Off Campus by Amy Jo Cousins

Grade: A
Hotness Level: Inferno
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Contemporary, m/m, NA
Series: Bend or Break #1
Published: 12/30/14
Reviewed by Anne
260 ebook pages

Tom used to be the wealthy son of a wealthy man.  All of that changed when his father went to jail for fraud.  He’d stolen millions from people, leaving them, and his son broke.  Tom has just a few semesters left of college, so he sets to work driving a cab and sleeping in his car so he can earn money to afford the tuition it will take to finish college and have a chance at getting back on his feet.  He’s exhausted and happy to finally be admitted into the off campus dorm for older students, but when he enters the room he finds Reese, who is NOT happy to see Tom.  Reese had been promised a single occupancy dorm room and he’s not going to share the complicated story of how that came to happen.  When they can’t get the college to reassign them to different rooms, Reese sets out on a campaign to make straight man Tom uncomfortable enough to leave of his own accord.  So Tom finds himself coming home again and again to sit in the hall listening to his roommate having sex with other guys.  And he starts to wonder how straight he is and what’s going on with his new roommate anyway?

This book worked for me on every level.  It’s not a light book, but there was plenty of humor, especially with Tom and Reese’s best friends.  You’ve got Tom coming out to himself about his feelings toward Reese, but still struggling with all the crap life has dealt him and just having too much on his plate.  And you’ve got Reese, figuring out how to deal with his past.  The guys cause each other more pain, but it’s not intentional.  It actually made me cry, which I usually hate, but it was so sad and so sweet in parts that I had to cry.

All that makes it sound like it’s a downer of a book, but it’s NOT.  It’s full of hope.  There are no magic penises.  There’s no super-healing amateur sex therapy.  In fact there’s actual therapy with an actual therapist, and it’s helpful, but it’s not overnight.  So, no magic, but lots of hope, and Tom and Reese doing what they need to do to get better for each other.

Besides all that, there’s some super hot sex and sexual tension.  This author can write sex scenes! I can’t wait to read the next one in the series!

Note: the cover reminded me of Heidi Cullinan’s college series, which I loved.  I’d say if you liked that one you’ll like this one, and vice versa, though Cullinan’s series has a bit lighter feel to it.

Fever Pitch by Heidi Cullinan

Grade: A
Hotness Level: Inferno
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Contemporary, NA, m/m
Series: Love Lessons #2
Published: 9/30/14
Reviewed by Anne
297 ebook pages

Aaron isn’t really excited about starting college, in fact, he’s having a hard time even picking a college to go to.  He is excited about living on his own, though.  He won’t be under his father’s thumb any more, and there might even be room for him to come out.  Giles is excited to start college.  High school was hell for him, and he’s hoping college won’t have any of the bullying and cliques that left him feeling like he was the bottom of the barrel.  A chance encounter at a party neither one of them wants to be at leaves Aaron with a new sexual experience and a college t choice made.  Unfortunately the same encounter leaves Giles feeling rejected again.  So, when they get to college, where both are involved in the music program, Giles is not as happy to see Aaron as Aaron was hoping he would be.

I felt like this was a story written just for me.  One part Glee, one part Pitch Perfect, and one part Heidi Cullinan goodness was a perfect mix.  Heck, it even had a huge musical closing act!

Surprisingly, I felt like the romance, though it was good, wasn’t the strongest point of this story.  The real strength of the story was the coming of age that Aaron and Giles went through.  Some of that involved them being together, but a lot of it happened more in parallel, separate from their relationship.  It’s full of good messages, but they’re not shoved down your throat.  There’s acapella, unrequited love, just the right amount of angst, and some incredible parents.  I loved every single word of it!

The only thing I could even begin to complain about is how much Walter and Kelly (from the first book in the series) appeared in this one.  But, really, I can’t complain, because Walter and Kelly were awesome!  They also have an integral part in the story, they weren’t just reappearing for the good feels of it.

I highly recommend this book!  It’s going on my Best of 2014, and it’s in my top 5 right now!  I did read Love Lessons, the first book in this series, before reading this one.  I think you’d appreciate a couple of the secondary characters more if you read in order, but I also think you’d be fine if you read this one as a stand alone.  It’s a great read!

Love Lessons by Heidi Cullinan

Grade: A
Hotness Level: Inferno
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Contemporary, m/m, NA
Series: Love Lessons #1
Published: 10/1/13
Reviewed by Anne
257 pages

Love Lessons is a story of randomly assigned college roomates who become great friends and possibly even more.  Walter Lucas is a junior who ends up needing a room in the dorms last minute.  He’s the gay version of the Big Man on Campus.  He’s most looking forward to hooking up with the new freshman class – at least the gay male portion of it, anyway.

Kelly Davidson is a freshman at Hope University.  He’s been looking forward to leaving his small town and living truly out as a gay man.  He’s also a little naïve and very cute.  He’s not looking to hook up, he’s looking for a Disney style Happily Ever After.  He knows that’s unusual, but he knows what he wants.

At first, it wouldn’t seem like these two would work together well as roomates, but what you come to see is that Walter has a much bigger heart than he lets on , and Kelly is much more confident in himself than it appears.  Together, that leads to a great story!

Kelly and Walter both have story arcs in this book. Neither one needs to make huge changes, but Walter’s journey is a bit bigger than Kelly’s.  Walter’s always had all the money and not enough of the attention he needed.  He’s been let down a lot.  Learning to trust Kelly is a big step for him.  For his part, Kelly’s just getting used to being out as gay, and wondering when he’s ever going to feel like a grown up and like he fits in somewhere.

There’s a medium level of angst in this story (something I struggle with in NA books) but it’s offset by some awesome humor and the overall light tone.  Kelly’s obsession with Disney cartoon movies is a line of humor that had me smiling a lot.  The contrast between Walter’s leave it all hang out style (not literally) and Kelly’s more private one is very well written.

The thing that made me really love this story was that it IS a love story.  It’s so sweet to see Kelly and Walter fall for each other and then to see them realize what’s happening, too.  It’s a great story.  I also enjoyed Kelly’s family!  There’s a scene where Walter comes to visit Kelly and his family bearing gifts.  Kelly’s understanding of what’s going on, how he talks with his parents, and their response… it’s one of my all time favorite scenes.

I loved this book, and it’s going on my Best of 2014 list.  I’d highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys m/m romance.

Trivia Bonus:  the Disney art of David Kawena and the art of Tom of Finland are both mentioned in this story.    If you haven’t seen them, then you should go look now!  (David Kawena link below, just Google image Tom of Finland.)  I’d already scene Kawena’s work, but the Tom of Finland stuff was interesting, too!  Google them both – but not while you’re at work or with young children!

David Kawena: