Rating: 4.75 stars
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It is his 18th birthday and Mark Cooper is angry. Angry that he had to leave his home in Australia to live with his mom and her new husband in the U.S. Angry that he feels obligated to rush his stepfather Jim’s old fraternity, despite the fact that the guys are asses and Mark has no interest in rushing whatsoever. And today, he is particularly annoyed that in the U.S. he is still not legal to have a drink on his birthday.
When Mark storms into the bar where Deacon Holt works fuming about wanting a drink, Deacon can’t help but feel a soft spot for the “angry bunny.” He buys Mark a Coke and listens to his frustrations, recognizing how lonely and confused Mark is trying to fit into life in America and his new college. It is clear that most of Mark’s anger is a cover up for his insecurities and Deacon can’t help but like the guy. The fact that he finds Mark smoking hot doesn’t hurt either.
Mark’s biggest hurdle right now is the fact that he has grudgingly agreed to rush his stepfather’s old fraternity (one that Jim’s nephew belongs to as well). Mark doesn’t get the Greek system or the rush process at all and has zero interest in joining. Especially because the spirit of brotherhood and community that Jim remembers so fondly from his Alpha Delt days are long gone. In their place are a bunch of boorish assholes who care only about wild parties and treat their pledges like crap. Mark assumes there is no way he will ever get a bid to join, especially since he has done all he can to be as obnoxious as possible, but he is shocked when they invite him to pledge anyway. This is just the start of the hellish process for Mark as he must endure hazing and abuse, along with his fellow pledges, all to join a fraternity he doesn’t even want to be in anyway.
What starts out as a one night stand between Mark and Deacon slowly begins to grow into more. Deacon belongs to the rival fraternity house, a group of guys focused on academic achievement and doing good works. He is the ever responsible one, taking care of his mother, working hard, and taking on the weight of all responsibilities that come his way. And Mark is shameless and stubborn and quite obnoxious when he wants to be. But despite their differences, the guys totally hit it off and their fling soon becomes a relationship. Together they explore their new kinks and sexual interests. Mark encourages Deacon to get out and have fun, while Deacon is a grounding force to all of Mark’s inner chaos.
But even as the guys grow closer, the feuding between their two houses amplifies. And not only are their fraternities fighting like crazy, but things are escalating for Mark with his pledge leader. The guy is totally sadistic and has it in for Mark, making him miserable just as he begins to think he may in fact be interested in being in a fraternity after all. Amidst all the chaos, Mark and Deacon start to realize that what was supposed to be just a fling is actually turning into a whole lot more.
So Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock totally sold me on their writing partnership after their fabulous Boy series (The Good Boy and The Boy Who Belonged). This story has a very different style and tone so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I am thrilled to say I totally loved it. This is a book filled with lots of humor, steamy sex, and at its core, a sweet coming of age romance between two young men trying to find their way.
The story sets up Mark and Deacon as two very different guys who somehow totally work together. Not only are their personalities completely different, but they have the added conflict of being in rival fraternities. They tease each other about being star crossed lovers a la Romeo and Juliet (they even adorably call each other by those nicknames), and in some ways they are. Mark’s fraternity is full of wild partiers who care more about getting drunk and hooking up than anything else. And Deacon’s group is much tamer, more studious, and responsible. And of course the houses are right next to each other, causing much conflict (and a lot of sneaking around by Mark and Deacon). It is a clever set up that adds a level of conflict to their already complicated relationship.
Mark’s fraternity, in particular, is the root of much of the book’s conflict. Mark assumed from the start he would never get a bid, then assumed he would get kicked out of pledging right away. He can’t believe that his clearly obnoxious, don’t give a shit attitude didn’t prevent them from admitting him. So he starts out pretty much doing everything he can to get kicked out while still being able to tell Jim he tried. But slowly Mark begins to turn around, his stubbornness making him determined to succeed at Alpha Delt after all, if only to best the awful pledge leader. He wants to prove he can do it, and wants them to get tired of him instead of the other way around. This whole conflict really illustrates Mark’s need to set up a battle to deal with his fears and insecurities. He wants to do it for Jim, to stay involved for his friend Brandon. And even a tiny part of him wants to stay in to make friends with his fellow pledges. But he also needs something to fight against, and throughout the story we really see him learn to recognize that need and deal with it in a better way with Deacon’s help.
Although we get both guys POVs, this story really feels like Mark’s journey most of all. He is really struggling to find himself amidst all the turmoil of his life. He didn’t want to move, didn’t particularly want this school, and definitely doesn’t want to rush Jim’s old fraternity. The thing is, he LIKES Jim and finds him a nice guy. And Mark knows he isn’t trying hard enough to get along with Jim, to settle in at college, and to make friends. So he is constantly caught between his sort of defensive walls he puts up that he doesn’t want any of this, and the voice inside him that realizes he is being stubborn and difficult but can’t seem to stop himself. I think Mark could have easily have come across as sort of a jerk or a brat, but somehow these authors make him so incredibly endearing. There is a playfulness to him, a spirit of fun and adventure. But there is also a soft center behind that brittle outside that we really see come out throughout the book. Mark cares about his mom and wants to get along with her new husband. He worries about his fellow pledge who is having a hard time and sticks it out pledging in part to help take care of him. And as scared as he is about showing it, Mark clearly loves and cares for Deacon. Plus, he is a total riot. So I loved Mark and found him such a fun character.
Deacon has his own issues, dealing with his mentally ill mother. He goes home every weekend to check in on her and is caught in this cycle of responsibility. He wants to be needed, to do the right thing, to work hard and achieve. And at the same time he feels burdened by the weight of all the things he has taken on. I loved how Mark helps to push out of his shell, to make Deacon a little bolder, a little crazier, and have more fun. They balance each other out so perfectly in personality.
Part of the exploration that these two go through together is a sexual one. As they spend time together, they realize that they have a lot of shared fantasies and previously unrealized kinks that they experiment with together. They learn they are turned on by spanking, fisting, and most especially, Mark in women’s lingerie. They are seriously smoking hot together and the chemistry between these guys is insane. There is a scene on the mechanical bull that Mark’s fraternity brings in for a party that is just amazingly hot, and leads to the guys realizing just how sexy they find it for Mark to wear women’s panties. I loved how the sexual heat combines with that almost innocent exploration between these guys. It really shows how they are learning about themselves and about their relationship as they figure out what they like sexually and what works for them as a couple.
As I mentioned, this story is also laced with humor, much of it derived from the culture clash between these two men. There is great debate over the use of “ass” versus “arse” as well as a host of other language and cultural differences. Mark can’t seem to get the hang of American culture, history, or literature and in particular hates the idea of snow. The authors themselves are an Aussie/American duo so it is clear where the humor derives. The story has lots of other funny moments that keep the story light in the midst of the sometimes heavier issues. So lots of fun here and it really kept me entertained.
So yep, just loved this one. So super sexy, fun, and romantic. These authors manage to give us kinky heat at the same time they create a heartwarming young love tale about two guys who are trying to figure their lives out and make it work together. I really loved Mark Cooper Versus America and definitely recommend it.