Sunday, December 30, 2012

Former Chicoan builds a marina in Abu Dhabi


"My Chico existence," Steve Burton writes in an email, "dates back to 1971." His website ( notes that "he spent twenty years in the real estate development and construction industries, followed by eight years in the maritime industry." Now living in the Bay Area, he and his wife Pamela became "expats" by moving to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in 2007. Money was no object back then. Burton and his and other teams were tasked with building a world-class marina, hotel complex, and Formula One racetrack in just thirty months. Piece o' cake--well, sort of--when just a nod from a member of the Royal Family takes care of any red tape.

But day-to-day living in the area, one of the richest venues on earth, was not exactly a cakewalk. That's when Burton's sense of humor kicks in, and his wry observations humanize a jaw-droppingly lavish project without peer in the world. "Staying Afloat: Three Years In Abu Dhabi" ($17.95 in paperback from iUniverse; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats) is part history, part travelogue, part memoir. But it's also a serious reflection on cultural diversity and economic realities, especially as the worldwide recession began to affect even the Emirates after Burton's project was completed.

"The $125 million Yas Marina and quay in the channel immediately outside the entrance to the marina were designed to handle 146 yachts up to 325 feet long. ... For comparison, a multi-billion-dollar Los Angeles class nuclear submarine is 353 feet long. Yas Marina is to date the most high-tech marina facility ever constructed. The F1 racetrack wraps around five sides of the fifteen-sided marina and provides yacht owners and their guests with an unobstructed view of much of the race." Monaco has nothing on Yas.

In the end, "the Sheikhs' expectations were met. ... Yas Marina and its yacht club have been added to the esteemed list of premier global yachting destinations. ... The inaugural Abu Dhabi International Yacht Show in 2008 was timed to highlight the construction of the Yas Marina." Burton and his group had done it--with just weeks to spare.

It's great yacht reading, even if some of Burton's all-too-human gaffes are, uh, a little dinghy.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lookout Point: A spiritual oasis


Lookout Point is "nestled next to the Skyway," where "Butte Creek is barely visible when gazing down from the canyon rim at the Lookout. It meanders like an ebony thread between the cavernous walls of the canyon. ... On cold, misty days, mountain ravines are hidden from view by thick layers of fog."

This was the place Norma Brumbaugh visited, for an hour each week for a year, starting with Good Friday 2009. "The Lookout became my place of release, its view inspiring me to contemplate and pray." There she found "solace and healing. I received in a seamless blend the awe of creation knit with my belief in a loving and caring God." Her journal has become "The Meeting Place: Moments With God At Lookout Point" ($17.99 in paperback from Inspiring Voices; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats).

The author "is still active in agriculture in the Chico area. She is a mother of five, grandmother of two, reading specialist, and teacher. For most of her life, she has been active in the church." Though she has been involved in many ministries, "her passion ... is to help draw people to find God in an intimate relationship." The author's own deep emotion and spiritual questioning are recorded in each of the meditations in the book. She is faced with the loss of a marriage, the estrangement of a daughter, job stresses, and her own anger and fear.

Influenced by the Christian mystical tradition, Brumbaugh's meditations range from poetic reflections ("the sun--hidden for these moments: / the brightness subdued in grey screen / but your glory is here--I feel its warmth. ...") to contemplation ("It is interesting that even in my fifties, I am still learning many lessons about life. People are complex beings. To be healthy in our human emotions is formidable at times").

"Father," she prays, "I want to think about you. Draw my thoughts to you. Fill me with your presence. Renew my mind. Speak truth to me. Expose my wrong thinking, wrong conclusions, and areas of blindness."

Brumbaugh finds comfort in Jesus Christ, the gift of Christmas, but never complacency. There is much to learn. At Lookout Point, she realizes, "it is good to be here."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Civil War comes to Nevada City in a riveting new novel


Though Richard Hurley's career in computer-based multimedia took him to the Sierra foothills, his love of history never left. Along with with co-author TJ Meekins, whose work took her to the Tahoe National Forest in Nevada City, the two have produced a compelling historical novel and bittersweet love story that will have readers turning pages far into the night.

"Queen Of The Northern Mines: A Novel Of The Civil War In California" ($16.95 in paperback from Bear River Books, spans a short but eventful four years, from November 1860, centered mostly in the area of Nevada City (then called "Nevada," the "Queen" of the title). The authors interweave the stories of Virginian Will Stafford, the handsome 28-year-old attorney, with that of Chinese mine owner Ah Tie, Austrian musician Peter Kessel, and Nisenan Maidu orphan Nutim.

The book was named a finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association. The cover, "Portrait of Sophie Gray," from the artist John Everett Millais (1857), beckons the reader to settle in to a story of love found and love lost, a story of divided loyalties, both personal and political, and to a tale that mixes the absurd (think E Clampus Vitus) with the unutterably sad (war's devastation).

Will arrives in Nevada (the town) having helped dispatch a group of highway agents intent on plunder; he finds work (and friendship) with a judge, and he finds his attention drawn to the Missouri House, whose caretaker, 31-year-old widow Molly Hatfield ("richly endowed with wisdom and beauty") sparks a decided personal interest. Complicating matters, Molly's daughter Ida, 15 years old, is also smitten with the young lawyer.

People have come from all over the country (and the world) to have a go at the Northern mines. There is decided Yankee sentiment in Nevada, and Rebel sentiment in Grass Valley. When Will returns to Nevada, wounded, from fighting for the Confederacy in his home state, he must face a profound reality. If Jefferson Davis is to survive, he must have California gold. A new shipment from the mines is on its way, and Will must decide the meaning of honor, friendship and love.

Does a uniform lift him above being a mere highway agent?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Small town thriller from a local writer


John Lundquist, who works at Enloe Hospital, writes novels on the side. He tells me "I like small towns and secrets that need to be explored," especially those little communities near the Sacramento Delta area.

The hero of "Absolution" ($11 in paperback from CreateSpace; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format) is Jake Coulter. Never one to settle down, the handsome and confident Coulter wants to be free as the wind in his travels. But, sidelined by engine trouble in the Delta area, Coulter's life is about to change forever.

Where to get service? "The next town up the road was Royalton. According to the legend on the back of the map, the population for the town was listed as eight hundred and sixty." Back on the road, Coulter suddenly realizes that another truck is aiming to run him off the road. Coulter takes evasive action; eventually the other truck "ran clear off the road, over the drainage ditch, down the slope to the water, and ended up with its nose end in the lapping water of the Sacramento River."

Coulter determines to report the incident in Royalton and then mosey right along. It doesn't work out that way.

The town and surrounding countryside are pretty much owned by Richard Davidson, a man who wants control. In that regard his son, Billy, is quite the problem. He hates his father and is generally not to be found except when he chooses to run folks off the road for sheer sport.

Billy not only survives the truck incident but now wants Coulter arrested for hit-and-run. Then, as if on schedule, a series of mysterious murders begins. First a prominent banker. Later will come an attorney and a real estate agent. Davidson is afraid Billy is behind them and has decided that Coulter is the guilty party. And he wants his hand-picked sheriff to kill him. Davidson is intransigent in the face of contrary evidence, but Coulter is equally intransigent when it comes to his reputation. If it's not Billy, who is the real killer?

