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The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane – Book Review

physickbookofdeliverancedaneCarefully, delicately, she caught the end of the paper with her thumbnail and withdrew it slowly from the shaft. It looked like a miniature parchment, tightly rolled into a tub. She laid the key in her lap and held the parchment up to the lamp, unrolling the crisp, brittle slip one millimeter at a time. It was brown and stained, barely as long as her thumb. On it, in a watery ink barely legible in the flickering light, were written the words Deliverance Dane. – from The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, page 50 –

Connie Goodwin, a PhD candidate in American History, finds herself and her dog Arlo unexpectedly spending the summer at her grandmother’s crumbling old home near Salem, Massachusetts. Tasked by her mother to clean up the place and sell it, Connie instead discovers an old key with a message inside an ancient family Bible which compels her to search for answers to a 300 year old mystery. Connie’s quest introduces her to a handsome steeplejack named Sam; and as Connie and Sam follow the clues to uncover the whereabouts of an old “recipe” book, Connie realizes that Salem’s dark history (including the witch trials) are impacting her own life more than she knew.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is Katherine Howe’s debut novel. The narration is from several points of view and spans the time period from 1681 – 1715, as well as immersing the reader in Connie’s present day life in 1991. Howe has done her homework on the rich history surrounding the Salem Witch trials. Period detail including the architecture and clothing from the late seventeenth century create a sense of place. Howe’s own background as a graduate student in American and New England Studies, as well as her family history (which includes being a descendant of Elizabeth Proctor and Elizabeth Howe who were tried as witches in Salem) lends an authenticity to the novel.

The book is not without its faults. I found myself growing weary of the New England accent in Howe’s dialogue. It started to feel like a chore to read these sections, and made me remember I was reading a story rather than being immersed in it. I also thought the early parts of the book dragged a bit. Howe’s desire to provide all the details at times distracted from the flow of her story.

That said, Howe’s strength is in creating character and when Connie discovers her previously unknown talents of healing, I believed it. Connie’s strained relationship with her new-age mother Grace had me smiling and nodding. And as the novel progressed, I found myself eager to learn the secrets and uncover the mystery surrounding Connie’s family.

For readers who love historical fiction and who are willing to allow their imaginations free reign to explore the magic of superstition, religion and witchcraft, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane will appeal.


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  1. April 13, 2009    

    I am so impressed you’ve gotten this one finished! It’s on my TBR pile; I’m really looking forward to it.

  2. April 13, 2009    

    This is in my TBR pile, but after reading your review, I’m not sure it’s going to be a good fit for me.

  3. April 13, 2009    

    You picked a wonderful quote to open the post — it attracted my attention immediately!

    I am very thankful for your honest review – the good and the not-so-good, but all in all I think this might be a book that would be worth my time to read. I plan to see if it is available at my local library.

  4. April 13, 2009    

    I’m so excited to read this book! I’ve read about it in a few places now, and I can’t wait for our library to get it in. I love books where people do research and find old documents. I’m glad to have a warning about the less enjoyable aspects of the book, though!

  5. April 13, 2009    

    I totally enjoyed your review. I appreciate that you told us where you had problems with the book but that overall it wasn’t a bad read. The whole premise sounds really intriguing and when I read it I will keep your review in mind.

  6. April 13, 2009    

    Aerin: It is actually a fun sort of read – hope you’ll enjoy your copy!

    Kathy: Many readers are gushing over this book – and although I thought it was pretty good, I just didn’t find it “great.”

    Molly: I hope you’ll enjoy it – as I mentioned to Kathy (above) many readers are loving this book…

    Jenny: If you love books about people researching and finding old documents, you will love this book!

    Staci: Thank you so much – I really try to be fair and honest with my reviews.

  7. April 13, 2009    

    I was a little reluctant to read your review – it is the first one I’ve seen for this book, and I didn’t want to ‘spoil’ anything for myself. Well, now I’m glad I read and am even more curious! I am a bit hesitant about the accent you mention – that can be really distracting from the story as you say.

  8. April 14, 2009    

    I really enjoyed this book. Like you said, it has its faults, but I still liked it a lot!

  9. April 14, 2009    

    Tara: I hope you’ll enjoy the book…I am always reluctant to read reviews on books I have not read yet because I am afraid it will change my perspective on the book…so I hope my review won’t spoil it for you!

    Swapna: A lot of readers seem to agree more with you than me 🙂 I enjoyed it, but I just didn’t think it was “great”

  10. April 15, 2009    

    I have this one to read also – thanks for the review. It lets me know that this will probably not be a “lite” read. (:

  11. April 16, 2009    

    Kristi: No, I wouldn’t call it “lite”… 🙂

  12. April 22, 2009    

    I like when books sweep me up and I forget where I am…This one sounds like it could have been better.

  13. April 22, 2009    

    Serena: *nods* I liked the premise, but it just didn’t blow me away.

  14. April 24, 2009    

    I’ve had my eye on this one, but I’m not sure yet whether I want to read it. Thanks for the honest review.

  15. April 26, 2009    

    Anna: You’re welcome – some readers have written glowing reviews of this book, so you should try it if you like stories set around the Salem witch trials.

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