Julie Cross: The Comfort of Patterns

“Pressure is just that—pressure. It’s all in your head. It has nothing to do with what you can or can’t do.”
―  Whatever Life Throws at You

I’ve always wondered what was more important as a writer: having the agility to make all of your characters and plots completely unique, or being able to write a few things well.

While having cookie-cutter characters and plots would be totally boring (imagine having a template where you just add in names and places), I think the old adage “write what you know” makes sense.

Julie Cross is a perfect example. Most of her books share similar elements:

  1. There is always at least one set of absentee parents. (what a cliche)
  2. The protagonist is usually a  precocious girl in her late teens who’s socially awkward due to an unusual childhood.
  3. Each story has a heavy sports angle to it.

However, these repeats are precisely what makes her books so compelling. Julie Cross writes with a confident authority about sports. I don’t know much about sports or the training that goes into it. The extent of my athletic capability is using a bike to get around dancing alone in my room for an hour.  However, either Cross was once a serious athlete or someone close to her was.  She writes so competently about the persistence, the determination and the challenges an athlete faces, it’s hard to believe anything else.  She doesn’t name drop terms or over-explain them; she just inserts them in a way that is immaculate and natural.
Note: I just googled her and found out that she was a former gymnast and now she’s a coach. 

Though there is always at least a dead parent or a dead-beat one, there is also a rational, supportive adult the protagonist can rely on. Julie Cross is fantastic in dismantling the young adult “the adults can’t be trusted trope”. This is not to say the coach/remaining parent is rah-rah, perfect and infallible . More often than not, they don’t know how to bridge the gap with their teenage ward. They enforce curfews and limit independence and have no idea how to talk about feminine issues. But they do try hard. They are stable and present, making it obvious they have the protagonist’s best interests at heart. Watching an angsty teenager and clueless adult bridge the communication gap and build a strong relationship is truly amazing.  I don’t usually make judgments about people’s personal lives, but I think she would be an amazing mother. I know I sound like a stereotypical teen, but she just gets it. 

“You’re always observing people, but maybe you’re studying the wrong things.”
-Third Degree

By reading her books, you can tell that Julie Cross really likes slow-paced, mature relationships. The romance between characters is always born out of friendship and trust. It begins with talking, then there are demonstrated common interests and showing that you understand and care about your to-be-significant-other. This is the ideal I aspire to for love. The characters (and Julie Cross by extension) deal with sex and intimacy in almost a grown-up way. There is no raging jealousy over exes, although there is some insecurity, which is dealt with by talking (how novel!). In Cross’s books, sex is a big deal (most of her teenage girls are socially isolated and young enough for them to be completely inexperienced) but it’s not called a “precious gift” or a guarantee of marriage. She doesn’t even imply that the first time is perfect; in fact, the moments leading up to it are a bit awkward.

I don’t like “Letters to Nowhere” and “Whatever Life throws” and “Third Degree” in spite of the repetitive patterns. I like them because of it.

Third DegreeWhatever Life Throws at YouLetters to Nowhere (Letters to Nowhere, #1)

 

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Margaret Atwood Quotables

I love that wonderful rhetorical device, “a male friend of mine.” It’s often used by female journalists when they want to say something particularly bitchy but don’t want to be held responsible for it themselves. It also lets people know that you do have male friends, that you aren’t one of those fire-breathing mythical monsters, The Radical Feminists, who walk around with little pairs of scissors and kick men in the shins if they open doors for you. “A male friend of mine” also gives—let us admit it—a certain weight to the opinions expressed.

It’s been two years since I began this blog. At that point, it was supposed to be about Young Adult Dystopian books and although I’ve stuck to the young-adult theme, I’ve moved past the dystopian part.

Maragret Atwood is most notable for her book, the Handmaiden’s tale. It’s a very creepy dystopia where women are sold to rich men for reproductive purposes. In the Handmaiden’s Tale world, women have no function other than to serve as concubines. (Talk about objectification).

I wouldn’t consider it YA by any stretch of the imagination, but it is the bread of dystopia. Staple literature which is pretty satisfying.

Plus, Margaret Atwood is a pretty interesting person. Besides being a novelist, she’s also a poet, a business-woman and environmental activist. Clearly she’s a Renaissance woman.

However, I’ve also associated her with the word feminism (Although when I looked her up today, I learned that she’s actually said she’s not a feminist writer). It’s probably because of this quote:

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.

And this one:

We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.

And this one:

A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women.

I was surprised by some of the quotes that are attributed to her. I mean, I’ve heard of them, but I never realised they were her quotes.  Does anybody recognise this quote?

The Eskimo has fifty-two names for snow because it is important to them; there ought to be as many for love.

And the Gandhian quote, “An eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind” rephrased a bit.

An eye for an eye only leads to more blindness.

I’ll end this post with a quote about young-adults.

I’ve never understood why people consider youth a time of freedom and joy. It’s probably because they have forgotten their own.

Jojo Moyes: Maybe She Writes for Young Adults Too.

Here’s to a bloody brilliant British author who, with her gaining popularity might actually be able to convince those Americans across the pond that their cousins aren’t really all crisp accents, 5 O’clock teas and prim and proper (admit it fellow star spangled banner-ers: you heard it as prop-uh in your head).
And how does she do that? With her mind-blowing honest-feeling, sweet  and believable books, of course!

I know I usually stick to YA books and Jojo Moyes is traditionally considered an adult romance writer, but I think that Jojo Moyes books are something that YA fans would appreciate.
First of all, her characters are believable and natural. Don’t resist sympathising and empathising with the characters- it’s futile. Maybe it’s poor, harassed cleaner and single-mother of two who’s fast losing track of her morals but it still so beautifully hopeful and loving towards her children or the computer geek (turned millionaire), trying hard not to disappoint his military father and whose awful luck with women end with a lawsuit against insider training in One Plus One. Or perhaps it’s the precocious 10  year old girl who desperately wants to go into the water where the marine animals she loves are and is keeping a terrible secret for her mother or the British executive who’s scoping out the land for a watersports hotel (also because he’s having doubts about marriage) but falls in love with the beach, a family of tough women who live there and the whales who migrate there in Silver Moon Bay. It could be the copywriter living in a glass house with a striking painting who’s still half in love with her dead husband or the great painter’s brave wife running a bar and hotel during German occupation during WW2 in the Girl You Left Behind. Whoever it is, you can’t walk away from these books without the characters touching your heart- no your soul. They are just that colourful and vibrant but worn and tired and relatable at the same times.
Second, it deals with moral conundrums that will leave you reeling. Is it okay to steal if you really need it, you know the person won’t miss it and you plan to pay it back? (No.) Can you sleep with a Nazi commander with a strange fascination with art to save your husband from a camp? (Yes, if that’s what you believe). At what point do you choose your personal convictions and moral beliefs over your job? (When you know that something that will haunt you forever if you don’t do what you believe in). Non-preachy and thought provoking- most YA novels wish they did the whole problem-solving thing this well.

Third, she does great side-by-side comparisons of the characters. It’s not a common plot device, but Jojo Moyes often tells two love stories in parallel: one historical and one contemporary, with a common thread linking the two stories together like family, a letter or a painting. It’s whimsical and beautiful, and the juxtaposition really highlights the differences. However, at the same time it shows that human character and things like love, friendship, family, loss and change remain the same- no matter the time period. And that may be the most brilliant thing of all!

Fourth, Jojo Moyes writes about ‘real’ men. Yes, the teen guys in YA books have chiseled jaws, six packs, brooding countenance and smouldering green eyes, but let’s be honest- how many guys have you seen like that? The guys in Jojo Moye’s books are less perfect and are more beautiful for it. With thinning hair, or slightly thicker abdomens than ideal- the love interests in her book could be anybody you know. They may not look perfect, and they’re not perfect- by any stretch of  the imagination. But the men (for these are men, not boys or guys) are principled, skilled, intelligent and patient with hearts of gold- people you’d want in a long-term relationship.

