Once Upon A Secret

Title & buy link: Once Upon A Secret
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: M/M contemporary
Length: Novella (65 pages, approx 17,000 words)
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

A guest review by Leslie S

Review summary: An okay way to pass the time but nothing memorable.

The last thing Luke Fiorelli wants to do, being a member of a close-knit immigrant family living in the Italian neighborhood of a small town, is embarrass or upset them by openly declaring his sexuality. Moving to the big city isn’t an option for a couple of reasons: partly because he owns a successful landscaping business, and partly because his family wouldn’t understand him relocating on what they would interpret as a whim. So, by convincing himself that his strait-laced father would kill him if he ever found out about Luke’s sexuality, and satisfying his needs with the occasional weekend trip out of town, Luke has never had a problem keeping that part of his life a deep, dark secret.

That is, until he meets handsome and openly gay Travis Barrington III. The attraction between the two men is strong and instantaneous, and suddenly Luke is scrambling to invent even more excuses to keep his secret.

Travis, however, knows all about secrets and the harm they can do, but can he convince Luke to accept that and step out into the light?

Landscape gardener Luke Fiorelli won the bid to design a hotel garden, but his excitement at getting the job is tempered by the knowledge that he has to work in close proximity to the boss, the handsome and wealthy Travis Barrington III. Unlike Travis, Luke is deeply closeted. Luke’s family are old-fashioned and Luke is terrified of how they’d react if he came out. As a result, he’s kept himself free of romantic entanglements and though he’s had a few lovers, he lacks experience. Luke is afraid of his attraction to Travis, thinking that it could bring him trouble, and so every time Travis suggests going for a drink, Luke is hostile.

Fortunately for Luke, Travis recognises Luke’s rudeness as fear. Travis is his parents’ only child so he had pressure on him to marry and have a son to carry on the family line. But Travis refused to live a lie, and now he hopes that if he gives Luke some space and offers him some understanding, then Luke will be able to take that step and come out so they can be together.

I don’t know what it is recently but every book I pick up falls into the ‘okay but a bit boring’ category. Once Upon A Secret is another one for that category. It’s a novella-sized M/M Harlequin-type romance in that it sticks absolutely to a formula and doesn’t deviate, so while it’s nice and easy and fast to read, it doesn’t offer much for a reader to get their teeth into in terms of plot, characterisation or anything else.

There’s a bit of Insta-Love going on between Luke and Travis when their hands touch over the bid envelope, but that didn’t bother me as much as the main conflict suddenly being resolved with minimal effort. Luke spends the first half of the book making a big deal out of the fact that he’s hiding his sexuality. He makes a big deal of it to himself and to Travis – and then all of a sudden he decides because he might be in with a chance of a relationship with a guy he thinks is a player (where’s the logic in that?), he’ll come out. Now if the decision had been made with lots of angsting, I might have rolled my eyes but it would’ve been more believable. Instead he changes his mind over the space of one sentence when Travis touches his shoulder, and we go from this on p15:

The thing that had stopped him [from coming out] was thinking how hurt and embarrassed his family would be and how they’d react. His dad would go ballistic and his mom would cry, and his two sisters would embark on a cooking marathon in the belief that plenty of good home-cooked food cured everything. Whether any of them would ever talk to him again was something he didn’t know and didn’t want to think about.

to this on p37:

He knew the reasons he’d given Travis for not getting involved were just excuses. The same kind of nonsensical excuses he’d been giving himself for years. Such as saying he was worried what his dad might say or think when he was ninety-nine percent sure his dad already knew. Why else would he have told Luke’s mother to “quit bothering the boy” the last time she’d asked why he didn’t go find himself a nice girl. Especially when that last time had been a couple of years ago, and she’d never even hinted at it since. As for using Travis’s wealthy family as an excuse, Luke knew that was just downright nuts.

It’s simply too fast to be believable. Luke is nearly 32 and has been hiding for a long time. I could understand it if he decided ‘aw screw it’ and came out because he was sick of living a lie, but that’s not in keeping with the character presented here. And when we reach the love scene, Luke takes charge, which also seems inconsistent with the way he was introduced and developed. He’s so nervous and ‘don’t touch me’ earlier on that it felt a bit weird to have him topping Travis all of a sudden – and in the open air!

Both guys are fairly forgettable types and as I said, the conflict is paper-thin and only gets thinner as the second half of the story progresses, until it vanishes completely. So it’s a story in which nothing really happens, and as a result I found it hard to invest in the characters. The parts I did like were to do with Luke’s gardening plans and the discussion of which plants would do best in what parts of the garden. It’s a sad day when discussion of azaleas is more interesting than a love scene  😆

The writing is fine and overall it’s an okay read. I just can’t get any more excited than saying ‘it’s okay’. Fans of the author will probably enjoy it.



  • Great review Leslie 🙂 I knew from reading the blurb that I probably wouldn’t like this book. I just didn’t get that excited feeling I get when the sound of a book grabs me.

    Also, I don’t think I’ve really ever read a book by Christiane France that wasn’t so-so.

    Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be reading this one (even though the town I live in has an azalea festival, which is next week btw), but thank you for doing the screening on a story that you didn’t like very much 🙁

    • Hey Cole, there’s been quite a few so-so reviews for Christiane France recently so after sampling her work for myself I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to try anything else. Never mind.

      LOL an azalea festival, actually that must be nice to see!

  • Hi Wave, the author really did her research on the gardening aspect. There’s even a discussion about koi carp!

  • Leslie
    Terrific review and I’m sorry that this book didn’t quite work for you. I can’t understand men in their thirties who are still concerned about their parents’ reactions if they came out. Isn’t it about time to live your own life if you’re past 30? Anyway that’s just my perspective.

    I would love the discussion about the garden so I’ll probably read it. 🙂

  • Oh Leslie thanks for that line about the azaleas- gorgeous. The gardening design details almost sold me for a moment too.

    I so know what you mean about the ok-ish books. I’m clearly a bad chooser when let out on my own.

    Thanks for such a balanced and enjoyable review.

    • Hi Raine, seems like I’m having a run of ‘blah’ books, except for the ones I’ve bought after reading other reviews! 😀

  • I think azaleas are not in my top list 😆
    Thank you for your review, it always help in order to decide about a book 😎


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