Angie Sage is the author of the internationally bestselling, award-winning Septimus Heap series (beginning with Magyk), which follows the training and adventures of a young wizard in a quirky and ‘magykal’ world. Her other novels include TodHunter Moon, a companion trilogy to Septimus Heap; the Araminta Spookie series; and her latest novel, Twilight Hauntings, the first in a duology about a girl in a world where magic is forbidden (the sequel, Midnight Train, will be released next month). We’ve read and loved her books for years, so we were especially thrilled to interview her about Septimus Heap and Twilight Hauntings for this month’s feature!
RapunzelReads: The Septimus Heap series has a large (and hilarious!) cast and is narrated omnisciently—how do you create a variety of believable, distinct characters, and does having many narrating characters affect the way that you write stories?
Angie Sage: It is strange, but I am not aware of actually creating the characters – they seem to appear fully formed and then rapidly set about telling me who they are and what they intend to do. I guess they are believable because they do feel very real to me. The characters are the driver of the books; they pretty much dictate the plot and the action. I think this is what gives them reality, because they are not puppets subservient to the
We're thrilled to announce our final 2020 Book of the Year: Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga!
What it’s about: When tensions rise dangerously in Jude’s home city in Syria, she and her mother fly to America, where they move in with her aunt and uncle in Cincinnati. As Jude struggles to adjust to a new culture, language, school—a new life—she learns that America is different than it seems in the movies. Everything is big and loud and shiny, clamoring for attention. She learns that some people expect her to be a certain way before they even meet her, or seem to treat her differently when she starts wearing a headscarf. But in America she also finds friends, allies, hope for her family in Syria and a connection with those in America. She finds a place which, slowly but surely, begins to feel like home.
Why we chose it: Every now and then I’ll randomly stumble across a book, decide to give it a try, and end up completely adoring it. Other Words for Home is definitely one of those. A combination of gorgeous free verse, a multilayered plot, and a protagonist who I completely loved creates a poignant, inspiring story about finding a new home and growing up. The story never gets violent or dark, but still honestly faces the realities of being a young Middle Eastern refugee. I’ve connected with many book characters in different ways over the years, but Jude touched me more deeply than any have in a long time, and I utterly adored her. Her fears for her family and the future make her immensely relatable, but it’s her courage, dreams, and unquenchable spark which truly make her shine.
We've selected the fantasy novel The Thickety: A Path Begins by J. A. White as one of our 2020 Books of the Year!
What it’s about: There are two sources of dark magic feared in Kara Westfall’s village: the Thickety, a dangerous forest which lies not far from the town, and the nefarious witches who are rumored to all be dead, but some claim still live. Kara’s mother was condemned for reported witchcraft seven years ago, and although Kara herself has never displayed the same skills, people whisper that she can cast spells, too.
Witchcraft is the last place Kara would ever turn, but then she’s lured into the Thickety by a one-eyed bird which leads her to a grimoire--a magical book which she believes belonged to her mother. She knows she must destroy it, but with it, she learns she can cast spells, and its power begins to pull at her, turning her actions strangely. As she becomes deeper enmeshed in a web of secrets threading through the village, Kara must uncover the truth of what happened seven years ago--or become the witch the villagers have always feared she’ll become. Read our full review here!
Why we chose it: The Thickety: A Path Begins is a fully imagined, engrossing fantasy novel. The plot is full of twists and questions, unpredictable in the best sort of way. White’s world is unique, multilayered and well-developed. Kara’s inner strengths and struggles drive this book and intertwine with other elements of this novel, helping it become fast-paced, sympathetic, and dimensional. We’ve selected A Path Begins as one of our Books of the Year because it expertly fulfills all my hopes as a reader--a detailed setting, a complex plot, and a determined protagonist which together make this story a standout.
Our favorite nonfiction book from the past year is Rad Girls Can by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl!
What it’s about: All over the world, girls are making headlines, whether they’re breaking records, giving speeches, or fighting for social justice. Some have become celebrities, while others have worked against inequality in their own communities. And of course, there are those who are now grown up, but changed the course of history when they were girls. Rad Girls Can celebrates the accomplishments of almost fifty amazing young women, all under the age of twenty, who have in some way changed the world for the better.
