All That Could've Been

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Thank you in advance to the author, Tanya E. Williams, for providing a complimentary review copy through Bookish First. A positive review was not required nor requested and all words are my own.

While this is the author’s fourth (4th) book, it is the first one I’ve read by her. This is a standalone read so readers will not feel like they have to read previous or subsequent novels to get a complete picture of what is going on.

I was REALLY drawn to this particular story as I have been reading a lot of historical fiction, and for a “non-fan”, that is definitely a feat. And, I’ve also been reading a LOT of dual timeline books as well. So, when I was able to redeem my points for it, I was quite thrilled.

The cover is exceptionally beautiful and already draws the reader in. It is clear there is a lot to tell from Elizabet (the past) and Emily’s (current) story. And, after seeing the cover – I definitely had to know the story.

The main two characters are Elizabet, who died in 1935, and is “stuck” in the church sanctuary which is scheduled to be either destroyed or kept. Then there is Emily, who is 26, has been lost in grief for the past 10 years following the death of her parents in a car accident.

Rounding out the supporting characters are Ryan (Emily’s boyfriend), Veronica and Colin (Emily’s guardians from her youth), Pastor Michael, Ms. Peters, and Dorothea a former madame and good friend of Elizabet.

Honestly, I adored Ryan’s patience, given his situation with Emily. Most people might not sympathize with the guy – I certainly did. There were times I was cheering him on to get through to Emily. Elizabet was also one of the characters I felt could easily reach Emily – to get her through the loss of her parents. He was more worried than disappointed. It was amazing how much he kept his calm and patience when it came to her. So, he was definitely my hero.

Emily was the character I honestly couldn’t stand. And, while I felt sorry for her losing her parents at 16, I felt she soon went from unsympathetic to just pathetic. She came off more as a “woe is me, poor me” type. While her situation was understandable, it was clear she needed help. I don’t have to have a perfect character, but she was definitely FLAWED.

Veronica and Colin were friends of Emily’s parents and didn’t hesitate to take her in. However, it is clear that while they care very much for Emily, she is standoffish and almost brusque in her dealings with them.

Pastor Michael was definitely the one saving grace for this book – his wisdom (“all things are possible”), and despite being a pastor; he didn’t obsessively quote the bible. Still, he was the one character I looked forward to.

This story had a LOT of potential. The plot was absolutely beautiful. However the writing and narration got tedious – literally describing everything – from how many soups and sandwiches Emily ate, to how she did things. At times it seemed to drag on, and before page 85, I was really struggling to stay with this one. Even by chapter 11, I was wondering if it was ever going to get somewhere.

The only saving grace were the short chapters so I could pause sooner rather than later. At one point, I stopped this book, and read through another one even faster. So, this definitely wasn’t an easy read. There is some choppy scene transitions with regard to memories and present day. It only happens a few times in the beginning, and doesn’t ruin the overall story.

Most of the novel is spent with the mundane “day to day” cataloging of the artifacts, which is Emily’s job. Along the way, she finds Elizabet’s diary. That was definitely far more interesting than reading about Emily’s lunch or her incessant musings about how she can’t move forward.

Halfway through I again almost quit as it was then tedious and boring. But, seeing that Emily MIGHT break through and realize that what kept her safe is also holding her, kept me going. She also connects with her friend who is or has grieved the loss of a loved one.

And, while Emily doesn’t want to confront it, and thinks she is doing “good” in her life, particularly her relationship with Ryan; she misses the important aspects of the emotional side of it. More specifically sharing grief, loss, and other experiences.

The reason for the move is explained around the halfway mark, and it is understandable.

The readers learn not only a bit of history, but some overall good and heartfelt lessons.

Through Elizabet’s diaries, the reader is taken back to the past – the great war (WWI), the Spanish Flu Pandemic (eerily being repeated in today’s COVID pandemic), as well as an “early” review of a book. Elizabet also compares her grief to that in a book she is taken by.

Emily finally starts seeing what the grieving process is all about and realizing that by refusing to accept her reality, it is holding her hostage. She makes a good point about not wanting to accept a reality you cannot stand. And, while that is definitely understandable, it is also immature and childish.

She is then moved to save the church and sanctuary as she learns what the past and history are all about, another lesson in this book – learn and appreciate from the past, build those lessons into the present, and cast eyes to the future.

Emily’s eventual breakthrough is when she finally realizes that towards the end of Elizabet’s life the woman’s life was wasted as she didn’t live it to the fullest. That is something we all need to learn, especially in today’s time. That by not living, we lose every day of our lives as well as losing ourselves.

Both Elizabet and Emily realize they are, in their respective lives, stuck in their existence and can change by making different choices. “Time gives us grace” is something that Pastor Michael tells her. And, slowly each one learns this through the other. Emily learns through the older woman’s diaries and Elizabet learns by observing Emily.

This book does redeem itself towards the last 40 pages and has a beautiful end for both Elizabet and Emily. They learn to properly deal with their loss and grief in order to move past where they are.

This is a clean read with no foul language or sex scenes. It does have some bible references, but no overt preaching. It does involve a church so that is to be expected, thus natural to the story. It is more inspirational than anything. Readers of Christian fiction might be interested in this book.

I really wanted to like this, and wanted to go with it. But, I found it an exhausting read. It is not something I would re-read, at least not in the near future since I have a towering “TBR” stack as it is.

Fans of the authors will probably be very interested in this book.