YA – The Queen’s Assassin

De la Cruz, Melissa. The Queen’s Assassin. Penguin Random House, 2020. 978-0-525-51591-3. $18.99. 384p. Grades 9-12.

In the land of Renovia, Shadow of the Honey Glade longs to be an official member of the Guild in which she was raised and become an apprentice to Caledon Holt, the Queen’s Assassin like his father before him. When their paths inadvertently cross and he saves her life, she takes advantage of an opportunity to return the favor. When Cal is sent to Deersia prison to protect his identity as an assassin and await his next assignment from the queen, Shadow helps him escape and convinces him that she was sent to break him out and accompany him on his mission to infiltrate the country of Montrice to discover any plots against Renovia. Shadow is actually disobeying her aunts and mother, members of the Guild, to avoid becoming a lady of the queen’s court, but Cal believes her story, especially since her magic makes her a valuable partner as they travel to Montrice. Posing as brother and sister, Cal and Shadow are quickly swept up into Montrice society, making friends with aristocrats and the king, but as they attend hunts and balls for the sake of their mission, they can’t deny their growing attraction to each other. However, Cal’s life won’t be his own unless he can locate the missing Deian scrolls for the queen, and Shadow’s secrets are preventing her from living the life of an assassin. Will their love be enough without their freedom to choose the lives they want?

THOUGHTS: The Queen’s Assassin is perfect for anyone that enjoys fantasy and romance, and I loved this book for that very reason. The story is told from both Shadow’s and Caledon’s perspectives, and I always enjoy books that have more than one POV. Both main characters are essentially trapped in a life they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves, and that’s one of the reasons they are drawn to each other as they work together throughout the novel. The novel is split into three parts, including a prologue that contains some world building information and an epilogue that sets the scene for book two. This would be a great recommendation for readers who enjoy Throne of Glass and Serpent & Dove.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – How to Speak Boy

Smith, Tiana. How to Speak Boy. Feiwel and Friends, 2020. 978-1-250-24221-1. $17.99. 245 p. Grades 7-12.

Quinn Edwards and Grayson Hawks have been rivals on their speech and debate team for years. As seniors, they have been chosen as co-captains, and have no choice but to spend time with each other. While Quinn tries to juggle debate practices and schoolwork, one of her AP Government assignments gets mixed up with another student. Her ID number is 15511, but she received 15211’s paper. When she returns the assignment to the cubby of 15211, explaining the mix up in a note, she receives her assignment back, along with a message, beginning a series of notes exchanged between Quinn and this mystery student. Meanwhile, her relationship with Grayson remains a mystery also. One moment, they’re arguing, and the next, he asks to take her to the formal. As Quinn tries to puzzle out her relationships, she begins to wonder about 15211’s identity. Could it be Grayson? Does she want it to be? Or, could it be Carter, one of her best friends? Quinn feels like she can talk to 15211 about anything, but when he asks to meet in person, she panics. If he finds out who she is, will it ruin the relationship and trust they’ve built through their letter writing, and will it ruin any chance of being in a relationship with Grayson?

THOUGHTS: If you read the summary of this book on the inside of the dust jacket, you know that Quinn is actually writing to Grayson. It’s one of those books where, as the reader, you know more than the characters in the story. Throughout the story, Quinn’s friends try to give her advice about her relationship with Grayson and 15211. Quinn learns that sometimes the people who you are closest with might not always have your best interests at heart, and others turn out to be completely different if you just take the chance to get to know them. I think readers will also connect with the theme of anonymity, especially in today’s world. Although Quinn and Grayson hide behind letters, only signing their communications with their ID numbers, many young people today hide behind social media accounts where they may not share their identity yet connect with people that have the same interests as themselves. This is a sweet, romantic novel perfect for any reader looking for a love story.

Romance          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Just Our Luck

Walton, Julia. Just Our Luck. Random House. 2020,  978-0-399-55092-8. $17.99. 272 p. Grades 9-12.

Leonidas –Leo- quirky knitter and sensitive photographer, has been successful staying under the radar for most of his high school years. Then Drake Gibbons a wise-cracking, hyperactive jock punches him, and their consequences are enduring each others’ company in the counselor’s office until they become amicable. Leo’s mother died years ago and now with his Greek grandmother Yia Yia’s death, the silence in their Greek household is deafening and the relationship between him and his father even more distant. When his father insists his gentle son take a martial arts course to improve his pugilistic skills, Leo gets scared off and signs up for a yoga master certification course. Turns out, the person taking his registration is Evey Paros, from another Greek family who just happened to have cursed Leo’s many generations ago. Though she seems aloof, Evey has her own agenda. She’s been wronged by the biggest, richest, most popular dude at school, Jordan Swansea. After their breakup, Jordan sent out nude pictures of Evey over social media. She enlists Leo as her assistant in wreaking revenge. What ensues is a light romance with a touch of humor. Leo unexpectedly finds love, friends, and self confidence. A bonus is that Evey, too, finds a powerful alternative to thwarting Jordan besides sophomoric pranks.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Librarians should be aware this quick read has a lot of curses and little diversity (Drake’s girlfriend Jenn seems to be Latinx). However, the characters are humorous, and the plot discusses generalized anxiety, a condition today’s teens may recognize. Both Leo and Evey also have an interest in writing, and Leo delivers his first-person narrative in journal format. Pull for reluctant readers.

YA – Heartstopper #1

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper # 1. Graphix, 2020. 978-1-338-61743-6. 288 p. $14.99. Grades 8-12.

Fans of romance and coming of age stories, go no further. Oseman’s volume one of the Heartstopper series will do just that: stop your heart. This light take on a young man coming out to his school before he was really ready, dives into male friendships and more within a school setting. The story is set in England and revolves around a rugby team so there is slang that might be lost on some readers. This is a great story of male friendship that broadens into something more. Although school isn’t always a safe place, Oseman reminds us that there are people to be safe with. It’s important to note that this is a story revolving around gay high school students and that includes the abuse, both physical and verbal that still occurs, especially for individuals who are trying to figure themselves out. Oseman leaves the reader hanging and ready for volume two.

THOUGHTS: This is a great addition to high school libraries who are looking to make their graphic novel collection more realistic. In addition, this is a great mirror into the thoughts and feelings adolescents may have while discovering their sexual preferences and navigating the rough seas of high school.

Graphic Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Bookish and the Beast

Poston, Ashley. Bookish and the Beast. Quirk, 2020. 978-6-836-9193-8. 283 p. $18.99. Grades 6-10. 

Poston continues her delightful, fairy tale based Once Upon a Con series with a reworking of Beauty and the Beast to which Belle would give her stamp of approval. In the “no good deed goes unpunished” category, high school senior Rosie Thorne attempts to return a run-away dog with disastrous results. Following the dog into an apparently vacant house, she discovers a swoon–worthy library, filled with the books of the Starfield space saga universe, the very books her recently deceased mother read to her growing up. When Rosie is startled by another individual in the house she attempts to flee, accidentally dropping a rare first-edition in the pool. Sopping wet, Rosie learns the house is currently occupied by Starfield bad-boy actor Vance Reigns, serving a parental imposed timeout from his celebrity antics. She is now on the hook to organize the library, with the assistance of the self-absorbed star, to work off her debt. As if Vance Reigns would deign to dirty his hands working with books. But as any bibliophile knows, books have a magic all their own, and surely some magic will happen between the book-loving beauty with the mousy brown hair and the gorgeous guy hiding behind a beastly bad-boy persona. The book is populated with an appealing supporting cast of diverse characters, including Rosie’s bisexual librarian father and a gender-fluid best friend, and in a sop to series fans, Poston offers a few brief appearances by characters from the previous two novels. The Gaston plotline does double duty emphasizing that in the relationship world No should always mean No. While the plot is grounded in the Starfield Excelsi-Con world of the previous two books, the Con plays only a minor role this time, which should open the book to a wider romance audience.

THOUGHTS:  A thoroughly delightfully romp through Beauty and the Beast. Rosie is independent, feisty, and sweet, and while she deserves her happily-ever-after, she would have been OK without it. A solid purchase for collections where romance and fairy tale rewrites are popular, as well as an addition to LGBTQ+ collections.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – What I Like About You

Kanter, Marisa. What I Like About You. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-44577-2. $18.99. 409 p. Grades 7-12.

Halle Levitt and her brother Ollie have just moved in with their grandpa. She will spend her senior year in a new small town and new school while her parents jet off to another country to film their newest documentary. Halle struggles, along with her Gramps, to be in the house without her Grams who passed away just a few years ago. It was her Grams that inspired her love of reading and baking, and when Halle isn’t studying for her SATs or applying for college at NYU, she connects with her online best friend, Nash, and updates her online blog called One True Pastry. Online, Halle is known as Kels, and she’s famous for her YA book reviews and her cupcake book cover creations. When Halle meets Nash in real life and discovers he lives in the same town as her Gramps, she decides not to tell him that she’s also his online best friend, Kels. Halle and Nash grow closer, but Halle needs to find the courage to tell him who she really is and hopes that he’ll like real-life, awkward Halle as much as he likes online, confident Kels.

THOUGHTS: What I Like About You reminds me of a YA version of the movie You’ve Got Mail. Halle’s decision to keep her Kels identity from Nash is frustrating, especially when he feels guilty about liking Halle while also keeping his crush on Kels. This book not only focuses on romantic relationships, but on family relationships as well. I love how close Halle is to her brother Ollie, and together they help their Gramps overcome the loss of their beloved Grams, and although Halle and Ollie are Jewish, their busy parents never had much time for their family to be a part of a Jewish community, like they can be with Gramps. Anyone that loves books will connect with Halle, Nash, and their online friends, and after finishing this sweet, romantic story, you might be inspired to whip a batch of cupcakes for yourself. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Blood & Honey

Mahurin, Shelby. Blood & Honey. HarperCollins, 2020. 978-0-062-87805-2. $18.99. 532 p. Grades 9-12.

Louise and Reid are on the run. In order to escape Lou’s mother, Morgane le Blanc, Reid was forced to make a terrible sacrifice that unintentionally unleashed magic of his own. Hunted by the witches, the king, and the chasseurs, their group splits up. Lou, Coco, and Ansel head to the Dames Rouges in the hopes of gaining allies, while Reid, Beau, and Madame Labelle join a traveling troupe and disguise themselves as performers. As the characters look for allies, they must also learn to trust each other. While Lou begins to unleash more of her powers, Reid desperately tries to suppress his own. As their enemies draw closer, secrets, doubts, regrets, and sorrows cause Lou and Reid to pull away from each other. Will their love be enough to keep them together, or will they remain enemies as a witch and witch hunter?

THOUGHTS: Blood & Honey is the sequel to Serpent & Dove, and while the former focused on the love story of Lou and Reid, the latter explores survival, loss, and sacrifice. After experiencing trauma, both Lou and Reid are trying to discover who they really are, and must decide who they may become. Although this is a fantasy series, many of the themes will still resonate with readers today. For example, Reid has been brought up to hate witches and magic, but through his own experiences, he learns that not all witches are evil, and not all magic is bad. Readers will certainly feel a roller coaster of emotions as they experience the confident, lighthearted Lou descend slowly into darkness, and her golden cord will tug on their heartstrings as Reid stands by to pull her back.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Blood Countess

Popovic, Lana. Blood Countess. ABRAMS, 2020. 978-1-419-73886-9. $14.99. 304 p. Grades 8-12.

Anna Darvulia is the daughter of a cruel father and gentle midwife and healer. Her mother has taught her well, and although she’s only sixteen, when she’s summoned by Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Anna is able to save her son from death. Days later, the countess summons her again, this time to be one of her chambermaids. At first her father refuses the offer, but after his death, she accepts the position to help support her family. The Countess allows her into the household, but as a lowly scullery maid due to her belated acceptance of the position. Anna’s curiosity about the countess grows during her stay in the castle. According to the rumors, she’s wicked and cruel, but in Anna’s presence, she’s always shown mercy and kindness. Anna’s knowledge of healing herbs and medicines eventually land her as a chambermaid to the countess, and it doesn’t take long for the two to become close. As Elizabeth’s lover, Anna begins to enjoy a life of luxury, but although Elizabeth is kind to Anna, she’s terrible to others. Convinced that Elizabeth’s cruel behavior is a result of the abuse she receives from her husband, Anna tries to bring out her gentle side and shows her cruelty doesn’t have to be the answer. As Elizabeth’s behavior crosses into madness, Anna must decide whether to stay with the woman she thought she knew, or escape the castle before she becomes the next victim.

THOUGHTS:  Blood Countess, book one in the Lady Slayers series, is a fictional account of the real historical figure, Countess Elizabeth Bathory. After finishing the story, readers will most likely find themselves researching the facts and legends of this terrifying historical figure. Popovic spins a both sympathetic and horrific narrative for the countess, and readers will see Anna fall into a toxic relationship with someone that she believes loves her in return. Both Elizabeth and Anna are victims of the patriarchy of their world, and this shared circumstance is what ultimately brings them together. “For all the gold and silver of her coffers, in some ways the countess is just like me. A woman, with a man’s cruel hand around her wrist.” In the end, Anna is able to see Elizabeth for who she truly is, and ultimately makes the choice to do what is right. Readers looking for both thrill and romance will enjoy this dark and chilling tale, and it’s the perfect book to read during the month of October if promoting books that fall into the genre of horror or themes of Halloween.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – The Lost Book of the White

Clare, Cassandra, and Wesley Chu. The Lost Book of the White. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-481-49512-7. $24.99. 365 p. Grades 9-12.

The Dark War has ended, and Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane are trying to live a normal life with their adopted son, Max, in New York City, but when you’re a shadowhunter and warlock, attempting to raise a warlock child, life is never really normal. When old and new enemies show up at their apartment to steal The Book of the White and stab Magnus with a magical weapon, they must go to Shanghai to retrieve the book, find a cure to Magnus’s wound, and attempt to save a dear friend. However, they won’t be traveling alone. Jace Herondale, Clary Fairchild, Isabelle Lightwood, and Simon Lovelace accompany the couple to Shanghai where they meet Tian of the Shanghai institute and reconnect with Jem Carstairs. The group faces many challenges on their quest and eventually end up in the demon realm of Diyu. Alec and Magnus must trust each other, and the rest of their friends, if they plan to make it out alive, and all of the characters must grapple with tough choices and decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to save the ones they love.

THOUGHTS:  The Lost Book of the White is the second book in The Eldest Curses, and while the first book focused mainly on Alec and Magnus’s relationship with each other, this book focuses on their new responsibilities as parents and the relationships they have with their friends and family. As a couple, Magnus and Alec have faced many hardships, and although this is a fantasy novel, their struggle for acceptance among their peers is a topic that many readers will also relate to. One of my favorite things about Clare is the diversity among her characters, and the way she strives to tell all of their stories with the help of fellow authors, like Chu. Fans of Clare’s The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments will be delighted to read more about these beloved characters and what becomes of their lives after the events of The Dark War.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Imagine Me

Mafi, Tahereh. Imagine Me. HarperCollins, 2020. 978-0-062-67644-3. $18.99. 464 p. Grades 9-12.

“Imagine me, master of my own universe. I am everything I ever dreamed of.” Juliette Ferrars has survived abandonment, imprisonment, isolation, and loneliness, but she still learned to let people into her life as mentors, companions, and friends. She fell in love, became a leader, and almost lost it all. Although the reestablishment is still a threat, Juliette must now face her past in order to survive her future. Now that Juliette knows about Ella, she’ll need the support of her loved ones to help her understand who she truly is. When Juliette is captured, Warner and Kenji must find a way to bring her back and put an end to the reestablishment once and for all.

THOUGHTS:  Imagine Me is the final book in the Shatter Me series, and this is a series that gets better and better with each book! I wasn’t overly impressed with Shatter Me, but I was hooked after reading Unravel Me and Ignite Me. The series could have ended after Ignite Me; however, there was so much more to all the characters than I could have ever imagined, so I’m glad that Mafi decided to continue the series to tell the rest of their stories. Imagine Me reveals even more secrets, plot twists, and shocking moments that will keep readers on edge until the very end.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD