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The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (The Flavia de Luce Mysteries)
416 pages; Bantam
Brilliant 11-year-old Flavia de Luce lives in a beautiful English country home in the 1950s with her widowed father, the spacey stamp collector, and two reliably nasty older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. An ancestor of her family—an accomplished chemist—left a fully equipped laboratory in the mansion's attic. Flavia spends the majority of her time there, nurturing a deep fascination with, of all things, poison.

When she chooses to venture out of her lab on her trusty bike, Gladys, she manages to not only solve the local murders in town but also to beat the local police in apprehending the villains. In this, the series' second installment, Flavia befriends a famous puppeteer, Rupert Porson, and his lovely assistant, Nialla, who have come to the town of Bishop's Lacey. But right as Rupert and Nialla are about to put on a show, Rupert is found, dead, electrocuted backstage. Aside from her uncanny knack for closing cases (and her ability to give long and somehow totally hilarious descriptions of how to kill people with speed and ease), Flavia's charm is how terribly funny and sweet she is. This is a girl who makes up songs lionizing her mystery-solving adventures, fantasizes about meeting film stars and spends a lot of time trying to evade her cook's attempts to make her eat hideous failed desserts. She is also endlessly mystified by her mistreatment at the hands of her sisters and its nebulous connection to her mother's absence, resulting in a loneliness that's as poignant as her sleuthing is brilliant. By the end of each book, you find yourself very willing to adopt her—laboratory, deadly chemicals and all.—Nathalie Gorman