The Lost Book of Salem – Katherine Howe

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Note: This book is called The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane in America

I heard a real buzz about this book before it’s release. I saw a few people state it was their favourite book of the year, and they mentioned how much they were looking forward to publishing their review after it’s release date. I wanted to get in on the action, so it arrived through my letter box on it’s release date a few weeks ago.

I can see why people love it, but although I enjoyed reading it, it won’t make it on to my list of favourite reads in 2009.

The Lost Book of Salem is set during the Salem witch trials of the 17th century Massachusetts, and also in 1991, where Connie, a history graduate is studying the trials. Connie finds a parchment inscribed with the name Deliverance Dane in an old cottage that belonged to her grandmother, and begins to investigate the secrets hidden in the cottage and in her family history.

The book is packed with 17th century atmosphere, and there are some really good spooky scenes – I especially loved the discovery of the mandrake! The historical sections were well written and had obviously been meticulously researched.

Unfortunately not everything was amazing. I found the central modern character, Connie, very irritating. She is supposed to be a history graduate (22-years-old?) but she behaved more like a 14-year-old. She just seemed slow. I don’t think there was a single mystery in the book which she managed to solve before me, and some of them were so straight forward I don’t know why they were mentioned. Here is an example of one of the worst offenders:

Connie raised her head, thinking. What was a ‘witch-bottel’? Bottel. A phonetic spelling of ‘bottle’. A witch bottle.

Overall, it was a gripping read, full of interesting facts about the history of witches, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype.

 

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Have you heard the hype about this book?

Did it make you want to rush out and buy it?

Is this your favourite book of the year?


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33 Comments

  1. claire says:

    Wow that is so not subtle. The premise made me want to read it, but hearing so many iffy reviews made me think twice. Thanks for the passage you posted I made up my mind not to put it on the wishlist for now, because I’m a writing-over-plot kind of reader. Maybe someday when I’ve nothing left to read.

    1. Jackie says:

      As you know I’m a plot over writing person and this still annoyed me! I think it would get to you a lot more than me, so probably worth leaving off your list!

  2. Meghan says:

    I do feel that some of Connie’s behavior was dumbed down; there is no way a history PhD student would get so far without knowing how to read and understand manuscripts more or less instantly. I still liked the book, though I don’t think it’s on my favorites list either.

    1. Jackie says:

      I know! There is no way I’d give her a degree in history, let alone a PhD! Even the oral exam she did came across as school level.

  3. Sandy says:

    I impulsively bought this book for my Kindle, but have yet to read it. Soon! You are right…was this book ever hyped! They had it on Good Morning America as one of the best summer reads this season. Ack! At least now my expectations have been appropriately lowered, so I will just read it as entertaining, not mind-blowing!

    1. Jackie says:

      It was quite entertaining, and did grip me all the way to the end, so it wasn’t terrible. I’ll be interested to see if you feel the same way as me about it.

  4. Violet says:

    Oh well, I have heard of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane but I didn’t know it’s the same book. I love to read anything on Salem Witch trials so I might buy this book. As India imports most of the books from UK, I’m thinking we’ll have this edition too. Thanks for bringing it to my notice.

    Sorry you didn’t like this book.

    1. Jackie says:

      There is a lot of detailed information about the Salem witch trials, so if you have an interest in them then there is a lot to like in this book.

      It does get confusing when they change the titles around the world – I wish they’d stop doing that!

  5. Caroline says:

    I really liked the sound of this, but that witch-bottel excerpt has put me off a bit! If the character was a child, then it would be understandable for her to puzzle over archaic spellings, but a history graduate? She does sound pretty slow. I will look out for this in the library, though, as I’d probably like the 17thC bits.

    1. Jackie says:

      It does sound great! If the modern girl had been a 10 years old and this book had been aimed at the YA market then it could have been forgiven.

      The 17th century bits are really good though, so I’m sure you’d enjoy them.

  6. Nicole says:

    I had received a copy of this book to review, but it was randomly missing about 40 pages towards the beginning so I didn’t read it. It started off well enough but I don’t think it;s anything I have to rush right out and get.

    1. Jackie says:

      It’s a shame you were missing 40 pages – that is weird! I think it starts off really well. The first three pages in particular were excellent.

  7. Simon S says:

    Anything with ‘Salem’ in the title instantly alerts my interest, however having heard such mixed things about this book it might be one to look out for in charity shops rather than spend the full whack on. Cheap I know, but practical!

    1. Jackie says:

      It will probably be a while before it starts turning up in charity shops – one for the library I think!

  8. Beth F says:

    I have a review copy of this one and I’m looking forward to it. But I suspect I’ll have issues with the idea that a PhD student would have a difficult time reading manuscripts. Meghan has it right. Yet, I really want to read the story, so someday you’ll see a review from me.

    1. Jackie says:

      The story is very good, although it is a bit predictable. It is a light, enjoyable read though. I look forward to reading your review.

  9. That is so weird that the title is different. I have the US Arc (BEEN MEANING TO GET TO IT); thanks for the good review!

    1. Jackie says:

      It is quite annoying – I have almost ordered the same book twice due to different titles. I hope you enjoy this one!

      1. Does anyone know why they sometimes change titles in other countries? I’ve heard that sometimes there is already a book with the same title in a particular country, but then again, I’ve come across books of the same title w/ different authors so I don’t think that’s why they do it.

  10. Kathy says:

    It’s interesting that it has a different name here in the US. The reviews for this one seem to be mixed, but I still plan to give it a try.

    1. Jackie says:

      Yes – they are very mixed. I am looking out for people who agree with me, so I can try to remember who has similar reading tastes to me!

  11. Jenny says:

    Hm – I like the idea of making the protagonist younger. This could have been much better if Connie had been twelve or thirteen; have her mum be the Ph.D. student but not willing to listen to little Connie about Someone Being a Real Witch, and a scatty aunt who knew about the family’s witchy skills – aw, that would have been fun. Could’ve kept the mother/daughter themes and the wicked English faculty member, but Connie would have been more plucky! And less aggravating. And no Sam (what was the point of that plotline anyway?) doing his Practical Magic dying for love bit.

    1. Jackie says:

      I love your idea of making the mum the PhD student! That would have been such a good book. Do you think we can get her to write it for us?!!

  12. Karen says:

    I have had this one checked out from the library for a while now but I just haven’t really been tempted to get into it. I did read the first few pages when I borrowed it but that didn’t grab me at all so I think I will send this one back to the library unread.

    1. I loved the first few pages with the man caring for his sick daughter. If you didn’t like these then I don’t think this book is for you.

  13. softdrink says:

    Yes! I agree 100%. I think this one is over-hyped. I did picture Connie as a bit older…maybe 26 or 27. But still way too naive for the story. And the New England accents…aaargh…don’t get me started on that!

    1. She could well be older. I don’t know much about the education system in America, but here you finish school at 18, take 3 years for a degree, one year for a masters, making you 22 when you start a PhD. Either way she comes across as being far too young for her age!

      The New England accents didn’t bother me. It is interesting to see what annoys different people though!

  14. Samantha says:

    I have read quite a few reviews like yours here stating that this book is over-hyped. I think it must be very hard as a writer to know which way to lean when it comes to the marketing of one’s book (though I am sure that this part of the book selling process is taken out of their hands by the publishers). Does one want a lot of publicity and huge early sales which then drop off as it becomes known (or continues to grow because it actually lives up to the hype) or a modest publicity campaign with middling sales which then grow from word of mouth? Makes one not trust when a book is hugely promoted like this one …

    1. I’m not criticising the writer for it being over-hyped, and congratulations to the publisher for being able to hype a book to this extent. It was more a warning to the reader that I think this book doesn’t live up to expectations. Marketing a book must be really hard and I know very little about it, but I think they must be creating a lot of sales for this book, so they must be doing something right!

  15. CarolineC says:

    Hmmm, not sure about this one. I enjoyed The Heretics’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent, have you read it, Jackie? It covers the same subject and has mixed reviews like this one. Over all it was good but a bit slow in places.

    1. Jackie says:

      No – I haven’t read The Heretics Daughter. I would be interested in reading more about the Salem Witches though, so will keep an eye out for it – thank you for letting me know about it!

  16. Nellie says:

    Thankyou for your review – I googled this book as I have just spent the last hour reading it and already I’m irritated! I actually find the writing style quite clumsy and heavy handed, so I guess it is not the book for me. It lacks subtlety and the central character is so annoying, I fully expect it to be released as a film in the near future.
    That said, it did lead me to your website, which I shall bookmark for future reference!

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m pleased it led you to my blog! Hopefully you’ll be able to find lots of books which are more suited to your tastes!

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