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, December 27, 2014

"To Parts Unknown", by John Anthony Miller

This is a WW11 novel set in Singapore and Indonesia that tells the story about ordinary people who are compelled to do extraordinary things.

The story brings a British war correspondent George Adams to Singapore during January 1942. Shortly after his arrival there, he is caught in a near fatal air raid, while in the underground shelter he meets Thomas Montclair, a French spy and Lady Jane Carrington Smythe an English aristocrat and their meeting triggers a chain of events. Written in the first person this suspenseful novel takes its three main characters on a harrowing journey as they flee the Japanese while overcoming a multitude of obstacles including demons of their own. As the title suggests they are not quite sure of their destination…what to expect….and how to face the numerous challenges known and unknown…The prose reflects the horror and fear they faced…..

Although a fiction, the timeline and military events involving the fall of Singapore and Java and Sumatra are real but the story is based entirely on the author’s fertile imagination. This is a real page turner and very suspenseful as we follow the trio in a nightmare that has them evade a manhunt that spans the islands of the southwest pacific.

For war junky this may not be the perfect book but for suspense lovers it provides a plot that keeps a slow and steady pace, a kaleidoscope of death, dreams, nightmares and desire filled with conflict and passion. This is definitely a story with a mix of everything…The characterization is well drawn out, the players feel quite realistic and down to earth. I like the way the relationship between them evolves throughout the adventure and I especially loved the ending.

Great first book and hope this is a start of endless adventures…

My thanks to NetGalley, Smith Publicity and the publishers Taylor and Seale for the opportunity to read this book.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Leningrad, 1943", by Alexander Werth

Inside a City Under Siege

This book is a harrowing firsthand account by British correspondent who was the sole journalist allowed to be in city during the blockade. In his book the author goes to great length to document the city’s struggle while the inhabitants faced the savagery and the aggression by the Nazi forces where an estimate of one million people lost their lives mostly from starvation. This brief visit took place in 1943 and is a record of what he saw and heard from survivors.

I found this book fascination in many ways the four days he spent travelling across Leningrad each step he described was reliving history. Mr. Werth went in great details sometimes overloading us names of streets and buildings and comparing what he saw at the moment with his memories of the city he loved and lived in as a child before the revolution. While his visits were to different locations, all interviews shared the same experience: famine, continuous shelling and death. What come to light are the survival strategies that was adopted during the siege by the ordinary people such as workers, the heads of industries, the local authorities, and of course the soldiers. Although not enough, one positive effect the Russian winter froze Lake Ladoga and created a life-line over which caravans of trucks hauled a meager amount of food and supplies and also provided an evacuation route for thousands of the city’s weak and elderly.

This book is both informative and moving in many ways but the endless visits to schools, factories, camps and conversations with functionaries became redundant and taxing. It is evident the culture in Leningrad at the time was highly artistic, people still enjoyed books, theater, music and Mr. Werth doesn't shy away from describing plays and authors he enjoyed. There is a lot in this book actually I would say an overwhelming amount of information to absorb in too little time.

On this I say: Bravery and collective courage of the whole city deserves to be welcomed for eternity.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher I. B. Tauris for the opportunity to read this book.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"The Remedy for Love", by Bill Roorbach

Have you ever been stranded in a snow storm where the thermometer has dipped below the freezing point. It is so cold you hear the sound of gunshots but actually it is the sound trees make when their bark expands. To boot it is pitch black outside, your only shelter is a dilapidated shack in the middle of nowhere and you share it with a person who hasn't wash in weeks…. You will experience every bit of this and much more in this fiction.

Strange enough this is not a horror novel but a love story featuring two individuals, Eric and Danielle, not tailor –made to get along but rather to hate each other….well at least at first. Being thrown into a cabin with the Storm of the Century raging may bring surprising emotions. Both these characters are distinct, fascinating in many ways and never act as anticipated, there is always a spin to what they do. With no place to go Eric and Danielle’s narrative becomes quite intimate as they slowly reveal themselves to each other. The author’s share their story in a refreshing and unexpected ways and conveys their secrets through back story that fills the pages. I am certain Mr. Roorbach has experienced a winter storm: the description of the blizzard’s torment is artfully depicted. This tale weaves equal part survival adventure, romance and comedy into a colourful tapestry of nature scenes and this is where this story excels.

On the other hand, parts of it didn't quite feel believable and at times the meandering style was so repetitive and disjointed it was hard to keep focus. With this said the story has its merits in originality and reading it I felt strongly the urge to put wool socks on, a tuque, mitts, and parka and wrap myself in a cozy down duvet.

"The Lincoln Myth", by Steve Berry

Book #9 in the Cotton Malone Mystery

“The Lincoln Myth” talks about the Church of the Latter Day Saints and its involvement with the nation's history and who else but Cotton Malone to get involved and thwart the threat to the integrity of the United States.

Being a huge fan of Mr. Berry I expected a good deal of history being combined into a crisis. In this latest the plot has twists and turns carefully thought over. The action careens from Denmark to Austria to D.C. to Iowa and Utah and is interspersed with interludes from the Lincoln’s era. This is definitely more of a challenging intellectual thriller than the previous ones. One of the problems I had was to keep track of the speakers in order not to get lost and keep everything straight. After all I know little to nothing about Lincoln, the Mormons and the various conflicts such as the Civil War, the revolutionary War and Abraham Lincoln’s involvement. Of course here we have a wealth of real and fabricated history and it is especially difficult distinguishing where one ends and the other begins. We have thanks to this story a ringside view to the evolution of the Mormons and its growth into a worldwide religion.

At the heart of the novel is a plot coming from an extremist Mormon group to unhinge the United States. Malone risks life, liberty, and his greatest love in a race for the truth about Abraham Lincoln —- while the fate of the United States of America hangs in the balance. The pacing clipped along nicely with pleasant enough ebb and flow of action, story and historic aspects. Although it is hard to visualize that this powerful country was on the point of dissolving. This supposition was quite intriguing. Of course, the action finally builds to an overly neat resolution in the wilds of Utah and all is right.

Unlike the previous book, I was disappointed with this one. It rambles on and on and hashes the same story over and over again. I found the mystery very thin, contrived and anti-climactic. I slogged through many parts, contemplated abandoning it many times but still made it to the end…..not my preferred one and by far.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Washington Masquerade", by Warren Adler

Book 8, in the Fiona Fitzgerald Mystery Series

This is my first experience reading this author and my first book from this series. Although not always a good idea starting with the eight installment, there were no issues in doing so. I immediately felt at ease not knowing anything about the protagonist or her previous adventures. Since the author doesn't linger on the past and goes straight to his plot with no fuss, bells or whistles it is an easy story to get into and enjoy the hours spent reading this high class suspense mystery.

“Washington Masquerade” is a complex and interesting police procedural that takes the paranoia in Washington to a totally different level. The protagonist, Fiona Fitzgerald is the daughter of a senator and a Washington homicide detective. She is with her partner Izzy tasked to investigate the death of Adam Burns, a prominent Washington Post columnist and a strong presidential critic.

Adam Burns was wearing a disguise when he was pushed, jumped or fell in front of a subway train. Half the book is dedicated to figuring out why he disguised himself and by the time the investigators unravel the clues I had a really good idea what may have happened and who may have been behind his demise. I couldn't wait to see if I was right or wrong. Along the way we have law enforcement rivalries, the media sharks looking for a good take, the partisan and political interference and all the good stuff we may visualize happening in Washington. I like Fiona, she is an odd bird, a strong character used to get her own way and not very politically savvy. Both the main plot and sub-plot are quite interesting and the setting is none other than fascinating. Do not expect a fast moving deployment this story is as slow as snail, quite repetitive but nevertheless captivating from start to finish.

I enjoyed my first experience and I am looking forward to read more of Mr. Adler’s creativity.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"The Counterfeit Agent", by Alex Berenson

Book #8, in the John Wells series

This latest adventure re-assembles most of the author’s familiar cast of characters and sets them on a race against the clock. This series has taken John all over the world but this time the focus is on Turkey and Iran, where a nuclear plot may or may not be taking shape. The premise in “The Counterfeit Agent” is far from original although Mr. Berenson has given it quite a personal twist and along the way has provided us with a well-crafted thrill ride and a believable act of betrayal.

This novel’s arc takes John through a treacherous twisted world of spies. The author knows how to pace and provide a plausible plot and like the previous books his grasp of geopolitical realities and the murky politics is highly noticeable. We have all the machinations we can imagine coming from Langley and the self-serving professionals jockeying for advantage. John is getting older but still is a killing machine, which has endured torture, been wounded, was injected with poison and yet he manages to pull through to take another mission and save America from going to war. This story is action packed, mimics what we suspect is happening in the real world and is full of surprises. Although many issues are solved, the ending a cliff-hanger leaves us there to find out the resolution…so stay tuned.

Although this book is entertaining, I prefer my story not to leave doors wide open and force my hand to see the outcome. After a strong start and keeping a steady pace the unfinished ending was such a disappointment that I can say this latest was not my preferred adventure and this by far...maybe rehashing the same old theme is getting stale and I need to break free from this in order to enjoy Mr. Berenson again in the future…..

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"The Invention of Wings", by Sue Monk Kidd

This fiction is inspired by actual historical figures and is the extraordinary story of struggles for freedom. Set in South Carolina in the early 19th century this powerful novel tells the story of four women from Charleston, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, two sisters from a prosperous white family and Hetty and Charlotte, a black mother and daughter who are the house slaves. They all share the ardent desire to break free but for different reasons.

Drawn from the Grimké sisters’ real-life as abolitionists and feminist this moving and gripping story of urban slavery is a rich depiction of the lives of free women imprisoned by the lack of rights. Hetty Handful and her mother Charlotte are fictional persona and compelling characters representing trapped individuals in a household where cruel punishments and abuse are frequent.

The plot unfolds in alternate chapters and weaves the voices of two verbally narrators: Sarah Grimké, and Hetty Handful. The language is exhilarating and emotionally entwines early on. Hetty’s voice is colloquial with occasional dips into nonstandard grammar while Sarah’s voice is by far less colourful but still holds a punch. Through their eyes we are shown a long and painful voyage…

This thought-provoking story not only depicts the brutality of slavery in vivid and meticulous detail but also openly displays the greed of men and the will of women clamped shut by law, society and religion….

This is a riveting page-turner from book end to book end. In the last chapter the author’s separates facts from fiction and explains why she distorted and enhanced portions in order to make this a more enjoyable read.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"A Dubious Position", by Gerald J Kubicki and Kristopher Kubicki

Book 7, in the Colton Banyon Mystery

This is a series easily read in no particular order and after three books I can assure they are an interesting and captivating read from start to finish. On one hand, “A Dubious Position” has kept the series’ mystical tone while on the other hand has distracted us with original ideas and providing a suspenseful and fast moving plot populated with a mix of mysterious and appealing main characters. This latest definitely has a strong blend of old-time male fantasy and a lot of sexual innuendo

Once more, Colton has to face one crisis after another that needs to be solved and with the help of his usual team and of course Wolf the ever present spirit to guide his every move and make everything go smooth and be successful. The adventure takes place on both sides of the US/Mexican borders.

In this story Colton works for the President as a contractor for a prestigious law firm who employs the strangest of characters: nuns, priests, illusionists, porn star, and a young athletic woman. They are there to assist Colton on covert operation sanctioned by the President. Their mission is to prevent Nazi operatives intermingling in the Mexican and the Unites States affairs. These characters spoiled the pot for me. They are a bunch of starved sex individuals acting like idiots, totally unprofessional and very annoying. This aside, I like the steady pacing, the short chapters straight to the point narration, and how the author has weaved into his plot a humorous side with the more serious situations.

Although I found parts unappealing, at the heart, “A Dubious Position” is quite exciting and is one I enjoyed nevertheless.

"Dark Digital Sky", by Carac Allison

Book 1, in the Dark Pantheon Series

This series is contemporary pulp with a tech undertone, quite geek noir and somewhat of a thriller. The story is quite innovative, a bit twisted and intense at times one that explores the threats of the digital world. The characters are definitely pure fiction. Its main character is hard to like, a bipolar, manic-depressive, a man controlled by drugs and drinks and one that lies to get to the truth.

The main story starts simple. A Hollywood over-wealthy personality contacts Chalk, an ex-FBI agent currently a PI who is very successful in his private business work. His request is to find his 3 sons that he’d fathered through a sperm bank many years ago. He is dying and wants to meet his sons before it is too late. Eventually the story moves on and the three young men are recruited in a conspiracy that includes crashing drones on US soil.

Mixing into the main plot at different stage of development is a plethora of distracting subjects: a story around a Japanese sword, lots of geek techno talk, movie buff talk, dog fighting sidebar, world of wrestling sidebar and a lot of other gibberish.

I had issues with this novel from the start. The story is rather disjointed and the style is too clunky for my taste, lots of 2-3 words sequential sentences starting with pronouns such as “he” and “it”, I found this annoying and distracting. We have chapters jumping from one place to the other and at one point I lost track and interest. There were too many irrelevant characters introduced throughout, each with their own story to confuse the whole thing even further. This first book is a real Smorgasbord of ideas none really developed. I didn't like this book not to say it is a bad one it was simply not my cup of tea. I prefer my mysteries or thrillers to be more focused…..

On the other hand the author’s knowledge in computer science and in the artistic world is highly noticeable and may be a joy for some readers. Not being that much interested in either I skipped most of those numerous paragraphs to try kept up with the main theme which is quite captivating nevertheless….

By the end, the door is left wide open for a sequel and I reiterate some of the thoughts I share with other reviewers: leave the buffet aside and consecrate skills and wits to one recipe….

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Martini Regrets", by Phyllis Smallman

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Book 6, in the Sherri Travis Mystery Series

I love this whodunit series it is so fun to read and a great escapism. Things do not always work out for Sherri and it is a thrill to see what twists and turns fate has in store for her. She is one woman who seems to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

This tingling misadventure takes Sherri along the Alligator Alley, smack in the middle of the Everglades stuck at a gas station after her truck was carjacked and all this at midnight. Alone and scare she fears for her life when she stumbles across the body of a man….then the story transports us from the gritty crime scene to orchid ball in Sarasota to finally wrap up on a remote island in the gulf of Mexico.

It is enjoyable when a series has a continuing storylines with the characters and manages to stay fresh with the next adventure. Ms. Smallman takes her ideas from real time events that made news headlines and whips an exciting plot with eccentric characters to entertain us. The plot is certainly original and centers mainly on the murder and a missing black orchid. This latest page turner sends our amateur sleuth in a mess where obsessive collectors have one agenda…..

“Martini Regrets”, is an easy and fast read very hard to put down. It has the same beat as the previous installments so if you enjoyed them you will also enjoy this one.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", by John Boyne

This is an unforgettable and a small wonder of a book. A Holocaust drama that explores the horror of WW11 seen through the eyes of Bruno, the eight year old son of the commandant at a concentration camp called “Out With” and of a Jewish inmate of the same age called Shmuel.

The strength is in the narrative which mires the preoccupations of child’s curiosity and interest in the high-wired compound inhabited by sad people in striped pyjamas. It is an effortless read that puts us directly into Bruno’s and Shmuel’s worldview.

