Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld*
I was so sceptical when I picked up this book, but by the time I put it down I had been utterly charmed by it. A modern re-telling of Pride & Prejudice set in Cincinnati, where Elizabeth Bennett is a journalist and Mr Darcy is a brain surgeon - you can see why I was a little wary, yes? I love the original Austen novel so much and reread it as often as I can, so felt very protective of the story and of the sentiment but I needn't have worried; Curtis Sittenfeld is quite obviously an even bigger Austen fan than I am, so diligently has she observed and recreate the spirit of Austen's work. If anything, she is kinder to the characters than Austen once was - Lydia and Kitty, in particular, get off very lightly and Lydia actually has one of the best storylines in the novel. It's not an exact replica, but Sittenfeld captures everything I love about the original story and adds some delicious twists and turns that I would never have expected but which added another layer to this modern story (see: hate sex with Mr Darcy...). If you're a Pride & Prejudice fan, then this is definitely one for you. My one complaint is about the cover, which appears to have no bearing on the book itself and is just dire - so please, do not judge this book by its cover!
Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell*
Lois & Carly-May were abducted by a stranger and imprisoned in a cabin for two months when they were just twelve years old. Whilst there, they formed a bond that would never be broken but after they were released they fell out of touch. Decades later, they both have new lives and identities but when Carly-May is cast in the movie that Lois wrote about the incident, they must face each other and their past.
For a thriller, this book felt a little flat to me and the events were a little too far-fetched and convenient to have me at the edge of my seat. It starts out very promising - an abduction not based on murder or sexual violence with two victims selected very specifically by their abductor? Tell me more, please. But the book seems to hinge on the mystery about what 'really' happened that summer - when nothing really happened that much at all. Lois is the main storyteller, and we get an extract from her book as explanation for the summer's events which makes you, the reader, at least two times removed from the truth, which is very frustrating and makes it hard to grasp at the heart of the story. Whilst teenage Lois and Carly-May were pretty interesting, their adult selves just didn't inspire all that much excitement and were actually kind of frustrating (Lois, in particular, acts in a ridiculous way throughout the novel with very little explanation). There was one heart-stopping moment, for me at least, but it fizzled out before it could really begin. I just wanted more from this book - more action, more insight, more character.
The Doll-Master And Other Tales Of Horror by Joyce Carol Oates*
We all know dolls are one of the creepiest things around, which is why I had high hopes that this book would chill me to the bone. However, the focus of this collection seems to be more on disorientating and disturbing the reader than on truly terrifying them. Each was a suspenseful story, with deranged characters and an ominous feel about them, but at no point was I really scared the way I was when I read Bird Box, for instance. Some, I felt, were a little drawn out - particularly those which are monologues - and I had guessed the ending far before it came, which is quite unlike me. My favourite stories actually came near the end of the collection - Big Momma, about the new girl in town, who hitches a lift with a classmate and her rather creepy father, and Mystery Inc., about a businessman who comes across a beautiful (and profitable!) mystery book store which he is determined to make his own... These are dark stories, in truth, but they are not terrifying ones.
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood*
Miss Ona Viktus is one hundred and four, and has lived a mostly uneventful life. When the Boy Scout troop send round an earnest eleven-year-old boy to help her with some chores, they form an unlikely friendship. Obsessed with world records, they embark on a project together and Ona starts to feel like she's special after all. Until one weekend, his father, Quinn, shows up in his place to finish his good deed for him...
If you're looking for a whimsical, heart-warming read then I do urge you to pick this up. It's a little slow to begin with and I had to force myself to keep picking it back up until I reached the halfway point where I began to speed through the rest. The relationship between the boy and Ona is really beautiful, and they are both wonderfully memorable characters with unique little quirks. Not all that much happens really, although you learn the life story of both Ona and Quinn, but it is warm and thought-provoking - about the value of a life, the connections we make and how we can really make an impact. I don't think I'll rush to pick this back up again, but it will stick with me for a good while longer.
Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard*
I am so easily sucked into this little novellas that are starting to pop up everywhere around young adult trilogies. I just always want to know more - and Cruel Crown tells the story of two women who feature prominently in the Red Queen series but who don't get a chance to tell their own tales. Queen Song tells how Queen Coriane became the first wife of King Tiberias, amongst deadly challenges from her rivals, whilst Steel Scars gives us Farley's back story as she travels the land to further the Red cause. These were both enjoyable enough stories, but I don't think they added anything particularly to the overall story arc of the series. Whilst I found Queen Song compelling - who doesn't love a bit of royal romance and some intrigue - I wanted much more from Steel Scars which I actually found quite dull. If you're a big fan of the series, you might want to check these out - but if you're more of a casual observer like me then I'd give it a miss and wait it out until the next instalment!
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
Elena loves Star Wars, and she's determined to queue for the new movie despite her mother's warnings to the contrary. She's expecting parties to happen and lifelong friendships to form. Instead, there are just three people in the queue (including Elena) and she doesn't think that either of them understand how she really feels about Star Wars.
I honestly don't know how Rainbow Rowell does it. She is some sort of magician. Every time, I fall head over heels for her characters and find myself rooting for romance - which is so not my usual style. This is a short novella, published for World Book Day, and is a perfect one day read if you need something to make you feel good about the world again.