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 »

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Breaking Lorca", by Giles Blunt

This story is a taunting and disturbing account of how far people in a position of authority will go in order to obtain what they want and remain in power. Through a compelling and provoking narrative the readers are taken on a harrowing journey where there is no mercy. This vivid and emotionally charged account relates how countrymen are subjected to physical, mental and emotional destruction in order to keep them submissive.

Giles Blunt is known for his "John Cardinal" series but this suspenseful tale is a standalone novel. The first part immerses the reader into a troubled time in the early 80's when El Salvador was in a vicious civil war and the average citizen's life meant nothing to those in power. The second part focuses on two of the citizens who made it to the U.S...

The protagonist is Victor Pena, a former officer, rescued form a firing squad to be a key player in a secret unit dedicated to acquiring intelligence. Victor finds himself out of his depth in this unit, violence and savagery are not part of his makeup, but right now it is his only option to stay alive. Victor soon finds himself up against a mysterious female detainee named Lorca who he cannot help but admire; he finds her strength and determination under prolonged torture to be impressive.

In the last part of the novel, Victor is sent to Fort Bening in the U.S. to hone his training. Once there, he sees an opportunity to escape the position he is in and find freedom. Driven by his conscience, his aim is to locate Lorca who has miraculously survived and is believed to be hiding in New York. He is constantly haunted by past memories and feels he could lessen the pain by redeeming himself in her eyes...

Mr. Blunt's background in TV is evident, the writing is very crisp, the characters are so real and the dialogue creates a virtual picture, the graphic details of torture are horrific and gut wrenching. It is hard to believe people can contemplate doing this to others and carry on life as if nothing happened. This dark novel is not for everyone, it brings to life what is believed to have transpired during a time of political turmoil in El Salvador. Although the ending left me a little disappointed, it had a bit too much flash and bang for a novel, it seems the concluding chapter was meant more for the big screen, nevertheless I enjoyed every page

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Heart Sick", by Chelsea Cain

Book 1 in the Archie and Gretchen series

The story explores what make up a psychopath and the relationship between a serial killer and his/her victims. "Heart Sick" is a gruesome tale of torture and manipulation, a fiction depicting a twisted and creepy serial killer.

Detective Archie Sheridan (main character) has spent ten years on a task force hunting a beautiful serial killer named Gretchen Lowell. Gretchen eventually turned the table and the hunter became the hunted. She lured him into a trap, tortured him for several days and contrary to her M.O. she mysteriously sets him free, leaving him haunted in many ways by the experience for the rest of his life.

The story picks up two years later with Gretchen in prison and Archie recently off medical leave and returned to duty. Still on strong medication he quickly finds himself deeply involved in another case of multiple abductions and murders. Many teenage girls have mysteriously gone missing in the Oregon area.

During this period, Detective Archie Sheridan's experiences attract the attention of the press and Susan Ward, a young eccentric journalist, is assigned the task of writing his story. In her research, she tags along and records every move he makes but unknown to her, this action leads her straight into the serial killer's web...

The gruesome torture Archie endured at the hands of Gretchen is rehashed in flashback sequences and the gory details create a graphic and violent atmosphere at times. Archie, one of the main characters, is overshadowed by the strong characterisation of Gretchen, a beautiful serial killer. The story only comes alive when she appears and dims when she is off stage. It leaves the reader wondering if this is a suspense thriller or a twisted love story between a cop and a serial killer. Susan Ward the pink hair journalist is thrown into the mix to add a touch of colour and help tell the story. This novel is riddled with old clichés, very basic suspense and is rather unrealistic at times. This does not measure up to other thrillers I read this year

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Berlin Noir", a trilogy, by Philip Kerr

This is a collection of the first three novels in the Bernhard Gunther series that were written between 1989 and 1991 and were published together in 1993 under the title “Berlin Noir”. Detailed in it are the earlier adventures of Bernhard Gunther, a private detective who specialized in missing person cases. The scenes reflect the climate of pre and post-World War 11 Berlin. As for the stories, they highlight some of the horrors that began with the birth of National Socialism and end with the allied occupation and reconstruction.

Book 1 “March Violets”, Berlin 1936

When Gunther is retained by wealthy German industrialist Hermann Six to investigate the arson murder of his daughter and son in law and the theft of some priceless jewellery he finds himself in the middle of a major conspiracy involving highly placed Nazis. His investigation plunges him into Berlin’s dark side with its noisy cabarets, its easy women and tough men, and eventually to Dachau concentration camp. There he finds himself both on the receiving and giving end of violence, violence the world has yet to learn of. He has become a pawn in a game where corruption and decadent behaviour are practiced at its highest level.

Book 2 “The Pale Criminal”, Berlin 1938

This is a time when the situation in Germany is escalating from bad to worse and P.I. Gunther is investigating a case of blackmail on behalf of his client Frau Lange. Part of his investigation has him undercover in a clinic where psychotherapy is practiced but things turn ugly when his partner is murdered and the alleged blackmailer commits suicide. To complicate things even further, Gunther is given an order he can’t refuse, he is ordered back to Kripo by the SS general Heydrich to work on a serial murder case in which two SS officers are being fingered by public opinion. This is a highly explosive period in Berlin just prior to Kristallnacht.

Book 3 “A German Requiem”, Berlin 1947

This is a time when Germany is divided and Berlin is in a state of devastation, its people are doing their best to find food and shelter and rebuild their lives. Gunther recently released from a Russian prison is asked to investigate the murder of Edward Linden, an American Counterintelligence captain. An old acquaintance of his, Emil Becker has been arrested for the murder and may soon be convicted and put to death. Gunther strongly suspects Becker is being framed and with the clock ticking he must follow his strongest leads. The Russian Colonel Palkovich Poroshin, now in Vienna may have some important pieces to the puzzle but can Gunther really trust him. Deep into the investigation he draws the attention of a group of men who have their own secret agenda. An agenda that subsequently uncovers a nightmare landscape containing more death than he could ever have imagined….

The three novels are very interesting and captivating. What I found most fascinating is the historical setting; it brings us deep into the dark and chaotic period of Nazi-era Germany. Through the protagonist, we feel the hype and frenzy created by Hitler and the subsequent behaviour of the Nazi followers, we also experience the emotional letdown the German people felt post-war. Bernhard Gunther is portrayed as a person with an attitude who walked a fine line to stay alive. He was once an SS officer under the command of Heydrich, Himmler and Goering but transferred to the Russian front in order to distance himself from the path the SS was taking. In his writing Mr. Kerr uses a tone that is brutal and dry, fitting for the subject. “Berlin Noir” is a page turner, a vortex of plots and subplots that are easy to follow although hard to swallow.

I have found this series highly entertaining and addictive

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Deception on his Mind", by Elizabeth George

Book 9 in the Inspector Lynley series

Elizabeth George plunges us once again into a gripping and twisted "Whodunit" plot based in Balford-le-Nez, a dying fictional sea town on the coast of Essex. True to her style, this book in the series is beautifully written, the plot well-crafted and the characterization excellent. This is a complicated mystery which may be a tad too long and a bit slow-moving at times but one that will not fail to draw you into the story immediate. You will be caught up in the web of suspense and deception till the end.

Finally Inspector Lynley and Helen have tied the knot and are on their honeymoon and Barbara Havers has been granted an extension on her convalescence, her plans where to spend a little time in Balford-le-Nez.

Balford-le-Nez has a growing Asian community and when a member is found dead near its beach, his neck broken...The normally sleepy town ignites...Hearing of this Barbara can't help but get involved and quickly becomes a prominent figure in the murder investigation of this recent immigrant from Pakistan. The case has a personal side; her landlord Taymullah Azhar and his daughter Hadiyyah have connections to the dead man.

In typical fashion the writer has the murder investigation as the focal point while exploring the hardships new immigrants face in a country foreign to them. With Lynley out of the picture, Barbara must use her own sound investigative skills and leave no stones unturned. People are quick to tag this murder as a racially motivated crime. What really happened and for what reason?

This book is an absorbing read, however, some important threads are left dangling leaving questions as to the outcome of some events and the fate of some characters....maybe the answers are in a future sequel....

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"A Quiet Flame", by Philip Kerr

Book 5 in the Bernard Gunther series

This fiction examines Directive 11, a secret order issued in 1938 that bared Jews from entering Argentina and the consequences that derived from it. It also explored the rumour and the strong possibility that a concentration camp existed in a remote part of the country. At the time thousands of Argentina's Jewish citizens had simply disappeared, never to be seen again. Coincidently, in later years, Argentina became a safe haven for Nazis in hiding.

" A Quiet Flame ", opens in 1950 with private eye Bernie Gunther, now in fine form getting off the boat in Argentina. He is not alone; one of the other passengers is Adolf Eichmann. Both have changed their identities to avoid the consequences of their past and are trying to start a new life in a new country.

It didn't take long before Bernie was fingered by President Peron's secret police, it turns out they had a file on him and knew about his past activities. They felt he could assist them in the political investigation of a child abduction and murder. Knowing he had no choice but to accept, he used the opportunity to gain medical treatment for his thyroid cancer. After reviewing the case he notices many similarities with unsolved cases he worked on back in early 30's Berlin, once again he finds himself forced to tread a delicate path.

Gunther's work attracts the beautiful Anna Yagubshy who is desperately looking for help in finding her Jewish relatives who have disappeared; he is immediately drawn into a horror story that rivals everything from his past. The Peron period of Buenos Aires holds terrible secrets within its corrupt halls of power, one never knows whom to trust and danger is waiting at every corner.

The stories move back and forth in time from Bernie's past early 30's Berlin to the turbulent time of post war Buenos Aires 1950.

The depiction of the two eras is fascinating and captivating, it also gives a unique and intriguing view into the Nazi haven created during the time of President Peron. The characterization is superb and the players have depth. I like Gunther particularly; he is a compelling protagonist, an ex-SS "collaborator" with strong ethics. This novel never lags for thrilling and chilling suspense; it will grip you from the start. The sub-plots are as powerful as the main plot and contain many dead-ends and red herrings blended seamlessly creating a well-crafted work of fiction.

I started with this novel and find it could easily stand alone but was left so intrigued and entertained by the protagonist adventures I feel impelled to read the author's previous works.

"In the Presence of the Enemy", by Elizabeth George

Book 8 in the Inspector Lynley series

Ms George knows how to sustain her readers’ attention in tales that are not only suspenseful but finely crafted and delightfully intricate. With “In the Presence of the Enemy” she once more proves that she is one of the best classic British mystery novelist today.

The story opens with the kidnapping of young Charlotte Bowen. The kidnapper(s) demand her father, publisher Dennis Luxford to pay an unusual ransom, “ Divulge on the front page of his newspaper that he has fathered a child in a loveless tryst with Eve Bowen “. But Eve, a high ranking influential member of parliament hesitates and refuses to go along with the demand. She believes that Dennis has engineered everything to discredit her and is so convinced it is a hoax she steadfastly refuses to involve the authorities.

The story advances at a rapid pace and the plot thickens when another child disappears. After realizing the determination of the kidnapper(s), Inspector Lynley and Detective Havers from Scotland Yard are called upon and brought up to speed. Following this duo as they piece clue after clue is a riveting experience, the writer plunges us into an adrenaline filled game of cat and mouse.

Ms George spoon feeds her readers tit-bits of information seemingly leading them down the garden path and at just the right time she jumps track and throws her readers completely off balance. Being unpredictable helps pique the readers interest even more.

Along with the main plot, interlaced are sub-plots involving Lynley’s financé Helen who is wrestling with her own demons and making a small but important appearance is forensic scientist Simon and his wife Deborah. All the characters are believable although not all likeable but definitely all expertly drawn to keep us captivated. This is a suspense filled mystery from start to finish, one of Ms George’s best

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Bangkok Tattoo", by John Burdett

Book 2 in the Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep mystery series

This sequel to "Bangkok 8" has all the elements necessary to take the readers on a precarious ride through the sweltering hot and sticky streets that form the flamboyant underbelly of one of Asia's most lively cities.... Bangkok.

The mystery is told in the riveting voice of detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a product of mixed parentage with Buddhist beliefs, a good cop by day and a papasan in the family brothel by night. The story opens with Chanya, a working girl at "The Old Man`s Club" (owned by Colonel Vikorn and Sonchai`s mother), returning from a trick, dazed and covered in blood, coincidently rumour has it CIA agent Mitch Turner has been found near by murdered and his genitals brutally mutilated. Chanya a popular and important asset to the club quickly becomes the prime suspect. Colonel Vikorn decides with the help of Sonchai to construct a cover-up to portray Chanya as a victim acting in self- defence....a statement is created and Chanya goes into hiding. Sonchai always the professional at heart, feels something is not right and the suspense escalates.

Sonchai's investigation introduces us to prostitutes, katoyes( Lady Boys) sex tourists and very murky characters that roam the streets of Bangkok's notorious District 8. The action eventually takes us even deeper into the heart of Thailand, revealing a possible connection to Al-Qaeda, added to the saga is a mix of rogue CIA agents and drug dealers. A tattoo artist fleeing the Japanese mafia and a turf war between Vikorn and an army general heightens the intensity even further.

The author has created one sophisticated novel full of marvellous characters, set in an intoxicating décor and told in a gripping manner. Definitely not a novel for the faint at heart, there is brutality and sexuality throughout and Bangkok's sleazy side is rather exploited to its maximum. Unfortunately being a sequel, the plotting seemed familiar and thus rather predictable in many ways, maybe if the prequel wasn`t still fresh in my mind, I would have a different opinion.

I am looking forward to its sequel " Bangkok Haunts", but this time I will wait awhile before reading it

" The Jewel of St-Peterburg ", by Kate Furnivall

The novel transports us back to a time preceding the Russian Revolution of 1917. Set against a background of elegance and opulence this dramatic story is of love, courage, revenge and heartache.

The heroine is Valentina Ivanova, daughter of a minister under Tsar Nicholas also a young pianist and the darling of St. Petersburg's wealthy aristocracy. Valentina's only dream is to become a nurse and take care of her sister, who was maimed for life during a Bolshevik attack on the family estate. Her father has other expectations, marrying a Russian count would solidify their place amongst the country's elite. But strong headed Valentina, determine in her own way, graduates from nursing and eventually falls in love with Jens Friss, a Danish engineer.....A life changing decision with many consequences.

This is a harsh and scary time, the Tsar, the Duma and the Bolsheviks are at each other's throats.....A revolution is in the making, the days of the ruling aristocracy are numbered and no one is safe.

Following Valentina we are plunged into two contrasting worlds, one of the miserably poor and the other of the extreme rich. This sweeping story highlights to what means desperate people pushed to the limit will go to obtain recognition and the basics of life they need to survive. The characterization is well done, realistic and very gripping. This compelling tale draws its readers into a fast-paced and captivating historical-fiction with graphic details of the period.

I enjoyed previous novels of Ms Furnivall and this one did not disappoint. I can say I am a fan

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Mercy Street", by Mariah Stewart

Book 1 in the Mercy Street Foundation series

This romantic suspense novel is a refreshing interlude, a relief for those who have been reading more adrenaline based mysteries, Mariah Stewart style is lower keyed . This mystery is basic and not complicated to follow, it focuses mainly on homicides and missing person investigations and provides interesting moments that will grab you immediately, unfortunately it is somewhat predictable.

The novel juggles three threads at the same time and intertwines smoothly:

1) The center of the mystery is Robert Magellan's missing family and the fact that he is haunted by the memory and relives the terrible day when Beth his wife and their baby son simply disappeared, never to be found.

2) On another tangent, investigators are left baffled when a simple outing to a local park turns tragic, two children are missing and two have had their young lives cut short. After weeks into the investigation, the only theory they have is, one of the missing kids is the possible shooter. The child's grandmother unable to accept what is happening turns to Father Kevin Burch. With the help and sympathy of philanthropist Robert Magellan they hire P.I. Mallory Russo to look into the matter.

3) It turns out the Conroy police force is already busy, they have a sniper on the hunt. The events present an seemingly insurmountable challenge to a small police force.

P.I. Mallory Russo has a stroke of luck when she meets Charlie Wanamaker, a man with a dysfunctional family, who happens to be in transition from one police force to the Conroy force. They quickly bound and with their passion for justice they race to solve the mysteries. The chemistry they develop between themselves eventually reaches beyond their professionalism...

The characters are quite likeable and easy to root for, a blooming romance between Mallory and Charlie is surely to be followed up in the next instalment, at least I expect it to be with the conclusion to what happened to Robert Magellan's family. The story was captivating but in time will not be one of my most memorable novels

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"The Girl Who Played with Fire", by Stieg Larsson

Book 2 in the "Millennium" trilogy

The heroes of the past are back in this second story which is even more eccentric than the first one. A tale that is violent, complex, outrageous , barely believable and filled with strange characters but one that is highly captivating and totally engrossing, a great sequel to " The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo".

Lisbeth Salander , is one of the most original and memorable characters to surface in a long time. Playing an even more central role this time as she is the prime suspect in a triple murder. Hunted both by the police and enemies from her past she goes into hiding. Blomkvist, is one of the few who believes in her innocence and makes it his mission to find her and uncover the real culprit.

Mr Larsson writing is colourful and suspense filled. The storyline is intricate, a real puzzle, it is packed with incidents, thrills and details, it juggles many stories in parallel while it moves back and forth in the life of Lisbeth and ultimately has a surprisingly violent ending. He has Criminal Inspector Bublanski and his team tracking down Lisbeth and on another level he has Blomkvist and private investigator Armansky on a quest to exonerate her. In another twist he has Lisbeth, herself on a crusade to revenge her past and come to terms with the horrors she has suffered. Many secondary characters, good guys and villains are added into the mix, a bit mind bending to keep tabs of but very entertaining.

The end is a cliff-hanger leaving some loose ends, the perfect recipe to follow up with a subsequent instalment. I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Matterhorn", by Karl Marlantes

A novel of the Vietnam War

This is a time when U.S. political tensions are at a boiling point, campuses erupt in violence and protesters take to the streets, racial agendas dominate the enlisted ranks and young Americans are embroiled in brutal combat at the other end of the world. A conflict that will divide the population like never seen before.

The author's astonishing writing immerses his readers deep in the thick of the action: they quickly feel they are part of the story, witnessing the fighting side by side with the courageous soldiers.....Before setting out in this spellbinding novel, make sure you have plenty of repellent, do not forget to keep dry, leave your fears behind and lets go forward....a mission is awaiting..... Emotions will be so real you will soon understand what I mean.

The year is 1969 during the monsoon season deep in the jungles and the sweltering mountains of Quang Tri province, Vietnam. Bravo Company First Platoon lead by a green Lieutenant Waino Mellas and his seasoned officers Fitch, Hawke and Kendall are given the orders to claim and establish a strategic point (the Matterhorn) , an advance fire-support base. The reader quickly learns that a simple sounding plan presents more than one enemy to the soldiers: Mother nature, the unfamiliar and unforgiving terrain, the fear of being isolated and the very capable opponents are just some of the life threatening hostilities they are bombarded with.

Just when the Lieutenant and his men think they have time to catch their breath and count their loses new orders hit them almost as hard as any enemy. Higher command orders them to abandon everything and embark on another dangerous but crucial mission: sever N.V. supply lines at all cost.

The men that are still standing are more and more concerned, will the final cost be worth it. Totally exhausted and feeling demoralized they wonder if new technology and long range communications have left command insensitive to their plight.

Chapter after chapter, the author immerses his readers through one intense battle after another, it is a very exhausting read. The story is told from the point of view of lieutenant Mellas and with extensive dialogue between the soldiers in a language that is dense in slang, jargon and technical terms. The author has provided a detailed glossary, I found it hard to refer back and forth at first but the price of knowing and understanding the terms early on paid dividends, patience enhanced my reading pleasure.

The author himself a decorated veteran of the time has written a complex novel (sometimes difficult to read) of what " Tour of duty" meant to those who served and hopefully to those who will take the time to read this gruesome account of trying times. Will mankind ever learn.......

This is one outstanding novel filled with emotions and lasting impressions. Very well done Mr Marlantes.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"The Spies of Warsaw", by Alan Furst

“The Spies of Warsaw” is a fiction recounting the work of European spies in the months leading to WW11. The year is 1937 and Germany is secretly preparing to invade Poland…..

The story is of Col. Jean- François Mercier, a French embassy’s military attaché in Poland whose job is to handle routine diplomatic work and attend nightly social obligations. His position provides him with the perfect cover to obtain crucial information on Germany‘s war plans. Behind the lines he covertly runs a small network of agents specializing in obtaining information on what the German command has planned for its industries. Edvard Uhl, a German Engineer, is Mercier’s main contact and one of his most valuable informants.

The plot evolves around Mercier and his dealings with both the Russians and the Germans. We have an abundance of low keyed and un-dramatic espionage creating a tone that is rather cold and impersonal. It reads more like a history book or a documentary.

The main characters are well represented but the author tends to represent the Nazi and the French military in a keystone cop manner.

This is hardly a page turner, the storyline is weak and lacks suspense but does captures the darkness of the time and brings forward some intriguing elements surrounding the exploits behind intelligence gathering. As we may expect with spy novels, there is always a need for a spicy romance, this one leaves no surprises, Mercier is smitten by the mysterious Anna Szarbek, a beautiful French lawyer of Polish parentage with uncertain loyalties and unclear ambitions….

Although this novel is good, it is far from being my favourite of the year

"Strip", by Thomas Perry

If you read and enjoy thrillers full of bad guys duping other bad guys you will definitely love this bunch of misfits.

What we have here, is the story of an aging, arrogant, impotent gangster hanging onto his ego, supported by a puppet staff bullied into carrying out his orders in order to retain power and his supremacy in the underworld of flesh peddling and money laundering.

Manco Kapak owns a few clubs in the LA area and moves money for a major drug distributor. One night while making his daily deposit someone robs him at gun point. For a man of his status the loss of money is irrelevant, he cannot show weakness, a strong message has to be sent. His reputation shaken he dispatches his henchmen to flush out the guilty. In haste, they mistakenly finger Joe Carver, a man with nerves of steel and a few skeletons in the closet of his own…..What follows is a multitude of nail biting events.

Some other memorable characters are bad ass Spencer, Marco’s trusted body-guard and then there is Carrie, a woman with the DNA of a tiger and a passion for blood and money. You will love her, she is fascinating, frightening and one of the most exhilarating to follow.

The muscle headed mobsters show their true colours when faced with competition from their own kind. Killing over money, turf and petty grievances are all in a days work.

This is a kaleidoscope of sadistic double-crossing characters. Good cops, bad cops and petty criminals make this novel what it is. We are presented with a scenario that is very well drafted, diverse, intriguing and a story that will bring hours of reading entertainment.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", by Stieg Larsson

Book1 in the "Millennium" trilogy

The late Stieg Larsson deserves all the accolades and rewards posthumously bestowed upon him for writing such an engaging and engrossing novel. In my humble opinion it is a literary accomplishment that brought hours of enjoyment and definitely lived up to its hype.

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering and her body was never found. Her beloved uncle, the powerful industrialist Henrik Vager, is convinced that she has been killed by a member of his dysfunctional family. In an attempt to prove his suspicions, he hires the disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, a tattooed computer hacker, with major issues of her own, to investigate.

In their search, the pair discover that Harriet's disappearance may be linked to other grotesque murders and that the Vanger clan will go to any means to keep their dark and appalling family secrets hidden....

The first part of the novel is dedicated to the characters and setting of the two main plots, some may find this tactic to be long and dragging but I found it to be a useful progress to understanding where the mystery was leading. The first plot evolves around Harriet Vanger disappearance and in the second the reader is plunged into a financial intrigue involving the head of a Swedish corporation.

The players are a cast of misfits brilliantly realised to be despicable and lacking ethical fortitude, some are asocial and smart, others complex and sympathetic and some are dramatic or totally disturbing. The character development is outstanding and the plots are so intense I found myself deeply engaged. This is a striking novel full of passion written with a prose that is bright and functional.

I enjoyed this novel immensely and highly recommend it.

"The Ghost War", by Alex Berenson

Book 2 in the John Wells series

The follow up to "Faithful Spy" is a smart and captivating spy novel of tic and tack scenarios between rulers of two powerful nations vying for ultimate control and on the brink of war.

The action moves quickly and the author triggers many different plots at the same time. It opens with an American destroyer accidentally ramming a Chinese trawler killing students on board and triggering strong nationalism and hatred towards the U.S. . Beijing quickly goes into crisis mode and its people are rallied into a state of mind where action overrides good judgement. Chinese authorities spurred by its people, take drastic measures further inflaming the situation. A power struggle ranging between the leadership of the Chinese military and the civilian wings adds even more volatility......

Mr Berenson true to his style and with his clear writing , injects complexity and intrigue in his sub-plots by involving the Taliban, a North Korean spy and shady people willing to turn against their own for the right price. The action is very intense and is vividly portrayed using military jargon, at times distracting but adds flare and colour. The protagonist, John Wells is developing nicely into a super hero ready to do everything for his country. Many other supporting characters although not as loveable as John play an important part in this thriller.

Mr Berenson , has the knack of being able to grab the attention the readers to the very last page through his highly captivating portrayal of events. I am sure the author has other exploits for John, and I am looking forward to them

"Shadows and Strongholds", by Elizabeth Chadwick

This novel is a convincing and captivating historical fiction set in 12th century England. The tale follows the life of Brunin FitzWarin and is written creatively to pique the readers' attention and immerse them in a suspenseful medieval epic.

It opens with Lord FitzWarin taking drastic action and sending his 10 year old son Brunin to serve as a squire to his trusted friend and ally Joscelin de Dinan. Lord FitzWarin knows his son is at a turning point and needs to overcome the shyness that is holding him back. Joscelin de Dinan is the right person to groom him and teach him the fine art of knighthood.

The mentoring turns Brunin into a strong young adult and his close relationship with Hawise, Joscelin de Dinan's daughter, changes from childhood play to trust and admiration and eventually romance...Oh! those pesky medieval hormones...... Brunin weds her before joining his father and father-in-law on an upcoming battle with King Stephen in a quest to keep Henry of Anjou on the throne.....

While away at war, the two families suffer, a Welsh invasion seizes the FitzWarin estate and de Dinan's rival asserts his claim on Ludlow.

The fast-paced plots are captivating and the writing delves deep into the emotions of its characters. It provides an interesting look into medieval feuds and the deadly rivalry between those in power and those seeking power. A veritable page turner chronicling adventures, courage and love.

"Shadows and Strongholds" is a romantic story, loosely based on facts and events told by troubadours of the time.

I find this time period very interesting and I am strongly entertained by Ms Chadwick's take on it

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"When the Light Goes", by Larry McMurtry

Book 4 in the “Last Picture Show” series

This is an epic in the Duane Moore’s saga…now 64 he is set for his last hurrah before the lights go out.. This novel is a funny and erotic tale of a man who has aged but has not lost his taste for life.

The story opens with Duane back from a trip from Egypt and still wondering if he can find happiness and solace in his hometown. His prospects improve when he meets the young, attractive and seductive Annie Cameron who was hired by his son Dickie to work at the Thalia office….. Another boost for his libido happens when his psychiatrist Honor Carmichael, a person he has the hots for, decides to use sex therapy to stimulate his desires….It works wonders on Duane… …and the details are comical and entertaining for the reader…I am not going any further….lol

This story is written to highlight every old man’s fantasy…and reads like an X-rated novel. The only thing driving the characters are their interest in sex and Duane is the lucky man who gets the gorgeous 26 year old virgin and a rump in the sack with a lesbian psychiatrist.. The prose is vivid and the lust is very explicit in its details, not much left to the imagination. Where was the ingenious literary work in this one…. Ok I admit I read every word….but does Duane have a life outside the bedroom.

Although Larry McMurtry is a prolific writer and his reputation precedes him, my first experience reading him left me disappointed, nonetheless I plan reading more of his accomplishments to see how diversified a writer he is

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"The Dark Tide", by Andrew Gross

Book 1 in the Ty Hauck series

This novel is an attention grabber right from the start...beware...It is a never ending fast paced story of deception, lies and conspiracies.

It opens one morning at yoga class, Karen Friedman and her friends learn of a fatal bombing at Grand Central Station. Karen at first, felt terrible but her emotions go into high gear when she realizes that her husband Charlie, a hedge fund manager, has taken the train to work. She later finds out that a part of her husband's briefcase has been found at the point of detonation ... Where's Charlie?....will she ever see him again....

On the anniversary of the event, Karen although still devastated by the loss of her husband wonders if she can watch a documentary of the day on TV. As she is about to switch channels she sees what appears to be Charlie's face in the background....has she seen a ghost or is she loosing it....

At the time of the bombing, Detective Ty Hauck was working on a hit and run incident. Personal information found on the victim brought Ty's investigation to Karen's door and over time she developed an appreciation for his manner and expertise. It is for these reasons that Karen decides to share her discovery with Ty and hopefully find out what really happened.

As you can imagine, the story intensify from this point on. The investigation has many surprises along the way, it starts in the Hamptons goes to Pensacola and ends in the Caribbean with a bang...The storyline while basic and straightforward progresses well, the prose paint an exciting and entertaining picture. I like the realistic way the main players are depicted, they are not shown as super action heroes or a damsel in distress.

I recommend this novel for its simplicity, it is captivating and enjoyable from start to finish

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Beatrice & Virgil", by Yann Martel

Yann Martel takes his reader on a potent journey into the world of evil. His novel is totally unconventional, separated in two parts, one an essay the other a fairy-tale, both trying to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and the effect on its survivors and the perpetrators.

The main character Henry , a novelist, likes to use animals with human characteristics to tell his stories. But when he attempts to write about the Holocaust in that fashion, Henry hits a wall, publishers slam the door on him. About to give up his career in writing, Henry receives a manuscript of a strange play, written by a taxidermist also named Henry. The play is about a pair of suffering animals, a donkey and a monkey named Beatrice and Virgil and it is staged using a giant striped shirt as background. The dialogue between the two animals reflects their feelings and the horrors they have suffered under the Nazi regime.

Luckily this is a short novel, less than 200 pages. It tends to bog down with indefinite details around the two Henrys and the fine art of taxidermy, creating too many rambling, disjointed and boring moments. The author appears to have used his background in philosophy to relate his story through the eyes of two charming and articulate animals. I found it took till the end for the story to jell and for me to piece together what the author wanted to convey.

The last pages consist of moral fables posing as questions about how one would react when faced with life changing decisions….

I found this novel to have been too profound for my taste….

"Sun and Shadow", by Ake Edwardson

3rd book in the Erik Winter series and 1st translated into English

This detective fiction brings us to Gothenburg Sweden at the turn of the millennium. Erik Winter, a soon to be father, is highly talented and the youngest chief inspector in the country.

In its first chapter, a gruesome double homicide has police investigating the shadier side of Sweden. The underground world, black metal music and unconventional sex quickly surfaces in their investigation. The murderer has left a riddle of clues at the crime scene and Erik realises the importance his leadership can play in finding this killer. All this is soon confirmed when another murder occurs and new clues appear to link the killer to the force. This adds more pressure in the race to close the case before the killer strikes again.

This proves to be an extremely stressful and challenging time in Erik Winter‘s life. On his personal side he has been jetting back and forth to the Costa de Sol Spain to be at his father’s death bed.

The author describes in depth the psyche and motivation of his many characters. They are an engaging and entertaining bunch but over characterization tends to distract from the main plot. The story flows at a steady but leisurely pace, just the right amount of suspense to keep the reader’s attention. It is quite captivating, although I found the ending a little abrupt and quite predictable.

All that said and done I am looking forward to reading its sequel

Saturday, September 4, 2010

"Three Day Road", by Joseph Boyden

This story is of Xavier Bird and Elijah Weesageechak also known as Whiskeyjack, two James Bay Cree, who signed up together and became famous snipers in the Canadian Army during the First World War. The novel is a poignant tale of brutality and survival.

It opens with Xavier returning home, missing a leg and addicted to morphine, his days are also numbered. His aunt Niska greets him at the train station and together they begin a three day canoe journey home. On their travel, Niska recounts stories of their youth and in return Xavier graphically recounts the horrors he and his friend Elijah faced.

Boyden's detailed and colourful writing immerses his reader into two contrasting worlds. Niska's is rich in native culture and harmony with nature, the other, Xavier plunges the reader into the atrocities of war. Both are driven by the will to survive.

In addition to the central characters the story is stocked with many other memorable and wonderful secondary players. Xavier and Elijah's characters and some of their exploits are modeled after the real life experiences of Francis Pegahmagabow (known as Peggy) an Ojibway Indian, an honoured sniper of WW1.

The pace of the story is steady and holds ones attention firmly, it is highly captivating and a page turner one hard to put down. I highly recommend it.

"Turbulence", by Giles Foden

"Turbulence' is an ambitious and original topic that fictionalises the debates between weather forecasters and strategists that preceded the D-Day Invasion.

The slow moving plot starts in the 1980's on an ice ship destined for the Middle East. The melancholic Henry Meadows reminisces and recounts his time spent during the war effort.

The story is narrated in the first person by Henry, a young Cambridge academic who was entrusted to develop a method that would allow the military commanders to choose the ultimate timing for the invasion. Sent to Scotland to establish an observation station, his first mission was to befriend and extract information from Wallace Ryman the author of a mathematical formula for calculating turbulence and eventually determine the best dates for the D-day landings. Meadow soon learned that instability and unpredictability are not limited to weather events.......

This novel is cleverly written, full of tension, emotions and melancholy throughout. The scientific and mathematical areas are handled with brilliance, it is not an easy feat keeping fiction readers captivated and interested on a subject that is profoundly science based. The degree of accuracy is irrelevant after all it is a fiction. This is also a character driven-plot where friction between intriguing and strong personalities plays an important part and is very well narrated. The story ends with a panorama of the D-Day landings and Henry in the middle of the action....surely an unexpected development for a civilian mathematician...

I enjoyed reading this different perspective of a very important time in history

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Blood Line", by Mark Billingham

Book 8 in the series featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne

I am rather fond of fictional detective stories and love to discover new ones. “Blood Line” is my first experience with both the protagonist and its author. Should I have started with the first instalment in the series….(some series you can, some series you can’t)

D.I. Tom Thorne becomes involved in what seems to be a domestic murder but it is soon discovered that the case is anything but ordinary. Clutched in the hands of the dead woman is a sliver of an X-ray that leads investigators to others murders committed in the past by Raymond Garvey, a convicted serial killer.

It seems children of Raymond Garvey’s victims are the new targets and they are being killed in the same manner. Could that someone be Garvey’s son. While on the hunt for a strange and twisted killer, Thorne has to piece together a macabre puzzle and protect those thought to be still on the murderer’s list.

The personal life of Tom Thorne plays a great part in this story and adds intimacy and sensitivity to this gruesome tale. During the time of the investigation, Tom’s girlfriend Louise has a miscarriage and they both struggle to cope with their sadness and help each other through the rough times.

The opening is exciting and gives the novel the punch expected in a mystery , quite a positive start but as the storyline moved on, it gets confusing. The author injects many victims and many police officers (some may have been recurring characters) , it became hard to place everyone and stay focused. Unfortunately the personal drama of the protagonist was too predominant and slowed down the pace so much that I found my mind wandered, it simply didn‘t garb me enough to keep me on track. As a result, I probably missed some of the twists and turns that most reviewers seemed to have enjoyed, the experience left me flat, possibly a price I paid for not starting with the first novel. However to the author’s credit the ending was exceptional, the wrap up brought everything into perspective and fell into place nicely.

Starting at this point was not the wisest move, I am certain fans will enjoy adding this latest instalment to their collection

"Kamikaze", by Michael Slade

Book 12 in the Special X series

The story brings together two men whose paths crossed at Hiroshima during the last days of WW11.

Genja Tokuda, the only survivor of the bombing that wiped out his entire family made a bushido oath to avenge this horrific event, his target is Joe Hett a crew member on the Enola Gay. His plan is to fulfill his long time oath to his ancestors at the “ Pacific War Vets Convention” in Vancouver where Joe is one of the honoured guest speakers. Genja feels murdering Hett and his entire family in a most gruesome way would bring a much needed sense of closure. Hearing of this, Special X forces get involve to save the day…

The plot goes back and forth in time. A large component in the storyline is the Pacific campaign. The author highlights atrocities committed by both sides such as Pearl Harbor, St-Stephen’s College Hospital Hong Kong Okinawa, Hiroshima and others. I found this, one of the most interesting parts but I am sure die-hard historical buffs would prefer reading a non-fiction account of these events.

I found this novel to lack lustre and imagination, it is a little bare bones. The numerous characters are bland and the narrative style doesn’t help. This novel seems to have been rushed, it is missing the bloodthirsty police procedurals and the brilliantly executed plots. The intrigue, twits and turns and many surprises that peak ones interest are lacking…. Yes you will find blood and guts, hara-kiri and all the samurai stuff…so predictable.

This is one novel I was happy to have zipped through in no time….

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"The Bourne Sanction", by Eric Van Lustbader

The 6th instalment in the "Jason Bourne" series by Robert Ludlum

This novel focuses primarily on never ending action placing characters in hair raising situations. The author has Bourne on another chaotic chase, this time in Moscow dogging pursuers while he himself hunts one of the most dangerous villains, a killer named Arkasan. Hold you breath, this is a fast paced story where Bourne faces the most treacherous campaign to date.

Bourne now assuming the name of David Webb lives an ordinary life as a scholar at the Georgetown University. Unsatisfied with this deceit he desperately wants to get back into action. When his mentor Dominic Specter approaches him for help it is exactly what Jason needs to lift his spirits and leave his make believe world behind.... Dominic is convinced that a group of terrorists named "The Black Legion" are preparing an attack on the United States.....something has to be done..... The story is a little farfetched but nonetheless you are in for a wild ride. The author has written many superb action sequences that will have you on the edge of your seat.

During this time, there is a turf war brewing between the Central Intelligence and the National Security Agencies overriding their actual mandate in global affairs. Each agency is aware of the "Black Legion" and their plans but true to life politics trump logic at times. NSA's aim is to covertly illuminate Bourne at all expense thus discrediting the CIA. The infighting in this sub-plot gives a touch of reality and I found it more interesting than following Bourne's actual mission.

This novel is a satisfying read although I prefer seeing Bourne's capers on the big screen.

"The Tourist", by Olen Steinhauer

Book 1 in the trilogy staring Milo Weaver

This seemingly realistic thriller is a first rate fiction , a tale of the nasty and deceitful world of spies and assassins.

Milo Weaver aka Charles Alexander is one of the CIA’s highly skilled assassins, in the trade they are known as ”Tourists”. When deployed to various corners of the world, their missions are to be executed without question.

The story opens in 2001 with Milo at a low point in his life. Being a “Tourist” for several years has taken its toll….. his only escape at this point is amphetamines and they are leaving him in a suicidal state. A new mission in Venice to stop the hit man known as “The Tiger” gives him a whole new look at life……

The story flashes forward to 2007. Now a married man with a child, away from active duty and bored at his desk job Milo finds himself longing for the excitement and the adrenalin rush of his old job….Once a spook always a spook…. Milo is reinvigorated when he is summoned to the side of the “Tiger” for a death bed conversation.… The man’s confessions send Milo off once again on a chilling path into the world of international conspiracies.

This novel is a modern twist of the old days of espionage, a compelling and intricate account of betrayal, manipulation, loyalty and risk. Its central figure is a complicated man with many faults and flaws, but when faced with extraordinary situations he excels. Throughout the novel you will find plenty of breathtaking scenes and heart stopping action. I enjoyed piecing together the various parts of this very entertaining puzzle and would not hesitate recommending it to anyone

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Good Son", by Michael Gruber

My first experience reading Michael Gruber was without any doubt a enjoyable one.. The author has delivered a taunting, multilayered and riveting tale of suspense.

"The Good Son' is the believable story of Sonia Bailey Laghari who while on a peace symposium in Pakistan was kidnapped along with eight other associates and held captive by armed terrorists. Sonia a highly religious and celebrated psychologist took lead of the group . With her background and her familiarity in the culture, she was able to work her way into the kidnappers' mind and interpret their dreams, at the same time trying to keep her own group in good spirits and alive throughout this tremendous ordeal. The hostages worst fear was the terrorising prospect of being killed one by one by their captors....

