Sunday, August 16, 2015

REVIEW+ GIVEAWAY: Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of Sweet Thing and Nowhere But Here comes a love story about a Craigslist “missed connection” post that gives two people a second chance at love fifteen years after they were separated in New York City.

To the Green-eyed Lovebird:

We met fifteen years ago, almost to the day, when I moved my stuff into the NYU dorm room next to yours at Senior House.

You called us fast friends. I like to think it was more.

We lived on nothing but the excitement of finding ourselves through music (you were obsessed with Jeff Buckley), photography (I couldn’t stop taking pictures of you), hanging out in Washington Square Park, and all the weird things we did to make money. I learned more about myself that year than any other.
Yet, somehow, it all fell apart.

We lost touch the summer after graduation when I went to South America to work for National Geographic. When I came back, you were gone. A part of me still wonders if I pushed you too hard after the wedding…

I didn’t see you again until a month ago. It was a Wednesday. You were rocking back on your heels, balancing on that thick yellow line that runs along the subway platform, waiting for the F train. I didn’t know it was you until it was too late, and then you were gone. Again. You said my name; I saw it on your lips. I tried to will the train to stop, just so I could say hello.

After seeing you, all of the youthful feelings and memories came flooding back to me, and now I’ve spent the better part of a month wondering what your life is like. I might be totally out of my mind, but would you like to get a drink with me and catch up on the last decade and a half?


AMAZON   ***   BARNES & NOBLE ***  iBooks

 Dear Renee Carlino,

In case it wasn't evident by my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts, I was completely taken with your latest novel, Before We Were Strangers; it was exactly the book I needed, at exactly the right time. And since that is a completely vague statement, let me explain why I enjoyed your novel:

I loved that your main characters were closer to my age. It's not often, these days, that I read a romance that doesn't involve people in their twenties--which I will own is a situation of my own making--and while I very much enjoy losing myself in those NA book worlds, Before We Were Strangers was a welcome respite. The experience of time passing and your characters experiencing and growing and hurting and feeling wistful longing for something and someone was something I think many people my age identify with. We wake up over a series of days and weeks and months and (for some) we realize a decade has passed and where did that time go?

"I was going through the motions but I wasn't feeling anything. I'd stare at my new wrinkles in the mirror and wonder where they came from. I wasted more time, repeating the same thing day in and day out, barely present in my own life. I wasn't looking to break out of the cycle in search of anything meaningful."

I completely recognized that experience--of looking at myself and thinking--what.the.fuck.--how did I get here and is this okay and where did that young girl go?

I could cry right now. The loss of that young wild and free person to the world of life, obligation, responsibility, and fear can be a hard thing to process but you, Renee Carlino, you gave me a novel that asked me to consider these things. Thank you. 

*ahem* Back to the book...

As I was saying, I loved that your characters were closer to my age but I especially loved how you took us back to their initial meeting and showed us how they fell in love; I fell in love with them too. I loved how even in the struggle of being poor students, they lived these full lives. They weren't robots going through the motions, they were taking life in and experiencing it with boldness and vivacity ( omg I can't believe that's a word; I hope I used it correctly). I loved how Matt loved Grace so deeply and that she was "unexpected". I loved how passionate he was about the things and people he cared about and how much effort he gave to protect and cherish and respect them. And, I loved how you made Grace simultaneously so strong and so vulnerable. I loved how open and good she was. I loved your quirky characters and the things that they experienced--it reminded me so much of aspects of my own college experiences and made me nostalgic for those days.

A story structured like yours could go terribly wrong in someone else's hands but you balanced their past stories with their present stories so seamlessly; it never felt jarring. When I came out of their past and continued with their present, it felt so natural...much like when we reminisce about our own pasts and then transition into our own here and now. Matt and Grace's here and now will be something I think many will relate to. Maybe we didn't all lose a chance with 'our' person, but I bet we all can think of an experience that somehow got away, that fills us with longing or regret and it feels like there's absolutely no way back--that that *thing* is gone forever. How bleak, right? Well, this is where you save us. You give Matt and Grace a second chance at one of the things they felt was missing and I could kiss you for that. Their second chance wasn't without stumbles and missteps and some VERY BUMPY terrain (I think I lost it a few times in that last bit and was feeling VERY UPSET WITH YOU, Renee Carlino) but thank you so much for letting us all have, even through fiction, the chance to see what would/could happen if given a chance to have our heart's love, passion, dream. Maybe this love/dream/passion works? Maybe it doesn't? Or maybe it's hard--maybe 15 years of living and questions can make things more challenging? Or, maybe it's like those 15 years happened but what you had was so ingrained in your soul that when you meet again, it's still there. OR...maybe it's a little of all of this.

I could go on and on about the quality of the writing, the infusion of art and photography and music and how precise and accurate the details were, the love letter to NYC that feels like is constantly hovering in the background, the characters I wanted to hurt, repeatedly...I could rat myself out and say that I first fell in love with the cover, then I heard from friends about how you wrote fantastic stories and so I decided to see what you were all about, that I didn't even read the synopsis and it didn't matter because you had me from page 1... I could go on about all of that, but I think instead I'll just say thank you. Thank you so much for this novel. After I recover from it, I know I'll be diving into your previous works and I can honestly say that I cannot wait. 


So Renee, and our readers, I couldn't break into the beauty that was Shelley's thoughts this time. I just couldn't. And I hope if you read this novel, that you might also understand how moved we are by this book. That hasn't happened to me in quite some time, so I must shout to the mountain tops how special this book is, and is to me. I fell in love with the cover when Shelley told me that she had chose it for us, and I mean c'mon. Look at it. It's great. The Love Hate Love story tagline sort of grabs you as well. 

I fell in love with Matt from the first page, because you feel his desolation and just over all "how did I get to this point" outlook on his life. He's had things happen to him, and we know that it's been 15 years since he was in college and in love with not only our heroine, but his entire life. Isn't it funny how passionate we are when we start adulting, and then something happens and we find out just how much it sucks sometimes to put the big girl pants on, alllll the time, and dream of these moments. Renee Carlino perfectly captures the passion of our early 20's, but also gives a little bit of hope that we can keep that wild heart we once knew as we get older. 

Grace was a heroine that I could relate to as well. She was insecure, but confident; zany, but focused; struggling, but proud. I loved how each of them played the strong one, and then the weak one at differing points in the book so that we felt their relationship, or non-relationship, at first wasn't a perfect whirlwind. The characters leapt off the page, right into my mind, and now have given me a new outlook on some things. 

I know I seem a little bit all over the place with my thoughts, but Shel read this when some big things were happening in my life, and luckily, she let me ease into this one in the aftermath. I shed many tears for this story; for myself, for my family, and for a special person I have lost and this novel came to me at exactly the perfect time like Shel said. Renee Carlino is a goddess with her words, and not one was wasted. For fear of spoiling I can't tell you what the parts are that I related to the most, but I really implore all of you to read this one. I hope that it heals a small part of your broken heart like it did mine. 

Love, Courtney


Here's a fun Missed Connections:

Renée Carlino is a screenwriter and bestselling author of romantic women's novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband, two sons, and their sweet dog June. When she’s not at the beach with her boys or working on her next project, she likes to spend her time reading, going to concerts, and eating dark chocolate.

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