Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ruby's Fire {by Catherine Stine} + GIVEAWAY [CLOSED]

Title: Ruby’s Fire (A Fireseed Novel)
Author: Catherine Stine
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Seventeen year-old Ruby, long-pledged to the much older Stiles from the Fireseed desert cult, escapes with only a change of clothes, a pouch of Oblivion Powder and her mute little brother, Thorn. Arriving at The Greening, a boarding school for orphaned teens, she can finally stop running. Or can she? The Greening is not what it seems. Students are rampaging out of control and as she cares for the secret Fireseed crop, she experiences frightening physical changes. She’s ashamed of her attraction to burly, hard-talking Blane, the resident bodyguard, and wonders why she can’t be happy with the gentler Armonk. She’s long considered her great beauty a liability, a thing she’s misused in order to survive. And how is she to stop her dependence on Oblivion to find a real beauty within, using her talent as a maker of salves, when she has nightmares of Stiles without it?
When George Axiom, wealthy mogul of Vegas-by-the-Sea offers a huge cash prize for the winner of a student contest, Ruby is hopeful she might collect the prize to rescue her family and friends from what she now knows is a dangerous cult. But when Stiles comes to reclaim her, and Thorn sickens after creating the most astonishing contest project of all, the world Ruby knows is changed forever. This romantic fantasy set in 2099 on earth has a crafty heroine in Ruby, and a swoonworthy cast, which will surely appeal to the YA and new adult audience.


I'm not really much of a futuristic thriller reader. I mean, I like dystopia novels and stuff, but Science Fiction is not really my thing. However, I did enjoy this book a lot. It was captivating from the beginning, holding my attention throughout and making me want to know what would happen next.

Ruby lives in a cult with her brother and her mother. She has been pledged to a creepy old dude, and on the night of her..."pledging" decides to run away with her brother, Thorn. They stumble upon a school, The Greening, and a secret crop of Fireseed, and realize that everything they've been taught is wrong.

I think the aspect of the cult was a nice addition to the story. It was interesting to see the things Ruby was taught contrast with reality. It made for an interesting premise as she had to relearn a lot of things, but also because it meant she here and Thorn were the only ones who believed in the power of Fireseed. Coming from a place that worships Fireseed as a god, and then going to a place that tells you it's just a plant must have been tough, but they never gave up on it (and it paid off in the end).

Ruby and Thorn are not having a great time at the school either. The other kids, except for Armonk, resent them. They try to ruin their lives. The only thing Ruby has really known is how to use her beauty to get away with things, but she can't really do that here. In fact, doing so would only make them dislike her more. Not to mention, being hooked on Oblivion powder doesn't help matters. But slowly, Ruby realizes how to use her real talents of mixing potions and how that can help her. Until...Ruby and Thorn start mutating.

Then, this dude comes by. George Axiom is his name. And he has a contest for the kids. The kids are to create something from the Fireseed plant, and the top three will go on to the competition in Vegas-by-the-sea. While preparing for this competition, Ruby and Thorn realize that the Fireseed is so much more than the other's think, and that Thorn, although he may not speak, is not stupid at all. In fact, he may be smarter than the rest. With the help of someone thought to be long gone, Ruby and Thorn (and sometimes Armonk) start realizing the true potential of the Fireseed plant, as well as what is happening with Ruby and Thorn.

But their discoveries don't go over well with some of the judges, and in Vegas, they realize that some of the judges have their own agendas. With the help of Blane, who Ruby has fallen in love and has turned out to be not that bad after all, and some of the other students, they set to uncovering the truth. But they won't like what they uncover. Someone in their own school has betrayed them, and something terrible has happened to the one who helped them.

Not going to lie, I was more of an Armonk fan than a Blane fan. What can I say? Although, I didn't feel that Blane and Ruby's relationship progressed too quickly or too unrealistically, which is something I hate. Nor did the romance take away from the main plot of the book.

This book did capture my attention throughout, as I couldn't wait to figure out what happened, who was behind everything, etc. The plot twist, while not unpredictable, was very well executed. The story was very well written, and the characterization was very well-done as well. (Thorn was my favorite though, you can't help but love the little guy :P).

