Birthday Girl — Penelope Douglas

Birthday Girl by Penelope Douglas

 

TITLE: Birthday Girl

AUTHOR: Penelope Douglas

RELEASED: April 16th, 2018

GENRE: Contemporary

AGE RANGE: Adult

SYNOPSIS: JORDAN
He took me in when I had nowhere else to go.
He doesn’t use me, hurt me, or forget about me. He doesn’t treat me like I’m nothing, take me for granted, or make me feel unsafe.
He remembers me, laughs with me, and looks at me. He listens to me, protects me, and sees me. I can feel his eyes on me over the breakfast table, and my heart pumps so hard when I hear him pull in the driveway after work.
I have to stop this. It can’t happen.
My sister once told me there are no good men, and if you find one, he’s probably unavailable.
Only Pike Lawson isn’t the unavailable one.
I am.

PIKE
I took her in, because I thought I was helping.
She’d cook a few meals and clean up a little. It was an easy arrangement.
As the days go by, though, it’s becoming anything but easy. I have to stop my mind from drifting to her and stop holding my breath every time I bump into her in the house. I can’t touch her, and I shouldn’t want to.
The more I find my path crossing hers, though, the more she’s becoming a part of me.
But we’re not free to give into this. She’s nineteen, and I’m thirty-eight.
And her boyfriend’s father.
Unfortunately, they both just moved into my house.

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“Time passes by you like a bullet,” he says, “and fear gives you the excuses you’re craving to not do the things you know you should.”

This was my very first Penelope Douglas book ever, which felt like an important milestone in and of itself, as many of my friends adore her writing so much! I’m fairly new to the adult contemporary scene (though not new to this type of book, as I used to read them online a lot—but it’s been a long time!), so I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what to expect, but I knew going into it that I loved the idea of the plot, as I’ve always been a sucker for age gap romances. (I blame a lifetime of books about teen girls hooking up with several-hundred-year-old paranormal entities.)

birthdaygirlsm

With the age gap does come some issues that I’ll list right off the bat to get them out of the way: there is a lot that could be said for power imbalances here, not just because of the age gap, but because Jordan lives in Pike’s home rent-free, which is obviously going to leave some potential for a less than healthy relationship. While the story never plays into that problem, in my opinion, there’s also the issue that Pike’s age seems to sometimes make him think he gets a free pass for being overly dominating towards Jordan’s life choices, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The other content warnings I’ll mention here are mentions of previous abuse from a significant other, quite a bit of (mostly unchallenged) slut-shaming, and emotional/physical cheating in multiple pairings.

I’ll tackle the good things first: this is a bit of a slow burn (which I’m always a fan of), and the romance honestly feels really genuine and sweet. You find yourself rooting for Jordan and Pike from day one, and it just gets better as they grow accustomed to one another’s company and conversation and learn to be friends and companions before acknowledging their budding feelings for one another. There’s also killer chemistry literally from the night they meet, and watching that unfold is fantastic. The sex itself is well-written for the most part, and not over the top—I’m no prude at all and don’t mind sex in my books, but I personally enjoy character development and drama to go along with it, and this book definitely covers all of the bases!

For negatives, however, I’ve got quite a few of those, too. The biggest problem I had with this book is Pike’s attitude. While reading the book, he irked me a bit but didn’t upset me too much, but by the time I had given myself a few days to think on it, I realized I was actually incredibly annoyed by how he treated Jordan through most of the story. He’s very overly dominating, and while that would be fine if it was in a BSDM “kink” sort of aspect (as I am never here to kink-shame anyone, ever!), it doesn’t come across that way at all. Instead, it feels like an overly possessive, temperamental “father figure” telling her what she can and can’t wear, who she can and can’t hang out with, and where she can or can’t go. I’ll say that for the most part, Pike is super sweet and caring and mature, but his temper comes and goes so fast that it gave me whiplash sometimes.

The only other negatives that I have are pretty minor: I thought Jordan was really immature from time to time (though those moments were rare—I mostly really liked her character), and some of the sexual stuff was unrealistic and downright painful to read about (that loofah scene? Ouch!). Maybe I’m too much of a pragmatist here, but it definitely takes me out of the story during moments like that. There’s also some treatment of sex workers that made me feel super uncomfortable. Jordan’s sister is a stripper, and while I think her character is written in a way that’s meant to be sex-positive, the way everyone else treats her is so over the top with slut-shaming and grossness that I felt like I was being sent very mixed signals, especially since most of the slut-shaming is never challenged (especially when it comes from Pike). It doesn’t help that Jordan herself, despite swearing she respects and loves her sister immensely, comes off as extremely judge-y from time to time.

My final complaint is probably one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” things: I was expecting a legitimate love triangle, but honestly, it’s so one-sided that it’s impossible to root for Cole, like… ever. He’s painted so obviously as a villain that it makes his presence feel like a prop, and then the ending with his redemption arc was just kind of gross and unnecessary. (Actually, that entire epilogue was unnecessary, but I’ll let that one go.)

All in all, I did enjoy reading this book—it was definitely addictive and I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it, so I think it deserves 3 stars for that aspect alone. That said, if it hadn’t been so addictive, I think this would be getting a much lower rating based on the issues I described above. All of this in mind, I will definitely be giving Penelope’s writing another try in the near future, as most of the people I buddy read this book with told me that many of her other titles are much better than this one!

3flowers

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Just a 25-year-old trying to juggle motherhood, grad school, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

7 thoughts on “Birthday Girl — Penelope Douglas

  1. I’ve never read a Penelope Douglas book even though so many people I follow seem to love her work. After reading your review I think I’m going to stay away from this book, I get so angry when I read romances were the male is so domineering it comes off as a toxic relationship. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Victoria! Yeah, this is one of those books that I feel like I cannot honestly “recommend” to most readers. It’s funny, because I read it earlier this year and forgot the review was scheduled so far out (other things kept pushing it back on my schedule), and by the time it posted, I had considered lowering it to 2 stars!

      Like

  2. Wonderful review!! It wasn’t her best book. And I was thrown off by how sweet the book was – with the authors reputation I expected something more effect, but all in all it was a solid read. And I honestly can’t wait to read Motel.:-)

    Like

  3. Sounds like an interesting premise for a dark-ish story… I’m still debating whether i should read it or not. On one hand i’m intrigued cuz of all the aspects you mentioned about the power imbalance and unhealthy relationship, on the other i don’t know if i could put up with too much sex without eyerolls.

    Like

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