Review of The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, by Robert Arthur

October 24th, 2014

whispering_mummy_largeAlfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in

The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy

by Robert Arthur
illustrated by Harry Kane

Random House, New York, 1965. 185 pages.

In my rereading of childhood favorites, The Three Investigators series, I’m now on Book 3. The Whispering Mummy isn’t the greatest of the series. The plot seems quite far-fetched, going well into Scooby-Doo territory, with lots of seemingly supernatural occurrences that the reader is pretty sure are going to end up being someone’s evil plot.

Once again, there’s another ethnic group that’s treated essentially as a stereotype, this time a Libyan boy and his uncle. Once again, rival Skinny Norris has a small part to play, but actually I like his part in this book.

Jupiter uses the Ghost-to-Ghost Hookup, asking five friends to ask five friends about something, and thus blanketing the city. Even as a kid, I never believed in the Ghost-to-Ghost Hookup, because it doesn’t take into account that after awhile kids would run out of friends who hadn’t already been called. Kids don’t actually have a large number of social groups, and once most of the kids in their grade at their school are contacted, it doesn’t matter what you ask them to do, they wouldn’t be able to deliver.

But in this case, Skinny finds out about the question being asked and foils their plans. I didn’t mind that, since even though it’s maybe unrealistic the question would have actually gotten to Skinny, at least it shows that Jupiter’s “brilliant” plan doesn’t always work smoothly.

And overall? The book is still lots of fun. Three boys solving a mystery that baffles adults, including dangerous situations and mysterious phenomena and cool equipment (walkie-talkies!). Gleeps! If the plot wasn’t terribly believable, at least it was lots of fun.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book gotten by interlibrary loan via 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Griffin and the Dinosaur, by Marc Aronson

October 20th, 2014

griffin_and_the_dinosaur_largeThe Griffin and the Dinosaur

How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science

by Marc Aronson with Adrienne Mayor
illustrated by Chris Muller

National Geographic, Washington, DC, 2014. 48 pages.

Here’s a picture book biography of a scientist readers probably haven’t heard of, but whose work, which continues to the present day, is fascinating.

Adrienne grew up interested in the natural world around her and also interested in Greek myths. As she studied Greek writings and Greek art over a course of years, she became convinced that the Greeks were basing their stories on things they had actually seen.

The book traces Adrienne’s thought processes and dead ends until she finally established a connection between Greek tales of Scythian gold hunters and abundant fossilized bones of Protoceratops

Adrienne’s decade-long quest to prove that the griffin legend was based on a real fossil always had a larger aim. She was certain that the peoples of the ancient world had been as attentive to fossils and bones as we are today. If the Cyclops was an extinct mammoth and the griffin was a Protoceratops, surely many other myths and legends were based on observation, not fantasy. Which ones?

This book is an introduction to the topic that is sure to pull in readers. We’ve got Greek mythology and dinosaurs, combined. What could possibly have more kid appeal?

marcaronson.com
kids.nationalgeographic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

Review of Unthinkable, by Nancy Werlin

October 16th, 2014

unthinkable_largeUnthinkable

by Nancy Werlin

Dial Books, 2013. 392 pages.
Starred Review

After I read Impossible, by Nancy Werlin, on the way to vacation in Oregon, I made sure I went to Powell’s books to find copies of Extraordinary and Unthinkable to read as well. So together they gave my vacation a memory of some Extraordinary reading time!

Unthinkable is billed as a “Companion” to Impossible. And though technically you can read it without having read the others, it pulls together some threads from both Impossible and Extraordinary, so I’m happy with my choice to read them in order.

In Impossible, we learned about the family curse on Lucy Scarborough and all of her female line right back to her ancestor, Fenella Scarborough, who rejected an Elfin Knight and then was cursed. Fenella also has been unable to die for all those centuries, having to watch each of her daughters and granddaughters be tormented in turn.

When Lucy broke the family curse, she didn’t break the enchantment placed on Fenella. Now, Fenella just wants to be allowed to die.

