Tuesday, August 04, 2020

"'My Name Is Haley And I Live In Paradise...'"



Burned out by the Camp Fire, Paradise illustrator Steve Ferchaud fills his latest creation with Paradise memories in a children's book for all ages--and for the ages.

 

The book came about when the Executive Director of Youth On The Ridge Community Foundation, Debbie LaPlant Moseley, had the idea of raising funds by auctioning off names and characters to be put into a book. The winning bid came from the Hartleys, owners of Joy Lyn's Candies, and so their granddaughter, Haley, is the one who tells the story, a kind of diary of Paradise before, during, and after the fire.

 

"'My Name Is Haley And I Live In Paradise...'" ($14.99 in paperback, published by Youth On The Ridge Community Foundation; printed by Digital Print & Design in Chico) is available at ABC Books in Chico and through the website of the Foundation's Paradise Chocolate Fest (chocolatefest.us/getting-involved/my-name-is-haley). Proceeds go to the Foundation.

 

As writer and illustrator, Ferchaud tells a hopeful story. But it's hope that knows full well what has been lost. 

 

"I have to tell you about Noble Orchards," Haley writes. "I think I have a special talent for picking apples because I have always picked the best, juiciest, sweetest apples in the whole orchard. ... I wonder what the going rate is for an apple expert?"

 

Haley and her friends Lucia Violet and Sam spend time at Joy Lyn's ("I always choose the brittle"). There's Gold Nugget Days (readers may know some of the folks in the crowd), the Chocolate Fest, Gold Nugget Museum, Darlene's Ice Cream dreams, and Johnny Appleseed Days. 

 

Then one morning the phone rings. Haley and her mom must evacuate, try to make it to Chico to meet her dad. Booming sounds are all around. For five pages Ferchaud's palette turns red. 

 

"Then suddenly, there was blue sky."

 

Days pass, and the Skyway reopens. The two-page spread of a devastated Paradise, "empty and burned away," is heart-rending.

 

Months pass, and the family rebuilds. "There is still so much I want to say ... but do you know what I love saying the most...? 'Hi! My Name is Haley, and I live in Paradise.'"

 


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"Land - Home - Mountain View: Stories From The Siskiyous"


"How could she possibly relay what thousands of square miles are like to callers who think San Francisco is Northern California?" That's the question fictional real estate agent Ingrid Fromm asks herself about the glory of Siskiyou County in the short story collection that depicts her encounters with interesting (read: quirky) clients.

 

The county, Fromm muses, is "the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined.... You can get lost here, stake out your territory, and retreat to a lifestyle reminiscent of rugged individualism and grit...." And there are pretty good views of Mt. Shasta.

 

Author Ursula Bendix, Peace Corps volunteer and Spanish teacher, was born in Germany in 1945 and with her family immigrated to Oregon when she was ten. Now the owner/broker of Bendix Real Estate in Yreka, she has crafted a series of deceptively simple stories about her counterpart Fromm (also in real estate in Yreka). 

 

"Land - Home - Mountain View: Stories From The Siskiyous" ($13.95 in paperback from Memoir Books, an imprint of Chico's Heidelberg Graphics; also for Amazon Kindle) presents ten vignettes, tales of clients narrated from Fromm's point of view, that in quiet ways begin to expose the soul of a woman in her sixties, divorced after thirty-four years of marriage, with a son and daughter, living a "conventional" life.

 

Fromm's work makes her almost a voyeur into the lives of her clients. "Voyeurism, she knew, was a means by which she tried to discover and comprehend the nature of intimacy. She was sure that once she understood this feeling, she would understand the essence of living.... Selling real estate gave her the opportunity to meet all types of personalities and, for a short while, become intensely involved in their lives."

 

Zola Poe wants to build a "spiritual and holistic retreat" near the town of Hilt. A couple is interested in a strange house with a trapdoor in Dunsmuir. Foul-smelling Patrick meets a sad end. Ingrid imagines a fling with her client, Russian Boris Volkov. ("We're all in our sixties after all--what difference did it make?")

 

A conventional life? Perhaps--but one that will draw readers into its gentle passion.

 


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Dangerous Days In Dogtown"



As a longtime Chico resident, former high school science teacher Dick Cory remains active as an essayist (writing a monthly column for Today's Senior Magazine) and environmentalist (advocating Teichert Ponds in Chico be designated "Peace Park Nature Preserve").

When he read about a controversy over prairie dogs in New Mexico, how they might be wiped out of existence by "changing farming practices and development," he created a story for young people told from the perspective of Percival the prairie dog. Percival falls in love with Ida Mae, and together they realize that "both of our families (coteries) may soon have to move if two-legs standing (people) have their way."

