Monday, March 7, 2016

Farewell to Downton Abbey

For six seasons I've enjoyed spending Sunday nights at Downton Abbey.  It's been a long time since I've felt so invested in a show ... but from the first episode Downton Abbey was pure perfection.

Here are a few things I loved most about the series (spoilers ahead - read after viewing the finale!):

At its heart, Downton Abbey is a family saga.  I love a big, sprawling, old fashioned family saga, whether it is on TV (Upstairs-Downstairs) or in book form (the Jalna series by Mazo de la Roche).  It is fascinating seeing a family change over the years, as life and history unfolds around them.

I loved Mary and Matthew's romance, from the very slow reluctant beginnings to the so perfect proposal in the snow.  Matthew made Mary warmer and more human.  When Matthew died, I wondered how Mary would go on ... and enjoyed seeing her eventually come back to life as an independent woman pursuing love, and finally finding it again with Henry Talbot.

I also loved Sybil and Tom's surprising romance.  They met when he was a chauffeur to the family, and she was the crusading, free thinking Crawley daughter.  There was a sweetness and a mutual respect about their relationship that I loved.

And Tom Branson?  My favorite character.  He was somewhere between the servants and the aristocratic Crawley family.  Seeing him experience life at the estate was a unique way to experience it as a viewer.  Plus, he was warm, kind, and handsome.  Definitely my favorite.  (And I liked the sparks that flew in the finale with Edith's editor, Laura Edmunds -- she seems like a wonderful potential match for Tom.)

I loved the very slow and tentative romance between Mrs. Hughes and Carson, from the moment they held hands at the beach through his proposal, their lovely wedding, and the way they settled in as a married couple.  Even when Carson was curmudgeonly, I pulled for them!

Molesley!  I never thought I would say it, but I absolutely loved Molesley.  He was a bumbling character at first, but he was kind and smart, and slowly found a way to pursue his dreams of being a teacher.

I oohed and aahed the Christmas episodes with the beauty and splendor of the big tree, and the glimpses of holiday life.

I enjoyed Edith's search for love, with all her stumbles, with interest in the wrong man (more than once - oh, how I related to that!).  Edith was a prickly character, and (much like Mary) not always likable ... but I wanted her to find happiness. I was so glad when this finally happened in the finale!

I liked the feisty Daisy, who went into service as a very young girl but found a family with her father-in-law Mr. Mason, and surrogate mother figure, Mrs. Patmore.  When Daisy studied and her pursued her education, I cheered. She was such a human character, who would take a few steps forward, and then back ... but things finally seemed to be falling into place for Daisy in the finale.

I admired the warm, loving relationship between Robert and Cora, even when scenes broke my heart a bit (like their last night with beloved dog Isis, or Robert's reaching out to Cora when his ulcer burst).

And of course I loved the Dowager Countess, with her sharp, insightful wit, and her weekly memorable lines.  My favorite:  "Vulgarity is no substitute for wit." 

The finale was just perfect.  I love the way the series ended with "Auld Lang Syne" and the sense that life would go on for these characters long after the show ended. 

So Downton Abbey, Crawley family, downstairs staff, I raise my cup of tea to you.  Thank you!  

If you have enjoyed Downton Abbey too, what were your favorites from the show?  I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Book Review - Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre

Book Synopsis:
Debut novelist Lisa Lewis Tyre vibrantly brings a small town and its outspoken characters to life, as she explores race and other community issues from both the Civil War and the present day.

Lou might be only twelve, but she’s never been one to take things sitting down. So when her Civil War-era house is about to be condemned, she’s determined to save it—either by getting it deemed a historic landmark or by finding the stash of gold rumored to be hidden nearby during the war. As Lou digs into the past, her eyes are opened when she finds that her ancestors ran the gamut of slave owners, renegades, thieves and abolitionists. Meanwhile, some incidents in her town show her that many Civil War era prejudices still survive and that the past can keep repeating itself if we let it. Digging into her past shows Lou that it’s never too late to fight injustice, and she starts to see the real value of understanding and exploring her roots.

My Review:
When I was a young girl I loved mysteries.  The most perfect mysteries included a hidden treasure or antique, an old house, and details from the past.  Last in a Long Line of Rebels is exactly the kind of mystery I looked for.  I am delighted to have found it.  

The 12 year old protagonist, Lou, is a smart, brave girl.  She is determined to save her beloved family home.  At different times she pursues trying to get the house on the historic register, and looking for missing gold that disappeared during the Civil War.  She enlists the help of her friends, and begins a summer long adventure.

I loved the setting of this book, the charming, rambling old house with many additions and family history, and the junk and treasures that accumulate in the yard and her father's shop as part of his work.  Lou describes the business.  "Now we don't just pick up stuff - we resell it, too.  Everything's separated into four piles:  the salable, the fixable, the recyclable, and Mama's things.  She's an enviro artist, which means she welds the junk together and makes a bigger pile called 'art.'" (p. 5).

Lou, her family, and her friends are all well drawn characters.  I enjoyed the descriptions and dialogue that build this mystery and move the story along at a brisk pace.

The author does a great job of capturing the small town, childhood summer, and Lou's urgency to save her home.  One of my favorite passages in the book conveys this perfectly:

"...the inky-black sky was full of bright stars.  I knew from science class that even though their light was just now reaching us, some of them were already dead.  We just lived too far away to know any better.  That had always bothered me.  Maybe everything was just a glimmer of what used to be  What if my house, my old life, was already gone and I just didn't know it yet?  I couldn't see anything to do but wait." (p. 121).   

The mystery in this book and the deeper theme of overcoming prejudice is compelling.  I could not put this novel down.  I wanted to see what would happen next.  I'm sure that young readers will feel the same.  Last in a Long Line of Rebels is a perfect summer read, especially for young people who love mysteries - and a well told story.  

About the Author:

I grew up in a small town in Tennessee surrounded by my crazy family and neighbors. I learned early on that not every child had a pet skunk, a dad that ran a bar in the front yard, or a neighbor that was so large his house had to be torn down to get him out. What else could I do but write?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I think this is because I come from a long line of storytellers. I loved listening to my dad tell me about the escapades of his youth, like how he “accidentally” pushed his brother out of a two-story window, and “accidentally” shot his aunt’s chicken with a bow and arrow. Apparently he was accident-prone.

One of the stories they told me involved the name of our piece of the country. I lived in a tiny spot that the locals called Zollicoffer. When I asked why it had such a strange name, they said it was named after General Felix Zollicoffer who had camped nearby during the Civil War. One day I happened to ask my mom where exactly the camp had been. That’s when she pointed down the road and said, “Probably over there. That’s where some kids in the 50’s found GOLD.” And just like that, LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS was born.

I received this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.