A superb addition to the historical fiction genre, this engrossing witchcraft tale should appeal to a wide-ranging audience.

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DAYS TO THE GALLOWS

A NOVEL OF THE HARTFORD WITCH PANIC

Hysteria in Connecticut spells trouble for those on the periphery in this debut novel set in the 17th century.

In 1662, two young women witness an unusual midnight gathering on Hartford’s South Green. The merrymaking is taken as witchcraft, and the women, Hester Hosmer and Ann Cole, are soon at the center of a mania that grips their close-knit, Puritanical town. Ann, a troubled girl who was once an outsider, finds herself with power and attention. After a child’s untimely and inexplicable death, Ann begins lobbing claims of witchcraft at the men and women she spied on the green. The foreboding town marshal, the reverends, and the God-fearing villagers all heed her allegations and set out to rid themselves of the supposed evil in their midst. The accused are arrested. Trials, tests, and hangings commence. Hester distances herself from Ann and her smug delight in the success of her charges. As Hester watches the mounting frenzy, she begins to question the actions of not just Ann, but her family and neighbors as well. Her only ally is Tom, the peddler’s son, who urges Hester to leave the fanaticism behind and join him somewhere new and safe. Basto’s novel is a well-written and -researched account of a historical event. The Hartford witch panic is the lesser-known but no less captivating precursor to the Salem witch trials. The author skillfully demonstrates how quickly fear and panic can spread, insidious forces that ultimately leave no one above suspicion. Hester is an excellent narrator, an insider who undergoes a subtle but marked change in her beliefs and perspective. Where others see God’s will, Hester comes to identify deception, prejudice, and alarm. Basto also sets the scene well, bringing the sights and sounds of the Hartford Town Market to life. Her descriptions of the witch trials, including the appearances of the suspects, the rumblings of denunciations, and the damning silence of those who refuse to speak up for the innocent, are clearly and vividly wrought.  

A superb addition to the historical fiction genre, this engrossing witchcraft tale should appeal to a wide-ranging audience. 

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5369-7804-9

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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