"Dangerous Days In Dogtown" ($15 in paperback, self-published, available at Made In Chico and through the author at ubangarang@yahoo.com) is not a story about the old upper Ridge area, but one about a very different "dogtown," captivatingly illustrated by Steve Ferchaud.

A brief glossary notes that a "coterie" is "a family group of prairie dogs made up of a male, one to four females, and their young, up to two years." They aren't really dogs, Cory explains, but "are most closely related to squirrels" and now range over only two percent of the land they did in 1900. Bottom line: "Studies show that the prairie dogs really don't compete for grass with cattle and bison."

After introducing Percival's family, the story takes an ominous turn as he watches the "grass grabbers" (humans) "bury poison seeds that smell like burnt nuts and cause us to die when we eat them.... Some take shots as us with their hollow tube shooters (guns)."

Even worse, "the grass is drying without water, too many four-legged milk-making gas-belching animals are eating what grass is left. Pups are being orphaned by this war on us. What can we do?" Ida Mae adds: "Doesn't anyone care for us? Do the legislators in our capitol not hear our barks?"

In the end Percival and Ida Mae make their choice. "We will stay and fight for our homeland. One day the two-legged standings will realize that our bark is better than their blight."

Doggone if it's not a small tale that needs watching.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"The Sounds Of Worship (The Cult Of Sound)"



Technology is crucial in bringing a worship experience to those sheltering in place. Yet technology can also be a barrier to "authentic worship." That's the claim made in a new book directed especially to conservative evangelicals. 

The author, Livermore resident David Dirks, is a Chico State University grad who helped pioneer KCHO-FM as Chief Engineer. Now retired as a video producer for Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories, he leads the sound/media team at Brentwood Bible Fellowship.

Designed to be read by church leadership, "The Sounds Of Worship (The Cult Of Sound)" (self-published and available on Amazon Kindle) offers a "theology of sound" for churches with around 100 or so in attendance. 

Can those who sing or speak be heard clearly? Is the sound in the room too loud or too soft? The book provides basic technical advice on setting up sound systems, creating the right mix for band members and the congregation, and the importance of the FOH--the "front of house," "the person who mixes the sound for the congregation...."

But here's the key question, Dirks writes: "Are the sounds that you make, whether as a musician or an engineer, consistent with sounds that honor and glorify Christ? ... When we exalt our talents and abilities and elevate our technology as the source of the power in worship, we turn worship on its head. We practice 'the cult of sound.'"

Instead, "sound should seamlessly reinforce the worship time.... All glory should go to God." Beware "the deceptive emphasis on the worshiper as a consumer." Authentic worship is from the heart, in a spirit of joy.

The last part of the book is a jeremiad, a lament over how technology consumes our attention. Is a tech sabbath needed? 

The balance is difficult: "My life’s work is based ... on the use of technology.... At the same time, it is incumbent on me and each believer in the all-sufficient work of Christ and His resurrection to place boundaries on the use and influence technology has on day-to-day living and ... within the time of worship that we share together."

Dirks' book seeks to be a companion in that challenge.


Tuesday, July 07, 2020

"An Education In Ruin"



Chico novelist Alexis Bass (alexisbassbooks.com) exposes scandalous family secrets in "An Education In Ruin" ($19.99 in hardcover from Tor Teen; also for Amazon Kindle). 

The Rutherford Institute welcomes high schoolers from the moneyed class, those "with bright futures and lush lives." But for new third-year student Collins Pruitt, who tells the story, her arrival at the boarding school is the start of a mission having little to do with learning.

She focuses on the Mahoney boys, Theo and Jasper. Especially Jasper. He's a fourth-year, the school's lacrosse champion, "accepted early to Dartmouth after being lauded into academic stardom last year when he won the national academic decathlon. ... He spent last summer interning at Robames Inc., a world-popular company because their founder is a twenty-year-old Yale dropout and a Rutherford graduate herself."

If Collins can get Jasper to fall in love with her (and she is convinced by her aunt Rosie that she can), Collins can leverage the relationship to force his married mother, Marilyn, who dotes on her sons, to stop her affair with Collins' divorced father, Jacob, on whom she dotes. Simple.

Except not so simple. As the deliciously dishy tale unfolds, it turns out no one is who they seem to be. Take Rob (Roberta) James, head of Robames, plagued by a personal lawsuit that threatens to bring down the company. She's invented a medical device that quickly analyzes DNA (or something), but she's a total fraud. (The parallels with Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos are quite clear.) 

