Review of Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

September 29th, 2016

towers_falling_largeTowers Falling

by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 228 pages.

Granted, this is a message book. But the message is timely, and the execution is carried out with a mostly light touch.

Central to the book is Dèja, a 10-year-old girl who lives with her family in an apartment in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. She’s starting 5th grade in 2016 at a new school.

The new school is the best one she’s ever attended, and she makes two good friends — a new boy from Arizona and a Muslim girl — and she loves her teacher, Miss Garcia.

But the class starts a unit talking about what happened on September 11, 2001. The school has windows looking out on the Manhattan skyline.

Dèja knows absolutely nothing about the Twin Towers. She’s confused and shocked by what her classmates tell her — as it gradually unfolds in conversation.

Dèja having a Muslim friend also plays into it, as she is very sensitive about the events as well.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Dèja pretty quickly guesses that her father’s inability to work and frequent headaches have to do with September 11. Sure enough, she snoops into his locked suitcase and learns that he was a survivor. They eventually do talk about it.

What startled me most about this book was realizing that kids today don’t have any memory at all of the Twin Towers falling. They weren’t born yet. In fact, the teacher in the book was a fifth-grade student when the towers fell and saw them fall through the school windows.

So yes, the plot is a tiny bit stilted — with a lot of the events turning on the teacher’s lesson plans. But I think it’s lovely that this book is here, a jumping off place for discussing that pivotal event and talking about what connects us as Americans.

Coincidentally, just this last week my cousin visited the 9/11 memorial in New York City. So I had just heard about and seen pictures of the striking imagery and the wonderful detail that flowers go next to the names of those whose birthday it would be.

And the story also stands as the story of a kid in a homeless shelter trying to cope, trying to make friends. It’s not a long book, but it’s a lovely contribution and will give kids much to think about and talk about.

jewellparkerrhodes.com/children
lb-kids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of I Dissent, by Debbie Levy, illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley

September 28th, 2016

i_dissent_largeI Dissent

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

by Debbie Levy
illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a picture book biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The story is simplified for young readers (I’d say middle to upper elementary), but strikingly told.

The introductory page uses large dramatic fonts to express not being afraid to disagree:

You could say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been . . .
one disagreement after another.

Disagreement with creaky old ideas.
With unfairness.
With inequality.
Ruth has disagreed,
disapproved,
and differed.

She has objected.
She has resisted.
She has dissented.

Disagreeable? No.
Determined? Yes.

This is how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed her life – and ours.

Although the story is told quite simply, it’s still filled with details. We learn about her childhood in 1940 in an immigrant neighborhood, her love of reading, and family travels where they saw signs that Jews weren’t allowed.

Ruth was left-handed, but was told to use her right hand and got a D in penmanship – until she protested. I like the pages where it tells what she doesn’t do well – cooking and singing. After she got married, her family agreed that it was best for her husband to do the cooking.

But the bulk of the book covers her career as a lawyer. They speak in general terms of cases she presented before the Supreme Court, and then her appointment to the Supreme Court. There are notes at the back with more information and listing specific cases.

I didn’t know before that Justice Ginsburg wears a different lace collar over her robes when she writes a majority opinion from the one she wears when she writes a dissenting opinion.

Here’s how the author summarizes some of her dissenting opinions:

I DISSENT,
Justice Ginsburg said when the court wouldn’t help women or African Americans or immigrants who had been treated unfairly at work.

I DISSENT,
when the court rejected a law meant to protect the right of all citizens to vote, no matter their skin color.

I DISSENT,
when the court said no to schools that offered African Americans a better chance to go to college.

This is an interesting story and an inspiring story. I hope many girls and boys will read this story and think about making their own mark.

The quote on the back of the book from Ruth Bader Ginsburg sums up the book well:

Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.

debbielevybooks.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud

September 22nd, 2016

creeping_shadow_largeThe Creeping Shadow

Lockwood & Co. Book Four

Disney/Hyperion, 2016. 445 pages.
Starred Review

I finished rereading Lockwood & Co. Book Three, The Hollow Boy a week before this one was scheduled to come out, so I waited for it anxiously. I had a copy preordered via Amazon, but I also put a library copy on hold just in case that would be faster. (The library was only a day behind Amazon, as it happened.)

First, I’ll say right up front that this is not the end of the series. This book, like the rest, ends with some new information that makes you anxious to read the next book. It’s not too annoying – you still have a complete story in these pages – but it does make you impatient for the next installment.

The good side of that is that there will be a next installment! This is a series I don’t want to end.

Yes, you should definitely read these books in order. There is a progression. But each book does feel complete with some adventures that tie together and culminate in a victory for our heroes. Though the new information at the end of each book always promises complications.

The basic scenario of all the books is alternate reality London, where for fifty years there has been a “Problem” with ghosts showing up and terrorizing the populace. Once people reach a certain age, they can’t see ghosts any more, so children in agencies fight the ghosts and find the Sources that keep them coming back to our world.

Most agencies have adult supervisors, but Lockwood & Co. is run by children themselves. (They don’t give Lockwood’s age directly, but I’m thinking he’s about fourteen.) They fight ghosts with weapons like silver-tipped rapiers, salt bombs, and iron chains. Agents are children with psychic talents to sense the ghosts – not everyone has them. And no one seems to be as gifted with Listening as our narrator Lucy Carlyle. She even has a skull in a jar that she talks with and keeps close.

At the start of this book, Lucy has been working on her own for a while as a consultant. She’s developed the Lucy Carlyle Formula for dealing with ghosts. “Use their name. Ask the question. Keep it simple.” She asks ghosts what they want. Sometimes they answer her. Though the way they answer is sometimes dangerous.

As the book opens, Lockwood comes back to her and asks for help on a case, the case of the Ealing Cannibal. The morning after that case, someone breaks into her apartment and steals the skull in the jar.

So this book develops differently than the previous volumes. There’s a lot of mortal danger from living people as well as from ghosts. Someone is keeping lots of powerful Sources from being destroyed. For what purpose? And can Lucy get the skull back?

Jonathan Stroud is definitely not lacking in imagination. There’s still lots of direct fighting ghosts – and he comes up with new twists such as a ghost who can only be seen in mirrors. But there is also a sense of bigger plots going on around our heroes – and a knowledge of danger because powerful people don’t want their plots discovered.

I don’t need to say more about the plot in this book. Read the books in order, and if you’ve read the first three books, I very much doubt you’ll want to stop. Yes, Book Four is just as good. Yes, it brings new twists into the story. Yes, it will be frustrating to wait for Book Five.

There is a progression in the series. We find out a little bit more about Lockwood’s background. (I love the use they find for something from his parents’ collection.) We find out a little bit more about the Problem. We find out a little bit more about the most powerful agencies in London. And along the way we get to enjoy Lockwood’s charisma, Lucy’s talent, George’s cleverness, and Holly’s efficiency. And the relationships between the four of them just get more complex. I can’t get enough of these books!

LockwoodandCo.com
jonathanstroud.com
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Review of Thunder and Lightning, by Lauren Redniss

September 19th, 2016

thunder_and_lightning_largeThunder and Lightning

Weather Past, Present, Future

by Lauren Redniss

Random House, New York, 2015. 262 pages.
Starred Review

Thunder and Lightning is another Science Picture Book for Adults by the author of Radioactive.

As with Radioactive, which is a biography of Marie Curie, Thunder and Lightning is full of facts – but the most striking thing about it is the dramatic pictures.

I can’t really describe the pictures adequately, so I’m going to focus on the words here, but be aware that if this is a book you find interesting at all, you should check it out and see for yourself.

The author explores so many aspects of weather! Mainly she tells weather-related stories, but there are also many things about the science of weather. Some of the stories told include a cemetery washed out by a flood, the secret forecasting formula used by Old Farmer’s Almanac, people struck by lightning, a ship that sunk in fog, swimming from Cuba to Florida, devastating fires in Australia, a World Seed Bank in Svalbard, the ice trade on Walden Pond, and making rain in Vietnam. This perhaps gives an idea of the wide range of topics covered here, which all relate to weather.

The author relies heavily on quotes, which bring an immediacy to each story, each exploration.

Here are some things Arctic explorer Vilhjálmur Stefánsson had to say in 1921:

The daylight is negligible; and the moonlight, which comes to you first through clouds that are high in the sky and later through an enveloping fog, is a light which enables you to see your dog team distinctly enough, or even a black rock a hundred yards away, but it is scarcely better than no light at all upon the snow at your feet.

I think my favorite chapter, though, is Chapter 7, “Sky.” After fascinating ramblings and explorations on various topics, I turned the pages on “Sky” – and discovered 16 pages of paintings of sky. Lovely.

