Favorite Books Read in 2021

1. The Soulmate Equation, by Christina Lauren

I find that Christina Lauren books are either straight-up rom-coms or dramedies, and I usually prefer their more serious stories to the fluffier ones. However, The Soulmate Equation was a surprising blend of these two extremes, and I ate it up completely. I love when the sexiness of certain romance novel scenes is just so palpable on the page, and this was especially true of this book.

2. Wild at Heart, by K.A. Tucker

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Favorite Movies of 2021

1. Soul (2020, Watched 1/2/21)

Like anyone with a conscience, I was really feeling the damage of 2020 by last year’s holiday season. I struggled in feeling hopeful for the future and overcoming what seemed like a major dead end. Then I watched Soul, and the second its closing credits rolled, I sobbed. Suddenly, everything was going to be okay. Almost anything Pixar has made in the last decade has the power to destroy me, and Soul‘s take on enjoying your life and finding gratitude in it was no exception.

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Favorite TV of 2021

Until these last few cautious, difficult weeks of 2021, I was definitely enjoying the return of semi-normalcy in the world, and that included marathoning less television. I even went through phases of just not having the patience for much TV. This will likely change amidst colder weather and the current Omicron surge, but when I came across something this year that really clicked with me, I went all in.

As always, this isn’t limited to TV released just this year.

  1. Dash & Lily

I initially thought this love letter to a New York City Christmas would be too difficult to watch in December 2020, when the dimmest light of hope was that a COVID vaccine was officially ready. After friends insisted it was right up my alley, I watched the entire season on New Year’s Day. It’s delightful and occasionally heartwrenching, and if you know New York, you’ll recognize plenty of settings and slight inconsistencies with real life (my nitpick: the characters drink holiday cocktails at McSorley’s, which actually only serves light or dark ale).

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2021 So Far: Pop Culture Edition

I kicked off 2021 with a New Year’s Day marathon of Dash & Lily after friends kept telling me it was right up my alley. Any reminder of New York City at Christmas in the before times initially seemed too devastating, but this was exactly what I needed at that point in time. Lily, a romantic and old-fashioned teenager, leaves a notebook in the Strand bookstore with the intention of a boy finding the dares she wrote on its pages. Cynical, guarded Dash discovers the book, initiating a series of wild missions for the duo across the city before they even meet. Yes, it’s a slightly bittersweet viewing, but being quite the Lily myself, the series was almost a restorative balm for me.

I had a delayed start to the Bridgerton craze, but better late than never! After finishing and loving Season 1, I began binge-reading Julia Quinn’s books, and I’m now up to Eloise’s story, To Sir Phillip, With Love. I love how readers can identify certain aspects that the TV writers clearly honed in on for an adaptation tweak. That being said, the books aren’t as enveloped in the family’s world and contemporaries as the series is, and their focus remains firmly on a particular story’s starring couple. I’d compare their differences to something like The Princess Diaries — they’re both so beloved for what they are and each has elements you can appreciate separately from its other representation. Basically, the two mediums are more like close cousins than identical twins.

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Favorite TV of 2020

TV has honestly been my saving grace of 2020. It was one of the few pros of early quarantine, and even now, when there still isn’t much to do safely but stay home, it remains a great distraction. This year, I’ve had the time to try out some prestige TV, revisit old trashy favorites like Four Weddings, 16 and Pregnant, and America’s Next Top Model, and discover some unexpected gems.

Up until the summer hit and the glaring uncertainty of the fall TV season was palpable, 2020 really delivered when it came to escapist TV. While I’ll refrain from my rant about Peter Weber’s Bachelor season cursing the rest of the year (his finale aired just as everything was imploding in March), I feel like 2020 allowed for a new kind of inclusive creativity that hasn’t quite happened before.

By that, I mean that there was truly something for everyone. I have no interest in dark, brooding dramas like Ozark and I can’t find the energy to commit to a new dating reality show like Love is Blind, but they’re there for whoever wants them. I want nothing to do with shows’ COVID-adjacent storylines, but they’re there if you want them. On the other hand, witty dramedies with smart female characters that delivered a perfect combination of joy and heartbreak? There was an abundance of them this year that I don’t think I’ve seen before.

That being said, I’m still working through popular 2020 favorites like The Queen’s Gambit and Normal People, because content that’s on the slow, bleaker side isn’t really doing it for me now. The common theme among the following favorites is definitely a sense of optimism and happiness.

1) Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Season 1

Season 1 Episode 2 Dance GIF by Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

The final scene of this season finale is honestly the most beautiful piece of television I’ve seen in a really long time (and I cry at a lot of TV!). My parents unexpectedly stumbled upon the premiere episode on their own and loved it, so all of us watching the show together every Sunday became a highlight of our early quarantine. It delivered so much joy but could also crush your heart within a matter of seconds. I’m so excited for its second season premiere on Jan. 5 and its schedule upgrade from a Sunday night slot to Tuesdays.

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Little Things: Only For Now

It took extremely gloomy weather and moods for me to pull another Emily Gilmore and insist upon finding some joy and letting it be satisfying and enough and motivating. I made an indulgent brie grilled cheese for lunch. I played Christmas music while working. I exercised after the workday, which I haven’t done enough in the pandemic world because, gosh darn it, I love and miss my Planet Fitness. I also recognized that I’m still finding joy in certain pop culture that really has made this time more manageable.

Let’s start with the title of this post. I keep playlists for my writing projects that consist of songs that either inspire this particular work or are directly included in it. For my current work-in-progress, I recently stumbled across “For Now” from the musical Avenue Q, which is just a sweet, delightful song reminding us that everything, good or bad, is temporary — for now. Every listen of it always cheers me up.

I’ve recently discovered the Pod Ledom podcast, a recap series of America’s Next Top Model. If there’s anything my 2020 posts might have taught you, it’s that ANTM rewatches will always be my top TV guilty pleasure. Just when I had exhausted my favorite cycles and confirmed that certain seasons are still unwatchable, this podcast came along with its hilarious and insightful trio of hosts. Plus, they’re only up to Cycle 10 of their rewatch, so I have tons of content to look forward to. If you’re a fan of America’s Next Top Best Friend, Pod Ledom is similarly goofy, but it dives a little deeper into ANTM episodes without tangents.

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Little Things: Bring in the Small Joys

I’ve struggled emotionally over the past few weeks. I think it has to do with both the election and the end of the year seeming closer than ever with only the vaguest of pandemic resolutions in sight. So I’ve embraced the eff-it attitude, soaking in joy-inducing entertainment that reminds me that this might be a temporary normal but, God willing, it doesn’t have to be our new forever. Think of my new 2020 mentality as Emily in the Gilmore Girls reunion when she’s happy to toss anything that doesn’t bring her joy.

I’ve never had any particular feelings for or against Drew Barrymore, probably because E.T. just freaked me out as a child and none of her other work was formative for me. But her earth mother-esque quality intertwined with brutal honesty is what won me over about her new talk show’s YouTube channel. While her actual interviews become a little too earnest for me, I recommend her pre-premiere “The Art of the Interview” videos with Andy Cohen, Whoopi Goldberg, and Gayle King, followed by Chloe Fineman’s SNL parody of the show.

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Never-ending Little Things

I loved the episodes of The Michelle Obama Podcast with Barack Obama, her girlfriends, and her brother Craig. To be frank, I miss having warm, personable humans in the White House, so listening to this weekly insight into the former First Lady’s thoughts and relationships has been so refreshing.

I read Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand’s Harry-and-Meghan tell-all, Finding Freedom. There honestly wasn’t too much in there that was new or shocking to me, but the narrative that really stuck with me was how passive the Duchess of Cambridge reportedly was in trying to befriend Meghan. I firmly believe that sisters–in-law don’t have to be best friends or even close, so I respect that these two didn’t click naturally. On the other hand, this was such a unique and overwhelming situation that I really don’t understand the supposed argument that Kate was too loyal to William to bother trying. Still, consider me in the camp of believing that the Sussexes and Cambridges are exactly where they’re meant to be now and that some form of forgiveness will happen down the road.

In other royals new, the Meghan Markle and Gloria Steinem conversation was really exciting. I’m also really interested in seeing how the Sussexes’ Netflix deal pans out, but I definitely understand the critique that the move supports the belief that they’ll go full Hollywood. But then again, how about all those British tabloids turn their attention to Prince Andrew’s seedy ties rather than a couple just trying to contribute positively to the world?

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Little Things, The Theme of 2020

Weekdays off in elementary school meant watching Live! with Regis and Kelly and giggling uncontrollably at the opening conversation. Now looking at all of these commemorative clips of Regis Philbin, I realize just how much his joy and self-deprecating humor remind me of my grandfathers, both lifelong, hearty New Yorkers of that age and likely to have experienced the same cultural touchpoints. Sure, America chose to wake up to him, but New Yorkers had a particular familarity with him. Kathie Lee Gifford’s tribute to him on TODAY made me cry, and although I don’t remember the Regis and Kathie Lee era, their occasional reunions on TODAY‘s fourth hour showed me just how magical their daily dynamic must have been. For a laugh, watch Regis’s delight at a bird landing on Kathie Lee’s head and then his Halloween stint as Gelman on TODAY in 2016. I also love his guest spot on How I Met Your Mother

Either the Queen has an obvious favorite among the grandkids or she feels really bad about Princess Beatrice having to cancel her original wedding plans and deal with Prince Andrew’s shenanigans. Whichever it is, I loved how Beatrice wore an old, tweaked gown of the Queen’s as well as her grandmother’s wedding day tiara on her own big day. I wouldn’t want to wear Beatrice and Eugenie’s wedding dresses, but they both did such great jobs of achieving classic fashion while still adhering to royal modesty rules.

The Parent Trap is one of two or three movies I can quote verbatim, and as her fellow Long Islander, I’m always going to want Lindsay Lohan to be well. How great did she seem in Katie Couric’s cast reunion?

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Interview with Erin Hahn, Author of More Than Maybe

I keep track of every book I read in a year, so in 2020, I look at this ongoing list and see a clear divide between the books I read while commuting and the ones I read during the stark emptiness of early quarantine. Erin Hahn’s More Than Maybe was a slight crossover between the two stages, distracting me from the rising panic of the New York metro area and introducing me to the delightful world of Luke, Vada, and their dreams to fill the world with music.

While Hahn’s first YA romance, You’d Be Minefollowed the summer tour of teen country music stars Clay and Annie, More Than Maybe picks up in a typical suburb, introducing Luke, the son of a rocker, and Vada, an aspiring music journalist. As Luke hides his songwriting from the rest of the world, he can’t help but like the ambitious Vada, who strives toward getting into a prestigious music journalism program and scoring an internship with Rolling Stone. With the help of Phil, local musical legend and Vada’s mom’s boyfriend, the two teens must learn how their growing feelings for each other fit into the visions that they have for their futures.

On shelves July 21, More Than Maybe was such a delight to read in uncertain times. Luke and Vada’s love of music and their growing trust in each other is reminiscent of Sarah Dessen’s This Lullaby, one of my all-time YA faves. On top of an earnest portrayal of first love, More Than Maybe also hooks older readers with insight into the second-chance romance between Phil and Vada’s mom Mary that is rarely seen in YA. If you sorely miss summer concerts and local hangouts, the story is the perfect antidote for corona blues.

I was lucky enough to ask Erin Hahn some questions about her book ahead of its release. Thank you for being so great, Erin!

After focusing on budding country music stars in You’d Be Mine, what was the inspiration for More Than Maybe and exploring teens with a similar love for music but who are living a more typical life?

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