The Best of 2015

bestof2015

2015 is almost over and I’m sad to see this great year go. It was an amazing year for change and growth for me, but that’s a blog post yet to come. Today I’m here to round up some of the best stuff I loved this year, from beauty, pop culture, and more!

Best Makeup of 2015

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This wasn’t a huge year of trying new makeup for me, but there were definitely some standout new products and products that were just new to me that became my staples throughout the year. Although it’s hard for me to justify spending money on yet another neutral eyeshadow palette, the Lorac Mega Pro 2 was an amazing investment and I don’t think I’ve used another eyeshadow palette since buying it. Another product I’ve used exclusively throughout the year since discovering the e.l.f. store near NYU is the e.l.f. Contour Palette. With 2015 being the year of sculpting and strobing, this contour palette is a steal among all the other high-end palettes out there. I’ve used up all of the yellow setting powder for under my eyes, and I’ve used this bronzer to contour every day. The highlight in this palette isn’t the best, but luckily for my birthday my sister got me the Becca x Jaclyn Hill Shimmering Skin Perfector  in Champagne Pop. I know I’m the millionth person on the Internet to talk about this product, but it truly is a gorgeous highlighter, and the best way to get a highlight on fleek. I also decided to splurge and get the Estee Lauder Double Wear Foundation, and honestly I don’t think I can go back to drugstore foundation after this – it’s just that good. My other drugstore staples this year were the new CoverGirl Super Sizer mascara, the Maybelline Color Sensational Creamy Matte Lipstick in Touch of Spice, and the new NYX Micro Brow Pencil. I love CoverGirl mascaras, and this is the best drugstore mascara to come out this year, and the Maybelline lipstick was the perfect everyday color to get that Kylie Jenner lip look. As for the brow pencil, this is an exact dupe of the Anastasia Brow Wiz, but half the price, which is great for someone like me who has no eyebrows.

Best Pop Culture of 2015

2015 – for me – was undeniably the year for TV. Moreso than the movies that came out this year, so many TV shows left a lasting impression on me, and I’m dying to see them come back next year.

p10774004_b_v7_abUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was by far my favorite new comedy this year. I don’t what to say about it other than it’s pure delight, Peeno Noir is an iconic piece of American musical history, and I’ve sang the autotuned theme song more times than I can count (“It’s a miracle!”). The only thing I didn’t like about this show is how quickly it went by – as a Netflix original series there were 13 episodes, but at less than 30 minutes per episode I finished the first season more quickly than I’d like to admit…

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Speaking of Netflix original series, I was struggling to pick between the two Marvel shows that premiered this year, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but in terms of my emotional attachment to the show I have to go with Daredevil. I love Matt Murdock and Daredevil as a superhero, and every time I walked near Hell’s Kitchen in NYC this summer I couldn’t help but to think of my darling Matt Murdock. I’m so excited for this show to come back, and I hope he gets some screentime with my other favorite Marvel babes.

The_Jinx_(miniseries)_POSTERHas any nonfiction TV show had a more satisfying finale than The Jinx? This HBO series was incredible and kept me on my post-Serial high throughout the beginning of the year. The Jinx is a pop culture phenomenon that only comes around once, and I cannot shout its praises enough (you can read a more in-depth review of it here!). Seriously, anyone who is interested in true crime/documentary, this show is a must-see.

Oh, and even though this show is not new from this year, I have to say it: Game of Thrones. I don’t think any other form of media captivated me so much this year as that damn show.

Mad_Max_Fury_Road-429261909-largeI have to say that none of the movies I saw this year would make any sort of “top 10” list for me. Out of all that I saw, Trainwreck was my favorite comedy, but the movie that stuck with me the most was Mad Max: Fury Road. I went into Mad Max with low expectations, which were completely exceeded in this post-apocalyptic thriller. It’s full of badass female characters, harrowing action scenes, and it kept my heart racing throughout the entire thing. That being said, I anticipate seeing a bunch of year-end movies around the holidays, so my true favorite movie of 2015 may be yet to come.

Podcasts became a new love of mine in 2015, but since Serial Season 2’s premiere date is TBA (grrrr!), I’ve found many  other podcasts to listen to my commute and during my work day. One of my favorites is Radiolab, which very much satisfies my inner science nerd, and along the same lines is Love + Radio, which posted one of the best podcasts I’ve listened to called “The Living Room” (seriously, check it out). I also love Coffee With Chrachel, made by one of my favorite YouTubers and her boyfriend who just shoot the shit and talk to you like you’ve been friends your whole life. I would also recommend Lena Dunham and BuzzFeed’s podcast Women of the Hour, which I’ve discovered is just the right amount of Lena Dunham I want in my life.

My favorite book I read this year was S. by J.J. Abrams (full review here), but like the movies I read this year, I don’t think I read anything that really made one of my all-time favorites. Honorable mentions are The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh and Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

And that’s all, folks! I tried to think of another category, but this pretty much sums up everything that was the best of the best this year.

Book Review | S. by J.J. Abrams

A story within a story. I remember many a professor in college telling me this was called a “microcosm” as I scribbled into my notebook about some 19th-century poet or Shakespeare. As a post-grad I don’t normally miss being in a classroom, writing papers, and studying, but reading S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst made me nostalgic for those undergrad, English-major days.

Jen and Eric meet for the first time in the pages of a book at their school’s library named Ship of Theseus by infamous author V.M. Straka. Writing notes to each other in the margins, their interactions with the text and with themselves start out as you might expect – one undergrad (Jen) and one grad student (Eric) conversing about the merits and mysterious of the book. In their fictional universe, Straka’s true identity is unknown to the world, leaving Jen and Eric even more invested in uncovering who this author is. They have clues: they know Straka was part of a radical group in the 1930s and ’40s that opposed the dangerous “Bouchard,” a tyrannical figure akin to some real-life leaders in World War II, and that the book’s editor – Filomela or FXC – was also involved in the group.

The book gives equal weight to the concrete text and the written correspondence, but without Jen and Eric’s words within the margins, this book would not be nearly as magical and powerful. I found myself more drawn to Jen and Eric’s storyline than the actual Ship of Theseus story, because even without the traditional prose, their relationship is so intimate and complexand the fact that the characters are writing their own “dialogue” makes their voices that much more distinct and lovely. That’s not to say that Ship of Theseus wasn’t great, as well, but Dorst succeeded in matching a mid-century style that manages to both be rich and ambiguous. SoT (as Jen and Eric call it) tells the story of S., a man with amnesia who finds himself a savior figure in a global conflict that traverses time and place. His vehicle from place to place is a miserable pirate ship where time stands still as chaos ensues on land. His only clue to his past? A woman, of course, who is no less mysterious than S’s mission and the rest of the book’s conflict.

I loved this book, but it is a beast to get through. At 400+ pages it’s long, but including the written notes between Eric and Jen, there’s much more volume to read. The book also includes lots of additional notes in between the pages – longer letters from Eric and Jen, postcards, maps, even a a faux university newspaper. For me it took a while to get a rhythm between reading the margin notes and reading the actual text, but it was so worth it in the end.

I can’t recommend this book enough for any serious book worm. It combines a modern story with classic lit, young adult romance with fantasy, and so many mysteries that your head will spin in the best way possible.

Five out of five stars 

 

Recent Reads | Dumplin’ and The Handmaid’s Tale

I’ve been trying to get more variety in the books I read by changing up the different genres with each book I read. Most recently I finished Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, both of which couldn’t be more different from each other but both were great reads that I definitely recommend.

Dumplin’ is a young adult novel that came out this September, and it’s a refreshing take on the awkward high school years everyone experiences. The main character, Willowdean, is a self-proclaimed and proud “fat girl” and Dolly Parton fan who is just trying to get through small-town life with her best friend Ellen and working after school at the local fast food joint with prep school-hottie/red lollipop enthusiast Bo. Willow’s head is a fun and familiar place to be, as the emotional battles and body issues that we all feel at one point or another are expanded upon through her eyes. The main struggle within the story is not only Willow accepting her figure and image at school with potential romantic partners added to the picture, but also the annual teen beauty pageant run by former winner, Willow’s mom. Throughout the book Willow must cope with the recent death of her obese aunt and her decision to enter the pageant with a fellow band of misfits, and it makes for a funny, messy, irreverent, and often disheartening read for fans of modern YA.

4 out of 5 stars

For something completely different, The Handmaid’s Tale is a classic dystopian novel that feels like a mix between 1984 and The Hunger Games. The basic setting of the story is that for some reason unknown to the reader, the U.S. – or at least the northeast – is in chaos and at war, and children are few and far between. The richer couples are comprised of the male Commander and his Wife who use a Handmaid to try and conceive a child. Offred, the novel’s narrator, is one of those Handmaids who remembers her life before her entire livelihood was based around becoming impregnated by her Commander. The novel switches between the dangerous, dry, and controlled life post-“apocalypse,” and the memories of her life before, a normal life that she took for granted until it was too late. As I was reading, I honestly wondered why they hadn’t made a movie out this book yet, and I highly recommend it as a staple for anyone who wants a mature, frightening dystopian read. I also recommend it to anyone who enjoys beautiful prose like this:

“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

4.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review | Landline by Rainbow Rowell

If I had a list of top 10 favorite authors, I’m fairly certain Rainbow Rowell would make the list, and I’ve only read two of her books.

I read Eleanor and Park over a year ago and was enamored with Rowell’s portrayal of two tragic kids falling in love despite circumstance. Soon after marking my book as “read” on Goodreads, I discovered the rest of Rowell’s small collection of work, and I’m happy to say I was equally as charmed by her adult contemporary work as I was with her young adult lit.

Landline explores the marriage between Georgie McCool, a TV comedy writer, and her husband Neal, who after nearly 20 years of being together are once again confronted with the inexplicable differences in their relationship, perhaps more obviously than ever before. Having to stay in Los Angeles to write four scripts of her dream TV show to pitch to a network exec, Neal takes their two girls, Alice and Noomi, to their pre-planned Christmas trip to Omaha sans Georgie. Georgie – unable to get in contact with Neal despite numerous calls – begins to deteriorate with worry, a reaction only heightened by a stay at her mother’s house and a phone call on the landline that leads Georgie to believe that she may have a time machine into the past.

Rowell makes a ridiculous premise seem absolutely plausible with her narration and characterization of Georgie. Georgie’s a refreshing take on the typical wife portrayed in modern fiction: she’s not manic depressive, she’s not cheating on her husband, her husband’s not cheating on her. She is a witty, intelligent woman who fully grasps that she may be going crazy, but knowing full well that what she needs more than anything is her husband and children to ground her and make her feel complete. And how many other novels have female, working mother protagonists whose job is writing for television?

The pacing in this novel is perfect, with Georgie as the lens to her and Neal’s past, present, and future. The memories and worries intertwine expertly and carry the reader along through their lives, and before I knew it, hours had gone by and I was more than halfway through the book. Landline keeps the pages turning without gimmicks, the story wrapping seamlessly throughout the novel.

Landline left me with that warm and fuzzy feeling of content when I was done reading, a feeling that is so rare to find at the end of a book. I love books that make me cry and books that make me gasp, but sometimes you find a rare book that can still move you without the melodrama. Landline is exactly that book, and I fully intend to recommend it to everyone who needs a break from the tragedy and dystopia and just wants a clever, real story about life, love, and everything that gets in the way.

Five out of five stars

Book review: “Quiet” by Susan Cain

IMG_3733_edited-1“Introversion plays yin to the yang of extroversion; that the medium is not always the message; and that people followed Moses because his words were thoughtful, not because he spoke them well.”

Ever since I was a kid, I wondered why I never had the same inclination towards social activities as other people did. I hated throwing or attending birthday parties by myself, I needed more time to recover after lots of activity, and I preferred walking laps around the field, making up stories with my friend instead of playing in a big group of kids. As I’ve gotten older, the pressure to socialize a certain number of times and in certain environments seemed “normal,” and I felt guilty if I wanted to stay home instead of go out after a long week of school and work. But after reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I understood that I didn’t have to feel guilty – I was just an introvert.

It’s not that I haven’t known I’m an introvert; I have known for a while now, and if you flipped to the word “introvert” in the dictionary, it’s likely you’d find a picture of me. I always felt bad that I didn’t have the same social finesse that other people did and that making friends seemed to come more naturally to others. I hated that I was bad at first impressions and job interviews and frustrated that it was difficult for me to voice my opinion. While those are all things I can and still work on, this book made me understand that these things are natural, that they’re okay, and that not being a “people person” like I’ve been told I should be my whole life isn’t necessarily true.

I don’t read that much nonfiction, but after reading this book, I might just have to read more. The way Cain writes is insightful and moving while utilizing her years of research put into creating this book. The book itself explores the introvert-extrovert spectrum from a variety of angles, and as an introvert myself, helped me understand my temperament better. But she also writes for extroverts, citing examples of introverts and extroverts in relationships, families, and work places. Even though I personally think introverts would find this book more inspirational, it’s useful for extroverts to understand how and why introverts see the world in a different light. If you like nonfiction, are an introvert, or want to understand someone better with engaging research and writing, then I would recommend this book to you.

As I write this blog post, I’m reminded of one of the topics discussed in Cain’s book. She talks about how many companies with introverts thrive on digital communication, as it’s easier for collaboration since it removes restricting social conventions and the inevitable extroverts voicing their opinion over introverts. She writes:

“[Introverts] welcome the chance to communicate digitally. The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world.”

While I don’t think there’s any substitute for the comfort and familiarity of personal relationships, it’s comforting to find in Quiet a sense of relief in that private space that I, and many other introverts, need in order to be successful and happy.

5 out of 5 stars

Target Haul: The Fun Stuff

IMG_3689_edited-1Oh, Target. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve spent many a Saturday night strolling through the beautiful makeup aisles, getting lost in home decor, and leaving with a much larger dent in my wallet than I anticipated. Today I managed to keep my spending under control since I also did all my grocery shopping there for the week. But I doubt anyone wants to see the lunch meat and ridiculous amount of Amy’s bowls I bought, I’ll show you the “fun stuff” I picked up yesterday.

IMG_3692_edited-1My skin has been going crazy lately, which is a bummer since this has generally been a better year for my acne-prone skin. When my skin was looking really good I was using these two products interchangeably and decided to give them another go.

Biore Deep Pore Charcoal Cleanser: This is the first drugstore face wash I had found that had charcoal as its main cleansing ingredient, and I think it works really well with my skin. It’s gentle but effect, without the harsh drying effect of a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide.

St. Ives Blemish Control Apricot Scrub: People have different opinions on this scrub, but I personally love it. I love using abrasive scrubs several times a week because it removes dead skin and I really feel like it gets every bit of makeup off my skin, and this St. Ives one is tried and true.

IMG_3693_edited-1Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups: I was SO excited when I saw that Target was selling these peanut butter cups, because they are heavenly. They sell them at Starbucks now and I personally think they’re better than Reese’s, because they’re not as sickly sweet. I only picked up two, but I wish these came in 12 packs or more!

IMG_3694_edited-1Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham: I’ll be honest and say I wouldn’t have picked this up if it wasn’t for a review assignment for work. I’m not a huge fan of Girls, but after reading a bit of the introduction I think I’ll enjoy Dunham’s writing more than her television. And I had a 25% off coupon from the Cartwheel app, so it was a good deal.

IMG_3695_edited-1Maybelline Color Sensational The Mattes Lip Color in “Divine Wine”: The most exciting part of this haul: makeup!!!! I only allowed myself to purchase one item, and after seeing this beautiful dark burgundy shade swatched in several YouTube videos, I knew this was the one in the collection I wanted to pick up. Now if only the weather would get cool enough that I could start wearing dark lips every day!

            

Summer Book Reviews

So I had some big amazing goal of “reading as much as I could” during the past summer. And while all goals have merit to them, my completed reading list only consisted of four books. I’d like to think I branched out a bit from what I usually read, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed most of the books I had a chance to devour during my “summer vacation.”

IMG_3064_edited-2The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – I had been wanting to read Eugenides’ work for a while now, and after picking up this gorgeous edition of The Marriage Plot, I was not disappointed. The book surrounds three main characters – Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell – and their journeys through college and past graduation. What’s amazing about Eugenides’ writing is his ability to get inside each character in a way that feels completely authentic. The characters you may dislike from one person’s perspective, you end up sympathizing with their struggles, and vice versa. I think I read this book at a very critical time in my life, being in the exact same life period as these characters, and I just completely fell in love with it. I did find a connection with myself and the “main” character of Madeleine, as we are both English majors and shared many of the same sentiments. But even though I felt that connection, the art of this book is that each character is so uniquely portrayed and developed, with such a rich story, it stands apart from any formulaic representation of college life that I’ve ever read. 5 out of 5 stars

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Yes, I picked this book up in anticipation for the movie adaptation that is being released later this year, but I also had heard great things about the story. The story centers on Nick Dunne and his wife Amy, the disastrous consequences that come from her disappearance (and possible murder) and the past relationship troubles the two had. The book switches between Nick’s perspective and Amy’s diary entries from when they first started dating, so it immediately sets up a mystery between which spouse to trust and which character with which to sympathize. This is one messed up mystery novel. At the end, I have to admit I didn’t really like any of the characters, and I’m not entire settled with the feeling the ending left with me. The first two-thirds of the book is exhilarating and a real page-turner, but it started to bore me near the end of the book. Although I have mixed feelings about it, I applaud Flynn’s ability to confound the reader and take them for a ride through what’s definitely not the representation of a perfect marriage, and I’m excited to see the movie version! 3.5 out of 5 stars 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – This book tells the coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan, who grows up in the early 20th century in Brooklyn, New York. This book isn’t necessarily lined with a straight-forward plot, but explores the changing mind and knowledge of a young girl at the turn of the century. What I found most intriguing was that this story was entirely told from the point of view of a girl, which I find is less common in coming-of-age labeled stories, and that it was written by a woman writer. It’s Francie’s experiences that color the story and make it an interesting read, from her relationship to her mother (who favors her brother, Neeley) to her relationship with her alcoholic father, who is the music in Francie’s life. There are no clichés you can find in this book, which is refreshing. This isn’t a rags-to-riches tale but just an honest depiction of the thoughts, challenges, and joys of growing up. 4.5 out of 5 stars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – I picked up this book just after it debuted on the bookshelves since I had heard so much hype from book reviewers and even from John Green, whose quote is on the cover. This is a young adult fiction about a teenager named Cadence Sinclair and her rich family’s island, who her and her aunts and cousins visit every summer. There’s all the typical YA tropes – the summer romance, the opaque rich family who may not be as happy as they appear to be, the secrets between the adults and the adolescents. The writing is average and the main character is a bit bland and definitely does not stand out in my mind as being a significant female figure in either YA or literature in general. Yes, there is a big OHMYGOD twist at the end, but it felt more like a gimmick than an actual twist, and didn’t convince me to like the story any more. Overall, I was disappointed by this book, and although I’ve read worse, it remains in my mind amongst the average ho-hum teenage tales I’ve read over the years. 2.5 out of 5 stars