This book is surprising and hard to describe. Check it out and see for yourself.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Sonderling Sunday – Message from Jo’s Father

September 18th, 2016

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books.

Today, we’re continuing in the most Sonder Book of them all, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, otherwise known as The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy.

sonderlinge3

Last time, we left off on page 284, Seite 360, in the middle of Chapter Twenty-One. Jo had been exploring in the library and found an interesting manuscript.

“Her heart bolted.” = Ihr Herz hämmerte.

Who knows when you might need to know how to say this sentence?
“It was crazy, impossible.”
= Das war verrückt, schier unmöglich.

“quickly scrawled” = hastig hingeworfen

“burning and blooming like a fiery garden”
= glühten und blühten wie ein wilder Garten.
(“glowed and bloomed like a wild garden”)

“Jo got down to it.”
= Jo stürzte sich in die Arbeit.

“Hours passed.”
= Stunden vergingen

“percolating coffeepot” = brodelnde Kaffeemaschine

“dense” = begriffsstutzig

I like this word:
“jewelry box” = Schmuckkassette

“translation”
= entschlüsselten Text
(“decrypted text”)

“translating rapidly and wildly”
= dekodierte den Text schnell und wie im Fieber
(“decoded the text quickly and like in a fever”)

“dishonor” = Schande

“invincible” = unbesiegbar

“positively angry” = eindeutig wütend

“doorstep” = Türschwelle

“traditional insults” = traditionelle Beleidigungen

I dare you to think of a use for this sentence:
“When I leave, may a thousand wild pigs overrun it and defile it with enthusiastic snorts.”
= Wenn ich es verlasse, warden tausend Wildschweine es überrennen und mit ihrem lauten Schnauben schänden

“defilement” = Schändung

“trampled into gruel” = zu Brei zertrampelt warden

A good phrase to know:
“hearty slurps” = lautem Schmatzen

And the translator missed a line here! In English, Fiona says “So be it,” and Jo answers “So be it.” In German, only Fiona says So sei es and the line with Jo’s response is left out completely.

And here’s a sentence with a Sonderword:
“It was clear she wasn’t impressed.”
= Sie war ganz offensichtlich nicht sonderlich beeindruckt.
(“She was completely obviously not especially impressed.”)

So, I fondly hope I leave your thoughts glühten und blühten wie ein wilder Garten. Please, enjoy some lautem Schmatzen tonight in honor of Sonderling Sunday!

Review of Love, Lies and Spies, by Cindy Anstey

September 16th, 2016

love_lies_and_spies_largeLove, Lies and Spies

by Cindy Anstey

Swoon Reads (Feiwel and Friends), New York, 2016. 344 pages.
Starred Review

This book had me from the first paragraph, which is:

“Oh my, this is embarrassing,” Miss Juliana Telford said aloud. There was no reason to keep her thoughts to herself, as she was alone, completely alone. In fact, that was half of the problem. The other half was, of course, that she was hanging off the side of a cliff with the inability to climb either up or down and in dire need of rescue.

A page later, Juliana does hear someone approaching.

Please, she prayed, let it be a farmer or a tradesman, someone not of the gentry. No one who would feel obligated to report back to Grays Hill Park. No gentlemen, please.

“Hello?” she called out. Juliana craned her neck upward, trying to see beyond the roots and accumulated thatch at the cliff’s edge.

A head appeared. A rather handsome head. He had dark, almost black, hair and clear blue eyes and, if one were to notice such things at a time like this, a friendly, lopsided smile.

“Need some assistance?” the head asked with a hint of sarcasm and the tone of a . . .

“Are you a gentleman?” Juliana inquired politely.

The head looked startled, frowned slightly, and then raised an eyebrow before answering. “Yes, indeed I am –”

“Please, I do not wish to be rescued by a gentleman. Could you find a farmer or a shopkeep – anyone not of the gentry – and then do me the great favor of forgetting you saw me?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I do not want to be rude, but this is a most embarrassing predicament –”

“I would probably use the word dangerous instead.”

“Yes, well, you would, being a man. But I, on the other hand, being a young woman doing her best not to call attention to herself and bring shame upon her family, would call it otherwise.”

Well, it soon becomes apparent (as the roots give way) that Juliana must settle for the help of this gentleman and his friend. However, it so happens that the gentlemen also don’t want their presence on the cliff generally known, so all parties agree to pretend to be unacquainted, should they encounter one another again.

You will not be surprised that they do encounter one another again.

Juliana is an 18-year-old young lady getting ready for her first Season in London with her cousin. But Juliana is determined that she is not looking for a husband. No, her time in London is a cover for an opportunity to find a publisher for the research she and her father have done on lady beetles. Juliana has no intention of getting married and forsaking her father to do his research without her.

Meanwhile, someone is passing messages to Napoleon, and the handsome gentleman of the cliffside is on their trail. That trail increasingly brings him in proximity with Juliana, since the noble family she’s staying with has some not very noble members.

This book is tremendous fun from start to finish. Juliana is capable, independent, and intelligent – yet somehow manages to get into multiple situations where she needs to be rescued. Those situations ended up being so delightful, I couldn’t hold them against her.

This is a Regency romance with a little spying thrown in. The clause on the cover puts it well: “In which plans for a season without romance are unapologetically foiled.”

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of Champagne for the Soul, by Mike Mason

September 11th, 2016

champagne_for_the_soul_largeChampagne for the Soul

Rediscovering God’s Gift of Joy

by Mike Mason

Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, B. C., 2007. 190 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank-you to my sister Becky for recommending this book!

Here’s how the author introduces this book:

In October 1999 I began a ninety-day experiment in joy. I made up my mind that for the next ninety days I would be joyful in the Lord. Because this was an experiment, there was room for failure. If there were times when I wasn’t joyful, I wouldn’t despair or beat myself up. Rather I would gently, persistently return as best I could to my focus on joy.

So began (and continues to this day) the happiest time of my life. This book is the record of that experiment in joy, along with other thoughts on joy that came to me later. While I was astounded by the results of my initial experiment, I deliberately waited before writing a book. I knew my ideas needed time to mature, and more important, I had to see whether the new joy that had flooded my life would endure. Amazingly, it has. My original thesis turned out to be true: Joy is like a muscle, and the more you exercise it, the stronger it grows.

The book consists of 90 two-page chapters. Each one begins with a verse, and then some thoughts about aspects of joy.

I’ll admit that it wasn’t until I was more than two-thirds of the way through the book that I decided to try a full-fledged experiment with joy myself. So my plan was to turn around and start the book over again.

However, today, the very day I finished reading the book, my church small group met for the first time since taking the summer off, and we were trying to decide what study to do this next season. I threw out the idea of using this book — and they immediately loved the idea.

So — I’m going to try an experiment in joy along with a close group of Christian friends! I think that’s going to add layers of richness to the experience.

And this book is a wonderful guide to bring along. There aren’t “study questions.” Mike Mason writes about his own experiences with joy, which I think will encourage us to think about our own experiences and share them with each other.

This isn’t a how-to book. More of a travelogue about one person’s journey with Jesus into a new experience of joy and encouragement for others who may choose to follow a similar path.

As I was reading, I found dozens of quotes I loved, and I’m slowly loading them into Sonderquotes. You can get an idea of the sort of thing the author focuses on by reading these.

Now, I’m happily writing this review having finished the book but knowing that I’m only on the beginning of my journey with it. And next time around, I’m looking forward to having companions traveling with me.

I should add that when I first approached the book, it was as a casual reader, figuring I’d read good thoughts about joy. When I decided to actually try my own experiment with joy — 23 days ago — it suddenly got more personal, more immediate.

Not to give spoilers, but here are some words from the Epilogue:

My experiment has been wildly successful. Joy has indeed become an ingrained habit of my soul — so much a part of me that it hardly seems possible that I lived without it for nearly half a century. Not only am I much happier now than ever before, but I know it’s possible to keep moving in the direction of joy and to have more and more of it. In the search for joy a certain point arrives where the balance tips in our favor. We find we’re no longer striving for happiness; we’re simply happy. It’s like getting out of debt: Without a fat mortgage payment to dole out every month, life takes on an entirely different feel. Difficulties still come, perhaps grave ones, but joy keeps flowing into the hurts like a self-renewing stream.

I highly recommend this book. While it’s fantastic casual reading, I’ve found my experience with it got richer the more seriously I took it. What are you waiting for? Dive in!

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Review of My Life With the Liars, by Caela Carter

September 10th, 2016

my_life_with_the_liars_largeMy Life with the Liars

by Caela Carter

Harper, 2016. 285 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s how this book begins:

It is just like Father Prophet said it would be. The dark is everywhere, inky black above and below and to either side, squishing me back into the seat where the strap across my shoulder holds me, trapped. The man who is driving said I couldn’t turn on the light. He said it would make it too hard for him to see the road. But I’m sure he was lying. The Outside is full of Liars and Darkness. That’s what Father Prophet said.

The book is written from the perspective of Zylynn. She’s been taken from everything she knows to live with her Dad — and she doesn’t even know what that word means.

Zylynn was taken ten days before her thirteenth birthday and her Ceremony. So she’s got to get back to the Light in time. She mustn’t be taken in by the Liars.

Zylynn’s story is told in the present and in flashbacks. She thinks she’s been sent to the Outside because she committed an Abomination. But if she prays to Father Prophet hard enough and only thinks about the Light, surely she can get back. Surely Father Prophet will come for her.

Gradually, Zylynn’s story is unfolded. She’s so hungry, she stores food under her bed. There’s much she doesn’t understand. And she just wants to go back. Or does she?

Caela Carter skillfully weaves this story, revealing what Zylynn’s life was like in the Light. Even kids who are not familiar with the concept of cults will realize something’s wrong with her perspective.

I had some trouble believing that people would actually get pulled in to such a cult and bring their children. But in the Acknowledgements at the end, the author said, “To cult survivors: thank you. If you shared your story, believe me, I found it.” She also showed that the cult Zylynn was in got worse gradually. And for Zylynn, it was all she knew, so she had no way of knowing the truth.

It’s beautiful to watch Zylynn slowly learning to open up to her new family, to new experiences. Her plight pulls you in. Will she make it back in time for her thirteenth birthday? Or will she figure out that the stories she was told about the Liars were all lies?

caelacarter.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung

September 10th, 2016

unidentified_suburban_object_largeUnidentified Suburban Object

by Mike Jung

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2016. 265 pages.

Chloe Cho has always felt different. She’s the only Korean student in her entire school in her town of Primrose Heights. And her parents won’t tell her anything about their background. When she tries to research her roots, they react strangely and change the subject.

So Chloe’s excited about the new social studies teacher at their school – Ms. Lee, who’s Korean. Maybe Chloe can finally talk with someone about her heritage.

But when Ms. Lee’s first assignment is to write down a family story, Chloe’s parents simply won’t cooperate. They buy Chloe the new violin she’s wanted for years – could it just be a distraction?

Eventually, Chloe learns that she is even more of an outsider than she had thought. Then she has to figure out what to tell her best friend, who couldn’t possibly believe her, could she?

This is a middle school story about friendships and family and fitting in. Along the way, it asks some thought-provoking questions and makes you wonder about some things our society takes for granted.

mikejung.com
scholastic.com

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Review of Supertruck, by Stephen Savage

September 10th, 2016

supertruck_largeSupertruck

by Stephen Savage

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2015. 32 pages.
2016 Geisel Honor Book
Starred Review

When I first read this book, I gave it a glance through, and wasn’t tremendously impressed. I automatically cringe from anthropomorphic trucks, so I missed it’s charm.

Then Supertruck won a Geisel Honor. Then I was scheduled to do a Mother Goose Story Time (for ages 0 to 24 months) the day before a blizzard was expected. I checked Supertruck, and it was absolutely perfect.

The text is simple, with only a sentence or so on each page. This is perfect for reading to very little ones, and also perfect for kids just learning to read.

Yes, the trucks are a little bit anthropomorphic, but it’s very simply done. Stephen Savage’s typical graphic design look adds a simple and friendly face to each truck. I love the way the garbage truck wears glasses.

The story is simple. We meet three colorful, important trucks: a bucket truck, a fire truck, and a tow truck. They do important things, while the garbage truck just collects the trash.

Then it starts snowing, and the city is caught in a terrible blizzard.

Just then, the garbage truck sneaks into a garage and becomes . . .

SUPERTRUCK!

The glasses have disappeared, and he now sports a plow blade in front. He digs out the city, makes a path for the other trucks, and saves the day.

The next morning, the trucks wonder about the mighty truck who saved them. Where could he be?

He’s just collecting the trash.

The final picture has snow falling again, and Supertruck heading into a garage with a sly smile on its face. Kids will love being in on the secret. Grown-ups will love the deft play on superhero tropes.

This book is brilliant. Wonderful reading during a storm, but I predict it will still get turned to when the weather is hot. For any kid who loves trucks, as well as any kid who dreams of secret super powers. Or any kid who enjoys a well-told, simple story.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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