Author: Kaje Harper
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Rating: 5 stars
Type: Novel in a Series
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Finding love in the ashes was easy. Building a life together? Don’t make Fate laugh.
The Rebuilding Year, Book 2
After spending the first part of his life chasing pretty girls, love has finally come to Ryan in the form of John, a tall, lanky, red-headed landscape architect with wide shoulders and a five-o’clock shadow.
For the first time in his life, love feels easy. Hell, he even ran into a burning building for John and his son, and he’d do it again if he had to. But telling his father and brothers “I’m gay. I’ve met a man”? That’s a bumpy ride he’s not looking forward to.
For John, loving Ryan is as natural as breathing. Now if only the rest of his life would fall into place. Dealing with his teen son is complicated enough, but with his ex-wife causing trouble and his daughter wanting to move in, John’s house—and his relationship with Ryan—threaten to split at the seams.
Would one month without a new surprise knocking him upside the heart be asking too much? If the sound of Fate’s laughter is any indication, the answer must be yes…
Review: This is the second book in a series that must be read in order. Firstly, you would be missing out on a seriously great read if you pass on The Rebuilding Year. Secondly, understanding what the characters have previously been through is essential to full enjoyment of this book. With authentic, compelling characters and absorbing writing, Kaje Harper captures and portrays the real ups and downs, indeed the very essence of this thing we call life.
*This review contains book #1 spoilers
“Maybe all you ever did was replace one set of nightmares with another.”
Well, OK, that may not sound like the best set up for a good read, but really, it illustrates how John and Ryan aren’t going to have a bump free road ahead of them. How they navigate those bumps is what this story is all about. The first book in this series deals with a fair amount of external conflict: murder and arson as well as family discord and the biggie: two men discovering they can fall in love with another man. Life, Some Assembly Required is all about family and relationship dynamics. Boring you say? Ah… sorry, never… not ever in the hands of Kaje Harper.After The Rebuilding Year, I didn’t think I could care for or admire John and Ryan more. I was wrong. This book solidifies them as two truly memorable characters.
This story starts immediately after The Rebuilding Year, immediately as in, during the same scene! (This makes it 2011 in the story.) All of the guys, John, Ryan and John’s son Mark, are dealing with the traumatic aftermath of the fire at the college. It’s tough going. John relives the horror of knowing both Ryan and Mark were in the burning building. Ryan relives his career ending brush with fire two years previously as well as this one. Mark is able to find some solace in his music. All of the men find solace and strength in each other.
“He wrapped his arm around Mark’s shoulders above Ryan’s, far enough to brush his fingers against the bare skin of Ryan’s neck. For a few minutes, they just sat like that, silent. All still breathing.”
Ryan and John are in a solid place as far as their relationship. There is a loving ease and deep genuine warmth to their every-day interactions as well as their love making. The intimacy was shining through whether they were simply spooning together, kissing at the end of a long day, or having screaming sex. It was evident in the small gestures, the new explorations, the way they dealt with the kids. Ryan decides he wants to get more adventurous in bed, to try some territory that is uncharted for him. The guys don’t just go from zero to sixty with this. Ryan’s desires remain a work in progress. How refreshing! No abracadabra experience for him. Usually these things need time. Sometimes they never happen. Conversely, if the mood struck, they didn’t hold back on sex simply because they were not alone in the house. I appreciated and reveled in how real all of their interactions were. Such a joy to read.
Ryan is also dealing with having just told his father he is in love with a man. With John. He’s not ashamed, but he’s not sure how to deal with it. He also has two brothers to deliver this news to. Oh, and then there are his classmates, the people in town, a prospective internship down the road… future employers. Ryan doesn’t go out of his way to avoid any of this, in fact he meets it head on quite well. He’d prefer to live his life simply. He’s never thought about labels, or the opinions of others. Is he gay? Is he bi? He loves John, what else matters? John’s nature is easy going, caring, nurturing, patient and calming. This obviously is a huge boon to Ryan. Ryan’s father is eventually pretty good at understanding. He’s not joining PFLAG, but he’s trying. One brother is pretty cool, and one brother is a jerk – who shows some evolution in his opinion during the course of the story, thanks largely to his enlightened new wife. The author showcased what I felt to be a realistic spectrum of reactions and acceptance among John and Ryan’s friends, family and fellow citizens. Ryan and John were dismayed by some, bolstered by others, and pleasantly surprised by many.
John’s son Mark is contentedly living with John and Ryan. John’s daughter Torey visits, and seems a bit out of sorts, evasive and actually dismayed at how things are going at home between her mother, Cynthia, and her stepfather. Turns out she has a lot on her mind. Ryan already has a solid relationship with Mark, and he bonds more deeply with Torey on this visit. In fact, she becomes he and John’s biggest ally. Ryan’s feeling pretty good about the dynamics with the kids. Little does he know, there is about to be some serious upheaval from that direction, starting with an unannounced visit from Torey. During all of this, Ryan is also dealing with the rigors of medical school. He’s going to need to choose a summer internship. A chance at a premier position has been offered to him. The catch? It’s hundreds of miles away. How important is this to him vs. his daily life with John and Mark? Ever supportive John tells him to go for it. But still Ryan debates…
The corker comes when Cynthia shows up at John and Ryan’s door. She’s left her husband… she has baggage. And I’m not talking suitcases. When John’s caring nature comes to the forefront in helping Cynthia with her situation, Ryan finds himself jealous and a bit scared as to where he stands. This scenario – and all of its extenuating circumstances – was handled so well. There was drama, there were accusations, there were blatant reminders of past hurts. Cynthia had been extremely hateful, and awful in her comments when she originally found out about John and Ryan. She continues to ask things of John that had me wanting to slap her. She certainly did nothing to cause me to like her any better in this book, but then, I don’t believe the author intended for the redemption of Cynthia here. Ryan had almost zero interest in helping her, and I couldn’t blame him. It felt authentic and right to see John acting like John. He was caring, nurturing, setting a good example to his kids by helping their mother, but he never lost sight of how all of this was affecting Ryan. If indeed his actions were fair to Ryan. The scene where a reminder was, ah, thrust upon John by a possessive Ryan was hot as hell, and also helped John understand more than words even could, how Ryan was feeling threatened by Cynthia’s presence. John is by no means “perfect”. In fact, his demeanor actually leads to bottled up emotions and stress, which take time and a joint effort between he and Ryan to diffuse.
There are more details involved in this story, but to point them out would spoil the impact. Yes, there is a lot going on in this book. Post-traumatic stress from the fire, John and Ryan revealing their relationship to everyone, teenage angst, a needy ex, Ryan’s med school, his career decisions, Torey’s issues. All this plus John and Ryan continuing to explore and maintain a comfort level in their relationship. The men are solid at the end of the book, but by no means is every issue, every thread of the story tied up in a neat bow. That wouldn’t reflect on real life, would it? As Ryan says:
“It’s exactly, imperfectly perfect.”
There are directions the author could have gone that might have seemed token, safer, more cliché, perhaps easier… but no. She goes into territory that surprised me, disgusted me, and yes, worried me for a bit. Fear? Envy? Jealousy? Anger? Inadequacy? Disappointment? Second guessing? Um… yes. Characters behaving realistically and authentically? A most resounding, yes! Beautifully done.
Thank you so much Kaje, for writing the story of John, Ryan and their family.