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Publisher's Summary

"Dear Mr. Watson, I came across this book at auction as part of a larger lot I purchased on speculation. The damage renders it useless to me, but a name inside it - Verona Bonn - led me to believe it might be of interest to you or your family...."

Simon Watson, a young librarian on the verge of losing his job, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home - a house, perched on the edge of a bluff, that is slowly crumbling toward the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a traveling carnival reading tarot cards and seldom calls.

In late June Simon receives a mysterious package from an antiquarian bookseller. The book tells the story of Amos and Evangeline, doomed lovers who worked in a traveling circus more than 200 years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes, sketches, and whimsical flourishes. His best friend and fellow librarian, Alice, looks on in increasing alarm.

Why does his grandmother's name, Verona Bonn, appear in this book? Why do so many women in his family drown on July 24? Is there a curse on his family - and could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in six years, risk the same fate in just a few weeks? In order to save her - and perhaps himself - Simon must try urgently to decode his family history while moving on from the past.

The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler's gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books and family and magic.

©2015 Macmillan Audio (P)2015 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"Narrator Ari Fliakos has complete control over this tale of magical realism as he underplays the drama and makes the outlandish seem plausible.... Fliakos's performance enhances a terrific book. Listeners will enjoy letting him guide them through the surreal elements of Swyler's story." ( AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Story

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

I lost myself in this book

Multi generational saga with bits office and folklore woven into the story line.

This book has become one of my favorites and would list it as a must read. If you liked, "Water For Elephants ", and "Night Circus", you will love "The Book of Speculation".

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

traveling carnival, tarot, love, fate, secrets

A thoroughly enjoyable book that I savored and kept making excuses NOT to listen to as I got closer and closer to the end. The story starts off as contemporary fiction, and slowly a sort of magic creeps in around the edges until the book becomes what I'd call magical realism. It's akin to Alice Hoffman's stories or Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle in that way. The themes were practically custom-selected for me: librarians, a traveling carnival, tarot card readers, a family with tragic history that is slowly revealed, an ancient manuscript that is the key to it all. The plot of the book is low but twisty, and I loved guessing the connections as they were hinted at and exposed. The setting of the book is very atmospheric too - a New England seaside small town, where the houses are literally being pulled back into the sound by time and weather. The characters are small town personalities, where everyone knows everyone but some secrets lurk unspoken beneath the surface. The emotional feel of the book is lovely and delicate, melancholy and dark. Love is all powerful, but not always as a redemptive force.

The audiobook was beautifully narrated by Ari Fliakos. I highly recommend this book to fans of Maggie Stiefvater, Erin Morgenstern, Alice Hoffman, and Neil Gaiman's writing styles.

62 of 65 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Called it Halfway Through

Although I really haven't found this trend of circuses and magicians in fiction that interesting, I really wanted to like this book. Aside from the traveling circus, it contained many things I do like: magic, mystery, family secrets, mysterious deaths, books.

But in the end, I couldn't get more than halfway through. And it took me *forever* to get that far. I can probably count on one hand the number of times in my life I've started a book without finishing it, but in this case, life is just too short. Here's what didn't work for me:

1. The narration. A lot of reviews here praise the narration, but to me, the guy just sounded half asleep most of the time. And he had a way of doing female voices that really grated on my last nerve. He made all the women in the story sound so bratty.

2. Enola. I don't have a high tolerance for extremely unlikeable characters, and Enola was extremely unlikeable. She's a grown woman who has the maturity of an angsty teenager. And the fact that the main character, her brother, continuously drops everything for her - including sabotaging his budding relationship - is just crazy making. Annoying to read. No thank you.

3. It's slow. Like, so, so slow. By the time magic comes in - and there's not a lot of it, so if you're looking for something more magical than not, maybe look elsewhere - I didn't even care anymore.

4. The circus thing. I don't know what happened that every fiction writer decided to write about circuses (particularly Depression-era circuses) at the same time, but I'm not into it. I realize I'm in a minority here, but I just think it's way too easy to paint one-dimensional characters, put them in a circus, and then just rely on the fact that they hang around elephants and tarot card readers with vaguely Slavic accents to make them interesting.

If I could have given this 2.5 stars, I would have. But I rounded up to three because the one thing I can say is that the writing is actually pretty good. All told, though, this one just wasn't for me.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A Story that never leaves you

Where does The Book of Speculation rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I am not good at ranking. It is a part of me the way some books become. You never forget them. It is haunting, remarkable. I am not sure I even liked it but it is so memorable.

What did you like best about this story?

The way it unfolded. The way the magic the something has a life of it's own. It isn't evil it just is.

What about Ari Fliakos’s performance did you like?

Extremely good. Wonderful character portrayal. I was able to separate them. It was great.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

You think of a better question.

Any additional comments?

This book is fascinating. Any book that grabs you in this way is well written, well thought out and well executed. You may not love it but you won't forget it. Those are the best books.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Definitely worth a credit

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I really enjoyed this book. When I first began it, I thought, "Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?" Turns out, I'd fallen asleep (it was nighttime, in fairness to the very lyrical and creative author of this tome). I'm very glad I went back and started over.

What other book might you compare The Book of Speculation to and why?

There is a firm degree of magical realism here, which brought to mind Alice Hoffman and also Audrey Neffigneger. And the excellent writing made me think of Julia Glass, Richard Russo, and Kate Atkinson.

What about Ari Fliakos’s performance did you like?

I really loved every single aspect of Ari Fliakos's work here. In fact, he is part of the reason I decided to start over. He has brilliant nuances that are particular to each character. Honestly, it's one of the best narrations I've ever heard (and I read/listen to about four books a week).

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I found the relationship between the main character and his sister to be very touching. There were a lot of scenes between them that I re-listened to, just because they did move me so. I also loved Enola's adorable, tattooed-man boyfriend. And...yep, there's another...I really, really loved the love story between the main character and his object of adoration, Alice.

37 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Beth Anne
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 11-12-15

didn't want this story to end

circus acts, magical realism, a mysterious book within the book, a strange family history...come on. this book was written for me. i loved every word, every page, every bit of it.

i could have read this book forever.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Loved this book!

I have already recommended this book to all my friends. Fantastic story and beautiful writing. Most books I've read with a metaphysical theme have a female narrator - it was nice to have a male voice in this one. I would recommend The Book of Speculation to anyone who enjoyed The Night Circus, A Discovery of Witches, or Shadow of the Wind.

28 of 31 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Mystery, Magic, and An Old House By The Sea


I was mesmerized by this novel. It floated along with wonderful visuals and beautiful prose, but was as captivating as a thriller.

The story follows a librarian from a small coastal town as he fights to save his family's home while wrapping himself in the mystery of his eccentric family's past...and the ride is nothing short of magical.

This book falls under Magical Realism, and you would shelf "The Book of Speculation" somewhere near the novels of Margaret Atwood in your mental library.

Highly recommended. It was a great read to start off 2016.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

A wonderful blend of magical realism and fantasy

This book plays around with the Slavic myth of the Rusalka, a type of water nymph. At one point, the Rusalka was a symbol of fertility, but in later years, they became malevolent in stories. They’re believed to be the result of a woman committing suicide by drowning or being violently murdered by drowning. Since their life was fated to be a full one, they continue their lives as Rusalka, luring men to their deaths. However, this is not their sole way of being created. I did a Google search to get all this information since I love learning about new mythology, but the book does a fair job of painting a portrait of the tragic story of the Rusalka. I would call this fantasy, but it is very light fantasy with the magic realism being much more pronounced throughout the story. Much like Mandel’s Station Eleven, this is one of those books that defies it genre by being moving and poetically written. There’s so much going on with family secrets, betrayals, old pains, and how one’s past can come together to be an almost self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a painful read with so many wins being punctuated by devastating defeats that shapes the history of not only the Watson family but the families that are interconnected with the Watsons.

I probably would’ve rated this book much higher, but I did find it a little hard to connect with the characters, and while this book worked largely on the idea of a thread weaving together many lives, it still felt too coincidental rather than feeling like it smoothly pieced together the many puzzles making up a history that was larger than any of the characters could imagine. I cared more about the story being told about their ancestors than the modern day tale that was unfolding. However, Ari Fliakos was simply amazing. At first, I didn’t know if I was going to like the tone he used for Enola, but as I continued to listen and learned more about the character, that clipped, sarcastic tone he used for her fit the eccentricity of her character well. In fact, he did a wonderful job of making all the characters feel so distinct from Churchwarry’s jolliness to Peabody’s larger than life magnetism to Evangeline’s pensive wistfulness to Frank’s simple straightforwardness. I even loved his southern accents which sounded mostly right and used that softened twang just the way it’s supposed to be. Where I might’ve just rated this 3 stars, Fliakos’ narration was beautiful and swayed some of my opinion on its rating.

The Book of Speculation is a haunting, poetic story that shows how wants, heartache, and wishes can breathe intent into actions that were done simply out of love, how generations can fall into those same cycles until someone tries to break the “curse.” This book has just the right amount amount of myth, magic, and realism that can cause its readers to ponder the ideas presented, and if I’d had the chance to care a little more about the characters that Swyler introduced me to, this book would’ve definitely been a home-run for me.

25 of 28 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Jayne
  • SONOMA, CA, United States
  • 01-27-16

Not Enough Magic to Make it Work

I read this book right on the heels of Leslie Parry's Church of Marvels, and it's unfortunate that especially in view of some surface similarities between the two, this book suffered from the comparison. But even without that, I don't think The Book of Speculation would have won me over. It's an ambitious story, and one that has a bit of something like magical realism in it, but it just doesn't quite get there. There was too much realism and not enough magical in the storytelling. The leaps and coincidences that can work well with good storytelling in magical realism tended to deflate and just seem unlikely in this book.

If I had to pick out one thing that tripped me up the most, it would be that the narrator (not the voice narrator, but the story's narrator) is a man, and not a terribly believable man. The thoughts this character voices, his reactions to events in the story, and just his overall speech patterns simply sound female to me. And I don't think it's due to the narration, since it's voiced by a man. It was a little disconcerting - I often had to remind myself that this was a guy. Not being a man myself, I wouldn't want to assert that the author (a woman) failed to convey maleness, but I can certainly confirm that, to me at least, she absolutely conveyed femaleness in the main character.

I've got issues with the story and development of the other characters as well, but I think those all stem from, or were at least exacerbated by, the vagueness of the main character's identity....not his literal identity (which is kind of a subtext in the book), but in the way he was drawn by the author.

I think this author has potential. Parts of the writing were good. The story itself could have worked with a more generous application of magic. Perhaps her next novel will have more clearly defined characters engaged in a less awkward plot.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful