Nikki’s 2011 Reads

One final list this year for you, and one that has relatively surprising results, in my opinion.  As I’ve mentioned before, I am an avid reader and a lover of literary fiction in particular, which is why it surprised me that only 11 of the books on this list, the 19 books I read in 2011, fall into the literary fiction category.  Two are nonfiction, 4 are Young Adult novels, one is historical fiction and finally, one paranormal/fantasy novel.  (Note: Some of these, I’ve already reviewed and have linked those reviews for your convenience.)

Emma by Jane Austen – I have now read every one of Austen’s novels and, while Pride and Prejudice is, by far, my favorite, they are all excellent and well worth your time.  Emma is a light-hearted, jovial romantic comedy simultaneously satirical and heartwarming.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Bossypants by Tina Fey – I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first picked this up.  Is it a memoir?  An autobiography?  Essays on Fey’s personal opinions about comedy, the entertainment industry, life in general?  Upon reading it, I found it fits all of those descriptions.  Fey mostly sticks to the events in her life that concern her career in comedy and her quirky sense of humor fills every line.  I suggest everyone who has an interest in Fey,  the world of comedy or show business read it, men in particular.  My husband read it (and enjoyed it) and remarked that it enlightened him a bit to the differences of a female perspective.  Fey’s prose doesn’t push any feminist agenda, but does showcase the female point of view (how could it not? she is a woman, after all).  Plus, it’ll make you laugh.  Out loud.  Repeatedly.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Story by Robert McKee – An exceptional tool for anyone attempting to write works of fiction.  Even if you’re a beginner, if you have no formal education, if you’re just tinkering with the idea of writing, it will benefit you to read it.

The Postmortal by Drew Magary

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – This is the one fantasy/paranormal novel I read this year.  While interested in the overall theme – the inevitable fact that “old world” traditions last maybe a generation or two after immigration to America before getting replaced by the gods America worships (radio, television, money, etc.) – I found the narrative hard to follow as it jumped around quite a bit and the extremely heavy use of symbolism sometimes lost me.

 Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen

Requiem For A Dream by Hubert Selby, Jr. – I love drug stories and this is one not easily forgotten.  It tells the story of a young man caught up in the world of heroin, initially as a dealer, seduced by the easy money, then as an addict as he succumbs to temptation, and his retired mother who develops an addiction herself to uppers in an effort to lose weight.  Ultimately, it’s about obsession and the complete destruction it causes.

Solar by Ian McEwan – McEwan is a genius, a true artist with words and imagery and I recommend any fan of fiction read Atonement.  Solar, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment (in my opinion).  Though his prose left nothing wanting, the story never quite hooked me.  It follows a British scientist determined to find the answer to climate change by bringing solar energy to the masses while chronicling his many failed attempts at personal relationships.  It certainly wasn’t a waste of my time, just not my cup of tea, as they say.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Behind The Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy – Annie recommended this YA novel to me and I recommend it to everyone, especially pre-teen girls.  It is much darker than your average YA book – gothic and mysterious, and utterly charming.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen  (see above link for Sense & Sensibility)

Baby (and other stories) by Paula Bomer – This collection of short stories focuses entirely on couples with young children and the effects child-rearing has on parents, marriages, familial relationships, work and daily life.  Eye-opening in its honest, realistic telling and worth reading, despite the occasional typo.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin – A work of historical fiction about the life of Alice, the real-life girl who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice In Wonderland.  Though you may feel differently, I didn’t enjoy it and don’t particularly recommend it.  It felt disjointed and awkward at times, forced at others.  And I found it far less interesting than its description sounded.

The Pleasure Of My Company by Steve Martin – Though I love Steve Martin, I did not enjoy this book.  It was an unrealistic portrayal of an agoraphobic twenty-something and much too fairy-tale in the way he wrapped it all up.  I know others who liked it, though, so take my opinion for what it’s worth.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – A classic that I’ve heard hailed as an early feminist novel.  I don’t know so much about its feminist views (at least as intended by the author) but it is a beautifully told, tragically sad tale of the lengths one woman is willing to go to in an effort to free herself of the matrimonial chains that suffocate her.

Currently reading: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  (More on this later.)



Annie’s 2011 Reads

The year is coming to a close, and while 2010 was definitely the worst year of my existence (for another post, in a galaxy far, far away), 2011 was no walk in the park, either.  Here’s to hoping that the end of mankind (a.k.a. 2012) brings about positivity and happiness, in any form, for the love of god, please and thank you kindly, amen. 😉

To commemorate the end of 2011, we’re showering you with several lists of entertainment-related tidings (no goals or “to-do in ’12” here, folks), discussing the best of what we read and watched this past year.

Cover of "His Dark Materials Trilogy (The...

Cover via Amazon

My goal was to read 12 books in 2011 – I only made it to 9, but here they are, as you have been waiting with bated breath, I’m certain. 😉 (This list is far less impressive than my cohort’s, however, I’m personally impressed with the bizarre variety of books I’ve read)

  • The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman                                                                                        This is the first of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and it is a much-adored, critically acclaimed “young adult” series, that little Miss X has been begging me to read for years.  This is a rich, incredibly well-written, vastly interesting, and absolutely worthwhile read.  Notoriously outspoken about his atheism, Pullman’s story has been demonized for being anti-god and ant-religion, two things I’m actually okay with.  Regardless, you can read those themes into the story of a fiery young orphan who uncovers the secrets of her past and goes on a truly amazing adventure involving parallel universes and things that at this point in the story, I can’t even begin to grasp – or you can accept that this is a fantasy story that takes place in a different world, so get over yourself worrying about any atheistic undertones.  Either way, I recommend this, highly.  Lyra Belaqua is 150,000 times the girl Bella Swan could ever hope to be.
  • Shadowfever– Karen Marie Moning
    Cover of "Shadowfever"

    Cover of Shadowfever

    The fifth and final installment in the Fever series, this is by far the trashiest book on my list.  I feel bad to slap that label on it though, because it’s such a good series.  “Paranormal erotica” (as Nikki calls ’em) is certainly not for everyone, but I’ll admit I get a thrill from otherworldly stories involving the occasional steamy scene, and this one delivers on all accounts.  It’s the story of MacKayla Lane (Mac), who travels to Dublin to unlock the mystery of her murdered sister, and complete insanity ensues.  She encounters one of the greatest, sexiest male characters I’ve ever read, Jericho Barrons, and what follows is an intricately woven tale of the dreaded Fae species (Part aliens?  Part mythical creatures?), as they take hold of our universe and attempt to destroy humanity.  It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it’s actually a great tale.  The characters are colorful and engaging, the plot is epic in scale and absorbing, and this final installment is fucking awesome, if I do say so myself.  It wraps everything up in a way I did not see coming, and had a very fitting end (even leaving itself open to more stories, if Moning so chooses, which I really hope she does).  If you get a thrill (no matter how ashamed you are to admit it) from anything I’ve mentioned above, you should add this series to your own to-read list.  It’s crack-like in its deliciousness.

  • The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman                                                                                 Nikki wanted me to read this last year, and I trust her opinions implicitly, so I did not hesitate.  This is a very famous, classic short story (it’ll probably take you a half hour or so to get through) about a woman going insane.  It’s told quickly, but with such detail and imagery, it will most certainly haunt you when you are through.  I know in my bones that this would make a fabulous film.  It’s such a short tale, it could be adapted any number of ways, with so much elaborated upon.  If you read it, you will see exactly what I mean.
  • Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution – Michelle Moran                                                       I never knew that historical fiction was such an awesome genre until reading this fantastic tale that I WON IN A GIVEAWAY!!!! on  This is a story of the wax-museum maven’s life, romanticized a bit, but most of what is written happened.  It’s riveting stuff, and has made me eager to read more historical fiction, more from this excellent author (she’s written several very well-reviewed tales of Egyptian royalty – a subject that has always fascinated the shit out of me), and more about the French Revolution.  This tells the story of her family’s wax salon, and how they were intertwined with Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.  Even learning about how early wax models were rendered was enthralling, so if you’ve ever been interested to learn more about any of the above, please read this.
  • The Awakening– Kate Chopin                                                                                                                 This is another of Nikki’s suggestions, and after reading the first few pages, I was captivated by the language and descriptions that Chopin produces.  It’s a tragic, desperately sad tale of a woman coming into her own and finally understanding who she is and what she wants, after getting married and having children, unfortunately, and trying to come to terms with the fact that her current life and responsibilities are just not on par with who she is.  The fact that this was written in the fucking 1800s is mind-blowing.  Chopin was way ahead of her time, and the description of the author’s own life made me as equally depressed as the story she told.  This is not to detract you from reading, on the contrary, I think every woman owes it to herself to pick this up.

