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, August 25, 2012

"Lady of the English", by Elizabeth Chadwick

Set in medieval England, Normandy and Anjou, the novel tells the story of Empress Maltida, daughter of King Henry 1, who married at the age of 12 Henry V, Emperor of Germany. She left the German court after his death and at age 23 returned home only to be forced to marry young Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. Her father had hoped the couple would produce a male heir to continue his dynasty. When her father died Matilda claimed the throne but his barons elected her male cousin Stephen to take the crown instead. Their rivalry led to years of unrest and civil war.

A good part of the story is dedicated to Maltilda’s stepmother, Adeliza of Louvain, who was the same age, a good friend and ally. She was an important asset in the struggle Matilda had to attain her goals.

The author’s imaginative and colourful writing brings to life the medieval period and it is evident she has meticulously researched and done her best to accurately portray the major events. The interpretation of the characters and their relationships is not only both captivating and fascinating but also refreshing. She includes sufficient details of the daily life and the hardships of war to give the story texture and complexity. The narration is modern and down to earth and I was from the start deeply immersed into the lives and politics of the times. At the end of the novel the author’s notes differentiate the facts from speculation.

This is another part of history made interesting by a talented author.

Friday, August 17, 2012

"10th Anniversary", by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Book 10, in the Women’s Murder Club series

This is the typical James Patterson style: short chapters, fast-paced and an uncomplicated storyline with loveable and well-known characters. Everyone must be familiar with the Women’s Murder Club by now and thank goodness Mr. Patterson spares us the details in each member’s past just to make up pages.

As always in this series the unrelenting friendship of the four women and the support they offer each other through thick and thin plays a very important part in creating the atmosphere. This latest installment has three overlaying themes entertaining us with a combination of mystery, romance and suspense.

In the opening chapters Detective Lindsay finally ties the knot with her long time love, freelancer Joe Molinari, but the honeymoon is short lived. A work assignment involving a missing baby who seems to be part of a child trafficking scheme soon occupies her full attention. To complicate matters, the teen mother continually tries to derail the investigation by lying and concealing the truth.

Assistant District Attorney, Yuki, also has her hands full with a high profile case with many levels of intrigue, a case she must win at any cost.  The romantic side of her life adds a little spice to the story she is now dating Lindsay’s boss, I wonder how this is going to fly, will there be friction…..

Reporter Cindy while on assignment for her newspaper investigating a series of assaults also finds herself in hot water. While digging up the details she gets too close to the heart of the matter and also becomes a target of the serial rapist. Her relationship with Lindsay’s partner is still as strong as ever and sure to be milked in further installments.

Medical Examiner, Claire, has her hands full with her newborn and in this mystery she plays a very small part but I am sure she will be back in tip top shape soon.

If you follow the exploits of the girls I think you will enjoy this one. I consider Mr. Patterson’s style as mystery light, a soft read and a change in pace from hard core mysteries. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Grave Secrets", by Kathy Reichs

Book #5 in the Temperance Brenna series

I have been following this series for a very long time and for one reason or another I missed “Grave Secrets” the library had it so I seized the opportunity.

This story takes us from the familiar American and Canadian locations to a village in Guatemala. Between 1962 and 1996 during the country’s civil war, a bloody massacre occurred and thousands of souls lost their lives. The story echoes Ms. Reichs’ real life experience when she was asked to be part of an international team of forensic experts to excavate a mass grave site, identify the victims and determine how they died. Temperance Brennan plays the fictional role and will soon learn first-hand what a depressing assignment it will turn out to be, politics sometimes trumps justice.

We get to the heart of the story and the action picks up momentum when Tempe is pulled from the mass burial site to investigate other remains. The gravity of the situation is amplified when it is learned that many young girls are missing and Tempe quickly suspects there could be a serial killer on the loose and may even have ties to a respected Canadian ambassador. Tempe under pressure from Canadian authorities is encouraged to treat the disappearance of the young girls from Guatemala City as her new priority.

Teaming up with Special Crimes Investigator Bartolomé Galiano and Montreal detective Andrew Ryan, the trio find themselves in the hot seat facing a deadly adversary where power, money, and greed are pitted against the best in police technology.

After reading many novels I have come to expect lots of technical details about forensics and its related fields, this time I found myself saturated to a point I needed to skim through some. Nevertheless the plotting is quite crafty and the story very interesting although I did find the narration to have a backroom style peppered with many old clichés. The main characters are well rounded, likeable and realistic and as a diversion, Ms. Reichs added a juicy and funny love triangle and a series of red herrings to entertain us.

All this said and done, this chilling mystery may not have been my favourite, however I did enjoy it.

"Prague Fatale", by Philip Kerr

8th book in the Bernie Gunther series

“Prague Fatale” is as absorbing as its other companions in the series. The previous novels covered a varied time period right up to the 1950’s and were staged in many countries including South America, Cuba and the US. This time we start off in 1941 deep into WW11 action with Bernie now under the command of Reinhard Heydrich, Reichsprotector of Bohemia.

After leaving the horrors of the Eastern Front the smart-mouthed, cynical and stubborn Bernie Gunther returns to Berlin to regain his old position at Kripo. The RAF is targeting his beloved city nightly: the blackouts, the destruction and food rationing are playing havoc with day to day life. Bernie’s first case is to investigate the suspicious violent death of a Dutch railway worker. There is always an intriguing sub-plot Bernie is a master at multitasking hence he also finds himself in the middle of a rape attempt. Wouldn’t you know it! The victim Arianne is a real beauty and she soon has Bernie under her spell. She turns out to be more trouble than our protagonist suspects…..

When Reinhard Heydrich orders him to spend the weekend at his country house with senor SS and SD figures Bernie puts everything on hold and goes with Arianne to Prague. Things get hectic when one of Heydrich’s aides-de-camp is found murdered in his locked room. Bernie is ordered to investigate and his no nonsense, no bull style quickly raises the ire of the Nazi brass. Trouble should have been Bernie’s middle name. Most of the action takes place at Heydrich’s estate, in Arianne’s hotel room and in the terrifying police HQ in Prague.

Prague Fatale” is a fast paced tale with an endlessly explosive atmosphere, an excellent and captivating novel. Like the others it is written in a sarcastic style with a twist of dark humour, Bernie is always portrayed as a deeply flawed but sympathetic protagonist. His first person narration goes a long way in creating the ambience of the time. All the supporting characters are equally well developed and play an intricate part in the story.

This novel is a wonderful blend of fact and fiction that can be enjoyed as a standalone or in sequel to the others.

"The Lock Artist", by Steve Hamilton

This interesting and intriguing story won the Edgar Award for best Novel in 2011. Michael, the protagonist, who has been incarcerated for nine years ever since the age of 18, recounts his unique life experience from his prison cell.

In the very beginning we learn Michael suffered a tragic event in his childhood the loss of both his parents in a horrific car accident. Ever since that day, his bachelor uncle who runs a liquor store took on the responsibility to raise him. From a very early age, he was fascinated with locks and how they were engineered. With this knowledge he eventually developed a rare skill and was on his way to being a safe cracking whiz. This talent soon attracted the attention of the wrong people who were more than willing to take advantage of him.

During Michael’s criminal endeavours we follow an intriguing relationship with Amelia and her family. After a break-in at their house, ensuing consequences eventually developed into a fling between two adolescents.

The story is well paced it switches back and forth between Michael’s life of crime as a young adult and his adolescence, every once and awhile we are even taken back to his early childhood. The language is extremely simple with short sentences very age appropriate for the period covered. Although the structure seems complicated at first with all the flashbacks I quickly got into the rhythm as the suspense built. This novel is full of surprises and quite entertaining however my interest did wane when things became too technical and somewhat repetitive. The main character is original, charismatic and deeply layered the rest run the gamut of personalities some are even quite memorable.

Many will find this novel somewhat original and a refreshing change as I did.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Spies of the Balkans", by Alan Furst

This historical espionage novel takes us to Salonika in 1940 just as Mussolini decided to invade Greece. It tells the story of Constantine Zannis, a Greek police officer known as Costa who joined the anti-Nazi underground movement during the winter of 1940-41 and became the tail end of an operation to ship Jews out of central Europe into Turkey where they would hopefully be safe from the Nazi regime.

Written in tightly packed sentences , the story focuses on how Costa whose desire to do the right thing takes him into unorthodox corners and how he uses clever methods to get out of one harrowing situation after another. It opens with Costa organizing and running a refugee network, one that starts in Berlin and funnels German Jews through the port of Salonika to safer havens. When the British Secret Intelligence Service gets wind of this, they want to use his network to smuggle a downed British airman, who also happens to be an important scientist, out of occupied France. The action then moves from Salonika to Paris and then to Belgrade.

The author has created a very credible wartime atmosphere and has treated us to a wealth of details into the hardship and despair suffered by the Jewish population and how the Nazi regime decimated them. There is much going on in this complex and intriguing story about a group who tried to save as many lives as possible. The suspense is palatable when we read how Costa and his organisers planned one particular escape route. We live the horrors the Jewish couple went through crossing many European borders with the hope of reaching a safer country. The characters are compelling and deeply caring individuals. Through all this hardship there is even a touch of romance giving us some sultry and amusing moments.

This novel is a fine mix of war time espionage, historical fiction, local colour and sexual mischief.

"Seal Team Six", by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin

Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper

This book gives us a sense of the dedication, the work ethic and the extraordinary skills required to become a Seal Team member, it also highlights the constant struggle to remain an intricate part of an Elite group.

It starts with Mr. Wasdin story on how he grew up to become the top sniper in the military's most elite and respected group. His father was a disciplinarian who was especially hard on him and demanded perfection. This tough sometime cruel upbringing laid the ground work for the extreme tests the rest of his life had in store for him.

In his military training he describes the grueling selection process, Hell Week, boot camp and later on Sniper School where he was thought that the more you train, the less chance you will bleed in war. All through the pages he often describes his childhood memories and the lessons he has learned. In retrospect he has become a well discipline perfectionist who embraces his vocation extremely seriously.

As a Team Six member he took part in Operation Desert Strom and on another mission the team took on a rebellious and out of control village, their objective was to capture or kill Somalia warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. It is during this mission we learn how important intense training can affect results. When taken by surprise they still preformed a heroic rescue of downed pilots even though some including Mr. Wasdin received life threatening wounds. He was later awarded the Silver Star for his actions.

Skilled surgeons saved his leg and with extensive rehabilitation he returned to active duty but it soon became clear to him his performance was compromised so he eventually took medical retirement and went back to school to become a Chiropractic Doctor. 

This is an excit­ing book that kept my attention to the last page. Mr. Wasdin tells his memoirs with a deeply poignant perspective and an honest point of view from his painful troubled childhood, his demanding career in the navy right up to his present day life as a Doctor. I read this book after watching TV programs relating to Seal Team training and exploits, the background helped me visualise and understand the black and white text in a more intense manner.

I was pumped reading the words of Mr. Wasdin and I can only imagine what it is like for these Elite Groups: endless training and living life on the edge….