Category Archives: Literary

Review: This Is Not a Lie by S.C. Farrow

Title: This Is Not a Lie by S.C. Farrow
Publisher: Dixi Books Limited
Genre: Historical (80s), Gay, Literary
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


In 1984, St Kilda is the heart and soul of Melbourne’s thriving music scene. Joel Reed, a brilliant young guitarist and songwriter, followed his sister Karen to the bohemian beachside suburb to chase his dream of becoming a rock star. On the surface, it seems like Joel has got it all together. He’s in an up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll band and is surrounded by people who want to see him succeed. However, Joel is also a high-functioning heroin addict and closet homosexual. Desperately lonely and dangerously self-destructive, he hides his true self, lives a carefully constructed lie, lest he be discovered, outed, and shunned by the city’s legion of hard rock fans. When the band is forced to audition for a new frontman, Joel’s world is turned upside down. Harry Engel, offbeat, charming, and disarmingly charismatic, walks into the rehearsal room to audition and rocks Joel’s carefully constructed world. Joel’s never met anyone like him before – and it’s not long before he falls in love. However, there’s no way he can tell Harry how he feels. There’s no way he can’t tell anyone how he feels. He can’t do anything to jeopardise the band’s success. And so, he lives the carefully constructed lie – until tragedy strikes and threatens end Joel once and for all.


Taking place in Australia in 1984, This Is Not a Lie by S.C. Farrow is a captivating novel that is quite poignant.

In his early twenties, Joel Reed is the founder and lead guitarist of  hard rock band The Blackhearts. After losing their lead singer, Harry Engel joins the band over the objections of Joel’s sister and band manager, Karen. With the opportunity to finally score a record deal, turmoil roils within the band as Joel wrestles with his feelings for Harry and his addiction to heroin. Karen is worried about the band’s future so she makes a decision she believes is in The Blackhearts’ best interest. The other band members are supportive of one another, but they have financial concerns as they practice long hours in hopes of finally reaching their goal of stardom.

Joel is willing to put in the hard work to make The Blackhearts a success. He is a little quick to anger and he can be stubborn.  Although Joel knows he has to stay in the closet in order to achieve success, he uses heroin and alcohol to dull his pain.  He has successfully managed to keep his desires under wraps, but his strong attraction to Harry is almost impossible to hide.  And resist.

Harry is a charming, charismatic and gifted singer. He is also a very talented songwriter whose suggestions take the band’s songs to a whole new level. Harry is also drawn to Joel but he is haunted by the events that precipitated his move to Melbourne.  His demons threaten to derail The Blackhearts shot at finally finding success.

Joel is deeply flawed with realistic issues that he refuses to talk about or deal with. His addiction to heroin is not glamorized but rather serves a reminder that many addicts are functional with families and careers.  Joel’s pain is palpable as he struggles with hiding who he is in order to achieve success.

Full of heartbreak and hope, This Is Not a Lie is an emotional novel that is well-written with vibrantly developed characters. The subject matter is true to the time period and difficult topics are realistically handled with sensitivity. S.C. Farrow brings this compelling novel to a surprisingly upbeat conclusion. I absolutely loved and HIGHLY recommend this outstanding novel.

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Filed under Dixi Publishing Limited, Gay, Historical, Historical (80s), Literary, Rated A, Review, SC Farrow, This Is Not a Lie

Review: The Kindness by Polly Samson

the kindnessTitle: The Kindness by Polly Samson
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Contemporary, Literary, Fiction
Length: 305 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


He followed her eyes skyward to a bird that was falling, turning and turning, like a heart that had leapt free. It fell, and as it did it became a falcon. He was transfixed.

Julian’s fall begins the moment he sets eyes on Julia.

Julia is married and eight years his senior; he is a gifted English student, a life of academia ahead. Ignoring warnings from family and friends, they each give up all they have to be together. Their new life in London offers immense happiness, especially after their longed-for daughter Mira is born.

When Julian hears that Firdaws, his adored boyhood home, is for sale, he sets out to recreate a lost paradise for his new family. Once again, love blinds him. It is only when Mira becomes terrifyingly ill that it is impossible for Julia to conceal from him the explosive secret that she has been keeping at the heart of their lives.

Lyrical, haunting and exquisitely rendered, Polly Samson’s second novel explores a deception that comes wrapped as a gift, a betrayal that is clothed in kindness, and asks if we can ever truly trust another. The result is an unforgettable story of love, grief, betrayal, and reconciliation, masterfully plotted and beautifully told.


The Kindness by Polly Samson is a novel about an older woman/younger man whose relationship falls apart when their young daughter falls ill.  Spanning nearly 23 years, much of the past is revealed through flashbacks and a great deal of suspense surrounds the fate of the couple’s daughter.

In the beginning, Julia and Julian’s relationship is quite idyllic and the two are deeply in love. Their romance had a bit of rocky beginning since Julia was still married to her abusive husband and Julian had not yet finished college. Neither of them were too concerned about their eight year age gap, but it is a point of contention for Julian’s over protective mother. The birth of their daughter Mira completes their family but their relationship falters when Julian purchases his old family home Firdaws without consulting Julia. Unfortunately, when Mira falls ill, their once close bond cannot withstand the stress and Julian returns to Firdaws alone to grieve his loss.

Most of the novel is written from Julian’s point of view. He is deeply depressed and living alone at Firdaws. His loss is keenly felt and his family and friends are growing increasingly concerned about him. It is obvious he is quite grief stricken, but there are many questions about what he is mourning since neither Mira nor Julia are mentioned except through flashbacks. As Julian tries to make it through his days, he reminisces about his relationship with Julia, whom he deeply loves. He is overjoyed at Mira’s birth but after he moves to Firdaws, he becomes her primary caregiver since Julia’s career keeps her in town most of the week. Mira’s mysterious illness comes and goes and although they take her to a local doctor, her symptoms are too vague to reach a conclusive diagnosis. Julian eventually becomes impatient with her frequent bouts of sickness and in the present, he is obviously wracked with guilt for not being more concerned about her health.

The last hundred pages are written from Julia perspective and the entire truth is finally revealed. Her dysfunctional past makes her a mostly sympathetic character but some of her decisions are hard to understand. The secrets she has been keeping are quite shocking and completely unexpected.

Although beautifully written with very descriptive prose, The Kindness is a rather difficult novel to follow. The pacing is rather slow and the abrupt transitions between past and present are confusing. The narrative is exquisitely detailed but many of these details do not really add anything to the plot. While the main “mystery” is completely resolved, the conclusion is a little ambiguous and the fate of some of the characters is unclear.

In spite of these issues, The Kindness is a enjoyable read. Polly Samson brings the characters’ emotions and the various settings vibrantly to life. The plot twists are brilliantly executed and it is only through hindsight that seemingly innocuous events begin to make sense. A leisurely paced novel that fans of literary fiction should add to their summer reading list.

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Filed under Bloomsbury USA, Contemporary, Fiction, Literary, Polly Samson, Rated C+, Review, The Kindness

Review: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

sunshine awayTitle: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Genre: Historical (late 1980’s), Mystery, Literary, Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program


My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

The Review:

My Sunshine Away is an absolutely outstanding debut novel by M.O. Walsh. Part character study, part mystery, this riveting coming of age story is poignant, thought-provoking and quite intriguing. It is a very atmospheric and rather nostalgic tale that recounts a young man’s first love and the guilt and regret from a fateful summer that continue to reverberate well past adolescence.

Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during 1989, a quiet suburban street is rocked by a shocking crime. Early one summer evening, sixteen-year old Lindy Simpson is the victim of an horrific assault and while there are many suspects, the case is never officially solved. Lindy’s neighbor, a fourteen year old boy, is deeply affected by the crime and years later, his unresolved guilt and regret from that time period prompt him to write his account of the long ago events.

The narrator of the story harbors an unrequited crush on Lindy and his awkward attempts to capture her attention are cringe worthy and border on obsession. He also counts himself among the list of suspects which makes him a rather unreliable narrator. Can his recollection of the events be trusted? Are his memories biased in his favor? No, he cuts himself no slack as he writes about his activities and describes in excruciating (and oftentimes embarrassing) detail the different ways he tries to capture Lindy’s heart.  Is he just an innocent young man earnestly trying to garner his true love’s favor? Or is there a more sinister motive for his somewhat obsessive behavior? Or is he simply a young man who is trying to escape his own unhappy home life by fixating on someone else?

One by one, the narrator slowly divulges the identities of the other suspects. The narration goes off in seemingly unconnected directions as possible motives are revealed but each of the suspects is eventually cleared. Throughout the story, the neighborhood’s secrets are also brought to light after the narrator decides that he needs to bring the perpetrator to justice so Lindy can finally put a face and name to her attacker.

My Sunshine Away is an incredibly well-written novel that is quite captivating. The plot is fascinating and the setting is brought vividly to life. The characters are fully developed and life-like. The time period is absolutely perfect and provides a certain degree of innocence and naiveté that would not be possible after the advent of cell phones, the internet and video games. But the most compelling part of storyline is learning who is responsible for Lindy’s attack and M.O. Walsh does a brilliant job of obscuring the perpetrator’s identity and the reason for the narrator’s guilt right up until the novel’s conclusion. All in all, a superb debut novel that I highly recommend.

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Filed under 1980s, Fiction, Historical, Literary, MO Walsh, My Sunshine Away, Mystery, Putnam Adult, Rated B, Review

Review: Heaven Should Fall by Rebecca Coleman

Title: Heaven Should Fall by Rebecca Coleman
Publisher: Harlequin
Imprint: HarlequinMIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Literary, Fiction
Length: 355 pages
Book Rating: B+

Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley


Alone since her mother’s death, Jill Wagner wants to eat, sleep and breathe Cade Olmstead when he bursts upon her life—golden, handsome and ambitious. Even putting college on hold feels like a minor sacrifice when she discovers she’s pregnant with Cade’s baby. But it won’t be the last sacrifice she’ll have to make.

Retreating to the Olmsteads’ New England farm seems sensible, if not ideal—they’ll regroup and welcome the baby, surrounded by Cade’s family. But the remote, ramshackle place already feels crowded. Cade’s mother tends to his ailing father, while Cade’s pious sister, her bigoted husband and their rowdy sons overrun the house. Only Cade’s brother, Elias, a combat veteran with a damaged spirit, gives Jill an ally amidst the chaos, along with a glimpse into his disturbing childhood. But his burden is heavy, and she alone cannot kindle his will to live.

The tragedy of Elias is like a killing frost, withering Cade in particular, transforming his idealism into bitterness and paranoia. Taking solace in caring for her newborn son, Jill looks up to find her golden boy is gone. In Cade’s place is a desperate man willing to endanger them all in the name of vengeance…unless Jill can find a way out.

The Review:

Heaven Should Fall is an absolutely riveting novel about lives slowly spiraling out of control following a family tragedy. Rebecca Coleman makes it clear from the book’s beginning and some well placed foreshadowing what direction this tragic story is eventually going to go. What remains to be seen is why and what catalyst will influence the characters’ decisions.

Heaven Should Fall begins hopefully enough with the return of Cade Olmstead’s brother, Elias, from the war in Afghanistan. Cade and his girlfriend, Jill Wagner, are deeply, passionately in love and their futures are bright. Her unexpected pregnancy is viewed as a slight detour in their lives. Their plan is simple-stay at Cade’s family home over the summer until their baby’s birth, then return to college in the fall. But financial strain, a delayed return to school, medical bills and a family tragedy slowly and irrevocably change Cade into the man he never wanted to become and a devastating plan is set in motion that will surely destroy Cade and those that he so dearly loves.

Jill Wagner is a level-headed young woman with a great deal of common sense. Growing up with a recovering alcoholic who is quite active in Alcoholic Anonymous, Jill is quick to recognize destructive patterns in others. She is a strong believer in therapy and asking for help when needed. She is out of her element in Cade’s home but she connects quickly with various members of his family.

Cade is the youngest of the three Olmstead children. Cade’s family life is far from perfect and he is desperate to escape his childhood home. His father is physically and emotionally abusive, and he is quick to confront anyone who crosses him. Cade does not want to be anything like his father, and his ambitions are his ticket to a better life far away from his family. Cade is successful and well-liked, but he has a darker side that surfaces when his life begins to devolve as he sinks into paranoia and plans to seek revenge for all his perceived wrongs.

There are several secondary characters that figure prominently in Heaven Should Fall’s storyline. Cade’s brother Elias’s transition from soldier to civilian is difficult as he deals with both the physical and mental wounds from war. Suffering from PTSD, he self-medicates with alcohol and he struggles with depression. His attempts to receive care from the VA are practically useless and he falls deeper and deeper into despair.

Cade’s mother Leela is quite stoic and in hindsight, she clearly sees where mistakes were made with her children. His sister Candy is a fundamentalist Christian who regularly preaches religious rhetoric. Her much older husband Dodge is anti-government and pro militia. They actively indoctrinate their offspring with their beliefs and the scenes between them and their children are downright chilling.

Cade’s need for revenge allows a slow and insidious perversion of his long-held beliefs. He becomes easy to manipulate and even though he recognizes events have escalated out of his control, he finds it easy to rationalize the decisions he is making. Jill is aware of the changes in Cade, but her concern for her child affects her decision to stay with Cade despite her ever growing fear of what Cade is becoming capable of doing.

Heaven Should Fall is a riveting novel that provides amazing insight into a segment of society that is often shrouded in secrecy. Rebecca Coleman demonstrates how a once promising future can easily be derailed by a series of setbacks and heartbreaking loss in this finely crafted story of twisted family loyalty and radical beliefs.

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Filed under Contemporary, Harlequin, HarlequinMira, Heaven Should Fall, Literary, Rated B+, Rebecca Coleman, Review

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

Title: The World Without You by Joshua Henkin
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Imprint: Pantheon Books
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B

Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley


From the author of the widely acclaimed novel Matrimony (a New York Times Notable Book)–a moving, deeply engaging new novel about love, loss, and the aftermath of a family tragedy.

It’s July 4th, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday: the family is gathering for a memorial. Leo, the youngest of the four Frankel siblings and an intrepid journalist and adventurer, was killed one year ago while on assignment in Iraq. His parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief, and it’s tearing apart their forty-year marriage. Clarissa, the eldest, is struggling at thirty-nine with infertility. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer, is angry about everything. Noelle, a born-again Orthodox Jew (and the last person to see Leo alive), has come in from Israel with her husband and four children and feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe–Leo’s widow and mother of their three-year-old son–has arrived from California bearing her own secret. Over the course of three days, the Frankels will contend with sibling rivalries and marital feuds, volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, with the true meaning of family.

The Review:

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin is a compelling novel about the Frankel family and how they are coping in the aftermath of the death of the youngest son, Leo. Told from all of the characters’ perspectives, the reader gains incredible insight into everyone’s lives, their memories of Leo and the emotions they are experiencing.

The World Without You is a well-written story with amazing character development. David and Marilyn are mired in grief over Leo’s death. Their marriage is on the verge of collapse as they each grieve their loss in completely opposite ways. Oldest daughter, Clarissa and her husband Nathaniel are struggling with infertility. Lily and her long term significant other, Malcolm are comfortable in their non-traditional relationship. Noelle is the former wild child of the family who is now an Orthodox Jew living with her husband and four young sons in Israel. Thisbe, Leo’s widow, is struggling to move on and she has her own secrets that she must reveal before flying back to California.

Through flashbacks and stories, Leo is brought vibrantly to life by the various family members. Fun-loving and playful, Leo is the adored baby of the family. Deeply committed to his career as a journalist, he voluntarily accepts a reporting job in Iraq. The fact that Leo is a civilian casualty of war shines the spotlight on the non-military deaths that are oftentimes overlooked.

The World Without You is a fascinating character study that seamlessly weaves together past and present. The characters are brilliantly realistic with realistic flaws, shortcomings and vulnerabilities. Joshua Henkin beautifully demonstrates the complexities of adult sibling relationships. Never maudlin or angsty, The World Without You is a gripping family drama that I highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Joshua Henkin, Knopf Doubleday, Literary, Pantheon Books, The World Without You

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall

Title: The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall
Publisher: Harlequin
Imprint: HarlequinMIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Literary, Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B

Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley


For nine-year-old Beth Lowe, it should have been a magical summer—sun-kissed days lounging in rickety deck chairs, nights gathered around the fire. But what begins as an innocent vacation to Hungary ends with the devastating separation of her parents. Beth and her father return home alone, leaving her mother, Marika, behind.

Over the next seven summers, Beth walks a tightrope between worlds, fleeing her quiet home and distant father to bask in the intoxicating Hungarian countryside with Marika. It is during these enthralling summers that Beth comes to life and learns to love. But at sixteen, she uncovers a life-shattering secret, bringing her sacred summers with Marika abruptly to an end.

Now, years later, Beth receives a package containing a scrapbook, a haunting record of a time long forgotten. Suddenly, she is swept back to the world she left behind, forced to confront the betrayal that destroyed her—and to search her heart for forgiveness.

The Review:

Emylia Hall’s debut novel The Book of Summers is a moving and vibrant story about Beth Lowe’s magical summers in Hungary. Following her parents’ separation, Beth lives full time with her father, David, in Devon, but lives for her summers with her mother, Marika, in Hungary.

The Book of Summers is a story full of contrasts. Beth’s parents are complete opposites. Marika is a free spirit whose enjoyment of life bursts off the pages. She is fun-loving and Beth’s time in Hungary reflects Marika’s Bohemian and artist lifestyle. Beth’s lazy summer days are full of adventure where she eagerly explores the Hungarian countryside. Beth readily identifies with Marika and embraces her Hungarian heritage.

In sharp contrast, Beth’s life in Devon with David is quiet and subdued. David is a schoolteacher who is quite introverted and rather melancholy. While Beth occasionally challenges Marika’s authority, she easily acquiesces to her father’s wishes. As she enters her teen years, her father withdraws farther and farther from her, leaving Beth feeling lost and lonely in their too silent household.

The last summer that Beth spends with Marika is traumatic and forever changes Beth’s life and her relationships with both David and Marika. The events that transpire force Beth to question her very identity. Her sense of betrayal causes her to turn her back on the people who matter most to her.

The Book of Summers is a richly detailed novel that transports the reader back and forth in time and between England and Hungary. Emylia Hall’s descriptive writing style brings the characters and various settings vividly to life. The storyline is fresh and quite original. The reason for Beth’s estrangement from Marika was unexpected and rather shocking. The ending is bittersweet yet hopeful and the epilogue is absolutely perfect.

A novel with depth and emotion that I highly recommend.


Filed under Contemporary, Emylia Hall, Fiction, Harlequin, HarlequinMira, Literary, Rated B, The Book of Summers