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The Rebuilding Year is the first book in Kaje Harper's series. I've owned this book for a while but never found the time to read it, so I jumped at the chance to listen to the audio and I do not regret that decision! Well, except that I would have liked to listen to all three books in the series at once, but instead I ended up buying the next two books so I could finish Ryan and John's story with no long delay!
I loved that this story was about two men older than their 20's. I'm not going to call them "mature" men, because it makes them sound ancient. But, this isn't a story about two 20 year olds. This is about two men who have lived life, life threw them curveballs and they're living a new life. John is a divorced man with two children. He loved and married his childhood sweetheart. Now he fights to get to see his children. He works for a local college and really lives a quiet life. He's very unassuming. Ryan was a firefighter injured on the job, so he's moved on to the next part of his life and has gone back to college to pursue a career in medicine. Ryan is a ladies' man, but since his injury, he has been more reluctant to let someone seem him sans clothes. Ryan liked the adrenaline rush of being a firefighter, and will enjoy it as a doctor. On a day when he's struggling, he meets John who helps him out. And so begins a very, very slow going friendship. These two men are nothing more than acquaintances that see each other on campus. Then they become roommates when Ryan is looking for a place. Then they become friends and way, way, way into this story they become something else.
Something that I liked about this story was that these men were not perfect. John frustrated me regarding his inaction with his kids. He didn't want to make waves so he let his ex-wife dictate everything, even not allowing visitation with lame excuses. And, I know a man exactly like this in real life. It drives me nuts regardless of where it happens. These are your children and while it's important to remain a decent person, they're your children. Maybe John was just beaten down from life, but I kept saying, they're your kids, do something! And though neither man fell into a relationship easily, Ryan's need to keep everything secretive annoyed me. But, that's also what I liked about this story. This was two every day guys that didn't have all the answers and didn't always make the right decisions the first time around. They were real.
The narrator is Gomez Pugh. He did a terrific job bringing this story off the page. His narration had good diction, a good pace, no weird pausing or word uses. The narrator gave each character individual voices and really just brought this story to life for me. The focus of this narration was on the story and characters, as it should be. Though this is the first time I've listened to this narrator, I look forward to hearing more from him!
Even though I have very, very strong feelings regarding stories that leave "cliffhanger" type endings, I didn't hold this ending against the author. It has a HFN type ending. You know the men are together but nothing else is settled in their lives. Plus, I was able to just go ahead and read the next two books without a long wait, so that helps tame my hatred. :) I highly recommend reading this series, and having all books on the ready once you start reading! And do listen to this audio, it's fantastic and one I will relisten to again in the future!
Overall: 5 stars!
Performance: 5 stars!
Story: 5 stars!!
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
How important are first impressions?
Ryan Ward knows he hasn’t made a good one on his first day of medical school. Instead of using his cane, vanity caused him to leave it at home, and when his knee gave out, he fell down a flight of stone stairs and hit his head.
He doesn’t lose consciousness but finds himself looking into kind compassionate eyes.
John Barrett is the groundskeeper of the campus and holder of its many secrets. He knows many of the students by sight and keeps a paternal eye on them. Since his wife took their two children (Tori aged twelve and Mark, almost fifteen) from Wisconsin to L.A., this is as close as he comes to being a father.
Doctoring the soon-to-be doctor gives his day some purpose. When the men run into each other a few days later at a pub, they strike up a friendship. When Ryan hits the limit of patience with his partying roommate, John offers to rent him a room in his too-big empty house.
These are both older men, John a bit more so. He might even have a grey hair. But he shares how much he misses his children. Ryan is the second-youngest in a family of 4 boys, doesn’t know much about kids but he does remember the nice things his older brother used to do for him. Ryan shares this advice with John.
Then there’s the night that changes everything.
Men aren’t known for opening up and sharing their feelings, but there is a moment when Ryan and John do exactly that. Both men have survived incidents of profound sorrow. John assures Ryan that it’s not a contest to see whose pain is deeper – because they both have reasons for profound grief. The empathy between the two men is palpable.
So is the kiss an expression of that empathy, a logical extension of their friendship, or something much more profound?
GFY (gay-for-you) is a common trope, but Kaje handles it with the humour and emotion that befits the situation. Neither man planned this – both being straight – and they are coming to this relationship from very different experiences. But there is something undefinably right about them. As always, life gets in the way of a smooth-sailing relationship.
John’s children play an endearing and important role in the book. His ex-wife Cynthia is a bit shrill, but maybe that explains why she left him. The relationship between John and Ryan, of course, becomes an issue with custody. The men’s love for the children was wonderful.
There is one thing that niggled me. There is a subplot that almost felt out-of-place. Just too much. Maybe it’s because I felt the emotions between John and Ryan were so real, the kids so important, that no other crises were needed. It did, however, lead to a very dramatic scene that did move the relationship forward, so I understood why it was included. It also enabled characters to face their fears which is heartening.
I loved these two men, the gentle exploration of what it means to be a man, and why friendship can be the perfect basis for a great romantic relationship.
The book has a happily-ever-after, but I did notice there is a sequel and there will be a Christmas novella soon. My only disappointment is that they aren’t out on audio, but that is a small quibble because I loved the book. A friend introduced me to Kaje’s writing and I’ve been hooked ever since. If you enjoy this book, you will love "Into Deep Waters" and vice versa.
I cannot say enough good things about Gomez Pugh. He is the perfect narrator. Ryan and John’s voices helped me create a picture in my mind and he did great work with the kids and secondary characters. You need to listen to these books.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
This is one of my top 5 MM books and to have it available as an audiobook is just wonderful. It's the best "GFY" story I've read , but calling it a gfy is underestimating the story. It's simply a lovely story about two people starting over and falling in love. You never question for a moment that these two men, who have been "straight" can find something in each other to love. It's realistic and slow burning and hot ( hey what can I say!!) Gomez Hugh does a great job bringing two very human and likeable characters to life.
This is one of my favourite books and to hear it brought to life by the incredible Gomez Pugh is such a treat. I am hoping book 2 will also be released on audio.