Fabulous Fiction Firsts #350 - Remembering Marilyn

August marks the 50th Anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death but the appetite and obsession with this universal icon have never waned in the intervening years. Just in the past year, we saw the Hollywood adaptation of Colin Clark's memoir My Week with Marilyn and Smash, the 2012 successful television series (renewed for another season), a musical based on Marilyn's life.

Now we have J.I. Baker's The Empty Glass *, a "heartbreaking, pulse-quickening" novel that delves into one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.

Los Angeles County deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald arrives at the scene of Monroe's death and finds her diary. The deeper Ben reads into the diary, the deeper he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy far bigger than he can imagine. Then there were the photos taken of the night stand next to Marilyn's bed, where no water glass was found, contradicting a second set of photographs being used in the investigations.

Debut novelist James Ireland Baker is the executive editor of Condé Nast Traveler and had worked for various national magazines. He is a founding editor of Time Out New York.

If fact is more to your liking than fiction, then check out a new biography by Lois Banner Marilyn :The Passion and the Paradox *.

As one of the founders of the field of women's history, Lois Banner (Scholar/Faculty, USC) appreciates the complexities of Monroe's personal life in the context of her achievements as an actor, singer, dancer, comedian, model, and courtesan. In the research, she gained access to material no one else has seen (personal papers, interviews with Kennedy's Secret Service detail). The new information she unearthed is nothing short of revelatory.

"A passion for precision and truth fuels Banner's electrifying portrait of an artist caught in a maze of paradoxes and betrayals. Here is Marilyn as we've never seen her before."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #348

If you are a fan of Paul Dorion's Mike Bowditch and Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder, mystery series set in small towns, then you would find much to like with Julia Keller's debut A Killing in the Hills * * * (and hopefully, the first in a projected series).

Like Mike (game warden, wilderness Maine), and Kate (police chief, Amish Country, Ohio), it is homecoming of sorts for Bell (Belfa) Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, WV. Few know of her past, not even at Acker's Gap, where 29 years ago her 10 year-old world came apart in a brutal murder.

Now 3 elderly men are gunned down, execution-styled at a local diner on a busy Saturday morning. Carla, Bell's rebellious daughter with anger issues, is one of few witnesses who has a good look at the killer but she is not about to tell her mother. As the investigation flounders, more bodies pop up around town, Carla decides to track down the killer as a way to repair the fragile relationship with her mother. In the meantime, Bell is determined to get to the bottom of the case involving the death of a 6 year-old at the hands of his handicapped friend.

Born and raised in West Virginia, Chicago Tribune Pulitzer-winning journalist Keller has fashioned a debut mystery with "an impeccably paced plot, supple prose, and indelibly drawn characters... A page-turner with substance and depth, this is as suspenseful and entertaining as it is accomplished."

* * * = starred reviews

Ghostwriter: Mystery for Kids

Did you grow up in the early 90's? Chances are, if when you grew up you owned an array of scrunchies and jelly shoes or owned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles memorabilia, you remember the PBS broadcast series Ghostwriter. Back then, my mom was trying to find more appropriate mysteries for me and my sister to watch (we had already watched all of The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley), since we caught on to her love of Murder, She Wrote. Ghostwriter fit the criteria. Set in Brooklyn, New York, this three season series (AADL owns the first season) follows five friends on their quest to solve mysteries with the aid of a ghost, named Ghostwriter. This series is most appropriate for the fourth and fifth grade crowd. (Warning: may be disagreeable with adults.)

Unscramble the bold letters for a Summer Game Code!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #344 - The Highly Irregular Irregulars

Hey folks, meet Harry and Buck.

Harry Lipkin, Private Eye * (by first-time novelist Barry Fantoni) 87 yr.-old Miami PI takes on cases the police have no interest in, like trying to catch the household help who has been stealing heirlooms and gems from a wealthy widow. With a weakness for blintzes and lemon tea, and can't stay awake on a crucial stake-out, Harry still gets the job done. The final scene when Harry gathers all the suspects in a typical country-house caper fashion is as startling to Harry as it is to the reader. But never mind that! This "slim semicozy" with Harry's splendid first-person observations about south Florida folks is sure to please.

Harry's twin separated at birth (just kidding) is Buck (Baruch) Schatz. In Don't Ever Get Old * * * * by Daniel Friedman, this 87 yr.-old retired Memphis cop when summoned to the death bed of a fellow WWII POW, is shocked and dismayed to find out that a vicious Jew-hating Nazi guard is alive and enjoying a stolen fortune in gold, right here in America.

Chain-smoking, abrasive, and forgetful - with a cop's watchfulness and his .375 Magnum still intact, Buck goes on a quest with his well-meaning chatterbox of a grandson in tow, but not counting on a murderous crew coming out of the woodwork, all with claims on a piece of the fortune. "With all the finesse of a garbage truck at a flower party, Buck is pure pleasure to watch."

"Short chapters, crackling dialog, and memorable characters make this a standout debut."

They might be old but it would be a big mistake to count them out.

* = starred review

* * * * = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #340 - Accidental Sleuths

Tessa Harris' The Anatomist's Apprentice (in audio) opens in 1780 London with the death of 19 year-old Sir Edward Crick, a dissolute young man mourned only by his sister Lady Lydia Farrell. Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist from Philadelphia, known for his forensic skills and unconventional methods, is asked to investigate when Lydia's husband Capt. Michael Farrell comes under suspicion.

(Debut novelist) "Harris has more than a few tricks up her sleeve, and even veteran armchair puzzle solvers are likely to be surprised".

In the aftermath of the Great War and a devastating family tragedy, Laurence Bartram lives a solitary life in a London attic, devoting all his time and effort to the writing of an architectural history of English churches. When Mary Emmett writes to ask him to look into the suspicious death of his friend John while in the care of a remote veterans' hospital, his investigation forces him to face his own demons, and draws him back into the world of the living.

"At once a compelling mystery and an elegant literary debut, British historian Elizabeth Speller blends the psychological depth of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy with lively storytelling from the golden age of British crime fiction", in the first of a projected series with The Return of Captain John Emmett (2011). Just released is the follow-up, entitled The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton in which Bartram arrives in the village of Easton Deadall and is embroiled in a dangerous case involving a murdered woman who may be linked to the disappearance of a child years earlier.

Both of these debut mysteries/series will appeal to fans of the Inspector Ian Rutledge series (in audio) by Charles Todd (Charles Todd is the joint pseudonym for the mother-and-son writing team of Charles Todd and Caroline Todd, pseudonyms of David Todd Watjen and Caroline L.T. Watjen); the John Madden series by Rennie Airth; the Nell Bray Series by Gillian Linscott; and the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear.

June's Books to Film

Snow White and the Huntsman. In this retelling of the most beloved fairy tales of all times, Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) must join forces with the fierce Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), who was recruited by the evil Queen (Charlize Theron) obsessed with being the fairest woman in the land. Meanwhile, a handsome prince (Sam Claflin) falls hopelessly under Snow White's spell.

Bel Ami Guy de Maupassant's classic tale of passion in late18th-century Paris is adapted in a scintillating erotic drama starring Twilight's Robert Pattinson as a destitute young soldier who plots to gain power by seducing the mistresses of the city's most influential men. Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Colm Meaney co-star.

In The Woman in the Fifth, adopted from the novel by Douglas Kennedy, American professor and novelist Tom Ricks traveled to Paris to see his young daughter, hoping also to reconnect with his estranged wife. After being robbed, he was forced to work in a seedy hotel as a night watchman, until he met a sophisticated woman named Margit at a literary event. Margit encouraged Tom to write again but he was unsettled by a series of murders taking place around him. Starring Ethan Hawke, and the very busy Kristin Scott Thomas (MPAA Rating: R)

The multifaceted Seth Grahame-Smith - novelist/producer/cinematographer has adopted his own novel for the big screen in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Benjamin Walker plays Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, who discovers vampires planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.

Longmire is the new A&E television series based on the popular mystery series by Craig Johnson. Robert Taylor plays Walt Longmire, the charismatic, dedicated and unflappable sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Widowed only a year, Longmire is a man in psychic repair, trying to bury his pain behind a brave face and dry wit. Often turning to close friend and confidant Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) for support, he sets out to rebuild both his personal and professional life, one step at a time.

Checkout the Thrilling Tale, "God's Spy"

If you are looking for a new adventure and don't shy away from murder, intrigue and graphic violence, God’s Spy could be the next book for you! Originally published in Spain, Juan Gomez-Jurado's God’s Spy is a thrilling story about a serial killer loose in Vatican City just after the death of the last pope, Pope John Paul II. The tale alternates between past events leading to the killer's arrival in Vatican City and the present circumstances, where a new Pope must be elected and potential candidates for the honor are being murdered.

Our serial murderer is revealed from page one, a former priest forced into a rehabilitation home for wayward clergy members with substance abuse problems or sexual repressions that manifest as physical abuse. Led by Paola Dicanti, head of the Laboratory for Behavioral Analysis, investigators must find the killer before another victim can be taken. Using her incredible talents, Paola must get inside of the mind of the disturbed priest and create a profile that will enable investigators to track him down. Definitely not for the faint of heart, this book is a great read if you have an interest in psychological profiling and general intrigue.

April's Books to Film

Based on Nicholas Sparks' novel The Lucky One (PG-13), it follows U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault as he returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive --- a photograph he found of a woman he doesn’t even know. Learning her name and where she lives, he shows up at her door.

In Think Like a Man (PG-13) - the film adaptation of Steve Harvey's bestseller Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man : what men really think about love, relationships, intimacy, and commitment, 4 interconnected and diverse men whose love lives are shaken up after the ladies they are pursuing buy Harvey's book and start taking his advice to heart. When the band of brothers realize they have been betrayed by one of their own, they conspire using the book's insider information to turn the tables and teach the women a lesson of their own.

In The Pirates! Band of Misfits (PG), Hugh Grant stars in his first animated role as the luxuriantly bearded Pirate Captain --- a boundlessly enthusiastic, if somewhat less-than-successful, terror of the High Seas. With a rag-tag crew at his side, and seemingly blind to the impossible odds stacked against him, the Captain has one dream: to beat his bitter rivals Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz to the much coveted Pirate Of The Year Award. We have Author Gideon Defoe to thank for his two adventurous tales in The Pirates! Band of Misfits : an adventure with scientists & an adventure with Ahab

In the film The Raven (R) when a serial killer who bases his methods of killing on Edgar Allan Poe’s stories (beginning with The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Pit and the Pendulum and working his way through other stories), Poe joins forces with a young Baltimore detective to solve the crime. The script is based on biographies of Edgar Allan Poe

Unsolved Mystery....Solved?

Eerie coincidences, unexplained voices coming through television sets, cryptic, even rambling messages appearing as if out of nowhere embedded in seemingly impossible parts of city streets...somebody knows something about the Toynbee tiles, but nobody's talking....

For decades, people have been happening upon hundreds of these mysterious tiles in cities as far west as Kansas City, as far north as Boston, and as far south as Santiago, Chile. Yes, even Detroit has a few, though it's not really clear if both are still there or if they've been paved over. All have a variation of the same message:

Toynbee Idea
in Kubrick's 2001
Resurrect Dead
on Planet Jupiter

But what do they mean? Who put them there and how? Who is Arnold Toynbee, and what does he have to do with 2001: A Space Odyssey? Are the Toynbee tiles messages from aliens? Time travel blueprints? Paranoid and even anti-Semitic rants? 9/11 predictions? Just another form of street art?

Like a lot of people, I'd never heard of this mystery before. I stumbled upon it just as if it was a Toynbee tile itself when I checked out the fantastic 2011 documentary, "Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles." Deliciously creepy, even spine-tingling at times, with otherwordly music and strangely-lit interviews with colorful characters, this film does a great job of explaining the phenomenon...and just might even solve it. Originally a Kickstarter project, the film went on to receive several accolades including Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. If you plan to watch, I'd recommend staying away from Wikipedia beforehand as it could ruin a bit of the suspense-factor here. Those who remember the show "Unsolved Mysteries" and fans of "The X-Files" will appreciate the style of this documentary!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #321

A.J. Kazinski, is a pseudonym for Danish director/screenwriter Anders RØnnow Klarlund and novelist Jacob Weinreich. Their first collaboration The Last Good Man * (translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally) was an instant bestseller when published in Denmark.

According to Jewish scripture: there are thirty-six righteous people on earth, without them, humanity would perish. Across the globe, from Beijing to Mumbai, from Chicago to Moscow, there is a rash of horrendous deaths that look, to a beleaguered Italian cop named Tommaso, like murders. The telltale sign being the strange markings on their backs. By his count, there have been 34. Only 2 are left.

In Copenhagen, veteran detective and hostage negotiator Niels Bentzon also begins to piece together the puzzle of these far-flung deaths. With the help of brilliant astrophysicis Hannah Lund, they parse out that the last 2 deaths will occur in Venice and Copenhagen where President Obama is to attend a world climate conference, and a terrorist is on a deadly mission.

With cleverly inter-weaving plotlines, this gripping, cinematic, and character-driven, top-notched thriller will appeal to fans of Jo Nesbo, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Peter Hoeg.

* = starred review

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