Tuesday, June 15, 2021

"Clyde's Happy Tails: The Adventures Of Clyde The Rescue Cat"

Chicoan Sarah Downs is a cat rescuer, co-founder of the Neighborhood Cat Advocates (catadvocatestnr.org) which focuses on trapping, neutering, and returning feral cats or cats with no owner (with a caretaker assigned to feed them). 

Her children's book, begun as a tribute to her father, is now part of a fundraising effort to make it possible for her to relocate sixteen or seventeen feral cats living on the Marigold side of the Pleasant Valley High School campus (see @pvcatrelocationproject on Facebook for details).

"Clyde's Happy Tails: The Adventures Of Clyde The Rescue Cat" ($15.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) is a sweet story with full-color illustrations by the inimitable Steve Ferchaud. (Search for "Clyde's Happy Tails by Sarah Downs" on Amazon to avoid being directed to books with "happy trails" in their titles.)

Clyde, we are told, "was found as a wee little kitten, lost and alone in a field." But a caring family brought him home, and when the tuxedo cat was old enough "he started his life full of adventure." That means he went outside.

"One day, Clyde was patrolling the neighborhood, you know, to make sure there was no riff-raff going on. Clyde hopped a fence a found he had a new neighbor. A dog!! But, the dog was tied up to a tree."

Ever inquisitive, Clyde wants to know the dog's name, but all he gets in return is a gruff "leave me alone!" He adds, menacingly, "Can't you see I'm a bad dog?" After all, he tells Clyde, he barks at strangers and was taken outside and tied to a tree. He must be bad, right?

"Clyde replied, 'Well, I don't think you're a Bad Dog. You didn't bark at me, and I'm a stranger!" That sets the dog (whose name is Petey) to thinking he's not so bad after all, and sets Clyde to thinking of a way to free Petey. It involves all the neighborhood cats working together, but they get the job done.

Clyde isn't finished. He introduces Petey to Joey, a neighborhood boy, who in turn takes Petey to meet Grandpa Tom. 

It's a perfect match.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

"Able To Be Otherwise"

"Now, when I drive through Paradise with my family nearly two years after the fire," Anna Lenaker writes in her compelling memoir, "I see the charred marks the fire left in its wake all around. But I also see the frames of new houses being built...." Yes, "life is returning ... but it is a slow and painful effort--just as it is with grieving."

Lenaker faces great grief in her own life, enough almost to still her breath permanently. Yet through others' compassion, especially from her older brother Jay and his wife Teressa, girded with an inner tenacity, she is not only the homeless kid who sold her toys on the streets of Tijuana, which helped her mom buy drugs, but the adult who graduated from Brown University by way of Chico's Inspire School of Arts and Sciences and Chico State. Mind-blowing.

"Able To Be Otherwise" ($17.99 in paperback from New Degree Press; also for Amazon Kindle) weaves Lenaker's personal story with a vision of a world better addressing the triple crises of poverty, opioid addiction and climate change. "Each time we dare to acknowledge that things are able to be otherwise," she writes, "we move toward a world where everyone can breathe deeper." 

Haunted by "imposter syndrome" at Brown ("what am I doing here among all these smart people?"), her interest in philosophy, theology and public policy blossoms. After a year abroad in England studying at Pembroke College in Oxford, she graduates with a BA in Religious Studies and a Master's in Public Affairs. 

Her love of learning hearkens back to fifth grade as she settles in with Jay and Teressa (eventually moving to Magalia).

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard's notion of a "leap of faith" shapes her life's mission of removing the stigmas around what seem to be intractable challenges, "to be willing to imagine radical alternatives to the present moment.... Believing in the possibility of change is sufficient justification for continuing to take on problems as daunting as poverty, addiction, and climate change." 

Lenaker invites the reader to "take the leap" as well; one day it will enable the world to breathe, even as her story takes your breath away.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

"Municipal Larceny vs. Steve The Barber: History, Humor, Hometown Politics"

"I am now in my sixtieth year of standing behind the iron chair," writes Oroville barber Steve Christensen. He adds: "After eight weeks of social distancing because of Covid-19, I decided to try my hand at writing a book."

The result is a compendium of Oroville and personal history, barbershop wisdom, and stories of Christensen's political involvement as a kind of local government gadfly. 

In his estimation local government needs reining in from illegal property grabs which are detailed in "Municipal Larceny vs. Steve The Barber: History, Humor, Hometown Politics" ($14.99 in paperback from BookBaby; also for Amazon Kindle). "Opinions of the author," he writes, "are based on observations and occurrences.... Probably, a few times, the secret agreements which were not intended for public consumption were accidentally leaked within earshot of the barber chair."

Two themes stand out. In the midst of appearing in front of the Oroville City Council, letters to the editor (some containing "a little barb"), lots of research, and the fight over the Utility Users Tax and other issues, Christensen comes across as good natured, convinced but open to being convinced. 

The second theme is Christensen's resistance to the city charging for services its employees would perform in the line of duty anyway. Back in 2012, he writes, "I did not know that if an on-duty fireman conducted an inspection at a business, the City had the option to charge that business for the time the fireman spent performing his task."

"My logic told me if the fireman was responding to an emergency, conducting an inspection, washing a fire truck, working out in the gym, or relaxing in the city hammock while on duty, his pay was exactly the same.... The fee money derived for the fireman's time spent does not go to the fireman, it is extra money for the city. I called it Municipal Larceny."

Christensen has survived, and so has his beloved Oroville. He notes that "the first thing they teach you in Barber College is to never say whoops." Readers might infer that if a few more city officials had said it, the book would have been much shorter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021


Chicoan Mike Paull, a retired dentist and licensed pilot, is the author of a trio of mysteries featuring Bret Raven, who just happens to be a dentist and licensed pilot. In his new book he's crafted an international spy thriller that takes the reader into Iraq just after the death of Saddam Hussein on December 30, 2006. A small group of Americans from "the Agency" has a lead on the rumored gold hoarded by Saddam and now hidden--somewhere.

"Missing" ($15.95 in paperback from Wings ePress, Inc.; also for Amazon Kindle) tells the tale mostly through the eyes of forty-something flawed family man Craig Cooper, who lives with his wife, Fran, and their ten-year-old son Josh in Virginia. "Coop," as he is known, struggles to be a good dad and husband, forever promising to give up his dangerous missions yet being sucked back into them, even after the Iraq gold quest goes terribly wrong.

Coop and Randy Nichols ("the station chief for the American Intelligence unit in Baghdad"), along with an interpreter, meet a mysterious man named Mustafa in Sadr City ("the body bag capital of Iraq"), who may know something about the gold. But then a sniper kills Mustafa and Coop is shot in the back. "He reached around to tug at his shirt; it was wet and sticky. ... He dropped to his knees, looked at his blood-soaked hand and fell face down in the dirt."

Yet Coop survives. Ten months later, back at the Agency, Randy, now Deputy Director, is pressured to assign a reluctant Coop to revisit the failed mission. Josh is crestfallen; it's the last straw for Fran; and truth to tell Coop has a score to settle with whomever tried to kill him in Iraq.

Coop's small team includes Zoe Fields, in her early forties with "the angelic look of a college-girl, but underneath it she was as tough as nails."

She will need to be; both of their lives are threatened as they unravel the mystery and confront unexpected treachery. It's a nail-biter with the stakes ramping up from chapter to chapter as the two discover far more than they bargained for. 

Get the book and root for Coop.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"The Tattoos Of Chico"

At a Chico gym, Karen McHenry writes, she saw "person after person walk past with tattoos on their arms, legs, and elsewhere...." Intrigued, she interviewed nineteen people. "Many had suffered loss and pain and commemorated their strength in the tattoos they chose. A few became 'addicted' to adding art to their bodies. All of them are admirers of ink and the way it enables them to carry their stories on their skin."

With photographer Sean Martens, she has published a stunning look at "The Tattoos Of Chico" ($24.95 in hardcover from Stansbury Publishing) celebrating not only those whose tattoos tell a story, but the artists who applied in the ink. 

Dolores (only first names are used) found solace, after the breakup of a difficult relationship, in a large and colorful peacock tattoo on one side of her body. It "took a total of three months to complete--twenty-one and a half hours in all--three hours for the outline alone." The artist was Ben Lucas from Eye of Jade Tattoo in Chico. Dolores found that "other people's reactions ended up being important."

The book's cover features a detail from RJ's tattoos reflecting the artistry of Joe Sanchez of Exclusive Tattoo in Chico. "What about tattoos is so addicting? RJ answers: 'I like standing out, being individualized with art--this tattoo, this artist. I enjoy having the art on my body. It's an expression of who I am.'"

Some tattoos are impulsive, as when Xavier asked artist Joey Sanchez at True Ink Tattoo in Chico for a tattoo on the roof of his mouth. 

Other tattoos are more reflective. Angel had reconstructive breast surgery after a double mastectomy; Dr. Emily Hartmann was able to take Angel's tattoos of a dragon and scorpion (from artist Juan at 12-Volt Tattoo in Chico) and, using the issue, moved them to her breasts.

The book ends with the story of David Singletary, co-owner and artist at Sacred Art Tattoo in Chico, written by Caitlin Forisano. Stop by, David says, "'keep the tradition alive ... because, we tattooed your parents....'"

If a picture is worth a thousand words, there are lifetimes to explore in this compilation of Chico ink.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

"Checklist Complete: Stories From My Life In Aviation"

Orland resident Gary Carter, retired Navy captain and former Delta Air Lines pilot, has a tale to tell. Actually, about fourteen of them, stories from his career in the military and his years in commercial aviation, all contained in a new memoir.

"Checklist Complete: Stories From My Life In Aviation" ($16.95 in paperback from booklocker.com/books/11717.html; a PDF version is also available) is replete with photographs provided by the author. 

One image is a publicity shot taken in 1980 of four S-3 jets "in a diamond formation (I'm number 3, the left wingman) flying by Mount Rushmore...." This was when Carter was a pilot trainer in "the navy's S-3A Viking Fleet Readiness Squadron, located at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego...."

Over a long career he would chart more than 16,000 flying hours. In that regard he wryly notes: "As is often said about aviation, experience is a hard teacher. First comes the test, then the lesson."

As a Midshipman Fourth Class (a "plebe") in 1970, he is aware of the hierarchy when groups gather for meals at the U.S. Naval Academy. Plebes are "society's lowest form of existence" and answerable to pretty much anyone else. 

When it came to passing food, up the chain it went with plebes getting the remains. Until one night Carter "took a scoop of applesauce, for some tragic and unexplainable reason, and then started to hand the bowl to my classmate beside me." A little infraction of cultural norms? Hardly: "The heavens parted, the world erupted, fire and brimstone engulfed me...."

Carter lived to tell the story, and many more besides, such as how a starter problem in the S-3 Viking was solved with a bent paperclip; being chewed out with unrelenting profanity (not spelled out in the book) by his two military bosses when a message Carter sent went astray; a lunch that cost $3000; and his brief encounter with Vin Scully when he piloted for Delta. 

Full of self-deprecating humor and technical talk (with acronyms explained), the book fittingly concludes with some of Carter's "lifetime maxims," including: "Never be out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas as the same time." Check!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

"Tell Them What You Want"

"I'm Bernie, and I'm seven.... A social worker ... just picked me up from the Hamilton Ohio hospital and is taking me to live in some town called Oxford.... I was born in Lincoln Heights, a Colored part of Cincinnati, Ohio on March 1, 1946." 

Bernie's mother had been arrested, along with Johnny McVay, a violently abusive man "mama takes up with" at what Bernie calls the "Devil House." She is forced to cut the grass with scissors and had been severely burned from the fire Johnny insisted be kept going in the backyard. He calls her "Puke." 

Hospitalized for malnutrition, she is now headed to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles, an older, caring Black couple willing to take in the "State kid." Bernie's story spans the 1950s to the 1980s in the midst of a burgeoning civil rights movement. She faces immense challenges in her quest for a college education, but she's not a quitter. 

"Tell Them What You Want" ($16.95 in paperback from Culicidae Press; also for Amazon Kindle), by Laverne Merritt-Gordon with Beau Grosscup, is a stunning story. 

Merritt-Gordon was born in 1946 in Lincoln Heights, Ohio, one of sixteen children. She has degrees from Miami University in Ohio and Purdue University. She now lives in Florida with her husband Denman P. Gordon.

Beau ("Bobo") Grosscup--Chico State Political Science Professor Emeritus--shows up in Bernie's story. Growing up in Oxford, Ohio he meets Bernie when he is ten. "It takes fifty-some years of friendship," he says in the book's prologue, "before Bernie tells me her secrets."

As the 1970s pass, Bernie reflects on her college experience, two unsuccessful marriages, her two sons, Byran and Benton, and her efforts to escape that little girl who endured so much. 

She remembers "getting whipped with an ironing cord, eating food from garbage cans, flames burning up her belly.... My body sags as I realize that little girl is still with me. I thought, yes prayed, I had left her behind.... But she's still here, deep in my soul.... Slowly, the thought of little Bernie clinging to me for dear life begins to make sense."

Readers will never forget her.