Sunday, January 24, 2016

Queen of the Tearling (Book Review)

Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Publication: HarperCollins, 2014
Genre: YA Fantasy, Book 1 of 3
Plot: Kelsea, the crown princess of the Tearling, has been brought up in seclusion in the woods, far away from the realm’s capitol, tended by a devoted but strict couple preparing her for the day she turns 19, at which time she will ascend to the throne. There are just a few small obstacles: her uncle became regent after Kelsea’s mother died and would rather kill his niece than give up his power; the Tearling kingdom has a bitter enemy threatening to invade; and Kelsea has few resources other than the remnants of her mother’s guards, a talisman she cannot control, and her own untested instincts which include a hot temper. Kelsea’s defense of the kingdom is a classic battle of good vs. evil with a cast of interesting characters, such as the loyal Queen’s Guards, a mysterious underworld mastermind, an abused wife from the rival country of Mortmesne, a wily former bookmaker who becomes the kingdom’s financial guru, and an evil rival Queen.

Audience: Fans of YA fantasy; authors such as Elizabeth Marie Pope, Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce

What I liked: Just when you think you’ve read enough YA fantasy, and you’re tired of the same old plot – young woman (who thinks she’s plain) slowly becomes aware that she is the only one who can save the kingdom, but must learn to use her power as well as figure out her complicated romantic situation. Here, however, the author combines the elements of adventure, romance, magic, and suspense in a way that made me feel it was completely new, despite the familiar plot devices. One of the most intriguing characters is Fetch, a masked man who lurks in the underworld, a cross between Robin Hood and political leader. He challenges Kelsea to put aside her fears and live up to her potential, to claim her throne and be the Queen the Tearlings need. She develops a serious crush, but he seems too old to be a romantic possibility yet says he is not her father, the other logical possibility.

What I disliked: Overall, I loved this book; was a little disappointed in the sequel, and eagerly await book 3 in the spring. Although the book is set in the future, it has an appealing medieval feel. It is a pity that all the religious characters are depicted as evil or weak but I am hoping Father Tyler will survive to become a hero.
Movie: Supposedly, Emma Watson is interested in producing the movie and playing Kelsea but such deals often fall through.  I think she would be perfect for the part.

Source: I got this book from the library for my sister last summer but didn’t have time to read it myself. Thanks to her enthusiasm, I saved my copy for a long plane trip where it was the perfect entertainment.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Fairy Tale Girl (Book Review)

Title: The Fairy Tale Girl
Author: Susan Branch
Publication: Illustrated Hardcover, Spring Street Publishing, November 2015
Genre: Memoir/Coming of Age (first of two books)
Plot: This is a charming and beautifully illustrated memoir from the very talented Susan Branch, following her from childhood through her first serious relationship and unhappy first marriage.  She captures the warmth of her family and friends, as well as her discovery of her artistic talent and her growth as an artist and writer.  She asks if your life reflects who you really are and reveals how she came to recognize she had lost part of her true self while married to someone who cared only about his own accomplishments.

The book begins and ends with her flight (in several senses of the word) from California to Boston to begin a new phase of her life. It was the same year I graduated from college – we should have met up and worked on a plan together as I did not have a fully developed plan for my future either!

Audience: Branch’s fans are wide ranging and include Anglophiles like me and artistic/craftsy types who are inspired by her creativity and belief that anyone can develop her own artistic skills. This book is also a coming of age story and will appeal to those who remember the classic Seventeenth Summer.

What I liked:  My Betsy-Tacy friend Cindy Price recommended Susan's work to me slightly more than two years ago (I don’t think Susan has read Betsy-Tacy yet but she certainly loves books so perhaps it is just a matter of time). I followed a trip she made to England with a group, which sounded like so much fun and resulted in its own book.  I also bought her 2014 calendar which contained delightful illustrations as well as recipes, favorite quotes, and anecdotes, and cheered up my dreary office.  This memoir, which is based on her diaries, is the first installment of several autobiographical books, not written in chronological order.  It is chatty and fun, even when discussing serious topics, and celebrates female friendship.  In fact, reading it felt like having a long talk with a dear friend one hadn’t seen recently (or, in this case, had never met!).  My favorite part was when her friend Diana gives her a gift certificate to a crafts store.  This leads to the purchase of paints and experimenting with different types of art, all of which are delightful.  It really makes the book to be taken along with Susan on the Alpine Path as she asks herself, “Where do I start?” and tries different things, with replicas of these projects captured in the book.  She is talented in a way that is not intimidating and invites others to exercise their own creativity.  

