Tag Archives: Fantasy

Middle Grade Memories: Author Lauren Billings (+ Giveaway!)

27 Jun

This summer, every Monday and Wednesday, I am hosting a series of guest posts here on my blog called Middle Grade Memories. In this series, authors, agents, librarians, and editors talk about their favorite childhood middle grade books. I’m beyond thrilled to share their middle grade memories with you.

Below is the eleventh post in the series, by YA author Lauren Billingswhom I adore so much that if it were acceptable to shrink a person and keep her in your pocket as your little pocket friend . . . I would do that to her.

. . . Ahem.

Read on as Lauren talks about one of her favorite childhood middle grade books, Howl’s Moving Castle. Then check out the giveaway!

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There were a lot of years (ummm mostly those between birth and high school graduation) when my knees were the widest part of my leg, I was taller than every single boy in school, wore a retainer, and was never entirely sure how to style my curly-straight hair (that’s still kind of true).  I understood that I was just in a perpetually awkward phase, and that it would eventually end (DEARGODPLEASE), but I wasn’t ever sure that when I was no longer consumed with awkward, I could be somebody extraordinary.

At twelve, I wanted desperately to be thirteen. At thirteen, I wanted NOTHING MORE ON THIS PLANET than to be fourteen. And so on times infinity. I read Howl’s Moving Castle when I was twelve, at – let’s be honest – the peak of my angst over boobs and giant knees and all-wrong hairstyles. This book kind of changed my world, you guys.

Sophie isn’t all that amazing to start. She’s got some magic skills, sure, but otherwise she’s kind of dull and has resigned herself to be surrounded by hats forever and ever and ever. I love it. Hats? How miserable. But then she insults the Witch of Waste and gets turned into an old lady. RUH ROH! She leaves home to go work as the cleaning lady for the mysterious wizard Howl (who APPARENTLY EATS YOUNG GIRLS’ SOULS ACK OMG WHAT?) and what do you know? Old Lady Sophie starts kicking butt. She bossily pushes herself into the hearts of everyone in this crazy moving castle. Suddenly all of those teenage insecurities are gone and Sophie turns into a total firecracker.

And that’s just the beginning. I don’t want to get into the story because trust me, it’s so good to go in not knowing more than this. It got confusing sometimes (because this book has All the Smarts) and I had to go back and re-read it a lot, but it was because I wanted to absorb every crumb. I forced all of my friends to read it. It went like this:

Me: “READ THITH BOOK, IT ITH AWETHOME.” [<- remember the retainer]
Friend: “But your knees are so huge Lo! And OMG what did you do to your hair?”
Me: “Shuth up and read thith awethome book!”

Some did – they loved it. Some told me it was too slow a read, or they didn’t get it. Those friends were eternally banished because (1) the prose is delightful and (2) nothing in the world is better than the characters in Howl’s castle. The plot is fun, the world-building is great, but the characters are simply my favorite characters of all time. For one, they’re smart and figure things out before I did (it’s a pet peeve). Also, Sophie does all these things to make Howl and Michael and Calcifer CRAZYPANTS and then when they call her on it, she’s like “Yeah, so?” And finally (maybe most importantly), Michael is adorably innocent, Calcifer is mysterious and fabulous, and HELLO! Howl is seriously swoony. There is a lot of romance in this one. It will always and forever be on the top of my swoon list just because of Howl and Sophie’s best-ever love-hate relationship.

It wasn’t a MESSAGE BOOK, but it still got the message to me better than any other book had: it doesn’t matter what’s on the outside. No, seriously, it doesn’t. Go have adventures. Go be extraordinary.

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ABOUT LAUREN

Lauren Billings (but everyone calls her Lo) lives a wonderfully schizophrenic life: by day, she is a Ph.D. scientist, doing nerdy-research stuff. In all other hours, her world is youthful: she is silly Mommy to two littles, and an unabashed lover of YA lit. She is represented by Holly Root of the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency.

website | blog | twitter | goodreads

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GIVEAWAY

To celebrate Lauren’s post, she is generously giving away a copy of Howl’s Moving Castle, as well as a tote sporting one of her favorite quotes from the book! (She is still debating about which quote to use because apparently there are MANY. Could I want to read this book more? I DON’T THINK SO.)

To win, simply comment below and tell us about your experience with Howl’s Moving Castle. Have you read and loved this book? How did it influence you? Have you watched the movie? How was it, as book-to-movie adaptations go? What are your middle grade memories?

For an extra entry, tweet about this post and include the link to your tweet in your comment.

This giveaway begins now and ends Tuesday, July 1 at 11:59 a.m. EST. The winner will be announced shortly thereafter. This giveaway is U.S./Canada only.

EDITED 7/23: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to he winner . . .

Julianna!

Thank you to all commenters, and thanks to all who read this post. Stay tuned for more Middle Grade Memories posts and giveaways throughout the summer!

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Love Middle Grade Memories? Check back on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer for more in this series!

You can view previous Middle Grade Memories posts below:

Middle Grade Memories: Author Jay Kristoff (+ Giveaway!)

23 May

This summer, every Monday and Wednesday, I am hosting a series of guest posts here on my blog, a series called Middle Grade Memories. In this series, authors, agents, librarians, and editors talk about their favorite childhood middle grade books. I’m beyond thrilled to share their middle grade memories with you.

Below is the third post in the series, by Jay Kristoff, author of the upcoming YA Japanese steampunk fantasy Stormdancer, the first in The Lotus War trilogy. Read on as Jay talks about one of his favorite childhood middle grade books, The Hobbit. Then check out our giveaway!

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I was about nine years old when I figured out I was weird.

Not weird like the kids in Village of the Damned are weird, all perfect blonde hair and spooky telepathy and whatnot. I don’t think I ever popped anyone’s head open with miiiind bullets or spoke with a crisp British accent. I just didn’t fit where I was supposed to. It seems almost pseudo-cool to be a geek nowadays, but back in those days, bullies were all over geeks like white on rice and I used to walk five miles every day to school in the snow with no shoes and there was no such things as electricity and I used to get up at the crack of dawn to milk the sheep and butter the pigs and OH GOD I’M TALKING LIKE AN OLD PERSON.

Point is, I didn’t really know where I fit, or what I liked. What it was that was supposed to drive me. So let me tell a story about the day I found out and the book that helped me do it.

One day in English class, little Jay (yes, I’m speaking of myself in the third person, but relax, it’ll pass) got given a book. It was a compilation of great works of fiction. Kinda like a ‘best of’ album, but instead of it being a batch of radio-friendly hits from some balding former rock stars who need to put their kids through college, it was a book with chapters from all these other great books inside. An uberbook, if you will. And flipping through all these wonderful words, little Jay found a chapter called ‘Riddles in the Dark’.

Little Jay read it all the way through. And when he hit the end, he went back and read it again. As anyone with any geek-cred knows, Riddles in the Dark is chapter 5 of J.R.R Tolkein’s The Hobbit. It told the story of a fellow named Bilbo Baggins, who lost his friends in the Misty Mountains and came across a wretched lonely little creature called Gollum. Gollum wanted to eat Bilbo – not just kill him, but literally EAT HIM RAW, which is a pretty awesome/scary concept for a nine year old to wrap his tiny brainmeats around.

Bilbo, understandably, rather enjoyed his current status of ‘not-eaten’, raw or otherwise. And so the pair got into a riddle contest, which Bilbo essentially cheated at, but hey, he escaped without any teeth marks in his butt, so fair’s fair. And at lunchtime, little Jay literally ran to the library and asked “OMG HAVE YOU HEARD OF THIS HOBBIT BOOK THING?” and his lovely school librarian lady smiled sweetly and said “Yes. Yes I have.”

And that moment pretty much changed his life.

Alright, enough of this third person stuff. Point is, finally I had something I felt a kinship with. Finally I found a place I belonged – not just Middle Earth – but a place inside my head where anything and everything was possible. Everything made more sense after that – I realized I wasn’t alone in my weirdness, that there were other people out there like me – enough of them that whole BOOKS were written for them. The Hobbit lit a fire that has never gone out. From Middle Earth I moved onto lands like Narnia, Terabithia, Pern, or Krynn, and now, decades later, I’m building my own. But it all started in that little cave in the Misty Mountains.

It almost seems the done thing amongst ‘hardcore’ fantasy readers these days to disparage Tolkein – to call his works patriarchal or dry, to say he romanticised rural culture and demonized industry out of some misguided desire to cling to an age that never really existed. But when you’re a nine year old kid, you don’t care about any of that. You care about the clever burglar who, despite being small and afraid, became a hero and changed the course of the world. Because that’s what every nine-year-old in the world wants to be. At least every nine-year-old like me.

I used to re-read The Hobbit every now and then, but I don’t do it anymore. Our perceptions of the books we read are shaped by the people we are when we read them. And now that I’m a ‘grown-up’, and a ‘writer’, everything I read gets analysed and dissected like some rat on a slab. I want to leave the Hobbit where it is – on some dusty shelf in my mind, with all its imagined perfection. Because I can honestly say you wouldn’t be reading these words if I hadn’t read Professor Tolkien’s words when I was nine years old, if Bilbo’s story hadn’t awakened me to the magic that lives inside books. And for that alone, it deserves a little romanticized perfection in my head.

But thanks J.R.R. And thanks lovely school librarian lady, too. :)

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ABOUT JAY

Jay Kristoff grew up in the most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. He spent most of his formative years locked in his bedroom with piles of books, or gathered around dimly-lit tables rolling polyhedral dice. Being the holder of an Arts degree, he has no education to speak of.

Jay’s debut novel, Stormdancer, a Japanese-inspired steampunk fantasy, will be published by St Martin’s Press/Tor UK in September 2012 as the first installment of The Lotus War trilogy.

Jay is 6’7 and has approximately 13870 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell.

He does not believe in happy endings

blog | twitter | goodreads

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GIVEAWAY

Jay is awesomely and generously giving away a copy of a Stormdancer-related picture book — made by Jay himself! How awesome is that?! And check out the adorable cover:

To win a copy of The Little Stormdancer, as well as a copy of The Hobbit, simply comment below and tell us about your experience with The Hobbit! Have you read and loved it? How did it influence you? Are you excited about the movie? What are your middle grade memories?

For an extra entry, tweet about this post and include the link to your tweet in your comment.

This giveaway begins now and ends next Tuesday, May 29 at 5:00 p.m. EST. The winner will be announced shortly thereafter. This giveaway is international.

EDITED 5/29: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winner . . .

Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

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Love Middle Grade Memories? Check back on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer for more in this series!

You can view previous Middle Grade Memories posts below:

Middle Grade Memories: Author Marissa Burt (+ Giveaway!)

14 May

This summer, every Monday and Wednesday, I am hosting a series of guest posts here on my blog, a series called Middle Grade Memories. In this series, authors, agents, librarians, and editors talk about their favorite childhood middle grade books. I’m beyond thrilled to share their middle grade memories with you.

Below is the first post in the series, by Marissa Burt, middle grade fantasy author of Storybound (and its upcoming sequel, Story’s End). Read on as Marissa talks about one of her favorite childhood middle grade books, Where the Red Fern Grows. Then check out her generous giveaway!

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First, for those who aren’t familiar with the story or need a refresher, Marissa has provided a summary from Amazon:

In Where the Red Fern Grows, Billy and his precious coonhound pups romp relentlessly through the Ozarks, trying to “tree” the elusive raccoon. In time, the inseparable trio  wins the coveted gold cup in the annual coon-hunt contest, captures the wily ghost coon, and bravely fights with a mountain lion. When the victory over the mountain lion turns to tragedy, Billy grieves, but learns the beautiful old Native American legend of the sacred red fern that grows over the graves of his dogs. This unforgettable classic belongs on every child’s bookshelf. 

This was one of those books — the stories I couldn’t set down and instead finished in the wee hours of the morning.  I remember tucking the flashlight back into its spot under my mattress and holding the volume to my chest, sobbing into the darkness. You would think it likely that a young girl living in suburbs of Portland might have a difficult time relating to a country boy and his coon-hunting dogs, but the drama of this tale and the powerful writing captivated my imagination.

I cried buckets of tears over Rawls’ masterpiece and reread the final chapters over and over, willing the story to end differently.  I had read other books dealing with death before this, of course, but my animal-loving soul was struck by the finality of it all, especially in the face of the heroic courage of Old Dan and Little Ann.  The themes in Where the Red Fern Grows are complex: the success of having worked hard for something good, the cruelty of the boys, the intensity of the hunt, and the heart-stopping moment with the axe are all woven together with explorations of human loneliness and the joy of animal companionship.

I revisited this book when I taught fifth grade, and I read it aloud to my class after lunch. This proved to be an ill-thought out choice when I found myself struggling to get through the final pages, my voice breaking even as I read the inevitable ending. I doubt there was a dry eye in the room, and the story stayed with us throughout the day as the children talked about death and loved ones  and how that made them feel. I remember that the students’ desire to talk made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say or how to listen and, for a moment, I regretted choosing that book for our read-aloud. You see, I had passed fully into grown-up land and felt the impulse to explain away the injustice of the story or at least to offer some sort of comforting platitudes. Looking back, I rather wish middle-grade me could have been in the class that day. What I really wish I could have done was to pass around the tissue box, sit down, and sob over the unfairness and ugliness of death and revel in the preciousness of life. This is one of the books crafted to make you feel things deeper than you can articulate or even fully understand, which might be one of the reasons why it is the perfect middle-grade read. 

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ABOUT MARISSA

Marissa Burt writes middle grade fantasy and is represented by Laura Langlie of the Laura Langlie Literary Agency. She grew up in Portland, Oregon, and drifted eastward, living in Colorado, Illinois, Tennessee, and South Carolina, before coming back home to the Pacific Northwest.

Along the way, she studied Sociology, Ancient Languages, and Theology and clocked hours as a social worker, barista, 5th grade teacher, bookseller, faculty assistant, and reference librarian. But not all at the same time.

Marissa now lives in the Seattle area with her husband and three sons where she enjoys time spent around family, friends, and good books.

website | blog | twitter | goodreads

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GIVEAWAY

Marissa is giving away one copy of Where the Red Fern Grows and a signed hardcover of her middle grade fantasy novel, Storybound

To win, simply comment below and share your thoughts about Where the Red Fern Grows. Did you read this book as a child? What are your middle grade memories?

For an extra entry, tweet about this post and include the link to your tweet in your comment.

This giveaway begins now and ends next Sunday, May 20 at 5:00 p.m. EST. The winner will be announced shortly thereafter. This giveaway is international.

EDITED 5/21: And the winner is . . .

Enbrethiliel

Congratulations, Enbrethiliel! Please email me at clairelegrandbooks [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address.

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Love Middle Grade Memories? Check back on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer for more in this series!

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