Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

Keturah and Lord Death
By: Martine Leavitt
Publisher: namelos
ASIN: B0031Y64MU

About the book:

"I will tell you . . . a story of magic and love, of daring and death, and one to comfort your heart. It will be the truest story I have ever told. Now listen, and tell me if it is not so."

Keturah Reeve is a beautiful young woman of sixteen who lives with her grandmother in a cottage near the forest owned by Lord Temsland. Keturah is renowned in the village for her captivating storytelling, and this beautifully woven novel is a response to a request from Keturah's eager audience for yet another of her fascinating tales. She tells of her experience of being lost in the forest, her eventual meeting with a dark figure on horseback who is Lord Death and her bargaining with him for her life-and for the lives of the villagers who are threatened by an onset of the plague.

With its richly textured medieval setting, Keturah's story exposes the tensions and desires of the villagers, the dangers that loom in their future and how they place Keturah's life in jeopardy. Keturah's escalating bargains with Lord Death allow her to protect her friends and reveal to them their true talents and destinies. But even as she negotiates with Death, she becomes more isolated from the people she is seeking to protect and seems less and less likely to achieve the dreams of her own heart.

The startling resolution of the novel confirms Martine Leavitt's reputation as a treasure of a writer, a storyteller who can weave magnificent spells. Leavitt confronts readers with issues and revelations that, while they occur in a setting far from their own experience, bear the intimacy of next door.


More than any other resident of her village of Tide-by-Rood, Keturah Reeve has walked with Death her whole life. Given life with her mother's final breaths, Keturah subsequently loses her father and beloved grandfather to the inexorable pull of Death, but not before she learns what it is she wants most in life -- to be well and truly loved. One day Keturah makes the fateful decision to follow a legendary and elusive hart deep into the woods, where, after wandering and lost for three days she reaches the brink of death and meets its fearsome lord. But unwilling to relinquish her dreams of love Keturah refuses to go quietly with the handsome Lord Death and strikes a daring bargain -- she spins a tale of a love so true it would conquer death, but refuses to reveal the story's conclusion until the following evening. Lord Death, much taken with Keturah's beauty and spirit, agrees to this most unconventional arrangement. And so begins Keturah's delicate dance with Death as she strives to save her village from the threat of plague and realize the dreams of her heart -- but will her desire for true love blind her to its very presence?

Keturah and Lord Death is a richly compelling, darkly seductive fairy tale, at once both comfortingly familiar and hauntingly original, this is a tale that will remain with you long after you finish the final pages. With a poetic, lyrical style reminscent of Robin McKinley's fairy tale retellings, Leavitt spins the brave Keturah's story, recalling hints of Persephone and Scheherezade legends. Similar to Hades's power in the Persephone tale or the volatile King who holds Scheherezade's future in his hands, Lord Death is all-powerful, the great equalizer before whom both peasant and prince will one day bow alike. Like many of my favorite literary romances, an unlikely heroine unexpectedly discovers she holds the key to a seemingly untouchable man's heart. What makes this novel so compelling is the truly all-powerful nature of man Keturah faces, and the decision she must make when she quite unexpectedly discovers that she's become the object of Lord Death's desire. When Keturah's relationship with the most feared and loathed entity of all comes to light, she's faced with a choice and must decide if the cost of following her own heart's call is worth the risk of estrangement from the only life she's ever known.

In addition to the deliciously atypical romance, the greatest strength of this novel lies in its setting and colorful cast of supporting characters. Leavitt doesn't burden readers with an overabundance of historical fact, instead briefly touching on the superstitions and lifestyle of the Middle Ages time period -- just enough to ground her story while allowing it to retain its glorious fairy tale feel. And I adored Keturah's two best friends, the songbird Beatrice and seamstress Gretta and how Keturah proves instrumental in helping them attain their own happy endings. I particularly loved Gretta's romance with the gentle tailor and how his children were instrumental in bringing the couple together. It is wonderful to see such a network of sweetly supportive, self-sacrificing friendship in young adult literature of this type, and equally heart-rending to witness Keturah's growing realization that as she becomes the woman she's meant to be, her relationships must undergo irrevocable change.

Keturah and Lord Death was a delightful surprise, a gorgeously-rendered coming-of-age fairy tale, rich in romance and imagination. Were Leavitt to pen more tales in this vein I would be ecstatically happy -- this is a strong, fresh voice in the fantasy genre. Keturah's growing realization that the treasures of life are enriched by their transience, that the only constant in life is change, is a powerful reminder of the gift of life and choice. This is a story to savor!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Once Upon a Time 1.11: "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree"

In my never-ending quest (ha!) to catch up on reviewing Once Upon a Time episodes, we come to episode 11, which introduces us to the backstory of Regina's lackey Sidney Glass (Giancarlo Esposito), the Magic Mirror of the Fairy Tale world. For a multitude of reasons which I shall touch on shortly, this ranks as one of my least favorite episodes of Once's debut season. 

The episode opens with Henry (Jared Gilmore) heart-broken upon discovering that the recent storm has damaged his "castle"/playground, the special place he and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) meet to discuss "Operation Cobra." The castle has been his hiding place of choice for the storybook (which begs the question, why does he even bother to hide it? I've lost track of the number of times Regina could've confiscated it earlier in the season...). Regina (Lana Parrilla) goes all mama bear on Emma for letting Henry near the rickety playground because it is a safety hazard, which gets Emma all whiny about Regina giving her a hard time over her relationship with Henry. The whininess is not attractive Emma, just sayin'...

So we're supposed to believe, I suppose, that this confrontation with Regina has put Emma in a particularly vulnerable place, causing her to lose all semblance of COMMON SENSE. Case in point: Sidney approaches Emma, claiming to want revenge on Regina for being embarrassed in the recent sheriff election. Ahem. Cue a Fairy Tale Land flashback, where we discover that Sidney was not just the magic mirror of legend, but prior to that he was actually the Genie of Agrabah (the Aladdin shout-out cracked me up). Did not see that coming (I hope this doesn't mean that we won't see Aladdin and Jasmine at some point, since this whole show really is a live-action Disney film). King Leopold (Richard Schiff), Snow White's father, is the most recent individual to set the Genie free -- but instead of using his three allotted wishes for personal gain, he basically wishes them back on the Genie because he's all giving and selfless like that (this isn't going to end well, we all know that right?). The Genie is ecstatic and vows to use his newfound freedom to find true love. Leopold, being the perfect host, takes the Genie home where he soon starts making eyes at Leopold's wife, the Evil Queen in her pre-EQ days.  

So, to make a long story short, the Queen starts using the Genie's feelings for her as an excuse to vent about the loveless state of her marriage, which gets the Genie to thinking that maybe, just maybe he could be this clearly CLEARLY victimized woman's savior. He goes on to give her a mirror so she can see herself through his eyes, i.e. be-yoo-tiful. The suggestion that the Queen possibly used to be less than evil is reinforced in Storybrooke, when Sidney tells Emma he's discovered proof that Regina is an embezzler and that he used to think she was a different person. Emma is all over this -- for the first time she's got an ally who wants to take Regina down a peg or two as much as she does, so she loses all sense of reason and decides illegal surveillance. Emma this is NOT GOING TO END WELL.

To make a long story a bit shorter, back in Fairy Tale Land the Leopold has discovered that his wife's heart may be straying and commissions the Genie to discover the interloper (awkward). Henry (Tony Perez), the Queen's ill-fated father, asks the Genie to deliver a box to his daughter to set her free or some crap like that, which turns out to contain an AGRABAH VIPER. Considering how much of humanity the Genie has to have seen over the course of his life, he is extraordinarily stupid. Rather than see his one true LUVVV commit suicide he suggests they use the viper to kill the king. Of course once the deed is done the Queen shows her true colors yet again and throws the Genie under the proverbial bus. Heartbroken the Genie uses his last wish to be with her always -- which sends him into the Queen's mirror. ALL OF THIS AND HE STILL LOVES HER, IN FAIRY TALE LAND AND STORYBROOKE. Dumbest character EVER.

