Review of Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King

October 26th, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens

by Amy Sarig King

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2017. 243 pages.
Starred Review

Obe Devlin has loved animals for a long time and looks for animal tracks down by the creek. The creek has been part of his family’s land for generations – but unfortunately they lost most of their land in his great-grandfather’s day. And recently, the farmers who replaced their family have sold the land to developers. But the Devlins still have the creek.

And then Obe discovers an animal no one’s ever seen before. It’s not a dog; it’s not a pig. It has a strange half-hoof. And it eats plastic! Maybe it’s a pollution solution! It’s slimy to touch, but it’s friendly and comes when Obe calls. He finds himself making friends with the animal – and Obe needed a friend, because his best friend has started playing with kids who have moved into the new houses and make fun of Obe.

Obe names the creature Marvin Gardens (his dad loves Monopoly). But then he discovers that Marvin’s poop is horribly foul smelling and apparently toxic. It’s brightly colored like the plastic Marvin eats, and turns grass brown and creates holes in the land. When some kids step in Marvin’s scat and it eats through their shoes and anything they walk on – there’s going to be trouble.

What should Obe do? Who can he trust? Will anyone believe him that he’s found a new species? And how can he protect Marvin if anyone else finds out about him?

This book is wonderfully written with lots of different pieces coming together. Obe’s family are characterized beautifully and realistically. We find out slowly what happened between Obe and his former best friend, and we see him develop a new friendship. We completely understand his worries about getting out to see Marvin, and why he’d be reluctant to tell anyone. Especially we see how Obe’s learning to be a scientist and an environmentalist, and how he’s just the right person to discover this new species and learn about it and protect it.

Here’s the part where Obe first sees the animal’s tracks:

I kept shining my flashlight around the bank. And then I saw the track. I was sitting right next to it.

If I was Bernadette, I would have just taken out my phone and snapped a picture of it, but I was eleven so I didn’t have a phone or even a decent camera. I tried to take a mental picture.

It had toes and a central pad, but also had a hoofed edge. It was part dog and part pig or something. It made no sense, this track. I tried to picture the foot that could have made it. I looked for others, and when there were no others, I figured someone must have been playing a joke on me. Tommy knew about my pocket guide to animal tracks. He was with me when I found my first beaver track downstream. That was the first day he called me Creek Boy.

CREWAHARKKKLTKELTH!

The noise made the hair on my arms and legs stand straight up. Maybe the hair everywhere. My heart beat fast and I thought it was Tommy and his friends because I didn’t believe stories about monsters or ghosts. But it wasn’t Tommy.

The animal was five feet from me, half in the creek, half on the bank.

It was definitely not a dog.

It was definitely not any animal I ever read about in Ms. G’s class or in any other class or in any book.

Big thanks to my co-worker Amanda for booktalking this book – I finally got around to reading it, and was very glad I did!

as-king.com
scholastic.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 A Beautiful, Terrible Thing, by Jen Waite

October 25th, 2017

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal

by Jen Waite

Plume (Penguin Random House), 2017. 258 pages.
Starred Review

I thought I’d read just a chapter of this book on Friday night. But once I started, I couldn’t look away until I’d finished.

Yes, it’s the true story of an apparently wonderful husband who cheated, lied, and turned out to be a psychopath. (There is a disclaimer at the front that this is not an official diagnosis. This isn’t an official diagnosis, either.) Many of my readers know that I, too, had a husband who cheated – and the long, awful time of suspicion and being lied to and desperately trying to fix things eventually ended with finding out it had all been much worse than I’d thought.

Jen Waite’s story is different from mine. She had only five years she thought she’d had a good marriage (and came to find out, he’d been cheating very early on). But that feeling of devastation? The world-toppling discovery that leaves you not knowing what was ever real? The wondering, always wondering what he’s up to right now and compulsion to check? All of that felt horribly familiar.

When I read that her husband was working long, long hours – through the night to the early hours of the morning – I just cringed. (That one took her a long time to figure out. And I know why – He’s working so hard! You want to be supportive! He’s sacrificing so much time for his job!)

Anyway, this is a story of a marriage – how they met and fell in love quickly – and betrayal. The discovery happened shortly after the birth of their first child. Jen Waite tells the story beautifully and suspensefully. She starts with the moment she read the email her husband had written that changed her world. It’s just a paragraph, which ends like this:

What I am seeing must have a logical explanation. It must be a misunderstanding. As soon as I can talk to my husband, he will explain and everything will be OK. This is not an emergency yet. If I can just hear his voice, I will be able to breathe again. Balancing the baby in one arm, I reach for my cell phone with the other, unconsciously bouncing my knees to soothe my daughter’s screams.

After that, she alternates between sections describing “Before” and “After.” The “Before” sections deal with how they met and built a life together. The “After” sections involve finding out what, actually, happened, and how she very slowly figured out the extent of his betrayal.

Jen finishes up the book describing how she has resolved to become a licensed therapist, specializing in recovery from psychopathic relationships. Yes! So it ultimately becomes a story about wresting good out of a nightmarish situation.

For me, reading it gave me a sense of solidarity – a reminder that I wasn’t the only one who ever got cheated on. (I know this intellectually, but that’s different from feeling sympathy as the author describes going through it.) But it also gave me a lovely realization of how far I’ve come. Yes, I remember being so devastated – but I am not devastated now! I remember trying to get my life back on track and find my footing – and (Wow!) I have done so! Not only am I working full-time as a children’s librarian and youth services manager – I even had my dream come true and am on the Newbery committee! And I would never have even become a librarian if my husband hadn’t left me – I was enjoying working part-time far too much.

I liked her emphasis that life goes on and we can emerge better and stronger. Yes! This is true!

You may not have such a personal connection with this book, but either way, it’s still a gripping and emotional true story. It will give you insight, compassion, and understanding for people caught in such an awful situation.

I checked the author’s website, and she’s got further encouragement for people who are putting their lives back together. May she continue to grow better and stronger because of what she’s been through.

jenwaite.com
plumebooks.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 Hello Goodbye Dog, by Maria Gianferrari, pictures by Patrice Barton

October 24th, 2017

Hello Goodbye Dog

by Maria Gianferrari
pictures by Patrice Barton

Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Hello Goodbye Dog is about Zara’s dog Moose, who loves Hellos and hates Goodbyes.

In fact, Moose hates Goodbye so much, he breaks out and follows Zara to school, where he gets a Hello!

Moose escapes more than once. Each time, Zara is able to get him calm and quiet by reading aloud to him. But then, he inevitably hears “Goodbye” and puts on the brakes. Each time, it takes progressively more people to get Moose to leave.

After an eventful day, where Moose finishes up by playing tag in the cafeteria when he hears the dreaded “Goodbye,” Zara has an idea. This is where the book won me over completely – Zara brings Moose to therapy dog school!

Moose becomes the Class Reading Dog and is now welcomed by all the people who tried to get him to leave before.

There’s an author’s note at the end about therapy dogs and read-to-the-dog programs.

But besides being good advertising for read-to-the-dog programs, this book tells a lovely story. The art shows Moose being so friendly and eager all along. There’s a progression and a lilt to the story, which will help beginning readers. I love that Zara’s in a wheelchair, and this isn’t commented on except to note that Moose is extra good with wheelchairs.

A nice story about a dog who loves Hellos, loves his girl, and loves to hear stories.

mariagianferrari.com
patricebarton.com
mackids.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 Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor, read by Steve West

October 23rd, 2017

Strange the Dreamer

by Laini Taylor
read by Steve West

Hachette Audio, 2017. 18.5 hours on 15 CDs.
Starred Review

Note to self: Any time I start a new book by Laini Taylor, even if it doesn’t say “Book One” on the cover, check the last page for the words “TO BE CONTINUED.” This one has those words – and I would have been less dismayed if I had been prepared.

Laini Taylor’s imagination will never cease to amaze me. Every new world she builds is completely different from anything that’s ever been done before.

In this new world, we start with a boy named Laszlo Strange. He’s an orphan and is being brought up by monks. One of the monks tells him stories about a mythical long-lost city. Later, when he grows up, he becomes a librarian and finds more tales of this city.

And Laszlo knows that magic exists because of this city. For one day, suddenly, he forgets the city’s name, and all he can think of is “Weep.” Any writings about the city have the new name, Weep.

A lot more goes on. As a librarian, Laszlo helps the golden boy of the city, an alchemist, because he thinks there is a clue to the secret of alchemy within the writings about Weep.

Along the way, when talking about alchemy, we learn that everyone in this world has two hearts – one that pumps blood, and one that pumps spirit. (Where does Laini Taylor come up with these ideas?)

We also periodically visit an isolated family of five children with blue skin who live in a citadel and have special powers. A large part of the book is finding out how these two threads come together. The whole thing is stunning, and an incredible work of imagination. And okay, I really hate that these eighteen hours are only the beginning.

And yes, I said eighteen hours. Fortunately, I started this book on the way to South Carolina to see the total solar eclipse – and with traffic, it took me 13 hours to get home. I think it helped me get mesmerized by the story because I got to listen to most of it in one sitting (though I still had a lot left).

The book is long, and she repeats herself in a few places, but it was absolutely perfect for a long car drive. And Steve West may be my new favorite narrator. He distinguished between the voices of the various characters, and the voice he used for Strange the Dreamer was just plain dreamy. So I didn’t mind listening to his voice for a very long time. I hope he narrates however many books are still to come.

StrangetheDreamer.com
lainitaylor.com
HachetteAudio.com

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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.

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Review of Love from Heaven, by Lorna Byrne

October 22nd, 2017

Love from Heaven

Practicing Compassion for Yourself and Others

by Lorna Byrne

Atria Books (Simon and Schuster), 2014. 214 pages.
Starred Review

This is the third book I’ve read by Lorna Byrne, a woman who says she has seen angels all her life. This book was even more inspiring than the previous two.

Lorna says that the angels have taught her to see the force of love coming from people. They have also taught her what it looks like when people lock away their love (which most people do). She has seen love in many different forms. This book is about the different forms love can take, and how we can release the love we’ve locked away.

Here’s how she finishes the first chapter:

The angel with no name has told me that love is love, but that we can love in so many different ways. We all have pure love inside us. We were full of love as newborns and, no matter what has happened to us since then, it is still there. Regardless of what life has thrown at us or what we have done to others, the love within does not diminish. But we all lock much, or all, of this love away deep within us. We need to learn again how to let it out.

Feeling love for anything helps us to stir up that love within us, and allows us to release more of it. Love is stirred up through personal experience of love: feeling it, thinking loving thoughts, or seeing it. We learn to love from each other.

The angels have told me we can all learn to love more frequently, and with a greater intensity. This is why I have written this book.

I especially like the section at the end – a “Seven-day path to love yourself more.” Lorna Byrne does take the view that you can love others better if you love yourself more, and the exercises she gives you will help you do that.

The week after I finished reading this book, our pastor preached on Connection, which set off more thinking – and a blog post on my Sonderjourneys blog. I felt like this book brought a lot of thoughts about love together.

Learning to love more – isn’t that a worthy goal?

LornaByrne.com
SimonandSchuster.com

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Outliers Blanket!

October 22nd, 2017

I did some more mathematical knitting for my new niece Kara!

For this blanket, I used the entrelac squares format I’d used in the prime factorization blankets, but the concept I’d used in the outliers scarves.

I took numbers from a normal distribution, using the generator at random.org.

Then I chose five colors in shades of pink, since we already knew Kara would be a girl.

For numbers in the middle of the curve (part of the bell), I used lighter colors. (z-scores of -0.5 to 0.5) For every half a z-score, I used a darker color. For the true outliers, numbers with a z-score bigger than 2 (or less than -2), I used the darkest color – but I added a sparkly silver thread.

This is to show that the outliers are what make life beautiful.

And aren’t we all outliers in some way or other?

I also distinguished between negative and positive numbers by using garter stitch for positive numbers and seed stitch for negative numbers.

It was a huge treat to try out the blanket with Kara. It wasn’t as big as I originally intended, but with random numbers I was able to stop when I decided it was done.

Kara’s big sister Zoe really enjoyed the blanket, too!

Review of The World Is Not a Rectangle, by Jeanette Winter

October 19th, 2017

The World Is Not a Rectangle

A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

by Jeanette Winter

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017. 56 pages.
Starred Review

This is a simple but brilliant picture book biography about Zaha Hadid, an architect I’d never heard of, who was an Arab and a woman and who designed buildings located all over the world.

Zaha was born in Iraq in 1950. The book simply shows how she got inspiration from nature.

When she grew up, she ventured away from her country and studied in London. She submitted designs in many competitions. When she was finally selected, the city commission refused to build it.

But Zaha continued, and the pictures show buildings she designed located all over the world – the pictures place them alongside the landscapes and natural objects that inspired them.