The tale focuses on action, but also what it costs to be a person of integrity. It's a fun, fast-paced read, just the kind of story for a meandering trip through the Delta.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

"Grooving with a healthy rhythm of yeses and nos"


In "Say Yes To No," Greg Cootsona, associate pastor for adult discipleship and college ministries at Bidwell Presbyterian Church in Chico, found that taking on too much--saying "yes" to too many things--undermines the richness of life we were created to experience. Now, a just-published companion volume focuses on discovering the yeses we ought to embrace.

"The Time for Yes: Enjoying What's Best in Life, Work, and Love" ($5.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format) recognizes the importance of "grooving with a healthy rhythm of yeses and nos." This is the place "where notes and silences, beats and spaces, produce beautiful music and where we move with the heartbeat of life. Here," he writes, "I've learned from the insights of researchers and writers who emphasize that our lives produce excellence when there is a rhythm of rest and work. As a percussionist would say, when we live this rhythm, then we groove. (Since I'm a percussionist, I guess I can say it.)"

Cootsona will be speaking and signing copies of his book this afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

But before one can begin grooving, we must listen. "Our yes implies that we hear the Voice of God calling us uniquely and specifically to do God's mission of love and justice in the world." Next comes "testing," "a process that verifies the validity of what we've heard." Then, at last, it's time to groove.

These steps work themselves out in what Cootsona calls the "triangle" of life, work, and love. "In our personal life, we say yes to what makes sense for the way we are created. In work, we seek to make the world a better place by using our particular gifts and passions for what God wants in the world. In our relationships, we learn how all this makes a lot more sense--and becomes a lot more fun--when we do it with others."

Such a life is a realization of beauty ("excellence, true success, and happiness"). "Through listening for our calling we find he One who calls. I believe God is faithful in calling us."

The book is a fun and practical guide for finding the right rhythms of our lives.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Three children's books from area writers

2012-11-25_sbarbaroVic Sbarbaro and Marcia D. (Sbarbaro) Pezzella are back with the third entry in their "Crowlyle" series for kids. This time, "Crowlyle Has A Crush" ($12.95 in paperback from Northstate Children's Books). Featuring full-page color illustrations by Ashe Lewis and Josh Smith, the book uses short rhythmic lines to tell the story of the big dance. Crowlyle has fallen for Crowlia, but a bully steps in and dances with her instead. Yet Crowlyle, grooving to "Crowbait, the coolest DJ," wins the day and wins her heart.

2012-11-25_coatneyNorthstate photojournalist Kathy Coatney ( has written the third in her "Farmer Guy/Gal Series." "Pizza, Tacos And The Olive-Fingered Kid" ($9.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats) features a full-color photograph on each page along with simple commentary. The book is intended for second and third graders (there's a short vocabulary list at the end) and tells the story of Farmer Charlie and Farmer Nick, both Corning olive growers. Charlie raises Sevillanos; his trees "are really, really old. They were planted before 1900." Nick raises a different kind of table olives, Manzanillos. "Farmer Charlie's Sevillano trees grow giant olives that are big enough to fit on his fingers. Farmer Nick's olives are smaller, and they fit on kid-sized fingers."

2012-11-25_johnThe Butte County Fire Safe Council, headquartered in Paradise, has published a cool little book called "Wildfire Ready Raccoon" (available in paperback for a small donation; contact Executive Director Calli-Jane Burch,; the Website is at Written by Phil John and illustrated by Dave Thompson, both Paradise residents, the book tells the story of Ready Raccoon (also a Paradise resident) who one day smells the smoke of a wildfire. "Ready gathered with all his neighbors, the animals ones and the people ones, and watched the fire burning towards their little town. The smoke was thick and black, and they could see flames shoot up from the trees as the fire grew and moved closer to their homes." Some suffered great loss, and Ready was determined to make sure his own home was ready. Firefighter Jim helps out, and the book is a good guide for how to be wildfire safe. Ready is now the mascot of the Paradise Fire Safe Council.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Where is God when you're dying?


John Gilbert was born in 1976 in Castro Valley's Eden Hospital. Eventually he and his younger brother Alan, and his parents, Bruce and Cathy, moved to Paradise. In between was the terse phone call from the doctor. "I'm calling to inform you that your son's lab tests are in. John has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His life expectance is 16 years." Diagnosed at five, John would live another twenty years, years full pain and grief beyond measure, but also of a growing Christian faith. His parents' own faith, tested in the extreme, meant following Jesus in a way they had never understood before.

John left a manuscript that he hoped, one day, would see publication as a testament to God's goodness. His father has much to say as well, and the result is "From Eden To Paradise: Something Stronger Than Time” ($22.99 in paperback from Xulon Press; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats), "an autobiography by John Stuart Gilbert; a father's reflections by Bruce Stuart Gilbert."

Bruce Gilbert is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman for Nancy's Bookshelf, this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on Northstate Public Radio KCHO (91.7 FM).

John's service dog, Friedman, a "spry and handsome" Golden Retriever, would become his best friend. When John graduated with honors from Paradise High, John, in his wheelchair, accompanied by Friedman, accepted his diploma. When he turned to go down, "I saw something that shocked me. All of my classmates, even the ones I didn't know, and all of their families stood on their feet applauding me and cheering me on."

Bruce, in the second section of the book, notes that the standing ovation provoked not a feeling of being honored but one of being betrayed. Where were parents and students when John was being harrassed by bullies, especially in junior high, and when he needed human companionship? An ovation is easy; living the daily life with someone as broken in body as John, humbling.

But the excruciating dailyness is the place God met John and Alan, Bruce and Cathy. Bruce writes with the love of a father and heart of a pastor, John as one transformed by suffering. Where is God when you're dying? Thankfully, right here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The story of timber operations east of Chico


"Hidden below the steep, rocky walls of Big Chico Creek Canyon," Andy Mark writes, "located in the foothills east of Chico ... , lies a story of hardy men who, at the turn of the twentieth century, often risked life and limb to help shape the growing western frontier. Today this country is mostly inaccessible by vehicle, except to Sierra Pacific Industries and the loggers. ..."

Mark, who worked as a railroad brakeman and conductor for more than two decades, returned to Chico State University and emerged a data analyst. But he is also a member of the Butte County Historical Society and an avid hiker and mountain biker. As he traveled the back country of Butte and Tehama Counties, he was intrigued by traces of milling operations. Standing on the shoulders of local historians W.H. Hutchinson and John Nopel, he "felt the only way to get unique stories about this place was to literally go back in time by reading what the newspapers then had to say about it."

The stories come together beautifully in "The West Branch Mill Of The Sierra Lumber Company: Early Logging In Northeastern California" ($19.99 in paperback from The History Press, It features dozens of carefully selected black and white photographs and maps.

Mark will be signing copies of his book this Thursday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

Mark is intrigued by the process a century ago: "The rough-cut lumber from the mill was sent down a twenty-five-mile-long flume to the Chico factory, which specialized in fruit box and tray stock and more. Injured loggers were sometimes sent in makeshift boats down this same waterway. ... There was essentially only one way to get to the mill from the valley, and that was on the Humboldt Wagon Road" which was not exactly a smooth ride.

"In 1900," Mark writes, "it was reported that Sierra Lumber Company paid out more money for labor than any other industry in Butte County, primarily because of the West Branch Mill." The centerpiece of the book is the story of Dr. N.T. Enloe who became on-site physician for the West Branch Mill in 1901.

In the end, says Mark, "we tip our hats to the boys of yore."

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Visiting poet writes of the loneliest snake in the world


Gary Lemons makes his home in Port Townsend, Washington; he visited Butte College last month for a poetry reading. "Snake" ($19.95 in paperback from Red Hen Press) is a series of poems, mostly in the voice of Snake himself, in response to old Mother Earth's revenge "as a planet under assault" from the human enterprise. "Snake is the last thing left alive," Lemons says in an interview that sets up the book. "The not quite disembodied voice of all the forms destroyed in the cleansing ... an intentional cleansing--down to the basic elements."

Earth is ticked and wants to put an end to Snake, the refuge of "the exiled of earth, the ones that wait inside the collective dream, to return to the planet." Snake's distinctive voice, interspersed with a poetic chorus, will not allow the reader to go, as that other poem says, gently into that good night.

In "Snake's Karma," probing questions: "Why not some better endin / For everything--why we got to bring / Down the whirlwind on ourselves, / Past and present rubbed together / Til the future's set on fire? // Why can't we do this simple / Thing--love one another, love the land / Includin the land of one another / And the planet where it happens?"

"If in the end," the poet says in "If," "there is only snake and his / Stetson filled with shadows. ... // Then freedom is not the thing but the ghost / Of the thing and the thing is long gone / Leavin only the inexplicable comfort of its touch. ..."

As a "Last Resort," Snake's "tired of bein the only target" so "he finds this poet name of Gary--gonna make him / See how it is, tell him bout the situation. // He sneaks into Gary's head while he sleepin, / Describin these things, tells him--write a poem. ..."

Enter god, and it's ticked. In "Meanwhile, God..." god "goes down to earth and says--brah--you / Killed my things--my peoples and animals... // Earth say, man, leave me alone. / Them humans hurt me bad, so I gets rid of them."

But Snake swallows god, and saves the earth. The tide turns.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Nobel laureate coming to Chico State University


"Shirin Ebadi," a note about the author says, "was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote human rights ... in Iran. She is the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize" and was also Iran's first female judge. She told her story half a decade ago in "Iran Awakening: One Woman's Journey To Reclaim Her Life And Country."

In that book she wrote: "The Islamic Republic may hold firm to its right to nuclear power, even if it means suffering sanctions at the hands of the international community. ... If the clerics in power detect military strikes on the horizon instead of a negotiated solution, they will find no incentive, no credibility gained, in safeguarding the rights of their citizens. ... The price of transforming Iran peacefully, I have long known but these days feel more acutely, is sacrifice of the highest order." Since 2009 she has lived in exile.

Sacrifice is the focus of her newest book, "The Golden Cage: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny" ($26.95 in hardcover from Kales Press), translated by Nathaniel Rich. It's the story of Simin and Hossein, their daughter Parì, and her brothers. The account traces that family's intensely personal story as the brothers, Abbas, Javad, and Alì, each respond to the Islamic Revolution in ways that divide the family and estrange the brothers from each other. Alì follows Ayatollah Khomeini, Javad has communist sympathies, Abbas swears by the Shah. It's a heartbreaking story, emblematic of the complex loyalties of the Iranian people.

Ebadi will be speaking at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium on Monday, November 5 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the President's Lecture Series. Tickets are available through or from the University Box Office, (530) 898-6333. Adult tickets are $27 (premium $32), seniors $25, students and children $15.

Parì despairs for her brothers. "It's as if each one of them has locked himself in a golden cage--beautiful, strong, and as safe and secure as any ideology. But it's still a cage, and they can't see out of it or communicate with each other."

The book's epigraph, from an Iranian sociologist, says: "If you can't eliminate injustice, at least tell everyone about it." And so Ebadi continues to speak.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Romantic thriller from an Oroville novelist


Geologist Josh Dallas is in the hospital after driving his truck into a lamppost to miss hitting a child. He awakes to see his nurse, twenty-seven-year-old Catherine Ashley, "skin the color of fine porcelain, hair like pale sunlight, and unbelievable sapphire eyes." She "possessed a sensuality simmering beneath her playful façade." Within five minutes Josh is asking her out to dinner.

Soon they're an item. "He liked fiery women and was quite happy to let her ignite his pilot light." And light it she does. But soon Josh is preparing to leave for the Amazon on a three-month research project and Catherine is troubled. "I saw you in my dream. You were lying unconscious surrounded by dense foliage. It was raining. You were covered in mud. It was a warning sign. I feel it." And something more: "I sometimes see things in my dreams--things that come true. I saw you in a dream the night before you came to the hospital."

Josh, of course, is determined to go. What follows is a page-turning, sometimes brutal account of the expedition and its aftermath. The two lovers face many challenges. There's a long separation, horrible deaths, family cruelty, a sinister plot--and those prophetic dreams. Oroville novelist Olivia Claire High keeps the suspense running high in "Dreams: Shadows Of The Night" ($13.95 in paperback from Fireside Publications,; also in Amazon Kindle e-book format).

The author will sign copies of her book at Artists of River Town Gallery and Gifts, 1435 Myers Street in Oroville, on Friday, October 26 from 4:00 - 6:00 PM. The public is invited to this free event.

The lovers are passionate, driven. Reunited, "the time for waiting was over. It was all about wanting and need. But when she saw the scars on his chest, the horror of what he must have had to suffer made her hesitate." But there's no hesitation in Josh. "Touch me, Catherine. I want your hands on me." Then: "Wild kisses that branded ownership and promised to fulfill every need had them both gasping, as the hot rush of emotion shot through them like acid etching into glass."

But there is another, deadly, acid, eating at their relationship, and "Dreams" sustains the thrill ride until the very end.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A childhood memoir from a local writer


Scott Terry’s father, Virgil, “was born out in the boondocks of a dairy farm in rural Missouri, but raised on a cattle ranch in the mountains west of Orland in the California soon-to-be ghost town of Newville. In those days, the residents of Newville, half of which were my family, could be counted on two hands.” Virgil’s first date with Terry’s mother was in Chico “at the Peking Chinese restaurant on Main Street. ... They later conceived their first child, my older sister Sissy, in the front seat of his truck. In 1961, circumstances such as that required a hasty wedding.”

The marriage unraveled after Scott was born. His stepmother, “Fluffy,” fulfilled the stereotype ("You can't clink your spoon against your cereal bowl."). “Virgil,” Terry notes, “was introduced to Fluffy in the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall.” By seven, "I was in love with going door to door as a Jehovah's Witness. Immensely. It was a fantastic escape from Fluffy's house."

His memoir is called "Cowboys, Armageddon, And The Truth: How A Gay Child Was Saved From Religion" ($18 in paperback from Lethe Press; also in Amazon Kindle format). Terry will be signing copies of his book at Lyon Books in Chico this Tuesday, October 16 at 7:00 p.m.

The faith was called "The Truth"; "its primary philosophy ... was that of separation. The Truth expected social isolation from mainstream society." Besides, Armageddon was coming in the mid-1970s and one had to be ready.

Even as Terry embraced the faith, he was troubled by same-sex attractions and prayed earnestly for change. He read in a youth manual that "contrary to what many persons think, homosexuals are not born that way, but their homosexual behavior is learned." Confused, ashamed, he experienced a kind of double isolation.

The more explicit second half of the book details Terry's adolescence and college years, and his eventual coming-out to his Aunt Donnis "who worked for the test office at Chico State." He had abandoned The Truth years before and yet, at 23, verbalized to his aunt a different kind of truth.

Terry today is an artist, businessman, freelance writer, and "gay cowboy, a bullrider to be specific." His story of parental abuse, and sexual yearnings, may strike a chord with many readers.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

A procrastination quilt from a Red Bluff writer


Brenda Ballantine, tired of dealing with her old sewing machine, bought a new one. Then she "spent hundreds of dollars for beautiful new material to make a king-sized quilt. ... I spent a lot of time and energy cutting up all the fabric, and I was ready to start. 'Oh, wait. Tomorrow I can start sewing; I need to do an errand first.' Days went by. Soon all the material was put out of the way. Spring came along, with work, school, and planting a garden." Then came a serious motorcycle accident and a long recovery time. And she forgot how she wanted to sew the pattern. Ever have one of those lives?

Ballantine, who has a degree in counseling psychology and who helps burn victims in the Redding area through the Fountain Gate Burn Foundation, found herself making notes on procrastination on "paper napkins, scratch papers, the back of an envelope--yet they all have to be gathered together and put into a format that everyone can enjoy."

This "procrastination quilt" is called "Pitfalls From Put-Offs: Memoirs Of A Procrastinator" ($10.99 in paperback from Xulon Press; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats). An interview with Brenda Ballantine, conducted by Nancy Wiegman of Nancy's Bookshelf on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM), can be found at

The author's little book is really not about "how to stop procrastinating," but is more like "notes to myself" about the many pitfalls she's encountered over the years. She realizes more is at stake than simply completing a project. It's about embracing life in a way that's impossible if one is always waiting to begin. "I believe that God is the only one who never changes," she writes, "and that is the only security I can depend on. The future has ... many twists, turns, and turmoil." The key is learning how to "grow old with grace."

She focuses on what happens when we put off tending to our health, our diet ("does 'celebrate' eventually end up really being spelled 'cellulite'?"), our loved ones. She deals with the problem of self-deception ("I must stop sabotaging myself!") and how procrastination affects others ("I can pack in the morning!"). And she finished the book.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chico writer's exposé of the U.S. Forest Service

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is the management of almost 200 million acres of timberland. According to Christopher Burchfield, who worked for the agency, that mission has been systematically undermined since the late 1970s. "In 1973," he writes, "Gene C. Bernardi, a female U.S. Forest Service research sociologist, filed a class action lawsuit charging the agency with sex discrimination. In 1979 the Forest Service entered into a consent decree with the plaintiff."

Burchfield sifted through thirty-seven boxes of "letters, reports, directives and minutes of meetings" at the Federal Records Storage Center in San Bruno, all relating to the civil suit. The result of his investigations, which include interviews with current and former Forest Service employees affected by the consent decree, is "The Tinder Box: How Politically Correct Ideology Destroyed the U.S. Forest Service" ($27.95 in paperback from Stairway Press,; also available in Barnes and Noble Nook e-book format).

Burchfield is scheduled to sign copies of his book at Barnes and Noble in Chico this Thursday, October 4, at 6:30 p.m. An interview with the author, conducted by Nancy Wiegman of Nancy's Bookshelf on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM) is available at

As the effect of the Bernardi consent decree began to radiate outward, Burchfield contends, more and more qualified men were passed over in favor of a misguided egalitarianism, putting women into positions for which they were psychologically and physically unqualified. Merit promotion was undermined and the agency was beset by legal challenges to its policies.

In 1999, after he started working for the Mendocino National Forest, Burchfield concluded "that the U.S. Forest Service's effort to reach gender parity in all professions and grade levels had been an unmitigated disaster." The agency, he says, was "demoralized and utterly without a sense of mission," plagued by laziness, absenteeism, victimhood, and incompetence.

In 1986, Burchfield writes, for a time the "Forests began purchasing lightweight, single-ply fire hoses fifty feet in length with plastic fittings attached" so female firefighters could more easily handle them. But the hoses "had a propensity to kink, popped leaks by the score" and--melted.

"The Tinder Box" aims to explain "why, over the past twenty years, ninety million acres of American's wild lands have gone up in flames.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ishi's world


Local independent researcher Richard Burrill is in the midst of a multi-volume project detailing everything known about Ishi and his people. Newly published is "Ishi's Untold Story In His First World, Parts III-VI: A Biography Of The Last Of His Band Of Yahi Indians In North America" ($39.95 in paperback from The Anthro Company or

"Ishi," Burrill writes, "was likely born at the very end of 'Babies Born Time' (February), according to the Yahi calendar in the white man's year, 1854." A member of the Yahi, the only remaining members of the Yani people, he was taken into custody in Oroville in 1911, spent his remaining years at the Museum of Anthropology in the Bay Area, and died of tuberculosis in 1916.

But what of Ishi's "first world"? By the time Ishi was three, Burrill says, "a way of living that had spanned 3,000 years was ending. ... To learn about the First World is to learn about what was lost."

Burrill will be speaking at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, September 25 at 7:00 p.m.

The author's book is packed with historical photographs, newspaper clippings and other documents, maps, timelines, reports of personal explorations, Yana creation myths, and more. Together they tell a story not only of what was lost, but of the "near genocide" of California tribes. Since documentary evidence of Ishi's growing up years is of course scant, Burrill relies on informed speculation. There is much more evidence of tribal massacres, such as the "1864 wholesale purge of the Yana in Shasta and Tehama counties by Whites of conservatively 500 native people ... one of the biggest massacres of American Indians in U.S. history."

The Yahi also had to contend with "roaming and pursued fugitive natives." In 1862-1863, "the Sacramento Valley and the foothills became a protracted war zone. The settlers continued to confuse Ishi's established Yahi/Yana band for the renegade 'Mill Creeks.'" "The Yahi, being distinctly more aboriginal-looking," were deemed most dangerous. Burrill also tells the story of the "Long Concealment," when the remaining Yahi went into hiding in 1870 for almost forty years.

The bottom line for Burrill: "Ishi's formidable legacy of integrity, hope, and courage serves as a symbol for change, calling for a more respectful and caring world today for all peoples."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A comic novel from a Butte College instructor


Consider 29-year-old Mat Roper. "Handsome, with shoulder-length blond hair and an ocean tan, the Californian looked like a king among the dour-eyed country folks and pale Midwestern collegians returning to farms for Christmas." Roper is on board a bus bound for Dickeyville, Wisconsin, to meet Daphne's family. Daphne Dickey, his fiancée, in the town named after her ancestors.

It's snowing, and very cold, and a strange old man on the bus seems overly talkative. You've got to understand the Midwest, says the man, by reading its writers. "Because it's like the winter insomnia, when it comes. Like a bare bulb swaying while a blizzard pounds your hundred-year-old farmhouse. Same place your Pappy and Ma was married and died in, buried in the family graveyard next to your grandmother and father. Same storm rages in your soul, son. Nor-wester of hunger and fear. ..."

So, Dickeyville, population 999, and Mat arrives just in time for Dickeyville Horror Days, a boar hunt of mythical proportions, hunting a boar of mythical proportions. "European wild boar," one local tells him. "A killer who runs to five hundred pounds, judging from the hoof prints. ... Most dangerous animal in North America" haunting the great Mazy forest wherein dwelt old Dead Alice and her witchy wiles.

Butte College language arts instructor Joe Abbott has created a strange and wondrous world in "Dickeyville" ($17.50 in paperback from Starhaven; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format). Abbott will be signing copies of his book at a free literary event tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

There's Ma and Pa, Verne, Bascom, the well-endowed twins Twila and Cabella, Buster Hieman, and a cartload more: "Dickeyville hicks," Mat thinks. Yet he is "flummoxed by hayseed yokels." There's the boar hunt, and "angel dinosaur bones," all in the "little town with twisty streets and twisted jokes. ... Crazy beer-swilling hicks with muscles by Jake."

Part of the fun of the story is to see the Roper get hog-tied. And then some. Says Mat: "I feel like I stepped in a pile of Dickeyville."

"Dickeyville" is a comic novel rife with oddballs who are never quite what they seem. Abbott's radiant prose reminds us there are plenty of snow jobs to go around.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Family-friendly Paleo cookbook from a Chico mom


Sarah Fragoso came slowly to the Paleo lifestyle. Robb Wolf, of NorCal Strength and Conditioning in Chico, introduced her to the eating plan, but it wasn't until just a few years ago, after the birth of her third son, and plagued by a host of health issues, that she got serious. "I eventually committed to trying Paleo for thirty days," she writes, "and that was all the convincing I needed."

Now that her three kids, and husband John, have made the move to Paleo, Fragoso is spreading the word. First came "Everyday Paleo" and "Paleo Pals: Jimmy and the Carrot Rocket Ship," and now "Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook: Real Food for Real Life" ($29.95 in paperback from Victory Belt Publishing; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats). Replete with gorgeous full-color photographs by Michael J. Lang, the book is more than just a recipe collection. It's also a realistic guide to Paleo meals on a budget and what to put into the kids' lunch boxes, with more at

"The primary tenets of living a Paleo lifestyle," Fragoso says, include avoiding "grains, legumes, dairy, vegetable oils, refined sugar" and "highly processed foods. ... Eat meat from animals that lived the way nature intended their species to live--e.g., cattle fed on grass; eat both vegetables and fruit, but eat more vegetables than fruits; eat quality fats like avocado and coconut oil; eat nuts and seeds, but in moderation."

The transition to Paleo can be challenging. "If you grumble and gripe about no longer having cereal for breakfast, your little ones will, too." But "if you hand them a spatula and show them how to crack eggs as you laugh and giggle together, no one will miss the cereal."

Fragoso, a recent visitor to Lyon Books in Chico, draws on the main recipe section in creating helpful lists. There are 15 lunch box ideas, 15 "quick and simple" meals, a one-week meal plan and a week's shopping list. Recipe categories include sauces and dips, slow cooker recipes, soups and stews, "meaty meals," sides and salads, and fruity creations. Most of the recipes have a "something extra" section with creative variations.

And for an energy boost? There's even a recipe for "Rocket Fuel."

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Chico author's fast-paced mystery


"Dentists," writes retired dentist Mike Paull, "have been represented many times in books and movies, but always as either villains or buffoons." So he invented Brett Raven who, like Paull, is also a pilot. "I decided the protagonist in a mystery novel does not need to be a lawyer, ex-cop or medical examiner. As long as he is smart, resourceful, and courageous, he can emerge from any field or any profession." Brett, as he is called, is certainly all of those things. His expertise is key in unraveling the fate of his former friend, fellow pilot, and financial advisor John Thomas (J.T.) Talbot. Readers won't be able to put the book down until all is revealed.

"Flight of Betrayal" ($15.99 in paperback from Skyhawk Publishing; also available in Amazon Kindle format) begins with horrendous news. J.T., though an expert pilot, crashes on his way home from a Baja fishing trip. "J.T. had been Brett's friend," Paull writes, "until he married Annie, Brett's ex-wife. They were still able to remain partners in the twin engine Beechcraft Baron, which they flew out of San Carlos, an airport located thirty miles south of San Francisco." The FAA called, Annie tells Brett. "There was a horrendous fire and both J.T. and his passenger were burned beyond recognition." The subsequent investigation would close the case as "pilot error." But Brett will not let go.

Mike Paull will be signing copies of his book Thursday, September 6, at 7:00 p.m. at the Chico Barnes and Noble bookstore.

Brett may want to take a bite out of crime, but as his own investigation proceeds he is confronted by some pretty shady (and dangerous) characters involved in the illegal trafficking of human organs from Mexico to the U.S. Then there's the story of Brett and Annie, the sundering of a marriage and the slow, tentative movement toward renewal. Brett is consumed with finding the truth but he also realizes how devastating it will be to Annie.

There are bad guys aplenty (with, shall we say, very limited vocabulary) standing in the way, and the reader takes delight as Brett (pilot and forensic dentist) gums up the works (so to speak). The tale is satisfyingly convoluted, the sex tender, the hero someone worth rooting for. It's great fun.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Suspense fiction from a Willows writer

Newspaper columnist Shari Edwards, in her debut novel, tells the tale of Julie Morgan and her younger sister, Ann, who have returned to their rural Northern California hometown of Crowville to sift through their mother's effects. Julie, now in her early thirties, discovers an old newspaper story about a gruesome murder. She read the story as a little girl, the headline a shuddery memory: "Local Child's Body Found In Shallow Grave Beside the River." The child, Julie found out later, had lived in Crowville.
Now here was the old article, only this time with annotations from Ann and Julie's mother. There was a phone number, the names "Zac" and "Officer Jennings," and two places: Casper, Wyoming, and Alamosa, Colorado. And at the bottom of the article were the chilling, handwritten words: "Killer never found?"
Frightening events begin to terrorize the two women almost immediately as they clean their parents' old house to ready it for sale. Are those crunching sounds in the gravel outside just imaginary? That shadow by the window--real? But the note on the kitchen table is very real indeed. "Get out of town," it says, "or you will end up like they did."
"Murder In Mendocino" ($10 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; available from Lyon Books in Chico and also from the author, introduces the reader to Crowville's police chief, Sam Davis, his wife, Madge, and a handsome man in a silver Jaguar who turns out not to be a nemesis but a Denver detective, Will Jamison. Julie and Ann become convinced that their mother's death was no accident, and their father's death some years earlier in a hunting accident--well, that was no accident, either.
Even as the little group tries to unravel the mystery of the deaths of Charles and Beth Morgan, and that little girl so many years ago, death stalks Sam Davis in the form of Phillip Stone, Madge's nephew. He had escaped from a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane in Alamosa, Colorado, and had vowed to get his revenge on Sam, who put him there. Will had come to California to bring him back. But Phillip had died in a recent car accident in Mendocino, his body burned beyond recognition, right? Right?
"Murder In Mendocino" reveals all and, at the end, the reader can begin to breathe again.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Thoughts of Maine from a Northern California poet


Marilyn Ringer spends summers on Monhegan Island in Maine welcoming the dawn. According to a biographical note, she writes there "with a group of women who are artists, teachers, Gestalt therapists, and gardeners as well as writers." Ringer "has been a chef and restaurateur, a poet-teacher with California's Poets in the Schools, and a teacher of adult creative writing workshops."

She's gathered thirty-seven of her evocative poems, many of which appeared in literary journals, in "Island Aubade" ($12 in paperback from Finishing Line Press, The dictionary defines "aubade" as a "morning love song" or "a song or poem of lovers parting at dawn."

As the poet says in the title piece, "Let other mornings exalt themselves with portent's light, / and giddy eddies of anticipation. // Let other mornings sing of legendary heroes, of battles won, / long removed from the bloody cost. // Let them speak for the tilted earth as it chooses its inclination. // Give me this morning, this morning of waking into a breeze / of birdsong that buoys me up, // out of the heavy sea of sleep, out of the fog of memory. ..."

Ringer will be reading her poems, and signing copies of her book, at Lyon Books in Chico on Tuesday, August 21 at 7:00 p.m.

The surroundings awaken in the poet a sense of something about to break into consciousness. In "Night Ocean" the poet sings, "Muted and vast but not without voice: / rush of eddies, wave whisper, whale song. // Beneath the surface the dream floats, / suspended in such uterine sounds. ...."

The poems weave daily life, presence--and absence--into the island's natural rhythms. "I live on an aura's edge," the poet writes in "From The Periphery," "that prismatic in-between / of color and light; sometimes I am invisible / even to myself. // In this place I walk the dusty road / and navigate the island trails / unusually alone, // a comparison of loss: the old way / forever relinquished, the new / not fully born. ... // I dip into the salty hue breaking the line: / this side of air, that side of water; / this side of now, // that side of forever and after. ..."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dave Kilbourne, between the covers


The same guy who opened up Pyromania Tallow Works in Chico way back in the last millennium, the same guy who became the Executive Director of the Downtown Chico Business Association, the same guy who wrote a Northstate Voices column in this newspaper for a year, this same guy has crammed as many of his (more or less) true stories as possible into a volume with the unlikely title of "Miss Gladys and the Pit Bull Barracuda and Other Amazing True Stories of Human Adventure" ($14.95 in paperback from Flying Pig Press,

Kilbourne owes his inspiration to his jobs (Forest Service Lookout Tower Operator, Wrangler of Rattlesnakes, school psychologist); his "eccentric" father (Chamber of Commerce leader and pyramidologist); his saintly mother ("Gladys" of the title) and Great American brother (Dixon Roy Kilbourne); his daughter Savannah ("Miss Awesome Face," "the finest daughter in all the land"); and his love of brew--so much so that his "16-Step Method for Writing a Simple Story" mentions the Sierra Nevada Taproom ("The Church of the Holy Nectar") at least seven times. He's a proud graduate of Beer Camp #69. He writes his stuff near the pizza oven.

Kilbourne will be signing copies of his book Tuesday, August 14 at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico. Look for a forthcoming interview by Nancy Wiegman of Nancy's Bookshelf on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.1 FM); the archive is found at

The author is enamored with contraptions, like "Uncle Bubba's Electronified Pork-Pulling Machine, a Modern Miracle!" or the "Porkgasmic Belly Rotator." (His fixation on pigs comes from his early "farmer boy" days. He referred to his pet pig, Barker, as "Little Mr. Pulled Pork Sandwich.") The book contains historical photographs to prove everything, though the story about the farmer's wife and her own appropriation of the "Hog Joy" unit is told with, shall we say, a sense of delicate restraint.

As a bonus, the reader is graced with the recipe for "Rice Orgy Parisienne." A guy gets hungry up there is the Timber Mountain lookout, and if you're spotting lightning strikes you don't have time to be picky: Three pounds of rice, melted cheddar, six cans of tuna covered with French dressing. Kilbourne does nothing by half measures in this laugh-out-loud collection.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What You Need To Know If You’re Self-Publishing

The Executive Editor of CNET, David Carnoy, has a current and comprehensive post, 25 Things You Need To Know. It’s worth a careful read.

Note To Readers and Writers


Thanks for visiting my blog as I “muse” on some of the latest book offerings!

In the days ahead I hope not only to continue offering reviews of books with a Northern California connection, but to add additional reviews as well.

Publishing is going through a sea-change: Bookstores are faced with major challenges, e-book sales now make up a significant percentage of all books sold, and self-publishing has lost its “vanity press” stigma. One can hardly keep up with all the changes.

I’m asked frequently how one might go about publishing a book in this new environment, so as I come across helpful links I’ll pass them along here. Readers these days often become writers.

That’s something to muse about!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

A story of emotional healing from a Redding novelist


Tired of mooching off her friend Lily, Jamie Shire determines to leave Grass Valley and find a life, if not fame and fortune, somewhere else. She winds up in the Sonoma area working for a mysterious millionaire philanthropist, Akasha Duval, at Duval's Fallow Springs mansion. Her job is to research causes that Duval might support. Akasha is beautiful but aloof, frequently gone from the estate, giving Jamie precious little guidance.

There are others caring for Fallow Springs. Beah is an older woman, Ana someone of few words, and Zahir tends the garden. As the story unfolds, so do the lives behind the names. Some have been physically mutilated and all have suffered terribly, including Jamie, whose daughter Clara was killed before birth by her father. Santos is in prison and Jamie, 27, is mired in regret and resentment.

In "Out Of The Shadows" ($14.95 in paperback from Kimberly Carlson mixes the intensely personal with Jamie's growing involvement in movements to stop genocide on the African continent. It's the Bush era, and Western eyes seem blind to the what is occurring a world away. Carlson herself, who has taught creative writing at Shasta College, is a member of "Genocide No More--Save Darfur."

Carlson will be talking about her writing, and signing copies of her book, at a free literary event tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

Jamie journeys to the refugee camps in Chad and falls in love with a doctor volunteering there. "Thad had a way of filling all my empty spots. When I was around him, I was consumed with desire and fulfillment at the same time. ... Thad was my Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, my Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient. I was a woman with Thad. ..." Jamie, addicted to films, sees her life as if it were scenes from her favorite movies. Only later does she realize that she might write her own script, become her own director.

But that will require Jamie to confront the unsettling truths she discovers about her family. And the heartbreaking mistreatment of powerless humans haunts her and inspires her to make a difference. Ana, smelling of "peppermint and yeast," has a severed tongue. Will Jamie speak for her?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

An indispensable planner for caregivers


When she was eighteen, local author Tory Zellick became the primary caregiver for her mother, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. "The next six and a half years," Zellick writes, "were filled with doctor appointments, surgical procedures, tests, scans, and treatments." She was "the official 'form-filler-outer.' We made the best of every day; she continued to be positive and instilled hope in our family. Her strength and the incredible journey we made together as a family unit shaped who my brother, father, and I have become."

Her death in 2009 led Zellick to rethink the care process and she realized what she lacked was a "fill-in-the-blank guide to track Mom's care" to lessen stress on the caregiver. "A caregiver is only as useful to the person they are caring for as they are to themselves." A caregiver's ability to help diminishes without adequate sleep, exercise, proper food--and readily accessible medical information.

Zellick's experience led her to create "The Medical Day Planner: The Guide To Help Navigate The Medical Maze" ($34.95 spiral bound from Victory Belt Publishing). She will be appearing at Lyon Books in Chico tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. and caregivers, especially, are invited to attend this free event.

The book is divided into tabbed sections including patient information, phone book, medications, appointments, treatment, history, hospitalizations, and notes. The last section is devoted to the 52-week day planner, each day divided into 15-minute segments, that can organize caregiver "shifts," for example, or medical processes ("8:15 drink contrast; 9:15 arrive at hospital for scan"). Zellick introduces each section and offers examples of how it can be used. Her tone is positive but frank. Documentation is essential in discovering patterns or trends in the health of the one being cared for, and vital when new doctors or new hospitals become part of the caring process.

Because it's spiral bound, the planner opens flat so entries are easy to make. Many of its pages contain practical tips, such as the importance of using the "medication pickup chart" to track who is picking up which medication when. She also discusses financial affairs, trusts vs. wills, attorneys, and medical insurance brokers.

The planner and its website ( are essential companions for those who seek to provide compassionate and effective care.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What's happened to our water?


"Water is a valuable, exhaustible resource," writes Robert Glennon, Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Arizona. By "exhaustible" he means the right kind of water (the drinkable kind, for example) is increasingly not in the right place at the right time. If in the recent past water was treated "as valueless and inexhaustible," these days few of us are strangers to the latest Sierra snowpack report or headlines about irrigation allotments.

"Water lubricates the American economy just as oil does," Glennon observes. "It is intimately linked to energy because it takes water to make energy, and it take energy to divert, pump, move, and cleanse water. ... A prosperous future depends on a secure and reliable water supply. And we don't have it. To be sure, water still flows from taps, but we're draining our reserves like gamblers at the craps table."

His engaging survey of water rights (and wrongs) was first published in 2009 but, if anything, is even more relevant today. "Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis And What To Do About It" ($19.95 in paperback from Island Press; also in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats) is the 2012-2013 Book in Common at Chico State University and Butte College. Many other community organizations take part in book discussions, and the author is scheduled to speak at the university's Laxson Auditorium on Friday, October 5, at 7:30 p.m. (Visit for ticket information.)

Divided into three parts ("The Crisis," "Real and Surreal Solutions," and "A New Approach"), Glennon's book looks carefully at some of the contemporary "answers" and finds them wanting. "In the past when we needed more water, we engineered our way out of the problem by diverting rivers, building dams, or drilling wells. Today, with few exceptions, those options are not viable solutions."

Glennon's own proposals are not without controversy. "We must raise the price of water" to provide "incentives to conserve." And he advocates a regulated market solution with "quantified and transferable" water rights. "We should require those proposing new development to purchase and retire existing water rights in order to break the relentless cycle of overuse and move toward sustainable water use."

So, as we think about water policy, is our glass half empty--or half full?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A science-fiction thriller from a local writer


Dan O'Brien is editor of Empirical. Distributed nationally, each issue of the Chico-based magazine delves into the world of human experience with a literary sensibility and willingness to explore new paths. But O'Brien is also a prolific novelist, honing his craft with each exploration of a new world or a human mind.

"Born in Connecticut," he writes in a published interview, "I moved with my family several times over the course of my childhood. Having lived in several states and attended many institutions, I have a unique perspective of the human condition. Each new place, every new relationship, has allowed for me to paint from a rich easel of colors. A lifelong practitioner and enthusiast of martial arts, elements of spiritualism and eastern culture have found a home in my works."

In "Cerulean Dreams" ($14.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also in Amazon Kindle format), O'Brien imagines a future in which "the world had become an immensely safe place. There was no war. Poverty had been abolished, laws and rituals instituted that would maintain the pleasant temperament of the new-formed society." Every citizen is "implanted in their temple with a motherboard chip." They sleep by day and arise at night. Utopia.

A great many lives had been "lost in the Water Rights Wars of 2076" but, as the news reports, "it marked the inception of the Cerulean Dreams Corporation. And eventually the gathering of the citizens of Earth into the newly-manufactured Orion, the first and last safe haven for humankind."

But utopia is not what it seems in this page-turner. Alexander Marlowe refuses to upgrade his chip software and goes off the grid. He is investigating the seeming murders of young women when he encounters Dana, still alive. Haunted by "shadows," Marlowe and Dana plan to escape Orion, to get outside the city where there is nothing but lifeless desert. Or so they've been told.

The Company, and the mysterious group behind it, want Dana back no matter the cost. What follows are a series of horrific and bloody encounters with the assassin Armon, and the discovery in the desert of a village shaman who points Marlowe to the answers he seeks. Minds must be free, not controlled--but there is a gruesome cost to that freedom.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

History of the "Ridge Route"


Call it an "alternative" to taking Highway 70. The "Ridge Route" begins in Oroville, moves on to the Bidwell Bar suspension bridge, Berry Creek, Bucks Lake, and on to Quincy. The roadway has had a checkered history, at one time forming a vital link to Oroville as emigrants arrived at Quincy from the eastern US, at other times lying in disrepair.

Independent researcher David M. Brown has drawn on a wealth of documentation to tell the tale of "The Oroville-Quincy Ridge Route: Development, Eclipse, and Renewal of a Transportation Artery" ($20 in paperback from the Association for Northern California Historical Research, It includes maps, black-and-white and color photographs, and an extensive bibliography.

Though a work of historical scholarship, the book can be enjoyed by anyone with a hankering to travel what used to be part of the old Beckwourth Trail in the mid-1800s. To that end Brown devotes a chapter to 34 "places of interest," beginning in Quincy "where Main Street, Crescent Street and Court Street come together. This intersection has been the route's beginning since the Quincy & Spanish Ranch Wagon Road was constructed" in 1855. (That part of the Ridge Route was a private toll road.)

Brown writes that "after its first few years of prominence, the Ridge Route experienced a gradual change in use and a fairly steady decline in importance for about 130 years, eclipsed first by usage of competing wagon roads and later by rail and motor vehicle roads through the canyon of the North Fork and East Branch of the Feather River. ... Road improvements beginning in the early 1980s, following an upgrade of Big Creek Road for use by trucks and recreational vehicles, re-opened the Ridge Route to the casual user and made it viable for more commercial usage."

Speaking of commerce, "Charles E. Boles, alias Black Bart, appears to have made two heists on the western side of the route." There were always challenges, especially from the weather. The winter of 1889-90 brought ten-foot snow depths in Quincy and today the road is passable only six or eight months a year. But Brown is "cautiously optimistic" about the route's continued scenic and recreational value.

The road, it turns out, is 66 miles long. We have our own "route 66."

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Beer guide reflects its craft


"I think the craft beer world," writes Ken Weaver, "asks a person a very simple question: What do you really want? And I believe that's one of the more important questions we can ask ourselves--whether framed in terms of taste, or how we choose to consume things, or how we interact with the communities around us, or (in the most immediate sense) how willing we are to savor what's directly in front of us. That's what I see in my glass, and having met so many enthusiastic beer lovers of late, I think many of them see it in theirs as well."

Weaver's project, and that of his photographer wife Anneliese (Ali) Schmidt, is "The Northern California Craft Beer Guide" ($21.95 in paperback from Cameron + Company). Full color throughout, beautifully printed, the book is by turns informative, whimsical, funny--and useful. Ken Grossman, owner and founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, provides the foreword.

"When I made my first commercial batch of beer in 1980," Grossman writes, "the industry had hit a low point, and only about forty breweries remained. ... I would literally go door to door to different bars and sell single bottles of Pale Ale. Back then, people thought I was nuts! It was several years and loads of good luck later that we began to see more people moving toward bolder beers."

Today, says Weaver, "Northern California is home to over 150 breweries, approaching one-tenth of the nation's total, and the number of notable beer bars, bottle shops, and other craft beer-centric venues is of similar magnitude."

The guide divides California, from the Bay Area north, into eight regions, and highlights key "beer destinations" as well as other craft beer venues. The "North I-5, Chico, and Shasta Cascade" section lists eighteen stops, including the Mt. Shasta Brewing Co. in Weed; bottlecaps say "Try Legal Weed."

Weaver has chosen the best, but he's not afraid to say when a facility doesn't quite measure up. Sidebars abound, highlighting almost twenty beer styles (such as Hefeweizen/Wheat Ale), beer communities, sustainability, beer bloggers, festivals, and beer vs. wine. "Wine can be deliciously complex," Weaver writes. "Beer can be deliciously complex." Wine's complexity varies with the harvest; beer depends on the brewer's artistry. It's a heady thought.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Celebrating the fortieth anniversary of "The Donner Party"


George Keithley's "The Donner Party" ($16.95 in paperback from George Braziller), first published in 1972, is a "lean, taut, narrative poem" (to quote the New York Times). The Chico poet produced an American masterwork, a haunting eulogy for the company, led by George Donner, bound for California in April of 1846. More than half would not survive.

Lyon Books in Chico is honoring Keithley at a book signing and reading Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.

"I am George Donner a dirt farmer," the poem begins, "who left the snowy fields / around Springfield, Illinois / in the fullness of my life // and abandoned the land / where we had been successful / and prosperous people // and brought a party of eighty men / women and children / west by wagon."

Along the route most everything except food is left behind. It's not the "established trail," and weeks are wasted hacking a path. One might wonder if the land was abandoning them.

"Jacob's oldest son / let the sweat run // from his blond beard / as he halted there / in a trance. He left // his hand on the haft / of his ax and stood / staring up the slope // where he was to cut / but his mind was gone-- / a man may see a valley // overgrown with trees / or a simple stream / struck by sunlight // and in the cave of his chest / his heart falls / because he loves // the land too much with his eyes / and he feels unneeded / he is jealous // of the generous nature / of all things, whether / they are large or small // vegetable or mineral / and the wild life / and the long lights of space // so he cannot / move on nor come / deep into the place."

Bad timing and bad directions prove their undoing. Earlier, Donner remembers, "we were still bemused / by the myths of maps. ... But that was before / we came // to feel / the slow intelligence of the snow / groping over the ground. ..." Grisly events mingle with dreams of a better land.

The immense sadness here encompasses us all.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Letters from wartime California


"For over 50 years," writes Gridley resident Joan Brock, "Rigmor, my grandmother's niece, lovingly kept Helga's notebooks safe in her home in Copenhagen." Those notebooks contained letters that Helga, then living in Palo Alto, wrote to her family in Denmark during World War II. Because of the Nazi occupation the letters could not be mailed, but Helga continued to write them anyway, filling five notebooks during wartime. "Rigmor told me she had saved these letters and wanted to give them to me, but she just could not bear to part with them." Eventually she made copies and sent them to Brock "in 2005, just prior to her death. I found the letters so compelling, I published them."

The collection, lightly annotated, is called "My Dear, Dear Rigmor: Helga's Letters Written During WWII" ($19.99 in paperback from Xlibris; also in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats). Nancy Wiegman interviewed Joan Brock for Nancy's Bookshelf, which airs on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM) Friday mornings at 10:00 a.m.; the archive is found at

Helga's letters are a profoundly human mix of family minutiae and geopolitical reflections. "Coffee goes on rationing next week--one pound per person from 15 years old and up--every 5 weeks. That's still enough" (November 25, 1942). "For the first time, millions of people in the U.S. are paying income tax" (March 12, 1944). "All the years I lived here, I can't see a good-looking head of cauliflower, that [I] don't want it, and every time I do buy it, I am disappointed. It never did taste good like they did at home" (May 14, 1945).

She grieves for her family in Denmark. Her characterizations of the Germans and Japanese (especially the Japanese) are brutal. December 7, 1941 is seared in her memory. "But that was their first mistake, that unforgettable sneak punch, because it united every man, woman, and child in the United States. And believe me, nobody in the world can fight us down. This is still the land of liberty, the land of the free, and will always be so." Her surviving son, Ralph, is fighting overseas; her thoughts are never far from him.

Helga is by turns resolute, cranky, tearful, opinionated, patriotic. In this book she still speaks.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Local essayist on roads taken and not taken


"I was a senior in high school," writes Daniel Thomas, "when Dwight Eisenhower was elected to a second term, the musical Carousel was playing at local theatres, the stock market had surpassed 500 for the first time, and Elvis Presley was singing 'Heartbreak Hotel.' It was also the year my dad asked me if I would be interested in becoming a full partner in his neighborhood grocery store, Tommy's Superette."

Taylor said no because he wanted to teach. "Looking back," he says, "I suppose that it was jut as well that I was ignorant of the struggles my parents were having, or I might never have left Willows."

"Wanderings: Book Five In A Series Of Essays" ($9.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing) presents brief reflections on some of things that happened next, including an Army stint in Germany. Thomas' previous books ("Essays From The Ten," "Evening Country," "100 Miles," and "Pastiche: An Essayist In Search Of A Theme") have looked outward. "Wanderings" looks back and takes stock.

It was a circuitous route to a career as a teacher and high school principal, winding through marriages and divorces, Amtrack travels ("an opiate separating me from a reality that I chose to ignore"), bouts with the bottle and ill health, and feelings of worthlessness and loneliness.

Yet resilience pervades these essays, especially in a piece called "Hey, He's Seventy!!" "As my life continues to unfold," Taylor writes, "I find myself focusing more on what is good and less and less about my setbacks. I had my first heart attack when I was forty-seven and retired from my professional life much earlier than most. I consider myself fortunate that, by moving away from what was a hectic, demanding lifestyle, I was able to 'reboot' my goals in life." Though increasingly suspicious of those who "gain immense power however and wherever fear is pedaled for their own aggrandizement," he can still pause to celebrate a rainy Valentine's Day with his wife, Marilyn, at Broadway Heights.

He ends with questions: "Who called me to be seduced by ambition?" "Who called me to discover the gift of adversity?" "Who calls me now that I, a season older, want far more than to silently expire from the starvation of an undernourished soul?"

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A change-of-pace novel from Doug Keister


"Somebody's gotta pay for this." Those were the words from the Berkeley mayor as he confronted two Cal Bears quarterbacks in the coach's office. First stringer "Dapper Dan" Daniels and second stringer Percival (Percy) Peabody had cavorted with the mayor's twin daughters who said they were 18. Only they weren't quite. The twins were not quite virginal, either, but since the mayor had the concession license for the games, Daniels stayed but Peabody was shipped off to a firefighting crew in Winnemucca, Nevada. But instead of the larger-than-life shenanigans as in Doug Keister's first novel, "Desiree," something different is about to happen to Percy. Her name is Autumn.

"Autumn in Summer" ($12.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also in e-book format for Amazon's Kindle) marks new territory for Chicoan Doug Keister as he explores the inner landscape of love, loss and identity and wraps it all in a family mystery in which a cemetery plays a prominent role. The story is well plotted.

That waitress in the Winnemucca bar. "'They call me Autumn,' she said, running her fingers through her red hair and inspecting it, showing off a bit. She cocked her head and smiled that big smile." Percy (well, here he goes by "Pete") is smitten. And then there's Autumn's strange tattoo, a code, a reminder of a puzzle left by her grandmother.

Then Pete is called away to fire duty. He returns a hero, but Autumn has vanished. The search is fruitless--perhaps Autumn doesn't want to be found--and eventually Percy returns to the Bay Area. Autumn is a dream but life moves on. Percy marries Dapper Dan's sister, Barbie.

The marriage drifts. One summer Percy is dragged by his wife to Italy for a summer course on classical sculpture and a visit to Verano Cemetery. "On a slight rise near the edge of the cemetery grounds, I stopped dead in my tracks. Tucked into a small outdoor gallery was a sensual white marble angel. It was Autumn. Autumn with wings and curls. Autumn as an angel."

Something re-ignites in Percy, and the reader follows the twists and turns of a heart wracked by guilt, determined to know: Is Autumn still out there? Has she left word? What is the price to pay for love?