Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Love Me Like a Rock is the sixth in the Bend or Break series by A.J. Cousins. Released on the same day is Hard Candy, the seventh and final book in the series. As they are both short novels, Samhain is also releasing them together, in print and e-book format, as Between a Rock and a Hard Place again on the same day. So having worked out how to buy them, what are these two stories like?
A.J. Cousins writes genre romance with gay characters. In Love me like a Rock, college art-student Austin has a crush on Vinnie, his best friend since boarding school. The other protagonist is Sean, a straightforward, geology PhD student, who is persistent, kind and really wants Austin. Whilst not exactly a, ‘nice wins the day’ romance, the author does illustrate very clearly how wonderful, and sexy it is to be truly desired and listened to.
Austin’s relationship with Vinnie, who is also one of his ‘suite-mates’ in college dorms, is that of best friends with occasional benefits. These ‘benefits’ only occur when Vinnie is de-stressing from an essay and drunk. No matter how much in love you think you are, eventually this sort of situation will start to feel unsatisfying and hollow. Austin has reached this point when he sees a very attractive life model posing in his art class. Bearded Sean is everything Vinnie is not. He is sexy and attentive to Austin’s needs – he wants to include Austin in his world, and treats him as something precious in his life. He also thinks Austin is sex on a stick, showing and expressing his constant desire for him.
Austin is a bit flaky and completely ‘zones out’ on occasion when he is involved in his art. He starts the relationship with Sean by having hot sex after the art class, but also tells him they can’t be a couple, as he is in love with someone else. An auspicious start it is not, but it unfolds as a sweet story where persistence and true love conquers all
Hard Candy is a sparkling story of love between opposites. Vincent Lim is an uptight college student from a rich, strict, conservative family who accepts he is gay, but on their terms. Vincent or, ‘Vinnie’, accepts their ideas as well, and expects to marry a well-connected gay man from a similar background eventually. He thought that man was Austin, but he has lost Austin and realises that it was probably his fault. He didn’t really feel sexually attracted to Austin unless he was drunk and then it was perfunctory. His sexual experience is limited and he is beginning to think he may be asexual, as he finds many of the acts he associates with gay sex ‘problematic’ to his ordered way of thinking. Additionally, he has to work very hard to maintain the good grades that are expected of him, and so spends his life in a state of almost permanent anxiety.
Vincent meets Bryan after the world’s most awkward one-night stand , a dance major, and his …vibrant spirit and calm center lure Vinnie like a shelter from an emotional storm. Bryan is a sparkly, femme, very bendy gay man who will never pass as anything else should he even want to. He has a strict three strikes policy where dating is concerned, and socially awkward Vinnie starts gaining strikes against him fairly quickly. However, Vinnie has a kind and honest heart, and an amazing body from rowing – both win Bryan over.
As we all know, the path to true love is never smooth, and sadly, Bryan is habitually bullied for how he looks and acts. In addition, Vinnie remains constantly anxious about how other people see him. These two adorable men are saved by yoga and the strength of feeling they have for each other. I found this story enchanting and liked how the author shows that physical expressions of love are for each couple to work out together, not a menu to work through. Hard Candy is a lovely story with which to end this series.