The Shining by Stephen King
The problem with reading classic books so long after they were written is how much they are embedded in popular culture. I knew so much of The Shining before I went into it, which I think ruined some of the surprises for me. As a genre which relies so much on thrills and spills, I don't think that this book had the same impact on me as intended. That said, I still got super freaked out whilst reading it, and whilst there was a bit of a slow start, I was gripped by the end. I loved that you weren't sure whether Jack was a bad man, or whether it was the creepy hotel that was working through him - it gave so much more depth and horror to the story. I loved the character of Dick Hallorann, he was excellent and worth reading the book for on his own and I loved his relationship with Danny (although Danny definitely seemed precocious for a five year old, even one with 'the shine'). I'm glad I've finally read this book, but I look forward to reading some Stephen King that isn't quite so famous so I can really get the full benefit of his skills in horror writing.
Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson
If you're after a thriller that will leave you breathless, then this is the one for you. I was totally hooked by this book from the very start - it's the second book I've read this year that focuses on memory loss as a device to create mystery, but this one was done so well that it didn't feel like a tired concept. Christine wakes up every day with no memories of her life, having to learn all over again about her husband and the life they lead together before the accident which left her with amnesia. With the help of a doctor she begins to piece together some semblance of the life she lead before, and the person she was, but all is not really as it seems. I loved the slow reveals in this book - every time you felt that you had a grasp on the truth, it slipped away from you, so you really felt Christine's frustrations. The perfect book to curl up with on a rainy Sunday!
In Order to Live By Yeonmi Park*
Who could not be fascinated by North Korea? It's easy to joke about the ridiculousness of the leaders of this bizarre and barbaric place, but it really is a terrifying country. To be so controlled and indoctrinated is so alien to our way of life here in the UK (and in much of the rest of the world), that we can hardly imagine. Yeonmi Park's story is an extraordinary one - she tells of the hardships she and her family faced in North Korea, and of her life once she escaped to China and eventually to South Korea. At times it is truly distressing to hear about the reality of life in North Korea, and the suffering as a trafficked woman in China that even seems preferable to returning home. However, Yeonmi is such an incredible woman and her perseverance in the face of everything is humbling. Her relationship with her mother, in particular, will tug on your heart strings, and I found myself welling up with tears on more than one occasion. This is such an important story, and I hope that the telling and the sharing of it will help prevent further stories just like this one in the future.
Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán*
Somehow this book manages to make some pretty serious topics seem light and, dare I say it, slightly humorous. Libby is diagnosed with cancer on the same day her husband decides to make a devastating announcement that changes their marriage forever. Understandably, her life begins to crumble and she takes off on a trip to get away from it all, where she meets a handsome stranger... This is a readable and likeable novel about a difficult subject, with a few predictable twists and turns. There are some wonderful characters - Libby's twin brother and the Puerto Rican lady she meets on her travels are both gems - but I didn't warm to Libby all that much. I didn't want her to die, obviously, but I just wasn't all that invested in a happy ending for her, which was a shame. That said, this is still a fairly enjoyable book - no mean feat, given the central subject matter!
If You're Lucky by Yvonne Prinz*
Georgia's brother, Lucky, is the golden boy and everyone is devastated when he is killed in a surfing accident in Australia. After the funeral party, Lucky's friend Fin decides to stick around town and starts to worm his way into Lucky's old life. Only Georgia is suspicious of this charming stranger - is there more to him than there seems? I really wanted to like this book - I love a good thriller and a mystery stranger is always a good hook, but I just found it really frustrating. I could see where the author was trying to go with this, but I just didn't feel that it was very well executed. Everything seemed to escalate in severity very quickly, and the motivations of the characters weren't very well explained. Georgia has mental health issues which are meant to make it unclear to the reader whether she is imagining things, or whether she is the only one that knows the truth - it's the same device that works so well in Homeland but here it falls a bit flat.
I Call Myself a Feminist by Various*
It was Jessica Valenti's 'Full Frontal Feminism' that first introduced me to the world of feminism, so I have a soft spot for thoughtful, funny feminist books. This is one of the best I've read for a while, and would be a great gift for the feminist in your life. I loved the breadth of topics covered in the book, which is designed as a collection of essays punctuated by feminist quotes. You've got everything from rape culture to female genital mutilation to motherhood and more. It feels like a really good snapshot of modern feminism, with a strong commitment to intersectionality, and has essays which are both introductory and those which are more complex. There were moments which made me feel so proud to be a feminist, and how far we've come as a movement, but also others which made me despair for the state of things and get angry - which is kind of the perfect balance for a book like this. A definite must-read!