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April 3, 2009 Edition

The Book of the Unknown, by Jonathon Keats


A tradition in Judaism says that there must be thirty-six righteous people alive at any given moment to justify humanity to God, but that these saints live among us, unrecognized by even themselves. In this set of stories, Keats purports to recount the histories of twelve of the Lamedh-Vov as uncovered by a fictional researcher. Readers will meet an idiot who sells his soul to match his wife’s wisdom, a thief who trades up to a treasure beyond price, and a fallen angel who could have become a demon but chose instead to become human. Richer than fairytales and more magical than “The Princess Bride,” these are passionate fables of anger, jealousy, love, and compassion.

The Samaritan’s Secret, by Matt Beynon Rees


Though schoolteacher Omar Yussef is in Nablus to celebrate his friend’s wedding, he gets drawn into the investigation of a scroll stolen from a nearby religious community of Samaritans. When he and his friend, police officer Sami Jaffari, arrive at the scene, the priest tells them the scroll has been returned, therefore, there is nothing to investigate. But as the two leave the community, there is news of a murder in a most holy spot. And before the wedding can even take place, the groom’s arm is broken in an obvious warning. It seems that while the murdered man lived on the fringes of acceptability to the religious community, he was in the heart of the political community, and in fact, has been blamed for the disappearance of millions of dollars from the government’s coffers. What is at first a sad local affair quickly becomes a national disaster: without the money, the World Bank will cut off financial aid to Palestine. An engrossing whodunit that gives readers a glimpse of the complexities of life in modern Palestine.

Thirteen Orphans, by Jane Lindskold


Fans of Charles de Lindt and Jim Butcher may find Lindskold’s newest urban fantasy right up their alley. The Thirteen Orphans, represented by the signs of the Zodiac plus the Cat, came to Earth centuries ago and settled in China as refugees, losing much of their magic through the generations. Now, only four Orphans remain aware of their heritage. The war that forced them to leave their homeland has come to Earth, and the Rat, the Tiger, the Rooster, and the Dog have no choice but to find the descendants of the others, enlist their help, and train them to use their magic. Lindskold’s knack for creating whole and detailed worlds nearly works against her once or twice here, as when she offers nearly overwhelming amounts of information about the magic inherent in mahjong, but the result is well-worth it.

The Grift, by Debra Ginsberg


When Marina was a little girl, a fortune teller told her she had “the gift” – and thanks to her abusive childhood, Marina finds it easy to make a living off her keen ability to read others and clothe it as psychic ability. At the opening of this delightful novel, Marina is carefully reconstructing her fortune-telling business after relocating from muggy Florida to breezy California. She doesn’t go for the one-time gigs, but prefers to build a relationship slowly with her clients, increasing their dependence on her as she learns more about them. But by the novel’s ending, she has found herself in a web of her own making, accused of a murder, with long-time clients angry with her, and one desperately in love with her. To top it off, she seems to have developed psychic powers, real ones now, in full swing. Part mystery, part romance, and all intriguing insight into human nature.

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