Happy Reading

Toni's bookshelf: read

The Godfather of Kathmandu (Sonchai Jitpleecheep, #4)
Ape House
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Operation Napoleon
Walking Dead
The Sentimentalists
The Heretic Queen
The Midnight House
Cross Fire
Peony in Love
Finding Nouf: A Novel
City of Veils: A Novel
First Daughter
A Place of Hiding
Peter Pan

Toni Osborne's favorite books »

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Lady Francesca's Legacy", by Stephen Wharfe

Mr. Wharfe’s first novel is a good hunk of a novel, approximately 445 pages long but in no means a taxing read. The saga is an interesting exploration of five interesting and intriguing women who lived in England during the turbulent years of the first half of the twentieth century.

The story features: Francesca Gonzales, Elizabeth Forbes (the Matriarch), Hannah (Francesca’s daughter), Olivia (Hannah’s daughter) and Siobhan O’Gara.

The story is written in the similar style to a Harlequin’s romance novel, it covers the background of each individual, their home life and their destiny. Along the way a must in these types of novels is romance, here, we do have a tad of it from time to time but do not expect lust or love to be at the forefront you will be rather disappointed. In a simple language, the story-line moves and intertwines the many backgrounds smoothly and keeps a slow and steady pace throughout. The author made it easy to follow the many characters by gradually introducing them and keeping them active throughout the saga. My preferred part was the last 100 pages or so when Olivia, the proverbial child from hell, becomes an asset during WW11 and joins the resistance in France. Although some additional proofreading and editing could have enhanced the presentation, the book is nevertheless a good start for the author, one that could only improve with time.

"The Girl Who Fell from the Sky", by Simon Mawer

Published in the U.S. under the title “Trapeze”

This novel is a fascinating blend of fact and fiction, the story of Marian Sutro, an ordinary young woman, who barely out of school did the most extraordinary things in 1943 for the war effort.

Recruited by the SOE (Special Operation Executive) at the age of 19, Marian finds herself undergoing commando training in the Scottish Highlands and ultimately, one autumn night parachuted from an RAF bomber into the South-West of France to join the Wordsmith resistance network and act as a courier for them.

This clever, cool-headed and bilingual young woman’s first mission is to make her way to Paris and take new radio crystals to Yvette, the underground radio operator she had met previously at the training center. At the same time she must navigate the treacherous streets of Paris, a city battened down and where the danger of discovery is extreme and seek out Clément Pelletier, a nuclear physicist and family friend, a man of vital importance to her superiors and persuade him to leave France for England.

This is a very engaging and a poetically written story, one that captures beautifully the mood of the time. It is first told from Marian’s perspective but once dropped into France and assumes the code name Alice and a life as a secret agent, the narratives now in Alice’s words switches from the past to the present tense and the story slowly unfolds into breathtaking intrigue. The tight prose keeps the plot moving at a steady pace till it suddenly and shockingly ends. I was so disappointed and wanting more…Oh well… maybe a sequel will answer my questions one day.

Some may say there is nothing original both with its plotting and characterization but it is nevertheless a gripping story that gives us an insight into bravery, treachery and terror.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"The Cut", by George Pelecanos

Book 1, in the Spero Lucas series

This book sets off a new series for George Pelecanos and my first experience with the author. It features Spero Lucas, a 29 year old veteran of the Iraq War, a tough guy on the outside and tender in the inside trying to make a living as a freelance private investigator, wanders the most dangerous blocks of Washington D.C., eats at its tastiest restaurant and drinks at all the local bars. He also does side jobs finding lost and stolen property that the official authorities wouldn't bother to look for or retrieve for the owners for the arbitrarily fee of 40%.

The story opens slowly and keeps that pace throughout the mystery. Lucas is hired by Tom Patersen, a criminal defense attorney he works for on regular bases, to look into the case of a couple of kids arrested for stealing a fancy car. Armed with a pen, a notebook, a smartphone and a gun without a serial number Lucas sets up to clear their names. He gets them off and subsequently gets into the good graces of the father of one, Anwan Hawkins, a noted drug dealer up on trafficking charges. Lucas agrees to also help him and find what has happened with a drug shipment gone bad. As Lucas chases down the stolen drugs and navigates through D.C. violent underbelly and inevitably gets tangle up in a world of thieves, gangsters, crooked cops and hit men.

The story is sparsely written and has top notch dialogue but the plot and the characters never thoroughly grab my total attention and failed to keep me fully captivated. Lucas doesn't seem real, he never do recon of crime scenes, spends his time biking, kayaking, working out, drinking, eating and is every women cat’s meow. The only action is when he starts fighting the bad guys and never is he in any short of danger. The story lack climatic effects expected in shootouts and by the time the last chapters come the twists become nonsensical and I lost interest and got extremely bored…..I was happy to see the end….this mystery was definitely not for me..

"The Nightmare", by Lars Kepler

Book 2, in the Detective Inspector Joona Linna series

This is another nail-biting mystery with chase after chase and tense situation that keeps coming at every pages or so. This second complex installment looks into two bizarre deaths, one being of Carl Palmcrona, the general director of the National inspectorate of Strategic Products overseeing military exports found hanged at his home and the other of Penelope Fernandez found dead on a drifting boat.

And voilà, Linna detective extraordinaire is on the scene and after one look he knows what happened. He delves into the cases and crosses paths with a professional killer and a sadistic businessman involved in a scheme with horrific international consequences. During the 500 pages we have countess red-herring and exceptionally nasty criminal behavior. The mystery weaves an intricate web of motives and manipulation as its action escalates into pulse-pounding rescue missions and reveals a trail of corruption linking the wealthiest and most connected families in Europe to vicious war crimes in Sudan.

I liked this clever piece of fiction even with some of the foul language and sexual references and its weird and long cast characters. I am looking forward to the sequel “The Fire Witness”.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"The Bishop's Man", by Linden MacIntyre

Book 2 in the Cape Breton trilogy

Synopsis is mainly taken from Wikipedia and expended with my own thoughts

The story follows the life of a Catholic priest named Duncan MacAskill. In the 1970s MacAskill convinced a rural Nova Scotia priest who impregnated his own housekeeper to quickly move to Toronto and avoided what could have been a significant local controversy. MacAskill was subsequently called upon numerous times by the Catholic Church to quietly resolve numerous potential controversies. By the 1990s, MacAskill was the dean of a Nova Scotia Catholic university. He is soon sent to oversee a remote Cape Breton parish were he would have a low profile, deal with a new impending public controversy, and come to terms with the consequences of his past cover-ups.

With the stream of stories about church sex abuse scandals around the world although a fiction it is more a story about contrition rather than redemption and has definitely the ring of truth to it. Mr. McIntyre award winning investigative reporter’s eyes brought forward the most disturbing crime in our society, the sexual abuse of children. The storyline takes also other themes such as the corruption and perversion of power, in this instance, the bishop and of the transgression in the Catholic Church and the hidden demons that can haunt the priests. Reading the narration feels like the priest (MacAskill) is actually talking to us. The whole story has a very sentimental tone to it and is peppered with Gaelic dialogue. It may drag a bit and the subject may not please everyone for its sensitive topic but once stated it is definitely a hard book to put down.

"Buffalo Jump", by Howard Shrier

Book 1 in the Jonah Geller series

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Toronto investigator Jonah Geller is at a low point in his life. A careless mistake on his last case left him with a bullet in his arm, a busted relationship and a spot in his boss's doghouse. Then he comes home to find notorious contract killer Dante Ryan in his apartment — not to kill him for butting into mob business, as Jonah fears, but to plead for Jonah's help.

Ryan has been ordered to wipe out an entire Toronto family, including a five-year-old boy. With a son of his own that age, Ryan can't bring himself to do it. He challenges Jonah to find out who ordered the hit. With help from his friend Jenn, Jonah investigates the boy's father — a pharmacist who seems to lead a good life — and soon finds himself ducking bullets and dodging blades from all directions. When the case takes Jonah and Ryan over the river to Buffalo, where good clean Canadian pills are worth their weight in gold, their unseen enemies move in for the kill.

My thoughts:

This book won the Arthur Ellis Award for excellence in crime fiction for best first novel in 2008 and is at the top of my list for being one of the best and original “private eye” mysteries I have read in a long time. Once past the few first chapters which were full of unnecessary explanatory baggage the pages roared on with plot twists and exciting suspense with lots of intrigue. The story-line has an interesting mix of noir, politics and humour. To add depth and richness to the narration the author has explored his protagonist Jewishness throughout the mystery and given him a strong and individual voice with a wry sense of humour. The players have great chemistry for an unlikely mitch- match pair and the secondary ones have their own personality that are equality well-developed. Now that Toronto has a new Jewish detective who is not a laid-back kind of sleuth we have come across in other crime fiction we will have a very captivating time with him in the subsequent installments.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Dinner At Deadman's", by C.J. West

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Lorado Martin has loved junk since his grandparents took him bottle digging in the backwoods of New England when he was a boy. The search for antiques and collectibles led him to a unique hobby: digging through the estates of the newly deceased, arranging the sale of goods for the heirs, and keeping the leftovers for himself. To make a living he builds and maintains housing for recovering addicts and along the way he's employed a number of his clients. The men wrestle with the siren call of drugs and teach Lorado about the difficult struggle to stay clean one day at a time. When these two worlds come together, Lorado learns that not every elderly person dies of natural causes and that some estates are sold to benefit a killer. His latest project hits close to home. A woman he's known since childhood haunts him from a fresh grave. Her grandson, an affable addict who has fallen off the wagon, stands to inherit a considerable sum whether he deserves it or not.

My thoughts:

I have been a fan of C.J. West since his first book “Sin and Vengeance”. His stories are intriguing, diverse in many ways and have some of the most interesting of characters. The opening scene in “Dinner at Deadman’s” depicts the main character, Lorado Martin, as a treasure collector organizing estate sales for a 30% cut and maintaining and renovating subsidized housing for recovering addicts where some are employed as daily workers. There are no shortage of action and mysterious happening from getting poisoned, vandalism, beaten up, mixed up with local punks and drug dealers. When he suspects Newb of murdering his grandmother for drug money the mystery takes several rabbit trails, keeps us guessing till gradually the clues are uncovered. In all, the novel is entertaining and is an enjoyable who-dun-it mystery.

"Poseidon's Arrow", by Clive Cussler

Book # 22 in the Dirk Pitt series

The plot detail is from Wikipedia, short and precise I couldn't have said it better, although I did take the time and liberty to complement it with my own thoughts.

“This book is about a secret prototype attack submarine the United States is developing and the efforts of a ruthless multimillionaire who wants to seize it by any means and sell it for a hefty profit. This millionaire antagonist also is bent on monopolizing most of the world’s rare earth mineral mining operations and sells these minerals for a huge profit. This novel has many subplots and is set in a variety setting throughout the world. These subplots involve many characters, as well.

This adventure takes the NUMA group on a wild trip and opens in the usual format with a prologue setting the stage this time in the Indian Ocean in October 1943. Then the setting shifts to the present day near a mining facility in the Majave Desert where we meet the villains and the succeeding chapters could only leave us breathless as the many characters drifts in and out of the story, each time with abysmal intensity.”

This thriller is an action packed tale of international intrigue, old fashion adventure, is very intense and hard to put down. Once again the father and son team bring their fictional duo and the NUMA team in a rip-roaring, globe-spanning adventure I enjoyed quite a bit.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

"The Lady of the Rivers", by Philippa Gregory

The Cousins’ War, book 3

Set during the House of Lancaster and times of the Wars of the Roses, this third novel if of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, a descended of the river goddess of Melusina and a notoriously beautiful woman who captured the eye of the Duke of Bedford, one of the most powerful men in England and became his bride at the age of 17. He has been one to encourage her occult skills and urge her to reveal his military fate.

The book opens in France in 1430 with Joan of Arc’s capture and her final moments burned at the stake, an event that Jacquetta was forced to witness. Her marriage to the Duke was short lived and when he died two years later Jacquetta could not denied her feelings for Richard Woodville , her later husband’s squire. Both reveal their love and soon marry without the approval of King Henry VI and pay a staggeringly substantial fine for this bold move. Their love resonates through the entire story and their passion and tenderness never erodes, each time Richard returns from a battle there is a new child waiting for him. Soon the drama of the Wars of the Roses with the conflicts between the Yorkists and Lancastrians put them in the middle of a world full of wars and shifting alliances where they need to stay safe and secure.

The novel ends with the Woodville’s beautiful widowed daughter catching the eye of King Edward IV, a vision Jacquetta once had.

Ms. Gregory writes entertaining and easy to read historical fiction, although she admits taking liberties to bring to life the forgotten women in the English history. Jacquetta is a refreshing heroine with her divining sighting and adds originality and mystic air to the story. As in her precious novels, Ms. Gregory portrays spirited women at odds with powerful men, she know how to inject drama with historical events, beautifully adds figures to her invented ones and expertly makes history come alive for our enjoyment.

"A Dubious Dream", by Gerald J. Kubicki

Book 3, in the Colton Banyon Mystery

This was my introduction to the author as well as to the series although I started with this installment I didn't felt cheated that I had missed the previous novels. This spin “à la Indiana Jones” is well done to stand on its own, a good fantasy travel through time and countries, integrating within its words historical figures and facts to pique our interest to the very last page.

Although the series is of Colton Banyon, he plays a minimal part here and disappeared in dream land right from the start. It opens when a whisper from Wolf, his ghost mentor, telling him to go to sleep while he narrates a very unusual story about a Black Diamond, a diamond that has been on earth for thousands of years with power to transfer good and evil energy to whomever possesses it.

Professor Adam Wesley soon takes center stage and as the story unfolds the professor discovers the history of the Black Diamond and for more than forty years tracks it and along his travels he meets a variety of historical people some very into the occult, superstition and sorcery, all of them eventually they all fall prey to the Black Diamond’s power.

The main story is captivating enough but frankly the first chapters were too weird for me, too much fantasy for my taste. Once the core of the story started and Adam Wesley came into the picture the narration became far more intriguing. Although still highly fictional it has just enough truth and history to make it interesting. The plotting gets very intense as we follow Wesley tracking down the Diamond over a span of many years while he faces figures that made history such as Rasputin, FDR, Himmler and many more. The novel is well written, very ambitious and allows us to connect to the characters through their development.

This novel is different to the genre I usual read but I must admit to have enjoyed it quite a lot.