Tuesday, June 15, 2021

"Clyde's Happy Tails: The Adventures Of Clyde The Rescue Cat"

Chicoan Sarah Downs is a cat rescuer, co-founder of the Neighborhood Cat Advocates (catadvocatestnr.org) which focuses on trapping, neutering, and returning feral cats or cats with no owner (with a caretaker assigned to feed them). 

Her children's book, begun as a tribute to her father, is now part of a fundraising effort to make it possible for her to relocate sixteen or seventeen feral cats living on the Marigold side of the Pleasant Valley High School campus (see @pvcatrelocationproject on Facebook for details).

"Clyde's Happy Tails: The Adventures Of Clyde The Rescue Cat" ($15.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) is a sweet story with full-color illustrations by the inimitable Steve Ferchaud. (Search for "Clyde's Happy Tails by Sarah Downs" on Amazon to avoid being directed to books with "happy trails" in their titles.)

Clyde, we are told, "was found as a wee little kitten, lost and alone in a field." But a caring family brought him home, and when the tuxedo cat was old enough "he started his life full of adventure." That means he went outside.

"One day, Clyde was patrolling the neighborhood, you know, to make sure there was no riff-raff going on. Clyde hopped a fence a found he had a new neighbor. A dog!! But, the dog was tied up to a tree."

Ever inquisitive, Clyde wants to know the dog's name, but all he gets in return is a gruff "leave me alone!" He adds, menacingly, "Can't you see I'm a bad dog?" After all, he tells Clyde, he barks at strangers and was taken outside and tied to a tree. He must be bad, right?

"Clyde replied, 'Well, I don't think you're a Bad Dog. You didn't bark at me, and I'm a stranger!" That sets the dog (whose name is Petey) to thinking he's not so bad after all, and sets Clyde to thinking of a way to free Petey. It involves all the neighborhood cats working together, but they get the job done.

Clyde isn't finished. He introduces Petey to Joey, a neighborhood boy, who in turn takes Petey to meet Grandpa Tom. 

It's a perfect match.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

"Able To Be Otherwise"

"Now, when I drive through Paradise with my family nearly two years after the fire," Anna Lenaker writes in her compelling memoir, "I see the charred marks the fire left in its wake all around. But I also see the frames of new houses being built...." Yes, "life is returning ... but it is a slow and painful effort--just as it is with grieving."

Lenaker faces great grief in her own life, enough almost to still her breath permanently. Yet through others' compassion, especially from her older brother Jay and his wife Teressa, girded with an inner tenacity, she is not only the homeless kid who sold her toys on the streets of Tijuana, which helped her mom buy drugs, but the adult who graduated from Brown University by way of Chico's Inspire School of Arts and Sciences and Chico State. Mind-blowing.

"Able To Be Otherwise" ($17.99 in paperback from New Degree Press; also for Amazon Kindle) weaves Lenaker's personal story with a vision of a world better addressing the triple crises of poverty, opioid addiction and climate change. "Each time we dare to acknowledge that things are able to be otherwise," she writes, "we move toward a world where everyone can breathe deeper." 

Haunted by "imposter syndrome" at Brown ("what am I doing here among all these smart people?"), her interest in philosophy, theology and public policy blossoms. After a year abroad in England studying at Pembroke College in Oxford, she graduates with a BA in Religious Studies and a Master's in Public Affairs. 

Her love of learning hearkens back to fifth grade as she settles in with Jay and Teressa (eventually moving to Magalia).

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard's notion of a "leap of faith" shapes her life's mission of removing the stigmas around what seem to be intractable challenges, "to be willing to imagine radical alternatives to the present moment.... Believing in the possibility of change is sufficient justification for continuing to take on problems as daunting as poverty, addiction, and climate change." 

Lenaker invites the reader to "take the leap" as well; one day it will enable the world to breathe, even as her story takes your breath away.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

"Municipal Larceny vs. Steve The Barber: History, Humor, Hometown Politics"

"I am now in my sixtieth year of standing behind the iron chair," writes Oroville barber Steve Christensen. He adds: "After eight weeks of social distancing because of Covid-19, I decided to try my hand at writing a book."

The result is a compendium of Oroville and personal history, barbershop wisdom, and stories of Christensen's political involvement as a kind of local government gadfly. 

In his estimation local government needs reining in from illegal property grabs which are detailed in "Municipal Larceny vs. Steve The Barber: History, Humor, Hometown Politics" ($14.99 in paperback from BookBaby; also for Amazon Kindle). "Opinions of the author," he writes, "are based on observations and occurrences.... Probably, a few times, the secret agreements which were not intended for public consumption were accidentally leaked within earshot of the barber chair."

Two themes stand out. In the midst of appearing in front of the Oroville City Council, letters to the editor (some containing "a little barb"), lots of research, and the fight over the Utility Users Tax and other issues, Christensen comes across as good natured, convinced but open to being convinced. 

The second theme is Christensen's resistance to the city charging for services its employees would perform in the line of duty anyway. Back in 2012, he writes, "I did not know that if an on-duty fireman conducted an inspection at a business, the City had the option to charge that business for the time the fireman spent performing his task."

"My logic told me if the fireman was responding to an emergency, conducting an inspection, washing a fire truck, working out in the gym, or relaxing in the city hammock while on duty, his pay was exactly the same.... The fee money derived for the fireman's time spent does not go to the fireman, it is extra money for the city. I called it Municipal Larceny."

Christensen has survived, and so has his beloved Oroville. He notes that "the first thing they teach you in Barber College is to never say whoops." Readers might infer that if a few more city officials had said it, the book would have been much shorter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021


Chicoan Mike Paull, a retired dentist and licensed pilot, is the author of a trio of mysteries featuring Bret Raven, who just happens to be a dentist and licensed pilot. In his new book he's crafted an international spy thriller that takes the reader into Iraq just after the death of Saddam Hussein on December 30, 2006. A small group of Americans from "the Agency" has a lead on the rumored gold hoarded by Saddam and now hidden--somewhere.

"Missing" ($15.95 in paperback from Wings ePress, Inc.; also for Amazon Kindle) tells the tale mostly through the eyes of forty-something flawed family man Craig Cooper, who lives with his wife, Fran, and their ten-year-old son Josh in Virginia. "Coop," as he is known, struggles to be a good dad and husband, forever promising to give up his dangerous missions yet being sucked back into them, even after the Iraq gold quest goes terribly wrong.

Coop and Randy Nichols ("the station chief for the American Intelligence unit in Baghdad"), along with an interpreter, meet a mysterious man named Mustafa in Sadr City ("the body bag capital of Iraq"), who may know something about the gold. But then a sniper kills Mustafa and Coop is shot in the back. "He reached around to tug at his shirt; it was wet and sticky. ... He dropped to his knees, looked at his blood-soaked hand and fell face down in the dirt."

Yet Coop survives. Ten months later, back at the Agency, Randy, now Deputy Director, is pressured to assign a reluctant Coop to revisit the failed mission. Josh is crestfallen; it's the last straw for Fran; and truth to tell Coop has a score to settle with whomever tried to kill him in Iraq.

Coop's small team includes Zoe Fields, in her early forties with "the angelic look of a college-girl, but underneath it she was as tough as nails."

She will need to be; both of their lives are threatened as they unravel the mystery and confront unexpected treachery. It's a nail-biter with the stakes ramping up from chapter to chapter as the two discover far more than they bargained for. 

Get the book and root for Coop.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"The Tattoos Of Chico"

At a Chico gym, Karen McHenry writes, she saw "person after person walk past with tattoos on their arms, legs, and elsewhere...." Intrigued, she interviewed nineteen people. "Many had suffered loss and pain and commemorated their strength in the tattoos they chose. A few became 'addicted' to adding art to their bodies. All of them are admirers of ink and the way it enables them to carry their stories on their skin."

With photographer Sean Martens, she has published a stunning look at "The Tattoos Of Chico" ($24.95 in hardcover from Stansbury Publishing) celebrating not only those whose tattoos tell a story, but the artists who applied in the ink. 

Dolores (only first names are used) found solace, after the breakup of a difficult relationship, in a large and colorful peacock tattoo on one side of her body. It "took a total of three months to complete--twenty-one and a half hours in all--three hours for the outline alone." The artist was Ben Lucas from Eye of Jade Tattoo in Chico. Dolores found that "other people's reactions ended up being important."

The book's cover features a detail from RJ's tattoos reflecting the artistry of Joe Sanchez of Exclusive Tattoo in Chico. "What about tattoos is so addicting? RJ answers: 'I like standing out, being individualized with art--this tattoo, this artist. I enjoy having the art on my body. It's an expression of who I am.'"

Some tattoos are impulsive, as when Xavier asked artist Joey Sanchez at True Ink Tattoo in Chico for a tattoo on the roof of his mouth. 

Other tattoos are more reflective. Angel had reconstructive breast surgery after a double mastectomy; Dr. Emily Hartmann was able to take Angel's tattoos of a dragon and scorpion (from artist Juan at 12-Volt Tattoo in Chico) and, using the issue, moved them to her breasts.

The book ends with the story of David Singletary, co-owner and artist at Sacred Art Tattoo in Chico, written by Caitlin Forisano. Stop by, David says, "'keep the tradition alive ... because, we tattooed your parents....'"

If a picture is worth a thousand words, there are lifetimes to explore in this compilation of Chico ink.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

"Checklist Complete: Stories From My Life In Aviation"

Orland resident Gary Carter, retired Navy captain and former Delta Air Lines pilot, has a tale to tell. Actually, about fourteen of them, stories from his career in the military and his years in commercial aviation, all contained in a new memoir.

"Checklist Complete: Stories From My Life In Aviation" ($16.95 in paperback from booklocker.com/books/11717.html; a PDF version is also available) is replete with photographs provided by the author. 

One image is a publicity shot taken in 1980 of four S-3 jets "in a diamond formation (I'm number 3, the left wingman) flying by Mount Rushmore...." This was when Carter was a pilot trainer in "the navy's S-3A Viking Fleet Readiness Squadron, located at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego...."

Over a long career he would chart more than 16,000 flying hours. In that regard he wryly notes: "As is often said about aviation, experience is a hard teacher. First comes the test, then the lesson."

As a Midshipman Fourth Class (a "plebe") in 1970, he is aware of the hierarchy when groups gather for meals at the U.S. Naval Academy. Plebes are "society's lowest form of existence" and answerable to pretty much anyone else. 

When it came to passing food, up the chain it went with plebes getting the remains. Until one night Carter "took a scoop of applesauce, for some tragic and unexplainable reason, and then started to hand the bowl to my classmate beside me." A little infraction of cultural norms? Hardly: "The heavens parted, the world erupted, fire and brimstone engulfed me...."

Carter lived to tell the story, and many more besides, such as how a starter problem in the S-3 Viking was solved with a bent paperclip; being chewed out with unrelenting profanity (not spelled out in the book) by his two military bosses when a message Carter sent went astray; a lunch that cost $3000; and his brief encounter with Vin Scully when he piloted for Delta. 

