0

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

6

The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski

shadow societyGiven my praise for¬†The Winner’s Curse,¬†I 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

0

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: 3.5/5

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

1

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 Р 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 Рwhat 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 Рnot just April Рcarry with them broken vows and promises, and are sometimes willing to die and suffer from them. History is meaningful, and memories Рsmall or great, in one way or another Рtie us all to the present, and it is through loss that new things Рperhaps better things Рcan 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

12

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

3

Versatile Blogger Award!

Credit to Summer at XingSings for the award banner!

Hello everyone! This is CW here!

Recently, Read, Think and Ponder was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award. Shingie and I would like to thank Summer at Xingsings for nominating us! As Shingie said, we value the importance of diversity in blogging, so both of us are very privileged to have been nominated. Thank you, Summer!

As Shingie and I do not follow a lot of book blogs (or any sort of blog for that matter) here on WordPress, we unfortunately will¬†not able to meet the first two rules of Summer’s award rules. Therefore, here is my¬†version of the Versatile Blogger Award:

  • I tag anyone who is following us¬†and would like to participate. <3
  • Please let us know if you are following our version of the Versatile Blogger Award by replying to this post! We¬†would love to get to know you, and we would love to read your post!
  • Share¬†10 random facts about yourself (the stranger and more unconventional the facts, the better)!
  • Include your favourite quote at the end of your post!

As Shingie is busy with her college exams, she won’t be participating in today’s award. So, it’s just me! Here are 10 facts:

  1. I am currently working full-time, volunteering (and have been for the same organization for four years!), and developing a non-profit organization with five others that offers tutoring services to high school kids. 2015 has been quite a challenge so far – and very busy! – but I have learned a lot about myself.
  2. One of my dreams is to enter a field where I can be a mental health advocate for youth, especially minority youth, and promote awareness of social justice issues.
  3. I do a lot of cycling and weight training, and exercise everyday except Sunday.
  4. Growing up, I had really big self-esteem issues. In retrospect, my negative self-image was rooted to being surrounded by white/Western standards of beauty. It was only in my later years of university that I found others that struggled with the same problems, and that was when I could find the courage and confidence to love myself and see myself as beautiful, even if I don’t conform to those beauty standards.
  5. I played violin for 10 years and picked it up (after 3 years!) last week. I’m surprised I still remember how to play!
  6. Some of my¬†favourite movies (I have many, so I’ll just name three)¬†in no particular order are:¬†Pacific Rim, Wolf Children, and¬†Her.
  7. I don’t like coffee and do not drink coffee. But, I do like iced mochas.
  8. In a perfect world, I would dye my hair pastel pink. As a compromise, once I save up enough money I plan to dye my hair a dark crimson.
  9. This is my phone’s ringtone.
  10. I am an INFJ – and despite the criticism of the Myers-Briggs personality types; I am aware of it! – I strongly identify with this personality types, especially with my weaknesses.

Ah, this has been nice to write for a change! (Even though I never knew it was so hard to come up with 10 facts about myself…)

Thank you very much for reading, and have a lovely day! c:

And I’d choose you; in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I’d find you and I’d choose you.

–¬†The Chaos of Stars,¬†Kiersten White

2

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

 

EDIT (Feb 2017): This book (and its subsequent books) contain a white saviour narrative, a problematic slavery/master romance, and a problematic depiction of slavery in general, therefore this book contains harmful content and may be triggering to some readers.
I have left the review I wrote two years ago as is below.


winner's curseThe Winner’s Curse¬†had me at the very first chapter.¬†After, I never looked back: I forwent sleep even though I had work the next morning, I opted to remain standing on the bus even though I was surrounded by free seats because I had to – had to! – keep reading, and I may have snuck a few pages during the lulls at work. I don’t regret it though;¬†The Winner’s Curse¬†is a compelling and fantastic read, and it easily one of my favourite reads of 2015 so far.

There is an addictive quality about Marie Rutkoski’s writing. Perhaps it is the way she gives life to her deep, complex and brilliant characters – side characters included. The¬†protagonists, Kestrel and Arin, were great characters; both had their own kinds of wit and strengths, their own set of values and goals, and remained true to their character development in the face of an unexpected, unexplainable love.

Let me digress for a moment and talk about Kestrel. The young adult-fantasy genre¬†has seen its fair share of ‘bad-ass’ female characters. Often these characters know how to wield a sword or know how to physically fight or defend themselves. Kestrel, though¬†not entirely defenseless, admits to herself that she is not a skilled soldier built for fighting. Instead, her combative strengths lie elsewhere: in strategy and dialogue. And I liked that — I liked that Rutkoski showed that a lead female character could have¬†a different dimension of strength¬†and that¬†a woman can be more than a fighter. Women can be strong or weak in a variety of ways, and strength is not limited to physical strength.

Or, perhaps¬†it was the forbidden love story — that two well-written, strong-willed, and complex characters were susceptible to the seduction¬†of the forbidden fruit. However, despite their innermost and secret feelings, the characters try to resist these impulses and struggled with themselves through cold and calculating¬†logic to¬†maintain their facades and remain loyal¬†to their¬†duties (to an extent). Stupidity was arguably situational or character flaws rather than a¬†byproduct¬†of¬†the nature of their relationship.¬†But of course, resistance and internal struggle in such narratives make the fruit sweeter —¬†the subtle passion was palpable and I will admit my fair share of blushes.

However, if there is anything I’d like to praise, it is Rutkoski’s worldbuilding. It is truly beautiful and awe-inspiring; perhaps one of the most wonderful settings I’ve had the pleasure to read and learn about. The world is beautifully crafted, and is rich in history, culture, politics, and tradition.

One of my biggest apprehensions about reading fantasy is whether I am able to completely immerse myself in a unique universe that I have no knowledge of¬†– to¬†build a world from one’s mind and make firm assertions of what is fact, myth, or superstition. In¬†The Winner’s Curse,¬†the learning process of the two main cultures in the Winner’s¬†universe¬†is flawless and seamless. Rutkoski¬†cleverly¬†weaves values, belief, tradition and politics into the narrative, and it never feels like plain, cut-and-dry exposition. The integration of culture and history gave the¬†story and characters life and depth.

It doesn’t stop there though; as well as a rich background,¬†The Winner’s Curse centres on a post-colonial setting where cultural imperialism and colonialism is fresh in its history. There is such a fascinating narrative underlying the novel, and there is a subtle interplay of rhetoric¬†and ideology which is just as deadly and potent as an army and weapons. The differences between Herrani (the oppressed and colonized) and Valorian (the powerful and colonizers) are not simplistic or superficial. Instead, they¬†are¬†interesting, original, and creative, and is conveyed through memories, dialogue, and conflict. Furthermore, the narrative does not manipulate you to take a¬†particular¬†side in the war. There is no ‘good’ side or ‘bad side’; there are just two sides with different views, both that have their own strengths and flaws, and limits of self-awareness.

But my goodness, did I enjoy¬†The Winner’s Curse. There were moments when my heart pounded from its intensity, times when my thoughts and ideals were provoked, scenes¬†where I blushed and was restless from the romantic tension, moments when I wanted to cry out from frustration or heartbreak.¬†The Winner’s Curse¬†is a wonderful, thrilling, addictive and intricate tale, and it has all you would really want in a novel of its genre: betrayal, power, questions of justice and when violence is justified,¬†friendship, and one heck of a romance. Phew! And now to pick up the sequel,¬†The Winner’s Crime.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Winner’s Curse
Book Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #1
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing