Foreplay by Sophie Jordan

foreplayI’m very torn about the New Adult genre. On one hand, I think it has the possibility of being an avenue of self-discovery, or of exploring rites of passage that are more mature than what you would find in a young adult book – namely sexual discovery, the transition from university to the workplace, or the afflictions of growing up. In a sense, I think New Adult could be a genre of empowerment and openness; if authors can explore these things with sensitivity and maturity without omitting the mature content and its details, then I think New Adult could be a great genre.

On the other hand, the New Adult genre could be those things, but it isn’t. From what I have inferred – from many, many reviews of many, many different books – the New Adult is far from that. It is overrun with misogyny and sexism (hypermasculine men, slut shaming, or objectification of women; you name it) and filled with authors who exploit sexist ideals to make it ‘darker’ and ‘sexier’. So rather than being a force of change or restructuring how we perceive sexuality, it reinforces the same, old ideas we have about masculinity and femininity, and perpetuates unrealistic (and potentially harmful) fantasies of sex and romance.

With that said, what can I say about Foreplay? Aside from the fact that is probably my first New Adult book, it wasn’t terrible. Sure, the tropes I’d expect New Adult novels to have are all present and it isn’t a game-changing book, but I actually found it quite enjoyable (if you take off your critical lens whilst reading) and a fast-paced read, and I certainly got caught up in the moments of lust and thrill.

What I appreciated about Sophie Jordan’s writing is that she allows time for the two characters to develop slowly as individuals and as a pair. Rather than mindless, senseless sex, in which attraction arises out of desperation and blind lust, the two characters develop an unorthodox friendship that has trust (though perhaps fantastical) and a mutual understanding. As a demisexual, I like these portrayals of romance – not only can I easily identify with it, but it’s nice and heart-warming.

The misogyny and sexism in Foreplay is minimal. In a sense, this is a New Adult novel you can enjoy and not feel guilty that something sexy and enjoyable is being piggybacked by sexist themes. That said, my qualm with this book was that the male love interest was more of an ideal than a person; he was unrealistic (and I know why; the author had a goal and it was best achieved with the way he was written).

Though not very often, there were also several times when the reader was reminded of how masculine he was, and how perfectly contoured his body was (and just because the narrator finds this ridiculous, it doesn’t make it more realistic). I know why he was written this way. However, when I read about these male love interests with these key words or phrases are thrown in (masculine, contoured, rough, aggressive, hot, etc.), it pulls me back down to ground. For me, it is a blatant, conspicuous attempt by the author to remind me of how manly this man is and is therefore very desirable and sexy; it is very jarring.

I look forward to the day that I’ll be able to read a New Adult novel that doesn’t have a male love interest that has a six-pack, defined biceps and contoured muscles. Sure, all of those things are ‘desirable’ in men, but I’m looking forward to the day where a male love interest can be written to be sexy and desirable without a model or athlete’s body – I hope that, one day, authors can be at the forefront of dispelling the idea that men can only be sexy if they have a sexy physique.

Is Foreplay perfect? Not at all. Is it problematic? It veers that way sometimes, but compared to what is out there, I would say that this is safe. (Should we raise the bar lower then? No!) Regardless, I think it is important for me to say that I sought this book out because I wanted a light read at the end of the day – something to ease me into sleeping soundly. If that is the sort of book you are looking for, Foreplay does an excellent job. If you want something else, perhaps akin to what I think New Adult books ought to be, then move on — and fingers crossed such a book is written one day.

Rating: 3/5

Book Information
Book Name: Foreplay
Book Series: Ivy Chronicles #1
Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: William Morrow

The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski

shadow societyGiven my praise for The Winner’s CurseI picked up The Shadow Society believing that anything written by Rutkoski would be nothing short of excellent. The Winner’s Curse was incredibly imaginative, and had some of the best worldbuilding I have had the pleasure of experiencing. But, I suppose having high expectations was my fault. Alas, The Shadow Society has left me torn; I haven’t felt this torn since Love Letters to the Dead. I wouldn’t say that I disliked The Shadow Society – I actually enjoyed it very much, flaws and all.

