Monday, September 15, 2014

Outlander – Episode 5, Rent – Recap

This is a somewhat depressing episode in which Claire spends weeks on the road with Dougal and his occasionally merry men in what appears to be an annual trip to collect rent from the MacKenzie tenants.  Claire had hoped she would get an opportunity to escape to the Standing Stones of Craigh na Dun but she is still under close guard. Would you want to spend the night in this pitiful tent with no running water and half cooked animal legs to nibble?  Claire escapes down to the water and wistfully recites:
Against thy strength,
Distance and length:
Do what thou canst for alteration;
For hearts of truest mettle
Absence doth join, and time doth settle.

An older man joins in to recite the words with her and Claire meets Ned Gowan, an Edinburgh lawyer who joined the MacKenzies to seek more adventure than a traditional city legal practice provides (isn’t there a clan that will take me and my legal skills?).  Claire recognizes a friend and possible ally, and immediately treats him for asthma - successfully, of course.  By the way, Claire thinks John Donne is the author of this poem but it is also attributed to John Moses Hoskyns.  This ambiguity is what happens when you add something that isn’t in the book and expect a History and Literature major not to look up the poem!

Jamie tries to cheer Claire up from her depression: she doesn’t seem to mind the endlessly crude conversation of the Scots but she is lonely and resents being distrusted.  She worries when she sees poor villagers tithing to Colum and leaving themselves with very little, and she also begins to suspect Dougal is diverting funds to himself.  At one village, she befriends a group of women who are singing merrily while softening wool with urine.  She asks the women about Craigh na Dun and finds it is a three-day journey.  Suddenly, Angus bursts in and drags her away – I can finally tell Angus and Rupert apart: Angus is meaner and uglier.   Claire protests his rough treatment and tries to remove a goat from the MacKenzie tribute so a baby doesn’t go without milk.  This does not go over well with Colum.
Suddenly, a young Englishman appears out of nowhere and asks if Claire is all right.  Colum says she’s their guest and Angus insults the man until he realizes he is outnumbered and retreats.  It is never explained why he is hanging out in this Scot settlement by himself or why the locals didn’t warn Colum he was a Redcoat but the viewer sees him put on his red uniform coat so we know what he is when he disappears.

The road trip assumes a routine in which they visits villages and receive rent in various forms in the daytime and Colum holds court in pubs at night.  Claire resents the fact that she doesn’t understand Gaelic so she doesn’t know what he is up to but each night Colum rips Jamie’s shirt off to reveal the scars and she knows Jamie does not like anyone to see his back (see episode 2).

Best line of the night:

Ned Gowan:  You have a good head on your shoulders and a tongue for argument as well.  You’d make a fine advocate yourself.  It’s a pity they don’t allow women to practice law.

Claire: Not yet.

Ned: It will be a few centuries before that happens!

Claire: Only two.

(This is not in the book but it's funny and so far there is not as much humor as in the book)

The MacKenzies come across a house being burnt down by the Watch, and Claire learns the owner was suspected of being a traitor.  She is upset that the MacKenzies seem to be looting and says she won’t eat stolen food.  Angus pulls a knife on her for the insult and Jamie has to calm him down.  Jamie then tries to talk some sense into Claire, tells her not to judge them because she doesn’t understand everything that’s going on.  Dougal seems to be getting more and more irritated that he brought her along.  Eventually, Claire picks up enough Gaelic to figure out that Dougal is raising money for the Jacobite cause, to fund an army to bring Bonnie Prince Charlie to Scotland to oust the Hanoverians.   Long live the Stuarts!  She has a flashback to Frank and Reverend Wakefield discussing the Jacobite uprising, and realizes Dougal’s machinations are political, not criminal.  

Dougal finally asks Jamie if he is committed to the Stuart cause (while Claire eavesdrops) and points out that a Stuart king would help him to save his neck (because the British put a price on his head).  Jamie retorts that his neck is his own concern, as is his back.  “Not while you travel with me, sweet lad!” Dougal tells him, clearly planning to go on using his scars to show the brutality of the English.  Jamie is furious and stomps away but seems to soften when he encounters Claire.  He's mumbling, which is a bad habit of his, but I think he tells Claire each person needs to determine for himself what’s worth fighting for.  

Claire now has a different problem: she knows the rebellion will not nly be unsuccessful but also disastrous to the Scots; however, there is no way to alert them without their thinking she is crazy or a witch.  At one point, she tries to warn Ned Gowan, the most sensible member of the group but he dismisses her warning.  The journey takes a dark turn when they discover two Scots who have been nailed to crosses by Redcoats and left to die as alleged traitors.

