YA – Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra

Parks, Amy Noelle. Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra. Amulet, 2022. 978-1-319-75344-2. 296 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Lia is delighted when she receives a letter from her missing grandmother, inviting her to compete in a stage magic competition to be held in Mirror Lake, a retreat for magicians where her grandmother resides. Over the protests of her mother, who wants Lia to do something “meaningful” with her summer, Lia eagerly escapes to Mirror Lake, to practice the tricks her magician grandmother has taught her. Lia is determined to win the competition, make her grandmother proud, and take the prize, the small theater her grandmother has owned for years. Lia definitely wants to keep it out of the hands of the Blackwell boys, grandsons of her grandmother’s ex-husband and magic partner. Lia has been warned to stay away from the Blackwell boys, but while Lia may be great at counting cards and sleight of hand, she wasn’t counting on Beckett Blackwell being so cute, and nice, and good at magic, even though it clearly is not his passion. However, as the competition progresses, Lia realizes there is more at stake than the theater. Additionally, Lia and Beckett team up to exact revenge on Beckett’s cousin, Elliot, a talented mentalist who uses his gifts for nefarious purposes. This addictive rom-com is entertaining from the start. Readers will root for Lia to follow her muse, despite the pressure from her mother, as well as for Lia and Beckett to (inevitably) find each other. The amusing con Lia sets up to crush Elliot adds spice to the pot, and the story rounds out with a feminist punch, as the reparations for the historic dismissal of female magicians ties up the plot. Readers will be left with a big grin on their faces and warm fuzzies in their heart.

THOUGHTS: This delightful book contains everything a good romance should, and makes a solid purchase where romance is popular.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – This Vicious Grace

Thiede, Emily. This Vicious Grace. Wednesday Books, 2022. 978-1-399-70305-5. 436 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Alessa’s gift has killed three people, and she somehow needs to convince someone to marry her again…which isn’t going well. There is an army of demons headed to destroy her island in a few weeks. There is a priest who is convincing people that Alessa needs to die, and her own soldiers are trying to kill her. All of these things are causing Alessa to feel like she needs to take desperate measures to save herself, and her island.  Enter Dante, an outcast who Alessa hires to try to protect her; however, he wants nothing to do with her or her plan to save the island. Will Alessa be able to protect the island she calls home? Will she be able to convince someone to marry her? Or she is destined to fail at everything, no matter how hard she tries, while Dante is hiding a secret from her that could ruin everything. 

THOUGHTS: This is a fast paced young adult fantasy novel with some romance throughout. There are some predictable twists and turns, but the writing is really well done. There is a sequel planned for this book coming out in 2023.

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Tags: demons, romance, friendship. 

YA – The Ghosts of Rose Hill

Romaro, R.M. The Ghosts of Rose Hill. Peachtree Teen, 2022. 978-1-682-63338-0. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.

“Maybe sixteen is a curse, a time when everyone is stuck between being a child and being something else.” Ilana is 16, and more than anything else, she wants to be a musician. Her parents, both refugees, want Ilana to pick a different career path, one that offers her more stability in her future. When she travels from her hometown of Miami to Prague to spend the summer with her aunt, she discovers an overgrown Jewish cemetery. As a member of the Jewish faith, she feels the need to uncover the forgotten headstones, and while she spends time clearing the cemetery, she meets a ghost named Benjamin and a mysterious man named Rudolph Wasserman. As she befriends Benjamin, Wasserman encourages her to play her music and follow her heart. As Ilana discovers the truth about Benjamin and his connection to the city, Wasserman offers her a place within his house where she can play music and live forever. Although the offer sounds like a dream, Benjamin reveals it’s really a nightmare, and Ilana must find a way to save him and the other children bound to Wasserman and his magic, even if it means risking everything.

THOUGHTS: The Ghosts of Rose Hill is written in prose and incorporates both Jewish and Prague history into this unique ghost story. In many ways, this story reminded me of Coraline. Rudolph Wasserman lures children into his home with promises of a perfect life away from their families before stealing and hiding their souls.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – A Far Wilder Magic

Saft, Allison. A Far Wilder Magic. Wednesday Books, 2022. 978-1250623652. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.

Margaret Welty spends most of her time living alone with her dog, Trouble. Her mother, a famous alchemist, spends most of her time traveling, away from home. Weston Winters is desperate to become an official alchemist, and when he arrives at the Welty house looking for the famous alchemist to become her apprentice, Margaret strikes a deal with him: she will allow him to stay until her mother returns if he agrees to join her in the annual hunt to kill the legendary Hala, a mythical and deadly fox that stalks the town until the hunt begins. Margaret knows she has a great shot, but she needs an alchemist as a part of her team in order to enter the competition. These two strangers soon find that they are drawn to each other and have more in common than they know. As the competition looms closer, so does danger, and together they must learn to trust each other in order to survive.

