Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: "Before We Were Strangers" by Renee Carlino

Before We Were Strangers Renee Carlino
Published: August 18, 2015
ISBN: 9781501105777
Genre: Romance
Source: Personal Collection

You might enjoy this book if you like: 2nd Chance love stories, novels set in New York City, 90's nostalgia, Craig's List "Missed Connections"

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?

My Thoughts:
First off, 2nd chance love stories are my weakness when it comes to the Romance genre.  If I know something falls in this trope, the likelihood that I'd read it is pretty darn high.  I also appreciate books where the heroes and heroines are, um, of a certain age (or at last over the age of 35).  Since this book met both requirements, it was a no brainer for me to pick it up.

On the whole I enjoyed it.  I quickly came to like both Grace and Matt, mostly because Carlino wasn't afraid to show their vulnerabilities.  Both characters had their struggles before they met at NYU and, almost instantly, Carlino convinces the reader that these two belong to each other.  While I wouldn't say that their love story knocked me off my feet, I still found myself rooting for them as they came apart and then back together again.

I did appreciate the fact that Carlino didn't hop between time periods too much.  I was afraid this would be a book where every chapter is in a different decade.  Instead, The first few chapters are in the present day, about half of the remainder is 15 years in the past and the rest is back in the present day.  I really felt that this structure helped maintain the flow of the narrative.  It is also told through both Matt and Grace's eyes, but I never felt that sort of literary whiplash that sometimes happens with dual-narrative books.

I will admit that I felt the portion of the story set in the past was more an improvement over the present narrative.  It wasn't that the story was better, but I felt that the writing was tighter.  Also, there are characters in the present that I really felt were throw-aways--mostly, that would Matt's ex-wife Elizabeth.  She's too easily made a cliched villain and there wasn't enough background on her for the reader to really care that much.

This was the perfect escapist read when I needed on the most.  It wasn't the most complicated story, and there were elements that were predictable, but it still held my attention through to the last page.  I would definitely recommend it to someone looking for something fun and romantic.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

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