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on 12 March 2011
Cheryl Pie, an drug addicted actress has a 'stunt double' who is kidnapped and the book follows the story to try and rescue her back without the media finding out. I read this on holiday last year in Florida - of all places - and I hadn't read a Carl Hiaasen novel before. I laughed from start to finish and simply adored it. I immediately went out and bought another 5 Hiaasen novels and read them in days. If you are a fan, this is a must buy. If you are new to Hiaasen' then this is a fantastic start.
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on 10 January 2012
When I read a novel, I hope that I will be presented with a compelling story peopled by characters with whom I can relate, be they kind, virtuous, noble, loving, selfish, hateful, or vindictive. In that respect, "Island Beneath the Sea" won me over completely.

The story is centered around 3 families and spans the years 1770 to 1810. Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island of Saint Domingue in 1770, as a man aged 20, to assume ownership and responsibility for a plantation his family has established there (Saint-Lazare). He is a young man with egalitarian ideas, as well as an atheist. He mixes in as best he can with the stratified society that defines Saint Domingue, France's wealthiest colony, largely based on sugar and slave labor. "Toulouse Valmorain spent the first years lifting Saint-Lazare from devastation and was unable to travel outside the colony even once. He lost contact with his mother and sisters, except for sporadic, rather formal letters that reported only the banalities of everyday life and health. After his failure with two French managers, he hired a mulatto as head overseer of the plantation, a man named Prosper Cambray, and then found more time to read, to hunt, and travel to Le Cap. There he had met Violette Boisier, the most sought after cocotte of the city, a free young woman with the reputation of being clean and healthy, African by heritage, and white in appearance..."

Valmorain and Violette had a passionate relationship til he, on a visit to Cuba to visit his business associate, a Spaniard named Sancho Garcia del Solar, introduces him to his younger sister Eugenia, freshly arrived from a nunnery in Madrid. Valmorain and Eugenia marry and return to Saint Domingue. But Saint Domingue does not quite agree with delicate and high-strung Eugenia, who begins to display the dementia that would determine her fate.

To help with running the house, Valmorain, with Violette's help, makes inquiries for a slave girl to comfort and assist his wife with the everyday running of the house. Thus he purchases, in the early 1780s, a scrawny, spirited 11-year old girl named Tete (aka Zarite). Tete --- the daughter of a African woman she never knew and a white sailor who impregnated her on the slave ship that transported her to Saint Domingue --- "survives a childhood of brutality and fear, finding solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in her exhilarating initiation into the mysteries of voodoo."

By this time, while Violette and Valmorain are no longer lovers (she has married a courageous and principled French army officer named Relais who is utterly devoted to her), they maintain a tenuous, friendly contact.

In the meantime, Saint Domingue becomes engulfed in revolution and civil war in the wake of the French Revolution. The lives of Valmorain and his family, Violette and Relais, and Tete are turned upside down. Eventually, most of the main characters, in order to survive, have little choice but to leave Saint Domingue as best they can.

After a sojourn in Cuba, Valmorain (now widowed) and his family --- with Sancho's help --- emigrate to New Orleans in the Louisiana Territory circa 1795, where he works painstakingly to re-establish his wealth and position in society. Tete, by now a young, attractive, and desirable woman, shows herself to be strong, resilient and resourceful, despite the limitations and indignities slavery has placed upon her life. By way of contrast, Valmorain becomes a rather debased person as the novel progresses, though not altogether heartless.

"Island Beneath the Sea" stands out as a moral tale on slavery, racism, love, and the vagaries of the human heart. From me, it comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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on 20 March 2011
Cherry Pye is a hugely popular (and talentless) recording and touring artist. Her frequent bouts of `gastritis' (actually the result of drug and drugs-fuelled binges) require frequent periods of short-term recuperation and/or medical attention. To divert the paparazzi, and hence protect her earning potential, it's necessary for actress Ann DeLucia to act as her `stunt double' on these occasions.

Unfortunately one paparazzo - the reprehensible Claude `Bang' Abbott - kidnaps Ann for an exclusive photo shoot in the mistaken belief that she is the real thing. This action triggers a series of uproarious events, with sub-plots aplenty amid all the malarkey.

`Star Island' is full of Hiaasen's usual weirdoes, whack-jobs, damaged goons and chancers, with their madcap schemes and utterly selfish and greedy motivations. Almost everyone is out for what they can get and few have any redeeming qualities.

`Bang' Abbott, the overweight paparazzo with personal hygiene issues, is a particularly amusing character, as is the appalling `Chemo' - the huge, facially scarred individual hired as Cherry's bodyguard. He has a prosthetic arm consisting of a yard trimmer (or weed whacker) following partial limb removal by a marlin, and he wields this as an effective tool of persuasion.

Regular Hiaasen character Skink, the militant, unhinged, ecoteur (aka Clinton Tyree - a former governor of Florida) is back in his biggest ever role. Blessed with a beautiful set of gleaming teeth, a bald pate - with two ludicrous pseudo-dreads - and an unerring moral compass, he's still living off roadkill, and after encountering the lovely Ann he comes to a touching and sympathetic understanding with her. These two are also, not coincidentally, the only characters in the book with decent old-fashioned values.

The author highlights the hypocrisy of the entertainment industry and the cult of celebrity - with its reliance on pure spin in lieu of actual talent. And once again he exposes and deals with the crooked politicians and land developers who have despoiled the Florida Keys and Everglades, killing off wildlife by destroying their habitation. Through his regular newspaper columns and books, Carl Hiaasen has become the de facto environmental spokesperson for his beloved home state, and, as always, serious ecological concerns lie at the beating heart of this novel. But fear not, he's never preachy, and he wraps everything up beautifully to present us with an hilarious and entertaining package.

Hiaasen wrote the blueprint for the modern, satirical, comic crime novel and he hits his targets with the practiced eye of a seasoned sniper, never laying it on too thick, merely allowing the absurd characters and situations to make his points for him. His regular readers can therefore rest assured that it's very much business as usual here, with the author presenting his customary mix of satire and sardonic observation. It's because so much familiar ground is covered that I've not given it the full five stars. However, if you've never read him before, try reading John McCrorie's review elsewhere on this page, where he indicates that this novel turned him into an instant fan of the great man's work.
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I loved Isabel Allende's early novels (up to and including The Infinite Plan and her heartbreaking memoir, Paula): she has a knack for creating wonderfully vivid, complex characters, wonderful stories teetering on the brink of magical realism but still believable, and brilliant settings. And in her early works she also had most original plots. In her more recent novels (largely historical novels with a strong romantic component), however, Allende has tended to resort to plots that make a good romantic adventure story but are rather low on subtlety, and on slightly cliched characters: the brave, devoted and poor young heroine, the reckless young lover, the bold courtesan, the villainous and lecherous older man, the overweight dowager figure. And 'Island Beneath the Sea' is no exception. Set in the Caribbean and later in Louisiana from the period just before the French Revolution until the 1820s, it is a rattling good adventure story, with plenty of sex and romance, but is packed with historical and romantic cliches.

Toulouse Valmorain, a poor Parisian aristocrat, comes to Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) to run a sugar plantation. He does well, makes his fortune, and also becomes a regular lover of Saint-Domingue's most beautiful courtesan, Violette Boisier, a clever woman of mixed race who has managed her business so that she can live in luxury. However, Toulouse realizes fairly soon that he must marry, and selects an elegant young Spanish woman, Eugenia Garcia, to be his wife. He hires Zarite (known as Tete), a young girl born into slavery, as Eugenia's maid. Tete is the leading character for much of the novel, some of which is narrated by her in the first person, some of which is told in the third person. Tete has a hard life. Her mistress suffers severe depression, and after several miscarriages and the birth of her only child, a son called Maurice, goes mad. At the age of 15, Tete is raped by her master, and thereafter has to serve as his concubine, bearing him two children. The first is taken away from her, though she is allowed to bring up the second, a daughter, Rosette. Tete has to work extremely hard, and is not taught to read, write or cook. And when her mistress dies, she is totally at the mercy of Toulouse. She keeps cheerful through a short but passionate affair with Gambo (a slave who runs away to join the rebel slaves planning to destroy the French rulers of Saint-Domingue), through her love for her daughter and for Toulouse's son Maurice, who she is nurse to, through her belief in a powerful mother goddess (Allende is as keen on these as Alice Walker, if not keener) and her belief that one day she will win her freedom. And when the slave rebels attack, and Tete chooses to help her master escape and go with him and her children (first to Cuba, then to New Orleans) rather than join the rebels, she believes she has the weapon she needs to get her freedom - she has saved Toulouse's life so he has to help her. But will Toulouse let her go? And how will Tete fare alone? What will happen to Violette Boisier, who has come to New Orleans to begin a new life as well, and can she help Tete? Without spoiling too much, safe to say there's a great many complications, a fair amount of misery for Tete when Toulouse marries for the second time to a tyrannical French Creole, and a Romeo and Juliet-style romance when Maurice falls passionately in love with the one girl he can never have as his wife.

It's all very engaging and entertaining - but I never found the novel went all that deep. There is a lot of interesting historical information slipped into the book (albeit in a rather wooden way at times), and some engaging characters. I particularly liked Violette Boisier, and the love of her life Etienne Relais, a French captain, the French doctor Parmentier and his partner Adele (Adele is coloured, so in the unpleasant society in which they live they can't marry), Toulouse's intellectual son Maurice and the saintly priest Pere Antoine. But too many of the characters are one-dimensional. Toulouse, for example, starts off in Part I as a pasteboard villain, with gargantuan appetites, and metamorphizes in the New Orleans scenes into a henpecked husband. Sancho Garcia, his brother-in-law, is fun, but behaves like a pantomime Don Giovanni, albeit with a kinder heart. Hortense, Toulouse's second wife is simply horrible, and Allende goes right over the top describing her weight gains. Gambo is a hero straight out of the most one-dimensional type of adventure film (and disappears from the plot with great rapidity) and Allende never really bothers to bring Tete's second lover, Zacharie, to life - I wasn't even sure if he was meant to be a rogue or a good man. Tete herself (as the critic of the New York Times noted) is a problem: I find it hard to believe that any slave who'd suffered such cruelty would be so serene and saintly, and her frequent invocations to the mother goddess Erzulie sounded more New Age than 19th-century. I sympathized with Tete but never felt I really 'knew' her as a character. And her reaction to a tragedy towards the end of the book was unbelievable - she seemed way too calm. Also problematic was the cliched nature of the world that Allende had created. While she brought the landscape of both Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and New Orleans well to life, the social life of the upper-class characters, all wigs, tights, corsets, elaborate furnishings and huge banquets, was depicted in a rather sugary stylized way (something she always managed to avoid in her earlier novels). The slaves were also stereotyped - all voodoo worshippers who liked nothing better than to do voodoo dances whenever they had a chance, and perform strange rites. And there were some pacing issues - the early scenes in New Orleans seemed to go on for ever, the scenes involving the pirates seemed to have been chucked in so Allende could get a mention of pirates into the book, and the tragic romance of Maurice and its aftermath started far too near the end of the book, so that it was coming to its conclusion virtually before it had got underway (and I think Allende put in the dramatic event towards the end of the book because she needed to end the novel and wasn't sure how to with so many loose ends left).

I'd recommend this book as a pleasant light read, which will give you some interesting information about life in the French colonies in the Caribbean and in Louisiana in the early 19th century. But I didn't find it all that satisfying either in terms of character or plot in the end. I wish Allende would go back to the more subtle explorations of human nature of her South American novels. Interestingly I see her most recent novel is a present-day story, based in Chile, so I'll be interested to see what that is like. I think she may have exhausted her vein of inspiration with historical romances for the time being.
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on 6 July 2010
Fantastic book!
I read it in Spanish and couldn't put it down.
It could be your best companion when sitting by the pool with a nice glass of wine on your holidays.
Thoroughly recommend it.
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Star Island marks Carl Hiaasen's return to adult fiction after a non-fiction efforts such as Fairway To Hell and young adult offerings like Scat. Unfortunately this overdue return to the genre that made his name as an author isn't one of his best.

Whilst he skewers his targets, from paparazzo photographers to manufactured pop to the media's obession with vacuous celebrity, with unerring accuracy, the subject matters feel rather dated and tired (the Britney Spears phenomena which the book rifs on having reached its apogee several years ago). Moreover the plot on which he hangs his satirical flourishes simply didn't work for me. The best Hiaasen books have plots that work like clockwork, bringing their multiple and seemingly disconnected subplots together with precision pacing to a final cathartic conclusion that ties up loose ends and provides a satisfying emotional payoff.

With Star Island however, the story seems to meander aimlessly before being loosely and unsatisfactorily closed out in the final ten pages. The fact that Hiaasen feels it necessary to tack on a lengthy 'Animal House'-style 'Where Are They Now' summary as an epilogue indicates that he really didn't know how to successfully wrap up any of the character arcs he'd set in motion within the confines of the actual narrative. Considering the book's length it feels like something of a cop-out.

The book also lacks the sort of really compelling or sympathetic characters that featured in previous Hiaasen novels. Anna DeLuisa is supposed to be the one 'good' (i.e. sensible and level headed) character in the story with whom readers can associate but doesn't have enough about her to really carry the story. I also struggled to understand the motivation for her actions during the second half of the book, which never really seemed to make much sense.

Meanwhile the rest of the characters come across as simply one-note or weird. Abbott the paparazzo is suitably slimy, immoral and dumb but isn't a terribly original or interesting a character either. Cherry Pie is simply too awful an individual to even be plausible as a fictional manufactured pop-princess, let alone a real human being. Her parents are given a little more depth but still come across as cliches, as does her scheming promoter.

Most of the rest are the usual collection of wackos that often populate Hiassen novels, but whilst they might work in small doses as minor supporting roles in Star Island two of them are thrust too much centre stage. Personally I've never understood the author's affection for Skink, who never worked for me as a character in Tourist Season or Sick Puppy and doesn't here. Sure, he's borderline crazy but not in a particularly amusing way and I've never believed in the charisma that is supposed to convince otherwise sensible people to join his madcap schemes. Equally Chemo, the one handed bodyguard who first appeared in Skin Tight, makes a return and provides the story with some palpable menace but again is too much of a freak to convince as a real human being.

I don't pick up a Hiaasen novel expecting realism or gritty drama. What I do look for however, and a key part of his appeal, is tight plotting and entertaining characterisation. Star Island lacks either of those things and as a result I'd consider it a disappointing effort from a talented author.
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on 8 September 2011
Isabelle sets her story in Haiti, an epoch and location I know little of. The sheer brutality that went on towards the slaves is shocking, and even more shocking is the fact that you know it took place. This is a fairly fast paced adventure that follows the life of the main heroine, a plantation slave. Its also fascinating as it follows a real time in history. a good return to form for Allende, I enjoyed this alot. Whilst it does not touch "House of the Spirits", its still a cracking read and a great history lesson
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on 1 October 2011
There's not much to like about most of the characters in Star Island, in which Hiaasen - with his usual wicked flourish - lampoons the world of celebrity and big business in Florida. An unwashed fatso paparazzi photographer, a disgraced former Pulitzer winner (who faked his prize winning pictures), becomes obsessed with Cherry Pye, a talentless chart-topping pop singer with a penchant for pills and sleeping with bodyguards to get her way. As he seeks his big picture, his world begins to unravel as editors discover that he's been selling shots of Cherry's body-double, Ann, the only 'normal' figure in the book, who is kidnapped by him in order to act as a ransom to get to Cherry. Meanwhile, a former governor of Florida, who wears hair braids weaved with old shotgun cartridges and who has gone feral living in a crocodile-infested swamp, decides to take justice into his own hands -- reminiscent of many of Hiaasen's other comic crime novels. He finds himself coming up against a mad bodyguard with one arm that consists of a mechanic strimmer machine... all hell, as you might expect, is set loose. This book is a wonderful vignette that pokes a sharp stick into the side of pop and media culture. There are laugh out loud lines, and there are moments when you can't help thinking that the text is inspired by the life of the likes of Amy Winehouse: there's an eerie fascination with Cherry Pye, as Winehouse died after this book came to publication. When I picked up Star Island, I thought it could be 'more of the same' from Hiaasen, but the subject matter provides a fresh area to prod, with lots of great stuff on the "preening grotesques and needy narcissists" of Miami's South Beach.
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on 11 October 2010
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. I've missed Hiaasen; I tried other authors who purport to do a similar thing, only to find them wanting. Nice to be able to return to the master himself.

Fans of Hiaasen will not be disappointed. The governor makes a welcome return, as does the gem of Chemo, the enforcer with a weed strimmer instead of an arm. Marvellous. Also present are a feisty female lead, and a collection of gruesome and amoral idiots for you to loathe and laugh at.

Few authors combine a zippy plot with so many laughs. It's not easy - it just seems that way because Hiaasen is so good at it. He's dropping little bits into the narrative, he doesn't leave chunks of plot hanging about. His characters are grotesque, but they work. It all fits together and it all flows together.

A welcome return.
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on 30 July 2016
I adore Allende's novel The House of the Spirits so had high hopes for this one too. However, I was disappointed with the poor translation which made it difficult to understand. I found myself having to read certain parts several times in order to grasp the meaning. I feel like it needs to be proofread again after the translation as a lot of it just doesn't make sense. I love the plot though and would definitely recommend it but read it in the the original Spanish if you can x
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