By Greg Cahill, Paula Harris, Patrick Sullivan and David Templeton
IN A TIME when gigantic international conglomerates use multimillion-dollar marketing schemes to sell factories full of books that quickly turn into movies, video games, Web pages, and T-shirt vending opportunities, it's easy to forget that some folks are still doing things the old-fashioned way. But sure enough, here comes another crop of offerings from North Bay authors. For the most part, these are folks who don't have contracts with Bertelsmann/Simon & Schuster/ Amazon (or whatever the combination is this week). But what they miss in marketing they usually make up for in local color, unusual visions, and offbeat interests--not to mention enough raw talent to put us above our legal limits as a region.
Sarah Andrews An Eye for Gold (Minotaur; $24.95)
FEW WRITERS can evoke the beautiful but murderous environment of the rocky American desert as well as Sarah Andrews, who teaches geology at Sonoma State University. In An Eye for Gold, the sixth in a series of environmental whodunits featuring the conflicted "forensic geologist" Em Hansen, Andrews outdoes herself, delivering her juiciest rock-writing yet, as Em takes a case that leads across Utah and Nevada--and straight down into the bowels of the earth.
At the close of Andrews' last book, Bonehunter, Em had fallen in love with a hunky Mormon cop--a creationist, of all people! At the start of the new novel, Andrews' contemplative heroine is mulling over the cop's marriage proposal when she allows herself to be lured into a case involving a bogus mining operation and a very dead body. As always, the frequent scientific descriptions are crisp and clear, but it's the ever-intriguing Hansen who keeps those pages turning.--D.T.
Marsha Diane Arnold The Bravest of Us All (Dial Press; $15.99)
"WHEN MY SISTER Velma Jean was ten, there was nothin' she was afraid of. Well, almost nothin'. Of us seven brothers and sisters, she was the bravest of us all." So begins Marsha Diane Arnold's emotionally complex new picture book, The Bravest of Us All, featuring the rich and evocative illustrations of Brad Sneed. Arnold--who lives in Sebastopol--has fashioned a reputation as the writer of children's books that adults can't wait to read aloud to their kids and grandkids, books like Heart of a Tiger, The Pumpkin Runner, and The Chicken Salad Club. While these earlier works explore the relationships that children have with their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, the new book shows the sometimes resentment-filled love that young sisters often share. Set in the Depression-era Midwest, the story gives us the wild-eyed Velma Jean, a sister who seems to be afraid of nothing--even "biting catfish"--and the other sister, whose loyalty and love, while a bit less flashy than Velma Jean's derring-do, are as deeply rooted and ultimately every bit as heroic.--D.T.
Gina Berriault The Great Petrowski (Thumbprint Press; $14.95)
DEATH deprived the world last year of a writer the New York Times once hailed for sentences that were "jewel-box perfect." Gina Berriault, a Sausalito resident and PEN/Faulkner prize winner, left behind this beautifully written fable for children of all ages about a singing parrot that sets out to save his native rainforest through opera. It takes about an hour to read and leaves one with a lingering impression of the author's quiet presence.--G.C.
Richard Blair, photographs; Kathleen Goodwin, text Point Reyes Visions (Color & Light Editions; $45)
FOG-SHROUDED HILLS. Fishing boats anchored in the cool blue waters of Tomales Bay. Rotting barn wood that seems to sprout miraculously from the dark, damp earth. These images evoke the untamed nature of the Point Reyes peninsula, captured in striking beauty by photographer Richard Blair and writer Kathleen Goodwin, the husband-and-wife team responsible for this museum-quality art book that showcases the place they have called home since 1988. The wildlife, the people, the landmarks, the rugged spirit of this place that attracts travelers from throughout the world and holds local residents under its spell, all are displayed here in the pages of this elegant collection of photographs and essays.--G.C.
Ellen Boneparth Death at the Olive Press (Self-published; $25)
ELLEN BONEPARTH is a former U.S. diplomat to Greece. Now a part-time resident of Santa Rosa, Boneparth spends her summers on a small Greek Island, where her home is . . . an olive press. An ancient edifice that has been fully restored, the olive press has now also become her inspiration. Death at the Olive Press is not the Agatha Christie knockoff the title suggests. With simple, uncluttered prose and authentic-sounding dialogue, the author weaves a tale of Alexis Davidoff, an expatriate American who attempts to restore an old olive press while enduring harassment from a handful of unfriendly locals. When she is framed for murder, Alexis fights to save her own life and keep her adopted home.--D.T.
William P. Brothers The Sabbatical (Vantage Press; $18.95)
SEX, LIES, and ruthless ambition mingle with surprisingly tedious results in The Sabbatical, Cloverdale author William Brothers' acerbic take on life in the Ivory Tower. Set in the bizarre world of the Institute for Human Affairs, a Southern California think tank full of pugnacious and eccentric researchers, the book focuses on a young graduate student named Peter Parsons who hatches a brilliant plot to get grant money to take a leisurely sabbatical in Spain. Things don't go according to plan, of course, but both Parson and the reader learn plenty about the underside of academic life along the way. The Sabbatical fools you: the story starts out in a lively and entertaining fashion, but the author heaps on long and complicated passages expounding his views on academic intrigue, and slowly the plot grinds to a crawl under this weight.--P.S.
David G. Dodd and Diana Spaulding, Editors The Grateful Dead Reader (Oxford University Press; $25)
SCRIBES HAVE spilled a lot of ink in praise of the Grateful Dead, the quintessential hippie band. Dodd and Spaulding, a husband-and-wife authorial team hailing from Petaluma, scoop up the best of the lot, for the most part (aside from a long-winded bit of hype from Dead publicist Dennis McNally), in a transcendent anthology that says as much about American popular culture as it does about this beloved band of psychedelicized troubadours and the legion of misfits that followed them. Authors include Tom Wolfe, Richard Brautigan, the late music critic Ralph Gleason, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, and BAM editor Blair Jackson, who writes about the dark side of the Deadhead phenomenon.--G.C.
Gerald Haslam Straight White Male (University of Nevada Press; $17)
THE TITLE tells you much of what you need to know about this novel's protagonist. Now a middle-aged college professor living comfortably amid the money-green hills of tony Mill Valley, Leroy Upton grew up a world away, in a working-class neighborhood in sun-blasted Bakersfield, where his father worked as an oil-field roughneck. But surprise: the boy can pull himself out of the oil fields, but the oil fields just don't come out of the boy. As Upton's comfortable life starts to crumble under a variety of pressures--his once invincible father is stricken with senility, and his mother wrestles with mental illness--he begins to come to grips with his own past, including his still deeply felt resentment over his wife's youthful indiscretions. Haslam (who lives in Penngrove) paints a compellingly vivid contrast between the rough-and-tumble world of his protagonist's childhood--which is described in a series of flashbacks--and the modern reality of the Bay Area, which in Upton's eyes is sprouting a bumper crop of expensive cars and pretentious assholes who consume far too much mocha cappuccino. If this sounds a bit like a story that's been told before, that's because it has. But Haslam redeems the clichés with his usual eye for detail and compassionate understanding of human frailty.--P.S.
Leza Lowitz Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By (Stone Bridge Press; $14.95)
CALL IT A TWIST of fate. On a certain winter evening five years ago--shortly after moving to Northern California after a five-year residence in Japan--North Bay poet Leza Lowitz was patiently enduring Downward Facing Dog (a torturously demanding hatha yoga position) when a single line of poetry materialized in her mind: "Within my body, there's a city." The line reminded Lowitz of her beloved Tokyo and thus gave some comfort. By the end of the session, she'd found other lines, and a poem--appropriately titled "Downward Facing Dog"--was born. She didn't know it yet, but that was the beginning of a book.
Yoga Poems, illustrated by Anja Borgstrom, is a unique series of poems inspired by various yoga positions and the insights of Lowitz's own yoga practice. Marked by Lowitz's serenely calm, confident craftmanship, the collection provides a rich, subtle, emotionally affecting experience that, while obviously appealing to yoga practitioners, also deserves the attention of a much wider audience.--D.T.
Carista Luminare-Rosen Parenting Begins before Conception (Healing Arts Press; $16.95)
IF THE FOLKS at Hallmark ever get hold of Parenting Begins before Conception, we'll surely see a whole spate of pre-Mother's Day cards for women who might not officially be mommies for years but are actively preparing their minds and spirits for eventual mommyhood. According to the sure-to-be controversial new book by Petaluma-based holistic prenatal counselor Carista Luminare-Rosen, the parenting process begins, as the title says, "before conception." Way, way before. An important part of the author's view is that we've all met before in past lives and are now swapping parenting positions ("You were the baby in our last lifetime, so I'll be the baby this time") to express each other's divine natures in human form. Mixing spiritual philosophy with practical everyday advice (from the ins and outs of glands and hormones to the finer points of building financial security), Parenting is like no parenting book you've ever read.--D.T.
Ken Mansfield The Beatles, the Bible and Bodega Bay: My Long and Winding Road (Broadman & Holman; $24.99)
DURING the heyday of the Fab Four, Bodega Bay resident Ken Mansfield lived the dream of every Beatlemaniac--he worked for the band as U.S. manager of Apple Records. This book recounts some of his experiences. It also shares space (in alternating chapters) with meditations on God and the sea. In his intro, Mansfield--who now runs a small gift shop with his wife--posits that those who skip the biblical reflections will be eating the lettuce and tossing out the meat patty from this metaphorical sandwich. Beatles fans may see it differently. Overall, info-starved fans will find a few interesting tales--especially the tennis match between Mansfield and New York lawyer-turned- Beatles business manager Allen Klein, waged to decide the fate of Mansfield's job--but little substantive news about the band members (Mansfield obviously was closest to Ringo, who carried little weight in the band's body politic) or their tangled business dealings. And, oddly, for all his soul searching, Mansfield reveals little about his own demons.--G.C.
Megan McDonald Judy Moody (Candlewick Press; $15.99)
"JUDY MOODY was in a mood. Not a good mood. A bad mood." The starting paragraph of Megan McDonald's new mini-novel is so compelling and perfect that the publisher decided to start the story right on the front cover. Judy Moody, illustrated by Peter Reynolds, is the story of a third-grader with a creative mind and a cranky attitude. Watch out: she's even snipped actual holes in the book's paper jacket. McDonald--a Sebastopol author with over 15 kids' books to her credit--has created a potential superhero in Judy, a girl so focused on becoming a doctor (because it's gross!) that she's already started collecting Band-Aids--and scabs. She performs operations on her dolls. She tries her darnedest to frighten poor Frank Pearl, who eats paste. The simple plot centers on Judy's first major school assignment: assembling a collage of pictures that represent Judy Moody. "It's a Me Collage," she says. The simple project sends Judy on a complicated inner journey of personal discovery--sort of--that by the end of this charming, very funny book has gone a long way toward changing Judy Moody's infamous mood.--D.T.
Jessel Miller Mustard: Lessons from Old Souls (Self-published; $24)
THIS LATEST children's book in the Mustard series by Jessel Miller, a Napa art gallery owner, is a preachy-sweet tome about a contented, ecologically correct couple named Mustard and River who become new parents to twins named Meadow and Forest. Each oversized page teaches lessons about the power of nature and community values. The peaceful picture is completed with the author's bright watercolor illustrations of smiling people, animals, and flowers, usually with a backdrop of Napa Valley mustard fields.--P.H.
Jeff Ott My World: Ramblings of an Aging Gutter Punk (Sub City; $15)
TELL YOUR KIDS to dare to stay sober ("Just Say No!") or, better yet, give 'em a copy of Jeff Ott's new book, a powerful dispatch from the underground by a committed activist and former drug user who has lost more than his share of friends to wasted lives and cheap heroin. Ott, a Santa Rosa resident, is a familiar face--this rock musician and Food Not Bombs activist once graced the cover of this publication. His brief autobiography is a blend of personal notes, interviews, wry observations, guest essays (including a chilling account of a 15-year-old OD victim), condemnations of the power elite, and resources for social justice and surviving on the streets. An often compelling read--suitable for backpacking through America's urban jungles.--G.C.
Drew Sparks and Sally Kellman A Salon at Larkmead: A Charmed Life in the Napa Valley (Ten Speed Press; $19.95)
THIS BOOK by Napa Valley resident Drew Sparks and Sally Kellman chronicles the life of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, San Francisco's legendary Firebelle, in 19th-century Napa Valley. Coit built a sprawling estate in Larkmead to be near her mother, Martha Hitchcock. The two women enjoyed a life of privilege and pleasure in the blossoming Napa Valley, a fresh haven of new wine estates and fashionable resorts. Excerpts from Martha's diaries are included here with her recipes, archival photographs, and richly telling observations on a "life of confusion and excitement."--P.H.
Maurice Taylor and Seana McGee The New Couple: Why the Old Rules Don't Work and What Does (HarperSanFrancisco; $25)
ESCALATING divorce rates, serial monogamy, lonely folks who have been scared single: the old rules for relationships don't seem to be working anymore. But buck up, because this Sausalito husband-and-wife team of therapists has discovered some new ones. In The New Couple, Taylor and McGee draw on both case studies from their practice and their personal experiences to offer the "Ten New Laws of Love," which they say will help people move beyond the traditional views of relationships to healthy new ways of meeting the emotional needs of both partners.--P.S.
From the September 14-20, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.