Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place


Title: Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Bend or Break #6 and #7)
Author: Amy Jo Cousins
Date of publication: 22 March 2016
Genre/Themes: Romance, queer
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My rating: 4.5 Stars


When friends lose the benefits, can the friendship be saved?

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. 


This is a joint review of the two novellas, Love Me Like a Rock and Hard Candy, included in this volume. These are the stories of Austin and Vinnie who are roommates and teammates to Denny and Raffi from Level Hands. We saw just glimpses of both of them in this book but I got the idea that they will end up as a couple eventually.

Now, since I stalk Amy Jo Cousins on all social media, a while back I came upon her sharing an excerpt of her WIP which clearly showed that Vinnie and Austin will get their stories told but they will end up with different partners. To say I was surprised would be an understatement but I was also excited to see who she would pair them with.

So, here we are now, starting with Austin, who met the geologist Sean posing as a nude model for the art students in college.

In two words, I absolutely loved their romance. In more detail, I found it very emotional and intense. Being in Austin’s head was such a pleasure, seeing his journey from getting over Vinnie (passing through the stage admitting that things with Vinnie are not working for him, which is hard when this is the only thing you know about love/relationships. As usually, Amy Jo Cousins is a master of presenting the angst and emotional turmoil of young people, finding out who they are and what they want from life/love. It takes a hard and painful look at oneself and one’s relationship experience to admit that you are not happy with what you have and want more.

And it was Sean, opposite to Vinnie and in many respects to Austin (I’ll just say 'camping' camping here) who helped him realise things about himself. I liked how their relationship developed smoothly and naturally. There was not forced change, no need to be different, just the gradual realisation that what they had between them made them both happy. It may not have been what either of them expected initially, or in Austin’s case, not something he was actively searching for, but it was just what they needed.

On to Vinnie’s story now. I admit initially I was more interested in Vinnie than Austin, he appeared an enigma, not too much into sex, super focused and organised, a bit of a bore, yet a loyal friend and teammate.

I enjoyed discovering more about him but ultimately ended loving Austin’s romance more. I shouldn’t be comparing them because they are so radically different though in the end they achieved the same goal, made Austin and Vinnie happy and satisfied with their lives, something that never happened when they were together.

Vinnie appeared cold and kind of disinterested, only initiating intimacy with Austin after he had finished his more important tasks and he had had a few drinks (for courage). But he was different with Bryan, we saw his vulnerability, his insecurity and I found this really touching. 

Bryan was an unlikely match for Vinnie – out and proud, flamboyant, someone who could never pass for straight and who didn’t even want to. He had his own demons and fears to deal with but he was so good for Vinnie.

Despite the initial impressions they turned out to be more compatible than anyone would have thought – sexually, emotionally. They also challenged each other and this was good for them, a way to find their place, very much like Austin, Vinnie learned what he actually liked and wanted in life/love and got the courage to state it openly and go for it.

At times I felt Bryan pushed him too much, too far, making Vinnie act of character and out of his comfort zone. It could be seen as necessary for him to better understand himself and become more confident/comfortable with himself but it found it too much. This is just a minor quibble in a rich story which I very much enjoyed it. 

Fans of the Bend or Break series woudn't want to miss these two excellent addtions to the series! And if you haven't read any of Amy Jo Cousins' books before, what are you waiting for?

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks

My reviews of the previous books in the Bend or Break series:

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