Bruno is an explorer by heart and after doing so around the house he decides to do some of the area. After an hour or so he discovers Shmuel, a boy behind the fence in the camp. They start to talk about their life and every day they meet at the same spot. Till one day, Shmuel’s father goes missing and Bruno wants to help his friend find him. He changes into the striped pyjamas, climbs under the fence and explores Shmuel’s world……

This fabrication of the author’s imagination is elegantly written and very moving. Although not particularly graphic or dark it will nevertheless leave a deep impact in any reader’s minds. Mr. Boyne is a master in depicting the setting and capturing the character’s emotions. The style is meant for the eyes of Young people therefore it may seem a bit simplistic for grown-ups, so with this in mind be prepare to read a sanitised version of the period, one with little historical significance and enjoy it for what it is.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

"The Orenda", by Joseph Boyden

“The Orenda” is a fictionalized account that takes place in central Ontario around the mid 1600’s and covers the last years of the Huron Confederacy after they have formed a trade relationship with the French and before their dispersal by the Iroquois.

The story is told from three perspectives and this multi-narrative technique works especially well re-telling the same episode from each point of view. In no particular order, the narrators are: Christophe, a francophone Jesuit missionary: Snow Falls, an Iroquois teen kidnapped by the Huron and Bird, a warrior mourning the death of his family. In a haunting manner,Mr. Boyden expertly evokes and mirrors the cycle of destruction. The novel is punctuated by acts of cruelty, savagery, torture and climaxes in a bloody battle, definitely not a story for the squeamish. It is written with unflinching honesty to convey the complexity of the colonial experience and chronicles the mounting rivalry between the Nations, the process of colonization, fur trade, the effect of Christianity, deaths by small pox and other diseases, and the competition between the French and English settlers. A lot of attention was given to detail and I really wonder if the Haudenosaunee and Wendat Nations are truly represented? Or is this simply a well-written, highly imaginative, and pleasant reading material to trump the uncomfortable examination of colonization.

Having said this, “The Orenda” is nevertheless a wonderful tale of spiritual conflict and a real page turner.

"Refuge", by N.G. Osborne

Book 1, in the Refuge Trilogy

“Refuge” is a touching, timeless and unforgettable love story set in the mystical and seething city of Peshawar, Pakistan. This story was inspired from experiences working as a young aid worker teaching school in an Afghan refugee camp and the author’s words truly shines throughout this wonderful book. Although a fiction this novel seems quite real.

This brilliantly romantic drama showcases a world where the right to love is lethal and freedom for women is non-existent. The author’s superbly evokes the atmosphere and intrigues of a city where everyone has their own agenda. This story is more than entertainment, reading between the lines I couldn't help but to reflect on what is important in life. How different conservative Islamic world is to ours. This world is such a dangerous place where nearly every man carries guns, where a war rages nearby and where nearly every woman hides behind burqas. If we think women have a hard time you be surprised to read men have an even worse one. 

“Refuge” is the perfect title. In the story the main character Charlie provides a refuge for the Khan family, a place in his home where they can feel safe. That is where Charlie and Noor Khan share their emotions and be honest with each other. So this classic love story takes us on a perilous journey through Pakistan and Afghanistan…..

“Refuge” has a riveting and well-developed scenario. Its pacing is brisk, full of nerve racking action and populated with wonderful multidimensional characters. If you can surmount the idea that this novel is riddle with old clichés and being hung dry at the end (cheap ploy) you should enjoy this page turner. I am looking forward to“ Resilience” its sequel.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"The Dragon Head of Hong Kong", by Ian Hamilton

Book 0.5, the Ava Lee prequel

The same as every other book in the Ava Lee Series this novella also has a life of its own. The storyline answers the question every fans of this series may have been asking: How Ava and Uncle first connected and answers our curiosity concerning Ava’s early life. 

Although this is the shortest of all the books so far, the length does not diminish the strength of the story. The plot is what drives the story and its simplicity shines through its characters. In this story, Ava right out of school has opened her own private firm when one client who has been swindled needs her help. That brings her to Hong Kong, is plunges into a dangerous game and meets Uncle, the man that will for ever be her saviour.

This is a fast read, with simple language and one totally captivating. This series is fun and I highly recommend it for those who enjoy mysteries out of the ordinary featuring a 115 lbs Chinese-Canadian kick-ass forensic accountant with ties to an elderly Hong Kong man who may be close to the Triads.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"The Sound of Things Falling", by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

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This is a gripping novel, very absorbing from start to finish. This is a page turner that describes Bogota and the Colombian life in a well-constructed plot that neatly and carefully meshed the country’s violent past with present elements. This beautifully written story explores the aftermath of the toxic effects of the drugs trade.

“The Sound of Things Falling” is the story of Antonio, a young professor in Bogota, who loves to unwind playing billiard at the end of his day’s work. There he befriends Laverde, an older man recently released from prison. One day standing on the street the two gets shot, Laverde is killed and Antonio severely wounded. From there on, the story focusses in the bewilderment and fear of a society corrupted who has been taken over by force. This story takes us on a powerful visual journey through lush mountain landscapes and the bustle of city streets. There are lot of emotions but does not become heavy-handed. The style is fluid, the pacing is steady, and the descriptive passages are stunning and very intense. The characters are well-rounded and their memories resonate across this powerful and profound story. I love this book everything shines: the characters, the scenes, the dialogue, the details and the gritty reality that has its own persuasive magic.

This book is totally captivating and one I enjoyed immensely

"Wonder",by Dominique Fortier

This is a three part novel that brings to life a cast of characters both historical and fictional and opens with a much too formal and opulent narrative to have piqued my fancy but this doesn't remove the interesting points it may have tried to convey.

The first part “Monster and Marvels” is based on the true story of Baptiste Cyparis, an Afro-Caribbean man who was recruited by the Barnum & Bailey Circus after he survived the apocalyptic eruption of Martinique’s Mt. Pelée in 1902. At first this captivated me but it unfortunately petered out in no time and I “wondered” what went wrong and how come it left me so flat.

Then we suddenly move to the second part, “Harmony of the Spheres. In a style effortlessly precise and rather poetic we fall into a kind of puzzle hard to understand. Its characters Edward and Garance, are an eccentric couple both gifted and very strange. Edward, a mathematician, has a compulsion for numbers and it was quite a challenge to attempt understanding where this story was leading. In fact I never did and again I “wondered” why.

And finally everything seems or wants to come together in “Love and Waves”. Set in my hometown of Montreal this last part is the encounter between a young woman and a man whose quiet courtship is based on routine and solace. Unfortunately by then I had lost all interest and my patience was at its end. As I reached the last words, I no longer “wondered” why these stories couldn't take hold of me…… and finally I could move on.

This novel is a real concoction and a very unsatisfying one. The story is convoluted, wholly unaffecting, populated with lazy and boring characters. Whether I wasn't in the mood or simply couldn't grasp the essence, this novel simply never managed to hold my interest. It was hard to connect the dots and make sense of the whole thing. Was this book too original or maybe the style too flowery? If you like verbose description this novel may be right up your alley, it definitely was not mine. Did things get lost in translation, I doubt it…..

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"The Goldfinch", by Donna Tartt

This is most difficult to be concise when a book is almost 800 pages long and to boot is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction but I will do my best to be short and sweet. “The Goldfinch is a sweeping odyssey of loss and obsession where people do strange things in the aftermath of tragedies.

The author’s engineered plot opens with a catastrophe, an explosion at New York’s Metropolitan Museum where 13 year old Theo Decker and his mother where enjoying the exhibition of the Dutch Golden Age, mostly admiring Carel Fabritius exquisite tiny oil painting of a goldfinch. His mother is killed but Theo is spare although disoriented and feeling claustrophobic he manages to comfort an old man who entrusts him with two objects: one is a signet ring and the second is the canvas of Fabritius “The Goldfinch”.

With a sustained and sprawling narrative Ms. Tartt expands her drama with her main character tormented by the memories. Down the years as he grows up Theo clings strangely to the captivating painting and glides in strange places that will make him travel from New York to Las Vegas and Amsterdam and ultimately bring him into the criminal underworld.

It takes a steady patience to read this book, there are so many details to get lost in, it was rather frustrating at times: Ex. long scenes of furniture restoration although what save it for me was the art-heist action with shootout, fancy cars, the Slavic gangsters and all that good stuff a plot driving full of energy brings. The novel connects with the heart as well as the mind and it reads with a mixture of terror, excitement and expectation. It is slow to build but is eloquent and assured. It combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language and breathtaking suspense.

Only a skilled master could compose such an absorbing old fashioned story. It is of no surprise this machination of fate was a winner.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"Not Dead Enough", by Peter James

Book 3, in Detective Superintendent Roy Grace Series

This is a perfect holiday read and certainly a pager-turner. Although early on into the mystery it is quite easy for any experienced crime fiction reader to pin point the few flaws and to figure out what is going on from the get-go. With this said we still have a plot above the run of the mill standard, one that offers plenty of thrills and spills, intense police procedural, colourful local details, sympathetic main characters, a memorable sidekick, an assortment of creepy miscreants, and the obligatory love interest. 

This densely woven tale raised Mr. James’ game in terms of style and pacing with three murders to solve, one suspect and absolutely no leads. Once started this drama is an all-nighter… be warned …this is a long novel taking its time before it fairly rocketed along but I assure it doesn't take many pages before being pulled into a complex plot that draws its strands from all parts of Brighton society. 

It begins with the murder of Katie Bishop. The prime suspect is her husband Brian, but Brian has a solid alibi. When shortly after Sophie Harrington, Brian’s love interest is killed. Brian’s every move is under the magnifying glass. The chase for the truth is on and makes for one very exciting and captivating read…it doesn't stop there another body is found….and many more twists comes our way…Roy is sure by now that Brian is the murderer…..but of course why stop there Mr. James knows how to dramatize every step and he does that with expertise. We have a side bar that brings Roy looking for his missing wife in Munich and of course this to the chagrin of the delectable Cleo, Roy’s love interest…..a bit of piquant is in order here…. 

“Not Dead Enough” is very captivating from start to finish. I would recommend following this series in sequence to understand better the progression in the main characters’ lives. I loved this one and I will be looking forward to its sequel.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"The Madmen of Benghazi ", by Gérard de Villiers

This is a fast read, short in content, fast moving and full of explicit sex. Mr. de Villiers who died 2013 is a prolific French author with hundreds of spy novels under his belt “The Madmen of Benghazi” is the first English novel available in Canada although his books have been around in French for a long time. It introduces Austrian nobleman and freelance CIA Malko Linge as the protagonist and he is the one who commands every move in this particular story.

Set in Egypt and Libya in the aftermath of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s death the story centers on the fight between Islamic groups and the CIA. Written in a low potboiler style, this thriller is a bouillabaisse of intrigue, current events, humour and old clichés. The plot is pulp-thin and is littered with unresolved episodes although it did lead to a poignant ending. The description of Cairo and Benghazi exceeds expectation and is what holds this story together. I liked Malko’s character, he is cold blooded and views people as pawns, an excellent choice for an operative but as for the rest of the cast they are only sketchily developed.

With all its flaws this thriller was good entertainment and a fair read that captured details of the espionage world and the gritty political affairs.

"Search and Rescue", by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

This is a Rapid Reads, a 100 pages mystery and an excellent book for those just looking for a fast read. This is the first novel in a series featuring journalist and sleuth Claire Abbott.
This book is definitely not taxing, a good story with not fuss and lots of suspense. We follow Claire on a snowy chase up a mountainside looking for a young woman gone missing on a nature trail.

The mystery has an engaging story line with good characterization and is nicely written in a simple prose. Although way too short for an avid reader it is nevertheless a captivating read to be enjoyed

Monday, September 29, 2014

"By Its Cover", by Donna Leon

Book 23, in the Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

Ms. Donna’s latest inspiration comes from the recent real-life thefts from the Girolamini Library in Naples and has finely offered us a tale that includes theft, blackmail, violence and murder. A rare book thief is the target in this latest installment.

This is a thoughtful and leisurely read that emphasizes on the way of life of Venice as much as on the crime, although as a fan since book 1 it is of no surprise to have anticipated this would be the case. Ms. Leon has followed the same formula for years now.

This old fashion detective is well aware of the corruption and class divides in his society and regardless of pressure coming from all corners he will find the truth. As in her previous stories the sense of place is exceptionally strong but lack a little on the investigating techniques. Brunetti meanders around Venice a lot and loves to describe what he sees and eats. In addition to the usual cast of characters in Brunetti's professional and private life, there are staff members at the library, a shadowy ex-priest who has been using the library as a refuge and reading room, and other temporary and permanent citizens of Venice. The book is just the right length to carry the story but short enough not to be taxing our endurance although it does leave loose ends and finishes too abruptly for my taste. The narrative is lively and is sharply written in a serene tone, the style is more intellectual and literary than some of the previous installments, and this is one improvement I appreciated the most.

“By its Cover”, is the standard Leon’s with these exceptions: less family interaction and description of food. This is a good and fast read.

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Empress of the Night", by Eva Stachniak

A novel of Catherine the Great book 2

Based on Catherine’s memoirs, this second novel seems more of a literary novel than anything else. Its approach is quite daunting and has less of a straightforward narrative than “The Winter Palace” had. Told through a series of vignettes that shift back and forth in time the princess on her death bed recalls and reflects on the key episodes of her reign. This complex and psychologically intense novel of a woman in charge of her destiny should have been a very captivating read….but

The pussyfoot narrative left me baffled on too many occasions to have keep my attention at bay and I had a hard time focusing on what should have been an intimately captures of history’s most fascinating monarch. The flashbacks lacked coherence. The narrative was very choppy on many occasions and the prose did not flow well throughout. The whole book was a mishmash of frivolous events and Catherine’s boring love affairs. I was expecting to read the greatest challenges Catherine had to face and how she positioned herself. What we have is Catherine’s long stream of incomprehensible babbles for too many pages…..

This said ¾ into the book I abandoned it……

"The Third Son", by Julie Wu

This novel is the debut novel for Ms. Wu, a vision she had years ago of a little boy in Taiwan. After years pushing words around it finally was published. Her best source was her father’s vivid memories of his unhappy childhood. He became Saburo Tong, the third son in this beautifully written fiction.

The family saga begins in 1943 when the Americans bombed Japanese occupied Taiwan and effortlessly we slip into Saburo’s world, an emotional journey, where he is cruelly made the scapegoat of his family. With great authority Ms. Wu depicts the tumultuous and violent period of Taiwanese history when one autocracy replaces another. The riveting blend of lives governed by family tradition and culture and the determination of boy to free himself makes one of the most beautifully written story I have read in a very long time. The story has two parts: the first takes place from 1943-1957 in Taiwan and part two is the adult part: takes place from 1957-1962 with Saburo in the USA.

The tone of the novel isn't melancholy but optimistic and gay. Not only the plot is well developed we have a compelling themes of sibling rivalry and romance. In addition the characters are well- defined and believable and it easy to cheer for Saburo, dislike his family, and admire his virtuous girlfriend. I love books written in the first person, it is deeply effective.

This book is a page-turner, a rich and luxurious read I enjoyed immensely.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Prayer", by Philip Kerr

Mr. Kerr’s latest is a creepy and baffling standalone, a kind of mishmash of horror and mystery. Reading this fright-filled meditation on faith was similar to watching a supernatural scare show. The central theme is religion and faith. It is of no surprise some reviewers highly praised this thriller and others simply found the premise to be unbelievable, rather uncomfortable and genuinely disturbing.

The backdrop is the metropolis of Houston and in the town Galveston shortly after Hurricane Ike. To make things spooky Galveston is a ghost town and the action take place in a mansion owned by a priest (Amityville). The melodrama begins beautifully with an exciting police procedural and gradually morphs into a modern Gothic horror show with boogie, devils and all the works. The sharp turn towards the supernatural takes place towards the end of the novel and gives us a genuinely scary atmosphere. We have excellent scenes where the Angels of Death shows up and some scary chases. In whole, I found the plot to be slow moving and offered a medley of events that seemed to go nowhere. This is one of those novels with big ideas about religion and showcases it evil. This is quite a moody and though provoking addition to Mr. Kerr’s library. The narrator is the main character, FBI agent Gil Martins, an atheist who struggles not only with his faith but also with his marriage. The characterization and dialogue are standard versions, nothing spectacular.

In a nut shell:

When Gil’s friend, the worldly Bishop Eamon Coogan, asks him to look into the curious deaths of some prominent atheists, Gil suspects that they are being murdered by members of a fundamentalist mega-church and he is soon drawn into a mystery that defies both faith and logic….

My last words:

I was captivated by this psychological thriller for most of the book but dreadfully disappointed in the denouement.

"The Assassin", by Jay Deb

This is Jay Deb second thriller “Contrived” being the first. I received this book some time ago and luckily I had put it aside to read some others I had in backlog. This was a good move. Apparently, the first edition was riddled with errors and needless to say annoyed more than one reader. A later revision was issued to correct what reviewers had noticed and this is the version I read and I hardly noticed any of the slipping mistakes, if any at all.

With this cleared up. “The Assassin” is a real page turner and I am impressed how this author has grown since his first attempt. The style is still a bit chaotic and the dialogue too sophomoric and needs to mature subsequently. Not knowing anything about the CIA’s world I was easily drawn into the fast paced and gripping suspense and there is a lot of it. The characterization is varied and we have a very riveting lead man. The plot is good but is the run of the mill storyline with many gaps for us to fill and few flowery details to trip over.

Overall this novel is entertaining and is a thrill for anyone who enjoys fictionalized stories around of CIA and its operatives those hunting terrorists planning attacks in order to kill as many US citizens as possible.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Edyl-Island of Immortality", by Mark Capell

Book 2, in the Edyl series

This futuristic tale leads us on into a very spooky maze were we find a scientific discovery to be in the hands of totalitarian mind-reading government. Every year WOCO (the world government) nominates people to compete in the Edyl Olympiad, the prize is immortality and the right to live in the world’s most beautiful place…..

Freaky and entirely original I admit to this, but did I like it, my verdict is: not really, not to say this is not a good read, for some it will be for me this whole drama was way too far- fetched and I never managed to get hooked enough to enjoy this concoction. R77K is a though reader who delves into the minds of a rock singer, an athlete and a mechanic and reports his findings to his handler. The whole story is a sort of mind tug of war between the players and is the meat of this sci-fi. To appraise the selected candidates, determined their fate is all about control…. What is anticipated on Edyl is of course not found (very predictable outcome)…...and is the start of many problems and mysterious happenings…

Some more of my likes and dislikes all mixed:

As in his previous novels, Mr. Capell style is smooth and flows beautifully to the end. We also have a diverse and a fun set of characters facing powerful forces. This story is entertaining in many ways but IMO it missed the appeal a good psychological suspense/sci-fi brings. There are no twists that I care to remember but sci-fi is what it is…..highly imaginative totally ridicule and freaky to no end. What else can I say?

This one was definitely not my cup of tea…..but it may be yours…..

"Diablo Nights", by Carmen Amato

Book #3 in the Emilia Cruz Mysteries

I am totally hooked and I have been looking forward for more ever since I read “Cliff Diver”, the first book in this captivating series. Not only is the 3rd installment an excellent addition to any library it is most of all a great companion to enjoy for many hours.

Ms. Amato fluid style of writing is so visual and realistic it is hard not to be mesmerized by Emilia Cruz, Acapulco first female detective, while she overcomes challenges after challenges in a world filled with threats, one deep into Cartel violence, corrupt cops and gang war. To bring the readers to speed we have tit-bits in Emilia’s past involvement and enough information on each character to feel at ease and enjoy the drama. There is no time wasted, right from the opening page we are plunged into intrigue and endless action. With sharp and witty dialogue the author brings to live police-procedural and Acapulco crime scenes. To lighten up things humour and romance are masterfully weaves into the mystery. What shines the most is the characterization. Emilia is a kick-ass, no non-sense individual who is deeply religious and very close to her family. She is often tormented by the horrors she comes across doing her job. There are a few secondary players but the best are Kurt, a gringo whose steamy relationship with Emelia is a treat to follow, the love-hate one with Franco Silvio, her cranky partner, and the highly frustrating rookie she is tasked with.

In this latest, the deadly combination of a religious relic from Mexico’s Cristero War and a cruise ship murder propels Emilia into a maze of drug and smuggling and revenge killings. Acapulco is not only a city for tourists with beautiful beaches and a majestic blue ocean it is also home to hookers and thieves and Emilia has to juggle her way around all of this.

Well-done, another excellent read.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"The Son", by Philipp Meyer

This is partly an historical novel about the rise of an oil and ranching dynasty. Le plot spans some 150 years and it concentrates on one proudly purebred south Texan family the McCullough. It showcases in a very dramatic way how each generation faces unique challenges. This 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction finalist is 576 pages long, a follow up to “American Rust”, is one that bears its weight with confidence.

The story alternates chapter by chapter through three narrators: Eli, his son Peter and Peter’s great-niece Jeannie. It was a challenge at first to get use to this structure but once into it what follows was a spectacular narrative right up to the drama’s eerie and heart-stopping finish.

The story open in 1849 and is primarily of Eli. We learn how he was abducted at the age of 13 and raised by the Comanche. His chapters are the best of the book: rich in detail and gore. The supporting roles go to Peter, a weak-willed character who comes to us in a series of embittered diary written before WW1. Equally compelling is the disordered memories of Jeannie who at 86, now one of the wealthiest women recalls the development of Texas and the frustrations she endured as an executive. The author handles the snobberies and cruelties with deft and excellence although it may be a bit tedious to read for some. We do have appealing moments of astuteness and cleverness throughout even though the story tends to struggle under the weight of repetition and bluntness but having said this I was nevertheless captured by the scope of this ambitious book deeply rooted in cultural history….

If you don’t mind depictions of violence recounted with emotion, scenes of rage, dismemberment, massacre and torture that are exceptionally harrowing you will love this book. “The Son” is a vivid evocation of time and place, enjoy.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"A Dubious Curse", by Gerald J. Kubicki and Kristopher Kubicki

Book # 8, in the Colton Banyon Mystery

Although the story continues the adventure of Colton Banyon and his team of unique characters this book works quite well as a stand-alone. No worries if you pick this one first in no way you will feel lost. The authors have done their best to immerse us from the start in a suspenseful blend of history and fantasy. But first, keep an open mind to see beyond the conspiracy theories, extra- sensory perception, communicating with the dead, evil curses….all that stuff you will read. After all this book is not to be taken seriously but is highly entertaining.

This story is well- written and very smooth to read so smooth indeed I hardly noticed being pulled into the action. Colton has telepathic powers and talks to his long dead friend Wolf who advises him on his next move. In “A Dubious Curse” we have Colton and his extraordinary team pinned once again against “The Effort” (a modern version of the Nazi Party) both seeking a book that contains the secrets of an ancient power (the Vril).

The plot’s vivid imagery is peppered with never ending action, numerous twists and turns and all the goodies that are well thought out. Colton and his team are a bunch of wacky dudes their adventures are so amusing it is hard to put this book down. Great characterization, excellent dialogue and all the ingredients needed to make this a heck of a great read.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"City of Women", by David R. Gillham

This is dark and unsettling story that provides an eye opening glimpse into what life may have been for women living in Berlin during the hostilities of WW11. Set in 1943, the city is void of men, most have gone to fight on two fronts and Berlin has become a city of women, children and elderly.

This book was impossible to put down and even harder to forget. Although the WW11 Germany may be familiar, Mr. Gillham has managed to make the story fresh and tells it through the eyes of Sigrid Schroder, his fictional characters, whose husband is off on the front lines and lives every day in a stale terror of English bombings, food shortage and neighborly suspicion. For all intents and purposes she is the model German wife but behind this façade she is an entirely different woman, one that dreams of her lover, a Jewish lover…..and she is not the only one with secrets…..

This is a page turner that explores what happens to people when they are faced with choices that can make the difference between life and death. As the book progresses, Sigrid’s life becomes riddled with danger and as a reader I experienced a multitude of emotions , heard the bomb sirens, the sound of flying aircraft, felt her hunger and hardship and understood why she made the choices she did. The characterization is outstanding. The setting is an impressive imagery of the times and a unique perspective of the female experience. This book is beautifully written, the prose is lyrical and inviting and the dialogue quite sharp.

This was a good choice that kept me riveted till the end.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"The Last Runaway", by Tracy Chevalier

The story weaves a captivating saga of the Underground Railroad and draws us into its clandestine activities. The tale centers on Honor Bright, an English Quaker who immigrates to Ohio in 1850. Strange enough, this page turner that includes millinery, quilting and the Quaker life is a powerful and thought provoking journey that brims with color and drama. For some it may take a while to get into but it is well worth it.

I felt soon transported into the past with remarkable realism, into the rugged and lack- lustre world of Ohio and into the delicate realities of a woman’s life at that time. While trying to set roots with the Quakers, Honor’s new home is directly in the path of the Underground Railroad. At the time, Laws in America still upheld slavery. For Honor slavery was wrong and despite warnings she never stopped helping runaway slaves onto their next destination. The story is told through the hopeful eyes of Honor as she is challenged daily and how she exhibits bravery, independence and shows a defiant spirit.

The author expertly weaves vivid historical details into this gripping storyline. Her characters are very interesting and will remind you of those characters from the old western shows we loved years ago: beautifully depicted as rough and wholesome. The women are the strong characters in contrast to the men who are a bit low keyed, except for Donovan, the slave hunter, he is quite a mix of hot and cold….(I let you figure that one out). If you love quilting the authors offers plenty of opportunity to learn….this bit is rather repetitive throughout. Mr. Chevalier has added a nice touch and an insight into her protagonist soul through a series of letters she writes to her friends and family. I found this quite touching and emotional. It has been too long since I read an author who shines by turning scenes of ordinary life into exquisite and colourful portraits……Ms. Chevalier is a captivating storyteller.

This was an absorbing, easy and quick read I enjoyed immensely.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"The Scottish Finch", by C.J. West

Marking Time Short

This novel is short indeed, 81 pages eBook version but just enough to introduce Charlotte Finch, the key player in the “Marking Time” series.

A blurb:

The prisons have be emptied by the Supreme Court and it is up to counselor like Charlotte to help those condemned to life imprisonment to turn their life around….not an easy task when most hunger for revenge against the world that incarcerated them…..This novel recounts Charlotte first cases in the new “Relearners System”.

I not usually a fan of short stories but here I make exception. 81 pages are enough to introduce your main characters and plunged them in a concise plot. No frills no extra words right to the point C.J. West has mastered this and said enough to pique interest to follow up with the series. Pick this one up and enjoy.

"The Bridge of Sighs", by Olen Steinhauer

Book 1, in the Emil Brod series

This unique portrayal begins in 1948 and captures the life and crime of a small Eastern Country (Unnamed) after the Russians liberated it from the German Occupation. The people continue to struggle with rebuilding and coming to terms with their destiny. There are suspicious of their liberators and their Communist ideology. We are into a volatile terrain throughout this auspicious crime novel.

I am a huge fan of the Milo Weaver series so it is of no surprise my curiosity brought me to his debut novel written in 2003 which introduced 22 year old Emil Brod as homicide inspector of the People‘s Militia as the protagonist. Emil spent the war working on a fishing boat in Finland and finally gets his chance to serve his country investigating murders. This is his first outing in a series of 5 installments so far.

This not an easy read. The depiction of broken people who survive the Nazi to only find themselves in the clutch of the Russians is a hard story to take and follow. This book has a repressive atmosphere: highlighting corruption, the starvation, the violence, etc. all the while seeing the protagonist (a rookie) trying to find his way through the maze of intrigue, cruelty and ugliness in order to investigate and solve his cases.

I had trouble concentrating and keeping up with this blend of police procedural, political treatise and love story. My mind kept on wandering and I never could grasp the essence of all what was going on. There was something in the style that didn't agree with me, the narrative did not pique my interest and I fast lost interest. The plot was rather weak IMO and I could easily predict the outcome from the get-go. It was a rough read and I am surprise I actually made it to the ending. Maybe it is better to set our mind that this novel is not some frolic in escapism but rather about Soviet repression….

Many have enjoyed this novel immensely seems I may I missed the boat on this one altogether.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Death of a Red Heroine", by Qiu Xiaolong

Book 1, in the Inspector Chen series

This novel is something more than a suspenseful whodunit crime story it is one that explore in some ways the old-socialist/new capitalist tensions that were central to China’s ideology post-Tiananmen Square. In the early 1990 it was a difficult time of transition, new rules were being written and it was hard to know how to act. This story offers a peek into the often crooked world in which the population had to work in.

Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau’s Special Case Squad is the lead character and we have a huge cast of players with foreign name to grasp (at least for me) but the author has made it easy by making them very human and distinguishable. “Death of a Red Heroine” provides an idea how Chinese life may have been then. The author’s background being in literature he takes advantage of this by inserting snippets of famous Chinese poems as well as his own (through his protagonist) throughout the drama. The story is well-written although I did find it arduous to read at times (I am not of fan of poetry). The suspense is refreshing but I found the investigation to be slow and faltering. There is little build-up intensity to keep us on the edge of our seat. Food, yes food, luscious foods are mentioned so many times that by the end I was tempted to try my hands at some of the recipes…:)

The story follows the intrepid attempts of Chen to discover the person responsible for the murder of Guan Hongying. Recently promoted Chen sets out to prove himself by solving the case. The flow of information seems to come from seniors party members and this political interference not only added pressure on Chen to close the case it also played hardship on his personal life…..

This book written in 2000 is the debut novel in a long series. The style is very deferent to the one found with American and English writers, some adjustment is needed to enjoy it at its fullest. Although, a good novel I am not certain I will continue further with this series…..

"The Second Empress", by Michelle Moran

A Novel of Napoleon’s Court

This is the story of Austrian archduchess Marie Louise who at the age of nineteen married Napoleon Bonaparte and became his second wife and mother to the sole heir of the French Empire. At the time the French court was a wild place and this young, shy and politically inexperienced girl had to fill her predecessor shoes, Empress Joséphine (Napoleon`s first wife) and command a small army of servants and courtiers. This may be her story but the Emperor took a great chunk of this novel, it felt more like a character study about the illustrious figure`s carnal appetites and idiosyncrasies than anything else……

According to her notes, the author`s mentioned trying to be as close as possible to the historical record, especially where personalities were concerned and wanted to show her readers how powerful Napoleon really was and how everyone orbited around him, regardless if they were family or servants. This story is told from three points of views: Napoleon`s sister, the sex-crazed and Egypt obsess Pauline, Marie-Louise who loathed her husband and in love with and Austrian count and a young Haitian chamberlain Paul Moreau, whose love for Pauline was indisputable. The author has created quite a remarkable portrayal of characters and they truly shine in this novel.

This shrewd tale show Napoleon`s later life, personal exploits, his character traits. His marriage to Marie-Louise being a cold tactic of force against the Austrian nation and her acceptance was only in fear and loyalty to her country and through this union save her father`s throne. Ms. Moran punctuated the novel with letters between Napoleon and Josephine and historical titbits. The flow is smooth and keeps the steady pace throughout. Not different from any historical fiction we have an enhanced story that deviated from facts to make the experience more entertaining. Although nicely written this one is not my favourite in the author’s library.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Cherry Bomb", by J.A. Konrath

Book 6, in the Jack Daniels Mystery

This series has to be read in sequence to understand how ridiculously it evolves throughout its progress. Definitely the stories are not to be taken seriously but rather for they humour and the evil plotting that keep going over the top at every turn.

At the end of “Fuzzy Navel” (book 5) Mr. Konrath left us with one of Jack’s loved one dead. Plainly letting us hanging like that, what an amazing way to lure us towards its sequel….

If you take this series for what it is you will find it is thrillingly entertaining, funny yet terrifying. It feels like a roller coaster ride from start to finish and I couldn't help being at the edge of my seat while I flipped page after page trying to keep up with the multiple twists and turns that kept coming. In this latest Alex Kork is worse than she ever been and half of the story is dedicated to her as she pushed Jack to her limit. Although Jack is her true prey she piles up more random victims you can imagine. She is completely heartless. Jack is drawn ever further into a twisted cat and mouse game filled with blood and too much crude sex…..All the usual players contribute in some ways but the appearance of Slappy’s, a very annoying monkey, did not add any value to the cast and could have been skipped …More and more as the series runs its way it is becoming so ridiculous that I think this whole thing is spiraling downwards.....

Although I still like J.A. Konrath’s humour I admit being gradually weaned from this series and have lost some interest in it. This feeling to withdraw doesn't mean I plan to abandon it but I need to take a long break before picking up the sequel. Too much is really too much I need a breather….:)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Saints of the Shadow Bible", by Ian Rankin

Book 19, in Inspector Rebus series

This author’s undoubted talent is his ability to set up complex plots and to get us involved without losing our interest. He does this superbly with this latest setting up two parallel investigations filled with suspense. This novel is set against the background of the referendum campaign.

“Saints of the Shadow Bible” explore loyalty of the police force to each other, their duty to the law and the way they fulfill their duty. Malcolm Fox plays a huge part in the mystery. He is tasked lead investigator into whether a fast and loose group of cops in the mid-80’s might have tainted a murder trial when Rebus was a young officer. At the same time the suspense deftly ties the old case into a new one that began with road crash involving a tycoon’s daughter that appears to be more than an accident. We find Rebus and his side kick Clarke called to the scene.

This novel is an immense and intricate canvas of well-drawn characters and two of Rankin’s greatest collide while hunting for the truth. The narrative goes back and forth as the two cases merge and separate then merge again. There is high tension and mounting body count throughout this mystery to keep us glued to every word. This is like a soap opera, the plotting weaved all elements together we have come to love or hate and has been delivered in a tight, quick step prose with a noir flavoured tone. Rebus saved the day and will return soon….stay tune this series is not dead yet.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Dominion", by C.J.Sansom

This fiction is a dark and terrifyingly alternative history of what might have happened if Churchill had failed to become Prime Minister in May 1940 and the nightmare scenario where the British people are forced to live under menacing authoritarian rules.

The author weaves a gripping and atmospheric spy story. Our guide through this fantasy is David Firtzgerald, a civil servant, who has hidden is half Jewish identity in order to flourish under the regime. This counter factual concoction opens in 1952 12 years after Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after a brief 2 years conflict. Although the nation is not occupied it is led by Fascists and is under Nazi’s fingers. The underground resistance is fighting back and it is where David comes in and is tasked with rescuing Frank Muncaster, a scientist in possession of vital information, and smuggling him out of the country.

This story keeps our interest by rotating perspective from David’s point of view and jumping to different players and back to David. There is momentum in this cat and mouse chase that is modulated with interludes giving us pause for thought. The book stands a good yarn and is about 1/3 too long for my taste although most will find it to be well-written and well-plotted. The style is at times ponderous and the key points lack the necessary build up to provide intense suspense but are captivating nonetheless. This novel is also crammed with details and clearly shows that the author has done an enormous amount of research and thinking about this alternate history, he has quite an imagination and a scary one to boot. I like the characterization and once my struggles with each of their back-stories forgotten the “What ifs” kept me from being disappointed and overall can say I enjoyed “Dominion”.

"The Garden of Burning Sand", by Corban Addison

I couldn't help being tied in knots reading this novel although a work of fiction it was inspired by real issues and offered an authentic glimpse into the horrifying world of child sexual assault in the sub-Saharan Africa. This is actually of story of good people struggling to do right in this world.

This novel is a page turner and weaves together romance, family and human rights issues. While exploring a wide range of pressing world topics including the treatment of women in Africa Mr. Addison’s poignant novel takes us from the red light areas of Lusaka, Zambia, to the luxurious rooms of Washington D.C. high ups and to the splendor of Victoria Falls.

“The Garden of Burning Sand” follows the progress in the rape of a young girl with Down’s syndrome and the involvement of human rights lawyer Zoe Fleming who is determined to bring the case to justice. The action is firmly centered on Zoe and is told through her eyes. The plot is well-paced and provides some tension as she teams up with Joseph Zabuta. At every turn the two are thwarted of their investigation and they soon realize the criminals they seek are more corrupt and powerful than they thought. This book is also a riveting mystery.

This story is timely, topical and well- researched and embraces the full sweep of human experience. It deals bluntly with rape, AIDS, superstition and poverty. Zoe is an appealing character. Her interracial romance with Joseph is well handled as is the treatment of his positive HIV status. The story is well- done in setting, dialogues and action.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

`Fuzzy Navel`, by J.A. Konrath

Book 5, in the Jack Daniels Mystery

This is Jack’s fifth outing and once again we are taken on a roller coaster ride where the protagonist is plunged into emotional highs and lows into a scary story with no way to escape and nowhere to run.

This book is nonstop action and very suspenseful. The next eight hours will be the worst of Jack’s life and for shock value we have more insane scenes that we can wish for. Again we have another story that is part murder, part mayhem, as a generous splash of humour and an intriguing cast of characters. What makes this latest drama captivating are the players, some we met in the previous novels and added is a mix of three snipers who started by avenging the rape of one’s wife by killing sex offenders but eventually things turn horribly wrong when one vigilante aimed and killed a cop and enjoyed doing so…. Of course our main players Jack and Herb show up and from then on everything is in overdrive with no time for a breather. Actually I found it overly done and mid-way got tired of the endless shooting. Page after page, short chapter after short chapter this cartoonish freak show of violence is told through each player as it moved along.

Although this is a rather shallow story with no depth I still managed to have a fair enough time and an occasional good laugh. Softening the tension somewhat are the wise cracks and the clever dialogue and I was most grateful for this bit of retrieve otherwise I may not have reached the end. This one is far from being a favourite but having said this I plan to keep up with this series “Cherry Bomb”is next on the list.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Sarah's Key", by Tatiana de Rosnay

This is a brilliantly and compelling portrait of occupied France during WW11. The plot follows the Starzinski family after the French police raided their apartment on July 16, 1942 and arrested ten year old Sarah and her parents during the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup. In a parallel plot Julia Jarmond, an American journalist is tasked to write an article to honour the 60th anniversary of this terrible day and the subsequent events that took place.

The story surrounds two time periods and alternates point of views throughout the book. The main story and action takes place in Paris and as the story progresses not only do we discover factual information but we also are on an emotional coaster ride.

Sarah’s story is told from the time of her arrest and intertwines with Julia’s quest to learn about the people that had been corralled at Vel’ d’Hiv during “Operation Spring Breeze”as it was known. Despite being 60 years apart they author excelled in drawing the two eras smoothly together. The roundup and deportation of some 11,000 French Jews to death camps is obviously a touchy subject and the author elegantly shines light by carefully detailing the facts about the true events.

Although a fiction, this is a worthwhile novel that approaches the Holocaust in a different way. In whole Sara’s story is a fast-read with tight and brisk chapters. The prose is fluid and strong and her story is engaging, informative and very emotional. She is a strong and adorable character. On the other hand those of Julia are light more chick-lit style and distract from the importance of the main story. I love Sarah’s part but Julia ruined my experience from the get-go. Her personal story was annoying, very predictable and quite cheesy. Her character is inconsistent and superficial IMO.

Having said this I nevertheless like this novel for its message and its frank look at a nation and people who for so long would not come to grip with its complicity in sending its own citizens to die in Nazi concentration camps.

I will definitely read more books by this author

"The Gingerbread Man", by Maggie Shayne

Being a huge fan of suspense thrillers that provide endless action with lots of twits to fools us, have a hard outcome to predict and of course are populated with unusual and charismatic characters and you will find I am a contented reader. “The Gingerbread Man” premise seemed to be right up my alley and I couldn't resist one with a serial killer at the heart fueling every moment with intrigue.


When Detective Vincent O'Mally finds two missing children dead, his life turns upside down. When the FBI takes over the case, Vince agrees to take time off. Traveling to a small upstate New York town, he meets Holly Newman—a fragile woman whose sister was abducted and killed years ago. Convinced that Holly's sister's death is linked to the recent murders, he attempts to unearth clues hidden deep in Holly's mind.

My thoughts:

Definitely borrow this novel:

Although a good enough story for most part it is far from being exceptional. But again did I read wrongly the synopsis and deducted this to be a suspense thriller instead of a romance/suspense….I guess I did… The beat was most likely meant to please the younger crowd and the faithful fans….

I knew little or nothing about this author before plunging into this drama. My first experience although not tragic left me flat. The author’s credits involve a range of romance, fantasy and paranormal novels and I have no doubt she excels there but writing suspense is a much harder task to satisfy a die-hard as myself. Here the tone is set early, although not creepy I could have let myself be haunted by the events covering the abduction and murder of children but the story’s denouement was rather questionable and far from credible. At first I was drawn into this fast moving and captivating plot but it didn't take long to see most twists coming and where we were heading. The story line is by far too predictable and full of plot holes to question. There is some sexual content to distract us from the actual crimes which I would have passed gladly, distracting and non-necessary. I am not fond of weak female characters and here we encounter too many that are set up to be victims, pretty pathetic IMO. The dialogue is rather banal and the vocabulary is better suited for Harlequin romance novels, those filled with lust and little true love …not my preferred style at all. All this said and done, many reviewers have given high marks, I unfortunately am not one that will do so….some you win and some you lose…..

Friday, July 4, 2014

"The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte", by Ruth Hull Chatlien

This historical fiction is based on the life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (Betsy) and portrays how this ambitious and headstrong woman will go to all means to achieve her goals: to live in Europe and be part of nobility.

When Betsy met Jerome Bonaparte (Napoleon’s younger brother) all that mattered was marrying him hence it was her chance to fulfill her long-time dream but unfortunately Emperor Napoleon, rejected her American background and never approved of their union. No matter how many obstacles she faced, Betsy never gave up on having her marriage recognized and be part of the distinguished family. She was certainly a rebel for her time so determined she drove herself and everyone around her mad.

Betsy was known for her beauty and to have scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions, to have dine and dance with presidents, visited Niagara Falls, survived cross ocean travels during blockades , lived through the Battle of Baltimore and has spent many years living in Europe.

This novel is truly a wonderful entertainment, well written and offers more than a textbook story. The author brought to life a rich tapestry of known figures and has remained as true as possible to historical events. Created in this drama is a nuance portrayal of a life focused of romance and injustice, vanity, ambition and obsession with rank. Some reader will want to shake Betsy, I know I did. Although the name Bonaparte was my biggest draw to this novel I was pleasantly surprised how interesting every part of this story was. It is evident Ms.Chatlien did a lot of detailed period research before penning this story down and unraveling in an interesting matter a part of history and bringing to life a personage I knew little of.

Once the first page read it was a hard novel to put aside it was just that captivating. Well done.

"A Walk Across the Sun", by Corban Addison

This is a gem of a book, a rare work of fiction about violence, control and profit, a captivating eye opener to the existing horrors of human trafficking. The story is all about young people who are bought and sold for sex.

This is a gem of a book, a rare work of fiction about violence, control and profit, a captivating eye opener to the existing horrors of human trafficking. The story is all about young people who are bought and sold for sex.

This chilling and heart-wrenching tale follows the terrifying journey of two traditional upper middle class South Indian sisters after a tsunami hit the coast of the Tamilnadu shores and drowned the entire family sparing the two teenage girls. Left on their own the girls are soon swept up by ruthless sex-traffickers who sold them as commodities. After reading this story you may agree with me that the greed, the indifference and cruelty truly changes one’s perspective regarding the various aspects of the sex trade. This book is thought provoking in many ways.

The story is not all bleak it also emphasizes on the tenacity of love, the power of conviction and the bonds of family. The sub-plot involves an American attorney whose life is falling apart and decided to travel to India to rescue and rehabilitate young girls from the brothels of Mumbai. His path eventually crosses those of the two girls…..

Even if the subject matter involves sex and violence we are spare the gory details and horror of the sex trade and I found that I was easily drawn into the gripping development till the story line provided a breath of relief at the end. Yes, it’s grim but not painful to read and I found I was soon in the grip of a story filled with charming characters of all kind. The author use of written imagery is intense and vividly portrays both the beauty of India and its culture and the excruciating despair of the brothels.

“A Walk Across the Sun” is very interesting, captivating and worth reading.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Cockroaches", by Jo Nesbo

Book 2, in the Harry Hole series

“Cockroaches” is, in fact, the second outing for the detective, making a belated appearance in translation in Canada. It employs similar shock tactics found in the first book “The Bat” sending the Norwegian sleuth out of his comfort zone smack into unknown territory. This time we find Harry in the picturesque seediness of Bangkok....

Sent to Thailand by his boss to investigate the death of the Norwegian ambassador in a seedy motel room Harry soon discovers that he will need to unravel layers of deception before he could get to the bottom of his investigation and solve the case.

While deep into his hunt for the whodunit we have a glimpse into the excesses of expat life, travel the seedy underbelly of a vibrant city and plunged into the corruption of those wanting to protect their positions. The setting makes for the perfect backdrop for this novel where Harry out of his natural element excels in what he is doing. His character is handled with authority and so is the large cast of colourful and dynamic supporting players. In this early installment we get to know the background about Harry’s family life and romantic history and that helps making sense of his self-destructive streak and battles with addiction that continue throughout the series. The plot is a real guessing game complete package when it comes to suspense and mystery but the drama gets overly done, loosed a bit of tempo as it stirs up a few nerves and cracks its solid punch at the end.

I like this series for its entertainment and its exotic local .

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"The Beast", by Andes Roslund, Börge Hellström

Book 1, in the Ewert Grens series

Being engaged in a book about pedophilia, torture, human savagery and prisons can be quite a challenge. These co-authors know only one way to get from point A to point B: straight and to the point. This thriller is absolute darkness, a masterful reflection on the concept of justice. It is not the run of the mill mystery and not for everyone.

This story is raw especially at first. But as difficult as it may be, this rawness is for us to reflect on the second part of the book. The true basis behind this novel noir is how we react to what we read and this is where we find the talents of these co-authors come to play and excel in doing. The prose is razor sharp and different views are dealt with and zoom alternately between the investigators, prison inmates and personal, crimes committed by Bernt Lund and the parents of the victims. It chronicles the activities in detail graphic and brutal language. Everything that happens stems from the murder of two little girls in a basement of a Swedish town, the arrest of the pervert who did it and his subsequent escape from prison. My synopsis may be too simple but the story is far from it.

The second part is absolutely brilliant which invites us to reflect on the possible sentences for sex offenders, the death penalty, on the paradox of Justice and the power of public opinion. The story also illustrates the potentially serious consequences of letting people take the law in their own hands. There are numerous characters to keep track of and the name can become confusing but everything really gels well if you stay with the flow.

Gruesome but a very interesting and captivating story that kept my full attention from start to finish.