When Sophie Taylor’s life falls apart, there is only one thing to do: escape and find a new one.
Dragged to Montenegro by her best friend Anna, Sophie begins to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. But when she stumbles into an old, run-down house on the Bay of Kotor she surprises even herself when she buys it.
Surrounded by old furniture, left behind by the former inhabitants, Sophie becomes obsessed by a young Balkan couple when she discovers a bundle of letters from the 1940s in a broken roll-top desk. Letters that speak of great love, hope and a mystery Sophie can’t help but get drawn into.
Days in Montenegro are nothing like she expected and as Sophie’s home begins to fill with a motley crew of lodgers the house by the bay begins to breathe again. And for Sophie, life seems to be restarting. But letting go of the past is easier said than done…
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Sometimes a book just really resonates with you from the very first chapter and hits you where it matters the most and this was definitely the case with this second book from Rose Alexander Under an Amber Sky. I'd never heard of this author before and came across this book quite by accident drawn to it partly due to the beautiful cover but then I read the blurb. It sounded like just my kind of read and the fact it blended a modern day story with that of the past made me want to read this stunning book even more. The historical element was not the dominant storyline at all but arose at various times throughout the book and was told in the form of written letters discovered in an old house. Even from the prologue I could sense this was going to be a special book and one that I would remember for quite some time to come.
The prologue was dramatic and heartbreaking as our main female protagonist Sophie Taylor has to deal with the most life altering event a person will have to face. All Sophie's hopes, dreams and ambitions have disappeared in an instant as she hears the devastating news her husband Matt has dropped dead. Now there is no happy ending with beautiful children to look forward to. Her life has fallen apart with the imparting of a few words. What point is there in going on? How can she survive on a day to day basis without her soul mate, her friend, the love of her life, her one true love? 'She realised she herself would never walk in that free, purposeful way again. There never would be any point in walking anywhere ever, if it were always to be without Matt'.
Such heartbreak, loss and devastation radiated from the pages and I felt I could identify with every bit of it. The author never spared the range of feelings Sophie was experiencing and this book would have been vastly different if she had. Sophie is doubled up with pain at the loss of someone she thought would be there for ever. Who really expects someone aged only 32 to be there one minute and gone the next? In fact who wants to believe that any loved one will one day be gone be it sudden or expected? How can anyone come to terms that the person whom you loved so deeply is gone from your life permanently and not getting to say a proper goodbye must hurt even more. Sophie believes 'the power of her need for him will resurrect him'. If only this could be in anyway a reality? But sadly it cannot be and Sophie must begin to forge a new path and even though this road will be extremely difficult and uncertain with the help of unexpected friends and allies and elements of the past she may begin to navigate in a new more positive direction yet never forgetting Matt in the process. 'That was easier said than done when you felt as if you had no feet, and nothing to support you or to propel you forwards'.
Sophie's best friend Anna decides to take her away on holiday. It will be a break away from everything where she can begin to refocus and take stock of her life. The girls choose Montenegro, a country with a small population but with a tainted history. Instantly the author made a country I would have never given any thought to really come alive on the pages. Through such brilliant, beautiful, evocative writing the landscape and the people leaped off the pages. Even though Sophie was numb with grief, pain and sadness there is something about this place that gets to her and when the pair view an abandoned house that is up for sale Sophie makes what I honestly thought was a very rash and spur of the moment decision.
She decides to give up her old life in England at least for a trial period and she buys the house. Something about it must have been calling to her or else it was a means of escape. A totally different life from the one she had existed in previously but maybe the house and the country of Montenegro had some magic to work on Sophie even if she didn't realise it at the time. I'll admit I thought it was very strange to go on holiday and for a laugh to go and view a house and then next thing you end up buying it. Was the decision made in haste given the frame of mind Sophie was in? Was it a means of avoiding reality and the fact her life was crumbling and disintegrating? Surely someone should have said hold on a minute Sophie is this what is really best for you at this point in time? The discovery of a bundle of unopened letters in a dresser only intrigues Sophie more. She wants answers as to why these letters remained hidden. She feels drawn to them and I suppose urged on by Anna she takes the plunge and moves to Montenegro.' I can't see any way forward but to change everything'.
I enjoyed the fact it wasn't an instant healing for Sophie and everything is forgotten. Through the cold winter months in Montenegro all alone in the draughty, cold house it was like she was in her hibernation phase comparable to the season outside. This was her time to be solitary, to ponder over the good times and bad and figure out how she could move forward. Then just as Spring is around the corner and Sophie doesn't feel 100% but is not as apprehensive as before things begin to change slightly. The changes were unexpected but came in the form of various people. People Sophie perhaps didn't really want in her life but they could see she needed them.
As the chapters passed I could sense Sophie was growing in strength although tentatively at first. What made this so realistic was the actual comparison to real life. That grief isn’t just switched off over night. I'm not sure it ever disappears to be honest but slowly bit by bit as Sophie herself learns it becomes just that slightly bit more bearable and one has to soldier on regardless. 'She had always thought she couldn't do it alone, that she didn't know how. But maybe she could. Maybe she had just never the chance because she never had to but now she had to she would find that she was more than capable of rising to the challenge. Sophie was a character who showed such growth, development and maturity. She most certainly tries her best to come full circle and deserves nothing but admiration. The way she was written she really got under my skin and stuck inside my head and numerous times I found myself nodding along with everything she was saying or experiencing. It's clear the author has written from the heart and from experience.
As visitors become house guests, and then friends, Sophie started to open up more and I enjoyed how each person had something unique to offer. Frank the builder with his own chequered past, Irene in the latter half of her life and sailing solo from place to place and Ton, a journalist who has witnessed so much he too is afraid to fully disclose everything. Anna and her son Tomasz make a reappearance and the house almost became like a commune but in a good way. Everyone was there for each other to offer support if needed or just to keep a watchful eye. As well as the modern day story Sophie has the letters she found translated by Drako and through reading these letters Sophie finds herself identifying with the woman who writes them Mira. I wanted even more of these letters or even some chapters set in the period they were written but I came to understand these were a tool to help Sophie overcome her grief as she found things in Mira's story that were comparable to hers. So on reflection the letters were expertly placed at different points in the book and utilised well. I did think the second half was slightly weaker than the first half and it didn't impact me as much but still this was a phenomenal story expertly told.
Under an Amber Sky is a very impressive book and definitely one for the keeper shelf. I'm so glad to have discovered the brilliant writing of Rose Alexander and will look forward to what ever she writes in the future.
Many thanks to HQ Digital via NetGalley for my copy of Under an Amber Sky to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.