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“How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms, by truth when it is attacked by lies, by faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always, in the final act, by determination and faith.” ― Archibald MacLeish

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“How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms, by truth when it is attacked by lies, by faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always, in the final act, by determination and faith.”

― Archibald MacLeish

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

EQ Exclusive: How Ninoy and Cory Inspired A Filipina Best-Selling Author!

In 1984, The Benigno Aquino Jr. Foundation sponsored  an essay-writing contest on the theme “What Aug. 21, 1983 means to Me”.
Sam Sotto (born a year after martial law was declared) was deeply touched by Ninoy's heroic act. The 11-year old grade school student  from Benedictine Abbey School-Alabang (now San Beda Abalang) decided to submit an entry to the essay-writing contest.
In those dark days of gloom in the country, it was not the easiest thing to do, even for a kid, considering how the Marcos authoritarian regime stifled any kind of news about Ninoy in all media.
Sam Sotto, 11 years old, with our beloved Tita Cory
during the awarding ceremonies.
Fortunately, Sam's piece won in the the English category (grade school level) of the essay writing contest.
Samantha Sotto-Yambao is now an international author 
and mother of two kids.
Now in English and Polish editions
"A smartly written romance, mystery and historical adventure all wrapped up in a page-turner that will have you guessing until the very end." – Adena Halpern, author of The Ten Best Days of My Life 
An international best-selling  novel by Filipino author Samantha Sotto is turning out to be a strong tourism pitch for 
Boracay island.
"God, she decided as she waded away from the outrigger
that had ferried them to the island,
was selfish and this was where God hoarded
beauty like a secret stash of chocolates."
AMAZON: Book Description
Three years after her husband Max's death, Shelley feels no more adjusted to being a widow than she did that first terrible day. That is, until the doorbell rings. Standing on her front step is a young man who looks so much like Max–same smile, same eyes, same age, same adorable bump in his nose–he could be Max's long-lost relation. He introduces himself as Paolo, an Italian editor of American coffee table books, and shows Shelley some childhood photos. Paolo tells her that the man in the photos, the bearded man who Paolo says is his grandfather though he never seems to age, is Max. Her Max. And he is alive and well.
As outrageous as Paolo's claims seem–how could her husband be alive? And if he is, why hasn't he looked her up? – Shelley desperately wants to know the truth. She and Paolo jet across the globe to track Max down–if it is really Max– and along the way, Shelley recounts the European package tour where they had met. As she relives Max's stories of bloody Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, and buried Roman boathouses, Shelley begins to piece together the story of who her husband was and what these new revelations mean for her "happily ever after." And as she and Paolo get closer to the truth, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to. From the Hardcover edition. Amazon
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun, intelligent, unusual page-turner that has a powerful message, 
By Calamity Jane (Virginia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Before Ever After: A Novel (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine™ Program (What's this?)
I brought "Before Ever After" with me on vacation last week and found it an excellent way to pass the time on our long road trip. It's engrossing, intelligent, emotional, romantic, heart-warming, heart-breaking (in some spots), fantastical (as in, it's a fantasy), multi-dimensional, and just plain fun. I kept wondering what inspired Samantha Sotto to write it and how she chose all the sub-plot story lines that weaved together to form the main plot. It's a complicated story and best read in a short time period so you don't start forgetting details.
Our story begins with Shelly Gallus, a 29-year-old widow who has been actively grieving her husband's death for three years. Her pain is still so great it hurts to breathe, and it's all the more traumatic because she watched her own mother grieve her father's death and never fully recover. Shelly has fled her native Ohio for London in part to escape the daily reminder of her mother's pain. In fact, it had affected her so deeply she'd sworn to never love like that, and carried with her a reminder to "Meet. Date. Run." She had to fight every urge to run when she met and quickly fell in love with Max, a tour guide for a highly unusual European tour that took his "campers," as he called them, to off-the-beaten-road places of obscure historical and sometimes mythical significance. (I didn't pay attention to her exact age until after completing the story, though, and then realized that, with Max dying when she was 26, and them meeting 5 years earlier, she was only 21 when they got married. Not a lot of time to have gone through the dating rigamarole for her relationship baggage to truly hold her back. You get the impression as the story unfolds that she was 10 years older and still freaking out about falling in love. Ironically, I find this aspect of the story a bit more implausible than the fantasy aspect!! Sotto could have added a few more years to her age and still kept her a young widow.)
But I digress. The story quickly gets going when Max's doppelganger shows up at her doorstep, causing her to faint. He introduces himself as Paolo, a 32-year-old Italian whose grandfather, Nonno, was none other than her Max. He stuns her with the news that, while Nonno died ten years earlier, he is actually alive -- as Max. After she recovers and he shows her some convincing photographs, they embark on a journey together to a remote island in the Philippines to find him. Along the way, she tells him about their European tour and the characters Max features in his historical anecdotes. We are also introduced to her fellow travelers: Brad and Simon, a young gay couple; Rose and Jonathan, an elderly but spirited couple on their honeymoon; and Dex, a Bostonian who irritates Shelly by repeatedly taking touristy pictures of her at every location, but who has a heartbreaking secret. As she shares the stories, she and Paolo realize the truth about Max, which is where the fantasy part comes in (I am going to be vague here because I hate spoilers!).
The historical vignettes are absorbing, based on actual historical events, and reveal an exceptional imagination on the part of Samantha Sotto. We meet Julien, a Frenchman who loses his daughter Isabelle to the French Revolution; Viktor, a Slovenian who avenges the kidnapping and near-death of his 6-year-old nephew in 958 A.D.; Aidan, a young monk wanting to know what it feels like to grow old in 1210 Austria; Uri, a young Swiss soldier grieving for his dead sons after returning from war in the 1500s, etc. The stories are told from both Max's narrative perspective as the tour leader as well as from the perspective of the men he is profiling. The reader is taken back and forth from current day to five years ago (during the tour), back to when the events happened. Sotto uses omniscient third person for Shelly and for the ancient events, and she is masterful at getting inside their heads and hearts and bringing them and their environments to life. This is a very intelligent, multi-layered book, but I found her writing style very fluid, making the detailed stories easy to digest. She gave her characters witty dialogue and took great care in developing most of them; Brad and Simon didn't feel quite as well developed. They were fun and offered some comic relief during the tour, but she didn't delve into their psyches and emotions to the same extent as other characters. Simon felt like a bit of an afterthought, whereas Brad's photo book devoted to Max and Simon (who died along with Max during a terrorist bombing at a train station in Spain) was raw and honest in its emotional expression.
What made me love this book, though, was the underlying message that Max's stories and the characters' life experiences conveyed: no matter what your past or your future, LIVE in the present. Be fully present, embrace life, and find the joy in everyday experiences, as simple as having a cup of tea with the one you love, because you never know when the life you're living could suddenly be over. 
There is a running theme throughout the book that involves chickens and baked eggs. At least one other reviewer found this to be a lame attempt at a plot device to tie the individual stories together, but s/he completely missed the point: through the unadulterated appreciation of the simple things in life, you find meaning. The chickens and baked eggs are a symbol. And traditions such as baked eggs on Sundays transcend time and place, and in this story, they connect four characters in an important way that moves the story along and leads to a significant plot point. IMHO, this is a very creative and clever plot device whose meaning is revealed to those who let themselves get lost in the story to find its depth, rather than focusing on the specifics on the surface. If you give yourself up to all aspects of the story, just as Shelly gives herself up to Max's love so completely she can't do more than merely exist without it, you will find far greater satisfaction and meaning in this lovely novel than you would otherwise. It started for me as a diversion from a long physical journey (i.e. my road trip) and took me on another, cathartic and life-affirming journey altogether...but I only got there because I didn't analyze every little thing as I read it. Analyzing it afterward has made it all the more poignant.
On another note, it's fun to watch Max and Shelly fall in love, and nerve-wracking to wonder along with her what she is going to find when she gets to the Philippines. Will she find Max? What will she say if and when she does? What will he say?! I kept wondering all along how Sotto was going to wrap this up and I was very satisfied with the resolution.
This is a wonderful first novel from a gifted writer. I will be sharing it with friends who I hope see it for what it truly is as well. I can see how some people wouldn't enjoy it, because it is quite fantastical, but Shelly's tortured love for her dead husband is brought home powerfully and with tenderness and care. I personally am not one who is keen on fantasy and rarely willingly suspend disbelief (I hate science fiction, in fact), but the depth of the emotions explored in this novel gripped me from the very beginning.
Latest AMAZON Reviews:
ByElizabeth M Hansonon August 6, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

I cannot believe that this author has not written another novel. This was an extraordinary love story!
5 FiveStars A must read for anyone who loved Time Traveler's Wife
BySarah Scholzon August 1, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I really liked this book. Samantha Sotto is a great story teller. She did a great job of not confusing the reader with the time traveling element of the book. I absolutely loved the Time Traveler's Wife book. I would definitely read other books that Samantha Sotto writes in the future.
5Five Stars
ByHeather M Vanceon July 16, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Amazing! Sad it's over!
5Five Stars
Byjennaon June 26, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Amazing love story. Easy quick read. I bought it in kindle version and then hard cover!
Coming NEXT?
From International Best-Seller To Hollywood Movie?