Over the course of a year, I watch and read a lot of things that I love. Some make it on to my year-end lists but others (like the two shows I mention today) aired last year or earlier and I didn’t get to them in time for them to make my list. There is so much content out there and depending on who you follow on social media, you may or may not see any buzz for an individual show or book so I wanted to draw some attention to things I enjoyed in the hopes that someone will find something to add to their TBR or to-watch lists. What good things did you read or watch this month?
Show Title: Élite
Where to Find It: Netflix
If you like high school dramas and don’t mind subtitles, this is the show for you. Part Gossip Girl, part Riverdale, this teen soap is full of characters trying to figure out who they are, budding and faltering romances, and lots of bad decision making skills. If that weren’t enough to deal with as a teenager, there’s also a murder mystery that’s told in flash-forward glimpses of the investigation and interrogations. Secrets are unraveled and alliances are formed as the final episode reveals the culprit and sets up what is sure to be an equally entertaining (and most importantly, already ordered) season two.
This sort of show is an easy sell for me. I love a well-made teen soap and the added suspense of the murder mystery makes it all the easier to binge. What I wasn’t expecting was to love these characters as much as I did. No one is entirely what they seem and as walls come down and circumstances shift, we get to see new sides to everyone that don’t make them better people necessarily but do make them more complicated and less archetypical. They are messes but they’re now my messes and I can’t wait to see more of them next season.
Show Title: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Where to Find It: Netflix
With the announcement of the second season premiere date, I can’t think of a better time to catch up on this gem of a show. I am not quite old enough to have seen the original She-Ra show when it was airing but I am a fan of Noelle Stevenson. Her graphic novel Nimona is terrific and I was excited to see what she could do with a full show. I went in without any real idea about who these characters were or even what the show was generally about but it didn’t take long at all for me to be won over by this incredible collection of characters (with a truly terrific voice cast) and the relationships between them. It’s a coming-of-age story that has chosen to prioritize inclusion and diversity in its storytelling and it’s stronger for it.
It also happened to have one of my favorite episodes of television that aired last year, even if I watched it too late for it to make my year-end list. “The Promise” is nearly a bottle episode that focuses entirely on Adora and Catra, who were best friends until Adora left the Horde and are now fighting for opposite sides. We get to see the progression of their relationship as they are trapped in a cave that forces them to relive significant moments in their history and it packs an emotional punch. Catra is a beautifully fleshed out antagonist to begin with and the relationship was already among the most compelling on the show but the episode adds further depth and heartbreak to the now-complicated dynamic between them. It’s a perfect example of the kind of character-focused storytelling I love and that I have no doubt Stevenson will continue to deliver with these two in future seasons.
Book Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Genre: Paranormal Romance
This book is the first in a series that includes a couple spin-offs as well as a manga adaptation. It’s set in a steampunk Victorian England where vampires and werewolves are part of the Queen’s council and if not embraced, than accepted into society. It combines the social commentary of Jane Austen with the satire and humor of PG Wodehouse and a romance that combines many of my personal favorite character types and tropes.
Alexa was born Soulless, which enables her to negate the powers of both vampires and werewolves. It’s a secret few others know about but that makes her life complicated, as does the fact that she’s half-Italian and a spinster. After she’s attacked by and forced to kill a rogue vampire, she ends up spending a lot of time with the local head of the supernatural investigative team (who is also the alpha of the local werewolf pack), a man with whom she has a prickly relationship. Naturally, they fall in love because it turns out he adores her and has managed to annoy everyone in his circle, including the Queen of England by talking about how great she is.
It’s an incredibly fun read with a nice mystery at the heart of it that also helps flesh out the world-building filled with delightful characters. It took me a little bit of time to adjust to its style but once it hooked me, I couldn’t put it down.
Book Title: Let Us Dream
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre: Historical Romance
Set in 1917 Harlem, this novella follows former sex-worker turned cabaret owner Bertha Hines in the lead-up to the New York election that would give women the vote. From the start, she is amazing. She is a suffragette and genuinely believes in the power of voting to make a difference. However, the suffragette movement, including her fellow black suffragettes, had little interest in hearing her opinion. She wasn’t the right type of woman and she was advocating for other women who were seen as disreputable. But that didn’t stop her at all and made her fight all the harder in her own way. She uses the audience she has in her club to encourage her male patrons to do the right thing and give women the vote and tutors her employees in government so they could understand the difference their voice could make.
On top of all that, we get to see her fall in love with her club’s new dishwasher, an undocumented immigrant named Amir. They initially clash because they’re both very stubborn and keep inadvertently insulting each other before coming together over dance and civics lessons (which is a great way to fall in love, honestly).
If you like well-written, feminist romance novels, I would highly recommend giving Alyssa Cole a shot and this novella is a great place to start.