Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

Almost Love – Louise O’Neill

“No one had ever told Sarah that being in a relationship could feel like coming home. That love didn’t have to mean feeling scared all the time.”

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Blurb: “When Sarah falls for Matthew, she falls hard. So it doesn’t matter that he’s twenty years older. That he sees her only in secret. That, slowly but surely, she’s sacrificing everything else in her life to be with him.”

I’ve always entered Louise O’Neill’s books with a sense of trepidation because they have the habit of being an utterly terrifying insight into our current climate. Almost Love is O’Neill’s first adult book and might just be my favourite book of hers yet.

The story kicks into play when the protagonist- Sarah- bumps into her ex, Matthew. Through jumps in time, between past and present, the reader sees the relationship unfold with Matthew and how it goes on to affect the “now” in Sarah’s current relationship. She’s often abrasive to her boyfriend and there’s one particular scene which nearly broke my heart.

The main theme is obsessive love; that waiting for the call, hanging around when they’re clearly not interested and a lot of graphic sex: both consensual and not really consensual. All of Sarah’s relationships with men have been centred around money: she would reach for her purse knowing full well the men would be paying.

I’m not normally a big fan of slow reads and this is one of those books with no real climatic moments but it was all-consuming in a way I can’t quite place. Sarah is a fascinating character and it was all too easy to sympathise with her justifications for Matthew’s behaviour.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Aoife McMahon which was incredible. As I said, it’s a slow burn and I think I would’ve become easily bored if I was physically reading, but her tone and the way she told the story just had me flying through the book. If you’re looking for a way to consume this book, I highly recommend the audiobook.

 

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month

Audiobook The Month | Almost Love

As you can tell by the title of this post, it’s that undetermined point in the month when I talk about what audiobook I’ve decided to listen to for this short period of time. We’ve established that I’m terrible at introductions, so let’s get straight into it.

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Almost Love is Louise O’Neill’s first adult book and follows a woman called Sarah who starts to relive a past relationship after bumping into her ex for the first time since their “break up.” Some of the many themes we’ve come to know (and be terrified) of Louise O’Neill for are present this story: consensual and not-consensual sex, power imbalances and obsession. The book flits between the past and present with the former focusing on Sarah’s relationship with Matthew and how she let him use her for sex, constantly checked messages etc and was forced to keep their partnership private for reasons she didn’t really understand, other than that Matthew had told her to. The present focuses on her latest relationship and shows how Sarah hasn’t really evolved: it’s acknowledged in the narrative that she often pretends she’s going to pay even though she knows the men in her life always will and she’s quite abrasive with her current boyfriend.

The audiobook is narrated by Aoife McMahon and there’s just something truly captivating about the way she’s telling the story. Almost Love is a slow story and I think I’d have been easily bored if I was physically reading it, but her narration just has me flying through the chapters.

At the time of writing this, I am 52% into the book and nothing major has really happened but I’m waiting for that typical “Louise O’Neill moment” when impending doom sets free.

Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

“You may have been perfectly designed but there is always room for improvement.”

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Blurb: “In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim. Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.”

Having read Louise O’Neill’s more recent book Asking For It, I sort of knew what to expect when going into her debut. O’Neill has become well known for her activism regarding women’s issues from her weekly columns at the Irish Examiner, to her outspoken manner online, and of course her books; where she tackles topics most would rather avoid.

Only Ever Yours tells the story of a world in which the use of birth control to maintain the “perfect body” has led to women being created rather than born naturally. The girls are put into schools where they are trained to believe that their looks and rankings will dictate their futures. There are three roles available after graduation: companion, concubines and chastities. Of course, everyone wants to be a companion to one of the rich, attractive men – known as Inheritants – who will make their choice at the ceremony.

This is not a pleasant read. To describe it as a “brilliant book that everyone should read” (which it is) almost feels like missing the point of the narrative. From the outset that is something unsettling and if you are struggling with weight issues or an eating disorder it is best to wait until you are in a very good place before reading it – which is what I did. There is overwhelming sense that something bad is going to happen if any of the characters step out of line and there were many occasions where I was holding my breath as if that would help the story in some way. I don’t normally pay attention to quotes from other authors on books as those opinions never tend to sway me towards buying a book, but Jeanette Winterson says that “O’Neill writes with a scalpel” and honestly, that could not be more true.

I did find the world confusing at first as you’re thrown in the deep end to follow Freida who is in her final year, preparing for the ceremony. The characters around her are the embodiment of everything we would deem wrong from society and their views are amplified throughout, creating a sense of disorientation when you see the extreme lengths some girls will go to in order to keep their rankings up. While pitched as a strong relationship between Freida and Isabel, their friendship is fraught for most of the book as Isabel appears to let herself go and doesn’t get punished for her actions; instead she is simply removed from the rankings. The reason for which sets your mind into the worst possible outcomes for her. The chastities in charge refer to the girls by numbers, but the girls themselves call each other by names which made it difficult to understand the intended purpose: they are stripped of their names but seem to retain them at the same time.

An obvious comparison to make is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood because they both deal with government control of women’s bodies, but it’s important to note the very big differences. In Only Ever Yours birth control is seen as a good thing, to stop pregnancy ruining your bodies (meanwhile Handmaid’s sees birth control as a bad thing) and in Handmaid’s there is a sense of hope that things could really change. There is none of that in Only Ever Yours. It is a dark, terrifying insight into what our world could be like if we don’t start tackling important issues.

I can only salute Louise O’Neill for her fantastic efforts… even if she does scare me a bit.

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Posted in discussion, fairytale retelling, fantasy, young adult

Top Books of 2015

So another glorious year of reading is over and while I await new releases with great anticipation. It’s now time for me to reflect on my favourite books I read last year.

Disclaimer: not all of the books listed came out in 2015, some of them I just happened to read in that year. I will state these accordingly. Also, the order the books appear in this post doesn’t reflect the order in which I enjoyed them.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill (2015)

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This story follows teenager Emma O’Donovan who goes to a house party with her friends. She wakes up on the front porch of her house the following morning with no memory of how she got there or what happened. Until various photos and videos start to make their appearance on the internet. This book is a very difficult read and I won’t lie, it’s not pleasant at times. But this doesn’t mean we should avoid the serious and important topics this book discusses. The quote on the front of the book says “She writes with a scalpel.” That couldn’t be more true.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E.Schwab (2015)

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In A Darker Shade Of Magic there are four londons: Grey London which is dirty, boring and lacks magic, Red London where life and magic are admired with a flourishing empire, White London which is ruled by whoever murders their way onto the throne, and Black London… which no one speaks of.
Kell is the last of the Travelers – rare magicians with the ability to travel between the various londons. He smuggles items from realm to realm for those who are willing to pay the price. But when he accidently gets accused of treason, the only thing left for him to do is flee.
Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)

 

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Simon is a not-so-openly gay sixteen year old sending emails to his secret lover who goes by the name of Blue. He understands Simon, and Simon has quite a few feelings for the person on the other side of his emails. When the emails fall into the wrong hands, Simon finds himself being blackmailed by one of his classmates: if he doesn’t play wing-man and help this person get with his friend, then the emails will be released to the entire school and not only that, but the privacy of Blue will be destroyed.


Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011)

 

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Told through the medium of prose and creepy old photographs, a horrific family tragedy sends Jacob looking for clues on Cairholm Island off the coast from Wales. Here he discovers the abandoned orphanage known as Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. When chased by a girl who produces fire and a boy who can turn invisible, Jacob finds himself trapped in September 3rd 1940, the day Miss Peregrine’s home was destroyed by a bomb dropped during World War II. And he’s stuck in a time loop where the day restarts just as the bomb hits the home.

Throne Of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (2012)

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After years of being a prisoner in the salt mines of Endovier, eighteen year old assassin Celaena Sardothien is brought before the Crown Prince, Dorian who offers her her freedom. But only if she competes as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. If she wins, she must serve the kingdom for four years and then she will be free. But when a contestant turns up dead, swiftly followed by the death of another, can she find out who is behind the killings before she becomes the next victim?
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015)

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Theodore Finch is fascinated by death and constantly thinking of ways to end his life. Violet Markey is living for the future, counting each pitiful day until graduation. When the pair meet on the ledge of the school’s bell tower they inadvertently save each other.

When paired together on a project, the new duo are sent off to discover “natural wonders” of their state, making some important discoveries about themselves along the way.

 

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005)

 

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Tally is an ugly. She cannot wait until she turns sixteen and becomes a pretty: to become part of a world where her only job is to look good and have fun. Tally’s friend, Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty and decides to run away. As Shay’s only friend, Tally is approached by the authorities who offer her a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon (2015)

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Everything Everything tells the story of Maddy, a teenager with a rare illness – she’s allergic to everything. She can’t go outside. She has spent her life interacting with only her mother and nurse.

But when a moving truck appears next door and Maddy sets her eyes on Olly, she feels she has to get to know him, no matter what the cost will be.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2014)

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It’s the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Nick is out buying last-minute presents while his wife is adding the last details to her treasure hunt based on clues linked to aspects of their years together. When Nick returns home to find the home trashed and his wife missing, he calls the police.

But the suspiciously articulated crime scene and disturbing passages in Amy’s diary lead the detectives to wonder, could the husband have killed his wife?
A Court Of Thorns And Roses by Sarah J.Maas

 

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An utterly beautiful Beauty And The Beast retelling following the huntress Feyre who kills a wolf in the woods. Later, a beast-like creature demands retribution and takes her as his prisoner to a magical land she’s only heard about in legends. Feyre learns that her captor isn’t a beast but in fact Tamlin – one of the immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
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Posted in contemporary, feminism, review, young adult

Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

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*Warning: This post is not entirely spoiler free*

Blurb: “It’s the beginning of summer, and Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy and confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma. The next day, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show – in great detail – exactly what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what’s right in front of them, especially if the truth concerns the town’s heroes…”

I first started hearing Louise O’Neill’s name a few months ago when everyone in the booktube / book blogging world was talking about her debut novel “Only Ever Yours” which was labelled as a “feminist Young Adult Novel.” This book sounded interesting because here we had a woman coming out with a book basically saying things most of us girls are too afraid to say except to each other for fear of being scorned. Sadly, with an intimidating TBR I just didn’t have time to pick it up (although I very much intend to). Then I started seeing Louise tweeting a lot using a hashtag #notaskingforit I discovered she had a new book coming out titled Asking For It and she had written an article talking about why she had decided to write it. After reading that, I knew I could not and would not miss out on reading this book.

The story is told from the perspective of teenager Emma O’Donovan who was certainly an interesting character to read. I’ve seen a lot of reviews where bloggers have said that if she was in any other YA novel, she would be the bitch in that stereotypical mean girl group roaming around the High School. While I can see why they thought that, I didn’t agree. Emma isn’t short of narcissistic comments via internal monologue – even about her best friends – but come on, who hasn’t heard someone say something – friend or not- and thought to ourselves “God that’s stupid” / “Wow she’s a bitch.”

The only issue I had with this book was that there wasn’t much physical description of the characters so I had to do a lot of filling in myself.This made the first 50 pages a struggle because I just couldn’t picture them yet.

To start with you have the general build up of characters and the way things are in this world. However, through little hints dropped via Emma’s internal monologue it is suggested that something bad happened to Jamie a while ago and Emma made her keep quiet about it. As the tension on this subject continues to build it’s finally revealed that Jamie thinks she may have been “that word” because while she didn’t say no, she didn’t exactly say yes either. (Issues of consent are so important with young people and bringing this up in a novel aimed at teens is ridiculously important) In Jamie bringing up this topic again, the reader learns that Emma told Jamie she should keep quiet about what happened because this boy was a) popular and b) on the football team and so by coming forward about the “that word” Jamie would ruin: his future, his chances of getting into university, everyone would hate her and she wouldn’t be invited to parties anymore.(Boom. Victim Blaming) Emma also adds “it happens all the time. You wake up the next morning, and you regret it or you don’t remember what happened exactly, but it’s easier not to make a fuss”. So the “that word” was kept quiet.

(Note: the reoccurring use of “that word” rather than “rape” is used very often in this book because the characters feel that once you say “rape” it’s out there and can’t be taken back so the easiest way to avoid it, is to not use the word at all- the word in itself is a taboo.)

It’s now time for the party mentioned on the blurb: Your good ole high school party with drinking and drugs and cute boys making those harmless “I’ve heard she’s easy” comments *eye roll* Emma gets drunk, flirts with some boys and has sex with one of them, fully aware he has a boyfriend. All the way through their intercourse she thinks about how she doesn’t want to really do it and is relieved when he finally *ahems* Moving on from alcohol to drugs offered, her vision starts to become hazy. Next thing she knows she’s woken up lying on her front porch severely sunburnt as she’s been asleep there all day. She has no memory of how she got there. Or what happened to her.

That is until she sees the Facebook page.
This part made me feel sick. But it is something that is actually happening out there. Social media makes it only too easy to spread rumours or in this case, pictures at lightening speed.

Her friends turn on her, downplaying her defense by saying she was clearly “out of it” and Jamie is only too happy to repeat some of Emma’s choice phrases back to her (It’s easier not to make a fuss, right?” The story then spirals into the media, becoming one of those horrific ones we often hear on the news for example the Mattress girl who said she would carry her mattress around her college campus with her until her rapist was charged or at the very least, expelled. She recently graduated…. with her mattress.

Emma is subjected to stories about her on chat shows as to whether she “told the truth” and people even taking sides with the boys who “that word” while a hashtag #IBelieveBallinatoomGirl trends on Twitter as the court case draws closer.

The review on the front of the book reads “O’Neill writes with a scalpel” and that is without a doubt the best way to sum this book up. O’Neill is not afraid to push this book out there with a very serious topic and bring to light the issues we so easily gloss over or try to avoid talking about.

We need to talk about consent.
We need to talk about the rape happening to young people.
We need to support them.
We need to believe.
We need to stop questioning whether they were “asking for it” before we decide to take their side.

As O’Neill says in the afterword:

“I see young girls playing in my local park and I feel so very afraid for them, for the culture that they’re growing up in. They deserve to live in a world where sexual assault is rare, a world where it is taken seriously and the consequences for the perpetrators are swift and severe. We need to talk about rape. We need to talk about consent. We need to talk about victim-blaming and slut-shaming and the double standards we place upon our young me and women. We need to talk and talk and talk until the Emmas of this world feel supported and understood. Until they feel like they are believed.”

I firmly believe this book is a step forward in helping the “emmas” of the world and if I had it my way, it would be made complusary reading in schools.

*Trigger Warning: due to the theme of this book if you are a victim of sexual assault or rape I would be wary about reading it as there are a lot of very explicit scenes*

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