Sunday, May 26, 2013

Butte Valley novelist romances reincarnation


Aris Whittier writes about her first name on her website ( "I was born in the seventies to a pair of hippies, real hippies. Having said that, I think I got off lucky with the name Aris. It could have been much worse, Fruit Stand or something like that. So, Aris it is." The Butte Valley resident is also a prolific romance writer ("Secrets," "Fatal Embrace," "Foolish Notions") as well as a chronicler of her own life ("The Truth About Being a Bass Fisherman's Wife").

With "Across Eternity" ($3.99 in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats), Whittier explores reincarnation. When handsome, self-made businessman Logan Richards, 37, sees Amber Lewis, a young waitress at his five-star restaurant in Dana Point, a deep sense of knowing washes over him. "She drew you in with so much more," he reflects. "Her vibrant blue eyes, with unusually dark rims and thick lashes, reflected kindness and deep emotion. ... Her warm, casual disposition made you feel appreciated and accepted. She was magnetic in the most earnest way. ... Merely watching her took him back to the earlier childhood times when he had initially begun to see her."

Back then, when Logan was just three, she had come to him in his sandbox, an invisible and inseparable friend, a spirit that one day had to depart. He had dreamed of her for many years, and now here she was, in the flesh, a twenty-seven-year-old raven-haired beauty. Something clicks in Amber as well when she first waits on Logan, but it is something just beyond memory.

Logan wants Amber to remember on her own, so though he is honest with her in many things, the conversations they have--on the beach, at his home, memorable places around the world as the two again become inseparable--leave something unspoken. She meets Logan's family, his mother and sister and his sister's young son, and they embrace Amber with open arms. Logan is gentle, kind, and thoughtful, and a passionate kisser. All would seem perfect. But as sexual tension increases the consummation Amber craves, the lovemaking she yearns for, eludes her. Why? What secret is Logan harboring?

The story is an engaging exploration of the boundaries of love in a world of life and death.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Displaced from Latvia: Chico writer on losing one's country


Zigrid (Zig) Vidners wrote of her childhood in an earlier book, "I Grew Up In Latvia." Now, in a poignant memoir of displacement after World War II, she continues the story of a young woman who must now make a new life in Germany and then in Britain. Latvians hardly saw the communists as liberators at the end of the war. Latvia was swallowed up and, as Vidners writes, Latvians had become "Displaced Persons." "We were people who came from nowhere, for there was no country called Latvia anymore. It had been given away as a gift to the biggest butcher in the world."

As Russian tanks invaded Latvia toward the end of the war, many Latvians fled to Germany. Latvian men had joined the Germans to fight the Russians, little aware of the Nazi atrocities. In 1944, at the age of eighteen, Vidners, along with her mother and brother, resettled in Germany. (Her father had been drafted by the Germans and was never to see his homeland again.) For awhile, the family had some sense of routine. But "even though there were dances and activities," Vidners writes, "it was more like fleeing and hiding from the bitter truth that there was no home, no country and no future. We were a branch, torn off a tree, lying there and lingering but not really living."

"A Branch Without A Tree" (paperback, self-published; for purchase information contact the author at is a vivid memoir of Vidners' life from 1944 to 1963, when, after living in Britain for many years, she prepares for an American journey. Through it all is an underlying faith that day by day God provides the necessities of life, in the midst of much sadness but also in moments of joy.

Life in Germany offered little promise, yet it was with trepidation that Vidners accepted the opportunity to sail to England. She found a job at a hospital, and, along with others from Latvia, a new re-building began. The book details everyday life, the enjoyment of fish and chips, memorable Christmas seasons, the author's meeting with Edvins Vidners (who would soon become her husband), and the birth of Uldis ("Uli") and Maris.

It is a captivating story, well told (and edited).

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The astronaut who couldn't grieve


Christian Kiefer teaches English at American River College in Sacramento and lives with his wife and five sons northeast of the city. In his acclaimed novel, "The Infinite Tides" ($17 in paperback from Bloomsbury USA; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats) he imagines a contemporary astronaut whose life becomes an emotional cul-de-sac, a dead end.

Keith Corcoran is a mathematician in his work aboard the International Space Station. For him, "all things reduced to numbers, angles, vectors, equations." But then, aboard the ISS, he gets the news. His teenage daughter, Quinn, has been killed in an automobile accident. His wife, Barb, is leaving him.

Kiefer is scheduled to sign copies of his novel at Lyon Books in Chico this Thursday, May 16, at 7:00 p.m.

With weather delays and his own intransigence, it takes Corcoran months to get back to his suburban home. He desperately wanted to dive back into the numbers but now the migraines had begun and he had been told to go home and rest, his career as an astronaut on hold. "The whole of his thoughts had come to reflect a reality he did not want to acknowledge, a reality wherein he might shatter all at once into the brittle unannealed shards of a grief he had managed so effectively to avoid."

His house, sitting empty on a cul-de-sac, is a stark image of his life. "There was no equation for any of it. Not for he universe, not for his loss, not for the decisions he had made. ..." Then he meets Peter Kovalenko, a Ukrainian immigrant who had become his neighbor. One night he helps Keith drag an old couch into the field near the cul-de-sac so the two can sit and look through Peter's telescope and drink beer and smoke pot, "stoned and drunk and laughing in that bleak darkness under a million wheeling stars."

At some point "he realized that perhaps for the first time in his life he had grown to value human companionship and that the overarching feeling that had come to dominate his endless days and nights in the cul-de-sac was loneliness." Here are the seeds of a different kind of life told in a language that captures the human equation.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Fighting cancer, drawing a line


When Jim Coons became one of the pastors at Bidwell Presbyterian Church in Chico it was the unfolding of a dream. Then came that fateful Christmas day in 2008. Not yet forty, he looked forward to a big Christmas celebration with Emily, his wife, their three kids, and a host of relatives. Suddenly Coons was faced with something that threatened to re-define his life.

"I have stage three colon cancer," he writes, "and every day as I wake up I am faced with the decision about who I will be: Jim Coons, the cancer patient, or just Jim." There are low times but "on better days I wake up with clenched teeth, a clear mind, and ready to send cancer back to hell where it came from. ... I hear the higher Voice, God's voice, reminding me that apart from cancer clinics, hospitals, blood tests, PET scans, surgeries, and chemotherapy, I am just Jim: A son, brother, husband, dad, fly-fisherman, music lover, book reader, cyclist, pastor, and child of the Living God. Cancer can't rob me of these deep truths--I won't let it. This is my line in the sand."

That's the title of his book, "A Line In the Sand" ($15 in paperback from CreateSpace), based on the entries he wrote on The book chronicles the first year of his battle, and in eloquent, raw, exhausted, hopeful, tender passages Coons lays himself before the mysterious God who is with him every moment.

The author is scheduled to sign copies of his book at 7:00 p.m. this Thursday, May 9, at Lyon Books, 135 Main in downtown Chico.

"Praying the same old prayers to the same old God isn't adequate when you are told you have cancer. ... The threat of death has a way of making one's prayer life a little louder, a little more urgent, and a little more desperate. Sometimes I don't even know how to put words to my prayers because I'm so paralyzed by fear. That's when I have to remember God's words that he hears my 'groans' (Romans 8:26). ..."

Bottom line: "I am determined to keep on living even though death and sorrow knock at the door. I know they're out there. I'm just not inviting them in today."