Happy Reading

Toni's bookshelf: read

The Godfather of Kathmandu (Sonchai Jitpleecheep, #4)
Ape House
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Operation Napoleon
Walking Dead
The Sentimentalists
The Heretic Queen
The Midnight House
Cross Fire
Peony in Love
Finding Nouf: A Novel
City of Veils: A Novel
First Daughter
A Place of Hiding
Peter Pan

Toni Osborne's favorite books »

Sunday, September 27, 2009

" The Fifth Floor", by Michael Harvey

This is the second novel featuring the wise-cracking Private Investigator Michael Kelly who returns in full force. The heart of the story is based around the mayor's office on the fifth floor of Chicago City Hall.

It starts when Michael is contacted by Janet, an ex-girlfriend and is asked to use his P.I. expertise to protect her from her abusive husband, Johnny Woods who happens to be one of the mayor's fixers. While on his trail he discovers a link to a recent murder. During his research he stumbles across a credible theory of the Chicago fire with a connection between the mayor's family and a land grab that set up a political dynasty. Of course revealing this would be scandalous, especially in an election year. The historical angle along with several plot twists made for a very interesting story.

Michael a man of action and very meticulous at his profession soon finds himself in the middle of political corruption and targeted by powerful men. He is framed for murder and embroiled in scams he had nothing to do with, plunged into an unfamiliar world where nothing is quite what it seems.

I share my thoughts with those saying this is a sizzling follow-up to "The Chicago Way". It is suspenseful and atmospheric, has intricate woven narrative and snappy dialogue and the characters are loveable and gritty. Mr Harvey has written an entertaining thriller with an historical twist. . This is a real page-turner that masterfully delves into the myth behind Mrs O'Leary's cow, the suspected cause of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Michael is one hero worth rooting for in this fast paced drama.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

" The Tricking of Freya" by Christina Sunley

This Icelandic saga is full of myth and legend, family drama and accentuated with a vivid description of a beautiful landscape. It tells the story of Freya Morris, a North American woman of Icelandic descent who is obsessed with uncovering a family secret.

Freya grew up in Connecticut but each summer she visited her relatives in Gimli Manitoba, a tinny village in Canada settled by Icelandic immigrants. There she falls under the spell of her aunt Girdie and the story of a secret child she once gave birth to. Freya hopes to meet her cousin and in memoirs recounts her search for this unknown relative.

This is a strange novel, one I found extremely hard to get into. It is written in a form of letters from Freya to her cousin, from the age of 7 to her adult life. It showcases the culture of Iceland and its complicated language. Ms Sunley has masterfully described the landscape, painting in ones mind a country of mesmerizing scenery giving her novel a rich tone. The cast of loveable characters are multi-dimensional and realistic. As for the plot, it was a wonderful journey into Iceland.

I found the story to be a little on the slow side and its climax was evident early on.

" The Dirty Secrets Club", by Meg Gardiner

Book 1 in the Jo Beckett series

This suspense-murder-detective story focuses on Jo Beckett, a forensic psychiatrist who profiles the dead to determine the events and cause of their demise. Lt Amy Tang completes the team, a feisty and hard nosed but likable Asian cop.

The story starts off slow but soon you will find yourself plunged into the mystery when Callie Harding, a bigwig prosecutor smashes her car into a bridge. The mystery deepens when messages are discovered scrawled on her body.

Jo and Amy are called to investigate and discover that Harding was a member of an illusive club "The Dirty Secrets Group". This group invites members to join by confessing and proving their darkest and most shameful secrets, pushing their members to commit dares to thrill others. At one point something goes terribly wrong and one by one the members are targeted and die under mysterious circumstances. Jo and Amy are in a rush against time to avoid more deaths.

We have likable characters with the right mix of toughness and vulnerability. The subject of psychological forensic is definitely a unique job to have given to her protagonist. I particularly loved Gabe Quintana, Jo's closest friend, a definite asset to the cast. The writing is simplistic but has lively dialogue. On the down side, the plot is weak, it has quite a few old clichés, and its pace is slow with few twists and turns. I found the chase scenes far fetched for the type of story depicted.

Although I may not categorized this novel as a page turner I found it a pleasant read and would recommend it.

" The Gargoyle" by Andrew Davidson

This is one complicated tale that will make you believe in anything. Told skilfully with a first person narration, the author's impressive narrative skills tell an unlikely story of one man's personal quest. Readers are immersed into one wildly romantic, macabre and seductive fantasy.

The novel opens with a horrific car crash, leaving the driver covered in first to fourth degree burns. While recovering in hospital, he is visited by a psychiatric patient, Marianne Engle, who believes they have met before in a previous life. Engle who is officially diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic entertains him with story after story that span lifetimes. Her tales alone will have you turning page after page as Davidson masterfully weaves the stories into our victim's recovery. This amazing tale has great characterization with a descriptive writing technique that paints a rich canvas in ones mind.

This is one intense, gripping, captivating and powerful novel.

" Sanctuary", by Lisa Appignanesi

This murder mystery tells the gripping story of Leo Holland, a Manhattan cartoonist who is filled with the sense of dread. She has a premonition that something terrible has happened to her best friend Isabel Morgan, an investigative journalist from London who was scheduled to meet her in New York.

The pace of the story picks up when Leo desperate, flies to London to trace Isabel's last steps. She is convinced that her friend's disappearance is linked to her latest research on genetically modified organisms and that her analyst may be holding the key to her whereabouts. Leo uses her anonymity and masquerades as a patient to find the truth and in the process discovers more that she could ever have imagined... The novel hinges extensively on psychoanalytical techniques.

"Sanctuary" is a profound psychological thriller that reflects on how little we actually know our best friends, not to mention ourselves and how deeply events in our past affect us. Ms Appignanesi has given us a novel that is also enchanting in its own way with a large cast of memorable and well developed characters, settings that are trendy and nicely painted and a plot that is complex and poignant.

" Chasing Harry Winston", by Laura Weisberger

Anyone that reads chick-lit, Lauren Weisberger has to be on top of your list. She definitely shows a real talent in captivating her audience by drawing original and interesting sagas in the lives of her female characters.

This latest is centered on Leigh, Emma and Adriana, three single women in their late 20's living in Manhattan. The novel focuses on each individual as the girls self analyze themselves expressing their need for constant validation for their good looks and sex appeal. They are determined to catch eligible prospects at any cost. No holds barred.

This novel can't be taken too seriously; I found it to be a hoot at times, terribly funny. The characters are depicted in a very narcissistic way, superficial and immature, highlighting the worst of the female stereotypical characteristic in each of them.
The feminists may feel offended by some of the ways the women are perceived. I found their adventures hilarious.

This is a fast, an easy read, a real soap opera script one that may tickle your fancy...

" Devil Bones", by Kathy Reichs

Temperance Brennan, book 11

The story starts when Brennan is called to an abandoned home where a worker discovers a gruesome display of remains in cauldrons amongst religious artifacts and skulls. Tempe discovers that some of the remains are human and digs deep to unearth the truth.

The main stream reader will be disappointed with the ho hum start and a story highly focused on the major cults and fringe religions. The over abundance of forensics details and history of Charlotte has crossed the line, it is more educational than entertaining, not what one would expect in a mystery novel.

The plot picks up marginally towards the end but there are so many predictable elements and lack of suspense that I can't say I enjoyed this latest installment.

" Margarita Nights", by Phyllis Smallman

A Sherri Travis Mystery, book 1

This is a light but cute and quite captivating summer read: a story of bartender Sherri Travis, a crafty sleuth, who became the prime suspect in her husband's death.

This first book in the series is set in a small town on the west coast of Florida. Sherri is estranged from her upper-crust husband Jimmy because of his addiction to gambling, drugs, liquor and easy women. Jimmy was always known to play with danger so it was no surprise when one day his boat blew up with him in it.

Sherri knows how attuned Jimmy's survival skills are and finds it hard to believe that the body found is that of Jimmy's. However, the investigators discover that she is the beneficiary of a big life insurance making her a prime suspect. With Sherri's freedom and credibility on the line, she is determined to prove otherwise.

This crime fiction is made up of charming characters, with Sherri as a smart protagonist working in a classy bar, dressing in a manner that pays, "the white trash look". She plays well the part and is amazingly well described. Sherri's people skills have attracted professionals from various walks of life who come forward to offer their help, one in particular a journalist ( they may be a future romantic escapade on the horizon). The writing can be a bit wry and the narration fragmented however the story is entertaining enough to have kept me turning page after page.

I found this novel a pleasant change, but it does not rate at the top of my list.

" The Killing Circle" by Andrew Pyper

In "The Killing Circle", we are plunged into the complicated world of ones inner self, facing all kinds of voices and fantasies. We are particularly invited into the mind of Patrick Rush, an aspiring novelist.

Patrick wishing to unleash his own creativity joins Conrad White's writing workshop, a dark and mysterious group that meet each week to share their secret tales. Suffering from a mental block and a lack of fertile imagination he becomes frustrated and envious of Angela's tale of the Sandman. He plagiarize her story and submits it for publication. Problems arise when an eerie similarity is discovered between the novel and multiple murders that are being investigated by Toronto's police force. Paranoia sets into the group when one by one its members disappear.

This is one dark, very complex and compelling plot with very disturbing moments. Fear and obsession is palpable, the first person narration brings out the sense of dread and horror and provides an insight into the mind of a murderer. This novel played with my mind, there were moments when I felt like abandoning it but new developments piqued my interest, I stayed riveted to every word in order to find out the killer's identity.

Even with its interesting characters and steady moving pace this spooky thriller, full of bogeymen may not be for everyone one.

" Bare Bones", by Kathy Reichs

Temperance Brennan book 6

The story begins with Tempe and Andrew Ryan looking forward to spending a romantic vacation together away from the pressure of their professions. But once again their romantic interlude is scuttled when their expertise is required.

At the scene of a small plane crash, Tempe is needed to investigate and identify the remains. While buried up to her neck in dead bodies, other cases are sent her way in the form of sub-plots: one is the charred body of a new born and the other is a foul discovery by her hyperactive dog Boyd. Naturally, Tempe pursues various leads and puts her life on the line to find the truth.

The story in general is quite witty and offers many complicated facets. Some may feel keeping track of the many suspects and victims of the numerous cases taxing. Nevertheless the author skilfully brings everything together, with a narrative that is rich in medical details and a style of writing that is snappy, shrewd and humorous.

Ms Reichs has given us another novel with just the right blend of action, suspense, grisly descriptions and romance.

" First Lady", by Michael Dobbs

This is a story of an ambitious woman transforming herself from a political housewife into a master manipulator of the political system at Westminster.

The protagonist is Ginny Edge, the wife of MP Dominic Edge. Her aspirations are to make her husband Prime Minister and in turn assuming the power of First Lady. We can all relate to the characters in this novel: sleazy politicians, an array of head-line newspaper columnists and ruthless people in search of ultimate authority by all means. The sub-plot is about a female Sudanese immigrant, Ajok Arab who is struggling to make a living in Britain. By the end of the book the lives of the two women intertwine as Ginny uses Ajok to score political points for her husband's election.

This story is as funny and as it is wickedly entertaining. I particularly enjoyed Ginny's ways of scheming, befriending and betraying people around her. I don't know if it was the author's intention but she comes across as being quite a conniver in her machinations. The political infighting is comical; the high drama behind Mr Dobbs' writing should be taken as such, after all, isn't this a fiction?.. :) ha-ha..

"Grave Goods", by Ariana Franklin

3rd novel in the series "A Mistress in the Art of Death"

This historical based mystery is an exciting sequel. Anyone who is a fan of Adelia Aguilar and her forensic skills will not be disappointed.

In 1176, a fire caused damage to Glastonbury Abbey and during the subsequent clean up an ancient box was found with the remains of two people. As in the past, King Henry 11 summoned Adelia to determine without a doubt the skeletons uncovered where those of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Adelia and her forensic team embark on a mission to reveal their true identities.

The author has given us a tale of crime, forensics details and romance mixed with an ingenious blend of medieval history during the rule of King Henry11.This clever story progresses with snappy dialogue at a fast-pace making it very hard to put down. A fascinating cast of strong characters provide growth to tantalize our imagination and pique our interest. New facets are revealed in the relationship between Adelia and St-Alban while the adventure runs a gamut of difficulties.

Judging by the ending of this novel, I suspect Henry will ask Adelia to use her expertise and solve more of the period's mysteries

"Black Arrow", by I.J. Parker

4th novel featuring Sugawara Akitada

The adventure is beautifully written bringing to life 11th century Japan, its action-packed plot is nicely combined with period details.

In this story, Akitada and his lieutenants Tora, Hitomaro and Genda are assigned to the remote and lawless province of Echigo to govern a hostile population and its treacherous warlords. They quickly become entangle in a murder investigation of an innkeeper and many other out of control situations. Forcing them, against all odds and risk to their lives to take up arms and bring the province back under the ultimate control of the Emperor.

This novel has a cast of fine characters, real to life, although none shine on their own. The narration is crisp and offers chilling moments with many surprises, the writing skilfully brings to the forefront the brutality of the period. I found even with its many twists the plot to be a bit predictable, removing some of the suspense.The reader will find the battle scenes to be very graphic, definitely not for the faint of heart.

This historical thriller is an entertaining addition to the series.

"Last Ritual" by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

First novel featuring attorney Thora Gudmunddottir

This crime fiction captures and brings our attention to the witch hunts of the 1600s, a darker side of Iceland's rich history.

The setting is contemporary and the historical elements are flawlessly interwoven into the story. As a main plot, the author recounts the murder of a German student Harald Guntlieb, known to be unconventional and born into a wealthy Bavarian family.

His body was discovered at the University of Iceland and police hastily arrested Harald's drug dealing friend. His parents felt that there was insufficient evidence and hired the investigator Matthew Reich, not fluent in the local language he in turn summoned the help of Thora Gudmundstottir, a well known lawyer.

Full of mysteries, this tale piques one's interest from the start by bringing forward a multitude of interesting characters in sub-plots. We learn the amazing puzzle has a dark side; Harald was obsessed with tattoos and body piercing and practiced erotic asphyxiation. He was also highly influenced by the local history of witch hunts involving torture and execution.

The author doesn't mince her words but skilfully uses humour to give us a lighter side. The characterization is superbly presented, Thora is a delightful protagonist with a sharp tongue and a spunky attitude, Matthew has a wicked sense of humour to go with his sex appeal. The strong contrast in their characters present an entertaining combination.

I enjoyed this mystery for its absorbing, untypical and compelling subject matter, a unique launch into a promising series.

"The Hidden Assassins" by Robert Wilson

Book 3 in the Javier Falcon series

The story explores cultural tensions and provides insights into the world of today. Different characters give us their points of view in the hope of helping us understand why the world has seen a resurgence of horrific events against mankind in recent years.

Through great writing and excellent plotting, Mr Wilson has taken his protagonist Javier Falcon on multiple cases, one of a man found brutally murdered, whose body was mutilated to prevent identification, another case, an explosion of a building leaving the area in total devastation. Leading the police investigation and working along side other agencies Javier Falcon needs to develop and bring to the forefront all evidential facts, a challenge complicated by the number of agencies involved.

There are also several sub-plots that are crucial to the story: We continue the saga of his ex-wife and her second husband and his lover, Falcon’s ex-girlfriend and her therapist, his sister’s partner and friend from Morocco. This all adds colour to the story.

This long story (642 pages) is layered with absorbing details, a rich tapestry of characters drawing an enchanting picture of life in Spain, its food and people. This is a crime fiction at its best interlacing crime, police procedure and current events producing an excellent thriller.

Although this 3rd installment stands by itself, reading the previous novels will give a better understanding of the recurrent characters, enhancing the experience.

"Churchill's Hour ", by Michael Dobbs

Book 3 in the Winston Churchill series

This fictional account vividly relates the grim year of 1941. The Nazi were unstoppable and were about to rule Europe, Britain was battered by the war and was facing one military disaster after another. It was a year of desperation, Britain stood alone. Churchill was facing his darkest hours and desperately needed the undivided help of his allies. A deeper alliance with the US was paramount.

Mr Dobbs draws an intriguing balance between Churchill’s political and domestic lives mixing historical facts with fiction to give us a riveting political drama exploring his remarkable journey.
The tragedy of Pearl Harbour is further discussed in the epilogue and the author also pursues the post war story of Churchill’s family and other characters.

This novel is so interesting and captivating, it is easy to forget that parts are said to be a creation of the author’s imagination.

Many events described may be challenged by historical buffs on all sides. Nonetheless an eye opener to a very important part of our past….A past we must never forget in honour of those who were involved

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"The Cellist of Sarajevo" by Steven Galloway

Centered on the conflict in Sarajevo, the story is recounting the struggle of three inhabitants during the city's siege during the mid 1990's: a female sniper called Arrow, Kenan a father on a trip to get water for his family and his neighbour and Dragan, a baker on his way to work. Uniting the story threads is a renowned cellist who witnessed the killed 22 people while they were waiting in line to buy bread. To commemorate each victim, he decided to play his instrument once a day in the crater left by the mortar shell.

This work of fiction highlights the harsh situations ordinary people are forced to endure during the time of civil unrest and how they adapt in order to survive. How each individual controls hate and tries to remain human facing the horrific atrocities of war.

Mr Galloway avoided labelling his main characters with ethnic qualifications by simply naming them Sarajevans and calling their enemies "the men on the hills". The prose is exquisite and quite moving; it is difficult to avoid wondering how one would react under similar circumstances. This is one brilliant tale that chronicles the evils of war and draws attention to the courage and spirit people inherently have within them.

This is one strong, powerful and utterly amazing novel.

" The Martyr's Oath" by Stewart Bell

Journalist Stewart Bell examines the growing reality and allure for some to terrorism. His investigation entrenched in facts focuses on an Al Qaeda member: Mohammed Mansour Jabarah and the why and how he became a terrorist.

Mohammed was an ideal pawn for Al Qaeda. Born in Kuwait and raised in Canada, he appealed to Al Qaeda for two reasons: the possession of a Canadian passport and for his cunning intelligence.

Retracing his remarkable journey and looking at all sides; Mr Bell gathered information through interviews, letters, documents, intelligence reports and videos to provide a glimpse into the psyche of an extremists. It gives the reader a unique and fascinating look into the recruitment, training and operational deployment of young Muslims by Al Qaeda terrorists. A view that is revealing, highlighting one of the most disturbing trends in modern terrorism - the growing number of youths in North America and Europe who are being drawn into what appear to be violent radical Islamic groups.

This book is excellent; it stimulated a gamut of emotions. Why are laws so complacent and why are we so ignorant and not pro-active. Every one should read this book; it is so revealing, very absorbing and difficult to put down. Mr Bell your work has given us a frightful account and an eye opener into a troubled generation.

"Mobile 9" by Bill Haughland

Mr Haugland, is a highly respected and well known TV personality who anchored Montreal's "Pulse News". Now in retirement he is using his past experiences as a reporter and TV news writer to produce his first novel. Although, a fiction it is derived from many events he witnessed during the 60's. Montrealers will easily recognize the people and scenes described in this narrative.

