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The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

I read The Crucible by playwright Arthur Miller many years ago and I was shocked and disturbed over the unbelievable horrors that gripped New England in the late seventeenth century.
The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent also deals with that period of mass hysteria and religious extremism which resulted in accusations of witchcraft, the imprisonment of about 150 people, including children, and the hanging deaths of fourteen women and five men. The Heretic’s Daughter is told through the knowing eyes of ten year old Sarah, daughter of accused witch, Martha Carrier.

“Life is not what you have or what you can keep. It is what you can bear to lose.”

From the Publisher

“In 1752, Sarah Carrier Chapman, weak with infirmity, writes a letter to her granddaughter, revealing the secret she has closely guarded for six decades…
Her story begins more than a year before the Salem witch trials, when nine-year-old Sarah and her family arrive in a New England community already gripped by superstition and fear. As they witness neighbor pitted against neighbor, friend against friend, hysteria escalates – until more than two hundred men, women, and children have been swept into prison. Among them is Sarah’s mother, Martha Carrier.
In an attempt to protect her children, Martha asks Sarah to commit an act of heresy – a lie that will most surely condemn Martha even as it will save her daughter.” Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company

Book Club Ideas

The Book Club chose The Heretic’s Daughter for our October meeting.  October is also the month of  Halloween.  I love Halloween, and all the decorations, spooks, haunts, pumpkins, and witches that come with it.  My choice of  party decorations and food are not meant to trivialize the sufferings that occurred in Salem in 1692, but to bring fun to a holiday I thoroughly enjoy.


Pumpkins, witches and several items from the novel for decorations:

  • “… ‘Father, did you have such a murmet when you were a boy?’  ‘Aye,’ he said and I thought he would leave it at that but he continued, ‘But that’s your mother’s word.  We people from Wales called him a boogan  …  Some of the north folk call him a scarecrow’…”
  • “…it was a poppet fully clothed, with strands of wool on its head dyed in reddish tint to match my own hair.  The mouth was made from the tiniest stitches. ‘But she has no buttons for eyes,’  I said.  Grandma smiled and kissed my hands.”
  • “…Mother walked to Grandmother’s oaken sidepiece, the carved vines appearing as ogres’ faces in the dark, and pulled from a drawer a quill, a pot of ink, and a large red book, one I had never seen before.”
Murmet, Poppet and Red Book

Murmet, Poppet and Red Book

I have a huge weakness for Halloween collectibles, especially from Jim Shore and Glitterville Studios.  Below is my Jim Shore Skeleton Witch with Broom: Comes the Storm.  I have an adorable Glitterville devil votive that I purchased in Boston some years back. I included a photo of it at the bottom of this post, even though it’s not a witch or a pumpkin, it was purchased in New England!

Jim Shore Witch

Skeleton Witch with Broom: Comes the Storm


Classical music with just the right amount of creepiness.
The Classical Halloween Collection
The Classical Halloween Collection

Book Club Menu


Sweet and salty Fall Harvest Snack Mix, and the Wickedly Wonderful Witchy Cheese Ball
with wheat crackers, and fresh vegetables.

Fall Harvest Snack Mix

Wickedly Wonderful Witchy Cheese Ball

The Main Course

Individual  Charmed Chicken Pot Pies and Rich and Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Chicken Pot Pie and Pumpkin Soup


Choco-Espresso Witches’ Hats Cookies (I can get myself in serious trouble with these decadent little morsels!)

Witches Hats

Spooky Witches’ Fingers Cookies (Ewww!  So creepy!)

Witches' Fingers


Spellbound Petite Shirah and Cabernet Sauvignon (delicious!  can’t decide which I prefer) and Witches’ Brew Ale.

The Beverages and Shama Taper Candle Holders from World Market

Book Club Resources

I enjoyed this novel’s perspective as told from the eyes of a nine year old girl and was gripped with a feeling of dread throughout the novel.
Here are more reviews:

  • “Kent tells a heart-wrenching story of family love and sacrifice. Its warnings about the dire consequences of intolerance and fundamentalism still have meaning in the modern world.” — Carol Memmott, USA TODAYReviews
  • “It is a powerful coming-of-age tale in which tragedy is trumped by an unsinkable faith in human nature.” — Chelsea Cain, The New York Times (Editor’s Choice)
  • “Gripping and evocative, THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER is a powerful tale of a perilous time.” — People Magazine
  • “The Heretic’s Daughter is a beautiful and profoundly moving novel, stripped of sensationalism or heavy-handed parallels about tolerance for our age. A clear and convincing evocation of its time and of a people made hard by the unimaginable hardships of their lives, it is a story inspired by personal affection and shaped with impressive authorial skill.” — Stephanie Merritt, The Observer
  • “Ms. Kent brings a gentle decency to her portrait of this nasty episode in American life.” — Joy Tipping, Dallas Morning News


  1. What were the driving forces that led to the witchcraft hysteria of 1692 Puritan New England?
  2. What was it about Martha’s personality that drew the scorn of her neighbors?
  3. Why did it seem Thomas did so little to protect his family?
  4. Why did Thomas avoid persecution?

The Author and Awards

Kathleen Kent is tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier, and she spins a gripping tale of the Salem Witch Trials.   I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Kent discuss The Heretic’s Daughter at the Texas Book Festival in Austin.  She recounted her grandmother’s description of Martha Carrier, as not a witch, but merely “a ferocious woman.”

  • More From Kathleen Kent and Recommended Reading
The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent The Physick Book Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Other Bewitching Notions

I was most intrigued by Thomas Carrier, Martha’s husband. As bits of his past were revealed, I had more difficulty understanding his seeming lack of action as his wife and children were arrested. I’m looking forward to uncovering some of the mystery surrounding this man in The Wolves of Andover which is scheduled for release in November 2010. I would love to hear readers’ comments!

Photos from our Book Club Party

The Party was held at Katy’s house. The evening was wonderful as we sat outside on a deck overlooking the beautiful Texas Hill Country.

The moon shone bright!

Thank you Katy for a memorable evening!

Department56 Glitterville Devil

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  1. We were in Salem several years ago. It is such a cute town…so sad it will always be linked to something so tragic. Will add this book to my reading list. Love the stockings!

    Comment by RobinA2