New Adult, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: The Hating Game: by Sally Thorne

Publish Date: August 9th, 2016
Number of Pages: 362 Pages
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Genre(s): Romance, New Adult

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

I have a theory. Hating someone feels disturbingly similar to being in love with them. I’ve had a lot of time to compare love and hate, and these are my observations.

Love and hate are visceral. Your stomach twists at the thought of that person. The heart in your chest beats heavy and bright, nearly visible through your flesh and clothes. Your appetite and sleep are shredded. Every interaction spikes your blood with adrenaline, and you’re in the brink of fight or flight. Your body is barely under your control. You’re consumed, and it scares you.

Both love and hate are mirror versions of the same game – and you have to win. Why? Your heart and your ego. Trust me, I should know.”

– Sally Thorne, “The Hating Game”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Debut author Sally Thorne bursts on the scene with a hilarious and sexy workplace comedy all about that thin, fine line between hate and love.

Nemesis (n.)
1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome;
2) A person’s undoing;
3) Joshua Templeman.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

~~~

Hello readers! I am trying a new format for how my reviews will look here on my blog, so this one will be the first one to test it out (feel free to comment what you think, I’m hoping this will have it flow better by having the blurb go first then go into more details on my thoughts below that).

The Hating Game has been a title that has been tossed around quite a bit ever since it came out, and I knew I was going to read it eventually, but the news that it’s being made into a movie starring Lucy Hale and Robbie Amell only made me want to bump it up on my TBR list! So does it live up to the hype?

Honestly, Yes and No, I mean it’s not blow-your-mind amazing, but it certainly has a lot of the qualities that I really enjoy about the romance genre:

  1. Banter that is playful, sassy, saucy, and just downright hilarious
  2. The whole enemies-to-lovers romance trope
  3. Characters with hard outer shells who slowly let the love interest in and open up
  4. Heartfelt revelations and confessions
  5. Steamy sexual tension
  6. Personal growth between the two main characters

Overall, it really was an enjoyable book to read, it was a perfect lighter read that’s helping me kill time while I wait for a couple anticipated releases to come out this year. Of course, people hype the heck out of this book to the point that it couldn’t POSSIBLY live up to the expectations people put on it, but luckily I didn’t put it on a pedestal like I’m sure some readers have, and I found myself enjoying it more because of that. The characters were great even as they feel familiar to a lot of others in different books, and the dynamic of Lucy and Josh’s relationship and how it changed over the course of the story was done so well and was a major highlight.

Lucy is kind of like the ‘Jessica Day’ of the office (Zooey Deschanel’s character in New Girl for those who don’t know the reference), she’s very sweet, kind, a literal ray of sunshine around the office. Josh is literally her total opposite and her mortal enemy: he’s tightly-knit, uptight, organized to the point of being OCD because NOTHING can be out of place or no hair out of line for him. I loved learning their fears and insecurities as they grew closer and opened up, I can’t say enough how sweet and adorable this book gets sometimes.

With all the sweetness of cotton candy that is abundant in this story, there was also quite a bit of steam to add to it too! It wasn’t super graphic or descriptive to the point of calling it erotica, but what I can say is Joshua Templeman is something else….I really wanted a few chapters from his perspective, but I can also say that part of the experience of this book is NOT knowing what’s going on in his head too!

This book is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s like those early 2000’s chick flicks like Mean Girls, She’s The Man, and John Tucker Must Die and plenty of others that you hate to admit you love and keep watching over and over again, year after year. They’re not exactly Oscar worthy, but that doesn’t detract from how enjoyable they are and how many people love them, and that’s definitely how I feel this book was too.

What I Liked:

  1. The Hidden Depths of Joshua! Like a lot of the male characters in romance novels I’ve read over the years, Joshua Templeman was a little rough around the edges to say the least…sure, he’s handsome and obviously has confidence to spare when we first meet him in this book, but one thing I absolutely love is when the mask cracks and the hard edges fall away and you begin to see a softer, more vulnerable side of him. He may seem like a crude, arrogant a-hole at first, but just you wait until he starts to open up, and then get back to me on your thoughts on him.
  2. The Banter! I like sassy, saucy, and just straight up hilarious banter between two love interests, and I feel you get just exactly that in this book. Lucy and Josh have a really tumultuous relationship through the course of the story, and while their dynamic may change from workplace enemies to lovers, their teasing and bickering stays consistent and entertaining as well too.
  3. The Bonding Moments! I guess this kind of ties into the points I’ve already made, but the moments when Josh and Lucy are alone and talk and come to learn so much more about each other had to be my favorite scenes to read. They were so sweet, so genuine and I only wish I could’ve gotten into Josh’s head a couple times to see what was going on in his head, but Lucy as the narrator is just as good too!
  4. The Brunch Scene! When Lucy confronts Anthony about all his BS is just golden, like I dream of being able to take someone down a peg or two like she does in this moment, and in public in front of an audience too! It really showed how Lucy had grown over time too; gone was the too-sweet and kind girl who everyone could walk over, and here was a fierce lioness baring her teeth at someone who’s showing disrespect to someone she loves!

‘What are you imagining? Your expression is filthy.’

‘Strangling you. Bare hands.’ I can barely get the words out. I’m huskier than a phone-sex operator after a double shift.

‘So that’s your kink.’ His eyes are going dark.

‘Only where you’re concerned.’

Both his eyebrows ratchet up, and he opens his mouth as his eyes go completely black, but he does not seem to be able to say a word.

It is wonderful.

– Sally Thorne, “The Hating Game”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I Wish There Was More Pranks/Hijinks…For an enemies-to-lovers storyline, I was kinda hoping we’d see a little more of the “enemies” part of their relationship…I wanted more hijinks and more aggravation on both sides of Josh and Lucy’s relationship. I wanted safe for the workplace warfare! Not that I’m complaining, but I felt like the jump into the romance was too fast! I guess it makes sense once you finish the book and know what you know, but I always want “enemies-to-lovers” to go further than they usually go! She doesn’t have to have a knife up to his throat per say, but a few little staring contests and imitating each other’s sentences in that petulant voice like an annoying sibling…
  2. Would A Dual POV Have Been Better?…I like the romance novels that have you read from the minds of the two characters, and as I read this book I was wondering what Josh was thinking in so many cases of the story! I was disappointed we didn’t get into his mind in the story, but I can also say part of the experience that is reading this is knowing things through Lucy’s eyes, and learning things about herself and Josh and their relationship as she does too.

Conclusion:

The Hating Game is a fun, entertaining, and light read that any fans of the romance genre can enjoy, at least in my personal opinion! It’s a perfect book to kill time with if your (im)patiently waiting for an anticipated release or just need a quick standalone story to change your pace with. Fans of Christina Lauren novels will especially like this book too.

Romance novels are hardly ever the perfect book, so of course there are things that some people just don’t really enjoy, but I feel like some of those readers maybe make the mistake of taking these books too seriously! I mean nothing against the romance genre, but you have to admit the A Song of Ice and Fire series is much heavier and more immersive reading in comparison. I think romance novels are just lighter and easier and don’t need to be taken as seriously as other titles and other genres, and I find I enjoy titles more when I remember that. And before anyone gets on me about it, that doesn’t mean I consider the romance genre “less” than others…

If you’re curious about this title, I say go for it! I really enjoyed it and would want to reread it down the road someday if the mood struck. Any harsh critiques made on this book that I’ve seen are about really particular things, like fat-shaming and knocking “nice guys”….While I see where those readers are coming from, it personally did not affect my reading experience and I didn’t put the book down because of it. To each its own though!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Damaged Like Us (Like Us #1): by Krista Ritchie and Becca Ritchie

Publish Date: June 27th, 2017
Number of Pages: 347 Pages
Publisher: Everafter Romance
Genre(s): New Adult Romance, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Another book to check out for those who love M/M romance novels, Damaged Like Us was a fun addition to the genre. The relationship that grows between a hollywood heir and his roguish bodyguard is one that can be absolutely addicting to other readers to binge-read.

That relationship is, of course, the main driving force for most of those who’d want to read this book; it was also my favorite aspect of the book as a whole. The two main characters complimented each other very well, and helped each other grow as the story developed. The banter was funny, playful, sexy, and also just so spectacularly done. As you can probably tell by now in this review, It’s hard to say anything bad about the romance of this book.

