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 »

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"The Keeper of Lost Causes", by Jussi Adler Olsen

Department Q book #1

It seems to be at top bestseller in Northern Europe your mysteries have to feature a deeply flawed detective as a protagonist and it works. Put into the mix one of the most intriguing story and you have a hit.

This first instalment is very character- driven and centers on a physically and emotionally damaged Copenhagen police homicide detective, Carl Morck who was once one of Copenhagen’s best till a bullet almost took his life and left his two colleagues not so lucky. He never forgave himself for not drawing his pistol ever since. He isn’t one to stick to the rules and soon finds himself “punished” and put to pasture in the basement to run the new formed department Q, a special unit investigating cold cases of missing persons long forgotten. With his one assistant Hafez el- Assad, political refugees from Syria, the duo makes a strangely detective pair. Their first case is a high profile one, the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a politician who vanished without a trace five years earlier. The preliminary investigation reveals elementary omissions from the original team and sloppy detective works and opens a ton of questions they want and need answers for…..

The aspect of their investigation is excellent, well-paced and few characters to keep track of which made it easier to place the pieces of the puzzle together as the plot moved on. Different chapters are devoted to Merete from the time before her abduction through her ordeal of being a captive. The story is highly captivating and I was hooked immediately and spellbound till the end. The characterization is dynamic and brilliant, painting the perfect odd couple (Carl and Assad) with all the funny moments that goes with it. A little humour served to create breathing room where the tension is too high, combine to it is a good portion of satire and self-irony and you have all the important components to set you characters into a most gripping of plot.

"To Defy the King", by Elizabeth Chadwick

Book 4 (5) in the William Marshal series

This is an excellently crafted historical fiction that span the years 1204-1218 and tells the story of Mahelt, the eldest daughter of William Marshall.

The novel begins with Mahelt’s betrothal to Hugh Bigod the Earl of Norfolk’s son, this union is expected to help cement the Marshal family’s influence and position and Mahelt accepts her role well aware of its importance. Their bond blossoms through the years at a time when King John’s relationship with his noblemen slowly worsen and the country descends into war and political turmoil. The Marshal and the Bigod find themselves on the opposite sides of the conflict. When her father is suspected by the king, her brothers become hostages and Mahelt’s life changes forever. To defy a king is to put themselves and their family in serious danger….

This is a wonderful and compelling story of a vibrant woman that lived in a tyrant’s world and is torn between her duty to her family and one due to her marriage. Ms. Chadwick has created another spirited and enjoyable character in Mahelt and a fascinating web of intrigues as we continue into the William Marshal saga. Roger and Ida Bigod played a good part in the background and a new generation of sons and daughters and a large cast of diverse characters joined in. The author excels in creating vivid and a well balanced blend of both action and emotional scenes and believable relationships between her characters. Ms. Chadwick knows how to keep the recurring characters fresh by giving them a different spin in life with each installment. She is an amazing writer who lets her readers travel back in time and paints them a living picture influenced by a dialogue and a narrative peppered with medieval words and natural cadence.

This story is so captivating it is very hard to put down.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Dream of a Spring Night", by I.J. Parker

The Hollow Reed trilogy volume 1

Ms. Parker creativity has sparked once more and has provided us with another exciting and very captivating historical fiction. This time a trilogy that tells the stories of human beings caught in the terrifying events that shook a nation. The first installment brings us to the closing year of the twelfth century Japan with Go-Shirakawa as its emperor. At the time there is growing unrest between factions forcing a minor vassal, Oba no Hiramato to sell his fourteen year old daughter Toshiko to the emperor in exchange for fervors. Toshiko submits to the will of her father but little did she know she will soon fall into the treacherous world of concubines vying for Do-Shirakawa’s attention.

At the same time, Yamara Sadahira works as a physician among the poor and is occasionally called to the palace to treat the imperial cooks. One day, he takes a wrong turn and ends up in the forbidden women’s quarters where he meets Toshiko and falls deeply in love with her…..and debuts a passionate tale of love……

Ms. Parker’s prose is rich and elegant. She excels in portraying emotional depth in her characterization and her tale vividly comes alive with passion and with tradition. Even if the action may seem to slow down at times there are surprising turns of events to captivate us while this wonderful adventure unfolds. Like any good trilogy we are left hanging and wanting for more, this one is no exception. I enjoy this new tale and looking forward to the second volume.

"The Hypnotist", by Lars Kepler

Book 1, in the Joona Linna series

This novel has a special and interesting story and start with a bang with the brutal murder a family stabbed to death in a Stockholm suburb. The only witness is the critically injured teenager son, Josef Ek who survived the attack and fortunately the older sister was not home at the time and escaped the carnage. The novel is quite intense showcasing graphic images on many occasions.

