Special to the Arizona Daily Star
“It is All Written: A Novel” By Adnan J. Almaney. 360 pp. Outskirts Press. $ 23.95; Kindle $ 3.99.
They are not star-crossed lovers, not exactly. Iraqi grad student Musa wholly believes it is pre-ordained that he will marry Sandy, his American sweetheart, despite the objections of their parents – but the course of true love is nevertheless a cultural minefield to negotiate with care.
Musa’s coming of age in the mid-20th century Middle East, and his growing awareness of what will be required to become the person he is fated to be is at the heart of this pitch-perfect, detail-rich novel. Although not a devout Muslim, Musa is deeply attached to his parents and aware of his responsibilities to them and to his country; his studies at the University of Indiana, however, have broadened his expectations beyond the confines of the family home in Baghdad. “Learning,” as he understands it, “is a never-ending process.”
Iraqi-born author Adnan Almaney divides his time between Tucson and Chicago. He is an emeritus professor at DePaul University and a member of the Chicago-North Romance Writers of America.
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“The Kris: The Quickest Way to A Man’s Heart, Is Through His Sternum” By Mark Wolfson. Independently published. 273 pp. $ 9.99; Kindle $ 4.99.
An ancient dagger and a cast of cutthroats provide plenty of mayhem in this debut sci-fi / thriller set in Indonesia. Prang, a biochemistry student, is being trained in Pentjak-Silat, the Indonesian version of martial arts, by his grandfather, an elderly, rather mystical figure about whom Prang knows surprisingly little.
Shortly before the old man passes away, he bequeaths to Prang his treasured kris, a wavy, snake-shaped knife composed of meteoric metal that Prang quickly discovers is imbued with remarkable powers. So unique and valuable is the kris that a number of people suddenly appear who are hell-bent on possessing it.
Fending them off while trying to come to terms with the scope of the knife’s powers becomes a foray into quantum science and a deadly race against time that leads from international corporations to the hinterlands of Java. Author Mark Wolfson is an internal medicine specialist, a reptile enthusiast, and a promoter of the Tucson Reptile & Amphibian Show. He lives in Tucson.
“Mistress Miao” By Yun Rou. Earnshaw Books. 268 pp. $ 23.99; Kindle $ 6.99.
Monk Yun Rou offers a dual narrative steeped in magical realism with this latest novel. “You’re the yin to my yang,” Lulu tells Solomon in the early days of their heady relationship. Infatuated with this stunning Chinese beauty, Solomon is nonetheless caught up short: Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Doesn’t “yin” refer to passive femininity, “yang” to aggressive masculinity? No matter.
Solomon finds her unconventionality intriguing, and she’s willing to overlook her puzzling refusal to share any details of her past, until a random shooting leaves her comatose. The slender hope of finding a remedy sends him rushing to China where he encounters a bizarre scenario involving reincarnation, bloody revenge, and the tradition of indomitable women in Lulu’s rebellious Qingdao family.
Alternating chapters set in ancient China relate the story of Miao, tiger killer and woman warrior, that inform the current-day narrative. Yun Rao, born Arthur Rosenfeld, is an ordained Taoist monk and the award-winning author of 21 books. The recent transplant to Tucson is also a tai chi master and teacher.
“Sex, Diet and Tanning: The Curious Story of the Drug to Induce a Natural Tan Including All You Ever Wanted to Know About Tanning” By Terence Winters, PhD, and Robert Dorr, PhD. Dorrance Publishing Co. 178 pp; $ 15; Kindle $ 9.99.
The incidence of skin cancer is “equal to the sum of all other cancers combined,” and the darker a person’s skin, the greater the protection against the sun’s UV rays.
Since Southern Arizona is a “hot spot” for skin cancer, it makes sense that the University of Arizona has, for decades, studied the effects of sun exposure. With this book its coauthors – a venture capitalist and a UA medical pharmacologist – discuss the development and commercialization of a new class of drugs that produces a natural tan in humans without sunlight.
The subtitle is a bit tongue-in-cheek: There is quite possibly more information here than the average reader ever wanted to know about human pigmentation, but the book is divided into two sections with the hard science largely relegated to the briefer portion.
The bulk of the narrative covers the development and testing of melanotropic peptides, including unforeseen benefits they confer on sexual performance and appetite suppression. In an informal style, the authors relate the highs and lows experienced by their team – including the tragic murder of one colleague – on their way to establishing a successful start-up.
Robert Dorr, who lives in Tucson, is an Emeritus Professor of Medical Pharmacology at the UA College of Medicine. His coauthor, Terence Winters, is a retired venture capitalist and biotechnology CEO who lives in Scottsdale.
“Amending the Christian Story: The Natural Sciences as a Window into Grounded Faith and Sustainable Living” By Ron Rude (RESOURCE Publications) .127 pp. $ 33 hardcover; $ 18 paperback; $ 10 Kindle.
Campus pastors – the successful ones approachable and articulate – can also push theological envelopes. Tucsonan Ron Rude, 17 years a UA Lutheran college pastor, demonstrates those qualities in this thoughtful, thought-provoking work.
In “Amending the Christian Story,” Rude pulls readers up short. Reminding us of just how brief the duration of Homo sapiens has been in the existence of the world, he asks us to step back and examine our arrogant, careless, anthropocentric sense of our place in the universe.
Rude argues that the Judeo-Christian scriptures (contained in the Bible, and only 2,000-3,500 years old) are incomplete and imperfect guides to human behavior – particularly in relation to stewarding God’s world – which has its own, larger, 3.8 billion-year “Scripture.” Using biblical and current narratives, he urges us to incorporate natural sciences and a revised sense of humans’ role to protect and sustain life on Earth.
– Christine Wald-Hopkins
Crossknit: A Twisted Yarn By Bill Armstrong (Dreamwise Books). 218 pp. $ 14.95 paperback; $ 9.99 Kindle.
With echoes of Jane Austen, the historic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and plenty of social media savvy, Tucson writer Bill Armstrong knits together a vengeful dead woman and a quiet 15-year-old living girl into a quirkily engaging novel.
As Armstrong’s narrator suggests in the prologue, “The dead are witnesses to the world they left behind. … Many are tormented to set straight some unfinished business. … But the Powers have set firm boundaries that none may cross. ” Until there arises an app for that.
So, through a cyberspace fluke, “Knitty,” a victim of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, is able to contact “pliant” Tracey to exact revenge for her untimely death.
Murders ensue. So does a little romance for Tracey’s beautiful sister Ariel. As is common with 15-year-olds, Tracey becomes less pliant, and a scheme is hatched to thwart further “astral plane” mayhem. With the narrator periodically turning to the audience with telling and witty asides, “Crossknit” is, as advertised, indeed “serious fun.”
– Christine Wald-Hopkins
“Kachro” By Chandrakant S. Desai (independently published). 349 pp. $ 8.54.
The author / editor of many technical books and hundreds of papers, UA Regents Engineering Professor Ameritus Chandrakant S. Desai opens this fictional work in anything but a technical voice: We see the Indian central character, Kachro, both being born and dying. We see him witnessing his own cremation and remembering his mother’s imperfect cremation. We see images of him traveling the world searching for meaning, relishing sounds and fragrances, following his companion crow, and seemingly traveling through time as he philosophizes about life. Desai’s prose is so impressionistic at this point that it seems to manifest Eastern spirituality.
The Kachro story then settles into myriad and overlapping concrete family and village tales (Desai himself was born in a village in India) – of good and evil, ghosts, songs, histories; caste and religious differences, magic and gods. Like India itself, it’s so full that you can’t pin it down; you just have to ride it.
– Christine Wald-Hopkins
Schimmels’ Maxim: The Quixotic Yet Heartwarming Adventures Of An Inner-City Teacher “ By Alan Voelkel (Tensegrity Publishing Company). 137 pp. $ 24.
Underscore the “Heartwarming” in this memoir’s title. Then add “Dedicated,” “Creative,” and “Endangered” – as in “endangered species,” given today’s political climate regarding public education.
“Schimmels’ Maxim” chronicles Alan Voelkel’s three decades teaching science, journalism and media in Tucson’s Wakefield Middle School. Voelkel took the inner-city job fresh off a decade’s stint doing community development in rural Dominican Republic and southern Sonora. He would need that altruist’s zeal to deal with economically disadvantaged, problem-plagued, hormone-fueled, emotionally unfiltered middle school kids who would “gleefully insult and disrespect you publicly; glory in pointing out your foibles and failures. ”
Challenged by those realities, Voelkel recalled advice from his favorite Wheaton College education professor, Dr. Clifford Schimmels: If students know their teacher actually loves them, they will do anything for him. So Voelkel set out to be guided by it. This book follows him as he applied that maxim admirably and successfully to problems with students (especially the most difficult to love) and to situations outside the classroom — to secure funding, defuse rampaging parents, develop curriculum. Creative and clever, Voelkel would apply the initiative into his roles in school community remediation and community family liaison.
Voelkel’s book – complete with photos through the years — is a master class in teaching. It tells his kids’ stories and highlights both how truly caring for students can turn around bad behaviors, and how high students from whom nothing is expected can soar.
Expect inspiration and waterworks of the good kind. Then go out and buy a copy of “Schimmels’ Maxim” for a potential public school teacher.
– Christine Wald-Hopkins
Helene Woodhams is retired from Pima County Public Library, where she was literary arts librarian and coordinator of Southwest Books of the Year, the library’s annual literature review.
Christine Wald-Hopkins, a former educator and occasional essayist, has long been a book critic for national, regional and local newspapers.
If you are a Southern Arizona author and would like your book to be considered for this column, send a copy to: Sara Brown, PO Box 26887, Tucson, AZ, 85726-6887. Give the price and contact name. Books must have been published within a year. Authors may submit no more than one book per calendar year.