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.
Buy the book: Amazon Kindle
Journey to the Center of the Earth | Jules Verne | Publisher: Bantam | 5 stars
A novel that takes its reader on a grand adventure from page one is sure to be a good one. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne is just one example of such a novel. The story grabs you right from the beginning. Narrated by the main character’s nephew, we are taken on a journey from beginning to end that is as exhilarating as any ride at Disneyland. Having dreamed of being an adventurer since he was a child, Mr. Verne managed to channel some of that energy into his writing, while at the same time pleasing his father and becoming a lawyer.
The story opens with Professor Lidenbrock finding a book written in Icelandic. The book is not as important as what is found inside the book, however. A piece of parchment with a series of letters written in a Runic language is found tucked among the pages, setting off a frenzy for the professor (and by association, his nephew, Axel) to find out what the parchment says. Once Professor Lidenbrock and Axel translate what is written we get into the meat of the story – the journey to the center of the Earth.
Their journey begins with Axel and Professor Lidenbrock going to Iceland, where they spend time trying to learn more about the person who wrote the note on the parchment. While there, they also acquire a guide who will go with them on their visit to Snafell and into the center of the Earth. He proves an excellent guide and his efforts are appreciated by the professor and his nephew.
Throughout the book, the professor never gives up on getting to the center of the earth. He is bound and determined not to let anything stop him, despite the many protestations of Axel, who is ready to turn back at the first sign of trouble. I wouldn’t label Axel a skeptic, but he is definitely more cautious than his uncle and tends to think something is going to go wrong. I know that those things would make the reader immediately label Axel a skeptic, but in the end he does come around to the adventure and is willing to see it through to the end. Throughout the story, the trio is faced with a variety of obstacles but they overcome all of them with grace and come out for the better on the other side.
It’s hard to review this book without giving anything anyway. However, I will say this (without spoilers): I wish there were a sequel and this is one of the most well-written books I’ve read in a long time. Mr. Verne certainly did his research (and copious amounts of it) for this novel. He crams a lot into a little space (the book, not including notes, checks in at 288 pages), but the detail is impressive. He also provides 30-plus pages of notes at the end, to explain all the people, places, and objects he refers to throughout the novel.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love a story that grabs me right from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the end. I give it five out of five stars and would suggest it to anyone who likes a good adventure story.