So, my binge watching has actually been semi-successful in breaking the back of the reading slump.
First off, let me just update. I've watched the entire first season and about half of the second season. I am still really enjoying it. There is a distinct sense of soapiness to it that is really engaging, and Maggie Smith continues to steal most scenes and all of the best lines as the Dowager Countess of Grantham.
Hugh Bonneville is charming as Lord Crawley, and the relationship between the Lord and Lady Cora is pretty sweet, actually. I wasn't expecting there to be as much sweetness between them. Elizabeth McGovern has been a favorite of mine since her performance in She's Having A Baby, an overlooked John Hughes from 1988 starring Kevin Bacon and Alec Baldwin as, basically, themselves (before Alec Baldwin turned into the biggest dick in Hollywood).
As for the downstairs staff, they are even more appealing than the upstairs residents. Anna Smith is probably my favorite character overall, and her relationship with Mr. Bates is truly the great romance of the series. Steady, heartfelt and real, the obstacles to their happiness are enormous. Being a cheater at heart, I looked ahead and know that there are great things to come for Anna (including a 2015 Golden Globe for Joanna Froggatt, based on her performance).
Thomas Barrow and Miss O'Brien are the characters that I love to hate although my stance on both has softened in season 2. And Mathew Crawley, who was positively ordinary looking the first time I saw him, has gotten progressively more adorably handsome.
My mother went through a Downton Abbey phase a few years, and bought a bunch of books that were obviously published to take advantage of the craze. I've read a few of them - The Passing Bells by Philip Rock, The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn, Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson - but there are several more in my kindle cloud ready to read.
I read and finished Summerset Abbey last night, which is yay, because my concentration level for reading has been nil. Review forthcoming once I finish the series.