Sunday, August 17, 2014

For Chico novelist, dragons have to eat, too


A human named the dragon “Jade,” and that will suffice. Perhaps the last of her kind, she was forced out of her homeland to live in Romania’s mountains. Hungry, she “emerged from the blackness like thief in the night. Over nine feet tall, 25 feet long, 1000 pounds approaching like a big cat.” The fire she breathed also provided lift (when the fire ran out, the dragon was grounded). She was forced to steal livestock from the dreaded but inferior humans. It had come to this.

Her story is told, from both the human and dragon perspectives, in “The Last Stand Of The Dragon” ($10.99 in paperback from Tate Publishing,; a digital download is also available) by N.J. Hanson. According to a news release, the Chico writer sets his story in the waning years of the tenth century, before dragons became merely the stuff of legend.

The central human character is Richard, “the squire of the local lord for the village at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. His lord was Sir Ardose, a man beloved and cherished by all the people in the village.” (But Ardose, it turns out, is no saint.) At first Ardose seems not to believe Richard’s report of a dragon sighting, but soon enough the threat becomes real as Richard and others in town are forced to fight for their lives to put an end to the dragon.

Jade must contend not only with the humans but with the sudden appearance of a haughty male dragon out to destroy their eggs if the embryos are male. There must be no competition.

As for the humans, several of them, spurred on at the local tavern, intend to climb the mountain and kill Jade. Hanson uses contemporary conversational style (Lenney tells his friends: “I don’t know, guys. I mean, did you see the size of that thing?”) but this is no fairy tale. The battles are fierce and gruesome, with more than one human head being bitten off. The landscape is strewn with corpses. There are no winners here, perhaps even for those who sacrificed for love.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Magalia couple goes to the dogs


If Alan and Kathi Hiatt thought retirement would be dull and boring, it’s clear they had nothing to worry about. Brought up in Chico and Gridley, the Hiatts have become “dog people,” adopting a trio of Basset Hounds (Winchester, Abby, and Lucy) and one white, 45-pound, long-haired Australian Shepherd mix with quite a story.

Odd Otis: An Unusual Tail (Tale) About An Unusual Dog” ($7.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle) intertwines chapters written by Alan with far more sensible chapters written by Kathi (as Alan will attest), with a Q&A Section at the end (and more at

Alan was tooling up the Skyway in his old Jeep when he spotted the dog “crisscrossing the double yellow line in the middle of the road” near a busy intersection. Alan turned around and was able to scoop him up, and then it happened. “I will never forget the instantaneous warm and powerful jolt that swept through me when this dog wrapped all four legs around my middle, laid his head on my shoulder, and then literally body-melted into my chest.” Otis, it turned out, had been blind and deaf since birth.

“Otis followed Alan everywhere he went and was constantly begging for lap time,” Kathi writes; “Alan, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to be in the same room with Otis without petting or doting on him.” He was smitten. Kathi created a “lost dog” poster and Alan reluctantly put it up around town.

Days later, a woman named Tina, the rightful owner, contacted the couple. But then, seeing the incredible bond that had formed, she graciously agreed that Otis should belong to the Hiatt household.

What follows are tales of new relationships formed (with Kathi and the Bassets); tossed popcorn nights (“only do this when the wife’s not home”); and great Otis yawns (“it does give me the opportunity to check out his teeth”). Told with humor and down-home charm, it’s the on-going story of a special needs dog and an encouragement to others to consider adopting. “Through him,” Kathi writes, “we have reinvented ourselves.”

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Paradise author has a message for kids


For Sharon Garcia, it began in a moment of anger. The Paradise resident stomped on a beetle in frustration and then, according to a note about the author, “after a moment of guilt she was relieved to see the insect run out from under her foot, alive and well.”

That set her to thinking, and the thinking eventually became a children’s book, “Benny Gets Bugged” ($13.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; visit, with full color illustrations by another Paradise resident, Steve Ferchaud, and book design by Son Rey Garcia.

