Sunday, April 23, 2017

"The Ninja's Daughter"

A shinobi, writes Sacramento mystery writer Susan Spann (, means "shadowed person" and "is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters that many Westerners pronounce 'ninja.' ('Ninja' is based on Chinese pronunciation.)" Beginning with "Claws Of The Cat" in 2013, Spann has produced a series of "shinobi mysteries" featuring Hiro Hattori, an assassin and spy.

The current volume in the connected series (though each book stands alone) is "The Ninja's Daughter" ($15.95 in paperback from Seventh Street Books; also for Amazon Kindle). It is Autumn, 1565 in Kyoto, Japan. Hiro, posing as a translator for the Portuguese Jesuit priest Father Mateo Ávila de Santos, must guard him with his life, a vow he made to a mysterious benefactor.

Hiro is a samurai, and though violence is kept to a minimum on the page, heads do roll. But the focus is on the murder of Emi ("who had dreams beyond her station"), the younger daughter of Satsu, an actor with the troupe called the Yutoku-za.

Dismissed by the Kyoto police (actors are the lowest of the low), the case cries out for justice to be done, and Father Mateo cannot resist. He and Hiro mount an investigation that takes them deep into Japanese theater culture, their only clue a golden coin found on the victim and, for Hiro, an unexpected family connection.

Set against political turmoil in Japan, with rival warlords threatening conflict, and corruption in high (and low) places, this is a fast-paced whodunit with a satisfying but unnerving reveal at the end. Mateo and especially Hiro are attractive characters in a continuing story: I never thought I'd use "samurai" and "endearing" in the same sentence.

Susan Spann is scheduled to lead two workshops at the sixth annual WordSpring Creative Writing Conference, Saturday, April 29 from 8:00 a.m. until 2:10 p.m. at the Learning Resource Center on the Butte College main campus. The workshops are called "Writing A Killer Mystery" and "Putting The History In Your Mystery."

The event includes a continental breakfast, catered lunch, keynote, and breakout sessions in poetry, fiction, and cross-genre (including songwriting). Registration for the conference is $45 for students and educators; $75 for community members. For more information visit

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"The Stone Thrower"

By the time Chuck Ealey was 21, in 1971, "he had won more games than any other quarterback in college football history. … But even though he was undefeated," writes his daughter, Jael Ealey Richardson, "my father would never play professional football in America."

Chuck Ealey is African American, and "the National Football League didn't believe that he could be a great quarterback because of the color of his skin. So my father moved to Canada to play quarterback in the Canadian Football League" where he became the CFL's Rookie of the Year.

The story was first published by Richardson as "The Stone Thrower: A Daughter's Lessons, A Father's Life." She has now adapted it as a children's book with extraordinary illustrations, exuberant and deeply moving, by Matt James.

"The Stone Thrower" ($18.95 in hardcover from Groundwood Books, begins with young Chuck in Portsmouth, Ohio, growing up in a segregated community. His was the North End, "a neighborhood that was separated from the rest of town by a set of long, stony railroad tracks."

The turning point came one fall day when "Chuck walked towards the train tracks. He scuffed his shoes against the pavement as the wind whispered gently, as leaves tumbled and danced and cracked beneath his footsteps."

He picked up a stone and aimed at the N on one of the Norfolk & Western coal cars. He threw and threw, and missed and missed, until he didn't miss anymore. When he started playing football, Chuck never forgot. Eventually his coach at school made him quarterback, and the rest is an amazing tale of persistence, practice, and focus. And victory.

Jael Richardson, who lives in Brampton, Ontario, is scheduled to present the keynote address at the sixth annual WordSpring Creative Writing Conference, Saturday, April 29 from 8:00 a.m. until 2:10 p.m. at the Learning Resource Center on the Butte College main campus. She will also lead a workshop on writing creative nonfiction.

The event includes a continental breakfast, catered lunch, the keynote, and breakout sessions in poetry, fiction, and cross-genre (including songwriting). Registration for the conference is $45 for students and educators; $75 for community members. For more information visit

Sunday, April 09, 2017

"Professor Witchey's Miracle Mood Cure"

Oregon-based author Eric Witchey (, a presenter at the WordSpring Creative Writing Conference at Butte College on April 29, describes "story" as "unfettered magic happening in the heart and mind of the reader."

He has collected some of his oddball yarns and creative experiments in a wondrous stew called "Professor Witchey's Miracle Mood Cure" ($17.95 in paperback from IFD Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). The twenty-three short stories and two novelettes range from the surreal to science fiction.

The reader is quickly oriented but just as quickly disoriented as "Ezekiel, Prophet To Bones," cries out to the LORD (who turns out to be the Logistics Operations Restoration and Data system); or Aunt Linda whips up a batch of her incredible eggnog while displaying her "famous twisted mystery smile." Then there's a father and son fishing outing complete with chaos theory and "quantum synchronicity."

The two longer tales well represent Witchey's reader-pleasing prowess. "To Build A Boat, Listen To Trees" is an evocative tale of the quiet wizardry of Venerré, Master Shipwright of Port Corwald. Not everything can be said in words, it turns out, in this sweet and satisfying tale.

"The Tao of Flynn" traces the remarkable sales approach of a certain insurance salesman who tells his friend and fellow employee that "the truth is the most powerful lie there is. Before you met me, you thought you were a liar taking people's money. Have you ever seen me lie to anyone?"

The story builds delight as Flynn's success secret is revealed; the reader can hardly wait for the boss' inevitable comeuppance. It comes in a surprising sort of way--as one might expect of Witchey.

Eric Witchey is scheduled to lead two workshops, "Levers, Ratchets, and Buttons" and "How The Reader Breaks Your Writing" at the sixth annual WordSpring Creative Writing Conference, Saturday, April 29 from 8:00 a.m. until 2:10 p.m. at the Learning Resource Center on the Butte College main campus.

The event includes a continental breakfast, catered lunch, keynote address and breakout sessions in poetry, fiction, and cross-genre (including songwriting). Registration for the conference is $45 for students and educators; $75 for community members. For more information visit

Sunday, April 02, 2017

"China Caper"

Here's the setup: "Valuable artifacts are getting out of China into markets in Europe, South America, and the U.S. The Chinese authorities, with help from London's Scotland Yard, have decided it must be via an innocent-seeming tourist or a small team of so-called tourists." Who better to join a tour group herself and ferret out the bad guys than Briana Fraser, owner of Let's Travel in Ashland, Oregon? Did I mention that she's "a former courier for a U.S. spy agency"?

So begins "China Caper" ($17 in paperback from Dorrance Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle), a diverting tale by Redding author Chloe Ryan Winston (

It's the third travel adventure novel featuring Bri Fraser (after "Argentine Assignment" and "Belize Barter"). "China Caper" takes readers to London, Moscow, Beijing, and Hong Kong. And sure enough, some mysterious goings-on within the group have Bri convinced that an artifact-thief is among them. But who?

At one point the group is gathered in their London hotel's public room during a heavy storm and Bri, who narrates the story, looks around. "As I gazed at the faces of my new friends, I mentally ticked off what I knew about each one as a possible thief. But for each possibility, I cancelled the silent accusation with a heartfelt 'it can't be so.'"

Bri is joined by Derry Lloyd, the tall, self-described "Montana cowboy" who works, as did Bri, for Phillips, "a popular professor at a prestigious eastern university" who sought "people who were smart and somewhat daring to join his team of government couriers."

Ron, a member of the tour group, quips to Bri and Derry, "You guys look like a bunch of folks gathered to hear Miss Marple reveal the guilty one in some cozy murder mystery." A good characterization of the present novel, though a bit more complicated than that.

Bri's investigative work is not without peril. Her own touristy purchase of a jade camel seems harmless until Bri learns the old woman who sold it to her met an untimely end soon after. The novel is made even more intriguing when the flirtatious banter with Derry becomes something more. Their story continues in the next adventure, "Peru Paradox."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Talking About Detective Fiction"

P.D. James died at age 94 in 2014. The creator of Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, she was a keen student of crime fiction and in 2009 published "Talking About Detective Fiction" ($14 in paperback from Vintage; also for Amazon Kindle), an  enlightening exploration focusing especially on the flowering of British detective fiction between the two World Wars.

