Stranger Things 4: Mike, Dustin, and Lucas

Like the rest of the world I devoured Stranger Things this year. After discussing it obsessively with everyone who would engage with me, I realized how much I had to say and turned to his blog. Yes, this series is long and obsessive but in my defense you were warned. If you read my bio above, it says: “Basically, I talk about the books I’m reading and the shows I’m watching in a level of detail that is too embarrassing to do in real life.” That’s what this is. I had originally planned to do a straightforward review, but as I was writing his it turned into a series of mini character-focused essay akin to my I care too much about fictional characters series, so that’s what it is. The short version of the Stranger Things 4 review is: I really liked it and I’m really looking forward to season five.

The long version is… a lot longer. When I realized my thoughts were nearly 10k words I decided to split them up into more manageable chunks. If you follow me, prepare to get spammed with a lot of Stranger Things content.

I’ve largely made it through the heavy stuff with the last post about Max’s struggle with mental health and Vecna’s role as a suicidal metaphor. We’ve made it to the kids who aren’t really kids anymore.

I care too much about fictional characters

Mike Wheeler

Mike (Finn Wolfhard) gets more hate than he deserves. I mean, was season one Mike more easily likable than season three Mike? Yeah. Mike was arguably the bravest and most loyal character in the first season, and he hit that teenage angst hard last season. But he’s fine in season four. He’s not particularly important, and there are a few moments where he probably should’ve reacted differently. Not hugging Will on Will’s birthday was kind of weird move for the team’s heart, but whatever. I’m not going to pile on Mike for the crying-in-the-van scene; I’m just gonna give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he noticed and decided to give Will some space. The show has done a good job of establishing Mike as a good friend, and while I wouldn’t say Mike has been at his absolute best lately, it’s probably safe to assume he’ll engage with it later down the line. There was a lot going on, there was no way to step aside privately, and Jonathan and Argyle were both right there. If Mike had engaged there he might’ve just made things worse. If your friend is having a private emotional breakdown, drawing attention to it is not the kindest or wisest move. We saw Jonathan check in with Will later, and maybe in season five we’ll see Mike do the same.

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Stranger Things 4: Max and Vecna

Like the rest of the world I devoured Stranger Things this year. After discussing it obsessively with everyone who would engage with me, I realized how much I had to say and turned to his blog. Yes, this series is long and obsessive but in my defense you were warned. If you read my bio above, it says: “Basically, I talk about the books I’m reading and the shows I’m watching in a level of detail that is too embarrassing to do in real life.” That’s what this is. I had originally planned to do a straightforward review, but as I was writing his it turned into a series of mini character-focused essay akin to my I care too much about fictional characters series, so that’s what it is. The short version of the Stranger Things 4 review is: I really liked it and I’m really looking forward to season five.

The long version is… a lot longer. When I realized my thoughts were nearly 10k words I decided to split them up into more manageable chunks. If you follow me, prepare to get spammed with a lot of Stranger Things content.

Was Eddie’s death obvious and futile? That was last post. We’ve moved on to the season’s other sacrifice.

I care too much about fictional characters

Max Mayfield (and Vecna)

I’m sorry, Max. I hate that you have to share a section with Vecna because you’re great and he’s terrifying, but that’s just the way this season shook out. 

Max (Sadie Sink) really made the leap from secondary to leading character, didn’t she? She’s been important since she entered the show in season two, but she was never really a primary focus. She was just one of the kids, important enough and definitely a lovable character, but never the one you’d point to if you had to pick the main player from any given storyline. That absolutely changed this season, with Max becoming not only a focal point but arguably the emotional center of the season. The stakes of season four are almost entirely centered on Max. She is suffering PTSD and survivor’s guilt from the events of last season. After Billy (Dacre Montgomery)’s death, Max’s stepfather left Max and her mother, and they are now living in a trailer park. Max has closed herself off from her friends and broken up with Lucas. Her grades are slipping and she suffers from near-constant headaches. She’s struggling even before she becomes Vecna’s victim. It’s retreading everyone else’s ground to say that “Dear Billy” was one of—if not the—best episodes of the season, but everyone is saying it for a reason. It is the best marriage of fantasy horror with mental health subtext that Stranger Things has given us to date. 

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Stranger Things 4: Eddie

Like the rest of the world I devoured Stranger Things this year. After discussing it obsessively with everyone who would engage with me, I realized how much I had to say and turned to his blog. Yes, this series is long and obsessive but in my defense you were warned. If you read my bio above, it says: “Basically, I talk about the books I’m reading and the shows I’m watching in a level of detail that is too embarrassing to do in real life.” That’s what this is. I had originally planned to do a straightforward review, but as I was writing his it turned into a series of mini character-focused essay akin to my I care too much about fictional characters series, so that’s what it is. The short version of the Stranger Things 4 review is: I really liked it and I’m really looking forward to season five.

The long version is… a lot longer. When I realized my thoughts were nearly 10k words I decided to split them up into more manageable chunks. If you follow me, prepare to get spammed with a lot of Stranger Things content.

Last time I talked about feminism and LGBTQ+ representation with Robin. Let’s finish up the teens with Eddie.

