Thursday, February 28, 2013

Love's Awakening cover debut!

We all know that I love me some Laura Frantz, right? Not only is the lady a total class act, but she writes some amazing books to boot. :) The cover for her next novel released yesterday, and it is SUCH a beaut I couldn't resist sharing it with you:

A couple of my fabulous friends suggests that the cover model and I share a resemblance, so of course this became my Facebook profile picture yesterday. *wink*

Here's a bit about the story, releasing this September:

Ellie Ballantyne, youngest child of Silas and Eden, has left finishing school. But back at her family home in Pittsburgh, Ellie finds that her parents are away on a long trip and her siblings don't seem to want her to stay. When she opens a day school for young ladies, she begins tutoring the incorrigible daughter of the enemy Turlock clan. The Turlocks are slaveholders and whiskey magnates, envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly tangled with the Turlocks, she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future--and Jack Turlock, a young man striving to free himself from his family's violent legacy. How can she betray her family and side with the enemy? And will Jack ever allow her into his world?

Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love, loyalty, and the makings of a legacy. With rich descriptions of the people who settled and civilized a wild landscape, Frantz weaves a tapestry of characters and places that stick with the reader long after they turn the last page.

You can pre-order Love's Awakening here -- and check out photographer Brandon Hill's post with behind-the-scenes info on this cover shoot here.

on cat food boredom

So basically every cat I've ever known has suffered from this malady, I just didn't realize it was so legit...I just thought they were whiny. *wink*

You can watch more Henri, the Existential Cat videos here.

Mesu Andrews news

Mesu Andrews, one of my favorite authors, has a short devotional article on Novel Crossing that you can read HERE, providing some wonderful insight into Mesu's heart and the inspiration behind her retelling of the Hosea/Gomer story.

My review of Mesu's latest release, Love in a Broken Vessel, will be coming to the blog in mid-March.

Until then, if you've yet to try one of her books, for a limited time you can purchase the Kindle version of Love's Sacred Song for just $2.99! This is a limited time promotion, so be sure to grab your copy while you can! You can read my review of Love's Sacred Song here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

worlds collide!

Mrs. Patmore (a.k.a. Lesley Nicol) is coming to Once Upon a Time! Here's a sneak peek:

Review: A Future Arrived by Phillip Rock

A Future Arrived (The Greville Family Saga #3)
By: Phillip Rock
Publisher: William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0-06-222935-9


A decade has past since "the war to end all wars," and those impacted by that conflict's stunning, tragic losses fervently pray never again. But as time passes one adage seems determined to prove true -- the more things change, the more things stay the same -- and the Greville family and friends so tested by the conflict that spilled a generation's blood in the trenches stands in danger of seeing the lives of their children imperiled by a new, graver threat. Yet if there are always examples of the worst humankind has to offer willing to test the mettle of the world's resolve, so to are there those whose lives and faith in the potential goodness of humanity who resolve to shine all the more brightly against the threat of overwhelming darkness. In many respects, this final volume in Phillip Rock's Greville trilogy is not only about the final twilight of the Edwardian era, an examination of a world and class system shattered by the first world war,  but how one generation's trials and choices shape the lives of those who follow in their footsteps.

A Future Arrived opens with a symbolic passing of the guard, as long-time Greville family butler Coatsworth passes away, his death a stark, shocking reminder to the earl of his own mortality and the fragility of the legacy he desires to leave his children. But the war and the ensuing tumult of the 1920s, with its dissolution of social barriers once held sacrosanct and its rapidly changing moral values calls into question the very nature of a legacy and the inheritance, intentional or not, that is imparted to subsequent generations. One of my favorite story arcs in this installment involves Charles, the heir and one-time severely shell-shocked victim of the Great War. Charles has found passion and purpose in working with a school that caters to students who, for various reasons (i.e. bullying, as in the case of young Derek), are ill-suited to the rigors of a  traditional British boarding school system. Seeing someone once so broken by conflict, shepherding lives "the system" failed is incredibly heartening -- but also poignant, as the generation that comes of age during Charles's early tenure as headmaster are destined to be tested by the fires of an equally consuming conflict. Charles's accompanying love story is so perfectly realized, so well-meted out on the page as it speaks to not only the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream, but also the fruition of and fulfillment found within a new norm that recognizes that Charles is not -- nor should he be -- an heir fashioned from his father's mold.

Reporter Martin Rilke has been a favorite of mine throughout this series, with his warmth, humanity, and prescient ability to see world events unfold with a clarity and understanding most of his peers lack through either blindness or willful ignorance. Here, Martin becomes the mentor of his wife's brother Albert, the latter determined to follow his brother-in-law's career trajectory to journalistic renown. It's not only a pleasure to watch Martin mentor the next generation, but Albert is a fascinating, compelling character in his own right, who shares his mentor's ability to see world events with startling lucidity -- a gift and a determination to speak the truth regarding Hitler and the rising menace of Nazism to a world determined to maintain the status quo at all cost. I loved his burgeoning romance with the unlikely Wood-Lacy sister, Jennifer, a pacifist reluctant to wed her future to a man whose job requires his all -- much like her own father's undying passion to remake the British army into a viable 20th century fighting force, a viewpoint that, in decades obsessed with disarmament, would exact a stressful toll on her parents' marriage.

And therein lies the genius of this novel, marking it simultaneously as an incredibly moving coming-of-age portrait of the legacy of the post-1919 generationand a tribute to the courage and fortitude of the parents and Great War survivors that saw their world shattered and determined to make it anew. Rock's characters are incredibly flawed and real, genuine, passionate human beings whose hard-fought triumphs and tragic failings alike brought tears to my eyes in turn. While, with the benefit of hindsight, it always seems easy for the present to judge the past for short-sighted failures, if there's one thing Rock proves by transitioning to the younger generation in his conclusion to the Greville saga, it's the constancy of change and the resiliency of the human spirit. Change is hard, life can be overwhelmingly tragic -- but there is always, always hope in the ability of men and women to love, to remake themselves, to adapt, to survive.

As always Rock's ability to craft memorable characters and bring the past to vibrant, colorful life on the page is unparalleled in its power and accuracy. His scholarship is incredible, as is his ability to incorporate history within the novel while never bogging down the narrative with clunky or unnecessary detail. With incredibly fluid, powerful prose and characters so life-like I feel as though they've become dear friends, Rock brings his Greville trilogy to a powerful close with A Future Arrived. While those prone to cynicism might focus on the tragic reality of humankind's propensity for conflict, starkly illustrated just one hundred years ago by two world wars in the span of twenty years, what speaks most powerfully to me is the trilogy's poignant sense of hope in the face of incredible odds, of mankind's resiliency in the face of evil. Circumstances may shape us, but our choices -- how we respond to those circumstances -- that, in the end, is what defines a person and is what makes Rock's characters and his recreation of some of the twentieth century's most turbulent decades so unforgettable.

Putting a period to this trilogy by posting this review is an incredibly bittersweet experience for me. It is a rare treat to discover such a writer and to lose myself so wholly in his world. The Grevilles and their friends and family are characters I'll not soon forget -- quite frankly I'm loathe to leave their world -- and this is a reading experience that, quite honestly, will leave me hard-pressed to equal. Like its predecessors, I will never, ever get over my love for A Future Arrived. Breath-taking in its scope and heart-rending in its emotional power, this is historical fiction at its finest, positively breath-taking in its scope, vision, and raw honesty. Each page in this novel and its predecessors is worth savoring, richly replete with historical detail and achingly authentic characters capable of having you cheering for them at one moment and weeping the next. A Future Arrived is a beautifully-realized conclusion to a heart-pounding, emotionally-charged journey through the tumultuous early decades of the twentieth century. This, my friends, is a reading experience I'll not soon forget and one I'm extraordinarily thankful to have discovered. I will never get over this trilogy -- they've proven to be an exceptional gift, an experience worth savoring long after the final page has been turned.

About the book:

The final installment of the saga of the Grevilles of Abingdon Pryory begins in the early 1930s, as the dizzy gaiety of the Jazz Age comes to a shattering end. What follows is a decade of change and uncertainty, as the younger generation, born during or just after the "war to end all wars," comes of age.

American writer Martin Rilke has made his journalistic mark, earning worldwide fame for his radio broadcasts, and young Albert Thaxton seeks to follow in his footsteps as a foreign correspondent. Derek Ramsey, born only weeks after his father fell in France, and Colin Ross, a dashing Yankee, leave their schoolboy days behind and enter fighter pilot training as young men. The beautiful Wood-Lacy twins, Jennifer and Victoria, and their passionate younger sister, Kate, strive to forge independent paths, while learning to love -- and to let go.

In their heady youth and bittersweet growth to adulthood, they are the future -- but the shadows that touched the lives of the generation before are destined to reach out to their own.

My heartfelt thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this trilogy -- it has fast become a favorite of mine.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bond at the Oscars

Via Dailymotion:

50 Years Of Bond - Salute & Goldfinger... by IdolxMuzic

The clip reel is pretty lame, but oh my goodness did Shirley Bassey bring her A-game or what? Love it.

And a huge congratulations to Adele on her win for the Skyfall theme -- the first Oscar win for a Bond theme EVER, and the first Oscar for the franchise in 45 years (1966 - Thunderball, for Visual Effects).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review: The Angel's Kiss by Justin Richards

The Angel's Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery
By: Justin Richards
Publisher: BBC Digital


"The Angels Take Manhattan" -- the fifth episode from the current (seventh) season of Doctor Who -- saw longtime companions Amy and Rory bid a poignant and moving farewell to the Eleventh Doctor. Fittingly their final adventure involved one of the Doctor's most fearsome foes (in my view at any rate) -- the Weeping Angels. Only Stephen Moffat could take statuary associated with memorials and faith and give it such a deliciously sinister undertone.

Within the episode, the Doctor reads a pulp detective novel featuring hard-boiled private eye Melody Malone, a character remarkably similar in tone and style to River Song, who is later revealed to be the author. Cue the obligatory multimedia crossover, penned by frequent Who novelist Justin Richards. Richards has a good track record when it comes to capturing the voice of the Doctor in print, and he makes the transition to River-as-narrator with equal aplomb.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with River Song -- a little goes a long way in my book. To Richards's credit he does a good job bringing River to life in the 1930s, as her sass and temperament lend themselves to the female version of Sam Spade -- all hard-boiled dialogue and sarcasm. I have a special affinity for the '30s and classic Hollywood, and Richards's incorporation of the Weeping Angels into the studio star-making "machine" is inspired, a storyline I'd love to see explored in a Doctor-centric episode.

While I am admittedly not the best audience for a River Song novella, as I quickly lose patience with her character, Richards delivers a competently-executed supplement to one of the best Eleventh Doctor episodes to date. As a quick read this solid if unspectacular story suffices as an episode tie-in but falls short as it lacks the afterword promised within the episode's script. That aside, it's always fun to see the Doctor or his companions inhabit new worlds and time periods, and personally I hope that one day we get to see the Doctor inhabit the world Melody Malone's adventure introduces to him -- one filled with shadows, hard-boiled detectives, and glamorous femme fatales.

About the book:

On some days, New York is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

This was one of the other days…

Melody Malone, owner and sole employee of the Angel Detective Agency, has an unexpected caller. It’s movie star Rock Railton, and he thinks someone is out to kill him. When he mentions the ‘kiss of the Angel’, she takes the case. Angels are Melody’s business…

At the press party for Railton’s latest movie, studio owner Max Kliener invites Melody to the film set of their next blockbuster. He’s obviously spotted her potential, and Melody is flattered when Kliener asks her to become a star. But the cost of fame, she’ll soon discover, is greater than anyone could possibly imagine.

Will Melody be able to escape Kliener’s dastardly plan – before the Angels take Manhattan?

Review: The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

The Iron Wyrm Affair (Bannon & Clare #1)
By: Lilith Saintcrow
Publisher: Orbit


Just when Archibald Clare, unregistered mentath, thought the boredom levels he was suffering might prove fatal, Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime, appears in his study bringing with her dark whispers concerning threats to his life and the very empire he once served. Someone is killing unregistered mentaths in extraordinarily brutal ways -- a threat not only to Clare's person but to Britannia herself, as the empire's power rests on a delicate balance of sorcery and logic, magic and industry. With a young and vulnerable queen at risk, Clare finds himself the reluctant ally of a sorceress pledged to do whatever it takes to protect her queen -- even if it means unleashing forces as dark as those arrayed against the empire. And so the partnership between Clare and Bannon is born, a wedding of logic and passion, an unlikely union just unorthodox enough that they might just save Britannia -- if mistrust and stubborness don't see one or both of them killed first.

I freely admit that what first attracted me to this novel was its striking cover and typography, all very reminiscent of the promotional materials for the recent Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films. And certainly Saintcrow's evocation of Bannon and Clare's world owes much to director Guy Ritchie's colorful vision of Victorian England. But Saintcrow takes Ritchie's energetic filmic sensibility a step further by infusing it with sorcery, mechanical advancements, and a history all her own, a 19th-century Britannia that is at once familiar and refreshingly unique. In Bannon and Clare's world, Britannia is governed by an ancient ruling spirit, currently residing within the vessel of a youthful Queen Victrix, seeking to establish her reign free of her mother's (and mother's advisors) corrupting influence. Familiar places are rechristened (i.e., Thames/Themis, London, Londinium) -- but just when you think Saintcrow is simply making free with new spellings, she surprises and reveals a deeper level of the science, sorcery, and history that makes this world tick.

Clare's intelligence and personal idiosyncrasies are a clear nod to Sherlock Holmes, the prime literary example of reason and logic personified. Like his literary progenitor, Clare even possess a promising arch-nemisis, obliquely referred to as the shadowy Dr. Vance. When coupled with Clare's mysterious past, the promise of Vance waiting in the wings holds tantalizing promise for Clare's further adventures. Pairing such a Holmesian figure with Emma, his polar opposite in passion and expertise, is an inspired touch as watching this 19th-century odd couple strive to find common ground is thoroughly entertaining. Add the peculiar mechanics of Emma's field into the mix -- including a dishy and unflaggingly loyal bodyguard named Mikal -- and the result is a winning (if dangerously combustible) sleuthing team.

The Iron Wyrm Affair is a thoroughly enjoyable slice of steampunk-colored escapism. Saintcrow may paint her world with an easily recognizable -- arguably derivative? -- brush, but she peoples her narrative with a pair of compelling, charismatic leads, colorful supporting characters, and eye-popping action scenes resulting in a highly readable, unfailingly entertaining reading experience. Bannon and Clare each possess a past rife with secrets and drama, promising further revelations and conflict in subsequent volumes as their unorthodox partnership and friendship finds fresh threats in need of the combined force of their particular talents. As a relatively new fan of the steampunk genre, I found much to love here, from Saintcrow's band of misfit heroes to the cinematic flair she possesses when penning scenes of high action. Those searching for a novel laced with a spirit of sheer, entertaining adventure and escapism need look no further than here -- and I for one am looking forward to Bannon and Clare's next case in service to Britannia's Queen Victrix.

About the book:

Emma Bannon, forensic sorceress in the service of the Empire, has a mission: to protect Archibald Clare, a failed, unregistered mentath. His skills of deduction are legendary, and her own sorcery is not inconsiderable. It doesn't help much that they barely tolerate each other, or that Bannon's Shield, Mikal, might just be a traitor himself. Or that the conspiracy killing registered mentaths and sorcerers alike will just as likely kill them as seduce them into treachery toward their Queen.

In an alternate London where illogical magic has turned the Industrial Revolution on its head, Bannon and Clare now face hostility, treason, cannon fire, black sorcery, and the problem of reliably finding hansom cabs.

The game is afoot..

Friday, February 22, 2013

Downton Abbey Series 3, Part 7

Downton Abbey's third season ended with a time jump, a shocking loss, and a whole lotta controversy in the par for the course, right? *wink* Personally I think this third season finale is one of the season's strongest episodes, a pretty wholly satisfying end to the season and a great set-up for the drama to come.

A year has passed since the previous episode -- a year in which, if relations between the various major players are any indication, a lot has happened (in particular I'm thinking of Edith's continued work for Gregson's newspaper, and her corresponding rise in spunk and independence vis-a-vis her relationship with Mary, which appears to be veering into the testy territory that made them such fun in season one). The episode opens with the house in tumult as the family is preparing to leave Downton for their "annual" vacation in Scotland (much like the previous installment's "annual" cricket match, I find the introduction of these regular, never-before-mentioned events somewhat humorous). This trip at long last introduces us to an extended branch of the Crawley family -- Violet's (Maggie Smith) niece Susan (Phoebe Nicholls) and her husband "Shrimpie" (a.k.a. Hugh, a.k.a. the Marquess of Flintshire, played by Peter Egan), parents of the firebrand that is Lady Rose (Lily James). While I'm unfamiliar with Egan's work, Nicholls is a most familiar face, having appeared in Persuasion, Shackleton, Foyle's War, and Inspector Lewis.

Hi, my name is Shrimpie and I hate myself BECAUSE MY NAME IS SHRIMPIE.

Even though, given the confines of a two-hour special episode, the introduction to the MacClare clan is rushed, I loved the glimpse this episode provided into another great house -- albeit with a few cultural quirks (waking every day to the sound of bagpipes) and hobbies (deer stalking and the gillies' ball) refreshing different from Downton's norm. It becomes quickly apparent that Robert (Hugh Bonneville) in particular views this annual jaunt to Scotland as an idyllic retreat to be savored -- but this year especially things are far from peaceful in the MacClare family, as near-constant bickering between Shrimpie, Susan, and Rose repeatedly threaten to cast a dour mood over the otherwise determinedly festive gathering. I rather think this trip is Fellowes' way of addressing the old adage "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence;" as events unfold, Robert comes to the realization that the change he spent most of season three fighting has actually preserved and strengthened what matters most -- his family and home -- while Shrimpie, who had no Matthew to push him into the 20th century, is in a thoroughly unhappy marriage and stands to lose his home.

