Samantha Sotto – Before Ever After
Length: 294 pages
Genre: Romance, with more than a touch of Historical Fiction
Started: 20 July 2011
Finished: 21 July 2011
Where did it come from? From Crown Publishers for review.
Why do I have it? Between the absolutely gorgeous cover and the words “historical”, “mystery”, and “romance” in the blurb, I was sold.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 05 July 2011.
How can marriage last
when “’til death do us part” is
not the same for both?
Summary: Shelley is still recovering from the sudden death of her husband Max three years ago, when her world is turned upside-down by the arrival of a stranger on her doorstep. That stranger is Paolo, a young man who claims that the man that Shelly knew as her husband was also his grandfather… and he has childhood pictures to support his claims. Not only does Max appear not to age, but Paolo claims that he is still alive and well, living on the other side of the world. As they travel to confront him, Shelley tells Paolo the story of how they met – Max was the leader of a quirky European tour group – and struggles to reconcile herself to the idea that the man she thought she knew, the man who was her whole life, may have had secrets that she never could have imagined.
Review: As much as I generally enjoy books that involve a series of short stories that are tied together by a longer arc, it’s frequently the case that I enjoy the stories more than the story that connects them. And in this case, while I enjoyed the book as a whole, there were a few issues that bugged me in the overarching story that weren’t present in the historical stories.
I think my primary issue was that it didn’t quite work for me as a romance. In order to really connect with Shelley and the various emotions she goes through over the course of the story, you need to find Max as wonderful as she does… and I just didn’t. Part of this is because – especially in the early stages of the book – Sotto seems to treat Max’s collection of quirks as satisfactory character development, so he didn’t feel like like a person so much as like a character. This thankfully got much better as the book went on and Max was allowed become multi-dimensional more naturally. But early on, all I had to go on was his flirting, which was aiming for charming but struck me as more superficial. Some of the writing also didn’t quite hit the tone it was aiming for; there were some metaphors that fell flat and some recurring prose quirks that didn’t work for me.
But! The good news is that even though I didn’t quite connect with the main characters, I loved the idea for the book, and the historical stories were great. Sotto’s passion for off-the-beaten-path European travel really shines through, and she’s able to vividly evoke the atmosphere of every place they visit. (On a related note, how badly do I want to take a European vacation right now?) Sotto also does a nice job in establishing a different voice for each of the historical stories, making each one feel like a real experience from a unique perspective. Also impressive was how clear she was able to keep her multiple layers of interlocking stories.
Overall, I think this was a solid debut novel. It’s unique and creative, well-constructed and interesting. It did have some parts that didn’t work, although some of those were a matter of personal preference, and some are things that I think will improve as Sotto develops as a writer. And even though I didn’t necessarily love every word, the bottom line is that I was always inspired to keep reading more. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I think Before Ever After would be best for people who like their love stories sweet but with a bit of a twist, especially if they also like historical fiction.
Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: Jasmine. It was not Max Gallus’s top choice for his last thought, but it would have to do.
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