The theme of family was also something important to take out of this book as Maximoff goes to extraordinary lengths for those he truly cares about. It may not seem like it to some who know me outside of this website and in real life, but the idea of a warm, close knit family is so incredibly important to me, and I always love to see it shown in even fictional families like the one in this book, who are also really popular reality TV stars. The main character even alters his appearance and carefully chooses what color clothes he wears in order to show his pride and loyalty to his father!

There are some parts of the story that I was less than enthused about as well. The writing was questionable in one aspect with the author’s going into 2nd person when describing a character’s path to fame and how you (the reader) should feel about them as a character. It’s a very minor critique from me, but this happened more often than I’d hoped in the story, so I wanted to point it out. The conflict of fame and the downsides to it seemed way too dramatic and over the top at some points as well, and the fact that this new series is actually a spin-off of not one, but TWO other series that are written by the authors. Some readers would love that, but as someone who hasn’t read the others, I also thought this was worth pointing out. I go into more detail on these matters below!

Overall, this was a fun book to read, and a great M/M romance for anyone to check out if they like those kinds of stories. Fans of Him by Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen and Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston will probably really like this book too!

What It’s About:

This story revolves around Maximoff Hale, the oldest son of what appears to be American royalty with his family being well known reality TV stars, and all his life he’s had to deal with having absolutely no privacy from the public. Paparazzi constantly follow him and his family around; even going to the gas station to fill up a car would have him end up all over the tabloids as “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” (Basically, picture his life as being like the Kardashians mixed with the actual British royal family).

Because of this, him and his family have always had bodyguards to keep them safe and protected, but Maximoff’s longtime bodyguard is retiring after the many years they’ve been together. Anxious, he learns he’s getting a new one almost immediately after. Enter Farrow Keene, who’s Maximoff’s crush from his teenage years, and of course is now his new personal bodyguard whom he’s going to be spending countless hours a week with.

Almost immediately, they bash heads together about basically EVERYTHING…but beneath the snarky and cynical remarks, there’s definitely something building between the two. Romantic feelings soon resurface, and sexual tension boils to the surface, but are they willing to cross a line, break a integral code to end up together?

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance Brewing Between Maximoff and Keene! It’s hard to believe this is the writer duo’s first M/M romance title! It was an obvious highlight of this book, the romance that develops between these two characters was one of my favorite parts of the whole story. They start off as reluctant partners as Farrow is assigned to be Maximoff’s new personal bodyguard, they get on each other’s nerves, sure…but as they spend more and more time together, they start to see sides of each other that no one else sees, and they understand each other a lot better. The attraction only becomes more intense from there, and soon they find themselves in a sexy, secret romance that they must hide from not only the public, but also they’re colleagues and Moffy’s family. Is it worth it? What if someone finds out?
  2. The Theme of The Importance of Family! Besides the secret, forbidden romance, family is another huge theme to take away from this book, and probably the rest of the series as well. Even with fame, Maximoff is extremely close to his family and will do just about everything he can to help them, protect them, and make them proud. For every 10,000 fans, there’s probably another 1,000 that hate them, and some people will go out of their way to bring them down, and Maximoff will literally break his back in order for that to not happen. From his many siblings, to his best friend and cousin, and his father with a spotty past, Maximoff is so proud of his family, and I found it to be incredibly noble of him and is so obviously a huge part of his character. Very admirable how far he goes for those he loves.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. This Series Branches Off from Others…So I first notice there’s A LOT of side characters in this book, like, way too many even to keep track of at some points. It turns out, this series is a continuation off both the author’s two other book series: The Addicted Series and the Calloway Sisters. The parents, the uncles, and basically all the other older adults are actually stars of previous works, and that’s why they’re so prominent in this book because it’s going off the fans who’ve read their previous books and are familiar with all of them. Unfortunately, I am not one of those readers…the book is still enjoyable and is able to be read despite this, but you definitely feel like there’s quite a bit that goes over your head in reference to this fact. It’s also annoying because all the books in total equate to, like, 13 books to read, which is commitment I’m honestly not feeling up to doing at this moment.
  2. The Instances of 2nd Person Narrating…This is a small tidbit that kind of bugged me because it happened more often than it probably should’ve, at least in my own opinion. It was lines that felt like: “You know this person because of….You feel this way about them because…” It just felt like lazy storytelling and could’ve been shown to me and not told to me, you know?