Not surprisingly, "Mobile 9" is a tale of a television news reporter, told in the 3rd person in a very cinematic way. Mr Haugland has captured and masterfully delivered a story of a television news cameraman embroiled in a mystery, accused of an assault he did not commit. Events that occurred: such as the FLQ bombing of the mayor's home (Jean Drapeau), the rise of separatism and the mafia investigations all play a part in this story.

I found the book commendable; it captured effectively the linguistic and political atmosphere, not forgetting the tensions of the professional and personal life of the media. Some may say Mr Haugland's enthusiasm describing a Grey Cup game was distracting, I found it was very well done and expertly conveys the atmosphere of the time. His great skill as a writer has given us a splendid tale with a wonderful ending, a concise wrap up that I have only seen in some movies.

I loved the intrepid reporter Ty Davis and all the rest of the cast. It will be nice to see them back in a subsequent novel. Well done Mr Haugland

"The Bayou of Pigs" by Stewart Bell

"Bayou of Pigs" is an account, a fine piece of investigative journalism relating how a group of white Canadian and American supremacists and mercenaries planned to overthrow the government of Dominica in a coup d'état back in the early 80's.

For two years the gang leaders recruited manpower, sought investors, stockpiled weapons, forged links with the mob and planned their preposterous mission "Operation Red Dog". Installing a puppet government at the helm, the capital would be turned into a paradise for criminals. Millions would be made with cocaine and arms dealerships and casinos. Fortunately, federal agents from Louisiana derailed their plans....On April 27, 1981, as the mercenaries were about to set sail for Dominica, federal agents moved in, arrested them and seized their weapons. Arrests followed in Toronto and Dominica.

This book is based on hundreds of files recently declassified by the US government, documents uncovered in three countries and interviews from multiple witnesses. It also discloses photos and documents taken from the investigation, the mercenaries' contracts and assault plans. There are detailed accounts of the roles played by the mercenaries and by high-level members of the US and Canadian far right.

I could hardly put this highly captivating, well-researched and sharply written story down. It is filled with comical twists and turns and enough bizarre plots and conspiracies, like a script right out of Hollywood. I must admit, it is scary thinking crimes are committed against good people and nations only to advance political, nationalistic and criminal ambitions. "Very well done", I am looking forward to reading more of this author's work.

"Extreme Measure" by Vince Flynn

Mitch Rapp, book 9

Having read all of his novels, there is no doubt Vince Flynn is one of my favourite authors. This latest thriller features Mitch Rapp and Mike Nash fighting one more battle against terrorism.

This is a very addictive series that captures the secretive world of the fearless men and women risking their lives in covert operations hidden from the scrutiny of their political leaders. This story starts with the CIA detecting and intercepting two terrorist cells, a third is rumoured to be still at large.

Rapp and Nash have to think on their feet and have to be at their fighting best; unfortunately this does not go well with their political leaders who wish to have them put on a short leash.

But one afternoon everything changes…... terrorists make their way into the US, mayhem and destruction follows.

This novel plunges us into a conspiracy with political intrigue, action packed with a lot of tension, violence and gory descriptions.

In this novel the dominance of Nash and his domestic life have left Rapp and Kennedy with a lesser role. I found it added a different twist and removed some of the predictability we have been lulled into.

"The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein

The author tells the story of a dog called Enzo who narrates his life experiences as if he was human. The novel will definitely stimulate your thoughts the next time you look at your favourite pet and he looks back as only a pet can ….

This is a heart-wrenching tale running the gamut of life. With amazing writing, the author brings Enzo to life so perfectly, with his wants and needs and wishes he puts you under a spell. Enzo has been given a human soul, has gained knowledge by watching TV and listening to the words of his master, race car driver Denny Swift. You are temporary fooled into believing that this dog could be real and able to talk.

The story starts on the eve of Enzo’s death; taking stock of his life and his relationship with his adopted family, Danny, Eve and Zoe.

This novel is beautifully crafted and highly captivating; Mr Stein has pulled off a very human story of love and loss one can easily relate to