YA – Pretty Dead Queens

Donne, Alexa. Pretty Dead Queens. Crown, 2022. 978-0-593-47982-7. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Moving to a new town to live with her estranged grandmother is not the senior year Cecelia Ellis had in mind. Her mother’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing have forced Cecelia on a new path, but her plan is to graduate and get out of town just like her mom did. In the meantime, she’s living at the top of creepy Victorian mansion with Maura Weston, her famous mystery writing grandmother. Though a small California coastal town, Seaview was put on the map years ago with Maura’s first book, a fictionalized version about the of death of one of Maura’s classmates. Later turned into a movie which was filmed in Seaview, the town now has its own unique traditions, like a murder tour given by two of Cecelia’s classmates and Weston-Con, a weekend retreat for fans of Maura’s thriller books. When one of Cecelia’s classmates is found dead under eerily similar circumstances to one of Maura’s books, Cecelia distracts herself from her grief by trying to solve the murder and determine if a copycat killer is loose in Seaview – or if someone was wrongly convicted years ago. As Cecelia learns about the history of Seaview and about animosity among her new friends, she’s convinced there’s more to the story. Will Cecelia make a connection before the police solve the case, or will she be the killer’s next victim?

THOUGHTS: Knowing all that Cecelia has overcome, readers will root for her to uncover the truth behind two crimes that are decades apart. Fans of fast-paced mystery/thrillers (like Donne’s The Ivies and Henry’s Two Truths and a Lie) will enjoy this whodunit.  

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG/YA – A Forgery of Roses

Olson, Jessica S. A Forgery of Roses. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1335418661. $19.99. 384p. Grades 7-12.

Myra Whitlock has a secret: she’s a prodigy. When she paints, she can access her magic, and heal her subjects. Not everyone is accepting of prodigies, especially the governor, but when his wife discovers her secret, she hires Myra to paint her recently deceased son, Will, in the hopes of bringing him back to life. Myra has never resurrected a person before, but the reward is too great to pass up. Money has been tight since her parents’ disappearance, and her sick, younger sister needs to see a doctor, a luxury they no longer can afford. When she arrives at the governor’s house, she befriends the governor’s oldest son, August, and together, they discover that Will’s death was not an accident, and if Myra has any chance of bringing him back, she must first discover the mysterious circumstances of his death and avoid becoming the next victim herself.

THOUGHTS:  A Forgery of Roses is a magical, murder mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end. Although two of the main characters develop feelings for each other, it goes no further than a few embraces and kisses, making this title a good fit for middle school libraries as well as high school ones. Myra is hired to use her magic to bring a person back to life, and the book does contain descriptions of blood and gore among murder victims and within art work. One of the main characters suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and that’s not always a trait readers get to see in main characters.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – You’ll be the Death of Me

McManus, Karen. You’ll be the Death of Me. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-593-17586-6. 336 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

She’s back again. New characters, same sticky mystery style that has the reader guessing until the end. In McManus’ newest novel, we meet Ivy, Mateo, and Cal who used to be friends in middle school, but now as seniors, it’s been a long time since they’ve hung out. Enter: The worst day ever. McManus has yet to shy away from heavy and uncomfortable topics like the opioid crisis, death, and on the periphery, racism. This story starts with a student death, from an overdose or murder, and genuinely keeps the pages turning faster and faster as tiny clues and back stories surface through this varying point-of-view novel. Ivy, Mateo, and Cal work together to solve how their classmate died, and to keep themselves out of trouble.

THOUGHTS: If McManus’ novels aren’t on your high school shelves yet, purchase all of them, but don’t expect them to stay on your shelf long. Her classic whodunit style is laced perfectly with an authentic take on the high school experience (hopefully with a lot less drugs, drama, and death!). 