Zaha died in 2016, but her designs are still being built. End notes tell where each featured building is located.

Jeanette Winter doesn’t waste words, but she tells the story of a woman who added beauty to the world. And she tells it in a way I won’t soon forget.

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 While Beauty Slept, by Elizabeth Blackwell

October 17th, 2017

While Beauty Slept

by Elizabeth Blackwell

Berkley Books, 2014. 456 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve meant to read this book for a very long time, especially once I had a signed copy. But I have a horrible problem with not getting around to reading books I own because they don’t have a due date. Anyway, I finally got this book read on a flight home from Portland – and I’m so glad I did.

I’ve always loved fairy tale retellings. This is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But usually such retellings are Fantasy. This one takes out the overt magic. There is a possibility of a curse; there is a possibility that the baby’s great-aunt does dark magic. But the story is told as historical fiction, set in medieval times, as something that could have actually happened. (Except that the kingdoms mentioned are still not actual kingdoms from our world, so technically, I’ll have to classify it as Fantasy. But the flavor is Historical.)

Our narrator is an old servant of Queen Lenore, the mother of Rose who became the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tale. She saw all the events of the tale from start to finish. She’s looking back on her life and telling the story to her great-grandchild.

In the prologue, she’s hears children telling the fairy tale based on the experiences she lived.

Ha! It would be a fine trick indeed to fell a royal daughter with a needle, then see her revived by a single kiss. If such magic exists, I have yet to witness it. The horror of what really happened has been lost, and no wonder. The truth is hardly a story for children.

I was afraid with that line that the book would be too dark for my taste – but the story is beautiful. Yes, there are dark and tragic parts, but it’s woven through with love and with actual human passions and mistakes and foibles.

In the fifty years since those terrible days in the tower, I have never spoken of what happened there. But with my body failing and death in my sights, I have been plagued by memories, rushing in unbidden, provoking waves of longing for what once was. Perhaps that is why I remain on this earth, the only person who knew Rose when she was young and untouched by tragedy. The only one who watched it all unfold, from the curse to the final kiss.

During the course of the tale our narrator, Elise, grows from a child in poverty into a mature adult, living in the castle. She gains perspective and makes hard choices and becomes a guide for young Rose through difficult times. I think that’s why this isn’t a young adult novel. This isn’t a coming-of-age story, but a story of a life lived beside large events, events that affected a kingdom. It’s about love and about choices and about making your way in the world.

And I especially liked the ending.

This is a beautiful book, which I know I’m going to want to read again sometime in the future.

elizabethblackwellbooks.com
penguin.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, which I got at an ALA conference and had signed by the author.

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 Princess Cora and the Crocodile, by Laura Amy Schlitz

October 15th, 2017

Princess Cora and the Crocodile

by Laura Amy Schlitz

illustrated by Brian Floca

Candlewick Press, 2017. 74 pages.
Starred Review

I am quite sure Princess Cora and the Crocodile is going to be one of my favorite books of the year. It’s a nice twist on your typical fairy tale scenario. This is a simply told beginning chapter book with abundant illustrations on each page – but the story is worth reading not only for beginners, but also for people who have been reading for years, and also for people who aren’t able to read yet.

I like Princess Cora – she’s just trying to do what’s right and follow the rules. Brian Floca portrays her as a good girl. But oh, the spark of mischief in the crocodile’s eyes when things start happening!

Here’s the scenario: The King and Queen love Princess Cora from the day she’s born. But then they realize that she will be Queen some day. They must teach her! They must train her!

By the time Cora is seven years old, she’s being trained every minute. Her nanny makes sure she’s always tidy and makes Cora take a bath – and wash herself thoroughly – three times a day.

The Queen teaches Cora that a princess must be wise. Every day she takes Cora to the tower room to read books about how to run the kingdom.

The books were so dull that Princess Cora yawned until her eyes were full of tears. Sometimes she asked silly questions, just to liven things up. Then the Queen frowned an awful frown and said, “Now, Cora, that is inappropriate!”

The King is in charge of her physical training. He’s turned the old castle prison into a gym and has Cora run in circles and skip rope up to five hundred. A future queen must be strong!

Princess Cora wanted her parents to be happy. She worked hard at being clean and strong and wise. But deep inside, she was angry. Sometimes at night, when she was alone in bed, she whispered, “Skipping rope is stupid! And I’m sick, sick, sick of those boring books! When I grow up, I’m never going to take any baths. I’m going to be dirty!”

These thoughts scared her, but she couldn’t stop thinking them.

One night a new idea crept into her head. It was different from the others, because it was a happy thought. She whispered, “What if I had a dog?”

When she presents this idea to the nanny, the Queen, and the King, they are not in favor. So that night she writes a letter to her fairy godmother, saying how much she wants a pet.

Savvy readers will realize she should have been more specific.

The next morning, there’s a box at the foot of her bed, with a crocodile inside! And he’s a crocodile with an attitude.

As they talk over how the crocodile can help, they decide that he will take her place and give Princess Cora a day off. He puts on one of her dresses and yarn from the mop as a wig.

“You’re perfect!” said Princess Cora. “Do you know, I think this might work? At least, it might work with Nanny. She never wears her glasses. And Mama’s always reading. And Papa’s always looking at his watch.”

“Of course it will work,” said the crocodile. “Now, I’ll stay here and be Princess Cora, and you run along and have fun.”

No one had ever told Princess Cora to run along and have fun, and she almost didn’t know how. But she dressed herself in the flash of an eye and ran down the castle steps and out the back door.

And thus the real fun begins. We see each adult get an appropriate comeuppance from the crocodile. Or inappropriate as the case may be. My favorite part is when the crocodile sings this song to the Queen:

“I am Princess Cora’s pet –
Am I her favorite croc? You bet!
Inky-stinky, dry or wet.
And I am inappropriate!”

Meanwhile, Princess Cora is having a lovely time in the woods. I love the way Brian Floca draws her, getting gradually dirtier, with a scrape on her elbow, but clearly having a wonderful time.

And yes, everything comes right in the end, and the process of this happening is beautiful.

And it’s all done in simple language for kids ready for chapter books, in seven chapters, with marvelous illustrations on each page.

candlewick.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 The Day the Revolution Began, by N. T. Wright

October 14th, 2017

The Day the Revolution Began

Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion

by N. T. Wright

HarperOne (HarperCollins), 2016. 440 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve read some popular books on the crucifixion lately – most notably Did God Kill Jesus?, by Tony Jones, and A More Christlike God, by Bradley Jersak. The George MacDonald books I’ve been reading for years were what first made me discontent with the explanation I’d been taught. I have become convinced that teaching that Jesus saved us from God does great wrong to God’s love. But how should we look at the cross instead?

Those previous books were popular reading; this one is a book for theologians. It was extremely dense and very long. The author goes deeply into Scripture and explains how his interpretation fits beautifully with what was written there. But – it’s difficult reading and even hard for me to sum up.

However, it’s also lovely. I found myself copying several sections to Sonderquotes. (Take a look there to understand better what’s being said.) N. T. Wright’s view of the cross is not about some kind of pagan sacrifice to satisfy an angry God. It’s about fulfilling God’s covenant with Israel through the forgiveness of sins.

The author places much emphasis on the fact that the early Christians summarized their “good news” by saying that “the Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the Bible.” So he looks at the question of how Jesus’ death was “in accordance with the Bible.” And he takes a fresh look at the gospels and the writings of Paul along the way.

He does blast the “works contract” or the “payment model” of the atonement as a paganized view of the cross. He points out that in Israel’s sacrificial system, the animals sacrificed were not punished for sin. They didn’t bear sin – except the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, and that one wasn’t killed. Instead of emphasizing death, the sacrifices emphasize the blood – and it is offered as cleansing. The emphasis is on cleansing instead of punishment.

If I start quoting, I’m going to get bogged down. (Do check Sonderquotes, though it will take me awhile to get all the quotations posted.) I don’t quite know how to summarize this book concisely, but I do know it fed my soul. If this is interesting to you, and you can handle some deep waters of theology, I do strongly recommend this book. If not, let me leave you with the last paragraph:

The message for us, then, is plain. Forget the “works contract,” with its angry, legalistic divinity. Forget the false either/or that plays different “theories of atonement” against one another. Embrace the “covenant of vocation” or, rather, be embraced by it as the Creator calls you to a genuine humanness at last, calls and equips you to bear and reflect his image. Celebrate the revolution that happened once for all when the power of love overcame the love of power. And, in the power of that same love, join in the revolution here and now.

harperone.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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