college. If you forget that Rear Window is an established classic, it’s miraculous to think that a movie about a man confined to his apartment with a broken leg can be so filled with tension. The film stealthily progresses from summer doldrums to murder mystery, culminating in a genuinely frightening climactic sequence. (Particularly if you’re alone in your apartment in midwinter.) Then again, I’m the sort who’s happy to watch Jimmy Stewart look out a window for two hours.

Tomorrow this list comes to a cinematic conclusion with my top 5 movies of the year!

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Best of 2014: Music Edition, Part 2

If this list is any indication, in 2014 I was into sweeping electropop ballads. Yeah, that sounds about right. I hope you enjoy my top 5 songs of the year!

5. La Roux, “Let Me Down Gently”

Five years after “Bulletproof,” La Roux is back with a new album. “Let Me Down Gently” demanded my attention from the first time I heard it. The lyrics are fairly repetitive, but when your words are dense with emotion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The subtle changes to each verse build along with the music to a crescendo that’s downright cathartic, not to mention dance-floor-ready.

4. Vance Joy, “Riptide”

I’m a sucker for clever lyrics, and “You’re the magician’s assistant in their dreams” is right up there. Besides being just plain lovely, “Riptide” captures the feeling of loving your perfectly imperfect person. In case you’ve heard this song on the radio one too many times (and because the Vance Joy camp is apparently keeping a tight grip on the audio), this video is an acoustic performance.

3. Lykke Li, “No Rest For The Wicked”

As a musical arrangement, “No Rest For The Wicked” feels nothing short of cinematic. I can just imagine it as the soundtrack to a romantic confrontation worthy of the Brontë sisters. But for all its pomp, the song makes the concept of “the one that got away” resonate with the listener, even if you’re not the heroine of a Victorian novel. (Read my full album review here.)

2. First Aid Kit, “Stay Gold”

This year “Stay Gold” is the only song that I happened upon while listening to The Current. I was already a fan of First Aid Kit’s song “Emmylou,” and “Stay Gold” adds a lush musical background to the group’s glowing harmonies. Its lyrics touch on the inevitability of change, and the song as a whole evokes a golden landscape that’s akin to basking in a sunset.

1. Imogen Heap, “You Know Where To Find Me”

“You Know Where To Find Me” was inspired by the River Thames, but while imagining people’s relationships with the river, Imogen Heap writes a song that can also apply to human relationships. The piano and vocals are just as beautiful as the sentiment. There’s a part near the end that often chokes me up, which should only be taken as a compliment in the context of a gorgeous song. (If you want to know more about the Sparks album, read my review here.)

Tomorrow the top 10 movies begin!

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Best of 2014: Music Edition, Part 1

2014 was a good year. I saw tons of great movies and read some wonderful books. Feeling that I was in a bit of a music rut, I also made a point to buy some new albums. Any song that I first encountered in 2014 is eligible for the list, but most of these were actually new this year. Here are my favorite songs of 2014, numbers 10 through 6!

10. Ingrid Michaelson, “Time Machine”

Another year, another solid pop album from Ingrid Michaelson. Actually she slowed down her pace for Lights Out, taking two years between releases, and her patience pays off with one of her strongest albums to date. There are many good songs, but “Time Machine” is classic Ingrid. It’s catchy with a simple yet appealing premise and definitely worthy of singalongs in the car.

9. The Black Keys, “I’m Not The One”

I came by this song in a roundabout way. The TV show Scandal played a cover of “I’m Not The One” by soul singer Bettye LaVette, which eventually led me to the Black Keys original. It’s a male breakup anthem in the tradition of “Free Bird,” rather charming in the singer’s easy admission of being unavailable. This song was the soundtrack to some of my more broody moments of 2014.

8. Josh Ritter, “Bright Smile”

“Kathleen” was my favorite song in 2011, but I somehow went until this year without owning any Josh Ritter albums. Cheapo to the rescue once again. Although Hello Starling has several gems, “Bright Smile” is a deceptively simple love song that sticks in my mind. It’s the kind of song you would want someone to sing under your window, if you like that sort of thing.

7. Ed Sheeran, “Runaway”

“Runaway” is just as catchy as “Sing” or “Don’t,” but without being mercilessly overplayed by radio. It’s Ed Sheeran’s other collaboration with Pharrell Williams, in which he talks about leaving home as a teenager. “Runaway” manages to communicate genuine emotion on top of an impeccable groove.

6. Beyoncé, “XO”

I was a ridiculously huge Destiny’s Child fan in middle school, and I’ve had a soft spot for Beyoncé ever since. Although I was tempted to pick “Drunk In Love” as my favorite from her latest album, “XO” is the song that makes me the happiest. For me it’s all about that sublime buildup to the chorus, and then, musical bliss.

Come back tomorrow for my top 5 songs of the year!

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