Review: Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino

For fans of Jojo Moyes and the movie Before Sunrise, a sweeping love story inspired by a real-life missed connections story, from the USA Today bestselling author of the romantic women’s novels Sweet Thing, Nowhere But Here, and After the Rain.

During their senior year of college, in an NYU dorm tucked into the heart of the East Village, Grace and Matt struck up a friendship over Jeff Buckley, Pearl Jam, and the Ramones. She was going to be a world-class cellist and he was going to be a famous photographer, their paths destined to diverge after graduation.

Even after an afternoon pub crawl ended in their drunken, spontaneous wedding, their visions for the future never overlapped enough for them to be together. The summer after college, he left his “ex-wife” on good terms and went to Brazil to work for National Geographic. They vowed to stay in touch and see each other soon.

They never did.

Fifteen years later, back in New York City, Matt sees Grace as she boards the J train. They’re both different in a hundred ways, and yet they’re still the same. But just as they recognize each other, just as he understands what he left behind all those years ago, the train pulls away. His only recourse is to send a missed connections letter out in the world, and hope she remembers where to look.

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Every time I finish reading a Renee Carlino book, I let out this happy sigh of complete and utter satisfaction. This author has such a wonderful talent for creating captivating characters and sending her readers on an epic, unforgettable journey. She's a true artist with her words, and in the pages of Before We Were Strangers, Renee paints yet another beautiful, evocative work of art!
New York has an energy that takes root inside of you...The city becomes a character in your life, a love you can't take out of you.
I actually thought this book was a fascinating hybrid of New Adult and Adult romance. In the beginning, we meet Matt and Grace, a photographer and musician who attend NYU and become dormmates. They lit this book up with that Carlino-signature charm and personality. These two were full of fun, pleasant surprises, had a bright and quirky vibe. I loved being in New York with them. Experiencing young, first love. By giving us this look into their past, their beginning, Renee illustrated the joy and ache of nostalgia so perfectly. Her writing guided me to a different time and place entirely.
I had thought about Grace often over the years. Something as simple as a smell, like sugared pancakes at night, or the sound of a cello in Grand Central or Washington Square park on a warm day, could transport me back to that year in college. The year I spent falling in love with her.
Eventually, there's a huge turning point for young Matt and Grace's relationship. I may have disagreed with certain actions...and looking back at it later, I even felt like the major problem could've been avoided somehow, some way...but there's always something to learn in Renee's books. This time around, she deals with a very essential theme in second-chance tales: Where did it all go wrong? And how could it have been done differently? The truth is...There are just some things you can't control. Matt and Grace's story will make you think about how you can't change the past--where you've been and what you've done. But when life hands you that second chance, live your life now and make the most out of every single moment of today. I love how much heart and soul Renee instills in each of her books! She never fails to pull me in with her gorgeous and utterly heart-melting words, and Before We Were Strangers is a perfect testament to that.
You can't re-create the first time you promise to love someone or the first time you feel loved by another...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.
After years apart, Grace and Matt find each other again, and it unfolded in such an achingly beautiful way...I fell in love a second time. The struggle over their history isn't easy, and with a gut-wrenching twist, we see how one simple, seemingly small thing can echo through numerous lives and change everything. The effects of decisions made years ago are so profound, so heartbreaking to realize. But there's a bridge there...a path that opens up for them to take those steps toward each other again and to overcome the past. Like a missing piece to a puzzle. Finally, everything can fit into place and just feels right. Reading this part of Grace and Matt's journey was so touching and poignant.
Everything froze for a moment. He looked at my mouth, slightly parted. He ran his fingertips down my cheek and the calloused pads of his thumbs felt divine against my skin. I shivered.

"You're my first muse, Grace."
For me, the second half of this book is where the story really picked up. The emotions and tears really hit me, and I was just completely immersed as the story continued. I couldn't put this book down and didn't have my mind on anything else but what these characters were going through. This is one of those times I wish it was acceptable to recommend a book by just shaking anyone who'll listen and passionately shouting, "The words! I just love all of THE WORDS!" 
" 'Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.' "

He buried his face in my hair. "My life is burning well."
Renee's powerful storytelling truly put me through a gauntlet of emotions. There's love and passion within these pages. Anger and pain. But ultimately, happiness and peace. You get Grace and Matt's points of view, the past and present. You will feel like you've lived and loved for an entire lifetime, when you're done with this book. It's so wonderfully satisfying and fulfilling!

If you love second-chance romances, this is an incredibly beautiful and extraordinary rendition. This is the kind of book that I'll always look back on and can immediately recall the way it made me feel, the way I loved these characters. Renee brought a unique story to life. Poetic, heartwarming, and impactful.


| Sweet Thing | My Review + Playlist  |

| Sweet Little Thing | My Review + Playlist |

| After Sweet Little Thing: Author Interview |

| Nowhere But Here | My Review + Playlist |

| Will & Jamie, from Sweet Thing & Nowhere but Here | Interview |

| After the Rain | Author's Playlist | Author Q&A |


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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.