benji coverRating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Benji Hayes is just barely hanging on. He lost his apartment and is now living in his car; he’s also failing at his job and on the verge of being fired. Then, in one fell swoop, he loses both the job and the car at once. Benji has no one in his life other than his best friend, Oliver, and Oliver is on the other side of the Atlantic working his dream job. But with no one else to call, Benji reaches out and, fortunately, Oliver is able to get him some help in the form of his father, Leo Spalding.

Leo has never met his son’s best friend from college, but he has heard all about Benji and the hard time he has been having. When Oliver calls asking Leo to help Benji out of his immediate crisis, Leo doesn’t hesitate to step in. He insists that Benji stay with him, not just until he can get his car out of impound, but until he can get back on his feet. Benji is worried that he is too much of a burden, but there is no way Leo is sending Benji off to fend for himself with so much to handle at once.

As the men spend time together, both Benji and Leo recognize an attraction to one another. Despite the age difference, a connection really sparks between them and both men begin to imagine what it could be like to act on those feelings. However, both men are wary, worried about what Oliver would think about his father and his best friend getting together. Leo also worries he is too old for Benji and wonders what the younger man could see in him, while Benji feels like his life is too much of a mess for a solid guy like Leo. Yet the connection between the two men is so strong and neither one wants to let it go. Now, Benji and Leo have to trust in the bond they have formed and believe that the two of them can build a future together.

Benji is the first book in E.M. Denning’s Walking Disaster series and it’s a sweet age gap story with a little hurt/comfort vibe to it. When we meet Benji, he is down on his luck… and then he falls even further. He has been abandoned by his family, struggled in school, lost his home, and is about to lose his job and his car. Right from the beginning, Denning really sets things up well to let the reader in on Benji’s emotions and stress as things just seem to be spiraling out of control. Benji’s best friend, Oliver, has always been there for him, but now with him out of the country, he is out of reach. Fortunately, Oliver asks his father to step in and Leo comes to the rescue. He is sweet, caring, protective, and determined to take care of Benji. He gives Benji a soft place to land while he sorts out his life, and soon Leo doesn’t want to let him go.

These guys have a big age gap, as Benji is the same age as Leo’s son, but I think they fit well. I didn’t always see what was drawing Leo to Benji, but there is nice tenderness between them that I enjoyed. The guys manage to resist each other for a while, but they are both drawn to one another right away and eventually can’t help but act on their feelings. I liked how things worked out with regard to Oliver and there is a nice relationship among the three of them. Sometimes the way Leo talked about Oliver made it feel like Oliver was the adult and not the child, but I did like the relationship that both Leo and Benji had with Oliver.

I found Benji a sympathetic character and I felt for him as he struggled in so many areas. I enjoyed seeing how Leo is there for him, providing emotional support, resources, and a belief in Benji that he really needed. I did want to see a little more growth for Benji over the course of the story, however. I didn’t necessarily need to see him get a job and suddenly pull his life all together, but I wanted to see some more emotional progress. Even late in the story, Benji is still full of self doubt, still thinks Leo can do better, still questions whether Leo will really want him long term. I wanted to see a turning point for Benji more clearly, even if he still had a ways to go to getting his life together; I wanted to feel more solidly like he had moved forward. But, as I said, I really liked Benji and I think Denning does a nice job really establishing his character and letting the reader into his head and his emotions.

This one kicks off the series and I am curious to see where it will go. I am intrigued by the “walking disaster” theme and think it can make for some really interesting books. I am looking forward to more.

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