Playing by Heart
Independently Published (2022)
Reviewed by Kathy Stickles for Reader Views (12/2022)
Playing by Heart is an enchanting read that brings us back in contact with the characters that we grew to love in Mary Flinn’s novel, Lumina. While the book is a stand-alone novel, in my opinion, it would bring more to the experience for the reader if read in order. This way, when you start this book, you immediately fall right back into the lives of these people and feel like you have met up with very dear friends both in the present day and back in the late 1920s.
This novel begins during the days of COVID-19 when everyone was staying at home in order to stay safe. With what is going on outside the house, what else is Anne Borden Montgomery (or AB as we have come to know her) to do but head back to the attic with Mr. May to continue to go through all of her mother Sylvie’s old diaries. This leads to the return of Nate and Elle, both also trying to survive the current COVID culture, and to sharing these wonderful words from the diaries while remaining six feet apart on the front porch.
As the reader is flipped back and forth between present day and life in the 1920s, we follow Sylvie on her journey to the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College. For Sylvie this is a dream come true, but also a huge challenge. Not only the trials of surviving her classes and doing well in those classes, but also a huge test for her on a personal level because of her southern accent and her meek and humble personality. What Sylvie needs the most is one good friend. What she finds is four who are just as different as she is. And what we, as the reader, are given is a story of these people trying to succeed, learn about themselves and each other, and to each find themselves as they navigate this new and different world full of confusion, romance, friendship, and biases that are still a part of the world today. In addition, it is a true leaving experience for our friends in the present day as they read about Sylvie’s struggles while trying to navigate through their own, like keeping businesses afloat and having a wedding in this pandemic-era world.
Ms. Flinn does an exceptional job of tying these two separate stories together so that the reader is interested in and enthralled by all of the characters and not just one time frame versus another. The character development of each of the characters is excellent and, as I said, it feels like a reunion with old friends. One other thing I loved is the wonderfully descriptive writing, whether we are talking about the places they go or the clothes they wear. All of this is so well-done and I commend the author for it. At the end of the novel we are left with more questions which is something I really like because it means, at least I hope it means, that the story will continue on. I really Playing by Heart and would recommend it to all.