Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Conversations With The Past"



Ruby English was Annie Bidwell's maid, and later also secretary, from 1914 until Bidwell's death in 1918. In an interview recorded in 1964 English remembers: "I was beside her when she died. I was right at the side of her bed when she breathed her last breath. She didn't say anything except, 'My head feels like it's full of piles of grass.' She would say that over and over. What kind of pain that was, I don't know."

English added: "Of course, before Mrs. Bidwell was cold, people were trying to get me to work for them. I never had to have a reference. Everybody said, 'If Ruby could please Mrs. Bidwell, she could please anybody.'"

Oral history from English and sixteen other interviewees is captured in "Conversations With The Past" ($16.95 in paperback from the Association For Northern California Historical Research, anchr.org), superbly edited by David Brown, Nancy Leek, Josie Reifschneider-Smith, and Ron Womack. Past president Dorothy Hill, now deceased, began the interview project in the mid-1970s.

Subtitled "Vibrant Voices From Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta And Tehama Counties," the book is available at The Bookstore and Bidwell Mansion in Chico; Discount Books and the Butte County Historical Society in Oroville; My Girlfriend's Closet in Paradise; and Gridley Museum. Footnotes and historical photographs provide helpful context, and there's a list of a dozen contributing local museums at the end, all to spark a reader's further exploration.

The voices include Adolph "Ad" Kessler with a firsthand account of his discovery of Ishi. Llewellyn Gay remembers pioneer life in Orland and Newville, in Glenn County, and a letter to President McKinley that was answered by the bunkhouse muleskinners instead.

The book ends with retired Lassen Volcanic National Park Chief Ranger Lester Bodine, interviewed by Ruby Swartzlow in 1979. He talks about all the preparations necessary for the visit of President John F. Kennedy, who stayed the night at the park and then dedicated Whiskeytown Dam and lake. (Kennedy is shown on the cover feeding a deer.)

It was September 1963, and a chilling editor's comment concludes the book, noting that this "was Kennedy's last official act before heading to Dallas two months later."


Sunday, December 03, 2017

"Nancy Kelsey Comes Over The Mountain: The True Story Of The First American Woman In California"



The new children's picture book from retired librarian Nancy Leek of Chico is called "Nancy Kelsey Comes Over The Mountain: The True Story Of The First American Woman In California" ($15.95 in paperback from Goldfields Books; goldfieldsbooks.com). It's available on Amazon and locally at Bidwell Mansion, Made In Chico, and ABC Books. Each page features a full-color drawing from Paradise's own Steve Ferchaud.

In a postscript Leek tells the story in greater detail, noting that Kelsey "thought that she was the first American woman in California. In fact, when she got to Sutter's Fort, Mary Walker, the wife of explorer Joel Walker, had already arrived from Oregon. But Nancy was the first woman to come to California by the perilous route over the Sierra Nevada."

Kelsey and her ever restless husband Ben "joined the Bidwell-Bartleson Party for California" in 1841. "It was a hazardous trek," Leek writes in the postscript. "Nancy was pregnant during this six-month-long journey, and gave birth to a boy at Sutter's Fort after arriving there in December 1841. The baby did not survive." She eventually had eleven children (two died in infancy). Kelsey herself died in 1896.

The children's story starts with Kelsey left alone in the mountains while the men of the party scouted ahead. She "sat on her horse, holding her little girl, Martha Ann, on her lap. She was afraid to dismount her horse. Who knew what stranger, what bear or mountain lion, might come on her suddenly?" The story quotes Kelsey's own account: "I was left with my babe alone, and as I sat there on my horse and listened to the sighing and moaning of the winds through the pines, it seemed the loneliest spot in the world."

The story then picks up the start of the journey, the arrival in California, and in 1846 Kelsey's part as the "California Battalion" helped "take California away from the Mexican government." Perhaps she helped sew the original Bear Flag.

It's been almost two centuries since Nancy Kelsey was born. This captivating book keeps alive for a new generation the life of an extraordinary woman.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Roads Not Taken"



Chicoan Emily Gallo is exploring the lives of a group of unlikely friends who frequent the famous Venice Beach boardwalk in Southern California.

Her first novel, "Venice Beach," introduces writer Finn McGee who comes to stay with his daughter, Kate, and who befriends the mysterious Jedidiah Gibbons, an escapee from the Jonestown massacre; in San Francisco Jed becomes caretaker of the Columbarium (the title of the second book).

"Kate And Ruby" takes up the story of McGee's daughter whose marriage to Martin breaks up when he comes out to her. Ruby, Martin's mother, resents the interracial couple and then "practically disowned Martin for being gay." Unexpectedly, Kate becomes Ruby's caregiver, and life's dailyness changes them both.

The theme of sexual identity is foregrounded in Gallo's newest story, "Roads Not Taken" ($12.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle; an Audible.com audio version is narrated by the author).

Kate had taught a young man named Malcolm Washington in high school. Malcolm now waits tables at Café Gratitude in Venice but everything changes when he applies for a second job at Marie Moss Senior Housing.

Savali, a Samoan, is on staff, and Malcolm is smitten. Though the novel intertwines the stories of the residents, the focus is on Malcolm's coming to terms with Savali's "non-binary" gender identification. Savali is Fa'afafine, a third gender in Samoan society.

Malcolm is straight and prefers to call Savali "she." Savali was born male, telling him that "I realized that I was, in fact, comfortable in my body and my mind in both genders. I also realized that I could wake up on any given day and prefer to dress or behave in one or the other. In other words, I identify as both and I identify as neither."

What does it mean for Malcolm to love Savali, and how does one navigate the "gender spectrum" and the desires that may be incompatible with being a couple? Though not explicit, the story delves deeply and respectfully into what is for Malcolm a new world of sexuality.

Gallo (emilygallo.blogspot.com) is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, Friday, December 1 on mynspr.org (KCHO 91.7 FM) at 10:00 a.m.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

"California Standoff: Miners, Indians And Farmers At War 1850-1865



"Incomplete accounts," writes historian and retired Political Science professor Michele Shover,  "are a common problem in local history. For example, Butte County's violent clashes between settlers and Indians were treated as random 'one-off' events--intermittent atrocities sprinkled among accounts of Victorian-era 'happy talk.'" John Bidwell himself "suggested the effects of such events were peripheral distractions, not core experiences."

Over the last two decades Shover has worked with original sources in an attempt to tell a more nuanced story, analyzing "underlying causes, political issues, conflicts of interest, cultural assumptions. …" The result is a magisterial work of scholarship that is also immensely readable. "California Standoff: Miners, Indians And Farmers At War 1850-1865" ($24.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) challenges assumptions and develops new historical understanding.

Meticulously detailed, with fifty pages of endnotes, the book's dozen chapters provide a riveting picture of the competing interests swirling around the community Bidwell founded. As Shover notes, "Politics was personal in nineteenth-century Chico, influencing social life and where residents spent their money." There are contemporary resonances everywhere.

Shover disputes what she calls Theodora Kroeber's "misanalysis of Maidu culture" and historical "distortions" all of which have implications for Kroeber's "Ishi In Two Worlds."

Shover also concludes that the Mountain Maidu raided the Mechoopdas working on Bidwell's ranch in the mid-1850s because they likely considered this "collusion."

Shover's research shows that many more Indians than the standard account of 32 died as they were resettled to Round Valley in 1863. "Primary documents disclose that close to 200 … died on the climb up the Coastal range mountain to the reservation." The record, she says, was "manipulated to shield the Army from its failure to deliver the Indians."

For the first time, Shover explains that these Indian deaths were not caused by the Army, but by "the most mortally dangerous type of malaria" that infected the group "while camped near Big Chico Creek in the summer of 1863."

The story Shover tells is one of violence since there were "no effective institutions in place that protected … against abuses." Her study, giving all sides their due, breaks new ground. It is indispensable.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Shane The Shamrock Tries To Find Luck"



Retired teacher Cynthia Hutchinson lives with her husband in Bieber, about fifty-five miles north-northwest of Susanville. She has begun writing a series of children's books, filled with colorful sketches, aimed at the younger set.

The first is "Shane The Shamrock Tries To Find Luck" ($16 in paperback from Dorrance Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). The sixteen-page tale is followed by fourteen questions about events in the story ("What was the first thing he tried to do that the ladybug suggested?"; "What did Shane hope to try someday?").

It all begins "with this little shamrock named Shane who only had three leaves. And he thought to bring luck to anybody that he must be a four leaf clover. He decided to set out on a journey to see if anybody could help him find luck."

The plants and animals in the forest try to help, and near as they can figure Shane had to become more like them in order to find luck. That ladybug? Well, she said, "You don't need four leaves to bring luck to anyone. You just need to be able to fly like me to have luck. Why don't you climb up on that tree branch and try to fly?"

That doesn't quite work, and Shane hits the ground, only to hear laughter from a nearby rose bush. The rose advises Shane he doesn't have to fly to be lucky; he just has to look beautiful. But decorating himself with fallen rose petals doesn't make much difference. He's still Shane, the three-leaved shamrock, only now covered with rose petals.

A butterfly explains that Shane can grow another leaf if we wraps himself up in a leaf cocoon, but that doesn't work, and a daisy has him stand near her by a stream in a windstorm.

Nothing changes until he meets his four-leaf-clover friend Sissy, and though Shane doesn't grow another leaf he gains something more valuable: an understanding that even a four-leaf-clover can't actually bring luck to anyone. Instead, he learns, what counts is standing by one's friends, especially when they are in need.

As luck would have it, the next story may give Shane that opportunity.


Sunday, November 05, 2017

"Jake And The Hot-Air Balloon"



Paradise resident Maurice "Big Mo" Huffman is known in the music scene for his melding of blues, Southern rock and funk with his award-winning Big Mo And The Full Moon Band (bigmoblues.com). After he and his wife Robin moved to California in 1989 he began telling their son Miles a bedtime story featuring a ten-year-old orphan named Jake Foster and a talking mouse named Milton.

"Jake And The Hot-Air Balloon" ($11.95 in paperback from Page Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) is the first in a planned series featuring the intrepid adventurers.

Jake's parents had drowned in a Caribbean storm. His only relative, aunt Hilde, died when he was five, and Jake wound up in a Colorado orphanage.

He "was a tough boy and knew that this was what life had dealt him, but even the toughest boy can face moments that are too hard and where he needs somebody. Jake was alone though, left with his dream of being high up in a hot-air balloon."

Word comes of a nearby hot-air balloon race, and Jake desperately wants to go, but an older bully and his minion at the orphanage get Jake into trouble. He's forced to make the biggest decision of his young life, disobeying those in charge and sneaking off to the races and right into the area where the balloons are set to lift off.

You just know something will happen and, sure enough, Jake finds himself aloft in one of the balloons where he meets Milton the talking mouse, a resident of the balloon basket. It's Milton's job to keep Jake safe, and, it turns out, that's a tall order.

Along the way, sailing over the world, the balloon is shot down by a group of very odd and friendly people on a floating mountain whose job it is to shoot holes in Swiss cheese but who aren't very accurate. Their balloon eventually repaired, Jake and Milton travel to the Caribbean, rescue a girl named Lilly, search for her scientist parents, and fight off a some bad guys.

The action-packed story ends with a few threads hanging, a big yellow bird, and a hint of the adventures to come.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Origin: A Novel"



According to the Bidwell Mansion Association's website, "In 1841 at the age of 22, John Bidwell became one of the first pioneers to cross the Sierra Nevada to California." Bidwell knew the range because in 1776, the Franciscan missionary Pedro Font named it on a map. Font was born in Spain which has its own Sierra Nevada.

