Under a Sky of Ash by Brandon Witt ~ Group Book Review by PizzyGirl, Christine J and Lirtle

under-a-sky-of-ash-cover-1Title: Under a Sky of Ash

Author: Brandon Witt

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Cover Artist: Anne Cain

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars

Publication Date: 03/21/2016

Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)

Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction

Blurb:

More than a decade after leaving Colorado to attend college and escape his past, Isaiah Greene moves back and builds a life in Denver as a special education teacher. When he meets Ben Woods, the mentor of one of his students, the attraction is immediate. The revelations that they’ve both suffered traumatic childhoods form a bond between them.

Raised by an abusive grandmother, Ben is a recovering addict who has made a family with his construction worker boss, Hershel, and Hershel’s husband, Daniel—drag queen ManDonna. Adding Isaiah to his life gives Ben a glimpse of a future he’d never dreamed possible for himself.

Both Isaiah and Ben are survivors, but when guilt drives a wedge between them, the past threatens to end their relationship.

Ben and Isaiah embark on journeys of self-discovery. Though their path will be difficult at times, humor and love find a way to bring light to the darkness.

PizzyGirl’s View:

4.5 Stars

I ALMOST backed out of reviewing this one because normally I don’t choose to read stories I know are going to break my heart. Even during my reading, I often thought of backing out because I just KNEW the author was going to shred my heart. But I am so glad I didn’t chicken out. When I read the last page and tears freely flowed down my face, I knew all the heartache and pain was worth it for me. Even with all the time spent on Isaiah and Ben, those last few moments with RJ totally stole the show and will stay with me for a very long time.

I started this review thinking I would talk about all the ways this story was fantastic but there were just so many things to say that my review would be as long as the book itself. So I am going to only focus on the things that really made big impressions on me.

This story was a very solid showing. It showcased the author’s ability to vividly express emotions to the point the reader felt fully immersed in the character’s sadness and pain, in their humor and joy. And OMG there were times those emotions were so intense I had to step away. Then there were times the intensity was moving and I couldn’t step away. There were times I was taken by surprise and needed to keep reading to find out more(read it yourself and when you get to the end of part two, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!). And there were times of great humor and joy to break up the harder emotions and gave me a moment to rest. This book was a rollercoaster but it was worth every bump and dip and curve.

This story also showcased the author’s ability to build real and relatable characters in real and relatable situations in a real and relatable world. These men were so complex and layered. They were flawed and just doing the best they knew how. They made mistakes and read situations wrong, but they did so with their hearts on their sleeves and with the best of intentions. They were awkward and funny and awkwardly inappropriate yet so perfectly real it was endearing.

At the same time they were so broken. It was painful for me to watch them break down as a couple. It was even more painful for me to watch them self destruct and do things they would regret later. It hurt me to watch them as they refused to get the help they so obviously needed. But without this pain, their journey would have been lessened and that would have been an even worse tragedy.

While I totally LOVED that these men finally found their happy together, I did feel the ending was overly rushed and that it was made a bit too perfect. While a part of me feels that this was a letdown because I know that their happy can never be perfect and will always take work, there is also a part of me that thinks it needed to be this way to really round out the emotions. That this particular type of ending was the only way to bring the reader out of the darkness and into the light. It assumed the reader knew that the happy would not be perfect. However, I did take points off because it was just a bit too perfect for me (feel free to disagree with me. I know we all react to things differently).

I thought the secondary characters were just as real and complex as the MCs and without them this story would have fallen flat. They supported the main characters and often acted as conscience and guide for two men who were sometimes nothing more than lost souls. These characters brought humor and light to an otherwise dark journey and were every bit as vital to the outcome as Isaiah and Ben themselves.

One final thing that I found fascinating and well done was that this book made a powerful statement against the ridiculous and irrational fears of conservative society. It proclaimed the absurdity of those prejudices without preaching or crossing that line that shoves it in the reader’s face. It made note of them, made note of the fallout, and moved on. It was a very clever way to make a point and make that point memorable.

Please pick this book up. You will laugh, you will cry, you will enjoy a very profound reading experience. For someone so self deprecating and humble, this man has talent and you would be doing yourself a disservice by not reading this story for yourself.

Christine J’s View:

 

4.75 Stars

This ambitious story of love, forgiveness, and healing is one of the best m/m books I have read this year. With hefty doses of both humor and drama, it charts the journey of Isaiah Greene, a special education teacher, and Ben Woods, a recovering addict and child abuse survivor, as they wend their way through the difficult waters of a relationship laden with obstacles, both internal and external. This is so much more than a romance. It is a critical look at how children are affected by dysfunction and how they can overcome the results of a failing family through the love and support of a network of people who care enough to try to make a difference.

The story revolves around Isaiah and Ben’s developing relationship, certainly, but other characters are tightly woven within that fabric and not only have a profound impact upon Isaiah and Ben, but upon the reader as well. This is where Brandon Witt truly shines. His beautifully crafted characters, both main and secondary, are diverse, flawed, vivid, and unforgettable. As in life, some are hard to handle, while others are a breath of fresh air. Love them or hate them, these personalities are bold and powerful, adding well-balanced dimension and emotion to the story.

Told mostly through alternative first-person POV, Ben and Isaiah’s past histories and present struggles ebb and flow throughout the entire story. This is another strength of the book, allowing the reader to gain full understanding of the impact of each character’s childhood and how they continually grapple with the pain and guilt as adults. Their lives, both within and outside of their relationship, are written with authenticity, compassion, and raw honesty. Ben and Isaiah’s chemistry together is lovely to witness, and it is impossible to turn away from their angst and struggle.

I’ll be honest. As I read this book, there were moments when I thought my heart was truly breaking. With its frank and open look at domestic violence, misguided and abusive parenting, and the struggles of emotionally challenged children within a system that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, it is not an easy read. However, there also dwells within these pages a good deal of hope, humor, and healing.  It is a true testament to the fact that families exist in all shapes and forms and can provide the miracle of love and acceptance to those who suffer. Though resolution of the main characters’ conflict comes a bit too easily, a satisfying, incredibly moving conclusion brings Mr. Witt’s latest novel to a close, and I applaud him for a job well done. This is a gorgeous story well worth reading, and I highly recommend it.

Lirtle’s View:

4.5 Stars

So you’ve read the blurb, and maybe some other reviews, and you’re feeling hesitant to put yourself through what surely must be a healthy dose of heartache, some kleenex usage, and goodness knows what else. I know, that was me, too.

Boy, howdee, am I glad I took the chance and read this book, experienced this story, met and spent time with these characters. Wow, is it worth it. That final scene? Worth it. All of it.

Here are some of the main things that immediately struck me or to which I related or became quickly apparent as important themes in this book:

A diverse set of characters. And by that I mean, black people. Plural. Not just the main character but also others throughout this setting, Denver.  Ya know, just like real life. The cover of this book alone should make this obvious, and it’s backed up by Isaiah and other characters.

The Big Brother program, one in which Ben is involved, and it’s how we meet Aaron, one of Isaiah’s students. Ever since I was a wee one, my father has been involved in the Big Brother program and I experienced firsthand how beneficial it is. I love that this is such a main part of this story.

Brothers. I’m a sucker for a story about brothers, and we get that here. Most importantly, we get RJ as one of those brothers. His is another very important character in this story. One we don’t often see so front and center in fiction these days. RJ will always be a part of me.

Emotion. It shouldn’t be a surprise that emotions, of all types, are widespread throughout this story. Given the subject matter, the past experiences and childhoods of these characters, emotion is a constant companion. I point you back to my opening paragraph. It’s all completely utterly totally worth it. What a gift, to be able to express to the very root of someone’s heart, more than one someone’s heart, in ways that make it so easy for me to relate to these characters, understand their choices (even the not so great ones), and see myself and my own created family all up in this. That’s what Witt does here for me. That’s another of the important themes of this story: the family we make. It’s often the one that saves us, that helps us to see we can and should be saved, that we carry the strength within us and, when we can’t find it, the family will be there to help us.

This is the third contemporary by Brandon Witt that I’ve read in the last couple of years and I see his growth and his progress as a storyteller. His characters are complex without being ridiculous or wandering into caricature-landia, he’s learning and using more and more the ‘less is more’ strategy, and his confidence in his abilities is ever more present. All of these lend a level of authenticity in his characters and the story, making an ‘easy’ read of very difficult subjects. Witt doesn’t shy away from anything here.

This is a story about brothers. It’s about pain and loss. It’s about love, and the persistence of it. It’s about friendship and the strength of it. It’s about survival and how life can sometimes surprise you when you think you’ve seen it all and don’t want any more of it. It’s about hope.

It’s beautiful.
And I have to say what about that gorgeous cover? I hardly mention covers in my review but this one is spot on and gorgeous and is one of my favorites I’ve ever seen.

Links

Under a Sky of Ash on Goodreads
Dreamspinner Press
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
All Romance eBooks

I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

Brandilyn
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