Category Archives: Young Adult

Book Recommendation: ‘Life Unaware’, by Cole Gibsen

Happy Sunday! As you ready yourself for another great week, are you wondering what book to take along with you on your commute? Take a peek at this week’s recommended commute companion!

‘Life Unaware’, by Cole Gibsen

Review here.

Purchase here.

Author website here.

Synopsis:

Life Unaware by Cole GibsenRegan Flay has been talking about you.

Regan Flay is on the cusp of achieving her control-freak mother’s “plan” for high school success: cheerleading, student council, the Honor Society—until her life gets turned horribly, horribly upside down. Every bitchy text. Every bitchy email. Every lie, manipulation, and insult she’s ever said have been printed out and taped to all the lockers in school.

Now Regan has gone from popular princess to total pariah.

The only person who even speaks to her is her former best friend’s hot but socially miscreant brother, Nolan Letner. Nolan thinks he knows what Regan’s going through, but what nobody knows is that Regan isn’t really Little Miss Perfect. In fact, she’s barely holding it together under her mom’s pressure. But the consequences of Regan’s fall from grace are only just beginning. Once the chain reaction starts, no one will remain untouched…

Especially Regan Flay.

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Book Review: ‘Sovereignty’, by Anjenique Hugues

About The Author

Reviews 2016 07 15 Book Review Sovereignty Anjenique HughesWith master’s degrees in education, special education, and counseling, Anjenique “Jen” Hughes is a high school English and math teacher who loves teaching and mentoring young people. She enjoys traveling and has worked with youth on five continents. Saying she is “young at heart” is an understatement; she is fluent in sarcasm, breaks eardrums with her teacher voice (students have complained when they were within earshot), and cracks sarcastic jokes with the best of her students. Her work with ethnically and socioeconomically diverse youth has inspired her to write books that appeal to a broad variety of students seeking stories of bravery, perseverance, loyalty, and success.

About The Book

Under the totalitarian reign of the 23rd century’s world’s government- The Sovereign Regime- control is made possible by the identity chip implanted in every human being, recording everything that is seen, done, and experienced.

No more bank accounts.
No more smartphones.
No more secrets.

Reviews 2016 07 15 Book Review Sovereignty Anjenique Hughes SovereigntyWhen Goro inadvertently overhears an exchange of sensitive information, causing him to confront the truth about his world and prompting him to choose his true loyalties, his dream of revolution kicks into high gear. Goro doesn’t know he has covert intel in his possession both the SR and the resistance movement are desperate to acquire.

Determined to attempt the impossible task of bringing down the world government, he and his closest friends gain access to the key to ultimately deciding who has sovereignty.

But who will get to Goro first: The resistance or the Sovereign Regime?

Book Review

Sovereignty is a well-written, engaging, and interesting book.  There are some parts that are a little difficult to read in that the flow gets a little blocked either because of repetition (some of Goro’s thoughts and reflections at the beginning of the book are repeated a few too many times rather than increasingly dug into) but overall it didn’t negatively affect the reading experience created by Hughes.

The most satisfying thing about this book is how, contrary to many other young adult dystopian fictions, it doesn’t focus as much on the violence and horrors of the world but rather on the way it got there and some of the principles that govern it.  It didn’t quite satisfy my itch though—it could have gone further.  But it is, in this sense, still ground-breaking in many ways.

One of the most powerful things that Hughes did was to create a world in which the problems faced can easily be paralleled to those that we are having in our world today, but not in a cheesy, awkward, or clumsy way.  I felt myself thinking often “Huh, this is a lot like the challenge of [insert problem of choice here] we have these days” which made me curious to see how this challenge affected the people in the world created in this book.  This is all the more reason for the author to dig things further in subsequent books in the series, so that from these parallels perhaps readers can glean insights they can apply in their own efforts to create a better world.

Add to Bookshelf?

Yes.

Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!

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Book Recommendation: ‘Dear Opl’, by Shelley Sackier

Happy Sunday! As you ready yourself for another great week, are you wondering what to take along with you on your commute? Take a peek at this week’s recommended commute companion!

‘Dear Opl’, by Shelley Sackier

Review here.

Purchase here.

Author website here.

Synopsis:

Sahar's Reviews 2015 05 29 Book Review Dear Opl‘ There are three things Opl never expected to do during the eighth grade.

  1. Start a vendetta against celebrity chef Alfie Adam, the “Nude Food Dude”
  2. Take yoga classes with her grandpa
  3. Become a famous blogger

But after a year of shrinking down her personality to compensate for the fact that her body’s getting bigger, Opl thinks it’s about time to start speaking up again. What she doesn’t expect is that everyone actually starts to listen.

After two years of hiding beneath a sugar-laden junk food diet meant to soothe the bitter loss of her dad, thirteen-year old Opl Oppenheimer is told she’s gained so much weight she’s pre-diabetic and now must start weighing far more than she ever bargained for.

There are three things that keep Opl busy during her eighth grade days: fighting the new “mock meat and healthy colon” cafeteria cooks, attempting to crush a celebrity chef’s reputation because he slings mud on any food that tastes good, and finding a pair of jeans that still fit. What she doesn’t count on is needing time to win back her best friend, illegally employing a penniless ex-rodeo clown, and solving the problems of teenagers who write in for advice on her blog. Finding room to fit everything in is proving as impossible as following her mom’s ridiculous diets. Only now, Opl has no choice. It’s do or die. How Opl determines what it is she’s truly hungering for and how to fill herself and her world is the heart of this timely, contemporary novel.’

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Book Review: ‘Ghost Hope’, by Ripley Patton

Review of Previous Volumes in the series

Review of Ghost Hand.
Review of Ghost Hold.Review of Ghost Heart.

About the Author

Ripley Patton lives in Portland, Oregon with one cat, two teenagers, and a man who wants to live on a boat. She is an award-winning short story writer and author of The PSS Chronicles, a YA paranormal thriller series.

About the Book

Sahar's Blog Book Review Ghost HopeOlivia Black does not feel safe. Nightmares plague her sleep and haunt her days. If she has to endure one more minute stuck in a safe house in rainy Portland, she’s going to lose it. When Mike Palmer sneaks off to find her sister Kaylee without her, it’s the last straw. She has to do something.

Then Palmer’s hackers find the Dome on a satellite feed: dark, abandoned and smack in the middle of the Oregon desert three hundred miles from where it started. If they can reach it before anyone else, they can crack the computer systems and access every piece of information on PSS the CAMFers and The Hold have ever collected.

But in order to do that, Olivia must face her fears in a race against all the forces that have ever pitted themselves against her. She must unravel decades of deceit to reveal the true origins of Psyche Sans Soma to the world at last.

Book Review

Once again, Ripley Patton delivers.  Ghost Hope is a great ending to a series with many a high.  While the writing is tight, the plot engaging, and the characters well developed, for me the main reason to read this book remains its lead character, Olivia Black.

There is still quite a dearth in strong female characters available in youth adult literature.  While there have been some strong ones that have made an appearance in recent years, these are not enough to counter the stereotypes that still abound.

Olivia continues to be a character I feel many a young female reader can connect with.  Most importantly thought, because the chapters of the book are written from different points of view, we also see what others see, giving legitimacy, in a way, to Olivia’s strength and leadership.  She is seen as a threat by the enemy, which implies she is powerful; she is seen as inspirational by family and friends, which implies that she is worth looking up to; she is seen with begrudging respect by colleagues, which implies that she does not hold back because of her gender; and she is seen as beautiful and attractive by a romantic interest, which implies that she can do all of the above and be a woman.

I also liked that although Olivia has the many concerns of any young woman her age (she turned 18 during the course of this book), she really doesn’t fall into the typical female character stereotypes.  For example, although she is clearly in love with Marcus and is heartbroken about his memory loss, she doesn’t fall into a mess because of it.  The pain is present and it comes and goes as she interacts with him, but she isn’t defined by it.

Similarly, when she loses someone very close to her (you’ll find out yourself who), she is again heartbroken.  Although this death deeply affects her—and we see the effects—Olivia isn’t defined by it.  Quite the contrary actually; she uses it as a way to step, once and for all, into the leadership role that was meant for her for quite some time.

Ghost Hope is a great book for young adults and adults alike, male or female.  Action-packed, well thought out, touching upon many important concepts (such as the elimination of prejudices by increasing one’s perception to really see beyond each person’s outer skin), and featuring an actual strong female character rather than one seemingly is so, Ripley Patton has finished off the PSS Chronicles on a high.

Add to Bookshelf?

Definitely.  No questions asked.  Just do it.

Thank you Ripley Patton for providing me
with an ARC to review!

Book Review: ‘Trish’s Team’, by Dawn Brotherton

About the author:

Dawn (Parker) Brotherton began as a Missile Launch Officer in the US Air Force and continues to serve at the Pentagon in Washington DC.  Her 26+ years of service have given her a variety of experiences to pull from.  She has been stationed at many stateside bases as well as the Republic of Korea, Germany, and Italy.  She was deployed for Operation Allied Force in Kosovo and is a contributing author for A-10s Over Kosovo.

She offers a unique perspective from inside the military with her first book, The Obsession and its sequel, Wind the Clock.  She is currently working on the third book in the series, Truth Has No Agenda.

She is also an avid fastpitch softball player and coach.  She has designed a new Scorebook that makes it easier to take notes and enables the coach to re-create the game at a later date to pull out lessons learned.

Inspired by her love of the game, Dawn is working on The Lady Tigers’ Series, fiction stories about a girls’ softball organization where the girls learn that being part of a team is about more than just playing softball.

About the book:

A charming tween tale that examines choices, consequences, friendships, family, and values, Trish’s Team is set against the backdrop of fastpitch softball.

Award-winning author Dawn Brotherton created Trish’s Team, book one in the Lady Tigers series, not only to highlight that being part of a team is more than what happens on the field, but to give girls the center stage in a story with a sports backdrop.  Trish’s Team features Trish Murphy, a member of the Blue Birds, a recreational fastpitch softball team for 11 and 12-year-old girls.  Trish Murphy longs to be a member of the Lady Tigers, the elite travel team and when she is presented with the opportunity to try out for the team, Trish jumps at the chance.  There’s just one small problem—it seems Trish’s parents don’t understand her love of the game.  Chances are they’ll be even less understanding and when they find out that team practice conflicts with Trish’s orchestra practice…

But being part of the Lady Tigers—and nurturing newfound friendships with the other team members—is Trish’s top priority.  If she can’t make her parents understand how important this is, how far will she go to get what she wants?  And how will her actions affect her friends, her family, and her team?

Book Review:

A very quick read for any adult and an easy, well-written one for young readers, I am quite happy that Trish’s Team is the first book in a series.  Sports have turned completely into a massive money-making machine, drawing in legions of fans who spend hours, money, and emotional/mental energy on deifying teams and players.

But sports are about something else—something well worth the time, money, and energy, but for very different reasons, as outlined in this book.  Ultimately, sports are about personal and community development.

Dawn Brotherton demonstrates this quite naturally and quite well in Trish’s Team.  The main character leans a lot about both her own character as well as how to use her passion for softball to bring together her family and her team, instead of tearing either (or both!) of them apart.  Other important lessons inherent in sports are imbedded into the story itself, such as commitment, discipline, humility, and good sportsmanship again in such a natural way that one is inspired to make sure one infuses one’s own sports-related involvements with the same.

Trish’s Team demonstrates for me how fiction can be extremely powerful in inspiring change even when it is a short and simply written story.

Add to bookshelf?

Yes.

Thank you to Maryglenn McCombs for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!

Book Review: ‘On Edge’, by Gin Price

About the author:

Using knowledge learned from her childhood environment, Gin Price’s writing is often steeped in street life, whether good or bad. Hoping to show support for art that is often misunderstood, she published her debut novel, On Edge, focusing on graffiti and parkour, two expressions dear to her heart.  Currently, she is a resident in the Metro Detroit area, living with her loving biologist man, David, her two children, Shyla and Hayes, many reptiles and a troublesome cat named Wallace.

About the book:

When a serial-killing graffiti artist starts painting your picture all over town…  It puts a girl on edge.  Emanuella “LL” Harvey puts her gymnastic skills to good use as a member of her brother’s Parkour group.  Freerunning, jumping, and climbing over their corner of the city like it’s an obstacle course gives them something to take pride in and keeps them out of trouble—sort of.  But trouble finds LL when she runs into Haze, a talented graffiti artist whose sister Heather was murdered two years before.

Freerunner and Writer promptly fall in love, but they decide to hide their relationship till they’re sure it’s the real thing—and until they can find a way to placate LL’s hotheaded brother, who has it in for Haze and his gang.  But when portraits of LL—done in Haze’s distinctive style—start popping up on city walls, all hell breaks loose.  LL’s brother threatens a gang war, which LL tries to avert by identifying the Writer who is really responsible for the paintings.  But when another teen is murdered, it looks bad for Haze, especially when LL discovers that Heather’s killer and her portrait-painter are one and the same.

The debut novel by Gin Price—and first release in the Freerunner mystery series—On Edge has earned high advance praise.  In an advance review, Publishers Weekly reports:  “With a dash of Shakespearean flair, Price’s debut vaults the rooftops and skims the alleys of teen angst, family, and relationships…a fresh voice.”  Kirkus adds, “Intriguing characters, a different take on an urban landscape, and the element of mystery will captivate readers.”

Book Review:

There is a lot to be said about overcoming prejudices and this book seems to be a contribution to the conversation.  I was concerned when I first read the synopsis that it might delve into the painful type of book that would start preaching about said topic.  But thankfully, Gin Price manages to naturally weave it into the very fabric of her story.  Nowhere is the topic stated black on white, but it is imbibed in every aspect of the story.

It also helps that the book is very well written.  The voice is strong, the flow is seamless, and the plot goes along at a great pace—neither too slow to bore readers nor too fast to lose them.  For those of us who did not grow up in troublesome areas—in this case, gang-ridden—it also serves as a look into what this setup can do to a person, both the positive effects it can have as well as the negative ones.

On Edge also touches upon the concept of relationships, namely two sorts: between siblings and of the romantic sort.  It shows both a healthy sibling dynamic as well as one gone wrong; without any form of judgement or sermon, it reflects the effects each can have on an individual, as well as some of the ways and reasons why they emerge and how—in the case of the one gone wrong—they can be fixed.

As for the romantic ones, on the one hand, the way the main romances of the book are portrayed in this book are typical to the views society has of teenager love: impulsive, very hormonally charged, and slightly irrational.  This makes them, on the other hand, the weakest point of the book, as they are not realistic in the sense that they are not the kind build on a solid foundation that will yield a strong marriage.  But I think that this weakness is in itself weak enough that it can easily be overlooked in the greater scheme of the abovementioned strengths.

Add to bookshelf?

Yes.

Thank you to Maryglenn McCombs for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!

Book Review: ‘The War of Words’, by Amy Neftzger {and Giveaway!}

About the author

The War of Words by Amy Neftzger on Sahar's BlogAmy Neftzger is the author of fiction books for both adults and children.  She has also been published in business and academic journals, as well as literary publications.

A few of her favorite things include traveling, books, movies, art, the Oxford comma, and gargoyles.

About the book

Sometimes there’s no better way to understand reality than through fantasy, and the best way to find truth may be in a book—if you can find the right one.

The War of Words by Amy Neftzger on Sahar's Blog CoverBattles against darkness, a quest for truth, and a search for the book that no one can read are all part of the fantasy adventure in The War of Words.  As an evil sorcerer wages war by using mysterious shadows and seeks to gain control by confusing the residents as to what’s real and what isn’t, the fate of the kingdom rests in the hands of Kelsey and Nicholas.

As the youngest officer in the king’s army, Kelsey fights the evil sorcerer’s shadows on the battlefield as she explores the kingdom searching for the key to winning the war.  Nicholas, a young sorcerer in training who is mastering his craft, discovers how the right words can change the course of the future.

Explore an enchanted maze, uncover the power of words, and learn about friendship in this whimsical tale.

Book Review

Words are such an important part of, well, everything.  Man’s thoughts, after all, are his reality.  If two people are looking at the same thing, their personal reality of this thing will vary according to the words they have to explain it, and any work they attempt to do together on said thing will be affected by their explanations of this thing.

This book was a very obvious metaphor of sorts on the effects that distorting the meaning of words can have on a society.  The evil sorcerer’s spell is casting a veil on the people of Kelsey’s land which prevents them from grasping the true meaning of even the most basic of words.  One can imagine the stress on a general leading his troops into war when he doesn’t realise his orders are not being understood, or on the soldiers when the orders they were sure they were obeying are not quite the ones that were being given in the first place.

It doesn’t take much of a leap to apply these concepts on the way things are heading around us these days, at least in North America.  Be it on a personal level, on an interpersonal level, or at the level of the local, regional, national, or international community, we are bombarded with words—but which ones are we actually understanding?  Our vocabulary has been inexorably shrinking over the last years as we are increasingly exposed to very different traditions and belief systems.  This means that on the one hand, we are less able to converse about things, while on the other, it is more important now than ever for us to dig into our vocabulary to be able to understand and live harmoniously within the increasing complexities of our world.

This doesn’t make The War of Words a very heavy book; quite the contrary, in fact.  One of the strengths of this work is that it reads very easily.  It is a fantasy story set in the middle of a war, well-written, engaging, and entertaining.  One can easily go through it without paying attention to its deeper meanings.  But that would be a shame.  I would encourage groups of friends to read this book together and discuss the application of the concepts in our day-to-day life.

Thank you to iReads Book Tours for providing a
copy of this book for me to review!

Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: ‘The Good Sister’, by Jamie Kain

In the tradition of Jodi Picoult, Jamie Kain’s The Good Sister begins with pieces of a story that are brought together with increasing momentum and culminates into a poignant ending.

The Good Sister by Jamie KainA previously perfect-from-the-outside family unit of five – Sarah, Rachel, Asha, and their parents – starts breaking apart after Sarah’s cancer diagnosis. With an absent father and an absent-minded mother, the three sisters have no one to turn to but each other. Sarah’s salvation came in the form of Asha being a bone marrow match, at the cost of pushing Rachel deeper into the void that can be the role of the middle sister. Even Sarah and Asha’s strong bond is infected by the poison of Rachel’s resentment.

Seemingly inconsequential actions contribute to Sarah’s demise, and her death forces the surviving members of her family to consider more closely the aftermath of both her cancer survival and her tragic death. For there is something quite bitter about a double cancer survivor dying accidentally at a young age, when her future seemed to bright.

The Good Sister features three major strengths: the skillful storytelling, the in-depth character development, and the reflections on two major topics that are important to me: life after death, and the nature of family bonds.

As previously mentioned, Jamie Kain expertly weaved a story by telling it through three point of views, that of each sister. This allows for the story to gain depth and layering which adds great complexity. The only weakness I found was near the middle of the book, when Sarah’s story started dragging. At first tantalizing, the chapters featuring her point of view became frustrating as the author dragged out a conclusion I had by then figured out.

Kain simultaneously and tenaciously delved into the character of Sarah, Rachel, and Asha. She used two tools quite powerfully. The first was the insight the reader got by reading the thoughts and seeing the same reality through the eyes of each of the three sisters. The second was the insight the reader got into each character through the way they are seen by their two sisters. As anyone who has a sibling knows, these tend to have both the most insight on us, as well as the most love and criticism – and an interesting combination of compassion and cruelty.

The topics of life after death and the nature of family bonds were two obvious choices for Kain to delve into, and she manages to do so quite expertly, weaving it naturally and seamlessly into the plot of the story. Life after death is defined in the Christian way: heaven, hell, and purgatory, and reaping the consequences of one’s actions, intentional or not. Family bonds are explored in a straightforward way that initially came as a shock, but turned out to be refreshingly honest while at the same time hopeful. The book is raw and arresting; not only will it keep you reading well into the night, it will also keep you thinking well into the night.

Featuring an incredible depth of character development that reflects a deep understanding of the unique relationship between sisters, The Good Sister is a poignant read that will make you reach for the phone and check in on your sibling – because, as Sarah, Rachel, and Asha discover, life is precious and each moment counts.

First published here on Blogcritics.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 20 July 2014.

Book Review: ‘Fairy Tale Reform School: Charmed’, by Jen Calonita

About the author:

Jen Calonita 'Fairy Tale Reform School: Charmed'It’s no secret how Jen Calonita knows the inside scoop on Hollywood. A former entertainment editor at a teen magazine, Jen started out her career chronicling backstage life at concerts with Justin Timberlake and interviewing Zac Efron on film sets. It was her work in the entertainment world that inspired her first series, Secrets of My Hollywood Life. The six-book series is about a teen starlet named Kaitlin Burke who grows weary of the fame game, but loves being an actress and it’s been published in nine countries.

Jen usually likes to write about worlds she knows so she moved on to camp life in the books Sleepaway Girls and Summer State of Mind (since she was a camp counselor as a teen), then tackled reality TV (which she also covered in magazines) in Reality Check. It wasn’t until she wrote Belles, which is about two polar opposite girls who share one life-altering secret, that she entered a world different from her own.

It was so much fun creating a new world that Jen jumped into a fairy tale one for her first middle grade series, Fairy Tale Reform School. Fans have loved getting to know spunky Gilly and the enchanted reform school she attends run by Cinderella’s formerly wicked stepmother in Flunked and the sequel, Charmed. The third book in the series, Tricked, will be released March 2017. Jen’s other middle grade series is one close to her heart. The VIP series and the first book, I’m with the Band, is a diary-eye look at life on the road with the world’s biggest boy band as told by their number one fan, Mackenzie Lowell. (If you’re wondering where Jen got that idea, go back and reread the first paragraph of this bio!)

About the book:

Sometimes it’s good to be bad…

CJen Calonita 'Fairy Tale Reform School: Charmed'harmed is the exciting sequel to the wildly popular Flunked — second in the brand new Fairy Tale Reform School series where the teachers are (former) villains.

It takes a (mostly) reformed thief to catch a spy. Which is why Gilly Cobbler, Enchantasia’s most notorious pickpocket, volunteers to stay locked up at Fairy Tale Reform School…indefinitely. Gilly and her friends may have defeated the Evil Queen and become reluctant heroes, but the battle for Enchantasia has just begun.

Alva, aka The Wicked One who cursed Sleeping Beauty, has declared war on the Princesses, and she wants the students of Fairy Tale Reform School to join her. As her criminal classmates give in to temptation, Gilly goes undercover as a Royal Lady in Waiting (don’t laugh) to unmask a spy…before the mole can hand Alva the keys to the kingdom.

Her parents think Gilly the Hero is completely reformed, but sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. Sometimes it’s good to be bad…

Book review:

Just like with its predecessor (reviewed here), Fairy Tale Reform School: Charmed is a good book featuring a unique and engaging plot, the child of the Harry Potter books and the Once Upon a Time television series. The characters are interesting and likeable. Some of them, as well known heroes or villains from the fairy tale world, are intriguingly familiar yet uniquely different, as author Jen Calonita appropriated each one of them just enough to make them fit into her story while remaining true to their origins.

An engaging, fast paced read, Charmed is light to read despite being chock-full of references to the magic world. Flunked was an introduction into a world that Charmed keeps unravelling, adding information where previously there were only questions. For example, the characters in the book are beginning to gain increasing depth to them

Calonita’s writing is to the point and flows extremely well. There were constant references to the magic world, but because the author explains them so well yet concisely and just inserts them into the text without any fuss or muss, they enhance rather than interrupt one’s reading experience. Throughout Charmed, one feels like the author doesn’t consider her audience as being child-like, but rather one at the threshold of adulthood—which happens to also make the book one that adults will no doubt appreciate.

The story itself continued to build conceptually on the same themes identified in Flunked. One of the main ones continues to be the difference between good and evil. Are all so-called villains in this book actually evil? Is there a “continuum” of evil? If so, who determines where each individual on it is? And are all “good” people completely free from performing evil deeds? Another concept tied into this one is that of the ego and the role it plays between making a choice between becoming a villain and a hero.

The only thing extra I would strongly recommend to keep this highly entertaining book from attaining its full potential as a vehicle for reflection on some very important topics is to create a study guide, perhaps both an individual one and a group one. After all, these concepts are not easy ones to discuss, and a guide would prove quite helpful in aiding a concerted, focused conceptual digging. Furthermore, some well formulated questions would also help many a reader figure out how to apply this new understanding of complex concepts to their day-to-day lives.

Recommend? Yes!

Winter Reading: Book Review Round-Up

Each Saturday of the month, this space is given to someone else whose content overlaps mine, be it Borna’s Monthly Book Review, Maeve’s Monthly Movie Review, or a X-Files review courtesy of The M0vie Blog or Apt. 42. But once in awhile a month comes by featuring a fifth Saturday, leaving me wondering what in the world I can do with this extra Saturday of blogging.

The answer this time around was quite easy. It’s winter, also known as reading-by-the-fireplace season. I have received many an email lately asking me for extra recommendations other than the ones I make in my weekly reviews and in my weekly book recommendations. I just can’t leave a reader unsatisfied, and so here is my contribution to easing their pain as well as the pain of anyone else who might find themselves bookless: a six book review round-up.

The Abbot’s Agreement, by Mel Starr

'The Abbot's Agreement' Mel StarrBook description: “My life would have been more tranquil had I not seen the birds. Whatever it was they had found lay in the shadow of the oak, so I was nearly upon the thing before I recognized what they were feasting upon. The corpse wore black.”

Master Hugh is making his way towards Oxford when he discovers the young Benedictine – a fresh body, barefoot. The nearby abbey’s novice master confirms the boy’s identity: John, one of three novices. He had gone missing four days previously, and his corpse is fresh. There has been plague in the area, but this was not the cause of death: the lad has been stabbed. To Hugh’s sinking heart, the abbot commissions him to investigate.

My Review: If you like mysteries but was a simple, straightforward read without fancy modern day hoopla, then this is a book for you. It’s set during a time before forensic science, before cars, cell phones, etc.—i.e. because the time anything went fast. So while the mystery is intriguing and its unraveling will keep you turning pages, it will be an almost comforting read.

If You’re Not the One, by Jemma Forte

'If You're Not The One' by Jemma ForteBook description: Jennifer Wright is pretty sure her husband doesn’t love her anymore. She and Max used to be the perfect couple, but the pressures of work and kids have pulled them in opposite directions. Now, Jen is full of “what if” questions about whether her bland, suburban existence is all she was ever destined for.

When a terrible accident sends Jen into a coma, she is able to see what her life could have been if she had run off to Australia with the handsome, dangerous man she met on vacation, or if she had stayed with her workaholic college boyfriend. Would she ever have loved another child as much as she loves her daughters? Could she have become rich? More than anything, Jen wants to do the right thing for her family. But what she discovers may leave her with even more questions about the choices she made, and no easy answers about what to do next.

My Review: Although irritating at times, Jennifer came out to be a great fictional friend that helped me sort out some of the long-standing “what ifs” running through my own mind. This is an easy read you won’t lose any sleep over; however, the questions it might generate in your mind might keep you up for quite some time.

Absolutely True Lies, by Rachel Stuhler

'Absolutely True Lies' by Rachel StuhlerBook Description: A fledgling entertainment writer stumbles into the gig of a lifetime writing a teenage pop star’s memoir and soon realizes that the young celebrity’s squeaky-clean image is purely a work of fiction.

Struggling writer Holly Gracin is on the verge of moving back home to upstate New York when she gets hired to write the memoirs of eighteen-year-old Daisy Mae Dixson, a former Nickelodeon child star who has moved seamlessly into both blockbuster movies and pop music. Holly quickly realizes that Daisy’s wholesome public image is purely a work of fiction, as Holly finds herself trailing the star as she travels around the world on yachts, gets stalked by paparazzi, and sneaks out of five-star hotels in the dead of night.

As Holly struggles to write a flattering portrait of a teenage millionaire who only eats “nightshades” and treats her employees like slaves, Daisy has a public meltdown—and suddenly, her book is the cornerstone of resurrecting her image. But working at all hours trailing a pop star has taken its toll, and Holly must decide if becoming the ultimate insider is worth losing a starring role in her own life. Fun, juicy, and inspired by Rachel Stuhler’s own stranger-than-fiction experiences as a celebrity ghost writer, Absolutely True Lies is an entertaining look at how the lifestyles of the rich and famous aren’t always what they seem.

My Review: Definitely my top pick in this list. This book is engaging, easy to read, well-written, hilarious, eye-opening, and will make you think a lot about what we are being told about celebrities and their lives. I really appreciate how Stuhler balances out being open and honest about the lifestyle in question while remaining neutral, thus conveying the story and not an opinion. Funnily enough, it gives space for the reader to see how empty and superficial the life of a celebrity can be.

Rose and the Silver Ghost, by Holly Webb

'Rose and the Silver Ghost' by Holly WebbBook Description: With help from a mysterious ghostly mirror, Rose seeks to discover who her real family is. Time has flown since Rose left the orphanage behind, and she loves her new family at Mr. Fountain’s magical house. But she still can’t help wondering what happened to her real family. Were they full of magic too, like her? As Rose searches for clues to her past, she uncovers a silver mirror which once belonged to her mother. A mirror with a ghost… Will this enchanting mirror help Rose solve the mystery of her past?

My Review: Although this book is part of a series—I think the second one—it still makes for solid reading. Just like with “The Abbot’s Agreement”, the setting is must simpler times. This created the opportunity for the writer to not be distracted by modern gadgets and conveniences and really dig into her writing talents to create a rich tapestry within which this mystery is set. I have to admit that there were things that were a little confusing and a couple of sections that could use some ironing, but this doesn’t deter me from strongly recommending this book.

Another Day, by David Levithan

'Another Day', by David LevithanBook Description: In this enthralling companion to his New York Times bestseller Every Day, David Levithan (co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green) tells Rhiannon’s side of the story as she seeks to discover the truth about love and how it can change you.

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person . . . wasn’t Justin at all.

My Review: This type of fiction is my favorite: creating an impossible situation within the real world that, if well done, will challenge the way readers think. In this case, this book really makes us think about the real nature of a human being: a soul. The soul, as some like myself believe, is not defined by the body it is contained in, and a real union (i.e. marriage) is between two souls, and not too bodies. Then theoretically, it means that you could date someone who soul skips from one body to another… No?

Crooked Little Lies, by Barbara Taylor Sissel

'Crooked Little Lies', by Barbara Taylor SisselBook Description: On a cool October morning, Lauren Wilder is shaken when she comes close to striking Bo Laughlin with her car as he’s walking along the road’s edge. A young man well known in their small town of Hardys Walk, Texas, Bo seems fine, even if Lauren’s intuition says otherwise. Since the accident two years ago that left her brain in a fragile state, she can’t trust her own instincts—and neither can her family. Then Bo vanishes, and as the search for him ensues, the police question whether she’s responsible. Lauren is terrified, not of what she remembers but of what she doesn’t.

Unable to trust herself and unwilling to trust anyone else, Lauren begins her own investigation into the mystery of Bo’s disappearance. But the truth can prove to be as shocking as any lie, and as Lauren exposes each one, from her family, from her friends, she isn’t the only one who will face heart-stopping repercussions.

My Review: A heartbreaking story on many levels set within the context of a mystery, this engaging read will make you think long and hard about relationships, be they between husband and wife, between parent and child, between sibling, between neighbours, or between strangers. Lauren’s head trauma has left her in a state of not being able to trust her own memories and mind; in a state of almost constant paranoia, she is challenged well beyond the level most of us will ever be, but will hopefully help us think about the way we go about conducting our personal relationships.