Book Review: The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: The Floating Island
Author: Elizabeth Haydon
Series: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, Book 1
Publisher: Starscape
Paperback: 368 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Long ago, in the Second Age of history, a young Nain explorer by the name of Ven Polypheme traveled much of the known and unknown world, recording his adventures. Recently discovered by archaeologists, a few fragments of his original journals are reproduced in this book. Great care has been taken to reconstruct the parts of the journal that did not survive, so that a whole story can be told…

Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme–known as Ven–is the youngest son of a long line of famous shipwrights. He dreams not of building ships, but of sailing them to far-off lands where magic thrives. Ven gets his chance when he is chosen to direct the Inspection of his family’s latest ship–and sets sail on the journey of a lifetime.

Attacked by fire pirates, lost at sea and near death, Ven is rescued by a passing ship on its way to the Island of Serendair. Thankful to be alive, little does Ven know that the pirate attack–and his subsequent rescue–may not have been an accident. Shadowy figures are hunting for the famed Floating Island, the only source of the mystical Water of Life. They think Ven can lead them to this treasure, and will stop at nothing to get it–even murder.

In a narrative that alternates entries from his journals and drawings from his sketchbooks, Ven begins the famous chronicles of his exciting and exotic adventures–adventures that would later earn him renown as the author of The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

This book is just downright fun. I picked it up because Elizabeth Haydon writes an AMAZING adult fantasy series (Symphony of Ages, if you want to look into that), and I wanted to see how her middle grade stands up against that. The answer I found: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme might actually be better than Symphony of Ages.

The Floating Island centers around a 50-year-old “Nain” (literally french for dwarf — very cool wordplay there) named Ven, who is just reaching his majority by his race’s standards. He is the son of a shipmaker and when he goes to inspect his father’s newest ship, he embarks on what seems to be a never-ending adventure full of twists, surprises, and magic. This feels like an old-fashioned, true adventure story to me, and it’s something I would have DEVOURED when I was twelve — mermaids, dwarves, pirates, kings, intrigue, revenants, magic — this book has everything I love about fantasy, and more. Even as an adult, I enjoyed it immensely. It’s well done in that it’s framed as a “true” story and these journals of Ven were recently discovered and gathered and published by the author. The narrative itself is interesting in that it switches between straight-up journal entries told from Ven’s perspective and regular narration. This definitely allowed the story to strike a balance between being fast-paced while also remaining true to the journal idea. The illustrations by Brett Helquist are great and add a lot to the story in terms of being able to imagine everything and giving credence to the journal idea.

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Book Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

aeronaut's windlassTitle: The Aeronaut’s Windlass
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: The Cinder Spires, Book 1
Publisher: Roc
Paperback: 630 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m a huge fan of Butcher’s Dresden Files series, so when I saw that he wrote a sort of sci-fi/high fantasy book, I needed to check it out right away. Luckily, Chicago Public Library is the best and has it available for OverDrive, so it was super easy to find.

This is a great set-up book, and as long as the sequel(s) deliver, I’ll consider it totally worth it. I love the foundation that Butcher lays for this world and these characters. If we get the chance to see them grow and see this world fleshed out with more information and complexities, then it’s totally worth it. However, if this is all that we get, then I’ll be disappointed. The characters a little bit too cliche for me, and the world wasn’t described as much as I would have liked it to be — again, if I get growth and description later, perfect; well done on the pacing. If not, it’ll be a bit of a problem.

With that said, it’s a fun book. Butcher offers lots of action, a touch of romance, and a wonderful new world to learn about and explore, which really is exactly my kind of book. It’s everything I look for with this kind of genre, and I was completely satisfied with it. While it took me a bit to get into it, I greatly enjoyed after the initial set-up and can’t wait to read more. I’m greatly looking forward to the next book in the series, but can’t recommend it in good conscience without first having that one out to read, just to see how all this pans out.

Audiobook Review: Timeline by Michael Crichton

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Title: Timeline
Author: Michael Crichton
Narrator: John Bedford Lloyd
Publisher: Books on Tape
Duration: 15 hours 11 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In an Arizona desert a man wanders in a daze, speaking words that make no sense. Within twenty-four hours he is dead, his body swiftly cremated by his only known associates. Halfway around the world archaeologists make a shocking discovery at a medieval site. Suddenly they are swept off to the headquarters of a secretive multinational corporation that has developed an astounding technology. Now this group is about to get a chance not to study the past but to enter it. And with history opened to the present, the dead awakened to the living, these men and women will soon find themselves fighting for their very survival–six hundred years ago. . . .

