Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Then and Always by Dani Atlins

Main character:  20-something year old Rachel
Location:  London and Great Bishopsford, England
Time period:  Contemporary
Genre:  Fiction, Romance, Fantasy

The day before heading off to university, a group of friends meet for dinner. There's  Rachel, her boyfriend Matt, and her two best friends, Sarah and Jimmy, among others.  As they are enjoying themselves, a car goes out of control and careens into the restaurant.  Rachel is trapped between the table and the wall and will surely be killed, but Jimmy wrenches her free and saves her life--at the cost of his own. 

Five years later, Rachel is a virtual recluse, the scar on her face echoing the one in her soul.  Only Sarah's wedding has brought her back to her hometown.  The rehearsal dinner is stressful, and Rachel leaves early because of a painful headache.  Seeking solitude, she visits the Jimmy's grave where her headache becomes so intense that she collapses in the road just outside the cemetery. 

Or maybe she was mugged on her way to the wedding--when she wakes up in the hospital, she finds that everyone else remembers the last five years differently.  For one thing, Jimmy isn't dead, and she didn't break up with Matt after the ill-fated dinner.  In fact, she and Matt are engaged to be married, and they believe that she was mugged for her engagement ring--which is no longer on her hand.   

This is the kind of romance novel that is really about so much more than romance.  It is about relationships and regrets and what ifs.  Rachel is close to her father--it has been only the two of them since her mother died--and she worries about his health since he was diagnosed with cancer.  Unless he's really in remission.  Her friendship with Sarah is close enough to bring Rachel out of her self-imposed seclusion.  Or to finally take a break from her high-powered journalism job in London.  These two lives can be very confusing.  Is it only relief that Jimmy is not dead that leads her to spend so much time with him? Or is there some deeply buried ambivalence about her upcoming marriage to Matt? 

The mystery of Rachel's memory, and of her two pasts, is not cleared up until the very end but there are clues as to what is happening.  The ending, then, doesn't come as a shock to the reader but instead is very sweet and moving and perfectly lovely.   

I read Then and Always as an e-ARC from NetGalley.

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