Local Lit

“Cinnamon Monday” isn’t a stripper’s name in Rayme Waters’ debut novel, ‘The Angels’ Share’ (Winter Goose; $15.99); it’s the name of a meth addict. Specifically, it’s the name of a meth addict who gets her life back together by working in a small winery in Sonoma County. After neglectful bohemian parents and an overbearing grandmother lead her to a life of substance and physical abuse, Cinnamon Monday’s neighbor saves her. After a particularly violent episode that leaves her barely clinging to life, she’s offered a job in his vineyard. Wine, ironically, is the basis for the salvation of a drug addict in this novel, whose title was inspired by the author’s belief that “angels looked after the wine as it matured.” Waters, who attended Harmony School in Occidental and grew up in the pot-friendly North Bay, says she was lucky enough never to fall prey to meth, speed or any other popular ’80s amphetamines. The Angel’s Share draws from experiences of friends.—N.G.

From the cashier at the grocery store who likes to dole out advice on how to deal with teenage angst to the hippie dad obsessed with Waldorf schools and attachment parenting, it seems everyone’s got something to say on the subject of raising children. So thank goodness for voices in the wilderness like Marin-based clinician and educator Madeline Levine, whose latest book, ‘Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success’ (Harper; $26.99), provides solid, research-based tips for raising kids in a messy world. Rather than focusing on grades, trophies and fat college acceptance envelopes, parents should be helping their children cultivate optimism, coping skills and resilience, argues Levine. These traits, and not cutthroat competitiveness and obsession with high performance, tend to lead toward higher levels of happiness. “Our job is to help them know and appreciate themselves deeply; to approach the world with zest; to find work that is exciting and satisfying . . . and to hold a deep belief that they have something meaningful to contribute to society,” writes Levine. Certainly, this is advice toward a happier, healthier new generation.—L.C.

I have a weird fascination with old yearbooks and estate sales. Maybe that’s what drew me to the fire-orange cover on the memoir ‘Sometimes I See You’ (PublishAmerica; $24.95) by Cazadero author Michael David Fels. Chapters include “Birth,” “Navajo Nation,” “Judaism,” “Austin,” “UCLA” and, most intriguingly, “Witness Protection, Satanic Cults and Shoe Glue.” Despite the miniscule probability that self-published books will become bestsellers, it’s a way for people to tell their story. Sometimes, they’re written because belief in the book’s potential is so strong; sometimes, it’s a cathartic release of emotion. Sometimes I See You seems to lean toward the latter, but Fels’ life is interesting enough for a reader to keep the pages turning.—N.G.

Members of the Russian American Company first settled Fort Ross in 1803. They were drawn to California because of the hunting prospects, namely the sea otters that flocked to the Western coast in high numbers. For the next 38 years, the Russians coexisted with the Kayasha population, intermarrying and sharing language. But overhunting led to a dwindling otter population and diminished prospects. In 1841, the settlers abandoned Fort Ross, leaving the fog-drenched buildings to the annals of history. The Russian River obviously derives its name from these long-ago settlers, as does Russian Gulch and other landmarks of the Sonoma Coast. Written by Glenn J. Farris, a retired senior state archaeologist for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, ‘So Far from Home: Russians in Early California’ (Heyday Books; $21.95) revisits this neglected era through historical documents, first-hand accounts and author narration. The resulting book is a fascinating journey through an era where the Russians were not only coming, they came.—L.C.

The ’60s, man. You had to be there, man. Here’s a book of tales, man, called ‘San Fran ’60s: San Francisco & the Birth of the Hippies’ (Escallonia Press; $10.50) from a guy who was there—like, really there, man. His name’s Mark Jacobs, a retired English teacher living half the year in Mexico. How groovy is that? Mexico, man! The Summer of Love, y’know, 1967, is when lots of these stories take place, on Haight Street, sometimes with the freaks in Golden Gate Park—that kinda scene. This guy, Jacobs, he’s tellin’ stories like they happened yesterday. Some of ’em are totally unbelievable, and some are totally, like, “That could happen to me,” ya know? The stories are written with lots of dialogue, which makes the characters jump off the page (but that could just be Benny’s Nepalese hash talking). Good stuff, man.—N.G.

