New Release Spotlight – Week of February 20, 2024

This week’s Spotlight is shorter, so I have combined all grade levels into one Spotlight. The list begins with YA and go down in age to picture books.

This week’s top picks:

  • Heartless Hunter by Kristen Ciccarelli (YA)
  • Medusa by Katherine Marsh (middle grade)
  • Afikoman, Where’d You Go?: A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure by Rebecca Gardyn Levington (picture book)

Links to the Google Slides presentation, printable list, Ginormous Book List, and the Middle Grade and Picture Book Spotlights for this week are all at the bottom of this post.


A Tempest of Tea

Author: Hafsah Faizal

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: horror, fantasy

Setting: Ettenia, a colonizing, British Empire-esque empire run by a masked monarch

Recommended for: Grades 8-12

Themes: vampires, secrets, conspiracies, heists, discrimination, exploitation, colonialism

Protagonist: female, brown skin and mauve hair, orphan

Starred reviews: Kirkus and Booklist

Pages: 338

See it on Amazon


On the streets of White Roaring, Arthie Casimir is a criminal mastermind and collector of secrets. 

Her prestigious tearoom transforms into an illegal bloodhouse by night, catering to the vampires feared by society. 

But when her establishment is threatened, Arthie is forced to strike an unlikely deal with an alluring adversary to save it―she can’t do the job alone.

Calling on some of the city’s most skilled outcasts, Arthie hatches a plan to infiltrate the sinister, glittering vampire society known as the Athereum. 

But not everyone in her ragtag crew is on her side, and as the truth behind the heist unfolds, Arthie finds herself in the midst of a conspiracy that will threaten the world as she knows it. Dark, action-packed, and swoonworthy, this is Hafsah Faizal better than ever.

The Bad Ones

Author: Melissa Albert

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: horror, supernatural, mystery

Setting: small town of Palmetto, Illinois

Recommended for: Grades 9-12

Themes: best friends, missing persons, toxic friendships, codependency, town secrets, occult, folklore, local legends, clues left behind by missing person, childhood games, flashbacks

Protagonist: female, HS junior, white

Starred reviews: Booklist

Pages: 384

See it on Amazon


In the course of a single winter’s night, four people vanish without a trace across a small town.

Nora’s estranged best friend, Becca, is one of the lost. As Nora tries to untangle the truth of Becca’s disappearance, she discovers a darkness in her town’s past, as well as a string of coded messages Becca left for her to unravel. These clues lead Nora to a piece of local lore: a legendary goddess of forgotten origins who played a role in Nora and Becca’s own childhood games. . . .

An arresting, crossover horror fantasy threaded with dark magic, The Bad Ones is a poison-pen love letter to semi-toxic best friendship, the occult power of childhood play and artistic creation, and the razor-thin line between make-believe and belief.

Realistic Fiction
Conditions of a Heart

Author: Bethany Mangle

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: realistic fiction, romance

Setting: prep school in suburban New Jersey

Recommended for: Grades 9-12

Themes: invisible disabilities, surgery, secrets, lies, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, trouble at school, fights, systemic inequality, ableism, degenerative disorders, school suspensions

Protagonist: female, age 18, Korean American

Starred reviews: Publishers Weekly and Booklist

Pages: 352

See it on Amazon


Brynn Kwan is desperate for her high school persona to be real. That Brynn is head of the yearbook committee, the favorite for prom queen, and definitely not crumbling from a secret disability that’s rapidly wearing her down. 

If no one knows the truth about her condition, Brynn doesn’t have to worry about the pitying looks or accusations of being a faker that already destroyed her childhood friendships. She’s even willing to let go of her four-year relationship with her first love, Oliver, rather than reveal that a necessary surgery was the reason she ignored his existence for the entire summer.

But after Brynn tries to break up a fight at a pep rally and winds up barred from all her clubs and senior prom, she has nothing left to prop up her illusion of being just like everyone else. 

During a week-long suspension from school, she realizes that she doesn’t quite recognize the face in the mirror—and it’s not because of her black eye from the fight. 

With a healthy sister who simply doesn’t understand and a confused ex-boyfriend who won’t just take a hint and go away like a normal human being, Brynn begins to wonder if it’s possible to reinvent her world by being the person she thought no one wanted: herself.

My Throat an Open Grave

Author: Tori Bovalino

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: horror, supernatural

Setting: Appalachian town of Winston, Pennsylvania

Recommended for: Grades 9-12

Themes: missing girls, religion, be careful what you wish for, siblings, songwriting, devils, fear, secrets, magic, patriarchy, misogyny, bargaining with the devil

Protagonist: female, age 17, white

Starred reviews: Booklist

Pages: 320

See it on Amazon


Growing up in the small town of Winston, Pennsylvania feels like drowning. Leah goes to church every Sunday, works when she isn’t at school, and takes care of her baby brother, Owen. Like every girl in Winston, she tries to be right and good and holy. If she isn’t the Lord of the Wood will take her, and she’ll disappear like so many other girls before her.

But living up to the rigorous standards of the town takes its toll. One night, when Owen won’t stop screaming, Leah wishes him away, and the Lord listens. The screaming stops, and all that’s left in the crib is a small bundle of sticks tied with a ribbon.

Filled with shame and the weight of the town’s judgment, Leah is forced to cross the river into the Lord of the Wood’s domain to bring Owen back. But the devilish figure who has haunted Winston for generations isn’t what she expects. He tells her she can have her brother back―for the price of a song. A song that Leah will have one month to write.

It’s a bargain that will uncover secrets her hometown has tried to keep buried for decades. And what she unearths will have her questioning everything she’s been taught to fear.

Heartless Hunter

Author: Kristen Ciccarelli

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: classic retelling, supernatural, romantasy

Setting: world once ruled by witches that now hunts them

Recommended for: Grades 8-12

Themes: witches, persecution, magic, fake dating, vigilante justice, socialites, secret identities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, alternating perspectives

Protagonist: perspectives alternate between female witch and a male witch hunter, both white

Starred reviews: no starred reviews

Pages: 416

See it on Amazon


On the night Rune’s life changed forever, blood ran in the streets. Now, in the aftermath of a devastating revolution, witches have been diminished from powerful rulers to outcasts ruthlessly hunted due to their waning magic, and Rune must hide what she is.

Spending her days pretending to be nothing more than a vapid young socialite, Rune spends her nights as the Crimson Moth, a witch vigilante who rescues her kind from being purged.

When a rescue goes wrong, she decides to throw the witch hunters off her scent and gain the intel she desperately needs by courting the handsome Gideon Sharpe – a notorious and unforgiving witch hunter loyal to the revolution – who she can’t help but find herself falling for.

Gideon loathes the decadence and superficiality Rune represents, but when he learns the Crimson Moth has been using Rune’s merchant ships to smuggle renegade witches out of the republic, he inserts himself into her social circles by pretending to court her right back.

He soon realizes that beneath her beauty and shallow façade, is someone fiercely intelligent and tender who feels like his perfect match. Except, what if she’s the very villain he’s been hunting?


Author: Katherine Marsh

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: fantasy, mythology

Setting: boarding school for Greek mythology monsters; Venice, Italy

Recommended for: Grades 3-7

Themes: Greek mythology, Medusa, anger, starting a new school, monsters, gods and goddesses, reform school, silencing women, questioning authority, feminism

Protagonist: female, 7th grader, golden brown skin, descendant of Medusa

Starred reviews: Publishers Weekly

Pages: 288

See it on Amazon


Ava Baldwin has always tried to keep her anger in check, just like her mom taught her. 

But when know-it-all classmate Owen King tries to speak over her yet again, Ava explodes…and Owen freezes, becoming totally unresponsive.

Although Owen recovers, Ava’s parents whisk her off to her mother’s alma mater, the Accademia del Forte, a mysterious international boarding school in Venice. 

There, Ava and her brother, Jax, discover that the Olympian gods founded the Accademia to teach the descendants of mythological monsters how to control their emotions and their powers and become functioning, well-adjusted members of society.

But not everything at the Accademia is as it seems. 

After her friend Fia is almost expelled for challenging a teacher, Ava realizes the school is hiding a dangerous secret. 

To uncover the truth, Ava and her new friends embark on an adventure that could change the way they view history, mythology—and themselves—forever…or end their lives. 

Classic Retelling
Daughters of the Lamp

Author: Nedda Lewers

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: fantasy, classic retelling, adventure

Setting: Cairo, Egypt

Recommended for: Grades 3-7

Themes: weddings, magic, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, magic carpets, djinn, enchanted jewelry, family heirlooms, Egyptian culture

Protagonist: female, age 12, Egyptian American

Starred reviews: Kirkus

Pages: 352

See it on Amazon


Sahara Rashad lives by logic. Loves science. And always has a plan. Except her dad just whisked her away to her uncle’s wedding in Egypt, upending every single plan she had for the summer.

In Cairo, Sahara’s days are filled with family—and mystery. First, Sahara’s cousins claim the pretentious bride-to-be is actually a witch. Then her late mother’s necklace starts glowing—and disappears.

