In this first of a series of middle grades book the reader meets Alex Morningside, a plucky ten year old who ventures into the world to find the famous Wigpowder treasure. In her adventures, Alex comes across heartless elderly ladies, time-defying trains, a hotelier called Lord Poppinjay, ruthless pirates and some other very quirky characters.

I have to say that this is the most fun I’ve had reading in a long time. The characters are fresh, the adventures are imaginative and the narrative is delightfully funny. The book is filled with whimsical passages. From page 24:

“Strange things can happen in the middle of the night. The reason for this is that, typically, this time of night tends to be very dark. This means that there is lots of blackness to hide in or escape to after having done something sinister. And this is why most movies have their scariest moments late at night. Also the street lights can cast ominous shadows, so you can fool yourself into thinking things are more dangerous than they are.
However, I should point out that the two men walking down that alley over there were exactly as dangerous as, if you could see them properly in the day and not in the middle of the night, they looked. Which was rather dangerous.”

There are many of these kinds of tongue-in-cheek observations, which when you think about them, are very true. For those readers who are looking for a great new hero to cheer on, Alex is Morningside is perfect. I’m not sure if Adrienne Kress will be writing a third book but I hope she does!

To read my review of the second book in this series, Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate, click here.

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I absolutely loved Alan Bradley's first book in this series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and I'm really looking forward to the second book, The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag. My review of Sweetness is here.

From the publisher's website the description of The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag reads:

From Dagger Award–winning and internationally bestselling author Alan Bradley comes this utterly beguiling mystery starring one of fiction’s most remarkable sleuths: Flavia de Luce, a dangerously brilliant eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders. This time, Flavia finds herself untangling two deaths—separated by time but linked by the unlikeliest of threads.

Flavia thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacy are over—and then Rupert Porson has an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. The beloved puppeteer has had his own strings sizzled, but who’d do such a thing and why? For Flavia, the questions are intriguing enough to make her put aside her chemistry experiments and schemes of vengeance against her insufferable big sisters. Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets.

Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations to the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Brontë sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt, and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is Porson’s assistant, the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head?

Tuesday Teasers is hosted by Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:

Grab your current read and let the book fall open to a random page. Share two sentences somewhere between lines 7 and 12 and the title of the book that you’re getting the teaser from. Please avoid spoilers! Read the official Tuesday Teaser Rules.

My teaser this week is from a book given to me by Tina. She really enjoyed it and I have to admit it's not my current read but I do have it near the top of my TBR pile. It's called The 13th Hour and it's written by Richard Doetsch. From page 163:

The trunk lid rose slowly to expose the two duffel bags and the iron plates. Nick reached in and unzipped a bag to reveal an explosion of golden color-Daggers, swords, three gold in-laid pistols. Nick pulled out the coup-de-grace: a black velvet pouch, which he opened, the diamonds rolling about in a brilliance of color.

Tina's review of this book is here.

This meme is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page and Kristi at The Story Siren.

I received one book last week called A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks.

From the Sebastian Faulks's website:

It is London, the week before Christmas, 2007. Over seven days we follow the lives of seven major characters: a hedge fund manager trying to bring off the biggest trade of his career; a professional footballer recently arrived from Poland; a young lawyer with little work and too much time to speculate; a student who has been led astray by Islamist theory; a hack book-reviewer; a schoolboy hooked on skunk and reality TV; and a Tube train driver whose Circle Line train joins these and countless other lives together in a daily loop.

I read the first two pages and I found it good reading. I haven't read this author yet but I'm looking forward to it!

Books On My Shelves

This week I'm featuring a book called Wycliffe and the Beales by W.J. Burley.

From the book's website:

Washford lies in Hound of the Baskervilles country, a village of granite and slate which looks as though it has grown out of the moor. And close at hand is Ashill House, Regency in origin but Victorian in spirit, the home of the Beales, an odd, reclusive family: old Simon has withdrawn from active life; Nicholas and Gertrude confine themselves respectively to war games and the bottle; young Edward takes long painting expeditions on the moor. Frank Vicary, Gertrude's husband, runs the family business with enough drive to compensate for the failings of all the others. And when there's a murder in the village, there seems no immediate reason to connect it with the Beales.

Indeed, why should anyone want to kill the village lay-about, Bunny Newcombe? Yet someone lay in wait for him in his squalid cottage, and shot him with, surprisingly, a Beretta. The crime soon has the top brass on the spot, including Mr Burley's now well-known Chief Superintendent Wycliffe, who lives not far away, and we are launched upon a fascinating search for skeletons in cupboards— or in archives.

A second murder follows, and then a third, before Wycliffe arrives at the dramatic denouement. Once again Mr Burley provides a masterly plot, with its every part beautifully dove­tailed, and an unusual cast of strange, troubled people.

I only realized after checking out the author's website that he was quite prolific - he was working on his 23rd Wycliffe novel when he died in 2002.

Review: THE SEA CAPTAIN'S WIFE by Beth Powning

I think this is the first book I’ve read about life on the high seas which does not have the main character holding the lowest status on board ship. Perhaps there’s something about the story-telling arc that lends itself to that feature. Or perhaps, since the main character is the captain's wife in a 19th century world, she is considered to have the lowest status. Not likely though, considering the plight of some cabin boys I've read about.

In any event, The Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning is an adventurous tale of a sea-faring family told from the viewpoint of Azuba Galloway, the captain’s wife aboard Traveller, a merchant ship sailing during the 1860’s. Azuba strives to overcome a myriad of obstacles while also having to deal with the 19th century attitude to women’s roles.

I really enjoyed this book. It was definitely a page-turner and kept me awake at night far longer than I should’ve been. There were two small blips for me, however. I’m one of those people who can’t stand to read anything about suffering children – even though it’s often a sad reality. This story did have some of that in it. The second thing that gave me pause is the Captain’s behavior. Certainly I thought the author had his attitudes and actions spot on most of the time, but I wonder, since the story is told from his wife’s perspective (and therefore, I think, perhaps an extension of the author’s), if the Captain would have behaved differently given some of the circumstances he faced. It’s difficult to go into more detail without giving away any of the plot so I will leave it at that. Something else to note is that there is a helpful glossary at the back of the book defining many of the sailing terms used throughout. I consulted it sporadically but for those who like to picture the action, it’s a useful tool. All in all this book was great and I highly recommend it.

Note: I love the cover of this book, but since I received the ARC through LibraryThing's early reviewer programme I have the uncorrected proof and not the finished copy with this nice cover.

Author reading and signing: Elizabeth Kostova!

Thanks to an email from Linda, I, along with Linda and Avis, (the remaining two members of our blogger group, Cindy and Tina, decided not to go) attended a book signing for Elizabeth Kostova's new book, The Swan Thieves. Ms. Kostova was in downtown Montreal at 6:30 p.m. at Paragraphe bookstore which for me, meant a train and metro ride at rush hour. It was worth it!

The author read a chapter and the prologue from The Swan Thieves, answered questions and graciously signed her novels. I have read her first novel, The Historian, twice (which shows you how big a fan I am) and was planning on getting both the new book and, though I have a much-loved and read copy of The Historian, I wanted a pristine copy. Imagine my disappointment when the store clerk told me they were sold out! And not because people at the signing were buying them either. Paragraphe just didn't have any! Is it just me, or does anyone else think that's strange?

Still, I've very pleased I made the trip downtown to see one of my favourite authors. I'm always a bit shy with them but I did ask Ms. Kostova if she planned on writing a sequel to The Historian. She said she preferred to concentrate on a different topic. I haven't read The Swan Thieves yet, but if it's even half as good as The Historian I know I will love it!

Avis's post about meeting Elizabeth Kostova is here and Linda's is here.

Tuesday Teasers

Tuesday Teasers is hosted by Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:

Grab your current read and let the book fall open to a random page. Share two sentences somewhere between lines 7 and 12 and the title of the book that you’re getting the teaser from. Please avoid spoilers! Read the official Tuesday Teaser Rules.

This week my teaser is a bit longer than usual and is from a really fun YA book called Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress. From page 263:
"My crew are getting ready for the voyage, and as far as I know, there isn't much a ship's surgeon has to do before we set sail."
"Not true, not true. Why already this morning I've had to deal with two splinters and a stubbed toe."
"Which of my men would have the gall to stop work for something as small as that?"
"Your crew? I was talking about myself," replied Shakespeare.
If you haven't had the opportunity to check out this funny adventure series yet, you can find out all about the books (so far there are two in the series, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate) on the author's website.

Mailbox Monday

This meme is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page and Kristi at The Story Siren.

I received two books in the mail last week. The first is The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore which I won through the LibraryThing early reviewer programme.

From Helen Dunmore's website:
Leningrad in 1952, a city recovering from war. Andrei, a hospital doctor, and Anna, a nursery teacher, are forging a life together. They try to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities, but their private happiness is precarious. Stalin is still in power, and when Andrei has to treat the seriously-ill child of a senior secret police officer, he and Anna are caught in a web of betrayal.

I only realized after I received this book that it's a sequel to another book called The Siege! Thankfully, my library had a copy and I was able to borrow it.

The second book I received is Then Came the Evening by Brian Hart.

From Bloomsbury's website:
Bandy Dorner, home from Vietnam, awakes with his car mired in a canal, his cabin reduced to ashes, and his pregnant wife preparing to leave town with her lover. Within moments, a cop lies bleeding in the road.

Eighteen years later, Bandy's son -- a stranger bearing his name -- returns to the town, where the memory of his father's crime still hangs thick. When an accident brings the family -- paroled father, widowed mother, injured son -- back together, the three must confront their past, and struggle against their fate.

Like a traditional Greek tragedy, suffused with the mud, ice, and rock of the raw Idaho landscape, Then Came the Evening is tautly plotted and emotionally complex -- a stunning debut.

Books On My Shelves

In this meme of 'books on my bookstore shelves' I really like to look around my store in a search for authors I've never heard of before. They don't need to be new releases or new authors - just new to me. This week I came across Gillian Slovo and her book, Ice Road.

It was shortlisted in 2004 for the Orange Prize. The blurb on the back cover reads:

Irina Davydovna is a cleaner. She has no time for politics or even, for that matter, people: 'rules and rulers may come and go, but dirt never changes.' Boris Aleksandrovich is a revolutionary. He thinks he understands power. But this is Leningrad in 1933 and Stalin is about to turn against their city.

When the life of his beloved daughter Natasha is threatened and his old friend Anton saves a skinny little orphan he finds on a Moscow train, Boris's faith in his ideals are put to the test. While Irina, watching it all, must learn the power of loyalty and of love.

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

The Forgotten Garden is being published in softcover this month. It sounds just the sort of book I would love to read, mysterious, maybe a little creepy. Well, I don't know if it does have creepy elements but it sounds as if it could! From Kate Morton's website:

A lost child...

On the eve of the first world war, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship to Australia. A mysterious woman called the Authoress had promised to look after her - but the Authoress has disappeared without a trace.

A terrible secret...

On the night of her twenty-first birthday, Nell O'Connor learns a secret that will change her life forever. Decades later, she embarks upon a search for the truth that leads her to the windswept Cornish coast and the strange and beautiful Blackhurst Manor, once owned by the aristocratic Mountrachet family.

A mysterious inheritance...

On Nell's death, her grand-daughter, Cassandra, comes into an unexpected inheritance. Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden are notorious amongst the Cornish locals for the secrets they hold - secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family and their ward Eliza Makepeace, a writer of dark Victorian fairytales. It is here that Cassandra will finally uncover the truth about the family, and solve the century-old mystery of a little girl lost.

Tuesday Teaser

Tuesday Teasers is hosted by Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:

Grab your current read and let the book fall open to a random page. Share two sentences somewhere between lines 7 and 12 and the title of the book that you’re getting the teaser from. Please avoid spoilers! Read the official Tuesday Teaser Rules.

My teaser this week is more of a quote than anything else. But it so perfectly describes me and I suspect, more than a few other bloggers out there. This quote is taken from an out-of-print book titled Robert Blatchford's Calendar by Robert Williamson. I could not find a cover picture of the book anywhere and since the book belongs to a customer of our bookstore I can't post my own photo of it, but here's the quote:

"A book lover loves her books and covets the books of her neighbours. She likes to caress them. She likes to arrange them and rearrange them. She likes to stand in her treasure house and bathe in the pride of ownership. She likes to place her pets in lines upon shelves and read the title."

Mind you, the more I re-read it the more neurotic I sound!

Mailbox Monday

This meme is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page and Kristi at The Story Siren.

I received one book in the mail last week: The Language of Secrets by Diane Dixon

From the author's website:

Justin Fisher appears to have the perfect life—a beautiful wife, a baby son, a glamorous job as a luxury hotel manager, and the lavish spoils of his prosperous in-laws. But beneath this charmed existence, lies a dark secret: Justin’s past is a puzzle with missing pieces. His search for the truth begins with his attempt to reconnect with his parents: a visit to 822 Lima Street—the house where he was born—a place made unforgettable by a haunting song his mother sang to him when he was a child.

Justin is shocked to discover his mother and father are dead. But the real jolt comes when he visits their gravesite. There, he finds a weathered headstone bearing his name; and an inscription that says he died before his third birthday. And so begins Dixon’s intriguing tale spanning almost four decades and thousands of miles—from the lush shores of California to the coastal hamlets of Connecticut.

At the heart of the story is the woman Justin remembers as his mother: Caroline Fisher. In college, as the result of a bicycle accident, Caroline forges friendships with three, very different men—one becomes her husband, one a secret flame, and one her closest confidant. Years later, on Halloween, the lives of this foursome collide again. The collision occurs when they are balancing jobs and families; and leads to shocking betrayals, heartbreaking loss, shattered memories—and unexpected deaths.

The drama of the story has its roots in a startling and emotionally wrenching family tragedy. Caroline, who spends most of her adult life trying to obscure the details of that tragedy, finds herself lost in her own lies; realizing, with bewilderment and regret, “that she had unwittingly written her life into a language of secrets, into an indecipherable code riddled with questions.” In chapters that alternate between the past and present, Dixon reveals the damage family members can inflict upon one another in the name of love, and explores the devastating ways in which that damage echoes from one generation to the next.

Publication date is March 23, 2010.

I find the premise of this book to be very interesting. I know I'd be having a surreal moment if I went to visit my parent's grave site and found my own name on a tombstone!

Books On My Shelves

A book Ive had on my wishlist for a long time is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Walking around my bookstore last week I saw it on a table and grabbed it. My husband counter-grabbed. It was a horrible ;-). He took it from me and placed it back on the shelf where it will no doubt languish due to no fault of its own.

Ok, perhaps I am being a bit melodramatic but I really do want that book! One of the things though about owning a bookstore is that all the books in it are for sale whether I want them in my personal library or not. The good news is that the thousands of books I do own are mine to keep and not subject to the cold glare of bookstore customers. (I know, again the melodrama!) I'm going to have to come up with a plan to get hold of that book. A trade perhaps...another book that he wants to have in the store more than this one. As you can see, one must be clever and devious when dealing with wily bookstore owners! Now on to the book...

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is not a new book; it came out in 2006 and from what I gather, it was quite popular. I heard about it just last year and the cover when I saw it, attracted me immediately. Add to that the description from the publisher's website:
Sometimes, when you open the door to thepast, what you confront is your destiny.

Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchantingstories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate livesfor herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about herextraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret forso long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her ownpainful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret ismesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness -- featuring the beautifuland willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess,a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

This is one of those books I just can't wait to read. The anticipation is driving me crazy - I just know I'm going to love it. Has anyone else read this book? If you have, what did you think of it?

Review: DROOD by Dan Simmons

Thanks very much to Hachette for providing a copy of this book to review!

When I finished this book I looked around on the web for reviews. I read those of the professional reviewers and the bloggers and some from non-bloggers as well and I can tell you there’s quite a range of opinions. Some thought it too long and could use a strong editorial hand. Others said that the author fell victim to the habit of giving too much detail about the particular time period (in Drood’s case, Victorian England) as though every detail the author discovered during his research needed to be put in the book. Still others felt there were too many incidental side stories that had nothing to do with plot and so slowed the book down considerably.

I did not feel this way. I enjoyed the descriptions of Dickens’ house parties, the relationship between Charles Dickens and various other characters, including those with his wife and son-in-law, Wilkie Collins’ brother, Charley. I got to know Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and a host of other people. And then there was the London undertown! (Did this place really exist?) Had the book been any shorter, I would not have had the same sense of atmosphere that pervaded the whole work, nor would I have enjoyed the contrast between the everyday life of the upper class and the horrors faced by the ‘Charles Dickens’ poverty-stricken lower class. It was immensely fascinating to read about the laudanum-addicted Wilkie’s movements between undertown and Charles Dickens country getaway.

This book showed me what a great story-teller Dan Simmons is. Rich in period detail with the right amount of creepiness, Drood was brilliant. Now, I’m well aware that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I couldn’t get enough of it and found it highly entertaining from the first page. It reminded me somewhat of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, another book that many people thought should have been shorter but I was happy it wasn’t.

My only complaint with this book is the weight! The hardcover must weigh a good 3 pounds so think twice before taking it on the bus!

The Reagan Arthur Book Challenge

I heard about this challenge yesterday from a comment left by Kathy from Bermudaonion on my Mailbox Monday post about the book Black Hills, which is one of the challenge books. She suggested I check out this challenge and after thinking about it, I'm going to give it a shot. What's at stake? Well, the opportunity to read some really great books that are already on my TBR list! Best of all about this challenge: there is no end date to the challenge, so no pressure! For more information about the Reagan Arthur Book Challenge and to sign up click here.

Mailbox Monday

This meme is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page and Kristi at The Story Siren.

I am very much a fan of Dan Simmons after reading Drood so I'm very pleased to say that I received his latest book in the mail thanks to Hachette! It is called Black Hills and the description from Hachette's website reads:

When Paha Sapa, a young Sioux warrior, "counts coup" on General George Armstrong Custer as Custer lies dying on the battlefield at the Little Bighorn, the legendary general's ghost enters him - and his voice will speak to him for the rest of his event-filled life.

Seamlessly weaving together the stories of Paha Sapa, Custer, and the American West, Dan Simmons depicts a tumultuous time in the history of both Native and white Americans. Haunted by Custer's ghost, and also by his ability to see into the memories and futures of legendary men like Sioux war-chief Crazy Horse, Paha Sapa's long life is driven by a dramatic vision he experienced as a boy in his people's sacred Black Hills. In August of 1936, a dynamite worker on the massive Mount Rushmore project, Paha Sapa plans to silence his ghost forever and reclaim his people's legacy-on the very day FDR comes to Mount Rushmore to dedicate the Jefferson face.

Publication date for this book is February 24, 2010.

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