Why we chose it: I’ve read many books celebrating the accomplishments of young people, feminists, etc., but Rad Girls Can remains my favorite. I first read Rad Girls Can several years ago, and it inspired me to learn more about a lot of the girls it profiles, many of whom I had never heard of before. Short, informative, engaging pieces about a variety of vastly different young women are combined with unique, expressive illustrations, resulting in a fascinating, empowering, and fun exploration of just how much a girl can do when she puts her mind to it. As Marley Dias, founder of the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign, said, “You don’t have to be very old to start trying to fix the problems you see in the world around you.”
Our favorite For Older Readers (young adult) novel we reviewed this year is the fantasy book Seraphina by Rachel Hartman!
What it’s about: Sixteen-year-old Seraphina Dombegh is hardly like others in the land of Goredd, and not just because of her extraordinary musical talent. Her mother was a saarantras—a dragon in human form—and although the Goreddi-dragon treaty signed forty years ago frames the two species as allies, intolerance remains rampant between them. Seraphina can only keep this secret by remaining out of the spotlight, but when she becomes the assistant to the court musician, Viridius, and begins to be caught up in the multilayered intrigues of Goredd’s royal family, it becomes much more difficult. Yet she might be the only one able to uncover the plot against the dragons, the royal family, and the treaty itself. Read our full review here!
Why we chose it: Seraphina is a multilayered, engrossing fantasy novel full of well-defined characters and intricate worldbuilding. Seraphina herself is one of my favorite protagonists, equal parts sympathetic and flawed, and her emotional journey makes this book beautiful and strong: it’s about more than dragons and court intrigue, it’s about a girl who is, despite her mixed ancestry, deeply and beautifully human. The plot is full of twists and intricacies, similar to a mystery, and the world of the Southlands introduced in this novel is detailed and multifaceted. This is my favorite teen fantasy from this year--I highly recommend it!
Our next favorite from 2020 is the first of two fantasy books: The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins!
What it’s about: The turnaway girls live in a cloister outside of the city Blightsend, under the watchful eye of Mother Nine, where they learn how to make gold, or shimmer, out of the music Masters play outside the walls. They learn to do as they’re told. They learn to be silent. Only girls are allowed to make shimmer, silently creating treasures for the Master who chooses them. And only boys are permitted to be Masters, the makers of music who live free, outside the cloister.
Twelve-year-old Delphernia has been raised in the cloister, but she’s never been like the other turnaway girls. She can’t make shimmer, and she can sing pure magic. She’s always asking questions. When she is chosen by a Master to leave the cloister, it seems that her dreams have come true--but there are shadows in the city, ones which threaten all she has gained. In order to save her new friends--and her city--change will have to come. And Delphernia is no stranger to speaking up when no one else will. Read our full review here!
Why we chose it: Luminous and absorbing, The Turnaway Girls explores the silence which girls are often taught to keep, and the courage and importance of those who speak out anyway. Although it’s written in prose, it’s written so beautifully that it sometimes reads more like poetry. I loved Delphernia’s development over the course of the story, and her growing confidence and courage, and the other characters are wonderful as well, making the cast irresistible. We have selected The Turnaway Girls as a Book of the Year because of its intricate, enchanting writing and storyworld, and its deftly woven tale of a girl finding her voice, which is both timely and timeless.
Our first Book of the Year is the first of two realistic fiction novels: Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido!
What it's about: Twelve-year-old Emmy loves music, but no matter how hard she tries, she’s never been able to carry a note or play a tune. After years of musical disappointments, she decides she can’t pretend to be what she isn’t, and when she enters a new school, she’s placed not in a music class, but in Computer Science. But from the first time Emmy enters the computer lab, she discovers a new type of music: the music of a keyboard and lines of code. Coding brings Emmy a new sense of self, a teacher she cares about, and even a best friend. But just as she’s beginning to find a place in her new school—one made from lines of code, not notes of music—the last thing she expects happens, and she’s left struggling to come to terms with an event which changes everything. Read our full review here!
Why we chose it: Emmy in the Key of Code is one of my favorite realistic fiction books, period. I love how Emmy develops and discovers her true talents as a coder, but I truly connected with her because of her realism: her struggles with self-confidence, her interactions with other characters, and her love of science and art, instead of fitting neatly into one box. Written in rhythmic free verse interspersed with lines of code, this book combines elements of coding, music, women in science, bullying, moving, friendship, and self-discovery in a truly outstanding and original way.
Now that 2020 has drawn to a close, we're excited to announce our second annual Books of the Year, where we recognize our favorite books which we've reviewed in the past year.
Over the next five days, beginning later today, we'll announce our favorites in four categories: two Fantasy, two Realistic Fiction, one Nonfiction, and one from our For Older Readers page. Stay tuned for our recent favorites!
By Piranha T.
Toronia has been ripped apart by the Thousand Years’ War for longer than memory lasts, a war fought not with an outer enemy, but within itself. King Brutan, the most recent ruler, seized the crown unjustly from his brother. He is an unmistakable tyrant, and the fighting continues.
But one night, three new stars appear in the sky. Their coming was prophesized by Toronia’s first wizard, many years ago, said to herald justice for the kingdom with the coming of three new heirs who will kill the king and seize the throne. And so the three heirs come, triplets born to King Brutan who he intends to kill. They are only saved by the intervention of an ancient wizard, who takes them away and sends them to different corners of Toronia, hoping to save them by separation until the prophecy is fulfilled.
The triplets grow up in secret, hidden apart. Agulphus, called Gulph, becomes an acrobat in a traveling troupe of entertainers. Elodie is raised by a wealthy lord, knowing she will become queen, but not of her brothers or the prophecy. And Tarlan grows up in ice and snow, raised by a witch and surrounded by powerful, enormous birds. The three soon find their paths colliding, and the prophecy being fulfilled. But they are pitted against a merciless king and dark magic—a power which only grows as they fight against it.
Crown of Three was a very cool book which I enjoyed quite a bit. Gulph, Elodie and Tarlan are three very different protagonists who are all likable, but in whom I think most readers will find a favorite who they’ll find themselves rooting for especially—I certainly did! Despite carrying on three storylines for most of the book—following the three main characters—J. D. Rinehart managed to switch between them in a fluid way which kept me engaged in all of them. This book pulled me in and kept me reading to the end; I recommend it to readers ages eleven and up who enjoy high fantasy and multiple protagonists.
By Super Kitty
Twelve-year-old Charlie has grown up hearing stories of her relatives who were killed in the Holocaust, especially her grandmother's sister Charlotte. So when her history teacher assigns a family history project, she knows just who she wants to research--Charlotte, better known as Lottie, who was an extraordinary violinist and played for the Vienna Philharmonic in her teens. It's not just because she's Charlie's namesake, or their shared love of violin. It's because she disappeared, and though her family tells her that she was almost certainly lost in the Holocaust, Charlie wants to find out what really happened.
As she digs deeper, Charlie begins to piece together more of Lottie's life, and learns more about her family--both those she's researching and the ones she lives with. But her discoveries only lead to more questions, and she begins to wonder: Was Lottie really killed? Or could she still be alive?
And is there really any way, over sixty years later and an ocean away, to find the truth?
I've read many books about the Holocaust, but this was the first which explored its effects on the second and third generations of families, and although the story is relatively straightforward, as an older reader I also really also enjoyed it. Charlie is an immensely likable protagonist, and I loved how the mystery of Lottie's story unfolded, and the combination of historical and contemporary plot threads. The ending was particularly well done--although it's a happy ending, it also felt believable, and I liked her balance between connections and open-endedness. I would recommend Searching for Lottie to readers ages eight and up looking for a warm, engaging, and satisfying story about family connections and keeping memories of loved ones bright.
By Piranha T.
The Icemark is not a country for the faint of heart. Hemmed in by mountains filled with strange creatures to the north, and the bloodthirsty Polypontian Empire to the south—led by the famed general Scipio Bellorum—the tiny Icemark has always struggled to defend itself. Yet it has always managed to fend off invaders—until now.
Thirrin Freer Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield is a warrior princess, the only child of the Icemark’s king. Known for her skill and daring, it has long been acknowledged that someday, she will lead her country well. But when her father is killed in a border conflict with Scipio Bellorum’s armies, fourteen-year-old Thirrin is left to lead her country into war against one of the most infamous generals in the world.
So she gathers her strength. With the help of her advisors—her elderly tutor and a witch’s son with more power than anyone seems to realize—Thirrin sets out to rally the strength of her country and forge new alliances. She joins with the fierce Hypolitan, seeks the aid of The-Land-of-the-Ghosts and the Wolf-Folk to the north, and journeys even further still, to partner with legendary Snow Leopards. But even with that added strength, will Thirrin be able to lead the Icemark into victory?
I’ve wanted to read The Cry of the Icemark for a while, and it did not disappoint. Thirrin is a strong and undauntable protagonist who reminded me of Kel, in that they are both fierce and brilliant female main characters. That said, although this is a fantasy novel with elements of a medieval/historical world, it doesn’t fall into the same mold as many others; it is multilayered and full of unusually portrayed magic, focusing on war while still having a story beyond it. The Cry of the Icemark may be about Thirrin’s struggle to protect her country, but it is so much more than that. This story is about alliances and friendships, the world and characters in some ways contributing more to the feel of the story than the war itself. Even if you feel tired of what may feel like repetitive fantasy novels, I suggest you give this one a try. And if you do like fantasy—particularly books like Seraphina, The Goblin Wood, or the Protector of the Small Quartet—this is definitely a top pick. To fantasy lovers ages eleven and up, I highly recommend The Cry of the Icemark.
By Piranha T.
Words have power—and in an alternate version of Earth, they can create worlds. Certain people, known as scriptologists, are able to write worlds into reality. One of three branches of magic, scriptology is a finite and dangerous science which can easily be done wrong. And one worldbook holds a dangerous power, one which many people are desperate to use.
Elsa is from Veldana, the first—and only—populated scribed world. Her mother, Jumi, is a Veldanese scriptologist who is constantly expanding their still-new world. Perhaps Veldana’s age, and its small size, is why it is still uncomplicated by war or countries or technology.
But when Jumi is kidnapped, Elsa’s world falls apart. She escapes to Earth just before Veldana’s worldbook is burned, and without it, she knows her home is gone. Now, her hope is simply to find—and, potentially, save—her mother, who she is certain is somewhere on Earth. Yet even that may be more dangerous than she anticipates. For she is also a prize to her enemies.
With the help of a group of new friends—including Leo, a boy whose past is dark and whose future is closely tied to Elsa’s mission—she searches for the truth about her mother’s kidnappers, and a book she scribed before her disappearance. A book her kidnappers are desperate to find.
Ink, Iron and Glass was one of those books I picked up off a library shelf, and completely engrossed me. Gwendolyn Clare’s version of a magical Victorian Italy, and her depictions of the scribed worlds, are some of the best fantasy settings I’ve read in a while, reminiscent of The Glass Sentence and The Golden Compass. The magic is interesting and unique, fitting effortlessly into the atmosphere of this book. Elsa and the supporting characters are all extremely deep and distinct, with no two quite alike, all with their own personalities which bounce off of each other beautifully. And the story itself is unpredictable and engaging. This book is one of the best I’ve read this year, and I think it would appeal to readers who loved the theme of writing in Inkheart and Finding Serendipity, but are now looking for something a little older; that said, Ink, Iron and Glass is a great novel for anyone who loves fantasy. To lovers of brilliant worlds and deep characters ages eleven and up, I highly recommend Ink, Iron and Glass.
Click here to read our latest nonfiction review, featuring Chew on This, a fascinating book about the fast food industry.
By Piranha T.
Back home in Kansas, everyone was used to the fact that Aven Green doesn’t have any arms. She was born like that, and even though it’s never stood in her way—her adoptive parents have always helped her figure things out on her own—she’s always been different in the eyes of other kids.
So when her parents take a job managing a decrepit cowboy-themed park in Arizona, Aven isn’t surprised when her armlessness is the first thing everyone sees in her. Still, she finds a friend in Connor, a boy who’s as isolated as she is, and together, they begin to uncover an unexpected mystery in Aven’s new home—one which seems suspiciously connected to herself.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is a funny, eye-opening, entertaining book. Author Dusti Bowling seamlessly tackles difficult themes of disabilities and exclusiveness while simultaneously crafting a hilarious story about friendship, mystery, and change. Aven is a funny and relatable main character who truly carried this book. Unlike many other thought-provoking novels, it didn’t feel like Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus was about Aven not having arms. Instead, this was simply one part of it, a section of Aven’s life which was a part of the story without taking it over, which was extremely well done. Overall, I would recommend Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus to readers ages nine and up, whether you’re looking for a thought-provoking read or simply a relatable realistic fiction book.
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.
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