I’m deep in it now, folks. There’s no going back. Well, there is, but I’m not going to let myself quit the challenge.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. First things first:
How could I not? The pile of old books, the old-fashioned looking costume, the overlay of handwriting, and the blurb from Sara Gruen all called out to me. When I flipped through the book itself, I found illustrations of tarot cards by the author, and the typesetting and page layouts were great.
So I took home The Book of Speculation by Erikia Swyler, having judged it solely on its cover.
Because this is a challenge book and a bit outside my usual for the Readers Corner, I’m going to go ahead and say something I try to never, ever say on this blog: I didn’t like this book. Worse: I did not finish this book.
This blog is all about Readers Advisory, which is why I don’t usually give suggestions based purely on personal taste. One of the central tenets of RA service is that there’s a right book at the right time for the right person, and the challenge is to find what the appeal for a reader might be.
The set-up of the novel is sound, and interesting: there might just be a curse on Simon’s family, causing its women to drown on the 24th of July. A mysterious old book arrives out of the blue one day, which has a connection to the family, the curse, and a centuries-old traveling carnival. The story is told in alternating narratives–one in the present, with Simon doing his research, and one in the past, offering the background of the carnival.
I am the wrong reader for this book, and I found it at the wrong time. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and the pacing was much too slow for me. While I enjoyed the past narrative for the imagery and the interesting characters, I also had a hard time finding a sense of time and place in it. I had a particularly hard time connecting with the present storyline. Not just because a librarian loses his job, I don’t think. Though that probably didn’t help. (#librariantriggerwarning)
Swyler’s style is literary and evocative, and her pacing is leisurely. She creates some wonderful images, particularly in the past narrative. There’s some magic thrown in, a few family secrets, and of course the race to be sure no other family members fall prey to the curse. But none of these wonderfully promising elements gelled for me quickly enough.
As I said, I didn’t finish this book, so I can’t say how the pacing might change or how the tension might build. I was still in the set-up phase when I set it aside. Were I in a different reading mood things might have turned out differently. So don’t let my reaction put you off! You might just be the right reader for The Book of Speculation, so do click that link and learn more, particularly if you enjoyed The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Or if you just like the cover.
Now we are getting into the exact scenario I warned myself about when I began this process: I’m getting lots of duds just when I’m feeling the pressure. This isn’t the first book I chose for this challenge item. So, as you can infer, this is not the first one I’ve given up on. Rather than draw things out needlessly I’ll skip right to cheating and count this book that I didn’t not finish as a challenge read.
Lesson: Don’t judge books by their covers. Also, listen to yourself when your self warns you not to attempt reading challenges.
–Marie, who refuses to quit!