Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sword and sorcery from a Paradise author

Though his day job enables Ken Young of Paradise to build custom homes, in his first novel he has built an entire realm, populating it with strange creatures and a central mystery that drives the adventure forward to its satisfying conclusion.

With a background in literature, Young has written screenplays, short stories and poetry, and his talents are on full display in “The King’s Frog Hunter” ($15.95 in paperback from North Point Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). It’s a gripping quest story suitable for early teens and adults as well.

Something is wrong with old King Ahmbin. His mind, twisted by the evil magician Metro, refuses to accept the magnificent statue of himself, carved by the sculptor Veracitas, because what is carved in stone looks too much like the King himself in his aging humanity. Ahmbin rejects the truth. Veracitas is thrown into prison but he escapes under mysterious circumstances.

His daughter, Boschina (“bah-sheen-uh”), reaches out to Thalmus, the mysterious frog hunter to the King, for help in finding her father. In the land of Ameram, frogs are the size of humans, crafty and deadly (though their legs are a delicacy), and Thalmus is legendary in his skill. But he is also the keeper of an ancient prophecy: “When the king’s only child is a woman and the daughter of the stone cutter searches the land….” Boschina had set in motion forces that would change the land forever.

Thalmus is aided by his extraordinary friends: “a great horned owl, a giant shell creature, and a paint stallion.” Hunted by the King’s troops seeking a reward, the companions encounter evil in Rainland, on Table Top—and in a dark tunnel. Thalmus’ words are frightening: “There are powerful, wicked forces in there that can grab hold of you and keep you in darkness if you let them. You must strengthen your thoughts.”

Young excels in describing the landscape (even an odd place called Jarbo Gap). The battles are thrilling, the writing superb.

A journal for local naturalists

Scott Huber of Chico, and his young photographer son Liam, have issued an invitation for readers to step outside and look—really look—at the world of nature. And then to write down their experience. The invitation takes the form of “NorCal Naturalist: Journal And Calendar” ($16.75 spiral bound, self-published, available at Lyon Books in Chico as well as local nature centers).

The format is simple. On the right-hand side are seven numbered blank boxes (each week of the year gets an undated page) so you can turn to the appropriate week of the month and start writing. The left-hand side may contain one of the 24 color photographs (most taken by Liam) or one of Scott’s 48 short nature essays. Huber’s stories of his and Liam’s encounters with the natural world exemplify the work of a true amateur—a lover of nature (and words) with a keen eye and intense curiosity.

As the reader’s own journal takes shape, Huber recommends comparisons, month-by-month and eventually year-by-year.

The essays are miniature excursions into the natural world, one graced by hummingbirds, butterflies, bobcats, deer, wild turkeys, newts, Black-headed grosbeaks, and more. Here are photographs of White-whorled lupins and a Humboldt Lily from Chico Creek Canyon, curling manzanita bark in Butte Creek Canyon, a Blacktail deer in Forest Ranch, and a bobcat hunting voles in the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve.

“As avid birders,” Huber writes, “my son and I have spent countless hours listening to recorded bird songs and practicing the recognition of birds using only our ears. … My friends will confess that it’s not uncommon to see me suddenly hush them, cup my hands around my ears and tilt my head towards some sound no one else has noticed, and then exclaim, ‘Did you hear that?’”

In March 2013 it was Lawrence’s goldfinch. “There, just thirty feet away, swaying on the arcing stocks of fiddleneck flowers was not one, but a male and female pair of these striking little yellow and gray birds with dark black masks.”

My observation? It’s good to share the love. Get the book.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A children’s book for Thanksgiving


“Many years have come and gone and Anna is now an elderly woman. Anna gets out her keep sake, scrap book, photo album every Thanksgiving and fondly tells her children and grandchildren one of her favorite stories about the miracle leaf and how it was used for the table centerpiece decoration that brightened up everyone’s spirits.”

The story is told in “Please Don’t Leave Me” ($12.95 in paperback from Northstate Children’s Books) by Vic Sbarbaro and Marcia Sbarbaro-Pezzella. Vic is a Certified Health Education Specialist; Marcia worked as a special education teacher before her retirement “and helps out in her husband’s restaurant, Pezzella’s.”

The tale begins years ago in the small town of Leafton. The full-color illustrations by Josh Smith,  now “a freelance painter and illustrator,” are simply delightful, especially in showing the fall colors on the trees and one very special leaf.

There was sadness in Leafton, the families “struggling with their businesses due to the floods and fires throughout the previous year.” In spring, in the Thompson family’s backyard, it turned out each tree, flower, and leaf had a name. There was “Daffy the daffodil, Tula the tulip, Levi the lavender bush, Rosita the rose, Ashley the ash tree”—you get the idea.

But there was also a little leaf that had sprouted on the maple tree below all the other leaves. “Hey!” he shouted. “How did all of the leaves get so high on the branches?” The other leaves called him “small fry” or even “runt,” and he wondered “what is my mission in life going to be?”

By fall, the other leaves had fallen to the ground, and Mr. Thompson was busy raking. Ms. Thompson and her daughter, Anna, returned from town to report the table decorations they had purchased had been stolen. That was when Anna noticed the maple tree. “Please, Dad, LEAVE ON that last leaf of the maple tree, it looks like a miracle leaf because of its shape and array of bright colors.”

And then, for Thanksgiving, Leave On the leaf had a central part to play at the holiday table. He had found his mission.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tibetan Buddhist teacher returns to Chico


The Venerable Lama Losang Samten, a frequent visitor to Butte College and Chico State University, has returned to Chico to present a series of teachings and construct an intricate sand mandala, now through November 8. A schedule of events is available at; those interested can contact Bejay Moore in Chico at and she can provide details.

Born in Tibet, Losang Samten lives in Philadelphia where he is spiritual director of a number of Buddhist centers. The former monk was a personal attendant to His Holiness the Dalai Lama (“lama” means “teacher of the dharma”) and an advisor for (and actor in) Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun.

To enable a fuller understanding of Tibetan Buddhism, Losang Samten has written “Ancient Teachings In Modern Times: Buddhism For The 21st Century” ($20 in paperback, self-published, available at, edited by Lori Petruskevich.

In a conversational style that includes a number of anecdotes and reflections on his life (he is no stranger to suffering), the author explores karma, finding a guru (he is bothered by teachers who have succumbed to the lures of material possessions), meditation varieties (in Tibetan “samten” refers to “concentration meditation”), enlightenment, retreats, and more.

The author notes that “in Buddhist teachings there exist two different Truths: conventional truths and ultimate truths.” The conventional truth is that the self exists, but the ultimate truth is that the self “does not exist independently; rather, it exists interdependently.”

For the author, “the goal of spirituality is to overcome suffering, and suffering is caused by delusions, as a result of the three poisons (anger, attachment, and ignorance), with ignorance being at the root of all delusion and suffering. … The delusions and imprints of delusions are like a debilitating disease, and the dharma is like a medicine or antidote. From the example of the garlic and the smell, it is clearly much more difficult to remove the smell of the garlic than to remove the garlic itself.”

“It is my dream that everyone is kind to one another, showing deep respect and compassion for all humanity, all sentient beings, and Mother Earth.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Local author on the lure of fishing


Garry Cooper writes that “even though I don’t claim to be an expert in any type of fishing, the fact remains that after fishing for nearly sixty years, landing thousands of fish and other creatures and making over a thousand spear-fishing dives—along with undertaking so many other water-creature-slaying adventures that it would be impossible to count—it is hard not to accept that I am somewhat of an authority in this field.”

The Chico State University grad reels you in with fishing experience and stories in “Not Just Fishing: A One-Of-A-Kind Book Sure To Interest Every Fisherman” ($19.95 in paperback, self-published, available at The book includes black-and-white photographs (including one of the author with “the biggest shad he has ever caught”) and a ton of fishing advice.

It’s evident Cooper loves all aspects of fishing, including cleaning. “Sturgeon have a gizzard like a chicken, believe it or not,” he writes. “This gizzard has rocks and such in it, and you can slice it open to clean it. It is very good to eat. Some folks marinate it in milk and fry it swearing it is the poor man’s abalone.”

In addition to sturgeon fishing, the book has chapters on striped bass, salmon (including a section on “lure fishing from shore—an unusual but effective method”), trout and steelhead, catfish and crappie, shad, as well as the author’s tales diving for abalone (an “in depth” account, of course), clam digging (wherein the author reveals his “clam pump” method), and frog gigging.

“The most stupid thing that I ever did while spear fishing, without a doubt, was attempting to spear and land a twenty-foot giant pacific octopus when I was free diving by myself in Northern California in Mendocino County. … I won’t do anything that stupid again—although last time out (by myself) I decided to spear a seven-foot mouth full of dangerous teeth known as a wolf eel”—but, well, it didn’t work out.

Cooper’s writing is exuberant, plain spoken, and practical. The author invites interested readers to take the bait.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Making sense of C.S. Lewis


What is the power of Clive Staples Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters,” to lead contemporary readers to an understanding of Christianity, to deepen the faith of believers, and to be a faithful companion for those facing some of life’s biggest decisions? The Oxford scholar died in 1963, and yet his popularity is undiminished. Why?

Greg Cootsona, Pastor of Adult Discipleship at Chico’s Bidwell Presbyterian Church, and an academic in his own right, says of his own journey that “Lewis taught me that Christian faith could withstand serious intellectual engagement.” As a student at UC Berkeley, he writes, “My crisis of doubt found an answer in the gospel, and I can attribute a fair measure of this to Lewis.”

In “C.S. Lewis And The Crisis Of A Christian” ($16 in paperback from Westminster John Knox Press; also for Amazon Kindle), Cootsona weaves Lewis’ own life story around its central decision-points, the crises that shaped his writing.

As a young atheist, Lewis wrestled with the crises of materialism, meaninglessness, and anomie (no source of moral guidance). Eventually, describing himself as a “reluctant convert,” Lewis the Christian had to face the question of  the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the nature of the Bible. And as a human being, he dealt head on with the crises of suffering and death, and with feelings. If God feels close one day, why does he feel absent the next?

Through rereading Lewis’ works and research in Lewis archives in the US and UK, Cootsona finds renewed guidance for his own life and ministry.

Lewis experienced a lifelong sense of “poignant longing. He described it as a search for joy (which Lewis frequently capitalizes because he uses it as a technical term). The taste of joy—and the desire it evokes—began early in his life and gradually expanded, like a time-release capsule that drove him to God.”

This book gives another taste of that Joy.

The author will be speaking about Lewis and signing copies of his book at Lyon Books in Chico on Monday, October 27, at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A memoir of Sixties friends


Over the course of three books, Chico businesswoman Judi Loren Grace has been charting her life story. “The Third Floor” (2010) tells of giving up her child as a teen mom; “Dreamscape In A Minor” (2013) is about the loss of her second son, Jeff, at twenty-one. Her new book focuses on an unruly bunch of lifelong compatriots from the Sixties who shaped the author’s understanding of true friendship.

Rita’s Road” ($21.99 in paperback from Jetstream Publishing,; also for Amazon Kindle) is available in Chico at Lyon Books, Postal Plus, and Satori Color and Hair Design.

Divided into two parts, “Rita’s Road” takes as its central subject Rita Marie Simpson. “We have a similar background,” Loren Grace writes, “which borders on dysfunctional, and everything clicks with us. … Our friends are crazy, wild and easily bored. We do whatever it takes for a good laugh. Rita is our leader in crime and she alone teaches most of the people in our small town how to inhale and blow smoke rings. She is full of bad ideas with no boundaries. She is impulsive and the epitome of a true prankster. Her side kick is her Austin-Healy.”

The story begins in the mid-Sixties with a small band of girls, including Rita, the author, and Judith Murray Schmeichel, looking ahead to life after high school in Porterville. Loren Grace opts for Beauty College; Murray for modeling school in the Bay Area, and Rita—she “works for a loan company” in a back room with “a dead fly stuck on the wall.” Rita and her co-worker “name it Sidney and talk to it every day.”

What follows are not a few shenanigans instigated by Rita.

Then, suddenly, an accident puts Rita into a months-long coma. Emerging, her memories shredded, she must relearn everything. In the book’s second part, Rita’s growing demands on her friends test everyone until Rita is in her own sixties.

With family photographs, the book is a moving tribute to a friend who provided plenty of laughs but who struggled mightily. Murray’s words about Rita ring true: “One in a bazillion.”

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Jane King: Remembering Frisky the fox


Though her family’s adventures with Frisky the fox took place years ago in Indiana, Jane King’s retelling sparkles with detail. Now living in Orland, King, an artist and retired math teacher, and a former trustee for the Chico Unified School District, enhances the memoir with dozens of her pencil sketches and a section of family photographs. It’s a treat for both kids and adults.

A Fox In The Family” ($15.99 in paperback from Xlibris, also for Amazon Kindle) begins when “my husband, Jim, and I had moved to the country after our first son was born, and by the time our second son arrived, we knew where to find the great horned owl resting during the day … and lovely pink lady slippers just off the beaten path.”

“Two newspaper articles,” she writes, “had featured our family as the only people in town who fox-hunted on horseback and raised scrappy and unusual terriers that would go underground after all sorts of critters.”

Asked to help remove “a litter of foxes from an old barn that was being torn down,” the family eventually finds itself in possession of two gray fox pups. Soon Frisky and Friendly had the run of the house, to the delight of the two boys, Chris and Carter. “The foxes would hide under the trundle bed while the boys played with a conglomeration of toys on the floor. When a particular one took their fancy, the foxes would dash out, grab it either from the floor or from the boy’s hands, and scuttle back to the safety of the bed.”

There is sadness when Friendly succumbs to illness, yet much laughter and hubbub at Frisky’s foxy antics, and sadness again when the family moves and must leave Frisky behind. Up close and personal, it’s a wonderful tail.

King will be signing copies of her book at the Orland Art Center, 724 4th Street, from 3:00 - 7:00 p.m. October 3 and from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. October 4. She’ll also be signing copies at the Chico Library October 18 from 12:30 - 2:00 p.m.