Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Gasp!  I do actually still read books.  And then I, even more sporadically, write reviews!  I have read many good, and even a few great, books in my long absence, but I always seem to write more reviews in my mind than I actually sit down and write here on the family blog.  But in the short minutes of the perfect storm of cooperation that my children are currently displaying, I thought I'd let you know about this gem of a book.

The Book of Speculation was reviewed as recommendation for people who loved The Night Circus.  I thought: "You should write that down.  You won't remember the name of it and you LOVED The Night Circus.  Go ahead.  Write it down.  Or even pre-order it.  DO IT!"  Then I didn't.  Until it popped up on another list and I finally pulled the trigger and bought the book.  I read it in its entirety during a long weekend trip to the Great Wolf Lodge.  And though the subject matter is distinctly aquatic, I did not take the book to the water park, which means I gave up precious moments of sleep to read it.  I don't regret that decision.  Remember how East of Eden revived Oprah's Book Club? Well, it did.  And though I wouldn't compare this to a classic literary work (East of Eden is really good and I'm not always a lover of Hemingway), this revived my desire to review.

There are similarities between The Night Circus and The Book of Speculation in that they both follow family lines for generations, carnivals and circuses do play a large part in the setting and the plot, and much is forfeited to fate and destiny.  However, The Book of Speculation centers on the past affecting those in the present while the The Night Circus doesn't make it that far in its mythology.  The Book of Speculation centers its magic around sirens (or mermaids or rusalkas) and tarot rather than the use of magic and sleight of hand as The Night Circus does.  They are indeed different stories with similar overarching themes:  both great reads.

In The Book of Speculation, a librarian receives a very old and water-damaged book from a stranger who had purchased it at an estate auction in a larger lot of other items (hence the book purchased on speculation).  Simon starts digging into the people and the history of the images in the book all while his life is figuratively and literally falling apart.  He lives in his childhood home which is on its last days of being on land as it sits precipitously on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Simon does not have the money to save the house from its demise and must ask a neighbor and family friend for help.  Which becomes even more difficult as Simon learns more about the people in this mysterious book and the more recent history of his parents and their relationship with these neighbors.  To further complicate things, Simon's sister is coming back to town for a visit and she seems unwell.  She's obsessed with her tarot cards (her current profession in a traveling carnival) and seems haunted by what the cards show her.  All of this as Simon discovers a pattern to the tragic deaths: there is a succession of suicides by drowning in his family.  All women, all circus/carnival performers, all "mermaids", and all dead around a certain time period, now Simon is compelled to learn more to try to break this inheritance of tragedy.

The book jumps from century to century fairly seamlessly, and I loved that each time it  jumped I missed the other storyline while I was reading about the other characters.  I also enjoyed the description of the towns and cities up and down the East Coast frequented by the traveling circus during colonial times.  I imagine the amount of research that went into writing this book is staggering, but well worth the time in my opinion.  Just as giving up precious moments of sleep to read this selection is well worth the extra cup of coffee you'll need the next morning. 

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

So... I guess - according to the back of the Advanced Reader Copy that I received - that I've been reading Elizabeth George since around 1988. Wowza. Because I know I started the Lynley novels when they came out. And I was young. And I loved them all, until 2012, when (sorry, minor spoiler) one of my favorite characters was killed off. I got mad. I quit reading her books.

But it was probably kind of too bad. I remember distinctly a conversation from when I was working at the University of Illinois - so somewhere in the 1997-99 range - where I recommended these books to a co-worker, talking about how much I loved the character development as much as I loved any individual plot within the series. As I discovered in this new outing, that has not changed. Mind you, I've missed a few steps, and now I'm convinced that I'll be making that right. It seems like I may have "only" missed 4 books, and I actually do own one of them, just never managed to get myself to pick it up... ;) 

At any rate, this is a fabulous read in the regular Elizabeth George style. It starts off with a sort of pre-quel sequence, with the chapters telling us we're so many months 'before it happened." Don't know what "it" is, but these chapters tell a compelling story of a young man with (amongst his family, anyway) nearly unacknowledged Turretts syndrome. They refer to it only as The Wording... And boy, is this family dysfunctional... The young man, Will, has a brother named Charlie who has his own issues. Centered on all this is their mother, Caroline, who is as ab unlikable a person as you're likely to see. Eventually, it is revealed that Will has committed suicide, and Caroline is now working as a kind of general assistant for Clare, a noted feminist author and lecturer.

In a fairly comic (for the series) scene, Barbara Havers, trying to escape an attempt by long-term Yard secretary Dee Harriman to find her "a man", happens across a lecture by Clare. She and Clare bond, and oddly, Caroline tries to stop it. Clare's friend and publisher, Rory (who has her own issues) intervenes, and from this, we see that Caroline remains nuts, and Rory is baffled as to why Clare would keep her around...

Finally "it" happens, and it's Clare's death. The original autopsy declares it to be a heart attack, but Rory is unconvinced, and remembers the encounter with Barbara. She convinces Barbara to investigate, but no one else really thinks it's worthwhile...

Here's where I have a gap - Barbara is in horrible trouble over something in one of the books I haven't actually read. So Lynley is fighting for her to get back to her normal inventive self, but apparently the new boss (whom Lynley has had relations with, again where I've missed it) really wants Barbara to either change completely - she's trying, but the stifling of her personality is also apparently stifling her intuitive abilities - or to quit. So Lynley has to convince the boss that Barbara can be trusted to follow orders AND also be given some leeway to follow her nose... Eventually he is successful, and the mystery plot really begins.

The character development remains top notch. Lynley is moving on from the death that shall not be named, but not thoughtlessly or carelessly. Barbara has to deal with being under a guillotine of professional issues of her own devices, and she both accepts and chafes at that, which rings true.

I won't give away any of the actual mystery, but the investigation kept me on my toes and very interested. The more details we get about Caroline's family, the more we are sucked in, and the more we hear about Rory, the more we are sucked in, and... All very good. There were some surprises, too. I don't like when mysteries have a "secret" where the reader can't figure anything out on their own, but I also don't like feeling way smarter than the characters. The plot line works well enough here that neither of those things happen. 

Fans of Elizabeth George ought to be happy, and if you were like me, go ahead and give her a go again. However, I can't recommend this if you have no history with the series. As I said, I'm feeling like I'm missing some stuff, and if this is the 20th book, I've read 4/5ths of the series... Jumping in now would not be ideal. But, as mentioned before, this is one of the series I most recommend at any time, so read them all. ;)

This book will not be released until October 27th, 2015, but when it comes out, I recommend it highly. And if you're not caught up, you have several months to get there!

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