I also enjoyed Susan’s purchase of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to add an upscale element to her culinary skills. I was reminded of using this cookbook when I was in school to make Napoleons for a French class party.   I seem to recall it took my mother and me the best part of several days!  The results were impressive and very tasty, although not as perfect as Julia’s version. 

The book itself is designed to appeal to readers who love Susan’s illustrations. It includes watercolors, recipes, photographs and other mementos.  An expedition to see the Beatles made this reader feel she was right there!   The book also features a ribbon bookmark (when I worked in publishing, I was able to insist on this feature once or twice – it is costly but a certain type of reader like me just loves them).

I am not far from Martha’s Vineyard where Susan lives and works - I wish we could watch an episode of Downton Abbey together as we are both huge fans (although she likes Daisy, who I find very annoying).

What I disliked: Susan repeatedly says she grew up in a pre-feminism era where she was conditioned to submerge herself in her spouse. This may be true but it was painful to read about their relationship and the treatment she endured; on the other hand, haven’t we all occasionally been that way about people everyone else knew were wrong for us?  Still, the tone was very melancholy.   I look forward to reading about how she moves on in her forthcoming book, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams, which appears to begin where this one ends.

Social Media: Susan’s blog is just like her books: you will feel you are chatting with a friend.   You can also follow her on Twitter or read one of her earlier books.
Click here to see if one of Susan’s book events will be in your neighborhood.  I have a conflict on April 30th (Swan Lake!) but will catch her another time.

Source: I received this book from Susan’s publicist Jocelyn Kelley in return for an honest review.

Images copyright to Susan Branch

Friday, January 1, 2016

Indian Summers – Episode 9 – Season Finale – Recap

My viewing (and recapping) of the last two episodes was delayed by a trip to Edinburgh and London but overall I enjoyed this series.  I did, however, lose a lot of my sympathy for Alice and Aafrin, as the moral focus of the story line shifted to Ian, now despised by all the self-righteous Brits because he took the stand on Mr. Sood’s behalf. Even worse from his and the viewer's point of view, his testimony was useless and Mr. Sood has been condemned to death (in addition to being falsely accused, he has a good argument for police brutality).
Back to the American gold diggers: Madeleine is trying to persuade her brother not to leave for Chicago. The next minute Eugene dies of malaria – he had been recovering from a previous bout but somehow this has to be Cynthia’s doing: she had moved him to an unpleasant part of the Club although I thought he was staying with Ralph. I never figured out why she didn't engineer the break-up of the engagement once she knew that there was no fortune for her precious Ralph.

Poor miserable Sarah is spying on the Mission School and sees that Dougie, Leena, her son and Alice are all hanging out having fun without her. When Alice tries to be kind, Sarah suggests they go to the Club so she can tell everyone about Alice’s late husband and that will distract from Sarah’s humiliation at the trial. It's no wonder she is friendless!

Aafrin and Sita finish breaking up but with the unerring instinct of a repudiated ex, she realizes that he cares about Alice. “Aafrin’s got an English missy!” she taunts him, but concludes more seriously, “We could have been so happy. They’ll tear you apart.”

Adam appears mysteriously, as is his wont, and takes a ride on the famous Whelan rocking horse. Ralph, torn between fear his illegitimate child will become known and what appears to be sincere interest in said child, approaches him in a friendly way and invites him into the house. Adam instead hands him a note that reminded me of the Princess Bride reading something like, “My mother is dead. You are demon. You are my father.” It is signed, “No name.” Well, at least this shows the mission school has been educating him!

When Alice asks who was there Ralph, still shocked, says, “No one,” and asks her what Sarah had to say. “Oh, nothing,” lies Alice, worried about Sarah's threats. If only these two confided in each other!

I was right about Cynthia – she is coaxing Madeline to go home with Eugene’s ashes. “I know Ralph would understand if he loves you,” she says gently, then tells her servant Kaiser to book Madeline the first boat possible to New York.

The Viceroy thinks all the political unpleasantness between the Indians and the British could have been avoided with a little more courtesy. Ralph has a better grasp of current affairs but is stuck working for an idiot.

Aafrin’s blackmailers confront him about the certificate he took from the coroner’s office. They want him to conspire with them and they want an answer today.

Alice finally reveals the truth about her marriage to Ralph while they are on their way to kiss up to a Nawab being honored at the Club, when he asks Alice what she is so afraid of. “Losing my son!” she explains. “But why?" he asks, clearly not understanding.  She tells Ralph her husband is "perfectly decent in his own way,” astounding Ralph, who assumed her husband was abusive and had deserted Alice. In fact, Alice left him and took his son to India. Alice tells Ralph about Sarah's blackmail.

Ralph tells the somewhat precious Nawab he's heard there is going to be a big rally to celebrate the end of Ghandi’s hunger strike. He is about to spin the current situation but when he catches Dougie and Sarah arriving at the function, he abruptly leaves the Viceroy and Nawab. Cleverly calculating, Ralph asks the Raworths what their plans are for their son Matthew and offers to help secure him a scholarship at his old school. Sarah takes the bait, proving that Alice should have confided in her brother weeks ago.

Alice, grateful for her brother's efforts on her behalf, tells Ralph she is sorry about Madeline leaving. The departure is news to Ralph (and it is implausible Madeleine could have left on a voyage around the world without his knowing - this is not La Dame aux Camélias) and he confronts Cynthia, whom he guesses is behind it, and she points out that he never loved Madeleine. That may be true but Ralph is sick of being manipulated. He reminds Cynthia that he was just 21, an Assistant Magistrate, when he met Jaya’s father through a land dispute. Ralph then met Jaya and fell in love with her. They discussed marriage (despite a dramatic difference in standing). After Ralph told Cynthia about the relationship, she arranged for him to be transferred to Burma, a thousand miles away. Ralph then received a letter from Jaya saying there could be no further contact between them as the local headman disapproved. Ralph very belatedly accuses Cynthia of having engineered the end of the affair, of knowing Jaya was pregnant and keeping that from him so he wouldn’t marry her. Had his parents still been alive, they would doubtless have done the same thing.

Angrily, Cynthia shouts after him that Madeleine and Eugene are penniless. Surprisingly, Ralph goes after Madeleine (she is still packing) and tells her he loves her. He reveals that he is building her a folly that Eugene seems to have designed before he died (he was an architect, after all). While this is all taking place, Alice and Aafrin seize the very inappropriate moment to go have sex in a hut near the party.
The Viceroy is furious with Ralph for leaving him in the lurch with the Nawab. Ralph has to use the old “my almost brother-in-law just died” excuse. Ralph is a bad enemy: he tells the Viceroy that the Nawab was offended by the Club’s “No Indians and dogs,” allowed sign. I thought Ralph was trying to cause Cynthia to lose her job managing the Club, but instead there is a proposal to lift the color bar, which she finds mortally offensive.

Aafrin, while reviewing Ralph’s correspondence, comes across two letters signed by the Viceroy: one commuting Mr. Sood's death sentence to life imprisonment and one confirming the death sentence. Ralph explains to Aafrin that the Viceroy’s wife is merciful, but the Viceroy prefers execution – it’s up to Ralph to decide. What would Aafrin do? “I don’t think I could take a life,” he tells Ralph. “Oh, someone else does that,” Ralph replies, missing the point.

Cynthia, bitter and upset by everything that has happened, tells Kaiser she never hurt anyone. The dual blows of losing Ralph’s friendship and her precious Club admitting Indians are destroying her.

Bhupi, the Whelans' loyal servant, tries to hang himself but Aafrin cuts him down in the nick of time. Ralph tells Aafrin that they grew up together and Bhupi is very loyal. It turns out that Bhupi killed Jaya to protect Ralph. Ralph gently tells Bhupi not to worry, he will take care of him. Ralph assures Aafin that he didn’t ask Bhupi to hurt Jaya.

Aafrin is shocked but addresses the first obvious injustice, asking Ralph what can be done about Mr. Sood, whose innocence is now revealed. Aafrin suggests that the letter commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment be invoked and perhaps after a year Mr. Sood can be released. Ralph agrees and says Aafrin is making him a better person.

However, after spending the night with Alice, Aafrin oversleeps and when he goes downstairs he sees that Ralph has taken the wrong letter to the court, the letter confirming the death sentence. Aafrin runs as fast as he can but is too late to prvent Mr. Sood’s execution. Ralph is playing cricket carelessly while the wrong man dies.

Ronnie Keane, as Club Secretary, brings Cynthia a list of new prospective Indian members. She is furious and knows that Ralph is behind it, not the Viceroy. She says she’ll take one Indian only. Then poor Ronnie tells Cynthia he wasn’t invited to Ralph’s big fancy wedding in Delhi and could she kindly give Ralph a nudge to get him added to the guest list. Cynthia realizes she wasn’t invited herself, after all she has done for Ralph.

Aafrin is so upset by Ralph’s decision to let Mr. Sood die that he agrees to work in secret for the Nationalist movement. The bad guys, Sergeant Singh and the woman who was in prison with Aafrin's sister, say he must provide something of Ralph’s to prove his sincerity.

Alice thinks (IS SHE CRAZY?) that she and Aafrin are going to tell Ralph they’re involved but instead Aafrin pretends he left a pen in the Whelans' house. He goes upstairs and rifles through Ralph’s papers, finding the note from Adam which he pockets. Ralph follows him (although does not see the snooping) and after some hesitation says that Mr. Sood had to die because he’d become a lightning rod for dissent. Aafrin pretends to believe him.
Aafrin gives Sergeant Singh a letter opener of Ralph's, but keeps Adam’s letter for future bargaining power. Then, it turns out he is the newest member of the Club - as the token Indian to break the color bar, he arrives with his father (who is dressed to the nines with all his medals).  However, integration only goes so far.  No one will speak to them or serve them, until Ronnie Keane takes pity on them and orders their drinks.

In the meantime, Ian has stolen what he thinks are Mr. Sood’s remains (really, they are the superintendent's rose fertilizer) and eludes the police so he can give him a proper memorial. Even Alice ditches the Club party (the last event in Simla before everyone returns to Delhi) to accompany Ian. But eventually she and Aafrin find each other and she asks why he didn’t tell Ralph about them. “I thought he could be trusted but I was wrong. He is a dangerous man,” Aafrin tells her.   Aafrin as a sort of double agent in the future will be interesting but is further confirmation that Alice's romance is doomed.

Maudlin Cynthia is outside the Club feeling sorry for herself when Ralph joins her. I guess now that he knows she didn’t kill Jaya he isn’t as angry with her. He admits that he engineered the new membership policy. She asks if he is going through with the wedding and says she is happy for him. “Would you like to come?” he asks. “Are you sure you want me?” Cythnthia asks pitifully. “You’re all I’ve got,” he says and leads her gently back to the party.

“It’s nearly over,” Cynthia observes. I suppose she means the party but it's also a reference to the end of the Raj.

“I expect they can manage an encore,” Ralph replies.

That will have to keep us going until the Second Season in late 2016!

Images copyright to PBS

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Pledge of Better Times (Book Review)

Title: A Pledge of Better Times
Author: Margaret Porter
Publication: Gallica Press, 2015, paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: A compelling historical novel set in the late 17th century about two interconnected families: the Stuarts and the de Veres, loyal servants to their monarch. Charles II, restored to his throne after years of exile, reigned merrily, yielding numerous attractive bastards but no legitimate child. Charles’ brother James, a controversial Catholic, and his daughters, reliable Protestants, Mary and Anne, are heirs to the throne. The Earl of Oxford, Aubrey de Vere, is a high ranking courtier loyal to the Stuarts. The story is primarily about his daughter, Lady Diana, first a girl and then a beautiful and intelligent young woman, who serves Mary and pledges her love to the Duke of Albans, son of Charles II and the notorious orange seller Nell Gwyn.

Audience: Fans of quality historical fiction and historical romance; Anglophiles and fans of the Stuarts.

What I liked: This time frame is much neglected: there is historical fiction set during the English Civil War and during Charles II’s exile and plenty depicting Bonnie Prince Charlie’s but not much set around the time of Charles’ death in 1685. You won’t be surprised to hear that two of my childhood favorites take place during this period: Princess of Orange, about Mary’s childhood and marriage to William of Orange, and Shattered Summer, about the Duke of Monmouth’s misguided attempt to seize the throne.  You can see how handsome he was and he had his share of Stuart charm.
Duke of Monmouth (1678) by Sir Godfrey Kneller

