Review: Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino

Before We Were Strangers Renee Carlino

Title: Before We Were Strangers 
Author: Renee Carlino 
Series: Stand-alone 
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, NA 
Publication date: August 18, 2015 
Rating: ★★★ 

Synopsis: 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? M

Ah, this was delightful! This book was really easy-going and sweet and likable. It was my first time reading anything by Renee Carlino and she definitely surprised me. To be honest, I hadn't really heard of her before but this one caught my eye and I have no regrets. I was just in the mood for this sort of thing.

The present is our own. The right-this-second, the here-and-now, this moment before the next, is ours for the taking. It’s the only free gift the universe has to offer. The past doesn’t belong to us anymore, and the future is just a fantasy, never guaranteed. But the present is ours to own. The only way we can realize that fantasy is if we embrace the now.

The story starts with Matt, a guy in his mid-thirties whose life isn’t as great as he would have liked it to be. He used to be a happily married, well-known, adventurous photographer at National Geographic. Now he just works at National Geographic, with his ex-wife Elizabeth, her new husband and their recently announced pregnancy. It doesn’t bother him per se, his marriage wasn’t exactly what he’d hoped it would be, but it is kind of depressing going to work with your ex every day. Life goes on though. Until one day, when he’s waiting for the metro, he sees the woman that’s been haunting his dreams for almost fifteen years. Grace. Their eyes lock as the doors of the train close and they barely have time to mouth each other’s names before the train takes off and she disappears out of his life once more.

Life was passing me by at high speed as I sat back with my feet up, rejecting change, ignoring the world, shrugging off anything that threatened to have meaning or relevance.

I liked the sad inevitability of the story. Grace was the one that got away. So even as we learned the story of how they met and fell desperately in love, we also knew there was no happy ending. Not in their college years at least, because eventually Matt would end up married to another woman. There’s something terribly compelling about this kind of stories.

A huge part of the book focuses on Matt and Grace’s time together in college and the romance was fluffy in a good way, sweet, natural. I loved reading them becoming friends and falling in love. There was this tiny smile on my lips the entire time. Matt and Grace were both very likable characters and even though I kept trying to picture the ways they could fall apart, I just couldn’t believe it. They were so drawn to each other it seemed simply impossible they would ever break things off.

You can’t re-create the first time you promise to love someone or the first time you feel loved by another. You cannot relive the sensation of fear, admiration, self-­consciousness, passion, and desire all mixed into one because it never happens twice. You chase it like the first high for the rest of your life. It doesn’t mean you can’t love another or move on; it just means that the one spontaneous moment, the split second that you took the leap, when your heart was racing and your mind was muddled with What ifs?—that moment—will never happen the same way again. It will never feel as intense as the first time. At least, that’s the way I remember it. That’s why my mother always said we memorialize our past. Everything seems better in a memory.

A third part of the book focuses on the time after the meeting on the metro platform. Matt tries to reconnect with Grace, trying to find out what her life has become without him. There’s still tension between them. You can’t love someone so deeply and then just move on. Not with what they had. And then there are also unforeseen circumstances. I liked how the ‘after’ part was handled. The plot twists, the maturity level.

This is a very easy read. It sucks you in immediately and you keep reading until you’re finished. The writing is okay, if maybe a little uncreative. Some scenes were really beautiful, others a bit awkward. It could have been executed just a tad more professionally/profoundly, but the romance makes it all worthwhile. If you like Grace and Matt you’ll be okay. That’s all that really matters. You will probably be able to predict some twists, but honestly, this kind of book just begs for a bit of predictably. It’s the perfect book to crawl up in bed with and to just let the feel-goodness flow over you.

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