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A Soldier's Duty by Jean Johnson

Jan. 1st, 2012 | 02:16 am
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genre: military sci-fi

Synopsis: Ia is a precog, blessed - or cursed - with visions of the future. She has witnessed the devastation of her home galaxy three hundred years in the future, long after she is gone, but believes she can prevent it. Enlisting in the modern military of the Terran United Planets, Ia plans to rise through the ranks, meeting and influencing important people and building a reputation that will inspire others for the next three centuries.

Sequel: An Officer's Duty (forthcoming)

Book cover: I suppose it's okay - it does its job of conveying that the book is military sci-fi and the woman depicted does match how Ia is described in the novel.

Review:

I always enjoy reading Jean Johnson's novels because she seems to like a lot of the same things as I do - key among them strong, assertive female lead characters.

That, however, is both this novel's strongest point and its weakest. Ia is totally dedicated to her quest, she is strong and skilled and capable. She is interesting and likeable and heroic. The problem is - she never fails. It's annoying! Okay, so she can see every possible future and have that govern her actions, fair enough, and she has some other useful talents, but surely she can't be physically capable of averting every disaster! She may have basically superpowers but she's still just one person acting mostly by herself! I just wanted to see one single event which didn't go her way, where she was forced to realise her limitations, and it never happened.

Despite that, I still enjoyed the book. It had a bit of a slow start but once the novel really got going it was quite gripping. As I said, Jean Johnson seems to share a lot of my taste in fiction, so I loved seeing her write military sci-fi (her previous books were fantasy romance) and I liked the worldbuilding and the superpowers.

The military part of the novel was generally well handled (as far as I can tell, at least, not having served) although it did sometimes feel like the author had spent so long figuring out how the armed forces would work in her sci-fi context that she couldn't hold back from cramming it all into the text - I particularly could have done without the several pages describing how each type of weaponry worked, which I ended up mostly skipping from sheer boredom.

Overall, it felt like a good novel which could have used a bit of editing & rewriting, particularly to make the main character less annoyingly infallible. I will be buying the sequel when it comes out. Meanwhile, it's put me thoroughly in the mood for some Elizabeth Moon...

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Anchored by Rachel Haimowitz

Dec. 31st, 2011 | 03:01 pm
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: angst, drama, alternate universe

Synopsis: Network news anchor Daniel Halstrom is at the top of his field, but being at the top of the social ladder - being a slave - makes that hard to enjoy. Especially when NewWorld Media, the company who's owned him since childhood, decides to lease him at evenings and weekends to boost their flagging profits. Daniel's not stupid; he knows there's only one reason a man would pay so much for what little free time he has.

Companion: Where He Belongs (ebook collection of vignettes) - a bit rubbish I'm afraid.

Book cover: I quite like the concept but not the execution.

Review:

As published gay slavefics go, this is far better than most of the ones I've tried, although it does have problems. It has a compelling central character, interesting alternate universe, well written if fairly simple plot, and is thoroughly gripping - I really couldn't put it down.

I love that Daniel isn't just a pleasure slave. I love that he's intelligent, educated and doing a skilled job which (if he were free) would be highly paid. I love that he's a strong character yet is still credible as somebody raised from birth in slavery - he isn't dominant or defiant. I also like the little glimpses we see into the lives of other slaves as well as the differing personalities of the freemen in the novel. The man who leases Daniel - Carl - is a fairly convincing master - someone who doesn't see slavery as wrong (having been raised in a society where it's normal) but also isn't cruel or sadistic and genuinely cares about Daniel.

The one major problem I have with the book is one regular slavefic readers (or, for that matter, readers of other types of angst) will recognise - the "sex means a happy ending" trope. Daniel is brutalised and gang-raped and yet somehow "consensual" sex with his Master is meant to make that all okay? It's not quite Stockholm Syndrome but it's uncomfortably close. It doesn't help that the book is marketed as a gay romance - it's published by Noble Romance Publishing and has "erotic romance" in big letters on the cover - when really the only thing close to romance in it is those final pages with the questionable sex.