I think setting this still in America, albeit way in the future and after a lot of it has changed, lent itself to the story as well. The world-building of this novel was probably the best part, as it was very thought-out. It was explained very well without being so over-detailed that it took away from the plot.

All-in-all, this was a good book that I would definitely recommend to futuristic thiriller/SciFi lovers. Even those who may not particularly love those genres, like me, would like this book too, so I would encourage you to give it a try.

*Although this is technically a "Fireseed Novel", it can be read on its own without reading Fireseed One, the first Fireseed novel. Nothing is taken away from this novel if you choose to read it by itself, or first.*

I received an ebook copy from the author in exchange for my honest review.

This review can also be found on   Rachel Marie's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Catherine Stine:

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

So the lovely Catherine Stine has been kind enough to provide us with a giveaway!
There will be two prizes:
  • US prize: a signed paperback of Ruby's Fire
  • INT prize: an ebook copy of Ruby's Fire
This giveaway will go on for two weeks, until Oct. 29. And like always, there are a few rules:
  • Must be 18 years or older, or have parents's permision
  • All entries will be verified. Any falsified entry will disqualify ALL entries for that participant. 
  • Winners will be notified by email. Winners will then have 48 hours to respond. Please check your SPAM folder!
  • I am not responsible for lost packages.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 14, 2013

Jesus > Religion {by Jefferson Bethke}

Title: Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough
Author: Jefferson Bethke
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Abandon dead, dry, rule-keeping and embrace the promise of being truly known and deeply loved.
Jefferson Bethke burst into the cultural conversation in 2012 with a passionate, provocative poem titled "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." The 4-minute video literally became an overnight sensation, with 7 million YouTube views in its first 48 hours (and 23+ million in a year). The message blew up on social-media, triggering an avalanche of responses running the gamut from encouraged to enraged.
In "Jesus > Religion," Bethke unpacks similar contrasts that he drew in the poem--highlighting the difference between teeth gritting and grace, law and love, performance and peace, despair and hope. With refreshing candor he delves into the motivation behind his message, beginning with the unvarnished tale of his own plunge from the pinnacle of a works-based, fake-smile existence that sapped his strength and led him down a path of destructive behavior.Bethke is quick to acknowledge that he's not a pastor or theologian, but simply a regular, twenty-something who cried out for a life greater than the one for which he had settled. Along his journey, Bethke discovered the "real" Jesus, who beckoned him beyond the props of false religion.

First off, if you haven't seen Bethke's "Why I hate Religion, but Love Jesus" video, you need to.

I know this isn't the type of thing I usually review. In fact, it isn't even the type of thing that I read. However, I was hooked. I couldn't stop reading. At least, when I had to, I didn't want to. 

Bethke talks about subjects that are tricky, maybe even controversial. But he does so in a way that can relate to teens and adults, but also in a way that is humorous. He isn't poking fun at anything, but he keeps you entertained so that you continue reading.

Bethke basically walks us through his walk with faith and God, expanding and using those issues to further his points. Because of that, this book had many little anecdotes, some hard and embarrassing for him to share, I'm sure. He does so with an open vulnerability, but also with his characteristic humor. Such as:
Hey, nothing wrong with books

Bethke digs deep into the Bible, supporting what he says with Scriptural evidence. He doesn't claim to be a pastor or theologian, and he's not ashamed to admit when he doesn't know something.

Drawing from personal experiences, especially as a teenager, Bethke tries to make this understandable for young adults and teens. He shows them that he relates to them, he understands them, that he went to the same thing. He encourages and uplifts, by just being someone who's there instead of someone who has all the answers.
After all, I'm pretty sure Jefferson Bethke is the only one who can get away with comparing the Bible to Jersey Shore. That's right. Jersey Shore.

Bethke also brings up points that are tough, but he doesn't do so in a self-righteous way, as someone who knows all the answers. Instead, as someone who is just asking the questions, like the readers. 
And can I just say, I am so glad someone finally brought up this point, because I have been wondering myself for a while now.
Some of the things Bethke says might be controversial (maybe to the older generation) but I feel like they need to be said, and I'm glad he did. Jesus > Religion is such an eye-opener. It will really make you think in a way you hadn't before, and quite honestly, in a way you may not want to. 

