Sunday, January 29, 2012

Downton Abbey - 2.4

Wow. Just when you think things can't get more intense at Downton...

Huge spoiler alerts ahead. Beware!

When the date displayed at the beginning of the episode, I thought "Oh, 1918! The war is almost over! Matthew and William will get out safe now, right?"


On the one hand, I fully expected them to make it through considering what a scare we had last week. On the other hand, it would be downright crazy if Downton Abbey didn't suffer one loss from the war.

In a masterstroke, Jullian Fellowes gives us two tragedies, milking them for maximum character growth. That's what makes this show great. It shocks you, but it never does something purely for shock value. It follows up on the drama and allows it to have realistic impact on the lives of far more people than you'd expect.

For example, take Lady Mary's unfortunate "Turkish Adventure." Here we are a full season later and it is still having grave, lifechanging effects for both Mary and (unfortunately) Anna and Bates. Can I take a moment to say how much I utterly detest Vera? She needs to go live her own lie and stop spending all her time figuring out how to torture her husband.

So... about those two tragedies...

First let's talk about Matthew. Of all the wounds they could have inflicted him with, this one was of course the most devastating for Downton Abbey (next to death or a comatose state). Matthew will live a long and full life if he chooses to make the best of it. However, he will never have children. His honor will keep him (or so he thinks now) from ever allowing a woman to marry him. And though he will someday inherit Downton, he will never be able to pass it on to a son.

Now would really be a good time to try and break that entail again.

Then there is William. Poor William. I never guessed that he would die, but in retrospect I should have anticipated it. I was not surprised that he wanted to marry Daisy before he went, but was ever so conflicted by Daisy's lie. On the one hand, I totally understand her desire for honesty. On the other? You really can't break a man's heart on his deathbed. Wow. That wedding was beautiful and tragic and was the best possible way William could have spent his last day. Now we'll see how Daisy deals with it.

While all the characters are growing and facing changes and choices, no one faces a more uncertain future than Lady Mary. Her honor is now tied to marrying Richard Carlisle. Her heart is obviously irrevocably tied to Matthew. What will happen? For those of you who haven't already gone and watched the British bootlegs... we'll find out next week!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Internet Etiquette

The one single thing I seriously hate about the internet is the loss of a common standard of etiquette, politeness and common decency. I'm not referring to any one incident, but several years of people using the facelessness of the internet to say and do things that they would never do offline, face to face. I'm tired of being hurt, I'm tired of seeing other people hurt, I'm tired of reading news articles followed by comments filled with stuff that normal people do not say in every day life. I'm tired of lies, swearing and lack of kindness. I'm tired of anger.

This contrast is probably even greater to me right now because I'm reading so much historical fiction. Maybe we don't need quite the level of manners required in Jane Austen's day, but I sure wish we practiced more of it online than we do currently.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

A young girl flits through the streets of modern-day Prague. Karou's an artist, just another student, set apart only by her vivid blue hair. Little do her friends know that when they exclaim over her drawings of fantastical creatures, that they are looking not at denizens of Karou's imagination, but of another world.

Raised by the chimeara Brimstone, Karou cannot remember any other life than that in the little shop that can be reached by many doors in our world, but is not a part of our reality. So few of her questions are ever answered. All she knows is that Brimstone creates wishes out of teeth.

Then one day an angel enters her life and everything changes forever.

It's rare that I learn of a book because two of my favorite authors recommend it. When I first saw the title and description on Shannon Hale's website, I added it to my list of library requests because I figured it was worth checking out. However it sat in a pile for a long time as I read other titles first.

Then Orson Scott Card reviewed it on his blog and painted so glowing a picture of the story that I could hardly wait to get off the computer and start reading it. I was immediately hooked. It's a paranormal romance that borders closer to fantasy, and is written with an elegance of style that few YA novels can boast. Laini Taylor has written a beautiful, poignant story here. The single biggest flaw is that the story demands an immediate sequel and the next book won't be out until fall!

This is a YA novel, and I feel I must alert my readers to the fact that this book does not shy away from including Karou's growing understanding of human sexuality. While I feel the subject matter is handled well and truthfully, I know that many of my more conservative teen readers would probably not feel comfortable with it. I would rate this book for ages 16+, with the caveat that all readers are different and some 16-year-olds will not be ready for it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Adventures of a Painter

Who could imagine that such a tiny room would be so much trouble to paint? Two weeks just to do two coats of paint...

All right, in all fairness, I had to clean the room, mud the holes, sand the mud, prime the mud, paint the ceiling, tape down all the trim, and THEN put on two coats of paint... in two different colors (red on two walls, cream on the other two). Plus I had an neck injury and three days of severe nausea from paint fumes. So maybe two weeks isn't that bad. 

What on earth am I talking about? Well since my health is giving me no option but to stay at my parents house for the time being, they have graciously given me permission to move to the downstairs bedroom. It's smaller than my current one, but I get some space outside the room in the family room, so in the end it'll be worth it. Plus I'll be more out of the way (my current room is in the middle of all the house traffic), and I'll be able to watch stuff after 10:00 at night without waking anyone up. Hurrah! 

It's been a long year, and I'm definitely not at the place where I was expecting to be 12 months ago... but we're making the best of it. Being able to put vivid red paint on some walls helps a lot... ;)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why is Wikipedia Blacked out? SOPA/PIPA

Wikipedia is blocked today.

Google has a black box over its name.

Proboards and Tumblr feature pop-ups talking about the issue.

But why? From the messages on facebook wondering why Wiki is blocked, I can tell that very few people are actually clicking the links that these websites are providing. And that's a shame because SOPA and PIPA are very real and need to be understood. While SOPA has currently been stalled, PIPA is still ongoing. And PIPA is just as dangerous.

As Tumblr's info pop up states it:

As written, PIPA would import censorship and surveillance techniques pioneered by countries like China and Iran, reversing longstanding U.S. policy on Internet freedom, betraying U.S. First Amendment values, damaging our standing around the world, threatening our job-creating innovators, and undermining Internet security for everyone.

This isn't saying that the passing of this bill is going to automatically take away our rights and turn us into China or Iran. However the wording and permissions it grants are opening very dangerous back doors that allow far too much possibility of many websites being forced to close down without due process of the law.

In an open letter to congress, Neil Gaiman and other artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers state it this way:

We fear that the broad new enforcement powers provided under SOPA and PIPA could be easily abused against legitimate services like those upon which we depend. These bills would allow entire websites to be blocked without due process, causing collateral damage to the legitimate users of the same services - artists and creators like us who would be censored as a result.

We are deeply concerned that PIPA and SOPA's impact on piracy will be negligible compared to the potential damage that would be caused to legitimate Internet services. Online piracy is harmful and it needs to be addressed, but not at the expense of censoring creativity, stifling innovation or preventing the creation of new, lawful digital distribution methods.

(Read the full letter here)

I don't claim to be an expert, but since the first hearings started last fall I have been gravely concerned about this bill and strongly feel all internet users should take the time to become informed about it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Hansel and Gretel

Okay, I'll admit right off that I've never liked the story Hansel and Gretel. Abandoned children? Gingerbread house? Cannibalism? Ugh, color me freaked out. In fact, you could say that Hansel and Gretel is one of the popular fairy tales that retains the most of it's gruesome and grim beginnings. You can't really take out a lot of the dark elements without erasing vital parts of the story. Probably a significant factor in why Disney never tried doing a take on it.

Anyhow, I went into last night's episode expecting not to be too excited about it.

Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. They did an excellent job of translating the fairy tale parallel to modern day and wove in a beautiful theme of family. In addition to a great introduction to our new characters, we also got some good moments and characterization for many of our existing favorites: Emma, Henry, Regina, and Mary Margaret. Even Mr. Gold got a nice little scene.

It was really lovely to see some more children joining the cast, and Hansel and Gretel are written very realistically. I look forwards to meeting them again in future episodes. And I hope their Dad gets some more characterization as well. There is a ton of room for development.

For an episode featuring children, it did sport a very creepy badie. The Gingerbread Witch was pretty terrifying and if I'd seen this as a child I'm sure I would have been freaked out by her. However the show does a good job of not overdwelling on her, allowing her to be an element but not a dark focus.

A lovely Easter egg in this episode was the mirror glimpse of Snow with the Seven Dwarves. Looking forwards to seeing more of them soon -- maybe even in next week's episode!

But the most pressing question right now is... Who is the Motorcycle Dude? Last week I theorized on the FTN Forum that Bae (Rumple's son) was Henry's father. I still hold to that hypothesis, and I'll admit I wondered immediately if that's who the stranger was. However, you'd think Emma would recognize him if that were the case, so this Stranger seems unlikely.

For more pictures and theories on this episode, check out my tumblr at where I have reblogged some cool bits for your enjoyment!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Dangers of Ice

Winter really cannot decide whether it wants to be here or not. We got a light dumping of snow over New Years, then the temperature shot up into the 50's. Yesterday it plumetted again, covering the ground with slick, dangerous ice.

I happened to be unaware of just how bad the ice was on our driveway and ended up taking a rather nasty fall. Now normally when you fall on your behind it hurts and then you get over it, but this appears to be something a bit more problematic. Even though I was able to see my chiropractor right away, my pain got worse, not better.  Of course to deal with it I'm supposed to ice my neck, but seriously it is far too cold for that! Ah well.

The worst part about neck injuries is that they don't just hurt, they also screw up a lot of other things because of how many nerve endings are connected in there. So emotionally things are kind of messed up too.

I guess I'm just taken by surprise, really. Overall my health has been improving and I've been getting a lot of stuff done. A setback like this is hard to swallow... and understand.

Just really hoping that it will end up not being so bad and the inflammation will go down and tomorrow will be a better day.

And I sincerely hope all of you watch your step carefully and avoid any similar mishaps!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Downton Abbey Season 2 US Premiere

Last night was the US premiere of our favorite new Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey.

Missed it? Don't worry, PBS will be doing several reruns over the next week. Check your local channel listings for details and don't read any further for there WILL be spoilers!

I recently showed Season 1 to my grandparents and they loved it, although they thought the ending was a bit of a letdown. Which is absolutely true, and exactly why we needed Season 2. The question is, does the first episode really live up to its predecessors?

My answer is yes.

With the very first shot we are plunged into the horrifying trenches of the Somme. WWI is portrayed with mud, explosions and a sense of terror, but a well set up shot list that avoids showing anything truly gory (which is perfectly in keeping with the generally PG sense of the show). Matthew is in charge of a unit in the trenches and we are shocked to see him covered in mud rather than dandied up in a dinner jacket. It's a look Matthew wears well, however, and no surprise. He's a man of honor, and no man (or woman) of honor would be able to maintain their self respect if they didn't contribute in any way they could to the war effort.

Indeed, that is the central theme of this episode with nearly every character struggling to deal with their own acceptance or avoidance of this obligation -- or the obligation in places on those they love.

Lord Grantham finds himself back in uniform but little more than a figurehead for his regiment. He's forbidden to go overseas and can do little more than show up for regimental dinners, a fact which galls him to no end.

Sylvia, the youngest daughter, meanwhile finds a way to aid the war despite all conventional rules. She goes belowstairs to take cooking lessons in preparation for a nursing program - then launches forwards into a neverending whirlwind of hospital care. Cousin Isobel supports her in this, and surprisingly enough, so does the Dowager Countess. This, in turn, leads to what one might consider Lady Grantham's contribution to the war effort -- letting her youngest daughter leave propriety and expectation behind to take on this very menial and demanding job. Lady Grantham can seem selfish at times, but the smile on her face when she watches Sylvia learn to bake a cake reminds one that every character on the show is three dimensional, with both light and dark sides,  human temptations and the capacity to love.

Even Thomas, the head footman we all hate, after his cowardly action to get away from the war front, shows a genuine desire to help another in his attempt to cheer and save a blinded soldier at the Downton Hospital. Lady Mary also shows a softening of character. She is deeply in love with Matthew, but where once she would have fought to win him back, she now stands aside, seeing (at least for now) the true worth of Matthew's new fiance, Lavinia.

Actually the only character I still don't feel any sympathy for is Edith. Although I was pleased to see her finding some satisfaction in her work on the farm, I can't help but see that everything she does is to find and prove her own self worth. She lacks discretion and any sense of consequence, freely encouraging a romance with a married man. Yes, Edith is a product of her background, of being ignored and set aside for Mary all her life, but I have yet to see her do one selfless thing or really anything that endears her to me as a person. I hope to see her character grow and develop into a woman of honor and integrity, or at least see her face the true consequences and meanings of her actions.

I could go on and on about all the characters. Anna. Bates. Daisy. William. Mrs Patmore. Carson. Each one of them was given quite a solid re-introduction in this premiere episode. We also got quite a good view of our two new cast members, Lang and Edith, who both promise to be interesting and unique additions.

But the biggest question of all is how Downton Abbey as a whole is going to weather the change from country estate to war hospital... well, convalescence home.

So far I have been quite happy with Season 2 and think it lives up in every way to Season 1. I'm looking forwards to tuning in next week to episode 2!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Once: Interview with The Evil Queen

The link above leads to a great interview with Lana Parrilla, who plays Regina/The Evil Queen on Once Upon a Time. Some very interesting tidbits about her filming process as well as a teaser for tonight's episode.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Imagine a perfect world.

You never have to worry about getting sick.

You never have to worry about where your next meal will come from.

You never have to worry about who you are going to marry.

The future world of Matched is just such a place. The government has gotten statistics and probabilities to such a perfect science, that they can determine exactly how much a person should eat, exercise, and who - among their millions of citizens - are perfect matches for each other.

Cassia is an intelligent (and slightly stubborn) young lady on the eve of her matching ceremony. To her delight, she finds that she is matched with her best friend Xander. A safe and happy future is guaranteed.

Then, another face flashes across the screen. Another young man she knows. Ky. The officials assure her that it was a mistake. Ky is an Abberation. He is allowed to live in their society, but due to some misstep by his parents, he will never be permitted to marry.

Outwardly Cassia pretends to accept this and tells no one what she has seen. However she begins to wonder if, after all, Ky is her true perfect match. Over the summer they find themselves growing closer together... and uncovering a grave and terrifying truth about their seemingly perfect world.

Matched is marketed as "The Hunger Games with more Romance" and it's true. It's a softer, shinier world on the outside, and lacks the grittiness and shock value of the Hunger Games, however the principles are similar. Readers who prefer reading dystopian novels though the lens of romance will find this book right up their alley.

One aspect I really appreciated was the emphasis on choice. Cassia lives in a world where all their choices are made for them and for her to choose to do anything outside of the norm is also huge. However love is also a choice. And Cassia's parents are an example of a couple matched by the government that share a real and lasting love -- a love that they choose to cherish and strengthen every day. They've passed this understanding of what love really means onto Cassia and will support her in her final choice, even if it's not one they ever would have made themselves.

While not quite the level of The Hunger Games, Matched nonetheless carries more punch and depth than the average teen romance novel. It is also very appropriate, with no crudities, swearing or violence to cause concern in handing this book to younger readers.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Well Thank You Shannon Hale!

The downside to being a voracious reader is that you tend to go through all your reading material at an insanely fast rate. Keeping stocked on stuff to read is a neverending job for me and I've gotten to the point where I'll turn suggestions into library requests almost instantly because otherwise it's too easy to run out of good books.

