Book Review: The Fall Away series by Penelope Douglas

After falling in love with Penelope Douglas’ Birthday Girl, I gave this author’s backlist a try. And this is the story of how I ended up reading her first published series… Unfortunately, this book review of the Fall Away series isn’t exactly positive. I wish I hadn’t gone so far back with Pen Doug’s books, because this is centuries away from Birthday Girl.

(The following reviews contain spoilers.)

Book Review: Bully by Penelope Douglas

Book review Fall Away series by Penelope Douglas

Bully official cover art
Bully official cover art

My rating: ★★ (2/5)

Summary: Book #1 of the Fall Away series. Tate comes back home after spending a year abroad, but she’s no longer willing to let Jared, her once best friend, bully her and humiliate her during the last year of high school. She decides she wants to fight back, but it only leads the two of them to get closer and more intimate. But it also forces them to deal with the problems that broke their friendship in the first place.

Genre: Contemporary romance

Audience: New Adult

Themes/potential trigger warnings: bullying, misogyny, slut-shaming, explicit sex

Does not deliver.

Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to like this book, it just doesn’t do it for me. There is no real discussion on the theme of bullying. From the start, it’s clear Jared only wants to isolate Tate for his own jealousy-related problems. And Tate’s response just makes everything turn into some sort of odd foreplay until they finally end up in bed together. There’s not much to like about either of these characters. Plus, since the entire book is written from Tate’s point of view, you’re left to wonder what kind of reasoning Jared goes through. You’re tempted to like him because you simply don’t know what’s going on in his head, but in the end, neither of them felt real to me.

Tate’s inaccurate French aside, she’s just a shallow character. I’m not sure how the reader is supposed to like someone who blatantly slut-shames other girls. Speaking of which, the other girls in this story are either “the bad friend of the day” or the “typical ho” who creates the stupidest plans to get the male protagonist. I’m not sure if this is to make us like Tate more, but it doesn’t work like that.

Book Review: Until You by Penelope Douglas

Book review Fall Away series by Penelope Douglas

Until You official cover art
Until You official cover art

My rating: ★★ (2/5)

Summary: Book #1.5 of the Fall Away series. This book focuses on Jared’s story and his point of view before and during the events taking place in Bully.

Genre: Contemporary romance

Audience: New Adult

Themes/potential trigger warnings: bullying, misogyny, slut-shaming, explicit sex, child abuse, child neglect

A novel you can skip.

I truly, truly hoped that Bully would redeem itself with Jared’s POV. In the end, I preferred imagining Jared’s reasoning instead of reading it. Don’t get me wrong; this novel gives you a bit more insight into his past, his relationship with his abusive father and his half-brother Jax. However, this book doesn’t strengthen Jared and Tate’s relationship.

What I absolutely detest about this character is the fact he’s so misogynistic and yet acts as if he’s not. Jared is the kind of guy who will let his precious manly car be driven by his girlfriend… because Tate is just so cool, and she can drive, unlike most girls, right? And the next thing you know, he’s proud that his little saint is nasty in the sheets “but only for him.” God forbid a girl has some sort of sexual experience before sleeping with this man! We already saw what happened to those in book one, where he treated them like rag dolls without emotions.

Book Review: Rival by Penelope Douglas

Book review Fall Away series by Penelope Douglas

Rival official cover art
Rival official cover art

My rating: ★★★ (3/5)

Summary: Book #2 of the Fall Away series. This story centers on Madoc, Jared’s best friend. Madoc’s step-sister, Fallon, comes back home after an abrupt separation Madoc never recovered from. But there’s a lot of dirt under the rug, and Fallon doesn’t want to run away from it anymore.

Genre: Contemporary romance

Audience: New Adult

Themes/potential trigger warnings: sex, incest, the occasional internalized misogyny

We’re still not there.

I almost DNF’ed the series after Until You, but I figured I could give Madoc’s story a try. In the first book, Madoc appears as the typical jokester who tries to mediate between the two main characters. Although he came across as a pervert and someone who didn’t take many things seriously, Pen Doug gives him grit in Rival.

Now, if you don’t have a problem with incest…

Although they’re not blood-related, Fallon and Madoc are step-siblings and they grew up together. Sort of. Fallon’s mother married Madoc’s father when Fallon was in her pre-teens, I believe. I don’t really care about the taboo part of the story, and Fallon is slightly more likeable than Tate. Maybe because she has no friends to shove into the ground?

The problem with this story is the logic the characters employ. Or don’t employ. I don’t understand why Fallon exposed her family’s past, when Madoc’s father knew nothing about the horror that happened to her. Because when she sought Madoc, she found him with a girl? I also don’t get the plot devices used in here, such as Madoc and Fallon’s sudden wedding at 18. They felt like immature kids ready to hit the accelerator on their lives just to piss off their parents. And, once again, we have the typical inexperienced girl versus ladies’ man male protagonist…

I gave an extra star to this book only because the characters are a little more bearable. And I actually liked it when Madoc simply left and Fallon had to get her shit together and quit it with the drama.

Book Review: Falling Away by Penelope Douglas

Book review Fall Away series by Penelope Douglas

Falling Away official cover art
Falling Away official cover art

My rating: ★★★ (3/5)

Summary: Book #3 of the Fall Away series. This is Jared’s brother’s story and how he becomes entangled with Tate’s high school friend, K.C. Their story takes places as K.C. returns home for community service after she got into trouble because of her ex-boyfriend, Liam. Jax always liked K.C., but she never gave him a chance. As they both go back to high school for different reasons, they inevitably spend more time together.

Genre: Contemporary romance

Audience: New Adult

Themes/potential trigger warnings: misogyny, slut-shaming, explicit sex, child abuse, child neglect, dual personality, replacement child

I don’t know if I should like this book.

I really don’t know.

Let’s start with the fact that I did like the characters, for once. K.C. was nothing special in high school, just the usual girl with a shitty boyfriend, and she tried to make him jealous, although he literally cheated on her. And she made up with him, only to end up being cheated on. Again. I think I like the karma there.

On a more serious note, I liked K.C.’s background story. Her family drama is nothing farfetched like Fallon’s, but instead, it’s deeply rooted in a tragic incident that caused her to develop a double personality. Replacement children are a thing, and I was pleasantly surprised to see PD approach this topic.

Thankfully, Jaxon isn’t Jared 2.0, unless he decides to be an ass and show K.C. how much he doesn’t need her by feeling up another chick in front of her. What’s the deal with that? This man was after K.C. for years and when she tells him she loves him, he runs away. Dawson’s Creek, anyone?

What happened to Jaxon’s trauma?

What I don’t understand is if the author even researches the forms of trauma they tried to depict at times. Jaxon was sexually assaulted as a child. He had no parents, and when he found an adoptive mother who actually loves him, he was 16 or 17. Now, this story doesn’t take place long after that. But Jaxon is this ladies’ man, this sex machine, and as far as I know, he hasn’t gone to therapy. Is the frequent sex cathartic? There’s not much depth given to the behavior he adopts.

Overall, this third book was better than the others. I cringed at the ending, with a bunch of teens taking down some sort of crime lord and everyone popping up to say Jax is part of their family. Thankfully, the story wraps up with K.C. and her mother, and she and Jaxon have a Happy-For-Now kind of ending, which I can envision.

Conclusion

I wish I didn’t read this series, because Falling Away was not good enough to justify the eye-rolling the previous books induced. I understand and acknowledge that this is PD’s first story, and their writing has certainly improved. But I will not bother reading the last book since we’re back to Tate and Jared.