YA – Chef’s Kiss

Melendez, Jarrett, and Danica Brine, illustrator. Chef’s Kiss. Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, 2022. 978-1-620-10904-5. 160 p. $14.99. Grades 10+.

Ben Cook is a recent college graduate who longs for a job connected to his English major. He goes on over a dozen interviews, but lacks the experience needed to land a job that will allow him to gain experience. Luckily, a local restaurant is hiring, with NO experience required (plus a very dreamy sous chef, Liam). Now Ben must excel at Chef Davis’s series of challenges, mastering recipes both classic and original. He also has to please Watson, Le Cochon Doré’s official taste-tester; Watson is a pig, an adorably affectionate one. “Cook the cook” really takes to the restaurant gig, especially the camaraderie that’s forged in the kitchen, but his roommate and longtime bestie, Liz, feels that Ben has given up on writing too easily. This upbeat graphic novel (with abundant character diversity) joyfully depicts the life-changing moments that happen when your life’s prescribed path opens up to a world of possibilities.

THOUGHTS: With incredible culinary sequences, a slow burn romance, and a dash of early-twenties angst, it’s just, yes, chef’s kiss.

Graphic Novel (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley 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 – All That’s Left in the World

Brown, Erik J. All That’s Left in the World. Balzer + Bray, 2022. 978-0-063-05497-4. 338 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

When 78% of the world’s population has been decimated due to a superflu, and the world has headed in post-apocalyptic terrority, survival takes center stage in the lives of those remaining. Andrew decides that he needs to leave Connecticut on foot in order to settle a debt. He becomes injured and stumbles onto a remote cabin in the Pennsylvanian woods. This is where he meets Jamie. Jamie has been surviving on his own for many months, and he has not made contact with another human during this time. The two form a friendship, and their daily lives fall into a comfortable pattern until their sanctuary is threatened and the two must escape. They spend the next few months discovering just what has happened to the rest of the country.

THOUGHTS: This was a fast read. I thoroughly enjoyed the strong character development of both Jamie and Andrew as they discover their strengths and weaknesses as they fall in love in this broken world.

Science Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

YA – Rivals

McGee, Katharine. Rivals. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2022. 400 p. 978-0-593-42970-9. Grades 9-12. $19.99.

Returning from what would have been their honeymoon (had they gotten married), Beatrice and Teddy are back after spending a few blissful weeks in the Caribbean. Teddy hopes to define his role as king consort to give the unprecedented position meaning and purpose. Beatrice has a lot of work to do to prepare for the League of Kings conference. For the first time, Beatrice is hosting the conference as Queen of America, and she plans to bring her father’s climate accord to vote, despite the uphill battle she’ll face as a powerful woman. Princess Samantha went on the Royal tour at Beatrice’s request and convinced her best friend Nina to go along. In love for the first time, Sam is figuring out who she is and how to be the heir her family needs. And with the League of Kings taking place in Orange, Sam is looking forward to spending some time with Marshall. Meanwhile, Jeff filled as Regent (with Daphne by his side) in at the capital during his sisters’ absence. As the royals settle into their roles, friendships and old rivals are put to the test. No matter where the Washington family goes, drama seems to follow. Spoiler alert, the League of Kings conference will be no different.

THOUGHTS: Tackling some tough topics like gender roles, privilege, and racism, the characters take on more dimension in this title than the past two, and readers will find themselves rooting for each rival as they get to know them. They also desperately will hope for another title in this series!

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – I Must Betray You

Sepetys, Ruta. I Must Betray You. Philomel Books, 2022. 978-1-984-83603-8. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Romania, 1989. Seventeen-year-old high school student, Cristian Florescu, gets blackmailed into informing on the American family his mother cleans for. In exchange for spying on the Van Dorns, he will receive much-needed medicine for his beloved Bunu–grandfather–who has been diagnosed with leukemia and lives with Cristian, his older sister, Cici, and his parents in a cramped, one- bedroom apartment in Bucharest. Tormented by guilt for betraying the trust of his loved ones, Cristian records his feelings in his notebook, an exercise that serves well his aspiration to be a writer. Informers and reporters ooze out of the dank, grey apartment buildings like the cockroaches that live within the dim hallways. Urged or manipulated by the regime instituted by their country’s leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, even these informers are being informed on. Furthermore, Cristian is driven to suspect the integrity of his own family members. He quickly realizes the desperation of his situation, especially after his informer status affects the budding romance with his classmate, Lilianna Pavel, and almost ruins his friendship with the kind, gentle Luca Oprea. He resolves to follow his orders to get close to Dan Van Dorn, the American diplomat’s son, while recording the grim daily existence of living under Ceaușescu’s dictatorship. When life turns even more tragic for Cristian, the dissolution of the Soviet bloc becomes a reality, and the citizens of Romania, led by the university students and the young, bravely take their stand. Author Ruta Septys is at her best with this suspenseful recounting of lives lived under extreme oppression: punishment for owning anything from the Western world, endless lines to obtain necessities, limited use of utilities, and constant surveillance of one’s every movement and word. This well-researched and engaging work is an eye opener, not only about an existence under Communism, but the political ploys that supported Ceaușescu’s power.

THOUGHTS: This story is riveting! In the eyes of many heads of state during his thirty-year reign, Nicolae Ceausecu was an improvement over the other Communist leaders. In truth, the Romanian people were suffering great hardships, both physical and mental. Cristian’s compliance in being an informer in exchange for medication forms an ethical dilemma. Moreover, his perspective on our American way of life emphasizes our freedoms that may be taken for granted. Besides the obvious history lesson, I Will Betray You, addresses values, self-identity, and matters of conscience.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

YA – Gods & Monsters

Mahurin, Shelby. Gods & Monsters. HarperTeen, 2021. 978-0-063-03893-6. $19.99. 624 p. Grades 9-12.

Lou, Reid, Beau, and Coco are looking for allies to defeat Morgane and her clan of dame blanc witches while still heartbroken and recovering from a devastating loss. Lou is not herself, and although Reid recognizes that something is wrong, he cannot understand why he’s repulsed by even her touch, but saving her may take the ultimate sacrifice. As the plot progresses, new friendships are formed, and through the strength of their bond, they prepare to overcome the obstacles that will lead them to a final battle between good and evil. 

THOUGHTS: In this action packed conclusion to Serpent & Dove, Mahurin ties up loose ends and also gives readers a chance to experience Lou and Reid falling in love all over again. Although I would still classify this title as young adult, there are a few scenes between Lou and Reid that almost cross the line into new adult. In the end, this trilogy is a must have in any young adult library collection and a great series for readers who enjoy fantasy and romance.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – What’s Not to Love

Wibberley, Emily, and Austin Siegemund-Broka. What’s Not to Love. Viking, 2021. 978-1-984-83586-4. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Straight-laced, straight-A student Alison competes for everything in high school – top grades, club and activity leadership, and even community service. As senior year comes to an end, Alison begins to realize she hasn’t really taken the time to enjoy anything, but it all is a means to her end goal: acceptance into Harvard. Pushing her at everything is fellow valedictorian competition Ethan Molloy. Alison and Ethan have a toxic competition, always checking to see who scores the highest grade and having crazy competitions called “blitzes” to see who finishes a test first. Then the principal assigns these top two the task of co-planning a previous class’s 10-year reunion and dangles a Harvard recommendation if they can pull off the reunion. Competition reaches a new high, and despite being completely annoyed at times, Alison realizes she might kind of like Ethan as more than a competitor and maybe even as more than and friend. But where does that leave their competition, and who will get the Harvard recommendation?

THOUGHTS: Written by husband and wife YA romance duo, readers will enjoy the banter of Alison and Ethan even if they can’t completely relate. Fans of opposites attract or enemies to lovers stories will enjoy this competitive, steamy romance. A purchase for high school libraries where realistic romance or other titles by these authors are popular.

Romance           Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Kingdom of the Cursed

Maniscalco, Kerri. Kingdom of the Cursed. Hodder & Stoughton, 2021. 978-0-316-42847-7. $18.99. Grades 12+.

Kingdom of the Cursed picks up with Emilia selling her soul in order to figure out what happened to her sister, Vittoria. Some of the decisions that Emilia made have helped to unlock some secrets and cause her to ask more questions. As this book progresses, the reader sees Emilia trying to figure out if she should trust Wrath as she learns that she can’t trust anyone. Kingdom of the Cursed delves more into the world building of this fantasy world, as well as more character development of Emilia. 

THOUGHTS: Overall, this is a great addition to this series that continues to build on the characters and plot that was laid out in the first book. There are some scenes that are a little more on the explicit side, hence the higher grade level rating. However, this would be a great recommendation for fans of the first book, or fans of the author’s other work. 

Fantasy           Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Grades 10-12+.

After making a deal with the devil, Emilia travels to the seven circles in the Kingdom of the Wicked with Prince Wrath. As the betrothed of Prince Pride, her plan is to infiltrate his court and make it one step closer to avenging the death of her twin sister Vittoria. However, the journey is not easy, and before she meets Pride, she becomes a resident of House Wrath. From Wrath, she learns just how dangerous and deceptive his brothers can be, and he advises her to trust no one. When Emilia slowly begins to unravel the secrets of the past, she realizes that she’ll need the help of magical objects to discover who she really is and if she can really trust Wrath.

THOUGHTS: Kingdom of the Cursed is listed as a young adult title and can be found in the YA section of book stores; however, the romantic scenes between Emilia and Wrath are very descriptive, and I’d go as far to classify this one as new adult for that reason alone. Although it’s heavy on romance that doesn’t always advance the plot, I still enjoyed the book and cannot wait to see how it all ends. I’ll be impatiently waiting for the next installment. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Tahira in Bloom

Heron, Faith. Tahira in Bloom. Skyscape, 2021. 9781542030373. 336 p. $16.99. Gr. 9-12.

A fresh YA novel that includes a ton of representation, friendship, romance, determination, and a whole lot of coming of age. Tahira is Toronto. Her dedication to her blooming (pun intended) fashion career is only second to her parents’ desire to see her succeed and get into FIT in New York City. After a fluke accident, her summer internship is canceled and she opts to work at her Aunt’s shop a few hours outside of Toronto in smalltown Canada for the summer. The town, Bakewell, is obsessed with flowers, which is definitely not Tahira’s aesthetic–but is it the next trend? Filled with current teen slang, Instagram posts, awkward relationships, broken friendships, and a lot of growth (another pun intended) all summer, Tahira comes to realize what matters most isn’t the branding and networking opportunities, but the art behind her passion–or the passion behind her art.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to all high school shelves! Indian-Canadian, POC, and LGBTQ+ representation is seamlessly woven into this coming of age story that has authentic and realistic experiences captured in an age appropriate manner.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Never Saw You Coming

Hahn, Erin. Never Saw You Coming. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-76124-8. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

Upon learning that she’s been lied to her entire life, eighteen-year-old Meg flees her hometown to find herself in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While Meg tries to process her feelings and question her beliefs, she meets Micah who has his own reasons to question his faith as well. Meg, a former church youth group leader and church camp counselor, struggles to accept the strict Christian way her mom raised her when it comes out that her mom’s own teen years were not so pure. Even with the church’s conservative views on modesty, purity, abstinence education, and homosexuality, Meg still strongly values her faith and belief in God. And she has to reconcile her feelings. Micah, who idolized his father before he was caught in a sexual misconduct and embezzling scandal, has shunned his beliefs and struggles to find forgiveness for his father’s mistakes. Life in the church community his dad demolished hasn’t been easy for Micah. Both feeling wronged by the families they trusted, Meg and Micah become fast friends then more than friends, and their relationship gives them the space to process their hurt feelings, questioned beliefs, and church teachings. Told in alternating narratives, teen readers will love this sweet romance that addresses the core of one’s beliefs and values.

THOUGHTS: This story is a personal one for Hahn, and she well represents the struggles that teens of faith may face. With honesty and care for the topics, Hahn addresses the church’s hypocrisy in a way that will help teens consider their own feelings. Highly recommended for high school collections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, SD