Full of self-deprecating humor and technical talk (with acronyms explained), the book fittingly concludes with some of Carter's "lifetime maxims," including: "Never be out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas as the same time." Check!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

"Tell Them What You Want"

"I'm Bernie, and I'm seven.... A social worker ... just picked me up from the Hamilton Ohio hospital and is taking me to live in some town called Oxford.... I was born in Lincoln Heights, a Colored part of Cincinnati, Ohio on March 1, 1946." 

Bernie's mother had been arrested, along with Johnny McVay, a violently abusive man "mama takes up with" at what Bernie calls the "Devil House." She is forced to cut the grass with scissors and had been severely burned from the fire Johnny insisted be kept going in the backyard. He calls her "Puke." 

Hospitalized for malnutrition, she is now headed to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles, an older, caring Black couple willing to take in the "State kid." Bernie's story spans the 1950s to the 1980s in the midst of a burgeoning civil rights movement. She faces immense challenges in her quest for a college education, but she's not a quitter. 

"Tell Them What You Want" ($16.95 in paperback from Culicidae Press; also for Amazon Kindle), by Laverne Merritt-Gordon with Beau Grosscup, is a stunning story. 

Merritt-Gordon was born in 1946 in Lincoln Heights, Ohio, one of sixteen children. She has degrees from Miami University in Ohio and Purdue University. She now lives in Florida with her husband Denman P. Gordon.

Beau ("Bobo") Grosscup--Chico State Political Science Professor Emeritus--shows up in Bernie's story. Growing up in Oxford, Ohio he meets Bernie when he is ten. "It takes fifty-some years of friendship," he says in the book's prologue, "before Bernie tells me her secrets."

As the 1970s pass, Bernie reflects on her college experience, two unsuccessful marriages, her two sons, Byran and Benton, and her efforts to escape that little girl who endured so much. 

She remembers "getting whipped with an ironing cord, eating food from garbage cans, flames burning up her belly.... My body sags as I realize that little girl is still with me. I thought, yes prayed, I had left her behind.... But she's still here, deep in my soul.... Slowly, the thought of little Bernie clinging to me for dear life begins to make sense."

Readers will never forget her.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


Since her inaugural novel, "Venice Beach," Chicoan Emily Gallo has been chronicling the ever-expanding connections among a group of "misfits" who meet each other on the boardwalk. 

In her new book, Gallo, fueled by "endless cups of Earl Grey tea" at the Tin Roof Café, takes up the story of Kate McCoy. "After Kate's marriage broke up in her twenties, she had decided that motherhood and marriage were not in the stars for her ... until she met Lawrence" Ellison, a retired UCLA English professor.

They soon marry and now, after Kate's Peace Corps assignment, the LA couple is celebrating by exploring Anza-Borrego State Park during the day, and each other at night. "Just because we're on Medicare," Kate tells Lawrence, "doesn't mean we can't have a little fun."

"DREAMer" ($12.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with their discovery of a girl, perhaps about twelve, sitting "forlornly against a boulder" near Palm Canyon Drive. The girl seems unable to speak or perhaps doesn't know English. No one else is around, and so Lawrence and Kate invite the reluctant girl into the car and drive through a series of small towns looking for someone in authority.

In Julian (known for its apple pie) the girl refuses to go into the sheriff's office so the couple takes her home as they try to figure what to do next. It appears from some of the things the girl is carrying that her name is Marisol. Technically, she's just been kidnaped. And that is keeping Lawrence awake.

"I am worried for her," he tells Kate, "but the fact is that we haven't been straight with law enforcement ... and that is not going to help the situation.... Kate, you're not a Black man living in this country. You cannot understand how much I have to worry about in everyday situations."

What follows is an extraordinary detective story as Kate and Lawrence attempt to find Marisol's identity and whether she has relatives in the U.S., calling in friends to help and avoiding law enforcement. 

Gallo brings home the reality faced by children in Marisol's situation, and underlines the couple's compassion and tenacity in their quest against all odds.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

"Already Toast: Caregiving And Burnout In America"

Kate Washington (kawashington.com) is a freelance writer, Sacramento Bee food critic, and a Chico High grad (her dad and brother are still in town), earning a Ph.D. in English from Stanford. She married Brad Buchanan in 1999; they have two daughters and now live in Sacramento because of his teaching job at Sacramento State. 

"I sprinted eagerly into marriage," she writes. "I was young, naive, steeped in mainstream white feminism, and I thought equality was there for the plucking." The reality of married life was much more problematic and in 2014 an earthquake came to shake its very foundations. Brad, in his mid-forties, was diagnosed with what was thought to be a manageable, slow-moving lymphoma.

But one ordinary Saturday morning Kate was summoned to the bathroom. Brad was coughing. "Blood was splashing out of his mouth, blooming over the white porcelain of the sink. The splashes coming up out of his throat made little noises, like the gurgle of an unstuck drain. ... Each time he coughed it seemed like half a cup." Kate had to add "caregiver" to her regular duties as mom and partner, and it almost broke her.

The searing, stunningly honest story is told in "Already Toast: Caregiving And Burnout In America" ($24.95 in hardcover from Beacon press; also for Amazon Kindle and in audiobook format). Brad's cancer was aggressive; the only hope was a stem-cell transplant from his brother, but that led to further complications, including near blindness, which almost took his life. 

"Fried and frazzled" as a caregiver, Washington endures a kind of "erasure." "As a caregiver, I sometimes felt like I barely existed as an individual." 

"Burnout," she adds, "kills empathy and makes worse caregivers of all of us who suffer from it. More than that, it made me a worse person: less kind, less patient, less fun to be around." 

Washington recognizes her own privilege is not typical and proposes the creation of "networks of care" (recommending aarp.org/caregiving), though she admits there's no single answer. But, she says at the end, "If society wants us to keep caring for others, it's going to have to show a little more care for us."

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

"Midnight House"

In 1993, seventh-grader and Redding native Ian Dawson was abducted in what is now the community's Clover Creek Preserve. Held for a time by two older boys, he escaped major injuries but, as time passed and the assailants were never identified, he decided to write a fictionalized account. Twenty-five years after the event, Dawson, now living in Los Angeles, published "The Field."

The YA novel centered around Daniel and his best friend Kyle, both fourteen, and two adductors, James and Austin. In self defense Daniel causes Austin's death, James is imprisoned, and the threat is over. The end.

Not exactly. Now, in "Midnight House" ($19.15 in paperback from BookBaby; also for Amazon Kindle, see thefieldya.com) Dawson offers a crackling-good YA sequel that will have readers hooked. Daniel Robinson and Kyle Hanson are now sixteen, attending Redding's Enterprise High School, still besties, though Daniel's trauma-fueled nightmares have made him secretly dependent on sleeping pills and caffeine. Will there ever be closure?

Kyle is the captain of the JV basketball Hornets, too admiring of Luke Darden, the Varsity captain. When Luke invites him and a few other teammates to some "games" at the mysterious Midnight House near Whiskeytown Lake--ostensibly to determine who will be the next Varsity captain--Kyle is all in. Daniel is suspicious, but can't dissuade his friend. Turns out Luke's older brother, Tyler, was best friends with Austin, and now he schemes to see Kyle and Daniel dead. The plot ... sickens.

The first part of the novel is filled with lighthearted banter about sports and girls. Kyle's girlfriend is in London on a study abroad program; Daniel meets Amber, who "was behind the counter at The Beadman, a popular arts and crafts store on Park Marina Drive in Redding...." New in town, she and Daniel hit it off. Both are the same age, both attend EHS. Sparks, anyone?

Then the story becomes darker after Luke and Tyler discover who is responsible for Austin's death. Kyle's obsession with pleasing Luke puts Daniel and Amber in mortal danger. 

The extreme hazing at Midnight House gives way to a nightmarish life-and-death showdown at the Sundial Bridge which will test the very meaning of true friendship.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

"The Road To Positive Work Cultures"

"Nursing," Chicoan Carol Huston writes, "is both physically and emotionally demanding. Hours are long; fatigue related to the physical demands of moving constantly, lifting, and bending is common...." Then there are the sometimes competing "expectations of the employer, patient, family, professional boards, and self." Small wonder that "compassion fatigue" can set in, a weary sadness when the nurse feels unable to help the patient.

Though these words were published a few months before the pandemic, they are multiplied in their significance today. Leaders need to be sensitive to the stresses experienced by health care professionals while at the same time offering a hopeful vision of the future. Huston, management consultant and Emerita Professor at Chico State's School of Nursing, served as Chair of the Enloe Medical Center Board of Trustees and knows the importance of a supportive workplace.

"The Road To Positive Work Cultures" ($24.95 in paperback from Sigma; also for Amazon Kindle) provides ten "leadership lessons" applicable not only to health care but to most any business with employees. Though simple in outline, Huston's examples make it clear that creating a good work culture is far from easy.

Take, for example, the chapter on avoiding micromanaging which, she writes, "is generally an outgrowth of inexperience or insecurity, not a demonstration of competence or expertise on the part of the leader." At the start of hospital shifts, good nurses may check patients, meds, and lab reports in a particular order, which may not be the order preferred by a micromanager and that can make nurses feel they are not trusted.

Far better, says Huston, for leaders to develop macromanagement skills in setting clear expectations but allowing a "divergence in problem-solving."

Each chapter, from establishing mutual respect and civility, maintaining appropriate boundaries, and not letting problems fester, to building effective teams, reducing stress, and showing appreciation, draws on management research to illuminate real-world situations. 

The book concludes with chapters on being an "authentic leader," one with "passion" and "purpose." Conflict and change are inevitable even in positive work cultures, but the key is how they are dealt with. 

Huston ends her insightful book with Benjamin Franklin: "'When you're finished changing, you're finished.'" 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

"The Movie Adventures Of Eva Jordan"

Third-generation Chicoan Jan Hill has written a quietly endearing novel, an account through the eyes of a seventh-grader of six weeks in 1937 when Bidwell Park turned into a sound stage for Robin Hood and his merry men. 

Drawing on newspaper reports from the era, the filming schedule and screenplay, and behind-the-scenes footage from the special-edition DVD, Hill beckons young adult readers to the premiere of "The Movie Adventures Of Eva Jordan" ($8.99 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle). 

According to Ned Walsh, who sits a few desks away in Mr. Owens' seventh-grade classroom, "Robin Hood and the crew" were soon to disembark in Chico and head to "the film location at One Mile."

Eva lives with her parents, Ernest and Susanna Jordan, and three younger sisters (and a fourth home from college). She loves the "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood" stories but is not allowed to see movies. 

Deeply involved in the Salvation Army church Eva's parents and other congregants are part of the "annual Christmas bell-ringing effort to collect money for the town's poor. Members took turns standing in front of Oser's Department Store at Third and Main streets to shake a loud bell...."

Eva is thirteen (going on fourteen) and intensely curious. And she wonders why Mr. Owens is talking about Spain, and those "'fighting their leader, General Franco, and his fascist ideology.'" He adds, "'big-time Hollywood actors, like Errol Flynn, the same fellow who will be here soon to play Robin Hood, have already gone to Spain to see what they could do to help the Loyalists.'"

Then, abruptly, the school board removes Mr. Owens amid charges that he is a communist. In response, Ned and Eva hatch an audacious plot to ask Errol Flynn to intervene and to help raise support for the anti-Franco movement. 

Once the Warner Brothers film crew and stars arrive, and Bidwell Park is transformed into medieval Sherwood Forest, Ned and Eva are daily visitors. They end up becoming extras, meeting Flynn himself, and getting the surprise of their lives.

And Chico "officially changed the name of the whole northern section of Ivy Street, renaming it 'Warner Street.'"

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

"The Titanic And Today's Church: A Tale Of Two Shipwrecks"

Former Magalia resident Warren B. Smith, who moved with his wife Joy to Fortine, Montana, was deeply enmeshed in the New Age movement until his Christian conversion, which he wrote about in "The Light That Was Dark: From The New Age To Amazing Grace," first published in 1992. 

Another, more recent, convert, Doreen Virtue, notes that her parents lived in Magalia and that Smith's book "provided stark comparisons between what Scripture says and what 'A Course In Miracles' says," showing "that 'Course' is the opposite of the Bible!" Her story is told in "Deceived No More: How Jesus Led Me Out Of The New Age And Into His Word," published in 2020 by Thomas Nelson.

Now, in a provocative new book, Smith writes that New Age themes have infiltrated the church. He compares the situation to the most famous "unsinkable" ship: "Many in today's professing church," he says, "are unaware they are also on a sinking ship that is headed for destruction." 

"The Titanic And Today's Church: A Tale Of Two Shipwrecks" ($14.95 in paperback from Mountain Stream Press, newagetoamazinggrace.com; also for Amazon Kindle) makes an analogy between the tragic sinking in 1912 of the HMS Titanic and the stance of many "undiscerning" church leaders. Both, he writes, are beset with "design flaws, tragic oversights, false confidence, complacency, pride, greed, denial, disregarded warnings, mixed messages, and unpreparedness."

Each of the dozen chapters begins with a part of Titanic's history, then likens it to the contemporary church. In "A Little Leaven," Smith notes that modern research has found not a giant gash but rather, to quote the New York Times, "a series of six thin openings across the Titanic's starboard hull." 

Similarly, he says, a "small teaching--a little (heretical) leaven," the idea of "God within," that God is "in" everything, is spread knowingly or unknowingly by Oprah, Rick Warren, Henri Nouwen, and many others, making shipwreck of Biblical faith. "God is the creator," Smith writes, "and He is distinct and separate from His creation. He is not 'in' everyone and everything." The Gospel lifeboat, he adds, is faith in Jesus Christ.

The book will launch much discussion.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

"The Tribe In The Red Brick House"

Retired Butte College and Chico State anthropology instructor Mike Findlay brings insights from cultural and linguistic anthropology to a fictional academic community at Lannat State University, located somewhere in the Midwest.

His novel traces the academic career of Peter Shaughnessy, from his hiring at Lannat to his retirement from the Anthropology Department. Findlay draws on his own experiences, and stories he's heard from others--all suitably altered "to protect identities and circumstances"--to observe, with a dollop of sarcasm, his own profession.

Through Peter and his colleagues (not modeled, the author is quick to say, on himself or other real people) Findlay presents institutions of higher education as "merely the new villages occupying a more rapidly changing human encrusted landscape." There are tribes here, too, even in the old red schoolhouse building converted to serve Lannat State.

"The Tribe In The Red Brick House" ($2.99 in Amazon Kindle edition, self-published) by Michael Shaw Findlay is part of a three-book series, "Through An Anthropologist's Looking Glass." (I volunteered to format the manuscript and upload it to Amazon.) The story begins with a long, brutally honest speech, an assessment of the anthropological enterprise in academia, given to majors by an unnamed professor (who is later revealed to be Peter).

What follows are chapters introducing some of the "tribe," fellow anthropologists at Lannat who regularly congregate at the Coachman, a local pub, to drink Golden Ale and muse about the day's happenings. There's Fran, longtime Department Chair, Saul (one of the key figures in the novel), and a sarcastic Brit who calls himself Jacko. There are oddballs, too, not really part of the tribe, including Cliff, an obnoxious conservative, and Eaon, who practices something called "transcendental anthropology."

Each series of events is introduced in an anthropological setting, and faddish fashions come in for skewering, including political correctness (for missing cultural context when "forbidden words" are used) and "learning outcomes" (for measuring the wrong things). 

Peter learns to navigate department meetings and Curriculum Committee politics, but there comes a fateful day when he must confront stupidity, violence, and the overwhelming demands of academia, and readers will find this novelistic ethnography is also emotionally resonant.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

"Where To Next?"

From facing wildfires and a pandemic, to life with her son, Ian, on the Autism Spectrum, Chico poet Joan Goodreau asks a profound question in her new book. 

"Where To Next?" ($9.99 in paperback, self-published, facebook.com/authorjoangoodreau; also for Amazon Kindle) collects poems that point to a hopeful, though still mysterious, future.

"Diagnosis" (the poem that introduces the first section of the book, "On the Spectrum") puts it this way: "I picture a train with Ian and me/ pulling out of the station/ to an unknown destination/ with nothing but the clothes on our backs./ I don't know when we'll arrive/ only the time of departure and/ we will never return to/ where we are now."

In "Group Home Evacuations: Camp Fire 2018," "neon fire slashes between/ the black ridge and sky.// From this gash of blood/ men evacuate from 19 group homes/ creep in Cal Vocations vans down Skyway Road." Hours later, parked near Woodson Bridge, Sam can't quite understand the enormity of events. "'Tomorrow when I go home I'll/ ... hang with friends/ go to Jaki's Hilltop Cafe for the hamburger special.'" 

In "My Son Evacuates," Ian is perplexed that he cannot "walk the paths of Bille Park." "But," the poet observes, loving him, "if he repeats repeats repeats/ his swaying long enough/ maybe his world will reappear/ rise through Ponderosa pines/ just like before."

"Heart Murmurs," the second section, traces the disparate lives of a mermaid, wanting legs "'for hope of love'"; a woman with second thoughts about dating online; and an old besotted veteran remembering better days.

In "Our Times 2020," the third section, the poet writes of the "Corona Star," "Locked down inside Zoom we/ shrink to rectangles of ourselves/ Outside sky sparkles/ soil breathes in relief.// But not for long...."

"Masks" faces a grim reality: "Evacuate again/ my autistic son and me.// Not the Paradise Fire this time/ but the Oroville Bear Fire./ Corona follows wherever we go."

And, finally, the section and poem called "Grace." As the poet faces surgery, a "white feather/ ... floats down before the entrance..../ This parachute of hope/ lands on rough asphalt/ stops me in my tracks/ holds me close in my present."

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"Historic Tales Of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: Big Trees Grove"

In the Santa Cruz mountains there's a forty-acre site, now part of the California State Parks system, that is home to old-growth redwoods; the tallest, at 277 feet, is about 1500 years old. Earlier this month, with the lifting of regional stay-at-home orders, parking and some campsites are again available (though the Visitor Center is closed and no tours are given as of this writing).

The origin of the Park is full of twists and turns, beginning in 1867 when a man named Joseph Warren Welch bought about 350 acres of "tall timber" in the area encompassing that grove of extraordinary trees. But instead of a massive logging operation, "Welch had another plan...."

Just what happened is detailed in "Historic Tales Of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: Big Trees Grove" ($21.99 in paperback from The History Press, historypress.com) by Deborah Osterberg. The Bonny Doon author is a Chico State grad, with degrees in history and geography, and was a volunteer docent at the Park starting in 2016.

With dozens of historic black-and-white photographs, some supplied by Special Collections at Chico State's Meriam Library, Osterberg tells the story from "the first stewards," the Native peoples, to 1954, when the Park officially opened (and which now includes more than 4600 acres with more than a million visitors a year). 

An appendix lists the names of the Big Trees (including the General Fremont, a burned out stump large enough for indoor living); another provides a guide to some thirteen silent movies filmed amongst the Big Trees (including The Last Man On Earth in 1924: "An epidemic kills off all virile men except for one hermit. When he is discovered living in the Fremont Tree, every woman on the planet wants him").

The Welch family, and Henry Cowell, a rival who owned nearby land, were not interested in redwoods preservation but in the burgeoning tourism business. Osterberg's account is rich with detail, including the visit in 1891 by President Benjamin Harrison, which proved to be a PR bust when Harrison declared his visit personal with no pictures taken.

Osterberg's beautifully written narrative will prepare armchair travelers for the real deal.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

"Thirst: A Novel"

Former Paradise resident John Wilson, now living in the Chicago area, was a junior at Paradise High School when I was a sophomore. Later he became a consummate editor and book reviewer, so when he wrote in the journal First Things that a spare new novel by A.G. (Grace) Mojtabai is "one of the most memorable works of fiction I've read in the last decade" it was a recommendation I couldn't refuse.

Brooklyn-born in 1937, Mojtabai majored in philosophy and mathematics, taught at Harvard and the University of Tulsa, and lived for a time in Iran and Pakistan. She worked at a hospice in Amarillo, Texas. 

Her new book fittingly arrives in this column a day before Ash Wednesday, observed by Christians in the West as the beginning of Lent, a time of penitence and prayer leading up to Easter.

"Thirst: A Novel" ($16 in paperback from Slant; also for Amazon Kindle) charts the final days of Father Theo, a lifelong priest serving a rural diocese in Texas. The nearby convent houses just seven sisters, all save Sister Perpetua ("the youngest of the group, somewhere in her fifties") "grown old in service here." 

Theo is old as well. "He does not want to outlive himself," the narrator tells us. "His mind is made up.... Listen: the rattle of bare stalks, a shuffle of wings. It's time. He enters his house. He will not leave it again."

Lena, Theo's first cousin, is called in to help when the priest refuses to eat. Though Lena was steeped in Catholicism as she and Theo grew up in Texas, she later abandoned her faith. Yet, flying in from Chicago, now a widow, she senses a connection with Theo despite her frustration with his not eating, or drinking, and her discovery that he's given away most everything in his little cottage, including his precious books.

When Theo can no longer speak, "reaching for her hand, his fingers close on hers and hold on with an iron grasp." She later remembers his question to her growing up: "Is there a meaning to us?"

Mojtabai explores faith and doubt, commingled, in these two lives--mere ashes--yet thirsting for something more.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

"Wildlife As Property Owners: A New Conception Of Animal Rights"

Ants set up home base. Butterflies chase rivals. Prairie dogs build family burrows. Your favorite cat is territorial. In effect, they claim certain property for themselves. That simple observation may lay the groundwork for protecting biodiversity even as climate change puts immense stress on ecosystems.

Karen Bradshaw, who graduated from Chico State in 2006, is now a Professor at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and Senior Sustainability Scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation. Her new book argues for "Wildlife As Property Owners: A New Conception Of Animal Rights" ($27.50 in paperback from the University of Chicago Press; also for Amazon Kindle).

At first glance the notion seems absurd. Do animals actually think of themselves as property owners? Bradshaw rightly leaves that question to scientists and philosophers; instead, she asks the more practical question: "Should people consider animals as potential property owners?" Her book makes the case that not only is this not absurd, property law already has resources that can get us to "yes."

In property law, non-human entities, like corporations, can own things. Trustees oversee the property claims of domestic animals who have inherited an estate as well as others who are unable to act on their own. 

Bradshaw's conception of animal property rights does not ascribe human rights to animals (a radical proposition) and broadens the scope of animal welfare laws to include entire biological ecosystems. Under her approach, "humans would retain the right to own pets, eat meat, or kill spiders."

Bradshaw sees many parallels in the animal kingdom to human property rights. "Property rights diminish the need to wake up each morning and fight to the death over where to eat and sleep.... The time and energy saved can be invested in other activities, such as catching prey or creating iPhones."

Communal rights develop among humans especially when resources are scarce, when no one individual can control the environment. It's the same in the animal world: "Lions always maintain territories with two watering holes" and so the pride must cooperate in their defense.

If Bradshaw's purpose is to convince a skeptic, she has succeeded.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

"How To Prepare For Climate Change: A Practical Guide To Surviving The Chaos"

David Pogue reports on science and technology for CBS News' Sunday Morning. A prolific author, his new book, on climate change, is a stunningly complete yet readable compendium for individuals and families trying to navigate its real-world implications.

"How To Prepare For Climate Change: A Practical Guide To Surviving The Chaos" ($24 in paperback from Simon & Schuster; also for Amazon Kindle) has a Paradise connection. Pogue assembled an "expert panel," among them Steve "Woody" Culleton. The book notes that Culleton "arrived in Paradise in 1981 via Greyhound bus...." 

Serving on the Town Council from 2004-2016, "Woody plans to run for town council again in November 2020 to help rebuild his community." He did, and now it can be told: he's back on the Council.

For Pogue, climate change is incontrovertible; the controversies about just how much is human caused are beside the point. Whether we as a species can mitigate or stop climate change, the real question for us as individuals, families and communities is how we can cope or adapt to the changes. 

"Sometimes," he writes, "people are pushed out by extreme-weather disasters, like the wildfire that drove Bob and Linda Oslin out of Paradise.... They decided not to return."

Neither did Jen and Ryan Cashman of Paradise, driven out by the Camp Fire, who became "climate refugees." (Pogue tells their story for CBS Sunday Morning at http://bit.ly/paradisepogue.) 

Where can one go that's safer? Pogue has an entire chapter with some sage advice for those seeking "climate havens": "Get away from the oceans"; "move north"; "find fresh water"; "seek infrastructure." Best bets: the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes states.

Comprehensive chapters cover growing food, where to invest, dealing with insurance, adjusting one's business, preparing for wildfires, floods, heatwaves, drought, hurricanes, social breakdown. Climate changes bring more mosquitos and ticks. Pogue calls it "global weirding."

Pogue gets down to the nitty-gritty, with a section on emergency notification (and the heartbreak of the Camp Fire) along with a page on lessons from that fire: "Fill the tank."

Whether we stay or go, Pogue's must-have book will fill our information tank to the brim.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

"Why Does The Moon Shine So Bright?"

Whimsical curiosity. It seems to be in short supply these days, but Chicoan Christine Ferrin Lydon aims to reignite the spark in her new children's book, which is not only for kids but for adults to read to kids. An author's note says that Lydon, "after raising her children, felt it was time to share the stories she created throughout her years."

"Why Does The Moon Shine So Bright?" ($14.95 in softcover from Artistic Publications; also for Amazon Kindle) is gloriously illustrated by Chicoan Steve Ferchaud. The full-page, full-color images introduce a plethora of fanciful characters, denizens of fairyland, populating a young child's musing on how to answer that perplexing question. (A Spanish language version is also available.)

That old moon is a strange thing: "Sometimes it's big. Sometimes it's small. Sometimes it doesn't come out at all." And more: "Some nights, the moon seems so close, like it has something to say. Its beaming light shines in my room at night and brightens it like day. It's almost as if it's saying to me 'Will you come out and play?'"

So how did the moon get up into the sky in the first place? Could it have flown? Could scientists have "figured a way to hang it way up high"? Maybe there was a great slingshot that put it there? 

Once the moon is in place, why does it shine so bright? "Do you think someone stands behind it with a great big light?" Maybe?

There's a lot for a kid to ponder. It's hard work. But then sleepiness intervenes and as the child is drifting off there's the realization that there's so much more to know. Maybe as a grownup all the secrets of the moon will reveal themselves to the child. 

But for now, sleep is a welcome companion. But it's not the only companion. In a double-page spread Ferchaud populates the child's room with characters from dreamland. A frog prince. A violin-playing cat. A mouse sitting down for a feast of cheese. Flitting fairies everywhere. A living spoon.

And there, look! Just out the window, barely visible above the bright moon, a magnificent cow.

Udderly delightful.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

"After The Virus: A Surviralist's Journal"

Chico City Council member Scott Huber is now a novelist (with one less item on his bucket list). He imagines a future dystopia where the Ebola virus has mutated so that catching it "was a death sentence ... and a messy one." 

