(Happy early Veteran's Day! Release day is 11/11/14 but what a perfect date to be released.)
Thanks to all the troops for all that they do!
4.5 HEARTS--Semper Fi is a best friends to lovers novel when you break it down. It is moving. It is understated yet dramatic. It has action, it has feels. It is erotic. It has laughs. It made me smile in one moment then swoon in the next. I got angry at one point and my heart nearly beat out my chest in the next.
This story is love, the other half to your soul, covered in apples (once you read it you'll understand) kind-of-love.
Cal Cunningham met Jim Bennett on a train, heading to Marine training. He knew in an instant he had to get closer to the blonde haired, blue eyes apple orchard farm boy from upstate New York. He was charmed from the start. Cal joined the Marines to spite his rich family. Cal was also queer, a crime at the time. He hid his true self from others and denied himself. But there was something about Jim. The fact that Jim was married to a woman with a child (and has only been with one woman) did not stop his feelings for the younger man. And so begins the start of Semper Fi.
Semper Fi is told from alternating POV, alternating flashbacks [Cal and Jim 's start in the Marines - 1942] and [rekindling of their friendship when Jim needs help with his apple farm- the men haven't seen each other once the war ended -1948]. Semper Fi is set in post WWII New York and Pacific Islands during WWII. The story is also broken down in three parts, the pace slowly speeding up as it progresses. Nothing read extraneous, the way it was broken down lent credence to the story on a whole, in my opinion.
We're brought onto the magical apple farm that is Jim's livelihood. He recently lost his wife to a car accident and needs help with that year's harvest. Cal drops everything to help his best friend, who he hasn't seen in three years. This is juxtaposed with the start of the men's military careers. It goes from sweet and sexy, yearning and longing of unrequited love to the senselessness and horrors of war. The author weaved the strands pretty expertly.
Romance always needs two interesting main characters but it's not interesting if the secondary characters are flat. I loved the secondary characters just as much as the main in Semper Fi. Mrs. O'Brien, the kind grandmotherly figure - I wish I had her in my life right now. Sully - the redheaded still-wet-behind-the-ears soldier - little bugger. Adored him. Rebecca - the grieving fiance...I thought she was going to play into that evil female character stereotype but she didn't. She was good. The children, Sophie and Adam...get into my pocket please. They were age appropriate and intuitive. All of these character added to the Semper Fi experience.
The duality of the story actually works. There was angst but it was not added unnecessarily. Before I could get my hooks into worrying about how a certain scene played out, I'd get a flashback giving more depth to the character.
I felt like I knew Jim and Cal, their reactions to situations made sense and I was drawn in. Cal, the silver tongued talker, who always had the right word for the right situation. Jim, who suffered from PTSD, struggled with his feelings, his sense of religion and self...both men were interesting, well plotted characters.
And sexy. This is also a hot number. The forbidden aspect added a little extra to the sex scenes. And yummy intense, outdoor sex always wins in my book. *growls*
At the core of this story, it's rich boy meets farm boy, an out queer (well for that time period) who is in love with his straight, best friend. Those are always great themes done well.
And this was.
For "GFY" to work for me, I need to read the internal struggle of the straight character. I need to believe the angst and self doubt. I need examples of said struggle. This was given in Semper Fi. No one jumps into a relationship without examining their inner demons (and between Cal and Jim they have plenty).
Plus, the time period did not work against getting the romance across. It was stricter times back then but it was believable. You can tell the author researcher the time period thoroughly but it did NOT READ LIKE AN INFO DUMP. A pet peeve of mine is reading a story where you can tell the author used the search engine and included everything but the damn time stamp.
This story is about the lengths a true friend will go for you. It's about a love that doesn't come along every day, a love that the two people involved make sacrifices for. It's strong. This is definitely on of my favorite books of the year. I would say I'm claiming Cal (because I loved him) but he's for Jim. Jim's for him.
Minor niggle: I wish Jim stood up to his father-in-law. Something about those in-laws and Jim's relationship felt unsettled. That just might be my personal deal. Overall, excellent story.
I'll leave you with a favorite quote of mine:
"So why should anyone judge you for your thoughts? For your feelings? Feelings of love, not resentment and anger. Yes, some would judge you, but to the devil with them. Don't ever hate yourself for loving."
This story does a fine job answering this.
Recommended, especially for readers who enjoy the relationship building in a friends to lovers theme.
SRAL <3 C.C. + J.B.
A copy provided for an honest review.