Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pan Am 1.1 - "Pilot"

ABC's new show Pan Am took flight this past Sunday night (airline-related pun completely intentional), and I finally got around to watching the debut today. It's clearly yet another attempt to capitalize on the wild success of cable's Mad Men. I've never been a regular Mad Men viewer -- the few times I've seen it, I've been turned off by the show's penchant for pushing the envelope, if you will (well-written and thought-provoking it may be, but it's not for me). Whereas Mad Men is a gritty exploration of 1960s mores and attitudes, if the pilot episode is any indication, Pan Am is a glossy, soapy, and above all FUN glimpse into one of the most glamorous and adventurous careers a woman could have in 1963 -- that of a Pan Am stewardess.

This show has a look like nothing I've seen on network television, not in recent memory at any rate -- slick and glossy, the colors positively pop off the screen. Every frame of film is packed with fabulous detail, from the sets, clothing, and props to the fantastic hairstyles (the perfectly-coiffed children seen staring in reverential awe at the handsome captains and gorgeous stewardesses are adorable!). Is this an idealized presentation of 1960s air travel? Sure, probably -- but the fact remains that air travel used to be a lot more glamorous than it is now. *wink* What I wouldn't give to travel back in time for a day to fly on a Pan Am Clipper Jet in the airline's heyday. And I had no idea that a requirement for stewardesses was that they be college-educated, unmarried, and under the age of thirty-two -- and the four stewardesses at the center of this show are all bi- or tri-lingual. Color me impressed.

The series begins with the recently promoted (and quintessentially all-American, perfectly gelled hair to boot) Dean (Mike Vogel) eager to take on his first assignment -- flying the brand-new Clipper Majestic on its inaugural New York to London flight. His co-pilot is the devilishly cocky Ted (Michael Mosley). The flight crew is made up of three stewardesses and a lead purser. The stewardesses are the warm-hearted French Collette (Karine Vanasse) and the eager to prove herself Kate (Kelli Garner), who is followed by her younger sister Laura (Margot Robbie), the latter fleeing a broken engagement and testing her wings in the wide world for the first time. Maggie (Christina Ricci) is a last-minute replacement for the MIA purser Bridget (Annabelle Wallis), Dean's on-again, off-again (and uber-mysterious) love interest who stands to break his heart (READ THE SIGNALS DEAN!).

We quickly get a series of flashbacks that introduce us to the pasts of several of the main players. Colette thought she'd found love with a regular passenger she had a romantic rendezvous with in Rome, until he shows up with his friggin' family. Colette is crushed (good for her!), and has to endure a humiliating smackdown by the man's wife when the plane arrives in London. Laura, the gorgeous Cameron sister, fled her wedding with the aide of the more adventurous Kate (the latter the bane of her mother's existence for her willingness to flout convention. With her sister following her career footsteps, Kate has the pressure of living in Laura's shadow at the workplace, as well as some Cold War drama as a recently recruited spy by a U.S. intelligence agent (Jeremy Davidson). Her first assignment is swapping passports for a Russian passenger (David Harbour), a task that isn't as straightforward as it first appears.

Ted and Maggie receive the short shrift in this episode, but I'm hopeful that will be rectifed quickly in subsequent episodes. Ted strikes me as the kind of guy whose bravado masks a world of hurt and uncertainty. And Maggie -- she's the very definition of sassy. In her off-time she's as bohemian and unconventional as they come, the complete opposite of the straight-laced regulations that define her work. But she's driven to see the world and so she makes it work -- and I look forward to more insight into what drives her character.

Pan Am's pilot episode is a glorious hour of fast-paced, glossy, escapist entertainment. I loved every second of it. The entire look of the production, right down to the lushly cinematic score (courtesy of Blake Neely) gave the show's maiden voyage the feel of an event. And the songs -- the songs used in this episode were brilliant choices -- I especially approve of the two or three Bobby Darin selections (and if that WASN'T Darin, I'll be shocked!). Could this show be characterized as melodramatic? Yes, sure -- but the moments of soapiness and melodrama are balanced by genuine emotion and eager, nicely nuanced performances. Pan Am looks to be a glossy, nostalgic, escapist fantasy -- I look forward to the show's next flight! :) If you caught the premiere I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Celtic Treasure by Hayley Westenra

Next week, Hayley Westenra, one of my favorite vocalists, releases her latest album - Paradiso. I previously reviewed Celtic Treasure in 2007, so with her forthcoming release I thought it was time to share that review here:
Hayley Westenra's third CD, Celtic Treasure, is a somewhat misnamed as it isn't strictly "Celtic" -- it's an eclectic collection of songs that perfectly showcases her crystalline soprano. The disc features several favorites that are staples on Celtic music releases, such as "Scarborough Fair," "Danny Boy," and "The Water is Wide." Also included is "Last Rose of Summer," a gorgeous duet with Meav from the group Celtic Woman, a nod to Hayley's current involvement with that ensemble (as featured on the recently released A New Journey CD & DVD). Their voices blend beautifully. In addition to these well-known "classics," Hayley expands her artistic horizons with this album which features her in the roles of song writer, arranger, and pianist on a handful of selections. Two of her song writing efforts are particularly striking - "Let Me Lie" is a lovely, lyrical song with an arrangement that possesses a lush, almost cinematic quality, while "Summer Rain" features a driving rhythm reminiscent of Enya's classic "Orinoco Flow." There is a nod to the pop sensiblity that was exhibitied on Hayley's second disc, Odyssey, in songs like "Summer Fly" which recalls the jazz stylings of "I Say Grace" from that disc, allowing Hayley to "cut loose," this time on a toe-tapping, folk-flavored tune. Hayley's extraordinary talent has become more and more evident with each successive album, exhibiting a continued trend of artistic growth and vocal maturity. Her voice has lost none of the purity found in her 2003 debut (aptly titled Pure) or the ability to hit unbelievably high notes with apparent ease; rather, her voice possesses an added depth and richness indicative of her maturation as a vocalist. It's worth getting this album from Walmart, as there it includes a bonus track -- Hayley's version of Loreena McKennitt's "The Mummer's Prayer," which is wonderful. For fans of classical crossover artists like Sarah Brightman, Josh Groban, and Amici Forever, Hayley Westenra is a vocalist to watch. She consistently raises the bar with every release, cultivating her voice and skill, delivering each song as a perfectly polished gem.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Inspector Lewis: The Mind Has Mountains

I can't believe we're already looking at the end of Inspector Lewis's fourth series run on Masterpiece Mystery next week. :-/ This year's episodes have been extraordinarily good, and for Hathaway fans (such as yours truly *wink*), last night's episode The Mind Has Mountains gave one plenty to savor -- Hathaway was on fire and the zingers just never stopped! *happiness* Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:

"Call the guinea pigs, would you," directs the brilliant psychiatrist Dr. Alex Gansa. The assorted subjects pile in to get their medication — all part of a week-long antidepressant drug trial taking place on the Oxford campus. The drug being tested is a form of ketamine — a horse tranquilizer and party circuit favorite. When trial subject Amy Katz is found dead, the drug-induced veil of contentment starts to tear. Katz was the unwitting object of obsession for several other patients, under the dubious care of the morally questionable Gansa. Lewis and Hathaway, aligned in their quiet distaste for psychiatry, uncover a number of provocative clues — condemning phone messages, notes and the remnants of a damning video diary made by the dead patient. The facts are furiously lining up. But in the mysterious realm of the human mind, sometimes certainty is deceiving. Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox star alongside Douglas Henshall (South Riding, Collision) in Inspector Lewis: The Mind Has Mountains.
From the moment this episode began, I had a suspicion that it would quickly become a favorite of the series and happily, I was not disappointed. Not only does The Mind Has Mountains feature hands-down some of the best guest star appearances in the show's history, it is a real corker of a mystery, fast-paced, tightly plotted, and with so many twists and turns and red herrings that I nearly gave myself whiplash trying to guess the outcome. And as an added bonus, the opening scenes promise some forward momentum (finally) into the tangled "mystery" of the Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Hobson will-they-or-won't-they-romance.

I loved the enclosed setting of this mystery -- yes, the location of the antidepressant drug trial is in a building on the Oxford campus, but the location is on the surface idyllic enough, and the motley collection of participants eclectic enough, that it struck me as vaguely reminscent of a "country house" mystery in the Agatha Christie vein. You know someone in the house did it, the only question is how many people will meet their end before the perpetrator is discovered. Most exciting of all for me was the fact that the doctor running this trial was played by one of my favorite actors, Douglas Henshall. Henshall came to my attention when I started watching Primeval (and goodness I have got to say that show misses Cutter!), and he's followed that up with appearances in Collision and South Riding. As Dr. Alex Gansa, Henshall is charming and charismatic -- it's quite easy to see how he might become the object of a patient's fantasy, the only question is whether or not he's the type to act on those "opportunities."

Hathaway (Laurence Fox) was just ON FIRE for this entire episode. While Hathaway maintained his usually calm and unflappable demeanor, there was this constant undercurrent of barely controlled energy -- frustration? -- that seemed to be simmering just below the surface of Fox's performance (LOVED it). From the opening scene when he witnesses Hobson (Clare Holman) on a dinner date WITH SOMEONE OTHER THAN HIS BFF LEWIS, Hathaway kicks the snark and sarcasm into overdrive. What is amazing to me about Hathaway's reaction is that you can sense so much of the snarkiness in his demeanor -- he doesn't actually have to verbalize anything (which is good, because he hardly ever does that -- however, in this episode, the man was in top verbal sparring form!). Two moments in this episode will in particular go down as series favorites. The first, when Gansa calls Hathaway "an odd policeman...I mean odd for a policeman" (Henshall's delivery of this line is pitch-perfect); the second, when Hathaway has an ACTUAL PHYSICAL CONFRONTATION with Dane (Sam Hazeldine), an ex-soldier and one of the trial's test subjects. All I could say to that was rawr. *wink* (Side note: Hazeldine looked familiar, and today I discovered he's appeared in Foyle's War, Robin Hood, and Persuasion.)

Speaking of the patients, it was great to see Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Adam Douglas, a student dangerously obsessed with the first victim. I rather feel as though I've watched Thomas grow up on-screen, as he started his career with roles in films like Nanny McPhee and The Last Legion, and progressed to a memorable turn in the two part Doctor Who story arc "Human Nature"/"Family of Blood." Adam was just one of many who had very strong reactions to the presence of Amy in the test house. Gansa's wife Claire (Christina Cole) was actually a former patient of her husband's (oh what a tangled web this show weaves!) who resented Amy's obsession with her spouse. It was really quite refreshing to see Cole play a sympathetic character -- I'm used to her more villainous/manipulative turns, such as in Jane Eyre where she played Blanche Ingram, or Emma where she played Mrs. Elton.

It was really quite interesting to watch the Lewis and Hathaway dynamic in this episode. Let me be clear -- that's always the main draw of this series -- but in this episode I felt like Whately and Fox brought a little something extra to their performances. This storyline -- both the investigation and the insights into their personal lives -- allowed both of them to cut loose a bit, to relax and really explore how comfortable the two have become since the somewhat testy early days of their professional partnership. I loved that Hathaway thought he should keep mum about Hobson's non-Lewis date, while Lewis couldn't understand why he didn't share the intelligence. Hathaway's rejoinder at the end of the episode was PRICELESS -- "I hope that you and Dr. Hobson work it out. Whatever it is, which you've got to admit, is a bit of a mystery." HA!

So, this is my theory about the Lewis and Hobson relationship. In the final episode of Series 3 (Falling Darkness), the burgeoning romance hit the rocks and its progression ground to a halt when Hobson's murky college past came to light. Lewis is SUCH a straight arrow, and such a S-L-O-W mover that I could see something like those events causing him to step back a bit. Perhaps that's why we've been getting this dance around their attraction issue for the past two episodes? Either way, it was quite funny to have the Lewis/Hobson non-relationship relationship so much at the front and center of this episode, to the point where the Chef (Rebecca Front) actually comments on how she wants to bang Lewis and Hobson's heads together. *wink*

I have to give the script a ton of credit for the whiplash pace that this mystery unfolded at, to the point where it kept me guessing until almost the finale. I really expected Henshall's character to take the fall for Katz's death and his wife's attempted murder -- so it was really a pleasant surprise when Lewis discovers that the arrogant doctor's assertion that his assistant Bethan (Lucy Lieman) is obsessed with him, bent on destroying anyone she views as a threat to their imaginary relationship. Apparently the good doctor and I were both a little slow on the uptake in that regard, because I really didn't see that coming until the final 15-20 minutes, because I SO expected Gansa to be the guilty one. (And who was expecting Lewis to get involved in a physical altercation with with Bethan???) Instead, I get surprised with HENSHALL ANGST as his character vows to stay by his coma-stricken wife until she awakens. Just goes to show you NEVER know, hmm? :P

This episode was extraordinarily well-constructed and fast-paced, definitely a favorite of mine in the Lewis canon. Fully of sparkling, sarcastic one-liners, unexpected action sequences, and some forward momentum in the Lewis/Hobson romance, and you have a winning formula all the way around. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: Deadly Pursuit by Irene Hannon

Deadly Pursuit (Guardians of Justice #2)
By: Irene Hannon
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3457-2

About the book:

Social worker Alison Taylor has a passion for protecting children. But now it seems she needs protecting. When her tormentor's attentions take a violent turn, she calls in reinforcements - her police-detective brother, Cole, and his new partner, ex-Navy SEAL Mitch Morgan. As her relentless stalker turns up the heat and the danger intensifies, Mitch takes a personal interest in the case. Because protecting Alison has become more than a job; his future depends on keeping her safe.

Filled with nail-biting suspense and heart-melting romance, Deadly Pursuit is Irene Hannon's storytelling at its very best.


Following the crippling car accident that left her with a metal rod in one leg, traumatic internal injuries, and a broken engagement, Alison Taylor threw herself into the work of regaining her independence. With two protective older brothers in law enforcement, keeping their stifling, if well-intentioned, hovering at bay could be as much of a challenge as dealing with the dark loneliness that overwhelms her when she least expected it. Mitch Morgan, a newly-arrived transfer to the St. Louis Police Department, couldn't be more surprised when his partner - Alison's brother Cole - sets the two up on a blind date and sparks fly. The lovely but reserved Alison is an enigma Mitch is determined to decipher and make a permanent part of his new life. But that promising future is threatened when the disturbing calls Alison's been receiving - "inconveniences" she strove to handle on her own - increase. And when the calls escalate to disturbing, very personal "gifts," it's clear that someone has Alison in their sights. With Alison the prize in a sick game of chance, Mitch is in a race against time to save the woman who has given him hope for the future.

Deadly Pursuit is the second novel in Hannon's Guardians of Justice series, and focuses on the sole female member of the Taylor siblings trio, Alison. I've had friends who work in Child Protective Services, and based on my second-hand knowledge of what social workers deal with in their jobs I can tell you Hannon did her homework. The stress and pressure Alison deals with on the job, and the overwhelming pull to become personally involved in heart-breaking cases that victimize the most vulnerable among us, and the potential dangers in those cases is spot-on accurate. Alison quickly became one of my favorite Hannon heroines - she is a beautifully realized, fully-dimensional character whose weaknesses are balanced with a deep-seated strength that can only stem from a faith refined and purified by fire. I could really relate to her struggles to find her place in her very-involved family, and I appreciated how Hannon worked through Alison's tensions with her brothers in a very realistic way. Family relationships can be among the stickiest of all, and its refreshing to see honest frustrations expressed and dealt with in a productive fashion. And I loved Mitch and Alison's relationship. Mitch is one of my favorite Hannon heroes, the alpha male in him balanced with a sensitivity and understanding for Alison's relationship-related reticence that is heart-rendingly sweet.

I really don't know how Irene Hannon does it, but she keeps surpassing herself with each new release. While it is possible I'm suffering from "most recent novel is my favorite" syndrome, I am going to go out on a limb here and declare that Deadly Pursuit has tied with, if not surpassed, In Harm's Way as my favorite Hannon novel yet. Hannon's ability to keep ratcheting up the suspense and tension is unparalleled, a marvel even more so when you consider that, knowing her history, she's going to deliver a "happy ending." But when you have that expectation and you're still breathlessly turning pages, your heart in your throat -- that is a suspense novel penned with masterful skill. Mixed with a heart-stopping, swoon-worthy romance, that despite the novel's short timeframe still manages to feel genuine and authentic, is the recipe for a romantic suspense winner. Hannon is without question my go-to author for sizzling romantic tension mixed with chilling moments of danger. Deadly Pursuit exhibits her writing skills at their finest, with pacing worthy of the best television crime procedural, heart-pounding tension, swoon-worthy romance, and a subtle thread of faith - a heady, addictive mix that will leave you eager for her next release!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Inspector Lewis continues with "The Mind Has Mountains"

Just a quick reminder, tomorrow Inspector Lewis continues with the third episode of the fourth series on Masterpiece Mystery, entitled The Mind Has Mountains. Here's a brief teaser about the episode:
When a student is found dead during a clinical drug trial, the motives of an enigmatic professor are questioned. Douglas Henshall (South Riding, Collision) co-stars.
Obviously, aside from what's sure to be more Hathaway goodness, is that this episode features Douglas Henshall. Douglas Henshall. DOUGLAS HENSHALL!!!!!!!!!!!

Goodness, I wish that man had never left Primeval. See you on the other side with my review!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Neverland trailer

I'm a big fan of the SyFy miniseries Tin Man and Alice (both of which I keep intending to blog will happen, think positively, right? *wink*). While watching the season finale of Eureka earlier this week, the station aired the a new (to me, anyway) preview for their next "fairy tale" miniseries event -- Neverland, airing this December. Here's the trailer:

This prequel to Peter Pan stars Anna Friel and Rhys Ifans -- looks excellent, whaddya think?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

happy birthday to me

So. Today's my birthday (shameless self-promotion, I know!). One of my birthday greetings on Facebook was the following:
So basically what that means when you're me is that you do some creative googling on your lunch hour and come up with gems like THIS:

Things which of course, need to be shared here. :) Toast is a poor cupcake substitute but it will have to do...

Coriolanus trailer

It has been years...and I mean YEARS...since the words "Ralph Fiennes" and "hot" shared the same thought in my brain -- but after seeing this trailer, I'm thinking Ralph might be on his way to changing that opinion.

William Shakespeare?

I'm intrigued. Apparently this is slated for a January 2012 release. Need to brush up on the play...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Inspector Lewis: Wild Justice

Inspector Lewis continued its fourth series on Masterpiece Mystery last night with a brand-new episode entitled Wild Justice, and no pun intended but what a wild ride it was! *wink* This episode provided some fantastic insight into the emotional depth of the Lewis/Hathaway partnership, and what really makes these men tick. Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:

Rabbis, nuns, mullahs, and Buddhists peacefully commingle with their friar hosts at an interfaith conference at St. Gerard's college. But when an American female bishop is found dead, poisoned by a glass of the college's own chianti, Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Hathaway (Laurence Fox) suspect that the bishop's liberal views led to her murder. That is, until a far more gruesome death occurs, mirroring a macabre murder from a Jacobean Revenge tragedy. It's a case that demands Hathaway's prodigious literary and theological knowledge and Lewis' keen and common-sense gut instinct. But are those resources dimming for the partners as one feels stirrings of his old call to seminary and the other considers his own mortality...and early retirement? They must somehow put struggles with faith aside before an obsessed killer takes another stab at wild justice. Amelia Bullmore (Endgame) guest stars.
Wild Justice was another excellent episode in Series 4, and a standout in the entire Inspector Lewis series thanks to how this case personally impacted Lewis and Hathaway and the insight it provided into each man's character and what makes their partnership tick. The episode opens with Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Hathaway (Laurence Fox) each contemplating a notice at headquarters announcing "early retirement/voluntary redundancy packages" available for consideration. Now, if this was the series finale instead of just episode two, that might raise some eyebrows of concern at the very thought (oh the HORROR!) that either Lewis or Hathaway would seriously consider leaving the police force. So, that worry aside, this case provided a fascinating lens through which we get to see our heroes examine why they do what they do, and count the cost.

Lewis and Hathaway must set aside their contemplations of the future temporarily when they are called to St. Gerard's College to investigate the death of Bishop Helen Parsons (Pamela Nomvete), a participant in the school's recently completed interfaith conference. Lewis has always been -- how shall I say this? -- apathetic when it comes to matters of faith. But Hathaway, who had studied for the priesthood, eats up the case's religious setting like nobody's business. When it is learned that Parsons was poisoned with the college's own labeled wine, and she was last seen speaking to a "hooded figure" (Hathaway relishes the chance to explain the difference between friars and monks to Lewis -- heehee!!), which brings the college staff under sharp suspicion.

Setting a mystery in one of Oxford's specifically religious colleges was a wonderful move, since faith is such an intensely personal thing -- and in Lewis & Hathaway's world, when intensely personal passions run amuck, someone usually ends up dead. The St. Gerard's setting felt so rich with history and mystery, and walked a wonderfully fine line between a place of spiritual refuge and introspection and unexpected danger, where closely guarded passions mask secrets some find worth killing to keep. I was especially interested in the school's patroness, the elderly and regal Adele Goffe (Sian Phillips). I feel like her position vis-a-vis St. Gerard's was not explored as well as one could have wished (perhaps more will be revealed on the DVD?). Phillips has enjoyed a lengthy and varied career, from playing Cassiopeia in the original Clash of the Titans to a guest turn in Poirot. Mrs. Goffe definitely had the Vice Regent Mancini (Ronald Pickup) in her pocket, a friar with an eye to securing his own legacy -- the question being, at what cost? Pickup may be a familiar face to fans of British film, having appeared episodes of Foyle's War and Lark Rise to Candleford, as well as mainstream Hollywood fare like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

The case grows in complexity, as these cases are so wont to do, when a candidate for Friar Mancini's post of vice regent is found murdered in a particularly gruesome, cruel fashion -- a death that mirrors one found in a Jacobean revenge play. A play that was the subject of a recent lecture by another candidate for the vice regent post, the liberally-minded Caroline Hope (Amelia Bullmore). Of course Hathaway's extensive literary background recognizes the literary death being played out in real life -- and can I just tell you how much I LOVE THAT MAN'S BRAIN??? It's a thing of beauty. Bullmore appeared in Endgame, which if memory serves aired on Masterpiece Contemporary last year, as well as in the Poirot episode Hallowe'en Party which aired on Mystery earlier this summer. The other two candidates for vice regent are the suspiciously sneaky Friar Stephen (Nicholas Sidi) and the affable Joanna Pinnock (Sorcha Cusack). Point of interest -- Sorcha is the sister of Sinead Cusack, the actress who will forever live in my mind as John Thornton's mother in North & South. :) Pinnock has a very enlightening conversation with Hathaway regarding his seminary past -- she recognizes the toll police work has taken on a kindred spirit, and prompts some very interesting moments of self-reflection for my favorite DS. :)

Side note: Caroline's boyfriend/partner is played by Paul Anderson. Wild Justice marks Anderson's second Lewis appearance, as he previously appeared in The Great and the Good, and will be seen on the big screen later this year in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Things start to get wonderfully weird and messy as they are prone to do in this series when it becomes apparent that the first victim, Parsons, was perhaps not the intended target of the poisoned wine -- and a seemingly unrelated retired detective (Christopher Timothy) is murdered, followed by the murder of Pinnock's son. Both deaths have literary connections, and appear to point to a gruesome power play for control of the college's future. The detective's death brings to light the long-buried and horrific past of staff member Caroline Hope -- but is she the victim here, or a perpetrator out to conceal her past at all cost? The revelations about her history serve as the impetus for some interesting dialogue between Lewis and Hathaway regarding justice and revenge.

I really don't want to give much more than that away regarding the "whodunit" as I did enjoy watching the storyline unfold on-screen, as crazy and convoluted as it was. :) However, I can't let this post end without commenting on Felix (Daniel Ryan), Adele's butler? personal assistant? Ryan played Felix with as this wonderful mix of creepy niceness, sealing the deal by having an affair with Adele's daughter (Amanda Ryan), who struck me as very emotionally immature, probably due to the influence of her apparently overwhelming and strong-willed mother. I recognized Daniel Ryan from As Time Goes By and Doctor Who (though not immediately, had to look him up). However, last night I was EXTREMELY distracted by what struck me as an uncanny resemblance to Brendan Coyle. So let me know your thoughts:

Daniel Ryan:

Brendan Coyle:

Thoughts? Maybe I just have Downton Abbey on the brain since that show started in the UK this past weekend. *wink* You can be the judge. :)

A couple of additional quick points about my boys Lewis and Hathaway -- I simply adored how this episode drove home the deep regard and respect the two have for each other, even though coming out and SAYING so would probably kill one or both. *wink* From Hathaway's snarky remark "I don't like misplaced apostrophes" (seriously WHERE WERE the Oxford grammar police???), to Lewis's later off-hand comment that he never noticed apostrophes until he met Hathaway -- seriously, what further proof does one need to show how FREAKING PERFECT they are for each other. (Potential spin-off idea -- Inspector Hathaway: Grammar Police...just thinking out loud here...) Bromance for the win! :) And while Hobson (Clare Holman) had a fairly small role in this episode, I love how she is there to remind Lewis that he needs to keep Hathaway abreast of his potential retirement plans. (So sweet!) But the best moment of the night, and perhaps one of my top ten favorite Hathaway moments in the series thus far is at the very end, when Hathaway levels with Lewis and says if Lewis retires then Hathaway's resigning, because no one else will put up with his idiosyncrasies. Yes, at that point I was begging my television for them to just hug already and get it over with! *wink*

I'm really looking forward to next week's installment. If you watched this episode, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Review: Dangerous Allies by Renee Ryan

Dangerous Allies
By: Renee Ryan
Publisher: Steeple Hill
ISBN: 978-0-373-82844-9

About the book:

In Nazi Germany, British agent Jack Anderson risks his life working undercover as an SS officer. And his latest mission -- to uncover intelligence about a secret Nazi weapon -- is his most perilous yet. Especially since he'll have to work with Katarina Kerensky. The famous actress is too dangerous to trust -- and too beautiful to ignore.

Desperate to save her mother from the Gestapo, Katia reluctantly agrees to work with the coolly handsome Jack. But can she trust a man whose sense of honor is tangled in a web of lies? In a race against time, Jack and Katia forge an alliance to take down the enemy...and learn whether love can survive in a world gone wrong.


Deep in the Third Reich, Katia Kerensky plays a dangerous game. The dispossessed daughter of a murdered Russian prince, Katia came of age in her mother's German homeland, becoming a popular stage actress. But the princess's most radical role is wrapped up in her deepest secret -- with a Jewish maternal grandparent, Katia works as a spy for the British to defeat the Nazi agenda and secure her mother's protection. Jack Anderson is Katia's latest contact -- an American working for the British in deep cover as one of Himmler's henchmen, the fearsome Friedrich Reiter. The horrors Jack has experienced in order to maintain his cover have stolen his faith in God and humanity, and working with a beautiful, headstrong, and idealistic German contact does not fit into his plans. But in order to secure valuable intelligence, Katia and Jack must take the greatest risk of all -- a leap of faith in each other and the God they both thought had long-since abandoned them.

Dangerous Allies was a nice change of pace for me, a diverting slice of escapist fiction set during my favorite historical time period. In my experience with category romance, its rare to find European-set World War II spy stories, and Ryan has a bit of a flair for crafting characters that feel authentic to the time period, in that they are highly aware of the horrifying dangers facing them during this time period. With the bulk of the novel's action taking place over a 2-3 day time period, Ryan keeps the action moving at a brisk pace and develops a relatively believable romance between her two leads, considering the length constraints of the category romance format. That said, Jack's near constant self-loathing and Katia's obsessive angst grew rather tedious. There's too much time spent dissecting their emotional hang-ups, whereas devoting some of the novel's precious word count to developing their (rushed) relationship would've brought some balance to the storyline.

Ryan crafts an engaging enough historical that I'll definitely be on the lookout for future World War II-set titles. Dangerous Allies hints at an affinity for the time period that makes me hope Ryan gets the chance to write similar trade-length historical romances, where she'd have the luxury of developing her characters, storyline, and sense of time and place, resulting in a richer and less-rushed reading experience. A quick and diverting read!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Inspector Lewis continues tomorrow!

In case you forgot since Masterpiece was "off" last weekend, tomorrow Inspector Lewis continues its fourth series with a brand-new episode entitled Wild Justice. Here's a brief teaser about what's in store:
See an all-new episode of Inspector Lewis, Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 9pm on MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! In Wild Justice, a bishop is poisoned, leading Lewis and Hathaway into a twisted maze of motives and retribution.
Bishops getting poisoned? Sounds wild! *wink* This episode promises to tap into Hathaway's seminary background, and we all know how much I love me some Hathaway! :) See you on the other side with my review!

Merlin Series 4 preview!

Well, this is nice... :)

Apparently series 4 of Merlin starts in the UK in October. If SyFy follows tradition, that means we'll see new episodes in the States in January (do you hear that, SyFy -- don't break tradition on me!). :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Castle Season 4 preview!

Fall TV starts to return next week, and that means some of my favorite shows (along with possible new favorites) will once again be gracing my TV screen. Castle is one of the shows that I'm most looking forward to -- the Season 3 finale was an intense, emotional, gut-wrenching roller coaster ride. Nathan Fillion, I adore you. :)

Castle returns Monday, September 19th (I want to take this moment to thank ABC for this early birthday present). Here are a couple of previews to whet your appetite for Castle & Beckett's return!

Please note, if you haven't seen Season 3 the following videos contain spoilers. :)

"Memories Are Made of This" --

"She's Dying" - Sneak Peek of the S4 Premiere --

And last but certainly not least, thanks to Rissi for making me aware of this excellent noir-style promo picture for Castle's fourth season that's circulating around the web -- I LOVE THIS:

Nathan Fillion sporting a trenchcoat and a fedora? I DIE, I really DO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *wink*

So, who else is eagerly anticipating Castle's return?

Howlin' for Hathaway

So last month Tasha made a Zen fan video, and now she's outdone herself with A HATHAWAY ONE! This is the kind of thing one shares with the enjoy. :)

Excuse me while I swoon...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kristin Chenoweth - Some Lessons Learned

Kristin Chenoweth, a.k.a. one of my favorite female vocalists, released a new album this week -- the country-tinged Some Lessons Learned. I am LOVING it. I thought I'd share a bit of a preview here --

Kristin talks about the making of the album:

The music video for "I Want Somebody (Bitch About)":

And last but certainly not least, the music video for "Lessons Learned" (oh how I love this):

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Inspector Lewis Series 4 DVD Files, Part One!

Last night I carved some time out of my evening to re-watch Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things on DVD, the first episode of Inspector Lewis's fourth series (which I originally reviewed here). A couple of questions were raised in the comments section of my review post which I thought I'd try to address here, now that I've seen the full ninety-minute episode on DVD (since my PBS station still seems to cut anywhere from 6-10 minutes during their Masterpiece broadcasts).

The most prevailing question that was raised regarded the unexplained murder of the freshman student who discovered the first victim's body in the dormitory stairwell. I won't say the uncut version of this episode explains that in a satisfactory manner, but it helps, if marginally so. Hathaway spends a few minutes talking with the girl's distraught boyfriend, who mentions how she thought she heard the killer in the dorm stairwell. I can only think that viewers are supposed to make the jump that the crazy perp heard this rumor and decided to take pre-emptive action. I really think the script could've done a better job handling this "plot twist," but I won't quibble too much since the scene casts Hathaway in the role of comforter, which is nice. *wink*

The second scene I noticed that seemed rather expanded was when Chloe Brooks is under hypnosis, recalling the events leading up to the attack that left her comatose for ten years. The scene was rife with atmosphere and suspense, and its expansion left her storyline feeling a bit less rushed in my view.

The final thing I want to address is the whole Lewis/Hobson relationship -- or lack thereof, a jarring omission given some of the events long-time fans of this show saw in Series 3. At the tail end of this episode, there's a whole scene between Lewis and Hobson that is TOO PRECIOUS FOR WORDS (but I'll try anyway -- HA!!). While wrapping up the case, she suggests they go out for a pint -- he responds "make it dinner & I'll pay." There's this delightful little moment where Lewis is PRACTICALLY FLIRTING, but not really, because Lewis doesn't DO such things -- but his apology and Hobson's rejoinder leaves me convinced that all is not lost between these two. The 180-degree turn from last season still doesn't make perfect sense continuity-wise, but if the showrunners were going for a reset, that closing scene accomplishes that purpose, anyways.

That about covers the main "discrepancies," if you will, that I noticed between the broadcast and DVD versions of this episode.