Most of earth's human population has been wiped out, but maybe 1% is "VNC," Viral Non-Compromised, immune (but maybe carriers). And so it is with Will, who begins a journal on April 15, 2033, recounting his challenges day to day just trying to remain hidden in the Ishi Wilderness area from militias intent on wiping out the VNC. Will becomes, not a survivalist, but a "surviralist." And thus the title: "After The Virus: A Surviralist's Journal" ($9.99 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle).

Huber emails: "I first started formulating the story in 2012, when I made the daily commute from Chico to Forest Ranch for my job at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve. There is a large cave that can be seen from Highway 32 on the east facing slope of Musty Buck Ridge. After visiting that cave and seeing the evidence of the indigenous people who had occupied it, I began to develop the plot."

Will must fend for himself: "Returning to my snares I was delighted to find two good-sized gray squirrels dangling by their necks from the tree. I skinned both and started a small fire, spitted them and had one for late breakfast, salted the other and wrapped it in a bandana to have later for an afternoon snack."

Eventually Will meets other VNC; some prove to be allies, like the young girl named Hope, but others are malicious and worse. The story is grim and violent and gory, aimed at, Huber emails, fans of The Walking Dead, not the Hallmark Channel (cannibals, anyone?). 

Later, word comes that the VNC must head to Oakland where a United Nations ship will take them to safety in March 2034. There is a horrendous price as small VNC cells press toward the goal; others continue journaling when Will cannot. 

Huber's descriptive skill and edge-of-your-seat pacing lead readers through a nightmare landscape not soon to be forgotten.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

"From The Dark Domain: Novel Number One In The Luke Thomas Series"

Keith Potter served Paradise Alliance Church as lead pastor during the 1990s. Now living with his wife, Sue, in Eugene, Oregon, he is Vice President for Advancement at Bushnell University (formerly Northwest Christian College) in Eugene.

In Potter's new novel, Arthur Gilliam, comatose in a care facility, is visited by a younger pastor, Luke Thomas, making his rounds.

"From The Dark Domain: Novel Number One In The Luke Thomas Series" ($18 in paperback from Resource Publications; also for Amazon Kindle) is a story within a story. Thomas, "District pastor" in San Diego, finds a manuscript Gilliam has written, a long letter to his estranged son, Donnie, recounting a life broken, yet redeemed by God, which forms the crux of the novel.

Ever attracted to beautiful women, Gilliam falls hard for Alice. Donnie is conceived on their wedding night, but Alice is sexually cold and physically brutal. "As a protector, I failed beyond measure," he writes his son.

She kicks Donnie out at sixteen. Later, after Alice dies, Arthur is alone, preaching but not much believing that stuff about Jesus. He moves to Tahuya, Washington. His neighbor, Lisa, is wondrous to look at, and she is attracted to the wimpy Arthur. Yet Lisa abruptly leaves and Arthur ponders what God is doing.

In the early 1990s he takes a job teaching English in Rwanda at a Christian school. The headmistress, Prudence Nayinzira ("a woman who could have been Miss Universe"), is a Tutsi. One of the older students, Faustin Bizimana, a Hutu, becomes spiritual mentor to Arthur, and together they challenge each other in following Jesus.

"My own becoming," Arthur writes, "presented hand-in-hand with that obscure little country; both of us crowded with regrets and unrealized impulses for the good, and yet capable of harm...." Soon, they all must face the Rwandan genocide as attackers come again and again. If by God's grace Arthur finds courage at last, what form will it take?

And how can Luke Thomas communicate this to those who have loved Arthur?

Potter's novel is masterful--and the searing Rwandan events will leave readers breathless in the face of a God-haunted world.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

"Calm: How To Thrive In Challenging Times" and "Calm Parents And Children: A Guidebook"

Life coach Gayle Kimball, Chico State Department of Sociology professor emerita, has distilled her experiences in helping others cope with stress into two new books. 

"Calm: How To Thrive In Challenging Times" ($9.99 in paperback) and "Calm Parents And Children: A Guidebook" ($14.99 in paperback, with both available for Amazon Kindle) are published by Equality Press (see gaylekimball.info).

"Calm" lays out the principles Kimball uses while "Calm Parents And Children" draws on her surveys of kids around the world, the questions they have for parents, and applications of the principles to parenting.

For Kimball, the keys to calm involve "cognitive restructuring" ("we can rewrite our brains with our thought patterns") and healing through redirecting the deep energies of the body (she is a graduate of the Chico Psychic Institute, a Reiki 3 master, and is trained in using acupressure for "emotional clearing").

"Hard times," she writes, "can be our best teachers and a catalyst for change.... Of course, it's difficult to find any silver lining in being unemployed or ill," especially in the pandemic. But harmful emotions produced by isolation can drain the very energy needed to move forward. So "be aware of the feeling, focus on it, listen to it. Don't try to stuff it or ignore it. Then let it go into an imaginary container that you blow up, or down from you into the earth to recycle, or you can release feelings through physical exercise."

She notes that "visualizing images serves as a powerful way to harness the power of thoughts. We attract what we focus on; we program ourselves like computer software, so we need to examine our core beliefs, such as about our self-worth."

Her study of Generation Z (those born in the late nineties to around 2010) found "different norms from previous generations" (they tend to be progressive, spiritual but not religious, and accepting of gender fluidity). "Calm Parents And Children" suggests ways parents can respond to this generation in dealing with their strong-willed child, gender stereotyping, teenage addiction to social media, and young people who won't listen to authority.

Discerning readers will find much to ponder.