Jasper knows yet refuses to blow the whistle on Rob. Why? Collins is falling in love with him and in searching for the answers with her group of friends, Anastasia, Stewart, Sebastian, and, yes, Theo and Jasper, secrets inside secrets are revealed. Can love flourish when all the truths come out? 

In the end, Collins writes, "there are some things that are too complicated to understand unless you know the whole of it. The entirety. What came before what comes comes after. The broken-down parts, each piece making both the foundation and the destruction. A moment-by-moment recount until the abhorrent conclusion."

Readers may be so engrossed in "Ruin" it will ruin their dinner plans.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Revelation"



Consider: Somewhere out there in space, humans have come to a planet they call "Home World," fleeing the military-industrial complex on their "previous planetary home," a place in which war seemed to be the answer to every question. The colonists "resolved to bring with them only the technology that rewarded the peaceful solution of differences of opinion." 

Over the next five hundred years only one war flares up. "When it was over, everyone ... agreed that killing each other was stupid." That was long ago; now, though, some of the countries on Home World are again amassing technological power with an eye toward the wealth of a planet known as E47. The "healthy technological and moral environment for human evolution" is about to be shattered.

For Chicoan Andrew Hanson, retired Professor of Education at Chico State University, and now a first-time novelist, the solution comes in the form of what might be called a "conspiracy for peace," led by Mark Sturgis, a rich and mysterious figure recently returned from E47. 

He convinces Adrian Prescott Museum Director Eric Harris, and Assistant Director Rachel Johnson (who fall for each other), that he is indeed the late Adrian Prescott in a transplanted body. Can they convince Adrian's grandson, Jerold Prescott, Chairman of Prescott Industries, before Jerold makes a decision "that will jeopardize the future of our planet"?

"Revelation" ($14 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) focuses in the first part on Mark's (cinematic) E47 experiences involving friendly Hill People, the unfriendly "People of God" tribe, five orphans (the "Sherpas"), telepathic wolves, the Witness Tree (which is a kind of space and time transport), and a People Mover machine which allows Sturgis to escape.

The second part details a series of meetings among the conspirators reporting on peace movements they are encouraging. Will humans get another chance to be welcomed into a peaceful galactic community?

As Mark reports, "It's becoming increasingly clear that advocates for peace must do more than sponsor initiatives and rallies. Warmongering politicians with financial interests in arms industries must be exposed, and colluding arms manufacturers put out of business."

Questions of war and peace continue to resonate as the United States celebrates its own founding.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"The Last Lead Holders: Quest For Fulfillment"



Construction Superintendent and architect Richard Deatherage of Citrus Heights retired his lead pencil in 2009. Drawing by hand he became "the youngest Project Coordinator/Architectural Draftsman in the State of California's history by the age of 20."

He offered to pick up his pencil once again after he learned his friends Andy and Barb Pilgram of Paradise, and their twin daughters' families in Magalia, had lost their homes in the Camp Fire. He ended up designing a home for one of the twins, Jessica Anderson and her husband Elijah, and it's now being built in Magalia.

Deatherage tells his own story, through 2009, in a rollicking memoir, an homage to his parents, especially his late father who "showed us how to live our lives to the fullest and to dream, as we each grew into manhood." "I had no sisters," he adds, "only brothers, and we just beat each other up for entertainment."

"The Last Lead Holders: Quest For Fulfillment" ($19.76 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) details his "adventures growing up in the 1960s and 1970s throughout America as an official United States Air Force Brat (USAFB)." Before he developed much of a conscience, he writes, he was not exactly an angel. (He set up a bootlegging operation to make extra cash when he was underage.)

The book is replete with "now it can be told" hijinks, but they are laid out against a somber experience of "racism in Mississippi in the late 1960s as a young white child; ... being involved in the bussing of all-white children to an all-black school in second grade; ... my parents' unknown struggles at home while my father was being transferred overseas and while he was in the war in Vietnam."

The turning point comes in 1979 when Richard's San Juan High School mechanical drafting teacher puts him on detention and challenges him to design a custom home. At 16 his plans are accepted by the building department. And so a career is born.

Lessons learned? We all need erasers, the "Last Lead Holder" puts it, and we all need to recognize "until the end of racism" that "we were always one." 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"Spooky And The Gargoyle"



Chico State University English Professor Teresa Traver says the idea started with her preschool son who hugged the family gargoyle statue on his way to school. Traver specializes in British literature and literature of the child, and together with illustrator Ariana Dahlenberg she has published a little tale of courage and friendship.

"Spooky And The Gargoyle" ($7.99 in paperback from Thousand Acre Wood Books; also for Amazon Kindle) is an endearing story for ages 4-8 (with discussion questions and activities at teresatraver.com/spooky). It begins with a kitten adjusting to her family's new home which just happens to have a gargoyle statue outside. "The old Maxwell place was full of shadows that spooked her, so her family called her 'Spooky.'"

The full-page illustrations, in greens, browns, and purples, paint a world of mystery, one that needs exploring. Warily Spooky reaches out and touches the gargoyle who promptly admonishes her. "'Go away!' the gargoyle grumbled. 'I'm busy. My job is to guard the house. And I guard it best when I'm alone.'"

But Spooky keeps coming back to talk with Eben (for that is his name), though Eben isn't much of a conversationalist. Then there's the front gate. "Each day, Spooky drew a little closer to the gate so that she could see, hear, and smell more of the big world that frightened and fascinated her. One day a stray dog wandered by. Spooky took one look and ran. The dog chased her..."

Then: "Eben spoke. 'This is private property! No dogs allowed!"' Dog abruptly exits.

Spooky feels safe now. "Eben grumbled less. Sometimes he gave her pointers on how to guard a house. 'The trick is to LOOK confident, even if you're scared. Try it.'"

Another day and--there's another dog, a big one, who heads straight for Eben, jumping up and rocking him back and forth so hard Eben might fall from his pedestal. He shouts for help. "Spooky's heart hammered with fear, but she had to do something!" 

Could a little white kitten who resembles a ghost actually frighten a big dog?

Just you watch!

Traver's book received a 2020 Indie Reader's Discovery Award in the Children's (Board Books and Pre-Reading) category.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

"How To Be An Antiracist"



The 2020-2021 "Book In Common" for Butte College, Chico State University (csuchico.edu/bic), and other local organizations is an autobiographical exploration of the deep roots of racism in America, ideas which infect even people of color themselves. Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington, DC, explores his deepening understanding of the pervasiveness of racist policies and invites readers to make the same journey.

"How To Be An Antiracist" ($27 in hardcover from One World; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with definitions, as Kendi realizes how racist policies affect every aspect of a person's existence--from biology (think "eugenics movement") to behavior (where well-meaning abolitionists "argue that oppression has degraded the behaviors of oppressed people").

Two types of racism intertwine in American history, segregation and assimilation. The segregationist declares he is "not racist" in promoting "separate but equal" institutions; more subtly, the assimilationist, also claiming not to be racist, promotes "equality" within a White standard.

Calling oneself "not racist" is, Kendi writes, "a claim that signifies neutrality: 'I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.' But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of 'racist' isn’t 'not racist.' It is 'antiracist.' What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist."

Racist policies, Kendi says, flow from self-interest. "Racism" he defines as "a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities. ... Race and racism are power constructs of the modern world. ... Racism is not even six hundred years old. It's a cancer that we've caught early."

Drawing a metaphor from his experience with colon cancer, Kendi's antiracist response focuses on policy: "Remove any remaining racist policies, the way surgeons remove the tumors. Ensure there are clear margins, meaning no cancer cells of inequity left in the body politic, only the healthy cells of equity. Encourage the consumption of healthy foods for thought...."

And breathe.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

"After Trump: Achieving A New Social Gospel"



Donald Heinz, Lutheran minister and Chico State University emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, offers in his new book "an invitation and a manifesto." He calls for a revitalized Progressive Christianity "that mimics the liberating God of the Bible." 

He wants the voice of the church to be heard once again in the public square (rather than a watered-down political liberalism too embarrassed to talk about Jesus). He wants to draw on "Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, evangelical, and neo-Anabaptist" teachings to restore the prophetic mission of the church in proclaiming God's "preferential option for the poor."

In "After Trump: Achieving A New Social Gospel" ($28 in paperback from Cascade Books; also for Amazon Kindle), Heinz says "what society most needs from the church" is "the prophetic imagination of alternative realities"--a vision of justice and the common good--brought into the public square. 

We must, he says, take sin (personal and corporate) seriously, but reject what he calls "freeze-dried biblical literalism." "In the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims, love stretches law and custom towards new forms of social justice. Arms full of antipathy to gays cannot carry the Gospel too." The church is a "parade" as it marches into the public square with this new prophetic vision; and it is "pilgrimage."

"Pilgrimaging towards a new social gospel is the task the times require if we are not to continue our descent into Trumpism--white racism, resentment, selfishness, a rapacious free market, and government in the interest of the 1 percent." The church is (or should be) on the move, collaborating with other institutions but never dissolving into them. 

Heinz situates this liberation within a historical and cultural context. He writes that "the crisis of secular modernity (begun with the Enlightenment) is that it created a thought world in which the Bible simply was no longer allowed to speak." But it must: The "canon within the canon"--"God as liberator, played out in the exodus, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul"--provides the key to what the Bible can say in the public square.

The two Donalds (Heinz and Trump) present starkly different worldviews. The book calls readers to "think on these things."

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"Fulfilled: The Passion And Provision Strategy For Building A Business With Profit, Purpose And Legacy"



Owners of local businesses will be making crucial decisions in the coming weeks. Can their doors reopen? And, if so, will the customers be there? A new book by a Chico couple, the founders and owners of the marketing and consulting firm Half a Bubble Out, is a superb guide to rethinking one's business in a time of crisis.

Drawing on lessons from their own early missteps, Kathryn and Michael Redman propose a holistic approach to build or rebuild a business that attracts customers and keeps employees motivated. It's called "Fulfilled: The Passion And Provision Strategy For Building A Business With Profit, Purpose And Legacy" ($19.99 in paperback from Lioncrest Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). An associated website, fulfilledthebook.com, provides special offers and worksheets.

For the Redmans, "Our Passion & Provision concept ... is about living into the 'more' of what life is supposed to be. When we talk about Passion & Provision, we’re talking about fighting a battle against despair, against the status quo, against fear and failure and loss."

Passion is "conviction, values, and commitment ... the willingness to endure pain and suffering to reach a desired destination...." But purpose must be balanced with Provision, "having the resources you need to achieve your goals." This is not, the Redmans say, about just "breaking even" (and for them that includes paying oneself).

Start with core values, like trust and integrity. Create a vision of how to realize what the authors call BHAG, "our Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal." To do that, become minimally competent in leadership; management and operations; marketing and sales; money; and culture (helping everyone reach their potential through the work they do).

It's not easy, but the book includes key real-world insights from other business writers that will help light the way.

As Kathryn writes, "Many times I have looked at Michael and said, 'I knew this would be hard, but I didn't know.' ... The challenge of walking through failures as well as triumphs. Of days when the future looks bright and days when you are convinced the end is imminent."

"Fulfilled" is a must read for business leaders. Anchored in reality, it will encourage and inspire in the uncertain days ahead.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"The Germ Who Got Tired Of Waiting"



"On a morning in March," writes Chicoan Emily Hajec in her new children's book, "A warm, bright, sunny day/ When the flowers were blooming/ In a spring kind of way// Something started to happen...."

Hajec is a copywriter for the Chico marketing company MC2 Design Group. She writes me that she's also a "mom to one very special seven-year-old. ... Her voice is featured in the book as the narrator. When the isolation and social distancing requirements began, children everywhere were faced with a very difficult and challenging new normal. ... Yet through the power of story, I wanted children to find comfort in knowing that there is a greater message of hope."

With MC2 colleague and graphic designer Alycia Jones, who provided the colorful illustrations, the message came to life. "The Germ Who Got Tired Of Waiting" ($20 in paperback, available at thegermwhogottiredofwaiting.com) explains that in the midst of March a "bad guy" showed up. "He was tiny and mean/ And he made people sick/ Although hand washing did/ Seem to be a good trick."

He was relentless, and that changed everything: "No more school, no more stores/ No more going out to eat/ No more play dates, no more parties/ No more people on the street." The message for kids, for everyone, was "Stay away and stay in." "That mean ol' bad germ/ Really ruined the fun/ I don't like that mean germ/ I don't like him a ton."

Then something begins to dawn on the narrator. "But ya see, what did happen/ When we all stayed away/ We actually spent more time/ Doing fun things to play// We made crafts and played cards/ We rode bikes and took walks/ We built forts and read books/ And had lots of fun talks."

And the germ? "He got tired of waiting// That mean ol' bad germ/ Couldn't get us no more/ When we all stayed away/ The bad germ was done for."

The power of a family. Together.

In email correspondence, Hajec notes that profits from the book go to local charitable organizations such as the North Valley Community Foundation's Covid-19 Rapid Response Fund and the Chico Children's Museum.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

"The Empath"



Chico novelist Michael Agliolo's supernatural techno-thriller is a seat-of-your pants wild ride. "The Empath" ($11.43 in paperback, self-published from MA Productions; also for Amazon Kindle) tells the story of 40-something day trader Jason Marino. He has a secret.

Jason is an empath. Sometimes, seemingly at random, he feels a "pull" toward someone who has been hurt. Touching them, he takes on their pain. In doing so, the healing process speeds up, and Jason, exhausted, falls sound asleep. He never makes a show of it. No one must know. 

"It doesn’t take a genius," he says, "to know anyone who can heal people would be hounded, dissected, and turned into some government science project if the word got out." But his life as a nondescript divorced guy in Northern California is about to come to an end. 

Visiting a hospital he feels the old familiar "pull" toward a young boy named Joey being wheeled into one of the rooms. Donning a disguise as "Dr. Cavanaugh," Jason gains entrance into Joey's room and touches his arm to "take his pulse."

And then: "The pulling sensation jolted me. All my senses vanished except my pain receptors. The pulling sensation surged. My head began to throb. Not a sharp pain, just a deep dull ache. My left leg hurt. Everything intensified. I owned the pain now."

Things really get strange when he meets Sarah Backman. She has prophetic dreams, seeing in advance what is going to happen--or what may happen if things are not changed.

They are surrounded by news that U.S. President Cunningham is stepping down after a brain tumor is discovered. Jason can help--but how is he going to get to the President? Child's play, compared to what happens next. Jason is inserted into a desperate mission to stop North Korea from bringing America to its knees, while Sarah at home guides them by her dreams. 

Jason, aboard a super-secret U.S. nuclear sub that runs at unheard of speeds by bubble cavitation, has an audacious plan and a load of nuclear missiles. What could go wrong?

"The Empath" will have readers cheering for Jason and Sarah, even as they learn the real cost of truth-telling.


Wednesday, May 06, 2020

"Fire In Paradise: An American Tragedy"



"It was 4:00 a.m. on Friday, November 9," write Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano of 2018, "and the destruction of the Paradise Ridge as it had been known for a century and a half was almost complete." 

Gee is an editor-reporter for the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper in its West Coast office. Anguiano, also a Guardian reporter, honed her journalistic career at the Chico State University Orion and (for three years) this newspaper. Together, drawing on hundreds of interviews, they tell the story of the Camp Fire with skill and even-handedness.

"Fire In Paradise: An American Tragedy" ($26.95 in hardcover from W. W. Norton & Company; also for Amazon Kindle) is divided into three sections: "Paradise" (which establishes the town's setting in California history and its vulnerability to conflagration); "Hell" (which includes the stories of those who had to make the agonizing decision of whether to stay or go); and "Ashes and Seeds" (which chronicles "a city dispersed").

It's an "American tragedy" because there are other communities, such as Nevada City, about which residents say "it's only a matter of time." "In the wake of the Camp Fire," the authors write in an Epilogue, "a century of certainties about the ability of humans to dominate fire were in question." 

In the wake of the Camp Fire, P.G.&E. plunged millions of Californians into darkness with power shutoffs--and yet there apparently was at least one utility-caused fire, in Sonoma County, evoking for those in and around the Ridge "a familiar sense of dread."

There are eerie resonances with the world we are living through now. In the midst of the fire, "firefighters across the Ridge adopted the makeshift tactic called 'sheltering in place' ...." 

As the fire burned, thick smoke enveloped large parts of the state. "Authorities recommended n95 respirators, so called because they claimed to filter out at least 95 percent of dust and mold in the air." 

Evacuees faced sickness: "In the coming days about 145 people in shelters caught norovirus, a highly contagious illness causing vomiting and diarrhea."

"It was incomprehensible," Gee and Anguiano write, "just how swiftly an entire world had been lost." It happened, and is happening again.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"Chicken Soup For The Soul: Laughter Is The Best Medicine"



There are hundreds of "Chicken Soup For The Soul" titles in print. The goal of the series, under the editorship of Amy Newmark, is to bring readers "inspirational and aspirational true stories curated from ordinary people who have had extraordinary experiences."

The newest volume, though, focuses on gentle humor: true-life silly situations, embarrassing moments, animal antics, "work whoops," "domestic disasters," and moments that are "innocently inappropriate."

"Chicken Soup For The Soul: Laughter Is The Best Medicine" ($14.95 in paperback from Chicken Soup For The Soul; also for Amazon Kindle) presents 101 vignettes from real people, including Chicoan Gwen Sheldon Willadsen. She's "a retired professor. Her retirement hobbies include spending time with her grandkids, genealogy research, travel, and writing memoir and genealogy stories."

Her short piece, entitled "Eddie," fits into the "mistaken identity" category. It all begins simply enough: "'Welcome to the neighborhood,' said Kelsey and Jim, our neighbors who lived across the street from our new house. As we chatted, Eddie, their short, portly, wrinkled bulldog, sauntered over for an introduction and to check us out. He was slow-moving and mellow but curious. Eddie hung out nearby while we got to know Kelsey and Jim."

A few weeks later her husband Paul walks across the street to visit Jim; turns out they both love cycling. But Paul can't quite remember Jim's name. He hears Kelsey outside yell "Eddie!" (who was eating the flowers) and figures that is the man's name. And that's the name he uses. Jim never corrects Paul; when Paul returns home to talk about the conversation, Willadsen explains who the real Eddie is. Embarrassment? Sure. But it turns to laughter and a long-term friendship.

Joan Dubay's two-year-old grandson describes Jesus as an orange square. Where's Jesus? Up there in the cupboard, pointing to the Cheez-Its....

Viji K. Chary's five-year-old daughter takes to saying "one sec" every time she is asked to do a chore. Frustrated, Chary yells out "No more secs!" Just then her husband walks in....

Robin K. Melvin, exhausted, reaches for the tube of toothpaste and brushes her teeth with Preparation H.

These stories will provide soothing relief just where it's needed.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

"Stone Scar"



T. J. Tao is the pen name of Michael J. Orr (wordsmithmojo.com). Now based in southern Idaho, he and his family survived the Camp Fire. In "Burn Scar," he transplants what happened in Paradise to a town called Genna (Maltese, he says, for "Paradise"); the novelist's blaze starts in Bear County near Bonneville Road and so is dubbed the Bonn Fire.

One of the characters in that book, James Aloysius Augustine, is a man with a checkered past starting over in Genna, a man who discovers the plot by one Gavin David to use corrupt town officials to drill for gold after the fire. David escapes and James is left to figure out a life purpose.

Not to worry. His story continues in "Stone Scar" ($16.99 in paperback from WordsmithMojo Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) but the novel itself begins in 1805 with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in the midst of their famous expedition. They are in what is now central Idaho, meeting with Shoshone Chief Cameahwait, brother of Sacagawea. Though these facts are part of the historical record, what Lewis and Clark find next is most certainly not. 

Days later, their Shoshone guide, Toby, directs the explorers to what Toby calls "the river of no return." Will, on a side mission from Thomas Jefferson himself to find the rumored "Lost City of Gold," clambers over rocks for a look, but they give way and he tumbles into the river. Then he "saw it for the first time; a scar burrowed into the stone face of a giant wall leaving an opening the width of the river and nearly level with the surface. A stony beast swallowing the river."

Will and Meri find the river leads into a fantastical chamber, bathed in a golden glow, sporting strange machinery, a portal to a most unfortunate encounter with Gavin David's tyrannical ancestor.

Alternating chapters take the reader to 2019, when James and Boise State University archaeologist Stuart Angeline discover the same chamber, activate its mechanism, and eventually find their purpose in life beyond what they could have imagined. Dan Brown fans, especially, will enjoy the page-turning romp and be impatient for the next in the series.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

"A New Age Diary: Personal Glimpses Of Life In Post-Modern America"



"If you remember the Sixties," the old saw goes, "you weren't there." But Chicoan Carl Ochsner was there, and he remembers. 

As a kid, he and his family move from a little Wisconsin town to Southern California. In 1969, now twenty-one, Ochsner attends "Altamont," the Woodstock wannabe east of San Francisco. The headline band is the Rolling Stones, and a lot of people at Altamont get stoned. Disorder prevails. Psychedelics flow. Fights break out. Four die.

Ochsner recalls those times in "A New Age Diary: Personal Glimpses Of Life In Post-Modern America" (paperback, self-published; available from the author at ochsnercr@att.net for $17 including postage). ABC Books in Chico, open limited hours, also has copies.

No stranger to the L.A. County Jail (where he spent a couple of weeks at age 19), no stranger to booze and reefers and garage bands ("The Rolling Diablos," anyone?) and "beach culture" ("cut-off jeans, bare feet at all times, deep tan, unkempt hair"), the author in his mid-twenties begins to feel that "something here was not quite right."

"I bring forth these drug-infused reveries not to glorify my past (well, maybe just a little bit) but to help provide a realistic, thorough and nuanced view of the challenges we face today." He'd like to see pot pushed back "to the margins."

In 1969 he wanted to stick it to the Establishment, with its law-and-order crushing freedom-and-creativity; by 1990, he writes, "I fully understood that Law, Order, Peace, Freedom, and Creativity all sat together at one end of the spectrum, while Anarchy, Injustice, and Violence sat at the other."

A letter he sends to a secular humanist group whose meeting he attends in Wisconsin makes it clear that while Ochsner considers himself to be among the "free thinkers," the "new age" philosophy which sought to overturn fusty old Victorianism is fraught indeed. 

While no friend of the socio-political right, he worries that "in the process of moving fearlessly into the new age, we have shoved aside some worthwhile concepts (such as shared morality and self-restraint, for example) that are indispensable to a civilized society."

Ochsner lived through the Sixties. And he remembers.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

"All That Glisters Is Not Gold"



Stephen King's new novel is a numismatist's delight, to coin a phrase, but it's not from that Stephen King; it's from ourStephen King, "a thirty-three year resident of Chico and a retired dean from CSU, Chico." 

What's true: In 1907 the U.S. Mint began producing a stunning gold coin, designed by famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Versions were distributed through 1933 (almost a half million were produced in that year). The "double eagle," showing lady Liberty on one side, could be had for $20. 

But then, early in 1933, in the midst of the Depression, everything changed. In order to stop the bank crisis by taking the country off the gold standard, FDR issued an Executive Order requiring those who held gold to return it to the banks. Most of the 1933 double eagles found their way back home, but some did not. Their value rose to astronomical heights, yet possessing a 1933 double eagle became a federal crime and remains so today.

Enter the novelist. "All That Glisters Is Not Gold" ($18.99 in paperback from FriesenPress, friesenpress.com; also for Amazon Kindle), by Stephen W. King, takes the reader to modern-day San Francisco and Lucas Bitterman, an accounting major and aspiring lawyer. At the death of his kindly grandfather, coin collector extraordinaire, Luke finds he has inherited a 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle.

"The coin needs legal help," Gramps had written to Luke, quoting the Shakespearean original "all that glisters" from The Merchant of Venice. Luke's coin is worth millions, coveted by international collectors and street thugs alike. And when word leaks out, Luke and his family are no longer safe.

Along the way the reader is plunged into the legal intricacies of "asset seizure" and the work of the Secret Service (it's not just to protect the President). King brings the Bitterman family to life as they try to figure out what to do with "the most beautiful coin ever minted in the United States or anywhere else." Keep it? Sell it? Donate it? How?

The ingenious resolution makes for a fun and satisfying read--unless you actually have a 1933 Double Eagle, which, dear collector, puts the "bitter" in Bitterman.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

"Often Overlooked"



In order to move outward, the poet says, we must first move inward: "Uncovering forgotten places inside, I start to complete/ A picture of myself--whole--and I am not so alone/ The parts of me add up to so much more/ Than the sum others think of as my worth/ With this understanding I can return to my work/ I can give of myself without getting broken...."

Birdwatcher, Orland middle school science teacher, artist: Chicoan J.E. Mathews combines her scientist's eye for observation with her artist's heart for feeling in poems about moments, and voices, that are "Often Overlooked" ($12.95 in paperback; self-published).

Mathews' poetry is about noticing, "from finding a dead duck on a hiking path," she says in an interview, "or seeing a brown paper bag in the creek to the excruciating feelings of joy and grief I experienced watching my friend living with cancer." 

Many of the poems observe prosaic things until a metaphorical "twist" at the end. "Canning," for instance, starts with ripe plums and then their preparation. "Rings and lids jangle/ Against boiling glass/ On the back burner/ While plums and pectin/ and sugar simmer/ up front," the poet writes.

Later, in winter, comes time to savor the results. Delicious at first, but then: "By the seventeenth pint jar/ plums sicken her/ A winter drought/ Another season without/ The living/ Fresh fruit/ Leaves the picker/ Yearning/ For something more/ Than canned blessings/ She cannot swallow/ One more mouthful/ Of this past sweetness."

A present sweetness comes when the poet sees the "Sandhill Crane," an experience Mathews draws on from the Llano Seco area: "a hidden beauty suddenly seen/ she soars exquisitely/ above cypress spires/ she points/ and splits the wind."

In "Being," the poet is grieving, "sitting with memories/ of her laugh and her smile...// bent beneath the burden/ of longing/ awaiting the return of/ the Sandhill Crane/ yearning to hear his call/ see his dance/ even if only in dreams// ... as the tide begins to recede/ shifting waves change direction/ leaving me on the sand/ amid the fractured wreckage/ of so many broken things."

Things which the poet brings together into something new, not to be overlooked.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

"When Little Girls Dream"



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 19, 2020

"The Trail To Tlaxiaco"



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, March 12, 2020

"The Last Resort"



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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