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Dave Wood's Book Report, Jan. 28, 2009

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"Your Heart Belongs to Me," is not a sappy Tin Pan Alley lyric, but the title of a new thriller by Dean Koontz (Bantam, $27).

In this outing Koontz creates Ryan Perry, an Internet entrepreneur who suddenly is diagnosed with incurable cardiomyopathy, putting his business, his love life and life itself at risk.

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He puts himself on a donor list, gets himself someone else's heart and all seems well until he begins getting gifts, Valentines and, finally, a heart surgery video that sends the message "Your Heart Belongs to Me."

And they're all coming from a woman, the spitting image of a 26-year-old donor of the heart that beats in Ryan's chest.

She wants it back.

A few years back my wife's former teaching colleague Jane Juska wrote a rather shocking sexual autobiography. It was called "A Round-Heeled Woman" and Jane told her story of advancing old age, boredom and her attempt to rejuvenate her life.

What she did was this: She put an ad in a national magazine advertising for sex. For sex with her. Yes, that's right. It came as a surprise to those of us from Minneapolis who knew her from years before she moved to California. We knew her as lots of fun and an excellent English teacher in a suburban school.

So Jane told of her had and described the men who answered it and the adventures she explored with them.

I expected a real brouhaha, but not a lot happened. My review in this column, a story in Time magazine. A rather puritanical review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by a reviewer who should have known better. And then it was all over. I sent my review to Jane, who never answered and so we forgot about it all.

But Jane is back with a chapter of her own in "Behind the Bedroom Door," edited by Paula Derrow (Delacorte Press, $25).

In it she looks back at her life since childhood and traces the roots of her attitudes toward herself, her body and how she perceives men, including her former husband. It's not a very pretty picture, but I was glad to read at chapter's end that Jane, now in her seventies, has a boyfriend and she hopes everything will work out.

And speaking of sex, there's a new, erotic novel by National Book Award finalist Marie Arana ("Cellophane"), called "Lima Nights" (The Dial Press, $25), which tells the story of Carlos Bluhm, a Lima, Peru, big shot who lives the good life with his elegant wife.

And then, in a sleazy neighborhood he's out drinking and meets Maria Fernandez, a tango dancer, a dark-skinned beauty who sexually captivates Carlos, ruins his marriage, the works.

Curiously, this goes on for 20 years until Maria asks Carlos to take her to the altar. Then all manner of long-suppressed emotions boil to the top in this very exotic novel from the former editor of the Washington Post Book World.

Minneapolis's Carol Rhoda Books has recently published British author John Brindley's "The Rule of Claw ($18.95)." It's a big book, Brindley's first in the U.S. and its for readers from grades 7-12, though I got a bang out of reading it and I'm somewhat older. It concerns a group of teenagers, the only humans left on Earth. They've grown up alone, without parents, in the safety of their camp.

But beyond that camp, there's death and danger, led by fearsome raptors who kidnaps the teenage hero, Ash, who becomes a pawn in a race to save the human race.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

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