The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary – Review

I was lucky enough to be given this book by Hannah from Quercus Books, this has not changed my opinion of the book and I was sent this book for an honest review. I had heard so much about this book and it sounded like I could relate to the story in so many different ways. I couldn’t put this book down, I had to stay up reading because I needed to know what happend, and I’ve not done this since the Harry Potter books!

The Flat Share is Beth O’Leary’s debut novel, written on her commute to work. The starting plot is about a flat/bed share where you never see the other person who lives there. O’Leary experienced a version of this when her and her boyfriend moved in together but worked opposite shift patterns.

Synopsis

Tiffy and Leon share a flat

Tiffy and Leon share a bed

Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

My review of The Flat Share

How is this O’Leary’s debut? The story is incredible. I have experienced the joy of trying to find a half decent flat/house-share that is not insanely priced, and I’m in the North where it is cheaper. I have also experienced some of the other themes in this book such as gaslighting. Even with some of the negative themes in the book, such as family members being in prison, obsessive exes and Leon being a palliative care nurse, the plot still remains uplifting. In an odd way, Tiffy’s character gave me hope that there is a life outside of negative relationships and headspaces, and that with the support of friends and therapy you can get through it.

O’Leary’s way of writing characters blew me away, the attention for the secondary characters like Richie, Mo and Gerty makes the story believable and ensured that I couldn’t put the book down. You learn about the positives and negatives of each of these characters in a way which makes them so real and relatable such as Mo’s ability to somehow know exactly what Tiffy is thinking and how much it annoys her.

The attention to detail O’Leary writes about builds the flat to life. It’s incredibly easy to visualise every small detail, and this is part of the reason that I found the book so compelling.

The audiobook for The Flat Share is narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune who sound exactly how I thought Tiffy and Leon would sound when I was reading the physical book which made me fall in love with it more.

I am so excited to see the next thing from O’Leary! With The Flat Share being her debut it makes me wonder what she will write next.

Self-care tips

Here are my self-care tips/ what I try to when I’m having a bad or an off day. Obviously, when it comes to self-care it is very personal and what works for one person may not work for another.

Books in all forms

I think books are my favourite form of self-care, it allows me time away from my head! I make sure I have the Kindle App on every device I have so I’m never too far from a book.

Kindle also have an online reading link so you don’t have to download any applications. This is really useful at work.

Audible – I spend most of my time with my headphones on. I live in a block of flats, as you can imagine the walls are not the thickest, so on they go.

I really like audiobooks, I started with the Harry Potter books read by Stephen Fry. It’s soothing and very familiar; this really helps me when I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Matt Haig is another go-to, both his non-fiction books: Notes From a Nervous Planet and Reasons To Stay Alive are incredible for when you are feeling bad. They also help me remember that I am not alone, and not the only one that feels like this.

My most recent reads on audiobook are:

  • Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
  • Harry Potter – they are on rotation most of the time!
  • Becoming – Michelle Obama
  • To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (trilogy) – Jenny Han

Podcasts

I am as obsessed with podcasts as I am with audiobooks for mostly the same reasons. I like how podcasts do not require as much focus compared to an audiobook and you can be doing other things whilst there on.

My top podcasts:

I have written more about this in an earlier post, you can find it here

Apps

Some of my favourite apps to help with self-care are:

Forest At £1.99 for IOS, it is really not bad. This app allows you to grow a virtual tree and collect tokens, which you can eventually trade in to plant a real tree in a place that needs it!

In Forest, you set a timer for a period of time, the aim being to focus on something other than your phone. If the exit the app, a notification appears to say remind you that the tree will die if you don’t go back to the app. This is actually weirdly motivating as you can see the dead tree in your forest area.

Headspace – This is a guided meditation app but as well as guided meditation sessions, it has “Sleepcasts” and they are incredible- to the point where I have never got to the end of one because I always fall asleep! I need to explore the app further and experience the meditations, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

 

Hot drinks

My go to is a loose leaf tea an hour or so before bed, currently I’m loving Jasmine Huang Shan Ya and White Peony from Leaf. But if I’m feeling overwhelmed I will just make a standard brew. As you can probably work out my favourite teas are from Leaf and I love going to their flagship store on Bold Street in Liverpool.

