Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Actor: Daniel Radcliffe

Educating Alice has links to Daniel Radcliffe's turn on Extras this past week. This along with the photos from Equus, well, the lad has had quite a week.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Babymouse: Rock Star

Babymouse: Rock Star by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, 2006

Oh Babymouse, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Well, I named my IPod Babymouse and I chose the color pink for my new cell phone.

There is no smarter or cannier look at school life than Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm's Babymouse series. The traumas that plague Babymouse and her classmates are universal. Gym uniforms ARE ugly, lockers DO attack, school meat loaf SHOULD be regarded with suspicion and riding the school bus is ONLY for the very VERY brave.

In Babymouse: Rock Star music is a solace and joy for our heroine but even there, chair tests create yet another pecking order, this time in Band. Hoping to work her way up from last chair for the school concert, Babymouse resolves that she will practice hard for the tryout. Alas, the results of her efforts are, "Screeech!" With the help of a friend, she learns that real music is something you feel in your heart. Band parents will completely identify with this story.

Babymouse's wonderful imagination (she is a reader) carries her daily struggles into the world of the Wizard of Oz and the Pied Piper of Hamelin and her musical dreams into the realm of American Idol-ness.

These graphic novels are rich in humor for young readers but junior highschoolers will also identify. If you have not added this series to your library collection yet then do so asap!

Brava Babymouse!

Miss Erin has an excellent interview with Her Graciousness Jennifer Holm who also just received a Newbery Honor for her book, Penny from Heaven.

Jennifer Holm's Website
A Day in the Life of Jennifer Holm

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Boots on the ground (or in the air)

I spent the week subbing at two libraries. Monday through Wednesday I was at a high school librarian helping seniors with their research papers on "social issues." Tuesday morning skies were dreary and full of rain. As I walked across the teacher parking lot towards the building, I reminded myself to watch my footing on the rain slick sidewalks and pavement. I successfully negotiated the puddles and closed my umbrella as I reached the shelter of the school's entrance. As I took my first step onto the large rubber door mat to walk through the door, my left foot slipped away from me as if I had stepped onto a sheet of ice. Crash! There were ONLY hundreds of students and substitutes pouring through the opening at the time. General alarm and exclamations sounded around me and I could only think, "Oh God, have I crushed someone?" Then one boy reached down and grabbed my arm and the next thing I knew I was vertical again. Gadzooks, high school guys are strong. I think I was actually airborne for a few seconds. Amazingly, no harm done except to my dignity.

Thursday-Friday I was at my old library. The kids in 3rd grade and up still remember me, or I should say, remember Dragon. They all ask about him. He was with me and was very pleased to see his old friends. Sadly, his manners have not improved and their happiness to see him only reinforced his cheeky and obnoxious behavior.

The lesson for 5th grade was Bluebonnet Book Jeopardy which was great fun. Each table was a team and each team took turns picking a category, "Settings for $20, Alex" or "Events for $50." Sometimes they knew the answer right away, sometimes there was much pondering and guessing. With 20 books on the list, it is a challenge for the kids to read the minimum 5 required in order to vote, much less all 20.

Then we hit this question, "Three kids set out to restore this missing item that belongs to Zeus in this book." Twenty-four hands shot into the air before I even finished reading the question and twenty-four kids shot to their feet making that "" sound that indicated they knew the answer. I think two chairs fell over as their occupants rocketed upwards. Table 3 got the answer right away, "Zeus's lightning bolt in The Lightning Thief!" I was so moved to see and hear their passion for this book.

Later as the class checked out books, one of the boys told me that his parents had driven him all the way to Austin, Texas to see Rockstar Rick Riordan when he was signing at Book People some months back. "I got both books and he signed them!" he told me. I told him that I get advance copies of books to review sometimes and I had received a preview copy of The Titan's Curse and it was a fantastic action packed thrill ride. At that moment, I realized 48 eyes had just zeroed in on me and 24 voices said, "You have Book 3?" I think the mob was starting to move in my direction when, just in time, their teacher yelled, "Time to line up and go back to class."

I'm telling you, being a librarian can be dangerous.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Meg Cabot and I are watching the all the same TV shows. As a professional writer person, she puts it so perfectly in her Jan. 23 post.

