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Local Lit

Spotlighting recent local authors' work

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Baseball fans know Amy G as the in-game reporter for the San Francisco Giants, but Petaluma locals know her as the Casa Grande grad who turned her passion for sports into the world's best job: hanging around the dugout and talking to Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence and the rest of the greats in orange and black. Written for kids, 'Smarty Marty's Got Game' (Cameron + Company; $17.95) is the first book by Amy G (still lives in Petaluma, real last name Gutierrez)—a simple story of an older sister passing on the contagious love of baseball to her younger brother during a day at the ballpark. Because of trademark issues, illustrator Adam McCauley doesn't use Giants logos in his vibrant full-page images, but the panda hats, garlic-fries stands and giant Coke bottle make it more than evident which team is playing. (Jon Miller's trademark call "It is outta here!" makes a key appearance.) Of particular interest is the book's emphasis on scoring the game by hand, something of a forgotten art that might be lost on younger readers—and that, frankly, one sees more frequently over in Oakland. But if Gutierrez's book reaches its intended audience, there's no question there'll be a future audience of scorers for "the greatest game in the world."—G.M.

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Gracianna Winery in Healdsburg is named for co-owner Trini Amador's great-grandmother Gracianna Lasaga. She also provides the title of Amador's first book, 'Gracianna' (Greenleaf Book Group Press; $24.95), out this fall. Combining fact with fiction, Amador—who works as a principal at BHC Consulting doing brand strategy and insights development—takes World War II and the Nazi occupation of Europe as his novel's backdrop. Gracianna, a Basque woman who dreams of going to America but is stymied after the escalation of the war, finds herself in a fight to the death after discovering that her sister has been forced into labor at Auschwitz. Summoning all of her courage, she attempts to free her sister and learns about her own strength in the process.—L.C.

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'The Adventures of the Omaha Kid' (Buffalo Publishing Company of the Napa Valley; $12.99) has sports, celebrity, wine and, of course, romance. St. Helena author Nathaniel Robert Winters has penned the life of Timothy Jacobson, nicknamed "the Omaha Kid," a crossover sports superstar with an unlikely combination of skills: baseball and tennis. After a successful baseball career, the Kid goes on to compete in the U.S. Open and does very well, and finds himself a superstar almost overnight. But his romantic life doesn't always fare as well as his swinging sports career. Using many California cities as a setting, Winters chronicles the Kid's life through the later half of the 20th century. Using the natural drama of sports to build anxiety, the same feeling translates into the Kid's love life. Will he strike out in love? Or will he, ahem, hit a home run?—N.G.

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When Jack London's Glen Ellen Wolf House caught fire in August 1913, little did London fans realize that the root causes of the incident would remain an unanswerable question over the following hundred years. Sonoma County resident and SSU professor Jonah Raskin attempts to unravel the mystery of what circumstances led the 15,000-square-foot house to its demise with his new chapbook 'Burning Down the House: Jack London and the 1913 WolfHouse Fire' (Clone; $5). Raskin interviewed over two dozen people for the chapbook, including local historians, park docents and writer-historian Kevin Starr about thefire, addressing several hypotheses in Burning Down the House. Arson,combustion or an act of self-destruction, the Wolf House fire continues to fascinate and baffle all these years later.—D.B.

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'Tales of Jack the Ripper' (Word Horde; $15.99), the latest anthology from Petaluma's Ross E. Lockhart (editor of The Book of Cthulu), marks the 125th anniversary of the Whitechapel slayings. Although the mystery of Jack the Ripper has captured the public's imagination for over a century—as it is, we don't know jack about Jack—what we know for certain is that he was a cold-blooded murderer of women. Lockhart's anthology pulls together 17 stories and two poems from distinct voices in dark fantasy and horror such as Laird Barron, Ramsey Campbell, Ennis Drake and others. Each story illustrates a unique part of Jack the Ripper's story in varying locales, from his childhood and personal life to those of his victims. Overall, the collection is a unique exploration of the legacy of Jack the Ripper from the point of view of authors of completely different backgrounds, each holding his own vision of the legend.—T.K.

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Katy Byrne began writing "hairballs," her word for the dark things that we hold in until they metastasize, when she was single and lonely. Part diary entry, part philosophical musing, 'The Courage to Speak Up: Getting Your Hairballs Out' (Langmarc Publishing; $16.95) gathers Byrne's thoughts into book form. A licensed psychotherapist, radio personality and animal rights activist, the Sonoma County resident has poured onto paper her thoughts on love, anger, fear of sex, aging, overeating, the importance of neighbors, friendship, judgment, holidays, money anxiety, the difficulty of moving, family stress, living simply and losing a beloved pet (in her case, a cat named Einstein). The book is interactive by way of three reflection questions included at the end of the chapter, which allows readers to discover—and let go of—their own hairballs.—L.C.

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Say you're an upright bass player. What if you were asked to perform music for one of your least favorite people? In Sebastopol author Bill Amatneek's case, that'd be a gig offer playing for president George W. Bush, as chronicled in 'Acoustic Stories: Pickin' for the Prez and Other Unamplified Tales' (Vineyard Press; $27). "This was a moral decision," Amatneek writes, "to entertain or not entertain an immoral man. I wanted to pass it up, but I also wanted to play it." In the end, Amatneek plays the gig anyway, adding another chapter to a jam-packed book of memorable bass playing jobs. Growing up in a household on Bleecker Street that hosted legends like Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson, Amatneek went on to accompany the likes of Jerry Garcia, Bill Monroe, Peter Rowan, and Peter, Paul & Mary (whom Amatneek still clearly carries a torch for). All those stories are here, as are anecdotes of helping Bob Dylan find the stage in Philadelphia, being sung "Happy Birthday" to by Dionne Warwick, interviewing Aretha Franklin in San Francisco, playing a jazz funeral in New Orleans and many others. Overall, Amatneek's tone is conversational and not boastful, and places the reader into the action of a life well lived in music.—G.M.

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Michael Rinaldini's 'Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh with Me' (CreateSpace; $11.98) sheds a light on walking the Taoist path from the author's unique perspective. A former surfer turned Taoist, in The Daoist Practice Journal, Rinaldini, a Sebastopol resident, compiles journal entries written over the past 20 years. Each entry explains a different aspect of his spiritual journey, from surrendering to his beloved waves to the beauty in a simple cup of tea. The entries include selections from ancient writings in addition to current masters of the Way, and informs readers of the different Taoist practices available for study and practice, covering topics like meditation, qigong, the value of silence and solitude and much more.—T.K.

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Ralph Milton Ingols was a guidance counselor at St. Helena High School for over 30 years, and, as you can imagine, he has many stories to tell about student and faculty life. 'St. Helena High School: The Golden Years' (Pastime Publications; $13.95), co-written with Napa Valley resident Dona Bakker, collects these tales into one volume. Told in collage fashion, the book combines recollections from students, custodians and faculty, with graduation speeches and introductory essays that give a historical context to each decade, starting in 1941 and running through 1972. Approximately 2,000 students passed through the school's doors during this time, and they're all accounted for in comprehensive class lists for each year. The result is an insightful peek into small-town life in a bygone era. With all proceeds benefiting a scholarship fund for current students, the book itself would make a great gift for just about anyone who attended St. Helena High School between 1941 and 1972.—L.C.

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As 100.1-FM KZST's expert CPA, Santa Rosa's Montgomery Taylor is already known and trusted by many Sonoma County taxpayers. And maybe they want to learn how to become just as successful in life. Montgomery has compiled writings from "the world's leading experts" in 'The New Rules of Success' (Celebrity Press; $19.95) to help you do just that. Though none of the authors is quite a household name, each is successful (in this case, that also means wealthy) in life, and shares a nugget of wisdom on how to achieve your goals. It's a personal book, with each author writing specifically to you, the reader, using mostly first-person examples. Topics include motivation, customer service, relentless thinking about the customer, raising a family for success, online marketing, managing stress, commitment and more. Taylor writes a chapter himself, detailing his own rise from "farm boy" to "wealth advisor." With so many different topics and perspectives, it's a safe bet that if you're looking to achieve financial success, this book is going to be helpful.—N.G.

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Every woman should have a mentor. Mentors provide the inspiration, empowerment and encouragement that we don't tend to get from greater society. Karilee Halo Shames, a holistic nurse best known for her work with husband Dr. Richard Shames around hypothyroidism, has made it easy to learn from women mentors by compiling their stories in 'Amazing Mentors: Real Hot Mama's Path to Power' (Inkwell Productions; $18). Contributors include Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin, former U.S. congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, healer and chiropractor Shalamah Yahchove, Gen. Clara Adams-Ender and others. "If no leadership exists, step up and bring others along," says Woolsey in the chapter devoted to her—that's exactly what Halo Shames has done in compiling these thoughts and interviews. —L.C.

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