Book Review: Dani Atkins’ Then and Always

Posted May 23, 2014 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Dani Atkins’ Then and Always

Then and Always


is a eARC edition on May 20, 2014 and has 322 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.
five-stars

A twisted version of time travel à la the movie Sliding Doors, and for some reason, I keep wanting to call it psychological. Based in Great Bishopsford, England.

Just to warn you, I did receive this as an eARC from the publisher. And be prepared to cry. I had to put this down for several days before I could continue on to an ending that was marvelous, bittersweet, and lovely.

My Take

This is a twisty tale that’ll keep your heart rate up as you wonder what’ll happen next, when the hammer will drop and send you right back to the old ways. It’s also one of the few stories I’ve read that used the first person point-of-view, which I liked and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable.

It is terrifying to think how quickly and easily one’s whole life can change within minutes. I also wonder if Rachel really wants to marry Matt, as they’ve been seeing each other for seven years…!

I like how Atkins sets up the headaches, the mugging, and the graveyard scene for what sets this convergence/divergence off — a very believable scenario for what is an unbelievable result. Although, it’s almost more unbelievable that Rachel is trying so hard to go back to her own horrible and depressing existence. In one life, everything is wonderful, everyone’s alive and healthy, and Rachel is fulfilling her dream — even if she’s unaware of it — while in the other, one person is dead, two are probably dying, and Rachel has a horrible job. Hmmm, which one would I try for?

It’s hard to believe that someone could be so obtuse about two of the most important men in her life. Then there are the actions of Matt and Jimmy that fateful night. I can’t imagine what could speak stronger about love than the willingness to risk everything. Nor can I understand men who can want someone so incredibly much, but still screw around on them.

I love what Matt says about Rachel’s scar, that “it’s not who she is”. Now if only Rachel could believe that.

It really bugged me that Rachel was so intent on ignoring her doctor’s advice about her headaches when it could have such far-reaching consequences; and then there’s her reaction to the scary guy on the train. Why not just go back to the bank of phones there? Have your money out and dial 999. She just felt too unbelievably paranoid.

Then there’s Rachel’s other life; it feels like one huge loose thread, even though it’s really not. I think it’s my own problem, that I want resolution on all the points, that I can tidy everything away in its own little box. It’s just that there’s so much that she remembers that no one else does. I can see where it could become so overwhelming that it becomes less and less important to Rachel. I wish that Atkins had played up the smells and sounds aspect more and earlier in the story, with more crossover between the two Rachels. It’s a small niggle however.

Jimmy comes up with some great theories on what’s happening.

Then there was her insistence on her having a different life from the one she woke up into. She pushed too much, too hard, was too emphatic about it. I thought for sure they did commit her for psychiatric observation. I can understand that she’d be confused and worried, but why does she hate that her dad was healthy? How horrible is it that Jimmy was alive. How awful that her disfiguring scar is gone.

Part of me is irritated along with Rachel. She’s got her memory problems, as far as they’re all concerned, so why do they have to keep being so damned patronizing? What do they expect? That amnesia gets diagnosed and she’ll take a pill? Clear it right up?

Oh, god, and then we finally get that look at Rachel’s other life, and I’m still crying. It is rather perfect, but…

I absolutely loved how Atkins merged the two lives, the experiences into one at the end. And it just makes me cry even more.

This story is so heartbreaking, and Atkins makes me feel every step of the way. Jimmy and her dad’s love, Rachel’s confusion, Matt’s need.

The Story

It all begins with the night of the accident, with a life that could have gone one of two ways. Only for Rachel, the mainstay of her life is snuffed out and even her own physical injuries pale next to that loss. And there is such loss until that night, five years later, when the seven of them regroup for a hen night before Sarah’s wedding.

A night when convergence occurs with an unexpected split into a life not led.

The Characters

Rachel Wiltshire has dreams of university and a writing career, and it’s that last night after their high school graduation that she realizes how each of her friends pursuing their dreams will change the dynamics. Her dad is all she has left, family-wise, and he adores her. Kizzy is the black cat who doesn’t know this Rachel.

The friends that night
Jimmy Boyd has been her childhood friend and in love with her forever. The always late Sarah Johnson is her best female friend. Matt is her wealthy boyfriend who jealously guards his possession of her. The bitchy Cathy is a newcomer to the group and very conscious of her charms. The rock-band-playing Trevor who’s gone respectable and the nomadic Phil with his camera make up the rest of the group.

David is the man Sarah will be marrying. Janet is Jimmy’s mother; his family had taken Rachel and her dad in when her mother died. Dee Ellis shares a desk area with Rachel at the magazine. Louise Kendall appears to be her boss. Joe is a security guard, Mrs. Scott is her other life’s boss, and Emily Frost, a coworker, at Anderson’s Engineering.

The various doctors include Dr. Tulloch, Dr. Whittaker, and Dr. Andrews.

The Cover and Title

The cover is not what I expected. It has a pretty blue background with the profile of two heads — one female and one male — silhouetted against the background, foreheads touching, as though communing with each other. Only, these heads are filled with riverscapes. There’s a thoughtful loveliness to it, a lightheartedness that doesn’t seem to suit the story.

five-stars

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