Beautiful Malice | Rebecca James | Publisher: Bantam | 4 stars

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James is one of the best books I’ve read this year. A stunning debut novel, Beautiful Malice tells the story of Katherine Patterson (formerly Katie Boydell) and her life after the murder of her younger sister, Rachel. Wanting to move past it all, Katherine moves in with her aunt, in an effort to start her life over. Early on, she meets Alice, who befriends her by inviting her to her birthday party. Drawn in by Alice’s persistence, Katherine agrees to go, not knowing what to expect. What she gets is a friendship with someone who is harboring so many secrets it could make your head spin.

As we go through the story, which is three different parts of Katherine’s life – her life just before and as her sister is raped and murdered, her life after meeting Alice, and her life in present day – we are introduced to several other characters, including Alice’s boyfriend Robbie, Phillipa and Mick. Katherine’s relationship with each of them is intense, with good and bad moments for each.

I really enjoyed the way the story was written with the alternating chapters – it made things much more suspenseful and made me want to keep reading to find out what was going to happen next in each part of the story. The book kept me on my toes the entire time – I couldn’t wait to keep reading to find out what happened. On the other hand, I also wanted to read slowly and savor it until the very end. The twists and turns were just perfect.

Watching Katherine grow into herself as she made new friends, met her boyfriend Mick, and found out she was pregnant was interesting. Despite all of the problems that Alice eventually caused for her because of the situation with her sister, Katherine handled things with grace. Although she certainly had moments when she was frustrated, she took things as they came, especially after meeting Mick. Finding someone that loved her the way he did really shaped who she became.

There were many happy moments throughout the story and they added a certain lightness to all of the sadness and loss that Katherine experienced – first, her sister, then Alice and Mick. But in the end, she finds happiness where she least expects it (which made me happy – I was rooting for her and Robbie the whole time).

I loved Mrs. James’ writing style. She kept it simple, but with detail. I never felt like I was left out of anything, but not so included that it was overwhelming. Does that make sense? I guess what I mean is that there was just the right amount of detail and the storytelling wasn’t overshadowed by any extraneous stuff. I look forward to more books from Mrs. James in the future.