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 »

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"The Red Pole of Macau", by Ian Hamilton

Book 4, in the Ava Lee series

This series is a light read, mostly fast paced, quite entertaining and never fails to arouse my interest. Ava, the heroine is finely drawn and so different to the usual protagonist I simply cannot stay away and I am always looking forward to read all of her next challenges and see how she will tackle them. It has been entertaining so far….

The protagonist is a very kick butt and in charge type of character although she does show a vulnerable and soft side when it comes to her love ones. In this mystery Ava finds herself with unexpected family commitments and needs all her skills to assist he brother, Michael, out of a real-estate deal that went terribly wrong. Of course we are in for a fascinating international excursion that takes us from Toronto to Hong Kong and Macau.

Michael and his friend Simon have sunk over $20 million into a Macau shopping center project that turned out to be a scam and the developers are now using strong- arm tactics to extract more investments from them. The Lee’s financial security is at risk and went Simon gets kidnapped Ava springs into action like a ninja meticulously planning a rescue operation and with the help of Uncle’s shadow network, Simon and the money should make it home…..

There is a lot of suspense but it is somewhat diluted with too much description of cuisine and the way the players are dressed. May Lyn, a character in the previous book returns and gives a helping hand although she comes out totally as a nondescript individual…the plot is totally unbelievable but it is rather what makes this series what it is.

It is easy to zip through “The Red Pole of Macau” in just a few hours after all it is not a thick book. The story is good enough although not one that grabbed me and held my attention the way the others did. To my eyes the old formula is getting stale and too predictable it is time to give it a boost.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"The House of Special Purpose", by John Boyne

I love how John Boyne spins historical events and makes his stories unexpectedly compelling reads. “The House of Special Purpose” is a wonderful mix of trodden grounds of the fall of the Romanov Dynasty with a fictional and well thought narrative that goes back and forth in time in and snippets of important moments in the life of Georgy and Zoya Jackmenev, two of the survivors. This fiction brings to life the lovely myth that has sustained the romantics at heart for many years, the speculation that Anastasia may have escaped the tragedy.

Told in a series of flashbacks, 82 year old Georgy reminisces on his past as he sits by his wife deathbed. Haunted by what he had witnessed he recounts how as a young man he was ripped from an impoverished home and thrust into the inner circle of the Romanovs as bodyguard to Tsarevich Alexei, heir to the empire, and eventually fell in love with the Grand Duchess Anastasia. He inevitably became privy to the secrets of the Tsars and his family, the machination of Rasputin and events leading to the final collapse of the empire. His memories reveal shocking secrets…..

This is also a touching love story of two young people in a rebellious Russia and how they gave up everything in order for their love to survive. The story jumps in time and places a lot and you really need to kept up and stay focus otherwise the switchback ride can be quite disconcerting. Mr. Boyne has the fantastic skill of engaging his readers by the ways he smoothly intertwines facts and fiction together. I relish how the factual characters were depicted in an intriguing, honest and enjoyable way. The story may embellish aspects during this period in Imperial Russia in ways some may dislike I found it to be a refreshing and an audaciously imagined alternate in history.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"The Bucket Man", by James Neville

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The “Bucket man” is a kind of travelogue into the world of fake antiques, a wonderful book and an immense eye opener. Reading it felt as Mr. Neville was recounting his memoirs although I am not certain it is truly all his. 

The few 100 first pages or so were a reminiscence of the author’s life in the Services very boring IMO and many times I contemplated abandoning it but as most of the time I persisted and thank goodness I did. After resigning his commission and being disowned by his father, James had to make a life for himself. He met a woman on a train and began an intrigue that led him into the world of antiques. His creative imagination enabled him to establish a unique business that later on became a highly sought model. James became what we know in America as a “Picker” and we follow his adventures through the back roads of the UK in search of the golden egg….

In time James develops the knack for hidden treasures in the most unusual places and scouring the backwoods and dirt tracks he unearth collectible relics with historical and pop culture value. Sometime he made money on the deal sometime not but one sure thing he had was a string of hard working artisans refurbishing his finds into brand new antiques ready for a trade.… Along the way he encounters a diversity of characters from the aristocracy, scrap dealers, crooked businessmen, interior designers and many others. 

The book is definitely not for everyone. The author explains in minute details the world of a “picker”, the intricacies involved in the refurbishing each article and how complicated and sometimes dishonest the wheeling and dealing is. This story is well written and very informative one thing for sure after reading this book you will pause before purchasing what is sold as genuine antiques…

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"The Crime Trade", by Simon Kernick

It is of no surprise to find as in his earlier installments that “The Crime trade” centers around the ganglands of north London where the good guys tend to mix quite well with the bad ones. It is a dark place with dramatic effects---shot outs in parking lots, police confrontations with drug smugglers, some elements of abuse and torture. But to say this crime thriller is depressing would be false on the contrary it has some underlying humour to it and sizzling dialogue that propels us through the twisted tales. By the end, one can fell as entertained as well as unnerved.

This story is unpredictable in every sense fresh twists and plenty of them kept derailing thoughts, so easy not to see them coming. It shows us what genuinely goes on under our nose with odd exaggeration here and there. However I did find this one not as lively and exciting as the other books and it is so easy to get lost in the description and the back stories.

Although this is not part of a series the tale involves interconnecting characters who weaves in and out of each books. They are part of a strong cast of familiar and new faces and the tight plot also includes a large group of secondary players.

Synopsis taken from the author’s site:

Stegs Jenner has always lived on the edge.

No ordinary cop, he's never happier than when he's working undercover, consorting with criminals and fighting to bring them to justice. But suspicion falls on him when he strikes out on his own and the operation he's involved in goes horribly wrong.

DI John Gallan and DS Tina Boyd are called in to investigate.

What they cannot know is that their inquiries will take them both into the heart of one of London's most notorious criminal gangs - and one of them into the rifle sights of the enemy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

" The English Girl", by Daniel Silva

Book 13, in the Gabriel Allon Series

Nothing is straight lined in Gabriel Allon sagas we have more twists to divert the trajectory of the story into different directions than we see in a lot of thrillers. This is one of the reasons I have stayed faithful to this series throughout the years.

I can hardly find faults with this one after all it was a hard one to put down. Mr. Silva is an excellent storyteller and knows how to keep his readers turning the pages. His writing style is mostly active, very visual allowing us to form a picture surrounding the plot, characters and the setting. This very suspenseful and intriguing thriller moves at a rapid pace and has a great number of gripping scenes. Also as in every book Gabriel attempts to restore a portrait when he is not on the job as an Israeli operative.

The plot takes off when Madeleine Hart, the mistress of England’s Prime Minister, is kidnapped on the eve of an election. Her kidnappers demand a ransom for her return and that Gabriel Allon make the delivery. He quickly teams up with Christopher Keller and this unusual alliance is thrust into the game of shadows where nothing is what it seems…

This story is totally engaging and along the way we are also treated to a short history lesson while on Israeli soil, jaunting through Corsica and Russia. While trotting through France and England several characters we met in previous books make an appearance and add their personal touch to this exciting, humorous and well developed saga…

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Until the Night", by Giles Blunt

Book 6, in the John Cardinal series

I agree with those saying this series is getting better with each book it is of no surprise that with this latest Mr. Blunt won the Arthur Ellis Awards for best crime novel in 2013. Congratulations Mr. Blunt.

“Until the Night” is a dark and convoluted mystery beautifully written with exceptionally solid characters. This is a must read for fans of this series. A caution, some may be offended by the crude language and the sex scenes that pepper the chapters.