  3. The Fame Seemed Over The Top…It feels bad to be criticizing this aspect of the story since it’s the cause of the whole story taking place, but it simply felt like it was overly dramaticized at times. Maximoff is like an American version of Prince Harry, but it seems like even an actual royal prince is able to live a somewhat low-key life. The paparazzi are constantly following Maximoff around, always chasing him in cars on the freeway, and sometimes even going out of their way to offend him and get a rise out of him. Sure, this stuff may actually happen in real life—I don’t truly know since I’m not famous—but the amount of it all that Max has to deal with felt over the top and highly exaggerated.

Conclusion:

A great M/M romance for anyone looking for that kind of story to read, I think readers will love how Farrow and Maximoff’s relationship forms and deepens as the story develops. It’s got the perfect amount of steam and heart that any great romance needs, and that any reader absolutely eats up. It’s not the perfect book; parts of it are way over the top and overly dramatic, but I do believe this book is incredibly enjoyable as long as you can’t take it too seriously. It’s just fun, sexy romance.

I can definitely say that even though there’s a HEA-style ending, I plan to read on in this series to see what happens next. There’s a few things that are left up in the air that will be answered in later books, and I’m interested enough to keep going to find out some of those answers that I specifically seek. Plus, I do really like both the main characters and see where their relationship will go next!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

graphic novel, LGBT, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Check, Please! Book 1: #Hockey (Check, Please! #1-2): by Ngozi Ukazu

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 37534577.jpg
Publish Date: September 18th 2018
Number of Pages: 288 Pages
Publisher: First Second
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Sports, LGBT, YA

Total Star Rating: 4.35 Stars

Okay, so if you love hilarious, heartwarming, coming of age story with college male athletes who love to party, and a gay little figure skater who loves to bake and joins the team, this graphic novel is totally for you!

Before this story literally fell into my hands, I never really read graphic novels before. Not that I ever had anything against them, they were just something that I never really looked into, plus they seemed like something that Marvel took over for the most part. This book just so happened to fall into my hands one day while at work in the bookstore, and I was immediately drawn towards the artwork, the blurb on the back, and I thought it would be great material to not only enjoy, but to get some possible inspiration towards my own story that I’m working on, which also takes place on a college campus.

After some resarch from my ever curious, erudite Ravenclaw mind, Check, Please turned out to have started out as a webcomic on the author’s Tumblr and/or Twitter accounts, and it gained so much popularity with it’s growing fandom, that she eventually turned to Kickstarter to be able to make printed copies of it to send to interested parties. It eventually went on to become the most funded webcomic to ever be put up on the site, making an astounding $74,000 when her goal was only $15,000.

I’m so sad to say that before I stumbled upon the book that I’d never even heard of the franchise, and thats because it turned out to be one of my favorite stories that I’ve read in recent memory! Its got sports, it’s got friendship, it’s got brotherhood, it’s got it’s laughs and tears, romance, hot male athletes, witty and hilarious banter, sexual tension, and it’s such a great story to get behind. It’s got some extremely relatable themes like coming out, collegiate stress, overcoming fears, friendship, growing up, athletes, and eventually graduation. I’m only sad that I have to wait until Spring of 2020 in order to read Vol. 2 (at least a printed copy of it, which I want to hold off on anything until the physical copy comes out, I know the third and fourth years are available to read online).

What It’s About:

Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a vlogger and baker, enrolls as a new freshman at Samwell University, a private college over in Massachusetts. He’s a former figure skating champion, but is actually at Samwell to play on the boy’s Hockey team, who all begin to warm up to through his cheery demeanor, his excellent baking skills, and overall kindness and compassion.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is eric_bittle.png
Eric Bittle, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Four other characters meet Bittle and become a big part of his overall story; there’s his teammates Shitty, Ransom and Holster, Jack, and Lardo.

