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.