Beautiful Malice

…by Rebecca James.

17 year old Katherine Patterson has moved to Sydney to get away from her life in Melbourne. While she lives with her aunt Vivien and attends Drummond High School with the aim of keeping to herself and getting through the HSC, she is befriended by Alice at school. Alice is infectious. An extroverted, bubbly girl living by herself in the inner city, breathtakingly beautiful and with no apparent regrets or anxieties. However, Alice avoids talking about anything emotional. But it doesn’t bother Katherine as she too has a secret she wants to keep hidden. It has to do with the death of her younger sister Rachel. The very reason Katherine left Melbourne and chose not to go to Newcastle with her parents.  However, all is not right with Alice. She can be vicious and mean. She treats her boyfriend Robbie like dirt. She doesn’t like it if things are not all about her.

Will Katherine put up with this or will she see through Alice? 

What is it about Katherine’s past that makes her still feel so guilty?

What happened to her sister Rachel? What is the deep dark family secret?

And what secrets does Alice have herself? 

To find out the secrets, read the book. All in all, it was a captivating thriller and I managed to read it in a day. The author has an engaging style and the plot is pretty interesting. The characters are average in that there isn’t too much depth to them. However, you have to remember it is a book aimed at young adults and possibly the plot is more important than characters. Some of the shit that Alice dishes out to her ‘friends’ makes it a bit hard to understand why they put up with it. Why they put up with her. The book goes from present to past with an adult Katherine narrating the story. The adult Katherine appears to have dealt with a lot of grief through her life and is now living for the sake of her 4 year old daughter. In short, it is a great debut novel.

I would give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!

Note: This has been cross-posted on my personal blog.

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Wanting

‘Wanting’ is a book by Australian author Richard Flanagan. The year is 1839. The setting is Van Diemen’s land (Tasmania, as it is known today). A young Aborginal girl by the name of Mathinna attempts to get help from the Protector for her dying father. Fast forward twenty years on. Charles Dickens, the most prolific author of his time, is dealing with a dead end marriage and lack of interest in life. Until he is approached by the person connecting the two stories together. Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of one of the most famous explorers, Sir John Franklin.

In 1841, Sir John Franklin was the governor of Van Diemen’s land and lived in the convict colony with his wife. Lady Jane is enamoured by Mathinna and decides to adopt her as part of an experiment to ‘civilise’ the ‘savage’ child. The underlying belief of the times is that by controlling one’s passion and wanting, one will be civilised. It is apparently the ‘savages’ who give in to the passion and wanting. Thus, Lady Jane, being the civlised person that she is, does not give in to her needs to hug or comfort the child. On the other hand, Sir John eventually finds himself living for the time spent with Mathinna. Thus drawing ridicule from his peers. Lady Jane’s experiment fails and Mathinna is left back in Van Diemen’s land in an orphanage. Sir John Franklin disappears on an exploration which is rumoured to have ended in cannibalism. A scandalous suggestion for the times. Lady Jane requests Dickens’ help to put an end to these rumours. As Dickens get into the story, he ends up producing and starring in a play inspired by Sir John Franklin. His belief is that discipline and strong will can help conquer yearning and desire. Except, through the play, he meets Ellen Ternan and finds himself unable to conquer his own wanting.

The central theme of course, is wanting. The belief of the era that giving in to your longings and wants is something a ‘savage’ would do and not a gentleman or lady. The book looks at how there are consequences of giving in to ones wants and that is seen through the characters of Dickens, John Franklin and even Mathinna while similarly, you can have negative consequences by not giving in to your desires as is depicted through Lady Jane. Flanagan also explores the colonisation of the Aboriginals. How there was a belief that they needed a ‘protector’ or someone who could make them more ‘civilised’. Through Mathinna’s character, you see the ill that was done by the British and the whites to the Aboriginal population of Australia. The stolen generation rings out loud even though this book was before the time. The sad thing is that the repercussions of this colonisation is seen till today with the Aboriginal population. Mathinna’s character is endearing and the conflict she feels after being abandoned by the Franklins between her race and the white race is one that is very relatable. You feel for the pain she goes through. The writing is quite exquisite and the chapters move between Dickens and Franklin/Mathinna, thus keeping you engrossed to know more. The author warns that it is not a novel of history. But to me, it was enlightening to learn about the past.

I give it a  rating of 4.

Note: This post has been cross-posted on my personal blog.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Broken Glass Park

…by Alina Bronsky.

Narrated by seventeen year old Sascha Naiman, this book reads as her journal as she goes through life after her mother is killed. Born in Russia, Sascha now lives in Germany with her two younger siblings and a relative who is their guardian. The story beings with Sascha pointing out that she has two dreams – one is to kill her stepfather, who murdered her mother and her mother’s lover, and the other is to write a book about her mother. And from there the book goes on as a chronicle of Sascha’s life as she takes care of her siblings, goes to school, and tries to live with that grudge against her stepfather who is now in prison.

The book is a journey into a teenager’s life as she’s trying to get over a tragedy, while being there for what is left of her family. Sascha’s voice is very engaging…she lets the reader get into her mind slowly but steadily; yet, keeping herself closed to a certain extent, so as to leave the reader wanting more. She sheds light on the past every now and then, narrating all those events from the past leading up to her mother’s murder. She pours out her anger, builds a bubble around herself to keep her from getting close to anyone.

What I liked most about the book was the depth of Sascha’s character. Even after the nightmare of a past, she emerges as a strong and smart personality. And a very accurate portrayal of what goes on in her mind just adds to how easily a reader is able to relate to that character. On the other hand, the powerful beginning lead me to want an equally compelling end, but for some reason it all fell very flat after a point, and that’s where I was left disappointed.

Overall, this realistic and touching story about a teenager with a brutal past is worth a read.

My rating: 3*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

Love Story

…by Erich Segal.

Oliver, a wealthy guy who goes to Harvard and plays in the school’s Hockey team, meets Jennifer, who is a music student at Radcliffe and her father a baker in Rhode Island, in a library. They fall in love and get married, even though Oliver’s father has objections. After marriage, they go through ups and downs, but live happily with each other. Jenny supports the family as Oliver goes to law school. Once he graduates, he lands a good job in a law firm New York City. With time, they decide to have a baby; but end up having to seek a doctor when they see nothing happening even after months of trying to conceive. That’s when they learn of a health issue that Jennifer has; something that is incurable. What happens next; how they cope with the shocking news – makes up the rest of the story.

I stumbled upon this book during one of my recent visits to the bookstore and since I’ve heard people talking so much about how good it is, I didn’t think twice before picking it up. As I started reading it, I was expecting it to be exceptional, given all the high recommendations I’ve heard over the years. And in the following few hours that took me to finish the book, I was only met with disappointment. This book didn’t do justice to all the hype; it was just mediocre.

In my opinion, the problem lies in the short length of the novel. There wasn’t enough time to develop any of the characters. Everything happened too quickly, which means, as a reader, I couldn’t connect with the depth of the couple’s love or sympathize with them during their grief. I wanted to like the book for the story has potential. But too long a story confined to a short novel brought out neither the beauty of the plot nor its characters…at least not to my liking.

Overall, a quick and easy read, if you have a few hours with nothing else to do; but don’t expect anything extraordinary.

My rating: 2*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

P.S: A book that I liked along the same storyline as this one is A Walk To Remember by Nicholas Sparks…now that one, a sweet romantic novel, left me heartbroken with its tragic end.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

…by John Boyne.

Set in the Nazi Germany era, this novel tells the story of a nine year old, Bruno. Bruno’s father, a Nazi commander, is relocated from Berlin to Auschwitz, where he is to supervise the concentration camp. Bruno gets extremely upset to leave behind his friends, grandparents and everyone / everything in Berlin. Once in Auschwitz, Bruno feels lonely given that there is no one his age around with whom he can play / spend time with…that is until he peeps out of his bedroom window and sees a fenced area far away where there are people – children and men – all wearing stripped pajamas.

Curious by nature, Bruno ventures into exploring more – he goes toward the fenced area one day and, to his surprise, finds a nine year old boy, Shmuel, sitting on the other side. They get to talking and a beautiful friendship blossoms over the course of the next year. Right when Bruno starts getting used to his life in Auschwitz, credits to his friend Shmuel, Bruno learns of a possibility of moving back to Berlin. As one last thing to do together before having to part ways, Shmuel and Bruno plan an exploration…

How their friendship grows. How two nine year olds experience life in extremes. How contrasting lives are on either side of the fence. What final adventure Bruno and Shmuel embark on. What happens next – one must read the novel to know.

I watched this movie after Psych Babbler recommended it, and I spent quite some time after that with a heavy heart. Months later, I decided I wanted to read the book just to experience the storytelling through a different medium. Again, once I finished reading the book, I found myself in tears. Simple, yet a powerful read, this heart wrenching tale will definitely leave anyone feeling sad.

This tragic tale is deep in so many levels – Bruno’s innocence, Shmuel’s virtue, and the way they find solace in each other, just to name a few. Although the author doesn’t write too graphically about the cruelty of the period, the way he delves into the tale through a nine year old’s point of view and develops his characters is enough for the readers to understand the underlying catastrophe.

It may seem a little unbelievable as to how so naïve Bruno is about what is going on around him, but that doesn’t in any way take away from the warmth one experiences while reading about the boys’ friendship and the pain that one goes through after reading about the disturbing incident. This is one of those stories that I know for sure will stay with me forever – it’s so awful that it makes my eyes misty every time I think of it.

Overall, a poignant tale that is a must read. Read the book or watch the movie – both are equally good as far as getting the essence of the story across – but definitely make sure you don’t miss out on this.

My rating: 5*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

Words Can Describe

Quick Data

Author: Abi Grant

ISBN: 978-0-3350-51835-2

Price: . 285 INR

Abi Grant is a successful young television sketch show writer. One night she is attacked in her London flat, while she is sleeping, by a complete stranger-who had waited for her to come home from the theatre.

The attack-an attempted rape-was violent and terrifying. But Abi manages to fight back and escapes from her home and goes upstairs to her landlady.

Post this incident the nameless man-who broke into her home via a window-is not to be arrested for next 12 years. In this long duration Abi’s life collapses around her. She goes through a lot of ups and downs of life as well as the emotional trauma haunts her every now and then.It’s not the same again for her to sleep alone in her own house feeling safe and sleeping sound !

How does she copes up with all this ? What happens to the rapist? Does he get identified? Does Abi get justice?

The book is a piece by piece record of Abi’s life after this attack. A memoir of a sexual assault. What she goes through mentally, physically and financially. Though the novel’s storyline is intriguing and the quote on the book from ‘Coleen Nolen’ says “This is a book every woman should read”.  I personally felt that the book loses  its grip going forward. Slowly in the middle of the consequences Abi stops writing her story instead starts writing about the factors creating rape-culture, some digs at second wave-feminism et al. presenting unnecessary incidences which actually dilute the main plot. She also manages to write some humour in between the serious plot which sometimes is irrelevant to the mood.

Not that I don’t recommend reading this book. Just that it disappoints through the middle of it. Like you know there are books in which you can skip few chapters and still you can connect to the story line without even feeling that you’ve missed something important. That applies to this one. So don’t keep any high hopes.

It’s a onetime read- Words Can Describe is helpful for victims and survivors-who will feel less alone.It also provides a set of guidelines about how to cope up with the trauma without feeling guilty about being attacked and what to do or not to do. Of course it depends on case to case basis but it can be taken as a suggestive write-up for dealing with the trauma and stress and get back to normal life yet again.

My rating for this book is 3


Every Last One

…by Anna Quindlen.In this novel, Mary Beth Latham, a mother of three, narrates the story of her life. Ruby, her first born, is a teenager getting ready to go to college next year; Alex and Max, her twins, are nothing like each other; Glen, her husband, is a physician – the story revolves around this family. Mary Beth describes her everyday life as she deals Max’s depression and Ruby’s break up with her boyfriend Kiernan. Her normal life turns upside down after a tragedy hits home and she’s forced to face unbearable loss. What happens and how she deals with it is told in the rest of the book.

The first half the book was rather slow for me – the author goes on to build the characters and set the background for the tragedy that is about to take place – while it is necessary for what is to follow, I found it rather dragging in parts. Once the awful event happens, it’s a page turner – the pain and the grief is written so very well that it’ll bring out tears at times. The heartache that the narrator goes through is so upsetting; it provokes sympathy. It’s depressing, yes…but there’s something so compelling about that sorrow that it engages the reader with every word.

The writing style is absolutely amazing. It was the one of the reasons I got through the first half of the book…if not for that beautiful flow in prose, I might have given up. I would highly recommend the author, if not the book.

Overall, the second half sure has the potential to make the reader empathize with the narrator’s character – so, I would recommend it if you won’t be too bothered with the slow pace of the first half.

My rating: 3*.

*for the rating scale, click here.