Monday, February 28, 2011

Primeval 4.7

For all this fourth season of Primeval has been an up and down experience for me quality-wise, I've got to give the writers and actors credit for delivering a strong season finisher with episode seven. This week's anomaly opens in an old prison that's been turned into a museum. I loved this set-up - with the iron bars and enclosed cells, the setting reminded me of something out of an old horror or haunted house flick.

The Ethan (Jonathan Byrne) and Emily (Ruth Bradley) storyline has been pretty poorly handled this season, and while I'm not surprised the whole thing turned out to be a giant red herring, I feel like the writers wrapped things up in the best possible fashion they could. Emily has been staying at the ARC offices until Ethan is found*, and she's warmed to the idea of making a new life for herself in the present. Bradley's handled the concept of Emily developing feelings for Matt with good grace, and I have to give her credit because goodness knows she hasn't had much to work with in the reciprocity department up to this point.

When Connor (Andrew Lee Potts), Abby (Hannah Spearritt) and Becker (Ben Mansfield) arrive at the prison, they discover there's something very strange about this anomaly - the locking mechanism won't hold (which Matt suspects has to do with Ethan's interference), allowing "terror birds" (i.e. overgrown ostriches that apparently eat people) to come through and run rampant throughout the prison. Terror birds has got to be the lamest name ever for a creature on this show, just sayin'. But we get an even BETTER surprise coming through the anomaly - DANNY (Jason Flemyng). He may look atrocious in a grubby flannel shirt and a mullet, but he hasn't lost his ATTITUDE! And he beats up terror birds with a big stick! That's the kind of devil-may-care attitude the show has been missing this season.

So, clever Ethan has apparently jury-rigged a simple radio to clue him into the location of anomalies, and so he inevitably shows up at the prison. In the firefight that ensues, he comes face-to-face with Danny and lo and behold we get this season's big reveal - Ethan is really Patrick, Danny's long-lost brother, first mentioned in season three, episode two! Honestly the Ethan/Patrick thing is more of an effort at continuity and thoroughness than I ever expected from this show, fairly impressive. However, the revelation that Ethan is Danny's brother proves that everyone, and I mean everyone, has been giving him way more credit for being an evil anomaly controlling mastermind than he deserved. While I can't begin to fathom the trauma being stuck in prehistoric times wreaked on Ethan/Patrick's fourteen-year-old mind, I also think it's an equally big stretch to have had his trauma translate into turning him into a timeline-hopping killer/madman. I'm sure there's a lot of truth to the idea that the more one kills, the easier it becomes, but to make the jump from killing animals for survival purposes to humans, and somehow doing all this because your big plot is to get back at your brother for abandoning you, is a bit ridiculous. Not to mention his obsession with killing Emily, but why not heap one more contrivance on an already convoluted plotline? *sigh*

Danny's big news (aside from discovering his brother is a nutjob that is) is that Helen Cutter somehow knew Philip Burton (Alexander Siddig), which puts Burton's activies and the whole "Prospero" project under suspicion (just in case you weren't wary of him already). *wink* By tying Philip to Helen Cutter and her apocalyptic aims for the destruction of mankind, Primeval is reaching for an ambitious, series-length mytharc. While I applaud the effort, and am very curious to see where things go in series 5 (especially since series 6 is not a foregone conclusion, given what I've read of the show's ratings battles), I do wish that the writers had been given more time to develop these ideas. However, there's no use I suppose in continually bemoaning the fact that too much gets crammed into too few episodes, and that qualm aside, this episode is a solid launching pad for the next spate of episodes due later this year.

The reason the prison anomaly wouldn't close was interesting, I thought - it makes sense in a weird sort of way that if two anomalies opened in the exact same spot that something extra strange would happen. The implications - that multiple anomalies, reacting against each other, could cause untold numbers of weaker portals to open, is a terrifying one, and I do dearly hope that the show doesn't squander the possibilities from this development later on. I love that it's Connor who figures out the double-anomaly mystery, and that he's the one to project the apocalyptic implications for anomalies, if they continue at their currently appearing trend. I even love the fact that he's still naive enough to take his findings to Philip - that fail, however well-meaning, balances out the great strides we've gotten to see Connor make throughout the show as an increasingly viable and valuable member of the team. Cutter would be proud. :) If the man's got to have a weak spot, it makes perfect sense that it would be his predisposition towards fandom that would place him in peril.

This episode was Matt's (Ciarán McMenamin) strongest outing to date as team leader. He seemed to exude genuine feeling for his teammates this episode, instead of just phoning it in. While I appreciate the fact that Matt was close to his father and dedicated to his (finally clarified) mission, what hooks me with a show are the characters and their relationships. And if someone's supposed to be heroic, dang it I want them to prove worthy of the adjective! Matt seemed genuinely interested in Emily's safety and her decision to stay or return home (one of the two anomalies at the prison is identified as her original time period, thanks to Connor's handy-dandy anomaly dating device!). The realization that Ethan is not the super-villain he'd thought also serves as a much-needed shock to Matt's system - he's not always right, and inspite of the elaborate subterfuge employed by his father to secure him the position on the ARC team, the real baddie has been operating right under his nose. When Emily and Matt say their goodbyes, thankfully the show doesn't stray into melodrama - instead there's a very subtle hint that they really like each other, but this just isn't going to work out. I found it a bit poignant but not overdone, nicely balanced, and McMenamin actually seems emotionally engaged for a change, which is a HUGE step in the right direction for his character.

*Side note on Ethan/Emily - Are we just supposed to take Ethan's apparently intense hatred for Emily has a sign that his deranged, or is there more to their story? I didn't quite buy the guy's drive to eliminate Emily as a carryover from his introduction. I'd like there to be more to their story, in part because I thought Emily was a much better addition to the core cast than other female members past and present (Jess, Sarah).

So, going forward, there are a few things I'd like to see happen in series 5. First and foremost, I would love to have Abby drop-kick Philip for daring to mess with her man. Second, I really, really, really hope Danny comes back. If his return in this episode was to merely pass on news of the connection between Helen and Philip, I am going to be CRUSHED. If Danny doesn't return, the whole Ethan/Patrick red herring of a storyline is just going to be ridiculous. (WAIT A SEC...googled Primeval series 5, and according to this article, we haven't seen the last of Danny OR Patrick! Woo-hoo!). The ARC desperately needs someone with Danny's energy and attitude...and if Danny returns in a bigger capacity for the back six episodes this year, I have high(er) hopes that the show could see a sixth series. Besides, Ethan needs redemption and Danny needs to be finally excised of the guilt he's carried with him over his brother's disappearance. Third point, now that I've sufficiently recovered (momentarily) for Jason Flemyng fangirl squealing, is that I really need to see Lester (Ben Miller) deck Philip for 1) being evil and 2) for MESSING WITH HIS FRIENDS! Because though he'd never admit it, Connor, Abby, Becker, and Danny are HIS PEOPLE, DANG IT! And fourth, but certainly not least, figure out what to do with Becker and Jess (Ruth Kearney) - separately, together, whatever, I don't care...but these characters will hopefully be better and more consistently served by the next six episodes. Becker's predisposition towards anger/angst this season has been way overdone. And while Jess's character has grown marginally less annoying as series 4 has progressed, she still feels completely unnecessary and superfluous to the team. The writers seem to have had trouble with female characters (see Sarah) except for Helen and Abby. 

