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Friday, August 15, 2014

The Seat of Magic By J. Kathleen Cheney

by Terrance Mc Arthur

Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

Political thriller, serial-killer mystery, gaslight alternate history, paranormal romance—J. Kathleen Cheney’s The Seat of Magic is all of these.

Set in a magical version of 1902 Portugal, this page-turner has selkies (seal-people who can attract people with little effort—it’s a musk thing), healers (with powers to cure and kill), seers (truth-finders, seekers, and trouble-detectors), sereia (multi-toned sirens with webbed hands and big feet), otter-folk, family secrets (who is related to whom, who has what non-human ancestors, why people really left the homeland), mad monarchs, and a book that shouldn’t exist. Oriana (once a sereia spy) and Duilio (a part-time investigator with selkie and witchly heritage) have been separated by law (non-humans are banned, but some hide in the Golden City), but the young man races to the rescue of Oriana, an unknowing pawn in political schemes. Together with a close cousin, he investigates the mutilation-murders of young women.

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In and out of palaces, morgues, and accountant’s offices they go to ferret out the facts, source the sorcery, and plug the powerful. All the while, Duilio seeks to woo and win Oriana, only to find that her culture does things a little differently than his.

This is not your everyday paranormal mystery-thriller. It has a sinuous charm that wraps itself around the reader, soft but impressive. The level of the puzzle is engaging. The world-building is never jarring, yet there is a strong current of the not-like-our-reality. Portugal is seldom used as a world-base, so there are soft touches that build into a believable—yet fanciful—environment. The romance elements have a courtliness that is lacking in modern cultures, and the language only slides into semi-mild oaths, rather than the look-how-many-naughty-words-i-can-say style that is frequently used to make characters seem tough. Cheney isn’t interested in tough. These characters glisten with humanity, even if they aren’t really human

Image source: Roc

This is the second book in the series, following The Golden City, which goes into “How Diulio Met Oriana” territory. I didn’t have trouble understanding the world without previous exposure to it. However, you might seek out the first book, but this is a volume that will stand on its own merits.

To enter to win a copy of The Seat of Magic, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Seat,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 23, 2014. U.S. residents only.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public's information needs.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Deadline Yemen By Peggy Hanson

by Sandra Murphy

Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

Washington correspondent for the Tribune, Elizabeth Darcy has been in the Middle East before. Now she’s received a call from her friend, Hamila, one of the country’s forward thinking leaders. It simply says, “Come. Please.”

Back during the war, Hamila had rescued Elizabeth from prison so now Elizabeth doesn’t hesitate but heads for Yemen and her friend. Enroute, she meets a man on the plane but he doesn’t offer her a ride to the hotel, even after the conversation and flirting that went before. It’s late and no time to worry about it. It is strange though that Hamila didn’t send a driver or come to the airport herself.

Still, it’s good to be back in Yemen. Elizabeth fell in love with the country during her first visit, in spite of the SCUD missiles and shooting. She’s remembered and welcomed at the hotel and once in her room, visited by a pregnant calico cat who she calls Mrs. Weston—Elizabeth is a Jane Austen fan.

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Tracking down Hamila isn’t easy. The office is closed and padlocked, her phone call cut short. All she can do is wait. To keep busy, Elizabeth walks through the town, takes photos and writes background pieces for the newspaper.

Michael, the flirting man from the plane, and Richard (he barely spoke enroute), are both at the same hotel. Elizabeth has lunch with Michael at Nello’s an Italian restaurant she discovered during her first visit. It seems everywhere she goes, she runs into Richard as well.

When Michael’s body is found in his hotel room, stabbed with a traditional sword, it’s a shock. Richard was seen near the room. Michael had mysterious meetings. The police suspect Elizabeth as her room is down the hall and she’d been seen with him. Then there are the two men who follow her wherever she goes—friend or foe?

When she is finally able to meet with Hamila, she is appalled to find out that Ali, Hamila’s younger brother, has joined what most would call a cult and some would say is a terrorist group. The family is desperate to bring him home. Elizabeth, as a foreigner, is able to move about the country more freely than a local woman who is not allowed to travel alone, look a man in the eyes, be dressed in less than the head-to-toe black or be touched by a man not in her immediate family.

Image source: Wildside Press

Her search for Ali, the truth behind Michael’s murder and the true identity of Richard, lead Elizabeth on a cross-country chase. Cryptic clues, old acquaintances, new friends all make for an exciting if nerve-wracking time. Hamila’s cousin, Ahmad, is able to help although he believes the women should sit at home and wait while men handle the situation.

Deadline Yemen gives the reader a fascinating look into another culture during a time when Bin Laden is just coming to power. Clinton is still in office and a reporter is basically on her own. Elizabeth is not sure she can even trust Embassy personnel.

It’s easy to see Hanson loves the country and knows the people. Her first book in the series is titled Deadline Istanbul. She is currently at work on book number three, Deadline Indonesia. Personally, I hope Richard is able to travel to Indonesia. There was more than a spark between he and Elizabeth. A little update on Mrs. Weston and her five kittens, left in care of the hotel and Nello, wouldn’t be amiss.

To enter to win a copy of Deadline Yemen, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Yemen,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 16, 2014. U.S. residents only.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra's short stories on UnTreed Reads including Bananas Foster.