It’s no cakewalk to write a cohesive love story between two men and make it fascinating enough to hold a reader’s interest. So imagine how difficult it must be to develop multiple story lines with several main and secondary characters and develop each one to the point where your reader cannot decide which one tears at her heartstrings the most. Welcome to Between The Lines by B.J. Sheppard where each person who walks into his carefully crafted world has a story to tell and a dream waiting to either be fulfilled or crushed. You would do well to remember that sometimes we must lose nearly everything to find that which makes our heart beat sure and steady.
Thomas Haskell has survived an orphaned past with no family connections only to narrowly escape the arms of an abusive ex-lover. Now living in Boston, he is the owner and proprietor of a failing bookstore, Between the Lines. Still recovering from betrayal and loss, Thomas lives a half-life existence and his sole aim is to make his business somehow remain solvent. To that end, his only friend, Nate, has created flyers which they have spread all over town inviting anyone to attend a new book group that will hopefully be the start to revitalize Thomas’ ailing business. The flyer cleverly announces “There’s a home for you, Between the Lines.” Little does either of them realize just how accurate that sentiment would prove to be.
Elton O’Connell is many things but outgoing and gregarious he is not. In fact, a stutterer from a young age, Elton grew more and more aloof from society and were it not for his writing wildly successful novels along with his caring and strong-willed sister, Siobhan, he would probably have no interaction with the world at all. Elton is also a functioning alcoholic who displays quite a mean streak when drunk in public—somewhere he rarely found himself until his sister dragged him to the lonely little bookstore that was advertising a newly forming reading group. Elton is also terribly lonely and so far inside his own head that the idea of a relationship frightened him.
Rafael Claiborn Junior (or Junior as he is called) has a plan. Signing on with an oppressively conservative publishing house right after graduating from Harvard was going to get him where he wanted to be—at the top of the book world. He had a plan, and, darn it if that meant hiding his sexuality so be it. Unfortunately secrets have a way of surfacing and Junior’s already skyrocketing anxiety becomes unbearable. He cannot let anyone know that the glorious plan he had may end up in the gutter, shattered, along with whatever is left of his sanity.
These and several other characters come together for book group. Little does any of them know they will come perilously close to losing one of their own, that hearts would be torn apart and relationships left in shreds before the group can even shed its growing pains. Between the lines, some will nearly be lost, others saved and more than one, redeemed.
This novel was simply stunning. The breadth of subject matter from abusive relationships to addiction and suicidal thoughts were all wrapped in first loves, missed chances, and forgiveness—such amazing forgiveness. One was so quickly pulled in to the ebb and flow of this group’s daily life. I found myself staying awake long into the night in order to finish one more chapter and then the next for I, myself, was addicted to the gorgeous descriptive passages that shed light on the private lives of each man and woman in this story. The dialogue was sharp and witty at times and heart-breakingly emotional others. This was a novel where I found myself talking out loud to the characters, bemoaning their decisions, and trying to warn them to stop before it all fell apart and, trust me, this author rips your heart into shreds before he carefully puts it back together.
With a fast-moving plot, multiple life stories that were never too hard to follow and three points of view chasing one another, Between The Lines kept me entranced—fixated by it’s haunting realism and the incredibly gorgeous characters that lived within the pages of this book. I cannot say enough about this novel. Sheppard, while still relatively new to this genre, is steadily building a name as one of the brightest and best voices on the scene today. His work is clever, concise and riveting and I can most definitely highly recommend his latest novel to you.