Thursday, December 30, 2010

Booked for 2010

Three categories dominated the reviews this year. First, memoirs: "The Story of Another Child's Christmas in Wales" (Lynn Elliott); "I Grew Up In Latvia" (Zig Vidners); "Burning Bears Fall From the Sky" (Peter Edridge); "A Life To Remember" (Gregory Ghica); "From Harlem To Hollywood: My Life In Music" (Van Alexander with Stephen Fratallone); "Google Brain" (Gordon Greb); "Sometimes, Memories Are All We Have" (Shari Edwards).

Next, novels and short stories: "Crown of Dust" (Mary Volmer); "The Great Bay" (Dale Pendell); "Rubber Tuesday" (Phil Coppock and Mrs. Bower's 2008-2009 4th Grade Class); "Captured By Desire" ("Kira Morgan"); "Rose Cottage" (Olivia Claire High); "Voices of a City of Gold: Stories From Oroville, California" (Leslie Hale Roberts); "Murder at the Altar" (Terry Phillips); "Desiree" (Doug Keister); "Heart of a Pirate" (Pamela Johnson); "The Departure Lounge" (Paul Eggers); "The Last Baktun" (Lisa Westwood); "The World Is At Your Feet" (G. Donovan Oakes); "Gene Pool" (Steven Maass and Katherine Terstegen); "Submerged in Darkness" (Shannon A. Hiner).

Finally, the broad category of self-help: "The Pebble Path: Returning Home From a Forest of Shadows" (Jan Hasak); "The Couples Thrival Guide" (Shannon Sheridan); "To Believe Or Not To Believe: The Social and Neurological Consequences of Belief Systems" (Rahasya Poe); "Alligators in the Water Cooler" (Judith Munson); "The Tao of Forgiveness: The Healing Power of Forgiving Others and Yourself" (William Martin); "The Mindful Path Through Shyness: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Help Free You From Social Anxiety, Fear and Avoidance" (Steven H. Flowers); "Deep Down Things" (Lin Jensen).

Add three volumes of poetry: "Where Once" (Sally Allen McNall); "Vortumna" (Sarkis Shmavonian); "Gorrill's Orchard" (Jeanne E. Clark).

Throw in some history: "Hops and Dreams: The Story of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co." (Rob Burton); "Durham Locations, Landmarks, Lads and Ladies" (Adriana Farley); "The U.S. Navy's Coastal and Motor Minesweepers, 1941-1953" (David D. Bruhn); "Chico History Minutes" (Verda Mackay).

Politics: "House of Lords" (Charles W. Frank).

Guides: "Mount Shasta Guide to Fun" (Robin Kohn); "The Birds of Bidwell Park" (Roger Lederer); "Light Travel: Photography On the Go" (Tom Dempsey).

And season with kid stuff: "The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star" (Mary Nethery); "Math Wise!" (Jim Overholt and Laurie Kincheloe); "Crowlyle Finds His Caw" (Vic Sbarbaro); "Love and Logic Money-isms: Wise Words About Raising Money-Smart Kids" (Jim Fay and Kristan Leatherman).

That wraps up the year, except to remind do-it-yourself authors that Publishers Weekly is now featuring quarterly listings of self-published works. Submissions close January 31, 2011. Details:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The day after Christmas


For those who embrace what the Christmas carols herald--the coming of God to earth in the form of a small child--the "good tidings of great joy" speak of a new kind of life here and now. Yet for Christians around the world how this life works itself out on the "day after Christmas," and all the days yet to come, is not easily answered. It is an "in-between" time when believers are not yet fully formed but are wooed by God's grace to conform more and more to the image of the God-Man.

This is the starting point of a provocative new book by N.T. (Tom) Wright, formerly Anglican Bishop of Durham (in the U.K.), now Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrews University in Scotland. "After You Believe" ($24.99 in hardcover from HarperOne; $11.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook e-book formats) is subtitled "Why Christian Character Matters." It matters, Wright maintains, because it's true to the kind of life transformation set out by the New Testament.

"Character," he writes, "--the transforming, shaping, and marking of a life and its habits--will generate the sort of behavior that rules might have pointed toward but which a 'rule-keeping' mentality can never achieve. And it will produce the sort of life which will in fact be true to itself--though the 'self' to which it will at least be true is the redeemed self, the transformed self, not the merely 'discovered' self of popular thought."

Wright draws upon the ancient tradition of virtue to illuminate what he means by character. Virtue--excellence--comes through practice and enables the person to respond appropriately in a wide variety of situations.

But the Biblical idea of virtue, Wright says, is not about celebrating the individual. "Christian virtue isn't about you--your happiness, your fulfillment, your self-realization. It's about God and God's kingdom, and your discovery of a genuine human existence by the paradoxical route--the route God himself took in Jesus Christ!--of giving yourself away, of generous love which constantly refuses to take center stage."

Christians are to be a royal priesthood, clothed in "humility, charity, patience, and chastity." It is nothing less than the practice, through God's power, of becoming fully human.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lynn Elliott remembers Welsh Christmases. . . .


Born and raised in Cardiff, Wales, Lynn Elliott, a professor of English and creative writing at Chico State University, shares family memories with groups around the country. He's now reworked his autobiographical tales into "The Story of Another Child's Christmas in Wales" ($10.95 in paperback from Memoir Books). Elliott is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, Friday, Dec. 24, at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM).

Decorations have "all mystically appeared, overnight, in James Howells' department store, Queen Street, heralding the beginning of Christmas season in the sea-faring capital city of Wales, Cardiff. I am four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten and eleven years old, chocked full with accumulated memories of food, joy, song, and jolly, wind-swept shoppers."

Mostly Lynn is eleven, a celebratory mixture of naivete and sarcasm. Reading the book, listening to the tone, I thought of Jean Shepherd's voice-overs in the classic film A Christmas Story. Young Lynn is lurching toward adulthood.

"Last year," he says, "before the prospect of Lynn attaining manhood entered my parents' minds, I got a cowboy suit for Christmas. Dressed in my boots, spurs, leggings, chaps, shirt, gun belt, guns, waistcoat and one-gallon hat, I sidled out of the front door into Forrest Road, seeking a show-down with Billy-O the Kid, the bully who lived ten houses down from ours. Did Wyatt Earp ever fight in snow? No time to ponder the question, as an iceball--not even a snowball, but an iceball!--hammered into my ear and slid slowly, like a polar iceberg, down my once-warm neck. I reentered the sheriff's office, crying for my mother and vowing that next year I'd get a snow-scooping machine gun. . . . "

There are drunken carollers, oddball neighbors, Tiddles the cat exacting revenge on a certain boy's Meccano set tower, but everything moves toward Christmas Day night and the Elliott family gathering, the flowing elderberry wine and singing relatives, and Auntie Bess ("a diminutive woman with a voice like an air raid siren"), all tinged by quiet news that Grandma Elliott may be celebrating her last Christmas. And for grandma: Lynn's boisterous, be-wigged performance as Ethel Merman.

How can one be sad this night when "everything's coming up roses"?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Chico writer remembers her Latvian childhood and the pain of exile


Zigrid (Zig) Vidners writes for the "younger generations of exiled Latvians," recalling her childhood in the city (Riga, the capital) and on the family farm in the years between world wars. The story quietly unfolds in "I Grew Up In Latvia" (paperback, self-published; for purchase information contact the author at

The first half of the book takes the author to her thirteenth year and recounts mostly happy memories. Life is much more unsettled in the second half. Zigrid encounters the first feelings of love and faces the implications of war. The story is really a love affair with Latvia and invites slow reading on a rainy day to take in the sights and sounds of a time long past.

Lyon Books is hosting a signing in the new year on Thursday, February 17 at 7:00 p.m.

The author remembers some of "the most joyous celebrations in Latvia, the Midsummer Fest" called "Ligo," "to sway." People begin to sway, "reaching out toward each other and toward the higher powers who bring them blessings." She is close to her father, a military man, but has an uneasy relationship with her mother. Zigrid learns to herd cows and loves to spend time in the nearby forest.

But history intrudes. Latvian freedom "was interrupted by the forceful invasion by the Soviet Union in 1940, which brought a pattern of terror that many Latvians would never forget. The outbreak of World War II brought German occupation in 1941, then a Soviet onslaught again in 1944. Knowing what this would bring, many made the hard decision to leave their beloved country to save their lives."

