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Indie Reader

Cynthia Sally Haggard’s FAREWELL MY LIFE initially thrusts the reader into 1920s-era Washington, D.C., looking at the precarious lives of four women: Angelina, mother to teenagers Grace and Violet, and the elder Aunt Paulina. Immediately, it’s impossible to pigeonhole them. Angelina’s passionate, norm-defying behavior belies a world-weariness born from difficult experiences–but so does Paulina’s balancing of traditional values against the transforming world Grace and Violet are entering. Throughout the book, the relationships and conflicts among the four anchor a winding story of courtship, 1920s and ‘30s-era political intrigue, secrets, and scandals, with Grace at the heart of it all.

The complexity and interactions of the four central women are refreshing. All of them have their flaws, and all of them are distinct (Angelina is perceptive but vain and overly strident while Paulina is fooled repeatedly, but unwavering in her love for and commitment to Grace and Violet, to take just two examples). While the core of the story concerns 17-year-old Grace’s various gentleman suitors, a cast of characters from demure to unsettling to ribald, Angelina, Paulina, and Violet always are the most compelling of all.

One of Grace’s love interests, Russell, adds an individualized sort of darkness to match the upheaval of the era. His experiences in the then-recent Great War and on the receiving end of bigotry against Italians in early-twentieth century America both make his icier moments eminently believable. The first, early twist in the story was legitimately startling, but likewise consistent with what we know of Russell. From that moment forward, the tension between Russell’s shadowy qualities and his overwhelming desire for Grace remains a harrowing constant. Even with Russell, Haggard still imbues him with complexity, forcing readers to empathize with him, however reluctantly or partially. Later twists and turns refuse to show him as flat, simply and utterly villainous; his past traumas are given serious weight, even if they do not absolve him of his worst actions. It’s a delicate balance that, most of the time, Haggard accomplishes. Toward the middle of the book, Grace’s eager suitors interact altogether—the only time—in one place, an expertly drawn passage told iteratively from the different perspectives. It’s nearly forensic, in the best possible sense; each partial perspective frames how limited our individual observation of a situation can be, and the ramifications of the scene echo all the way to the conclusion.

The ending might be rather divisive, then becoming almost an inevitability—but all readers will have an opinion on it either way. In the end, FAREWELL MY LIFE will appeal to fans of historical fiction, broadly, to readers of fraught romantic courtship tales set in the past (think Atonement or Revolutionary Road).

Droll, dramatic, frightening, immersive, Haggard’s work grabbed my attention from the first pages and kept it the entire way.

In the spirit of classic novels grappling with gender and class, Cynthia Sally Haggard’s FAREWELL MY LIFE is a sweeping, beautifully rendered addition to the historical fiction canon.–Andy Carr for IndieReader

Unabridged Chick

“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.”

Gwendalyn’s Books

Farewell My Life is a coming of age period drama, the book is set in between World War I and World War II.
Written in third person narration the author has creatively set the novel into three distinctive parts. The opening of the book is set in Georgetown, Washington DC
Angelina, a single mother to Violent and Grace is the black sheep of the Pagano family. She does not follow the norm, her morals are questionable to say the least. A chance meeting leads her to introducing handsome Nicholas Russell to her daughters. This sets in motion some dramatic events, when Mr. Russell’s attraction toward Angelina’s younger daughter Grace becomes sinisterly obsessive. To escape the unnerving clutches of Mr. Russell, Grace’s family take her to Berlin Germany, where she can study violin with the greatest teacher of the day. But in Berlin, they encounter the turbulent political climate leading up to the beginning World War II.
Exquisitely written with vibrant characters this book left a lasting impression on me. The author has written a heartfelt, moving, powerful, thought-provoking book, one that is definitely going to be a reread for me as the writer’s voice is so captivating. I really enjoyed the well researched content historical events interwoven with fictional characters.”

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