Monday, November 26, 2012

Blog Tour: The Burning of Isobel Key by Jen McConnel.

The Burning of Isobel Key The Burning of Isobel Key by Jen McConnel.

Summary: Lou is in the middle of a quarter-life crisis. Ever since college, she’s lacked direction, working as a clerk in a local bookstore. But when she quits her job just before the winter holidays, Lou must do some serious soul searching to overcome her fears of straying from the mainstream. On a whim, she accompanies her best friend, Tammy, to Scotland for the winter holidays, but the vacation soon turns into an emotional roller coaster.

When she becomes embroiled in a hunt for information about Isobel Key, a woman falsely accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century, Lou opens up to her intuition and makes a startling discovery about her own heritage.
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“I quit!” Lou’s words echoed around the checkout line, and customers craned their necks to see what was happening. Red in the face, Lou looked down at her register in embarrassment. Her manager patted her shoulder.
“Let’s go back in the office to talk about this.” He turned, expecting her to follow.
“No!” Louder than she’d intended, Lou stood her ground. “You heard me. I’ve had enough of this store.” As she spoke, she tossed her nametag on the counter. An errant brown curl flipped over her eye, and she pushed it away. Under the shocked gaze of her manager and the curious stares of a snake-like line of holiday shoppers, Lou fled.
Once she was outside in the bitter December wind, she headed for the nearest T stop, acting out of habit more than conscious thought. She’d walked this easy route between the bookstore and the T for the past four years, and her body took over while her mind churned.
She had a college degree, for Pete’s sake! Cum laude from Duke University had landed her a job selling books and stationary to the snobby suburbanites outside of Boston. Sighing, she paid her fare and took her seat on the train bound for the city center.
Suddenly, the weight of what she had done hit her, and she buried her face in her hands. What was she thinking, quitting her job like that? Lou replayed the afternoon in her mind. Nothing had happened today that hadn’t happened a thousand other times. Maybe it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: four years of answering bizarre questions and customers who were always right had finally taken its toll on her psyche.
But now what would she do? Lou wasn’t a person who acted on impulse: she was cautious and considered her options. And now she was unemployed the week before Christmas. Lou slumped in her seat. Unless she figured something out, and fast, she might have to move back in with her family. It wasn’t that Lou had anything against her family, not really: her parents had adopted her shortly after her birth, and they’d never made her feel like anything but their cherished only child.
But Lou was almost 27, and it had never been part of her plan to live at home after college. Part of her plan: that was funny, she thought. It sounded like she’d ever had a plan.
Sure, she always knew that she’d attend college after high school. With parents who had both made careers in the medical field, Lou had never doubted that she’d follow their lead and soak up as much education as she could. Money wasn’t an issue, so when she turned 18 and Duke University accepted her, she thought it would be ideal. She moved to North Carolina and spent four years studying the liberal arts, unable to decide on a tangible career path. Nothing seemed to fit, and even though she earned her degree, she didn’t really know what she was going to do after college. It was lucky that her best friend needed a roommate in Boston, Lou mused, or she might have ended up back with her parents four years ago.
Shaking her head, Lou glanced up as the train rolled to a stop. Standing unsteadily, she tried to ignore the raging pity party in her mind. As the doors whooshed open, the cold winter air assaulted her again. For the first time she realized that she’d left her coat behind in the employee lounge.

Hesitating for a moment, Lou considered taking the train back and getting her things.
“There’s no going back,” she whispered. Even the excuse of her coat might be enough to put her back in her manager’s office, begging for her job back. Shivering, Lou hurried up the stairs and out of the tunnel. The old black light posts were swathed in candy cane stripes, and every window she passed displayed some holiday decorations. What a time to be unemployed, Lou thought sourly as she buzzed the doorman at her apartment.
Unlocking the door on the seventeenth floor, Lou called out nervously, “Hello? Tammy?” Her roommate didn’t answer, and Lou felt relieved. She wasn’t ready to face anyone yet, not until she’d figured out her next step. Checking the kitschy clock on the wall of the hallway, Lou realized it was only a quarter after four. Tammy wouldn’t be home ‘til seven or later. Relaxing, Lou stacked her boots neatly in the hall closet and headed to the kitchen.
The sleek, modern kitchen was a mess: remnants from Tammy’s last party were still strewn across the stainless countertops. Sighing, Lou plugged in the electric kettle and searched for a mug. While she waited for the kettle to whistle, she started to tidy up. She loaded the dishwasher carelessly and overfilled the soap container, but when she was done the room looked much more presentable. Satisfied, Lou added a packet of hot chocolate to the mug. After a moment’s hesitation, she stirred a hearty dollop of vanilla vodka into the chipped Disney World souvenir.
Leaning against the counter, Lou studied the apartment. The kitchen was open to the rest of the space, and from her vantage point, Lou could see the living room and the stairs that led to her lofted bedroom. She sighed, wondering how much longer she’d get to enjoy this apartment with her best friend. Her parents had helped her out with bills from time to time, but Lou felt certain that all assistance of this kind would stop if they found out she was no longer employed.
“What’s the matter with me?” She wondered out loud, tears in her eyes. Taking her mug, she crossed to the living room and flopped down on the fluffy red sofa. She began flipping aimlessly through the stack of magazines on the coffee table.
Suddenly, her cell phone buzzed in her pocket. Glancing at the cracked screen, Lou saw that it was Tammy calling. Sighing, she flipped the phone open.
Tammy’s voice was crackly but excited. “Lou? Guess what? You’ll never guess what happened!”
Lou sighed, annoyed. “What?”
“They gave me an account!” Tammy squealed in delight. “Did you hear?”
“Tammy, that’s amazing!”
“And the best part is, guess where the account is based? Guess!”
Not wanting to play games, Lou asked, “Would you just tell me?”
“Scotland! Isn’t that awesome?”
Stunned speechless, Lou just stared at the phone.
“Lou! Louisa! Are you still there?”
She shook herself. “Yes, I’m here. Tammy, that’s great!”
“I know! They want me to go over there next week to check things out and meet everybody.”
“But isn’t next week Christmas? What about your family?”

Tammy laughed. “They won’t care. But Lou, wouldn’t it be perfect to spend Christmas in Scotland?”
Lou agreed that it would be. She ignored the small bubble of jealousy starting to form in her heart.
“Tammy, I’m really excited for you.”
“For us, you mean.”
“What are you talking about?”
Tammy’s voice broke into a garbled stream of words.
“Tammy!” Lou shouted. “I can’t hear you.”
“In the T…we’ll talk… home…”
The cell phone made a crunching sound and the call dropped. Lou looked at her phone and leaned back into the couch cushions. Wasn’t it just like fate to give Tammy something so wonderful, she mused, when she was so miserable? Sniffing, Lou drained her cup of spiked cocoa and headed upstairs to lie down.


As the flames rose, Isobel stopped cursing and instead started to make a shrill, screaming whine, much like the sound of the sap boiling in the logs at her feet. It was so eerie, so utterly un-human that even the executioner, a man long seasoned to the sounds of death, wanted to cover his ears and sob into the skirt of the nearest woman.
The sound carried from the village green, through the streets and wynds, penetrating the windows and doors shut tight against the execution. It was as if not attending could erase the sin of allowing it to happen in the first place. No one who heard that sound could reconcile it with the once melodious voice of the burning woman. The evil thing at the stake was not a woman they remembered or recognized.
Their memories were as short as the day, from the morning after her terrible deeds were revealed and the witch was brought into town bound in the back of a pony cart. It was suddenly as if none of the villagers knew the poor creature at all. None could recall seeking her help, and none would avow that she had always been kind and ready to bake breads for town feasts or to watch the little ones play while their parents danced together. Kindness lingers less than murder, for it was obvious to all that the woman had murdered at least three souls, if not countless others. Justice was being served, and her blood would not stain the god fearing hands in St. Andrews. She was not their responsibility, and they wanted to take no claim for her evil.

That's it! Everyone, go ahead and read this book. It's fantastic.


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