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

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) – V.E. Schwab

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Source: Goodreads

Kell is a traveler, one of only two people in existence who can move between Londons. There’s Grey London, where King George III rules a world where magic is only a legend. There’s Red London, where magic flourishes and the Thames glows with power. There is White London, where rather than be forced into subservience, natural magic has fled, leaving those with amulets and runes the only wielders of the power left. Then there’s Black London, so consumed by its own magic that it was cut off from the others. Abandoned. Forbidden. Hidden. Until now.

Kell is a collector despite the fact that moving anything except royal mail across Londons is illegal. When he is given a token from a stranger to return to Black London, he knows he’s in trouble.

Delilah Bard is a thief who dreams of adventure. When she stumbles upon Kell and the Black London token, she only sees opportunity.

Holland is the White Traveler, but despite this rare freedom, he has become hard and unbearable. Without the Black London token he is hopeless, but getting it could put him in even more danger.

V. E. Schwab’s first novel in the Shades of Magic series sweeps readers up in Kell, Delilah, and Holland’s adventures through multiple worlds where magic is alternatingly unknown, praised, and desperately sought after. Told from multiple points of view, the reader learns about the many Londons and the worlds they inhabit slowly, despite the characters’ knowledge of them. This is one adventure that is both humorous and dark while being twisting and intricate. The first few chapters moved a little slowly for me, in part because it jumps in head first, and adjusting to the multiple Londons takes some time. Once I was used to the world, I couldn’t get enough. The suspense of what would happen to my favorite characters was akin to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (See my review of that here), in that you never knew who was safe, and the dark magic would like to have a mind of its own, thank you very much.

I picked this novel up after seeing it everywhere from BookTube to my Amazon and Barnes & Noble recommendations list, and I am not sorry I did. At 390 pages in paperback, this book is a pretty good size. The organization of the work is amazing. Each section has a name, and the chapters are numbered but not named within each section. The jury is still out on whether this made reading it feel faster or slower. I’m the kind of person who prefers world-building to be upfront rather than scattered in the wind, so this was overall a slow read because I had trouble picturing things where they should be, and also keeping all the Londons straight in my head. But still, the plot was good and the characters mysterious and intriguing, so it’s a win on my list.

I enjoyed the lack of romance. There were hints, here and there, as well as diversity in race and sexuality that were very nice, but this was not a love story within a fantasy adventure, and for that I am grateful. Apparently we’re getting some steamy scenes in A Conjuring of Light, however, so I may need to reassess after I read that installment. I’m curious about Kell and Holland’s pasts, and I can’t wait to learn more about Black London when I pick up A Gathering of Shadows later this month.

Book two, A Gathering of Shadows, was just released in paperback (and conveniently arrived at my house the next day), and book three, A Conjuring of Light, comes out TODAY in hardcover. My covers aren’t going to match, but at least I’ll have all three books for the V. E. Schwab signing I’m going to on the 27th (Next Monday!) here in Boston. This will be my first book event, so I’m very excited.

HHC Rating: 3.75 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – A Gathering of Shadows
Book #3 – A Conjuring of Light

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand – Helen Simonson

major-pettigrews-last-stand-helen-simonson

Source: Goodreads

Major Ernest Pettigrew, Royal Sussex, Retired. So our unlikely hero introduces himself. The Major is one of the last of England’s distinguished gentlemen, living in the family cottage on the rim of the sleepy village of Edgecombe St. Mary near England’s southern shores. Until now he has fiercely protected his quiet and peaceful life, avoiding involvement in town committees and other people’s personal business in general. The death of his younger brother, however, jolts the Major back to reality and he is forced to acknowledge that he is lonely and aging.

Mrs. Jasmina Ali inherited ownership of the village shop in Edgecombe St. Mary when her beloved husband passed away, but she has never felt quite at home in the small town. When she comes upon Major Pettigrew in his time of need, something sparks between them, and the ensuing challenges shape their lives and the livelihood of the village they call home.

Simonson writes small town life in Edgecombe St. Mary so well that I could almost smell the cold morning frost, see the chalky cliffsides, and feel the sea breeze as it gusted over the green. She creates characters that are complex and realistic. There are no special snowflakes in this story, as even the best of characters have flaws they don’t always recognize. A narrative on racial, religious, and generation gaps, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand breathes fresh life into a grey world focused on stereotypes and hierarchies.

Although the first chapter or two felt a little slow, I became used to pacing that felt as though it ran at the rate of Pettigrew’s thoughts. The reader often knows things as the Major does, which was refreshing in a world of books where teasing asides often allude to plot direction before characters are aware of what’s happening.

The narratives on generation, religious and racial differences are accompanied by themes of etiquette and ethics, as well as the growing threat of progressive foreigners seeking to line their own pockets. Still, the many facets of the plot fit together like a 3D puzzle, each snugly sitting next to each other until everything becomes intertwined and dependent on one another. A fascinating read, and one I enjoyed immensely.

Recommended if you enjoy diverse books, light romance, small town politics, or anything about Britain.

HHC Rating: 4.5 stars

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay (Fantastic Beasts, #1) – J.K. Rowling

fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-j-k-rowlingSource: Goodreads

Newt Scamander loves magical creatures and is determined to teach the wizarding world how to live in harmony with them. When he arrives in New York City in the winter of 1926, it is meant to be for a brief visit on his way to Arizona. Unfortunately for Newt, evil is afoot, and it will take all of his skills and the skills of his new American friends to defeat it before it destroys the city and exposes wizarding kind to the world.

For once, I had no expectations. This wasn’t anything like Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. J.K. Rowling wrote the entire screenplay herself. She helped produce it, and all of the directors and producers and talented filmmakers from the original Harry Potter movies were on board. I had no worries about whether or not it would be any good. I had faith. But I am not an expert on the 1920’s, and I am especially not an expert on the wizarding world in the 1920’s. So it was that I went in to see the film with no expectations except that there would be magic.

I saw the film twice before I read the screenplay, though because I pre-ordered it, the book arrived the same day that the movie came out. Because of this, I could see everyone clearly in my head as I read. I tried to be objective, however, impossible as that was.

There was a lot of scene setting included in the screenplay, despite the lack of details that were clearly added during the actual filming. I loved the descriptions of how people were standing, or what the characters might be thinking as they contemplated something. The script was full of tidbits that would help the actors get into character, and it made me love each of them more for it. My favorite part of all was that the script confirmed my thoughts on the fates of some of the characters that I had been continually worrying about since I had watched the film. Knowing from the bits of notes and descriptions what was going to happen to them between films has been an enormous blessing.

To make this book/screenplay even better, it’s short enough that you can read it in one sitting if you like, and therefore you can read it multiple times a day if you should so choose. I really hope she prints the rest of the screenplays as the films come out. I think it would be a very nice collection to have, and I love how descriptive and thoughtful the scenes are.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

Other Reviews in This Series:
Book #1 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Book #2 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Book #3 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Book #4 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Book #5 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Book #6 – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Book #7 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Book #8 – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child