Despite the ending, I do recommend the novel to anyone who likes slavefic - so long as you're also okay with reading fairly explicit scenes of corporal punishment and rape.

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Rebels and Lovers by Linnea Sinclair

Apr. 4th, 2011 | 01:01 am
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: sci-fi, romance

Synopsis: It’s been two years since Devin Guthrie last saw Captain Makaiden Griggs. But time has done little to dampen his ardor for the beautiful take-charge pilot who used to fly yachts for his wealthy family. While Devin’s soul still burns for Kaidee, she isn’t the kind of woman a Guthrie is allowed to marry — especially in a time of intergalactic upheaval, with the family’s political position made precarious by Devin’s brother Philip, now in open revolt against the Empire. And when Devin’s nineteen-year-old nephew, Trip, inexplicably goes missing after his bodyguard is murdered, this most dutiful of Guthrie sons finds every ounce of family loyalty put to the test. Only by joining forces with Kaidee can Devin complete the mission to bring Trip back alive. And only by breaking every rule can these two renegades redeem the promise of a passion they were never permitted to explore. At risk? A political empire, a personal fortune, and both their hearts and lives.

Prequels: Gabriel's Ghost, Shades of Dark, Hope's Folly.

Book cover: I really don't know why they decided to put a red stripe at the top. Otherwise it's not too bad for a romance novel.

Review:

This book felt in many ways like reading Sherrilyn Kenyon's sci-fi romances, sans Kenyon's obligatory childhood trauma for the lead male. That's not in any way a bad thing. Sinclair has as good a grasp of what makes a romance interesting as Kenyon does, and like Kenyon, she does a decent job on the worldbuilding and balancing the romance with the plot.

It's the fourth book in a series and I have to admit that I have yet to get hold of the first three. However, it has different central characters to the previous books and I had no problem understanding the setting or grasping the plot.

With great characters, plenty of space battles and action sequences, and some good plot twists, this is a light, entertaining read. It's never going to make anyone's list of top science fiction novels, or even top romance novels, but it deservedly has a place on my bookshelf and will no doubt be read again before too long.

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Blowback by Lyn Gala

Apr. 4th, 2011 | 12:24 am
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: sci-fi, romance

Synopsis: Tom is a soldier and sniper on a ship tracking space terrorists. Despite being unlucky at love, he hopes to catch the eye of a crewmate. Da’shay, an exotically beautiful alien with her own very strange ideas, keeps ruining his plans. While Tom loves playing trust games in the bedroom, where he’s happy to let a woman take complete erotic control, in real life he never trusts easily. Da’shay is no exception to that rule. But when danger forces Tom to rely on Da’shay, he finds himself drawn to more than just her body. Her strength and her suffering intrigue him. As the conspiracies and blowback threaten the entire crew, Tom finds his loyalties and his love starting to turn toward the one woman he never would have expected.

Book cover: It's a bit too much of a generic romance cover, not really to my tastes.

Review:

I've loved Lyn Gala's fanfiction for a long time but this is the first time I've read one of her published works, specifically an ebook. It was absolutely excellent (and I'm not just saying that because the author's my LJ friend and will probably read this review).

As with the best romance novels, the storyline and characterisation of this novel would still be worth reading even if there was no romance. There's a fairly interesting plot revolving around space travel, aliens, conspiracy and slavery; it's admittedly not terribly complex but is very well written.

The romance itself is very much one of dominance and submission, with the woman in charge. (As anyone who knows my tastes will realise, this makes me jump for joy - it's unbelievably difficult to find female dominants in fiction, least of all in consensual relationships.) You probably do need to have some slight appreciation for power dynamics and BDSM to enjoy the novel, but there's no S&M, only light bondage.

The romance is slow to evolve and thus all the more interesting and credible. The secondary characters, especially the other crewmembers, are almost as well-crafted as the leads. And when I finished reading it, I desperately wanted more... all hallmarks of a novel I will definitely re-read many times in the future.

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The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan

Jan. 6th, 2011 | 06:41 pm
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: fantasy, horror, teenage

Synopsis: Jebel Rum's biggest weakness... is weakness. As the son of Um Wadi's executioner, he's expected to try out for his father's job - except that he's too skinny to wield the heavy axe. A laughing stock in his home town, Jebel embarks on a perilous quest to the lair of a mysterious god. It is a dark, brutal, terrifying journey. But to Jebel Rum, the risk is worth it.

Book cover: I have this edition. I can't say I like it much but I suppose it's appropriate for the type of novel.

Review:

I had to think about whether to recommend this novel, because while it was well written and well plotted with good characterisation - and was so gripping that I read the entire novel in one go - it was also often rather disturbing. Violence was ever-present. There was constant murder (and otherwise violent death, and not only of adults), torture, even some particularly memorable cannibalism. Honestly, I can barely believe that it's marketed as a children's book - I deliberately categorised it as "teenage" above.

Aside from my personal preference for less gore, however, it was an excellent story. Jebel is accidentally humiliated by his father, and to prove himself and regain his honour, he decides to go on a quest - one that requires a willing sacrifice at the end. He finds a man, a slave, who agrees to go with him and be his sacrifice, in exchange for the freedom of his family. Jebel's changing relationship with this slave, along with the changes to his own attitudes towards execution and slavery, are the focus of the novel and expertly depicted. The slave, Tel Hesani, is possibly the most interesting aspect of the novel.

I would have liked to see more attention being given to Jebel's relationships with his father and his two brothers. Considering how central a role his father's actions play in initiating Jebel's quest, it would have been good to see more about Jebel's childhood, his father's feelings about him, and his family's reactions to him choosing the quest, as well as their reactions to the changes in him upon his return.

Overall, I would say that I'm glad I read the book, but I probably will not be reading it for a second time, nor seeking out other novels by the same author. It is well written and gripping, but simply too dark and violent for me to truly enjoy.

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Kitchen by Nigella Lawson

Dec. 25th, 2010 | 11:35 pm
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: non-fiction, cookery

Synopsis: Recipes for fabulous feel-good food to make life less complicated and more pleasurable.

Book cover: At my first glance, from a distance, I quite liked this cover. However, after a better look I realised that the photograph of Nigella is taken from a really awkward angle - not flattering at all.

Review:

I have accumulated quite a collection of recipe books over the years, but I have to say that I've never found one that I've really loved - until now. "Kitchen" has a fabulous selection of food, easy to understand recipes, interesting and useful (and quite friendly, chatty) text, gorgeous and useful photographs, and a style of presentation that is attractive and makes it easy to find your place while cooking a meal. It's also nice and long (about 500 pages) with a helpful index at the back to make it easy to find recipes using specific ingredients. Many recipes also include hints on what to do with leftovers.

I've already tried out, and loved, a number of recipes, and there are plenty more I plan to try in the future. So far my strongest recommendation is the "speedy seafood supper" (page 193), which had possibly the best flavour of any meal I've ever made as well as being both quick and easy to make.

Nigella's love of cooking and enthusiasm for food comes across on every page. She talks often about her own experiences, for example in cooking for her children. Her passion is infectious - after dipping into the book for just a few minutes I find myself far more enthusiastic to cook or bake than I am ordinarily. Superb - I now want to collect many more Nigella Lawson books.

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The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

Nov. 26th, 2010 | 08:52 pm
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: fantasy, teenage

Synopsis: In the good old days, magic was powerful, unregulated by government, and even the largest spell coud be woven without filling in magic release form BI-7g. Then the magic started fading away... Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for soothsayers and sorcerers. But work is drying up. Drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and even magic carpets are reduced to pizza delivery. So it's a surprise when the visions start. Not only do they predict the death of the Last Dragon at the hands of a Dragonslayer, they also point to Jennifer, and say something is coming. Big Magic...

Book cover: View here. I rather love it, especially the bottom half, with the silhouette of Jennifer and lovely touches like Fizzi-Pop cans. I also think the dragon's head is fabulous, though the rest of its body isn't so well done. The really amazing part of the cover, though, is the feel of the dustjacket itself - it's bumpy like dragon scales.

Review:

This is Fforde's first book for teenagers and I adored it. The concept is so much fun (I love the idea of magic users being reduced to wiring houses or delivering pizza) and the characters are brilliant, especially Jennifer and the dragon. The writing style is easy to read and the plot is gripping.

I do think that it suffers just a tiny bit from featuring all Fforde's trademarks - funny names of major characters, for example: they work in the Thursday Next series, but here "Tiger Prawns" just seems ridiculous as this isn't quite so nonsensical a world.

I honestly haven't enjoyed a Fforde novel this much since the early days of the Thursday Next series. All fans of his work should check it out, but I also highly encourage other people to read it too, especially teenagers or adults who enjoy the YA genre. Highly recommended.

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A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones

Nov. 26th, 2010 | 08:14 pm
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: fantasy/sci-fi, children's

Synopsis: When Vivian is evacuated from London in 1939, she expects to be staying in the countryside. Instead, she is whisked away to Time City – a place that exists outside time and space. It is a strange and remarkable place, where technology rules – yet important events of both past and future are marked by the appearance of mysterious Time Ghosts. Here, a Time Patrol works to preserve historical events – but unknown rogue time-travellers are plotting to take control and are stealing the wards that protect the city. If they succeed, Time City and History as we know it will both be destroyed. Jonathan and Sam are convinced that Vivian can help to save their home – for, astonishingly, she appears as a Time Ghost herself in a forgotten part of the city. But how can she possibly know what to do, when the important event hasn’t even happened yet?

Book cover: There's a couple of editions I really dislike, but I think this one's quite nice, and the picture actually depicts something that happens in the novel.

Review:

As a child, A Tale of Time City was one of my very favourite novels. I'm glad to discover, therefore, that I still greatly enjoyed it reading it again as an adult.

The writing style is fun and easy to read. The plot, while a bit nonsensical (and is it fantasy or science fiction? - I can't really tell as it certainly doesn't try to explain anything much) is thoroughly entertaining, with some interesting and unexpected twists toward the end.

The characters are perhaps its weakest part, unfortunately. The children are a bit overly silly at times - treating major danger (not to mention kidnapping somebody) as just a game doesn't really endear me to Jonathan or Sam, I don't think children are really that stupid. I also think that Vivian adjusts far too quickly to being removed from her planet, time period and parents - she isn't even all that upset really... but on the other hand too much anger or misery might have harmed the fun of the novel. She is the most likeable one, too.

Despite its flaws, it's still a great story. If and when I one day have children, I'll definitely be introducing them to it - and in the meantime I'll probably reread it a few times myself.

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Pegasus by Robin McKinley

Nov. 7th, 2010 | 12:56 pm
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genre: fantasy

Synopsis: Princess Sylviianel has always known that on her twelfth birthday she too would be bound to her own pegasus. All members of the royal family have been thus bound since the Alliance was made almost a thousand years ago; the binding system was created to strengthen the Alliance, because humans and pegasi can only communicate formally, through specially trained Speaker magicians. But everything is different for Sylvi and Ebon from the moment they meet at her binding - when they discover they can talk to each other. They form so close a bond that it becomes a threat to the status quo - and possibly to the future safety of their two nations. For some of the magicians believe there is a reason humans and pegasi should not fully understand each other...

Sequel: Title not yet known (forthcoming 2012)

Book cover: The design is really pretty and suits the fairy tale feel of the novel very well.

Review:

The first sentence of this novel draws the reader in superbly - "Because she was a princess she had a pegasus". Unfortunately, the book then failed to retain my interest for about three chapters or so before finally recovering and gripping me.

The problem is that McKinley spends far too much time talking about the past, especially in those early chapters when she should be focusing on introducing the present and the characters to us. Furthermore, she doesn't clearly delineate where her flashbacks begin and end, but rather sticks them in with the present day events, leaving me sometimes confused for a moment when she suddenly switches time periods. Additionally, she made some strange choices with regard to the oldest of the stories from the past - for example, when writing a man's diary entries, she adds an extra "e" to the end of every "the", presumably not realising that "thee" has an entirely different meaning.

When she does focus on the present, however, she creates a superb and complex world, using concepts borrowed from other authors and from mythology, but with a totally unique spin on them. The idea of the pegasi being intelligent species bonded to the humans but separated from them by a language barrier is really interesting and the true bonding between Sylvi and Ebon is wonderful to read. It definitely has the feel of a fairy tale and children and adults alike should enjoy it. I also like how real McKinley's world-building feels - far too many fantasy writers, for example, fail to make their kings, queens, princes and princesses feel like real royalty, or have their subjects actually act like subjects.

There is, however, one other way in which the book doesn't satisfy me and that is the ending. Apparently it was originally intended to be a stand-alone novel but got so long that the author was forced to split it into two... and to be honest, that's exactly what it feels like. There's no proper ending; the final scene is heartbreaking and not at all where I would want to stop reading, least of all as the second book reputedly won't be published until sometime in 2012.

Essentially, then, it feels to me more like the beginnings of a fabulous book than a fabulous book in its own right. It could have used some serious editing and reworking in regard to the scenes from the past, most especially those in the first few chapters, and if the length of the story meant that it had to be split into two, the very least they could have done was ensure that book two was published shortly after the first one. I do definitely recommend this book to other readers... but you may want to think about waiting a while until the second book is closer to publication.

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The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

Nov. 5th, 2010 | 09:20 pm
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: fantasy, adventure, children's

Prequel series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, beginning with The Lightning Thief

Synopsis: When Jason, Piper and Leo crash land at Camp Half-Blood, they have no idea what to expect. Apparently this is the only safe place for children of the Greek Gods – despite the monsters roaming the woods and demigods practising archery with flaming arrows and explosives. But rumours of a terrible curse – and a missing hero – are flying around camp. It seems Jason, Piper and Leo are the chosen ones to embark on a terrifying new quest, which they must complete by the winter solstice. In just four days time.

Sequel: Son of Neptune (forthcoming autumn 2011)

Book cover: The US version is beautiful. The UK version is disappointing by comparison, which is why I chose to import my copy.

Audiobook: Available.

Review:

As the start to a new series in the Percy Jackson universe, in many ways this novel is comparable to "The Lightning Thief". Like that novel, it centres on three main characters (two boys, one girl) embarking on a quest, having adventures and fighting monsters. Also like TLF, it sets up a much greater threat ready for later books in the series, complete with a prophecy and hints of what is to come.

However, there are of course differences too. The characters here are not as young as Percy and Annabeth were originally and Jason in particular is not as new to the world of gods, monsters and demigods as they were - or as he thinks he is. (He has amnesia and cannot remember who he is.) The mythology of the series is expanded significantly (in a way that I won't go into for fear of spoiling you, but I hadn't expected it).

I don't think you necessarily need to have read the Percy Jackson series to understand this one, but you'll definitely get more out of it if you have.

Many of the characters we got to know and love in the original series do appear in The Lost Hero, but the focus is definitely on the new trio. However, I doubt if this is going to be the case throughout the Heroes of Olympus series, judging by the striking final line of the novel (which has made me desperate for book two - unfortunately it'll probably be another year yet).

It's possibly not as good as Riordan's previous book "The Red Pyramid", or the final Percy book ("The Last Olympian") but it's still massively entertaining and gripping (I read it in 24 hours even despite having been at work today) and shows masses of potential for the rest of the series. Highly recommended for children and adults alike.

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The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

Oct. 17th, 2010 | 02:57 pm
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: fantasy, thriller, mystery

Synopsis: Imagine that some people have the power to affect your thoughts and feelings through reading. They can seduce you with amazing stories, conjure up vividly imagined worlds, but also manipulate you into thinking exactly what they want you to. When Luca Campelli dies a sudden and violent death, his son Jon inherits his second-hand bookshop, Libri di Luca, in Copenhagen. Jon has not seen his father for twenty years, since the mysterious death of his mother. Unbeknown to Jon, the bookshop has for years been hiding a remarkable secret. It is the meeting place of a society of booklovers and readers, who have maintained a tradition of immense power passed down from the days of the great library of Alexandria. Now someone is trying to destroy them, and Jon finds he must fight to save himself and his new friends.

Book cover: Perfectly fine, if a little dull.

Translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally.

Review:

The book begins with Luca Campelli returning home from a trip to Egypt. He goes into his antiquarian bookshop and browses the shelves, looking at the new acquisitions since he was last there. He finds a valuable old book in Italian and, delighted, begins to read it.

Reading it kills him.

With this dramatic start, a thrilling adventure takes place as Jon and his new friends (and especially his new lover, Katherina) realise that a shadowy organisation has been spying upon them and murdering those they care about, while Jon discovers powers that he never knew he had.

It's a novel for book lovers. From the loving descriptions of old leather-bound classics, to the power of reading (literally) this is clearly written by a major bibliophile, and it's hard to imagine any bibliophiles (who also like fantasy books) resisting the temptation to read it. Certainly all it took was one read through the blurb on the back for me to be asking to borrow the book from my sister.

I do wonder if it may have lost something in translation. The writing is adequate, but with such a great concept and plot, and particularly when the book itself is about the power of words, I feel that it isn't quite as good as I'd like it to be. There are times when I wasn't as gripped as I would have liked to be, or where the atmosphere wasn't quite as tense as I might like in a thriller. Quite probably this is due to the translation rather than the original writing, but it's a shame.

Despite this though, I very much enjoyed the book, and plan to buy my own copy at some point. If you love books, fantasy, mystery and a bit of a thrill, seek out this novel.

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Librarianship: An Introduction by G. G. Chowdhury, Paul F. Burton, David McMenemy & Alan Poulter

Oct. 16th, 2010 | 05:03 pm
posted by: lothy in mayitbe_books

Genres: non-fiction, library & information management

Synopsis: An introduction to librarianship for students and new entrants to the profession.

Book cover: Unfortunately rather badly designed - the colour choices and the image really don't look appealing or even good quality. Even academic books should do better than this.

Review:

Having recently began a Masters in Information & Library Management, I've been doing as much reading around the subject as possible before I have to start spending my time working on actual coursework. This is easily the best book I've read so far.

As it is designed for people new to the subject, it provides a good general introduction to a wide variety of topics including the history of libraries, different types of libraries, various types of library services (including both the traditional and the modern), collection management, preservation and digitisation, classification, cataloguing, information retrieval, legislation and policies, relevant information technologies and far more. There are some topics that I'm not sure are truly relevant to students (library building design and management skills for example) but at least they got me thinking about aspects of the profession that hadn't previously occurred to me.

The writing style is friendly but informative and it was far easier to simply read from cover to cover than 99% of the academic textbooks I have used over the years. It's also very clearly laid out with good contents and index sections - and section titles which are easy to understand - so it would also be very easy to dip into to find information on the particular topic you needed. While published in the UK, and presumably written by British librarians and information management experts, the content of the book is international, with information on libraries, organisations and practices in the US and various other nations.

There are also very good references sections at the end of each chapter, which could be very useful for finding more detailed information on each topic after reading through the introductions in this textbook.

My main criticism is fairly small - I wasn't very impressed by the frequent "Thinking Points", or the end of chapter review questions - I far prefer to choose for myself what I think about rather than be guided there as if I'm in a classroom.

I am a little dismayed that the price is a bit too much for me to buy my own copy at present (nearly £37 on Amazon.co.uk) because it would be very useful to be able to reference this book at different stages over the course of my studies. If you are studying librarianship or information management, or plan to do so in the future, I highly recommend that you seek out this book.

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