Erryn reviews ‘Heart’ by Garrett Leigh. The ebook was published July 19, 2019 and is 212 pages. The audiobook was narrated by Dan Calley. It was released October 13, 2020 and is 5 hrs and 53 mins long. A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Why I read this book: I adore Garrett Leigh books narrated by Dan Calley.
Cornish pastry chef Seb Wright dreads the summer tourist season. The cash injection to his artisan fudge pantry is more than welcome, the extra work, less so. Then one summer, a shadowy Good Samaritan catches his eye. Irish traveler Dex is bewitching, a beautiful sullen enigma who turns Seb’s world upside down until he disappears in the night, vanishing like a mystical summer rain.
Twelve months later, Dex is in the midst of a dark storm. A slave to his master, “Uncle” Braden, he spends his days cleaning caravans and his nights working in Braden’s other businesses. His short summer with Seb seems a lifetime ago. Lost in the savage violence of the murky underworld, he doesn’t dare dream he’ll ever find his way back, until one night, a brutal crime opens the door for a chance escape. A new life beckons, old faces emerge, and immersed in the heady vibe of London’s East End, new love begins to heal his fractured heart.
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Garrett Leigh has a way of making me work both while listening to the book and then after when I sit down to write a review. How do I describe a book that moved me? That was both painful and redemptive? That broke my heart and then put it back together again? That made me think and made me feel? That I never wanted to end.
Heart is such a book. Also, with Ms. Leigh’s books, there is an uneven narrative structure. I’m accustomed to alternating back and forth – one chapter per hero. In this book, Ms. Leigh chose to make Seb the point of view character for the first and last chapters, and Dex carried the bulk of the heavy lifting. As it should be. His point of view was critical to the story telling. His life was the most painful and at every turn, he had the most to lose. The breaking of the convention forced me to work harder at figuring out Seb and how he was viewing things.
The opening is Seb working at his family’s fudge shop. He meets Dex, an Irish traveller who is passing through town. They begin something special only to have it end abruptly when Dex disappears. Seb believes that’s the end and he’ll never see Dex again.
Dex is in a horrible place. He cleans caravans during the day, submits to horrific events at night, and wonders how long he can keep going. He’s starved, painfully thin, and faces terrible poverty. He’s responsible for keeping the horses alive and there’s barely enough to feed them. Knowing that kind of poverty exists is one thing, facing that deprivation is something altogether different.
Then something terrible happens and Dex finds a way to escape. He makes his way to London, but things aren’t much better there. Until he happens upon a generous restaurant owner who offers him a job. It’s a rough go at first as Dex adapts to a semi-normal life. He manages to get a roof over his head, food in his belly, and money in his pocket. It’s a small amount because he can’t work legally, but it’s better than turning tricks in the tube station.
Then Seb reappears. Now, maybe this was addressed and I missed it, but I never did understand what happened to his family shop on the seashore. Anyway, he’s hired at the restaurant to prepare desserts. He’s shocked to see Dex, but slowly, with patience, reaches out to the young man. It’s tenuous at first, but eventually Dex opens up and allows Seb to take care of some of his needs. He’s still stubbornly independent, and constantly worried he’s going to have to move on. His past is never far away both in reality and in his mind.
And, eventually, that past does come crashing down around him. There’s plenty of violence in this book and although it serves a purpose, it wasn’t any easier to swallow. I knew the book would have a happy ending, but I despaired what Dex would have to endure to get to that place.
I did get my happy ending and I was able to see Dex’s healing through Seb’s eyes for that final chapter. I loved how the book ended.
I’ll mention Dan Calley’s narration. I swear Ms. Leigh’s books are perfect for him as he brings his talent and adds that something special to what is already a powerful story. So yeah, heartbreaking, heartmending, and beautiful. The power of love in the heart.
10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars
Garrett Leigh is an award-winning British writer and book designer, currently working for Dreamspinner Press, Loose Id, Riptide Publishing, and Fox Love Press.
Garrett’s debut novel, Slide, won Best Bisexual Debut at the 2014 Rainbow Book Awards, and her polyamorous novel, Misfits was a finalist in the 2016 LAMBDA awards.
When not writing, Garrett can generally be found procrastinating on Twitter, cooking up a storm, or sitting on her behind doing as little as possible, all the while shouting at her menagerie of children and animals and attempting to tame her unruly and wonderful FOX.
Garrett is also an award winning cover artist, taking the silver medal at the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards in 2016. She designs for various publishing houses and independent authors at blackjazzdesign.com, and co-owns the specialist stock site moonstockphotography.com with renowned LGBTQA+ photographer Dan Burgess.