Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino: Book Review

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Synopsis from Goodreads: 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

Publisher: Atria Books

Date Published: August 18, 2015

Date Read: September 15, 2016

No. of Pages: 320 pages

Source: Kindle version

Setting: New York

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This has got to be my favorite Renee Carlino book!

Well, at least out of the three I have read by her. (Sweet Thing, Swear on This Life and Before We Were Strangers).

The blurb! Oh my goodness that blurb! I don’t know about you, but the blurb simply drew me in. It was my fantasy put into paper. I have always fantasized about chance meet-ups at places you only see in movies, like coffee shops, train stations, and all these common places. It was a common place to meet someone, yet in reality it never really happens, have you wondered about this? I am so fixated about this idea that what if that someone meant for you is just sitting right across you in a subway on your ride home, or the next person in line while you’re getting your morning coffee at an over-priced coffee shop, or that someone you bumped into when you were running late to catch your 9am meeting, those simple yet unrealistic way of meeting someone. This was what my fantasies are made of, and reading Before We Were Strangers’ blurb had ignited this fixation on chance meet-ups. I knew I had to read the story and eventually find out where it will take me. And it got me here, writing this review that hopefully could give justice to this beautiful book.

If you haven’t noticed already, I have been binge reading Renee Carlino books. The very first book I have read by her was Swear On This Life which I loved to bits! Back then I made a vow that I would read everything she wrote and will ever write. Before We Were Strangers is the third book I have read by her, and again it blew me away. I will say it now, I loved this one a hundred times more than Swear On This Life. This might be my favorite Renee Carlino book! I suffered the proverbial book hangover over this one. It was all I was thinking about for days on end. I immediately wanted to reread it after I finished. That’s how good it was for me. Before We Were Strangers is the kind of book I have been craving for so long. This is the kind of book that made me fall madly in love with reading. This is the kind of book I live for.

We follow the story of Matt and Grace (Matthias and Graceland, loved this), two senior college students who started out as good friends. Their characters are relatable and likable. We have Matt, who is into photography and we have Grace who plays the cello, just by this premise alone you could very well tell that you are in for a good story. A good boy and a good girl, well that doesn’t happen often in new adult books – more often than not it will be about a brooding boy with issues he wants to keep hidden and a broken girl with past she’d rather forget, which we all know too well. Before We Were Strangers is different, it is more than a story, it embodies second-chances and life choices. It will make you see things in a different perspective. Matt’s character has always been a likable one, he is as real as the next person you come across with.What drew me in was the fact that he was latching on to something he lost before. Grace on the other hand was a reserved girl but with care-free vibe that you would not miss. She knows fun when she needs to, and knows the weight of responsibilities on her shoulder at the same time. I love that Grace’s character was not the usual whiny female protagonist. I love love love their adventures, the way they portrayed New York, it sounded so amazing I wanted to book a ticket to New York and just relive what they did. And don’t get me started with the free breakfast as their dinner meal whilst wearing their sleepwear! Gahhhhd I want to hug Matt and Grace!!!!

The One That Got Away stories always have a special place in my heart. It was in the way that the story transitions, it is looking at it in a different light, oh the what might have been(s) and the what ifs, these are the stories I automatically gravitate towards. Before We Were Strangers pulled me into an embrace that I wouldn’t want to remove myself from. The character development was impeccable, you grow as the characters grow, you feel their regrets and pain and you share their joys as well. There was something so innocent and pure about Matt and Grace’s relationship, it was never rushed, it has its own perfect timing. I loved how the book transitions and pave its way to an engaging course where readers can pick bits and pieces of themselves along the way. It was just so beautifully written and so heartbreakingly true.

The story is told in an alternating point of view, which was something I really like in a book. We are taken into this confluence of the life Matt and Grace had back then and the life they have in the present, how much of it have changed and how much of it they regret. It was a series of choices one after another but not without fate working its way that led them to where they are. It was the embodiment that you never know where life will take you or where you will end up no matter how much planning and plotting you do, it is just the way things should be – of how destiny do its magic. And there is some sense of comfort in that thought. It was like grabbing uncertainty and giving it a hug. This was what this book is all about, it kinds of give you the taste of what happens when you lose someone you loved without knowing how or why and then at some funny stroke of luck you find them again, with the same intensity of emotions you had back then, and realising that things lost will always find its way back. This book will bring you to a journey of a love that was lost and found again. It will fill your heart with warm and fuzzy feeling, much like watching a good romantic film. This book is screaming to be made into a movie, it has the perfect setting, plot and twist with characters you can fully relate to.

I see now the writing style of Renee Carlino, she always put things into perspective. She writes books not only to tell a story but to give out a scenario of what could have been, her books are reassurance that in life there is no such thing as too late, that taking chances is a part of the choices we make day in and day out, that everything will lead us back to where we are supposed to, however long the journey or how rough things were. This realization hits me hard, and I will forever seek that wisdom her books give.

This is definitely one of the best reads I’ve had this year. Without a doubt I will be recommending this one incessantly to people and probably begging them to read it as if their lives depend on it.

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“You can’t re-create 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. 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. At least, that’s the way I remember it. That’s why my mother always said we memorialize our past. Everything seems better in a memory.”
Renee Carlino, Before We Were Strangers

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Sweet Thing by Renee Carlino: Book Review

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Synopsis from Goodreads: “You have to teach your heart and mind how to sing together… then you’ll hear the sound of your soul.”

Mia Kelly thinks she has it all figured out. She’s an Ivy League graduate, a classically trained pianist, and the beloved daughter of a sensible mother and offbeat father. Yet Mia has been stalling since graduation, torn between putting her business degree to use and exploring music, her true love.

When her father unexpectedly dies, she decides to pick up the threads of his life while she figures out her own. Uprooting herself from Ann Arbor to New York City, Mia takes over her father’s cafe, a treasured neighborhood institution that plays host to undiscovered musicians and artists. She’s denied herself the thrilling and unpredictable life of a musician, but a chance encounter with Will, a sweet, gorgeous, and charming guitarist, offers her a glimpse of what could be. When Will becomes her friend and then her roommate, she does everything in her power to suppress her passions—for him, for music—but her father’s legacy slowly opens her heart to the possibility of something more.

Publisher: Atria Books

Date Published: August 30, 2013

Date Read: September 6, 2016

No. of Pages: 320 pages

Source: Kindle Version

Setting: New York

 

REVIEW

Love and Music, what could go wrong?

 

And because I made it my life’s mission to read all Renee Carlino books, I immediately followed Swear On This Life by Sweet Thing. I understood that Sweet Thing was one of her earlier works, but I could not help but compare. Renee Carlino truly evolved as a writer. Her writing style was so much better in Swear On This Life. But that doesn’t mean that Sweet Thing wasn’t just as good, let’s just say Sweet Thing had potential, but kind of did not live up to its promise.

The prologue was the first thing that captured me, it was set in this tone where you can already feel a good story is about to unfold. In Sweet Thing we follow the story of Mia Kelly and Will Ryan. I am the kind of reader that doesn’t dwell too much on the blurb. I want to go ahead reading a book as blind as possible. There is really fun in that. As I was reading this book, I thought it was just another typical NA story. A goody girl falling for a guy in band, how many times have we read a book like that? But this book, despite it being a little mediocre had redeeming qualities as well. It focused on life’s choices, on life’s ever present predicament of choosing what you want and choosing what is right – which more often than not are two different things. In this book we see the struggle of a girl who thought she had it all figured out, and ending up somewhere she did not plan. We are taken into this journey of self-discovery and the constant pursuit of passion despite all the reasons not to and despite all the setbacks.

This book is perfect for readers who enjoy stories about music, this one is brimming with it. I loved how music is incorporated in this book, I loved how it played an important part in forming Mia and Will’s story. It kind of reminded me of the movie Begin Again, but the similarity of it ended there and nothing more. Mia and Will’s story was painted in such a way that readers should be patient in reading it. Or at least be patient with Mia. Mia’s character had goals she had worked so hard for to achieve, but then when reality hits her, she was lost completely. Her character was in a crisis, for lack of a better term. She was always at war with what her mind dictates and what her heart desires – happens to the best of us. It worked for me for quite sometime, but then as the story progressed, I found her character to be a annoying to a fault. There was this sick cycle of one-step-forward-two-steps-back that Mia’s character kept on doing, and to be completely honest, it was a little frustrating to read. Will on the other hand, is as sweet as ever. He was a free-spirit with a huge heart. I loved that his character was carefree, a stark contrast to that of Mia, maybe that’s why they clicked.

I am always drawn to books with New York as its setting. More often than not, books set in New York end up being a favorite. I don’t know about you, but the premise of New York alone is enough for me to pick a book up. Same reason with Sweet Thing, I loved how the city was portrayed in this book, again back to the Begin Again feels. There is just something so real and yet so magical about it. Mia and Will’s story could be anyone’s story. I loved that Renee Carlino made it into something believable and relatable. Her writing style is beautiful too. I think that’s one of the reasons why I kept coming back to her books. She has a way with words that would just hit you, something that connects to your body and soul – and not every book could do that.

Sweet Thing is about finding who you are amidst all the chaos, it is knowing what you want and going for it. It was real portrayal of life, love, loss and everything in between. It is not just a love story, it was about friendship and family too. It was always something more than meets the eye. Renee Carlino will now be a staple on my shelf.

 

Rating: rating_3stars

“You are your experiences and your fears and the love you let yourself feel. You are your degree and your talent and your passion. You are your pain, your joy, and your fantasies.”
Renee Carlino, Sweet Thing

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TPRWF2016: Book Blogging 101 was a Success! (RECAP)

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(L-R: Kai, Me, Kate, Hazel and Lyra)

So this happened, and up until now I am in shock. Haha. I can’t believe I was a part of it and was seated next to these amazing ladies who really know their craft. It was such an honor to talk alongside these beautiful women. National Bookstore held The Philippine Readers and Writers Festival 2016 at Raffles Makati last August 26 to 28. It was filled with panel talks from respected Filipino and foreign authors, workshops and book signings. It was indeed the festivity that everyone should be a part of. (And as early as now, I am looking forward to the next year’s festival).

It was my first time to meet these ladies, I was kind of nervous since they all know each other from before, but then they were all nice and welcomed me to their group. I have gained new friends, that’s the most awesome take away out of all this.

I have been cyber friends with Kate for quite some time, and was too happy that I finally have met her! #RektahanGirls HAHA. And again thank you Kate, if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be a part of this panel. Kahit binigla mo ko, hahah lakas mo saken eh!

With Kai 🙂

With Hazel and Ly 🙂

Look how fancy and “legit” this is! Hahah.

 

Before our panel talk, we were all worried about the number of attendees, but upon entering Namayan, we were so happy to see that it’s almost full. We were delighted to see each and everyone of you there, of how much effort you put to attend the talk and for that I am eternally grateful.

Excuse my face, hahah it looks like I am in the middle of an argument HAHA

Here are the key points of our discussion:

Platform: Blogger and WordPress are two of the most popular blogging sites. We were divided when it came to this. Kate, Kai and Ly were all #TeamBlogger and Hazel and I are #TeamWordpress. It was fun to have that cute debate as to which one is better. Know that I stand by WordPress! Haha. I guess it is just a matter of where you are comfortable. Blog away, and take it from there. See what suits you and just have fun with it.

Bookstagram: This is where I let people in on my secret haha. Which I will not be divulging here since it was exclusive to the attendees. But of course I’ll tell you something else. The key to a great photo is natural lighting. Almost everything is beautiful when it is taken using a natural light, I think we can all agree to that.

Oh a disclaimer, I am not a professional photographer, not by any stretch of imagination. I’m just a girl who takes 20 shots of photo using my ever trusty Samsung fone, use photo editing apps and VSCO for filter (what filter you ask, that’s a secret), and just have fun. I’ve said that another tip is to find an inspiration and recreate the same, but make sure you will put your own twist to it.

About props, Daiso and Thrift Stores will be your best friend. You don’t need expensive stuff, work with what you have. It is all in your creativity. (I want to say more, but I guess I would just have to make a separate post about it. Hehe).

Book Reviews: The advice I gave was “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” Only request/accept request of books you are genuinely interested about. You will have negative connotation if you cannot deliver at the time given.

Also it is very important to note that there is a fine line between reviewing the book and reviewing the author. We go for the former, we review THE BOOK, not THE AUTHOR. Don’t make unnecessary comments about the personality of the author, stick to what the book is about, how it made you feel, your over-all rating, its impact on you or how you perceived it. It is best to be honest when doing reviews and never ever bad mouth an author.

Genre: Should you focus on one, or try a little bit of everything? It’s always up to you. There are advantages and disadvantages for both. Choose what works for you and know who your intended audience are.

Time Management: We all agreed that you should do it at your own pace. Never force yourself to do something you don’t want to do. As Kate pointed out, if you force yourself it will show on your review or the content of your blog. If you don’t feel like blogging, it’s totally fine. Never think blogging is a burden or a job you just want to get over with rather think it as a job that you really love to do. Put your heart in it, and everything else will follow.

Blog Design: Our dear Hazel is the master of it. I practically just listened because I cannot for the life of me understand CSS codes and all that tweaking to make a nice blog. I guess it all boils down to how you would want your blog to look, it is how you are remembered. So make it a point that your blog speak for itself, make a blog you want people to see.

Advanced Reader Copies: It is important to be aware of the territorial rights of publishers, that way whenever you try to request a book you would know which ones have the rights here in Philippines and which ones who do not have.

        Also, don’t be disheartened if your request has been denied, we’ve all been there. The key is request again, show them the statistics of your blog and your social media presence, show them that they ought to choose you or it’s their loss haha! Kidding aside, you have to be patient. In the end everything will work out fine.

I specifically enjoyed the Q&A part. I saw how driven and eager all the people there. How they would want to grow as a blogger. I think my heart just doubled in size when the attendees valued what we said. It was indeed one of the best experiences ever!

The cherry on top of it all was when Sir Bienvenido Lumbera, a National Artist and a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, a poet, a writer – a force to be reckoned with, graced us with his presence. He pointed out that in the barangay levels, there is a dire need to teach the youth of literature, to open up their minds to the state of our government. He noticed that youth of today were just all dictated by what the government and society told them to do. He wanted us bloggers to use blogging to reach and influence other youths. I loved that our panel talk ended in that note. It was truly something we, not only us bloggers, are responsible for – to be the voice of the millennials, and be something out of the box, to think for ourselves without any reservations and be able to express ourselves to further better the society we live in.

The whole panel talk was about our passion. We wouldn’t be there speaking in front of people, if it weren’t for our passion. It’s our common denominator. Book blogging is hard work, you don’t make it right the first time, it happens to the best of us. What is important is you keep trying, learn from your mistakes and be able to adapt to the ever changing times. It is always nice to offer something fresh. It’s nice to put yourself out there and inspire others.

Here’s what went down after. I met amazing bunch of people!!! From Upper Left to Lower Right – Vitto, who was so bubbly; Yssa – who I immediately hugged the moment I saw her; Kat, my new found BFF who will be a lawyer soon!! I’m counting on you! hihihi; with Arnie Mejia, who has a new memoir coming out, let’s support him!; I wasn’t able to get her name but she’s super nice too!; with Jenni – I love how enthusiastic she was; with Allie Im happy to have finally met you I really hope to see you again; with JM  – thank you so much for the support, it meant alot!; lastly with Kams another amazing person, hope to see you again too!

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With my dear friend Kat. Thanks for the support, you owe me lots of chika! HAHA

With Ursula Uriarte, who was super awesome and stayed the whole panel talk. She is amazing.

Yayyyy with Anna Todd, it was so nice to meet her.

This is what I call our Familia Zaragosa Shot #FIERCE

And of course we couldn’t hold our straight faces a second longer.

It was indeed a day to remember. I would like to extend my gratitude to National Book Store for making everything possible! I really enjoyed the panel talk and the whole experience.

Who amongst you attended the event? Did you have fun? Hope to see you all again soon! 🙂

XO

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