rock and hard placeBetween a Rock and a Hard Place (Bend or Break 6 & 7)

Published by: Samhain (March 22nd, 2016)

Format: Kindle ARC

Genre: Contemporary NA

Order from: Amazon

Reviewed by: Erin

What kind of awesome can you expect inside: Camping, beards, boning, drama, high fashion, yoga…

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Love Me Like A Rock

With the right art tools, there’s almost nothing Austin can’t make real. Except an official relationship with his best friend, rowing teammate and occasional hookup, Vinnie.

Emotional and sexual frustration fuel a spark between Austin and Sean, the nude model in drawing class. After a quick and very dirty encounter, all the reasons Austin has been waiting for Vinnie go fuzzy in his mind.

But if Austin can’t get his head and his heart on the same page, he could lose both his friend, and his lover.

Hard Candy

Vincent always assumed he and Austin would eventually end up together. But now that Austin’s in love with another man, Vinnie is at a loss.

After the world’s most awkward one-night stand with Bryan, a dance major, Vinnie is drawn to his vibrant spirit and calm center.

Physically, the rowing jock and the glittery dancer can match each other stroke for booty pop. But for the lovers to meet on common ground, they’ll have to find a way to get moving in the same direction.

Warning: Contains a pushy cox, an uptight rower, a rock-steady rock geek, and a dancer who looks fabulous in a skirt. The difference between friends with benefits and just friends is easier to figure out when tent sex and yoga lessons are on the line.

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Review: This book contains two novellas, (Love Me Like a Rock and Hard Candy), both of which can be bought separately, featuring Austin and Vinnie from Amy Jo Cousins’ Bend or Break series. We first meet them in Level Hands as Rafi’s roommates who sometimes hook up, have been best friends forever, and have this weird thing that nobody really talks about.

Romance novel fodder, right?

Clearly the next couple to hook up, right?

They just need the push to find out that they’re really in love with each other and…

Nope. Not at all. What they find out is that they’re really not that great for each other. One thing I love about Cousins’ writing is how well she captures the feeling of being a young adult: the trials and tribulations of college, the navigations of friendships, sports, employment, class, race, and the frightening first steps away from where you came from. The fact that Austin and Vinnie don’t end up together — but don’t worry, they get their own HEAs! — is one of my favorite things about this book. Austin and Vinnie have known each other since their early days at Choate. They’re both rich, with influential families. Austin has been in love with Vinnie since he was 14, and they’ve been sleeping together periodically for almost that long. Neither Austin nor Vinnie have truly explored relationships outside of their little half-relationship. That’s something that another book might romanticize, but in real life? That wouldn’t work at all.

These books are as much about Austin and Vinnie’s relationship and how it’s shaped these characters, as it is about the ultimate romantic partners they ultimately find. It is the third love story in the book, the ghost of the past that neither character can quite let go, and Cousins makes it ever-present without demonizing either character, and without treating it as some insignificant adolescent phase.

Austin finds love with Sean, a bearded geology major. Sean has been interested in Austin for some time, but Austin has been completely wrapped up with Vinnie. They try and keep it casual at first, but Sean is total dreamboat boyfriend material and Austin can’t resist for long. Sean is sweet, smart, hot, competent, and gives Austin the affection he’s been looking for. Austin is trying to keep it casual, protecting himself from getting hurt again. But the growing affection between them is just too hard to ignore…even though Sean takes him camping, with one particularly hilarious scene I won’t spoil. 

Vinnie, in his post-Austin haze of misery, meets Bryan. Bryan is a dance major and teaches Vinnie how to let go of his stress through sun salutations. (So many good yoga scenes in this It would be easy to see Bryan as a manic pixie dream boy, with his lip gloss and yoga and pink booty shorts, but he’s just as prickly and defensive as Vinnie in his own way. (Bryan owns one of my favorite scenes in the book, where he shows up to meet Vinnie’s family.) Vinnie needs to learn how to let go and love himself, and Bryan needs to learn how to let Vinnie in. This novella has a finale worthy of any 80s teen movie…I loved it!

I think that, structurally, Love Me Like a Rock works a bit better than Hard Candy. It is a well-paced and emotionally satisfying novella. Hard Candy shoots higher, but leaves a few too many unanswered questions. Is Vinnie asexual? Why does he treat Austin so badly? Why does Bryan put up with Vinnie? I think it comes together well in the end, but I so badly wanted this story to be novel-length.

These are really quibbles; these are two fantastic additions to the Bend or Break universe, with four characters we can all fall in love with.

What you may not like: The novella format may or may not work for you, and you might be left wanting more! Also, Bryan is the target for homophobic comments and threats. If that triggers you, you may want to avoid Hard Candy.

What I loved: Nuanced relationships, hot sex, perfectly detailed YA, terrific writing, and more characters to love.

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