The Office:
And if you are not watching The Office, well, I just don’t know what to say. I guess if I were to say to you, “Jim said yes,” it would mean nothing to you.

If, however, you were watching The Office, and I were to say, “Jim said yes,” to you, you would inhale sharply and squeal, “I KNOW!” in a delighted manner. These words would take on a whole new meaning to you. Because this is seriously the hottest, most romantic show on TV, besides being the funniest, and if you aren’t watching it, well, I kind of feel sorry for you.

Cabot watches the Food Network like I watch the Food Network and her take on 24 is exactly where I am, alas. I am afraid I was cheering "Now that's what I'm talking about!!!" at the plastic bag thing this past week.

Jane Eyre and Lorna Doone, that is why I like her books so much I guess.

Movie: Inkheart

There is almost daily traffic and discussion is on this blog about the casting of the movie, Inkheart. Old posts on the topic attract comments on a regular basis. The most controversial casting choice so far, and the role girls seem to be the most exercised over, is the henchman, "Basta." Apparently, Jamie Foreman is not young/sexy enough. I read the book several years ago and have not taken up Inkspell yet so I confess my memories of some of the peripheral characters are somewhat dimmed.

J.L. Bell at Oz and Ends had a thoughtful post about the movie's casting last year. I have always thought it was interesting that Cornelia Funke herself had Brendan Fraser in her mind as she wrote the character Mo. Since they spend so much time with characters as they create them, is is common for authors to "cast" a book with familiar faces in their mind's eye? I wonder.

My own interest in the book/movie brought this report and interview from the Inkheart movie set to my attention.

Fun facts: Mirren is using Edith Sitwell as her inspiration for Elinor. Paul Bettany is kind to ferrets.

Brendan Fraser (Mo), Eliza Bennett (Meggie), Paul Bettany (Dustfinger) and Andy Serkis (Capricorn)

UPDATE: There is a real PR press going on right now making the actors and director available for interviews.
Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Eliza Bennett and Andy Serkis Discuss "Inkheart"

Interview with Iain Softley & Helen Mirren

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Can I get fries with that?

A kindred spirit and soul sister librarian sent this to me:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Literature inspiring research

I have been enjoying a few days at a local high school library doing research with 12 graders on "social issues." The kids are so nice and the library has a terrific collection. No matter how obscure the topic, the collection has material to match every query, it seems. It makes me feel like such a reference librarian again.

One funny moment today: As the kids filed in to the library, one girl stopped to grab the book Pretties by Scott Westerfeld from a book display. She was so happy to have the book that she hugged it; she had been waiting a long time for the book to come in she told me.

The kids had to clear their research topic with their teacher before starting work. Coming up with a topic was the focus of the day's library visit. My Westerfeld fan told the teacher that she wanted to do a research paper about parasites.

Hmmm...this is not a science class.
Her teacher, looking puzzled, asked her what kind of social issue involved parasites.

On a hunch, having just witnessed her enthusiasm for all things Westerfeld, I asked her, "Have you been reading Peeps?"

"YESSSSSSS, she exclaimed, digging a copy of the book out of her backpack.
”Now I want to study parasites."

The teacher was completely befuddled so I explained the premise of the story (parasites cause the myth/idea of vampires.) The teacher was giving us both the oddest look.

I think the student is going to do something about clean water resources (and no doubt, how bad water with PARASITES can cause health issues.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Card Catalog

Thanks to Mental Multivitamin for the link.
Catalog Card Generator

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Thank Heaven for Second Grade!

Each grade level has its charms and challenges for those teaching/working/toiling in schools. There is a wonderfulness about second graders that I find hard to resist as a librarian. Most of them have developed some solid reading skills and they are also savvy enough to catch subtle nuances in storylines. They have not acquired that hormonal chemical veneer that just begins to show in 2nd semester third graders and are still malleable enough (for the most part) to shush when shushed and sit when told to sit.

I had the pleasure of reading some chapters of a boffo book to second grade this week. They laughed in all the right places and got the joke of the narrative.

I HIGHLY recommend Lucy Nolan's Down Girl and Sit: Smarter than Squirrels, 2004. If you live with a dog or dogs, you will appreciate Nolan's understanding of all things canine.

Down Girl narrates the story of her daily life. Along with her best friend, Sit, who lives next door, she protects the backyard from birds and squirrels by chasing the invaders up into the trees. She saves her master, Ruff, from the paperboy by barking at him through the window. This is important because she knows that newspapers are for spankings and she wants to save her master from a spanking.

The book is written in short chapters and Mike Reed's illustrations underline the humor. A sharp eyed boy sitting near me, pointed out that the names on the dog houses said "Happy" and "Dot." The dogs think their names are "Down Girl" and "Sit." They have another dog friend named "Hush." When the dogs describe their efforts to guard their masters' hiding place for treasure, Reed's drawings help the reader see that the hiding place is really the trash can. The kids understood we are hearing these hilarious stories from the dog's point of view.

We have a new phrase at our house now, "We are smarter than squirrels."

I see there is a sequel, On the Road. I have to read it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Book Discussion Groups

I joined a book group this fall. I worry sometimes that I am not reading "grown-up" books very much anymore. The theme of the reading list is "Faith in Literature." Overall I have enjoyed the selections. It was terrific to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. I might have never read The Kite Runner (actually, I listened to it- excellent!) without this motivation. I thought two of the selections perfectly mediocre (The Memory Keeper's Daughter and Blessings) but I thought Pope Joan was a terrific piece of historical fiction.

Last fall I was fortunate to meet author Phil Bildner while subbing at a school library. Talking to him about "good books" he commented that The Kite Runner works as a YA books in many ways. His comment has made me reflect on this list and having just finished Pope Joan, it occurred to me that it has YA aspects too. Of course, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic on all levels but is also on high school reading lists. I don't think it is a coincidence that the reads I have found the most rewarding from the list also work in the YA category.

It is a real pleasure to discuss books. It has been a great experience to meet new people who, like my childlitosphere friends, share a love of reading. Like most book lists, I find my mind has been stretched and strengthened by trying new titles I would not ordinarily read. Even the books that did not hit a homerun with me have made me reflect on what I think a good book is.

So I have to say I am looking forward to the book discussion group being formed by Michele at Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone. The discussion of Susan Cooper's King of Shadows will commence February 6.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Groundhog Day

The Groundhog and Shadow are back. Since I discovered them two years ago, I have found these weird and compelling videos completely addictive.

This year Shadow has decamped to Tijuana, Mexico, having cracked under the pressure of being the harbinger of more winter and the Groundhog has set out to bring him back. Looks like they might be headed to Houston.

Update: Sounds like Morgan Freeman narrating.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Birth Order: Middle Child

Folks in this part of the world are half excited and half terrified as we peer at the Weather Channel and watch the freezing sleet and temperatures creeping towards us. No one can say we haven't been warned. Two of my entlings are in a region of Texas that is already in the grip of black ice and frozen overpasses and as a parent I just pray they are holed up and not needing to venture out onto the roads.

Tucked in by the fire today, with the MOST WONDERFUL BOOK, I was musing about the children, as parents are wont to do.

First Born, making her way in her chosen profession is still helping us understand what it means to be a parent. Her motto: The pioneers take the arrows.

Youngest Child, hacking and slashing and zapping her way though the new Zelda game, at the moment, is author of the "never a dull moment" syndrome in our lives.

Middle Child is the one we used to call "Stealth Child" because of her ability to move about the homestead undetected. She is the get-it-done kid. Returning home for the holidays she found me in the midst of Christmas decoration, tinsel hanging from one ear and hands full of un-deployed Sinterklasses. Before I knew it wreaths were on doors, empty boxes were being stowed and snowmen were displayed. How did she do that? Middle children are often the quiet force that keeps all the parts of the family working together.

All this reflection led me to ponder about the middle child in children's literature. Are there any characters in children's literature that are famously or infamously the middle child?
Are they so low key that they don't get noticed there either?