That is where "the former spiritual leader of the Palmarian Catholic Church" lives, according to El País. This "dubious offshoot" of the Roman Catholic Church venerates Francisco Franco and considers Adolph Hitler something of a saint. Wouldn't it be only natural for this ultra-conservative group to try to stop any science that questions faith?

My lame attempt at creepy connections is overshadowed by the master connectionist, Dan Brown. In "Origin" ($29.95 in hardcover from Doubleday; also for Amazon Kindle), Brown notes that all the facts are real. (After the depiction of the Palmarian Church, one of the characters says "you could look it up.") Finding stuff hidden in plain sight is a hallmark of Brown's work.

The thriller once again stars symbologist Robert Langdon and takes place mostly in Barcelona. I chose to listen to the seven-hour audio abridgement narrated by Paul Michael (who also reads the full novel, over eighteen hours' worth), a man of many voices.

Langdon is in Spain attending a mysterious presentation by the atheist billionaire and futurist Edmond Kirsch, his former student, at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Kirsch believes his work in computer modeling and Artificial Intelligence has finally answered the two most important questions: Where did we come from? Where are we going?

Before the big reveal Kirsch is assassinated by a Palmarian, and Langdon and the beautiful museum director, Ambra Vidal, fiancé of the soon-to-be King of Spain, flee for their lives. The entire book is a setup for the eventual revelation of Kirsch's recorded message, and the question is whether what he says puts a scientific arrow through the heart of religion. Spoiler alert: It doesn't; in fact, it's something like a TED Talk, though philosophically incoherent (as Brown seems to realize).

In the end, an interesting casing but not much meat. As for scariness, it's a hollow weenie.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

"The Wealth Of A Nation"



Who is Nathan Englander?

He's an attorney in the California city of Bakerton three quarters of a century in our future. He "was a first rate Rush running guard at UCLA," referring to a game that replaced football, basketball, and most other sports, which required genetic advantages in the players.

Ordinary folks, though, with appropriate golf-like handicaps, could play the highly regulated Rush. As Nathan tells Emerson McKernan, Bakerton's acting Art Museum Director, "the game, like those that it replaced, is a thinly veiled substitute for the battlefield, and the more physical the game, the more obvious it is. That is what fans pay to see."

Chico writer T.B. O'Neill (tboneill.com) creates a chilling dystopian society uncomfortably similar to our own world in "The Wealth Of A Nation" ($15.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle).

Rush events are provided by the state for the entertainment of the Citizens, who not only don't work but are forbidden to work. The Workers (and the smaller group called Entrepreneurs) "produce what the nation needs." To keep Workers going, the state pushes the addictive drug Reassert ("the dopamine and serotonin inducer that keeps you level and ready for the day" as the ad says).

As Nathan was taught, "it had taken five generations … to build the wealth of the nation to such abundance, such surplus, that only a minority of the brightest and most capable were asked to work and care for the others. And as a result, there was no more incessant, unrelenting, demeaning competition that kept everyone striving for unaccomplished prosperity."

Nathan's "mother and father were Workers, but his grandparents Citizens." To protect each group from the other, Bakerton sports a giant Wall separating Workers from Citizens. Englander finds himself defending Ari Howard, a Citizen who "defaces" the Wall with his extraordinary graffiti art (his talent is vouched for by Emerson, herself a work of art, who becomes Nathan's love interest).

But there are violent economic and political forces that cannot abide the status quo, and not for noble reasons. The complex and immersive thriller showcases O'Neill's world-building talents and provides an unsettling answer to the question: "What is freedom worth?"


Sunday, October 15, 2017

"The Mindful Vegan"




The heart of the book is as its subtitle indicates: "A 30-Day Plan For Finding Health, Balance, Peace, And Happiness." This is very different, Muelrath writes, than serial dieting. "Micromanaging and analyzing every bite and obsessing over body weight and size mask underlying stress, anxiety, and not-good-enough syndrome."

Those who endeavor to practice vegan living face their own ingrained habits (such as compulsive snacking) as well as pressures from family and the wider culture. These stressors often provoke unhealthy defensive reactions. Enter mindfulness, which "gets to the roots of your challenges around food--whether it's refurbishing old habits, employing self-regulation of emotions, or becoming more at ease and grounded in vegan living."

The key is that mindfulness "expands that moment between stimulus and reactivity. You gain new access to the choice of where to place your attention, rather than having your attention taken hostage by reactive thoughts and emotions. Once you open the door to the possibilities of choice, you can more freely choose your responses."

Muelrath notes that mindfulness (with roots in Vipassana or Insight Meditation) is non-sectarian. In the 30-day plan she introduces the awareness techniques gently (a one-minute meditation on the first day, two minutes on the second, and so on, with free audio versions on the book's website). The author also provides a dozen recipes (including "Berry Good Ice Cream") and additional resources.

Once a practice of meditation is established, Muelrath brings in the vegan perspective (emphasizing personal health and environmental care) and, in honest yet encouraging discussions, takes up "wandering minds," "moods and foods," "cravings," "addictions," and more.

With these new practices, one just might forget, as Muelrath did, about that chocolate stash in the cupboard. That, she says, is real freedom.

Lani Muelrath is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, Friday, November 3 on mynspr.org (KCHO 91.7 FM) at 10:00 a.m.


Sunday, October 08, 2017

"London Spirits: Short Stories"



Rob Burton, Professor of English at Chico State University, was born near London and grew up in England. In his latest book he revisits familiar haunts by means of unconventional narrators, women and men from the afterlife who played a part in London's history.

"London Spirits: Short Stories" ($10.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) is a series of fourteen enchanting tales (grouped into "Now," "Then," and "Now And Then") wherein sung and unsung voices are heard again.

In "Die Into Life," there is Fran in the present day who receives a call asking her to meet an old friend from her wild University of London days. "She put the phone down and looked around the kitchen at the symbols of a twenty-year marriage: pots hanging obediently on their hooks, cheery family snapshots on the refrigerator door, …." If she goes, will she return?

