Painting by Numbers: How to Sharpen your BS Detector and Smoke Out the “Experts”

Jason Makansi; Illustrations by Elena Makansi. (Layla Dog Press. $12.95 paper; $5.99 Kindle.)

Numerical models surround us, telling us what to buy, which politicians to believe, and even when to change the oil in the car. We accept this because we are a fact-minded people, and numbers don’t lie, right? Wrong, says author Jason Makansi. Numerical models are as unreliable as the humans who design them. At best, they lack sufficient error analysis; at worst, they are replete with uncertainty, exaggeration, and bias. Makansi is uniquely qualified to address this subject; as an engineer turned technical writer he’s an expert at interpreting the writing of scientists, stripping out faulty information and stress-testing for prejudice. He offers the benefit of his decades of experience in the form of twelve commandments for numerical skeptics, followed by how-to’s for their practical application. This is a smart book, designed to protect us from being manipulated by data; it’s not only informative, it’s also highly readable. In addition to three other professional books, Tucson resident Jason Makansi writes and publishes fiction, and has recently completed his first novel.

A Sicilian-American Comedy

By Joseph J. Corso, Jr. (Legas Publishing. $14.95 print, $5.99 Kindle)

Ten-year-old Girolamu Tommaso’s first mistake was investigating the disturbing noises emanating from his parents’ bedroom. His second mistake was telling the wrong people about the illicit encounter he observed there between his mother and the local priest. The result was Sicilian-style retribution for the scandalous couple and a one-way ticket on a steamer bound for New York for Girolamu, his mother’s curse upon him ringing in his ears. So begins the saga of the Tommasos, which follows four generations of a family on both sides of the Atlantic, bound by love and sharing long-held resentments, jealously-guarded secrets, and reconciliations, usually over a big meal. The drama takes place against a background of the movies, music and popular culture, occasionally punctuated with illustrations from the author’s collection. A former civil servant who harbored a lifelong desire to write, Joseph Corso notes that this book is a gift to his children and grandchildren.

Goodbye, Spidee Idee

Anita Tendick; llustrations by Sophia Patch. (University of Arizona Libraries. $6.99)

With the possible exception of Charlotte and her famous web, spiders are rarely viewed sympathetically in cozy books for children. But when Spidee Idee appears in Carly’s bathtub drain, the two become fast friends. They delight in having long conversations and playing guessing games, and Idee ultimately has an important lesson to impart about companionship, sadness and letting go. Author Anita Tendick lives in Oro Valley and freely admits that she didn’t start out as a fan of spiders, but she relates the story of Idee in rollicking rhymes that make this a fine read-aloud. Sophia Patch, who studies at the University of Arizona, provided the lively illustrations for Spidee Idee and its sequels, “Spider Max, My Hero” and “Spider Stan the Music Man.” Each book in this series concludes with spider facts and activities that are just right for tiny audiences.

Incident at Rancho Alvarado

Rick Seiwert. (Page Pubishing $14.95)

To avoid the draft and his Midwest upbringing, Leo Knofflemacher lands at the University of Arizona where he joins a band of seekers and survivors (including Kenny, whose military service left him with an “ice cream scoop” size crater in his head and extensive brain damage) and declares them the 5th Street Irregulars. After stargazing in Sabino Canyon, Leo stumbles across Chemo – an old man with a bum knee and cranky donkey. Their burgeoning friendship reveals the adventure-filled Alvarado family dynasty that continues when the Irregulars join a modern-day showdown pitting an archetypal government villain against the venerable Hispanic family.

Mirroring Leo’s timeline, Seiwert is a long-time Tucson transplant and author of an anthology entitled Futz Compendium.

Flight 1420. The Crash: Living with PTSD

Joe Rustenhaven. (Tate Publishing $9.99)

In a fractured narrative – illustrative of his emotional state – Rustenhaven recounts the downsizing of his employer and the transfer opportunity that led to an ill-fated flight that haunts him still. He details the horrors of the crash, his disorientation and an unidentified girl who took his hand saying, “Follow me, I will help you.” The crash killed 11 and devastated Rustenhaven, leaving him reclusive, delusional, fearful and in a constant battle with the “gorilla” on his back –PTSD.

After relocating seven times in the last 12 years, Rustenhaven lives in Southern Arizona.

The Shadows in my Heart

Mary A. Havens; Lynn Wiese Sneyd. (Tumbleweed Mask Press $17.95)

Following the family dogma that physical intimacy leads to marriage, Havens married Stan, whom she did not love nor trust, had his three children and spent years tolerating his verbal abuse, infidelity and instability before discovering his ultimate betrayal. Though a physical examination did not support her sister’s story that Stan “touched my butt,” Havens suspected her husband’s dark secret for years before her daughters revealed they too were victimized. A cautionary tale of the hidden costs in keeping a family together.

Havens has discussed domestic violence and sexual abuse on national talk shows, including Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil. She will be at the Tucson Festival of Books in March.

“Cold in So Many Ways”

E.M Brown. (Xlibris, $15.99)

You’re puzzled, opening EM Brown’s collection of autobiographical stories, about why it begins with an introduction speculating about all the unknowns (and unknowables) about her late mother. Then you get into reading these tales of a brutal childhood in Alaska in the 1940s, and you know why: She has to wonder, what WAS her mother thinking about her children when these things were going on?

From being whisked away from her father in Washington state to join Bob (“Call him Dad”) in territorial Alaska, through being whisked away from Bob’s cabin to live in a lean-to storage room in the back of her mother’s beauty shop before moving into another man’s house, the lives of 5-year-old Eleanor and her 6-year-old sister Berta are whipsawed by their mother’s erratic emotional and economic states. Life itself was tentative for them in Alaska; the culture was lawless and violent, and living conditions were brutal.

Retired community college administrator Eleonor B. Brown chose the ideal title for these intriguing, if stylistically uneven, reminiscences. Her childhood was indeed “[c]old in ... many ways.”

“Indian Country”

John T. Young. (IngramElliot, Inc., $ 14.99)

Vietnam veteran, former reporter, New Mexico policeman and private investigator; intelligence expert for the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the US Army (plus time in Iraq), Tucsonan John T. Young came fully equipped to create an Iraq War vet and Drug Enforcement Agency agent for this action thriller.

In “Indian Country,” agent Wayne Kincaid is on undercover assignment to infiltrate a New Mexico motorcycle gang suspected of colluding with a Mexican drug cartel. Riding a Harley, with newly-minted Iraq and Afghan War credentials and a don’t-mess-with-me game face, Kincaid soon connects with a gang leader, another Army vet. Pursuing the biker-cartel drug enterprise, though, Kincaid runs into an unexpected threat—an al-Qaeda plot to detonate an atomic bomb in Los Alamos—which he must essentially derail on his own.

Young’s familiarity with northern New Mexico serves him well in this novel. Kincaid’s character is sympathetic and his tactics are exciting and credible, but the tension of “Indian Country” weakens over a roving cast of point-of-view characters.

“The Sculpture Speaks: A Refugee’s Story of Survival”

Marianna Neil and Marge Pellegrino. (Mandorla Books, $15.95)

Long before it was popular to declare oneself a “sanctuary city,” the congregation of Tucson’s tiny Southside Presbyterian Church invented the concept. Its 1980’s Sanctuary Movement saved thousands of Central Americans from death and violence at home, and inspired hundreds of other churches to do likewise. In “The Sculpture Speaks,” Marianna Neil and Marge Pellegrino chronicle the movement through the story of the young Guatemalan woman after whom sculptor John Houser modeled a mother-and-child figure to support the 1985 trial of 13 Sanctuary Movement activists.

In 63 poems (some in the “voice” of the sculpture itself), activist Marianna Neil and writer and refugee volunteer Margie Pellegrino relate the harrowing narrative of the young mother they call Juana. After death squads “disappeared” her husband and pursued her, Juana fled to Mexico, where renegade Mexican police kidnapped and raped her. Stateless and vulnerable, she was crossed into the U.S .by Tucsonan Jim Corbett and taken into sanctuary. As Neil and Pelligrino tell it, the movement’s protecting and hiding Juana in Tucson then became a matter of saving Corbett from federal prosecution.

Neil and Pelligrino detail and fictionally dramatize Juana’s story convincingly and compellingly. If the conceit of a talking sculpture might verge on the precious, the book nonetheless bears powerful witness to the plights of refugees and the exceptional courage of those who risked their freedom to save them.

Helene Woodhams

Helene Woodhams

Helene Woodhams

Vicki Ann Duraine

Vicki Ann Duraine

Vicki Ann Duraine

Christine Wald-Hopkins

Christine Wald-Hopkins

Christine Wald-Hopkins

If you are a Southern Arizona author and would like your book to be considered for this column, send a copy to: Sara Brown, 4850 S. Park Ave., Tucson, AZ 85714. Give the price and a contact name. Books must have been published within a year. Books will not be returned.