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Shelley’s life practically ended three years ago when she was widowed. Since the terrible day when her husband Max was killed, she has been bereft, adrift. Finding out that Max left her a substantial estate made it unnecessary for her to attempt to resume working in order to support herself, but did not lessen her grief.

One evening a young man named Paolo rings her doorbell. He bears an uncanny resemblance to Max and makes an unbelievable, crazy claim: Paolo insists that Max was his grandfather and even produces a series of photographs taken over the years that undeniably demonstrate that, even as Paolo grew, Max never aged. Paolo also claims that his “Nonno” is not dead at all, but operating a cafe in the Philippines — where he is serving his phenomenal, trademark baked eggs and cheese that Max prepared for her each Sunday morning. Paola shows Shelley the website for “The Shell” and she cannot deny that the man in the photograph posted there looks exactly like Max.

So Shelley and Paolo book the next flight to the Philippines so that they can confront the proprietor, determine if he really is, in fact, Max and, if so, get some answers. En route, Shelley tells Paolo the story of how she met and fell in love with Max after happening upon a yellow flyer advertising his business, “The Slight Detour.” In his old VW bus, complete with disco ball, Max led Shelley and an eclectic group of other strangers around Europe to locales not included on any other sight-seeing tours, regaling them with stories of adventure, enchantment, bloody battles, and secluded islands dating from the late eighteenth century all the way back to the first century. Along the way, Max and Shelley fell deeply in love and when he asked her to marry him, they promised each other only “now.” Was Max harboring a secret reason for not pledging to be with Shelley until death parted them? Could he possibly be the man who raised Paolo? And if he is alive and living in the Philippines, why did he stage his own death and leave Shelley to mourn him?


Author Samantha Sotto
Is it possible to love someone so much that one’s life is truly not worth living without that individual? And if so, it is possible for that love to be eternal and to actually choose one’s own fate, even to the point of cheating death, in order to stay with one’s beloved for all of eternity? In her debut novel, author Samantha Sotto ponders such monumental questions, but does so in an entirely unique, adventurous, and entertaining manner.

It is hard to fully describe Before Ever After without spoiling the many surprises that await readers. Sotto tells the story of Shelley and Max’s romance from several different vantage points. In the present, a grieving Shelley is confronted unexpectedly by Paolo and in the face of fairly convincing evidence that Max is still alive, propelled into action to discover the truth about the husband she has been mourning for three years. During the long flight to the Philippines, she explains to Paolo how she came to take “A Slight Detour” with Max, as Paolo verifies and confirms some of their shared experiences with and perceptions of the man he knew as his grandfather. Shelley’s description is a detailed exploration of the stories Max related to his tour group as they visited the various destinations to which he led them. Thus, the narration alternates between the present, the time she spent on the tour with Max and other members of the group, and across the centuries in which Max’s tales of adventure transpired.

As a reader, my favorite kind of fantasy is the kind that’s woven into everyday life – the kind that makes me look around and wonder “what if?” That’s the goal I had for Before Ever After. I wanted to create something magical enough to stretch your imagination, but not too far that it would snap.
~ Author Samantha Sotto

Sotto’s prose is lush, her descriptions vivid, and Max’s stories come alive no matter the setting. She obviously researched the locales discussed and their histories meticulously in order to create so many fanciful stories, all of which have an air of authenticity mixed with some elements of magic and fantasy. Despite the journeys back through time, however, Sotto never loses focus on the heart of the book — the profound love that Shelley and Max felt for each other almost from the moment they met. Like all believable romances, they have a few false starts, insecurities on both sides, and times of pure joy from simply being in each other’s presence. Max’s reticence to fully commit to Shelley propels the story forward, as readers attempt to piece together the mystery that is at the story’s core.

Shelley is even more cautious. A compulsive list-maker, she periodically reminds herself of her “to do” list pertaining to relationships: “Meet. Date. Run.” Yet she finds she cannot run from Max, even though she is determined not to end up like the mother she adores, but who has smothered her with obsessive attention ever since Shelley’s father died when Shelley was very young. Her mother never loved again and never got over her father’s death. Her ongoing sorrow and loneliness has deeply impacted Shelley’s perception of love and marriage. When she meets Max, Shelley is afraid to love completely and devastatingly, even though as the story opens, she has, ironically, come to an emotional point that is exactly like the one in which her mother has been stuck for so many years.

Sotto’s wise and restrained exploration of Shelley and Max’s fears and the choices they must both make is made more remarkable because Before Ever After is her first published novel. She writes with an authority and compassion for her characters that is normally only demonstrated by a more seasoned novelist. To keep things interesting, she surrounds her two protagonists with a compelling assortment of supporting characters whose own journeys are as touchingly poignant as Max and Shelley’s. Before Ever After is sure to please readers who favor many different genres, including fantasy, historical fiction, and, of course, romance. It is a stunningly eloquent, fanciful, and emotionally moving story about what it means to choose love — and all that flows from that choice.

I read Before Ever After in conjunction with the 2011 Read โ€˜nโ€™ Review and Outdo Yourself Reading Challenges.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Before Ever After free of charge from the author in conjunction with the review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, โ€œGuides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Enter to Win a Copy of Before Ever After

One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of Before Ever After, generously provided by the author.

To enter, simply post a comment! Be sure to include your email address (for notification and delivery purposes). The book can only be shipped to a United States or Canadian address (no P.O. box).

Entry Deadline:

Entries will be accepted through Sunday, September 25, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time)!


  1. ZoeRainDasher

    Why would Max stage his own death? This really sounds like a good mystery with a bit of supernatural elements.



  2. This book sounds very intriguing. THanks for the giveaway.

  3. thanks for this great giveaway. It would be an interesting book to enjoy.

  4. Colleen Turner

    I have had my eyes on this book for awhile! Thanks for the giveaway opportunity!

  5. mamabunny13

    I would love to read this book. Thanks for the chance to win it.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  6. Lissette Martinez

    Thanks, I love romance!

    Lissette_125 at hotmail dot com

  7. Carly Waid

    I agree with Zoe! I have so many questions after reading this review! This is definitely on my to-read list. Thanks for the opportunity!
    -Carly Waid

  8. I would love to win! jesterbuny(at)gmail(dot)com

  9. Krystle Wong-Ngo

    Would love to win this book for my Aunt who is in the US! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Stephanie

    Thanks so much for the giveaway!

    thegirlonfire27 at gmail dot com

  11. Brittany Gale

    Count me in please ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks


  12. Shana S.

    This seems like a fascinating book–would love to win!

  13. Pingback: Samantha Sotto, author of Before Ever After, on tour August 2011 | TLC Book Tours

  14. Maureen Hoffman-Wehmeier

    I am so excited to read this book. I just saw the author’s blub on Read it Forward. I would love to win a free copy~

  15. clothedmuch

    sounds so interesting! would love to win this!

  16. Linda Kish

    I would love to win a copy of this book.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

  17. I want to read this book so bad. I just can’t wait to get my hands on it.

    hootowl1978 at gmail dot com

  18. Thank you for the lovely review!

    *Waves to all the awesome folks in the comment box* Good luck, guys! ๐Ÿ˜€

  19. The story sounds interesting and I would like to read it ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Leigh Ann

    Thanks for the chance!

  21. mrsshukra

    I like the premise of this novel, thanks!

  22. how intriguing! looking forward to this read for sure!
    blstef1 at mts dot net

  23. tlukey73

    Yet another great sounding book I’ve never heard of prior to reading about in your blog. Thanks for the great giveaways.

  24. Rachel F

    Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy. It sounds good. ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Nancye Davis

    Sounds like a great book! Thanks for the chance!

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  26. Anita Yancey

    I loved your review. This book sounds so good. Please enter me. Thanks!

  27. the title alone plus the book cover design makes me want a copy of this book so badly, not to mention the plot and that the author is a filipino! i want this book!!!

  28. Pingback: Semicolon » Blog Archive » Saturday Review of Books: September 24, 2011

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