In Bloom (Sweetpea #2), by C. J. Skuse

Eight stars

C.J. Skuse is back with the sequel to her twist serial killer novel with more first-person narrative in a world where murder seems to be the easiest way to deal with scumbags. After her successful run of killing a number of sexual offenders, Rhiannon Lewis has been able to push the crimes off on her fiancé, Craig, who was recently picked-up by the authorities. Rhiannon’s drama does not end there, for a workplace tryst left her pregnant and required that she dispose of the baby daddy in short order, though has decided to do so on the sly. Now, with the news breaking that she’s been living alongside a serial killer, Rhiannon is not working, but has moved into her presumptive in-laws’ home, who are led to believe that this baby is their grandchild. Plotting her pregnancy through a first-person narrative, Rhiannon has immersed herself into the life of an expectant mother, though she cannot shake the urge to kill, particularly those who are on the prowl to harm others. Enter the wee one in her belly, which acts as a sort of conscience to steer Rhiannon on the right path. As the urges continue to grow and the authorities start poking around ahead of Craig’s trial, Rhiannon must use her willpower to stay clean and prepare to be the best mother possible. Still, one little murder couldn’t hurt anyone, right? A wonderfully sarcastic and dark story that is sure to entertain the reader throughout. Recommended for those who like a little British humour alongside the insights of a serial killer.

A friend recommended the debut novel in this series, which I found to be decent and definitely a quick read. Returning to see how the pregnancy might add to the flavour of the plot and narrative, I was quite impressed with what Skuse created, so much so that I pushed through the piece in short order. Rhiannon ‘Sweetpea’ Lewis is quite the character, particularly with impending motherhood looming over her. Not only does the reader get to see a little more of her insight into ridding the world of sexual offenders, but also the struggle to regulate her urges in order to prepare for a baby. Rhiannon’s banter, with baby and moms-to-be alike, is a mix of humour and downright struggles to find a balance, which permits the reader to see much of her inner angst. The to and fro with the wee one is quite amusing and does provide an interesting subplot throughout the piece. A handful of others cross paths with Rhiannon, creating an interesting dynamic as she seeks to show little sign of panic or concern, while things are almost out of control below the surface. The story takes some interesting plot twists and provides the reader with some interesting perspectives, from trips with her pregnancy group to life living with in-laws and even some luring of paedophiles through internet websites. The reader can see, through a first-person narrative, what makes Rhiannon tick, which includes some of her ‘list of things I hate’ that appear to open specific chapters. Of note, Skuse has chosen to plot the pregnancy with gestation dates rather than the traditional chapter numbers, allowing the reader to see the ongoing progression of things, with helps also to explain Rhiannon’s struggles as her pregnancy progresses. Fast-paced and told with blunt honesty, the book is one that complements the first novel quite well, though surely could be read as a standalone.

Kudos, Madam Skuse, for a wonderful piece. I am eager to see where to take things from here, should you decide to build on the series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Sweetpea, by C.J. Skuse

Seven stars

After having written a number of Young Adult novels, C.J. Skuse turns to her darker side in penning this piece, rich in angst and homicidal actions. Rhiannon Lewis hates her life and most of those who cross her path. Using a series of diary entries, she explores this hatred by tipping her hand to the reader. Many of her entries begin with a list of those she despises the most and why they rub her the wrong way. Be it people from the news, those at her place of employment, or people with whom she must interact in public, Rhiannon cannot let things flow off her back. As the narrative progresses, the reader learns that Rhiannon was once famous for being the sole survivor in a horrific attack on a daycare facility, though she suffered significant injuries. These injuries seem to have numbed her ability to truly care for others, while also helping to foster a sense of vigilante behaviour, which she uses to restore balance in the world. Rhiannon has many secrets, but none darker than the need to punish those who have wronged the innocent and to harm people who do not serve a useful purpose in her day to day life. The narrative is full of these struggles and the list of personal enemies that Rhiannon finds troublesome seems to grow as time passes. That being said, a personal event turns everything on its head and forces Rhiannon to reassess her life and the choices she’s made; a new feeling for this seemingly cold and emotionless woman. Whatever the struggle, Rhiannon Lewis will not be the same by the end, though no one can truly tell how she’ll turn out. Skuse offers a very dark and demented path through this novel, sure to interest those who enjoy personal struggle and protagonists with deep and homicidal secrets.

I chose this book on the recommendation of a friend, who knows how much I enjoy a twisted tale. I was not entirely sure what to expect, but did hope for some psychological thriller that would keep me up well into the night. Instead, I pushed through this personal journal of a twenty-something woman who has a hit list a mile long and many deep secrets she wants to keep from others. Rhiannon is quite the repulsive character, particularly because of her attitude towards the outside world. As she mentions throughout the narrative, she has a ‘me’ side and a public persona to uphold, a difficult act to support through troubling times. However, her Dexter-like duality might serve to better underscore her struggles on a daily basis. The reader cannot help but feel a ray of sympathy for her, though surely dislikes her ongoing attacks on anyone who is not perfect. With a cast of varied secondary characters, Skuse is able to prop up her novel with a vast array of fodder to fuel Rhiannon’s fire, though no one can be sure when things will take a significant turn. The story itself is decent, though there are surely segments that drag and left me wondering how long it would take to push through. This is definitely not a fast-paced piece, nor is it something with mysterious crumbs left throughout the narrative. The reader must dedicate themselves to getting to the very end, where more surprises lie in wait. I am happy to say I made it, though the journey was anything but simple. Still, Skuse kept me wondering and guessing, with some significantly curious means of tying up loose ends by the final few entries.

Kudos, Madam Skuse, for a great piece, which differs greatly from your usual fare. I am eager to see what else you might bring up for publishing in the coming years. I know I’ll keep an eye open!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons