Archive | July, 2021

A Richly Detailed Historical Novel: Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

21 Jul

Since my mother’s ancestors date back to John Alden, a crew member on the historic 1620 Mayflower voyage, I’ve always been fascinated, as a Mayflower descendant, by the history of the Pilgrims as well as with their customs and lifestyle. Therefore, when I came across Chris Bohjalian’s enthralling new historical novel Hour of the Witch, I was inspired to read it, because of my proud New England roots and my penchant for Puritan history.

Set in 17th century early Boston, Bohjalian’s engrossing new novel focuses on the Puritans as they establish themselves in the new world and develop a strict set of values, beliefs, and laws. Mary Deerfield is a young and feisty Puritan woman who has married Thomas, an older man, who is not only an alcoholic, but is physically and verbally abusive. Unfortunately, she has not been able to bear him any children, so he berates her for failing as a wife.

Mary is faithful and resourceful but fears the demons that plague her soul. So, she plots her escape from a violent and unfortunate marriage. During a drunken rage, however, Thomas drives a three-tined fork, a symbol of the devil, into the back of her hand. She then resolves that she must divorce Thomas to save her life. During this time, however, divorce is highly uncommon and only raises suspicion by her neighbors and the townsfolk that she is probably an unfit wife with a tainted soul.

Naturally, her petition for a divorce is not granted and she is forced to continue with her unhappy marriage to a cruel and violent man. As she attempts to come to terms with this defeat, their jealous servant girl, with eyes for Thomas, accuses Mary of witchcraft, when she discovers a three-tined fork and a pestle, engraved with the wicked fork, in Mary’s apron. Now Mary must endure a harrowing trial, reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, where she must defend herself and her very character. She must now not only fight to escape her marriage, but also the gallows.

Bohjalian’s twisting and tightly plotted story is filled with a riveting cast of characters and richly detailed history about the early Puritans. The dark and sinister second half of the book kept me spellbound and rooting for Mary’s vindication and freedom. She is truly an intelligent, well rounded, and respectable woman ahead of her times and readers will identify with her and sympathize with her plight. The story’s surprise ending, certainly caught me off guard, and gave me a great deal of satisfaction.

You can borrow it in print from BCCLS libraries or as an ebook from elibraryNJ or eBCCLS as an ebook.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Reference Librarian

Shaping the Universe: Sundiver and Victories Greater than Death

14 Jul

I remember one of the things that always stood out to me while watching the Star Trek series was the idea of the prime directive, the idea that the spacefaring societies tried to avoid interactions with the groups still developing so that those species would be able to create their own societal values and beliefs without being influenced by more advanced groups.  But what if one were to imagine a very different situation where more advanced civilizations purposely manipulated other intelligent groups.  Two novels that examine this possibility are Sundiver by David Brin and Victories Greater than Death by Charlie Jane Anders.

Sundiver by David Brin
Sundiver was Brin’s first book in his Uplift trilogy.  In the universe of the novel, humans are an anomaly, in that there is no record of them being “uplifted” by another intelligent group.  Most alien species have been assisted through genetic manipulation and other techniques to advance by other species.  Humans have “uplifted” dolphins and apes on earth.  Although humans treat those that they have uplifted as equal, in most of the universe the uplifted groups are treated as being indentured and owing the more advanced group that helped shape them.  The alien species in the novel are vividly described and although they are all able to communicate due to technology, they are vastly different in shape, for example one looks like a giant tree and another looks like a teddy bear with tentacles.  There is a mystery in the novel that slowly unfolds about a sabotaged mission to our sun, where it is believed aliens might have secretly been living for centuries.  We read Sundiver for our June HPL Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group and the members thought the book still felt fresh and enjoyable even though it was published in 1980.  You can join us in July for a discussion of Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson in Church Square Park. You can borrow Darwinia and Sundiver in print from the Hoboken Public Library or as an ebook from elibraryNJ (log in with your HPL library card for access).

Victories Greater than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
Victories Greater than Death is Charlie Jane Anders first in her new Unstoppable YA series.  It starts with a teen on earth who has been waiting for years for her true destiny.  Despite looking like a normal American teen, Tina, is secretly an alien clone of a fierce warrior who is the only hope of stopping an evil space force.  Along with her best friend, she also recruits a diverse group of teens from around earth to help on the mission.  Issues of gender, class, and identity are all examined.  One reoccurring theme is that early on in the Universe a group described as the shapers chose to help intelligent symmetrical bipedal groups, but held back groups that did not meet these standards.  The assumption at first is that this may have been due to prejudice by the shapers, but as the book continues a darker motivation is possibly uncovered.  The sequel, Dreams Bigger than Heartbreak is scheduled to come out at the beginning of April 2022.  You can check out our previous review of Anders’s adult novel All the Birds in the Sky (another of our book club picks) here.

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Information and Digital Services

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