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The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag

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stand-alone book, but I'd reccomend starting with the first book because both are enjoyable and the extra context wouldn't hurt.) Flavia de Luce was great as usual, but the supporting characters were fleshed out and more three-dimensional than in the first book, as well. While I wouldn't call this a thriller, I wouldn't call it bucolic either. I still read the book quickly because I kept wanting "more." The murder mystery part was entertaining, but so were the people of Bishop's Lacey.Characters: Flavia isn't a character that will appeal to everyone. She's an 11 year old chemistry expert and a smarta**. She doesn't respect authority. She exacts revenge on people/can be mean. She can be self-centered. This isn't a book about an adorable kid. She's no Anne Of Green Gables or Ramona Quimby because many of the things she does to get into trouble are calculated instead of being based on a misunderstanding of the adult world. If you enjoy books that don't have angelic heroines or were once that smart alec kid yourself, give Flavia a shot.I think those who complain that her encyclopedic knowledge of poisons is unrealistic and unnecessary are missing the mark entirely: I believe such knowledge is necessary to demonstrate Flavia's intelligence and problem-solving abilities. Moreover, her chemistry know-how plays an integral role in the plot. I think Bradley does an excellent job of straddling the line of fantasy and realism to bring us a character that is colorful without being a characterture. Besides, series require a person to be a little bit willing to play along, otherwise, no matter how believable the characters are, the scenarios will seem absolutely ludicrous when strung together (Miss Marple would be exhausted, Jack Bauer would have horrifically bad luck, Carrie Bradshaw would have far too many boyfriends, etc).
The Informationist

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Summary: I think that the mystery/plot part deserves a B (some parts were a little obvious). The descriptions of Africa and the characters were A+. Overall, this was a very enjoyable read and I can't wait for more from Taylor Stevens.This is an impressive first book. I loved the character of Michael/Vanessa. She had depth, intrigue, and interesting demons in her past. While I understand why people have drawn parallels to Lisbeth Salander (troubled pasts, super abilities, misfits, written off by society, etc), I think that Michael stands on her own. Her language ability, the way she interacts with people, how she comes to terms with her past, and the way she's revealed to the reader make her very different.The author taunts the reader -- feeding them tidbits of information as they clamor for more, much like Michael taunts those she's manipulating in the book. For the reader, this means the good kind of frustration -- the kind that makes you want to keep reading. Usually, interesting characters and/or an intriguing storyline are enough to keep a reader on the hook. Stevens goes one step further. The picture she paints of Africa is fascinating. She gives just enough background information and history to enrich the story without boring the reader.Cons: 1) Miles Bradford was a bit too weak given his background as a security consultant/special forces guy. Under the guise of explaining things to Miles, the author fills the reader in on the African history/local culture part. But I wish that she'd achieved that goal some other way because his level of ignorance is a little bit unbelievable. 2) All the "B" names are easy to mix up in the beginning. 3) Some of the phrasing gets a little bit too flowery at the end of chapters. I don't need every chapter to end with a specially-crafted [over-wrought] phrase or deep thought.
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Matterhorn

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Comparing Matterhorn to other books of the genre is tricky, because I feel like it's so much more than a "war book." Since Marlantes does such a good job drawing the readers into Lt Mellas' life, it doesn't matter if they're military history buffs. It's good storytelling, plain and simple.That said, because of its subject matter, people will naturally try to draw comparisons to other Vietnam books. So to give you some context: it's got poingnant characters and a more literary style, like the The Things They Carried; the visceral descriptions of Dispatches (the book Apocalypse now was partially based on); and the "reality check" and technical details of We Were Soldiers Once...and Young. Yet at the same time, it's like none of these.Some people have complained that it's long and chaotic and that you're bombarded with minute details, but I think that adds to the effect and makes it seem like you're standing next to Lt Mellas. You get the feeling that long, chaotic, and overwhelming was exactly Marlantes' experience.I wasn't there, so I can't speak to the book's authenticity. However I can say that it definitely seems real. And it sticks with you long after you're done reading. A few months after I'd finished it, I had the following conversation:-Random guy: I'm reading this book where the author does such a good job setting the scene that you feel like you're trudging with the main character through a monsoon. He covers the sights, smells, tastes, feelings, and misery -- all of it, and....-Me: By any chance are you talking about Matterhorn?-Random Guy: Yes, but....I didn't even say 'Vietnam' how'd you know?
Bowl of Cherries

