Title: Semper Fi
Author: Keira Andrews
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Blurb: The war is over. The battle for love has just begun.
As Marines, Cal and Jim depended on each other to survive bloodshed and despair in the Pacific. Relieved to put the horrors of war behind him, Jim went home to his apple orchard and a quiet life with his wife and children. Knowing Jim could never return his forbidden feelings, Cal hoped time and an ocean between them would dull the yearning for his best friend.
But when Jim’s wife dies, Cal returns to help. He doesn’t know a thing about apple farming—or children—but he’s determined to be there for Jim, even as the painful torch he carries blazes back to life. Jim is grateful for his friend’s support as he struggles with buried emotions and dark wartime memories. Then Jim begins to see Cal in a new light, and their relationship deepens in ways neither expected. Can they build a life together as a family and find happiness in a world that would condemn them?
Review: Keira Andrews’ Semper Fi incorporates everything I love about historical romance into one solid and inspiring read: the secret longing, the forbidden passion, the fear of discovery, and the despair, always the despair that the future will never be one of fulfillment in a loving relationship. Set against a World War II backdrop that alternates to the present day, in this case 1948, this lovely novel is at once heartrending and heartwarming. It tells the story of two men who become fast friends in the early days of the war with Japan, as they make their way through basic training, become Marines and support each other through the trials and horrors of the war.
Cal Cunningham and Jim Bennett are a study in contrast, the wealthy city bachelor and the apple farmer husband, their connection layered throughout this story in both the past and the present as we witness a friendship forged under fire and a tenuous but abiding love built from that friendship after Jim’s wife dies in a tragic accident. Encompassing loss, grief, post traumatic stress, and the confusing mix of feelings that come with Jim’s self-unawareness, Keira Andrews takes the reader on a journey of desire tempered by fear and duty, the duty of a single father to his children, to protect them from the sin and stain of loving another man.
The non-linear storytelling in Semper Fi served as the perfect delivery, allowing Cal and Jim’s relationship to be realized early on while building their backstory one flashback at a time. Each time shift not only amplifies the tension in the plot but keeps the story flowing at the perfect pace to show the reader all the cues and clues these men missed while they were fighting for their own lives, while the tragedy of losing so many of their brothers-in-arms wounded them so deeply. The depth of the bond formed in their years of service, the danger and misery that was tempered by their need for each other, even though platonic, carries on over their years of separation—a separation reinforced by Cal’s attempts to guard his heart against the impossible love he feels for his best friend. Their reunion, when Cal arrives at Clover Grove to help Jim at the orchard, is the beginning of another sort of fight, no less frightening and with as far-reaching consequences as any they’d fought before.
There are no surprise twists in Semper Fi, no manufactured angst for the sake of conflict (there was plenty of natural conflict in the flashbacks and in the time period the story is set), just a beautiful love story that begins strong and comes to a sweet and believable finish, a story of family, of what it means to have more experience with loss than anyone should ever have, and what it means to grab onto and never let go of joy when it walks into your life.
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