Archive | Book Reviews RSS feed for this section

Interview with Author, Don O’Melveny on his novel, No City for Dreaming

28 Aug

Dear Readers, I wanted to share with you an exciting series of novel, by the author Don O’Melveny. Don is a screenwriter and former art gallery owner who has turned his lifelong fascination and love of Marilyn Monroe into three exciting novels. Last Year in the Life of Marilyn Monroe Volume One and Two and the most recent hit novel, No City for Dreaming is a historical exploration of what happened the night Marilyn Monroe died and of course, asserts that her death was no suicide, nor a mere accident. Kirkus Reviews, notoriously snarkey raved! RAVED! I’m a little jealous, but wanted to share this little gem with you.

“Hollywood noir mashed up with Cuban missile crisis-conspiracy theories and the shadowy death of Marilyn Monroe…makes for a dark and fascinating read.”

Actually, it is no small effort that landed Don here. He’s climbed to #10 in the Kindle charts recently, got over 3000 likes on his Facebook page, and 17,000 followers on Twitter. I’m a little more than jealous of his following.  Aren’t you?! But of course, I thought my friends who love historical fiction, noir, pop culture and Hollywood history might like to meet Don and hear all about his book.  Enjoy!

When did you first become aware of Marilyn Monroe? When did you know you wanted to write about her and her death?


Back in the early 80’s I was reading through some Marilyn material and stumbled into the mysterious  circumstances of her death.  The more I read up on it, I became convinced it would make a great premise for a story – and then developed the frame of the long-lost missing manuscript  around it to give the feel of a true story finally getting to be told.

What do you find most interesting about writing historical fiction?


What I find most interesting is digging down below the surface of what we’ve come to believe is true – or what we thought we knew.  Only to discover layers of hidden truth, facts, and untold details.  And I am particularly intrigued by the blending of history and fiction and the yield of another realm of truth that neither alone can present.

Are you ever frustrated by fans who are so loyal to Marilyn that they believe any exploration of her death is unfair to her image?

No… because it’s human nature to want to protect Marilyn in this way – not wanting her to be caught up in a messy murder scenario.  But personally, I think there are too many indicators that Marilyn had finally come to some hard-earned realizations in her life about herself and the life she  wanted to lead going forward (especially with Joe DiMaggio) that make her undoing by her own negligence far less appealing – and far less consistent with the inner strength I believe she had finally grasped.

You’ve written three books, two prequels and one novel, surrounding Marilyn’s life and death. What was the biggest challenge of the project? What has given you the most pleasure as an author?

The most challenging aspect was to compose a picture of Marilyn that wasn’t picture-perfect – and that wasn’t just about Marilyn.  An argument could be made that “The Last Year in the Life of Marilyn Monroe”  isn’t so much an examination of Marilyn’s life as it is a chronicle of so many interesting  dramas and personalities with Marilyn as the point of intersection. But to me, one must understand this historical context to ever fully appreciate why people did and behaved and acted as they did.  Character is action, and action is largely a result of cause and effect.  For me, Marilyn is the lens through which to see into a truly dramatically significant period of our country – that eventually culminated in Dallas with the assassination of president Kennedy.

What do you find most compelling evidence that her death was not an accident?

Without question the one compelling aspect pointing to murder – was really a ‘lack of evidence’.  Marilyn’s stomach contained no capsule sludge – as it must have to be consistent with a verdict of ‘accidental overdose’.  Because:  when victims die from overdose as the coroner found – this means the individual swallowed a lot of pills.  Which invariably results in the capsule sludge residing in the stomach.  Marilyn’s stomach had no so such refractile deposit.  This has never been explained.  Marilyn died from overdose – but not by oral ingestion.  It would have had to be administered in another way. And not by Marilyn.

Book Review–“Restless Souls”, by Alisa Statman and Brie Tate

14 May

“Your girlfriend’s dead.”

That’s what Randy’s Mom announced to us on August 10, 1969 –with an odd smile, yet.  It was about 11:00 a.m., a Saturday morning, and I was hanging out in Randy’s bedroom listening to his latest LPs (probably something by Joan Baez or Diana Ross).  I had just graduated from High School and Randy was already in college.  We had been best friends since 1967, and it was the kind of friendship where we completed each other’s sentences and never had a disagreement of any kind because our interests and souls were so in tune.  Mainly, we were interested in movies, not only in the current releases but in the stars and the industry that made them.            A new exciting crop of stars was rising, too, celebrities who seemed much more hip and in tune with the sixties – stars like Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow – and we were fascinated by them.  Directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese were just beginning their careers and even then were remaking “the movies” as we knew them.  It was all so incredibly exciting.  In particular there were Roman Polanski and his amazingly beautiful wife, Sharon Tate.

Randy and I followed their lives intensely.  He was such a film genius, and, for me, she was the only woman who could equal Elizabeth Taylor in beauty.  We became so immersed in their glamor and bits of gossip that this was why, on August 10, 1969, Randy’s mother came to announce her terrible message.

We were in total shock, and instantly turned on the television.  News reports only said that something had happened in the Benedict Canyon area of the Hollywood Hills, and that five people were dead.  We immediately thought that it could only have occurred because of a gas leak or a landslide…maybe a fire.

But then the details of the Manson Family’s butchery came out.  There were three horrible events that had occurred in rapid succession that turned me into an adult, i.e. they had stripped away the myths I was currently telling myself – how a second brother in the Kennedy family could be assassinated; that a school mate from my high school could be killed in Viet Nam just weeks after we had graduated, and that a pregnant woman, a movie star, could be stabbed to death in her own living room.  Somehow, I truly believed that pregnant women had special guardian angels, that no one could ever be so perverted as to kill a woman who was within two weeks of giving birth.

I grew up fast that summer.  So did Randy.

All of these scenes have been going through my head, replayed over and over, as I read Restless Souls”, a compendium of unfinished biographies written by Doris Tate, Sharon’s lioness of a mother, Paul Tate, the steely army intelligence colonel (who was just a trifle bit weird), and Pattie Tate, the little sister who was only twelve when Sharon was murdered.  Apparently the Tates were compelled to write their own stories so that other victim’s families might take heart from their courage, or to simply correct the record.  For it turns out that there was another phantom victim in all the tragedy, and that was Sharon’s own reputation.  She had participated in Black Masses and orgies, and downed immense quantities of drugs, or so screamed the headlines.  The Polanski’s were little better than wealthy hippies, it was said, who let anyone into their home at any hour, just so they could partake in sex games devised by the diminutive Polanski, the maker of weird horror films, and his depraved wife.  Somehow Sharon Tate had to be blamed for her own murder.  As always, there was something very comforting in conspiracy theories; that somehow the victims had brought their own demise on themselves.

Until now, none of the Tate family’s stories ever saw the light of day; they had been laid aside, probably too painful to finish.  Instead they have been compiled – not too cleanly – into one volume, juxtaposed and heavily edited, by writer Alysa Statman and Patti Tate’s daughter, Brie.  The result is mesmerizing, if not literary.

Like a rock thrown into a pond, making waves that keep on going and going, washing over distant parts of the pond far removed from the initial turbulence, the crime at Cielo Drive had horrible consequences for everyone concerned.  For three years Doris told herself that Sharon was merely away making a movie in Europe.  Paul Tate went underground in an ineffective search for Sharon’s killers, then became a recluse that haunted his own family.  Patti Tate grew into a scared and shivering adult, convinced that the remnants of the Manson family were out to kill her, too.  (Breast cancer killed her instead – another tragedy for that unfortunate family.)

From August 10th until their deaths many years later, Sharon’s murder continued to haunt, bedevil and ruin her family’s peace.  Doris ultimately fought back by founding several Victims Family Rights groups, becoming the fierce advocate of her dead daughter, and ensuring that the beasts who had murdered her stayed in prison.  “That old bitch” is what the Manson followers called her, and the sobriquet became the greatest joy of her life.  But for all of that you can’t forget her anguished cry at Sharon’s coffin – “This can’t be the end!”

There is not much comfort in this book.  You do get glimpses, however, that in her mere 26 years of life Sharon had packed a lot of living into it.  She was destined for major stardom, yet seemed coolly detached from the entertainment business, far more interested in being a wife and mother.  Polanski, whose own mother had been murdered in a concentration camp, had just come around to believing enough in the goodness of life to finally have the courage to welcome a child into the world.  And then August 9th happened.  He would go on to continuously voice the belief that had he been there that night (he was in London) he could have somehow averted the cataclysm.

The book leaves you with the question about who is luckier – the slain victim or the loved ones who lived on with such gruesome images playing in their head?  Instead of “Restless Souls” the book could just as easily have been called “Blighted Lives.”

Do I recommend this book?  Yes.  Did I like it?  Find it well-written?  Not particularly.  But it was indeed fascinating, even though I found myself unable to read it for long stretches of time.

Another 5-star review for my mystery, “The Stand In”… thanks for making my day!

4 May

I thoroughly enjoyed The Stand In. I have just returned to living in LA after living in the Southeast for 25 plus years. I was in the mood for something “LA-ish” and with the feel of old school like the Noir films I used to love to watch. The Stand In hit the spot- Beagley’s knowledge of LA made the read really fun and the twists and turns as he unfolds the mystery kept me entranced and interested in where the story was going. I highly recommend this book!

“Great Book!” Five-Star Review of The Stand In

25 Apr

Check Out This Review of “The Stand In” from Cassandra Parkin

11 Apr

I’m thrilled with this lovely review, it really makes my day. I also enjoyed reading Cassandra’s blog. Indie-authors could not ask for better readers and thoughtful reviewers…

“The Stand In” is a lovely, tightly-plotted, perfectly-crafted sliver of Hollywood noir. Rising Hollywood superstars and former lovers Rick DeNova and Lola Chandler are locked into starring roles in Centurion Studios’ production from Hell – a prestige vanity-project to bring Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities to the big screen…The Stand-In” would be worth reading even without the shock of discovering the author really has been cleverer than you, because it’s very, very well-written and it’s worth it just for the journey to its inevitable and well-foreshadowed ending. But finding a book that really has lived up to the “you won’t see this one coming” hype? That’s just delightful.

Book Review, An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin

27 Mar

 One approaches novels written by celebrities with almost an air of condescension.  The poor dears, one sighs, trying to find fulfillment – or perhaps respect – in that most difficult of media.  They are usually minor works, like Woody Allen’s, into which he usually pours all his leftover witticisms and spare gags; or they are works of pretentious autobiography, as found in the collective oeuvre of Ethan Hawke.  Invariably the novels are lean, to say the least, more in the nature of an embellished skit than a full-blown work on its own.

That’s why I am particularly surprised and happy to say that Steve Martin has written a real novel, a true novel, one that is, at best, a signal that a major new writer has appeared on the scene – hidden in plain sight all the time!  The book is, in fact, a minor masterpiece.  (And when I say “minor”, I mean only that the subject matter – the highbrow world of the Manhattan Art and Gallery scenes – is a rarified one that only a very few of the one-percenters get to visit in our lifetimes.)  Fortunately for us, Mr. Martin is a well-known collector of modern paintings and well-versed in his subjects.  In short, this is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.

Martin writes in the first person, but under the name of Daniel Chester French, who is an upwardly mobile art critic for ArtNews.  As Somerset Maugham does in his books, Martin/French is content to remain only a minor character, able to comment on the true center of his work, that “object of beauty” herself, the gallery-owner known as Lacey Yeager.  In Lacey, Martin has created a extremely memorable combination of Holly Golightly fused with Cleopatra.  Seductive, amoral, charming, destructively ambitious (both to herself and others in her sphere) and winsomely devious, Lacey becomes a character so believable that you know you’ve either met her once or twice before at some pretentious party, or, more likely, she was your first wife.  At the end of the book, Martin confesses (in Daniel’s voice) that he didn’t know whether or not to make the book into a non-fiction work using real names or to bury the work in fiction.  My bet is that for those in the know this is a true roman a clef.

The pacing is perfect.  The world the book inhabits is endless fascinating.  And the discourse in modern art is nothing short of wonderful.  Best, it is illustrated in color plates that show the paintings being discussed; one doesn’t have to go back and forth to Wikipedia to find out just what the hell he is talking about.

“An Object of Beauty” does everything a novel is supposed to do; it keeps you reading at a breakneck pace; it both amuses and edifies, and you end up knowing more than when you went in.  My only question for Steve Martin is this: how can so much talent (comic, actor, writer, playwright, musician, art collector) be stuffed into one individual?

It’s not fair, I tell you!  Just not fair.

Much Prejudice, Little Pride, A review of P.D. James’ “Death Comes to Pemberley”

28 Feb

I have to admit, I am officially of two minds about P.D. James’ latest mystery novel, “Death Comes to Pemberley.”  Given James’ prodigiously wonderful way with a phrase, I expected that the book would be many things –  a parody, a tribute to, and an extenuation of the beloved novel written by Jane Austen, which is of course “Pride and Prejudice.”  But it turns out to be something more, and very much less, than that.  Disappointing in almost every way, it was still a book I laid down but reluctantly, and always looked forward to picking up again.

How’s that for fence-sitting?

 I’ve so far only glanced at the various sequels that the original book has engendered.  One of them began with a coach ride featuring an uncomfortable Elizabeth Darcy (nee Bennett), sore from having submitted to Darcy’s obviously gargantuan caresses on their wedding night.  Hastily I put that aside, thinking that Jane Austen quite rightly ended all her books at the altar, leaving the reader to only imagine what came next.  Then a friend loaned me a copy of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, which proved such an unresisting imbecility that I could stomach only the first two chapters before I hurled it against the wall; all the good parts had been lifted bodily from the original, and all the bad were merely relentless accounts of zombie attacks on the village of Meryton and elsewhere.  Talk about one joke being run into the ground!

But with P.D. James, I hoped that a writer of wit and culture was going to give me something to care about.  Alas, no.  Though Ms. James makes a very good attempt to duplicate the arch sophistication of Austen’s prose, and comes up with some wonderful Regency witticisms of her own, this type of writing is largely abandoned after the first chapter.  However, it is more than fascinating to see how James comes up with a few trenchant alternate explanations about Elizabeth’s real motives in snaring Darcy and how her so-called friends (I speak now of the duplicitous Ms. Charlotte Lucas) cynically reacted to their wedding.  Come chapter two, however, and the novel becomes a dry, British procedural, with only flashes of Austen’s brilliance surfacing from time to time.

When I think of “Pride and Prejudice), I am instantly in a world of sunlight and clarity.  But James’ novel is much more like the dark, turbid world of the Brontes, wherein even the landscape is bleak and moody (not to say muddy.)  Pemberley, it seems, is not the graceful baronial estate as described in the first book; instead it borders a hostile woodland in which even ghosts walk and where, we learn, Darcy’s great grandfather committed suicide with his dog.  (Yes, you’ve read that right – with his dog.)  Perhaps James is correct in creating this mood and setting for what is, after all, a murder mystery.  But it is a mystery that concerns only the most peripheral of Austen’s original characters, and we are left to struggle as to why she would bother to write it at all.

In the original, the inevitability of Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s eventual union heats every page; here they barely have a scene together.   If you go in expecting to be reunited with one of the most famous pair of literary lovers in history, you will be greatly disappointed.  Though they have had two children since the last book ended, you may well ask yourself – how?  There is absolutely nothing between them.  Oh, they yearn and pine for one another, to be sure, but only in their fervid inner monologues.  One begins to furtively wish for Elizabeth to ache in her nether regions again, but this is obviously an area which P.D. James spurns.

And yet, and yet…I could never quite put it down.  Perhaps the novel will improve when I reread it.  James prose is always elegant, and she ties up all lose ends (resulting in a literary Gordion knot, if you want the truth); suffice to say my interest never flagged.  Next time, though, I will have shed all my hopes and assumptions and will be able to read “Death Comes to Pemberley” as just another excellent mystery from the estimable P.D. James.  But I will have also shed any hope of seeing my beloved Elizabeth and Darcy in this odd but oddly compelling book.

Have you read The Stand In? Available on Kindle, Nook, eBook, and iPad. Downloading the book is a great way to support this indie-author. 

Loose Ends

31 Jan

1. Susan Schnelbach has created a great blog for readers and writers alike. I was lucky enough to be the subject of an author interview. Head on over to The Tameri Blog and give it a read.

2. My head is spinning from the rave reviews on Amazon for The Stand In.  (I swear my mother had nothing to do with them.) Seriously, I’m so grateful for readers, and reader who review. Thank you.

3. Kobo and Sony eReaders, fear not. You’ve been so patient. BookBaby has assured me that The Stand In will be available in both of these formats soon. No exact dates, but it will happen.

4. And finally, my former German publisher is reading The Stand In, considering publishing. My earlier books were translated into 23 languages.  Cross your fingers and stay tuned!

Best,
Brad

A Little Crowing for My Latest Novel

26 Jan

A review posted tonight for The Stand In on Amazon… “Nothing like reading a book & enjoying the excitement of not wanting to put it down so as to keep lusting for what is going to happen next! Mr. Geagley has a knack for setting you right in the midst of this Hollywood era when the words “who done it?” was a bitter reality for those caught up in the outrageous lifestyles of the rich & famous. Notoriety, money, greed…. What a combo! I was able to visualize his characters so vividly which adds that edginess of prejudicial suspicion! Didn’t think I would enjoy a “modern day” read from this Author since his expertise seemed to be prominently in Egyptian History. Surprise, surprise!”

Thank you for indulging me. 

More Books I Adore! Shirley Jackson’s, The Sundial

7 Jan

It is my policy to comment only on those books that I can enthuse about.  I dislike those who snipe at and savage a literary work; I’ve found that many times it is my own transitory mood or temperament that affects my reaction.  As Andre Gide wrote in “The Counterfeiters”, “My evening’s self would not recognize my morning’s self” and I distrust first impressions.  If I like a book, I must read it many times in order to evaluate it properly and discover just exactly why I liked it in the first place.  If I dislike it, it has already taken up too much of my time –why bother, then, to take up more time to review it?  What I strive to do with my reviews is to introduce works to other readers that have both changed the way I write, and have given me some true enjoyment.  Such a work is Shirley Jackson’s, “The Sundial”.

Like many of her works, one of the main characters in the novel is the House wherein the action takes place.  In “The Sundial” it is the Halloran mansion, a massively ornate house of perfect symmetry.  The only blot on its mad balance is the sundial itself – disjointedly out of place, an eyesore, engraved with a quote from Chaucer, “What is this world…?”

The characters, all of whom are distinctly nasty and small-minded, are the world in miniature.  And it is not pretty.  Soon after the beginning of the book, one of the characters – a neurotic spinster named Aunt Fanny, daughter of the man who built the house – suffers a dubious visitation from the ghost of her father.  He tells her that the world will be ending soon and that all who stay in the house will be safe.  The idea is as crazy as Aunt Fanny.  Imagine telling the story of Noah’s Ark and dwelling not on salvation, but upon the petty fights for predominance in the world to come among Noah’s sons and their wives.  “The Sundial” has an extremely nasty view of humanity, but it is also screamingly funny, with some of the best dialog ever created for a novel.

At the end, we are left wondering – for as the last day approaches, clouds and high winds indeed grip the house and unnatural darkness reigns.  Are we supposed to think that this is really a novel of the Apocalypse, or merely a case of mass hysteria produced by a handful of weak and self-centered misfits?  Shirley Jackson never answers.

It is interesting to know that Ms. Jackson herself suffered from a form of agoraphobia during the time she was writing this novel.  Some critics have seen it as an explanation about why she retreated from humanity – that she saw her neighbors as petty place seekers and bigots and simply wanted to be away from them.  Perhaps.  It might also portray the mind of the agoraphobic herself – that the more self-centered and narcissistic one becomes by retreating from the world, the more mean and petty are the slights and hurts that one imagines.  Who knows?

I’m probably making “The Sundial” sound like a chore to read.  Please believe me when I say that it’s not; it’s pure delight.  Just know that there are no conventional heroes in this book, and that it ends – as in Eliot’s poem – not with a bang, but with a whimper.  If you can get past this, there are riches galore to discover in it.  Just don’t expect to have a higher faith in humanity after you are done.

One of Shirley Jackson’s final stories (she died in her sleep at 48 years of age), is called “The Possibility of Evil.”  An elderly lady in a small town terrorizes the residents into submission by sending small anonymous notes to various people she considers guilty of adultery or dishonesty or secret alcoholism.  That is how I like to think of Shirley Jackson – sending out her novels and short stories, alerting us to the possibility of evil inherent in all of humanity, including ourselves.

For more of my reviews, friend me on Goodreads and Facebook (easy links are to your right) and be sure to download my new book, The Stand In. I cannot wait to hear your review.

%d bloggers like this: