Monday, December 29, 2014


Local history, memoir, poetry, children’s books, romance novels, and more filled the Biblio File in 2014. Here are a few excerpts ripped from those columns. Perhaps the reader will be intrigued enough to find out more.

What’s it like to be hit? “There was a shattering explosion just below my feet. I was afraid to look down at them. When I did, I saw the rudder pedals twisted at an odd angle. … ‘Navigator-to-pilot! Bombardier hit bad. He’s—he’s—Flak! Big hole in— … Pilot-to-crew! Abandon ship. Bail out! We are afire!” And that’s only the start of the story, which involves escape and, on January 30, 1944, rescue. (From “Escape With A Silent Roar: A Trilogy of Three World War II Pilots Including A P-38 Fighter In Combat Missions Over Europe” by B.J. Bryan.)

"Sergeant bellows, 'Fire at will!' through the noise, but all I can do is keep low. ... I don't know where any of my boys are, but I have got to do this thing. I get to my knees and then it is time it is time it is time to make my run across moldering logs and branches and dead leaves and men.” (From “I Shall Be Near To You” by Erin Lindsay McCabe.)

“There are powerful, wicked forces in there that can grab hold of you and keep you in darkness if you let them. You must strengthen your thoughts.” (From “The King’s Frog Hunter” by Ken Young.)

“If there is a river whose potential for biological richness and natural wealth can lead us to wholeness, it is the Sac. El Rio del Sacramento. River of redemption. Miraculous river.” (From “Sacrament: Homage To A River,” by Rebecca Lawton; photography by Geoff Fricker.)

Lewis experienced a lifelong sense of “poignant longing. He described it as a search for joy (which Lewis frequently capitalizes because he uses it as a technical term). The taste of joy—and the desire it evokes—began early in his life and gradually expanded, like a time-release capsule that drove him to God.” (From “C.S. Lewis And The Crisis Of A Christian,” by Greg Cootsona.)

Parkinson’s mind


Denver-based writer Kirk Hall collaborated with Paradise artist Alison Paolini to produce two children’s books to help kids understand Parkinson’s. “Carson And His Shaky Paws Grampa” and “Carina And Her Care Partner Gramma” help adults explain in a non-scary way what may be happening to loved ones.

And yet, as Hall recognizes, the progressive nature of the disease can be frightening indeed. As a “person with Parkinson’s,” he’s written a book that is part memoir and part guidance, honestly confronting his own fears and providing resources.

Window Of Opportunity: Living With The Reality Of Parkinson’s And The Threat Of Dementia” (self-published through Smashwords; available for Amazon Kindle) wrestles with an aspect of Parkinson’s that is not often addressed. Diagnosed with the disease in 2008, Hall, a “high functioning” individual with a good but stressful job in the corporate world, had to deal not only with tremors but with “cognitive issues.” 

He recounts times when it was hard to understand what people were saying and times of memory lapses. He and his wife Linda got mixed messages from the array of doctors they consulted, and that added to Hall’s fear. Was his brain scan normal, or not? Were times of “slow thinking” just part of being in your mid-sixties, or is there a neurological disorder?

He wanted to find out as much as possible about the cognitive effects of Parkinson’s. “I remember thinking that God may have provided me a ‘window of opportunity’ and I wanted to make the most of it if that was the case.”

Chapters deal with stress, faith, cognitive impairment, deep brain stimulation, resources, and more.

A breakthrough came when he became a patient of Dr. Benzi Kluger, Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry and Director of the Movement Disorders Center at the University of Colorado in Denver (who provides the book’s foreword). Dr. Kluger focused on the question of Parkinson’s-related dementia, and Hall found a measure of hope in adding Namenda to his medications, which improved his “mood and working memory” so that he was able to complete the book.

The book is an invaluable gift to those with Parkinson’s.

Book in Common: A memoir of life in the margins


“In 1980, when I was four years old” writes Reyna Grande, who grew up in poverty in Mexico, “I didn’t know yet where the United States was or why everyone in my hometown of Iguala, Guerrero, referred to it as El Otro Lado, the Other Side. What I knew back then was that El Otro Lado had already taken my father away. What I knew was that prayers didn’t work, because if they did, El Otro Lado wouldn’t be taking my mother away, too.”

Grande’s account of her formative years, and the turning point in her life that created an award-winning novelist, is told in “The Distance Between Us” ($16 in paperback from Simon and Schuster; also for Amazon Kindle).

Chosen as the 2014-2015 Book in Common by Butte College, Chico State University, and other local groups, the story is not just about geographical distance but about the emotional divide that threatens a family with disintegration. Though Reyna and her two older siblings, Carlos and Mago, find strength in each other, it is severely tested by an alcoholic and abusive Papi and a Mami who abandons her family.

Even if one manages to get to the Other Side--paying smugglers for an uncertain future--Reyna comes to realize that one must never forget one’s heritage. One day in Iguala, “Mago and I sat on the dirt floor, and she told me about the day I was born exactly the way Mami used to tell it. ... Mago pointed to a spot on the dirt floor and reminded me that my umbilical cord was buried there. That way, Mami told the midwife, no matter where life takes her, she won’t ever forget where she came from.”

The second half of the book is about life in the United States (green cards arrived in 1990 after five years in El Otro Lado), and the life-changing encounter in an English class, at Pasadena City College, which opened her to writers who understood. “How did you know? How did you know this is how I felt?” Now, Grande has become one of them.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

A children’s book about gifts


“My mom,” the otter tells the skunk, “said that I have a really special gift! I am wondering if it is something that sparkles! She said if I went out and played and found something that I loved to do, I would surely find it! So I am looking for my gift … but I haven’t had any luck yet.”

That’s about to change when “Ruby The River Otter Find A Lucky Penny” ($14.95 in paperback from CreateSpace Independent Publishing) by Thersa Mallinger, illustrated by Bonnie Lemaire. The book is available in Chico at Lyon Books, Made in Chico, and Apple Blossom Baby.

An author’s note says that Mallinger “lives with her husband, three boys, and her hyper-active dog in Chico.” With her background in teaching kindergarten, middle school language arts, and her training in Montessori methods, Mallinger encourages “self-exploration and discovery through creativity.”

That’s what happens to Ruby. Her new-found skunk friend is named Penny. “‘A penny does equal one cent, and phew-eeee, you sure do have one stinky scent,’ giggled Ruby. ‘You really should work on that! Maybe try rolling in the mud or wiping fresh pine needles under your armpits!’”

Ruby’s not sure of the meaning of her own name, nor why her mom “gave me this special key” which hangs around her neck. But she knows she has a friend, and together they will search for Ruby’s gift to unlock.

Eventually they find a treasure box, and Ruby’s key opens it. It’s not quite empty. Inside is something that helps Ruby understand. “Your gift is not something that you can hold in your hand. It is something that you hold in your heart! Find the key to unlock your heart. Then, open it up. There, deep in your heart, your special gift will be sitting, just waiting to come out!”

As the friends unlock their own gifts, the message at the end resonates: “Listen to your Heart Voice and find your treasure.”

Mallinger will be a guest of honor at the author open house at Lyon Books in Chico Sunday, December 14, from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Local writer embraces the wisdom of the Native Peoples


Garth Nielsen of Paradise, now in his mid-70s, writes that “I’ve always been a seeker, aware that my spirituality was at the center of my being and that the Creator was guiding me onto the less travelled spiritual paths.”

Nielsen’s journey is given voice in “The Odyssey Of A Spiritual Nomad” ($9.95 in paperback from Heather and Highlands Publishing), which includes a number of the author’s drawings.

It began in 1946 when his father showed him an “enormous cave. Part of the roof had fallen in, and a shaft of bright sunlight illumined part of this room. Kneeling in the pool of light, my father picked up fragment of finely woven basket. Then, with a stick, he stirred the surface of the talcum-fine dust. In doing so, he uncovered another object, a human tooth. Placing  both the tooth and the basket fragment into my hand, he said to me, ‘This was someone’s home a long time ago. I’ll bet little boys like you lived here once.’”

It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience. “I have become convinced that there are beneficent and benevolent spirits, sent by the Creator, to guide each of us. I believe that such a spirit became a part of me and my life in that ancient place so many years ago.”

Eventually, Nielsen writes, “I realized that Turtle Island was sacred. Through this earth, the people who live upon it communicate with the Creator in a constant, reciprocal cycle.” Indeed, he says, “I have found that traditional Native teachings enhance the words of Christ, bringing clarity to His teaching on how to walk in balance and harmony with all creation.”

Adopted in a private Iroquois ceremony, Nielsen found his life phrase in the Lakota Sun Dance. “When the prayer is completed, the one speaking ends his words with: ‘Metakuye Oyasin,’ or, ‘All My Relations.’ In this way, the prayer is never ended, but merely passed on to the next one to pray.”

A serial mystery from Dan O’Brien


Local writing entrepreneur Dan O’Brien is venturing into the world of the mystery serial with a series of six episodes to be released over the next few weeks. Copiously illustrated by Paradise artist Steve Ferchaud, the first of the six is “Mobsters, Monsters and Nazis” (in digital format from Amalgam; available for Amazon Kindle). The story is the tale of a hard-bitten detective named Derrick Diamond who receives a strange package from a courier only to have the package stolen by a human-sized lizard.

Diamond follows the thief to the Yellow Monarch nightclub. The thief proves elusive, but the Yellow Monarch draws the detective’s attention. “Patrons called it the Yellow Monarch because of the iridescent, winged, creature that seemed to rise from above the foyer. Derrick approached slowly, feeling as if he was being watched from a distance.” 

Of course he’s being watched. “Serpentine and dressed to the nines, the reptilian thugs watched through thin eye-slits as Derrick walked across the empty street and past the board announcing Ava Harpy as the crooner of the night. They slithered along the wall, bodies bending to get a better vantage point.”

Inside the club, Roaring 20s jazz. The “music filled the air and women with blood-red corsets carried trays filled with cigars and scotch.” At one table in the back is the Fat Man, whose face “seemed cluttered with a mass of tentacles that created a slimy beard beneath beady black eyes.” Derrick has to tell the Fat Man the mysterious object has been stolen.

Over there at another table, “crisply dressed Nazis who were looking in Derrick’s direction.”

This stuff is straight out of pulp comics, and it’s a hoot. There’s a strange logic at work here, and in the second installment, “Phantasmagoria,” the Object is the subject of the Nazi’s attention. It turns out to be an “antikythera mechanism” which will help them achieve some nefarious end. Derrick and Ava escape assassins in the first episode; in the second they become something of a team. Maybe Ava is more than a floozy singer.

O’Brien promises it will all make sense—in time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sword and sorcery from a Paradise author

Though his day job enables Ken Young of Paradise to build custom homes, in his first novel he has built an entire realm, populating it with strange creatures and a central mystery that drives the adventure forward to its satisfying conclusion.

With a background in literature, Young has written screenplays, short stories and poetry, and his talents are on full display in “The King’s Frog Hunter” ($15.95 in paperback from North Point Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). It’s a gripping quest story suitable for early teens and adults as well.

Something is wrong with old King Ahmbin. His mind, twisted by the evil magician Metro, refuses to accept the magnificent statue of himself, carved by the sculptor Veracitas, because what is carved in stone looks too much like the King himself in his aging humanity. Ahmbin rejects the truth. Veracitas is thrown into prison but he escapes under mysterious circumstances.

His daughter, Boschina (“bah-sheen-uh”), reaches out to Thalmus, the mysterious frog hunter to the King, for help in finding her father. In the land of Ameram, frogs are the size of humans, crafty and deadly (though their legs are a delicacy), and Thalmus is legendary in his skill. But he is also the keeper of an ancient prophecy: “When the king’s only child is a woman and the daughter of the stone cutter searches the land….” Boschina had set in motion forces that would change the land forever.

Thalmus is aided by his extraordinary friends: “a great horned owl, a giant shell creature, and a paint stallion.” Hunted by the King’s troops seeking a reward, the companions encounter evil in Rainland, on Table Top—and in a dark tunnel. Thalmus’ words are frightening: “There are powerful, wicked forces in there that can grab hold of you and keep you in darkness if you let them. You must strengthen your thoughts.”

Young excels in describing the landscape (even an odd place called Jarbo Gap). The battles are thrilling, the writing superb.

A journal for local naturalists

Scott Huber of Chico, and his young photographer son Liam, have issued an invitation for readers to step outside and look—really look—at the world of nature. And then to write down their experience. The invitation takes the form of “NorCal Naturalist: Journal And Calendar” ($16.75 spiral bound, self-published, available at Lyon Books in Chico as well as local nature centers).

The format is simple. On the right-hand side are seven numbered blank boxes (each week of the year gets an undated page) so you can turn to the appropriate week of the month and start writing. The left-hand side may contain one of the 24 color photographs (most taken by Liam) or one of Scott’s 48 short nature essays. Huber’s stories of his and Liam’s encounters with the natural world exemplify the work of a true amateur—a lover of nature (and words) with a keen eye and intense curiosity.

As the reader’s own journal takes shape, Huber recommends comparisons, month-by-month and eventually year-by-year.

The essays are miniature excursions into the natural world, one graced by hummingbirds, butterflies, bobcats, deer, wild turkeys, newts, Black-headed grosbeaks, and more. Here are photographs of White-whorled lupins and a Humboldt Lily from Chico Creek Canyon, curling manzanita bark in Butte Creek Canyon, a Blacktail deer in Forest Ranch, and a bobcat hunting voles in the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve.

“As avid birders,” Huber writes, “my son and I have spent countless hours listening to recorded bird songs and practicing the recognition of birds using only our ears. … My friends will confess that it’s not uncommon to see me suddenly hush them, cup my hands around my ears and tilt my head towards some sound no one else has noticed, and then exclaim, ‘Did you hear that?’”

In March 2013 it was Lawrence’s goldfinch. “There, just thirty feet away, swaying on the arcing stocks of fiddleneck flowers was not one, but a male and female pair of these striking little yellow and gray birds with dark black masks.”

My observation? It’s good to share the love. Get the book.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A children’s book for Thanksgiving


“Many years have come and gone and Anna is now an elderly woman. Anna gets out her keep sake, scrap book, photo album every Thanksgiving and fondly tells her children and grandchildren one of her favorite stories about the miracle leaf and how it was used for the table centerpiece decoration that brightened up everyone’s spirits.”

The story is told in “Please Don’t Leave Me” ($12.95 in paperback from Northstate Children’s Books) by Vic Sbarbaro and Marcia Sbarbaro-Pezzella. Vic is a Certified Health Education Specialist; Marcia worked as a special education teacher before her retirement “and helps out in her husband’s restaurant, Pezzella’s.”

The tale begins years ago in the small town of Leafton. The full-color illustrations by Josh Smith,  now “a freelance painter and illustrator,” are simply delightful, especially in showing the fall colors on the trees and one very special leaf.

There was sadness in Leafton, the families “struggling with their businesses due to the floods and fires throughout the previous year.” In spring, in the Thompson family’s backyard, it turned out each tree, flower, and leaf had a name. There was “Daffy the daffodil, Tula the tulip, Levi the lavender bush, Rosita the rose, Ashley the ash tree”—you get the idea.

But there was also a little leaf that had sprouted on the maple tree below all the other leaves. “Hey!” he shouted. “How did all of the leaves get so high on the branches?” The other leaves called him “small fry” or even “runt,” and he wondered “what is my mission in life going to be?”

By fall, the other leaves had fallen to the ground, and Mr. Thompson was busy raking. Ms. Thompson and her daughter, Anna, returned from town to report the table decorations they had purchased had been stolen. That was when Anna noticed the maple tree. “Please, Dad, LEAVE ON that last leaf of the maple tree, it looks like a miracle leaf because of its shape and array of bright colors.”

And then, for Thanksgiving, Leave On the leaf had a central part to play at the holiday table. He had found his mission.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tibetan Buddhist teacher returns to Chico


The Venerable Lama Losang Samten, a frequent visitor to Butte College and Chico State University, has returned to Chico to present a series of teachings and construct an intricate sand mandala, now through November 8. A schedule of events is available at; those interested can contact Bejay Moore in Chico at and she can provide details.

Born in Tibet, Losang Samten lives in Philadelphia where he is spiritual director of a number of Buddhist centers. The former monk was a personal attendant to His Holiness the Dalai Lama (“lama” means “teacher of the dharma”) and an advisor for (and actor in) Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun.

To enable a fuller understanding of Tibetan Buddhism, Losang Samten has written “Ancient Teachings In Modern Times: Buddhism For The 21st Century” ($20 in paperback, self-published, available at, edited by Lori Petruskevich.

In a conversational style that includes a number of anecdotes and reflections on his life (he is no stranger to suffering), the author explores karma, finding a guru (he is bothered by teachers who have succumbed to the lures of material possessions), meditation varieties (in Tibetan “samten” refers to “concentration meditation”), enlightenment, retreats, and more.

The author notes that “in Buddhist teachings there exist two different Truths: conventional truths and ultimate truths.” The conventional truth is that the self exists, but the ultimate truth is that the self “does not exist independently; rather, it exists interdependently.”

For the author, “the goal of spirituality is to overcome suffering, and suffering is caused by delusions, as a result of the three poisons (anger, attachment, and ignorance), with ignorance being at the root of all delusion and suffering. … The delusions and imprints of delusions are like a debilitating disease, and the dharma is like a medicine or antidote. From the example of the garlic and the smell, it is clearly much more difficult to remove the smell of the garlic than to remove the garlic itself.”

“It is my dream that everyone is kind to one another, showing deep respect and compassion for all humanity, all sentient beings, and Mother Earth.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Local author on the lure of fishing


Garry Cooper writes that “even though I don’t claim to be an expert in any type of fishing, the fact remains that after fishing for nearly sixty years, landing thousands of fish and other creatures and making over a thousand spear-fishing dives—along with undertaking so many other water-creature-slaying adventures that it would be impossible to count—it is hard not to accept that I am somewhat of an authority in this field.”

The Chico State University grad reels you in with fishing experience and stories in “Not Just Fishing: A One-Of-A-Kind Book Sure To Interest Every Fisherman” ($19.95 in paperback, self-published, available at The book includes black-and-white photographs (including one of the author with “the biggest shad he has ever caught”) and a ton of fishing advice.

It’s evident Cooper loves all aspects of fishing, including cleaning. “Sturgeon have a gizzard like a chicken, believe it or not,” he writes. “This gizzard has rocks and such in it, and you can slice it open to clean it. It is very good to eat. Some folks marinate it in milk and fry it swearing it is the poor man’s abalone.”

In addition to sturgeon fishing, the book has chapters on striped bass, salmon (including a section on “lure fishing from shore—an unusual but effective method”), trout and steelhead, catfish and crappie, shad, as well as the author’s tales diving for abalone (an “in depth” account, of course), clam digging (wherein the author reveals his “clam pump” method), and frog gigging.

“The most stupid thing that I ever did while spear fishing, without a doubt, was attempting to spear and land a twenty-foot giant pacific octopus when I was free diving by myself in Northern California in Mendocino County. … I won’t do anything that stupid again—although last time out (by myself) I decided to spear a seven-foot mouth full of dangerous teeth known as a wolf eel”—but, well, it didn’t work out.

Cooper’s writing is exuberant, plain spoken, and practical. The author invites interested readers to take the bait.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Making sense of C.S. Lewis


What is the power of Clive Staples Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters,” to lead contemporary readers to an understanding of Christianity, to deepen the faith of believers, and to be a faithful companion for those facing some of life’s biggest decisions? The Oxford scholar died in 1963, and yet his popularity is undiminished. Why?

Greg Cootsona, Pastor of Adult Discipleship at Chico’s Bidwell Presbyterian Church, and an academic in his own right, says of his own journey that “Lewis taught me that Christian faith could withstand serious intellectual engagement.” As a student at UC Berkeley, he writes, “My crisis of doubt found an answer in the gospel, and I can attribute a fair measure of this to Lewis.”

In “C.S. Lewis And The Crisis Of A Christian” ($16 in paperback from Westminster John Knox Press; also for Amazon Kindle), Cootsona weaves Lewis’ own life story around its central decision-points, the crises that shaped his writing.

As a young atheist, Lewis wrestled with the crises of materialism, meaninglessness, and anomie (no source of moral guidance). Eventually, describing himself as a “reluctant convert,” Lewis the Christian had to face the question of  the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the nature of the Bible. And as a human being, he dealt head on with the crises of suffering and death, and with feelings. If God feels close one day, why does he feel absent the next?

Through rereading Lewis’ works and research in Lewis archives in the US and UK, Cootsona finds renewed guidance for his own life and ministry.

Lewis experienced a lifelong sense of “poignant longing. He described it as a search for joy (which Lewis frequently capitalizes because he uses it as a technical term). The taste of joy—and the desire it evokes—began early in his life and gradually expanded, like a time-release capsule that drove him to God.”

This book gives another taste of that Joy.

The author will be speaking about Lewis and signing copies of his book at Lyon Books in Chico on Monday, October 27, at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A memoir of Sixties friends


Over the course of three books, Chico businesswoman Judi Loren Grace has been charting her life story. “The Third Floor” (2010) tells of giving up her child as a teen mom; “Dreamscape In A Minor” (2013) is about the loss of her second son, Jeff, at twenty-one. Her new book focuses on an unruly bunch of lifelong compatriots from the Sixties who shaped the author’s understanding of true friendship.

Rita’s Road” ($21.99 in paperback from Jetstream Publishing,; also for Amazon Kindle) is available in Chico at Lyon Books, Postal Plus, and Satori Color and Hair Design.

Divided into two parts, “Rita’s Road” takes as its central subject Rita Marie Simpson. “We have a similar background,” Loren Grace writes, “which borders on dysfunctional, and everything clicks with us. … Our friends are crazy, wild and easily bored. We do whatever it takes for a good laugh. Rita is our leader in crime and she alone teaches most of the people in our small town how to inhale and blow smoke rings. She is full of bad ideas with no boundaries. She is impulsive and the epitome of a true prankster. Her side kick is her Austin-Healy.”

The story begins in the mid-Sixties with a small band of girls, including Rita, the author, and Judith Murray Schmeichel, looking ahead to life after high school in Porterville. Loren Grace opts for Beauty College; Murray for modeling school in the Bay Area, and Rita—she “works for a loan company” in a back room with “a dead fly stuck on the wall.” Rita and her co-worker “name it Sidney and talk to it every day.”

What follows are not a few shenanigans instigated by Rita.

Then, suddenly, an accident puts Rita into a months-long coma. Emerging, her memories shredded, she must relearn everything. In the book’s second part, Rita’s growing demands on her friends test everyone until Rita is in her own sixties.

With family photographs, the book is a moving tribute to a friend who provided plenty of laughs but who struggled mightily. Murray’s words about Rita ring true: “One in a bazillion.”

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Jane King: Remembering Frisky the fox


Though her family’s adventures with Frisky the fox took place years ago in Indiana, Jane King’s retelling sparkles with detail. Now living in Orland, King, an artist and retired math teacher, and a former trustee for the Chico Unified School District, enhances the memoir with dozens of her pencil sketches and a section of family photographs. It’s a treat for both kids and adults.

A Fox In The Family” ($15.99 in paperback from Xlibris, also for Amazon Kindle) begins when “my husband, Jim, and I had moved to the country after our first son was born, and by the time our second son arrived, we knew where to find the great horned owl resting during the day … and lovely pink lady slippers just off the beaten path.”

“Two newspaper articles,” she writes, “had featured our family as the only people in town who fox-hunted on horseback and raised scrappy and unusual terriers that would go underground after all sorts of critters.”

Asked to help remove “a litter of foxes from an old barn that was being torn down,” the family eventually finds itself in possession of two gray fox pups. Soon Frisky and Friendly had the run of the house, to the delight of the two boys, Chris and Carter. “The foxes would hide under the trundle bed while the boys played with a conglomeration of toys on the floor. When a particular one took their fancy, the foxes would dash out, grab it either from the floor or from the boy’s hands, and scuttle back to the safety of the bed.”

There is sadness when Friendly succumbs to illness, yet much laughter and hubbub at Frisky’s foxy antics, and sadness again when the family moves and must leave Frisky behind. Up close and personal, it’s a wonderful tail.

King will be signing copies of her book at the Orland Art Center, 724 4th Street, from 3:00 - 7:00 p.m. October 3 and from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. October 4. She’ll also be signing copies at the Chico Library October 18 from 12:30 - 2:00 p.m.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Poems of love and grief “at the edges of my life”


Chico writer Joan Goodreau wrote of her son’s disorder in “Strangers Together: How My Son’s Autism Changed My Life” (2013). In her new book experience becomes poetry and she imagines as well how Ian’s brother and sister see him. Then she moves into perhaps deeper waters in poems exploring “separation,” reunion with family and friends, and her own breast cancer diagnosis.

Another Secret Shared: And Other Poems” ($9.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; available locally at Lyon Books in Chico) turns the dailyness of routine into art. The dreams of life can only reach an “Approximation”: “I must accept my own approximations. … Email’s my memoir/ shopping list my poetry/ run to the car late my marathon/ push the shopping cart my dance.”

In “My Reading At Lyon Bookstore,” it is “thirty years after my son Ian’s/ diagnosis of autism. … Suddenly I see Ian tall/ stride through the audience and/ present me with a bouquet like/ I’m an opera singer taking a bow/ to show me that our book’s story still continues unfolding. …”

The poet sees Ian through his brother, together “grown like thistles through cement”: “When I listened to my music/ he swung his body to and fro/ a metronome.” And Ian’s sister, in “Warning”: “When Ian was only as big as/ my cabbage-patch doll/ I nuzzled his cottony head and/ adopted him for my own.”

Later, the poet’s own diagnosis. In “Visualize,” she writes, “My friend says gather the negatives of my life/ let them go with the lump to be removed./ But some things go too deep to find/ even with radioactive markers and dye/ too deep to dig out.”

Yet, as she remembers in “First Poem,” when her grandmother told the young poet that poetic license means you can invent a word that rhymes, “At the edges of my life when/ I fall off in love or grief/ I search around for the right word but then/ use grandma’s license to make it up.”

Lyon Books in downtown Chico will host a reading and book signing with the author Tuesday, September 23, at 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Local poet: Drawing strength from the forest


When Butte College writing instructor Shannon Rooney was seven, her family moved to Trinity County. “We lived in a house … surrounded by thick forest. My backyard ‘dissolved’ into woods that led all the way up to the Alps; I could ‘dissolve’ into pines, cedars, and firs for long afternoons, especially in summer.”

That experience provides the title of her new book of poetry, “Dissolve” ($7.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle), and the title of the collections’s first poem. “Dissolve back/ to green haven,” the poet writes, “gentle bower/ of fragrant creek-flow,/ of sky riddled/ with sweet love/ of puffed cloud/ upon puffed cloud,/ of blue jay screeching/ of red-tailed haw/ twee-tweeing,/ of holy moments/ of cattail fluff/ adorning/ morning breeze.”

Life carries us on yet those experiences sustain us, and we must not forget “That There Are Others”: “That there are others/ like me—/ that there are others who quiver and cringe/ walking the busy/ grime-slick streets/ amid red lights glaring,/ car, train, and truck horns blaring,/ our brains bombarded/ by psychic shrapnel//while remembering/ round brush huts,/ sun on naked backs,/ the smell of lupine blooms/ in spring,/ that there are others/ like me….”

As the poet remembers “All that really mattered…,” there is a growing energy in the words, remembering “the maze of trails and secret gullies/ in beckoning hills beyond—/ calling me to rise and wander,/ calling me to see and wonder/ at hidden places, lightly jeweled/ with silver beads of morning dew,/ folded grass revealing/ where doe and fawn had bedded/ in timeless eddies of night.”

