Release Reviews: Swear On This Life: Renee Carlino

Swear On This Life
Renee Carlino
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Expected August 9, 2016

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?

I was completely sucked into this story within a story and ended up staying up way past my bedtime to read it in one sitting.

Emiline in the present is stuck in rut with her life, her writing, and even her relationship with her boyfriend. She has not really shared her dark past with her boyfriend or room mate. But when she is given a copy of the new best selling book by J. Colby she is shocked to realize that it is her life story in her point of view and could only be written by her childhood best friend and first love that she has not heard from in over a decade.

Told in the present, mixed with  book excerpts detailing their past, we see Em and Jase grow up together and fall in love as teens. They were poor, young, outcasts clinging to each other for comfort and survival. We see their dysfunctional families, their pain, hopelessness, and strong bong between them. They were each other's everything--then circumstances happened that were beyond their control and their lives moved on. Or did they really?

Emiline was a lonely, scared, awkward, but smart girl. Jase helped her gain confidence and someone to hold onto. As an adult, she is lost, closed off, anxious,  and is afraid of opening up, trusting, and being hurt. She plays it safe and does not take risks.

Jase was an adventurous, intelligent, dependable, and protective friend. He grew into a charming, successful, intuitive, sensitive, and loving man. He proved it by nailing Em's thoughts and feelings in his book. But he also took some artistic license to shake the story and ending up.

His book brings everything she has kept locked down back to her. Emiline has no choice but to start facing her past in order to have a chance of letting go, healing, and forgiving. There is a long build up as we learn about the past reading his book and see Em in the present. I really needed to go to bed, but then had to keep going to see what would happen with Jase and how his book was going to end as well as how their present story was going to turn out. The way this novel was uniquely structured really made an impact. It was like reading two books at once and the build up and layering kept me engaged. 

I did have some things that frustrated me a bit especially about Emiline in the present and how long it took her to deal with some things.  And I had a hard time understanding why it took him so long to try to reconnect with her. I would have liked a bit more together time in the present with them. But this was not only a love story, but also Em's journey or self actualization, healing, and empowerment. She had to face important decisions about what really touched her, what was worth fighting for, and what would make her fulfilled. It did deal with many difficult subjects and at times was raw and painful. 

I was totally invested,  tense, and anxious waiting for them to figure it all out and hopefully get a long awaited HEA. I could not put it down until I made it to the end. This was a truly unique, compelling, heartbreaking, angsty, and sweet second-chance, best-friends love story. The way she ties the past, present, and even some alternative futures together and pulls the reader along is creative and the result is a story that is hard to forget.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 
Emiline is a struggling writer trying to figure out how to take her career to the next level. When she reluctantly agrees to read J. Colby’s bestselling hit, she is startled to find the fictional novel is her childhood and the author is none other than her former best friend and first everything, Jason. Her 7 year relationship is stagnant, and the rut that her life has become is suddenly in a tumble as she is forced to face the past she has all but ignored.

This is a story within a story, with chapters flipping between present day, and Emiline’s progress as she reads J. Colby’s novel. For as angered as she is at discovering Jase has sold her story as fiction, it sure did take her a long time to read the book. As a faster reader myself, I found myself wishing she would just finish the book so we knew everything about her, or at least everything that Jase had written. Her reluctance to finish does drive part of the plot, but it almost felt contrived and too convenient that she stopped where she did.

I loved everything about Jackson, the fictional version of Jase. But the present day version was harder to pin down. His love for Emiline was clear; he had a patience that hid the force of attraction he had held on to for 12 years. I couldn’t understand why he had waited 12 years to go looking for Emi, especially as the details in his book shed more light on everything they had done for each other in the past.

There is a lot of emotion to dig through with all the history between Jason and Emiline. Emi is a runner, and her initial reaction to hurt is to block it out. Her insecurity and indecision had me tied in knots for much of the book as she wavered between her existing boyfriend, the lasting feelings she’d held for Jason, and how she was going to deal with everything she had learned from the book. 

The story within a story kept things moving, giving readers the background needed without bogging down the narrative. When Emi finally reaches the end of the book and is able to read between the lines to the message Jason was trying to share with the novel, the ending moved fairly quickly. I wish there had been more of an epilogue, or a longer scene in the present day. I was left with a few lingering questions, but this was one of those books I couldn’t put down while I was in the middle and found myself wondering about long after I had finished. 

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Renee Carlino lives in Southern California with her husband, two sons, and their sweet dog, June. When she's not at the beach with her boys or working on her next book, she likes to spend her time reading, going to concerts, and eating dark chocolate. To learn more, visit ReneeCarlino.com.


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