Sahara’s attempts to recover the necklace lead her to the greatest mystery yet. Deep in an underground chamber lies Ali Baba’s magical treasure. Hidden from a line of sorcerers who threatened to use its powers for evil, the treasure was given to Sahara’s ancestor Morgana for safekeeping and passed down from mother to daughter for generations. Now only Sahara stands in the sorcerers’ way.

Can the girl who’s never believed in magic trust the unknown and claim her legacy as the treasure’s keeper?

Bumps in the Night

Author: Amalie Howard

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: fantasy, supernatural, mythology

Setting: Trinidad and Tobago

Recommended for: Grades 3-7

Themes: magic, jumbies, monsters, Trinidadian folklore, divorced parents, blended families, family problems, grandmothers

Protagonist: female, age 12, Trinidadian American

Starred reviews: Publishers Weekly

Pages: 304

See it on Amazon


Darika “Rika” Lovelace is in trouble. The kind of trouble that sends her to her grandmother’s estate in Trinidad for the whole summer. But something about the island feels…different. As soon as she steps off the plane, strange things start happening!

Rika meets a group of kids called Minders, who seem to have elemental powers. Even worse, she can sense jumbies lurking in the shadows. Needless to say, she wants a ticket home. But when the Minders let slip that her long-lost mom is in danger, she knows she can’t leave.

Thrust into a magical adventure involving bloodcurdling monsters, a supernatural silk cotton tree, and an endless maze, Rika must defeat the fearsome jumbie king to save her family and new friends. But unless she learns to believe in herself, she’ll never beat him or escape his twisted maze.

Picture Book Biography
Amazing Abe

Author: Norman H. Finkelstein

Illustrator: Vesper Stamper

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: picture book biography

Setting: begins in Lithuania and goes to the US, late 19th Century

Recommended for: PreS-Grade 6

Themes: Jewish European immigrants, helping others, journalists, old machinery, Yiddish newspapers, learning multiple languages

Protagonist: male, Lithuanian immigrant to the USA, Jewish

Starred reviews: SLJ

Pages: 40

See it on Amazon


Two-time National Jewish Book Award winner Norman H. Finkelstein and Sydney Taylor Award winner Vesper Stamper have teamed up to tell the story of Abraham Cahan, the founder and longtime editor of the Yiddish language newspaper the Forverts (the Forward), which, in its heyday, was one of the largest newspapers in the United States.

As the saying went: “What’s a home without the Forverts?”

From explaining voting rights to the importance of public health measures to everyday questions like how to play baseball, Cahan improved the lives of countless newly arrived Jewish immigrants who wanted to feel at home in a new, strange land.

He also published celebrated writers such as Isaac Bashevis Singer and created the iconic advice column the Bintel Brief for homesick readers.

Back matter includes a bibliography, a time line, more info on Cahan’s life and the Yiddish language, and a note on the author’s personal connection to the Forverts.

Picture Book
What's New, Daniel?

Author: Micha Archer

Illustrator: Micha Archer

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: picture book

Setting: early spring, at a city park

Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3

Themes: seasons, spring, signs of spring, exploration, nature, observation, natural world

Protagonist: young boy and his grandfather, both Black

Starred reviews: Booklist and Kirkus

Pages: 32

See it on Amazon


“What’s new?” We casually say this to each other all the time, but when Daniel’s grandpa asks him this question, Daniel’s curiosity is sparked and he’s determined to really find out!

And there is so much new stuff to report on, since their local park is brimming with spring life.

Birds have reappeared from their winter journeys, ducklings are hatching, and polliwogs are growing long legs—just like Daniel!

Passover Holiday
Afikoman, Where'd You Go?

Author: Rebecca Gardyn Levington

Illustrator: Noa Kelner

Publication date: February 20, 2024

Genre: picture book, holidays and celebrations

Setting: Passover

Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3

Themes: Jewish holidays, Passover, seek and find books, holiday traditions, food

Protagonist: multiple children from one family and their dog

Starred reviews: SLJ

Pages: 40

See it on Amazon


This lively, funny picture book brings to life the Passover tradition of searching for the afikoman—literally.

When the mischievous piece of matzoh runs and hides during the seder, all the kids in the family (and even the pet dog!) go hunting for it, through every room in the house.

Readers can join the hunt and find the sneaky afikoman in each bright and busy scene while enjoying the playful rhyming text. And they’re in for a surprise ending that’s as delightful as this favorite part of Passover.






The New Release Spotlight began in May 2016 as a way to help librarians keep up with the many new children’s and YA books that are released each week.

Each week, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers. See the full selection criteria here.

Inevitably, there are far more books that meet my criteria than can make it on the Spotlight. When I have to make the tough decisions on what to include, I just use my “librarian judgment.” Would I buy this book for my own library? Would my students want to read this book? Is the cover appealing? Does it fill a need?

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