2022 was a great year for Rapunzel Reads! Some quick highlights:
- We interviewed nine more of our favorite authors: Lisa Fipps, Scott Reintgen, Barbara Dee, Robert Beatty, Harry Harvey, Laura Brooke Robson, Claribel A Ortega, Diana Farid, and Janae Marks! Check out all our interviews to hear about their inspiration, favorite books as a kid, and more.
- We reviewed 43 books (and had an awesome guest review on Those Kids from Fawn Creak)!
- We kept reviewing favorite sequels, and this year, we highlighted four which were just as good as their predecessors: Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality, Breaking Badlands, The Last Fallen Moon, and Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris.
- We posted two awesome booklists: one highlighting favorite books in verse, and another focusing on books we love with particularly amazing covers.
- We reviewed a number of spectacular YA books, both on our For Older Readers page and under the Young Adult category on our main page.
Plus, if you haven't seen it already, we joined Instagram, and we'd be thrilled if you followed us there! We post whenever we have a new review, and highlight some bonus recommendations too. Check it out, and follow us @rapunzelreadsbooks!
And now...on to our fourth annual Books of the Year!
This year, we chose ten books that were our particular favorites, in six different categories: graphic novel, novel in verse, series, realistic fiction, YA fantasy, and MG fantasy. It was so hard to narrow down these ten from all the phenomenal books we read this year, but these are, indisputably, standouts: whether from their stunning characters, beautiful prose, unexpected depth, or exciting twists, they stuck out to us while reading, and stayed with us all these months later. We're so glad to get to share them with you--we hope you love them as much as we do!
Here's to another year of fabulous books,
Ella and Lina
Favorite Novel in Verse
Wave by Diana Farid
We read a number of amazing novels in verse this year, but one was a clear favorite: Wave by Diana Farid.
Eloquent, heart-wrenching, and tender, Wave is a standout for several reasons. Firstly, Ava is a believable, multilayered protagonist; despite differing ages, decades, and interests, her insecurities and victories ring piercingly true to me as she grapples with the tension between her own vision for her life and future and those which others push her toward.
The characters are deftly drawn and distinct, and the relationships between them truly make Wave shine; the connection Ava develops with an elderly, poetry-loving patient is particularly touching, while her bond with Phoenix centers and grounds the story---just as it does Ava herself.
I've never surfed (personally, I think it sounds terrifying!), but Farid's exquisite free verse turns the ocean into a friend, a sparkling world so beautiful that I found myself rereading passages again and again, and feeling the sea to be a home, just as it is to Ava. And the story's moving, lyrical exploration of grief and healing mark it as a modern Bridge to Terabithia, one as perfect for book groups and discussions as it is for someone searching for a simply beautiful read. I highly recommend Wave to readers eleven and up!
Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L D Lapinski
I personally love series, especially in the fantasy genre. They have a particular skill at sweeping you up completely into a story, immersing you completely in another world--or, in this case, a number of other worlds.
I read the first book in the series, Strangeworlds Travel Agency, back in January, and quickly devoured the second and third books in the series, The Edge of the Ocean and The Secrets of the Stormforest. When I found myself considering my favorite books at the end of this year, I knew indisputably that the Strangeworlds Travel Agency series had to be on the list.
There are so many things to love about these books! To begin with, I love the style. Lapinski's writing has a quirky, almost old-fashioned feel which remains firmly grounded in the present day, and not only did it make me want to keep reading as soon as possible, it brought a special glimmer of magic to the story, not unlike what Flick sees when she looks through a magnifying glass for the first time. Even the oddest, most far-fetched worlds feel believable and intriguing, and the almost whimsical originality of so much of the books--enchanted suitcases! shrinking worlds! giant merpeople!--made every twist and turn unexpected and delightful.
Flick, Jonathan, and (beginning in the second book) Avery are one of my favorite sets of middle-grade protagonists. I truly felt as though I was getting to know them better as the series progressed, like beloved friends I wish I could spend more time with. But I would be remiss if I only focused on the protagonists, because there is so much depth to the supporting cast as well. The nuances of character relationships, old conflicts, and the different societies of all the worlds they travel through make every interaction sparkle and propel the fast-paced plot forward through all manner of unexpected twists and turns.
I absolutely loved the entire Strangeworlds Travel Agency series--I highly recommend them to readers nine and up!
I absolutely loved the entire Strangeworlds Travel Agency series--I highly recommend them to readers nine and up!
Favorite YA Fantasy Novels
Girls at the Edge of the World by Laura Brooke Robson
Evocative, atmospheric, and thoughtful, I knew Girls at the Edge of the World was going to be one of my favor-ite books this year immediately after reading it. Bright, multifaceted charac-ters, luminous worldbuilding, and a deft philosophical undercurrent make it an undeniable standout--at once a story of struggling, shining girls in a darkening world, a defiant queer romance, and an ode to living life to the fullest and the things that make it worth living at all.
It's a fast read, the writing light but deft, and while there are familiar elements to the storyline, the plot and characters feel fresh and original, dodging clichés with unexpected twists and a distinctly witty, thoughtful narrative. It's also a piercing, contemplative look at heteropatriarchy, religion, colonialism, and how economic and class divides are displayed and exacerbated by climate change--all without being remotely preachy or contrived.
I especially loved the flyers, a blend of art and athletics, stardom and symbolism constantly training to bring the city together and earn their own survival; there's believable competitiveness and drive within the troupe, but also fierce loyalty and palpable caring between its members. I highly recommend Girls at the Edge of the World to readers ages twelve and up.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Particularly excellent books are often described as 'unable to be put down.' Raybearer was, for me, one of the rare books where this was absolutely true. From the first page, the world and characters are all-absorbing, and I was so glad to discover that there was a sequel--only for that, alas, to end as well.
In Raybearer, Ifueko delivers one of the rarest kinds of stories: one that combines exquisite writing and a vivid, atmospheric world with one of the strongest, most fierce, most utterly sympathetic protagonists I've ever had the pleasure to encounter, whose refusal to let her future and fate be controlled by another secure the story both in unexpected twists and startling, inarguable realism. With such a unique and multilayered storyline, full of twists I very honestly never saw coming, it feels as though it should be plot-driven, but it never feels that way; Tarisai is undeniably the driving force in this book, and I absolutely fell in love with her and her story.
However, I would be remiss to ignore all the other characters in favor of Tarisai, because every character in Raybearer truly feels distinct, and their relationships and conflicts often carry the story as much as she does. Every glowing description and quiet interaction is beautiful and vivid, and Tarisai's world manages to feel both as personal and expansive as our own.
I struggled to write a review for Raybearer that truly encapsulated how much I loved it, and I find myself doing the same thing here. This book is full of emotion and strength, feminism and defiance, a stunning tale of a girl who refuses to be quiet, and a world full of magic and mystery but also deep, ingrained flaws. Raybearer is utterly beautiful, remarkable, and all-absorbing, and I highly recommend it to readers twelve and up.
Favorite Middle-Grade Fantasy Novels
The Sisters of Straygarden Place by Hayley Chewins
I adored Hayley Chewins's first novel, The Turnaway Girls; full of magic, atmosphere, and thoughtful, feminist undertones, it was practically an automatic Book of the Year back in 2020. The Sisters of Straygarden Place, her second book, utterly blew me away.
From the first page, Chewins's immersive, expansive prose pulled me into an atmospheric world full of floating trees and silver grass and strange magic as twined with mystery as its heroine, Mayhap. There was nothing predictable or cliche about this story, in the best possible way; each word was unexpected and beautiful, each twist startling, each description stunningly crafted and unique.
Mayhap--indeed, all the characters--shine so brightly, and the plot, which kept quite honestly surprising me, felt fully driven by their feelings and choices: choices that were not always perfect, but which reflected their dreams, fears, experiences, and desires so deeply that every character, every sentence, of this book feels utterly alive.
The Sisters of Straygarden Place is relatively short when it comes to page count, but its depth could belong to a much longer book. It's now been eight months since I last read this book, and I still find myself recalling its quiet beauty. It's a book about magical grass and uncovering secrets, yes--but far more than that, it's about sisterhood and belonging, discovery and love. It's a story for anyone who has
ever felt alone, or anyone who wants to feel like they belong. It truly has earned itself a permanent place in my heart, and so I wholeheartedly recommend it to readers ages ten and up.
The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud
It's a rare book that has me quite literally laughing out loud for almost the entire book--all while delivering a fast-paced story full of action, danger, and adventure. But The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne managed it several times over, earning it a well-deserved spot in my top ten.
From the opening lines onward (no, seriously--the opening of this book is absolutely hilarious), I was taken off-guard in the best possible way by Scarlett's perfectly executed, sardonic, dry sense of humor, giving the narrative a voice both wholly unique and an utter pleasure to read. I don't often come across books where the protagonist springs fully to life in my mind just from hearing the way she speaks, but Scarlett pulled it off beautifully, and the ingenious personality which she imbued the narrative with helped make the entire book utterly delightful to read.
But giving Scarlett all the credit for her improbably relatable character would be to ignore the other primary character, Albert. They are in many ways polar opposites, with Scarlett alert, driven, and sarcastic where Albert is dreamy, hopeful, and oblivious, and though the sharp contrast between them is a well-trodden trope, Stroud makes the conflicts between them feel unique, blending gratifying authenticity with unrestrained humor.
With clever twists, action, adventure, and an interesting and distinct setting, my interest never lagged--and unlike too many books with utterly brilliant beginnings, all of these things were carried wonderfully through the final page. I highly recommend The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne to readers ages ten and up.
Healer & Witch by Nancy Werlin
Historical fantasy is probably one of my favorite subgenres under the fantasy/sci-fi umbrella--these books often by necessity of the genre blend atmospheric settings and character-driven stories with the usual magical elements found in fantasy books. Healer and Witch by Nancy Werlin is one of those stories that reminds me just why I love historical fantasy so much. Set in sixteenth-century France, this quiet but powerful novel blends feminism, self-discovery, and magic in a way that feels stunningly unique.
Werlin's writing is, quite simply, exquisite. Simple and unadorned, it perfectly evokes the time and Sylvie's character as a girl who is far from naive, but nonetheless is largely ignorant of the world, and creates a story full of a broad range of emotions and details which truly make the story come alive, helping to anchor it in the time period.
If the prose anchors Healer and Witch, though, Sylvie, the protagonist, is inarguably the force that drives it. Her journey toward understanding, self-discovery, and in a way independence in a land that would rather stifle, confine, and condemn her for her abilities and simply for being a woman weaves the heart of this book, giving the story an emotional depth and complexity that truly make it shine. There are such subtle but beautiful threads of
feminism in her story, such determination and depth, that I couldn't help but fall in love with both Sylvie and her story. I highly recommend Healer and Witch to readers ages ten and up.
The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu
Some of my favorite books this year were ones that I picked up with high expectations, whether they stemmed from previous books by the same author or praise I'd heard concerning them--books like The Sisters of Straygarden Place and Raybearer. The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, though, was one book I picked up with essentially no expectations--and which utterly blew me away.
There is so much to love about this book. Simultaneously an engrossing, nuanced story full of magic and mystery and a deep, thoughtful exploration of the stories our society tells us--and who, ultimately, they truly serve, the ending alone of The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy inspired such a range of emotions in me: rage at the villains, surprise at the twists (those twists!), and a blend of awe and love for the protagonist, Marya, whose courage and determination is still strong in my memory all these months later.
Marya herself is one of the highlights of this book, a strong, flawed protagonist who finds herself coming to terms with a world that would rather she stay silent, and a society designed to keep her that way. She is forced unequivocally into a role that goes against who she is, but instead of resigning herself to it she continues to search for the system's cracks, and her development over the course of this book is a true joy to watch.
What perhaps stuck out to me most, though, is the depth of this story, and the quiet, thoughtful vein of feminism that is present throughout. This reflective, almost philosophical undertone--perhaps best epitomized by the lingering question, 'who does the story serve?'--creates an undercurrent of questioning and cross-examining patriarchy and predominant narratives that both inspires and empowers, and never even considers veering into a preachy or contrived vein. Marya's evolving understanding of the world along these lines intertwines with the narrative, giving the story new resonance and deepening, not stealing the spotlight from, its strong and resounding voice and plot. I highly recommend The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy to readers ages ten and up.
Favorite Graphic Novel
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed
I usually prefer prose books over graphic novels, but every so often I'll come across one whose beautiful illustrations and powerful story utterly absorb me. When Stars Are Scattered was one of those, a story of growing up that is both universal and powerfully unique.
In fact, I realized partway through reading it that I was experiencing the same feeling of total immersion in a story, oblivious to anything around me, that I usually only get when reading standout books in prose!
The bright, evocative, emotional artwork is gorgeous, and the writing is crisp and concise, creating a vibrant, compelling, sometimes heartbreaking story about childhood in a refugee camp, based on coauthor Mohamed’s own life. The characters are deftly woven and immensely believable, and it’s a fast, satisfying, and deeply important read.
At once a powerful personal story and an ode to the resilience and courage of the millions of people living in refugee camps today, I highly recommend When the Stars Are Scattered to readers ages nine and up.
Favorite Realistic Fiction Novel
Summer of Brave by Amy Noelle Parks
I usually read more fantasy than realistic fiction, but some of my favorite books are unexpected finds from this genre. Summer of Brave was one of those. Unflinching, realistic, and beautiful, Summer of Brave manages to say so much in a relatively short book, and I loved every word of it.
Many books, especially contemporary novels, feel almost overwhelmed by their themes, becoming preachy and contrived instead of creating a meaningful story too. Summer of Brave never even considered stumbling into that territory--and yet is one of the deepest and most thematically complex books I can remember reading recently. Navigating friendships, feminism, academic pressure, divorce, girls in STEM, and so much more is tied together into a quiet but brave story which gains its power from both when Lilla speaks up and when she feels she must remain silent.
I loved Lilla, the protagonist. While many books about bravery present it from a single angle, which includes becoming constantly, effortlessly confident, but this book doesn't--Lilla remains quiet and shy while still becoming brave, a powerful and too-rare nuance which was part of why I loved her character so much. I also loved how Lilla feels the seemingly conflicting pressures to be 'girly' and smart and groundbreaking, and her struggle with what everyone seems to think is the 'right' way to be a girl. The depth of her character (and all the supporting characters) truly made this book
come alive for me, and even when the characters' decisions weren't objectively 'right', I couldn't help but understand where they were coming from. I highly recommend Summer of Brave to readers ages ten and up.