Ugh. Last time I could make jokes but this time digging out our driveway took three hours and I don’t want to talk about it except to say:
On the plus side, I did spend the not-shoveling part of the snowstorm with some great books!
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan. This book about the women who worked at Oak Ridge during World War II reads like a novel. Since this is still within living memory, the author was able to interview lots of people, and to focus on a few individual stories. The first-person accounts really add an immersive layer to the history. In alternate chapters, the history and science behind the atomic bomb is explored. A nice introduction to the making of the atomic bomb, and also a great exploration of the women who had a hand in making it happen.
The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman. Very much my usual, and Goodman is very much in her wheelhouse with a novel about two writers who go back to their college town in upstate New York to work as caretakers for a former teacher. The teacher’s house has a tragic past, and lots of family secrets and maybe a ghost. Entertaining and enjoyable, and I’m just getting into the meat of it now.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This book was all the rage when it was first published. Everyone was reading it and talking about it. It’s been on my TBR pile for years, and I just started it the other night. The first chapter was a promising, atmospheric, and mysterious beginning to a story about rival magicians in the late 19th century.
Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry. Yet another novel I’m reading in preparation for Horror month! I’ve loved all the short stories I’ve read by Maberry, so I decided to give this title a try. It’s about an ancient evil in a small town. If it spooks me, you’ll see it in October!
That was all I had time for before the shoveling began. And the watching of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which is awesome and you should stop reading this right now and go watch it. Maybe this weekend I’ll have time for more books and Gently. After shoveling.
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!