Saturday, March 31, 2012

Blog Tour: "Erebos" by Ursula Pozanski

Title: Erebos
Author: Ursula Poznanski
Publisher: Annick Press, 2012 (previously released in Germany)
Translator: Judith Pattinson

Nick can't figure out why his friends are acting so strange lately. People are missing basketball, skipping school, and it all seems to be because of some disc making the rounds. He soon figures out it's a game, and gets the chance to play himself when a girl in his class passes it on to him. But there are rules to this game: you have to play alone, you can't talk about it in the real world to anyone, and if you die in the game, that's it, it's over. Soon Nick is sucked into this world, which feels so real to him that he finds it hard to believe it's just a game. And then it starts to cross into his real life. Strange tasks are assigned to him, and as a reward he gains levels in the game. But how far is he willing to go? What is the purpose of the game? And can it be stopped?

When I started reading Erebos, I was actually very pleasantly surprised. I wasn't expecting such a great thriller; from the description, it sounded a little bit sci-fi and not entirely enthralling for me, but I was very wrong. I felt sucked into the game Erebos myself as Nick began navigating his way through the computer-generated world. I felt breathless many times throughout the story, not believing the lengths some players went to continue the game, to stop themselves from being blacklisted. It was hard for me to stop reading.

One really nice touch in the writing was the switch from past tense to present when Nick was playing as his game alias, Sarius. It brought an immediacy to the text that wasn't there when we were just following Nick during his school days or at home.

It was scary to imagine how something like a computer game can brainwash so many people into bending to its will. When only bits and pieces are given out to each person and they complete tasks not knowing what the consequences will be, it can lead to disaster. The thought of a game knowing so much about each individual to play it is very sobering.

I definitely recommend this book to teens and tweens who like action-packed stories that take place in everyday surroundings. Gamers will appreciate it, as will non-gamers. Luckily, Annick Press has been so kind as to provide a copy for me to give away to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment with a way to contact you (e-mail would be best). By commenting with an entry, you agree to the following:

You must be 13 years or older.
You must live in the US or Canada.
Only one entry per person.

This contest will end at 11:59 EST on April 7, 2012.

Check out the rest of the stops on the Erebos blog tour from earlier this week!

March 25: YA Bookshelf,
March 26: Bookosaur,
March 27: GreenBeanTeenQueen,
March 28: The Pen Stroke,
March 29: I Read Banned Books,
March 30: Between the Covers,

Disclosure: I got this e-book through NetGalley after being told of it by the publisher in preparation for this blog tour.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: "I'll Be There" by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Title: I'll Be There
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 2011

Sam Border has only known what it's like to run. He hasn't had stability since he was a very young child, and ever since his father took him and his younger brother Riddle when they were small they've always been looking over their shoulder for whoever is after them, usually the authorities. Their father is a thief, going against the system and trying to cheat it as often as possible, and uses his sons to get pity from those he tries to swindle. All Sam can do is make sure to take care of his brother as best he can. But all this changes when he meets Emily by chance after a church service, after she seems to sing a song straight to him. He begins to want to stay, to be a part of another person's life. But he has a major obstacle: his paranoid and abusive father, and his worry for his brother.

I read this book a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say I had to stay up reading it until I was finished. Some of you may know this doesn't happen too often to me. It turned from love story, to family story, to survival story, and I needed to know what happened to each character.

I must say the characters were very well crafted and developed. Sam is unsure of this new pattern he has started, and has a fierce loyalty to Riddle. He is tender and caring but knows what needs to be done and does it. Riddle is a quiet, suffers from asthma in silence. He draws complex images of the insides of machines in a phone book as a way to cope. He craves love and gets it from Sam, but wishes for the love of a mother too. Emily is a fairly typical teenage girl who doesn't understand what it's like to live in poverty and can't wrap her brain around Sam's situation, doesn't even consider that such a life could be possible for this boy. Her whole family becomes important to the story, and each is individual and fleshed out.

The story itself is gripping and full of tension, especially when it comes to how Sam and Riddle's father reacts as it is clear he is mentally unstable and we are unsure how he will react or take action when he thinks he's being double crossed or tricked.

I'll Be There is a heartwarming and lovely story survival, hope, and promise.

Disclosure: I got this book from my local library.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Jesse Andrews

Title: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Publisher: Amulet, 2012

Greg Gaines has managed to perfect the near impossibility of being voluntarily invisible in high school, being generally friendly with everyone and never overly friendly with anyone. Except Earl, which is a different story since Earl generally wants to windmill kick everyone in the head and swear a lot, and except for Rachel, who gets leukemia in their senior year of high school. Greg's mom, who likes to insert herself into Greg's life in as many ways as she possibly can, decides Greg needs to be friends with Rachel, since when they were like 12 he sort of accidentally dated her when they were in Hebrew school.

Basically, this is the story of Greg's senior year, told by him, and how Rachel got mixed up in it, and how his life got completely screwed up as a result.

I'll warn you straight up: this book is full of curse words and disgusting language. Earl has the dirtiest mouth, and Greg's isn't pure as snow either. But that said, I started to enjoy it after a while. At first I was kind of turned off by it, but it has this rhythm, and plus it's just hilarious. I mean, I started thinking in Earl-speak toward the end, which is awesome and just ridiculous if you know me.

The situations in this book might seem like they're going to be heartfelt and eye-opening for our main character, but as he'll tell you at least once a chapter, this book is anything but sentimental. Greg wants nothing to do with this from the start—he hasn't talked to Rachel in years, and it ended on really awkward terms back then anyway. He really has no idea how to act around other people that aren't Earl except to try to make them laugh, and though he succeeds sometimes, a lot of the time he'll put his foot in his mouth and just say completely idiotic things that blow up in his face.

And honestly, it was kind of nice. This is not a coming-of-age story. Greg does not really grow up here. He realizes stuff about himself, but he's still kind of a jerk throughout most of it.

Earl is pretty awesome, but no miracles happen to him either. Earl is a tough kid who'll beat you down if he feels like you deserve it, but he's got a good heart and knows the right thing to do, and won't be afraid to do it. He'll cuss like a sailor all the while, but whatever. People aren't perfect.

This is a bizarre little book, but I liked it. Even though Greg doesn't seem to think he learned much from the experience, if anything he learned how to avoid these situations in the future, it doesn't really matter. We see what unfolds, and that's what counts.

And did I mention this book is mainly funny? How often do you find a book about a dying girl that's so full of humor, and gross humor at that. Like, you don't even want me to tell you. I don't even want to tell you. Just... just go read it. If you're curious.

Disclosure: I got this e-book from NetGalley.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: "How to Eat a Cupcake" by Meg Donohue

Title: How to Eat a Cupcake
Author: Meg Donohue
Publisher: Harper, 2012
Release date: March 13, 2012

It's been 10 years since Annie Quintana and Julia St. Clair have seen each other—10 years since a deep betrayal, since the end of their friendship, and since Annie's mother's sudden death. But now fate has thrown the two women together—one a successful businesswoman, and the other a creative and extremely talented baker. They will try to get past old wounds, and new painful secrets, to open up a successful cupcakery in their city of San Francisco, despite someone's determination to see that they fail.

This novel is told from both Annie's and Julia's perspectives, chapters alternating between the two. Annie is very wary of Julia, who stabbed her in the back by starting rumors that led to a deterioration in the relationship Annie had with her mother right before her death. Annie has not forgiven Julia for that, and is only going along with this scheme to get to her goal of owning her own bakery. Julia, on the other hand, has a secret she's hiding from everyone, including her fiance Wes, and it could be something that will end their engagement. In order to get past the pain of this secret and focus on something else, she comes up with the plan to start this business venture with Annie when she tries one of her cupcakes for the first time at a party her mother throws.

I really liked this. It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but it was completely what I was anticipating when I opened it up. Annie is sarcastic and funny; I'd describe her as a firecracker. She's got a lot of passion for what she does, and a lot of emotion buried deep inside her. I really enjoyed her sections of the book, not only because I was interested in her story, but because I loved her voice. Julia is very unlikable at first, but as the chapters go on, we see that undercurrent of loss she's hiding from the world and how that has changed her as a person. I loved seeing the dynamic of their relationship change over time.

Also, there are the cupcakes. I love reading about baking and food, and if you are like me, this is the perfect book to whet your appetite. Literally. I wanted one of those gourmet cupcakes Annie bakes, especially one with the unusual but delicious-sounding ingredient combinations.

I was surprised to find that this book also had elements of a thriller. There's a vandal targeting the cupcake shop, and we're not sure why. It all comes to a fairly exciting conclusion toward the very end of the book, and I was pleased with how Donohue worked it in so well.

I did have a few problems with the book, unfortunately. Some of you may know my pet peeve of an author using one particular word far too often to describe something. Well, Julia's mother Lolly never says anything, she always ALWAYS "rasps" it. Why? It's not necessary to have that there every. single. time. Another element I didn't like was the not-so-subtle foreshadowing that goes on. The "Maybe if I had known what was coming, I wouldn't have done this." A variation of that sentence appeared so many times that I got very irritated with it. And to make matters worse, it made the upcoming events sound way more awful and terrible than they actually are. It was like there was a cloud of doom hanging over the cupcake shop for no reason most of the time. I mean, yes, bad things do happen, but don't make it sound like everyone dies.

As far as teen appeal goes, some might be turned off by the older narrators (they're both 28), but Annie gives the story enough kick to give interest, in my opinion. Aspiring bakers or cupcake lovers will probably enjoy this story, too.

But, despite my misgivings, this was a fun book with some drama that comes together in a satisfying way at the end. Plus, you know, cupcakes.

Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Audiobook Review: "Unfamiliar Fishes" by Sarah Vowell

TitleUnfamiliar Fishes
Author: Sarah Vowell
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2011 (print available from Riverhead Trade)
Narrator: Sarah Vowell

Have you ever wondered how the United States came to acquire Hawaii? Do you know anything about the history of the last state to join the country? Sarah Vowell, in her typical sarcastically funny and intelligent fashion, takes us through the history of this chain of islands that have been through so much. From the ancient Hawaiians, to the missionaries that first stepped on the shores, to President McKinley making Hawaii officially part of the United States, Vowell tells us all about the dynamic history of Hawaii.

How have I made it this far in my life without reading one of Sarah Vowell's books? This book is fantastic. I loved Vowell's voice; she puts herself into the story as much as all of the historical figures and events, and the story is richer for it. We start with her contemplating her plate lunch, and how all these different cultures are together on one plate in Hawaii. She launches into the history and culture, both past and present. Her biting comments, quirky choice of words, and funny asides kept me listening and eager to hear more.

I picked up this audiobook because my fiance and I are going to Hawaii for our honeymoon, and I wanted to know more about it. Plus, I've heard great things about Vowell. I wasn't disappointed. Not only did I learn a great deal about the history and culture, but I was entertained throughout it with Vowell's unique style of writing. I was kind of surprised at how much I didn't know about the islands, though I suppose I shouldn't have been. We don't learn this stuff in school, and I had no reason to learn about it before this. Not that that's an excuse, but my interest was piqued when I learned I'd actually be going there.

A note on the audio edition: At first I was completely turned off by Vowell's voice. It was whinier than I was expecting. But I got used to it, and eventually started to really like how she narrated her writing in deadpan and in a conversational way. I would definitely listen to another one of her audiobooks, and most likely will. I can't wait to get my hands on Vowell's other work.

Disclosure: I got this from the library.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Review: "Since You're Leaving Anyway, Take Out the Trash" by Dixie Cash

Title: Since You're Leaving Anyway, Take Out the Trash
Author: Dixie Cash
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins), 2004

Salt Lick, Texas is one of those small towns where everyone knows everyone else's business. But that's never stopped Debbie Sue or Edwina from being their raucous selves. Debbie Sue owns and operates the Styling Station, a salon that used to be a gas station, and works alongside Edwina. When Pearl Ann Carruthers, richest woman this side of Texas, is found shot in the head in her car, business really picks up—after all, gossip is the main reason people go to the salon, and with Debbie Sue's ex-husband being the sheriff, they figure she's bound to know something. And with a $50,000 cash reward for anyone who produces the killer, Debbie Sue and Edwina are determined to find the culprit themselves. If only Debbie Sue's ex would stay out of their way...

If you like mysteries, sassy ladies and Western fiction, this is the series for you. I had remembered seeing it a bookstore years ago and thought it sounded good, so I finally went out and got a copy. I'm so glad I did.

Debbie Sue and Edwina are what you'd call pistols. They don't watch their language or deal with any bull. They go straight to the point, and love to have fun despite financial worries or problems with their love lives. Yeah, this is a mystery, but the reason I loved this book is the characters and the romance. Plus it's just downright funny.

If you need some lighthearted mystery/romance with a Western kick, this is just what you're looking for. Also, I just finished the second book in the series, titled My Heart May Be Broken, but My Hair Still Looks Great, and it's possibly even better. I can't wait to get the third and fourth from the library.

Disclosure: I bought this book from
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