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Library Journal Review
Swyler's debut demonstrates an ability to craft interesting characters as well as juggle two major plotlines: one in the present, as librarian Simon Watson receives a mysterious book inscribed with his grandmother's name from a bookseller he has no relationship with, and one from the past that is revealed in the book. As an ominous anniversary approaches, the story ties an 18th-century traveling carnival to Simon and his sister, Enola. Reader Ari Fliakos helps listeners keep track of the shifting time periods as he captures the pomposity of the carnival owner and his entertaining crew in the past and the more sedate Simon. VERDICT Much of Swyler's language is musical and poetic, making this a book to recommend for literary and general fiction listeners. ["Fans of historical novels, especially titles with circus themes or touched with a hint of the super-natural...won't want to leave this festival": LJ 4/15/15 review of the St. Martin's hc.]-Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
In Swyler's whimsically dark debut, a damaged journal kept by the owner of a traveling freak show in the 18th century finds its way to Simon Watson, a Long Island librarian in the present with a family history that seems to be tied up in the mysterious tome. Simon's mother, Paulina, a former carnival mermaid, intentionally drowned herself, leaving Simon to care for his sister, Enola, after their father eventually died from heartache. At the book's outset, Enola, who also joined a traveling show, returns to the decaying family home where Simon still lives, fraught with worry over a series of bad tarot readings. As Enola's behavior continues to concern him, Simon finds out from the book that women in his family all drown on July 24. As this date draws closer, Swyler alternates chapters of Simon's narrative with the story that unfolds from the show's log: it details how "Wild Boy" and tarot apprentice Amos came to be cared for like a son by proprietor Hermelius Peabody and fortune teller Madame Ryzhkova. The trouble begins once Amos falls for the mermaid Evangeline, who reminds Madame Ryzhkova too much of the woman she blames for the death of her father. The carnival chapters aren't as engaging or convincing as they could be, particularly at key moments, although for the most part Swyler does a commendable job of juggling the various loose ends, and eventually weaving them together. A good deal of time is spent in Simon's head, but Enola isn't fleshed out enough. The author does get kudos for fabricating a fully formed mythos chock full of curses, omens, and coincidences, all of which help make up for the story's weak points. Agent: Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Long Island librarian Simon Watson knows loss. His mother purposely drowned herself and his father died a few years later. The little sister he had to raise ran off and now contacts him only infrequently. One day Simon receives an unsolicited book in the mail, posted from a book dealer who invites Simon to contact him for more information. The mysterious volume documents some previous suicides by drowning dating back to the early nineteenth century. Amazingly, they all took place on July 24. More sleuthing turns up the startling information that these doomed women were, in fact, ancestors of his mother, and, like his mother, they were all employed as circus performers. Simon then has to figure out if this family curse will claim his sister's life as well, and the next July 24 is but weeks away. Illustrations by the author add even more atmosphere to her prose.--Knoblauch, Mark Copyright 2015 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
When a young librarian comes into possession of the diary of a traveling circus from more than 200 years ago, he decides the book may hold clues to a family mystery he needs to solve to save his sister's life. Narrator Simon and his younger sister, Enola, grew up in an 18th-century house on a bluff overlooking Long Island Sound. Taking after her mother, a former circus performer who drowned herself when Simon was 7, Enola travels with a carnival as a tarot card reader. Simon is still living in their dangerously dilapidated family home when, out of the blue on one June day, he receives a book from an antiquarian bookseller, who had noticed Simon's grandmother's name inside. Soon Simon discovers a frightening pattern among his female ancestors, all unnaturally good swimmers, all drowning as young women on July 24. If this "coincidence" sounds a bit far-fetched, it sets the bar for the novel's credibility. Swyler intercuts Simon's present dramaintensifying research into the diary's history, loss of his job at the local library, incipient but already rocky love affair with fellow librarian Alice, return home of Enola, irretrievable collapse of the family mansewith the romantic tragedy of Amos, a traveling circus performer, and Evangeline, an aquatic performer with a guilty secret. Born in the 1780s and abandoned by his parents, Amos is mute when he joins a traveling troupe to perform a disappearing act as a "Wild Boy." The fortuneteller takes him under her wing, teaching him to read the future. But despite her warnings, he falls for the dangerously mysterious Evangeline. She has his baby girl, and the havoc that follows leads straight to the curse that Simon, a whiny loser, is frantic to solve before someone else dies. A bit fey, even as romantic whimsy. For die-hard mermaid-fiction lovers only. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.