Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

Title: Only Ever Yours
Author: Louise O'Neill
Published by: Quercus Books
Publication date: 3rd July 2014
Pages: 392
Genres: YA Sci-fi/Dystopian/Fantasy/Feminism
Format: Paperback
Source: Gift.

freida and isabel have been best friends their whole lives.

Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions - wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative - life as a concubine - is too horrible to contemplate.

But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to remain perfect becomes almost unbearable. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty - her only asset - in peril.

And then, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

freida must fight for her future - even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known...

This is one of those books that you finish and think, 'I wish I'd written that." Also, 'When I grow up, I want to be Louise O'Neill.'

The world as we know it has gone. In its place is a world where women are no longer born - instead, they're created and genetically modified to be perfect. This new generation of women call themselves 'eves' and they live in a strict boarding school for sixteen years, with their only goal being to please men.

Their classes aren't academic - being academic is frowned upon - and, instead, they take classes such as Comparison Studies where two eves are stripped to their underwear while the rest of the class have to send them anonymous messages with what they need to improve about their looks. They also have Organised Recreation where the eves are put in glass coffins and given medication to stop them from getting too emotional or hysterical. Eves thought to be too intelligent, overweight, ugly or angry are punished.

They must be good. They must be appealing to others. They must be agreeable.

At the end of their sixteenth year at the School, ten boys of the same age, called Inheritants, pick their wives. The remaining eves either become concubines (prostitutes) or chastities who, after having their heads shaved and their wombs removed, teach the new students.

As you can probably tell, Only Ever Yours is dark, disturbing and one of the best books I have ever read. O'Neill has taken our misogynistic and anti-feminist world, amplified it, and turned it into something dystopian. She has shown us what could easily happen to our society if we let it, and it should have been ridiculous, but it wasn't because it's so true to life and very close to home. I have no idea how I'm going to be able to wait until September for O'Neill's next book, Asking For It, which sounds equally fantastic.

Some parts, like the following extract, made me laugh despite the underlying seriousness and realism of the situation:

"Which one of us do you think is the prettiest?"
agyness looks from megan's face to angelina's, then back to megan's again.
Silence fills the domed garden, no one daring to look at anyone else.
"What?" megan isn't even attempting to disguise her disbelief.
"I said I choose angelina." Irritation colours agyness's voice at this further disruption. "I prefer her lips. You have great lips, angelina," she says, and angelina smiles gratefully at this unexpected victory, however small. "But, um, you have a nice personality, megan."
She must be worried that she has hurt megan's feelings. That's the only explanation I can think of for the blatant lie. That warning vein is throbbing in megan's forehead again, her lips so white they look as if they've disappeared.
"Nice? Nice? NICE?" megan shouts. I try to shush her but she's beyond reason.
"Yes. You're nice," agyness lies again, looking perplexed at this reaction.
"Who cares about nice?"
"I do. I think personality matters."
"Are you brain dead? Personality does NOT matter. All that matters is being pretty, you..." she stammers with rage, "you feminist." There's a horrified gasp. "Well, it's true." she says defiantly.
"I quite agree, #767."
We freeze as she moves out of the shadows cast by the plastic trees. Her black robes make her look like a huge crow, about to scavenge through the debris for something to eat. Behind her is chastity-bernadette, sleepily rubbing her eyes.
Oh shit.
"Being pretty is what's most important. Although, I have to say, I feel using the 'F-word' was a little excessive," she continues, wearing her calmness like a mask. I can't breathe, terror constricting my lungs.
"I'm sorry, chastity-ruth, I-"
"Since you know how important being pretty is, I'm sure you're aware of how important sufficient sleep is to keep your skin in good condition. Especially coming up to the Ceremony."
"Yes, chastity-ruth," we whisper.
Shit. Shit. Shit.

It was interesting to see that, even in a world where women are designed to be perfect, almost all of the eves have problems with anorexia, bulimia, and just generally hating themselves for the way they look. It was a brutal but honest depiction of what it's like to be a teenage girl in today's world.

It takes a little while to get used to the writing style - specifically, the female names beginning with a lower-case letter - but you soon get used to it. I'm probably wrong, but I thought that might symbolise how the eves are inferior to the men, whose names are capitalised.

And, because this is starting to sound like an English essay, here is my initial reaction after finishing the book back in January:

So, there we go. I might seem calm now but that book had a massive effect on me, and I urge all of you to read it. Chilling and intense, Only Ever Yours really got under my skin and highlights everything society tries to cover up.

Friday, 27 March 2015

March Favourites | 2015

Hello and welcome to my March favourites! At the end of every month I show you the things I've been loving recently, from beauty products and books to music and apps, and I'm sure food will feature, too, at some point... Enjoy!

Christophe Robin masque régénérant // £37 // Christophe Robin

This is a sample I received a while ago from one of my favourite authors, Carina Axelsson, and it is a miracle in a packet. If you've watched any of my videos, you might have noticed my hair is a bit of a frizz bomb. The only time it actually does what I want it to do is when I'm at home with no plans - isn't that always the way? This hair mask smells amazing, which is always a good thing and, unlike other masks I've used in the past, there is a noticeable improvement afterwards. It's expensive, but you definitely get what you pay for (it's worth noting here that I only have the sample - the actual product is much bigger!)

This is Not a Love Story by Keren David and True Face by Siobhan Curham // The Book Depository

I love all of Keren David's books, and I think This is Not a Love Story might be my favourite. I won't say too much about it because my review will be up soon, but what I will say is that I really, really want to go to Amsterdam. I've always wanted to, but this book has made me even more desperate to go. ❤

Again, I won't say too much about True Face because the review will be up soon, but it's such an important book that I think everyone needs to read. I genuinely think the world would be a better place if everyone read it.

Twilight bath bomb // £3.35 // Lush

I included a couple of Lush bath bombs in my January favourites, but this one is my overall favourite no matter what month it is! When you put Twilight in the bath, it turns from pink to blue, dark blue, and eventually lilac. It's so pretty and definitely lives up to its name! The smell is subtle and reminds me of a soap of theirs I was obsessed with a few years ago - I think it might have been Honey I Washed The Kids but I'm not sure. Anyway, I've discovered that this bath bomb is the only thing that can make me properly relax, so if you're like me and have trouble relaxing, maybe give this a try.

Now I understand why Twilight has been hyped so much - it's not for nothing, trust me!

Anker Astro Mini Portable Power Bank // £13.99 // Amazon

This thing is a lifesaver. You charge it fully, just like you would your phone, and then take it with you next time you go out. If your phone dies, just connect it to the Anker power bank with your usual USB lead and it'll charge! This has come in handy so many times, and I'd say it's a blogging essential. I was at the Insurgent premiere a couple of weeks ago and, just as the celebrities were making their way to our end of the red carpet, my phone died. Not only had I been hoping to get selfies with the cast, but I was also blogging and vlogging with it. Luckily, I had this charger in my bag and it was all good again.

Just a note: if you're planning to buy this, it's currently reduced from £39.99 to £13.99! Wuuuut.

Cimorelli at the O2 Academy Islington in London // 21st March 2015

I've decided this feature can include memories. Those of you who know know me will know that I love a band called Cimorelli and have done for nearly three years. The band is made up of six sisters from ages 14 to 24 and they've been making cover videos on YouTube since 2007. Now they have a record deal, several original EPs, an album in progress and they just flew all the way from the US to do a European tour. They're not hugely well known at the moment, but that's rapidly changing.

They only had one UK date on their tour, so I'm really happy that I was actually available on that date. The concert was incredible - they performed 19 songs, all of which you can see here, and I had an amazing view despite being short in a crowd of tall people. I didn't get pictures with the girls but I did get a selfie with their mum, which is possibly even better considering the fact that she is, y'know, the reason they exist. When I was on the tube home, Katherine Cimorelli sent me a DM thanking me for coming to the show. They really are the nicest people.

What have you been loving this month?

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Top 4 Tips for Blogging Safely

We all know that the Internet can be a dangerous place, especially for us bloggers who have to give out our personal details on a daily basis. In the past, bloggers have been stalked *cough* Kathleen Hale *cough* and so I thought it might be good to share a few tips on staying safe as a book blogger - although this can apply to anyone who uses the Internet.

We already know the basic tips (don't share your full name online, blah blah blah - we all do it, anyway) so I've come up with some that you might not have thought of.

Don't share that photo

I've seen so many bloggers tweet photos of a pile of book post with the address label on the envelope clearly visible. I know, it's exciting getting book post and you want to show everyone immediately, so it's really easy to forget, but in doing so, you're freely giving away your address to thousands - potentially millions - of people. 

If you want to share a photo like that, I recommend covering up your address with a piece of paper, or blurring out your address with an app - here's the one I use.

Location settings are not your friend

Most social networking sites and apps give you the ability to switch on your location settings. If you do so, you're inadvertently giving away the address of your current location, which might be your home or the home of a loved one. It's so easy to accidentally do this on Instagram or Twitter. I'm always seeing fellow book bloggers posting photos to Instagram, and above the photos is the name of their location. All it takes is a simple tap, and boom - I now have a map on my screen with a pointer right over your current location, as do all of your other followers. I'm not going to do anything with those details, but there are many people who might.

If you must turn on your location settings, or you really want to check-in on Facebook, I have a few tips for you which I always do myself. Firstly, if possible, do it when you're not at home or at the house of a friend/family member, so you're not giving out personal addresses.

Secondly, only check in when you're about to leave your current location. That way, if anyone does decide to come and find you (which I doubt, but it's better to be safe than sorry, right?) you'll be long gone.

So what if you're home alone?

As a book blogger, there are plenty of people who know my address, and do you know how many times I've almost tweeted something like, "finally got the house to myself!" but stopped myself just in time? It's just not a good idea, especially if you're young and especially if Twitter adds your location. It's unlikely, but who knows who might turn up at your door? (Plus, there isn't much point in updating social media with that, anyway... so what if you're home alone?)

No one needs to know you're on holiday

Last year I went on holiday and did some things I probably shouldn't have done: I tweeted when I was leaving, I tweeted on the fourteen-hour journey (although, honestly, what else was I supposed to do to pass the time?) and I posted photos on Instagram throughout the holiday.

That's a bad idea, but it's not as bad as what I used to do here and on my old blog: I used to publish a post a few days before leaving saying something along the lines of "Sorry, I'll be on holiday from the 12th to the 25th, so there won't be any new posts until I get back!"

Firstly, people don't care if you're not going to be posting for a week or two. It sounds harsh, but it's true. If you didn't announce it beforehand, no one would have noticed you were gone. Secondly, and most importantly, by doing what I did, you're announcing the dates that your house will be empty to all of your blog followers. Hmm.

These are things that we all do, me included, without really thinking about it. In fact, I've done all of these. The blogging world often feels like a safe place to be, but nonetheless, these are still tips that everyone should be following.

Do you have any tips for online safety?