Title ~ Nothing Like Paris (Bend or Break)
Author ~ Amy Jo Cousins
Publisher ~ Samhain Publishing
Published ~ 3rd March 2015
Genre ~ M/M Contemporary Romance
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.
A story of redemption and the path to true love! Join us in welcoming Amy Jo Cousins again to Sinfully…Addictive with her wonderful new book from the Bend or Break series Nothing Like Paris and check out the music that inspired her to write angry banjo playing, hipster boy Jack and Miguels love story…there’s an excerpt too and of course a giveaway.
Amy Jo Cousins is a smart, sassy writer. Her contemporary romances have a slightly different feel to the norm and I think it shows in her fresh writing style and characters, who come with plenty of flaws; but not ones that feel particularly manufactured or contrived. Her guys personality traits lead the story in a way that make them feel realistic; something that I think shows very much with both Mike/Miguel Vargas and Jack Tarkington in this slow burn, estranged lovers reunited, romance.
Take Jack. He's a bully when we first meet him in Off Campus; taking out his anger and bitterness on a guy who is only guilty in what's causing his anger and resentment by association, so really there's no excusing his actions, but at the same time neither is he just the generalised, exaggerated tormentor we tend to see in these roles. He's totally dislikable at this point because of his actions, but by the end of the first book you can see that he's not just the sum of his parts; there are layers to this bitter young man and you want to know if beneath them there is a redeemable character.
Suspended from Carlisle at the beginning of this story, the college that was going to be his stepping stone to a better life, he pays the price by being sent home in disgrace to the one place he hoped he had escaped from for good, but fate doesn't always play fair, as Jack finds out, when he's thrown right back into the path of his ex boyfriend and first and only love: Mike 'Miguel' Vargas. Not a reunion that runs smooth to begin with because of the way they parted and their lack of communication ever since, but as they spend more time together, with their love of music (Jack and his banjo and Miguel and his guitar) playing its part in reconnecting them, it becomes obvious that the love they have for each other has never really gone away. They still feel it, but issues have to be resolved and trust regained if they want to make it work again and that's not easy when both of them are also having to deal with extra pressure concerning their relationships with their families that in itself could negatively influence the choices they will have to make in the long term, if they can't come to terms with those pressing personal issues.
Miguel doesn't want to let his guard down with Jack only to lose him again if after his suspension is over, Carlisle agree to let him back in to finish his degree, so initially he's the one playing it more cool but resistance is futile where Jack is concerned, and this is when we the reader begin to see a more endearing Jack to the one we first met.
When an unexpected 'friendship' of sorts with a young gay teen and a meeting with Jack's old guidance counsellor shows him that there is more to Jack than just his ‘angry at the world’ persona, Miguel finds himself softening to the idea that perhaps they can have a relationship of sorts, regardless of whether he stays or not, plus it's getting harder to abstain from the delicious kisses and heavy make out sessions that he keeps finding himself falling into when Jack the charmer comes out to play!
This would have been a five star read because it really is exceptionally well written but when it came to Jacks relationship with his parents, especially his alcoholic mother, I would have liked to have witnessed more of what was making him the person he was, for me it just felt like I was told more of what he was suffering than shown, which did take away a little of the emotional impact I wanted to feel and my focus wandered at times slightly, but overall I really enjoyed Jack and Miguel’s love story. It was sexy and hot when needed and had some memorable moments that I really liked. Their batman school prank...a scene decorating in the shop with Angie as a voyeur, which lead to a very heated make out session ...a visit to a lesbian club which made me smile and a hot phone sex session (who doesn't like one of those!).
Despite not so great an impression on first meeting Jack...the two MC's are very engaging characters. Miguel is a pretty sweet guy dealing with worries of his own when Jack arrives back on the scene carrying his baggage, but in angry Jack's case, he's been putting up with the crap in his life for much longer than his ex, so the trouble at college ends up just adding more to to his turmoil. Most of the story revolves around the two main guys but there are one or two supporting characters I did have a soft spot for, one was single parent Angie, Miguel's only other employee at the shop, who was really endearing and played a nice part in getting these two guys together, and the other was Winston the young teen who finds a surprising mentor in Jack. I suppose the final question is does Jack redeem himself well enough to get you to like him? Well that's for you to make your own minds up about when you read it but I'm pretty sure most people will end this book smiling, feeling the love and satisfied. I think Amy Jo Cousins is a refreshing addition to the world of m/m and definitely an author to look out for. So watch this space and if you haven't read her yet then go and rectify that as soon as you can!
The first time he heard Miguel play at the café he’d held his breath through the entire acoustic version of “The Boxer”, the slow rasp of Miguel’s baritone wrapping around him like a blanket. He’d turned his face to the wall, cheek propped on a fist, to hide his tears. It felt as if Miguel were singing for him alone, singing about the loneliness and the loss and the need to fight, even when there was nothing left to fight against. Later, when he went up to the counter for another decaf—he’d learned early on to switch to decaf at some point in the day or else his hands would shake for hours through the night—he’d managed a quiet compliment for Miguel’s playing. They didn’t talk every day, some days only nodding at each other, but that moment seemed to have cracked open a doorway between them. He took to asking Miguel what new music he’d learned lately, and mentioned songs he was trying to pick up that were giving him trouble. Sometimes he worked out an alternate fingering pattern for a tricky bit and asked Miguel to listen, knowing he’d get an honest opinion about whether or not the new version worked or fell flat.
One glorious afternoon, they played “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show together.
He’d recognized the opening chords instantly when Miguel strummed them. The shop was quiet that afternoon, the high school students not yet released from their cages at the zoo. Pretending to read, he’d zoned out to the easy sounds of the singer/songwriters Miguel preferred, when his head had snapped up at the sound of “Wagon Wheel”.
That had been their song. Their song. With its lyrics about the singer whose baby played the guitar while he picked a banjo. Singing that song had been their secret code in high school. A way to say I’m thinking of you or I want you or, eventually, I love you.
Amy’s playlist for Nothing Like Paris
When I started writing Nothing Like Paris, I already knew I wanted Jack, the antagonist from Off Campus, to be a poser, an angry hipster banjo boy with a terrible mustache and a bad attitude. I figured pretty much all of that would have to go by the end of the story: the ‘stache, the bad attitude, the posing. But the banjo playing…the banjo playing would last. Would be the thing that helped him stay close to Miguel, his best friend and first love from high school.
But in the beginning of the book, I needed a Jack full of anger and frustration, and all the banjo music I was listening to was folk music, the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. I was talking to my friend Ben about it one day, because Ben plays the banjo among other instruments, and I said, “Yeah, but there isn’t really any angry banjo music, is there?”
After he was done falling from his chair with laughter and picking himself up off the floor, Ben reminded me that I am giant fan of The Pogues, a band whose name comes from the Gaelic phrase póg mo thóin, anglicized as pogue mahone, which means kiss my arse. Talk about your angry banjo music!
So, Ben rescued me from my own foolish thinking, and I started by playlist for NOTHING LIKE PARIS with a heavy rotation of the Pogues. “Sunny Side of the Street” and “Rain Street” and my favorite Christmas carol of all time, even though Christmas isn’t in the book, “Fairytale in New York.”
Then Spotify threw up this random song I’d never heard before, and I fell totally in love with it. “Bilgewater” by Brown Bird is a terrific song, and I could picture Miguel singing it to Jack. “To fight it all, I will face it all…To fight it all, I’ll embrace it all.” Brown Bird became a new favorite. Their “Fingers to the Bone” is also terrific.
I went back to Mumford and Sons for a whole bunch of songs, including the perfect “I Will Wait” (which I know is about something else, but also works wonderfully for NLP!) and “Little Lion Man.” Then I added in some Avett Brothers, if only because I pinned a dozen pictures of those boys on my NLP Pinterest boy. “I and Love and You” and “Paranoia in B Flat Major” were my favorites at the time.
And I definitely needed Django Rheinhardt’s “Minor Swing”, mostly because picturing Johnny Depp as a ‘river rat’ in Chocolat, playing this song, is just a lovely way to kill a couple of minutes. Don’t look at me like that. I know you agree. J
And finally, there was one song I knew would anchor this book, long before I knew anything else about the story. Bob Dylan wrote a throwaway verse or two of a song that was later recorded by Old Crow Medicine Show. “Wagon Wheel” has since become a hit for Darius Rucker too, although my favorite version is one from an Irish band called Bodega. My son and I stumbled across Bodega playing in Grant Park in Chicago six or seven years ago. I’d never heard “Wagon Wheel” before that concert in the park, but by the time they hit the second chorus, I was singing along at the top of my lungs. I played that song for all the banjo players I knew, including my cousin Jodie, who jumped up and ran to get her husband, who plays the guitar. “Listen, honey! ‘My baby plays the guitar, I pick a banjo now.’ It’s us!” I knew right then I’d write a book someday about a couple who could say that to each other and smile.
For Jack and Miguel, music is a way they can still talk to each other even when words get in the way. I hope you enjoy their music while reading Nothing Like Paris!
About Amy Jo Cousins
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.
Fun facts: Amy Jo can get back into a kayak in the open water if she falls out of it, taught herself and her son how to say I love you in seventeen languages, and once ran the table in a game of eight ball.
Find Amy Jo on the Web!
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