Of all of the various literary genre mashups, grief/romance might seem one of the more incongruous. But Emma Grey pulls it off in her novel The Last Love Note, the story of one young widow’s resistance to the idea of getting involved again with a new – albeit familiar – man. While the pendulum swing between very sad story of loss and standard trope romance was occasionally jarring, both halves of the book were equally compelling and it worked in the end.

Why I picked it up: I heard Emma Grey speak on a Zibby Books panel and really liked her.

Kate is a fortyish single mother living in Australia with her young son. Cam, the love of her life, died four years ago of early onset Alzheimers, a disease that robbed her of him long before his death. One constant source of support throughout Cam’s illness and death was her boss, Hugh, a serious and guarded but extremely kind man who grew quite close to Cam in the years before he died. Now that Cam is gone, Kate and Hugh are colleagues and very close friends… until bad weather and a diverted flight to a business meeting force them to spend a weekend alone by the beach. Will Kate, who has very slowly begun to notice that there is chemistry between them, be willing to take a chance on a new love, despite her fear of loss? Will Hugh finally reveal the secrets he has been keeping from Kate about his past and a promise that he made to Cam that he swore never to talk about?

Take a guess.

Ok, so this is a romance novel and you can probably guess where The Last Love Note is headed. BUT, Gray gets us there without the usual things that keep two characters apart in a romance novel. Instead, she dives deeply into grief, no holding back. There are some just devastating scenes where Kate has to adjust to Cam’s declining mental and physical faculties, scenes infused with raw sadness and despair. So the Thing Keeping Kate And Hugh Apart is a really sad, difficult thing. That made the transitions to the romance perhaps a bit awkward, but also a lot sweeter. Hugh and Kate are both intensely likeable, so you’re rooting for them to end up together, but you’re also deeply sympathetic about to why they haven’t.

The Last Love Note is a satisfying read thanks to the melding of its two genres into a bittersweet whole. There are a few distracting sideline plots that are inconsistent with the rest of the book, but they are dispensed with pretty quickly. I did this one mostly on audio, which I actually don’t recommend. The narrator is fine, but a bit too girly/sugary at times. Her delivery was fine for the romance but I had a hard time when she was talking about her marriage to Cam. I’d recommend the print over the audio.

The Last Love Note was the 3rd (eesh) book of 2024.