Review: Lessons for Survivors (Cambridge Fellows #9) by Charlie Cochrane

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Rating: 4.75 stars for the book, 5 stars for the series

Lessons for SurvivorsCambridge, 1919.  It has been  a year since Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart emerged from the Great War and reunited.  Now back at St. Bride’s College, Orlando prepares to be inducted as Forsterian Professor of Applied Mathematics and needs to have a lecture prepared for the honor, a lecture he is having problems writing.  Jonty Stewart is by his side as normal.  Jonty recognizes that Orlando needs a distraction,  and along it comes in the guise of a murder mystery.  This murder  mystery also comes with a time constraint.  It must be solved in a month’s time or the suspected murderer will inherit a fortune and no one will be able to stop it.

Then with a lecture to write and a murder mystery to solve, on top of it all Orlando is made head of a committee to investigate a crime of plagiarism that involves their collegiate nemesis Dr. Owens from the college next door.  Dr. Owens has never forgiven them for solving the  Woodville Ward case and has threatened to out the couple if the case against his protege continues.  But the  biggest fight for the couple is against Orlando’s predilection for depression and his uncertainly about his ability to not only finish the lecture but solve the mystery as well.  Jonty knows that this case is just what they need to shore up Orlando’s confidence in himself and to spice up the routine they have gotten into since their return.  But the closer they get to the mystery, the larger the mystery gets until even Jonty starts to doubt their ability to solve it.  They have survived the war, now they have to survive their return and find the peace they are searching for.

In Lessons for Survivors, Charlie Cochrance brings us into the lives of our favorite couple one year after the events of All Lessons Learned.  On first appearances, things seem delightfully back to normal.  Jonty and Orlando are back home at Forsythia Cottage with their needs being taken care of by Mrs. Ward and her grandaughter. Jonty has resumed teaching Romantic Literature and Orlando is being made Professor of Applied Mathematics at St. Brides.  Ariadne “Peters” Sheridan is back at the college too, her new husband taking the place of Lemuel Peters, her brother, as head of the college.  But just as the battles of WWI has left its scars across the landscape of Europe, so too has it left its marks upon Orlando and Jonty. Both men bear physical scars from their time on the front but they also brought home internal scarring as well.  Cochrane does not dwell on this any more than Jonty and Orlando do but with subtly and discretion so appropriate to this pair we learn that Jonty is prone to flashbacks of the fighting and Orlando has nightmares and wakes up crying in remembrance.  Orlando has also lost his confidence, both in himself and his abilities due to his experiences in WWI and the fact that he is prone to depression is never far from Jonty’s thoughts and ours as well.

And it is just that sort of details in Charlie Cochrane books that I find so compelling and right.  After nine books and several independent stories, we know these men intimately due to her extraordinary characterizations. Jonty and Orlando are not the type to give in to  over sharing of any trauma,  or complaining about their time on the front or their experiences in the trenches, instead they would internalize them, speaking of them only when necessary, and then probably only to each other.  And these brief glimpses of how they are haunted by WWI are exactly what we would expect from them.

While some things are back to normal at St. Brides, there are several gaping holes in Jonty and Orlando’s lives now as Mr. and Mrs. Stewart have passed away from influenza and it is their absence that is so greatly missed, not only by Jonty and Orlando but the reader as well.  They were remarkable personalities and they are often in our couples thoughts.  Cochrane ties their deaths together with the awful events of WWI forever in our minds as well as Jonty and Orlando’s, bringing the enormity of loss that occurred down to a personal and definable level.  And while we recognize just what we have lost by the Stewarts passing, Cochrane delivers a older, wiser and quite funny Lavinia Broad and her family to take their place in Jonty and Orlando’s lives and our hearts.  It follows just as it would in real life and further illustrates the care and art that Charlie Cochrane brings to her writing and this series.

And let’s not forget that wonderful, light hearted and ebullient banter that is a hallmark of Jonty and Orlando’s relationship.  It is as quick witted, warmhearted and as lively as ever.  How I love listening to them love each other through snort and snark. They are equally at home in a Noel Coward play or a Sherlock Holmes and Watson mystery, although Orlando would hate to hear it.  The author gives us a wonderful mystery here too, one of the best of the series.  It comes complete with dead triplets, a happy widow, missing jewels, and a tragic family history to undercover.  It will take everything Jonty and Orlando have at hand and more to solve this one and its resolution at the end with leave the reader as well as Jonty and Orlando with a cat’s cream face to show for it.

The angst of the last two books is missing here and that’s just as well.  Its time for the painful events of the past to subside and happiness and contentment to take their place, though the memories will always be there.  If I have a small quibble with this story, it is that it ends a little too abruptly.  I would have wished for one last scene in Forsythia Cottage or in their garden, perhaps having tea or maybe some sherry.  Ariadne and Dr. Panesar would be expected shortly.  Ariadne to discuss her beloved planarian worms and Dr. Panesar his latest thoughts on time travel. And in the meantime, Lavinia has phoned to discuss the exploits of her son, George with his favorite uncles and ask their opinion.  That is how I leave them in my heart and mind, happy, together, surrounded by friends and family in the life they built together , pain and traumatic pasts not withstanding, to arrive at their happy every after, including the occasional eye rolling, snort and kicked shin to prove it.

I do hear the rumors of a 10th book might be planned.  If so, I will be “over the moon” in joy but if this is to be the last book in the series, well, I am happy here too.  Thanks for a most wondrous series, Charlie Cochrane.   Like the Flip-Flap, it has been a most excellent ride.

The new cover design by Alex Beecroft underscores the fact that this book was published by Cheyenne Publishing and not Samhain Press as the others were.  It is still as much a delight as the others, just lovely.

For those of you for whom this review is your first introduction, please start from the beginning. Take your time getting to know these remarkable men, delve into life and times of England in the 1900′s. It starts out with all the joys of a slow promenade and then picks up the pace with each succeeding book.

It is an extraordinary journey. Dont miss a page of it. Here are the order the stories were written and should be read to fully understand the relationships and events that occur:
Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows, #1)

Lessons in Desire (Cambridge Fellows, #2)

Lessons in Discovery (Cambridge Fellows, #3)

Lessons in Power (Cambridge Fellows, #4)

My True Love Sent To Me

Lessons in Temptation (Cambridge Fellows, #5)

Lessons in Seduction (Cambridge Fellows, #6)

Lessons in Trust (Cambridge Fellows, #7)

Once We Won Matches (Cambridge Fellows, #7.5)

All Lessons Learned (Cambridge Fellows, #8)

Lessons for Survivors (Cambridge Fellows, #9) – released by Cheyenne Publishing.

For free stories in the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries universe and more about the author, visit the author’s website.

Review of An Honorable Man by Edward Kendricks

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A Happy Fourth of July to everyone from the United States, no matter where you might be right now.  And to all of those people still without power here in MD, VA and DC, my thoughts are with you, I know exactly how hot, how frustrated and how desperate you are feeling.  I was there.  I hope with all my heart this day finds you with your power back on, your bodies cooling off, and your minds and hearts feeling replenished.

 

Rating: 3.75 stars

Paxton Boyle and his twin boys are out rock hunting when they run across a human bone, a find that causes Pax to switch from father mode to forensic scientist and call in the police.  One bone leads to another and before long an entire skeleton has been unearthed and sent to Paxton’s lab.  As Paxton works to establish identity, one thing is immediately clear, the person was murdered.  Then the cadaver dog and its handler turns up more bones, and then another.  And the race is on to find a serial killer before they strike again.

And as Pax’s work hours lengthen, he must find someone to watch his boys after school and on the weekends he is working. Pax’s wife walked out of them 2 years ago and with his housekeeper’s daughter expecting her first child, he turns to Jordan Leonard, the boys schoolteacher and friend. Pax and Jordan have established an uneasy friendship since the Boyle family returned to town.  Years ago, Pax and Jordy were lovers in college, happy until Pax’s father broke them up by forcing Pax to marry a business partner’s daughter in a merger of families and businesses.  A heartbroken Jordy left college immediately and Pax had not seen him since their bitter parting until Pax, Jenny and the kids returned to their home town.

Pax and Jordan still have feelings for each other but Pax is an honorable man and still considers himself married, despite Jenny’s absence. And for Jordan, Pax’s betrayal of their love still hurts after all this time.  As more and more bodies are found, Pax’s longer hours bring Jordan closer into their family circle and their attraction to each others gets stronger.  How much longer will Pax  be able to keep to his promises to stay an honorable man?

Edward Kendricks did a wonderful job of weaving the story of a past love rekindled with a forensic tale of murder.   He skillfully builds the anticipation and interest as first Pax and his boys (what charmers) find the first bone on a rock hunt. Then as more skeletons are unearthed, it becomes clear that the police and Pax’s forensic unit have a serial killer on their hands. Theories are bandied about and clues discovered as the story continues, spending as much time in Pax’s lab or with the police officers hunting the killer as it does with the romance of Pax and Jordan. I liked this technique but for others it might take too much time away from the love story of the two main characters.  Kendricks does tie the two together in a neat twist that I loved, plus I enjoyed the murder mystery aspect of the book.

