Fabulous Fiction Firsts #353

In Benjamin Wood's The Bellwether Revivals *, bright, bookish Oscar Lowe escapes his squalid upbringing and finds new life amid the colleges and spires of Cambridge as a care assistant at a local nursing home. Lured into the chapel at Kings College by the otherworldly organ music, he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a beautiful and enigmatic medical student, and her brother Eden's exclusive circle of the very wealthy and privileged.

Eden, a charismatic but troubled musical prodigy, believes that music can cure, and convinces their close-knit circle to participate in a series of disturbing experiments, thus putting in motion the devastation foretold in the gripping opener, "two people lie dead, and a third sits nearby, barely breathing".

"A sophisticated debut novel about the hypnotic influence of love, the beguiling allure of money and the haunting power of music".

For fans of the PBS Masterpiece Mystery Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis series created by Colin Dexter, many of which are based on his novels, set in Oxford.

Another great academic mystery set in Cambridge is the second in the Detective Constable Lacey Flint series Dead Scared * * (2012) by S. J. Bolton, a brilliant psychological thriller, and a follow-up to Now You See Me (2011).

British-born Benjamin Wood was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to attend the MFA Creative Writing Programme at the University of British Columbia, Canada, where he was also the fiction editor of the literary journal PRISM international. Wood is now a lecturer in creative writing at Birkbeck, University of London.

* = Starred review

* * = Starred reviews

Phyllis Diller, extravagantly 'out there' comedic genius, has died

Phyllis Diller, one of America's most beloved, goofy comics, died today at her Los Angeles home.

Diller, who had ties to Washtenaw County (she lived in Ypsilanti during World War II), got her show biz start in radio in the 1950s. From there, she started doing stand-up at the famous Purple Onion Comedy Club in San Francisco. In the 1960s, she and Bob Hope teamed up for two dozen TV specials. In addition to her extensive television appearances on dozens of shows, Ms. Diller worked in Hollywood. In a rare out-of-character role, Diller had a walk-on part in Spendor in the Grass (1961).

In addition to her wild platinum blonde hair and her signature guffaw, a cross between fingers scraping a pitted blackboard and a hormonally-challenged cat, Diller's running riff on her unseen, imaginary husband, Fang, entertained her audiences for decades.

In 2005, she somehow found time to pen her autobiography, Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy.

Ms. Diller, who had recently fallen and broken several bones, was 95.

William Windom, great character actor, has died

William Windom, whose television and silver screen acting career spanned decades, died August 16th at his California home.

Best known in more recent years as Dr. Seth Hazlitt in the popular Murder, She Wrote TV series (1984-1996), he also had roles in other hit TV shows, such as the original The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), The Farmer's Daughter (1963-1966), (in which he played a Minnesota congressman based loosely on his real life great-grandfather, William Windom, who was a Minnesota congressman and senator in the 19th century.)

Windom's first movie role was the prosecuting attorney in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), starring Gregory Peck.

Mr. Windom, who was 88, died of congestive heart failure.

Ron Palillo, a.k.a. Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter, has died

Ron Palillo, who played Horshack on the 70s (1975-1979) hit sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter, (season 1 is on order), died unexpectedly today at his West Palm Beach, Florida home.

Palillo's goofy character, Arnold Horshack, whose snorty horse-laugh masked his academic incliniations, was one of The Sweathogs, four rambunctious, lovable students in a remedial Brooklyn High School class taught by the wry Mr. Kotter (himself a former Sweathog), played by Gabe Kaplan. The other three Sweathogs were:

Vincent "Vinnie" Barbarino, the requisite heartthrob, played by John Travolta whose career took off with this role.

Freddie "Boom Boom" Percy Washington, brought to life by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, was musical and athletic and somewhat of a peacemaker.

Rounding out the quartet was Epstein (Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein, the short, tough guy Puerto Rican Jew, forever immortalized by Robert Hegyes.

Palillo, who was 63, died of a massive heart attack.

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!

Chad Everett, hunky 70s TV heartthrob with ties to Michigan, has died

Chad Everett, who played Dr. Joe Gannon in the 1970s medical drama, Medical Center, died July 24 at his Los Angeles home.

Born in South Bend, IN, he and his family relocated to Dearborn, MI for his father's work (he was an auto parts salesman). Everett was a student at Fordson High and later attended Wayne State University.

Medical Center aired on CBS from 1969 to 1976. In one episode, Everett's character, surgeon Joe Gannon, treated a mentally disturbed football star, played by O.J. Simpson.

In How's Your News?, a 2004 documentary that tracks five charismatic reporters and journalists with mental and physical challenges, one of the principles interviews Everett, his childhood idol.

Mr. Everett went on to other series and acting roles. The last one was in the Castle Season 4 (on order) episode, The Blue Butterfly which aired on February 6th of this year.

Mr. Everett, who suffered from lung cancer, was 75.

Don Grady, a.k.a. Robbie Douglas on "My Three Sons" sitcom, has died

Don Grady, one of the 'sons' in My Three Sons, the popular long-running 1960s sitcom, died yesterday at his home in Thousand Oaks, CA.

Grady was a musical prodigy whose facility with seven musical instruments landed him his first TV role as an original Mouseketeer when the Mickey Mouse Club debuted in 1955. Five years later, he landed the role of Robbie Douglas, one of three boys raised by widower, Steve Douglas, played by Fred MacMurray in My Three Sons which ended in 1972. He also picked up the occasional acting gig on two beloved western series, The Rifleman and WagonTrain.

Grady then devoted his life to his passion -- music.He had a couple of bands (The Greefs and The Yellow Ballon) and composed the songs for the 2008 Disney Princess Party as well as the theme music for The Phil Donahue Show.

Grady, who had just turned 68 on June 8th, had fought cancer for four years.

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.

Treme on DVD

Treme [truh-MAY] is an HBO television drama created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer. (The two previously worked together on Homicide and The Wire.) The show begins 3 months after Hurricane Katrina in the neighborhood of Treme in New Orleans. It focuses on various characters, including musicians, chefs, a DJ, a lawyer, and a series of locals, who are trying to put their lives and homes back together after their neighborhood was nearly destroyed.

The show is deeply moving as the viewer gets a close look at the damage and the long term effect it has on some of the characters. It has a wonderful cast, many who have worked with Simon before, including New Orleans native Wendell Pierce, who portrays a musician in Treme. The show also features many other locals to create the local flavor the creators desire in their productions. Between the acting, writing, and the subject matter, it’s a great human interest story as we look at the lives of those who lost. Being set in New Orleans, the show is also rich with music of all sorts. It flows through the streets and in every scene, and is one of the biggest characters in this television drama.

AADL currently owns season 1 and 2, season 3 will premier this fall on HBO, and a 4th season is planned. If you're attracted to the Hurricane Katrina aspect of Treme, check out some documentaries on the subject matter.

The IT Crowd, on DVD

The hilarious British sitcom The IT Crowd is set at the fictional Reynholm Industries. The show revolves around three IT department staff members who dwell in the dank basement of the office. The department consists of a geeky genius named Moss, the lazy, girl-chasing Roy, and their boss Jen, who knows absolutely nothing about computers. Together they get the job done while not getting the job done, as they get themselves into and out of one wacky situation after the other. This is the kind of team who emails the fire department when a fire breaks out, then makes the small fire look like a screen saver in order to disguise the outbreak from the big boss.

You might like The IT Crowd if you’re into offbeat British comedies like The Office or Absolutely Fabulous. The show spanned four seasons, and seasons one and two are currently available at AADL.

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