The story begins on the playground when “Mean Mabel” demolishes Benny at a game of Four Square. “She continued deflating his moment of triumph by leading the other players in a taunting chorus or two of ‘Benny, Benny, he’s not worth a penny.’”

Needless to say, “Benny was in a rotten mood and he had to go #2 really bad.” Sitting on the toilet, Benny spots a beetle underfoot and, taking out his anger, squishes the bug. “Benny avoided lifting his foot to look at the mess he’d made of the innocent bug. The longer he sat there the more he pondered his cruel act.”

Just imagine: “What if I was tiny and bugs were big? What if I was just walking home from school … thinking about the cookies and milk waiting at home for me on the dinette table … when a huge angry bug decided that I deserved a good squashing?”

Ferchaud matches the fantasy with nightmare pictures, spread across two pages, of giant spiders and more. Shaken, Benny “thought about the poor little mangled beetle under his foot. Had it cried out to be rescued? How could he ever forgive himself for being meaner than Mean Mabel?”

Well, the beetle escapes unscathed. Later, Benny learns that bug behavior helps them survive. As his teacher says, “They do look and act different than us, but different doesn’t mean bad or better. Different just means not the same. Whenever we encounter something that is different it’s an opportunity to learn and explore something new.”

As for Benny—just call him the “bug boy”!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Paradise author on living the life, losing the weight


“Standard weight loss advice,” writes Michelle Hastie of Paradise, “is built on the assumption that there is a cookie-cutter formula” to “getting the weight off—very rarely does it realistically concern itself with keeping it off.” Hastie, a weight loss coach, takes a different approach, spelled out in an easy-to-digest book that turns conventional wisdom on its head.

The Weight Loss Shift: Be More, Weigh Less” ($14.95 in paperback from Absolute Love Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) begins not with doing, but with being. “Getting your ideal body isn’t about what you do, it’s about how to think, feel, and act. It’s about who you are. To get the body you truly want, you must become one with the body you have now.”

In motivational chapters and insightful homework assignments Hastie makes the case that “self-love and self-care lead to weight loss, not weight gain. If you can’t learn how to love and accept your body just as it is, then you will continue to chase an impossible dream.” Your body knows what it needs, she says, and we need to listen. “If it says it wants pizza, eat it and then see how much pleasure an satisfaction you get. If it’s a lot, you know that pizza is something your body enjoys and should have.” If not, “lessen the amount … to serve your body in the highest way.”

What should our lifelong relationship with food be? Rather than see food as so many (ugh!) calories, see it as providing “emotional vitamins,” like nourishment and comfort (but not as a substitute for the healing work needed in other parts of our lives). “In order to create the most magnificent life for yourself, you have to get to the point where you can be happy just being you.”

As our view of ourselves changes, we will eat better and move more as we grow into what we are. The weight will come off.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Historic Glenn County


Orland High School agriculture instructor Anna Canon says “a visit to the lone grave of Glenn County pioneer Robert Hambright” opened the door to a deeper exploration of the county’s history. Through the courtesy of Glenn County families who provided photographs and perspective, and through historical records research, Canon found a way to give back to the community with the publication of “Images Of America: Glenn County” ($21.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).

Featuring hundreds of black and white photographs with detailed captions, the book is divided into five sections, covering the Sacramento River (“which defines much of the eastern border of Glenn County”), the foothills, the valley, irrigation, and the Glenn County Fair.

The county, not without contention, was carved out of the northern section of Colusa County on March 11, 1891. “The name of the county was proposed and financially supported by the family of Dr. Hugh James Glenn, a prosperous wheat farmer who came with his family to the Jacinto area in 1868.”

Along the way we learn that “Butte City has been known as Laramie, Gouge Eye, and Pin Hook”; “Hamilton Union High School was organized on July 20, 1917”; and “under the direction of Ernest G. Hamilton, the 600-ton capacity sugar plant was completed in 1906,” closing and opening again for 90 years.

Baseball was a hit. “Beginning in the late 1800s, Orland played baseball up and down the Sacramento Valley. In 1912, the team was known as the Bearcats. In 1941, they were the Tigers.” The book also features a picture of a Butte City pig with 6 legs, flooding by Stony Creek, and celebrity judges for the first Miss Glenn County pageant in 1954: Max Factor Jr. (the cosmetics impresario), actress Donna Reed, and actor Charlton Heston.

Times have changed a bit. A 1915 ad in Sunset magazine, from the Orland Real Estate Association, promoted “Cheap Lands & Cheap Water.”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

True stories of the Sierra Nevada


Gary Noy was born in Grass Valley in 1951 and, in later years, taught history at Sierra Community College in Rocklin for decades. He is the founder of the Sierra College Center for Sierra Nevada Studies and published, with Rick Heide, “The Illuminated Landscape: A Sierra Nevada Anthology.”

Now he’s taking up his own pen to bring to light some of the lesser-known events and personalities of the area. “Sierra Stories: Tales Of Dreamers, Schemers, Bigots, and Rogues” ($17 in paperback from Heyday/Sierra College Press; also for Amazon Kindle) also includes more than 60 historic photographs.

The book begins in the author’s home town. “There is a curious little street, basically an overgrown alley, dark, shadowy, and exotic, that leads up the hill toward the Empire Mine grounds in Grass Valley. It is called Kate Hayes Street.” It turns out Catherine “Kate” Hayes was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1818 and in 1849 sang for Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace.

A few years later she toured the U.S., traveling to California’s gold fields in 1851. “With his unerring sense of how to make a buck, the great showman P.T. Barnum sponsored her tour. She was billed as ‘The Swan of Erin,’” competing in fame with Jenny Lind, “the Swedish Nightingale.”

John Bidwell makes a brief appearance or two, but the book focuses more on out-of-the-way stories, like the “1911 Tahoe Tavern Automobile Race” or the story of Scotsman George Anderson, who wanted to climb the slick surface of Half Dome.

He tried to scale the final grade in his bare feet when boots were too slippery, and eventually packed sacking around his feet, covering it with pitch from nearby trees, and then “the pine-pitch-plastered Anderson began drilling holes in the granite and inserting iron eyebolts through which he looped a climbing rope.” He made it to the top in 1875.

Lyon Books in Chico will be hosting a signing and slide show with Gary Noy this Thursday, July 17 at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Bird names explained by Chico experts


The story is told of a writer, also an avid bird-watcher, who used a book called “Birds of the West Indies” to guide him at his Jamaica estate. He was writing a spy novel, needed a name for his protagonist, so he used the name of the bird book author, James Bond. Ian Fleming only met the real Bond toward the end of Fleming’s life, but the two shared ornithological joy.

A writer some years ago identified “true birders”—bird-watchers with a scientific bent—“in which the naming of things is an overriding hunger.” The husband-and-wife team of Roger Lederer and Carol Burr (who produced “The Birds of Bidwell Park,” where Burr provided the illustrations) have given birders a stunning compendium. “Latin For Bird Lovers” ($24.95 in hardcover from Timber Press) contains “over 3000 bird names explored and explained.”

Birds are listed by their binomial names, which is usually in a form of Latin or Greek; these are “double names” identifying the genus and species in a vast web of “evolutionary relationships.” These scientific names are more accurate since the same bird may have different common names in different areas. The fun comes in figuring out the sources of these (mostly) descriptive scientific names.

The Eurasian Hoopoe, for example, has a scientific name that is based on the bird’s call: Upupa epops (say oo-POO-pa EE-pops; all the scientific names in the book have pronunciations). Each entry contains a line or two about the meaning of the scientific name, and then gives the common name. But because there’s no common name index, bird-watchers can start with field guides, which will direct users to the scientific name.

The book is generously inhabited by full-color illustrations, “Latin in action” boxes discussing specific birds, genus profiles (Amazona to Zosterops), sketches of famous birders (including Phoebe Snetsinger of Missouri, who recorded a life list of 8400 species), and bird themes (beaks, colors, feathers, songs, and more).

I’d add one entry: the Elegantem lederburr, meaning “elegant work from two authors.”