Bedding  

A small thing, but fresh bedding encourages me to have an early night. I love sweet patterned bedding and I was obsessed with Urban Outfitters range. This was until ASDA upped their game, and now have the cutest ranges!

Hair, body and facial

When I’m feeling really bad, even if I’m not planning on going anywhere I will make sure I shower and sometimes put a face mask on.

My self-care routine is not complete without something from Lush. My current skincare contains; Angels on Bare Skin, Mask of Magnaminty,  Cup O’Coffee, Tea Totaler and Full of Grace. Occasionally Lush’s fresh facemask, Don’t Look At Me makes an appearance. Normally I would use either Angels on Bare Skin; Mask of Magnaminty or Cup O’Coffee and then follow up with Tea Totaler and Full of Grace as a moisturiser – I have found I don’t need to use a primer after this too, which is a plus!

For my hair I use:

Maria Nila Head & Heal Shampoo & Conditioner and sometimes Lush’s Jasmine and Henna Fluff-Ease as a pre-wash mash!

https://uk.lush.com/products/jasmine-and-henna-fluff-ease

Northern Young Adult Literature Festival


The NYALitFest 2019 was held at UCLan last Saturday and it was incredible! I knew it was going to be good as I’d been to the last one and I discovered some of my favourite authors there.

The Harrington Social Space was absolutely buzzing at 9 am on a really grim day, and the stalls were packed with books, literary merch and bookish gifts. To be honest, I was mainly looking at the publishers’ stalls with the hope of getting my hands on a proof copy or two! Here in the North, we don’t really have many (any) book festivals like this so getting hold of a proof copy of pretty much anything is a huge bonus.  

YA Thriller

The first panel was YA Thrillers, chaired by Caroline Carpenter and on the panel were Will Hill and M.A. Bennett. I don’t really read YA thrillers, which thinking about it doesn’t make much sense considering my love for true crime. But hearing both Hill and Bennet speak about their books and their writing process made me excited to give this genre a go: as a reader and maybe even as a writer!

Bennett spoke about her writing process by describing it as unscientific- “winging it” -but also creating a chapter plan and following it, ensuring that the story remains organic. Sounded like a great way to keep on track without stifling creative flow!

While talking about one of his works, After the Fire, Hill discussed his worry about making sure the book was factually accurate, the book centres around what happens after trauma and the psychiatry involved.

Feminist Fantasy panel

Next, I went to the Feminist Fantasy panel which featured Melinda Salisbury, Samantha Shannon, Laure Eve & Rose Edwards. There was a lot of exciting discussions here, and it could have continued for hours without any of us getting bored!

First, the authors were asked whether or not they specifically set out to write feminist fiction. Short answer: No. Eve said that she sets out to write interesting female characters that don’t always stick by society’s roles. She also points out that the female characters are not necessarily nice or morally outstanding.

Shannon stated that a criticism she often faces is the presence of noble characters who are women, people of colour or anyone representing LGBTQ+. She pointed out that this complaint is ridiculous, given that the existence of fantasy creatures such as dragons in her books doesn’t get any obvious reaction.

The panel went on to talk about the Bechdel Test, the updated test and how it relates to their favourite films. This is described at https://bechdeltest.com/:

The Bechdel Test, sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule is a simple test of female representation which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule.

Eve commented that she does still watch some films that do fail the test but is more mindful of them. I have been aware of this test for some time and I do find it funny to watch and read with this test in mind, but, I don’t actively avoid material that I know won’t pass the test.

The panel discussed relationships, and how many don’t see platonic friendships as relationships even though they can be as hard, if not harder when they go wrong. They discussed that as a teenager you long for romantic relationships but in reality, you desire what you already have with close friends: trips to the cinema, meals out, closeness. With this I found that the longing doesn’t just happen in adolescents it happens throughout; this can be caused by the media and society portraying romantic relationships as some kind of goal which needs to be achieved for a happy fulfilled life. This part of the discussion really resonated with me as I had never thought about how society and media controlled this thought process was.

