Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto
Title: Before Ever After
Author: Samantha Sotto
Genre: Historical Fiction
How I Read It: Hard copy from the library
Synopsis: Three years after her husband Max’s death, Shelley feels no more adjusted to being a widow than she did that first terrible day. That is, until the doorbell rings. Standing on her front step is a young man who looks so much like Max that he could be his long-lost relation.
He introduces himself as Paolo, an Italian editor of American coffee table books, and shows Shelley some childhood photos. Paolo tells her that the man in the photos, the man who Paolo says is his grandfather though he never seems to age, is Max. Her Max. And he is alive and well.
The information Paolo shares with Shelley sets them on a trail across the globe and through some of Europe’s most dramatic history in search of answers. Along the way, Shelley begins to piece together the story of who her husband was. As she and Paolo get closer to the truth, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to.
*Synopsis taken from the book jacket
My Review: How does one go about writing a review on a book that surprises them as much as this one surprised me? This book caught my eye around the time it was released, so I put it on my to read list, and semi forgot about it for a bit. I put books on that list all the time with every intention of reading them eventually, but that’s a long list and I can’t begin to wrap my arms around it in a fair way. So this book sat on that list, half forgotten, for nearly a year.
In the meantime, I joined a new book club which has a voting arrangement to help pick the next read for the group. Since I have this ever growing to read list, I try my best to vote according to something that is already on the list, so when this one came up on the list for the July read, I voted for it about as fast as a cheetah. It was ultimately picked as the read, so I borrowed it from the library this month and began reading it.
Some books are total love at first page, and this was not one of them. Instead, this book was intriguing from the start, the opening page begins:
It was not Max Gallus’s top choice for his last thought, but it would have to do. He wondered if there was time to say it out loud.
From that page on, I wanted to know why he was thinking about jasmine, and just what jasmine was it? The flower? Scent? Tea? Perhaps a woman? Wild thoughts started running through my head, wondering if I had gotten myself into a situation where I’m reading about a heroine who mourns a husband who was dreaming about some other woman at the time of his death. I didn’t want to hate Max, but if that’s what his real story was, I didn’t feel like it was a good omen for our relationship.
As the reader, we happily find out very quickly that Max was not, in fact, having an affair. That was just my imagination running wild, probably based off a lifetime of chick lit and half romantic comedies like Ghost Town. The sad side is that we also get to see the tragic death of not just Max, but one of our plucky friends who had the misfortune of being out with Max at the same time. From there, we embark on a journey of discovery, where we literally see a tour through Europe and the beginnings of Max and Shelley’s relationship. I found myself wondering, just as I’m sure the characters were, just what any of the stories on the tour had to do with much of anything, simultaneously reading a romance, historical fiction, with a little hint of mystery mixed in.
This adventure also serves as a character introduction to Shelley, who both charmed and infuriated me all at once. On the one hand, I completely get where Shelley is coming from: she grows up in a house full of sadness resulting from the untimely death of her father, and it scares her into not wanting anything resembling a serious relationship. For different reasons, I likewise share that fault and have similar reactions when I come to the realization that I might have feelings for someone.
On the other hand, the way she constantly reminded herself about why she acted the way she did really got to me. I’ve learned over time that because you can’t predict anything, you can’t prepare for everything, and you can’t live in constant fear of the “maybe”. You’ve got to let life just happen sometimes. If you meet someone who sweeps you off your feet, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and be swept along that current.
Ultimately, Shelley lets herself jump headfirst into that river. It unfortunately doesn’t go so well in that she has just a few short years with Max before his own untimely death. But luckily for Shelley, his death may not have actually been the end of that story, and could turn out to just be a segue into something much greater.
I was totally pulled into this book and engrossed by it, it was one of the ones that I would force myself to put down because I didn’t want to get to the end as quickly as I was approaching it. And yet, in the end I stayed up way past my bed time to finish it, because at some point I looked at the clock and told myself “oh, you’ve only got fifty or so pages left, wouldn’t you rather just finish?” I pretty much wanted to start the book over right then and there, but was likewise disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to read it again for the first time. I will always have a memory of this book, which is quite lovely, but it’s one of those I wish I could forget to an extent…I wish I could remember how much I ended up loving it, but remember none of the details so I can take this journey over and over again.
Since I cannot do that, I hope that others will be as entranced by the journey as I was. About a third of the way in, I made the decision to purchase the book simply so I can have it on my shelves, because it pained me to think I would have to take it back to the library with no living memory of it in my house. While I cannot start this experience from the very start again, you can, and I cross my fingers that you feel even more strongly about it than I do, and can send a glowing review along for others to use as a beacon.
Read this book if: I think this will appeal to people who enjoyed The Time Travelers Wife and other books of that nature. This one is several genres all together, so I think it has wide appeal.
My Rating: 4.5/5 – Borderline amazing!