I care too much about fictional characters

Eddie Munson

The fact that anyone expected Eddie (Joseph Quinn) to survive this season is actually funny to me. Did you guys forget about Benny, Barb, Bob, and Alexei? Did you think that just because his name doesn’t start with a ‘B’ that he’d escape the curse that took every other likable one-season character (and Billy)? Don’t get me wrong: I like Eddie a lot. He’s a very fun new character. I love how seamlessly he merges into the group with Steve, Robin, and Dustin. I LOVE that Stranger Things gave the fans a new mullet-sporting “bad boy” to obsess about so that people would let some of the Billy obsession going. At first my impression of Eddie—purely on the aesthetic—was that he was Billy 2.0, this time with less racism! (I hate Billy so much; you guys are lucky that Billy isn’t in this season or else he’d get a whole section about how much I hate him. I mean, there will be some in the Max section, but still). 

Eddie definitely evolves beyond being Billy 2.0, thankfully. He’s sweet and goofy and even though he seems sorta mean at the beginning (just reschedule for Lucas, Eddie!) he really is a good dude. He’s charismatic and he has good chemistry with the group, and I wish he’d survived if for no reason beyond it would’ve been nice for Will to get to play D&D with him. 

Here’s the thing, though. Eddie did not have to die. I don’t mean that in a fangirly, please come back as a vampire sort of way. I mean that from a story standpoint, his death was unnecessary. It was to emotionally crush the fans. To be fair, it worked, so good job. But is there any reason why Eddie had to die aside from martyring himself and becoming the latest one-season fatality? Maybe Eddie sacrificed himself so the Stranger Things curse didn’t take Argyle or Dmitri. In-universe, though, Eddie chose to die, and for no real reason. Did those thirty seconds Eddie bought make any real difference? Dustin was already safe, and while it’s arguable that he kept the bats away from Steve, Robin, and Nancy for that extra minute it’s not definite that doing so really saved them. The bats would have kept fighting him right by the exit. He could have bought more time and then climbed the rope. He could have left the rope when he ran away and made a big circle with the intention of buying more time and still trying to escape.

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Stranger Things 4: Robin

Like the rest of the world I devoured Stranger Things this year. After discussing it obsessively with everyone who would engage with me, I realized how much I had to say and turned to his blog. Yes, this series is long and obsessive but in my defense you were warned. If you read my bio above, it says: “Basically, I talk about the books I’m reading and the shows I’m watching in a level of detail that is too embarrassing to do in real life.” That’s what this is. I had originally planned to do a straightforward review, but as I was writing his it turned into a series of mini character-focused essay akin to my I care too much about fictional characters series, so that’s what it is. The short version of the Stranger Things 4 review is: I really liked it and I’m really looking forward to season five.

The long version is… a lot longer. When I realized my thoughts were nearly 10k words I decided to split them up into more manageable chunks. If you follow me, prepare to get spammed with a lot of Stranger Things content.

In the previous installment I discussed the reversal of the Steve/Nancy/Jonathan love triangle, but now it’s Robin time.

I care too much about fictional characters

Robin Buckley

Robin! Another one of my favorites. Yes, I realize that pretty much everyone is one of my favorites. Robin (Maya Hawke) is one of those incredible characters who fits so well into a show that it’s lightly mind-boggling to realize that she’s only been in two of the four seasons. If you asked me what my favorite season of Stranger Things is I’d probably say season two—Will actually gets to do stuff, Steve and Dustin have teamed up, Max has made her first appearance, Hopper and Eleven’s cute father+daughter relationship hits the ground running—but if you followed that up with a question about favorite characters I’d be stumped because Robin is very near the top of that list, but how is it possible that one of my favorite characters isn’t in my favorite season?

Robin and Steve’s inexplicably competent yet lightly unhinged energy together was a clear highlight in season three

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Stranger Things 4: Nancy, Steve, and Jonathan

Like the rest of the world I devoured Stranger Things this year. After discussing it obsessively with everyone who would engage with me, I realized how much I had to say and turned to his blog. Yes, this series is long and obsessive but in my defense you were warned. If you read my bio above, it says: “Basically, I talk about the books I’m reading and the shows I’m watching in a level of detail that is too embarrassing to do in real life.” That’s what this is. I had originally planned to do a straightforward review, but as I was writing his it turned into a series of mini character-focused essay akin to my I care too much about fictional characters series, so that’s what it is. The short version of the Stranger Things 4 review is: I really liked it and I’m really looking forward to season five.

The long version is… a lot longer. When I realized my thoughts were nearly 10k words I decided to split them up into more manageable chunks. If you follow me, prepare to get spammed with a lot of Stranger Things content.

In the previous installment I discussed Will’s sexuality and its real-world handling. Let’s move onto the teens.

I care too much about fictional characters

Steve Harrington and Nancy Wheeler 

I wrote whole essays for both Eleven and Will, but not everyone needs quite that much space all for themselves. Steve (Joe Keery) and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) have very intertwined storylines, so I figured I would group them. Steve is favorite character (I love Will, but I relate to him too much for him to be my first favorite). I know, I know, I’m not original. Everyone loves Steve the most. Everyone watches the Stranger Things terrified that Steve is going to die. I’m no different. I was convinced that Steve was going to die, and I was extremely relieved when he didn’t. Steve is such a great character because of all the reasons that everyone always says. He developed as a character, learning from his mistakes and becoming a better person. Plus, he has a dynamite dynamic with the younger cast, most specifically Dustin. Also Robin. Steve+Dustin and Steve+Robin are peak Stranger Things. When it comes to platonic relationships, Steve is the MVP, which is why I’m a little disappointed that his focus this season is romance.

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Stranger Things 4: Will

Like the rest of the world I devoured Stranger Things this year. After discussing it obsessively with everyone who would engage with me, I realized how much I had to say and turned to his blog. Yes, this series is long and obsessive but in my defense you were warned. If you read my bio above, it says: “Basically, I talk about the books I’m reading and the shows I’m watching in a level of detail that is too embarrassing to do in real life.” That’s what this is. I had originally planned to do a straightforward review, but as I was writing his it turned into a series of mini character-focused essay akin to my I care too much about fictional characters series, so that’s what it is. The short version of the Stranger Things 4 review is: I really liked it and I’m really looking forward to season five.

The long version is… a lot longer. When I realized my thoughts were nearly 10k words I decided to split them up into more manageable chunks. If you follow me, prepare to get spammed with a lot of Stranger Things content.

In the previous installment I discussed the missed opportunities with Eleven’s storyline. This time it’s Will’s turn.

I care too much about fictional characters

Will Byers

Despite the fact that, in terms of plot importance and screentime, Will is a minor character in Stranger Things 4, he has dominated much of the news cycle regarding the show. He has been a big part of the discourse this year, and he’s one of my favorite characters. Like everyone else, I have a lot to say about Will this season. A lot of it has been said often and loudly, but not all of it.

First things first: I wish Will hadn’t been sidelined again. I don’t know when or where Will became one of my favorite characters. From the start? When I started to painfully relate to him? When he just wanted to play D&D? When the show started to imply his queerness? Who knows? In any case, I love Will. Every season I make a wishlist for what I want to see and the two major things are

  1. Steve survives
  2. Will is happy

(I got one this season).

But poor Will just got kicked around and devastated again. Let the boy go ten minutes without crying, please and thank you. That’s bad enough when it’s just a regular favorite character, but when it’s the one you deeply relate to on an intrinsic level? Ouch. 

That being said, the scene with Will and Jonathan in the pizza place was absolutely beautiful. If I had to pick a favorite scene from Stranger Things 4, that would be it. It’s well-acted, it’s heartbreaking but also kind of healing, and it is one of the most nakedly vulnerable moments the show has given us to date. I guess if you’re going to give two of your main characters only a handful of scenes apiece, you’ve gotta make sure the ones they do have are doozies.

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Stranger Things 4: Eleven

Like the rest of the world, I’ve been very obsessed with Stranger Things lately. I’ve been very obsessed with Stranger Things for a while. I’m a bandwagon fan. When I see everyone screaming about something online I think what is this thing? Why am I not screaming about the thing? I was a little late to get onboard because this is a scary show, but my sister (who is more of a coward than I am, which is saying something) started watching it and said it was really good, so I jumped on the bandwagon.

It’s a really great show, and that’s not just the nostalgia talking because I don’t have any 80s nostalgia; I was born in the 90s and (unpopular opinion incoming) I haven’t seen or don’t like a lot of 80s movies. Like, I’ve never liked Ghostbusters or ET and I’ve never seen Goonies or any of the many 80s horror films Stranger Things took inspiration from. Somehow despite not particularly liking the genre, generally being annoyed by fictional children, and not having any major pop culture nostalgia I still got quickly and totally immersed in Stranger Things, and the show has kept its hold on me for the past six years even through the inexplicably unpopular season three (season three has Robin! How is it unpopular?) And even through season four’s sharp turn into horror.

I thought Stranger Things 1 was horror. I was wrong, because that was absolutely nothing compared to what we see in Stranger Things 4. There are some gross and frightening moments in the early run of the show—Will with that slug attached to him in the Upside Down was creepy as heck, and Bob’s death was traumatic—but Chrissy’s season four death took it up a lot of notches. During that scene I specifically thought man, if season one had started out like this I would not still be watching. Because that scene is terrifying and disgusting, and those effects don’t get any easier to watch even as they keep getting recapped or repeated with other characters. But I was already so deeply invested in the substantive Stranger Things cast that I was willing to keep watching even as the content of the show got scarier and scarier until it was far beyond what I’m usually comfortable watching. Once I got past the horrifying horror of it, though, I found that I enjoyed this season as much as the ones who came before it. I’m not necessarily part of the crowd who is calling this the best season of Stranger Things or the season that saved Stranger Things because I like all the seasons and don’t think the show needed saving, but it is definitely very good and because I like blabbing about the stories I find very good, I’m going to break it down, and because I first and foremost love characters, I’m going to bring back my old school method and break it down character by character. 

I had originally planned to do a straightforward review like I did for The Umbrella Academy, but because the show was long and spread out, I had a lot of time to think about it and discuss it with my equally analytical, if less nerdy, sister. As I was writing this it turned out to be less a standard review and more a series of mini character-focused essay akin to my I care too much about fictional characters series, so that’s what it is. The short version of the review is: I really liked it and I’m really looking forward to season five.

The long version is… a lot longer. When I realized my thoughts were nearly 10k words I decided to split them up into more manageable chunks. If you follow me, prepare to get spammed with a lot of Stranger Things content.

i care too much about fictional characters


Eleven/Jane Hopper

Of course we have to start with Eleven. Was there any question of that?