Shannon and Eve spoke about the issue they have when writing; ‘getting it wrong’. Eve noted that no matter what they say not everyone will agree. Shannon stated that this can be the case when writing about sensitive topics such as sexual assault. Salisbury used this to point out that the only time that women are described as strong is when something bad has happened to them.

I found this panel to be incredible, I have not been able to write about everything that was talked about as I was engrossed. All four authors spoke with such passion and this made me so excited to read more of their work.

Following this panel, I went to the Ask an Agent event, but worrying about the word count of this post, it will be in a separate entry!

Shame-Less in YA

On this panel were Katherine Webber, Melvin Burgess, Laura Steven and Tamsin Winter. I was so excited to see Laura Steven back at the NYA Lit Fest, I had been introduced to her at last year’s event and been so excited to read her debut: The Exact Opposite of Okay.

Webber defined shaming as an act of bullying and asked the panel what drew them to the subject. Steven spoke about her past experiences of bullying and how she wanted to write about and develop a character that fought back; this being the reverse of her own experiences.

The panel looked at the links between technology and shame, how people can be bullied 24/7 with social media. However, Steven stated she does not blame technology for bullying saying that anything that can impact a human, for good or bad, is the person themselves not social media or other technologies. Adding to this, Steven does see social media has a positive with the ability to help causes and to make people feel less alone as it can build communities.

Winter believes that shame cuts deeper as an emotion as people are made to feel ashamed about things that are part of who they are. For example, sexuality and anxiety. Winter went on to be thankful that she did got have Facebook when growing up and being in high school. Webber added that internet culture has magnified the idea of shame.

Going back to the idea of shame, Burgess stated that you can’t forgive yourself until your victims have forgiven you. Winter spoke about how shame can be a power for those who shame others.

Book recommendations:

Laura Steven: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson

Mental Health in YA

The Mental Health in YA panel was formed of: Lisa Williamson, Alice Broadway, Sara Barnard, Akemi Dawn Bowman & Alexandra Sheppard.

Sheppard spoke about how she did not set out to write about mental health but, she advised, when writing you need something negative to make a story “pop”.

Broadway said she found the truths you let other people see and those you keep to yourself interesting. Whilst she was speaking about this, I was thinking about social media- and specifically Instagram- where most people only show the best bits of their lives.

The panel talked about the increased amount of books that covered mental health was a real positive. Going further to say that having a book that looks at a person with a family member who has a mental health issue does help situations as books can be passed on to explain what life is like with a mental health illness.

The next question was ‘How important is showing the “ugly” side of mental health?

Barnard believes it to be really important as the ugly side is the reality and it is not fun, unlike its representation in popular culture. She said that authors need to be careful with the representation of mental health as there is a duty of care to readers. The panel advises that writers need to be careful of how they approach fixating and spiralling, but there also needs to be a two-way trust that it is sent and received in good faith.  I agree with this as a lot of the media I read or watched growing up portrayed mental health, particularly anxiety as a cute illness that just meant you were sometimes worried and a bit shy. I experience panic attacks quite a bit and they are definitely not cute!

The Mental Health in YA’s tips on staying sane as an author:

Alexandra Sheppard:

  • Be easy on yourself
  • Know when to stop
  • Listen to yourself
  • Learn the difference between procrastinating and being tired

Alice Broadway:

  • Anti-depressants and counselling where necessary, and keeping up with your own basic needs
  • Being aware when you are “in your head”
  • 5 minutes a day sitting outside with a cup of tea
  • Self-kindness and compassion
  • Taking mental health seriously

Akemi Dawn Bowman:

  • Self-care
  • Social media breaks
  • Focusing on what made you love writing
  • Learning how to keep centred and keep out the noise
  • Taking breaks if you are writing anything triggering
  • Learning when to step away from your writing

Lisa Williamson:

  • Work in a co-working space/ office, this allows her to figuratively clock in and out
  • Don’t work from home

Sara Barnard:

Admits that she doesn’t have this mastered yet as she is bad at knowing when to stop and uses the same device as she uses to access Twitter so can be distracted.

As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I found this panel so useful. Not only because it proves that people with the same illness can go on to be extremely successful in their field, but also because they too sometimes have the bad days. I am currently working on what I do and how I work self-care into my everyday life and are hoping to make a blog post about this later. So hearing the authors include this into their lives makes me feel like I am on the right track.

Book recommendations

Books that look at mental health:

Alexandra Sheppard: On The Come Up – Angie Thomas

Sara Barnard: Starfish – Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman: A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard

Stormkeepers – Cathrine Doyle

After this panel I got my book signed by Alice Broadway and had a lovely chat with her about my Book Group. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and being surrounded by people who shared a love for books! I was able to speak to a few of the lovely Northern Bloggers and got a haul of bought and (free!) proof books which I’m excited to tell you about – but in another post, because this one is huge already!    

I huge well done to Hazel, Debbie and UCLan Publishing for hosting this and letting the Book Group sit at the front! I am so very excited for next year already.

Exploring Broadhursts Bookshop

There is nothing better than going to a nice warm bookshop on a cold day. Especially that awkward period between Christmas and New Years Eve when no-one knows what they are doing, what they are meant to be doing or even what day it is. Walking into Broadhursts Bookshop in Southport instantly warmed me up and made me excited about reading again.

The floor to ceiling bookshelves and the real coal fire give Broadhursts Bookshop such a homely atmosphere. You could easily spend hours looking through all the titles. With a mixture of new and secondhand books in all genres, including the most amazing children’s section. I have fond memories of the children section, exploring the latest books and even picking up a signed Jacqueline Wilson when I was younger.

I picked up The Old Man in the Corner: The Teahouse Detective by Baroness Orczy at Broadhursts Bookshop. The book was originally published in 1908 and are a collection of cosy detective stories. These were created as a response to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I also purchased Lucy Worlsey’s Jane Austen at Home which looks at Austen’s work and life in-depth and includes images. Broadhursts’ wrap purchased books with brown paper and string, It makes me think of Flourish & Blotts from Harry Potter and completely finishes the amazing experience.

You can find more about the amazing place that is Broadhursts Bookshop here: http://www.ckbroadhurst.co.uk/

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp – Sarra Manning (Realise date: 6th September)

The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp – Sarra Manning (Realise date: 6th September)

I was lucky enough to be sent this book as a preview version. 
 
“Becky Sharp has big dreams and no connections. Determined to swap the gutters of Soho for the glamorous, exclusive world behind the velvet rope, Becky will do anything to achieve fame, riches and status. 
Whether it’s seducing society’s most eligible bachelors, or befriending silly debutantes and rich old ladies, Becky Sharp is destined for great things. Because it might be tough at the top but it’s worse at the bottom. 
From London to Paris and beyond, Becky Sharp is going places – so get the hell out of her way…” 
An interesting, modern take on Vanity Fair, surrounded by the latest trends of Instagram Influencers and reality TV game shows, namely Big Brother. You follow the life of the unlikeable but mesmerising Becky Sharp- always cunning, sometimes cruel, but always keeps you on your toes. This book shows the whirlwind of a girl who knows what she wants and almost always gets it no matter who gets hurt in the process. Author Sarra Manning writes beautifully in this well-paced novel with twists and turns that will keep you guessing. 

With The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp, I enjoyed reading about characters’ that in real life I would hate and friendship groups which are clearly there for the status. Amelia’s ongoing heartbreak over her turbulent relationship status provides engrossing detail to a plot driven by Becky’s ruthlessness and determination. Sarra’s character development shines through the writing.  
I did enjoy this novel, however, I did find there to be a big build up which then fizzled out into nothing. I give this 3.5/5. It was a fab holiday read which was easy to dip in and out of.  

I was sent the book without the need for a review. The review is my own words, thoughts and feelings.