Sunday, February 27, 2022

Hour of the Witch

  Hour of the Witch
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2021. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0385542437 / 978-0385542432

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was always possible that the Devil was present."

Favorite Quote:  "There were  people in the world who were good and people who were evil, but most of them were some mixture of both and did what they did simply because they were mortal. And her Lord? ... He knew it all and had known it all and always would know it all."

A young woman. An only daughter. An educated woman. An abusive marriage. No children. An appeal for divorce. A Puritan town looking for signs of anyone breaking tradition and anyone different. A charge of witchcraft.

This is Mary Deerfield's life in 1600s Boston. She and her family arrive in Boston when Mary is a teenager. Her father is a respected and wealthy businessman - a shipper and an importer of goods. Mary tries to play by the rules. She is a dutiful daughter. She is dutiful wife, hiding evidence of her husband's abuse. Yet, her power of independent thinking does not go well in this town. That combined with Mary's supposed friendship with suspicious persons - a supposed witch and a man who is not her husband - lead to suspicions about Mary herself. She pushes the boundary even further when escalating abuse causes her to file a petition of divorce from her husband. The issue escalates even more so when a series of circumstances lead to an accusation of witchcraft.

This book has all the elements I love about Chris Bohjalian's books. The history is researched and real. According to author interviews, the idea for this book originated in the case of Katherine Nanny Naylor in front of the Boston Court of Assistants in 1672. The case stands out because Nanny Naylor filed for and was able to win a divorce from her husband. She spend the rest of her life living independently. The records of the case can still be found in the Massachusetts Archives Collection. Interestingly, in 1992, archeologists discovered the privy of her home in Boston. Because of the wealth of artifacts found in the privy, the discovery is considered one of the most significant ones from the early colonial period.

Fascinating history aside, the book is at the same time fiction and tells a story that keeps me rapidly turning pages from beginning to the end. The characters - especially Mary herself - are well drawn and the history is so brought to life through them that I think surely, they must be real themselves. The one thing I could have done without is Mary's repeated thoughts about men and about sexual pleasure. For me, that distracts from the story about Mary's rise as a woman.

What I might expect of this book is the story of Puritan New England and a male dominated society. Yet, this book is really the story of the women. It is about the individual strength of Mary herself. It is also about the women who surround her - those who would tear each other down and those who would lift each other up.

By the nature of the time and place, the men play key, visible roles. "This may be the hour of the witch. But the Devil? He most definitely wears breeches. The Devil can only be a man." However, it is the women on whom the story and its final conclusion rests.

The epilogue ending was what I expected given the times. However, I do wish the book had ended with the strength of the women without that add on.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, February 18, 2022


Author:  Eto Mori
Publication Information:  Counterpoint. 2021. 224 pages.
ISBN:  1640094423 / 978-1640094420

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "As my dead soul leisurely drifted off to some dark place, this angers I'd never seen before suddenly appeared right in my way."

Favorite Quote:  "Extraordinary joy and sadness can come out of the ordinary every day."

A nameless young individual dies. His soul drifts towards the afterlife and the cycle of rebirth. An angel named Prapura notifies him that he has won the lottery. Because of his actions during his life, this individual is about to be kicked out of the cycle of rebirth. The soul is to be no more. However, due to the decision of the "boss," he is being given a second chance. He is to be given a "homestay" in another body. There he stays until he can determine what grave error he made in his own life.

The host body is fourteen-year-old Makoto Kobayashi. He has just killed himself, but due to the chance given to this nameless soul, is brought back to life. Now, this soul has to live as Makoto while determining what went wrong in his own life. Surrounding Makato are his parents, his older brother, and his school mates.

So begins this journey of self- discovery. Although marketed as literature and fiction, this book has very much of a young adult feel. The conclusion of the book is just what I expect it to be. The lesson is just what I expect it to be. "It wasn't some simple change, like things that I thought were black were actually white. It was more like when I looked closely, things I thought were a single, uniform color were really made up of a bunch of different colors. That's maybe the best way to describe it."

The journey of self-discovery also becomes a journey of learning about those who surround us. So often in our lives, we take for granted those closest to us and see what we choose to see. The soul in Makato's body learns this lesson about his family and his school mates.

The young-adult feel of the book comes from how simplified issues such as suicide, mental health, ethics, and infidelity seem to be. The resolutions to these issues seems equally simplified. In many ways, this is a self-help book with a lesson that appears easy to state but is so challenging to implement. "Remember how it felt to move freely without trapping yourself in your own expectations." The books appears to gloss over the challenges.

The biggest issue I have with the book does not even center on the main character, but rather on a girl who he cares about. The book, in a matter of fact way, presents an eight-grader prostituting herself so that she can buy things! "Pretty clothes, bags, rings, all those nice things I want are super expensive. Even if I tried to save  up my allowance, okay. even if I saved up for a whole year, I could never buy any of them ... But if I do it with him three or four times, boom, I can buy whatever I want." This is something I just cannot see past. The fact that the girl has an allowance indicates an economic level and a home life. But prostitution! The fact that I feel this book has a young adult audience makes this statement worse. The fact that is presented matter of factly and then not addressed again makes it worse and beyond my understanding. The fact that this being the reason for rejection of Makato is somewhat tangential to Makato's story makes it worse. Teenage angst over an unrequited love alone is enough. Why add this twist to the mix?

The original Japanese book won the Sankei Children's Book Award when originally published in the 1990s; it has been made into multiple movies. The fact that it won a Children's book award makes the subject matter even less palatable. Let's just say I do not understand.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Clean Air

Clean Air
  Clean Air
Author:  Sarah Blake
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2022. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1643751069 / 978-1643751061

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Dear Cami, We couldn't breathe the air."

Favorite Quote:  "The Turning was ten years ago. That's how people talked about it. Though it took more than that year for the world to experience the full effect of it, and less than a month for any city or town to all but die off. But it was easier to call it, vaguely, the Turning. TO not recall which month took which town. To let it slip out of time. To let it become the generic past tragedy of the world."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


The time is in future but not too far in the future - the 2030s or perhaps the 2040s. The world is in a post-apocalyptic new age in which humanity has learned to fight and survive the climate crisis. However, it is not an apocalypse of rising temperatures, rising seas, and the disappearing ozone layer. Rather, it is crisis of trees. Yes, trees. The trees have taken over, generating so much pollen so as to render the air unbreathable. That event is known as the Turning.

The world has adapted and restarted life, moving from airtight dome to airtight dome - life existing in literally these bubbles.

Kaito and Izabel remember the Turning. In fact, that was when they met. They survived when so many did not. They even thrived, falling in love and marrying. They are now parents to young Cami, whose entire life has been after the Turning.

Life in the bubble is safe and moving along a planned trajectory. However, the bubble cracks - literally and figuratively. A serial killer is breaking into domes at night, causing people to be exposed to the pollen and to die.

Somehow four year old Cami is involved for she talks about the killings in her sleep. Izabel begins a quest to protect her daughter and figure out the serial killer and the connection to her daughter. The ending, when it comes, is abrupt goes in a direction I don't expect. The environmental aspect I get as a current topic even though the trees being the cause of the apocalypse is somewhat out there. The imaginary world the book  builds conjures the dystopian image. The serial murders introduce the mystery. Yet, the book ends up at magical realism and the supernatural

I don't really get it. The different genres mix together in the book but, for me, do not coalesce into a whole. For me, part of the reason may be that the characters do not become real. Cami is cute but way too precocious for a four year old. Kaito and Izabel seem distant throughout the book. I don't find myself rooting for them or against them. To some extent, I become distant and do not invest in the outcome.

I find the concepts - of the post apocalyptic world, of a serial killer, of a supernatural connection, of a family drama even - intellectually intriguing. The fact that the main character is a mother protecting her child should elicit the emotional reaction. Unfortunately, the characters and story for me fail to elicit that connection that makes me invest in the book. I walk away unsatisfied and not the reader for this one.

About the Author

Sarah Blake’s novel Naamah won the National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction. Blake is also the author of the poetry collections Mr. West and Let’s Not Live on Earth. In 2013, she was awarded a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She currently lives in the UK.

About the Book

The climate apocalypse has come and gone, and in the end it wasn't the temperature climbing or the waters rising. It was the trees. They created enough pollen to render the air unbreathable, and the world became overgrown.

In the decades since the event known as the Turning, humanity has rebuilt, and Izabel has grown used to the airtight domes that now contain her life. She raises her young daughter, Cami, and attempts to make peace with her mother's death. She tries hard to be satisfied with this safe, prosperous new world, but instead she just feels stuck.

And then the tranquility of her town is shattered. Someone—a serial killer—starts slashing through the domes at night, exposing people to the deadly pollen. At the same time, Cami begins sleep-talking, having whole conversations about the murders that she doesn't remember after she wakes. Izabel becomes fixated on the killer, on both tracking him down and understanding him. What could compel someone to take so many lives after years dedicated to sheer survival, with society finally flourishing again?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

A Lullaby for Witches

A Lullaby for Witches
  A Lullaby for Witches
Author:  Hester Fox
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2022. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1525804693 / 978-1525804694

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Winter 2022 historical fiction blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I was beautiful in the summer of 1876."

Favorite Quote:  "Here is what I know to be true:  we are part of something larger, something more beautiful than we could ever comprehend. During our brief tenure on this earth, we see but only a glimpse of the world around us."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


A Lullaby for Witches is the fourth Hester Fox book that I have read. Unlike the first three, this one does not follow the title of CHARACTER of LOCATION. All main characters are women with an unusual history. All are set in New England. All are gothic with witches and powers and conduits to the beyond. Beyond that, each one has been unique. The Witch of Willow Hall is about a young woman finding her voice. The Widow of Pale Harbor is more romance than anything else. The Orphan of Cemetery Hill is about grave robbing and "scientific" experimentation. This one follows a two time period narrative, with a bridge and connection from past to present. It also features for a brief moment Pale Harbor.

Margaret Harlowe is the past. She is the youngest of the Harlowe children and the only girl. She has powers that, on occasion, she uses for good and, on occasion, to suit her own purposes. The mystery of Margaret Harlowe is the conversation of where she comes from and ultimately where she disappears to. Her ghost lingers at Harlowe House.

August Podos is the present. She takes, what she thinks, is her dream job as a colletctions expert at Harlowe House. Something considerably more personal draws her into life at Harlowe Hall in Tynemouth, Massachusetts.

The chapter alternate perspectives between the two women. Many parallels emerge - the discord within family, the betrayal by a man, and the sense of not belonging. "Do you know what it is to be lonely? Truly alone, even amidst a crowd? Even in a family?" 

Yet, at the same time, the two women could not be more different. Margaret's intentions are clear from the beginning to the reader. Margaret's story becomes about discovering why and how. Augusta's story becomes about following to see when she will discovers Margaret's intents and how she will respond. In this too, parallels emerge. The growth in both is the realization and the understanding of their own power. "But what I'm beginning to realize is that I don't need to find myself. I've been here all along." Yet, the two women again could not be more different in the use of their power.

The dual narrative technique work sin this book, and I find both women and their stories intriguing. I want to know the answers to the questions for both. The climax of this book brings the two stories crashing together about as I expect yet the melodramatic conclusion keeps me turning pages to see if it turns out the way I expect it will. The epilogue is an unexpected surprise for it answers the unasked question from the beginning. Why will Margaret Harlowe never leave this house? Don't you want to know?

As a random aside, the book does have a math mistake. The first sentence in the book states the year as 1876. At one point, a statement is made, "I've though about you these one hundred and fifty years." That would make the present time 2026! This book is in no way futuristics but rather anchored firmly in the past. This makes no difference to my enjoyment of the story, but I am a number person, notices, and found  it interesting.

About the Author

Hester Fox is a full-time writer and mother, with a background in museum work and historical archaeology. A native New-Englander, she now lives in rural Virginia with her husband and their son.

About the Book

Augusta Podos has just landed her dream job, working in collections at a local museum, Harlowe House, located in the charming seaside town of Tynemouth, Massachussetts. Determined to tell the stories of the local community, she throws herself into her work--and finds an oblique mention of a mysterious woman, Margaret, who may have been part of the Harlowe family, but is reduced to a footnote. Fascinated by this strange omission, Augusta becomes obsessed with discovering who Margaret was, what happened to her, and why her family scrubbed her from historical records. But as she does, strange incidents begin plaguing Harlowe House and Augusta herself. Are they connected with Margaret, and what do they mean?

Tynemouth, 1872. Margaret Harlowe is the beautiful daughter of a wealthy shipping family, and she should have many prospects--but her fascination with herbs and spellwork has made her a pariah, with whispers of "witch" dogging her steps. Increasingly drawn to the darker, forbidden practices of her craft, Margaret finds herself caught up with a local man, Jack Pryce, and the temptation of these darker ways threatens to pull her under completely.

As the incidents in the present day escalate, Augusta finds herself drawn more and more deeply into Margaret's world, and a shocking revelation sheds further light on Margaret and Augusta's shared past. And as Margaret's sinister purpose becomes clear, Augusta must uncover the secret of Margaret's fate--before the woman who calls to her across the centuries claims Augusta's own life.


Excerpted from A Lullaby for Witches by Hester Fox, Copyright © 2022 by Hester Fox. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.


I was beautiful in the summer of 1876. The rocky Tynemouth coast was an easy place to be beautiful, though, with a fresh salt breeze that brought roses to my cheeks and sun that warmed my long hair, shooting the chestnut brown through with rich veins of copper. It was enough to make me forget—or at least, not care—that I was an outsider, a curiosity who left whispers in my wake when I walked through the muddy streets of our coastal town.

Do I miss being beautiful? Of course. But it’s the being found beautiful by others that I miss the most. It was the ambrosia that made an otherwise solitary life bearable. And it was being found beautiful by one man in particular, Jack Pryce, that I miss the most.

He would come to find me out behind my family’s house as I helped our maid hang the laundry on the lines or weeded my rocky garden. He always brought me a little gift, whether it was a toffee wrapped in wax paper from his parents’ shop, or just a little green flower he had plucked because it reminded him of my eyes. Something that told me I was special, that those stories around town of him stepping out with the Clerkenwell girl weren’t true.

“There she is,” he would say, coming up with his hands in his pockets and crooked grin on his full lips. “My lovely wildflower.” He called me this, he said, on account of my insistence on going without shoes on warm days when the grass was soft and lush. Whatever little chore I was doing would soon be forgotten as I led him out of sight of the house. With my back against a tree and his hands traveling under and up my skirts, we found euphoria in a panting tangle of limbs and hoarsely whispered promises. Heavy sea mists mingling with sweat in hair (his), the taste of berry-sweet lips (mine), the gut-deep knowing that he must love me. He must. He must. He must.

But like all things, summer came to an end, and autumn swept in with her cruel winds and killing frosts. Jack came less and less often, claiming first that it was work at the shop, then that he could no longer be seen with the girl who was rumored to practice witchcraft and worship at the altar of the moon on clear nights. Finally, on a day where the rain fell in icy sheets and even the screeching cries of the gulls could not compete with the howling wind, I realized he was not coming back.

Time moves differently now. Then, it was measured in church bells and birthdays, clock strokes and town harvest dances. It was measured in the monthly flow of my courses, until they stopped coming and my belly grew distended and full. Now—or perhaps it is better to say “here”—time is a fluid thing, like water that flows in all directions, finding and filling every crack and empty place, like my womb and my heart.

I did not want to give the babe up, though I knew it could only bring heartache and pain to my family. A mother’s heart is a stubborn thing, and no sooner had I felt the first stirrings of life within me, than I knew I would do anything in the world to protect my little one.

It was folly, I know that now. A woman like me could never hope to bring a child into this cruel world, could never hope that the honey-sweet words of a man like Jack Pryce carried any weight. What irony that I should not realize such simple truths until it was too late. Should not realize them until my blood ran icy in my veins and my broken heart stopped beating. Until the man I thought had loved me stood over my body, staring down as the life ran out of me like a streambed running dry. Until I was dead and cold and no longer so very beautiful.


“Hello?” Augusta threw her keys on the table and slung her bag onto one of the kitchen chairs. As usual, a precarious stack of plates had taken over the sink, and the remnants of a Chinese food dinner sat out on the table. Sighing, she covered the leftovers with plastic wrap, stuck them in the fridge and followed the sounds of video games to the living room.

“I’m home,” she said tersely to the two guys hunched over their gaming consoles.

Doug barely glanced up, but her boyfriend, Chris, threw her a quick glance over his shoulder.

“Hey, we’re just finishing up.” Turning back, he continued mashing keys on the game controller, shaking his dark fringe from his eyes and muttering colorful insults at his opponent.

Chris and Doug weren’t the best housemates. Sure, they paid their share of the rent on time, but the house was constantly a mess, and video games took priority over household chores. She supposed that’s what she got for living with her boyfriend and allowing his unemployed brother to move in with them.

“Well, I guess I’ll be in my room if you need me,” Augusta said, too exhausted to pick a fight about the mess in the kitchen.

“You can stay and watch,” Chris said without turning back around.

She’d had a long, hard day. Between the air-conditioning being broken at work and discovering she only had ninety-eight dollars in her bank account after paying her cell phone bill, she wasn’t in the mood to watch Chris and Doug massacre each other with bazookas. She grabbed an apple from the kitchen, and went back to the room she shared with Chris, closing the door against the sounds of gunfire and explosions. Outside, the occasional car passed by in a sweep of headlights and somewhere down the street a dog barked. Loneliness curled around her as she sat at her laptop and began cycling through her bookmarked job listing sites.

Her job giving tours at the Old City Jail in Salem was all right; she got to work in a historic building, it was close enough that she could walk to work, and the polyester uniform was only a slightly nauseating shade of green. But it wasn’t challenging, and she wasn’t using her degree in museum studies for which she’d worked so hard. Not to mention the student debt she was still paying off. The worst was dealing with the public, though. Some of the people that showed up on her tours were engaged in her talks, but mostly the jail attracted cruise tourists who hadn’t realized that it was a guided tour and were more interested in snapping a quick picture for Instagram than learning about the history. The other day she’d really had to remind a full-grown man that he couldn’t bring an ice cream cone into the house, and then had to clean up said ice cream cone when he’d smuggled it inside anyway and dropped it. And the witches! Just because they were in Salem, everyone who came through the door assumed that there would be history about the witches, never mind that the jail didn’t even date from the same century as the witch trials. Most days she came home tired, irritable and unfulfilled.

From the other room came an excited shout as Chris blew up Doug’s home base. Augusta turned her music up. Most of the listings on the museum job sites were for fundraising or grant writing, the sliver of the museum world where all the money was. She knew she shouldn’t be choosy, the millennial voice of reason in her head telling her that she was lucky to have a job at all. But Chris, with his computer engineering degree, actually had companies courting him, and his job at a Boston tech firm came with a yearly salary and benefits.

She was just about to close her laptop when a new listing popped up. Harlowe House in Tynemouth was looking for a collections manager to work alongside their curator. As she scanned the listing, her heart started to beat faster. She wasn’t familiar with the property, but a quick search showed that it was part of a trust dedicated to the history and legacy of a seafaring family from the nineteenth century. She ticked off the qualifications in her head—an advanced degree in art history, museum studies or anthropology, and at least five years of experience. She would have to fudge the years, but other than that, it was made for her. She bookmarked the listing, making a mental note to update her CV in the morning.

The door swung open and Chris came in, plopping himself on the bed beside her. Tall, with an athletic build and dark hair that was perpetually in need of a trim, he was wearing a faded band shirt and gym shorts. “We’re going to order subs. What do you want?”

“Didn’t you just get Chinese food?” she asked.

“That was lunch.”

Augusta did a quick inventory in her head of what she’d eaten that day, how many calories she was up to, and how much money she could afford. After she’d fished ten dollars out of her purse, Chris wandered back out to the living room, leaving her alone. She picked up a book, but it didn’t hold her interest, and soon she was lost scrolling through her phone and playing some stupid game where you had to match up jewels to clear the board. A thrilling Saturday night if there ever was one.

In both college and grad school, Augusta had had a vibrant, tight-knit group of friends. She’d always been a homebody, so there weren’t lots of wild nights out at clubs, but they’d still had fairly regular get-togethers. Lunches and trips to museums, stuff like that. So what had happened in the last few years?

Her mind knew what had happened, but her heart refused to face the truth. Chris had happened.

She had been with him ever since her dad died. She’d run into Chris, her old high school boyfriend, at the memorial. He’d been a familiar face, and she’d clung to him like a life raft amid the turmoil of putting her life back together without her father. It had been clear early on that beyond some shared history, they didn’t have much in common, but he was steady, and Augusta had craved steady. A year passed, then two, then three, and four. She had invested so much time in the relationship, sacrificed so many friends, that at some point it felt like admitting defeat to break up. For his part, Chris seemed content with the status quo, and so five years later, here they were.

That night, after Chris had rolled over and was lightly snoring, Augusta lay awake, thinking of the job listing. The words Harlowe House, Harlowe House, Harlowe House ran through her mind like the beat of a drum. A signal of hope, a promise of something better.

Buy Links
Barnes & Noble

Social Links

Author Website
Twitter: @HesterBFox
Facebook: N/A
Instagram: @hesterbfox

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.