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Book of the Day Roundup April 16-April 20


Scissors, Paper, Stone

Book Cover
Martha K. Davis
Red Hen Press
Softcover $16.95 (312pp)
978-1-59709-046-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

A compelling family drama resonant with feminist and queer issues, Martha K. Davis’s Scissors, Paper, Stone neatly captures the grit of intimacy as relationships expand and contract.

“We had been walking for over an hour before I realized I was actually running away, or at least investigating how it could be done.” These words hang in the air as the novel follows an evolving relationship between Catherine, Min, and Laura from 1964 to 1985.

Catherine opens the novel: “I had never wanted my own family. The older I grew, the less I could tolerate the one I came from.” So she moves to San Francisco as a newly married woman who is determined to live out her principles, no matter the distance it causes. She doesn’t expect the reality. When the response to her adopting three-month-old Min from Korea is alarmingly racist, Catherine starts cutting off those who can’t adjust, but the underlying fear, hatred, and doubt lingers.

Min grows up with an increasingly distant mother. Like most kids, she’s focused more on her own journey than she is on figuring her mother out. At her side is Laura, her best friend, who forms an instant connection with Catherine. As Min and Laura age, their paths diverge. Laura goes to college and the seemingly inevitable MRS degree; Min goes to massage school and lives as an out-and-proud butch lesbian. The women’s relationships must weather their individual storms of self-discovery if they’re going to survive.

Davis sustains a beautiful tension between the women. Despite all that distances them, they’re in each other’s lives for good or ill. Like the children’s game of the title, they come together, face off, and drift apart, though at heart they’re a set, compelled to find the parts that complete it in each other, even if their connections are attended by confrontation.

LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (March 27, 2018)

The Ghosts of Gombe

A True Story of Love and Death in an African Wilderness

Book Cover
Dale Peterson
University of California Press
Hardcover $29.95 (240pp)
978-0-520-29771-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Jane Goodall’s research center on the shores of a Tanzanian lake pulsates with the passions, perils, and promises of the 1960s in Dale Peterson’s The Ghosts of Gombe. The book seeks to solve the mysterious disappearance of a researcher by recreating life at Gombe back when humans, animals, and geological spheres collided on a ledge overlooking oblivion.

Gombe was a place where isolation was the norm but where animal and human interactions resulted in a seductive kind of camaraderie. There, Ruth Davis died mysteriously; her death haunted her colleagues for decades. Was she pushed? Did she fall? Did she jump? The circumstances of her untimely death become less crucial to answering these questions than do those of her life.

Gombe swiftly becomes more a person than a place. The ridges, valleys, peaks, and streams are the outer skin of a body housing insects, fish, snakes, and mammal systems. Changes in one system ripple through the others.

Gombe’s story is told through shifting points of view that maximize the best vantage points. Upon approaching Lake Tanganyika from the air, a giant rift in the earth’s crust is seen through the eyes of a geology student. Individuals and the communities to which they belong are introduced through the perceptions of others.

Data is gathered through interviews, reference books, archives of camp records, journals, letters, and written recollections. It infuses the narrative with authenticity without impeding its depth, development, or flow.

In this story within a story within a story, researchers must dispense with purely scientific methods if they and the chimps they study are ever to relate to one another as anything more substantial than ghosts. Likewise, had Peterson not injected his own voice into The Ghosts of Gombe, Ruth’s ghost may never have ventured close enough to let her truth be known.

LINDA THORLAKSON (February 27, 2018)

Cobra Clutch

Book Cover
A. J. Devlin
NeWest Press
Softcover $18.95 (255pp)
978-1-988732-24-4
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In this side-splittingly funny action mystery, a retired wrestler becomes embroiled in a strange kidnapping case.

An old wrestling buddy calls on “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead for a favor. It seems someone has kidnapped his pet snake for an exorbitant ransom. Jed finds himself drawn into an official investigation after the hostage exchange goes awry, leaving his friend dead.

Using his old wrestling contacts, his father’s police connection, and a colorful cast of characters, Jed delves deep into the world of small-time wrestling. Violence, sleaze, and sharp humor abound as Jed seeks revenge for his fallen friend and discovers who’s pulling the strings.

Cobra Clutch is a deftly balanced, fast-paced thriller with strong characterization and raucous humor. Its action leads to an explosive showdown on the streets of Vancouver; it isn’t just relegated to guns but includes expert melee bouts between trained wrestlers and overeager goons.

Some of the best scenes take place between action sequences and include fantastic characters like a former IRA shooter turned bartender and a mismatched pair of wrestlers named Pocket and Tubbs. Jed’s characterization steals the show and unspools perfectly over the course of the story. Subtle clues about his past pepper the narrative until he is finally fully revealed in a critical moment.

The apt humor nearly outshines the twisting mystery, as when Jed explains how he earned the nickname Hammerhead: by “breaking a two-by-four piece of Western red cedar over my head … It also might explain why I’m not very good at crossword puzzles.” It’s clear, though, that Jed is whip-smart despite his repeated brain injuries.

Cobra Clutch masterfully blends humor, mystery, thrills, action, romance, and heart into a hell of a story featuring a lively wrestler-turned-PI hero. The action scenes are intense, the quiet times heartwarming and engaging, and the humor expertly interjected to accentuate characters and breathe realism into the story.

JOHN M. MURRAY (February 27, 2018)

The Chesapeake in Focus

Transforming the Natural World

Book Cover
Tom Pelton
Johns Hopkins University Press
Softcover $24.95 (264pp)
978-1-4214-2475-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Tom Pelton’s The Chesapeake in Focus introduces the complicated story of the region’s environmental restoration. The nation’s largest estuary straddles a wide swath of the eastern coastline, and is impacted by agricultural and industrial pollution, intense development pressure, and public sewage leaks. All of these factors dampen the fragile, costly progress of voluntary and governmental regulation, and climate change threatens to upend all gains with extreme weather patterns and warming water temperatures.

Short, punchy chapters zero in on specific geographical areas, wildlife, policies, and local people. It’s a balanced, organized approach that breaks down the many nuances of environmental policy-making and monitoring. Pelton isn’t shy about pointing out problems and polluters, profiling several people with whom he does not agree, including a farmer and fisherman, to assess their views about the bay.

Though Pelton strongly opposes President Trump’s EPA dismantling and the “desperate environmentalism” of many groups’ soft-pedal strategies, he also gives credit to politicians of both parties for enacting the Clean Air and Water Acts, banning DDT, and other measures that have improved environmental quality.

Like other river systems, the Chesapeake is affected by human activity emanating far up its watershed. Silt, agricultural pesticides and antibiotics, and leaking municipal sewage pipes from as far north as New York erode water quality and disrupt the delicate life cycles of the bay’s fish, crabs, and birds. Pelton passionately argues for stronger, long-term federal oversight to reverse these problems, and outlines a series of policy changes in his conclusion.

While one wonders why Pelton would want to splash around in his kayak in the fecal-chemical cocktail that he describes, the book’s photographs show the Chesapeake’s serene beauty, and underscore why the fight to regain this precious region’s environmental health is so important.

RACHEL JAGARESKI (February 27, 2018)

Magnolia’s Magnificent Map

A Walnut Animal Society Book

Book Cover
Lauren Bradshaw
Wednesday Kirwan, illustrator
Cameron Kids
Hardcover $16.95 (32pp)
978-1-944903-12-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Magnolia the bunny is almost ready to present her freshly drawn map to friends and fellow members of the Walnut Animal Society, but a mysterious missing piece requires some last-minute trekking into uncharted territory. Junior cartographers will be inspired to plot their own backyards and neighborhoods as they locate Ruthie’s Butterfly Garden, Henry’s Firefly Patch, and all of the delightfully drawn details of Magnolia’s Magnificent Map, provided in full color.

PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (February 27, 2018)

Hannah Hohman

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