Published by: Samhain Publishing
Genre: NA M/M Romance
Reviewed by: Judith
AJ Cousins, my new go-to golden girl of LGBTQ NA, is back and back with a vengeance. For those not in the know, this is book 2 in her highly praised Bend or Break series, the first of which was Off Campus (I adored it & you can read my review to find out why) featured a bisexual jock down on his luck and his hot traumatized gay roommate. The antagonist of that book – aka the evil resident life worker who makes their lives hell – is actually the hero of Nothing Like Paris. Well, I use hero loosely cause all through book one, Jack was a douche and shocker of shockers, he’s STILL a douche at the beginning of this one! But more about that in a bit…
Plot: 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.
Review: “MAN! I hate that Jack guy. What a douche!” If you’re like me, this was the constant thought running through your mind whenever Jack showed up on the page in Off Campus. He was the guy you loved to hate: rude, arrogant, offensive, and a big-time homophobe though we learn later he’s gay himself. He’s the villain, the naysayer, an antagonist to the nth degree. You can’t help but applaud finding out he’s been kicked out of school because of his bad behavior. I swear, I didn’t want to like Nothing Like Paris only because Jack was the protagonist. I was ready to out and out hate it in fact; honestly, Jack was such a tool that there seemed no way AJ Cousins could redeem him. But somehow she manages to do just that and to boot, blows all those previous perceptions out of the water.
As everyone knows, I’m a sucker for a redemption story and this is the mother of all redemption stories. And with Jack, unlike most awful irredeemable characters, you get to see him run home to his natural habitat where all his sins come back to haunt him: his parents whose relationship is slowly disintegrating cause of his mother’s alcoholism; his ex, Miguel, whom he left without much in the way of goodbye; the town itself which needs gay role models to help the youth at his former high school. Like I said, I didn’t want to like Jack and for about half of the book, I didn’t. But AJ Cousins uses the parents, the ex, and the need for role models as a means of forcing the issue. Jack changes drastically and his transformation starts a chain reaction that triggers others around him. Even Miguel, his ex, slowly starts to see that the possibility exists for more than running a family cafe in tiny Colchester Falls, Iowa. He sees that
The cool thing about Nothing Like Paris is that it is a love story, yes, but it’s also one of those life affirming pieces of fiction that acts as proof that change is possible. That people can redeem themselves if they try. It took a while to get to that point but once Jack realizes that he needs to change, he becomes a hero you can get behind and everything else just falls in line. The exes making a go of it isn’t easy however. They have a lot to overcome, least of which is Jack’s bad attitude. There’s Miguel’s hesitance at starting something with him again. There’s the very town which would rather people just stay deep in the closet. And obviously, there’s Jack himself who doesn’t let anything good happen until he starts believing he deserves it.
Amy Jo Cousins’ writing is flawless like always. Nothing Like Paris is so smooth that you will have devoured half of it before you know it. The dialogue is playful and the two exes’ have this angry banter that just sizzles, leaving you begging for something to happen.
In the end, I’ll give this 8/10 – Jack wasn’t really who I wanted the second book to be about (that’s Cash!) but it was a fascinating glimpse into the life of a well-hated character and a chance for redemption which actually follows through.
How much did I like the hero: 7. I’ll reiterate: Jack is a douche. You won’t like him when you read Off Campus, and you also won’t like him at the beginning of Nothing Like Paris. But that’s the point. He’s the bad guy who will open up and show you his soft, gooey interior. Plus he has one of those gross pencil thin mustaches that would make me want to retch if a dude had and came near my face with. Just sayin’.
How much did I like the love interest: 9. Miguel is an interesting mix of determination and responsibility and longing. He knows he should keep his hands and his heart far away from Jack (and that mustache! Yikes) cause he’s got more important things to do, namely building a new business so his parents’ farm can stay afloat. He was the steadfast, solid love interest who could also play it naughty.
How believable is the plot: 10. Amy Jo writes such compelling plots. This one is no different. She knows how to pepper something basic with nuance and detail. The unrepentant bad boy getting kicked out of school and running home? Tale as old as time but she really knows how to make it her own.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. I love this fluid writing style. No editing mistakes, no weird grammar, no spelling issues. Flawless.
How much did I want to keep reading: 10. WE WANT CASH! WE WANT CASH! Book 3 can’t come soon enough.
Final Score: 8/10.