Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino

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?


My Review


Matt in his thirties, and is a gifted photographer for National Geographic. He's a little jaded with life now that he's in the office instead of out in the field, his (now ex) wife cheated on him with a coworker and friend, and no matter how hard he's tried, he's never been able to shake his longing for a girl he loved more than 15 years ago.


Matt met Grace, a gifted musician, in college, and their connection was instant and strong. They quickly became best friends that morphed into lovers that turned into something intense, but undefined. After months of this, life slowly starts pulling them apart. He's offered a job with National Geographic that's nearly unheard of for someone of his age and experience, and her music professor wants her to tour with a few of his other students for more than a year in Europe. With lifelong dreams pulling at them and their never really talked about relationship on the line, they go their separate ways. 


When  Matt inexplicably spots Grace on the subway one day, he throws cation to the wind and posts a Missed Connections ad on Craigslist. With the help of one of her student, Grace (now a music teacher) finds the ad, and they slowly start falling back into what they used to be. Things are very different now, and as secrets are revealed, our lovers are put to the test yet again. 

3 "Did I Read What Everyone Else Did?" Stars

*clears throat and wipes sweaty palms*

Well...this is awkward. Quite literally every blog or Goodreads review I've read has done nothing but rave about this book. People give it insanely high ratings, and I don't think I've seen lower than 4.5 stars. Combing that with my slight obsession with Craigslist missed connections ads (have you read any of them? They're so damn funny!), I one-clicked this baby as soon as it went live on Amazon.

With that in mind, I was expecting this incredible/amazing/wondrous/insert adjective experience. And I did get that....for the first few chapters. After that everything fell apart for me. This barely escaped a 2 star rating.  Let's get right to it, shall we?

This novel is told in three sections: the now (Matt now, without Grace), the then (college Matt, with Grace) and the now (Matt now, with Grace). It's told in both Matt's and Grace's perspective, though Matt is a bit more prevalent. While many are labeling it new adult, I'd definitely classify it as adult, despite the bit where they're in college. 

I absolutely loved the first "now" portion. Matt's voice was so easy to fall into, I enjoyed his slightly jaded but still witty character, and despite the fact that he's still hung up on his college girlfriend, it didn't come across as desperate or obsessive. He viewed Grace as the one that got away, rather than "I know she'll come back to me someday...or else" that I was expecting. The banter he had going with his boss made me laugh out loud! 

Then I got to the "then", and while I enjoyed the first few chapters, it started going down hill. I loved the chemistry and easy familiarity that Matt and Grace instantly had, but that was pretty much it. This is where I started seeing everything coming from a mile away. I'd think "there's no way it's going there. That's way too obvious!", only to read on and find out that's exactly where it went! 
It was so incredibly frustrating to have such transparency in this story. I'm not exaggerating when I say I saw everything coming from the moment Grace's professor was introduced and when Grace and Matt first had sex. 

This book rode so heavily on the "big plot twists", banked so hard on the shock value for the readers, that the rest of the story just fell by the wayside. Once the stage is set for said twists to happen, the pacing became choppy, the characters flat, and the chemistry non-exsistant. I didn't want Matt and Grace to be together again, and both of their characters wound up being people I was glad to be rid of by the end of the book. Matt went from someone I enjoyed to someone I just didn't like, and Grace's character was at complete odds with the woman Matt describes. 

Despite its numerous issues, it was a very quick read and did have a few bits of truly beautiful writing, like this paragraph (I don't necessarily agree with this, but it is pretty) :

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 is better in a memory.

While this book was not for me, I wouldn't take my review as law. Everyone else has loved it, so ignore the black sheep and try it for yourself! Then you can come back and commiserate with me in my lonely existence. :p


Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Adult, contemporary romance
POV: 1st person, duel perspective
Steam/sexual content: Some steam, mild sex scenes
Warnings: Some mild drug use
Series: Standalone
Cliffhanger: No
HEA: Yes
Length: 320 pages
My own copy

- The Bibliophile Babe


  1. Not gonna lie, I'm quite intrigued by where to story went. Black sheep or not, you whetted my appetite.

  2. I'm with Joy, I kind of want to know what happens now and if I'll be able to see it coming as quickly and easily as you did! It's such a bummer when that happens though, I love being surprised while reading, and being able to guess a twist that early on is frustrating. Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. YES. I love your honesty, and I'm glad I wasn't the only one who wasn't completely won over by this book. I enjoyed it, but I felt like I was missing something that everyone else saw. I completely agree with you about the beginning - I loved that part and it sucked me in, but once they went to the past, it got slow, and at times I didn't even feel like picking it back up. Thankfully, it got better for me, but it wasn't that OMG AMAZING book I was expecting. Glad it wasn't just me. :)

    Great review!

  4. lol I'm always confused when I'm the black sheep of the bunch. Had that happen recently

  5. I am sorry this didn't work, and appreciate that you stated why but you also made me curious.