review: In Another Life by Julie Christine Johnson

inanotherlife

(Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

Official Synopsis
Historian Lia Carrer has finally returned to southern France, determined to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. But instead of finding solace in the region’s quiet hills and medieval ruins, she falls in love with Raoul, a man whose very existence challenges everything she knows about life–and about her husband’s death. As Raoul reveals the story of his past to Lia, she becomes entangled in the echoes of an ancient murder, resulting in a haunting and suspenseful journey that reminds Lia that the dead may not be as far from us as we think.

Steeped in the rich history and romantic landscape of rural France, In Another Life is a story of love that conquers time and the lost loves that haunt us all.

Review
The writing is exquisitely detailed, but I did not connect with In Another Life the way I hoped to, especially having read the glowing reviews. I’m not sure why, but I’ll try to explain in my review. I should say right away that I think Johnson is immensely talented and will have a long career ahead of her … the writing isn’t the problem here.

First of all, this book has zero in common with Outlander, despite the comparisons in reviews. Outlander is a saucy, rich and sexy romance (disguised as “historical fiction” by Diana Gabaldon, who hates to be labeled as a romance writer…). This book is not humourous, nor does it evoke the badassery of Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser. It’s much more English Patient than it is Outlander. Not a bad thing, but worth noting.

It’s apparent that Johnson did a lot of research while writing this novel, and that comes through in the text. As we follow Lia Carrer, reeling after the untimely death of her husband Gabriel, we are transported straight into the beauty of southern France. Lia is recovering at the house of her dear friend Rose, an American who married a French wine-maker. Lia is also determined to finish her languishing dissertation on the Cathers. I had no idea who the Cathers were, so looked them up while reading:

Catharism was a religious movement with Gnostic elements that originated around the middle of the 10th century, branded by the contemporary Roman Catholic Church as heretical. It existed throughout much of Western Europe, but its home was in Languedoc and surrounding areas in southern France. The Cathars were also sometimes labeled Albigensians.

{Source}

While in Languedoc, Lia meets a number of mysterious and strange men, including a secretive priest, a sexy photographer, and a dark and handsome widower. It is with Raoul, the widower, that Lia forms an inexplicable (and melodramatic) attachment. She falls in love with him almost immediately, for no reason at all, and continues to moon after him throughout the narrative. Stricken by grief, Lia is a sympathetic character, but I could never quite connect with her. I spent the book struggling to understand her, get to know her and honestly thinking if I was her friend, I’d suggest a counselor and maybe a few anti-depressants…

I won’t reveal any of the surprises in the plot, nor the interesting historical elements (where Johnson really shines). When it comes to the paranormal elements, I think the novel weakens… the time travel aspect is never fully explored, and I still am not sure why these people ended up where they did.

However, the writing is lovely, atmospheric and has a strong sense of place (something I always appreciate). I’ll be interested to see what Johnson writes next.

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