Thursday, March 26, 2020

"When Little Girls Dream"

As Women's History Month comes to a close, it's fitting to turn our attention from the past to the future. In a pandemic age, with the world turned upside down, when dystopian novels now seem prescient, what's to become of the little ones? Two Chico-area authors have the answer: There's plenty of room for dreams. Big ones.

"When Little Girls Dream" ($14.95 in hardcover from Mascot Books), by Carol Huston and Pamela Medina Pittman, is, as Huston noted in email correspondence, "based on the premise that little girls with dreams become women with vision. In this age where the empowerment of women is recognized as a critical ongoing goal, the book provides a powerful message for little girls that they can be whatever they want to be."

Designed for children ages three through six, the whimsical full-color illustrations by Ingrid Lefebvre bring the words to life. "When little girls dream ... Baby mice wear hula hoops" (and, in the book, indeed they do). "When little girls dream ... Bananas wear pajamas." "When little girls dream ... Snowflakes fall in all the colors of the rainbow." And my favorite: "When little girls dream ... Broccoli tastes like cotton candy and melts in your mouth."

Other dreams go deeper. "When little girls dream ... Broken hearts can be glued back together." "When little girls dream ... Best friends last forever." Best of all, "When little girls dream ... Anything is possible." The page is populated with drawings of a fire fighter, astronaut, chef, doctor, scientist. Anything is possible.

Pittman, says an author's note, "lives in Northern California with her husband and two dogs." Huston "enjoys spending time with her three young grandchildren who inspired her to write this book." 

Huston has taught nursing at Chico State University since 1982, was named the Outstanding Professor for Chico State in 2008-2009, inducted into the university's Retired Faculty Hall of Fame in 2015, and has served on the Enloe Board of Trustees since 2012.

The book will evoke giggles in the younger set, and maybe some wistfulness among much older book columnists. So many of our dreams have turned to nightmares, but here is hope, giggles and all.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

"The Trail To Tlaxiaco"

Looking for escapist reading? A local author transports readers to Mexico just after World War II and introduces a man and his wife from Hunan Province in China who emigrate there to escape the Communist revolution. The novel is called "The Trail To Tlaxiaco" ("Tlah HEE ah Ko"), self-published for Amazon Kindle, by Michael Shaw Findlay.

When Findlay, my Butte College colleague, retired from teaching anthropology he decided to write a fictional account based what his father told him about being a grad student in Mexico in the late 1950s. 

Mike's father and his chums visited "Tlaxiaco, way up in the mountains. ... Several times we went to this Chinese restaurant ... where the woman who owned it ... told us that her husband, the Chinese chef, had killed his first wife down in Veracruz."

Findlay himself, having done extensive research in Mexico, decided to fill in the gaps. Who might this mysterious chef be? The result is a riches-to-rags-to-riches story of Cheng Li, driven by his goal of opening a Chinese restaurant in Mexico but whose ambition is thwarted at every step, often by his inner "dragons." In the midst of an argument one day he throws a wok at his wife and kills her.

Cheng Li flees. He's taken in by a poor family, abused in a labor camp, sucked into serving corrupt officials, befriended by another family. Can he escape his past and realize his dream?

Findlay, who asked for my help in formatting the manuscript and uploading it to Amazon, celebrates the cultural nuances of Mexico and the Mixtec (MEESH tehk), "the ethnic group dominating the western highlands of Oaxaca" (WAH HA kah).

And the glorious food Cheng Li prepares. He "sprinkled scallions and toasted sesame seeds over the top of the pork dish before serving it alongside dumplings in hot spiced chicken broth. ... The vegetable dish had a lemon and garlic sauce that acted to pull all of the carefully integrated flavors together."

Can we pull our lives together? As Findlay writes in an author's note, "we must be diligent in maintaining our kindness to one another and try in earnest to keep our dragons in check."

Thursday, March 12, 2020

"The Last Resort"

For years, Chico novelist Emily Gallo ( has been chronicling the lives of an ever-widening circle of misfits. Sipping "endless cups of Earl Grey tea" at the Tin Roof Café, Gallo writes with non-judgmental simplicity as her characters try to make their way in the world.

"The Last Resort" ($12.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) is the sixth in the series. The title refers to a pot farm near Garberville "in the lush Emerald Triangle" owned by guitarist Dutch Bogart, who moved there in the early seventies. 

"Local musicians who went on to become famous themselves started playing his songs and his course was set. His guitar style was southern blues, but his songwriting fell neatly into the more lucrative rock and roll category."

Now, "disillusioned and drained by the bright lights and groupie mentality, he decided he had enough money and recognition" and so he came to the farm. Others would come as well, each with a story. 

The harvest over, the two "trimmigrants" from Quebec are preparing to move on. The aging Homer, whose Parkinson's is mitigated by iPod music and vaping "Kobain Kush," a marijuana type "high in THC," remains on the farm. Soon Juniper arrives with a young woman named Scarlett, Juniper's "younger foster sister" who "ended up entangled in a sex ring after I was released from the system."

Then Buster Fingerpickin' McCracken shows up, the blues guitarist still sprightly. Luther, "a tall, handsome, lanky African-American in his late thirties," who spent twenty years in San Quentin before being freed by the Innocence Project, finds his way to the farm as well. As do Leo and Tasha, he a union organizer infatuated with Tasha, she a Vegas card dealer and call girl.

As Dutch makes plans for a music festival (featuring Bonnie Raitt, Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite), fire sweeps through the area, but the farm survives. So do most of the friendships in this motley crew as they find the "last resort" is the start of something new.

An interview with Gallo is scheduled for Nancy's Bookshelf with Nancy Wiegman on Wednesday, March 18 at 10:00 a.m. on North State Public Radio, (KCHO 91.7 FM).

Thursday, March 05, 2020

"The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants"

"I was determined," writes Jennifer Jewell in the introduction to an extraordinary series of biographies, "to focus on the diverse ways horticulture intersects with our everyday world and on women whose work has enriched and expanded these intersections in the last twenty-five years."

Jewell is the writer and host of the syndicated public radio program and podcast "Cultivating Place: Conversations On Natural History & The Human Impulse To Garden" (, a co-production of, North State Public Radio in Chico, airing Thursdays at 10:00 a.m. and Sundays at 9:00 a.m.. 

"The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants" ($35 in hardcover from Timber Press; also for Amazon Kindle) takes readers into the lives of women "from the United States, England, Ireland, Wales, Canada, Australia, India, and Japan. They range beautifully across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, sexual orientation, and age."

Her book is a strikingly beautiful portrayal of women "doing current and innovative work" in such areas as "botany, environmental science, ... floriculture, agriculture, social justice, ... seed science, gardening, garden writing and garden photography, ... research, and public policy...." 

The focus is on the women themselves, though a list of resources at the end directs readers to related websites for additional information, tips, and ideas. Arranged alphabetically, each biography includes a list of other women who have influenced that person's life. 

Smiles abound in the full-color photographs, inviting readers to meet such women as Janet Sluis, the curator of the Sunset Western Garden Collection (a "plant geek at heart" passionate about finding ecologically appropriate plants for home gardeners) and Kate Frey, a garden designer now based in Walla Walla, Washington (whose first job was with the Boonville Hotel and whose bee-friendly gardens make people say "Happy!").

Her gardens, Frey says, "support all manner of life, and being in a garden filled with life changes us forever." Jewell's book as well is filled with exuberant life--and lives.

An interview with Jewell is scheduled for Nancy's Bookshelf with Nancy Wiegman on Wednesday, March 11 at 10:00 a.m. on North State Public Radio, (KCHO 91.7 FM).

Thursday, February 27, 2020

"Negotiating Science And Religion In America: Past, Present, And Future"

In the popular American imagination, Charles Darwin's "On The Origin Of Species" (1859) set up a rivalry--or even outright warfare--between science and religion that continues to this day. After all, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins penned "The God Delusion," and the late Christian law professor Phillip E. Johnson put "Darwin On Trial."

Yet, according to Greg Cootsona, Lecturer in Comparative Religion and Humanities at Chico State University, that story distorts the complicated relationship of science and religion in U.S. history and in fact masks a trend among "emerging adults" (those 18-30 years old) that may fundamentally change that relationship.

Cootsona's "Negotiating Science And Religion In America: Past, Present, And Future" ($44.95 in paperback from Routledge; also for Amazon Kindle), is intellectual history at its finest, taking readers through the changing understanding of "science" and "religion" as the U.S. has become increasingly pluralist.

In 1966 physicist Ian Barbour, who graduated from Yale Divinity School, proposed four ways science and religion meet each other. Yes, there has been conflict between the two, but also they've been seen as independent knowledge systems. At times they have been in dialogue with each other. And there is also the possibility of "integration."

Yet Cootsona writes that such a model no longer fits what is happening among emerging adults. Religion has morphed into "spirituality" (many who report no religious affiliation--the "nones"--consider themselves spiritual) and emerging adults are creating "interactive networks" through technology that draw beliefs from many traditions in an increasingly pluralist context. Religion is not one thing, and neither is science. There is "negotiation" on the personal level.

This collaboration shows itself in many of the vexing issues young adults must deal with as they become tomorrow's leaders. Genetic manipulation ushers in the "specter of eugenics"; there is climate change, sexuality, AI, transhumanism, the nature of race. 

In these challenges Cootsona, in his ground-breaking and optimistic work, discerns a "unique American vitality" found in the interplay of the sciences and religions.

An interview with Cootsona is scheduled for Nancy's Bookshelf with Nancy Wiegman on Wednesday, March 4 at 10:00 a.m. on North State Public Radio, (KCHO 91.7 FM).

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"Kill The Bucket List: Start Living Your Dreams"

Novelist T.J. Tao said it: "Only by losing everything, do I gain the Freedom to build a life of uncluttered purpose." Tao is actually the pen name of Michael J. Orr, who writes that the aphorism "was a literal statement based on circumstances I was going through at the time. You see, I wrote that quote on November 11, 2018, three days after the deadliest and more destructive wildfire in California history had destroyed my hometown of Paradise."

He continues: "Ninety-five percent of the homes in Paradise were destroyed, including my own.... My family and I had, quite literally, lost everything: our home, our community, our jobs, our pets, and our belongings. ... That is where the Freedom came from, the idea that since we had to start over from scratch, where did we want to do it and what did I want to do?"

It led Orr and his family to move to Idaho. Wanting to write, he began publishing a series of novels under the T.J. Tao name (including "Burn Scar," which imagines the Camp Fire taking place on a ridge in Idaho) and, under his own name, a motivational "kick in the pants" called "Kill The Bucket List: Start Living Your Dreams" ($7.99 in paperback from WordsmithMojo Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).

"Far too many of us, men and women alike," Orr writes, "have become comfortable in our discomfort, instead of using our discomfort to stimulate a change. ... What if you could choose to Kill Your Bucket List and live your dreams, instead of putting them off?" His answer: "YOU CAN!"

The goal is to approach one's dreams with a dose of reality (one may not win the Nobel Prize in Literature but one can write), humility (which "will allow you to suck without throwing in the towel"), and plenty of baby steps: "Start> practice> suck> practice> suck> practice> Aha> practice> suck...less> practice> improve> practice> get better > practice> become competent...."

Too often, he says, "F.E.A.R. becomes our answer: Forget Everything And Run." We need to "re-frame our fears and self-doubt." F.E.A.R. becomes "Face Everything and Rejoice."

Readers may find that's just what they need.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"Secrets Under The Skin"

Chicoans Hope Hill and N.J. Hanson begin their novel with a splash. Seven-year-old Jocelyne (Jocy) Chambers, her two twin brothers, Jacob and Travis, now four, and their babysitter Lisa, journey to the Pacific Bay Aquarium. With her parents away on a business trip, Jocy finds it hard to keep her brothers in line and at the aquarium they sneak onto a catwalk above the shark tank. What could go wrong?

Hearing a shout, Travis turns but his "shoe slipped on the slick, wet metal and he pivoted to the left. His arms flailed in a desperate attempt to grab something, to steady himself, but he only caught empty air. Jacob reached for his brother, but it was too late. Travis fell screaming, and plummeted into the cold water of the shark tank." At feeding time.

The shark grabs Travis; in a moment, Jocelyn "dove headfirst, breaking through the water's surface. She'd closed her eyes before hitting the water, but once beneath the waves she found her vision as clear as crystal. A trail of blood led down to the shark swimming away with her little brother. ... She swam faster than should be possible, her hair streaming behind her like in a wind tunnel." And then she screams as the shark lunges.

"Her voice came out like a high-pitched, powerful shriek. A siren wail that vibrated through the water like a sonic wave. Schools of fish froze, stunned. ... And the shark, the deadly, powerful great white came to a stop."

"Secrets Under The Skin" ($8.99 in paperback from Ink Drop Press; also for Amazon Kindle) is a gripping story of self-discovery. 

Years later, befriended by a school counselor named Mr. Otto, Jocelyn comes to understand that nothing is as it seems. Hill, an author, poet, and former foster child, and Hanson, lover of science fiction and fantasy, have crafted a tale with a cliff-hanger ending that will have readers craving for the next. It can't come soon enough.

The authors will be signing copies of their book at ABC Books, 950 Mangrove Avenue in Chico, on Saturday, February 22 starting at 11:00 a.m. and extending into the afternoon. The public is invited.