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2015 Favorites: realistic YA

dumplin' everything leads to you all the rage this side of home

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen: This is actually the first Sarah Dessen book I’ve ever read, and I’m really glad I picked it up. I really appreciated that Dessen writes a story that’s engaging and enjoyable and that at the same time shows a very realistic situation that rang really true for me.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han: The sequel to last year’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I really appreciated how Lara Jean’s interests and personality are portrayed with no judgement; she’s allowed to love traditionally feminine things, to care about her family and friends, to be interested in and confused by boys without being shamed for that. It’s sadly rare. And I also just really liked these stories; they’re such fun teen romances.

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour: This was such an enjoyable book, with a perfect summer romance feel. I really appreciated the way the story does look at issues of race and class, and I felt like it was a great balance of enjoyment and substance. Emi’s maturing over the course of the book was depicted very naturally, and I felt like LaCour does a great job of showing both her strengths and flaws without judgement.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee: Lee’s debut is historical fiction set during the California Gold Rush in 1849. I really liked the mixture of seriousness, adventure, and humor, and I so loved the way the story is centered on Sammy and Andy. They are each others’ major strength and support and while there is some romance, their relationship is really the heart of the book. I’m looking forward to Lee’s next book, Outrun the Moon

Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan: I’ve really been enjoying this slightly wacky Elizabethan spy series. In the second book, Beatrice has to navigate some tricky relationships and deal with her family and its past. I especially like the relationship between the different maids and the way they disagree while still backing each other up against the outside world and those who want to take advantage of them.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy: Willowdean and her voice made this one for me–I loved how complicated and messy and human she is. She’s not a message in human form; she’s entirely herself. This is all too rare, and I loved it. I also appreciated how much of the book is about her friendships with other girls, which I think helps to make her story even richer and more complex.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds: Matt’s life has been pretty messed up ever since his mom got sick and died, so it might seem a little strange that he decides to work at a funeral home. But in the end, it turns out to be a great decision, and a life-changing one. This book is on the quiet side, but I really appreciated the way it engages with questions about family and loss, and how it answers them without providing simplistic or easy answers. It also has some funny moments, and Matt’s voice is very strong.

Kissing Ted Callahan and Other Guys by Amy Spalding: I love Amy Spalding’s books, and I’m sad that I somehow missed writing about this one! It’s a really fun book, but it’s also–as I often find with Spalding–quietly questioning certain patterns in society. In this case, I liked how Riley is able to be interested in several guys without judgement, and the way the plot refuses to go in a cliched direction.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers: This was a hard read, but it’s so, SO important and valuable. I found Romy heart-breakingly believable and vulnerable; her journey through the course of this story really touched me. It’s a book about fallout, about finding a way through, and finding yourself again. It’s such a (sadly) timely book, and one that will resonate with so many readers.

This Side of Home by Reneé Watson: Watson’s YA debut is an incredibly thoughtful and nuanced story about growing up, about your home changing around you, and about learning to see your family in a new way. It looks at gentrification and its effects in a way that I think will resonate with a lot of readers around the country (it certainly did with me). It’s an important book, but it’s not didactic or preachy in any way.

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein: Wein’s latest book returns to Ethiopia, where her earlier Aksum series was set. I loved the story of Emilia and Teo, and their relationship as siblings. The story opens a fascinating and horrifying window into the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which is a too-forgotten part of history.

Six Impossible Things & Wildlife by Fiona Wood: Australian imports, which I highly recommend reading in the original publication order (they were published back to front over here). These are really character driven books, and I appreciated how well Wood captures the voice of smart and slightly pretentious teenagers. They’re kind of heart-breaking, but in a beautifully written way.

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bookish posts reviews

2015 Favorites: YA Science-fiction and fantasy

** NOTE: I’ve been acting as a judge for round 1 of the Cybils YA SF category, but the inclusion of any nominated books here should be taken as my personal opinion and not necessarily indicative of any shortlist, including my own **

inheritance of ashes love is the drug shadowshaper glitter and blood

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet: This book took me somewhat by surprise; I had heard good things about it, but I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. I wasn’t expecting to find a story that touched me so deeply personally. When I step back, I can see that it does a number of things that I love: setting is so important, it’s a story after the war ends, the language is poetic but not overblown, and the characters are complex. But really I don’t want to step back; I want to hold it close forever.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow: I’ve loved all of Bow’s books; the kind of characters and questions she writes about just work for me. In this case, I was impressed by the fact that this story doesn’t shy away from following through with threats, and yet it never loses sight of hope, or the importance of several different kinds of love. I loved Greta, and Da-Xia, and the thoughtful, complicated take on what makes us human.

Rook by Sharon Cameron: A YA retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel was always going to be a book I had to read, but I wound up being pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s less a straight retelling and more a story that touches on some of the same beats. I found the post-apocalyptic setting, and the characters to be fun and intriguing.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll: A YA graphic novel, with fairy-tale elements (especially Little Red Riding Hood). A lot of times horror stories don’t work really well for me, but in this case Carroll’s superb visual storytelling and the almost-familiarity of the stories were great. The ending is deliciously creepy, and I’m going to be watching for Carroll’s work in the future.

The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn: Hahn’s second novel is a quiet story about the Fates and what happens when they leave their tasks and involve themselves in mortal affairs. It’s thoughtful, sad, and beautifully written. While it does talk about big ideas, it’s definitely character-driven, and Chloe’s voice works so well for the story that’s being told here.

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson: This near future apocalyptic thriller is Johnson’s second book. I found it really thoughtful, but also just incredibly exciting. I liked the characters, especially Bird, appreciated how diverse the cast of characters was.

Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston: I wasn’t sure how this sequel to The Story of Owen would go, since that one seemed so strong on its own. As it turned out, Siobhan’s quiet and authoritative voice carried over perfectly, and the story was just as emotionally effective. I appreciated the way Siobhan’s learning to deal with her new physical reality is treated. And the ending had me in tears.

All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, About a Girl by Sarah McCarry: This was the year I finally read McCarry’s books to date, and WOW. Her language is absolutely gorgeous, rich and lush and powerful. The references to myths add depth to the stories, and the characters are complex and vivid. I especially loved About a Girl and the way we see Tally’s voice change over the course of the story.

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz: This is perhaps the most unusual book I read all year. Its setting and characters are hard and beautiful and flawed; the tricks it plays with narrative are impressive; the moment when we finally understand what’s happening worked so well for me. I know Moskowitz has written in several genres, but reading this one made me resolve to read her backlist asap.

Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier: The second book in the Black Dog series. I was really curious to see where Neumeier would go with this story; it definitely held some surprises! I love Natividad a lot, and I really liked Justin, who’s a new character in this book. Plus, the romance works for me. The world, with its shifting tensions and backgrounds, is really interesting. I’m looking forward to the third book.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older: Sierra’s story weaves in so many big issues: art, family, racism, and cultural appropriation. But they’re all centered on Sierra herself, whose voice I loved. She’s such a well-written character, in both her strengths and flaws. This is Older’s first YA book, and I hope it won’t be his last.

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett: It seems so fitting to me that Pratchett’s last book is a Tiffany Aching book, that it’s about the passing of a responsibility and power to a younger generation. I cried when I read the dedication and most of the way through the book. It’s a wonderful, heartbreaking goodbye to a beloved author, but even more, it’s a lovely book in its own right.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby: Bone Gap is such a magically beautiful book, with its rich language and echoes of myths and fairy tales. I loved that it takes these echoes of old stories and points out the darkness in them but also reinforces the importance of friendship and love and saving yourself. I especially loved Roza and Petey and felt that they’re at the heart of this book.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson: I’ve loved Nimona ever since it was being published as a webcomic and seeing it as a book gave me a weird sense of pride (although I did miss all the comments from other readers). I love Nimona and the way she’s understood and portrayed. And the setting and other characters are also so enjoyable–I was just as invested on this second read.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma: This is a weird book which rewards the patient reader. But the story that unfolds deals thoughtfully with friendship between girls, privilege, and revenge. The language is lush and helps to both reveal and obscure the motivations of the characters. And I found the resolution incredibly powerful.

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson: Although these maybe aren’t technically considered YA, Kamala is a teenager and these comics had a very YA sensibility to me. I absolutely love what I’ve read of Kamala’s story to date–Wilson’s smart and snarky dialogue, the thoughtful storylines, and the great art all combine to be hugely enjoyable.

 

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bookish posts reviews

2015 Favorites: middle grade

pocket full of murder akata witch murder is bad manners gone crazy in alabama
A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson: This was one of my most anticipated books this year, and it totally lived up to my expectations. Isaveth is a great character, and the plot is exciting and engaging. Plus, the story takes a thoughtful look at religion and class. AND there are some quiet references to Golden Age mysteries.

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste: Baptiste’s second book is a perfectly scary one for this age level, drawing on stories from her background in Trinidad. I loved Corinne’s strength and stubbornness, and the way she learns to reach out to others, as well as coming to terms with her family’s past and her heritage.

Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry: I debated on whether to put this one in YA or middle grade, but in the end I stuck it here because I think that the right 13-14 year old reader is going to adore this story. It sounds sort of awful to say that I laughed the whole time, since it opens with a double murder, but I did. I loved the relationships between the girls and the mystery, and just the whole thing.

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall: It’s no secret that I love the Penderwicks, and I was curious and apprehensive about how this one would go, since it jumps several years time-wise. I ended up loving it just as much as the others–maybe even more so–although it’s also more heartbreaking.

Jinx’s Fire by Sage Blackwood: The third book in the lovely Jinx trilogy. I’ve enjoyed spending time in the Urwald and with the characters in this series so much. Jinx himself is a great protagonist, but add in Sophie, and Simon, and Elfwyn, and the whole book becomes so much richer. Great mg fantasy which kids love!

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay: This had been on my TBR for awhile, but when my friend Chachic hosted a month-long promotion of Filipino books and authors, I knew I had to pick it up. Told in alternating narratives between Andi and her half-brother Nardo, it focuses mostly on family and what happens when your definition has to change. I really liked the way Gourlay portrayed both Nardo and Andi, as they learn to find their own strengths.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson: While they are totally understandable (and even correct), the comparisons to Raina Telgemeier’s books shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this is a delightful story in its own right. I really appreciated the way Jamieson shows Astrid’s struggle as she tries to find her place when her world is changing around her. I also liked that she’s not instantly good at roller derby, and the nuances of her friendships.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones: An epistolary novel, as written by Sophie. Sophie has just moved with her parents to her great-uncle’s small farm, and isn’t happy about this. But then she discovers a mysterious chicken and strange events begin to unfold. This is a lovely example of magical realism, both funny and heartwarming. I truly enjoyed Sophie’s adventures and hope she’ll be back for more.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye: Nye’s quiet realistic story of a young boy who is moving to the US from Oman was a total joy. It’s a book that should be savored, and it’s one that takes the interior life of children seriously. Nye’s language is beautiful (not surprising as she’s also a poet) and the fears and hopes of moving are nicely drawn.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor: It took me so long to actually read this one, and I’m glad I did and sorry I waited. Sunny’s journey as she comes into her powers and herself is a really wonderful one, and I loved the relationships between her and the other magical students. I’m hoping there will eventually be a sequel.

The Fog Diver by Joel Ross: Sometimes I find mg dystopia stories a little bit simplistic, but this one is smart and engaging. Although Chess is the narrator and main character, I really did feel that the story was a shared one. The idea of the Fog is an interesting one, and the way it’s used in the story worked really well for me.

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens: A middle-grade murder mystery set in a 1930s English boarding school, narrated by the wonderful Hazel Wong. This is a UK import and I had been hearing good things about it. It’s ended up being one of my favorites of the year by far. I love Hazel and her funniness, her fierceness and introspection, as she attempts to navigate being Daisy’s best friend, being from Hong Kong–and also solving a mystery. The second book is just as good!

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon: An utterly delightful fantasy. Molly is a witch who needs a castle, and Castle Hangnail is a castle that needs a master or mistress. But neither of them get quite what they expect. This is wickedly funny, but it’s also about choosing our paths and finding our places.

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia: The last book in the Gaither sisters trilogy! I can’t say how much I love Delphine, and Vonetta and Fern. I felt that each book was deep and complex, and this one really looked at the shadows that family history can cast. The sisters gain a different understanding of Big Ma, and of themselves.

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bookish posts reviews

2015 Favorites: adult fiction

sorcerer to the crown uprooted once upon a rose ancillary mercypersona

The later Foreigner books by C.J. Cherryh: Cherryh’s Foreigner books continue to be some of my favorite science fiction out there. With their emphasis on character, political diplomacy, and a clash of cultures, they’re more intimate and engaging to me than explosiony SF. But they’re still exciting, not to say nerve-wracking; Cherryh’s writing here is a masterclass on how to write heart-stopping books without much plot.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho: I can’t even tell you much much I loved this book. It’s one of the mostly purely enjoyable things I’ve read all year. It’s smart, thoughtful about issues of gender and race, funny, and empathetic. I loved Prunella and Zacharias and can’t wait to re-read this book, and read more set in this world.

Jaran by Kate Elliott: I’ve read several books by Kate Elliott, but not nearly all her backlist. I kept hearing good things about this one, though, so I gave it a try. Loved the evocative description of the setting, the characters and romance, and the interesting worldbuilding.

Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand: The first full length book in Florand’s new Provence series, I found this one entirely delightful. Matthieu is such a grumpy, warm-hearted bear, and I loved Layla and her journey a lot. Plus, there are gorgeous descriptions of Provence and the rose harvest.

A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand: This is the second in the Provence series, and I might have even loved it a little more than the first one! I found Jess and Damien to be really strong characters and the way they have to work past their issues really made the book for me. (It’s a plotline that could easily be done really badly but wasn’t here.) Plus, more gorgeous descriptions!

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein: My friend Jenny had read this one and her review sounded so interesting that I knew I had to pick it up. The idea of the steerswomen is such a different one, and I thought Kirstein showed its implications really well. Rowan is a great character, and her world is by turns beautiful, sad, and surprising.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: A lot was riding on whether Leckie would be able to pull off this final book in her first trilogy. She did, with ease. It’s a wonderful look at identity, and community, and family. It’s by turns hilarious and heart-breaking–sometimes on the same page. I can’t wait to read whatever she publishes next.

True Pretenses by Rose Lerner: I loved this one a lot! It’s a historical romance featuring two people with secrets, which sometimes annoys me but which worked really well here. I love Lerner’s books in general and this one in particular because they’re aware of the actual historical moment (no dukes here!), while still being enjoyable to read and having a satisfying conclusion.

Dandy Gilver by Catriona McPherson: These are not in any way great books, but they were exactly what I was in the mood for at one point: fairly well written historical mysteries, featuring a smart female detective. By the later books they’re sometimes a big predictable, and yet I don’t really care.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik: Reading Uprooted felt like reading an old friend for the first time. A friend said that on Twitter (I think it was RJ Anderson) and it’s so true. This is a lovely book in the tradition of my favorite YA fairy tale retellings, and yet not quite. I love Agnieszka and the lovely descriptions of magic, her village, and her friendship with Kasia. I know others have had issues with the romance; for me it worked somehow. This was a joy to read and I’m hoping to re-read it soon.

The Water Devil and The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley: I absolutely love Judith Merkle Riley’s books, which are great antidotes to the kind of grimdark reading of medieval women. The characters in her books are vital and flawed and funny and totally human. There’s so much wit and warmth and humor in these stories, although they also deal with some important things. I have one of her books left unread and I almost don’t want to read it because then I’ll be done.

Point of Honour by Madeleine Robins: Towards the end of the year, I got into this mood where all I wanted to read was really good alternative histories by and about women. Robins’ Sarah Tolerance mysteries were perfect: Sarah is a wonderful main character and at the same time, Robins conveys a sense of her very human limitations and biases. I wish there were one more book, mostly because I’d love to get a bit more.

Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones: I first heard about this via Liz Bourke, and it sounded like the perfect thing to follow up from Robins’ books above. It’s a great story, set in a fictional European country, with a really interesting system of magic. I especially liked the way Jones treats the relationship between religion and magic here. Margerit and Barbara are wonderful characters and I enjoyed their journey a great deal.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar: It took me too long to get around to this one, because when I finally did read it, I loved it! Jevick’s voice is so perfect, and the language and pitch work beautifully. It’s a book that looks at colonialism and racism in a subtle but pointed way. There’s a sequel out next year, I believe, and I’m looking forward to it.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: Augh, this book is full of feels. I almost had the sense that it was written for the Tumblr generation–and I’m including myself in that. So many secrets and betrayals and heartbreaking revelations–and yet it all works! The writing is lovely, especially the sense of the different Londons, and I’m already waiting to be punched in the heart with the next book.

Persona by Genevieve Valentine: This is so different from last year’s Girls at the Kingfisher Club, which I loved, and yet it’s also fantastic. Valentine is clearly a writer to watch out for. Persona takes place in a near-future world, and I liked the way this played out. Mostly, though it was Suyana and Daniel and their story that engaged me immediately and didn’t let me go until the end.

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bookish posts reviews

2015 Favorites: non-fiction

ravensbruck village of secrets call the midwife how to be a victorian The Bletchley Girls

Ravensbrück by Sarah Helm: Pretty much without a doubt, my favorite non-fiction book of the year was Sarah Helm’s Ravensbrück. It’s rare for me to feel emotional about non-fiction, but in this case I was totally invested, to the point of tears. Helm’s account of the women in the Ravensbrück camp is astoundingly detailed, but never loses sight of the fact that she is talking about real people. By both providing personal accounts and giving them context, she allows both immediacy and understanding of complexities. (When this person was speaking, and to whom, for instance.) It’s a truly impressive book, but even more so, it bears witness to the women who wanted nothing more than to tell the world what happened there.

How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman: There are a number of books about daily life in the Victorian era, but Goodman is able to give her personal experiences with various daily chores and routines. Because of this, and her thoughtful understanding of the Victorian worldview and life, it stands pretty far above any similar book I’ve ever read. She is clear about where the Victorian methods make sense and where they were disastrous. All in all, I felt this did a good job of neither sentimentalizing nor condemning, but attempting to make sense of Victorian daily life.

Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead: I found Moorehead’s examination of the very complex history of the Vivarais Plateau during World War II to be fascinating on several levels. First, she takes a great look at the myths and stories we tell about it, and where they come from. Second, she delves into the actual records and eyewitness accounts with great scholarship. In the end, what she presents is a much richer, more human, and in a way more understandable account of the village of Le Chambon and the other villages on the Plateau. I didn’t see it as denigrating; in fact, it seemed to honor the actual character of the people involved. And I’m still thinking about the way history twists into myth.

The Bletchley Girls by Tessa Dunlop: This fits nicely into the themes I’ve been talking about already in this post. Dunlop looks at the young women (some of them really girls) who worked at, or in connection with, the Bletchley Park project. As Dunlop weaves their stories together, it becomes clear that the idea of the idealistic and brilliant code breakers is over-done; that many of the girls who worked there found their work drudgery; and that some of them did not feel that it changed their lives significantly. On the other hand, for others, it opened a new sense of possibilities, or the chance to develop life-long friendships.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth: I’ve loved this show a lot, so I thought I should read Worth’s original memoir. It’s interesting to encounter the originals of stories I already knew–and it reinforced my sense that the writers had done an excellent job of crafting a narrative that hews pretty close to Worth’s own words but has a structure that works for TV. While I do like the tv show more as a narrative, I also appreciated Worth’s perspective and experiences.

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reviews

2015 Favorites: Blog posts and series

Today, I’m taking a look back at some of my favorite posts and series from the last year’s worth of blogging.

Reading Notes

One of the projects I’m happiest with this year is the Reading Notes series I’ve done. It gives me a chance to look more deeply at books that I love, and to spend time working out some of the layers & complexities of their stories. Plus, I get to re-read some of my favorite authors! I’m definitely planning to continue this series in the new year.

Diana Wynne Jones: The Dark Lord of Derkholm, Hexwood, Howl’s Moving Castle, Archer’s Goon 

Dorothy Sayers: Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon

Patricia McKillip: Alphabet of Thorn, Riddle Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, Harpist in the Wind

Reviews

An Inheritance of Ashes: I felt that this was a tricky review to write, but I think I did manage to convey why I loved this book so much, and hopefully convinced some other people to pick it up.

Ancillary Mercy: Leckie is a very interesting author to review, because she’s doing so much in one story–there are questions of identity, colonialism, what it means to be part of a system, etc, etc. Trying to do justice to all of this can be a bit daunting, but I’m happy with how this review turned out.

Sorcerer to the Crown: Usually my review writing voice and my gushy Twitter voice are pretty distinct, but in this case I found Sorcerer to the Crown to be just so fun that I semi-consciously wrote it in a much more telling-a-friend-about-it style.

Ravensbrück: Again, this is a review that was hard to write, because I wanted to do justice to the stories of the women who were featured in the book, and that’s very difficult to do in such a short space. But I’m very satisfied with the result.

Black Dove, White Raven: Writing about Black Dove, White Raven was a really interesting exercise in how to balance my personal reaction (ie, that I loved this book) with the awareness of wider issues in publishing and society.

Other blog posts

Bullet Journalish planning and Bullet Journaling, revisited: These were two of the most popular posts on my blog this year, and since I love talking about organization, I find this pretty fun. I’m planning a follow up post, probably in early January.

Favorite heroines: This was just such a fun post to write–I love talking about my favorite female characters and what I find engaging, or challenging, or valuable in them.

2015 Hugos: A personal reaction: I feel like I really managed to sum up how I felt about the results of this year’s Hugo Awards, which–considering the context–is harder than it sounds.

 

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movies music reviews

2015 Favorites: TV, movies, and music

hamiltonThis was a somewhat disappointing year for me, tv & movie-wise. While there were some shows I really enjoyed, there weren’t any new ones I found to get super excited about, until I discovered the Great British Bake Off at the end of the year and absolutely fell in love. I also found that I didn’t love any of the movies I saw in theatres (hoping that Mockingjay & Star Wars will reverse that trend) which was frustrating since I was really excited for them.

However, I also wasn’t very deliberate about what I was watching–an episode here or there on Netflix or library DVD. I want to try to make a plan for 2016, so I’m not so behind on shows I really do want to catch up on (Elementary & Person of Interest, eg).

TV

Parks & Rec: The last season aired and I have so many conflicting feelings: sadness that it’s gone, and happiness that it ended on a great note, and a very slight let-down about the season as a whole. Despite that, Parks has become one of my absolute favorite TV shows of all time, and I’m just glad that I can revisit Pawnee whenever I feel like it.

Great British Bake Off: I cannot tell you how delighted I am by this show. Okay, I can try. I’m not a big reality tv watcher, nor do I particularly get the appeal of most cooking reality shows in particular. But I could happily live in the GBBO tent and have Mary Berry say gently critical things to me while I sip my tea. I’m sure there are tensions we don’t necessarily see, but this is the most cozy of reality shows and I love it.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Miss Fisher FINALLY RETURNED TO US. While I think the first two seasons are maybe a bit stronger, I don’t particularly care; I’m a Phryne fan for life. And this one definitely had some strong episodes and moments. Also some very swoony ones, and yes I mean the end of that last episode how DARE they. I’m curious to know if there will be another season, as the end of this one seemed like it could act as the finale to the show. (Obviously I want more, but…I’m curious.)

Person of Interest: I fell a bit behind on this one, but I think this is such an interesting show, despite my residual ire over the death of one of the main characters and the way it was handled. Regardless, I love Shaw and Root’s developing relationship, and while this is maybe a bit more dude-heavy than the other shows I love, I do find Finch and Reese relatively compelling as characters.

Movies

Mad Max Fury Road: I wasn’t sure that I would like this movie at all, but I did. To the extent that I’ve watched it twice now and loved it just as much and maybe even more the second time. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s smart and thoughtful and exciting, and I loved the characters. There are a lot of layers to this one, and I’ve enjoyed thinking about them since watching it.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: I know this came out last year and was on last year’s list. I don’t care. I rewatched it after the disappointment that was Age of Ultron (sighhhhhhhh) and was afraid it wouldn’t be good anymore. But it was! I still love it to a slightly unreasonable degree! Dang it, Whedon!

Belle: I watched this fictionalized biopic of Dido Elizabeth Belle back in March. It’s beautiful shot and acted, and it’s such a powerful piece of history and representation. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a luminous actress, and she brings so much depth and nuance to this role.

Beyond the Lights: Funnily enough, my last favorite movie for the year also stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw! The Two Bossy Dames sometimes host a livetweet and this was the latest one–it’s a great romcom with Mbatha-Raw as a superstar and Nate Parker as a cop who enters her life. It was really smart and heartfelt and fun.

Music

HAMILTON: You probably all know this by now, but my Hamilton fangirl-ness shows absolutely no signs of abating. It’s hilarious, it’s heartbreaking, it’s so full of layers and complexity, it asks us to take a look at history and the stories we tell. And the music & cast are wonderful.

There are a couple of people I’ve started to listen to and really like but haven’t listened to exhaustively: Phildel, Sarah Jarosz, and Isla Cameron. I also liked Emily Smith’s new album, although not quite as much as her previous ones.