Short Reviews

Spring Gleaning

A potpourri of reads by local authors

SHOP LOCALLY and read whatever you like, but don’t pass over a chance to support local authors whenever possible. This season has something for everyone, from Bruce Henderson’s gripping true-life whodunnit Trace Evidence to a exhaustive travel guide for diehard tequila lovers. Enjoy. Synopses by Mary Bishop, Steve Bjerklie, Shelley Lawrence, Patrick Sullivan, David Templeton, and Marina Wolf.

Shoshana Alexander
Women’s Ventures, Women’s Visions
(Crossing Press; $14.95)

“MMM, GIRL, you oughta be sellin’ this!” Every woman who’s ever heard this enthusiastic comment, or something like it, has also heard the scared little rejoinder in her head two seconds later: I don’t know how. But there is no shortage of role models for would-be women business owners, as this Sebastopol author points out in her introduction to Women’s Ventures: we’re just lacking the old-girl network. This inspiring collection of first-person narratives from 29 women entrepreneurs offers a much needed link in that fledgling web. The stories come from a wide range of informants, from a new-mother caretaker in Atlanta, Ga., to award-winning TV producer Marcy Carsey. In this small book is information on financing, advertising, employing, living, all the more engaging because it doesn’t feel like advice, but quiet, friendly sharing of personal truth.

Edwin C. Anderson Jr.
The Promise That Was America
(Self-Published; $21.95)

SANTA ROSA attorney Edwin Anderson here reveals the historical successes and failures of America. By delving into the lives of specific characters that range from George Washington to Lyndon Johnson and Robert NcNamara, Anderson invites us to reflect upon the past as well as the present and future. His book encourages us to take a serious look at ourselves and the way our country has evolved.

James A. Autry and Stephen Mitchell
Real Power: Business Lessons from the Tao Te Ching
(Riverhead Books; $23.95)

THE FACT THAT “Dow” and “Tao” are pronounced exactly the same in English may or may not be the reason why Sonoma resident Stephen Mitchell, famed for making Genesis, Job, and Rilke accessible, and James Autry, a former Fortune 500 company executive, teamed up to find the pearls of business advice buried within Lao-tzu’s text of ancient Chinese wisdom, the Tao Te Ching. But no matter. This graceful, spare book (200 pages) elegantly describes how Lao-tzu’s sage advice reveal good business sense. “Can you coax your mind from its wandering and keep to the original oneness?” may not appear to have application in the boardroom or on the trading floor, but the authors find it: “People who are driven by crisis are letting circumstances define their lives instead of allowing all things to arise in the space in which work is performed.” Many such ancient/modern pearls are to be found here.

George Bowering, Angela Bowering, David Bromige, and Michael Matthews
Piccolo Mondo
(Coach House Press; $35)

YOU CAN TAKE the boy out of Canada, but you can’t take Canada out of the boy, as Sonoma County transplant David Bromige proves in his collaborative coming-of-age novel set in 1961 Vancouver, B.C. In this semi-stream-of-consciousness production, four college students become ensnared in a web of Canadian government intrigue … ha-ha, Canadian intrigue, that’s an oxymoron, right? Well, if a brilliant flash of light at the edge of the night sky doesn’t grab you, check out Piccolo Mondo in its entirety at the Coach House Press website at Remember to leave a tip.

Lance Cutler The Tequila Lover’s Guide to Mexico: Everything There Is to Know About Tequila … Including How to Get There
(Wine Patrol Press; $16.95)

PART TRAVEL book and part love letter, this guide is a highly personal, brightly written romp through the land of the blue agave, the mythic plant from which all tequila blessings flow. Lance Cutler, a Sonoma-based author with a legendary wine cellar, uses the same wine-appreciation skills he’s honed for years as he takes his wife from one tequila distillery to another, pointing out nifty technical and historical facts, as well as giving tips on how to find the often-remote distilleries themselves, and where to find a bite to eat once you get there.

Jack Fritscher
The Geography of Women: A Romantic Comedy
(Palm Drive Publishing; $9.95)

ERA IS AURA in lesbian-themed fiction, or at least it should be. A good piece of lesbian period fiction will make prevailing political and moral attitudes perfectly clear, but not overwhelming. By that standard, at least, The Geography of Women is a success, melding nuclear-age normalcy with small-town eccentrism. At their juncture in southern Illinois lives Laydia Spain O’Hara (say it out loud), a spunky tomboy. (Is there any other kind?) Fritscher has a talent for well-turned folk phrasing, no matter which way the character leans (Fritscher writes primarily gay male themes). And though the basic plot bears a striking resemblance to Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes, one is willing to forgive in the face of such exuberance.

Kendall Haven
Bedtime Stories
(Storystreet; $5.95)

“AAHH, okey-dokey, boys, aahhh, a story, ummm … ” starts out Jimmy and Jason’s dorky dad each night. The twins are convinced that their father is quite possibly the nerdiest man alive, telling bedtime stories comparable to his status as such. But … was it possible that their dad’s stories could maybe … come true? As the stories get progressively spookier, join Jimmy, Jason, their dad, and their elementaryschool mates as local storyteller Kendall Haven–who has performed for more than 2 million children and 800,000 adults in 40 states–takes you through a walk of weirdness.

Kendall Haven
Stepping Stones to Science: True Tales and Awesome Activities
Great Moments in Science: Experiments and Readers’ Theatre
(Libraries Unlimited; $22.50, $24)

AN ELEMENTARY-school teacher’s dream, Kendall Haven’s Stepping Stones to Science provides a fun, hands-on way for second- through fifth-graders to learn about science. Covering topics from physics to electricity to evolution, Haven’s storybook/workbook begins each section with an amusing anecdote, which is followed up with an experiment that can be performed by the students. Each section also includes “Topics to Talk About,” a short list of items that teachers can use to spark discussions among their students. All in all, a practical and entertaining way to break into the world of science. Haven’s Great Moments in Science is an intelligent sequel to Stepping Stones to Science. Aimed at students from grades 4 to 9, the book is a series of skits that can be acted out by students using thespian outlines of the glories of scientific stuff like genetics, rocketry, and chemistry, to begin with.

Haven’s skits provide a way for middle-school students to learn about science without feeling bored or patronized, and the books provide a helpful teacher’s guide to aid discussions.

Bruce Henderson
Trace Evidence
(Simon & Schuster; $25)

CHILLING FICTION is what it reads like, but with a deft and compelling voice, Sebastopol author Bruce Henderson–best known for his bestseller And the Sea Will Tell–unravels a true-crime drama. Trace Evidence is the story of serial killer Ray Biondi, who stalked his prey along lonely highways of the West. By abducting, sexually assaulting, and strangling his victims in one jurisdiction and dumping their bodies in another, he created an investigative quagmire for detectives. Drawing on hours of exclusive interviews with key investigators and others–including the killer’s wife, who never spoke to authorities– Henderson bores into the psychological complexities of his characters with meticulous accuracy. The eerie case revealed here clearly illustrates how the disparate elements of rage, repression, and family dysfunction combine to create a killer. Trace Evidence is composed with Hitchcocksian precision. It’s stark, sharp, disturbing, and will haunt you for days.

Christine Hunsicker, editor
A Dog’s World
(Traveler’s Tales; $12.95)

DO YOU FEEL like a class-A deserter as the Pathetic Puppy Eyes turn on you while you head out the door to, say, Bangladesh? Here is a collection of true stories that tell what happens when dog owners succumb to The Look, avoiding the subsequent guilt, and take their dogs along for the ride (or flight, as the case may be). This addition to the “Travelers’ Tales” series is an actual guidebook that provides maps to foreign lands in a series of heartwarming anecdotes involving dog-lovers (among them such noted authors as John Steinbeck, James Herriot, and Pico Iyer) and the dogs they love.

Michele Anna Jordan
California Home Cooking: American Cooking in the California Style
(Harvard Common Press; $16.95)

FROM ALMONDS to zinfandel, Michele Anna Jordan takes her reader through a dazzling repertoire of over 400 recipes that are genuinely imbued with a taste of California. Jordan writes so passionately on the topic of California cuisine that it’s impossible not to get excited about her ninth cookbook. More than just a straight-ahead cookbook, it includes such vignettes as “Okie Burritos” and “Banana Flowers” that educate us about California’s history in a most palatable way. Jordan breathes such life and personality into her recipes that she’ll have even the novice cook running to the stove after page three. Reminding us of farmhouses and ranchos, and emphasizing casual contemporary fare, California Home Cooking wholeheartedly celebrates, just as we are so apt to do, the pleasures of the table.

David E. Manley
A Root of Jesse
(Strawberry Hill Press; $14.95)

FROM THE PEN of Sonoma author David Manley comes this globe-trotting, autobiographical tale of three generations of family life. Drawing on memories and old letters, the author carefully charts his family’s unusual journey from life as missionaries in early 20th-century India to relocation in the rural Sonoma County of the 1940s. Along the way, Manley offers vivid snapshots of his grandfather, a fiercely proud German missionary with relentless evangelical zeal; his mother, a beautiful flapper dramatically out of place in colonial India; and World War II-era Healdsburg at a time when “Los Angeles seemed as distant as New York City.”

Lloyd Pedersen
The Vintage
(Joyce and Co.; $26)

THE NORTHERN California wine country plays host to this first novel by Sebastopol author Lloyd Pedersen. The Vintage follows the stormy fortunes of the proud but bitterly divided Morello wine dynasty as the family grapples with passion, politics, and intrigue after the end of Prohibition. The retired author draws on his decades of experience working with the U.S. Treasury Department as an inspector in the wine industry to add to this sprawling epic. Perhaps not surprisingly, a government agent figures prominently in the novel, as he squares off against the family’s unscrupulous patriarch, Uncle Louie.

Rayford Clayton Reddell
Miniature Roses
(Chronicle Books; $14.95)

RAY REDDELL brings his love of miniature roses to light with this charming book. An expert caretaker of his more than 8,000 personal rosebushes, Petaluman Reddell certainly knows his stuff when he advises his reader on planting techniques, the different possibilities of fertilizers, what to do when disease strikes your babies. Artfully illustrated by the award-winning photographs of Saxon Holt, Miniature Roses will have the reader wondering how it was possible to go all of those years without knowing how to properly tend such species as “Hot Tamale,” “Party Girl,” and “King Tut.”

Patricia Lynn Reilly
Be Full of Yourself! The Journey from Self-Criticism to Self-Celebration
(Open Window Creations; $15)

THE COVER of Patricia Lynn Reilly’s nifty new book Be Full of Yourself! is elegantly simple, yet potent: a bright red apple posed against an ascending backdrop of rich, mysterious blue. It makes you hungry just looking at it, but what does it mean? When you examine the pages inside, you suddenly get the point: This is none other than Eve’s apple, womankind’s first great no-no in a long history of opportunities for knowledge and empowerment that have been denied to Eve’s sisters down through the ages. Based on Reilly’s celebrated traveling workshops called “The Journey from Self-Criticism to Self-Celebration,” the book is an examination and dismantling of the question most often asked by women in the workshops: “What is wrong with me?” The author of the best-selling A God Who Looks Like Me guides readers into the heart of this disempowering question, and out the other side with a bold, glorious answer that may end up changing brave women’s lives forever. Take a bite. We dare you.

Sara Spaulding-Phillips and Trish McLean
Sacred Beginnings: Honoring the Goddess Within
(Imagin Publishing; $11.95)

QUESTIONS FOR a writer: What does it mean to toss a crown of flowers over the edge of a volcano? How does it feel to follow one’s thoughts and longings into the fiery abyss? Sara Spaulding-Phillips, a Santa Rosa writing teacher, visited Hawaii with an eagerly emotive group of writers. The group meditated and wrote in starts and leaps along the lines of Natalie Goldberg’s topic-based exercises, and the results of their journey are included in this book. If you’ve ever done this kind of writing work, you’ll have some idea of what lies within: lines that sear like lava, lyrics that taste of ashes, all written from a burning core of desire.

From the May 7-13, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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