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The Book of Speculation
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May 2018: Family Drama > The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler - 4 stars

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Hebah (quietdissident) | 675 comments This story drew me right in--a mysterious manuscript, a whisper of magic, family secrets and tragedy, a carnival, and a puzzle to figure out before tragedy strikes the protagonist's unlucky family.

The story opens with librarian Simon Watson receiving an unexpected package containing a waterlogged old book chronicling the history of a traveling carnival where Simon's grandmother once worked as a mermaid. Past and present timelines alternate between the story of Amos and Evangeline, the carnival's seer's apprentice and mermaid respectively, and Simon's present-day story, when he pieces together the realization that the women of his family tend to commit suicide on a particular day. That day is July 24, and Simon realizes, his restless sister, herself a carnival traveling tarot reader, has been acting unusual... When he loses his job due to funding cuts, Simon allows himself to get swept up fully in the mystery of how the mysterious book connects to his family and how they came to be so unlucky, what curse has fallen upon them and whether it can be broken.

Simon's coworker and would-be girlfriend Alice remarks early on that Simon never could resist a puzzle, and neither, it turns out, can I. The story that unfolds is dramatic (indeed, perhaps a bit melodramatic by spells, but I admit I ate it all up with gothic relish) and enthralling. Readers realize the source of the curse well before Simon does, which only ratchets up the suspense. Family secrets are rarely a good thing, with generations' worth of miscommunication and secrecy, solidly earning this book its "family drama" tag.

I know other readers had issues with character development, but I read this one for plot and setting. I can see how the research needed for filling in the gaps of the family history may not make for as exciting fare as some readers might want, but I thought it balanced well with the more dramatic unfolding of the past subplot. Circuses and carnivals are rich grounds for drama and lend themselves well to magical realism like uncanny Tarot readings and abilities that just skirt the line of physiologically possible.

Overall very enjoyable read.

message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy | 9351 comments I enjoyed this! Think I even gave it four stars.

Jgrace | 3109 comments Overall, I do think I enjoyed this one.

But Simon made me crazy. So annoying, I was ready to throw him off the cliff before his house slid down it into the ocean.

Hebah (quietdissident) | 675 comments Jgrace wrote: "Overall, I do think I enjoyed this one.

But Simon made me crazy. So annoying, I was ready to throw him off the cliff before his house slid down it into the ocean."

Haha, I can see that. I guess I was willing to give him a pass on being a bit whiny since he lost his job and all.

message 5: by Nicole R (last edited May 14, 2018 08:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7784 comments Ugh, Simon. I still remember how frustrating he was.

My exact words were:
Simon was not an overly likable character. I didn't dislike him, but his flat emotions and detachment did not give me enough to connect to. His inability to actually be honest with his sister or Alice or Frank made me want to shake him. And his refusal to deal with anything going on with his life ticked me off. But, on the other hand, those things seemed to fit the weight-of-the-world-on-my-shoulders character.

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