Eleven is arguably the main character of Stranger Things, and she’s certainly one of the most recognizable. Everyone and their mother dressed up as Eggo Eleven back when the show first aired, and she has continued to be THE character for the show. Most legitimate fan theories center around her, most entertainment sites use her image when writing about the show, and actress Millie Bobby Brown’s name almost always gets thrown around for award nominations. So I kind of have to start with her, even though she’s probably the least interesting character in season four. You’re probably thinking, but what about that time she piggybacked from a pizza dough freezer? You might be thinking, but wasn’t it sad when everyone was bullying her and then she absolutely wrecked Angela? I mean, sure. I guess. She has a few good moments, but on the whole she’s season four is not El’s season.

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The Umbrella Academy Season 3 (Mini TV Review)

This summer has been full of returning shows I’ve been looking forward to. We kicked off with Stranger Things, Only Murders in the Building is airing again, and of course arguably my favorite show came back. The Umbrella Academy is one of the funniest, most creative, most bonkers shows out there. I’ve been obsessed with it since season one—I dressed up as Klaus for Halloween and threw an Umbrella Academy themed birthday for my sister—and have eagerly anticipated each new season. We’ve been sitting on that big season two cliffhanger for nearly two years, so I was extra excited to jump back in and find out what sort of time travel nonsense the Hargreeves siblings had gotten themselves into this time. It’s another great season. This show is consistantly fun and surprising. It hasn’t ever reclimbed to the heights of the practically perfect season one, but it continues to be immensely entertaining.

Throughout its run, arguably this show’s greatest triumph is its ability to balance a huge ensemble cast. From the start, there are seven main siblings who are of roughly equal importance but each season has a slew of vital secondary characters. Season one had Reginald, Leonard, Pogo, Grace, Patch, Hazel, Cha-Cha, Agnes, and the Handler. Season two kept Reginald, Grace, and the Handler but added Lila, Ray, Sissy, Carl, Harlan, AJ, Elliot, the Swedes, and Herb. Season three again loses the Handler but retains Lila (and Harlan and Ray in minor roles)… and adds (depending on your perspective) six or seven new characters in the Sparrow Academy, plus Stan. Much like the Umbrella Academy was introduced in the pilot episode, we meet the Sparrows via a quick montage and, inexplicably, they’re immediately easy to keep straight, and even with this veritable onslaught of new characters, you never get the impression that any of the core crew suffers for screentime or development because of it. The Umbrella Academy is really a masterclass in successfully introducing a lot of characters in a quick period of time, and mirroring season one’s incredible introduction this season was a really good decision.

Mild spoilers throughout.

In fact, a lot of the development is done really well. I still don’t think any of the trajectories match what either Klaus or Viktor had in season one (seriously; those two arcs were so good), but they’re still compelling. I’d argue that Allison’s turn towards darkness could have used a bit more time to develop, but the gist of it was still very compelling, and it was interesting how the traumas of the past two seasons built on top of each other for her.

Luther falling in love was a sweet storyline for him considering everything that he’s gone through and how unloved he has so often felt. I also liked that it called back to the moon, because I 100% believe that Luther would fall head-over-heels for the first person who sat down and listened to his moon stories. Admittedly I did find Sloane the least interesting of the new characters, but you can’t have everything and I suppose if Luther likes her I like her.

Viktor’s transition, which was the most talked-about element of the show in advance of season three, was subtle and natural. I thought that everyone involved did a good job of demonstrating both how important his transition is for him while also showing how decidedly unimportant it is for everyone else. Their relationships with him are exactly the same; they just use different words for him. It’s really that easy (Five’s reaction was the best).

Klaus’ grappling for a purpose and development of his powers was possibly my favorite element of the season (I know, I know. Klaus was my favorite. *shocking*). I’ve seen critiques that he was too trusting and naive this season, but I don’t agree. Klaus has always walked a delicate line between a childlike innocence and his hard living, and this is just an extension of that.

Five’s failed attempt to retire is particularly funny but also, like, sad. This show has the funny+sad thing down pat. Five has been a standout from the start, and I love that the show has been able to maintain his crotchety-old-man-in-a-child’s-body energy going even though the actor is no longer technically a child. I was a little afraid that he would lose that edge with age, but he’s still great. Do I miss 14-year-old Five? Yeah, but this slightly-older version is good, too.

I both liked and didn’t like Diego’s plotline. I’ve never liked the unexpected child thing, but I will admit that it gave Diego some good moments (also a few bad ones; the scene where he locked Lila in a closet to protect her fetus was not a good look and yet it was inexplicably played as if it was a noble and evolved behavior).

And then there’s Ben.

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June 2022 Wrap-Up

This has been a strange month. On one hand, it was great. I took a week’s vacation and visited my brother with my parents, which was a lot of fun. We hiked, we played board games, and we ate good food. In other words, a great vacation (only not perfect because my sister was too busy studying with Dreamworks). Then I had a massively cool fangirl moment when my beloved Leigh Bardugo put my Grishaverse anniversary post on her Instagram story; mine was the least elaborate cosplay on there, but it was insanely exciting to get noticed by my favorite author.

But of course every vacation has to end. I went back to work and it absolutely sapped my energy and I spent the second half of June as a corporate zombie, stumbling my days through work trying to ignore the fact that Texas is the worst and wondering if maybe I should rethink all my life choices. It’s just been kind of a rough month, and I didn’t exactly help myself out with my usual creative outlets. I wrote less, read less, and worked out less than I have in a very long time. In any case, here’s to a better July.

Here’s what I read:

(or jump to what I watched)

Elektra by Jennifer Saint

Pride? No. There are no LGBTQ+ characters.

I love Greek mythology and I love feminist books, so I expected to love this. It’s okay, but I expected more. Of course a straight (pun lightly intended) retelling of Greek heroics is going to leave the mortal women largely on the sidelines, but the overall impression of Elektra is hearing about something second- or third-hand. Our three POV characters are far removed from the main action and spend most of their time waiting for their men’s arrival and ruminating on the wrongs done to them. Even though Saint does an excellent job with Clytemnestra’s story and her emotion, for the most part Elektra feels like a blurry best-hits of the Trojan War; it is deeply unfortunate is that, instead of enjoying the women finally getting a voice, I kept wishing we could exchange one of the POVs for Achilles or Odysseus or even the detestable Agamemnon so that I could get in close to the action instead of just waiting and waiting for something to happen. I also found it an odd choice to name the novel for Elektra, arguably the most one-dimensional and antifeminist of the three leads, rather than picking something that better accounted for the full scope of the story.

Full review here


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Pride? Yes. The Song of Achilles presents the relationship between the hero Achilles and his beloved Patroclus as a romantic and sexual one, and that relationship is the beating heart of the novel.

After reading Elektra, I knew I had to reread The Song of Achilles. Even in Elektra there were moments where the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus (spelled “Patroklus” in Elektra) felt like maddening empty space. Admittedly The Song of Achilles is the version of the Trojan War that I’m the most familiar with, but that being said: to me, the story just doesn’t fully make sense without that love story at its center. And it is a beautifully tragic love story that manages to keep a very human, vulnerable core even while telling a story of gods and heroes, fate and legend. Miller is a spectacular writer, and reading her mythology retelling back-to-back with one by another writer really solidifies how fantastic she really is. It takes a special kind of talent to retell an epic and make it feel both as grand in scale—while still, somehow, impossibly, intimate—and as lyrically beautiful as ever before. This is an absolute must-read for anyone even passingly interested in Greek Mythology. If you were a Percy Jackson/Rick Riordan kid, you should be a Madeline Miller adult.

Full review here


The Adventure Zone (Vol. 1-4) by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Carey Pietsch

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Nine Perfect Strangers: Book to Series Comparison

I’m a big fan of Liane Moriarty. I read The Husband’s Secret years ago, got obsessed, and read The Hypnotist’s Love Story, What Alice Forgot, Big Little Lies, and Truly Madly Guilty in short succession. I took a break after being frustrated by the pregnancy storyline in Three Wishes, and then drifted back with the TV adaptation of Big Little Lies. Unsurprisingly, I really liked the first season (the one based on the book) and was deeply frustrated by the second (which shouldn’t exist; limited series should not be renewed for season two, even—maybe especially—if they’re really good). A few months ago, admittedly a few months behind everyone else, I watched Hulu’s adaptation of Nine Perfect Strangers and loved it, especially the first few episodes. I loved the characters and the kind of creepy anything-could-happen-and-it-might-be-bad vibe, and because—perhaps uncharacteristically—I’d never read the book, I was desperate to know what happened next. I didn’t necessarily love everything about the last few episodes, but on the whole Nine Perfect Strangers was a big hit for me and I was very interested to check out the book and find out what had changed. I didn’t think I was going to get to it for a while—my TBR is alarmingly large at the moment—but my grandparents downsized their house and offered me my pick of the books they weren’t taking with them, and by coincidence Nine Perfect Strangers was one of them, and that sort of fortuitous happenstance is how books jump to the top of the TBR.

What’s it about?

After a near-death experience, a high-ranking corporate woman decides to totally reinvent her life and become a wellness guru. Her state-of-the-art, experimental treatment is put to the test with the arrival of nine guests who need their lives transformed, but who may not be prepared to fully give into her new and experimental protocol.

What’d I think?

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Warning: Spoilers ahead. I don’t spoil the show’s biggest twist, but I do discuss the climaxes of both versions of the story, as well as where certain characters end up, and the thematic implications thereof.

Strangely, my overall impression is that the adaptation of Nine Perfect Strangers somehow managed to totally change everything by changing virtually nothing. Or is it that it managed to change virtually nothing by changing everything? I loved the show and I loved the book, but I liked different parts of each. The things I felt the show dropped the ball on were corrected in the novel, but there were parts of the novel that were hugely improved upon for the adaptation. By total coincidence, I think I experienced it in the best possible way: by watching the show first, I got to meet all the characters in their most charming form. Because there are so many—nine guests, plus Masha, Yao, and Delilah—there’s not a whole lot of time to develop everyone, which means that a few of them get one or two personality traits that they have to coast on for the whole story. The show has a much longer runtime, which already gives the characters a bit more breathing room to settle into their personalities, but often just the simple act of casting a talented actor can flesh out an empty shell by giving them a face, mannerisms, and reactions. 

