Saturday, 31 May 2014

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen

I was recommended this book to read by a work colleague. He remembered how much I love reading and lent me his own well-worn copy of this book, after he enjoyed it so much himself. 

In Nature Girl, we meet a selection of quirky characters. Honey Santana, recently unemployed single mother, has a plan to rid the world of rude, irresponsible people. Part time telephonist and loser Boyd Shreave and his flaky mistress Eugenie embark on a vacation they will never forget. 

Throw in an identity-confused ex-alligator wrestler, a deranged stalker, and a rebellious college girl to name but a few, and you have the making of an interesting story to say the least! 

Their worlds collide in the Everglades’ Ten Thousand Islands and what starts for some as a good intention getaway, becomes an unexpected and dangerous ordeal. 

I was definitely intrigued by the premise of the book when I started reading it. The beginning introduces the characters and their back stories well, setting up the intrigue for the rest of the plot. The prose is intelligent and witty, and the locations; from trailer parks and cities to the unforgiving swamp, makes the tale even more inventive. As the action develops and chaos ensues, you almost become addicted to the adventure, the sarcasm and the delicious irony! 

I may never have chosen this book for myself had I not been recommended it, and I really enjoyed this. Simple, word of mouth reviews from someone who may have different tastes in books to you is a great way to explore the literary world, and I’m so glad I took the time to give this book a try. 

A heady mix of escapism and acerbic wit, Nature Girl is an unconventional gem of a read.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall

In the first UK published novel by Rachel Howzell Hall, we are introduced to Detective Elouise Norton. Based in Los Angeles, Elouise has just landed herself a new partner, a young fresh faced detective, Colin Taggert, who is yet to experience the hard work of LA homicide. 

Their first case together involves the strangulation of a teenage girl found on the building site of a high profile developer. Experienced and intuitive; Elouise suspects there is more to the case than a routine suicide. 

As they become more involved in the case and as the body count increases, Elouise finds that her own past where her own sister disappeared may have some bearing on the case. Or is she just letting the ghosts of her past cloud her judgement? 

There are a few suspects scattered throughout the story and little point of view snippets from the killer adds to the suspense. I really liked the character of Elouise. Balancing her past, her job and her marriage is not an easy thing but she handles her situations like any strong woman can. I thought her character and storyline was something akin to James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club, only grittier and more intense. 

I also enjoyed the start of her working relationship with Colin. You can tell that there is a certain clash of personality or view at times, but they work well together. I always think it’s quite important in crime novels for the lead detectives to have some kind of chemistry, and for the start of a new crime series, I think there is plenty of potential for a decent pair of crime fighters to develop further. 

Rachel Howzell Hall grounds the reader strongly in the location, depicting both the rich and poor areas of LA with detailed locations and convincing language. The prose is well crafted build suspense and keep the pages turning. 

Great characters and a well devised premise, this is a really impressive start to what I hope will be a gripping new crime series. Definitely one to try if you are crime fiction reader and Howzell Hall is definitely a name to watch out for in the future. 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Above by Isla Morley

Sixteen year old schoolgirl Blythe should never have left the county fair. Abandoned by her schoolyard crush, she sets off for home alone and is offered a ride by her school librarian. 

Angry and upset, she doesn't think as she gets into his car. He abducts her and hides her away in an abandoned silo. Her captor, Dobbs, is a survivalist and convinced that the end of the world is coming. 

Throughout her incarceration, he makes frequent trips to the above world, gathering supplies in preparation for the apocalypse. Blythe, confined underground, is trapped in not only the madness of her keeper, but her own wild thoughts bough on by loneliness and fear. 

Forced to bring up a child in her captivity, she almost becomes resigned to a life below, but a major twist in events will see her life and that of her precious child turned upside down forever. 

This book was a slow burner, but I think it needs to be to set the scenes and tone of the book. You definitely get a good portrayal of Blythe. She often reminisces about her family and her life before she was taken, and the reader is privy to her private thoughts and feelings during her time in the silo. The suspense slowly builds up, and the second half of the book really picks up, hooking you in and keeping you gripped right thorough to the end. 

This is a dark tale; the impending end of the world prophesised by a madman and the strength of a young girl turned woman, alone in the dark. Blythe seems to age doubly during her time in the silo, and it is a heart wrenching transformation to witness through reader eyes. 

Her story is heartbreaking and powerful, but I also loved the tale of her son Adam, who sees the world through the eyes of someone who has never experienced anything real in their whole life. This book grabbed me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after I read it. 

Above is an evocative tale of opposites; courage and weakness, condemnation and forgiveness, above and below. Hauntingly brilliant, this is a screen adaptation waiting to happen. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Unfashioned Creatures by Lesley McDowell

Historical fiction is a genre I particularly enjoy and the premise of this book, with its mix of history and psychology really attracted me. Set in the time when Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein was published, it tells of Mary Shelley’s real life friend Isabella Baxter Booth. 

Isabella is a social outcast after marrying her dead sister’s husband. What she thought was a good match turns into a living hell, as her husband is afflicted by fits. In these episodes, he is both physically and verbally aggressive to his wife. 

Plagued by ghosts and haunted by wicked thoughts, she struggles to keep up the running of her home, whilst trying to hide the worst of her husband from their young daughters. 

Meanwhile, in another place, burgeoning mind-doctor Alexander Balfour is trying to make a name for himself in the science of the mind. With a dark past of his own and a burning ambition that makes him arrogant and ruthless, he moves from place to place and different professional positions, leaving in his wake heartbroken patients and a string of jilted lovers. 

Inevitably, Isabella and Alexander meet, with Isabella hoping for help with her worsening husband. However it seems the fates are against her, as it seems that it is she who is to become the patient. The nature of their relationship is one of blurred lines and crossed boundaries, each with their own agenda. Will Isabella move on from the past and look to the future? And will Alexander’s ambitions blind him to the truth before his eyes? 

Set in the moody murk of 19th Century society, this is an intelligent and riveting novel of love and madness, darkness and desire. The psychological groundings are incredibly interesting. My own degree was Forensic Psychology, so I found all the scientific reference and theories fascinating. Alternating between Alexander and Isabella, you get a full sense of their characters, from their own views and from the views of each other. Their entwined stories are gripping and full of drama. 

I was avidly hooked on this story and don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this before. Rich in historical details, captivating in it’s the study of human psychology, and dramatic in its telling, Unfashioned Creatures is a decadent read for mature readers and inquisitive minds. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

There are a lot of Jojo Moyes fans on social media and in the press, and so I was quite excited to read my first book from this author. 

We are introduced to Jess; a single mother who is juggling two crappy jobs to support her introverted step son, her maths fanatic daughter and their useless dog Norman. Her ex-partner is of no help at all, she is struggling to make ends meet and she lives in a neighbourhood terrorized by a rough family. 

Enter Ed, whose life is falling apart around him following an impending criminal investigation of his company and the declining health of his father. 

After a shaky first encounter, and subsequent chance meetings between the two, Ed ends up playing the hero for Jess and her family that sends them on a road trip they will never forget. As things blossom between them, a secret waiting to be uncovered which could destroy the unexpected relationship they have unconsciously built. 

It took me a little while to get into the story. It is told from different perspectives, and I liked Ed’s back story about his company and unintentional criminal activity. I found Jess’s character quite frustrating at first as she seemed (to me) to be making all the wrong decisions. But as their stories are woven together, you can’t help but get emotionally involved in their ups and downs. The family as a whole was so endearing and their characters were well developed throughout the book. 

Towards the last half of the book, I was racing through to see how it all ended, and everything was wrapped up just as I had hoped. The One Plus One is a modern telling of love and family in Britain, with perceptive characters and interlocking storylines. I was impressed with my first Jojo Moyes story, so I doubt this will be my last.