End of Year Survey – 2015!

For the past two years I have enjoyed this end of year survey by Jamie at the Perpetual Page-Turner! This year I decided to only focus on the Best in Books section. (Below graphic by Jamie too)

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1. Best Book You Read In 2015? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. And yes, it was my FIRST TIME READING IT. I don’t think I have ever loved an ending so much.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t? SHADOW SCALE *cue the weeping*

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read? Probably The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson, or All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill (both in good ways!)

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)? I keep pushing For Darkness Shows the Stars and Across a Star-Swept Sea (2013 and 2014 reads for me, respectively) and I think people are hearing my cry! I’ve also been pushing Mistborn and The Start of Me and You lately and I think that might be working too.

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5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015? Started: Mistborn/Sequel: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling/ Ender: Deathly Hallows

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015? Only time will tell for sure, but either Emery Lord or Annie F. Downs, I think.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone? For genre out of my comfort zone it would be Do Over by Jon Acuff, a non-fiction business book, but I’ve read most of his books so that feels a little like cheating. I read almost entirely YA fiction though so I think that’s the best option. I might need to read more out of my comfort zone next year!

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Though reading it while I had strep throat probably helped with the unputdownable part. All Our Yesterdays would probably be second.

9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year? Probably The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015? The Start of Me and You and Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. Obviously I like pretty sunsets/sunrises.

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11. Most memorable character of 2015? Luna Lovegood from the HP books.

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12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015? The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdeih.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015? Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs. I needed it so much. Also, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was super thought-provoking.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? All the Harry Potter books I read. And Mistborn! Nikki has only been pushing it for forever, with good reason!

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015? My first fave is a super long passage from The Hero of Ages from when Vin and Elend dance for the first time. MAJOR swoons right there. You can check out a portion of it on my Tumblr. For a shorter quote though, I’ll go with…

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16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015? Shortest: Austenland by Shannon Hale: 197 pages. Longest: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling: 870 pages.

17. Book That Shocked You The Most The ending of The Hero of Ages was SHOCKING to me to say the least. I experienced a very wide range of emotions, but needless to say, I think it was definitely the right ending.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR Vin and Elend from Mistborn! Oh the bantery swoons! Second place goes to my non-canon ship of Luna and Neville (thank you Deathly Hallows part two movie for making this almost seem real!).

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19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year Harry and Hermione, though this was definitely intensified once again by the Deathly Hallows movie because THAT DANCE SCENE. ❤

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20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously Deathly Hallows & other HP books first, Mistborn trilogy second, Winter by Marissa Meyer third.

21. Best Book You Read In 2015 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure: Mistborn

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015? When you’re married and nearly 30 this is sort of an awkward question, but if I had to choose it would be Max from The Start of Me and You. I mean, he knows Pride and Prejudice AND Firefly.

23. Best 2015 debut you read? Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year? I think the best worldbuilding would go to Rook by Sharon Cameron, but the most vivid setting would go to The Wrath and the Dawn. The latter was filled with so much rich description that I loved. The former’s world was so interesting, and though I’ll admit I didn’t complete understand some of it until I read the author’s note after the novel, I could tell it was very well-thought out and carefully crafted.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read? The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Austenland by Shannon Hale, The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and In Between by Jenny B. Jones.

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26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2015? I think The Hero of Ages and The Deathly Hallows both  got me to tear up or nearly cry.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year? Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson. This book deserves more love!

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul? The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015? The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)? Shadow Scale. And I didn’t particularly care for it either, sadly. 😦

Check out all the books I read and re-read here. Thankfully, I enjoyed almost everything I read this year, but obviously there were a few stand-outs mentioned a few times in this survey. 🙂 What were some of your favorite reads this year?

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The Top 8 Books on my Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree This Year. But instead, today I’m being a REBEL and doing the Top 10 (or really 8) Books on my Winter TBR. This is a big deal for a rule follower like me…

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Jemma = me

I do have a purpose to my rebellion though. I LOVE doing seasonal TBR lists. I never follow them to the letter, but it helps me form a game plan and keep me somewhat on track with my TBR. So I was incredibly sad to to see no Top Ten Tuesday topic for our winter TBR list month! What is this blasphemy?! Winter has started, so there’s no time like the present for this list! Besides, this list includes books I am anticipating getting for Christmas. In no particular order…

1. & 2. Killer Instinct and All In (The Naturals #2 & #3) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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I read The Naturals over a year ago and I’m ready to continue the story!

3. The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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If I actually follow this list, I’ll be reading a lot of Jennifer Lynn Barnes! I got this one for my birthday and still need to read it.

4. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

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I’ve been moderately interested in this one thanks to the positive reviews, but now that it’s my next book club read, I’ll be reading it soon for sure!

5. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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I want to read this one for the hype. And it definitely looked really interesting when I saw it in person, especially underneath that dust jacket! I’m intrigued!

6. Vicious by V.E. Schwab

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I bought this one a few months ago and have been meaning to read it since before then, but Victoria Schwab is coming to town (well, she’s actually local to Nashville, but I anticipate seeing her at an upcoming event in a few months) so I need to read this one and/or my next pick…

7. The Archived by Victoria Schwab

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For a while I had no interest in this one, but now I do! I asked for it for Christmas, and as previously mentioned, I’d like to read something by Schwab before I see her!

8. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages, and now that I own it I fully intend to do so sooner rather than later!

9 and 10 are kind of up for grabs. I have some books I own that I still need to read, books I have been thinking about grabbing from the library, or new shinies that are very likely to crop up.  Possibilities include but are not limited to…

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What’s on your winter TBR?

Don’t Let the Hype Get to You

I’ve been meaning to review Winter and Six of Crows, and then I watched the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, and I noticed I had a theme with all three of these stories: hype.

Let me go ahead and clarify: I ENJOYED ALL THREE OF THESE THINGS. This will not be about big disappointments. But there were some minor problems I had with all three.

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First, Winter. Though there was a lot of hype surrounding this one, it was just from everyone who loves The Lunar Chronicles, which includes myself, so a lot of the hype I had put on myself. Cress was hands-down, my favorite read last year. Every page was just like YES, this book is PERFECT. So I thought with 800+ page Winter, it could only get BETTER, right?! OK, maybe not.

Again, I REALLY liked this book. I gave it 4.5 stars and put it in my top 10 faves of the year. But I can’t lie, that book dragged for me a bit. I think Meyer could have cut at least 100 pages, possibly more. Before Winter, I thought I could have read a 400-book all about the Lunar Chronicles gang playing Scrabble and been thoroughly entertained, but maybe I was wrong. When the characters were just waiting for things to happen, I got restless. I wanted things to move forward, not stand still. And in case you think I’m ALL about the action, that’s not true either. I actually got confused quite a few times during the action sequences. Though I will admit, that’s the case with almost every action sequence in almost every book. And while everyone went through something in this book before they could get to their happy ending, I just didn’t feel quite as much emotional resonance as I wanted. Maybe that was my own fault. Brittany talked about how she possibly created distance between herself and this finale, and I think I might have done that too.

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Then Six of Crows. Again, there was hype, but a lot of it self-made because I LOVED the Grisha trilogy and I love Leigh Bardugo. I figured that Six of Crows had to be even better than the previous books, because that’s how it works, right? Writers only get better? I enjoyed the book. I gave it 4 stars. But it did not feel tight to me. Like Winter (though shorter), I felt there were pacing issues. I didn’t feel it was a very good set-up for the actual “heist,” and then the whole “heist” (honestly, it doesn’t feel like a real heist) itself felt kind of weak to me. Not gonna lie. This didn’t feel anything like Ocean’s Eleven to me. I mean, I have no problem with things not going perfectly, but everything felt way more half-hazard than I think it was supposed to.

And then there were 6 main characters, and I actually liked about 3 of them. The other 3 were fine, but I could have lived without them. Really, the book could have been all about Inej and Kaz and that would have been good for me. They were the only ship that even made sense to me. And speaking of things not making sense, I could not keep any of the nationalities or any other cultural details straight, which seemed strange since I have read the other books and I don’t recall being confused with them.

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And lastly, Star Wars. Most of the movie was pretty solid. I loved how it felt like the original series, except updated, and it was going really well. I liked the characters, the pacing was good, etc. Then at some point kind of close to the end, it’s like… I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint the moment it stopped working for me. But by the end of the movie, I realize that I had a pretty good time but nothing impacted me the way I thought it should have. I’ll talk spoilers in white in the next couple paragraphs; highlight to see…

One thing that took me out of the movie relatively early on was when Han & Leia’s kid who’s the bad guy (I honestly don’t remember his name) took off his mask the first time. I was immediately like you are not their kid, I don’t believe it. He just didn’t look like their kid to me or feel like him to me. And he seemed to behave completely differently without his mask. The character in general felt a little inconsistent. And we never really get to know him, so when we get to that moment between him and Han, I don’t care if he wants to go home with Han and be redeemed (of course, it was pretty obvious to me that he didn’t). I don’t feel betrayed when he kills his dad. It just doesn’t click for me.