At fifteen, "a strange thing happened to me. . . . As I looked at the pale evening sky against the dark treetops of the forest, I thought how another day was gone and the night was coming. But then these ordinary thoughts took on a deeper meaning. It was as if somebody had said these words to me, making me realize that 'my night' too would come one day. . . Was it God who talked to me for the first time?"

In the end, Zigrid and her family must flee Latvia for Germany. That is another tale, for another book.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Paradise poet sees the folly of history, finds tenderness that touches the dead


Sally Allen McNall's new book of poetry travels the world, encountering violence but also a measure of love. "Where Once" ($14 in paperback from Main Street Rag) is part of the publisher's "Editor's Select Poetry Series." Lyon Books in Chico is hosting a reading by the author on Tuesday, December 14 at 7:00 p.m.

In "Goodbye to Byzantium" the poet laments: "It is tender where I cannot go. / Baghdad, where once gardens. / A shore where once wild strawberries this small." There are "Concrete Particulars" to attend to: "Yes, but in this book of horrors you refuse, / this documentation of systematic, categorical death, / writer and reader must step back, if only a step, / or tenderness could not touch the dead, as it must." That word again: tenderness.

If tenderness cannot stop the "lively venom, vaccine / against hope," perhaps it can work its way into the "Hard Places": "I say on the phone I have given alms to Muslims and my friend says shut up shut up hangs up // e-mails me you could be accused of giving money to terrorists // You can't live the Berber's life, / he said, without some hard places forming in you."

The book's cover shows a detail of "Six Wooden Blocks" by G. Daniel Massad; "Six Wooden Blocks," the poet writes, "--named revenge, remorse / repentance, regret / remembrance, release // You might spend / a whole morning / stacking them / in one order / then another // . . . They are fashioned / of heartwood, / oiled, heavy, / never softening / to the touch."

But poets live, like Keats, Whitman. And Wordsworth. "You say goodbye to your unhappy childhood," the author writes to Wordsworth in "'Fallings From Us, Vanishings.'" "You learned how to love. And I say, forget / that it turned to fear and finally indifference, forget / that hope had to be relearned later and elsewhere, forget / your thousand poems to the members of other species. // There is anger everywhere in the world and sorrow / following. Even the Buddha would not tell you to forget / this, while you are busy remembering the bobolink, snow-cricket, brown bat, peony, honeysuckle."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Book in Common" author: Harnessing the wind, and thankful for libraries


In December 2000 the floods came to Malawi. But that was not the worst of it. The water disappeared and drought set in. The maize crop was stunted. In late January 2002 “the hunger” came to Malawi and starvation with it. William Kamkwamba's parents and sisters (now half a dozen) barely made it through. There was no money to send the teenage William to school; he seemed destined to be a poor farmer for the rest of his life.

That is, except for an insatiable curiosity about mechanical things, and for a nearby library--really just a few shelves. The books about windmills planted an idea. Just a few years later William ( found himself on the international stage, with a Twitter account.

He and co-author Bryan Mealer (a former AP reporter) tell William's extraordinary and heartening story in "The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope" ($14.99 in paperback from Harper Perennial; $9.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats; $27.99 unabridged from Harper Audio).

The audio version, ably voiced by actor Chike Johnson, makes William's excitement palpable in discovering how a bicycle "dynamo" works and how "electric wind" might power a house. William is an optimist, even in the midst of famine. Science captures him; traditional magic knows nothing of circuit breakers.

"My parents had raised us to be churchgoing Presbyterians who believed God was the best protection. Once you opened your heart to magic, we were taught, you never knew what else you might let inside. We respected the power of juju, even feared it, but my family always trusted our faith would prevail."

In 2006 some Malawi officials were “inspecting the library at Wimbe Primary when they noticed my windmill.” The story spread, and it eventually came to the attention of the program director of TEDGlobal 2007. TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design,” and its conferences feature “scientists, inventors, and innovators with big ideas.”

William's windmill, cobbled together from scrap pile parts, is one such "big idea." One day, he hopes, it will change the face of Africa.

Kamkwamba is scheduled to speak in Chico this coming April as part of the 2010-2011 "Book in Common" program ( or

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A toast to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company


Monday marked the thirtieth anniversary of the company Michael J. Lewis--professor emeritus of brewing science at UC Davis--describes as "the most perfect brewery on the planet." Lewis was interviewed by Chico State University English professor Rob Burton as part of Burton's three-year research project that has borne fruit as "Hops and Dreams: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co." ($19.95 in paperback from Chico's Stansbury Publishing). It's a layman's romp through the brewing process and, more importantly, through what was brewing in Ken Grossman's mind when he arrived in Chico in 1972 in a blue Volkswagan bus.

Divided into five chapters, the book surveys beer history, the history of Sierra Nevada (including the never-ending pursuit of "hop harmony") and the guiding lights of "People, Planet, Profit" that make the company's principles applicable in wider contexts. Along the way Burton addresses some of the challenging times, from weathering the craft brew "bubble" of the late nineties, to Ken Grossman's buyout of business partner Paul Camusi; from the tragic death in 2007 of Steve Harrison, "the first employee to be hired by Grossman and Camusi in 1981," to fending off outside interests.

Yet it's also an optimistic story of a microbrewery that "turned its flagship brew, Pale Ale, into the number one craft beer in the country, changing the tastes of a generation of beer drinkers who had grown up with sugary, carbonated, bland lagers. . . . The company soon acquired a national reputation for its cutting-edge conservation policies: recycling more than 99 percent of its production waste and byproducts and reusing spent yeast, hops, grain, carbon dioxide, wastewater, and heat."

The results are astounding; the brewery "has an average annual payroll of around $10 million which mostly stays in the local economy and it enjoys average annual sales of around $150 million."

Burton adds a series of "taproom conversations" in which he learns a life lesson about "flocculation" (you've got to get the yeast just right). He celebrates beer as "liquid bread" (it's "highly nutritious, high in fiber, low in fat and cholesterol") that, as one brewer puts it, "subtly reminds me, with every sip, how lucky I am to be alive, surrounded by beauty and good people, and living right here, right now."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Author of gender-bending gold rush era novel to visit Chico


Bay Area-based Mary Volmer was born in Grass Valley, and in her first novel she draws on the gold rush heritage of the area to tell the story of a little outpost called Motherlode, just this side of Rough and Ready and not that far from Nevada City. Millard Fillmore may be running for President, but the Queen of Motherlode is a woman named Emaline, plump proprietress of the Victoria Inn who prostitutes herself during the week and insists everyone show up to the chapel Sunday mornings to hear Preacher John, who is usually sober, at least then.

Then young Alex rides into town. Alex--Alexandra--is dressed as a young man; her parents dead, she is fleeing from her Gran, a woman with precious little tolerance for youthful desires and no compassion when those desires result in tragedy. So Alex is running away; she fools the gaggle of characters who frequent the tavern until one day, exploring an abandoned mining claim, she finds a gold nugget.

Lyon Books in Chico will host a free literary event with the author on Tuesday, November 16 at 7:00 p.m.

Volmer probes deeply. "Crown of Dust" ($24 in hardcover from Soho Press; $9.99 in Amazon Kindle e-book) is a brooding, compulsively readable tale of identity lost and won.

Alex grows restless maintaining her ruse. A man named David Trellona has entered the picture, "fresh out of Cornwall and thinkin' he knows more about mining than those Empire folks over in Grass Valley." If Alex has complicated feelings for David, David's feelings for Alex are even more complicated.

Yet, as Alex thinks about nature, "the camouflage, the deception, it was ubiquitous. A praying mantis posing as a branch, a moth holding motionless and leaf-like, a red water snake basking in the sun, impersonating river mud. She marvelled at the relief she felt at this revelation, as though nature had somehow exonerated her for posing as someone, something she was not." But relief does not last. A reporter comes to town, suspicious that Alex might be the Boy Bandit. And is Emaline protecting Jed, a runaway slave? Bullets will fly, and death will come to Motherlode. But through that death, Alex will find some small measure of redemption.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Chico becomes a coastal town in new eco-novel


Dale Pendell is not only a contributor to the Huffington Post; he also achieved cult popularity with the Pharmako trilogy ("an encyclopedic study of the history and uses of psychoactive plants and related synthetics"). A proponent of what his website ( calls "wild mind," he has been deeply influenced by "poet Gary Snyder, Zen teacher Robert Aitken, and philosopher Norman O. Brown."

Now the Sierra foothills resident traces the ecological history of California for the next ten thousand years in a new science-fiction novel, "The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse" ($21.95 in hardcover from North Atlantic Books; $9.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble NOOK e-books). In 2021 a pandemic destroys most of the world's population, brought on, it's said, by weaponized bugs from the Americans and the Chinese.

"By 2031, ten years after the Collapse, the population of the United States had stabilized at four million." Carbon dioxide emissions from now-defunct factories had triggered a vast chain reaction. Global warming, and the rising oceans, would change the face of the world.

Pendell is scheduled to be in Chico tonight at 7:00 p.m. for a book signing and discussion at the 1078 Gallery, 820 Broadway. The free event is sponsored by Chico's Lyon Books.

The novel uses maps, travel journals, poetry, interviews, and news accounts to flesh out the human response over the course of millennia. Each chapter begins with a "panoptic," an overview focusing on the social and climate changes reshaping California.

As declarative sentences multiply, it's evident that the remaining humans are somehow surviving in small, do-it-yourself communities. In an address in 2171 to the Berkeley Scholar's Guild on "Pre-Col Society" one historian notes: "It was called democracy but it wasn't at all what we mean by that; it was really an oligarchy. Representatives weren't even required to do what the people wanted them to do."

In the years 2121-2220, "twenty feet of water lay over Sacramento. . . . The Sacramento Valley had become a great bay, already stretching 125 miles from the Sutter Buttes to Modesto. . . . A tallow industry developed at Chico, producing candles. Tanbark and hides were floated to Santa Cruz, where locals operated a tannery."

People followed Earth's rhythms, not the other way around.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A tale from Chico Country Day School has plenty of bounce


Phil Coppock teaches writing courses in the School of Social Work at Chico State University. In an email he writes that in May of 2009 he worked with students in a fourth grade class at Chico Country Day School to help them "learn to recognize and use figurative language."

The class developed a story idea "about a little boy who wakes up one morning to find that everything that can move in his world bounces when it moves. The teacher and I asked the children to imagine, talk about, then write about what that would be like if it happened in different areas of the school (classroom, library, cafeteria, etc). The project lasted several months, and the story grew into a book, with the students listed as co-authors. This spring I had a local artist do some drawings and a cover painting for it."

The book is "Rubber Tuesday" ($12.95 in paperback from Outskirts Press) by Phil Coppock and Mrs. Bower's 2008-2009 4th Grade Class. Illustrated by Peter W. Harris, "Rubber Tuesday" is available at local bookstores as well as online. He is scheduled to appear on Nancy's Bookshelf on Friday, November 19 at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio), 91.7 FM.

The twenty-six student contributors have let their imaginations soar and the resulting story of Jasper and his best friend Seth is just plain funny. "It all started on a Tuesday" when Jasper awakens to the sound of garbage trucks going "CRASHBOOM!!! CRASHBOOM!!! CRASHBOOM!!!" Jasper looked out the window; "what he saw was the garbage truck alright, slowly but surely bouncing its way down the street. Each hop was maybe ten to fifteen feet high, and each landing sounded like a five car collision."

It wasn't just garbage trucks bouncing around. Everything else was, too, including his dog Juno, zinging around the room then "toppling to the floor, a tangled mix of arms, legs, hands, paws, fur, and drooling, slobbery jowls." What had happened? "It was almost like somebody had reached inside the earth and turned gravity way, way down, or maybe gravity got bored."

When Jasper gets to school--well, this tumultuously hilarious book is great exercise for the trampoline of the mind.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chico poet pushes the boundaries of language and meaning


Sarkis Shmavonian, publicity materials tell us, "grew up on a small alfalfa and cotton farm outside Madera in a multilingual setting: Armenian at home, English in town, French, Latin, and German classes at school, a bit of kitchen Tuscan with friends. In college, during the tenure of a Fulbright Fellowship to the USSR, he came to appreciate the power of poetry to sway minds."

His first book of verse is "Vortumna" ($30 in hardcover from Erkir Press, Chico). Wikipedia says that "Vortumna" refers to the goddess Fortuna, "she who revolves the year," who reveals the fickle nature of reality. The poems reveal the fickle nature of meaning, especially in their mixtures of languages (anthropologists call it "intrasentential code switching"). In one of the notes at the end of the book, Shmavonian writes that "The subject of the words is their own inwardness: they eschew direct statement through syntax for a tremulous connotedness through grammar." If meaning here seems just beyond reach, perhaps that's part of the meaning.

The author will be talking about his work at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, October 26 at 7:00 p.m.

Shmavonian's poems are set off in blocks of left- and right-justified text, and at first the reader has the impression of adherence to an overiding formalism. But the words themselves are unexpected, as if they aim to derail any attempt at gleaning some ordinary meaning. The poet writes in "Ex Sybillae" that "The task of syntax is / to foreclose thought." The difficult meanings, the use of a few vulgar terms, and the playful swirl of languages, form a strange mirror in which "the logic of the mirror is to hide its own forms."

In "Gateway Sculpture, CSU-Chico," the poet writes: "To you this is a bronze torch with its flame. / To me this clearly shows a sounding whale, / a die balanced en pointe between its flukes. / Bad of me: once beheld, who can unsee that?"
His verses, Shmavonian writes, "halt, or rustle awhile, or gesture fitfully from a still-blank space which cannot of itself sound its own depth. The words in their stir are already being rent into texts before the scope of the poem has brought them to full reckoning."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Women writers reclaiming their histories


"The Call: An Anthology of Women's Writing" ($15 in paperback from Dragonfly Press), edited by Calder Lowe, presents the work of almost twenty contributors including Lowe, Kathie Isaac-Luke, and local author Lara Gularte. In poetry and short story the book explores how one's history informs the present, and how sometimes that history must be brought kicking and screaming into the present.

In the poem that gives the book its title, Lowe hears a train whistle, a moment when "Time is restructured . . . . Count back / one, two, three centuries. / Train whistles, bugles, church bells // thread through clouds." The poet's "ancestors blow glass / in the Black Forest of Germany. . . .  Glass glows in the Von Eberhardt furnaces. / Some of the goblets flower, some crack."

Gularte writes, in "Saving Myself," that "My ancestors are stones of the river. / They sparkle, / their quartz veins / glisten in granite. // . . . Braced against current / and slippery bank / I lose my step, / fall into the cold stream. . . . I rise from the current, / find shallow water, / and sit among the stones. / In a mountain pool / where a trout darts, / I bless my reflection."

A reception is set for Lyon Books in Chico this Saturday at 7:00 p.m.; scheduled presenters include Lowe, Gularte (who will also be reading her short story, "Snowball"), and Isaac-Luke.

Lowe is a writer, editor and director of a university Writing Lab; Gularte has been nominated by Bitter Oleander Press to "Best New Poets 2010"; and Isaac-Luke edits a San Jose-based literary journal. Her short story, "The Collection" (included in "The Call") was nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize.

According to a news release the book "is dedicated to Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a pregnant 17-year-old who died while laboring in the fields, and who represents the countless marginalized women in society today. The writers bear witness to lives of all women: daughters, granddaughters, mothers, lovers, sisters who celebrate life."

There is life in the strangest places. In "Death Valley," Isaac-Luke writes: "It is misnamed, this desert shelter / to cactus and coyote the color of sand. // . . . On the Western side of the Sierras / are wild springs and complacent / meadows. The desert waits-- / it knows its time will come again. // It is here I want my ashes scattered. . . ."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

An allegorical journey through cancer


In the fairytale, Hansel and Gretel managed to find their way back from the unfamiliar woods after resourceful Hansel secretly dropped little stones along the path. Paradise writer Jan Hasak uses a fairytale motif to tell the story of her own journey though breast cancer and lymphedema. Pointing out ten stones as she finds her way back, she finds each stone opening the door to poetic reflection, sometimes humorous, sometimes deeply moving.

"The Pebble Path: Returning Home From a Forest of Shadows" ($11.95 in paperback from is the heartening story of how cancer can turn life upside-down but then transform life, enrich it. Through the author's Christian faith and her spouse's unfailing good humor. the story unfolds of "a lass named Fanciful" and her Prince Charming, Farcical ("zany and hip"), and their children, Fine, Dandy, and Ending.

"Buzzing about her hive making money, Fanciful busied herself with work, jogging, church, and parenthood. In the midst of this hubbub, when Ending was almost four, Fanciful found a lump in her breast. A mysterious pebble-sized mass. Her whole world crashed. Can there be life happily ever after at the end of such a story?"

Hasak will be signing her book this Saturday from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. at Lighthouse on the Ridge bookstore, 5913 F Clark Road in Paradise (inside the James Square Shopping Center).

She is also scheduled to be interviewed on Nancy's Bookshelf with Nancy Wiegman on Friday, October 29 at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM).

Hasak's Fanciful journeys from the first pebble, "the Gnome of Diagnosis," through "Goldilocks and the Three Chemo Bears," "Facing the Radiation Hag," on into "Fairying Beyond Remission."

From "Lone Rangers": "When in heaven I behold / Those who gave me chemo / Tributes many shall unfold / Nurses reign supremo." And from "Chemo Makeover": "Beauty is but fleeting short / Though we laser mole and wart / Witty comebacks healing bring / Humor melting frost to spring."

In "Double Gourd Lamp" the poem reflects Hasak's new body shape: "A most surprising gift / to me? Double gourd lamps back in / vogue, basic dispellers of / shadows, spelling / hope for my own restoration, a lovely / lamp reflecting wonders of what my Lord has done."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lin Jensen: Deep ecology through Buddhist eyes


Author Lin Jensen, the founding teacher of the Chico Zen Sangha, and now teacher emeritus there, writes that "as both a Buddhist and a student of deep ecology, I'm struck by how much the two have in common, each exacting of the follower a genuine paradigm shift in perception. For the Buddhist the shift is an awakening to earth as an extension of one's own body wherein the dichotomy of self and other dissolves. For the deep ecologist the shift is a similar awakening wherein earth is realized as one indivisible body comprised of all beings of any sort."

Deep ecology is more than the study of ecosystems. "It's a perception that recognizes the right of all beings to exist simply because they do. Nothing is left out, nothing excluded." Jensen draws on the work of Arne Naess, the founder of deep ecology, and others, in showing the deep ecological concerns of Buddhism, even from ancient days. "Deep Down Things: The Earth In Celebration and Dismay" ($15.95 in paperback from Wisdom Publications) takes its title from words of the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who observed that, in the midst of industrialized blight, "nature is never spent; / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things. . . ."

Jensen is scheduled to be interviewed on Nancy's Bookshelf tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM). He will be speaking on Tuesday, October 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the 1078 Gallery, 820 Broadway in Chico. Hosted by Lyon Books of Chico, where "Deep Down Things" is available locally, the event is free and open to the public.

Jensen writes of places where the earth lives, and places where it can hardly breathe. "On the east side of town prime orchard land lies buried under Chico's South Mall, but on the west side of town the fields of a young and thriving organic cooperative are green with new life." Jensen's Buddhism is local and practical; "the proper scale for human endeavor," he writes, "is that of the household." Finally, "my prayer is that to the very last of this planet's brief tenure in the vast cycle of the universe someone will remain to say 'earth' and to say it from the heart's core."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book event for kids Saturday at the Chico Library


"Nini was a plain white tom cat," writes Mary Nethery in an author's note, "who lived in a caffè, or coffee shop, in Venice in the 1890s and became a national celebrity. Calling upon Nini and signing his guest book was the thing to do. When Nini died, many important people paid tribute to him."

That set the Eureka picture-book author to thinking. "No one knows why Nini became such a star. So I asked myself the question 'What does a cat have to offer that no other creature possesses?' The answer? A purr, one of the most primal and soothing sounds in the universe, a gift that only a cat can give. That's what led to this story. All of the notable visitors were real people who came to see Nini, but the events in the story didn't unfold in the same way that I have presented them."

The tale is told in "The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star" ($17 in hardcover from Clarion Books).

A book event featuring Mary Nethery ( will be held this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library, 1108 Sherman Avenue. Especially suited for children aged 4-8, the reading is presented through the courtesy of Lyon Books of Chico, where copies of "The Famous Nini" are available.

Beautifully and whimsically illustrated by John Manders (, the book tells the story of Nonna Framboni and her little nineteenth-century coffee shop. It's so small everyone seems to pass it by, until one day "Nini the Stray" shows up at her door and follows an obviously agitated man into the caffè. The man was Giuseppe Verdi, in search of just the right note. "Nini meowed. 'Ah, puss!' Verdi cried. 'You have given me the exact note I need!' He danced around the caffè with Nini in his arms."

More visitors followed after Nonna put up a sign in the window, including the King and Queen of Italy and Pope Leo XIII. The Emperor of Ethiopia visits, and Nethery imagines how Nini's soft purr changes the heart of the the Emperor's daughter.

Nethery takes delight in her story, and readers will find it the purr-fect tale.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An encyclopedia of Durham


Adriana (Rian) Farley, the untiring chronicler of Durham, has compiled what might be called a Durham encyclopedia: "Durham Locations, Landmarks, Lads & Ladies" ($30, spiral bound, available from the author at 1384 Durham Dayton Hwy, Durham, CA 95938; please include $3.50 for postage and handling). Though Farley first thought to put together just a listing of Durham street names, the book now includes groups and organizations and festivals and even "Prof England's Desk."

Farley is scheduled to be interviewed this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on Nancy's Bookshelf on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM); an archive including this and previous interviews is available at And the book will be available at this Sunday's Durham Harvest Festival at Durham Community Park.

There are over 200 maps, diagrams, illustrations and black-and-white photographs complementing the entries which range from Ackerman Avenue ("west off Lott Road," name origin unknown) to Zorka McDonald Tree (a memorial planted by the Durham Women's Club). Farley's sources include historical records, books and periodicals as well as personal correspondence, and each source is documented.

Farley's book also resolves several mysteries. "Why is there a cleaver and steel embedded in the sidewalk just north of the Empire Club along the Midway? Just a few steps further along the sidewalk are a cleaver and knife. The location marks the spot where in 1917 the Johnson and Openshaw Meat Market was opened for business." Durham was also home to "Death Curve" when in 1920 Highway 99E forced an almost 90-degree turn "over an elevated rail line."

There's an entry for the Durham fire station and the grange hall but also one for the group of quilters known as the Awesome Blossoms (who have made "patriotic wall hangings that we've presented to local military families").

Now to Ewin G. "Prof" England's desk. England was teaching principal at Durham Grammar school from 1929 until he retired in 1963. The desk then was used by second and third grade teacher Nancy Druley "who loved its nooks and crannies." Later it found a home in the elementary school library and now resides in the Drylie Reading Room (named for James Nesbit Drylie) of the Durham branch of the Butte County Library.

Farley's book is essential reading for residents and a delightful guide for visitors.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Moving to Igo - an affair of the heart, with plenty of laughs


London-born Peter Edridge got a poor start when he landed in San Francisco in 1971 looking for "sex, drugs and rock-n-roll"; "by my mid-thirties I had reached the end. I was broke and broken." But "sometimes God smiles on the truly stupid" and he became a computer programmer. The small company he worked for provided an "idyllic" life. Yet after a decade and a corporate takeover, he was out. It was 2002 "and the dot-com bomb had just wiped out the entire tech industry." What to do?

Well, you buy 30 acres of land near Igo in Shasta County, and you move. With encouragement from his wife Sheila, you start over. "Sheila's not my first wife," Edridge writes, "(the exact count is unimportant and it's not excessive for California), but, as she likes to remind me, she is my final wife. . . . She also likes to remind me that she's married to a very lucky man."

The story is told in "Burning Bears Fall From the Sky: My Amusing Story About Relocating From a Desk in San Francisco To a Remote Mountain In Northern California" ($15.95 in paperback, self-published; available at Lyon Books in Chico or write Edridge's self-deprecating humor at his attempts to fix the dilapidated A-frame on the property (dubbed "the mouse-house") and his acceptance into the community (involving lots of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) are often laugh-out-loud funny.

Edridge will be signing copies of his memoir on Wednesday, September 15 at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books.

The title comes from the story of a frightened bear cub that climbed a power pole, was electrocuted and caught on fire, and in turn set a field on fire. "It seems in part to be a metaphor for the unpredictable world found outside the well-planned Zone of Civilization." But life also thrives on the unpredictable. Though he and Sheila have learned plenty in their years in Igo, it boils down to character. "The little community of Igo brought me face to face with a different world; one that is unimpressed with importance, or years spent in school, or diplomas or credentials, or careers, or salaries."

"We've changed," he writes. Call it the journey from ego to Igo.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Chico area writer continues his history of Navy minesweepers


"Wooden Ships and Iron Men" is a multi-volume history of minesweepers, meticulously researched by Cdr. David D. Bruhn, USN (Retired). The first volume told the larger story: "The U.S. Navy's Ocean Minesweepers, 1953-1994"; the recently-published second volume focuses on "The U.S. Navy's Coastal and Motor Minesweepers, 1941-1953" ($32 in paperback from Heritage Books; see for details). The book is available online and at the Chico State University bookstore.

Bruhn writes me that the book is intended primarily for veterans of World War II and the Korean War, but anyone who appreciates military history can profit from the author's work. There are more than 15 appendices, including a list of "unit awards for the assault and occupation of Okinawa" and "mine force personnel casualties." Also included are maps and historical photographs.

"When magnetic mines were encountered at the onset of World War II," he writes, "the U.S. Navy, having no wooden ships on hand to perform minesweeping, scoured waterfronts and procured fishing vessels that it fitted with sweep gear, manned with reservists, and assigned to Naval Districts to keep ports and harbors clear of mines."

But they weren't enough, so "the Navy designed and built seventy wooden-hulled 97-foot Accentor-class ships based on the proven fishing vessel model" which were then used "very far from home waters in every theater of war." All told, they earned "nearly 700 battle stars." (The Accentor, the first in its class, had a "221-ton maximum displacement" and "could make a speed of ten knots.")

Bruhn notes that "the cover art depicts the sinking of the steel-hulled minesweepers USS Pirate and USS Pledge at Wonsan, which served as the impetus for construction of the post-Korean War wooden-hulled ocean, coastal, and inshore minesweepers."

Encyclopedic in scope, the book places the story of the minesweepers in historical context, noting that the crews have not received due recognition, probably because the many reservists among them returned to civilian life and lost track of the "splinter fleet." After World War II the media concentrated on the fighter pilots, the "glory boys." Bruhn writes that "whatever type sweep they rode, these men deserve the tribute this study intends them. When asked about their naval service, they can say with pride, 'I served aboard a minesweeper!'"



A tabby cat turns up in a Paradise neighbor's yard, and such is the stuff of a sweet little story by Kaye D. Owens. "Turn-Up . . . . Turns Up" ($5 in paperback, including postage, self-published) "is mostly factual, with a few lines of 'author's prerogative' to fill in the unknown events." Folks in the neighborhood keep leaving, and Turn-up has to find new lodgings again and again. "She survived the horrendous Northern California fires of the summer of 2008" spending most of her evacuation "under a bed." Today, she "has her family pretty much wrapped around her paws."


Watsonville writer Al Cunha was a recent visitor to Chico's Barnes & Noble. His novel, "Dancing With Daffodil" ($10.95 in paperback from Infinity Publishing), tells the story of a homeless woman living in a cardboard box in a San Francisco alley. Befriended by a young female reporter and a French baker, Maggie May Salokavich keeps singing about "the sweetest little girl in the world--Daffodil." Daffodil "is the song that I hear . . . the dance that I dance." But Officer McGuinness is determined to get her off the street. Brutality ensues, but a surprise birthday guest changes everything.


Chico therapist George McClendon, in "Heaven's Call To Earthy Spirituality" ($14 in paper from Dog Ear Publishing), writes in intensely personal terms about leaving the Benedictine Abbey in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in the 1970s. Seeking to reconcile spiritual discipline required of a monk with the "earthy" experience of sexuality and an inclusive spirituality (his heroes include Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama), the author finds joy in marriage and his practice of psychotherapy and spiritual guidance. It's the story of a "St. George" who meets the "Dragon Lady," an integration of opposites, of past with present. Now: "Time to move on."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Editors of Sierra Nevada anthology to make Chico appearance


In 1912 John Muir wrote that "the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light . . . it still seems above all others the Range of Light."

Now, the light shed on Muir's beloved mountains by the work of some 75 writers has been collected in "The Illuminated Landscape: A Sierra Nevada Anthology" ($19.95 in paperback from Heyday Books,, edited by Gary Noy and Rick Heide. Co-published by Sierra College Press and Santa Clara University, the book features voices as different as Mark Twain and Gary Snyder. It is essential reading.

The two editors will talk about and read from their anthology at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, August 31 at 7:00 p.m.

Noy is the director of the Center for Sierra Nevada Studies at Sierra College in Rocklin and is in the midst of team-teaching "The Sierra Nevada," an interdisciplinary course. Heide has a journalism background and won a 2003 American Book Award for an anthology of Latino literature.

The editors structure their book historically, from "the golden misty dawn" (1840 and before) to the "quiet-colored end of evening" (1991 to the present). Genres range from the "Old Gambler's Song" of the Maidu to an excerpt from Tom Knudson's "The Sierra in Peril" series for the Sacramento Bee, which won a Pulitzer Prize.

Jack London is here, carefully introduced, as is Henry David Thoreau (who, though never visiting the Sierra Nevada, was a critic of the California Gold Rush: "a touchstone which has betrayed the rottenness, the baseness, of mankind").

Several pieces were specially commissioned. Nevada City author Jordan Fisher Smith tells what happened when he arrested a woman high on drugs in the American River Canyon. Poet Maria Melendez recounts her first camping trip in the Sierra Nevada. Biologist Joe Medeiros writes of "The Power of Trees," and asks a series of haunting questions that end the book: "Will our grandchildren be able to hike along a high ridge in the Sierra and lean against an old juniper? Feel its energy?"

Readers will appreciate the many perspectives--and the illumination they bring.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chico counselor on promoting emotional health and good vibrations

The cover of "The Couples Thrival Guide" ($16.99 in paperback, self-published, available from by Shannon Sheridan features a striking image from Chico ceramics instructor Janice Hofmann. Depicting an erotic embrace, the illustration is intended to suggest one of many enjoyable relationships. The book offers what Sheridan calls a "non-pathological" approach to couple's therapy based on self-appreciation and the "Law of Attraction."

The author is scheduled to be interviewed tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. on Nancy's Bookshelf (KCHO, Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM). A book release party, featuring music from "Spark-n-Cinder," is set for Saturday, from 7:00 - 10:00 p.m. at All Fired Up, 830 Broadway in Chico. Tickets are $20 and include desserts, dancing, and a copy of the book. For reservations, go to

Sheridan writes that "the most important thing is that I feel good" (the title of one of her chapters). "When we feel good and are really plugged in," she says, "we are connected with ourselves and with others around us. It does not feel good to hurt, demean, or disempower others when we come from a place of connection."

This "connection" has to do with the "Law of Attraction": "We are all atoms moving around at different frequencies. As we experience emotions, vibrations change frequencies. Meanwhile, vibrations are attracted to other vibrations of the same frequency." She tells of falling down a flight of stairs. "I had attracted this incident as a result of my vibration, by allowing what my friend was thinking about me to be more important than what I thought about myself." Here Sheridan draws on the work of Abraham Hicks (

She is also counts Virginia Satir ( as a teacher, modifying Satir's "ingredients of an interaction" for the book. The ingredients are "vibration, sensory information, perceptual filter, meanings, feelings, and response/outcome." Faulty meanings--that the person is worthless or unlovable--can undermine relationships. The reality is "we are pure positive love energy connected to source."

In working with the depressed, Sheridan would "invite them to be angry. It introduces power and self-worth, and it works far better than any medication." From there the person may move to "hopefulness and appreciation." It's vital, she writes, to "appreciate yourself." It's the stuff of good vibrations.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mount Shasta guide writes guide to Mount Shasta


Chico State University graduate Robin Kohn now lives in the city of Mount Shasta. She's worked for the California State Park System, is a certified wilderness guide, and knows what to do to avoid avalanches. She conducts guided tours on and around the 14,162-foot mountain, "the second tallest volcanic mountain in the Cascade Range." She's an advocate of "Leave No Trace Principles": "Take only pictures, steal only time, leave only footprints."

And she knows how to have fun. Lots of it. Her "Mount Shasta Guide to Fun" ($15.95 spiral bound, self-published, available at Lyon Books in Chico and online at embodies not only wise advice but sheer enjoyment--especially of sheer cliffs.

The guide encompasses "hiking, backpacking, bicycling, cross-country and back country skiing, rock climbing, driving tours and scenic waterfall walks" and includes many black and white photographs and almost two dozens helpful maps. After the introduction and a chapter on Mount Shasta itself, the book moves out to McCloud, the Dunsmuir and Castella areas, Weed, the Lower Klamath Basin, Yreka, and Scott Valley.

For those who want a scenic drive, Kohn recommends a loop around the mountain which is about "80 miles in circumference. You will see the ancient volcanic flows of Mt. Shasta, pass the historic Emigrant Trail now know as Military Pass Road, and observe geological and glacial wonders."

For those on two wheels, Kohn describes a 20-mile round trip bicycle tour of the McCloud area. "Beginning at the McCloud Ranger Station right off highway 89 . . . head south to Squaw Valley Road. . . . Along the way you will see the McCloud Golf Course, a 9-hole course which is the oldest in Northern California. One and a half miles on your right is the former site of the Warmcastle Resort and soda springs, now known as Beaver Ponds." The springs were thought to cure most any ailment (except rotten puns--see next paragraph).

The "Guide to Fun" is less formal than commercial travel books, yet each paragraph packs plenty of information, such as contact numbers. Kohn is writing about what she loves and is careful to offer suitable cautions (especially to those who travel in avalanche areas). There's something here for everyone. And that's no snow job.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Former Chicoan delivers steamy history, returns for book signing


Spring 1548, Scotland. "Florie Gilder, respected apprentice of the goldsmith to the Princess Mary herself, with one reckless act of passion, had become a common outlaw!" Running into Ettrick Forest, she is mistaken as game and felled by archer Rane MacAllister, huntsman of Lord Gilbert Fraser, sheriff of Selkirk. The shaft penetrates Florie's thigh, and she will bleed to death if help is not found. But Rane cannot call for assistance; he had been poaching in the very woods he was hired to guard. He must care for Florie himself.

Florie is beyond beautiful. "In the candlelight her skin had an ethereal sheen, almost as if she weren't human, but some fey creature." Rane is smitten. His Viking blood powers the instincts of a seducer, yet he must also become protector. Can he be trusted? His "eyes were the complex shade of chrysolite, as lustrous as a polished gem, rich, intense, compelling . . . "

Glynnis Talken Campbell writes me that "I'm a Chicoan--born, raised, and CSUC'd--currently living in L.A." Among her many talents (see the Wikipedia entry under Glynnis_Talken_Campbell) she is a prolific writer. Her latest is "Captured by Desire" ($6.99 in paperback, Kindle and Barnes & Noble NOOK formats, from Grand Central Publishing), written under the pen name of Kira Morgan (

The author will be signing copies at the Chico Barnes & Noble store this Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Fans of historical romance are most especially invited.

"Captured by Desire" takes it time in building sexual tension. Rane brings Florie to an old abandoned church where she can claim sanctuary from prosecution for forty days. The strong-willed Florie is both repelled by Rane's invasion of her modesty and attracted--intensely attracted--to the muscular man who poaches only in order to "feed the starving crofters," the Scots who eked out a living tilling small farms, plagued by English incursions.

Florie, raised by her besotted foster father, is in search of her real kin. But Lady Mavis, the sheriff's wife, stands in her way. She accuses Florie of stealing a gold pomander that was Florie's in the first place, and will stop at nothing to destroy it--and her.

Readers will not be disappointed. The archer hits his mark.



Chico writer-photographer Doug Keister is haunting cemeteries these days, and what he's dug up is on display in "Forever L.A.: A Field Guide to Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their Residents" ($19.99 in paperback, $7.99 Kindle edition, from Gibbs Smith). Delightfully, Keister's text and color photographs are instructive both for the armchair traveler and the on-scene trekker--who will "be rewarded with a whole new perspective on art, architecture, symbolism, and stargazing. Indeed, where else can you easily get within six feet of your favorite celebrity?" From Forest Lawn ("the Disneyland of cemeteries") to Pet Memorial Park--each page surprises.


Oroville resident Vernon Carter's book is "primarily for my family" but has a wider appeal as the "rags to riches . . . story of achieving goals, one step at a time." "One Man's Journey" ($20 in paperback from Memoir Books) tells about life growing up in the Depression (Carter was born in 1923) and the effect of his parents' divorce when he was five. Along the way he had a teaching career, married Bev in 1947, traveled the world, formed the Oroville Optimist Club in 1997. An active volunteer, he's been doing "nothing" since his retirement three decades ago.


Portland-based Pam Glenn "grew up in Chico (1953-62) and attended" Chico High School; her father taught at what is now Chico State University. Her new work, "Barter World" ($12.95 in paperback from Class Action Ink, available at Lyon Books in Chico), is a fanciful collection of intersecting tales about the fate of a red bead necklace, a wedding present to Scheherazade from the King. As the beads are traded, Hans Holbein enters the story, and still later one of the beads becomes a marble, traded for tutoring, in "a story so old, or so new, nobody knows where it begins."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Oroville author adds a ghostly touch to a fiery romance


It begins at Disneyland. Summer Gabriel, on an outing with her widowed brother, Ted, and his two sons, trips on her beach towel at the hotel pool and lands right on top of one Marcus Brennan. Who just happens to be "all muscle and bone put together in a ruggedly handsome package."

Sparks fly from that very moment as Summer, never married, is drawn to Marcus, CEO of an electronics company and also a widower, and his young daughter Sasha. And he is drawn to her. But Summer can't imagine that she--owner of a bookstore in a small northern California town--has anything to offer the high-flying Las Vegas executive.

Yet when the two are together the sex is torrid. It's as if they are destined for each other. But there are plenty of misunderstandings. Add to the mix Marcus' sister-in-law, who wants him for herself, and Marcus' housekeeper, who lets Summer know she can't begin to compare to Marcus' artistic late wife, and it's no wonder Summer repairs to the now ramshackle little house she remembered as a child. A woman named Rose had lived there, and Summer seems to sense her presence.

Therein lies the tale of "Rose Cottage: A Novel of Supernatural Romantic Suspense" ($13.95 in paperback, $9.95 in Kindle e-book, from Fireside Publications) by Olivia Claire High.

The author will launch her new book with a signing at Curves in Oroville, 2190 Myers Street, on Wednesday, August 4, from 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 - 6:00 p.m.

Summer finds herself torn between the world filled with her growing love for Marcus, and another world, by turns sinister and comforting, that is opening up to her during her visits to Rose Cottage. Summer is convinced that she is part of a ghostly drama involving both Rose and her evil twin, Rena, now both gone but present still at Rose Cottage. Who murdered Rose's beloved husband? And how does Summer's love of fairytales fit into that drama?

Fairytales do come true (this is a romance, after all), but not before Marcus and Summer learn to listen with their hearts, not just their heads, and learn the meaning of real freedom and the particular logic of the ghostly realm.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

An essential guide to Bidwell Park's birds


Roger Lederer, retired biologist at Chico State University, has studied birds for four decades. His expertise is on display at "Those Amazing Birds" blog ( and now in the glorious "The Birds of Bidwell Park" ($17.95 in paperback, self-published). Teamed with artist-wife Carol Burr, retired professor of English at the university, Lederer introduces the lives and loves of 86 species commonly found in the park.

The full-color guide features Burr's pen and colored pencil drawings, symbols indicating the best spotting locations, a narrative describing the bird's life-cycle, and a sidebar containing a note of interest. Though some 200 species have been identified in the park, the book focuses on those birds most easily observed by even a casual visitor. It's simply a must-have for both kids and adults.

The book is available at several locations in Chico, including the Chico Creek Nature Center and Lyon Books. Lyon will be hosting a book signing on Wednesday, July 28 at 7:00 p.m.

"The Western Tanager," in both upper and lower park, "is unquestionably the most strikingly colorful bird one might spot in Bidwell Park. . . . The male is mostly yellow with a dark tail, two yellow wing-bars, and an orange-red head. The female is greenish-yellow above and yellow below. . . . The red head of the male is due to a red pigment that the bird has to ingest from insects which in turn have eaten fruits containing the red pigment."

The American crow "suffers from a 100 percent death rate" from West Nile virus, though now "apparently some virus-resistant individuals are surviving to build the populations back." The crow "is one of the few bird species in the world to use tools to obtain food. It will drop acorns or other nuts on roadways and let cars crack the shells, and use sticks to probe for food items in the soil."

Anna's Hummingbird "is the only North American hummingbird with a totally red head. . . . The male has a thin and buzz-like courtship song. While courting, the male performs a display dive at up to 50 mph. When he pulls out of the dive he spreads his wings and tail, resulting in a loud kind of squeak and boom."

Tweet your friends!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stories that focus on the sleazy side of Oroville


Long-time Butte County resident Leslie Hale Roberts is married, the father of two sons, and a careful observer of the estranged and marginalized. He characterizes himself in an author's note as a disabled athlete, "founder of the Institute of Absurdity" and "a friend of those who suffer or fail."

There is much suffering, and much failure, in the thirty-nine "traditional and experimental narratives" that constitute "Voices of a City of Gold: Stories From Oroville, California" ($16.95 in paperback from Von Grafen Productions, available at The author writes me that the stories focus "on the lives of the . . . forgotten. . . . I believe it is an authentic depiction, offensive in some cases, and revealing and even tender in others. I have chosen to use often-vulgar language and perhaps irregular formatting and editing in hopes of capturing the essence of their existence."

The stories are not for the faint of heart. Framed by the trash talk of Duane and Mike, who repeatedly wind up in the Butte County jail, they show in expletive-laden agony men, women and children at the outskirts of "acceptable" society. Here there is prostitution, theft and thuggery, substance abuse (crystal meth is the drug of choice), and sexual violence visited on spouses and children. There is hardly a paragraph in the book that can be quoted in a family newspaper.

One narrator finds Oroville, "despite efforts from the city fathers to otherwise arrest the slide, now in the throes of decay and decadence, hope--and innocence--clinging to its tatters. . . . Unfortunately, the heart of Oroville, like many spent gold field villages, has cancered, its core no longer vibrant but in varying stages of rot." Oroville may be a recreational paradise, but some, many perhaps, are confined to a hellish existence.

The theme of "do not judge" runs throughout the book, though another narrator can't help but deliver a "morality sandwich" about the horrible legacy left by "the single mother with unattended kids."

The characters want to change, but can't. Lest the reader take too much "voyeuristic pleasure in . . . how those below so often fare," the stories, even as they assault common decency, provide uncomfortable moments of recognition. Let the reader understand.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Life's journey: Growing up in Romania, living in Paradise


As World Cup fever grips the world, Gregory Ghica of Paradise, who has taught political science at Butte College, writes that his early skill in soccer "was a great asset in my struggle to survive alone in this world. . . . Through soccer I managed to obtain a Romanian passport and had the opportunity to escape the Communist regime." He came to the United States in 1969, received a Master's Degree in physical education from UC Berkeley, coached soccer and tennis, then obtained a Master's in political science from Cal State Long Beach. It has been an eventful life.

Ghica was born in Romania in 1936. His father was an appeals court judge who died when Ghica was only thirteen, but not before writing his "Will and Testament" in which he admonishes Ghica and his brother to love and care for each other and their mother. "If you follow my advice, you will show the supreme recognition and respect for me even after my death."

Though Ghica only saw the document fifty years after it was written, it provides the frame for his memoir, "A Life To Remember: From the Dungeon of Communism to the American Dream" ($18 in paperback from The book is available at Lyon Books in Chico, where Ghica will be signing copies on Wednesday, July 14 at 7:00 p.m.

The book contains several sections of black-and-white photographs which depict the beauty of Romania and illustrate Ghica's penchant for travel. Acknowledging encouragement from the writer's workshop at Chico State University, Ghica writes clearly. He details the difficulties he faced as the son of a man "not of the working class." More than once good fortune spared him some of the harsher demands of the Communist system. He believes in a Supreme Being, he writes, "but I have never been able to accept any particular church, any formal religion, or, certainly, any man of the cloth."

At the end of the book there are lessons learned. Among them: "No matter what you know, the most important thing is who you know"; "no matter how good and solid a friendship is, that person will sometimes hurt my feelings"; "happiness is like snow--beautiful when it comes and miserable when it melts."

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Local author on "America at the crossroads"


Charles W. Frank is convinced that the United States is headed in the wrong direction. His Web site,, which notes that he graduated with a BA in social science from Chico State University, is an impassioned plea for a return to "Christian foundations" that were first established by the Founding Fathers.

He writes me that "our representation with regard to our so called 'republic' has been hijacked by special interests, as we now have evolved to a nation that has the illusion of a democratic process. 'We the people' are now but mere pawns on the chess board of kings (an elitist shadow government)." His analysis is contained in "House of Lords: America In the Balance" ($12.99 in paperback from Tate Publishing), but it is no mere list of wrongs. To his credit, Frank proposes possible solutions that, from his perspective, are consistent with America's unique status.

"Today this divine uniqueness," he writes, "is now clouded with anti-God sentiment, persecution, censorship, demoralization, secularization, confusion, massive monopolistic corporatization, government injustices, and the love of money."

A guest on the Lars Larson radio program, Frank advocates a "decentralization of power" and the establishment of "impartial, independent" agencies that can deal with, for example, "fake news" packages distributed by the Federal government as well as corporate interests which the FCC, and the Congress itself, cannot be trusted to regulate. Such agencies would be composed of "unbiased officials elected by the people in a national election. Let this be the beginning of direct democracy."

In discussing the heart surgery scandal in Redding, he writes that the American Medical Association keeps bad doctors out of jail and, with the complicity of the Food and Drug Administration, stifles those who provide "alternative" treatment. "Let's start by having a law passed that protects doctors from losing their licenses when they treat their patients with unconventional medicine!"

Christians who pay taxes "need to have the freedom of religious expression in the work force and in public institutions." However, "if one's religion does not promote the fruits of genuine love and peace, then obviously it is not useful and should not be allowed to be expressed in the public sector at all."

Consistent or not, perhaps Frank's proposals will spur healthy--and humble--debate.



Food writer Kitty Morse, a Vista, California resident who recently visited Chico, has prepared "A Biblical Feast: Ancient Mediterranean Flavors For Today's Table" ($18.95 in paperback from La Caravane, available at Lyon Books in Chico). Beautifully designed and photographed, the book offers dozens of recipes (from "Goat Cheese & Olive Appetizers With Melon" to "Grilled Tilapia") familiar to the ancient Hebrews and early Christians. Each menu item offers an associated Biblical reference and an historical and culinary discussion. Morse includes a glossary of foodstuffs mentioned in the King James Bible and suggests menus for entertaining guests. There's more at


"Fit At Fifty Something" ($14.95 in paperback from Two Harbors Press) is Sacramento dentist Brian Bolstad's prescription for a more vigorous middle age. After suffering from debilitating back pain, Bolstad resumed martial arts training in his late forties and now, in his mid-fifties, offers what he calls common sense advice on nutrition and weight control, time management, endurance, stress, and sex. The last half of the book features large black-and-white pictures of the author performing a series of flexibility and range of motion exercises. (A DVD set is available at Witty and blunt ("embrace a little hunger"), Bolstad rocks.


"Willows" ($21.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing) is part of the the "Images of America" series. Prepared by the Museum Society of Willows and museum volunteers JoAnn Wright and Evelyn Whisman, the book features over 200 historical photographs with extensive captions. An introduction sets the scene, noting that "the first settlers of what was then the northern part of Colusa County" found land surrounded by willows (fed by a spring near the present town). By the 1870s, farmland was going "for $4-$6 an acre." The "million dollar fire" at Hochheimer's department store in 1920 was devastating, but "can-do" Willows rebuilt.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chico visitor reopens divisive murder case


Terry Phillips reported for CBS and other news networks, and, according to his Web site, "Phillips was one of the first American reporters to live and work in Armenia following the 1988 earthquake." Of Greek and Armenian heritage, Phillips recalls hearing in his childhood about the assassination of the Armenian Archbishop, Ghevont Tourian, in a New York church on Sunday morning, December 24, 1933.

Nine men were eventually arrested and charged in the slaying, including Armenian immigrant Mateos Leylegian, a grocery-store owner on West Forty-ninth Street in Depression-era New York. But why would Armenians kill the representative of the Armenian Church? Or, for that matter, did they?

The questions lead to an intriguing story. "Murder at the Altar: A Historical Novel" ($14.95 in paperback, available from Lyon Books in Chico or online at interweaves the lives of historical figures with the fictional Tom Peterson, once a reporter for the New York Herald-Tribune. Alternating between Peterson's digging through archival material in the present (1975) with the events unfolding in 1933, the novel proposes a different solution to the crime than that contained in the official record.

In a letter, Phillips writes me that "this horrific killing was prompted by a dispute over Armenia's attempts at achieving independence from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Their fight led to a deep split among that ethnic group which persists today. Despite its somewhat arcane focus," he adds, the novel "is really a universal story about people facing irreconcilable differences and resorting to violence."

Phillips visited Chico recently and is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman, the host of Nancy's Bookshelf, tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. (note the new day and time) on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio), 91.7 FM.

The centerpiece of the book, the trial proceeding, is based on actual transcripts. Phillips provides a helpful list of the dozens of personages introduced in his story and gives it verisimilitude with the use of historical photographs, including those of the Archbishop and the accused assailants.

Yet the novel is less about solving a long-ago murder than capturing in historical time the complexities of human life and "answers" that are far from clear. In this terrible act of violence, for things done and not done, "we are all responsible."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chico author wants to demolish religion, make an opening for "spiritual evolution"


Rahasya Poe, the Chico-based publisher of Lotus Guide (, has written what he admits is an angry-sounding book about the dangers of religious belief. "To Believe Or Not To Believe: The Social and Neurological Consequences of Belief Systems" ($19.99 in paperback from Xlibris) offers a litany of what Poe characterizes as "absurd" teachings from the Western scriptural traditions.

"You will find within these pages what I believe will be the final blow to organized religions," he writes. "If we want to evolve and move on we must first release ourselves from our primitive past beliefs and superstitions. . . . The purpose is to dislodge the need to believe altogether and to get you to think for yourself."

The first section traces the social consequences of religious beliefs; the second examines how easy it is to believe absurd things (the brain creates an emotional resistance to contrary evidence); the third charts the prospects for what Poe calls "spiritual evolution." The book is replete with interviews of such figures as brain researcher Andrew Newberg and "Lucid Living" author Timothy Freke.

Poe, like Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whom he praises, wants to be a "demolition man": "If what we've been reading in our Holy Books is nothing more than plagiarized writings of older texts, then put quite simply--God did not talk to Moses on the mountain. . . . This, in essence, means the very foundation of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions are based on a false premise, which means that everything from that point on is false; the prophets, the stories, everything, because they all base their authority on the fact that Moses talked with God."

Those same ancient documents, however, do provide Poe with what he takes are descriptions of alien invasion. The Mayan calendar is an example, he says, of accuracy that must have come from another world. "Since the beings who gave this information to the Maya said they would return when the calendar runs out in 2012 it only make sense to give it some serious attention."

Poe is right about the ease humans have in believing what they want and ignoring contrary evidence, and how our minds can be most closed just when we think they are most open.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Magalia writer on bullying in the workplace


"My own experience at the hands of a bully was horrendous at best," writes Magalia resident Judith Munson, but she's not talking about the schoolyard variety. "Alligators In The Water Cooler" ($15.99 in paperback from Xlibris, with illustrations by Larry Foss of Paradise) refers to men and women in the workplace who "choose to bully others, passively or aggressively, often causing emotional pain or physical illness." Baby alligators stuffed into a water cooler might be a joke, but the alligator-like bully--"a menacing predator, opportunist, solitary and territorial"--is no joke at all. (There's more information at

Munson is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf this Saturday. The program airs at 4:30 p.m. on Northstate Public Radio, KCHO, 91.7 FM. She will also be signing copies of her book at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, June 15, from 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.

"Contrary to popular belief," Munson notes, "upper management and supervisors are not always the bullies that are making your life miserable. It is often your co-workers who are the culprits. They can draw you in and gain your trust then freeze you out of the inner circle."

The heart of the book helps readers identify some of the many types of workplace bullies and offers remedies (ranging from peacemaking communication to filing documented complaints to leaving the job altogether). Aggressive personalities may use outright intimidation or threats against the worker or "jump on any mistake with negative feedback."

More passive types are especially dangerous because the abuse is often hidden. "The mental and physical damage piles up, and the source is often not known or dealt with for a long time, if ever." The "potshot taker" uses "jabs, humor, sarcasm, and verbal sparring to put others down," "eavesdrops on conference calls" and "talk behind other people's backs." The "destructive storyteller" is a rumor-monger who spreads innuendos about workplace relationships or salaries.

Then there is the "alligator mob," usually coordinated by a single person, in which "co-workers, colleagues, superiors, or subordinates malign" the dignity of the worker, calling his or her integrity or competence into question. Self-confidence shattered, the worker often leaves.

Munson offers a calm voice and sensible guidance for "climbing out of the swamp." She's been there.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

For Chico poet, rescued dogs and pain transformed


A news release notes that Jeanne E. Clark is part of the creative writing faculty at Chico State University. The Midwesterner won the Akron Poetry Prize in 1997 for her first book, "Ohio Blue Tips." Now, in her second collection, "Gorrill's Orchard" ($16 in paperback from Bear Star Press,, Clark finds solace, and sustenance, in the rescued dogs she cares for in her home near an almond orchard. (She volunteers for Border Collie Rescue of Northern California.)

In "The Story Each Day," the poet writes: "I tell you that I love bleak, fierce landscapes. / I used to grow them in my garden from seed, / named them: yellow-billed magpie, / scrub jay, ladies of leisure. Married then, / one day I told myself this story: / a door in the house opened with purpose. / It held fire behind it. Marriage / made in a furnace / is too easy to start, to put out."

But the orchard, her new home in Northern California, awakens something in the poet. The dogs begin to appear. In "Rain and Roy Orbison," "On this weekend morning I walk the dog. / The dog red and white, rail thin. It's early. . . . // Roy Orbison's 'Only the Lonely' escapes / from my neighbor's open door and windows. . . . // My voice hard like bone, strung tight as muscle. / This morning walks us back into the world."

Then comes "July": "Peggy gets up from her small-dog dream, / waddles in her patchy, blond coat / around my bed. Her tail: / slow and happy propeller." In "Shaking the Almonds," "Flint, Belle, and I walk Gorrill's orchard, / Belle's plume tail a white flag in front of our parade. / Flint's short legs drumming up dust, he stops / to pee on every third tree. . . ."

"December" now. "Belle heels beside me, perfect. No distraction / to my play of fingers counting: making / haiku as I walk, syllables like birds lifting. . . . Can I say / what I feel is joy, ice-blue joy?"

In "Killdeer," the poet writes of "The earth, packed hard, without / forgiveness." "Meanwhile," though, in the dogs, in the orchard's life, there is "Wild forgiveness."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Two local educators bring math fun to the elementary set


Perhaps the subtitle of "Math Wise!" ($29.95 in paperback from Jossey-Bass), by Jim Overholt and Laurie Kincheloe, sums it up: "Over 100 Hands-On Activities that Promote Real Math Understanding" for Grades K-8. Now in its second edition, the book is aimed at helping students understand concepts that range from counting to data analysis.

Overholt is an education professor at Chico State University; Kincheloe teaches mathematics at Butte College. Both have extensive experience working with K-12 students and their parents, and especially with elementary school teachers.

A grade level is provided for each activity, which include those that are "concrete/manipulative" (such as illustrating division using paper clips); "visual/pictorial" (3 x 5 can be shown by three horizontal lines crossed by five vertical ones); and "abstract procedures" (in Post-It Mental Math a student tries to guess the numerals stuck to his or her back using clues provided by others in the group). "Math Wise!" encourages teachers not only to "instruct students in regard to mathematical mechanics but also enable them to gain a true understanding of the concepts involved."

Each activity explains what the exercise is designed to accomplish (such as practicing computation, getting friendly with fractions, or learning about probability). There's a list of materials needed and detailed steps and examples that give ample guidance for teachers. There are also "extensions" that provide additional ways of using the activity. Many of the activities in the book are for entire classes, others are for small groups, and still others work best as independent projects.

My own mathematical knowledge is, uh, a fraction of what it should be, and I found myself delighted at the creative approaches--and sophistication--that "Math Wise!" embraces. Take "Palindromic Addition." (A palindromic number is reversible.) The activity uses pencil and paper. Pick a non-palindromic number less than 1000, then add its reverse, and continue until a palindrome is produced.

The example given is the number 158. When 851 is added to it, the sum is 1009, but it's not a palindrome. So add 9001 to 1009 and you get 10010--still not a palindrome. Ah, but add 01001 to 10010 and you get 11011. Our palindrome at last! Great fun for kids in school--and for adults in boring meetings.