It also helps that, in the show, the group gets to interact the whole time rather than establishing a “noble silence” that takes up the first half of the novel. Their development and characterization therefore comes out of their conversations with each other rather than moments of contemplative silence. The show cultivates relationships that don’t exist in the novel; in the show, my favorite character is Lars, who is acerbic and snarky at the start but who ends up pulling down his walls and having sincere relationships with many members of the group, notably Zoe and Carmel. There’s no chance I would have liked Lars best if I’d read the book first; he’s essentially a nonentity. He has a few clever moments and the details we get about his career indicate that he’s a good person deep down, but he was clearly very low on the list of narrative priorities. The show just gives him so much more to do, letting him deliver funny lines and sitting with his more emotional moments. But Lars is just one example.

Even characters who are significantly more important still had lots of room for development. Napoleon is a good character on the page, but he comes to life as played by Michael Shannon; a lot of what makes Napoleon Napoleon is his relentlessly over-cheery chit-chat, but in the book that’s largely an informed attribute; we only really see it once, and then he quiets down. The show fills out his dialogue and lets him be the larger-than-life presence the novel just hints at.

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May 2022 Wrap-Up

We’ve made it to June! May was a hectic month for me; between my sister’s graduation, increased business at work, and coworkers taking vacations I have been exhausted. That’s possibly why I spent so much more time in May reading and watching TV instead of doing literally anything else (like, specifically working out. RIP my athleticism). At least I read some good books and watched some good TV. I got very deeply obsessed with Nine Perfect Strangers and Stranger Things this month, reread some great books, got some ARCs, and even expanded my usual reading habits to include some nonfiction and middle grade novels.

Here’s what I read…

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February 2022 Wrap-Up

Darcy continues to be the sweetest puppy/blog mascot who ever lived.

Another month gone! I set up Blind Date with a Book at work for Valentine’s Day, which was really fun (and we sold just short of 200 books off it, all handpicked YA books that deserve more love than they get). I got to show off books that don’t get nearly enough attention or that have bad titles or covers that turn people away. (Talkin’ to you, The Petrified Flesh. Whoever retitled and redesigned Reckless messed up in a huge way, because that is a spectacular novel that used to have a gorgeous cover and now it has a bland cover and a horrible title). I also got to put my much-practiced describing-books skills to work. So that was fun. Other than that, things have been pretty boring. Darcy is taking a tunnels and jumps class that is deeply delightful, but other than that it has just been work and sleep.

Seriously! Look how much better it used to be!

Here’s what I read…

Jackpot by Nic Stone

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I read this mostly because there was a big stack of it at work and I wanted to be able to sell it. I ended up being very pleasantly surprised. It’s a very well written book with a fun, scavenger hunt style plotline that has nuanced depictions of class privilege and race baked in. It has an interesting narrative style, a compelling romance, and a heartbreaking family drama all bubbling under the surface of a coming-of-age for a winning if over-serious heroine. I mostly liked Dear Martin, Stone’s first book, but she has improved vastly since then. I was very happy to sell this one as a Blind Date book. My description? Turtles All the Way Down meets In the Heights.

Full review here


Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I decided to finally get around to my long-overdue reread of Turtles All the Way Down. I loved it when I first read it, right when it first released. While I did still really like it, I maybe liked it a little less this time around. It’s still a great depiction of a character with anxiety, and I do like the main platonic relationship… but that relationship is less central than I remembered, and the mystery plot gets wrapped up much sooner and much easier than I remembered. I still think this is a great book, but I no longer think it’s in my top tier of John Green books. I mean, they’re all pretty top-tier. I don’t love Will Grayson, Will Grayson but the other ones are absolutely fantastic, the kind of books that you can read once for pleasure and then keep going back to for the additional layers of nuance. I got to buddy read this one with my sister, which was fun as I haven’t done that in a while.

Full review here


Gallant by Victoria Schwab

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was immensely excited to get an ARC for this one, because I adore V.E. Schwab’s work. This was a good one, but it doesn’t reach the heights of Schwab’s other work. This book has a lot of potentially interesting ideas but they don’t ever seem to fully come together. I was halfway through the novel before I had any idea of what exactly the plot was going to be, and when we got there it felt like it came and went too quickly. It’s a shame because both the characters and the setting have a lot of potential, but it’s never fully realized and it just made me want to reread A Darker Shade of Magic.

Full review here


Ash by Malinda Lo

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was very excited to read this, because I loved Last Night at the Telegraph Club so much. Add to that accolades from fantastic writers like Leigh Bardugo, Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, Nina Lacour, and Kristin Cashore and I was certain this would be a winner. And that was even before I found out that this was a wlw fantasy retelling, and one of the earliest LGBTQ+ YA fantasy novels. So my expectations were sky high. And the book is good. I just don’t know that it reached my expectations. The pacing is a little odd, and the writing feels a bit distant. That being said, I love the dark fairy lore and the casual lesbian relationship. This isn’t my favorite Cinderella retelling, but I’m glad it exists for the walls it—and Lo—knocked down for YA literature.

Full review here


The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I finally got around to reading this behemoth of a novel after it trended hard for like two years. It’s such an immense novel that even I—who loves getting lost in massive series—thought twice about picking it up. I’m glad I finally read it, though, as it is very well written and manages to create a rich world filled with complex characters with only a single novel. Is it the size of several smaller novels? Sure, but it’s still very cool to come across a stand-alone fantasy novel that’s this good, as fantasy usually comes in multi-book packages. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to anyone who isn’t already into epic fantasy, but if you are… The Priory of the Orange Tree is a really good one.

Full review here


Here’s what I watched…

Station 19

I started watching this ridiculous show a few years ago because of the Grey’s Anatomy crossovers, and now I like it better (maybe because it doesn’t have Owen in it. I seriously can’t believe that Owen is still kickin’). It’s just the right amount of ridiculous to be highly diverting. That episode where they put out a flaming zamboni on ice skates? Hilarious. I finally went back and watched all the back episodes, and that was a lot of fun. I really like that, unlike Grey’s, it still focuses lots of energy on non-romantic relationships. Like, I’m onboard for a certain amount of romantic shenanigans but the familial feeling of the whole group—and the best friendship between Travis and Vic, specifically—is the show’s main strength. Just in general I love Travis and Vic. Plus it does a pretty good job of balancing fun, silly plotlines (an escaped tiger!) with more serious ones (Jack’s PTSD) and even relevant social commentary/calls to action (Dean’s storyline with police racism). I’m mad that Maya is getting shoehorned into that old everyone must have babies and anyone who says they don’t want them is wrong thing and of course I’m upset about what happened to Dean (I do NOT miss Pruitt or Ryan, though), but otherwise I’m having a lot of fun with it and very much looking forward to it every week.


Looking for Alaska

I’m a huge John Green fan (see above). I’ve read all his books multiple times and even met him once several years ago. Back when I ran a YA-specific book club, I picked Looking for Alaska as one of our first books because it is a wonderfully fascinating book with complicated characters who are compelling but frustrating. I’ve loved it since I first read it because it is messy and mature and makes for a great conversation, not least because it’s unafraid to ask big questions even when there aren’t easy answers. I was very upset when the show first came out because it was on Hulu, which I didn’t have. Well, guess who has Hulu now? It was one of the first things I watched on the new platform, and I have to say: it’s a great adaptation. It’s been years since I last read the book, but from what I can remember this adaptation is almost beat for beat accurate. There are a few minor things that have been expanded or updated. Like, I think the Eagle got more fleshed out, and I don’t think OG Hyde has the same backstory, but for the most part it is massively faithful. It absolutely does justice to the book. I wish it hadn’t started with the wreck and that it had restrained itself from giving us that long, romantic shot of Alaska at the end of episode six but those are really small quibbles. I mean, I maybe wish that Takumi had gotten a little bit more to do because he was my favorite character in the adaptation (no one can catch the motherfucking fox), and he felt a little sidelined at times, but that’s about it. Looking for Alaska aged well, and that’s fantastic. If you like the book, you’ll like the show (and vice versa) and that’s pretty much the most glowing review of an adaptation that you can give.


RENT

It’s kind of amazing that, being the person that I am, I’d never seen RENT until this month. I mean the real stage version of RENT. I’d seen the movie multiple times, and I’d listened to full cast recordings, but I’d never actually seen it. But then the goodbye tour came through and I got to see it and I fell in love with it all over again. It’s such a beautiful, heartbreaking musical and every time I hear it a different part of it strikes me (this time, Roger and Mimi’s duet “Another Day” was the most powerful moment; also my Angel was absolutely phenomenal). After seeing it live I sought out both RENT: Filmed Live on Broadway and Fox’s RENT Live! I enjoyed both. Obviously nothing beats seeing it live—I never would have believed that Maureen’s protest song could be massively enjoyable! Or that a whole theatre would be happy to start mooing!—but I enjoyed both filmed versions. The former has Renée Elise Goldsberry and Tracie Thoms! Of course it is amazing! I’d been warned that Fox’s behind-the-scene injury/mess made it not worth watching, but for the most part I liked it. It’s sad that the audience screamed through “What You Own” since that’s my favorite RENT song, and everything about Angel was bad (that must’ve been a stunt casting gone wrong, because yikes), but on the whole Fox’s version doesn’t suck as much as I’d been led to believe. I hope Jordan Fisher gets another chance to play Mark, though, because he was great. There’s a reason that lots of people cite RENT as a show that has changed their life. I don’t know that I’d go that far, but it’s certainly a musical that gets really stuck in my head and heart and refuses to leave.


What did you read this month?

January 2022 Wrap-Up

Is it just me, or has this been the longest month in the history of months? Every time I look at the calendar I’m surprised because it feels like it should be at least mid-April by now. It hasn’t been a bad month, exactly, although it’s always depressing to go back to work after a vacation, but somehow life in general has managed to be even more tiring than usual.

Still, I read a few good books and got to see some absolutely fabulous shows! And Darcy continues to be as sweet as ever! Seriously: look at this precious face:

Here’s what I read…

Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This is definitely a typical romance for the tropey romance crowd. It gets a few diversity point for having a Muslim heroine, but aside from that there’s not much to recommend. The truth of the matter is that I’m never going to like a romance that plays the fake dating trope straight, and this one did. If you like that trope, you’ll love this. If you’re like me, this is one to skip.

Full review here


Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It is actually a total coincidence that I read two romances in a row with the world ‘count’ in the title. Of the two, I preferred this one. It’s still not really my cup of tea, but it is a quick, enjoyable read with likable heroines and a mostly compelling love story. It hinges a bit too heavily on the dreaded unnecessary miscommunication trope so many stories have going for them, but other than that it’s not bad. It is the third book of a series, though. You don’t have to have read either of the other two books (I didn’t even know they existed until after I’d finished!), but it’s still good to know.

Full review here


Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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I Care too Much About Fictional Relationships (Adam Groff Part II)

I was far from the only one who had a lot of thoughts about season three of Netflix’s Sex Education. It’s a great show, and the most recent season has a lot of developments. The one that most people, including me, had the strongest reaction to is the unfolding of the romance between Adam and Eric. I think we can all agree that that is not what we expected from those two.

My sister and I watched the show together long distance, and when I looked back at how many texts we sent analyzing Eric and Adam’s relationship, I decided it was time to write another of my embarrassingly long and nerdy (but surprisingly popular) essays about fictional relationships. When I actually set down to write it, though, I found myself focusing more on Adam individually than on the pair. That’s why this essay has been broken in two… it simply got too long. You can find Part I here, which is mostly about seasons one and two. This is a continuation of that earlier post, but you can start here if you only want to read about season three.

At first, I was mad at Eric. He used to be my favorite character, and by the end of season three he wasn’t anymore. In season three specifically, I find Adam to be a lot more sympathetic and much easier to relate to. My first reactions were entirely in Adam’s corner, because Adam’s confusion and internalized issues with his own sexuality are things I can really empathize with, so when a character is brushed aside because of that hesitation and shyness, I react pretty viscerally. In writing this, I did my best to approach Eric’s side of the equation with as much tact and understanding as possible. I still love Eric. He’s a fantastic character, and through the writing of this I was able to come around to his side of things a little more. I tried to keep this essay balanced, but if you notice a slight wavering in my impartiality, that’s why.

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents:

Adam and his Mentors: Communication Crash Course

At the end of season two, it looks like it will be smooth sailing for Adam and Eric. Adam has come out and is liberated from his father both at home and at school. Eric has broken things off with Rahim, and Eric’s mother is onboard the new relationship. Adam is even allowed back at Moordale.

It’s not perfect, though. Adam is definitely a work in progress. For Eric’s sake, he’s trying to do better, but his bad instincts are still there. When he arrives back at school, it doesn’t take long for people to start whispering about him. There are rumors that his mom bribed the school to get him reenrolled, and his sexuality is a topic of much conversation. Adam’s first impulse is to fight anyone who talks about him, and that doesn’t go over well with Eric.

ERIC: What are you doing?

ADAM: They… they were talking about me.

ERIC: But that doesn’t mean you can hurt people. No, I… I can’t do this again.

Sex Education season 3, episode 1

Eric likes Adam, of course, but it’s worth noticing that even here in episode one Eric is ready to leave the relationship. For clarity’s sake, that’s a good thing here. Based on their history, Eric has forgiven a lot. Their relationship is conditional on Adam having developed past his violent bullying. Eric entered the relationship only after feeling certain that Adam had, so when Adam demonstrates that that might not be the case, Eric knows to prioritize himself and get out.

Thankfully, Adam has developed past that. He needs a bit more help to reprogram his first instincts, but he’s eager to change. Importantly, Adam is not alone anymore. He has Eric, of course, but more importantly he has Ola. As in season two, Ola is there for Adam when he needs her the most and like in season two, Ola knows exactly how to help Adam navigate the things he’s struggling with. Adam, when he’s upset and angry, wants to destroy things but Ola prompts him to open up instead, introducing Adam’s primary challenge for the season: communicating what he wants.

ADAM: Do you wanna go and smash some shit?

OLA: Or we could talk instead?

ADAM: I’m… I’m not good at talking.

Sex Education season 3, episode 1

Adam’s first instinct here, as it has been in the past, is to smash stuff. In season one, he was unfortunately smashing people. In season two he found the healthier outlet in the junkyard, but here Ola suggests that maybe violent smashing isn’t always the best outlet. Thus prompted, Adam admits to Ola that he’s concerned about his reputation and his masculinity; Ola tells him exactly what he needs to hear, and exactly what he needs to work on.

OLA: Of course you’re still a man. But you know, men don’t need to hit things, and men can date other men.

Sex Education season 3, episode 1

Ola is a treasure. She deserves more screentime of her own, but we won’t get into that now. In this Adam-centric essay, the important point is that Ola sees him and sees what is important to him. She gives him another definition of what it is to be a man, and as we’ve seen, Adam has a lot of toxic ideas hardwired into him about masculinity. Ola is offering him a healthier version, a version that is more true to him. Adam can embrace his sexuality, express himself, and communicate openly. Doing so does not make him any less of a man, and it does not make him any less masculine either. It is, however, worth noting that down the line that Adam’s more traditionally masculine presentation when compared with Eric’s flamboyant, more traditionally feminine expression eventually becomes a sticking point between them.

Now, however, Adam takes Ola’s advice to talk to Eric about how he’s feeling.

ADAM: I don’t like it when I hurt people.

ERIC: Then don’t.

ADAM: Yeah. I don’t know why I do it. I just get so angry, but I wanna change.

ERIC: Okay.

Sex Education season 3, episode 1

Adam is good to his word. We see the effort it takes for him to change, but he makes huge strides in the right direction immediately. The next time someone tries to mock him for being gay, he challenges them verbally rather than physically. For someone who struggles to speak, he has a pretty brilliant comeback that forces his attacker to either affirm him or cross the line into naked homophobia.

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