OKAY, now that I’ve finally finished ALL MY REVIEWS of books I read in 2016, I can finally tell you which ones are in my top five! I’m sure you’ve been on TOTAL TENTERHOOKS. I mean, like everyone, I feel partially conflicted about writing about silly, joyful things when it feels like the world is being set freshly aflame every single day, but without joy, what are we fighting for, right? So let’s do this in spite of it all!
5. Julie Murphy, Dumplin’ – Dumplin’ is only the second audiobook I’ve ever listened to (It is exxxxxtremely hard for me to absorb information aurally.) and I loved both the narration (TBH, the way that Eileen Stevens has Bo say “Willowdean” has irreversibly changed my life.) and the story. It’s fun and sweet and smart and funny. Willowdean grows, the secondary and tertiary characters are awesome, and most importantly, WILLOWDEAN IS FAT AND DOESN’T LOSE WEIGHT. There is a secondary character named Millie who is also fat and DOESN’T LOSE WEIGHT. I have read a lot of books about fat characters and even the ones who decide being fat is “okay” usually lose some weight as, like, a magical side effect of being allowed to feel human? I guess. But Willowdean is fat and thinks that’s okay and pushes back against the idea that it isn’t okay and she stays fat! She never even obsesses over food! What a gift.
4. Andrea Portes, Anatomy of a Misfit – Anatomy of a Misfit is a book that frustrated me as I read it because it struck me as so true to the misery of high school, but in a really satisfying way. The writing is very strong and Anika is a really well-rendered teenager with complex feelings about genuinely difficult situations. She’s not particularly likable, which is always unbelievably hard for me to engage with, but she was so fully-fleshed and felt so human. Her narrative voice always felt age-appropriate without ever pandering or falling into that non-young-adults-trying-to-sound-like-young-adults thing that I seemed to encounter a lot in 2016. This is not an easy book and I don’t think it always pulls it’s weight, but it was definitely some of the best reading I did this year.
3. Marie Sexton, Trailer Trash – I think I screamed about Trailer Trash for like, five days straight on twitter after I read it because I was so, so impressed with it. It’s a gay, teenage love story set in the 80s that manages to be sweet, emotional, devastating, and hopeful. The narrative voices feel SO of their time, while also feeling really current. It doesn’t ignore its time period at all — including the AIDS crisis — but manages to stay hopeful in spite of pain, loss, and tragedy. This book is a romance through and through, but it’s cut with real, weighty problems and real, painful experiences and full of real, complicated conversations and relationships. I read it in May and not a week has gone by where I haven’t at least thought about how much I enjoyed it.
2. Sonia Belasco, Speak of Me As I Am – I’ve known Sonia for… more than ten years now, I think, and I have spent nearly all of those years waiting to have one of her books in my hands and man, it was so worth the anticipation. Speak of Me As I Am is beautiful and moving and lyrical and lovely. Melanie and Damon feel like real teenagers, but they’re also smart and sensitive and thoughtful. I love the weight of place in this and the way that characters who are not physically present in the story are so incredibly central and alive. There are also awesome parents in this and good teachers and secondary characters who are lively and fully-formed and worth caring about. I feel like a cheater sharing this one, since you can’t actually read it until April, but I promise it’ll be worth the wait.
1. Stephanie Tromly, Trouble is a Friend of Mine – I LOVED THIS BOOK. I loved it so much. I love-love-loved it. I also listened to the audiobook of this one (the last one I listened to, I think) and Kathleen McInerney is GREAT and kind of sounds like Kristen Bell, which made it all feel very Veronica Mars-y. It was a fun, fast story with great characters. Nobody really sounds like a teenager, but they somehow feel like teenagers anyway. It’s a great caper-y book and it made me laugh a lot. And the end made me squeal in delight with such vigor that I traumatized Crystal while she was driving. It does have some… questionable moments with racial stereotypes and slut-shame-y-I’m-not-like-other-girls type stuff, but the story was worth it for me anyway. Such a fun read!
Honorable Mentions: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda | Bone Gap | The Haters | More Happy Than Not | Vivian Apple at the End of the World | Dietland | Winger | My Heart and Other Black Holes
2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | WATCHING | LISTENING
I read fifty books this year! 53 of my 50 book goal, actually! Joining GoodReads (PS: BE MY FRIEND!) was super good for me! Even though I haven’t finished a book in… a while. But I am reading! Inching away at A Little Life day by day.
Anyway! Among those fifty books, I read several I loved! A lot! Because books are one of the things I love most in the entire world and you should all listen to me when I recommend them because I have impeccable reading taste.
5. Courtney Milan, The Duchess War – As part of my 2015 “Be more open-minded and less of a dick” campaign, I also decided to try out some romance novels! I read some really very bad ones, but I also got introduced to Courtney Milan because I am friends with people with very good taste! I can’t express how much joy this book brought me and how unbelievably good (and hot! and playful! and fun!) it is. Such a good surprise! The sex scenes are great (SO GREAT!) and the characters are engaging and likable and interesting and you fully believe that they are attracted to each other which is preeeeeeetty important for a romance. Also, it doesn’t fall into that trap where the conflict exists solely because two people won’t just TALK TO EACH OTHER which is one of the things I find most infuriating in romance-y type stories. I mean, there’s some of it, but you also kind of understand why these two wouldn’t just talk to each other already. I also really liked the prequel novella The Governess Affair and I will definitely read the rest in the series. I love that the non-romance stories are just as interesting as the romance and that the romance is funny and sexy and kind. Consent and tenderness are so, so key to her sex scenes and I live for them. Too good.
4. Maggie Stiefvater, The Dream Thieves – The first book in this series, The Raven Boys, was my very favorite book I read last year and I loved the follow-up as much, if not even more. The placemaking is phenomenal, the characters are awesome (Even the new ones! That can be so rare for a series!), the mythology is fun and expensive, and the characters and the relationships between the characters continue to develop in ways that are engaging and exciting. Stiefvater is a pro at exploiting the female gaze which is not only enjoyable, but refreshing, and writes dialogue that sounds real without actually emulating how teenagers talk. (Have you actually listened to teenagers talk? It’s mostly a nightmare.) I love everyone in these books, even when I don’t love them the way the author wants me to. I love the tension and the magic and the physical agony of anticipation. I love the villains in these damn books! I didn’t love the third book quite as much as the first two, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the series or make me any less overly amped for the next one. I love these books and I cannot wait until they get made into a terribly-casted monstrosity of a movie that I can scream about on the internet.
3. I finally read Bossypants this year and then I also read Yes Please! And Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and I really, really loved all three. I made a conscious decision to try to read more books written by women and people of color this year and it has 1. introduced me to a ton of really good books and 2. probably made me a better person tbh. I thought I was going to love Yes Please more than I did and I don’t normally love Mindy Kaling, so I expected to not like it, but I actually think I loved her book the most. Surprises! All three kept me engaged (often while stationary biking which is a hard place to keep me interested!) and laughing and even moved and I’m so glad that, even with the things I didn’t love (Comedians love problematic garbage sometimes! It’s awful! Do better, guys!) I took the time to read all three of them this year. I also read Miranda Hart’s Is It Just Me? which I also loved and regularly quote. I read Kelly Oxford’s book too (Women! Comedians! I was having a time.) but it was awful, so.
2. Rebecca Stead, When You Reach Me – This book emotionally devastated me and I had to curl up in the fetal position and cry for like a half-hour after I finished reading it. Everything about it just felt so true and authentic and real, characters and setting, and it is so, so important to have that grounding in something science fiction like this. I have a hard time articulating why I loved this book so much, but I think it’s really because the entire time I was reading the story, I was just entirely inside of it. The world was so real and so emotionally resonant that it was almost overwhelmingly absorbing. This book not only made me want to write (always a sign of a really good book) but also made me miserably jealous that I didn’t write this actual book. Let me be Rebecca Stead! I read one of her other books this year as well and didn’t love it like When You Reach Me, but her writing was still wonderful and I will seek out lots more of her work in the future!
1. Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – I absolutely loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and though I loved When You Reach Me pretty much just as much, I did not expect to end up liking Fikry at all, so it gets the edge. When I say “didn’t expect to like” what I really mean is, “REALLY ABSOLUTELY HATED A LOT FROM THE JUMP” but then it just… It course-corrected in all the right ways without invalidating the things I didn’t like and it was just so good. I don’t ever enjoy media about unlikable characters and I was really worried that this book would end up as just another on a pile of books I ultimately felt were a waste of time because I couldn’t connect to their protagonists, but Zevin did some masterful character evolution in this without it ever seeming unjustified or forced. There are great secondary and tertiary characters in this (Lambiase!!!!!) and women who are awesome and real and fleshed. When we were considering having a reading for our wedding (We did not, ultimately.) a passage from this is the only thing that came up for serious consideration. So, so good.Honorable Mentions: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half | Gail Carriger, Etiquette & Espionage | Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers
Totally Top Five 2K15: Listening | Watching | Stuff & Things
JAMZ: Okay, so I spent most of February playing “Uptown Funk” and Azealia Banks’ “212” on repeat, but I also got super into SBTRKT’s “Wildfire” which is best played at near ear-splitting volume while doing a kind of flailing, loose-limbed dance that involves far too much ribcage. March was spent listening to my extensive love song playlist while we ready wedding stuff, but it also brought me “Fade into You” from Nashville which I found in the comments of a wedding playlist post. It’s like… goth country, romantic and lingering. So pretty.
ALBUM: Working full-time has totally destroyed my music finding and album listening. I’ve turned into a single-loving repeater and a safe-for-work Pandora station listener. But! I have revisited Natalia Kills’ Trouble quite a bit since it’s on my phone and it’s just a great listen, especially in the car with the windows down now that the temperature is often above 40! “Rabbit Hole” is my jam. I’ve been hitting this best of Miles Davis because I frequently turn to jazz when I’m feeling stressed, since lyrics can make me feel overwhelmed while I’m working. “Blue in Green” is a forever fave.
MOVIE: Crys and I both really loved Gone Girl and I was so grateful to see that they fixed some of the things I’d found so lackluster/frustrating about the book. I thought Rosamund Pike was fantastic and can’t wait to see Carrie Coon in more stuff. Gone Girl was great, but Whiplash I really loved. In the first few minutes I thought this was going to be one of those media experiences I hate, where I am frustrated utterly for the main character and end up furious, but the payoff in this is so intensely, weirdly satisfying. I want to watch Miles Teller mouth “Fuck you” while drumming angrily until I’m dead. And then it should be the holographic projection that runs over my grave 24/7.
BOOK: When You Reach Me is the best and most moving book I’ve read thus far this year. It’s got a great narrating lead and excellent secondary characters and a rich plot and wonderful details and, like I said on Goodreads, I wish so badly that I had written it. What an awesome, perfectly, gently devastating book. I did not love The Paper Magician, but I did enjoy reading it more than, I think, every other book I read in March. I thought the magic was interesting, but found the characters lacking. There was some great anticipatory romance stuff — I even got kicky-feet! — but it played out too easily and too quickly. I prefer some torture with my romance, thank you, but still a fun read.
TV: The Parks and Recreation finale was so, so good and was so sweet and so positive which is what the show always was when it was at its best. I’ve talked about how much I love P&R plenty before, but that finale was a really wonderful way to end a really wonderful show.
We’ve also been watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix, slowly, and I really love it. I think relentless positivity in the face of adversity is just something I’m really attracted to generally and I love how well Ellie Kemper’s face carries it off. Kimmy wears everything on her sleeve and I love watching her react to the world around her. I also love Jane Krakowski — generally of course, but particularly in this — because even she isn’t immune to Kimmy’s positivity. The speech she gives her stepdaughter about leaving Kimmy alone was like, genuinely moving. So good.
BATH & BEAUTY: I grabbed a couple of the Kate Moss by Rimmel matte lipsticks while we were in Billings in mid-February and I have been obsessed ever since. But, like, I can’t find them anywhere on the entire internet, which is genuinely terrible. I bought a deep red, a Ruby Woo-esque red, and an amaaaaaazing nude (#104, if you happen to see these somewhere!) that has pretty much replaced my usual Revlon ColorBurst Balm Stain in Honey as my MLBB because it’s matte. They have a weird-ish perfume smell, but I love them so much I don’t really care and will definitely grab some back-ups if I see them in stores again.
I recently received an Influenster VoxBox* with some of the Dessange line from Target and after three weeks with the shampoo and conditioner I’m actually really happy. I like the way they smell (in the bottle, it’s not super great on my hair, but it also doesn’t last long) and my hair did actually seem a little glossier and brighter. My hair is really fine and really flat, so best of all, they don’t weigh my hair down, but still manage to make it soft and detangled. I’ve also now tried the Color Correcting Cream two Sundays in a row and I’ll definitely be buying it again. It not only keeps the gold tones in the dyed ends of my hair at bay, but it also seems to brighten the darker, natural dishwatery blonde at my roots. Awesome.
STUFF: Despite the oil slow-down, Williston is still expanding and last week we got a Culver’s, which rules and their Chocolate Covered Strawberry Concrete Mixer is pretty much the most best thing I’ve eaten in forever. Their custard is rich, but not overly sweet, and the combination of strawberry and chocolate is perfect. The beeeeeeeeeeeeest.
