Can a summer romance last forever?
Wren Roberts thought he’d found his fairy tale when he met Mateo Rossi on holiday in Majorca. The wealthy and successful older man swept him off his feet, and before he knew it, he’d thrown caution to the wind and was living in Mateo’s waterside apartment in Venice. It’s a far cry from his harsh upbringing and crummy flat in London.
But as the summer turns to autumn, cracks begin to show. Mateo’s family aren’t welcoming, and there doesn’t seem to be a place for Wren in Mateo’s world. He could have coped with all of that, but Mateo himself seems like a different person away from the sunshine island.
Should Wren have been more cautious in riding off into the sunset when he wasn’t sure what lay over the horizon?
Lily Morton’s The Cuckoo’s Call is a charming and heartfelt age-gap, opposites-attract romance that looks at what happens to a holiday romance after the holiday is over. You generally know what you’re getting with a Morton book – steamy sexytimes, witty banter, engaging characters and a good helping of feels – which is exactly what’s on offer here, and if you’ve read at least some of Lily Morton’s other romances, you’ll recognise the character-types – the snarky, free-spirited one and the more world-weary one who falls completely under his spell but fights it all the way. But tropes are tropes are tropes; as always, it’s what the author does with them that matters, and if the formula happens to work for you (as it did for me here) then you’ll likely enjoy the book.
Wren Roberts was looking forward to taking a holiday on the island of Majorca with his long-time friend, Owen, but didn’t know that they would be joined there by a group of Owen’s rich, snobby friends. After a week of putting up with their not-so-veiled jibes at his non-designer clothes and being dragged to private beaches and expensive bars, he’s more than a little pissed off when Owen announces the group’s intention to finish their holiday in Madrid – the fare an expense Wren can’t afford.
Wren is giving Owen a piece of his mind in the hotel lobby when he notices their exchange being watched by a striking, dark-haired man at the reception desk who is trying to suppress a smile.
Although disappointing, Owen’s departure at least means Wren will be able to explore the island and do the things he wants to do. Not so good though is the treatment he’s afforded by the hotel staff; now he’s on his own and not with a rich crowd, they’re less than polite towards him, and one of the waiters is in the process of turning Wren away from the restaurant when the man Wren had seen earlier announces that Wren is his dinner guest – and the waiter’s attitude immediately turns from dismissive to obsequious. Wren isn’t sure what’s going on, but when the man – who introduces himself as Mateo – invites him to join him, Wren allows himself to be persuaded to stay.
Wren and Mateo share a meal and an enjoyable evening, but it’s not until Wren has, with typical self-deprecating humour, spoken about the rudeness of the staff that he realises exactly whom he’d had dinner with. Mateo Rossi. The owner of the hotel.
When Wren answers the knock on his door the following morning, Mateo is the last person he expects to see standing there. Far from being annoyed, however, the man is smiling and chatty, then asks Wren to tell him about the pros and cons of his room, listening carefully to what he has to say. He then explains that he’s on Majorca in order to purchase two more hotels, and would like Wren to view them with him:
You have a very keen eye, and I find I need that this week… I find myself suffering a little ennui. Everything looks the same to me at the moment. I need a pair of fresh eyes.
Wren thinks he should probably turn down such an out-of-the-blue request… but he wants to do it, to go with this intriguing man and have something exciting happen, something he can remember when he’s back at his boring job in gloomy London. He says yes.
Over the next few days, Mateo – who was born on Majorca and obviously adores the place – shows Wren more of the island, taking him to some of his favourite places in between their visits to the hotels he’s considering purchasing. A genuine friendship springs up between this odd couple, and it’s the best week of Wren’s life, even though he knows he’s in danger of falling for the fascinating, older man. Mateo isn’t looking for anything long-term – and even if he were, he’s way out of Wren’s league – but Wren decides the eventual heartbreak will be worth it for having had the chance to live life to the full for this one week and make lots of wonderful memories to take home with him. And Wren’s captivating mix of honesty, warmth and humour make Mateo realise how weary and closed-off he’s been, and how long it is since he’s felt so unencumbered, so joyous and free. On their final day together, Mateo suddenly realises he’s not ready to let Wren go – and asks him to go back to Venice with him (which is where his family and business are based) and stay for a month.
It’s not a spoiler (it’s in the blurb) to say that in Venice, things change. Mateo’s mother and stepsister are hostile towards Wren, and even though Mateo wants to spend time with him, he is quickly sucked back in to the corporate world and consumed by his responsibilities. Wren can’t deny he’s upset at not seeing much of Mateo, but he decides to make the most of his time in the city and enjoy it while he can. But the longer he’s around the Rossi family, the more Wren is convinced there’s no place for him in Mateo’s world.
Wren is a complete and utter sweetheart. An orphan brought up in foster care, he’s learned not to expect much and that the only person he can really depend on is himself, but despite his difficult upbringing, he’s also learned to make the most of what is available to him and has somehow managed to maintain an upbeat and optimistic outlook and to develop “a deep compassion that someone who grew up like him should surely not possess.” His gentle humour has a softer edge than the rapier wit displayed by many of Lily Morton’s characters, but it fits Wren perfectly; he’s kind and generous, but he doesn’t suffer fools and doesn’t let anyone push him around. I loved his honesty and self-awareness; he doesn’t lie to himself about what he feels for Mateo, going into their relationship with his eyes open and knowing it’s got an end date, determined not to put any pressure on Mateo for anything he’s not able or prepared to give. Mateo is a bit more of a romance stereotype; the workaholic businessman weighed down by responsibility who’s lost sight of the important things in life. I liked the way the story is structured; it’s easy to understand why Wren would fall for the more carefree Mateo we see in the first part of the book, and seeing that man first makes his reversion to the duty-bound man of the second part even more painful to witness.
The story is told from both PoVs, although at least three-quarters of it is told from Wren’s perspective with the odd chapter told from Mateo’s, and of the small secondary cast, Mateo’s grandfather is the standout. I also noticed a couple of characters who seem to be crying out for a book of their own! And bonus points for the references to the gothic romances of yore – I got a definite Rebecca-ish vibe early on (although there’s no Mrs. Danvers, fortunately!) – and Wren’s love of Mills & Boon.
Wren and Mateo’s romance is passionate and tender and full of affectionate, gentle humour – and though the angst level is fairly low, the author still manages to pack quite the emotional punch. With its wonderfully described Mediterranean/Venetian settings and charming central characters, The Cuckoo’s Call is a lovely, feel-good read that will bring a smile to your face, a lump to your throat and warmth and sunshine to the grey days of winter.