Interview by Piranha T.
Rosaria Munda is the author of the young adult fantasy novels Fireborne and its sequel, Flamefall (which was released last month), the first two books in the Aurelian Cycle. We loved Fireborne for its intricate world-building, strong character arcs, and unexpec-ted twists--Flamefall is next on our to-read list! We were thrilled to interview Rosaria Munda about Fireborne for this month’s feature.
Rapunzel Reads: Fireborne is full of twists on clichés and classic plotlines. Did these come about as the story progressed, or were some of them in your mind initially as you wrote?
Rosaria Munda: Lee’s inversion of the deposed aristocrat was probably the main reason I wrote the book, so it was there from the start. Other things came later.
RR: I read on your website that you initially had another point of view in Fireborne. How did the process of editing out that character change the way you told the story?
RM: Originally Duck was a POV character, but it didn’t work because he didn’t have a story
Author photo credit:
Brooke Amber Photography 2019
By Super Kitty
Note: When testing links in our archives, we discovered we'd accidentally deleted this review's original post. Years later, it's remained one of our favorites, so we decided to (re)share it. Enjoy!
Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has made her fair share of mistakes. She has what she likes to call an imagination—and what her snooty classmates call a skill at lying. When three school bullies finally confront her with her stories, she’s determined to prove that she’s been telling the truth about some things, at least. So she accepts a dare. She lights a lamp. And she unleashes a legendary monster, who, if she cannot stop him, will tear Time itself apart. Which is definitely her record for Biggest Mistake Ever.
To keep the darkness she has loosed at bay, Aru must journey from her home to the Otherworld to the kingdom of Death itself, joining forces with a sarcastic pigeon (yes, a pigeon) and a skittish yet super-smart girl apparently woven into Aru’s destiny, searching for a way to destroy the ancient evil, and maybe even (gulp) save the world. Which might be way more than Aru and her new friends can manage. Because not only do stories turn out to be true— things Aru thought were true turn out to be stories.
Because Aru isn’t the only one with secrets…
This was one of those books which managed to be entertaining, surprising, and completely hilarious. Aru is an irresistible heroine, and her various adventures in a world where normal life and Hindu mythology overlap seamlessly make the book impossible to put down. The vivid settings and equally clever supporting cast combine to make this a highly enjoyable fantasy that I would recommend for ages 8+.
By Super Kitty
Bett Devlin: 12yo. Loves animals + being outside + adventures. Is a daredevil + proud of it. Lives in California with her dad near the ocean (which is AWESOME, by the way!!)
Avery Bloom: Twelve years old. Enjoys reading, writing, and learning medical facts. Has some "excessive worries" which really aren't that unreasonable and include drowning, getting a disease, and the fire hazard posed by paper lampshades which are too close to the light bulb. Lives in New York City with her papa.
Both Bett and Avery are quite happy with their lives just the way they are. So when they find out their dads are dating, they're both horrified--both are just fine with staying the center of their dads' lives, thank you very much. But their dads have other (inexplicable) plans, and send them both to a camp in Michigan called CIGI ("Challenge Influence Guide Inspire") while they go on a trip to China to get to know each other better. (Yup, you read that right: CHINA.) They think it'll be a wonderful way for Bett and Avery to get to know each other and become friends--in fact, they might soon become family.
In other words, things are getting desperate.
Bett and Avery might seem like opposites, but they do have one very important thing in common: neither has ANY intention of becoming friends (and DEFINITELY not sisters). United by a shared determination to never see each other again, they plot ways to get their dads to break up and forget about each other. But things quickly get far more complicated than they were expecting, and they realize they'll need some very clever plots indeed to get everything to work out the way they want them to....
When I started the first few pages of To Night Owl From Dogfish, I was immediately hooked, but was expecting a light, fast read about two girls who are determined to hate each other, yet, over the course of one fateful summer, become best friends--a fun plotline, but not a particularly new one. However, that's only the very beginning--it's a delight to see the layers and twists unfold, so I haven't gone into more detail in my review, but suffice to say that every time a plotline began to feel like something I'd seen before, a twist (often a hilarious new take on an old cliché) would take the story in a new, unexpected direction, with surprises and mishaps until the very end. The authors manage to combine a handful of classic themes into a story that is both original and comforting, with two quirky, refreshing main characters (Bett and Avery sometimes remind me of Aru and Mini from Aru Shah and the End of Time) who feel like real twelve-year-olds--stubborn, passionate, flawed, caring, and (eventually) inseparable. Although Bett and Avery aren't biological sisters, I've categorized this book under the "Sisters" category on the blog, a decision which I firmly stand by (read it and you'll understand!)
The whole cast is deftly drawn and appealing, and it's a joy to watch as the characters overlap, argue, plot, and connect to form a quirky, sprawling family that none of them were expecting. The story is written through emails, and while I don't always enjoy epistolary stories, this one was cleverly done and highly engaging, and added an extra layer of uniqueness. Ultimately, To Night Owl From Dogfish is an ode to big, messy, wonderful families--biological and not--and I would highly recommend this fresh, winsome, and highly amusing tale to readers ages nine and up.
By Piranha T.
Earthsea: a land of many islands and vast oceans, ancient names and fierce dragons, skillful seafarers and powerful sorcerers. The first book in the Earthsea Cycle chronicles the tale of one of its greatest mages, and his terrible mistake.
Sparrowhawk is young when he casts a heavy mist about his village to protect it from eastern raiders and is sent to Roke Island, a school where the highest arts of magic are taught, to be trained in the uses of power. Arrogant and skilled in the ways of mages, Sparrowhawk summons a spirit from the dead, and in the doing releases a nameless shadow set on his death. By the time he is healed from the wounds it inflicts, he no longer cares for pride or shows of power, for the shadow he conjured is out in the world, and though it is far from Roke Island, he knows he will never be free of it until it is destroyed. He travels across Earthsea in search of its name and the means of its destruction, a quest which will bring him to uncharted waters, scheming dragons, and the truth of the shadow which he knows he must defeat.
A Wizard of Earthsea is one of those classic fantasy books which, like Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddle-Master Trilogy or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, doesn’t disappoint. It has an amazing world, brilliant character development, a unique storyline, and beautiful writing. I’ve read many fantasy novels, and this one remains one of my favorites, along with the others in the Earthsea Cycle (although some of the subsequent volumes are better suited to readers of twelve or thirteen years). It’s one of those books which sweeps you up and you don’t want to stop reading until the end, and it’s perfect for dedicated high fantasy fans. I highly recommend A Wizard of Earthsea to readers ages eleven and up.
By Piranha T.
Life in Juniper has become tough for eleven-year-old Elodee Lively and her family. Over the past few months, it’s grown harder to talk to her family about small matters, and impossible to discuss the ones which really matter. Even her twin Naomi no longer gives her the reassurance she’s searching for. Nothing is the same, not her family, not the cooking she’s always loved, not her friends, not even her emotions. She’s glad to leave Juniper and move to Eventown, a place she remembers from a past vacation as full of sunshine and rosebushes, with delicious ice cream and cheerful neighbors.
And Eventown is much better, at first. Everyone’s happy and kind; their new house comes equipped with a beautiful kitchen and a box of delicious recipes just for Elodee. She’s glad to forget the heartbreak of the last few months. The silence which has enveloped her family lifts at last, and Elodee finds herself struggling to mirror her dad’s joy, her mom’s outgoingness, her sister’s satisfaction.
But somehow, she can’t.
Something’s strange about Eventown. Little things, which add up to big ones. The houses are all identical. Only one song is ever sung. There’s a library full of books, but all the pages are blank. And there aren’t any butterflies.
People keep telling Elodee that everything will make sense once she’s been Welcomed to Eventown. But it’s at the Welcoming Center that Elodee realizes just how wrong Eventown is. And that something has to change—something big. Because nothing can be perfect forever. And there’s power in remembering.
Eventown is a well-written and absorbing story. Even when I wasn’t sure where it was going, I kept reading, and I’m glad I did. Two elements of this book particularly stood out to me. First of all, Corey Ann Haydu did an excellent job of evoking Eventown’s strangeness—how it was perfect and unnerving at the same time. And the characters—particularly Elodee—were vividly characterized, realistic and distinct. I also love the feeling this book ends with! I recommend Eventown to readers ages eight and up.
By Piranha T.
Out of Time is the third book in Laurie Graves’s ongoing Great Library Series, preceded by Maya and the Book of Everything and Library Lost. If you haven’t read the other books, skip the description here—there will be spoilers about events in them!
The Great Library Series begins with Maya Hammond, a fifteen-year-old girl thrust into an ancient conflict between Time and Chaos. The mysterious Great Library is part of it, as are the wise Books of Everything, sent to many different worlds to help Time triumph. In the first two books in this series, Maya travels across the universe to aid the Books of Everything and Time in their quest to defeat Chaos once and for all.
In Out of Time, the Great Library itself has fallen to one of Chaos’s servants, Cinnial, and it’s up to Maya to enter the strange new world of Elferterre to find the lock she’ll need to defeat him. Here, Magic rather than Time holds ultimate authority, and it’s unlike any other world she’s entered, full of mysterious powers and unfamiliar creatures. Only with the help of a trio of newfound friends can she hope to succeed in a quest which would help liberate not only the Great Library, but Elferterre as well.
Out of Time is a compelling, fast read, and an excellent third installment. Elferterre is an interesting and unique setting, different from those of the first two books but just as intriguing and fun to read about, complete with its own set of quirky and layered characters. Here, threads of the Great Library, Time, Chaos, and the Books of Everything continue to weave together, but this new world offers Maya something of a respite from the constant danger from Cinnial, although peril remains to hound her. Because of this, while Out of Time continues her mission to help defeat him, it also deeply explores the supporting characters and continues to give a stronger sense of Maya. Maya herself continues to shine, perhaps even more brightly than before in the face of this wholly new challenge; she’s an awesome protagonist whose determination to succeed no matter how much adversity she faces. I highly recommend Out of Time and the Great Library Series to readers who love strong fantasy series with interesting settings and plotlines ages eleven and up. I can’t wait to read book four!
Thank you to author Laurie Graves for sending us a copy of this book!
By Piranha T.
The raggedy witches have never been part of Mup Taylor’s peaceful life. She’s grown up in the mundane world, where magic isn’t common, surrounded by her perfectly normal mam and dad, her younger brother Tipper, and her beloved Aunty. Aunty has always warned Mup against the witches, and told her that if she sees them, she must tell Aunty and no one else. But the night Mup sees them out her car window, Aunty has died—and her family has no protection left against the raggedy witches.
Mup is quickly torn from familiarity into a world of strange and powerful magic where people can become animals, and an unjust queen forces rebels to speak in rhyme. But she’s a part of this world, too, because it’s where her mam was born. And the queen—who restricts all magic, and commands the powerful raggedy witches—wants her, because Mup’s mam is her daughter.
In an unfamiliar world where Mup doesn’t know who or what to trust, and raggedy witches seem to lurk in every shadow, Mup has a single goal: to keep her family together. But that might just be the hardest quest of all.
Begone the Raggedy Witches is a modern novel and a fairytale at the same time. Celine Kiernan skillfully manages to create a very real world which feels very deep and multilayered, yet is simple enough to easily grasp, and adds to the story instead of complicating it. The cast, including Mup, is interesting and realistic. Those elements of realism are part of what makes Begone the Raggedy Witches stand out, because they integrate seamlessly into the fairytale-like story invoked by the plot and writing; the feel of this book often reminded me of A Path Begins. I highly recommend Begone the Raggedy Witches to lovers of fairytales and whimsical stories ages ten and up.
By Piranha T.
Midnight Train by Angie Sage, sequel to Twilight Hauntings, is the second and final book in the Enchanter's Child duology.
The series takes place in a fantasy world where Enchanters and their children are hunted after a prophecy spoken ten years ago which says the king will die by the hand of an Enchanter's child. Alex has grown up in the city of Luma, where her only clue to the identity of her birth parents is a set of Enchanted cards. When she escapes the city and finds both friends and enemies in the surrounding lands, she begins to learn more about herself, her kingdom, and how to free it from the fear of Enchanters and their children.
In Midnight Train, Alex continues her quest to destroy the malicious Twilight Hauntings who seek to kill all Enchanters. Like the first installment, this book is full of humor, quirky characters, and nonstop action. Angie Sage creates a witty story whose culmination fully fulfilled the expectations set for me by book one. I highly recommend Midnight Train and the Enchanter's Child Duology to readers ages nine and up!
P.S. When we read and love the sequels to books we've reviewed, we'll give them 'mini-reviews' like this one - to share awesome sequels (and series) without spoiling the first book!
By Piranha T.
There are plenty of ways that Zenobia July is different from her fellow students when she starts Monarch Middle School. Her skills at tech, for example, developed over long days sitting at home when her father wouldn’t let her leave the house. The fact that she’s not living with her parents but with her two eccentric aunts. Or that although Zen was born a boy, in her new home in Maine, she’s been able to transition publicly to the girl she’s always been inside. Despite all the hardships she’s faced, though, Zen finds new challenges in middle school—girls who make fun of her, a boy who despises her for her skill at technology, and the constant fear that someone will learn she’s transgender. The only comforts lie in Arli, a self-proclaimed word geek, and the familiar riddles of Cyberlandium.
Then the school website is hacked, and it changes everything. Because although Zen knows she can find who did it, she’s also aware that success may not make her popular with her classmates. And as she delves deeper into the mystery, it makes her question the place she’s started to find for herself at Monarch Middle School.
It’s a multilayered puzzle which requires both cyber skills and determination. And Zenobia July may be the only one who can stop it before the hacker strikes again.
Zenobia July is an amazing book, one I’m so glad I’ve read. It’s the tale of a transgender girl figuring out who she is and navigating an unfamiliar world, but it’s also a cyber mystery with a strong friendship storyline. Lisa Bunker creates a many-layered, real story with an interesting, engaging plot. Her characters were well-drawn and unique, and every part of the story felt natural and smooth. To readers ages ten and up who like mysteries or books with diverse protagonists, I highly recommend Zenobia July.
By Super Kitty
Twelve-year-old Horace F. Andrews is a very logical person. So when he sees a sign with his name on it through a bus window on the way home from school, he can't quite convince himself that it's a coincidence--sure, Andrews is a common name, and the chances of having "F" as a middle initial seem greater than one in twenty-six, but...Horace? Definitely unusual.
He decides to investigate. And the results are most certainly not logical.
When Horace gets off the bus and looks for the sign, he stumbles into a towering man who smells of brimstone--and who no one else on the street seems able to see--who tells him that curiosity is a walk fraught with peril, his tone not a warning but a threat. Shaken, Horace slips away and finally finds the building the sign was advertising for: the House of Answers, which somehow only leads to more questions. He is introduced to Keepers of Tan'ji, or objects with magical powers--and is told that he, too, has the aptitudes necessary to bond with a Tan'ji and become a Keeper. And that the tall, brimstone-smelling man is one of the Riven, a people that has been fighting the Keepers for the Tan'ji for eons, and must be avoided at all costs.
Sure enough, Horace discovers his Tan'ji, an extraordinary box he immediately feels a bond with. Charged with uncovering the abilities of the box on his own, Horace slowly discovers its incredible powers, and in the process meets Chloe, a prickly girl who is bonded with her own Tan'ji and can see Riven, too. Together, Horace and Chloe might change the tide of an ancient war for the power of the Tan'ji, and Horace is willing to do anything to protect the box from the Riven. But the influence of the Riven runs deep, and they always seem to be a step ahead, threatening everything that Horace has gained.
Because Horace's instinct was correct: the box is extraordinary. And the Riven are determined to take it. At any cost.
The Box and the Dragonfly is a fast-paced, clever, and highly amusing fantasy that kept me engrossed for days. Although it's a fantasy, (with science fiction components), it strongly reminded me of the Mysterious Benedict Society books, especially the quirky characters and writing style--if Trenton Lee Stewart wrote a fantasy book, I suspect it would read a lot like this one. Horace is a smart, determined, appealing protagonist, Chloe is irritable and hilarious, and the other supporting characters each have their own distinct quirks and personalities.
As I was writing the above book description, I was struck by how many of the elements of The Box and the Dragonfly aren't uncommon in fantasy (scientifically inclined protagonist, ancient struggle, magical objects), yet the way Sanders uses them is genuinely fresh and unique, and one particular aspect of the generally excellent plot is truly original and different from anything I've ever read before! (The reader/writer part of me found the way the plot plays with time irresistible, and my astrophysics-enthusiast side greatly appreciated the references to gravitational time dilation...) Similarly, many of the powers the Tan'ji have aren't objectively super unusual, but the ways that the characters use them and the rules attached most certainly are. Filled with quirky characters and clever twists, plus one brilliant plot unfolding in multiple times (read it and you'll see what I mean!), I would highly recommend The Box and the Dragonfly to both dedicated fantasy/science fiction fans and readers new to the genre(s) ages nine and up.
By Piranha T.
Cassia Arroyo still thinks she’s normal the day her dad pulls her out of school and tells her they’re leaving the country. Cassie has been a lot of places and done a lot of things—Rome is just the latest of many homes—but this is definitely new. In the rapid car ride which follows, all he tells her is that someone wants to kill her before he’s injured and hospitalized, leaving Cassie alone in Rome, with no idea who she can trust and who might be a potential assassin.
Following her dad’s instructions, Cassie finds Brother Gregorio, an elderly monk who tells her all the secrets her dad never did. The car chase through the streets of Rome is only one event in a story which has been unfolding for the past two hundred years. He explains that there is a magical spearhead, called the Spear of Destiny, which can alter fate itself. And Cassie is one of only a few people who can use it.
Unfortunately, an organization known as the Hastati believes that the spear is too dangerous. They meant to hide it, but thirteen years ago, it disappeared. Their solution? Kill everyone who can use it. And Cassie is their next target.
Cassie doesn’t plan on sitting around, waiting for the Hastati to murder her. She figures that if she finds the spear and gives it to them, they won’t care about killing her anymore. With the help of Simone, her sarcastic best friend, and Asher, Brother Gregorio’s cautious nephew, Cassie sets off on a search across Italy, from crumbling cities to powerful fortresses and beyond. But there are more secrets than Cassie knows. And most of them aren’t pleasant.
Can Cassie find the Spear of Destiny? And even if she does, will it be enough to save her life?
Moving Target is a fast-paced fantasy novel full of twisting plotlines, brilliant characters, and nefarious enemies. It’s set in a modern world, and Christina Diaz Gonzalez does a beautiful job of staying in that spirit, even with a story full of ancient lore and mystical objects and cities straight out of fairytales. I also love her use of the backdrop of Italy. Cassie is a great main character who feels like a normal kid, despite the dangerous story she’s in the center of. The supporting cast is also brilliant; I particularly like the conflict between Simone and Asher. This book is full of action and plot twists and is perfect for readers who love fast-paced fantasy. I recommend Moving Target to readers ages eleven and up.
By Super Kitty
Ten-year-old Ailey Lane is determined to get the part of the Scarecrow in his school's production of The Wiz, and not only because his dance moves are just begging for the spotlight, and he loves coming up with impromptu raps. It's because he always messes things up, and the more people he tells about tryouts, the more he realizes that no one expects him to get it right this time, either.
Everything is shaping up perfectly, though--until it's Ailey's turn at tryouts and he freezes up. Bad. He might be a class clown, but it's totally different having all those eyes on him when he's not just goofing off, and it's like they hit an erase button in his mind. Maybe everyone was right, after all.
