Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Nothing Like Paris with Guest Post from Amy Jo Cousins


NOTHING LIKE PARIS (Bend or Break, Book Two)

Humble pie wasn’t supposed to taste this sweet.

Jack Tarkington’s life is in the toilet. He was supposed to be spending his junior year studying someplace cool like Paris or Rome. Instead, after taking out his anger on the campus “golden boy”, whose dad ripped off his parents, Jack is facing possible expulsion.

Sure, it’s all his own fault, but coming back to the small Iowa town he thought he’d escaped, after crowing about his admission to a prestigious school, has been a humbling experience.

When he runs into Miguel, Jack braces for backlash over the way he lorded it over his old friend and flame. Instead, Miguel offers him friendship—and a job at his growing farm-to-table store and café.

Against the odds, both guys bond over broken dreams and find common ground in music. But when Jack’s college gives him a second chance, he’s torn between achieving a dream that will take him far from home, and a love that strikes a chord he’ll never find anywhere else.

Warning: This book contains a humbled guy who’s on the brink of losing it all, a determined entrepreneur who seems to have it all together, apologies issued through banjo-picking duets, and two lovers who can play each other’s bodies like virtuosos.

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Special post from Amy Jo Cousins 

One of the partsI liked the best in Nothing Like Paris has to do with bullying, so when Amy Jo offered to work with me on a blog post, I wanted to know more of her perspective about this behavior that is pervasive in school and the workplace. Here's Amy Jo Cousins talking about bullying and how it made its way into Nothing Like Paris. ~tradermare

I didn’t get bullied much as a kid. I was a strange mixture of sweet and smart and shy that somehow combined to let me fly under the radar for most of my school years. The one time another student did come after me, it felt almost cartoonish, with the demand to “Meet me after school by the bike racks” whispered with a glare that said, We’re gonna fight. I walked home a different way from school for the next week or two and the kid who wanted to fight me eventually forgot about the whole thing.

Kids who are bullied, especially LGBTQ kids, don’t get off that easily. Writing Jack as a guy who bullied another student, even though it didn’t take place until they were in college, made me extremely uncomfortable. In my original draft, he was a cartoonish figure, menacing and irredeemably awful, and I think that was mostly because I was so unhappy about what this guy was doing, I didn’t want him to have any redeeming thoughts or feelings. It was my very intelligent and perceptive editor who called out that caricature and asked for a little more depth.

When I started thinking about Jack and why he’d harassed Tom so relentlessly in OFF CAMPUS, I wasn’t inclined to cut him much slack. And even when I figured out why he’d done it (Tom’s dad was busted for running a massive Ponzi scheme that cost Jack’s family their savings, including the college money and Jack takes it out on Tom), I didn’t want to let Jack off the hook for his behavior. I don’t think anyone wakes up one day and is a totally changed person, all sins repented. I also didn’t think Jack was unaware of how crappy he was being when he harassed Tom, and I thought some of that guilt would make him extra defensive about his own bad choices most of the time.

Kicked out of school, Jack is back in his hometown, still pissed off and angry at the world. It takes the wake-up call of his former best friend and boyfriend, Miguel, to get Jack started on the road to reclaiming his basic decency. And the support of his former high school guidance counselor to help Jack address some of the addiction issues that are destroying his family and contributing to his anger. Finding a support system that holds him accountable for his actions is part of what sets Jack on the road to being a better person again.

I don’t believe you can just apologize for something like bullying and redeem yourself, though. Apologies are too easy, and too often insincere. Jack’s story arc in NOTHING LIKE PARIS requires him to do some serious work on his own issues, on his anger management and his family troubles. He also ends up finding a way to make up for some of the harm he’s caused, to balance his karmic scales, if you will. And in the end, he knows that he can’t do any of this for superficial reasons if he wants it to mean anything.

One of the things Jack does involves a gay-straight alliance at his old high school. GSANETWORK is a terrific group offering support and resources for students looking to start GSAs in high school. Check out their website for more information! And maybe we can bring a few more Jack’s back to the good side of the Force.
Thank you Amy Jo!

What I thought about Nothing Like Paris

In Nothing Like Paris, we get Jack Tarkington's story.  He's the guy that was disciplined by the school for giving Tom Worthington a hard time in Off Campus, the first book in the series, but Nothing Like Paris could easily read as a standalone.

When Jack left his hometown for school, he also left behind his best friend and boyfriend, Mike who now runs a farm-to-table store in the small town.  Mike still has a grudge against Jack for leaving the way he did, and Jack is in dire straits, with a less than desirable family situation, no job and a possible expulsion in his future.  But the feelings between Jack and Mike won't be denied, even with their past hurts.

I really liked Mike.  He's ambitious and solid, and so much more mature than Jack.  But it's easy to see the attraction between these two, with Jack providing the excitement that Mike has missed all the years he was gone.  

Jack does manage to find a way to put up with being back in his hometown, and I loved  how he got involved with the high schoolers hanging around Mike's place. It opens the door for more and I really loved how things turned out with his interactions with his former guidance counselor.  She's got an important message for Jack, and for me, that was my favorite part of the book.

This book is different from Off Campus in that it gives us both Jack and Mike's point of view and I didn't feel like I got to know Jack the same way I got to know Tom in the first book in the series. I loved Mike though, so that made it all good. There's a slow build to the last part of the book that I wish had been paced a bit better but it was worth it in the end.

I really like this series and the characters. The last 30% is so full of personal revelations and I loved where Jack and Mike ended up in this book.

ARC provided for review.

About the Author

Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series.

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