A Pledge of Better Times is thoroughly researched yet written with a light touch: Porter delicately balances the need for historical accuracy without sacrificing her vivid storytelling and provides a touching romance as well. I am a long time fan of her books, back to her Walker days, and this is by far her best. Her enthusiasm for even the most minor character shines through. I loved Diana de Vere and her father, a courtier who wants to be loyal to his monarch without renouncing his religion (of course, as a Catholic, I wish James II had been more tolerant of religious freedom and avoided being deposed – and if his father had been smarter and more tolerant, perhaps he could have kept his head and kingdom – pigheaded Stuarts!). Even minor characters such as Nell Gwyn and Prince Eugene of Savoy are well depicted while the calculating Sarah Churchill shows her true colors (why doesn’t PBS bring back its wonderful miniseries about Sarah and her soldier husband?). My mother will appreciate mentions of her favorite Henry Purcell. One of the portraits of Lady Diana by Sir Godfrey Kneller graces the cover of the book, making me want to research and visit his paintings in person. I think I have seen this one he painted of the first Duke of Marlborough in person but not the one above of Monmouth.
John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough by Sir Godfrey Kneller
What I disliked: The one bad thing about historical fiction based on history one knows well is knowing what is going to happen, and in this era it was usually bad. Oh well, at least William and Mary are preserved as a great university.

Source: I purchased a trade paperback but it is also available in Kindle. Highly recommended!

Images of the Dukes of Monmouth and Marlborough used by permission of the National Portrait Gallery.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Indian Summers – Episode 8 – Recap

In the last episode, the authorities decided that Ramu Sood killed Adam’s mother, Jaya. They don’t know that Ralph had a stronger motive: avoiding disgrace that exposure of his youthful liaison with Jaya would reveal. A small but growing group of people know that Ralph is Adam’s father but none of the authorities want to think anyone British is involved in something as sordid as murder. Much better to blame it on poor Mr. Sood!
Sooni Dalal, lawyer in training
A fancy British barrister comes to Simla to prosecute Mr. Sood’s trial (which takes place unrealistically soon) and at least there is a lawyer for the defense (and the lawyer has an assistant – Aafrin Dalal’s sister, Sooni, who wants to go to law school – she should talk to me first). The policeman testifies that Mr. Sood had a motive to kill Jaya because she stole his deceased wife’s wedding dress. He explains that when he tried to interview Mr. Sood, the man had disappeared – clearly, not the sign of an innocent man, everyone agrees. (Unless it’s the sign of someone who doesn’t think he’ll get a fair trial.) The prosecutor also tries to discredit Ian, who saw Mr. Sood on the veranda of his house and says he could not have committed the murder.

Gandhi is still fasting, and Ralph pretends dealing with that fallout requires all his time but really he can’t concentrate on anything because he’s terrified about what might come out in the court room. Ian goes to visit Mr. Sood in prison, who basically says he’s doomed and Ian shouldn’t jeopardize his standing by testifying.

Alice is wearing the most fetching hat; doesn't everyone get dressed up to sit in a hot courtroom all day? She, her future sister-in-law Madeleine, the whiny Sarah, and the other British ladies are attending the trial for entertainment. I told you not much happens in Simla! Mr. Sood was disliked by the British because of his rivalry with Mr. Armitage (Ian’s uncle) and the jostling accident that sort of caused Mr. Armitage’s heart attack/stroke. On the stand, Cynthia asserts with calculated spite that Mr. Sood is lucky he’s only being charged with one murder.

Leena visits Mr. Sood’s lawyer (against Dougie Raworth the Missionary’s wishes – he is aware that Ralph might be implicated in some way but is also very conscious he has spent half the money Ralph secured for the Mission School, so tells her to leave it alone) and she takes the stand when Ian doesn’t show up for court. She testifies that Jaya had a son, Adam, thinking this introduces another motive. The prosecutor asks who the father is and Leena hesitates but says she does not know. She reveals that Adam called his father “demon.” If you remember, that is what Ralph’s would-be assassin called him; I guess that guy was Adam’s grandfather.

Mr. Sood’s lawyer takes an unexpected approach and practically accuses Leena of killing Jaya to protect Adam or out of thwarted maternal instincts. Dougie, looking agonized, shouts from the audience to leave Leena alone. This evidence of Dougie’s affection for Leena makes his wife, Sarah, sick to her stomach and she has to run from the court room, humiliated. She thinks he has ruined her new social standing and doesn’t realize the British were just tolerating her for Alice’s sake. Leena is also extremely bitter, angry that the legal system is not trustworthy.

Aafrin accompanies Sooni to find Ian (so depressed he got drunk). Aafrin asks her again about the letter he gave Alice for Sita (warning the family to hide the stolen evidence) and finally believes her when she says she never got it. Aafrin realizes it was Sita, not Alice, who lied to him.
Ian McLeod
All Sooni needed was to be around people with integrity or at least less wishy-washy than her brother. She is unwillingly impressed with Ian’s commitment to fairness. For the first time, she has encountered a British man she doesn’t despise (technically, of course, he is Scottish).

Aafrin apologizes to Alice for doubting her, and she asks angrily why he doesn’t leave Sita. Alice points out that she left her husband, carrying a baby. “She doesn’t have India to run to,” Aafrin points out, which Alice, never having been destitute, cannot understand. Then Aafrin and Sita rendezvous in a cemetery and he tells her he knows she lied about giving the note to Sooni. She denies it at first but then admits the truth, although pretends she didn’t know it was important (absurd – the fact that Alice sought her out to hand deliver the note had to have made it clear it was an emergency). Sita slaps Aafrin’s face and begs him not to leave her but he walks away coldly. He’s really not very loyal to either woman; why not be kinder to Sita? Plus, it’s stupid to make her angry – who knows what she’ll do? No one in this show ever plans ahead except sneaky Cynthia.

The prosecutor destroys Ian’s character during cross-examination and Ian loses his temper, destroying all the good his honest testimony had provided (the judge had seemed like a decent guy until this point). Later, Ralph asks Cynthia if she thinks Mr. Sood really did it and she says, “Of course.” Is this an elaborate double bluff by Ralph? However, the judge finds Mr. Sood guilty and sentences him to be hanged.

Belatedly, Dougie sends back the generous check Ralph arranged for the school with a note saying he and the children are not for sale and tells Ralph not to return to the school (so much for Sarah’s social climbing). There is a meaningful shot of Ralph’s sandals at the episode end – a witness during the trial found a sandal near the crime scene and everyone in the court laughed merrily at the idea of an Englishman wearing an Indian sandal but Ralph does sometimes dress in casual Indian clothes.

Images copyright to PBS

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Indian Summers – Episode 7 – Recap

The Indian children from the orphanage/school, out for an innocent swim, find the body of Adam’s mother, Jaya, floating in the lake. When Dougie is summoned to say a prayer over the corpse, he recognizes her. He tells the police he saw her talking to Ralph recently. However, when Ralph is asked to identify the body he tells the official he's not sure who she is; alone with the body he breaks down. Is it because he regrets the need to have killed her or did he really once care for her? Or perhaps both? Who really killed her? The coroner says there are two sets of wounds: stab wounds that caused her death and one from years before.

I thought Eugene had gone back to Chicago but he is acting with Cynthia in The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Ronnie Keane, who has the kind of civil service job where he can disappear to direct a play and no one notices. Of course, even the Viceroy in the cast but I think Ralph does all his work anyway. Alice, Madeleine, and Sarah also have parts because Sarah insisted. Madeleine asks Alice why she doesn’t say no to Sarah. I am surprised that Alice doesn’t confide in Madeleine about the blackmail.

When Ian hears about Jaya’s murder, he asks to meet with Superintendent Rowntree. Ralph and Aafrin overhear, and Aafrin asks who the victim was. “Nobody!” Ralph says decisively. When Ian reveals that Jaya stole Mr. Sood’s wedding dress, poor Mr. Sood becomes the prime suspect. He is beaten until he makes a false confession.

Ralph suggests that the play be postponed because of a nationalist Indian gathering scheduled for the same day out of respect, but Cynthia and the Viceroy refuse to listen. They say the play is a tradition and the Indian matter is nothing to do with them. Cynthia has persuaded Mr. Keane (serving as play director) to kick Eugene out of the play, although a replacement would have a lot of lines to learn quickly.

“The past always catches up to you,” Ralph says to Cynthia when he brings her the news of his former paramour’s death. He says he loved Jaya once, and Cynthia tells him he has to forget about her. She is delighted that Mr. Sood is now assumed to be the murderer. Cynthia suspects Ralph of the murder and he suspects her. I know she is very, very fond of Ralph but would she kill for him?

Dougie received a generous check for the Mission School from the Revenue department, prompted by Ralph. I think Dougie is finally connecting the dots – he says Ralph has taken a great interest in the school recently. Well, yes, his son is a student there . . .