Back in Storybrooke Emma takes the intel she and Sidney collected on Regina's supposedly shady land deal with Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) and outs it all in a very dramatic fashion at a city council meeting. This OF COURSE backfires on Emma (insert axiom about fruit of the poisonous tree here) -- Regina is building a spectacular play house so all of Storybrooke's children will have a safe place to recreate. (Oh, I almost the midst of Regina's teardown of the old castle, Henry's storybrook goes missing.) And the icing on the cake? -- Emma can no longer see Henry until Regina says so (ouch). Emma's lost the moral high ground, and the thing that bugs me about this episode is seeing her lose it in such a stupid fashion. I suppose one could argue her love for Henry blinded her to Regina's machinations, but STILL...I didn't like seeing Emma being this foolhardy.

A few quick notes on some of the other major players -- Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and David (Josh Dallas) are deliriously happy together but he's still not made a clean break with Kathryn, so mum's the word there. The Stranger (Eion Bailey) is still being extremely secretive about the real reason he's come to Storybrooke -- as per usual Henry is spot-on correct in his assertion that no one could come to Storybrooke without a reason, without a connection to his missing storybook. In an intriguing development, it's revealed that the Stranger has the storybook, not Regina as I'd first assumed when it went missing. The question is, why did he take it and what is he going to do with it? AND WHO IS HE, REALLY?

Though most of this episode left me decidedly lukewarm, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Review: Words Spoken True by Ann H. Gabhart

By: Ann H. Gabhart
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2045-2

About the book:

Adriane Darcy was practically raised in her father's newspaper offices. With ink in her veins, she can't imagine life without the clatter of the press and the push to be the first to write the news that matters. Their Tribune is the leading paper in Louisville in 1855.

When Blake Garrett, a brash young editor from the North with a controversial new style of reporting, takes over a competing newspaper, the battle for reads gets fierce. After Adriane and Blake meet at a benefit, their surprising mutual attraction is hard to ignore. Still, Blake is the enemy, and Adriane is engaged to the son of a powerful businessman who holds the keys to the Tribune's future. Blake will stop at almost nothing to get the story -- and the girl.

Set against the volatile backdrop of political and civil unrest in 1850s Louisville, this exciting story of love and loyalty will hold you in its grip until the very last page.


In an era when most women were schooled in drawing room arts with an eye to making a good marriage, Adriane Darcy was practically raised in the rough-and-tumble environment of her father's newspaper offices. Adriane practically has ink flowing in her veins, fuelling her passion for the truth and getting the news to the public. When Blake Garrett, a bold editor from New York, arrives in Louisville and takes over the opposing newspaper, a war of words erupts between Blake and Adriane's father over headlines and politics, with the very future of Louisville hanging in the balance. Adriane is torn between her undeniable attraction to the interloper and loyalty to her father and their paper, but when her father's political alliances see Adriane forced into an engagement to the son of one of the city's most powerful families, her resolve to remain loyal to her father begins to waver. With her very future hanging in the balance, Adriane's fight for her freedom, her very individuality, collides with rising tensions in the volatile Louisville political climate, threatening everything she holds dear. Her father's biggest rival emerges as her greatest ally, but can she trust his motivations?

Words Spoken True marks my first time to read a novel by Gabhart, and to say I was impressed would be a bit of an understatement. *wink* I was expecting a typical historical romance, what I received instead was a novel evoking the rich history and volatile political climate of the pre-Civil War South, complete with a dash of romance and a page-turning, suspenseful murder investigation. Gabhart touches on everything from the impact of the burgeoning women's rights movement and abolition to the rise in tension between the largely Protestant population of Louisville and the influx of Catholic immigrants, both parties eager to jockey for political power and precedence. The simmering political conflict leading up the 1855 election and Bloody Monday riots is the perfect backdrop for a tale featuring warring newspapers, particularly in a time when newspapers and fiery editorials were the method of choice for informing -- and swaying -- public opinion. Add the ever-present threat of a Jack the Ripper-esque killer targeting vulnerable Irish girls, and the result is a page-turning read that richly evokes a time period not often examined in my experience when it comes to fiction.

I really loved the character of Adriane. Gabhart did an excellent job making her a strong, unique heroine grappling with societal expectations and familial pressure in a very realistic way that felt authentic to the time. Blake and his hunger for justice makes him a worthy counterpart to Adriane, and the two share a deliciously spicy attraction. However, I do wish that more time had been devoted to developing the growth of a relationship between Blake and Adriane. In a scant sixth-month time frame the two share the barest handful of face-to-face encounters, making their relationship, when political events kick into high gear in the final third of the novel, strain the bounds of credulity.

That qualm aside, in addition to Adriane and Blake Gabhart peppers their world with a host of colorful supporting characters, from the eager Irish paper boy Duff to loyal typesetter Beck, the latter Adriane's introduction to faith. I really appreciated Gabhart's fearlessness in touching on issues not often found in historical fiction of this ilk, from the effect of childhood emotional abuse to the dangers of perverted obsession. Words Spoken True is the best kind of reading surprise -- a spicy romance with an unexpectedly strong suspense thread, set against the backdrop of a city on the cusp of profound change. A memorable introduction to Gabhart's fiction, this is an author definitely on my radar now!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera - 25th Anniversary

I received my copy of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall DVD (purchased on the strength of my Ramin Karimloo obsession) this afternoon which promptly went into the DVD player. People, this is an extraordinary document of the phenomenon that is Phantom. Easily the best concert staging of a musical I've ever seen -- the staging, costumes, and performances are stellar. Seriously rent it, stream it, buy it like yesterday, whatever it takes. *wink* Here's the trailer:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pan Am 1.13: "Romance Languages"

I am SO CONFUSED. Why a ratings-challenged show like Pan Am would opt to air as episode 13 a show whose events occur between episodes six and seven is completely beyond my comprehension. Why, now that Colette and Dean have taken steps toward an on again/off again relationship, when Laura's faced the humiliation of having her nude photographs on public display, WHY when there's been so much progression did the show decide to jump back in time without so much as an on-screen notation or introductory scene of explanation is beyond me. If anyone knows whether or not this episode was bumped for a reason please chime in with a comment, I'd love to know the reasoning behind this!

Anyways -- the Pan Am crew is headed to Rome, and Dean (Mike Vogel) cannot wait to get out of the country. He's tried repeatedly to break up with Ginny (Erin Cummings), the mistress of Pan Am vice president Everett Henson (Scott Cohen), but she's just not taking no for an answer. This chick is a whole lotta crazy -- but clearly Dean has issues thinking with his BRAIN. *sigh* Clearly the episode in the street where she loses it and throws full milk bottles at his head didn't clue him into the fact that she was not going to let him go without a fight, because he's COMPLETELY SURPRISED when she's followed him to Rome (clearly Dean thinks he's above being stalked). Dean finally seems to get a clue when Ginny smashes her head through a WINDOW (that was epic for this show, trust me!). Throughout the course of the episode its revealed that Ginny and Henson fought over Maggie's revelation that she was cheating on him, a desperate attempt on her part to keep her coveted job at the expense of her friendships. When Henson, for some reason STILL in "love" with the crazy arrives in Rome, he and Dean reach an understanding of sorts -- Dean can move on and keep his job as long as he keeps the secret of Henson's affair from becoming public knowledge. Not your best moment, Dean...and given the Colette/Bridget mess of the last few episodes I can't say I think you've learned all that much. *sigh* :P

Speaking of Colette (Karine Vanasse), she's tasked with chaperoning Charlie (Lance Chantiles-Wertz), a young boy shuttling between wealthy divorced parents. Colette's interactions with Charlie are really pretty charming, and she handles his adoration with mostly admirable aplomb and sensitivity. Charlie's a bit fresh and forward clearly because he's desperately lonely, and I think that's a quality Colette recognizes and relates to given her history of losing her parents to World War II. I've also got to say I loved the moment at the end of the episode where she calls Maggie (Christina Ricci) on her crap, confronting her with the knowledge that she's well aware of the lengths Maggie went to in order to keep her job -- something that clearly rattles Maggie, and given her actions in subsequent episodes (i.e. seven on) I think she's shown a degree or two of greater appreciation for her friends and coworkers.

Laura (Margot Robbie) is rather obsessed with losing her virtue to an annoying degree in this episode. She's sick to death of being the baby sister, the one who's always getting taken care of, who can't be trusted to make her own decisions, etc. When she attends a photography exhibit by the Life photographer who made her famous by featuring her in the magazine, she's alternately scandalized and intrigued by his edgy nude portraits. He mistakes her fascination for interest in him, she spends most of the trip to Rome second-guessing herself, ultimately deciding to pose for a set of private portraits (all in the interest of self-expression *sigh*). The best thing to come out of Laura's angst in this episode is that she shares a nice sisterly moment with Kate. You don't have to agree with their morals, but I like the two of them as sisters -- at they're best they are there for each other, and I appreciate that.

The best part of this oddly-inserted episode is Kate's (Kelli Garner) storyline. Since we've jumped back in time we get to revisit her relationship with Niko (Goran Visnjic) at the height of their happiness (any excuse for a Visnjic guest-spot is fine by me). Kate's perfectly happy to enjoy being in love with Niko, and if she can manage to turn him into a CIA asset so much the better. But the latter is more of a vague hope than a concrete possibility -- but all of that changes when Kate's approached in Rome and ordered to stay away from Niko. Understandably rattled by the experience, Kate's concerned her spy cover has been blown. Richard (Jeremy Davidson) reassures her on that front, but pressures her to use this scare to their advantage, hoping Niko's feelings for Kate will force a pivot into their camp. It's interesting, to me, that Kate objects to this but follows through anyway -- she is more serious about the spying gig than I think even she realizes at this point.

I really think if this episode had aired as episode seven as an additional chapter in earlier events this season, the overall season this year would've ended up stronger. Disappointing that this episode was shoe-horned in by all appearances at the last minute -- but what's done is done. (Speaking of what's done is done, this episode features an APPALLING lack of Ted/Michael Mosley. Just sayin'!) Season finale post coming soon!

Coming soon from Laura Frantz!

My dear friend Laura Frantz is celebrating the official "reveal" of her new book cover today, and since I love Laura and her books and I'm super excited about her upcoming release, I wanted to share it here in the spirit of a roughly six-months early pre-release party. *wink*

Isn't it GORGEOUS? Here's a bit about the first book in The Ballantyne Legacy:
On a bitter December day in 1785, Silas Ballantyne arrives at the door of master blacksmith Liege Lee in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Just months from becoming a master blacksmith himself, Silas is determined to finish his apprenticeship and move west. But Liege soon discovers that Silas is a prodigious worker and craftsman and endeavors to keep him in Lancaster. Silas becomes interested in both of Liege's daughters, the gentle and faith-filled Eden and the clever and high-spirited Elspeth. When he chooses one, will the other's jealousy destroy their love?

In this sweeping family saga set in western Pennsylvania, one man's choices in love and work, in friends and enemies, set the stage for generations to come. Love's Reckoning is the first entry in The Ballantyne Legacy, a rich, multi-layered historical quartet from talented writer Laura Frantz, beginning in the late 1700s and following the Ballantyne family through the end of the Civil War.
You can pre-order Love's Reckoning here -- it has an official release date of September, which means if history holds true it should start appearing in stores mid-August! And if you've yet to read one of Laura's wonderfully rich, meaty historicals -- well, what are you waiting for? There's time. *wink* Here are links to my reviews:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Downton Abbey Series 2, Part 7

Downton Abbey conclued its second-season run on Masterpiece Classic last night, and oh am I going to miss this show. Season 2 certainly upped the show's soap opera factor, and as I consequence was arguably less tightly plotted than the previous year -- but I can't complain twoo much because I LOVE THIS WORLD. Case in point, the above photo -- Downton at Christmas. DOWNTON AT CHRISTMAS?! I am SO there. Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:
Christmas, 1919

Christmas reunites most of the Grantham family as Rosamund, her gossipy maid Shore in tow, arrives eager to introduce her new suitor to the family. But neither the Granthams nor the servants can escape into the season's merriment when they are forced to turn against one of their own. Not even games can pierce the gloom surrounding Downton, where downstairs the servants are desperate for guidance. Thomas and O'Brien are up to their old tricks, Daisy tries to make sense of her future, and Anna holds tight to endure the present.

Robert hopes that the annual New Years Shooting Party will lift everyone's spirits, but an ill-tempered Richard resets his sights on a familiar target. His petulant and brutish efforts to dominate Mary do not go unnoticed. But with his threat hanging over her head, Mary must choose between two kinds of ruin.

The passage of time has been one of this year's weakest strengths -- I mean we've had episodes that cover a  month and episodes that cover nearly a year (or so it seems). This episode picks up roughly six months after the whole Spanish flu thing and the debacle of Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) getting hauled off in cuffs for the (alleged?) murder of his wife Vera. So the whole beloved valet is in prison thing is just one of many factors threatening to cast a pall over Downton's Christmas celebrations. But if there's one thing this family does and does well, it's the soldiering on, keep a stiff upper lip thing. *wink* Didn't the house look gorgeous -- the snow, the gigantic tree, the wrapped gifts? I've yet to visit the Biltmore Estate at Christmas time but I imagine the Biltmore in its heyday was very like the glamour we got to glimpse last night. Loved it. :)

So a murder trial involving one of Downton's own is a bit of a buzzkill when it comes to Christmas cheer, but I loved the way the Crawleys and their servants rallied around one of their own. They know Bates, and scandal or not they refuse to abandon him to his fate. I was especially touched by Mary's (Michelle Dockery) care and concern for Anna (Joanne Froggatt). Over the course of the last two seasons their relationship has started to blossom from just employer/employee into genuine friendship and regard. When Mary gave Anna the lovely heart-shaped brooch for Christmas I teared up -- and then when she insisted on attending the trial I nearly cheered. She may have a death wish when it comes to Sir Richard, but in all other respects her growth in the selflessness department has been a joy to witness.

I found it rather fascinating to watch the impact of the trial on Downton's household, especially Robert (Hugh Bonneville), Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), and even O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), as they are called as witnesses for the prosecution. While all three (even O'Brien) are convinced of Bates's innocence, once they're on the stand their assurance starts to crumble as overheard words, spoken in anger, take on a more sinister meaning since Vera's death. Especially Robert, so sure that an Earl's recommendation will hold sway on the courtroom sees his confidence shaken by a clever and determined prosecutor. And when a verdict of guilty is returned, even O'Brien reminds us that she does, apparently, have a heart, as she's genuinely saddened for Anna and shaken by the verdict. (Seriously the woman mellowed out this episode big time...if this keeps up I'm going to be pulling for Mr. Lang to return so maybe she'll have a shot at a little romance!) I've got to say I was really rather impressed with Froggatt's acting this episode. She dug deep and delivered Anna's heartbreak in an achingly realistic way, all while never losing the resilient streak her character has always seemed to possess. Battered but far from broken, no?

Speaking of O'Brien, now is as good a time as any to touch on her and Thomas and their status as the "villains" of Downton Abbey. This episode left me more convinced than ever that O'Brien has the best hope becoming a character I can cheer for -- the fact that she's able to gin up some genuinely believable sympathy for Bates and Anna's plight is nothing short of extraordinary. Thomas (Rob James-Collier), on the other hand, will apparently stoop to anything to ingratiate himself with the Earl and/or undermine Carson's (Jim Carter) authority. I couldn't believe he friggin' kidnapped Robert's dog!!! That is a new low, yeesh! Of course he can't even execute a dog-napping plot smoothly (the humor no doubt a necessary component seeing as this episode aired at Christmastime in the UK).

