"Far off places, daring swordfights, magic spells...a prince in disguise!" That’s what Belle’s ideal book contains when she describes it in the beginning of “Beauty and the Beast.” And after reading "Before Ever After" by Samantha Sotto, I think Belle would fall in love with this book as much as I did.
Shelley makes a promise to herself never to end up like her mom, who fell in love and then lost their love to death, clinging to scrapbooks for memories. As a result, she escapes her home to move to London. She finds an advertising job, but then escapes that too, happening upon a brochure for a traveling adventure through Europe on the same day. The tour guide, Max, is charming and handsome, enticing her to forget about her promise to herself to “Meet. Date. Run.” She eventually marries him and then loses him in a tragic way. A few years later, she is visited by Paolo, a man who looks exactly like Max and claims that Max is his grandfather, Nonno and is still alive. They go to find him and she tells Paolo all the stories Max shared on the European adventure. Together, they put the pieces of the stories together and discover that not everything is as it seems.
If I could marry a book, "Before Ever After" would be the one I would choose. It is an incredible story filled with adventure, history, romance and emotion. It never ceased to take my breath away. The descriptions are so perfect that I felt like I was right along with Shelley on the trip (I sometimes even felt like I was her). While I’m not a history buff, the historical tales that Max shared were engaging and as strong as what was happening in the present day (or around that time). All of the characters were interesting, insightful and even funny at times. The dialogue was realistic and flowed naturally. It reminded me of why I like stories like "The Princess Bride" and "Stardust" so much (even though I only know them as movies, they are also books). While Shelley sought out escape through leaving home and then traveling, I seek it through stories that have the ability to take me away to another time or place. "Before Ever After" definitely fits in this category. It has a Cecelia Ahern feel to it, but also stands on its own as a unique new voice.
However, there are some things I wish had been done differently. Ms. Sotto has a beautiful way of writing prose, but sometimes I’d get tangled up in her writing style and confused about what was going on. This happened a lot in the beginning. It felt like time was moving forward and backward in a confusing way, but then it smoothed out and was easy to follow. Still, I sometimes had to re-read paragraphs to get what she was trying to explain. I also wish she had done two things differently. First, I wish she had followed up with the other characters on the trip and given them a happy ending. I felt like she provided some closure for them, but I would liked to have seen more for certain people. She did satisfy my curiosity for one character’s fate and it was nice what she did for them. I also wish she had done more with the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I felt like she could have elaborated more. Having said that, I confess that I didn’t want this book to end at all and was sad that it had to, as all books do.
Overall, "Before Ever After" was an amazing novel and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know. I even told my husband to read it (and I don’t normally request that he read anything from my book collection). I applaud Ms. Sotto on her debut novel (a standing ovation, in this case) and hope she’ll give us more exciting adventures and modern fairy tales in the future.
Thanks to Catherine Cullen from The Crown Publishing Group (a division of Random House) for the complimentary copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.
Samantha will be visiting Chick Lit Central next week and we'll be doing a giveaway at that time. In the meantime, Chick Lit Reviews is giving away a copy. (US only. Ends August 28th.)
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