Favorite Books and Films 2017 Edition!

Favorite books! (In no particular order!)

1.) Age of Heroes Trilogy – Kelley Armstrong
I got so engrossed in this series that I plowed through the last book in one sitting, even though I had to be up early for work the next day. I loved how different the two heroines (sisters Ashyn and Moria) are from one another and the contrast in their story-lines and perspectives is presented in a way that keeps the reader invested in both of their journeys. I loved all the characters, the romance, and the unique world-building, and I can’t wait to get into some of Armstrong’s other books.

2.) The Goose GirlShannon Hale
This book was just so adorable and sweet and I absolutely loved it. The romance is probably my favorite that I read this year because it was presented in such a genuine, earnest way, and Ani is one of my favorite protagonists of all the books I read this year for her bravery, generosity, and relatable disposition. Based on the German fairy-tale of the same name, this is a more lighthearted, yet captivating tale with a protagonist who can speak to birds, and I highly recommend if you’re look for a cute, quick dive into a well-developed fantasy world.

3.) His Dark Materials TrilogyPhilip Pullman
I know, I know… I am way late to this party. But better late than never! I actually saw the film version of The Golden Compass back in 2007 and was unimpressed, which is part of the reason why I put off reading this series for so long. Now, I see what all the fuss is about; the books are phenomenal, and Pullman created a vivid and spectacular fantasy world and characters who feel real. He doesn’t shy away from controversial opinions or views (especially on religion) and the books are all the more stunning for it. Polar Bear king Iorek Byrnison (one of few things I did like in the film) shall forever be one of my favorite literary figures of all time. I think it’s better that I read this series as an adult, because some of the messages and themes hit me harder now than they would have back when these books were first published.

4.) The Great Hunt and The Great Pursuit Wendy Higgins
I was absorbed by both of these books and ended up reading The Great Pursuit all in one day, more or less in one sitting. I’m a sucker for a good fantasy, even those with familiar story-lines, and these books have enough twists and engaging characters (Aerity in particular is stellar) to keep readers enthralled through both volumes. I also really enjoyed the romance in this duology – it’s so easy to get sick of seeing the same romantic subplots over and over again, but familiar scenarios feel fresh in these books. Also, I’m glad this wasn’t stretched out over three books, as it worked very well as a duology and might have been too thin for three volumes.

5.) EntwinedHeather Dixon
This twist on the fairy-tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses (which I was unfamiliar with prior to this book) is a quick, fun read and Azalea was a wonderful heroine to read about – the sort that is “girly” without being too much of a “damsel,” and is capable of saving herself. It’s a fairly straightforward story about dancing and danger, family relationships, love, and sisters, and it manages to adhere to the familiar fairy-tale format while adding twists and turns to keep the reader on their toes.

6.) The Jessica Darling SeriesMegan McCafferty
I cannot believe I missed out on the series when it was being released – this series is a hilarious, poignant, and occasionally daring look at growing up, high school drama, deciding your place in this world, and falling in and out of love, as told through the eyes and observations of the outrageously witty Jessica Darling. I wasn’t really crazy about the last book, but the entire series works together to form an arc that captures the turbulence and the emotional journey of stepping into young adulthood, and Jessica’s voice changes accordingly in each book, which made for a pleasant reading experience.

7.) The Girl Who Chased the MoonSarah Addison Allen
A simple little read about a small town, a girl trying to find her place in this world, a woman trying to do the same, and a family that cannot go out at night, I did not expect to be so engrossed in this book, but the characters are all so realistic and well-written that it was impossible not to be drawn in. Plus, there’s a tiny bit of paranormal in it, which is just the right amount for me.

8.)  Glass Faerie, Shadow Faerie, and Rebel Faerie by Rachel Morgan
I absolutely love the Creepy Hollow books (I read Violet’s saga in a matter of like, 2 days back in 2015) and was so happy that the story continued with Emerson’s POV in Glass Faerie, with new characters and old favorites alike. With a unique perspective on the ideas of faeries and magic, compelling characters and relationships, and an engaging story-line, the latest trilogy brings the Creepy Hollow series to a fitting and satisfying end. I look forward to rereading all 9 from the start!

9.) The Girl from Mars – Brenda Hiatt
Hiatt’s Starstruck series is not a collection I expected to resonate with me, but they did on a level I didn’t expect, so I’m glad the story has continued through the eyes of a new heroine. These stories feel very genuine and are super cute, wholesome, and fun, and Kira, the titular girl from Mars, has a believable and relatable mindset that is easy to follow. I also like the world-building in this series, especially the society on Mars and the ties to Irish culture. It adds a unique twist to familiar scifi tropes, and I hope there’s another novel to follow!

10.) Walk on Earth a StrangerRae Carson
This book took me back to the good ol’ days of playing Oregon Trail in computer class back in elementary school. Set during the gold rush and following the protagonist Leah Westfall across the country as she tries to escape those who seek to use her unique “gift” to sense gold, the story is engrossing and Leah’s voice is both charming and easy to read. She is a wonderful protagonist, the plot and all the characters are intriguing, and though I haven’t picked up the next book in this series, I look forward to continuing it.

Favorite Films! (In order!)

*I am not going to include Moonlight and La La Land on this list, since they came out in 2016 and I saw them so early into 2017. Just know that I loved them both. Also, this list is just my favorites. The list of “BEST” films would be different.

10.) Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a stunner that encapsulates what it’s like for a teenage girl to grow up and go through adolescence/young adulthood in post-9/11 America. The conflict between “Lady Bird” (Saorise Ronan) and her mother (Laura Metcalfe) is mesmerizing, and each member of the ensemble case delivers layered, nuanced performances. Plus, I think everybody who grew up in the 90’s/early 2000’s knew a Kyle, am I right?

9.) Wind River
A film I did not expect to stick with me the way that it has, Wind River is a poignant look into the state of Native American affairs in the U.S. and how Native Americans are treated in terms of the law/justice. Also, this is my favorite Jeremy Renner performance, thus far – he and Olson make a great team, and Gil Birmingham is fantastic in a supporting role, as is the rest of the cast.

8.) Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
“I’M MARY POPPINS, Y’ALL!” Enough said.

7.) Logan
Not gonna lie… I have about a 0% investment in the current X-men films. Actually, after the total abomination that was Last Stand, I have about a 0% investment in the past films, too. But Logan really turned it around for me, with it’s gritty portrayal of the world and the way mutants are treated, coupled with the cynical, dark, gruff, and emotionally broken version of Wolverine. Jackman’s swan song as the titular character is a fitting one, and is easily his best performance as the character overall. I usually hate excessive violence and swearing in films, but in Logan, I didn’t even mind – the film packs enough of an emotional wallop, I didn’t mind all the physical ones.

6.) Dunkirk
Admittedly, I am a Chris Nolan fangirl and thus inclined to like anything he puts out. Dunkirk is not a film I’ll watch over and over (and may never watch again) but the unique narrative structure (three viewpoints out-of-sync with one another until they converge) lack of dialogue and gripping music created a remarkable cinematic experience and atmosphere during which I was so tense I forgot to eat my Reeses Pieces. The ensemble cast turns out excellent performances all around and the cinematography is stellar. If you are a fan of war films, you should definitely check it out; though the experience in cinemas, with the sound and the massive IMAX screen, will likely be difficult to recapture in a living room on a television.

5.) Thor: Ragnarok
While I love Marvel movies, I was never much for the Thor films… especially The Dark World. But the third installment in the Thor series totally makes up for the lackluster middle film. Ragnarok amps up the humor, packs on the action, features an amazing cast, and segues nicely into the next major installment in the franchise, the upcoming Infinity War. This film is comedic gold, and features so many quotable lines and memorable scenes that I’m giggling at my computer now just remembering Mark Ruffalo dive-bombing onto Bifrost.

4.) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I have never hated, loved, hated, then kind of maybe liked, then definitely liked a character more than Sam Rockwell’s character Dixon in this film. This black comedy about a woman who buys three billboards to criticize the police over the unsolved murder of her daughter is carried by an all-star cast and a plot that is original, occasionally hilarious, and full of unexpected moments that literally made my jaw drop more than once.

3.) Beauty and the Beast
Was this film needed? No. Did I love it anyway? YES.
Also, I LOVE DAN STEVENS. The end.

2.) Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Despite the massive divide in the fandom over this film, I loved The Last Jedi and thought it was an apt continuation of the series. Following directly after The Force Awakens, our new hero Rey continues to search for her place in this world, Finn teams up with a new friend to try and save the Resistance, and Poe learns a valuable lesson about what it means to truly be in command and be a leader. Packed with action, shades of the previous films, and a whole lot of new and unexpected twists, TLJ is an undeniable spectacle, no mater which side of the fandom you fall on. Mark Hamill is outstanding in his return as conflicted Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, and a particular moment between him and another character was powerful enough to reduce me to tears. Adam Driver’s evocative performance as the internally-conflicted Kylo Ren/Ben Solo has already made him the most convincing villain in the franchise, and the tension between Kylo and Rey is a major highlight of the film. You can actually feel the struggle while watching it unfold onscreen. For all the issues folks have with the film, I found it to be one of the strongest across the entire series, an “awakening” of sorts, and though I had some issues with it (Canto Bight, how criminally underused Phasma is, Snoke’s treatment, a couple of other nitpicks) it still made me all the more excited for episode IX and the conclusion of the sequel trilogy.

1.) Wonder Woman
Not only was the Patty Jenkins-directed Wonder Woman my favorite cinematic experience of 2017, the “No Man’s Land” sequence is actually my favorite film scene overall of 2017. This film is not just a great superhero film helmed by a woman and starring a woman; it’s a great comic book film overall, easily one of the best super hero origin stories, and I definitely rank it as the best superhero film of the year. Plus, it’s 10000% the best DC film thus far, no contest. Gal Gadot nails the role of Wonder Woman, the music is fantastic, the chemistry between the leads is stellar, and it’s probably the first DC film that has more than a couple of genuinely funny moments, and a lot of emotional impact to boot. It didn’t try too hard to be an amazing film or outdo similar films – and it is a badass film all on its own.

 

 

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Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Dir. Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban, and Idris Elba
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr10m
Spoiler level: Light, some mention of plot points but no end spoilers.

Of all the MCU major Avenger film trilogies, I have generally considered the Thor films to be the weakest, so I went into the third installment, Thor: Ragnarok, with tempered expectations. Two hours later, I came out of the theater with sore cheeks from laughing so hard and my expectations thoroughly blown away, as if by the sheer force of Hela’s wrath, Hulk’s incredible smash, or Thor’s lightning prowess.

MV5BMjMyNDkzMzI1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcxODg5MjI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_.jpgThor: Ragnarok follows the titular hero (Hemsworth) as he strives to free Asgard from the chaotic rule of his previously exiled elder sister, Hela, Goddess of Death (Blanchett). In an effort to prevent Ragnarok, Thor must endure capture by an outcast Valkyrie (Thompson), forced combat with the Hulk (Ruffalo), continuing sibling strife with adopted brother Loki (Hiddleston), and the loss of his beloved Mjolnir.

I’ve always thought that, when in the presence of the other Avengers, Thor’s character tends to get overshadowed, but Hemsworth nailed it in his third solo outing and has officially proven that Thor can hold his own against the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. He rocked the heroic moments and his humor was on point – Thor’s otherwordly humor has always been a highlight of his character, and it’s dialed up to ten for this film with hilarious results. The “Get help” bit had me laughing so hard I was afraid the woman behind me was going to ask me to get a grip. Hemsworth’s chemistry with Hiddleston as Loki is also stellar, and Hiddleston continues to ooze both charm and deception in what is likely his last outing as the semi-sympathetic villain, and stands as possibly the most well-developed menace of the entire MCU. Blanchett is delightful as the near-unstoppable Hela, and shows what might have happened had Galadriel become a queen as great and terrible as the dawn. Ruffalo returns as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, and his rapport with Hemsworth is a highlight along with Hulk’s overall development, as he now carries conversations and doesn’t devolve into smash mode on a constant basis. The introduction of Valkyrie is a pleasant one, as her complex history and abilities as a fighter prove her to be an excellent ally for the Asgardian hero. Hopkins also briefly returns as Odin, and though his appearance is short, it makes an impression. Idris Elba as Heimdall and Karl Urban as Hela’s conflicted henchman Skurge are both great in supporting roles. And how could I leave out Jeff Goldbum, as Grandmaster? All I can say is… he’s Jeff Goldblum. And it’s fantastic.

The cameos are enjoyable, with a peek at one of 2016’s breakout heroes Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and three surprise cameos (I won’t spoil them) during an early scene on Asgard. It’s a “Is that really __________?” moment, thrice over, and done very well. Sad we didn’t get to see Sif this time around, but honestly, the film is enjoyable enough that I didn’t even feel her absence, and I didn’t feel the loss of Jane Foster one bit (I do love Natalie Portman though, for the record, and Jamie Alexander as well). I didn’t even miss Thor’s hair! Additionally, the music is great, the colors are fun and bright, which creates a much more visually-pleasing aesthetic than some of the previous films, which have a darker, more serious atmosphere.

The strength of this film is easily the humor and more lighthearted nature, as the film-makers perhaps looked to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy for what tone and direction to take, and it certainly pays off. I laughed out loud several times, and just started giggling again thinking of a particular joke. Though, that’s not to say that the action doesn’t deliver, because it does; the battles are all vivid and engrossing and none of the action sequences feel dragged out or too long. The overall pacing is done well, and though it seems as though the plot starts to meander a bit in the middle, the jokes and the character interactions keep it from feeling drawn out, and the final battle does not feel rushed and crammed into the end. The narrative is balanced between action with dire consequences, focus on the lead character and his inner conflict, and all of the external conflicts going on at the same time, with Hela’s wrath being unleashed upon Asgard, the Grandmaster’s gladiatorial games, and Thor’s efforts to wrangle a new team to assist him with saving the realm(s). With so many players on the field and such a stacked cast, it would be so easy for this film to devolve into a muddles mess with several personalities vying for screen time, but each plot point gets a decent amount of attention and no character feels like they got left to the wayside. And, though it might just be my inability to pay attention to detail, I didn’t really predict how the final conflict was going to play out, and there were enough surprises throughout the film to keep me on the edge of my seat.

After the lackluster Thor: The Dark World, I wasn’t looking forward to Ragnarok as much I was some of the other MCU installments, but the third Thor outing definitely stands as one of the best, might be a top contender for the funniest, and has made me even more excited to see our favorite golden-haired Asgardian prince in action during Infinity War next year.

Overall Rating: 9/10