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Reviewed by Jenny & Gitte
“How could I forget?”
What an utterly beautiful story! Renee Carlino delivered a breathtakingly moving story of an intense first love, of searing second chance love, and one of missed connections, miscommunication and wasted opportunities that spanned fifteen years with a love between two people we felt deep in our hearts.
‘You can’t recreate 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.’
We meet Matt in present day sharing his loneliness and despair at how his life has turned out. At 36 career wise he’s had a good run, however personally life hasn’t been all Matt had hoped for. He’s divorced and reflecting on life when he spots Grace, a woman from his past standing on the platform about to board a train. In the blink of an eye she’s there and then her train passes and once again Grace vanishes from his life. Her reappearance has Matt reminiscing about the woman who had always remained in his heart and igniting a fierce determination to find her once again.
‘Three seconds doesn’t seem a long time, but when you’re gazing into someone’s eyes, it’s long enough to make a silent promise.’
It is at this point we’re taken back to where their relationship began and the ease and effortlessness with which the author slipped us back in time was perfectly and wonderfully timed.
‘I could see the beatific expression on his face. It reminded me of the way I felt when I played music. It was like something transcendent happened to him when he took pictures.’
Thankfully, Before We Were Strangers is told through both Grace and Matt’s pov’s so we’re able to experience firsthand what had transpired all those years ago and how these two became so disconnected and lost and as we hear it through their words we felt everything with them. We were with them through the complexities and newness of first love, feeling butterflies as their love intensified and their dreams and aspirations didn’t seem to be in sync. We ached with them as they maneuvered their way around their feelings and we cried with them as their lives took a different turn.
“Would you stay if I asked you to?”
“Yes, but I’d hate you for it. So ask me. Go ahead.”
Renee Carlino allowed Matt and Grace to become friends first, thus delivering a slow burn and believable build to their relationship, so much so our hearts were rejoicing, wallowing, tattered and soaring right along with the characters.
We loved every minute. From the fun, flirty young Matt and Grace discovering love and each other for the first time, to the older world weary Matt and Grace who realise the years they’ve missed and the love they once shared. Theirs was a beautiful, tender, passionate, loving and at times turbulent love, and it was one that stole our hearts completely.
We shed a few tears and cheered this couple on every inch of the way. Renee wove the arts and in particular music through this story which is an aspect we really loved and resonated with, particularly the relevance of Jeff Buckley to Matt and Grace’s story, what a beautiful touch that was. Another aspect we loved was how New York wasn’t simply a backdrop to their story, it almost became another character and it was exhilarating!
‘New York has an energy that takes root inside of you. There’s nowhere else like it. The city becomes a character in your life, a love you can’t take out of you. They mysteriously human element about this place can make you fall in love and break your heart at the same time. When you hear her sound, when you breathe in her scent, you share it with all the people walking beside you on the street, in the Subway. You know at once you are alive, and that life is beautiful, precious and fleeting.’
We do love a second chance romance and Before We Were Strangers brought forth those moments as feelings are rediscovered and memories resurface, as the process of sorting true feelings from memories begins and it’s one we’ll be recommending in heartbeat!
**Reviewed from an ARC copy provided by Atria Publishing, with thanks**
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