If I had to start you off with one Jojo Moyes book, I’d suggest the Girl You Left Behind. With half the story set in France during WW2 and the other half set in modern-day New York, it’s about love and loss and belief and art-appreciation. The book absolutely wrecked me, because at times it was so, so, sad. No spoilers, but there was a  HEA ending (It wouldn’t be chick-lit without it).  Read the prequel, Honeymoon in Paris. It showcases a different side to the characters, gives you some backstory that you’ll really appreciate after reading the Girl You Left Behind and will get you attached to the characters.
The Girl You Left Behind

Honeymoon in Paris

If you dislike WW2 stories, read Me Before You. It’s no less hard-hitting or tragic, dealing with life debilitating injuries, hopes, real falling in love, bitter rich men, family and suicides.  It’s one of her best-known books for a reason, you know.

Me Before You

So Rainbow Rowell, Elizabeth Wein and John Green fans looking to move towards books targeted towards older audiences, Jojo Moyes is the author for you. Chick-lit lovers and romance fans, Jojo Moyes is the one you’ve been looking for. Hell, if you’re above the age of 14 and female (I don’t mean to stereotype, but…I don’t know many guys who are into the chick-lit/romance scene).

Quotables:

 “All I can say is that you make me… you make me into someone I couldn’t even imagine. You make me happy, even when you’re awful. I would rather be with you – even the you that you seem to think is diminished – than with anyone else in the world.”
– Me Before You

“I was once told by someone wise that writing is perilous as you cannot always guarantee your words will be read in the spirit in which they were written.”
-The Last Letter From Your Lover

“Some mistakes… just have greater consequences than others. But you don’t have to let that night be the thing that defines you.”
-One Plus One

Writers Inspiration: Neil Gaiman

“Life is a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal.”

This is a quote from Neil Gaiman, a fantastic writer.
The Graveyard Book, The Sandman, Coraline, American Gods, Newverwhere, Good Omens- chances are you recognise at least one of the books. And he’s practically legendary for his dedications. But if there’s one thing that I really admire him for, it’s his ability to convey all the hopes and aspirations of wanna-be writers and life-livers.

He admitted that C S Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia) had inspired him to use parantheses:

“I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you … I’d think, ‘Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.'”

As someone who really loves parentheses but probably uses them ineffectively (you would know), that quote really struck a chord with me. The words inside parentheses are often cheeky, sarcastic or instructional. C S Lewis, Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket are masters of this rare art.

As amazing as that is, that’s not even the most inspiring thing that (in my opinion that he’s said).

Neil Gaiman Quote Continue reading

Lauren Layne : Isn’t She Lovely?

Remember that post I did recently about Why New Adult Romance and I Have Never Got Along? I am forced to take some of that back. Don’t get me wrong! I dislike the genre as much as I always have but I know that there are some exceptions (actually, if you read that post carefully, you’ll notice that I never implied that all NA was bad.)

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that NA is a sub-category of YA. As much as I dislike the New Adult genre in general, I’m not completely willing to write it off for this reason. It may also be because the 18-25 age bracket which NA is all about is one that I’m eagerly anticipating. Although…if NA’s an accurate representation of that life, I may be actually willing to wait till I’m 18 and in college.

Getting back onto the topic of the hour: Lauren Layne. Lauren Layne’s books aren’t exactly quality literature. I’m sorry to say that, but if I had to classify it into a category it would be a guilty pleasure (for some of them but I’ll get to that later).

Isn't She Lovely (Redemption, #0.5)

The first Lauren Layne book that I read was ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ and it’s a retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion. In case you need a refresher, Pygmalion was a sculptor who one day, decided to carve a sculpture of his ideal woman. Ironically, he fell in love with her. He prayed she’d come to life and she did but eventually she was unable to live up to his expectations. I’ve always loved the myth of Pygmalion- it does show that you can’t simply project your desires onto someone else because you’ll only end up disappointed that way. However, I had no idea that My Fair Lady (which I completely adore, by the way) was inspired by Pygmalion.
Lauren Layne and her characters do a superb job casting themselves in a modernized version of My Fair Lady set in New York where instead of a cockney accent, it’s her goth self that the protagonist has to give up. In true new adult fashion, the protagonist has a deep, dark past (which I’m sorry to say only evoked sympathy not empathy from me) and is using god-ugly boots and thick eyeliner as a shield to protect herself from her tragic past. She’s grown to accept it as part of her and is understandably hesitant to cast it off, even if it’s for the sake of a film project in which she has to infiltrate the upper echlons of New York society.

One thing that had me really excited me about the book was the beginning. Stephanie, the protagonist and main narrator begins with a sarcastic explanation of what a meet-cute is ( I totally get points for knowing what a meet-cute is despite hating film, right?). To be honest, I’m tired of meet-cute’s- a couple’s first meeting in which something embarrassing or totally embarrassing happens. When a couple has a meet-cute, they always have a good answer to ‘So, how did you two meet?’- so when I got this sarcastic meet-cute, I was pretty thrilled. Although, slamming into a guy and having him help you pick up your feminine sanitary products…well that’s really a meet-cute.

It’s not just in this book. Lauren Layne has a real penchant for meet-cute’s. In the sequel to this book Broken, I think there’s a reference to suicidal tendencies and giving the ‘circus-freak’ a dollar to see his scars. In her book, Only For You, there’s the mother of all meet-cute’s- the love interest mistakes her for a …gasp! hooker! I’m still on the fence as to whether I like meet-cute’s or not…

One thing that Lauren Layne was not able to convince me of is Happy Ever Afters. I still don’t like HEA’s and I mean no offense, but I really dislike the huge demonstrative ones in which you make a significant change to your lifestyle and then run half-way across the country to show your significant other how serious you are in your desire to get back together to your significant other. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been in a relationship, but I really don’t see the appeal.

The beginning and ending may seem a little formulatic but I can promise you the in-between is completely organic and beautiful. Lauren Layne is brillinant with her double- PoV . This is  made even more impressive by the fact that one character is male! The plot actually moves along (unlike most NA’s) and the dialogue is so witty and cute it’s…lovely.

Broken (Redemption, #1)

This is the case for the sequel to this book, Broken even though it’s more angsty. It’s also true for her The Best Mistake series which deals with older and more mature characters (and scenes). I wasn’t able to properly enjoy her Sex, Love and Stiletto series because I highy doubt journalists are able to lead lifestyles like ones shown in the books-which reminds me, that a film-buff friend was unexcited by the lack of filmi-passion in this book.

That hardly makes Lauren Layne’s books formulatic or even similar to each other. One thing I really enjoy about her books is how each romance is so different, but still so beautiful. I recently wrote to her

Me:

Not really a question, but after reading Isn’t She Lovely, Broken, Only for You and Made for you- how is it possible that you’re able to write such different romances and that they’re all so great?

Her reply:
Aww, so sweet of you to say this! Especially since it’s something I worry about as an author … there’s always this sense that the “superfans” of one book won’t like the next one because it’s so different. Isn’t She Lovely and Broken were especially like this for me!! Isn’t She Lovely was snarky and funny, Broken was a bit more gritty. Was worried I’d alienate my ISL fans!
So it’s lovely that you wrote this message 🙂 Mostly it comes down to trying to do your best by the book … writing the character/story as it comes into your head without deliberately trying to make it emotional/sad/funny, whatever.

Isn’t that inspiring? Isn’t she lovely?

The Lion Hunters: Why Isn’t This Series More Popular?

Mention the name Elizabeth Wein and if you’re familiar with young adult books, you’ll probably think of Code Name: Verity . I’m not saying that’s a problem, because I fully agree that it’s an amazing book. With it’s amazing friendship, unreliable narrators, action packed plot and stunning dialogue, how could I say otherwise? In fact it’s even on my list of Top 5 YA  Must-Reads (Even If You’re an Adult). It’s sequel, Rose Under Fire is pretty well known too.

But how many of you have hard of the Lion Hunter’s series? <scans the room for hands up> How many of you have actually read them? <watches hands drop one by one> Yes, I thought so.

The Winter Prince (The Lion Hunters, #1)A Coalition of Lions (The Lion Hunters, #2)The Sunbird (The Lion Hunters, #3)The Lion Hunter (The Lion Hunters, #4)The Empty Kingdom (The Lion Hunters, #5)

I can admit it, the covers aren’t as gorgeous as the Cod Name: Verity ones but that’s really no excuse. The series is set in the Medieval Period, with the first book set in the mighty Great Britain and the other four set in rich and exotic African Aksum and Hiymar. Elizabeth Wein’s distinctive, almost lyrical (without venturing into the purple-prose zone) writing brings the world to life with it’s gritty details of dirty streets, brutal violence, and familial jealousy alongside opulent palaces, egoistic princes and the deep loyalty between family. Why wouldn’t you want to read the series?

As if that isn’t enough, Elizabeth Wein has a horde of strong, three-dimensional, compelling characters (both male and female in this series) narrating their plots. When you read these books, you’ll find yourself enthralled by the twisting plots of intrigue and trying to puzzle out the motives of each of the characters. Full of spies, conspiracies and snarled politics, in this series it’s important to remember that no one’s good and no one’s evil but everyone has their own agenda.

Go ahead. Read this series if you want historical fiction which keeps you eyes glued to the pages and your fingers frantically turning. Read the series if you want to read a dark young adult book with unique and brilliant characters that will leave you breathless. Read the series if you want to be transported into a hauntingly beautiful Medieval world. Even if you don’t, read it anyways. You’re not likely to regret it.

Reading order: (covers above)

  1. The Winter Prince
  2. Coalition of Lions
  3. The Sunbird
  4. The Lion Hunter
  5. The Empty Kingdom

Top 5 Realistic Fiction YA Authors

I’ve read a lot of young adult books. Inevitably, I guess that means I’ve read a lot of realistic young adult fiction. This genre holds a special place in my heart because the characters in the (good) books of this genre are so realistic. It’ very easy (sometimes it seems too easy) to put yourself in their shoes, to understand their ambitions and be totally crippled by their losses. These term ‘The Feels’ was coined for these kind of books.

I love these books but a huge part (if not all) of the enjoyability is attributed to the authors who write such amazing books. Here’s my list of the top 5 realistic fiction authors. They write characters which make you fall in love their dialogue will make you laugh, their stories will make you cry and the books themselves will drive you crazy in the best way possible.

1.)

Author: Jenny Han

Books: 

To All the Boys I've Loved Before (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #1)Burn for Burn (Burn for Burn, #1)The Summer I Turned Pretty (Summer, #1)

Blog: www.dearjennyhan.com
Twitterhttps://twitter.com/jennyhan


2.)

Author: Melina Marchetta

Books: 

On the Jellicoe RoadSaving FrancescaThe Piper's Son

Blog: melinamarchetta.wordpress.com
Twitter:https://twitter.com/MMarchetta
My Reviews: On the Jellicoe Road


3.)

Author: Ally Carter

Books:

Heist Society (Heist Society, #1)I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls, #1)

Blog: allycarter.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/OfficiallyAlly


4.)

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Books: 

Eleanor & ParkFangirl

Blog: www.rainbowrowell.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/rainbowrowell
My Reviews:
Rainbow Rowell: Rant or Rave About


5.)

Author: Gayle Foreman

Books: 

Just One Day (Just One Day, #1)If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)

Blog: gayleforman.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/gayleforman
My Reviews:
Just One Day/Just One Year


So here are my Top 5 Realistic YA fiction authors. No they’re not in any specific order. Do you think I missed anyone out? Who would you include on this list? Who would you leave out?