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Many might be familiar with Timeline from the movie adaptation with Paul Walker and Gerard Butler — I saw that movie ages ago when it came out and finally got around to reading the book. I can’t really compare it to the movie, because I saw that so long ago, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Timeline is about a group of archaeologists who must travel to the fourteenth century (during a time of war) to rescue their professor.

Honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Though I love audiobooks, I’m always wary of committing myself to anything over seven or eight hours, because listening to the same voice for longer than that can get tedious. Thankfully, John Bedford Lloyd is a brilliant narrator and really brought life to the characters and the story. In fact, I enjoyed spending the extra time with this novel and being able to immerse myself in its world.

Anybody who likes an adventure story would probably like Timeline. My favorite part about it is that it has a nice mix of historical fiction, mystery/thriller, and science fiction. There’s something for everyone, and I love reading a story that is able to successfully bring together a variety of genres. Although, I have to say, some of the science fiction explanation was a little too detailed, making it confusing and leaving quite a few plot holes. It would have been better without the attempt to explain the time travel scientifically, I think. But putting that aside, Crichton has created a solidly entertaining story.

There’s action, adventure, romance, intrigue, etc. Like I said before, there’s something for everyone. It’s told from multiple viewpoints, but at no point was I confused or lost. If you enjoy audiobooks, don’t let the length scare you — I had a great time listening to it. However, if you’re not an audiobook fan, I think that reading it would be just as satisfying.

Audiobook Review: Jingo Django by Sid Fleischman

Title: Jingo Django
Author: Sid Fleischman
Narrator: Charles Carroll
Publisher: AudioGO
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 3 hours 59 min
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Jingo Hawks is out of luck when Mrs. Daggatt from the orphan house hires him out as a chimney sweep to the awful General Dirty-Face Scurlock. But it’s gypsy luck that puts Jingo into the right chimney and then into the care of the mysterious Mr. Peacock, who claims to know Jingo’s scoundral father. Together they set out on a treasure hunt for buried gold. But they are not alone–those nasty gold diggers Mrs. Daggatt and General Scurlock are hot on their trail.

 

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Jingo Django is a fun adventure book that I could see kids loving — I definitely loved this sort of book when I was a kid, and even as an adult, I greatly enjoyed it. With buried treasure, adventure, and unforgettable characters (with equally unforgettable names), this is a great story for young boys and girls.

Django goes on a quest expecting to find treasure and learns so much about himself and his abilities. This story has both coming-of-age and adventure elements and would appeal to children/middle grade readers. The plot is a bit simplistic and doesn’t cover much ground, which is why I wouldn’t recommend it for a young adult audience. Django is really the only character that grows within the story, which is fine — but again, for those who like a complex story, not so great. I really loved how Fleischman is able to show seedy characters while still retaining the charm of an old-fashioned adventure — and I love how Django is able to use his intelligence to outwit some of the less-than-honest characters.

The narration is excellent: each character has its own voice and Charles Carroll really brought life and personality to all the different characters. I sometimes avoid books with children in them, because a lot of narrators tend to make children’s voices needlessly whiny, but Carroll doesn’t do that. He uses his normal voice and it works really well for the story.

Overall, I think Jingo Django is an interesting, fast-paced adventure story. It’ll be a quick read and has enough in it to keep the reader engaged from beginning to end.

*I received a copy of this audiobook through the publisher from Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.*

Book Review: Lord of Souls by Greg Keyes

Title: Lord of Souls
Author: Greg Keyes
Publisher: Del Rey
Paperback: 304 pages
Series: The Elder Scrolls, Book 2
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Forty years after the Oblivion crisis, the empire of Tamriel is threatened by a mysterious floating city, Umbriel, whose shadow spawns a terrifying undead army. Reeling from a devastating discovery, Prince Attrebus continues on his seemingly doomed quest to obtain a magic sword that holds the key to destroying the deadly invaders. Meanwhile, in the Imperial City, the spy Colin finds evidence of betrayal at the heart of the empire—if his own heart doesn’t betray him first. And Annaïg, trapped in Umbriel itself, has become a slave to its dark lord and his insatiable hunger for souls.

How can these three unlikely heroes save Tamriel when they cannot even save themselves?

Based on the award-winning Elder Scrolls® series, Lord of Souls is the second of two exhilarating novels that continue the story from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, named 2006 Game of the Year by numerous outlets, including Spike TV, the Golden Joystick Awards, and the Associated Press.

*I received a free copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for my honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4/5

Despite the fact that I haven’t read the first book, nor have I played the game, I had no problem picking up on what was going on. It took a little bit, and I’m sure some of the finer details of the world were lost on me, but during no point in the book was I thinking, “What is going on?!” So I appreciate the fact that Greg Keyes did an awesome job in making this read like a stand-alone novel.

Besides that, it’s a really interesting story. As is usual with fantasy, there are multiple viewpoints, and I enjoyed most of the characters and their personal involvement with the larger problem at hand. There was one character I didn’t care for (Mazgar), just because I didn’t think her story was as developed as the others’. I thought that Annaig and Glim’s stories were by far the most interesting and entertaining. They had a stronger connection, and I think they were the characters that had the most to lose if things didn’t turn out well.

I enjoyed the intrigues and the suspense. There were a few times that I was completely surprised by the turn of events (and a few plot twists that were predictable, but that’s okay). If you’re a fan of fantasy, I think you’d enjoy this story. Some have complained about it being too difficult to follow along without reading the first book, though. But it may not be a bad thing to read more of this series, since the plots and the characters are so well-constructed.

Book Review: The Briar King by Greg Keyes

Title: The Briar King
Author: Greg Keyes
Series: Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, Book 1
Publisher: Tor
Paperback: 553 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The Briar King, Greg Keyes’s latest elegant entry into the world of high fantasy, lays the groundwork for what promises to be a mesmerizing four-book series–the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone. Keyes spins his tale in a meticulously crafted fantasy realm on the brink of apocalyptic change. The Briar King, a legend cobbled from children’s stories and rural folklore, is waking from his slumber to an unknown but cataclysmic end. Dark agents are afoot in the land, stirring war and edging an ancient prophecy closer to fulfillment. In destiny’s path are a king’s woodsman, his headstrong lover, a bookworm priest, a cocksure swordsman, and the embattled (from within and without) kingdom of Crotheny. Keyes masterfully intertwines far-off courtly intrigue with the personal quest of the woodsman and his brave companions who seek to unravel the secret of the Briar King before all is lost.

My Rating: 3/5


The storyline of The Briar King is fantastic. I enjoy fantasy plots with a doomsday prophecy and characters who have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. There are the stereotypes that one comes to expect in this sort of novel: stubborn, hot-headed princess, naive priest, brave knight, cynical woodsman, etc. However, I think there are quite a lot of unique elements to the story, and the imagery of the Briar King thoroughly creeped me out. What really sold me at the end was how everyone’s stories start fitting together.

Despite this, I found this book extremely difficult to get in to. The writing gets progressively better throughout the book, but the beginning was tough going. It reads like a middle-grade novel instead of adult fantasy. There’s very simplistic narrative, unrealistic dialogue (and a lot of it!), and many of the characters aren’t likeable at first. At about three-quarters of the way in, the plot gets moving and the characters get better. I think it’s because they have to deal with real problems instead of whining about trivial things.

I’m not sure if it’s worth investing in this series yet, considering that it doesn’t become good until the later part of the first book. There are three more books, and if these three are anything like the last part of The Briar King, I think it will be worth it. The ending of this book is definitely enough to keep me reading more, but the sequel has to be very good for me to continue with this series all the way.

Book Review: The Soldiers of Halla by DJ MacHale

Title: The Soldiers of Halla
Author: D.J. MacHale
Publisher: Aladdin
Series: Pendragon, Book 10
Hardcover: 608 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

It has all been leading to this. Every victory. Every loss. All the thrills and sadness; the hope and despair. Bobby Pendragon’s heart-pounding journey through time and space has brought him to this epic moment. He and his fellow Travelers must join forces for one last desperate battle against Saint Dane. At stake is not only the tenth and final territory, but all that ever was or will be. Everywhere.

This is the war for Halla.

Every question is answered. Every truth is revealed.

The final battle has begun.

My Review:

You know what makes a great book? Authors who aren’t afraid to get dirty; authors who don’t hold back on tragedy. This is especially true in adventure books — if your characters are frequently put in dangerous situations, bad things should happen. Yes, maybe they’re able to get out of those bad situations and rise above it, but it shouldn’t be easy for them. D.J. MacHale is one author who definitely doesn’t hold back and definitely doesn’t make it easy for his characters in the final battle.

I am very satisfied with the conclusion of this series. All the characters showed tremendous growth and the final battle was pretty awesome. MacHale did some careful planning with this series, because I noticed things that tied back to clues given in previous books, which was fun. This is the point I was waiting for throughout the entire series, and like I said, MacHale doesn’t hold back. The stakes are high and it gets dangerous for Bobby and his friends.

The only thing I didn’t like was the explanation of what makes them all Travelers and how the gates were formed. I know it’s a fantasy/science fiction novel, but it was just a little too far-fetched for me. I’m not going to go into detail due to spoilers, I’ll just say that I think there could be far better explanations to the one MacHale chose.

However, this was a satisfying ending. It got kind of shaky for me around book 6 (The Rivers of Zadaa), but I continued with it because I was invested in the characters by that point. Around book 8 (The Pilgrims of Rayne), I was feeling it again, and now I’m glad I stuck with it. Soldiers of Halla is a great book full of excitement, danger, adventure, friendship, and everything that I love about the Pendragon series. Honestly, I think it’s the best book of the series because the stakes are raised so high and the characters really have to struggle.

I recommend this entire series to lovers of young adult adventure/fantasy. They’re imaginative, exciting books that don’t disappoint.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Title: Into Thin Air
Author: Jon Krakauer
Publisher: Anchor Books
Paperback: 333 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that “suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.” He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more–including Krakauer’s–in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer’s epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

My Review:

Again, I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Either I need to stop listening what my friends say about required reading, or I should raise my expectations of “classics.” (Or both.)

Into Thin Air is both thrilling and terrifying. Not that I was considering it, but I will now never take mountain climbing as a hobby — especially mountains where high-altitude sickness is a problem. Krakauer includes the history of Mount Everest along with the day-to-day events of his expedition, which added an interesting, enjoyable element to the novel. Not only was I reading a great story, I felt like I was learning a lot too.

Into Thin Air is a tragic story that is wonderfully told. The level of detail included in the descriptions is remarkable. I felt like I was climbing Everest with the author, going through the same psychological and physical torture. I also got to know those who climbed with him, sharing in their successes and failures. I want to note that there is a controversy as to whether the events happened like Krakauer said they happened; I am sure, with all that was going on at the time, that there are discrepancies with events, but I doubt that they are serious since he also interviewed multiple people who were there as well.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is at all interested in adventure or memoirs. If you’re squeamish, you should maybe stay away, since there are descriptions of some pretty awful sights and diseases (I got queasy more than a few times). However, I think that Into Thin Air is a novel most people will find a worthwhile read.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold

Title: Young Miles
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Publisher: Baen
Paperback: 827 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Washed out of the Barrayaran Military Academy for being overly fragile, Miles Vorkosigan’s natural–if unorthodox–leadership qualities quickly allow him to acquire a fleet of ships and 3,000 troops, all unswervingly loyal to him. In short order, he foils a plot against his father, returns to and graduates from the academy, solves a murder, thwarts an interstellar invasion, and rescues the Barrayaran Emperor.

Overall Rating: 5/5

This is easily one of my favorite books ever. Honestly, I didn’t think it would be. My college roommate hyped it up like crazy, so when I finally got to reading it, I was expecting disappointment because it didn’t seem like it was going to be as good as she promised.

But it was.

This particular edition consists of two novels and a short story that all revolve around a young man named Miles Vorkosigan who has a birth defect (not congenital, he frequently assures others) and because of that is fragile. His bones break under the smallest pressure and he’s less than five feet tall. The problem is that he was born on a militant planet to a very important family. When he washes out of the military academy, he has to find his own path to greatness — and find it he certainly does.

What impressed me the most about this book (and the rest of the series) is the level of characterization. Firstly, I love Miles. He is practically a cripple, but he doesn’t let that stop him, because while his body is weak, he is a genius. I appreciate that Bujold has created a character that doesn’t go into situations and use his strength or extreme fighting prowess to save the day; instead, he thinks about solutions and launches schemes to achieve his goals.

Secondly, all the characters are written in shades of grey; she shows the softer sides of rampaging killers and the darker sides of sheltered researchers. This is achieved through ingenious storytelling. With adventure, mystery, suspense, and plot twists that give you whiplash, I kept turning the pages and the characters kept evolving and growing. All this, combined with in-depth universe (not world) building and fascinating cultures, this book made me want more and more and more.

And don’t think it’s all just running around and doing brave deeds — though there is a lot of that — Bujold adds a lot of humor to these books and I found myself laughing aloud quite often.

I really can’t recommend this book strongly enough. It’s SO good! And I don’t think it’s just for science fiction fans; there is plenty of material for all kinds of readers to find something they like.