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I picked up a copy of this in the library, being fairly intrigued by the olde worlde style cover, and the title, knowing that Salem is usually a link to stories about witchcraft. The blurb on the back pitches it as a bit of a fast paced novel with secrets that must be solved at any cost. I found that this book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. At the start, I found it quite dull and slow to get anywhere, but then about a third of the way through it did start to pick up the pace a bit, but I would not classify it at any stage as fast paced or thrilling. To me it was more of a romantic novel, with a bit of witchcraft and history thrown in, and although I was glad I read it, I would not rush to do so again, or even recommend it highly to anyone else as a must read, though if you have some time to kill, you might find it a nice and pleasant way to pass the time. The story is mostly based upon the character of Connie Goodwin, a history PHD student at Harvard, who has just completed her viva and is in the process of choosing a research topic for further study. During her summer break, her mother asks her to go and clear out her grandmothers house for sale, and she comes across a name on a scrap of paper in the family bible, and this sets her off on a journey back through the ages following an extraordinary family of women, and linking back to the witch trials at Salem. During her research, she also establishes a relationship with another graduate, Sam, and also learns things which will affect her relationship with her own mother, and understand her own background more fully. While the initial section of the book where Connie was doing her viva and the characters were being introduced was quite dull for me, it was quite essential to set up the motivation for Connie to follow the pathway she chose. It livened up when she moved out to her grandmothers house, and you saw a less stuffy side to her character. It was also the sort of book that jumps around in history a fair old bit, which can sometimes be a little hard to follow at first, but again I could see why the author had chosen to do it this way. By the end, I could see that this is ultimately a book about relationships, particularly those between Mother and Daughter. I liked all the historical information, and could see a lot of work had gone into the research of it. I recognised some names from studying Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' even though this was read about 17 years ago at school. I also found it interesting that the author had included a little chapter at the end of the novel outlining why she chose to write it and why it was important to her. I was left with a warm feeling, and I would read another novel by this author, although I would be prepared for it to be a slow starter. This would be ok if like me you were borrowing it to read once, but I would have no desire to read it again or purchase a copy myself.
Connie is doing postgraduate research on witchcraft. Although she is initially rather wary of being asked to clear out her grandmother's old house, the project turns out to lead to lots of exciting possibilities, including romance and perhaps original sources for her studies. The professor supervising her research is very keen for her to find a particular historical record, a lost "physick book" belonging to a woman called Deliverance Dane. I enjoy novels which use historical material and looked forward to this book - a young woman researching history from a feminist perspective, and the subject of her research, the trials and executions of a group of women accused of witchcraft in 17th century Massachusetts. A love interest for the heroine doesn't hurt either. All the ingredients for a great read, with a likeable character and an interesting story, were there, but I was rather disappointed. The main problem was that everything was very padded out and overwritten - the 20th century story (set in 1991) and the 17th/18th century ones could easily have been told in half the words. I wondered if the author's postgraduate research training had influenced the way in which she wrote her first novel - it would account for the way in which research was sometimes set out and perhaps for the excessive length. I also thought that for a woman studying for a PhD at Harvard, Connie was sometimes very slow to piece things together or to realise what was going on. Some of the revelations right at the end were astonishing in the wrong sense - how could Connie not have known or understood some of the things she learns before? That said, I did find this book quite a page turner. I quite liked Connie even when I felt impatient with her not realising things, and the romantic subplot added some much needed dramatic tension to pull me through all those surplus words. I would probably borrow another book by this author from the library, as I think she might write a much better novel in the future with a tougher editor. This book was has been published in the UK under two titles - The Lost Book of Salem came out last year, then it was republished in April 2010 under the US title, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. I prefer the latter title, I think it's evocative and interesting, I wish the book was. This is a modified version of a review which first appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk.
This story cleverly entwines two different characters, living in different eras. The first, Connie, is a Harvard PHD student who is writing her thesis on Colonial America (Yes, this bit makes it sound incredibly boring. Stick with it!). The second, Deliverance Dane, is a woman caught up in the Salem Witch Trials of 1962. Connie finds a parchment engraved with Dane's name in her grandmothers cottage, and is instantly intrigued. She begins to investigate the cottage, and her family history. The book is full of twists which I don't want to reveal here, but it is a good book. It sensitively explains witchcraft, and the attitudes towards it, and creates a perfect mix of spooky and enchanting scenes. The other characters, including a latin room mate, a scatty mother, a sexy boyfriend and a funny professor, are excellent to read about, and all in all they make the story fast moving and interesting. The author puts a huge amount of detail into describing things, which makes it feel like you are really there. I was fascinated throughout, and read the book in a day. I did find Connie very annoying, she acts much younger then 22, and is very slow. It takes her a long time to pick up on things that I had realized ages ago, and that can make stilted and frustrated reading.
I picked this book up on a recent trip to Waterstones as I was looking for some easy to read options for a holiday and they had a 3 for 2 offer on. This book was in the offer and although I had never heard of it or of the author before I read the back and it sounded interesting so I bought it. I have read the book over the last week and although it was very easy to read and I didn't dislike it as such, I did find it rather predictable and a tad patronizing as well as being almost laugh out loud ridiculous at times. It made me wonder whether this was actually aimed at teenagers but it would seem not. Basically the book follows Connie Goodwin, a Harvard post-grad history student working towards her PhD who is tasked with clearing out her grandmothers old house over the summer. In the course of doing this she discovers an old bible with a key hidden in it and inside the key an old bit of paper with the name Deliverance Dane written on it. The researcher in Connie begins to look into who Deliverance was and the quest takes her on a quite unexpected journey into her own past which revolves around the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. Connie discovers her own links with the past and a lot of soul searching about mothers and daughters is evoked by what she learns. A sub plot involves Connie's blossoming relationship with Sam, a steeplejacker who she meets in the course of her research, this love story, however, is never delved into with much intensity. Some of the things about this book which really irked me were as follows. A lot of the time it feels like you are reading a decent adult novel and then it will delve into the realms of witchcraft in such a way that you almost want to laugh out loud. Some examples include: a dog which can disappear and reappear at will (is it real? is it a figment of Connie's imagination?), a realisation by Connie (the studious, fact obsessed research student) that she can harness time with her mind and bring dead things back to life. And so on. I kept feeling so annoyed with this book at what could have been. It was also incredibly disappointing that the plot and characters were as transparent as clingfilm and yet the lead character of Connie was totally oblivious to many of the upcoming events until they happened. This despite her supposed awakening to the world of witchcraft. On so many levels I just felt it let me down and it did not really fit into a particular category to my mind. Its too daft and predictable to be a serious novel, too tedious to be aimed at teenagers and too patronizing to be a real hit with people who are properly into wicca or the paranormal. Personally I did not feel any particular attachment to any of the characters and did not think they were overly engaging or interesting. In fact, the only character who I was intrested in learning more about was Deliverance Dane herself (a real Salem woman accused of witchcraft) and she only really appeared in short interlude chapters which was a shame. I read the end notes written by the author with some interest and it turns out that she herself has researched her own links to a few of the women accused of witchcraft and that she herself is also a PhD student in Massachusetts. It did make me wonder whether she has simply indulged herself by writing a quasi-biographical work of fiction. Anyway, I certainly would not pick up another book by this author following this one. Although it was easy to read I felt obliged to finish it out of habit, not because I had any curiosity left regarding the outcomes (which I had guessed by about 100 pages in). For me this was just not well written, engaging or challenging enough to be an enjoyable read which is a shame, it could have been so much more.