James considers the staying power of Sherlock Holmes; hard-boiled detectives; female novelists; how the story is told; and critics and fans. Along the way the reader will be regaled with James' readings of her fellow novelists and will likely find authors and titles little known today but central to the development of the form. It is wise to keep a notebook nearby.

The origin of the detective story is really quite recent. James' choice for the first detective novel is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (a friend of Charles Dickens), from 1868. "In my view," she says "no other single novel of its type more clearly adumbrates what were to become the main characteristics of the genre."

"The Moonstone," she writes, "is a diamond stolen from an Indian shrine by Colonel John Herncastle, left to his niece Rachel Verrinder and brought to her Yorkshire home to be handed over on her eighteenth birthday by a young solicitor, Franklin Blake. During the night it is stolen, obviously by a member of the household. A London detective, Sergeant Cuff, is called in, but later Franklin Blake takes over the investigation, although he himself is among the suspects."

There are clues aplenty, "clever shifting of suspicion from one character to another," lots of eerie atmosphere, and a detective that is "eccentric but believable"; I've read it twice.

While detective stories often contain great violence they are "novels of escape. … For whomever the bell tolls, it doesn't toll for us. Whatever our secret terrors, we are not the body on the library floor." And, in the end, the mystery will be resolved.

"Very few readers," she observes, "can put down a detective story until it is solved, although some have fallen into the reprehensible expedient of taking a quick look at the last chapter."

You have been warned.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"The Pilgrim's Ladder"

"I will not forget what I have seen. How can I forget such terror? How can I forget such joy? How can I forget such beauty?" Micah is a climber inexorably drawn to the White Mountain and a vision of the summit, whose "dark night of the soul" is recounted in a moving and profound allegory, "The Pilgrim's Ladder" ($9.99 in paperback from CreateSpace).

Author Ryan Montoya is the 23-year-old University of Colorado Boulder student, and Paradise High School graduate, who survived a 1500-foot fall down the face of Pyramid Peak near Aspen, Colorado, dislocating his elbow and fracturing his pelvis. Though newspaper accounts reported what happened, Montoya's novel explores the deeper call of the mountains, why a bold young man would seek to touch the summit.

The words of the Elder of the valley echo throughout the novel. "Beware the long journey," the Elder tells young Micah, desperate to know about the northern mountains, "beware The Divide. Though along it you may find your answer, remember that by pain are its answers revealed."

The chapters in the four sections ("The Valley," "The Divide," "The White Mountain," "The City Of The Gods") are titled with a single word, such as pride, courtship, pain, atonement, most of which begin with an observation about the "seeker."

"The seeker is but a novice to love, for he has spent his life in the wilderness. As a child he was curious, for he had wonder. As a youth he was determined, for he had powerful desire. As a man he feels love, for his passion points to purpose. But the seeker has not yet found his purpose. … Passion and purpose, these are the seeds of love."

For Micah, and his sometime climbing companion Zachary, the mountains are almost living beings. The Twisted Peak, pridefully reaching for heaven, is punished by the gods with a kind of "malicious energy." What hope is there for a mere man to reach the summit?

Yet if the gods will, the man will live. "I will live as a man should," Micah says, "not in the realm of the gods, but in the lands far below. But … I will not forget…."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Paleontology: A Brief History of Life"

The Chico Triad on Philosophy, Theology, and Science brings academics, students, and independent scholars together each month to wrestle with big issues, such as "what does it mean to be human?" We've been meeting for over a decade now and recently the group considered the work of Ian Tattersall, a curator in the Division of Anthropology at New York's American Museum of Natural History. Trained in archaeology, anthropology and vertebrate paleontology, Tattersall has specialized in the evolutionary analysis of the human fossil record and most especially the mysterious origin of human cognition.

His "Paleontology: A Brief History of Life" ($19.95 in paperback from Templeton Press; also for Amazon Kindle) is a lucid overview of the field. Part of Templeton's "Science And Religion Series," the book begins with the development of the "Tree of Life" and ends with an exploration of Homo sapiens.

Tattersall maintains that "the traditional paleo-anthropological expectation that human evolution has been a single-minded, unilinear slog from primitiveness to perfection" is just plain wrong. "At virtually all points in human evolutionary history," he writes, "several hominid species have coexisted (and at least intermittently competed). That Homo sapiens is the lone hominid in the world today is a highly atypical situation."

His final chapter considers "A Cognitive Revolution," and Tattersall writes about the identification of "symbolic artefacts," such as engravings, cave paintings, or necklaces, and the development of language, as pointers to a new kind of thinking. The bottom line: "Symbolic Homo sapiens is not a simple extrapolation of what had gone before; it is a qualitatively different entity, not an incremental improvement."

There is an important place, Tattersall says, for human spirituality, and the author considers science and religion to be complementary.

His conclusion, using the image of a rocket, encourages continued thoughtful conversation: "Starting firmly in the material world, you can ride the scientific first stage to the point at which its fuel is exhausted, the point that lies at the limits of testable knowledge. From there—if you wish, or feel the need, as most people seem to—you can ignite the spiritual second stage, and be transported to the limits of the human ability to understand."

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Thirty Years of the Biblio File Column

Cartoon by Steve Ferchaud used by permission of the artist

Back in the last millennium I realized that, though perfect in every other way, the E-R lacked a regular book review. My wife, bless her, encouraged me to do something about that, and to call it the "Biblio File." Though the details have flown the memory coop, I was given my first chance to lay an egg when the column debuted in March 1987, thirty years ago this month. Since then, of course, I've made many omelets possible.

In the early days, way before the digital revolution and the flourishing of local authors, pickings were slim. In one column I reviewed the newly redesigned telephone directory. You want local names? The book was full of them!

Another column was devoted to letters from Chico-area writers published in such prestigious places as The Wall Street Journal (yes, I reviewed letters from locals) and when that vein played out I resorted to connecting my own life experiences.

A memory book recalled my being in a speech contest in which another speaker, who had tried to memorize word for word, stumbled, stopped, and then cried out, "I can't believe it. I just forgot my whole life." Over the years I talked about my uncle's apple orchard, a failed attempt being the family plumber, and about Larry's Little Diner on the Skyway.

As time went by, not only did my picture change (more distinguished now, don't you think?) but so did the column. Personal stories fell away; most weeks now feature a book by an area author or visitor. My goal is to evoke the tone of the book and let readers know what it's about so they can make up their own minds.

Along the way there have been some gratifying notes from readers. Among the most cherished is from the college instructor who wrote in 1997 that "I'm finally compelled to write, simply to thank you for broadening my world…. I am continually inspired by your writing. I appreciate, too, your variety of books."

Variety has been the watchword; from teen romances to government contracting, from travelogues to game wardens, from sci-fi to an elephant ballerina, my own world has broadened as well.

Thank you, writers, and thank you, readers, and thank you, Dear Editor.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Your Mindful Guide To Academic Success: Beat Burnout"

Gayle Kimball is Chico State Department of Sociology professor emerita. In her writing she blends "energy work" (using acupressure, meditation and visualization "to harness the power of the mind") with a deep passion for reaching students around the world who are trapped in conditions that make it a challenge to succeed.

Challenges may come from without (poverty, social discrimination) but also from within (procrastination, fear, aimlessness), and in her new book Kimball provides hundreds of resources that help students become overcomers, even activists. She also includes "the advice and experience of young people from various countries to discover how they succeed and to provide insight into the global youth culture…."

"Your Mindful Guide To Academic Success: Beat Burnout" ($9.99 in Amazon Kindle edition from Equality Press) focuses on cultivating good study skills, developing strategies for taking tests and writing essays, "clearing emotional blocks to success," using the internet to increase educational access, and joining youth movements around the world to "fight for a more just and equitable world."

Kimball draws on a wealth of  information about, for example, learning disabilities, "balancing the left and right sides of the body," positive self-talk, depression, being a student of color, and more. (The section on how to research is written by former Butte College librarian Morgan Brynnan.)

Kimball advises students to "structure regular time for exercise, socializing, quiet time, and volunteer work that you feel passionate about so you don't burn out. I'd also like you to think about the influence of sex-role socialization in your choice of major and career objectives. Try to think outside the typical, the normal. In a world that's increasingly global and unequal, my other hope is that you'll be an activist in whatever cause is most important to you."

There's a companion Facebook page called Test Success: How To Cope With Stress And Anxiety (

Kimball is scheduled to speak at a free workshop on "Mind Power To Achieve Your Goals" during the Emotional Tune-Up Seminar, sponsored by the Chico Area Recreation and Park District, Thursday, March 23 from 12:30-4:00 p.m. at Lakeside Pavilion, 2565 California Park Drive. For information contact host Gerald Darling at

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"Gulf Music"

Robert Pinsky, US Poet Laureate from 1997-2000, continues to revel in poetic voices. In "Gulf Music" ($14 in paperback from Farrar, Straus and Giroux; also for Amazon Kindle) Pinsky begins with the vagaries of human remembering and ends with the poet's vision "beyond all boundaries, at memory's undoing," in an excerpt from his translation of the final Canto of Dante's Paradiso.

In between is his discovery of the original meaning of "thing." It "first meant an assembly," he writes in a note, "then the issue discussed, and then from that relatively abstract meaning came the modern sense of a concrete object. … Every artifact, every natural object, with its ghostly wrapping of associations and meanings, begotten and forgotten, is a gathering of minds or contending voices: every thing is an invisible assembly."

The poet considers a book, a glass, a jar of pens, a photograph, a door, paper currency, and--pliers ("What is the origin of this despair I feel/ When I feel/ I've lost my grip, can't manage a thing?// Thing/ That means a clutch of contending voices--/ So my voice:....").

There is an assembly gathered in the book, and the poet is not afraid to berate his own "Immature Song": "Do you disrespect Authority merely// Because it speaks so badly, because it deploys the lethal bromides/ With a clumsy conviction that offends your delicate senses?--but if// Called on to argue such matters as the refugees you mumble and/ Stammer, poor citizen, you get sullen, you sigh and you look away."

Does music have a place in such a world? Maybe, sings the poet, it is exactly the right place.

Pinsky and Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist Laurence Hobgood are scheduled to perform Sunday, February 26, at Chico State's Harlen Adams Theatre. The 7:30 p.m. production is called Poemjazz, in which jazz improvisation and the poet's words are rhythmically interconnected, as the language of jazz brings out the melodies of voice. Pinsky's funny, poignant and political words are not just set to music; they become a kind of music themselves.

Tickets are available through Adults are $32, Seniors $30, Youth $20, and Chico State students $10. For more information call (530) 898-6333.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

"Love & Other Theories"

Aubrey ("Brey") Housing, the narrator of a deeply perceptive novel by Chicoan Alexis Bass (, will soon be saying goodbye to Lincoln High. She'll be going to a prestigious university but now the voice of her BFF, the achingly beautiful Shelby Chesterfield, is ringing in her head: "Now that you’ve been accepted into Barron, you need to join the rest of us and get a real life. It’s your senior year, Brey, time for you to party it up."

It's also a time navigating the emotional uprisings brought on by the ever-fluid hookups with boys at the school, to sort out who is friend and who is foe among the girls, and to decide how important any of this is. "Love & Other Theories" ($9.99 in paperback from HarperTeen, recommended for ages 14 and up; also for Amazon Kindle) traces the breakdown of all that Aubrey thinks is secure within her heart.

Aubrey and her friends have part-time jobs "that produce at least enough money to pay for stuff our parents wouldn't approve of. Booze. Cigarettes. Birth control. Brazilian bikini waxes." Brey, Shelby, and Danica and Melissa, have got each other's back.

Then strangely attractive Nathan Diggs transfers to Lincoln and sits near her. "In all honesty, I'm uncomfortable. I stay perfectly still, though, because it's against everything I believe in to show how physically altered I feel just because of a boy."

