Then and Now by Monica McCallanThen & Now by Monica McCallan is a tender exploration of two people from different social classes falling in love, losing one another and getting a second chance years later.

Bennett Burke follows the rules set forth by her wealthy and powerful family. She goes to the events they dictate, dates the men they choose and tries to adhere to their rigid behavioral standards.

Six years ago, a study abroad program in Europe gave her the chance to escape the demands of home. While there she found that she was attracted to her roommate, the shy, quick-witted Lily. But when the program ended and she had to returned to reality she began to doubt herself and her feelings, ultimately ending the relationship.

Now, after five years of hard work, the keys to Burke Enterprises are being dangled in front of Bennett. If she can toe the line she will be put in charge, and maybe she can start making her own rules.

When her lifelong best friend asks her to help plan her wedding, Bennett can hardly refuse. She doesn’t expect that a sudden switch to a new wedding coordinator will bring her face to face with the past she thought she had left behind.

Lily Conner has evolved since college. She is no longer a shy, uncertain woman forced to live on a strict budget. When she is given the opportunity to run Southerland Wedding Company, a business that caters to the rich and powerful, it is the chance of a lifetime. All she has to do is successfully manage the wedding of her boss’s niece. But a meeting with the bride becomes a meeting with the bride’s best friend instead, and Lily is confronted with her ex, the one person she hoped she’d never see again, Bennett.

Love can be powerful and unyielding despite the years, but when two hearts have so much baggage, can it truly be enough?

The Characters

I have a confession. I usually avoid second-chance books at all costs. It’s the type of book that starts with a question: what drove these characters apart and what will be different this time? Inevitably one of the characters is the leaver and one is the leavee. Making them both empathetic without compromising why two people who are very much in love would break up is a challenging balance. Usually I wind up loathing one of the main characters. “You’re a jerk,” I say to one character while muttering, “Grow a spine” to the other.

But not here.

The burden of expectation laid on Bennett by her family and her desire to be a moral person and a loyal friend despite them is set up from page one. The book alternates between her college days and the present. When she meets Lily, she is young and faced with different parts of herself that she has no means to navigate.

Lily, on the other hand, is just starting to see hints of her own potential without fully trusting in it. Their beginning has all the sweet, sexy notes of an all-encompassing first love. The cracks in their relationship are hinted at from the start. They both try and hang on but they can’t.

Fast-forward six years, and the reunion is difficult for both characters. Lily is barely willing to talk about anything personal with Bennett, much less forgive and forget. Since they parted, her personal mantra has become, “Always move forward.”

Bennett tries to give her space while being a good maid of honor to her best friend Nora. All the while, it becomes clear that she never stopped loving Lily.

When Lily begins to acknowledge she also still has feelings, she’s too practical to fully believe love is enough to overcome all obstacles. She is determined to be the consummate professional, make sure the wedding is perfect and get on with her life. Bennett tries to be accommodating, just as she usually is, but she’s beginning to realize how much that habit has already cost her.

Neither one of them comes across as the bad guy or the good guy. Both find strength they didn’t realize they had. The backdrop of all of this is the question of whether love can endure.

The Writing Style

The book’s tone is joyful and optimistic. The way they fall in love is at just the right pace and their confrontation with the past never feels rushed.

Tenderness is a constant through, including the sex scenes.

Their hearts are on the line and McCallan lets that idea color every scene they share together.

The Pros

Lily and Bennett have a love story that is somewhat idealized. This is both a pro and a con. They do not need to fall back in love; the love is just there, even if they don’t want it to be. They don’t need to rediscover who they are as people, instead they each see one another for who they truly are from the first. The sweetness of these ideas is offered boldly and unapologetically.

The Cons

Love is put on a pedestal here. This is true for most romance novels. However, I can say that Bennett especially is an advocate for the idea that love, in and of itself, can conquer all. Bennett’s steadfastness can sometimes edge towards entitlement, yet her motivation is always pure. This is not a negative as much as something readers should be prepared for so they can best appreciate the journey

The Conclusion

This story draws you in quickly. You want to know more about both of the characters and their current challenges. You root for Bennett as she contemplates how to reclaim her life.

Lily is completely understandable as the woman who wants to trust in what seems impossible but struggles with what that could cost her.

It’s a great book to sink into for a few hours and escape a much more cynical world.

Excerpt from Then & Now by Monica McCallan

“So, how long have you and Roger been dating?”

She was thrown by the question, unsure how to answer. But conversations required two people, and if she wanted to keep Lily talking, this was the price she had to pay. “We’ve been on a few dates. My mother introduced us at a party.”

Recognition dawned on Lily’s face. “Still trying to play that game?”

“What game?”

“Being the perfect daughter. Not ruffling feathers.”

“Roger is a nice man.”

Lily looked her up and down in a way that made Bennett feel more vulnerable than if she’d been standing naked in the middle of Central Park. “If that’s true, then don’t you think he deserves to be with someone who can find happiness with him?”

“You don’t know anything about me or what will make me happy.”

“I did once. You’re the one who seemed so intent to dredge that up again when you walked into my office a few weeks ago.”

Bennett took the last step so they stood within a few inches of one another. “It sounds like you’re a little jealous of Roger.”

Lily frowned. “I’m not jealous. Of either one of you. I feel sorry for him and embarrassed for you.”

“Ouch.” Somewhere, Lily had found a larger, sharper knife, and it cut through Bennett with ease.

Lily cleared her throat. “No, you didn’t let me finish. That’s what I would say if you weren’t a client. But since you are, I wish you both nothing but the best. You are a very nice couple. Maybe I’ll get to see you both again at the wedding.”

Bennett had to resist snorting and sobbing at the same time, which she hadn’t even known was possible.

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Bits and Bobs

ISBN number: 9798615515835
Publisher: Indie Author
Monica McCallan Online

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