Book Review: The Last Beginning + Chat with Lauren James

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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As Clove watched a petal slowly fall from the flower, she made herself a promise. When she was older, she was going to work here with the machine – even if it meant spending all her free time between now and then studying. Then one day, when she’d helped to get the machine working, she was going to be the first person to travel through time.

I was trying to think of a way to briefly describe The Last Beginning, the sequel and final book in The Next Together duology, but with the amount of plot twists, interesting new characters and jumps through time and space (all that wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff) I couldn’t figure out what to say! Thankfully Lauren James, author of the fabulous book, managed to sum it up in precisely five words:

Lesbian romance with MANY JOKES.

And this I think is perfect because not only is it 100% true but it also highlights what are, for me, the best aspects of this book! I’ve spoken about my thoughts on LGBT Characters and their Roles in Literature and so I was incredibly pleased to see the amount of diversity in the book and that the main character is a super badass lesbian who’s already “out” and comfortable in who she is.  I absolutely adored the character of Clove; she was so realistic with her strengths – her intelligence and her passion – as well as her weaknesses – her impulsiveness and stubbornness – making her a well-rounded and easily lovable character. Her actions and reactions were all so understandable; this is something that I think can be overlooked in books, when something crazy or unbelievable happens within a story it can be played off as normal when the characters respond in a way anybody else would, and this is something done so well in The Last Beginning! I also found all the characters were well developed like Clove, in particular Spart and Ella! #CLOVELLAFORLIFE

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Unlike The Next Together this book was written primarily in chronological order and was broken up by Folios clips of Clove and Ella’s romance (which was again something that I just loved in the book, especially as the clips included Snapchats as well as emails and letters, as they were all so cute!). It was a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar reading Lauren’s writing but in a sequential way -her writing style is so unique due to the fact it’s so easy to read whilst being very technical at the same time- because I got so used to reading the chapters from alternating time periods. I was so invested in this story and I cannot put into words how clever and satisfying it is, honestly it was just so enjoyable to see how things linked up with the previous book and to see where it went.

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I could not put this book down and I loved practically everything about it; the clever plot in which all your unanswered questions are neatly wrapped up, the well developed characters *cough* CLOVELLA and Sassy Spart *cough*, the well-paced action, and of course the mystery! I’m sad I have to say goodbye to all these lovely characters.

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Now for some exciting content: the wonderful Lauren James, who I’ve been lucky enough to meet, was happy to answer a couple of questions about The Last Beginning for me. So without further ado I welcome her to Reading in the Rain!

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How do you feel now that the your debut story is complete? 

It feels like a period of my life has ended. I’ve been writing about Kate and Matt since I was sixteen – eight years!

I loved how Clove’s sexuality wasn’t a big deal within the story and I was wondering if you made a conscious decision to write Clove as gay?

Yes, definitely! Outside of her role in the plot, it was one of the first things I knew about her. I was so frustrated because, as a huge sci fi fan, I could never find diverse characters in the worlds I loved. Recently there’s been some amazing progress in this direction (like THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET) but at the time, it felt a completely barren wasteland. Which is ridiculous – we are definitely not progressing towards a future world where everyone is straight! I wanted to write about a character who was gay, but the book wasn’t a coming out story. I wanted them to get to do things, while being gay. (Revolutionary, I know.)

Did you ever get confused with all the cross-overs between characters and plots in the two books? (I thought it was so clever how the two weaved together, I’ve never read anything so complex written in a way that is so logical and easy to understand.)

Thank you so much! I’m glad I pulled it off – I did try to make it as clear as possible, so people didn’t get hopelessly lost. The hardest part was keeping track of what was happening from the perspectives of the different characters in each scene. Because there is a lot of time travel, the characters all come from different points in time, and that changes where they are in the story’s chronology – and what they all know, or don’t know, about each other. Sometimes I’d have a character offering up information they didn’t actually know (yet), which made me feel a bit stupid!

Did you have to do a lot of research regarding the coding and time-machine? I know you studied Natural Sciences at University but I can’t imagine you studying time-machines there, but if you did then I might have to completely change my UCAS applications! 

The time machine is based on real life research into sub-atomic particles at CERN, like the Large Hadron Collider. Based on the predictions physicists have made about the possibilities of time travel, I thought that was a logical starting point to progress from. I wanted to feel very real and possible – it’s simplified a lot in the book from how these things might actually work, but the grounding of the science is very plausible. I hope! [crosses fingers no physicists immediately call me on my mistakes]

Did you miss writing the alternating times structure of The Next Together, as this book is, for the majority, chronological?

It was a bit harder to write – when I got stuck with writing TNT, I’d hop over to another timeline and write that for a bit, until the plot problem unravelled naturally in my mind. With this one, I just had to force myself to work out the problem so I could carry on writing at all!

Finally, just because I am now Clovella trash,  if you could write another time-line for Clove and Ella, like one of the love stories of Katherine and Matthew in the first book, where would you want it to be set in time and space? 

I’m completely obsessed with ‘Clovella’. I’d never thought about their ship name before now and it is DARLING. Thank you for founding a new shipping dynasty. (I must admit I’m very proud!)

I think about this so much, because I’m really not ready to let go of Clove and Ella, I love them. I’ve already written some short stories for my website, but next I would like to write from Ella’s point of view, like Another Together was from Matthew’s. Maybe (keeping this as spoiler free as possible) something about Ella’s home when Clove visits?

A massive thank you again to Lauren for answering my questions, it’s a real pleasure to have you over here on my blog! If you haven’t yet read either books in The Next Together series and you’re into Sci-Fi, historicals, and romances then I’d definitely recommend you check them out straight away!

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Funny, romantic and compulsively readable” ~ The Bookseller
Perfect for holidays” ~ Marie Claire
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