Also, most of the restaurant openings here have gone less than smoothly, but Culver’s seems to be the exception. The service is really friendly and seems organized and efficient, which is pretty much unheard of here, even for places that have been open forever. It’s kind of insane how much you learn to live with terrible service and how stark the contrast is when you have good service again.
LINKS: This photo series, this comic, this post from an eternal fave – Epiphora, “The Babies in the Freezer which I read right after Ghost Child, This Is My Baby Right Now by Mia Mercado who is on the verge of blowing up and being too awesome to respond to me on Twitter anymore, this A Softer World, #thedress and the Rise of Attention Policing, My Eating Disorder Had Nothing to Do with Barbie or the Media, How Flawless Became a Feminist Declaration, Remembering John Jerde — I am obsessed with the architecture of public spaces and I want to learn everything about this dude, In Defense of Literal Ass-Kicking Heroines, this A Softer World, On Confidence and the Kimye Effect, and 5 Irrefutable Reasons Why “Tank Girl” Is Absolutely Not A Terrible Movie.
*: I got these products for free from Influenster for testing purposes.
This here is the first post in a new series for 2015 where I talk about things I loved this month! Because I don’t spend enough time doing it at the end of the year. Obviously.
JAM: Because I have functioning ears and have also been alive for the last two months, my favorite jam is currently “Uptown Funk”. Bruno Mars is everything and it’s just SO GOOD. I love late 70s/early 80s era funk and “Uptown Funk” hits all the right notes of nostalgia and homage while still feeling really fresh and new and alive. Even with as much airplay as it’s been getting and as much as I’ve been listening to it on my own, I am still not sick of it. Also, the performance from Ellen was too much and Crystal won’t stop watching it at work and getting overly amped. AMAZON | ITUNES
ALBUM: This may seem seasonally inappropriate, but I think if you listen you’ll find that Low’s Christmas is actually wildly appropriate for January when it’s dreary and cold and Christmas is over and winter seems as though it will never end and you are going to be trapped in the cold and snow for so long that you transform wholly into some kind of frost creature. “Taking Down the Tree” is definitely my favorite here, but “Long Way Around the Sea” is also excellent. ITUNES
MOVIE: I only watched two movies in January — We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Maze Runner — and though Kevin was great, The Maze Runner wins for being more fun (Obbbbviously!) and also improving upon the weak-ass book that spawned it. I like Dylan O’Brien enough, but I thought the secondary characters were a lot more compelling and drove my interest more than I would’ve bet. I didn’t love it, but I was just amazed how much better it was than the book. That’s rare, so it’s worth noting. AMAZON | ITUNES
BOOK: I finally got the sequel to The Raven Boys on to my reading schedule last month and it was so, so gooooood. I would say The Dream Thieves is maybe even better than the first book? I continue to not like Adam as much as Maggie Stiefvater wants me to, but everyone else is genuinely awesome and complicated and interesting and Stiefvater continues to effectively and EROTICALLY exploit the female gaze in ways I love. I genuinely cannot wait until the third one comes up in my schedule. AMAZON
BATH & BEAUTY: I am allergic to traditional deodorants and since I quit wearing them in 2011, I have been on a quest to find a good “natural” deodorant that is 1. not a pain in the ass, 2. effective, 3. cheap, and as most of those efforts have failed, I have mostly accepted that I will usually just be a little smelly. I’m okay with it, Crystal is okay with it, and it’s better than getting huge growths in my pit follicles. Then I found Arm & Hammer’s Essentials and I don’t really smell bad anymore! It doesn’t have aluminum, it lasts all day and through even my long workouts, and it’s magical. The fresh scent is a little toilet cleaner-y, but that doesn’t really bother me and the unscented isn’t really — it’s sort of a light citrus-y smell. I’m in love. AMAZON
STUFF: Goodreads is my favorite uncategorizable thing I loved this month. I finally signed up at the start of the year so I could join the Reading Challenge in hopes that it’d help me hit my 50 book goal for the year and then I decided I’d write reviews of what I read all year too and it’s been really fun! I like seeing what everyone is reading — and how fast y’all read! — and it really has helped me keep up on my challenge. And I’m constantly adding things to my Amazon wishlist because I see other people reading stuff I haven’t heard of. It’s awesome, let’s be friends!
I also really liked this New York Times article about product naming, this A Softer World, this A Softer World, this post at thefrenemy.com, Dear Teen Me, this comic, and retroj.am.
LMAO months later, I realize I forgot one of my most favorite categories: television. Thankfully, I only really watched a couple episodes of Brooklyn 99 and New Girl, so nothing all that new to talk about. Oops.