Level Hands (Bend or Break #3)

Author: Amy Jo Cousins

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Rating: 3.5 stars

Buy Links: Samhain and Amazon

Type: Novel

Received from Publisher


Blurb: When it comes to love, there’s no such thing as smooth sailing.

Bend or Break, Book 4

Rafael Castro is so far out of his element he can’t even see it anymore. Carlisle College in Massachusetts is a long way from his Chicago home, even farther from his Dominican Republic roots.

The only thing keeping him attached to his last nerve is the prospect of seeing Denny Winslow again. The first time they met, Denny taught Rafi to fly across the water, rowing hard in a knife-like boat. Now, two years later, on the wings of a rowing scholarship, Rafi is attending Denny’s elite college.

Even before the excitement wears off, Rafi is struggling with classes and fending off rumors that Denny’s family, not Rafi’s talent, won him his spot. To quash the gossip, Rafi tries to steer clear of the man he wants. A plan that evaporates in the fire of renewed attraction. 

But Carlisle’s academic pressure cooker has Rafi barely treading water. And when a family crisis hits, both Rafi and Denny must pull hard to keep their relationship from capsizing in rough waters.

Product Warnings: Contains a surly Dominican-American guy determined to show no weakness, a golden boy who knows his soft spots, some seriously dirty bachata dancing, and an excellent excuse for voyeurism in the locker room.


Review:  I know picking up books in this series I’m going to get some deliciously frustrating tension brought on from some very realistic characters. I did get that but this one tipped the scales into annoying. The story is told from Rafi’s POV and boy does he have issues. He has these great moments and then smashes them based on his insecurities. Denny, his love interest, is adorable! He’s sexy and fun. So open to loving Rafi if he’d only just let him.

The book starts with Rafi and Denny meeting in Chicago when they’re 18. Rafi is slightly older and being the good guy by not acting on his strong attraction to Denny until he’s offically 18. Denny is just as attracted and willing. So they share their first kiss after being friends the night before Denny is to return to his life on the east coast. A few years later, Rafi is headed up the private east coast college, Carlisle. Rafi knows his former employer and alumni to the college, Cash, and Denny lobbied hard to get him rowing scholarship so he could go to college there. Rafi is all cool and comfortable in his element in Chicago but the rich yuppy school has him nervous and defensive. He’s already way too worked up when he arrives and never really relaxes. There’s too much pressure for him to do well and make everyone happy. Rafi knows this is a great opportunity but it comes with a lot of stress. His feelings for Denny are just another thing he’s struggling with.

Rafi hasn’t stopped thinking about Denny since they parted ways. He’s been so excited to see Denny and thoughts of how amazing it will be have filled his mind since he found out he would be seeing him again. When he does see him however, he lets his insecurities of possibly being the token dark skin guy and a rich boys kept charity case make him prickly. Not exactly the romantic visions in his head. Or Denny’s. Who has also been doing his best to get Rafi back by his side.

So basically Rafi is frustrating as hell. He plays with Denny’s emotions. Lashes out way too often. Poor Denny is so crazy about Rafi he just hangs in there hoping Rafi will eventually get his shit straight. Denny does a good job of holding his own though, so don’t think he’s a doormat here. Just a very kind and understanding guy in love. Rafi runs hot and cold also. His good moments are very good and I can understand wanting to be there for him. And with him. He does have an intensity that’s undeniable. I personally enjoy the push pull thing generally. I SO wanted them to get together! They both wanted each other so badly but Rafi just couldn’t handle everything life was throwing at him. So he hurts Denny and sabotages himself along the way. I do love me some sexual tension but these guys went 3 freak outs too far for my liking. It was honestly just too much and by that point I wanted to smack Rafi. I LOVED Denny! He was sexy and kind. All he wants is to be with Rafi and help him in any way he can. Part of what makes their story so frustrating is they both are obviously crazy about each other but Rafi just can’t get over his issues with how people look at him at the new school. He battled through high school in the city as an out kid but he’s so sure these people already look down on him. I guess being Denny’s boy is just too much for him?

While most of the people at the school were friendly and welcoming, a few were jerks. Just like anywhere you go. Most of this was because the guys were gay. Not because Rafi is Dominican. So his issues with “white people” were somewhat interesting because he was stereotyping them while being defensive about their opinions of his own ethnicity. So there is quite a bit of depth to Rafi’s character but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating after so many blow ups. I was so glad he eventually got therapy because he needed it! And Denny deserves a good man.

I do like these books. They’re on my automatic read lists because they are engaging and there’s strong emotion brought out of me from this writer’s characters and story telling. This one maybe brought a tad too much of the unwelcome emotion of annoyance out of me. While the guys were super sexy together, it was constantly halted or the fires were extinguished too frequently for me. Took some of the thrill out of their shared moments the next time they could maybe possibly get it right. So not much actual sex but a lot of drama and angst. I am looking forward to the next book. Hopefully it’s Rafi’s roommates turn to finally get it right because the set up there was pretty damn good. I just like the idea of the carefree artist and the uptight friends who have been pining for each other . That sounds damn good to me! Despite this one giving me the GRRRRRSSS……I’ll definitely be reading all further books in this series. I love these stories and the writing is so engaging. This one just pushed it a tad too far for my personal tastes.

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