Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto

Before Ever After
By Samantha Sotto
Crown, $23.00

Author's summary:  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.

I so loved the idea of this book!  I was hooked before I got it in my hands.  I tore into it, carried it around with me. Everywhere I went, so did Before Ever After. I loved the mystery, I loved the time shifts with the Max stories, I loved the history. I got over the fact that I felt I was reading a travel log.   I even loved the cute homage to Max's baked eggs and cheese. I know, it's quirky, but so am I.

Sotto's first book is written with an engaging story to tell. But there are some things that made me want to pitch the book across the room at times, which I did at the end. We already know that Shelley marries Max. Why so much attention to Shelley wondering about it? I think perhaps Sotto gives the reader too much up front. Perhaps too much exposition at the beginning?  That doesn't change the fact that this story of Max and Shelley and Paolo IS charming and engaging.

But the end wasn't satisfying. While it leaves the readers to work it out for themselves, I didn't like the ending at all. Not to give the ending away, but I have to say that I was so disappointed with such a selfish means to an end. Literally.
While I hated the ending,  however, that said, I still enjoyed most all of the book. It's a fast read, but fairly predictable and it was very enjoyable for me until the end.

I give it 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

This galley was provided for me by the publisher and in no way affected my review.


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