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on July 25, 2012
I bought Hell or High Water because it was set in New Orleans, and was not dissappointed. I live in New Orleans, and the book was accurate on most details. (Most people here, say Baby, not darling. Even this old lady has been called "baby" by many a restaurant worker.) The story starts with an abduction, and I thought this was going to be the main thrust of the story, a detective searching for the perp, but the story takes a quick turn toward Nola, a writer for the Times Picayune. The book was fufilling on many levels, well written, a good mystery, characters with depth, and well researched info on sexual predators and the effect their actions have on their victims. This book was hard to set aside, and I finished it after several days of reading at 2 a.m. Thank heaven for Ipads that let me read without disturbing him.
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on July 21, 2012
I'm not much for writing reviews of fiction; I really prefer to know as little as possible about a book or a movie in advance so I rely on my friends to recommend things. So, I'll be extremely general here in my enthusiasms. I prefer to like protagonists and I loved Nola. I prefer not to see blatant errors of fact and I saw none. I prefer enough complexity, but not too much and characters to caricature. Done and done. Having read this, I'll probably read everything Castro writes and be mildly annoyed that she is not writing faster (along with Hiaasen, Childs, Banks, Palahniuk, Crais, Gaiman, Harkaway, etc.)
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on October 4, 2012
In "Hell or High Water", Nola is a reporter for the city's big newspaper. But Nola (New Orleans, LA - get it?) is a bit of a foul-up to put it nicely, socially, sexually, and professionally. The story starts with the abduction of a young woman from a restaurant; her body is found several days later in the river, raped and mutilated, the third such victim in recent times. Sounds like a good beginning for a crime fiction story, but then the book becomes a bit of a travelogue, a rather good one by the way. The reader learns a ton of interesting stuff about NOLA's history, architecture, food, neighborhoods, Katrina etc. I found myself putting the book down several times and running to Google Maps. Maybe a bit too many times. Back to the crime story. Well Nola gets assigned to do a major piece on the city's sex offenders, and she begins to interview psychologists, ex-cons, neighborhood Moms.....but then the story diverts to Nola's rather lurid sex life, a series of one night stands (literally) with total strangers, often with guys who have just finished participating in a local soccer match, and in one such encounter she is braced against a dumpster in an alley (who says romance is dead). Well back to the story.....Nola buys a gun, then Nola becomes a Big Sister, then Nola gets chewed out for mishandling another assignment, then Nola tells us that "papaya" is Cuban slang for a certain part of the female anatomy but we all know that because Mitt Romney innocently used the word in a recent interview with resulting snickers from some of the crowd. And one of Nola's girl friends is getting married and she discovers something shocking about her mother, and new bf Bento goes to the wedding. Whew! Well, the book is good but tries to do way too much. But I will read Joy Castro's next one. Or maybe the next book won't be set in NO since the only place Nola didn't take us in this book was the Saints' locker room. I don't think this will be a series but who knows.
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on September 1, 2012
I picked up Ms Castro's debut novel Hell or High Water on the advice of a friend one week before Hurricane Isaac came barreling into the Gulf to mark the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Isaac looked as if it was headed directly toward the Louisiana coast, and the nation's eyes were on New Orleans once again. So, it was with more than a little interest that I read this incredibly descriptive story of a city and people who had already survived one catastrophe, only to potentially face it yet again. I have never travelled to New Orleans, and Ms Castro writes about the city like a painter with a canvas; one can almost feel the heat and humidity, smell the blooming jasmine, taste the spicy, rich Cajun food, and feel the pain-- and determination to overcome adversity-- of the city's overly burdened inhabitants.

