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Books, authors and all things bookish

Category: crime

Mom accused in bizzare plot, Jill Easter, wrote book as Ava Bjork

There's a bookish twist to one of the strangest crime stories to come out of Southern California this week -- one of the accused, Jill Easter, is the author of a crime novel.

Easter, who lives in Irvine, was arrested Tuesday with her husband Kent Easter; authorities say the two devised a plan to frame a volunteer at their son's school for drug possession. Our blog L.A. Now explains the bizarre case:

Kent and Jill Easter, both 38-year-old attorneys, were arrested Tuesday on felony charges of conspiracy to procure false arrest, false imprisonment and conspiracy to falsely report a crime, authorities said.

Investigators say the couple hatched a plan to frame Kelli Peters -- a well-known Plaza Vista School volunteer who would go on to become the school's PTA president -- for what the Easters alleged was her ill treatment of their young son at school.

Kent Easter is accused of putting drugs in Peters' unlocked car and falsely reporting to police he saw her drive erratically to the school and stash the drugs in the back seat of her car. Investigators eventually determined the drugs didn't belong to Peters, and they traced the call and the drugs to Kent Easter, authorities said.

While both Jill and Kent Easter are attorneys, Jill Easter has a second occupation: author. She writes under the name Ava Bjork, which may be adapted from her middle name, Bjorkholm. On her website, she writes that she is a "full-time author."

Ava Bjork is the author of one book, "Holding House," which was published in 2011 with the copyright belonging to Jill Easter. The book is a novel about a rising star in mixed-martial arts with gambling debts and a plan to strike it rich with a kidnapping. "Ever dream about the perfect crime? Sean Howser and his friends have discovered it," the book's promotional materials promise.

So is Bjork's book any good? Take a look at the first few paragraphs and decide for yourself:

From the air, Sean had thought the arms of the island of Santorini looked like two brown arms cradling a puddle. But now, from a boat about five miles off Santorini's shoreline, he thought the island looked more like the pictures he'd seen on the internet. Jagged limestone cliffs rose out of the water and softened into rolling hills, topped with iconic blue and white buildings. The entire landscape was covered with white crosses, as though Satan had threatened to make it personal with the citizens of Santorini.

Sean took a deep breath, savoring the scent of the ocean air mixed with volcanic sulfur from the island's active volcano, and decided he was glad Joe had talked him into getting on the boat. It was just a tourist tub making the sunset rounds, but he was enjoying his time onboard. This vacation marked his first time out of California, his first time on a boat, and his last spring break before college graduation.

Libby and Joe, his friends and travel partners, came over to stand by him at the railing and Joe pressed a Mythos into Sean's hand.

"What're you doing, writing a travel book?" Joe asked. "You need to start partying. They call this a booze cruise for a reason."

"Bring it on," Sean boasted, swallowing half his beer in three practiced gulps. "You know I can drink you under the table any day."

On her website, Ava Bjork promises more books are on the way. She plans to write a YA mystery series set in Hawaii, with the first book titled "Strange Fruit" (perhaps unaware of the phrase's origin, meaning an African American who has been lynched). She also says she will write a series of poems and promises, "My next release will be a non-fiction book tentatively titled "An Insider's Guide to Law Firm Interviews", a collaborative work written with a partner at a law firm in Orange County, California."

After her experiences this week, Ava Bjork/Jill Easter might even consider returning to crime fiction.


Author of book on kindness admits he shot himself, sheriff says

Amazon categorizes Rodney King's memoir as "criminal biography"

Festival of Books: History's dark corners make good crime, spy novels

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jill Easter, one of the parents charged with planting drugs in the car of a school volunteer (credit: Orange County district attorney's office); at right, the cover of her book.

Author of book on kindness admits he shot himself, sheriff says


It was certainly an ironic story: Ray Dolin, a 39-year old photographer and hopeful author at work on a book tentatively titled "Kindness in America," was shot by strangers from a car by the side of a Montana road. The only problem: It wasn't true.

According to Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier, the story was a fabrication. Yet the gunshot was real.

Meier told the Associated Press that Dolin admitted to shooting himself. "Mr. Dolin made a full confession himself," he said. A man who had been arrested in the case has been released, and the felony assault charges against him have been dropped.

Was this a case of book promotion gone terribly wrong? In a way, it was actually successful. Few would-be authors get their stories picked up by the Associated Press and circulated around the globe. People paying attention to recent goofy news heard about "Kindness in America," and the unfortunate injury suffered by its author.

In another way, of course, it was a disaster. Bleeding and hospitalized. Another man arrested. That whole being shot in the arm. By a gun: that's gotta hurt.

Of course, it may not have been an effort to publicize his book at all. Dolin may have accidentally shot himself, or who knows what other reason.

"My two greatest passions in life are travel and photography," Dolin writes on his website. "I believe that travel broadens one's view of the world. Experiencing other cultures, meeting people from other communities, other countries, and seeing the beauty of the world has helped me understand that all lives are connected and individual."

As far as we know, Dolin's work-in-progress, "Kindness in America," has not yet found a publisher.


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Lost and Found: Kerouac, Burroughs, Woolf and words

Hitchhiking for material: Luckily John Waters didn't get shot

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Montana between Bozeman and Billings. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Alleged thief busted in Arizona Book of Mormon disappearance

Authorities have arrested a man who is alleged to be responsible for the theft of a first-edition Book of Mormon. The book, which was housed in an Arizona bookstore near a Mormon temple, had become something of a destination for the faithful interested in taking a look at its pages.

The Arizona Republic reports that law enforcement authorities found the book thousands of miles from Arizona, in Washington, D.C.

Agents from the U.S. Marshal's Service and the FBI served a search warrant at an apartment in the Washington, D.C., metro area and recovered the original 1830 copy of the book....

Authorities arrested Jay Linford, who "is known to the victim and was present at her store during the time of the theft," according to Sgt. Tony Landato, a Mesa police spokesman.

Some of the details of the book's trip have been released by Mesa, Arizona police; the Phoenix New Times reports:

On May 28 -- the day the book was stolen -- Linford called a rare book dealer in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area, seeing if anyone was interested in purchasing some pages from the first-edition book, which is worth between $30,000 and $40,000 as a whole.

Linford ended up selling two pages to the guy for $7,500.

The purchaser, according to New Times, later learned that someone in Mesa had just had their Book of Mormon stolen and phoned authorities.

According to Mormon legend, the church's founder Joseph Smith discovered engraved gold plates and from them wrote up the Book of Mormon. It was first published in 1830, in an edition of just 5,000 copies.

Bookshop owner Helen Schlie, who is 88, would tell visitors that they were sharing DNA with Joseph Smith when they touched her first edition of his book. She had considered Linford a colleage; she said he first contacted her in 2005, after learning that she owned an original Book of Mormon, and he printed a book of her poetry. I'm happy to have the book back, but I didn't want it this way," Schlie told the Arizona Republic. "That's my publisher."

"I'm not angry," she continued. "I have only compassion and deep sorrow. It hurts. I can't imagine what he is going through now, what drove him to this point."


First edition "Book of Mormon" stolen from Arizona store

Atheist writers clash over how to not worship a nonexistent God

World's most expensive book -- by Audubon -- sells for $11.5 million

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, in a 19th century portrait by John Hafen. Credit: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints / Associated Press

Hitchhiking for material: Luckily John Waters didn't get shot

Johnwaters_2012Last month John Waters completed an eight-day cross-country trip. The film director and writer,  known for his unique perspective, decided to make the trip an adventure: He hitchhiked.

Along the way, he was picked up by an indie rock band on tour, a pastor's wife, a married couple and a 20-year-old tea party town councilman. Waters is planning to turn the story of his 15-ride trip into a book, "Carsick," for FSG.

“Everyone my age that I know was so horrified by this idea,” he told the New York Times. “Every young person I know said, ‘Can we come?’ ”

Waters made it Baltimore to his San Francisco apartment without incident. But another hopeful writer who undertook a similar hitchhiking adventure for material wasn't so lucky.

Ray Dolin, a 39-year-old West Virginian working on a book he planned to call “The Kindness of America,” was shot on a rural Montana highway while waiting for a ride.

The Associated Press reports:

Ray Dolin, 39, was shot in the arm as he approached a pickup Saturday evening, thinking the driver was offering him a ride, said Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier....

A 52-year-old man from Washington state, Lloyd Christopher Danielson III, was arrested about four hours later near Culbertson. ... They [police] released no motive in the shooting.

Dolin, who told sheriff's officials that he was writing a memoir titled "Kindness in America," is expected to recover from his injuries. He has worked as a freelance photographer; his father told reporters that his son was traveling across the country taking pictures. 

"My two greatest passions in life are travel and photography," Dolin writes on his website. "I believe that travel broadens one's view of the world. Experiencing other cultures, meeting people from other communities, other countries, and seeing the beauty of the world has helped me understand that all lives are connected and individual."

Waters was less idealistic about his travel experiences. "“You think maybe you’re standing by a highway for a long time, it’s a Zen-like experience,” he said. “It isn’t. It is a despairing experience to figure: No one’s ever going to stop. I’m here forever.”

Maybe Dolin and Waters can do some book tour dates together. Hitchhiking. Maybe.


Waters steps onto the LAT bestseller list

Book review: "Role Models" by John Waters

First-edition Book of Mormon stolen from Arizona store

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Waters at the 2012 CFDA Fashion Awards. Credit: Theo Wargo / Getty Images

First edition Book of Mormon stolen from Arizona store

Joseph Smith

As Mormon lore has it, Joseph Smith found engraved gold plates and from them wrote up the Book of Mormon. It was first published in 1830, in an edition of just 5,000 copies.

One of those copies, on display at a Mesa, Ariz., bookstore, has been the object of Mormon pilgrimages, USA Today reports.

For years, Mormon missionaries would come to Helen Schlie's bookstore to have their pictures taken with a first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon.

Some missionaries would cry as they touched the rare book, one of 5,000 printed in 1830 after Joseph Smith found the gold plates that he translated into the Book of Mormon, which members of the faith consider to be scripture alongside the Bible.

'I tell people they are sharing their DNA with Joseph Smith himself,' said Schlie, 88, a Mormon convert who bought the book in the late 1960s from a man so desperate for money that he was willing to sell a family heirloom.

Someone else was desperate -- or canny. The book was stolen from Rare and Out of Print Books and Art sometime during the Memorial Day weekend.

Since 2005, Schlie has been selling individual pages of her copy of the Book of Mormon for $2,500-$4,000 each. She estimates the book's value at $100,000 -- but it was not insured.


The Dude abides: Jeff Bridges to co-write book of Zen teachings

Atheist writers clash over how to not worship a nonexistent God

World's most expensive book -- by Audubon -- sells for $11.5 million

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, in a 19th century portrait by John Hafen. Credit: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints / Associated Press

What's worse library behavior: watching porn or stabbing someone?

Proper library conduct
What we are supposed to do in libraries: read, be quiet.

What we're not supposed to do: watch pornographic videos, stab people.

The Brookyn Public Library this week found some of its patrons have extremely poor library etiquette. At the Brooklyn Heights branch, one patron accused another of watching porn on the library's computer -- and then, according to allegations, attacked, stabbing him.

An inital account of the incident was reported by the New York Daily News:

"He was with his wife and he accused the other guy of looking at porn," one police source said. "The guy looking at porn picked up a chair and hits him. The guy who was offended said, 'I have a knife,' and stabs him in the chest," the source continued.

The man who was stabbed, Ransom Alton, contradicted that story when he was reached after being treated and released from Bellvue Hospital. "He stabbed me in the chest," Alton, 52, told the Daily News. "I had just sat down and gone online — it happened so fast." Alton insists he was searching for jobs, not pornography, adding that because of privacy screens, his attacker "had to be all up on me to see what I was looking at."

Alton also noted that the library has content filters for online access, implying that it would not be possible to access adult content. That isn't necessarily the case. If someone logs into a desktop user terminal with an adult library card, they can choose to use filtered content or unfiltered content, according to a report in the Brooklyn Eagle.

The man accused in the attack, Ralph Neptune, is a 46-year-old homeless man with an arrest record that includes assault. He was taken into custody by police on suspicion of assault, criminal possession of a weapon, menacing, and criminal possession of marijuana.

Which alleged offense is worse?


Library graffiti at the University of Chicago

Irish National Library puts James Joyce manuscripts online

Silver Lake public library to host beard competition

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: An illustration of proper library behavior. Credit: Ye Olde Wig Shoppe via Flickr

Festival of Books: History's dark corners make good crime, spy novels

Click to view photos from the Festival of Books

Here’s a humdinger of a story from the Scottish crime novelist Philip Kerr about a research trip to Russia following some local cops with whom he thought he had built a good rapport.

“The cop was always joking – “So you are British spy, yes?’ I always told him, ‘Of course I am.’ One night we went and got very drunk together, it was the first time I’d ever finished a bottle of vodka by myself. Then the cop said, ‘Now we go someplace special.’ We got in the car and drove and I fell asleep for a bit, and when I woke up we were in a forest. I had a beautiful translator with me and she said, quietly, ‘I do not like this.’

“We got out the car and the cop made me walk to a frozen lake, and I had to tell him, ‘You know that I was kidding about being a spy, right?’ So he starts taking his clothes off and I think, ‘Oh no, he doesn’t think I’m a spy, he thinks I’m gay.’ Then he lifts this giant rock over his head and I’m thinking, ‘Oh well, at least this is a better way to go than if he shot me,” and he throws it onto the ice and cracks a big hole in it. He jumped in and just sank, then came up and said, ‘This is where I go when I have to sober up very quickly.”

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

The rest of the “Crime Fiction: Listening In” panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday was almost an afterthought compared with that stranger-than-his-own-fiction anecdote from the author of the Bernie Gunther spy novels.

Continue reading »

Rodney King and the L.A. riots: When 20 years can seem like yesterday

Click to view photos from the Festival of BooksOne aspect of Los Angeles hasn't changed in the 20 years since the 1992 riots: Traffic tie-ups. Rodney King, whose March 1991 beating by L.A. police officers was the first link in the chain of events that culminated in the 1992 riots, was a half-hour late Saturday for his interview with Times columnist Patt Morrison.

So, in a sense, the session ran in reverse. With Morrison, who also anchors a radio show on KPCC, as the moderator, Angelenos spent a half-hour talking about their own experiences during and after the riots as they awaited King's arrival. The general consensus: The LAPD has changed for the better, but the socio-economic conditions that set the stage for the riots have worsened. And the racial divides are still chasms.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

"I'm surprised at how white we are here," said one white woman, looking around at the crowd of more than 500 people in a basement auditorium at USC's Ronald Tutor Campus Center, about four miles north of where the riots began near South Central's Normandie and Florence Avenues. The woman said she lived in South Central, in a neighborhood in which she is the rare white resident. "The riots can certainly start again, until we have socio-economic changes, and in how we view other people."

King, for his part, arrived out of breath, and spoke of forgiveness for the officers involved in his videotaped beating after a high-speed chase. With his history of substance abuse, he said, he has been in need of some forgiveness. "I am a forgiving man," he said. "That's how I was raised, to be in a forgiving state of mind. I have been forgiven many times. I am only human. Who am I not to forgive someone?"

Continue reading »

Father to memorialize slain student Meredith Kercher in new book


The father of Meredith Kercher, the British student whose death was at the heart of a controversial case in Italy, will publish a book remembering his daughter, it was announced Tuesday. Kercher was killed in 2007 in the apartment she shared with American student Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy.

Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were initially convicted in the case, which drew significant international attention. Her conviction was overturned in the fall of 2011, when Knox and Sollecito were acquitted on appeal. Knox, freed, returned to America. She secured a book deal of her own, with HarperCollins, for $4 million.

The Associated Press reports that the book by John Kercher, “Meredith: Our Daughter’s Murder and the Heartbreaking Quest for the Truth,” will be published by Hodder & Stoughton in England and the U.S. on April 26. The publisher describes the book as "a celebration of Meredith’s life and an account of the family’s 'ongoing quest for justice.'"

PHOTOS: The Amanda Knox case

In short excerpts from the book posted at the Daily Mail, Kercher describes the day he learned of Kercher's death. "'I hadn't been able to get through to Meredith on her mobile, which was very unusual, but I tried to keep calm by telling myself the victim couldn't possibly be Meredith." Yet he was about to be plunged into a parent's nightmare: Kercher was found dead in her room, her throat slashed and her body bearing more than 40 stab wounds and signs of sexual assault.

Members of Kercher's family -- her mother, sister and brother, but not her father -- were present at the court when the decision was made acquitting Knox and Sollecito.

"While we accept the decision that was handed down ... we are now left obviously looking at this again and thinking how a decision that was so certain two years ago has been so emphatically overturned now," said brother Lyle Kercher. "For us, it feels very much almost like back to square one, and the search goes on really to find out what truly happened."


Amanda Knox gets $4-million book deal

Amanda Knox, by the book

Amanda Knox: Should she get a book deal?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Meredith Kercher. Credit: Associated Press

New book contends O.J. Simpson's son was Nicole's killer

In the new book "O.J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It," author-investigator William C. Dear asserts that he knows who killed Nicole Brown Simpson. As you can guess from the title, he believes it was not O.J. Simpson: He claims it was Jason Simpson, the former football star's son.

Dear told the Huffington Post:

I flew out two weeks after the murders.... I climbed over the back gate and walked the walkway to the front door, and that's when I realized O.J. could not have done it. But he was there. He was either there at the time or there afterwards [and] became part of the crime....

I have been inducted into the Police Officer Hall of Fame as a private investigator, so my credentials are not [that of] some idiot guy just throwing it out there. My reputation is important to me. I would not say any of this without a great deal of backup.

USA Today reports that Dear says he has the knife used in the murders, saying he obtained it from a storage facility rented by Jason Simpson, who had allowed his payments to lapse.

Jason Simpson did not respond to the Huffington Post's request for comment. He is the child of O.J. Simpson and his first wife, Marguerite L. Whitley. Nicole Brown Simpson, who was Simpson's second wife, had two children with him. She and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered on her stoop in 1994. Simpson was accused of the murders and found not guilty in a criminal trial, then later was convicted of lesser charges in a civil trial.

A previous book about the case, "If I Did It" was authored by O.J. Simpson. It was set for a 2006 release, but publication was cancelled after a controversy erupted over its premise, in which Simpson hypothesized about killing his estranged wife and Goldman. Later, rights to the book were given to the Goldman family, who added additional commentary and released the book with the revised title, "I Did It: Confessions of the Killer."

"O.J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It," being published by Skyhorse Publishing, is out today.


Amanda Knox gets $4-million book deal

Paramount sues to stop new 'Godfather' prequel's publication

Jimmy Hoffa's driver, in book, says he knows where boss is buried

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: O.J. Simpson is hugged by attorney Johnnie Cochran as the not-guilty verdict is read on Oct. 3, 1995. Credit: Myung J Chun / Associated Press


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