.A Sense of Place

Our biannual look at local authors' work

The Farm Bill, a massive, phone-book-thick piece of legislation passed by Congress every five to seven years, dictates how much of America—and indeed, the world—eats. But few of us have any idea how it works or why we should care. And that’s just the way Big Ag likes it. ‘Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill’ (Watershed Media; $19.95) seeks to shed some daylight on this critically important legislation. Written by Healdsburg’s Daniel Imhoff, author, editor and publisher of numerous works, including CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, the book serves as an overview of agricultural politics, deciphering the Byzantine world of the Farm Bill in an easy-to-read newspaper style, complete with charts and graphics. The book pulls the curtain away from the political sausage-making, and just might make readers pissed off enough to get involved and try to make the 2012 Farm Bill one that better serves the public good instead of the corporate few.—S.H.

Jennie Orvino has been writing since she got a diary with a lock and key at age 14, but in ‘Poetry, Politics and Passion’ (Piece of Mind; $15), she throws the lock away. Comprising poems, personal essays and a lengthy memoir, Orvino’s book is tremendously frank about the author’s many exploits while stylishly circumventing embarrassment. It opens with Orvino being arrested inside St. John’s church in Milwaukee in 1968 for protesting the Vietnam War; swings swiftly into young sexual liaisons; touches on courtroom cases, jailed draft resisters and an aborted engagement; and shows a college-age Orvino horrifying her parents by sewing a burlap wall hanging with the immortal words of e.e. cummings: “I WILL NOT KISS YOUR FUCKING FLAG.” And that’s only the first 24 pages. Orvino’s 28 poems are similarly blunt, sometimes with the whomp of Raymond Carver (“The Thought of Writing Poetry,” a succinct, beautiful tragedy) and sometimes with sorrowful lament for the world (“FGM,” “Boys Do Cry”). Personal essays, perhaps the most revealing of the book, cover masturbating from the age of five, an ongoing friendship with Robert Bly, a grandson born with an arm that ends below the elbow, matchmaking services gone horribly wrong and being filmed in the throes of climax for a documentary on orgasms. A page-turner, indeed.—G.M.

Princess Polly is staying in a pink palace with her pooch Leroy. It’s spring break, and the teen perfectionist is preparing a dance, when one of her princess friends drops out. Picky Polly needs a pretty girl with red hair to fill her spot, pronto. She finds her pick at the Royal Pet Palace, dousing dogs in homemade pastes and powders, and setting their fur with pins. Cianna, the titular pet washer, is her port town’s paramount pooch pamperer (she also preens palominos), and with her red hair, she fits perfectly into Princess Polly’s plan. But impediments pile on! Cianna is far from plain, and thus a prize for petty Polly, but there’s a problem: she can’t see her port town or pampered pooches any more than she can the Pet Palace’s presumably plentiful piles of pup poo. The blind but pure-hearted pet washer and pretty but pompous Polly make an unlikely pair in this pedagogical tale, proving that pretentious princesses and pitiful pooch preeners can, in fact, play nice. Peruse ‘The Pet Washer’ (Dreamcatcher; $10.99), by Windsor author Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, as a prime piece of praiseworthy preciousness.—R.D.

Fiona Hedge needs to infuse some spunk into her tidy life in Oakland. One day, while thrift shopping with a friend, Fiona finds a beautiful old oil painting of her own apartment. Intrigued, she begins a search for the mysterious artist, Emma Caites. In ‘The Emma Caites Way’ (Two Rock Press; $14.95), Two Rock author A. V. Walters melds Fiona’s search for Emma with the search for a greater purpose—and some fun and adventure—in her lackluster life. After searching for clues of Emma’s existence in the greater East Bay, the artist’s trail leads Fiona to Paris, where Emma honed her skills in the plein air style. In this book that’s part art history mystery and part self-discovery, readers will enjoy Walter’s descriptions of Berkeley’s chaotic streets, the well-earned snobbery of Paris and even the musty finds of estate sales. The life of a painting from easel to gallery, from purchaser to antique store and, finally, restoration and appreciation is covered in details that capture the reader’s attention. The newfound friends Fiona encounters during her search share an admiration of the art, artist and of Fiona herself, validating her new, life-changing interest.—S.D.

