Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Finding love in the ashes was easy. Building a life together? Don’t make Fate laugh.
After spending the first part of his life chasing pretty girls, love has finally come to Ryan in the form of John, a tall, lanky, red-headed landscape architect with wide shoulders and a five-o’clock shadow.
For the first time in his life, love feels easy. Hell, he even ran into a burning building for John and his son, and he’d do it again if he had to. But telling his father and brothers “I’m gay. I’ve met a man”? That’s a bumpy ride he’s not looking forward to.
For John, loving Ryan is as natural as breathing. Now if only the rest of his life would fall into place. Dealing with his teen son is complicated enough, but with his ex-wife causing trouble and his daughter wanting to move in, John’s house—and his relationship with Ryan—threaten to split at the seams.
Would one month without a new surprise knocking him upside the heart be asking too much? If the sound of Fate’s laughter is any indication, the answer must be yes…
Kaje Harper’s The Rebuilding Year was one of my favorite books of 2012. It was the story of two seemingly “straight” men at an unsettled point in their lives, a time where they are discarding their past and trying to rebuild a future for themselves, and in John’s case, hopefully for his children as well. That novel told the story of ex-firefighter Ryan Ward, disabled on the job and now going back to school for a medical degree. He’s still dealing with the loss of his beloved profession, having nightmares over the fire that damaged his leg, and dealing with an unsettled vision of his future. On the college campus, Ryan meets John Barrett, a man as familiar with loss as Ryan is. John lost his marriage and kids when his wife cheated on him. And when the divorce was final, he watched his wife move the kids to California in search of a new life with a new man. Two men whose lives were shattered by events out of their control. Two men who thought they were straight but whose strong attraction to each other has them rethinking their lives and future.
Now comes the sequel, Life, Some Assembly Required (The Rebuilding Year #2) and, with this story, I found myself falling back in love with John and Ryan, and their relationship. Never quite the fan of the “gay for you” trope, Harper made a serious argument for John and Ryan’s feelings in the first book. While John had married and Ryan was considered a “hounddog” with women, both men had had attractions to men in the past, while not quite acting on them. So the story became more one of old desires rekindled and recognized then a purely straight man falling for another. We watched them work through many emotional issues as well as acceptance by John’s children. And that first story ended with Ryan telling his father that he was finally serious about someone for the first time in his life, and its with a man. A wonderful ending that packed a huge emotional punch.
Life, Some Assembly Required picks up directly after the events in The Rebuilding Year. I won’t go into detail because that is simply a book to be savored and a must read for this novel. One (of many) of the things I appreciate so about Kaje Harper’s writing is her ability to make her stories feel so real. Her characters and their lives aren’t enveloped in some softly glowing light where everything works out smoothly and with relative ease. That’s better left for the fairytale romances. No, Harper’s characters and their lives reflect the grittiness and intimacy of people living every day realistically and authentically. It involves boredom, obstacles little and big, schedules that get too busy and the hiccups and burps that relationships go through. Its the work the couple needs to do in order to have the partnership they want. And that includes two men who love each other deeply such as John and Ryan do.
This book is full of life’s pebbles and boulders that get scattered in the way of their happiness and much of the joy in this story is watching them deal with those problems together (and figuring out that they need to come at these issues as a couple). That doesn’t always make for easy reading, just throughly rewarding and satisfactory one, at least in my opinion. Why? Because life isn’t lived in a bubble. For John and Ryan, the relationship they are building together includes John’s children (who I adored and who went through some surprising emotional turmoil of their own), an ex wife’s determined to have their own way albeit one that is understandable from her point of view, and Ryan’s family with expectations of their own for Ryan which doesn’t include another man.
Throughout the story, its one of constant adjustments…in plans of every sort from dinner to vacations. It’s the ever deepening joy of a daily life together along with the typical hurt feelings, and occasional miscommunication that involves. On an intimate level, we watch the men deal with all the repercussions of their love for each other and their decision to move in together. And how that effects their professional lives, families and the community around them. I love how Harper lets us see into their decision making process and relationship dynamics through their conversations, actions and lovemaking. Harper allows her characters the strength and depth that lets them act responsibility and respectfully towards themselves and those around them. Yes, this is a book about grownups in a thoughtful adult relationship. How I appreciated that tone and type of character as well.
Sometimes the issues are raw with emotion and the painful aftermath of the disappointments that can occur when hopes and family collide. Yes, there were times I was so frustrated with the events that happen, both with John’s ex wife (again not a villain but a woman doing what she thinks is necessary to survive) and again with Ryan’s family. But their reactions and actions towards John and Ryan are pretty realistic and believable in their own way. I appreciated that too. And it makes the ending that much sweeter for all the hardship both men endured to get there.
I hope this isn’t the end of the story for John and Ryan. I want to see them married now that Ryan has finished his degree. I want to know what happens next to their mixed families and their future together. If you are listening, Kaje, pretty please, can we have another? Until I have an answer, I will try and be content with Life, Some Assembly Required. It’s a perfect sequel to The Rebuilding Year, and a new favorite of mine. I highly recommend them both. Please read them in the order they were written, its the best way to understand John and Ryan’s journey to love and a relationship that feels so wonderful and real.
Cover art by Angela Waters. I like this cover, although I have to say I prefer the cover models in the first cover, they better fit my own idea of John and Ryan. But its warm, and real, just like the story within.
Expected publication: June 9th 2015 by Samhain Publishing
original title Life, Some Assembly Required
series The Rebuilding Year #2
Books in the Series to Date:
- The Rebuilding Year (The Rebuilding Year #1)
- Life, Some Assembly Required (The Rebuilding Year, #2)