Audrey’s Cimmerian Tales Book Club

Top Ten Middle Grade Books

(In no particular order)

I thought it would be fun to make a list of some of my favorite middle grade books. That’s right. Not only do I read YA, I read MG. And I love it. Truth is I believe that a good story is a good story, no matter how long it is or the age of the protagonist. Here are some of my favorites that I believe are stories worth reading no matter your age:

1. A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin

2. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

3. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

4. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (See my post here)

5. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

6. The Giver by Lois Lowry

7. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

8. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (See Julie’s post here)

9. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

10. Blue Heron by Avi

Please let me know what you think or if there are any other MG books on your top ten list!

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Anne’s Book Club 12

THE LAST UNICORN directed by Arthur Rankin Jr & Jules Bass (summary from IMDb.com):

TLUopeninglinesFrom a riddle-speaking butterfly, a unicorn learns that she is supposedly the last of her kind, all the others having been herded away by the Red Bull. The unicorn sets out to discover the truth behind the butterfly’s words. She is eventually joined on her quest by Schmendrick, a second-rate magician, and Molly Grue, a now middle-aged woman who dreamed all her life of seeing a unicorn. Their journey leads them far from home, all the way to the castle of King Haggard.

My thoughts on THE LAST UNICORN (1982 film):

I loved this story when I was wee, and I love it now that I’m grown. There’s something about a hero’s journey, rich characters, and the unicorn that get me every time. Plus, did I mention unicorns?

It’s no surprise that I’ve loved mythological creatures for a long time. Unicorns, flying horses, and mermaids were there in my elementary years. Werewolves absolutely terrified and delighted me in middle school. Mostly, terrified. Vampires and faeries caught my eye in high school. But unicorns and mermaids have been there since the start. (In fact, one of my published stories, La Dame à la Licorne, may have something to do with a unicorn. Just saying’.)

“There are no happy endings, because nothing ends.”
~ Schmendrick

One of the reasons I think this story translated so well from novel to screen is that the screenwriter was Peter S. Beagle, the same man who wrote the original novel. All the parts I loved in the book are represented here. Much of the dialogue is translated exactly from book to script. It runs at a little over an hour and 30 mins, which might be too long for toddlers to sit through. There’s also some violence and a swear word slips in (not in the subtitles, however. Clever!), despite the G rating. I think I was 7 or 8 the first time I watched it. Then I pretty much ruined the tape due to multiple viewings. Fortunately, the 25th anniversary DVD was released in 2007.

The movie stands up to the test of time rather well. Mostly because the story takes place in a medieval-esque world where fashions and hairstyles aren’t reflective of the year the movie was created. There’s something pure and magical about the hand-painted scenery and cell-by-cell animation. I would love to have one of the cells from this film, something we lose when the film is created with CGI. (I do own one from THE SECRET OF NIMH, which is also a childhood favorite.) The unicorn is especially well-done. She’s otherworldly, yet familiar. Her mane and tail move as she prances on spindly legs. Her eyes remain lilac, like her wood, even when she’s turned into a human. The attention to detail from the animators is amazing.

After watching the movie again last night, I’ll be singing the songs for the rest of the week.

🎶I’m alive! I’m alive!🎶

Anne’s Book Club 11

TheStrangeMaidcover

The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton (summary from Goodreads.com):

Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard, where cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. Where the president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyries, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls.

Signy Valborn was seven years old when she climbed the New World Tree and met Odin Alfather, who declared that if she could solve a single riddle, he would make her one of his Valkyrie. For ten years Signy has trained in the arts of war, politics, and leadership, never dreaming that a Greater Mountain Troll might hold the answer to the riddle, but that’s exactly what Ned the Spiritless promises her. A mysterious troll hunter who talks in riddles and ancient poetry, Ned is a hard man to trust. Unfortunately, Signy is running out of time. Accompanied by an outcast berserker named Soren Bearstar, she and Ned take off across the ice sheets of Canadia to hunt the mother of trolls and claim Signy’s destiny.

My Thoughts on THE STRANGE MAID and an interview with author Tessa Gratton:

Full disclosure: I’ve been reading Tessa’s prose since 2008. I’m a huge fan. I had the pleasure of listening to her recite a few pages from Beowulf in Old English. The memory still gives me elf-kisses. As an English Literature major, Beowulf was one of my favorite projects. Grendel by the late great John Gardner is one of my favorite books. Both play a part in this sweeping tale. Norse mythology, monsters, love, and layers abound in THE STRANGE MAID, the second book in the United States of Asgard series.