Review: Duets: An American Classic by Tony Bennett

Next Tuesday (9/20/11) Tony Bennett is releasing Duets II, a follow-up project to his 2006 Duets album which I thoroughly enjoyed. With the new collaboration album about to debut, I figured it was the perfect time to post my review of Bennett's first Duets album here (originally written in October 2006) --

Just a couple of observations about this CD - first of all, Tony Bennett is in remarkably good voice for 80. Just my opinion, but I think he's taken much better care of his voice as he's aged than Sinatra did. All of the arrangements are terrific (especially the swing numbers), and while I really like all of the guest vocalists, of course some of the duet partners stand up better than others. The Dixie Chicks add a fun "girl group" sound to "Lullaby of Broadway" (reminded me of their work on The Runaway Bride soundtrack) and "Rags to Riches" is the absolute perfect song for Tony to sing with Elton John (there's a nice swagger to their vocals that nicely complements the lyric). The best jazz tracks are Tony's duets with Diana Krall ("The Best Is Yet to Come"), Barbra Streisand ("Smile"), Michael Bublé ("Just In Time"), and k.d. lang ("Because of You" - which also features a trumpet solo by the one and only CHRIS BOTTI!! Loverly...). Surprisingly enough, one of the best tracks on the album is "Cold, Cold Heart" where Tony sings with Tim McGraw. I was amazed at how well they sounded together (and of course a Hank Williams song is an ideal vehicle for McGraw's voice). Celine Dion is in good voice but way overdoes the ending on "If I Ruled the World," completely drowning Tony out (and reminding me of some of Barbra's vocal blasts on her own duets album, i.e., the end of "All I Know of Love" with Josh Groban). A little more subtlety would have been nice (like Celine's reading of "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" on the Mona Lisa Smile soundtrack). I you get the CD from Target, they are selling a version with four bonus tracks - including a second duet with Michael Bublé (!!!) - "Stepping Out With My Baby," which has been one of my favorite songs since the first time I saw Easter Parade as a kid. Very fun listening. This CD serves a great testament to Tony Bennett's talent, legacy, staying power, and versatility -- good listening.
Any Tony Bennett fans out there? Here's hoping Duets II is as much fun as its predecessor. :)

The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Doctor's Lady
Bethany House (September 1, 2011)
Jody Hedlund


Jody has written novels for the last 18 years (with a hiatus when her children were young). After many years of writing and honing her skills, she finally garnered national attention with her double final in the Genesis Contest, a fiction-writing contest for unpublished writers through ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers).

Her first published book, The Preacher’s Bride (2010 Bethany House Publishers), hit the CBA Best Seller list on two different occasions and has won multiple awards.

Her second book, The Doctor’s Lady, released this September. She has completed a third book which will be released in 2012. She’s currently busy researching and writing another book!


Priscilla White knows she'll never be a wife or mother and feels God's call to the mission field in India. Dr. Eli Ernest is back from Oregon Country only long enough to raise awareness of missions to the natives before heading out West once more. But then Priscilla and Eli both receive news from the mission board: No longer will they send unmarried men and women into the field.

Left scrambling for options, the two realize the other might be the answer to their needs. Priscilla and Eli agree to a partnership, a marriage in name only that will allow them to follow God's leading into the mission field. But as they journey west, this decision will be tested by the hardships of the trip and by the unexpected turnings of their hearts.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Doctor's Lady, go HERE.

Watch the book trailer:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle
By: L.M. Montgomery
Publisher: Bantam Books
ISBN: 0-553-28051-1

About the book:

At twenty-nine Valancy had never been in love, and ite seemed romance had passed her by. Living with her overbearing mother and meddlesom aunt, she found her only consolations in the "forbidden" books of John Foster and her daydreams of the Blue Castle. Then a letter arrives from Dr. Trent -- and Valancy decided to throw caution to the winds. For the first time in her life Valancy did and said exactly what she wanted. Soon she discovered a surprising new world, full of love and adventures far beyond her most secret dreams.


For almost twenty-nine years, Valancy Stirling has lived a drab, colorless existence, at the mercy of her controlling mother and extended family that view her as little more than the punch line to a sad joke. Valancy, you see, is an utter failure (or so she's been conditioned to believe) -- a disappointment to her family, unloved and unwanted by any man, doomed to a lifetime's drudgery as an old maid at the beck-and-call of relatives that view themselves as her betters. Valancy is resigned to her fate, but not quite as cowed as her family might believe -- for she takes refuge in her imaginary Blue Castle, a gloriously constructed fantasy escape where her wildest hopes and dreams come true. When she is handed a diagnosis of terminal heart disease, with only a year to live, Valancy determines she won't die before she's really lived. Without further ado Valancy embarks on a journey of self-discovery that shocks her family, delights her sensibilities, and transforms her very countenance, until the Stirling family's "old maid" transforms beyond recognition, into the woman she was always meant to be.

I came to The Blue Castle after a veritable lifetime of appreciating Montgomery's Anne, Emily, and Pat books, but not having revisited even those old friends for several years. Here Montgomery exchanges the youthful tone of her Anne novels for something decidedly more adult but no less charming. Valancy's story is, I'm convinced, nothing less than the divinest of fairy tales for women, like a precious letter from a dear friend who knows precisely, exactly the cost society tries to demand from women in the name of "normalcy" and conformity and dares you to dream something different. Valancy's family are all colored in the best fairy-tale "villain" category -- rigid, unbending, self-centered and humorless -- when one considers Valancy's life opposite such a wall of unyielding expectation, her hopelessly squashed individuality is easy to comprehend.

But that is just part of the genius of this novel. Because when it would be easy -- even understandable -- for Valancy to concede defeat, she perseveres. Though The Blue Castle was first published in 1926, its themes are still gloriously, timelessly relevant, applicable to any woman who has ever struggled with identity, loneliness, self-image and doubt. With Valancy, perhaps in many respects Montgomery's most mature, grounded heroine (vivid imagination included, of course!), she reveals a keen understanding and sympathy for what makes women tick, the hurts and fears we hold within the deepest, most secret part of ourselves that threaten to forever paralyze us -- if we allow it. This is just part of the "magic" of the book -- much like Valancy longs to be real and truly known and accepted for who she is, if one allows it Montgomery's prose strips away the veneer society tells women we must wear in order to be accepted (albeit miserable) and wraps the reader in the comforting reassurance that who we are is who we are truly meant to be.

Given my life-long history with Montgomery's work, I cannot fathom how I never dipped into the pages of The Blue Castle before now -- except to say that the delay was perhaps providential, because I'm not sure that I would have fully appreciated  Valancy and Barney's story before now. I'm not sure I have the words to fully express the absolute, undiluted beauty and power of Valancy's romance. Never has so much been said with so few words, has so much sensuous emotion and passion been wrapped up in a love story of such blinding, overwhelming purity. Barney Snaith is a romantic hero for the ages. *swoon* This was a timely read, an experience I'll treasure, because no matter how many times I revisit Valancy and Barney and their Blue Castle, the powerful impact of this first visit will remain forever etched on my heart.

Wings of a Dream by Anne Mateer

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Wings of A Dream
Bethany House (September 1, 2011)
Anne Mateer


While I have been writing for what feels like my whole life, I began seriously studying the craft in 2000. Since then I have completed five novels, had several pieces published in local periodicals, attended six writing conferences and managed to final in ACFW's Genesis contest in 2006, 2008, and 2009. My first historical novel, Wings of a Dream, will be released in September 2011, with another historical novel to follow in 2012. But writing is only a piece of my life.

I am mostly just a woman trying to live her life in a manner pleasing to the Lord. That involves being a wife to Jeff and a mother to my three teenagers--neither role coming easily but both roles stretching me, requiring me to press in closer to Jesus. And because of this, Jesus has taken an insecure, fearful, sometimes angry girl and is turning her into a more trusting, peaceful, grace-filled woman. At least some of the time. There is still such a long way to go!


Rebekah Hendricks dreams of a life far beyond her family's farm in Oklahoma, and when dashing aviator Arthur Samson promised adventure in the big city, she is quick to believe he's the man she's meant to marry. While she waits for the Great War to end and Arthur to return to her so they can pursue all their plans, her mother's sister falls ill. Rebekah seizes the opportunity to travel to Texas to care for Aunt Adabelle, seeing this chance to be closer to Arthur's training camp as God's approval of her plans.

But the Spanish flue epidemic changes everything. Faced with her aunt's death, Arthur's indecisiveness, and four children who have no one else to care for them, Rebekah is torn between the desire to escape the type of life she's always led and the unexpected love that just might change the dream of her heart.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Wings of A Dream, go HERE.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

does it get any classier than this?

I think not. (Obviously I'm talking about the post that follows, not my new blog design...haha!!) *wink*

Thanks for all of the feedback on the new layout, everyone! I'm very excited about giving my little corner of the blogosphere a facelift. :) In case you didn't notice, part of that project included finding a new profile image. Given my love of classic Hollywood (and books, that goes without saying, right?), I started searching for images of my favorite stars reading. Myrna Loy was a top choice, and ultimately the winner:

She also had a good option B:

There were a few runners-up...

Marilyn Monroe

Audrey Hepburn

After these great finds I had to look up some of my favorite guys (this makes sense, right?).

Errol Flynn

Fred Astaire

Frank Sinatra

A post like this just wouldn't be complete without a little Frank. :)

*happy sigh* I love these people, I really do...

new design!

I thought it was high time to give the blog a facelift -- what do you think? Extra special thanks to my friend Lori for her assist with the new header design! Over the next couple of weeks I'd like to do a lot of blog maintenance, to hopefully clean up broken links, tweak font colors, etc., so let me know if you run into any issues.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Dark Hour by Ginger Garrett

Dark Hour
By: Ginger Garrett
Publisher: NavPress
ISBN: 1-57683-869-2

About the book:

One of the darkest and bloodiest stories of all time comes not from a medieval battlefield but from inside one of the most opulent palaces ever built. The strategies come not from men eager to extend their influence but from women bent on exercising their wit and prowess in a kingdom not their own. Treason and murder are fair game. Marriage is manipulation, a means to an end. Children are the enemy. And the days of the House of David are numbered -- unless one woman can find the strength to conquer them all.


"The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you...Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever" (2 Samuel 7:11,16).

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers" (Genesis 3:15).

Years before, God promised David that his descendants "shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel" (1 Kings 9:5). But in Israel that promise is a distant memory, dimmed with the passage of time, and the royal house has been infiltrated by idolaters with dreams power and a burning desire to see the Jewish faith permanently discarded in favor of gods such as Baal. The kingdom has become divided. In Israel, Ahab rules with the scheming Jezebel at his side. One of their daughters, Athaliah, is sent to Judah to marry Jehosophat's heir, the prince Jehoram. And Athaliah is every inch her mother's daughter, bringing to her marriage new gods and a burning desire to control the throne and rival her mother's power in the north.

In Dark Hour, the first novel in the Serpent Moon Trilogy, Ginger Garrett brings this small slice of Old Testament history to vivid, colorful life. Garrett's scriptural source material is 2 Chronicles 21-23, the story of Jehoram and his son Ahaziah, and how both were manipulated by Athaliah's machinations and perverse religious influence. She was nearly successful in her carefully planned attempt to usurp the throne and destroy the line of David. Athaliah, daughter of the infamous Jezebel, absorbed all of her mother's ways, and sought at every turn to undermine the Jewish faith and consolidate power to herself and her gods of wood and stone. Her nemesis is Jehoshebeth, the daughter of Athaliah's strongest rival among Jehoram's wives. Jehoshebeth's mother dies giving birth to her, and in her death throes prophesied that her child would be Athaliah's doom. Athaliah, confident in herself and the power of her gods, raised the girl to be ignorant of her true parentage and grew complacent, forgetting her dead rival's words until her pride and ambition led to her downfall. Athaliah ruled on her own for six years following a murder spree she ordered to eliminate her rivals to the throne. One woman dared to stand against Athaliah's murderous schemes and saved the life of Joash, an heir of David, who was eventually crowned and in so doing restored the Davidic dynasty to the throne.

Out of these brief scripture references, Garrett has crafted a stunning novel that illuminates this criticual juncture in biblical history. As Garrett states in her Author's Note, "[t]heoretically, other heirs of the house of David might have been alive to continue the bloodline. But God used Joash. It's startling to think that the future of Christianity, of the person of Jesus Christ, was held in the hands of one terrified woman defying an evil queen." Based on the 2 Chronicles account, little is known of Jehoshebeth. The Bible hints at the incredible bravery and devotion to God that it must have taken to risk all in incredibly dark and dangerous times. In Dark Hour Garrett carefully crafts a very real, flawed heroine who struggles with faith, courage, and destiny, and whose bravery stands as a shining example of God's faithfulness to His promises.

Dark Hour is biblical fiction at its best -- an absorbing, meticulously researched, well-written account of a dark chapter in biblical history. Garrett is a master storyteller and succeeds in a stunning fashion, fleshing out the scriptures and bringing ancient Israel and her people to vivid life. Dark Hour more than succeeded in holding my interest -- it inspired me to delve deeper into the scriptures for further study of the fascinating history illuminated in the novel. In her Author's Note Garrett states:

"For those of you, like me, who once believed the lie that the Bible is a tale of repressed women mastered by men and submitting through force, coming to the tale of Athaliah and Jehoshebeth is a shock. Athaliah did what no woman had ever done, ruling as sole monarch in Judah. Jehoshebeth was a formidable enemy and ultimately proved her undoing. I read the Bible now and am impressed with the role of women in the story..."

Well said. I very much look forward to more from Ms. Garrett. Read this novel and be fascinated and encouraged by this incredible story of God's promises and His faithfulness shown through the life of a woman willing to stand for truth.

Note: I originally reviewed Dark Hour back in 2006, and it was my first read by Ginger Garrett, and remains one of my favorite examples of Biblical fiction done extraordinarily well. As you can see from the cover image, as well as my review, Dark Hour was originally supposed to be the first of a three-book series -- the original publisher, however, moved in a different direction with their fiction line, and the remaining two stories (as noted in my Amazon review) about Samson and Delilah and Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah were left without a publishing home.

Happily that is no longer the case, and as I mentioned a few days ago, Samson and Delilah's story, Desired, is slated to release October 1st!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Inspector Lewis: Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things

Sorry this post is so late -- I was sidelined with a terrible sinus headache yesterday (yes, that is an awesome way to spend a DAY OFF, but I digress...).

Inspector Lewis began its long-awaited Series IV debut Sunday with the episode Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things. I absolutely loved this return to Lewis & Hathaway's world -- the series regulars were in fine form, there were a couple of great guest stars, and Hathaway was deliciously cranky and wore a trench coat for nearly the entire episode. The ENTIRE episode -- be still my heart. :) Here's the episode summary:

Luminary graduates from Oxford's last surviving all-female college are on campus to honor beloved professor Diana Ellerby (Juliet Stevenson, Place of Execution). There is the confident lingerie CEO, the provocative newspaper columnist — and then there's the passive aggressive Poppy Toynton. Poppy never quite blossomed intellectually like her peers. When Poppy is found dead on the stairs, her seething rage against her fellow graduates exposed, Lewis and Hathaway step into the esteemed circle of women to investigate. But Lewis is haunted by memories of 15-year-old Chloe Brooks, attacked at the college ten years earlier. Lewis's work on that case interrupted by the death of his wife, now his deepening obsession with it threatens to derail the Toynton investigation. Is it unresolved grief or detective's intuition? Lewis and Hathaway get a dizzying education in the scandals and secrets of Lady Matilda's College, as well as a lesson or two in feminism, as they untangle a new case and bring a far off one back into terrifying focus. Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox and Hattie Morahan (Sense and Sensibility) star in Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things.
Lady Matilda's, the last all-female college at Oxford, is readying itself for change -- there was a recent vote to open to male students, and one of the college's most famous professors, Diana Ellerby (Juliet Stevenson), is leaving for Princeton. A party celebrating Diana's accomplishments brings her best and brightest students back to Oxford, including Freya Carlisle (Zoe Telford), a newspaper columnist, and Lakshmi Eyre (Stephanie Street), a retail executive. On the fringes of this glittering circle are Poppy Toynton (Kathryn O'Reilly), whose inclusion in Diana's "circle of trust" has always baffled the more successful members, and Ruth Brooks (Hattie Morahan), a nurse whose career stalled when her sister was attacked and left comatose at an Oxford party ten years prior -- a case Lewis investigated, that coincided with his wife's hit-and-run related death. (I realize Ruth's character doesn't show up until the second party, but I'm trying to condense things here.) Past and present collide as Lewis discovers that this latest case will force him to revisit some of his pasts most painful memories.

I've always rather felt that Inspector Lewis's strongest episodes are those that delve into the pasts of our beloved main characters -- Lewis (Kevin Whately), Hathaway (Laurence Fox), Hobson (Clare Holman), etc. -- and provide some glimmers of insight into the events that made them into the team that exists on our TV screens today. It's been almost two years since we really revisited the shattering event of Lewis's loss of his wife -- her death informs so much of his character, especially the reticent man he was early on in the show that it would be easy to surmise that the writers have exhausted (or forgotten) the event entirely. Since discovering who was responsible for his wife's death in the Series II episode The Quality of Mercy, we've seen a gradually more relaxed (marginally -- he's still delightfully set in his ways) Lewis, open even to the previously unthinkable possibility of dating again. Forcing Lewis to revisit a place that he associates with his greatest heartbreak turned out to be a highly effective way of revealing how such pain never really goes away, and the scar can be ripped open when one least expects it.

Hathaway makes my world go 'round, when it comes to this show, and watching the friendship and trust grow and develop between Lewis and Hathaway is one of the show's greatest joys. Seriously, I could write an ODE to those moments (that would quickly fall apart into incoherent fangirl babbling, but it's the thought that counts, right?). This episode was just chock-full of Hathaway-related goodness. By far the highlight was witnessing his concern over Lewis's reaction to revisiting an unfinished case, circa the time of his wife's death. Fox doesn't have to say much -- his character really is a man of very few words -- so the acting is all in the eyes and expressions and movement. Subtle but powerfully done.

It was particularly interesting to see Hathaway react to the re-entry of Lewis's former DS, Ali McLennon (Saskia Reeves). McLennon retired early and was apparently convinced that there was nothing left to investigate in Lewis's old case involving the Brooks sisters. Lewis can't shake the feeling there's more to the story, but for some INEXPLICABLE REASON (male stupidity? :P) seems really into the idea of reconnecting with Ali, who has apparently harbored a thing for him all these years. This brings up a couple of discussion points -- 1) Whatever happened to the burgeoning romance between Lewis and Hobson last year (in Your Sudden Death Question they're planning a weekend getaway, and in Falling Darkness Lewis gets all hot & bothered over Laura's past -- jealous much)? I did think their romance was progressing a tad fast, but if the showrunners' idea of back-pedaling is pretend that least season never happened, that doesn't work for me, either.

And 2) Seriously, how adorable was it watching Hathaway SEETHE WITH REPRESSED JEALOUSY when Lewis is (stupidly) WAY more interested in listening to his former DS than him, even going so far as to take her out for PINTS! I could just hear Hathaway mentally ranting -- "What ON EARTH are you taking that SKANKY FORMER COP out for PINTS FOR?!?! GOING FOR PINTS & DISCUSSING CASES IS OUR THING!!!!!!!" :) And despite the distinct LACK of Lewis appreciation for his loyalty, he goes ABOVE & BEYOND (read: sleepless) creating timeline boards for ten-year old cases, all in the name of supporting his BFF Lewis. I love these guys. :)

A couple of quick casting notes -- Zoe Telford as Freya may be a familiar face to Mystery fans, as she's appeared in episodes of Poirot and Foyle's War, and perhaps most notably as Watson's love interest Sarah in Sherlock. Juliet Stevenson (Diana Ellerby) is a period film veteran. Stevenson memorably portrayed Mrs. Elton in the 1996 Emma, and in the 2002 Nicholas Nickelby she proved just how adept she could be at playing creepy/crazy people. *wink* I am hard-pressed to think of an actress better suited to hide a whole lotta crazy beneath an icy veneer of respectability. Seriously, watching Stevenson fish around for a ten-year-old corpse is over-the-top, but it's the kind of melodrama amidst the ivy-drenched Oxford halls that makes this show so much fun. Casting-wise the best surprise of this episode was, for me, Hattie Morahan's appearance as Ruth Brooks, one of Diana's most promising students whose future was irrevocably altered by the horrifying attack on her sister. Morahan is perhaps best-recognized thanks to her appearance as Elinor Dashwood in the 2008 miniseries version of Sense & Sensibility -- and for my money this is her best TV appearance since that role. She brings the perfect balance of strength & vulnerability to Ruth's character (plus she has this awesome NAME!! HA!!), AND she gets to be on the receiving end of Hathaway's multi-tasking matchmaking AWESOMENESS -- so yeah, on the last point alone, EXCELLENT subplot there.

Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things was an excellent start to the newest slate of Inspector Lewis episodes. My boys Lewis and Hathaway are in fine form, and if this episode is any indication we're in for a real treat over the next few weeks. If you watched the episode I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Update 9/14/11: Read my DVD files update for this episode!