Back at Downton, romance and scandal of all stripes threaten to bloom in the absence of the Crawley family, as Branson (Allen Leech) and most of the servants were left at home to tend to the running of the household and estate. Branson's storyline in this episode is particularly strong, as his general demeanor and the fact that he's the de-facto head of the household in the absence of Robert and Matthew signals the preceding year has  given birth to a deeper trust between him and the rest of the family. Indeed, this is the closest he's come yet to acclimating to his new role as one of "them," i.e. a member of the very upper class he spent most of his tenure at Downton railing against. Oh the irony. :)

That said, while Branson has been accepted at Downton he's still not quite considered a part of the family by the world at large, which has to sting a bit when one is left behind to "hold down" the proverbial fort. This leaves him ripe for manipulation by the new maid, Edna (MyAnna Buring), who seeks to take advantage of Branson's change in fortune by ingratiating herself into his life during the family's conspicuous absence. I thought this was handled SO WELL, in no small part because there is nothing romantic in Branson's response to Edna's overtures of "friendship," it's all about loneliness and GUILT. It is only natural considering Branson's origins and history with the household that he would feel more comfortable with the servants than his "new" family and their attendant social rules. Edna's attempts to guilt Branson into compromising his position as manager and family member may very well have succeeded if not for the ever-watchful eye of Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan). Her "mother/son" talk with Branson at the end of the episode stands as one of my favorite scenes in the series to date -- the empathy and understanding and, most importantly, guidance she offers him absolutely priceless in its value and friendship.

Love is also in the air at Downton, as new grocer Mr. Tufton (John Henshaw) shows more than a passing interest in Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), and Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) is revealed to apparently harbor romantic inclinations toward Isobel (Penelope Wilton), of all people!!! I absolutely loved Mrs. Patmore's storyline, as she is consistently one of my favorite characters with her sense of humor and her sharply-honed sarcastic edge. *wink* Daisy (Sophie McShera) and the rest of the downstairs staff get a lot of mileage out of the idea of Mrs. Patmore having a "fancy man" -- and I was quite on board with the idea, until at the local fair Tufton is revealed to be an inveterate FLIRT. I had a brief worried moment when I thought the cook's heart might actually be broken -- but I should've known better, as her good humor and pragmatism quickly won out and made short work of Tufton's desire to court her for her mad cooking skills. :)

this really happened

The Isobel/Clarkson storyline...that on the other hand was hilarious from start to finish -- though it certainly answers the question of what Fellowes might have in store for Isobel next season. I mean c'mon, WHAT HAS HAPPENED in the year between part six and part seven that has Dr. Clarkson thinking he and Isobel have made some sort of LUV CONNECTION??? Inquiring minds want to know. NOW. :P I don't know why I continue to let myself be surprised by Isobel's stupidity, but I really cannot believe that she had no clue Clarkson was into her. Here's hoping they revisit this awkwardness next season! Speaking of love connections, seeing Carson (Jim Carter) with baby Sybil, and then Mrs. Hughes joining the party -- why oh why oh WHY can't we have something happen between those two? That would rock my Downton-loving heart.

Thomas, trying REALLY HARD to be a team player...

Wrapping up the Downton-set action, Jimmy (Ed Speleers) is still acting like the whole awkward episode with Thomas (Rob James-Collier) happened yesterday instead of a year ago. (Thomas was rocking the hat in this ep, wasn't he?) I mean even Alfred (Matt Milne) is willing to give Thomas some credit for keeping things appropriate. the fair, Jimmy acts like an idiot, gets threatened, Thomas tries to help him and gets beat up (like, REALLY beat up), and then they're both like CAN'T WE JUST BE FRIENDS?? And good grief but I hope so. I mean if they could actually be FRIENDS, that would rather be a refreshing change of pace for the show...not to mention go a long way towards Thomas's continued humanization. We really don't need him put back in the "villain" box (unless an opportunity comes up to give O'Brien an EPIC comeuppance, then I'd be okay with that).

Okay, back to Scotland and all of THAT drama. :) Mary (Michelle Dockery) is finally pregnant, yay for that, and at eight months no less -- yet she still insists on joining the family on their vacation. She is also apparently (and quite understandably, I might add) suffering from what appears to be a surfeit of pregnancy hormones, as she and Edith are sniping at each other in a manner I don't think we've seen since season one (good times, people, GOOD TIMES). Mary apparently smells a rat where Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) is concerned, as Edith's (Laura Carmichael) love-struck editor is conveniently in Scotland at the same time as the Crawleys, so he wrangles an invitation to join their party. Since Gregson's insane wife is apparently the best-kept secret EVER (never mind HOW??), as at the beginning of the episode only Edith knows of her, I'm not really sure WHY she objects to Gregson's presence but whatevs. Mary and Edith sniping at each other is just one of life's comforting constants. And lest we forget and cast Edith as a victim here, she's been guilty of more than one offence towards Mary in the past (i.e., dishing on the true circumstances behind Pamuk's death).

So Gregson has apparently CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT HIS COLUMNIST and thinks he can actually make this work if he explains his situation to Edith's father. What father in their right mind would be okay with that? I mean C'MON. *rollseyes* He's actually SHOCKED when he runs the scheme by  Matthew (Dan Stevens); clearly being married to a lunatic has addled his brain. Now, if not for the whole Rochester-esque life he's leading (which, incidentally, I think is great dramatic fun for the show), I think Gregson is pretty dang perfect for Edith. I mean he liked her BEFORE HE MET HER. But the road to happiness on this show never did run smoothly, so here's my prediction: Edith starts an affair with Gregson, she gets pregnant, he tries to have his wife killed, there is a great scandalous trial resulting in a prison sentence, Edith promises to be faithful, has his kid, crazy wife dies whilst he's rotting behind bars, and then because it was "only" attempted murder he gets out by the season finale and he and Edith marry under a cloud of scandal. Fellowes, you can have that for FREE. *wink*

no words

Meanwhile O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) meets her long-lost twin in the form of Susan's maid Wilkins (Simone Lahib). They appear to be on the road to becoming BFF's until Susan reveals a preference for O'Brien's mad hairdressing skills, which leads the permanently sour-faced Wilkins to hatch a plot to embarrass her "rival" at the gillies' ball. This turns just all kinds of hilarious as the spiked drink meant for O'Brien is downed by the hapless Molesley (Kevin Doyle), who proceeds to royally embarrass himself on the dance floor. Personally I think Susan should hire O'Brien, but then we'd never deal with the SOAP issue, would we? Decisions, decisions...I guess I just like the idea of O'Brien sweltering in the Indian sun at some remote outpost.

Interestingly enough, the Rose we meet here is like 500 times less annoying than the Rose we met a year ago. I honestly feel like those storylines were reversed or something. The mother/daughter relational issues while not breaking new ground at least felt genuine -- particularly given the testy relationship between Rose's parents exacerbating the normal pangs attendant with growing up. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) really clicks with Rose here, obviously remembering her own struggles to relate to Sybil's atypical ways, and by the end of the episode arrangements are in place for Rose to move to Downton while her parents work out their issues overseas. If she continues in something resembling this vein, I shan't mind her addition to the cast at all -- but I'm not holding my breath on that score given her wild introduction. Balance, Fellowes, BALANCE. :P

Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) get some nice moments in this episode, even though this is decidedly a working vacation for the pair. I was happy to see that Bates appears to have mellowed in the year he's been out of prison -- or at the very least set the simmering anger issues I feared in the last episode momentarily aside for the trip to Scotland. I thought Anna's "surprise" of learning to dance a reel, because Mama Bates was apparently Scottish or something, was a bit weird, since she couldn't dance WITH HER HUSBAND...but whatever. The look of unabashed adoration Bates was giving Anna while watching her was all worth it in my book. :) Also, side note: I loved the fact that during the first Downton meets Scottish servants meal, Fellowes threw in the tidbit that valets and ladies' maids when visiting other households would've been referred to by their employer's name belowstairs -- a tidbit he included in Gosford Park.

At the gillies' ball Mary decides to DANCE, which is a great idea when you're eight months pregnant I'm sure. She decides it would probably be smart to return to Downton, so she sets off with Anna (Matthew & company to follow) and goes into labor THE SECOND SHE STEPS OFF THE TRAIN. But being a LADY she really holds it together until she reaches the hospital (yay for Isobel being sorta useful, i.e. present). She delivers a healthy baby boy, the succession assured and she and Matthew deliriously happy. I loved this...honestly from the second half of this season on, Mary and Matthew have been pretty consistently awesome.

Now, unless you live in the UK I'm not sure how you managed to avoid spoilers for what follows, but props to you if you did. Here's where I feel like I'm in the minority...I'm not upset at all that Matthew is no longer on the show. Dan Stevens was making no secret of his desire to leave Downton Abbey before the third season even started filming. Character-wise, Matthew and Mary clicked so well -- she turning him into a commanding heir, he transforming her through his love for her, softening her hard edges -- the only viable option for his character was to die. There's no way Matthew would take some sort of indefinite "leave of absence" -- he's too crazy in love with his wife and child. And the whole "two major characters dying so close together" thing doesn't wash with me either. Remember this "season" covers something like two years in the lives of the characters -- and Sybil falling victim to eclampsyia  and Matthew getting in a tragic car wreck following his son's successful delivery is hardly apples to apples IMO. Is it tragic? Absolutely. But the possibilities it opens for Mary's character are so promising -- grief-stricken, alone, a single mother? LOTS OF DRAMA, people.

So after the lovely hospital scene, which I watched with a growing sense of IMPENDING DOOM, waiting for the other shoe to drop and all, a crying Matthew drives off to give the family the happy news that he's a dad. While all this is happening Matthew is, in effect, getting eulogized as the entire assembled family starts talking about how awesome and perfect he is and how grateful they are to him for saving the estate -- this is called HEAVY FORESHADOWING. They practically canonize the man in the seconds leading to his death. Not only will that leave the family reeling, but think about this -- who on EARTH will they allow within that circle of trust, into the gaping space left by Matthew's sad end? Personally I cannot wait to find out -- because I suspect the road for Mary to find love for a second time will be even rockier than the first, as everyone is going to be compared to the man who first saw beyond her hurt, brittle facade and loved her anyway.

As hard as Sybil and Matthew's deaths were to watch, as sad as I am to see two of the characters I've grown to love over the last three years say their goodbyes, I'm looking forward to seeing where the show takes Downton and its residents next. Because these deaths brought undeniable change to the family, change that cannot be ignored or glossed over in the passing of an episode -- change that desperately needed to happen in order to keep the show vibrant and growing.

This season has been a wild ride, but I've enjoyed it -- and I cannot wait to see where the characters go from here. See you next year Downton...and to Fellowes, I say bring it on. :)

Monday, February 18, 2013

I have a planner, I should try using it...

So, everyone remember how much I've love love LOVED talking about Phillip Rock's Greville books? No? Well here are my reviews of books one and two in case you need a refresher:

~ The Passing Bells
~ Circles of Time

Currently I'm reading the third and final book in the series, A Future Arrived, and (no surprise I'm sure!) absolutely LOVING it. But apparently I'd agreed to review the book today...instead of Friday as I'd been thinking for the last week.

So, my apologies to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for completely flaking out and forgetting my tour date (and planning accordingly). My review of A Future Arrived will be coming later this week!

Laurence Fox's EP now available!

People, Hathaway...I mean Laurence Fox has an album out! :) You can download his brand-new EP, Sorry for My Words, here via iTunes.

Downton casting news!

Update 2/21/13: Well it looks like this rumor was too good to be true. Tom Ellis has been cast in ABC's Gothica apparently the search for Lady Mary's new boyfriend continues!

My write-up of the season three Downton Abbey finale is coming, I PROMISE! But I couldn't wait to share some early season four casting news!

Read no further if you've yet to see the season three finale and have (somehow) managed to avoid spoilers!

Seriously, STOP.

This is your LAST CHANCE!!

Okay, still with me? *wink* Apparently Lady Mary's new love interest has been found!

Tom Ellis has been cast as new eye candy for the show! I'm pretty happy about this as I'm familiar with some of Ellis's work (ShakespeaRe-Told and Merlin). It'll be nice to see a somewhat familiar face join the cast!

And seriously, if you can, save your finale comments for the upcoming post! :)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

a quick note to feed subscribers

You'll notice in the coming weeks that I've shortened the blog's feed from "full" to abbreviated, as an alert friend notified me this morning that she discovered another site that has been poaching my posts.

Nice, right? Stupid internet trolls.

Sorry for the inconvenience of clicking through to read my scribblings here -- but last time I discovered someone was stealing my posts, one of the steps I took to discourage trolling was limiting the feed capabilities. Any other ideas, please let me know in the comments!

Thanks so much for being there! :)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Review: Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher #1)
By: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press


A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the news of an upcoming period mystery release -- Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, based on the long-running series of novels by Australian writer Kerry Greenwood. Biding my time until the first season's US release, and intrigued by the 1920s Melbourne setting, I opted to explore the first volume in the series (now numbering nineteen). The distant -- and considerably poorer -- relation of a prominent British family, Phryne's family was elevated from their impoverished state when several heirs were killed in the Great War, leaving Phryne's father the heir apparent. While Phryne has enjoyed the accouterments attendant with great wealth, she's grown tired of life in England -- and when the opportunity arises to investigate the state of a troubled marriage in Melbourne on behalf of a friend, she jumps at the chance to return to her homeland reborn as a lady with power and connections.

Phryne is perhaps best described as lightning in human form, raw energy that relishes in living life to its explosive, fullest potential. I like her passion and enthusiasm for everything from aviation to disguises, her refusal to conform to the societal norm and its expectations of the "proper" role for women. However, this is the roaring twenties with its rapidly changing moral values, and a determination to flout convention can all too easily veer into tastelessness -- and it is this curious dichotomy at the core of Phryne's character that I find most troublesome. She has an admirable heart to assist those less fortunate than her, remembering from whence she came, but her penchant for quick hook-ups and activities of that ilk cheapen an otherwise promising and independently-minded, unique heroine.

By contrast I really liked Greenwood's cast of supporting players. There's Bert and Cec, best friends and partners in a cab driving venture, who fall into Phryne's circle when the rescue the victim of a botched abortion and Phryne needs their help capturing the perpetrator. And then there is Dot, who loses her position  when she refuses the advances of her employer's lecherous son. Faced with selling herself in order to survive, Phryne earns her undying gratitude when she gives Dot's would-be destroyer his comeuppance and offers her the position of ladies maid. Unfortunately for Phryne, those surrounding her are often more skillfully drawn than the series' central character. But as this is only the first installment in the series, the pieces are in place to hopefully provide Phryne with a more compelling, full-realized backstory and a believable compulsion for her venture into the atypical world of sleuthing.

While Cocaine Blues didn't quite deliver the characters or sense of time and place that I look for in a period cozy mystery (i.e., Agatha Christie being a prime example), it was a fairly diverting if not altogether memorable way in which to spend a few hours. Greenwood isn't afraid to tackle darker, more controversial subject matter than found in most novels of this ilk, and the energy she brings to her first Phryne mystery holds promise for future installments.

About the book:

The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honorable Phryne Fisher—she of the gray-green eyes and diamant garters—is tiring of polite conversations with retired colonels and dances with weak-chinned men. When the opportunity presents itself, Phryne decides it might be amusing to try her hand at becoming a lady detective in Australia. 

Immediately upon settling into Melbourne's Hotel Windsor, Phryne finds herself embroiled in mystery. From poisoned wives and cocaine smuggling, to police corruption and rampant communism—not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse—Cocaine Blues charts a crescendo of steamy intrigue, culminating in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops - at all -

Via bandofbrothels tumblr. This is from Ripper Street, in case you were wondering (episode five). This show has, until this point, been generally way too gross...but episode five, this is PURPLE PROSE GOLD, people. I kept alternating between laughing so hard I was crying and wanting to give Drake (see above) a big hug as his DREAMS WERE CRUSHED. Call me Drake...I'll treat your poetic soul with the respect it deserves. PROMISE. *wink* (Thanks to Tasha and Gina for making this collective viewing experience oh-so-memorable on Facebook. Ripper Street Painted Ladies FOREVER.)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Downton Abbey Series 3, Part 6

Editorial note: I've been trying to get this post written all week, people. Stupid sinus/throat issues getting in the way, but I will PERSEVERE!

I don't know about you people, but when Masterpiece airs two hour installments of Downton Abbey I'm left EXHAUSTED. *wink* This week's episode is the season three finale, preceding next week's American season three finale (which is, in actuality, last year's Christmas special). Taken as a season conclusion I actually think it is perhaps one of the show's strongest to date, packed with the requisite drama and enough resolution to various on-going storylines and character issues that you think "I can live with this"...(until the Christmas special hits, at any rate).

This episode opens with Bates's (Brendan Coyle) release from prison, about six episodes after he SHOULD have gotten released. Seriously that storyline lasted for years, if not decades. Yeesh. Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is, of course, incandescently happy, which I like, but methinks she is SO happy she's deluded herself into thinking that everything is going to be sunshine and roses from here on out for her and the mister. Hold up, Anna...because as much as Downton needs Bates as the earl's valet so he can sort of run things behind the scenes (let's face it, a leader of men Thomas most assuredly is not), I suspect that season four is going to see Bates's latent anger issues come to the fore. We all know they are there, right? I'm pretty sure prison has (understandably) seeded bitterness and barely suppressed rage that he barely managed to keep in check this episode. Look on the bright side, Bates, you and Anna have your own fixer-upper now!

A big chunk of this installment involves O'Brien's (Siobhan Finneran) determination to ruin and humiliate Thomas (Rob James-Collier) by encouraging the mistaken belief that Jimmy (Ed Speleers) returns his affections. The level of cruelty here is quite frankly astounding to me (by this show's standards at any rate). I know O'Brien was irritated when Thomas (VERY SLIGHTLY, all things considered) undermined her nephew's acclimation to the household, but nothing he did this season warranted this kind of payback in the least. O'Brien's latest power trip is her most out of control and seems especially cruel, considering her thoughtless manipulation of others' deepest, most personal feelings and desires.

In that day and age, Thomas's sexual orientation was a crime -- so when he makes a horribly awkward overture to Jimmy, which is interrupted by Alfred (Matt Milne), the latter two are horrified -- not only by the moral and legal implications, but in Jimmy's case because he feels that his masculinity is "tainted" by association (O'Brien takes FULL advantage of this, blech). While previously I was kind of intrigued by the possibility of a Jimmy/Daisy (Sophie McShera) romance, Jimmy kind of turned into a jerk under pressure here and goodness knows Daisy doesn't need THAT. And I'm thinking that now Ivy (Cara Theobold) is going to be thinking Alfred looks pretty nice now that Jimmy is in the middle of all this whacked-out drama, which means she might actually TRY to be Daisy's rival for the gangy footman's affections. *headdesk*

 At any rate, the resulting, barely-contained scandal is just heartbreaking to watch unfold -- considering O'Brien whipped the whole thing into a frenzy, seeing the finger-pointing and accusations fly between the male members of the downstairs staff is just...sad. And it results in some of James-Collier's best acting of the series -- love him or loathe him, I feel one cannot deny that he has given Thomas much-needed layers of the depth and humanity this season. He's finally become something more than *just* a cardboard villain. Side note: As sad as this whole mess is to watch unfold, I'm not gonna hide it, watching Carson (Jim Carter) try to repress his urge to have a stroke when dealing with the "scandal" of Thomas's sexuality (is it a scandal when EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT?) was pretty hilarious, as it flies in the face of everything he holds most dear -- i.e., propriety.

Much of this installment is also taken up with Robert's (Hugh Bonneville) continued insistence on being dragged into the post-war twentieth century kicking and screaming by his son-in-law Matthew (Dan Stevens) and the latter's new ally, that HORRIBLE LOW-CLASS CHAUFFEUR SON-IN-LAW Branson (Allen Leech). This dynamic fascinates me. Let's put aside for a second that lawyer Matthew's only real qualification for running and reforming Downton is some middle-class know-how (not knocking the validity of his advice, I just find his lack of...credentials a little humorous) -- what Robert's really fighting is perhaps arguably the sanctity and elite status of his class, a class whose exclusive hold on power and prestige went out the window with war (and, arguably earlier with the sinking of the Titanic, if you buy into Walter Lord's thesis).

Anyways...all this time, and I still think Matthew's people skills in relation to his father-in-law needs some work. But also, Robert needs to get over himself. Happily all of this happens to some degree in this episode, largely facilitated by a surprisingly DIPLOMATIC Branson (shocker, no?). Grief seems to have done a great deal to mellow Branson's perspective on Sybil's family, and I love that he's honest and mature enough to own that. I was honestly quite shocked when, confronted with his jerk of a drunk brother (Ruairi Conaghan), he actually takes up for his mother-in-law and insists that his brother respect her invitation into the Crawley home for baby Sybil's christening, earning Mr. Carter's approval at long last.

Awkward, much?
Robert and Violet's (Maggie Smith) awkwardness at the christening is a humorous cap on the extraordinarily awkward dinner conversation in last week's episode, where Robert attempted to strong-arm his equally strong-willed son-in-law into foregoing the latter's desire for a Catholic baptism and LOST rather spectacularly. Violet and Robert, in particular, are slow to accept Branson but I love how the rest of the family has rallied around both him and his daughter, especially Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Mary (Michelle Dockery). It is really wonderful to see both of these women take Sybil's dearest wishes to heart in her absence.

Family bonding at work!
Violet takes my advice from last week (HA!) and concocts the brilliant scheme of installing Branson as Downton's new estate manager, a position that needs filling now that Matthew drove the former manager into retirement and one that would allow Branson and Sybil Jr. to remain within the Crawley family sphere of influence. Well played, Grandma. Honestly I think this type of job is a perfect fit for Branson -- it allows him to remain a part of the Crawley family but it doesn't confine him to some sort of office job which, I think, would be wholly unsuited to his personality. Unfortunately for Robert, this also gives Matthew a strong ally in the implementation of his "radical" schemes to overhaul the way in which Downton is run. Robert fights change with a bullish, oft-times childish tenacity for most of this installment's two hours -- but seeing him finally come around to Matthew's point-of-view, and to begin to truly accept Branson as a valued member of the family is extraordinarily rewarding.

Sybil's absence leaves a void in female character category, and so Fellowes introduces Rose (Lily James), Violet's great-niece come to visit Downton under the completely ridiculous pretext that she "hates cities" or some such rubbish. She is an absolute train wreck waiting to happen, simmering with restless energy, jumping at the chance to return to London with Matthew (who is a LITTLE OBSESSED with the fact that his wife isn't expecting yet...seriously have they even been married a year?) and Edith (Laura Carmichael), the latter having decided to accept the newspaper editor's offer to write a regular column. Anyways, to make a long story short, about the only added value Rose brings to this storyline is that her loose morals and affair with a married man (hello Ribbentrop from Upstairs Downstairs) introduce the 1920s flapper culture, which one really doesn't get to see infiltrate a country estate like Downton. So she's an idiot...but she does give Violet one of her finest moments, as the savvy Dowager manages to ask just the right questions to deduce Rose's penchant for trouble without actually having anyone betray her behavior outright. Well-played, Violet, well-played as always. And Fellowes, if you could give us more scenes of Violet and her daughter Rosamund (Samantha Bond), that would be awesome. I find their prickly dynamic hilarious.

"I'm just a TORTURED SOUL, 'k?"
Now, let's talk about Edith. It's been a long time coming, but she is finally showing some signs of coming into her own, and I love that. The gumption it took to step out of her family's shadow and decide to pursue a career as a writer, all I can say is girl, I didn't know you had it in you. :) On her first meeting with THE EDITOR, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), it is abundantly clear that Gregson not only has an extraordinary appreciation of Edith's writing talents but he's QUITE TAKEN with her looks (points to her for outshining her rather SEVERELY PERMED hair). And honestly, Gregson is rather cute in a bookish sort of way, and I'm predisposed to like him since the actor played friggin' ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE in the short-lived Murder Rooms all seems well, right? Until Edith displays a SHOCKING amount of common sense and does the 1920s version of Googling your date by calling the operator and getting the 411 on Gregson's personal life. And LO AND BEHOLD he's married. But he's not just married, OH NO, he's married to a LUNATIC who is locked away in an asylum! BOOM! IT IS SHADES OF JANE EYRE & ROCHESTER ALL OVER AGAIN!!! The dramatic potential of this hot mess has suddenly reached EPIC PROPORTIONS and needless to say I cannot wait to see how it unfolds. My prediction is that sometime in season four, overcome by his passionate desire for a life with Edith, Gregson tries to kill his wife and then the Crawley family is embroiled in ANOTHER trial scandal, only this time involving actual FAMILY. *horrors!*

So, now let's attempt to wrap things up. Apparently my long-standing wish of two seasons has finally been granted, as Ethel (Amy Nuttall) accepts a new position that will allow her to occasionally see her young son. Of course this is NO THANKS to Isobel (Penelope Wilton), who would apparently rather keep Ethel wallowing in misery as her cook than facilitate seeing her established in a new position where her salacious history isn't fodder for the gossip mill. Instead it is Violet who once again makes things HAPPEN (thank goodness) -- sure, she wasn't as into rehabilitating Ethel as Isobel was, but her desire to eliminate a local scandal really did have Ethel's best interests ultimately at hear -- and as Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) so wisely concurrs with the Dowager, that's never going to happen at Downton where EVERYONE and their cousin knows Ethel's history. So YAY, happy ending there...but I shudder to think what Fellowes has in store for Isobel next season. If she's going to stick around she needs a MAJOR character overhaul IMO.

Matthew and Mary have ended this season on a very strong note, given their propensity for near-constant bickering so soon after their marriage. I loved how deeply they were each concerned about having children, with each of them SO worried they were the one "at fault" that they were sneaking around, going to fertility doctors in secret (and in Mary's case under an ASSUMED NAME!). But seriously, for all that Fellowes thought we needed Matthew having really awkward conversations about impotency issues, we learn Mary had to have SURGERY and it it's kept so vague we're never told what exactly occurred??? I mean c'mon. *sigh* But all that aside, I love seeing them IN love, and their commitment to each other and their relationship. So sweet and a long time coming all things considered. :)

The episode culminates in what we're told is an annual house vs. town cricket match, which is all kinds of a big deal...and I find that hilarious since we've gotten nary a mention of such an event until the end of season three. But whatever. *wink* There is a lot of hilarity surrounding this as poor Molesley (Bernard Gallagher) talks a good game but is apparently a pretty pathetic player, and Branson -- who was corralled into playing under EXTREME duress -- ends up saving the game for the home team and earning his father-in-law's undying devotion. Or something close to it, at any rate. But in the midst of all this sportsmanship and male bonding are undercurrents of tension that I can only assume are the seeds of conflict for season four.

Takin' care of business...
Bates, annoyed beyond belief at O'Brien's manipulation of the Thomas/Jimmy situation, does what he does best and forges an unexpected alliance with Thomas to check the latter's ruin and put a stop to O'Brien's power play. Thomas gives him one powerful phrase -- her ladyship's soap -- and O'Brien is reduced to a quivering, stuttering mess, left scrambling to keep her most shameful act secret. (Nice to know Fellowes plans to possibly revisit that plot thread!) Because of Robert's sudden obsession with winning cricket matches, Jimmy is promoted to first footman in exchange for dropping his insistence that Thomas get sacked without a reference, and Thomas (who is apparently some sort of cricketing wizard) gets to stay and is promoted to "under butler." Needless to say this was NOT what Bates had in mind when he got out of prison intent on repossessing his job as Robert's valet. I'd like to see a kinder Thomas next season, one who can, occasionally, get along with the likes of Bates, but I'm not going to hold my breath. However, I'm inclined to think that if this season was about Thomas's ruin, next season may be all about O'Brien's destruction...thoughts?

All things considered, I feel this was a fairly strong way in which to wrap up the major threads of season three, leading into the Christmas special, while leaving enough questions in the mix to fulfill the requisite spicy drama quotient for the upcoming fourth season. Seeing Robert finally come to accept that some change does not mean his life will be destroyed -- rather, enriched stronger relationships with Matthew, Branson, and the rest of his family -- was really rather gratifying. But hang onto your hats, fandom, because the peace bought for the sake of a cricket match is going to be, I suspect, extremely fleeting for all parties concerned. *wink* Anything I've missed? Chime in with a comment! :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

1922 Kodachrome Test Footage

As a lover of all things vintage, especially classic film, this video just fascinates me. It is four and a half minutes of glorious full-color test footage of Kodachrome film made by Kodak in 1922 -- well worth viewing if you have the time. The lighting and color are just exquisite.

Happy SKYFALL Release Day!

Just in case someone in the world reading this blog has managed to miss the commercials and advertisements announcing Skyfall's release on Blu-ray/DVD, never fear because I'M HERE to make sure all the bases are covered. :)

(And really, any excuse to post Craig-as-Bond pictures on the blog gets my support.)

Skyfall is my favorite film from 2012, and honestly, one of my favorite films EVER, because really for what it's worth in my opinion it doesn't get better than Daniel Craig as Bond.

I mean, look at that FACE:

I can hardly stand it.

If you'd like to revisit just why I think Skyfall is so friggin' PERFECT, just check out the epic write-up HERE.

After all, you wouldn't want to disappoint sexy Voldemort, would you? *wink*

Happy viewing! :)