B. “Shitty” Knight is a typical cocky, chill, go with the flow kind of guy who is actually pretty intelligent, but wants to keep it on the down low. Despite being a junior who’s actually double majoring in Political Science and Sexuality, Women and Gender studies, he is very much what some people may consider to be a “stereotypical” hockey bro, at least by appearance and first impressions.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is shitty.png
Shitty, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Adam “Ransom” Birkholtz and Justin “Holster” Oluransi are the dynamic duo; they’re not an actual gay couple, but they might as well be. Both are each other’s best friend, they play off of each other and are always there for a good laugh, or get into “deep” philosophical debates like whether flow actually helps a hockey player’s performance or not, how nicknames are created and earned, the perfect shape of Jack’s ass (which has its own parody twitter account), and plenty of other hilarious and random qualms that come up. They are total bro’s, but lovable bro’s in a beautiful bromance.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ransom_and_holster.png
Holster and Ransom, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Larissa “Lardo” Duan is the snarky and moody female team manager. She is an art major in her sophomore year, based off her sculpture and painting work done that’s referenced, and though she doesn’t always say much, she usually knows what needs to be said. Initially best friends with Shitty since they’re from the same hometown, she also befriends Bitty and gets closer to him.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is larissa.png
Lardo, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Finally, we have Jack Zimmerman. Considered by most as a “prodigy” with his dad being a hockey legend, Jack always felt the pressure coming from all sides, and it’s led to issues with stress and anxiety and other things down the road. A junior at the beginning of the story who’s a History Major, he’s incredibly driven, brooding, moody during the preseason and is a natural born leader with a no nonsense attitude. He initially dislikes Bitty, but grows to like him over the course of the two years that they are teammates. Jack even begins to tease Bitty about his mannerisms and his obsession with Twitter and baking, and they develop a fun dynamic because Bitty reminds him to take joy in the little things in life.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is jack_zimmermann.png
Jack Zimmerman, image courtesy of tvtropes.org

As the story develops, you discover that Bitty learns to come to terms with his sexuality when he discovers that he has a major crush on Jack. No one else really knows, and he’d prefer to keep it that way. This first volume covers Bitty’s freshman and sophomore years at Samwell University, while the second volume (releasing Spring 2020) will of course feature the last two years, and hopefully/most likely feature some characters that graduated and moved away in this first part.

What I Liked:

  1. The Characters! Honestly, it’s the characters and their whole group dynamic that steals your heart in this story. They’re just such a fun group of people to read about, and you feel like you’re immersed within their inner circle. They say funny and stupid things, and actually do funny and stupid things too; the author absolutely nails the banter and the camaraderie amongst the teammates. Her characters were surprisingly so fleshed out and dynamic, and it was so great to see how they grew as time went on. Yes, to some, they’re just the typical alpha jocks on campus, and sure, sometimes they say things that may seem problematic or stupid, but I can appreciate the fact that the author nailed their authenticity to a T, and still made them likeable all the same. With that said, I suppose there are some slight trigger warnings for some readers: there’s underage drinking, panic attacks, hazing, and the misogynistic guy talk about hooking up with girls, and frankly other sexual content. Personally, I didn’t mind any of it as I thought it added to the authenticity of the characters and who they are (boys who are athletes in college), but I could see others not be too keen on it.
  2. The Slow-Burn Romance! Yes, there is a romance, and oh….it is so agonizingly drawn out, much like someone who is a giant wuss and makes tearing off a bandaid an absolutely horrendous experience. It’s fun to see it slowly develop, but also so satisfying when it finally goes somewhere. There’s plenty in between to keep you interested at least! You can’t help but love Bitty and want him to get everything he wants in the world; he is the literal definition of a human cinnamon roll!
  3. The Author! the author took her time studying the sport of Hockey for three months at Yale back when she was writing a screenplay that was similar to Check, Please, but much darker in tone. afterwards, she wanted something lighter, more fun and uplifting, when she witnessed the friendship amongst the athletes and their own group dynamic, and so Check, Please was created. Also, she unintentionally became a huge fan of the sport after all the research she did for her works of fiction, which is awesome! She went above and beyond because she wanted it to be authentic, realistic and show that she knew what she was talking about. Any writer, author, etc should do the same sort of thing in order to make their work stronger. I also just love that from what I’ve heard, she’s just as much a part of the fandom while also being the main contributor of it all. She literally just sits and draws little three-part comics, sketches, character’s, you name it. She does her own fanart for her own comic, which just sounds adorable. It’s awesome to hear about a creator who loves her work so much, that she’s also such a huge fan as well!
  4. The Artwork! The artwork is done in such a beautiful, fun way, and the panels are smartly done in a seamless way that easily moves you within the story the next box. It’s simple and cartoony, but effective and enjoyable all at the same time.
  5. Bitty! I mean, he’s a short, gay little baker who was a figure skater who joins the hockey team. Imagine Spongebob Squarepants making it into the Salty Splatoon. He’s also from the south and says “Y’all,” “Bless your heart,” “Girl, Please” and uses people’s full names like an angry mother whenever he needs to make a point. So, he’s a gay little southern baker who’s on the hockey team, and he’s officially too pure for this world.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing…I didn’t dislike anything…it was all so so so so perfect….I am WAY too excited for Spring 2020 for it to release! I don’t even care, I’m rolling up in my 2004 Mercury Sable at Barnes & Noble and paying full price like:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is effmdb3.jpg

Conclusion:

Oh my lord…What can I say? This story is a treat. A delicious, sweet, cavity inducing treat that most fans of LGBT!, sports, M/M romance and college story lovers will immensely enjoy. It’s mainly character driven, so it’s a little on the slower side towards the middle, but like I said, the author has created a truly amazing dynamic with her characters with their unique personalities, their banter and conversations, and how they develop for not only themselves, but for you, the reader. They truly may shock you at some points when you think you have them all figured out.

It’s funny, its heartfelt, its deep, and it’s another great coming of age story for anyone to enjoy! If you couldn’t guess, I am currently in countdown mode for the release of vol. 2 in the spring of 2020, and refuse to read what happens before then on the internet, because who doesn’t like the long, drawn out torture of waiting for the next book in a series to come out a year later?

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

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

Editorial Articles

Fiction Tropes that I Love/Hate

The word “trope” is used to describe commonly recurring literary devices, motifs and clichés in creative. Clichés are usually viewed as a bad thing, but that’s not the case every single time, at least when it comes to tropes. Tropes, as overdone as they are, are usually what keeps the genre going forward in the world of literature and/or entertainment. They’re safe, they’re familiar, they’re comforting, and they’re usually what helps people connect stories to each other, like, when someone goes “If you love ______, then you’ll love _____.”

You’ve probably heard the phrase “The same…but different” before, which basically means that editors and agents of creative fields want something that seems different, but actually has a lot of qualities that have been used before. What I’ve deduced is that people want the same basic plot points to have as a comfort blanket, but they still want a new twist on it that makes it new, exciting, and original. Easier said than done, believe me…

Below here is a list that I generated thats composed of tropes that typically appear in the books/genres that I tend to read: Sci-Fi/Fantasy (both Adult and YA), Romance, a splash of Mystery and a dash of Horror. Some tropes I love and can’t get enough of…but then there are some I roll my eyes at, and hope that something else saves the story, so help me god…

Tropes that I Love:

  1. Fake Relationships. Whether it be to make someone jealous, to have a last minute date for a wedding, or to bring someone home to meet the parents, two people pretending to be in a relationship, then *gasp* unexpectedly falling for each other for real before their deal is up is a romance trope that I can always get behind! I find it amazing when they appear as a new couple in love to the masses, but get snappy once they’re alone, the sexual tension rises oh so amusingly until they reach the climax [of the story].
  2. Enemies-to-Lovers. Instead of Insta-love (which is mentioned down further), the two characters meet and absolutely HATE each other. Whether it be over opposing views, a misunderstanding, or maybe one of them is just a huge asshole; they don’t get along to any degree and readers always wonder “how will they ever get together?” How indeed…this romance trope usually leads to some comedic/touching moments where they have to team up and sort out their differences before they eventually, but inevitably, get to sexy time.
  3. Player falls for “Average Jane.” So, in the past it’s usually the popular guy who falls for the invisible girl, and she’s just entirely clueless to it all. How could he like her right? She’s so weird, so geeky, so not cool, and the guys would give him so much shit for it…Sometimes it’s a bet amongst the bros, or maybe its because she sees a side of him that he never opened up to before; the boy unexpectedly falls hard. Usually, he doesn’t see it until the girl gets a dramatic makeover (ladies, quick reminder that in 2019 you don’t need to change for your man), which is kind of ugh…but I can’t help but swoon when the guy gets that shocked, starry-eyed look in his eyes and he becomes a total sweetheart to her from then on, and maybe all douchey-ness is forgiven.
  4. Forced to share a room/bed. In a lot of romance books, there comes a moment when the two love interests check into a hotel room, or they’re with a group of friends and all crammed into a room, or some other similar reasoning. As it turns out, they are forced to be in an enclosed space together, there’s usually some sexual tension, and there’s only one bed…So, will they or won’t they? I don’t know, but OH it’s so much fun to find out! A similar set up is the ever timelessly popular “trapped in an elevator” together; nowhere to go, the two are forced to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
  5. The Alpha-Hole. The ever-popular “bad boy”: he’s broody, he’s gorgeous, he usually has dark (maybe ruffled) hair, stunning blue eyes, that smirk, plenty of sarcasm, a sketchy past, and loves to irritate the lead female to no end…but I love him, all variations of him. He’s usually one of my favorite characters because he usually has the smartass remarks, the one-liners and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Dreamy, right?…I know, I’m going to be single forever if THAT is my type…
  6. Fights that lead to Sexy Time. Now, this could mean they have a huge blow up at each other and battle it out in a combat of words, or maybe they go fists flying, literally kicking ass in a Mr. & Mrs. Smith style, but then leads to them hooking up because tensions are high, as are other emotions, and passions consumes them…I just live for the intensity of these kinds of scenes, okay?
  7. Secret Relationships. Kind of like “Forbidden Love” in a way; there’s two people that decide to get together, but they can’t tell anyone else about it. Sometimes it’s the boss-employee set up, teacher-student, opposite social circles/cliques, friends with benefits, wrong for their image, etc. but one person isn’t ready for everyone to know or even admit their feelings to themselves, so they suggest getting in a secret relationship. This trope is fun, especially when the two have to get creative at sneaking around and make hilarious excuses when they’re almost caught together. It’s even better when their friends secretly find out anyways, as the couple always eventually either gets caught, or one of them blabs because they’re in love and want the world to know (i.e: The Friends episode where Rachel and Phoebe try to crack Chandler when he’s been secretly seeing Monica).
  8. Sassy Heroine. Yas Queen, slay…She may not be big and strong, but don’t think that she can’t tear her enemies down with her sharp tongue and those snarky clap-backs. Usually, they are strong though, because usually they’re assassins or warriors that have killed men twice their size and flipped their hair like a queen while doing it. Celaena Sardothien, I’m raising my brow to you, girl. Love her and pretty much every Sarah J. Maas character (3/4’s of her male characters are on my book-boyfriends list (coming soon on here FYI)).
  9. The Second Chance at Love/Reunited Lovers. There is a difference between the two, believe it or not. The second chance is where the couple breaks up, but then gets back together again. Reunited is when they’re torn apart by circumstance, like a job causing one to move away, or one goes off to war, etc. but meet again years later. Either way, it’s way tragic and I swoon at the big scene where they’re reunited all that time later and all is forgiven.
  10. The Quest. In Fantasy books, the reluctant hero, along with his small group of secondary characters, set out on a long and perilous quest with a specific goal in mind. I like this one because it still leaves a lot of potential for something new and exciting because its so broad and open-ended. Anything can happen in Fantasy!

Tropes that I Hate:

  1. The Chosen One…This one feels like its in literally EVERY YA fantasy novel out there, just slight variations of it. It’s where the main character discovers through some prophecy or mentor that they’re incredibly special, and they’re the “savior” with extraordinary power that could defeat evil and change the course of time. It’s not entirely a bad trope/cliché, and it really works for some stories, but for the many that have come out all these years later after Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, it’s hard to be able to make it seem effective or original in terms of driving the overall story. I could still enjoy stories with this idea, but authors need to get more creative with how they use it in their stories moving forward.
  2. The Main Characters an Orphan…This is usually a package deal with #1, but the main character is usually an orphan who doesn’t have their parents in their lives anymore because they’re dead, missing, or just absent.
  3. Girl doesn’t see her beauty, despite instigating Love-Triangle(s)…She’s awkward, she’s clumsy, she’s mortal enemies with the mean girl (more on that bitch later), and is pretty much the Bella Swan or Lizzie McGuire of fiction in these modern times. She thinks she’s just average or even ugly, usually thanks to the mean girl putting her down with their own inner insecurities, but is actually incredibly attractive and has multiple guys chasing after her anyways. I no longer find it endearing or adorable, I’m just over it.
  4. Kinky, Emotionally Traumatized Millionaires…“Mr. Grey will see you now…” According almost every romance/erotic work of fiction, those readers LOVE the ultra rich, 20-something, gorgeous, brooding CEO of a company or some sort of position of power. Unfortunately, he usually had a pretty messed up/traumatizing childhood which made him get into some really kinky shit, BDSM usually. He also gets incredibly possessive with their love interest, gets upset if they wear too revealing of clothes and probably says these lines: “I want you so bad” “You’re mine” “I’m so hard for you” or something creepier or about their penis…Men, you have a lot to live up to…
  5. The Nerdy Best Friend who’s been in love with the Main Character for years but never said anything…So, the main character is falling for someone else, and things are going great, but their best friend begins to get moody and distant themselves. The main character confronts them about it, and then their best friend comes out and reveals that they’ve been in love with them for years…Usually it’s the smaller, skinny, sensitive guy friend with glasses, and it’s usually at the most inconvenient time. Umm this trope is also inconvenient for me to actually enjoy the story!
  6. Werewolves-vs-Vampires…I just want to give a huge shout-out to Twilight for that and every similar teen paranormal romance book that came out through the years of 2008-2014…thank god that this fad is pretty much over.
  7. Creepy Children in Horror…This one is just a big, fat NOPE. Usually they’ll giggle menacingly, or terribly sing some sing-along song that you loved as a child thats now ruined because of them. Like seriously, Ring Around the Rosie and even Happy Birthday…traumatizing.
  8. Insta-Love…I’ve seen and experienced insta-interest, but can someone really look at a complete stranger and all of a sudden everything but that person pops matters and the rest just fades into the background? It’s just been so overdone, and it’s not even realistic, so authors, lets develop those relationships and watch them grow before the word “love” is even mentioned, yeah?
  9. The Mean Girl…Like a token character, the Regina George wannabe in contemporary YA fiction is just there to be elitist, shallow, and just be the antagonist to the main character. Even worse, there’s literally no reason for them to be mean, they just are…so not fetch.
  10. Faithful Sidekicks…The minor characters that are literally only inserted to pretty much pimp out the main character are just so bleh…The story can move forward without them, they’re just there as cheerleaders, and are usually tokened off as a minority (either gay or as a person of color (POC)).
  11. The Belated Love Epiphany with a Chase Scene…You know the big romantic gesture where the person realizes they love someone, so they chase after them to catch them before they’re gone forever? Like running through the airport to catch the plane? Good luck with that in 2019…
  12. Token Diversity…It’s so offensive to any sort of minority who reads a character in a book that’s just been randomly added into a story just so it’s not all straight, white characters. They feel like an afterthought, and someone who just belongs in the background. It’s 2019, and representation matters so much now, especially in books, even more especially in YA fiction. The voices that feel like they’ve never been heard are the ones that are buying the books with lead characters like themselves so they don’t feel so alone and to feel like they matter, because they do.
  13. Revolution led by Teenager in a Dystopian World…I mean, who decides that a teenager should lead a violent revolution over a cruel and oppressive government anyways? This obviously refers to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, who did a tremendous job with that trilogy, but I’m talking about the other titles that came afterwards. For a short time, Dystopian YA was the popular theme that took over for Vampires and Werewolves, but none were really all that impressive or as close to successful with it in my opinion. Its literally just Miss Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior from Divergent that made it look good, but even the latter had a questioning ending, so I rest my case.
  14. Bumping into Each Other Meet-Cute…Girl is walking the halls, carrying an obviously heavy pile of books, eyes wide as saucers and she’s looking around, overwhelmed at the first day of class in a new school. Girl bumps into someone and all the books topple to the ground, the girl is embarrassed and bends over, the other person helps too, and she looks up to see a gorgeous guy assisting her with his charming smile…I’ll stop because you obviously need time to reminisce all the times you’ve seen this happen before, I get it.
  15. The Black and White Morality Theme…Let me say first that this has NOTHING to do with race or ethnicity, so please put those triggers away, trolls…I’m talking about the obvious line of “Good” and “Evil” in fantasy genre books. There is no in-between; you’re either a beautiful elf that shoots arrows with their hair blowing in the wind, or and ugly AF Orc that looks like a spat out wad of gum from seven years ago. I’m going to go into one of my many Game of Thrones references, but one of the reasons it was so great was because George R.R. Martin wrote many complex characters who all thought of themselves as the hero of their own story. They all had their own sets of morality and integrity, and it either meshed or messed with the others, and they all had their own justified reasons for doing what they did, even when it was downright despicable…that, my readers, helps create an interesting story.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell