Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Series: The Ivy Chronicles
Other Reviews for This Author: Firelight; Vanish
Sophie Jordan has written in a number of genres successfully - historical romance, YA paranormal, and now New Adult. I picked up Foreplay with high hopes because of Jordan's skills in writing sexual tension and internal character angst, both of which are strong points in the New Adult genre. The Ivy Chronicles also promised a New Adult series with traditional romance series qualities. This means that each book follows a new couple rather than the continuing stories of the original couple introduced in the series. Frankly, while I like stories that span multiple books, I like switching up the couples so that the sexual tension between one isn't stretched into oblivion so soon. Jordan does everything to perfection in Foreplay. It uses tropes of the genre that keep it from feeling entirely new, yet it has a fresh quality to the voice that plays up everything there is to love about Jordan's writing style.
There is nothing worse than feeling unsafe. To Pepper, safety has been an illusion since she lived with her mother throughout her childhood. Traveling, watching her mother pick up "boyfriends" that never stayed in the picture long enough to count, and suppressing the dark memories of those years has taken a toll on Pepper. She may be a grown girl in college with friends and a life, but she finds herself wanting time and time again to feel safe. It's the only way that she can truly escape the feelings that have stayed with her for years.
Hunter is Pepper's way out. He's the brother of her best friend from home. He's gorgeous, polite, successful, and the perfect example of a society boy that gives a damn. The catch? Hunter hasn't been single in ages; he's never had the chance to see Pepper as more than a friend/sister. Hell, she went to the same college as him and he still doesn't see her as a full adult yet. It only makes sense to hatch a plan - a plan to find a way to get Hunter to notice Pepper when he finally, for the first time in years, is single again.
Pepper is going to learn how to seduce him. She's going to learn foreplay. In order to do this, Pepper finds herself learning by experience with a local bartender who has a reputation for being a bad boy. Sexy as fuck and totally unattainable, Reece is exactly the kind of guy that Pepper can learn from. His experience will teach her and his sexiness will make her desirable to Hunter. The only problem is that Reece doesn't open up to many people - and, when he opens up to Pepper, she realizes that she doesn't think of him as just some sexy dude to practice foreplay with. But Pepper loves Hunter. Pepper loves security.
So why does she find herself thinking of Reece?
Sophie Jordan hits the perfect mixture of angst and romance in Foreplay. The story is told in a close-view first person narrative that looks at the insecurities of Pepper, the protagonist, and it follows her sexual awakening as a college student with a sexy, experienced, and damaged guy. It's basically one of many in the bundle of NA novels in existence - yet it's not. Sophie Jordan knows how to write a book that will strike the right notes with commercial readers and still impress those that have been following her work and expecting something more. Whereas a lot of NA novels similar to Foreplay feel worn thin, too long, Foreplay itself shows a skill with narrative that those other novels lack. It's basically a skillful version of the story path that people have been proven to love, and Sophie Jordan should be commended for revamping it into a story that feels high in quality without losing the addictive nature of the storyline.
The heroine of Pepper has a brilliant voice. It comes across as intelligent and adult while still slightly naive. She doesn't go TSTL (too stupid to live), her mistakes being ones born of a past that is admittedly predictable but believable considering her character decisions. Pepper is not a character that will feel immature to readers - which is a big deal in NA. I find that many NA authors make their characters too immature for the college-aged scenario. College immaturity is remarkably different from high school immaturity in some ways, and it's really important for authors to differentiate that when writing NA. Sophie Jordan does it perfectly. Pepper's insecurities are about sex and how she can function in a real relationship; she understands why she wants to be with Hunter and why she starts to like Reece. There is personal denial within her narrative, but there is underlying awareness. Her intelligence of self is much more in line with a college-aged protagonist. It makes the narrative feel more emotionally realistic, too. Pepper doesn't live in a cloud of total ignorance about herself; her emotions simply get the best of her because of the difficult nature of her past.
I think that Jordan also does well with Reece and Hunter. Reece is actually portrayed as the one who wants something before Pepper does. He's rough around the edges, but he is sensitive and wants her to be pleased both emotionally and physically. The sensitivity keeps him from being any type of a douchebag. On the contrary, his hard-rock-bartender exterior is superficial when it comes to the man underneath that gives all of the shits about Pepper and her life. Reece is just the perfect example of the kind of guy that you want to fall in love with in college. He's different, he makes you rethink sex, and he actually cares about you in a way that no one has before because of being either a douchebag asshat or just plain immature. Reece is not a douchebag asshat and he is definitely not immature. His ability to manage the bar and take his father's guilt for himself also allows him to become someone you sympathize with.
I just fucking love Reece.
Hunter, and the other secondary friend characters that room with Pepper, are less developed but solid in what they represent for the narrative. Hunter is basically a very sweet boy that just so happens to not light Reece's ladyfire. He's a nice enough guy but just doesn't spark the narrative. It's understandable why Reece likes him because of that lack of spark. In many ways, he is safe because of his representation of traditional wealthy family that is more about affection than sexual attraction. That doesn't always get explicitly stated - it could be said that Pepper just wants sexual attraction from the get-go - but it says a lot that her focus on Hunter isn't sexual from the beginning the way that it is with Reece. In one, she thinks of him in both sex and affection. With the other, it's just affection, and that makes all the difference.
Pepper's friends seem as though they are supportive and a good example of college friends. Each has different viewpoints on sex and relationships, which is pretty standard for a group of friends, and the distinctive personalities help prevent them from becoming basic wallpaper characters. I do think it would have helped the narrative to have more scenes with them bonding and being friends, as college friendships are just as important as college relationships. It would help make the series go beyond the usual NA formula in other ways, and Jordan certainly has the ability to write compelling friendships (I'm thinking of her Firelight series as I say this) if she has the chance and the page space. Over the course of three books, there's a lot that can happen here that could elevate the storytelling.
The flow of the story is perfect. I literally got addicted to the storytelling. I had trouble putting the book down. In college, that can be a problem when you have work piling up and clubs to go to. Foreplay is just the write length with just the right pacing. Internal monologue isn't too heavy, though it is very present because of Pepper's personal issues, and the dialogue is witty. I love it when romantic characters have good bantering skills. Some of the plot devices towards the end feel a bit machinated compared to the organic building of the romantic relationship, but I think Jordan pulls things off with the emotions to the point where the reader doesn't give a shit if a plot point or two is a bit convenient. That's a sign of good storytelling - when seeing the cogs and innards of how it works doesn't affect how you view your enjoyment of it.
Sophie Jordan just rocks. Firelight is one of my favorite YA paranormal series because of the heart and intention behind it, and I think Jordan has taken all of her writing strengths - and the strengths of that series in particular - and used them to her advantage in Foreplay. It's sexy, meaningful, dramatic, humorous, and something you can't put down. If every book was able to convey just how hot a new and mature college relationship is the way Foreplay does...well, let's just say people would be a lot more excited to try dating in college after romantic struggles. Sophie Jordan is great at what she does. I literally cannot wait for the next book in this series because of it.
Cover: It's very sexy, slightly generic, but has a good color scheme and font style that will appeal to people on the shelves and digitally.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thanks, Heather and Harper Collins!)