Title – Swear on This Life
Author – Renee Carlino
Publication Date – August 9, 2016
From USA TODAY bestselling author Renée Carlino (Before We Were Strangers), a warm and witty novel about a struggling writer who must come to grips with her past, present, and future after she discovers that she’s the inspiration for a pseudonymously published bestselling novel.
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?
Swear On This Life is one of those books that just makes you feel good. Renee Carlino delivers a heartfelt story of young love and second chances with enough wit and sparkle to keep you furiously flipping the pages. Having never read anything by this author before, I was blown away by Renee Carlino’s poignant prose, complex characters, and skillful story development. She has definitely made me a fan. I loved the natural dynamic she crafted between Emi and Jase. Despite the distance that had grown between them over the years, their shared history made for an easy rekindling of their natural chemistry and I found myself totally enchanted by the undeniable connection between them. These two felt fated in a way that had my heart both fluttering with the hopeful anticipation of a reunion and aching for all they’d been through together. From start to finish, Renee Carlino had me wholly invested in Jase and Emi’s journey. I absolutely devoured this novel, caught up in Emi’s personal struggles and desperate to see how her story with Jase would eventually play out.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but we were lovesick. Our innocence was beautiful, impossible to capture again, impossible to re-create.”
Emiline is the kind of character that gets under your skin. So much about her was easy to relate to and I found many pieces of myself in this character. Renee Carlino did a phenomenal job developing Emi over the course of the story. As she was forced to remember her childhood and the rise and fall of her relationship with Jase, Emi’s vulnerability began to shine through. As Renee Carlino expertly exposed Emi’s long-buried feelings of loss and heartache along with a lifetime of insecurities and fears, her true character began to take shape. I fell in love with Emi’s authenticity and was in awe of the inherent strength she possessed. Her passion, self doubt, vulnerability, and fears all really resonated with me, making it impossible not to root for this character. Jase, on the other hand, immediately had me head over heels in love. Adorable banter, good looks, and apparent intelligence aside, I was swept away by the depth of his love for Emi. The careful honesty of his novel and the touching reasoning behind his storytelling methodology left me reeling – amazed by his unparalleled understanding of Emi’s soul and complete devotion to her healing.
“We can’t go backward. There are too many regrets. Please just move forward with me?”
I must applaud Renee Carlino on the grace and respect with which she shared the darker parts of this story. There were definitely some harsh realities and ugly truths that colored the pages of this novel, but never once did I feel as if they were included solely for the purpose of creating drama or exacting sympathy from the reader. Emi and Jase’s childhoods were gritty, raw, and at times hard for my heart to bear, but knowing how real their situation was allowed the author’s words to take root and grow inside me in a deeply significant way. The emotions behind this story were genuine and the voice with which Renee Carlino wrote demanded to be heard, allowing Emi and Jase to reach inside my heart and leave a piece of themselves and their story behind. Among the hurricane of emotions that our couple’s history stirred up, Renee Carlino ensured that hope remained the most prominent. Through Emi and Jase’s child-like innocence and the stubborn determination of young love, Swear On This Life maintained its overall hopefulness even in the tragedy of the past, encouraging readers to cling to the promise of a happily ever after.
“This could be the best thing for us, after it stops being the worst.”
The beautiful genius of this novel lies in the story within a story concept. I absolutely adored the way in which Renee Carlino relayed our couple’s past relationship through the words of Jase’s novel while Emi’s life in present day played out in parallel. Not only did this create plenty of intrigue, but it also fueled Emi’s growing inner conflict, making her warring emotions palpable for the reader. The structure of the story also aided in the development of both Emi and Jase’s characters, helping to mold them into multi-dimensional and relatable personalities. I also enjoyed getting to know the handful of secondary characters that rounded out Emi and Jase’s world. They brought heart and levity to the story while helping me further relate to and understand the main characters. Swear On This Life was definitely one heck of a rollercoaster ride, but Renee Carlino perfectly balanced the heartbreak and angst with witty banter and sweet memories, making sure my heart never hurt for too long. As much as some of this book bruised, it was undoubtedly a story that needed to be told and I know it is one that will stay with me for a long time to come. Renee Carlino has truly created something special with this exquisite and unforgettable novel.
There are books I pick up to make me laugh, books that create a steamy romance getaway; others that will transport me to lands far away. Then there are books that ground me so deeply into reality that I’m left utterly awed, and Swear on This Life is very much the latter. I’ve come across many worlds and many characters in the books that I have read, but never has one hit as close to home as the thoughts and words scripted in this standalone novel. Renee Carlino has captured so many of the feelings and deeply rooted fears that I’ve shouldered on a day to day basis.
“I wondered how long it would take for the dirt road to end Jax or me. How long it would be before any chance at a legacy would be robbed from us.”
Emiline was a heroine that I will forever hold near and dear to my heart. I could easily see myself in her, which resulted in a connection that meant so much more to me than I’ve ever previously come across in a literary work. I loved that the story was more than just a romance; it was about this woman learning about forgiveness and letting go. The hero of the story, Jase, was sort of the breath of fresh air and relief of the story. Through his cocky smirk or his sweet words, he was bringing a light to the darkness of their past. In a story that related so close to home, I really appreciated having his character the way that he was.
“…the past would only fester and eat away at us if we tried to hold on to it too tightly.”
The uniqueness of Carlino’s Swear on This Life kept me on the edge of my seat and urged me forward. It was a love story within a love story, but done in a way that I’ve rarely seen executed so well. The storyline just presented itself in a way that lent to the style that this author chose. Her writing was absolutely flawless with words that ripped into my soul, but wrapped me in them like a blanket all at the same time. The emotions elicited were heartbreaking and devastating at times, but absolutely necessary to discover that final breakthrough.
“I thought loving someone meant letting go, but by the time I learned that loving someone means fighting for them too, it was too late.”
I am a mother, a wife, a sister, an aunt; and somewhere hidden, I am a woman with a past that she’s spent so much time running from. While we all have a background that has shaped us, never have I come across a character that has mimicked mine so closely. As silly or odd as it may sound, Renee Carlino’s words were almost like a soothing balm for my soul. So many highlighted quotes in this book could have been stolen from the deepest recesses of my heart, as if the author was psychic. She pulled things out of me that I had long forgotten I felt, only to make me feel like I wasn’t alone. Swear on This Life is a remarkable read that I will not let go of any time soon, and I’m sure will cause me a book hangover for some time to come. Carlino has raised the bar for me when it comes to writing, and I, for one, can’t wait to see where she’ll go next.
Add to Goodreads
Renée Carlino is the author of Sweet Thing, Nowhere But Here, After the Rain, and Before We Were Strangers. She 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.