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.
Location, location, location.
Home is where the heart is. . . Or at least, where the issues are.
I have two novels based in the small Ozark town where I spent the first eighteen years of my life, The Shattered Door and Then the Stars Fall. If you’ve read those novels, you might have noticed a love/hate relationship with that particular location. I’m glad I grew up there; it helped make me what I am today. I’m also glad my family moved away on my 18th birthday (though I didn’t want to at the time).
I knew the storyline for Under a Sky of Ash before I knew where it would located. I thought of all my favorite places—San Diego, Boston, Seattle. Then the moment hit me. You know the one. When you’ve scoured, you’re entire house searching for your cell phone and then lift your hand up to call your cell so you can find it and in so doing you discover you’d been holding it the entire time. (That example may or may not have actually happened to me. Would you still trust my writing if I admitted that it has…) The location was obvious. Colorado! The state, as of my coming 38th birthday, that will have been my home for two decades. Specifically, Denver.
Isaiah and Ben, the two lovers of Under a Sky of Ash go through a lot in this book. I put them through the wringer. Well, no, it wasn’t me. It was life. I was simply reporting it as it happened to them. They needed somewhere beautiful and safe to counteract all of the struggles they had to overcome. Denver has done that for me—it saw me through the coming out process, ex-gay therapy (worked like a charm, as you can see), an abusive relationship, a teaching career, falling in love, and the beginnings of a writing career. Denver was perfect!
I thought I’d share three specific locales that show up in Under a Sky of Ash with you. Give you a little taste of what you’re in for.
1. Cheeseman Park—Oh! The stories this could tell. You should Google it. It used to be a graveyard. The mass graves kind of graveyard (apparently). It seems not all of the bodies were removed before it became a gorgeous city park. Back in the day, and a little bit still today (but not nearly as much), it was a big, gay, cruising park where guys would hook-up in the shelter of low hanging pine branches. (The city has sent cut off a lot of those lower branches to deter from those pastimes). It is now a gentrified, doggy walking, volleyball playing, picnic with your kids kind of park, though totally gay-friendly (one of the places I always feel safe). The park is gorgeous. A huge marble coliseum, tall evergreens, crabapple trees that turn pink and white in the spring (as shown on the cover), sweeping lawns and framed by the Rockies in the background. This is a setting for a glorious drag queen wedding (so much FUN to write) and our lover’s first kiss.
2. Hamburger Mary’s—a popular gay, chain restaurant. In all honestly, by the time the book is published, Hamburger Mary’s will be no more—its name is changing to Club M, but it’s staying exactly how you’ll read it in the book. It is colorful, loud, cheerful, and over-the-top outrageous. They have good food, pop music, LGBTs everywhere, and karaoke. Once a week, they have drag queen family feud. This actually plays a HUGE role in the book and offers quite a bit of laughter. There might be a drag queen flanked by hot men wearing nothing but turkey shaped g-strings. It was Thanksgiving. They had to do something with their. . . gobblers.
3. Casa Bonita—People love or hate this place. You’ve probably heard of it if you haven’t been there. It used to be the largest restaurant in the country (though I’m not sure if that is still true). It has puppet shows, a scary cave, an arcade, and it all looks like a colorful Mexican city (or, at least, the stereotype of one). In the middle, there is a 30-foot waterfall where muscley college age men dive for you during your dinner. And no, it’s not a gay place. Even if it should be. Most people hate their food. Honestly, if you get the all-you-can eat cheese enchiladas, they’re pretty good! I’m mean; it’s cheese. You can cover anything with cheese, and I’ll love it. Casa Bonita is where Isaiah and Ben have their first date. Something very un-family friendly might happen in the cave. At least, that’s the rumor.
Those are just a couple of the places you’ll be enveloped by as you read Under a Sky of Ash. You get to dive into my world in this book—into a city that I love, and that has protected me and help me grow from a closeted, terrified kid, to the raging homo I am today. I think that says something about a city. Don’t you?
Review by Janice Birnie
Under a Sky of Ash is a book that will stay with you long after the last, beautiful, page. It is a story about the different ways a family can make or break you, how love and hate can stand side by side and break or save you, but ultimately, it is a story of survival.
Isaiah Greene is a special education teacher. He is also a muscular, stunningly beautiful, man who attracts the attention of most men or women in the vicinity. Isaiah has a terrible secret however. One that few know anything about. He believes that if anyone knew the whole story of his past they’d run for the hills. Casual hook ups at gay bars are all that he wants. Finding someone to love would mean sharing all his secrets and that’s not something Isaiah can ever imagine happening.
Ben Woods is a recovering addict with secrets of his own. Raised by a bigoted, abusive grand mother, Ben feels unable and unwilling to trust himself with any kind of relationship. He has found a new, improved, family with drag queen ManDonna and his husband, Hershel. One-night stands have served him well and he has convinced himself they always will. With dirty blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, Ben is attractive in a rough around the edges, bad boy, way. Years of addiction have left their mark, as much as the abuse. Nevertheless, when construction worker, Ben, meets Isaiah, in his role as mentor to student, Aaron, their attraction is instant.
When Ben gets up the courage to ask Isaiah on a date, the revelation that they’ve both suffered from traumatic pasts leads to an instant bond. Against both their better judgement these two broken men begin to see a chance at a long term relationship. Aaron initially bought them together, but when things begin to unravel in his life, coming to live with Ben, even temporarily, puts a halt to their romantic plans and opens up a whole world of trouble. Being forced to take a step back, even temporarily, leads to talking and admissions that no one could have predicted. With the past screaming back into their lives, that HEA they were finally dreaming of slips further and further away.
Under a Sky of Ash is a heartbreaking, heartwarming story. It made me laugh and at times had me in tears for all that these men have endured. There is no way you will predict how this story will evolve. It will take you on a roller coaster of a journey with completely unexpected revelations and plot twists and turns. It is so very worth that journey. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s beautifully and lovingly written by Brandon Witt and a brilliant 5 star read.
Brandon Witt‘s outlook on life is greatly impacted by his first eighteen years of growing up gay in a small town in the Ozarks, as well as fifteen years as a counselor and special education teacher for students with severe emotional disabilities. Add to that his obsession with corgis and mermaids, then factor in an unhealthy love affair with cheeseburgers, and you realize that with all those issues, he’s got plenty to write about….
Author Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/brandon.witt.author/?fref=ts
Dreamspinner Press: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/AuthorArcade/brandon-witt
Under a Sky of Ash Dreamspinner Link: http://bit.ly/24nAMg4