Author Shannon Hale shared a marvelous blog post about her best reads from 2011. I quickly realized that just about every book on her list looked excellent, so I went ahead and requested nearly all of them from the library. The first ten came in within days... so I'm looking forwards to a really fun week or so of reading. Never fear, I shall report the exceptional ones to you all!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I am delighted to bring you an excellent review of this film from my good friend and 'adopted big brother' Matthew Bowman.

The Robert Downey Jr. movie Sherlock Holmes, in many ways, broke new ground. It ticked off a lot of diehardHolmes fans and pleased others all at once, and for the same reasons. Holmes was rude, arrogant, and engaged in a lot of physical violence; this upset those who liked the Victorian trappings of the original stories, and pleased those who had wondered what it might be like to see Sherlock's side of things, rather than the more sanitized version written by Dr. Watson. 

As you might guess, I fell into the latter camp. I enjoy looking at character motivation and personality, and it was fairly obvious to me that Holmes was a high-functioning sociopath whose attitudes were constantly explained and excused by “Dr. Watson's” writings. Doyle didn't describe it completely correctly, but then alienists (the Victorian-era term for criminal and/or extreme psychology) were still working out the details in his day. I not only found Downey's interpretation correct, but also highly entertaining. 

Other details also served to endear the movie and its interpretation to me (not the least of them being a Watson that actually shows off being a military man rather than a dumpy city doctor), but just as my delight focuses on Holmes, most of the disapproval from other Holmes fans comes from the same issue. That isn't the only aspect, however; the movie's high focus on action was a problem that came up a lot in my discussions with others. While I could certainly see that issue for others, I usually paid it no mind. For me, it had been skillfully wrapped around everything I liked about a good Sherlock Holmes story, and complemented it rather than detracted from it.

Not so with A Game of Shadows.

Don't get me wrong. I liked the movie. It was entertaining. But while it starred Holmes, it was not a good Sherlock Holmes story. There wasn't even a mystery plot. Oh, they put in the trappings of a mystery, with hidden clues leading to bigger questions and wrapping it up at the conclusion with an honestly satisfying confrontation with Moriarty; but it wasn't a mystery story. 

It felt more like a James Bond story. More cerebral than your usual Bond, mind you, but not the sort of cerebral that you'd expect from Sherlock Holmes. For that matter, I literally started falling asleep in the theater during the slow-motion, bullet-time run through the forest as Holmes and his allies attempted to escape from Moriarty's goons. (In the movie's defense, of course, I was already tired, and the theater's leather seats are VERY comfy. However, the urge to sleep was over once people started talking again.) The plot advanced mainly through action, unlike the first film; when clues came up, they often seemed far-fetched and unnecessary . . . such as a bomb to hide a shooting murder when the bomb would have done the job by itself. 

I enjoyed the movie, but I would have enjoyed it more had I known that I should just relax and enjoy the action and characters and stop looking for the mystery. The first trailer I saw for the movie made me suspect that it had been written to take Robert Downey Jr.'s unique brand of weirdness and comedy; that held up somewhat during the actual movie, but it wasn't as bad as what I had feared. I did enjoy the characters, with Downey and Law meshing even better this time around; while Law moved Watson back to being a three-dimensional character in the first film, he distinguished Watson as much more than simply Holmes' sidekick in the sequel. Holmes' “calculating the coming fight” moments (four in all) were very well-done, and different each time. One even did what I had expected in the original movie (something occurred that Holmes didn't anticipate), while the final such moment was possibly the best of both movies in terms of the characters involved. 

The rest of the casting was excellent as well. Jared Harris was surprisingly appropriate as Moriarty, just for one. It's a role hard to play as it is, simply because of the lack of original source material. (For such an iconic character, Moriarty shows up in a mere two Holmes stories.) Harris didn't play the role as insane, maniacal, or even as overtly eccentric, but still came off as creepy as well as Holmes' intellectual equal. 

Rachel McAdams did even better as Irene Adler this time around; it's almost criminal how little screen time she got. She displayed a range of emotions so quickly and so well that it really left an impression on me, which contributed greatly to suddenly becoming a sympathetic character. In the previous film, she was more like the Holmes version of Yo-Saff-Bridge from Firefly. (Oh, and to my diehard Holmes-fan friends: I basically pretend that Irene is a different character who happens to have the same name as the Irene Adler from the original stories.)

Stephen Fry as Mycroft worked wonderfully as well. While Mark Gatiss' interpretation (from the BBC seriesSherlock) is still my favorite Mycroft, Fry's performance was delightfully eccentric. For that matter, the way Downey and Fry play off each other makes this the only Holmes/Mycroft performance I've ever seen where I could really believe they were brothers -- despite the fact that, while Fry fits the description of Mycroft from the original stories to an almost scary degree, he and Downey look NOTHING like each other.

Kelly Reilly did a masterful job as the new Mrs. Mary Watson, far less than the screen time she deserved. She did so well, in fact, that I could be convinced that she could be a third member of the Holmes partnership without destroying the rapport between either Holmes and Watson or their actors. Granted, it would have to be handled delicately, and involve a few hoops to avoid destroying the character (no pun intended) of the source material; but that also assumes that they'll return to the source material with the next film.

Noomi Rapace, playing a gypsy named Madame Simza, was the weakest of these, but I think this was more because of the character. She didn't seem to have a lot of room to grow and change throughout the film, and the few moments where she had a chance to really act stood out. That character was far too confining for any actress to really spread her wings.

Overall, the movie is worth seeing if you haven't, and probably not worth seeing again if you have. It's entertaining and diverting, but not a work of cinematic art. There's a lot of promise in the actors for another sequel, but I hope the writers learn from their mistakes in this film so that we can have a true Sherlock Holmes adventure the third time around

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

First Chapters and Writing Time Travel

The first chapter is always the hardest.

To start.

To revise.

To declare finished.

I'm plugging away at work on my sequel and today sat down for two hours to almost completely write chapter one. It was much needed and I think will work a good deal better... but I'll have to see if I still feel the same way in a month or so.

In a way I'm glad that I have a chance to get seriously started on my sequel before the first novel gets picked up by a publisher. As I work on the second book I'm finding several issues (most in relation to time travel mechanics) that need to be tweaked, changed or deleted completely in both books. So in the long run the entire series is going to work better because I've been able to venture further into the story before being forced to lock all of the time travel rules into place.

Seriously. Time Travel is fun, but you absolutely positively have to create solid rules that you understand and can explain coherently otherwise it completely falls apart as a concept. Timeline and the first 4 and a half seasons of LOST are good examples of well-written time travel. The last season and a half of LOST is how time travel absolutely positively should not be done. The Time Traveler's wife is a good story of a self-contained circle. Doctor Who is all over the place, with some episodes serving of examples of brilliance, and others as a glossed over mess.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Years!

It's 2012! Aren't you excited? A whole new year just waiting to be filled with adventures and dreams!

Oh don't give me that pessimistic "and school and work and fights and crying and breakups" stuff. Being optimistic is good for the soul!

In all seriousness, I'm looking forwards to this year. True, a lot of bad things could happen, but right now there are a lot of good things on the schedule. So I'm going to look forwards to those and stay positive.

The year has already gotten off to a pretty solid start. I spent yesterday with friends and we had a blast. Several of the girls and I had a Phantom of the Opera sing-along and then the whole group had a rowdy round of crazy and brilliantly performed improv games. We finished off the evening with a laughter-filled viewing of Weird Al's film "UHF" which I recommend as a crazy, cheesy flick of weird hilarity. If you enjoy parodies and things like Monty Python and Napoleon Dynamite you'll love this. Low PG-13 for a bit of adult humor, but nothing too risque.

Today I've already successfully altered some shirts for my brother (dress shirts, yikes!), watched the first episode of Dollhouse Season 2, and completed two of the tasks on the to-do list for the business my friend and I are (finally!) starting. So all in all a fairly good day and it's only 6pm.