Santa Rosa–based psychotherapist Jo Lauer applies her knowledge of the human psyche to a new genre in 'Best Laid Plans: A Cozy Mystery' (CreateSpace; $11.69). Her story begins with Jenny Pond, an ex-felon who "hadn't planned to kill anyone, but fate has a lousy sense of humor." Jenny meets Shalese, a blue-collar social worker from Detroit, and the two fall in love as they work together at the First Step, a recovery house in San Francisco. Things go afoul when Florence, a wealthy benefactress with a particularly unsavory history, comes along, forcing the relocation of the recovery house to Santa Rosa. Like Orange Is the New Black for the wine country set, the book's characters—mostly women who've spent time in jail for various offenses—only get deeper into mystery and adventure after the big move.—L.C.
Reading stories about a town that used to be famous for making cigars gives a whole new appreciation for the hand-rolled tobacco sticks favored by mobsters, businessmen and Cuban dictators alike. Santa Rosa author Emilio Gonzalez-Llanes' 'Cigar City Stories: Tales of Old Ybor City' (iUniverse; $9.95) is a small but robust first-person account of the city outside of Tampa, Fla., which became a haven for Cuban, Italian and Spanish immigrants with a knack for rolling cigars. Before machine-rolled cigars become commonplace in the 1950s and '60s, cigars were all rolled by hand. Ybor City was demolished in the 1960s to make way for urban gentrification, but the memories in Cigar City Stories create a visual, vibrant image of diverse life in the city. Whether the smell of a cigar induces salivation or an urge to vomit, Cigar City Stories is a reminder of the history and personality of one of the most luxurious methods of slow suicide.—N.G.
Long revered as a site of archaeological mastery, the ancient Toltec city of Teotihuacán sees a gazillion visitors annually (give or take a bazillion). Though many seek out the 2,000-year-old pyramids in order to simply cross another cool destination off their bucket lists, others view Teotihuacán as a serious power destination that brings all sorts of healing. 'Dreaming Heaven' (Agape Media International; $24.95) is the story of one group's experience with the healing powers of this ancient site. An accompanying guidebook and workbook to the documentary of the same name, Dreaming Heaven is authored by the four guides featured in the film, including Bodega Bay's Francis Rico, and gives step-by-step instructions to transform life circumstances in 12 short weeks. The book not only comes with the 76-minute DVD, but links to free inspirational downloads as well. That's a lot of Toltec magic in one package!—D.B.
The Napa Valley of yore was very different from the wine-soaked, spa-laden tourist playground it's become today. Last year, the Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas by Robin Grossinger explored the changes in the ecology of the valley over a span of centuries. Now 'Run of the Mill: A True Life, Napa Adventure,' by Dona Stanley Bakker ($13.95; Pastime Publications), explores an older way of life in the same region, with a focus on five years of the author's childhood spent living at the historic Bale Grist Mill north of St. Helena. Built circa 1841 by Dr. Edward Turner Bale, the mill ceased operation around 1879, when it was run out of business by larger commercial mill operations in San Francisco and Vallejo. Bakker lived there between 1959 and 1964, after her grandparents were hired on as caretakers, and her book serves both as a celebration of times past and a reminder that every piece of land has hidden, and often fascinating, history.—L.C.
Marin County's Raymond Welch has worked in the energy industry for 30 years, and his first novel, 'A Change in the Weather' (Ice Cap Publishing; $14.99), illustrates his imaginative world of social and political fallout in the face of abrupt climate change. The thriller follows the Russell family during the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of the polar ice cap in 2028. In the story, each family member does what he or she thinks is right in an America of the future that struggles to hold its democratic and Christian values during the wake-up worldwide disaster. The Arctic ice caps have completely melted and rainfall patterns change around the world. As agriculture fails, and the international economy collapses, terrorism surges—and while the Russell family struggles to fight for what they believe is right, their ideas could not be more in conflict.—T.K.
In her debut collection of poetry, Sonoma's Lisa Summers explores the seasons and contradictions found within the West's topographic and emotional terrain. 'Star Thistle and Other Poems' (FMRL; $12.95) grapples, too, with altered landscapes. A native of the Bay Area, Summers reflects her first-hand experience of witnessing our local environment transform. In "House Finches," Summers writes: "The only traces of the old farm / its rich soil was buried alive / by sidewalks, roads and houses / are the anise weeds that burst forth / from the memory of good earth / in the last open field." Drawing on mythology—Kuan Yin, Aphrodite, Eros—Summers explores the psyche, often bringing the reader back to the great vast ocean for a breath of fresh air.—D.B.