When Sonia's son Theo, a professional assassin by trade, hears of the kidnapping he sets out to rescue his mother on one of the most daring plots ever undertaken, a plot that could set a new precedent in U.S. and South Asian policies...

At the same time, Cynthia Lam, an analyst for the national Security Agency in D.C. has her attention piqued while monitoring the airways. It appears their has been a theft of Pakistani nuclear material, this further heightens the state of alarm....

This novel is powered by the many twisted plots and action scenes throughout, and proves to be an ambitions work of fiction. The huge cast of characters have depth and portray a wide range of human behaviours: cowardice, cruelty, courage etc... The narration is brilliantly done it exploits the Westerner's perception of corruption in the politics of Central Asia ....Although some passages in the dialogue may seem to slow down the action , they simply serve to enlighten the reader on various religious beliefs and ideologies. This is a well-written and totally engrossing novel I enjoyed immensely.

"The White Queen", by Philippa Gregory

The first book in the Cousins' War series

This latest series tells the story of the Plantagenets, the first novel is centered around Elizabeth Woodville and her family. Based on facts and mixed with the author's vivid imagination, this historical fiction proves once more that Ms Gregory is more than a researcher, she is also a master storyteller.

Elizabeth cherishes the idea that she is a descendant of the water goddess Melusina and the daughter of a woman believed to be a witch. Applying her magic she charms the previously betroth King Edward into marrying her in secret this allows her to eventually move into the castle. Keeping the throne and staying in power is not easy. Her husband had recently dethroned King Henry thus making him the new target...

The story recounts the struggle for ultimate power during this time period. Although witchcraft plays an important part in this fictional plot it also highlights Elizabeth Woodville influence on history.

I like the way Ms Gregory depicted this era, it is quite entertaining but some may not like the route she took and may prefer the traditional point of view. You will find the characterization is one dimensional.... they are all described as having a wicked side to them.....

This tale is definitely not for the historical buff....

"Unholy Loves", by Lisa Appignanesi

A Belle Époque Mystery

The story takes us to the Loire Valley early 1900's during the period of the Belle Époque. Adventure after adventure will captivate the reader till the very last page.

It opens when Marguerite is ordered by her husband the Comte de Landois to leave Paris and accompany him at their country residence. A normally enjoyable train ride is soon shattered when a man is found dead on the tracks before them. Without saying a word, her travelling companion suddenly takes on a different allure at the sight of the man. Is there a connection ? Is she hiding something?...This was not the only surprise in store. On arrival the Comte has a revelation that will change her life forever...he introduces her to a child and informs her that he is in the process of adopting him.

At this time in the Comte's life, he is highly influence by his friendship with clerics, this brings new rules and regulations to the household, but Marguerite with a mind of her own will not let herself be manipulated that easily.....Another challenge surfaces when the sister of her companion mysteriously disappears and Marguerite teams up with Chief Inspector Emile Durand in search of answers....What dark secrets will they unearth?...

Ms Appignanesi is a talented and diversified writer. "Unholy Loves" is a cleverly conceived fiction that is populated with easy to follow yet complex and interesting characters, their actions are guarantied to stimulate ones emotions. Don't expect a chivalrous or a romantic tale here; it is far from that. What the mystery will do is to provide a chilling study into obsessions of mankind blended with the gripping power of love. The author has achieved this quite eloquently.

This epic is a fascinating travel back in time that I enjoyed very much.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Pirate", by Ted Bell

Book 3 in the Alexander Hawke series

I love this series, it is brilliantly written it contains more action and suspense then one can dream of. Not a dull moment in this thriller.... Step aside James Bond....

The characters are very well presented. The main character Hawke is smart, wealthy and talented. A super hero that executes every task flawlessly and often single-handedly, he carries off impossible escapes, he is cool and collected under the most extreme circumstances and of course there is often an exotic fair maiden to rescue from the hands of evil...Oh! the perks of a super hero.....Recurring characters are Stokely Jones, Hawes right hand man also the smart and lovely Inspector from Scotland Yard Ambrose Congreve. Hawes latest villains are: Hu-Xu, a creepy cross-dressing assassin and Luca Bonaparte, a ruthless man whose ambition is to restore France to its super power status even if it means making an alliance with General Sun-Yat of China and a German shipbuilder. The three have something big up their sleeves, it will have a devastating effect on another sovereign country. Of course there are many other ruthless characters adding suspense and intrigue.

The multi-plot story starts with a bang when the Chinese seize an American spy. Alex's mission is to rescue him before the Chinese can obtain vital information through brutal methods of interrogation. Another exciting plot brings Stokely Jones to save Jet from her evil boyfriend (the shipbuilder). Naturally two plots are never enough for Mr Bell to juggle. Simultaneously he has Ambrose Congreve in New York interviewing witnesses of a high profile murder committed in France decades ago. Are you starting to see the links?...it is quite a ride.....In the end everything is tied up neatly.

This multi-faceted mystery is exciting, captivating and so far fetched it is totally unbelievable....but what a great read for thrill seekers.

Each novel in this series can be enjoyed individually

"The Thirteenth Tale", by Diane Setterfield

The novel attracted me by its synopsis and the strong reviews posted by many readers who referred to it as interesting, imaginative and an exciting blend of classics and contemporary fiction.... reminiscent of a classic British novel...I have to admit I am not a fan of classics but a change can sometimes be refreshing.

The premise has its merits: a high profile novelist Vida Winter wants her autobiography written before she dies and summons Margaret Lea, an unknown writer who is presently working in her father's book store to record her words. Margaret readily accepted the invitation, she sees similarities to her own deep secrets.....The story sounds simple enough ...

Once started, Vida tells multilayered tales, stories within stories, tragedy upon tragedy some mixed with romance. The characters become lost in a ever lasting story and return for an encore..... to top it, some even manage to do whatever again in other characters' stories.... Have I lost you along the way ... not surprising... It was hard to keep my mind open and stop it from wandering, I got lost(bored) many times while trying to comprehend this convoluted tale.

What a novel, melodrama on top of melodrama, a bouillabaisse of mysteries one hard to follow where place is important (on a Yorkshire Estate) and time irrelevant (19th, 20th, 21st century, today, tomorrow???) I simply had to skip through some paragraphs and speed read others. It was such a tedious read that I am still wondering why I lost so much time ....To finish my ranting, I also hated the characterization seems the only thing on their minds was a cup of cocoa , they were not very memorable.....

Ok don't take my word, I am in the minority disliking this novel most enjoyed it immensely, so give it a try, see if you agree or disagree, we will see which side of the fence you fall on when you fall asleep.....

"The Fat Mexican", by Alex Caine

The Bloody Rise of the Bandidos

"The Fat Mexican" refers to the club logo -- a chubby cartoon character who wears a sombrero and is armed with both a knife and a gun.

In his first book "Befriend and Betray", Mr Caine relates how in the early 80's working undercover he infiltrated the Bandidos MC and gained their trust. The author has a first hand knowledge on how gangs are organized and maintain their power.

In this, his second book, he analyses the events that led to and triggered the massacre that took place April 2006 on a farm in the town of Shedden, Ont. Evidences eventually led to a conviction of six members and associates for the slaughter of eight bikers, four have since launched appeals.

The war started when a junior member of the Bandidos hijacked a truck that caught his eye. Things quickly turned ugly when senior members of his gang realized the truck and its valuable contains belong to one of their arch competitors. This fractured a delicate truce between rival motorcycle gangs. Mr Caine narrates a complex story backed with facts and describes the complicated and cruel world of bikers.

In addition to talking about the Shedden killings the book provides a detailed history of the 43 year old club which has grown to global proportions since 1966. They have chapters in the U.S.A., Europe, Asia and Australia, in Canada the remaining Bandidos have since "patched over" (switched allegiances) to rival motorcycle clubs. They may have changed colours but they are still around.....

The book unearths the politics, the rivalries and the violent history of the Bandidos and their battle with the Hells Angels, their arch rivals. It is a chilling, gritty and remarkable story. Canadians will appreciate and can relate to this book it was gruesome headline news, others who are drawn into the motorcycle club phenomena will also find it an exciting read.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"The Faithful Spy", by Alex Berenson

Book 1 in the John Wells series

Mr Berenson's first novel paints a believable, frightening and chilling scenario of how Al-Qaeda might launch a major attack inside America.

The story is about John Wells, an undercover CIA agent, who has been in Afghanistan for many years, his mission was to infiltrate al-Qaeda and gain their trust. He eventually converted to Islam and took the name Jalal and became one of them, so convincingly that his CIA handlers feared he may have crossed the line and become a double agent, a nightmare in the making.

The suspense builds when al-Qaeda mastermind Omar Khadri orders John to return to the USA and await further orders.The story chronicles a chilling and frightening return. His handler and other CIA agents are faced with the task of demystifying John's true intentions and they need to make a decision on whether to pull the plug or let him run.

The author has written a novel that is very unsettling and engrossing. The theme is multilayered, chocked full of possibilities and probabilities, peppered with graphic and daring scenarios. Excellent characterization has created a fast moving thriller giving a sophisticated view into an unusual kind of warfare.

Alex Berenson first novel is remarkably well done and addictive, I am looking forward to reading the other novels in this series.

"The Warlord's Son", by Dan Fesperman

The "Warlord's Son" is a riveting and compelling fiction about the experiences of a war correspondent on his last mission in Afghanistan.

The first part of the novel has its slow moments. It opens with Skelly in Peshawar, Pakistan, a world far apart from the West he is accustom to. His aim is to enter Afghanistan and report from the center of the action. But in order to succeed he requires the help of a well connected, resourceful fixer and translator to bridge the language and culture gap while navigating the harsh terrain.

He finds the perfect couple, Najeed and Daliya who want desperately to immigrate to the US and will do anything to help Skelly. The circumstances surrounding Najeed, son of a wealthy warlord and Daliya have left them estranged from their families. A good part of the novel revolves around the struggle in the two families. Intertwined into this strenuous situation is Najeed and Daliya's romance and Skelly's quest to obtain the story of his career.

After crossing the border, Skelly and Najeed face one challenge after another as they bribe and con their way through one warlords' territory after another. Eventually their deceptive practices catch up with them and all hell breaks loose...intrigue after intrigue has the reader riveted to the edge of his seat till the very last page....

As the novel progresses we feel tension building and we gradually sense this can only end in a climatic and shocking way....

This fiction gives an amazing outlook on the dedication and hardship western reporters face under hostile conditions in a culture very different from what we as Westerners are used to. The characters are particularly well drawn to bring out the differences in religious beliefs and how they are applied amongst different groups in their quest for honour and power. The author appears to have shown great sensitivity and respect.

I like Dan Fesperman's novels, he excels at capturing the atmosphere and portraying the different cultures through the eyes of his characters. He is also a master at building tension and spinning multiple storylines.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Bangkok 8". by John Burdett

Book 1 in Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep series

This is a police story that stands above many mysteries I have read lately. Although at first glace it seems to rehash the basics found in other books, it was a pleasant surprise to find otherwise.

The story revolves around a police detective investigating a murder that claimed his partner's life and which the main suspect is a well-connected US businessman. Bangkok is the location; it is described as an exotic city where sex is sold on the street and where the police are seen more as businessman making money from crimes committed in their district and providing protection to keep order and peace.

The story opens with Sonchai and his partner Pichai on the trail of Bill Bradley an American marine stationed at the US embassy. They eventually found him trapped in his car with deadly snakes. In trying to get to him Pichai is bitten and dies. Partnerless and still in shock, Sonchai learns more about Bradley's shady dealings from an FBI legal attaché. It is soon evident Washington wants things hushed, not a problem for Sonchai...Different country, different rules ...when the guilty party is found; he will be eliminated... problem solved...

Sonchai is joined by FBI Kimberley Jones and the name of Sylvester Warren, a huge player in the jade market and a powerful man in Washington soon becomes the center of their investigation. The investigators soon realise they are on their own, Washington and the Thai police have cut them adrift.... What the detectives will face on the streets of Bangkok will be surprising to the reader......very interesting...

The clash in culture, police procedures and political influence adds many twists and turns to this mystery setting it apart from the usual humdrum police story. Through the eyes of Sonchai we see a whole different world, one with an unfamiliar social structure and religious beliefs, a place that has a prolific sex industry and an underground active in drugs and jade trading. Gender reassignment surgery is practiced and cheaply performed; bribery and protection favours are an accepted way of life for everyone. The diversified characters are cleverly developed with a good sense of humour that flows smoothly and brilliantly. This novel has its bizarre and macabre moments but is as interesting as it is captivating.

"The False Mermaid', by Erin Hart

Book 3 in the Nora Gavin Mysteries

The novel is a wonderful follow up to "Lake of Sorrow", where once more the author has skilfully combined Irish mythology into a murder mystery.

The story opens where the prequel ended with Nora on her way back to the USA. She is determined once home to review the details and crack open the cold case of her sister's murder that has been haunting her for years. At the same time, when another body with similar trauma is discovered, Frank Cordova, the original police investigator, sees the similarities and decides to reopen the file to see if there is a link.

The second murder has Nora and Frank joining forces, digging deeper and closer to the truth. Their intensive investigation unravels a mystery with many twists and turns.....

I found the story captivating and very hard to put down. The race to get the missing pieces of the puzzle and necessary proof for a conviction is exciting and a real page turner. Nora's willingness to go to all means is stepped up a notch when she realizes her niece's life may also be in peril.

The author has not forgotten Cormac Maguire (Nora's love) left behind in Ireland. A parallel story emerges with Cormac at the side of his ailing father in Donegal, a person he has been estranged from for many years and realizes he has a very short time to make amends with.

While at his father bedside, with a close friend now a beloved caretaker, Cormac is told the story of the century old disappearance of a woman believed to be a selkie (a seal that evolves into a human). The element of the selkie makes for a fascinating and engaging tale of Irish folklore. A great addition giving a mysterious nature to the novel, one that leaves a haunting feeling.....

The two stories weaved nicely throughout the novel and everything was neatly tied up in a conclusion that brought Nora back to Ireland.

The novel is an expertly crafted mystery, one rich in atmosphere and legend. Very well done, I am looking forward to the next instalment.

"Sex in a Sidecar", by Phyllis Smallman

Book 2 in the Sherri Travis Mystery

The Sherri Travis Mysteries are fun to read, light with no fuss about them. A refreshing break one can take between other genre and zip throw them in just a few hours.

This sequel to "Margarita Nights" has Sherri fighting to survive hurricane Myrna now battling the west coast of Florida and threatening to obliterate everything in its path. She fights to keep the drinking establishment she works at open as long as possible but when a patron Gina Ross is murdered and Sherri discovers her lifeless body, skull crushed and laid out in crucifixion fashion, a decision had to be made. It was time to move inland, ride the storm out and apply her trade at the Bath and Tennis Club, a ritzy hangout for the rich and famous.

Over the next few days, while serving cocktails, Sherri learns that Gina's murder was not unique. Gina's sister was also recently murdered and the circumstances of her death were similar to the murder of tourist Bunny Lehre. Nothing like a serial killer on the loose and a bartender with big ears playing detective..... A lethal brew if there ever was one.....will she become one of the many victims?

"Sex in a Sidecar" has many humorous twits and a storyline that is fast paced. The characterization is colorful; some are a tad annoying and far fetched. The volatile interaction between Sherri and her in-laws and the depiction of the bar scenes and its upper crust characters are simply hilarious. The narration is crude and simple at times to highlight the personality of the characters. The author's description of Mother Nature and all her fury attacking the Florida coast is especially well done, not an envious situation to be in. The novel provides a decent mystery but it lacks cohesiveness in its plotting, it is all over the place....like the Hurricane....

If you read and enjoyed the first novel, you will also enjoy this one

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Moscow Rules", by Daniel Silva

Book 8 in the Gabriel Allon series

The story opens with a bang when Russian journalist Aleksandr Lubin meets an untimely death by what is obviously a skilled assassin. He was on a mission to expose Ivan Kharkov, a former KGB colonel who had turned businessman. The journalist's murder triggers alarms with the Israeli intelligence agency and they summon Gabriel Allon to Moscow to look into the matter. The fun begins when Allon discovers that Kharkov has just completed a lucrative deal with Al-Qaeda and with support of allies, Allon must put an end to Kharkov's activities....

"Moscow Rules" is a thriller that exploits the past tensions between the West and USSR up to the present Russia and its part in the rise of world terrorism. Gabriel Allon and Ivan Kharkov are the main players.

The characterisation is strong, Gariel Allon (an art restorer whose secret life as an Israeli intelligence agent) has many countries on his side and is depicted as a smart and smooth operator. Ivan Kharkov (the new generation of Stalinists) is an arms dealer, extremely rich and conning and in control of the FSB (Federal Security Service). The story has many secondary characters that help spin a web of intrigue with many exciting twists and turns. The Hollywood super-hero brings the saga to a successful conclusion, a wrap up easily foreseen.

Some may find this spy story to be a bit stereotypic, I took it for what it is: a tale of espionage and international intrigue written by a master storyteller

"Life of Pi', by Yann Martel

This fiction tells a remarkable story that is full of surprises and wonder. Written by an expect storyteller in such a way that makes everything even the unbelievable sound credible.

The novel is divided in three sections:

The first section recounts a fictional writer's interaction with PI. Pi tells his childhood story of growing up as a son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry India and learning a lot about animals, their ways, emotions and traits. In his teens, on a quest to understand who God is, Pi immerses himself into the beliefs practiced by Christians, Muslims and Hindus. A tug of war erupts when the leaders of these religions groups discover Pi's activities and Pi's own brother sarcastically adds another aspect when he suggests that Pi should also embrace Judaism...

Section two continues at a steady and interesting pace. Pi and his family decide to close the zoo and immigrate to Canada; the animals are placed in zoos around the world. The family and many animals are transported on a Japanese cargo ship, a trip that will open a whole new experience for each one of them.

Not long into the voyage, disaster strikes and the ship sinks. Pi is cast adrift in a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. In this part of the story, the author dazzles us with literary prose captivating ones imagination to its extreme. The 227 days Pi spent at sea is a constant test of survival in cramped quarters...the ultimate cat and mouse scenario...

In section three, Pi finally reaches the coast of Mexico where Japanese authorities are anxious to interrogate him on the loss of their ship. The Japanese investigators have trouble believing his story so Pi replaces each animal with human attributes and gives them names. At the end, the investigators are left totally confused and with conflicted opinions on what really happened.

"Life of Pi "is a wonderful and cunning novel that is entertaining, eye opening and thought provoking

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Befriend and Betray", by Alex Caine

This is the true story of a civilian Alex Caine who under contract to various law enforcement agencies infiltrated gangs and organizations to gather intelligence. In his own words, Mr Caine paints a portrait of a lifestyle rarely seen.

He grew up in Hull, Quebec, Canada and often lived on the fringes of the law. After serving a stretch in prison on marijuana possession charges in the 60’s, Alex was still unsettled and looking for adventure. His combative nature and USA’s involvement in Vietnam attracted his attention. His enlistment fine tuned his natural abilities to walk a fine line and stay alive….. As many veterans from that era, Alex had trouble settling down.

One day after attending a martial arts competition, Alex was approached by a member of the Bandidos motorcycle gang and asked if he was interested in helping them move a large amount of drugs. Appearing interested but cautious, Alex bought time which he used to inform the authorities. The RCMP asked him to accept the offer and to infiltrate the gang. This launched a new and exciting but highly dangerous career.

Over a period of twenty five years, he infiltrated criminal groups such as the Bandidos, the Hells Angels, the KKK and international mobs. Overtime various law enforcement agencies recognized and used his conning and expertly developed abilities…..

“Befriend and Betray “is a complex and compelling read: a story of a very different world where one cannot trust anyone. While undercover, Caine needed to be creative and live on his wits, wary continuously second guessing the motives of his fellow gang members and his handlers, each with their own objectives.

The book is also about the personal side of Alex Caine, the toll it took on his marriages and his children. After a long time among treachery, fake names and friendships and years away from home ….Alex needed to get away from it all. Now retired from the front line he acts as an advisor and guess speaker at police conferences.

I found this book well written, very believable, especially interesting and very hard to put aside. I am looking forward to reading Mr Caine’s second book “The Fat Mexican”

"About Face", by Donna Leon

Book 18, in Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series

Donna Leon’s novels draw attention to the corruption, the incompetence and the depravity of a society where government agencies live alongside criminal gangs and one may only wonder which one is worst…This latest novel deals with national and international waste-disposal businesses that are riddled with corruption. For those who are fans of Donna Leon novels, this one has no surprise.

The story opens with Brunetti and his wife Paola invited to a dinner meeting at Paola’s parents. Amongst the guests is Maurizio Cataldo who has asked Conte Falier( Brunetti’s father in law) to invest in a venture in China. Conte Falier’s hidden agenda is to have Brunetti investigate this businessman’s background. At the dinner Brunetti is strategically seated next to Franca Marinello, Cataldo’s wife, a charming woman whose face has been disfigured by botched cosmetic surgery. Guido is intrigued by her life experiences….

Back at work the next day Brunetti’s new interest is scuttled by his boss Vice Questore Patta who has other plans for him and would like him to assist the Carabinieri in Marghera on their investigation into the local transport businesses. One of the owners has been killed and they suspect organised crime. In Venice, the environment has reached a crisis, garbage is pilling up and Brunetti soon finds himself in a toxic world where illegal hauling of garbage and violence go hand in hand.

In this latest novel we have an abundance of background information and a lot of attention is given to the relationship between Brunetti and his family. Some is required to set the scenes but there is a limit, it tends to take the focus away from the core of the story: the garbage fiasco, the murders and the mystery behind Franca disfigurement. I found this novel lacking in mystery and criminology compared to her previous novels.

Being a big fan of Donna Leon and having read all of her previous novels I am left somewhat disappointed with this one.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Fractured', by Karin Slaughter

Book 2 in the Will Trent series

This is a crafty and suspenseful crime fiction tackling sensitive themes such as sexual abuse, violence against women and vulnerability of teens that are targeted by sexual predators. The novel is narrated in the third person in a tone that is tense and captivating stimulating the reader's interest.

There is a lot of action right from the start; it opens when a mother comes home to find a killer standing over a body mutilated beyond recognition. She immediately thinks it is her daughter and the tiger within her is released. How far will a mother go for her child? The outcome is quite shocking.....

Special Agent Will Trent now teamed up with detective Faith Mitchell is called to look over the crime scene in this affluent Atlanta neighbourhood. There, they discover that the Atlanta PD has unprofessionally compromised the scene and in haste has incorrectly identified the body. Who is this unfortunate girl and where is the young Miss Campano? They soon realize they have two cases to solve and it is a race against time......

Along with the main plot, the writer also develops the professional relationship between Faith and Will and their childhood baggage also plays an important part in the story. The protagonist Will is intriguing; his deepest secrets are a never ending battle with dyslexia and a need to keep up with everybody. He is also a man prepared to overstep the boundaries to get results. Faith on the other hand resents him for what happened in the past but nevertheless is determined to make things work out between them. The author has expertly developed the dynamics between these two characters; they make a good and interesting team. Hopefully we will see them in the future.

"I Alex Cross", by James Patterson

Book 16 in the Alex Cross series

Of all Patterson's novels the Alex Cross series is my favourite and I am glad that in this 16th instalment the author has returned to the core of what makes a thriller good and exciting. This novel does not disappoint.

Alex life is turned up side down after receiving a call that his niece Carolyn has been found murdered most likely perpetrated by a clandestine killer with the pseudonym of Zeus. Unlike other serial killers, capturing this murderer will have ramifications rarely seen and will require Alex to infiltrate and blend into the black side of Washington's elite. I was pulled immediately into the action and was intrigued by the development. I had trouble putting this novel down.

This story is one of the best in a long time. It may be a bit gruesome for some readers; the author has not held back when it came to describing the horrific acts of murder involving call girls. As the mystery deepens, scandals and extensive cover-ups hamper the investigation. But don't mess with Alex; he is unstoppable when it comes to family even if it involves top echelons of the US government.

There is also a subplot which revolves around other members Alex's family. Nana Mama is hospitalized; this side story draws the reader into Alex's personal life and helps to soften the tone. Lots of emotions come forward that will touch most readers deeply.

In whole, "I Alex Cross" is sharply written and flows in a manner fans will find quite entertaining.