What is truth? Is truth the words we write or say, or is it the meaning behind those words? Is it both? Is it neither? Signy Valborn can see a rune in another’s eye and know their truth. But these runes change, just as our truths change given the situation we find ourselves in. Signy’s given a riddle from Odin: The Valkyrie of the Tree will prove herself with a stone heart. After years of trying to figure out what it means, she meets Ned ‘the Spiritless’ Unferth who tells her he knows the answer. In his eye she reads Truth, while in her own she reads several different runes.

Ned is key to helping Signy both figure out the riddle, but also all the meanings of the runes. Even the one given to her in the form of a scar on her palm has layered meanings. The fact that Signy not only needs the help of others but asks for it, makes her a very realistic character. Her thirst for battle and madness in a world that’s tamped down those ideals into politics and order seemed perfectly logical. (Maybe I’m more than a little mad myself.) The relationship between Signy and Ned was a slow, believable burn. And the riddle is resolved in a beautiful and unique way that left me very satisfied. Although, I’d love to see another trilogy set in this world.

“… the troll mother’s marble skin captures all the dying light, and her shifting muscles are a kaleidoscope of color, like the northern lights dancing against her stone flesh.”

Though the entire story stands-alone from THE LOST SUN, several characters visit the pages of both. As a reader, I’m always fascinated to see how characters we loved in one book are perceived by other characters in a new book (or point-of-view). It plays on the theme of truth. Your truth is not mine. Your perception is not mine. So, what is truth?

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a destiny to follow, no matter how difficult it was to tease out the riddle of it? Maybe that’s exactly what we’re doing.

What was the seed idea/scene that set this story in motion for you as the author?

I was in grad school and took a class in Old English. As I fell farther into the poetry of the Anglo-Saxons and their neighbors the Vikings, I realized how much modern US culture still shares with them. War and religion and politics are still intertwined just like in Viking and A-S literature. So for this series, it was a thematic spark, it was a desire to create an alternate world where I could play with my thoughts and feelings about American Warrior Culture in particular.

You studied Beowulf—and even translated your own version— at university, but outside of required reading for study, how much research did you do to create the United States of Asgard?

Oh, for another guest post I counted 43 books I bought specifically for USAsgard research over the past 5 years. I’ve read at least parts of all of those books, and most of most of them. I did some traveling around the USA, too, though most of my location inspiration came from family road trips when I was a kid.

If you lived in the United States of Asgard, which god/goddess would you belong to and why?

Odin, unfortunately. 😉 He’s the god of poetry and sacrifice, in addition to having a fluid sexuality and a violent streak. It’s not a coincidence most of the USAsgard stories I’ve told revolve in some way around Odinists. I’m writing about those themes because I have so many questions about them myself. As a writer, the link between creation and violence really fascinates me.

THE STRANGE MAID is the both the prequel and the sequel to THE LOST SUN (2013) with a completely new main character, Signy Valborn. Why did you choose to structure your trilogy this way?

I never intended for this to be a trilogy. Originally I was writing short stories in this world for my story blog (www.merryfates.com), then the story that became THE LOST SUN was born, and it truly functions as a stand alone novel because I didn’t know if I’d write more. When I decided to expand, I imagined a 5 book arc. For a lot of reasons that didn’t happen. THE STRANGE MAID was always book 2, and what will be Book 3 used to be pieces of book 5. I took my ideas for the middle books and am writing novellas using those ideas and characters.

Basically: I am a messy writer. I go where the story leads me, and in the case of THE STRANGE MAID, that was a sprawling timeline that forced the book to be both prequel and sequel.

One of my favorite Songs of New Asgard short stories is Date with a Dragon-Slayer.

“This infinitely exciting tale’s twist and turns highlight the characters’ missions as they decide which identity to choose: hero, martyr, or villain.” (School Library Journal) What are you working on now?

I love that SLJ review! Thanks for quoting it. 😀

Right now I’m working on a bunch of things. I’ve drafted what I hope will be my next novel (a stand alone dark fantasy), so I’m writing some novellas in the USAsgard world, and two other secret novels. ONWARD AND UPWARD!

Thank you so much, Tessa, for letting me take a peek at your process! Tessa is also the author of BLOOD MAGIC, the novella CROW MAGIC, and THE BLOOD KEEPER. If you enjoy love, family, and fate, then you should definitely check them out!

* I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tessa Author Pic Fall 2011 2MBAbout the author: Tessa Gratton has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. She was too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in gender studies, and then settled down in Kansas with her partner, her cats, and her mutant dog.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitter | Tumblr | Goodreads

Buy THE STRANGE MAID (Book 2) Today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Buy THE LOST SUN (Book 1) Today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Jen’s Book Club

I’m going rogue and reviewing a movie adaptation of a book that I already reviewed. The Fault in Our Stars, anyone?

So I said a couple months ago that this book made me ugly cry with the best of them, and allow me to inform you: the ugly crying was audible throughout the theater on this film’s opening night. The girls across from me were basically in shambles before the credits finished rolling.

So it was sad.

I don’t know what we expected.  Seeing a heart wrenching storyline portrayed in real life was nothing short of devastating, but ALSO let me tell you that this movie was the most accurate book to movie adaptation I’ve seen to date.  The characters were cast spot on, the dialogue was 90% verbatim from very pages I cried onto, and the emotion was raw just as spectacularly translated as it was under that famous cloudy cover. And oh, it’s humor was not lost on me.

I laughed. I cried. I cried harder. I was thankful for waterproof eyeliner. And despite the tears and the wadded popcorn scented napkins (a product of my wringing hands), it was absolutely beautiful. And of course, I plan to go again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Stay tuned for Anne’s Book Club post next Wednesday.

Audrey’s Cimmerian Tales Book Club

Author Interview: Aaron Michael Ritchey

& Review of Long Live the Suicide King

1SuicideKing_AaronRitchey_Cover

Long Live the Suicide King by Aaron Michael Ritchey (summary from Amazon.com):

Seventeen-year-old Jim JD Dillinger knows exactly how his miserable suburban life is going to play out. At least drugs added a little chaos to his life, but after almost losing his soul, JD knows he has to quit. Now clean, he figures he has another sixty years of plain old boring life followed by a nasty death. JD decides to pre-empt God by killing himself. However, once he decides to die, his life gets better, more interesting, and then downright strange. New friends. Possible romance. And donuts. Lots of donuts. Once the end is in sight, every minute becomes precious.

My thoughts:

First of all, I’m so excited to have had the opportunity to interview Aaron. We met a couple of years ago at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Aaron had just released The Never Prayer, a YA paranormal romance with angels and demons and a girl who isn’t sure which is which, and I had just started writing a YA paranormal romance with angels and djinn (which I might actually finish someday). I thought The Never Prayer was well written and an emotionally compelling story (yes, I cried), so when Aaron released his new book I had to read it.

Ok, not going to lie – I cried during Long Live the Suicide King too. Aaron’s sophomore novel is filled with amazing side-kick characters, like Ingalora Blute and 1066, and I really loved how funny JD is, even in all his suicidal angst. It’s very well written and is an original story with a couple of unexpected twists. There is a lot of heart in this book, which is what keeps you going when it gets dark. As you may have guessed, there’s a lot of talk about suicide in the book. There’s some conversation these days about how we need diverse books especially in MG and YA (check out #WeNeedDiverseBooks) and hopefully that conversation will get bigger and bigger. And the diversity goes beyond gender, race, and religion, to sexual orientation, disabilities, and illnesses. Every book can’t be about mean girls and crushes. If you have ever had suicidal thoughts, a friend with suicidal thoughts, or lost a loved one to suicide (or yes to all three like me), this can be a difficult read. In the end, it’s the truths in the book that make it a fulfilling read.

So without further ado, my interview with Aaron:

Continue reading

Julie’s Book Club: Summer Reads

I’ll be attending the Clarion West Writers Workshop this summer. It’s an intense, six-week workshop with six different instructors, and I am reading or plan to read works by all of them. (I’m starting mostly with short story collections since they will be teaching short story writing.)

Here are the books I’ve got on my reading list (summaries from Goodreads):

Week 1: Paul Park

If Lions Could Speak and Other Stories (Wildside Press, 2002)

“If Lions Could Speak is the first collection from Paul Park, acclaimed author of The Starbridge Chronicles, Coelestis, and The Gospel of Corax. Subtle, stylish, at once forthrightly simple and ingeniously complex, the pieces gathered here are compelling and penetrating explorations of cultural difference and psychological crisis, regret and reconciliation. It is a marvelous literary labyrinth, a realm of memory palaces, eerie doppelgangers, terrifying theocracies, implosive revelations. Here time travels, sordid and ludicrous, becomes emblematic of how all lives are led; here, disease is an index to how the past is rewritten; here, the Other, extravagantly alien or simply alienated, can collapse into the Self with the suddenness of a lethal gunshot. Sometimes sardonically hilarious, sometimes gravely humane, always fiercely shocking, these stories constitute one of the finest bodies of short fiction by any contemporary SF writer.”

Week 2: Kij Johnson

At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories (Small Beer Press, 2012)

A sparkling debut collection from one of the hottest writers in science fiction: her stories have received the Nebula Award the last two years running. These stories feature cats, bees, wolves, dogs, and even that most capricious of animals, humans, and have been reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, and The Secret History of Fantasy. Kij Johnson’s stories have won the Sturgeon and World Fantasy awards. She has taught writing; worked at Tor, Dark Horse, and Microsoft; worked as a radio announcer; run bookstores; and waitressed in a strip bar.

Week 3: Ian McDonald

Assorted stories here: http://www.freesfonline.de/authors/Ian_McDonald.html.

From a Strange Horizons review:

“…a British writer whose novels are about, but not of, India. McDonald is writing largely Western-style SF for a largely Western audience, and does not pause to explain. As Christopher Priest wrote in The Guardian at the time of its release, if River of Gods had a fault (and surely it did not) it was that, “it is not a page-turner book; it is a turn-page-back book.” McDonald is unforgiving to the lazy reader: keep up or keep out. This is a demanding but hugely rewarding style, and Cyberabad Days retains its chaotic, uncompromising approach. If Vandana Singh seeks to reimagine the Indian past into a fresh literary mode, Ian McDonald’s work in these stories, published over a similar period to Singh’s, uses the established cyberpunk form to imagine a new Indian future.”

Week 4: Hiromi Goto

Hopeful Monsters: Stories (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004)

Hopeful monsters” are genetically abnormal organisms that, nonetheless, adapt and survive in their environments. In these devastating stories, the hopeful monsters in question are those who will not be tethered by familial duty nor bound by the ghosts of their past.

Home becomes fraught, reality a nightmare as Hiromi Goto weaves her characters through tales of domestic crises and cultural dissonance. They are the walking wounded—a mother who is terrified by a newborn daughter who bears a tail; a “stinky girl” who studies the human condition in a shopping mall; a family on holiday wih a visiting grandfather who cannot abide their “foreign” nature. But wills are a force unto themselves, and Goto’s characters are imbued with the light of myth and magic-realism. With humor and keen insight, Goto makes the familiar seem strange, and deciphers those moments when the idyllic skews into the absurd and the sublime.”

Week 5: Charlie Jane Anders

Choir Boy (Soft Skull Press, 2005)

“Twelve-year-old choirboy Berry wants nothing more than to remain a choirboy. Choral music and the prospect of divinity thrill him. Desperate to keep his voice from changing, he tries unsuccessfully to castrate himself, and then convinces a clinic to treat him as a transsexual. Berry begins a series of hormone pills, which keep his voice from deepening but also cause him to grow breasts. When his parents and friends discover the truth about him, Berry faces a world of unexpected gender issues that push him into a universe far more complex than anything he has experienced.

Abounding with bewitching religious symbolism, self-mutilation, bizarre suburban torture, drugs, class-based violence, and hidden meanings, Choir Boy is a wildly inventive and charming story about an outcast who refuses to grow up gracefully.”

 

Week 6: John Crowley

Novelties & Souvenirs: Collected Short Fiction (Harper Perennial, 2004)

A master literary stylist, John Crowley has carried readers to diverse and remarkable places in his award-winning, critically acclaimed novels — from his classic fable, Little, Big, to his New York Times Notable Book, The Translator. Now, for the first time, all of his short fiction has been collected in one volume, demonstrating the scope, the vision, and the wonder of one of America’s greatest storytellers. Courage and achievement are celebrated and questioned, paradoxes examined, and human frailty appreciated in fifteen tales, at once lyrical and provocative, ranging fromthe fantastic to the achingly real. Be it a tale of an expulsion from Eden, a journey through time, the dreams of a failed writer, ora dead woman’s ambiguous legacy, each story in Novelties & Souvenirs is a glorious reading experience, offering delights to be savored … and remembered.

***

What are you reading this summer? Do you have any other recommendations by these authors? Please share!

Anne’s Book Club 10

I love reading trilogies, tetralogies, and series. If you don’t want to wait a year (or sometimes two) between books, here’s a list of trilogies that are coming to an end, sadly, this year (in order of release):

daughtersmokebonetrilogy
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
, Days of Blood and Starlight, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Apr 2014) by Laini Taylor is a gorgeous sweeping story of monsters, love, teeth, lies, hope, and reincarnation. Laini Taylor is one of my favorite YA authors. Her writing is rich and lyrical. It will transport you from a magical Prague to a deadly land of dust and starlight. These books will leave you breathless and aching in all the right ways.

Note: I first fell in love with Laini Taylor’s writing when I read Lips Touch Three Times. Audrey reviewed it here after I foisted it on her to read.

grishatrilogyShadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising (17 Jun 2014) by Leigh Bardugo is a unique and wildly imaginative tale of summoners, sunlight, darkness, beauty, ugliness, friendship, and romance.  Leigh Bardugo writes magic that sparkles on the page. Her world is enriched by Russian language and folklore, but it’s all her own. The Darkling is sinister and trapped by his own lust for power. Alina and Mal are mismatched and matched brilliantly.

Note: I picked up the first book at the library completely based on the cover. I’m so glad I did. It was a thrilling read. (Also, a New York Times Bestseller, but I didn’t know that at the time.)

strangedeadlytrilogy
Something Strange and Deadly, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, and Strange and Ever After (22 Jul 2014) by Susan Dennard is sprawling epic that weaves zombies, spirit-hunters, steampunk, necromancy, love, and demons. Susan Dennard writes some intense action scenes. Anyone who enjoys historical fantasy will inhale these books. The settings of Philadelphia and Paris are delightful. I can’t wait to read about Egypt in the third book!

Note: Something Strange and Deadly is the first book in the trilogy. I put it in the middle of my collage so it looks like the other two cover girls are looking at her.

throneglasstrilogy
Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire (2 Sep 2014) by Sarah J. Maas is an epic fantasy that brings together assassins, political intrigue, sexy heroes, castles, mystery, and one of the baddest-ass female protags in Celaena Sardothien. Sarah J. Maas also writes terrific fight scenes. Each book is told from three points of view: Celaena, Chaol, and Dorian. Each of them are hiding something exquisite, and the twists and turns to reveal these things are divine.

Note: Sarah J. Maas and Susan Dennard are critique partners. It’s no wonder I like both of their trilogies, which are wildly different and amazing.

lynburnlegacytrilogy
Unspoken, Untold, and Unmade (23 Sep 2014) by Sarah Rees Brennan is a quirky story with a diverse cast, a quaint English town, magic, mystery, family legacies, and a plucky heroine. Sarah Rees Brennan is known for her humorous voice, and she certainly delivers in these books. However, there’s a darker side too, filled with need and murder. The two main protags have been able to communicate psychically since they were little things. I loved being in Kami’s head, which is funny because I’m pretty sure Jared did as well.

Note: Sarah Rees Brennan also wrote the delicious The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy, which I highly recommend. The twist in book one was perfect. It made me question things. Things I can’t tell you because I’m not going to spoil it.

darkestmindstrilogy
The Darkest Minds, The Darkest Minds Never Fade, and The Darkest Minds Never Fade In the After Light (28 Oct 2014) by Alexandra Bracken is a page-flipping thriller that deals with powers, a sadistic government, escapes, road trips, creating family, and hard choices. Alexandra Bracken writes about a future where a disease has killed most of its children. Those that did live are burdened with powers that many adults think made the kids monsters. In a world of brutality, Ruby finds love and answers to long-guarded secrets. But will she survive?

Note: I was a huge fan of comics/superheroes as a kid. These novels hit all the right buttons for me. I can see this set of books being turned into a Hollywood franchise.

Are there any trilogies, tetralogies, or series ending this year you think I should read? Let me know in the comments!