Review: Before We Were Strangers by Renée Carlino

Note: This ARC was provided by Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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.

Matthias William Shore and Graceland Marie Starr met fifteen years ago, a few weeks before their senior year was supposed to start. He was going to be a professional photographer and she a concert cellist. From the moment these two became neighbors in their student housing, there was a bond that neither time nor distance could have broken...but they never counted on falling in love nor could they have imagined the havoc fate would play on their lives. Theirs is a cautionary but, ultimately, hopeful tale of finding, losing, and rediscovering the kind of love that you tend to come across, if you're fortunate, once in your lifetime.

Before We Were Strangers was a book that I started at past one in the morning and ended up reading for over two hours straight. There were no breaks because Matt Shore and Grace Starr's story is the kind that's simply too good to put down for even a short period of time. But then, I shouldn't really be surprised since author Renée Carlino did what she does best: create a story that tugs at your heart strings to the point of breaking the hearts of her characters and readers, but still making you believe that happily-ever-after isn't just a possibility but an inevitability, especially when it's a love like dear Matt and Grace's.

You know those what-ifs and if-onlys that clutter our lives, the ones that have us taking stock of the now, looking back on what was then, and wondering if things would have been different? Spending too much time on those moments will keep us stuck in neutral or, worse, hitting reverse. We live our lives, even after disappointment, heartache, and the like hit us. But when you realize that life as you know it simply came to be because you didn't have all the facts at your disposal, then you could end up letting the what-ifs and if-onlys consume you. Then the lashing out and finger-pointing overtakes whatever good was there before.

The "missed connection" post on Craigslist is quite apt: what Matt and Grace was a missed connection of epic--maybe not as far as other people were concerned--proportions. I'm one of those people who believes that things happen for a reason and that spending too much time in the past takes away time better spent focusing on the present. With Matt and Grace, they shared a love that lasted a year, one that could have gone a myriad of ways. It's easy to think that they would have had a happily-ever-after far earlier had things worked out, but then there really is no way of telling because life doesn't work that way for anyone.

There's no such thing as the "perfect" book, but there are those that come quite close to it, in one form or another. Renée Carlino has taken this story of hers and made it not just her own but ours, each and every one of us sharing in a love story that feels ageless. She could have made this overly long by including what happened within those fifteen years but this was a case of less is more. I'm highly recommending you not only add this to your to-be-read lists but that you read it sooner rather than later. Matt and Grace are so worth it, which is why Before We Were Strangers is one of my 2015 favorites and receives five-plus stars. ♥

Release Date: 18 August 2015

Date Read: 15 August 2015

Learn more about Renée Carlino here.

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