BIRTHDAY GIRL by Penelope Douglas

He took me in when I had nowhere else to go. He doesn’t use me, hurt me, or forget about 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. 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. 

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.


Title : Birthday Girl
Author : Penelope Douglas
Format : eBook
Page Count : 407
Genre : romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : April 17, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

I suppose this one is on me because I’m not really sure what else I expected when I picked up BIRTHDAY GIRL.

If what you want is a slowburn romance that leans into the taboo of not only an age gap but also the “wanting my boyfriend’s dad/wanting my son’s girlfriend” angle, I’m sure you could probably do much worse than this. However..

I’m not sure the characterizations were all that consistent. With maybe the one exception, surprisingly enough, being the nineteen year old protagonist. She was mature for her age, she was pretty focused, she was weathered by disappointment and experience (not the good kind) which gave her perspective and some gravitas. But she also had moments of being impulsive and.. maybe bratty is harsh but young. And it felt true to form. The thirty-nine year old older man, however? Way less consistent. And also didn’t remotely feel his age. But maybe that was purposeful to like.. make him more accessible and lend him that air of being younger than he seemed? Take the edge off both sides of the equation by mentally aging her up and then also mentally making him a little.. not young but. I don’t know how to explain it. And lastly, to round out the main trio (even though we didn’t get his POV), there was the boyfriend. A pretty inconsiderate person all around, his behaviour worse considering how he was treating not just someone who was supposed to be a friend first but also the person you love, and the abrupt pivot at the end with the magical fix? Eye roll. So, really, I only liked Jordan and basically thought both men unworthy of her.

Additionally, this story has a bunch of outside drama, too, incase the (actually relatively low, considering..) angst from the above wasn’t enough for you. We have evil exes (one also violent because why not), on both sides of the relationship, and all the drama that comes from a small town with nosy neighbours and the down on their luck or straight up trashy residents. Which I guess explains why so many people have excuses for their bad behaviour? I don’t know.

I guess overall I just expected something more? In the sense that this didn’t feel as edgy or taboo as I expected. It felt rather standard as far as romances go, just with an age gap. But as much as I wanted more, I also maybe wanted a little less. This felt a bit long.

So, yeah, not remotely a homerun for my first time reading Douglas but both this and PUNK 57 come recommended by so many people. So I’ll still be giving that a try before assuming we’re not a good fit.

COMMON GOAL by Rachel Reid

New York Admirals goalie Eric never thought his friends-with-benefits arrangement with much-younger Kyle would leave them both wanting more…

Veteran goaltender Eric Bennett has faced down some of the toughest shooters on the ice, but nothing prepared him for his latest challenge—life after hockey. It’s time to make some big changes, starting with finally dating men for the first time.

Graduate student Kyle Swift moved to New York nursing a broken heart. He’d sworn to find someone his own age to crush on (for once). Until he meets a gorgeous, distinguished silver fox hockey player. Despite their intense physical attraction, Kyle has no intention of getting emotionally involved. He’ll teach Eric a few tricks, have some mutually consensual fun, then walk away.

Eric is more than happy to learn anything Kyle brings to the table. And Kyle never expected their friends-with-benefits arrangement to leave him wanting more. Happily-ever-after might be staring them in the face, but it won’t happen if they’re too stubborn to come clean about their feelings.

Everything they both want is within reach… They just have to be brave enough to grab it.


Title : Common Goal
Author : Rachel Reid
Series : Game Changers (book four)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 282
Genre : LGBTQIA+ sports romance
Publisher : CarinaPress
Release Date : September 21, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Do you continue to pick up books in the Game Changers series because you want Ilya cameos? Because hi, it me.

Ilya Rozanov wants to hang out with you tonight? At a gar bar?
Apparently.”
That guy is so weird.

Just kidding. I’m also here for the hockey and the romance. And surprising no one, in a series of hockey romances, we had both here.

Dating a much younger man would pretty much make him a walking midlife crisis, and Eric really didn’t want that kind of attention. He couldn’t stomach the idea of being a recently divorced man rebounding with a pretty young thing. And then there was the fact that Kyle was a man.

This was definitely the strongest in this series post, and pre, HEATED RIVALRY, and I’m so relieved about that. The dynamic of this couple, the age gap and the fact that it’s the older man needing guidance as he explores his hitherto unexplored attraction to men, was so sweet without ever getting into book one levels of sucrose. I think what really helped this romance for me was that I believed in the friendship that was the foundation for what later bloomed. And, honestly, the first kiss? Heart eyes. Pure heart eyes. This is actually one of those romances where I was less into the hot and heavy scenes and more into the burgeoning affection between the leads.

Not that I’m not happy for Scott, but I’ve been thinking about my own wedding, I guess.”
You can remember back that far?
Shut it.”
I forget. Was Holly a war bride? Was she your nurse after the Germans shot you?
All right, I’m going home.

As I’m forever saying, I’m a sucker for an ensemble, particularly when it’s a sports team ensemble. These players? I adore them. There were so many hilarious little moments and yes, as I teased above, Ilya was at the center of a lot of those funnies. Getting those moments with him, particularly when sharing page time with Hollander, and knowing we’re finally getting a sequel? I’m trying to cram my expectations into a small box but it’s hard, yo.

Who knew Rozanov had such a big heart?
I had a hunch. I think he might secretly be a big softy.”
He does a damn good job of hiding it.

Back to COMMON GOAL, I want to mention how awesome it was to see dialogue about consent and expectations about intimacy between two men because even in m/m romances I don’t think that’s really talked about. Safety, protection? Sure. But feeling obligated to put out, or return the favour, especially if you aren’t comfortable or as enthusiastic as you might have been? We love to see that. Also the discourse around the validity of bisexuality even if you haven’t explored part of that spectrum? Fabulous.

Toronto was a team of weirdos. <– this quote isn’t included for any context, it just made me laugh

Overall, I had a really good time with this read and would definitely recommend fans of this series who may (or may not) have been a little less enthusiastic about book three, particularly in the wake of Ilya and Hollander, to give it a go. I was also about to suggest those missing hockey to dive face first into this to get your fix but hockey is, like, back now? But weird? In August? 2020 man, it keeps on keepin’ on.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

RAZE by Roan Parrish

Sometimes the walls we build to save ourselves have to come tumbling down.

For the last ten years, Huey has built his life around his sobriety. If that means he doesn’t give a damn about finding love or companionship for himself, well, it’s probably better that way. After all, the last thing he wants is to hurt anyone else. Until Felix Rainey walks into his bar, fresh-faced, unbearably sweet–and, for some reason Huey can’t fathom, interested in him.

As the eldest of five kids, Felix Rainey spent his childhood cooking dinner, checking homework, and working after-school jobs. Now in his twenties, he’s still scrambling to make ends meet and wondering what the hell he’s doing with his life. When he meets Huey, he’s intimidated . . . and enamored. Huey’s strong and confident, he owns his own business–hell, he’s friends with rock stars. What could he ever see in Felix?

As Huey and Felix get closer, the spark catches and soon they can’t get enough of each other. But Huey’s worked hard to avoid intimacy, and Felix threatens his carefully constructed defenses. Huey realizes he needs to change if he wants to truly put his past behind him–and build a future with Felix.


Title : Raze
Author: Roan Parrish
Series : Riven (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 316
Genre : contemporary romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Loveswept
Release Date : July 2, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating:★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I forgot you’re not supposed to bring up masturbation at the dinner table on the first date.
Yeah, that’s strictly second-date dinner convo.

Right off the bat, I have to say, this cover does not do Felix justice. I wasn’t really a fan of it to begin with but after seeing how the character was not only described but acted? There’s no match-up here whatsoever. But, having said that, at the end of the day it’s about the content, not the window dressing.

Felix seemed like a map folded up small and perfect that would sprawl when unfurled, and show you everything. And I..fuck, I wanted to see it.

This is easily my favourite series by Parrish and while RAZE didn’t match my love for RIVEN, and nor did REND, each book has been emotional, lovely, heart wrenching, beautiful, tough, real, all the things. Oh and swoony and sexy af. The author devastates with the simplest of things, like a hug, and exposes very real insecurities in her characters that I think everyone can immediately connect with. No matter their size or strength, no matter their fame or success, no matter what they’ve overcome or shouldered, each individual is struggling or hiding or avoiding something. Just like every day humans. And it’s this connection that makes these books, even set as they are around rockstars and the music industry, even only peripherally (at least since book one), so so easy to love. Just as it’s impossible not to love these imminently precious characters who, in some form or another, feel they aren’t worthy or deserving of love; or are just overlooked, maybe even just held back.. by outside forces or themselves. Never seen or pursued by the right person.

The problem with feeling so much pleasure, so much joy, so much contentment — with feeling so much, period — after so long spent feeling very little, was that I instantly craved more of it.

If you’re looking for sweetness and sexiness, with a solid foundation of grit and realness, I would definitely recommend this series.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **