Elizabeth_Darcy

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

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.
Elizabeth_Darcy

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

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.
Elizabeth_Darcy

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy

Genre: thriller

Synopsis: When Jack Ryan foils an Ulster Liberation Army terrorist attack on the Royal Family, his courageous actions not only win him the admiration of an entire nation, they also rouse the enmity and hatred of that nation's most dangerous men. Now a ULA target himself, Ryan plunges into the murkey world of counter-intelligence, where he uncovers connections between the ULA and an international underground network that place him at the forefront of the deadly battle against international terrorism, and pitch him into the most desperate struggle of his life.

Other books in the series: long list - see Wikipedia >>

Book cover: There have been quite a number of different editions over the years, with different artwork, including at least one featuring Harrison Ford in the movie. To be honest, none of them are all that great, but probably the least-bad I've seen is this.

Audiobook: There's a short abridged version read by Martin Sheen, and a very long unabridged version read by Michael Pritchard. I have the latter, and it's excellent.

Review:

I have read Patriot Games multiple times and it's easily my favourite thriller. While Tom Clancy has written numerous great thrillers, many of them also featuring Jack Ryan, in my opinion this is definitely his best (though I also adore Executive Orders).

If you're the type of reader who likes thrillers to be all action, all the time, then this isn't the right book for you - there are times when it moves quite slowly, with lots of time spent on quieter, more character-focused scenes especially in the first half of the book. Personally, however, that's really what I like about the novel - it makes me care about the characters more than action-focused books tend to. The action is gripping however (and I'm somebody who is very picky about action sequences in novels) and at times it is very tense.

My favourite part of the novel is the first section, while Ryan is in the UK. The very first line draws me in - "Ryan was nearly killed twice in half an hour". The terrorist attack against three members of the Royal Family is written really well, exciting and tense. The descriptions of the aftermath include some fascinating scenes showing an American's view of the UK (in the 1980s, since that's when the book was written) - I particularly like the part where the Ryans visit the Tower of London. However, even after the location changes back to the US, the novel never loses my interest, with plenty of tension, action and emotions.
Elizabeth_Darcy

Double Exposure by Susan Ford and Laura Hayden

Genre: general fiction, mystery

Synopsis: Eve Cooper is a photographer and the daughter of the newly elected President of the United States. She and her family have barely settled into the White House when the first crisis erupts. There's a dead boy in the Rose Garden. In the corpse's pocket is a fragment of a photo that features an unclad and unidentified couple in the Lincoln bedroom, clearly involved in very unofficial activities. As Eve sets out to discover exactly who took those pictures, when, and why, she opens a vast Pandora's box of new troubles, both public and private. And the body count keeps rising.

Sequel: Sharp Focus

Book cover: A choice of this or this. I prefer the former, though neither are all that fabulous really.

Review:

One of the authors, Susan Ford, was once herself a First Daughter, the child of President Gerald R. Ford, and so she provides an insider's view of what it's like to live in the White House and have Secret Service protection. I doubt, however, that she ever found a body in the Rose Garden...

I really enjoyed this book. It's not long (just over 200 pages) but I read it in just one evening, because I honestly didn't want to put it down. The main character, Eve, is engaging and likeable, and the mystery is intriguing and not at all predictable, with some major plot twists. I love the ways that Eve's skills as a photographer are put to use in her investigation.

The writing style is quite informal and fun - it verges on "chick lit" I suppose. (But not the romantic kind. There's no romance here, which might be good or bad depending on your perspective.)

The mystery part of the book is not always completely believable. In particular, I can't see the Secret Service really allowing one of their charges to do all of the things Eve ends up doing in her investigation. It hardly matters though, because the purpose of the book is entertainment, and trust me, it entertains. Well worth a read.
Elizabeth_Darcy

The Race by Richard North Patterson

Genre: general fiction

Synopsis: Carey Grace - a handsome and charismatic Republican senator from Ohio - is plunged by an act of terrorism into a fierce presidential primary battle with the favourite of the party establishment and a magnetic leader of the Christian right. A decorated Gulf War pilot, Grace insists on voting according to his own conscience rather than following the party line, and this stubborn independence - together with his growing romance with Lexie Hart, an African-American movie star - has earned him a reputation as an unpredictable iconoclast. But Grace is still haunted by a tragic mistake buried deep in his past, and now his integrity will be put to the test.

Book cover: Simple and red. I quite like it, with the building in the background and the silhouette in front.

Audiobook: Available.

Review:

This is political drama at its best, with a main character so likeable that I'd almost vote for him myself despite being personally left of even the US Democrats let alone Republicans. His determination to stick to his conscience and do the right thing, even if it is at odds with the rest of his party and might lose him the race, makes him the kind of figure that we all wish was prevalent in real life politics.

The book sometimes wanders off into Carey's backstory, or that of his girlfriend Lexie's. This isn't always a bad thing; some of his history is crucial to his character and beliefs, especially the story of his younger brother's suicide. It does occasionally jar with the flow of the novel though; and there are also aspects of his past - and current consequences of that past - that are given frustratingly little consideration. For example, one might think that the fact that his ex-wife moved to Australia when their daughter was eight, and so he barely knows his own child, might be a fairly important issue during a political campaign where personal attacks are common. I would have liked to see flashbacks to his relationship with his daughter, and also a conversation or two with her in the present day. What does she think about her father possibly becoming the most powerful person on the planet? We'll never know.

The book centres totally on the campaign for the Republican nomination - very few Democrats ever appear, with only Lexie as a major character, and we never learn who eventually becomes President. It's not really about the Presidency though, it's about the people who want to get there, and what they are prepared to do to achieve their goal.
Elizabeth_Darcy

Rizzoli & Isles series by Tess Gerritsen

Genres: crime, thriller

Books in the series: The Surgeon, The Apprentice, The Sinner, Body Double, Vanish, The Mephisto Club, Keeping the Dead (The Keepsake in the US), The Killing Place (Ice Cold in the US)

Synopsis: Crime novels about a detective (Jane Rizzoli) and a medical examiner (Maura Isles).

Connector: The Bone Garden (I didn't enjoy it unfortunately)

Book covers: The UK editions are generally quite good for the genre. However, the more recent books are no longer using the original simple white designs the earlier novels had, which is a bit of a shame as it means it isn't possible to get a matching set.

Audiobooks: Available, seemingly in both abridged and unabridged editions.

Review:

The best thing about this series is the characters. Rizzoli is a tough cop, often bad tempered and determined to succeed in a male-dominated environment. Isles is a pure scientist, nicknamed the "Queen of the Dead" by the homicide detectives. They are a great combination, and I love that the series has two women as the leads; I'm not sure I've personally ever seen that before in a crime drama. There are also other great characters, such as the FBI agent Gabriel Dean.

The first book, The Surgeon, is only nominally part of the series - Rizzoli is only a secondary character, and Isles does not feature in it at all; the main character is Detective Thomas Moore. However, it is a good place to start reading, because the second book, The Apprentice, brings back the serial killer from book one, and references events which happened to Rizzoli during his capture.

They're dramatic books, almost thrillers really, with the main characters often personally involved in the cases and in danger. There is also some good character drama, for example with Jane's ongoing tensions with her family. The writing is above average and the plots are well executed and gripping.
Elizabeth_Darcy

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

Genre: general fiction

Synopsis: Delia Hopkins has led a charmed life. Raised in rural New Hampshire by her widowed father Andrew, she now has a young daughter, a handsome fiancé and a job she loves, finding missing persons. But as Delia plans her wedding, she is plagued by flashbacks of a life she can't recall. And then a policeman knocks at her door, and her world fractures into something unrecognisable.

Book cover: There's at least four different versions available. I personally opted for this one; it has quite nice colouring and the lemons have a particular significance when you read the novel. It's also the only cover I've seen that doesn't feature a child.

Audiobook: Available on CD or to download.

Review:

I believe this is the third novel I've read about somebody who finds out that they were kidnapped as a child; however, it is the first one written for adults and about an adult character, and the first one in which the kidnapper is actually the child's biological father trying to protect her. It was interesting and gripping enough that I started it mid-morning and barely put it down until it was finished, mid-afternoon on the same day.

I have to say, however, I don't feel that it is as good as the two aforementioned books for teenagers, nor did Picoult's study of the ethical dilemma involved in Andrew's actions seem as well balanced or as major a theme as in other novels I have read by her. There seemed to be too many characters and too many secondary plotlines (some of them admittedly very interesting, such as Andrew's experiences in prison, but others could easily have been dropped) which detracted from the main storyline. Also, while I found the story intriguing, I didn't really find it very emotional.

So it has faults, but they're generally speaking only really noticeable in comparison to better novels. By itself, it is a good book, with interesting characters and competent writing. Worth a read, definitely, just don't expect it to go to the top of your favourites list.
Azura

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Genre: general fiction

Synopsis: On one of the most important days of her husband's presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led them to the White House, and faces contradictions years in the making.

Audiobook: Definitely available in the US, I haven't yet found a copy for sale in the UK.

Review:

This book surprised me greatly by what it is not. It's not the story of a political campaign, it's not a novel about the day-to-day life of a First Lady. Indeed, about five-sixths of the book are set before Alice's husband even becomes an elected official. Instead, it's about how Alice becomes the person she does, becomes a person who would support her husband through his presidency even though she disagrees with most of his political beliefs and many of his actions.

While the characters are fictional, they are also somewhat based on Laura and George W Bush; some of Alice's history is clearly inspired by Laura Bush's life, and the events of 9/11 and the wars are in that final part of the book, albeit without giving precise details. It's not by any means a biography of those two, there's plenty that's completely fictional, but the influences are clear.

