Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
“Love, real love, requires you to have both hands open so you can receive it. It’s surrender, not control that opens us up to all the possibilities of what could be.”
To be vulnerable and open to love is difficult. It requires laying down a self-imposed shield so that another being has the opportunity to inhabit one’s soul. In doing so, people open themselves up to being hurt, but on the other side, they can manifest a soulful love beyond explanation. In much of romancelandia, whether you’re reading smut or articulate, intentional romance with a social conscience, this is the crux of the stories. It’s also the struggles we encounter in everyday love relationships.
In Hope Ellis’s next book of The Leffersbee Series, Before and After You, this idea is underscored, highlighted, and evoked through the love-to-hate relationship of Leigh and Walker. This is Ellis’s second contribution to the SmartyPants Romance series, and it’s another impressive offering. I fell hard for Hope Ellis with her first book in this series, Been There Done That, the story of Nick and Zora (Walker’s sister and Leigh’s best friend and roommate). That book tugged at my heart and showcased the storytelling capabilities of Hope Ellis who had been a new author to me. At the end of that story, I was ready for Walker’s book, given his playboyish ways. For me, taking a character who is equal parts gentleman and f’boy and making him lovestruck is my FAVORITE characterization. However, Ellis adds Leigh to the mix: a warrior of a woman, ready to fight for what is right, but also who sports soul bruises from her former marriage. This means a story where both characters will have to overcome their baggage in order to find their happy ending. Usually, with this type of story, the love is fated and its depth is profound, and Hope Ellis’s Before and After You is a perfect representation of this; it’s heady, funny, and a representation of the best of BIPOC authorship. We need more stories from Hope Ellis and other authors like her.
What did I love about this story?
*For one, I adore a woman who fights for others. She tends to be the perfect mixture of sensitive and stalwart. Leigh absolutely embodies these traits, and her journey is an important one, as she must allow herself to become vulnerable with Walker in order to find her happy ending. Ellis has easily sculpted her into this story in ways that make her character sing across the page.
*Walker is easily my favorite Leffersbee at this point. Don’t get me wrong. I still adore Zora, but Walker’s older brother leadership, his willingness to sacrifice his personal happiness for his family tradition, and his want to love Leigh well to his own detriment make him a hero who you can’t help but adore.
*The familial connections of Walker and Leigh add more dimension to this story. I LOVE Pops and Leigh’s sister and brother-in-law. Her family adds compiclation to the story, and my heart hurt for her as my own similar hurts were embodied in Leigh’s story.
*Even more important is the importance of stories from BIPOC authors such as Hope Ellis. It’s essential that they pervade romancelandia because a book such as Before and After You pulls back more of the curtain of the experiences of POC. The more we can read these stories, the more we can understand, and the more we can become better humans responding with empathy and care. Hope Ellis’s inclusion into the SmartyPants Romance is the best thing to happen for this brand.
Look, in a nutshell, Before and After You is a delight. It’s steamy, soulful, and holds a depth of character development and storytelling that spotlights the brilliance of Hope Ellis’s storytelling. If you haven’t grabbed this story yet, it should be the next book in your reading arsenal.
In love and romance,