Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

It has been awhile since I've dived into a good dystopian novel, so when I stumbled upon this book at Barnes and Noble a few months ago I just kinda bought it on a whim. Then it sat in the bag for over a month waiting patiently for finals to end and give me permission to read something that wasn't directly related to my history capstone paper.

The Testing is told from the perspective of Cia Vale, a girl who has spent her life working hard in hope of being chosen as a participant for Testing, giving her a chance to follow in her father's footsteps by continuing her education at university so she can help rebuild the broken world the Seven Stages War left behind. When she is chosen however, her father warns her to be on her guard, and she quickly realizes the Testing is far more dangerous than she had ever imagined.

For me dystopia is all about world building; convince me that the world you are asking me to envision could exist; make the new society and its people feel real and their responses to whatever disaster created the new world plausible. This is something I feel The Testing did very well. I personally hate when post-apocalyptic stories fail to at least reference whatever it is that destroyed the previous society, because how the new world was created would play a huge role in how the people rebuild. While it is not a main focus of the book, I was given enough information about the Seven Stages War to understand where the people of Cia's world were coming from, and why her society was structured the way it was. Having that little bit of explanation makes everything more realistic, which made it easier for me to transplant myself into her world.

Another strong point was the pacing of the story. It does not take forever for the main story to get started, but it does not immediately jump into things either. The author lets you get comfortable, lets you think you have figured out what to expect- just as Cia believes she knows what to expect- and then suddenly twists everything on its head. Obviously you know going in that the Testing is going to be dangerous and somehow sinister, but you don't know what is actually dangerous about it until things suddenly start going wrong. The first person perspective works well to this effect; even though you know to expect something, you are just as caught off as Cia is when things are finally set into motion.

The book definitely has a Hunger Games feel to it at certain points, you can tell the author was probably influenced at least slightly by that series, but I still felt like it was different enough and strong enough to stand on its own. I have already bought the other two books in the trilogy and I am looking forward to find out what happens next! Would absolutely recommend this book to any dystopian fans looking for a summer read. If you've already read it, tell me what you thought!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

2015 Reading Challenge Update

I mentioned awhile back that a friend and I are attempting a 2015 Reading Challenge. I wish I had a more productive update considering how long it has been since I first posted about it, but it is what it is. I'm going to have to start intentionally seeking out books that fit this list because I've read a few in the last month that ended up not counting for any of the challenge requirements. But I have been able to cross off a couple.

A book published this year: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (Review 6/6/15)

A book by a female author: Literally every book I've read this year

A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

A book by an author you've never read before: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (Review 5/31/15)

Hopefully I will be able to cross more off at the end of June. I am hoping to make my way through the rest Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire) this month, which will let me cross of at least 2, and The Testing is the first book in a trilogy, so when I finish the other 2 I can cross that off the list as well. I will happily take any recommendations for books I should read for this challenge as well!

Have any of you decided to join us, or are you doing any reading challenges of your own? I'd love to know how you're doing!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What I'm Playing: Don't Starve: Reign of Giants

Today I wanted to share a little bit about my current favorite time sucker. I'm a big fan of Steam and I love me a good indie game, and without a doubt the best indie game I have stumbled upon yet is Don't Starve by Klei Entertainment.

Don't Starve is a wilderness survival game that pits you against hunger, wild creatures, and the forces of nature itself. In its most basic form, the point of the game is simply to survive for as long as possible. It is one of the most unique games I have experienced to date. Survival games are nothing new, there are literally hundreds of them floating around, but this one really sticks out from the rest.

The music, design, and graphics of the game are incredibly unique. The art style is very dark and gothic, which only adds to the nightmarish feeling of the world you're exploring. I wish I had a screen cap of what it looks like when your sanity levels drop too far and the shadow creatures start hanging around (*desperately wants to say that I don't have a screen cap because that never happens to me but that would be a lie- but I have never died by shadow creature so there's that*).

This screen cap comes from the first time I ever survived winter. I was so proud. Died shortly thereafter. Can't remember how but I bet it was stupid.

Another aspect that separates this from other survival games is once you die that's it, game over, no take backs, no second chances; you start over completely with an entirely new map and nothing in your inventory unless your character comes with starting items. It is a bit maddening I'm not going to lie to you. I've spent entire days playing a single map only to die in some absurdly stupid way and few things are more rage making. But at the same time the harsh punishment is really what makes the game what it is. You have to be careful about how you use your time and what risks you take, because one mistake can ruin an otherwise promising game.

The worst part about dying and starting over for me is definitely having to start on a new map. The success of a given game is fairly dependent upon the type of map I get, so mapping out a new one always frustrates me and makes me nervous. Finding a good central location for your base camp is key, but you need resources from every biome, so you can't just hang out in one spot all the time, and as you can see the maps are pretty big. This is not even close to being fully mapped out, I got lucky and found all the import stuff pretty early, and it still takes me about 1 in-game day to walk from one end to the other. 

Players have to survive more than hunger and wild animals; you also have to deal with the basic elements of nature, most notably being the changes in season. The game (usually) starts in Autumn, which is pretty chill. Nothing really crazy happens in Autumn save for the appearance of the giant of the season. All the other seasons, however, bring their own brand of hell. In Winter you freeze to death quickly without a fire or warm clothes and you can no longer grow food. In Summer you overheat to death and all your shit burns down if you're not prepared. And in Spring, which is arguable the mildest of the three, it rains almost constantly which soaks you and your stuff if you don't have the right gear which can lead to- you guessed it- freezing death. Basically you need to spend every season preparing for the one that follows it. Except the game itself does not warn you about any of that, so as a newbie you just feel like you're doing really good and then one it starts snowing. After that you get real addicted to the wikia page real quick.

The picture above is from my current game. It is the longest I have survived so far and every time I log on I'm terrified that this will be the time I ruin everything. The further you get the more infuriating it is when you finally die. I can't imagine what it's like to be the type of person who makes it to day 450 and then loses everything.

I love this game I think mostly because I love strategy games. This game forces you to prioritize your efforts because you only get so many days before the season shifts and all the conditions of the game are changed and you need to decide what is most important for you to have finished before that happens. I also like it because I am better at it than Joe, which just never happens.

There is so much more to this game than what I've talked about/shown here. There is a whole adventure mode that I have yet to try, an entire cave biome I have yet to explore during any of my games, and I won't even get started on all the creatures they've made up to come and kill you. I encourage you guys to check out the game for yourself and see what you find. And I'd love to swap steam names and play the Don't Starve Together (multiplayer version) with anyone too! You can buy the game from Steam here for a mere $19. I highly recommend getting the Reign of Giants DLC, as it is just on a whole different level from the basic Don't Starve- the basic version has considerably fewer biomes and crafting options, and it only includes Autumn and Winter as seasons.

(Oh! And for anyone who might be interested: Don't Starve RoG is coming to the WiiU soon!)

I will leave you with one of the official trailers for Don't Starve, which shows you some actual gameplay from the vanilla version of the game, as well as a tiny peak into the soundtrack, which is pretty fantastic. I hope some of you will check out the game. Let me know if you do! I'd love to play with you sometime, or even just chat about strategy. In the mean time, let me know what some of your current favorites are so I can look into them too!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

FYI: Barnes and Noble Nook Trade In Event!

Hey guys! Sorry this post is coming so late. I am really trying to get to where I am posting on a daily basis (I have goals now!), but I have not yet had enough time to schedule too far in advance and my work schedule is pretty unpredictable. Hopefully things will level out in the next few weeks.

Anywho I just wanted to quickly share something pretty cool that is going on at Barnes and Noble right now. Quick disclaimer: yes I work for BN; no they are not paying me to tell you about this. I'm just genuinely excited and thought some of you might be interested.

From May 17 to June 13, BN is having a new Nook Trade In opportunity. If you have a Nook you might be familiar with their usual programs where you can trade in an old device for credit towards a newer one, which is the idea with this event as well. However this particular trade in event is special because not only can you trade in old Nook devices, you can also trade in 3rd party devices such as Kindles, Ipads, and Nexus tablets. This means that all of you who bought Kindles before you realized how evil Amazon is in terms of book selling can join us in the light at last!

The trade in allows you to get credit towards a Samsung Nook tablet, so if you don't know it is more than just an e-reader. It is good for Netflix, Twitter, and any of the 10,000 android games you might be addicted to at any given time.

