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, 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.