  • The Hunger Games trilogy – Suzanne Collins                                                                                       Nikki read this first and posted about it here, here, and here, but I’ve never really discussed it on this site yet, inexplicably.  Like most, I loved this set of books.  The story is crazy-original, absorbing, and thrilling.  As it goes on, I have mixed feelings about the heroine, Katniss Everdeen – at times I was frustrated with her actions, or lack thereof, but she’s still a decent role model for gals these days, and in her defense, her life sucked majorly, so who’s to say what one would do in her many dire situations?   The final book was my least favorite, but that’s due to the overall dampness and depression that hangs over every page.  I didn’t need it to be happy, and I felt satisfied with the ending, but there was something anti-climactic about the way the chips finally landed.  Still, this is in no way to keep you from reading this unique tale.  With the film coming out early next year, (which looks seriously FANTASTIC), I will echo the masses who’ve already done so:  READ THIS!!
  • A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin                                                                                                    I gush over this ridiculously awesome book here.
  • Currently reading:  A Clash of Kings – George R.R. Martin                                                                      Book #2 in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, is as equally enjoyable as book #1.  At just under 1000 pages though, it’ll take me some time to get through.  Rest assured, you’ll hear about it when I do. 🙂

For 2012, my goal is to read MORE than 9 books.  I think I can do it, but it’s not an easy task.  Reading is one of my favorite hobbies, that I make scant time for in my day-to-day life.  Here’s to making an effort to change that, and good luck to you, if you’re in the same boat as me!


Turned My World To Black, Tattooed All I See

About a year ago, I saw this Swedish film called The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and was utterly riveted.  It’s a stunning film expertly told, perfectly acted (especially the star role, played by Noomi Rapace) and paced with tantalizing control.  There were a mere few criticisms, and none of them major, and when I heard of an American remake, I grew excited at the idea of another rendition of this intensely thrilling story and its haunting characters.  I felt nervous for whatever actress would fill Rapace’s shoes, certain of the near-impossibility of reaching the incredibly high standard she set in her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander, and both anxious and curious to see which details would be changed/omitted/added to the American version of this dark, intriguing tale.

I’ll admit that there were some changes I liked and some I didn’t, but, actually, I enjoyed the American The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo every bit as much as I enjoyed the Swedish version.  Equally riveting, gripping and tumultuous, it held me captivated for nearly three hours.  Rooney Mara, who took on the challenge of playing Lisbeth Salander, blew my mind with her fierce, compelling performance and Daniel Craig (who, I must say, has never before made a lasting impression on me) gave an engaging portrayal of the journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

Director David Fincher, of Fight Club, The Social Network and (the under-appreciated) The Game fame, brought the grit and severity to this flick that he’s shown us before.  The story jumps around a bit but I had no trouble following it.  The brutal rape scene scarred me, for sure, but I don’t think its graphic realism was simply gratuitous.  It serves to evoke sympathy and understanding for Lisbeth, along with admiration when she exacts a most deserving and creative revenge, and provides insight into her inner workings, something not otherwise easily done since she is closed-off to the extreme.  Most importantly, the violent scene helps create the undertone for one of the film’s main themes: the obsession too many men in the world have with degrading and destroying women.  This is a theme that stretches far beyond the misfortune Lisbeth has with her legal guardian and is vital to this installment’s plot along with the larger plot of the trilogy.

The movie begins with the conviction of journalsit Blomkvist (Craig) for slander.  He accused multimillionaire business tycoon Wennerstrom of being a key player in an international organized crime syndicate but once his article became public, his sources evaporated.  He resigns from Millenium magazine and means to lay low before serving his sentence but is immediately offered a job by wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger to investigate the decades-old disappearance and presumed murder of his 16 year-old niece.  Prior to offering this job to Mikael, Vanger had an extensive background check done on him by computer hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander, who Mikael eventually hires as a research assistant to aid him in his investigation.  The chemistry between Craig and Mara felt easy and natural and provided a much needed reprieve from this extremely heavy story.  I liked that the research done by both Lisbeth and Mikael was accomplished by using Google and iPhoto as opposed to crime labs or dental records or other such scientific methods largely unavailable to journalists and computer hackers.  Though this is far from an ordinary tale, there’s a frank realism to it.  I don’t want to give any of the film’s secrets away so I’ll say nothing further of the plot.

This is most definitely not a family friendly film, as graphic violence, racism, sexual oppression and nudity are abundant.  I do highly recommend it, despite the extreme severity of its themes and the discomfort some of the graphic scenes will undoubtedly cause.  (I recommend watching the Swedish GWTDT as well.)  Mara is magnetic and both main characters Lisbeth and Mikael draw you into their lives as much as the central mystery draws you into the story itself.  I waited impatiently for months for this flick to come out and usually, when a movie is so eagerly anticipated, it doesn’t live up to the overly hyped expectations.  This one was an exception, for me, and now I’ll eagerly await the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, which I’m sure will be made and released here within the next 18 months or so.  I sincerely hope Craig and Mara and director Fincher sign on to complete the trilogy.  I’m only sorry that the creator of this outstanding series, author Steig Larsson, didn’t live to see its international success.  (He died suddenly before his novels were published, while still in the final stages of editing.)  I’d like to thank him for this.


It’s Christmas and We’re All in Misery

English: Christmas lights in Haughton, Staffor...

Image via Wikipedia

‘Tis the time for another list – our Christmas present to you, subscribers and readers:  Our favorite holiday flicks.  We know, we know, it was EXACTLY what you’ve been waiting for, right?!?!  😉  Hold on to your butts!

It’s A Wonderful Life – My parents told me every year how amazing this movie was, that Jimmy Stewart was perfect, that it’s not a feel-good movie, it’s the only movie in existence that will make you feel better than you’ve ever felt.  Like, better than five years of therapy or a bottle of Prozac.  Finally, in college, I watched it.  Start to finish.  How many times must I be taught that my parents are almost always right?!  ~Nikki

What’s hilarious is that I had a similar experience, although I watched it as a kid.  I was disgusted by the thought of an ancient, black-and-white, presumably BORING, way to spend an afternoon – at my parents’ insistence!!   I was fucking dead wrong.  If you don’t like this movie, you’re missing part of the basic human DNA code.  I remember when this was CONSTANTLY on TV, now they’ve wised up to the universal love and squander it, showing it once a season.  Assholes.  ~Annie

English: Screenshot of Jimmy Stewart and Donna...

Image via Wikipedia

Christmas Vacation – I refuse to watch this from Jan 1 through Nov 30 every year.  But, as soon as Dec 1 hits, I’m free to watch as frequently as I see fit.  The record: December of 2005, 11 viewings within 31 days.  It NEVER gets old.  EVER.                                                     Nikki’s favorite line: “I wouldn’t be more surprised if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet.”                            Annie’s favorite line: “Take a look around here Ellen!  We’re at the threshold of HELL!”

The Family Stone – There are a lot of things I really hate about this film.  But what I love about it outweighs all that.  I really like almost everything about it.  Sarah Jessica Parker is vile and her character is too repugnant for words.  I think she was supposed to come off as uptight and chatty but still vaguely charming and instead, maybe because her performance was too convincing, she was just entirely awful.  Like, so bloody awful it was nearly unbearable while she was on the screen.  Also, I might not have minded the whole SJP jumping from Dermot Mulroney to Luke Wilson and Dermot Mulroney falling for his girlfriend’s sister thing IF any of those couples had any degree of chemistry.  SJP and Mulroney weren’t believable as a couple and she and Luke Wilson’s character were even less so.  Mulroney and Claire Danes had a tiny bit of chemistry, but not near enough to save that whole story line.  Aside from all that, I really liked it.  I loved everyone else’s characters and their performances.  I loved the whole New England family feel and their house and the Christmas vibe.  And Rachel McAdams at the end was so totally perfect.  (Actually, she was perfect throughout.)  SJP just fucked it all up.

