Monday, March 26, 2012

The Rebuilding Year by Kaje Harper

TITLE: The Rebuilding Year
AUTHOR: Kaje Harper
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 80k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $5.50

After a horrific accident on the job, Ryan Ward has switched from firefighting to medicine, returning to college at thirty. When his bad leg goes out on him on campus, he’s helped by the groundskeeper, thirty-seven year-old divorced John Barrett, and the two strike up a friendship. That friendship provides the basis of John offering to rent a room to Ryan in his house, a move both of them need. But as their friendship deepens over the months, the last thing either of them expects is for attraction to grow from it, too…

One thing I’m coming to appreciate about this author is how very readable she is. Even though I had certain issues with this book, and ultimately didn’t quite enjoy it as much as the other stories I read recently by her, I still read through it in only two sittings, engaged with her voice and the believability of her men enough to get immersed. I even trusted her enough to read a gay for you trope, which tends to be on my list of “oh please no” tropes when I’m looking for something to buy.

This is the story of two thirtysomething men, returning med student Ryan and groundskeeper John. John is divorced and taking a step back from his corporate career with his new job, while Ryan has recently survived a horrific accident as a firefighter and is changing tracks because of that. The title is completely apt for their state. Both are in this state of flux, not just about each other, but about finding their feet in a life they can accept. Ryan has a living situation with a roommate he can’t stand, so when John offers to rent him a room in his house, Ryan jumps at it. Their friendship builds slowly, until gradually John realizes he’s interested in more from Ryan than what they currently have.

This careful build and methodical creation of these two men and their relationship is what anchors this book. I liked both men, though I had a preference for John and his more solid, protective ways. Their friendship felt genuine from their first meeting, and I enjoyed seeing these two discover how to live together as adults. The relationship faltered for me when it began to shift to something romantic. I bought them liking each other, but I never saw the physical attraction until suddenly, it was there in my face and they were struggling with this newfound thing between them. I imagine this is probably as much my issue as it is anything else. While I believe strongly that we love who we love, I don’t buy most gay for you stories because it feels like too much of a copout most of the time (like mating). I need to see and believe in the desire before the author tells me it’s there, or I’m yanked out of believing anything romantic or sexual can happen. Too often, these tropes are used as shortcuts for actual storytelling. In this instance, I think it’s a combination of failing to see the possibility of sexual attraction before it was on the page and my natural reluctance to give in to the fantasy element of this particular trope.

It does smooth out as the story progresses. The sex is reasonably hot, and the emotions at the end are deep and believable. It’s just that hump to get over as the transition happens that lowered my enjoyment of the overall story.

The other element that doesn’t really serve the story well is the side mystery that winds through the plot. There’s a girl John finds wandering on campus, clearly high, that later become instrumental in both of their lives, but the way it kept popping into the story never sat well with me. It felt very shoehorned, like there needed to be specific scenes scattered in the first three-fourths of the story (and very few of them at that), in order to justify the big climax. I didn’t buy it, and actually got annoyed when it would take a sudden left turn into this police investigation.

Overall, this would likely work best for people who enjoy this trope or are already fans of the author. It’s refreshing to see time being taken in creating and building realistic men in an m/m romance, however, and that alone makes it worthwhile to continue following this author’s books.


8/10 – Slow-paced and methodical, my only complaint rests in the mystery that attempts to get woven through the plotline, it felt very shoehorned

Hero #1

7/10 – Believable and steady

Hero #2

8/10 – While I thought the switch to bi was too abrupt, I liked him more as a person than I did Ryan

Entertainment value

7/10 – Though I appreciated the slow build and the friendship, I didn’t completely buy the turnaround or the mystery aspects

World building

9/10 – Easily the best parts about it, felt very authentic



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