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The Floating Islands – Review

The Floating Islands by Rachel NeumeierTitle: The Floating Islands
Author: Rachel Neumeier

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 388
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Fantasy
The dice landed on:
4
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: Yes, a lot.

Short summary: Newly orphaned Trei arrives at The Floating Islands and moves in with his mother’s family just before a plague breaks out. His cousin Araenè discovers new powers and they both have an important part to play when the islands get attacked by Trei’s father’s homeland Tolounn. Trei flying his kajuhari wings and Araené using her newly discovered mage powers.

I must confess that the main reason that I picked up The Floating Island is the cover. I love it and want it on a poster!

I quite liked the book itself too. It has a fantasy story with quite a few surprising elements while still keeping to a fairly well known fantasy formula. I like that the book touches on many moral issues without making anyone an out and out villain.

The Floating Islands seems like a nice society, but keeps it’s women from any sort of public life. I woman’s job is to get married and produce children. Tolounn has more equality, but is hell-bent on conquering all of its neighbouring countries. None of them are perfect and none of them all good.

The story has two storylines, one for each of the cousins. This way the reader get closer to the action as the cousins quite often find themselves in separate places. You also learn more about them and their motivations. Loyalty is an issue for Trei, he is half tolounnese and half islander and has to decide where his loyalty truly lies. Araené doesn’t want a traditional island woman’s life. Ideally she’d like to be a chef, something that is impossible. However, magic and the mage school came her way, so she pretends to be a boy to be able to stay in school.

There are also some rather nifty dragons, some really cool mages and a nice sky-mad prince.

So, why only a 4?

Despite the great setting of the story and an interesting storyline with good characters I’m a bit disappointed. I find the writing ok, but not more than that, and I never feel that I get to know many of the other characters as well as I’d like. I wish the book was longer so the building up part could have lasted longer, it’s all a bit abrupt. The book also has many of the markings of being number one in a series, without there being any hint of a book number two being on the way. There are too many loose ends floating around. I might be happier with it if a book number two is published.

All in all I think it’s a good YA book, but not outstanding. It doesn’t soar like the islands, the kajuhari and the dragons it contains.

But I still love the cover, nothing’s going to change that.

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Catching up on books

I’ve been reading, but I haven’t been blogging about the books I’ve read. I’m sorry.

So, here’s a list of books read the last month or so with a short version of my personal opinion. There’s 10 of them, I did get a lot of reading done on those trans-atlantic flights.

Changes by Jim ButcherChanges by Jim Butcher

As always, nasty surprises happens to Harry Dresden. The book keeps the expected decent standard of a book in The Dresden Files.

The title is fitting, there are some real changes happening to The Dresden Universe in this book, promising some very different adventures for Harry when he next turns up. The book also has a cliffhanger ending. Sneaky.

A 4 for Harry this time.

Among others by Jo WaltonAmong Others by Jo Walton

OMG, OMG, OMG!!!

This is so GOOD.

And I love the cover too.

Run, buy (or borrow) and read!

I gave it a 6. No other choice.

Don't be such a scientist by Randy OlsonDon’t be such a scientist : talking substance in an age of style by Randy Olson

Funny and interesting non-fiction.

Well worth reading for anyone who’s interested in science and communication. I think that Mr. Olson probably provoced a few scientists with this book, but I’m also sure that he has a point in most things he’s describing.

I gave it a 5.

Shadow man by Melissa ScottShadow Man by Melissa Scott.

Some side-effect of faster-than-light travel has made humankind develop into 5 genders instead of the 2 we’re used too. Most planets have dealt with this by giving the genders names and giving members of the new genders equal rights to anyone else. But one planet became isolated for a long time and made members of the “new” genders take on one of the 2 recognized genders. Even after being back in contact with the rest of humankind they keep this system. Not everyone is happy about this.

Really interesting read. I would like to see this story continued in a sequel as we leave some interesting people at a time when a lot is happening in their lives and on their world. Another 5 from me.

Across the Universe by Beth RevisAcross the Universe by Beth Revis

Sci-fi, dystopia, mystery and some YA romance, this book has it all.

But, sometimes I just don’t get along with a book. I don’t know why this one didn’t click, but it didn’t.

So I gave it a 4.

Moon over Soho by Ben AaronovitchMoon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

This is good fun again.

Peter Grant, wizard apprentice/police officer is investigating the death of jazz musicians in London. He’s also got a very, very sexy new girlfriend.

The book is fairly predictable, but the characters are such a joy that I gave it a 5 anyhow.

Home Fires by Gene WolfeHome Fires by Gene Wolfe

Difficult love, people back from the dead, space travel, secret agents, hijacked cruise ship….

I should truly love this book. But I don’t. I’m intrigued, but not really liking it.I think it must be something with me and Gene Wolfe, I had a similar problem with Litany of The Long Sun.

So, a 4 because I can see that it’s fairly good despite our lack of chemistry.

The Summoner by Layton GreenThe Summoner by Layton Green

A man has disappeared in Zimbabwe. He was last seen entering a circle of people at a juju-ceremony.

The man is a friend of the American ambassador to Zimbabwe, and Dominic Grey in Diplomatic Security gets saddled with the task of finding out what happened.

I liked this book a lot. For me the African setting is exotic and the book has some really interesting characters. The book is the first in the series, I might pick up the next one too.

I gave it a 5.

The Breach by Patrick LeeGhost county by Patrick LeeThe Breach and Ghost Country by Patrick Lee

I’m doing these together as they are in a series and have the same main characters.

A failed physics experiment created a breach between our world and another world. A few times every day strange objects come trough the breach, and some of them are a serious threat to our world. A secret organization has been set up to handle the objects, but this organization is facing some big threats. It’s mainly up to Travis Chase to set it right.

Very exiting reads, and a really intriguing concept. I would really have loved them if our hero didn’t consistently kill alle the opponents he gets hold of. I know they would have killed him if they could, but a hero shouldn’t kill enemies that he’s already rendered harmless. It gives me a bad taste in my mouth. McGyver is my kind of hero.

Because of this they get a 4 instead of the 5 the rest of the stories deserve.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

One Good Turn by Kate AtkinsonJackson Brody is in Edinburgh. So are a lot of other people: An unknown man who seems to be on a mission of some kind, and angry man who mostly get seen when he’s attacking someone, lots of Eastern European girls, the wife of a very dishonest businessman, a crime writer who gets much closer to real crime that he ever dreamed of and a police woman with a teenage son and a missing dead body to worry about.

One Good Turn is in many ways like the matryoshka dolls that keep turning up in it. Plots withing plots, red herrings, lots of people with unexpected connections and so on. To be honest I found that there were a little too many people to keep track of, sometimes I really wished for a list of the cast so I could take a look at it whenever one of the lesser characters made an appearance. I quite often spend time trying to figure out who the heck this was again.

Like in Case Histories there’s seemingly unconnected histories coming together to form a web of interconnectivity. I didn’t like it quite as much as the first one, maybe because I felt that the humor that was present in Case Histories was less present in this one. I also struggled more in keeping the figures straight, and all this contributed to me using a lot longer to get properly into it. Still, in the end I did get into it and really enjoyed the last third or so.

I also like the title. The idiom “One good turn deseves another” has a lot of impact on the actions of many of the characters in the book, quite often in ways that you don’t expect.

Øye for øye (Norwegian title) by Kate AtkinsonI wasn’t quite sure how to grade this book, but I ended up with a four. Mostly because of the many, many characters, a few of which I thought were only fillers that didn’t really need to be there. If I hadn’t liked Case Histories so much I’m not sure I would have stayed with this one long enough to be hooked, and that’s a weakness.

Still, I’m solidly hooked on Kate Atkinson and Jackson Brody by now, I’ll keep reading.

I read it in English, but it’s also translated into Norwegian and called “Øye for øye“.

More opinions and spoilers:

Dead heat by Dick & Felix Francis

The last weeks I’ve been on a small literary crime spree and now the turn has come to Dead heat by Dick & Felix Francis.

Max Moreton is a celebrity chef, not on top of the list, but on it.

Right now he wishes he was dead, a not uncommonfeeling if you have food poisoning, but the next morning he’s still alive. He’s also alive when the evening arrives, but that’s only luck. As the chef in charge of the tainted dinner, he know he’ll get the blame for the food poisoning, but there’s no way he can be blamed for the explosion that destroys a private box at Newmarket racecourse the next day. An explosion that kills several people and almost Max too.

Dead heat by Dick & Felix FrancisWhen it becomes clear what the guilty ingredient in the dinner was, Max sets out to find out who deliberately poisoned the meal. That particular ingredient had no business being in this dinner and it’s not something that he could have put in by mistake. Then more accidents happen and Max is starting to wonder why he seems to be the target.

Dick Francis knows his trade. It’s a solid book with a likeable hero and (after a little while) a likeable heroine. The mystery has lots of twists and turns and leads to unexpected places. As usual there’s horse people present, but this time it’s more about polo than horse racing. I also find the small glimpse into the world of celebrity chefs entertaining, and fittingly enough Gordon Ramsay is one of the people who gets thanked in the preface.

All in all it’s unmistakenly a work by Dick Francis, and in that lies it’s biggest weakness. For me, who’s read a bunch of Dick Francis novels, it’s too easy to guess what’ll happen next. I find his leading men a little to alike, it becomes predictable, and when I’m not reading a series that gets a bit tiresome after a while.

I did enjoy the book in spite of this and I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I wasn’t such a jaded Dick Francis reader.

Here’s the opinions of a few other people:

Crossfire by Dick & Felix Francis

The last week or so I’ve gone back to reading crime novels, and I started with Crossfire by the father/son-duo Dick & Felix Francis.

Dick Francis had several professional careers through his life: During WWII he was a pilot in the RAF, during the fifties he was a professional jockey and also rode for The Queen Mother (the mother of Queen Elisabeth) and from the last half of the fifties until the early seventies he worked as a journalist while also writing crime novels. He wrote an autobiography in 1957 and has since written more than 40 crime novels, the last 4 with his son Felix Francis. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and more than 30 of them has been translated into Norwegian. Dick Francis passed away in early 2010.

Dick Francis usually has different main characters in all his books, the exception being Sid Halley (ex-jockey turned private eye) who turns up in 4 books (first appearing in 1965 and last seen in 2006) and Kit Fielding (jockey) who is in 2 books. The main characters has different professions and some of the books that place in other countries than the UK, but the books always has some connection to horse racing, mostly steeplechasing.

The common environment makes it a lot like reading a series, you know more or less what to expect and don’t have to get to know a completely new environment. At the same time the author has the freedom of creating new characters with new stories, a freedom that authors of regular series must envy.

The leading character in Crossfire is Captain Thomas Forsyth. He’s been seriously injured in Afghanistan and after being released from hospital he goes to stay at his mothers place. She is a well known and very successful racehorse trainer. He quickly discovers that things are far from right at Kauri Stables. Horses loose races in a disturbing manner, and his mother doesn’t want to admit that there is a problem.

As usual when it comes to Dick Francis this is an exciting book with some good surprises along the way. I don’t think it’s great, but good enough to be an enjoyable read.

If you want more spoilers and to see what other people think, you can try these sites:

The New Space Opera 2

The New Space Opera 2 was edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan and contains 19 stories by different authors.

It always takes me forever to finish a short story collection. I think I might have finished this one a bit quicker than usual as I’ve decided to read at least 52 short stories this year, but it still took a long time. The result is that when I look through the titles of the different short stories there are some that I can hardly remember. I’m also discovering that it’s harder to look back on stories when you’ve read the book on a Kindle, p-book short story collections are usually full of post-its so I can find the different stories again without too much bother.

Oh well, I still have some thoughts about the book.

As with all short story anthologies I find this to be a mixed bag. There are sad stories, poignant stories, funny stories and some stories that makes no sense to me at all.

My favorite stories were “Utriusque Cosmi” by Robert Charles Wilson, “Defect” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “Shell Game” by Neal Asher, “Fearless Space Pirates of the Outer Rings” by Bill Willingham, “Chameleons” by Elizabeth Moon, “The Tenth Muse” by Tad Williams, “The Tale of The Wicked” by John Scalzi and “Catastrophe Baker and a Canticle for Leibowitz” by Mike Resnick.

My what-what-what? stories are “The Island” by Peter Watts, “Punctuality” by Garth Nix, “Join the Navy and See the Worlds” by Bruce Sterling, and “The Far End of History” by John C. Wright.

So this means I end up with 8 really good stories, 4 I dislike and 7 that I liked but didn’t find outstanding.

All in all this makes for a good collection. The thing about readers are that we all respond favourably to different things and this collection has stories for lots of different tastes. Even some of the few I don’t like seem to be solid work, it’s just that they’re not for me. I do have a preference for real people and spaceships in a good action story and therefore don’t much care for some of the “posthuman” stories. They seem to get so wrapped up in their own weird idea that they leave me not caring for the characters, and I do need to care to like the story. “Posthumans” I can care for I can handle just fine, like Carlotta in “Utriusque Cosmi”, while the planet-personalities in “The Far End of History” leaves me completely cold. Too bad that that’s the last story in the collection. I guess it was placed there because it’s the longest, but for me it would have been better to end the book on a funny note with Catastrophe Baker.

All in all I end up with giving the book 4 out of 5 stars, and I’ll definitely read The New Space Opera 3 if it ever appears.

Some light reading

Blogging by Jill Walker Rettberg
Ever since Jill published her book about blogging in 2008 I have been planning to read it. It took some time, but I finally got around to it in May 2010.

This is not a how-to book about blogging but a look at how sosial media function in society with a special emphasis on blogging. The book look at different blogs like the journalistic blogs, the political blogs, personal blogs, blogging firms and blogging institutions and look at how they differ and are the same.

In addition to the different genres in blogging the book also look at the history of blogging and its relationship to other kinds of online and offline media. It is a light, engaging and educational text. I like that Jill included a list of all the blogs mentioned so that I can look them up and check them out for myself if I’d like to.

As previously mentioned the book was published in 2008 and things happen fast on the Internet. This ment that the part about Facebook already felt a bit dated, but this is no huge drawback on the book as a whole as Facebook is not the focus point for the book. The two pages about how to start you own blog are probably also a bit dated, but I skipped them because I’ve done this a few times in my life.

All in all this is a very good book about anyone interested in blogging.

Jill started blogging as far back as October 2000 on jill/txt (first in both Norwegian and English, later mainly in English) and she has also published an article about learning in public (students and weblogs).

Other people have read Blogging too:

Let the right one in by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I’m a wimp when it comes to horror stories, and I have to admit that Let the right one in is a bit too scary for my taste.

The book takes place in 1981 in Blackberg, a quiet suburb of Stockholm.  The middleaged alcholics in town meet at the local chinese restaurant, Tommy dislikes the policeman his mother is dating, Håkan has to kill for someone and Oskar is being bullied and dreams of revenge. Then there is Eli, the strange girl that has moved in next door to Oskar.

It is very well done. The relationship between Eli and Oskar is gripping and scary at the same time, as is the relationship between the pedophile Håkan and Eli.

I have two main reasons not to give the book full marks. One is that there are too many voices telling their different stories and I could do with one or two less. The second is that it’s just too scary for me, so people who are less wimpy can feel free to assume a 4,5.

Other people with more spoilsers and more views about the book.

The book has also been turned into a movie that has received excellent reviews.

I can’t think straight av Shamim Sarif
When I first came out as a lesbian I read every scrap of lesbian and gay literature I could lay my hands on. I’ve become a lot more picky as the years have gone by and now I usually only read about lesbian characters if they happen to show up in a book I’ve decided to read because I’ve read good reviews or I have to read it at work. But, on a trip to London I bought the lesbian romance novel I can’t think straight by Shamim Sarif.
The christian palestinian Tala and the muslim indian Leyla both lives in London. When they meet Tala is busy preparing for her wedding with her fiancee (he is fiancee no.4) Sparks fly and Tala and Leyla has a short affair before Tala takes off to Amman in Jordan to marry number 4. The wedding never takes place (what a surprise) and the two women eventually comes out to their families.

This could have been a good book. A story of two lesbian women from cultures where it is very hard to be a lesbian could be really interesting. Sadly the book falls into every romance cliché pit it can find. I give it a 3 because of the interesting cultural bits that gets a good treatment and for making the womens fathers interesting characters who sadly enough hardly get any place at all in the story.

Other views:

The book has also been filmed with the author as director.

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