I won this book in a giveaway, and it languished on my shelf for a few years before I finally threw it in my bag to read on the plane. A few pages in and I couldn't put it down. The book is comprised of the real-life emails between two friends and recent college graduates, and it was so reminiscent of the missives sent between me and my own friends. Granted, I never moved to China or New York, but the universal feeling of loneliness and attempting to scratch out a brand-new life applies as much to moving across the state and away from your friends as moving across the world.
"Sometimes I think I really don't know what's best for me. Getting what you want can be the worst sometimes."
2. The Anne of Green Gables Series, L.M. Montgomery
(Books 1-5, except #4, because Audible didn't have it.)
Before this year, I'd never actually read Anne of Green Gables. So when I saw that there was a new version of the book narrated by Rachel McAdams, I jumped at the chance to finally get on board. After that, I just had to read the next book and the next, falling in love not only with charming characters like Anne, Marilla, Gilbert, et al, but also with Montgomery's brilliant writing. Her descriptions of beautiful flowers and foliage, hilarious town happenings, and new characters around every corner were completely captivating. I think my favorite of the four I read is Anne of the Island because her college years were so lovely and nostalgic, but I do love the story of sweet Miss Lavender in Anne of Avonlea, and I also have a soft spot for Captain Jim of Anne's House of Dreams. If you've put off dipping a toe into these sweet stories, let me encourage you to go ahead and jump headfirst into these idyllic Avonlea waters.
“In imagination she sailed over storied seas that wash the distant shining shores of 'faëry lands forlorn,' where lost Atlantis and Elysium lie, with the evening star for pilot, to the land of Heart's Desire. And she was richer in those dreams than in realities; for things seen pass away, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Engrossing. Funny. Smart. Thrilling. Suspenseful. Funny. (Not a mistake. It's actually that funny.) I don't think I've been this absorbed in a science fiction novel since... ever. Granted, I don't normally delve into the genre, but reading one so based in reality (What would it actually look like for someone to be stranded on Mars?) and based on a movie I thoroughly enjoyed was the perfect entrance into the sci-fi world. By the end of The Martian I was so riveted to the story I was practically having to blink and shake my head like a cartoon character to break the spell. Every heartbreaking misstep, every complication on Mark Watney's long journey home was keenly felt, and when I think back on reading this book I mostly remember the feeling of holding my breath. But it wasn't all strife and setbacks! I want to emphasize the fact that Mark Watney is a truly hilarious narrator, and this book will make you smile, and maybe even laugh out loud. Read, read, read this book.
“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.”
Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie
Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe
Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick
The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, Fannie Flagg
Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
Talking As Fast As I Can, Lauren Graham
Overhyped: Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (A better book: anything by Agatha Christie)
I set a goal to read 30 books in 2016. I fell short and only read 25. But in the wise words of Aaliyah, "If at first you don't succeed, Dust yourself off and try again, You can dust it off and try again."
I'm coming for you in 2017, 30 books!
My Three Favorite Movies of 2016
Make way, make way! Readers, it's time you knew: Moana lives up to the hype. Wait, has there been hype? I don't even know. I saw it four times, so clearly I was picking up exactly what Disney was putting down. What's not to like about this movie? The Rock was hilarious. The animation was stunning. The music was incredibly catchy and I can't stop listening to it. The script was smart and original. And... I don't know, did I mention I saw it four times?
There's a line in a musical called "Title of Show" where a character writing a musical sings, "I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing, than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing." That's how I feel about Undrafted. This is a film that was released with very little fanfare and didn't receive great reviews. It's not for everybody. And yet, sometimes you find something that is just your exact sense of humor, that packs unexpected emotion that hits you in just the right spot, and that you find inexplicably endearing. It's a simple story: Aaron Tveit plays a character who despite being an exceptional baseball player, has just been passed up for the draft. He and his summer league teammates work through this disappointment over the course of a single baseball game, and... that's the movie! Simple, yet character-driven and heartwarming — not to mention based on a true story. It's also incredibly funny, and features an argument over who's the best Backstreet Boy, pre-game ice cream cones, and a particularly hilarious rendition of the Full House theme song. What more could you want?
1. La La Land
How could it be anything else? A movie musical starring two of my favorite actors? YES PLEASE. Is it an oxymoron to say there should be more unique movies like this? When you can create a film and make anything happen... why wouldn't you? Why not have your leads dance while floating through the air? Why not involve an 80's cover band? Why not break out into song every now and then? Why not completely enchant your audience with music and dance, bright colors and glitter, classic jazz and classic silver screens? This movie put a spell on me, and it's one that I'm not eager to have lifted.
Honorable Mention: Arrival, Captain America: Civil War, Ghostbusters
(Note: Last year I made my list of 2015 favorites before I'd seen "Spotlight," one of the best, most moving, brilliant films I've ever experienced. If I'd seen it before creating my list last year, it definitely would have warranted a spot.)
My Three Favorite TV Shows of 2016
Favorite shows I started watching this year:
3. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
I like to say that Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is a lot like Veronica Mars, if Veronica was less angry and lived in 1920's Australia. So, basically the same, right? Phryne (with the Australian accents I initially thought her name was Franny, but it is indeed Phryne, pronounced Fry-nee) Fisher is a smart, fearless, headstrong detective in post-World War I Melbourne. Each 60-minute episode follows Miss Fisher and the local police, with whom she has an amiable and banter-filled friendship slash rivalry, working to solve a case. Accompanied by her sweetly naive maid Dot and numerous other employees and friends (I'm partial to taxi driver Bert), every case is brilliantly solved with plenty of fun along the way. Full disclosure: I only just started watching this show last month, so I'm only a handful of episodes in. I suspect I'll only come to love it more.
Stream it on Netflix
2. Stranger Things
If all you know about Stranger Things is that it's set in the 80's and it has something to do with Christmas lights, I can't encourage you enough to go ahead and press play and see what all the fuss is truly about. During the course of marathoning this show over the course of a weekend, I screamed and covered my face with a blanket, laughed out loud numerous times, and put forth MANY theories and guesses attempting to untangle the mysteries held in this magnificent, funny, suspenseful, layered show.
Stream it on Netflix
1. Agent Carter
I love the character of Peggy Carter. I adore Edwin Jarvis. I have such a soft spot for Daniel Sousa. And that's exactly what draws me to all of my most favorite TV shows: a deep affection for the characters. Add in espionage, romance, real stakes, brilliant dialogue, jaw-dropping story twists and turns (not to mention a setting in the late 1940s—my favorite!) and it's not hard to see why this show is so dear to me. Please find a way to check it out. There may only be two seasons, but if you're looking for a fantastic show with a fierce, capable, smart, dynamic, driven female lead, Agent Carter is for you. (And don't say anything to me about how you don't want to watch a show named after a female character. I will be forced to handle you as Peggy would.)
Stream it on Amazon
Honorable Mention: Agents of Shield (I loved the first few seasons of this show, and am heartbroken at how different it is now. But I'll love you forever, Agent Coulson!)
My Three Favorite Variety Specials of 2016
These are things I LOVED this year that didn't make it into any other category, but need to be mentioned.
3. Songs from The Lion, Ben Scheuer
You've no doubt deduced that I listen to a lot of show tunes. The reality is that I listen almost exclusively to show tunes. (As I write this, the title song from "Merrily We Roll Along" is playing. So.) That being said, in my list of most listened to tracks on Spotify this year, only two songs are not from a musical, and both from from Ben Scheuer's album. The songs are beautiful, complicated, and, at times, gut-wrenching. Check out my favorite song, accompanied by delightful, "Up"-ish animation.
Watch the entire album here.
2. The Comeback Kid, John Mulaney
John Mulaney is my favorite comedian, and his latest stand-up special is absolutely hilarious. Released only a year ago, I have watched this special no less than four times. And looking up clips to find a good one to embed had me giggling and wanting to watch it all over again. He's much cleaner than other comedians (although there is a small amount of cursing, full disclosure), and his talents as a storyteller are extraordinary. I can't recommend this enough.
