Sunday, December 25, 2016

"The Day The Revolution Began: Reconsidering The Meaning Of Jesus's Crucifixion"



The Christmas story invites readers, in the words of the carol, to "Hail th'incarnate Deity." The declaration is that God has come to earth in Jesus, that Israel's true King has arrived. But few understood the path Jesus would take, that it would involve not a triumphant military conquest but instead a shameful death on a cross.

Biblical scholar N.T. Wright contends that "the New Testament insists, in book after book, that when Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, something happened as a result of which the world is a different place. And the early Christians insisted that when people are caught up in the meaning of the cross, they become part of this difference."

Wright explains in "The Day The Revolution Began: Reconsidering The Meaning Of Jesus's Crucifixion" ($28.99 in hardcover from HarperOne; also for Amazon Kindle). (In the book's acknowledgments he mentions a number of colleagues "who have given me the benefit of their experience and insight … even though we still disagree about many things." Among them: Reformed theologian Michael Horton, who grew up in Paradise.)

The book is a popular account of Wright's claim that the death and resurrection of Jesus was the culmination of Jesus' vocation, "the one moment in history on behalf of all others through which sins would be forgiven, the powers robbed of their power, and humans redeemed to take their place as worshippers and stewards…."

Wright insists that the crucifixion is not the story of an angry God, fed up with humans and out to kill them all, with Jesus stepping in at the last moment and taking the wrath upon himself. Instead, "for the early Christians, the revolution had happened on the first Good Friday. The 'rulers and authorities' really had been dealt their death blow."

That makes it possible for humans to "embrace the 'covenant of vocation' or, rather, be embraced by it as the Creator calls you to a genuine humanness at last, calls and equips you to bear and reflect his image" and turn away from misplaced worship of money or sex, "when the power of love overcame the love of power."


Sunday, December 18, 2016

"A Short Golden Life … The Town Of Bidwell At Bidwell's Bar 1848-1860: Volume II"



"In 1998, as a volunteer for the Bidwell Bar Association at Lake Oroville Visitor Center," Chuck Smay writes, "I set up a three-ring binder titled The History of Bidwell's Bar In One Place. … That started a fifteen-year search."

Several years ago Smay published his findings as "Town Of Bidwell At Bidwell's Bar: Boom To Bust, 1848-1860," but now comes a new book, twice as long as the first, with new source material.

"A Short Golden Life … The Town Of Bidwell At Bidwell's Bar 1848-1860: Volume II" ($30 in paperback, published in association with the Butte County Historical Society) is available at the Society's Museum Store, 1749 Spencer Avenue (at Baldwin) in Oroville (buttecountyhistoricalsociety.org) or through Lulu.com (http://bit.ly/bidwellsbar). Additional materials are at bidwellthetown.com. The book contains historical photographs, 50 pages of endnotes, and a name index.

In the Foreword, Smay writes: "As you read, allow your senses to hear the distant bells on the freight wagon as it descends the hill into town, and the responding whinny of the horses milling about … sense the terror of the nighttime fire burning the town's buildings as you helplessly watch the destruction."

The book is far more than a collection of historical documents. Smay writes a narrative that weaves together the lives of business and political figures, and ordinary citizens, so that the reader senses the vibrancy of this Butte County mining town.

It was once the county seat but found itself "locked in a bitter political struggle" with Oroville; it was a community which burned twice (in 1854 and again in 1859); and a place which ultimately was inundated by the waters of the Oroville Dam project.

The final chapter details the fate of the Mother Orange Tree, a Bidwell legacy that lives on. The plaque near its protected enclosure in Oroville notes that the Mediterranean sweet orange seedling, first planted at Bidwell's Bar, is in large measure the origin of California's citrus industry.

Smay closes with a sweet confession. The fruit, he writes, tastes "like tangerine" but "more important than the taste was the feeling of being connected with the past!"


Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Searching For The City Of Love"



"I woke up … in a hostel to expect nothing less than to discover the beautiful city of Barcelona. But then I met you. … Maybe the fortune teller forgot to say that if I were to fall in love with a traveler like you, we would wash away in the Mediterranean Sea along with our footprints in the sand."

"Searching For The City Of Love" ($13.99 in paperback from AuthorHouse; also for Amazon Kindle), by Anna Quimpo Maguire (facebook.com/annaquimpomaguire), presents in free verse and prose poems a quiet meditation about love's loss and memory's place. It is a journey of realization.

The eighteen-year-old Paradise author is the owner of a blog called Three States of Mind (threestatesofmind.tumblr.com), which features her poetry.

She began writing after taking a poetry workshop when she was twelve, and hasn't stopped. In an email, she observes that "free verse poetry gives people the ability to raise their voice without rules. I would wish for young writers to not be afraid to share their work."

In "Searching," the poet comes to terms with what is not to be: "You were my every wish// That I thought would be granted/ But we woke up from our dream/ And the universe pulled you away/ I thought your love was promised to me// You and I never came true."

Each poem is set off as a small chapter accompanied by an evocative image. "Maybe Barcelona should be called the city of love. I've fallen in love with this place, and you've made me love it even more."

But "You left for Morocco this morning, just like I'm leaving to go home to California in 2 weeks. … Our hearts wander just like we do. It's the price you have to pay being a traveler."

And then, in another poem: "You can find magnificence in every part of the world/ Wandering is not measured in distance/ You just have to open your eyes."

"My dreams are embedded in the sand," the poet writes, "I am the waves that collide with the shoreline/ Washing into the land/ I will float away eventually/ And drift to every coast/ To find another dream."


Sunday, December 04, 2016

"The Road To Cherokee: A California Epic"



"September 23, 1880, was a gala day in Chico. … President Rutherford B. Hayes and a party … were entertained by General Bidwell at the Mansion. … The next day, the party visited Cherokee where there was … a great banquet served in the Company's blacksmith shop."

"By 1880, the Spring Valley Company had at Cherokee one of the most completely equipped and largest hydraulic mines in California. This was the giant that Sam Morris and the valley farmers were fighting, in which they spent over ten years of unremitting battle, and success was still not yet in sight."

Sam Morris is the fictional creation of Mary Ray McIntyre King, poet and "the first female attorney in Butte County," who at her death in 1949 in Oroville was working on the final draft of a novel.

"The Road To Cherokee: A California Epic" ($24.95 in paperback from ANCHR, anchr.org) is that novel. It's available at The Bookstore (Chico), My Girlfriend’s Closet (Paradise), Discount Books (Oroville), the Butte County Historical Society (Oroville), and the Gridley Museum. My advice: Get it now.

"The Road" was brought to the attention of the Association for Northern California Historical Research by Jean Whiles, King's granddaughter, and was edited, with explanatory footnotes, a biography of the author, historical introduction, and numerous photographs, by Nancy Leek, Ron Womack, Charles Copeland, and Josie Smith.

It's the first work of fiction published by ANCHR but so rooted in the historical record that it's a must-have not only for fans of historical romance but local history buffs. Why was it that, in 1884, "the whole prosperous system of hydraulic mining went broke overnight"?

The novel begins in 1857 with two intertwined families setting out for "Californy": Sam Morris (who seeks land of his own) and his bride, Becky; and Sam's brother-in-law Tom Norman (who wants gold) and his wife, Cynthia.

King writes in an Afterword that "the Road to Cherokee is now only a country road, … a forgotten road back into the past, and the saga of gold and hydraulic mining, and bitter old feuds and personal tragedies." King brings that emotional story to life. It is a triumph.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

"New Beginnings"



When the late Jamison Howard built the strange stone mansion in a "small town tucked away in the mountains of northern California," the locals wondered why construction workers kept adding rooms. Word was that "the matriarch Marguerite Howard was kept prisoner here by her three grown sons since her husband's death years ago."

Readers are ushered into this "Devil's Domain" when young divorcee Holland Wallace, 28, in town to care for her aunt, visits the strange abode and is mistaken for a newly-hired nanny by Jamison's stepson, Gage Langdon, 36.

So begins a romantic suspense novel of intrigue and revenge. "New Beginnings" ($16.00 in paperback from Fireside Publications, firesidepubs.com; also for Amazon Kindle), by Olivia Claire High, unfolds the story of a dysfunctional family and the power of love to set things right. The author, an Oroville resident and prolific novelist, puts a baby at the center of a mystery.

The child is the son of Gage's younger brother, James Howard, and his wife Kim. Little Jamie seems to be sickly. Holland's heart melts for him (and it doesn't hurt that there is something about the strong-willed Gage that's mightily attractive), and it's clear that the household needs a new caregiver.

Kim lives in the house, but suffers from postpartum depression and cannot care for her child. Marguerite is there, too, but though kindly she is agoraphobic and can't bear to leave the residence (so her world gets bigger by adding more rooms). James is flaky and his twin brother, Jonathan, is something of a mystery. Money seems to be no object; Gage, James and Jonathan are the "propertied brothers," and there's a connection south of the border that complicates the family dynamic.

Holland has a past of her own ("My dad's a geography buff," she tells Gage early on; "My sister's name is France and my brother's is Scotland"), but she is determined to protect Jamie when she discovers that the previous nannies had been driven from the house by drugged nightmares, and that someone is messing with the baby's food. But why?

The novel probes the recesses of the human heart but always holds out hope that there can indeed be "new beginnings."


Sunday, November 20, 2016

"Journey Into Grace: Tales Of A Psychic Paramedic"



For Sarah Grace, life was about escaping the wounds of an abusive childhood.

Growing up in Mobridge, South Dakota, she writes in her memoir, she began to experience strange visions and a sense of energies flowing around her.

Then it happened. "One night, in the wee hours of the morning, my mom sprang onto my bed and shoved a pillow over my face. Panicked, I squirmed, kicked, and clawed at her arms, fighting desperately for air until a beautiful angel with long flowing golden hair appeared just above us and told me to stop and play dead. … I had been interfacing with spirits for over a year by that time, but this was the first time one of them had rescued me in a difficult situation. I was grateful."

The Folsom resident, who often visits friends in Chico, writes of finding her true calling in "Journey Into Grace: Tales Of A Psychic Paramedic" ($12.99 in paperback, self-published, sarahkgrace.com; also for Amazon Kindle).

She continued to see "ghosts of Native American tribal members, monks, gurus, recently deceased townspeople" as well as "demons, dragons, gargoyles, and every kind of slimy, sticky sloth imaginable."

Her account takes her to Southern California and beyond. She became a stripper in college; tried marriage; got high on ephedrine and harder drugs; modeled for Playboy; developed bulimia; and became a paramedic. In that job she confronted horrendous traffic accidents and the souls of those killed hovering nearby.

Only after revisiting Mobridge is her trauma finally laid to rest. Plunging into studies of shamanism and energy medicine, she now teaches "other energetically sensitive people how to work with their gifts and apply them in their daily lives."

The bottom line? "I understood that by taking one hundred percent ownership for the state of my well-being and life, I had the power to create my own destiny. … At our core, we all just want to be loved, accepted, and validated for who we are. … Our past does not define us, unless we allow it to."

The author is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf this Friday at 10:00 a.m. at mynspr.org.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

"Railroad Ties: Broken Hearts And Mended Lives"



Luana Lundquist-Rowland is a licensed Jungian-trained marriage and family therapist. The Burlingame resident lived in Oroville from 1949 through 1970. She's written a fictionalized autobiography of her early years that aims to recapture the spirit of her irrepressible brother--before the darkness of alcoholism sets in.

"Railroad Ties: Broken Hearts And Mended Lives" ($26.95 in paperback from Outskirts Press, outskirtspress.com; also for Amazon Kindle) presents the ups and downs of an American family, visiting relatives by rail, during World War II and on into the 1950s. The story begins with Luana, five years old, born in 1937, and Jimmy, born a year later. Jimmy is "a needy, fussy, and irritable infant," and such traits continue to manifest themselves throughout Jimmy's life. For the author, there's a kind of fate at work here.

Eventually the family moves to Oroville. Tragedy strikes on March 4, 1950 when a group of girls from the Y hike to the upper Thermalito Bridge, then down to the water. One of the girls slips and falls, and she is pulled out by Deanna. But then "Deanna is caught in an undertow; this whirling surge of water sucks her down below the surface." There is no news  until August, when Deanna's remains are discovered. "That summer, Jimmy loses faith in a God that answers prayer."

Time moves on. Luana prepares to attend Chico State College. Jimmy is popular in high school but he can't resist the alcohol provided by the older boys. His addiction would become his demise.

In an Epilogue, the author writes of Jimmy that he "is born a rascal," but he also "plays the brother and the life teacher of a sister that becomes a better person for having known him in all his multiplicities of character."

In the end, the story isn't about Jimmy's destiny "as a seemingly bottomless, hopeless and incurable alcoholic." Rather, it's about "a shared childhood and a love between a brother and sister that never falters, no matter what."

Luana Lundquist-Rowland will be at the Book and Wine Pairing, Saturday, November 19, from 2:00-6:00 p.m. at Purple Line Urban Winery, 760 Safford Street in Oroville; for details visit http://bit.ly/2e8lJqe.


Sunday, November 06, 2016

"Special Delivery"



Chicoan Marcia Myers is a fan of "real" mail. "Ink from your pen touches the stationery," she writes, "your fingers touch the paper, and your saliva seals the envelope. (Sealed with a kiss!)."

In this country the agency responsible for getting those letters where they ought to go is the U.S. Postal Service, and Myers, who wrote two "My Hometown Chico" books under the name of Marcia Myers Wilhite, has produced a beautifully crafted coffee table book full of facts and stories about the storied institution.

"Special Delivery" ($59.95 in hardcover from Marcia Myers Publishing, marciamyerspublishing.com) ranges from the Pony Express, the development of postmarks, and postal vehicles, to painted mailboxes, stamps, and the first airmail delivery (in 1859, by balloon).

There's a spread devoted to what Myers describes as "the most expensive commodity in the world by weight," the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta. The "octagonal faded scrap of one-inch paper" was purchased by shoe designer Stuart Weitzman in 2014 for $7.9 million.

In the pages devoted to post office art, the author writes that in Chico "we have own own post office mural on the downtown corner of 5th and Broadway. Created by Ray Handy Crane in 1988, the Pony Express thunders across the exterior wall of our downtown post office."

Then there are famous pen pals (Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln; Groucho Marx and T.S. Eliot) and some not so famous. In high school the author would write messages on the chalk in the room. The teacher missed it, but "not the boy who attended the same classroom earlier in the day."

Myers notes that she experimented sending "naked mail" through the system, including "a potato, coconut, flip flop, cowboy hat, plunger, … and a can of sardines." Put on enough postage, a clear address, and off it goes.

This captivating book, designed by Connie Ballou, is printed on matte paper with a sewn ribbon marker. The official book release party is Thursday, Nov. 10, 6:00-9:00 p.m. at Beatniks in Chico. The Christmas preview is Sunday, Nov. 20, from 4:00-8:00 p.m. at Zucchini and Vine, and from noon until 2:00 p.m. at Magna Carta in Chico Friday, Nov. 25, and Saturday, Nov. 26.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

"The Lost Communities Of Lake Oroville"



The photograph shows Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown about to press a button that would "set off the first dynamite blast for the construction of Oroville Dam on October 21, 1961." With him are students from the community of Las Plumas which would be covered by the waters of Lake Oroville. One of them, Robyn (Foster) Payne, later wrote that "it was the beginning of the end of a way of life for me."

As memories dim of the small communities covered by the waters, local writers Larry R. Matthews (author of "The Building Of The Oroville Dam") and Scott C. Roberts have published more than a hundred black and white photographs, many from residents of those towns.

"The Lost Communities Of Lake Oroville" ($21.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing, arcadiapublishing.com), part of the "Images Of America" series, is a gallery of historical photographs, some quite rare, with detailed captions evoking life before the dam.

Before 1968, when the dam was completed, "most buildings were either removed or burned down, cemeteries were relocated to higher ground, roads and railroads were realigned, vegetation was removed, and all residents were relocated."

The book's six chapters consider areas radiating out from Oroville that would be covered in water, including Las Plumas and Big Bend Powerhouse. A 1968 picture of the south bank of the Feather River shows the huge powerhouse half submerged as "gates on the Oroville Dam were closed, and the water that would create Lake Oroville began to rise." There are also Bidwell Bar, Enterprise, Mooretown and Feather Falls Village.

The "Bidwell Bar suspension bridge, the old tollhouse, and the Mother Orange Tree" were saved (and relocated). The final chapter explores what was exposed as the lake level dropped in 2014-2015. One of the authors is shown in 2014 standing by a split rock near what used to be the Mountain Springs School at Enterprise (shown in another photograph).

In making these poignant images available, the authors have done an inestimable service.

The authors will be at the Book and Wine Pairing, Saturday, November 19, from 2:00-6:00 p.m. at Purple Line Urban Winery, 760 Safford Street in Oroville; for details visit http://bit.ly/2e8lJqe.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

"My Life On The Road"



Gloria Steinem, now in her eighties, has been a lifelong journalist and political activist. A founder of Ms. Magazine, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, in 2013. Her work as a feminist organizer has taken her around the world, and for Steinem it's the traveling itself that has "felt like home."

"My Life On The Road" ($18 in paperback from Random House; also for Amazon Kindle) is arranged not chronologically but thematically. The seven chapters examine her early life (the book is in large part an homage to her father, a "rootless wanderer"); the college lecture circuit; why she doesn't drive; political activism; and more. It is full of anecdotes and optimism.

It's also the 2016-2017 Book in Common at Butte College (butte.edu/bic), Chico State (csuchico.edu/bic), Butte County libraries, and other organizations, with frequent community events related to issues raised by Steinem.

The author is scheduled to appear at Chico State's Laxson Auditorium, Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. as part of her "My Life On The Road Tour." Tickets are now on sale through Chico Performances (http://bit.ly/2epjFXh); $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, $10 for youth, and free for Chico State and Butte College students.

"My father," she writes, "was unable to resist swearing, and my mother had asked that he not swear around his daughters, so he named the family dog Dammit." He always seemed to choose "spontaneity over certainty."

So with taxi drivers she's met over the years. One Manhattan cab driver tried to impress her with the celebrities he's encountered, including Donald Trump, saying he "has such an ego, he even tried to impress me."

Steinem supported Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign and encountered "Hillary Haters," women who agreed with her politics but couldn't understand how she continued a marriage in which, despite Bill's affairs, power was equally distributed. But when Steinem introduced the Haters to Hillary, "this woman they had imagined as smart, cold, and calculating turned out to be smart, warm, and responsive."

What has Steinem learned about politics? "Voting isn't the most we can do, but it is the least. To have a democracy, you have to want one."


Sunday, October 16, 2016

"The Advocate: Ritual Abuse"



Sunny McLane is an Advocate working out of the Butte County District Attorney's office, and the protagonist in a new novel by Yankee Hill resident Dawn Mattox. For Sunny, life is complicated: "I had a psychopathic ex serving time in prison, a repentant husband serving time in seminary, and an intern that I resented for being about to give birth to a baby I hated, fathered by someone I loved."

"The Advocate: Ritual Abuse" ($13.75 in paperback from Morningtide Publishing, also for Amazon Kindle; see dawnmattox.com) is a thriller set in Butte County. Sunny, who narrates, is tasked by Butte County DA Jack Savage with helping those who may have been the victim of Satanic or sexual ritual abuse.

McLane is no stranger to abuse herself. Logan, her former husband, wanted her to get an abortion. He "finally won the argument when he pushed me off the upstairs balcony, crushing our child and any chance I might have had for another."

The author, retired as an advocate from the real Butte County DA's office, writes that "I am a Christian who writes fiction, which is not the same as writing Christian fiction. Real life is messy, politically incorrect, and peppered with a series of bad choices in-between good ones."

Sunny is also a Christian, mostly at war with herself, feeling abandoned by God, by her husband Chance, and by those in public service who just can't believe ritual abuse happens in Butte County.

Soon things become more than theoretical as Sunny finds a tortured animal at her cabin near Feather Falls. Then begins a heart-stopping roller coaster ride into a world of passion and perversion. She must save the life of a newborn (fathered by her husband Chance?) even as others lose their lives.

The book is intricately plotted with local venues woven into its tapestry so that the real places seem haunted by the characters. It's an unsettling tale, "grounded in a solid foundation," about something Mattox insists is in our midst.

The author will be at the Book and Wine Pairing, Saturday, November 19, from 2:00-6:00 p.m. at Purple Line Urban Winery, 760 Safford Street in Oroville; for details visit http://bit.ly/2e8lJqe.


Sunday, October 09, 2016

"The Mayans Among Us: Migrant Women And Meatpacking On The Great Plains"



Redding resident Ann Sittig teaches Spanish at Shasta College. Back in 2001 she taught in Omaha, Nebraska (her home state), and began studying the experience of Mayan women in Guatemala--and in Nebraska itself.

In the mid-1900s, meatpacking plants in Nebraska moved to "rural areas to be closer to the animals along with the railroad and highways." Mayan immigrants, fleeing the civil war that lasted from 1954 to 1996, found work at the plants so they could "fund their remesas, remittances or money wires, back to Guatemala."

Sittig "sought out a local Catholic mass in one of the meatpacking cities and from the pulpit I bid the women to tell me their stories. That day I met Martha Florinda González, and in 2005 we eagerly began our collaboration to gather the oral history of contemporary Mayan women living in Nebraska.…"

"The Mayans Among Us: Migrant Women And Meatpacking On The Great Plains" ($24.95 in hardcover from University of Nebraska Press; also for Amazon Kindle; and see mayanwomen.com), by Ann Sittig and Martha Florinda González, highlights the often harrowing stories of a group of interviewees. They journeyed to "El Norte," sometimes with purchased "papers" as documentation, "inventing a new Mayan-Nebraskan identity."

Sittig writes of González that "as a female Mayan leader in Guatemala, and now in her Nebraska community, Martha is trusted by the women, who followed her lead in opening up to me." Among those who shared their lives are Juana, twenty-six, mother of four, who spent at least three years at a local plant; and Manuela, twenty-five, mother of two, with five years at local plants.

These are real people, facing "psychological, sociological, and economical wounds" of war, poverty, and life in a new country. The book is "an "homage to the invisible, to the immigrants who often live in quite difficult physical and economic circumstances while contributing the unsung labor that keeps the U.S. economic machine in motion."

Sittig is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman, host of Nancy's Bookshelf, this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on mynspr.org. There's a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Chico October 28, from 2:00-5:00 p.m.


Sunday, October 02, 2016

"Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life"



This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Ray Carver's first book of short stories, "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" ($15.95 in paperback from Vintage; also for Amazon Kindle). The title story owes a great debt to Carver's experience in the northstate.

That experience is recounted in "Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life" ($33.99 in paperback from Scribner; also for Amazon Kindle), by Carol Sklenicka, specifically in a chapter entitled "Furious Years."

Carver and his family at first moved to a small house on Roe Road in Paradise. He started Chico State College in 1958 "and found a weekend clerking job at Terrace Pharmacy."

Sklenicka writes that "a new professor that year whom Ray admired was Dr. Lennis Dunlap" who "found the English Department 'entirely dead.' … By the time Ray reached legal drinking age on May 25, 1959" the family moved to Chico. A Dr. John Gardner, who would become a best-selling novelist, had been hired to take over the creative writing course.

Gardner "inculcated in him the desire to write literature; he had also shown him the near impossibility of earning a living by such writing."

Carver's story, "Will You Please Be Quite, Please?" chronicles the domestic life of Marian and Ralph Wyman. "They did their student teaching at the same high school in Chico in the spring and went through graduation exercises together in June." They were a happy couple, except Ralph "had taken it into his head that his wife had once betrayed him. …" And therein lies the stuff of emotional unraveling.

Carver's alcoholism nearly killed him. His own marriage unraveled. But in later years he mostly walked away from the bottle and toward poet Tess Gallagher, establishing a certain stability and even celebration of his accomplishments.

"'I don't know what I want, but I want it now,' Carver wrote in a pocket notebook. Perhaps a writer never knows exactly what he wants, but Carver had followed his impatience and yearning where it led him, into some very dark places, and then beyond, toward that elusive goal he'd glimpsed in his youth--a writer's life."

Carver died of lung cancer in 1988. He was fifty.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Government Contracting: Promises And Perils"



In order for the President of the United States to pick up a pen and sign a bill, presumably someone else in government had to sign a procurement order to buy that pen from a private company. What could go wrong?

That's where "Government Contracting: Promises And Perils" ($89.95 in hardcover; also for Amazon Kindle) by William Sims Curry comes in. Now in the second edition, the book is a companion to Curry's "Contracting For Services In State And Local Government Agencies." Together, the books detail not only what can too easily go awry, but provide model documents and procedures to help things go right.

Bill Curry is President of WSC Consulting in Chico; he is a Certified Professional Contracts Manager and, according to an author's note, "served as an Air Force systems procurement officer and was formerly employed in purchasing management for prime contractors on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope … and numerous DOD programs."

"Government Contracting" focuses on the Federal and international levels (especially the UN), but Curry's guidance on creating ethical and transparent processes has wide application. He begins with the "wall of shame," noting the factors that often lead to corruption: abuse of power, greed, incompetence, escort services, slovenly conduct, fraud--the list goes on.

There are many examples throughout the book. Not only was former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich removed from office for trying to sell the "Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama … the wiretap evidence also revealed attempts to obtain contributions to Governor Blagojevich's campaign in exchange for action on government contracts."

Most government workers and contractors are honest, Curry says, but sometimes an agency's loose policies (on gratuities, for example) mean individuals have to adhere to higher personal ethical standards.

"A transparent system," Curry writes, "has clear rules and mechanisms to ensure compliance with those rules (objective evaluation criteria, … equal information to all parties). Records are open, as appropriate, to inspection by auditors…."

Curry's book is intended for working professionals, but lay readers will marvel at the complexities of the government/business interaction (what if the lowest price supplier can't deliver in time?). As a manual for how things (ought to) work, it is indispensable.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

"A Nation Of Mystics, Book One: Intentions"



Pamela Johnson lives in Oregon House, a small community in Yuba County, but lived through the late Sixties in Berkeley, the center of a spreading counterculture.

Woodstock in 1969 was the high point, so to speak, "when," she writes, "those present became one person in mind, in large part because of shared psychedelic experience."

How this came about, how life in the Haight-Ashbury area turned from the idealism of the Summer of Love to something darker and more repressive after, is told in Johnson's "A Nation Of Mystics" trilogy of novels, beginning with "Intentions" ($4.99 for Amazon Kindle from Stone Harbour Press; also from pamelajohnsonauthor.com).

The story begins 1965 with Christian Brooks, eighteen, the son of a missionary, raised in India and now attending UC Berkeley, haunted by something in his past. How to move beyond anger?

Some of the characters, like Amy, Christian's old lady ("a female partner and lover in common law living or marriage," according to the glossary at the end), fall head over heels for messianic religious figures.

Many others, though, meld political action with LSD. (Johnson's description of the sheer sexual energy of tripping is mesmerizing.) As Richard, one of innumerable dealers in the Haight, tells his old lady, Marcie: "Acid teaches, reveals the fragile soul-ego of each person. … I'm here to join with my brothers and sisters to make spiritual revolution, using acid as our weapon."

Dealing becomes a business. There's pot and LSD, then cocaine, heroin, PCP, meth. Later in the novel the "pigs" recruit informants and there's a hint of violence to come as the lives of the characters are taken into book two, "The Tribe," and book three, "Journeys."

But the Movement didn't die. It "grew, swelling the ranks of civil rights workers, antiwar protestors, disarmament organizations, and the new environmental groups. For many, the essence of the experience in the Haight was spiritual. They had lived with love and communalism and passed the acid test. They had stood before the White Light and touched the face of God."

Pamela Johnson is the scheduled interview guest on Nancy's Bookshelf, hosted by Nancy Wiegman, this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on mynspr.org.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

"The Dunsmuir Horror"



Long ago, at a science-fiction convention, I attended a screening of an episode of Star Trek (The Original Series) called The Trouble With Tribbles.

The episode's writer, David Gerrold, sits down next to me. At some point I turn to him and say, "good show!" He says, and I'm pretty sure I have the quotation correct, "thank you." This anecdote is not reported in any of the official histories of what has become a cultural phenomenon, with Trek celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this month.

Gerrold, no doubt encouraged by my comment, continued to write SF and, now in his seventies, is still an active scribe. In fact, the September/October 2016 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (available at newsstands and online) is a special issue devoted to Gerrold. It features two new stories by him, one framed as a 20,000-word letter to his former editor. It's called "The Dunsmuir Horror."

It's a rollicking descent into a bizarre experience the author insists he had, driving through Dunsmuir late at night, surprised by four teenagers who maybe resembled vampires. "I'm not crazy," he insists to his editor, and to his psychiatrist, who will also be reading the letter.

The "letter" is a glorious, hilarious concatenation of jokes ("glittering doc-billed platitudes") and riffs on everything from fast food establishments to why green is alien.

But something sinister is hiding in Dunsmuir. One night, traveling from LA to Portland, Gerrold sees the Dunsmuir off-ramp and, looking for a local burger joint, takes it. "A sense of emptiness pervades everything. It's as if I've slipped out of time and I'm driving through an illusion of a town, a memory of something that used to live here."

Later he tells his friends Jay and Dennis about driving through Dunsmuir. They assure him he couldn't have. "It's not there anymore," gone for sixty years. The "town is cursed." It only appears when the land is … hungry. He is lucky to have escaped with his life (and an off-handed reference to Red Bluff).

Somehow, the blurring of reality and fantasy in the story (and it gets worse by the end) is almost a parable for our own time.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

"Kate And Ruby"



In "Venice Beach," Chico novelist Emily Gallo (emilygallo.blogspot.com) created a host of characters connected through the Southern California town's boardwalk and the mysterious denizen named Jed, an escapee from the Jonestown massacre.

In "Kate and Ruby" ($12.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle), the author picks up the story of Kate McGee, whose father Jed had helped. Kate is "a thin, fit, spry fifty-five year-old who looked like she hadn't aged in fifteen years. It also helped that she made sure there wasn't a gray strand anywhere in her pixie hairstyle."

Kate had married Martin, whose mother, Ruby, was a blues singer. Ruby had taken great offense at the interracial couple, and "Kate had never forgiven her for shunning her as a daughter-in-law just for being white." Though their love ran deep, the marriage ended in divorce when Martin eventually came out to Kate.

For Ruby, it was the last straw; she "practically disowned Martin for being gay" and didn't speak to him for three decades. Kate as well had moved on with her life, cultivating a desire to join the Peace Corps.

Then Martin dies of HIV AIDS, and Ruby, in her mid-eighties and unwell, is in San Francisco to tend to Martin's effects. When Kate gets a call from one of Martin's friends, she arrives and there is Ruby, who soon after has the first in a series of heart attacks. Kate and Ruby find their lives intertwined as Kate becomes the care-giver (and eventually the supplier of medical marijuana).

The story, told mostly in dialogue, shows how time's dailyness can bring change, as Ruby teaches Kate how to garden and Kate teaches Ruby how to use a computer--which Ruby uses to find Lawrence, Martin's fraternal twin. Then Kate must choose between a growing love for Lawrence and her Peace Corps commitment.

This is not the life Kate imagined for herself but, as Lawrence puts it (though neither are religious), "Man plans and God laughs."

The author is a scheduled guest on Nancy's Bookshelf, with Nancy Wiegman, on mynspr.org, Friday at 10:00 a.m., and will be doing a signing during the Thursday Night Market in Chico on September 15th.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

“Meadowlark”



After writing a series of memoirs (“The Third Floor,” “Dreamscape In A Minor,” and “Rita’s Road”) Chicoan Judi Loren Grace takes a novelistic turn in “Meadowlark” ($16.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).

It’s a compelling family saga spanning decades, told mostly by a woman who seemed to have the ideal marriage. Her husband Jim, “my security and friend,” is successful in the stock market; the couple, restless, “relocate to a small town called Dunsmuir and semi-retire.” Their daughter, Dana Bea, is headed to college.

In Dunsmuir, “my boring life magnifies and morphs into a lovely locked cage,” even as she reminds herself to “stay in the shadows … always glide through life unnoticed and detached. It’s the safest route.”

Tragedy strikes. Jim dies in her arms of a heart attack. Dana Bea is a frequent visitor and early in 1984, life for mother and daughter will take another unforeseen turn. A toddler is being abused in a neighboring house.

Later, when Dana Bea has left, her mother encounters the angry father searching for his child. Then she finds the toddler, a two-year-old, lying in the snow. She shelters the little girl and so begins a life of paranoia, a fear of being arrested at any moment for kidnaping a child. The girl is given the name Jessica, and Jessica later calls her savior “Nettie” (for being a safety net).

Dana Bea secures a fake birth certificate and the two make plans to move with Jessica to the coast and start afresh. There Nettie meets Sam, a former Texas Ranger, who helps shield Jessica from prying eyes. But is he just a plant? “With a pounding heart, I try to keep my fear in check. Worrying this is a trap.” Paranoia grows.

“We were not longing for adventure. Dana Bea and I closed our eyes and dove in head first, and in doing so we both did a full swan dive into a life of crime.”

Yet “Jessica is worth saving and protecting, and I will go to the ends of the earth to keep her parents from getting her back.”

The meadowlark sings, unseen, a peaceful song. But will peace ever come?


Sunday, August 21, 2016

“Tina The Ballerina”



“Let me tell you the tale of Tina / Who became a great ballerina.” And so begins a bedtime story told by Carol Gray to her two young daughters back in 1967.

The original Tina was a stuffed elephant who was befriended by a baby doll named Betsy Anne. Gray “painted backdrops, constructed sets, and tailored costumes” for the characters, then “photographed her scenes and bound them into an album with the story’s text.”

Though the album has faded with time, and the daughters have grown, now Chico resident Gail Stone and her sister Lisa Stone of Paradise have brought the story to a wider audience.

“Tina The Ballerina” ($18.95 in hardcover from True Blue Innovations), by Carol J. Gray, features glorious full-page illustrations, based on the original album, by the incomparable Steve Ferchaud of Paradise. The book is available locally from Made In Chico, the Rabobank branch on Forest Avenue in Chico, Gallery Interiors in Oroville, My Girlfriend’s Closet in Paradise, and at tinatheballerina.online.

Tina’s elephant days are just too routine. “‘Surely life should not be so empty and boring, / Perhaps it will change if I go exploring.’” Soon, Tina meets a little girl named Betsy Anne who quickly incorporates her into Betsy’s family.

But Tina is forlorn. “Jumping rope was not such a treat. / Said Tina, ‘I seem to have too many feet!’ / Betsy said, ‘Try it. It’s really quite fun. / And don’t be discouraged, you’ve only begun. / If you try there’s nothing you cannot do, / Especially if someone has faith in you.’”

Betsy’s mother “sewed a blue dress with a frill” so Tina could go off to school with Betsy Anne. Tina is welcomed with great cheer, and joins Betsy in dancing class as they practice for a show. But more discouragement: “Before the mirror, on the eve of the dance, / Poor Tina surveyed her figure askance. / She noted each bulge and turned slightly green, / ‘But I’m positively elephantine!’”

Yet Tina didn’t want to let Betsy down, and persevered, and what happens next is the stuff of dreams.

Friends giggle with delight in the book, and readers will find the joy infectious.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

“Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class On The Art Of Organizing And Tidying Up”



Books for getting organized continue to find an audience, and I’ve read many of them myself (though just where those books are I haven’t a clue). For Tokyo-based Marie Kondo, much of the advice those books offer is misplaced. Instead of focusing on cleaning room by room, and inducing guilt if you keep something, she has created the “KonMari method.”

On the heels of her bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up,” Kondo’s new book is really an encyclopedia of how to handle the various categories of stuff in one’s life, from how to fold turtlenecks and what to do with old greeting cards and stuffed toys, to “storing books attractively” and “putting memories of past lovers in order.”

“Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class On The Art Of Organizing And Tidying Up” ($18.99 in hardcover from Ten Speed Press; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with the six rules of tidying.

First, be committed; then imagine the kind of life you want to live (so tidying has a goal); “finish discarding first” (otherwise you won’t know how much room you’ll need); tidy by category, not room; follow the right order: clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellaneous stuff) and sentimental items; and, finally, “ask yourself if it sparks joy.”

That last is the key. Touch each item, “holding it firmly in both hands as if communing with it. Pay close attention to how your body responds when you do this. When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising. … Remember that you are not choosing what to discard but rather what to keep.”

Even that lowly screwdriver in your junk drawer can spark joy once you recall all the scrapes it’s gotten you out of.

Tidying up is very different from cleaning. “Tidying,” Kondo writes, “is the act of confronting yourself; cleaning is the act of confronting nature. … You could say that tidying orders the mind while cleaning purifies it.” Tidy first—go on a tidying marathon, she suggests—and where you live will spark joy. Then keep it clean.


Sunday, August 07, 2016

“Unflattening”



At the headwaters of Western philosophy, Plato warned us not to be taken in by mere perception. The images we perceive are but copies of copies, he said; only the intellect could “see” true Goodness or Beauty. The image is not the reality.

But would it be possible to intertwine words and images so those images push us to understand more deeply the reality that the words alone cannot adequately describe? That’s the goal of an extraordinary “graphic novel” called “Unflattening” ($22.95 in paperback from Harvard University Press) by Nick Sousanis.

Sousanis has joined the full-time faculty of San Francisco State University to teach “comics as a way of thinking.” Though it may sound like a prime example of misspent education, Sousanis’ book is a serious challenge to the status quo which, he claims, serves to narrow our vision and undermine our potential.

He draws on a nineteenth-century satiric novel called “Flatland,” by Edwin Abbott, in which “A. Square” tells of life in a two-dimensional world. He can’t imagine a world of three dimensions: A sphere passing through Flatland would only appear as an expanding and contracting circle. Similarly, we have trouble breaking through our “reliance on a solitary vantage point … a single line of thought … where we see only what we’re looking for.”

Instead, comic art can be used for crucial ends in bringing to our attention multiple perspectives in which “distinctive viewpoints still remain” but they are “now no longer isolated … (but) viewed as integral to the whole.” Sousanis uses the thought of scientists, philosophers, literary critics and artists to connect, as in a web, a phantasmagoria of images.

The bottom line? “Perception is not dispensable. It's not mere decoration or afterthought, but integral to thought, a fundamental partner in making meaning. In reuniting thinking and seeing.” Sousanis’ black-and-white drawings are choreographed with the text in minute detail and are never mere illustrations of the words.

In comics, when the eye travels from panel to panel as a conversation unfolds, time turns into space (the physical space of each drawing). If time is the fourth dimension, then comics can help us grasp a reality that A. Square could never even dream.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

“How Was China?: Views And Vignettes From A Chinese Women’s College”



“Starry-eyed Victoria, the sentimental girl who had given me the Tang dynasty poem, had already shown signs of decline when I encountered her as a third-year student in 2003. … ‘Victoria! What happened to you?’ I inquired after I witnessed her sitting listlessly, day after day, in the back of the class. ‘Oh, teacher,’ she wailed, ‘I have lost my passionate!’”

Victoria, speaking in halting English, was one of Dodie Johnston’s students at Hwa Nan College for Women in China, “in a mid-sized city on the east coast, facing Taiwan.” Students at the trade school came to learn English, and each took on an English name (English instructors, who had come from abroad, found Chinese pronunciation difficult.)

Johnston traveled from her home in Grass Valley to Hwa Nan beginning in 2000 (she would return for five teaching semesters over the next decade). “Like Victoria,” she writes in her affecting memoir of Hwa Nan, “I had ‘lost my passionate.’ I needed to walk a different path as I entered my sixth decade. … Teaching English as a Foreign Language at Hwa Nan College was a tonic for my deflating self-esteem and lost sense of direction.”

In response to many who asked, “How Was China?: Views And Vignettes From A Chinese Women’s College” ($14 in paperback from CreateSpace) provides a nuanced answer that combines the history of the school, the lives of its students, and Johnston’s own experiences in the local neighborhoods into a work of “creative nonfiction.”

Johnston’s is a strong authorial voice, guiding readers into traditional Chinese culture, the impact of Mao’s reign (which shut down the school established by missionaries) and the re-emergence of Hwa Nan as a secular college.

Consider: There was no indoor plumbing in 2000, so squatting over holes was the order of the day; “toilet paper was not provided in most public toilets so we all carried our own.” Rural life in the area was crumbling; “when I told my 2000-20001 students I was from a small rural town in the foothills of northern California, they cringed with sympathy and condolence.”

Readers will be captivated by Johnston’s homage to Hwa Nan.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

“The Book Of Strange New Things”



Scottish writer Michel Faber tells an interviewer for the Church Times that though he is an atheist, “I don’t see that as any credit to me…. I’m very sad that I lost my faith, and I’m very sad that it’s not there to sustain me in the sorrows that I’ve had to deal with in my life, particularly the loss of my wife.”

That makes Faber’s novel, “The Book Of Strange New Things” ($17 in paperback from Hogarth; also for Amazon Kindle) especially poignant. It’s the story of a young British married couple, Peter and Beatrice Leigh, he a pastor of a small church, she a nurse, who apply to a shadowy multinational organization called USIC in answer to the company’s call for Christian missionaries.

Only Peter is selected; they will be separated. In the world of the book, “separation” means Peter boards a spacecraft and “jumps” to Oasis, a planet unimaginable light years distant. His only way of communicating with Bea is through a kind of email system (no pictures).

USIC has established a base. Natives provide food called whiteflower in return for pharmaceuticals, but are balking without a pastor who can speak to them from the Bible, what they call “The Book of Strange New Things.”

An Oasan is a short, bipedal being; “their spindly arms and webbed feet merged in a tangle of translucent flesh that might contain—in some form unrecognizable to him—a mouth, nose, eyes.”

Peter grows distant from Bea, who writes increasingly panicked messages about a world collapsing around her. Peter can sermonize, but he is no novelist, failing repeatedly to convey to Bea his inner life.

The book is a quiet meditation on separation and the limits of (Peter’s) faith. “The holy book he’d spent so much of his life preaching from had one cruel flaw: it was not very good at offering encouragement or hope to those who weren’t religious.” Peter is torn between building the Oasan church and going home (in light of the horrific words of his wife’s final email).

Set against a science-fictional background, the book sensitively explores the meaning of faith and meaning where there is no faith.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

“Supremacy



Chicoan and Butte College student Christin Lee writes me that her new young adult romance/urban fantasy novel blends her love of karate and passion for animals. The story begins in Texas but what is revealed later on is enough to shake the ground beneath one’s feet.

“Supremacy (Supremacy Series Book 1)” ($2.99 from Amazon Kindle; the author’s Facebook page is at https://bit.ly/29SwasU) introduces almost-eighteen Kate Parker, a high school student “blessed to live on five acres and have parents who supported her love of animals. She smiled to herself. Support maybe wasn’t the right word—tolerate would be a better description.” As a vegetarian, “she couldn’t bring herself to eat her friends.”

Kate is whip smart, a green-eyed beauty who can remember everything all the way back to her earliest childhood. Kate’s father, Larry, is a renowned psychotherapist very possessive of his daughter. If Kate starts dating she must first bring the guy to meet with her parents. Kate can only imagine how fun that interview would be.

Then Kate is smitten almost from the first encounter with a mysterious young man from Spain, Lucas, whom she meets in the woods, fussing over a broken motorcycle as she goes looking for a stray dog.

Lucas is nineteen, an exchange student attending the local university. “He looked like a striking model out of a fashion magazine. His ragged jeans fit perfectly, hugging every curve on his long legs.” Throw in “beautiful brown eyes” and a kind of electricity between them and Kate is a goner.

But this is no conventional romance. Lucas has anger issues, especially when it comes to protecting Kate from every hurt, real or imagined. If he can’t find her he almost spirals out of control. It's as if he were trained to do harm, to protect at any cost.

He sports a strange tattoo behind one of his ears, showing a “tightly clenched fist.” Lucas won’t explain, but Kate finds something on the internet halfway through the novel that turns her world inside out. Kate is part of a cavernous plot with millions of lives at stake.

The book is great fun, a well-written page-turner drawing readers into a new world of danger.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

“Jump”



Though Chicoan Cathy Chase is retired from teaching English, she remains active by teaching a jobs readiness class at the Esplanade House and by writing a series of Young Adult novels about a world very like our own—with one big difference.

In the world of “Jump” ($8.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle), the first in a planned series, people have a habit of disappearing. That doesn’t mean they poof out of existence, but that they are electronically transported to another place, an authoritarian society designed to reshape the oddballs and ne’er-do-wells into compliant citizens.

Nona, the heroine, is fifteen. Her father died in a car accident; his passenger, Frank, was unable to save him, and now Frank is her step-father. Nona’s mother seems oblivious to the abuse Frank heaps on Nona; it’s clear that he wants Nona out of his life so he can have Nona’s mother all to himself.

Nona’s two friends, Spence and Jana, are inseparable, and when Jana’s Uncle John becomes one of the “disappeared,” the trio set out to find him. They have heard references to “jumping,” but no adult will talk to them about what it means.

Then Nona comes across an old notebook from her newspaper reporter father, and she learns that somehow jumping is connected with the mysterious Behavioral Science building in town, where Spence’s mom works. The trio manage to get into the building and there are the transporters.

Nona volunteers to go (“I’m the only one that no one wants” at home). Spence pushes the button. “I hear a loud windy sound near my head and lights swirl in my brain.”

What follows is a fast-paced adventure in a strange society, with plenty of cliff-hangers, as Nona tries to outsmart her minders, search for Uncle John (she finds more than she bargains for), escape those with terminator weapons (where you really do poof out of existence) and somehow get home. Often Nona is on the verge of giving up, but she learns courage with a little help from her friends. The message is clear: It’s not over until it’s really over.

There’s a satisfying conclusion, but loose ends remain for the next tale.


Sunday, July 03, 2016

“Beaks, Bones & Bird Songs”



Roger Lederer, Chico’s own birder extraordinaire, is a scientist-observer who knows “it’s not easy being a bird.” “Of the many hours I have spent in the field, watching birds flying, feeding, resting, and nesting, I was most affected by those moments when I saw birds searching for food in blowing snow, sitting on the surface of an ocean fighting threatening waves, and flying in serious winds. I wondered: how do birds make it from hatching to adulthood?”

His answer is a book which gracefully mingles his own experiences around the world with what is known about birds (and what still remains a mystery). “Beaks, Bones & Bird Songs” ($24.95 in hardcover from Timber Press; also for Amazon Kindle) is subtitled “How The Struggle For Survival Has Shaped Birds And Their Behavior” (more at Lederer’s ornithology.com).

“Evolution,” he writes, “is a superb sculptor. Over hundreds of millions of years the machinery of natural selection has honed birds to pinnacles of near perfection, having discarded tens of thousands of species along the way that could not meet the challenges of the ever-changing earth.”

The ten thousand or so living bird species offer a welter of adaptive strategies. In seven chapters, Lederer considers foraging, bird sensory abilities, flight and feathers, migration, surviving in weather extremes, how and why birds flock together, and, finally, the influence of humans.

“Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the physical environment began to change at a much faster pace, leaving many birds behind. … Cities like Beijing and New Delhi are virtually devoid of avian life. …” Birdwatching, Lederer says, helps people “understand why birds need protection from human activities.”

Humans can help, even in small ways, such as installing windows “at an angle with the bottom of the glass further back than the top. This simultaneously minimizes the force of the impact as the bird doesn’t hit the glass straight on and the ledge formed at the bottom of the window provides a place for a stunned bird to recover.” 

Dozens of black and white photographs enhance the book, while every page offers insights into why birds do what they do, in their struggles and, yes, their nobility.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

“Gridley Girls”



Meredith Carlin First was born and raised in Gridley. Though she lives with her family in Minneapolis and Sacramento, small town life was a formative influence, so much so that she left as a recruiter with Apple Inc. to write a (fictionalized) account of her growing up.

“Gridley Girls” ($17 in paperback from SparkPress; also for Amazon Kindle) is the story of Margaret (Meg) MacGregor Monahan in her freshman year at Gridley High in 1978. “My father’s father is Mormon … and my mother’s family went to the First Christian Church. You could say I’m half Mormon and half anti-Mormon. Sets things up for a very harmonious childhood.”

She has three older sisters. Her mom’s admonition: “Remember girls, Y-A-L. You’re a lady.”

Meg and the other Gridley Girls never give up on each other. In 2008, Meg is living in Sacramento and is helping her best friend Anne prepare for her wedding. Anne is nervous, and Meg can’t seem to forgive herself for betraying Anne long ago. “It wasn’t over a boy or a catty, teenage-girl prank. It was because of God. I broke the solemn trust of a lifelong friend because I was a misguided girl who was told a secret that I was incapable of hearing, let alone keeping.”

The two friends revisit their shared past in a tale that is at times outrageously funny and soberly honest. Think Erma Bombeck meets Judy Blume. “Let’s recap the second half of 1978, shall we? I graduated from eighth grade as a naïve, innocent girl alongside my best friends. … Then I started high school, got a boyfriend, got felt up, panicked, broke up with said boyfriend, became a peer counselor”—and heard the confessions of two friends that left her confused and vulnerable.

Readers will revel in the sounds and sensibilities of the seventies in this witty, poignant, and captivating novel.

The author is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman of Nancy’s Bookshelf on North State Public Radio, mynspr.org, on Friday, July 8 at 10:00 a.m.

Meredith First will be signing copies of her book on Saturday, July 16 from 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at Macs Hardware, 550 E. Gridley Road in Gridley.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

“An Empty Swing”



Chico writer N. J. Hanson probes the destructive power of revenge in a novel of paranormal horror, “An Empty Swing” ($18.99 in paperback from Tate publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).

Luis Chavez, a fifteen-year-old sophomore at West Point High School in an unnamed town, is drawn into a battle for his life when he meets a girl named Alice at the old playground in town. It is almost Halloween.

It turns out that Alice is dead, a ghost, a spirit hanging around the playground where almost a dozen children lie buried, the victims of a murderous child rapist still on the loose. She cannot pass into the “other world” until she is certain that her living sister, Cindy, is safe.

Cindy has taken the name Serena Ravenwood. “She was a junior, one year older than Luis, and the resident Goth chick. … She wore a long heavy coat and cargo pants with combat boots. The only bit of color at all was her bright red lipstick.” Luis is in the school library trying to figure out why he can see Alice when he meets Serena in the same section, and soon they realize who Alice is. Or—was.

Alice had been kidnaped, abused, and killed years before. Now, after Luis realizes he is a kind of “spiritual medium” who can see ghosts, he is drawn to the playground (and to Serena). Though the bully Butch is often the antagonist (he can see spirits, too), he’s not very smart.

Far more dangerous is Paul, the ghost of one of the children abducted, killed, and buried. Paul discovers he can move beyond the playground, can manipulate objects (like rocks and guns), and, feeling his power, murders his parents and brother (the fingers in the blender scene is especially sickening) and sets his sights on Luis (for taking away Alice’s attention). He even makes common cause with the molester.

It looks like Luis doesn’t have the ghost of a chance of escaping. But don’t count out the power of friendship. And love.

The author will be signing copies of his book Saturday, July 2 at ABC Books, 950 Mangrove Avenue in Chico, from 11:00 am – 3:00 p.m.