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Samantha Sotto – Before Ever After

August 3, 2011

95. Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto (2011)

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.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

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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24 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011 10:29 am

    That… is an awesome cover… (I couldn’t believe it was the cover, even! I want a cover like that…)

    It sounds like an interesting book too, but that cover… Oh, that cover… I heart.

    • August 4, 2011 2:59 pm

      Shanra – I know! A lot of it is only mildly applicable to the story, but SO PRETTY.

  2. August 3, 2011 5:00 pm

    The storyline does sound interesting and I’m wondering if Max was really still alive.

  3. August 3, 2011 6:06 pm

    I am curious about this book, but I can’t make up my mind if it is for me. This review is making me think no…

    • August 4, 2011 3:00 pm

      Kailana – I did enjoy this book, and I think it’s probably worth a try; it’s not perfect but for a first novel it’s definitely got a lot of promise.

  4. August 3, 2011 10:11 pm

    I like sweet and slightly twisted love stories so I just might give this a try. Plus, I do support local writers (Sotto is a Filipino, who is somehow a friend of a friend of mine on Facebook). Irrelevant info (haha) but glad to know that it is a good read :) Hello, Fyrefly! Long time no comment (at least on my part, too busy).

    • August 4, 2011 3:01 pm

      Lightheaded – No apologies necessary; I’ve been crazy busy and slacking on bloggy stuff as well. That’s cool that you know Sotto; I had no idea she was a Filipino! I hope you enjoy the book!

  5. August 4, 2011 7:35 pm

    I just cataloged this for my library a few hours ago, and I was like, “hmm, this jacket copy sounds interesting, but maybe I’ll wait and see what other people say.” What timing! I was interested more for the possibly-immortal-dude angle than the love story, though, and it seems like the latter is more what the book is about?

    • August 4, 2011 8:10 pm

      Alison – No, not at all! I think I gave that impression because the possibly-immortal-dude and the historical stories were the parts that I thought worked best, so I didn’t have as much to say about them, vs. the romance, which didn’t work as well for me as it could have. I’d say it’s pretty evenly balanced between the two parts.

      • August 4, 2011 9:07 pm

        Well, then, I will definitely have to add this to my insanely large pile of things I took home from the library… well, okay, maybe after I make it just a regular large pile. :)

  6. August 5, 2011 8:01 am

    I have an arc of this one. I thought it sounded interesting. Glad to see that you ended up enjoying it.

  7. marissatupino permalink
    August 9, 2011 10:36 am

    I’ve already read the book and I enjoyed the history so much that I forgot it’s a love story until I came to the part where the letters were read. I also liked the hanging ending – [Edited to remove potential spoilers]

    Nice review! :)

    • August 9, 2011 10:41 am

      Marissa – I liked the ending too; I appreciated that Sotto gave clues about which way things probably went but left it ambiguous enough that the reader could make up their own mind. I thought it worked a lot better for the story than if she’d laid everything out plainly.

  8. marissatupino permalink
    August 9, 2011 10:37 am

    Ooopps…spoiler alert!

  9. ysa ynarez permalink
    August 19, 2011 6:03 am

    i can’t wait to have my own copy of this book… this would be my first book by miss samantha sotto. i hope this wont be the last. i have loved non contemporary love stories forever, and from what i have read from the reviews this is that and with bonus historical side, i hope to enjoy it soon ^^,

  10. September 14, 2011 12:26 pm

    at first it seemed like I was reading a Sidney Sheldon book, but as I turned the pages.. honestly? I felt bored…. like what’s with the history of these people that Max warned his tourists not to try to trace them because they can’t be found in google (well he didn’t mention google but it was something like that) but I realized, Samantha is smart… the more you go back with the history and “myths, and legends” the more you’ll be connected with the book and you’ll gonna ask for moooooorrrreeee! but each “history, legends or myths” are being told..god.. it breaks my heart :'(

    Nice start Samantha, looking forward for more novels… hope you can make a book two of Max. <3

  11. ernette permalink
    October 10, 2011 11:30 pm

    I love the story of Max and i’d love to hear more of him…

    Though I haven’t been to Europe, it’s like traveling there already with the vivid description Samantha gave of the place and the history of the place. Along the lines, i get lose but regain interest nonetheless because the plot is interesting in different ways.

  12. katrina permalink
    December 18, 2011 2:27 am

    I also just finished reading this just this weekend. I wanted to ask you what you think about the ending? (SPOILER ALERT) I’m not sure if Shelley became like Max or if she really died for good. I’m itching to know what others think!


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