Connie is a graduate student trying to come up with a dissertation topic when her mother asks her to spend her summer cleaning out her late grandmother's old home in Salem. At the house, Connie stumbles across a key and a slip of paper with the words "Deliverance Dane" written on it. She uses her skills as a history graduate student to find out that Deliverance Dane was among the women hung at Salem for the crime of witchcraft. Further investigation reveals that not only was Deliverance Dane an ancestor of Connie's, she was a bona fide witch -- and Connie has unknowingly inherited her powers.
I just spent a semester studying witchcraft literature, so I'm a little ashamed that I didn't catch on to this book's brilliance a little sooner. The book was written as a NaNoWriMo submission, and it shows to an extent. Howe is sometimes overly wordy, which I suspect is the result of trying to up her word count for the NaNo guidelines. Excessive adjective, brief passages of dialogue that have no purpose in furthering the story, that sort of thing. It's important to note that I read an advanced reading copy of the book, so it's possible that some of the language was cleaned up a little in the final version of the book.
It was pretty easy to figure out where much of the plot was headed: that Deliverance was a legit witch, that she was Connie's ancestor, etc. I didn't expect Connie to turn out to have supernatural powers, nor did I expect Manning Chilton to turn out to be quite such a sinister character. It wasn't until I got near the end of the book -- when she reveals that "Connie" is short for "Constance" -- that I realized how clever Howe had been with her foreshadowing. Arlo the dog fits in nicely as Connie's familiar, Grace's interest in metaphysical studies, etc. Howe, herself a descendant of Salem witches and a graduate student in American colonial history, has clearly done her research on the topic of the witch trials and the conventions of witchcraft literature and has spun a tale that defies the normal bounds of fantasy literature and does not slip too easily into stereotype.