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

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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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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