Thursday, March 26, 2020
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
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
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).
Thursday, March 05, 2020
"I was determined," writes Jennifer Jewell in the introduction to an extraordinary series of biographies, "to focus on the diverse ways horticulture intersects with our everyday world and on women whose work has enriched and expanded these intersections in the last twenty-five years."
Jewell is the writer and host of the syndicated public radio program and podcast "Cultivating Place: Conversations On Natural History & The Human Impulse To Garden" (cultivatingplace.com), a co-production of mynspr.org, North State Public Radio in Chico, airing Thursdays at 10:00 a.m. and Sundays at 9:00 a.m..
"The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants" ($35 in hardcover from Timber Press; also for Amazon Kindle) takes readers into the lives of women "from the United States, England, Ireland, Wales, Canada, Australia, India, and Japan. They range beautifully across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, sexual orientation, and age."
Her book is a strikingly beautiful portrayal of women "doing current and innovative work" in such areas as "botany, environmental science, ... floriculture, agriculture, social justice, ... seed science, gardening, garden writing and garden photography, ... research, and public policy...."
The focus is on the women themselves, though a list of resources at the end directs readers to related websites for additional information, tips, and ideas. Arranged alphabetically, each biography includes a list of other women who have influenced that person's life.
Smiles abound in the full-color photographs, inviting readers to meet such women as Janet Sluis, the curator of the Sunset Western Garden Collection (a "plant geek at heart" passionate about finding ecologically appropriate plants for home gardeners) and Kate Frey, a garden designer now based in Walla Walla, Washington (whose first job was with the Boonville Hotel and whose bee-friendly gardens make people say "Happy!").
Her gardens, Frey says, "support all manner of life, and being in a garden filled with life changes us forever." Jewell's book as well is filled with exuberant life--and lives.
An interview with Jewell is scheduled for Nancy's Bookshelf with Nancy Wiegman on Wednesday, March 11 at 10:00 a.m. on North State Public Radio, mynspr.org (KCHO 91.7 FM).
Thursday, February 27, 2020
In the popular American imagination, Charles Darwin's "On The Origin Of Species" (1859) set up a rivalry--or even outright warfare--between science and religion that continues to this day. After all, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins penned "The God Delusion," and the late Christian law professor Phillip E. Johnson put "Darwin On Trial."
Yet, according to Greg Cootsona, Lecturer in Comparative Religion and Humanities at Chico State University, that story distorts the complicated relationship of science and religion in U.S. history and in fact masks a trend among "emerging adults" (those 18-30 years old) that may fundamentally change that relationship.
Cootsona's "Negotiating Science And Religion In America: Past, Present, And Future" ($44.95 in paperback from Routledge; also for Amazon Kindle), is intellectual history at its finest, taking readers through the changing understanding of "science" and "religion" as the U.S. has become increasingly pluralist.
In 1966 physicist Ian Barbour, who graduated from Yale Divinity School, proposed four ways science and religion meet each other. Yes, there has been conflict between the two, but also they've been seen as independent knowledge systems. At times they have been in dialogue with each other. And there is also the possibility of "integration."
Yet Cootsona writes that such a model no longer fits what is happening among emerging adults. Religion has morphed into "spirituality" (many who report no religious affiliation--the "nones"--consider themselves spiritual) and emerging adults are creating "interactive networks" through technology that draw beliefs from many traditions in an increasingly pluralist context. Religion is not one thing, and neither is science. There is "negotiation" on the personal level.
This collaboration shows itself in many of the vexing issues young adults must deal with as they become tomorrow's leaders. Genetic manipulation ushers in the "specter of eugenics"; there is climate change, sexuality, AI, transhumanism, the nature of race.
In these challenges Cootsona, in his ground-breaking and optimistic work, discerns a "unique American vitality" found in the interplay of the sciences and religions.
An interview with Cootsona is scheduled for Nancy's Bookshelf with Nancy Wiegman on Wednesday, March 4 at 10:00 a.m. on North State Public Radio, mynspr.org (KCHO 91.7 FM).
Thursday, February 20, 2020
Novelist T.J. Tao said it: "Only by losing everything, do I gain the Freedom to build a life of uncluttered purpose." Tao is actually the pen name of Michael J. Orr, who writes that the aphorism "was a literal statement based on circumstances I was going through at the time. You see, I wrote that quote on November 11, 2018, three days after the deadliest and more destructive wildfire in California history had destroyed my hometown of Paradise."
He continues: "Ninety-five percent of the homes in Paradise were destroyed, including my own.... My family and I had, quite literally, lost everything: our home, our community, our jobs, our pets, and our belongings. ... That is where the Freedom came from, the idea that since we had to start over from scratch, where did we want to do it and what did I want to do?"
It led Orr and his family to move to Idaho. Wanting to write, he began publishing a series of novels under the T.J. Tao name (including "Burn Scar," which imagines the Camp Fire taking place on a ridge in Idaho) and, under his own name, a motivational "kick in the pants" called "Kill The Bucket List: Start Living Your Dreams" ($7.99 in paperback from WordsmithMojo Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).
"Far too many of us, men and women alike," Orr writes, "have become comfortable in our discomfort, instead of using our discomfort to stimulate a change. ... What if you could choose to Kill Your Bucket List and live your dreams, instead of putting them off?" His answer: "YOU CAN!"
The goal is to approach one's dreams with a dose of reality (one may not win the Nobel Prize in Literature but one can write), humility (which "will allow you to suck without throwing in the towel"), and plenty of baby steps: "Start> practice> suck> practice> suck> practice> Aha> practice> suck...less> practice> improve> practice> get better > practice> become competent...."
Too often, he says, "F.E.A.R. becomes our answer: Forget Everything And Run." We need to "re-frame our fears and self-doubt." F.E.A.R. becomes "Face Everything and Rejoice."
Readers may find that's just what they need.
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Chicoans Hope Hill and N.J. Hanson begin their novel with a splash. Seven-year-old Jocelyne (Jocy) Chambers, her two twin brothers, Jacob and Travis, now four, and their babysitter Lisa, journey to the Pacific Bay Aquarium. With her parents away on a business trip, Jocy finds it hard to keep her brothers in line and at the aquarium they sneak onto a catwalk above the shark tank. What could go wrong?
Hearing a shout, Travis turns but his "shoe slipped on the slick, wet metal and he pivoted to the left. His arms flailed in a desperate attempt to grab something, to steady himself, but he only caught empty air. Jacob reached for his brother, but it was too late. Travis fell screaming, and plummeted into the cold water of the shark tank." At feeding time.
The shark grabs Travis; in a moment, Jocelyn "dove headfirst, breaking through the water's surface. She'd closed her eyes before hitting the water, but once beneath the waves she found her vision as clear as crystal. A trail of blood led down to the shark swimming away with her little brother. ... She swam faster than should be possible, her hair streaming behind her like in a wind tunnel." And then she screams as the shark lunges.
"Her voice came out like a high-pitched, powerful shriek. A siren wail that vibrated through the water like a sonic wave. Schools of fish froze, stunned. ... And the shark, the deadly, powerful great white came to a stop."
"Secrets Under The Skin" ($8.99 in paperback from Ink Drop Press; also for Amazon Kindle) is a gripping story of self-discovery.
Years later, befriended by a school counselor named Mr. Otto, Jocelyn comes to understand that nothing is as it seems. Hill, an author, poet, and former foster child, and Hanson, lover of science fiction and fantasy, have crafted a tale with a cliff-hanger ending that will have readers craving for the next. It can't come soon enough.
The authors will be signing copies of their book at ABC Books, 950 Mangrove Avenue in Chico, on Saturday, February 22 starting at 11:00 a.m. and extending into the afternoon. The public is invited.
Thursday, February 06, 2020
Gary Carter, an Orland resident and a retired U.S. Navy Captain who served aboard the USS Nimitz, has imagined a taut confrontation between U.S. and Iranian interests in the Strait of Hormuz. His timely historical novel starts in the Spring of 2006 in Tehran as the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Hamid Javad Ghorbani, calls for plans to strike back against the Great Satan. "The primary target of the operation," he says "must be the zealot’s aircraft carrier Nimitz."
The President of the United States, Edward Michael Sheppard, is at first unaware of the plot. That will change.
"Target: Nimitz" ($17.95 in paperback from BookLocker.com; also for Amazon Kindle) follows Frank Warren, "assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness; Captain, U.S. Navy (ret)," now living with his wife, Mary, in Northern California. That is, until Warren applies for the "assistant to the assistant" job at the Pentagon. Then it's off to D.C.
Carter draws on years of experience, and extensive research (the novel has 40 endnotes as well as a list of characters and a glossary of military acronyms), to bring the reader into the inner workings of the Department of Defense, the White House Situation (Sit) Room, and the Nimitz, now becalmed in international waters in the Persian Gulf with both nuclear reactors offline.
"Like a small town, an aircraft carrier has its own rhythm and pulse; it has unique sounds, smells, and routines, such as the shrill of the bos’n’s pipe marking certain events throughout the day. ... Sailors adjust to the gentle rolls and pitches that the sea induces on its 100,000-ton visitor."
Warren is worried about the Nimitz, "the mighty fist of American power." He learns that Iranian boats are "huddling" in several groups surrounding the carrier. How should the U.S. respond? Warren has an idea, an audacious plan involving a B-52--and who would have guessed, for a person in his lowly position, that he would be explaining it to the President in the Sit Room?
The writing will gladden the heart of Tom Clancy or Stephen Coonts fans, replete as it is with military detail and the tense question: What will happen next in the "fog of war"?
Thursday, January 30, 2020
"Between the years of 1854 and 1929," writes Chico novelist Cathy Chase, "from the large cities in the Eastern part of the United States, orphaned or abandoned children were loaded onto trains in large groups and sent West to be given to families. As many as 250,000 children were relocated." From that starting point, Chase spins the story of one of the orphans, fifteen-year-old Hannah Banks, who is taken to the tiny town of Sweetser, Indiana to begin life anew.
But all is not right. The story's narrator, Hannah herself, reports "the old familiar feeling of hot tingling darts shooting down my arms and into my fingers." What Hannah will encounter threatens her very life; it is a force from the depths of supernatural horror.
But to help the reader make sense of events, Jane, Hannah's mother, takes over the story. It is 1884, sixteen years before Hannah's arrival in Sweetser. Jane remembers her romance with Jonathan Banks a year before, who took her through the church graveyard where she spotted the marker of the Slaughter family who had lived in a cabin on the outskirts of town.
Daniel, the father, came home roaring drunk one night and burned the place down, killing them all, including his wife, Martha, and young daughter, Emily. Another family, the Spectors, eventually built on top of the remains. Jane is Jane Spector, and she's shaken by this revelation, especially because she's had a "secret friend who's visited me in my room since childhood"--named Daniel. "Spector"; "Slaughter": do not take these names for granted.
Jonathan and Jane fall in love, but Jane's invisible friend, Daniel, is not pleased. Not pleased at all. As Jane tells Jonathan, "I think the Daniel who resides in this house, who wants to keep me, is the same Daniel who killed his wife and child. He is an evil demon." Then comes the voice of Daniel in Jane's head: "I order you to call off your wedding."
Daniel will stop at nothing to keep Jane for himself. The shocking result forms the background to Hannah's own supernatural battles that will keep readers turning pages until the last.
Thursday, January 23, 2020
A new series of picture books aims high, aspiring to guide "children both big and small upon a journey through many of life's timeless questions. We intend for these books to send out ripples of joy, unity, and love, while providing subtle support to the ascension and enlightenment of our human family."
In their "'I AM' Adventures," Chicoans Josh Shelton (writer) and Sam Pullenza (illustrator) focus on questions kids have about careers and, given that "our planet's in a jam," how they might make a difference.
The introductory book is "Hey Tree, What Should I Be?" ($14 in paperback from White Magic Books, whitemagicbooks.net, and Conscious Dreams Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). It begins with a child facing quite a task: "I've been given a whopper assignment/ it's a doozy indeed/ I've got to choose what it is/ I'll grow up to BE!" And no dawdling: "... I haven't the time/ to ponder or wallow/ I'm supposed to figure this out/ and share it tomorrow!"
Well, how about becoming a "professional mud puddle splasher"? The child consults his friend the tree as he sees this isn't realistic. Maybe become an author? He realizes that as time goes by he'll change, just like the tree: "Just days ago/ it clearly wanted its leaves// And today it's released them/ to soar in the breeze." So, finally, he will "let my heart be my guide/ when change comes to call." That is the way to happiness.
There's great change coming, the creation of a global consciousness, and that's the topic of "Imagine A World" ($14.99 in paperback; also for Amazon Kindle). "So strap up your light boots/ Unbuckle your heart/ Free your mind.../ It's 'create-with-our-imagination-time'!" Pullenza's vibrant and exuberant pictures reflect the story's imaginative joy.
"Imagine our seas/ Vibrant and free/ No oil or plastic/ Or wasteful debris"; "Imagine a world/ Where we can visit the stars.../ Play tag on the moon/ And hopscotch on Mars." With love and acceptance, the book asserts, "so it will be!"
An art installation, featuring the tree in the story, is on display through January at Ellis Art and Engineering Supplies on Broadway in Chico.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
Michael Messner graduated from Chico State University and is now Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. In his undergraduate days at Chico State he "opposed the American War in Vietnam." His father, a veteran of World War II, had "no patience for the antiwar movement."
It was different for his grandfather, who served in World War I. Back in 1980 "I tried to cut through Gramps's cranky mood by wishing him a happy Veterans Day. Huge mistake. 'Veterans Day!' he barked.... It's not Veterans Day! It's Armistice Day.'" The politicians did this, he said: "'Buncha crooks! They don't fight the wars, ya know. Guys like me fight the wars.'"
Messner, though not himself a veteran, was drawn to those connected with an organization called Veterans for Peace. In a sobering new book he interviews some of the vets who were deeply troubled by what they had participated in and who found some measure of healing from PTSD and various addictions in challenging the Pentagon's version of the history of U.S. warfare.
The result is "Guys Like Me: Five Wars, Five Veterans For Peace" ($24.95 in hardcover from Rutgers University Press; also for Amazon Kindle). Messner (guyslikemebook.com) writes an insightful essay on the roots of peace activism, and the interviews--including a World War II Army veteran and a Navy veteran of the Iraq War--are raw and deeply moving.
Included is Gulf War Army veteran Daniel Craig, pictured on the front cover in Santa Fe, New Mexico, amid crosses, displayed by Veterans for Peace, representing U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Activism and "spiritual healing" for Craig, Messner writes, is a way for him to overcome "his anger over having killed people for what he now sees as lies."
To those who thank these veterans for their service, Ken Mayers, a fellow vet and friend of Craig's, replies: "That was very nice of you. But you should know that the things we did when we were in the military, we did because we were told to. This work that we are doing right now--working for peace--this is our service."
Thursday, January 09, 2020
When the twins arrived at their father's Napa vineyard, thirty-something Maddy Marshall and Will Argones wondered what was going on. Their sister Bella had been invited as well. Why all the family togetherness among siblings who had been dispersed far and wide?
Suddenly, a gunshot. The twins' father, the target of a Russian sniper, lives only long enough to speak the words that will propel Maddy and Will into Dan Brownian motion to find a mysterious other-worldly weapon.
"VanOps: The Lost Power" ($16.49 in paperback from Black Opal Books; also for Amazon Kindle), by Grass Valley novelist Avanti Centrae (avanticentrae.com), is a page-turner that takes its protagonists from a medieval Spanish castle to a secret underground city in Israel--and beyond.
Centrae's debut novel is the first in a series featuring VanOps, short for "Vanguard Operations," a top-secret CIA group chartered "to keep an eye out for any sort of advanced or obscure technology that threatened the security of the United States."
Winner of the Genre Grand Prize at the Chanticleer International Book Awards, and a Hollywood Book Festival Honorable Mention, the story is a quest within a quest.
A thousand years ago Ramiro I, the first King of Spain, founded a dynasty that "contributed to, not only the current Spanish ruling class, but also to the royal families of nearly all the other current European monarchies." Ramiro wielded obelisks of amazing power, said to be passed down from Alexander the Great, and said also to be part of the legacy of his descendants, Ferdinand and Isabella.
Maddy and Will are part of that great lineage. She is a world-class athlete, skilled in aikido; he is an engineer. Together they must find those who guard the ancient weapons, and then solve a series of clues to find the weapons themselves, all the time tailed by Russians who seem to know their every move.
They are joined by Teddy "Bear" Thorenson, an old high school classmate with "an embarrassing one-way crush" on Maddy, whom they just happen to run into, and who turns out to be a covert VanOps agent.
Will it be enough to win? Readers will have a thrilling time finding out.
Thursday, January 02, 2020
An extraordinary coffee-table book explores the emotional interior of those who survived the Camp Fire and then looks outward at the terrible beauty wrought by the flames and heat. "Monochromatic portraits" by Chico photographer Ron Schwager are paired with fourteen verbatim accounts of those who escaped. Chico screenwriter and novelist Phil Midling writes in the prologue that the images are "beautiful in their simplicity and starkness yet also convey a rich complexity. ..."
Midling, who also provides the epilogue, writes that the second half of the book features stunning full-color patterns, "many resembling paintings of abstract art. Among the piled rubble and cindered ash, Ron was able to extract the images of devastation; contorted remnants and skeletal configurations of heat-fused plastic, steel, and glass viewed through a kaleidoscope of tertiary-like colors--odd hues of oxidized orange-rust, and red-violet, and turquoise-blue embedded within the bleak and grayish landscape."
"The California Camp Fire: Reflections And Remnants" ($45 in hardcover, self-published, from thecampfirebook.com, with local pickup and mail orders available), designed by Connie Ballou, is a masterpiece that will cause readers to pause and reflect with every turn of the page.
A few haunting words from the accounts: "And so we had no other choice but to drive directly through the flames. ..." (Paradise High School coach Seth Roberts, 60); "I texted a goodbye message to my boyfriend who had been calling me because I really didn't think we were going to make it out alive" (Feather River Hospital security employee Tameekah Abdullah, 28). "I remember receiving texts from certain retirement homes. ... We just couldn't get the engine to that location. I knew those residents were about to be burned to death at any moment and there was nothing we could do. And we knew a lot of those people personally" (Paradise fire captain Alejandro Saise, 45).
In the color photograph section, Schwager writes that as a photographer, though he is "drawn to the chaos, my presence seems to be unobjectionable. But amongst the hive of debris removal activity I feel I am treading on hallowed ground. I feel I need to record this in some meaningful way."
He has done so.