I'm not sure what else that I could say that could adequately explain how I feel about this book. Like I said, I was hooked, and I hate reading this kind of stuff. I feel that every Christian should read this book, no matter where you are in your walk of faith. If you've ever had doubts or questions, this is the book to start with. If you're not a Christian, because you've been turned off by other Christians you've met, first off: I'm sorry. Second, you should read this book. 

And so I'll leave you with this.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for the eARC in exchange for my honest review.
Page citations will be added after I get my hands on a physical copy. Sorry about that!
This review can also be found on   Rachel Marie's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Jefferson Bethke:

Website | Jesus > Religion Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest | YouTube | Goodreads

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Runaway Groom {by Sally Clements}

Title: Runaway Groom
Author: Sally Clements
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Seven years ago, Matthew Logan ran out on his wedding to June Leigh.
Life is good for fledgling dress-designer April Leigh. She couldn't be happier that her sister has found a new love, and is excited about her very first commission, June’s wedding dress.
When April discovers June has invited runaway groom Matthew Logan to the wedding, she has to intervene. Matthew’s presence will ruin everything – her father hates him, and just the sight of him in the church might give her mother a heart attack.
Matthew Logan has no intention of going to June’s wedding, but when intriguing April arrives on his doorstep, he can’t resist getting to know her better. When a disaster forces them together neither can deny the passion that combusts into a red-hot affair.
Discovering the truth about the past shifts April’s feelings from lust to love, but bitter experience has taught Matthew to guard his heart.
When it looks as though Matthew will lose her forever, will he fight or flee?

*This novel is New Adult, and due to some mature scenes, may only be suitable for those age 17+. Use your own discretion*

This is not the type of novel I usually read. But the premise intrigued me enough to request it. It was actually a lot better than I thought it would be, although still not entirely too memorable or exciting. But then, we all know how I feel about romance. 

April is a designer, although she works at a coffee shop to pay the bills. Her sister, June, has commissioned her to design her wedding dress as she gets ready to marry "the love of her life". April is happy that June has found love again, after her first fiance Matthew left her at the altar (not literally). Then, June tells April that she has invited Matthew to the wedding. Do we even need to start with all the things that could go wrong/are wrong with that? So there's only one thing for April to do: go over and tell Matthew not to come. Except, things don't go exactly as planned for either of them.

June. Ugh. Could there be a more bratty, self-absorbed girl? I realize we weren't supposed to like her, but boy, did she get. on. my. nerves. First, she wants her sister to make her wedding dress, free of charge, and use the most expensive materials. Then, she wants to invite Matthew to the wedding, for attention. And when we find out the truth behind why Matthew left her in the first place... OH. EM. GEE. I mean, I know I shouldn't get worked up about such a shallow, petty character, but I just hate people like that, you know?

April herself isn't such a bad character. She's a bit dumb, like with June taking advantage of her, and a bit immature. But she just loves her sister, and is trying to make it into the fashion industry while living on meager earnings from the coffee shop. Until she sees Matthew again, and feels instant attraction (then again, she did have a crush on him when she was fifteen). 

Then "tragedy" strikes. Okay, the whole "oh you don't have an apartment anymore? Come live with me in my house" is just weird, and a slight bit creepy, and...weird. I realize they're not really strangers, as Matthew was June's fiance, and April had a crush on him, and I think Matthew even admitted he had the hots for her before too. But still. 

Their relationship progressed way too fast for me to feel like it was realistic. I realize that this is what's considered "romantic" to other women, but I just don't get it. Neither do I care for umm...more mature scenes in the books I read. Nothing against them, and I'm not a prude, but like I've mentioned before, I don't care much for romance. (Although that does kind of stem from a whole different lust vs. love issue that we are definitely not going to get into here.) (And for clarification, when I say I don't like romance, I mean strictly romance books. I like romance in my other books, but I just don't do well when that is the entire premise of the book.)

Matthew was not really as swoony as I would have liked. He was kind of a mediocre character. He was also kind of...creepy. Like when he made her move into his house. Or showed up at her work and wouldn't leave until she talked to him. 

All in all, this was an okay book. Even for someone who doesn't like this genre, it held my attention until the end, so I consider that a huge feat. Romance lovers will definitely want to pick this up. 

This review can also be found on   Rachel Marie's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Sally Clements:

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mini Reviews: Being Henry David, Speechless, The Merchant's Daughter

Sometimes, there are just more books that need to be reviewed than is time to write a full review. These are books that still deserve a shout out, but ain't nobody got time for that. Mini reviews are a great way to give that book the recognition it deserves, get it off your conscience, without taking up so much time that you put it off forever.

Title: Being Henry David
Author: Cal Armistead
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Seventeen-year-old "Hank" has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything --who he is, where he came from, why he's running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or "Hank" and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of--Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead's remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.

So a friend told me that it was strange that I picked this up, since I hated Walden with the fire of a thousand suns. And that is true. But I've always liked the premise of Walden. I just hate reading anything by Thoreau. So when I saw this book and read the description, it intrigued me. Someone who depends on Walden as his only source of identity, the only thing he knows when he wakes up in a strange place. That must have been terrifying.
I enjoyed this book a lot. It took the "finding yourself" theme to a whole new level. Hank has no idea who he is, what he did, or any of those things to go on. Which also means he had none of those things holding him back. The simplest of the simplest, which isn't that the entire theme of Walden?
This book is not philosophy-heavy, so thank goodness for that. Thoreau is a big presence in the book: passages are quoted (not going to lie, kind of skipped over these) thanks to Hank's photographic memory; in the hallucinations Hank has; in his hometown of Concord, where Hank ends up. But this isn't so much the philosophy of Walden as much as it is Thoreau being the driving force that for Hank to figure out who he is and what he is running from.
I also enjoyed the secondary characters. There's Jack and Nissa, who he finds on the streets of New York. Thomas, a tattooed motorcycle-riding librarian, who takes Jack in when he finds him homeless in Concord. There is a bit of romance, although I wasn't really a fan. It was cheesy, forced, and I felt like it took away from the plot. But that's just me.
The writing was very well-done. Nothing too overdone or too simplified. There were times when I would just fall into the rhythm of the words. The setting of the woods and small town probably also lent itself to the overall feeling of ambiance this book created.
Overall, this was an excellent debut. I wouldn't say it was too mysterious or anything, but it wasn't as predictable as one might think either. It was a light, fun read with a deeper message, without delving into philosophy. I would definitely recommend it.

This review can also be found on   Rachel Marie's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Cal Armistead:

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Title: Speechless
Author: Hannah Harrington
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can't keep a secret
Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.
Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she's ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.
But there's strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she's done. If only she can forgive herself.

Guys, this is such a good book. And powerful. 
Chelsea is the right hand girl of the most It Girl in school. And she keeps her position by being her source of information. Nothing is safe with Chelsea. Until the day when someone is seriously hurt. In-the-hospital-in-a-coma hurt. And when Chelsea uses her big mouth for good, finally, to turn in the kids who did it, she loses all her friends. Becomes a social pariah. Because the rest of the school? They don't like her either, because of everything she's done to them. And so, Chelsea takes a vow of silence.
This book was very interesting. The girl with the biggest mouth decides to be silent? Everyone is shocked. Chelsea is teased, ridiculed, and bullied by her old friends. She is treated warily but everyone else--except Asha, a freshman who befriends her. I loved Asha. She was so cute, and...young. She seemed younger than a freshman. And she was Indian. Hey, ethnic pride. 
Then, Chelsea gets assigned Sam as her art project partner. Sam, who is Noah's best friend. Noah, the kid in the hospital, thanks to her big mouth. Except, she finds that he doesn't hate her. He doesn't spit on her, humiliate her, hate her. Sam was definitely swoon-worthy. I mean, he may not have been as much as some other swoony boys we've read and loved, but I liked him.
I also loved the character growth. In the beginning, Chelsea is not a likable character. She's petty, shallow, and just plain dumb. But she goes through such a change, into a more mature, considerate, and caring individual. But it was also done in a realistic manner, instead of a forced way to move the plot forward. We are not the person we were in high school (thank goodness for that), and this shows it in a very real manner.
This was a very powerful and emotional book. But although it dealt with serious topics, it also knew when to be light and humorous. The writing was well-done. Harrington also did a very good job of getting into the mind of high schoolers. I would know, I was just there. I would definitely recommend this book for everyone, especially high schoolers.

This review can also be found on   Rachel Marie's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Hannah Harrington:

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Title: The Merchant’s Daughter
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Series: Hagenheim #2
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

An unthinkable danger. An unexpected choice. Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf's bailiff---a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past. Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff's vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf's future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

This isn't usually the type of book I read, but I pleasantly enjoyed this one. It can't be called a modern version of Beauty and the Beast since it did happen in, like, the 1300s, but it is a...more modern? retelling? adapted? version of Beauty and the Beast. And yes, that is my weakness. I did try to read The Fairest Beauty, a Snow White story, but couldn't get into it. But then, I've never really cared about Snow White. But give me anything Beauty and the Beast and I'm there. (Also, side note, why aren't there as many Rapunzel stories?)
Annabel was lived a luxurious lifestyle, until her father died. Her mother and brothers, however, still feel entitled. They are not well-liked in the village, due to the fact that they haven't had to work or pay their dues to the lord like the rest of the villagers. But when the old lord is replaced by a new one, he collects on their debt. One of them must work in indentured servitude for three years. And since her brothers are worthless, Annabel is left to do so.
This story was cute, a fun read. This is Christian fiction, but wasn't preachy. Annabel's servant heart and desire to read the Bible are just a natural part of who she is. I loved seeing the relationship blossom between Annabel, and the Ranulf. The lord is scarred on the outside, but also on the inside from previous heartache. But once he allowed himself to drop his gruff exterior, he was really a nice guy.
The dramatic part of this--"Annabel is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger"--was drawn out and over-the-top. I felt like there were other, better paths it could have taken. It wasn't bad, or a deal-breaker, just a lot of stupid decisions that I couldn't figure out why they were making.
This was a great book, a breath of fresh air in the world of Christian fiction that is all historical or Amish. (Yes, I realize that this is historical, but it's still different.) (And seriously. What is up with Christian fiction and Amish people??) There are religious aspects, so if that's not your cup of tea, then I would not suggest picking it up. However, it isn't overly preachy, so if it's something you can overlook, and you're a Beauty and the Beast fanatic like I am, then I would recommend it. Or if you're looking for something in the Christian genre, then I would definitely recommend this.

This review can also be found on   Rachel Marie's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Melanie Dickerson:

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah {by Paula J. Freedman}

Title: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah
Author: Paula J. Freedman
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Purchase: Amazon; Barnes & Noble

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for "star") Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o--who might also be her boyfriend--and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

This book was really cute. Although it is labeled YA, it is more Middle Grade, which I don't usually read. But I'm glad I did. I originally requested it because of the multicultural background of the main character, and it did not disappoint. 

Tara is a twelve-year-old girl (or thirteen? Sorry, can't remember), just trying to make it through middle school. And if that isn't hard enough on its own, she's have an identity crisis. Her bat mitzvah is quickly approaching, and she's not sure if she wants one. In fact, she's not even sure she believes in God. 

Tara is a Jewish-Hindi mix, which is a very strange mix. But that means it's hard for her to decide. Is she Jewish? Is she Hindi? Does being one make her less of the other? These are hard questions for adults sometimes, much less a preteen girl.

Freedman did a very nice job of not getting too religious, as to get offensive. She didn't try to solve all of life's mysteries. Tara ends up deciding for herself in a way that really is just right for someone of her age. She explored the religious aspect of it enough to tell the story, but not so much that it was so in depth as if I was reading a religious studies report. 

Freedman also did a very nice job of getting into a middle school-ers POV. The little trivial things, that at the time, are really the biggest issues ever. Come on, I know we all remember that time. Tara is trying to figure out who she is, but also trying to figure out what is going on with her friends. Is Rebecca really becoming friends with that snob Sheila Rosenberg? Does the icky Ryan Berger really like her? And why is Ben-O acting so weird?

I can't say much for the Jewish side, but as an Indian, this had me laughing a lot. Freedman did a very good job of the way Indians act. It was very relateable, and quite hilarious :P Because, well, we Indians are kinda crazy ;) 

Although not usually my type of book, this was a very cute, fun book. I would definitely recommend it, especially if you're looking for a lighter read. 

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Paula J. Freedman

Website | Twitter | Goodreads