Cover of "Scrooged"

Scrooged – Lord knows it’s dated, but how can anyone with a pulse dislike Bill Murray?  Or an adaptation of A Christmas Carol?  His evil, scheming, Ebeneezer-like, bastard TV executive Frank Cross, sporting that mystifying half-balding/half-mullet hairdo, is hilarious to behold.  Everything else is damn funny as well, and the straight 80s-ness comforts me like a binky and pajamas with footies.  My college roomies and I watched this almost every night before Christmas break – it was our “fall asleep-to movie.”

Bridget Jones’s Diary – not entirely a holiday movie, but it begins and ends during the holidays, which, as far as I’m concerned, is enough for this list.  And it really grasps the feel of the holidays from the music to the alcohol consumption to the snow (OH the snow — falling so softly, while Van Morrison sings and Colin Firth swathes you in his chic wool trench…) and the awkward family gatherings…it gets it all exactly right.

Just Friends – Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris make one hilarious team.  Silly, outrageous, over-the-top, but also sweet and charming in this screwball comedy about a man who returns to his hometown the week of Christmas to face the woman who broke his heart in high school.  Ten years later, and 100 pounds lighter, Chris Brander (RR) confronts his unrequited love (the charming Amy Smart) while trying to keep Samantha James, the pop princess he’s unhappily hooked to (Faris), out of trouble over the holiday.  It’s ridiculous, for sure, and full of shameless absurdities, but the chemistry between all the characters and that special, Christmas-y return-to-hometown feel make it a holiday must.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Steve Martin and John Candy – need I say more?  Their banter and Odd Couple-esque relationship make this holiday comedy one for the ages.  A slovenly Candy hitches a ride with uptight Martin, both trying to get home for Thanksgiving, and a wild, troublesome road trip ensues.  Funny and full of heart, it reminds us why the holidays are worth the hassle.  RIP, John Candy.  You are missed.

Die Hard – I know action movies aren’t typically considered holiday flicks, but Die Hard is set on Christmas Eve and, despite all the violence and death, it really feels like Christmas.  Oh, who are we kidding, it feels like Christmas because of all the violence and death.  Also, this movie just kicks so much ass.

Love Actually

Love Actually – I actually hate this film (dripping with schmaltz, cheese, bashing us over the head with all the messages about love), BUTTTT it IS London at Christmastime, and stars like, 175 people that I reallly, really love.  I usually hate myself when the end credits begin, but if you want Xmas eye candy and tons of Brits, this is where you go.

Home Alone – I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that this is one of, if not THE, most entertaining family holiday flicks around.  Who would have guessed that a movie about a family freaking accidentally abandoning their child would be be so hilarious, heartwarming (and sort of believable!).  I love the old man neighbor, who Kevin McAllister has to learn is a decent man.  I love Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci, killing it as the bumbling robbers.  And I LOVE THIS SONG.  It is FOREVER Christmas.

While You Were Sleeping – I’ll never stop loving this precious little film, which takes place over the entire holiday season.  This is another one that gets the family stuff, the feel of the weather, the way their house looks, sooo right – you can practically smell dinner cooking.  If only 90s-era Bill Pullman would come sweep me off my feet. 😉

Shout out to Elf and Bad Santa– neither had enough of the warm, snuggly feel of Christmas to make the actual list, but both will make you laugh until you cry.  Will Ferrell makes Elf worth watching, in my opinion.  No other adult could behave like a naive, child-like imbecile with such sincerity and charm.  Billy Bob Thornton, on the other hand, sells the vile, repulsive drunk con artist shopping mall Santa as though he were made for the role.  And maybe he was.

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas!!

~Nikki & Annie