Do We Need a New Adult Section?

Years ago, New Adult (NA) was proposed as a new age range for marketing books.  It would be marketed towards those adults who wanted to move on from reading about teenagers.  Instead, they wanted to read about characters in their 20s who were attending college, graduating college and getting started on a first job, and dating.  The label, however, quickly gained a reputation for being YA but with explicit sex.  That is, so much of NA was erotica, that people assumed all NA was erotica.  Because NA did not offer a variety of genres, people apparently stopped buying it and it never took off as a marketing label.  Sometimes people still use the term to describe a book, but it is not an official label used by publishers or bookstores and, outside of the book blogosphere, it can be difficult to find anyone who knows what NA is.  Now, however, users on Twitter seem interested in resurrecting NA as an age category.  I am not convinced we need it.

The age labels publishers use now generally indicate two things: that a book will likely be of interest to a certain age group and also that it is developmentally appropriate.  So middle grade books talk about death, drugs, romance, and other “mature” topics, but in a different way than YA books do.  Readers in their 20s, however, have no real need for books that are developmentally appropriate.  They are adults and generally will be ready for any content that a reader in their 30s, 40s, or 80s could read.  So the only reason for a NA category is that a book will likely be of interest to a reader in their 20s.

The driving argument behind creating a NA section in bookstores is because readers in their 20s can “relate” to the  characters.  But this is not how readers really read.  Readers in their 20s do not only need to read about characters in their 20s.  Readers in their 40s do not need to read only about characters in their 40s.  And readers in their 70s do not need to read only about characters in their 70s.  Why would we increasingly divide adult books up into different decades so people can only read about characters “just like them?”

The difficulty here is, of course, that people in their 20s are not all the same, even though the current conversations about NA often suggest that they are.  There is, for instance, an emphasis on college and graduating college in discussions of NA, even though not everyone attends college and not everyone who attends will graduate.  There is also an emphasis on “new” experiences such as one’s first job or on dating and maybe finding “the one.”  Few people ever seem to suggest NA about characters who have been working since their teens, characters who are single parents, characters who are married, or characters who are not experiencing various types of “firsts.”  The, probably unintended, implication is that there is one “correct” way to move into adulthood–other experiences are not welcome, or at least not worth reading about.

The current conversation around NA seems like it is geared towards fulfilling a very specific need for a very specific type of reader–the single, college-attending (or recently graduated and job-seeking) reader.  Even readers in their late 20s, who are beyond college and who have been in the work force for some time, are not included in the current suggestions for “relatable” 20-something-year-old characters.  I am not convinced there needs to be a separate label or section for this very specific type of book.  Rather, it seems to me that readers are asking for more books about characters in their 20s or in college and that this need could be fulfilled simply by writing and publishing such books under the current adult label.  Setting aside specific shelves for readers to find these books is not necessary, either, as booksellers and libraries could simply periodically display “reads for recent graduates” or “recommended reads for new college students.”  The type of NA being called for simply is not expansive enough for it to warrant its own section for all 20-somethings who want to read primarily about other 20-somethings.

I understand that readers who enjoy YA are often unenchanted with many of the adult books available.  “Books about divorcees” is how I have heard some people describe adult books.   They do not relate to disillusioned characters and want books about young adults who are hopeful about the future, not mired in despair about a broken love life and terrible job.  But I still think this simply means writers of adult fiction need to expand the types of stories they are telling.  Adulthood does not have to equal disillusionment and sad books are not “deeper” or “more artistic” than joyful books.  Maybe it is time more literature reflected a broader definition of adulthood; we do not need a devoted new adult label to do this.

Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope (DNF, ARC Review)

Song of Blood and Stone

Information

Goodreads: Song of Blood and Stone
Series: Earthsinger Chronicles #1
Source: Shelf Awareness Giveaway
Publication Date: May 1, 2018 (previously self-published)

Official Summary

Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.

Jack’s mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagamiri is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and it’s people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda’s Earthsong to do it. They escape their ruthless captors and together they embark on a perilous journey to save Elsira and to uncover the secrets of The Queen Who Sleeps.

Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation.

The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.

Star Divider

Review

Although I laughed a bit at the publisher’s decision to market this book as “Romeo and Juliet meets The Return of the King” instead of, you know, comparing it to The Lord of the Rings in general (and not just the last third of Tolkien’s work), I was excited to receive an ARC of this in a giveaway. The cover is beautiful, the premise sounds awesome, and I love fantasy.  Unfortunately, none of my expectations were met, and I gave up on the book 125 pages in.

First, I should point out some general information to help temper other readers’ expectations. 1.) This is marketed as new adult, not YA (the lines get blurred when a book gets popular in the YA community). Expect it to have a slightly older protagonist and some explicit sex scenes. 2.) It’s not really epic fantasy on the level of Brandon Sanderson or George R.R. Martin. Comparisons to Tolkien are overused in general, but this book particularly fails to live up to the claim.  I think the publishers were going for a “reluctant monarch/hero” vibe or something, but they could have chosen a much better comp title.

Anyway, I didn’t choose to DNF based on those issues. I DNF’ed because this book is fundamentally boring. After 125 pages, I did not connect to the protagonist, I did not connect to her love interest, I did not feel any chemistry in the romance, and I was not concerned about the “Oh no, the world might end” plot. Why?  A lot of reasons. Shallow characterizations. Instalove (lust?) And a lot of fantasy tropes that didn’t have any unique twists.

I was also wary of an info-dump. There seems to be an interesting magic system in this world, but the magic is possessed only by people who live in another country across a magical barrier that is about to (maybe) fall. (Sounds a bit A Court of Thorns and Roses-ish, really.) Our protagonist’s father is from this country, but he’s dead, so she doesn’t know much about the magic she herself possesses through her heritage.  (Cue pause.) Though I stopped reading and did not get 100% to an info-dump, this just sounded like the world’s most convenient set-up for the protagonist to get a “Here’s the lowdown on how the magic works” speech from someone later in the novel. I wanted more subtlety.

Finally, the plot is very predictable. There’s basically a prophecy/legend about a queenwho may or may not exist.  Some characters think she does. Some don’t.  They wonder if she will awaken in time to affect the course of the world/magical barrier. (Cue pause.) I figured she’s definitely going to awaken, and reading an entire book based on a “Will she or will she not?” premise was a bit of a waste.

This book must have some merit. Enough people must have liked the self-published version for the publishers to think it would be worth picking up, repackaging, and introducing to a larger market. However, it certainly was not for me, and I’m really disappointed.

Briana

 

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (Spoilers)

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Information

Goodreads: A Court of Wings and Ruin
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #3
Source: Purchased
Published: May 2, 2017

Official Summary

Review

The Court of Thorns and Roses series has been a roller coaster of emotions for me as a reader.  Maas knows how to keep her audience on their toes and consistently bring out drama and surprises.  A Court of Wings and Ruin is no exception.  I do think this book is more muted than its predecessor, but that also means that it’s more consistent, in everything from pacing to plotting to character development.

Although this book opens with sort of a sub plot featuring Feyre at the Spring Court, once she returns to the Night Court, there’s a focus on getting Prythian prepared to deal with a war, and I liked that there was a clear overarching plot with a clear stated end goal.  A Court of Mist and Fury was fun but a bit chaotic, and this is a nice break for readers and a good chance for Maas to show off her skills writing a more unified book.

I’ve made it clear that Feyre has been irritating to me throughout the series, though, interestingly, for different reasons in all three books.  Here, Feyre has finally grown into her powers and confidence (though perhaps she’s so powerful and unique that it’s a bit overkill), and that’s really great to see.  She has had a clear character arc over the three novels.  However, I found her fairly hypocritical in this book.  She looks down on her enemies using tactics and powers that apparently are perfectly fine for her.  Somehow, when she’s doing it, it’s different.  (Example: She is horrified that the enemy would break into priestesses minds and make them see something that was not true.  She thinks it’s an abominable violation.  But she does this all the time.  To friends.  To enemies. To neutral people she embroils in her plots. And generally concludes that it’s fine. )  I thought Rhys was a magnificently complex character in A Court of Mist and Fury, but he too starts to fall off into a bit of a trap of thinking “Well, I do what I must, so no point dwelling on it.”

I complained in my review of A Court of Mist and Fury that Tamlin really got the short end of the stick when it came to character development, and I think that remains true here.  To be frank, I don’t even know what’s going on with his character, and Maas seems determined to make him do and believe whatever is most convenient for the plot.  He becomes just sad in this book, rather than a straight-up villain, but the change seems fairly abrupt and probably could have used more development.  It’s a 700 page novel; I think Maas could have worked it in.

In reality, it’s the secondary characters that shine in this installment: Feyre’s sisters, the Night Court, Lucien.  All of these people have layers of personality and history that are slowly unfurled during the course of the novel, and while much of the plot was neatly wrapped up, it’s clear there’s more to learn here, about Elain and Lucien especially.  I would love to read more about them in the future.

I have minor issues with this book, but they’re issues I’ve had with the entire series.  The bottom line for me is that Maas seriously knows how to entertain.  I just need to know what happens next in this series, and to me, that’s a very successful form of writing.  I’ve loved watching the characters grow and the plot unfold for these three books, and I’ll be interested in reading more about Prythian.

Aside: If you want to know my take on the question of “Are there too many sex scenes in this book?” my answer is yes.  Though Feyre does have a kind of sexual development over the series (which seems weird to say, but her attitude towards sex really transforms over time), I think there was a bit much here.  It’s realistic to note that some couples do have a lot of sex, but I think Maas could have gotten the feeling that Feyre and Rhys are really passionate about each other with fewer sex scenes.  To me, the real problem is that they seemed to bog down rather than forward the plot in a few cases.

4 stars Briana

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

Last Call at the Nightshade LoungeInformation

Goodreads: Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge
Series: None
Source: ARC from Quirk Books
Published: June 7, 2016

Summary

After graduating from an Ivy League with a business degree, Bailey Chen is back at home with her parents while she searches for a job in her field. In the meantime, she has landed a gig as a barback at the Nightshade Lounge, courtesy of her high school friend Zane. While her parents continue to pressure her to move on to something better, however, Bailey discovers the real work of the Nightshade Lounge: mixing magical cocktails that allow the bartenders to fight the demons roaming the streets of Chicago. With the number of active demons increasing, Bailey feels compelled to give up her dreams of an office job and lends her strengths to the supernatural fight.

Review

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge brings readers into a fierce urban fantasy world where demons roam the nighttime streets and only magical bartenders can stop them from devouring passing humans. An original premise, where cocktails are magic and bartenders are heroes, helps bring Krueger’s vision of Chicago to life, while silly banter among the main characters keeps the story from being too dark.

The book is being marketed as new adult, which to me means very little besides the fact protagonist Bailey is a recent college graduate. The book tries its best to make her relateable: She has a hard time finding a job that fits her degree, her parents nag her about when she’s going to get a “real” job, and she blunders a bit figuring out how all this adulting stuff works. However, her experiences are certainly not going to feel universal. She went to UPenn, she appears to have no student loans, and, well, she gets the whole demon-hunting job thing to fall in her lap and help her check off the “find a worthwhile career” box. I appreciate the efforts to make Bailey likable and a realistic portrayal of at least someone’s experience of being a recent college grad, but I also felt as if the author was visibly aiming for a new adult vibe with the writing and could almost see the places he thought, “Now, THIS is something a new adult would say. Let me add that in.” Basically, I wish the execution of it all came across as a bit more natural.

I did enjoy some of Bailey’s character arc, however, including her dilemma about how to treat Zane.  They share some complicated history from high school, and Bailey has to figure out how to deal with that, especially considering that Zane seems to have changed since she last saw him four years ago.  That, to me, was possibly the most relateable part of her experience.

Plot-wise, the book does some cool stuff with cocktails and magic.  Different alcohols and drinks produce different effects. It could have been interesting to explore some more of the subtleties–especially as Zane mentions his interest in magical theory several times–but the characters appear to choose drinks at random and then battle the demons with whatever powers that drink gives.  There’s very little thought put into what drink might be a better pick. As someone who reads a decent amount of detailed high fantasy, I would have loved to see more of the strategy behind all the magic.  However, I was delighted by the cocktail recipes interspersed between chapters, which do give readers a glimpse into historical theory.

The demons are not really the main draw of the story either, though they are certainly creepy: disgustingly ugly and intent on sucking the animus out of unsuspecting human. (Actually, I’m not sure why the characters weren’t more scared of these things because they seem to know Latin, and animus means something like soul/spirit/will, which certainly doesn’t sound like something I’d want to lose.   The characters seemed to take it as just as esoteric term for life, though.) However, there’s actually a larger, overarching plot, and the demons are more like the harbingers or greater evils to come.  On one hand, that’s epic.  On the other hand, I thought the demons could have used a little more development.

I liked a lot of the elements of Last Call of the Nightshade Lounge, and would have loved to see them given more development.   I don’t  think the plot as it is needs to be any longer because that would just slow the pacing, but I do think the book could have benefited from beefing up in some select areas.

3 stars Briana

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

ACOTARInformation

Goodreads: A Court of Thorns and Roses
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #1
Source: Giveaway
Published: May 5, 2015

Official Summary

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Review

I wasn’t a huge fan of Maas’s debut, Throne of Glass, but this was in large part because I thought the book still read like something the author had started writing at the age of sixteen, even after extensive revisions before publication.  With this in mind, I decided to give Maas’s new series a chance; after all, fans everywhere are obsessively swooning over the book, and Maas has garnered a lot more writing experience finishing the Throne of Glass series..

As an amalgamation of “Beauty and the Beast” and Faerie lore, A Court of Thorns and Roses isn’t offering something spectacularly original. but it’s still wildly fun and engrossing to read.  The main draw is really the romance–steamy, enthralling, and tantalizingly forbidden.  That is to say, I’m not sure anyone is here for the plot, which for a long while features protagonist Feyre living it up in her captor’s mansion, doing little while pretending she’s a badass (an unconvincing characterization, in my opinion, which I did my best to ignore).  The true attraction are the unfathomably handsome and off-limits Faeries, who do their best to provoke Feyre and reader’s hearts into submission.

However, the plot excels in one particular point.  I always hate the part of “Beauty and the Beast” retellings where Beauty goes away and bad things happen to the Beast and “Oh, no, will she go back to save him?”  We know she’s going back to save him, and it can seem like a tired and unnecessary plot tangent in uninspired retellings.  Maas makes it work, though.  This isn’t a pit stop in her plot; it’s when the plot really gets going and Feyre begins to show more of her character.  I enjoyed this section more than I would ever have anticipated.

The downside to this section of the book, however, is that love interest Tamlin entirely disappears while Feyre takes center stage.  Readers are then introduced to a different male character very much in depth, who quickly becomes far more interesting than Tamlin.  When Beauty and the Beast are finally reunited…I found myself not really caring.  I wanted the other guy.  It looks as if I’ll be getting my wish in the second book to see more of the new guy, but that doesn’t satisfy me.  I can’t help docking stars from a book that drops its own love interest and makes the ending super anti-climatic, no matter how much I liked the rest of the book.

4 stars Briana