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 »

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"The Singer's Gun", by Emily St.John Mandel

I became a fan of Ms. Mandel when I stumbled on her debut novel "Last Night in Montreal". Her second novel is totally different and proved to be just as enjoyable. This time, I was treated to a sophisticated cocktail filled with flashbacks and flash forwards mixed into a fiery mystery of suspense, international intrigue, a tale of family loyalties and the price one pays to obtain independence. 

The story concerns the conflicting and intersecting interests of Anton Waker, his ex-secretary/lover Elena, his cousin Aria and the detective bent on bringing down the family business, Alexandra Brodon.

Anton wants a normal life, have a family and a desk job. He is tired of doing things that are immoral and being involved in the illegal business of his parents, but his ties are strong and hard to break. Anton reinvents himself as a successful middle manager in another field but his carefully constructed life soon begins to disintegrate around him. His past comes back to haunt him when his cousin Aria threatens to reveal his roots in crime if he doesn't do one last job. Now he is forced to choose between family and his desire to live a life on the good side of the law..... How can he keep his past buried for ever?

The story is well-crafted without the slam-bang action found in most thrillers. It explores the dangerous territory between ones duties to family versus ones desire. The writer's prose remain sturdy and lean throughout, slowly drawing you in, gradually building tension until you are hooked and holding your breath in anticipation and savouring every word while turning the pages. Anton Waker, is Mandel's mysterious, complex and conflicted protagonist and the rest of the cast is carefully nuanced to create a unique atmosphere. It is easy to relate with Waker, he really doesn't seem like a criminal at all, a good person at heart unfortunately brought up on the wrong side of the fence.

I enjoyed this novel very much; Emily St. John appears on the right track to be a diversified and gifted writer.

"Bloodmoney", by David Ignatius

A Novel of Espionage

This spy novel is one of the best Mr. Ignatius has written so far. What makes this author stand out is we never know where the plotting will lead us. Deception is the theme of this captivating thriller, it is based on actual CIA operations and only someone with experience in the field can guess where fact crosses into fiction. 

The central character is Sophie Marx who works at the ''Hit parade LLP' office in a Los Angeles, it is a secret branch within the CIA that works under the radar and deploys agents around the world. 

The story starts when Howard Egan whose cover is a hedge fund manager for Alphabet Capital in London goes missing on a mission in Pakistan. Alarm bells are triggered when other operatives also deep under cover are eliminated one by one. Sophie Marx must find out who is killing them and how their lock-tight identities were compromised. The action and excitement begins when we are plunged into a game of deception and double-talk where each side has their own agenda while maintaining an artificial relationship with each other. 

The characterization, the dialogue and the interaction between the players skillfully displays the cultural differences and helps hype the suspense to another level. The pacing is brisk, the writing is clean and efficient and the plot is believable and free of melodrama found in many thrillers of this genre and as the plot unfolds it pulls us bit by bit into a world of upper level finance and the covert operations of world intelligence agencies.

This is an adrenaline packed adventure into the black hole of international diplomacies. The end result is an engaging page turner that will keep you intrigued for hours.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Captive Queen", by Alison Weir

A novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine was a fascinating woman and a legend; highlights of her life have been recounted numerous times. This historical fiction is yet another side of the turbulent life of one of the world’s most passionate and charismatic queens. The tale is told with vitality and empathy and gives a new dimension on the terrible story of lust and fruitful union which eventually turned into a marriage from hell.

The novel opens in 1152, when Eleanor then married to Louis VII of France and mother of two daughters meet and was smitten by young Henry FitzEmpress (Henry II) who was 11 years her junior. Eleanor’s less-than-fulfilling marriage to Louis VII led her into the arms of Henry and with her divorce and subsequent marriage, they became one of the most powerful unions in Christendom with control over Anjou, Normandy, Brittany, Aquitaine and eventually England, when Henry was crowned king. At first their attraction is magical and filled with lust and passion, their union yields eleven children. Unfortunately through the years their love turns to bitterness and their life begins a fiery downward spiral marred by power struggles, betrayals, bitter rivalries and Eleanor’s long imprisonment.

I enjoy quality historical fiction from time to time but his one left me somewhat disappointed. It took a while to warm up to the characters there was too much emphasis on their bedroom exploits but the modern narrative and language made it easy to understand, however the consequences are, it also resembled a romance novel with all its clich├ęs. The best part of the book in my view is the chapters around events concerning Thomas Beckett; this interesting person spiked my interest.

To say that this novel is not well-written or engaging would be false, Ms. Weir manages to capture the essence of a medieval marriage, one of love and convenience, that led to one of  the most extraordinary and tempestuous marriages in history.   

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Edge", by Jeffery Deaver

This action packed, fast paced, heart-pounding brain-teaser pits two ruthless professionals against each other in a cat and mouse game. The suspense generated plays nifty tricks on your mind and every time someone new wanders across the page the atmosphere builds. 

The storyline is narrated in the first person and has great plotting and a wonderful cast of characters. One of the main characters is a “shepherd” named Corte who is charged with protecting a principal named Ryan Kessler from a “lifter” named Henry Loving. (A shepherd is the person in charge of protecting another person (the principal) and the lifter is the person employed to interrogate and extract information from the principal by deadly force or using a family member or friends as leverage. It is challenging at first, there are a lot of acronyms and terms for us to get our heads around but once we get into the swing of things, we are adeptly provided with all the twists and counter-twists to keep us constantly on our toes, we never know what is coming next. 

The task our hero, Corte, faces is not easy. We learn the Kessler family is a family with many problems and Ryan is no exception, he is cop with a drinking problem and a complex. Corte is faced by an ever-increasing number of distractions, complications in a deadly game as he and his opponent Henry Loving jostle for position from chapter to chapter. 

This intellectual and psychological thriller gripped my attention from the very beginning and never let go. Corte, a board game aficionado and Loving a very capable nemesis each trying to outwit the other in a real-life game of chess using people as pawns proved to be intriguing, captivating and quite fulfilling from start to finish. It was my first experience reading this author and it will not be the last.

"The Reversal", by Michael Connelly

Book 3, in the Mickey Haller series
Book 16, in the Harry Bosch series

In The Reversal, Connelly reunites Detective Harry Bosch with his half-brother, defence lawyer Mickey Haller, but this time, Haller plays the part of a prosecutor and together they work as a team with the same goals in mind. The suspense is part legal thriller and part police procedural. We follow Bosch and Haller each an expert in their own field as they process the many ups and downs and twists and turns of a very controversial and demanding case.

The author continues to push the boundaries of crime fiction by redefining and joining two exciting protagonists with different backgrounds into a legal quagmire. The story is told with chapters that go back and forth in time and alternate from first to third person, they condense decades of time into a compelling narrative that explores various elements of L.A.’s criminal justice system. 

The story reopens a twenty four year old case in which little Melissa Landy was abducted from the front yard of her Hancock Park home while playing hide and seek with her sister. At the time, tow truck driver Jason Jessup was convicted of her murder but modern day technology, DNA evidence has led to the reversal of Jessup’s conviction. But not everyone is convinced… 

Haller, a wisecracking cynic and highly competent grizzled veteran of countless courtroom battles switches from defence to prosecution and as readers we shadow him through countless courtroom shenanigans. The author portrays with a passion the grinding process and the emotions of everyone involved. Haller and Bosch share the spotlight with second chair Maggie McPherson and FBI profiler Rachel Walling who makes a cameo appearance. Melissa’s sister Sara who witnessed the abduction plays an important part.

Both Bosch and Haller are fighting the odds, evidence gathered so far is not in their favour. They must prove without any doubts Jason Jessup is a sadistic killer and must stop him before he can strike again. Bosch is very adept at manipulating emotions and gathering facts, he is the driving force and the one most invested in nailing Jessup. 

“The Reversal” is a classic investigative plot with some interesting high points but the pacing bogs down at times with the long tedious court scenes. I enjoyed the teaming of the two protagonists as a change but I prefer seeing them in their own environment.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Cleopatra's Daughter", by Michelle Moran

“Cleopatra’s Daughter” is a fascinating snap shot into Imperial Rome, its people and the events of this glorious and most tumultuous period in human history. Although a fiction the story has many true elements to it, it depicts a life of more than two thousand years ago when the children of Mark Antony and Cleopatra were taken from Egypt and raised several years on the Palatine. 

Narrated by the young Selene, the story begins on the fateful day when Octavian marched into Alexandria and claimed it as his own. Following the deaths of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, Selene along with her two brothers Alexander and Ptolemy are taken in chains to Rome to be delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Unfortunately only the 10 year old twins, Selene and Alexander, with the support of each other, survive the journey. In Rome, at the hands of their captor Octavian, they are never far from danger or potential death. They quickly learn their survival depends on keeping vigilant and silent in the house of Caesar. 

Woven with bits of intricate detail, the novel not only tells the story of these remarkable children but also expounds on ancient Rome and the notorious and unforgettable people who lived during that period. The author tells the story in a very captivating and exciting manner and the characters have been finely tuned to enhance the atmosphere even further. 

There is no need for extensive knowledge of history to enjoy this wonderful tale of hardship and intrigue.

"Shadow", by Karin Alvtegen

Did you ever wonder why you had a particular book in hand? When I finally got down to reading “Shadow” I questioned why and how long it had been on my tattered wish list, and why I had past it over for so long. Now I ask myself why I waited so long to read it. 

The novel is a psychological crime thriller about dark secrets, the price of fame and how the search for public approval can drive some to make unsound decisions that have lasting or tragic repercussions. It also touches the impact our childhood has on the rest of our life.

One often describes a book as hot and hard to put aside, this is surely a true description of this one. The story is one with depth, many layers and full of secrets and rivalries between the characters. As this dynamic book progresses we are plunged deep into the history of four generations of the Ragnerfeldt family and we learn more about their connection with Kristopher, the little boy abandoned yes ago. “Shadow” is a literary closet filled with skeletons of the past… 

The novel begins with a brief flashback to 1975 when a boy was discovered abandoned at an amusement park with a short note seeking a better life for him. Fast forward to the present day and the plot tightens with the death of an old woman – Gerda Persson, the former housekeeper of the highly respected Nobel Laureate Axel Ragnerfeldt. With Gerda’s passing a door opens into the real life of the Ragnerfeldt family, a life full of infidelity and dark secrets…..

The plot builds slowly with multiple story threads that go back and forth in time, skillfully creating a suspense that is lively and thought provoking. Each player is introduced one by one, each with their own theme and their own story building a page-turning drama only a gifted storyteller could master.

Although “Shadow” is a gripping and absorbing tale of murder, I was nevertheless disappointed with the ending, it left the fate of many characters in limbo and I wonder if the author has something up her sleeve for the future.

"Drawing Conclusions", by Donna Leon

Book 20, in the Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

As usual Ms. Leon’s social concerns always play a prominent component of her mysteries; in her latest tale she looks into how a civilized society treats abused women and the elderly. The catchy setting is the romantic waterways of Venice with the loveable and caring Commissario Brunetti at the helm.

The story opens with the death of sexagenarian, Widow Costanza Altavilla, from what appears to be a fatal heart attack in her apartment in Santa Croce. The medical examiner concludes, no foul play, death by natural causes. Brunetti’s experience and instincts lead him in a completely different direction, why would an elderly woman living alone have clothing of different sizes and style not fitting her stature? Digging deeper he uncovers the fact she was running a clandestine safe house for women seeking shelter from domestic abuse, perhaps her death is the result of an encounter with a violent partner of one of these women. Eventually the enquiry brings him to a senior citizens home and to a gallery of a questionable art dealer……and with the help of Inspector Lorenzo Vianello and the ever-resourceful Signorina Elettra Zorzi, the truth surfaces and justice prevails.

As we expect from Ms. Leon, the novel is beautifully written, narrated with elegance and sly humour. Set against a backdrop of police indifference and corruption we see another side of Brunetti, distressed and having contradictory feeling towards the casual attitude of his fellow Venetians. The story is well-paced and moves very quickly with some unexpected twists to keep us guessing till the end, a never ending game of speculation trying to guess what really happened to Signora Altavilla. As always, the domestic interludes play a vital part of Donna Leon’s novels, this one is no exception. She has seasoned her story with moments that reflect her protagonist’s compassion, principles and the love for the simple pleasures of life. 

“Drawing Conclusions” is an interesting and captivating addition to the series I enjoyed thoroughly