That night, the MacKenzies stay at an inn and Claire actually gets to sleep in a real bed, but she hears a noise outside her room and opens the door, accidentally stepping on Jamie (again) and wonders what the hell he’s doing.  He reveals that he is sleeping there to protect her from drunks.  Once  she understands, she urges him to come sleep inside the room (on the floor) but that shocks Jamie, who says, “Your reputation would be ruined!”  Claire thinks this is silly when she’s been traveling with these men for weeks without a chaperone and persuades him to at least take a blanket.   They exchange a meaningful look before she firmly closes the door.  Gallant Jamie!  This is the best part of the episode.

There is a brawl in the tap room the next morning and it isn’t until Claire is mending the men’s boo-boos later that Murtagh tells her they were fighting to defend her honor!  This is a turning point in her relationship with the men, and she later makes a lewd joke about Rupert which the men love.   As the group passes over Culloden Moor, Claire has another flashback to Frank telling her about the extreme loss of men in 1746 and how the British subsequently ended the Highland way of life by disbanding the clans and forbidding the wearing of kilts.   Claire knows the battle of Culloden is three years away and wonders how many of the men she’s with now will die there.

She goes down to the river to wash and Dougal follows her and demands (again) to know who she really is.  She says she isn’t a spy, and while they are arguing, the young Englishman she met earlier appears, armed and in his uniform, with several other English officers.

He says to Claire, “Once more I ask you, is everything all right?” and introduces himself as Lieutenant Jeremy Foster.  He’s not in the book but there is something sweet about him and his appearance is very dramatic.  Dougal says the lady is none of his concern and explains he is a big scary war lord and ignores the fact that he is outnumbered. 

Lieutenant Foster asks Claire again, “Are you here by your own choice?” and while Claire tries to determine the best answer, the episode ends.

What’s Important About This Episode:

·        Claire’s improved relationship with Dougal didn’t last, and she is too willful to make an effort to get along with him – although she realizes this will hinder her escape

·        Dougal is using Jamie’s scars as shock value to persuade Scots to give money to the Jacobite cause, ignoring Jamie’s feelings (but are you allowed to have feelings when you are a warrior?)

·        Jamie is not committed to the Jacobite cause even though he has more cause than Dougal to hate the British.  Or is it that he wants to make the choice, not be Dougal’s pawn?

·        Despite the dreariness of the extended road trip, there is growing friendship between Claire and Jamie and growing sizzle

·        The appearance of Lieutenant Foster may provide the escape Claire has been hoping for

Images copyright to Starz

Friday, September 12, 2014

Outlander – Episode 4, The Gathering – Recap

As the episode begins, we see Claire running urgently and it seems as if she is making her escape and is about to be shot by a sentry, but after a nervous minute for viewers it turns out she is playing with some castle children – clearly getting the lay of the land and discarding her fichu to mark her escape route.  Falling down, she gets an unpleasant view of what Rupert is not wearing under his kilt, and manages a put down with typical aplomb and sarcasm.  Her two unofficial guards whine about her prolonged playtime with the children because they don’t want to miss any of the festivities (Angus and Rupert resemble Shakespearean buffoons in this episode) and Claire pretends to give in, so they can all return to the castle where everyone is arriving and gearing up for the Clan Gathering.
Diana Gabaldon as Lady Iona MacTavish
Claire stops in the stables, ostensibly to pick out a horse to use at the Hunt the next day which she’ll be attending in her healer role, but really to earmark one for her planned escape that night.  Oh so casually, she asks where Jamie is because there’s nothing like a flirtation when one is planning to steal a horse, and old Alec, always a downer, warns her to leave Jamie alone because of the Gathering.  “I didn’t think I was a bother,” she mutters with annoyance.   Alex tells her she can use a horse called Brimstone, promising its personality belies the name.  We can only hope.

Returning to her medical scullery in the Castle basement, Claire is startled by nosy Geillis, uninvited and as curious as when we last saw her quizzing Claire about her upbringing.  She notices Claire’s stash of food and jumps to the conclusion that Claire is pregnant.  Startled and indignant, Claire tells Geillis she has never been unfaithful to her husband.

“It’s not unfaithful if he’s dead,” responds Geillis, pragmatic but sensing something off.

“He’s not alive,” Claire says bleakly.

“So he’s dead, then,” replies Geillis. If Claire weren’t so desperate for a bestie, she’d realize Geillis is worse than no friend at all!  Claire admits that her husband is dead, and Geillis asks some impertinent questions about whether Claire is barren.  Then she moves on to another topic, noticing that Claire has gathered a large quantity of valerian, which can be used as a sleeping potion.   Geillis tells Claire that when she arrived in town, she had nothing but her wits to survive.  She found an affluent husband and doesn’t mind that he’s not much too look at because she can do as she pleases (famous last words).

“Sometimes you find yourself on a path you never expected.  It doesn’t mean it can’t lead you to a bonnie place,” she tells Claire.   Geillis’ semi-accurate guessing is making Claire nervous so Claire says she’ll see Geillis at the Gathering.   Geillis warns Claire that being a woman alone in the Highlands is dangerous.
However, the Highlands are very welcoming to Diana Gabaldon, who snagged herself a speaking role in this episode as an elegantly dressed guest at the Gathering (although Mrs. Fitz comments that it’s the same dress Lady Iona wore at the last Gathering – burn!).  Then Mrs. Fitz finds Claire looking for a knife in the kitchen and dragged her away to be dressed up.  The purpose of the Gathering is not just fun but for pledging an oath of allegiance to Colum, Laird of the MacKenzie.  Murtagh translates the symbolic language for Claire while Colum presides, newly shaven and likely wearing the garments he terrorized the tailor about in the previous episode.  Dougal is the first to pledge his loyalty (the women are ignored but get to clap at dramatic moments) and sips from the special chalice.  Claire takes the opportunity to withdraw, pretending she wants to prepare for the next day’s Hunt, but Rupert follows her, begging her to stay so he doesn’t have to miss the fun.   Acting as if she’s given in, she smiles and offers him a swig of port from her handy-dandy Valerian-dosed flask (spitting her mouthful discreetly on the floor).  “It’s a sedative,” she says.   “Is that Spanish?’  Soon Rupert (unless it is Angus) has passed out, which was her goal.     

When Claire gets back to her surgery, who is waiting for her this time but that annoying, big-eyed Laoghaire and she wants Claire to provide a love potion to secure Jamie’s affections!  This is not in the book and I don't approve for several reasons I don't have time to go into now.  Claire gives the girl some horse dung (ugh) to sprinkle outside Jamie’s door (but doesn’t he sleep in the stable?).  “Good luck,” says Claire with seeming sincerity but it’s not as if she gave Laoghaire a potion that would actually work . . . so Jamie is safe.  

Ready to make her escape, Claire heads outside where she is immediately waylaid by some drunken Scots.  This is not the first or last time in the series Claire is nearly raped.  She is rescued by Dougal but he steals a kiss (which sounds lighthearted but isn’t) and warns her to be careful or someone will want more.  Claire first slaps him and then hits him with a nearby chair, knocking him out cold.  Good work!

She heads for the stable, looking for the horse, but steps on Jamie who is napping there.  He guesses instantly what she is up to but tells her she wouldn’t have got far with all the MacKenzies after her.  He says he’ll bring her back to the castle, and Claire reveals her disappointment that her plans are being thwarted, plus tells him she can’t go back because she walloped Dougal with a chair, which makes Jamie laugh.  Then they are discovered by some drunk clansmen who realize Jamie should be inside the Great Hall and drag him inside to get ready.  Angus (surely Rupert is passed out somewhere?) appears in time to help Jamie defend Claire’s honor and hands him a MacKenzie brooch which Claire translates (forgetting she shouldn’t show off her education).  Jamie looks at it and says it’s not his clan, that his clan’s motto is Je suis prest (I am ready). 

Claire doesn’t realize it but Jamie has been strategically avoiding the Gathering because he does not want to pledge his loyalty to Colum.  As popular nephew to the ill Colum, Jamie could be considered a possible heir and he knows that Colum and Dougal want Colum’s son to succeed him.  Jamie is afraid that if he doesn’t take the Oath, his uncles will think he is disloyal but if he does, the rest of the clan might think he is jockeying for position (think Scott Brown moving to New Hampshire to run for office) and his uncles will have him killed. Claire realizes it is her fault Jamie left the safety of the stables and is now forced to make a strategic decision.

Jamie magnificently hedges his bets by making a pledge of loyalty to his own clan, but swearing his obedience is to his kinsmen, the MacKenzies.  While everyone in the Hall holds his or her breath, Colum decides to accept the pledge and Jamie drinks up.  And finally it's party time!  Stomp your feet, clap your hands, everybody ready for a barnyard dance!

The next day is the Hunt, and although Claire makes fun of all the men pursuing one little pig, what we see is an impressively rendered boar and I wouldn’t go anywhere near it!   Claire is not as lucky – she nearly gets trampled by the boar but Dougal shoots it just in time.  However, there is a casualty, which Claire's healing skills can't mend.  She and Dougal keep Geordie company as he slowly dies.  Dougal is grim at losing a friend but suddenly all the men are playing field hockey and he grabs a stick and joins in (okay, it turns out to be an obscure Scottish game called shinty) .  The tension and rivalry of the oath-giving seem to return and Dougal goes after Jamie aggressively.  As a former field hockey player myself, I was taken aback by their rugby-like approach to the sport but the ultimate result is that Jamie is victorious!  Take that, Dougal!

Afterwards, Dougal comes to visit Claire in her scullery (as Jamie predicted, if Dougal remembers about being hit by the chair, he is not going to admit it).  “You’ve seen men die before, and by violence,” Dougal observes, and Claire admits it.  He thanks Claire for helping Geordie die peacefully.  Then he tells Claire he is going to take her with him on a trip to collect the rents from Colum’s tenants because a healer might be useful.  “We leave at first light,” he says.  Perched (presumably) on Brimstone, Claire leaves Castle Leoch with Dougal, Jamie, and what look like Rupert and Murtagh (wearing an elegant coat with furry cuffs and collar – thanks, Mrs. Fitz!), and although she doesn’t know where they’re going she is secretly rejoicing because she figures it must be closer to the Standing Stones than staying at the Castle as Colum’s guest.

What’s Important About This Episode:
·        Geillis continues to be suspicious of Claire
·        Jamie prevents Claire from escaping and she prevents Jamie from avoiding the oath-taking to Colum
·        Jamie shows great diplomacy in his pledge to Colum, and we learn that he is taken seriously as a young warrior by the Clan.  Murtagh reminds Claire that Jamie has a price on his head.
·        Dougal begins to take Claire more seriously after the shared death of Geordie
·        Leaving the Castle may give Claire an opportunity to escape

Images copyright to Starz

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bergdorf Blondes (Book Review)

Title: Bergdorf Blondes (10th Anniversary Edition)
Author: Plum Sykes
Publication Information:  Harper Collins Trade Paperback, 2014 (originally published 2004)
Genre: Chick Lit
Plot:  This is a satirical look at the beautiful people of New York City, specifically a nameless heroine and her friend, Julie Bergdorf (supposedly the heiress to the department store where I could barely afford to buy Laura Mercier cosmetics), 20-somethings who spend their time partying and wearing designer clothing.  When it seems like everyone they know is getting engaged and glowing attractively, she and Julie decide they too need to find eligible husbands and the rest of the book is about their misadventures as they try out various men as I would try out a new purse.  It is no surprise who the nameless heroine ends up with but it is amazing the poor choices she makes along the way.   It is hard to believe anyone who went to Princeton, even fictionally, could be quite so dimwitted.

What I liked:  The book is entertaining, if implausible; in fact, it is not meant to be taken seriously.  This glimpse of the idle Manhattan rich was a quick read for a hot summer day, and I liked the new packaging.   However, I think it would be more fun to read all day than to party with these heroines!

What I disliked: I enjoy well done chick lit but found this book very silly and predictable, albeit funny at times.  I did not care for all the (admittedly admiring) references to Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and at first wondered if the book had been written before her death (it had not).  This gave it a dated feel.   And unless you are Daphne DuMaurier, please give your heroine a name, if just for the sake of the reviewer!
Source:  I received Bergdorf Blondes from the TLC Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about Plum Sykes and another of her books, The Debutante Divorcee.   Here are some recent stops:

Wednesday, September 3rd: Reading in Black & White – The Debutante Divorcee
Thursday, September 4th: booknerd – The Debutante Divorcee
Monday, September 8th: Mom in Love With Fiction – Bergdorf Blondes

Sykes was a Vogue editor who moved to NYC so presumably was acquainted with the sort of people in this book.  Most of the people I worked with in book publishing had too much work to go out every night, although there were a few blonde women at Wiley who were hung over every morning...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Early Decision (Book Review)

Publication Information:  William Morrow, Trade Paperback, 2014 (originally published 2013)
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Anne Arlington is the brilliant young woman who advises (mostly) affluent high school seniors on the perfect essay that will make the difference in their college applications.  But while Anne is gifted at helping an inarticulate student find his or her voice (and thus the way to an admissions officer’s heart), she lacks confidence in every aspect of her life – career, boyfriend, and dealing with neighbors and parents.  Distracted by parents zealous on behalf of their privileged children, when will she be able to figure out the key to her own success?

Audience: Fans of chick lit; parents of high school seniors; anyone who remembers procrastinating about college applications

What I liked:  I could not put the book down, although as an alumni interviewer for Harvard myself, there was not much in it that was new to me.  I have often heard that a great essay can make the difference for an applicant, and I enjoyed how this story was told by looking at several different (and surprisingly appealing) applicants in a combination of narrative and essays.  It was extremely funny while simultaneously convincing and at times horrifying.  I am not sure I have met any parents as dreadful as those in this book but I have seen lots of people lose all sense of proportion during their children’s application process.   And in NYC where I used to live the competition begins with preschool admissions, long before college! 

What I disliked: I didn’t understand why Anne was so ashamed of her job, given that admissions consultants can be well paid and successful, and she was clearly very skilled.  Nor did I understand the appeal of her boyfriend, so wondered why she put up with him so long.  She suffered from working at home and not having any friends her own age except former grad school acquaintances.  I got depressed reading about her depression, and was impatient for her to come to her senses. 
Source:  I received Early Decision from the TLC BookTours and recommend it as a fun read.  Click here to buy a copy.   I also urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what other reviewers had to say about this book.   

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Outlander, Episode 3, The Way Out - Recap

The episode begins with a flashback to WWII: Claire and Frank are parting at a train station as she heads for the front to nurse.  Frank is frustrated at this role reversal, that his Intelligence work is an office job and Claire will be the one in danger (perhaps this is the beginning of his feeling of inadequacy to Claire).  He acknowledges that no one can influence her once she’s made up her mind and commands her to return to him after the war (i.e., not to die), and Claire promises.  This was not in the book but I suppose it shows Claire is used to danger, is stubborn, and has never waited for permission from any male to do what she feels is right.  This explains attributes about her that would otherwise seem anachronistic.  Also, it helps explain why she feels compelled to return to Frank when Jamie is much more attractive!

Back to the 18th century.  As if she doesn’t have a busy castle to manage, Mrs. Fitz is helping Claire wash her hair, and is so motherly that Claire confides in her that Frank is not dead but rather hasn’t been born yet.   Claire tells Mrs. Fitz she has fallen through time from 1945 and describes what happened.   Instead of reacting with her typical brusque kindness, Mrs. Fitz is horrified, calls Claire a witch and slaps her.  Fortunately, it turns out to have been a sort of test balloon or daydream – Claire was just imagining how her confession and request for help might be received and didn’t really confide at all.  Tricky, tricky, especially, as her confession has been in the trailer and seemed real. 

Mrs. Fitz tells Claire everyone who is anyone in the Highlands is coming to Castle Leoch for a Gathering in a few days.   She advises Claire that her work as a healer may endear her to Colum MacKenzie, the laird.  Frustrated that Colum is keeping her at Castle Leoch when she wants to return to the Standing Stones, Claire tries to figure out a way to use her 20th century medical knowledge in a non-threatening 18th century way, recognizing that anything too unusual could upset her patients and boomerang on her.    Soon there is a regular procession of patients to Claire’s “surgery” in the bowels of the castle and even Colum, who suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome although he doesn’t know it, asks for treatment and Claire provides a soothing massage.  (It’s kind of a joke on the audience that we get to see Colum’s unattractive backside when everyone is yearning for more naked Jamie.)  
In the Hall that night, there is a Very Awkward Triangle, when Claire sits down next to Laoghaire (it is definitely pronounced Leery) and introduces herself, attempting a friendly chat about cute guys, specifically Jamie, who, unaware they are talking about him, comes over and sits between them.   They talk about Colum’s bard (singing soulful songs in Gaelic) and Jamie’s first visit to Leoch when he was a teen, and Laoghaire asks if he remembers her.   Jamie, self-deprecating, says that he was a typical 16 year old then, too impressed with himself to pay attention to snot-nosed kids.  As if it wasn’t bad enough that he is looking at Claire the whole time he is answering her question, Laoghaire takes the “snot-nosed” comment as an insult.  Even worse, Jamie asks Claire to change his bandage (it’s an odd moment to choose, just as the festivities are beginning), and hands Claire’s wine goblet to Leoghaire to dispose of.   Once in Claire’s surgery, Jamie explains that he avoids showing his back to people who will pity him but Claire has shown empathy rather than pity.   Suddenly shy, he tries to leave, but Claire, a bit intoxicated from Colum’s Rhenish wine, insists on taking off his shirt (excuses) and tells him the shoulder is healing nicely.

The next day Geillis and Claire go out looking for herbs, and Geillis tells Claire the local priest is planning an exorcism of Mrs. Fitz’s nephew, Tammas, who has fallen mysteriously ill after visiting an abandoned monastery.  Claire looks skeptical.  “Do you not believe in demonic possession, Claire?” asks Geillis with surprise.  She tells Claire she believes in the powers of magic and asks if Claire has ever found herself in a situation with no real explanation, “a path you’ve never expected.”   Oh yes, thinks Claire, but has enough sense not to confide in someone who has already shown she is a big gossip and is very nosy besides.  Worried about the boy, Claire visits him uninvited, and tells Angus (still following her per Dougal’s orders) that a priest said her healing skills were a gift from God.  Claire thinks Tammas shows symptoms of poisoning, not of possession but his mother would rather rely on the ignorant local priest, Father Bain, who does not like competition and is furious that his dogmatic and quite over the top utterances about Satan are being challenged by Claire.  Claire has made her second enemy in one episode.  She is looking extremely fetching, however, with her hair up and a cowl neck scarf to liven up her demure gown. 
Back at the castle, while Claire is trying to figure out how she can help the boy, she sees Jamie kissing Laoghaire in a corner.*   At dinner, she teases Jamie about his lip being swollen and Jamie steps on her foot to shut her up.  After Jamie leaves in a huff, Alec warns Claire to be careful or Jamie might find himself married to an immature girl (due to the watchful eyes of the girl’s father) when he needs a woman. Hint, hint.  Claire tells herself she isn’t jealous of Leoghaire per se, just misses Frank, but we know that is not true.  Or, at least, not totally true.

The next day Dougal takes Claire to visit Geillis at her home.  Geillis warns Claire to steer clear of Father Bain, who sees women as evil temptresses.   There is a commotion outside, and Geillis explains that her husband, the local magistrate, is dispensing justice to a boy thief.  Arthur is much older than his pretty wife and in poor health.  Claire can’t help mentally diagnosing his condition but is more concerned with begging for compassion for the boy.   To please Claire, Geillis coaxes her husband to spare the boy’s hand, which might otherwise have been chopped off as punishment.  Instead, the boy is sentenced to a mere hour in the pillory with his ear nailed to the framework.   Jamie comes to fetch Claire back to the castle, and Claire is glad to escape Geillis’ inquisitive questions about her background.  When Claire realizes the poor boy has to tear himself loose from the pillory, she asks Jamie to help.   Claire stages a faint to distract the rotten townspeople enjoying the spectacle so that Jamie can free the boy’s ear.  In case anyone is wondering, they make a great team!

Claire asks Jamie to take her to the Black Kirk, the abandoned monastery where Tammas was allegedly contaminated by Satan.  She finds a poisonous plant, and becomes convinced that Tammas ate some, mistaking it for wood garlic (hard to believe there’s only one poisonous plant in that ominous place!).  She asks Tammas’ family if she can give him an antidote, but Father Bain says the boy’s soul will be eternally damned if Claire interferes.  Mrs. Fitz agonizes but tells Father Bain that it’s her sister’s house and Claire can try to save the boy.

I smell the vapors of hell on you,” sneers Father Bain to Claire – I must use this on a guy at work who is clearly one of Satan’s minions – but she saves Tammas and is praised as a miracle worker by everyone else.   Claire becomes worried about the combination of awe and suspicion that now follows her (way to keep a low profile, Claire), and feels she is no closer to figuring out how to get back to Inverness and is still under surveillance.  Back in the Great Hall where everyone knows your name, Jamie translates the bard’s Gaelic, telling a story about a woman who lived among strangers, touched magical stones and traveled back to a man she had left behind.  “She came back through the stones?” asks Claire tremulously.  Although it’s just a ballad, this is the sign Claire needs that she must escape back to the stones or die trying.

What’s Important About This Episode:

·        The MacKenzie brothers have no secrets: Dougal knows Claire gave Colum a massage and makes a snide comment about taming a feral cat (meaning Claire).  He is so creepy!
·        Claire’s efforts to be nice to Laoghaire are a waste of energy: of course, Laoghaire hates her for capturing Jamie’s interest.  And Jamie is no more perceptive than modern men - he is completely oblivious about Laoghaire’s jealousy of Claire.
·        Claire knows, or should know, it is risky to help Tammas but as a healer she can’t ignore someone in need, even if it means arousing the enmity of Father Bain.
·        Claire and Jamie’s rapport is more than physical, although the chemistry is still palpable.  Their friendship may have begun when she brought him lunch at the stables and he told her about Captain Randall but there is something moving about his telling her she’s one of the few people he will allow to see his back.

* I have always wondered about the incident where Jamie makes out with Leoghaire.   How did it come about?  Did Laoghaire waylay Jamie in some way?  Is he just a normal guy experimenting with a willing young woman?  Is he trying to force an interest in someone more suitable than Claire?  He is not the type to try to make Claire jealous but it works, whether planned or not.

 Images copyright to Starz

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Green Gables, Prince Edward Island

Anne of Green Gables has been one of my favorite books since I was 11, 
and I finally made it to Green Gables in July!
"It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves."
Anne's room was just as I imagined it.
We walked through the garden to the Haunted Wood...

where we met Anne Shirley, strolling by...  
Looking back at Green Gables from the Haunted Wood

I was afraid I might be Rachel Lynde, based on some of my 
answers, but I am Anne, of course!

Visiting Lucy Maud's grave
For my Top Ten Anne Shirley-Gilbert Blythe 
Most Romantic Moments, 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Outlander, Episode 2 - Recap

Claire has arrived at Castle Leoch, the ancestral home of the MacKenzies (not that anyone has bothered to tell her where they were going or explain to her that her primary captor, Dougal, is the brother of the laird, Colum).   As Dougal’s group arrives, the men scatter, leaving Claire gazing around the castle courtyard which she recognizes from her visit with Roger, a few days earlier, although in the 20th century, it is a ruin.  It is beautiful and will doubtless attract American visitors now.

A plump and jolly lady, clearly the housekeeper, greets the returning warriors, insults one of the louts affectionately, and is perplexed by Claire’s unexpected and disreputable appearance.  Jamie introduces Claire to Mistress FitzGibbons who warms to Claire when she realizes Claire is a healer.  “Are you a Beaton?” she asks, referring to a clan known for such skills.   Claire agrees warily and follows Mrs. Fitz and Jamie into the castle and is given what passes for first aid supplies in the 18th century (Mrs. Fitz also promises to find something that is a “bit more” appropriate for Claire to wear, leaving no doubt of her opinion of the skimpy white dress).  Claire and Jamie are left most unsuitably without a chaperone (Claire probably has no reputation left anyway after several nights with Dougal and his merry men) but her mind is on other things – she is having flashbacks to her earlier visit when she and Roger wondered what this dark dungeon-like room was used for (and came up with a diversion not in the book).
When Claire removes Jamie’s tattered shirt to clean his shoulder wound she sees terrible scars on his back and is horrified.  Jamie explains that the Redcoats flogged him twice, and reveals his feud with Captain Randall which began four years ago when the Redcoats raided his family’s farm.  Jamie returned from the fields to find the English soldiers molesting his sister Jenny and when he tried to come to her rescue, Captain “Black Jack” Randall sadistically had Jamie beaten as Jenny watched.  To save Jamie’s life, Jenny was forced to submit to Randall’s sexual assault, while Jamie was arrested and taken to Fort William, where two floggings took place.   Eventually he was rescued but an English soldier was killed during the escape, and Jamie has been charged with obstruction and murder and remains a fugitive from English justice. (Jamie alternates between looking like a dangerous warrior and a choirboy).

Jamie appreciates Claire’s tender touch on his sore shoulder and says her husband is a lucky man.  Claire ignores the flirtatious comment and starts worrying about Frank again, and we see a flash forward to Frank and his genealogy buddy, Reverend Wakefield, finding her abandoned car and searching for her near the stones.   Claire begins to cry and tells Jamie her husband is dead (“Hello, I’m single!”).  He enfolds her in his arms and it is hard to imagine caring about boring Frank (although he had a certain Agatha Christie/Patricia Wentworth mid-20th century hero charm) when Jamie is right there.  The chemistry between Claire andJamie was so strong in Episode One that Starz renewed Outlander for a second season before this episode even aired!   Claire realizes this embrace is getting way too intense and pulls away, much to the disappointment of the audience and probably Jamie, and Jamie gazes at her seriously, uttering the swoonworthy lines we have seen in the trailer but can’t get enough of: “You need not be scairt of me.  Nor of anyone else here, so long as I’m with thee.”   He warns her that being English is a dangerous but Claire is so tired she just falls asleep without absorbing his warning.  Jamie departs with his shirt tucked under an arm (readers know Jamie is sensitive about the scars on his back so would have dressed before leaving but Starz viewers doubtless want to see more of him shirtless).

The next day Mrs. Fitz wakes Claire up and helps her get dressed in 18th century clothes (she is shocked by Claire’s 20th century underwear) and put her hair up elegantly.   Claire looks lovely but very different from her post WWII appearance (in which indulgent smiles at Frank were her most noticeable accessory) when she is brought to meet the laird.  She looks desperately around his study, which is full of books and looks much more civilized than the rest of the castle.  When she sees a letter dated 1743, she is relieved to know the date and tries to remember what was happening in Scotland at that time, asking herself who the king is.   Remembering Frank (who worked in Intelligence during the War) had once told her that the most effective spies stick to the truth as much as possible, she tells Colum she is a widow from Oxfordshire who was attacked first by bandits, and then by Captain Randall.   Colum is skeptical and asks why an English officer would attempt rape for no good reason.  “Is there ever a good reason for rape?” Claire asks coldly (and somewhat anachronistically), and Colum is surprised and apologizes.   He agrees to help her find transport back to Inverness in five days.  Cheered by the thought of finding her way back to the stones, Claire thanks Colum and retreats to a nearby turret where she gazes down at the courtyard and she sees Dougal playing with a red-headed child.

At dinner in the Great Hall of the castle, Claire makes a late entrance and wonders nervously where to sit.  Dougal escorts her to the head table where she is given a seat of honor next to Colum and is introduced to his wife, Letitia.  Colum fills Claire’s cup frequently with wine and quizzes her about the French relatives she pretended she was going to visit, and her answers are unconvincing.   When the red-headed boy, Hamish, approaches the table, Claire introduces herself and says she saw him playing in the courtyard with his father. From the icy silence, she realizes she made a mistake – it turns out Colum is the boy’s father, not Dougal.

Seeking out her only friend, Claire goes to the stables to visit Jamie, ostensibly to change his bandages (Mrs. Fitz isn’t convinced by this excuse but provides a picnic lunch).  Claire finds him breaking a horse (both looking quite attractive) and over lunch he tells her more about his escape from Fort William.  Claire is touched but surprised when Jamie reveals there’s a price on his head, and he tells her he trusts her with this secret.   He also explains that Dougal and Colum are his uncles.  Dour old Alec tells Jamie to get back to work, so Claire departs, joking that Jamie should avoid getting flogged or stabbed for a whole day, if possible.  On her way back to the castle, Claire realizes she is being followed by one of Dougal’s men who laughs at her annoyance.  It is a shame they are so hirsute and unwashed it is hard to tell them apart but I think it is Rupert.  He isn’t trying to harass her is guarding her for Dougal.   When confronted, Dougal tells Claire he suspects she is an English spy so is having her closely watched.

Claire is determined not to arouse any more suspicion before she can leave for Inverness so helps out Mrs. Fitz in the kitchen and explores the castle grounds.   Out picking mushrooms, she is befriended by Geillis Duncan, an attractive young woman from the village who is even more expert on herbs than Claire, whose hobby it is.  Geillis’ idea of lively conversation is to talk about which plants are poisonous and announce she is a witch but she sits next to Claire at the banquet that night and provides lots of useful gossip in an undertone in her role as new BFF. Claire has guessed that Colum suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome, a bone structure disease.

Colum, as laird, is administering justice, and a young woman named Laoghaire is dragged before him by her irate father who wants her punished for loose behavior.  She is about to be beaten in public when Jamie, still wounded but gallant, offers to take her punishment.  Claire is appalled to see Jamie bashed about by his uncles’ henchman for this quixotic gesture, and it takes Dougal a long time to call a halt to the beating.  Geillis holds Claire back from interfering but tells her a discreet way to leave the hall so she can go repair Jamie yet again (and not for the last time, I promise you).  Claire is mystified by Jamie’s having subjected himself to such abuse when he barely knows the girl but he explains it would have humiliated Laoghaire but he will recover in a day or so.   Mrs. Fitz appears with some helpful remedies and explains that the blonde hussy is her granddaughter so she appreciates his gallantry.  Claire tells Jamie she is leaving on Saturday for Inverness and he seems sorry.  They gaze into each other’s eyes and say goodbye, using first names for the first time.   As Claire leaves Jamie, the blonde trollop is waiting for him (she already seems jealous of Claire).  I have always wondered how to pronounce her name – it sounds like L’heere or Leery.

Claire is about to leave for Inverness escorted by a tinker when she is summoned to speak with Colum. Dougal brings her through the dark rooms where she and Frank had sex days ago and Claire keeps seeing glimpses of Frank in the corners.  Colum tells her she is to stay at Castle Leoch as a healer and as his guest until he is satisfied that her secrets cannot harm his clan.  “You mean as your prisoner, don’t you?” Claire says bitterly.   “Only if you try to leave,” he responds, and Claire stares in despair into the darkness, wondering if she will ever return home as Episode 2 ends.

What is important about this episode:  Increasing sexual tension between Claire and Jamie; Jamie’s gallantry is established (plus the fact that he is always going to be recovering from some form of fight); Claire’s 20th century sensibility surprises 18th century men (not for the last time); Jamie’s uncles don’t mind seeing him get beat up; Laoghaire has her eye on Jamie; Claire adds to her herb knowledge with help from Mrs. Fitz and Geillis; the MacKenzie brothers are convinced Claire is a spy; Claire misses Frank and wants to get back to the stones in Inverness.

(photo copyright to Starz)