Tag Archives: best of 2015

Best of 2015: Book Edition, Part 2

These are some wonderfully odd, deliciously creepy, and beautifully written books. If you like them too, let’s be friends. Here are my top 5 books of 2015!

5. The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last

After recently completing the MaddAddam trilogy, you would think that Margaret Atwood might be out of speculative fiction ideas for a while. But you would be wrong! The Heart Goes Last takes readers to a different but also disturbingly familiar future. To escape homelessness caused by a major economic collapse, a married couple joins an experimental community requiring them to alternate monthly between a comfortable home and a prison. This being an Atwood book, the situation becomes emotionally fraught and plot twists ensue.

4. Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier

Dreamer's Pool

Reading Juliet Marillier is one of the most comforting activities to me. Her new series Blackthorn & Grim has many familiar components from her past books, but some new elements as well. Unlike the young women who usually narrate Marillier’s novels, Blackthorn has half a lifetime of traumatic experiences behind her. In Dreamer’s Pool she escapes wrongful imprisonment with a large man named Grim. The two settle in a faraway region, but Blackthorn’s work as a healer soon embroils them in a mystery involving the local prince’s bride-to-be.

3. The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls

Lauren Beukes writes literary mysteries with a supernatural twist. The Shining Girls features a time-traveling serial killer in Chicago. In the 1990s Kirby is one of his would-be victims who survives, then takes a newspaper internship in order to investigate her attack. The relationship between Kirby and her reluctant mentor at the newspaper is hilarious and ultimately touching. The story is sometimes frightening but very well-executed. Beukes paints the world as raw and starkly beautiful, which is a worldview that I find incredibly compelling.

2. Friends with Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks

Friends with Boys

I picked up Friends with Boys because Faith Erin Hicks is collaborating on a project with Rainbow Rowell. My exposure to graphic novels is limited, so I was shocked by the emotional connection I felt to the characters. The images gave me a strong sense of their voices and mannerisms without needing many words. Maggie is starting high school after years of being homeschooled with her three older brothers. There she makes her first female friend, and Lucy is such a cute, vibrant character. Friends with Boys is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

1. Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane

Mystic River Cover

Dennis Lehane, I’m sorry I wrote you off for years because your books are shelved in the mystery section. What a fool I was! Mystic River is phenomenal as both a mystery and a character study. After an incident involving three childhood friends, Lehane jumps ahead to the men in adulthood while also giving the reader a strong sense of how they became the way they are. The mood of a blue collar Boston neighborhood permeates every page. I was completely immersed, enthralled, and astounded. (You can read my discussion of the book here.)

I hope you enjoyed this year’s retrospective. I certainly did!

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Best of 2015: Book Edition, Part 1

With a little help from my friends at the library, I was able to read so many awesome new releases this year. If you like young adult or literary mysteries, there’s probably something on one of these lists for you. Here are my best books read in 2015, numbers 10 through 6!

10. The Shadow Cabinet, by Maureen Johnson

The Shadow Cabinet

The Shades of London series is a sneaky favorite of mine. I tend to forget about it, but when the third book came out this year, I was all over the library waitlist. (It didn’t hurt that the second book ended on a torturous cliffhanger.) The moody London atmosphere combined with Maureen Johnson’s irreverent humor make this series unique, and The Shadow Cabinet is the most exciting installment yet.

9. Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen

Saint Anything

Sarah Dessen, my first love in YA, came out with a wonderful offering this year. Saint Anything follows Sydney’s struggles to get out of her older brother’s shadow—a brother who is now in prison for a drunk driving accident. As Dessen protagonists are apt to do, she finds a dynamic group of friends to help her. Since Sarah is a master of characterization, it’s not a bad pattern. Bonus points for a creeper character who truly made me cringe. (You can read my full review here.)

8. Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On

Rainbow Rowell’s first fantasy novel is already cause for excitement. Her first fantasy novel that’s also a clever critique of Chosen One narratives—that’s even better. The story is full of complicated friendships and uneasy alliances. As always, Rainbow has a knack for putting her characters in exactly the situation you want to see them in. I’m also seriously envious of the art throughout the book, from the cover art to the section break illustrations to the beautiful map of Watford School of Magicks. (You can read my full review here.)

7. Yes Please, by Amy Poehler

Yes Please

Yes Please is one part personal anecdotes and one part sage advice. I love the design of the book with its color photographs and reproductions of various mementos. My favorite chapter is about performing on Saturday Night Live while pregnant with her first child. It’s just the right combination of behind-the-scenes details and broader commentary on the female experience. I set down Yes Please feeling motivated to “do the thing.” (You can read my full review here.)

6. Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith

Career of Evil

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have new J. K. Rowling in my life, pseudonym or no. It stands to reason that she can write a good mystery, but I didn’t expect to fall so completely in love with her detective characters. Career of Evil is my favorite book of the series because it reveals more details of Cormoran and Robin’s pasts. I was in serious denial for days after finishing this book because I didn’t want it to be over. (You can read my full review here.)

Tomorrow is the grand finale: my top 5 books of 2015!

 

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Best of 2015: Movie Edition, Part 2

Remember what I said about animation and Hitchcock? Here they are again, this time with some historical dramas in the mix. Here are my top 5 movies of 2015!

5. Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies

I saw this movie with my mom, and she will dispute its placement ahead of Mockingjay. However, in my opinion, Bridge of Spies is a little higher quality. I’m obsessed with the cinematography. Spielberg shot the film in moody grays and blues, and the Berlin sequences have palpable tension. My favorite scenes were between Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, as lawyer and Soviet spy. My only complaint is the fabulous Amy Ryan relegated to the role of concerned wife.

4. Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6

If I had children, I would want them to watch movies like this: imaginative and diverse with complex emotional moments. Hiro is a rebellious teen with a talent for robotics. The film follows his adventures with Baymax, the healthcare robot created by his older brother, and a motley crew of young scientists. If you don’t love this puffy marshmallow robot, you probably have no heart. I also love the setting of San Fransokyo, a futuristic mashup of San Francisco and Tokyo.

3. Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea is the most adorable thing ever. The flat animation style and simple character designs are 100% my aesthetic, and every frame could be a page in a beautiful picture book. The film centers on Ben and his younger sister Saoirse, who discovers that she’s a selkie. Saoirse transforming into a seal for the first time is over-the-top gorgeous. There are many wonderful sibling moments, such as Ben attaching Saoirse to himself with a leash, ostensibly to be mean but also to keep her safe in a strange city. Bonus: everyone has a cute Irish accent.

2. Psycho

Psycho Poster

I didn’t think it was possible to surpass Vertigo as my favorite Hitchcock film, but damn if Psycho doesn’t make it a close race. I already talked about it quite extensively in this post. Anthony Perkins is incredible as Norman Bates, and every scene between him and Janet Leigh teeters on the edge of polite creepiness. If you want proof that Anthony Perkins is a legend, just check out his slow smile directly to camera in the final scene. He’s both scary and pitiable in a role that could have easily turned to caricature. I can’t gush about Psycho enough.

1. The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game has two elements that make me immediately biased in its favor: World War II and Benedict Cumberbatch. The film follows Alan Turing as he works to create a machine that can break the German’s Enigma Code. Although Cumberbatch plays another genius on Sherlock, he takes on completely different mannerisms and speech patterns for Turing. He and Keira Knightley have an excellent rapport, and the superb supporting cast creates a rich world around them. Every detail is lovely, down to the machine itself.

Tomorrow we venture into the stacks for my favorite books of the year!

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Best of 2015: Movie Edition, Part 1

This year I continued to embrace my love of animation and Alfred Hitchcock, and you will find both represented in the top 10. Here are the best movies that I watched in 2015, numbers 10 through 6!

10. Fantastic Mr. Fox

28.hd210_0030_L1TK1_0193.tiff.dng

This year I took my first foray into the world of Wes Anderson. I liked Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, but naturally my favorite was his stop-motion animation film. The autumnal coloring of Fantastic Mr. Fox is visually pleasing, and the depth of voice talent is insane. My favorite characters are the teenage foxes, Ash and Kristofferson, who are pictured above. Nothing brings joy to my heart like an angsty, stop-motion animated fox who’s just…different.

9. Notorious

Notorious

Of the several Hitchcock films that I watched this year, Notorious was my second favorite. Cary Grant is a federal agent who recruits Ingrid Bergman to spy on her father’s Nazi pals, now hiding out in South America. The two are a strong pairing, and I’ve already spent time analyzing Bergman’s complicated character in a previous post. There’s also a classically suspenseful party scene involving a wine cellar key and a dwindling supply of champagne. Essential Hitchcock moment.

8. Mockingjay: Part 2

Mockingjay 1

If the Harry Potter franchise taught us anything, it’s that adaptations of a beloved book series will have their ups and downs. Catching Fire was the high point of the Hunger Games films for me, and I was beyond pleased to see that director Francis Lawrence recaptured some of the magic in Mockingjay: Part 2. Invading the Capitol provided amazing sets and action, but I was even more satisfied by the quiet moments that came after. (You can read my full review here.)

7. Inside Out

Inside Out

Pixar plays with our emotions again, this time quite literally. Inside Out follows the five primary emotions inside a girl’s brain, with perfect vocal casting like Amy Poehler as Joy and Mindy Kaling as Disgust. I found the movie endlessly clever when it came to physical representations of psychological ideas. Think of a storage facility for memories, a production studio for dreams, and security guards for repressed memories. I laughed, I cried, I felt all the things.

6. Trainwreck

TrainwreckI saw Trainwreck with a group of girlfriends at the adorable Grandview Theatre in St. Paul, which was probably the perfect way to watch it. There’s a lot of feminist debate surrounding this movie, but Anne Helen Petersen can tell you about that. I know that it made me laugh like a crazy person, and Bill Hader is gold as a romantic lead. For all the comedic exaggeration, Trainwreck delivers truthful moments about the state of dating in the 21st century.

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Best of 2015: Music Edition, Part 2

There’s something very personal about sharing the songs that I loved most in a given year. All psychoanalyzing aside, these five songs give a good snapshot of what’s been exciting me musically. Maybe some of them will resonate with you as well. Here are my top 5 songs of 2015!

5. Troye Sivan, “FOOLS”

I knew Troye Sivan as an adorable Australian YouTuber, but in the past two years he’s revealed himself to be a crazy-talented electropop musician. Two songs in my top 5 is unprecedented, but I listened to these songs a lot this year. “FOOLS” is an emotionally raw track about holding on when you shouldn’t be in love with someone. I love the stubborn attitude of the lyrics and the background chorus of people yelling “Only fools!” in the final minute.

4. Bastille, “Bad Blood”

I love you, Taylor Swift, but Bastille has a superior “Bad Blood.” Although this song is a couple of years old, I first heard it on ALT 93 in 2015. The song demands your attention from the opening seconds. The vocals are deep and relentless, particularly in the chorus, giving the impression of rock-and-roll sermon. And if we’re sermonizing, letting go of bad blood is probably the preferable message.

3. Tove Lo, “Talking Body”

In the workout song category, “Talking Body” comes out on top. Its play count on my iTunes will not allow me to ignore it. The vibe is positive and a little bit naughty, which seems to be my ideal formula for workout music. Plus this song talks about bodies, so y’know, it feels appropriate. I’ve attached the clean version to this post, but I’ll be honest, that’s not the version in my music library.

2. Adele, “Water Under The Bridge”

Picking an Adele song was a struggle, in part because I love many songs on her new album, but also because she’s not allowing her music to be streamed online. Luckily, “Water Under The Bridge” is an absolute favorite, and there’s a legit video of her performing it on The Tonight Show. This performance doesn’t quite capture the epic choruses that I love on the album. Still, the song possesses the strength and vulnerability that make me love Adele oh-so-much.

1. Troye Sivan, “WILD”

When I first heard “WILD,” I wasn’t sure whether I found the children’s voices cool or annoying. Clearly I landed on cool because it was my jam this fall. You won’t often hear me talk about production, but Troye Sivan’s music has so many unique components. I find myself singing “Leave this blue neighborhood / Never knew loving could hurt this good” around the apartment without realizing it. It’s an ecstatic, delirious love song—three-and-a-half minutes of pure joy.

Tomorrow we move on to the movies!

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Best of 2015: Music Edition, Part 1

Picking my favorite songs came with a new challenge this year. In January I started going to the gym, so a lot of the new music in my life was geared toward workout playlists. But are those necessarily the ones that I consider the best? In the end I chose a few highlights from the workout realm and otherwise chose favorites from everyday listening. Any song that I encountered for the first time in 2015 is fair game, whether it was released this year or ten years ago.

10. Florence + the Machine, “Third Eye”

I wasn’t over the moon about the third Florence + the Machine album, in part because it has less of the bombast that I enjoy in their previous albums. However, “Third Eye” is one track that scratches that itch. I love the imagery of the chorus: “There’s a hole where your heart lies / And I can see it with my third eye.”

9. Fitz and the Tantrums, “6am”

This year a lot of my exposure to new music came from ALT 93, a new alternative station. I was somewhat familiar with Fitz and the Tantrums, but hearing them on the radio regularly inspired me to actually buy an album. “6am” is my favorite for jamming in the car, a soulful groove with a mix of male and female voices.

8. Beth Orton, “Sugar Boy”

Rainbow Rowell makes playlists for her novels, and “Sugar Boy” is on one of the playlists for Carry On. I listened to Beth Orton a bit in high school, but not the Trailer Park album. Her husky voice is particularly well-suited to this song. “Told you I loved you / You beat my heart black and blue” is one lyric that always gives me fond flashbacks to Carry On, as strange as that may sound.

7. Bleachers, “Rollercoaster”

“Rollercoaster” was on my very first workout playlist, so it has a special place in my heart. I find it energizing from start to finish, and the romantic yet slightly off-kilter lyrics are just my taste. I can highly recommend it as a way to keep things peppy while doing cardio—or, you know, cleaning the apartment.

6. Patty Griffin, “You Never Asked Me”

I love sad songs. I love Patty Griffin. Give me a sad Patty Griffin song, and I am mush. “You Never Asked Me” is a heartbreaking piano ballad with a simple message to an ex-partner: “I don’t believe in love like that anyway / The kind that comes along once and just saves the day.” Please excuse me while I go weep in the corner about how beautiful this song is. (If you’re interested, I reviewed the entire Servant of Love album here.)

Come back tomorrow for my 5 favorite songs of 2015!

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