Stream it on Netflix
1. Grease Live
I didn't particularly care for The Sound of Music Live or Peter Pan Live. I wanted to like The Wiz, but it wasn't for me. Grease Live, though? I LOVED Grease Live. From the smart production choices by director Tommy Kail ("Hamilton") to perform before a live audience and stage numbers outside, to the near-perfect casting, to the fun/genius costumes, to the extraordinary re-imagining of several numbers, this performance was just non-stop. And when Hairspray Live came along and took a page from Grease with the live audience and outdoor sets, I thought they'd cracked the code and I'd find another live musical to love. Alas, the magic wasn't there. But we'll always have "Those Magic Changes."
Stream it on Netflix
My Three Favorite Events of 2016
In October, my parents took my siblings, my nieces, and me on a wonderful, fun, relaxing, unique vacation to Flagstaff, Arizona. I got to see the Grand Canyon for the first time, actually enjoy hiking in the mountains (no really) (like, for real), play so many games and have so much fun with family, and so much more. It was luxurious to go on such a well-planned vacation with every detail taken care of. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Bonus: Morbyland Campout (check out the video!) and Christmas break (check out the video!)
2. Broadway Serendipity
Every year for the past several years has seenits share of Broadway shows, touring productions, and theater fun. This year, however, had an extra spark of serendipity.
This summer when we went to New York, Emily and I were blessed to see and love "Waitress," "An American in Paris," "Shuffle Along," and "Fiddler on the Roof." And as amazing as all of those shows were, there was a small pang of regret that we were in New York several months too early to see one of our favorite Broadway performers, Bryce Pinkham, star in "Holiday Inn." During the trip we caught a glimpse of the show's bright and colorful marquee, and joked that we should go hang out under it and hope to just run into Bryce. We didn't do that, because we are not insane. Fast forward to Saturday night, when we walked up to the Music Box Theatre to see "Shuffle Along." And who was standing outside the theatre also about to see "Shuffle Along"? Bryce. Pinkham. (I know, I still can't believe it either.) After Emily and I conversed and decided that approaching him would not make us crazy fans, we walked up and actually ended up talking with him for a few minutes. He was so incredibly kind, charming, and continues to be a favorite of ours. Thank you so much, Bryce.
Serendipity 2: Guess who was performing a show at BB King's while we were in NYC? Our old friend Ramin Karimloo! As I'm sure you remember, Ramin is the Tony-nominated Broadway star who surprised Emily at her school in 2013, and we've been lucky enough to see perform a few times since. He appeared on Broadway as Jean Val Jean in "Les Miserables," and will soon be back on the Great White Way in the brand-new stage musical, "Anastasia." This concert was extraordinary, as his talent is just through the roof, and he sang so many beautiful, meaningful songs. Plus, thanks to Emily's friend Debbie being friends with Ramin, we were even able to go backstage and visit with him for a few minutes afterwards. And we got hugs and free t-shirts and now I am just a skeleton typing this out because my soul hath since gone straight up to Jesus.
Video I took at the concert. WATCH IT!
Serendipity 3: My all-time favorite Broadway show, Newsies, unfortunately ended their two-year tour in October. And of all the numerous locations they've been to (65 total cities!), and out of everywhere in the world they could have ended their tour, where did they close it out? Austin, Texas. Seeing the show one more time before it closed was absolutely unexpected, and I'm so incredibly grateful that it happened.
1. Lucia Jeanne
The world is a brighter, lovelier, more sunshiney and snuggly place, and that's all thanks to the grand entrance of one precious, pink, and full-cheeked girl. Welcome to the world, my gorgeous and cheerful Baby Niece, Lucia Jeanne! Only seven months old and the Lord is already blessing our socks off through you. (But if you could go ahead and start blessing us by sleeping through the night to save your parents' sanity, that would be GOLDEN.)
And Because I'm a Fool for Twitter
Super excited for...
Retweets: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., and Sean Lowe.
Quote tweet calling my comment hilarious: Newsie Chaz Wolcott
Likes: Aladdin's James Monroe Iglehart, Iain Loves Theater, Hamilton's Renee Elise Goldsberry, Newsies Ben Cook and Joshua Burrage, Undrafted director (and Jurassic Park child star!) Joe Mazzello, Matilda's Lesli Margherita, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gentleman's Guide's Bryce Pinkham, Gilmore Guy Kevin Porter, The Tony Awards, Annoying Actor Friend, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Aladdin, Fiddler on the Roof, and School of Rock.