Book Review – Off Campus by Amy Jo Cousins

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Again, I have to say the cover is what grabbed me. University boy, sunglasses, attitude.

I’m not particularly a fan of the “gay-for-you” trope unless it’s done properly, but the premise intrigued me and, as the quintessential voyeur, I really liked the idea of one guy watching the sexual antics of his roommate.

*Off Campus blurb

Everyone’s got secrets. Some are just harder to hide.

With his father’s ponzi scheme assets frozen, Tom Worthington believes finishing college is impossible unless he can pay his own way. After months sleeping in his car and gypsy-cabbing for cash, he’s ready to do just that.

But his new, older-student housing comes with an unapologetically gay roommate. Tom doesn’t ask why Reese Anders has been separated from the rest of the student population. He’s just happy to be sleeping in a bed.

Reese isn’t about to share his brutal story with his gruff new roommate. You’ve seen one homophobic jock, you’ve seen ’em all. He plans to drag every twink on campus into his bed until Tom moves out. But soon it becomes clear Tom isn’t budging.

Tom isn’t going to let some late-night sex noise scare him off, especially when it’s turning him on. But he doesn’t want any drama either. He’ll keep his hands, if not his eyes, to himself. Boundaries have a way of blurring when you start sharing truths, though. And if Tom and Reese cross too many lines, they may need to find out just how far they can bend…before they break.

Warning: This book contains cranky roommates who vacillate between lashing out and licking, some male/male voyeurism, emotional baggage that neither guy wants to unpack, and the definitive proof that sound carries in college housing.

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This book did not disappoint. In fact, I’m re-reading it at the moment and am even more impressed at the quality of the writing.

Amy Jo Cousins has such an amazing grasp of body language and human behaviour and the writing ability to create a vivid picture in the mind of her readers, which is equally impressive when she’s writing a hot voyeuristic scene or one in which her compelling characters reveal their emotional vulnerabilities and hints of their equally traumatic pasts.

Ms. Cousins makes it pretty clear from the beginning that Tom’s interest in his roommate Reese’s sexual antics comes as not so much a surprise to the “supposedly” straight former athlete but a reminder that he’s always had a level of sexual fluidity. She makes his reaction to his feelings intelligent and self-perceptive. He is mature and self-aware enough to realize he has always been, as he puts it, equal opportunity, when it comes to his sexual attractions. In my opinion, this is the only way the “gay-for-you” trope can work in a way that is respectful to the real Queer community. Because a straight guy doesn’t just “turn gay” for the one person that he finds himself falling in love with. That straight guy has to at least have a closeted past and/or a knowledge of his own bisexuality that simply flew under the radar until he is forced to acknowledge it.

Both protagonists in Off Campus are extremely compelling and about equally matched in the trauma that has shaped them. They are each trying to manage as best they can by dealing with former situations of deep betrayal and victimization. Tom has been metaphorically fucked over by his Dad’s criminal financial past and Reese, well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. But both characters’ situations are utterly believable and their strength in response to all that has occurred is one of the things that binds them. They both refuse to let their betrayers triumph. They both are committed to moving forward in whatever capacity that entails and, eventually, their tentative relationship helps them to heal themselves.

Ms. Cousins also gives the secondary characters vivid personalities. Tom’s friend Cash and Reese’s friend Steph are drawn just as realistically as her protagonists and add a great and real level of comedy in their interactions with Tom, Reese and, eventually, each other.

This is a wonderful story about survival, redemption, and refusing to be a victim.

And let me just say that the many voyeuristic scenes at the beginning of this full-length novel were some of the best I’ve read.

This is a dense book packed with real knowledge of human behaviour and psychology. I absolutely loved it.

Definite 5/5 stars.

*Off Campus is Book 1 in Amy Jo Cousins Bend or Break series.

 

Paperbacks for RTC!

My paperbacks are here to sell at the Romancing the Capital conference in August! If you’d like a hard (pun intended) copy of any book in The James Lucas Trilogy you can get a signed copy at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites, Saturday, August 5th, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. This event is open to the public (no admittance fee).

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Claiming Queerness

I struggle with labels. I struggle big time with our very human need to categorize everything and stuff every little object/action/perception into these neat little boxes that tell others what we are.

Perhaps it is the fact that I am very claustrophobic that I don’t like to be put into a little box. I feel like I can’t breath and that it limits me from achieving everything I want to.

I am a changing person. I am not the same person today that I was ten years ago. And I wasn’t the same person ten years ago that I was ten years before that. I demand the right to constantly reinvent myself or at least to grow and become what I want to be.

Lately, the definition of what queer means in our current society has been resonating with me more and more.

I have always thought of myself as bisexual, because I have definitely been attracted to women at times in my life. I have even had some same-sex experiences which I always dismissed as just a part of growing up. Because I have always had physical relationships with men and none with adult women, I didn’t think I had a legitimate right to call myself bisexual, especially since I am now in a traditional monogamous marriage with a man.

I also happen to believe in the Kinsey idea of sexuality being on a spectrum for everyone. I truly believe that no one is exclusively straight or gay, even as we like to define ourselves as one or the other. But I would never take away anyone’s right to define themselves the way they want to.

Recently I read that bisexuality is the attraction to both men and women. According to that definition I am bisexual. But, I am also attracted to some trans individuals and also to very androgynous people whose gender is extremely fluid. So, does that mean I’m pansexual? This is where I start to get lost in the land of definitions and little boxes.

Most of the time, I honestly don’t feel the need to define myself. I am happy being who I am, a cis-female who writes from a gay male persona and lives a lifestyle that could outwardly be defined as straight/conservative. I’m in a traditional, monogamous marriage to a straight cis-male. I like to hang out with gay men because it’s nice to be friends with guys who don’t hit on me and do value me for who I am.

But the fact that I’m living a very traditional life and identifying most of the time as straight makes me feel like a fake. Since heterosexuality is the assumed default, it is easy to hide behind that label. But I am really not straight. I’m definitely bisexual and probably pansexual. But applying these specific labels to myself doesn’t seem quite right either.

I am very attracted to men and women who defy gender norms. Perhaps this is because I have always done so myself. Then again I am in a happy monogamous marriage so is calling myself queer kind of a moot point? I don’t think so. How I define myself based on my attractions and sexual feelings doesn’t compromise my committed relationship because I have no intent on acting on any of them while my marriage continues. And I hope my marriage will continue for a very long time.

Recently I’m finding that the word queer that many of my friends use to define themselves is one that perhaps makes sense for me. Because one of those friends is gay and one is bisexual, but both identify as queer.

More and more I am finding my default identity as a straight woman to be less and less satisfactory. I feel that, using that label for myself excludes me from a community that I truly do identify with. As a woman writing from a gay male perspective in all of her published books and someone who struggled with gender identity/conformity all of her life and who does feel sexual attraction to people other than cis-males, I feel that I do have a right and maybe even a responsibility, to publicly identify as queer.

Queer used to mean peculiar, and not-of-the-norm. This is still the definition of the word in the Oxford dictionary. Being called queer was an insult and an indication that one had been excluded from common society. Some people will never be comfortable with the word queer because of its derogatory past usage.

However, this is the new meaning according to the Oxford English Dictionary: Denoting or relating to a sexual or gender identity that does not correspond to established ideas of sexuality and gender, especially heterosexual norms.

It has now been reclaimed to mean, as I understand it, non-conforming to the expected languages and definitions of gender and sexuality.

I love the fact that queer is such a broad yet meaningful term and seems to encompass people who don’t buy into the notion of exclusive labels for every deviation from the norm or the expectation. Yet, one can be queer and also identify as gay or bisexual or pansexual or asexual or anything else. You can apply as many labels as you like to yourself and still identify as queer.

But I’m not going to label my gender or sexuality any more than calling myself queer. If I have to choose one label, then queer makes a lot more sense to me than straight.

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