New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: Birthday Girl: by Penelope Douglas

Publish Date: April 16th 2018
Number of Pages: 406 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre(s): Contemporary, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

This was the second book I’ve read by Penelope Douglas, and once again I found myself surprised at the impressive level of her craft was in terms of writing an interesting story and creating great characters. She has an ability to shed new light on the romance genre, and goes into unfamiliar territory and explores unorthodox plot ideas and situations that may not happen in more, how should I say it….traditional, conventionally published works?

I love how she goes towards the taboo subject matter that so many PC-advocators would get triggered at and therefore have her canceled; it doesn’t stop her, she is just like any other creator in this world and finds a way to put her creations out there. The controversial subject matter in this story is the fact that it’s a love story between a 19 year old young woman and a 38 year old man. Many look at that right off the bat and make assumptions, assume the worst, and predatory images of evil men preying on young, innocent girls come to mind; that’s not the case in this story. It’s a little unconventional, slightly controversial, but actually reading the story and seeing how it develops makes it not actually as bad as people will (obviously) write it off as.

Yes, the age difference may seem a little odd, but it’s not like we haven’t seen it before in the media…Does anyone remember when Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher were married? He was 25 and she was 41 when they started dating, which is a 16 years difference in age. Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively have an 11 year difference, Ellen Degeneres and Portia De Rossi have 15 years…

Here’s a link to an article on Harper’s Bazaar to prove my point, which is that a romantic relationship when there’s a 10+ age difference is not that unusual of a concept, and I hope people give it a shot before coming to their conclusions.

What It’s About:

Jordan and her boyfriend, Cole, are evicted from their apartment and have nowhere to go, so they go to live with his estranged father, Pike, who happened to be there to bust Cole out of jail and offered his place to live in. The funny thing is: Pike was the handsome, random stranger that Jordan met earlier that same night at a midnight showing at the local movie-theatre because she was killing time trying to wait for Cole to pick her up from work at the local dive bar like he was supposed to, but obviously forgot. Funny how life works sometimes, right? What are the odds…

So, the three of them are all moved into Pike’s incredibly nice home, and are trying to figure out how to make the new situation work; Jordan and Cole help out with chores, and cook a few meals a week while saving up for a new place of their own.

Pike had Cole when he was incredibly young, and his relationship with the mother is strained after she’d manipulated Cole over the years to cause tension, and while Pike wants to try and amend things, Cole wants hardly anything to do with it, and usually goes out and parties away his paychecks, while also leaving Jordan behind. This leads to her and Pike becoming closer, and they both develop forbidden feelings for each other that only escalates as time goes by, but never act on it because neither know about how the other feels, and Jordan is with his son.

Jordan, meanwhile, continues to work at the bar, making good tips but not enough as she’d like, especially for student loans when classes start in the fall (I totally feel the pain of that currently), and is contemplating whether she should turn to alternative means in order to make more money. Her sister works at a strip joint and makes a lot more, but Jordan has no interest in shaking her assets around for the locals in order to benefit her financial needs. Add that to the fact that Cole is doing absolutely nothing to help their new living situation: is out all the time partying, breaking promises, and saving little to no money…plus her secret attraction to his dad…it’s a lot to handle.

Both Pike and Jordan have feelings for each other, but never act on it, even as they do everything to help each other. When Cole isn’t around to help out as an extra hand at Pike’s construction company, she steps up. She cooks, she cleans, he builds her a garden and makes her feel noticed, beautiful, important, and more special than anyone has ever done before. How can she deny how he makes her feel?

What I Liked:

  1. The Slow-Burn! The author does an amazing job of slowly building the attraction between the characters to the point of eruption, and I mean that with both them and you as the reader. At a certain point, the sexual tension is so freakin’ high, you just want to grab them out of the pages and shake them to “Just kiss already!” After what seems like forever, it all comes together so nicely and leaves you satisfied that they will have their happily ever after. There’s something so frustrating, yet so satisfying about a slow burn romance. For those looking for a quick fix or a book just filled with smut every other chapter, this book was not that, because there’s an actual story there. The attraction between the two main characters is immediately lit like a match that will slowly build until it finally blazes an entire bonfire, but it’s grown actually realistically between two people in secret when life brings them together to live in an enclosed space together for a period of time.
  2. The Forbidden-ness of the Romance! What really drew me in was the initial taboo, forbidden aspect of the story; I’d never really read anything where the age difference is an obvious factor to the story, and was curious to see how it would play out. I was wondering how the author was going to show us this kind of story, and surprisingly there wasn’t a whole loft of angst or smuttiness to it. Cole, Pike’s son, is a piece of shit, so it makes it easier to see where Jordan comes from in terms of “Should I be into him? But i’m seeing somebody?” mentality through the earlier parts of the story.
  3. The Two Main Characters! I’ve gotta admit, Penelope Douglas did an amazing job fleshing out two characters that while both being in different parts of their lives, they were extremely likeable and able to get behind. Both are incredibly hard working, strong, driven individuals who want the best for themselves and what they can provide for the ones they care about. They both had their own lives, goals, and fears in their own stories besides just the fact that they are unexpectedly falling for each other.
  4. The Age Difference is Challenged! The difference in their age was challenged throughout, including by the two main characters themselves. They keep telling themselves, convincing themselves that it isn’t right, it can’t be real, it’s not worth it, I’m going to burn in hell, all of it, and when the plot thickens and others question it too; I just found it to be an interesting take on humanity and how we make decisions and if we act on our wants and needs that ultimately could affect our own personal happiness based on society and the judgement of others, holding us back and keeping us from acting on our urges.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Clear Cut Path…Again, the premise of the story going in was thinking, this girl is with a guy, but falls for his father, how does that happen? Part of me was disappointed that there wasn’t as much angst or exploration of the cliché love triangle. It’d certainly bring a new light into it, the father and son both fighting for the love of a young woman, but as the story develops, you realize that Cole, Jordan’s boyfriend, is completely lazy, unreliable, and not all that worthy of a human being, and that it makes the decision almost too easy for Jordan to want to split up and then have the story end with her and Pike. You’re supposed to root for Pike from the get go, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I was maybe hoping the author would up the stakes a little bit more? Although…I’m not a fan of cheating, as I hope no one is, and it’s hard to get readers behind a story of a girl who cheats on her boyfriend with his dad. It wouldn’t have had to go that far, but I was hoping there’d be a little more angst on the subject. The trigger points in this title are abandonment, underage drinking, talk of physical abuse, death of a friend, past abusive relationships, and cheating (no one actually physically cheats though, it’s being attracted to someone else while being in a relationship).

Conclusion:

This story is great for readers who want to read something a little different, a little more unorthodox, and forbidden in terms of a contemporary, new-adult romance. It’s not erotica, so there’s no red rooms of torture/pain, no tying up and hanging from chandeliers while Beyoncé sings about how love makes her look crazy, but it’s still got it’s sexier moments in the story that’s packed with plenty of heat. The main thing I’d ask possible readers to consider is to keep an open mind, especially those who scoff and write it off because they’re bothered by the age difference. It’s 2019, and we all know that love comes in all kinds of forms within the broad spectrum of sexual attraction, and this story is nothing too deviant, perverted, dirty, or wrong.

This story felt much more realistic than the other title I read by her, Punk 57, and both have their own perks, but I feel like other fans of her work may not consider this their favorite of hers. I personally enjoyed this title by the author, I stayed up late two nights in a row in order to finish it, so that always tells me that it has my seal of approval! I continue to be impressed by their craft, and my appreciation of their work continues to grow and make me want to keep reading more!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

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