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Updated by Jen Blair on Dec 05, 2023
Headline for Winter Break 2023 - End of Year Best Books - High School
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Winter Break 2023 - End of Year Best Books - High School

Here is the list of the best books I’ve read since this summer. You can add them to your TBR right now. [Hint: you can click on the title to see more about each title on GoodReads.]
Winter Break and READING begin now!

Belle of the Ball by Mari Costa | Goodreads

Belle of the Ball - Mari Costa

A romantic love triangle of your dreams. Hawkins has a crush on Regina and will do anything she asks. When Regina asks her to tutor her girlfriend, Chloe, Hawkins agrees…and is surprised at the friendship that develops.

From the publisher:
High-school senior and notorious wallflower Hawkins finally works up the courage to remove her mascot mask and ask out her longtime crush: Regina Moreno, head cheerleader, academic overachiever, and all-around popular girl. There's only one teensy little problem: Regina is already dating Chloe Kitagawa, athletic all-star... and middling English student. Regina sees a perfectly self-serving opportunity here, and asks the smitten Hawkins to tutor Chloe free of charge, knowing Hawkins will do anything to get closer to her.

Bittersweet in the Hollow (Bittersweet in the Hollow, #…

Bittersweet in the Hollow - Kate Pearsall

A girl goes missing one summer night, is found, but has no memory of what happened to her. Now exactly one year later another girl goes missing. What is going on?
A novel of sisters, magic, sacrifice, excellent cooking, and southern small towns. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. I savored each sentence. I never wanted it to end. Just juicy perfection.

The Blackwoods by Brandy Colbert | Goodreads

The Blackwoods - Brandy Colbert

Four generations of Black American entertainers who are now considered Hollywood royalty. But it didn’t come easy. They had to make hard choices, sacrifices in their fight to get to the top. From the outside? They are living the dream: rich and famous. But when decades-old secrets come out? That’s when the Blackwoods are glad they have each other’s back. Because things get ugly. Fast.

Check & Mate by Ali Hazelwood | Goodreads

Check & Mate - Ali Hazelwood

If you are looking for a swoony romance (is it enemies to lovers if only one person is a hater?) with the wittiest dialogue, exciting chess matches (apparently it’s a thing?), misogynists getting called on their crap, the BEST sisters, fantastic friends, and the realest of talk about confronting your own demons and allowing yourself to not be a martyr and let people IN. So. Flipping. Good.

From the publisher:
Mallory Greenleaf is done with chess. That is, until she begrudgingly agrees to play in one last charity tournament and inadvertently wipes the board with notorious "Kingkiller" Nolan Sawyer: current world champion and reigning Bad Boy of chess. As she rockets up the ranks, Mallory struggles to keep her family safely separated from the game that wrecked it in the first place. And as her love for the sport she so desperately wanted to hate begins to rekindle, Mallory quickly realizes that the games aren't only on the board, the spotlight is brighter than she imagined, and the competition can be fierce (-ly attractive. And intelligent...and infuriating...)

Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy by Faith Erin Hicks | Goodreads

Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy - Faith Erin Hicks

Alix has anger management problems. When it interferes with her hockey playing dreams she knows she has to work on it. She asks Ezra for help and, as they work on her issues, she finds out more about Ezra’s life and they become closer. As charming (and perfect) as it sounds.

From the publisher:
It should have been a night of triumph for Alix's hockey team. But her mean teammate Lindsay decided to start up with her usual rude comments and today Alix, who usually tries to control her anger, let it finally run free. Alix lashes out and before she knows it, her coach is dragging her off Lindsay, and the invitation to the Canada National Women's U18 Team's summer camp is on the line. She needs to learn how to control this anger, and she is sure Ezra, the popular and poised theater kid from her grade is the answer. So she asks for his help. But as they hang out and start get closer, Alix learns that there is more to Ezra than the cool front he puts on. And that maybe this friendship could become something more.

I Loved You in Another Life by David Arnold | Goodreads

I Loved You in Another Life - David Arnold

For fans of_ ET,_ the healing properties of British baking shows, and Emily Dickinson. This is a tale of how love transcends time, and grief, and despair. With each character so vividly drawn that they jump off the page. Reminding us that there are no easy fixes in life, but therapy helps. Amazing friends help more. Especially ones who banter with such wit and wisdom.

I’m a huge David Arnold fan. I’ve read all of his books. They are all brilliant. But this is his best. Truly.

From the publisher:
Evan Taft has plans. Take a gap year in Alaska, make sure his little brother and single mother are taken care of, and continue therapy to process his father's departure. But after his mom's unexpected diagnosis, as Evan's plans begin to fade, he hears something: a song no one else can hear, the voice of a mysterious singer. Shosh Bell has dreams. A high school theater legend, she's headed to performing arts college in LA, a star on the rise. But when a drunk driver takes her sister's life, that star fades to black. All that remains is a void--and a soft voice singing in her ear. Over it all, transcending time and space, a celestial bird brings strangers together: from an escaped murderer in 19th century Paris, to a Norwegian kosmonaut in low-earth orbit, something is happening that began long ago, and will long outlast Evan and Shosh.

Invisible Son by Kim Johnson | Goodreads

Invisible Son - Kim Johnson

A tale of one teen’s experience of living through Covid lockdown in Portland while he tries to defend himself after being falsely accused of a crime.

From the publisher:
Andre Jackson is determined to reclaim his identity. But returning from juvie doesn't feel like coming home. His Portland, Oregon, neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying, and COVID-19 shuts down school before he can return. And Andre's suspicions about his arrest for a crime he didn't commit even taint his friendships. It's as if his whole life has been erased.

The one thing Andre is counting on is his relationship with the Whitaker kids--especially his longtime crush, Sierra. But Sierra's brother Eric is missing, and the facts don't add up as their adoptive parents fight to keep up the act that their racially diverse family is picture-perfect. If Andre can find Eric, he just might uncover the truth about his own arrest. But in a world where power is held by a few and Andre is nearly invisible, searching for the truth is a dangerous game.

The Legacies by Jessica Goodman | Goodreads

The Legacies - Jessica Goodman

Another pitch-perfect murder mystery/thriller that explores themes of class and wealth and all the horrible things some people will do to hang onto that wealth. And a murder mystery so good that I couldn’t figure out who the victim was until halfway through!

From the publisher:
Old money. New secrets. One killer party.

Scoring an invitation for membership to the exclusive Legacy Club in New York City is more than an honor. It gives you a lifetime of access to power and wealth beyond any prep school doors and guaranteed safety and security as Legacy Club members always look out for their own. That is, after you make it through a rigorous week of events and the extravagant gala, the Legacy Ball.

Everyone expects a night of luxury and excess.
No one expects their secrets to come out.
Or for someone to die trying to keep them hidden.

Mall Goth by Kate Leth | Goodreads

Mall Goth - Kate Leth

Being the new kid is hard. But Liv finds her people and her home at the shopping mall. This takes place in the early aughts, when shopping malls still thrived. Really.

From the publisher:
Liv Holme is not exactly thrilled to be moving to a new town with her mother. Thankfully, she's found the perfect escape: the mall. Under its fluorescent lights, Liv feels far away from her parents' strained marriage and the peers who don't understand her. Amid the bright storefronts, food court smell, and anonymous shoppers, Liv is safely one of the crowd and can enjoy the feeling of calling the shots in her own life for once.

With the help of her suburban refuge, Liv sets off on a journey of self-acceptance and learns to navigate the ups and downs of high school and to recognize true friendship.

Night of the Witch (Witch and Hunter, #1) by Sara Raasch | Goodreads

Night of the Witch - Sara Raasch and Beth Revis

Literally un-put-down-able. Fritzi, a witch, and Otto, a witch hunter are thrown together to prevent the leader of the witch hunters from taking over. Mesmerizing. Intense. Romantic. Read this all in one sitting. Worth all the hype. Worth all the obsession. You need this book in your life.

From the publisher:
Fritzi is a witch. The lone survivor of a brutal attack on her coven, she's determined to find her only remaining family member and bring the hexenjagers--zealot witch hunters--to justice for the lives they ended. To do this, she will need to take down their leader, the merciless and enigmatic Kommandant Dieter Kirch. Otto is a hexenjager--but that's just his cover. Years ago, the hexenjagers burned his innocent mother alive, and he has been plotting his revenge against the people who tore apart his family ever since. And now the time has come for them to pay for what they've done. When Fritzi and Otto are unexpectedly thrown together, neither is sure they can trust the other. The reluctant truce fueled by their common enemy takes them from the city at the heart of the hexenjagers' power to the wild and mysterious Black Forest. As old truths come to light and new dangers are revealed, Fritzi and Otto uncover a horrifying magical plot at the center of the hexenjager attacks that leads back to Kommandant Kirch... but their own growing feelings for each other may be the most powerful magic of all.

People to Follow by Olivia Worley | Goodreads

People to Follow - Olivia Worley

Exceptionally not-nice influencers are stuck on an island alone with no connection to the outside world. Secrets are shared. Old wounds are exposed. People die.
Surprisingly funny. Definitely page-turning.

From the publisher:
A reality show on a remote Caribbean island. Ten teen influencers. One dead body.

Welcome to "In Real Life," the hot new reality show that forces social media's reigning kings and queens to unplug for three weeks and "go live" without any filters. When the production crew fails to show up and one of their own meets a violent end, these social media moguls find themselves stranded with a dead body and no way to reach the outside world. When they start receiving messages from a mysterious Sponsor threatening to expose their darkest secrets, they realize that they've been lured into a deadly game...and one of them might be pulling the strings.

With the body count rising and cameras tracking their every move, the creators must figure out who is trying to get them canceled--like, literally--before their #1 follower strikes again.

Plan A by Deb Caletti | Goodreads

Plan A - Deb Caletti

This is Ivy’s story. A teenage victim of sexual assault, she lives in a place where abortions are illegal. But she is lucky enough to be surrounded by a family and people who love her fiercely and are willing to help her get the healthcare that she needs. As she travels across several states she shares her story and learns so many other women’s stories. A beautifully written story for our times.

From the publisher:
Ivy can't entirely believe it when the plus sign appears on the test. She didn't even know it was possible from . . . what happened. But it is, and now she is, and instead of spending the summer working at the local drugstore and swooning over her boyfriend, Lorenzo, suddenly she's planning a cross-country road trip to her grandmother's house on the West Coast, where she can legally obtain an abortion.

Escaping her small Texas town and the judgment of her friends and neighbors, Ivy hits the road with Lorenzo, who, determined to make the best of their "abortion road trip love story," has transformed the journey into a whirlwind tour of the world: all the way from Paris, Texas, to Rome, Oregon . . . and every rest-stop diner and corny roadside attraction along the way.

The Scarlet Alchemist (The Scarlet Alchemist, #1) by Kylie Lee Baker | Goodreads

The Scarlet Alchemist - Kylie Lee Baker

A literary tour de force. Ancient China. Political intrigue. Romance. Magic. Even some zombies. With themes of belonging, racism, feminism, power and politics. And humor. Lots of humor. I was laughing at almost every page. Sarcasm at its finest. How can you not love everything about this book? I certainly did.

From the publisher:
Zilan dreams of becoming a royal alchemist, of providing for her family by making alchemical gold and gems for the wealthy to eat in order to stay young forever. But for now, she's trapped in her impoverished village in southern China, practicing an illegal form of alchemy to keep food on the table--resurrecting the dead, for a price.

When Zilan finally has the chance to complete her imperial exams, she ventures to the capital to compete against the best alchemists in the country in tasks she'll be lucky to survive, let alone pass. On top of that, her reputation for raising the dead has followed her to the capital, and the Crown Prince himself seeks out her help, suspecting a coming assassination attempt.

The more Zilan succeeds in her alchemy, the more she gets caught in the dangerous political games of the royal family. There are monsters lurking within the palace walls, and it's only a matter of time before they--and secrets of Zilan's past--catch up with her.

A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid | Goodreads

A Study in Drowning - Ava Reid

Part romance, part academic mystery. And lots of moisture. And decay. Like a very wet YA version of A.S. Byatt’s Possession. It’s mesmerizing. I now understand what the fuss is all about. If you like ‘em dark and atmospheric and gothic - this is the book for you.

From the publisher:
Effy Sayre has always believed in fairy tales. Haunted by visions of the Fairy King since childhood, she's had no choice. Her tattered copy of Angharad--Emrys Myrddin's epic about a mortal girl who falls in love with the Fairy King, then destroys him--is the only thing keeping her afloat. So when Myrddin's family announces a contest to redesign the late author's estate, Effy feels certain it's her destiny.

But musty, decrepit Hiraeth Manor is an impossible task, and its residents are far from welcoming. Including Preston Heloury, a stodgy young literature scholar determined to expose Myrddin as a fraud. As the two rivals piece together clues about Myrddin's legacy, dark forces, both mortal and magical, conspire against them--and the truth may bring them both to ruin.

Thieves' Gambit (Thieves' Gambit #1) by Kayvion Lewis | Goodreads

Thieves’ Gambit - Kayvion Lewis

Ross is the third generation of the notorious Quest family of thieves and con artists. No lock or security system can contain her. But when she is faced with the biggest con of them all with life or death consequences, she has to decide whether the family credo - trust no one - is going to help her or hinder her. Breathtaking, impossibly fast-paced action, but without neglecting relationship building, this book truly is worth the buzz!

From the publisher:
At only seventeen years old, Ross Quest is already a master thief, especially adept at escape plans. Until her plan to run away from her legendary family of thieves takes an unexpected turn, leaving her mother's life hanging in the balance.

In a desperate bid, she enters the Thieves' Gambit, a series of dangerous, international heists where killing the competition isn't exactly off limits, but the grand prize is a wish for anything in the world--a wish that could save her mom. When she learns two of her competitors include her childhood nemesis and a handsome, smooth-talking guy who might also want to steal her heart, winning the Gambit becomes trickier than she imagined.

Ross tries her best to stick to the family creed: trust no one whose last name isn't Quest. But with the stakes this high, Ross will have to decide who to con and who to trust before time runs out. After all, only one of them can win.

This Dark Descent (This Dark Descent, #1) by Kalyn Josephson | Goodreads

This Dark Descent - Kalyn Josephson

So sparkly. So shiny. Can we just talk about this cover? As if that weren’t enough to get you to read this book, the story is a pulse-pounding, perfectly-paced romantasy with magic, horse races, and corrupt people in power. Sign. Me. Up.

From the publisher:
Mikira Rusel's family has long been famous for breeding enchanted horses, but their prestige is no match for their rising debts. To save her ranch, Mikira has only one option: she must win the Illinir, a treacherous horserace whose riders either finish maimed or murdered. Yet each year, competitors return, tempted by its alluring prize money and unparalleled prestige.

Mikira's mission soon unites her with Arielle Kadar, an impressive yet illicit enchanter just beginning to come into her true power, and Damien Adair, a dashing young lord in the midst of a fierce succession battle. Both have hidden reasons of their own to help Mikira -- as well as their own blood feuds to avenge...

Threads That Bind (Threads That Bind, #1) by Kika Hatzopoulou | Goodreads

Threads That Bind - Kika Hatzopoulou

A fascinating combo of murder mystery and fantasy plus a little dystopia thrown in. In a post-apocalyptic world where the have-nots are relegated to the lower part of the city that floods every day, a series of murders attracts the attention of Io - their best private investigator. But the more Io uncovers about these crimes, the more embroiled she becomes in the world of the ruling crime lord…and the secrets that her sisters have been keeping from her. The twists and turns just keep coming. All you can do is hang on and enjoy the ride.

You're Not Supposed to Die Tonight by Kalynn Bayron | Goodreads

You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight - Kalynn Bayron

I can’t watch horror films. I don’t like to be scared. And yet…I read this book and lived to tell the tale. Charity and her friends have summer jobs where they lead people in a game based on a slasher movie that was filmed on location at their summer camp. It’s all a game…until it’s not. Charity must use her skills honed as The Final Girl to survive the night.

From the publisher:
Charity has the summer job of her dreams, playing the "final girl" at Camp Mirror Lake. Guests pay to be scared in this full-contact terror game, as Charity and her summer crew recreate scenes from a classic slasher film, The Curse of Camp Mirror Lake. The more realistic the fear, the better for business.

But the last weekend of the season, Charity's co-workers begin disappearing. And when one ends up dead, Charity's role as the final girl suddenly becomes all too real. If Charity and her girlfriend Bezi hope to survive the night, they'll need figure out what this killer is after. As they unravel the bloody history of the real Mirror Lake, Charity discovers that there may be more to the story than she ever suspected...