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People either love or hate this book. While I like Vonnegut, Catch-22, etc, this book is unique. And entertaining. Kaufman's word choice is fantastic (yeah. he uses big words. Get over it and learn something) and he has great characters (a zany egyptologist who only wears dirty bathrobes, for example) and absurdly comical locales (a porn studio, old mansion, etc), and the circumstances that get the main character to Iraq are great. Tried to explain this book to a friend and came off sounding like a crazy person. The second half isn't as good but I was still more than willing to push through it and get to the end. Over all, I found this book entertaining, thought-provoking, and different.(And better than his second book, Misadventure)
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

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Once you get past the initial head-scratching (huh? an 11 year old chemistry expert and detective? Is this for kids or adults?), a precocious 11 year old makes for a great protagonist and by no means makes this a children's book. Amazon's best of the month review likens this to Harriet the Spy (a childhood favorite), but Harriet's problems are more centered in the world of children and Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie doesn't have the moralistic overtones.Flavia's sharp mind (she's a master chemist, after all), nosy tendencies, predilection for revenge, and clear voice make for a great read. Her innocence (she's still 11) balances her wit and makes her problem-solving process more interesting - adults ignore her and her approach and the importance she assigns clues differs from yours or mine, ultimately making for a more intriguing read. This book was a refreshing break from the typical murder/suspense books. It's light in comparison, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.Excellent characters (including a bicycle named Gladys), British humor, and a thoroughly dysfunctional family make this a good read. The mystery part needs some work - it starts to ramble in the last 1/3. Also, Flavia would be even more interesting if the cast of supporting characters were more intelligent and less bumbling at times. It'd be nice, as a reader, to go "aha! I didn't think of that" and to be stumped instead of merely admiring her smarts relative to those around her.
Wild Thing

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Pietro Brnwa, a former hit man, is now practicing medicine as Dr. Lionel Azimuth. When he fails to get fired from his gig as a cruise ship doctor, he accepts a job from a reclusive billionaire (Rec Bill) to go on an expedition to find a lake monster in Minnesota. He's hired for his combination of body guard skills (to protect Rec Bill's lovely paleontologist) and his skepticism (if Azimuth can prove the monster is a hoax, Rec Bill saves $2 million). His medical knowledge also comes in handy because, naturally, people get hurt in a variety of bloody and appalling ways.While this is the second book about Pietro Brnwa, in a lot of ways this is not a sequel to Beat the Reaper. Wild Thing continues with Pietro's darkly funny, acerbic, violent narrative style. However, Wild Thing is more linear and reads more like a thriller because the expedition drives the plot.Additionally, there's an element of political satire. There are debates about evolution, rants about global warming, and a caricature of a famous Republican. I don't necessarily agree with all of Bazell's political views, but there's so much going on that they don't really detract from the plot. A famous politician is no more out of place on a monster hunt than the Vegas magician, pop sensation, and Chinese tycoon who are also along for the ride. I saw the satire of the surprise political guest kind of like the gore and gratuitous sexual references: so over the top and ridiculous that they're no longer offensive.Bazell obviously had fun writing Wild Thing (this is a book about a quest to find a ferocious water monster and it starts with "'Ishmael -- Call me' is all the telegram says."). I had a lot of fun reading it, too.Kindle Note: Love the footnotes -- they're an integral part of the book. HATE them on the Kindle. It's awkward and takes a lot of time away from reading. I'd recommend buying the hard copy.
The Lock Artist: A Novel

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It's sort of like a detective novel in reverse: you know who did it, but you keep reading to figure out what it was he did. In this case, there are two mysteries: what Michael did to land in jail and what traumatized him when he was a boy?5 stars:-Michael is the type of character who draws you in and makes you want to keep reading. Even though he's mute, his narrative voice is compelling with just the right amount of sarcasm to keep you engaged. The supporting characters and Amelia, Michael's love interest, are interesting and well-developed, too.-Intriguing subject matter. A prodigy safecracker/artist who's mute and has a mysterious past...who could ask for more?-The writing is top-notch. I really enjoyed the author's writing style (strong narrator, tight phrasing, great dialogue, quickly moving plot). I also appreciated the fact that he explained the technical aspects of safecracking clearly. He didn't resort to diagrams but I was still able to visualize what he was talking about. However, while these passages were well-written, there were a few too many of them/they got a bit redundant.-Hamilton executes the multiple timeline thing well. It works with the story instead of coming across as an annoying literary device of an author who is trying too hard.This book reminded me of the parts I liked about Beat the Reaper without all the extraneous violence. Overall, I'm really glad I happened to stumble across this book. I finished it in a weekend and was sad to do so.
Beat the Reaper

