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, 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.