While series 4 hasn't been quite as consistently brilliant as I'd rank series 3, it's been so good to have this show back on my TV screen, if for no other reason than quality time spent with the likes of Andrew Lee Potts and Ben Miller is never wasted. :) The show is in a good position to finish the year strong with series 5 (I imagine we'll see premiere announcements this summer, maybe?), and I have high hopes those episodes will deliver.

Doctor Who "Illuminated"

Too good not to share - really well done Doctor Who fan video featuring Ten (David Tennant) and Eleven (Matt Smith). Thanks to Ruth at Bookish Ruth for the link!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: The Tudor Secret by C.W. Gortner

The Tudor Secret (Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles #1)
By: C. W. Gortner
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN: 978-0-312-65850-2

About the book:

The era of the Tudors was one of danger, intrigue, conspiracy, and, above all, spies.

Summer 1553: a time of danger and deceit. Brendan Prescott, an orphan, is reared in the household of the powerful Dudley family. Brought to court, Prescott finds himself sent on an illicit mission to the king's brilliant but enigmatic sister, Princess Elizabeth. But Brendan is soon compelled to work as a double agent by Elizabeth's protector, William Cecil, who promises in exchange to help him unravel the secret of his own mysterious past.

A dark plot swirls around Elizabeth's quest to unravel the truth about the ominous disappearance of her seriously ill brother, King Edward VI. With only a bold stable boy and an audacious lady-in-waiting at his side, Brendan plunges into a ruthless gambit of half-truths, lies, and murder. Filled with the intrigue and pageantry of Tudor England, The Tudor Secret is the first book in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles.


Brendan Prescott is a foundling, discovered and subsequently raised on the Dudley family estate – a symbol of the family’s charity and an easy target for the Duke of Northumberland’s sons to mock and deride for his lack of antecedents. At the age of twenty he’s sent to court to serve as squire to the eldest son, the handsome and ambitious Robert. Once in London Brendan finds himself thrust in the middle of a life-and-death game of intrigue and deception, with a prize of unimaginable value as the goal – the very throne of England, precariously held by the ill and suspiciously absent Edward VI. Torn between the expectations of the powerful family that had provided the only home he’d ever known, and his desire to serve and protect the flame-haired princess Elizabeth whose strength and character he cannot resist, the naïve Squire Prescott is consumed by a brewing power struggle that promises to pit siblings against each other in a pitched battle for the future of England. While fighting for the survival of Elizabeth with overwhelming forces arrayed against her, Prescott discovers an aptitude for spy-craft and begins to uncover the tantalizing truth of his past and the dangerous secret that ties him to the Tudors – a secret that his enemies will stop at nothing to keep silenced forever.
The Tudor Secret is my first C.W. Gortner novel and it will most assuredly not be my last. I love it when an author takes established historical fact and then begins to ask “what if?” – and that simple question opens the floodgates to fascinating possibilities and brings a world long since passed to vibrant, brilliant life. The established historical basis for events within The Tudor Secret concern the succession drama surrounding Edward VI’s illness and death and the Duke of Northumberland’s move to establish his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, as Queen. Had he succeeded, through Jane’s husband and his son Guilford, the Dudley family would have been legitimized as rulers of England – instead of the not-so-secret power behind the throne Northumberland exercised during Edward’s short reign. Though historical record does not place Elizabeth at court during Edward’s last days, Gortner dares to imagine what might have happened had she done so. And from there, how a chance meeting with an intelligent and resourceful squire like Brendan, in service to Robert Dudley, the one man who could be Elizabeth’s undoing, could alter the course of history. Peopled with fascinating real-life characters seen through Brendan’s eyes, from the future Elizabeth I to Francis Walsingham, master spy destined to play a critical role in Elizabeth’s future reign, Gortner has crafted a heart-pounding tale of suspense that brings 16th-century England to electrifying life.
I love spy stories and unlikely heroes, and this novel delivers both in spades. The Tudor Secret is a page-turning thrill ride through the English court of 1553, rife with all the danger, suspense, intrigue, and secrets one could imagine existing in a world where fortunes were made or lost on a whim and alliances were constantly shifting like sands washed by the tide. Brendan Prescott is a thoroughly engaging hero – he may be new at court, but he proves adept at the balancing act required to survive, and his “learning curve” is a fantastic window through which I was completely absorbed into the Tudor-era world of passion and intrigue. For the last 200 pages of this book I could not put it down. I loved the fictional allies Gortner creates for Prescott, from the plucky stableboy Peregrine, determined to become Brendan’s manservant, to the vivacious and clever Kate Stafford, lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth, and the keeper of her own secrets that Brendan determines to uncover. With an adept eye for historical detail and a gift for bringing history to life, C.W. Gortner’s The Tudor Secret is a fast-paced, engaging, suspenseful novel that will leave you hungering for more – Brendan Prescott’s further adventures cannot come soon enough to suit me.
I just wanted to add, that if you're like me and you *could* love The Tudors television series, but that delivers way too much explicit sex and violence, this novel is a great alternative for feeding one's passion for Tudor drama without the graphic content. This novel is action-packed and Gortner doesn't shy away from the realities of the era, but violence is not overly graphic and sex is limited. It's a compelling and more tasteful alternative, which I can happily recommend in that respect as well as being a rollicking good story.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Primeval 4.6

Well, obviously I fell behind with my Primeval Series 4 reviews. Thankfully this season was only seven episodes, so I don't have too much catching up to do. *wink* This episode opens with the mysterious Gideon (Anton Lesser) having some sort of flashback to another world. As we learned back in episode three, Gideon is terminally ill - and at this point he's so close to death he's fanatical in his insistence that Matt (Ciarán McMenamin) promise he'll use Emily (Ruth Bradley) as bait to capture Ethan (Jonathan Byrne) and stop him from destroying humanity. For reasons that have yet to be revealed, Gideon has lumped Ethan in the same category as Series 1-3 baddie Helen Cutter - an amoral individual with the right knowledge to wreak unimaginable havoc on mankind. Only Ethan is an underdeveloped, poorer version of the same type - mainly due to lack of decent characterization - only part of which, to my mind, can be blamed on the fact that this is a seven episode season. Matt, being the stoic lump on a log that he is, of course promises to do just this - because even if in Matt's world he's sort of attracted to Emily, he can't let that interfere with his mission. I like the basic idea behind Ethan and Matt as adversaries across time, but I think the fact that again, this season is so short, the impact of the possibilities between these characters are never fully explored to the extent one would wish.

This week's anomaly opens at a swanky mansion where a wedding is being staged. Matt, Emily, Connor (Andrew Lee Potts), and Abby (Hannah Spearitt) are sent to investigate the anomaly, leaving Lester (Ben Miller) to man the ARC offices and Becker (Ben Mansfield) to track down Ethan, with Jess (Ruth Kearney) for company. The creatures this week cracked me up! Hyaenadons are apparently quite fierce dog-like creatures who are rather cute when they're in the "puppy" stage, quite another thing when they are fully grown. While searching the mansion, Connor and Abby run into the bride-to-be who turns out to be none other than former ARC team member Jenny Lewis (Lucy Brown), more high maintenance than ever. I have VERY mixed feelings about her reappearance. Jenny left the team in episode 5 of series 3, shortly after Cutter's death and the realization that yes, he wasn't crazy - in a different timeline she was his true love Claudia Brown. I guess my main issue here is that seeing Jenny again reminded me of how much I preferred the Claudia incarnation of this character - Jenny always came across as way too...hmm, I don't know...wishy-washy to me. For most of series 2 and 3 Jenny didn't deserve Cutter AT ALL...and then she leaves the show when she finally starts to show some moxie (and act like Claudia). So in the intervening time since she's left the ARC, she's attempted to completely purge her former life from her mind and she's gotten engaged to a musician with horrible fashion sense. Nothing against musicians, but yeesh after Cutter's awesomeness this Michael (Rory Keenan) person is the best rebound option the writers could come up with? And in spite of her past experience with the ARC she is delusional enough to think that the anomaly won't leak creatures to wreck her wedding. That's just delusional. *wink*

Connor had perhaps one of his best awkward-but-you'll-forgive-him-'cause-he's-adorable moments ever when he and Abby are catching up with Jenny and he off-handedly suggests that he and Abby should get married at this location. Abby's look of shock and horror at the off-the-cuff way he brought up marriage was absolutely priceless! And then the way he tries to back pedal, and then just sort of gives up because he knows he's dug himself into a deep hole is vintage Connor. One thing that has remained constant for me throughout Primeval's run is how much I love these two characters, and series 4, for as much as some of it's been up and down quality-wise in my opinion, has given me plenty of fantastic Connor/Abby moments for which I am eternally grateful. It was also a lot of fun to see Connor cut off and locked in the basement with only baby hyaenadons for company while their very angry mama tries to take him out. The sequence managed to strike just the right balance of Connor's dorkiness and proficiency.

The whole concept of Emily and Matt working as romantic interests really crashes and burns completely here. First and foremost, Matt's high-handed attitude toward keeping Emily in sight at all times just made me want to smack him upside the head for acting like such a neanderthal (apologies to the guys in the Geico commercials). And while I get that she's from a different era, for someone who has been traveling through anomalies for as long as she has, I was surprised she didn't kick him to the curb figuratively and literally. But alas, that is not to be as apparently she's supposed to see past the facade into his tortured soul or something, so she puts up with his chauvinistic shenanigans. Whatevs.

On to Becker and Jess's activities this episode. Jess, I know, is a really hit-or-miss character - and perhaps I am tolerating her more only because my ability to stomach Matt has decreased by a proportionate amount each week. Anyway, I thought it was kind of cute that she brought takeout to Becker's stakeout in front of Ethan's hideout (wow...look at all those words ending in "out"). I also liked how Becker's predisposition to run in and just get the job done backfired on him here, as he ends up in the middle of a booby-trapped room and Jess has to save the day and disarm Ethan's bomb. Nicely done, girlfriend. *wink*

While Jenny's return felt a bit lamer than I would have wished, I did enjoy the craziness that ensued when Connor frees himself from the basement and interrupts the ceremony. If looks could kill poor Connor would have been fried on the spot. The set up played nicely into hyaenadons following and completely freaking out everyone in the audience. Finally we see more than a small handful of one-off episode characters encountering dinosaurs gone wild! This show works best for me when there's a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humor (the complete lack of that is Matt's downfall), something Danny's character brought to the show in spades. That quality was abundantly present in the spectacle of overgrown wild dogs terrorizing wedding guests, while Abby and Emily, decked out to the nines in formal dresses, wielding maces as weapons.

I really thought it was a nice touch to finish the episode by having Lester officiate Jenny's wedding (who knew managers of top-secret government offices could perform weddings?). This was one of those scenes that forced Lester out of his comfort zone, and while he may complain we know him well enough by now to realize that somewhere deep (deep) inside he's probably rather touched. *wink* With only one episode left, we finally get the not quite surprising revelation that Gideon is Matt's father, and they are (also not surprisingly) not from this time period - sent from the future to stop someone - who has now been revealed to be Ethan - from using the anomalies to destroy mankind. Like much of this season, the overall storyarc has been rather poorly I'm curious to see what sort of cliffhanger we're left with after episode 7...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

White Collar 2.14: "Payback"

I feel like I'm breaking some major unwritten rule of the blog (don't ask me what the other rules are, I didn't know I had any until I started to type this - obviously they are flexible *wink*) by writing an review of episode fourteen of season two of one of my absolute favorite shows EVER. But I can't help it. I've mentioned White Collar a few times here, and if you're friends with me on Facebook it's probably pretty hard to miss my love affair with this show. White Collar has been pretty much made of awesome since the series premiere - but last night's episode, aptly entitled "Payback," was SO. FREAKING. FANTASTIC. I find I must discuss it. So settle in for a lengthy recap & review - since I've never discussed this show before, I must give Neal & Peter their due. :)

FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) and his wife Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), or El as she's affectionately known, have one of my favorite TV marriages ever. Too often it seems like marriage on television is portrayed as either highly dysfunctional, undesirable, or some sort of last resort (why marry when you can live together? *sigh*). Peter and El are a glorious exception to that norm. They are deeply in love, respect each other, and are committed and invested in making their marriage work. There's also tons of humor in their relationship - I love that they're not afraid to tease each other or be a little silly. As I've discussed on Facebook with Rachel, a new fan of the series, one of the most delightful things about Peter's personal life is that he married way up and he knows it. This episode plays with that idea by having Peter and El have a fight involving *gasp* dry cleaning (as mundane as this may sound, trust me, this "fight" was serious business for my favs!) - to make a long story short, Peter got upset because El didn't call to remind him to pick up the dry cleaning, because she knew he'd probably forget anyway. And thus one of Peter's worst nightmares has been realized - he's one of "those" guys who never follows through for his woman. A little dramatic, sure, but this type of thing is serious business in the paradise otherwise known as the Burke household.

Conman-turned-FBI consultant Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) has become one of Peter's closest friends over the course of the show (the other half of the time he's sort of the overgrown, annoying son Peter never wanted - HA!!). The friendship between Neal and Peter is the heart and soul of the show, and how they push and pull and annoy and help and like each other in spite of it all is an absolute delight to watch each week. Neal's gotten the chance to give Peter some marriage/relationship advice before, but it was pretty funny to witness Neal's reaction to the discovery that Peter was upset over dry cleaning, and even funnier to see Peter accept Neal's counsel so quickly and gratefully. And the fact that Peter shares the story about the importance of saying "hon" to El with Neal? Absolutely priceless. They've come a long way, baby. *wink*

This episode witnesses the return of Neal's nemesis Matthew Keller (Ross McCall), last seen in episode twelve of season one ("Bottlenecked"). When we last saw Keller, he had just ripped off the Russian mob to the tune of 2.5 million dollars and was actually perhaps thankful to be arrested by the FBI. Keller is Neal's polar opposite in pretty much every way imaginable - he's as classless as Neal is like Cary Grant (wasn't his glee over having Peter compare him to Grant hilarious?). Prior to his scheduled transfer to a SuperMax (filled with lots of Russians), Keller requests a meeting. In exchange for giving up info on a forger making "Caffrey-quality" perfect passports, he wants his transfer cancelled. The forger turns out to be an old associate of Keller's - one Jason Lang (Adam Goldberg), now a photographer. When Neal and Peter visit Lang's studio to check out Keller's story, it proves to be a set-up, as Peter is kidnapped and Neal receives a phone call from Keller, who promises to kill Peter unless Neal cooperates. The look of absolute HORROR on Neal's face as he witnesses Peter being stuffed in the van was wrenching, and of course I loved every second it since it spoke to the depth of their friendship.

