Saturday, August 22, 2015

Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino: Blog Tour Review, Excerpt & Giveaway


Blurb:

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?

M





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Excerpt:

20. You Remembered . . .

Grace

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.

I had been closed off for a long time, and I hadn’t allowed myself to imagine the future because I was still stuck in the past. Though it was impossible, I had tried to re-create what Matt and I once had. I wanted nothing else; he was all I could imagine.

But Orvin once told me that time is the currency of life. And I had lost so much of it. It was that idea of lost time that finally made me realize I needed to move on, that I would never have what I once had with Matt. I had to mourn our relationship and move on.

At least, that’s what I told myself.

Two months ago I was walking around in a thick fog of regret. I was going through the motions but 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.

Until I saw Matt in the subway station.

Everything changed. I could see in color again, every image vivid and crisp.

Over the last fifteen years, the pain of what had happened to us waxed and waned. Many times I tried to force myself to stop thinking about him, but there were too many reminders. I thought, if I ever saw him again, he’d look right through me, like I was a ghost from his past. That’s how he made me feel that summer after college: someone who no longer existed.

But when I saw him in the station, his eyes locked on mine. He recognized me instantly, and all I could see in his face was pure wonder. It was like he was seeing the sunset over the ocean for the first time. As my train disappeared into the tunnel, his expression turned to desperation, and that’s when I knew there was a missing piece to our story. What was behind his desperation? What had happened to him in the last fifteen years that would send him running down the platform, his hand outstretched, his eyes full of longing?

I needed to find the answer. I had an idea of where I could find Matt, but I was too scared to look. 

About the Author:

Renee’s first friends were the imaginary kind and even though her characters haven’t gone away, thankfully the delusions have. She admits she’s a wildly hopeless romantic and she blames 80’s movies staring Molly Ringwald for that. 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 the next book, she likes to spend her time reading, going to concerts, and eating dark chocolate.



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Review by Yvette:

It's not often that I finish a book and feel like crying, not because I was sad, but because I was indescribably happy. When I finished Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino, though, there were so many emotions tumbling around inside of my mind and I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't do anything but clutch my Kindle, starting at the final page of the book through watery eyes. It’s just that good. I feel like nothing I say will fully justify the extent of my feelings about this unique friends-to-lovers, second chance romance because it's something you have to experience for yourself. Heartbreakingly beautiful and wistfully poetic, Before We Were Strangers is the type of book that will immediately capture your attention and won’t relinquish its hold until the very end.

One of my favorite literary tropes is the second chance romance and Before We Were Strangers is undoubtedly unlike any other I have read. The narrative jumps between the present and the past, recounting the brief, but impactful romance between college students, Matt and Grace. The introduction to present-day Matt is brief, yet telling, revealing a jaded man searching for meaning in his monotonous everyday life. If I wasn’t aware he was the same person, I wouldn’t have recognized him as the vibrant and optimistic young man that embraced romance and adventure with a youthful fervor. It’s all too easy to become absorbed in his attraction to Grace, his passion for photography, and his wide-eyed outlook on the future. Grace is more of a grounding presence, bringing a dose of reality to their situation, yet that does little to deter from the general feelings of hopefulness and romanticism. Their romance is sweet, yet sexy, comfortable, yet awkward, and most importantly, true to whom they are and where they’re at during this point in time.

“The one that got away” is a phrase so commonly used that its meaning has been somewhat diluted, yet it holds so much meaning in this instance. Compared to the rest of their lives, Matt and Grace’s time together in college represents such a short time, yet the flashbacks reveal exactly why the memory of each has resonated with the other. I both loved and hated the flashbacks – loved because they are quite simply perfect, showing a side of these characters that I found endlessly fascinating, and hated because I knew the inevitable end toward which they were hurtling. These chapters (and the entire book, for that matter) are beautifully written and incredibly engaging, so much so that I felt as though I were reading at double speed. I wanted to simultaneously slow down and speed up the passing of time, unwilling to leave behind the younger versions of Matt and Grace, yet desperate for them to reunite as adults.

Following the progression of Matt and Grace's romance from past to present, I expected drawn out drama, heartache, and despair, but I was pleasantly surprised (and more than a little grateful) at the relative lack of gut-wrenching angst. While there are moments so powerful, I felt the emotional aftermath burning inside my chest, the anguish is mercifully swift, making room for feelings of joy and satisfaction. I had a good idea of where the narrative was headed, but even so, I was constantly surprised and delighted by the spontaneity of these characters. The story is refreshingly real, hopelessly romantic, and uplifting in a way that had me smiling nonstop throughout the final chapters. It's rare for a book to have such a deep emotional effect on me that 6 stars is the only possible rating to give Before We Were Strangers.

*complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Rating: 6 Stars

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