The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

It’s typically very rare that a debut novel gets published and turns a lot of heads at the same time. The book that I am about to review did just that. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is the breakout novel by Boston University PhD candidate-turned novelist Katherine Howe. Published on June 9, 2009, it swiftly became one of the most-talked-about books of summer 2009. I fell upon this book purely by accident while watching Good Morning America on 6/10/2009. I was agog by the fact that Ms. Howe was featured in an interview about her debut novel the day after it became available for purchase. How is this even possible? I wondered as I quickly looked up the title on Amazon and promptly ordered it right then and there. I actually created a book club and made this book the first pick. The club never got off of the ground but all of the members read it and loved it!

Howe’s novel is composed of two intersecting parts: 1991 in Massachusetts in and around Harvard and 1692, the year of the Salem Witch Trials.  The basic plot of the book is how graduate student Connie Goodwin realizes she has a connection with the Salem Witch Trials when she spends time at her grandmother’s house and stumbles upon a mystery. Lucky for the reader it is not difficult to go back and forth between the two time periods. Howe’s plot, dialogue, and characters all combine into a masterful cocktail of intrigue and suspense.  As an academic I felt quite and home and even nostalgic for research while reading about Connie’s PhD examinations at Harvard. This does not, in any way mean that this book will appeal only to academics. All of the women that I suggested it to ended up falling in love with its intricate plot structure, the well-researched and executed historical context, and the suspense and mystery of the novel. Make sure you do have a dictionary handy when you read this as there are some words you may need to look up. While I learned what a simulacrum is in graduate school, many people do not ,but any new word you learn is a good one in my opinion!

In summation, Howe’s book deserves a place on the bookshelf next to your Hillary Wolf, Phillipa Gregory, Alison Weir and other fabulous historical fiction novelists’ works. It is deserving of all the hype and buzz it has and continues to receive. This was my first American historical fiction novel and it will not be the last. I actually stayed up late in to the night in bed to finish this novel(which is something that I rarely do). She is a fine author who is extremely accessable and gracious via social media-are you following katherinebhowe on Twitter yet?  Have you “fanned’ her on Facebook? Do it! I only hope that she hurries up and finishes her PhD so her fan base can get another novel soon! She is in the number three slot on my list of “second novels I am anxious for”, eclipsed by  Diane Setterfield and Arundahti Roy, respectively.

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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory, arguably one of the finest historical fiction novelists of the 21st century, finished off her wildly popular Tudor series with the publication of The Other Queen and began a new series last summer entitled The Cousins’ War. The White Queen is the first in this new trilogy that centers around The War of the Roses. The White Queen details Elizabeth Woodville’ rise to the throne as the Queen of England, wife of Edward IV. An ancillary side plot deals with the connection of Woodville’s family as descendents of the water goddess Melusina who supposedly drives the widow’s good fortunes along and is the catalyst for her marriage, as well as a voice of reason to call upon throughout the novel.

Throughout the plot, Gregory paints a grisly picture of the two brother’s fighting for their homeland and the chaos and disarray that follow. Elizabeth does believe she is untouchable even as events unfold around her, but she is one of the strongest characters in the novel and the most fleshed out female character. Her will and faith keeps her alive even through a difficult birth while imprisoned in an abbey. She is the  mother of the Princes in the Tower and she never gives up on her husband or her sons imminent returns.

I had not previously been very knowledgable about The War of the Roses but I believe that once again, Gregory has produced a fully researched and engaging novel. Even though Woodville’s voice is the strongest throughout the novel,  the plot does not lag and the character interaction does not disappoint. Read any scene between Elizabeth Woodville and her dreadful, delusional mother-in-law to find charged dialogue and believable tension between characters.

The only part that I was disappointed with was the resolution, or lack there of, about the Princes in the Tower. However, I agree that there is a lack of  evidence of what really happened to even speculate a resolution. It is one of those haunting mysteries that may never be solved. I think Gregory captures the sentiment and wistfulness of a strong, yet heartbroken mother and dethroned Queen quite poignantly at the end.

I read this out-of-order before finishing the Tudor series, and now I cannot wait for The Red Queen, the next in The Cousin’s War trilogy, which will be available in August. Kudos to my favorite authoress of historical fiction for another amazingly engaging story.

Hot Guys Reading Books Blog-Courtesy of EW’s Shelf Life Blog

As I have already stated, EW’s Shelf Life Blog is one of my favorite blogs for current events in publishing and literature. It’s no surprise that one of this week’s entries caught my eye. Apparently there is a blog with a topic that is very intriguing to me : Hot Guys Reading Books is a blog that features, what else, but photos submitted of guys reading books in various settings.

As an English major myself, obviously reading is not just a pastime, but a way of life. As a single woman, a guy who reads is incredibly attractive and also, sadly, uncharted waters for me. I don’t think I have ever dated a guy who was an avid reader. Sure there were the ones who faked that they read for pleasure in order to get to know me better. And there were the guys ones made bad jokes about literary works or used cheesy literary pickup lines to try to “hook me”.  There’s also the “once a year when I’m travelling I read something that isn’t Playboy” guy.  I remember that my ex-boyfriend actually purchased Beowulf after I suggested it because he claims he wanted to read a really good epic with war and monsters; I think he returned it the next day, and it was the Seamus Heaney translation too, oh well!

I don’t mean to come off as an erudite elitist snob  but for me, a guy who uses his brain because he wants to, not merely because he needs to is a huge attraction.  A guy who reads looks at life differently, analyzes the world differently, opens his mind and heart to things in a more engaging manner. This isn’t to say that those guys who do not read lack these skills, they are just in a different league, that’s all. And I could mention a little something about being honest in presenting yourself but that would be tangential. Okay enough apologizing/attempting to justify my own thoughts. Moving on…

I’m not sure what the purpose of the blog is other than some harmless fun, but I am wondering if people, mainly males, will take offense at being labeled a “hot” guy who reads and will find it objective in some way. Personally, while some of the males featured are mildly physically attractive, I find that I’m more into the books they are reading then the guys themselves. Note to Ms. Rense- Can we get  a description of the book titles featured in the pictures? I’m drooling over book titles I cannot see very well!

Update: I read over the FAQ’s on the blog and the premise of the blog is for entertainment purposes and to show that there guys in the world that do read and are attractive. I agree with her statement that in academia there are not a lot of male English majors compared to the plethora of female English majors. Ms. Rense seems to handle the blog’s purpose very well in this section and if you find this blog offensive please peruse it before you cast a final judgement. Ms. Rense and I are in complete agreement when she states that she “wanted to show how sexy it is when men read books”. In  my opinion, there is nothing sexier!

So what do you think about Hot Guys Reading Books? Are the guys hot? Or not? Is this sexist? Just plain fun? Or just plain AWESOME? I’m particularly curious to see what a male English major thinks of this blog….hopefully I’ll get some feedback. Happy reading everyone!