The mystery has two captivating stories cleverly interwoven in the typical Blunt’s style and technique. It opens with what looks like an ordinary case of adultery gone wrong. A man found dead in a cheap motel, the woman accompanying him has vanished and the likely suspect is the lovers’ outraged husband. One thing leads to another and the investigation uncovers a string of missing women and leads our duo of Cardinal and Delorme into a decades-old injustice committed in the high Arctic. In alternating chapters “The Blue Notebook” details what happened on an Arctic research station in the past. Reading this immediately captured my interest, it is gripping with tension and drama and of course Mr. Blunt’s powerfully describes the spell of the Arctic landscape with all of its beauties and horrors…this is quite an atmospheric mystery. Both plots are clever with plenty of twists and turns to have kept me on the edge of my seat till the final page. This book is most satisfying.

In a final note the author acknowledges this was one of those books requiring considerable research.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Mad Hannah Rafferty", by Tony Sullivan

This is moving story of a young woman, a child of the late 50’s, searching for the love she lost after her father’s death. Her life slowly unravels till one day she is forcibly detained in a psychiatric institute where she writes hidden in a bathroom cubicle her memoirs on toilet paper and begins to piece her life together.

“Mad Hannah Rafferty” is a disturbing conundrum of mental problems. Through Hannah’s words and many flashbacks we learn that her father was a deluded political visionary who had an adulterous relationship. She was brought up by a step mother obsessed with religion and to bring her husband back to the true faith (of course hers). At his death Hannah is entrusted with his unfinished political leaflet for her to complete. One thing leads to another and burdened with a bad relationship and a dysfunctional family Hannah suffers a crippling breakdown and ends up in an asylum.

Nothing in life is black and white and this story excels in chronicling Hannah‘s decline. This ironically and compelling novel is not gruesome or sad by any means and provides some humorous moments describing the political attitudes of the time (this book was first published in the early 90’s) and how young revolutionaries come to face the harsh reality of life.

The story opens slowly and is hard to grasp at first but once it started to swirl with Hannah’s many thoughts it was harder to put down. This book is nicely written, first class dialogue and wonderful descriptions. Hannah’s depiction is outstanding and so are her supporting characters.

I didn't know at first what to make of this book. In hindsight after these thoughts I must say it wasn't bad at all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"The King's Deception", by Steve Berry

Book 8, in the Cotton Malone series

This is another suspense thriller that weaves his tale around documented facts, events and known figures of history. Being a fan of conspiracy and the Tudor period I much enjoyed Mr. Berry’s spin on time.

Right from the start I was engaged by the secrets societies the political intrigue and the Tudor secrets although at the heart of the story is the all too real drama of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a former intelligence officer, convicted of 270 counts of murder for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. After tweaking some facts and adjusting them to fit his creation, the author has filled the pages with the right formula and provided us with a panoramic view of the past while slowly introducing the present day setting. I will skip the intricacies not to spoil the enjoyment of this action-filled and well-written mix of history with the spy action. Yes there is plenty of action and the Tudor secret that is behind the operation has a great romp of intrigue. We have three strands in this story that are interwoven in cinematic scenes, very visual as they move from one plot to another. If you can keep track of all the characters you are in for a treat. There are no loose ends everything is wrapped up nicely. As always we find at the end of the book a writer’s note separating fact and fiction.

Most part is quite entertaining however on the down side I did find the central mystery to be rather flimsy and the machinations which involved the CIA lacked logical consistency. But again this is a thriller and it wouldn't be fun if our imagination wasn't stretched to its limits..

Friday, November 22, 2013

"Bitty and the Naked Ladies", by Phyllis Smallman

A Short Sherri Travis Mystery

I am not particularly fond of short story they are a big tease and usually leave you flat. I would normally pass them but since I am a big fan of this author and hate to miss any of her work even teasers. So here I am reading this one while waiting for my partner to meet me for our afternoon hike.

This 16 pages story is to the point, nicely writing but too short for any intrigues, not bad if you want a sample but for an avid reader not good at all…I want more…..but again if it is free or borrowed why not read it….

The product description says:

Some crimes are perfect. Greed leads Sherri into temptation and delivers her to evil.

"Cafe Insomniac", by Mark Capell

What a strange story, highly imaginative, quite a page turner and the most outlandish premise I have read in a long time. It is told entirely from Justin’s, the main character, point of view. We get inside his mind to feel his fear and how confuse he is. As the story progresses everything becomes weirder and weirder…..very spooky indeed. At one point it is easy to feel as Justin did mix between not knowing what is real and what isn't. I had to wait till the end to find out.

What is it all about?

“Twenty-five-year-old insomniac Justin Brooks opens an all-night café. But soon after the opening, one of his customers is murdered. The fallout from the murder makes his insomnia worse -- much worse. He completely loses the ability to sleep. Strange things start to happen in Justin's world, things that are hard to explain and could possibly have something to do with the murder.”

If you suffer from sleep deprivation “Café Insomniac” will walk you down memory lane and if you a sound sleeper this fascinating tale will not only keep you awake wondering if you are really awake but it will also have you looking over your shoulder for the boogie man…..very unnerving and highly unpredictable…..

Although I usually stay far from these types of novels I admit being quite surprised how much I like this one. It is well written to be visually entertaining and to appeal to those with a taste for the surreal.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"High Chicago", by Howard Shrier

Book 2, in the Jonah Geller series

This series is definitely Canadian very unique in its genre and I love how each story is crafted from current events found in the news. A few weeks ago I had the chance to read “Miss Montreal “ the 4th novel in the series and skipped momentary book 2 and 3 but I couldn't keep too far away before returning to the sequence to catch up. Here I am this time telling everyone nice enough to read my thoughts that Mr. Shrier has definitely won my admiration and made me one of his most faithful of fans. 

Jonah Geller, the protagonist is so unlike any American hard-boiled detective we read these days. He exploits his Jewishness, does not carry a gun and splits his attention between Toronto and an American city with his gay female partner. First he was in Buffalo in “Buffalo Jump” and now in this second installment Jonah brings his investigating skills to the Windy city, Chicago. Of course along the way Jonah will re-establish contact with Dante Ryan, a former contract killer now a restaurateur, for assistance. 

“High Chicago” has a stylish Hollywood crime drama opening. Jonah is hired to look into the apparent suicide of the daughter of a well-known Toronto property developer. Not one to mind his manners, he smells a rat that needs fixing and soon find himself up to his neck, deep in trouble, crossing words with a major real estate developer and the father of the dead girl. Before long he is in hot pursuit of a mega builder (reminds you of Donald Trump) who has ways of dealing with pesky investigators. Before it is all over, a considerable of mayhem has taken place, some surprising plot twists unfurled and we are plunged into nail-biting suspense not typically found in this kind of mystery. Needless to say Jonah is a wonderful character and the supporting cast is as varied as they come all with their own strong personality and ambition rarely seen.

This is a strong entrée and a very entertaining addition to a fantastic series.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"A Conspiracy of Faith", by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Also under the title “Redemption”

Book 3, in the department Q series

The two previous novels had politics and money as their main topics it is of no surprise to find in this latest page-turning psychological thriller Detective Carl Morck and his team from Department Q pinned down by reclusive religious sects.

As the previous novels it was a hard book to put down. The story relies on psychological insight, a complex and intense plotting and nonstop action to maintain suspense up to its climax. Although the heart of the story may be gruesome the author lightens the mood with well-placed humour and along the way we get to know the protagonist and the other players a bit more. We have a very compelling main plot and as in all thrillers we have a side plot to distract and confuse us a bit. I like the characters they are far from being stereotypes and come across quite genuine. This is the most convoluted novel created by Mr. Adler Olsen so far alternating several points of view as the story shifts among characters and time period. 

The main theme concerns a professional kidnapper who preys on families austere religious sects, exploiting their reclusive nature to ransom two siblings at a time without the police being notified. 

This is a thick book over 500 pages it kicks off when one of two kidnapped brothers held captive in a boathouse sends out an obscure note in a bottle with an urgent plea for HELP written in his blood. It took years before it eventually washed ashore and reached the hands of Department Q. This message is a puzzle they need to decipher and the hunt solving the mystery reaches outlandish proportions and somehow clues emerge slowly just to tease us till the next installment.
It is a tough read although well-worth it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Standing in Another Man's Grave", by Ian Rankin

Book #18, in the Inspector Rebus series

After five years into retirement Rebus is back only to find himself in trouble, what else is new? We should have known better to think Rankin would have put his best protagonist to pasture. He is just too good a character to have done so.

Still his old self, drinking and smoking to excess, Rebus now in a civilian capacity works for the serious crime review looking into cold cases of long forgotten victims. He pairs up with his old protégée, Siobhan Clarke, and they embark on an investigation that will see them hopping all over Scotland even into the most remote of places. All along the way the author expertly spins a suspenseful tale one that could have been hard to put down if it wasn't for countless countryside description and poetically villages names and the constant moments when Rebus lights another cigarettes or opts for another drink.

As always Mr. Rankin is impressive at handling plot complication and adding twists to force his protagonist in taking unorthodox action, having a seditious behaviour and ignoring protocol. He is not a team player and never will and is well aware that he is out of step with the new way of working….but Rebus will rise up to the task and show us how to get the job done….he is in top shape to tackle anything…

I am glad Mr. Rankin resuscitated his grumpy old detective. This series was the author’s best and still is IMO.

Friday, November 1, 2013

" Hat Dance ", by Carmen Amato

An Emilia Cruz novel

Without any doubt, this new series will be a hit. “Hat Dance” follows “Cliff Diver” and continues the same exciting detective story that had me totally captivated from start to finish. The plotting is so realistic you would think the author has taken her inspiration right out of the news and pitted her protagonist against both Mexico’s drug war and culture of machismo. 

In this latest Emilia will deal with both an arson investigation as well as tracking down the whereabouts of a missing girl from her neighborhood. 

This story opens with a wall of intrigue and suspense when high end restaurants are being targeted by arson. Who is behind these attempts is what makes this caper a thrilling ride through the pages, seeking the answer and not finding it till the very end is what makes it most exciting. Of course Emilia and her partner will pursuit their quest for the truth and justice will prevail……or will it…..This is one adrenaline charge novel with multiple unexpected twists that never slows down. “Hat Dance “is a riveting read populated with a strong cast of divers and interesting characters. Their involvement has snared my attention from the get go and I devoured every word, (OK I am pushing the envelope but I urge you to give this author a try and see how her creativity is not only unique it is also very addictive.)

This novel is as good and as entertaining as “Cliff Diver” but if you missed the first no worries, Ms. Amato has smoothly filled in the necessary background not to leave anyone behind. 

Ms. Amato is becoming fast one of my favourite authors.

"In the Beginning", by Abby L.Vandiver

“The Beginning” is a mystery novel with a bit of a sci-fi twist to it. Originally written in 1997 this fiction finally reached the hands of a publisher this year. The story follows a Biblical archaeologist on a quest to uncover the hidden mystery behind the disappearance of old manuscripts that were discovered in 1949 with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

If this short introduction reminds you of a well-known author, keep in mind this book was written long before the other came into the picture, IMO there is no resemblance between the two stories.
The protagonist “In the Beginning” is Justin Dickerson, a woman who suffers from depression, who thinks demons are chasing her and has terrible mood swings. Her depression is soon replaced by an obsession once she finds hints to the manuscripts whereabouts. Thank goodness Justin (correctly spell) has a loving husband, and a supportive family willing to help. Their squabbling is quite a distractive interlude to the chase for the revelation and a side bar to the core of the story…..

This story scrawls at a snail pace and spoon feeds you tit bits of information to ultimately reveal the key that unlock the secrets behind the thousands of years old documents……fascinating stuff and quite an imagination. My attention did waver by the end and I lost interest by the time I had reached the far-fetched wrap up. The concept has its valour and it is evident the author has put her heart and soul into her creation. Unfortunately I was too often hung up by the slowness of its denouement and the many hiccups in the editing (typos, misused words and font changes), and Justin’s continuous crying got on my nerves.…..Having said this “In the Beginning” is an excellent debut novel and with a little tweaking Abby will eventually make an entertaining novelist.

Friday, October 25, 2013

"The Racketeer", by John Grisham

The author admits in his notes that this new novel is a work of pure fiction more than usual and nothing said is based on actual events. With this in mind this unique and tightly drawn thriller features an African American as its main protagonist. “The Racketeer” is definitely a departure from Mr. Grisham normal legal novels. The story is more about reformation and revenge with insightful description of the legal and penal system. 

Malcolm Bannister, a dubiously lawyer convicted of money laundering and serving a 10 years sentence in a federal prison. Malcolm continually proclaims his innocence and blames the FBI for his wrong incarceration. When Judge Raymond Fawcett is murdered along with his secretary he sees the ideal opportunity to use Rule 35 to have his sentence overturned. This scheme is the starting point for a long chase that keeps Mal’s trickery a few steps ahead of the game……what follow is a cleverly orchestrated series of twists and reversals. 

The plotting is a complex scenario and every piece of the puzzle is held together with a strong narrative that never wavers. We have a satisfying and engrossing thriller with many enjoyable aspects: my preferred is how Mal’s masquerading as an independent documentary filmmaker was able to circumvent the FBI.

This is another page turner with excellent characterization delivered by an expert hand….

" A Man Without Breath" by Philip Kerr

Book 9, in the Bernard Gunther Mystery

It can get enough of this author’s wonderful imagination. His novels although in good part fiction have a chilling authenticity to them. Each story is based on actual events that happened during the horrible years of the Nazi Germany. Through his words he brings back to life the monsters who committed evil acts against humanity.

The year is 1943, Bernie working for the German War Crimes Bureau is sent to Smolensk to bring light on the unsettling reports of a mass grave found in Katyn Forest, a wolf has unearth human remains validating the claim. Finding the truth is not always what the “High Muck-a- Mucks” want to hear….and Bernie will soon be caught in very difficult situations and scarcely escaping the noose……(Short and sweet summary to pique your interest, a most captivating read)

With skills this novel set the scene of the Russian massacre of Polish officers and resuscitates German leaders to make a very grimly and realistic plot. This layered historical novel and murder mystery starts as dramatically as it ends and offers startling revelations about the life under the Third Reich. This is an engrossing story that examines the brutality at its most horrific and smoothly portrays the despicable inner circle of a regime. It further explores what Mr. Kerr’s expertly excels in: portraying the complex moral dilemmas of an immoral society and this from Bernie’s point of views. This installment is a page turner and a great addition to a very interesting series.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"The Sword Master", by I. J. Parker

I am without any doubts a fan of this author. I love her style and I could only repeat myself when saying she is in a class of her own. A master in writing vivid tales of Ancient Japan and to magically transport us back in time into the perilous world of the Heike Wars.

It is not easy to live in the twelfth century Kyoto survival is a challenge especially if you are a homeless child. This savage and moving tale recounts his life story from the point he was adopted by a selfless physician who could not soften his hardened spirit, to the master swordsman who taught him the fine art of swordsmanship, to the beautiful women who desperately wanted his attention and baited into a war between two opposing clans. Only with his smarts and skills was he able to survive and avenge his parents’ deaths and eventually find true peace…..

The plot is captivating with lots of action, blood and guts galore. The characterization is very interesting and quite remarkable especially Hachiro, the protagonist, his depiction definitely grows on you. The hardest part was keeping track of all the unfamiliar sounding names without mixing any of the characters. Although this story spans almost a life time, the drama is not rushed and I was immediately drawn in and my attention never wavered. This is an excellent standalone, a spin-off of the Hollow Reed series, dedicated to Hachiro, a minor character first met in book one.

Another great story I enjoyed immensely.

"The Rhetoric of Death", by Judith Rock

Book 1, in the Charles Du Luc series

This debut novel is a patchwork of known events and a lot of imagination by a very active mind. This historical fiction spins a tale of interesting and rich details set in the sumptuous Paris of the 17th century France.

The opening act is staged at the college of Louis le Grand, where the Jesuits produced drama, lavish ballets and opera as part of their teaching rhetoric. The main player is the delightful fictional character Charles du Luc, a good looking Jesuit priest who is employed as a teacher of rhetoric and dance director at the college. All goes well till one day a student star dancer disappears to later be found murdered in a very unusual place and an attempt made on his younger soon after. Charles curiosity and skills lead him to explore the connections between the two incidents. As he gets more and more involved, he faces up all sorts of hazards…..cassocks flies in the chases and a lot of hanky panky go on behind the scenes…….We reach the closing act …..a play and a ballet for the final moments….

For the first 100 pages or so the author sets the stage and provides overwhelming details on the politics and religious conflicts of the time and introduces at a monastic rhythm her characters. Most interesting but this introduction lingered and became a laborious experience, too much information dumping. I persisted in my mental effort and was rewarded as soon as the mystery kicked in and Charles’ investigation began. The plot may have been rather slow in pace it nonetheless was quite compelling. Charles is a wonderful protagonist a Jesuit torn between is vows and his manly needs… The rich prose with the engaging and intriguing dialogue save the day along with the wonderful trip through the Paris of 17th century…..Slow start for this series but not a bad one, will see what “The Eloquence of Blood” has in store for me.

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Cliff Diver", by Carmen Amato

The Emilia Cruz Mystery Series

This edgy police procedural mystery takes us into the heart of Mexico’s drug war. It features Emilia Cruz the first and only female detective in the Acapulco. She is a strong Latina woman, although she has been a cop for over 12 years and 2 years as a detective she has to fight for every inch to stay on top in a squad room full of men that didn't want her and are trying by any means to break her but Emilia is a tough cookie and very good at what she does. 

The main plot is quite captivating, an adrenaline charge page turner at its best. Emilia is in charge of the murder investigation into the death of her shady lieutenant. This case is high profile and much pressure comes from politicians, other cops and the powerful union. Things are not easy: police files go missing and trails lead in multiple directions… there is even a kidnapping and connection to the cartel and some counterfeit money ….Emilia finds herself a pawn in an ugly game of corruption…… and feels like the famous cliff divers of Acapulco. 

As in all good mystery Emilia meets hotel manager Kurt Rucker and over the course of the story attraction between them quickly complicates matters…

This is excellent multi-layered story with various engaging twists and turns, vividly told through the eyes of a tough and vulnerable protagonist. This is a great and fantastic mystery filled with suspenseful and intriguing moments, all this against the beautiful backdrop of Acapulco. This story wouldn't be this good without great characterization and snappy dialogue. Emilia is the perfect sleuth at the top of the list and this would mean little if it wasn't for the excellent supporting cast, in which there are many. There is an extra bite, a sub-plot keeping Emilia looking for las perdidas, in “Hat Dance”, the continuing thread we will see how successful she will be… can’t wait…

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Conversations with Joan of Arc", by Tony Sullivan

This is a very interesting and especially moving account of the last days of “La Pucelle d`orléans”, France’s folk heroine and Roman Catholic saint who was tried for heresy by the tribunal led by Bishop Pierre Cauchon and subsequently burned at the stake at the age of 19. 

This fiction concentrates on her imprisonment in Rouen where she was visited in numerous occasions by Nicolas Loiseleur, chanoine de Chartres and of Rouen. This story is as much about him as it is about the heroine. The legend says that he was so upset after her execution that his actions brought him unwanted attention from the English. 

The story is very passionate and is written in a resonant tone from a 3rd person perspective. I could clearly imagine that behind all this scorn was a woman who stubbornly refused to tell the people what they wanted to hear. It must have been a nightmare and the author has expertly described how this poor woman was tormented, taunted and condemned. I will not expand on her exploits in the midst of the conversations some are highlighted. IMO this fiction is a fascinating way to relate a vision of what could have transpired between a prisoner and her confidant……Even with the knowledge of its ending, this story is nevertheless captivating and revisiting this trouble part of history in this manner was particularly refreshing. Well-done Mr. Sullivan I will definitely read more of your work.

Friday, October 4, 2013

"The Intercept", by Dick Wolf

Book 1, in the Jeremy Fisk series

Right from the opening pages it is evident that this well-known producer specializes in crime dramas. His debut novel is part police procedural and part a ticking bomb thriller and it is of no surprise that this whole experience felt like reading a screenplay with all the bells and whistles, a very visual encounter one with all the hallmark of the TV program “Law & Order”.

Here are the highlights:

Jeremy Fisk is an NYPD officer who works in the Intelligence Division to combat terrorism. When a terror attempt on a commercial flight is disrupted days before July 4, when One World Trade Center is set to be dedicated, Fisk and partner Krina Gersten work to figure out who was behind the attack and what they might be planning next.

Further thoughts:

Although the theme may be far from being original, it provides nevertheless an entertaining story. I presume this confidant novel will surely make it to the top of the best seller list. Mr. Wolf prose is tight and we are given short and sharp chapters with plenty of action and few red herrings. The characters are as varied as they come and should appeal to most. This well-crafted, multi layered plot is heavily depending on its dialogue for impact and it excels in doing so. This book held me captive on roller-coaster ride of suspense, intrigue and action till its last page. I am looking forward to the next installment.

"Walking into the Ocean", by David Whellams

Book 1, in Chief Inspector Peter Cammon trilogy mysteries

In his first novel, Mr. Whellams introduces his protagonist, a semi-retired Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard, a formidable investigator due to his age and experience and places him in unusual situations where his professionalism and personality are explored, we see a bit of the old Sherlock Holmes coming out of him.

The story starts on the cliffs of Dorset on an apparent murder-suicide. Peter is being deployed there to help the local force solve the especially sensitive case while they put all their attention in apprehending a serial killer. At first glance, it seems like an ordinary domestic crime, the perpetrator appears to have murdered his wife before drowning in the English Channel but Peter soon learns that this is merely a sideshow to a series of murders. Peter relentless follows the overlapping trails taking him from London to the island of Malta and this cliff hanger reaches its climatic confrontation back in England overlooking the cliffs of the Channel.

This story was way more complicated than it needed to be and took its merry time shifting gears and get going. I did like it at first but soon had trouble keeping my mind on track and I struggled through the remainder. I needed tolerance to reach the end, one of those books that took me for ever to read. The main plot was really bogged down with numerous explanations and side trips that I found my reading experience to be an arduous one. IMO, Mr. Whellams style of writing is too verbose and makes it difficult to stay engaged. The many characters come and go throughout the book and keeping track is a challenge, especially if your mind wanders. This said, the story isn't bad at all it just didn't capture my interest, it may yours.

