Tag Archives: best of 2016

Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 2

This year I’m in the unusual position of having already written posts about almost every book in my top 5. Sometimes it’s harder to write about books that I really love because I just want to say, “It’s sooooo good,” but I’m happy to have longer musings to offer. Here are my favorite books of 2016!

5. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Dead Wake Cover

I feel like I’ve read a great deal about World War II and very little about World War I. Thankfully Erik Larson, the wizard of history writing, turned his attention to that era. Dead Wake follows the events leading up to the sinking of the Lusitania, one of the catalysts for the U.S. entering the war in Europe. This being Eric Larson, he gives the full scope of the event, from the ship’s passengers to military intelligence to the soldiers aboard the German submarine. I consider it one of his most fascinating works. (You can read my full review here.)

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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As Gillian Flynn did in Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins plays with timelines and perspectives. The Girl on the Train follows Rachel, an alcoholic woman who becomes interested in a couple she sees from the train every day. Although this thriller is mainly focused on plot, I keenly felt Rachel’s loneliness and desperation. Other perspectives come from Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex, and Megan, the girl she watches from the train. I relished looking into these flawed women’s psyches. (You can read my book-to-film comparison here.)

3. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

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Eowyn Ivey made us wait four years for her second novel, but this was worth the wait. To the Bright Edge of the World is another piece of exquisite historical fiction set in Alaska. While her first novel focused on quiet moments, this one has plenty of action as Colonel Allen Forrester leads an expedition up the Wolverine River. Yet their journey also contains simple moments of human connection. Back at the military barracks, his wife Sophie pursues an interest in photography that raises eyebrows with the other wives. A beautifully written, beautifully human novel with a hint of the uncanny. (You can read my full review here.)

2. Room by Emma Donoghue

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Room is a triumph of character voice. The story of a woman held captive in a single room is narrated by her five-year-old son Jack, who has never known the outside world. Even though I committed the cardinal sin of watching the movie first, I could appreciate what Emma Donoghue achieved with this novel. Jack has a distinctive way of speaking that reflects his age and bizarre upbringing. I wanted to jump through the page and hug him, but that’s not to say that the story is saccharine. As was mirrored in the film, Ma and Jack are perfectly imperfect.

1. Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

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Suzanne Rindell is my favorite new author on the literary fiction scene. Three-Martini Lunch deals with three characters searching for literary success in 1958 New York City. As in her first novel The Other Typist, Rindell explores the ways that we present ourselves to others and how small decisions shape our lives. The narrators range from Cliff, a deluded Greenwich Village hipster, to Miles, a black man coming to terms with his identity. Even as they made mistakes, I cared so much for these characters and hated to leave their world. I suspect this isn’t the last time Suzanne Rindell makes my list. (You can read my full review here.)

Thanks for joining me on this year-end review!

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Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 1

My reading took a somewhat different direction this year. I read very little in the young adult genre, but a lot of mystery and multiple nonfiction works. There were even a few classics because you don’t just stop being an English nerd. Here are my favorite books read in 2016, numbers 10 through 6!

10. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris

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My Classic Hollywood education has naturally progressed to reading. Pictures at a Revolution follows the production of the 1967 Best Picture nominees and the breakdown of the studio system. The book could have easily been a confusing collection of names, but Mark Harris makes the stories easy to follow without feeling the need to refer back to earlier chapters. Like the best writers of film history and analysis, he brings immediacy to the rebellious beginnings of films that are now established classics. I stayed interested from start to finish.

9. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar

Esther Greenwood is a scholarship student at a prestigious East Coast college doing a summer internship with a women’s magazine in New York City, during which she experiences mental breakdown. Swap Esther Greenwood for Sylvia Plath, and all of these details remain true to her life. While sometimes stressful, The Bell Jar provides spot-on descriptions of the acute pain of depression. Having read a biography of Plath’s early life in 2014, I enjoyed finding the fictional counterparts to real-life people. It’s a tough but worthwhile read.

8. Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane

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As mentioned in this post, I’ve been reading Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro mysteries this year. I liked all of the books, but Prayers for Rain stands out as a favorite. Being the fifth book about these characters, the emotional threads start to come together in satisfying ways. Patrick and Angie’s repartee is as sharp as ever, and at this point Lehane has become deft at asking complicated moral questions without being heavy-handed. The psychopathic killer also provides a particularly mind-bending mystery for the detectives and the reader.

7. Me Before You by Jojo Meyes

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I avoided reading this book for a few years because of the weepy storyline. Then I took it to Florida with me, and while there are weepy moments, I was pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of the characters and pacing. When the movie came out, many people took issue with the story’s approach to the paraplegic character. All I can say as a reader is that I took his choices as particular to him and not representative of how all paralyzed individuals feel or think. To recommend itself, the book has witty dialogue and a narrator worth loving.

6. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca Cover

I had a running joke with my mom about long it took me to read this book. However, the delays were a product of library book interruptions, not a dislike for the book itself. Daphne Du Maurier’s writing reminds me of my favorite Gothic novels. In fact, the setting and plot are somewhat reminiscent of Jane Eyre, which blends the styles of Gothic and Victorian novels. While maintaining its foreboding atmosphere, Rebecca also made me feel a kinship with the narrator. I was glad to take my time with it. (You can read my full review here.)

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Best of 2016: Movie Edition, Part 2

Most of my top 5 movies have an element of magic, whether it be through talking animals or the unreality of musicals. I guess this year called beautiful things with a bit of escapism. Enjoy the loveliness!

5. Zootopia

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I watched Zootopia with a few friends, and we were completely delighted by it. Judy Hopps is the Leslie Knope of animation, a bunny determined to be the first non-predator police officer in Zootopia. While fighting stereotypes, Judy teams up with Nick Wilde, a fox who embraces his sneaky reputation. The filmmakers were incredibly creative in designing a city for animals of all sizes with neighborhoods for different climates. Lastly, the voice talent is stacked with Jason Bateman as the wily fox and Idris Elba as the fed-up police chief.

4. Amélie

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You may ask, how had I never seen Amélie until this year? I have no excuse, except that my teenage self was preoccupied with the Brits over the French. In the end, I adored this story of a young woman creating miraculous occurrences in the lives of people around her. Amélie isn’t just quirky; she’s a lonely girl alienated by her own shyness. Everything about the movie made me smile, from the specificity of the characters’ interests to stealing her father’s gnome for a worldwide tour. And most of all: Nino, the discarded-photo-collecting man of Amélie’s dreams.

3. La La Land

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Set in an ambiguously timeless version of Los Angeles, La La Land is a movie to make you smile with Classic Hollywood nostalgia. Doesn’t hurt to cast two of the most beloved actors of our generation either. Ryan Gosling is at his adorable best, and Emma Stone brings the moxie and the pipes. It’s a film for and about dreamers, these two trying to make it in Los Angeles and also everyone watching. I was singing the haunting “City of Stars” for days after seeing it. Do you want humor, romance, lovely songs, and gorgeous costumes? La La Land has it all!

2. All About Eve

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This year I fell in love with Bette Davis, and All About Eve is her knockout role. I mean, no one can take a sassy bite of celery like her. It’s a film about the business of being female. As Margo Channing, Davis says, “That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not. Being a woman.” This film enacts the struggle of a successful woman who sees her value falling while a younger woman’s is on the rise. Instead of simply pitting the women against each other, it’s sensitive and self-aware. (You can read my full review here.)

1. Room

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Besides being one of the best novel adaptations I’ve ever seen, Room is an incredible film in its own right. Everything hinges on Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as Ma and Jack, who are fiercely loving and imperfect. They both nail their characters, and the relationship between them feels natural. The set design and cinematography capture Jack’s magical feelings about Room, as well as the reality of their confinement. Although I saw Room early in the year, nothing could top it. It went straight to my heart. (You can read my full review here.)

Tomorrow we pick up the books!

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Best of 2016: Movie Edition, Part 1

This year I found myself interested in more new movies than usual. Aside from the blockbusters and awards flicks, I went the classic route with Bette Davis and Billy Wilder. Here are my best movies seen in 2016, numbers 10 through 6!

10. Arrival

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As a science-fiction movie, Arrival could have gone either way for me, but it had enough of an emotional undercurrent to keep me interested. The lead actors had a lot to do with that. I love Amy Adams in general, and I have a soft spot for Jeremy Renner because of his performance in The Town. The sparse set design lends the film more dignity than the average alien flick. Although the plot twist probably caused some eye rolls, I thought the artistry made it easier to accept.

9. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Given the nostalgia factor, I’m biased in favor of all things Harry Potter, and that probably makes me the target audience for this film. Fantastic Beasts has the added advantage of being set in 1920s New York, a goldmine for beautiful sets and costumes. My mom and I loved the new characters, who definitely had that Rowling flair to them. In particular, Eddie Redmayne’s off-kilter looks and mannerisms fit wonderfully into the wizarding world. If there were more magical creature action sequences than I would like, I’m prepared to overlook that.

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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I’m a very casual Star Wars fan, and because of that, it was easy to enjoy the new movie without worrying too much about changes made. I loved the new trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe. This installment brings back a sense of playfulness and a gritty backdrop, both of which (I propose) are a big part of what people love about the original trilogy—and glaringly absent from the prequels. This pick is made bittersweet with the passing of Carrie Fisher, who was a totally badass lady.

7. The Apartment

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I never thought Jack Lemmon could break my heart, but as Bud Baxter in The Apartment, he does just that. A darkly comedic script by Billy Wilder is performed to perfection by Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. I also love Fred MacMurray playing against type as a callous business executive. For anyone who enjoys the intertwining of comedy and drama, this film is essential viewing. (You can read a longer discussion of Billy Wilder and The Apartment here.)

6. Brooklyn

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A period drama set in 1950s New York and the Irish countryside? If the filmmakers were trying to bait me, they could have hardly done any better. Saoirse Ronan plays an Irish girl working in Brooklyn who finds herself torn between home and the possibilities of her new life. Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson give adorably understated performances as her love interests. Seriously—my heart! I also spent the entire movie swooning over Ronan’s wardrobe.

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Best of 2016: Music Edition, Part 2

The musical theme of my year seems to be strong women and emotional ballads. Hey, I can think of many worse themes. Music is wonderful during happy times, but these are the kind of songs to get you through the tough times. Here are my top 5 songs of 2016!

5. Lady Gaga, “Million Reasons”

At first I was skeptical about the new Lady Gaga album, but soon I was living for it. After going to theatrical extremes on her previous efforts, she was wise to move in a more personal direction. I love that Gaga is so in earnest with everything she does, even the songs that don’t work, but “Million Reasons” definitely works for me. Besides the country-twinged melancholy, my favorite part is the play on words between needing a good reason and a good man to stay.

4. Tegan and Sara, “Dying to Know”

“Dying to Know” became a sneaky favorite off of Tegan and Sara’s new album. The jittery vocals and instrumentation fit perfectly with lyrics about wondering how your ex is doing now. In true Tegan and Sara fashion, a potentially depressing topic is softened by an infectious beat. With the album’s throwback vibe, you can imagine yourself as the protagonist in a John Hughes movie.

3. Lykke Li, “Sadness Is A Blessing”

Since Lykke Li still hasn’t blessed us with new music, I went back to her previous album instead. Wounded Rhymes is great all-around, but “Sadness Is A Blessing” has the best blend of melodrama and genuine emotion. My English major heart loves a song that sounds like it could be sung by the heroine of a Victorian novel. To say “Sadness is my boyfriend / Oh sadness, I’m your girl” is an act of defiance hidden by words of acceptance, something Jane Eyre knew all about.

2. Beyoncé, “Sorry”

My spring was dominated by Lemonade, the latest Beyoncé album. I loved it for its depiction of female experience—both the parts that are specific to my experience and the parts that aren’t. “Sorry” is catchy and angry and crass and amazing. Surely we can all agree that “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair” is a couplet of lyrical genius. This is another downright dismissal for the ladies (and gentlemen) to revel in.

1. Sia, “Alive”

“Alive” was released in 2015, but I didn’t pay any attention to it until this year. When I really listened to the song, it resonated with me on a very personal level. Sometimes you’re at a point in your life that needs a survivors’ anthem. I love how her vocal delivery toes the line between pretty and pained, and that juxtaposition is always exciting to me. What could be more primal than declaring “I’m alive”? Sia turns those words into a powerful declaration of strength.

Come back tomorrow as we start on the movies!

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Best of 2016: Music Edition, Part 1

It’s my favorite time of year on Courtney Coherent: Best Of Lists! We begin, per usual, with my top 10 songs. Any song first heard in 2016 is eligible for inclusion, but since I’ve been making a concerted effort to buy new music, almost every song was released this year. Give a listen to numbers 10 through 6!

10. Ingrid Michaelson, “Hell No”

I suppose there’s nothing groundbreaking about this song, but I just enjoy it. There’s something endlessly pleasing about the way the lyrics trip off each other, particularly in the chorus. Plus the sing-chanting style is especially fun for singalongs. Instead of being angry or sad, this breakup song is a downright dismissals. And I always give bonus points for referencing Johnny and June.

9. Little Big Town, “Better Man”

Anyone craving some old school Taylor Swift (me, apparently) was pleasantly surprised when Little Big Town released “Better Man,” which was written by the queen of confessional songwriting herself. The band’s gorgeous harmonies add musical depth, and the lyrics are breakup song gold. To get personal for a moment, after a year of crappy dating experiences, I needed this in my life.

8. Fitz and the Tantrums, “Roll Up”

Fitz and the Tantrums is happy-making music. I gladly invested in their new album and danced along in the car. “Roll Up” is my favorite for its sweet lyrics and raucous chorus. For some reason, it brings to mind a wedding reception flash mob or another unabashedly joyful event. The song also made an appearance on my gym playlist, where quality upbeat indie pop is always welcome.

7. case/lang/veirs, “Atomic Number”

The collaboration between Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs was my favorite chill-out album of the year. (If you don’t know of Veirs, she’s notable in my world for being a Carleton alum.) Among many gorgeous songs, “Atomic Number” stands out for blending these three unique voices into the most eerie harmonies. As soon as each woman delivers one of the first three lines, I’m turn to mush.

6. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, “High Dive”

“High Dive” wasn’t love at first listen, but then one day I really heard it and something clicked. I bought the album the same day. This song has all the romantic trappings of travelling home and headlights in driveways, perfectly suited to Andrew McMahon’s vocal style. Most of all, “High Dive” feels like such a genuine expression of love: “You dance with your headphones on / And I could watch you all night long / Dancing to someone else’s song.”

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

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