Falling Away by Penelope Douglas

Man, who knew such a small group of friends in an unassuming Illinois suburban town could lead such dramatically complicated lives. Every single one of them!!

What’s it About?

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K.C. Carter has always followed the rules—until this year, when a mistake leaves her the talk of her college campus and her carefully arranged life comes crashing to a halt. Now she’s stuck in her small hometown for the summer to complete her court-ordered community service, and to make matters worse, trouble is living right next door.

Jaxon Trent is the worst kind of temptation and exactly what K.C. was supposed to stay away from in high school. But he never forgot her. She was the one girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day and the only one to ever say no. Fate has brought K.C. back into his life—except what he thought was a great twist of luck turns out to be too close for comfort. As the bond between them grows, he discovers that convincing K.C. to get out from her mother’s shadow is hard, but revealing the darkest parts of his soul is nearly impossible.…

First Impressions

I really really really hate to say this, but I’m sort of falling out of like with this series. I can’t even say “love” because it was never really one of my ultimate favorites to begin with. I definitely liked book 1, that’s for sure, and my feelings towards book 2 were sort of lukewarm. However, when it comes to this 3rd book, I think I have to say I actually disliked it. Both KC and Jaxon come from troubled pasts, but that’s definitely not the reason why I had an overall negative impression of this book. Rather, I couldn’t help but feel that Jaxon and KC had a pretty toxic relationship that made me slightly uncomfortable at times, and even worrying for KC’s safety at others.

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Love/Hate Continues Again

As is the theme with most of the novels in this series so far, our lead couple starts off with some feelings of animosity towards one another instead of love. Eventually, their mutual feelings of enmity build up to a boiling point until they can’t help themselves, and they start attacking each other’s mouths. However, in this book I was somewhat disturbed at a few of the ways Jax pursued KC. Let’s look at a few examples.

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Stalking is as Stalking Does

Let’s start with the less threatening (if you can call it that) of his pursuits. So, Jax pretty much cyber stalks KC when she’s away at college out of state. This includes, but is not limited to, logging in to check her class schedule, grades, setting off pranks to push back a test she was unprepared for, and hacking her police record so she could complete her community service at their local high school where Jax just so happens to volunteer as well. Eventually, KC uncovers the extent of how closely he’s been monitoring her activities while she was away at school, and she is understandably confused and disturbed.

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But then Jax manages to talk his way out of these stalker tendencies to the point where KC just brushes off the whole thing rather quickly. He explained that the reason she was so upset with his monitoring of her was because she doesn’t want anybody else to get too close to her. Umm, actually it’s called an invasion of privacy! You wanna know what’s going on in her life, maybe you should give her a call, or send her an email. Not hack her school records.

The Heart of the Matter

I suppose if you really want you could write off his computer stalking as him being overprotective, and wanting to check up on her. Whatever. What disturbed me even more was their physical relationship. At times, it was scorching hot. At others, I was legitimately concerned I was about to read a rape scene. There are many instances in this book where Jax pins KC up against a wall in the heat of an argument, and starts to devour her mouth in a passionate kiss. But there are also many times where KC tries to pull away from these ministrations, saying “no” and trying to push Jax away.

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Now, I listened to this as an audio book, and the narrator for KC was amazing, but in these particular scenes she verbalized some very convincing “no’s” and also had an element of fear in her voice. For Jax though, it would appear that when it comes to KC “no” doesn’t necessarily mean “no. It just means keep kissing her until she submits and says “yes”. The fact that at one point he even pulled a knife and started taunting her with it while pinned against a wall made me feel that this relationship has a lot of serious problems. Sure, KC would eventually always succumb to his seductions, and pull him towards her instead of pushing him away, but I felt like Jax must not respect her very much if he used intimidation to bend her to his will instead of talking things out.

Troubled Pasts and Vicious Characters

Jax and KC both come from troubled pasts. Her parents had her in order to supplement their previous daughter who died, and Jax was physically and sexually abused at the hands of his father and his father’s friends. While we aren’t privy to all of the specific details of Jax’s abuse, it was still definitely very hard to read at times.

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His abusers are disgusting people with zero redeeming qualities. It’s heartbreaking to think of what he endured as a child, and how his past has influenced his actions as an adult. Jax attempts to push KC away once she starts to develop loving feelings for him, as he doesn’t want her to deal with his toxic past. Especially when his past comes back to haunt him, as his father has been harassing him more and more as his parole from prison draws ever closer.

Series: Fall Away, book 3. Will I continue with this series? Maybe, as the next book revisits the couple from book 1. It just might take me a while before I go there.

Should you read it? Jax is a troubled individual, and the horrors of his past definitely influence his relationship with KC. I get pushing her away because he doesn’t think he’s good enough, and we’re supposed to admire KC for sticking through all of this to eventually find the loving Jax hiding underneath. I still couldn’t help but feel disturbed though at some of the ways he treated her, especially when it came to their sexual relationship. The whole pulling a knife scene left a really lasting negative and frightening impression on me. If others have read this one and had a different view of their sexual relationship I’d love to discuss it!

Smut Level: Let’s just say they do some pretty…creative things with a popsicle.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. Berkley Publishing. 429 Pages.

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Rival by Penelope Douglas

These two lead characters take the whole concept of the cat and mouse game to an entire new level. I mean we’re talking like, cheetah and gazelle here.

What’s it About?

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Madoc and Fallon. Two estranged teenagers playing games that push the boundaries between love and war…She’s back. For the two years she’s been away at boarding school, there was no word from her. Back when we lived in the same house, she used to cut me down during the day and then leave her door open for me at night. I was stupid then, but now I’m ready to beat her at her own game…

I’m back. Two years and I can tell he still wants me, even if he acts like he’s better than me. But I won’t be scared away. Or pushed down. I’ll call his bluff and fight back. That’s what he wants, right? As long as I keep my guard up, he’ll never know how much he affects me….

First Impressions

There was so much back and forth between these two I felt like I was constantly on the verge of whiplash. Throughout the entire novel they are continually alternating between phases of hating each other, followed by screwing each other. Sure, maybe one back and forth is ok, but this was like hate, screw, hate, screw, hate, mild toleration, full blown love affair. At times, I also kind of felt like their antics and verbal sparring was a bit too teen high school drama for my tastes.

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An Unusual Trope

Fallon and Madoc have a rather complicated past with each other, which is enhanced by the fact that they are step-siblings. Always a rather bizarre trope I never know how to handle. Sexy, yet icky at the same time. What starts as an apparent teen drama develops into something much more serious as we slowwwwly discover why Fallon and Madoc had such a dramatic and tragic falling out years beforehand.

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Definitely an emotional story line, but overall I was kind of disappointed in how dramatic this novel actually was. When we were first introduced to Madoc in book one he was always presented as a continual flirt who was quite the jokester. However, in this novel we barely get any glimpse of his carefree personality. Everything was always so seriously somber between him and Fallon that I would have liked to see a lighter side as well.

Series: Fall Away, book 2. I’m still interested in reading book 3, as it follows a very intriguing character from this second novel.

Should you read it? Overall, an engaging story, but I would have liked one less back and forth between them over whether or not they actually liked each other. Also kind of a strange ending. Basically, if things aren’t going your way, blackmail is the answer.

Smut Level: Not only do they have sex in a chair, but they also do it while facing a mirror.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. NAL Publishing. 366 Pages.

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Bully by Penelope Douglas

We’ve got neighbors. We’ve got friends who become enemies, who then become something more. This book checks off so many of my boxes it’s not even funny.

What’s it About?

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My name is Tate. He doesn’t call me that, though. He would never refer to me so informally, if he referred to me at all. No, he’ll barely even speak to me. But he still won’t leave me alone. We were best friends once. Then he turned on me and made it his mission to ruin my life.

I’ve been humiliated, shut out, and gossiped about all through high school. His pranks and rumors got more sadistic as time wore on, and I made myself sick trying to stay out of his way. I even went to France for a year, just to avoid him. But I’m done hiding from him now, and there’s no way in hell I’ll allow him to ruin my senior year. He might not have changed, but I have. It’s time to fight back. I’m not going to let him bully me anymore.

Building a Bully

Yes, this novel is definitely a high school romance. However, it also takes a fascinating look at the cause and effects of bullying. At the beginning, we see how Jared’s pranks and antics against Tate have driven her to want to escape. So she does. She spends her junior year of high school in France. When she returns, she realizes it’s time to stand up to him, and to not let others put her down. But how does this influence Tate’s own personality?

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By standing up for herself against anyone who gets in her way, Tate starts to straddle the line of becoming a bully as well. Sure, she says some kick-ass zingers that make most of us envious. What could be more satisfying than having the ultimate come-back? But now she too is starting to put others down, and even though it’s against Jared we see that “this is how bullies are made.” In a way, bullies beget bullies.

Leaving Hatred Behind

But that’s not all! At the start of the novel, we as the audience are set and determined to hate Jared. He’s a bully who has taken things way too far. As the novel progresses though, we realize that Jared didn’t always act this way. Once upon a time, he was Tate’s best friend who helped her cope after her mother’s death. But then something changed. By the end of the novel, you find yourself shocked to discover that you could possibly consider sympathizing with a bully.

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Series: Fall Away, book 1. I’ll keep going with this series.

Should you read it? At times it was kind of difficult to accept Jared as something other than a bully. It almost seemed as though there was an attempt to excuse his bullying behavior because of his tragic past. It’s true that what happened to him was awful, but it was also sad that he chose to push Tate away instead of pull her closer.

Smut Level: For a high school romance, this book gets pretty steamy! Nothing like sneaking into your neighbor’s bedroom window. And then into the bed itself.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. InterMix Publishing. 337 Pages.

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