10 Reasons Why Stranger Things is Fantastic Entertainment

UnknownAs I pretty much always am, I was late to the cultural phenomenon that is Stranger Things. I’m sure I was aware of it because it’s on Netflix, but there are so many awful shows out there that I don’t always pay attention.

I assumed it was based on a Stephen King novel. I think I got Stranger Things confused with Needful Things, and then the font of the title (which matches early Stephen King novel font) clinched it in my brain. (For those of you who don’t know, the show pays homage to Stephen King and much other 80s pop culture but isn’t actually based on any single thing King wrote.)

What caught my attention was when a friend, who hates horror, started posting how much she loves this show. This friend is such a scaredy cat that when I took her to a mild haunted house, she was so terrified that she dug her fingers into my arm and left bruises.

I made a casual comment to my husband that we should watch the first episode. We had no idea that we wouldn’t be able to stop until we were done.

If you’re reading this without having watched Stranger Things, I’ll keep the spoilers mild. I will make references to Season 2 characters and situations.

So, what’s so great about it?

  1. There are few one-dimensional characters. The main characters aren’t perfect. They have flaws and problems, but at the end of the day, they’re interesting. I wanted them to win, and my heart started racing when they were in danger. The one-dimensional characters we see are not onscreen long enough to develop them. Even Billy (who was pretty close to being a one-dimensional bully) got some screen time showing slightly more depth.
  2. The groups of kids (and adults) mostly work together. The four main characters, Mike, Will, Lucas, and Dusty, work as a team to solve problems. They argue sometimes, but ultimately they manage their disagreements. Nancy and Jonathan don’t always get along, but they put aside their differences to try to kill the big bad guy. I hate when, in movies or TV, the main characters are so busy arguing that they forget to focus on the real enemy. That doesn’t happen on this show.
  3.  The female characters are strong. Every main character on this show, male and female, have agency. At times, everyone thinks Joyce is crazy, but all she cares about is communicating with her son. She vigorously defends herself and doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks. Nancy is concerned about buying a new blouse and getting the popular guy to like her, but when she starts to realize bad stuff is going down in her town, she doesn’t hesitate to grab a gun and go hunting. She’s scared afterward and asks a friend to stay in her room with her, but it doesn’t stop her from fighting. El wants to look pretty so Mike likes her, but is the definition of badass. I read a criticism of the show that Maxine (Max) is only there so that Lucas and Dusty argue over her, trying to win her affections. The thing is that kids develop crushes in real life, so I felt that it was realistic. Max didn’t hesitate to get involved when they needed to help Will.
  4. The male characters are strong without being chauvinists. At one point, Max asks Lucas if the boys won’t include her “because I’m a girl?” Lucas looks genuinely confused before exclaiming, “No!” The boys and girls all protect one another. Hopper is probably the male character who most often insists that he take the lead into danger. But it makes sense, because he’s the sheriff, and he protects everyone. Plus, his character makes it clear that he’s protective not because he thinks others are inadequate, but because he doesn’t want to lose anyone else.
  5. The characters’ relationships are sometimes messy. Friends don’t get along all the time in real life. At one point, Lucas and Mike even get into a physical fight, as boys that age sometimes do. Barbara and Nancy argue over how Nancy is acting to get Steve to like her, but Barbara supports her anyway.
  6. The 80s references. I see all kinds of articles talking about how my generation is nostalgic and loves 80s pop culture, and while I think that’s true, I think that everyone loves entertainment set in the 80s. It was such a colorful, interesting time. There are so many iconic things that signal the 80s that it’s hard not to love that decade.
  7. The references to other horror movies/ books. People talk about how this show is “derivative,” as if that’s a negative. For my husband (who’s a huge movie buff), half the fun was saying, “That’s from Aliens!” or “That’s a reference to The Thing!”
  8. It’s more about the characters than about the scary. When I asked a different friend why she liked the show, considering that it’s horror, she said that it wasn’t scary all the time. Mostly, it’s about a group of friends trying to find their missing friend. She said she just covers her eyes during the scary parts and makes sure her boyfriend watches it with her. I agree with her; the story has fantastic character development and I loved all the characters’ storylines.
  9. The acting is fantastic. I am in awe of how talented these kids are. Millie Bobby Brown as El has only 42 lines in Season 1, so most of her acting is using body language and facial expressions. She does a fantastic job and is a nuanced character even without dialog. Will also has a lot of subtle things going on with him, and he does an amazing job of conveying it. The adult actors are great too. Winona Ryder does crazy without being over the top about it, and David Harbour plays the tortured sheriff in a way that made me want to slap him and give him a hug. I loved the addition of Sean Astin and Paul Reiser in Season 2.
  10. The music! I almost never go out of my way to find TV show soundtracks, but when they include songs like “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash and “Heroes” by Peter Gabriel, I’m all in. Even the second season soundtrack, which is mostly instrumental, is great.

So, there you have it, all the reasons I loved Stranger Things and have spent the last four days binge watching it. Have you seen it yet? Did you love it or hate it?

Advertisements

My Crazy, Bookish Adventure Weekend

Some people are going to read this post and be like, “Book stuff isn’t an adventure.” If you’re one of those people, this post might not be for you.

For those of you who are like, “Books? Tell me more!” read on.

Always Raining Here

My bookish weekend started on Friday when I finally got my copies of Always Raining Here.

IMG_9780

It’s a webcomic that ran from 2012- 2016, a story about two teenage boys’ quest for love. (Okay, it didn’t start out as a quest for love… but they’re teenage boys!) I’ve been waiting for these books for awhile, so it was a nice surprise to finally get them.

The Texas Teen Book Festival

Saturday was the Texas Teen Book Festival with a few authors I’d heard of, and many more who were new to me. The authors sat on panels such as “You + Me = Fate” and talked about themes in their books, writing process, the importance of diversity in books, and other interesting topics.

Though I could have bought these books cheaper elsewhere, I bought a bunch at the festival for a few reasons.

  1. It’s important to support other authors. One day I hope to make a living from people buying my books.
  2. They’re signed! Signed books are always better!
  3. If I don’t buy them immediately, I put them on a list and forget that I really wanted to read them.

IMG_9779

(I’ve already read When Dimple Met Rishi, and it was lovely.)

The Library Sale!

I love the sale at my local library. Not only are books cheap, but I love used books. Part of it is that I just love owning things that other people owned, that have wear marks and maybe writing in them. The other part of it is that I’m conscious about waste, so when I can buy used, I feel good about my purchasing decisions.

I went for the YA/ children’s books first, and was immediately perplexed. Instead of stacking the books so the titles could be read, they looked like this:

IMG_9782

My apologies for the blurry picture. Please don’t tell my husband… he’d be appalled.

Why would you stack books so that you can’t see the spine?? It’s incomprehensible to me, and reminds me of that weird backwards bookshelf trend (which will be the subject of Friday’s blog… stay tuned).

From there, I moved into the main room with all the other books. I was briefly distracted by a copy of The Annotated Alice, an annotated version of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland from 1960. I actually own the exact book that was being sold, but I don’t have much willpower when it comes to Alice in Wonderland. I want to own multiple copies of every version of this book ever made.

IMG_9783

Yeah, I don’t understand it either. Moving on.

I acquired some great finds, including an old Stephen King anthology with “Rage,” a rare short story that King himself asked to be pulled off the shelves.

IMG_9781

The leather-bound book is a copy of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. Now, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have bought this book, except that someone had put it with the religion books. I know volunteers run library sales, and someone just put it there because it looked like it belonged, but it made me laugh, so I had to buy it.

I bought Girl On A Train because it sounded better than The Girl On the Train, which I disliked, though everyone else seemed to think it was great.

There was also a book I spotted called, “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.” This raised so many questions for me. Is there also a “Manly Art of Breastfeeding”? Is the implication that someone isn’t womanly if they don’t breastfeed? What if I don’t have children? Should I breastfeed other people’s children in order to be more womanly?

IMG_9771

I didn’t buy that one though. I figured someone else needed tips on being womanly more than I did.

Did you have any bookish adventures this weekend?

SaveSave

Annie Wilkes Had a Point

IMG_8818I love a good antihero, but don’t normally sympathize with villains. And Annie Wilkes (of Misery, by Stephen King) really was a villain. After all, she captured an injured man and refused to release him, making him write stories for her, then injured him when he made her mad. That’s firmly in villain territory.

One of the things that made her really mad was “cheating.” You know, when an author promises one thing and delivers another? Or when the author says one thing happened, but then backtracks and says “It was all a dream” or “It didn’t really happen that way.” I mean, when those things happen, I kind of understand her desire to break the ankles of the offending author.*

(*I’m not actually advocating violence here. Please don’t go out and break anyone’s ankles.)

I recently read a book that I love and hate at the same time. It was good, and it paid off all the promises the author made. But the ending was sad. I don’t want to like the ending. I want to demand the author take it back. Kind of like when JK Rowling went on a killing spree in Book 7.

But it was the right ending.

The author gave the book the ending it deserved. No flinching (well, probably flinching), no cheating. It hurt. I mean, if it hurt me, it probably hurt the author more.

It’s just that I was so emotionally invested in the book. I wanted everyone to be okay, to have a magical happily ever after. And while a lot of books do end like that, not all of them do. And not all of them should.

As a writer, I wand to give all of my characters happy endings. After all, technically, I can. I could write a happy ending for everyone because I’m the one typing the words on a page.

But stories are a living thing. The good ones breathe life into the reader, and the reader breathes back. If a writer forces the story into a corner, it will do what it’s told, but it won’t breathe magic anymore. Maybe in the moment, the ending will be satisfying, but ultimately forgettable. Because if the ending isn’t real, right, alive, then there’s no point to writing it.

And sometimes real, right, and alive hurt.

The logical part of me knows this. But the emotional part? Well… I think I’m going to go reread Misery.

Are there any books that ended in a way that felt right, but still hurt? Or any books you’re still mad about because they “cheated?”

(On a side note, for those of you who follow my blog, I’m going to try switching to a Monday/ Friday update schedule. Sunday/ Wednesday just wasn’t working for me.)

 

C is for Charlie

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8313Charlene “Charlie” McGee is a little girl with pyrokinesis in Stephen King’s Firestarter.

I read this book for the first time as a teenager, and it’s still one of my favorite Stephen King books.

First off, I love the idea of a kid who can create fire with her mind. Maybe one or two people have accused me of being a bit of a pyromaniac. I can’t help it! I love candles and fires.

Second, I love child protagonists in horror. Kids don’t react the same way as adults, and it’s interesting to see what they do. They’re more likely to believe in the unbelievable. Plus, people often underestimate kids. This kid is a force to be reckoned with.

Third, I almost never do this, but I associate her with the movie version of her, a young Drew Barrymore. I love Drew Barrymore, and I have to admit that probably is part of the reason for my love of this book. When I picture the character, I picture her.

Charlie is one of those characters who’s stayed with me. She was put in a bunch of horrible situations, but she kept moving forward, and she survived. At any point, she could have just quit, but that never happened. I’m sure the adult version of her would have scars, but I’d like to think she would still be doing her best to live and love.

Stephen King could have written her as unfeeling or numb to her situation, but even at the end of the book, she’s still got a wealth of empathy, even if she’s no longer emotionally a little girl anymore.

Are you a horror fan? If so, what’s your Stephen King book?

Can I Really Say I “Read” An Audiobook?

img_7913Up until the last few years, I never listened to audiobooks. There are a lot of reasons that don’t have anything to do with snobbery: I retain more when I read vs. listen, my mind wanders more when I listen, it’s harder to go back and re-read passages, I can’t highlight, etc.

But the bigger reason, for me, is that listening to audiobooks seemed kind of passive to me. I don’t love TV, primarily because I know that my brain isn’t doing much if I’m just consuming a show. I worried that audiobooks had that same passivity.

It’s silly, because if I think about it, listening to audiobooks is actually harder work for me than reading a book the traditional way. It requires me to direct my concentration in a way that’s much more automatic for me in traditional reading.

I decided to look it up, to see how audiobooks are consumed by the brain. Rather than wondering and worrying about it, I looked to the science. Here’s a good article on it, but the bottom line is that your brain sees them essentially the same way.

I’m not the only one asking this question. When I did an internet search about audiobooks vs. traditional reading, apparently many people struggle with this issue.

I keep a list of how many books I read each year, and two or three of them for the past two years have been audiobooks. I’ve actually struggled with whether or not to “count” them.

What’s the point of reading a book? For me, it’s about enjoyment. In some cases, it’s about learning. It’s also to synthesize information and be able to discuss it meaningfully with others. I can do all that with audiobooks.

I recently reread On Writing, by Stephen King. (Great book, incidentally, even if you’re not a writer.) He reads tons of books, and casually mentioned that he also reads audiobooks. If it’s good enough for Stephen King, it’s good enough for me. Once I gave myself permission to look at audiobooks as reading, I started seeing chunks in my day where I could be reading: doing yard work, in the car, cleaning up the kitchen… the list goes on.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Where do you stand on audiobooks vs. traditional books?

October Reading Wrap-Up

img_7039

In October, I read a bunch of new books.  I’ve recently gotten back into the Longmire series of books, and am trying to read them all.  I love being the annoying person who points out the differences between books and movies (or, in this case, TV). I actually enjoyed everything I read last month, which is always a nice surprise.

  1.  For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn.  This was a really good self-help type book for insight into the male mind.  I picked it up because it was recommended reading on how to write men in stories better, but I see that it also applies to the men I know.
  2. I Was Here, by Gayle Forman.  I loved If I Stay, and the follow up, Where She Went, so I have no idea why I hadn’t read another book by her before this.  I went looking for fiction to read on suicide, and this was a good one.  It drew me in from the start, and did a decent job of showing the devastating effects on family and friends.
  3. You, by Caroline Kepnes.  This one was recommended by my book club.  Funny story: because of who sent it to me, and the title, I thought it was a self-help book, or something like that.  Yeah, it’s definitely not.  It’s actually a thriller about a stalker and his victim.  Brutal, fascinating, and disturbing, it’s pretty much everything I want in a book.
  4. The Shining, by Stephen King.  When I read You, I found out that The Shining has a sequel: Doctor Sleep.  Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because I had no idea.  None.  It’s been years since I read The Shining, and since it’s one of my favorite King books, I wanted to reread it and be fresh from it when I read the sequel.  It’s still one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read.
  5. Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King.  I was really skeptical that a sequel could be as good as The Shining, but this one was definitely worthy.  I’m sure it could work as a standalone book, but I was glad I had just re-read The Shining, as there were a lot of references to it.
  6. Death Without Company (Longmire #2) & Kindness Goes Unpunished (Longmire #3) & Another Man’s Moccasins (Longmire #4), by Craig Johnson.  I’m a fan of crime novels, and I love the Longmire shows on Netflix.  These are quite different from the TV show, but they’re good in their own way.  Walt is a pretty similar character in both the books and the show.  I actually like Henry a bit more in the books.  He’s a more active character, and frequently involved in Walt’s escapades.
  7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black.  This is a vampire book, but not a typical one.  It’s what would happen if vampires were shown to be real, in the modern age.  One girl wakes up to a massacre that happened at a party, and it begins with her saving her ex-boyfriend (who’s been bitten), and saving a vampire who helps her.  I like books where vampires aren’t portrayed as sexy teddy bears who just happen to like blood.
  8. The Liar, by Nora Roberts.  I’m a sucker for Nora Roberts books, mostly because I know that she usually mixes romance with other things, like suspense.  This one has it all: a great love story, murder, secrets, conspiracy, and an underdog who comes out ahead.

I liked every book I read this month, and I can’t always say that.  I got most of them on my Kindle, through the library.

What did you read this month?

Q is for Quitters Inc.

Unknown-4Quitters Inc, is a short story by Stephen King that appears in Night Shift.

I’ve always loved short stories.  I’m a book addict, and if I really like a book, I have a hard time doing anything else until it’s done.  Luckily for me, I have an understanding husband.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve snapped at him, “Are you doing talking yet?” so that I can go back to reading.

Short stories work really well for me in that I can stop reading at the end of each story, thereby allowing me to be a sane-ish and productive human being.

This story has stuck with me for many years, and I’m not sure why.  That’s the hallmark of good writing though, right?  When something sticks with you over time.

When I was looking for books that influenced me, I couldn’t come up with anything for “Q.”  I almost went with an author, but while I do have a “Q” writer I read, I would have had to stretch the truth to say she influenced me.

This story popped into my head, and when I did an online search for it, I found out it was written by Stephen King.  I’m sure I read Night Shift in its entirety, but I don’t remember any of the other stories.

The story is about a man who wants to quit smoking, and he goes to Quitters Inc, where they take extreme measures to guarantee his success.  What made this story creepy is that it’s such a mundane thing: quitting a bad habit.  Habits are difficult to break, and this guy agrees to some awful stuff to help him break it.

Who wouldn’t at least consider it?  If someone guaranteed that they could break your worst habit, wouldn’t you think about it?  I would.

I’m not often envious of other writers when they write an amazing story, but this is one that I wish I’d written.  I love the idea, the execution, and that it’s so powerful in such a short form.

This is one of the stories that taught me that short stories can have just as big of an impact as novels.

“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”

-Stephen King