Illustrates how rough justice can get when religion and institutional sexism are in the mix.

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HOUR OF THE WITCH

A Puritan wife shocks her community and risks her life to file for divorce in 1662 Boston.

For more than five years, Mary, age 24, has been married to Thomas, 45, a prosperous miller. Thomas has been physically and sexually abusive, always taking care that there are no witnesses. He castigates Mary’s intelligence, telling her she has “white meat” for brains. The marriage is childless, drawing community suspicion to Mary. When she can’t hide bruises on her face, she lies about their provenance. The behavior, she tells herself, only occurs when Thomas is “drink-drunk.” The coverup continues until, cold sober, Thomas drives a fork into Mary’s hand, breaking bones. She flees to her parents’ home and files for divorce, which is allowed but only if grounds can be proven. Forks are a major motif: Not merely newfangled “cutlery” which Mary’s father, a shipping entrepreneur, hopes to profit from importing, but miniature pitchforks viewed by the Puritans as “Devil’s tines.” The forks, as well as other clues—a mysterious pestle, a pentagram etched on a door frame—are used to counter Mary’s compelling, but unwitnessed, claims of cruelty with insinuations of witchcraft. Divorce denied, Mary must return to the marital home and resort to ever more drastic expedients in her quest for freedom. Mary comes from privilege, and her parents clearly care about her. (Unlike the divorce magistrates, they don’t believe she injured her hand by falling on a tea kettle spout.) That they allow her return to Thomas to avoid witchcraft charges defies plausibility—death at Thomas’ hands seems a more immediate prospect, and her family wealth affords many other options. The charges come anyway—timed for maximum melodrama. The language, salted liberally with thee and thou, feels period-authentic. The colonists’ impact on nearby Native tribes is not Bohjalian’s primary concern here, but the Hobson’s choice facing women in Puritan society is starkly delineated.

Illustrates how rough justice can get when religion and institutional sexism are in the mix.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54243-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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More of a curiosity for political junkies than a satisfying story of international intrigue.

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WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS

A progressive superstar pens her first political thriller.

Anyone who follows the news knows Abrams as a politician and voting rights activist. She's less well known as a novelist. Using the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, Abrams has published several works of romantic suspense. Her new novel begins when Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn falls into a coma. His clerk Avery Keene is shocked to discover that her boss has made her his legal guardian and granted her power of attorney. The fate of one of the most powerful men in the world is in her hands—and her life is in danger. Abrams gives us nefarious doings in the world of biotech, a president with autocratic tendencies and questionable ethics, and a young woman struggling to unravel a conspiracy while staying one step ahead of the people who want her out of the way. Unfortunately, the author doesn't weave these intriguing elements into an enjoyable whole. Abrams makes some odd word choices, such as this: “The intricate knot she had twisted into her hair that morning bobbed cunningly as she neared her office.” The adverb cunningly is mystifying, and Abrams uses it in a similar way later on. There are disorienting shifts in point of view. And Abrams lavishes a great deal of attention on details that simply don’t matter, which makes the pace painfully slow. This is a fatal flaw in a suspense novel, but it may not be the most frustrating aspect of this book. For a protagonist who has gotten where she is by being smart, Avery makes some stunningly poor decisions. For example, the fact that she has a photographic memory is an important plot point and is clearly a factor in Justice Wynn’s decision to enlist her help. When she finds a piece of paper upon which is printed a long string of characters and the words "BURN UPON REVIEW," Avery memorizes the lines of numbers and letters—and then, even though she knows she’s being surveilled, she snaps a shot of the paper with her phone, thereby making the whole business of setting it on fire quite pointless.

More of a curiosity for political junkies than a satisfying story of international intrigue.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54657-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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