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The Death-Defying Pepper Roux

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When he was born, Pepper's aunt predicted he wouldn't live past 14. On the morning of his fourteenth birthday, he walks out of the house, and just keeps on walking, then running away from it all. Assuming one identity after another, he tries on the various roles of adulthood, getting more deeply in trouble with every turn, and more convinced the angels are after him. But he still hasn't died -- does he have a guardian angel after all? Or maybe he has finally outrun his fate....There is nothing saccharine in this nevertheless very sweet tale of a sheltered boy finding his way in the big, wide world. Pepper is a scrappy survivor in a confusing world where things are never quite as they seem, to him at least. It is a world populated with other survivors: the poor, the outcast, the lower class, and the misfits. A fast-paced, quirky read with an unconventional story line.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

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Our main character, Flavia is, in a word, "precocious," is growing up in a crumbling old mansion in 1950s England with her terrorizing older sisters, her withdrawn father and the all-around handyman. Each sister is free to pursue her own passion, and for Flavia that is chemistry, and poisons in particular. When she finds a dead man in the yard, the evidence points to her father, who is arrested. But as she (and the police) investigate, suspicion falls on several different people, and she learns more about her father's past than she ever would have imagined.This is pure delight, British to the core, from the fading aristocracy to the boys' boarding school to the taut, emotionless encounters between the family members. Flavia herself, while not always believable, is an irresistible character. I can't wait for more of her.
Our Tragic Universe

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Meg, a 30-something writer trapped in an unfulfilling relationship, and living close to the poverty line, mistakenly reviews a book about immortality. This sets off a chain of events that conspire to change her life, and those of the people around her.This is a book with many themes, one of the most successful of which is overcoming depression, not in a "stop being sad and become happy" way, but in a "finding meaning and joy in the simple things". This makes the first part of the book challenging to read, I think, because there is nothing more boring/depressing than a depressed person. Fighting through to the second part, though, and the characters are easier to like, and read about.It's also a book about stories, writing, writers, etc and can get very "meta-fiction"-y in a way that is sort of interesting, but also I think detracts from the power of the book, the pacing and the "main story". I don't think the author needed to leave it out, necessarily, but I think it could have been done better, maybe a bit more subtly.Finally, it's a book about the Big Questions: the nature of the universe, the meaning of life (and mortality) and also about the nature of reality/science/supernatural phenomena. These are worked into the story in a kind of playful way that is interesting, and a bit heady. Again, it maybe detracts from the "main story" and could have been done more adeptly. But interesting ideas.In sum, I think the author tries to do too much, and doesn't fail, but doesn't quite hit all the right notes with all the parts. Still, very readable and would appeal to those wanting a meditation on those most interesting of topics: the nature of human relationships or of reality.
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The Observations

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In Victorian Scotland, Bessy flees from her past in Glasgow and takes a job as a housekeeper in a country manor house. As Arabella, her mistress, starts to behave strangely, and strange things happen, Bessy worries that she might be caught up in something sinister.Bessy's course, crass, unintentionally funny, and always unreliable voice steal the show. The story is a nice Victorian thriller that will keep you guessing, and is a fair comment on the role(s) of women during that time, but Bessy is what makes this an exceptional read.
Once in a Blue Moon

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Caveat: I am not the intended audience for this book. I'm not Christian, and I don't read Christian fiction. I must not have read the fine print on the Early Reviewers description.Further caveat: I read this quite a while ago, so it's not as fresh as it maybe should be, but at least my annoyance at it has worn off a bit.Journalist Bryn lost her mother when she was a child, and has been trying to compensate ever since with dangerous encounters, in love and life. An unrepentant, nihilistic non-believer, she is drawn in by a strange old man who knew her mother and his strange world.Poorly written, poorly edited, wanted to chuck it into a corner multiple times. A truly aggravating experience. Life is too short for books like this.
A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

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This is a collection of very short pieces on a variety of topics related to the presentation and interpretation of math and statistics in the news(papers). It is, in essence, a skeptic's toolbox for reading the paper more effectively.The math is very accessible to the non-specialist reader, and it's written in a light and engaging style. Originally published in 1995, the "currency" has aged a bit, though one can substitute "bank bailout" for "Savings and Loan bailout", etc., and the math still holds. A fun read for those who enjoy math, or those who would like to understand probability and statistics a bit better. Excerpts from this volume would be ideal supplementary material to an undergraduate "math for non-mathematicians" (especially journalism majors) class, especially since many problems, or classes of problems, are suggested in the text.
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Ironside

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Third in the Modern Tales of Faery series, but second focusing on Kaye. This volume takes place mostly in the Faerie world, as Kaye tries to prove her love and loyalty to Roiben, and figure out her place in both worlds, as someone not really of either.I liked this one better than Tithe, and read it quickly, but it faded just as fast. There's not much of substance here, and that's probably just fine for most readers. Like a mediocre Chinese meal, it will remind you of the real thing, and briefly scratch the itch, but ultimately will make you long for something more authentic and fulfilling.
NOT AVAILABLE
Tithe

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Kaye, is an aimless high school dropout whose possibly alcoholic mother moves from place to place with whatever band she happens to be in at the moment. When her mom's boyfriend attacks her mom, they move back to New Jersey to live with her grandmother, where she grew up. While reconnecting with grade school friends, she misses her other friends, the faeries who were her playmates as a little girl. It isn't long before strange things start to happen to her, and she begins to find out the strange history of the world of Faerie and her own story.Kaye is a likeable enough heroine, and there were aspects of this story that were interesting. It didn't have a lot of substance to it, and was not especially ground-breaking or well-written. After being underwhelmed by the Spiderwick Chronicles, I probably should not have expected more from this, but I did hope, after all the rave reviews, that it would be something special. Finally, as something of a side note, I am not someone who believes YA should be totally sanitized, and everybody likes a bad girl, right? However, I thought this novel unnecessarily glamorized smoking/excessive drinking/blase attitude to sex/dropping out of school. I'm not moralistically uncomfortable with it, it just seemed to be trying a little too hard to be edgy, without the realism that would have made everything a bit more compelling.
Temeraire (The Temeraire Series, Book 1)

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Third in the Temeraire series, Laurence and Temeraire are ordered home via Istanbul, to pick up a precious cargo. They set out on an epic overland journey from China, meeting feral dragons, and not a few unfriendly peoples and governments along the way.A fast-paced, masterfully written continuation of the saga. This one doesn't hold up as its own story quite as well as the other two, but well worth reading to continue the story. Temeraire is a unique voice in fiction -- he is so innocent and guileless, but as he becomes more aware of the reality of the world and his own place in it (and his own abilities/power) the plot, as they say, thickens. This is not "mere" fantasy-fiction (which I have nothing against, incidentally) but a subtle political and social commentary wrapped in an irresistible package of adventure and alternate history at its utmost.
Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen

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A collection of anecdotes about cooking with/for his wife, tidbits of culinary history and trivia, and recipes and descriptions of cooking adventures. The author is an English freelance food writer.Not as funny or revealing as I had hoped, the author tries too hard be cute or clever, without striking any deep chords. It's like listening to a friend's anecdotes about his life, fine, entertaining enough, but maybe not worth a 300 page book. Read Jeffrey Steingarten (The Man Who Ate Everything, and others) instead for food adventures, Michael Pollan (The Botany of Desire) for food history. Not terrible, but didn't scratch the food writing itch for me either.
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