In 1916, Emma O’Neill is frozen in time. After sampling an experimental polio vaccine brewed on a remote island off St. Augustine, Florida, she and her family stop aging – as do the Ryans, her family’s business partners. In a way, this suits Emma fine because she’s in love with Charlie Ryan. Being seventeen forever with him is a dream. 

But soon a group of religious fanatics, the Church of Light, takes note. Drinking the elixir has made the O’Neills and Ryans impervious to aging, but not to murder – Emma and Charlie are the only ones to escape with their lives.

On the run, Emma is tragically separated from Charlie. For the next hundred years, she plays a cat-and-mouse game with the founding members of the Church of Light and their descendants. Over the years, a series of murders – whose victims all bear more than a passing resemblance to her – indicate that her enemies are closing in. Yet as the danger grows, so does Emma’s hope for finding the boy she’s certain is still out there . . .

(Taken from the inside cover of It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble)


What an interesting premise! I am really excited to read this. It has mystery, murder, and romance, which are my three favorite novel topics. Can’t wait to see what happens!


It Wasn’t Always Like This is a mess, and it had so much potential, it makes me sad. The book is about the Ryan and O’Neill families, but mostly about Emma and Charlie, two separated lovebirds who also are immortal. They were separated because of the crazy Church of Light, a cult devoted to killing them, as they’re “unnatural.” Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense? Yeah, I thought the same thing. The whole explanation of their obsession with our two protagonists makes zero sense.

The best part about the novel is the relationship between Emma and Detective Pete Mondragon, a friend she made in one of her many stops over the last century. He brings a big part of the private eye aspect to the book, which is a welcome theme.

The worst aspect of this novel is how Emma is constantly pining over Charlie. Literally, she pines over this guy for a century. If you like that sort of stuff, then this is the book for you! If not, stay away because it bores to tears.

The ending felt very incomplete. It seemed sort of thrown together and not well-thought out, which disappointed me because I felt like a few of the twists were very good, but were then not carried out well.

While the premise of this novel was quite promising, it wasn’t executed well. Emma was not a protagonist that I rooted for, and Charlie was just annoying. If you enjoy incredibly sappy romance, then you might like this, but otherwise, find something else.