Sunday, May 27, 2012

Yay for YA: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

As a birthday present from the birthday girl to you, I'm going to tell you about a great book that I just finished.  It's Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman.

Checkouts: Not owned by the library
Typical reader: Teens that love fantasy
Source: Checked out from my local library

Synopsis: Eon, a Dragoneye hopeful in the Year of the Rat, has a dark secret: he's a 16-year-old girl, disguised as a 12-year-old boy.  If discovered, she and probably even her master could face horrible deaths for the ruse.  In an unanticipated turn of events (at least for those in the story), Eon becomes the Dragoneye not of the Rat Dragon, but of the long-lost Mirror Dragon.  Mystery, intrigue and action are found in abundance in this thrilling, epic tome.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

When I say that this is an epic tome, I mean it.  The hardcover is 531 pages.  You're not going to hand this to a reluctant reader.  But if you have a patron that loves fantasy, especially those with mythological influences or girls disguised as boys, this is a good pick.

Ms. Goodman has built an excellent, interesting world in Eon.  There are plenty of influences from Chinese and Japanese cultures, from the mythology and imperial system, to gender roles and writing history.  I feel the need to make a special mention of that last one, because it figures very neatly into a major plot point.  It's an obscure enough detail, at least for a Westerner, that I think most readers won't pick up on the subtle hint right away.  As for me, I was tense with anticipation until my suspicions were confirmed 400 pages in.

I really became attached to some of the characters in this novel, which is more evidence of good writing.  In particular, I was quite drawn to Lady Dela, the foreign Contraire in court who befriends the protagonist, Lord Eon.  A Contraire is a man living as a woman; in modern terms, Lady Dela is a male-to-female transsexual.  She is one of the most likable, interesting, well-rounded characters in the book, and her identity is well-handled.  I'm honestly surprised that the book did not win a Lambda Award for the excellent portrayal of Lady Dela.

Another subject this novel handled well, in my opinion, is steroid use.  In trying to be more manly, among other reasons, Lord Eon experiments with the potentially dangerous Sun Drug, which is used mostly by eunuchs to maintain their masculine features and strength.  It can have bad side effects, though ... including one that specifically affects Lord Eon as a Dragoneye.  The topic is not something for the immature, which certainly puts this book solidly in young adult literature.

If you're looking for a fantasy novel packed with plenty of intrigue, backstabbing, plots, sword-fighting, and strong female characters, this is an excellent choice.

A friend on Facebook recently told me that he doesn't respond to my posts directly on my blog because he's intimidated, and feels like it's a sacred institution. Please feel free to comment here! Really, I don't bite, and I appreciate getting feedback. Plus, looking like I actually have a readership would be nice.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Diablo 3 review, one week in

The computer game Diablo 3 has been out for a week, and I've been playing it a bit since my awesome boyfriend got it for me as an early birthday gift, so I thought I'd offer up a bit of a review.
All screenshots beyond this point are my own. Diablo 3, Blizzard Entertainment, etc., are properties of their respective owners.
Once upon a time, I was about as skeptical that Diablo 3 would ever come out, as many other gamers doubted that Duke Nukem Forever would ever hit the market. Well, both games came out within the past year, and from all I've seen and heard, the fans of the fantasy role-playing computer game got the better deal.

Story: It feels like something from the Diablo universe, which is definitely a plus.  Twenty years have passed since the events of Diablo 2, and Deckard Cain is doing research in the old Tristram cathedral with his niece, Leah, when something falls from the sky and all heck breaks loose.  Once again, the player has to rescue the last of the Horadrim, and set out to defeat more of the Prime Evils.

Characters: First of all, I was very happy to hear the same old voice for our buddy Deckard Cain.  Michael Gough is back for another round of voicing the sage old man.  Even when he's not with your character, you'll hear his voice, such as in journal notes about the various monsters you encounter.  Horray.

Each class has the option of playing a male or female, and each offers a unique take on the story.  That's a neat touch.  It actually sounds like the haughty wizard has totally different reasons for being there than the curious witch doctor.  Also, the hero will make small talk with his or her follower.  My female barbarian gets compliments from her Templar follower about her fighting, and how it must reflect the purity of her heart.  It's little stuff like this, that gives the game a lot of its flavor.

