Level Hands by Amy Jo Cousins

25611509 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.

I love Amy Jo Cousins’ books, just in general and this series – Bend or Break – in particular just kills it specifically. Every book of this series has included characters that have been really real, which sounds so generic to put it like that! But the characters in this series are all struggling with real life issues. It’s pretty common in the New Adult genre to either have characters dealing with issues on either end of the spectrum – real life or total angst filled unrealistic drama (not that real life is not angst filled!). So I love that Amy Jo Cousins’ characters usually are realistic as well as grounded.

Denny and Rafi, who we met in the last book, are no different. Denny, on the one hand, is a reserved kid who is used to having his parents pay for things. He’s been in love with Rafi for a few years since he met him when he ran away from home because he was afraid what his parents would say about him being gay. Denny’s been quietly waiting for Rafi for years. Rafi, on the other hand, struggles with so much when he accepts a rowing scholarship and comes to college with Denny. He’s used to having no money and dealing with issues of social class and racism but he’s not used to trying to deal with that within a potential relationship. Both of these characters seemed so genuine to me because Rafi was so freaking stubborn that at some points I wanted to smack him and say what is wrong with you!? But that is pretty accurate for a normal person I think. Denny’s patience was almost too much and I was happy to see it break so I could see he wasn’t a Saint.

I felt that the author did a wonderful job describing the overwhelming parts of coming to college. Parts of this book dealt with just not being a genius and being able to ace classes right away. It’s been a while since I was in class but she took me right back there instantly. Rafi’s struggle throughout the book with a variety of issues and his evolution just made me want to give him a hug.

This was also the first book I’ve read that had crew as the sport in it and I loved it! Oh and the cover is ridiculously hot – love the arms. I would highly recommend this series (as always) and this entry is a great one.

ARC provided in return for an honest review.

4.5 Stars

~Melinda

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10 thoughts on “Level Hands by Amy Jo Cousins

  1. I REALLY want to get my hands on this series! It’s going to be a book away since I want to be able to start the 5th (coming out on the 17th) and so I scheduled my books this month by this date 🙂 This sounds amazing, I love realistic not too angsty NA novels. and what you said about not doing great in college, well, I’m trying to get accepted into an MA program and so I’m dealing with exactly that. I have good grades but not AMAZING ones and so it’s very hard for me to think of a place I’ll even get admitted.. I’m really bummed about it but it’s much more realistic, in a book I mean, to have medium students and not just perfect model + genius. It’s nice seeing more authors talk about subjects that are mostly left aside and generally feel more “real” and by that being more approachable and relate-able. Hope I’m making sense I feel like I’m all over the place today..

    • You will seriously love this book then! I could relate to him and my experience with being a medium student is awhile ago. I love having realistic situations in books too as opposed to the perfect put together people all the time. I get exactly what you mean and I feel like this book will speak to you for sure. I hope you like it and you need to let me know your reaction when you get to it! Also – I’ve read the 5th book and am getting ready to write my review – shocker – LOVED it!

      • So I’ve read the first in the series and absolutely loved it. I was SO good. IMPOSSIBLE to put down, I swear. I read it in a day – started 18:00 on friday and finished on saturday morning. Now I’m in the quarter of the second one, I’m not getting Jack yet, but I do like Miguel. we’ll see how it goes. I had such a long day today, I just arrived home less than half an hour ago (it’s 23:00) and I was barely home before that.. so I don’t know if I”ll be able to read more than 5 pages before I drop dead 🙂

      • The second one is not my favorite. It feels disconnected from the rest of them. You can actually skip that book and follow the rest just fine in my opinion. The rest all are connected by the same characters like Sarina Bowen’s series are.

      • I was just writing about it to another book friend that I have a feeling that Jack was somehow not relevant? in a way I wasn’t even interested in getting his story anyway.. I just started today, while at the post office, the 3rd installment and it felt interesting and right on point from page one. So I”m not sure what happened.. Maybe Amy really wanted to redeem Jack so she wrote that one, but I think that it doesn’t feel a part of the series. Maybe it’s stupid saying that after I’ve read just one book but that’s how it was for me.

        I used to be obsessed with finishing a book. But a friend taught me a good rule, if it’s not good at the third mark it WON”T get significantly better the rest of the way.. But I will admit that sometimes I drop it even before that (maybe not giving it enough of a chance but oh well, it’s MY hobby and I’ll enjoy it not struggle through it 😉 )

      • Amy did mention specifically that she wanted to redeem Jack. I finished the book and I gave it 3 stars but it doesn’t feel related to the other books to me either and that was my main complaint with the book.

      • then maybe it should have been a novella? shorter and more to the point, more about Jack and less about Miguel? I don’t know.. well, yesterday I read about two chapters (granted these are LONG chapters) all day long I wanted to sit back and read. I had a depressing morning, I was at work but was so disconnected from anything and everything. I truly just wanted to take a blanket, sit on the beach (10 minutes drive from work 😛 ) and read. I SHOULD have done it. This weekend I PLAN on doing nothing to read and de-stress and somehow NOT think about anything of importance.

      • Just wanted to let you know I finished Level Hands this morning.. I also just finished writing my review and I can tell you know I’m not a 100% pleased with it. I think I should have said a lot more about Rafi’s struggles and maybe more about the rowing.. I”m not sure. I just feel as though what happened with him and Denny was more important to me than all the rest. It could have been a good thing, when the romance is so prominent, and yet I’m left unsatisfied. I didn’t like Rafi. I could understand his struggles but he was a total ass toward Denny 98% of the time. I couldn’t get that. When you are on your own and there is SOMEONE on your side, someone you actually LOVE, pushing him away is wrong on so many levels. I don’t know.. I’m overly emotional about exactly that lately.. I’m trying to concentrate on myself and being relaxed and then I get a book that hits close to home and I feel cheated! a book should be a sort of “escape” from the annoying situations in life, something that helps me relax, feel myself. This week it doesn’t..

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