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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I Care Too Much About Fictional Relationships (Adam Groff Part I)

Twice before on this blog, I have written long, analytical essays about fictional relationships that struck me as being particularly memorable. First I wrote about Pippin and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and how their juxtaposition and unlikely friendship contributed to mutual character growth than goes largely uncommented on because of the more obviously important twosomes in that series. Then I wrote about Andy and Erin from the sitcom The Office, detailing how the strong buildup to their romance is ultimately let down by poor writing choices and baffling character regression.

It has been a while since I wrote an involved essay of this kind, but I recently finished season three of the Netflix series Sex Education and had a lot of thoughts, particularly about the relationship between Adam and Eric. After my sister and I discussed and analyzed the series over text for something like four hours, though, I decided that I didn’t actually want to write about Adam and Eric specifically, although that will certainly be a large part of this piece. Actually, I’m interested in Adam and the masterful way the Sex Education team developed and refurbished his character from the bully everyone hates to the heartbreaking hero (almost) everyone agrees deserves better.

For obvious reasons, an essay about a lead character’s development which encompasses all of his significant relationships is by necessity going to be much longer than one about a specific relationship between two secondary characters. For that reason, I have split this essay into two parts. Part I, this one, covers seasons one and two. Part II, which will be out later, is all about season three. I have also created a table of contents with links that will let you jump to specific sections within parts.

Table of Contents

This is an extremely long post, so here’s some navigation to let you skip around to the parts you’re interested in:

Adam and Michael: The Bullied Bully

Despite anchoring a major emotional storyline in season three and wrapping up as a fan favorite, Adam at the beginning of Sex Education sits somewhere lodged awkwardly between sympathetic villain and antagonistic antihero. It would be easy to say that he begins the show primarily as a homophobic tormentor. For much of the first season, many of Adam’s scenes have him tormenting Eric, the openly gay best friend of the show’s lead character Otis. Adam is the school slacker. He cheats on his schoolwork and is apathetic whenever he’s not stealing Eric’s lunch money. It would be easy to immediately write him off as the one-note bully that every teen drama needs.

Even from the start, though, Sex Education doesn’t let the viewer slot Adam neatly into that role. Along with his season one girlfriend Aimee, Adam is the first character we see onscreen. We meet Adam before we meet Eric, or even before we meet Otis. It’s not always true, but it is often the case that fiction will open with its primary character, the one with whom we are going to navigate the story. That’s not generally true of Sex Education, which usually opens with Otis’ client for the episode, but in s1e1, we don’t know that yet. We open with Adam struggling with his sexuality, and we’re therefore primed for sympathy. It’s only in Adam’s second scene—his first with Eric—that we see the school bully. Even then, the scene is queercoded. Of course, there’s a whole history to the closeted homophobic bully, but Sex Education does seem to want to let Adam land comfortably there, either.

Even as he’s viewed through Otis and Eric’s eyes as a bully and an idiot, the viewer gets a little more context for Adam; episode one is Adam’s episode. It’s carefully built so that, as much as it’s easy to hate him, there’s the hint of something less despicable underneath.

AIMEE: Ruby and Olivia think I should dump him. They say he’s bringin’ down my social status, but… the thing is, he can be really sweet when nobody’s watchin.’

Sex Education season 1, episode 1

Adam being sweet when no one is watching is something that recurs with him, and it introduces the idea that at least some of his assholery is performative. Then there’s the fact that the rest of the episode, basically, is about Adam owning his narrative. Adam’s problems start the whole show. He’s Otis and Maeve’s first client, and we are forced to listen to him explain his problems through Otis’ therapeutic ears. It’s the rare situation when you sit in a therapy session with the antagonist. Sex Education does not create a monster and then try to retroactively redeem him. From the start, it builds his insecurities into his character (and also keeps Adam from being the only source of homophobia; most of the homophobes are minor straight characters, which avoids the dangerous all-homophobes-are-closeted-homosexuals trope that might’ve prevailed if it had just been Adam).

OTIS:  It’s interesting you mention your father. How does being the headmaster’s son affect you?

ADAM: Well, it’s shit, obviously… Everyone’s watching me all the time. Everyone’s like, ‘There goes Adam Groff, headmaster’s son. He’s got a big massive elephant’s cock.’ I’ve got feelings. I guess that… I wish I could be a normal kid. With a normal dick, and a normal dad.

Sex Education season 1, episode 1

Then Adam owns his narrative and Aimee dumps him because he’s a social liability. We’re sympathetic, because that must hurt. Adam’s speech to the whole school and his promise to Otis to leave Eric alone prime the viewers for a redemptive turnaround. But then he goes back on his word and resumes his bullying, and it again becomes very, very difficult to root for him. Because Sex Education immediately builds Adam the bully and Adam the victim concurrently, it’s hard to totally hate him, but it’s impossible to actively support him.

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September 2021 Wrap Up

It’s hard to believe that it’s already October! 2021 is flying by, not necessarily in that when-you’re-having-fun way, but flying nonetheless. The most important thing that happened this month is that this darling angel turned one!

That’s right! Darcy, the world’s sweetest puppy and this blog’s mascot (she deserves better), had her first birthday! In November, we get to celebrate her adoption day.

With the most exciting news out of the way, let’s move on to my literary recap.

Since I’ve written full reviews for all these books, instead of rehashing my thoughts I’m going to try something new: five-word reviews. If you’re interested in my full thoughts, the full reviews are linked as always (unless they’re not posted yet; some of the reviews are behind). We’ll see how that goes. Here’s what I read…

(or jump to what I watched)

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Serviceable mystery, but mostly romance.

When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Queer AF but otherwise bland.

The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Platonic friends? Nope. Affairs only.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Promising but flawed fantasy debut.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Classic, but not my taste.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Totally worth the hype. Unputdownable.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Smart, surprising, funny… but slow.


Here’s what I watched…

I was apparently in the mood to watch a bunch of campy musicals this month, because I watched a bunch of them. I’m still doing five-word reviews, but since in most cases I haven’t written about these movies and shows at all elsewhere, I’m elaborating a little more after the fact.

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August 2021 Wrap-Up

This was not my usual reading month. I was all over the place. I reread two of my favorite novels, but I also strayed well outside my usual tastes to read a thriller and a romance. I usually read YA almost exclusively, but I only read one this month, instead reading five books for non-young adults. (I wish there was a good name for those. There’s young readers/juvenile fiction and young adult but books for anyone older is just called “fiction,” which is misleading because YA and JF is also fiction. And you can’t just say “adult books” without people thinking you mean erotica.) I read books that I adored (so many five-star books!) and at least one that I despised (it’s not often that I fantasize about DNFing before I’m past the first chapter). I read books that have been out for years, books that were released recently, and one that hasn’t been published yet. I read new books by favorite authors, authors I’d never heard of before, and one book from an author I’d previously been lukewarm about. It is quite the assortment, and that’s pretty fun. Overall, I’d say that despite the bad start, this month was more good than bad from a book standpoint.

Here’s what I read…

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Rating: 0 out of 5.

Genre/categories: contemporary fiction, romance (straight)

Read it or Skip it? Skip it.

full review to come

This is the most emotionally taxing book I’ve read in a long time (in a bad way). I honestly think that the misleading cover-flap summary was irresponsible by everyone involved. People need a heads up for something like this. I had a happy, healthy childhood and was immensely upset. I cannot even imagine how traumatizing this book would be for anyone who has suffered abuse. I felt nauseated all the way through and would have DNF’d it a dozen times if I didn’t have to finish it for a book club. Even aside from the negative mental health effects, the book just isn’t very good. The character motivations are vague at best and the flashbacks are messy, overused, and poorly done. I am very, very relieved to be done with it. However, I will add the caveat that I seem to be among a minority who feels this way. The others in my group called it a beach read and were able to brush past the more traumatic elements to focus on the love triangle, so make of that what you will.


In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre/categories: YA fantasy, meta fiction, romance (m/f and m/m), LGBTQ+ (bisexual and gay)

Read it or skip it? Read it!

I absolutely adore this book. It seriously could not be more fun. All my favorite things—ride-or-die friendships, great character development, relevant social commentary, smart humor, queer romance, fantasy shenanigans, fun worldbuilding, meta commentary—are here in abundance. It would be hard to find a book more perfectly catered to my tastes, and In Other Lands is every bit as great as that list makes it sound. I’ve now read this book twice, and I couldn’t put it down either time. It is somehow both hysterically funny and deeply emotionally touching. It feels like a let’s just chill out and have fun with it kind of book, but it also deftly incorporates more serious topics like sexism, mental health, and othering. A person could easily write an essay about this book, but it likely wouldn’t occur to them to do so because it is so much fun to read that it feels like a brain-off bubblegum book. I highly, highly recommend it.


The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre/categories: JF mystery, action/adventure, series (book 1)

Read it or skip it? Read it!

The release of the (excellent) Disney+ TV adaptation inspired me to reread this childhood favorite. Is there anything better than revisiting an old favorite and finding it just as lovely as you remembered? It’s easy to age out of stories, or to look back and realize with horror that there is stuff in it that is not okay/socially acceptable. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. The Mysterious Benedict Society is wonderful. It is so clever. It’s packed with puzzles, and the way that the four protagonists’ very different skillsets combine to create a formidable team is great. The loving and unquestionably supportive rapport between the characters is something you don’t often see. One character is a certifiable genius who can read at blistering speeds and remember everything; another is a clever leader; a third is street-smart and has a past as an acrobat that gives her incredible physical prowess. The novel celebrates what each member brings to the team and at no point is one character’s talents seen as preferable to another’s. And then there’s the simple fact that this book is funny. It’s heartwarming and clever and silly and it’s impossible to read it without a smile.


Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre/categories: Magical realism (ghosts), fantasy, ghost story, romance (gay)

Read it or skip it? Read it!

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June 2021 Wrap-Up

June was an interesting month. I feel like I got to read a bit more than usual, and I finally got through my intimidatingly large library stack, so I feel like I have slightly more control of what I’m reading now, since I’m no longer chasing overdue deadlines. I reread some books I’ve been meaning to get back to, which is always fun, and I read a few things outside my usual wheelhouse (which always feels good). I also had a fun time putting together some LGBTQ+ recommendations for Pride Month. I also, apparently, watched more interesting things, because I usually feel like writing about one or two shows that I saw a month, and this time I have a whole bunch that warrant mention.

Work has been a bit more stressful than usual recently since we’ve had some understaffing issues (everyone makes big life changes in the summer! Some are unavoidable, like moving away to go back to college, but everyone else needs to wait!), I’ve gotten some additional duties (it’s nice to move up in the world/company, but it comes with a lot more anxiety!), and my bad knees have been acting up.

But no amount of work stress is so bad that a good book and this cute face can’t cheer me up!

I haven’t published all these full reviews yet because I wanted to keep my schedule somewhat constant, but they should all be up within the next month or so (with the exception of To the Lighthouse, since this is all I wrote; reviewing classics is weird, so I only do it if I have a lot of thoughts). Without further ado, here’s what I read in June….

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I Care Too Much About Fictional Characters: TV Couples Who Should’ve Lived Happily Ever After

I know I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how little I like romance novels. The truth is, though, that I actually like romance quite a lot when it is done well and when it is a secondary storyline in a larger story that is about something else. If a relationship is well-developed and populated by two characters who both have other things going on… I can be as big a shipper as anyone. As such, I’m not above being devastated when my favorite fictional relationships don’t turn out the way I think that they should.

Unlike books, which usually have one author, TV shows have a lot of moving parts. A whole team of writers, actors, networks, producers, etc. work together to create one collective story. Sometimes something that is lovingly set up just can’t follow through in TV world. Sometimes one person starts something and leaves it in the hands of someone else, someone who has a very different idea of what should happen. Sometimes a contract expires and and an actor leaves at an inopportune time. Sometimes everything goes entirely to plan and the plan is not what I wanted. These shows spurred me to make a list of my favorite TV couples who, if I’d been in charge, absolutely would have been each other’s happily ever after. In some cases, I ultimately agree that the writers made the right choices. In others, I respect the decision but disagree with it. In still others, I’m legitimately mad about the way things ended up because I think that the breakups ultimately betrayed more than just the fictional couple.

I started this post months ago, right after Supernatural‘s impressively horrific excuse for an ending. I figured I would let this sit for a while so that I could reassess and tone it down if time had mellowed my anger. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t. That one makes me mad. A couple others on this list make me mad. Some I begrudgingly understand. One I really respect and think the writers made the right choice.

In any case, this was a lot of fun, and here are my 10 TV Couples Who Should’ve Ended Up Together (with two honorable mentions for additional pairings in a show that’s already been mentioned). So, in no particular order, here we go!

Oh… spoilers for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Downton Abbey, Friends, Game of Thrones, Gilmore Girls, Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Schitt’s Creek, and Supernatural.

Sybil Crowley and Tom Branson, Downton Abbey

Why didn’t they end up together? They fell in love and got married! They were living happily ever after (relatively, anyway, considering their politics and the situation in Ireland), but Sybil died in childbirth. More to the point, Jessica Brown Findlay’s contract ran out and she wanted to leave the show so she had to be written out. Actor contracts really plagued Downton Abbey (*cough Matthew cough*).

What’s their deal? Downton Abbey is full of romances, but this is the one that really worked for me. It helps that Sybil was my favorite character long before Tom arrived on the scene. The youngest daughter of the Crowley family, she was independent and self-actualized in ways her older sisters—so focused on petty rivalries and romance—weren’t. Unlike the rest of the family, she looked beyond the privilege of obscene wealth and became socially conscious. She worked for women’s rights and volunteered as a nurse during the war because doing so was the right thing to do. Tom was the only person who really understood these passions. He supported her activism and encouraged her to walk her own path instead of bowing to her family’s traditionalism. Their politics weren’t necessarily identical, but they were both dedicated to eschewing the way things were for the way they could be. And while the servant falls for the rich girl he works for is far from an uncommon storyline, it works really well with Sybil and Tom because it demonstrates their ability to overcome class bias. Basically, they’re two matched souls who found each other in a society that really didn’t want them together, and they encouraged each other to reach their full potential.

It was really sad when Sybil died. Her actual death was very well written and acted, but it was devastating. Like I said, Sybil was my favorite character and Sybil/Tom was my favorite romance, so it was rough to lose them both in one fell swoop. It was even harder when, in the following season, the show kept trying to replace her. It kept bringing in spunky, forward-thinking girls and throwing them at Tom because, I guess, it didn’t know what to do with him without her. And it felt pretty disrespectful to Sybil, especially since all the potential girlfriends were clearly meant to be like her. Making Tom fall in love with anyone but Sybil was going to be a tough pill to swallow regardless of who it was, but trying to recreate Sybil was the wrong call. Also one of those spunky, forward-thinking girls raped Tom and the show just kinda shrugged it off, so…

The show went sharply downhill after Sybil (and Matthew) left. I can’t lay the quality dip entirely at the feet of Sybil’s death, but it certainly didn’t help. Downton Abbey eventually got it back together and I really enjoyed the end of the show and the reunion movie, but IMO Downton Abbey’s glory days are still season two, when Sybil and Branson’s romance was in full swing.

Honorable Mention: Thomas Barrow and Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey

Thomas really didn’t have many friends, did he? I mean, yeah. Most of that was his fault for being a terrible person most of the time, but any time someone did show him kindness he proved he was capable of friendship. Jimmy and Thomas had a rough start, but when they became real friends and Jimmy overcame his initial homophobia it seemed like they were building towards a romance. Jimmy very much had the vibe of a closeted guy overperforming hyper-masculinity. He really only ever hit on girls in front of Thomas or to prove he was straight. He wasn’t interested in Ivy until after the kiss incident, and I very much read him as overcompensating. Except apparently he wasn’t and there was never anything legitimately romantic between the two of them. Jimmy had an affair with his old (female) boss and got fired and that was the last he and Thomas saw of each other. I just wanted Thomas to be happy, okay? And Jimmy seemed like the best/only plausible partner for him.


Alexis Rose and Ted Mullens, Schitt’s Creek

Why didn’t they end up together? After dating on and off for most of the show’s run, Ted got his dream job in the Galapagos. Alexis seriously considered moving there with them, but after dating long distance for a while, it became obvious that—despite their love for each other—their lives were at a crossroads and in the long run they’d both be happier if they split.

What’s their deal? Alexis was a spoiled rich girl who moved into Ted’s town. Ted, a vet, was the most financially viable romantic interest there so Alexis decided he’d be a fun boyfriend for what she saw as a brief stay until her family’s finances improved. At first, it was a wildly unsuccessful relationship. Alexis saw Ted as a stopgap and was more attracted to another guy. But as their acquaintance deepened (after a few unfortunate proposals of marriage) and Alexis developed as a person, the two actually became very close friends. Admittedly Ted always did more for Alexis than vice versa, like when he hired her as his receptionist when she desperately needed a job but lacked all the qualifications, but eventually the two came to truly love each other deeply. One of the cutest moments of the entire show was when Alexis adopted Ted’s habit of making cringey but adorable animal puns. That moment made them feel like soulmates.

Unlike pretty much every other couple on this list, I’m actually okay with this breakup. The best relationships are the ones where the two people make each other better. A lot of TV romances tie into the individual characters’ arcs, and the relationship is kind of a culmination of the character growth on both sides and/or each partner gives the other something they’ve been searching for. In those cases, when the relationship doesn’t work out, something feels wrong. But with Ted and Alexis, the breakup is actually good writing. Not all couples live happily-ever-after, and even though Ted is a big part of Alexis’ development (love that journey for her) and she for him, their growth was demonstrated more by their mature breakup than it would have been by a continued relationship. Alexis was, at the beginning of Schitt’s Creek, defined by her relationships with men, so letting her step out on her own without the safety net of a boyfriend was really the best decision for her.

I still think she and Ted are adorable, though.


Darryl Whitefeather and Josh Wilson, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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April 2021 Wrap-Up

Last month, my reading choices were typically me. I read exclusively YA fantasy by my favorite authors. This month was very different. I mean, I’m me, so I did still read a few YA books… but for the most part I strayed away from my usual fare. I read a heavy piece of literary fiction, an intense memoir, and a children’s classic. It’s always important to try expanding your horizons, and I always have the best intentions, but at the end of the day I like what I like. I keep thinking that someday I’ll mature out of the Y in YA, but the more supposedly highbrow adult literature I read, the more I like YA. I honestly think that, on the whole, it’s better.

I had a lot going on this month–mostly planning my sister’s highly elaborate but COVID safe birthday party–so I unfortunately don’t have a full review for a lot of these this time around. Some are still to come, though…

Here’s what I read…

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

The unfortunate thing about We Begin at the End is that it has interesting ideas. It’s about the dangers of living too much in the past and how the desire for revenge can poison everything. It reflects on guilt and the realities of living with trauma and neglect. It could have been a brilliant novel, but it falls very short because the execution is simply not up to the task. It takes too long to get to its main ideas. It muddles things up by thematically advocating for moving forward instead of looking back, but seemingly reversing that at the last second. There are a few moments that seem to glorify sacrificial suicide. There are unnecessarily sexualized descriptions of the mainly one-dimensional female characters. Most of the plot is illogical. We Begin at the End depends on coincidence and implausibility to work. It has some interesting ideas and themes, but ultimately the writing is too weak to support them and the end result is a chore of a novel that is more tedious than entertaining, and more annoying than enlightening.  


Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Rating: 3 out of 5.

My usual reading goal is to read 10% classics. That sounds like an easy goal, but I’ve been doing a bad job of it lately. I normally like classics when I actually get around to reading them, but I rarely feel driven to them like I do with YA. I would never stumble across Little Lord Fauntleroy on a bookstore bookshelf and think, this sounds right up my alley! I only picked it up because my sister owns it and lent it to me when I said I needed something to read. I didn’t have particularly high hopes because I remembered generally disliking The Secret Garden and A Little Princess in my youth, but I was pleasantly surprised. This is a sweet and wholesome novel, if a little too sappily sincere in moments. I’d be lying if I claimed I didn’t cackle at the sheer number of times that characters were struck dumb by the undeniable handsomeness of an eight-year-old child. Still, much as I might personally wish for a sarcastic quip or self-referential aside, there’s something to be said for unabashed positivity. The modern reader in me kept expecting and even wanting Cedric to learn of his grandfather’s true nature, but as I reflect back… eventually his grandfather’s true nature legitimately changes, in part because of Cedric’s ignorance, so why does it matter if Cedric knows that he became kind only after meeting Cedric? Cedric is utterly guileless, and while he does have a bit of the irritatingly precocious about him, as a whole he makes for a winning focal point. I’ve become cynical over the years, and it’s nice to visit a world where a single pure soul can change the world for the better.


White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin by Michael W. Clune

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is another one I borrowed from my sister. She reads lots of memoirs, and I do so only very, very rarely. Still, she’d been telling me that it’s good for more than a year and I’m always game to diversify my reading… even if I go back to my favorites immediately afterward. As she describes it, “I wouldn’t exactly say that I enjoyed reading it, but it is really good.” I agree with that assessment one hundred percent. This is a tough read because it is all about a man’s battle with addiction. The writing is actually brilliant. Clune uses language powerfully to bring the reader into his spiraling mind at his lowest points. It’s terrifying. There’s a description towards the beginning about the type of person who becomes an addict, how some people can take the drug and forget about it and others who take it and forget everything else, that particularly stood out to me. White Out is harrowing, but as a person with an addictive personality it was especially horrifying for me. I’m obsessed with books, TV shows, musicals, and soda but I would be in big trouble if I got hooked on anything more dangerous. So yeah. White Out is a great book, but it’s not exactly a fun read.


Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli

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Shadow and Bone Season 1 Review

I have been looking forward to Netflix’s Grishaverse adaptation for a long time. I read enough that picking a permanent favorite book is more or less impossible, but Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo has been my favorite for coming up on three years and I have therefore rarely been more excited for an adaptation. I was excited enough for Shadow and Bone for its own sake, but even more so because it was going to give me the chance to share my enthusiasm for the Grishaverse with members of my family who don’t read much but could be persuaded to watch a TV show. My hopes were high, not just because I wanted the show to do justice to the amazing books, but also because if it wasn’t great my family was going to think me crazy.

Warning: If you have not finished the show, there will be some spoilers. I’ll mark them with the word SPOILER in red at the start of those paragraphs/sentences. There are a few Six of Crows spoilers, so if you have finished season one of Shadow and Bone but have not read Six of Crows, avoid anything with a blue SPOILER marker.

Overall:

Thankfully, the adaptation is very, very good. It’s not perfect, but it’s very fun.

Despite mixing in characters from its sequel series, Shadow and Bone is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel for which it’s named. It does make a few changes, particularly at the end, but by and large it sticks to the book very well. When it was announced that Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows would be adapted together, I think a lot of us were expecting a Shadowhunters type show, the kind that takes the characters and the vague idea behind the books and cobbles it into something entirely different. That’s always a risky move. Sometimes it turns out brilliantly, but for every Umbrella Academy that improves on its source material in every conceivable way, there’s an Eragon that changed everything and is universally reviled. Shadow and Bone would have had to make a really great new plot if it was going to change it, because those original books are great. Thankfully, the showrunners recognized that and kept everything very book-accurate. Mixing the Six of Crows characters into the original Grisha trilogy, strangely, changes very little about either storyline, and it solves what could have been a glaring issue with the show: everyone likes the Crows better.

Like, I like Alina and the Darkling’s story as much as anyone, but I LOVE Six of Crows. When I first read Shadow and Bone, I was like “Cool,” and put it aside and didn’t think about it again. Then I read Six of Crows and fell in love. When I returned to Shadow and Bone with that love, I was much more inclined to appreciate it. It’s a good book, but what comes later is much better. From what I’ve seen online since the show dropped, even people who haven’t read either series prefer the Crows, with Jesper often topping the list as the most popular character. Bardugo’s writing and her characters improve as she goes. Mixing the morally ambiguous Crows and adding the particularly relevant social commentary by making Alina Asian Shu elevates Shadow and Bone without necessitating drastic change. If the show gets renewed, it can only get better. Just wait until Nikolai shows up. Just wait until we get all SIX of Crows. I love the show for what it is, but I also love it for what it will be once the few remaining pieces of the puzzle click into place. I know logically that there was no way to pigeonhole Wylan into season one, but I still really missed him.

I thought the show did a good job of providing some small surprises for book readers without drastically changing anything. The plotline with the Conductor is a lot of fun, both because it shows Kaz in his scheming element and because it plausibly shows another aspect of the Fold. There are opportunists everywhere, even Ravka, and it was quite interesting to see characters aside from the Darkling who would use the Fold to their own advantage. Shadow and Bone the book is in first person, so it’s very possible that this kind of thing was happening beyond Alina’s view. His scheming makes a lot of sense. It fits into the universe and the story and complicates things without ultimately pulling anything wildly off track. Also, it makes Alina’s position more blatantly dangerous. SPOILER We’re told in the books that some people might wish her ill, but hearing that and seeing an assassination attempt in progress are two different experiences.

The crows plotline, I thought, works surprisingly well. I would’ve been happy to see them in any capacity, but the way the two storylines combines is pretty brilliant. It gives the crows a heist, which obviously they need because heists are their jam, but it also adds to Alina’s narrative. Seeing her story make its way across oceans hits it home how much power she has to potentially change more than just Ravka. Of course there are shady characters after her, hoping to nab her for their own gain. It’s to our benefit that these shady characters are so delightful that we half want them to succeed.

Biggest Book-to-Screen Changes:

SPOILER There are a few things that I think the show could have done better/shouldn’t have changed, particularly in the last episode. I don’t entirely understand why Netflix messed with the mythology of Morozova’s Stag and amplifiers in general. In the books, amplifiers are a much bigger deal. Zoya, one of the first Grisha Alina meets, has one and throughout her training Alina often wishes for one to hasten her progress. When she learns of the stag, a particularly powerful amplifier with its own rules, it seems like the answer to all her problems. The twist is all the more shocking because it goes against everything Alina has been led to believe about amplifiers, and because it is an example of the Darkling using her ignorance against her. In the show, the stag and the Darkling are really the only two amplifiers we ever see. It’s not a special amplifier. The only reason that the Darkling is able to gain power over Alina is because of the way David melds it into the Darkling and Alina both. That’s all mostly okay.

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And Then There Were None: Book to Series Comparison

Recently, I rewatched the excellent BBC adaptation of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. And Then There Were None is one of my two absolute favorite mystery novels (the other is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and they’re in a league of their own). I’ve read And Then There Were None multiple times over the years, because it’s so psychologically fascinating that it’s thrilling even if you already know whodunit. The 2015 BBC adaptation is great. It’s very faithful but makes a few minor changes. It’s the only adaptation I’ve seen (not counting the computer game, which I loved), and from what I can tell, it’s the most faithful one. I rewatched the series with my family, and although they’d all seen it before, it had been long enough that they’d forgotten even more than I had, so when I’d tentatively ask wasn’t this bit different in the book? no one could definitively answer me. Which, fair. If you don’t remember the murderer, you’re unlikely to remember whether or not Wargrave had cancer.*

*cancer isn’t specified, but he was dying; the reader doesn’t find out about it until much later than in the series

We finished the series and less than an hour later I’d pulled out my well-worn copy of the novel. As I’ve mentioned here before, I get obsessive. If I enjoy something, instead of moving on like a normal person, I ask how can I extend this for as long as possible? So I reread the book, taking notes of all the differences so that I could write a detailed comparison between the two. This isn’t the first time I’ve done an Agatha Christie book-to-series comparison post, but it is by far the most detailed. Like I said, And Then There Were None is my favorite.

Also, it’s just been way too long since I’ve done a super-nerdy, extremely over-involved post.

What’s it about?

Ten strangers are invited to a mysterious island, but when they arrive, they realize that they were summoned under false pretenses. On the first night, a mysterious voice accuses each of them of murder and in the days that follow they are meticulously killed off one-by-one.

So what changed?

Since this is an in-depth comparison, I’d recommend against reading it unless you’re okay with spoilers or have already either watched the series/read the book. I don’t know if it’s strictly speaking necessary to slap a spoiler warning on a post about a book that was published in 1939, but in case it is, this is that warning. If you don’t know And Then There Were None yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. The miniseries is about three hours long all told, and the book will take you only slightly longer. It’s absolutely worth it.

I figured I’d start with the most minor changes and work my way up to the larger ones (although, as I said, this is a faithful adaptation, so even the largest changes are—in the scheme of things—relatively minor). I’ll also assign points to either the book or the series depending on whether or not I liked the change. I love both versions, so this is just an exercise for my competitive spirit. If I had to guess before starting how it’ll end up, I’ll say that the series will probably get more points early on, and the novel will score more towards the end. The series does great things with the individual characters, but there are a few things about the mystery itself that are stronger in the novel.

The name of the island

The miniseries changes Indian Island to Soldier Island, and ditto for any other instance of “Indians.” The murderous rhyme becomes “The Ten Little Soldier Boys” instead “The Ten Little Indians.” The original title was even worse. The novel is absolutely brilliant, but the racist poem—particularly with the original language—is awful. The change to “soldier boys” doesn’t do anything to alter the best parts of the novel, but it takes out some inexcusable racism. See? Some changes are for the best.

Novel: 0            Series: 1

Lombard’s racism

Yep, another one about racism. This one is more complicated, though. The series softens Lombard in some ways (it hardens him in others, but we’ll get to that later). In the novel, Lombard is vaguely racist. He disparages the Jewish Isaac Morris, and—more damning—is guilty of causing the deaths of twenty-one men, members of an East African tribe. In the novel, Lombard callously implies that killing these East African men is nothing because they are less human than the English, and therefore care less about dying. The series presents it a little differently. Lombard is still unapologetic for the deaths, but it is depicted as him owning up to his crimes. Yeah, he’s a killer, but unlike the other nine he admits that he’s a killer, to himself and to the others. It’s also implied that he would have felt the same about the crime if the men had not been East African. Series Lombard killed people, yes, but he wasn’t racist about it. Interestingly, the series brings in racism in a different way. Although his nationality is not specified in the novel (he’s assumed English), TV’s Lombard is Irish and the others to regard him with added suspicion. He’s not just a murderer who brought a gun to a mysterious island. He’s an Irish murderer in 1939 who brought a gun to a mysterious island. Irish Lombard contributes to the setting and period of the piece, which could otherwise be almost any time or place. He brings a bit of the real world onto the island, demonstrating that no matter how isolated you might be, you can never be entirely cut off from the world at large. On the other hand, Lombard being actively racist makes him considerably worse, like top two bad. Still, since Lombard’s multiple murder is still awful even without it being racially motivated—and because the racism is just present without being much remarked upon—I think I’ll give this one to the series.

Novel: 0            Series: 2

A matter of strength

In the novel, much is made of the fact that Lombard and Blore are the most physically strong. When the group locks things up, they do so in cases with multiple locks, giving one key to Lombard and Blore with the idea that neither of them would be able to take it from the other without causing a ruckus the others would hear. Each time a murder happens, the group discusses who would have had the physical strength to do it, and it is repeatedly reiterated that just because someone (read: a woman) looks weak, they can’t count anyone out because madmen have incredible, unexpected reservoirs of power. In the series, Judge Wargrave says near the beginning that any one of them is capable of the murders and it’s left at that. Book Vera’s story about Cyril (the little boy she killed by sending him into a current he was too weak to swim) is doubted because Cyril was a sickly little boy. In the series Hugo points to Vera’s strength rather than Cyril’s weakness as the suspicious element. I prefer the way the series approaches this one. I’ve never liked the a woman couldn’t have done this; they’re too weak thing that mysteries often have, so it was nice to get it out of the way. Anyone could have done it. They’re all strong enough, and they’re all equally suspicious. Making a mystery more about who is strong enough to do something than about who would have done it is, to me, less interesting.

Novel: 0            Series: 3

Written accounts

In the final few chapters of the novel, the police are fruitlessly trying to figure out what happened on the island. They go over the various clues but are at a loss. Some of their clues come from writings left by the victims. Vera, Miss Brent, and Blore all left written accounts of their time on the island, which give the police some framework. Still, these clues only make things more complicated, as it all seems impossible. The series has no indication of written accounts, and furthermore there is no outside investigation. Once the last character dies, the show ends, and there is nothing afterward. This is a minor thing, but I much prefer the novel version. There’s something especially clever about a crime that remains entirely mysterious despite detailed accounts. Blore was a detective, but his reports still don’t shed any light on the matter. The way this works, alongside Wargrave’s death—we’ll get to that eventually—is just so cool. The way the novel is written, I legitimately thought for a minute that I’d never know who’d done it. I knew it was twisty and clever, but that chapter with the police makes it all the more so. The series version is more cinematic, but less thrilling.

Novel: 1            Series: 3 

Mountain climbing

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January 2021 Wrap-Up

Wow, January was a month. The headlines have been crazy, but my personal life has calmed down. Since the holidays are over, work has gone back to normal. There’s still the extra pandemic stress, but pandemic stress is nothing compared to pandemic-and-holiday stress. Plus, I’ve had more time to play with the puppy. We adopted Darcy in November, and she is an absolute sweetheart. She’s smart and adorable, and she only occasionally tries to eat my books while I’m reading.

I didn’t read any YA this month. That’s deeply uncharacteristic. I promise I haven’t been replaced by an evil twin or anything.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

⭐⭐⭐

Well, I finally did it. It took me a whole month, but I finally got through Middlemarch. I’m not really sure why it took me so long. It’s a huge book, but I’ve read equally fat tomes in far less time. Usually my reading speed tells you what I thought of a book. I race through anything I love and slog through the books I dislike. The thing is, though, that I didn’t dislike Middlemarch. It’s a very well-written novel, and it does an excellent job capturing an era of major reform. It juggles an immense cast of characters, and the way that their storylines all come together at the end is nothing short of masterful. There’s no question in my mind that it absolutely deserves its status as part of the literary canon, but there’s also a reason I didn’t write a full review for it. It didn’t really make me feel anything. I enjoyed it for the most part, but I didn’t fall in love with it. None of the characters particularly spoke to me, and I found myself occasionally setting it aside for days at a time. That doesn’t happen with books that I love. Middlemarch is a very long book, and it feels very long. There are other classic novels of comparable length that don’t feel nearly as long. Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo and Hugo’s Les Misérables are similarly immense but kept me so engaged that I hardly noticed that we were approaching 1,000 pages. Middlemarch makes you feel those pages. It takes its sweet time getting to where it’s getting. Some of the main characters don’t show up until more than a hundred or two hundred pages in. As far as classic literature goes, this one is an investment. It takes a lot of time and commitment and a lot of attention. Unless you’re a history scholar, you may need to have to research some things or accept that you’re going to miss some nuance. At the end of the day, I was relieved to finish Middlemarch. There are some books you want to live in for as long as possible, and there are others that, even if you ultimately give them the thumbs up, you’re glad to finish. For me, Middlemarch is one of the latter. But at least I can now appreciate my sister Maleah’s absolutely phenomenal comic rendering of Lydgate and Rosamund’s plotline:

artwork by Maleah Miller; words by George Eliot

Please, please do yourself a favor and check out the rest of the comic and Maleah’s other art on her website. It’s a way better site than this blog, I promise.


Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Finally, a book club book that I enjoyed! I miss the days when I got to curate the book club books, because overall I have not been impressed by the ones I’ve read recently. More than one made my Worst Books of 2020 list. Better Luck Next Time is not exactly my type of book–too much focus on having children–but it is a quick, entertaining read. It is set on a divorce dude ranch during the 1930s. Apparently back then this was a thing: wealthy women who had to go to Reno for divorces would stay at these ranches for the six weeks required to become “residents” eligible for said divorces. I did not know such a thing existed, but it definitely makes for a compelling setting. Better Luck Next Time is just funny enough to keep from being depressing, and it tackles some really interesting themes (I had a fun time writing my discussion questions; there was a lot of material to hit). While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it widely, it is certainly a good book club choice: there’s a lot to discuss, it’s short enough that there’s no excuse not to finish it, and it’s the sort of book that’s difficult to dislike.


A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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December 2020 Wrap-Up

Anyone who has ever worked retail during December knows that there’s not a lot of downtime for relaxation and reading. Last month was highly stressful because the combination of a pandemic and cranky holiday shoppers is a doozy, to say the least.

I read…

American Royals by Katharine McGee

American Royals disappointed me. I expected it to be cleverer and bolder and to have a lot more to say about the current political state of America (well maybe not the current state, because yikes). It’s a standard teen romance with a few too many characters and a bit too much dependence on outdated/sexist tropes. If you’re into romance specifically for the romance, you’ll probably like American Royals, but if you’re looking for anything beyond that, you’d do better to look elsewhere.

⭐⭐


World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

This is not the type of book I’d normally read. I never pick nonfiction when left to my own devices, and I’m very wary of anything written by poets since in my experience they tend to use fifty words where two would suffice, but since this was Barnes & Noble’s book of the year, I had to read it. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The writing is beautiful, and the way that Nezhukumatathil infuses her life story and reflections on the world into her nature essays is remarkably effective. As with any essay collection, I liked some more than others, and I loved the ones that skewed more towards the personal. I like nature, but at least in World of Wonders, it works better as a conduit to humanity more than the subject in and of itself. The fact that I liked this book is remarkable, and I’m sure that anyone more inclined to essays, nature writing, memoirs, or poetry would absolutely adore it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

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November 2020 Wrap-Up

November was a rough month. Holiday season is no joke in the retail world. Also, it was National Novel Writing Month, so I spent most of my creative energy (and downtime!) working on that. I didn’t have much time leftover to read or write reviews, which is why I’ve been essentially MIA on this blog. Whoops. I’m going to eventually loop back and review most of what I read this November, but since I was so-so on the majority of them, it might take a while.

What did you read and watch this month? Why should I check out?

Here’s what I read…

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind is a powerful novel. It has been getting a lot of hype, and for good reason. It’s impeccably written, and the oppressive atmosphere of uncertainty and terror is effective in its own right but it also taps into what we’re all feeling this year. This is a novel that thrives on ambiguity. It’s brilliantly done. It was a little bit too much for me right now–2020 has me so stressed already; I need escapist fiction!–but it’s excellent. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Like Leave the World Behind, Cemetery Boys deserves its acclaim. It weaves together an affecting queer bildungsroman with an exciting paranormal murder mystery. The two storylines are deeply linked and make for a novel that is as empowering as it is fantastical. There are a few fairly predictable plot twists in the second half, but that’s forgivable because they fit the thematic story being told (and, in truth, a twist that is too foreshadowed is better than one not foreshadowed enough). Overall, this is an excellent YA fantasy that mixes trans and Latinx stories with charming characters and ghosts. This was, by far, my favorite read from November. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

I love Rainbow Rowell, so I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, but it was in high demand last fall so I waited until this year. It seemed like a good pick for early October, so I dove into it with high hopes. It’s… okay. It’s cute and quick, and I liked the illustrations. I was ultimately disappointed, though. I was really loving the friendship between the two main characters, so when it (spoiler) tips into romance I was bummed. They just felt beautifully platonic to me, and there aren’t many platonic love stories out there. I love a good friends-to-lovers arc as much as anyone when it feels natural, but this one feels forced. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Oh, Hench. What a disappointment. It’s Not Your Sidekick meets The Boys, which sounds pretty good (I haven’t seen the second season of The Boys yet. Should I?)… but it takes the worst of each without the best. It has the gritty violence of The Boys without the dark humor or complexity. It has the basic premise of Not Your Sidekick without the sweetness. Hench tries very hard to complicate a world of superheroes and supervillains, but only succeeds in making its protagonist an self-righteous egoist. That would be bad enough on its own if the book didn’t have other issues, which it does. Most specifically, the pacing is jarring and the overall impression is that the book drags horribly while somehow speeding through everything of import. ⭐⭐


Love, Creekwood by Becky Albertalli

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Supernatural 15×20 Reaction (Carry On)

Sometimes (often), I read tumblr posts about Supernatural episodes before I watch the episode myself. I’m impatient, and while I can’t watch the episodes as they air live, I can read people’s liveblogs. I don’t really mind spoilers, and Supernatural episodes are so uneven that I like to know what I’m getting into before I get into it. Over the years, I’ve found some bloggers whose opinions I agree with 95% of the time. Based on those bloggers’ reactions to the finale… I don’t want to watch it.

Which is nuts, because I’ve been EAGERLY waiting for tonight’s episode for two weeks. I loved 15×18 when it aired, but in retrospect I’d love to delete it because it set my expectations way too high, much higher than they ever should have been.

I’m a completionist, so I’m sure I’ll watch “Carry On” in a couple of weeks (you can’t really watch 326/327 episodes), but for now… nope.

I’ve been watching for Cas this whole time. Even before I’d seen a single episode with Cas, I was mentally counting down episodes until “Lazarus Rising,” because it was tumblr posts about him that first piqued my interest about the show, and my understanding was that the show is pretty good for three seasons and then becomes epic. For the most part, that was true. I never, ever would have stuck with Supernatural if it weren’t for Cas. He is Supernatural‘s greatest triumph/asset, and all they did was waste him.

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Supernatural 15×14 Review (Last Holiday)

Supernatural has been on hiatus for COVID-19 for a really long time, and I’m very out of the habit of writing TV reviews. I’d also forgotten pretty much everything that happened, so I had to go back and reread all my own reviews from this season. Gosh, those things are long. And thorough. I’m glad for it, because I really needed the refresher, but this recap is likely going to be considerably shorter, both because I’m out of the groove and because I have a lot of other reviews and writing projects that I need to get to.

Also, I just finished watching Schitt’s Creek and adored it. At this point, any show I watch that isn’t Schitt’s Creek is going to disappoint me a little bit; it is so funny, so sweet, so unabashedly queer and filled with lovable characters and amazing story arcs. So I decided to switch up this recap by reacting solely with Schitt’s Creek gifs. You’re welcome/I’m sorry.

After a recap that doesn’t cover nearly as much information as I expected (if I were in charge, I probably would’ve opted for a long-style musical recap the likes of which we normally see in a season premier), we find Sam and Dean in the bunker, discussing Jack’s recent trauma. What with all the things he did without it, Jack is suffering from the weight of his recently-restored soul. Sam and Dean are worried about him, but they’re letting him have his space. Later in the episode, Dean says that he’s been through worse than Jack and is fine and he and Sam have this amusing, on-brand conversation about Jack and trauma generally:

SAM: Ignoring your trauma doesn’t make you healthy.

DEAN: Sure it does.

Dean is in homemaker mode: he found an apron and is making burgers. Sam makes fun of him for the apron, which strikes me as a dumb move. Never mock someone who’s making you food.

The power in the bunker has been fritzing, so Dean goes down to the basement to hit the reset. All seems fine until he returns to his bedroom to find a strange woman folding his underwear. Yikes. Also, Dean has cartoon characters on his underwear, which is somehow not at all surprising.

It turns out that underwear lady is a wood nymph called Mrs. Butters. Apparently she’s been in the bunker this whole time. The Men of Letters used her power to supplement the bunker, and it–and she–have been in standby mode the whole time Sam and Dean have been there. With her out of standby mode, the boys have all kinds of new toys, including a monster radar that shows the guys what monsters are in the area and exactly where to find them. They want to believe that Mrs. Butters is what she says she is, so they head to the spot indicated by the sensors, figuring that if they find vampires there, they can trust her.

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August 2020 Wrap-Up

It’s hard to believe another month has gone by! 2020 has been a bizarre mashup of time flying by but also looking around and just going when will this end??? I’m still riding the wave of my YA fantasy kick, and I spent much of this month trying to find another series I could latch onto as significantly as I did the Raven Cycle. I didn’t succeed… I started two totally new series to middling results (I liked both, but don’t think I’ll continue reading either) and while I did read two YA fantasy novels that I loved, one is a stand-alone and the other is essentially the Raven Cycle Part II and can’t be counted as a new discovery. That said, if you know of any addictive YA fantasy series, please leave titles in the comments because I’m always looking for them!

Here’s what I read this month:

Book review: Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan | GLBT ReviewsGirls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

I’m always looking for a new YA fantasy series, so whenever I read a positive review for one I put it on my TBR without too much vetting. This was the case for Girls of Paper and Fire. I don’t remember where I first heard about it. Knowing that something is the first book of a generally positively-regarded fantasy series is usually enough to hook me; Girls of Paper and Fire centers on Asian and queer characters, and that got me even more interested. The title worried me slightly (why are so many YA fantasies titled something of something and something?) but I read it anyway.

While I think Ngan is a very skilled writer who does an excellent job of distilling important ideas–like the danger and prevalence of the patriarchy, the trauma of sexual assault, and more–she struggles more with creating a fully-fledged fantasy universe that I could fall in love with. I like her characters, but I don’t love them. I was interested to find out what would happen next, but I was never in danger of staying up all night to find out. I like to be obsessed with fantasy books. I often want to reread them as soon as I finish. I’m tempted to buy the ones I borrowed from the library. I like to scroll tumblr for fanart and inside jokes. I like to make predictions about subsequent books and wish for TV adaptations. I liked Girls of Paper and Fire, but it didn’t make me want to do any of those things.


Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean RhysWide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I read Wide Sargasso Sea because I’ve heard that it is, essentially, required reading for fans of Jane Eyre. I am certainly a fan of Jane Eyre, but I could take or leave Wide Sargasso Sea. It’s not exactly a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel, but it’s closer to that than anything else. It follows the largely-ignored Bertha Mason, Rochester’s first wife, through her childhood in the Caribbean to the yearly days of her marriage. It’s a challenge to the Euro-centric storytelling of the original novel, and while that’s laudable, Wide Sargasso Sea fudges too many of the original details for my liking, and overall failed to fully capture my attention. It’s very possible that, going into this book as a casual reader intending simply to enjoy myself, I missed a lot of the nuance. I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’m in any way knowledgeable about the history of the Caribbean, so it might be my own fault that I didn’t especially like Wide Sargasso Sea, but the fact remains: I didn’t especially like Wide Sargasso Sea.


Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle): Kristoff, Jay ...Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

I seriously have no idea why I read this. Did I read a good review of it? Did someone recommend it to me? Did I see it on a shelf at work and think it sounded good? I have legitimately no idea. It was on my to-read list on goodreads so I got it from the library. And I was confused, because it’s not really my type of book. I don’t read a lot of dark fiction (I’m easily frightened) and while I love YA fantasy, I don’t read a lot of adult fantasy (aside from the majorly popular ones like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings). I do know that I thought Nevernight was YA until I was about halfway through it and then… it really, really isn’t. If you asked me if I liked Nevernight when I was about two-thirds done with it, I probably would have said I really did. If you’d asked me before that, I’d have told you I hated it and was close to DNFing it (the beginning is borderline unreadable, and I only powered through it because I’ve only DNFed one book in the past 10+ years and it’s not in my character to add to that list). Now that I’ve finished, I’m not sure how I feel. There’s a very surprising twist at the end that is very effective from a plot perspective but slightly disappointing from a thematic or character-based one. It’s possible that later books in the series salvage this (I did a brief Google search and it sounds like this is the case, that books two and three course correct a bit), but at the moment I’m on the fence, leaning towards no, about continuing the series.


call down the hawkCall Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

I spent almost all of July obsessively reading Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle. I sped through those books as quickly as I could get them and requested Call Down the Hawk as soon as I finished because it’s been a while since I’ve loved a character as much as I love Ronan Lynch, the magical dreamer from the original series who becomes a fully-fledged leading man for this sequel trilogy. Right now, I’m having a hard time thinking anything about Call Down the Hawk except that… I was very spoiled with the Raven Cycle. They were all readily available to me. I didn’t have to suffer through any long hiatuses. I skipped from one book to the next with no more than a few days–or, in the case of Blue Lily, Lily Blue and The Raven King, a few hours–in between. And apparently I didn’t quite internalize that the Dreamer Trilogy is, in fact, a trilogy. And there’s only one out right now. AND IT ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER. And I have to wait until MAY 2021 to find out what happens. But I need to know where Ronan is! And what is going on with Adam? What’s Bryde’s deal? I NEED ANSWERS. And yeah, I have thoughts about parts of the book that aren’t the last chapter which I get into in my full review, but right now I’m just screeching internally because it’s been a long time since I’ve been properly devastated by finishing a book too long before its sequel is available.


in other landsIn Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

This book is SO ADORABLE. I mostly read it because a coworker recommended Sarah Rees Brennan to me generally and I realized that–aside from her Shadowhunters-verse short stories written with Cassandra Clare–I haven’t actually read anything by her. I thought I had. In Other Lands is kind of a fantasy story, kind of a friendship story, and kind of a romance. It’s also pretty meta; I’d definitely recommend it to fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, although it engages differently. It’s basically what would happen if you released a genre-savvy asshole into a fantasy world and let him run amok, and it’s hilarious because said genre-savvy asshole manages to be both extremely lovable and deeply annoying at the same time. I really had no idea what I was getting into with In Other Lands, but I’m so glad I read it because I won’t be surprised if it makes it into my top ten list this year.


Here’s what I watched this month:

The Umbrella Academy

klaus where are you going with this umbrella academy

Season two of The Umbrella Academy dropped on Netflix at the very end of last month and I’m embarrassed at how quickly I tore through it. It’s such a great show. It balances silly moments with genuine emotion and manages to pair over-the-top fantasy action with nuanced storylines that touch on real-world issues like racism, homophobia, addiction, and abuse. Despite balancing lots of different storylines and a large cast of characters, The Umbrella Academy doesn’t seem to struggle with characterization or pacing. Season two lets the characters who were previously slightly sidelined get their chance to shine and tries different things without losing sight of what worked previously. I’m always a little worried that I show I love will drop in quality between seasons, but thankfully that’s not the case with The Umbrella Academy.


Star Wars

darth vader father and son star wars

I watched The Mandalorian last month. It didn’t make that much of an impression on me, honestly (it didn’t even make my monthly recap). Baby Yoda is absolutely adorable; I love him and spent the whole show cooing at his sweet face. If the character designers hadn’t done such a great job on that little guy, though, I have a hard time believing anyone would care all that much about the show. The reason I mention this, though, is because my parents were extremely confused about the timeline (they were convinced Baby Yoda is, in fact, Yoda as a baby); my sister and I tried to explain it and at the end of it decided it would be easier to just rewatch all the movies, including Solo and Rogue One, in chronological order. It’s been a while since I watched them, and even though I’m a big fan (there have been a few Star Wars themed birthday parties in my family) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Different things struck me this time than previous viewings. Like, I’ve always loved Han and Leia but I was really sleeping on Luke. And I did not understand politics as a child. I’m bewildered as to how I made it through the prequels because I had literally no idea what was going on. I think I just liked Padmé’s outfits. As for the sequel trilogy, I think it’s probably the weakest overall because of The Rise of Skywalker (wtf Palpatine) but I love the other two. I’m one of the few fans who absolutely, enthusiastically thinks The Last Jedi is great (I wrote a tiny bit about that in my review for Solo, which is linked above, if you’re interested). I fully, unironically like all the Star Wars movies but haven’t done a full watch ever (at least, not since the existence of the sequels), so this has been a lot of fun. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll write a longer Star Wars review, because I have Thoughts™ .


gif credits here and here