Finally, the turbaned Indian sergeant confronts Aafrin with the stolen certificate that was found during the search. It is unclear what he wants other than threats of blackmail. Everyone’s a blackmailer in Simla!

Aafrin assumes that Alice betrayed him and confronts her; he tells her Sita wouldn’t have done that and goes on to say Sita is the woman he loves and plans to marry. Alice denies it and is very upset by his accusations. Aafrin does try to ask his sister what happened the night the police searched their home but Sooni is so angry with him for continuing to work for the English that she refuses to answer. Still, Aafrin should know if Alice had betrayed him he’d have lost his job and been imprisoned.

Cynthia summons Ian to quiz him about Mr. Sood’s involvement in the murder. She tells him that Mr. Sood confessed. They had quarreled about Ian’s decision to work for Mr. Sood (it is not considered appropriate for a Brit to work for an Indian, regardless of the fact that Ian is penniless now that his uncle is dead and the estate forfeit). Cynthia tries to charm him back to the Club, reminding him where his loyalties lie. She also recruits him to play Algernon instead of Eugene. By the way, Cynthia makes a great Lady Bracknell, autocratic and sneaky!

Ian tells Ralph – very foolishly – that he heard the murder when walking home the previous night and that Mr. Sood was back at the house. Ralph delicately asks if Ian was drunk at the time, implying his recollection is faulty. But when Ian chooses to visit Mr. Sood in prison (blowing off the play, which makes Cynthia very angry), Ian realizes Mr. Sood has been falsely accused (and beaten up) and that the English, who already resent him as a landowner, have seized upon him as a convenient scapegoat. Ian is determined to stick up for Mr. Sood when no one else will – he is emerging as the only character with any integrity.

Aafrin brings Sita as his date to the play and tries to kiss her while Alice is looking: what is this, junior high? Alice is absurdly hurt but she barely knows the guy and he’s kind of an idiot. It’s all for the best, really! He needs to support his family and she needs to figure out what to do about Charlie, her husband. If Ralph is disgraced and loses his job/or goes to jail, Alice could be forced to return to Charlie.

At the funeral, Leena, the beautiful teacher from the school, tells Alice the deceased woman was Adam’s mother. Alice is astonished by this news and further surprised to see Ralph lurking near the funeral. Leena has guessed that Ralph is Adam’s father and asks Dougie if he is trying to protect Ralph by failing to tell the police that Jaya was Adam’s mother.  It seems just a matter of time until all Ralph’s lies unravel and whatever perfidy in the past (and present) will be revealed.

Image copyright to PBS

Friday, November 6, 2015

Indian Summers - Episode 6 - recap

The episode begins with Adam’s crazy mother walking into Mr. Sood’s house while a servant snoozes, and stealing a wedding sari that belonged to his deceased wife. Later, Mr. Snood blames the poor woman Ian hired last week, going crazy on her and Ian. If your caste is that low, you apparently get blamed for every random theft.
Alice and Madeleine are out exploring some local temples with erotic sculptures with the generic Mr. Keane when they encounter a cobra. Everyone freezes with fear (including me) but a Captain Farquhar "just passing by" shoots it very impressively. He’s a sort of poor man’s Damian Lewis in terms of looks who is instantly smitten with Alice. Madeleine is unnerved by the dangerous encounter but rallies when the Captain gives her a drink from his flask.
Ralph is being stalked by Adam’s mother, who is still hanging around in the shrubbery by the lake. He goes to Cynthia for advice about whatever happened ten years ago (presumably the liaison that resulted in Adam, although it seems to me this behavior is SOP for British men in Indian – the only “crime” by their standards is not keeping it quiet). Ralph speaks moodily about the woman disappearing. “She’d only come back,” says Cynthia, who doesn’t realize Ralph wants the woman to disappear permanently.

Alice is trying to flirt with Aafrin but he refuses to have eye contact with her and tries to do his work. She hands him a note that says, “Look at me, and they stare at each other until Ralph appears for tea. Alice should know this isn’t going to end well.

Aafrin is finding he doesn’t fit in with his family very well any more. And when he gets home for dinner, he finds his parents have invited his girlfriend Sita over, a desperate move given their enormous disapproval of her – probably an attempt to reclaim him. There is some ardent political conversation: Aafrin’s sister Sunni has been bitter ever since she got released from prison and resents that Aafrin is working for the enemy. She makes fun of her father for supporting British rule. The father says to the mother later that all he wants is for Aafrin to live the life given to him. Mrs. Dalal doesn’t agree; she wants him to conform, as she is still extremely unhappy about Sita and wonders what her family and friends would say if they got married. She would be more worried if she knew Aafrin was yearning for Alice.

Ralph is trying to figure out what Dougie knows about Jaya, Adam’s scary mother. He thanks Dougie for taking in Adam at the orphanage (referring to him as the boy who appeared at the engagement party), and asks Dougie to let him know what is needed in the way of upkeep: he'll try to get the Board of Revenue to pay. Dougie is too clueless to be suspicious of this sudden generosity and promises to make a comprehensive list of every repair the orphanage needs. Doesn’t Ralph remember he is overextended financially? Wait until he finds out his fiancée is not rich, as he had thought.
No one wants an ex-girlfriend who looks like she's covered with eye of newt
Ralph goes looking for Jaya, and she confirms that Adam is Ralph’s child and also reveals that the assassin is her father, presumably seeking revenge for her lost honor (but why did it take him ten years?). Ralph holds her hands and speaks to her very kindly. He must be wondering what he ever saw in her. Believe me, we’ve all been there, Ralph, but not all of us act on these homicidal impulses. Jaya says Adam has the evil eye, which is not a nice thing to say about one’s child and is not likely to influence Ralph in his favor.  Jaya must have some education or else Ralph used to read her poetry as she quotes Ben Jonson, "Or leave a kiss but in the cup, And I'll not ask for wine."  Jaya tells Ralph that many men have been cruel to her, and also one Englishwoman.  Cynthia?

The very forward Captain Farquhar admires the picture Aafrin drew of Madeleine and asks Alice if he could commission one of her from the same artist to bring with him when he goes. Ralph, despite having just finished a quickie with Madeleine in a nearby room, takes an instant dislike to the stranger flirting so obviously with his sister and says, “Not a chance. She fidgets too much to pose.” Alice says yes, however, because she realizes it’s an excuse to see Aafrin. Joke on Alice – when he turns up with his art materials he brings his schoolgirl sister as a chaperone.

Luckily, the girl asks if she can try the piano, which gives Alice and Aafrin time to talk. For the first time Alice tells someone about her husband, but the story is not what I expected. Alice simply says she realized she didn’t love him and left him. “I tried being unhappy and it didn’t work.” I guess I was wrong in assuming the husband had an affair. It seems as if Aafrin didn’t know she was married. Aafrin says bitterly that he has heard of Englishmen having Indian mistresses but never the other way around. And he reminds Alice that his father is ill and Aafrin is responsible for supporting his family. Her face falls but she recovers and asks if Aafrin would like to meet her son, who is just waking up. He says yes but when she runs upstairs to get Percy, Aafrin and sister leave quickly. That is not very nice and he didn’t finish the portrait!

At the Club, it turns out that Captain Farquhar is a friend of Alice’s husband and was sent with a message – that taking Percy was kidnapping because a child is the property of the father. “What do you want?” Alice asks, wondering why she is surrounded by blackmailers on all sides. The slimy captain wants Alice, clearly. Even without knowing about the blackmail, Ralph is so offended by what he sees that he lures Captain Farquhar away and knocks him down a flight of stairs. Captain Farquhar is taken away to a hospital. Imagine what Ralph will do to Charlie when he appears?

In fact, Captain Farquhar redeems himself slightly when he leaves. Alice asks him to write to Charlie to say she is not ready to return yet. And Captain Farquhar gives her a sketch that Aafrin did of her. Alice knows this means he drew it from memory which makes her happy.

Adams’ crazy mother, Jaya, attacks the nice orphanage teacher, Leena, and says she is taking Adam to meet his father, but Adam stays with Leena to protect her from his mother. Then we see Jaya wearing the stolen red sari and waiting by the lake for Ralph to come say goodbye to her, just as Ian McLeod walks drunkenly home after some a few drinks with Mr. Sood. Suddenly, Ian hears a scream and splashing. I suppose she could have fallen in but it seems likely that Ralph drowned his former paramour, rather than risk exposure. He certainly has a motive but it is not clear if anyone knows about Adam other than Cynthia and the dead assassin.  Maybe it was Cynthia - she did say she'd consult the useful Keyser.   Ralph needs a lawyer so he can keep track of all the intrigue surrounding him.