An immersive story with striking prose.

THE MANNINGTREE WITCHES

A young woman and her mother become targets of the witch hunts of 17th-century England.

Rebecca West and her mother are working to make ends meet as seamstresses in poverty-stricken Manningtree, England, a village filled with women who gossip, bicker, and attempt to care for their families as the men are away fighting in the country’s numerous wars. Rebecca is quietly in love with the town clerk, John Edes, whom she meets with regularly to study Scripture and learn to read. But once Matthew Hopkins, a man who comes to be known as the Witchfinder, arrives, suspicion brews between neighbors, especially when a child is taken ill and Hopkins suspects witches are consorting with the devil. Rebecca, her mother, and numerous other village women are arrested and jailed for more than a year before their trial, as Hopkins works to shore up witnesses, including John Edes. In Blakemore’s debut novel, her background as a poet is clear. The language is striking, full of distinctive insights regarding gender, truth, and religious devotion even as the narrative perspective shifts from Rebecca to Hopkins to varying townspeople. Rebecca’s voice as she narrates the fates of the women on trial for witchcraft is unapologetic and luminous, and her mother’s defiance and love for her daughter are fierce; as she tells Rebecca, “Witch is just their nasty word for anyone who makes things happen, who moves the story along.” The sections in which Hopkins contemplates his manipulative investigations are duller and slow the plot’s momentum, especially toward the end. Still, historical fiction has rarely felt so immediate.

An immersive story with striking prose.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64622-064-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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