Yet even in the "now" there are words from the past that strike Fran deeply, and Burton's craft suggests that rather than history being a settled affair, it still has the power to surprise us, like art. "That's how art happens sometimes," a burping man named Puggy tells Mark in "The Knowledge. "You don't intend it to be a certain way but it assumes its own identity and takes its own course. It's quite magical, eh?"

In "The Purest Ecstasy," Virginia Woolf recalls "the daily practice of writing. Mysterious voices, bidden and unbidden, called to me." Sherlock Holmes solves "The Curious Case of Miss Irene Adler," and plumbers Phillip Clark and Tom Crapper, flushed with success, explain the "Westminster shudder" of the seventeenth-century.

The Celtic warrior-queen Boadicea speaks in the final story which gives its name to the book. She led a revolt against the Roman invaders in AD 60 or so for love of Londinium, and now her spirit says: "O fog-shrouded city, drizzle-dazzled town, metropolis of mud and thick materialism, what can I, your guiding spirit, say that has not already been said about these two thousand years of history? … What is the shape of your historical narrative?"

The funny-piercing answer throws a little shade on those who would forget what came before.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

"A Deadly Wandering"



A terrifying highway accident in Utah in September eleven years ago left two rocket scientists dead. It was caused by nineteen-year-old Reggie Shaw veering into the wrong lane; Shaw survived, physically unscathed, but the answer to the central question--was he texting at the time?--would not come easily.

Matt Richtel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, based in San Francisco, traces the ripple effects of the accident in a deeply reported, and deeply affecting, book, "A Deadly Wandering" ($15.99 in paperback from William Morrow; also for Amazon Kindle). It's subtitled "A Mystery, A Landmark Investigation, And The Astonishing Science Of Attention In The Digital Age." The reader comes to know family members, those in the judicial system, lawmakers, and attention researchers in a story so emotionally compelling one cannot look away.

"A Deadly Wandering" is the Book In Common for Chico State University (csuchico.edu/bic) and Butte College (butte.edu/bic), and the larger community. Author Matt Richtel will be speaking at Chico State's Laxson Auditorium Tuesday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. Adults $20, Seniors $18, youth and students are free. Tickets can be obtained through Chico Performances (chicoperformances.com).

There is much for the heart in this story, but also for the mind. "There is a tension going on inside the brain," Richtel writes. "It is a tug-of-war between two different aspects of the attention system. … Top-down attention is what we use to direct our focus, say, on a work project … or when driving on the road. … Bottom-up attention is … what allows our attention to be captured instantly, without our control, say, by the sound of our name … or the ring of the phone. Bottom-up attention operates unconsciously, automatically, driven by sensory stimulus and contextual cues."

You can have your hands on the wheel and be looking straight ahead at the road, but your mind may be focused on texting. Research indicates it may take ten or fifteen seconds for your mind to regain focus on the road--far longer than anyone had thought previously.

It's not easy to keep the right focus. As Richtel suggests, our cell phones have become akin to slot machines and users to compulsive gamblers.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Theologians And Philosophers Using Social Media: Advice, Tips, And Testimonials"



Thomas Jay Oord (thomasjayoord.com) teaches at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, and is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. He's also a prolific user of social media and notes that, referencing Marshall McLuhan, "the medium is the message": as we use Facebook, Facebook (in ways we perhaps don't fully understand) uses us. As McLuhan also noted, "the medium is the massage."

In an effort to understand how his scholar and ministerial friends get a grip on social media, he asked 91of them to write about their social media practices. The result is a breezy compendium of good advice focusing on the how.

"Theologians And Philosophers Using Social Media: Advice, Tips, And Testimonials" ($29.95 in paperback from SacraSage Press; also for Amazon Kindle) includes a chapter by Chico theologian and writer Greg Cootsona (gregcootsona.com).

Cootsona teaches religious studies at Chico State University, served as associate pastor for adult discipleship in New York and Chico, and is directing a multi-year grant project through Fuller Seminary called "Science For Students And Emerging Young Adults." His book, "Mere Science And Christian Faith: Bridging The Divide With Emerging Adults," is scheduled to be published soon by InterVarsity Press.

"Social media," he writes, "also brings with it several surprises. The first is a shocking level of incivility. … The second is how much I have to learn about how it is truly the way we communicate today, and yet, how much I have to learn in effectively employing social media." The keys, he says, are not to use polarizing language, recognize that there are many more readers than trolls, "create a strategy and goals with your social media use," and "post in the service of what you are convinced the listening public needs to hear."

Public theologian Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) warns against feeding the trolls; Professor of Science and Religion Karl Giberson (karlgiberson.com) notes that "a public intellectual needs to have a thick skin"; and Helen De Cruz (helendecruz.net), a philosopher of religion and philosopher of cognitive science, reminds social media users to "try to have fun and don't overthink it."

It's all great fun and a real tweet.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

"First Blush: North State Writers 2017 Anthology"




North State Writers (northstatewriters.com), a chartered member of the California Writers Club, has published "First Blush: North State Writers 2017 Anthology" ($13.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). Twenty writers contributed thirty-eight short pieces and poems, with the cover by master illustrator Steve Ferchaud.

The book begins with T.B. O'Neill's "The Court Martial of Darren Sweet," an unsettling tale of the Vietnam War. "Now, understand," the narrator says, "I'm completely out of my comfort zone here." Part of the delight of the anthology is watching writers stretch, exploring new themes or coming at familiar ones from different directions. Cathy Chase offers a Hmong narrator in "The Flight To The Mekong River"; Joan Goodreau characterizes her son's diagnosis of autism as a tornado in "The Eye Of The Storm"; in "The Parade," William Douglas writes, "Late Sunday night, Billy and Allen stole an elephant."

In "Stroke Of A Pen" N.J. Hanson types a twisted tale of horror, and Mary Jensen offers a vehicular confession; Thatcher C. Nalley explores mental illness in "Pray Tell," and Steven J. Thompson poetizes in "White Or Red, Darling?" Michael Richards writes of home, and Vietnam.

Gail Stone has a racing tale featuring a 1970 split bumper orange Super Sport Camaro; her mother, Carol J. Gray, remembers "The Glass Roof" and her Rose Marie Reid bathing suit; Andrea Lavoy Wagner, in the poem "Fists," observes "Violence creates victims/ but it also creates conquerors." Linda Sue Forrister has an "October Epiphany," Margie Yee Webb writes of "Cat Mulan," N.L. Brumbaugh explores the King Tut Exhibit; and Eric Miller tells us "Wife Trumps Husband At Christmas" (if you want a new weed-eater, read this first).

Cara Gubbins writes of manatees in "The Release," Dan Irving offers a non-fiction biography of Yukon explorer James Foster Scott; Kathleen T. Hiatt tells the tale of a horrible car accident in "Sibling Rivalry"; Ken Young provides the first chapter of the second book in his "King's Frog Hunter" high fantasy trilogy.

"In the gloom of the Dudoon Bog," Young writes, "a lone rider weaved carefully between stagnant ponds, searching for a safe trail." In this anthology, the trails are rarely safe.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"The Birds Of Bidwell Park: Expanded Edition"



"When you try to identify birds," writes Roger Lederer, renowned ornithologist and Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at Chico State University, "you have to look at them in a new way. There is typically no one characteristic that distinguishes one bird from another; it's a set of characteristics. … All birds have feathers, beaks, scaled legs, tails, and wings. But the variation in those parts, plus the coloration and patterning of the feathers, makes each species unique and most are easy to identify."

What better place to practice this "new way of seeing" than within Chico's jewel, an enduring legacy of John and Annie Bidwell. To that end, Lederer and artist-wife Carol Burr, Professor Emerita of English at Chico State, have updated their classic guide. "The Birds Of Bidwell Park: Expanded Edition" ($19.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing) adds five species to bring the total to 91.

The book is available locally at Bird In Hand, Made In Chico, ABC Books, Bidwell Mansion visitor's center, C Bar D Feed And Seed, and also at the Snow Goose Festival January 24-28, 2018.

The guide contains Burr's pen and colored-pencil illustrations, a map of the park, and brief tutorials on the parts of a bird and how to get the most out of birdwatching. Each page devotes itself to a species, with information on seasonal viewing and where in the park the bird is most commonly seen.

I learned of the new edition of the book through email (not a tweet), with the author noting the additions: Phainopepla ("shining robe"), Eurasian Collared Dove (their call sounds like "cuk-COO-cook"), Great Egret, Nashville Warbler (seen in the park "on their migration from Southern Texas" and elsewhere), Downy Woodpecker ("the smallest of all North American woodpeckers"). "The Eurasian Collared Dove," Lederer observes, "has become quite common even though there were none in Chico when the first edition of this book came out in 2010."

Lederer recommends beginners "go out in the field with folks who know the birds. If you don't have a friend who does, contact the local Altacal Audubon Society or Big Chico Creek Nature Center."

Get the book, then go and look.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

"Open Your Studio: Nine Steps To A Successful Art Event"



Melinda Cootsona (melindacootsona.com) is a Bay Area painter and art teacher with family in Chico. Over the years she's gained experience in hosting or participating in Open Studio events; that's where the public is invited to meet the artist, see the artist's domain, and view and purchase selected works. But there's much more to it than putting out a sign that says "the artist is in!"

Cootsona has distilled her advice into a no-nonsense manual that guides the artist into the business side of things. "Open Your Studio: Nine Steps To A Successful Art Event" ($14.95 in paperback from RedDot Press; also for Amazon Kindle) "is a step-by-step guide written to encourage artists to participate in Open Studios."

It's timely help--and motivation--for those preparing for the 30th annual Chico Art Center Open Studios Art Tour (OSAT) October 21-22 and October 28-29. There's a preview exhibition October 6-29, a reception, and more (see facebook.com/CACOSAT2017).

What Cootsona wants to do is demystify the "commerce" side of art. "Selling your own art," she writes, "can be done successfully without 'selling out' or compromising your integrity."

What should the artist show? "Put your best/favorite pieces at one end and arrange them down to your least favorite. Try to be objective in looking at the quality" and then "show only your best work."

"It will hang on someone's wall and they will remember you when they see it. How much they like the art determines if they'll return. So, if you need to eliminate some of your pieces because you don't feel they are as strong, do it!" Make sure the presentation is "cohesive"; eliminate those works that don't seem to "fit" with the others.

The chapters on pricing are worth the cost of admission. Key ideas: "Never price a work according to your own emotional attachment to it"; "always be consistent with your pricing, no matter what your medium"; and "discounting your work cheapens it."

Cootsona gets into some nitty-gritty details but reminds artists to "create what you want to create and what speaks to you … people will see passion in your work."

And they will be moved.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

"Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life"



"True happiness," write Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, "comes from designing a life that works for you." The two Stanford professors paired up years ago to offer a Designing Your Life workshop through the university's Program in Design, and now they've distilled the workshop into a book.

In "Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life" ($24.95 in hardcover from Knopf; also for Amazon Kindle) the authors want readers to move away from a "steps-to-success" cookie-cutter approach and instead work to cultivate the skill of "reframing." "A reframe is when we take new information about the problem, restate our point of view, and start thinking and prototyping again."

So, for instance, the "dysfunctional belief" that "my dream job is out there waiting" can be reframed: "You design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it." Find people whose job interests you and then ask questions--not to get a foot in the door but out of sheer curiosity: What sort of person does this job day after day and finds great meaning in the work?

Prototyping is about trying things out. One of the most intriguing chapters is about "being" the person with that job, adopting the mindset, aided by the interviews, of someone who is already doing the work. The key mindsets for this experiment, and for designing one's life, are "curiosity, bias to action (try stuff), reframing, awareness (life design is a journey; let go of the end goal and focus on the process of what happens next), and radical collaboration (ask for help)."

The authors debunk the idea that if you know your passion, "everything else will somehow magically fall into place." On the contrary, studies show that "for most people, passion comes after they try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery--not before. To put it more succinctly: passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause."

The authors offer wise counsel (not advice) about getting "unstuck." "Since life is a wicked problem that we never 'solve,' we just focus on getting better at living our lives by building our way forward."


Sunday, August 20, 2017

"Divine Beings: The Spiritual Lives And Lessons Of Animals"



"When I was a kid," Chicoan Cara Gubbins writes on her website (caragubbins.com), "I dreamed of being Dr. Doolittle when I grew up. … In 2010, my dream came true when I started doing Animal Intuitive and Pet Medium Readings … bridging the communication gap between pets and people. …"

Her story is told in "Divine Beings: The Spiritual Lives And Lessons Of Animals" ($12.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). In a conversational tone Gubbins describes her quest to reconcile her scientific training as a biologist (with a doctorate in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology from the University of Nevada Reno) with her growing awareness of the spirituality of non-human animals.

Comparing notes with her friend Ellery, a nurse who "also happens to be a psychic that is able to talk to animals," they found when they each independently "talked to dozens of birds, insects, mammals and reptiles … asking our own questions of the animals or focusing in on our own intuitive information and awareness," there was almost complete agreement.

Ten chapters are devoted to spiritual messages shared by animals, from dogs and cats to a gray whale, snake, a bottlenose dolphin, and, perhaps most interestingly, a little brown bat. Gubbins asks the animals three questions: "What is your spiritual lesson? What is your spiritual gift? What message do you have for humans?" Each chapter presents biological information, how the animals have been portrayed in mythology, and, in some cases, a myth-busting message.

Babylonian mythology said "bats represented the souls of the dead." For bats, though, the story is about selfless "surrender to the group." "My personal message from the bats (my interpretation of their message to my own life) is to stop isolating myself, to share myself openly with friends, family and community."

The final chapter is on Gubbins' own message. "We are love," she writes. "We are all connected. We are one."

The author will have a booth at the Walk, Woof, Wag fundraiser for the Chico Animal Shelter Medical Fund, Saturday, September 16 at One Mile in Lower Park. She'll offer "intuitive pet readings" for a $10 donation to the fund.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Hook's Tale: Being The Account Of An Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written By Himself"



His biography is impressive. "John Pielmeier is a three-time Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated playwright and screenwriter"; he wrote both play and screenplay for "Agnes Of God." Based in upstate New York, he has cousins in Chico.

Pielmeier keeps thinking of another, very troubled, biography, at least as presented by the Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie, in "Peter Pan," the first book Pielmeier learned to read. Barrie's Captain Hook, the pirate with the severed hand, pursued by a ticking crocodile, is Peter's arch-nemesis.

Barrie does note that "Hook" is "not his true name," which, it turns out, is James Cook, and before he died in 1940 he wrote a memoir. Serendipitously, Pielmeier finds the manuscript in an American library. It has now been restored and published as "Hook's Tale: Being The Account Of An Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written By Himself" ($25 in hardcover from Scribner; also for Amazon Kindle; see johnpielmeier.com). It's not quite a kid's story.

Cook is born in 1860, his father lost at sea. His mother drowns in a bathtub while he is away at Eton, and he is involuntarily "pressed into service" for Her Majesty's Royal Navy. Cook insists that the "sorry Scotsman" got it wrong about most everything, from the "jolly" Roger (named after the un-jolly captain, Roger Starkey) to Daisy the croc, Tink the fairy, Tiger Lily the princess, and Peter himself.

"Why, dear reader," Cook asks, "do you always insist on believing that sad little Scotsman, who only heard the story third-hand, instead of believing one who lived it? … I, on the other hand--which other hand, by the way, I am forced to use now to write, since my right one was underhandedly removed, leaving me but my sinister side to express my feelings--I on the other hand am writing a memoir, and cannot use the conveniences of fiction to paint a nicer, cleaner, simpler picture of how things happened."

Cook is a sympathetic character, driven by revenge, faced with the great question: Do you really want to grow up? The story is mischievous, rollicking, wryly funny, weirdly fantastic, and, yes, entirely true.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

"The Legacy Of Little Mouse The Mouse"



A deep blanket of snow envelops the Upper Ridge and the animals "underneath, in, above, beside, around, and near Paradise Lake" as the new year of 1999 is about to break upon them. Little Mouse is deep in thought.

A few months earlier, as recounted in "The Adventures Of Little Mouse," he and his animal friends used a lever to move a boulder, preventing it from crushing his house. Little Mouse realizes that the "lever principle" can apply metaphorically to nothing less than developing a full and successful life of good character.

At the same time, down Pentz Road in Paradise, Jim Barnes and his wife Nancy "were having their New Year's breakfast with their visiting niece, Shauna" (a fifth-grader), and Uncle Jim is wondering how he can convince her to join him in visiting Little Mouse (which requires the use of imaginative powers to shrink in size) so Little Mouse can present his lever idea to a real student.

The story is told by Jim Barnes himself, a retired elementary school teacher and administrator, in "The Legacy Of Little Mouse The Mouse" ($14.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle). The book is intended to be shared and discussed with youngsters, and the fanciful story, Shauna's inquisitive nature, Uncle Jim's encouragement, and the puzzle of Little Mouse's "contraption," will make for rich conversations.

Through sketches and diagrams by the author, what Little Mouse unveils to his two guests in his cozy mouse house is a plan for using "the human fulcrum" (health, environment, society, family, great-souled friends, and "the universal Origin and Source") to help discover TRY: "The Real You." Little Mouse's lever is easy for kids to learn but deep enough for adults to ponder.

Barnes has also created an associated coloring book as well as templates for charts and posters (littlemousethemouse.com).

The author is skilled in motivating kids to learn more. When Uncle Jim and Shauna realize that Little Mouse's insights are expressed in a child's teeter-totter, Little Mouse "looked at two of the most astonished faces he'd seen since Bear had mistakenly sat down on a red ant's nest." A teeter-totter? Who would have guessed?


Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Betrayal At Iga: A Hiro Hattori Novel"



Autumn in Japan in the year 1565, a time fraught with tension as rival clans vie for supremacy. Who will become the reigning shogun?

The ninja Hiro Hattori, paid by a mysterious benefactor to protect the life of the Jesuit Father Mateo Ávila de Santos, has fled Kyoto with the Portuguese priest. Now, sheltered in Iga province, his home, Hiro and Father Mateo are confronted with the biggest challenge of their lives. There will be war among ninja clans unless the pair can find a murderer in their midst.

Sacramento writer Susan Spann (susanspann.com), a recent guest at the Butte College WordSpring writing conference, continues her series of ninja (the Japanese pronunciation is "shinobi") mysteries with "Betrayal At Iga: A Hiro Hattori Novel" ($15.95 in paperback from Seventh Street Books; also for Amazon Kindle).

The story follows on from "Claws Of The Cat," the first in the series, "Blade Of The Samurai," and "The Ninja's Daughter," though it works well as a standalone mystery. (There's a cast of characters list and a glossary of Japanese terms, quite helpful as the reader is brought up close and personal into medieval samurai culture.)

Taste, smell, and proper decorum all play significant roles in the mystery, which begins innocently enough as Hiro and Father Mateo are invited to be received at a welcome meal by Hiro's cousin, Hattori Hanzō, "leader of Iga ryu" or clan.

At the same time Hanzō is welcoming a delegation, all shinobis themselves, from the Koga families, with whom he seeks to form an alliance. Only in so doing can the clans resist the samurai warlord Oda Nobunaga's quest to rule all of Japan. (Oda is based on a historical figure, though most of the characters in the book are fictional.)

Things do not go well. Koga Yajiro dies a horrible death at the table, and poison is suspected. But who would do such a thing, and why? Hiro and Father Mateo have just three days to identify the murderer to prevent the clans from sinking into internecine warfare. There are more murders and almost everyone is suspected of betrayal, including Hiro's mother.

It's a classic whodunit, compulsively readable.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Spectators: Flash Fictions"



Rob Davidson teaches creative writing and American literature at Chico State University. In 2012 he and photographer Tom Patton presented an "image-and-text collaboration" at 1078 Gallery in Chico. Inspired as well by artists Stephani Schaefer and Sara Umemoto, Davidson has constructed a deconstruction of the "monuments" built by words, the stories we tell ourselves and often settle into. "We love limits," he writes in his new and strangely haunting book, "we feel safer behind an enforced perspective."

"Spectators: Flash Fictions" ($16 in paperback from Five Oaks Press) is a collection of short meditations, some somber, some flirtatious. The book invites reading and re-reading (the publisher has nominated it for a Pulitzer Prize in literature), and each time the reader will see something new. In a way, that's the point.

Patton's photograph of a man taking pictures of the Grand Canyon inspires a mordant observation: "He will not remember the canyon. He will not remember the smell of sage, or the breeze, just slightly cool, wafting up from the riverbed…. He will remember taking multiple shots from different angles…. He shoots again and again, and with each new image he builds another, different canyon, thereby justifying the existence of the first. We are only the stories we tell ourselves."

One ought not put too much store in one's words and yet "the world without words is the world unmade." "Author's Note" distinguishes Davidson the writer from Rob the ordinary bloke, the married man with two kids and a day job at the university. This Davidson guy "steals from me. From my memory." Yet in the fictions Davidson creates "I see myself most clearly." A fiction is a way of listening.

We can't help being spectators but we can also be shaped by a Buddhist understanding of presence. "The mistake most commonly made by those asked to wait is to focus on that which has not yet happened…. There is only the waiting itself, for which there is no wait."

"There is inside us," Davidson writes earlier, "a child's wish that the world would yield to our demands. Yet it's only when we stop to listen that something unexpected opens, like the ear of a parenthesis."


Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Reflections From The Rear View Mirror: A Love Story"



"Two major themes have been with me all my life," writes retired professor Kaye Owens ("Mr. Kaye"), "my abiding love and interest in people, especially children, and my fascination for anything with wheels and how they could be usefully employed." Now in his mid-eighties Kaye has compiled reminiscences of his many vehicles, and it's quite a list.

"Reflections From The Rear View Mirror: A Love Story" ($16.99, spiral bound, self-published) is available from Kathy's Books, 6848 Skyway in Paradise; and by mail order directly from the author, 5645 Butte View Terrace, Paradise, CA 95969 or through kayeowens.com.

The largest section catalogs the dozens of cars, trucks, and trailers that have been part of his family, beginning with a 1936 Ford Pickup. When Owens was eight "my father invited me to take the wheel." The family lived on a farm near Boise, Idaho. "I stalled the engine," he remembers, "but I managed to get it going again, slowly creeping across farm country until I rammed into the corner of a hog pen and stalled again." He was hooked.

Each vehicle, most accompanied by the author's own sketches, receives a paragraph to a page (or more), focused mostly on the circumstances of how it came into Owens' possession and the part it played in his life. Subsequent chapters offer more sustained narratives about planes, bicycles, carts, and even boats.

Over the years there are marriages, children, divorces, and many moves as a teacher and later professor of psychology and special education, but family names are never given. This is a vehicular memoir.

At one point, needing to teach off-campus classes in Utah, Owens becomes a licensed pilot flying a 1946 Erco AirCoupe. Owens the tinkerer delights in solving problems (like a broken canopy), but "I was very lucky. Mostly, I had feelings of inconvenience rather than danger."

These days, "with the help of children and adult family members, I am working on constructing a motor scooter made entirely of repurposed materials," like a bed frame and pump motor. "Reflections" will bring knowing nods from those of a certain age; it's a testament to a "restless spirit" who loves his wheels.


Sunday, July 09, 2017

"Bull's Labyrinth"



Oregon writer Eric Witchey (ericwitchey.com), a presenter at the Butte College WordSpring writing conference, has a penchant for the offbeat. In "Bull's Labyrinth" ($17.95 in paperback from IFD Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle), he has fashioned a modern day romantic suspense fantasy out of the quest for missing glyphs of the ancient Minoan script called Linear-A. He pulls it off with aplomb, interweaving the story of the brilliant and stunningly beautiful Dr. Nikkis Aristos, 25 years old, with an ancient curse 3500 years old.

The Minoan civilization developed on the island of Crete; there, Nikkis is invited by a detective named Andros to aid in the search for artifact forgers. Andros is "the unfortunate son of Turkish and German parents" and is held in contempt by the locals because, he says, "they believe my ancestors murdered their ancestors. Which, to be candid, is true."

Andros lusts for Nikkis, who constantly fends off his demeaning advances. He takes her to the ruins of Knossos, where King Minos, called the "Bull Among Men," reigned more than three millennia ago. The Master Carver who built his palace is named Daedalus. Nikkis knows the name; Daedalus was "the father of crafts and tools. He built the bull that let the queen of the Minoans be mounted by the white bull, the gift of Poseidon, and hence gave birth to the Minotaur."

Alternating chapters return to Daedalus and the "real story," of how he and his son Ikarus tried to escape the island kingdom by flying away, and how Daedalus, returning when his son plummets to his death after flying too close to the sun, eventually marries a mysterious woman, a goat tender named--Nikkis. The King, jealous of Daedalus' craft, curses him to fall in love with Nikkis and then lose her in life after life; but the Queen, craving the erotic dimension of existence, makes it possible for the curse to be broken, for love to be consummated.

The worlds of archaic Daedalus and present-day Nikkis are drawn with compelling detail, and the action pulls the reader along as, Witchey notes, "the battle between ancient male and female energies" plays out on the page to its breathless conclusion.


Sunday, July 02, 2017

"Storybook Style: America's Whimsical Homes Of The 1920s"



Chico writer/photographer Doug Keister (www.douglaskeister.com) has teamed with architect and syndicated columnist Arrol Gellner for a study of what they call “consummate artifice.” Their sumptuously illustrated coffee-table book examines the development and spread of "Storybook Style: America's Whimsical Homes Of The 1920s" ($34.99 in hardcover from Schiffer Publishing).

Blame it on Los Angeles; “… it is perhaps inevitable that the the epicenter of the Storybook style—that most theatrical of design modes—lies in the capital of make-believe: Hollywood.” In the Roaring Twenties “movie people” wanted homes to match their status. “Unlike the sedate manors of bankers and businessmen,” the authors write, “these houses would be fanciful monuments to the pathologically flamboyant, … evoking the appearance of long-gone eras and faraway lands.”

Period Revival included more than just Storybook homes but as motion pictures brought exotic styles into theaters around the country, whimsey took hold. “The Storybook style’s arrival into the mainstream was all but certified when Sears, Roebuck and Co. offered a medievalizing English cottage in its catalog of 1931, complete with catslide roof and rubble-stone trim around the entrance.”

The history of the Storybook style is a bit more complicated than that, and the book details many of the complexities. But readers will also find an abundance of anecdotes and hundreds of photographs, including of a Storybook house on Arbutus Avenue in Chico (showing “a curiously tentative use of random brick in the chimney”) and four pages on Chico’s Eastwood Park tract, developed by Oroville E. Tracy from 1926-1929.

Clinker bricks make frequent appearances. At first “considered discards, having been vitrified by over-firing and hence emitting a distinctive clinking sound when struck,” their “distorted shapes and dark purplish colors” proved to be irresistible to the Storybook sensibility.

Readers will revel in this serious history of a fanciful period.

Doug Keister is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf this Friday from 10:00 - 11:00 a.m. on mynspr.org, North State Public Radio (91.7 FM). This marks the tenth anniversary of Nancy's Bookshelf, and it’s fitting that Keister will open his "storybook" as a kind of tribute to Nancy’s long and fruitful series of author interviews.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

"Odd Otis: A Special Needs Dog Who Doesn't Know He's Special Needs"



Odd Otis is a "special needs" Australian Shepherd, born in 2007 and blind and deaf from birth. He was rescued from the middle of the Skyway and came to live with Magalia residents Alan and Kathi Hiatt. The story is told in "Odd Otis: An Unusual Tail (Tale) About An Unusual Dog" and his notoriety led to signings and school presentations.

Kathi writes me that "we talk to the kids about the importance of patience and tolerance when dealing with special need animals and people." But because "some of the children have been a little too young to actually read the book," the Hiatts have now published a picture version, with color photographs, to show kids how Odd Otis "can pretty much do all the things other dogs can do." And maybe a few they can't.

"Odd Otis: A Special Needs Dog Who Doesn't Know He's Special Needs" (Amazon Kindle; see oddotis.com) features a large image and a simple caption on each page, written by Odd Otis himself responding to the natural curiosity of children. "I can't see," he writes, "but I can find the doggie door to go do my outside business!"

Why the sporty sunglasses shown on the cover? "When I'm outdoors I wear doggles to protect my eyes from flying bugs and low branches." "Ottie" also has "a special water bowl so it won't tip over if I step on it." On car trips he rides in a car seat.

"There's an upside to being deaf," he writes. "When the rugs are being vacuumed the loud 'VROOM' doesn't wake me from my nap … and when I'm being brushed the noisy hairdryer doesn't scare me!"

He shows "children how to say 'hello': Ask my human if it's OK to pet me; make a fist and let me smell your hand; pet my chest and sides, not the top of my head."

Many of the pictures will tug at the reader's heart (I admit it.). But the book is not about feeling sorry. Instead, it's a celebration of the active life of an unusual dog--and how family love makes all the difference.


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.