Rating: 2.75 stars
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It’s the little things that Theo finds annoying about Zack, like the way the younger man slipped in to take first place in last year’s brieFEST or the way he always takes the last portion of meatballs. And especially the look on his smug face when he sees Theo glaring at him. This year, Theo is determined to win brieFEST, not just for the money and the internship that comes with it … but to rub it in Zack’s face. However, Theo’s best friend and team member wants to bring in her crush, Will, and his roommate. No problem; the more the merrier. But what happens when the newest team member is none other than Theo’s arch rival?
First things first, this book has nothing to do with brie or any other cheese-based festival. Instead, brieFEST is a competition held by various business schools where students will gather in small teams to create and present a brief on a product or company. It could be employee satisfaction, or a new product launch or re-design. Winners get money, which is nice, a good grade, which is nicer, and the winning team also gets work internships to help with their careers. And that’s what Theo wants — and what Zack turned down when he won last year. So, no cheese.
What this book does have is two young men who know for a fact that the other person hates them, only to discover that hate is too strong a word. While working together, Zack and Theo learn that they’re both interested in the creative side of business, they’re both gay, and they both like jogging. Then they fall into bed and become lovers. There’s also the plot about putting together a marketing campaign around salt, which is the best part of the book. At Will’s suggestion, they use a fairytale for inspiration about how it’s the small moments of kindness, consideration, and devotion that a partner shows that are the true hallmarks of love. Grand gestures are all well and good, but they’re one-time things, while the small moments that fill the days, weeks, and months of a relationship are the ones that truly show how much a person is loved.
It would have been nice to feel any of that in the story; instead, everything feels so calculated, the story beats seem outlined and then filled in, so that nothing comes across as genuine or caring. When the characters talk — either Zack and Theo, or the side couple of Maya and Will — I felt little, if any, emotion in their conversations. Everything feels flat, overly explained, overly critical, and, for me, uninteresting. I had zero sense of character and felt no connection to anyone. The sex scenes are a blow by blow adjustment of legs and shoulders, and so many moments feel devoid of feeling or emotion, pulled back to a clinical recitation of events.
If I take away the dialogue tags from any conversation between Zack and Theo, unless there are extenuating circumstances, I don’t think I could tell which character was speaking. Their phrases, which are often either statements of facts or rehashing of established events and redundant conversational topics, are so in sync it’s no wonder the two of them get along so well. They seem to have everything in common, every opinion, every inflection … everything.
There is no subtlety in this book and no subtext. Instead, it’s so heavy on the tell and explain (and conversations between characters used as exhausting exposition) that it felt like I was reading everything twice. When Will catches the two of them at a table, Zack’s hand on Theo’s, he makes a joking comment about the pair of them being on a date. Zack, flushing, pulls his hand away. Then Theo has to sit for another paragraph and explain what just happened, to walk through how Zack is flustered over holding his hand. And the book goes on like this. When a joke is made, not only is it explained through narrations, but then Zack has to explain it, as well, ostensibly for the benefit of Theo. Even if it were a joke I had found funny the first time, by the third time I hear it, it’s lost any luster it might have had.
This story was a test for my patience, and I’m not entirely certain which of us won. I struggled to finish, much as I struggled to find any connection to the characters or interest in the relationship. The constant repetition wore on my nerves and I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy the reading experience. Maybe an audio version would have been better for me where a strong narrator could have brought life to Theo’s thoughts and given some distinction between the characters, but as it stands, while this book is the first in the Cupid’s Academy series, I have no intention of reading the next book.
Well, drats! I was enjoying the prospect of a book about brie.