Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Alias Grace
By Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Anchor Books
ISBN: 9780385490443
Pages: 486
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Synopsis:

In Alias Grace, bestselling author Margaret Atwood has written her most captivating, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying work since The Handmaid’s Tale. She takes us back in time and into the life of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century.

Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?


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While significantly different from my usual reading selections, Alias Grace is a standing reminder that regardless of the past hurdles I have encountered with some of Atwood’s work, I can and do still hold a deep admiration and respect for it.

Set in the 19th century, Alias Grace follows the events unfolding after the conviction of young Grace Marks for her involvement in the heinous murder of her employer and his head housekeeper alongside stable boy James McDermott. Dr. Simon Jordan interviews Grace daily in an effort to restore memories of the fateful day she claims to have no recollection of. There are those who believe in her guilt and those who wish to see her pardoned. But whether Grace is truly innocent or indeed a manipulative and cunning murderess remains a mystery.

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While Alias Grace is a work of fiction, it has been based around the real life case of Grace Marks, an Irish-Canadian housemaid who was charged in the murder of Thomas Kinnear (her employer) and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery in 1843. The trial and conviction caused a large amount of controversy as there were many who believed she was an unwilling accomplice to the murders and that James McDermott was solely responsible. She was pardoned 30 years after being sentenced and relocated to New York. The case is still shrouded in mystery.

It is hard to discuss what Margaret Atwood delivers in Alias Grace to full extent without leaving enough revelation for potential readers. This is a slower paced, character study that immerses the reader into the 19th century and explores the relationship between men and women. It touches on themes of women’s social standing and treatment as well as exploring the practices and changes occurring within the field of mental health.

Grace is a complex and perplexing character with a natural intelligence and intuition that often leaves you questioning her capabilities and motives.  I found myself absorbed in her story and often less concerned with her guilt and more so with what actually happened. Dr. Jordan is equally fascinating with his youthful passion for the evolving mental health practice and asylums and sometimes questionable actions. The point of view weaves between the two with snippets of news-clippings and letters, providing a cleverly alternating perspective that manages a suspicious and uncertain narrative. All of this feeds the beautiful mystery that is Grace Marks elegantly.

“…I was shut up inside that doll of myself and my true voice could not get out.” 

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While the leisurely pace and sometimes disjointed narration can require an adjustment period, the end result is an unexpectedly inviting and puzzling experience that challenges the reader to confront those heavier topics and message concealed within. It is a story told in a manner that only Atwood can. Brilliantly patient, yet equally rich and rewarding.

tea cupPairs well with an Irish Breakfast blend served with milk.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com Book Depository

Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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And I Darken by Kiersten White

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And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga)
By Kiersten White
Published by Delacorte Press
ISBN13: 9780553522310
Pages: 475
Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis:

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.


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I have to admit that I put And I Darken off for quite some time intentionally. I was fearful of the mixed hype surrounding it. The synopsis screamed to be read, and I did not want to be disappointed. Fortunately, I was anything but and now am kicking myself for having waited so long to begin Kierstin White’s Conqueror’s Saga.

2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt: A book about a villain or anti-hero.
(Yes, I am counting Lada as an anti-hero here.)

The skinny: Lada and Radu Dragwlya find themselves ripped away from their homeland Wallachia and imprisoned wards of the Ottoman courts as part of an agreement between their father and the sultan. Abandoned and without anyone to trust, they soon learn they are puppets in a dangerous political game. Lada seeks vengeance and to return home, while Radu merely wishes to find a safe place to belong. When they meet the sultan’s heir, Mehmed, something unexpected begins to happens. The three will soon find loyalties, friendship and even love tested to the fullest extent.

And I Darken Aesthetic.pngAesthetic was created from various images collected on Pinterest.

These characters! I have to admit that I found myself fully committed not only to Lada, but Radu and Mehmed as well. It did not take long to establish a bond with each that would be hard to sever. Lada is complex and slowly developed through a series of layers revealed as new emotions she gradually encounters while growing into a women. Raised with a thick and viscous skin, she soon discovers she is riddled with her own weaknesses and feelings that she struggles to make sense of. Her morals and approaches are almost always questionable, but deep underneath lies something that appeals to the reader and begs to be explored. Radu is gentle and viewed as weak, but his strength surfaces in a different manner. He is cunning in terms of politics when it comes to speaking and making acquaintances. He also harbors a secret (that I so badly want to discuss but refuse to spoil) that evolves beautifully and realistically. I admired the author’s approach to his growth and eventual self-acceptance. Mehmed is doting, protecting and that guy that everyone wants to be with. He is accepted effortlessly and the perfect balance between Lada and Radu.

The plot and politics, yes more please! The political system implemented within was entirely conducive to the story-line and character development. It is well thought out and knowledgeable, presenting well-balanced exchanges of power and allegiances that fuel intrigue and drive the story forward at a rewarding pace. While leisurely at times, each transition is appropriately timed, fostering an immersive and cleverly emotional read that feels natural. This is a unique perspective of the effects that power and desire have on humanity, that actually challenges the reader to question whether there are lesser evils in life that must be considered at times.

A love story (or not) tucked within?! Yes, and I loved it! If you have not figured it out by now, there is a lot happening in And I Darken. This includes a potential love story that could not be referred to as a romance, but a distinct exploration of human emotions and the influences and impacts that growth, self-discovery and even politics have on them. I applaud White for presenting something that falls outside of common tropes.

Conclusion: While, I have seen this strangely classified as Fantasy, I am here to say it is not. But what it is, is an incredible approach to YA Historical Fiction that promises to continue to grow into something of true value. If you enjoy intriguing politics, tangible characters and immersive settings with a nice dose of diversity, this is a must!

Untitled design Enjoyed with Jasmine Lavender tea and a small amount of honey.

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Purchase Links: Amazon.com Book Depository

Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

Connect With Me: FacebookTwitterTumblr and Instagram

Blog Tour & Excerpt – Tall Chimneys by Allie Cresswell

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Part of my goal as a reader is to continue to explore a diverse range of titles and share them with others. I love finding new books and authors. Today I am pleased to be sharing an excerpt of Tall Chimneys by Allie Cresswell as part of a blog tour presented by Rachel’s Random Resources.


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Tall Chimneys
By Allie Cresswell
Available 12/12/17

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Synopsis:

Considered a troublesome burden, Evelyn Talbot is banished by her family to their remote country house. Tall Chimneys is hidden in a damp and gloomy hollow. It is outmoded and inconvenient but Evelyn is determined to save it from the fate of so many stately homes at the time – abandonment or demolition.

Occasional echoes of tumult in the wider world reach their sequestered backwater – the strident cries of political extremists, a furore of royal scandal, rumblings of the European war machine. But their isolated spot seems largely untouched. At times life is hard – little more than survival. At times it feels enchanted, almost outside of time itself. The woman and the house shore each other up – until love comes calling, threatening to pull them asunder. 


Her desertion will spell its demise, but saving Tall Chimneys could mean sacrificing her hope for happiness, even sacrificing herself. 


A century later, a distant relative crosses the globe to find the house of his ancestors. What he finds in the strange depression of the moor could change the course of his life forever.
One woman, one house, one hundred years.

Purchase Links:  Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk


(New)Excerpt

“There are certain human experiences that all writers quail at describing; childbirth, death and sex are three of them. These things are so individual and yet so universal. They are also, often, dramatic peaks in any story. It is almost impossible to depict them in a light that is credible, sensitive, realistic and yet impactful, and many writers fail in their attempt. Thankfully, as a mother, childbirth is something I have experienced for myself, and, while my children were not born as Evelyn’s is, I called on personal experience in describing labour.”

Winter Labour

The light was fading, turning from opaque pearl to smoky amethyst. We went indoors and stoked up the drawing room fire. John went downstairs to make tea, while I arranged all the cushions so as to ease my back and aching legs. Later, John read to me from A Christmas Carol and I stroked my belly, and wondered if the baby could hear the sonorous tone of his voice as he read. The three of us curled up together in the depths of the sofa, and the warmth of the room wrapped itself around us, and the whole house stood sentinel over us in that remote, hidden glen, swathed in mist and clamped by cold, under the dome of the sky and the eye of God.

John still used the upper room of the gatehouse as his studio but he hadn’t spent a night there since his return from the Continent. It seemed a specious fallacy, now, a charade that fooled nobody. We usually slept in the housekeeper’s room, and kept ourselves discreetly and decorously below stairs in all our daily comings and goings, but, that night, when it was time to sleep, we damped down the fire and switched off the lights, and climbed the stairs to Mrs Simpson’s room.

Overnight the temperature rose, the mist dissolved and in the morning the house was bathed in pure, winter sunlight. The lawn and trees sparkled, drenched in dew like diamonds. John opened the curtains and immediately got that look in his eye which I knew presaged creativity.

‘Go and paint,’ I told him, nestling back into the pillows and resting the cup and saucer he had brought me onto my bump. ‘Go, while the light lasts, and paint something glorious.’

He looked at me. ‘I oughtn’t to leave you,’ he demurred.

‘Nonsense,’ I retorted. ‘I’m going to go back to sleep in a moment, so I’ll be no company for you.’

‘Oh, alright,’ he gave in.

I was as good as my word, back asleep within moments; I didn’t even hear the motorcar as it pulled out of the stables and laboured up the slush on the drive. I slept in the filtered sunlight that came in through the half-drawn curtains until midway through the morning when a change in its quality woke me. The blue had been replaced by thin cloud. Above the amphitheatre of the trees I could see it moving, quite quickly, from the east. I got up and drew myself a bath. From its depths I could hear the telephone ringing, but it would have been impossible – and dangerous – for me to try and answer it. I wallowed on, and presently it stopped ringing.

By the time I got downstairs it was midday, and I set about getting together some food to carry up to the gatehouse for John, later. This necessitated a trip to the hot house, where tomatoes were still to be had from the yellowing, spent trusses. On my way I let the chickens out, and collected the eggs – not many, at that time of year, but enough for an omelette for supper, I thought. The hens came out cautiously, eyeing the air, placing tentative feet down on the chill, wet ground. As I re-entered the house I could hear the telephone again, ringing in the butler’s pantry. I dropped the eggs and tomatoes into a handy basket and hurried through, but when I lifted the receiver there was only a click and a buzz like an angry wasp on the line. The only person I could imagine calling was the doctor, and I put a call through to him, but his telephone, too, rang on and on and nobody answered.

I continued to potter round the kitchen; folding laundry which had been drying over the range, getting distracted by a particularly delicious pie which Mrs Greene had sent down for us, opening one of the jars of pickled cabbage from the larder to eat with it. I dried and put away the glassware we’d used the night before. Time passed.

About three o’clock I locked up the hens. They had already retreated into the shelter and warmth of their accommodation, sensing, as I had not, the storm which was imminent. The air outside had turned bluish; the cloud overhead was much thicker, lower, and very dark. As I watched, fat flakes of snow began to float from the sky.

I packed up my basket and made ready for the walk up to the gatehouse. I would have to hurry.

The first pain came as I was bending to lace up my boots. It was sharper and much stronger than I had expected, and not in my back, as Rose had described, but in some hidden and hitherto unsuspected ventricle at my core. I took a sharp intake of breath and sat back on the settle, quelling panic. My instinct was to clench up the place where the pain had been, to resist the sense of prising pressure.

‘Relax,’ I told myself, ‘probably just wind. Shouldn’t have eaten that cabbage.’

But immediately it came again, more insistent, a sense of determined opening, the way I had seen Kenneth kick and rattle at a shed door which has swollen and warped over winter, breaking the seal which time and nature together have fastened shut. At the same time I was conscious of a trickle of warm liquid coming from me.

Clearly, the baby was on its way.


Tall Chimneys - Allie CresswellAuthor Bio

Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.

She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.

She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.

She has two grown-up children, one granddaughter and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England.

Tall Chimneys is the sixth of her novels to be published.

Follow Allie: Facebook  Website  Twitter 


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I would like to thank Rachel and Allie Cresswell for allowing me to participate in the tour today alongside so many other wonderful blogs.

Happy Reading!

Danielle ❤

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