Ailey decides he'll never dance again, and when his family asks him how auditions went, he expects a grown-up pep talk about persistence and practice and so on. But Grandpa surprises him--that night, he tells Ailey that when he was younger, he loved tap dancing, and was so good that Bojangles himself tapped with him once and loaned him his tap shoes, saying to bring them back when Grandpa was ready to give performing a shot. But he never mustered the courage to do it, and the shoes, which Bojangles said have a smidgen of magic, are tucked away in a closet, a mark of the regret that Grandpa has carried throughout his life. He has always wondered how far he might have gotten if he had been brave enough to do what he loved. He tells Ailey that he doesn't want him to have regrets, too.
Later that night, Ailey can't stop thinking about Grandpa's story, and he finds the shoes and tries them on. And Bojangles was definitely right about the "smidgen of magic," because when Ailey opens his eyes, he's in Harlem. Harlem in 1939, to be exact.
Which happens to be when and where Grandpa lived and tapped when he was a boy. When and where his greatest regret began.
When Ailey finds a talented boy called Taps performing on the street, he knows that he must have been brought here to give him the encouragement he needs. But nothing seems to go right--Taps definitely isn't convinced that his future grandson has come from the future, Ailey has no idea how to persuade him to take up Bojangles' offer, and there's still the problem of how to get home.
But the two boys have more in common than being family. Taps can tap dance like he was born for it, and Ailey can come up with raps without even trying. On their own, neither quite has the nerve to get up on stage--but maybe together, they can push each other to change their stars.
Ailey and Taps' enthusiasm is infectious, and although I personally am not particularly interested in tap dance, I thoroughly enjoyed The Magic in Changing Your Stars! I liked the combination of time travel and family, and how Ailey meets many members of his family from a few generations back that he's heard stories about--and a few kids and teens he knows as adults from his own time. Every character is named after famous Black people from history, especially performers, and the book includes a list of all of the people mentioned along with a short blurb about their achievements, which was an excellent extra layer. The book itself also has lots of historical tidbits, and many readers might not be able to resist learning more about them! I would recommend The Magic in Changing Your Stars to readers ages eight and up looking for an amusing, engaging celebration of family, friendship, and the courage it takes to do your best.
By Piranha T.
Twelve-year-old Bryn has always known she wants to be a Seeker. Ever since her father, a Seeker himself, told her stories when she was young about the magical creatures who live within the Wild Realm, she’s known she wants to follow his footsteps. Only Seekers can enter the Wild Realm, where they help heal the plants and animals which live there, and protect its magic from outsiders.
When one of the Seekers retires, with Bryn finally old enough to compete for his place, she jumps at the chance to fulfil her dream. There’s just one problem: Bryn is the first girl ever to join the Seeker competitions. And not everyone’s happy she’s participating.
When Bryn is kicked out of the training sessions—and therefore her best chance of becoming a Seeker—she thinks she might not be able to win after all. But then she meets Ari, her fellow competitor, who agrees to help her train—if she helps him care for an illegal baby dragon who he’s hiding outside the village.
Bryn knows that if they’re discovered, she and Ari will be disqualified. But this is her best chance at winning, even though Ari refuses to tell her where he got the dragon egg.
But then she and Ari begin to uncover unfolding secrets in their village, and Bryn realizes this is about much more than who becomes a Seeker. It’ll decide the fate of the Wild Realm.
Seekers of the Wild Realm is a fast-paced fantasy novel somewhere between First Test and Septimus Heap. Bryn is a brave and likable protagonist, and I like how the story unfolds as she uncovers mysteries. I particularly like Alexandra Ott’s worldbuilding—the Wild Realm feels interesting and magical, and the magic the villagers have is a little different than anything I’ve come across before. I’m looking forward to reading book two! I would recommend Seekers of the Wild Realm to readers ages nine and up.
Note: If you like Seekers of the Wild Realm, check out our interview with author Alexandra Ott!
Book Reviews By & For Kids
Everyone knows that Rapunzel spent her early years locked up in a tower. We’d like to think she had plenty of books to while away the time, and that she’d appreciate our own favorites.
Get notified via Twitter every time we post a review! Follow: @RapunzelReads