Another Perfect Princess Saves the Day

Technically not the last princess, but that should maybe be the least of your worries.

The Last Princess by debut author Galaxy Craze tells the story of the embattled Windsor royal family sometime in the near-ish future, after a series of great global catastrophes leaves the world in ruin and civilization struggles to regain its footing. Eliza Windsor is the second daughter to the royal family, with her older sister Mary in line for the throne and her younger brother Jamie doomed to spend his days sickly and dying from a poison introduced to him in the womb. Earth has been ravaged by a perfect storm of disasters referred to as the Seventeen Days, in which volcanoes, earthquakes, and all other manners of natural malevolence were unleashed at the same time. Resources are scarce, and society lives in shambles. Some have even resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. When the discontented and power-hungry rebel Cornelius Hollister murders both of her parents and captures her two siblings, Eliza is forced to head out into the world on her own in order to stop the country from falling into worse chaos. Her only option is to become a part of the enemy troops, and in doing so she meets Westley, a soldier who knows her secret and has one or two of his own.

Let’s start with the good on this one. First, the plot is definitely the stronger force in the novel over characters, which makes this a page turner. There is no lack of action in here. Eliza is faced with all kinds of challenges, not only from her enemies who are trying to capture her, but also from the environment itself, which sounds so toxic it’s a wonder anyone survived. The author created an interesting character in Wesley, the bad guy who is actually good (no spoiler here, you all know it’s true just from reading the inside cover). And although the amount of time we actually get to hear Wesley talking is short, I got the feeling he could be complicated in a good way and so I was able to root for him.

Where the plot is fairly strong in this novel, it really lacks a similar force in characterization. You can go ahead and add Eliza to the list of Mary Sue heroines that there has been no shortage of recently. This girl is kind and selfless, loves her father and mother, saves her little brother from running away and dying in the forest, and escapes a burning castle. She saves a dog, a blue jay, and magically befriends a tortured and crazed enemy warhorse by sheer will, who then loves her so much she follow her around miraculously for the rest of the book. There is really no good reason given as to why Westley takes a liking to her; he saves her several times, but their conversation is very limited, and basically the second time the get any alone time they spill some deep secrets and lay in bed together. And once again, Eliza is the type that decides that she LOVES him after just these few encounters. It makes me feel like good conversation and slow relationship building are becoming endangered species in the world of young adult, but that shouldn’t be the case.

I also had a really hard time with the whole world in catastrophe thing. This novel hinges on the fact that the world is in ruins, but for me a lot of it didn’t make any sense. Supposedly the whole world was victim to a bunch of huge disasters (think The Day After Tomorrow) and this apparently means that there are hardly any surviving plants, animals, sources of energy, means of communication, or modern technology more advanced than guns. Besides the fact that without living trees to photosynthesize and create oxygen we would eventually run out of air and die, there’s not a single mention of a computer or the internet, and communication is so impossible that apparently Great Britain doesn’t even know if the rest of the world survived. Now, I know that one good hit to some power systems would cause a lot of issues, but I’m not willing to go so far to believe that we (or such a select group of people) would be resorting to eating each other, as the Roamers do. Which, by the way, I feel slightly offended on behalf of criminals, which no other book has ever made me do. Just because they broke out of jail doesn’t mean their going to go drilling nails in their teeth and eating people. And by the way, you don’t need nails for teeth to eat human flesh. I doubt we’re that tough. Anyway, I may totally be reading into this too much, but it should not have been so farfetched to make me feel like I had to examine the real facts.

I guess I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book on the grounds that it’s pretty much the same as many, many others that I have recently read, and not in a good way. I miss character driven stories and authors who put in the effort to slow cook the romance to golden brown perfection. Before anyone starts throwing tomatoes and calling me a hopeless critic, next time I will review one of the best gems that I have found in this year’s debut challenge, one you should all read.

Till next time!

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Cracked

Cracked is the debut novel by K.M. Walton. It follows two enemies, Victor and Bull, as they go through the trials of home life and ultimately end up in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. There, they are forced to be roommates and must learn to deal with the events that have put them in their respective situations in the first place, and ultimately learn a little bit about each other as well. This novel has been touted to be a telling narrative about the modern bully, and about the effects that it can have on kids as they try to get through their teenage years intact. Bull is a relentless tormentor of Victor’s but through the splitting of the narrative into both of their points of view, the author is able to give us both sides of the story.

I always feel uncomfortable giving really negative reviews of novels, because I know that I can’t currently fathom the amount of effort that it takes to get a book written, accepted and edited for publication. That being said, this was possibly my least favorite book of the year. I almost cracked a little myself trying to read it, and quite frankly, I might have quit halfway through if I wasn’t lured by the hopes that it would get better and the fact that I have challenged myself to focus on debut novels this year.

I could go on at length about some of the things that I found distracting and unbelievable about this novel. The way that Victor’s parents are two dimensional and that I can’t properly fathom a set of parents who would go through with the pregnancy only to be so uninterested in this wonderful child. The fact that Bull’s manner of speaking and thinking often includes outdated and age-inappropriate slang that makes him sound comedic at times that are supposed to be dead serious. How these two teenage boys seem to be completely self-aware and acknowledge their feelings to themselves all the time. How they both manage to find love in the psych ward in a matter of hours.

But there was something pervasive in this novel that I could not abide by at all, and it is the way that almost every female character is presented by her sexual value. I have not come across a review yet that has really addressed this, though I certainly have not read them all. While I was reading, it felt to me that every other page mentioned the boys drooling over pretty nurses or getting boners, and almost every main female character in the novel is first evaluated by how pretty she is. For example, this is Bull’s thought process while he’s thinking about the girl in the corner at their group session:

How did she try to kill herself? What made her do it? What is she afraid of? What would it be like to hug her? Make out with her? Touch her?

Great, I have a boner.

I have to stop looking at her. At least these sweats are big and loose, and I’m sitting down. No one can tell. God, at least I hope to shit they can’t tell.

And this is a gem from the first conversation that Victor has with his budding love interest, Nikole:

We both get up, even though I have no where to go. And in the hallway Nicole turns one way and I turn the other. I watch her walk towards her room. She turns around, walks back to me, and whispers in my ear “Your dreams are going to come true, Victor. I can feel it.” Then she kisses my cheek.

Again I watch her walk toward her room, but this time I can feel the blood surge in my sweatpants.

These are just two of many examples of this kind of thinking on the boys’ part. It may be that I was so distracted by the objectification of all the women in this novel that I was unable to grasp it’s better points. It may also be that it’s unfair to read this so quickly after reading Ned Vizzini’s amazing novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which I really enjoyed and thought did a better job of portraying the progression of depression and suicide. And ultimately, I don’t think the author was trying to portray women in this manner. I think Walton was trying to find an authentic voice for her teenage male characters, and the way that she chose to do it was to bring attention to the fact that guys probably think about sex quite a bit. Still, I thought it was not only unfair to the females in this book, but also for Victor and Bull. I think that male characters should be given more credit than that, and that it’s not cool to portray them as having such shallow interactions with the women in their lives unless it’s truly crucial to understanding the characters.

I feel the author was making a great attempt to try to put a spotlight on the bullying issue that faces many kids today, and I say “attempt” because as other reviewers from Goodreads have said, the trouble for Victor and Bull mostly comes from their terrible home lives and not each other. But for me, the novel swaps one issue for another in that the female characters we encounter are portrayed in regards to their sexual value. I hope that Walton works through this and can keep it in mind as she writes her next piece.

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Are your hands bleeding yet? NaNoWriMo is here!

All right kids, we’re already 19 hours in. What are your word counts? Do you have your plot planned out yet? Where is your extra stash of pencils? Do you have a back-up hard drive in case your first one goes out? Do you have a back-up computer in case your first one gets eaten?! Where are your USB drives?! Is this the chair you’re going to sit in for the next thirty days?! THERE IS NO TIME!

National Novel Writing Month is upon us! Thirty whole days of writing, getting writer’s block, being tempted to start over, a little binge drinking, a little crying, a lot of panicking, repeat daily. Ok, not really. But some of those are true for at least some of us in this room. I’m starting on time this year, and I’m going to do my best with the help of some of my writing buddies. Last year I was not successful in making the 50,000 word count, but here’s to a month of trying my damnedest. You may be asking some questions like “Oh no! If you’re doing Nano, when are you going to finish all your debut reviews/read other things/play video games/rake your yard/(insert other thing I still have to do this year here)?” I have asked myself these same questions, and I have decided that I don’t have time to answer them because seriously guys did you know that the month is already starting and for realsies THERE IS NO TIME!

So, if you’ve got NaNoWriMo on the brain this month, head on over to nanowrimo.org and feel free to look me up: solitarysumire. We can laugh and cry and write together!

Onward!

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Robin Hood: Girls with Knives

Storming the castle, saving the Hood.

Ah, first post in a long while. I’ve read tons of things and I’m just now getting back into blogging. It’s been a pretty crazy couple months with work and a little home renovation, but I should be able to be a little more regular about it. Also, Guild Wars 2 just came out, and what can I say? I was born to fight dragons! On the internet! While sipping Mountain Dew and eating chocolates of +7 Vitality!

Anyway, books.

A.C. Gaughen’s debut novel Scarlet is a quick and fun read for anyone who thinks that Maid Marian needed a makeover. Will Scarlet is known about town as a slippery thief who is in league with Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to feed the poor. But only a few are privy to this thief’s secret: she’s a girl, and she’s got some skeletons in her closet that are about to come out when the Sheriff of Nottingham calls in some infamous back-up. With only a few weeks until tax day and the citizens poorer than ever, Scarlet, Robin Hood, Little John and Much have a pretty impossible task on their hands.

I really liked this book as far as some of the other debuts that I’ve read. Scarlet is a well-rounded character, and I liked the progression that Gaughen uses to  slowly reveal her past. It didn’t feel too rushed or too slow, and I wasn’t left feeling like the author had withheld important information just to be mysterious, that there was a purpose to it. I thought her slowly building romance with Robin Hood was much preferable to the confusing relationship she fudges together with Little John. Actually, can I just say that I almost didn’t even like Little John as a character? He was loyal to the team and had his moments, but a lot of the time later in the novel I was left feeling like he just needed to move over and accept the whole Scarlet/Robin thing. Scarlet’s actions toward Little John are confusing too; I know she’s just troubled and that he’s being kind to her, but she seems to know that she doesn’t like him, and then it just irks me when she leads him on.

The other thing that I found to be immediately difficult about this book was the accent in which it was written. The author uses a phonetic spelling technique to create a sort of rough British accent, but the accent apparently requires switching up a lot of word order. I expected that it would pass and I would get over it, but it actually ended up being something that I struggled with for the rest of the novel.

Despite that, I was able to keep going to the end, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. The author has some really great twists up her sleeve. I was able to guess one of the twists, but another of them was a really fun and exciting surprise. And though I can’t say that I’ve ever been a huge consumer of Robin Hood stories other than various movies, I thought that the author did a great job in making a recreation of it that was fun to read. Robin Hood himself is nicely flawed in the way that he gets jealous of Little John, and it was nice to see a representation of him that wasn’t all sporting, swash-buckling and always noble.

In all this was a good read, and it left off with a cliffhanger that I’m kind of hoping gets resolved or continued with a sequel. If not, I can totally accept it as a stand alone, as not everything needs to be turned into a trilogy. But I’m just saying. It would be fine with me if it was. You know.

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Top five reasons you should play Harvest Moon over Farmville

Let’s get farming! *don’t own the pics

I realized that I haven’t bored anyone to death with a video game update in quite some time, even though I just completed Final Fantasy XIII-2  (it was a mind trip) and I’ve been gearing up for the next beta weekend of Guild Wars 2 (yah!), so to remedy that here is this. Feel free to throw tomatoes in the comments. Also, I have had people try to tell me that they don’t think that Farmville is a video game, but since video games are generally any game that involves being displayed and input into using an electronic device, I say you are in denial.  🙂

Harvest Moon is a very fun little game that’s been produced in Japan since the mid-1990s. Like Farmville, it is a simulation farming game, with many different titles that have been released for various gaming platforms. I have always played the releases for Nintendo’s hand-held devices, the Gameboy and the DS, but titles are also made for Playstation 2, PSP, Wii and maybe other things. They also make a similar game called Rune Factory, which still has the farming aspect and introduces monster hunting, as well.

Anyway, on with my list!

1) Harvest Moon won’t clog your notifications or update feed. Your friends cannot leave a million updates about how you need to help them out, nor do you run the risk of being “that friend.” However, you can still have the fun of interacting with other people, with the ability to cut that off when you need to. The game I’m currently playing, A Tale of Two Towns, has a collective farming plot where you can invite people to farm with you by connecting your DS to the internet and exchanging friend codes.

2) The game you buy is the game you get, and you only have to buy it once. One of the things that I disliked about playing Farmville is that even though it is a free game, all of the fun useful stuff has to be bought. Not only that, but usually it’s a finite item and has to eventually be bought again. And if you don’t want to buy it, generally you have to pester your friends to click on your posts to help you get it. While Harvest Moon is a more expensive game up front and you need a console to play it, you get the whole game, no tricks. This is simply a difference in the way the companies look to gain profit- Zynga needs to make money off their products to stay in business, but I find the game is less fun when you’re expected to keep buying things for it.

3) There are other activities besides farming. Farmville has introduced the market aspect, and of course there are animals to care for and collectibles to collect, but mostly you chill out on the same plot of land that can only get bigger if you buy it or collect enough friends. If you want to do other things, you have to play a different game. Harvest Moon offers more to do: fishing, bug-catching, exploring, falling in love, having kids, expanding your house, building friendships with villagers, contests, etc. Like, I said, it costs more to buy in the beginning, but I’ve never felt like I wasn’t getting my money’s worth. You can also have two different saved games in most newer releases, so you can be trying out two different paths at the same time, as well.

4) Courting, marriage and kids! And semblance of plot! Something that I have a lot of fun with is the bachelor/bachelorette courting: in most recent HM games, you have the option to pick someone you like, meet some friendship requirements, and then get married and have a baby! It’s fun! Plus, most Harvest Moon games have ultimate objectives that you have to meet (free all the harvest sprites, mend the relationship between two towns, make the bazaar the very best in the world, save the city, etc.) that give you something to work toward. It puts a little more life in the thing, and it’s different in each game.

5) You can shut the game off and go do other things. Your plants won’t die. Yes, this is important. No need to wake at 2 am to water your whatevers so they don’t shrivel up and die. (Or was that just me?) When you shut the game off, it doesn’t keep running, so there’s no need for you to plan on being near a computer in 4 hours because your raspberries will be done. This comes in real handy if you really want to do well in a game but don’t want to sacrifice your personal life, meals, or sleep. But if you do, at least it’s entirely your fault. 🙂 Time does not pass in game unless you’re playing, which actually might allow for an even more casual experience than Farmville.

And I made this list without evening mentioning the llamas! They are the cutest, better than a Farmville Valentine’s Day sheep any time. Anyway, I thought this might be fun to share, since so many people like Farmville but have never heard of this nice little game that’s been doing it for over a decade. If you want to know more, obviously Wikipedia is a good start, but I also recommend checking out this neat help site called Ushi No Tane (fogu.com/hm). They have all kinds of info for pretty much each HM and Rune Factory game out there, as well as a great online community if you want to chat with others about the game or share friend codes for co-op farming.

What are some of your secret video game obsessions? Or do you not play them at all? Let me know in the comments, and happy gaming!

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The Bachelor, Dystopian Edition

I’d contend just to wear that dress! *I don’t own the pic

Kiera Cass’s debut novel The Selection features an interesting combination of dystopia and reality TV. The world where the novel takes place is a future incarnation of North America where monarchs rule a kingdom that has adopted a strict caste system. The caste you are born into determines your occupation and relative wealth, 1 being the wealthiest and 8 being the homeless. America Singer, a 5 (musician/artist caste) is madly in love with her friend Aspen who is a 6 (laborer caste). At the time of the Selection, where 35 girls from the country are picked to compete for the hand of the prince on television, Aspen encourages her to sign up. America has no intentions of ever competing for the title of princess, but the girls who are selected receive payment that would help her family out, so she agrees. However, when circumstances change and America finds herself being carted off to the competition, she begins to find that she may be exactly what the shy Prince Maxon is looking for.

Despite being a dystopian novel based around a nationally viewed reality television show, the setting does not evoke The Hunger Games at all, nor did it remind me of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy, which has a similar premise. I was glad to see that the author has created her own niche in the rapidly growing genre of dystopian YA. With that, I had a little trouble grounding myself in the world that Cass creates. There is a wonderful scene at the castle about two thirds the way through the book where the girls are reciting the history of kingdom and how things came to be the way they are; unfortunately, I really felt like I needed it on page 2. America did not quite come off the page as a very dynamic character to me, with few defining characteristics that I could sink my teeth into, but I did like Maxon’s quite charm and sense of humor and I am interested in what will become of this couple. And though I want these two to end up together, I have a concern that America is complacent with the caste system as it is.  I feel like in other novels I’ve read where this kind of a controlling world is set up, the satisfaction of the story comes when the main character becomes disillusioned and takes their own path to bring the system down. I’m not saying that authors should follow this kind of formula always, but I am not content with accepting the caste system set up by this novel, and I wasn’t sure by the end of the first book in this trilogy if America has the drive to change things should she become queen.

As a testament to Cass’s skill in creating believable relationship drama between America, the prince and the other girls, I was intrigued enough to get me through the book despite the fact that somehow what are supposed to be tense and dangerous scenes instead are turned into nonevents. I am referring to the rebel attacks on the palace, which are supposedly so scary that the prince feels obligated by the end of the novel to send most of the girls home for fear of their safety, but are really brushed over in the actual narration. In both cases, the girls are sequestered into safe rooms where nothing happens, and they don’t ever come into contact with any of the rebels or the havoc they cause apart from having their bedrooms messed up. I was really curious about the differences between the two kinds of rebels and what they might mean later in the story. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the danger and suspense were made very palpable, and the attacks hardly even registered as plot points to me even though I believe they were supposed to hold a lot of significance.

Even with what I’ve said here, the story was still interesting and certainly a must read for anyone who likes the kind of relational drama that comes with reality TV and soap operas. I’m excited to see what Kiera Cass has in store for future installations of the series.

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John Green-o-Mania

*I do not own this image

I had always meant to read John Green a lot sooner than this, but now that I’ve finally gotten down to it, I’m on a freaking John Green book spree.

Though this novel’s cover may be seemingly innocuous, the story itself packs some punches that I certainly didn’t see coming. If you’re looking for a happy, feel-good love story to pull you through summer, this will not be that, but it will be amazing. Funny, sad, depressing, and hopeful, Looking for Alaska will lull you into a sense of security with its blunt humor, then smash your heart to bits, then glue it back together and tell you that life is worth all the heart-smashing. The story follows Miles, AKA “Pudge,” as he ventures into his first year at boarding school. Never having had many friends growing up, Pudge is pulled into the the strange friendship circle of the Colonel, Takumi, and the mysterious Alaska, as they pull pranks and unleash general mayhem on the school grounds. Pudge finds himself drawn to Alaska, but every time he thinks he has learned something about her, she only gets harder to pin down. Then, when tragedy strikes and their circle is blown wide open, Pudge and his friends are left frantically searching for answers that they may never find.

I loved how easily the prose slips between lofty philosophical conversations and humor and mischief. The characters are all on their own kinds of quests, some silly, and some far more serious than I could even imagine as I read the first half of the book. An amazing sense of humor carries the book through it’s most difficult chapters; the Colonel and Alaska and Pudge all banter as if they always have the perfect words at hand. And of the Green books I have read thus far, the characters of Looking for Alaska are the most spectacular. Seriously, they are so human, they are almost inhuman. I really enjoyed the perspective of religious belief and life purpose that Pudge’s professor talks about, because regardless of my beliefs, it was really beautiful to hear the story of the woman who would burn down the gates of heaven and put out the fires of hell. At times, the ideas in the novel do almost get a little ambitious for my understanding of the characters, particularly the later monologues about the labyrinth and suffering, but they did fit with the weight of the events in the plot.

If you are going to pick up a John Green novel, this one comes highly recommended by myself.  The story is less forgiving than other novels he’s written, but it’s definitely worth it.

At some point, I will try to get back to review the other John Green novels I have read recently, Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines. But start with this one. Really.

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