I would really, really encourage you guys to check this out if you're even remotely interested. In particular I would like to encourage Kindle users to consider it, as it is an easy and cost efficient way to right the evil you have committed by buying books through Amazon all this time ;). (I'll probably post later about why you should definitely stop buying books from Amazon, but that is just a whole 'nother story. Short version for now: if you care at all about books, writers, and publishers, you should make sure your money is going towards supporting companies that actually care about books, writers, and publishers. A quick Google search will quickly show you Amazon does not.) You would get to keep all of your previously purchased Kindle books, as you can get the Kindle app on a Nook tablet, so you wouldn't have to worry about losing books if you chose to come into the light.

If you want more information on the trade in and on what your particular device is worth you can read about it on the BN website here!

I personally have pretty well decided that I'll be trading in my Gen 1 Nook for a Nook tablet and I'm really excited to get my hands on my new toy a few paychecks from now. What about you? Would any of you considering trading in?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What I'm Looking Forward To: May 2015

Welcome to my new monthly series: What I'm Looking Forward To. At the beginning of every month I want to showcase anything big coming up that month- book releases, game releases, an event in my life, etc- that I am super excited about. 

Obviously it is not the beginning of the month. But I just came up with this idea and there are a few big things yet coming up in May, so I decided it wouldn't hurt to start now! Here is what I'm looking in the last week and a half of May 2015.

May 26: The Death Code by Lindsay Cummings Release

The Death Code is book 2 in The Murder Complex series. I absolutely devoured The Murder Complex last summer. I did not know it was book 1 in a series until I started getting close to the end and realized there was no way everything was going to be resolved in 50 pages. The ending is a huge cliff hanger and I cannot wait to finally find out what happens next.

I am not going to include a synopsis of the second book here so as not to spoil anyone who is interested but has not read the first one. If you want to know a bit more about this series you can read my review of the first book here!

May 29: Splatoon Release

I hope no one is gonna start boycotting my blog for my having mentioned this game twice in one week, but I just have a lot of feelings, okay? 

I have been absolutely freaking out over this game since Nintendo announced it at E3 last June. I knew from the announcement video that this was going to become one of my favorite games when it came out. Adorable squid girls + shooter game turned paintball + Nintendo's tendency to get things right constantly meant this game was pretty much guaranteed to kick ass. Then, a few weekends ago Nintendo held the Global Test Fire and we got to briefly test out the game in a live demo, and my love for the game was cemented before the end of the first match. It is just so original and fun and I need it in my life. I genuinely regret not taking a day of work to just play this after it comes out.

Okay so there are a grand total of 2 things left that I'm really looking forward to, but I liked the idea of the series and felt these deserved mentioning. Is there anything else this month that you're super excited about? Let me know!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

First Impressions: May Ipsy Bag

The first Ipsy bag of the summer came this weekend! Unfortunately I will not be being much of a jet setter this summer, but I appreciate the theme nonetheless. And the bag I got is pretty cute. I noticed that there were actually a couple of different ones going around this month.

On to the really important part: what came inside.

Urban Decay Ultimate Ozone Primer Lip Pencil

I legit thought this was an eyeliner until I was taking the pictures for this post. I have two of the velvet Urban Decay eyeliners and they look exactly the same, so I just assumed. I've never used anything like this before, so I'm excited to give it a try.

Cotz Face Tinted Matte SPF Lotion

I keep wanting to try a tinted moisturizer and then finding something else I want more when I go to buy it. I think this is a little different, more emphasis on the SPF than the tint, but it ought to be worth trying out. Will probably save this until I'll actually be spending some decent time in the sun. 

Luxie Beauty Tapered Blending Eye Brush

I have a mild (read: huge) addiction to brushes, but they are so damn expensive I almost never buy them for myself, so I love getting them in my Ipsy bags. I have gotten two other brushes from this brand now and I've really liked them both so I'm excited to start playing with this one too. I've needed a blending brush for awhile, so I was beyond happy to get this in my bag this month.

Chella Eyebrow Pencil 

I have only ever used powder to on my brows, so I am excited to try something new. I worry a bit that the color might be too different to look natural on my though. We shall see!

Klorane Smoothing and Relaxing Eye Patches

What're you trying to say Ipsy? You trying to tell me I have bags under my eyes? Because you would be right and I'm really really excited to try these out. If these actually work I might very well buy a full box of them because lord knows my under-eyes need some love.

All in all I'm pretty happy with this month's bag. I got mostly products that I've never tried anything like before, which is always exciting, and a brush that I genuinely needed. Can't ask for much more than that for only $10. 

Fellow Ipsters: what did you think about this month's bag? Get anything you are super excited about? To everyone else, if you're interested in joining me on Ipsy just follow my referral link ( ! It's a great way to build your beauty collection on the cheap and to try things you might not otherwise.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Thoughts on Splatoon After the Global Test Fire

On the weekend of May 9th, Nintendo held a global game demo for Splatoon, which is easily their most eagerly anticipated game at the moment. I have been beyond pumped for this game since last summer when they announced it at E3, so you can imagine my excitement when Nintendo announced the Global Test Fire. I rushed home from work that Saturday night to make it in time for the eleven to midnight demo, and after briefly fighting with the server a bit, I was customizing my inkling.

If I had to describe my brief experience playing Splatoon that night in one sentence it would be this: it was everything I hoped for and more.

I cannot express how badly I need this game in my life.

With Splatoon, Nintendo managed to take the old, well known and well played concept of a shooter game and turn it into something completely new and original. Rather than the primary goal being to kill members of the other team, as is customary in shooter games, your objective is to cover as much of the arena in your teams ink as possible. Of course there is nothing stopping you from turning your ink on other players; there is no better way to get them out of your way long enough to ink their territory.

Disclaimer: I suck at shooter games. I'm absolutely terrible. They stress me out and I end up rage quitting after three matches, so I've never played long enough to like, not suck. Splatoon, however, was totally different. Firstly because I actually found myself kicking ass, not to brag. But even when my team lost I was having way too much fun to care. I think part of what made it more fun and less frustration is that you normally can't tell who is winning until the game ends. There are no points showing you who is winning like in Call of Duty, only a map showing how much coverage each color has, and unless one team really dominates the other, it is pretty hard to tell who is winning most of the time. Plus the nature of the game makes it possible for things to turn around quickly, so there is never really that angry feeling of knowing you're playing a losing game. Plus, it is just really hard to be mad when you're splattering ink everywhere as an adorable squid girl.

I for one am going to be pre-ordering this game with this week's pay check. Splatoon finally releases on May 29, and I cannot wait to jump into the full version. Anyone else as excited about this game as I am?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

(I know the picture looks a bit grainy, but it is actually the cover design, not the photo)

It seems to have become a bit of a tradition of mine to start out every summer with the new Lauren Oliver novel. She has fantastic publishing timing, as she always seems to have a new book coming out right around the time the semester is ending. I have yet to read a book of hers that I did not enjoy, and Vanishing Girls was no different.

Vanishing Girls is similar to E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (which is absolutely mandatory reading for anyone who has not read it, by the way) in that it is hard to describe to someone without giving anything away. To summarize as best I can, sisters Nick and Dara were inseparable until Dara started dating Nick’s best friend Parker and, more importantly, until they were in an accident that left Dara scarred. Now Nick is determined to spend the summer winning back Dara, who refuses to speak to her, and getting her life back to the way it used to be. Her plans go awry, however, when Dara vanishes the night of her birthday. Nick is convinced that Dara’s disappearance is connected to the recent disappearance of nine year old Elizabeth Snow, and she is determined to get her sister home safely.

I really loved how realistic the characters in this book are. Sometimes you are really sympathetic towards one character, and the next chapter you just want to shake them asking what is wrong with them. Dara in particular I had a love hate relationship with through much of the book, but the more I read the more sympathetic towards her I became.

I also really love how the story was told. Personally, I am a huge fan of books that use an unreliable narrator to tell the story. I read enough that I have worked out the typical plot lines and narratives often used, so I often know exactly how a book is going to end long before I reach the final page. Unreliable narrators make this much more difficult, as a narrator who can’t remember key events, who is biased towards events, or who is less than mentally stable can only give you so much information, and even then you never know if that information is true or not. In this book we are given not one, but two, unreliable narrators, as the chapters jump back and forth between the perspective of both sisters: Nick, who does not remember much about the accident that changed everything, and Dara, who, as a result of being so angry with Nick, offers a rather biased view of their relationship and of the events told from her perspective. This is the aspect of the book that really made it for me. It is not an easy narrative tool to use, but it is used brilliantly in this novel to guarantee you suspense and mild confusion right up until the end.

