Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Farewell My Life by Cynthia Sally Haggard

The war had been over for less than four years, and Berlin was full of amputees begging on the streets, of gaunt young men startling at the slightest thing.

This is a splashy, dramatic historical novel that reads like a mix of penny dreadfuls, 1980s Joan Collins romances, and any number of thrillers. Mixing a tumultuous, intriguing setting -- Europe in 1921 and 1922, then a jump to 1938 -- with a dysfunctional family saga, this book is like a froofy cocktail in a bubble bath: a little excessive but oh-so good.

Farewell My Life by Cynthia Sally Haggard
Self Published, 2019
Copy provided by author as part of blog tour
Read Harder 2019

What I so appreciated and enjoyed in this book was the mix of expected and surprising in the story. I've read many pre-war historical novels and any number of gifted-heroine-exposed-to-the-world coming-of-age stories, but Haggard picked unique details that made this story new. The heroine at the heart of this novel is Grace, an Italian-American woman with a gift for the violin. Her mother, an Italian immigrant, made a life for Grace and her sister Violet by being a mistress and courtesan, a lifestyle choice Grace and Violet both appreciate and revile. A tall glass of cold, dark, and handsome shows up and plunges the family into turmoil with his obsessive interest in Grace and equally obsessive dislike for her mother.

From this dramatic start, we follow Grace as she attempts to pursue her dream of becoming a concert violinist. Beholden to those with wealth, surrounded by those damaged by World War I, and impacted by family secrets she struggles to uncover, Grace tries to find her own happiness on her own terms. Berlin in 1922 provides a salacious backdrop for an orphaned teen to come into her own. Like I said earlier, this plot is outrageous but in a Sidney Sheldon/Joan Collins/Kathryn Harvey manner: just verging on the unbelievable but not tipping over. It's absolutely perfect for when you want something fun, dramatic, and ohemgee-did-that-just-happen?-ish. And while it clocks in at 586 pages, the length is enough that it's like reading a miniseries rather than a brick tome.

My only critique about this book is that there are places where it shows that this is a self-published novel: passages are repeated verbatim in multiple chapters, and profanities are sometimes obscured (usually with an asterisk replacing one letter, which doesn't seem appropriate for a finished book, and doubly so when not all profanities are treated this way). Now and then there's an errant word that should have been caught in editing, and at one point (maybe more) the font and formatting switch from the rest of the book (and not for, as far as I can tell, any narrative reason).

As we head into the autumn and the season of family-oriented holidays, consider keeping this one in your back pocket (metaphorically) when you want to escape -- and bask in having a family far less treacherous than our girl Grace.


  1. Thanks for the review & for hosting the blog tour, Audra!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

  2. Thank you for the review. New book, new author for me.

  3. This looks like a good escape read. However, this professional editor has a really hard time with self-published and independently published novels because of the issues you mentions.

  4. Oh how frustrating that the book is inadequately edited -- it sounds wonderful otherwise, and that kind of thing can be so so distracting.

  5. Sounds like it had potential bud didn't quite live up to it.