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The Best Stuff That Didn’t Suck: 2015

Don’t think you can consume yet another “best of” list? Well ours is a little different. Our list of interesting recommendations aren’t all from this year. Some of them are old, some of them are new, but all of them are awesome things we discovered this year that we think you’ll like too. (Hey, that weirdly rhymes.) Enjoy!

Books: The Lost Heiress: A Novel Of Tutankhamun’s Queen

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Why I Picked It: So many historical fiction novels set in ancient Egypt either focus on Cleopatra VII, Nefertiti or Hatshepsut. Queen Ankhesenamun was just as fascinating as any of the more popular female rulers, but she is largely ignored by authors. It’s a breath of fresh air to see Tutankhamun’s wife take center stage and hear her heartbreaking life story.

Excerpt From Original Review: “The 18th Dynasty is shrouded in mystery, which works to Liaci’s advantage because it allows her to speculate on what really happened to Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun. The author weaves in speculation and historical fact to create a heartbreaking tale. Ankhesenamun’s life is swathed in tragedy and the author does not shy away from exploring the darker aspects of her story.”

-Amanda Ferris

Comics: Liz Suburbia’s Sacred Heart

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Why I Picked It: Of all the many comics and graphic novels I read and recommended over the year, nothing quite haunted me the way Liz Suburbia’s Sacred Heart did. It’s the kind of story that shows its meaning instead of telling it, and does so in a way that tugs at those last shreds of violent, rebellious, lonely youth inside all of us.

Excerpt From Original Review:Sacred Heart perfectly balances moments of sublime joy and gut-wrenching terror, capturing the sweat and grime of punk rock-fueled adolescence alongside its crushing loneliness, made all the more palpable by Ben and her peers’ situation. Alexandria manages to feel chillingly real, especially with the way its large and varied cast reacts to the atrocities happening around them — namely, that they grieve, gossip, and inevitably get wasted all the while wondering whether this will be their final year of emancipation.”

-Marie Anello

Games: Why Am I Dead At Sea

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Why I Picked It: Games of 2015 seemed to be enamored with the theme of post-mortem. Nekrolog dived into the abstract art gallery after a fatal fall, and Crypt of the Necrodancer had players jamming while they slayed what lied beneath the grave. Why Am I Dead At Sea runs along with the same theme, but it takes a turn at character depth and buckles down. Right when the player jumps in, the character’s physical body is taken away from them in a suggested homicide and they are left wandering as a spirit.

The main purpose of Why Am I Dead At Sea is to discover the culprit behind your murder among the nine guests on the ship. But that isn’t what I enjoyed the most. My favorite parts of this game are the developer’s unique interpretations about the human psyche and the almost too personal stories that you learn from possessing others. When the player possesses a character, they must watch cutscenes that show what it is like inside of that person’s mind. Some of them end up being quite disturbing. The imagery is uncomfortable, and the chaotic text that appears are transfixing.

It isn’t over when the visions stop either. Along with investigating murder the player must also maneuver around the personal issues that many of these characters face as well. By no means are any of these issues tiny, with topics such as suicide, isolation, and lies all being heavy on some of the guests’ minds. If you were hoping for a warm, bright cruise you are in the wrong place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay and enjoy the ride.

-Kieffer Wilson

Music: Empress Of’s Me

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Why I Picked It: It’s rare to follow a musician’s life, from humble beginnings to indie stardom, without feeling disappointed by the end of the journey. There’s only so much hope, anticipation, and hype one can thrust on the back of one person without leaving feeling let down. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with Empress Of’s debut Me. After following her career from her first EP to her first major single, Empress Of’s (real name Lorely Rodriguez) trajectory from laptop musician to indie pop star has been amazing to witness. But even better? Her debut exceeded expectations, delivering an off-kilter sucker punch of a record with as many bops as there are surprises.

-Tiffany White

Books: Helen Ellis’ American Housewife

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Why I Picked It: The year 2015 was full of fiction and indie games that didn’t suck, but Helen Ellis’ darkly funny tales, and snarky commentary on wife life and writer life, continue to resonate with me. If you enjoy both literary fiction and reality TV, American Housewife: Stories is for you. In this collection, Ellis creates delightfully improbable situations around pageant princesses and co-op neighbors, but it’s the terribly realistic emotions that keep this book in my mind.

Excerpt From Original Review: “Themes reappear through the separate short stories. Love. Marriage. The correct times to applaud. Murder. The quiet desperation of domestic life, and the desperation of being a mildly talented writer. Child beauty pageants. Being a grown-ass lady. Each story stands alone, but the complete collection creates an image of a dark underworld behind perfect hair and perfect smiles.”

-Meg Stivison 

Video: Eat Our Feelings

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Why I Picked It: The whole “Girls-esque situational web comedies about single chicks living in New York” trope reached a crescendo this year when a web show came along that finally shattered that bubble. It’s part sitcom, part cooking show, and entirely hilarious. I mean how often does a web show teaches you how to correctly chop an onion?

Except From Original Review: “Each episode begins like a comedy skit before segueing into a cooking show. From grilled cheese sandwiches to gourmet pizza, they focus on healthy but easy meals that can be cooked by anyone who’s not a complete klutz in the kitchen. Combining their love for comedy and their love for food, Sasha and Emma have created a web series that will speak to your inner chef, even if you hate cooking.”

-Tiffany White

Books: Ryu Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies

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Why I Picked It:  This “other Murakami” isn’t as well known in the U.S., despite his work being more accessible, and more quintessentially Japanese, at least from an American perspective, than Haruki Murakami’s. Its my favorite because of its ability to skirt the boundaries of the eccentric, grotesque, and believable without ever tipping overboard.  it’s a rare and painstakingly difficult feat for any writer, and once pulled off, it is nothing short of breathtaking.

Excerpt From Original Review: “Murakami’s novel was based on the true phenomenon of rampant infanticide in Japan and China in the ’80s and ’90s, where parents abandoned their infants in coin lockers. While the novel’s  characters, Kiki and Hashi, escape this fate, their coming of age, quasi-cyberpunk odyssey is one with no catharsis. There is an angst and anger, as personal as it is societal, in Murakami’s world of psychological torment and neglect that spans the remote Japan islands to the radioactive “toxitown” ghettos and bordellos of Tokyo, where life seems as complex in its sexuality, desire, and violence as it is simple in its needs.”

-Rhys Dipshan

Web/Art: The Boat

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Why We Picked It: We’re suckers for anything interactive, but The Boat takes the cake at being not only an immersive experience but also a compelling, true story about the Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon.

Excerpt From Original Review: “Huynh is no stranger to the subject matter. His comic Ma is also about the experience of Vietnamese refugees, and his distinctive style works perfectly with Le’s story. With more than 300 illustrations created, including 59 with custom sound and animation, the interactive comic is an experience that echoes the tragic, claustrophobic ambiance of the original. There are also little side stories to explore via arrows that go more in-depth about the refugee experience. If you have 20 minutes to kill today (and let’s face it, you do), take a moment to explore every morsel of this well-crafted adaptation.”

-The Absolute Staff

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