Sunday, June 18, 2017

"The Daughters Daring And The Crystal Sea"



Biggs resident Steven J. Thompson has created a fantasy world of sword and sorcery, where the kingdom of Highcynder is threatened not only from without, but now from treachery within. It is a world of gnomes and dwarves, faerie folk and harpies, orcs and witches, a world in which magic exerts its power and tempts even the purest heart.

The kingdom had been saved for a time from the cruel witch and her minions by the heroic Duke Daring and his two young daughters, Emily and her younger sister Elizabeth. That tale is told in "The Daughters Daring." Now, two years later, the witch has become Queen of Newcynder and is preparing to claim Highcynder as her own.

There are adventures aplenty in book two, "The Daughters Daring And The Crystal Sea" ($15.99 in paperback from KECELJ Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle; see facebook.com/SJThompsonBooks). Suitable for kids and young adults, the story features a magic energy ball, a fight with living skeletons, and sea battles that will shiver one's timbers.

Emily is now 14 and practices swordplay with Tobias Ocwen, a year older and also of the Highcynder nobility. Tobias finds Emily "annoyingly beautiful." His father, Baron Ocwen, a foul influence on the Knight's Council, becomes the "first noble to own slaves," creatures called Gharidians, amphibians who talk and walk upright.

Elizabeth takes after her mother, the Duchess Daring, cousin to the King of Highcynder and nemesis of the spider queen Evelyn. The younger sister, Elizabeth practices spells from her mother's book of magic and yearns to find a special flower that grows only in a perilous land, a flower to magnify Elizabeth's magical powers.

One must not forget young Joseph Daring, the sisters' kid brother who in his irrepressible curiosity accidentally sets fire to the King's ballroom. Joseph, perhaps in spite of himself, helps bring to light some things that are just not quite right in Highcynder.

The exciting story keeps several plots in motion at once and Thompson's writing is sure and polished as the reader is drawn into the action. Much remains unresolved, and we eagerly await the magic of the third book in the planned trilogy.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

"The Sleepy Hollow Mystery: A Chick Corbett Yarn"



Chico's Doug Keister is fascinated by cemeteries and has published guidebooks to some of the more prominent resting places. A few years ago he discovered that as a novelist the cemetery settings could yield some most interesting, uh, plots, especially if you have a cast of oddball characters dealing with issues of national security. What has followed is a series of romps with historical back stories and guidebook excerpts interwoven (complete with GPS coordinates).

The newest is "The Sleepy Hollow Mystery: A Chick Corbett Yarn" ($9.95 in paperback from Doublewide Productions, www.douglaskeister.com; also for Amazon Kindle). Chick makes his home with Uncle Ray in the desert town of Gerlach, Nevada, only now the story finds them "high in the Limbo Mountains about a hundred miles north of Reno."

They, along with "a three-legged border collie named Phydeaux," on loan from sheepherder Elwood LeFoote, are there to take pictures of a series of petroglyphs found in a cave.

It's the result of a request from Chick's best friend, Mensa-brilliant six-foot-seven Tom Twotrees, a Paiute now working for the Pentagon. FBI agent Desiree Depardieu, Chick's girlfriend, is helping Tom investigate a series of East coast murders due to a gruesome human form of mad-cow disease. A strange symbol is associated with the bodies, and that's what Chick and Uncle Ray are looking for.

Add to the mix the Dark Shadows movie; the fate of Michael Rockefeller (the fifth child of Nelson Rockefeller), who may have been eaten by cannibals during an expedition to New Guinea; and some pretty lurid descriptions of blood drinking.

There's a Nevada connection which leads to Artemus Collins, "Arterial Artie," a man afflicted with hematomania, which is, as Uncle Ray explains, "a craving, often sexual, to drink blood … human blood." Imprisoned for murder, Artemus had escaped, vowing revenge against all those who had wronged him. Triangulating the deaths leads our heroes to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in New York (sleepyhollowcemetery.org), where Washington Irving is buried.

And where Artie's attention turns, chillingly, to Chick and Desiree.

Keister delights in the intricacies of history and characters he has come to love, and readers can be grateful for both.


Sunday, June 04, 2017

"Fleet"



"On the day that he turned seven years old," we're told in Brian T. Marshall's extraordinary new novel, "Simon Patrick gave himself a gift. On that day, and every day that followed, he would learn a new word … because for him, words were like candy, tiny little nuggets you popped in your mouth, only to find them expanding, exploding, engulfing you with new flavors, new worlds. … And today, this morning, a good half-century later? This morning's word was serendipity."

Marshall, a Ridge-area writer, has crafted a tale that begins as a mystery and opens up into a realm where gods and goddesses are real, the story of life on earth is not what it seems, and where that very life is threatened by a powerful malevolence from beyond the world.

"Fleet" (available in an Amazon Kindle edition from missppelled press in Magalia; missppelled.com) immerses the reader in a novel so well written it would not be out of place on a national bestseller list.

Serendipity? Everything will change for Simon Patrick, a nondescript professor with an Alzheimer's diagnosis who, as luck has it, finds (as Si tells his friend Ben Carlson, a New York police officer) that "things that might seem pointless, or stupid, or random, suddenly grab you by the collar and won’t let go."

Thus Si helps Ben in communicating with a man found naked on the streets of Manhattan and arrested, a man who doesn't even know his own name, a man speaking an odd language--ancient Greek.

Si is more than intrigued; he bails out the man and takes him home. And gives him a name: "Noman." The stranger begins to learn English at an incredible rate, and it turns out he is incredibly fleet of feet as well. When Si's new housekeeper, Sarah Rhodes, a student at Si's university, takes Noman on an outing to Central Park, he bests an Olympic-caliber runner with nary a bit of hard breathing.

Marshall's work seems effortless, too, as he enmeshes the reader in a world which wrestles with questions about the place of violence and the nature of the split between gods and humans. Here is a talent to be reckoned with.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Four Corners From LBJ"



Paradise writer Marty Beebe calls his novel "a saga of war and redemption." "Four Corners From LBJ" ($9.95 in paperback, self-published through CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle), begins in the summer of 1967 with Benson Baker, 19, enlisting in the US Army.

"He volunteered for active duty and soon became just another hired gun. Deployed to South Vietnam … he had been gung-ho and followed orders, but only for a short time. … Dealing with intolerable deportment, he turned against some of his superiors."

His actions at the "Long Bin US Military Supply Complex" land him in the mythical "LBJ ranch," named for Lyndon Baines Johnson, "the only 'in-country' US Military Stockade." The myth turns out to be reality, "a god-awful Military Stockade overflowing with Uncle Sam's best rejects … a place consumed in inconceivable wickedness."

Benson is one of twenty new inmates, the only Caucasian. The Lieutenant Commander makes things very clear: "Now you listen here, white boy. … Brothers don't like rabbits in the buildings. … Earlier this morning a white inmate died in billet number three. … Nobody ever sees anything whenever a rabbit dies, you dig. I'm talking to you, Private!"

Within moments Benson spouts off, earning a place in Silver City, a group of solitary confinement cells, hot beyond measure ("opening the cell door was akin to standing near a fired-up pizza oven"). The language throughout the book is crude and rude, and decidedly not politically correct. Racial tensions run high. There's a riot, but Benson survives. Eventually he is discharged, and his wanderings take him to the Four Corners area of Arizona.

There he meets Sau, an Apache, who takes Benson under his wings. Sau's son, Adam, is also in Vietnam, and Sau appreciates Benson's honesty. It is a healing time for Benson and Sau, but then, inexplicably, some of Benson's enemies from LBJ show up in the area and hijack a tour bus carrying proceeds from several national parks. The heist turns deadly.

The story's end includes suitable comeuppance, Christian conversion, and a naughty joke. In Benson Baker ("Bb"), Beebe has created a wounded warrior with huge flaws--who nevertheless shows the middle finger to injustice.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

"The College Bucket List"



Kourtney Jason, an entertainment writer now living in New Jersey with her husband, received a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2007 but "also earned a degree in how to hold her liquor, thanks to the dozen-plus bars within walking distance of the California State University, Chico campus." (She wrote a sex column for The Orion during her time at the university.)

Jason (kourtneyjason.com) has teamed with Darcy Pedersen, a Northern California-based actress and editor who received a degree in theatre arts from Chico State, to produce "The College Bucket List" ($14.95 in paperback from Ulysses Press; also for Amazon Kindle).

Subtitled "101 Fun, Unforgettable, And Maybe Even Life-Changing Things To Do Before Graduation Day," the book comes "from two women with college degrees from a certified party school, so you know we know how to have a good time. And we're here to spill all we learned as coeds."

Organized under nine headings (from cultivating school spirit to "things not to tell mom or grandma"), each item is a breezy one-or-two-page chapter, with plenty of exclamation points, all with a common purpose: "We are a big proponent of getting out of your comfort zone and trying new experiences, especially during your college years."

They advocate responsible drinking and safe sex, but they don't shy away from either, including inventing "signature drinks" to having a one-night stand (after considering a short list of pros and cons).

College is also a transition: "Think of college as high school 2.0. In high school, you had to do anything and everything you could to make yourself an attractive prospective student. In college, now you must do the same to make yourself an attractive future employee." So "attempt to learn a different language" or "do a summer internship."

The book assumes readers have some measure of good judgment, especially regarding the more risky items. Graduates looking back may well be able to check many things off the list, but those who see it as a challenge to be completed might be most in need of wise counsel. In the end, the book reflects modern college life and the pains and pleasures of navigating the world of young adults.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Kiss Of The Art Gods: Memoir Of A Sculptor"



Water and fire have marked the life journey of figurative sculptor Dan Corbin. He worked out of a studio in Chico in the 90s where he began to establish himself as a living artist who could actually make a living from his art. Represented in galleries across the country, Corbin has specialized in creating life-sized sculptures of the female form.

His work is at once industrial and sensual. "An art analogy of my new sculpture style goes as follows: Rodin meets an Australian aboriginal conceptualist, and they began having kids."

There is no straight line from growing up in the 50s on a peach orchard in the Yuba City area to becoming a successful studio artist. The intriguing and passionate story is told in "Kiss Of The Art Gods: Memoir Of A Sculptor" ($15.95 in paperback from Gatekeeper Press; also for Amazon Kindle). Corbin's website (kissoftheartgods.com) features a gallery of his work.

The great flood came in 1955, inundating the ranch, drawing a line between an idyllic family life and the unraveling of that family in the years to come. After the flood ten-year-old Dan discovered an encyclopedia article on sculpture. "Looking back now, fifty years later," he writes, "I believe something mystical happened to me on that day." "Art," he adds, "is the nearest thing we have for getting it right and keeping it real."

That leads to the Art Gods. "I believe these gods reside in our bodies, in our minds, or in our DNA as agents of cultural progress, social bonding, and peaceful change." The Art Gods give short shrift to the dilettante, to the puffed-up person who dismisses his mentors. From Reno to Hawaii, San Francisco to Chico, the lesson took a long time to learn. There were brawls, booze, babes; and typhoid fever.

At long last he listened. He saw that firing clay sculptures produced incredibly fragile work, that his art demanded a different medium. The Art Gods smiled: "When the Art Gods think you can carry the torch of social change, only then do they give you their cherished blessing."

It's a heartfelt meditation on the Art Gods reclaiming a wayward son.


Sunday, May 07, 2017

"The Adventures Of Little Mouse"



Ridge-area resident Jim Barnes "spent thirty-five years as an elementary school teacher, mentor, and administrator in Palermo"; now the long-time educator is publishing a series of stories for pre-teens to cultivate "the intellectual and moral virtues that have stood the test of time in attaining a meaningful, productive, and satisfying life" (more at littlemousethemouse.com).

The inaugural tale is "The Adventures Of Little Mouse" ($11.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). The book introduces problem-solving methods in a winsome way and encourages adults to read the story to kids and talk about it.

Little Mouse lives "in his underground home up on Little Butte Creek. … Paradise Lake was as gorgeous as it could be, with its sky-blue water, fluffy snow-white clouds overhead, and green forest shorelines accompanied by meandering paths." No ordinary mouse, he believes "he should apply virtue, hope, and charity in his daily life so that he could be an instrument of good rather than bad."

One day a five-foot diameter boulder "rolled off the canyon slope and landed next to his mountain home. It was only a matter of time before it would crush his entire home." That is a problem!

Little Mouse uses TRAP (Thinking, Reflecting, Applying, and Persisting) to brainstorm ways of removing the boulder; yet even with others' help, nothing seems to work. So Little Mouse tries PST (Paradigm Shift Test), visiting human construction at the old Covered Bridge, looking for out-of-the-box ideas. (The journey downstream is itself perilous and he almost becomes "mouse mignon" for a big trout.)

Little Mouse nearly despairs until a chance encounter with men using a steel-bar-and-cylinder to lift a car and change a tire. It's a lever--"That's the paradigm shift!" He could use a plank and block of wood to leverage the boulder. (An epilogue teaches how with a lever one can lift an adult with one finger.)

When a huge storm threatens the smaller animals, Little Mouse's character is tested. He must choose between protecting his house and helping others.

The story directs the reader to an upcoming sequel where the power of the lever extends "to the emotional and mental powers as well." Stay tuned.