I got a free ARC in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley of The Beginning of Always, written by Sophia Mae Todd. It’s quite long for a romance novel, and at times the story drags a little with (in my opinion) unnecessary background information. It is however a cute, very sweet story with a lot more to it than meets the eye at first and this second chance romance plays out both in the past and present. I don’t want to go into the story too much (so as not to spoil your reading experience), so let’s start out with the book’s description:
Florence Reynolds never thought she’d see him again. Sure, she was moving to New York City after years abroad, but Alistair Blair was in a different stratosphere now. He had conquered the city, made a name for himself. The two of them were a long way from the dirt roads of their youth. Their individual paths had led in opposite directions, which was exactly as they had both intended.
They had both moved on. They had both tried to forget. Florence never wanted to see him again.
But when Florence’s editor gives her a high-profile article to write, an important cornerstone article interviewing Manhattan’s hottest businessman, Florence finds herself back in Alistair’s orbit, thrust suddenly into the uncomfortable present and the painful past that bind them together.
Secrets shared and never forgotten threaten to collide, and to ruin.
The story is told by two narrators: Florence’s point of view tells of the present and Alistair narrates their past through flashbacks. Alistair is an enigmatic, mysterious and very successful business man (think Christian Grey but a little less disturbed) and Florence is a reserved journalist that has been travelling the world. Both of them have been running from their past and both don’t seem to be too happy to be around each other again. The story starts when Florence is asked by her editor to write a profile on a very important businessman and she is surprised when it turns out Alistair is her assignment.
It becomes clear that the two share a past neither forgiven nor forgotten and throughout most of the book we don’t know exactly what happened. It turns out that Alistair was abandoned by his father, which garnered major trust issues in him, and he had trouble letting the little Florence in. It was obvious he loved her and she was the most important thing in her life but his trust issues made it hard for him to express that. Florence had a troubled childhood herself, and she latched on to Alistair to escape her responsibilities at home (raising her brother, taking care of her mentally ill mother while her father was always away). These troubled teens only had each other to hold on to during their rougher years, and when friendship turned to love it was magical. The high school sweethearts fell hard and deep for each other, but then Alistair decided he had to dump her for her own good. This utterly breaks Florence and it takes a long time for her to recover.
So now, over 10 years later, Florence is determined not to let him get to her and never to let him (or anyone else for that matter) in her heart again. Of course, old feelings begin to surface, complicating their current working relationship. Through the dual narrators, we slowly and steadily learn more about their past and how it all affects their future. The story is quite mysterious since the characters are constantly alluding to their past, and we don’t know what happened. Florence moving back to their hometown also adds to the story, since we learn snippets of what happened from the townsfolk. Florence is obviously not ready to forgive easily and she stands her ground out of fear of getting hurt again. Alistair on the other hand is determined to win her over again, to apologise and make up for what he did in the past. He is willing to go very far, which makes him very careful and controlled throughout most of their present – he fears she will be scared of if she realises exactly how far he is willing to go.
This is a classic case of how miscommunication can screw something up. Alistair decided he didn’t want to keep Florence back, so he leaves (which is a cop-out, let her make her own decision and don’t use this to justify you running away). He never explained why, so she doesn’t know what to think. And because of what she went through, she isn’t ready to just forgive and forget because he has now decided he wants her back. But he gives her the time and he takes it slow. He is determined not to rush into anything and to make sure that they are both willing and ready to give it their 100%. That is what I liked about this story. A lot of second chance romances just dive right into the new relationship. Florence is not going to do that, nor is Alistair demanding it. They know that they need to give each other space and time to figure out if this is what they want. They do so, and they are then ready to start their mature relationship off right, making sure that they know where the other stands and that they are both in it to win it. It was very realistic and I loved their relationship, both as kids and as adults. If you are a fan of second chance romances, I do recommend this debut!