Review: Swear On This Life by Renee Carlino

Swear On This Life Renee Carlino book cover

Title: Swear On This Life  
Author: Renee Carlino 
Series: Stand-alone 
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, NA 
Publication date: August 9, 2016 
Rating: ★★★★★ 

When a bestselling debut novel from mysterious author J.Colby becomes the literary event of the year, Emiline reads it reluctantly. As an adjunct writing instructor at UC San Diego with her own stalled literary career and a bumpy long-term relationship, Emiline isn’t thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of a young and gifted writer. Yet from the very first page, Emiline is entranced by the story of Emerson and Jackson, two childhood best friends who fall in love and dream of a better life beyond the long dirt road that winds through their impoverished town in rural Ohio. That’s because the novel is patterned on Emiline’s own dark and desperate childhood, which means that “J. Colby” must be Jase: the best friend and first love she hasn’t seen in over a decade. Far from being flattered that he wrote the novel from her perspective, Emiline is furious that he co-opted her painful past and took some dramatic creative liberties with the ending. The only way she can put her mind at ease is to find and confront “J. Colby,” but is she prepared to learn the truth behind the fiction?

It’s like reading a good book. The kind where you don’t want to skip pages to see what happens at the end. Each moment is a story in itself.

You know that feeling when you don’t really expect all that much out of something and it turns out to be this wonderful, precious gem and you wonder how on earth you could have ever been indifferent towards it? Yeah… pretty much me right now.

Last night (after finishing Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover and feeling somewhat bummed that it had disappointed me), I went to bed thinking I would just read a couple of chapters of a new book to take my mind off the other one. I picked up Swear On This Life on a whim. I was in need of something light and fun. Surprisingly, things went a whole lot different than I had anticipated.

From the very first page the book had me hooked. After three chapters I knew I couldn't just put the book away and go to sleep. There was no way I could stop, I was way too invested. So I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting. For five hours straight I let myself get lost in the world of Em and Jase, only occasionally stopping to throw an uncomfortable glance at the clock. My head was screaming to get a grip and give up already, but I couldn’t until the very last page. I finished at about four am, knowing very well I was going to pay the price in the morning. Having had about two and a half hours of sleep, of course I was a complete wreck at work the next day. I barely kept myself from falling asleep at my desk and I constantly tuned out my colleagues’ conversations. But I tell you - it was totally worth it!

I have read a book by Renee Carlino once before. Before We Were Strangers was light and fun and also completely different from this one. Swear On This Life is strangely tragic and heartwarming at the same time. It was a lot deeper and more intense than I think anyone would expect it to be. 

In real life we have a hard time recognizing serendipitous moments because we’re not making the story up as we go along. It’s not a lie—it’s really happening to us, and we have no idea how it will end. Some of us will look back on our lives and recall events that were a bit too perfect, but until you know the whole story, it’s impossible to see the universe at work, or even admit that there is something bigger than us, making sure everything that should happen does happen. If you can surrender to the idea that there might be a plan, instead of reducing every magical moment to a coincidence, then love will find you.

This is the story of Jason and Emiline, childhood neighbours who grew up having no one and nothing but each other. Both victims of terrible circumstances and even worse parenting. In their desperation for an escape from life and in search for some affection, they clung to each other and created a bond unlike any other. As the years passed, their bonding only got more intense and less likely to ever break. But life kept throwing impossible challenges at them. Obstacles and difficulties so cruel that in the end the choice to spend the rest of their miserable lives together was no longer theirs to make. They are brutally torn apart and forced to spend the following years separately, pretending to be okay. 

That’s when Em finds ‘the book’. The book that somehow tells her own life’s story. It brings up the past that she has been fighting so hard to leave behind. There is only one person in the entire world who could have possibly known what she went through as a child. Jase wrote the book, the most demanding question is why? Why bring up something that terrible?

This could be the best thing for us, after it stops being the worst.

I loved this concept. At least half of Swear On This Life is told through the narrative of ‘the book’. We simultaneously learn about the past and the present. And that past is particularly dark. Reading the first chapters I never would have guessed what I was signing myself up for. What Em had gone through before. We get to know her and Jase through Jase’s writing and I absolutely loved that. We were in the main character's head, but it was through someone else’s eyes that we somehow learned who she was. Or had been. The characters in the book were Em and Jase but they also weren’t. It was so beautifully done! I’m completely impressed.

There aren’t all that many characters, but they were multi-layered, relatable and well-developed. I got really invested in their stories. The feelings were honest, conflicted and compelling. The plot was split in two, past and present, and both were equally captivating. I liked the writing, the easy flow of the words and the building of the story. I think it’s been clear from the very beginning of this post just how much I needed to know how it was all going to unfold. And while everything slowly started to become clear, there was still the big plot twist in ‘the book’ that was constantly foreshadowed and hinted at, but didn’t become clear until the very end. And I desperately needed to know how it ended (hence the read-all-night policy). 

What struck me as remarkable, though, was that Em and Jase somehow seemed younger in the present than they did in the past. I’m not entirely sure this was a conscious decision or even intentional, but to me it made perfect sense. Their ugly childhoods had always denied them to really be children. They had been forced to grow up very early and now (in the present) it’s as if being released from the burden of the past finally gave them the freedom to act a little wild and impulsive for once. Their new lives allowed them to find back some innocence and a chance to start over.

I don’t know much about fate, but I know something brought me back there. Maybe I fought that force for too long, or maybe everything happened exactly the way it was supposed to.

Yes, I loved this. But I read it in the middle of the night and I’m well aware that these circumstances may have had an influence on my judgement. Yet even now that I’m no longer dead tired and once again fully functional, I still find it hard to point out flaws. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but they can’t have been all that bothering or important because they didn’t really leave an impression on me. Is the book life changing? Nah, not really. But I haven’t quite been able to leave it behind these last couple of days and that really ought to count for something. 

And.. holy crap. Jase writing ‘the book’ for Em the way he did.. No matter how tragic it may have been, it is the kind of romantic gesture I would gladly sell my soul for. Seriously, where is that King of Hell when you need him. ;)

Read the book. Renee Carlino did a really good job!

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1 comment:

  1. Oh my gosh, this book was really amazing! I wasn't sure what to expect after Swear On This Life which I really liked but didn't full on loved and then I read this one! So glad you loved it also! ♥


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