The opening chapter in The Book of Speculation (June 2015) really grabs the reader and does a nice job setting up the story. It is in this first chapter that we meet the main character, Simon Watson, and learn of his family’s roots as well as his, unfortunate, relationship with tragedy. His mother, a woman known to be able to hold her breath for minutes rather than seconds, was, among other things, a featured mermaid in a traveling carnival act. For someone so adept in the water and with such talents, it is a horrible tragedy when she drowned to death, leaving her husband and two young children behind.
When Simon receives a musty old book from a bookseller in Iowa named Martin Churchwarry, the plot really takes off. After doing some research, Churchwarry finds a connection between the handwritten name on the back pages of the book and Simon’s family. Intrigued by this mysterious volume with his grandmother’s name, Simon (and the reader) can’t wait to find out more. His quest to solve the puzzle begins! Where is this book from? Why did his grandma have a copy? What has happened over the two centuries since this journal/travelogue was started?
I enjoyed all of the characters. Martin was one of my favorites. I was disappointed at first that he was only a supporting character, but delighted to find out he became more involved in the story.
Swyler’s carefully crafted sentences convey so much information in such little space. Chapters are chock-ful of information, plot advancement, and character development. I was surprised to learn this is author’s first book. It reads as though crafted by a seasoned author who has written many novels before it.
As it happens with books that are hard to put down, such as this one, I couldn’t decide at first if I liked the ending. After careful thought, I’ve concluded that it isn’t so much a question of liking the ending as a question about the story coming to a close. The ending was good–I just didn’t want the story to end. To me, this, along with the fact that the characters are still with me as I write this review, is a mark of a great story. Without hesitation, I give this debut five stars!
I highly recommend The Book of Speculation for both individual adult readers as well as those involved in book discussion groups. If you enjoyed The Night Circus, you will certainly enjoy Swyler’s first novel. I look forward to following her writing career and can’t wait to read what she has in store for her readers next!
Reviewed by Libby Bridges
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