Fenella goes to the faerie queen, begging to be allowed to die. But it’s not so simple. There’s a spell upon her, cast by Padraig, the one who cursed her family. The queen figures out that to break the spell, Fenella needs to complete three tasks of deliberate destruction in the mortal realm. She warns Fenella that this will involve terrible choices, but Fenella doesn’t care. She commits herself to the tasks.

And then Fenella learns that if she completes the tasks, not only will she again be mortal, but Padraig will die. If she fails? She will once again be Padraig’s slave.

And there’s more. The queen sends her brother Ryland along in the form of a cat to help Fenella, and then reveals more about the quest:

The queen nodded. “I am glad you mention your daughters. You will go to the two that survive, Lucy and her mother, Miranda. Tell them you have been freed and are coming to them for help to restart your life.”

“No,” Fenella was firm. “I will do this destruction my own way. I will keep Lucy and her family entirely out of it.”

The queen continued as if Fenella had not spoken. “They will want to love you and take care of you. They will not be suspicious.”

“I don’t wish to go to them,” Fenella repeated. “I would rather simply begin on the first task of destruction. Tell me. What must I destroy first?”

The cat butted his soft head against Fenella’s ankles. He did not make a sound, but Fenella heard his mocking voice in her head.

“No,” she said sharply. “No, you’re wrong.” She looked at the queen. “Isn’t he wrong?”

“He directed his thoughts to you, not to me. What did he say?”

“He told me –“ Fenella broke off. “He said that my family must be the target of each act of destruction. He said it would not be human destruction if there was no pain for me. For people I care about.” Her eyes were hot flame. “Tell me it’s not true,” she demanded.

The queen said, “Your first task is the destruction of your family’s safety.”

“No,” said Fenella.

“Yes,” said the queen, steadily. “You have agreed. You must go forward toward the death you desire, sowing destruction about you, or you will belong again to the Mud Creature.”

Fenella does join her living family. And she does come to love them. There is even a man she feels connected to. If she commits these acts of destruction, surely they will hate her. But if she doesn’t, starting the family’s curse again is truly unthinkable.

I won’t give any details, but I was surprised by what a beautiful ending Nancy Werlin pulled off out of this terrible situation.

As with the other books, the author did a marvelous job with the characters and relationships in this book. These people love one another, but they are caught up in an extraordinary and difficult situation. There’s even a hint of ways Fenella can work with the faerie realm in the future – I hope this means more books to come.

nancywerlin.com
www.penguin.com/teen

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a copy I purchased at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm

October 15th, 2014

14th_goldfish_largeThe Fourteenth Goldfish

by Jennifer L. Holm

Random House, New York, 2014. 195 pages.

The Fourteenth Goldfish gets its name because of the goldfish Ellie was given in preschool:

I took my goldfish home and named it Goldie like every other kid in the world who thought they were being original. But it turned out that Goldie was kind of original.

Because Goldie didn’t die.

Even after all my classmates’ fish had gone to the great fishbowl in the sky, Goldie was still alive. Still alive when I started kindergarten. Still alive in first grade. Still alive in second grade and third and fourth. Then finally, last year in fifth grade, I went into the kitchen one morning and saw my fish floating upside down in the bowl.

My mom groaned when I told her.

“He didn’t last very long,” she said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “He lasted seven years!”

She gave me a smile and said, “Ellie, that wasn’t the original Goldie. The first fish only lasted two weeks. When he died, I bought another one and put him in the bowl. There’ve been a lot of fish over the years.”

“What number was this one?”

“Unlucky thirteen,” she said with a wry look.

“They were all unlucky,” I pointed out.

We gave Goldie Thirteen a toilet-bowl funeral, and I asked my mom if we could get a dog.

After this seemingly unrelated beginning, in the next chapter we learn that Ellie’s mother is going to be late coming home because of something to do with getting her grandfather from the police. When she does come home, she’s got a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old boy with her. He looks awfully familiar, and is very critical of her mom.

Something about this whole exchange tickles at my memory. It’s like watching a movie I’ve already seen. I study the boy – the gray-tipped hair, the way he’s standing so comfortably in our hall, how his right hand opens and closes as if used to grasping something by habit. But it’s the heavy gold ring hanging loosely on his middle finger that draws my eye. It’s a school ring, like the kind you get in college, and it looks old and worn and has a red gem in the center.

“I’ve seen that ring before,” I say, and then I remember whose hand I saw it on.

I look at the boy.

“Grandpa?” I blurt out.

Yes, Ellie’s grandpa Melvin is a scientist, and he’s discovered a “cure for aging.” He discovered a new kind of jellyfish that can actually revert its body to the polyp stage, it’s younger self. He made a compound with the specimen and tested it successfully on mice, reverting them to adolescents. Then, naturally, he tried it on himself, and the result is an apparently thirteen-year-old “cousin” living with them.

Melvin has a mission – to break into his lab and recover the jellyfish specimen. The security people there don’t believe he’s the same person as is shown on his badge.

But living with his adult daughter and eleven-year-old granddaughter has some challenges. Ellie’s mom insists that he has to go to school, since he doesn’t want to get the police coming after them. As Ellie gets to know him, she finds the science he talks about more and more fascinating. And she’s happy to try to help him break into the lab.

This book is a lot of fun, and presents a refreshing perspective on aging, science, and the generation gap. Without giving any specifics, I’ll say that I didn’t buy the ending, so that made it fall short of greatness for me. But I did like the way she interwove themes throughout the book, and I liked the look at how an old man would act if he suddenly became a teenager again.

randomhouse.com/kids

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Noisy Paint Box, by Barb Rosenstock and Mary Grandpré

October 13th, 2014

noisy_paint_box_largeThe Noisy Paint Box

The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art

by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Mary Grandpré

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2014. 36 pages.
Starred Review

I love picture book biographies about artists where the illustrator communicates the feeling of the artist’s life and work. Mary Grandpré achieves this in The Noisy Paint Box, managing to do what Vasily Kandinsky was trying to do, and paint feelings.

The words ring. A note at the back explains, “This book is historical fiction. The dialogue is imagined, although the events are true.” As long as Barb Rosenstock was inventing dialogue, she used words that make an impact.

“Look what I made!” shouted Vasya.
“Is it a house?” asked Auntie.
“Is it a flower?” asked Mama.
“What’s it supposed to be?” asked Papa.
“It’s music!” said Vasya, waltzing his painting around the house.

“Calm down!” said Mama.
“Do some math!” said Papa.
“Heavens!” said Auntie. “This boy needs a proper art class.”

Later, when the adult Kadinsky creates abstract art, we see our first reproduction of one of his paintings with text that echoes his family in childhood.

It took a long time for people to understand.

“Is it a house?” “Is it a flower?” “What’s it supposed to be?”

“It’s my art,” Vasya answered. “How does it make you feel?”

In the note at the back, the author also explains that Kandinsky probably had synesthesia, since he described experiencing colors as sounds and sounds as colors throughout his life. Combined with the art of Mary Grandpré, even child readers will get a sense of what that means.

BarbRosenstock.com
MaryGrandPre.com
randomhouse.com/kids

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

Review of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

October 12th, 2014

storied_life_of_aj_fikry_largeThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

by Gabrielle Zevin

read by Scott Brick

HighBridge, 2014. 7 hours on 6 compact discs.
Starred Review

After listening to the first CD of this audiobook, I was strongly tempted to quit. Put the whole book away. The book doesn’t even begin with A. J. Fikry. It begins with a woman who’s a publisher representative. She takes the difficult journey to Alice Island in Massachusetts to meet with the owner of Island Books. He hasn’t read his email and isn’t expecting her. In fact, he hadn’t realized that her predecessor is dead.

He is curmudgeonly and terribly rude to her. After she leaves, we see him get out the rare book that he’s counting on to pay for retiring from the bookselling business. He drinks until he passes out and imagines his recently-killed wife helping him to bed.

In the morning, his rare book, the one worth a fortune, is gone. The same policeman helps him who investigated his wife’s car accident.

Depressing story, right? I wasn’t crazy about the reader, either. It wasn’t terribly easy to tell who was talking by the voice.

But I continued into the second disc… and someone left a baby in the bookstore.

The baby changes A. J.’s life. In good ways. And this book about A. J.’s life ends up being delightful.

There are some dramatic plot twists thrown in. Perhaps the story isn’t entirely likely. But it has plenty of heart.

We see A. J.’s daughter grow to be a teenager, with the story focusing in on different crucial times in their shared lives. She’s a girl who loves books and reading. They are my kind of people.

By the end of the book, we’ve got a tribute to independent bookstores, and how they give a community its heart.

highbridgeaudio.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Winter Is Coming, by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche

October 10th, 2014

winter_is_coming_largeWinter is Coming

by Tony Johnston
illustrated by Jim LaMarche

A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), New York, 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I usually don’t fall for quiet, meditative picture books. They need some zing to keep kids from squirming in Storytime. And surely Autumn has been done to death?

However, this book is so completely gorgeous, it won my heart. The text is gentle and lovely, and the story in pictures of a girl watching the natural world, observing and sketching, snuck its way into my heart.

The girl has a platform set up in a moss-covered old tree. She has binoculars and a sketch book. The book starts in early Autumn. The girl comes and sees wildlife come to the clearing, first a fox sniffing the last apple on their apple tree. Each new scene ends with the words “Winter is coming.”

Over the months that follow, she sees a bear and her cub, a family of skunks, a pair of woodpeckers, a group of rabbits, a lynx, chipmunks, deer, geese flying south, and finally a flock of wild turkeys. With each new day, the girl observes the animals and how they are getting ready for winter. Finally:

It’s late November now.
Gray as honkers, clouds crowd low.
The red fox returns,
prowling, prying, poking.
But the apples are gone.
The day goes still.
The red fox is quiet, quiet.
I am quiet, quiet. Then –
the clouds dust us with
snow.
Soon snow lies everywhere.

Winter is here.

Besides being beautiful to look at, the pictures, even though they are all from the same basic setting, are presented from a wide variety of angles and perspectives. Paired with the poetic language and insights about nature, this book won my heart.

We can learn from animals, my father says.
About patience. About truth. About quiet.
About taking only what you need
from the land because
we are just its keepers.

KIDS.SimonandSchuster.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

Review of The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud

October 8th, 2014

whispering_skull_largeThe Whispering Skull

Lockwood & Co., Book 2

by Jonathan Stroud

Disney Hyperion, Los Angeles, 2014. 435 pages.
Starred Review

I was so looking forward to this sequel to The Screaming Staircase, I preordered the book as soon as I heard its publication date. And I was not disappointed.

Jonathan Stroud is a genius for plotting. This book again intertwines many plot threads. We’re back with the 3-person (3-child) agency Lockwood & Co., in an alternate reality England where ghosts plague the populace. Lucy continues to narrate, and in this book she continues to hear from the skull-in-a-jar that George stole when he was working for the Fittes agency.

It is highly unusual for someone to be able to talk with a ghost. This is a Type Three ghost, and only one other Sensitive was ever able to do it. So this could bring Lucy and their agency fame and fortune. But is it worth it? The skull gives them information that almost gets them killed, and it sows doubts in Lucy’s mind about Lockwood and that door he asked them never to open.

Then there are, of course, the cases. The ones in this book are even more gruesome and frightening than the ones in the earlier book. Kids with an especially vivid imagination might want to stay away. Kids who like scary books, however, will be delighted. Mention that a ghost starts falling apart and forming ghost-rats that attack them. If they think they like the sound of reading about that, this is the book for them!

There’s also a rivalry with another agency – and a bet as to which one can solve the case first. There’s the usual fun banter between Lockwood and Lucy and George. (And George shines in this volume, I must say.)

But the meat of the book is the mystery. Who stole the Bone Glass, and what does it do? And can they get it back, yet stay alive?

This is yet another example of Jonathan Stroud’s superb writing. Even though I had my own copy, I checked out the library’s copy so I could read it on my lunch breaks. This is absorbing, clever, innovative, and completely delightful reading.

To give you the flavor, here’s a bit from a scene right at the start, where Lockwood & Co. get in a little over their heads:

“It’s getting close to the barrier,” I said.

“So’s mine.”

“It’s really horrible.”

“Well, mine’s lost both hands. Beat that.”

Lockwood sounded relaxed, but that was nothing new. Lockwood always sounds relaxed. Or almost always: that time we opened Mrs. Barrett’s tomb – he was definitely flustered then, though that was mainly due to the claw marks on his nice new coat. I stole a quick sidelong glance at him now. He was standing with his sword held ready: tall, slim, as nonchalant as ever, watching the slow approach of the second Visitor. The lantern light played on his thin, pale face, catching the elegant outline of his nose, and his flop of ruffled hair. He wore that slight half-smile he reserved for dangerous situations: the kind of smile that suggests complete command. His coat flapped slightly in the night breeze. As usual, just looking at him gave me confidence. I gripped my sword tightly and turned back to watch my ghost.

And found it right there beside the chains. Soundless, swift as thinking, it had darted in as soon as I’d looked away.

I swung the rapier up.

The mouth gaped, the sockets flared with greenish fire. With terrible speed, it flung itself forward. I screamed, jumped back. The ghost collided with the barrier a few inches from my face. A bang, a splash of ectoplasm. Burning flecks rained down on the muddy grass outside the circle. Now the pale figure was ten feet farther off, quivering and steaming.

There you have it: Plenty of adventure, danger from entities living and dead, swordplay, ghosts, mysteries and murders. This will appeal to many for its clever plotting, but is not for the faint of heart.

LockwoodandCo.com
jonathanstroud.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered from Amazon.com.

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Two Speckled Eggs, by Jennifer K. Mann

September 23rd, 2014

two_speckled_eggs_largeTwo Speckled Eggs

by Jennifer K. Mann

Candlewick Press, 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Ginger’s birthday party is coming up, and she wants to invite everyone in the class except Lyla Browning. Lyla Browning is weird. She even brought a tarantula in a pickle jar for Show-and-Tell. But Ginger’s mother says it’s all the girls or none of the girls, so Lyla gets an invitation, too.

At the birthday party, we see, in subtle ways, Lyla behaving more nicely than any of the other girls. And she brings Ginger a present she made herself – a tiny bird’s nest with two speckled, malted-milk eggs.

And so we see the blossoming of a friendship, one which we can see will continue at school.

This book is lovely in the way it shows that sometimes weird can also be quirky; unusual can also be creative; and not-like-everyone-else can also be thoughtful and interesting.

And the message is never stated outright. But you can see it in the blossoming of this friendship between two girls, and every reader can see that Lyla Browning may be weird, but she’s going to make a very good friend.

candlewick.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

Review of The Scraps Book, by Lois Ehlert

September 22nd, 2014

scraps_book_largeThe Scraps Book

Notes from a Colorful Life

by Lois Ehlert

Beach Lane Books, New York, 2014. 72 pages.
Starred Review

Lois Ehlert makes wonderful picture book art, including the classic which I bought for my oldest son and quickly became a favorite in our family, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

This book tells a bit about how art found Lois Ehlert since childhood and led to her satisfying career. I say “a bit” because this is a picture book. There’s a little bit of text on each page, but mostly the book is made up of images.

There are pictures of the author as a child with her parents. There is a picture of the folding table her father set up for her to do art. There is a picture of the pinking shears her mother used on fabric, which Lois still uses. And on almost every page, there are elements of art that went into her many different books. She shows her method of collage and has a word of encouragement for budding artists: “If you feel that way too, I hope you’ll find a spot to work, and begin.”

The text is simple, with just a sentence or two of the main thread on each page, with the rest made up of many little notes about the art. The style reminds me of that in Feathers for Lunch, since you can read it on a couple different levels – reading the overarching main text, or getting delightfully absorbed in the details.

This book is fascinating for someone like me who has no desire to be an artist, in that it looks behind the scenes at the creation of some brilliant picture books. How much more inspiring I think it will be for kids who are interested in doing art.

KIDS.SimonandSchuster.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.