Author: Brandon Witt
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 240 Pages
At a Glance: Mapping the Forest is more than just a sweet romance of healing and rebirth; it is a refection of a community—for better or worse—with all its flaws and gifts.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Happily ever after has no map, but sometimes fate sends a guiding light.
Gabe Rice, a seasonal ranger at the Rocky Mountain National Park, can’t seem to get his life on the right trail. He loves the rugged beauty of the land, and there is no place he would rather live than the mountain community of Estes Park. But after six years, Gabe is beginning to wonder if he’ll ever get a full-time position or find love. When Gabe sees Luis—and hears his gorgeous singing—he’s compelled to meet him.
Luis Martinez, the new owner of a hotel and steak ride business in Estes, left California and a career as a therapist for a fresh start in Colorado. But even the beauty of the mountains can’t help him forget the past or move forward. Unprepared for his strong attraction to Gabe, Luis is ready to run and hide from emotions he never thought he’d have again.
Suddenly the path ahead opens to a future that looks brighter for both of them, if they can find the courage to walk forward—together.
Review: Brandon Witt’s latest novel, Mapping The Forest, has released and promises to be the beginning of a fantastic series, centering on a small group of friends who live in a small town perched on the edge of a national park in Colorado. This first installment introduces us to the park rangers who keep that forest safe for tourists and animals alike. Gabe and Jordan, his best pal, have been summer hire rangers for several years.They both hope that this will be the year they are finally given a full time commitment, but they are not holding their breath. They work for a true bastard of a boss, Luke, who is both misogynistic and homophobic. Maybe if Jordan had been a petite blond she would have had it better when it came to appeasing their boss. And unfortunately, Gabe can do little about the fact that he is gay, or that Luke is a hater to the extreme.
Thankfully, these two are surrounded by a group of friends who support them and help them find the humor in their otherwise shitty circumstances. For Jordan, it is her grandmother Rosalind who owns the local bookstore and provides employment for both her and Gabe during the winter months when the park is no longer their employer. For Gabe, it is a circle of fellow gay men he refers to as the Gay Boy Christmas Dinner group, or GBCD for short. These friends are both a blessing and a bane to Gabe, as he has been crushing on one of their gang for a few years, with no luck. When he and Jordan decide to do a tourist jeep ride, complete with steak dinner under the stars, Gabe is shocked to find his attention centering on the grill man who jingles every bell inside Gabe.
When the two hook up via a meet up app, Gabe soon discovers that Luis is not just shy but deeply wounded over the death of his long time husband two years previous. Despite his attraction, Gabe realizes that to keep Luis he must go slow—and hope that Luis is ready to finally move on from his grief and memories. To make matters worse, things have begun to heat up at work for Gabe, and he is finally fed up enough to join forces with Jordan in finding a way to bring their boss down once and for all, but how to do that and keep the job he loves so much is the real conundrum.
Luis and Gabe had such a real connection in this novel that despite their romance moving fairly quickly, it was believable and thrilling to read. Luis was just so terribly wounded and wrapped in grief that I defy anyone not to fall in love with him immediately. Gabe is much like a bumbling puppy—tripping over his own feet or, in this case, his tongue, as he has little filter when he is nervous–and Luis makes him crazy nervous in all the right ways. Together these two made for an incredibly fun and tender couple, and I found myself rooting for them immediately.
The story itself was gorgeously lush, as most of this author’s work tends to be, his descriptive prose drawing us into the beautiful mountain settings and the lives of these people. While Jordan was rather brash, at times, maybe a bit too sarcastic, she was also a stalwart and loyal friend to Gabe, and carried her own emotional baggage as well. I had a little difficulty with the rather abrupt introduction of the GBCD gang, and got a bit lost with all the flurry of introductions, but once I got my bearings on who was who, I found myself looking forward to getting to know these men better in the upcoming promised sequels. At the end of the day, this story swept me into its magical setting and real life turmoil, and kept me fully invested till the last page.
Mapping the Forest is more than just a sweet romance of healing and rebirth; it is a refection of a community—for better or worse—with all its flaws and gifts. Yes, this group of gay men had managed to find friendship and solace with each other, but the author does not lead us into this Utopian gay world where all is right. Instead, he allows his men to grapple with real life and the issues facing a marginalized people—there is homophobia and hate in this quaint national park suburb, but there is also acceptance and the needed strength to overcome prejudice. These characters are forced to make tough decisions that seem easy but carry long, life-changing consequences, and luckily for us they have a support network to help them through the toughest of times.
Author Brandon Witt has given us a slice of Americana via a national park setting. He has allowed us to watch his family sort out their problems, move past their grieving and find a new someone to call their own. Love blooms in this novel, and it is a sturdy, deep-seated kind, despite the speed with which it was established. Luis and Gabe discover together how to navigate loss—whether it is from a love taken too early, or the crumbling of a job they once loved. That is what sets Mapping The Forest apart—the sense that love can heal the deepest of wounds and that when two people stand together, they find strength beyond their wildest dreams.
You can buy Mapping the Forest here: