Thursday, July 2, 2009


Was I ever wishy-washy about The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. I picked it up since it was in the must-read pile, and I was in the mood for some historical fiction.

In case you haven't heard from the huge marketing campaign, this novel is the story of a young woman named Connie working on her Ph.D. in American history at Harvard who spends her summer alternately looking for a dissertation topic and cleaning up her maternal grandmother's home near Salem, MA. The house is perfectly creepy and old, without electricity or a phone line. Connie comes across an old key in the house with a slip of paper attached reading 'Deliverance Dane'. Connie sets off to figure out who Delivance was and has a relatively easy time tracking her down and obtaining information about her descendants. Scattered throughout the novel are chapters that reveal what happened in the past from the perspective of Deliverance and her descendants. Howe's idea was apparently to write a novel from the idea of 'what if the witches from Salem were actually practicing witchcraft' thus the story takes an odd magical turn about halfway through that I wasn't expecting.

So how was I wishy-washy? Well, when I was awake and alert I thought this was an okay read. I really thought the premise was interesting and enjoyed reading about the big old house and its secrets. The Postscript was fascinating and it's obvious there and throughout the book that Howe is a scholar of American History.

But when I was tired, and it was the end of the day, I felt very nit picky about this book. My main problem with it was that the dialogue felt heavy. Too much description of how people said things, or what they were doing when they said it that didn't pertain to the continuation of the storyline. I've found that I prefer books that are just told, not just 'he said'/'she said' all the way through. In addition, I had trouble reading the New England dialect that Howe uses occasionally and had to actually read aloud to figure out what was being said.

The characters often seemed overwritten, like caricatures of people. The innocent student, the bad-boy painter romantic interest, the hippy-dippy mother who is all knowing, and the villain. Connie wasn't the easiest character to like. For a Ph.D. student she took an awfully long time (20 pages) to pick up on clues that I noticed immediately. In addition, from the moment The Villain was introduced it was as though Howe was throwing stuff at me to let me know that he was The Bad Guy. So how did Connie not notice?

{Insert big sigh.}

I know it sounds like I didn't like this book at all, which isn't the case. It's just that this, for me, was an okay book that could have been great, with better execution and more editing. I'm sure there are going to be a lot of people who enjoy this novel. I guess I just read enough to know that it could have been so much better.

Many thanks to Hyperion for this review copy.


bermudaonion said...

I've read tons of great reviews for this one, so I think you're in the minority. It's in my TBR pile, so I guess I'll be throwing my two cents in before too long.

Literary Feline said...

This is one I've been really curious about for awhile now and so will probably try. I'm sorry it wasn't better for you.

Ti said...

It's hard to write a review for a book that doesn't "wow" you, but your write-up seems very fair and you cite examples and the like.

The storyline DOES sound very interesting to me but I would tire of a lot of he said/she said stuff too.

It's on my list but perhaps not at the top of the pile now

Carrie K said...

I think the sheer volume of good reviews does some books in. I pick it up expecting a really great book because that's what the buzz is but they're seldom up to my expectations. That's why I either try to beat the herd or come in long afterwards.

I saw this in my local independent last night and immediately thought - it's out?? I'm so used reading about books that won't be out for months. SO. ANNNOYING.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

this is in my pile of the next 10 books i'd like to read. i appreciate your review; thanks

Staci said...

I just won this book and am anxiously waiting to read this one! Thanks for your honest thoughts on this one!!

Bree said...

I was thinking about reading this book but your review kinda changed that for me as I don't like "heavy dialogue" either or text written in strong accent. I don't like trying to decipher English. Its such a distraction.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the minority. I had a hard time with the dialect, too. And her lack of ability to grasp the obvious.

Kristen M. said...

I didn't have problems with the writing but I did have a lot of problems with all sorts of things Connie did or didn't do. She was so dense sometimes! I liked the premise and the book but I didn't like her.

Danielle said...

I've seen this novel around but I didn't realize what it was actually about. It sort of seems like a 'been there done that' sort of story. I may have to take a peek at it at the library at some point, but at the moment I think I have my hands full with other books (which is just as well as I've been buying too many lately...).

Iliana said...

Like Danielle, I've seen this book everywhere but I think that only led me to sort of disregard it and I had no idea what it was about. I'm a bit interested but more than likely it's one of those I'll wait a good long while before checking out. Sometimes that's good as the hype dies down and you can enjoy the book without thinking everyone loved it, you know.

Karen said...

I've picked up a copy of this one (called The Lost Book Of Salem in Australia) from my library because I have heard some mixed things about this one and am not sure if it is going to be a good read for me. I have a feeling I might feel similar to you with this one. I will give it a go and see what happens.

Cath said...

You grieve sometimes for what a book *could* have been had a good editor been stricter with an undisciplined author, don't you? A shame. Like others here I'll wait until this one eventually appears in the library.

Tara said...

Bermudaonion, I am okay with being in the minority sometimes! To each his/her own. I'll look forward to your thoughts.

Literary Feline, I hope you like it more than me, it's certainly worth trying.

Ti, Thanks for your comment. I was attempting to be balanced. I hope you like it more than me.

Carrie K, I usually tend to be a 'long afterwords' sort of reader which is why I practically feel bad throwing my 2 cents in.

Diane, I hope you enjoy it!

Staci, I hope you like it Staci, look forward to your thoughts on it.

Bree, both of those things bother me. Obviously! Maybe check it out from the library...

softdrink, thank you very much, thanks for your comment!! I knew I wasn't alone.

Kristen M, Connie wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, was she. Not an appealing character.

Danielle, there do seem to be a lot of Salem stories lately. I would definitely consider this a book to borrow.

Iliana, I used to be in the habit of disregarding books that I see everywhere, too. Then once the fuss died down I could figure out if it is really worth reading. But now sometimes, I have a copy that needs to be read! It's been an odd change for me, to be sure.

Karen, glad to hear you got it from the library! Let me know what you think.

Cath, absolutely! Especially for a first time author, I wonder why no one was 'stricter' with her.

J.L. Danger said...

I never know what to do with books like that. They are good, but not great. You are into them juuuust enough to keep picking them up, but not enough to not put them down.

Melissa said...

I feel like I've been wishy-washy on quite a few books lately. I have this one in my pile and hope to get to it soon.

Tara said...

J.Danger, exactly, exactly.

Melissa, that's too bad; I hope you like the more than me!