It’s time for our monthly book picks. This month all of our books have a bit of magic in them. We thought that some magical books may make some good reads as we go into the month of Halloween. Our picks this month are Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler, Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman and Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.
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.
May’s Review: I love being introduced to new authors, and thoroughly enjoyed Erika Swyler’s debut novel about a family curse, where the women, who are all circus mermaids, always drown on July 24. I enjoyed Simon Watson’s character, who’s a lonely librarian trying to care for his quirky and somewhat annoying sister, Enola. It’s a novel that travels through time and I enjoyed reading about mermaids and the magic of tarot cards
June’s Review: I really loved this book. It had a mystery to solve, real-life mermaids and a carnival. I felt for Simon trying to figure out who he was and trying to protect his unique sister. The book also is interesting when the story takes a turn to characters that lived with a traveling circus during the time of the American Revolution. The book had a bit of a sad dark quality about it that came through on many pages. A definite book to put on your to-read list.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro—the Father of Impressionism.
Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.
Building on the triumphs of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in a world of almost unimaginable beauty, The Marriage of Opposites showcases the beloved, bestselling Alice Hoffman at the height of her considerable powers. Once forgotten to history, the marriage of Rachel and Frédérick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.
May’s Review: I’m a long time fan of Alice Hoffman and am always excited to read her new releases. I loved this story about a woman named Rachel, who we meet as a young girl living in St. Thomas in the early 1800’s. She’s a free spirit bound by her religion and we are taken on a journey of her life until her death in 1889, at the age of 94. As in all her novels, Alice Hoffman always brings a little mystical-magical touch to her stories which for me, makes it all the more beautiful. I definitely recommend this novel….loved it.
June’s Review: I always look forward to a new book by Alice Hoffman. Her more recent books are more historical fiction than her earlier books, but they always contain an element of the supernatural. This is a story about a woman who bucks all convention and tradition for the love of her life. Life on the island of St. Thomas in the 19th century is beautifully described. I loved some of the natural elements that were woven into the story. This is a story about how love can be among the most beautiful of emotions, but also the most painful. Another one to put on your to-read list.
The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.
A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants–from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys–except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.
When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down–along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy–if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom–or with each other.
Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own….
May’s Review: June told me about this book a few years ago, and I loved it. I found this to be a very enchanting story about the lives of the Waverly sisters, Claire and Sydney. I loved the magic of the foods Claire prepares, and the big old apple tree in the yard that gives magical fruit, and loves to play tricks on people. Although these sisters are very different, they both remain close and connected to their family history. This was Sarah Addison Allen’s first novel, and I think it’s a must read for anyone who believes in magic.
June’s Review: This was published a few years ago but it is one of my favorite all time reads. I love how how the magic just seems normal in the story. The descriptions of Claire’s foods and her ability to cure ills with flowers grown in her garden are just lovely and makes me want to garden and cook more. My favorite character is Evanelle who brings people in the book items that they don’t know they need. And even the tree is main character in the book. It is a story about sisters and coming to accept who you are and embracing your special and unique gifts. This is one that if you have not read yet, you simply must. I am jealous of all of you that get to read it and experience it for the first time.
Let us know what you think about your picks and if you have any other good reads to recommend. Happy Weekend. – May and June