After getting himself suspended for the semester for bullying a fellow student, Jack Tarkington finds himself in a place he never expected to be — back in his tiny Iowa town. When Jack left for school he thought he was moving forward. Going to an elite private school should have been a ticket to a new and better life for Jack. But after his parents lost his college fund to a Ponzi scheme, Jack couldn’t resist making Tom Worthington’s life miserable. Even though it was Tom’s father who stole the money, and Tom was just as much a victim as anyone, in Jack’s eyes he was the enemy and he couldn’t stop himself from taking out his frustration and anger on Tom.
Miguel is the one Jack left behind. Best friends and lovers in high school, the two had planned to go away to school together. But when Miguel’s father had a heart attack, he felt he had no choice but to stay behind. Miguel’s heart was broken the day Jack left, and he still isn’t over it three years later. So Miguel isn’t so thrilled to have Jack walk into his cafe and back into his life.
Jack knows he messed up badly, but he doesn’t really know how to get himself back on track. His parents are no help; they largely ignore him and his mother’s alcoholism has reached the point that she is barely functional. Miguel takes pity and gives Jack a part time job playing banjo in the cafe. It is hard for Miguel to see him every day, but he also can’t resist Jack and hates to see him so lost.
Slowly Jack and Miguel begin to rekindle both their friendship and romantic relationship. Jack begins to sort out his life, to realize he needs help dealing with his mother, and that he needs to take responsibility for his own actions. The men find themselves falling back into the deep connection they once had, and life seems to be perfect. But Jack’s dream is still to finish college, and if they decide to let him back, it could be the end of things between him and Miguel once again.
Nothing Like Paris is the second book in Cousin’s Bend or Break series and follows the fabulous Off Campus. In that story, Jack is the villain who terrorizes Tom and makes his life miserable. I loved Off Campus and really enjoy good villain redeemed story, so I was really eager to read Jack’s story. He is not sympathetic in any way in that first book, so I knew there would be a big hill to climb here to make us care about Jack, and I think Cousins did a excellent job with it.
What I really loved here is that Jack isn’t tragically misunderstood and there is no real positive spin we can put on his past behavior. Yes, he has a shitty home life as the child of an alcoholic, and yes he grew up with a tough time at high school for being gay. But while that background helps us to understand Jack, it doesn’t justify his behavior or even try to. I love that Jack slowly comes to realize that he messed up badly, that his behavior towards Tom was awful, and that he was the bully himself this time. Over the course of the book we see Jack grow and learn and ultimately make amends for his bad behavior. So Jack really gets a wonderful character arc here as we see him grow from a guy who puts on airs to hide his insecurities and takes out his anger on others, to a person who is much more self aware and willing to be vulnerable. He is a great character and Cousins really does a wonderful job showing how he redeems himself throughout the story.
Miguel is also an interesting guy, and I really love how well developed and layered both of these characters are. On the surface Miguel has things much more together. He is close with his family, runs a successful business, and is the stable one to Jack’s wildness. But over the course of the book we learn that Miguel is hiding too, and he must really look deep to figure out why he didn’t leave with Jack years ago and what he really wants out of his life.
These guys are sweet and hot together, and I loved seeing their relationship rekindle. Miguel tries to avoid Jack, but the pull between them is so strong and we can really feel their chemistry. We know from the start that these guys are meant to be together, they just need to find their way.
While I really loved this story, I do think things are a bit slow here, especially at the start. It is a long book and I think it could have been tightened up a bit to give it some more intensity. I get why we had to move away from the college for this book, but I think the change of setting shifted the energy a bit. However, I did enjoy many of the small town side characters that we meet, in particular Miguel’s employee Andie and Jack’s former guidance counselor.
So I really liked this one and loved seeing Jack in a new light. I really loved how he has to work hard for his redemption, and how he really comes out of this story a changed man. I loved Jack and Miguel together and found them such a lovely couple. So lots of fun and a great addition to the series.
Cover Review: Once again Cousins has gotten a fabulous cover for the series. The attitude is all Jack. Just gorgeous.