David Madgalene’s ‘Goodbye Gothic Rose’ (Israfel Press; $7) is a free-verse poetic memoir, mostly about lost love and its haunting presence. It’s also a search for sexuality that relies on poetic verse to tell a story. The story is thick with tangents and, though set mostly in South Beach, Fla., nods to Guerneville and what is presumably a Navy ship, somewhere at sea. The stanzas occasionally provide moments of clarity, but just as often seem to be an inside joke. They’re all tied together with themes of self-loathing and a haunting love, revealed as a beloved woman who left the protagonist one morning heading out for Frosted Flakes. As Madgalene writes, “Poetry is masturbation / we hear it all the time / but if poetry is to be read or heard / does it not then become fornication / and not all fornication / is a masterpiece.” The book-poem ends on a melancholy note, conjuring images of a lonely man in a small motel room with a bottle on the nightstand and the muted television glowing with infomercials as the sole source of light: “My dick is crying, my dick is crying / Goodbye Goth Florida Lolita, Goodbye Gothic Rose.”—N.G.

Tiffany Baker’s The Gilly Salt Sisters, about a fictional Cape Cod salt farm, weaves together elements of magical realism, small-town gothic and fractured perspective. Its three storytellers—two estranged sisters and a pregnant, teenage waitress—are bound by ruinous relationships and inexplicably drawn to a sparse swath of tidal salt pools. In this saline marsh, boys mysteriously die, trenches turn blood red and townsfolk fear the ‘power of the salt’ with the same intensity they revere their weather-worn statue of the Virgin, who stares down the local congregation without a face. A resident of Marin, Baker was featured on the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle bestseller lists for her first novel, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County. This is the UC Irvine graduate’s second book, and her background in Victorian literature is apparent in the filigreed similes that lace her ordinary prose with moments of startling revelation, like jars of pickleweed canned in brine, their “tender shoots floating like strands of memory.” Through its three complex protagonists and vivid, haunted sense of place, The Gilly Salt Sisters captivates without bending to sentimentality—a difficult feat for text this downright beautiful.—R.D.

Sit by a fire with the turntable near, crack open a beverage and get a warm blanket for two—these could be instructions for reading Jonah Raskin’s new book of poetry, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Women: Portraits of a Generation’ (McCaa Books; $10). Read aloud, the poems feel like narration to a Ken Burns–style documentary about rock ‘n’ roll women in the North Bay, from the ’50s to now. The faded Polaroids twist and almost jump out of the book while Jonah Raskin’s mischievous verse come alive with the spirit of the Beat generation. The body of work of this former Sonoma State University communications department chair (and occasional Bohemian contributor) runs the gamut with biographies, a search for a very elusive writer and even an account of sweating in the vineyards with migrant workers during harvest season (at retirement age, no less). But his words shine brightest in poetry, where Raskin ties the modern era with prose of the Beats. “The Joy Of Cooking cooking / along the barbecued shore” from “Penny & the Joy of Cooking” gives way later to “Work it in and work it out with Jay-Z / go note for note with Lady Gaga,” from “Monica & Beyoncé.” Raskin even offers a suggested play list accompaniment.—N.G.

In ‘Seduction Redefined’ (Pioneer Imprints; $19), authors Donna Oehm Sheehan and Paul Reffell divide and conquer the millennia-old belief that men have the upper hand at choosing their mate. According to the authors—and Charles Darwin, and the animal kingdom in general—it is in fact females who are biologically predetermined to choose among parading males for the best mate to sustain the species and the world. This straightforward, candid analysis of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection redefines what we believe to be the rules for seduction, including eliminating outdated notions that men must initiate courtship. The book also provides a look into longstanding cultural practices, like organized religion and Hollywood fantasies, that have kept women disempowered throughout history. By tolerating destructive behavioral traits, women permit the rise of patriarchal societies full of tyrannical, dysfunctional males, thus sharing the responsibility for global wars and the destruction of the environment. But hope prevails! By nurturing mindful men, comfortable with embracing feminine intelligence, humanity can solve many of the world’s problems. Sheehan resides in the west Marin County community of Marshall and, with Reffell, is the force behind the pro-peace organization BaringWitness.org, staging global photographs of thousands of (mostly) naked women in formations of peace slogans and symbols.—J.O.

Melanie Thorne’s debut novel ‘Hand Me Down’ (Dutton; $25.95) tells the tragic tale of two teen sisters, whose family is torn apart after their mother falls in love with and marries a convicted sex offender. Narrated by 14-year-old protagonist Elizabeth, the novel traces her journey from Sacramento to Salt Lake City to Petaluma and back again, after the court orders that she and her younger sister, Jamie, cannot live under the same roof as their stepfather. Scene after gripping scene paints the sad portrait of what happens when parents refuse to take responsibility for their children’s well-being and safety. With a violent alcoholic for a father and a mother who has mastered denial in favor of her own happiness, Elizabeth must find a way to protect her young sister while keeping herself psychologically afloat. When she finally finds an ally in Aunt Tammy, it’s like an exhalation in a book filled with suffering, strife and trauma. Thorne lives in Petaluma and earned her MA in creative writing from UC Davis, and her familiarity with the Bay Area comes through in the vivid depictions of the land as Elizabeth travels from relative to relative, yearning for a safe place to lay her head.—L.C.

Author Bill Moody is a jazz drummer and mystery writer who lives in a boxcar on the outskirts of Sonoma. He’s best known for his series starring Evan Horne, a jazz pianist who doubles as a detective, and for jazz fans, his writing is one delight after another with constant references to classic albums and their lore—and spot-on insight into the jazz mind. Previous Evan Horne novels have been themed after Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Chet Baker, but Moody’s latest, ‘Fade to Blue’ (Poisoned Pen; $14.95) is a pure Hollywood affair. Or, in this case, impure. Horne is hired as a consultant by Tinseltown’s red-hot young star Ryan Stiles, who needs to learn how to look like he’s playing the piano for an upcoming film role. Horne, distrustful of the industry, reluctantly accepts. A paparazzi photographer turns up murdered, and Horne suspects Stiles enough to bow out of the job. Luring him back, Stiles offers Horne the chance to score the entire film, but suspicions remain. Moody writes in a compelling yet simple, readable style, and expertly uses tropes like foreshadowing just enough without letting any cats, jazz or otherwise, out of the bag.—G.M.

Have you ever wondered why you, a full-grown woman, have no control over your knee-high yapping dog? According to Petaluma dog trainer Camilla Gray-Nelson, it’s partly because pooches, like people, tend to be sexist pigs. And while that’s not exactly how the author puts it in her book Lipstick and the Leash, she does argue that our beloved pups are beasts of natural selection, genetically groomed to follow the big, the strong, the ‘I-can-maim-that-wildebeest-faster-than-you’—the signifiers that, over the years, have tended to go along with being male. So strap on a pair, girl! When it comes to your animal, make rules, stand your ground and don’t let those big, chocolaty eyes woo you into mistakes like lavender bubble baths or spoon-feeding sugary breakfast cereals into his begging mouth. Through chapters like “You Smell Like A Girl…Out Of My Way!” and “Your Lips Say ‘No’ But Your Eyes Say ‘Yes,’” Gray-Nelson guides readers through a brand of empowerment training all her own, which, she writes with a sassy wink, you may be able to use on “the two-legged animal in your life” as well. Other highlights: An endorsement from the actor who played Timmy in ‘Lassie,’ pictures of smiling pups and frowning cows and one very special photo of a crazy woman dancing with a tuxedo-clad mannequin.—R.D.

Every guy stares at Beverly Mael’s boobs, and every girl assumes she’s banging the bank president. But in ‘Out of Balance’ (iUniverse; $23.95), Beverly is out to prove that she can negotiate with the big dogs, raise two children, tame an unemployed, computer-hacking husband and guide a massive bank buyout without losing her cool. This is the third novel by Sonoma County author Angela Lam Turpin (incidentally, a winner in last year’s Bohemian short-story writing contest), and it’s written from a typically female perspective, with detailed attention paid to Beverly’s wardrobe, nails, shoes, an upcoming Halloween party, the emotional distance of her husband and, as a near-constant refrain, just about everyone in the world gawking at her breasts. The hard-rock-loving boss at Beverly’s bank takes her seriously, however, and tasks the receptionist with combing through the financial records of World Bank in preparation for a large deal. They grow closer as husband Eric dives ever further into his computer screen, and sparks of all kind begin to fly. For Sonoma County residents, local signifiers abound—a winding road to upscale “Spa County,” a Home Depot parking lot overlooking the city—and throughout, Turpin uses the recession Zeitgeist as a literary canvas for a sharp, imaginative story.—G.M.

Poetic and lively, Joan Frank’s fifth book, ‘Make It Stay’ (Permanent Press; $26), carries the dry wit and emotional weight that are mainstays of the Santa Rosa–based writer. Frank has been a teacher of writing, a winner of multiple awards and the recipient of a coveted MacDowell Colony Fellowship; her work is known to be astute, funny and wise, and this latest novel is no exception. Make It Stay takes place in the Northern California town of Mira Flores—which sounds suspiciously like Santa Rosa—and focuses on a writer, Rachel, and her Scottish husband, Neil. As the couple prepare a dinner party for a group of beloved old friends, Neil retells an old story about his best friend Mike and what happened when a secret life was revealed. After catastrophe strikes, the cadre of lovers and friends must figure out how to repair the damage, pick up the pieces and save what they love most.—L.C.

A hypnagogic rumble ride on the word train, ‘Ungulations: Ten Waves (Under the Hoof)’ (Surregional Press) carries readers through a cerebral collection of poems navigating the postmodern experience. Co-authored by Sonoma County local Amy Trussel and A. di Michele, the poems coalesce words, sounds and images from a broad range of times, places and cultures, such as in the poem “Quantum Brain Coral Exploration,” which begins: “when one is on the czestochowa summit, hold an edge of / peace-piped magic / consider its vacuoles and crust; but why / my amino soup wants a bolt-of-lightning spoon / i don’t know.” With a kind of radicalized free-verse, the poems hold to no particular rhythm, meter or formal behaviors; rather, the book’s signature style seems to come from its amalgamated amoeba-like structure and mercurial movements. The 119-page book features 10 poems, many of which started as spoken-word staged performances, and is sprinkled with black-and-white photographs as imaginative and curious as the words and punctuation therein.—M.S.

‘Teller’ (Dog Ear Publishing; $16.95) is the debut novel from Santa Rosa author Federick Weisel. In a story centered in Sonoma County, Weisel charismatically illustrates the life of Charlie Teller, an out-of-work ghostwriter of bestselling celebrity autobiographies. Struggling to jumpstart a career held up by drug addiction, Teller is floating through life lost in the memories of his famous clients’ lives. Temporarily living in a renovated water tower in the Valley of the Moon, Teller records the life of a callous developer when he’s suddenly caught up in the murder of a newfound friend. Skeptical of the police, he becomes an accidental detective. This absorbing whodunit tracks down the facts everywhere from west Sonoma County and “the end of the earth” to seedy eastside apartment complexes, moving in and out of recognizable Sonoma County scenery. Intriguing indeed is trying to decipher in which Santa Rosa cafe the decisive murder took place.—J.O.

Few things are more terrifying than the rogue waves that too frequently hit Sonoma County’s pristine beaches. That terror turns to pain when one of these huge, sneaker waves takes a loved one’s life. Readers of ‘The Underside of Joy’ (Dutton Publishing; $25.95) get sucked into the powerful waters of the story of a young man’s drowning and the unforeseen consequences it brings to his family. West Sonoma County author Seré Prince Halverson explores the emotional surges of the newly widowed and grieving Ella Beene as she raises two young stepchildren, deals with financial difficulties and is caught off-guard by the return of the children’s long-absent birth mother. Set in the town of Elbow—strikingly similar to Monte Rio—the novel is rife with descriptions of West County’s terroir. Halverson peppers her story with walks through redwood forests, winetasting in ripening vineyards, picnics in oaken meadows and locations like “the bakery in Freestone” and Bodega Head, giving readers such a sense of familiarity that the characters become neighbors. The author, a mother and stepmother who was raised by both a mother and stepmother, artfully describes Ella’s rocky situation with a realism and grace that will leave readers with a healthy respect for blended families and single parents.—S.D.

If nothing else, reading ‘Nature’s Dirty Needle: What You Need to Know About Chronic Lyme Disease and How to Get the Help to Feel Better’ (Bush Street Press, $11.99) gives an enormous sense of relief to those who do not have chronic Lyme disease. For those with the disease, or those who know someone with it, the book is a must-read. Written by Sonoma’s Mara Williams and full of personal accounts from patients young and old, the book gives hope and a sense of solidarity in stories of suffering with and conquering the often baffling disease. Taking the book in all at once may require a box of tissues; as a civil rights lawyer knocked to her knees says at one point, “‘Awful’ doesn’t even begin to describe the surreal hell I lived in at that time.” The book deserves praise for mostly steering clear of the U.S. healthcare debacle and sticking to patients’ stories. There are many co-infections that pile on with chronic Lyme disease, and it can take months or years to fully recover. Williams, a registered nurse with 30 years experience, not only destigmatizes the disease, but is out to help stop its spread; one consistent theme throughout the book is that early detection can help save lives.—N.G.

A definitive guide for wine enthusiasts, tourists and Pinot-enchanted newbies, the fifth edition of ‘The California Directory of Fine Wineries’ (Wine House Press; $19.95) provides a make-your-own-adventure approach for tasters in grape country. The book catalogues 68 top wineries in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, ranging from small, family operations like Healdsburg’s Bella Vineyards to larger outfits like the Robert Mondavi Winery. With the page-long profiles highlighting each winery’s finest features, dozens of full-page photographs and sidebars loaded with wine tour schedules, directions and info on nearby attractions and events, the directory also includes three easy-to-use county maps with all 68 locations printed on them. Created by Sonoma editor and publisher Tom Silberkleit, Mill Valley photographer Robert Holmes, Paso Robles writer K. Reka Badger and Sonoma author Marty Olmstead, the book is available nationwide.—M.S.

Lovers of both fantasy and horses will ride into a magical adventure while reading ‘Horse Stalker: The Root of Glory, Book One’ (Franklin Park Press; $13.99), by Santa Rosa author and Press Democrat staff writer Robert Digitale. With hints of Tolkien’s Two Towers and Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear, Horse Stalker tells of the hunters and hunted, all in search of mystical powers that may save or destroy the world. Roj, a young, horse-hunting clansman, follows a rare and legendary spotted stallion into dangerous territory rife with lightning bolts, über-bad dudes with unfortunate and difficult-to-pronounce names that sound like Porky Pig’s stuttering (“Pibbibib” and “Yuikki”), and an omen-casting hermit. Led to a mystical woman in a cave, Roj hears the prophecies that foretell his role in not only saving the Root of Glory, but using it to lead his people toward the good of mankind. The first of a series to be published by Franklin Park Press, owned by Digitale and his wife, Carol.—S.D.

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