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – One Great Lie

Caletti, Deb. One Great Lie. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-46317-2. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Caletti has a knack for writing twisty stories that feel like a mystery, mild adult thriller, and realistic young adult fiction all in one. Pulling from current events in modern culture, such as the #MeToo movement, Caletti is able to tell a story while weaving in historically accurate information about female writers from the 1500s and 1600s that are largely unknown. Set mostly in the picturesque city of Venice, Charlotte was selected for an exclusive writing retreat for students to work with a renowned author. While leaving a home that isn’t always comfortable might come as a golden opportunity, Charlotte faces her own tribulations in Venice, and the distance makes it hard for her to communicate with her nearest and dearest. That is, except for Dante. By all standards, this book has romantic elements with unexpected developments in all story lines.

THOUGHTS: All high school libraries should start a Deb Caletti shelf now. This novel will be of particular interest to those who enjoy learning about historical female writers, art preservation, or Italy.

Romance          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Realistic Fiction

YA – The Hawthorne Legacy

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games Book 2). Hachette, 2021. 978-0-759-55763-5. $17.99. 368 p. Grades 7 and up.

“A Very Risky Gamble,” that’s what Avery Kylie Grambs is to Tobias Hawthorne, the famous billionaire that left his entire fortune and estate to her upon his death, instead of to his children and grandsons. Avery and the Hawthornes are still trying to figure out the game Tobias is playing with them and the events that connect each of them, and a history of tragedy, together. With Avery’s realization that Toby Hawthorne, Tobias’s long-lost son, is still alive and possibly the secret her mother never got to share with her before her death, she, Jameson, Grayson, and Alexander set out to find Toby and figure out the mystery that connects them all together. But, what happens when Toby doesn’t want to be found, and the others want answers? As the four dig deeper into Hawthorne history and legend, they must accept the faults of one another, a family history of secrets and lies, and overcome threats to their lives. In the end, though, are answers worth all that must be revealed in the search?

THOUGHTS: Once again, Jennifer Lynn Barnes does not disappoint. Her writing style and storytelling keeps readers on the edge of their seats for all 368 pages (and more as they look forward to the next installment). Her character development connects the reader with Avery and each member of the Hawthorne family, so as to pull the reader into the story to solve the mystery right alongside Avery, Grayson, Jameson, and Alexander. This is a must-have for all middle school and high school collections.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Picking right up where The Inheritance Games leaves off, Barnes takes readers on another puzzle-filled, mystery/adventure. Avery, Jameson, Grayson, and Alexander aren’t satisfied without having all of the answers – or as much information as they can extract from Tobias Hawthorne’s clues. Though threats still are very real, Avery and the Hawthorne brothers persist, uncovering long buried secrets that send them in new directions. Finding possible connections to her past, Avery thinks she’s finally cracking the case, only to be left with someone who doesn’t want to be found. Digging deeper into the past with some who want to leave it in the past, Avery, find some uncomfortable truths about their family histories. Sometimes past mistakes are best left in the past, but is finding out the truth worth all of the pain that comes with it?

THOUGHTS: Fans of Barnes’ other novels will devour this addition and anticipate the next installment (The Final Gambit, 2022). While reading book one first makes for a more clear understanding of the events in the second book, it could be read by itself (I’d recommend enjoying both). Highly recommended for secondary collections.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Avery Grahams still is in the middle of a puzzle. Why did Tobias Hawthorne leave his fortune to her, a stranger with no connection to the famous and wealthy family? After uncovering clues left behind by Tobias in his will, Avery, along with the Hawthorne brothers, are left with more questions than answers. Do the answers lie with Toby Hawthorne who died in a fire years before or with her mother who may have been keeping some real secrets from her daughter? As the mysteries begin to unravel, the danger continues to grow. Who can Avery trust with her life, and who can she ultimately trust with her heart?

THOUGHTS: The Hawthorne Legacy had me hooked from page one, and just like the previous novel, I couldn’t stop reading! This is a great series to recommend to readers who have a hard time committing to a new book or series, or to anyone who enjoys a mystery novel. I’m impatiently waiting for the final book in the trilogy since there are still so many secrets that have not been revealed and puzzles that need to be solved. 

Realistic Fiction          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Throwaway Girls

Contos, Andrea. Throwaway Girls. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30314-2. 392 p. $17.30. Grades 9-12.

With only three months left until graduation and a few days after that until she turns 18, Caroline Lawson is more than ready to leave her prep school and unsupportive parents behind. All she has to do is put on a smile and pretend like everything is perfect. Things are anything but perfect, and Caroline can’t wait to leave and be who she truly is meant to be. Caroline’s girlfriend recently broke up with her and left for California, and Caroline’s best friend Madison just disappeared. Having kept secrets from each other and grown apart, Caroline feels partially responsible for Madison’s disappearance. Feeling like the only person capable of finding Madison, Caroline sets off on a dangerous path, determined to find her friend before it’s too late. But Caroline has to face some truths about herself, her relationship, her family, and about her friend. The deeper Caroline digs, the more she uncovers – including other girls who have gone missing. Why hasn’t anyone noticed these girls, and how is Madison connected to them? As Caroline gets closer to uncovering the truth, she realizes she may be the one connection between them all.

THOUGHTS: Despite having endless means, Caroline is extremely unhappy. The adults fail teens over and over. Mystery readers will be absorbed into this twisty narrative (this reviewer had a few jaw-dropping realizations) and will root for Caroline to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Girl, Unframed

Caletti, Deb. Girl, Unframed. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-42697-9. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Can you imagine if your mom was famous? Like moviestar-famous? Sydney doesn’t usually have to deal with her mom and her drama, but she’s going to visit her for the summer. Before setting eyes on her mom, the newest man in Lila’s life picks Sydney up from the airport, and it’s all downhill from there. From shady art dealings to rejected credit cards, Sydney misses her friends from home. Luckily, she befriends a guy working construction next door because shady art dealings quickly become the least of their worries. It’s as if Lila’s movie script has come to life, but crimes of passion are still crimes.

THOUGHTS: There is a lot of heaviness to unpack in this story, from women who prioritize beauty over motherhood and men treating women like objects, not to mention murder. A good addition for high school libraries looking for YA thrillers that are also coming of age stories.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – The Boy in the Red Dress

Lambert, Kristin. The Boy in the Red Dress. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11368-4. $18.99. 362 p. Grades 9 and up. 

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1929 in the French Quarter, and Millie is running her Aunt Cal’s speakeasy, the Cloak and Dagger, while she’s out of town. Running a speakeasy during prohibition is dangerous enough, but the Cloak and Dagger’s entertainment includes drag shows, and the patrons are primarily from the LGBTQ community, making it doubly scandalous by 1929’s standards. The employees and patrons take care of each other though, and Millie, who is bisexual herself, would love nothing more than if her Aunt would let her quit school and help her run the place. This New Year’s Eve, she thinks, might be her chance to prove herself. But then a group of high-society newbies show up to the Cloak and Dagger, and one of them starts looking for a boy from her past she’s showing in a photograph, a boy who looks an awful lot like Millie’s best friend, who now goes by Marion and is the “undisputed queen of the Cloak and Dagger.” After Marion’s big performance at midnight, the girl – Arimentha – is found dead in the alley, apparently pushed off the balcony near Marion’s dressing room, and all the evidence points to Marion as the murderer when details emerge about their past. Millie knows her best friend is not a murderer; she just has to prove it to everyone else. As if solving a murder mystery isn’t complicated enough, Millie’s mostly-absent mother reappears forcing her to deal with some repressed feelings, and throughout her quest to clear Marion’s name, she also finds herself romantically interested in both Bennie – the son of one of their bootlegged alcohol suppliers – and Olive – a waitress at the Cloak and Dagger.

THOUGHTS: This is a fun, different kind of LGBTQ tale given the time period. Though primarily a mystery, the novel has lots of layers including a love triangle that is good but very much a sub-plot that doesn’t take over the primary storyline. Touches on the history of the time period, but at its heart, this murder mystery is just plain entertaining with a likeable cast of outcast characters, even Millie’s flawed mother. Highly recommended for collections where patrons can’t get enough LGBTQ.

Mystery          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD