Title: Bear Among the Books
Author: T.J. Masters
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: September 2, 2016
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance, May/December
Page Count: 230
Reviewed by: Crabbypatty
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 3.88 stars out of 5
Forty-eight-year-old Ben Thompson is a librarian, a passionate book lover, and a man who embodies the definition of a bear. He’s also lonely after the loss of his long-term partner. Young ex-gymnast Jason Barnes piques his interest, but Ben quickly realizes there’s more to Jason than his good looks. While Jason visits the library almost every day, he never checks out a book.
With gentle persistence, Ben befriends Jason and learns the nineteen-year-old’s tragic secrets. After years of abuse at his father’s hands, Jason was kicked out of his family home for being gay. And despite his apparent love of books, Jason never learned to read. Ben offers to teach him, and the two men bond over their lessons. Ben can’t deny his attraction to Jason, but he wonders if Jason is too young and too handsome to return his interest. With the help of the close-knit library team and Jason’s growing self-confidence, they move beyond the books and into the bedroom, where their own story is just beginning.
Okay, I admit it. I read the blurb for this book and immediately got a bit “judgy” about the age of the two MCs – Ben is 48; Jason is 19. But I’m a sucker for any book with a library setting, and ending up enjoying this book … but had a few “quibbles.” But first, I love how T.J. Masters, a career teacher, refers to the power of the written word:
I couldn’t imagine life without the printed word. Every book was a powerhouse of knowledge, ideas, characters, and experiences. I had always felt sorry for people who didn’t read and never experienced the joy of getting lost in a well-written story. Now I had a new concern: what would it be like if you wanted to read but had never learned how to?
Bear Among the Books is a gentle, low-angst story centering around the town’s library where Ben, a former schoolteacher, is the head librarian and Daisy, Jake and Jess are his coworkers / friends. Ben becomes intrigued by Jason, a lovely athletic lad of 19, and soon learns his heartbreaking story. Jason never learned to read and dropped out of school at 16.
- He was raped by his stepfather at age 15, with continuing sexual abuse for the next three years, until he was kicked out by his mother (after walking in on them and believing the stepfather rather than Jason).
The relationship between Ben and Jason is slow and sweet and tender and Ben is very much the solid stable figure that Jason needs in his life. Ben had a wonderful life with his partner, Colin, who died of a brain tumor. He’s settled and content with who he is, and is fully aware he has been given this wonderful gift of Jason, who hasn’t experienced life and is eager to explore every moment with Ben. I admire how Ben comes to terms with their May / December romance: First was that there was no guarantee that it would be me who went first. Although the loss of a partner was not an experience I would wish on anyone, here I was having survived that and now ready to embark on a completely new chapter in my life. I had amazing memories of my time with Colin, and now I had the chance to create a whole new set of experiences and memories with Jason.
The pace of the book is fairly slow, but I thought it fit the kindly community T.J. Masters created with his characters and their lives, and it echoed Jason’s slow awakening. I did have a few quibbles, though. As the book is told from Ben’s POV, we see him fall in love with Jason. But we don’t get much from Jason, other than his statement “Young guys just don’t do it for me.” And finally, while the love scenes were well-done and fairly steamy, Ben continually refers to Jason as “my awesome boy” or the lovely lad, poor boy, or “the ever-eager lad then got down on his knees and started to undo my belt.”
But on the whole, I enjoyed this sweet, slow and tender May / December romance.