Title: Before Ever After
Author: Samantha Sotto
Genre/Themes: Romance, Drama, Light historical fiction, fantasy, magical realism
Blurb from Goodreads
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–same smile, same eyes, same age, same adorable bump in his nose–he could be Max’s 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 bearded man who Paolo says is his grandfather though he never seems to age, is Max. Her Max. And he is alive and well.
As outrageous as Paolo’s claims seem–how could her husband be alive? And if he is, why hasn’t he looked her up? – Shelley desperately wants to know the truth. She and Paolo jet across the globe to track Max down–if it is really Max– and along the way, Shelley recounts the European package tour where they had met. As she relives Max’s stories of bloody Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, and buried Roman boathouses, Shelley begins to piece together the story of who her husband was and what these new revelations mean for her “happily ever after.” And as she and Paolo get closer to the truth, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to.
This book is dreamy. It’s romantic. It’s comforting. It’s Sunday mornings with baked eggs and jasmine tea.
I have already read Samantha Sotto’s two other books (Love and Gravity, A Dream of Trees) and loved them both. I just love the beautiful way she constructs her stories. They have the most gorgeous ethereal quality to them and it’s so easy to get lost in the pages of her books.
And her first novel, Before Ever After, was no different.
I was thoroughly enchanted by the storyline and completely caught up in the headiness of the romance and gorgeous scenery that this book describes. The book is a mixture of light historical fiction, romance and fantasy, perhaps best described as magical realism, and the melding of these genres together really works.
The story follows a woman named Shelley who was widowed three years earlier. One day a knock on her front door reveals a young man who looks very much like her deceased husband Max. The young man identified himself as Paulo and shows Shelley some photographs of his grandfather who never seemed to age. He tells Shelley that his grandfather and her seemingly deceased husband Max are one and the same person and in fact, Max is not dead at all. But alive and well working in an off the beaten track restaurant in the Philippines that only serves baked eggs much like the baked eggs that Max cooked for Shelley every Sunday.
Together Shelley and Paulo set off to find out if this man is both Shelley’s husband and Paulo’s grandfather.
As they are travelling Shelley, through the use of flashbacks, relates the story of how she and Max met on a tour of Europe and how they fell in love.
It’s through these flashbacks that the reader understands more about Max as a character and how Shelley begins to realise that the stories that Max told her of historical times past were not actually invented stories or someone else’s history, but were in fact the stories of Max’s past lives.
Included are tales of the French Revolution and the barricades in Paris, stories of Swiss militia and medieval Austrian kitchens, stories of Venice and the forgotten town of Herculaneum… And all add up together to make for a compelling read through various moments of historical significance in European history.
The book is just perfect holiday reading as it gives a lovely flavour of travelling through Europe and has a story that is very easy to read and even easier to get truly lost in.
As I read I fell more and more in love with the burgeoning romance between Max and Shelley and was so intrigued to get to the ending and discover what had exactly happened to Max, and whether or not his and Shelley’s love story was one to last the ages.
I very much enjoyed the pacing of this book because each chapter just seemed to perfectly reveal a little more of the story without ever getting ahead of itself nor teasing the reader too much.
I was a fan of the supporting characters on the European tour but they were possibly a little underdeveloped and at times borderline cliched.
And I definitely feel that we didn’t really ever get to see enough of Paulo as a character. But because the story was so dreamlike and very much focused in Max and Shelley I did not mind too much.
One thing that annoyed me though was Max’s incessant use of the word “luv” as a term of endearment for Shelley. Its a personal thing really but the incorrect spelling gave me an image of a faux cockney style character (think Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins) which I thought felt incongruous to everything else we knew and learned about Max.
But these are only minor quibbles.
I really loved the ending of the book. To me it was perfectly timed and executed and when I closed the final pages of the book I simply clutched my paperback to my chest and let out a contented sigh.
In summation I really loved this book and highly recommend it to fans of romantic novels and people who love to day dream.
But for anyone else who wants more from the story if you head to Samantha Sotto’s website you can get access to a short story that is set after the book’s conclusion that marries together this book and Samantha Sotto’s second novel, Love and Gravity. Click here for After the End