I enjoy books that explore one’s inherent nature, and asks questions about the self or asks what is the self. Perhaps owing to my lecturer in university, whose influences were Freud, Marx and Zizek, I love analyzing something that is so intimate and inherent in our lives, but still so fluid and elusive to the extent that thinkers and ordinary people like you and I are constantly negotiating ‘who am I?’ and often frame our interactions with others based on this very question. In this sense, The Shadow Society is up my alley; it asks the question, ‘who are we when our own nature is a mystery?’

Rutkoski doesn’t give a clear, direct answer to this question. Rather, through the protagonist Darcy Jones, this question is answered in a series of revelations and decisions. In fact, one small passage in the book raises what I mentioned earlier: that the self is fluid, always changing, and never the same as time passes. Though perhaps the answer to the question isn’t subtle, it is answered through discussion with another character as they both come to terms with the circumstances of their being. And I like that – I like the idea that discussion can be a process or a means of an important, fulfilling end.

But, my goodness, I was so underwhelmed when I started this book. The writing was uneven, the narrative voice sounded more like an adult who didn’t understand teenagers trying to impersonate a teenager, and, worst of all, there were so many overt hints of foreboding and the abnormality in Darcy’s life that you could see the plot twist from a mile away. It was so blatant, devoid of any subtlety. I was astounded that this was the same author of The Winner’s Curse. I’ll admit: I almost wanted to stop reading. But I read on anyway – maybe The Shadow Society would change my mind.

Thankfully, change my mind it did. The second half of The Shadow Society was an improvement. The protagonist begins to find herself, her voice less annoying and more certain, the romance – though not perfect – begins to take off (and I found myself blushing sometimes!), and at times there was some interesting dialectic on society and resolving conflict or war. We also get to see more of Darcy’s friends, who were the saving graces of this book. Not only were they the sort of friends that you wished you had, but they were diverse in ethnic representation and had these quirky, endearing personalities – I loved them so much.

Similarly to The Winner’s Curse, Rutkoski illustrates the idea that there is no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ side, and what is good and bad is ultimately relative, subject to who perceives and judges. ‘Bad’ people who do bad things are capable of love and affection — and it is an uncomfortable thing to think about, that the Other, who we are told are nothing like us, are society’s antagonists and enemy, can be like us and the same of us. The narrative in The Shadow Society centres on someone who becomes the Other – someone who is suddenly the enemy of society. However, the way Darcy navigates this and eventually accepts this is a heart-warming and sweet way to conclude the book. It was not perfect, but it was good enough for me.

The Shadow Society is not a fantastic book, but it isn’t a bad book either. However, I can easily see that The Shadow Society is not a book for everyone. If you have the patience to get through the sloppy first half, I think there is much to be enjoyed in its second half. It is one of those books where if you try and find something to like and enjoy about The Shadow Society, then you will.

Rating: 3/5 

Book Information
Book Name: The Shadow Society
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux for Young Readers

Never, Never by Tarryn Fisher & Colleen Hoover

never never 1When I was in my final year of high school I went through a phase where I wrote stories that asked the big what if‘s. What if an element of reality was suspended, twisted, or momentarily substituted with something fantastical? What would be the consequences? How would one weave a tale from an imagined scenario? These were questions that I loved exploring when I was younger, and for me, Never Never was nostalgic of that exploration. In Never Never, Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher ask: what if you and someone you loved suddenly had no recollection of your family, your friends, your life, and of each other?

Phew, this book was a page-turner. It has such an addictive quality, and packs quite a punch despite its length. Therefore, if there’s anything I can appreciate about Never Never is it doesn’t stagger around its purpose. It is to the point, and is therefore gripping. The accumulation of mysteries throughout the novel are intriguing, dark, and kept me very curious. What has befallen the two main characters; how did it happen, why did it happen? I need to know! (I think I should read more mystery; I think I would really enjoy them.)

With regards to its characters, I think it is difficult to pass judgement for now because there’s still so much the reader does not know; there are many questions left unanswered, and the characters are further from the answers than the beginning. Regardless, the cynical and dark depiction of teenagehood was intriguing and an element of the book’s narrative that kept me hooked. Never Never unashamedly presents very flawed characters; the most interesting part is that the characters themselves – having no memories – steadily discover that they are very flawed people. The revelations that follow are an interesting exploration of the self and who or what the self is.

Never Never is a quick read, and easily digestible in one sitting (I read this across two days during my commute to and from work, and the last few chapters at home). Unfortunately this book is the first of three parts — why the three parts could not be amalgamated into one book is beyond me. Nonetheless, as it is a short book, I could argue that it’s worthwhile giving Never Never a go. Regardless, whatever qualms you may have about the book’s length, Never Never is enjoyable, mysterious, and thrilling. Given its cliffhanger, it is very likely I will pick up Part Two!

Rating: 2/5

Book Information
Book Name: Never Never
Book Series: Never Never #1
Authors: Tarryn Fisher and Colleen Hoover
Publisher: Hoover Ink

The Hiding Places by Catherine Robertson

hiding placesI won The Hiding Places in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway; thank you to Penguin Random House New Zealand for giving me a free copy! And also, thank you for the small handwritten note enclosed in the book –  I appreciate such small, lovely sentiments.

Phew, this book took me so long to finish (two months! I am ashamed of myself), but, I am glad that I finally did. My initial impression was that it was a slow book – too slow for my taste. However, this book encourages patience; it is a slow-moving book, and once you accept this fact, there are so many nuances and subtleties that you can savour and appreciate. All I’m saying is, your patience will be rewarded.

How do you write about a book that has characters, so real, deep, and human, that they feel like people you once knew? How do you write about a book about the complexities, coincidences, and wonders of life? (I shall try.)

The Hiding Places by Catherine Robertson centres on April, a woman who lives in self-imposed state of asceticism (sans religious reasons). To others, her aversion to the luxuries of good food, comfort, beauty, and meaningful companionship is strange and futile. For April, however, it is retribution. Ultimately, she only permits herself mere existence; there is no living and enjoying in her atonement. So when she receives a letter in the mail, informing her that she is the heir to a country house, the Empyrean, it consequently becomes an unlikely opportunity for April to give life another chance.

Seeing the home in its true light was meant to flatten it into nothing, pack it away like an old cardboard box. It was not meant to give it shape, nor … a personality.

There was some truly beautiful writing in The Hiding Places. Looking over my notes for this book, there are some beautiful passages as well as the occasional quiet question about forgiveness, grief, and the pain and burden we live with. But this book isn’t dreary; it is not solely about grief and pain. If anything, The Hiding Places is a meditation of forgiveness, second chances, finding meaning, and what it means to live.

What I truly loved about this book was its characters – what a truly unforgettable cast! All characters were written so wonderfully, and their personalities quirky and charming. I sympathized with their pain, I laughed with them, and I was frustrated with their shortcomings. The Hiding Places illustrates that everyone – not just April – carry with them broken vows and promises, and are sometimes willing to die and suffer from them. History is meaningful, and memories – small or great, in one way or another – tie us all to the present, and it is through loss that new things – perhaps better things – can be found.

All in all, The Hiding Spaces is a heart-warming story with an inherently introspective prose, a sensitive exploration of grief and forgiveness, some truly wonderful characters, and a beautiful portrayal of the idyllic English countryside. Safe to say, I think I can say that I will look back fondly on my reading experience of The Hiding Place. (And now I wish I went to see Robertson at the NZ Writer’s Festival.)

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Hiding Places
Author: Catherine Robertson
Publisher: Random House NZ Black Swan

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

young elitesThe Young Elites was my first Marie Lu book, and certainly not my last. For what I assumed would be a lighthearted read, was instead an engrossing fantasy with an interesting narrative about goodness, justice, and accepting one’s inherent nature to top.

If there is one reason why you should read the book, it is that there is no dichotomy of good/right and evil/wrong. And in a culture where we are obsessed with these tales of good versus bad, or discerning who is good or who is evil, The Young Elites is a breath of fresh air. Instead, The Young Elites paints a complex picture of two groups fighting for their ideals and their goals. Lu does not coax us to side with a particular group. Instead, Lu writes about two very flawed groups with morally questionable methods, but have very clear visions of what they want to achieve. But even though both groups perceive murder as a means to an end, does it make both of them bad? The answer: it’s not as simple as that! And I love that Lu is conscious of this. She does not spoon-feed her readers with what to think or support, but shows that all conflicts are complex and should never be simplified.

Furthermore, something common in children and young adult novels is the idea that the Other is inherently good – that the Other is only perceived as ‘bad’ because they are misunderstood, their appearances impel misjudgment, or they do their ‘good’ in the shadow, working underneath the consciousness of the masses, despite the negative, hurtful things people might say about them. Instead, the eponymous group in The Young Elites are, indeed, a group of outcasts, are indeed misunderstood, have magical powers, but are also vengeful murderers with their own agendas which they have with clear consciences. The line between good/right and bad/evil is very blurry in The Young Elites, and I think that is what makes this book so enjoyable.

However, the real heart of The Young Elites and the root of its success is its main character, Adelina. She isn’t a heroine aligned with lawful good, nor does she have noble and just intentions. Adelina has clear flaws that are uncommon in heroines in the young adult world – she is selfish, competitive, and power hungry. Adelina is constantly haunted by her unfortunate past, but it is that past that makes her who she is; instead of cowering before her demons, she draws strength from it, and lets it fuel her to make her powerful. Perhaps Adelina isn’t a good person, but thankfully whether she is or not isn’t the point; she’s a flawed character, but she is perhaps one of the most interesting characters I have read this year.

I have three qualms and they are this: the forgettable, generic side characters, the setting, and the romance. With the first, unfortunately they aren’t as memorable or interesting as those we see in The Winner’s Curse, however I do hope they will be developed further in its sequel, The Rose Society (and as shown in the epilogue, it looks like there will be some significant players coming our way!), as The Young Elites centres predominantly on Adelina, and contains some introspection and internal monologue.

Lu certainly has an imaginative setting with a tint of Italian Renaissance. Whilst Lu crafted her conception of malfetto and their subsequent fear and power that entail, after reading The Winner’s Curse, I felt somewhat disappointed that there was such a lack of depth with the nations and their culture. At the end of the book, there was no evident difference between Kenettra or Beldain – to me, they could be meaningless names on the page, but the reader lacks no knowledge of each nation’s customs, culture, or traditions. My hope, therefore, is that this is improved in The Rose Society.

With regards to the latter, the romance was superficial and lacked any sort of depth. Perhaps it was the point, that it was predicated on lust and want, but when her romantic interest is pitched as Adelina’s love, I am not so sure. (Note, the blurb for The Rose Society contains spoilers to The Young Elites.) But of course, perhaps the romance is a means of giving Adelina depth and foundation to her character – I just wish it didn’t have to resort to that.

Nonetheless, mix the above with elements of fantasy, magical powers akin to those of the X-Men, and struggles for powers, and you have The Young Elites – a worthy novel, and something to be excited about! Lu is a great writer who is proficient in eliciting the most beautiful and vivid imagery. All in all, it was an enjoyable read and should be approached as such; nothing to be critically analysed here: it is a fun, entertaining read with some wonderful elements to meet that expectation. So yes, I look forward to reading more of Lu’s books, and will definitely be looking forward to the release of The Rose Society!

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Young Elites
Book Series: The Young Elites #1
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers