The Rebuilding Year

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Title: The Rebuilding Year
Author: Kaje Harper
Cover Artist: Angela Waters
Publisher: Samhain
Buy Link:The Rebuilding Year
Genre: contemporary
Length: Novel
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 rating stars

A Guest Review by Feliz

Summary Review: An engaging take on the friends-to-lovers theme, this book backed a beautiful romance with an action-filled crime story plot.

The Blurb: Losing nearly everything leaves room for the one thing they can’t live without.

A few excruciating minutes pinned in a burning building cost Ryan Ward his job as a firefighter, the easy camaraderie of his coworkers, his girlfriend, and damn near cost him his left leg. Giving up, though, isn’t an option. Compared to the alternative, choosing a new profession, going back to school, and renting a room from the college groundskeeper are simple.
Until he realizes he’s falling in love with his housemate, and things take a turn for the complicated.
John Barrett knows about loss. After moving twice to stay in touch with his kids, he could only watch as his ex-wife whisked them away to California. Offering Ryan a room seems better than rattling around the empty house, but as casual friendship moves to something more, and a firestorm of emotions ignites, the big old house feels like tight quarters.
It’s nothing they can’t learn to navigate, though. But when dead bodies start turning up on campus—and one of the guys is a suspect—their first taste of real love could go up in smoke
(publisher’s) Product Warnings
Contains two hot men wrestling with a shift in their sexuality, as well as a few positions probably listed in the Gay Kama Sutra. But it’s not all about the hot and sweaty—especially when your previously straight life knocks on the door and comes back to visit.
The Review:
After an accident that nearly cost him his life, firefighter Ryan Ward turns back to his first choice of profession, medicine – having a bad knee generally doesn’t interfere much with being a medical student, after all. When his damaged leg gives out as he’s walking down a set of stairs, the mishap gets Ryan the acquaintance of John Barett, head grounds-keeper at his campus.
After an unfriendly divorce, John ended up in a small university town in Wyoming, in a job he’s actually overeducated for, and with no social life to speak of, and a house that is too big for him most of the time, except when his children come to visit – which hasn’t happened for quite some time, due to, as John suspects, his ex-wives wheelings and dealings. The older medical student who’s walking with a cane is interesting to John, though at first mostly in the friendly, casual way John apprehends other students who stand out in one way or the other. He’s responsible for the grounds after all, he’s made it his business to know what’s going on on Campus grounds.
After running accidentally into one another a few times, Ryan and John eventually connect over the tragic death of a student; and when John learns that Ryan’s housing conditions are anything but satisfactory, it’s only natural that he offers to let him a room in his too-big house.
But living close together leads to the two men gradually developing a different kind of closeness. Which poses quite a problem for both of them, since both have always thought of themselves as straight. However, their sexual identity might not be as set as they thought. The question is, what are they going to make of the strange feelings they suddenly seem to have for each other? Furthermore, what will other people think of them, people who are important to them… like, their families ?
Redefining sexual identity was a big theme in this book. Both main characters found themselves suddenly falling in love with another man, while previously same-sex attraction had never even remotely been part of their reality. Now, this might sound off-putting for readers who don’t think highly of the so-called “gay-for-you” plot, but I’d strongly advise against letting that fact keep you off reading this book – you’d miss out on a really well-done story.
For once, the falling in love worked hand-in-glove with the falling in lust. There was no such thing like a sudden switch from straight to gay through a night of passionate sex, but a gradual getting-to-know-each-other that slowly, yet almost inevitably drew Ryan and John closer together. And it was something that gave both men a tough bit to chew on. I also liked it very much that they didn’t simply jump into bed with each other for a round of hot monkey sex perfectly equipped with condoms and lube. They hesitated, held back, doubted, and they fumbled their way through their first sexual encounter in an endearingly clumsy way which nevertheless didn’t take away from the eroticism. (just to make it clear, they’re both quick studies ;-) )
Ryan had a harder time coming to terms with his altered view of John; he doubted himself for a long time, even “tested” himself to the point of chatting up a woman. After all, he’d had a busy (hetero)sexual life before his accident, a long row of one-night-stands and short flings, and it wasn’t as if he found women suddenly repulsing.
Except for his ex-wife, Cynthia, John never had any sexual relationships before Ryan. Perhaps it was this, aside from the fact that he was the older and generally more serene of the two, which made it easier for him to cope with his feelings for Ryan. Their different pace  of handling their mutual attraction made for some interesting tension between them, sexual and otherwise. However, after a very realistic initial awkwardness, they worked this tension out between them like adult people. As they both had come to regard the possibilities between them highly, they talked things through and worked to make their relationship work.
And then, their bit-by -bit coming-out once they realized they were committed to each other. I found it very authentic how they, each on his own and both together, mulled over the how to tell what when to whom – and it was equally authentic that life sometimes took the decision right out of their hands and forced them just to play it by ear. Beautiful to watch, like a view from the outside on a process I as the reader was also privy to on the inside. I really liked this part of the plot, the character development John and Ryan went through, and some of the minor characters alongside them.
The definition and meaning of family was another big theme here, as both John and Ryan come with baggage, so to speak. John has his children, Torey and Marcus, who are very important to him. He’s afraid that a homosexual relationship might jeopardize his connection to them, even more so since his ex wife already tries to keep them apart. Ryan’s family is drifting apart as it is from some severe losses in the past, and Ryan fears that his being gay might alienate them from him once and for all. These are profound fears, and an additional source of conflict in their budding relationship; and again, I found it realistic that those problems weren’t solved with a wave of some magic wand, and neither without pain on either party involved. In fact, there were still a few loose threads in regard to the family issues, just like in real life you can’t make everybody happy no matter what you do.
What didn’t work quite as well for me this time was the actual mystery plot, a fact that I, at least in part, would blame to the blurb, as I found it slightly misleading. Don’t get me wrong, there were some casualties, and the mystery was well-done and realistic down to its somewhat incomplete solution, but it clearly took a backseat to the romance in this book. Then again, the action scenes that sprang from the mystery towards the end had me glued to the pages with tension, and all was well in my thrill-reader’s mind again :-D
Another thing I liked very much was the balance between Ryan’s heroics and the matter-of-fact way he expected everybody to take them. It was another little puzzle piece in his characterization, and also another answer to the question what made John and Ryan so perfect for each other. There was this acceptance between them that gave each room to breathe and closeness if and when needed, a nice foundation for a working long-term relationship and a solid base for the HEA I’d come to wish for them at that point.
This was a well-written, enjoyable and gripping romance seasoned with an interesting if plot-wise secondary mystery and two colorful heroes who grew all the more dear to me for the fact that they were just this side of larger-than-life. Warmly recommended.

14 thoughts on “The Rebuilding Year

  1. rdafan7

    So glad I pre-ordered this book, I love Kaje’s writing. She writes realistic characters and her storylines and always fun and interesting, Thanks for the review!

    1. Feliz

      Hi Sirius, I was a bit surprised at the focus of this story being on the romance so much, but the writing is trademark Kaje Harper – hope you’ll like it too!

  2. Tom

    I also pre-ordered and am looking forward to starting it. Also will be interested in Cryselle’s review too.

  3. Raine

    I really enjoyed this- the relationship was beautifully written and I liked the understated mystery plot, refreshing that it wasn’t anything personal to the guys.

    Great review Feliz, I’m with you on the rating too. :grin:

  4. Dianne T.

    Loved your review Feliz and I’m sure I will love the story – it is now slated as my next read. I think I have Kaje’s Life Lessons and Breaking Cover memorized – that says something about my opinion of her writing :smile:

  5. Gaycrow

    I’ve just bought this after reading Cryselle’s review (I didn’t realise there were two reviews!), and I’m looking forward to reading it. Thanks for your enticing review. too.

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