Thursday, November 12, 2015

{Blog Tour} Review: Sidekick by Natalie Whipple

 Sidekick Blog Tour

 Sidekick by Natalie Whipple
Title: Sidekick
Author: Natalie Whipple
Genre: YA Contemporary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | TBD

Russ is tired of coming in second to his best friend, Garret. Whether it's in sports, in school, or with girls, he can never get ahead. Something has to change, and when a new girl comes to town he sees his chance. He has to win her over before Garret does, but proving he's not second best won't be easy when Garret is a pro.
Russ will do anything to beat Garret, including using his little sister to get closer to the new girl. He has to be careful, though, because if anyone at school finds out he attends anime night (and he might even enjoy it), it would ruin his reputation, just like his secret love for cooking and James Taylor.

But pretending to be something he isn't will catch up to him eventually, and Russ can only get away with living two lives for so long. As more than one friend reveals they aren't who they seem, Russ must figure out what and who he really wants in his life. And more than that, he needs to find the courage to make it happen.

Oh man, I loved this one. It was cute, it was fun, it was himarious, it was so real. I think this is one of those books that everyone can find something to relate to.

Russell is tired of being second-best to his best friend, Garrett. So when a new girl comes in to town, he thinks this is his chance. His in comes when he finds out she's also obsessed with anime, although no one can know that he actually watches the stuff with his sister and her friends. 

I think Russell might come off as too shallow to some people; he only seems to care what other people think, he only thinks of his reputation. But that isn't true. I found Russell to be a very complex character. He wants to make everyone else happy, even at the expense of himself. He's become a chameleon, to fit in with every group. But he also knows that this is high school, and it's brutal, and knows how lucky he is to be part of the popular crowd, and doesn't want to do anything to upset that balance. He just has to get through school, and then he can go off and be himself. But he's spent so long faking it that he's no longer sure who himself actually is. 

I think we can all relate to that feeling of having to hide who we are, of carefully picking and choosing what we show other people. Especially in high school, as it can be a brutal place. Russell is trying to figure out who he is (especially with college looming), what he wants from life, and we all know that feeling. 

Yes, the main plot is romantic relationships. But it's also about friendships, which I think is super important, and love books about that. When everything Russell seems to do just pushes his friends away further, he has to really figure out himself, and what he's going to do about it, because he can't rely on them anymore. And I loved that. I also loved how diverse this group of characters was, mainly personality wise, and seeing how they all grow and change. This is the coming-of-age novel I wish I had when I was still in high school, honestly. 

This was such a fun book. It was serious, and I think it had great themes, but it was also fun. Yes, this book has romance, but I think it centers more about friendships and personal growth. I loved seeing Russell and his friends grow and change and become themselves. It was an all-around great book (although it will make you hungry be warned).

This review can also be found on   Goodreads

Natalie Whipple:

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Natalie Whipple grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU, with a minor in editing. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook.

She is the author of the TRANSPARENT series, HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW, the I'M A NINJA series, FISH OUT OF WATER, and MY LITTLE BRONY (under K.M. Hayes). In addition to that, she is on the writing team for the cRPG Torment: Tides of Numenera that should be out sometime in 2015.
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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Esther {by Rebecca Kanner}

 Esther by Rebecca Kanner
Title: Esther
Author: Rebecca Kanner
Genre: Biblical fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
source: publisher

A glittering Persian king has a vast empire that reaches farther than where the sun meets the horizon. He is bathed in riches and commands a frightening military force. He possesses power beyond any other mortal man and rules his kingdom as a god. Anything he desires, he has. Any woman he wants, he possesses. Thousands of them. Young virgins from all across his many lands.
A Jewish girl is ripped from her hut by the king’s brutish warriors and forced to march across blistering, scorched earth to the capitol city. Trapped for months in the splendid cage of the king’s palace, she must avoid the ire of the king’s concubines and eunuchs all while preparing for her one night with the king. Soon the fated night arrives, and she does everything in her power to captivate the king and become his queen.
But wearing the crown brings with it a new set of dangers. When a ruthless man plies the king’s ear with whispers of genocide, it is up to the young queen to prevent the extermination of the Jews. She must find the strength within to violate the king’s law, risk her life, and save her people.
This is a story of finding hidden depths of courage within one’s self. Of risking it all to stand up for what is right.
This is the story of Queen Esther.

I've read a lot of Esther stories. I would go as far as to say they're probably the most abundant Biblical retellings out there. There's just something about the story of Queen Esther. That said, they don't often surprise me or stray from the normal. There's a certain amount you expect, and they usually live up. However, I felt this one was totally different and unexpected.

I think what made this one completely different was how Esther was portrayed. And I will admit, at first it rubbed me the wrong way. We often see Esther portrayed as a meek, obedient little girl, who selflessly saved her people. But this story points out that meek and obedient would have never won her the title of queen in this time. At first, I didn't like Esther; she's power-hungry, arrogant, manipulative. But then I began to understand. It is more likely how she would have been, to attract the king, while keeping herself alive in a place that wanted her dead. She did act childish in some instances, but then you remember that she essentially was a child.

It is very important to me that stories like this are historically accurate, and this was impressively well-researched. I felt like it went more in depth with what happened between Esther arriving at the palace, and actually saving the Jews. In fact, that part was the very tail end, as the story focused more on her time in the palace. We got to see her interactions with the king, with the other women of the harem more in depth than I've seen before.

I do want to point out that there are a few sexual scenes in here, that go a bit farther than I think people expect from a Christian novel. Nothing explicit, obviously. Nothing that bothered me. But I did want to point it out in case you were the type to be bothered by it.

This also isn't the first retelling I've read that suggests Esther may have had a less favorable opinion or belief of God, and not the woman of super-strong faith that we assume she must have been. I think it's an interesting opinion, and makes room to explore faith and the Jewish religion and customs a little more.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this story. The reasons I disliked it in the beginning are the reasons that ended up making it one of my favorite Esther retellings. I think it was portrayed beautifully, both historically and Biblically. And I very much look forward to reading other stories by this author.

This review can also be found on   Goodreads

Rebecca Kanner:

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Golden Braid {by Melanie Dickerson}

 The Golden Braid
Title: The Golden Braid
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Series: Hagenheim #6
Genre: YA Retelling, Christian Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
source: publisher

The one who needs rescuing isn’t always the one in the tower.
Rapunzel can throw a knife better than any man around. And her skills as an artist rival those of any artist she’s met. But for a woman in medieval times, the one skill she most desires is the hardest one to obtain: the ability to read.
After yet another young man asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, Mother decides they need to move once again, but this time to a larger city. Rapunzel’s heart soars—surely there she can fulfill her dream. But Mother won’t let her close to a man. She claims that no man can be trusted.
After being rescued by a knight on the road to the city, and in turn rescuing him farther down the road, Rapunzel’s opportunity arrives at last. This knight, Sir Gerek, agrees to educate Rapunzel in order to pay back his debt. She just has to put up with his arrogant nature and single-minded focus on riches and prestige.
But this Rapunzel story is unlike any other and the mystery that she uncovers will change everything—except her happily ever after.

I love Melanie Dickerson's fairytale retellings, so I was super excited when I saw that her newest one was one of my favorite fairytales ever, Rapunzel. Unfortunately, I didn't think this one lived up quite as much as her others, but I still enjoyed it.

Rapunzel lives with her mother, who has never let her get close to anyone else, especially a man. Rapunzel is old enough to be married, but if a man even shows her interest, her mother moves them to another city. But Rapunzel has had it. She's tired of moving, of not having friends. But most of all, she wants to learn to read. She finally gets her chance after saving the life of a knight, who agrees to teach her as a way to repay his debt.

While you don't have to read any of her others to read this one, it is very connected to the others. In fact, it's the other side of the story of what happened in The Princess Frog, after Margaretha and Colin left the castle. It as fun to see some of our favorite characters again.

While I did like both Rapunzel and Gerek, I still felt something lacking. They weren't quite as developed, even though they had the potential to be great characters. I thought the plot line was well done, with everything that happened with Gothel, and Rapunzel finding out the truth. I also didn't think this was as sappy insta-lovey as some of her stories. Rapunzel and Gerek had time to get to know each other, and in fact didn't even like each other in the beginning.

All in all, this was a cute, interesting take on the Rapunzel story. I enjoyed it, although I expected a little more. But I will still definitely be looking forward to more stories from Dickerson.

This review can also be found on   Goodreads

Melanie Dickerson:

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Every Girl Gets Confused {by Janice Thompson}

Every Girl Gets Confused
Title: Every Girl Gets Confused
Author: Janice Thompson
Series: Brides with Style #2
Genre: Christian Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Source: publisher

Katie Fisher and Brady James may be a match made in heaven, but that doesn't seem to guarantee them a happily ever after accompanied by angelic choirs. In fact, the sounds being heard at the bridal shop where she works are on the contentious side lately, as a bride- and groom-to-be try to mediate the growing rivalry between their basketball-obsessed families in the middle of play-off season. On top of that, Katie's parents are nagging her to get out of Dallas and come home to tiny Fairfield where her former boyfriend Carson is waiting for her, ready to rekindle their relationship. Oy vey! What's a girl to do? And will she ever be able to wear that gorgeous wedding dress she won?
The breezy fun continues as Janice Thompson throws everyone's favorite small-town girl into big-city bridal chaos--and makes her choose between the love she thought she lost and the love she stumbled upon in the aftermath.

Another hit by Janice Thompson. I love her books, and I love this new series. We were introduced to Katie in the first book, where she won a wedding dress... despite not being engaged. And now we get to see her in this new season, as she leaves her small town to take work at the bridal shop in Dallas.

I love Katie. I think she's hilarious. She has that small-town charm without it being too overbearing and fake. She's gotten over being dumped by her long-town boyfriend, and settling into this new relationship with Brady. I love getting to see both sides--small town living, and big city living. And like any Janice Thompson novel, the secondary characters are what makes the novel. I love seeing the different dynamics of all the different people, from those working at the shop, to those in her hometown.

I think this one was a little more real than some of her others. Brady is really struggling with the realization that he might never play basketball again due to his knee. But more than being able to relate to Brady, Katie has to learn how to support and be there for him. It can be hard to know how to support someone when they're feeling that... depressed, you could say, and I like how this touched on that.

I don't read much romance, but Janice Thompson will always be a go-to favorite. Yes, there is a little too much "everything works out perfectly" but I think that's what makes them enjoyable. They're just a lot of fun, and I loved this one.

This review can also be found on   Goodreads

Janice Thompson:

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