Has-been supermodel Lee Malone retains her drop-dead gorgeous looks—and haute couture wardrobe—and uses them every chance she gets to solve a murder mystery and live to write about it in ‘The Last Resort: A Lee Malone Adventure’ (Nualláin House; $19.99). Author Pat Nolan sets this labyrinthine adventure in his home turf along the Russian River communities, renamed the Corkscrew River in the book. Having survived a botched kidnap attempt and a rescue by a secret female militia, Malone seeks the “quiet life” among the redwoods. She writes puff pieces for the Corkscrew County Grapevine, but stumbles into a deeper, more sinister story. First, Malone finds the neighborhood dogs shot dead, and shortly after, two resort owners who have met the same fate. Using her feminine wiles to coax information out of locals and law enforcement before getting tangled in the vines of villainy herself, Malone wends her way through wine country’s landowners and leeches to a fiery finish. Nolan weaves his heroine’s backstory throughout, touching on issues of homelessness, sex slavery, pornography and ever-changing relationships in river communities, while retaining a sense of humor and comic relief.—S.D.

Joan Frank puts the fruits of her prolific writing career onto the page in her latest work, ‘Because You Have To: A Writing Life’ (University of Notre Dame Press; $18). The Santa Rosa–based writer has produced two short story collections—including In Envy Country, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize in Fiction—and three novels. In this writing memoir, Frank tackles the topics of rejection (“Rejection, then, is like the wake of a boat: proof of motion”), the dubious benefit of travel to the imagination, the art of writing character, envy, and “death” of the book as we know it. Frank’s sentences are highly stylized and don’t shy away from making intellectual demands. Whether read on a Kindle, iPhone or good old paper, it’s an essay collection that’s sure to inspire picking up the pen and writing with the same fervor, wisdom and dedication as its author.—L.C.

Doctors are very smart people, but that doesn’t mean they always make the best writers. Conversely, in ‘The Santa Rosa Reader: A Personal Anthology from the Family Medicine Residency’ (Sonoma County Medical Association, $9.95), Dr. Rick Flinders brings a personal tone that connects on a deeper level than just a medical journal or newspaper op-ed column. From his first patient, whom he helped as a member of the Peace Corps in Paraguay before even taking one pre-med course, to his retirement road trip with golden retriever Daisy Mae, Flinders’ collection of stories, essays, book reviews and opinions is not as dry as one might expect from a medical professional. After 40 years of practicing the dying art of family medicine, Flinders has plenty of stories—and opinions—to share.—N.G.

Santa Rosa poet, biographer and food lover Jonah Raskin retired from his teaching position in Sonoma State University’s communications department last year, but he hasn’t stopped working. Neither has the subject of Raskin’s latest offering. In ‘James McGrath: In a Class by Himself’ (McCaa Books; $18), Raskin introduces us to the octogenarian art teacher McGrath, who has taught every grade, from preschool to graduate school, and, as Raskin explains, has been widely praised by both former students and fellow teachers. McGrath’s focus isn’t on getting students to pass a test or forcing them into a career, but pushing them to explore who they are, who they want to be, and how to get there. The book has some lofty, deep concepts, and should be a great read for teachers who want to unlock the potential of every student who ever sits in their classroom.—N.G.

‘Surrounded by Water’ (Press 53; $14.95) is the follow-up to former Healdsburg literary laureate Stefanie Freele’s first award-winning story collection. The new book returns to the eerie, subversive aesthetic of Freele’s earlier work in Feeding Strays and runs with it. “Us Hungarians” tells of a young woman who goes to live with her two brothers in an old farmhouse that’s built next to a sludgy toxic landfill. The toxicity is something to which the crazy landlord and his red-headed daughter pay little mind, though the environment seems to be driving everyone a bit mad. Loaded with vivid, sometimes disturbing images of bulimia, domestic desperation, young insanity, manic depression and animal cruelty, Freele’s writing—much like that of her peers Leni Zumas and Aimee Bender—is driven by subtext. A fiction editor at the Los Angeles Review, Freele’s work willingly leaps into life’s dark abysses. Her stories shine a light into the subterranean depths of their characters without looking away when the going gets rough, as a result conjuring a satisfying catharsis for the reader.—L.C.

