Book/Audio Book Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

BOOK OF SPECULATION_tpMECH_01.inddTitle:  The Book of Speculation

Author: Erika Swyler

Release Date:  June 23rd, 2015

Genre:  Adult Fiction

“As Simon, a lonely research librarian, searches frantically for the key to a curse that might be killing the women in his family, he learns strange and fascinating secrets about their past. A tale full of magic and family mystery, The Book of Speculation will keep you up all night reading.”—Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, The Book of Speculation–with two-color illustrations by the author–is Erika Swyler’s moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

Summary from

My Review:  I came upon this book because it was in my suggestions on audible.  I am a librarian and the main character was a librarian so I thought it would be interesting to give this book a chance.  I have seen comparisons to The Night Circus and Water for Elephants and I would not put this book in with either of those.  Yes, there is a traveling circus in this book, but that is where the similarities end for comparing those books end.  The Book of Speculation weaves a story from the past and the present together in a magical and intriguing way that keeps you completely enthralled, desperate to discover how the two are related to one another.

I listened to the book on audible and the narrator was fantastic!  He did all the voices, read at a great pace and was very engaging.  I loved him and will be sure to look up what else he has narrated and give those a try as well.  There were a couple of moments at the beginning of the story that I was not sure if I was going to stick with it, but his narration kept me interested and I am glad I stuck with it, because about 50 pages in, it really started to pick up.  I will say that listening to the audio had one downside, I did not know there were drawings in the book until after I was done.  I happened to pick up a copy and noticed them and wish I had known about them earlier because I would have liked to see them as I was reading.  I am pretty sure they were described to me throughout the novel, but the illustrations were very interesting and I went back through to see all of them.  So if you do listen to it, know that there are small illustrations in there that you might be interested in seeing.  I just checked the book out from my library and scanned through them that way.

I am not sure how much I can really say about the book itself without giving too much away.  The magic in this story was not knowing what was going to happen and who was related to whom.  Each chapter unraveled one mystery only to present a new one which kept me very intrigued and always guessing about what was going to happen next.  We follow Simon, a librarian who is about to be let go, as he tries to uncover why an old book landed on his doorstep and how it relates to him and his family.  The book itself tells the story of a travelling circus from long ago, the characters all acts within Mr. Peabody’s show.  Honestly, almost every one of them could have had their own book and I would have been interested in learning every detail about them.  I was fascinated by their lives and what they entailed.  At the beginning of this book I wanted to get back to the chapters about them, but by the end I was more interested in Simon’s life and how it connected to this traveling circus.  Swyler weaved an amazing journey, that I was not sure I was willing to go on at first, but now I cannot stop thinking about it.  I know it is a book that I will re-read and it will stay with me.  I have not read anything else by her yet, but I will be on the lookout for her books in the future in hopes of getting lost in a new and magical world.

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Book Review of Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

crooked-kingdomTitle:  Crooked Kingdom

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Release Date:  September 27th, 2016

Genre:  Young Adult Fantasy

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

Summary from

My Review:  Crooked Kingdom.  I am not even sure I can put into words how much I love this duology.  They are just in a league of their own in the YA fantasy world.  The characters are all so well developed, diverse and relatable.  The heists they pull off are clever, planned out and always keep you guessing.  And the world itself is amazing, with its rich detail, Ketterdam becomes another character in the plot because of the significant role it plays in Crooked Kingdom and we also get a map of it at the beginning of the novel which I found myself turning to constantly to see exactly where the characters were.

Crooked Kingdom picks up right where we left off in Six of Crows, with Kaz and crew trying to get Inej and their money back.  It is the same format as well, switching points of view to get a well-rounded story and different aspects of each scheme as it is being pulled off so you can see it from all angles which I loved.  It is very Ocean’s Eleven with almost a steampunk element thrown in which was just fascinating to me.  There were several jobs pulled off throughout the duration of this 500 plus page novel and while I figured out some aspects of the jobs, I was left amazed at Bardugo’s ability to write such excellent twists into each one.  She does an amazing job of having you look one way, when the real action is happening somewhere else.  You would think I would have figured out their tricks by now, but they still had a couple up their sleeves every now and then that I did not see coming at all and I love that about this book!

I also enjoyed how the backstory of the characters continues to expand and the way it was interweaved in to the jobs themselves as they were being pulled off.  Inej might be in the middle of jumping from rooftop to rooftop and we learned about her family and how she learned to start walking on wires.  It was done so brilliantly that I did not feel a lull in the story, I was eager to learn more about the characters and found myself wanting more from each one.  That is what I will miss the most about these books, the people in them.  I loved each person so much, I want to know more about their lives in the future and in the past.  I am hoping that Leigh will come back to this world someday so we can dive even further into their lives once more.

The only element that I did have a small issue with were the references to the Ruin and Rising series.  In Six of Crows, those references are there, but it was very easy to navigate through that book even if you did not understand some of the characters they were referring too.  In Crooked Kingdom, I felt like I was missing things because I had not finished that other series by Leigh.  I read the first book, so I had some understanding of that world, but I have not read books two and three and I felt like if I had I would have been less confused at some moments in the story.  I will eventually go back and read the other books, but I wish I did not feel like I needed to in order to follow along with everything that took place in Crooked Kingdom.

Kaz Brekkar.  Let’s be honest here, he is the biggest draw for me to read these books.  He might just be one of my favorite characters in any book and the best written one.  He is simply amazing.  I loved the way he thinks, his sense of humor, his loyalty (even though he would say he had none) and just everything about him. I wish I could take him out of the book so we could be friends, although I do not think I would be of use to him so he might not care to be my friend, ha!  Either way, I will miss being inside his head and in his world.  This quote is my favorite one from this book describing Kaz’s character:

“Everything is a negotiation with you, Brekker. You probably bartered your way out of the womb.” 

The ending of this book was nothing short of spectacular, it had everything I have come to expect from this world and many twists that kept me on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it would all play out.  I will truly miss being with these characters and the ending was left open enough that Leigh could easily come back and add more to this world, and I sincerely hope she does.  This book may be classified as YA but it could (and should) be read by adults as well.  Very well written, great characters and great heists.  If you don’t like these books I will secretly judge you because they will forever be on my favorite lists.  Leigh Bardugo is an amazing writer and I will definitely be keeping an eye on her to see what she decides to write next.

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Book Review: A Torch Against the Night

A Torch Against the Night.jpgTitle:  A Torch Against the Night

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Release Date: August 30th, 2016

Elias and Laia are running for their lives.

After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf – the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison – to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene – Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own – one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape… and kill them both.

Summary from

My Review:  I was really looking forward to this book after reading its predecessor, An Ember in the Ashes, and getting back to this brutal yet beautiful world.  We pick up right where we left Elias and Laia and hit the ground running from there.  So much so that I actually had to go back and re-read the first book in a couple of places just to refresh my memory because I could not recall all of the details I needed to be full ingrained into this world again.

Elias, despite all his faults, is my favorite character in this series.  Blackcliff tried to beat the good out of him, but he strives so hard to atone for his past sins and I love that about him.  He is still struggling in this book with his issues and that does lead him to some choices that might not have been the best, but they made sense for his character.  Laia on the other hand, drove me a little crazy in this book.  I know she is still finding her way, but I thought by the end of Ember in the Ashes she had transformed into a stronger person.  She lost some of that in A Torch against the Night, which led her to make some decisions that I wanted to throttle her for making.  I did not think they made sense for her mindset to be the way it was in some places, and I am hoping that whenever the next book does come out, she comes back to the girl we saw at the end of Ember in the Ashes.

The book was very well written though and the pace was pretty good for 90% of the book.  I did feel like it could have been 50 pages shorter and that would have moved the plot along a little better, but that could be me just nitpicking.  The world Tahir has created is absolutely amazing.  The characters, places and action just leap off the page and when I am reading it, I am completely immersed in it and soak up all of the incredible details that are woven throughout.

While the world is amazing, it is also heartbreakingly brutal and I really, really want the Commandant to die (I know that might be spoilery but there are going to be four books, you know she is not going to get what is coming to her in book two).  Seriously, I am not sure if I have seen many villains as truly evil as she is and she continues to surprise me with more ways of tormenting the people around her.  I was literally in tears at two points of the book and she was at the root of both of those incidents.  I don’t normally cry in books, I get sad sure, but tears are not a normal occurrence for me which just shows how powerful a connection Tahir has created for me and these characters.

I know there are supposed to be four books (as of now), but at this point, I feel like Tahir could wrap it up in just three, so I will be interested to see how she continues on in this world from here.  That being said, I will still read these books no matter how many come out because they are just great books.  They are not light reading, they will grab hold of you, make you pay attention to every word and suck you in so you forget the world around you, which to me that is the mark of a good book.  I cannot wait for the next book, whenever it is being released so I can get back to this world and see how the plot continues to unfold.

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