An Unconventional Love Story: Before Ever After

It’s been a while since I’ve been so engrossed in a novel. When I started reading Samantha Sotto’s “Before Ever After”, I couldn’t help but go on and continue flipping the pages until I reached the ending. At first, I thought it was one of those typical love stories, judging from the book’s dainty cover. But it was far from typical; it was imaginative, brilliant and written with a good dose of wit and humor. I’m glad that Samantha Sotto swept me off my bookish feet and carried me into the world of Max and Shelley.

The Background

It’s been three years since Shelley’s husband died. Max died in a terrorist bombing in Madrid, leaving Shelley a young widow with a fragmented future. Shelley’s recovery had been slow but steady until an unexpected visit turned her world upside down. One mundane morning, a visitor who looks like Max appeared on her doorstep claiming to be Max’s grandson. It would’ve been okay if Paolo was not 32 years old—the same age as Max. This disclosure made Shelley question everything she knew and believed about her own husband.

The Journey Begins

Paolo began telling Shelley how much he loved his Nono, his term of endearment to his grandfather Max. So when he saw Max’s photo in a website, he knew that he had to look for him to find the answers he needed. He prodded Shelley to look at the site for herself, and when she did she knew that she had to pack her bags and leave for Boracay, Philippines where her supposedly dead husband was living.

During the flight from London to Manila, Paolo and Shelley started sharing stories about Max. Shelley recalled the backpacking Euro trip she joined in where she met the eccentric charming tour guide, Max. It was in this trip where Max and Shelley found each other in the midst of the historic places of Austria, Slovenia, and other cobble-stoned pavements. Shelley revisited the stories that Max related in each mysterious tourist spot, realizing through Paolo’s affirmations that Max was actually part of the story. He was not merely a storyteller; he was the protagonist in the pages of history he was retelling.

The Journey Ends

Shelley continued her quest for answers and in the process discovered truths that are too difficult to comprehend yet too real to deny. The novel ends in a way that will surprise readers. It’s not the conventional ending that the already captivated audience would’ve wanted (count me in, too). But I guess that’s the beauty of it. With its unpredictability comes the preservation of the magic that the story created even if you already turned the last page. :)

Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy

Maggie Stiefvater created a world of wolves that draws readers deep into the lives of the wild and the resilient bond that tie them together.

The trilogy starts with “Shiver” where we are introduced to the character of Grace Brisbane and Sam Roth. Grace was attacked by a pack of wolves when she was a child. She was saved right on time before the wolves can do further damage to her. She distinctly remembered seeing a wolf with golden-yellow eyes who snarled at the pack to back off. Since then, she has been watching the wolf that saved her from her bedside window. For years, she tried to communicate and draw near to her wolf but she can only go so far.

Little did she know that the wolf that rescued her is also human and he is Sam Roth. On one hunting spree, Sam was shot and he turned human. The house closest to where he was shot was Grace’s house. Upon seeing him and looking at his eyes, Grace knew that Sam was the wolf who saved her. It was then revealed how wolves turn into humans during summer and they turn back to being wolves when winter breaks. The cold weather triggers the change. The struggle to keep Sam human to be with her and the unrelenting love of the two characters consumed most of the story.

I must admit, when I was reading half way through the novel my mind was screaming “Twilight!!!” The love story between Grace and Sam is sooooo “Twilight”!  The stubbornness of youth mixed with their impulsive love is like reading Bella and Edward all over again. But this time, it’s the wolf version. I was at the brink of giving up when the novel amazingly started to pick up! By the time I was down to the last 70 pages, I was so eager to know what will happen—if the cure for Sam will work or not. So there, the ending saved the novel. The science behind the paranormal gave a new twist to this growing genre. The end was so good that I decided to immediately read the sequel, “Linger”.

In “Linger”, a cruel reversal of fates happened. Grace is starting to show signs of being a wolf through the deterioration of her health. While Sam is struggling to find out how he can help her. An interesting character also enters in this novel, Cole, front man of the famous band Narkotika. Cole is a new wolf trying to find his way in this new world of wolves. Linger begins with a gripping plot and ends with unexpected changes in the characters. For me, this sequel saved the trilogy. It kept my interest (and perhaps the interest of the other readers) and compelled me to open the pages of “Forever”.

“Forever” is the final part of the Wolves of Mercy trilogy. In this novel, lives are threatened, a complete annihilation of wolves is at bay, and humans are showing no mercy. As I was reading the book, the image of the dogs in the movie “Eight Below” came to mind. The way the wolves communicated with each other to save the pack felt so real and believable.  I love the way the story ended, the maturity of each character along the way, and the unconventional resolution of conflicts. It took a few days before I was able to part with the characters of Sam and Grace. After reading the trilogy for 4 days, it felt like I was living in Mercy Falls, too, and they were my friends. It also made me want to have a wolf as a pet. Well, come to think of it, I already have my own wolf (canis lupus) all these years. Now, that’s interesting. :)

Never Let Me Go: Beautifully Disturbing

It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving spoilers. It’s a story filled with intriguing clues that lead to one discovery after another. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, “Never Let Me Go” is beautifully disturbing. Set in England around the late 1990s, the novel takes place in Hailsham—a special boarding school where students are raised for a sickening reason.

Kathy H. is the voice of the novel. It is from her memories and point of view that the plot develops. The way she tells her story keeps you wanting for more. Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the rare authors who know the craft of leaving inconclusive details without pissing off the reader. He gives you an insatiable discontent for the unknown, which can only be satisfied as you keep turning the page. From the very first chapter, Kathy’s job as a “carer” is not described at length, which begs the question “What does a carer really do and who do they care for?” Donors and donations were also mentioned in casual terms as if implying that the reader ought to know what those taboo words mean.

As Kathy drives along a familiar road, she starts to narrate her life at Hailsham and the story of two significant people who became her closest friends—Ruth and Tommy. Kathy describes in detail the almost impeccable education system they receive from Hailsham. They were even substantially provided for their needs and even wants. But since nobody lives in a perfect world, certain clues emerge here and there implying that there is something terribly wrong in this boarding school. At one point, a teacher resigns for reasons that the so-called principal cannot disclose; a certain character called “madame” gets the best art work of the students; and “donations” are mentioned in crucial moments in the story. Slowly, the innocence of these students is shattered as they gradually discover why they’re there in the first place.

SPOILER ALERT (do not proceed if you don’t want to miss the novel’s turning point)

Here’s the spoiler I’m not supposed to say but I can’t help but divulge. Kathy, along with her friends Ruth and Tommy, are all created to be organ donors. They are raised well so that when the time comes that they have to give their donations they are perfectly fit to do so. Not only are they organ donors, they are also clones. Sickening, right? You raise a human person—not a machine—then end his life regardless if he wants to or not. Even if he is a clone, that person has life and he has the right to decide what he wants to do with it.

My heart went wild as I was reading this. I felt pity for the characters, I felt rage for the cruel people behind this sinister project, I felt sorrow for the lives that were lost and the hearts that were broken. Although this novel is fictional, it shows the reality that men are capable of the most depraved things when push comes to shove. Never is deception portrayed ever so delicately yet menacingly the way Kazuo Ishiguro did in this masterpiece. This is one novel worth shelf keeping. :)