Button mashing: It's a top-down RPG like its predecessors, with fairly similar mechanics.  There's a whole lot of mouse-clicking going on.  One change I'm not crazy about, though, is that you cannot choose which skills you want to assign to which buttons.  More importantly, you no longer have skill trees with which to customize your character.  That's probably one of the biggest flaws to the game.  If you also play D&D and don't like how there is a set "right" way to play a given class in 4th edition, this game may not be for you.  The only real customization you get is what armor and weapons you give your character.

Visual effects: Is this game shiny?  Oh yes, it is!  The landscaping is quite lovely.  Developers put a lot of time into this game, and I appreciate it.

Somewhere, over the rainbow ...
As for how the spells and effects look, I am very pleased.  My main character is a female barbarian, and she is good as smashing things.  Sometimes, she smashes everything, not just her opponents.  Nearby tables, carts, enemies' bodies, and anything else not tied down is likely to go flying all over the screen in a merry display of how ragdoll physics works in games like this.  The spells a wizard casts are also quite brilliant.

When not captured in a screenshot, it reminds me of bowling.  Monsters make satisfying pins.
All for one, and one for all: I knew for a few years leading up to this release that the game wasn't going to be available for multi-player fun over a LAN (local area network) with friends.  However, I don't think I was expecting to not be able to play single-player on my computer without a network connection.  The other massive flaw to the game - and it certainly trumps a lack of customization - is that you have to be online to play Diablo 3 at all times.  I have not had much trouble with connectivity since the first day, but here in the middle of nowhere, I still know people who don't have broadband internet.  Back in the good old days, they could play StarCraft, another Blizzard bestseller, over a 56k telephone modem, or hook computers up to a router and adventure in Diablo 2 with friends at a LAN party.

You must assimilate.

This leads to an excellent point brought to my attention by that great boyfriend of mine, who bought this game for me even though he has a love-hate relationship with Blizzard (for more on that, visit his blog): When Blizzard decides that it's made all the money it's going to on Diablo 3 and takes down the servers supporting the game, the game will no longer be playable.  Over a decade after its release, I can still play Diablo 2 since my computer is running a compatible version of Windows.  That might not be the case with D3.

That's a sobering thought.

I would like to end on an upbeat note, however.  So, in sum, Diablo 3 is a fun game that I am enjoying playing.  It's by no means perfect, but it overall gives me what I wanted from a game in this series.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I won a giveaway! ... and other matters

I don't interact terribly with the blogging community - I read a lot of book bloggers' reviews, and comment sometimes, but I don't typically participate in memes and such.  But I should probably share that I won an awesome giveaway from Authors Are Rockstars!  Really.  You can hear about it here, as well as enter another drawing Michelle and Allison are having.  The prize pack sounds amazing, and will make great summer reading/blogging material before I donate most, if not all, of it to the school library.  Thanks again, Michelle and Allison!

Secondly.  There's been a bit of a flap in recent weeks about a well-known blog that plagiarized other blogs.  While I can certainly give a librarian's lecture on the subject, and support those who are boycotting the offending blog, I have to wince about the coverage everyone's giving the matter.  Know what happens when something gets press?

It becomes more popular.

This became obvious to me when a local public library's teen blog posted a blurb with the plagiarizing blog's logo and links, touting it as a great place to hear about new YA books and enter giveaways.  I face-palmed.  And then I quietly sent them a Facebook message letting them know about the matter.  They thanked me.

On the one hand, yeah, people need to get the word out about what's going on.  On the other, any press is good press.

Do I have a solution?  Nope.  I'm just putting my two cents in, while not naming anyone involved.  And still not participating in the blogger's popular meme, or any copycats.

Tonight the computer game Diablo III is being released.  My epically sweet boyfriend pre-ordered a copy for me.  Please don't expect any reviews any time soon (though I am slogging my way through The Scorpio Races).  But maybe I'll end up reviewing the game!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

No-nonsense Nonfiction: Sky High review

This week was "Young Authors," where area students get to meet a children's author and do all sorts of fun stuff.  Marissa Moss was the featured author, and I got to meet her at a book signing one evening.  She signed all of her books we have in the school collection, plus the one I bought at the event.  The newest book is the one I'd like to tell you about today: Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee.
Checkouts: New to the library
Typical reader: Early elementary children who like airplanes and/or pilots, or those in need of a biography
Source: Personally purchased from Snowbound Books

Synopsis: Maggie Gee tells her life story, of how she became a pilot for the WASP during World War II.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

This is one of those books I had to buy after hearing the author talk about writing it.  Ms. Moss heard about Maggie Gee and contacted her, since the two lived in the same general vicinity.  Ms. Gee agreed to tell her story, and the author created this book.  It took several years to get it published, but the timing when it was published was perfect - the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) were finally being recognized in 2009 by Congress with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Maggie Gee's story is very inspirational.  The narrative speaks of her dreams of becoming a pilot and of reaching that goal.  She made her not-yet-true-stories become real.  That's beautiful.  The illustrations of this biographical picture book are lovely, but the most gorgeous thing is how it encourages children to pursue their ambitions.

This book can be tied nicely to many lesson plans.  Maggie Gee was one of only two Asian-American women in the WASP, and part of the book touches briefly on that, when she meets a male pilot who clearly worries that she's a spy or something for the Japanese.  Discuss race relations during World War II with the students, as appropriate to their age.  Talk about what services the WASP provided during the war.  Did you know that these women were shot at with live ammunition during in-air fight exercises, and some died due to friendly fire?  Or, take a more general approach and teach students about women's efforts during the war.  There's a lot of material out there, and this is a good place to start.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yay for YA: Liar's Moon review

Last fall I reviewed an excellent young adult fantasy called Star Crossed, and mentioned that I was looking forward to the next in the series.  I finally purchased it for the library with our Scholastic Dollars, though, and roguishly (fitting, considering the main character!) checked it out to myself before putting it on the shelves.  So, let me tell you about the sequel, Liar's Moon, by Elizabeth C. Bunce.
Checkouts: 1
Series checkouts: 8
Source: Scholastic

Synopsis: Being a thief, Digger lands in jail now and then.  But she did not expect to end up in a noble's holding cell with her old acquaintance, Durrel Decath, nor to find out that he's being held for the murder of his wife.  Since Durrel once saved her life, she promises to get to the bottom of the mystery.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars (4.5 like the first in the series, but a lower 4.5)

Let me start by saying that my quibble with Star Crossed was addressed: Liar's Moon has maps!  I'd heard a rumor - in the comments of my review of the first book, of all places - that this one would, and it pleases me greatly.  The irony is that we're finally given a map of the lands, and Digger stays in the capitol city of Gerse the entire time.  Still, I appreciate it, and the city map is handy.

Ms. Bunce's writing continues to be superb, and she shows her genre flexibility with this book taking quite the different tack than its serial predecessor (or heck, her first book - A Curse Dark As Gold - which is a fairy tale retelling).  Murder mysteries are not my cup of tea; they don't excite me, and aren't going to receive top marks in a review from me.  That said, this is a good one, with plenty of twists and turns.  Think you know whodunit?  You'll find yourself second-guessing plenty as this narrative moves along.

I really enjoyed the secondary characters Digger interacted with in this book.  There's a few gay males, and I give kudos for them being as normal as everyone else - they just happen to love someone their own gender.  Nobles didn't particularly marry for love, in medieval times or in Digger's world, and being homosexual in Gerse just means that after you carry on the family name with your spouse, the lover you take isn't going to give you more progeny.  Beyond that, such supporting cast as Koya and the high priestess of Taboran intrigued and delighted me in their complexity and portrayals.

Along these lines, I will say that the romance in Liar's Moon doesn't bother me one iota.  It's fairly minimal, but the relationship Digger comes to be in is completely believable.  And I do like the guy, who was introduced in Star Crossed.  He's got his flaws, but overall, he's a good fellow.

I don't do spoilers, but I must address the ending.  Everything seems so nicely wrapped up, and then BOOM!  There's a jaw-dropping, gasp-inducing cliffhanger.  I really, really hope that Ms. Bunce gets to write another book in this series.  There's evidence that she wants to.  I'd be okay if Digger's story ends after two books, but it would really please me if we get to find out what happens next.