Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Charlie Turner was just 19 when his father died, leaving a hole in the Turner family that was impossible to fill. Yet Charlie tried, walking away from college, his boyfriend, and his dreams, everything that mattered to him in order to live at home and take care of his younger brother and mom. Now in his 30’s and with Turner & Sons Construction a success, Charlie has little else in his life beyond family and work, something his friends and mother are concerned about.
When his friend and co worker, Siggy, gets pulled away to work at Mountain Shadows, Charlie is left to meet with their newest client, an art gallery owner who wants to expand his space to include more art works. The owner of the gallery, Amos Greene, is arrogant, cold, and somewhat smug, especially in his initial dealings with Charlie. His treatment of Charlie borders on demeaning and rude but Charlie demands respect and professionalism and gets it. A standoff made tense by the fact that both men are attracted to each other.
But Charlie has more on his mind than a stuffy art gallery owner, his younger brother is getting into trouble and his mom wants Charlie to reclaim his personal life by moving out into a house of his own at Shadow Mountain. Getting a life is easier than it sounds and a demanding new client is the least of Charlie’s problems or so he thinks…..
Higher Ground, the first in TA Webb’s Earthquake (PF2014) series, is a wonder of a story. Webb’s main character, Charlie Turner, has been through the emotional wringer, and the stress and responsibility he shouldered when his father died has not abated. Forced by circumstances to be “the man of the family”, Charlie forfeited his teenage years and personal life to make sure his mother and younger brother were taken care of. Managing his own personal pain, Charlie’s focus was on his mother and brother. And while his mother has recovered, younger brother, Damon, is swinging deeper out of control. Only Charlie seems to be able to reach him.
I think one of the finest aspects of this story is the brotherly dynamics playing out between Charlie and Damon. The death of their father forced Charlie into his father’s role when his mother was emotionally and physically unable to parent him and Damon. But now she has recovered enough to realize what that has done to her older son and is trying to make amends. Their mother wants to reclaim her role as parent/authority figure to Damon, and having Charlie leave the house will let her do that and give Charlie the independence he deserves. But it may be too late for that and Webb makes us see just how fragile the bonds are between Charlie, his mother, and Damon.
And clearly, Webb understands the combustive nature of teenagers too. It’s hard enough to be a teenager with hormones playing havoc with you at that age. But then to have that young boy deal with the loss of a beloved father in a car accident, the temporary loss of the support from his mother dealing with her own issues? Devastating especially as it comes with a change in his relationship with his older brother which goes from adored sibling to someone now in an authority position. All this sends him reeling towards poor decisions and emotional turmoil that just gets worse with each new well meaning intervention.
All the characters, all their actions comes across as authentic and painfully realistic. You will hurt for Damon as much as you do for Charlie. This is a tough time for both of them and Damon isn’t, not unexpectedly, handling Charlie’s move well. So many changes to the fundamental foundation of the Turner family, and the author makes us quake in anxiety and anticipation for the next event to impact them and the damage it will cause.
And on top of all this is a mixed up attraction between Charlie and Amos. The author’s terrific character development of both men let the reader into the roller coaster of emotions their meeting/working relationship has generated. Charlie, open and friendly, easy in his sexuality. Amos, cold, calculating and rushing to judgement, all prickly and cultured. Their clash instigates some white hot sex driven passion which is just as quickly dashed. Webb leads us through all the assumptions each man has made about each other and then onto the path of adjustments they start to make. There is so much room for growth here, not only in their burgeoning relationship with each other but also with those other characters that surround them, including Amos’ relationship with Damon.
I have to keep double checking to see that this story is only 45 pages in length. It has the feel of a much longer, deeper story. Webb gives us textured, real characters and a multi-layered plot that pulls us in and keeps us involved from start to finish. There are some deeply wounding events that occur here that ring with all the emotional truth and pain that close siblings can inflict on each other. It leaves Charlie and the reader hurting and worried about what comes next. I can’t wait for the next story in the series, Moving Earth (Earthquake #2). TA Webb made me care about these people. Now I need to know what happens next. So will you.
Cover art by Laura Harner. Great covers for all the series and books,including Higher Ground.
ebook, 45 pages
Published March 1st 2014 by A Bear on Books
One of the Pulp Friction 2014 Series
From the Pulp Friction Group: The Pulp Friction 2014 Collection. Four authors. Four Series. Twenty books. One fiery finale. Spend a year with an eclectic group of strangers brought together through circumstances, as they are tested by life, and emerge as more than friends. The strongest bonds are forged by fire, cooled in air, smoothed by water, grounded in earth. Although each series can stand alone, we believe reading the books in the order they are released will increase your enjoyment.