THOUGHTS: This unique, stand alone fantasy takes place in a made up world influenced by the culture and lifestyle of the 1920s. Although fantastical, the story also tackles more serious and relatable issues like prejudice and racism. Readers will be drawn into Saft’s world and the slow romance that builds between Margaret and Weston and the connection they have as outcasts in their communities.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – This Wicked Fate

Bayron, Kaylnn. This Wicked Fate. Bloomsbury, 2022. 978-1-5476-0920-8. 307 pg. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

This Wicked Fate starts right where the first book (This Poison Heart) ends, with Briseis trying to find a way to rescue her mother. However, that means that Briseis needs to put together the pieces of the Absyrtus Heart plant, which is deadly. Throughout this book, Briseis gets to know her relatives that she has never really met while there are others who want the heart. What will Briseis do in order to save her mother, as well as those she loves? Will she be able to rescue her mother, or is this a mission that is doomed to fail no matter what?

THOUGHTS: This was a great ending to this duology!! The way the author delves into the family dynamic as well as the interpersonal relationships between these characters is done spectacularly. The character arcs are very well done, and everything feels very natural. This duology would be great for fans of mythology or fans of a fantasy series. 

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy 

YA – On the Subject of Unmentionable Things

Walton, Julia. On the Subject of Unmentionable Things. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-31057-1. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Phoebe knows what her peers need, and her unique – yet secret – research hobby is just the thing to help them. Though not in a serious relationship herself, Phoebe is somewhat of an expert when it comes to sex education, and she started The Circle in the Square, a blog where she posts information written for teens anonymously as Pom. Even her best friend Cora doesn’t know she’s Pom which is convenient when Cora asks for Phoebe’s advice regarding taking things to the next level with her boyfriend. A writer/researcher at heart, Phoebe does more research to find answers to questions she’s asked, and she presents her information in an honest, non-judgmental manner. When one of her blog posts goes viral and catches the attention of mayoral candidate Lydia Brookhurst, a conservative local politician, Phoebe fears her identity will be revealed. After all, Brookhurst’s mission is to shut down the blog and out the person causing an “assault on morality.” Gathering supporters from conservative parents and local business supporters, Brookhurst is determined to use her resources to uncover Pom’s identity. As Phoebe tries to maintain her two identities, readers will root for their side (Brookhurst or Phoebe) while learning factual details related to sex education.

THOUGHTS: With likeable Pom/Phoebe as her voice in this sex-positive read, Walton provides readers with plenty of useful information related to sex education. Loosely connected to the recent information challenge climate, this title is recommended for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

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

YA – Together We Burn

Ibanez, Isabel. Together We Burn. Wednesday Books, 2022. 978-1-250-87031-5. 354 p. $18.99. Grades 12+.

Together We Burn follows 18-year-old Zarela whose family is famous for their flamenco dancing and Dragonador in Hispalia. When the story opens, the reader learns how Zarela’s mother died in an unfortunate accident and how she and her father have coped with that loss. During the 500th anniversary performance, though, disaster strikes again and Zarela has to try to pick up the pieces of this life that her family has built by becoming the next Dragonador. However, Zarela has no clue what she is doing, so she needs to find someone to train her. Enter Arturo who wants nothing to do with helping her, but Zarela refuses to take no for an answer. Will she be able to recover her family’s rightful place in the Dragon Guild or will everything just go up in flames?

THOUGHTS: This is a more unique young adult fantasy novel with the dragon and Dragonador element. There are some more graphic scenes throughout, so this book is not for a sensitive reader. There also are some spicy romantic scenes, so this book would fit best for upper high school.  

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – The Ballad of Never After

Garber, Stephanie. The Ballad of Never After. Hodder and Stoughton, 2022. 978-1-250-87543-3. 403 pg. $19.99. Grades 10-12.

The Ballad of Never After starts right after the events of the first book, bringing the reader along with Evangeline after she was betrayed by the Prince of Hearts. Evangeline still has the issue of her true love, Apollo, being cursed and now it seems that the curse is affecting her as well. In order to break this curse, Evangeline finds herself working with Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, against her better judgment. Will she be able to break the curse before it kills her? Evangeline always has been able to follow her heart, but this time it might lead her into the wrong arms.

THOUGHTS: This series is super easy to follow and isn’t extremely fantasy heavy, which makes it a great series for readers who aren’t into heavier fantasy reads. There is a lot of romance found within both books. There also are some spicy scenes, so this would be more appropriate for higher high school grades.  

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Romance

YA – Cinder & Glass

De La Cruz, Melissa. Cinder & Glass. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-32665-7. $19.99. 336. Grades 7-12.

Cenderillon is a young girl who loves her father very much. After the death of her mother, they only had each other until her father remarried. After the marriage, Cinderillion moves with her new family to Versailles, on the grounds of the palace, since her father is one of the King’s favorite advisors. Her stepmother and stepsisters are not particularly fond of her, but after her father dies unexpectedly, they become especially cruel and begin to call her Cinder. She becomes a servant in her own home and becomes isolated from one of her only friends, a boy in the palace named Auguste. When Cinder miraculously makes it to the ball in honor of Prince Louis, she catches his attention and finds herself in a competition to win the Prince’s hand. Cinder must make some tough decisions that will determine the path of her future: Does she marry the Prince to escape her cruel family, or will she find love elsewhere?

THOUGHTS: Cinder & Glass is “Ever After” meets The Selection in this new twist on the Cinderella fairy tale. I would suggest recommending this one to students looking for something similar to Kiera Cass’s Selection series although this is a stand alone novel.

Historical Fiction           Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD