Book Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

“In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the slayer.”

Welcome back to the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer…minus Buffy. In Kiersten White’s new young adult series set in the same universe, Buffy may be gone but a new slayer is picking up where season 8 ended. (For those unfamiliar with season 8, that’s because it exists in comic book form instead of on TV)

Nina and her twin sister Artemis have grown up in the Watchers Academy where they are trained to act as guides to the slayers. The girls’ mother serves on the Watcher’s Council alongside some familiar Watcher families, and Nina really wants no part of the lifestyle. Artemis has always seemed born for the storm, not her.

To top it off, Nina’s hatred of Buffy runs deep – when Buffy destroyed magic, it prevented witches from using their powers, ended the slayer line and also deeply impacted Nina’s life in more ways than one. So when it’s Nina instead of Artemis that begins to manifest slayer powers, it’s a shock to everyone at the Watchers Academy. And she really, really does not want to become a slayer.

In the first few chapters, White does a great job of catching up readers who might be unfamiliar with the Buffyverse and even though this is an original story, it fits in nicely with the tone the TV show set for it.

And just because Buffy is gone, she’s definitely not forgotten; her presence can be felt in a big way within the story, especially when Nina and her friends start taking down demons and vampires.

Slayer kicks off a new and exciting young adult series that should appeal to fantasy fans even if they didn’t grow up watching BTVS. A solid first effort.

 

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Me at Buffy’s House in Torrence, CA

 

Nevada/California Vacation

It’s been almost a year since Adam and I have been able to take time off together and we’d been looking forward to our West Coast trip for quite some time. We flew out of Indy on April 7th and spent the next nine days exploring Nevada and California. During this trip, California marked my 48th state visited and I now have been to all of the lower 48. Here’s a re-cap of our adventures from the last few days.

Las Vegas

Neither of us had been to Las Vegas before but it was somewhere we’d both wanted to see even though we don’t gamble. Our first stop after picking up the rental car was the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign then we headed out to take a look at the Hoover Dam. We didn’t take the dam tour but walked over it and up to the bridge that takes the interstate next to it. The dam is definitely worth a visit and a marvel of modern architecture.

That evening we walked up and down the Las Vegas strip, rode the roller coaster at New York, New York and went up in the Eiffel Tower observation deck. The city really looks stunning at night.

Our second day began at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. I’d never been to a Madame Tussaud’s before (it was on my itinerary for London but we ran out of time) and it was amazing how real some of the wax figures looked. After we left the wax museum, we had lunch at Shake Shack then hit up most of the famous hotels on the strip.

Joshua Tree National Park

Our third day of the trip was spent at Joshua Tree National Park. We got there mid-afternoon and it was cloudy and a little chilly but the park was still beautiful. We stopped at most of the major attractions: the Cholla Cactus Garden, Key’s View (where you can see the San Andres Fault), Skull Rock and saw a couple guys doing a tightrope walk across some really large boulders in the Hall of Horrors. I was a little disappointed there was no sun for sunset photos, but still really glad to have visited the park. We headed for Los Angeles after leaving Joshua Tree.

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Los Angeles

The next four days were jam packed with activities in and around the Los Angeles area. Our hotel was in Pasadena, which was a lovely little city on the outskirts of LA. For fans of the TV show Parks and Recreation, Pasadena’s city hall also doubles as the exterior of Pawnee City Hall on the show. We made a quick stop there, then braved the crazy freeways to get to the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park. This was probably one of Adam’s favorite stops – visiting the landmark has been on his bucket list his entire life.

After some pictures with the sign in the background, we headed up to the Griffith Park Observatory for fabulous views of the LA area. We also attempted a hike up behind the Hollywood sign but somehow got off on the wrong path and had to turn back in order to make it to our next destination: the Warner Brothers Studio Tour.

Another highlight of the trip, this nearly three hour tour in Burbank, CA took us behind the scenes of some of the most famous movies and TV shows. I got to see the exteriors for my favorite TV show, Gilmore Girls and we were able to see the actual set the Big Bang Theory is filmed on. We sat where the audience sits and saw Penny’s apartment, Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment and parts of the comic book store owned by Stuart. They also took us to the set of Pretty Little Liars and let us see many of the sets from the show. No pictures were allowed during this portion of the tour as it’s considered “top secret” 🙁

Day two began at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum and Library in Simi Valley, CA. We spent several hours at the museum and really enjoyed journeying through Reagan’s life. No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, visiting any former president’s library/museum is a must and extremely educational. As lifelong Republicans, we probably enjoyed it more than most and I left wishing we had more presidents like Ronald Reagan.

From there, we headed to downtown LA where we had lunch at Smashburger and took a quick trip through the Grammy Museum. I was a little underwhelmed there after having visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Following the Grammy Museum, we drove down to Torrence so I could take a photo in front of Buffy Summer’s house from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Our day ended at the beautiful Santa Monica Pier, also the end of Route 66. The sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean and even though the water was chilly, I still stuck my feet in.

Day three in LA took us to ritzy Beverly Hills where I popped in their library to check out their teen area. We also walked up and down Rodeo Drive to window shop and gawk at the Bentley’s parked along the street. From there we went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and walked up and down the street taking photos of our favorite stars. The Captain America: Civil War red carpet premier was also taking place at the same time and we had to go through metal detectors just to walk on the street in front of the Chinese Theater. Originally, the Game of Thrones premier was scheduled for that day but it got bumped to another day because of Captain America. We thought about staying to watch the actors arrive but there were already so many people that we decided to skip sticking around for three more hours when the stars would arrive. We did get to walk across part of the red carpet though.

For our final day in LA, we managed to get priority tickets to a live taping of the Jimmy Kimmel show. Before heading back down to the heart of Hollywood, I swung by the famous murder house from the first season of American Horror Story. The house is now privately owned and fenced in with large “KEEP OUT” signs but I got a picture through the chain link fence anyway. Other shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files and Supernatural have filmed at the mansion as well.

The Jimmy Kimmel taping was one of the most unique experiences in Hollywood. After waiting a few hours in a line, we were taken in to a taping of Shinedown’s performance for the Monday show. We were then put in another line until they seated us in the studio. In addition to the Team Iron Man guests that included Robert Downey Jr., Emily VanCamp and Don Cheedle, we got to see Emily Blunt’s interview that’s also airing on Monday’s show. The stars did not interact with the audience much and it felt more like we were on the outside watching a conversation take place between Jimmy and his guests who didn’t know we were there. It went really fast and the last part of the show was an outdoor concert by Mayor Hawthorne. They picked Adam and I out to be on camera right next to Jimmy as he was introducing the band, but I’m not sure if you could see us in the camera frame or not – we tried to watch it that night from our hotel but the TV was old and not a widescreen so it appeared we got cut out. Immediately after the taping, we hopped in the car and made the three hour drive to Tulare which is right outside of Sequoia National Park.


Sequoia National Park & Death Valley National Park

Our final two days before flying home were supposed to be spent in these two vastly different national parks. Things went a bit south after Sequoia, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The road in Sequoia was VERY curvy and we could only drive 25 mph up in to the mountains. It took about an hour just to get to General Sherman. Some of the park roads were still closed due to snow and we didn’t get to go the rest of the way to Grant Grove and in to King’s Canyon, but that was OK. After stopping at the General Sherman, we made our way back down the mountain and stopped at Moro Rock, the Tunnel Log and Crescent Meadow. Once we left the park, the GPS decided that the shortest distance to our hotel outside Death Valley was through more mountains in the Sequoia National Forest.

I had a paper map but assumed the GPS would take us the same way since it started us out on the same route and for a while things went fine. When we started off on a road that didn’t look quite right, I thought maybe since most national parks are sometimes off the beaten path that we’d soon hit an Interstate. Boy was I wrong. We kept going up into the mountains and soon there weren’t any towns around at all. The gas level kept getting lower and I started getting really nervous that we’d need gas so I located the nearest fuel station using the GPS. It told us we had about 17 miles to go and I started toward it.

We went even further up and about six miles before our destination, the low fuel light started flashing zero. By this point, I was nearly in panic mode. I didn’t know the car and didn’t know if we’d have enough to get down an incline another six miles to get gas. So we stopped at the Sequoia National Forrest Summit station and knocked on the door to the ranger station. No answer even though there was a car out front. I tried the private residence. Only a cat meowed. It was getting dark and cold by this point. Thankfully, we had cell signal so I dialed 911 and they transferred me to California Highway Patrol who sent a tow truck with some gas. We followed the tow truck down the mountain and filled up the rest of the way in the town at the bottom of the summit. The lesson here: don’t always assume the GPS will take you the best route!!

It was still another hour and a half to our hotel and I let Adam take over driving through even more mountains until we got to Ridgecrest. The wind started picking up by this point and didn’t let up until we were  back in Vegas the next evening.

The next morning we had another two hour drive to Death Valley. We were both kind of over the trip after the previous day’s events, but decided to go anyway since it was on the way back to Vegas. Once we got to the park and stopped to take a photo next to the entrance sign, more car problems started. The tire pressure light came on. Thankfully, we were near a gas station, so I pulled in to check the tire out and found it was nearly flat. In Death Valley though, there is no cell service AT ALL. And there’s no one for almost 50 miles to fix a tire either. The gas station only had a satellite phone and when I asked about using it to call AAA, the attendant said it would be very expensive to use plus AAA would take 4 to 6 hours to get out there. Not what we wanted to hear. So Adam and I (with the help of a man who walked by and another police man) took the bad tire off, put the donut on and drove 35 mph for 50 miles in the opposite direction we needed to go to get the tire fixed.

They got us in right away but we found out even more bad news: the tire was completely worn down to the threads and we’d have to buy a new one. The rental car company had sent us out with a tire that was shot.

I had cell service by this point and tried to call the rental company and no one ever picked up. We had to make it out, so we had them put a new tire on and hoped the rental company would reimburse us the $112 it cost for a tire and labor (they say they will but I haven’t seen the money yet). The GPS tried to take us back through mountains again but we followed the directions of the tire place and drove straight through the park to get back to Vegas. The wind was horrible by this point and sand was blowing everywhere so even if we hadn’t had the tire issue, we wouldn’t have been able to see anything anyway 🙁

We arrived in Vegas around 7 p.m., checked in to our hotel and found a huge buffet and pigged out on our last night of vacation. I tried the rental company again from our room and got put on hold for an hour then hung up on. We won’t rent from Fox Rental Car ever again.

So that’s basically the trip. Even with the bad last couple days, it was a lot of fun and California was so diverse. I hope we can go back to see San Francisco some day!

Kelly’s Top 10 Favorite TV Shows of All-Time

I’m a huge TV fan. Given the choice between staying in and watching a show on Netflix or going to the movies, I’ll pick a TV show nearly every time. It wasn’t always this way though – growing up on a farm without cable, we were limited to whatever the antenna on the roof was able to pick up. TV watching was strictly a weekend activity and our choices were very slim. Saturday nights were spent watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Touched by an Angel, Walker Texas Ranger, and the occasional X-files or Outer Limits episode after dad had gone off to work. Occasionally the WB would come in, often extremely fuzzy, but not too fuzzy to keep me from trying to watch Tia and Tamara in Sister, Sister.

Grandma’s house was TV heaven – it was there I experienced 90s TV at its finest – Clarissa Explains it All, Full House, Saved by the Bell, Home Improvement and TRL. It wasn’t until college though that I really, truly began my love affair with television. Our on-campus apartment had tons of channels to choose from and the library had TV shows on DVD. When I wasn’t doing homework or hanging out with friends, I was binge-watching shows before binge-watching was even a catchy phrase.

And while we’re currently living in what many are saying is the “Golden Age of Television,” most of my favorite shows are from an earlier era. Current favorites like Nashville, Big Bang Theory and Breaking Bad might someday end up on this list, but for now, they don’t come close to these ten shows I call my all-time favorites.

Number 10: Game of Thrones

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Game of  Thrones is a fantasy drama currently on HBO and in my opinion, the best show on TV right now. Based on the book series of the same name, the show follows a cast of characters who live in the fictional continent of Westeros. There are many families and kings and only one rightful heir to the iron throne. It’s everything you could hope for in a epic fantasy, plus dragons! There are a few snoozy characters (also snoozy in the books) but everything else more than makes up for a couple of boring plot lines here and there. Since the show is still being filmed, it remains at #10 on my list but could potentially climb higher depending on the how the final season ends.

 

Number 9: Veronica Mars

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A modern day Nancy Drew, Veronica Mars developed a cult-like following after premiering on the UPN in 2005. It ran two seasons on UPN and then a third and final season after the WB merged with UPN to form The CW. The fans didn’t forget about Veronica though, they funded big screen movie adaptation through Kickstarter and 2014, Veronica Mars opened in theaters everywhere.  The show was smartly written, Kristen Bell was wonderful as Veronica and it got high praise from Joss Whedon who called it the “best show ever.” What more could you ask for in a teenage high school crime drama?


Number 8: 24

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One of television’s biggest thrill rides, 24 literally had people on the edge of their couch cushions for 8 seasons. Debuting shortly after the September 11th attacks on the United States, 24‘s timing couldn’t have been better – the show followed CTU agent Jack Bauer and his efforts to protect America from terrorism plots. Each episode was 1 hour out of a day and events took place in real time, adding to the suspense of the show. It was gritty, violent and at times, controversial. Sadly, 2014’s mini-series reboot didn’t have the same magic as the original show, but Jack Bauer will always have a place in my top 10. Sometimes I even wish he was real – he could teach those ISIS terrorists a thing or two about messing with America.

Number 7: Supernatural

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One part Buffy the Vampire Slayer and one part The X-Files, brothers Sam and Dean Winchester hunt demons, vampires and other things that go bump in the night.  Sam and Dean road-trip across America in a vintage Impala, jamming to classic rock and are armed with holy water, salt, crossbows, shotguns and an angel named Castiel to fight the forces of evil. The show started out as a monster of the week  mystery adventure but since then has moved on to more complicated story arcs involving the apocalypse, fallen angels and some nasty creatures called Leviathan. Supernatural is now in it’s 10th season on The CW and continues to do well for the network and with fans. I HIGHLY recommend watching if you enjoy a dynamic cast and a show that has a horror movie feel to it.

 

Number 6: The O.C.

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Searching for a good ‘ole soapy teenage drama? Look no further than The O.C. Set in sunny Newport Beach California, the show revolved around Ryan Atwood, a troubled kid from Chino who’s taken in by the ultra wealthy Cohen family. The Cohen’s already have a son of their own – socially awkward Seth who’s been in love with Summer Roberts since the 3rd grade. Ryan eventually falls for the rich girl-next-door, Marissa Cooper and the four teens become  inseparable. The parents also play a major role in the series, which is unusual for teenage dramas.

The music was great, the cast was perfect and even though it was considered a “teen” drama, the show touched on some heavy topics of social class, environmentalism, drug addiction and death. Season 1 was definitely the best, but the entire series has a special place in my heart since it was really, truly the first show I watched and loved during my college years.

Number 5: ER

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One of the longest running shows of all time, ER might seem like just another medical drama, but what really made it great was the cast and characters that came and went during its 15 seasons on NBC. My mom and I watched this together in the 90s. I most definitely was not their target audience but I loved it anyway, especially in the early years with Dr. Greene, Nurse Hathaway, Dr. Carter and Dr. Ross. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much over a television character’s death than I did when Dr. Greene died in season 8. This is the only series that I can think of where I truly love every single main character. It was good to the end.

Number 4: Lost

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In 2004, Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on an island somewhere in the South Pacific. For the next six seasons, the survivors of the plane crash would try to figure out a way off the island, battling The Others, a Smoke Monster, and a mysterious keeper of the island named Jacob. The show wasn’t just about survival though –  it mixed in philosophical quandaries, good vs. evil, life, love and destiny.

Lost was incredibly smart and complex and many of the characters were named after famous scientists, philosophers and authors. There was a lot of time travel and sci-fi elements involved – it was not a show you could causally watch or you’d miss something important. Falling in love with the characters was unavoidable and more than once your heart would be broken. It’s also a great show to re-watch because you discover something new each time. Although the finale was polarizing for many fans, I actually liked it and thought it was a fitting end for a show filled with so much mystery. There won’t ever be another show like it.

 

Number 3: The X-Files

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For more than 10 years, The X-files was my all time favorite show. What’s not to love about a show that revolves around government conspiracies, extraterrestrials, and things that go bump in the night? Mulder and Scully were a great team – a believer in all things supernatural paired with the ultimate  skeptic who thought everything could be explained by science.

Many of the episodes were incredibly creepy, controversial and all of them would leave you thinking “I Want to Believe.”  The movies have been disappointing, but I still get excited when rumors fly that a 3rd big screen adaptation could be in the works.

It was a tough show to replace, but two shows came along during my post college years and knocked it down to third, where I firmly believe it will stay permanently.

 

Number 2: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Hands down, the greatest TV show of the 90s! I didn’t discover this gem until after it had gone off the air, but once I did, I was instantly sucked in (<—– see what I did there?)  Buffy Sommers and her Scooby Gang fight vampires and whatever kind of evil Big Bad that’s always rearing its ugly head in Sunnydale, California. Living on a hellmouth isn’t easy, but when you’ve got a witch as a best friend, an awesome librarian as your watcher and a vengeance demon in your court, stopping the apocalypse is a whole lot easier.

BTVS boasted strong female characters who kicked butt, quirky dialog and AWESOME musical episodes. It’s heroine was classically tragic – the burden of saving the world was always on her shoulders and even though she knew her life would be short, she accepted her chosen path. It opened doors for other shows with strong female leads and will always remain a pop culture phenomenon.

In my opinion, it was Joss Whedon’s finest show.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this show (and Joss Whedon). Seriously, if I didn’t believe in having a strict order, it would just tie with my #1 show of all time.

 

Number 1: Gilmore Girls

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The story of a single mom and her teenage daughter who live in the tiny, quirky town of Stars Hollow, CT, Gilmore Girls premiered on the WB in 2000 and ran for seven seasons. It’s full of quick, clever dialog, pop-culture references, and Melissa McCarthy before she was famous. The dynamics between Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel are not only fun to watch but incredibly believable and you’ll forget they’re not actually mother and daughter.

Gilmore Girls is my favorite show for many reasons. I think it’s brilliant, funny and I relate to Rory on so many levels. We were the same age as it was airing, share the same love of books, writing and some people even say we kind of look alike. I applaud many of the values the show paid homage to:  close knit communities who help each other out, hard work, friendship, learning from mistakes (and their consequences). Even though Loreli got pregnant and ran away from home at the age of 16, she kept the baby, raised her on her own with no help from her rich parents and eventually became a successful business owner of her own, proving that relying on yourself, a good work ethic and persistence pay off.

The final season is somewhat frustrating due to the creator/showrunner Amy Sherman Palladino’s departure, but the six seasons leading up to the final season are wonderful and worth watching repeatedly. I seriously doubt another show will come along and replace Gilmore Girls as my favorite show of all time…it’s just that good.