Favorites From… Sophie Littlefield

Sophie Littlefield

I don’t read much Irish fiction, I don’t read much chick lit, and I’m not generally a fan of sibling series (sorry, Mackade, MacKerrick, and all other MacHunkyBrothers fans!) – but when Jen asked me to write about a series I love, I immediately thought of Irish author Marian Keyes and her series of novels about the Irish Walsh sisters.

I found this series many years ago, completely by accident. The first book was titled WATERMELON – which isn’t much of a title, if you ask me (though the many editors who’ve rejected what I thought were perfectly good titles for my own novels might disagree) – and I nearly passed it up because I thought the cover was, well, a bit too frothyfor a serious reader like myself.

But then I started to read, and within half a page I was hooked. I don’t know if I put that book down once – I read it at the breakfast table, in the carpool lane, at the gym, and I even read it out loud to my then-much-younger daughter at bedtime. As soon as it was over I picked up the next in the series. As I write this, I believe I’ve talked myself into starting over again at the beginning.

The five Walsh sisters have sprung from a very odd, very flawed Dublin family. The mom is addicted to soap operas (yet another thing I generally avoid) and the dad is a bit of a rube. No, make that a lot of a rube. They aren’t just charmingly quirky, they’re occasionally dangerously, frequently offensively, and often hurtfully quirky. The sisters don’t get along perfectly – they often don’t get along at all, even as each goes on a journey to find love. This isn’t slapstick comedy – it’s laugh-through-your-tears humor when it’s funny, and sometimes it’s just tears. But I love that kind of book: how zestily can you cheer a heroine who hasn’t suffered? How tight can your heartstrings be stretched unless you truly doubt that the lovers have a chance?

Lately, it’s become more common to see “difficult” themes in romantic fiction – even, and perhaps especially, that written for young adults. But a decade ago it was still rare. I was a fan of addiction memoirs at the time, but I’d never read a story like RACHEL’S HOLIDAY, which managed to be hilarious even though the main character steadfastly refuses to believe in her own addiction. The sisters battle jealousy – career and romantic – and estrangement and tragedy and delusion and a host of other issues that plague “real” families. Because I tend to focus on very dark themes, people are occasionally surprised to see me reading lighter women’s fiction. But I cherish the gentle, wry, very human characters who populate the novels of writers like Keyes – and Rachael Herron and Kristan Higgins and Marisa de los Santos and Elinor Lipman. I’m a cynic with a gimlet eye for human failing, but even I occasionally need to be reminded that love – with all of its awkwardness, unlikeliness, and even heartbreak – is not only possible, it’s inevitable.

Thanks so much to Sophie Littlefield for sharing her favorites with me. I asked Sophie to participate in this feature because her Aftertime trilogy rocked my socks off.  A post-apocalyptic world with zombies sets the backdrop for a very character-driven, wrenching story.  Now, you can give both Sophie’s books and her recommendation a try. Just enter the Rafflecopter forms below for a chance to win Watermelon or the Aftertime trilogy. US only please.

Be sure to check out all of the Favorites From My Favorites posts and giveaways this month, by clicking here.
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Review: Horizon

Reviewed by Jen

I could have never predicted the course this book would take. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Honestly, I feel torn over the answer. In one way, it’s amazing. Sophie Littlefield isn’t afraid to make some really bold choices. She stays true to her characters and her world, even when it hurts. But that’s the thing… sometimes, it really hurts.

The story picks up a couple of months after the events of Rebirth, which was a little disappointing for me. A lot has happened since Cass and Dor rescued Smoke. And there were times I felt like I had missed something. Our characters are now ensconced in the camp at New Eden. Smoke is in a coma. Dor is a new relationship. And Cass is losing ground. Just like we saw her regress into her old sexual habits in the last book; she is slipping into other self-destructive behaviors here. It’s hard to watch. This character is so very damaged, and it would be so easy for Littlefield to fix her. But she doesn’t. Not in the predictable fashion. Not in a way that will ease readers or soothe us.

Despite outward appearances, there is still something between Cass and Dor. At times, it’s hard to decide whether that’s right for her or not. And once Smoke wakes up, things get even more complicated. I kept waiting for Cass to make to her choice. And waiting. And waiting. But the conflict and uncertainty linger for almost the entire story. It’s almost easy to forgot this is a zombie book.

Speaking of zombies, the Beaters are evolving; they’re getting smarter and threatening New Eden. That forces the community to start searching for a new home. We’re reminded of the brutality of this new world and ever-present danger our characters face. The whole book is gripping. And exhausting. And heartbreaking.

It took me a while to reconnect to it all… especially in the beginning, with the time jump and unexplained events that happened between books. Some of the blanks were filled in over time, but I felt a little disjointed. The story really hit its stride about half-way in… And it pummeled me with one poignant moment after another, especially in some of the scenes between Cass and Smoke.

I wish I could find the right words to explain how I feel about how it all ended. It was not what I thought it would be. It broke my heart, as I came to the same realizations Cass did… And then as the events unfolded, I felt a knot form in my stomach that still hasn’t eased. It made sense. It was honest. It ends with loss and with hope. It’s an amazing series that needs to be read in its entirety. It’s heavy reading, but the journey is worth it. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley/ Harlequin

Click to purchase: Amazon
Horizon
by Sophie Littlefield
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Publisher: Luna Books

Review: Survivors

Reviewed by Jen

This novella gives us a glimpse of life in the Box between the events of Aftertime and Rebirth.  It’s very short… less than 30 pages, but it manages to maintain the feel of the full length books.

The story begins with the arrival of a young boy and his grandmother to the Box.  The old woman is dying and the boy, Feo, has no one.  Cass and Smoke open their tent to him for the night, while Dor decides whether the child can stay.  At first Cass fantasizes a little that Feo will join her family with Smoke and little Ruthie.  But the boy latches on to one of the guards, making her realize that he needs things she can’t give him.

There’s not a lot to this, and you don’t need to read it for Rebirth to make sense.  Feo is present in that book, but the events of his arrival are given in clear enough language that you won’t miss anything. Still, I’m such a fan of this series, I wouldn’t skip any tidbit that Littlefield offers. 4 stars.

Survivors
by Sophie Littlefield
Release Date: July 1, 2011
Publisher: Luna Books

Review: Rebirth

Reviewed by Jen

It’s an exceptional author who can move you with the beauty of the emotions they evoke. It’s more obvious when it’s joy, hope or love that you’re talking about. But just as beautiful, in their own way, are the wrenching feelings Sophie Littlefield elicits in her dystopian Aftertime trilogy. In this second installment, we see grief, despair, and hopelessness. It’s heartbreaking, but you can’t look away. You don’t want to look away. You keep reading, refusing to relinquish the hope that after the darkness will come the dawn; after the misery, we’ll be rewarded with some kind of triumph.

Cass has created a makeshift home and family in the trading center known as the Box.  She has reunited with her daughter Ruthie and she has allowed herself to fall in love with Smoke. But the fragile happiness she has found is short-lived. When Smoke gets word that the Rebuilders have killed many of the refugees in the place where he once lived, he goes on a vengeance mission; one likely to lead to his death. And he doesn’t even say goodbye. Cass decides to leave the Box with its founder, Dor, as he goes in search of his daughter Sammi, who was taken by the raiding Rebuilders.

Cass is devastated by Smoke’s abandonment. She blames herself for allowing him access to her heart. She acts out, trying to harden herself. She makes reckless choices that you can see like a train wreck a mile away. And maybe that will alienate some readers. To me, it just made me see her as more broken. She is trying to rebuild the wall around herself that Smoke had penetrated, and somehow manages to drag Dor into her warped decisions in the process. The book follows Cass, Dor and Ruthie as they infiltrate the Rebuilder camp and learn more about the group’s nefarious plans.

I suppose from this review, you’d never know this book is about a post-apocalyptic world, overrun by zombies. That’s because, to me, that’s just a backdrop to watch the lives of these characters unfold. To watch Cass break and rebuild. To watch Ruthie heal and grow. To watch Dor unwittingly shed his cloak of solitude and allow Cass in. And, of course, to see the human condition when people are stripped of the trappings of modern life… from the screwed-up ideals of the Rebuilders to the bandits who accost unwary travelers… to the heartbroken mother who refuses to accept the fact that her son is dying. It’s absolutely mesmerizing. And hauntingly beautiful. Even more powerful than its predecessor.

5 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon or The Book Depository
Rebirth
by Sophie Littlefield
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Publisher: Luna Books

Review: Aftertime

Reviewed by Jen

Sophie Littlefield gives the Apocalypse a new twist with the world she has created in Aftertime.  The big event didn’t come with bombs or nuclear weapons. A biological agent destroyed most of the food supply on Earth, creating wide-spread famine.  In a last-ditch effort to feed the people, the government dispersed seeds for a special plant that would serve everyone’s nutritional needs.   Seeds for a second plant got mixed in… but it was flawed and turned anyone who ate it into zombies, called Beaters. As with traditional zombie mythology, they hunger for human flesh –and as they feed, they turn their victims into zombies too.

Cass was attacked, but unlike anyone else, she recovered.  When she came to her senses, she was miles away from the camp where she was living –and she was separated from her young daughter. The book follows her quest to reunite with little Ruthie.  On her way, she meets up with Smoke, who becomes a love interest of sorts.  There are two main roadblocks to a relationship. One, Cass’s fear that her saliva will infect him. And two, her warped past of promiscuity and addiction.

Littlefield’s world is stark and bleak.  It shows us a myriad of ways people could react to a cataclysmic event and few of them are pretty.  And if that doesn’t give you the heavy feel of a boulder on your chest, getting inside Cass’s head will certainly do it.  She is a woman filled equally with purpose and self-loathing.  It takes a long time to get to the bottom of the self-destructive nature of her old life, but when we get the answers, they are exactly what you’d expect.  What you might NOT expect, is her refusal to give up on Ruthie. And let me tell you, it’s a long and winding road to find her.

The story builds and builds to a huge crescendo, to end rather abruptly.  But I can forgive that, knowing the sequel, Rebirth, is coming this summer. I can only hope it will feature Cass & Smoke.  (His was a great character, and we barely scratched the surface.)

This was a really good book, which was constantly posing new questions as it answered old ones.  And it’s a great study of humanity’s greatest strengths and weaknesses all at once. 4 1/2 stars.

*ARC provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon or The Book Depository
Aftertime
by Sophie Littlefield
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Publisher: Luna

Series Reading Order: Aftertime

This is the reading order for the Aftertime series by Sophie Littlefield:
*Denotes short story/novella