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, March 30, 2011

"They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children" by Roméo Dallaire

L.Gen. the Hon. Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d), was the commander of the UN mission to Rwanda, there he experienced first-hand the horrors committed during the 1994 genocide. In his memoirs “Shakes Hands with the Devil”, he highly criticised and exposed the failures of the international community. Mr. Dallaire is known to be a strong humanitarian, an advocate of human rights and has dedicated his life to the cause for which he has been recognized and has received numerous awards.

In his second book, he reveals another important cause he is equally dedicated to: the fight to eradicate the use of child soldiers.

From the opening pages it is evident that Mr. Dallaire is very affected and still haunted by the memories of the Rwanda genocide. He relates how the life of a child is drastically altered when he is abducted, brainwashed and forced to act as a combatant in a rebel army. Some as young as nine are taken captive, drugged and forced to witness and in some cases even slaughter their own parents. Escape is not an option, if they manage to survive all they would find is the charred remains of their past. Their fate in camps is contingent on their will to survive. They are deprived of food and sleep, rendering them totally dependent on their captors for survival while undergoing a crude form of guerrilla tactics before they are often sacrificed in combat. The fate of young girls is even worse, they are not only trained as soldiers they are often used as sex slaves and their chance of a respectable marriage becomes a dream of the past and unthinkable. In post war, these children are so psychologically damaged they are rarely able to achieve a place in society.

Since 1994, the problem of child combatants has spread to many impoverish populations. The children are an easy target for recruiters in societies plagued with a high proportion of unemployment, little social order, high mortality and a rocketing HIV rate.

Although “They Fight like Children, They Die like Children”, is a troubling and touching account, I find, the narrative has less passion and drama then his first book. Most of the chapters are informative and interesting; there are a few in which the narrative changes. One of the chapters expresses the thoughts of one of these children in battle to the point of his demise by a U.N. soldier. The next chapter describes the thoughts of the Blue beret soldier facing this child. These two chapters appeared to be unsuccessfully dumbed down to attract a younger audience. The last chapter, a long and never ending cry to rally into action the younger readers in my opinion turned into an everlasting rant. The mix of styles created an awkward read.

I may not have appreciated the presentation at its fullest; nevertheless, Mr. Dallaire’s quest is most admirable. His point is well taken, all of us adult and young must shoulder the responsibility

"The Associate", by John Grisham

Grisham's best known trademark is his ability to write mesmerizing legal thrillers. With a political overtone to his one, he has brought us another story that is absorbing enough to keep readers attention. If you liked "The Pelican Brief" and "The Firm", you may want to read this one.

The hero is Kyle McAvoy, onetime editor of the Yale Law Journal, whose post-graduation plans were to work as a legal-aid representing illegal migrant workers. His dream is chattered when he is visited by Bennie Wright, a sinister fellow who has discovered a skeleton in Kyle's closet: a video of Kyle's fraternity brothers, gang raping a girl in his apartment while he watched on. Bennie threatens to make it public and destroy Kyle's legal career if he doesn't accept a job at the prestigious law firm of Scully& Pershing. He needs Kyle inside the firm to obtain confidential information and documents regarding a law suit against two defense industries.

We have two main themes playing throughout the novel that criss-cross each other, first the novel highlights the extreme pressure of being an associate in a powerful firm where it is expected two work limitless billable hours in order to artificially inflate their customers bill. The other is Kyle's reluctant role as Bennie's in house spy.

The author usually writes intricate plots that have his readers flipping page after page. This novel started in the same manner but for some reason mid-way, the storyline fizzled and the pacing began to bog down. Although not unique, Kyle's character is interesting and rather smart. I particularly liked his clever plan to outwit Bennie; it provided some unpredictability and helped maintain my attention. As for the supporting characters, most were rather dull and some I would even consider a distraction to the main plot. I felt Grisham ran out steam towards the end, this has left me with a so so memory of the novel

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"The Red Queen', by Philippa Gregory

Book 2 in “The Cousin’s War” trilogy

The second book in the series brings Margaret Beaufort, the heiress to the red rose of Lancaster to life. Narrated in her words, she tells her story commencing at the tender age of nine and continues into adulthood including her three marriages. She details her bitter struggle to ensure that her son, Henry Tudor, triumphs as King of England.

The running theme throughout the book is Margaret’s belief that she is another Joan of Arc, dedicated to her religion and loveless marriages in the pursuit of power. She feels personally abandoned by God and cheated out of her rightful position by her rivals but believes God’s will is for her son Henry to lead the house of Lancaster to victory and eventually be crowned King and she will do anything to reach this goal.

Having enjoyed previous novels on the Tudor dynasty, I was looking forward to reading the role Margaret played in the continuous struggle for power and the barbaric methods used, a time when allegiance was here today, gone tomorrow…. Ms. Gregory’s simplistic prose made it easy to follow the scenes and historical figures but unfortunately the storyline pacing is slow, repetitious and a tad boring. There are too many pages describing Margaret’s ego and obsession with religion to the point it is a turn off. She is depicted as a cold, ambitious and unpleasant person but she must have had a conning side to live long enough to see her son reach the highest position in the country…..Reading became tedious as the story progressed.

"Willful Behavior", by Donna Leon

Book11, in the Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery Series

This novel was originally published in 2002, I knew I had missed it while I read my way through the series so when it was reprinted in 2010; I seized the opportunity to catch up. Ms. Leon’s earlier novels are thoughtful and satisfying in many ways and this one shines, it is a powerful murder investigation that has Brunetti uncovering dark secrets that date back as far as WW11.

Claudia, a student of Paola, Brunetti’s wife, asks for help in obtaining a pardon for a crime committed years ago by her now dead grandfather. He is intrigued by this unusual young lady’s request but made little of it until she is found stabbed to death in her apartment.

When Brunetti breaks the devastating news to Signora Jacobs, an old Austrian lady and Claudia’s only close friend, he discovers an extraordinary art collection in her modest apartment. Brunetti always the investigator is intrigued and soon learns she was once Claudia’s grandfather’s lover. Could the stunning art collection have come from desperate people selling their prize possessions during the war and be the reason behind the grandfather’s imprisonment….

When Signora Jacobs is also found murdered, Brunetti launches an investigation that will uncover shocking secrets. He discovers evidence hidden deep in the closets of Nazi Collaborators that ultimately reveals the exploitation of Italian Jews during the war……

This is an excellent example of a classic detective murder tale, a thought provoking story that highlights and exposes the way of doing business in a corrupt world. The first few chapters set the scenes really well while at the same time setting a sub-story which has Brunetti struggling to help a friend obtain a construction permit without paying the customary bribe. The characters are memorable, the plot is intricate and multi-dimensional, and the narration is fluid, it subtly and slowly draws the readers into a compelling and atmospheric tale that is interspersed with domestic interludes. Ms. Leon loves to show the personal side of Italian life through food and family interaction, an asset to any story when not overdone.

This is one of my favourite novels in this series.

"A Question of Belief", by Donna Leon

Book 19, in Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series

Ms. Leon is notorious at setting up highly charged atmospheric scenes with a Venetian flair and creating a wonderful cast of characters to go with it. In this latest mystery, we have once again, Commissiario Guido Brunetti dealing with a well-developed bureaucratic system built on stubbornness and corruption.

The story opens with Brunetti looking forward to a summer of fresh mountain air with his family and catching up on his reading. It is to be a well-earned rest away from the debilitating heat and the hordes of tourists that invade his hometown during the peak season. Before leaving, he agrees to help investigate the suspicious activities Inspector Lorenzo’s aging aunt seems to be involved with. Apparently her interest in astrology has attracted the attention of a new found friend and Lorenzo is worried because she has been regularly withdrawing large sums of money from her bank. He suspects she may have fallen prey to a swindler and has been duped by the charms of a notorious “faith healer”.

On another front, things start to move quickly on cases that have been delayed in court. It is suspected that Judge Luisa Coltellini and Araldo Fontana have been sidelining files for the benefit of one of the parties and reaping the rewards for quite some time. Brunetti knows this practice contributes to the lack of efficiency and ethics of the judiciary system, leaving a black mark on all. Before leaving on vacation he sets in motion a quiet investigation by his team.

His best laid plans and vacation is cut short, when it is learnt that Fontana has been murdered in a violent attack. His quiet investigation explodes and he is brought back in the thick of the action and into the simmering Venetian heat…

I am a fan of this series; the stories are usually refreshing, captivating and have an underlying message. Although interesting, this latest is not one of Ms. Leon’s best, I found the plotting lacked suspense and the pacing rather slow moving. Too many minor details bogged down the storyline and the mystery is overshadowed by long descriptions of the culture, the food and the architecture. In this novel or travelogue it appears Ms. Leon has let her love of Venice override her love for writing exquisite mysteries. Some may enjoy it and some may not……

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"The 9th Judgment", by James Patterson

Book 9, in "The Women's Murder Club" series

This series still manages to keep me faithful, a great filler when squeezed for time. I am not surprised it is still going strong after 9 novels, the short chapters and fairly captivating police cases are populated with smart, brave, tough and vulnerable characters. A stress illuminator after a hard day, an easy, light and fast read you can zip through in no time.

The story has the Club members focusing on two main events in a style we are familiar with. Mr. Patterson leads his readers into scenarios that are brutal but nevertheless intriguing.

In the first event: Lindsay is sent to investigate a case of a serial killer named "lipstick killer", a psycho who targets mothers and their babies and leaves messages at the crime scenes. In the second event: she juggles a case involving a cat burglar named "Hello Kitty" who robs rich women of their jewellery while they entertain friends at their home. All the while, Lindsay's saga continues both professionally and personally......

The story focuses mainly on Lindsay although the other members of the "Club" do play some of the critical roles they are known for in this series. On the down side, the plot follows the same tempo as the previous books, another story that is farfetched and quite predictable. Although the writing style is rather basic and choppy it is all the same entertaining.

I consider this novel a refreshing pause.

"The One from the Other', by Philip Kerr

Book 4 in the Bernie Gunther series

The novel follows the “Berlin Noir Trilogy”, with a detective story set in post war Germany. It contains a wealth of historical details spun into a complex plot. It covers the reconstruction period of Germany and its new threat, the rapid growth of communism.

The story starts with a prologue set part in Berlin and part in Palestine in the late 30’s. Gunther is sent to Palestine with two mandates, one to facilitate a dealing that would allow a Jewish businessman to flee Germany and the other to shadow Nazi intelligence officers.

After the introduction that set the tone and is an intricate part of the novel, the action moves to 1949 Germany. Gunther now a struggling hotel owner in Dachau decides to throw in the towel after he is approached and threatened by an individual with a questionable agenda… Soon after the encounter, Gunther decides to return to his former field of expertize, a P.I. with his own business in Munich and at the same time to be close to his wife who is interned at a psychiatric hospital.

Looking for missing persons can be a messy business especially in post-war Germany where Nazism still taints the air. Hunting Nazis on the run can make the task even more hazardous and adventure filled. Gunther’s experience has taught him, clients are not always forthcoming with all the details and a P.I. can easily find himself caught up in a web of spiralling disasters fighting for his own survival….

Mr. Kerr excels at making his reader’s part of the story with first person narration it sometimes feels like Gunther is communicating directly with you. He comes across as a hard boiled, wise- cracking character strongly affected by his past; a past where he has been used as a pawn by multinational plotters in devious games and exploited in political shenanigans. This novel is impeccably plotted; it captures and sheds light on some of the intriguing aspects of post-war Germany while stimulating our interest in a stressful period of history. This is a totalling enthralling story, brilliantly written.

"The Nearest Exit", by Olen Steinhauser

Book 2 in the Milo Weaver series

The series focuses on the world of espionage and clandestine operations in the post 9-11 era. Although the author has provided some helpful background to jog ones memory and keep the pace moving smoothly reading the prequel "The Tourist" is a must to fully grasp the cleverness behind the plotting. You will soon discover that the novels are more than simple espionage thrillers; they also combine mystery, romance and horror without sacrificing action or suspense.

The story begins where "The Tourist" ended. Milo Weaver is fighting to get back into action and regain his good stature with his employer, being a full-fledged "Tourist" (undercover agent) is his only mission in life. Everything goes well in proving his loyalty until he is assigned an unbelievable request: kidnap and murder a 15 year old girl. He kidnaps the girl but hesitates at murder thus leaving him in a dangerous position. Caught between his conscience and the orders of his powerful boss, Milo finds himself haunted by his profession, a world where truth and trust are but a blur. He is plunged into a maze of lies that takes him on an action packed roller-coaster ride till the end....He needs help....

The complex central plot is embedded in a twisted mesh of sub-plots, a Pandora's Box of deceit and manipulation brilliantly conceived. "Tourists" are programmed to follow orders without question but Milo needs to know the deep routed reason behind his boss's request. He turns to his father, another powerful man for help and together they arrange a solution, a deception that is beyond belief.....The mystery deepens when Milo senses he is being shadowed....all this makes for an exciting adventure full of intrigue and international espionage....

The brisk pacing and sharp dialogue enhance the plotting and paint a vivid picture of the underworld of espionage. The numerous characters are well represented, very motivated and task driven but run of the mill stereotyping sneaks in at times. The story becomes a tad challenging as it follows the different points of view of its characters back and forth in time, but is well worth the effort.

This sequel is a great addition to Milo's escapades