Sunday, June 26, 2016

“Gridley Girls”

Meredith Carlin First was born and raised in Gridley. Though she lives with her family in Minneapolis and Sacramento, small town life was a formative influence, so much so that she left as a recruiter with Apple Inc. to write a (fictionalized) account of her growing up.

“Gridley Girls” ($17 in paperback from SparkPress; also for Amazon Kindle) is the story of Margaret (Meg) MacGregor Monahan in her freshman year at Gridley High in 1978. “My father’s father is Mormon … and my mother’s family went to the First Christian Church. You could say I’m half Mormon and half anti-Mormon. Sets things up for a very harmonious childhood.”

She has three older sisters. Her mom’s admonition: “Remember girls, Y-A-L. You’re a lady.”

Meg and the other Gridley Girls never give up on each other. In 2008, Meg is living in Sacramento and is helping her best friend Anne prepare for her wedding. Anne is nervous, and Meg can’t seem to forgive herself for betraying Anne long ago. “It wasn’t over a boy or a catty, teenage-girl prank. It was because of God. I broke the solemn trust of a lifelong friend because I was a misguided girl who was told a secret that I was incapable of hearing, let alone keeping.”

The two friends revisit their shared past in a tale that is at times outrageously funny and soberly honest. Think Erma Bombeck meets Judy Blume. “Let’s recap the second half of 1978, shall we? I graduated from eighth grade as a na├»ve, innocent girl alongside my best friends. … Then I started high school, got a boyfriend, got felt up, panicked, broke up with said boyfriend, became a peer counselor”—and heard the confessions of two friends that left her confused and vulnerable.

Readers will revel in the sounds and sensibilities of the seventies in this witty, poignant, and captivating novel.

The author is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman of Nancy’s Bookshelf on North State Public Radio,, on Friday, July 8 at 10:00 a.m.

Meredith First will be signing copies of her book on Saturday, July 16 from 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at Macs Hardware, 550 E. Gridley Road in Gridley.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

“An Empty Swing”

Chico writer N. J. Hanson probes the destructive power of revenge in a novel of paranormal horror, “An Empty Swing” ($18.99 in paperback from Tate publishing; also for Amazon Kindle).

Luis Chavez, a fifteen-year-old sophomore at West Point High School in an unnamed town, is drawn into a battle for his life when he meets a girl named Alice at the old playground in town. It is almost Halloween.

It turns out that Alice is dead, a ghost, a spirit hanging around the playground where almost a dozen children lie buried, the victims of a murderous child rapist still on the loose. She cannot pass into the “other world” until she is certain that her living sister, Cindy, is safe.

Cindy has taken the name Serena Ravenwood. “She was a junior, one year older than Luis, and the resident Goth chick. … She wore a long heavy coat and cargo pants with combat boots. The only bit of color at all was her bright red lipstick.” Luis is in the school library trying to figure out why he can see Alice when he meets Serena in the same section, and soon they realize who Alice is. Or—was.

Alice had been kidnaped, abused, and killed years before. Now, after Luis realizes he is a kind of “spiritual medium” who can see ghosts, he is drawn to the playground (and to Serena). Though the bully Butch is often the antagonist (he can see spirits, too), he’s not very smart.

Far more dangerous is Paul, the ghost of one of the children abducted, killed, and buried. Paul discovers he can move beyond the playground, can manipulate objects (like rocks and guns), and, feeling his power, murders his parents and brother (the fingers in the blender scene is especially sickening) and sets his sights on Luis (for taking away Alice’s attention). He even makes common cause with the molester.

It looks like Luis doesn’t have the ghost of a chance of escaping. But don’t count out the power of friendship. And love.

The author will be signing copies of his book Saturday, July 2 at ABC Books, 950 Mangrove Avenue in Chico, from 11:00 am – 3:00 p.m.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

“Contracting For Services In State And Local Government Agencies”

Imagine a state agency wants to hire a private company to clean up a Lake Oroville beach area. How should that agency determine which company will provide the best deal for taxpayers? Cost is key, but “cheap” is not a synonym for “a job well done.”

Finding the best company to perform a service on the public’s dime is the focus of “Contracting For Services In State And Local Government Agencies” ($94.95 in hardcover from Routledge; also for Amazon Kindle) by William Sims Curry. The second edition of the book has just been published, and it updates “best practices” based on a 2015 survey of states, cities and other governmental entities.

Bill Curry is President of WSC Consulting in Chico; he is a Certified Professional Contracts Manager and served on the Professional Standards and Ethics Committee of the National Contract Management Association. His book provides not just guidance for agencies but online templates ranging from a “request for proposal” (RFP) to a Contractor Performance Report.

Chapters provide exquisite detail on healthy competition (Curry writes me that “reliance on sole source contracting during emergencies can actually delay the delivery of services and supplies”); setting up transparent communication; dealing with conflicts of interest; responding to protests; contract review; and how to rank proposals in the first place.

Curry shows how various contract proposal scoring mechanisms (from color coding to a 1-10 scale) fall woefully short. For example, if a group of contract reviewers using a 10-point scale tends to favor a range of 7-10 (7 would be “average” or acceptable), another reviewer could bias the result by using the full range, assigning a 1 here or a 10 there.

A better way is called Total Weighted Score, which involves using a 7-10 scale for subjective ratings and a weighted score for objectively determined items (like cost). The idea is for the RFP to say how much the cost or number of employees “counts” in the final determination. (I note that the Federal Department of Defense, which prohibits such scoring, should get a clue.)

Curry’s comprehensive guide is great beach reading--especially if your company is proposing to clean it up.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

“From Ashes Into Light: A Novel”

Erika Lunder of Chico created Raincloud Press ( in order to publish the poetry of her mother, Gudrun Mouw. Since then she has taken on additional authors and has just released Mouw’s first novel, “From Ashes Into Light” ($27.50 in hardcover; also for Amazon Kindle). Mouw, born in Germany and now living in the Santa Barbara area, has taught English, yoga and meditation.

The story begins with twelve-year-old Ruth, in Salzburg, Austria on November 10, 1938. It is Kristallnacht, “night of shattered glass, broken bodies and broken faith.” But, as this novel of deep conviction asserts, this is not the final word.

Dachau ends Ruth’s physical life. “The row behind us drops with fumbling, crumbling sounds, as if there’s hardly any mass to the bodies. I hear other noises between gunshots, a moan, a quick cry ended with a shot, the cracking of bones. Bullets whirl fast and close. Something hits my back hard. So many shots fly at us, we bloom like red roses, our limbs falling to the ground. We spray in every direction. . . .”

But, as silence descends, “out of the dark comes a light of awareness. I am free. I am floating. I don’t need the body. The light grows and grows. Light pervades every fiber of my spirit. … Perhaps, time doesn’t pass. Perhaps, everything happens all at once. I might be dreaming, or I might be awake, gazing like a stranger at the globe that was once my home. Below, bodies are burning. Wings have risen from the ashes.”

Mouw’s story blends the spirit of the phoenix, reincarnation, Native American spirituality and Hasidic mysticism to unite, in a timeless realm, Ruth, Saqapaya (part of the First People at the time of Spanish conquest in California), and Friede Mai (German-born during World War II who faces suspicion in the US, but overcomes it).

In the end, hate is vanquished: Phoenix says of Friede, “I feel she is ready to take on the work of Saqapaya’s vision, my vision, Ruth’s vision, the vision of those who embrace a path of light and love.”

Nancy Wiegman’s author interview for Nancy’s Bookshelf, on, is at