I can think of Indigo in Indigo's Star by Hilary McKay, Jo and Beth March were in the middle in Little Women. Any others?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What Athletes are Made Of

What Athletes are Made Of by Hanoch Piven, 2006

This book shares "fun facts" about 23 sports personalities. The portraits of each athlete in this collection are created with a collage of toys, objects and illustration. Piven's book is equal parts nonfiction and "I Spy" fun.

Using an odd assortment of objects, he accurately captures each athlete's appearance and comments on their personality and abilities. David Beckham, recently in the news, is captured with gold glitz hair, referee whistle eyes and a bottle of pink nail polish for a nose. The amazing assembly looks just like him. Interesting facts about the sports figures are included in the paragraph on the page and a "Did you know" fact crawl across the bottom.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, of long jump fame, is created with hinged measuring sticks for arms and legs and "leap frog" toys as her feet. Joe DiMaggio is featured as a baseball card, his eyelids are Marilyn Monroe coin keepers and his eyes are a single rose bud. Baseball bats are his eyebrows and his mouth is a classic Greek column (class act, DiMaggio, never talked about his marriage to Monroe.)

Baseball, football, soccer, Olympic champions, Formula I, Nascar, and golf are all represented. One of my favorite portraits is Lance Armstrong, His nose is a bicycle seat, bike gears at the top of his head show the mental workout of the Tour de France (souvineer Tour Eiffel in the background) and a bike chain mirrors the lines on his forehead. His mouth is a "Live Strong" bracelet.

Words do not do the book justice. I can imagine showing this book to a class with an Elmo so they can all see the detail in each portrait. Educators are always looking for material to engage higher level thinking, right? Well, here you go.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I do not want to read anything about HP7 until I am holding HP7 in my hands. I have my own ponders and ideas about the story but I also like to be surprised. I do not shake presents under the Christmas tree or read the end of a book before I start it.

I have to chuckle at this t-shirt over at Bookshelves of Doom though.
I want a shirt like this. She got into lots of discussion about it at the adult circulation desk.

Lots and lots of comments too and I confess I did read them including Michele's, "If Harry turns out to be a Horcrux, I will shred my copy of book 7 and send it to JKR c/o Bloomsbury with a note about how very disappointed I am."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Fetch

The Fetch
by Chris Humphreys, 2006

My daughter was sifting through my stack of books and picked this one to read. When I asked her why that particular book, she answered, "It has runes on the cover."
Me: "It does?"
So, you see, she was already a leg up on me when she started the book. She l-o-v-e-d this story and cannot wait for the sequel.

I enjoyed The Fetch very much and I understand why it was such a hit with her and why it will gain a devoted fanbase as it becomes better known. If you are a junior high /high school librarian I suggest you add this book to your purchase order right now because your Eragon, Lord of the Rings, Sea of Trolls readers will love this book.

Sky is seeing thing or dreaming thing. He sleepwalks and animals are talking to him. His parents have already had him checked out by psychiatrists and doctors so he doesn't tell them about his latest visions.

He is drawn to an old sea chest that belonged to his deceased grandfather Sigurd where he discovers a hidden bag of runestones and a journal. When his cousin Kristin arrives for a visit, he shares the find with her and the two of them set about unlocking the secrets of the runes.

Their research uncovers the existence of the Fetch, the spirit of a person that can be visible as a body double or can inhabit other beings or animals. Their experiments with runecasts send Sky's fetch traveling back in time to inhabit their ancestor, Bjorn, a young Viking. Through Bjorn's eyes, Sky lives through Bjorn's first Viking raid and to his horror, discovers his inner-Berserker.

As they delve deeper into rune magic they are drawn into the mystery of their grandfather Sigurd's disappearance and a danger, neither could have foreseen.

The book has lots of sword clashing, ax-thowcking action. Humphrey's experience as a fight choreographer is apparent. In the author's note at the end of the book he writes:

When I first considered writing this novel, I remembered what I'd read in my teens--historical fiction, preferably with plenty of battles, self-sacrifice, blood-shed; and horror, the scarier the better.

My daughter cannot wait for the next book in the series, Vendetta, which will be out in August 2007.

I like Humphrey's writing. Being the Richard Sharpe military historical fiction fan that I am, I have started reading his Jack Absolute series. I am enjoying seeing the American Revolution from "the other side." He blogs about his writing at Quintessence of Dust.

C.C. Humphreys Website

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Digital Storytelling

Do NOT miss Kristen McLean's post Trendwatch: Inanimate Alice at pixie stix kids pix. She discusses the intriguing possibilities of digital storytelling and where to find some examples on the web today.

I am so grateful for this link to Jean Gralley’s take on digital picture books. Click on Books Unbound. Fascinating!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Author: Marc Brown

From AmericanaWeek 2007:

The folk art collection of Marc and Laurie Krasny Brown will be sold on Sunday, January 21, beginning at 11 a.m. Marc Brown, the creator of Arthur, a character of children’s books and television, collected some notable painted furniture, boxes, and game boards, as well as watercolor and oil portraits of children. The Browns have also consigned 30 original drawings, which will be sold to benefit children’s cancer care at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Following the Brown sale is various-owners’ folk art and furniture.

This beautiful collection can be seen at the Sotheby's website. You do have to register in order to view the catalog. Brown has collected exquisite game boards, windsor chairs, watercolors, baskets, whimsical signs and other beautiful things. His Arthur artwork is at the very end of the catalog.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Weeding any library collection (including the one in my home) is a professional duty but emotionally challenging. Nonfiction in a school library is fairly easy. Is it out of date? Are the pictures in dreary black and white? Is the typeface and reading level friendly to young readers? Is there something better out there that can replace it?

Fiction and picture books are a my biggest challenge. Once you disgard the damaged and dingy, it gets rough. My personal prejudices come into play. I remember I kept a novel that had few circulations because it was wonderfully illustrated by Edward Gorey. I also confess I left a badly-needs-weeding picture book collection to my successor at the elementary school. I just ran out of time. She is a brilliant librarian and has made the tough calls.

One funny note, on a recent visit back there for book fair, I was cruising the shelves and noticed the Gorey book still on the shelves. I mentioned it to the library aide who commented that the librarian WAS going to weed it but it had illustrations by Edward Gorey and she couldn't bear to chuck it at this point. Ha, the torch is passed!

The Washington Post reports that budget cuts, space demands and popular reads are squeezing classics by Hemingway and Brontë off the shelves in the Fairfax library system. Libraries, trying to offer what their users want, are using a retail model to weed their collections and a book must now have 20 circulations in order to remain on the shelf. Each branch looks at their own users.

Public libraries traditionally are also "archives of literature and history." Aggressive weeding threatens this role as Eugene O'Neill's plays are binned in favor of James Patterson.

John Miller at the Wall Street Journal ponders if public libraries themselves are outmoded. Google is planning/hoping to digitize a world of print, Amazon, WalMart and Barnes and Noble offer discounts on the latest reads.

Instead of embracing this doomed model, libraries might seek to differentiate themselves among the many options readers now have, using a good dictionary as the model. Such a dictionary doesn't merely describe the words of a language -- it provides proper spelling, pronunciation and usage. New words come in and old ones go out, but a reliable lexicon becomes a foundation of linguistic stability and coherence. Likewise, libraries should seek to shore up the culture against the eroding force of trends.

The particulars of this task will fall upon the shoulders of individual librarians, who should welcome the opportunity to discriminate between the good and the bad, the timeless and the ephemeral, as librarians traditionally have done. They ought to regard themselves as not just experts in the arcane ways of the Dewey Decimal System, but as teachers, advisers and guardians of an intellectual inheritance.

The alternative is for them to morph into clerks who fill their shelves with whatever their "customers" want, much as stock boys at grocery stores do. Both libraries and the public, however, would be ill-served by such a Faustian bargain.

That's a reference, by the way, to one of literature's great antiheroes. Good luck finding Christopher Marlowe's play about him in a Fairfax County library: "Doctor Faustus" has survived for more than four centuries, but it apparently hasn't been checked out in the past 24 months.

I've never worked in a public library but I make heavy use of our county library system. Entling no. 2 thinks she wants to do grad school in library science after she graduates so it is
interesting to consider the future of libraries, especially when your own kid is hoping to step into the profession.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Signs of the Times

An alert reader has pointed me toward this article in the NYTimes "Lock the Library! Rowdy Students Are Taking Over." After school child care has long been an issue for public libraries and it sounds like the problem came to a head in Maplewood, N.J.

Every afternoon at Maplewood Middle School’s final bell, dozens of students pour across Baker Street to the public library. Some study quietly.

Others, library officials say, fight, urinate on the bathroom floor, scrawl graffiti on the walls, talk back to librarians or refuse to leave when asked. One recently threatened to burn down the branch library. Librarians call the police, sometimes twice a day.

My library is located directly across the street from a local junior high. Masses of students pour through the library doors at 2:45 pm. Like many folks, that is the time I usually get to the library too. I've picked up the entling and we swing by the library to grab our holds or return books.

As their old elementary school librarian, I know many of the kids there. Sometimes they tell me about the books they are reading and I tell them about new books.

Many of the kids are on the computers. A few are doing homework and the rest are at loose ends. They are rambunctious and noisy, games of chase often break out, but they will keep it down to a dull roar when admonished (regularly) by the librarian. The library staff is so professional. I have never seen one of them loose their cool with some of these young miscreants. I continue to be full of admiration for public librarians.

Linda W. Braun, a librarian and professor who has written four books about teenagers’ use of libraries, said the students want only to be treated like everybody else. “If there are little kids making noise, it’s cute, and they can run around, it’s O.K.,”

There is a difference between "making noise" and running amuck. I can only stare in amazement at the numbers of small children who are allowed by their parental units to shriek and run around (to be followed by tripping and face-planting into the carpet or smacking into library tables) which is then followed by wails of pain.

“Or if seniors with hearing difficulties are talking loudly, that’s accepted. But a teen who might talk loudly for a minute or two gets in trouble.”

Older people may talk loudly but I daresay, do not frequently employ the colorful metaphors I hear there from youthful mouths (and that I will only excuse after a near death experience involving 18-wheelers and white mega pick-ups and MY car on Interstate-10.)

She added: “The parents don’t want them, the library doesn’t want them, so they act out.”

That leaves librarians doing a job they did not sign up for: baby-sitting for kids old enough to baby-sit.

This loss of civility extends beyond the library of course and has been long lamented. Grown-ups and parents do not model good behavior.

Some time ago a choir concert was disrupted by two women who, I guess, were not there to even see their own kids sing because they talked and laughed during each choir's performance. Several other parents begged them to please take it outside but to no avail. I got so fed up that during the next applause break I turned around and told them I was starting a web page dedicated to the noisiest audience members in Texas and could I please have their names to add to it? I pointed to my camera and said I could take their photo too!
They told me I was rude and left.
Glory Be!

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Cybil Finalists

The Cybil Finalists are posted! Five titles are listed for each category. I am so pleased to see some of my 2006 favorites and now have plans to read the others!

Battle Plans

Maybe HP7 will be JKR's final Christmas gift to us in 2007? Whenever it is published, the Royal Mail is preparing for the release now.

More than 500,000 advance order copies of the sixth adventure, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" were delivered on July 16, 2005, in an operation that required about 150 additional trucks ferrying books to about 1,400 delivery offices across Britain.

While the number represents only a fraction of the 80 million items the Royal Mail delivers daily, the security surrounding the work means the books have to spend as little time as possible on warehouse floors, complicating their distribution. The 652-page "Half-Blood Prince" weighed in at less than 2.2 pounds, forcing postal workers into vans to avoid overloading their carrier bags.

The movement of the trucks is being coordinated in advance to avoid congestion, and local post offices are considering bringing in extra staff to deal with the overflow of books, Eadie said.

New Year Honours List

I confess to an Anglophile's interest with the Honours list each year. Scrolling the new list I was pleased to see Penelope Anne Constance Keith listed. I will watch To the Manor Born any time, any where. Mary Rosamund Briggs, Chief Executive, Seven Stories, The Centre for Children's Books is also to be honored. I hope I get to visit there someday.

Other familiar names to me: George Shearing, Roderick David Stewart, John Wood (whose link in IMDB helped me discover they ARE making more episodes of Lewis!!!--Happy New Year indeed!) and Alexander McCall Smith (have never been able to finish one of his books, alas) and James Hugh Callum Laurie.