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Don't read this book if: you shut your eyes during the gorey parts of Nip/Tuck; if you only watched the family-friendly, censored version of Sex and the City five years after the original aired; if Jaws gave you nightmares; or if you think Chuck Palahniuk is a disgusting, depraved a*hole; if the first word beginning with "f" and ending with "uck" that comes to mind is "firetruck." I'm serious.As someone who always wins a game of trivial pursuit, finds footnotes entertaining and illuminating, not a nuisance, and enjoys people watching, I really liked this book. It exceeded my expectations for airplane/vacation reading (in fact it left me with nothing to read for most of the trip because I tore through it so quickly).Yes, there are footnotes. Read them. As Bazell says at the end of the book, his primary objective was to entertain, and then inform. They really add to the book. You'll find yourself turning your hand over and staring at your wrist in no time (see footnote, page 4)Yes, there is sex, violence, and foul language. Hit men characters (or even most doctors I know, for that matter) don't talk like priests. The gore is almost over-the-top-repulsive at times: your mouth will be agape, you'll squirm in your seat, and question whether or not you can keep reading. But you will. It's like a roller coaster -- the adrenaline rush at the end is just worth it. The common criticism that this book is "too gorey" is actually a plus if you think about it because it means he writes in such a clear way that you can actually visualize what's happening.No, there isn't much "plot" per se. This isn't a detective thriller. The suspense, unlike that of the Millennium Trilogy, for example, does not come from hidden pasts and dark secrets (though there are plenty of those), but rather from the voice and the main character himself. He's just too fascinating to stop reading about.4.5 stars: exceeded my expectations for airplane reading, great book from a new author, was thoroughly entertained, can't wait for the next installment, and it stuck with me. However, while it's not meant to be realistic, some of the outlandish scenes are a little unwieldy at times and the writing could be tightened up in some of the longer passages.
A Red Herring Without Mustard

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The de Luce's rambling English Mansion, Buckshaw, plays host to a number of dead bodies, plus the beating of a Gypsy fortune teller. Eleven year-old Flavia takes it upon herself to solve the case before Inspector Hewitt (straining her relations with him in the process). In addition to the wit and humor Flavia brings, we get gypsies, secret passages, small town gossip, sibling rivalries, revenge, and more.4.5 stars because:-Supporting characters continue to get fleshed out. We learn a little bit more about Dogger, Harriet, her father, sisters, etc.-With a plot involving gypsies, it would've been easy for Bradley to stray into mysticism or offensive sterotypes. Instead, he intertwines their presence into the plot well and makes people's prejudices part of the story.-Flavia continues to shine. Her chemistry expertise, creative revenge tactics, and sleuthing continue to be top notch. But in this installment, we also see a more vulnerable side of her, as she reacts to her father's monetary problems and ponders her mother's death.Note: While this is the third Flavia de Luce book, the author does a good job of providing necessary background information. Start at the beginning because all three books are great. But if you happen to come upon this one first, don't worry.
Lost in Shangri-La

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With the subject matter (plane crash survivors stranded in New Guinea) and press this book has gotten, it'd be easy to think this is a thriller. It's not. It's still a historical non-fiction book -- it just reads like a very interesting one.4 stars:-I liked how the author integrated first person accounts and journal entries with what we know today. It makes for a richer read because you're essentially getting 3 sides to the story: the survivors' 1945 account; the natives' story, based on oral tradition and childhood memories, told today; and information historians and anthropologists gathered for decades after the crash.-Zuckoff is objective. He addresses racial and cultural stereotypes without being heavy-handed. He doesn't blame characters for their views, but instead points out their errors. More of a "today, anthropologists know..." instead of "it's ridiculous he'd think the natives were dangerous cannibals."-It could have been a little more cohesive -- Zuckoff seems to jump around a bit. For example, he could transition better from one person's background/account to the next person's story. I noticed some people thought there was too much detail about the key players' backgrounds. I think the detail helps shape the characters. For example, reading about why and how each of them ended up stationed in New Guinea makes their survival in Shangri-la even more remarkable. For me, it was more about how the detail was presented than the quantity.-I think this book would appeal to a wide-range of audiences -- I'm not a World War II buff and I don't read a ton of historical non-fiction. The story is intriguing, the writing has a good balance between providing context and moving the story along, and it's a manageable length.Tip: I think the way this book is being marketed ("real-life adventure thriller!!!!") could set some readers up to be disappointed. If you're a fiction reader, go into this remembering this isn't a "story inspired by true events," but rather an actual account of true events. It'd be like watching an engaging documentary of King George VI instead of the movie The King's Speech -- they're both good but they do different things. That said, this is still a remarkable story worth reading.
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