I've never really seen the point of travel magazines. Reading them strikes me as akin to going to a restaurant when you're hungry and merely watching people eat. Why not just go on vacation?

Okay, okay - so some would-be travelers need a little push in the right direction. I get it. Islands, then, would aspire to be that special trusted advisor for archipelago-happy readers. There's one small problem with this: I'm not so sure the mag deserves that trust.

Islands loses a whole lot of credibility with a simple note at the bottom of its "mailboat" (hoy-o!) letters page. In it, the mag thanks the tourism boards/visitors bureaus of three destinations for their "assistance" with lengthy features in the April/May issue. I have no idea what the publication's travel-junket policy is, or even if the magazine itself is a mere outgrowth of some travel firm, but the note left me wondering about the particularities of the arrangement. Did the tourism boards pick up the tab for the writer's visit? In a magazine that purports to give sage advice, that's a dangerous question to leave unanswered.

Fair or not, that concern stuck in the back of my mind as I perused Islands. Overall, it's a light, breezy read, happily devoid of the flashy entry points (or whatever we're calling them nowadays) of comparable travel mags. Not that it's all that tough to sell the lush tropical paradises that the magazine surveys, but the staff photographers deserve a paper-umbrella-strewn rum concoction for the job they do bringing the destinations to life. My favorite, actually, was one of the issue's less prominent shots, a photo of a barn's shimmery reflection on the water below.

I'm not sure what exactly to make of the issue's four travelogue features. The pages teem with you-are-there authenticity thanks to the snazzy layouts - check out the cross-page spread of three Sicily palazzos. But the writing more often than not suggests a "what I did on summer vacation" book report; the painfully descriptive prose belies the sophistication and subtlety of the design. 

One particularly noxious trend: clunky opening sentences that chafe rather than charm. "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem" starts with, "It is 5:30 in the afternoon - I think." Not to be out-quirkied, the New Zealand feature commences with this doozie: "What this is really about, I tell myself as I pack my rubberized dry-bag, is time travel." I am, however, intrigued by the organ-smuggling possibilities inherent in the phrase "rubberized dry-bag."

The mag's shorter items fare better, whether a brief nugget on an upcoming Jersey Island food festival or a look at the weekend-long celebration of Greek Orthodox Easter in Corfu. Islands also deserves credit for finding a smart way to divvy up its content, all of which deals with, well, islands. The "Discoveries" section offers up a wealth of vacation possibilities, while "Islanders" focuses on the people who make a certain destination unique - in this issue, a Caribbean conch harvester. The section headings (which also include "Adventures" and "On Island"... what, was "Escapades" deemed too audacious?) don't exactly get points for creativity, but there seems to be rhyme and reason to 'em.

So while Islands may not be a thrilling read, it delivers what it promises - island after sun-drenched island - in a most picturesque manner. Too bad it's not possible to take the mag's recommendations at face value.

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