The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

speculationSimon works in the reference section at a struggling library in Maine, whose biggest draw is a whaling archive. He’s hard up for money and his historic home on the coast is in such disrepair that it’s about to fall into the ocean.

One day, Simon receives a very old book in the mail. Strangely, it has some of his family member’s names in it.

The text describes a circus, a boy who can’t speak, and a girl who can hold her breath so long that they call her a mermaid.

But, what does this have to do with his family? And why do so many of the people in the book die on the same day?

In addition to the mystery, The Book of Speculation includes one or two love stories: “Redheaded and pretty, Alice has her father’s smile and a way with kids. She’s better with people than I am, which is why she handles programming and I’m in reference.”pg 9, ebook.

I did not like how the reference section was stereotypically depicted as the “bad with people” part of the library. I have a soft spot in my heart for those reference types, having been one myself in my previous job. 🙂

Also, for being a librarian, Simon doesn’t act very librarian-y.

Take this part when he receives the mysterious book: “The box contains a good-sized book, carefully wrapped. .. A small shock runs through me. It’s very old, not a book to be handled with naked fingers, but seeing as it’s already ruined, I give in to the quiet thrill of touching something with history.” pg 15.

No self-respecting archivist would do that. “Already ruined” so who cares? I don’t think so.

The fantasy/magic portions of this book are subtle and written so that one could almost believe that it was real.

Take Amos’ (one of the characters from the old book) ability to disappear: “People may live for a century without discovering the secret of vanishing. The boy found it because he was free to listen to the ground humming, the subtle moving of soil, and the breathing of water- a whisper barely discernible over the sound of a heartbeat. Water was the key.” pg 18 ebook.

The history recorded in the old book is revealed to the reader through a series of flashbacks. That bothered some of my friends on Goodreads but the circus folk stories are my favorite parts of this book.

The characterizations are ok, nothing extraordinary.

My favorite minor character, Benno, could have used more fleshing out: “After a time Benno climbed down from the wagon. “You are my friend and you are kind,” he said quietly. “More than is good. I was taught to watch for gentle souls, as they’ve not the wit to look after themselves.” pg 124, ebook.

Some similar reads (perhaps a bit more magical than this): The Golem and the JinniMagonia or The Mermaid’s Sister.

Thanks for reading!

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You have the ability to create great things.

You have the ability to create great things.

flyahorseBook review of How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery by Kevin Ashton.

How to Fly a Horse takes many of the myths that I believed about creativity or the creative process and methodically takes them apart. Any perceived blocks are revealed for the fallacies that they are.

It is one of those great non-fiction books that educates the reader while simultaneously encouraging her to improve herself.

From the creation of a South Park episode to Coca-Cola, Kevin Ashton covers all sorts of ways the average person can, does, and should contribute to mankind through her own, innate creativity.

My biggest take-aways from this are Ashton’s descriptions and appropriateness of creativity (or lack of) within organizations. He writes about humanity’s need for the new while simultaneously pushing against it.

Here’s a quote about organizations that could be applied to any work place: “Organizations are made of rituals- millions of small, moments-long transactions between individuals within groups- and it is these rituals that determine how much an organization creates.” pg 225

Be aware of these rituals and harness them to be more creative.

And, on humanity’s propensity to reject innovation, Ashton explains this is not unusual but is actually the normal response to expect when introducing new ideas into your work environment.

Don’t be discouraged; be prepared. Create anyway.

I liked that he encouraged creation while also illuminating the many pitfalls, both internal and external, that one may encounter along the creative path.

Folks who enjoy How to Fly a Horse may also like Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding da Vinci’s Creative Genius or any of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. If you’re looking for another book about how to be more productive or creative in the workplace, I suggest Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check!

Check out Sarah Knight’s latest self help: You Do You

Check out Sarah Knight’s latest self help: You Do You

youdoyouBook review of You Do You: How to Be Who You Are and Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want by Sarah Knight

The self-styled “anti-guru” Sarah Knight adds another volume to her quirky, profanity-laden self-help series with You Do You.

The focus, as you can guess from the title, is the art of allowing your authentic self to shine through without feeling guilt or being so far out of the social norms that you border on “psychopath.”

You Do You is about accepting your strengths and your flaws, whether those flaws are self-identified, or just things that you’re perfectly happy about but that other people seem to have a problem with. Or, should I say, that you WOULD be happy about, if you felt a little more confident in yourself…” loc 146, ebook.

And, like the previous books, Knight doesn’t stint on the bad words. She admits she kept the title clean so a certain publication *cough* New York Times *cough* would print the all the words of the title in their sought after Best Seller list.

Which Knight has made before… but had her titles censored for their content.

“The advice in this book boils down to one simple mantra: Stand up for who you are and what you want. How do you do that? Stop letting other people tell you what to do, how to do it, or why it can’t be done.” loc 188, ebook.

I enjoyed You Do You, but I felt it wasn’t as strong as Knight’s other titles because she spends so much time rehashing material she has already covered elsewhere.

That being said, I like Knight’s style, her famous diagrams and her illuminating stories. This is an author who has been there, done that and cussed about it.

My favorite diagram in You Do You is Knight’s “ouroboros” or symbolic, conjoined serpent of wisdom picture. The text with the cute doodle says: “Is it right or wrong? You won’t know unless you have the confidence to take a risk and find out. If you regret your decision, then accept the consequences, swallow the lesson, and start over. With confidence.” loc 1995, ebook.

Verges on mystic Eastern wisdom, doesn’t it?

She encourages all readers everywhere to let the strange sides of yourself out- within certain boundaries. Don’t hurt anybody. Don’t take advantage of people. Be reasonable within your freakishness.

“Now, with those ground rules established, I do declare that we, as a society, should celebrate weirdness in all its forms- and that the right to be weird should be inalienable- just like the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” loc 2130, ebook.

“You do you” and let everybody else do them. It’s that simple. It’s that hard.

Sarah Knight may be a bit of an acquired taste. Please don’t read unless you have a high tolerance for bad words and, dare I say, mild snark.

But, if you are someone in need of encouragement to let your freak flag fly, look no further.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown and Company for a free digital copy of this book. And thank you for reading!

Read my reviews of Sarah Knight’s other titles:

The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight

Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight

 

So much world building, so much fantasy. Welcome to Kraken.

So much world building, so much fantasy. Welcome to Kraken.

krakenA book review of Kraken by China Miéville.

Kraken is a complex urban fantasy about a missing squid, an astonishing large cast of characters and the end of the world – in no particular order.

China Miéville is an incredibly imaginative author. In this story, he has created a half dozen separate religions with their own gods and customs. (Hundreds more are hinted at.) Not content with that, he also created magic of all kinds, a strike by familiars, protective London-based angels and a supernatural police force.

And that’s just the tip of the storytelling iceberg.

I would put forth the argument that he is one of the most inventive authors I’ve ever read.

That being said, I wanted more story and less world building.

Miéville has a cadence to his storytelling. Just when I thought the next important point in the plot would be revealed, he’d unveil a new character. It started to become annoying rather than astonishing.

The pace of Kraken is slow, so slow. But, for readers who enjoy a complex setup and completely unexpected reveal, this may be the read for you.

Personally, I like my stories to move at a faster clip.

There’s also a good bit of coarse language in Kraken. I’m not the most sensitive person in the world, but it did grate my ears at times. Consider yourself warned.

My absolute favorite character, out of the legions to choose from, is Wati. It’s not just for his unique premise either, which is incredibly inventive. (Another tip of the hat to Miéville.)

Wati has so much heart. He fearlessly goes where others can’t or won’t, putting himself in danger for his friends.

And Miéville certainly takes the time to build his characters. That is his absolute strength – world and character building.

Recommended for readers who enjoy complexity and stunningly fantastical worlds, and who have the patience to thoroughly savor all of it.

Thanks for reading!

It’s like ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ with jazz hands

It’s like ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ with jazz hands

lifeislikeamusicBook review of Life Is Like a Musical: How Broadway Can Help You Live Your Best Life 
by Tim Federle

Life is Like a Musical is a cute, self-helpish book, full of the wisdom Tim Federle gleaned from years of experience on the stage.

“Basically, think of this book as ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ with jazz hands.” Introduction.

Tim’s advice is common sense, but I appreciated it anyway. Make your weaknesses your strengths. Be nice to everybody. Pay attention. Don’t try to be a perfectionist, and so on.

He pairs these nuggets with his life stories. So, it’s part-memoir, part-self help.

“When Bob Fosse had a bald spot, he put on a stylish hat. Where’s your bald spot? Or blind spot? Or thing that you can barely accept about yourself? Go put a hat on it, and make it something wonderful.” pg 23. There’s nothing wrong with advice like that.

First off, the key to approximately 90 percent of adulthood is appearing more interested in something than you actually are. Seriously.” pg 31.

Truth bombs, people.

Don’t give your power away. Remember who you are: “Please, never forget you’re the leading character in your own life. Read that sentence again: You aren’t the supporting cast. You’re it, baby.” pg 48.

And most importantly of all, have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

“Forgive yourself when you screw up. Develop a sense of humor that allows you to snort-giggle before anyone else can.” pg 139.

None of us are getting out of this thing called life alive. We may as well make the most of it.

I enjoyed this book. I was also a huge fan of his drink recipe book mixed with classic book titles: Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist.

Recommended for people who are looking for a peppy voice to get them back on track and singing throughout the soundtrack of their own lives. This read will do the trick.

Thanks for reading!

Why take a different route to work? This book, that’s why.

Why take a different route to work? This book, that’s why.

iseeyouReview of I See You by Clare Mackintosh.

I See You is a tense thriller with fairly good execution that stumbles on its ending.

It takes place in London. The scary parts mainly take place on the public transport system.

“…I don’t know how you do this every day.” “You get used to it,” I say, although you don’t so much get used to it as simply put up with it. Standing up on a cramped, malodorous train is part and parcel of working in London.” pg 42.

Zoe Walker sees her photo, or what she believes is her photo, in the papers on her way to work. It’s weird and scary because she didn’t submit her photo to the press.

“Routine is comforting to you. It’s familiar, reassuring. Routine makes you feel safe. Routine will kill you.” pg 51.

Kelly is a member of the police. She has secrets in her past and reasons to prove herself.

“Kelly thought of all the crime prevention initiatives she’d seen rolled out over her nine years in the job. Poster campaigns, leaflet drops, attack alarms, education programs… Yet it was far simpler than that; they just had to listen to victims. Believe them.” pg 83.

When Zoe comes to Kelly with her concerns and her photo in the paper, she sounds crazy. But she finds a sympathetic ear with Kelly.

Can they figure out what is going on before its too late?

I read this title for book club. And even though I was disappointed in the ending, this story scared me. It also scared some members of the club.

I was frightened partly because I don’t usually read this type of book. But, it also felt so real to me.

We are creatures of habit, after all. It certainly made me consider taking a different route to work. You never know who could be watching…

Recommended for brave readers who don’t shy away from unsatisfying endings.

What would it take for women to run the world?

What would it take for women to run the world?

thepowerA book review of The Power by Naomi Alderman.

In The Power, young women have developed the ability to control electricity. It shifts the balance of power between the sexes and the world begins to come apart at the seams.

It is told from the point of view of a few women and a man. They each have different stories and experiences that Naomi Alderman blends together to create a powerful statement about how we live.

This is one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read, but also, most brilliant. It made me think about all of the internal biases I have when it comes to gender, cultural expectations and roles.

Who was it who said: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This book is an examination of power and how it has shaped the world, not always for the better.

The monumental societal shift starts out small enough. A man named Tunde captures a moment between a young woman and a man who was hitting on her at the grocery store: “Tunde is recording when she turns around. … There she is, bringing her hand to his arm when he smiles and thinks she is performing mock-fury for his amusement. If you pause the video for a moment at this point, you can see the charge jump.” loc 261, ebook.

Those who have been abused are more likely to become abusers. And there are many, many abused women in the world.

“A strange new kind of fighting which leaves boys- mostly boys, sometimes girls- breathless and twitching, with scars like unfurling leaves winding up their arms or legs or across the soft flesh of their middles. Their first thought after disease is a new weapon, something these kids are bringing into school, but as the first week trickles into the second they know that’s not it.” loc 316, ebook.

Entire governments crumble to powerful women. Women who have been locked up their entire lives roam the streets, free. Soon enough, they’re locking up and abusing the men, because they can.

Religions change. Sexual predilections change. New politicians are elected. New soldiers are trained.

“Allie thinks, God is telling the world that there is to be a new order. That the old way is overturned. The old centuries are done.”loc 681, ebook.

The new scourge of third world countries are powerful, uncontrolled women.

“He wounds three of the women in the leg or arm and the others are on him like a tide. There is a sound like eggs frying. When Tunde gets close enough to show what has been done, he is perfectly still, the twisted-vine marks across his face and neck so thick that his features are barely discernible.” loc 884, ebook.

I think book clubs may find plenty to talk about in this book- if they can make it through. There are some very disturbing scenes.

“Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.” loc 4780, ebook.

In a time when so many women may feel powerless or voiceless, The Power may speak directly to them. It is, as I’ve said, a disturbing book, but also a conversation starter.

To quote Victor Hugo: Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. And, in my mind, it was the perfect time for this book to be written.

Thank you to NetGalley for a free digital copy of this book and thanks for reading.