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Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe

Connie Goodwin is a graduate student recently promoted to candidacy, when she is exhorted by her advisor to find her primary source for her thesis. A summer trip takes Connie to her grandmother’s dilapidated cottage to fix the place up in order to be sold, and she finds a scrap of paper with Deliverance Dane’s name on it. Connie then finds herself searching for Deliverance’s book of physick. The novel is punctuated by little scenes from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, detailing the journey of Deliverance’s book.

The good: this book was a real page-turner. Although somewhat predictable, I found myself reading this book way past where I told myself I’d leave off.

However, the bad outweighs the good. The author is working on her PhD, and the novel reads like it’s written by someone working on their PhD; Howe tends to pontificate a lot about various aspects of early American life. The plot forces the reader to suspend their sense of disbelief. SPOILER ALERT: I wish that the author had chosen to describe Connie’s moment of discovering the book, rather than her just telling her mother (who doesn’t care, anyways) later. After all, the book is the lynchpin of the novel, right?

The prose is overwrought and occasionally makes no sense: (“It carried away a charred layer of skin from Connie’s fingers, coils of smoke drifting up from her hands as she squinted her eyes against the overweening consciousness of pain” (p. 352).). I liked the historical bits, but I wish there had been more of them, and more character development.

The leads me to another point: Howe’s characters in the present. For a Harvard student, Connie seemed kind of dumb. And I also didn’t “see” her attraction to Sam—he’s tattooed and pierced, while she’s extremely straitlaced (and sometimes I just wanted to tell Connie to light up already). The villain was a bit of a caricature, too, and the mother is the earth-mother stereotype.

No doubt this book will do very well, as Voice has apparently already spent quite a lot of money on publicity for this book. It’s easy for me to see why some people might like this book, though. The timeslip novel is not a new concept, but I wish that Howe had taken it and twisted it somehow.

Also reviewed by: Many a Quaint and Curious Volume, Medieval Bookworm, Devourer of Books, S. Krishna's Books, Shelf Love, The Burton Review


Meghan said…
While I can sort of see your points, I still loved the book personally. It might help that I am a grad student myself and I'm used to so many historical details. It's funny that I was least fond of the actual historical parts; I think I've heard far too much about colonial America to really enjoy much fiction written about it. I did think it was a bit odd that we hadn't heard about how Connie actually found the book, though.

- Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm
Prisca said…
I really wanted to like this one, but I just couldn't stick with it. I'm probably the only person who started this book and didn't finish it. There are so many better books out there on Salem and the witch trials (Heretic's Daughter!).
Kristen M. said…
I liked this book more than you did but it's funny that the one sentence you picked was probably the one that stood out to me the most in the book as well ... I just remember thinking "wow, that's an interesting place to use 'overweening' ..."

I think that Connie liked Sam more once she knew he was also a history person. And he had the bad boy looks which it seems like her subconscious would like after her upbringing.

As for her being dumb, I thought a few times that she wasn't thinking very hard (I mean REALLY! It says "recipe book" and you don't immediately think "hey! this might be the book I'm looking for!") but I think she was not dumb so much as book-bound. Her world at the time was in memorizing facts and not really in paying attention to the current world around her. Although **slight SPOILER** come on ... she didn't remember her own full name until the end of the book? Are you kidding?

I'm glad to have read your review. I see a few more problems with the book than I did before but I still think it was a decent read and I did enjoy the historical portions quite a bit.
Bookfool said…
I actually set the book aside when I realized it was going to be about Connie, not set in the past. I was hoping for more historical fiction. But, I still plan to try to finish the book.
Teresa said…
I just started reading this last night, and I'm already irritated by some of the writing.

I'm hoping that the story will be interesting enough that I'll be able to overlook the awkward descriptions. Right now, I'm skeptical.
S. Krishna said…
I loved this book, though I see what you mean about Connie!

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