I've had Rebecca James' first two books on my bookshelf for years now, but for some reason I never got around to reading them. I decided this month I'd have a Rebecca James week and I borrowed her third book from the library. I'm so glad I finally read her books, they're fantastic! Below are my thoughts on each.
Published May 2010 by Allen & Unwin
Rating: 4 stars
From the blurb: Katherine has moved away from her shattered family to start afresh in Sydney. There she keeps her head down until she is befriended by the charismatic, party-loving Alice, who brings her out of her shell. But there is a dark side to Alice, something seductive yet threatening. And as Katherine learns the truth about Alice, their tangled destinies spiral to an explosive and devastating finale.
Beautiful Malice is Rebecca James' debut novel. It's the story of seventeen year old Katherine Anderson (formerly Boydell). Her younger sister Rachel is dead, and Katherine has moved to Sydney to stay with her aunt so she can escape the aftermath. At her new high school she tries to keep to herself but she catches the attention of a classmate, Alice Parrie, and soon Katherine is swept up by Alice's personality and attention.
There's a skill needed as an author to reveal a major part of the ending at the beginning - in this case the death of a main character or two, and still keep the story riveting and mysterious. Rebecca James has that skill. From the beginning I believed I knew who was going to die at the end but I was still curious about Katherine's past and how the story would unfold.
If my reading this year has taught me anything, it's that I don't often feel a lot of sympathy towards main characters dealing with grief, if the character they're grieving is unknown to me. But in this case, the reader gets to know Rachel via Katherine's backstory. Each time Rachel's death got closer, I became more anxious. At one point I had to stop reading because I knew I was about to read the most horrific scene and I felt too tense to continue. It's been a while since a book has elicited such a physical response in me.
The relationship between Katherine and Alice was an insightful look at female friendships. Katherine feels lucky just to be noticed by Alice, and so allows most of the power to sit with Alice. But Katherine's strength grew over the course of the story, her happiness slowly increasing the more she took control.
I have to say that when I realised that I had guessed incorrectly at the identity of one of the characters who would later die, I was sad. I also felt the final death scene wasn't as dramatic as I thought it would be, and it felt a little rushed.
Ableist language: idiot, insane, crazy, maniac, psycho, dumb, lunatic, moron.
Beautiful Malice is a thrilling, mysterious, and devastating story featuring believable characters with complicated lives.
Published April 2013 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 4 stars
From the blurb: When Tim Ellison finds a cheap room to rent in the perfect location in Sydney it looks like a huge stroke of luck. In fact the room comes with a condition, and the owner of the house, the mysterious Anna London, is unfriendly and withdrawn. When strange and terrifying things start happening in the house at night, Tim wonders if taking the room is a mistake. But then his feelings for Anna start to change, and when her past comes back with a vengeance, Tim is caught right in the middle of it.
Sweet Damage is Rebecca James' second novel. Tim Ellison is in his early twenties but doesn't feel the same drive as some of his friends to go out and start a career. He enjoys swimming and surfing, working as the cook at his dad's restaurant, and pining after his ex-girlfriend, Lilla. But living with Lilla and her new boyfriend is not working out, so when a room becomes available in a beautiful old house at a low rental price, Tim takes it, despite wondering what the catch could be.
I immediately loved this story because it's set in Manly and Fairlight on Sydney's Northern Beaches. It provided a beautiful backdrop for the mystery, and I found it so easy to picture the locations described.
It was easy to like Tim, I admired him for not caving to the pressure to jump into a corporate job, just because it was expected of him. He's a loyal friend and a hard worker, but he also wants to enjoy life. While this was mostly Tim's story, Anna's perspective is also shown and I enjoyed the insight into her life. She has secrets and they're slowly revealed over the course of the story. I felt protective of her, and was glad Tim came into her life.
The setting, an old house called Fairview, added an element of mystery, and some of the occurrences were a little spooky and creepy. I did work out the culprit before the reveal, but I had completely different motives in mind, and I thought they had an accomplice - I'll share my thoughts on Goodreads because I can use spoiler tags.
Ableist language: insane, dumb, idiot, crazy, lunatic, mad, mental.
Sweet Damage is the type of new adult novel I can enjoy. It's mysterious, captivating, and clever. It focuses on life after high school, friendships, and relationships, without unnecessary drama or stereotypical characters.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the review copy.
Published October 2014 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the library
Rating: 4 stars
From the blurb: Cooper Bartholomew's body is found at the foot of a cliff.
That's the official finding, that's what everyone believes.
Cooper's girlfriend, Libby, has her doubts. They'd been
happy, in love. Why would he take his own life?
As Libby searches for answers, and probes more deeply
into what really happened the day Cooper died, she and
her friends unravel a web of deception and betrayal.
Are those friends – and enemies – what they seem?
Who is hiding a dangerous secret? And will the truth set them all free?
Rebecca James' third book, Cooper Bartholomew is Dead, is set in the fictional town of Walloma. Cooper worked as a carpenter and furniture builder and lived with his mum. He and Libby Lawson reconnected after a chance meeting and began dating, despite not really hanging out together when they were in high school. Each of their friends has reasons for not wanting them to date, but they slowly fall in love. When Cooper is found dead, Libby knows it can't have been suicide and is determined to figure out what really happened.
Told from multiple perspectives and over two timelines - then and now, this story was compelling from the beginning. Knowing Cooper died didn't mean much at first, but as the story progressed and his character was revealed, it became much more emotional because I wanted to be able to change the outcome of the story.
Rebecca James really excels at writing realistic characters with depth. They never seem stereotypical or flat, there's always more to them, and it was intriguing to get to know the four main characters, Cooper, Libby, Seb, and Claire. Even the ones who were prickly at first grew on me, so it was all the more devastating to realise what had happened.
Ableist language: psycho, dumb, idiot, insane, crazy, midget.
Cooper Bartholomew is Dead is a mysterious, captivating story filled with intertwined lives, fully-realised characters, and a heartbreaking ending.