The Year In Books: 2016

2016. That was a year. A year of a few personal highs and so many communal lows.

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Anyway as I’ve done for several years now, I kept a list of all the books, audiobooks, comics and so on that I read over the year. It’s my way of keeping a record of the year, based on the stories I’ve consumed.

Now on to the numbers.

I read:

111 books in total

63 print books

48 audiobooks

10 Ebooks

39 comic books (I count trade paperback collections and single issues read as a full arc together, but not single issues read month to month as they’re released)

11 short story collections or novellas (don’t count single short stories read outside of collections)

16 borrowed from the library

25 borrowed from friends

1 read for critique

37 YA

15 Middle Grade

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Favorite reads:

Nimona, Noelle Stevenson

The Raven Cycle books 2 through 4, Maggie Stiefvater (I read book 1 in a previous year)

Kindred Spirits, Rainbow Rowell

The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey

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Honorable mentions:

The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein

Black Out and All Clear, Connie Willis

The Lunar Chronicles Books 2 through 4.5, Marissa Meyer

The Paradox Trilogy, Rachel Bach

Favorite author numbers:

Suzanna Clarke 1

Noelle Stevenson 5

Neil Gaiman 2

Jasper Fforde 1

Maggie Stiefvater 3

Gene Luen Yang 2

Rainbow Rowell 1

J.K Rowling 1

G. Willow Wilson 5

Marissa Meyer 5

Jonathan Carroll 1

Connie Willis 2

Sarah Vowell 2

Lish McBride 1

Carrie Fisher 2 (I’m still processing her loss)

Holly Black 2

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Book related highlights:

Viable Paradise 20 was undoubtedly the best thing I did all year. It was incredible. I wish I could do it all over again. Thank you thank you to the instructors, staff, and fellow students for the amazing week.

There was also Wiscon. I participated in their one-day critique workshop. Went to panels, readings, and signings from the likes of Nalo Hopkinson, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Scalzi (who made a surprise appearance at the sign out). I ate breakfast for dinner with the Geek Girl Brunch Crew and geeked out about The Force Awakens.

Sadly I missed what was probably the last Nerdcon Stories because it conflicted with VP.

I read a story at the annual MinnSpec Reading.

And in March I went to London and Ireland for two weeks. It was a lovely trip. The book related highlights of the trip were taking a tour of the Globe Theatre, and the Harry Potter Studio tour. Though there were plenty of times where just walking the streets and riding the tube brought up associations with books. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Connie Willis’s Oxford time Travel series in particular.

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Hey look it’s the Sorting Hat!

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Hey look it’s a phoenix.

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Hey look it’s Shakespeare’s Globe.

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Hey look it’s Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Mr. Dunworthy’s team must have figured out how to save it after all!

Finally, I’ll leave you with a picture of my to-read shelves. It’s kind of out of hand and doesn’t even include the audiobooks, ebooks, and comics.

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So many books.

These are the ones I plan to read first.

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2017 please be gentle with us.

Lots of photos plus a video.

This October I attended the Viable Paradise workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. It was incredible. I learned so much and bonded with my class of fellow authors. I feel like I could write thousands of words and not really capture the feel of it. So instead I’ll post some photos.

First is the class photo with the instructors. I love everyone in this picture. Except for Jamie. (He knows what he did.)

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Kind of cool fun fact, 19 of the 24 students this year were women. I am so proud to have been a part of this class. Pay attention to these names, you will be seeing them in magazines and bookstore shelves not too long from now.

In other news: Martha’s Vineyard is gorgeous. I did a terrible job capturing it. As shown here.

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My classmates Fred G. Yost and Karen Osborne did a much better job.

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See? So pretty! Also shockingly like Stars Hollow.

And here are a couple of mementos I came away with.

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That would be a pile of feedback for my submission novella.

Not shown: a newly written story, an idea for another, a mug, a tee shirt, and a green rubber snake.

So to wrap up I would 100% recommend Viable Paradise to all aspiring spec-fic writers.

 

And here is a video taken last month of me reading the beginning of my novella at Word Brew 2016 (while wearing my VP shirt).

 

 

I’m weird

I was going through my notes archive and found this weird little thing I wrote a few years ago. Enjoy!

 

How to Cook and Eat the Avengers

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So you’re thinking of invading Earth. I’m sure you’ve already got a detailed plan for how to defeat The Avengers, but have you thought of what to do with them next? With the proper preparation, each Avenger will yield a unique and memorable meal.

Iron Man:
Place live Avenger in a large stock pot of tepid water. Slowly increase temperature until struggling ceases. Do not be disturbed if you hear a noise akin to screaming, it’s merely his soul escaping his body and does not last long. If you are squeamish, get him intoxicated prior to cooking, he’s less likely to notice. Once fully cooked, break through exoskeleton and enjoy.

Captain America:
Season liberally with cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg. Wrap in pastry dough and deep fry until golden brown. Serve immediately or freeze to eat later.

Black Widow:
Eat raw. This Avenger has a natural kick.

The Hulk:
If obtained when fully ripe (dark green) this Avenger will serve a large gathering. Roast on a spit for at least eight hours and carve. Meat will be tender and juicy. Do not cook if meat is pink, servings will be small and bitter.

Hawkeye:
Generally bland. Smoke or marinate to infuse with flavor. Best on sandwiches.

Thor:
Only for the daring of palate. Flavor is strong and like many Scandinavian cuisines, the aftertaste can be unpleasant. Pair with pungent cheese and amber ale.

Bon appétit!

On the inevitable danger of revivals. Or, Oh god Gilmore Girls please be good!

I’ve been rewatching Gilmore Girls recently. I started before the announcement of the revival because I had the DVDs and hadn’t seen it since it first aired. I was doing a season every few months but sped up once Netflix declared a November release date for the new series. Watching so many episodes in such a short time, I’ve noticed a few things that I didn’t the first time around.

I relate to Paris more than is probably healthy. Rory’s hair is almost always fantastic. Lorelai’s hair alternates between fantastic and highly questionable.

Rory’s boyfriends were all horrible. Seriously Logan Huntzberger is the walking embodiment of white privilege with the added bonus of being a master in the art of gaslighting. Fuck that guy.

On a very tangential tangent, in an episode I just watched, Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. popped up in a tiny role as the editor of Princeton’s newspaper who participated in a panel about college papers with Rory. He has two lines and is referred to as Pompous Princeton Guy. And he is sooooo superior to all of Rory’s canonical love interests! I now only want him to return and sweep her off her feet. Dean, Jess, and Logan need never be seen again. Okay, I’ll allow Jess to appear but only because he’s important to Luke and he’s the only one of the three to have a little positive character development. But anyway Rory + Burr now and forever! Wouldn’t proud DAR member Emily be delighted? Even if he is a villain in our history books.

The elder Gilmores can be infuriating, but it’s hard to hate them. And seeing Emily as a widow is going to be intense.

Lane’s season seven plot is so egregious it makes me wonder if Keiko Agena did something unspeakable to one of the writers’ dogs in real life?

But the thing I need to talk about, the thing that makes me trepidatious about the new episodes is that there are a lot of gay and fat jokes. I texted my sister about it the other night. I going to paste parts of our conversation below since I articulated most of what was bothering me. Also, I’m lazy.

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Let’s pause here. As I said the gay jokes tend to be in the vein that the concept of homosexuality is inherently funny. There isn’t any sense that the people making the jokes think gay people are disgusting or unnatural. But references to anything related to queer culture is treated like a punchline.

Pajiba actually ran a think piece on the subject in 2015 that I found while looking for examples. The full article can be found here. The following quote pretty much sums up my thoughts on the tone of the jokes and my reaction to them.

“But I’m not here to review the show (though I’ll toss out the obligatory flashing of Gilmore gang tattoos by declaring that I’m 100% Team Jess), I just wanted to throw out an oddity I noticed. That show has at least every couple of episodes a throwaway gay joke that is just flat uncomfortable. None of them are particularly offensive, in fact all of them are basically the same joke: guys without girlfriends are obviously closeted gays. Joke that Luke has a date after years of not, well good for him, people were starting to talk, HAHAHAHA. Town dysfunctional Kurt manages to get a girlfriend, nice, because you know what people were starting to think, HAHAHAHA.
I’m certainly not trying to slam the show as homophobic, but it’s a fascinating example of how that slow movement of what is culturally acceptable happens without us even noticing. It’s one thing to point out that James Bond was a misogynistic douche in movies made fifty years ago. That seems enough time for us to recognize that times and culture change. But Gilmore Girls is barely a decade old, so being able to pick up on the way that shift has slowly happened is intriguing. …But what’s interesting about noticing it in the annals of Stars Hollow is that it’s not special, it’s just the passing and casual jokes.
I remember it being that way, and most of you probably do, too. At one point, those jokes were funny. Now they’re not. They’re uncomfortable because you realize they’re hurtful, even if people then didn’t find them that way.”

The fat jokes are worse in my opinion because they do often equate fat with gross or pitiful. There are a few overweight characters on the show, and to its credit, the fat jokes are never directed at them. When the show pokes fun at Lorelai’s best friend and business partner Sookie, it’s about her quirkiness or that she’s easily distracted. Not about her weight. If they make a joke at the expense of dance teacher Miss Patty it’s about her past as a showgirl or her taste for younger men. If they’re going to make fun of Taylor the town’s resident bureaucrat and boy do they ever, it’s because he’s a control freak and borderline megalomaniac. It’s not about weight. It’s almost like the characters are multifaceted and can’t be reduced to a single physical attribute. It’s one of the reasons I really love the show.

Full disclosure I identify as bi and physically I am a lot closer to Sookie or Babette or Ceaser the Second than I am to Lorelai or Rory. If that makes me more sensitive to these types of jokes, so be it.

Despite not fat shaming their characters, the writers still go for the fat jokes. They just aim them at people who don’t appear on camera. Like celebrities or random people they run into offscreen. I haven’t been cataloging the jokes but one from an episode I watched a not too long ago went something like this.

Lorelai and Luke return to the diner after a day at the mall. Lorelai looks into a shopping bag and says “What’s this?” displaying something pink and silky. Luke says “it’s the underwear you bought.” Lorelai feigns offense and shows a pair panties to him and the audience. They are large and unflattering. Luke says he didn’t notice the size and they speculate that they switched bags with another woman at the store. If that were the end of it, it would be about the same level of dated and awkward as the gay jokes. But it doesn’t stop there. Lorelai continues to pretend outrage at being mistaken for a fat person and goes on and on about how sad the woman was, implying that she’s a lonely spinster with too many cats. Based only on the fact that she is fat and I think a cat related bumper sticker. Is it obvious Lorelai is joking and not really angry at almost being called fat? Yes. But it’s still a good three or four minutes of fat shaming, presented as charming banter.

And it looks like I’m not the only one to pick up on it this time around. I found this article on Bustle while again searching for examples.

Okay back to the texts.

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I meant Melissa McCarthy, not McCartney.

I doubt the revival will make Melissa McCarthy jokes unless it’s a winking “How about that all female Ghostbusters remake?” But I can see them making “harmless” fat jokes about Rebel Wilson or Gabourey Sidibe or Lea DeLaria. At least they would during the show’s original run. My hope is they won’t in the upcoming Netflix series.

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When I say it wasn’t as progressive as those other shows I mean that I don’t recall them casually tossing off fat jokes in the same manner. Though I haven’t rewatched them quite as recently so I could be misremembering.

However, those shows didn’t feature any important characters that weren’t Hollywood’s default body type. So in that way, Gilmore Girls was the more progressive show. In fact, they’re still way ahead in that respect. I can’t think of a single current CW show (Gilmore’s former network) with a fat character in the cast. Vampire Diaries? No. The Berlanti DCverse? Don’t watch all of them but I don’t think so. Not Supernatural either. The closest I can come up with is Jane from Jane the Virgin while she was pregnant. Which does not count at all. At least I hope most people would not count pregnant as a fat. Nope Gilmore Girls was definitely and sadly ahead of the curve not just by portraying fat people as complex, interesting people, but by even acknowledging their existence.

By the way, Orange is the New Black is a great example of a show featuring people but mostly woman of all shapes and sizes. And it’s a huge hit. So now Hollywood has to admit that not-skinny people exist! They’re just all in prison!

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So that’s the crux of my worries about the revival. I love the show. I loved it back then, and I’m thrilled to be getting more. I’m eager to see Luke and Lorelai reunite. Because c’mon they have to. I want to know how Emily is coping without Richard. How Rory’s writing is going. How many more careers Kirk has collected. Heck, I’m even curious whether Paul Anka the dog conquered his many neuroses. But I worry that with all the expectations creator Amy Sherman Palladino will either A) not be aware that attitudes have changed since the show went off the air. Or B) will feel that doing anything differently will be a betrayal to the fans.

I don’t want new episodes of Gilmore Girls that feel like they were written in 2006. Even if it would be the best show of 2006. And Gilmore Girls possibly was the best show of 2006. I want fantastic episodes of Gilmore Girls written, produced, and aired right now.

I’m still prepared to follow where the Gilmore Girls lead, just not quite as blithely as I was before revisiting the show.

Finally, mosquitos are the worst and I need them to stop.

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And on that note. I’m done.

My Star Wars Theory

Alright, this post contains spoilers for the Star Wars Episode 7. It also contains a theory that I feel is pretty solid so could be a spoiler for future episodes. You have been warned.

After seeing Star Wars: the Force Awakens last December I felt pretty confident I knew who Rey was and why and how she’d been abandoned on an isolated desert planet. The clues were all there in the film.

Since then I’ve seen many theories. Several match mine in part, but not entirely. So I thought I’d put it out there.

I believe Rey is Luke’s daughter. Which isn’t much of a stretch. She is strong in the force. His lightsaber chooses her. She’s a gifted pilot. Visually she’s his echo in her costume and the environment we originally see her in. They end the film face to face with Skywalker hero music swelling. Plenty of people have come to the same conclusion.

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(Though some think she’s Han and Leia’s daughter, and others think Obi Wan’s granddaughter. I think Luke makes the most sense. Other people really want her not to be a Skywalker or Solo because why does the hero always have to be from one bloodline? I somewhat agree but it’s Star Wars and why else make such mystery of who her parents are? Besides, we’ve got Finn and Poe as our non-Skywalker heroes).

All the other theories I’ve seen conclude that Rey was left/hidden on Jaaku to keep her safe. Some say by Luke, others by her Aunt Leia, others by her as yet unidentified mother. This is where my theory differs.

What we know for sure is that Rey at the age of 3 or 4 was left on a remote planet in the hands of a scavenger. She remembers a ship flying away as she screamed for it to come back and not to leave her. She seems to have grown up on her own, with no one looking after her. Her memories before arriving on Jaaku are pretty much nonexistent, but she believes that the person who left her there was family. And she clings to the belief they will come back.

I find it very hard to believe that anyone who cared about little Rey would’ve thought leaving her to be raised by an uncaring scavenger/merchant, or alternatively raise herself was the safe option. Though it does seem to have worked out.

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He did not strike me as a loving foster father.

So here’s my theory. I’ve not looked everywhere so it’s possible someone has already come up with this. It’s based only on evidence in the movie. I’ve thought this since I first left the theater and it still feels right.

Luke has a daughter with someone. I have no theory on who. Things are idyllic for a few years; he’s busily training his new class of Jedi. His daughter, who is probably not named Rey, shows signs of being strong in the force, and he has plans to start training her in a year or two.

Then Leia sends her son Ben to Luke to train. She’s worried because he is drawn to the dark side. Especially troubling is his deification of Grandpa Vader. She believes only Luke can bring him back to the light. Han firmly disagrees, causing a rift between them. None of them know that Ben has already been recruited and is being corrupted by the Sith, Commander Snoke.

To complete Ben’s turn to the dark side, he’s ordered to kill all the potential Jedi, just as his grandfather did before him. He joins the Knights of Ren, taking the name Kylo Ren. It’s worth noting that the only time we see the Knights of Ren in the entire movie is during Rey’s vision.

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In fairness, this could be a vision of the future and not the past.
So Kylo and the Knights of Ren kill all of Luke’s students. Kylo then goes to kill the lone remaining future Jedi, his little cousin. He kills her mother and comes close to killing her. But as we’ve seen in the movie, the light side still has a hold on him, and he can’t do it.

So he grabs her, steals a ship, and dumps her on Jaaku, believing she’s as good as dead. And is at least out of his way. He tells his master he killed her.

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Kylo is the family she screaming at to come back. A four-year-old who’s seen her mother murdered and has been left to fend for herself could easily forget her past.

Meanwhile Luke comes back from wherever he was when all this went down. He sees the aftermath of a massacre and believes his daughter was killed by his nephew along with her mother and all his students. Despondent, he disappears to atone for his failure as Jedi, teacher, uncle, and father.
(It makes more sense to me that he’d disappear thinking his daughter was dead rather than him knowing she survived and dropping her in the desert before going off to sulk.)

Han and Leia split after learning what their son has done and what he’s become. Each feeling they made the wrong choices and are unworthy of the other.

There are a few moments in the film that back this up that I haven’t mentioned yet.

The first is when the stormtroopers report to Kylo Ren that they traced the droid with the maps to Luke to Jaaku but they lost it again because of a girl. What does Kylo do on hearing about the girl from Jaaku? He flips his shit.

And when his team arrives at Maz Kanata’s castle, who does he capture? Not the droid the First Order has been chasing for the first half of the movie. Not his father who he hates. But Rey. The cousin he failed to kill.

There’s also the matter of Han and Rey’s apparent connection. Sure he could just be admiring the scrappy kid with the excellent piloting skills and an affinity for his beloved Falcon. But there are a couple of moments he seems choked up when talking to her.

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Some people take this as an indication that he realizes she is his long lost daughter. I’m not buying it. He and Leia discuss their fallen son but never mention any other children. Even if it’s a painful subject, you’d think it’d come up. After all, their whole conversation is painful subjects.

I think he’s recognizing certain traits in her that remind him of his old pal/brother in law. Plus he probably would’ve known the mother of Luke’s child, and could be reminded of her as well. He sees that Rey may be the child he thought his son had murdered decades ago. Maybe his son isn’t as lost as he thought. What does he do next? Volunteer for a mission that’ll put him right in the path of his son.

So that’s my theory. We’ll have to wait until 2018 to find out if I’m even close.

Picture Time: Arya at the Plaza

This was fun to draw. Arya is neck and neck with Brienne of Tarth for my favorite GOT character. Which means I’m in constant fear for their lives whenever they’re on screen or in a POV chapter. SO it’s nice to imagine an alternate universe where Arya is the star of a picture book series. image

The Year in Books: 2015

As I’ve done for the past five years, I kept a list of all the books I read in the past year. Each year the list has gotten longer.

Total Books Read: 102

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Of those:
46 print books
56 audiobooks

Of those:
24 graphic novels
8 ebooks
4 read for critique
16 borrowed from the library
13 short story collections or novellas
30 young adult
9 Middle Grade

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Favorite author numbers:

3 Neil Gaiman
3 Rainbow Rowell
2 George RR Martin
4 Holly Black
1 Jo Walton
1 Jonathan Carroll
1 Jim Butcher
1 Connie Willis

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Favorite Reads:
Eleanor and Park and Carry On both by Rainbow Rowell
The Darkest Part of the Forrest by Holly Black

Honorable Mentions:
The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland For a Little While and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making both by Catherynne M Valente
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
The Martian by Andy Weir
Hold Me Closer Necromancer and Necromancing the Stone both by Lish McBride
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Ballroom Blitz by Veronica Schanoes

Lots of great books this year! I could add another fifteen or so honorable mentions, but I don’t want this post to go on forever. I didn’t even list any comics! Comics are the best!

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Book related highlights:

I did some writing. And am still query agents. It’s a long process. A story I wrote a while back was published in the MinnSpec anthology By Polaris Bright. And a Game of Thrones parody I wrote was published on McSweeney’s here.

I attended Wiscon and saw the Tiptree Award ceremony. I’ve already read one of the shared winners, My Real Children, which was wonderful. I’m really looking forward to reading the other, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne. I went to readings or panels with Alaya Dawn Johnson, Eleanor Arnason, Ellen Kushner, N.K Jemisin, and many many others. I came home with lots of new books and haven’t begun to dig into then yet. Chances are high a few of them will make it onto the next few years’ lists.

While the convention itself was pretty awesome, my favorite part of the trip was listening to the audiobook of the Martian with my sister and brother-in-law on the drive there and back. It’s just a super entertaining and suspenseful book and listening with a few people added to the experience as we speculated about how the hero going to get out of the current life-threatening jam. I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I’m not sure it can top that.

I also attended Nerdcon Stories right here in Minneapolis. I got books signed by Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater. And got to see many other authors speak including John Green, Maureen Johnson, John Scalzi, Stephanie Perkins, Patrick Rothfuss, Matt De LA Pena, Lev Grossman, and a zillion others. Other notable guests included Hank Green, Paul and Storm, and Dessa Darling. Of course, I brought back another pile of books.

My favorite part of this convention was the daily mainstage shows. Many of the guests got to make thoughtful or funny or both fifteen-minute speeches, and then there were games and deconstructionist puppet shows and mock debates. They’ve released a couple of the speeches and games on YouTube. I’m really hoping they’ll post the moment where the entire auditorium sang “Bye Bye Lil Sebastion” it was glorious.

This year I got addicted to the web series Nothing Much To Do, an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. And the sequel Lovely Little Losers, adapted from Love’s Labors Lost. Both can be found on their creator’s channel. They will soon be releasing an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it won’t be a continuation of this series. I will miss these characters. Beadick and Pedrazar forever!

The BBC adaptation of one of my favorite books, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, was very good.

So that was the year in books! I’m currently reading The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke and The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. So how was everyone else’s 2015?