I actually reached a point where I thought I had worked out the explanation and I was honestly really disappointed. It seemed like such a simplistic, anti-climactic resolution to so suspenseful a novel. As it turned out, my assumptions were exactly what Oliver wanted me to be thinking, and there turned out to be a great deal more to the ending than what I had figured out on my own; the complete explanation blew my mind a little bit. I was really grateful to say the least. There is nothing worse than a fantastic story with a boring ending, am I right? It is also a testament to how much control Oliver maintains throughout the story; she is able to manipulate the reader's assumptions to create even greater suspense and surprise around the ending.

Books like this one demand to be re-read. The first reading is for the suspense and the excitement of not knowing what is really going on. The second reading is for picking up all the little details and clues that you missed the first time. Right after finishing the book I started flipping back to certain scenes to re-read them, as they have completely new meaning once you’ve finished the book. I have every intention of re-reading the whole book so I can enjoy every single “ooohh” moment the second reading undoubtedly has to offer me.

In short, I would recommend Vanishing Girls to anyone looking for a suspenseful read with undertones of mystery on every page. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did! If you’ve read it already, tell me what you thought in the comments!

I would also like to take this opportunity to recommend two of her previous books, Panic and Before I Fall. I loved both of them, and I feel like Before I Fall in particular gets shadowed a bit by her hugely successful Delirium Series (which I actually have not read yet; it’s on my list). Let me know if you’ve read these as well, and what you thought of them if you have.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I'm Back!

Holy crap I've been gone a long time. Really sorry about that. School and things happened. It has been an insane few weeks. So freaking much has happened during my not-so-short blogging hiatus, so I thought I would make my shining reappearance with a quick list of updates post.

1. New Jobs

In the time I've been away I've started not one, but TWO new jobs. I am currently working as a sales associate at JcPenney and as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble. Guys. I got a job in a bookstore. Do you even realize the dream fulfillment that entails? I also successfully managed to get myself employee discounts on the two things I spend most of my money on: books and makeup. Barnes and Noble employees get 30% most books, and on top of that I'm allowed to checkout hardcovers from the store. And my 25% off JcPenney associate discount extends to the Sephora inside the store! Dangerous, right?

2. I Chopped All my Hair Off

I had a birthday in the time I've been away and for some reason I just had this huge urge to do something different, to make some sort of change for year 22. I go back and forth about cutting my hair constantly, and decided that at some point I was just going to have to do it so I would know if I hated it or not.

Plot Twist: I'm kind of in love with it.

(I may or may not have also chosen to do it for my birthday so I could make a Pokemon joke about Katies evolving at level 22. Maybe.)

3. New Apartment

For the past two (school) years, Joe and I lived with two other roommates in a four bedroom townhouse near campus. Well, those roommates graduated this year, and we knew we definitely did not want new ones, so we decided to move into a one bedroom apartment for our last year at GV. And oh my gosh do we love this place. We moved in last week and are just in love. It is a brand new apartment- the rest of the complex is still being built- so all the appliances are brand new and beautiful and high energy efficient. And even better, this place isn't geared specifically towards college students, so hopefully there won't be too many moving in at the start of the semester. After this past semester, we are pretty over living around other college students.

Quite a bit for just over a month, right? But things are finally settling into a semblance of normalcy, which means I have every intention of making my return to blogging official with this post. I am also really hoping to get that damn Youtube channel up and running soon, but I have a few odds and ends to work out still before I can really get that started.

I also feel like I've been neglecting the nerdy side of me on this blog, which to be honest is like 98% of me, so I am really hoping to pull that back into my posts this summer. I'll keep doing makeup posts and stuff like that, but I'll also be talking about more books and video games and all the other nerdy things that I spend my time doing.

Huge thanks to everyone who stuck around and did not hit that little unfollow button in the time I've been away. Much appreciated! I'm really happy to finally be back!

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