The way the book is written feels like an autobiography. It's first person, it begins with Alice's childhood, and does not concentrate on a particular event in her life. It's also very gripping, despite not being at all the kind of book I would usually read (as mentioned before, when I bought it I expected it to be far more about Alice's time as First Lady).

The greatest thing about the novel is how sympathetic it is, how as a reader I came to empathise with the main character, to understand her motivations. Even though I am sometimes frustrated at how she fails to assert herself and her own opinions, it's easy to understand why she does not. She acts partly out of love for her husband, and partly out of a deep sense of guilt for something she did as a child - accidentally killing a boy she cared about in a car crash.

Issues such as race, class, wealth, abortion and homosexuality are frequent occurrences in the novel, but it isn't truly political, aside from the mentions of how politicans and the press respond to her opinions and her past. It is a very personal story, about how all of these things have impacted Alice and how they shaped her as a person.

Where the book fails slightly is in the depiction of the other characters. Charlie Blackwell in particular doesn't quite convince either as someone Alice would fall in love with, or as the future President of the United States. Other characters aren't really fleshed out well enough to be believable or notable. However, this almost doesn't matter, because this isn't Charlie's story, or the story of Alice's friends or relatives or the politicians she meets. It's all about Alice, and with her the author has done an amazing job.
Elizabeth_Darcy

The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

Genres: adventure, children's

Synopsis: What would happen if you discovered that your family was one of the most powerful in human history? What if you were told that the source of the family's power was hidden around the world, in the form of 39 clues? What if you were given a choice - take a million dollars and walk away... or get the first clue? If you're Amy and Dan Cahill, you take the clue - and begin a very dangerous race.

Sequels: One False Note by Gordon Korman, The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis, Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson, The Black Circle by Patrick Carman, In Too Deep by Jude Watson, The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis, The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman, Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park, Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix (forthcoming August 2010).

Audiobook: Available.

Review:

This is the first in a ten-book multi-author series (known as The 39 Clues) which can also be interactive - there are collectable cards included with each novel with clues on, more packs of cards can be bought, and there are also online clues and games. I'll leave those to the children, however! The book itself, though, is a really gripping read even for an adult.

Amy and Dan are siblings who attend the funeral of their grandmother and are shocked when, at the reading of her will, they find that all the various family members are being given a choice - $1 million, or the first in a series of 39 clues to their secret family legacy. On choosing the clue, they embark upon an adventure that is full of action (attacks from other family members intent on eliminating the competition), world travel, secret messages and passageways, and learning about important historical figures who were a part of the Cahill family and contributed to leaving the clues (Benjamin Franklin, for example).

It would be obvious even without seeing his name on the cover that Rick Riordan wrote this novel (and played a major role in outlining the plot of the entire series). It has all the hallmarks of his other children's novels - fast pace, constant action sequences, quests, educational information about historical events and people, and of course brilliant writing.

Highly recommended.
Elizabeth_Darcy

Forbidden by Lila Dubois

Genres: romance, fantasy

Synopsis: The Land Between the Seas, a world in peril, is the responsibility of one woman. Cryessa, High Priestess of the land by birth and training, is strong and commanding, but locked in a life and death struggle to protect her people from the King, who bears a centuries old hate for the Temple. Bound to her in slavery, prisoners of war and captives of fate, five men serve as her aides, her lovers, her slaves. One, however, is bound to her with something stronger, deeper, and utterly forbidden. Tamlohn, kidnapped and given to her in chains, chafes at his bindings, but continues to submit, in every way, because of his love and hers.

Sequels: Savage, Bound

Review:

This is a rarity - a romance novel in which the woman is in charge. I've searched through masses of websites and bookshops looking for romances with female dominants, but found very little worth reading - in fact, it's hard even to find novels where women are equals in the bedroom rather than submissive, which drives me insane! So I rejoiced to find this one, which I chose to buy as an eBook.

It's an enjoyable read; kinky (if you don't enjoy - or are triggered by - BDSM style stories, complete with corporal punishment and so forth, this really isn't the book for you) but with a proper plot. I love that the men in the novel are strong leaders and warriors, but still loyal and submissive to Cryessa.

I do have criticisms. It's rather rushed at times, especially when showing the flashbacks of how the men came to the Temple (the author would have done better to make the story longer). I also cringed massively at the scene where a rapist is suddenly transformed into an upstanding member of society through "breaking" him - if I wasn't already gripped by the story by that point, I might not be recommending the story now, but as it is I enjoyed the rest enough that I'll forgive that ludicrous and slightly disturbing scene.

Essentially, it's a book for people who crave female domination stories that aren't too dark and have likeable characters. It's not amazingly awesome, it definitely has problems, but it's still probably the best femdom romance novel I've found to date. And the cover artwork is lovely.