When a bestselling debut novel from mysterious author J.Colby becomes the literary event of the year, Emiline reads it reluctantly. As an adjunct writing instructor at UC San Diego with her own stalled literary career and a bumpy long-term relationship, Emiline isn’t thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of a young and gifted writer.
Yet from the very first page, Emiline is entranced by the story of Emerson and Jackson, two childhood best friends who fall in love and dream of a better life beyond the long dirt road that winds through their impoverished town in rural Ohio.
That’s because the novel is patterned on Emiline’s own dark and desperate childhood, which means that “J. Colby” must be Jase: the best friend and first love she hasn’t seen in over a decade. Far from being flattered that he wrote the novel from her perspective, Emiline is furious that he co-opted her painful past and took some dramatic creative liberties with the ending.
The only way she can put her mind at ease is to find and confront “J. Colby,” but is she prepared to learn the truth behind the fiction?
Renèe Carlino is a recent discovery for me. Last year, Before We Were Strangers was on my list of 2015 Favorites. I’ve decided then that I need to read every book this woman has ever written and will ever write. Much like Coleen Hoover’s books, her stories are novelties. They appeal to those who still hasn’t seen what it is that makes NA novels so popular.
Much like her 2015 release, Swear On This Life is also about second chances and how difficult it is to move from a first love. Years may pass, but the feeling never really goes away. It’s buried underneath all the relationships that have worked and failed over the years. All it takes is one meeting or sometimes even a memory for it to come back from the dead with a vengeance.
In Jace and Emiline’s case, it was a book that brought all the feelings back. And it only took reading the first page for Emiline to realize that her childhood friend and first love authored the book. Emiline didn’t have a very good life as a child and as a teenager. Her mother abandoned her in the care of her abusive, drunk father. Although Jace didn’t start off as a friend, he eventually proclaimed himself as Emiline’s lone protector. Their history was sweet and difficult at times but that’s what’s great about this story. It was romance years in the making. Their connection wasn’t something that’s easily severed. In the end, I understood why Jace wrote the book and it’s not because he saw the opportunity to make money, but it was a way for him to help Emiline face her demons.
I didn’t enjoy the way Emiline strung Trevor (her boyfriend) along, though. I thought she wasn’t fair to him and that she treated him badly. Granted that there was very little love between them but it still didn’t give her the pass to treat him unkindly. Emiline was the type of character that’s difficult to like at times. She was blasè and aloof; cold and unpredictable. She had a hard time dealing with the old Jace and the present Jace. She was also very quick to give up on her hopes and dreams.
In the end, this book was every bit as addictive as Before We Were Strangers. This is a bit more emotionally heavy that will make readers consider the brevity of Emiline’s reactions and Jace’s intentions. One of the marks of an author’s talent is their ability to successfully write a story within the story. They have to be able to provide readers two distinctive tones to differentiate the actual book versus the one embedded inside. Ms. Carlino did exactly that and I could tell that she didn’t take the easy way out. She made sure her readers would know the difference.