Review: Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

Book Shelf One A-D

Book Shelf One A-D (Photo credit: Corinna A. Carlson)

What is it all about?

Katherine has a secret. A tragedy imprisoned in her memory. One night her younger naïve-self made many mistakes, ultimately resulting in the traumatic murder of her fourteen year old sister, Rachel, which will never be forgiven or forgotten. Now living in a different town with her aunt, Katherine has changed everything about her persona. From Katie Boydell; a party-all-night girl who lived and breathed for fun, to Katherine Patterson; a wise, mature seventeen year old who isolates herself from everyone around her and is haunted by the regrets of her past. Katherine wants to escape, to be free from the burden she deserves to carry until her death.

Although everything changes when she meets Alice. Perfect Alice. Fun Alice. The girl Katherine used to know so well, the girl who lives for the present and has an ignorance-is-bliss attitude towards life and the world around her. She is honoured that such an amazing girl wants to befriend her and thus: she starts to enjoy life once again. However, still Katherine is lost in a web of lies and secrets. But, could it be that she is not the only one not telling the truth? Katherine believed that her problems were reaching an end; maybe they were only just beginning.

My thoughts:

Australian author, Rebecca James’ thrilling debut novel, Beautiful Malice, is a breath of fresh air where friendship and sanity is questioned, keeping you captivated until the final page. James should be praised for her intriguing, coming-of-age tale with her storytelling style giving an enriched balance of detail and simplicity. She focuses on the key meanings of the novel instead of trailing off on another route, which would not benefit the complexity of the characters or the reader. It is easy to sympathise with the main characters as they emotionally connect with you.

The protagonist shares her story in alternating chapters ranging in three key time zones. Two are set in the past (one while her sister is still alive and the second when Katherine first meets Alice) and one in the present, set approximately five years later. Surprisingly, you are immediately told what becomes of Alice in the first chapter, but this answer subconsciously unravel to reveal questions and you become hypnotised by the book, wanting to read on to find out how close friends can turn into foes. Joining the two girls is Alice’s on/off lover, Robbie, who compares Alice to a “drug”; she is an addiction which he cannot give up. Katherine begins to open up for the first time about the events of her tragic past but this leads to drastic problems. When Alice begins to show her true colours, we start to witness the breakdown of their friendship, and more mysteries begin to appear.

Truth and lies. Courage and cowardice. So many elements are compressed inside the novels pages and that’s what makes it all the more interesting; divulging into our own human behaviour and emotions. James has evidently tackled many controversial issues revolving around teenagers, which are predominant in society. For example, sex, alcohol and teenage pregnancy. She has been exceptional in conveying the various stages of grief that we feel after death. Katherine is the perfect symbolism of a teenager who has reached a crisis and is trying to now repair her life. You want to reach out and help her, mend her while she struggles through her journey on the hope to finally gain peace.

The ending of the novel seems true in its own way. Even though you wish that some events could have been altered you realise that life always takes you on paths that you never wanted or  never expected to go down and you just have to make the best of every moment, it could be your last.

Verdict: 4/5 James has offered something unique on the YA front.

Read if you liked: Saving Zoe (Alyson Noel), Hold Still (Nina LaCour) and Stolen (Lucy Christopher).

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Review: Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott

Rose

Rose (Photo credit: LeahLikesLemon)

What is it all about?

Love You Hate You Miss You follows Amy returning back to school after her stay in Pinewood, a rehabilitation centre. The grieving teenager is suffering after the death of her best friend Julia. She believes Julia’s death was her fault. Now she has to learn to survive with her intolerable guilt.

My thoughts:

This is the first novel I’ve read by Elizabeth Taylor and sadly I have not been left begging for more. It wasn’t that the book was bad; it just wasn’t exceptional compared to other fiction focused on loss.

Chapters are split between letters to Julia and a first person narrative of Amy’s life after Julia’s death. Amy’s thoughts were expressed realistically throughout the book, although I found myself skimming over certain paragraphs because the content was unnecessary. For example,

“I don’t want to think there was a shadow in your eyes. I don’t want to think that when you hugged me before I went home and said you were scared, you meant something else. I don’t want to think you meant you were sorry.”

Repetition for emphasis is a simple technique learned in High School. I do not believe that Elizabeth Scott is a bad writer because of this, of the contrary; she intended to use this style to give Amy her own relatable voice which would connect with other teenagers. But I must admit, reading the same confessional content did become boring and draining.

It was Amy’s relationships with other characters that made me continue reading. Her rekindled friendship with Caro (Corn Syrup) was crucial in helping the lost girl realise that she doesn’t have to be alone for the rest of her life. Patrick’s isolated nature made it obvious he would bond with Amy, however, I do not believe their quick intimacy was realistic because the two did not spend much time together. Most characters didn’t gain much depth which was disappointing. For example, I would like to have seen more of what the evil Beth was capable of.

After reading a YA novel which uses first person narrative, I usually find that the voice blends in with any other teenager narrative I’ve read before. But with Amy’s devoted grief and confessions she became a strong character with a unique voice.

The ending was not climatic or unusual, but I believe this suited the book. Amy’s issues with her parents, friends, love life and binge drinking were all resolved. Most importantly she came to terms with Julia and the part she played in her death.

Love You Hate You Miss You coveys the struggle of fitting back into a society that you have been removed from in so many ways. A good idea, but not emotionally provoking or extremely thrilling.

Verdict: 2/5 – There are better books about teenage depression.

Read if you liked: Let’s Get Lost (Sarra Manning), If I Stay (Gayle Forman), Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher) and Before I Die (Jenny Downham).

Adorkable: The Influential Generation

dork

Sarra Manning is one of the best young adult writers on our radar. Fact. What makes her different from the other writers in the crowd is her ability to eradicate plot structures by making ideas go into complete tangents. Take Nobody’s Girl for instance, it seems the book is going to be about Bea having fun in Paris with her new found friends; this idea quickly disintegrates. I recently finished her latest novel, Adorkable, and although it wasn’t as good as the other books, it still offers a fresh storyline and focuses on realistic themes which I feel are important for teenagers.

My inevitable envy towards Jeane irritated my reading of Adorkable. Basically, Jeane, like me, is a seventeen year old blogger; unlike me she has her own trademark brand, Adorkable, over 500,000 Twitter followers, she writes for such newspapers as the Guardian and she is paid to travel to New York and Stockholm. Unrealistic, I know, but it’s difficult to not be jealous when that would be your dream way to live.

Although Jeane is make-believe, there are teenagers out there who are fighting for world domination and who are doing a pretty decent job at it. Here are four of my favourite picks from the teens who are changing the world, one dork at a time:

The Entrepreneur:

iPad apps are the latest trend of the nation. They can become exceptionally obsessive when you realise that your battery is almost dead after playing four hours of nonstop Temple Run. Have you ever thought about who creates our wee pleasures of amusements? One of these tech savvy wizards is 18-year-old Spencer Costanzo who is the founder of Malibu Apps, who have created 40 iPhone apps, with eight ranking high on the iTunes top 200. Spencer decided to skip University in order to work alongside his nine developers and designers to continue making some of our most beloved apps.

The Inspiration:

Malala Yousafzai hit the headlines last year when she was shockingly shot by the Taliban gunmen in the head on the 9th of October. Despite this gruesome attack the fifteen year old is making her way to recovery. In 2009 Malala began writing for the BBC, under a pseudonym, to detail her life under the Taliban militants, who were taking over the Swat Valley banning such entertainments outputs as television and music, which we take for granted, and most importantly, girls’ education. Malala is an empowering female activist, fighting for educational rights and she has won many awards, including being one of the four runners-up for Time magazine‘s Person of the Year 2012.

The Foodie:

Last year Scottish school girl, Martha Payne reviewed and took photographs of her school lunches for her NeverSeconds blog. The site gained much attention and within a week it had a staggering 100,000 page hits. It became so popular that the local council, Argyll and Bute, forced Martha to stop using her blog. The ten-year-old has raised more than £120,000 for Mary’s Meals and she hopes to raise more money for the charity with her biography, Never Seconds.

The Fashionista:

The blogosphere is buckling with the amount of fashion blogs there are out there and the one which launched the trend was Rookie. When she was eleven-years-old Chicago born, Tavi Gevinson, would buy clothes from thrift stores, particularly the Salvation Army, and would upload photos of her outfits, discussing what movies, books and music had inspired her look of the day, to her blog. Five years on and she now has her own web magazine, RookieMag.com, which makes her the boss of four editors and 40 writers, illustrators and photographers.

Which youngster do you most idolise? Are you a teenager who is too trying to lead the way for our generation?

George Orwell: A History of Novels

George Orwell

George Orwell (Photo credit: jovike)

Today may be Blue Monday, the supposed saddest day of the year, but there is another reason why we should be sad today: on the 21st of January 63 years ago one of the most beloved writers in all of history, Eric Arthur Blair, died. Who is he, you ask? George Orwell. Penguin Books along with the Orwell Estate and The Orwell Prize are marking this inaugural ‘Orwell Day’ by releasing new designed editions by David Pearson of some of his most treasured works. This celebration of his life is also going to be continued over the next month by BBC Radio 4 where there will be narrations of Animal Farm, Down and Out in Paris and London and Homage to Catalonia. His literature wasn’t purely for enjoyment, but they helped to provide views and ideology on politics and social injustice.

To mark the occasion here is a look at the history of Orwell’s nine great novels:

Down and Out in Paris and London (9 January 1933, Victor Gollancz Ltd)

This was Orwell’s first full time piece of work written when he was thirty years old. Down and Out in Paris and London is a memoir by our writer which focuses on the parallels in poverty between the two leading capital cities. His time in London during 1927 was a social experiment where he was undercover, analysing what hostels were available for tramps for his first published essay, The Spike (1931). The Latin Quarter is a bohemian area in Paris where many writers ventured to for inspiration including the likes of, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Orwell himself when he moved there in the spring of 1928. It was here that our writer took on jobs as a dish washer at ‘Hôtel X’.

Burmese Days (October 1934, Harper & Brothers)

This novel describes a time when Burma was ruled as part of India under the British Raj. Publishers were worried that the work was based on real people, so the novel was first published in the USA in 1934 until it was released in Britain the following year. From 1922 to 1927 Orwell was a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force in Burma. His time here had a big influence over his life as he was seen as quite an outsider. He learned Burmese and had tattoos of an untidy blue circle done on each of his knuckles as this was a Burmese tradition which is meant to protect you from bullets and snake bites.

A Clergyman’s Daughter (11 March 1935, Victor Gollancz Ltd)

His next fiction novel is one Orwell was ashamed of which is clear from the instructions he left after his death for A Clergyman’s Daughter; to never be reprinted again. The book is his most experimental piece of work, although it was written during a period of his lesser adventurous days. He spent five years after his time in Paris living in his parents’ home at Southold. During this time Orwell became a teacher; he began as a tutor, then at a small private school with a mere twenty boys at Hayes, West London, until finally a school with 200 pupils at Uxbridge, Middlesex. The story is of the daughter of a Clergyman, Dorothy Hare, who suffers from amnesia.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying (20 April 1936, Victor Gollancz Ltd)

Published the following year, Keep the Aspidistra Flying is set during the 1930s in London where Gordon Comstock tries to defy the importance of money and class status. Orwell’s early essay work appeared in a left-wing journal, which was edited by Sir Richard Rees. It has been suggested that Rees influenced the character of Ravelston, as Orwell appreciated the support he gave him, but he was most likely jealous of Ravelston’s ability to make a lot of money without an expert job. The Aspidistra is a plant which was popular during the Victoria era as it had the ability to survive with low sunlight and poor indoor air, and it was a symbol in the 1930 of respect towards the middle class.

The Road to Wigan Pier (February 1937, Left Book Club edition; 8 March 1937 Victor Gollancz Ltd edition for the general public)

This is an autobiographical account spilt into two sections: the first is a more descriptive passage of his investigations into the terrible living conditions of the working class in Lancashire and Yorkshire before the Second World War, whereas the second is more of a long essay which highlights his middle class upbringing and his political socialism ideology. When Orwell was submitting his Keep the Aspidistra Flying manuscript to Gollancz on the 15 of January 1936, his publicist, Victor Gollancz proposed to Orwell a new project which would have him reviewing the depression in Northern England. Gollancz was too a socialist who believed that through education there could be change, and so Orwell’s accurate writing of the poverty could make a difference. Orwell’s journey saw him leave on the 31st of January to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds; he spent three weeks of February in Wigan; and in March he spent time in Sheffield, Leeds and Barnsley in Yorkshire. During these travels he kept a journal which he edited to form the first half of The Road to Wigan Pier.

Homage to Catalonia (25 April 1938, Secker and Warburg)

After Orwell married Eileen O’Shaughnessy on the 9th of June 1936, the political uprising of the Spanish Civil War began and our writer decided to go and fight in the war on the Republican side with the POUM (the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) organisation. He served as a private, a corporal and a lieutenant in Catalonia and Aragon until June the following year when the organisation was deemed illegal. Shockingly on May 20th 1937 Orwell was shot by a sniper through the neck, after he received aid he returned back to England where he wrote his experiences and views of the Spanish Civil War over the next 9 months until he was healthy again. Homage to Catalonia only sold 900 copies until the beginning of WW2 due to the public’s disagreement with his ideology on Communism in Spain.

Coming Up for Air (12 June 1939, Victor Gollancz Ltd)

This novel conveys Orwell’s ideas on the war to come in comparison with a utopian Thames-side Edwardian envious childhood. After his injury from the Spanish Civil War it was recommended for Orwell to spend the summer months in a warm climate, and author L. H. Myers anonymously gave him £300 so he stayed in French Morocco, North Africa. It is here where Orwell wrote Coming Up for Air and it was the last of his novels to be published by Gollancz. The book centres on nostalgia; we hear our protagonist, George Bowling, from a first person account as he goes on a trip to his boyhood home when he is an adult.

Animal Farm (17 August 1945, Secker and Warburg)

By far Animal Farm has to be Orwell’s most famous written work. Despite all of his past novels with political connotations, it is this one which Orwell explains that the intention was: “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”. The book was written during the end of WW2 when Britain’s relationship with the Soviet Union was at its greatest, and Orwell despised this fact. Thus, the dystopian novel is anti-Stalinist, with the animals in the Farm being allegory of the Communist leaders themselves and in a satire format it reveals the history of the Soviet Union. Animal Farm is one of those books you have to read before you die and it was placed at number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (8 June 1949, Secker and Warburg)

Again this anti-Communism theme is the main focus behind Nineteen Eighty-Four and critics argue that this was Orwell’s most acclaimed work of fiction. The adjective, Orwellian, was coined with this book to describe the lack of freedom in society caused by the surveillance of authorities. Our protagonist in the sci-fi tale is Winston Smith whose job at the Ministry of Truth is to re-write the newspapers of the past to suite the ideology of the current party in power, he hates the Party and wants to start a rebellion against it.  Nineteen Eighty-Four has had a large impact on our Big Brother culture, and it is a great resolve for a great writer who died the following year in 1950.

What is your favourite George Orwell novel?

Les Misérables: From Birth to Revolution

Les Misérables (musical)

Les Misérables (musical) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most anticipated films of the year was Les Misérables, which became a riveting success catching hearts all across the world.  When I walked into the theatre I wasn’t unsure what to expect; the trailer had aroused much emotion from within me, but I still wasn’t too clear on the plot or the context. The three act film was a gorgeous work of cinematography and it only felt right that it should have been adapted with a musical in mind. But, how did this historical musical on inequalities, redemption and love come around? Like Les Misérables itself, the story’s evolution comes in three parts: political novel, powerful musical and provocative film.

I Dreamed a Dream:

The novel, Les Misérables was first published in 1862 by the author Victor Hugo, who was also the writer behind The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Surprisingly, when the novel was first released, although it gained a wide publishing campaign and it was a sell-out, it wasn’t that admired by the critics to the same extent that it is today. No wonder it took Hugo seventeen years to put quill to paper as with its five volumes and three hundred and sixty-five chapters, Les Misérables (in the English translation) is a staggering 1,500 pages. Now, that is a hell of a lot of editing! Fellow author, Upton Sinclair had explained that Hugo’s meaning behind the novel was symmetrically parallel to the plot; to speak out against the social divide in society. Hugo was a well-known Republican activist so the themes of rebirth and change mirror the actions he believed society needed to follow.

It is a surprise to learn that the two leading male consistent characters in the novel: Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, were based loosely on the same man in history, Eugène François Vidocq. His link to Valjean makes sense as he shared many attributes with the character as he: saved the life of an employer trapped underneath a cart, rescued a sailor on the Orion, stopped a prostitute from being arrested for assault and, most notably in the plot, he was an ex-convict turned businessman. Strangely, it also makes sense that he influenced Javert too as he created the very first private detective agency and, more credibly, he was the founder of the Sûreté Nationale in 1812, basically the Paris police force, which rules became the fundamentals of Scotland Yard and the FBI.

Hugo also received inspiration from his everyday experiences. He witnessed the climatic June Rebellion on the 5th of June, 1832. Whilst he was writing in the Tuileries Gardens he heard gunfire from Les Halles and he decided to follow the noise. Barricades were covering this area in the city and he found himself taking shelter between columns as gunfire was shot by both opponents for fifteen minutes.  Also, his inspiration for why Valjean became a slave came around when he witnessed a male being arrested for stealing bread on the 5th of June, 1832.

Castle on A Cloud:

Who would believe that a good idea was to turn an emotional deeply thematic 1,500 page novel into a stage musical? French songwriter, Alain Boublil, did. He was the first person who had the idea that a musical adaptation would work well when he was in London watching the Oliver! Musical. He explained that: “As soon as the Artful Dodger came onstage, Gavroche came to mind. It was like a blow to the solar plexus. I started seeing all the characters of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables—Valjean, Javert, Gavroche, Cosette, Marius, and Éponine—in my mind’s eye, laughing, crying, and singing onstage.” I’ve inserted this quote because I found it quite ironic how in the film Gavroche had reminded me so much of the Artful Dodger. I even came out of the cinema saying how it was funny that the film was meant to be set in France, but here we have a mischief boyish character who sounds more Cockney than the average East Ender.

Boublil focused on the lyrics and teamed up with composer, Claude-Michel Schönberg who created the music and after two years they had released a two hour concept album. Their work was used by film director, Robert Hossein, in the first stage production of the musical in September 1980 at the Palais des Sports in Paris. This original production then inspired an interpretation by London’s West End. Cameron Mackintosh produced the English version with it being adapted and directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, where it opened in October of 1985 at the Barbican Arts Centre in London.

One Day More:

Now we move onto the climatic development of the lot: the film adaptation. Only three years after the Les Misérables musical debut in London did talks of a film adaptation come about. Alan Parker, who had experience in the musical film business with Fame in 1980, and would go on to have successes in the historical drama genre with Mississippi Burning (1988) and Angela’s Ashes (1999), was considering to direct the film adaptation in 1988. Although, this did not result to anything as in 1991 Bruce Beresford was confirmed to be the film director for an adaptation with co-producers Cameron Mackintosh and TriStar Pictures. This project failed however, and it wasn’t until 2005 that there was again interest in the film feature. The DVD release of Les Misérables: 25th Anniversary Concert confirmed that an adaptation was on the cards when producer Eric Fellner persuaded Mackintosh for the film rights in 2011 and had William Nicholson write a screenplay.

With a story contrived with history and with a cult fan following it meant that a good director had to make sure that the film would not be a let-down. That is when Tom Hooper, the director of The Kings Speech (2010) comes in. He was offered to take on Marvel’s Iron Man 3 for his next project, but he instead turned it down for our Les Mis. With him on board it was only a matter of time before actors attacked to squeeze into any role they could get their paws on. When watching the younger version of Cosette in the film, I thought her to be identical to Evan Rachel Wood. It turned out that the actress was in the shortlist to play my favourite character in the film, Éponine. I think she was going on for the wrong part! The film has currently one three Golden Globes, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture and it is nominated for nine BAFTA Awards and the Best Picture for the 85th Oscars.

So there is the story of how Victor Hugo wrote a 1,500 powerful novel, which became a musical adaptation and in turn a film as its third stage in its revolution. There’s no doubt that Les Misérables is going to continue gripping audiences around the world. What’s next for the franchise? A Les Mis theme park? Only time will tell…