Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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



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?


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.” 


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: 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


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.


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.


Purchase Links: Book Depository

Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

The Cottingley Secret
By Hazel Gaynor
Publisher: William Marrow
ISBN13: 9780062499844
Pages: 383
Genre: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism


The author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

(New) Thoughts

The Cottingley Secret is an exceptional sort of story that will easily attract an expansive audience with its lyrical prose and hints of warm and whimsical elements of magic.

Told over the course of two alternating timelines, Hazel Gaynor constructs the story of two young girls (Frances and Elsie) from 1917 Cottingley, England who produce photographs of fairies from a nearby beck hoping to convince their parents. In doing so, they inadvertently capture the attention of the one and only, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and create an unexpected sensation during a time of war and hardship. But Frances is succumbing to the mounting pressures of their new-found attention and longs to free herself with the truth.

100 years later, that truth is delivered to Olivia Kavanagh in the form of a manuscript received upon the passing of her grandfather. She also learns she has inherited his bookstore Something Old. As Olivia works to manage the newly acquired shop and reads through Frances’ story, she uncovers a past that is deeply connected to her own. With a little help from an old manuscript, a few new friends and the bookshop, Olivia just might learn something more about herself and what she truly desires in life.

The Cottingley fairies are a subject that I am familiar with to a small extent. I have always been charmed by the story of two young girls convincing a country at war that there was something magical in existence. I am also aware of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s interest as a spiritualist. It is a story that while in hindsight may not supply the same air of magic, at the time managed to deliver a breath of hope and much-needed promise. In that alone, there is something of beauty, and Hazel Gaynor delivers nothing less in The Cottingley Secret.

“There is more to every photograph than what we see-more to the story than the one the camera captures on the plate. You have to look behind the picture to discover the truth.”


                                 Elsie with a gnome.                       Frances with the fairies.

The real splendor that is The Cottingley Secret can be found within Gaynor’s ability to maintain an air of genuine enchantment while examining the truth. She may uncover the reality behind the photographs and how they came into existence, but she utilizes this to explore hope, love, and the promise of something greater. This is where the magic lies.

Character development unfolds slowly through a series of manuscript readings and Olivia’s own personal struggles. This approach feels intimate, encouraging the reader to further explore Olivia and Frances. Gaynor invites the reader into the heart of her characters, immediately establishing a solid bond. Each character is familiar, each encounter emotional.

Seamless transitions in narration and timeline construct a world that is enveloping and engages the senses to the fullest. For a few hours each evening, I was transported to Something Old or the beck in Cottingley. Knowledgable and atmospheric writing carries the reader back in time with incredible ease, allowing a rare glimpse into history that feels almost surreal at moments as we find ourselves wanting to believe. Needing to believe. This is elegantly balanced by the time spent with Olivia as she pieces together the past and finds herself in the process.

We are the sum of those who have touched our lives in one way or another.”

The Cottingley Secret is a book for those who believe in spite of the odds. For those who are young and the young at heart. It is a tale of a magic we each hold within through our own love and hope. Between the pages lies a journey of imagination and heart that will captivate and linger long after the story ends.

*I would like to thank BookSparks and the publisher for this copy. The above review is my own honest, opinion.

Untitled designEnjoyed with a nice cup of English Breakfast and a splash of milk.


Pre-Order Links: Book Depository

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