The love story, I think I had more problems with that section of the plot.  I did get the part where Pax was not brave enough and perhaps old enough to stand up to his father when the and Jordy first got together.  But Kendricks didn’t give me enough of the mature Pax’s feelings about Jordy to make their sudden romance entirely believable.  Same for Jordan, a character I really enjoyed.  Jordan left that college he attended with Pax for another, completed his degrees and came home to teach, his bitterness over Pax’s cowardliness still very much alive years later.  But the author tells us they have become friends since being reunited at a parent/teacher conference but gives us little evidence except for the fact that Pax leaves the boys in Jordy’s care when necessary.  Neither man has ever talked about their previous affair nor is neither man out to the community. This is not a “gay for you” story as both men are definitely gay from the start. But both Pax and Jordy seemed lacking a few layers to make both men totally believable in the context of the story.  Who did I believe in?  The boys.  I loved Denny and Danny.  With spot on dialog and wonderful characteristics, Kendricks needs to make those boys the main characters of a series of YA novels.  They would be a hit! With their passion for rocks and bones, especially fossils, those 12 year olds were easily the most authentic personas here and maybe this generation’s Hardy Boys.

And that leaves me with the ending that had far too many loose ends.  I hesitate to tell you what exactly remained unfinished as that enters spoiler territory and perhaps Edward Kendricks plans a sequel to finish the mystery he started here.  All good mysteries have the same basic elements: who, what, when,  where and why.  Not all those questions are answered leaving this reader a tad frustrated.  AT 143 pages (story alone), the ending came with a rush, which was surprising considering the time the author took getting us to that point.  I think you will feel a little shortchanged by this story, I know I did. But the parts that irked me are balanced by the portions that kept me enthralled and totally entertained. And that’s enough for me to give this a recommendation.

Cover:  Reese Dante was the cover artist.  The cover is great, it contains all the elements of the story in an appealing design.

Dance in the Dark (Dance with the Devil #2) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 5 stars

All Johnny’s parents had ever wanted for him was to live life as a normal child.  And with the life he has been given, all he has ever wanted was to fit in and be anything but normal. After his parents were killed by a vampire in the throes of a blood lust, Johnny was adopted by The Dracula Desroseiers and raised along side his vampire son, always aware that he was normal in a family of abnormals and a member of the ruling class. Now at 23, he is considered by most “more vampire than the other vampires”, more coldly beautiful, more arrogant and as well as brilliant. Not quite accepted in either human or vampire society, Johnny spends his days with his books, his studies, and mysteries.

Then his best friend needs Johnny to solve a mystery of a pair of magicked Cinderella slippers, that dominos into a succession of mysteries, increasing in complexity and danger until the final mystery Johnny needs to solve is one that involves him and his family. Then Johnny has to wonder if it is better to dance in the dark than be devoured by it.

Dance in the Dark is the second in the Dance with the Devil series but follows the same format as the first, each chapter is a series of detective cases that Johnny solves.  But unlike the first novel with Chris and Sable Brennen, this takes place in The Dracula Desrosiers territory and John Desrosiers is the Sherlock Holmes type sleuth. Although quick to comment on his normal status, he is also proud of his ability to deduce the solution to the mysteries presented to him, using just his mind and powers of observation. In other hands, Johnny could come off as cold, proud and plain unlikeable. However, this is Megan Derr and in my mind, I automatically equate her with complex characters with real emotions and dimension, and with Derr as his creator, Johnny is completely understandable in his prickly behavior.  He may hide behind his spoiled rich brat front but there is true kindness and the loneliness of a orphan behind all his actions.  I adored him immediately, including his habit of using quotes from poetry to answer questions put to him. Johnny is also the Beau Brummell of his day and I looked forward to the descriptions of his garb and matching jewelry as much as I did elements of the case.  His dress said as much about him as does his manners, beautiful details I have come to expect from a Megan Derr character. All that  lonely brilliance needs balance, and Derr provides it with a host of wildly different characters and beings, each unique, each endearing and all memorable.  This includes Eros, a being of darkness who visits Johnny in the dark for sexual encounters that  quickly turn into more for Johnny, as he needs the intimacy but Eros keeps his identity and physical self hidden to Johnny’s increasing frustration.

If you are not familiar with the books of Megan Derr, I will tell you that every name, every object or event that comes up has a hidden meaning that will be revealed later in the story.  It may not seem like much at the time the information is introduced, but I have learned over many books to take nothing for granted and take great joy in the many traps she springs and surprises that  lay in store.  Here Derr plays with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and other fantasy childhood stories such as  Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty but with a much darker take on them then the current Disney versions and much more in keeping with the original folktales.  Each chapter is such a tale as in Case No.004 The Bremen, as in The Town Musicians of  Bremen. And with each case, layer upon layer is added, eventually connecting all the mysteries to one enormous event that will amaze you with its depth and devilry.

In Dance in the Dark, you get the added bonus of meeting with Chris, Phil, Sable and other characters from Dance with the Devil as a case of Chris’ from that novel is the focal point around which the cases here revolve.  All will be involved in the final solution. How I loved visiting with them again and of course, it caused me to return to read that story once again.

Along with great characters, Derr gives you such wondrous stories filled with complex settings of such vivid description, I often wanted to be a pixie myself riding on their shoulders to experience it all myself. Here they be dragons, and imps, witches and succubus, demons and alchemists – all at play, all none as they seem.  Every time I think Megan Derr has outdone herself with a book, she ups the standard with the next one until my mind boggles over her gift with the language and her ability to tell a story.  In olden times, she would have been a Bard of Legend, her tales told far and wide.  Read Dance in the Dark.  You will find yourself believing it too.

Start the series at the beginning, to get the full understanding of the characters complex backgrounds and world building:

Dance with the Devil (Dance with the Devil #1) read my review here.

Dance with the Dark (Dance with the Devil #2)

Midnight (Dance with the Devil #3) – review coming soon.

Cover art by London Burden.  Love the covers for this series, simple, elegant and perfect.

A Review of Lessons in Desire, Cambridge Fellows #2 by Charlie Cochrane

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I have just finished Lessons in Desire, the second in the Cambridge Fellows series and I am beginning to see the reasons for the good reviews. Unlike the first book which left me detached and uninvolved in the characters, Lessons in Desire delighted me and gave me a better understanding of Drs. Coppersmith and Stewart as well as the times they lived in.

It is 1906 and classes at St. Brides College have been adjourned for the holidays. Jonty Stewart has persuaded his love and colleague to go on vacation with him to Jersey, a journey Orlando views with trepidation. Once the fellows reach the shores of Jersey, the book really began to engage me. As Jonty introduces Orlando to the joys of the seashore, from swimming to hunting crabs in the tidal pools, you experience these precious first times with him. Charlie Cochrane’s descriptions of the shore and its delights are lyrical. She clearly loves the sea and has spent much time there in much the same pursuits as Jonty and Orlando. Orlando’s repressed and restricted childhood leaves him unprepared for the childish games and day trips Jonty has prepared for them to do.

This is such a wonderful look into a gentler, slower time. I loved riding with them on the bicycles, or catching shrimp and bedeviling the hermit crabs in their favorite cove. I laughed at their descriptions of the bathing costumes and Orlando’s embarrassment in disrobing outside of his room (even though he would be merely taking off the clothes on top of the bathing outfit). As Orlando slowly opens himself up to fully experiencing being on holiday with Jonty, more of his past is revealed.

Of course, a murder occurs at the inn they are staying at and, much like Agatha Christie, you are introduced to all the suspects during Orlando and Jonty’s stay. From the kind older couple to the young honeymooners, all the staple characters of an English murder mystery are here. But unlike a Agatha Christie novel, the murderer is easy to spot and the crime not really much of a mystery. That was my only real disappointment in this book. I wished that the murder mystery was as high in quality as the descriptions of Jonty and Orlando on holiday. But I love the fact that this is a typical cosie but a m/m cosie, a lovely addition to the genre.

If you are looking for hot, descriptive sex, then you will find the title misleading and the book disappointing. Here Jonty wishes Orlando to open himself to exploring new horizons of all types, not just including physical love. The lovemaking is gentle and usually under wraps as it were, left more to the readers imagination than visually realistic in terms. I thought this was very much in keeping with the tone and flavor of the story and feel that anything else would have been inappropriate.

I look forward to the next installment in the series, Lessons in Discovery and another visit with Jonty and Orlando.

Rating: 4 stars

Note: I really like the cover of this book. It evokes the time period beautifully unlike the new modern cover for the first novel which was jarring.

With the recent series of college murders behind him, Cambridge Fellow Jonty Stewart is in desperate need of a break. A holiday on the beautiful Channel Island of Jersey seems ideal, if only he can persuade Orlando Coppersmith to leave the security of the college and come with him. Orlando is a quiet man who prefers academic life to venturing out into the world. Within the confines of their rooms at the university, it’s easy to hide the fact that he and Jonty are far more than friends. But the desire to spend more time alone with the man he loves is an impossible lure to resist. When a brutal murder occurs at the hotel where they’re staying, the two young men are once more drawn into the investigation. The race to catch the killer gets complicated by the victim’s son, Ainslie, a man who seems to find Orlando too attractive to resist. Can Stewart and Coppersmith keep Ainslie at bay, keep their affair clandestine, and solve the crime?

Available from: LindenBay Publishers, All Romance, Amazon, Fictionwise.