Enter "the theories." Since "the only thing we needed to know about high school boys and love (was) how you couldn't have both, we could have anyone we wanted. If you want more, you have to give less. This logic seemed backward compared to the you-get-what-you-give crap we'd always heard, but it worked."
Sex? Momentary fun, that's all (Aubrey had lost her virginity to Trip Chapman; but no commitment.) In fact, "it's only a matter of weeks (two weeks is the average dating cycle at Lincoln High) before he'll get distracted by someone else."

All theories need testing and Aubrey finds she may not be as "evolved" as she thinks. Yet the last words of this emotionally sensitive novel inspire confidence that she finally understands the real meaning of "goodbye."

Sunday, February 05, 2017

"Do We Not Bleed?: A Jon Mote Mystery"

Sister Brigit is among a group of Minnesota nuns who ran a group home for cognitively disabled adults. She tells Jon Mote, the unlikely hero of Daniel Taylor's new mystery, "Do We Not Bleed?" ($25 in hardcover from Slant,; also for Amazon Kindle), about J.P.

"J.P. was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He had serious oxygen deprivation in a tiny rural hospital not equipped to deal with it. … Physically perfect except for cell death in a square inch or two of his brain. No less valuable for that than he was fifteen minutes prior."

Mote had returned his sister Judy to Carlson Group Home on the New Directions campus. Having failed in academe (recounted in "Death Comes For The Deconstructionist," which won the Christianity Today book award for fiction), Mote takes a staff job at Carlson, responsible for six clients, including his eternally optimistic sister as well as smack-talking Bonita and J.P., in his late forties, who cannot tell time.

Mote himself is damaged; he no longer hears voices but now faces a kind of metaphysical silence, angry at God for not existing, living a life of "coagulated pointlessness."

Then J.P. is accused of the rape and murder of Abby Wagner, a more independent resident at New Directions, and is shipped off to a facility for the criminally insane. But could he have done it?

With the help of the others from Carlson, and his estranged wife, Zillah, Jon finds courage to confront the truth. But not just the truth about the murder. In characteristically sharp observations he notes that those who want to reduce life to "kilos, kilometers, angstroms, and curies" are missing what can't be measured: "compassion, sacrifice, suspicion, and honor."

"For the last few years," Jon says, "I've had too many problems to think much about God. (If God made me, I want a refund.) If pressed, I would say, out loud, 'No, I don't believe in God.' But inside a still, small voice would add, 'But I hope God believes in me.'"

The novel is a captivating meditation on the worth of human life and the meaning of suffering.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Navy Daze: Coming Of Age In The 1960s Aboard A Navy Destroyer"

"I would not trade my Navy experience for anything," writes Michael Halldorson (now a board member of Chico's Janet Turner Print Museum). His memoir tells "the story of a young man from a small northern California town who, with no clear direction in life, joined the Navy and came of age aboard a destroyer during the Vietnam War."

The tale of Halldorson's two tours of duty aboard the USS Hopewell (which began in 1964) is written with honesty and self-deprecating good humor. "Navy Daze: Coming Of Age In The 1960s Aboard A Navy Destroyer" ($20.50 in paperback from Heritage Books, follows a "tin can sailor" with a little too much liberty, somewhat obsessed with "girls, cars, alcohol."

There are "vivid memories of having my nose broken in Japan and a tooth sheared off in the Philippines; both incidents took place in drinking establishments ashore." There are better memories, but also the daily routine, "hours-on-end spent inside a hot and humid five-inch gun mount while patrolling off the coast of South Vietnam."

The big guns would fire offshore to protect troops inland, but, at least during the first tour, "we did not know the effectiveness of our fire. … Our reality was the smell of gunpowder, the noise and violent shaking of the gunmount, and the acrid air inside the mount."

On leave, "one of the highlights of my visit to Chico was going out for a beer in my dress blues with a friend at a new restaurant, the Italian Cottage. The owners … furnished me a gratis pitcher of beer. I have never forgotten that act of kindness they bestowed upon me, especially with the way that the general public treated us."

And the ship's fate? "I found out my former destroyer was resting on the seafloor off San Clemente Island in southern California, sent to the bottom while serving as an unmanned target ship during a test of a new type missile."

Photographs, diagrams, and explanations of nautical terms help readers enter the life of a young sailor-artist on a journey of self-discovery (with stops at a few bars along the way).

Sunday, January 22, 2017

"Tehama County"

"The first branded cattle in Tehama County belonged to William B. Ide," writes Josie Smith, "who drove 165 head of cattle to California in 1845." A year later Ide became the "civil leader of the Bear Flag Revolt" which declared California to be an independent republic. "The Bear Flag Republic lasted 25 days. It was brought to an end when US Navy lieutenant Joseph Warren Revere (Paul Revere's grandson) arrived in Sonoma and raised the Stars and Stripes on July 9, 1846."

The William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park honors Ide, though the original adobe, built in 1852, was not his actual home ("he lived farther downriver").

While Ide was a historic figure, Smith focuses on capturing everyday life in "Tehama County" ($21.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing,; also for Amazon Kindle) by Josie Smith and the Tehama County Genealogical and Historical Society. (Though a Chico resident, Smith notes in her acknowledgments that the society "adopted a Butte County person as a board member.")

The book is part of the "Images of America" series featuring large black-and-white photographs with detailed captions. Tehama County came into existence in 1856, carved "from territory belonging to Shasta, Butte, and Colusa Counties." No one knows for sure where the name came from, though there are stories. What is certain is that the book captures the vibrant rural life in the county, from Red Bluff to Paskenta, from Corning to Jellys Ferry.

The book is divided into chapters devoted to the four corners of Tehama County interspersed with sections on transportation, agriculture, and recreation. There's a dramatic picture of the "1915 blast of Lassen Peak … from Walnut Street in Red Bluff 37 miles away," and a closer image of the eruption a year earlier.

There's a picture of a Cushman Harvester, drawn by forty mules, working in the southwestern part of the county around 1902. Elsewhere a caption notes that "by 1890, there were 700,000 gallons of brandy stored in the Internal Revenue brick bonded warehouse at (Leland) Stanford's Vina Ranch. Federal law required brandy to be aged under lock and key and then taxed when removed."

Harvested and aged, the pictures and text are a delight.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Dark Associations"

Chico writer Marie Sutro evokes the gritty reality of police investigations in a stunning debut novel of violence, eroticism, and suspense that holds the reader in its grip until the very end. In "Dark Associations" ($9.99 in paperback from Viper Press; also for Amazon Kindle) a serial killer, a psychopath obsessed with medieval torture methods, horribly mutilates a succession of young women whose bodies each bear the brand of the ancient Norse thorn symbol.

The novel's central figure is Kate Barnes, a Special Victims Unit detective with the San Francisco Police Department, a thirty-something beauty racked by her seeming complicity in the death of her younger sister when they were kids.

She is paired with Detective Tyler Harding from Boston. He had failed to catch that city's "Tower Torturer" who killed seven young women. Harding and Barnes realize the murders have begun again, this time in San Francisco. And the new victims are all somehow connected to Kate.

Stymied, the department captain calls in FBI superstar profiler, Special Agent Ben Fraye, with whom Harding had worked in Boston in the fruitless effort to track down the "unknown subject."

Detective Barnes had not dealt with a psychopathic killer before, so Special Agent Fraye explains to her that the UNSUB "sees something in you--something he feels he can relate to." Such killers "cannot relate to others in terms of compassion and empathy" but, "oddly enough, while you can't figure them out, at least one of them seems to understand aspects of you--and you're the one accusing them of being emotionally handicapped."

Complicating matters is the growing attraction between Barnes and Fraye, Harding's own past with Kate, and a killer taking lives just because he wants to. The characters are deeply drawn and the complex plot provides surprises at every turn. The grisly details are there, but so also is a pulse-pounding story that keeps the pages turning.

Marie Sutro ( will be signing copies of her book at Barnes and Noble in Chico this Saturday from 2:00-4:00 p.m. The author has also scheduled an interview with Nancy Wiegman, who hosts Nancy's Bookshelf on; readers can subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes at