Recently Read 

A roundup of local authors.

"Average C-Cup" Elisabeth Kuhn

(Turning Point, $17)

German immigrant Elisabeth Kuhn, a linguistics professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, is also a powerful poet. In her first published poetry collection, she cuts through life's layers, from a childhood in Germany to the doctor's office visit when she learns she has breast cancer. Her poem "I'm Here Now" is a feast of candid body acceptance and bravado against the threat of mutilation by the surgeon's knife: "When the nurses talked about it / they called it CA, like California. / Never cancer." Later in the poem, she refers to her chemo: "I liked the Barcalounger so much / I bought one."

Read some of her poems' titles: "Musings While I Take Off My Cancer Socks at 2 a.m.," "Dating With One-and-a-Half Breasts," "Open House and Art Show at White Tail Park." How can we not read her without fascination and compassion for ourselves, as well as for this author, who loves life? The cover photo, taken by Kuhn, shows scissors about to cut the left cup of a lacy lavender bra. Fearless and full of zest in making poetry from her journey of recovery — with neither self-pity nor morbidity — her book is fun to read. It should be placed in the hands of women going through cancer treatment, and it should be given to all of us, because in it we'll find inspiration and the right attitude about being alive.

— Susan Hankla

"The Tannhauser Contingency"

Chris Egghart

(Riverdale Books, $19.95)

What I like most about Egghart's debut novel is his use of language and his concise and often-original observations of place. The place here is the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where in 1944 a German U-boat was sunk just off Cape Hatteras. The U-boat is discovered in the present by local charter-boat fisherman Eric Gregory. He realizes the dead sub represents a failed attempt by Nazi leadership to relocate to South America (the mythological German contingency plan near the end of the war) and enlists Preston Sinclair — biker-pirate and ne'er-do-well — to help him raise it.

But Sinclair leaks the story and attracts the attention of the shadiest sort of imported and domestic intelligence agencies. A sultry but effective White House office staffer named Claremont is sent to discover the truth of the find (rumored to be Hitler's gold) along with Stanizlow, a former Soviet super-agent. Stanizlow, the most developed and complex figure in the novel, is tethered intimately to the underbelly of the Cold War and to the U-boat itself.

The plotline shifts like tidal currents, and characters abound, but they are deftly grafted to a place and a secret cargo that must be revealed. All hinges upon which interested party will finally possess the dark treasure and how it might be used. Egghart delivers a good read, especially relevant to anyone soon to make the trip to the mystical Outer Banks. — Darren Morris

Chris Egghart discusses "The Tannhauser Contingency" at Book People July 30, 2-4 p.m. 288-4346.

"Double Take"

Scott Pettit

(Voyage Publishing, $23)

"Double Take," an accessible though pedestrian suspense-thriller, is a maelstrom of love, loss, friendship and murder set against the backdrop of a worldwide political conspiracy.

The story pivots on the tribulations of the Reed family. Because of the father's position as a U.S. senator, they are tormented by the dastardly whims of a man named Senzo, a Japanese criminal kingpin blackmailing the senator in an attempt to prove himself worthy of joining an international circle of fellow masterminds known only as "the Group."

In a mechanical, unimaginative prose stylistically akin to Hollywood storyboard writing, the narration zips through short blasts of trite description and cliché-ridden metaphors to build the plot at a frenetic pace.

The author takes a few too many cues from Puzo and Coppola: People are assassinated outside of churches and the head of a beautiful stallion winds up severed from its body. Throw in a hunch-driven investigative reporter from the "Post," a few appearances by the first black president of the United States and a pair of twin brothers reconciling their previous estrangement over a woman, and you have more kettles on the stove than the range can handle.

The well-worn themes quickly grow tiresome alongside the underdrawn characters, and yet, to the author's credit, the story barrels on. Continuing to generate momentum in the expected manner of the genre, the book comes to a climax with the inevitable showdown between the resourceful wit of the good guys and the villainous tenacity of the bad. — Hutch Hill

"Contact Improvisation: An Introduction to a Vitalizing Dance Form"

Cheryl Pallant

(McFarland & Co., $35)

Cheryl Pallant, a VCU and University of Richmond professor, poet and dancer, brings together her extensive experience with words and movement to write a historical, instructional and political book about an unusual form of dance that began in the 1970s. Pallant shows how "CI" tears down race, gender and class stereotypes for both dance and the dancer in this growing international movement.

— Valley Haggard

"The Therapeutic Value of Creative Writing"

Paul M. Spicer

(Venture Publishing, $15.95)

Health-care consultant and disabilities specialist Paul Spicer has created a workbook designed to jump-start anyone interested in discovering more about their emotional life through the tools of journaling. The exercises are geared toward self-discovery, raising self-esteem and generating ideas for creative journaling. The 50-plus exercises include everything from goal-setting to decoding the meaning of fortune cookies. — V.H.

"Stalking Microbes: A Relentless Pursuit of Infection Control"

Richard P. Wenzel

(Authorhouse, $22.95)

Dr. Richard Wenzel, a professor at VCU and MCV, has done what few other people have dared to do. After a multitude of experiences traveling the world seeking out infectious disease, he came home to write about them, in the form of eight personal essays. Launched into the study of medicine by his own nasty childhood infection, Wenzel is able to approach his patients with compassion while attacking infections with the mind of a hunter. — V.H. S

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