Rating: 5 stars
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It has been about three years since Aaron Downing started seeing his boyfriend Spencer Thomas, and Aaron has come a long way from that broken boy he was just after his abduction. He is taking a few classes a semester, off of most of his medication, and able to have a relationship with Spencer. His life is much closer to normal than it has ever been since the day everything was taken from him five years before. But it is not all easy. Aaron still doesn’t like to be touched, has trouble in crowds, and is emotionally fragile. And as much as he wants to be physically intimate with Spencer, he still often can’t handle that kind of closeness, even with the man he loves. But Spencer adores Aaron and is incredibly patient and caring. Having Aaron in his life is worth any sacrifice.
Just as Aaron is finding some comfort and routine, however, things start to change for him. His brother Allen is heading to college, and suddenly will hardly be around anymore. His younger brother is bitter and resentful at Aaron and without Allen there for support, things seems to be falling apart with Anthony. But the biggest change is the hardest. Because for as much progress as Aaron is making, Spencer realizes that his own life has become stagnant over the last three years. He has lost all his old friends and he never goes out or does much beyond go to Aaron’s house or have Aaron come to his. His world has narrowed focus so completely on Aaron that he has lost any of himself. And when an opportunity comes for a dream job that requires living in the city, Spencer decides it is something he needs to do, both for himself and to help build a future for himself and Aaron.
With Spencer gone during most of the week, Aaron is finding himself alone and adrift. And when he gets the shocking news that his attackers have been caught and he needs to testify, Aaron almost falls apart. The terror of having to face these men and publicly relive the horrors of that night are more than he can bear. Aaron must find a strength within him to face these men so that he can finally put some of his fears behind him and move forward with his life and with Spencer.
So Aaron is one of my all time favorites and I was beside myself waiting for this conclusion to Aaron and Spencer’s story. I am thrilled to say that this book did not disappoint and J.P. Barnaby once again crafted a beautiful, haunting, and romantic story in Spencer.
We are now a few years into Aaron and Spencer’s relationship, and these young men continue to be so sweet and lovely together. The love they have for one another is so clear and beautifully depicted. Barnaby does such a great job of making you feel it right in your soul. Even as they both struggle with where their lives are going, and as they try to figure out how they can both grow within the confines of Aaron’s mental health, you can still see the dedication these men have to each other. This isn’t always an easy book by any stretch. Spencer and Aaron have conflicts in their relationship. Aaron must relive trauma that is so horrific you want to cry. And sometimes it seems hard to see how this relationship can succeed. But what makes this story really work is that it is full of so much hope that even during the hard times never goes away. For every step back there is a step forward, or maybe just a lack of backsliding. And throughout it all such a deep intense love between these two men that holds them together.
Spencer takes place about five years after Aaron’s attack and we can see clearly how much progress Aaron has made, especially since the start of the first book. He is stronger and happier and totally in love with Spencer. But suddenly things start to shake up in his world and it throws Aaron into a tailspin. We can see that even though Aaron has achieved so much, it will never be easy or completely over. In Spencer we start to see Aaron for the first time reach outside of his tiny circle to look for help and comfort from others. He joins a support group for others with PTSD and finds a friend who can understand the horrors Aaron experienced and help support him through his struggles. And in my favorite stand up and cheer moment, Aaron attends a PTSD support conference and meets Zach (from Rowan Speedwell’s amazing Finding Zach) who shares his own story and gives Aaron the words that help him face his attackers and begin to move on a little more. I loved to see this growth in him, this movement to letting others in and finding strength from people who understand what he has been through. It really shows us how far Aaron has come and gives us even more hope for his future.
Spencer is the third book in Barnaby’s Survivor Stories. Just to clarify how the series works, Aaron is the first book and focuses on Spencer and Aaron meeting and falling in love. Painting Fire on the Air is the second story and, although it connects in that the lead character, Ben, is the brother of the girl killed in the attack on Aaron, it is still pretty much a stand alone story. You can easily read it on its own or in any order within the series. Then Spencer is the the third book and continues Spencer and Aaron’s story. So you are going to want to read Aaron first and then Spencer for it all to work best.
I have read and loved so much of J.P. Barnaby’s writing, but to me Aaron and Spencer are the highlight of her fabulous body of work. These two books are just so wonderfully done. They are painful and heart wrenching, while at the same time so inspiring and uplifting. We feel pain and horror, but we also feel hope. And through it all, we see the incredible deep bond of love between these two men that is so beautiful you can’t help but be inspired. Absolutely wonderful.
Cover Review: I love this cover and it is such a beautiful companion to Aaron. Cover artist AngstyG just knocks it out of the park again here.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.