In “River,” a realization: “I leak life/ like a clay jar that is cracked—”; “I have gone to seed”; but inside, there’s “a river demanding/ to be a river once more.”

In poems that pluck all the senses, the reader is drawn into wild strength that once was and is yet again, courage in the midst of love and poignant humor.

A reading and book signing with the author will be held at Lyon Books in downtown Chico on Tuesday, September 16 at 7:00 p.m.

Trilogy comes to a suspenseful conclusion


Chico novelist Mike Paull, who retired from a Bay Area dental practice, is also a licensed commercial pilot. Aviation plays a central role in each of his three Brett Raven mysteries: “Flight of Betrayal” (2012), “Flight of Deception” (2013), and now, concluding the trilogy, “Flight of No Return” ($15.99 in paperback from Skyhawk Publishing; also available for Amazon Kindle or visit

Raven, also a pilot, is a dentist as well, but in this latest outing he’s mostly out of the office on a desperate mission to reclaim his kidnaped wife and prevent the death of their two babies being carried by a surrogate. The story takes place in 2001 and, unlike the previous novel, when Raven was pretty much in command in pulling a fast one on the bad guys, in the new novel he’s at their mercy.

While Raven is on the West Coast, a strange murder in New York City brings two cops into the investigation that ends up engulfing Raven and his wife, Annie. She had divorced Raven in 1995, married an associate of Raven’s, John Thomas (J.T.) Talbot, and then, in 2000, when JT was reported killed in a mysterious plane crash, re-married Raven. The newlyweds were going to become parents, through a surrogate pregnancy, until the bottom falls out.

It turns out Annie “was in a hotel suite in New York where a murder took place and now she’s disappeared,” as one of the cops summarizes; and then he adds, “One of the guys in that room is”—well, that remains for the reader to discover.

The price for Annie’s return is a large ransom, and no cops. What follows is some good, old-fashioned salty nail-biting suspense as Raven tries to locate his wife while keeping investigators at arms’ length. He has the help of some unlikely friends, but the bad guys have Annie. It’s a page-turning adventure, right up until the very end.

Canyon Oaks Country Club will be hosting a complimentary wine and cheese reception for Mike Paull at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept 18. The public is invited.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Chico novelist Doug Keister’s continuing adventures


Something just clicked between mysterious FBI agent Desiree Depardieu and one Chick Corbett of Gerlach, Nevada. The twenty-something pair who traipsed through Doug Keister’s first novel, “Desiree” (2010) have arrived at a new venue in “Bullets, Baubles and Bones: A Chick Corbett Mystery” ($12.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle).

This time Chick and Desiree are supporting cast for Chick’s best friend, the six-foot-seven Tom Twotrees, the brilliantly offbeat Mensa-member whose “grandfather was a Navajo code-talker during World War II” and who “did Rubik’s Cubes blindfolded with the aid of tiny Braille dots on the faces of the cubes.” Tom’s expertise is needed to make sense of certain strange objects that may lead to the famed but elusive Russian Crown Jewels.

In the Preface we learn that Twotrees contacted Chico writer Doug Keister, whose book on cemeteries in Los Angeles plays a decisive part in the story, to write the tale mostly from Chick’s point of view. It’s a true (though convoluted) story but, uh, a few details had to be altered so Tom and Chick don’t end up in jail.

What unfolds is some serious bad-guy business containing a host of characters (like out of a Russian novel) with names like Anatoly Romanov, Natasha Popov, Vasily Egorov; there’s also “leggy Shasta Gudlae,” “Laura Borealis,” dudes named Edgar and Hamlin Slough, and “Chester Orland” (Chet for short). I mean, these names are all over the map.

Anyway, the novel tells how the Crown Jewels, collected over three centuries by the Romanov family, were smuggled out of Russia as the Bolsheviks took power. Clues to their whereabouts ended up in a casket in 1993, during a ceremony at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Santa Monica symbolically laying to rest Def Jam Records. This really happened. Or some of it did.

Tom’s expertise proves hair-raising, there are characters who are not what they seem, Desiree accepts Chick’s proposal, Russian patience is rewarded, and loose ends are tied together nicely at the end, thanks of course to a big rock and the LaBrea Tar Pits. Did I say convoluted?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The human side of the Sacramento River


Retired Butte College photography instructor Geoff Fricker has teamed with writer Rebecca Lawton for a mesmerizing exploration of the human side of the Sacramento River. Fricker’s work is housed in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Crocker Art Museum, and other repositories; Lawton, and essayist and novelist, was one of the first female river guides through the Grand Canyon.

The book is called “Sacrament: Homage To A River” ($45 in hardcover from Heyday), containing striking full-page black and white photographs and powerful text detailing the changes that have come to the “Sac” and its tributaries. It is, says Fricker in the Preface, “a contemplation of water and our often contradictory connection with it. … I am inspired by the slow but certain path of the river—which meanders in spite of all our attempts to control it.”

Though several images focus on the “natural” world—from water flowing over fossilized ammonite in Chico Creek, to Jed’s point, “where Jedediah Smith first sighted the Sacramento River”—most show the intertwining of that world with the human. There’s a 1997 image of collapsed Butte County Bridge #17 in Centerville; 132-year-old brackets “used to harness a wooden flume on the basaltic cliffs of Table Mountain”; and Labor Day tubing on the Sac in 1999.

For Lawton, this is a cautionary tale. “There is no going back to life on an untamed floodplain where conjoined freshwater marshes teemed with wildlife, human diversity, and aquatic life in unimaginable numbers.” But there may be a way forward in what she calls “cooperative restoration,” which includes “conserving and recycling water” and “reestablishing ecosystem health.”

The reader is confronted afresh with the often heavy human hand on the swirling waters of the Sacramento; the tone is something like hopeful sadness. “If there is a river whose potential for biological richness and natural wealth can lead us to wholeness, it is the Sac. El Rio del Sacramento. River of redemption. Miraculous river.”

Sunday, August 17, 2014

For Chico novelist, dragons have to eat, too


A human named the dragon “Jade,” and that will suffice. Perhaps the last of her kind, she was forced out of her homeland to live in Romania’s mountains. Hungry, she “emerged from the blackness like thief in the night. Over nine feet tall, 25 feet long, 1000 pounds approaching like a big cat.” The fire she breathed also provided lift (when the fire ran out, the dragon was grounded). She was forced to steal livestock from the dreaded but inferior humans. It had come to this.

Her story is told, from both the human and dragon perspectives, in “The Last Stand Of The Dragon” ($10.99 in paperback from Tate Publishing,; a digital download is also available) by N.J. Hanson. According to a news release, the Chico writer sets his story in the waning years of the tenth century, before dragons became merely the stuff of legend.

The central human character is Richard, “the squire of the local lord for the village at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. His lord was Sir Ardose, a man beloved and cherished by all the people in the village.” (But Ardose, it turns out, is no saint.) At first Ardose seems not to believe Richard’s report of a dragon sighting, but soon enough the threat becomes real as Richard and others in town are forced to fight for their lives to put an end to the dragon.

Jade must contend not only with the humans but with the sudden appearance of a haughty male dragon out to destroy their eggs if the embryos are male. There must be no competition.

As for the humans, several of them, spurred on at the local tavern, intend to climb the mountain and kill Jade. Hanson uses contemporary conversational style (Lenney tells his friends: “I don’t know, guys. I mean, did you see the size of that thing?”) but this is no fairy tale. The battles are fierce and gruesome, with more than one human head being bitten off. The landscape is strewn with corpses. There are no winners here, perhaps even for those who sacrificed for love.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Magalia couple goes to the dogs


If Alan and Kathi Hiatt thought retirement would be dull and boring, it’s clear they had nothing to worry about. Brought up in Chico and Gridley, the Hiatts have become “dog people,” adopting a trio of Basset Hounds (Winchester, Abby, and Lucy) and one white, 45-pound, long-haired Australian Shepherd mix with quite a story.

Odd Otis: An Unusual Tail (Tale) About An Unusual Dog” ($7.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle) intertwines chapters written by Alan with far more sensible chapters written by Kathi (as Alan will attest), with a Q&A Section at the end (and more at

Alan was tooling up the Skyway in his old Jeep when he spotted the dog “crisscrossing the double yellow line in the middle of the road” near a busy intersection. Alan turned around and was able to scoop him up, and then it happened. “I will never forget the instantaneous warm and powerful jolt that swept through me when this dog wrapped all four legs around my middle, laid his head on my shoulder, and then literally body-melted into my chest.” Otis, it turned out, had been blind and deaf since birth.

“Otis followed Alan everywhere he went and was constantly begging for lap time,” Kathi writes; “Alan, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to be in the same room with Otis without petting or doting on him.” He was smitten. Kathi created a “lost dog” poster and Alan reluctantly put it up around town.

Days later, a woman named Tina, the rightful owner, contacted the couple. But then, seeing the incredible bond that had formed, she graciously agreed that Otis should belong to the Hiatt household.

What follows are tales of new relationships formed (with Kathi and the Bassets); tossed popcorn nights (“only do this when the wife’s not home”); and great Otis yawns (“it does give me the opportunity to check out his teeth”). Told with humor and down-home charm, it’s the on-going story of a special needs dog and an encouragement to others to consider adopting. “Through him,” Kathi writes, “we have reinvented ourselves.”

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Paradise author has a message for kids


For Sharon Garcia, it began in a moment of anger. The Paradise resident stomped on a beetle in frustration and then, according to a note about the author, “after a moment of guilt she was relieved to see the insect run out from under her foot, alive and well.”

That set her to thinking, and the thinking eventually became a children’s book, “Benny Gets Bugged” ($13.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; visit, with full color illustrations by another Paradise resident, Steve Ferchaud, and book design by Son Rey Garcia.

The story begins on the playground when “Mean Mabel” demolishes Benny at a game of Four Square. “She continued deflating his moment of triumph by leading the other players in a taunting chorus or two of ‘Benny, Benny, he’s not worth a penny.’”

Needless to say, “Benny was in a rotten mood and he had to go #2 really bad.” Sitting on the toilet, Benny spots a beetle underfoot and, taking out his anger, squishes the bug. “Benny avoided lifting his foot to look at the mess he’d made of the innocent bug. The longer he sat there the more he pondered his cruel act.”

Just imagine: “What if I was tiny and bugs were big? What if I was just walking home from school … thinking about the cookies and milk waiting at home for me on the dinette table … when a huge angry bug decided that I deserved a good squashing?”

Ferchaud matches the fantasy with nightmare pictures, spread across two pages, of giant spiders and more. Shaken, Benny “thought about the poor little mangled beetle under his foot. Had it cried out to be rescued? How could he ever forgive himself for being meaner than Mean Mabel?”

Well, the beetle escapes unscathed. Later, Benny learns that bug behavior helps them survive. As his teacher says, “They do look and act different than us, but different doesn’t mean bad or better. Different just means not the same. Whenever we encounter something that is different it’s an opportunity to learn and explore something new.”

As for Benny—just call him the “bug boy”!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Paradise author on living the life, losing the weight


“Standard weight loss advice,” writes Michelle Hastie of Paradise, “is built on the assumption that there is a cookie-cutter formula” to “getting the weight off—very rarely does it realistically concern itself with keeping it off.” Hastie, a weight loss coach, takes a different approach, spelled out in an easy-to-digest book that turns conventional wisdom on its head.

The Weight Loss Shift: Be More, Weigh Less” ($14.95 in paperback from Absolute Love Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) begins not with doing, but with being. “Getting your ideal body isn’t about what you do, it’s about how to think, feel, and act. It’s about who you are. To get the body you truly want, you must become one with the body you have now.”

In motivational chapters and insightful homework assignments Hastie makes the case that “self-love and self-care lead to weight loss, not weight gain. If you can’t learn how to love and accept your body just as it is, then you will continue to chase an impossible dream.” Your body knows what it needs, she says, and we need to listen. “If it says it wants pizza, eat it and then see how much pleasure an satisfaction you get. If it’s a lot, you know that pizza is something your body enjoys and should have.” If not, “lessen the amount … to serve your body in the highest way.”

What should our lifelong relationship with food be? Rather than see food as so many (ugh!) calories, see it as providing “emotional vitamins,” like nourishment and comfort (but not as a substitute for the healing work needed in other parts of our lives). “In order to create the most magnificent life for yourself, you have to get to the point where you can be happy just being you.”

As our view of ourselves changes, we will eat better and move more as we grow into what we are. The weight will come off.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Historic Glenn County


Orland High School agriculture instructor Anna Canon says “a visit to the lone grave of Glenn County pioneer Robert Hambright” opened the door to a deeper exploration of the county’s history. Through the courtesy of Glenn County families who provided photographs and perspective, and through historical records research, Canon found a way to give back to the community with the publication of “Images Of America: Glenn County” ($21.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).

Featuring hundreds of black and white photographs with detailed captions, the book is divided into five sections, covering the Sacramento River (“which defines much of the eastern border of Glenn County”), the foothills, the valley, irrigation, and the Glenn County Fair.

The county, not without contention, was carved out of the northern section of Colusa County on March 11, 1891. “The name of the county was proposed and financially supported by the family of Dr. Hugh James Glenn, a prosperous wheat farmer who came with his family to the Jacinto area in 1868.”

Along the way we learn that “Butte City has been known as Laramie, Gouge Eye, and Pin Hook”; “Hamilton Union High School was organized on July 20, 1917”; and “under the direction of Ernest G. Hamilton, the 600-ton capacity sugar plant was completed in 1906,” closing and opening again for 90 years.

Baseball was a hit. “Beginning in the late 1800s, Orland played baseball up and down the Sacramento Valley. In 1912, the team was known as the Bearcats. In 1941, they were the Tigers.” The book also features a picture of a Butte City pig with 6 legs, flooding by Stony Creek, and celebrity judges for the first Miss Glenn County pageant in 1954: Max Factor Jr. (the cosmetics impresario), actress Donna Reed, and actor Charlton Heston.

Times have changed a bit. A 1915 ad in Sunset magazine, from the Orland Real Estate Association, promoted “Cheap Lands & Cheap Water.”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

True stories of the Sierra Nevada


Gary Noy was born in Grass Valley in 1951 and, in later years, taught history at Sierra Community College in Rocklin for decades. He is the founder of the Sierra College Center for Sierra Nevada Studies and published, with Rick Heide, “The Illuminated Landscape: A Sierra Nevada Anthology.”

Now he’s taking up his own pen to bring to light some of the lesser-known events and personalities of the area. “Sierra Stories: Tales Of Dreamers, Schemers, Bigots, and Rogues” ($17 in paperback from Heyday/Sierra College Press; also for Amazon Kindle) also includes more than 60 historic photographs.

The book begins in the author’s home town. “There is a curious little street, basically an overgrown alley, dark, shadowy, and exotic, that leads up the hill toward the Empire Mine grounds in Grass Valley. It is called Kate Hayes Street.” It turns out Catherine “Kate” Hayes was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1818 and in 1849 sang for Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace.

A few years later she toured the U.S., traveling to California’s gold fields in 1851. “With his unerring sense of how to make a buck, the great showman P.T. Barnum sponsored her tour. She was billed as ‘The Swan of Erin,’” competing in fame with Jenny Lind, “the Swedish Nightingale.”

John Bidwell makes a brief appearance or two, but the book focuses more on out-of-the-way stories, like the “1911 Tahoe Tavern Automobile Race” or the story of Scotsman George Anderson, who wanted to climb the slick surface of Half Dome.

He tried to scale the final grade in his bare feet when boots were too slippery, and eventually packed sacking around his feet, covering it with pitch from nearby trees, and then “the pine-pitch-plastered Anderson began drilling holes in the granite and inserting iron eyebolts through which he looped a climbing rope.” He made it to the top in 1875.

Lyon Books in Chico will be hosting a signing and slide show with Gary Noy this Thursday, July 17 at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Bird names explained by Chico experts


The story is told of a writer, also an avid bird-watcher, who used a book called “Birds of the West Indies” to guide him at his Jamaica estate. He was writing a spy novel, needed a name for his protagonist, so he used the name of the bird book author, James Bond. Ian Fleming only met the real Bond toward the end of Fleming’s life, but the two shared ornithological joy.

A writer some years ago identified “true birders”—bird-watchers with a scientific bent—“in which the naming of things is an overriding hunger.” The husband-and-wife team of Roger Lederer and Carol Burr (who produced “The Birds of Bidwell Park,” where Burr provided the illustrations) have given birders a stunning compendium. “Latin For Bird Lovers” ($24.95 in hardcover from Timber Press) contains “over 3000 bird names explored and explained.”

Birds are listed by their binomial names, which is usually in a form of Latin or Greek; these are “double names” identifying the genus and species in a vast web of “evolutionary relationships.” These scientific names are more accurate since the same bird may have different common names in different areas. The fun comes in figuring out the sources of these (mostly) descriptive scientific names.

The Eurasian Hoopoe, for example, has a scientific name that is based on the bird’s call: Upupa epops (say oo-POO-pa EE-pops; all the scientific names in the book have pronunciations). Each entry contains a line or two about the meaning of the scientific name, and then gives the common name. But because there’s no common name index, bird-watchers can start with field guides, which will direct users to the scientific name.

The book is generously inhabited by full-color illustrations, “Latin in action” boxes discussing specific birds, genus profiles (Amazona to Zosterops), sketches of famous birders (including Phoebe Snetsinger of Missouri, who recorded a life list of 8400 species), and bird themes (beaks, colors, feathers, songs, and more).

I’d add one entry: the Elegantem lederburr, meaning “elegant work from two authors.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

How to lessen government fraud


Chico-based consultant William Sims Curry specializes in creating clear and equitable processes for government grant acquisition. He’s seen too many cases of a dysfunctional system, where, for example, those in Congress favor certain defense contractors not because those contractors are offering the best deal, but the best deal for them.

The sad story is laid out in “Government Abuse: Fraud, Waste, And Incompetence In Awarding Contracts In The United States” ($54.95 in hardcover from Transaction Publishers; also for Amazon Kindle). In 11 chapters Curry focuses on contracting-gone-bad (think of Hurricane Katrina); one chapter is entitled “Government of the Corporations, by the Unions, and for the Special Interests.”

Yet the book is not to be taken as a breezy denunciation of government corruption; rather, it is a careful, technical analysis of the flaws in the contracting process, especially relating to the Department of Defense (DOD), and, more importantly, how that process could be fixed. In the midst of all the outrageous examples of FIWA (“fraud, incompetence, waste and abuse”) Curry shows it doesn’t have to be this way.

He singles out two contractor selection rules used by DOD and other agencies as problematic. One is the “prohibition against using numerical scoring to rate contractor proposals.” The other “requires government agencies to assign the relative importance of factor and subfactors used in the evaluation of contractor proposals ….”

If two contractors are color-coded “good,” not scored numerically (say, from 70-100), the award may go to the one that makes the most campaign contributions. And if factors such as timeliness and quality of service are merely relative, that leaves it open for the unscrupulous to “adjust” factor weights to favor a certain contractor. If factors are given numerical weights ahead of time, the process is transparent.

Curry singles out the good work of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), that, while not perfect, has sustained numerous protests from losing contractors. Many of these issues could be resolved using a scoring formula yielding a single number.

May this book be widely read in high places.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Deep “ditties” from Hannie Voyles


Professor emeritus of English and linguistics, beloved Butte College instructor, Hannie Voyles seems to be more active in retirement than most folks are in their day jobs. She has shepherded many aspiring writers to publication and now, with a new book of poetry, offers her own take on a crazy world.

“These are thumbnail word sketches,” she writes, “intended to be/ short, easy, and immediate/ about—our best and worst selves:/ our moments,/ our moment in the mirror…/ May they encourage introspection.” Don’t call them “literature.” Rather, she writes in a “Disclaimer,” focus on the message. “These pieces aim to bring a smile, a frown, a fury… or perhaps an eyebrow raised. They are for fun because ‘fun’ is also serious stuff.”

“Moments In The Mirror” ($16.95 in paperback, self-published; available locally at Lyon Books in Chico), by Hannie J. Voyles, is divided into three sections. “The Whimsical” is a “collection of itty-bitty ditties that let us have it in the face.” There’s a bit of salty language here, so be prepared. And be prepared to think. In “Conundrum,” for example, Voyles writes: “I am no longer what I was/ yet what I was remains./ But each day my ‘what’ will change/ so the what will add/ to what remains/ for the who that I become.”

The second section gets “Serious.” In “Vapor, “Words are disappearing/ I don’t know where they go—/ Yesterday I had a word/ but today that is not so—/ Words are disappearing/ filling me with fear/ that they go into hiding/ and may not reappear….”

Finally, the third section, “Deadly,” about her wartime experiences and the children lost, always the children. “She was not the only one,” Voyles says in “Anne Frank,” “although it seems that way….” The others must be remembered, too. In “Children: 1940-1945,” she writes: “Searching through the earth and sky/ the universe and firmament./ Why did so many have to die?….”

Join Hannie Voyles for a book signing and reading at Lyon Books in Chico, Wednesday, June 25 at 7:00 p.m.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Romantic suspense from an Oroville novelist


Pippa Scott’s start in life was not auspicious, she tells Shade Avalon. “A cook found me right after I was born in the dumpster behind the restaurant where he worked.” Police and Child Protective services came; the cook “told them when he found me I was covered in garbage, including strips of green pepper. The social worker took pepper and turned it into Pippa.”

Raised in foster care, Pippa grew up “never feeling like I belonged. But I grabbed every fleeting moment of happiness I could. I also used my imagination to keep me company. …”

Most of Shade’s family perished in the crash of a private plane but now the handsome 33-year-old is running the family business. Pippa, a beautiful, naive, but scrappy 23, has taken a job with Shade’s grandmother, wealthy Lila Avalon, to help her write a series of children’s stories about animals. When Pippa meets Shade at Wolfhaven, the family estate deep in the Northern California woods, things do not go well. Shade is aloof and mysterious, and Pippa is sure her sarcastic barbs will get her fired.

“Fired up” is more what happens in Olivia Claire High’s new novel, “The Wolf Deception” ($13.95 in paperback from Fireside Publications; also for Amazon Kindle). Pippa is certain that she has seen a wolf on the property, and hears piercing wolf-sounds at night, but the residents of the house dismiss the reports. Pippa’s fears are stoked when Shade, on his late-night walks, seems altogether too wolf-like.

There’s indeed a family secret; also a female rival; Pippa’s abduction by some ne’er-do-wells; hints that Shade is something more than he claims to be; and a growing, passionate connection between them.

Pippa finds it hard to trust Shade (why won’t he answer her questions about the wolf sightings?) and, as she tells a friend, “My malady is being born poor. I’ll never fit in with someone like Shade Avalon.” But the reader knows, in this fun and fast-paced suspense story, that this is not the last word.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Tooth brushing made fun


It started when Chico writer Stacy Piper began telling her two youngsters about the “sugar bugs” on their teeth, and how brushing and flossing would send those critters packing. She and her husband, Sam, noticed that the silly story encouraged dental hygiene. So Stacy teamed with another Chicoan, illustrator Lori Escobar, to bring the tale to a larger audience.

What resulted was a big, full-color children’s book called “Sugar Bugz: They Live On Your Teeth” ($16.50 in hardcover from Bliss Bless Press; available at and locally at Lyon Books in Chico). Pediatric dentist Erik H. Roos writes in the foreword that “this book effectively shows children the link between cavities and poor dietary habits. Combining this link with the importance of brushing and flossing, along with regular visits to the dentist, this book is an excellent resource. …”

It’s night and the little green creatures waking up on a beautiful set of teeth. “Sugar Bugz, Sugar Bugz/ live on your teeth/ They do the most damage/ while you sleep.// They even play hide and seek/ in between your teeth.”

How did they get there? “Well, I’ll tell you their trick./ They hide in your food, thin or thick./ They sneak aboard/ what you eat and drink./ When they get in your mouth/ they make your breath stink, stink, stink!”

What to do? They don’t like fruits and vegetables, so eat those. And “brush up and down and back and forth./ In a circle and do it again./ Brush up and down and back and forth./ In a circle, and do it again!// Floss between those pearly white teeth,/ because those Bugz are way down deep./ Rinse them away,/ down, down the sink./ They will be gone/ before you blink!”

Finally, “You must visit the dentist/ a few times a year/ for good reminders/ that you need to hear.” The Sugar Bugz try to erase the appointment, but to no avail. The dentist sends ‘em on their way.

The pictures and the included Sugar Bugz stickers will have kids laughing, and that’s the tooth.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Oroville novelist transports 7 women and a dog to Suriname


“I was born in New York,” writes Pamela Saraga. “My early life consisted of going into the Army, (my big sister was an Army recruiter), getting married, and having a son and realizing marriage is the third level of hell.”

Then “my son and I moved to my mother’s home in Oroville when she became legally blind. She helped us more than we helped her. I worked and went to Butte College until I got a job offer from the Post Office. A son is very expensive. Thirty seven years later I find myself retired with enough suppressed creativity to develop cold fusion, a space elevator and a nifty invention involving a reclining toilet seat, plus my book.”

The book is “Amazon Diet” ($13.95 in paperback from; also for Amazon Kindle) and though it’s on Amazon it’s sort of about that other Amazon (in South America) and it’s not really a diet book unless spending several weeks in the Suriname jungle being stalked by hired killers is one’s preferred way of shedding pounds.

It all starts with Stella’s mother, whose unkind comment about Stella’s weight goads her to cajole six friends into the “big adventure.” Stella “and her overweight friends would fly down to this primitive area and set up a wilderness camp with sparse provisions. Roughing it for four weeks, they would have to lose the weight.” Ann’s dog comes along, too. Otto is a “Chiweenie, part Dachshund and part Chihuahua.” Otto, says Ann, “is all I have left after the divorce except for the alimony and maintenance.”

It turns out Ann’s ex is not pleased at the expense, and he hires some ne’er-do-well guys to get rid of Ann and the rest, but (wouldn’t you know it) things don’t go so well for the men.

The women find themselves in a small village and soon the journey is underway to get back home. The villagers prove most helpful, and love is in the air. This fast-paced first novel is a fun read.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chico writer finds humor in family life


Eric Miller writes that “I’m trapped in a household full of estrogen. My wife and two teenage daughters live in a world that revolves in ways that confuse me; their orbits befuddle mine.” He also admits he’s “a dreadful handyman, terrible mechanic, and a has-been athlete with tired lungs and weak knees.” In other words, this all makes for rich rewards in the things-didn’t-quite-go-as-expected category. Miller’s way of conveying life’s little oopsies had this reader laughing out loud.

These episodes find their home in “Etc. Guy: Let Me Tell You A Story” ($9.95 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle), a collection of North State Voices columns from this newspaper as well as personal blog posts ( and more.

Divided into 8 sections, the book presents essays on hanging the family flat-screen TV, joining one’s parents on a bucket-list trip, looking back at 1963 (“I became cordless fifty years ago when Dad snipped my umbilical cord”), and being a field hockey dad (“The girls hadn’t broken a sweat. The game was scoreless, but the parents needed a break—and an oxygen bar with a masseuse”).

The final section is about the “Humor Project,” featuring thumbnail remarks on great humor writers (including Dave Barry, who once said: “Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business”). There are also two extended interviews, one with Biff America (Jeffrey Bergeron, a Colorado humorist) and Patrick McManus, longtime humor columnist for Field & Stream and Outdoor Life.

“My wife and I,” Miller writes (his wife is known only as “Hun” in these pages), “parent two daughters. We enjoy watching these future taxpayers gain their independence.” Miller puts “Kate” and “Maggie” to work. “Free labor is a rite of passage for kids and a gold mine for parents. The challenge is getting kids to do what you want.”

Therein lies a tale. Many of them.

Miller will be reading from his book, and signing copies, at Lyon Books in Chico Wednesday, May 28 at 7:00 p.m.