A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: Highly recommended and a must-read by fans of the series, but make sure you have tissues available.
He’s at the end of his rope…until fate casts a lifeline.
The Great War is over. Freed from a prisoner of war camp and back at St. Bride’s College, Orlando Coppersmith is discovering what those years have cost. All he holds dear—including his beloved Jonty Stewart, lost in combat.
A commission to investigate a young officer’s disappearance gives Orlando new direction…temporarily. The deceptively simple case becomes a maze of conflicting stories—is Daniel McNeil a deserter, or a hero? —taking Orlando into the world of the shell-shocked and broken. And his sense of Jonty’s absence becomes painfully acute. Especially when a brief spark of attraction for a Cambridge historian, instead of offering comfort, triggers overwhelming guilt.
As he hovers on the brink of despair, a chance encounter on the French seafront at Cabourg brings new hope and unexpected joy. But the crushing aftereffects of war could destroy his second chance, leaving him more lost and alone than ever…
Product Warnings: Contains sensual m/m lovemaking and is a three hankie story, two of which you’ll need for the happy ending.
“I trust Charlie.” That’s what I told Wave when she emailed me the blurb and said the next story in the Cambridge Fellows Mystery series was out. I think she thought I might not want it because of what it says in those couple of paragraphs, but I truly did believe that this author would not torture us, and that she would make it all okay in the end.
All Lessons Learned is book eight of Charlie Cochrane’s wonderful Cambridge Fellows Mystery series and it packs an emotional punch, so grab a box of tissues before sitting down to start. If you’ve never read Cochrane’s books before, what are you waiting for? She is a wonderful author, such a talent. Smart humor, fully-fleshed characters, tight plots and great dialog all make for winners in my book. If you’re looking to start this series, do so from the beginning with Lessons in Love. Reading All Lessons Learned before the others will not give you the emotional ride it will provide those who know and adore these characters.
The story opens on November 12, 1918 with Orlando walking out of a prisoner of war camp. It is a day after the cease fire of the First World War, and it seems that Orlando is not necessarily looking forward to going home. Skip ahead to April of the next year and we find our heroes’ good friend, Matthew Ainslie, at Cambridge getting ready to meet Orlando for dinner. Jonty did not survive the war and Orlando is in deep mourning, his grief almost unbearable. And it isn’t just Jonty; the elder Stewarts — both of Jonty’s parents — are also gone, as well as the headmaster of St. Bride’s. He puts on a brave face and pushes himself to go through the motions every day for classes, but he has made himself a recluse, closing his study and their Forsythia Cottage to all but a few select people. In the hopes that it will give Orlando a diversion, Matthew delivers a new sleuthing commission: a request to look into the disappearance of a soldier by his mother. The British Army claims he’s dead, but she isn’t so sure. During the early part of his investigation, he meets a historian who is researching wartime mental injuries, and someone to whom Orlando is unexpectedly — and to his shock and dismay — attracted. Meanwhile in France, an English soldier named Cesario hides behind a beard and rusty French, making the choice to not return to his homeland as he has nothing left there. The question is who is this man and could this be the missing soldier Orlando is looking for? Or someone more significant? When fate seems to bring them together, he finds the answers.
This was a really difficult review to write because to talk about it all would be to include big spoilers, so forgive me if I seem vague and do not address the entire plot. Suffice it to say that it’s a great addition to the already fabulous books in the collection, my trust in Cochrane was well-placed, and it’s a must read for fans of the series.
A bit darker and more somber than other installments, ALL has themes of grief, loss, guilt, fear, change, hope and second chances. I openly and often wept in the first part of the book, feeling Orlando’s pain as my own (even now, in my second reading for this review, I find myself blubbering). Jonty’s war-time notes and sonnets written to Orlando and words spoken before their separation were heartbreaking to me. And he couldn’t even share his grief with the Stewarts as they were gone as well. How can he possibly go on without his Jonty? Maybe he can’t.
Additionally, the ravages of war, of that War to End All Wars, is a focal point of the story. Not that war isn’t horrific in general, but it seems that specific conflict was especially so, and the men and boys who returned alive were changed — as was the world itself. There was a loss of innocence and things were never the same. Also playing a big part of the plot part are the difficulties vets face upon returning home to families who could (or would) not understand what they went through.
I really, really missed Jonty’s parents. Anyone who knows me and my reviews of these books, Helena Stewart is one of all-time favorite characters, and Jonty’s papa, Richard, has grown on me dearly through the series. I was quite sad when Cochrane decided their time was up.
But even with the overall sad tone of especially the first part of the book, Cochrane managed to slip in trademark humor. I loved that Orlando was able to smile once in a while. And it’s not all sad; the second part of the book emotionally picks up as Orlando heads to France to further his investigation.
All Lessons Learned is highly recommended and a must-read by fans of the series. And remember, if you haven’t yet begun the series, start with Lessons in Love.