Archive for the ‘Paranormal’ Category

Review of Devil and the Bluebird, by Jennifer Mason-Black

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Devil and the Bluebird

by Jennifer Mason-Black

Amulet Books (Abrams), 2016. 327 pages.

Blue Riley goes to a crossroads at midnight to make a deal with the devil.

She wants to find her sister, who walked out two years ago. She’s pretty sure her sister made her own deal.

She meets there a lady in a red dress, who does make a deal.

Blue tries to trade her soul for her sister’s. But instead the lady offers her a game.

“You win, your sister comes home, safe and sound. I win, two souls for the price of one.”

The lady gives Blue six months to find Cass, and she even gives her a homing device — enchants her boots to tell her the right direction.

But after Blue accepts the deal, the lady changes the terms. Did Blue think it would be easy? The lady takes her voice, so she can’t make a sound. “You win the game, you get your sister and your voice back.”

And the terms get harder as she goes on the road. If someone she meets learns her name, then Blue can only stay with them for three days — or it will be bad for them. If they don’t know her name, Blue can stay with them for three weeks.

Blue sets out with $900, her guitar, and a notebook and pencil for trying to communicate.

Magic realism is not my thing, so this story isn’t something I’m naturally drawn to. It ends up partly as a catalog of the dangers that homeless people face. Not that it comes across as dry like a catalog — you care deeply about each one.

But it’s also an exploration of family and music and success — and what people are willing to give up to find success. Or fake success. And what it means to be who you truly are.

jennifermasonblack.com
driftwoodgal.tumblr.com
amuletbooks.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 book sent to me by the publisher.

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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Audiobook Review of My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, performed by Katherine Kellgren

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

My Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
performed by Katherine Kellgren

HarperAudio, 2016. 13.75 hours on 11 discs.
Starred Review

I’ve already reviewed this book in print form, but oh, Katherine Kellgren’s performance makes it so much fun!

We’ve got alternate history England, featuring Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days. In this version, many people have the magic power to turn into an animal. In the course of things, Jane finds out she is one, which is how she escapes losing her head.

The story is funny and clever and twists history just enough to be terribly fun. And Katherine Kellgren’s brilliant vocal abilities are perfect to bring out all the humor in the situations.

By now, I’ve become Katherine Kellgren’s fan. In a story set in England that was already outstanding in an over-the-top humorous sort of way, her performance puts it even more over the top. Now when I recommend this book, I’m going to suggest listening.

harperaudio.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.

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Review of Thanks for the Trouble, by Tommy Wallach

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Thanks for the Trouble

by Tommy Wallach

Simon & Schuster, 2016. 276 pages.
Starred Review

This book opens as Parker Santé is in a hotel, looking for something to steal. He sees a girl with silver hair pay for her coffee.

She reached into her purse and pulled out the fattest stack of hundreds I’d ever seen in real life. I’m talking a hip-hop video kind of wad, thick as a John Grisham paperback. She peeled off one of the bills — (I see you, Mr. Franklin) — and handed it over. “Keep the change,” she said. The waiter nodded a stunned little bobblehead nod, then peeled out before the girl could think better of her generosity, leaving her to tap idly at the top of a soft-boiled egg in an elaborate silver eggcup. I stared at her staring off into space, and counted the many ways in which she was incredible.

He’s attracted to the girl, but that doesn’t stop him from stealing the wad of cash when she leaves her purse behind. However, he makes a fundamental mistake, a mistake that reminds him of the myth of Orpheus.

But my dad said it was the most perfect myth ever written, because it represented the most fundamental human error: we all look back.

When I did, I saw that the silver-haired girl had returned to her seat. In spite of the fact that her purse was open and half its contents had spilled out across the tablecloth, she wasn’t screaming or crying or scrambling around, looking for the culprit. Why, you ask? Because she’d been distracted by something else. By what, you ask? Well, by my journal, of course! I’d left it behind when I tore off with all that money. It had my name in it, and my e-mail address, and an incredibly embarrassing story I’d recently written called “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Kingdom,” which she was now reading.

They get to talking. Or, I should say, the girl talks and Parker writes. Parker hasn’t been able to talk since the accident when his dad died.

But the girl tells him her plan:

“I am waiting for a phone call. And when it comes, I’m going to give this money to the first needy person I see. Then I’ll take the trolley to the Golden Gate Bridge and jump off it.”

Parker doesn’t like the sound of that. So he negotiates. He thinks he’s talking her out of jumping off the bridge, but they end up with the deal that she’s going to spend all that money on him (and with him), and he is going to apply to and attend college.

As their adventure takes off, they get to know each other better. When Parker tries to find out more about Zelda, she tells him that she was born in 1770 in Kassel, Germany. She doesn’t age.

Now her second husband is dying of old age, and she’s had enough.

But whether or not he believes her, Parker has some things to show her about life.

And she has many things to teach Parker.

I like all the questions this book opens up. What would it be like not to age? What would you do?

I wasn’t crazy about the framing — It’s supposedly Parker’s college application essay. I didn’t actually believe you’d be able to submit a book-length manuscript online. Though that does add to the fun because you don’t know if it really happened to the character. Though it certainly supports how dramatically his life changed.

An entertaining book that you can think about for a very long time.

tommywallach.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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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 Silver in the Blood, by Jessica Day George

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Silver in the Blood

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2015. 358 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Set in 1897, this is a historical fantasy romance about two cousins who are being sent from New York to Bucharest, Romania, to meet and learn the truth about their mother’s family.

Now, the copy on the back of the book gives away what they will find. LouLou also encounters a young man on the ship who asks her, “Are you the wing?” LouLou tells about it in her letter to her cousin Dacia:

“Are you the wing?” He said it again, and looked me up and down yet again! “You are not the claw, and there is never a smoke anymore.”

Complete gibberish, Dacia! What was I to do? I simply goggled at him for a moment. When I gathered myself, I started to turn away again, when he said, “You are the wing; I see it now.”

By the time the girls do find out what the Wing, the Claw, and the Smoke are, we are not at all surprised. I can’t help but wonder if it would have given the book more momentum if it had started when they arrived in Bucharest, rather than during their separate journeys there. There’s some build-up to the revelation of the family’s magic that falls a bit flat by the time we discover what it is.

We do end up with an interesting situation. Two young ladies ready for New York society suddenly discover magical powers and that their powerful family is part of a prophecy – and a political plot. They must decide which side they are on.

The timing of the story fits with the publication of the book Dracula and the girls meet Prince Mihai, a descendant of the famous count. Their family has always served the Dracul family. Prince Mihai intends that they continue to do so.

This book is a historical novel for teens who like regency fiction with dances and gowns and society – combined with a twist of magic and political intrigue. The exotic setting of the Romania of 1897 adds to the fun.

JessicaDayGeorge.com

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Source: This review is based on an advance reader copy I got at an ALA conference.

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 Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds

Atheneum, 2017. 306 pages.
Starred Review

Will’s brother Shawn just got shot. And Will is sure he knows who did it.

And there are three rules Shawn taught him:

No crying, no matter what.

No snitching, no matter what.

If someone you love
gets killed,

find the person
who killed

them and
kill them.

So Will takes Shawn’s gun and sets out to kill the person who killed him.

He gets in the elevator on the 8th floor. And on each remaining floor someone new gets on… someone who’s dead.

The first dead person in the elevator is Buck – a brother even older than Shawn. He knew the Rules, too, and taught them to Shawn.

In fact most of the people who show up on this elevator lived by the Rules. The thing is: They’re dead now.

This is a novel in verse (and artistic, well-crafted verse), so it’s quick reading. It does pack a punch.

jasonwritesbooks.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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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 Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

The Empty Grave

Lockwood & Co. Book Five

by Jonathan Stroud

Disney Hyperion, 2017. 437 pages.
Starred Review

I finished The Empty Grave today, and with it the entire Lockwood & Co. series – and Yes! The series ends well. I can now officially say that from start to finish, this is one of the best children’s book series ever. These books make good family reading, since adults will enjoy them every bit as much. Children need to be old enough to be able to not be afraid of all the murderous ghosts (and murderous people). If your child doesn’t mind some severe spookiness, I highly recommend this series.

This series deals with an alternate reality England where there’s a “Problem” with ghosts roaming the countryside and haunting buildings and places where they died. These aren’t friendly ghosts – if they touch you, you’ll die. And only children can see them. Lucy, Lockwood, George, and Holly still have their independent agency for dealing with ghosts – but powerful forces are ready to put them out of business – or perhaps simply kill them.

In this final installment, all the threads come together. Can the smallest agency in London expose what’s at the root of the Problem? Or will they be silenced? We’re told at the beginning of this book that Lucy survives. But will any of her friends survive with her?

I really mustn’t say any more about the plot. Yes, this is a series you should read from the beginning – It’s brilliantly crafted, with important pieces revealed at just the right time. In this book, it all comes together in a satisfying, and very suspenseful, way.

Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series is brilliant – but Lockwood & Co. goes far beyond it. You come to care about all the characters deeply (even George!) and to understand the complex situation and all that’s at stake. This series is magnificent! Read it!

LockwoodandCo.com
jonathanstroud.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered via 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.

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Review of When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

When the Moon Was Ours

by Anna-Marie McLemore

Thomas Dunne Books, 2016. 273 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Stonewall Honor Book

Samir and Miel live in a small town and they are best friends. Sam’s family is from Pakistan. He paints moon lamps and hangs them all over town. He’s a gentle person, and when Miel fell out of the old water tower and seemingly materialized out of water, Sam was the one who calmed her down. He and his mother found a home for Miel with Aracely, who lived next door.

Hinting at her mysterious origins, the hem of Miel’s skirt is always wet. Even more mysterious, though, is that she grows roses out of her wrist. After one blooms and falls away, another grows. The color of each depends on what Miel has been thinking about.

As you can probably tell, this book is full of magical realism, which isn’t really my thing. I like fantasy with rules of magic that make sense, that seem understandable. This has several wild things going on, which I wasn’t crazy about, although I did enjoy reading the beautiful prose.

Here’s a section toward the beginning:

They’d touched each other every day since they were small. She’d put her palm to his forehead when she thought he had a fever. He’d set tiny gold star stickers on her skin on summer days, and at night had peeled them off, leaving pale constellations on her sun-darkened body.

She’d seen the brown of her hand against the brown of his when they were children, and holding hands meant nothing more than that she liked how warm his palm was in the night air, or that he wanted to pull her to see something she had missed. A meteor shower or a vine of double-flower morning glories, so blue they looked dyed.

All these things reminded her of his moons, and his moons reminded her of all these things. He’d hung a string of them between her house and his, some as small as her cupped palms, others big enough to fill her arms. They brightened the earth and wild grass. They were tucked into trees, each giving off a ring of light just wide enough to meet the next, so she never walked in the dark. One held a trace of the same gold as those foil star stickers. Another echoed the blue of those morning glories Sam could find even in the dark. Another was the pure, soft white of the frost flowers he showed her on winter mornings, curls of ice that looked like tulips and peonies.

The main problem of the book arises when the four Bonner sisters decide they want Miel’s roses, that those roses belong to them. Miel had been offering them to her mother by drowning them in the river. But now Ivy Bonner tells Miel that if she doesn’t give them her roses, they will tell the whole town that Sam’s name is really Samira.

Miel knows that Sam has a girl’s body, but she also knows that he is a boy, and his body doesn’t matter. In fact, the book opens with the first time they sleep together.

One thing I loved about the book was this dealing with a transgender person as the person he really is. Along with everything else, this book is fundamentally a love story, and a beautiful one. This is the first time I’ve read a love story involving a transgender person, and that aspect of it was beautifully done.

The Author’s Note at the back explains why Anna-Marie McLemore can write this so well. She met her own husband and fell in love with him when they were teens – but before he had admitted to himself that he was transgender. Combined with the questions she had about her own life, it sounds like this book came from a deep place in her heart, her own questions and struggles growing up beautifully expressed in magical realism.

This book is about secrets and truth and power. But it’s also a love story about two teens discovering who they really are.

http://author.annamariemclemore.com
thomasdunnebooks.com
stmartins.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 Ms Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1

No Normal

by G. Willow Wilson
art by Adrian Alphona

Marvel Worldwide, 2015.

I normally don’t read graphic novels, let alone superhero graphic novels. I picked up this one because it was a Cybils Finalist.

And then, looking inside, I got hooked – this is the origin story of a superhero whose secret identity is a Muslim teenage girl! Her family’s from Pakistan and she lives in Jersey City and just wants a normal life. Her parents are on the protective side. They don’t want her to go to parties, let alone fight crime.

This first volume covers how she attains and tries to deal with polymorph powers. While trying to keep her parents happy and keep up with her schoolwork. But it’s her parents’ teachings that motivate her to do good when the opportunity presents itself. Little did they know it would mean she’d be fighting crime and rescuing people in danger!

There are more volumes in this series, and I probably won’t review them all. (But, yes, I want to read on.) But superhero comics have come a long way since I was a kid! Now even a brown-skinned Muslim girl can become a superhero! Wow!

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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.

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Review of Still Life with Tornado, by A. S. King

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Still Life with Tornado

by A. S. King

Dutton Books, 2016. 295 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Teen Fiction

Wow. This book is original.

And that’s saying something. Here’s how the book begins:

Nothing ever really happens.

Or, more accurately, nothing new ever really happens.

My art teacher, Miss Smith, once said that there is no such thing as an original idea. We all think we’re having original ideas, but we aren’t. “You’re stuck on repeat. I’m stuck on repeat. We’re all stuck on repeat.” That’s what she said. Then she flipped her hair back over her shoulder like what she said didn’t mean anything and told us to spend the rest of class sorting through all the old broken shit she gets people to donate so we can make art. She held up half of a vinyl record. “Every single thing we think is original is like this. Just pieces of something else.”

Two weeks ago Carmen said she had an original idea, and then she drew a tornado, but tornadoes aren’t original. Tornadoes are so old that the sky made them before we were even here. Carmen said that the sketch was not of a tornado, but everything it contained. All I saw was flying, churning dust. She said there was a car in there. She said a family pet was in there. A wagon wheel. Broken pieces of a house. A quart of milk. Photo albums. A box of stale corn flakes.

All I could see was the funnel and that’s all anyone else could see and Carmen said that we weren’t looking hard enough. She said art wasn’t supposed to be literal. But that doesn’t erase the fact that the drawing was of a tornado and that’s it.

Sarah is having an existential crisis. She stops going to school. Her parents don’t know what to do, and they don’t know where she goes.

Sarah goes different places and tries different things. Nothing seems original. And she suddenly can’t do art.

In chapter two, she’s planning to go to City Hall and change her name to “Umbrella.” But this happens:

A woman walks up and sits down next to me in the bus shelter. She says hello and I say hello and that’s not original at all. When I look at her, I see that she is me. I am sitting next to myself. Except she looks older than me, and she has this look on her face like she just got a puppy — part in-love and part tired-from-paper-training. More in-love, though. She says, “You were right about the blind hand drawings. Who hasn’t done that, right?”

I don’t usually have hallucinations.

I say, “Are you a hallucination?”

She says no.

I say, “Are you — me?”

“Yes. I’m you,” she says. “In seven years.”

“I’m twenty-three?” I ask.

“I’m twenty-three. You’re just sixteen.”

“Why do you look so happy?”

“I stopped caring about things being original.”

Sarah later meets 10-year-old Sarah and 40-year-old Sarah as well. They keep popping up at odd times. When 10-year-old Sarah comes to the house, Sarah’s Dad doesn’t even recognize her, but Sarah’s Mom does.

They help Sarah — and the reader — piece together what happened to her and what that means. And what sort of tornado has taken over her life.

A lot hinges on that trip to Mexico that is still fresh in the mind of 10-year-old Sarah. That was the last Sarah saw her older brother Bruce.

16-year-old Sarah is piecing together and remembering what happened in Mexico, but also piecing together something that happened at school, at the art show, and what it means.

We also get a peek into the mind of Sarah’s mother, an E. R. nurse who doesn’t love her husband. They’re staying together for the sake of Sarah. And the effect is that Sarah is growing up surrounded by lies.

I haven’t been able to convey the power of this book. It’s a straight contemporary novel — except that 16-year-old Sarah converses with her 10-year-old, 23-year-old, and 40-year-old selves — and other people interact with them, too, so they are indeed not hallucinations.

This is a powerful story about what happens when a metaphorical tornado goes through a seemingly still life — that was really swimming in lies.

(Tip: If you believe a woman should stay in an abusive marriage for the sake of the kids, this book will not support your views.)

as-king.com
PenguinTeen.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 23 Minutes, by Vivian Vande Velde

Friday, January 6th, 2017

23 Minutes

by Vivian Vande Velde

Boyds Mills Press, 2016. 176 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Teen Fiction

I loved this book. Yes, there’s an unlikely assumption at the beginning, but since it’s the set-up and they never tried to explain it, it’s very fun to think about what you would do in that scenario.

15-year-old Zoe has the ability to turn back time for 23 minutes. She doesn’t know why she has this ability or how it works, but she’s figured out what she can do. She has to put her arms around herself, without touching anyone else, and say out loud “Playback,” and she will be put back to 23 minutes earlier.

Once she has done this, she can keep redoing those 23 minutes, keep resetting to the same time – for ten tries. But if she once lets 24 minutes go by, or if she uses up her ten tries, she’s done and can’t go back.

Zoe has found that 90% of the time, trying to redo things makes them worse.

But the book starts with a situation Zoe has to try to change. She gets caught in a downpour and goes into a bank to get out of the rain. The people in the bank look at her askance because of her blue hair and the way she’s dressed. One youngish man, though, is kind to her.

But then a bank robber starts holding up the bank, and he ends up shooting the kind man in the face. Zoe has to try to fix this.

Her first try, she borrows a cell phone from someone on the street and calls the police. (Teens who live in a group home aren’t allowed to have their own cell phones.) A lot more people end up getting shot that time.

Next she tries warning the bank guard. That doesn’t go well, either. Eventually she figures out she needs to get the kind man’s help. But what can she say to win his confidence?

This book reminded me of the movie Ground Hog Day, except that Zoe knows the number of iterations is limited. I like the way she learns things in one iteration to use in the next.

The book is dedicated “to those who try to make things better for at-risk children and teens,” and Zoe is indeed one of those teens. I like the way the book shows her trying to do what’s right, despite the reactions of people around her. I also like the way the kind man’s character is revealed to be consistently kind, even though different things happen in each go-round, and he’s tested in different ways.

Of course, totally apart from the wonderful story, it’s fun to speculate what you would do if you had that power. What moments would you be able to fix? It’s easy to understand Zoe’s perspective that it’s usually not, actually, a good idea.

She found out about her ability when she was thirteen. That was when she learned the rules. Here’s why she was somewhat slow about changing things when the bank robbery started:

But she has not had good luck with this sort of thing in the past. She spent way too long on it at thirteen – she thinks she may have spent years playing back various moments when she was thirteen, trying to fix things, despite the fact that, really, nobody can fix being thirteen.

In the two and a half years she’s had this ability, playback has cost her more than it’s gained, and Zoe has come to think of her life as being like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books – one where it’s best to read through once and settle, because the choices only go from bad to worse.

Most of all, this is a thrilling, dramatic story with a life-or-death puzzle to solve and characters you come to love.

VivianVandeVelde.com
boydsmillspress.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 my own copy, sent to me by the publisher.

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.

What did you think of this book?