Tag Archives: Circus

Book Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (4/5)

8 May

This is one of those books that was popping up everywhere for a few months. I added it to my list and was really surprised my library only offered an ebook copy. I always read ebooks really slowly on my phone, mostly while I’m eating lunch at work or waiting at the doctor’s office. Recently, I’d been reading it more consistently and was really hooked by the climax at the end. The two plotlines were converging and I was loving it. But, as all good bookworms have experienced, I lost the hold! Because it’s an ebook, it auto-returned and I couldn’t even agree to pay overdue fines to finish it. Fortunately, the ILL system in my area is pretty great and I was able to get a physical copy a week and a half later. I literally had twenty pages left. I finished the book while eating lunch the day I picked it up.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Summary from Goodreads:

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.

One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand.

The book started out a little slower than I was expecting and there was a bit more magical realism than I had anticipated. Magical realism isn’t something I enjoy and I think if Swyler had put any more into it, I wouldn’t have liked this book. As it stands, it was just enough to be fun without being overwhelming. Simon is very lost in his life and it seems appropriate that a book would help a librarian find his way. The subplot with Alice was a nice touch. I liked the back-and-forth between Amos and Simon. I could tell there would be some kind of relationship between them and the way it came together at the end was fun.

I’m always weary when I see a writer pick the opposite gender for their main character. Sometimes it’s fine and sometimes it seems awkward. It’s hard for me to tell if a female author is writing a man well, as in this case. Simon felt very relatable and I couldn’t tell if it’s because of the female writer or he’s a relatable human.

Amos was a great character. The bit about him literally disappearing was a bit much for me, but I thought his emotional development from Wild Boy to a father was realistic and his emotional turmoil as it related to Evangeline was moving and real. I wanted better things for him, but he was very happy for a time. I wish he’d handled his grief better and thought about Bess more.

Alice was most relatable to me. I tend to be the practical one come whatever situation. When Simon’s let go and the house is collapsing, she’s not swept up in her emotions but trying to find a way out of a bad situation for him. I could see myself reacting to bad news the way she did and trying to find jobs for Simon. I also related to the betrayal she felt with Simon stole from the library. It wasn’t an affront to her but reflected badly on her. I could sympathize with that sense of guilt.

Erika Swyler
Image via Allen & Unwin

I liked the descriptions of the horseshoe crabs. It was a little hard to understand where they came from (magical realism) but it explained the deaths in Simon’s family and it was a great tension-building tool that Swyler used. I knew something bad was going to happen when they showed up!

Amos’s journey seemed odd to me. He came from the woods, couldn’t talk but learned English and then spoke through Tarot cards. It seemed too much of a stretch and he didn’t seem to grow as a character. His ability to disappear didn’t add much to him, even at the end. I would have liked that to be flushed out a bit more.

The message about holding onto the past was well done. The cards were a bit much for me, but the message with the house and family secrets was well done. Enola had moved on physically and emotionally from her childhood while Simon was stuck in the house and his past. He started trying to get away when he applied for jobs in Georgia but he seemed to self-sabotage when he let his phone die and be disconnected. By the end, he’d gotten ahold of himself and his goals though not in the way I expected. I was really surprised Alice went with him, too. She seemed much more practical than someone who was going to quit her job to travel with the circus. That bothered me a bit.

Writer’s Takeaway: I liked Swyler’s dual timelines. I normally don’t like a back-and-forth approach but this one worked for me. I think it’s because the plots were so different that I didn’t confuse them easily and they converged slowly and mostly at the end which made for a great climax individually and for the book as a whole. It was great pacing.

I really enjoyed the book and its structure. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1700-1799 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Daily Inspiration: Acrobatics

15 Sep

I didn’t care much for the Daily Prompt today, but luckily I found Daily Inspiration and their prompt helped me think of a scene.  It was a rather simple one, “Describe an acrobatic scene.”  This takes from the female protagonist in my first WIP after the main action of the novel.  Enjoy!

There wasn’t much else to do the weekend the circus came to town.  Everyone else was going and David begged and begged for June to take him.  She wasn’t one to deny her nephew what he wanted, especially when it sparked her curiosity as well.  One day when John and Dot were at work, she gold David to put his shoes on because they were going to the circus.

His little eyes were wide the second the big top came into sight.  He wanted to see, touch, taste, and smell everything within the circus’s fence: the bearded woman, the tigers, the small stand selling popcorn.  June was afraid his little heart would stop when the ringmaster walked past them.

“Say, young man, are you enjoying yourself today?” he asked David, even though it must have been clear he was with how big the young boy’s smile was.

David nodded, too excited to reply.

“And have you seen the acrobats yet?  They’re the best part of the circus.”

The small boy looked up at his aunt, his eyes wide, pleading to be taken to the circus.  The ringmaster had a twinkle in his eye as he tipped his hat at June.  He had roped her into spending another nickle for the two of them to get into the acrobats tent and he must have known it.

“The show starts in fifteen minutes in the big top,” the ringmaster said and walked away with a smile.

David started jumping up and down with excitement.  “I want to see the acrobats, Aunt June!  I want to see them fly!”

June gave in easily; she loved to spoil her nephew.  They found their way to the big top and found seats in the second row.  David was bouncing up and down as he waited for the show to begin.  When the ringmaster walked to the center of the sawdust-covered ring, David went rigid.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the greatest show on Earth!”  His mustache was moving wildly with the gusto of his speaking and the whole audience was entrapped.  “You are about to see amazing feats of strength, grace, and beauty that will astound and amaze you!  I ask that you please keep silent and let our performers concentrate on their act.  Four people walked into the big top and lined up behind the ringmaster.  “Coming all the way from Europe,” he said with a sweep of his arm, “we have four of the finest performers here for you today.  Please, give them a warm welcome!”

The crowd clapped wildly as the four acrobats gave a friendly wave to the crowd.  Two dashed out of the circle and the remaining two began their routine.  The executed cartwheels, back flips and handstands that left David clapping happily next to June.  She smiled, reminded of her own childhood and the excitement she felt when something new came into her life.

The spotlight turned off on the performers and shone on the two who had run off.  They were standing high above the crowd’s head on small wooden platforms.  The man of the pair held a trapeze in one hand as he waved.  With a leap, he left the platform and sailed through the big top.  On his back swing, he looped his knees over the bar and reached for his partner, who he grabbed easily from the platform.  The two of them flew as one through the air.

June’s heart was caught in her throat out of fear.  She didn’t want to be a witness to the death of one of the performers.  David was clapping while June tried to remember to breath.

The two performers from the ground had made their way up to another platform and one of them struck out on a second trapeze.  The swing of the two timed up and with a might grunt, the first man threw his partner into the air.

The second she spent in mid-air made June tense with nerves.  What if the second performer’s grip slipped?  What if the timing of the act was wrong?  What would happen if she wasn’t thrown hard enough?  The danger of the moment made her heart stop.

When the flying woman’s hands connected with the second performer’s wrists, the crowd broke into a roaring round of applause.  As the crowd around her rose to their feet, June realized she was already standing.  The action had swept her up and she was ready to rush to the acrobat’s aid if she should fall.

The crowd slowly began to sit back down and June joined in.  She distracted herself for the rest of the performance by watching David’s reactions.  She couldn’t bring herself to watch the performers fly though the air.  It was a dangerous performance and June had had her fill of dangerous professions when she was in Chicago.  Thinking of the voluntary risk only made her think of one person and how his career path had cost him everything he loved.