Before the Fall by Juliet West

"When spring comes, I'll buy you violets."

Title - Before the Fall
Author - Juliet West
Publisher - Mantle (Pan Macmillan)
Publication Date - May 22nd 2014
Format - Hardback (Provided by publisher)

The blurb

Guilt laps at me like a rising tide, but I won't let it seep in. Wicked or not, I can't be sorry. How can I be sorry when I feel like this, as if my life has started up brand new, sharp and colourful, a swirl of terror and bliss...

1916. Across the channel, the Great War rages; in London's East End, with her husband away fighting, Hannah Loxwood struggles to hold everything together. But when Hannah takes a job in a cafe, she she discovers a glimpse of freedom away from her needy young children, her spiteful sister and desperately ill father. 

While the conflict drags on, Hannah battles with the overwhelming burden of 'duty'. She has sacrificed so much for a husband who left her behind, a husband who may never come home. Then, when she meets Daniel - thoughtful, intelligent, quietly captivating - Hannah finds herself faced with the most dangerous of temptations. 

As the war grips tighter and bombs fall down upon the streets, the stakes for the couple are raised even higher. Soon Hannah and Daniel will realise just how precarious their happiness is, as their destiny rushes towards them...

Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a twist that will leave you breathless, Before The Fall, inspired by a true story, hurls you into a London torn apart by the First World War and paints a vivid and haunting portrait on one woman's struggle. 

Becca's thoughts

Firstly, major thanks to the publishers for sending me a hardback copy of Before The Fall to review! There's nothing like the glossy feel of a book being held in your hands as you lose yourself to the hundreds of pages. So, thank you! 

Reading back through the blurb, now that I've finished the novel, makes me feel all tingly inside. Before The Fall has affected me in a way that only an epic story can achieve. By that I mean that I'm still sitting here, wondering about the characters and their lives. It was absolutely incredible, from the vivid unmistakable setting of dreary grey East End London, to the character of Hannah and the weight that she began to take upon her shoulders. Everything about this book moved me. Juliet West's writing is so powerful, so fierce, I just can't stop thinking about the intensity of emotion that overtook me as I filled myself up on the words that West offered. Her characters have invaded my head-space. It's all I have thought about since turning the last page, and I'm still thinking about it now. Every now and again, I like to dip into a historical novel. I love to imagine the settings from time ago and try to place myself with the characters in the stories. It had been a while since I'd chosen to read a historical work before beginning Before The Fall, and I was a little bit wary, due to the amount of chick-lit and romance that I had been reading previously! Turns out, Before The Fall was just what I needed to drag me from out of a nasty reading slump. Not only did Juliet West NAIL the settings of London during the war, but she managed to capture the atmosphere of the place, the frightened people, the bombs, the whispers in the streets. It was just OUT OF THIS WORLD!!! I could imagine myself walking down the street, alongside Hannah and her two children, the dust and smog clouding my view. Every scent, sound, every tiny little detail was picked up on, and it was like reading with a high definition mind. Never have I been transported back in time in the way that Juliet West achieved. Never have I walked the streets of East End London, with the worry of a bomb dropping right on top of me. When readers talk about escapism, Before The Fall provides that. I forgot about reality and took Hannah's problems as my own. I became part of her story. A person watching over her in the background, worrying and waiting. Juliet West has talent, I'm telling you. I would gladly re-read Before The Fall again and again and again, just to experience the thrill of it. Not only was it an incredible novel, but it was informative too. I truly realised what the women of London would have gone through whilst their husbands were off fighting in the war. Their problems, their thoughts, the letters sent to and fro. It was absolutely amazing. I just couldn't get enough of it. 

Juliet West chose to split Before The Fall into four main parts. She begins Hannah's story in 1916, and takes it all the way up to 1918. Between those two years, from beginning to end, Juliet West allows an air of mystery to overtake the reader. Within the pages, every now and again, there are documents included, statements from a police station. At first, these statements are quite vague, but as the novel progresses, the statements begin to make more sense to you, and you begin to put names to the characters that you meet as you read on. This was such a intriguing way to start off the novel. Instantly, my brain started ticking and I was desperate to know what the hell had gone on beforehand. And then, in that powerful way that only certain writers are able to achieve with such perfection, the story begins to unfold and you are enveloped within Hannah Loxwood's world. Another thing that I always enjoy when reading is letters. Sounds silly, doesn't it? I don't know what it is, but it always seems to make me feel more involved with the characters. You feel a little nosy, delving into the characters lives like this, in such a private way, but you just can't stop yourself from feeling that little thrill! Hannah's husband, George, is off fighting in the war, and the letters are sent back and forth between them. Juliet didn't forget to include the aspect of having letters in those days censored, and so for the most part, George and Hannah just didn't seem that intimate. The customary things are written, such as George being fine, and Hannah telling him that the children are doing well, but there's no passion, no love, and I just felt that the relationship between Hannah and George was a little too flat for my liking. I do wonder that if the censoring hadn't of been in place, whether the letters would have told a completely different story. But anyway, the whole aspect of the letter sending added to the authenticity of the time and I just adored it. With the police statements appearing now and again, and the letters, it made for one extra special read that had me feeling completely and utterly involved. 

The majority of Before The Fall was written from Hannah Loxwood's point of view, but there were smaller parts where Daniel put his part of the story across too. Hannah was a brilliant character and I instantly took a liking to her. From the get go I could just tell that she was a little worn down and rather annoyed with her husband George for charging off to war and leaving her with the children, to pick up the pieces after moving in with her sister Jen and Jen's creepy husband Alec. Squished up into a tiny home and feeling as if she had nowhere to turn, I was elated for Hannah when she went looking for a job and found one in a little cafe. Suddenly, she was unleashed from her tiny home and allowed to make a living for herself. It wasn't much but it was something, that's for sure. I felt like the world opened up for Hannah once she took that job, and I couldn't help but feel like that was the moment when things took a turn. Let's face it readers, if she had just stayed at home with the children like a good wife and mother, the story probably wouldn't have needed to carry on any further. Hannah was tired, in need of something to lift her up and make her feel alive again. 

Before Daniel and Hannah's worlds collide, we get to read into Daniel's past, what he's been through before strolling to the cafe where Hannah works. It was interesting, to see a character before they're introduced to the main character of the story itself, and such a wonderful technique that made me fall in love with reading all over again. We see Daniel from being a young lad, right up to being a fully grown man, and I imagined this tall, rugged, dark, handsome man with a mysterious but attractive edge that made you want to get into his head and see what was going on in there. At first, he didn't say much, but Juliet West gave the impression that the thoughts whirring around his head held a ton of meaning for Hannah and the novel itself. He was, without a doubt, a temptation that was too damn good to pass up. Even I could see that from my spot outside of the pages. Whilst Hannah's husband was away from home, Daniel was exciting. He was a spark, something new, and something completely different from what she was used to. Daniel was perfect. I was intrigued by him just as much as Hannah was. Don't get me wrong though, Hannah was constantly warring with herself about right and wrongs, about her place as a woman in society, about what was expected of her. It was an emotional battle and I felt worn out by it on Hannah's behalf. Her sister Jen, her mother, Jen's husband Alex; they were always lurking in the back of Hannah's mind. It drove me wild. But, again, adding to the authenticity of the time when the novel was set, it was believable and just so effective. 

As well as Hannah and Daniel, there's Hannah's sister Jen. Jen was a bit of weird one, and I wasn't quite sure on how to feel about her. Sometimes she seemed fine and almost likeable, and then other times I just couldn't stand the woman! Jen looked after the children and cooked a lot of the time, so for the most part of the novel she was kept out of the way, but her husband Alec really got on my nerves. As awful as it sounds, I was completely expecting him to force himself upon Hannah. Juliet gave him such a slimy, creepy persona, always watching and touching. I really wanted Hannah to turn around and slap the man upside the head, cos if she didn't then I would have! It was stupidly obvious that Alec had a "thing" for Hannah, but in my eyes, he just came across as a slimeball. And that was all. There's also Hannah's mother who ends up moving into Jen's house too, due to their father being taken into hospital. If the plot didn't seem dreary enough already, the sadness surrounding Hannah and her father definitely added to it! There was Hannah's best friend Dor, who was a crazy free spirit. She was funny and bright and smoked like a chimney, and I could see the differences between the two women straight off. I really took a liking to Dor, she was sassy and cute, and a brilliant best friend for Hannah to have. 

Before The Fall honestly had everything that an epic novel should have. There was drama, passion, bold and brilliant characters, and of course, love. Never before have I read a novel so incredibly moving and real. Juliet West has such a raw talent, and I still, to this very second, cannot get Hannah out of my head. In case you didn't notice in the blurb, there's also a twist added to Before The Fall, too. A twist that will blow your bloody mind! Everything enthralled me, entranced me, and I am going to miss Juliet's characters so damn much now that I have finished. I truly believe that this author is one to look out for. I've found escapism before, but not like this. Powerful, startling and passionate, Before the Fall by Juliet West will remain within my mind for a very, very long time. 

Becca's Books is rating Before The Fall by Juliet West with five gorgeous cupcakes. If I had a higher rating then I would be giving Before The Fall the highest rating in the world, but for now, five cupcakes will do just fine. It's still playing on repeat inside my head. I'm still wondering how I'm going to manage to begin reading another novel any time soon, and I still cannot believe the twist that Juliet West managed to create right before my very eyes. Incredible. ABSOLUTELY MIND-BLOWING. Even if you don't like historical novels, I'm going to recommend Before The Fall to you, because it's just one of "those". 


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