Robert's sister Rosamund (Samantha Bond) returns to Downton for the holidays with her new maid Shore (Sharon Small) and a potential new suitor in tow, Lord Hepworth (Nigel Havers). Violet's (Maggie Smith) reaction to Hepworth was priceless (she was pretty much on fire for the entire episode, but her interaction with Hepworth was particularly awesome). Apparently Violet had a little something going on with the current Hepworth's father back in the day (ha! knew she was a pistol!), and she has some very valid concerns on her daughter's behalf that the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree, as the saying goes. Violet's discussion with Robert over the right/feasibility of a woman "Rosamund's age" taking up with a fortune hunter was priceless -- especially when they both agreed the bottom line was that they see her fortune protected, the implication being that she's gonna do whatever she wants anyway. But even Rosamund, also known as the Aunt Who Gives Crap Advice, has her limit when Anna and Mary discover that her erstwhile beau is carrying on with her MAID. Oh the HORROR (the horror of course, being that this proves Violet right! ha!).

Daisy (Sopie McShera) was granted a particularly nice storyline this episode (finally). For some reason Shore takes an interest in Daisy's cooking abilities and gets Daisy to stewing about how she's all ignored and underappreciated, etc. Meanwhile William's father (Paul Copley) is still trying to connect with his daughter-in-law, and Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) is tired of seeing Daisy put him off. In one of the funniest scenes in the series, Mrs. Patmore commandeers O'Brien and Thomas's Ouijja board to send Daisy a message from William. Hysterical how she's grown so much over the course of the show but buys that. Anyways, Daisy and Mr. Mason share a very sweet moment where he basically begs her to accept him as an adoptive father, and you can see the light bulb go on as she realizes that hey! someone cares about me! this could be good! This heart-warming scene was followed by her hysterical conversation with Mrs. Patmore where she basically demands a promotion -- Daisy is all prepped for a fight and Mrs. Patmore is all heck yes, if the money's in the budget you're in, NO PROBLEM! *wink*

So, finally let's talk about those crazy Crawley sisters. Edith (Laura Carmichael) doesn't have all that much to do in this episode except mope around that Sir Anthony Strallen (Robert Bathurst) -- remember him from season one? -- is back and won't come to the flippin' New Year's shooting party. Turns out there's a reason for that -- he was injured in the war and now carries his hand in a really awkward looking sling. But the real casualty of war here is apparently his eyeballs as he's strangely (and disturbingly) bug-eyed in every scene. (RUN EDITH!) Kudos him, he doesn't want to saddle Edith with a nursing job, but in the process he calls her lovely which means HE'LL NEVER GET RID OF HER. Edith can do better, I mean really this is possible, right? (Fellowes PLEASE TELL ME THERE IS A MASTER PLAN HERE!)

Sybil and Branson are AWOL in Ireland, presumably enjoying married life since Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) receives a letter  that she's soon to expect her FIRST GRANDCHILD! Kudos to Cora she is back in a big way in this episode, working her American wiles on Robert (*wink*) that they are FAMILY dangit and she will NOT be denied visits with her grandchild! Presumably Robert will learn THE CHAUFFEUR'S NAME by Season 3. *sigh* Cora also decides there's no time like the holidays to tell Robert her and Mary's biggest secret, since it has become glaringly apparent even to her that Mary and Richard are extremely ill-suited for each other. I was seriously bummed that Cora's confession about Pamuk happened OFF-SCREEN (Fellowes, that is so very Greek tragedy of you, Violet would not approve!)...but bottom line, better six years late than never, right?

Robert handles the whole Pamuk conversation with admirable aplomb, all things considered. Apparently the war and his almost affair with the maid  and Sybil's insistence on marrying THAT CHAUFFEUR have all worked together to make him sit back and really take stock of what's important in life. And really when you're valet is on trial for murder what's one more lousy scandal? For realz. I absolutely loved the moment where he confronts Mary with the truth and urges her to break with Richard for her own happiness, go to America, and find a cowboy to shake up the family! PRICELESS! That scene brought tears to my eyes it was so well-played by Dockery and Bonneville -- one of the best moments in the series.

Prior to Robert freeing Mary to break with Richard (Iain Glen), the newspaper magnate was nothing but a pill this episode, constantly whining about having to serve himself lunch because the servants were allowed to enjoy their own Christmas feast AT THE SAME TIME AS THE FAMILY (the absolute gall! yeesh...) or freaking out if Mary talked to Matthew about as non-relationshippy as Bates's murder trial. Matthew (Dan Stevens) is still unfortunately stuck on paying lip-service to his post-Lavinia's death vow to remain single (seriously think about that Matthew, MAKES NO SENSE), but throughout the episode we can see him mellowing on that score, as he's determined to aggravate Richard and foil his rival's every atttempt to control Mary. Isobel (Penelope Wilton) has been putting up with all of this but even she draws the line when Lavinia's father drops dead and Matthew completes his final almost-son-in-law duty of seeing to the man's ashes. The feisty, sassy Isobel I liked so well in season one returns with a roar when she basically tells Matthew to get over himself and save Mary from evil Sir Richard's clutches. SERIOUSLY, Lavinia's whole family is dead now, MOVE ON. :P

Matthew apparently takes this conversation to heart as he practically begs Mary not to throw herself away on Richard during a moonlit walk hunting for the AWOL Isis. Mary finally comes clean about the Turkish diplomat incident, the root of all her self-loathing, etc., going so far as to compare herself to Tess of the D'Urbervilles (REALLY??). Matthew is a little taken aback but all in all he takes the news really well and sticks to the main point which is Mary MUST DITCH RICHARD.

Which brings us to the Servant's Ball. This much anticipated affair was touch-and-go until word came down from London that BATES WOULD LIVE (in prison, but living is living, right?). So Mary decides that yes, now is the time to FINALLY BREAK UP WITH RICHARD, and somehow this all escalates into Matthew actually throwing a punch at the creep and a tussle which breaks Violet's least-favorite vase (WIN). So Richard is GONE (Mary is very classy re: the send-off), and now Downton can finally get down to the business of partying. This Servant's Ball thing means Matthew has to dance with O'Brien (awkward) and Thomas dances with anyone who he thinks might advance his social aims, including Violet (another one of my favorite moments in this episode -- Smith and Collier looked like it was all they could do not to break out in laughter!).

So, the stage is finally set, and the only thing standing in the way of Matthew and Mary finally making some progress in their relationship is a dead woman (and even she clears that up by sending a message to Daisy and Anna through the Ouijja board *rollseyes*). And people, it was worth the wait -- this proposal scene was just about practically perfect in every way. :) From the gently falling snow to Matthew gazing at Mary with unabashed adoration, I just loved that these two characters were finally getting this hard fought, longed-for moment. Mary's moment of vulnerability, then forcing Matthew to get down on one knee and say the words, because yes dangit I wanted to hear them too! -- oh I loved it. :)

Cue the happy sighs (yes, I needed THIS MANY PICTURES). :) This season has been nothing if not a roller-coaster ride, but people that's at least half the reason I love this show so much. It isn't afraid to go big. *wink* I'm a bit in denial that the wait for new episodes begins again -- but more confident than ever that the wait will be worth it. See you next year, Downton...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Once Upon a Time 1.10: "7:15 A.M."

So I've been a BAD Once Upon a Time blogger, haven't I? Never fear I do plan on catching up (eventually...). When we last saw the residents of Storybrooke, Henry and Ava (a.k.a. Hansel and Gretel) had been reunited with their father, and a mysterious stranger (Eion Bailey) rode into town on a motorcycle (oh the scandal!). Henry (Jared Gilmore) has a brief encounter with the nameless one (sorry I can't help being dramatic) outside his house, properly freaking Regina (Lana Parrilla) out, much to my amusement. The ever-savvy Henry is clearly suspicious and the Stranger isn't exactly forthcoming with details -- clearly he's there with a purpose, but what exactly remains to be seen. Before riding off on his bike the Stranger warns Henry that "a storm's coming" -- in more ways than one, hmm? Laying on the symbolism a little thick there, writers...

Meanwhile Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) has made zero progress in regards to Emma's (Jennifer Morrison) previous advice about forgetting David (Josh Dallas) since he chose to stay with his "wife" (the jury's still out as to whether or not this marriage is legit). It turns out that she basically has David's schedule memorized, which includes daily visits to Granny's Diner at promptly 7:15 every morning. She just wants to look at his gorgeous face, dangit! (Girl, I know eactly how you feel.) And they are so adorable together it KILLS me. If only there was a magic cure for the heartbreak of unrequited love...

We return to Fairy Tale Land just in time for Charming's wedding to Midas's daughter (Anastasia Griffith). Snow White's been living the life of an outlaw in the woods, occasionally brought supplies and news by Red (Meghan Ory). The most criticial thing to note about this exchange is that Red is about five hundred times classier than Ruby, her Storybrooke counterpart. Seriously her costume and hair are amazing! Disappointed, though, that the writers didn't use this opportunity to provide some depth to the Ruby/Red character -- she's still by far the most under-utilized cast regular. So apparently Snow White and Charming have both been moping around since their first meeting (awww). Snow approaches Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) seeking a cure for her broken heart, and he provides her with a potion that he promises will do the trick. Meanwhile the king is concerned that Charming's heart isn't in his upcoming marriage (blackmail can do that), and against his fake father's wishes Charming sends a note begging Snow to come via BIRD.

Seriously, what the heck is it with Snow White and BIRDS?! If all of this stems from the animated film, Disney did the girl no favors! The lost bird twist in the Storybrooke timeline didn't really work for me either -- Mary Margaret risking a severe storm in order to return a friggin' bird to the wild? I mean really? (Clearly I am not a bird person...)

Back in Storybrooke, Regina asks Emma for a favor (WEIRD) -- she wants her to investigate the Stranger. Emma, I'm afraid, isn't exactly subtle, but whatever -- there's chemistry between the two of them because Eion is freaking ADORABLE. And I love how aggravated she gets at his unflappability. After agreeing to have drinks with him, the Stranger reveals that his mysterious wooden box contains an old-fashioned typewriter. Personally I'm glad the writers didn't drag that mystery out. Here's my theory -- perhaps the Stranger is the author of Henry's storybook! Maybe he's an original Grimm brother? LOL! Thoughts?

After receiving the Prince's birdgram in Fairy Tale Land, Snow sneaks into the castle to meet him where she is promptly arrested (chick really thinks things through). Turns out it's in prison that she met one of the dwarves of legend -- Grumpy (Lee Arenberg), a surprisingly lovelorn, emotionally sensitive individual considering his moniker. (LOVED the fact that he was whistling the "Working Song," that was a nice touch!) Anyways, to make a long story short, Grumpy and Snow bond in prison (her in with the dwarf gang!), the escape and are caught again, and this time the king steps in, blackmailing Snow into telling Charming she doesn't care for him or HE'LL KILL HIM (seriously this king is a piece of WORK). The best thing about this latest wrench in Snow & the Prince's road to happiness is the Josh Dallas angst factor. This guy just kills me, he's so blatantly in love with Snow he can't hide it at all. Their chemistry is absolute perfection. When he picks her up and twirls her around (before she stomps on his heart and all), the joy on his face just blew me away. *swoon*

Back in Storybrooke, David has to rescue Mary from falling off a cliff during her whole bird-rescuing venture (yes, really). The pair seek shelter from the storm in an abandoned cabin in the woods where Mary Margaret reveals she still harbors feelings for David -- feelings he clearly reciprocates and almost acts on until Mary drops the little bomb that his wife, the woman he chose, is buying pregnancy tests at the grocery store. David you beautiful, noble, IDIOT you can't have BOTH. *sigh* I really want you to choose because I don't want you to be that guy, the guy who cheats (nevermind the curse). Mary Margaret and David resolve to forget each other -- yeah, we know that's gonna last.

I found the juxtaposition of Fairy Tale and Storybrooke scenes ending this episode really rather fascinating. Snow's taken refuge with her new dwarf friends, heartbroken over what she assumes is the finality of Charming's loss. Little does she know that Charming has thrown off the wedding and is on the hunt for his true love (Josh Dallas on a horse = WIN). Snow (oh ye of little faith) drinks Rumple's potion, wiping out her memories and feelings for the Prince (STUPID GIRL). Now when the season opened, Snow and the Prince were married, so we know they got together in Fairy Tale Land -- I just think it is interesting that the road to happiness in their previous lives is proving every bit as rocky as their cursed existence in Storybrooke.

Mary Margaret and David's resolution to avoid each other lasts all of five minutes (basically) when they accidentally run into each other and end up sharing a passionate kiss. I'm not even gonna try to hide it, I loved that kiss (in full view of Regina, no less!). Just thinking out loud here...I'm starting to wonder if Mary Margaret and David's biggest obstacle to their happy ending is their own innate sense of honor, skewed by lives their true inner selves don't recognize because of the curse? David knows he's not supposed to be with Kathryn, but because his is, he's reluctant to make a clean break, but he wants to be with Mary Margaret...and so the vicious cycle continues. I'm probably over-thinking things... (heck that's why I blog, hmm?). *wink* I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode!

Friday, February 17, 2012

This Means War

Yesterday Kaye and I went to see This Means War. The above poster pretty much sums up my initial reason for being interested in the film -- Tom Hardy and Chris Pine in suits? Yes please. The set up: Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine) are two of the CIA's top operatives, as close as brothers -- best friends on and off the field, and when it comes to work a deadly team. As the film opens Tuck and FDR are on a covert assignment in Hong Kong, a simple "acquire the device" (don't you love how in these types of films non-specific "device" is enough to be threatening?) from a generic Nordic-looking bad guy with the nicely menacing name of Heinrich (Til Schweiger). :) Their mission becomes anything but covert as bullets fly and bodies drop from tall buildings, etc., including Heinrich's brother. Collins (Angela Bassett), Tuck and FDR's boss, makes the decision to sideline the pair and assign them desk duty until Heinrich is stopped, since now he has vengeance on his mind (as opposed to just terrorism I guess).

Away from the life-and-death intensity of field operations, Tuck and FDR are bored (Pine and Hardy are hilarious in their first desk duty scene), which gives them time to focus on their personal lives. Tuck, having been married before, longs for a genuine, workable romantic relationship. The covert nature of his job and the secrecy that it required led to his divorce, and forces him to be something less than the father and hero he'd like to be in the eyes of his young son (John Paul Ruttan). FDR is perfectly happy to hang out with his BFF when he's not hooking up with random women, but ultimately he supports Tuck's decision to enter the dating field. Tuck's first online date is with Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a career savvy but lovelorn professional desperate to get out of the rut her life's become. Sparks fly with Tuck -- but sparks fly equally hot when, following their first date, Lauren wanders into a HUMUNGOUS DVD RENTAL STORE (seriously, what is this, 1995? who can go to rental stores like that anymore, aren't they all closed??) where she meets FDR. Both men want her -- and when they discover they're dating the same woman, well, it's war. *wink*

Now for some people I suspect whether or not they like this movie will depend on whether or not you can set aside the rather flippant attitude of the leads towards relationships/sex (particularly Lauren and FDR, though they both come through in the end). This is not a necessarily morally sound film in that respect, but it does have some interesting and solid things to say about friendship and long-term commitment and what it takes to really make a relationship work. I love spy-centric action films, and on that score This Means War delivers in spades. With direction by McG, it's small wonder -- he executive produced two of my television favorites, the short-lived Human Target and the recently concluded Chuck. This movie is like those two television shows on speed -- more spectacle, bigger explosions, and like Chuck unexpected moments of heart when it comes to relationships.

Tuck and FDR's friendship is the core of the film and Pine and Hardy play off each other too perfection on-screen. Hardy's career is on fire -- I was telling Kaye back when I first took notice of him as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (which I loved), I wouldn't have necessarily pegged him for big-screen stardom. But ever since his appearance in Inception his Hollywood career seems to have exploded -- last year there was Warrior and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and this summer he follows up This Means War with a sure-to-be-stellar turn as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (can. not. WAIT.). Out of the pair of agents, Hardy's character is the one I immediately liked because he was so nice, came across as so solid and dependable and vulnerable, and the accent didn't hurt either. *wink* Absolutely delightful. :)

Pine on the other hand -- oh my word the man was hilarious. I haven't seen him in anything since his turn was Kirk in the Star Trek re-boot, and I have to say FDR and Kirk are remarkably similar. In fact, FDR is everything Kirk was -- brash, cocky, self-confident, full of himself -- multiplied by a factor of ten. FDR is the player, unlike Tuck more than happy in his single status and the freedom that gives him to play the field. I loved how FDR, in the moments when he's focused on Lauren (as opposed to one-upping Tuck) that Pine lets viewers see his character soften, become vulnerable, realize he wants a relationship instead of yet another transitory fling. (I AM SUCH A SAP! But it's his EYES! Chris Pine's brilliant blue eyes melt me into an incoherent, babbling puddle of goo!!!) You know FDR is changing when we see him watching the James Cameron himself (arguable that he's changed or in need of an intervention, depending on your view of said film).

The "bromance" between Tuck and FDR is without a doubt the movie's greatest strength. But my second favorite aspect of the storyline has to be how the pair goes about trying to sabotage each other -- folding their desire to spy on the other's interactions with Lauren into their current directive to bring down Heinrich (which of course leads Heinrich to the leverage he needs to get at the men responsible for his brother's death). Everyone in their orbit at the agency becomes either "Team Tuck" or "Team FDR," and their proprietary attitude towards their useless intel is for the most part quite funny.

I haven't said much about Witherspoon -- I generally like her and she's her usual appealing romantic comedy self as Lauren. She can do vulnerable and broadly comedic equally well, which works to her advantage here. It is interesting how this movie inverts gender norms in film, i.e. Lauren is the one in the position of "power," if you will, since she has two equally appealing men vying for her attention. This was perhaps best illustrated in the post-sleeping together scene between Lauren and FDR -- she's the one awkwardly running out of the bedroom the next morning, leaving FDR to puzzle over her sudden exit. :P

As far as the rest of the cast goes, Chelsea Handler is completely annoying as Lauren's married best friend Trish, and Giver of Generally Horrible and Immoral Advice. I'm just not a fan. But she does bear an uncanny resemblance to Reese, so much so I initially thought they were supposed to be playing sisters. She does have one gem of a moment, though -- when she counsels Lauren to quit focusing on who is the better man between Tuck and FDR, but to instead decide who makes her the better woman, the best version of herself. When it comes to the man Lauren chooses, that nugget of wisdom certainly holds true for how she impacts him. :) It was also fabulous to see Rosemary Harris as FDR's grandmother -- I just love her, she adds a touch of class to any project.

This Means War is a hilarious twist on the spy/caper genre, full of laugh-out-loud moments and non-stop action. If you have any reservations about the film, take the rating seriously as some of the humor is on the crasser side (a lot of that due to Handler's character now that I stop and think about it). That aside, if you just want to be entertained by Pine and Hardy in sharp suits, well they deliver in spades. *wink* I'd love to see more films of this type from both men. While I'm quite partial to Pine (the eyes! the eyes!), Hardy was a revelation here as I would never have suspected him to have such an affinity for comedy. A surprisingly enjoyable, funny, fresh take on a genre I adore.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I can't stop laughing about this...

Ever since a preview for Psych's return on February 29th came through my Facebook feed, I haven't been able to stop laughing:

Indiana Shawn and the Temple of the Kinda Crappy, Rusty Old Dagger?! OMG I LOVE IT. Best Psych episode title OF ALL TIME.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Thief by Linda Windsor

Thief (The Brides of Alba #2)
By: Linda Windsor
Publisher: David C. Cook
ISBN: 978-1-4347-6477-5

About the book:

Sixth-century Scotland comes alive in a tale that sings with beauty, danger, intrigue, and redemption.

Caden O'Byrne is a disgraced mercenary with a death wish and one slim chance for redemption -- to find the long-lost daughter of the woman who healed his battle wounds. But Sorcha, kidnapped long ago and raised by Saxons, wants no part of his mission. A lovely minstrel with a heart for the helpless and a habit of lifting purses to finance her good works, she has her own problems -- a debt she can't pay and betrothal to a man she cannot love. Then a treacherous murder sends Caden and Sorcha fleeing for their lives. Will they find a second chance together?


After a failed coup -- orchestrated by his witchcraft-practicing wife -- Caden O'Bryne is banished from his homeland and family. Alone and disgraced, he survives as a mercenary soldier of fortune, longing for the day when death will grant him a hoped-for oblivion from the sins of past. Serving under Mordred, King Arthur's nephew, Caden wins royal favor when he saves the high king from death by a Saxon's blade. Brought back from the brink of death and demonic visions by a desperate call for mercy on the name of Christ, Caden resolves to make the most of his undeserved reprieve. Hoping to repay the kindness and hospitality of the woman who nursed him back from the brink of death, Caden travels deep into Saxon-held territory in search of her lost daughter Sorcha, kidnapped as a child. Caden finds Sorcha faster than he'd dared to hope, but the flame-haired scop (entertainer) is loathe to leave the only life she's ever known, saddled with commitments and a convenient, though undesired, betrothal. Caden and Sorcha are forced to join forces in order to survive when common enemies frame the pair for murder, sending them fleeing for their lives. With only a fledgling faith between them and a desperate hope for redemption, Caden and Sorcha soon realize that accepting the gift of grace, freely given, may be their greatest challenge in their fight for a future free from fear and regret.

Healer, Windsor's first novel in The Brides of Alba series, was one of my favorite reads of 2010 and with Thief she's surpassed herself. Simply put, I love everything about this book! Here Windsor continues the thesis she set forth in Healer -- shining a light into the Dark Ages of history and revealing the vibrant faith of the early Christian church in sixth-century Scotland under the rule of Arthur of Dalraida, the only historically documented Arthur of legend. As is per the norm in Windsor's historical fiction of this ilk, Thief is saturated with rich historical detail and research, lending everything from the setting, clothing, customs, and speech the ring of authenticity resulting in a wholly absorbing reading experience. Where Healer focused on the tension between the Christian church and still widely prevalent pagan belief systems, Thief delves deeper into the Church's attempts at peaceweaving or arranged marriages between Christian princesses and pagan princes, fostering peace between warring factions and planting churches in previously unreachable territory. Through Eavlyn, the princess in question in this case, Windsor explores a secondary aspect of her thesis -- reclaiming the history of the study of the stars within the context of Christian faith.

In conjunction with this rich dose of history, Windsor once again spins an unforgettable love story against the backdrop of a time of danger and turbulent social and political change. Through Caden's association with Mordred, and the latter's interest in Scotland's historical pagan religions vs. dictates from a far-off Roman Church, Windsor hints at the discord of Arthurian legend. Like her best couples, Caden and Sorcha are passionate, wounded souls in desperate need of redemption -- what sets this pair apart are the sparks that fly whenever they meet. Caden and Sorcha are two of Windsor's most passionate creations, their love all the more powerful thanks to a simmering realization that it is a gift from the God who saw them through their darkest hours. Windsor is a master at penning a swoon-worthy love story, but what sets Thief apart is the completely organic, authentic manner in which she incorporates faith, proving the two are most definitely not mutually exclusive -- indeed it is a passionate illustration that faith is the bedrock that enhances relationships, romantic or otherwise.

Thief is a rollicking, non-stop adventure, a romance stitched together with a thread of faith that speaks to the author's passionate confidence in the transformative power of a life whole-heartedly sold-out on the promises of a God who never fails to answer when we call. I cannot wait for the next volume in this series -- Rebel -- coming this summer!


And just for fun, this is how I pictured Caden while reading Thief -- Chris Hemsworth (film still from the upcoming release Snow White and the Huntsman). Small wonder I loved this book so much, hmm? *wink*

Pan Am 1.12: "New Frontiers"

This may come as a shock, but I pretty much loved this episode of Pan Am (the drama, not necessarily the morals -- ha!). Definitely one of my favorites of this show's short run -- somehow everything just worked for me. The episode opens with Kate (Kelli Garner) practicing pick-pocketing skills under the watchful eye of Richard (Jeremy Davidson). Apparently that is how the CIA trained their freelance spies in the '60s -- hey, how about we practice picking pockets in Central Park? Great weather! Richard wants Kate to lift some microfilm from the pocket of a courier in Rome -- the Italians are granting the US access for the operation, and thanks to Richard, Kate and crew have an invitation to an exclusive party. Awesome moment #1 -- Kate and Richard being all flirty while she tries to lift his wallet. I LOVE THEIR SCENES!

Dean (Mike Vogel) is desperate to win back Colette (Karine Vanasse) but she isn't giving him the time of day -- and while he totally deserves the cold shoulder I actually felt rather bad for him in this episode...he wasn't all Ken doll perfect (well not quite). *wink* Colette drops the little bomb that she's put in a for a base transfer to ANOTHER CONTINENT (note to Dean: THAT is sending a message). So he's all stressed and on edge heading into this flight, which is only made worse by the arrival of a last-minute passenger who is handsome, charming, and oddly enough has NO luggage. (That sort of cracked me up -- times have certainly changed haven't they, in regards to airline security!)

The lone passenger, Omar (Piter Marek) is everything Dean wishes he was at that moment -- handsome, calm, cool, collected, and oh-so-very-charming -- so Dean decides he MUST be the passenger responsible for a smuggled cache of cigarettes (in Dean's defense, Omar's lack of luggage works against him). Despite his unorthodox entrance, Omar charms Colette (much to Dean's chagrin) and the sparks fly between the two of them. He talks Colette into showing him around Rome and she agrees (seriously who can blame her?), and this is where things got AWESOME. The whole relationship was wildly reminscent of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, only the royalty role is reversed when Dean is humiliated by the revelation that Omar is a prince who went AWOL on his family and responsibilities to "see the world." Before his departure Omar invites Colette to be his date to a White House dinner -- just marry him already, Colette. If anyone on this crazy show deserves a Roman Holiday-esque romance it's you. *wink*

Turning our attention to the rest of the crew, Maggie (Christina Ricci) can't keep Amanda's (Ashley Greene) kiss from Ted (Michael Mosley). She tries to tell him that maybe, just maybe, all is not as it seems in his whirlwind romance it rather blows up in her face -- Ted is very much a man's man and just can't wrap his head around the idea that Amanda may be more interested in women than men. Apparently sensing Ted's reservations Amanda agrees to sleep with him, and it doesn't go well to say the least -- nothing is shown, there's just a whole lotta AWKWARD in the aftermath. At this point I was yelling at the TV for Ted to wake up already because he is in deep denial about Amanda's turnaround as regards him and her desire to marry.

Meanwhile Laura's (Margot Robbie) world is rocked when she discovers that the impulsive nude photographs she was so proud of just a few months prior were SOLD AND PUT ON DISPLAY (seriously who didn't see that coming? yeesh...). She's humiliated and panicked, going so far as to go to Ted's to ask for a loan -- where it is glaringly apparent to Amanda that the pair have feelings for each other (DUH). She ends up loaning Laura the cash to buy the prints, and later suggests to Ted that they have an open marriage so he can be be with Laura all he wants (to Ted's credit, at least by the end of this episode, his WHAT THE HELL face is pretty priceless). The photograph issue remains unresolved for Laura as on her return trip to the gallery she's recognized and praised for her "bravery" (some say brave, I say stupid) and learns that friggin' Andy Warhol wants to buy the pictures. This whole section of the episode is soap opera INSANITY, the best part being Ted's valiant efforts not to appear completely clueless. :P

Maggie's adventures in Rome take an interesting turn when George Broyles (Darren Pettie) approaches her with an offer he's sure she won't be able to refuse -- become a partner in his Pan Am smuggling operation or he'll reveal that she was the source behind the revelation of Dean's earlier affair with Ginny, the mistress/secretary of a Pan Am vice president. This is an interesting moment, because I've felt since the beginning of the show that Maggie was the least-developed of character of the four female leads. However, I was happy to see that she finally shows some positive character growth by owning her actions and refusing to cave to Broyles's blackmail threat.

This episode ends with the horrific event we've known was coming since Kennedy's Berlin wall speech -- his assassination. All of this week's drama -- Laura's photographs, Ted's shock about his fiancee, the breach between Colette and Dean -- pales in comparison to the news spreading through the country from Dallas regarding the president's condition. My mom's talked about what it was like to get the news, so it was interesting to see the total shock and disbelief play out in our characters' lives -- news traveled in a much slower manner, almost unrelatable by today's standards with the "instant gratification" of 24-hour news cycles. Overall a solid episode in what has been a bumpy ride this season.

Christmas at Downton preview

Okay Dan Stevens is ADORABLE in this video:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Downton Abbey Series 2, Part 6

Masterpiece Classic granted viewers a super-sized, two-hour episode of Downton Abbey last night, and OH MY WORD was it action-packed to say the least. I think I have whiplash...but that is one of the many reasons I love this show, the unabashed manner in which it embraces all things dramatic and crazy and over-the-top. *wink* Going to try and cover all of the major relationships, so this post is apt to be all over the place. Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:

As the last of the recovering officers depart Downton, the house is reverted to its former state — but not so its residents. The future looms large for a lost and melancholy Robert, an uneasy Bates, a determined Sybil, a cunning, ambitious Thomas and a desperate Ethel.

A stunning revelation deeply affects Robert and Cora and incites Richard to tighten his grip on Mary. But Mary has accepted her fate with detachment. Violet, however, will do no such thing, and even Carson reaches his limit.

Sybil discovers unlikely, however unenthusiastic, allies. A wedding is planned but fate cruelly intervenes. In its wake lay guilt, grief and, among the servants, fresh horrors.

With the end of the war, Downton Abbey is no longer a hospital and life can get back to normal, or so everyone thinks (little do they know). The war has ushered in a new era of "normal," one which will require change of every resident both upstairs and down -- adapt and flourish, or flounder trapped in the past. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) has found fresh purpose in overseeing the Downton hospital, going so far as to mention an interest in Isobel's (Penelope Wilton) work with war refugees. She's eager to see Mary (Michelle Dockery) established and married, even if it is to the oily Sir Richard (Iain Glen), going so far as to shock Robert (Hugh Bonneville) by suggesting the convalescing Matthew must be removed from his future home if Mary has any hope of getting on with her life. While I like Cora for the work she's embraced during the war, for her willingness to use her position as mistress of Downton to help others, she has completely checked out of her marriage. She's willing to embrace the future (perhaps it is her American background? ha!) while Robert is floundering and depressed, no longer sure of his position or purpose in a postwar world.

Here's how I look at it -- Robert is in the midst of a classic midlife crisis. Not saying I like it, or it is particularly excusable, but it is what it is and I can't say that Fellowes blindsided me with the developments in this week's episode -- Robert's dissatisfaction has been pretty well telegraphed since the start of this season. I have decided, however, that Jane (Clare Calbraith) isn't a scummy manipulator. I think the whole Jane/Robert thing-that-almost-was was the result of two lonely, depressed people making poor choices -- or rather on the verge of making poor choices, since nothing actually happens between the two of them except  some kisses. And that first kiss in the pantry? I can't deny it I busted out laughing it was so AWKWARD, only outdone by the subsequent makeout scene shortly following Cora falling victim to the Spanish flu. Sick wife does not equal time to spark with the pretty maid, Robert, yeesh! :P

My least favorite storyline this season has to be Ethel's (Amy Nuttall), because THERE WAS NO POINT TO IT. Goodness did this maid and her whining get on my last nerve. When Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) tells her that Major Bryant's parents are visiting Downton seeking some closure from their son's death, Ethel crashes the intimate lunch and and is promptly  humiliated by Bryant's jerk of a father, played by Kevin McNally. Again with MORE AWKWARDNESS. While it was great to see Gibbs from the Pirates films in a production like this, did he have to be such a meanie? The only good thing to come out of this whole Ethel mess is when she realizes she can't give her child up because she actually loves him. Was owning your mistakes and resolving to do better for your son THAT hard, Ethel? Because the road to get to this point was torture to watch. *sigh*

Thomas's (Rob James-Collier) innate evilness has been curiously subdued for most of this season. He can still be snarky but he hasn't seemed so actively invested in making others miserable. He decides to dabble in the blackmarket and sinks all of his money into a store of foodstuffs which he then attempts to pawn off on a wary Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). When the flour and other items he sells to the Downton kitchen turns out to contain plaster dust (ICK!!), he has a hissy fit -- his hopes for postwar prosperity, ill-gotten though it may be, are ruined. O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is oddly sympathetic -- she's also been a bit "off" this season. I need my Edwardian soap opera villains to commit to being villainous rather than wishy-washy, you know? Also, it just struck me that O'Brien is really Thomas's work wife...HAHA!!

I'm very curious where the show takes Daisy's (Sophie McShera) character next week and through season three. When a Downton wedding is announced (more on THAT in a minute), she takes an adorable interest in cooking the cake under Mrs. Patmore's tutelage (though why they were so gung-ho to start baking THREE MONTHS before the wedding is beyond me). Makes me wonder if Daisy has a future as a gourmet pastry chef. *wink* I love the warmth and camaraderie that has developed over the last two seasons between her and Mrs. Patmore, and given her trial by fire with the whole William ordeal, and the strength of character that revealed, I think she has a bright future.

The best moments of this episode involved romantic developments between my favorite couples, and these two hours delivered in spades. Now that the war has ended, Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) finds herself unwilling to slip back into her postwar -- and in her mind, pointless -- life as Downton's privileged youngest daughter. She finally, FINALLY tells Branson she'll run away with him -- and honestly she is such a measured character, taking her time thinking things through, I really don't see her coming to regret her decision. Her declaration anoints Branson (Allen Leech) with a positively incandescent glow of happiness (wasn't his reaction to the whole "a kiss is all you're getting until we're married" thing adorable? *swoon*)-- there's no politics, no family bashing, he seems genuinely earnest and committed to providing for their future, securing a job as a journalist in Dublin (who knew a chauffeuring resume could segway into journalism?!) where Sybil plans to work as a nurse.

Convinced that her family would object, Sybil and Branson hightail it to Gretna Green, which was AWESOME because that immediately calls to mind Lyida's elopement in Pride and Prejudice. Mary and Edith (Laura Carmichael) follow and convince her return, Mary sure that more time will let Sybil see the error of her ways (NOT!). Branson sleeping in the chair? ADORABLE. Branson all full of bravado in the face of Sybil's family while secretly fearing she might abandon him? FRIGGIN' ADORABLE! Branson refusing to bash Sybil's family, refusing Robert's bribe? CAN I CLONE THIS MAN?! (Side note: I really do think Robert's brief flirtation with Joan is what convinced him to let Sybil and Branson leave with his blessing. I mean complaining about Branson while the Joan thing was going on was a bit too much of the pot calling the kettle black, you know?)

Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) are still dealing with the specter of Vera's death, even though it is *apparently* a suicide. I have my doubts. *sigh* Tired of listening to Bates whigging out about the investigation into Vera's death and worrying if he'll get arrested for purchasing the rat poison that killed her, Anna steps up and insists that Bates purchase a special license ASAP so they can get married. GO ANNA! She's determined to face whatever comes as Mrs. Bates 2.0, a woman with the right to STAND BY HER MAN. Heck yes, go Anna, I get it girl. Of course it never rains but it pours, and Anna and Bates finally wed while the specter of the Spanish flu is haunting Downton's halls, but that's okay because this show needs a life-affirming moment like that, and anyway we all know Bates and Anna are only allowed to be happy for approximately five minutes, give-or-take, before something else throws a wrench into their happiness. Love how in love Bates and Anna are, and calling each other Mr. & Mrs. Bates? Too sweet! (Another side note: how awesome was Mary's surprise of a specially-decorated room in Downton for Bates & Anna's wedding night? Super sweet considering she's facing the FUTURE OF DOOM with Sir Richard the stalker/CREEP.)

So Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary were awesome this week. Mary is of course determined to throw her life away on Sir Richard, even AFTER she finds out that he attempted to bribe Anna to spy on her. When Carson (Jim Carter) is told, he refuses to go work for a man he couldn't respect (CLASSY MAN), which leads to an extraordinarily painful moment between him & Mary, when she lashes out at him for abandoning her. I really couldn't blame her -- she's been clinging to Carson as the hope of an ally her new life with THE CREEP. (Thankfully Mary and Carson talk it all out by the end of this episode.) When the tingling sensations in Matthew's legs turn out to be more than phantom pains, the whole house erupts in celebration -- all except Mary, bereft at the news that Matthew and Lavinia's (Zoe Boyle) engagement is a go once again. Violet (Maggie Smith) in a wonderful moment of understanding surprises Matthew in his bedroom and drops the bomb that Mary's still in love with him and that he shouldn't be marrying anyone out of guilt or obligation (could she not give Mary this speech too?). Matthew's reaction is PRICELESS. (Side note, AGAIN: isn't Dr. Clarkson like the WORST DOCTOR EVER??? How he can hope to enjoy the Crawleys' patronage after the whole non-transected spine debacle is beyond me. And then when the flu hits he doesn't quarantine the house?? WHAT THE HECK???)

When the Spanish flu hits Downton and everyone literally starts dropping like flies at the dinner table, Matthew and Mary share one of their best moments in the series to date. Lavinia is upstairs getting sick (YAY! I'm mean, I know, but the woman needs to GO!), and Matthew puts a record on the new phonograph in the hall, and he and Mary DANCE. *swoon* And I promptly died of joy. The chemistry between Dockery and Stevens just sizzles in this exchange, especially when Matthew remarks that he and Mary were a failed "show," much like the origin of the song they're dancing to, and then there's this glorious second where you can see them both thinking -- but we don't have to fail, do we? And yes, Matthew's whole "you are my stick" comment was poorly-worded, but clearly he meant SUPPORT SYSTEM, right, and even though calling Mary his stick was awkward I still swooned a bit. :) Lavinia drags her sorry sick self downstairs and witnesses their kiss, which is THANK GOODNESS the kiss of death to her relationship with Matthew, forcing her to wake up and smells the coffee and realizes she needs to let him go. AND THEN SHE DIES. It was epic, because of course Matthew decides she dies of a broken heart, which means he has to be miserable for his whole life and never marry because he WAS GOING TO LEAVE HER ANWAY, dangit! *rolls eyes*

So, wrapping things up since this was the finale of Series 2 (Christmas episode airing next week with all new cliffhangers, I'm sure!). Matthew and Mary came *thisclose* to a declaration. UGH! SOMEBODY SAVE MARY FROM HERSELF ASAP! Sybil makes Branson the happiest man in the world = YAY! O'Brien nearly kills herself nursing Cora back from the brink of death (note to O'Brien -- confession is good for the soul, but does it count when the recipient is OUT OF HER HEAD WITH FEVER? Discuss...). Cora recovers and recommits to "being there" for Robert -- but is his heart in it? C'mon Robert, live your flippin' life! Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, should they ever decide to leave service, MUST open a bakery together. That plan has "win" written all over it. Also, Edith is in desperate need of the hope of her own happy ending -- she's come so far, please don't abandon her, Fellowes! And finally -- how heartbreaking was the look of utter horror on Anna's face as she stood frozen in shock while Bates was arrested for Vera's murder? THE DAY AFTER THEIR WEDDING NO LESS (so they got roughly 24 hours, not the normal five minutes of happiness)! A Downton without Bates is just unimaginable...oh the suspense! *wink* Thoughts?