Lessons in Love by Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: Linden Bay Romance
Author’s website: http://charliecochrane.co.uk
Review by Mark R. Probst
Charlie Cochrane’s Lessons in Love is a lovely Edwardian mixture of romance and murder mystery. Set in 1906 at Cambridge University, two fellows (a term we Americans are unfamiliar with, but refers to a former student of the University who is now on staff, generally in a teaching position) meet and slowly fall in love. Jonathan (Jonty) is a high-spirited, jocular English teacher who has had a male lover before, but sets his sights on warming up the reticent, brooding mathematician, Orlando who, without intervention, is likely to remain a virgin for the rest of his life. No sooner does Jonty break the ice, than a murder occurs at the college and the murderer appears to be a religious fanatic targeting sodomites. As the murdered boy is one of Orlando’s students, he and Jonty get involved and aid the police in the investigation.
Most of the story’s charm lies in the romance, which is allowed to take its sweet time to come to fruition. Both men are acutely aware of the dangers and in Orlando’s case he needs the “lessons in love” that Jonty tenderly provides to assuage his guilt over what he doesn’t understand.
There are of course, two intertwining plots, one–the developing romance, and two–the murder investigation. Cochrane does a good job weaving them together in a way that felt comfortable and not jumpy between the two. And yes there was even a nail-biting conclusion to the mystery that had me hooked clear through to the climax.
Cochrane creates a realistic world through description and language that one would naturally compare to E. M. Forster’s Maurice, though Lessons in Love is much lighter and cheerier. The writing style is so beautifully simple and straightforward that it is effortless to read. I should also mention that I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sex in the book is romanticized and not explicit – Linden Bay, shame on you for lying about the heat rating!
My only real complaint is not with the writing, but the genre. I could make this same complaint about Nancy Drew, or Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. In this type of mystery the police tend to be a little bit inept at solving cases and it’s up to the amateur sleuth to heroically solve it and hand the conclusion over to the police. Did you ever notice how every which way Miss Marple turns, she stumbles upon a corpse? If Jonty and Orlando were private investigators whose job it was to investigate crimes, then it would make sense, but for the police to rely on them to solve the case… well you see what I mean.
I heartily recommend this breezy historical romance and look forward to spending more time with the adorable Cambridge Fellows in the next installment: Lessons in Desire.
Reviewed by Mark R. Probst
Gerry Burnie’s Two Irish Lads is a quaint tale of second cousins Sean and Patrick McConaghy who migrate to Canada from their homeland of Ireland in the year 1820. Starting out they weren’t all that familiar with each other but due to their close proximity on the voyage, they got to know and like one another quite a bit. Their reasons for leaving Ireland and their families are somewhat vague, though I got the impression that they wanted to escape the poverty of their homeland and British tyranny. With their life’s savings they intended to buy some land in “upper Canada” (the area now known as Ontario) and make a good life as farmers with the hope of prosperity and (in Sean’s mind at least) marriages to lovely wives.
The voyage across the Atlantic is an adventure in its own right, and once they arrive at their destination they visit the land office and select a choice piece of property. With a few supplies and a tent, they take on the task of clearing the land, hoping to build a shelter before winter. It seemed fairly obvious that Patrick knew exactly what he wanted from Sean from the start and had few qualms about it. He had no shame in parading around naked in front of Sean and eventually Sean’s barricade of denial breaks down and the two become lovers. They are befriended by a fellow Irishman named Nealon, one of the settlement’s wealthy leaders, who takes them under his wing, giving them advice, arranging a cabin-raising for them, and even getting Sean a job as a schoolmaster. It is soon revealed that he has an ulterior motive in that he hopes they might marry his two daughters.
Yet another Irishman enters the picture (it seems Canada was just crawling with Irish folk) this one a handsome blacksmith who hits it off with the two lads and they all pleasantly discover they are of one mind. Well, for a short period two Irish lads becomes three Irish lads as a ménage-a-trois ensues. Some readers may feel this is breaking the rules of a traditional romance. I say rules be damned, three strapping Irish boys together is kind of hot! I’ll go no further in the story except to say that there are a few harsh realities through which they must persevere.
The story is written in the style Sean’s daily journal. While the first few chapters do indeed read like an authentic journal, thankfully Burnie then shifts to more of a first-person narrative than how a real journal would read, but that is simply to accommodate the storytelling process.
Burnie’s knowledge and research shine through in that the story beautifully describes 19th century Irish customs and decorum. He even uses a few Gaelic phrases, always with translation, and the dialog sounds so right you can practically hear the Irish brogue. In an informative preface, Burnie lets us know that there will be some modern language to ease the reader’s comprehension, and also that a few historical inaccuracies (such as the inclusion of the “Danny Boy” lyrics to Londonderry Air) were intentional.
Burnie uses an unusual device in fiction writing – footnotes. These serve two purposes: To give us information about historical Irish or Canadian figures, laws, customs, and language; and secondly to give the journal an illusion of authenticity by having the author appear to be baffled by what the journalist was referring to. There were a few instances where the footnotes were completely unnecessary such as letting us know how many square feet are in an acre, or the definition of a cobblestone.
I thought the characters were well-developed and exuded a great deal of charm. Sean was the leader and sensible one, whereas the younger Patrick was more carefree and daring. While he yearned to be able to be open and proclaim his “secret love” to the world, he deferred to Sean’s wisdom and together they balanced each other out. The details of frontier life were also well researched, and the descriptions were vivid enough to give us a good picture of the landscapes and the settlements.
My quibbles are minor. First, I would have liked a few more examples of Sean actually teaching the children in school. Without that it appears that school was nothing more than a social gathering. And second, I felt that while the majority of the book was very upbeat and positive in nature, there were a few times I felt that the bubbly enthusiasm of some of the characters got just a little bit cloying. Sort of a “Let’s all get together and bake some cookies!” feeling that is more in tune to children’s literature than adult.
The erotic factor is a good balance. There was nothing so explicit for it to qualify as erotica, but I would say it is probably a little too hot for the younger set, though I admit I certainly have read young adult novels that have the same degree of sex in them.
I really enjoyed Two Irish Lads. It suits my personal taste of an upbeat depiction of frontier life, and I especially like stories where people come together to help each other and fight against the evils that threaten them. An untold story exists with Nealon’s two daughters. Perhaps Gerry Burnie could be coaxed into writing another story about them? I’d sure love to read more from this gifted author.
Author’s website http://www.twoirishlads.com
Book is available on the author’s website and also on Amazon.com