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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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The Sense of an Ending – Review

Title: The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Author: Julian Barnes

Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 150
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Mainstream
The dice landed on:
5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: Not really.

One-sentence summary: Tony gets an unexpected inheritance that makes him seek out people from his past to figure out what really happened.

This fall I decided to read at least one of the books shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. I started with The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes because it seemed to be many people’s favorite, and it ended up winning.

Tony Webster is in his sixties, is still friends with his ex-wife, has a daughter and grandchildren and has led what seems to be an ordinary life. He recalls his youth with a certain nostalgia, like many tend to do when they get older. But he also mistrusts his memories, what does he remember and what has he been told or imagined from what he knew of a situation.

Then Tony is informed that he has received an inheritance from the mother of his one time girlfriend, a woman he met while visiting his girlfriends family for one short weekend a long time ago. Part of the inheritance is the diary of one of his long dead friend, but the diary is held on to by the woman’s daughter, Tony’s one time girlfriend. Tony quickly gets rather obsessed with getting his hands on the diary, and trying to figure out what really happned all those years ago.

Tony is an interesting character as he explores his memories and starts an infinitely polite, pedantic and relentless campaign to aquire the diary.

I expected this to be a very well written book as it won one of the most famous literary prizes in the world and I hoped it would also have a readable and entertaining story, with a major prizewinner the first is almost always true but the second isn’s by any means guaranteed. The Sense of an Ending has both, great language and a good story with unexpected twists.

Still, it left me a little bit wanting. I would have liked to understand a little bit more of some of the other characters and the things they do. Of course, this is Tony’s story and he seems to understand why some of the people acted the way they did and seems satisfied with that. I, however, don’t. So, I would have liked some explanations for what I consider idiotic acts, and this dissatisfaction is what takes the book down to a 5 for me.

A 5 is still a very good read though and I recommend it to everyone.

The Night Circus – Review

The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternTitle: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Vintage digital
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 400
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Fantasy
The dice landed on: 6
Did I finish?: Yes, oh yes.
Do I like the cover?: Yes I do.

One-sentence summary: We follow the people in and around The Night Circus which is both the most marvellous circus in the world and the venue of an ongoing competition between two powerful magicians.

You know those books that you dread coming to the end of because you want to keep on reading? The books that makes you want to slow down to savour it better while you still want to race ahead to find out what happens? If you are a reader, you know those books. The Night Circus is one of those books.

I’m in love with the story, which is different from any fantasy story I’ve read before.
I’m in love with the different characters, most of them at least.
But most of all I’m in love with the language. It’s dreamy and hypnotical, just perfect in a story about a magic fueled circus (and the people in and around it) that only stays open at night.

My christmas gift book choice of the year.

Erin Morgenstern reads a little from The Night Circus.

Stuck Rubber Baby – Review

Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard CruseTitle: Stuck Rubber Baby (Graphic novel)
Author: Howard Cruse

Publisher: Vertigo
Edition: 2010
Pages: 210
Originally published: 1995

Genre: Graphic Novel
The dice landed on: 6
Did I finish?: Yes, oh yes.
Do I like the cover?: Yes I do.

One-sentence summary: Toland Polk is a young man who grows up in the south in the sixties and becomes a part of the civil rights movement while also struggling with being gay.

Stuck Rubber Baby was originally published in 1995, so I’m sorry I didn’t read it before.

The story of Toland Polk is told by himself as a middle-aged, happy gay man. He looks back to his years as a child and young man in the deep south. Toland spends a lot of time in denial of being gay. At the same time he also gets involved with the budding Civil Rights Movement. The story shows both the likeness and the difference between the civil rights movement and the gay movemen. They are both struggles for equal rights, but most black people are visibly black to any casual observer while most gay peole can pass for straight most of the time. So Toland hides his gay feelings, and considers it the right thing to do, while at the same time thinking it’s wrong for society to treat black people the way it does. The story shows both black struggle and gay struggle really well. The characters are all interesting, coming through as real, complicated people with both good, bad sides and potential for change.

In many ways it’s a sad story, but it also has it’s lighter moments. As the narrator is an older, wiser and happier Toland Polk you also know that things will turn out well for him at least.

I think a graphic novel is a good format for a story like this, especially when the drawings are as well done as in this book. There are intimate close ups and big scenes with lots of people, and it’s all wonderfully done. In many ways there’s more information packed into every page than there is in a regular book.

So, if you want to read a very good story about the Civil Rights movement in United States and also a good story of what it’s like coming to terms with being gay in a society that definitely don’t want you around, then this is a good read for you.

Enjoy!

Brainjack – Review

Title: Brainjack (or Brain Jack, I’ve seen both.)BrainJack by Brian Falkner
Author: Brian Falkner

Publisher: Random House
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 368 s.
Originally published: 2010

Genre: Science fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes
Do I like the cover?: So, so…

One-sentence summary: Sam Wilson is a hacker who hacks into The White House and get involved in a world of cybercrime and danger of war.

We are a few years in the future. Las Vegas is a radioactive waste land, destroyed in a terrorist attack. Technology has moved forward and neuro-headsets have replaced computer keyboards. Now you don’t have to wait for your slow fingers when you are online. Sam Wilson is a teen hacker, he can’t afford a neuro-headset, but he wants one dearly and uses his hacking abilities to get one. The hack brings him to the attention of some powerful people and the US’ cyberdefense authorities. He’s also starting to worry about the neuro-headsets. If  any computer system can be hacked, what happens when people’s minds are linked to the system?

This is a fast moving and exciting story. There’s lots of action, both in “real life” and online. For example, when Sam is working online and hacking into something he’s creeping, running, hiding… In parts there’s so much tecno-babble that I get a bit lost, but this is not a big problem as the author is careful to use anologies to make it understandable to non-hackers too.

I could have wished to know a few of the other characters than Sam a bit better, and sometimes I’d liked the whole story to slow down a bit. Also, I’m not really sure that I like the ending, but I sort of like that I don’t know if I like it. That sounds weird I guess, but I don’t feel that ambiguity is necessarily a bad thing.

All in all BrainJack is a good book for anyone who likes to read a full on action book, and I was caught up enough in it to give it a 5.

Jellicoe Road – Review

Jellicoe Road by Melina MarchettaTitle: Jellicoe Road (Original Australian title: On the Jellicoe Road)
Author: Melina Marchetta

Publisher: HarperTeen
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 432
Originally published: 2010

Genre: YA
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes, oh yes.
Do I like the cover?: Yes I do.

One-sentence summary: Apart from bad memories of life with her mother Taylor Markham doesn’t know much about her own background, but there is much to learn.

There was an accident on the Jellicoe Road. A bad accident killing four adults and one child. The three children who lived, the boy who saved them and a friend aquired at a later time form a unique friendship.

Twenty-two years later another girl lives by the Jellicoe Road. Her name is Taylor Markham. Apart from not-very-happy-memories of life with her mother, she doesn’t really know anything about her background. After her mother left her by the Jellicoe Road she lived with a woman named Hannah, and now she lives at The Jellicoe School not far from Hannah’s house. Taylor has just become head of her house and is one of the school leaders in the annual territory war against the cadets and the townies. Being the leader of a house carries more responsibilities than Taylor feel ready to shoulder,  she doesn’t have the best people skills in the world, Hannah has disappeared and the cadet leader Jonah Griggs is a disturbing presence in Taylor’s life.

The characters are great, many dimensional and believable. The language is also very good.

As you might guess there are links between the kids from twenty-two years ago and Taylor, but the weaving together of the stories take unexpected turns. In many ways it’s a sad story, but not without a lot of hope and love. It’s a wonderful read for anyone who has the patience to wait while the story unfolds.

Melina Marchetta has published two other books…. I have to read them too.

Slaughterhouse 5

The first book I read in 2011 is “Slaughterhouse 5 or The Children’s Crusade : a duty-dance with death” by Kurt Vonnegut, one of the classic science fiction novels that has been on my to-read-list for a long time. It has also been translated into Norwegian and is called “Slaktehus 5 eller Barnekorstoget : en pliktdans med døden“.

I’m not going to give you any spoilers, there’s enough of that in the other sources I’ve linked to.

I loved it!

I loved the language. The sentences are fairly short and simple and there’s no annoying euphemising. The language is as direct and brutal as it probably was among soldiers in WWII. I also loved the way the story bounced around in space and time, and I loved  how it made me smile with tears in my eyes.

There are enough people that dislike it, whether they’ve read it or not, that it gained at 46th spot on The American Library Association list of 100 most frequently challenged books : 2000-2009 (up from a 67th in the previous decade). So it goes. (to quote the most used sentence in the book)

Other people has opinions about it too. Most like it, some don’t. None of them advocate banning it:

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