Thursday, July 25, 2019

"The 51st Directive"

FBI agent Erica Brewer is a wise-cracking, drop dead gorgeous 31-year-old blue-eyed brunette divorcee who uncovers a plot to take over the U.S. Government--from within. The tale that unfolds is a deftly crafted political techno-thriller that will have readers turning pages late into the night.

"The 51st Directive" ($9.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle), by Chico writer (and photographer) Michael Agliolo, takes its title from an actual document. As Agliolo notes, it's a "Presidential Directive which claims power to execute procedures for the continuity of the federal government in the event of a 'catastrophic emergency.'"

In the novel, the unnamed President of the U.S., along with his associate, four-star general Raymond Wallace, hatch a brazen scheme to get rid of Congressional liberals, never mind the cost. "The writing was on the wall. The left was gaining momentum. The nation was reversing course, turning away from the ultra-conservative direction the President had imposed the previous year."

Readers know the plan early on. Release deadly gas during a joint session of Congress. Frame Iran. Declare war. And then "the President would enact Presidential Directive 51 and take complete control of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government." 

But wait. There are Erica Brewer and D.C. Detective Sam Marco to contend with. Together with some key players (including Brewer's boss, Washington FBI Bureau Chief David Gilliam; computer specialist Shreya Aswini; and Colonel Steven Mitchell, Commander of the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton), the good guys try to foil the insane machination. It means hacking the Dark Web, getting help from the General's addict son, planting electronic recording devices to gather evidence.

Erica and Sam have to hide. "We were being hunted, we just didn't know by whom. On the bright side," Brewer cracks, "there are worse things in the world than being stuck in a room with someone you're falling in love with, a king size bed and a mini bar."

What if they fail? And what will happen to the rule of law if they do fail? If the President is exposed as the real perpetrator, who could arrest him?

It's a roller-coaster ride. Agliolo is a writer to watch.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

"The Book Of The Red King"

Former Paradise resident John Wilson (@jwilson1812), who edited Books and Culture for all of its 21 years, calls poet-novelist Marly Youmans "the best-kept secret among contemporary writers." Youmans (@marlyyoumans), who lives in upstate New York, has just published a stunning collection of poems that together constitute "The Book Of The Red King" ($15.95 in paperback from Phoenicia Publishing,, illustrated by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Enigma haunts the Red King, his Fool, and the Fool's "Precious Wentletrap." (That's the common name for a seashell, housing a marine gastropod, "That jails so beautifully the sea/ Of pulse and whispered mystery.") The Fool is of the earth but in moments of doubt touches heavenly joys. The Red King is of the stars, yet in moments of joy touches earthly doubts--and transforms them.

In the poem which gives the book its title, we read that "The Fool has made the Red Bookfor the love/ Of the Red King, has taken and put on/ The handsome cap that the Red King gave him/ As a birthday present, and has lifted/ The feather in his hand to ink the words/ With the very blood of his veins: so much/ And that is all, that is all, that is all."

That birthday hat signals transformation of misspent youth. When the Fool "remembers alchemy of change/ That blazed his blackened self to silver-white/ And fed his mouth with unfamiliar words/ He laughs in joy and turns a somersault.// The Fool, punch-drunk with sleeplessness and wine,/ Goes whirling on his axis, shouts the news/ That there's a wisdom given to the fools/ Who in this mortal world of woe + woe/ Are those who blindly grasp at paradise."

And the Red King? To the "stricken man" he says: "I am the Red King. I give you the stars, / I give you angelfish beneath the sea,/ I give you the rose-fragrance and the rose..../ Out of the gusts and silences of air,/ Out of the crimson-feathered phoenix fire,/ I call to you, see you and know your name./ This world is my kingdom come. You are mine."

Get the book and read it through. And then again, more slowly.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


J.R. Henson, a Paradise resident now living in Chico after the devastation of the Camp Fire, has written a series of deeply felt observations about the emotional upheavals of life. "Unseasonable" ($10 in paperback from Valley View Press) comes with an author's note that in the poetry, fiction and non-fiction in the book "readers are advised that there is no necessary connection between the author's life and the experiences represented here."

In more than fifty short pieces, "the writer" expressively responds to events in sections on happiness, sadness, death, anger, fright, and drama, in that order. "Lazy River" in the happiness section recalls tubing on the Sac with younger work acquaintances. Even then there is a feeling of estrangement which the river eventually overcomes. "I'm quietly enjoying the serenity of God's love" which seems most apparent in nature.

The world intervenes, including depression and an addiction to food that seem to undo him (comfort him?) at every turn. In "True Love Is Served On A Plate," his soul touches the soul of the woman he loves ("I release my life's luggage as if I have finally come home from a long trip") yet something goes wrong. Later, alone at home, "my addiction gives me a hug as I pull some pizza from the refrigerator and eat it cold" to "fill the holes in my heart and soul."

After the death of the writer's beloved cockapoodle, Smokey, detailed in Henson's first book, "Reflections And Dark Truths," a "young white poodle, Gabie," tries to fill the void, with only some success. There's another dog, Fazio, in "Goodbye To You," in which the narrator is homeless. There's mention of a slide presentation gone bad, a stay in a mental hospital, and a piece of paper that says "I want to be a better person."

The book provides acute observations about recovery, burning bridges, grief. 

Yet a passion emerges to change a wrongheaded view of nature expressed in "Hole In The Sky": "Instead of having the characteristics of a caretaker, many of us believe that the earth has been bestowed upon us to do as we see fit." 

Here is a fight, unseasonable at times, worthy of a man's energy.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

"Medicine Wheel: The Evolution Of Consciousness"

Chicoan Robert W. Hart was twelve years old when he experienced what he now calls "a spontaneous transcendent moment," a "moment of perfect vision" in Buddhist terms, that changed his life. 

"Medicine Wheel: The Evolution Of Consciousness" ($25 in paperback from BookBaby, available on; also for Apple Books) is about the meaning of that "unfiltered sensation" of the "reality of Oneness."

The book, based on Hart's website (, begins with an explanation of the Medicine Wheel, adapted in part from Native American spirituality, which acts as a kind of "map" for the inward journey of breaking through the illusion of separateness, toward the discovery that "no one's home" (that is, there is no "I"). 

South on the wheel indicates our current desires for material things, "consuming the planet and destroying ecosystems in this search for the next pleasurable moment." It all leads to suffering. To the West on the wheel, we ask who we are as humans as we search for "new perspectives." In the North we begin to "connect the dots." Finally, in the East, "separateness is still experienced because you are still in a body but there is no reality to it. ... This world no longer has any hold on you. ..." 

The second section is autobiographical, noting the author's use of LSD in college and, later, psilocybin mushrooms, which bring him something of the experience he had at twelve (others may not need "entheogens," psycho-active drugs, to achieve higher consciousness). 

His relationships with others, women especially, seem to flounder as he journeys inward, surrendering to this new consciousness, "a reality where all things are connected to and determined by all other things" so that "the idea of imperfect or mistaken or wrong has no meaning. Everything," he adds, "is simply unfolding in the only way it can unfold."

The book concludes with short pieces, including poems, reading recommendations, and reflections on spiders, witches, and more, in the service of being a "torch bearer" for others. Institutional Christianity is his bĂȘte noire ("male-dominated Christian culture" has created a "delusional world view") and the reader must decide whether this judgment is consistent with the reality the author describes.