Cover Image: Before My Actual Heart Breaks

Before My Actual Heart Breaks

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I started this book with high hopes but sadly struggled to finish it, which is a shame really. I do want to add a positive that I liked the premise of the book.
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Bought up in rural Northern Ireland in the 70's by a mother more likely to show her the rosary beads than compassion and a father who knew better than to speak his mind, young Mary 16 and pregnant didn't get a lot of choice in what happened to her and any dreams she had of escaping her rural existance soon faded as she found herself married off to a local farmer John Johns with haste.

I wanted to like this novel and it started out well, the scene setting of rural life against a backdrop of the troubles was well done but as the months turned into years and Mary lost her way getting caught up in self pity I found my attention wavering and sadly it never really recovered.
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A great book with the underlying history of the troubles in Ireland; some of which I knew and a lot of which I didn't. A wonderful story of life in a Catholic family and the decisions that sometimes got made. It was a heartwarming ending. Lovely piece of work.
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A book of two halves for me.  I enjoyed the first part of the tale - the teen pregnancy, her shock at how her family treated her, her unexpected love for her child and the farming life. Although I grew up in England I have memories of the bombings and it was interesting to read the list of atrocities.  It seems incredible that we were so accepting of yet another bomb, and lived with it so as a teenager I would go into London with my poor mother waiting at home hoping I was OK.  

On the other hand I found Mary's later life deeply frustrating.  Surely she could see some positives in her situation - she so deeply loved her children it must have taken a great deal of effort to hold a grudge that long.  I did not really understand why she was so unable to visit her husband when he needed her. So for the second half of the book I wanted Mary to buck up and stop wallowing. At the final resolution I was not sure that she deserved it as she had been so wet beforehand!
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Unfortunately I just could not get into this book. It may be one for other readers, but I was unable to finish it.
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An absolutely stunning debut, A beautiful book that will stay with me forever. I loved the characterisation and storyline. Very personal and intimate. One that I have since bought in hardback because I loved it so much! Very touching.
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Absolutely fantastic read. I have loved this and been completely unable and unwilling to put this one down. 
This is a great read which I will be highly recommending.
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It has struck me in recent years that, despite growing up in the 80's and 90's near London with bomb threats being not uncommon on our trips into the city, I am fairly ignorant about the Troubles in Ireland.  It was watching Derry Girls that really hammered that home - seeing the nostalgia of my very similar younger years and the pant-pissingly funny comedy of the characters sharply juxtaposed with the presence of armed soldiers and road blocks.  And so I've started to seek out books set during the Troubles.

That was what first drew me to this book.  That, and the fact that this sounded like the story of a woman entering her mid-life and realising that life had not gone as she'd hoped it would when she was a teenager.  I'm pulled to that sort of story too.

But this book isn't just about the Troubles.  And it isn't just about reflecting on your life as you start a new chapter.  The layers to this book are rich. We meet Mary as a teenager, with a cold and abusive home life thanks to a mother whose only real concern is to be seen as the most pious of them all.  Navigating segregation and military occupation for the chance to snog her boyfriend at the bus stop, Mary dreams of flying away.  But when she finds herself pregnant and unmarried, Mary's dreams come crashing down with a bump.  Forced by her mother, the judgement of society and the crushing religious control of the time, she finds herself on a very different path.  Over the next twenty five years, Mary settles with her lot, but has she missed the chance to live the life she really wants?

This book touched me deeply.  I hardly ever cry at books, yet I can't count the number of times this one moved me to tears.  Maybe I relate to Mary on a very raw level, or maybe I just deeply felt for the loss of her dreams, of the girl she was, and how different things could have been even in the life she found herself living.  I really felt that sense of the passage of time and how it can't be snatched back, and it was like an ache.  This book really delves in to the damage that can be caused when someone is made to feel small, how they can be caged in by their lack of self worth and put up walls to protect themselves from the possibility of rejection.  How the negativity inside our heads can blinker us to the opportunities that lie right at our feet.  

I loved Mary - although at times it was easy to want to shake her out of her self pity, I could also see that she was broken and unable to build herself back up.  In fact, most of the women in this book were fabulously written, even Mary's monster of a mother.  The sense of place in this book is incredibly strong too, I really felt as if I was sitting with the family in their little kitchen.  But really, it was that Delaney was able to get to those core human emotions - even for the stoic, silent characters of John and Mary's father - that really did it for me.  

This book truly is heart breaking, but in the most beautiful way.
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This story wrapped itself around my heart and is yet to leave it. I loved it. It's funny at times but also very moving and incredibly interesting when it portrays what life was like during the Troubles. he writing is so vividly immersive, I really felt transported there every time I opened the book. A powerfully heartbreaking read that will definitely stay with me.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC.

Delaney writes such beautiful, lyrical prose, I was completely taken away into this story. She explores the strictures that were (and perhaps still are) placed on Irish girls, but also the mental limits we place on ourselves that prevent us from living our best lives. It might be the most heartbreaking love story I've ever read. Delaney is definitely one to watch.
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This was a tough read, heavy in theme but also it felt sometimes like it was difficult to get through the pages. I did enjoy parts of the book but it felt that sometimes the writing was difficult to persevere with. I will probably re-read this in the future and perhaps I might like it more the second time around.
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Heavy read, but worth it.

You definitely have to be in a certain mood to get through the book.  It was really well written, but it was also not an easy read.

Set against the backdrop of NI in the 1970s, I would summarise this as a coming of age story that continues for most of her life.  A young women TBH is treated horribly by everyone, but is probably a common story for the time in which it is set.  She then starts a new life in a marriage she didn't particularly chose, however she does find some sanctuary.

Definitely one I would recommend.

Thanks to Net Galley for a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I had mixed feelings about this one. It is full of strong themes, the over-bearing mother creating a traumatic childhood for Mary and her subsequent fall from grace (not there was ever much for her) when she falls pregnant at sixteen and finds herself married to a man she hardly knows to cover up the "shame". Mary never really recovers from this episode and, to be honest, neither does the story. It starts very strong but once Mary has left her family home it seems to drift and feels over-familiar. A violent episode towards the end was surprising and felt almost like an afterthought or an idea that hadn't been fully integrated into the rest of the story. It was jarring and for such a serious event, it did not feel like it was addressed the way it deserved.
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Sixteen year old Mary Rattigan wants to fly away from Northern Ireland, away from the Troubles & most of all away from her abusive mother. Her mother painted herself as a holy Catholic mother but was one of the nastiest characters I've read in a while. Mary's escape was to be going to Uni but when she gets pregnant her mother has her married to the man who has the farm next door- not the best start to a marriage- and for twenty five years we follow her life.

This book brought home how hard it was for the folk in Northern Ireland during the troubles and how much of a hold the Catholic church had on its fold.  Mary's childhood was a nightmare & that no doubt made her the woman she grew up to be. However I did get extremely cross with her determination to cut off her nose to spite her face. This was quite a tough read. Thanks to Netgalley & the publisher for letting me read & review this book.
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Before My Actual Heart Breaks is a novel that takes a while to get in to. But it's one that if you stick with it, you will be so glad you did. It's a beautiful, moving and heart felt read, that bleeds emotion.
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A poignant and captivating novel about a young girl growing up in a Northern Ireland ravaged by the Troubles and a loveless home dominated by an abusive mother, this sucked my in and kept me glued to the page. Mary's dreams of escape to America are shattered when, pregnant from a random hook-up at sixteen, she finds herself married off to a taciturn young farmer whose motivations for taking her on she can't begin to fathom. Even as her life takes on new shape, she can't let go of the one she had envisioned, and the protective walls she erects hamper no one so much as herself.

The writing is vivid and rich with imagery, contrasting the everyday glow of homey farm life with the stark horror of everyday terrorism. It could easily have become a heavy-handed story, especially as Mary's POV is perpetually clouded by her thick lens of self-imposed martyrdom, but the strong cast of supporting characters offered enough charm and levity to keep it well balanced.

Mary is a character who was both deeply relatable and incredibly frustrating. Her self-pity and determination to make herself a victim often make her hard to sympathise with, but it's also such an authentic portrait of the kind of abuse that grinds your self-worth to dust when you're young and stunts your ability to consider the needs and hurts of others because there isn't room for any damage but your own. It's sometimes hard to read about her inability to see the life she has for what it is - warm, safe, filled with people who genuinely love her - but her emotional stuntedness and deep-rooted fears are also so real and devastating you want to give her a hug even as you want to shake her a bit.

Adding to the frustration are the literal decades of missed chances and miscommunication between her and John, which often reach Rhett and Scarlett levels of emotional ineptitude, like, here we go AGAIN with one of them offering up their heart on a silver platter by making some tiny, fraught gesture and immediately yanking down the shutters when they don't get back the exact response they had envisioned. JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER, MORONS. It does seem to work out in the very end, but it's a long long road. But hey, like I said, glued to the page.

A beautiful, unique voice and an immersive read.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Mary Rattigan dreams of the day she will leave her extremely toxic family home to study in higher education and be free of her tyrant of a mother. Her plans don’t quite go to plan though as she ends up stuck in the same place she grew up in with a house full of children and none of that higher education.




In her teens, her life took an unprecedented left turn and while I emphasised with her in those early years, the more I got to know her, the more she struck me as a rather selfish and misguided character. A lot of the issues that occurred were down to my nemesis; miscommunication. Her inability to have meaningful conversations when it mattered made me feel like she was smothering herself and her life in a thick (almost voluntary) blanket of despondency. But this feeling of hopelessness did not just spread through Mary’s house. It naturally stretched into the sections on The Troubles too and Delaney very cleverly mirrored the goings on in Mary’s life with the events going on in Ireland at the time.

Told through flashbacks, against the backdrop of The Troubles, Mary goes on a journey. Just not the one she expected.

If you are interested in an all consuming novel that: 
✨ Has beautiful prose 
✨ Is romantic with sadness, hurt and pockets of humour
✨ Will move you
then you will probably want to save this to your TBR.
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Before My Actual Heart Breaks is a moving novel which follows Mary Rattigan as she grows up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Incorporating political context into a narrative in a meaningful way is an art form, and Delaney is obviously skilled in this sense. Mary’s awareness of Northern Ireland’s charged politics is obvious from when she’s a young age in a way that does not feel forced. The division of Catholics and Protestants, religious and nationalist fervour and the ensuing violence all play a part in the novel, without impinging on the characterisation and plot. 

Speaking of the characterisation, I loved the complexity of all the characters in this book and their relationships. I felt really sympathetic towards Mary throughout, yet I did not agree with all of her actions and found her quite frustrating in parts. The messy dynamics between her and her family felt so true to life and I loved her friendship with Lizzie Magee. 

The story is definitely more character driven than about the plot, however there were a few dramatic moments to keep the reader engaged. 

It did take me a while to get into this but I think it was more due to my mood than anything else. If you’re in the same position though, I would recommend you continue for a tender story of love and heartbreak (of various kinds). 

I highly recommend Before My Actual Heart Breaks to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and character driven tales.
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Before My Actual Heart Breaks is a beautifully understated portrayal of a life defined by fear. Growing up in a Catholic household during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Mary is made to feel like nothing by her bitter and cruel Mammy. Her Daddy is weak, and never protects her from the wrath of Mammy. One reckless night leads to Mary's hopes for leaving her hometown being dashed, and she is married off to a local man she barely knows, John Johns. Theirs is a complex relationship. Mostly they are strangers, but they reach for one another at night and however messily things began, they raise a happy family of children.

An accident that sees John in hospital brings all Mary's feelings to the surface, but even now her feelings of inadequacy, and fears of rejection, lead her to remain silent about how she truly feels. John goes away, and she is sure she has lost her chance to make things right. But does he have it in his heart to give her one last chance?

The writing is exquisite and it explores themes of abuse, insecurity and fear - hangovers from an awful childhood that remain dark shadows in Mary's life. Whilst heartbreaking at times, there is a beautiful sense of hope and joy in the closing pages and I loved every moment of this gorgeous book.
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Critics have a habit of dubbing debut authors as “raw” talent. But make no mistake, there is nothing undercooked about this literary delicacy. It has been tenderized, marinated and braised to mouth-watering, lip-smacking perfection. It is, in fact, a veritable feast. 

Set in Northern Ireland against the background of the ubiquitous Troubles of the latter half of the 20th century, Before My Actual Heart Breaks is a love story. But it is a love story that tries very hard not to be.  There are no hearts, flowers and romantic heroes here. This is bleak and raw, evasive and exasperating, with characters so flawed and broken, you want to hug them and comfort them, and then take them by the scruff of the neck and bang their heads together. 

Mary Rattigan has big dreams. She yearns to fly. As far away as possible from her B.I.T.C.H. of a mother and taciturn father. Away from the “them” and “us” of sectarian Ulster. But her dreams come crashing down when she finds herself 16 and pregnant. Unwilling to give up the name of the father, she is pushed into a marriage of convenience with neighboring farmer John Johns. 

Mary’s story is first person narrative at its glorious best. An internal monologue that gushes, trips and tumbles like the water of the River Cloon that flows through the Johns’ farm. “He will never be mine, and I will never be his” is her forlorn mantra year after year after year. Her voice is in turn angry and bitter, subdued and submissive, needy and wanton. And every now and then, it sneaks up and surprises you with a raucous, biting wit. 

The Troubles — the bombings, the retaliations, the terror — are more than the backdrop to Mary’s story. They are the very fabric of her story. Indeed, the fabric of the lives of every man, woman and child, Catholic and Protestant alike, who lived in Northern Ireland during this time. I salute Delaney for shining a light on this fact and for giving us a story that really will make your actual heart break.
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