Buy Link: The Rebuilding Year
Author: Kaje Harper
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Length: Novel

Rating: 4.5 stars

“It’s hard when everything changes.” He paused. “You have to look at it like a rebuilding year. Like when a team loses all its good players and you have to start from scratch and make something out of it.“

Starting from scratch…never an easy thing to do…sometimes the only thing to do—the only thing that will help you survive and even thrive in an impossible situation. Here is where Ryan finds himself at the beginning of his first year at medical school. Having survived an almost fatal accident while fighting a deadly fire, Ryan finds himself permanently disabled, often unable to easily do simple maneuvers such as climbing stairs. His firefighting career—a job he had thrown himself into after the death of his brother, also a firefighter—is over. But Ryan is determined.  He simply needs to keep moving, for standing still locks his overworked, damaged limbs and unleashes a torrent of fears and doubts that threaten to pull his feet out from under him in more ways than one.

And, then Ryan meets John, a man who is also in the midst of upheaval and change. John has left a lucrative business to get back to what he enjoys doing most—working with the earth. John’s less than amicable divorce has caused him to be separated from his two children, Torey and Mark, whom he dearly loves. Couple that with constantly disrupted or rescheduled visitation times, and a seeming inability to feel anything remotely sexual for another woman, and you have a man in need—a man who desperately needs to make a connection to another human being. Too bad neither of these men ever remotely considered that the connection should be with another…man.

The Rebuilding Year follows the story of two men who find exactly what they need…in each other. Ryan, leaving a less than stellar roommate, begins renting a room from John, the head groundskeeper at the college where Ryan is enrolled. Ryan provides much needed friendship as well as giving sound advice to John when it comes to his teenage children. Empowered by Ryan’s advice, John decides to confront his ex-wife and enforce his visitation rights. The teens are introduced to John’s “roommate” mere days after Ryan and John finally succumb to their attraction for one another in a heated moment that can only be described as “Hot” with a capitol H. But neither man is comfortable with the attraction—surely they cannot be gay? No, they both find that to be an impossibility, and this dear reader is where we smile and give a knowing nod—these fellas are doomed—to love—completely. Things come to a head when Ryan’s son Mark shows up at his doorstep after running away from his Mom and Stepdad. The confrontation between John and his ex is bitter and left unresolved, with Mark remaining with his Dad for a trial run.

Interwoven through this storyline is a mystery when college students begin to exhibit strange behavior, complete with hallucinations and a drug-like state. After one college student takes a nose-dive from atop a tree, and another is found buried in a shallow grave, the police begin to cast their suspecting eyes on an obvious choice—the college groundskeeper. Ryan realizes that to save John from further accusation he may have to admit their relationship. That decision is taken out of his hands after Mark observes a stolen kiss between John and Ryan.  The turmoil that evokes is a real life lesson in how to communicate with teens, especially when the very subject being communicated threatens to topple their carefully constructed world.

While not wanting to give away the ending of this amazing novel I will say this…it is a fire, the very thing that nearly ruined Ryan’s life that puts all things into perspective, that cements an already burgeoning love between John and Ryan and strengthens the relationship between John and his son Mark. A fire that does not consume and destroy, but rather forges and strengthens the framework of their love…their family…their future.

I have always admired and enjoyed the work of this author.  Harper has given us many memorable stories, solid mysteries, a dash of hot sex, and true love. This novel does not fail to deliver all those things and then some. The gradual transition for John and Ryan as they discover the reason why they have never had a successful relationship with a woman was masterfully done. This was no “gay for you” story.  Instead, this is a moment of revelation, of understanding something so profound about themselves that it threatened to rock their very existence, and, indeed, it does.

This novel had a sense of build to it. We watched as these men came to grips with their changing views, their growing attraction, and how that fit into their already established lives. I really enjoyed how the author gave us a window into the mindset of each of her main characters. We never had to guess how each element of this story was going to affect someone because we were given full description of just that—the impact each decision or revelation had upon each person. I will selfishly admit that because I am a mystery fanatic, I would have liked to see that particular thread in the overall novel more fully developed. At times it seemed almost as if it was an add-on, rather hastily tossed in and resolved. But that was a minor niggle to an overall successful story that kept me completely captivated from beginning to end. This was a well-written, engaging tale that gave us a glimpse into the lives of very real and profoundly likeable characters as they rebuilt their lives and discovered that from a damaged source, new roots can grow.

As a final, more personal note, I want to mention the phenomenal sensitivity and realistic way with which Harper described Ryan’s accident and subsequent recovery from massive burns across a good portion of his body. As a burn victim myself, who endured two surgeries while my body healed, I was absolutely overwhelmed and blown away by this passage in the book:

Ryan turned. The damage was much less visible from this side. Although if you knew where to look, the scars from the surgeries and grafting sites were scattered across him, and the deep burns wrapped around below his knee. John began at his ankles, kissing his way up Ryan’s legs.

“If anything hurts, tell me.”

“Will you kiss it better?”

“I might.”

Ryan pointed at his hip. “There.” A soft brush of a kiss on skin. His stomach. “There.” Warm lips, a rasp of teeth. “There.” And oh, yes, John’s mouth where he wanted it, John’s hands, John’s tongue. Ryan closed his eyes, lay back, and abandoned
himself to sensation.

Just blown away in every good sense of the word.

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