book review

In This Life by Christine Brae

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***Received ARC from publisher via NetGalley***

Upon discovering her mother’s extramarital affair, Anna Dillon runs away to Thailand on a medical mission with her best friend, Dante Leola. She meets mysterious Jude Grayson who intrigues her instantly when he inadvertently calms her from a mini meltdown. Sparks fly between them in the days following, until she receives the inevitable call that her mother passed away. With the understanding of meeting again stateside, Anna rushes back home to be with her family.

Years pass without word from Jude, though life keeps moving for Anna. She ends up working for John Hopkins, and eventually falls in love and marries Dante. When a chance encounter finds her face to face with Jude again, she discovers that everyone around her has been keeping secrets from her all these years. And when she thought that she had successfully moved on, she finds that she still couldn’t stay away.

To quote the Goodreads description, “This is a story about love, found in a faraway place by two very unlikely people. It is also a story about friendship and loyalty and fighting for what you have despite the illogical mystery of fate. With the struggle between morality and guilt, faith and acceptance, there comes a learning that even the best-laid plans are powerless against the alignment of the universe.”

As I start this review, I’m still wavering on how I really feel about this story. I’m inclined to rate it high, mostly because the writing was beautiful — vivid and fluid, with an original and creative story. The opening scene and the reason behind the trip to Thailand really did set the stage up for the rest of the story, which comes full circle in the end.

The characters were also solidly crafted. Though it clearly looks like a love triangle on the surface, I also find myself believing the book when it says that it’s not. Anna loved both Dante and Jude in different ways. When I think of a love triangle, I picture both parties are on equal footing (which is why you have Team Edward and Team Jacob). In this book, it was pretty clear that it would always be Jude. Despite how much I loved Dante, and how he knew Anna better than anyone else, there really was no competition. It’s unfortunate to read a lot of reviews hating on Anna and Jude for being greedy and selfish because I look at these characters and find them to be real. I could’ve easily been Anna, thrust into a complicated situation like this, and find myself making the exact same mistakes/decisions.

Other things I loved about the story:

1. The plot twists. Yes, plural. I pride myself in knowing exactly where a story is headed. But man, the plot twists is this story blew me away. More points for originality.

2. The religious aspect was surprisingly a very interesting way of looking at commitment. I don’t particularly consider myself a religious person, but I do understand faith, and why people need it. I appreciated that there was no mention of it in the description, as I probably would’ve missed out on a great story. Though it revolved around faith for a good chunk of the story, it didn’t feel so much like push for belief. It wasn’t trying to be righteous, nor was it meant to be a lesson. It was just another aspect that pushed the story forward.

3. The balloon scene. Oh man, how I sobbed.

The only thing I had a tough time accepting or believing is the forgiveness scene between Dante and Anna, and if you don’t want any spoilers, you can stop reading here.

Up until the very last second, Dante wanted to fight for Anna, even leaving her a voice message saying he was coming to Thailand because he wasn’t giving up on them. Somehow, I feel like if Dante hadn’t left that message, I would’ve had an easier time believing how Anna could’ve found peace thinking that Dante would’ve accepted how things turned out in the end. In any case, I could’ve accepted the dream scene as Anna’s subconscious making sense of Dante’s death, using everything she knows about Dante, and how giving and caring he was, to convince herself that choosing Jude was the right decision. I could even accept her rationalizing that Dante would’ve been selfless enough to not tell her about him possibly being sick because she would’ve put her life on hold to take care of him. What doesn’t add up though is Dante telling Anna that Jude was a good guy, and that he wanted to tell her the truth. That it was really Dante who was selfish enough to convince Jude that there was no point to it. It was this part of the conversation that felt like a letdown to me because then, it became more of a paranormal dream sequence rather than her just making sense of the tragedy. There was no way for her to know that bit of information.

Otherwise, this is definitely a captivating read. I’m looking forward to putting more Christine Brae books on my to-read list.

Rating: 4 stars

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