And then the “climax” happened, and I put it in quotes because it wasn’t all that exciting. Han and Chewie getting on the Millennium Falcon? That was exciting! Blowing up this massively destructive weapon planet? Eh, who cares? I mean, you know the good guys are going to win and they didn’t even bother to make you feel tense about it ever at any point. I guess Han’s death was supposed to make things feel hopeless but it didn’t. And after the “climax,” Rey goes off to find Luke (no explanation why it’s her), and they just stand there and stare at each other as she holds out his lightsaber and… the end. That’s the end of the freaking movie. I was waiting for the big reveal that Rey is Luke’s daughter (she has to be, right? Is anyone with me on this?) or at least something and I mean, Luke doesn’t utter one single syllable in this movie. It just ends, period. (Actually, if this was going to be the way it ended, it didn’t cut soon enough. My husband and I had the conversation that it would have been better if we see Luke, and then cut, as opposed to the ten seconds of him and Rey staring at each other that we get.)

Look, I know no story can actually be perfect. But I also look for emotional resonance, for great character growth, and I look at story pacing. All three of these stories are part of larger stories that I adore, and when I don’t get all three of those things lined up the way I expect them to, I can’t help but be a little disappointed.

Moral of the story? Have lower expectations, I guess. Though I think that’s nearly impossible when you’re dealing with franchises you already love. But it’s not always going to bigger and better the next time. Professional storytellers are not flawless storytellers, and I know this. At the end of Winter, the characters were where I wanted them to be. At the end of Six of Crows, I can tell that Kaz’s upcoming arc is one I’m going to want to stay tuned for. At the end of Episode VI, I saw my old “friends” and am hopeful of what is to come with the new ones. I may want a little more, but what I got was still good.

How do you deal with hype? Were you mildly (or maybe even majorly) disappointed in anything you were highly anticipated lately?

Character Study: Kaz from Six of Crows

When I read reviews of Six of Crows before reading the book for myself, I saw mention of how the characters aren’t really the nicest people around. Because of this, I was a little wary of being able to connect with any of the characters, which is what ultimately connects me with the story at large. Thankfully, I found myself liking two of the six main characters a good bit: Inej, and surprisingly, Kaz.

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Source

I won’t spoil any details, but what I will say is that Kaz is probably the least nice, least good person out of the crew of six. And yet, I really liked reading about his character. And I wondered why this was.

There is a Writing Excuses podcast episode I listened to a while ago about how to make characters likable, and they talked about “sliding scales.” There are a few different scales you can play with, so while your character might not be  the nicest person, sliding that scale low, you crank up the competence scale. This example definitely applies to Kaz. He seems cold-hearted, and for the most part he is, but he is very competent at what he does.

But he does also care for someone, not just Inej, but also his brother, and we see both of these relationships are very crucial parts of him as a character, in how he behaves and the choices he makes. Because of these relationships, combined with his intelligence and competence, combined with physical and mental weakness, he feels like a very fleshed out character. And he doesn’t feel like an antagonist or a villain because he has just enough relatability to make you root for him, even when you know you probably shouldn’t.

Who is a character you like from a book even though you feel you shouldn’t? Who was your favorite character in Six of Crows, and why? 

The Top Ten Best Books I Read In 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Best Books I Read In 2015. I read a lot more good and great books than just OK books, but at the end it thankfully wasn’t too hard to whittle down to my very favorites of the year. I tried to put them in order to leave my absolute favorite for last, but sometimes exact order is challenging. 🙂 I chose these largely based on what has stayed with me.

10. The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

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I read this one because I thought it might be helpful with how someone might heal after someone close to them committing suicide (which is something my main character in my WIP has to go through) and wow, this was just so beautifully done. I don’t usually read heavy-issue contemporaries, but I’m glad I read this one.

9. Winter by Marissa Meyer

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The ending of The Lunar Chronicles! Sob! So I haven’t reviewed this on the blog yet, so I will go ahead and say that I think the pacing of the book suffered a bit and made it lag a little in parts for me, but overall I was so happy to see all these characters again and how their stories would end!

8. All Our Yesterdays by Critin Terrill

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I finally read this book I had heard so much fuss about, and it was worth the hype! I don’t know how to describe it succinctly, but let’s just say the ending was unlike anything else I’ve read in YA, but it felt really right for the story. I definitely recommend it if you haven’t read it yet!

5-7. (listed in series order not ranked order) Mistborn (of The Final Empire), The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

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If you know Nikki at all, you know she “pushes” these books on everyone. Listen to Nikki. Talk about another shock ending! This is great fantasy right here, folks. I have a massive amount of love for these characters!

4. Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

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Out of all the HP books this is my second fave. After the first three feeling a bit juvenile (minus the ending of The Prisoner of Azkaban), this one was instantly darker and Rowling just really brought her pacing A-game. I loved everything about it!

3. Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs

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I needed to read this book when I did. I probably need to reread it soon. It’s good to know you don’t have to think of yourself as daring to be brave in life.

2. The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

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THIS BOOK. Contemporary romance perfection. I never would have dreamed of a book like this being my second fave of the year but it was just very me. I mean, references to Pride and Prejudice AND Firefly? A friendship that slowly turns into more? I will probably reread this one next year because it’s just so enjoyable!

1. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

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This was the book that sealed the deal on HP hype for me. I devoured the series finale and just loved every moment of it, even with all that camping. It was just the perfect ending with every question I had answered to my satisfaction.

Compare this list to my mid-year rankings here.

What were your favorite reads of 2015? 

Top 10 New-To-Me Favorite Authors I Read For The First Time In 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top 10 New-To-Me Favorite Authors I Read For The First Time In 2015. This week’s list is in no particular order.

1. Rachel M. Wilson

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I’ve been getting a little more into contemporaries this year, and Don’t Touch was one that I really enjoyed. I hope Rachel M. Wilson will set some more of her future books in the South!

2. Sharon Cameron

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Fun fact: Sharon Cameron is local to me and I didn’t even realize it until AFTER I had just seen her at a writing conference (as an attendee) AND asked for Rook for my birthday. Maybe next year at the conference I’ll tell her how much I enjoyed Rook.

3. Renée Ahdieh

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Even though it took me some time to get into this book, once I got into it I really loved the cinematic writing and the complicated characters. I’m looking forward to the sequel!

4. William Ritter

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I haven’t read Beastly Bones yet, but I thought Jackaby was a fun read. I look forward to more of Ritter’s books.

5. Cynthia Hand

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I found Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Say Goodbye compelling, and while I probably won’t be diving into her paranormal books, I do hope to read more contemporary from her in the future.

6. Shannon Hale

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Austenland was a fun, light read for me, and I think I would enjoy reading more of Shannon’s works in the future.

7. Emery Lord

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I LOVED The Start of Me and You ridiculous amounts, and it has made me very excited about future Emery books! I admit I’m still not sure if I want to read Open Road Summer though, since the characters don’t sound as likable. But I am all about When We Collide when it comes out!

8. Cristin Terrill

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Her debut is one of the best YA sci-fi books I’ve read, that was also filled with elements of contemporary, thriller, and dystopia, but came together so well. I need more by Cristin Terrill!

9. Annie F. Downs

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I don’t read much non-fiction, but I will be reading more Annie F. Downs in the future. Reading her book was like having coffee with a friend.

10. Ally Carter

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I read two Ally Carter books this year: All Fall Down and the first Gallagher girls. I liked the former more than the latter, but plan to continue both series. Ally Carter is definitely a new-to-me go-to for quick, fun reads, with just a little dash of danger.

Who are your new favorite authors you discovered this year?

Also, random side note: In case you have missed it, my Twitter handle has changed from @acps927 to @acshawYA. This is also my name for all social media now: Tumblr, Pinterest, and now my new Instagram account! Definitely be sure to follow me on Instagram if you haven’t already! 

Star Trek DS9 Season Two: My Top 5 Fave Episodes

As my husband and I are going through our second full watch of Star Trek as a couple, I thought it would be fun to report on the highlights along the way. So I decided to copy the same format as Charlene at Bookish Whimsy, who is going through her first-ever run of Star Trek and sharing her favorite episodes for each season. To compare, see her favorite episodes of Deep Space Nine season two.

OMG, stuff got real a lot quicker than I remembered! I knew that the end of season 2 was a real game-changer, but there were some good episodes all throughout season two that were good indicators of what DS9 would come to be known for. I’m so happy to be watching it again!

I had a really hard time choosing my five… two were really obvious favorites, and then after that I felt most of the other episodes were equally good! It doesn’t help I feel it’s been a while since I’ve watched some of these with TNG season 7 and live TV shows being watched in between episodes, so I did the best I could with trying to narrow it down. I wanted to be sure to mention honorable mentions The Maquis Parts 1 and 2 and The Jem’Hadar, which set up a lot of what’s to come!

5. Whispers

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O’Brien wonders why everyone on the station seems so wary of him. As he seeks out the truth, it turns out to be quite a surprise…

4. Necessary Evil

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This one is interesting as we get a look back in time to how the station was during the Cardassian occupation, and specifically how Odo came into his role.

3. Tribunal 

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O’Brien must suffer! I have to say, this could have been interesting as two episodes, with more torture for O’Brien and a good B plot too, but what we got was interesting. It’s a look into the Cardassian judiciary system (which is terrible) and we learn a lot about O’Brien as a character.

2. The Wire

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On my first watch of DS9, I didn’t like Garak until I watched this episode, and then everything about him made so much more sense and I finally understood him. I love seeing Bashir’s relentless efforts to help Garak in this episode. And we get this great line: “It’s all true… especially the lies.”

1. The Siege

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This was the third episode of the season, and the first one that made me be like whoa, this is definitely feeling like DS9. There were some really funny moments, but also dark moments, and it doesn’t wrap up nicely like most Star Trek episodes before had.

What are your favorite episodes of Deep Space Nine season two?