This first experience may not have been the best I will nevertheless give the sequel a chance. Will see then……

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Remote Control", by Andy McNab

Book 1, in the Nick Stone series

Since I am a huge fan of action thrillers I was excited starting another series that promises lots. The Nick Stone Missions are based on the author’s own experiences in the SAS (Special Air Service) and each book follows the character Nick Stone as a paid mercenary after working for the SAS, British Intelligence and an American agency.

“Remote Control” starts on a very slow note and takes time before it picks up the paced and becomes quite fast-paced and captivating. This is definitely a thriller not meant to please the faint hearted, we have a lot of violence and it is graphically brutal. This blistering story is told from the point of view of a very complex protagonist and where he gets in motion we have very exciting moments. The writing is sharp and clearly dramatic although I did find the author to go overboard detailing every move, it was too repetitive at times. At some point the story strays towards the unbelievable although way too farfetched I still kept rooting for his success and he did not disappoint.

The novel is an interesting insight into the world of a fictional spy, the story of a rogue Special Air Service agent on the lam in suburban America with the seven year old daughter of a murdered colleague, dragging the spunky youngster from one seedy motel to another, stuffing her with junk food and teaching her the fine art of espionage.

My first experience with this author was a good one and I am looking forward to read “Crisis Four”.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"The Headmaster's Wager", by Vincent Lam

Mr. Lam’s first novel is a fiction inspired by his own family history.

At the heart is the story of Chen Pie Sou, also known as Percival, the headmaster of the prestigious Percival Chen English Academy in Cholon, a small city near Saigon. This character is loosely based on Mr. Lam’s grandfather.

It begins in Shantou China in 1930 but the story does not linger there and soon we are transported to Vietnam in 1966. Like many others before him Chen left China in search of the so-called Gold Mountain and following the brutal Japanese occupation ended up with his new wife in Vietnam. Once there he attempted to achieve stability but his beliefs in his Chinese superiority resulted in repercussions for his son,Dai Jai, being accused of political indiscretions and sent to China on the eve of the Culture Revolution only to return by way of the North Vietnam some years later….Meanwhile Chen finds relief in his lover, a métisse he won at a game of mah-jong and makes secrets dealing with his loyal friend Mak…

This is a fast-paced portrait, a genuine page-turner full of melodrama, intrigue and surprises. It is told chronologically in the third person from the protagonist perspective. Chen is not really a likable character, he is an apolitical businessman only concerned in turning a profit and maintaining his cultural purity but this is what makes him very interesting and wonderfully human. With the War as backdrop, its secret police and theatrical politic “The Headmaster’s Wager” can only be rich in historical details although the author may have taken some liberties with his story. Nicely written this novel is a delight to read.

"The Fire of the Gods", by Ingrid J. Parker

Book 8, in the Sugawara Akitada series

This 8th installment continues Akitada saga finding our honorable sleuth once more in trouble. 

 Synopsis taken from the autor’s website

Eleventh-century Japan, the capital of Heian-Kyo is plagued by unexplained fires, and panic is threatening to break out, but government official Sugawara Akitada has his own problems to worry about. His ailing wife is expecting a child, and he loses his job to a political appointee. When he tries to confront the nobleman who is responsible for his dismissal, however, he ends up suspected of his murder.

With no income and a growing family to support, Akitada desperately plunges into the investigation of this crime, aided by his faithful servant Tora, inadvertently placing not only his own life, but also the lives of his wife and child, in grave danger . . .”

My views:

I have been following Ms. Parker for years and especially fond of the Akitada series. His sagas have remained fresh throughout the years and always had a wonderful and strong theme. This time the mystery looks into the abuse of power and the incompetence of people at the top, the dark side of the underclass and the characters that enrich themselves on others misfortunes. The author is a master in blending action into a lush tapestry of ancient Japanese society and elegantly writes without mixing any melodrama into her drama. Akitada is a colorful protagonist and is joined by a large cast of intriguing characters that are as deeply bound to tradition as he is.  Her style is very sophisticated and ideas so prolific it seems to never run out of steam. I still have to catch up on this series and looking forward in doing so. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Miss Montreal", by Howard Shrier

Book 4, in the Jonah Geller series

I always preferred reading series in sequence I made an exception this time and skipped installment 2 and 3 to jump to this latest. The title was too enticing to wait and wanted to see how this story would resonate to a French speaking Montrealer.

In “Miss Montreal” Mr. Shrier cooks up all short of trouble for his protagonist while he experiences for the first time what real anti- Semitism is and suffers acerbic commentary along the way…. As any outsider, Jonah has pretty much the same difficulties understanding the peculiarities of the city…… bienvenue à Montréal, ici on parle français.

It opens with Jonah investigating the death of a Sammy Adler, a Montreal newspaper columnist whom he knew from summer camp when they were both twelve. Adler is known to be a scandal-mongering journalist, one to never hesitate exposing political corruption and other dark secrets. Hired by the victim`s grandfather to do what the police can`t, Jonah and his pal Dante set east on the 401 and this is the start of a powerful plot and a trip through Montreal`s pothole covered streets. Our heroes find themselves smack in the middle of election time and the tension is palpable, chanted is the slogan “Québec aux Québécois”. To discover the truth and figure what led to Sammy’s demise they will face religious fanatic as well as a twisted political dynasty. The worst part will be to work with a reticent French police officer who will give them a hard time especially when they open their mouth…..

“Miss Montreal” is truly a work of fiction, the author has definitely taken strong liberties and has deliberately distorted facts and exaggerated everything from past shenanigans of the political leaders to the present language issues to make his story a captivating read and he has not failed in doing so. This mystery after all continues the story of an urban, secular and funny P.I. solving cases the authorities can’t. Mr. Shrier lingers on Montreal diversity and his knowledge is what makes this caper so believable. When we have a good combination of witty characters mixed into an adventure full of twists and continuous action you have an exciting and satisfying story. 

Now I need to catch up on the two previous novels.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"The Casual Vacancy", by J.K. Rowling

I have not much to say on J.K. Rowling first novel for adult readership. Rarely do I give up on a novel “The Casual Vacancy” made the list. After labouring through 250 pages I simply couldn't waste more precious reading time on a very boring story concerning a parish council election in a small West Country town. This story is an unadventurous study of provincial life with some superficial excitements. A large cast of young characters taking drugs, swearing and having sex weaves through a multiple and interlocking plots that are flat-lined by predictability. I wasn't able from the start to immerse myself in the people I found them very frustrating and a real farce. I gave up….that is all I can say.

"The Fallen Angel", by Daniel Silva

Book 12, in the Gabriel Allon series
Mr. Silva has to be one of the finest writers of international intrigue we have these days. His Gabriel Allon series features one of the most memorable and compelling character in contemporary fiction. His adventures have stayed fresh and exciting making each novel more successful than the previous.

With lots of action and interesting political points of view “The Fallen Angel” starts in a classic Gabriel way. He is found back in action taking refuge behind the walls of the Vatican restoring one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces. It opens with a murder in St. Peter’s Basilica and soon the story weaves different topics: art, politics, religions, etc. and also current issues such as the Vatican bank scandals and the threat of nuclear attacks. His investigation takes us on a journey around Europe and Israel. It is clear in the description that Mr. Silva loves the topic of terrorism and is passionate about the Middle East politics and strategy. This thriller provides an exciting plot and a page-turning story hard to put down. Although this is an excellent read it has flaws and this lie in the intensive and relentless attention to details. At the end of the book Mr. Silva highlights where fiction starts and reality falls, a much appreciated note.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"The Golden Egg", by Donna Leon

Book 22, in the Commissario Brunetti series

First I admit being a huge fan of this series but after reading this latest I am really not sure what to make out of it. “The Golden Egg” unfolds in such a languorous manner and keeps the same slow pace throughout I felt I had taken a sleeping pill and waiting for the knockout (ouch). IMO it is too quiet with very little drama, definitely not MS. Leon’s standard, it seemed as if the penmanship may have come from a different stroke…..or strongly influenced by the works of the Queen of Crime….very predictable, always the same old beat….

This detective story centers on the life and death of a young man who was never heard to speak and never existed, a man with no identity. As Brunetti tries to find out the basics about him, he takes to the streets and canals of Venice for answers. He probes various people and faces the political mire and hopeless Italian bureaucracy along the way. His sharp-tongued wife Paula and the children play a prominent part that provides a bit of flavour to this mystery.

This series has never been action packed but this one is more ponderous than many of the previous novels. Brunetti is a thoughtful man, not given to hasty decisions or dramatic gestures and his language is overly correct…..he is definitely not the typical detective found these days. 

After 22 books it may be time to put Guido Brunetti and Paulo and the rest of the cast to pasture.

"Contrived", by Jay Deb

This is an interesting storyline, a good debut novel that needed some fine tuning. 

Storyline taken from Goodreads:

When Tyler, a Wall Street fund manager, comes to Dallas to attend his father's birthday party finds his father murdered and a family member is the prime suspect, a series of murders and an intriguing story follows as Tyler goes on a crusade to find the killer as he loses his job, girlfriend and comes close to kissing his own death.

My take:

With a little bit of editing to eliminate the errors such as typos, fragmented sentences, missing words and repeated ones the flow of the saga would have been better, mistakes are always distracting for a reader. This aside the novel has good qualities. “Contrived” is a captivating read, a good storyline that grabbed interest from the start and can sustained it to the last page, I admit  energetically tapping my reader for the next page. IMO, the characters were correctly portrayed to represent who they were, although I felt no empathy for any of them and dislike most of themJ. I wouldn’t say it is dialogue driven but there are a lot of voices to keep track of. In all we have a great beginning and I would say Mr. Deb has definitely a talent with words, good job. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

"The Power of the Dog", by Don Winslow

"The Power of the Dog" starts in 1975 and follows the DEA's involvement with the War on Drugs and various aspects of Operation Condor. It took the author over 6 years of writing and research before its publication. In every aspects it is evident the tremendous effort he has invested into his version of events and has provided us with a fast paced page turner that is impossible to put down.

Set on the US/Mexican border, we witness mainly through the eyes of Art Keller the beginning of his operative work with the CIA on Operation Condor and through the next 29 years as he attempts to do his job while not becoming a victim.

I was easily sucked into the whirlpool of characters in all shades of black and grey, into the corrupt agencies and the government underhand encouragement, actively financing the development of the drug cartel. This story is a tapestry of violence and depicts actual events some may remember, we are not spared the true ugliness of war, the word excruciating may be apropos during some sections. This is a dense novel, rather pessimistic but in no way does it drag. The prose is energetic, intelligent and has the right rhythm for the subject as the sprawling saga shifts points of view.

This story may not be for everyone it is nevertheless a captivating read I would recommend

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Dead Simple", by Peter James

Book 1 in the Roy Grace series

My first experience reading this author was a most exciting one, a fascinating rollercoaster ride that kept me riveted through the pages from the very first line. The book is a page turner in the best sense of the word, a kind of cat and mouse game from beginning to end. This is a well-crafted and structured story, essentially a police procedural featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a faintly flawed hero who has a penchant for the supernatural. With a heavy dash of suspense and just a soupcon of psychics this fast paced and good plot is full of unexpected twists and turns and is refreshingly free of swearing and bad language. This book is definitely plot driven.

Told in the third person with short and catchy chapters, it opens giving you a chill down your back. Michael Harrison, in an outlandish bachelor party prank, is buried in a coffin on his stag night by his closest friends. On their way home, a horrific car crash kills the group that entombed him.

Detective Roy Grace is called to investigate the bizarre circumstances of this disappearance. While following the most rigorously police procedures he also seeks assistance of mediums to help him find Michael before it is too late. Then the chase is on and as reader we are plunged into one of those cliff-hangers we rarely see. Roy is a great character, sympathetic and intuitive and it is easy to warn to, the rest of the cast are as varied as can be. Close to the end, there is a car chase that is inventive and so entertaining that I was disappointed reaching the final moment of this most gripping story. I am looking forward the next installment.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"The Bat", by Jo Nesbo

Book 1, in the Harry Hole mystery series

It is grand time, for the publisher to give Mr. Nesbo’s admirers a chance to see where the series all began. Going into the back catalogue they finally provided us with “The Bat” his debut novel. Most fans have meet Inspector Harry Hole in the previous novels so it will not be a surprise to see that Harry, the best known characters in contemporary crime fiction has stayed to same old self.

This is a fascinating book, filling the gaps in the protagonist biography. It all started in Sydney where he has come to observe and lend assistance on a high profile case, the murder of a young Norwegian woman. It wouldn't have made sense not to get involved in fact it would have made a very boring story. And so the plot has Harry delve into Sydney underbelly working alongside Aboriginal Detective Andrew Kensington. The indigenous culture features prominently and provides an interesting glimpse in the past wrongs committed against the people, at times the narrative sounds a bit too preachy for my taste but nonetheless is quite informative.

The pacing started slowly, more a feeling of a travelogue at first but it moved to a brisk stroke mid-way the investigation while Harry must not only fight his own demons but also outwit a sadistic serial killer before he makes a mistake, a fatal error which will come to hunt him forever. Mr. Nesbo introduces an array of red-herrings, twists and violence, enough blood and thunder to have kept me turning pages although I admit wondering where the plot was leading. I needed to pay close attention for this moody and quite fragmented story that kept going back and forth between the murder investigation and Harry’s personal side and his past experiences. But everything is kept together by the many interesting characters and by their interactions. Harry has been well developed from the start, a realist that never forgets that his dark shadow is close by…..This is a great series not to miss. 

“The Bat” was awarded with the most prestigious crime writing award in Norway in 1997 as well as the premier crime writing award in Scandinavia in 1998.

"Crippen", by John Boyne

This is a slightly gothic and a very captivating historical fiction based on real-life events that happened over 100 years ago. It brings a fresh perspective while it recounts the life of the rather infamous and charismatic murderer Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen.

When I started the book I had no idea who Crippen was so my mind was not tainted by the actual facts, I was then able to enjoy this superb mystery in which the author has put his own spin on a heinous crime that took place in Camden, England in 1910. Dr. Crippen was not a real doctor although he never was reluctant in passing himself off as one in order to embellish is living style. His second marriage was to Cora, a vicious hag who made his life miserable and a nightmare. She abused him both verbally and physically and cheated on him on many occasions. He became the prime suspect in her death after her body was found hacked to death in the cellar of his home. No one would have the unassuming Doctor capable of murder. But yet, the doctor and his mistress Ethel LeNeve had disappeared from London and a full scale hunt for them had begun.

Mr. Boyne constructs his story meticulously his style is both easy to follow and very engaging. The story goes back and forth in time and while the focus switches between characters in many scenes I never felt at a lost.

Across the Channel in Antwerp, the S.S. Montrose has just set for Canada aboard slipping amongst the passengers are a Mr. Robinson, accompanied by his teenage son, Edmund. The pair was hoping for an escape from their past but they will need more than luck to survive the voyage unnoticed…..and this is just part of an exciting story…

Mr. Boyne is a wonderful story teller, just when you think you have everything figured out he throws a few twists your way and adroitly reels you in a different direction. This is a riveting read, an intricately plotted novel with a well-crafted narrative that teases you with bits of information and is populated with engaging and memorable characters. Mr. Boyne has found the recipe to please those with a thirst for dramatized true-crime stories and he does that admirably..

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Another Life", by John J. Gaynard

“Another Life” is a murder intrigue telling the story of a family returning to rural Ireland to find a better life. But it doesn't work that way, their dream soon is destroyed by the religiosity of the mother, by a son involved with a radical religious group and by the raging feud between the two brothers. The story takes place against the backdrop of the rural landscape of Erris in West Mayo, in the small towns of Bangor Erris, Ballina and Castlebar.

This overview was copied from bookadda.com:

“When Peter returns home to his farm house in Mayo he is surprised to see two policemen sitting at the front door. They accuse him of attacking his mother and brother and leaving them for dead. He visits them in Castlebar hospital, under police guard, and one of them dies. Peter is accused of the killing. He protests his innocence, but there is evidence that he cannot explain away. Peter has to defend not only himself from a charge of murder. He also has to protect the woman his brother deceived. Three people alternately accuse him and try to help him: Charlie Dempsey, a former IRA man who travels around Ireland to help former prisoners Sergeant Patrick O'Mahony, who is dealing with his own fall from grace, Father Patrick Keane, who cannot forgive the sins of the Catholic Church, three men who participate in the quest to find the killer. “

My thoughts:

This was a hard novel to rate, hovering between being very captivated in the intrigue and skimming over paragraphs during the long myriad of religious overtones and of the numerous sidebars that kept interrupting the flow. Leaving me with mixed feelings and wondering what could have been the real essence behind the words other than to highlight how zealous religious beliefs could destroy a person and affect family and community. On one hand I loved the way the author has creatively shaped the murder investigation by gradually inserting a variation of twists to derail us from guessing the outcome, IMO he did this expertly. Another high point is the memorable characterization, long after reading the story I still see Brian, Peter and the terrible mother. On the other hand too much focus was put on the effect of radical ideas and the repetitiveness became an annoyance thus I felt many times dropping the book. Although in retrospect this wasn't a bad book by any means, it surely will not make it to the top of my best read for this year..


Friday, August 2, 2013

"The Black Box", by Michael Connelly

Book 18, in the Harry Bosch series

After 18 novels over a 20 years span one would think Mr. Connelly would ran out of ideas for this series, but it seems this challenge is a no-brainer for a prolific author. “The Black Box” it is both a story of police procedural and one that continues the saga of the protagonist personal life. Harry has aged well through times, now in his 60s he has been working cold cases for years and has become a man sworn to speak for the dead.

This latest opens with a chilling portrait of the war zone that L.A.’s South Central neighborhood became during the riots in the spring of 1992. When the body of Anneke Jespersen, a Danish journalist, is found in an alley, shot to death, Harry investigates, but amid the turmoil the case is not solved.

Fast-forward to 2012, the 20th anniversary of the riots is coming up and there will be a great media attention to unsolved murders. Marty Maycock, the current chief of police assigns Harry to the daunting challenge of closing the Jespersen case.

Of course there are few pieces to go by and Harry never failing zeal and his strong sense of guilt for not having solved the case in the first place provides the spark to get him started. He retrieves the archived boxes of Anneke’s belongings and the investigative file. There's not much to go on, but some tantalizing leads develop before the nitwit lieutenant in charge of the cold-case unit tells him to drop it and work another case. It doesn't take long before the tenacious detective finds himself caught in a maelstrom of departmental politics and personal danger as he searches for the “black box” (piece of evidence, fact, etc.) But Harry never fails to amaze us and will eventually discover the truth…..

Mr. Connelly excelled as always in building added tension into virtually all of Harry’s decisions. He also pays attention to police procedural details while giving his protagonists lots of leeway. There are moments in the novel when the action goes into high gear and Harry transforms himself into a warrior, even in his 60s he still kick butts…all this for our enjoyment, of course I could not stop turning the pages to see what came next. The dialogue and narration are quite lively and fast moving exactly what we expect from the author. The result is a complex tapestry of plots, deftly crafted suspense and well-rounded characters.

Even after all this time Mr. Connelly still manages to keep me a loyal fan…

"The Wild Beasts of Wuhan", by Ian Hamilton

Book 3, in the Ava Lee Mystery

“The Wild Beasts of Wuhan” brings Ava, a forensic accountant and martial expert to the glamorous underworld of art forgery. This quick-witted, pure class and sexy Chinese Canadian sweetheart is savouring in the opening of this installment the good weather with her family on a Caribbean cruise near Curacao. When Uncle called in an urgent favour, Wong Changxing, one of the most powerful men in China, is livid after discovering his collection of Fauvist painting are forgeries. He has mandated them to get his money back.

With the help of her mentor, Ava traces the provenance of the meticulously forged paintings to Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Dublin, New York and London. She infiltrates prestigious auction houses and uncovers a massive web of corruption. As in the previous books, Ava and her client see things in a total different scope, this time she faces the meddling May Ling, Wong’s manipulative wife, who threatens to interfere in the investigation…

This is another great caper although not as exciting as the two previous. It has far less action and by far more hopping around: lot of plane flights, hotels stays, restaurants meals, and clothes shopping…etc. This aside, the plot is nevertheless, an entertaining dip into the worlds of artistic trickery and as Ava worked through all the clues, we have a tad of suspense for our entertainment. This time around, Ava never seems to be in great danger, no mucking about, no risking life and limb and no kick ass…..all missing incentives to make it a pulse racer. Having said this, I still was hooked from the start and simply zipped through it in no time. Mr. Hamilton has won my heart with this series and looking forward to any of Ava Lee’s escapades.

Friday, July 26, 2013

"The Book of Killowen", by Erin Hart

Book 4, in the Nora Gavin series

As in the previous installment “The Book of Killowen” is born from events and figures from Ireland’s rich past and mysterious present. The author’s vivid imagination has added to her historical mystery a tad of science and a wonderful murder caper to captivate us.

Nora Gavin, her protagonist is a forensic pathologist who has found a new life in Ireland with her lover, archaeologist Cormac Maguire. They are called to investigate murders rooted deep in Irish history, often involving ancient bodies found in bogs.

This story begins as each of the previous books did, with an archaeological discovery. The inspiration came from real life experience when in 2006 a heavy machinery operator digging in the bog in the County of Tipperary spotted a leather bound book. With this in mind Ms. Hart spun a fascinating tale.

Nora and Cormac are sent to Killowen to investigate a ninth century body found in the trunk of a car submerge in the bog. Pinned under him was the body of Benedict Kavanagh, the missing pop philosopher who is known to tear apart rivals on his television debates.

While on the case, Cormac and Nora lodge at a nearby artists’ colony, organic farm, and sanctuary for eccentric souls. … Working parallel with local detective Stella Cusack, they soon discover that the people there have a lot of secrets…

The story is told from a different point of view weaving the past and the present together in different chapters. It is a richly layered creation, an entertaining mix of forensic, archeology and history that teases with hints and slowly reveals its dark secrets. This story is character driven and there are a number of them to keep track of. The author has crafted a wonderful glimpse into the world of monasteries and ancient manuscripts and once again has provided a texture and multifaceted plot that held my attention from beginning to end. The author doesn't linger on background stories so I highly suggest starting with “The Haunted Ground”, the first installment, in order to fully comprehend and enjoy this series

Friday, July 19, 2013

"Bailin', by Linton Robinson

This is definitely a unique story with apparently lots of humour well I guess I have a lousy sense of it. I was not able to grasp the essence of the story, where it was leading to and simply thought it was due to poor writing (too much slang) and a lousy plot, well apparently I am totally out in the left field since many have expressed the opposite. This Bonny and Clyde à la 21st century was not able to tickle my fancy in the first few pages and upheld my full attention subsequently, although I did manage with great patience to read it to the last page hoping everything will gel eventually, it never did. In retrospect, this romantic western crime comedy was without any doubt not meant for me I should have read between lines and paid more attention to the synopsis before tackling it.

Let me be fair to the writer, he is after all a professional writer with a fertile imagination and great capability to simulate particular accents, those who can understand the nuance will most likely enjoy it. This book is a crime lite set in Texas and features lovebirds doing just fine shooting up South Texas and making hair-rising getaway and eventually getting over their head with real robbers and crooked politicians, mixed up with an embezzler nerd, a grizzled bounty hunter, wild bikers, etc. This is a caper like you never read before narrated in a southern drawl with plenty of local slang. It has unique twists along the way and cock-eyed romance to entertain. Some may find the writing to be rich and spunky and have amazing characterization unfortunately I fail to see this….. Well my lost.

"The Murder Exchange", by Simon Kernick

This thriller/mystery may be Simon Kernick’s second novel but far from the second one I have read through the years. I am just catching up with his repertoire. In fact, I have highly recommended his novels in the past and I have a sneaking impression I will do so for many more years, yes I admit being a huge fan….

“The Murder Exchange” is a gritty exploration of London’s underworld. The engaging plot is cleverly written, has a touch of humour to it and provides numerous twists to keep us tuned in and flipping pages. Told from the points of view of its two lead characters and in alternate chapters, this dual narrative delivers an interesting contrast and proves to be an excellent way of building the tension, albeit confusing at first. Mid-way through the book the action really kicks off and the reading gets exciting, though some twists seem rather far-fetched and some scenes have plenty of violence. Mr. Kernick’s books are known to be fast paced and for pulling the readers in a matter of a few chapters, this one is no exception. We have a wide scope of characters all intricate in their own way and surprising brief appearance from recurring ones (or maybe they appeared in later books).This novel is another excellent read hard to put down.

Monday, July 8, 2013

"The Aviator's Wife", by Melanie Benjamin

This fiction is the story of Anne Lindbergh the wife of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. In her notes, the author clearly writes that while the basic timeline is accurate, her motivation was to tell Anne’s entire story and make her the heroine. Some parts are the factual skeleton of the story although its mind and heart are the work of her vivid imagination.

The first person narrative captures remarkably Anne’s life: a deeply intelligent, courageous and resilient woman who was too often overshadowed by the dominant personality of her husband. While the story is of a marriage it is primarily the story of a pioneering aviatrix: the first American woman to earn a glider pilot’s license, a fearless navigator and one of the first licensed radio operators who became her famous husband co-pilot.

We have of course the familiar and tragic side that everyone knows. In details we see how along with her husband they were continually hounded by the press and needed to wear disguises in order to go out in public. How Anne grieved over the loss of her firstborn in private because her husband forbade her to do so in public. Never contradicting him and tried to justify his isolationist leanings prior to WW11 and build an entire life for herself and her children when Charles all but abandoned them in his increasing unrest after the conflict ended. She then learned to talk back and to tell her own story famously in “Gift from the Sea”. Anne also had a surprising adulterous affair in middle age, refused to be buried next to her husband, this national hero who had three secret families including seven additional children. Of course I am only mentioning a few of the events mentioned in the novel.

On one side, “The Aviator’s Wife” is a well-crafted historical fiction that vividly brings to life people and events from the past in a narrative that is highly emotional and very passionate. The author has produced an exquisite work of sympathy towards Anne in her long and difficult journey in life. This is a captivating tale of love and hate, admiration and resentment that also maintains interest and even suspense throughout. On the other side, Anne is a frustrating protagonist and a weak character, too much of a wet noodle but again this was another era where most women were expected to be submissive. The melancholy style in which the novel is written became annoying in the long run…way too mushy for my taste…..But having said this, it was a nice perspective of Anne Lindbergh and well worth reading.

"Hitler's Peace", by Philip Kerr

I am a huge fan of this author since my introduction to the Bernie Gunther series some time ago. I simply could not stay there waiting for the next installment so why not backtrack and “Hitler’s Peace” became my preferred choice.

This is briskly paced and a sharp standalone spy thriller set in 1943 when Hitler and his advisors see that they are losing the war and unconditional surrender is out of the question. Hitler and his advisers then work on a secret plan to manipulate the Allies to turn their backs on the Russian State.

With this as background, Willard Mayer, a former Princeton philosophy professor currently working as an intelligence analyst is given an unexpected assignment from the President of the U.S.A to examine the facts surrounding the Katyn Forest Massacre and to be part of his entourage to the Teheran Conference where the “Big Three” (Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill) would meet to strategize about the war.

Meanwhile general Schellenberg plans to kill the Allies leaders in order to save the Fatherland from further destruction and then begins the high stakes game of deals and double-dealing. The body count mounts, twists spins the tale and eventually every piece of the puzzle falls into place.

This is indeed an interesting concept and a great fiction based on facts, Mr. Kerr explains which one are true at the end of the book. The story is told in the first person narrative by the protagonist, Willard Mayer, a pretentious and somewhat bland character. The book is populated with overpowering historical figures that once on the stage could have overshadowed everything else. With excellent portrayal of them, Mr. Kerr did manage to make them appeared less stringent at times. Some side escapades were a fun read and brought a light touch to the suspense. Despite its flaws (a fiction is a fiction) this fast paced novel left me wanting more as I flipped the pages.

“Hitler’s Peace” is an interesting and entertaining novel I enjoyed quite a bit..

"The Hidden Light of Mexico City", by Carmen Amato

This is a wonderful fiction, a sort of Cinderella story in disguise. Through her words Ms. Amato rich narrative draws a picture of the Mexico’s society and how its Caste System has had an impact on every aspect of life. The story illustrates how this inequality has given strength to the drug cartels, fosters a culture of corruption and made people take risk to escape to the United States.

The main players are Luz de Maria Alba Mora, a poor house maid sometime artist, and Eduardo “Eddo” Cortez Castillo, a rich Mexico City attorney. Opposite as can be on the echelon of society, Maria and Eddo unexpected and vulnerable relationship can only be a liability for a high profile attorney. It soon comes to the forefront when Eddo investigates links between the Minister for Public Security and one of the most elusive drug cartel leaders and definitely not a good time to uncover a political double-cross fueled by drug money.

This story is a mixed of fairy tale romance between Maria and Eddo and high suspense when Eddo follows the money trail deep into the underworld of Mexico’s drug culture. We have many exciting chases and some violent scenes in alternate chapters but we also have many tender moments. This is definitely a character and dialogue driven thriller.

“The Hidden Light of Mexico City” is a quality novel written with passion, has a polish prose, a beautiful style, great characterization and above all an excellent and creative plot that sounds authentic. I must admit being hooked from the start and engaged till the very end. Well done Ms. Amato can’t wait to read the “Cliff-Diver”..