Level Hands (Bend or Break #4)

Title: Level Hands (Bend or Break #4)
Author: Amy Jo Cousins
Release Date: August 25th 2015
Genre(s): New Adult, M/M Contemporary
Page Count: 293
Reviewed by: Lili
Heat Level: 3 out of 5
Rating: 3.6 out of 5

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.

Warning: 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.


Level Hands by Amy Jo Cousins is the 4th book in her Bend or Break series. I’ve read books 1 & 2 and really enjoyed them, but I skipped book 3 because it was M/F. I’m not sure if not reading book 3 did a disservice in the end. I wonder if in book 3 they were shown together more in happier carefree moments and would’ve helped me understand Rafi and Denny’s relationship dynamics better.

This book started off very strong. It starts with a glimpse at Rafi and Denny saying goodbye to each other after finally sharing their first kiss. Then it fast forwards to Rafi gaining a scholarship to Carlisle where he will be reunited with Denny. As I mentioned, it started well. I love second chance romances and I’m a total sucker for New Adult. I was loving the sexual tension and for the first half of the book I didn’t mind that the story is only told from Rafi’s POV. After the first 50% though I became very frustrated.

Rafi was constantly pushing Denny away and the constant pull and push started to grate on me. I understood his insecurities at first but after awhile being in Rafi’s thoughts was exhausting. It didn’t help that just when I thought we’d get somewhere something else would happen to push them apart. It was one thing after another.

First it was Rafi’s insecurities and the need to prove himself, then Denny’s accident, then Rafi’s sister’s accident, Rafi’s anxiety, and the drama within the team.
It was too much. It felt as if they were apart more than they were together. I began to question why Denny was still waiting for Rafi since we only caught bits here and there of them together as a couple before poop would hit the fan again. And when it hit, Rafi didn’t handle things well. Denny had the patience of a saint because it was him that often caught the brunt of Rafi’s frustration. I kind of wish this book had shown us more of their back story and less drama. I wanted to see more of them working together as a team to overcome the obstacles being thrown their way. By the end, I was ready to pull my hair out. I can’t help but wonder if book 3 set them as a couple and showed the readers more of their time together? I don’t know…I really just wanted more time of them together without drama waiting around the corner at every turn.

My second complaint is that I think the story would’ve been stronger if it had been told from an alternating POV. Maybe if we’d gotten to see Rafi through Denny’s eyes it would have helped me understand his steadfast loyalty towards someone who was always pushing him away. At first I felt their connection, but as the story progressed I started to see it less and less.

All that being said, Amy Jo Cousins is a great writer and I don’t want to take that away from her. I greatly appreciated that story touched on some important topics: racism, safe sex, and anxiety. Also, despite Rafi frustrating the heck out of me I still liked him and was rooting for him to succeed. Denny, what was there not to love? He was an amazing character. I really wish we’d gotten to hear his voice.

Overall, this was a 3.5 star read. I would’ve rated higher if Rafi had not been hot ‘n cold through the entire book. The extra drama was vexing, but his actions irked me even more.

Bend or Break Series

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ARC kindly provided by Samhain Publishing in exchange for an honest review.


I’m a romance junkie, who loves when books make her cry from heartbreak and happiness.

A few of my favorite tropes:

-Friends to lovers
-Age gap

NetGalley Member since 2015
2016 NetGalley Challenge 80% Professional Reader 2015 Challenge Participant

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