Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

Published April 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.

The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, 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 explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes…

What did I think?:

I first came across the amazing Louise O’Neill with her debut novel, Only Ever Yours which won a host of acclaim and the YA book prize back in 2015. Just looking at the title, Asking For It, I knew this was going to be a raw, emotional read but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the feelings it would give me while I was reading it. The author approaches difficult topics, things we don’t necessarily talk about much (but SHOULD) with ease and panache and I finished this novel angry with the world but strangely quite empowered and wanting to do something to change it.

If you haven’t heard already, Asking For It is the story of eighteen year old Emma O’Donovan. Her life is pretty much perfect, she has a host of adoring friends, she is popular, beautiful and clever to boot and is the apple of her parents eye. A lot is expected of Emma, especially by her mother and it is interesting to note how the support network around her fails spectacularly after one night when her whole world falls apart. Emma is under the influence of alcohol and drugs when the event occurs and was so wasted that she has no recollection of it at all. Turning up a bit bruised and worse for wear on her doorstep might have just been another night partying a bit too hard? Until school the next day when her friends ignore her, mock her or just plain won’t meet her eye. For there are explicit photographs of Emma and what happened to her plastered all over social media and she has become the laughing stock of the school. Emma has had a bit of a reputation prior to the incident but she was obviously too drunk/high to give her consent… was she asking for it?

While reading this novel, I couldn’t stop thinking about the issue of consent and responsibility that the author has explored in such a visceral, honest way. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the amount of rape cases that actually end in a conviction i.e. very few and as a result, many women feel scared to come forward as they fear they won’t be believed. It is only widely known that the prosecution only need to get a whiff of “she had been drinking,” before the issue of consent becomes a very blurry one. This just makes me so angry. What right does anyone have to use alcohol as an excuse to not convict someone who has brutally invaded a private, personal space? In Asking For It, Louise O’Neill makes our emotions and attitudes whirl considerably more as Emma O’Donovan is not a likeable character in the slightest. She is rude, bitchy and a nasty piece of work and initially, she was so rotten I felt I couldn’t possibly feel sorry for her. Until the party. Until she becomes a wreck, a broken shell of herself, possibly ruined for life and intensely pitiable. Of course, no matter someone’s personality/past actions, absolutely no one deserves to be violated like that.

We have to start talking about this issue, we simply must try and lift the shame behind having this happen and treat victims the way they should be treated, as a human being with basic rights to their own body that no-one should take away unless they explicitly consent to it. This is why this book is so great – it makes you think, it makes you emotional, it makes you desperate to see change and it makes you worry about every single woman that this has happened to. Certainly nobody is EVER “Asking For It.” A huge thank you to Louise for writing such a strong, passionate story that really opened my eyes.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

Published April 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Who do you believe?

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim’s life that is changed forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something – and someone – is always in the dark…

What did I think?:

First of all, the hugest of thank yous to the team at Hodder and Stoughton and Louise Swannell for kindly sending me a copy of He Said/She Said in return for an honest review. To be perfectly honest, I have nothing but gushing praise for this fantastic and thrilling novel! I have read one of Erin Kelly’s other books, The Poison Tree in my pre-blogging days and I remember thoroughly enjoying it but reading this, her most recent book, made me a devoted fan of her writing. Have you ever read a book that gripped you so entirely that you became really cross when you had to stop and do menial, everyday things? If this has been the case with you, dear reader, prepare yourself for not being able to do ANYTHING ELSE while reading He Said/She Said.

The story is about a couple called Laura and Kit, the latter of whom is a keen eclipse chaser and travels all around the world over a number of years to be present at each phenomenal event, weather permitting. When Kit and Laura first meet, she is aware of his eclipse obsession and begins to get in the spirit of things herself, watching her first eclipse with Kit at a festival devoted especially to the event in Cornwall, 1999. It is at this festival however, that both Laura and Kit witness something terrible. Laura is unlucky enough to witness the majority of the situation, Kit only sees the aftermath but it is something that haunts them well into their adult life together and in the present time, where Laura is pregnant. The couple have changed their names and are terribly careful to not leave any online presence – this means no photos, certainly no social media and Laura is suffering from crippling anxiety precipitated from the events that began all those years ago. However, why are they going to all this effort to hide themselves? What exactly happened in Cornwall in 1999 that has affected them so greatly?

I don’t want to go in to too much more detail but I really hope that has whetted your appetite and curiosity. It certainly did the job for me and I was hooked pretty much from the very first chapter. We hear from multiple perspectives, both Kit and Laura’s and across two time periods, the present (2015) and the past (1999). It’s a beautiful and effective way by the author of demonstrating a very slow, methodical reveal of what happened to Laura and Kit to have made them go to the extremes and terror they now live under. It’s also a fascinating character study and I loved the tricks that Erin Kelly used to make you convinced (or not so convinced as the case may have been!) about the personality of a particular individual. I also believe an audible gasp when finishing the novel has got to be a good sign, right? Yes, that happened. Now all I can do is beg you all to read this novel and discover the magic that the author weaves for yourself.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Birds by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories

Published April 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Birds all about?:

The Birds, immortalised by Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous film tells the story of a family who are trying to protect their house from a nationwide epidemic of aggressive birds that seek to maim/kill all humans at different points in the tides.

What did I think?:

I don’t think I even need to mention again how big a fan I am of Daphne du Maurier’s work – oops, just did! I have previously reviewed all her short stories in the fantastic collection The Breaking Point previously in my Short Stories Challenge (for reviews on these please see my archive) and I immediately knew I wanted to pick another short story collection from the author as I have a few on my Kindle all ready for my eager little eyes to peruse. I’ve been familiar with the story of The Birds for a little while, like others having seen the famous Hitchcock film but I wasn’t actually aware that the film is a little different to the original story, although still an excellent piece of work.

The story follows a family – Nat, his wife and their two children, Johnny and Jill. It starts out like any other night until at some point during the evening, the weather turns all of a sudden to the most bitter winter our characters have ever experienced. Coinciding with this turn in the weather, Nat and his wife are disturbed by a consistent tapping on the window that turns out to be a bird, immediately attacking Nat when he goes to the window. A little while later, they hear screams from the children’s room and a whole host of birds (about fifty) are in there, maliciously going for the children until Nat manages to subdue i.e. mostly kill all of them, hurting himself in the process.

The rest of the story follows the family as it turns out that the problem of the birds seems to be a nationwide epidemic and all individuals are being urged to stay indoors and strongly board up and protect their houses from the winged onslaught. The epidemic becomes so terrifying that the radio stops transmitting the news and government planes crash and burn as they try to deal with the millions of birds determined to wreak utter havoc. And yes, once again, Daphne du Maurier writes a classic tale of fear and tension, from that very first tap on the window to the suicidal instincts of the birds in order to gain entry to properties and the sheer determination to be aggressive and cause as much damage as possible.

I loved every moment of it and was utterly gripped by the horror of the situation that our family found themselves in, especially when during a respite from the birds, as the tides ebb, they visit a neighbouring farm for supplies and see the full extent of the birds reign of terror. This is a story from an author who is at the peak of her writing abilities and it had such a dramatic effect on me. I have to laugh, I live in a beautiful area in the countryside and can often hear birds chirping just outside my library where I blog. While I was reading this story however, I couldn’t help but turn to look out the window and worry a little bit….who would have known a tiny little sparrow could seem so malevolent?!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe

Banned Books 2017 – APRIL READ – Habibi by Craig Thompson

Published April 24, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

From the internationally acclaimed author of Blankets (“A triumph for the genre.”Library Journal), a highly anticipated new graphic novel.
 
Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth—and frailty—of their connection.

At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.

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Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the fourth banned book of 2017! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. If you would like to read along with us, here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

MAY – Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan – Jeanette Winter

JUNE – Saga, Volume Two (Chapters 7-12) – Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

JULY – The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

AUGUST – Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

SEPTEMBER – Scary Stories – Alvin Schwartz

OCTOBER – ttyl – Lauren Myracle

NOVEMBER – The Color Of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa

DECEMBER – The Agony Of Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

But back to this month….

Habibi by Craig Thompson

First published: 2011

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)

Reasons: nudity, sexually explicit and unsuited for age group

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH:  As a fairly recent release (2011), there aren’t going to be many differences in my opinions as I don’t really believe attitudes have changed that much in the past six years or so. I’m finding expressing my opinions about this graphic novel quite difficult and apologies if my words aren’t coherent! I have such mixed views on this book, you see. The good, the bad and the downright ugly. Can I see why it was challenged/banned? Well, er….yes I kind of can. This is NOT to say that I agree with banning books, not in the slightest! I can however see why this book may have been controversial. There are a LOT of adult themes in the books that may not be suitable for younger readers mainly involving rape and graphic sexuality. Of course the book should be available to read but perhaps not in settings where much younger children have access to it.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I don’t agree with banning books as I don’t think people should be ‘told’ what they can and cannot read. However, this book is one of those books that it’s easy to see why it’s challenged. It’s certainly controversial and it deals with many contentious issues. There’s some quite graphic sexuality, nudity and rape which isn’t suitable for younger readers in my opinion. I’m not sure if this book is intended to be for adults, but that’s certainly what it came across to me. A work of adult literature!

How about now?

BETH: See previous answer! So the reasons for banning/challenging this graphic novel are nudity which there is an abundance of. Seriously, every other page seems to have a naked character on it (probably 95% of them are female, I have to say which I’m not going to even get into but which made me slightly uncomfortable for my own feminist sensibilities). Then there’s the fact it’s sexually explicit and that is certainly the case. Naked bodies are not a bad thing don’t get me wrong but some of the sexual scenes which mainly involve sex that is non-consensual are incredibly graphic. Finally, it states that it’s unsuited for the age group. Here’s where I have a bit of confusion. I don’t know what age group it’s actually meant to be aimed at? Yes, it’s a graphic novel which may make you automatically think of younger readers, however the themes are so adult that it cannot be anything but an adult read. 

CHRISSI: I can see why it’s challenged. I read a wide range of literature, but this one made me feel particularly uncomfortable and that’s quite something!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: First of all, this book is absolutely beautiful. It’s a beast at about 700 pages long but don’t be intimidated by it’s size, I read it quite easily in two sittings in the space of a couple of hours. The illustrations are fantastic and some parts of the story I really enjoyed but other parts….I could just see why it may be offensive, especially to some cultures and religions. I didn’t really enjoy the stories within stories that talked about the similarities between Christianity and Islam as religions either which is strange as I normally like that sort of thing. In this novel however, it just made the narrative feel quite bumpy – if that’s the right word!

CHRISSI: Despite my uncomfortable feeling whilst reading this book, it didn’t take me long to read at all. I found it interesting in parts and offensive in others. It was a mixed bag for me, like Beth, but I’m leaning more towards not enjoying the reading experience.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: I’m going to say maybe as I think some people will love it, other people will not so much. It’s a Marmite kind of book!
CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- Others might enjoy it,  but it was too much for me.

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Join us again on the last Monday of May when we will be talking about Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter.

Close To Me – Amanda Reynolds

Published April 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Close To Me is a gripping debut psychological drama that will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty’s bestselling The Husband’s Secret, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, and Linda Green’s While My Eyes Were Closed.

She can’t remember the last year. Her husband wants to keep it that way.

When Jo Harding falls down the stairs at home, she wakes up in hospital with partial amnesia-she’s lost a whole year of memories. A lot can happen in a year. Was Jo having an affair? Lying to her family? Starting a new life?

She can’t remember what she did-or what happened the night she fell. But she’s beginning to realise she might not be as good a wife and mother as she thought.

What did I think?:

I got the opportunity to meet the lovely Amanda Reynolds in person at a Headline bloggers evening I went to recently where I also picked up a copy of her debut novel, Close To Me in exchange for an honest review. Thank you very much to Wildfire Publishers (an imprint of Headline) for a copy and to Amanda for the wonderful chat we had that evening. Now, if you like your psychological thrillers, Close To Me is a novel you definitely shouldn’t miss out on reading, it’s a fantastic and tense tale that had me gripped right until the end and I became terribly attached to the characters and their lives – the sign of a wonderful author.

The premise initially reminded me of the brilliant Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson i.e. a woman has an accident which results in her suffering amnesia and questioning whole periods of her life that she has missed. It wasn’t long before I realised that although there were slight similarities at the outset of the novel, Close To Me stands by itself quite independently and should not be compared or any potential twists anticipated. Our protagonist, Jo Harding has lost one year of her life after falling down the stairs at home but snatches of events keep coming back to her as she is recovering from her head injury. She begins to realise that certain things are being kept from her by her husband and her two grown up children, but why? What has happened in the past year that has been so terrible that her family are keeping secrets from her in this way? Also, if Jo manages to uncover what has happened in the past year, will that be a good thing or will she wish she had never remembered?

I loved the way this novel was structured. We only hear things from the perspective of Jo but she is such a fascinating character (and somewhat unreliable narrator due to her head injury) that I immediately warmed to her and was rooting for her to get to the bottom of what precipitated her fall down the stairs in the first place. The reader is transported between two time periods, Jo’s present situation and her fight to recover her memories and back to a year ago where one of her last memories is dropping her son off at university. As we, the reader find out things as Jo is finding them out herself it felt very intimate and exciting as a reading experience and I thoroughly enjoyed all the revealing moments, especially close to the end where I quite literally could not put the book down until I had found out EVERYTHING. This is a strong, very memorable psychological thriller and a brilliant debut for the genre. I wish Amanda Reynolds every success for the future and I’ll certainly be reading whatever she writes next.

Interested? Buy Close To Me from Amazon now as an e-book for the absolute bargain price of 99p!:

Paperback release is 27th July, 2017.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Mini Pin-It Reviews #8 – Four YA Books

Published April 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four YA books for you – please see my pin it thoughts below!

1.) A Kiss In The Dark – Cat Clarke

What’s it all about?:

When Alex meets Kate the attraction is instant.

Alex is funny, good-looking, and a little shy – everything that Kate wants in a boyfriend.

Alex can’t help falling for Kate, who is pretty, charming and maybe just a little naive…

But one of them is hiding a secret, and as their love blossoms, it threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their lives.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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2.) The Retribution Of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer #3) – Michelle Hodkin

What’s it all about?:

Mara Dyer wants to believe there’s more to the lies she’s been told.
There is.

She doesn’t stop to think about where her quest for the truth might lead.
She should.

She never had to imagine how far she would go for vengeance.
She will now.

Loyalties are betrayed, guilt and innocence tangle, and fate and chance collide in this shocking conclusion to Mara Dyer’s story.

Retribution has arrived.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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3.) Double Cross (Noughts & Crosses #4) – Malorie Blackman

What’s it all about?:

Callie Rose knows too much – too much about violence and family feuds, and too much about Nnoughts and Crosses. And knowing so much about the past makes her afraid for her future. People always seem to want revenge.

Tobey wants a better life – for him and for Callie Rose. He wants nothing to do with the violent gangs that rule the world he lives in. But when he’s offered the chance to earn some extra money, just this once, would it hurt to say ‘yes’?

One small decision can change everything . . .

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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4.) Perfect Ruin (The Internment Chronicles #1) – Lauren DeStefano

What’s it all about?:

On the floating city of Internment,you can be anything you dream – a novelist or a singer, a florist or a factory worker… Your life is yours to embrace or to squander. There’s only one rule: you don’t approach THE EDGE. If you do, it’s already over.

Morgan Stockhour knows getting too close to the edge of Internment, the floating city and her home, can lead to madness. Even though her older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. There’s too much for her on Internment: her parents, best friend Pen, and her betrothed, Basil. Her life is ordinary and safe, even if she sometimes does wonder about the ground and why it’s forbidden.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially once she meets Judas. Betrothed to the victim, Judas is being blamed for the murder, but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find—or whom she will lose.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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COMING UP SOON ON MINI PIN-IT REVIEWS: Four books I received from Book Bridgr.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Reader by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published April 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Reader all about?:

The Reader tells of an ageing author on the publicity circuit promoting his new book and revealing how life has changed for him.

What did I think?:

The penultimate story in this collection was a bit disappointing for me I have to say but I’m not sure if I was missing the whole point of the narrative. Nathan Englander is an obviously talented author and I have enjoyed a few stories in this collection so far, namely the title story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank and Camp Sundown which was also written beautifully. Then we come to The Reader (*sigh*).  Initially, I was quietly hopeful for a brilliant tale, I love reading books about books and it started out quite promising and indeed, very intriguing but didn’t really seem to go anywhere which was a shame as I could see it had potential to be something quite special.

It’s about an author who is going on a book tour around the country to several bookshops where he is giving a reading. He is hugely disappointed to discover that his star seems to have dimmed somewhat since he was last on the circuit as not a single person seems to have turned up to hear him read or get their book signed. All apart from one, that is. His only person that emerges from the shadows of the first bookshop is an elderly gentleman who demands that the Author should read as of course that is what he has come to hear. The Author is touched and proceeds to fulfil his request then carries on to another city, another bookshop. Lo and behold, the same old man follows him to every bookshop and insists that he reads in every one, while he remains a captive audience of one.

That’s pretty much it really. There’s no huge revealing moment where the old man pulls his mask off like an episode of Scooby Doo and is in fact, someone else entirely. Not that I’m saying this story needed this. However, I feel like it did need something – a sort of direction, an ending that would make me appreciate the story as a whole. I ended up finishing it, not hating it exactly but not having any feelings towards it in the slightest, to be perfectly honest. I did like how the old man refers to the author not by name but purely as “Author!” or “Writer!” when he was addressing him, maybe there was something to be found in this? I’m not sure and if there was I didn’t really get it which was a shame as I think a lot more could have been done with this short story.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.