From the 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.
I really like Brandon Witt, and so I really wanted to LOVE this book. I didn't love it, but I liked it, even with its flaws.
I always like how Brandon Witt writes books that feel intensely personal. He truly writes what he knows, whether he is writing about locations that he is familiar with (like in this story) or incorporating characters inspired by real-life friends, or just including life experiences that he has had. Every time, I get such a sense of him in his stories. I feel his love of food, family, and friends, and I really like that I get that intimacy from his stories.
That said, I wish Brandon would write some stories that showcase his funnier side, like Christmas Miracles of a Recently Fallen Spruce, because Mapping the Forest, like so many other recent books from Brandon, was very serious and somewhat sad. (Take a chance, Brandon! You CAN do funny!)
Luis Martinez, one of the MCs of the story, is going through a rough, emotional time. I liked his character, but for the first half of the story I swear he cried in every single scene. It was a LOT of crying, and that is coming from a girl who cries at Kleenex commercials! Though I understood that Luis was experiencing some very painful and difficult emotions, it got a little overdone and heavy for me.
Gabe was a brighter character, and I liked his openness. I didn't quite get why he tried so hard with Luis, because, frankly, Luis seemed a little unhinged at times. I admired his consistency and doggedness, even if I didn't know what drove it. I also liked Gabe's close relationship with his friends, another thing we see in many Brandon Witt stories.
I also saw Brandon do some stuff in his stories that I haven't seen before in gay romance. For one, he has a character (Gabe) who is open to HIV partners (not that Luis is HIV+), and I got an candid discussion of the use of PrEP for the first time in a story, at least that I can recall. I liked that Brandon took a risk here and talked about something current in real life gay relationships. Kudos to him for that.
I thought that Mapping the Forest got better and better over time, but I found the pace to be a bit too slow and the "I love yous" to be a bit too quick. I think some things could have been tweaked to make the story a bit tighter.
Overall, this was a promising story in a new series from a talented author. I think that this series has a lot of potential, and I'll be looking forward to the other side characters' books.
*ARC provided by the publisher*
Catch ya later!