Connie is a doctoral candidate at Harvard when she is asked by her mother to ready her grandmother's cottage for sale. She spends the summer in the cottage cleaning it up and also trying to find an appropriate subject for her doctoral dissertation in colonial history. Her advisor suggests that she find an original primary source but she finds herself drawn to learning about Deliverance Dane, a woman whose name she discovers hidden inside a key that was hidden in an old family bible. She becomes obsessed with Deliverance and her receipt book and learns a lot about herself, her family, and the community along the way.
The setting switches from modern day Massachusetts to colonial Massachusetts and back throughout the book. I really liked learning more about that time period with all their superstitions and I wish that she had focused a bit more on the history, the Salem Witch trials especially. About halfway through the book, it becomes more of a fantasy than historical fiction. The magic that happens at the end was kind of a letdown. I would have preferred that things were solved using realistic means. I also found her attempt to phonetically spell the colonial accent to be distracting.
All in all, I enjoyed the story. It was fun to read and really quite clean with just some mild swear words and an occasion when they sleep together but she doesn't share the details of that. There is an incident where some colonial women were trying to prove that Deliverance Dane was a witch and they searched her body for a witch's "teat" that wouldn't be appropriate for children. Some people may also object to the witchcraft but I thought it was interesting. It was a very good first novel by Katherine Howe and I look forward to reading more of her books! I think that this would be a good book for book clubs. Discussion questions can be found here. Rated PG-13.