Vegan meals get a bad rap for being limited in taste and difficult to prepare. Ramses Bravo, executive chef at TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, debunks this notion in his new cookbook, ‘Bravo!’ (Book Publishing Company; $19.95), and he does it without using any sugar, oil or salt in his recipes. Finding himself overweight and lacking energy due to an overindulgence in gourmet foods, Bravo took on the challenge of creating exquisite vegan dishes at TrueNorth. Adopting the credo that society is programmed on a genetic level to love salty, fatty foods, a relic from our hunter-gatherer past, and that current lifestyles no longer need this type of diet, the cookbook delivers over a hundred recipes loaded with healthful ingredients instead of calories. Bravo finds flavor using herbs, and uses vegetables, fruits, soy products and grains as primary meal components. Skeptics need only to try the boulangère potatoes, an alternative to scalloped potatoes, or the tortilla soup to become converts.—S.D.

Zak Zaikine sounds like the name of an artist, and indeed the Sebastopol resident is one. The artist and author’s latest book, co-authored with Karin O’Keefe, is ‘Eugene and His Magical Dreams’ (Moon Valley; $30), a children’s book full of large illustrations of the rabbit Eugene and his animal friends. The large text is helpful for first-time readers, or for pointing out words while reading along; the illustrations are the focus. The story tells of a rabbit’s dreams of becoming the Carrot King of the forest, which gives him the confidence to paint the world as he sees it. This leads to him falling in love and marrying another bunny, Valentina. They are later given a cat named Buddha whom is said to have once lived with Vincent Van Gogh. In the end, it’s revealed that—surprise!—Eugene and Valentina are in fact the authors of the book you’re holding. Following the end of the story, the book continues with four pages of related “portraits” from characters in the book, described as they would be in an art gallery.—N.G.

‘Our Southern Home’ (McCaa Books; $19.99) tells the personal story of Santa Rosa author Waights Taylor Jr. and the events that transformed both his family and the American South. In a clear and readable style, Taylor describes the geography and history of Birmingham, Ala., and the subsequent formation of interdependence between the different cultural classes. Growing up in an affluent white family, the author recounts stories heard from his father, Waights Taylor Sr., and weaves them together with the lives of Rosa Parks and Clarence Norris, one of the Scottsboro Boys, all 18 years old in 1931. That year saw Scottsboro as the setting for a case accusing nine young black men of allegedly attempting to rape a white woman. The landmark lawsuit resulted in numerous trials that ultimately fueled the fires of the Civil Rights movement, including Parks’ famous bus ride in Montgomery. Taylor contrasts the varying lives and opportunities of these three people in three key cities of Alabama to foment a greater understanding of the effects of racism in the South and the transformation of corrupt political and social systems nationwide.—S.D.

Sausalito young-adult author Jennifer Gennari has started her writing career with a doozy of a topic. In ‘My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer’ (Houghton Mifflin; $15.99), 12-year-old June Farrell’s mother is getting married to a woman. Add in the controversy this creates in her small Vermont town, and 120 pages might not seem like enough to tell the story. But in Gennari’s readable style, this young adult novel flies through the events like an after-school TV special. June’s quest to win the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition just makes things more complicated, but she doesn’t let the small-town talk surrounding her mother take away her focus; her resolve to emerge victorious despite the odds becomes a metaphor for the fight for gay marriage equality in this country. This coming-of-age novel includes not only a happy ending, but a recipe for what looks to be a delicious berry pie. Ingredients not included.—N.G.

Not to be confused with the Spike Jonze film of the same name, Marin County author Malinda Lo’s third novel, ‘Adaptation’ (Little, Brown; $17.99), is not about Nicolas Cage’s character trying to write a screenplay about his inability to write a screenplay. Instead, this sci-fi thriller begins with birds falling dead like stones from the sky, followed by every flight in the airport showing up as “cancelled” on the information board. Videos of planes crashing and other mysterious bird happenings are being removed from the internet as soon as they’re posted. What’s going on here? After birds cause their car to crash, Reese and David can’t remember much when awakening in a military hospital in the Nevada desert. Uniformed personnel force them to sign nondisclosure agreements, but that doesn’t kill their curiosity. What they soon discover is a massive global conspiracy the government has been trying to keep secret for years. Now it’s up to them to expose the truth.—N.G.