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Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney - Review

Saturday, February 26, 2022


I stayed in Ireland for my next read after Sally Rooney, picking up this, which my friend Laura bought me for my birthday. She had recently read it and loved it and thought I would too. And she was right, I did! 

It's set mostly in the mid eighties in County Tyrone, in a fictional town near Omagh. At the beginning of the novel, it's much later in time, and we meet Mary, then in her forties, who has five children and has "lost" her husband. It's not clear what has happened to him until the very end of the book, but all the way through I wondered whether the book would have a happy ending or not. 

Mary Rattigan is the youngest of a family of seven children. Her parents have a farm in the countryside. Her mother, Sadie, is cold and abusive, often telling Mary how useless she is and often abusing her physically. The farm is scant in comfort - some kittens are drowned so that the children can't form bonds with them - and Mary's only sister Kathleen leaves, leaving Mary heartbroken. She has a friend called Lizzy; the two of them are close. She has a boyfriend called Joe, the son of the local doctor. On a school trip, however, Mary loses her virginity to someone else and subsequently falls pregnant. Everyone assumes the baby is Joe's - he is sent off to America. Mary imagines she will give the baby to her aunt Eileen, but then John Johns, from the neighbouring farm, offers to marry her.

John is the illegitimate son of a Catholic priest and lives with his mother Bridie, who has been a mother figure to Mary throughout her life. Mary moves into the Lower Room of their farmhouse where she later has her baby. She and Bridie are close but John remains closed off to her. They don't consumate their marriageb until Serena is five and John has worked in England for a year to earn some money to update the farmhouse. Until now it has had no running water, no inside toilet, and no electricity. With the updates, Mary and John have to share a room for the first time, and have four sons in quick succession.

The whole book is like a family saga. It's easy to be very sympathetic towards Mary and the situation she finds herself in, and how much she grows to love John but can't quite get herself to admit it. I liked that the book was set in The Troubles and how that impacted everyone's daily life, and also how Mary speaks of dreading losing her sons to the violence. I loved John, you understand why he is like he is too. I liked Bridie and the farmhouse and the small comforts Mary finds. I really loved the book and I'm glad Laura bought it for me!

I sent it to my mother in law because I think she'll really enjoy it and she likes it when I recommend books to her (the last thing I bought her was Shuggie Bain, which she loved)

Beautiful World Where Are You by Sally Rooney - Review

Thursday, February 24, 2022


I really wanted to read Sally Rooney's new book as I enjoyed Normal People so much, so when I saw it in the Waterstones sale I snapped it up. I knew I wanted to get to it quickly. 

I struggled with the first part of the book and nearly gave up on it, but I'm glad I persevered as I ended up really liking it. Again, there's no speech punctuation which I personally find quite hard to get into, but once I do I find I dont mind it so much. I know it's a choice, but I personally find it difficult.

So the book is about four adults - Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon. Alice is a celebrated author worth at least a million euros. She has had some kind of breakdown so has left her native Dublin for a while is renting a house somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, somewhere with a beach right on the Atlantic.  

She meets Felix on Tinder and the two go for a date. It doesn't exactly go well - Alice is kind of cold and prickly and Felix doesn't really know what to make of her, but he takes her home and they make plans to see each other again. He is known as a bit of a 'bad lad' around the village. He works in a warehouse which he doesn't at all like, and there's hints that he used to do something else but now can't.

Across in Dublin are Eileen and Simon Eileen has been Alice's best friend since they were teenagers. She has had a recent breakup which she is upset about, but which Alice seems to think was the best thing for her as she wasn't very happy. She has known Simon since she was born - he is five years older and once worked on her dad's farm, which is when they got friendly. Eileen has a sister who is about to get married, who she doesn't really get on with. Simon works in politics, and he has a series of much younger girlfriends who Alice and Eileen are disparaging about. Eileen and Simon have a lot of flirtatious behaviour and sometimes sleep together.

Alice asks Felix to go with her on a book tour to Rome, which he does. The two sleep together too, and start a somewhat confusing relationship.

Throughout the book Alice and Eileen swap emails back and forth. They get quite deep - talking about art, beauty, life, death, religion, among other subjects, but they also seem quite jealous of each other and argue in their emails. But I do think their friendship shines through and I did like that.

I always feel very 'worthy' when I read a book like this, I generally do read what I like but every now and then I choose something that will push me, and this did. But I liked it and am giving it four out of five. 

The World of All Creatures Great and Small by James Steen - Review

Monday, February 21, 2022

 

I got this book for Christmas after I asked my mum to buy it for me. I have to admit, I have never seen the original All Creatures Great & Small and probably wouldn't have cared about this remake were it not for the fact that we happened to be on a short break in Grassington when they were filming it! You can see some photos here on my other blog. So I was intrigued by the new series and made sure to watch it when it started in 2020. And I fell totally in love with it! All five main characters are so good and the actors playing them are just brilliant too. I like Samuel West anyway so it's been nice to see him on my screen regularly. Plus knowing where it was filmed it ace - I scrutinise the screen whenever they're outside!

So I was intrigued to read this companion book. It's not very long, and it has a foreword from Jim Wight, son of the real James Herriott, Alf Wight. The new series was done very much with the blessing of Jim and his sister Rosie, which is good. They added bits of information to the writers and actors and loved the end result apparently.

There's extracts from the main actors about their characters and stuff from the animal handlers about how the animals had to "act" and stuff (some of it was special effects!). There's stuff about the costumes and the sets, which I found most interesting. I really thought it was a cute book and if you liked either the original BBC series or this remake then I would recommend it! 

Murder on the Moorland by Helen Cox - Review

Friday, February 18, 2022

Thank you very much to Quercus Books for giving me permission to read and review this book. I was provided with an electronic copy of the book for review purposes but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinion are my own. 

I liked the sound of this book mostly because it is set in North Yorkshire, in places I know well, which I always like to read about. I didn't realise it was one of a series; it's the 4th in the Kitt Hartley series, which are billed as "cosy mysteries". I haven't read many of those, and wouldn't say they were really my cup of tea, but I decided to plough on anyway. And I'm glad I did because I did enjoy the book. The book is told mostly from the point of view of Malcolm Halloran, who is Kitt's boyfriend and who is also a detective inspector. There's quite a bit of cringey stuff about their relationship which I didn't enjoy, but that aside, I liked the book.

A woman has been murdered in Irendale, where, five years ago, a police officer turned out to be a serial killer who killed Halloran's wife Kamala, among others. The present murder has hallmarks of the earlier deaths, including a runic symbol being carved into the hand of the dead woman. Halloran immediately thinks that the killer, Kerr, has managed to manipulate someone on the outside into killing with his hallmarks. He goes to accuse Kerr and loses his temper. He ands Kitt then travel to Irendale to try to help the local police. 

Amber, the dead woman, worked as an archivist and seems to have left a clue on her body to lead to her killer. There are several suspects, but the real killer comes out of nowhere. I liked the mystery. I didn't like Halloran very much, but I sort of appreciated him as a detective. I liked Kitt, but found her a bit of a know it all. And as I said, I found their relationship quite cringey. I'm giving this a 3.5 out of five really, I didn't hate it but didn't love it either. I would read something else in the series if I was on holiday and wanted an easy read (which is when I read this!)

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley - Review

Tuesday, February 15, 2022


Thank you very much to Harper Collins for giving me permission to read this book. It will be publised in March 2022. I was given a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I've enjoyed the other two Lucy Foley books that I've read - The Guest List and The Hunting Party - so I was eager to read this one. It's quite different in tone, though, to the others. For one thing, I didn't utterly dislike all the characters! For another, there's fewer irritating posh people. I do like Lucy's writing and will definitely read what she writes next!

At the beginning of the book Jess arrives from England to visit her brother Ben. He is living in an apartment block in Paris, but when she arrives he isn't there. There's a furore with two people also living in the block, Antoine and his wife, and Jess tries to not get involved but does see the code to get into the complex, so she can get into Ben's apartment. He isn't there, and Jess tries to unravel what has happened to him.

I'm not entirely sure who lives on what floor, as I'm not writing this review straight after finishing the book, sorry, but there's Antoine and his wife (Dominique, I think), then Mimi and her friend Camille, Nick, Ben, and then in the penthouse there's Sophie and Jacques, who are very rich. Mimi is a somewhat shy teenager; Camille is much wilder and is determined to drag Mimi astray with her. Nick is Ben's friend from university. Sophie looks like the perfect Parisian rich lady, but she's hiding secrets and is being blackmailed. Then there's also the kind of doorwoman, who lives in a tiny shack in the complex's garden. 

There are plenty of twists and turns as you'd expect. A couple I caught but the main twist totally blindsided me, which I really liked. I liked Jess and wanted her to succeed, and I liked how the mystery unravelled. I'm giving this four out of five. 

Bad Girls Never Say Die by Jennifer Mathieu - Review

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Where did I get it? My mum and stepdad bought me it for Christmas after I asked for it. I follow Jen on Twitter so knew she had a new book it! 


What's it about? It's set in 1964, almost a year after the death of John F Kennedy. It's set in Houston, Texas. Evie lives with her mum and grandmother; her elder sister recently got married and is living on an army base some way away. Evie misses her desperately. Evie has got friendly with three "bad" girls recently - Connie, Sunny, and Juanita, who lives next door. The neighbourhood they live in is pretty poor, and everyone knows that the police will try to pin anything on them. The girls cut school a lot. 

One Friday evening they head over to the drive thru movie theatre. Connie has recently been in Gainesville in some kind of juvenile detention, so the girls are celebrating her freedom. Connie's brother Johnny is there and to begin with I thought Evie had a little crush on him, but if she does, it's not really explored. 

Evie heads to the washrooms and while there a boy from the rich side of town starts to talk to her. Then he attacks her and threatens to rape her. She blacks out, and when she comes to a 'tea sipper', one of the girls from the rich side of town, is standing over her. She is Diane, and she has recently moved to Evie's "bad" neighbourhood and moved to Evie's school. None of her old friends will talk to her anymore, which Evie witnessed earlier in the evening. And now she has stabbed Preston, and he is dead. 

Evie realises the danger they are in, so the two run off quickly, to Diane's house. The house is cluttered and filled with bottles; Diane lives with her aunt. Her bedroom though is very tidy. Evie realises there's something deeper going on with Diane, but she doesn't press for details.

Realising that Diane has saved her from rape and possibly from death, Evie quickly brings her into the group. The other girls aren't sure, though, but Evie stands up for herself, and for Diane. Everything quickly unravels, of course - but this is a gorgeous book about girl friendship, about forging your own path, and about doing what is right.

For what it's worth I think Jen Mathieu isw a really underrated YA writer and I would encourage you to go read her stuff right now!


What age range is it for? 15+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No - I did wonder if the book was going to go that way and I was here for it! 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Juanita is Mexican and there's mention of how she's treated at school, and Evie and Diane also discuss the fact that segregated schools still exist in Texas. I thought both of these points were a good way of showing the racial inequality of the time. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Not really 


Is there any sex stuff? Yes, trigger warning for sexual assault - it isn't graphic but it is there


Are drugs mentioned or used? No I don't think so. The girls do smoke a lot which is very true for the time but may be jarring for a modern reader! 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, it's somewhat graphic, but age appropriate I felt


Are there swear words? A few. It really gave the girls a flavour!

 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none 


Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. It's got that 60s nostalgia to it which I really liked; I wanted to run with the "bad" girls too 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Trying to make my way through my Christmas books as is usual for January! 

 

What do I think of the cover? It's cute, it looks like a film (watch Moxie! It's really good!) 

 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of Pulp by Robin Talley which is set in a similar timeframe I think 


How many stars? Four out of five, a very good from me

 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it! I've got a few of Jen's other books!

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp - Review

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

 


I got this book in my subscription box from A Box of Stories in November or something, and I'm determined to read those books before cancelling my subscription, so I picked this up. I was intrigued by the premise so had pretty high hopes for this. But, although I found it compelling and wanted to keep reading, I felt like the ending did not justify the rest of the book and I got no closure from it, so my rating is three out of five. I also felt like the author was trying to make too much of a point about smartphone addiction, in quite a preachy way, and in a way that I didn't like at all.

Anyway, at the beginning of the book, Kate is a paramedic in Leeds. She is on a job with her partner Izzy when Izzy falls down the stairs, severely damaging one leg. This happens because Kate is distracted by her phone, checking up on a man who has screwed her around. Kate is so shocked and guilty that she gets rid of her smartphone and gets an ancient Nokia instead, where she can't access the internet. Before this happened, she sent a Super-Like to a man called Scott on Tinder, but gets no reply or Like back from him. 

Then she goes to Wales and does a digital detox, and while there she meets Scott in person. The two start a relationship, which the reader sees in flashback. Back in September of the year, Kate is moving to Brighton to live with Scott. She's got a job there, but two days before she's due to move, Scott ghosts her. He stops replying to texts and calls. All her stuff is packed up so she decides to just set off to Brighton. 

Scott doesn't answer the answer phone, but she finally manages to get into the building and into Scott's flat. She finds it completely empty of all his belongings. Has he done a runner and completely ghosted her? She finds strange gouges on the inside of the door, too, leaving neat little piles of wood chips behind. She makes herself a camp in the living room, and just as she's falling asleep she sees a weird blue light in the corner of the room. 

The next day she finds Scott's phone on the balcony of the flat, and finally manages to get into it. She finds some truly weird stuff and it becomes clear she didn't know Scott at all. But is he dead or alive? And what has happened to him?

This was like at least half the book and I liked it, but then there are supernatural elements which put me off. And then it just went on and on and on, I honestly thought the book was going to end about four times and it just didn't. As I said, I didn't like the ending or the preachy notes, and probably wouldn't bother with something from the same author. 

Love That Journey For Me by Emily Garside - Review

Sunday, February 6, 2022


Lee bought me this book for Christmas. I had seen it on Twitter so sent it to him to buy me. I love Schitt's Creek; I only got into it in the first 2020 lockdown and watched the end episode around January 2021 (I like to space things out when i enjoy them...). I love the queer representation in the show, so this was definitely a book I wanted to read.

I was left a little disappointed by it, though. It doesn't really go deep enough for me - it skates over several important theories and points, but without investigating any well enough. Plus it really needed a good edit and proofread - there were quite a lot of mistakes in such a short amount of text that really should have been picked up. 

But it did make me want to watch Schitt's Creek again, and I think as a cute introduction to queer theory in Schitt's Creek it's pretty cute. Probably one for the die hard fans! 

Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido - Review

Thursday, February 3, 2022

 


This is one of the books that I got in the Book Flood swap from Alex at Christmas. I was immediately intrigued by the premise, so picked this up really early in the year. When I posted the photo on my Instagram, my friend Janet commented that she read all Trapido's novels at the same time she was reading early Patrick Gale and that she felt they had a similar vibe. This was interesting to me, as one of my favourite books is Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale, which Janet knows, so I was interested to read someone similar. Then Alex commented that that was WHY she had chosen this book - that she had googled authors similar to Patrick Gale and saw Barbara Trapido recommended. I love this! And I think there is a hint of Gale about this book, but I also like the similarity given on the back, that it is like Brideshead Revisited. 

I read Brideshead Revisited on holiday when I was fifteen. My parents took me and my friend R camping in France, and we shared a tiny tent and drank too much Martini and lemonade and I fell in love with Charles and Sebastian and Julia. Charles in Brideshead is thrust into a world completely unfamiliar to his own, with much posher people, with class rules and systems that he doesn't understand. And so the same happens with Katherine in this book.

She is interviewed at the beginning by Jacob Goldman, a philosophy lecturer at UCL (I think!), and given a place on the course, even though she has dismal A level results (three Es). She impresses Jacob with some chat about E M Forster, and is pleased to get a place. She then meets a man called John Millet, who is much older than her and who her mother decides immediately is gay. He takes Katherine to the Sussex countryside to meet his friend Jane. 

Jane turns out to be Jacob's wife, and she is about to have their sixth child. The family house is filthy, and in much disarray, and the wall by the phone has all kinds of messages written on it. Jane spends a lot of time doing the garden. John is disgusted that she is pregnant with her sixth child, but Jane and Jacob are completely unapologetic about it.

There's Roger, who is the same age as Katherine and who is about to head off on a gap year to Africa. Roger is pretty, but quite clueless about life in general. Next is Jonathan, who has inherited his dad's looks, but who is charming, and clearly Jane's favourite. There's Rosie, aged nine, who adores Katherine. Then there's the twins, Samuel and Alice, who are only about three. And the new baby on her way. 

The house is bohemian and unconventional. Jacob is Jewish, the grandson of a German butcher. The book is set in the mid 1960s, meaning Jacob and his mother both escaped the Holocaust, but his grandfather did not survive. Jacob is eccentric and clearly wildly in love with Jane. Jane's family are Anglo-Irish and they disowned her when she got pregnant by Jacob when only around eighteen herself. Her parents do stay in touch with the children, though. 

Like in Brideshead Revisited, it's hard to decide who Katherine likes the most. She starts a relationship with Roger after his return from Africa, but is unceremoniously dumped by him just before she takes her final exams. She is certain she'll fail her degree, but Jacob reassures her otherwise. 

She goes off to Italy to teach English, and there meets Michele, who is married. She lives with him for more than six years and has his baby. But then tragedy occurs and she ends up back in England and back in the Goldman house. So much has changed, but Katherine finds herself drawn back into the bosom of the family.

I loved this book, I loved all the characters and understood why Katherine found herself drawn to the Goldmans. I liked her a lot too, though. I'm giving this five out of five and I've already put another of Trapido's books on hold at the library!

 

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