Dragged into solving this horrific crime is the protagonist, Joona Linna, a deeply damaged Detective who suffers from blinding headaches. Since the boy can barely be questioned in the normal way, Linna calls on Dr. Erik Maria Bark, the Hypnonist. Bark, is also a much damaged man terribly addicted to painkillers he simply eats them like candy. He had sworn to never use hypnosis after a tragic event of the past that is still haunting him. He is reluctantly pressured to hypnotize the boy to obtain details that would help solve the murders and protect his sister who may be running out of time. Don’t be surprised the situation soon spirals of control and we are thrown off by red herrings, many few missteps and definitely in the middle of pretty entertaining stuff.

Taking the genre to new heights, this thriller’s provocative theme explores in a very cinematic ways the influence of family bonds and delivers in each of its chapters a heart- stopping turn into a world where the minds is the deadliest of weapons. The plot is very exciting, the dialogue excellent and the characters outstanding. This quality crime fiction IMO is simply fantastic.

"The Footsteps of Domingo Rhodes", by Brandon Collier

As a self-published author Brandon Collier has a huge task to overcome and a lot of hats to wear without a well-oiled machine behind him. Kudos to him for trying, not only did he came up with an idea, he dared to fulfill his creative mind by writing, editing and promoting his novels as best he could, not an easy task.

“The Footsteps of Domingo Rhodes” tells the story of a journalist desperate for a scoop that will turn his life around. He finds that story in Mexico where he teams up with a local journalist and sources their information in Clive Wilson, a fearless gun smuggler on the run from both the law and the rebel group led by the notorious Lady Martinez. It doesn't take long before Domingo and Clive become the target and hunted by both groups.

The thriller starts on a high note and provides a ton of fast action while it takes its seedy characters on a journey through the world of weapon trafficking. There are many plot twists to add suspense and some down time to balance things out, but never does the story lingers and becomes boring. The author has built fascinating characters and is quite adept in giving them a believable dialogue.

On a low note, there were downsides to overlook in the PDF format such as the writing style with many awkward phrases, some sentence construction that did not flow smoothly and lots of redundancies. I was bugged with the many “typos” throughout the narrative and reading it was more like a manuscript ready for the first reading….. Help with editing would be a positive for Mr. Collier in the future. A little clean up and polishing will go a long way to earn a better rating.

Having said this, the novel is nonetheless quite entertaining.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"The Mexican Rose", by Alex St.Clair

House of Cartels Trilogy, book 1

This first installment depicts how easy one can be pulled into the blood soaked world of the Mexican drug cartels where the worlds of organized crimes collides with the politics on either side of the U.S. Mexican borders. Along the way we are taken on a spiritual journey of passion, adventure and romance.

Setting the stage is Rosa Rios Del Valle, a housewife, teacher and activist seeking her husband’s murderers. Vengeance soon takes over and with her drug addicted sister Mercedes, they criss-cross the Mexican landscape from Acapulco to the Mayan Riviera. In Tulum, Rosa seeks the aid and advice of Tamara Castro, a healer and psychic. Their quest leads them to Ponchis, a brash young under the wings of La Familia, the most prominent of the cartels. Rosa and Mercedes soon find themselves in the middle of the Cartels’ turf battles.

The storyline recreates a climate of fear, violence and murder with an abundance of action, sex and drugs. It is a captivating, educational and realistic way to peer into the Mexican cartels, a world better experienced in words than in life. The plot moves at a steady pace and is quite intense at times, although I did find some passages to be a tab repetitious and tedious to read. The characterization in down to earth and quite believable, to root for the main character, Rosa, and cheering for her as she takes revenge is so easy to do. The subject is thought provoking in its honesty and truthfulness and may not please everyone.

“American Beauty Destroyed”, the next instalment, is on my watch list. It promises to be in depth soul searching voyage for Rosa and I am looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz", by Denis Avey

A true Story of World War 11

What an intriguing title, can this be possible without being caught and why would someone want do this in the first place, this action has been questioned by many since the book’s publication. Whether you are on the side of sceptics or not this is one incredible story of courage and determination and an exceptional life well lived.

In the opening pages and a good portion of Denis Avey autobiography, is the vivid details of horrors he had witnessed as a young soldier fighting the Italians in the North Africa War Theater, little he knew at the time this experience would be a small sample of what was to come. In the sands of the Sahara, the battles were fearless and bloody and many never made it out alive.

He goes on in a very emotional note to tell us how he was captured by the Germans in Libya and the long road to E715A, a camp for Allied Prisoners of War adjacent to Monowitz. There, he claims he swapped places with a Jewish inmate of Auschwitz 111 on two occasions and save the life of Ernst Lobethal by smuggling and supplying him with cigarettes. This part is questioned by some Holocaust survivors and experts on the subject.

When the Russians army was closing in he took advantage of an escape opportunity during the evacuation organized by the prison authorities. Ernst was able to trade the cigarettes for new soles on his shoes, so vital for his survival during the “Death March”. On his way to safety, Mr. Avery goes on detailing the hardship he suffered before reaching an RAF evacuation point and finally making it back home to England.

He ends his incredible story telling us his life as a civilian was not particularly joyous, he could not rid himself of his wartime nightmares although he did extremely well in industry as an engineer and achieved a luxurious lifestyle. He always had on his mind Ernst and wanted to know what had become of him. He was in his 90’s when with the help of BBC Berlin correspondent Rob Broomby he was able to trace Ernst’s sister who revealed more about her brother than Mr. Avey could have imagined.

Some seventy years later, Mr. Avey was awarded the British Hero of the Holocaust Award at a reception given by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

This is extremely moving and such an amazing account.

"Calico Joe", by John Grisham

"Calico Joe" is a breezy little novel coming just under 200 pages , it is the first-person account of a fictionalized beaning of a Chicago Cubs prodigy by the name of Joe Castle, from Calico Rock , Ark. The story is narrated by Paul Tracey, son of Warren, the head-hunting power pitcher for the New York Mets who aimed a fast ball at the head Joe Calico and took him out of the game and ended his career.

In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder and the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen and quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey. One day when Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe. Paul was in the stands, rooting for both his idol and his dad. Then the fatal pitch came and their life changed for ever.

In vintage Grisham fashion the story picks up pace as the story unfolds and jumps ahead almost four decades. Joe Castle is barely a functional groundskeeper at a school back in Calico and Warren Tracey is dying of cancer at home in Florida. Paul who had abandoned baseball a long time ago decided to track down Castle for reconciliation between him and his dad.

This novel is worthy of our valuable time whether you are a baseball fan or not. It is a total contrast to Mr. Grisham typical novels that are full of twists and turns and tension, “Calico Joe” is simply a sweet and simple story with a moral and of a relationship between a father and son. The beginning of the book is a detailed account on how the game is played with all the rules and jargon. This is rather a sad plot with very moving elements of forgiveness and redemption and the main drive that kept me turning the pages. The narrative and setting are solid and shifts back and forth between 1973 and 2003, keeping track of the changing periods was challenging at times. Although the data is not accurate according to the author’s notes the recreation is nevertheless fun and does capture enough of the excitement for anyone, fan or not to enjoy.

Monday, April 8, 2013

"JFK: Endgame Dallas", by Allen Peppitt

This unique story brings one more spin to the greatest conspiracy generator of the 20th century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It is definitely a risky business mixing real people, places and events into a novel when the subject has been dissected multiple times and many of us are still alive to remember this terrible tragedy.

Synopsis is taken from the publisher’s site:

JFK: ENDGAME DALLAS: Is there a future in raking up the past? Time traveler, John Youngblood thinks so. That’s why he has come from the 22nd Century to the time of the assassination of JFK. Armed with previously unreleased files, he aims to right some historical wrongs.

Helping him are womanizing lawyer Rufus Jones, and feisty Darlene Andrews of the Dallas PD. For them, you could say it was "love at first fight." But when destiny takes a detour, they fall for each other as events unfold and they get dragged dangerously into the conspiracy.

My thoughts:

This novel is a fantasy and definitely quite original in many ways. To say I enjoyed this vividly imaginative tale would not be truthful nevertheless my curiosity pushed me to stick with it till the very last page. The story started a few weeks before the deadly November day with a time traveller parachuted 300 years back in time. This person dropped in Dallas as if he always lived there, befriended Rufus and Darlene immediately, even in a fantasy this scenario sounded totally improbable. From then on the story unravelled in a very choppy narrative switching back and forth to different cartoonish events, everything peppered with terrible humour (IMO). The clunky dialogue played an important role in the weird sample of romance between Rufus and Darlene or maybe I felt the author was trying too hard to sound Texan. I didn't like the characters, they were more caricatures than anything else and the known figures were in names only with no active roles to play. My thoughts may be harsh but this is the way I see it…..

"Mixed Blood", by Roger Smith

Book 1, in the Cape Town series

This fantastic story almost impossible to put down recounts how, why and what happened to Jack Burns, an American who relocated to Cape Town, South Africa with his family.

Blackmailed into participating in a bank heist that went terribly wrong in his home town of Milwaukee Jack realizes he needs to get out of town and go into hiding with his wife and son. At first everything seems to be going well, then one evening all hell breaks loose when Jack is forced to defend his home and family, his killer instincts kick in with his wife and son as witnesses.

From this point on Jack's life spirals out of control, this drastic act of self defense leaves him alone unable to go to the police because of his international fugitive status and targeted by street gangs who want revenge and a rogue cop who has his own agenda and is insanely corrupt. All this only scratches the surface of what life has in store for Jack and his family, there is no shortage of suspense and drama from one end to the other. There is little time to catch a breath between chapters. This fast paced action packed plot is a continual barrage of events that just keep on coming. This solid thriller is definitely plot driven and provides an intense sense of place and excellent characterization. It also has a witty side while it explores Paradise Park and Cape Town and brings everything to life through the twists and turns of the criminal world and the confusing racial identity.

Roger Smith has definitely earned a place on my TBR list.