The Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson

The-Summer-Before-The-War-Helen-Simonson
Source: Goodreads

 

Accepting the position of smalltown Latin teacher was a no-brainer for Beatrice Nash. Finally on her own, she can’t wait to make her own money and get out from under her stifling family’s thumb and her father’s shadow. But war is looming. A great, big, world war, the likes of which have never been seen. With men signing up left and right, it’s only a matter of time before Beatrice’s students and colleagues start to head for the continent, closely followed by the new officers comprised mostly of the lesser gentry. A young surgeon and a poet, a Romani and a scholar, the war keeps its distance from no one. And so beings the summer before the war.

 

Helen Simonson does it again. The author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – one of my favorite reads of 2017 – is back with another well-developed look at England’s less viewed history, and hits her mark. The characters are well developed and engaging, as well as incredibly refreshing. A book about an Edwardian surgeon! The first women authors! Single women living alone and working a respectable job! POETS. and so, so many underlying narratives about race and sexuality. Absolutely wonderful. 10/10 would read again.

I would like a prequel about Beatrice’s life with her father and then with her Aunt. Also, a novel purely about Aunt Agatha and her husband who works for the foreign office and who I am sure does spy things. I think they’re all just so interesting!

The book itself starts out relatively lighthearted, following the main premise of Beatrice settling into the town and her interactions with the townsfolk. About 3/4 of the way through, the war is finally upon us, with dire consequences for many. Simonson wraps everything up neatly, but not before she rips our hearts out and forces us to acknowledge that not everyone can live happily ever after.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews for works by this author:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Someone to Love (Westcott, #1) – Mary Balogh

Westscott-Someone-To-Love-Mary-Balogh

Source: Goodreads

 

Anna Snow has grown up in an orphanage in Bath, where she now teaches, supported by a mysterious benefactor for as long as she stays. A letter summoning her to London is not only surprising, for she knows no one outside of Bath, but life-shattering when the identity of her benefactor is revealed.

Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby, is only Harry Westcott’s guardian because the boy’s father died a year too early. Avery wouldn’t even have taken charge of his nearly grown step-cousin, except that his own father promised to look after Harry in the event of the Earl of Riverdale’s death. With the Earl’s death fresh on everyone’s mind, it strikes Avery as odd that the late Earl’s wife is sending their solicitor on a fool’s errand to find Riverdale’s bastard daughter and tell her that her allowance will be cut off now that her father has died. He likes the plan even less when the solicitor instead drags the girl to London and announces that she is the sole heir to the Earl of Riverdale’s fortune and that Harry and his sisters are the real bastard children.

 

 

The premise for this series is just amazing. The role reversal is definitely unique and interesting to dive into. However, the execution could use some work. I dearly love many of Balogh’s books, but not only does the Westcott series start off with one too many side plots, but the characters all fall kind of flat. I’m hoping this is a single-book-problem like we had with Ben and Samantha in The Escape. Sometimes there’s just too much plot going on for proper character development. Granted, Balogh is just churning out new books in this series, but I would much prefer that the characters were more developed than to have a new book every six months.

 

I loved Anna, I loved Camille, I loved Elizabeth, and I loved Alexander. Avery I had trouble with because of his strange history and the side plot which goes with it that just didn’t work with the rest of the story. His public self and his private self just don’t mesh well together, and it made it impossible for me to really understand him and therefore support the main relationship. Overall, I felt the book put more character development into Camille and Elizabeth than anyone else. I have the second book from the library, so I will let you know if the characters get any better.

 

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Someone to Hold
Book #3 – Someone to Wed
Book #4 – Someone to Care
Book #5 – Someone to Trust
Book #6 – TBA
Book #7 – TBA
Book #8 – TBA

Sorcery and Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (Cecelia and Kate, #1) – Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia-and-Kate-Sorcery-and-Cecelia-or-The-Enchanted-Chocolate-Pot-Patricia-C-Wrede-and-Caroline-Stevermer
Source: Goodreads

 

Magic is in the air in Regency England. Cousins Kate and Cece find themselves separated for the London season, with Kate off to London and Cecelia stuck in the country. Known to their family as troublemakers, it is no surprise that the distance between them can’t prevent these two from getting into a scrape of epic proportions. And it all starts when a witch attempts to poison Kate at the Royal Society of Wizards induction ceremony.

 

I picked up the Kate and Cecelia series in middle school because Patricia C. Wrede was one of the co-authors and I had just finished and adored The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Little did I know that this series would blow me away as well! Wrede and Stevermer write back and forth in letter form in character. This was quite confusing at first, but once I got into the swing of things I forgot that it was presented in letters and simply became wrapped up in this world where magic exists alongside my favorite time period. The letter format eliminated the need for chapters, and also placed the reader in a forever-cliff-hanger so that I found myself reading quite past my bedtime because I needed to know what was going to happen next.

Kate and Cece are strong and independent female lead characters – MY FAVORITE – and the men whose problems they become entangled in are delightfully equal parts pride and chivalry.

This is one of those series that I just want everyone to read because it’s so innovative and unique. I can’t wait to dive into the second book, The Grand Tour.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book 2 – The Grand Tour
Book 3 – The Mislaid Magician
Book 4 – Magic Below Stairs

Reviews for other works by these authors:
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
Book 1 – Dealing with Dragons
Book 2 – Searching for Dragons
Book 3 – Calling on Dragons
Book 4 – Talking to Dragons

TV Review – The Vampire Diaries, Season #1

The-Vampire-Diaries-Season-1

Source: Wikipedia

 

Seventeen-year-old Elena Gilbert is still reeling from the loss of her parents in a car accident four months prior to the beginning of the show. She lives in the small town of Mystic Falls in Virginia with her younger brother Jeremy and their aunt and guardian, Jenna. The new school year starts and Elena and her two best friends, Bonnie and Caroline, meet the new boy at school, Stefan, who turns out to be a vampire. The storyline mostly follows Elena, Stefan, and Stefan’s mysterious older brother Damon, as well as a secret town council, made up the founding families, that somehow knows about vampires and seeks to rid Mystic Falls of them.

 

This television series is based on the book series of the same name written by L. J. Smith. I will readily admit I have not read them. Because everyone told me the writing was really terrible. Also, I had already seen the first season of the show at that point and knowing it wasn’t going to be as good made me just not want to go there and potentially ruin something beautiful. Because I consider what the writer has written to be cannon and any adaptations secondary, and I really want this TV show to be my cannon for this series.

This is a rewatch for me, but since I binged it the first time, I couldn’t remember where the first season ended and the second season began. This, my friends, is an excellent show and probably not appropriate for teenagers with the amount of illegal substances, underage drinking, and hooking up going on without anyone’s parents seeming to care overly much as long as they don’t see it personally. Not that that stopped me from watching it in 2009 when it premiered and I was a seventeen-year-old senior in high school. That said, Elena and pals are juniors, not seniors.

Being that this season takes place from 2009-2010, the music is super nostalgic for me. A lot of it is what I listened to during that time, and the tunes I didn’t recognize the first watch through I noticed now because they were songs I loved in college that hadn’t quite found me yet in high school. I also quite enjoyed the references to TwilightThe X-Files, and How I Met Your Mother, amongst others. The CW, like MTV, has a habit of picking attractive actors and actresses to fill their roles, though the CW doesn’t usually go over the top like MTV tends to. In this case, they played it right down the line and it worked out exceptionally well. While we had quite a few one-off characters, the season felt really full.

My favorite parts of the season might be the flashback scenes. Because we’re dealing with the eternally dead-yet-alive, the writers were able to jump into the past and show us bits of American history through the eyes of Stefan and Damon. I happen to know from experience that the flashbacks only get even better from here.

We got 22 45-minute episodes, and the first 6-7 mostly deal with getting to know the characters and setting up the layout of the town for the rest of the show. This was done really quite well. The remaining 15 episodes are composed of a mix of plots, furthering the basic character back story bits while also allowing room for a ‘big bad’. In this case, a bunch of scary vampires from the past show up and try to murder everyone. The season ends by wrapping up the season one big bad and hinting at the bad things to come in season two. If season one could be called “Let’s get to know everyone and hope not too many people close to our characters die”, then season two will probably end up being called “Feelings suck”.

 

Since this is season one, I won’t share any spoilers. Starting with season two, however, I’ll be referencing things from previous seasons, so don’t read them if you don’t want the plot spoiled!

 

And since this is of the utmost importance, I’m going to keep a tally of which team I’m on as far as ‘ships’ go in this series (Only the obvious one this time, though. No spoilers!):

The first time I watched this show, I was hardcore Team Stefan. Having watched other seasons I am now biased, obviously, but rewatching this season allowed me to see all the little manipulative things Stefan is doing while not actually realizing he is doing them. You would think that after 150+ years on this Earth he would know better, but, alas, he does not. So, this time around, I am wholeheartedly Team Damon. And I have no regrets.

 

Favorite Episode: Episode 19 – Miss Mystic Falls

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Film Review – Wonder Woman (2017)

 

 

Wonder-Woman-IMDB
Source: IMDB

 

 

 

Patty Jenkins directs Gal Gadot as the title character in this origin story of DC’s greatest hero. Diana grew up on the island of Themyscira, the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and the last child of the god Zeus. As a young woman, Diana saves a man from drowning and exposes the world of the Amazons to the tumults of World War II. Determined to do her duty as an Amazon and rescue the world from a never-ending war, she sets off with her new friend for the frontlines.

 

I had originally planned to see this opening night, but I was trying to coordinate schedules with someone and it just wasn’t working out. During the month I was waiting to see it, I saw a lot of hype online about how strongly feminist the film was, and how it does such a good job of how it portrays Diana as her own person rather than a sexualized object, and it all just made me insanely excited to see it.

When I finally saw it for the first time last night, I had to admit it was not as overtly feminist as I thought it would be, but Diana’s sense of equality is pretty fantastic, and it does clearly influence those around her. Having grown up knowing about men but never meeting one, she doesn’t have any of the ‘men are more important’ mentality that most women have ingrained by the age of five, but neither does she have an awe of them that would impede her in any way. Her mentality is very body positive and inquisitive as well as focused. When faced with something new and scary like guns, bombs, and crazy people in general, it is this mentality that keeps Diana on track to achieve her goals.

In the past week I’ve started hearing of a few people who didn’t love the film, but so far I’ve been able to chalk that up to them either being let down by the huge hype, or the fact that they are not typically superhero movie people and only saw Wonder Woman because its protagonist is female. I didn’t love the “romance” aspect, but I can completely see and understand how important it was to the overall story and helped mold Diana into the Wonder Woman we all know and love. Honestly, that’s my only gripe about the entire film. Everything else was phenomenal, I’m going to see it again as soon as my schedule allows, and I’m going to buy it the second it comes on out on DVD. I already purchased the soundtrack.

I came out of the Wonder Woman ready to take on the world, run a million miles, learn all the fighting styles and languages there are, and with this crazy need to make an impact in the world. Wonder Woman is a princess, a goddess, a warrior, a superhero, a scholar, a catalyst for peace, and she works in a museum. What more could you ask for in a role model? Ever since watching Lynda Carter in reruns of the Wonder Woman TV series from the 70’s as a child in the 90’s, Wonder Woman has been one of my heroes, and I consider myself beyond lucky to have her handed back to me in the form of Gal Gadot.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

Cotillion – Georgette Heyer

Cotillion-Georgette-Heyer

Source: ThriftBooks

Kitty Charing is set to inherit the immense fortune of her scrooge of a guardian, a man who adopted her after his childhood friend, Kitty’s father, passed away. There’s only one catch: Miss Charing must marry one of the old man’s great nephews, or the whole of the fortune will be donated and Kitty left penniless when her guardian passes.

 

If you’ve never read a Regency Romance written by Georgette Heyer, go and order one right away. Heyer, the author of over 54 novels, is known primarily as the “inventor” of the Regency Romance subgenre. Unlike Jane Austen, who was technically writing contemporaries because she wrote about the time period in which she herself lived, Georgette Heyer wasn’t even born until 1902, and published her first book in 1921. Her works are unlike the Regency Romances of today in that there are actually very few romantic scenes: the books usually end with a kiss – that’s it. Today’s RR’s are more typically full of heavy romance scenes early on, and then characters dealing with the fallout.

Georgette Heyer’s stories are enveloped in the high society of the 17-1800’s, where one wrong move would get you banned from the London social season (also known as the ‘marriage market’) and ruin your societal standing in a single blow. She is well known for her historical accuracy, often explaining clothing, etiquette, and society for the benefit of the reader in ways that Jane Austen would have taken for granted that her readers understood.

 

What I’m saying is, Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances are basically the Romantic Comedies of the 1920’s-70’s. Often hysterically funny and filled with character miscommunications, a trip through a Georgette Heyer book is never anything but highly entertaining. It’s no wonder that her books sold well even during the Great Depression.

Cotillion, in particular, is one of my favorites although The Nonesuch, Bath Tangle and Sprig Muslin are close front runners as well.  Some readers may feel they need a dictionary in order to understand the period-specific talk, but it’s actually fairly simple to get the gist of the phrasing, even if you don’t know the actual definition. For example, a ‘dashed ivory-turner’ is another way of calling someone a professional gambler.

In Cotillion, we follow Catherine Charing, who believes she is about to become a wealthy heiress, as well as five of Uncle Matthew’s great nephews, four of whom remain unmarried at the time at which Uncle Matthew makes his announcement that Kitty must marry one of them. The mayhem itself is entertaining, but as always the slow turn of the romance is fascinating to watch. You’re left wondering until the last pages who she will choose to marry, if anyone at all, and in between fending off of various romantic advances, Kitty gets up to some trouble of her own.

Overall I quite enjoyed this book, even if this was my 4th or 5th time reading it. Recommended to anyone who enjoys miscommunication stories and romances.

 

Highlights and Hot Chocolate Rating: 4.5 Stars

Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie

Peter-Pan-J-M-Barrie

Source: Goodreads

Peter Pan doesn’t want to grow up. He wants to fight pirates and indians (Native Americans), play with mermaids, and do cartwheels in the sky. The Lost Boys, however, need a mother, and Wendy Darling is just the girl for the job.

How it’s taken me nearly 25 years to read Peter Pan I’ll never quite know. Maybe I was scarred after reading Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and worried I’d hate Peter and Wendy and Hook. After all, I grew up watching films like the Disney animated version of the classic, as well as Robin Williams’ Pan in Hook, and more recently Finding Neverland and NBC’s Peter Pan Live!  Not to mention the numerous other films, plays, and book series based on and around this original story. This book had a lot to live up to.

I decided to read it aloud to my cousin, who’s just turned one. Sure, he can’t understand any of it yet, but this is supposed to be a children’s book. Over the course of a week, reading a chapter or two a day, we sped through it. I have to say, it seems very short at around 200 pages, but as you read you realize what a wealth of information there is. This is one of those books that is written to build your imagination. It leaves bits out purposefully so the reader will fill them in themselves.

One huge thing I noticed was the narrator’s decision to call Neverland ‘The Neverland’, and explain that it’s different and yet somehow the same for everyone. I’ve always thought of Neverland as a specific place, like Treasure Island, or Narnia, that existed in our world or an alternate dimension. But that’s only partly true. When Tinkerbell is in distress, Peter calls out to all the boys and girls of the world and asks them to believe. But here’s the thing: They aren’t all in Neverland the way the Darlings and the Lost Boys are. The children who save Tinkerbell are at home, asleep in their beds, visiting the foggier version of Neverland in their dreams. If you watch the 2003 live action Peter Pan, you get an inkling that something like this is happening, but if you haven’t read the book it is easy to assume that Peter just has extra magical powers.

The next thing I noticed was how rude Peter and Tinkerbell are. She calls him a ‘silly ass’ at least five times, and Peter regulary forgets who people are or waits until just before they die to save them. Sure, it’s supposed to be part of his hero-complex, but it doesn’t seem like heroic behavior to me. By the end, I was glad that the Darlings made it home in one piece, as even that seemed at times too much to ask.

Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure why this is considered a children’s story unless it is meant as one of warning: don’t run away from home.

If there is a hero it is certainly Wendy, though even she lives with a kind of grief throughout the rest of her days. I always hated that Peter and Wendy didn’t end up together, but after reading the original story I’ve come to terms with the reality that they are what, 10? 12 years old? and in no position to be in love, but also that Peter is not a character one should be falling in love with. In fact, when it is Jane’s turn to fly, she doesn’t reason with Wendy that she’s in love with him. She reasons that he needs a mother. Because motherly love is the only kind a girl could have for the boy who never grows up. A mother’s love is universal, and everyone is deserving of it, no matter how unheroic, prideful, or childish they may be.

One thing I did enjoy in this particular edition was the glossary at the end of the book explaining J. M. Barrie’s completely inaccurate native Americans, as well as some other rather interesting tidbits. I thought it was very nice of them to explain why the characters were written as they are, especially since so much has changed in terms of standards of political correctness since the book’s original publication. I wish all reprintings of historical works included a historical explanation of the language and characters.

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars