After Today – Jacqueline Hayley

After Today
Jacqueline Hayley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Realistic, immersive, and hot apocalyptic romance that kept me up way too late!

Blurb:

Can love survive an apocalypse?

After a deadly virus ravages Chicago and destroys Mackenzie Lyons’ carefully curated world, Mac escapes the devastation and horror to her childhood hometown with the help of her best-friend’s little brother, Jake. But the small-minded community of Sanford isn’t exactly welcoming, and the virus isn’t the only battle brewing.

Jake Brent has secretly loved Mac forever, and while this isn’t the way he’d dreamed of their relationship beginning, with the uncertainty of the outbreak he’ll take every opportunity with Mac he can and hope—pray—for a better future.

But when Sanford’s misogynistic council torment the survivors with horrifying demands and a lawless motorcycle gang threatens their fragile sanctuary, somehow Jake and Mackenzie must form new alliances and face down dangerous enemies in a struggle far worse than the outbreak.

Surviving the virus was one thing, surviving humanity after is another.

Mackenzie was totally unprepared for the end of the world.

She wasn’t a heroine in some Hollywood blockbuster. She was a twenty-six-year-old environmental lawyer, living in Lincoln Park and trying to forget Sanford, the hometown she knew had forgotten her the moment she’d skipped out.

The story starts with a pandemic brewing out of Syria, having moved into Europe, and it may be within the US now. The President is denying it. People are saying it is a hoax to control us, much the same as people are now saying about COVID in real life.

“This whole Syrian Virus is a hoax—it’s a conspiracy to control us.”

“It’s a plan-demic! Big pharma is behind it!”

Jake risks everything to go get Mackenzie from Chicago when things start to disintegrate.

“I’ve been in love with you since that day you sprained your ankle at the lake. Remember? I carried you to the car so you could go get it x-rayed.”

“That’s seven years ago, Jake.”

I found the beginning very realistic, especially with what we’ve seen actually happen. The insanity of a panicked city population with the looting, wanton destruction, and guns was very realistically described as Mackenzie and Jake tried to gather supplies before leaving Chicago.

Mackenzie cries, whimpers, and complains quite a bit. But it is a realistic reaction. She watched soldiers gun down civilians, ran home barefoot and got lots of blisters, got through the looting, and is now walking on her blistered feet and witnessing death all around her. She is an environmental lawyer, a city dweller, book smart instead of street smart, and tends to live in her own head, blocking out much of reality. So she isn’t prepared for this. All in all, I think she holds up well in the beginning. I expected she would grow stronger, turn into a survivor as time passed.

It was hard not to succumb to “damsel in distress” when every step rubbed her raw feet, her shoulders ached with the heavy pack, and she was tired. So tired.

Jake quickly became Mackenzie’s rock. He’s a mechanic, just the sort of man I would want with me in the apocalypse.

He welcomed—hell, he relished—the responsibility he felt for Mackenzie. Even when he dated other women, she was always somewhere in the back of his mind. Now, the instinct to care for her, to protect her, had strengthened to a tangible level. He could feel his dedication to her in the thrumming beat of his heart.

Jake’s declaration of love and Mackenzie’s budding attraction to him made her uncomfortable at first. Jake was her best friend’s little brother, just three years younger, so nothing weird. So it took some time for Mackenzie to change her view of him.

Jake was energized with purpose and Mackenzie took a moment to admire his assertiveness, the straightforward manner in which he’d taken control, allowing her a comforting warmth in his steadfast protection. Who knew making someone feel safe could be sexy?

I loved this novel. I found the situation and the characters to be very realistic, so it was immersive to read. I know I keep repeating this “realistic” bit, but it truly is remarkable in this genre. I didn’t have to suspend disbelief – I believed!

I truly liked the main characters. Neither is perfect, so that makes them relatable. They are both strong when they need to be and vulnerable with each other. There is a nice build to the relationship. Jake lays his heart bare, but he doesn’t push Mackenzie. He’s not an alpha male, you’re mine, type. This was refreshing and sweet.

It was a very fast read with excellent pacing. There was quite a bit of action, which was very well written – clear but concisely described, so things moved along very quickly. There are some scorching hot sex scenes, but this is definitely much more story than erotica. I felt it added the right level of spice to the meat of the overall story.

I don’t want to give too much away, but Mackenzie does grow throughout this novel, eventually becoming a bit of a badass. I absolutely loved that she didn’t need a man to save her! Girl power! Woot! Woot! 😊

Amongst the chaos are little moments of very welcome comedy.

“Don’t get weird on me. It’s just an erection. Happens most mornings.” He grinned.

“No. Nope, not going there.”

“It’s a normal bodily function.”

“Jake, stop! We are not talking about your dick.”

“You just did.”

It relieves the tension here and there and stops this from being too depressing. As Jake says:

Why was everything so damn hard? Nothing was easy anymore. He prided himself on being resilient and practical, but was it too much to ask for a simple home ransacking to go to plan?

And Mackenzie is a dog lover! My love of her grew exponentially the moment I found that out! 😊

This had my rolling with laughter:

“That’s…. psychopathic, right? Who plays fantasy apocalypse?” Mackenzie’s question was met with silence…

Writers of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novels do. Hey! That’s us! So a little fun was poked at the author herself. Loved it!

If you’re with us, fantasizing about the end of the world, picturing yourself driving down a completely empty interstate instead of being in your traffic jam reality, this is a must read!

This is the first book in a series but can be read as a standalone. Future books will be centered on other main characters, but we will see Mackenzie and Jake as secondary characters. This has a great ending. We know the story continues, and it definitely makes me want to read the next book. But we aren’t left with a nasty cliffhanger. Like the characters, I can wait, and plan, and survive.

Contains graphic sex scenes. Very hot ones. But only really three.

Occasional foul language. I loved Mackenzie’s mantra.

3rd person past tense from Mackenzie and Jake.

Errors: 8 (misspelled words, wrong word, missing word, a name spelled differently in two places, inconsistent punctuation, a missing quotation mark) Not bad at all! I sent these errors to the author, so I hope she’ll fix them soon.

UPDATE: Errors have been fixed!

258 Pages

$5.99 at Amazon.

I received a copy of this for my honest review.

Book 2 is available for preorder but won’t be out until April 2022.

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