Keller wants an item Neal has worth (conveniently) 2.5 million to pay off the Russians in exchange for Peter's life. While Peter's boss Reese (James Rebhorn) organizes the "largest manhunt in a decade" to get Peter back, he orders Neal not to engage Keller, since the FBI doesn't negotiate. But of course - and this is the beauty of Neal - he doesn't take orders well, and since no one knows Keller better than him and he has to get his BFF back alive, he arranges a meet with Mozzie (Willie Garson) to plan a course of action. Mozzie is just adorable, and the fact that he's so upset over "the Suit's" (a.k.a. Peter) kidnapping that he brings an "arsenal of hammers" to the meeting with Neal was truly a heartwarming (if eccentric) moment. The hammer was required to chisel a GORGEOUS ring from its hiding place on a statue. The ring was meant for Kate (who, thankfully, is DEAD and anyway Neal, she didn't deserve a rock like that, nevermind a proposal!!), but in perhaps one of the best moments in a show chock-full of priceless scenes, Neal declares that using the ring to save Peter is more important than hanging onto it as a symbol of what he lost with Kate (and their pathetic love story...oh wait, I'm projecting my disdain for Kate here...whoops...).

This episode was such a great showcase for the unlikely family of sorts that's formed between Peter, El, Neal, and Mozzie. There was a time when Mozzie would've refused to darken the door of an FBI agent's home, but he's grown to like Peter, and he has this hilariously special bond with El (because seriously, who doesn't lover her, she's awesome) that compels him to go offer his support to her while she's waiting on word regarding Peter's whereabouts. Not only does Mozzie assure El that Peter is sure to be home for dinner, but he drops a kiss on her forehead (GAH!!! SO SWEET!!!) and then bugs the FBI's headphones to El can hear all the calls that come into her home. That, my friends, is true and abiding love as only Mozzie could display it. The writers gave Mozzie some of his most hilarious lines yet, including this priceless gem that he drops after El confides in him about her morning "fight" with Peter - "The longest relationship I ever had was eleven days...and then she deflated" - I laughed so hard at Garson's deadpan delivery on that line!

Another fascinating thing to witness throughout this show has been the role reversal that Peter and Neal undergo as their friendship/partnership develops. The straight-as-an-arrow Peter has become a bit more lax about the rules thanks to his association with Neal. He has this wonderful faith in Neal's character, in his innate goodness, that allows him to trust the former conman's judgment when everyone else thinks he's crazy. A great illustration of this moment is when Neal convinces Diana (Marsha Thomason) to allow him to "go rogue" and attempt to work with Keller in order to ensure Peter's safety - because that's what Peter would let him do. And though Neal doesn't have nearly as much faith in himself as Peter does (I really want to know more about his parents!), he's learned to trust Peter and embrace - to some extent, anway - the system he once opposed.

When Keller escapes*, Reese comes down hard on Neal for attempting to work outside the FBI's strict protocols. But this set-down turns into an excuse for even more brilliance on the parts of Neal and Peter when Peter, having escaped his handcuffs, calls the office needing Neal to walk him through a jailbreak. Oh my word, that was awesome. From Neal running around the office building a mock-up of Peter's cell, to Peter proving just how fantastic and capable he is in a pinch by following - and more importantly, trusting - Neal's instructions and nailing his kidnapper, the role-reversal was a great cap to what is probably my favorite episode of the series yet. It was also nice to see Neal validate Peter's faith in him and prove his worth to the team AND to have all of the above acknowledged by Reese.

*This show really needs to give Clinton Jones (Sharif Atkins) a little more to do. When subordinate FBI team members get screen time, the bulk of it seems to fall in favor of Diana - and she's a great character, but that tendency unfortunately makes poor Jones occasionally seem a bit superfluous.

So, all's well that ends well this hour as Peter gets to be daring and brave and dashing in the field and Neal gets to play the part of heroic and stalwart consultant/agent. And they hug at the end of the episode. THEY HUG. I can't let this overly-long blog end without mentioning the hug, because it was freaking awesome. I don't believe Keller is due to return this season, but I am oh so happy that the showrunners are setting him up as recurring Neal's nemesis. As I suggested to Rachel, Keller disappearing on the streets of New York is like Moriarty to Neal's Sherlock. The moment where he accuses Neal of "sounding like a lawman" was PRICELESS, moreso since Neal didn't refute the claim. My darling hero is more and more accepting of a future on the right side of the law. And while his methods are sure to remain unorthodox, I can't wait to see where this ride takes Neal, Peter, and company next. With superb writing and clear affection for these characters I've fallen in love with, White Collar is on fire story-wise - if you've never watched this show, what on earth are you waiting for? :)

Just because I love Neal, and I love Neal in suits, and I really adore Neal in vests too, here's another gratuitous Matt Bomer pic from the episode:

Here's a few scene clips from "Payback" that I found on White Collar's YouTube channel:

Peter comparing Neal to Cary Grant - priceless!

Neal and Mozzie discuss Keller...

And finally, Peter insults Neal's sensibilities by comparing him to Keller... :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Doctor Who Series 6 Preview

I haven't seen an official premiere date on the BBC America Doctor Who website yet, other than confirmation that Series 6 is definitely coming this spring (woo-hoo!), but I thought it was high time I finally shared the trailer:

I heart Matt Smith. :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Save The Date
Thomas Nelson (February 1, 2011)
Jenny B. Jones

I write Christian fiction with a few giggles, quite a bit of sass, and lots of crazy. My novels include the Katie Parker Production series and So Not Happening. I would also like to take credit for Twilight , but somewhere I think I read you’re not supposed to lie.

When I’m not typing my heart out (or checking email), I teach at a super-sized high school in Arkansas.

My students are constantly telling me how my teaching changes their lives and turned them away from drugs, gangs, and C-SPAN.

Okay, that’s not exactly true.

Some facts that are true include:

I've always been refined!

A. I got my camera confiscated by big boys with guns at the American Embassy in Europe this past summer. O la la!

B. I once worked in a seed mill office and cleaned out mice on a regular basis. Ew.

C. I’m a former drama teacher.

D. I didn’t pass my drivers test the first time. Or the second…

E. I attract stray animals like a magnet.
F. I used to assemble and test paint ball guns for a local factory...

Since my current job leaves me with very little free time, I believe in spending my spare hours in meaningful, intellectual pursuits such as:

-watching E!

-updating my status on Facebook

-catching Will Ferrell on YouTube and

-writing my name in the dust on my furniture
I’d love to hear about you, so drop me a note. Or check me out on Facebook.


You’re invited to the engagement of the most unlikely couple of the year.

When the funding for Lucy’s non-profit job is pulled, she is determined to find out why. Enter Alex Sinclair, former professional football star and heir of Sinclair Enterprises—the primary donor to Lucy’s Saving Grace organization. Alex Sinclair has it all . . . except for the votes he needs to win his bid for Congress. Both Lucy and Alex have something the other wants. Despite their mutual dislike, Alex makes Lucy a proposition: pose as his fiancée in return for the money she desperately needs. Bound to a man who isn’t quite what he seems, Lucy finds her heart – and her future – on the line.

Save the Date is a spunky romance that will have readers laughing out loud as this dubious pair try to save their careers, their dreams . . . and maybe even a date.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Save The Date, go HERE.

Winner of Stars Collide!

Thanks to everyone who entered my drawing for a copy of Stars Collide by Janice Thompson (the most entries yet for a blog drawing on Booktalk!).

1. *Elphie*
2. *Elphie* - blog entry
3. Renee Ann
4. Polka Dot
5. Kristin
6. Julia M. Reffner
7. Caroline
8. 247Mama
9. Natasha Areena

The winner, chosen with the help of, is:

#8 - 247Mama

Congratulations! An e-mail is on its way to you so I can get a shipping address! And to those of you who didn't win this time around, I have several more giveways planned, so stay tuned - you never know when I'll decide to launch another drawing! :) Happy Monday!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

From Prada to Nada

Friday I went to see From Prada to Nada, a modern Latina spin on Jane Austen's classic Sense and Sensibility. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the movie was much better and more entertaining than I thought possible, and it succeeded in translating the characters and major story beats from Austen's novel more successfully and more thoroughly than I expected. Great cinema this isn't by any stretch, but if you're looking for a fun diversion to while away a few hours I can definitely recommend this flick.

Sisters Nora (Camilla Belle) and Mary (Alexa Vega - remember the Spy Kids movie? LOL) Dominguez have grown up privileged and beloved in west L.A., the center of their father's world after the death of their mother in a car accident years earlier. Though sisters, they couldn't be more different - Nora, our modern-day stand-in for Elinor, is a bookish law student, more concerned about others than the latest fashions or shopping sprees. Mary, our flighty modern-day Marianne, can think of nothing but shopping or men. When their father suddenly dies, they are shocked to discover 1) that they're completely broke and 2) that they have a brother, Gabriel (Pablo Cruz), the product of an affair their father was involved in years earlier. Gabriel brings with him a blonde, plastic Barbie-doll of a wife - Olivia (April Bowlby), who commences with remodeling their beloved home, alienating them at every turn, and finally driving Nora to leave, dragging her sister with her to their aunt's home in east L.A. (oh the horrors!).

Their aunt, Aurelia (Adriana Barraza), was hilarious. She was fiesty and sassy, fiercely loyal to family, and determined to teach her privileged nieces how to live in the "real" world - i.e., with less. One of her neighbors is Bruno (Wilmer Valderrama), whose reticence and rough manner hilariously freak Mary out, convincing her he's some sort of gang member. As a modern-day Colonel Brandon, I thought the Bruno character worked extraordinarily well. I loved the little things he was always doing to help out Mary (the car mirror! loved it!) or her family, and how in spite of her near constant rudeness he would just roll his eyes in exasperation. And it doesn't hurt that Valderrama is quite the hunk, either. :) Bruno was definitely one of my favorite characters in the film, and I thought it was interesting that his romance with Mary became my favorite. Despite the change in culture and time period, there's apparently no denying the hold the Marianne/Brandon romance has on  my heart in any form.

Olivia's brother Edward Ferris (Nicholas D'Agosto) is a lawyer, as kind and genuine as his sister is fake and self-absorbed. D'Agosto is absolutely adorable, and his Edward starts out with what seems like more gumption, I guess you could say, than his book counterpart which I really liked since Edward has a history of annoying me. After all he's already established in his career. I really liked how he had the chance to develop an actual relationship with Nora when she brings a pro-bono case to his law firm which they bring to a successful conclusion. The critical moment for their romance, when Nora turns down Edward's declaration of love because she has to focus on her career, felt more than a little contrived however. And the fact that Edward proceeds to cave immediately and get engaged to Lucy (Karla Souza) was a bit of a disappointment, given the character's stronger nature in the first half of the film. In spite of some disappointment with how the Edward and Nora storyline plays out, I was pleased with the resolution of it - I thought it was extremely sweet the way Edward bought a house in down the street from Nora's aunt as a wedding gift. This is a guy to whom class or position means nothing, and the hopeless romantic in me couldn't help but cheer a little.

Willoughby is transformed into a womanizing teaching assistant at Mary's college named Rodrigo (Kuno Becker). The movie does perhaps an even better job of making this character appear up-front when he's first introduced - since no one else knows him, there's no history to cast a shadow of doubt on his character. Mary's wake-up call was extremely realistic and heart-wrenching. She views Rodrigo as a savior for her old lifestyle, and once she sleeps with him she's a complete goner, certain they'll be married. When she discovers his duplicity at Edward's engagement party and meets his wife, it's a sad wake-up call for her. I liked how the filmmakers translated Mary's moment in the rain into modern day terms - her she gets into a car wreck in a downpour while fleeing from Rodrigo and the party. And Bruno couldn't be more romantic - though he doesn't visit her in the hospital, he's busy re-vamping her aunt's home so she can get around easily in her wheelchair while she recovers - and this after having his heart stomped on. Bruno/Brandon, I love you. :)

One major change to the Sense and Sensibility storyline involves Nora and Mary's brother Gabriel. He apparently grew up convinced that his father had abandoned him, never interested in a relationship, and that gives his character some real family baggage. He wants a sense of family but isn't sure how to relate to Nora and Mary, until Nora discovers a packet of letters to Gabriel among their father's papers that had all been returned to him by Gabriel's mother, unopened. So by the end of the film, and after this revelation, Gabriel splits from his horrid materialistic and annoying wife, and starts spending more time in east L.A. getting to know his sisters. I thought it was a nice twist to the sibling storyline - I always wanted the brother to have more interest in taking care of his family.

If you can get past the rather "jerky" camera work (it was almost like they were trying to give this movie a documentary-style feel, which was odd), From Prada to Nada is a cute, warm-hearted modern-day take on a Jane Austen classic.

This review marks my first entry in the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge.      

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book Giveaway Reminder: Stars Collide by Janice Thompson

Just a reminder that you have through midnight Sunday 2/20/11 to enter for a chance to win a copy of Stars Collide by Janice Thompson - all you have to do is leave a comment on THIS POST. Good luck! :)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Glorious 39

I have a feeling that Glorious 39 is either a movie people like or they can't stand. It's not a film that delivers easy, clear answers and closure - and it's not without its flaws. But personally, I found it to be enormously thought-provoking, a gripping and thoroughly absorbing piece of cinema. I'm SO glad it finally released on DVD! I had completely forgotten about it - it's been about three years since I saw trailers break online, and I hoped (vainly, as it turns out) that the film would see a limited release in my area since it features a memorable performance by m'darling DAVID TENNANT. Alas, a theatrical viewing was not to be, and it was only by chance that I saw an advertisement announcing the movie's DVD release. On to the of this review will probably be very spoiler-y since I want to set my thoughts about the film "on paper" as the saying goes. So be warned. :)

The film opens in the present day, with young Michael (Toby Regbo) visiting some distant cousins, brothers Walter (Christopher Lee) and Oliver (Corin Redgrave). Walter and Oliver seem uneasy with Michael's visit, especially when he asks about what really happened to his mysterious great aunt Anne Keyes, who disappeared during the war. Bu any uneasiness Walter and Oliver may feel with their young cousin digging up the past is quickly overshadowed by Walter's desire for an audience and the chance to revisit that glorious summer of 1939, before the outbreak of World War II changed everything. The tagline of this film is "you can't always run from the past," and we see the older Walter discover this to be true as his complicity in the events surrounding Anne's fall from the family's grace is revealed.

I absolutely love the look of the film as it begins to take us into the flashback. The family estate, the setting for so much heartbreak, is gorgeously rendered on-screen. Everything appears sublimely idyllic in the lives of the Keyes family - yes, conflict is on the horizon with Hitler's aggression in Europe, but what could that possibly have to do with their lives so far away, so secluded and removed from the hustle and bustle of London and political drama. Oldest adopted daughter Anne (Romola Garai) and her brother Ralph (Eddie Redmayne) and sister Celia (Juno Temple) appear to be as close as one could wish, dashing among the ruins, privileged and without a care in the world - until they are brought short by the image of a burial. The stark contrast to their carefree play is only a hint of the shadows that will soon overcome this privileged family.

Anne has invited two friends to the family home to help celebrate her beloved father's birthday - Sir Alexander Keyes (Bill Nighy), a World War I hero and a respected Member of Parliament. Hector Haldane (David Tennant), also an MP, is just a friend, while Lawrence (Charlie Cox) is a lover yet to be introduced to the family. Alexander brings an unexpected guest home with him, Balcombe (Jeremy Northam), an unsettlingly quiet and reserved government employee. Over the birthday dinner, Hector becomes quite outspoken about his fervent belief that Hitler must be stopped and that the current government's policy of appeasement is not only not working but dangerous, because "evil has to be stood up to." A bit of an aside - it's absolutely fantastic to see Tennant in his role with his Scottish accent. Excuse me while I swoon. And Tennant's scenes are even more swoon-worthy given his character's passionate stance against Hitler and the the threat of appeasement. Hector is a character who was determined to make a stand, and I loved that.

Shortly after the birthday dinner, Anne ventures into her father's previously forbidden outbuildings on the estate in search of a lost cat. There she discovers records, labeled as fox trots or popular songs, that don't contain music but instead are recordings of meetings - meetings she thinks little of until her friend Hector is found dead of an apparent suicide. Anne conjectures that the mysterious Balcombe could have something to do with Hector's death - she's wary of the recordings and everyone's reticence to explain the true nature of Balcombe's government work. As the stress of the mystery of the recordings and Hector's death mounts, Anne finds herself under fire as her own well-being and mental acuity are called into question.

I think I'll stop there, because this film is a journey worth experiencing yourself - if I've succeeded in hooking your interest. :) Let's talk about the construction of the film itself and some of the performances. Glorious 39 is written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. I confess to being unfamiliar with his work save for the Masterpiece production The Lost Prince. Despite some hiccups in tone and editing, Glorious 39 is a carefully constructed film, each scene increasing the tension and suspense factor exponentially. In some respects it is reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock film (note I'm not saying it's on that level, just similar!) - for the most part, the suspense comes from really well layed-out and gradually increasing psychological tension, not gore or scenes that only have "shock" value (this holds true until the last fourth of the film anyway).

I'm a pretty big fan of Romola Garai's work - ever since her appearance in 2002's Daniel Deronda she's continued to grow and mature as an actress, and her latest Masterpiece appearance in Emma is one of my favorites. I happened upon this review of Glorious 39 which likens Garai's performance as Anne to Ingrid Bergman in a Hitchcock picture, and the more I mull over that comparison the more I find that I agree with it. Anne possesses the same balance of wide-eyed innocence and strength that Bergman projected in films like Spellbound or Notorious (especially the latter IMO). And though it's not a Hitchcock picture, the psychological terror brought to bear against Anne, and her reaction to it, reminds me of the terrorized wife Bergman plays in Gaslight. The final act of Glorious 39 takes a marked turn towards the melodramatic that I think will be off-putting to some viewers. It calls into question the veracity of some of the events we've seen play out to that point, but the tone and direction worked for me.

Glorious 39 skates a delicate balance between taut psychological thriller and melodrama, and while I wouldn't say it manages that balance perfectly the end product worked for me. It seems only natural to me that the continued strain placed upon Anne by the events of the film would bring her to the point of a psychological breakdown. I think that's why the last fourth of the film takes on an almost unreal aspect when Anne visits the country vet in order to put the family pets to sleep. My take on the scene where Anne enters the barn filled with animal corpses waiting to be burned is that its some sort of comment on how the coming war will consume even the most innocents wholly and completely. I don't think it's a comment on the Holocaust, as the emotional impact of the scene feels more generic and broadly directed to me.

Poliakoff has crafted a film that addresses reality vs. imagination, truth vs. fiction, and trust vs. lies. As privileged members of the British aristocracy in the 1930s, Anne's family was wholly invested in maintaining the status quo at all costs. The lengths they are willing to go to in order to accomplish their aims are positively chilling, and may leave you pondering - as it did me - just how you might have reacted were you unfortunate enough to find yourself in Anne's situation. I think if the film hadn't made quite so sharp a turn towards over-the-top melodrama in the final act that the resulting movie would have been tighter and more focused.

If you're interested in this film but concerned about the R rating, that is mainly for the way psychological tension builds throughout the movie. When the deaths are involved there is some blood but the scenes are not overly graphic. The one "almost" love scene where Charlie Cox's backside is revealed is completely unnecessary. Romola Garai drops several f-bombs toward the movie's finale, which are quite jarring given her almost genteel on-screen presence, but in the context of the story and what Anne has endured you may find it understandable.

A few quick additional acting shout-outs...I just love Bill Nighy and he was spectacular as Anne's father. His calm, solicitous demeanor throughout the film is positively chilling. You can totally understand how hard it would be for Anne to come to terms with this, for all appearances kind and loving man, being involved in an appeasement effort that advocates the violent intimidation and silencing of protesters. I also love Jeremy Northam, and have to give him kudos for playing against the more heroic, gentleman-like type of role I'm more accustomed to seeing him play in period films. It was a real treat to see Julie Christie as Anne's Aunt Elizabeth - Christie just oozes class, and though her complicity in the plot to "teach Anne a lesson" is never directly addressed, her laser like focus on frivolous matters stands in stark contrast to the dark events on the horizon with the advent of war. Hugh Bonneville gives a great turn as Anne's actor friend Gilbert, whose life is also sacrificed for discovering too much about the appeasors' activities.

Since I love film music, I have to mention composer Adrian Johnston provides the film's gorgeous score (he worked on Becoming Jane). And in addition to Poliakoff's work as writer and director, I have to give credit to the editors and cinematographers that worked on Glorious 39 - the editing in this film is, for the most part, so good at never letting up on the tension and suspense! And the look of the film, from the settings to the costumes is simply sumptuous. The stark dichotomy between the outward beauty of the Keyes family's lives and the inward corruption is really well played out. If you liked Atonement, I think you'd enjoy Glorious 39. Both films are similarly thought-provoking stories that address questions of truth and honor without providing pat or easy answers.

And finally, if you actually made it through this review, thanks. I know it's a long one. :) If you've seen Glorious 39 I'd love to discuss - it's been a couple of days since I watched it and I feel like I'm still processing it in many respects!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Preview Linda Eder's new album!

If you've ever visited my Music Reviews page, it's no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Linda Eder. For her 12th album, Eder has re-teamed with composer Frank Wildhorn for Now, releasing March 1st. Here's the tracklisting:
  1. Not Gonna Fall This Time
  2. No Finer Man
  3. Ordinary People
  4. The Heat of the Night
  5. What Did You See Inside the Stars?
  6. Now
  7. The Mad Hatter
  8. A Woman In His Arms
  9. Good Bye
  10. What's Never Been Done Before
  11. More Than Heaven
  12. Living in the Shadows
While I absolutely adore all of Linda Eder's music, her work with Frank Wildhorn holds a special place in my heart - I am convinced he was born to write for her voice and she was meant to sing his songs. The combination is, well, magical! You can purchase the standard 12-track release through Amazon at this link.

Now, if the news of a new Linda Eder album wasn't exciting enough, Barnes & Noble will be selling an exclusive version with THREE bonus tracks! Here are the titles:
  1. Please Don’t Make Me Love You ~ Bonus Track
  2. The First Time I Saw Paris ~ Bonus Track
  3. Sweet Song of Life ~ Bonus Track
You can purchse the B&N exclusive version of Now at this link.

Linda Eder's newly-redesigned website launched today, and there you can listen to a stream of the entire 12 song version of Now - which I've been thoroughly enjoying today. You can check out the  new music here.

Here's a short video you can check out on the making of the album:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Primeval 4.5

I finally got the chance to re-watch episode five of Primeval this weekend since BBC America finally put the episode On Demand. This episode continues the overall up-tick in quality and storyline this series has enjoyed since episode three. The action opens with Philip (Alexander Siddig) offering Connor a job in his private lab, doing anomaly research away from the ARC. Connor (Andrew Lee Potts) is clearly flattered since Philip is his geeky idol, for reasons I have yet to grasp given Philip's presence on-screen this season. But whatever. It's been kind of fun to see Connor's predisposition towards Philip fanboy-dom get on Abby's (Hannah Spearitt) last nerve, especially after Philip orders all of the creatures in her beloved menagerie put down.

In fact, this episode has pretty much forced me to conclude that Philip has been one of the most poorly conceived and realized characters in the show's history. Having seen episode six, and with only seven episodes in this fourth series, I have my doubts that the writers can save Philip by the season's end, but who knows? *sigh* But if Philip doesn't have a point as far as the show's story arc goes, I will say I do enjoy witnessing how he gets on Lester's (Ben Miller) nerves. If there was any doubt in my mind about Lester's qualifications - which there wasn't, BTW - forcing Lester to tolerate a boss like Philip proves that my favorite snarky ARC manager needs no overseer. Between getting annoyed by Philip, telling Matt off for not listening to him, and fumbling through actual field work by standing in for Jess as a communications director, Lester was in FINE form this episode.

I really loved the whole execution of the creature storyline in this episode, the whole thing was well-conceived and quite creepy. The picturesque town giving off anomaly signal "flashes" was eerie in a horror flick kind of way - everything was "too" quiet and "too" perfect to be genuine. The way all of the townspeople cover up rumors of the Wichfield (sp?) worm was a neat twist on creature incursions - no one wants to acknowledge that the impossible is occurring, so it is repressed, that kind of thing. When Abby and Connor arrive and visit the pub to try and glean information from the locals, I loved how Abby was immediately pegged as the more serious, threatening of the two when she's given the bigger drink at the bar - poor Connor. *wink*

So while Connor and Abby split up to take care of the anomaly, Matt (Ciarán McMenamin) leaves to pursue the kidnapped Emily (Ruth Bradley) and the mysterious Ethan (Jonathan Byrne), who knows way more than any self-respecting 19th century anomaly hopper should about the 21st-century, like how to drive modern cars. AND he lets drop a comment about taking revenge on his FAMILY. Hmmm... I have really liked McMenamin in other projects, but I have to be honest, overall he's been a disappointment as team leader in Primeval. He's just WAY too serious for his own good - that's why I liked Danny so much in season three, and why as tragic as Cutter's departure was, I wasn't all that sorry to see him go. The show needs someone charismatic in a lead role, who brings a sense of adventure to the storylines, not stoic gloom-and-doom. It is with some hesitancy that I've watched Matt's relationship with Emily unfold over the last few episodes. Emily's served to loosen him up just a bit, but sadly Matt is still an extraordinarily stuffed shirt and makes Emily look positively charismatic by contrast. The hopeless romantic in me did love the moment he rescues her from the crypt, though. :) And if his connection with Emily has proven to indicate one thing, it's that both of these characters are not of this time period.

So back to Connor and Abby for a few moments...I thought having Abby trapped in a camper while the creature of the week - this time a labyrinthodont - made for some fun action sequences, especially when she starts driving the camper with the creature hitching a ride on the roof at high speed to the anomaly location. I also thought Connor's discovery that the fuel the creepy farm-folk were dumping down into the mountainside was somehow affecting the strength of the anomaly was pretty interesting. I'm not even going to try and discuss the science of that, when it comes to this show I'm not that interested in specifics. LOL! There was a fantastic angst-ridden Connor moment when, in the cave, he's confronted by the labyrinthodont that's eaten Abby's tracker and he thinks he may have lost his one and only love. I loved watching Connor go all fighting mad, since that's not a side of him that we usually get to see. And then of course to have Abby show up - his relief was almost palpable. The moment was capped by a fantastic kiss - and can I just say, Andrew Lee Potts is the master of the "sudden" on-screen kiss (just watch the last five minutes of SyFy's Alice). Knowing that Potts and Spearritt are a couple in real life made the moment all the sweeter.

Becker (Ben Mansfield) was a no-show this ep, and sadly wasn't missed by yours truly. Jess (Ruth Kearney) was also relegated to the background, but I've got to say she's getting on my nerves less and less as the show goes on. I think it's a combination of having her scenes reduced and the fact that when she's on-screen she's less annoying, proving her worth bit by bit each week. I really enjoyed her exasperation with Lester's high-handedness - those were some cute moments.

So, thoughts? Anyone besides me as exasperated with the show's development of the Matt and Philip characters? This was one of the best field operations this season IMO. And I continue to love watching Connor and Abby's relationship develop - they've come a long way since season one, haven't they? :) Episode six review coming soon!

Book Giveaway: Stars Collide by Janice Thompson

Because it's Monday, and it's Valentine's Day, and because I heart my readers, I thought it would be fun to have another book giveaway! This time one copy of Stars Collide by Janice Thompson is up for grabs.

About the book:

Kat Jennings and Scott Murphy don't just play two people who are secretly in love on a television sitcom - they are actually head over heels for each other in real life. When the lines between reality and TV land blur, they hope they can keep their relationship under wraps. But when Kat's grandmother, an eccentric star from Hollywood's golden age, mistakes their on-screen wedding proposal for the real deal, things begin to spiral out of control. Will their secret be front-page news in the tabloids? And can their budding romance survive the onslaught of paparazzi, wedding preparations, and misinformed family members?

From the soundstage to a Beverly Hills mansion to the gleaming Pacific Ocean, Stars Collide takes you on a roller-coaster tour of Hollywood, packing both comedic punch and tender emotion.

You can read my review of Stars Collide HERE.

Giveaway Details:
  • Leave a comment on this post with your e-mail address: your name (at) domain name (dot) com
  • For an extra entry, post about this contest on your blog or Twitter and leave a comment telling me you've done so with the link
  • Entries will be accepted through midnight Sunday 2/20/11 and the winner will be announced Monday morning 2/21/11
  • Open worldwide, but here's the deal - if I ship worldwide on a book giveaway, then the next two giveaways are US/Canadian addresses only, since I sadly can't afford to ship to far-flung corners of the world every couple of weeks. *wink*
Good luck!

Any Human Heart update

Just an FYI for those who care, it looks like I'll be giving Any Human Heart a pass on the blog and resume reviewing Masterpiece Classic productions with the encore of The 39 Steps in a few weeks. Due to content issues and a complete lack of anything resembling a compelling and sympathetic lead character (in my opinion, anyway), I was sadly not hooked by this production at all.

I may give Any Human Heart another chance when it releases on DVD, but there's too many other blog-worthy topics in my mental queue for me to want to slog through Heart as it airs right now - which is sad since the cast is really fantastic.

If you watched Part One last night, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Any Human Heart preview

Tomorrow night Masterpiece Classic resumes with a brand-new drama, Any Human Heart, starring the one-and-only Matthew Macfadyen! Here's a bit about the story:
Don't miss the premiere of Any Human Heart this Sunday, February 13, 2011, on MASTERPIECE Classic. William Boyd adapts his acclaimed 2002 novel about a man making his often precarious way through the 20th century. Matthew Macfadyen (Little Dorrit), Gillian Anderson (Bleak House), Hayley Atwell, Kim Cattrall (My Boy Jack) and Jim Broadbent star.
The cast is packed with Masterpiece veterans, and since this is an adaptation of a relatively new novel I'm quite curious to see how it plays out. It sounds rather epic. :) Here's a short preview:

Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Jane and the Man of the Cloth by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Man of the Cloth (Jane Austen Mysteries #2)
By: Stephanie Barron
Publisher: Bantam
ISBN: 0-553-57489-2

About the book:

Jane and her family are looking forward to a peaceful holiday in the seaside village of Lyme Regis. Yet on the outskirts of town an overturned carriage forces the shaken travelers to take refuge at a nearby manor house. And it is there that Jane meets the darkly forbidding yet strangely attractive Mr. Geoffrey Sidmouth. What murky secrets does the brooding Mr. Sidmouth seek to hide? Jane suspects the worst - but her attention is swiftly diverted when a man is discovered hanging from a makeshift gibbet by the sea. The worthies of Lyme are certain his death is the work of "the Reverend," the ringleader of the midnight smuggling trade whose identity is the town's paramount mystery. Now, it falls to Jane to entrap and expose the notorious Reverend...even if the evidence points to the last person on earth she wants to suspect...a man who already may have won her heart.


Some two years have passed since Jane Austen had cause to exercise her fledgling detective skills on behalf of a friend - namely, Isobel, Countess of Scargrave, who, being charged with murder, found herself exonerated thanks to her friend's tireless efforts to uncover the truth of the sad circumstances surrounding her husband's death. Now Jane is bound for the coastal town of Lyme, in the company of her parents and beloved sister Cassandra, when en route their coach is overturned in a violent storm and Cassandra is left injured. The ever-resourceful Jane seeks help and refuge from the closest home available - High Down Grange, where she meets its owner, the brooding Geoffrey Sidmouth and his beautiful French cousin, Seraphine LaFevre. The manner of their introduction leaves Jane convinced that all is not as it seems at the Grange. After the Austens are safely installed at their rented cottage, the mystery of Geoffrey Sidmouth takes a sinister turn when the object of the man's scorn is found hung at the water's edge. Her curiosity roused, Jane begins to make discreet inquiries and discovers it is openly assumed that Sidmouth is "the Reverend" or "the Man of the Cloth," one of the Gentlemen of the Night - smugglers - who haunt the English coast specializing in the illicit "import" of fine silks and other highly-taxed goods. When one Captain Fielding, a retired Naval officer who claims to be investigating the Reverend, is discovered murdered and all evidence points to Sidmouth's guilt, Jane must use all of her intelligence and investigative abilities to discover the truth of Sidmouth's activities on the coast - for she is as loathe to believe his guilt as she is to admit that the master of the Grange may have captured her heart.

Stephanie Barron's second offering featuring the beloved Jane Austen as amateur sleuth is every bit as delightful as the first, proving Barron to be a master at channeling Austen's style and incisive wit and fleshing out what little is known of her life with historical fact and rich period detail. It is established fact that Jane visited Lyme during 1804, and indeed what she encounted there must have made a powerful impression since the town is featured in her final novel, Persuasion. Little correspondence survives from this period in Austen's life, and family rumor alone alludes to a "nameless and dateless" romance Jane experienced with a clergyman during a seaside holiday that provide tantalizing, but unformed, glimpses into this period of Jane's life. Barron uses these bare facts as the basis for Man of the Cloth, fleshing out this period in Austen's life, resulting in a rousing tale of mystery, adventure, espionage, and ill-fated romance. Jane's adventures are wildly varied - she gains as much intelligence from assembly room dances and sitting room calls as she does from highly unorthodox investigations of smugglers' caves and hidden tunnels. One could argue that so much outdoors adventure is outside the realm of possibility in the life of an author known for incisive social commentary, but I for one find the high adventure aspect of this fictional sojourn in Jane's life a fitting tribute of sorts to the adventurous, sensational gothic novels popular in Austen's day, that she would later satirize in her own Northanger Abbey.

One of the many things I love about this novel is the way in which Barron grounds Jane's supposed adventures in historical fact. With much of the author's life a veritable blank slate, thanks in large part to Cassandra's measures to protect Jane's privacy by destroying much of their correspondence after her death, Barron has free rein with which she can explore various aspects of 19th-century society and conjecture as to how these adventures may have informed Austen's writing. I was enthralled by Jane's encounter with "free trade" and the Gentlemen of the Night who practiced their dangerous and illicit activities along the English coast. There is something irresistably romantic in association with dangerous and enigmatic rogues who flout law and convention, as Jane discovers with Geoffrey Sidmouth. I was reminded of the 1954 film Moonfleet, and though the film is set some fifty years prior to this novel's action, Stewart Granger's portrayal of a dashing smuggler gave a powerful visual to my image of Sidmouth. Coupled with a dash of espionage that Jane would've been hard-pressed to escape in a coastal community, thanks to England's conflict with Bonaparte and France and her brothers' naval service, Man of the Cloth is a wildly entertaining mystery told with the style, wit, and insight that only a woman of Jane Austen's superior intellect and sense could provide. Bravo, Jane & Stephanie, here's to many more adventures!


This review marks the second or third time I've revisited Jane's singular adventure in Lyme, and it was a complete delight! Jane and the Man of the Cloth is my second entry in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge and my third in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.