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"I have the strength of a woman who has everything to lose.
In the sweltering summer of 1997, strait-laced, straight-A student Karen
met Biba - a bohemian and impossibly glamorous aspiring actress.
She was quickly drawn into Biba's world, and for a while life was one long summer of love.
But every summer must end. By the end of theirs, two people were dead - and now Karen's past has come back to haunt her . . ."
LENGTH: 368 pages
MY VIEW: I loved this book. Some people say the characters remained a little flat/unlikable. However, I found, after finishing this novel, that they stayed with me for some time after.
Erin Kelly has woven a tense, gripping and beautifully written tale about love, passion, obsession and what happens when the hand of fate throws people a wild card.
If this is a 'love story', I would, however, caution readers that it's really a love story between Karen and Biba (although not in a sexual sense). Or, more accurately, it's love on Karen's part. When she meets Biba, she is drawn into her free, unstructured and mysterious world. Biba, an aspiring actress, exerts a hold over Karen. In the same way, the needy Biba also has a strong hold over her own brother, Rex.
As the story unfolds, we come to realise that there are issues in the brother and sister's past. What we also know (due to the story alternating between Karen's present and the past - the 1990s when she first meets Rex and Biba) - is that the what happens during that long, hot summer of 1997 has devastating consequences which will echo down the years.
Personally, I thought the author wove together an intriguing tale and totally brought the characters to life - particularly Biba; someone whom the reader might not warm to but will probably understand why a sheltered, impressionable young woman like Karen did. I found myself reading this book at every opportunity, eager to immerse myself in the strange world of Rex and Biba - and, also, to find out what secrets the Poison Tree held.
To say I loved this book is an understatement! I normally don't read this genre of novel but having found a piece about the author in a women's magazine, the premise intrigued me. I bought it whilst on holiday and simply could not put it down, reading it within a few days.
The story traces the main characters' final bohemian summer after university which ends in tragedy and the aftermath ten years on and the reverberations that are still felt. It starts with Karen and her nine year old daughter, Alice, picking up Alice's father from a ten year stretch in prison. His crime was murder but who he murdered is revealed slowly and tantalizingly through flashbacks that revolve around Karen, Rex and Rex's free spirited sister Biba. Erin Kelly effectively leads the reader to wrong conclusions and who the murder victims are is only the start of the revelations. I'm quite good at figuring out twists in a plot but I did not even suspect the main one.
I was left with lingering sense of unease after finishing this novel and it made me wonder: what would I do if it was me?
What attracted me to this bohemian thriller was the image on the cover and the intriguing title. A new genre for me to get my teeth into and a complete change from what I have been enjoying recently. The blurb and praise from reputable sources helped to make the decision. Bought the book, settled down and read it.
Can you remember your 'Summer of Love'? We all have one crazy summer where we let our hair down and enjoy all that life has to offer - without a care in the world! Even to the point of being reckless! Karen is a diligent, straight A student with a natural talent and flair with languages - during her years at University she has not put one foot out of line, though she has often wondered what it would be like and felt disappointed that she had missed out on the party scene. Out of the blue Biba - an impossibly glamorous and quirky actress - captivates Karen. The summer of 1997 will be Karen's opportunity to be a free spirit in the company of new friends - the appeal of Biba's world draws Karen in and she will experience a long, hot summer of love that will change her life forever. Years later the past begins to haunt Karen - what is she prepared to do to protect her family?
A SUMMER OF LOVE?
Having read the captivating and rather exciting prologue I was anticipating a gripping read - it enveloped me in a cloak of mystery and I was feeling the suspense. When the prose begins - in first person format which I am generally comfortable with - I meet Karen, the main protagonist. Still young and with a child she is awaiting the return of Rex - who has been in prison for the last ten years. This intrigued me and I wondered what had taken place during the summer of 1997 that led to Rex being imprisoned. The composition jumps backwards and forwards in time throughout the prose - odd times I was unaware of the time period until I was a few sentences into a paragraph and needed to re read the section, this was not a problem as it only happened occasionally.
I cannot say that I warmed to Karen or understood her character completely. I thought that her traits were believable but I didn't find her very well rounded. I did not feel like I really got to know her like I have the characters in other books that I have read. Some characters really get under you skin and you develop a real empathy with them, this never happened with karen? She appears to be a very sensible and kind hearted girl who is naive and has led a very sheltered life. She is conscientious in her studies, though apathetic about any academia as it comes naturally easy to her. She has no ambition in life - I didn't discover what her real passion was, what really drove her on in life - what did she want? At the end of the prose circumstances reveal a concept worth fighting for - until then I really struggled to see anything that Karen lived for.
Biba (a shortened version of Bathsheba) enters the prose with a welcome air of mystery and flamboyance - she is a troubled girl who has secrets. She appears temperamental, self absorbed, reckless and fickle - these traits are believable considering what she has experienced in her past. Karen is captivated by Biba's energy and zest for life - she feels more alive than she has ever known and questions her own sexuality due to her desire to be in Biba's company often. Biba fascinates Karen both physically and mentally - she is easily sucked into her world. Biba's world exists in an old, decaying mansion which is owned by her estranged father. She resides there with her strikingly similar brother Rex and other temporary lodgers. The mansion is an eclectic arrangement of clutter, mostly belonging to Biba - not the tidiest of girls! In essence the place presented an image of what a dwelling would be like if squatters lived in it. The descriptive prose allowed me to gain a good understanding of what the environment was like - dirty, smelly, messy and overcrowded. Biba was not the most endearing character and I struggled to connect with her too.
The other character that featured was Rex,. He remained two dimensional - the brother of Biba and with similar features. He and Karen develop a relationship and at times there are some lovely descriptions of tenderness and passion, though these are rare and I would have liked more. Rex is troubled by his past in the same way as Biba and feels protective towards her. I didn't warm to Rex and that is a shame as there was potential for his character to be established.
The prose has a host of supporting characters who are two dimensional and I found them to be believable. I did not feel the need for any further character development as I was more interested in the story progressing.
The plot line was a good concept and I did enjoy reading the book as the style of writing flowed nicely, however, I felt as though nothing was really happening until the last quarter of the book when things really improved and I discovered what had happened during the long, hot, summer of 1997. I cannot really say that I found the prose thrilling, sinister or dark and I was never in suspense. Though the twist at the end was a surprise that I did not guess - by the time I had reached that part of the book I had lost interest.
Themes that were included in the prose include : conflict, betrayal, hate, love and obsession. Even though the ending left no loose ends, I did not find Biba's reaction believable - it did not really make sense to me. So I cannot say that I found the ending satisfactory as I did have questions left unanswered.
SO WHAT ABOUT THAT THEN?
Even though I found the book a little slow and uneventful for the first three quarters of the prose, I did enjoy the last quarter and the pages were turning more quickly. I could not warm to Karen, Biba or Rex, their traits were not endearing. I found parts of the plot line unbelievable. The comprehension did not have me on the edge of my seat - cover quotations included 'thriller', 'gripping' and 'dark and brooding'! The book has some lovely descriptive work and I could develop as sense and image of what locations and buildings would be like. It was not always obvious what time period I was reading about until a few sentences in and I would then need to re read. The ending did not answer all my questions and was not believable.
WHAT ABOUT 'THE POISON TREE'?
All that I remember about the Poison Tree is that some of it grew in the garden.
This review is just my opinion - we are all different and what didn't float my boat may well be perceived entirely differently by someone else. The book is well written and the style of writing flows well. If it appeals to you - read it and see what you think. I am awarding 3 stars (satisfactory) as I am considering the overall book and not just the ending - the last part is a good read!
THAT'S ALL FOLKS!
Thanks for reading - also published on CIAO.
"The Poison Tree" by Erin Kelly is a book I have read recently. I bought a used copy of the book on www.amazon.co.uk, and paid around £4.00, including postage charges.
The story starts off in the present day, giving a sort of 'background' into our main character, Karen. We gradually learn a bit about Karen and we soon get to know that she has a young daughter. We also learn that Karen's partner - her daughter's father - has just been released from prison.
It doesn't take long to understand that Karen is a bit paranoid about certain events that are happening in her life - she is jumpy when the phone rings, and is suspicious about a car parked outside her house that she doesn't recognise. We soon learn however, that Karen has a bit of a haunted past, and she is worried that it may be catching up with her...
The story gives us more depth when it cleverly jumps to Karen's past, when she was a student during the 1970s. We get the impression that Karen is a straight-laced character and is a good student. One day whilst at college, her path crosses that of another young woman called Biba, and the two become friends almost immediately. The two girls spend the summer together, and become very close.
This is summarised in the book's blurb. "She was quickly drawn into Biba's world, and for a while life was one long summer of love. But every summer must end. By the end of theirs, two people were dead - and now Karen's past has come back to haunt her ..."
* My Opinion *
When I read the blurb on the back of this book, I thought it sounded like a really thrilling read, one that would envelop me in its mystery and keep me in suspense until the last pages. It is true that the story did keep my attention throughout the book and I didn't find any of it boring, or tedious to read.
Sadly though, I found the story to be quite predictable in places. Even though, much later in the book, there is a sort of 'twist in the tale' element to this story, I had already worked it out in my head and saw it coming from a mile off. This was a bit of a let down as it was the main twist in the storyline, however one or two smaller twists were a pleasant surprise.
The characters were a bit bland in my opinion, and I found it difficult to warm to them or find any real empathy towards their situations. The exception to this would be the main character Karen, with whom I felt a particular sympathy for. Perhaps my feelings here are due to us getting a bit more of Karen's point of view than the other characters, who knows.
I really didn't like the character of Biba. To be fair though, I think that the reader is supposed to dislike her to a certain extent. I don't want to give too much away here and spoil anything for other readers, but her selfish nature and immature behaviour would probably make her unpopular with most readers. The writer of the book has certainly conveyed enough of the two main characters' personalities so that we as the readers can clearly see the differences between them and we are unconsciously making assumptions about certain things as the story progresses. This is quite a clever tactic, in my opinion.
Furthermore, I really enjoyed the way the author used certain imagery throughout the book to help convey certain events and situations to the reader. I particularly liked her descriptions of the character Biba, who has a bit of an eccentric personality it has to be said. The author's descriptions of Biba's clothes and appearance, together with details of certain mannerisms and suchlike really helped me to have a clear image of this character - and all of her traits - in my head as I was reading the book. This helped the relationship between all of the main characters click into place a little more than if I was reading a more basic outline of the characters.
Overall, I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. Even though it was predictable in places, and the characters weren't the most likeable I have ever come across, the story itself was interesting enough to keep my attention and make me want to read on. I would definitely recommend it to others, and rate it four stars out of five.
The book can be purchased online at www.play.com for £4.69, with free delivery. Alternatively, you can get a used copy of the paperback version of the book from £0.70 plus postage costs from www.amazon.co.uk.
While this may not be my usual chick lit, reading the back it sounded quite interesting - it is more of a thriller than what I usually read. I bought it as part of a Waterstone's 3 for 2 not too long ago.
It is set in the bohemian 70's London, and the narration in the 70's is juxtaposed with the narration from the present day - this seems to be an increasingly common feature in thrillers these days! Karen is an A-grade student who doesn't put a toe out of line and has everything all planned out, however all of these plans go astray when the meets aspiring actress Biba in summer 1997 when everything changes. But at the end of the summer, two people were dead and now that summer is coming back to Karen...
I really enjoyed this book and think that I'll be looking into more by the same author and similar titles! The suspense was built up through the use of the two time periods, since there was something to find out in each story, I just couldn't wait to find out what had happened! It was also really not predictable as the twists and turns of the book left me shocked, particularly the end! The characters were also done really well, and I've seen lots of these type of books popping up lately with similar characters now that I've looked! On amazon its currently £3.99 which isn't bad!