Talking About ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ with Bibliobeth

The Heart's Invisible Furies

How did I get it?:
It was a present!

Synopsis:

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.

At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.

CHRISSI: This book has been very hyped by others in the blogosphere. Did the hype worry you? We all know about that dreaded hype monster…

BETH: I think we all worry about that horrible hype monster. There’s been so often where I’ve heard nothing but good things about a book and for some reason, I just haven’t connected with it as much as other readers. But for some strange reason, I didn’t have that worry with this book. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve read a few of John Boyne’s books now so I’m already familiar with his style of writing (and I was pretty certain I was going to love it!) or if I’ve read enough reviews of it now that I knew I’d be into it purely on the plot alone. This was definitely the case with me, I knew I was going to love it, what WAS unexpected was just how much I would adore it.

BETH: What did you make of the relationship between Cyril and his adoptive parents, Charles and Maude?

CHRISSI: SO VERY STRANGE. I really felt for Cyril. I felt like Cyril’s adoptive parents merely adopted him just because it was ‘right’ thing to do, to have a child. I don’t feel like there was much love there which was a great shame. Charles and his constant need to remind Cyril that he wasn’t a real Avery. Ooh his Dad really made me cross. Ha! I find it funny that I’m still so annoyed about Cyril’s parents!

CHRISSI: Following Cyril through the course of his life takes us through much of the twentieth century. How was each decade most vividly brought to life for you?

BETH: Great question. We see Cyril from a very young boy, right through school and teenage years to a young adult, middle aged man and then an old man. Different things happen to him in each decade that affect his life irrevocably and it seems each decade also comes with a different challenge for poor Cyril. I think his life was brought into vivid detail by these experiences that he goes through and also the host of colourful characters that he meets along the way that all touch his life in some way, either for better or for worst.

BETH: How well do you think this novel explored what it’s like to be gay in Ireland from the fifties onwards?

CHRISSI: I found this novel to be incredibly intriguing as to what it was like to be gay in Ireland from the 50s. I guess I always knew in the back of my mind about what Ireland experienced, but I don’t think I’ve ever read something so memorable about Ireland’s history with homosexuality. I think the novel explored it well and in a way that was heart-breaking but incredibly memorable at the same time.

CHRISSI: Discuss the ending, how else might you have concluded Cyril’s story?

BETH: The ending was quite bitter-sweet for me but I’ll try not to give away any spoilers. I’m really happy we got to see Cyril as a seventy year old man coming near the end of his life. However, this was also really sad (and sounds a bit silly) but even though I’m aware he’s fictional, I just wish he hadn’t aged so quickly! By the end of the novel, he seems to have achieved some sort of closure about the events that have happened to him over the years and has made peace with those he needed to which was lovely to read. Some of the parts really broke my heart though, especially when you find out his future and when he’s talking to his nearest and dearest that he hasn’t seen for years.

BETH: There is a large cast of very different characters in this novel. Which character did you most warm to and why?

CHRISSI: There really is a large cast of characters. However, only one stole my heart and that was Cyril. I absolutely loved following his story across his life. I loved seeing him grow over time from teen, to young adult, adult to the elderly Cyril. I loved being along for the ride. I grew so close to Cyril and was desperate for everything to turn out right for him.

CHRISSI: How do you think this book compares to John Boyne’s other books that you’ve read?

BETH: I’ve read probably his most famous – The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, Mutiny On The Bounty and Stay Where You Are And Then Leave. Although I rated the latter of these five stars on Goodreads, I would have to say without a doubt, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is my favourite book by John Boyne so far. It has the most beautiful writing, the most fantastic characters and was a novel that had me laughing and crying in equal measure. It’s easily made it’s way to my favourites shelf and is probably one of my all-time favourite books that I’ll be talking about and pushing into other people’s hands for a long time yet.

BETH: The Heart’s Invisible Furies is both funny and sad. Why do you think the author chose to use humour in the telling of this story?

CHRISSI: I think it’s really important that stories have a balance of funny and sad. Despite bad things happening, life does have its funny moments. I think if stories always dwell on the sad then it can be very tough to read. I like it when there are lighter moments in this story. I think the author included some lighter moments because some particular moments were difficult to read.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Without a doubt!

CHRISSI: Of course!

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Talking About ‘How To Stop Time’ with Bibliobeth!

How to Stop Time

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

So Tom moves back to London, his old home, to become a high school history teacher–the perfect job for someone who has witnessed the city’s history first hand. Better yet, a captivating French teacher at his school seems fascinated by him. But the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

How to Stop Time is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness.

CHRISSI: We have now read a few of Matt Haig’s books. What did you make of this one compared to this others?

BETH: We certainly have. Previously I’ve read The Radleys, The Humans, Echo Boy and his amazing non fiction Reasons To Stay Alive. I think apart from the latter book I mentioned, which really effected me emotionally, How To Stop Time has to be my favourite thing he has ever written. It’s beautifully poignant, I love the characters, especially our main protagonist Tom Hazard and in almost every paragraph, there was a sentence I wanted to fix in my mind forever.

BETH: I fell in love almost immediately with the character of Tom. How well do you think he was drawn by the author?

CHRISSI: I absolutely loved the character of Tom. I think Matt Haig has done an exceptional job of writing his story and creating such an ever so lovable character. I immediately loved Tom and wanted the best for him. I thought he was such a thoughtful, insightful character who was desperate to find that love he once had, even though he’s governed by the rules by those that look out for him. Truly, Matt Haig has created a stunning character.

CHRISSI: Is Tom Hazard’s condition a blessing or a curse? Is a long life always a good life?

BETH: Great question! I think a lot of people would definitely see Tom’s condition as a blessing. He’s got to see some amazing periods of history and meet some fascinating people, William Shakespeare and Captain Cook to name a few. However, as soon as he joins the secret society for others like him, his life becomes even more restricted in a way. He can only spend eight years in a particular place, he has to carry out an assignment for the society after this time and he can never, ever get too close to people or fall in love. I don’t think long life is always a good life, especially if you’re suffering because of it.

BETH: How did Tom’s relationship with Rose suffer because of his condition?

CHRISSI: Tom’s relationship with Rose was my favourite relationship in this story. I think it suffered because Tom knew inevitably that Rose would pass on and he would have to live life without her. *sob* Tom was caught up on the romance with Rose as he wasn’t supposed to fall in love as per the rules of the Albatross Society. Rose was special to him because of their daughter.

CHRISSI: Matt Haig has said that this book was partly inspired by his own experiences of mental illness. In what way has this shaped the novel? What are the consequences for Tom of having a condition that is invisible to the outside world?

BETH: That’s very interesting and I’m such a strong advocate of speaking out about mental illness. Matt opened up and put so much personal stuff in his non-fiction book Reasons To Stay Alive that it must have been quite a difficult writing process and it was nice to see hints of mental turmoil in How To Stop Time. One of the trickiest things for our character Tom is that he is forbidden to get close enough to people to share what he is going through for fear of what people might do to him and indeed, who would ever believe him? At the same time, he has a horrendous time trying to cope, feeling completely out on his own without anyone to talk to and having to move on regularly to prevent people making comments on his lack of ageing.

BETH: The novel is set amidst multiple time periods, did you have a preference for Tom’s story in the past or the present?

CHRISSI: I don’t know what it was about it, but I preferred reading about Tom’s story in the present. I wanted to see what life was like for Tom now. I also loved him being a teacher, being a teacher myself, I always like to read about teachers. His wealth of knowledge as a history teacher must’ve been incredible! I’m envious! 😉

CHRISSI: What made this book stand out for you?

BETH: It was a lot of things I think. It was the gorgeous writing, the beautiful character development and how Matt Haig made me feel so much for Tom and for his situation. Then there’s the way it was set out as different chapters jumped around hundreds of years in Tom’s life where we get a real sense of how much he has seen and how much he has suffered.

BETH: How would you describe this book to a friend? Would you say this was a historical novel, science fiction, literary fiction or something else?

CHRISSI: Oh my goodness, that’s such a hard question because it really is a mixture of all of those things. It’s historical because of the elements of history within its pages. It’s also science fiction, again, because of some of the content. It certainly reads like literary fiction as well (and literary fiction) is not my thing. The something else? Just Matt Haig. Can he be a genre? No? Well, what I mean is that it’s just so lyrically written and so utterly quotable. It’s moving, unique and makes you think deeply about your own life. Written by a true master of his craft!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Without a doubt!

CHRISSI: Without a doubt!

Talking About ‘Lie With Me’ with Bibliobeth!

Lie With Me

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

“I suppose what I am saying is, how much do we collude in our own destruction? How much of this nightmare is on me?

You can hate and rail.
You can kick out in protest.

You can do foolish and desperate things, but maybe sometimes you just have to hold up a hand and take the blame.”

Breathless.
Claustrophobic.
Unsettling.
Impossible to put down.

CHRISSI: What was your first impression of this book?

BETH: To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t a great first impression! It was quite a slow start to the story although I had read some GoodReads reviews that mentioned that it got a lot better so I was kind of prepared for this. I was hopeful that it would pick up though and once our main character, Paul finally goes away on holiday with the woman he is seeing, the tension and action crept up a notch.

BETH: The (female) author has chosen to write from a male point of view. How well do you think she achieved this?

CHRISSI: Interesting question. I didn’t even think to take note of the fact that she was writing from a male point of view. To me, that says Sabine Durrant pulled it off. It never even crossed my mind that it was a female writing from a male point of view. Well done, Sabine!

CHRISSI: This novel is built on tension. Discuss how the author builds the tension and structures the novel.

BETH: I’m very wary of giving spoilers but I’ll do my best! I think the opening of the novel is absolutely brilliant. Let’s just say that Paul is in a place that we don’t expect him to be in (being deliberately vague, sorry!) and after this initial chapter, the story goes back in time to the events that occurred in the build up to the situation he now finds himself in. So we know where he ends up but we have no clue initially how on earth he got there! He seems, by all accounts to be a “normal,” man (apart from his compulsive lying, that is) and it makes the reader really rack their brains to try and figure out how and why he got where he ended up.

BETH: Discuss where the line falls between a few acceptable fibs and harmful lying. Is it ever ok to tell a small lie?

CHRISSI: Ooh, another good question. Lies are so difficult, because I would say that you shouldn’t lie if it is going to affect another person. However, sometimes I feel that some individuals need to be protected by a little white lie. It made me think though, is that okay? Is it okay to alter the truth a little to protect someone you care about? Argh, I really don’t know. In the end, the truth often comes out, so is it better to tell the truth from the start even if it causes some hurt? Harmful lying is obviously always a no, no for me, but ‘acceptable fibs’… hmm. It depends on your definition of acceptable. Some might consider something acceptable that others don’t. Ooh, such a good discussion subject and I haven’t even really come up with a decent response. All I’ll say is that line is very very unclear.

CHRISSI: Without spoilers- discuss the ending of the novel – did you see the twist coming?

BETH: Not really, no. I knew something wasn’t right with certain characters but I hadn’t figured out exactly what was going on. It was a big surprise when it came and I was shocked how it ended up. Did he deserve it? Some people might say yes, he wasn’t a very likeable character to say the least! However, what he ends up suffering is incredibly extreme in comparison to what he did wrong in my opinion. Loved the twist though, I’m really glad I didn’t predict it!

BETH: This novel has quite a slow pacing to it, did this affect your enjoyment of the story?

CHRISSI: To be honest, yes it did. I am not a fan of a slow paced novel, especially when I have a lot going on. I like to be picking up a book and immediately flying through the pages. I want something to get back to and want to get back to without worrying that I’m going to be bored. I just don’t think this book’s pacing worked for me, although I know some people really enjoyed it and got over the slow pace.

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I thought this book was quite different to other psychological thrillers that I’ve read and I thought it was quite brave in a lot of ways. It read to me almost like a literary psychological thriller (no offence meant to other psychological thrillers). I just mean that the pacing compared to other thrillers was quite slow and you usually find with other books in the genre it’s all quite action-packed and not really focused on character development, unlike Lie With Me. By the end of the book, I actually thought it was the most interesting novel in the genre that I’ve read for a long time and has stayed with me for a while, always a good sign that a book’s got under your skin!

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I’m not sure. It would depend on the subject matter. I thought it was interesting enough, but the pace did affect my enjoyment.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Yes!

Talking About ‘Mad Girl’ with Bibliobeth

Mad Girl

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

Bryony Gordon has OCD.

It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.

A hugely successful columnist for the Telegraph, a bestselling author, and a happily married mother of an adorable daughter, Bryony has managed to laugh and live well while simultaneously grappling with her illness. Now it’s time for her to speak out. Writing with her characteristic warmth and dark humor, Bryony explores her relationship with her OCD and depression as only she can.

Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.

CHRISSI: What do you make of the cover, its subtitle and the title? I find it interesting that this particular cover is yellow!

BETH: Well, I had to actually pick your brain on this one as you had a lot more insights than me, haha! So the title and subtitle is Mad Girl – A Happy Life With A Mixed-Up Mind and is bright yellow. The colour yellow is notoriously quite a cheery and happy cover which is ironic considering the subject matter, a woman talking about her OCD, depression and other mental health issues. The cover immediately attracted me because of the bright cover and the suggestion that although OCD and depression are far from a barrel of laughs (I should know!) the author would take us on a journey with some dark points but some light, funny moments along the way. Mental health is not funny on any level but making light of certain experiences can give other people the bravery to face their own demons and be better equipped to deal with their problems. It certainly felt that way to me and I got a lot out of this book.

BETH: How did you feel that anxiety and depression was portrayed in Bryony’s story?

CHRISSI: Hmm… good question. I liked how there were some lighter, funnier moments within the story. I think that Bryony Gordon mixed humour in really well. But I also appreciated the moments where there were darker points to her story. It’s not sunshine and showers and it’s certainly not something to be laughed at, but in making some light jokes on the situation, Bryony is showing the reader that she’s human too and is going through a constant battle. I know for many sufferers, if not all, mental illness will always be present. It’s how you battle it that matters/

CHRISSI: Mad Girl talks about some difficult issues. Discuss how Bryony Gordon mixes humour with her descriptions of darker emotions and situations.

BETH: As I rambled on about in my previous answer (maybe I should start reading questions ahead of typing?!) Bryony deals with some very difficult issues in her book. There are eating disorders, emotional abuse, addiction… to name a few. However, it never felt too much as there was always a note of humour to make even the darker situations easier to read and experience. I felt like I had scarily so much in common with Bryony and I tend to use humour as a defence mechanism myself to deal with horrible stuff. It just made me warm to her more to be perfectly honest.

BETH: Mad Girl is described as a celebration of life with mental illness. Do you think this came across in the author’s writing?

CHRISSI: I do feel like Mad Girl does celebrate Bryony’s life with a mental illness. Despite everything that Bryony goes through, she still comes across as someone that’s enjoying her life in the main part and is desperate to not let the mental illness dictate how she lives her life. That’s inspiring!

CHRISSI: Was the humour ever too much?

BETH: For me personally, no it wasn’t. I think some of the things she talked about, especially when she talked about her first serious relationship could have really got to me and put me back into quite a dark place. However, when I felt close to feeling that way, I felt the situation in my head was defused by a hilarious line that made me smile (or laugh out loud…sorry fellow train passengers!) that cheered me up and got me out of my own head again. Without that I think it would have been too much.

BETH: You’re not normally a fan of non-fiction. How much did you enjoy this book compared to other non-fiction you’ve read?

CHRISSI: Indeed, I’m not a fan of non-fiction. However, I enjoy reading non-fiction books when they centre around a subject I’m interested in or a subject close to my heart, which in this case, is Mad Girl. I am a ‘mad girl.’ There’s an awful lot I could relate to in this book, so it didn’t feel like I was being bogged down with information. It felt like I was chatting to a friend.

CHRISSI: What do you feel you have gained from reading this book?

BETH: The knowledge that I’m not the only weirdo in the village?! No, seriously I loved reading about Bryony’s life and as I mentioned before, felt I had an awful lot in common with her. You look at other people and the success they’ve had, especially if they’ve had a lot to deal with in their past and present (and probably future) and I’m in awe of what she’s achieved. It makes me hopeful for my own future. I also think it’s so so important to talk about mental health issues and your thoughts and feelings out there so people can realise they are definitely not on their own.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would! I enjoyed her writing style and humour!

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Talking About ‘The Trouble With Goats and Sheep’ with Bibliobeth!

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

England,1976.

Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.

And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: I was already pre-disposed to like this book, I had heard really good things about it from a friend of mine and the title was just too good to resist! I almost couldn’t believe it was a debut novel when I first started reading it, it felt like I was reading a book where the author had been established and writing for years. I was initially confused by some aspects of the story – but in a good way, I just wanted to know what exactly was going on and the author is very good at the “slow reveal,” shall we say?

BETH: Who were your favourite characters in the novel and why?

CHRISSI: I really liked Grace and Tilly because I felt like their friendship was incredibly realistic. I found myself excited to read Grace’s point of view because I really wanted to read about her perspective on the whole situation. I love reading from children’s point of view because they can be so honest, be incredibly wise, yet they can be incredibly naive at the same time.

CHRISSI: The cover of this book is quite simple. Why do you think they went for this choice?

BETH: I actually love how simple the cover is. It’s a lovely shade of blue with just a single goat on the front. No sheep though! 😊 The title is actually described quite early on in the book but I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the two young girls are trying to find God and they have been told by the local vicar that God prefers his people to be a flock of sheep rather than goats. The story is quite simple in the end, coming down to separating these people into the two categories (or can they really be separated?) so I think the cover is perfect for what the novel is.

BETH: What did you think about the relationship between friends Grace and Tilly? Was it typical of a female friendship at that impressionable age?

CHRISSI: I’ve mentioned in the previous answer that I really enjoyed the relationship between Grace and Tilly. I did like reading about them because it was so realistic. I felt like Grace was the more dominant friend and I do feel that friendship at that impressionable age can be like that. I felt like Grace thought she had to watch over Tilly and I loved that protective quality that Grace had. There are moments when Grace doesn’t treat Tilly well and I think that is true of a female friendship at that age. Children can be insensitive towards others and hurt them deeply because they still have a lot to learn.

CHRISSI: What do you think the setting of the heat wave of 1976 adds to the story?

BETH: The heatwave is almost a character in itself, it is mentioned so often and people are obviously suffering because of it. I think people have heard about the heat doing funny things to people’s characters…making them snap, do odd things etc and I think the heat actually has a huge affect on the characters in the story in exactly this way. Perhaps the heat exacerbates the situation and causes people to over-react where they might not normally do so?

BETH: How do you think the mystery of where Mrs Creasy had gone was played out in this novel?

CHRISSI:  The mystery of Mrs Creasy was very intriguing throughout the story. I have to agree that it’s very much a slow reveal and at times, I did start to lose a bit of interest in the story which is why I haven’t rated it higher. I enjoyed reading about the worry of the secrets that Mrs Creasy had taken with her. I felt like that was more important to her neighbours, rather than genuine concern about where she was.

CHRISSI: Many characters in the story have secrets and regrets – how do you judge the actions they have taken? Does it make you consider how we judge people without really knowing them?

BETH: Yes, yes, yes. I don’t think any character really comes out and apologises for their behaviour outright but you can definitely sense the guilt, the regret and a cooling of tempers, especially to the object of most of the characters anger. It felt very much when I was reading it sort of like a mob mentality with each character being “egged on” by what another would say/feel or do. This kind of behaviour becomes very dangerous when multiple people jump on the bandwagon so as to speak, as we can see from the events that occur.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Yes! I can’t believe that this book was a debut. It seemed incredibly accomplished! I enjoyed this book.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars