Before. After. Always. – Morgan Lee Miller

This is the most frustrating book I’ve read in a while. There’s so much potential but I almost dropped it several times. I didn’t because this is my fourth book by this author and I had faith in her.

At eighteen, Eliza Walsh lost everything: the love of her life, the plans they had made for their future, her respect for her parents. Thirteen years later, as she enters the last year of her residency, Blake Navarro, an easygoing and very talented chef, makes her experience feelings she hasn’t known since she was a teenager. Not only is the spark she’s been looking for – and dreaded at the same time – in full bloom, but through Blake’s welcoming family, Eliza comes to realise how much she misses her own parents.

Seriously, people, talk to each other. And listen. Communication goes both ways. You know, I love second chance romances and one of the reasons I do is that authors have to work hard to make me believe that what once went wrong can now go right. The second chance in this novel isn’t romance, it’s the relationship between Eliza and her parents, and the reason they’ve been estranged is so fucked up it made me cringe. I’m not saying it’s not plausible, because life can fuck up too, but damn, it’s frustrating. In real life, I don’t do regrets, or not much. I move forward. I don’t believe in dwelling on the past (my anxiety doesn’t always agree but I treat that as an epiphenomenon). I learn and move on. If I read a book about time wasted, I need to believe it was worth it. I’m not entirely convinced here. I can, with a little effort, persuade myself that it works because Eliza was so young and in so much pain at the time.

Another issue is the redundant commentary that makes some sentences feel like more tell than show even though the showing is there too. A good example of that is how Blake got into cooking: the reader is told the story, then a couple of pages later, Blake tells it to Eliza in almost the same words.

All this made it rather difficult to get – and stay – into the story. I’m glad I didn’t give up, however. The characters are wonderful. I loved both MCs at first sight and the secondary characters are fantastic too. They’re mostly family and I wish Malai, Blake’s best friend, played a bigger part.

And the Christmas moment is beautiful and so moving. Every interaction with Eliza’s parents brought tears to my eyes. A book that makes me cry is clearly worth reading and I’d recommend it even if only for those moments.

3 stars

Before. After. Always. @ Bold Strokes Books

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