Ms Castro skillfully uses New Orleans as a backdrop for the suspenseful twists and turns of a beautifully crafted plot; Nola Cespedes is a young, ambitious reporter for the Times Picayune newspaper, and the paper's editor offers her a chance to escape the agony (for her) of writing "fluff" pieces for the paper's culture section by assigning her an investigative crime story about thousands of sex offenders who "went off the grid" after their records were destroyed by Katrina. Nola jumps at the opportunity, and begins a long and painful journey that takes her to dark places that eventually touch her very soul. Nola was born and raised in the Upper Ninth Ward, an area of New Orleans that came under the spotlight post-Katrina due to the total destruction of the area and lack of timely state and federal aid, perhaps as a result of the fact that this section of New Orleans was synonymous with extreme crime and poverty. Nola is the only child of a Cuban émigré (careful readers will realize that she is named for her city), and she fights hard to leave her life of poverty behind her by attending school in an affluent section of the city, and then studying journalism at Tulane University. Her early years are behind her at the start of the novel, however Nola remains conflicted between the life she left behind and the middle class life she has created for herself. This emotional conflict is beautifully written into the story line, and Ms Castro brings the reader along with Nola's growing self awareness in ways that are both subtle yet ultimately shocking as the story nears its climax.

Hell or High Water is a wonderful page-turner, and I really hope that Ms Castro brings Nola back in a sequel to this stunning tale of crime and intrigue in a city that is known for both.
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on September 27, 2013
Castro writes beautifully as we come to care about the characters and empathize with them. The description of New Orleans and its culture is spot-on and I longed to take the five-hour drive from Houston just to get there and visit all the places that she mentions. Well done! When I started this book, I understood that it was a mystery/suspense novel. I can count the number of suspenseful moments on one hand. Towards the end of the book, I began to skip the long descriptive passages because they did nothing to move the story along. The suspense in this book is much too thin to put it into that genre. But if you love a good character study, this book is for you.
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on May 27, 2013
I LOVED this book. That is not to say that it was an easy read, by any means. Nola is a deeply flawed character that seems to spiral downward toward certain trouble. It is like watching a car crash that has you cringing but you can't look away. But the writing is so well done and the descriptions of New Orleans are so spot on, I couldn't help but be drawn in and fall in love with this book. Although, the subject matter of pedophiles and missing girls had me putting the book down when it was dark out and only reading with the lights on.

The writing was fresh and the characters intriguing. I look forward to Castro's second book about Nola and seeing how the character grows and where she goes from such a dark and disturbed place. Fantastic read!

Victoria Allman
author of: SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Husband
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on November 20, 2012
I loive a book that when I turn the page, I gasp. This was certainly
true for Hell or High Water, The character and the plot were great
my only exception to the book was the "F"
word. In most cases it seemed to be thrown in there without the
need. Her character was established without that. If it weren't
for that I would have rated it 5 stars.
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on September 9, 2012
Joy Castro does a wonderful job of writing a multi-faceted story. The diversity of citizens in the city of New Orleans is matched by the diversity of characters in the book who each bring different socio-economic class and ethnic perspectives to the main story. I read the book at the time Hurricane Isaac was hitting New Orleans and the controversy about Missouri US Senate candidate Todd Akins comments regarding "legitimate rape". These current events made the realities of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which is the setting of the story, and the crimes discussed in the book take on additional gravity. Castro does a very nice job!
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on December 10, 2012
This is a very insightful book which very vividly describes New Orleans. The story is very believable and written in such a way that the reader can visualize the setting and empathize with the main character. There are clues throughout the novel subtly hinting at the outcome and the reader is compelled to continue reading to find out if these hints have been correctly interpreted. I would highly recomment this novel.
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on July 22, 2012
Unlike most of the other reviews, I won't go into the story line or give away plot twists. I stopped doing 'book reports' in the 4th grade.

Instead I'd like to say I found Ms. Castro's prose delightful to all my senses. Her descriptions of one of my favorite locations was so accurate and spot on, I could see it as I read it. I could even taste the red beans and her flan. Her use of the language brought me to the stairway with Nola when she was talking with the 'off the grid' offender, or inside the condo with the former educator. I always felt I was right with her, that I was seeing what she was seeing.

Nola's flaws are real flaws, her strengths are real strengths. How she deals with them is complex and confusing, as are all human reactions. It's perfect.

Having read other works by Castro, I was anxiously waiting for this release, and I was not disappointed. A friend who read it first, described it as a 'summer read for smart people', and I couldn't agree more. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre. The subject matter is tough, but she handles it well, and honestly.

I look forward not only to more from Castro, but more of Nola...and hopefully maybe some screen action of Nola. This would be a very interesting movie, done correctly.
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