Alias Grace

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Thoughts Before Reading:

I actually read this for a history class…

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I know, sweet right! It was a history of the novel class so we read novels and historical fiction novels throughout time.

So here I am posting my review from the class.

One of most fascinating and perplexing parts of Alias Grace is the way in which the author, Margaret Atwood, chooses to narrate the story. She scripts her tale in many different ways so we are given a multitude of views on the subject of whether Grace Marks is a murderess. Along with these assorted depictions, the way in which Grace expresses her story is also mind-bending.

Alias Grace is written in two narratives; first there is Grace revealing her actions in first person and second Dr. Simon Jordan who is told in third person. Along with these we are given letters from people involved in the case of petitioning for a pardon; the Reverend Enoch Verringer, trying to help Grace win her freedom, and Dr. Samuel Bannerling, trying to keep her in.

While the letters evoke the sensibilities of what people would have felt at the time, Dr. Jordan fulfills the reader’s point of view. As he eagerly attempts to get Grace to speak on what happened that night, and to shed more light on the events and characters, the reader hungrily awaits with him. For those who have not grown up in Canada and had never heard of the story before, they can hardly wait for Grace to tell her tale. Dr. Jordan also invokes the doubts and concerns the reader has about Grace, as they too wonder if she is telling the truth or “spinning a yarn”. His view told in third person, only reinforces the idea of his voyeurism into Grace’s life, and our, the reader’s, voyeurism into theirs.

Grace however, has the most interesting narrative style of all. We are told her story from her lips, but yet at the same time we are struck with the idea of not knowing everything about her. In most stories told in first person, one really learns who the character is; how they feel on subjects, are privy to their emotions, can see their deepest desires, and can easily comprehend whether the character is lying or telling the truth. However, in this case we never fully know who Grace is. She tells us many things about herself, but always remains cool and collected, never fully opening up.

In fact one never knows if what Grace tells the doctor or tells herself is fact or fiction. Grace states in the beginning how she learned to act in the way her keepers wanted her to, and that she knew how to give people the things they wanted to hear, (for example making up the dream for Dr. Jordan). That leaves us with the ever-looming question of “what really happened?”. Even when Grace relates the night of the murder, Atwood chose to have it told in Dr. Jordan’s third person view to continue to keep us in the dark. When Grace goes under a trance and manifests as “Mary Whitney” we are also shown that in the third person, and never told how much of the hypnotism was acting and how much real. Did Jeremiah tell her to act as if she was possessed by Mary’s spirit? Or did she come up with the idea of using Mary as her “Mrs. Bates”?

Besides the trouble of trying to shift around to seek the truth, Atwood chose to have Grace’s point of view written without correct punctuation, therefore causing us to never know what is actually spoken aloud and what only reverberates through her head. Did she tell Dr. Jordan everything she tells the reader she tells him, or is she lying to herself and the viewer? Interestingly enough, it almost seems as if Atwood made Grace aware of the reader’s presence, toying with telling us what she wants to, but still always guarded from revealing the whole truth.

Hmm…

This book was a highly entertaining psychological thriller, who’s narrations play within your mind as to what is truth and what are lies, along with what is insanity and what is lucidity; leaving the readers with a sense of never being able to have their questions answered. Atwood trifles with the reader’s mind, giving them breadcrumbs and a trail to follow to find the truth, but in the end leaving one as mixed up as ever as to what really transpired.

For more historical fiction mysteries, go to The Falling Machine

For more mysteries based on a real person, go to The Hyde Park Murder

For more books from my history class, go to High Road to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft

For more not in a series mysteries, go to The Andromeda Strain

For more book reviews, go to Midnight in Austenland

Psycho

Psycho

Psycho (Psycho #1) by Robert Bloch

Thoughts Before Reading:

So I am a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock and one of my favorite films is Psycho (1960).

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I could go on and on about it, but my sister blog, janeaustenrunsmylife.wordpress.com, already reviewed it.

 So as I had become obsessed with Psycho, when I spotted the book Psycho II at a book sale I bought it.

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I had never read Psycho, but if the movie was that fantastic, then I thought the book must be and the sequel.

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I did not like the sequel. To me it was not a good book at all. And ten years later I decided it was time to try and actually read the first novel that the film is based on. Now this won’t be a comparison, as that is a job for my sister blog fromprinttoscreen.wordpress.com

So here we are with Psycho.

The book was written in 1959 and is based on the Ed Gein serial killer (although Bloch claims to have written it without knowing anything about the case). The point of the novel was that an insane serial killer could live next door, and be overlooked even in a small-town.

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Plot Synopsis:

So the book starts off with Norman Bates, a 40-year old man who lives with his mother.

Yeah something’s not right with this situation.

Their property is massive and includes a huge farmhouse for the two of them, and then a motel lower down the hill.

Norman has an unhappy life with his mother, being the one to take care of her, while she is sick, abusive, and not fun to be around. The only bright spot for Norman is his books, through them he is able to escape his everyday existence.

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So Norman is having a regular day, when he hears a sound that means someone is there to check in.

We then switch to Mary Crane (Marion in the film). Mary Crane has not lived the life she wished for. She was planning to go to college but canceled that when her father died in a car accident and she decided to help at home. Her boyfriend left her when he was sent by the army to Hawaii, where he met another girl. Then her mom became sick and Mary paid for Lila’s, her sister, education. She works at Lowery’s real estate office as a secretary but that is not what she wants. She wants to be married with children.

After her mother’s death and the sale of the house, they had some extra money and Lilia convinced Mary to go on a cruise. There she met Sam Loomis, a divorced hardware store owner who inherited his father’s business and his debt. The two fell in love, but Sam doesn’t want to be married now. He wants to wait a few years until the fiances are better. Mary doesn’t like it, but decides to wait.

How she feels inside.

When a buyer walked in and bought his daughter her dream house for $40,000 in cash; Mary just snapped and stole it instead of depositing it like she was supposed to.

She travels to Sam, but decides to stop for the night instead of coming right over. Her stop? The Bates Motel.

Norman seems sweet and tells Mary that he will make them a snack. They do and talk about their issues.

Now here is what I thought was slightly weird. Norman in the film was adorable, kind-hearted looking, and like a cute little boy. I could see talking to him as he seemed safe, and in need of a friend. In this he is a bit creepy. 40-year old man with his mom, I don’t think so.

Mary decides that her plan is a horrible one and is planning to return to Fort Worth, TX. Before she leaves, she decides to take a shower, to wash off her sins.

While in the shower she is attacked and killed.

Norman has been drinking, and is depressed at their conversation as he knows that Mary is right. His life is hard and unpleasant and he should do something about it. He also has a thing for Marion and wants to be with her.

I hate my life!

Norman discovers Mary’s dead body and figures that his mother is the one behind the attack. He then cleans up the mess, tossing everything in Mary’s car; and all that into the swamp.

Sam is writing a letter to Mary, when Lila shows up on his doorstep! She comes to him looking for Mary, relating what happened and how Mary is missing. She is followed by Lowery’s private investigator Arbogast.

Hearing this news about Mary, Sam starts having second thoughts about the marriage wondering how he fell for such a woman. And does he know her as well as he thought he did?

Arbogast traces the steps of where Mary could have gone and discovers the forgotten drive that leads to the Bates Motel.

He questions Norman and asks to talk to his mother. He lets Sam and Lila know, asking them to wait for his next call. Norman reluctantly agrees to Arbogast meeting the mother,but when Norman’s mother meets Arbogast she slices his throat. Another body for the swamp.

Norman knows more will be coming, and against his nother’s wishes, he hides her in the fruit cellar.

Sam and Lila have been waiting for Arbogast but no call comes. Lila becomes worried and impatient and the two go to the Sheriff to ask for his help. There they find out that Norman’s mother is dead and buried.

If she is dead then who is in the house?

What?

The Sheriff complies with their request and heads out to question Norman. When he returns he lets the two know that Arbogast isn’t there, the mother isn’t there, and Mary isn’t there. he believes that Arbogast took off for Chicago and just forgot to call.

Lilia doesn’t believe in that and tells Sam she is heading out to the motel.

Lila and Sam pretend to be a couple traveling, but Norman knows something is up; especially with Lila looking so much like Mary.

The Sam and Lila split up and start investigating. Mary heads to the house while Sam decides to distract Norman. It works for a while but Norman knocks Sam out and heads to the house after Lila.

Sam wakes up when the Sheriff finds him. He received a call about Arbogast that made him suspicious and he came out here to look for Sam and Lila. They both hear Lila screaming and head up to the house.

Thoughts After Reading:

I didn’t like it.

Well first of all, I didn’t like Sam. He was much better in the film. Book Sam doesn’t defend her or think about helping her; but wonder if he was just taken in by a cold stone criminal. To me, I don’t think he really loves her as he continues to talk himself out of the relationship.

Marion isn’t as endearing as all she wants is to find a handsome, rich man to marry and improver her life. She meets Sam, who later she is upset to discover is not wealthy but won this cruise, and just as on hold as she. She wants to marry anyhow, but Sam refuses and asks her to wait.Mary seemed fueled by money rather than her love in trying to catch a husband and escape out of her life.

Ugh

Norman wasn’t as good as in the film. Book Norman is a 40 year old man who lives with his mother. He has been controlled by her (and abused in every way). He is overweight, impotent, intellectual on his own (but falls apart in front of mother or others), passive, and dreams of a better life (living the lives of the books he reads.) Even though he is an adult he still acts like a child, being controlled and dictated by his Mother.

To me I thought Norman in the book was good, but to be honest if I stayed at a hotel with this guy I wouldn’t spend time having sandwiches with him. I don’t know of I would even want to rent a room from him as he just sets off my creepo meter. The way he acts and talks I would keep my distance.

While the book was good it can not compare to the visuals of the film. I mean the way it was shot, the actor’s performances, they just brought the text to life in an astounding way. It was just amazing, all the right actors and director at just the right time. There is a reason why this movie became so iconic and why directors, writers, and actors are constantly trying to copy it.

For more on Psycho, go to The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower

For more serial killers, go to Dying for a Date

For more private investigators, go to The Red Headed League

Miss Polly Had a Dolly

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Miss Polly Had a Dolly (Emma Frost #2) by Willow Rose

Thoughts Before Reading:

This was the first of the Emma Frost mysteries I ever read. While I enjoyed it, it is not for the faint of heart. Rose can write a strong story, but she can go way out there and deep down dark.

The format of these mysteries has to do with two to three story lines, that all connect at the end and provide the solution to the mystery. One has to do with the people involved or victims of the mystery; and the other Emma Frost and her family.

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So this title comes from the nursery rhyme, Miss Polly Had a Dolly.

Miss Polly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick.
So she called for the doctor to come quick, quick, quick.
The doctor came with his bag and his hat
And he knocked on the door with a rat-a-tat-tat.
He looked at the dolly and he shook his head
And he said “Miss Polly, put her straight to bed!”
He wrote on a paper for some pills, pills, pills
“I’ll be back in the morning with my bill, bill, bill.”

The story begins in 1997 with Miss Polly and her little girl Nina. Six-year-old Nina is a beautiful blonde child, perfect. Her mother loves to dress her up like a doll and implements all kinds of rules to make sure she stays “perfect”.

This day Nina is not happy going to the park in her frou frou dress. She doesn’t like wearing them and wants to dress in pants like the other normal children but her mom won’t let her.

They are at the park and Nina is having a horrible time when she sees an ice cream truck. She goes up to it and is convinced to get inside. And when she is inside, there is no ice-cream.

In modern times of 2013, Emma Frost is at the signing of her newest book Itsy Bitsy Spider, all about the cannibal serial killer who turned out to be related to Emma. (I don’t want to spoil everything so check out my review, or read it yourself).

Life for Emma is going well as all is normal (although a few people are angry about the story coming out). Her father though has a surprise for her, a new girlfriend, Helle.

Meanwhile, the island of Fanø has been picked as the next place for the TV program, Shooting Star, the Danish version of American Idol or the X Factor. The host is Patrick an eccentric, out there type of guy. While he is a prima donna-interesting and stylish; he is also a serial killer, sewing doll bows into his kills. And he has just found his newest victim.

Emma is having a hard time coming to term with her father’s new girlfriend, Helle, who owns a doll shop. Even though her mother left a long time ago and she knows that they won’t get back together, it feels weird to her having him date. What makes it even more awkward, is when Emma asks Helle about her family, it turns out that her daughter went missing years ago. She was a beautiful blonde six-year old, playing at the park and said to have wandered off into the ocean.

Hmm…

Back in 1997, Miss Polly was distracted by a another parent talking to her. She finally is able to cut the conversation short, but her daughter is gone! She searches everywhere, but all she can find is her daughter’s dolly, Miss Jasmine.

In 2o13, Emma and Sophie are excited for Shooting Star. Two of Sophie’s kids are going to try out for the show, while Emma’s daughter Maya has been given permission to hang out around the set.

Meanwhile, Josephine Glydenstjerne, blonde, beautiful, and six years old; daughter of the Count and Countess of Denmark has finally managed to sneak away from her governess to go past the park to the beach. There she meets a lady with a dog. Besides the dog, the lady has a doll named Miss Jasmine. She invites Josephine to come to her place to see her other dolls that she makes, and Josephine decides to go.

Uh-oh

Back in 1997, Nina is thrown into a brothel. She has been caught up in a prostitution ring that takes blonde, beautiful children from Denmark and sends them to Eastern Europe to where they are in high demand. She lives her life there, depressed and confused thinking she was given up by her mother.  But when a friend is murdered in a sex act; Nina kills the man and decides to get out; making anyone who stands in her way pay for it. She grows to enjoy killing as it gives her power and control.

In 2013, Emma discovers that numerous blonde, six-year old children have disappeared from the ’90s- late 2000s. Most people thought they just wandered off to the ocean and drowned., but Emma can’t help wondering if there might be something else to it?

Meanwhile in her hacking, she discovers that the police are searching for the “Bowtie Serial Killer”. They believe the killer to be connected with the show, Shooting Stars, as the killings occur in areas where the show is taking auditions. Whether crew or a crazy fan, they are searching into who it could be.

I wonder…

Josephine has found herself in a Buffalo Bill-esque situation. Although instead of wanting her skin to make a suit, the lady who kidnapped her wants to use her to make a doll and add it to her collection.

Emma sets out to try and figure out who the killer is and whether it might be connected to the missing children. However, she unwittingly allows her daughter to attend the Shooting Star tryouts on her own. Maya just barely manages to miss being a bow tie victim the fist time, but then is invited backstage the next night for a close encounter with Patrick.

Nooo!

Patrick goes to Helle’s doll shop and attacks her, but is interrupted just in time. When they take Helle to the hospital, Emma knows she is connected to the mystery, but which one? Could she be the missing link that ties the disappearing girls and the bow tie killer? But then Helle lost her own child?

I wonder…

How does it connect? How will it end? Read to find out.

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Thoughts After Reading:

This book is probably the best written of her books in this series. There were a lot of twists and turns, and every time you think you had it figured out there was a new surprise.

Some parts were a little more graphic then I would like but that seems to be how Scandinavians like to write.

And not only was it a talented psychological thriller, but it also had a political agenda. I had never heard of the slave trade in Europe other than those who try to emigrate to America. But in here, Rose brings your attention to the sex slave trade throughout Europe, a very sad thing that more people need to pay attention to and try to change.

For more Emma Frost mysteries, go to The Itsy Bitsy Spider

For more mysteries with a serial killer, go to The Final Seven

For more characters fighting to save people from sex slavery, go to A Most Peculiar Circumstance

For more mysteries, go to Whistling in the Dark

Death on Demand

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Death on Demand (Death on Demand #1) by Carolyn G. Hart

Thoughts Before Reading:

So I started this series with the book Deadly Valentine (Death on Demand #6) when I picked up an autographed copy at a library book sale. I love book sales.

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I really enjoyed that book and decided to start the series from the beginning, and let me tell you I wasn’t disappointed with it. While at times it may be predictable the character and stories always leave me coming back for more.

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Plot Synopsis:

So the book starts off strong with our murderer listing out the items they need to kill their intended victim:

1 Pair of Doctor’s Rubber Gloves

1 Spool of Black Extra-Strong Button-and-Carpet Thread

A Handful of Assorted Keys

Clear Fingernail Polish

Polish Remover

1 Dart

And just one more, the most important of all…

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We can’t reveal that just yet. The murderer needs a little more mystery.

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So Annie Laurence inherited the mystery bookstore, Death on Demand on Broward’s Rock, when her uncle died a few months ago.

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Aw…

Annie loves the store, as she has always been a book lover and mystery aficionado.

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She loves everything about the bookstore, except this upcoming Sunday. There are quite a few writers who reside on Broward’s Rock, south Carolina, giving Annie the idea to create a writer’s night in which they take turns lecturing or planing a program.

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It had been going well until mean, nasty Elliot Morgan dropped a bomb that he was going to blow apart the next meeting with his new book, all about the famous writers living on the island. Why does he have to go and ruin everything?

Really Mike?

WHY!

To further her anxiety, her old boyfriend is on his way.

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Annie met Max Darling after college when she was trying to strike it big on stage in New York. She was an actress, while Max was one of the producers. Max Darling is from an extremely wealthy family, so wealthy that he doesn’t need to work. Annie left him as she felt it wouldn’t work out as she was born in a lower economic scale and was only able to go to college on a scholarship.

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Max however is not one to give up on something he believes in and has tracked her down to Boward’s Rock using his charm, wit, and acting abilities.

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That day the store is closed, but Annie goes in for some inventory to settle her nerves as she contemplates what will happen tonight.

Tonight will be horrible!

Tonight will be horrible!

Max decides to stay that night and assist Annie with her writer’s group. The writers all enter in at their own pace. Captain Mac is a retired cop who moved to Broward’s Rock and was a friend of Annie’s uncle. He’s also been a big help to Annie after her Uncle Amos’ death. He’s not a writer, but participates in giving insight into police procedure and criminal experience.

1944: Dana Andrews puts the spotlight on Gene Tierney during the interrogation scene of the film noir, 'Laura', directed by Otto Preminger.

Emma Clyde is a mystery queen, and author of the famous Marigold Mystery Series.

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Janis and Jeff Farley; Jeff the writer of children books while Janis is the illustrator.

Fritz Hemphill who does green beret shoot ’em up war books.

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Kelly Rizzo who did psychological thrillers.

Sorry but I don't think so.

And Elliot bringing up the rear.

Hate him.

Hate him.

Just then Harriet Edelman comes in bursting with news that the vet Jill Kearney was murdered the night before.

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She went in to look on an animal recovering from a procedure and interrupted a robbery. She was smacked in the head and because of her thin skull, died from it.

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Suddenly Elliot announces his newest non-fiction book. Titles Criminal Minds, all about the horrible, scandalous things done by the authors who reside here on Broward’s Rock.

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Just then the lights go out, a scream rings, and when the lights come on Elliot dead by a poison dart.

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Chief Frank Saulter believes that Annie is the murderer, having first killed her uncle for her inheritance and then Elliot when he threatened to reveal it all in his book.

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With Annie racing against the clock, it is up to her and Max to do some private detecting to figure out who the real killer is.

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As they start looking into what dirt Elliot had on the bunch this is what they find out.

  • Captain Mac admits that he was involved in a paternity suit.
  • Annie tells Max how she helped a friend escape a bad marriage and save their child by having the friend be admitted to a hospital under her name and give the baby up for adoption.
  • Kelly has had crimes of animal killing following her all over. She says her sister is the one that does it and she is just protecting her, but is that the truth?
  • Hal Douglas’ wife disappeared. Many believe he killed her, but he insists that he is innocent.
  • Harriet supposedly stole a story and printed it under her own name.
  • Jeff beats Janis.
  • Emma’s husband was cheating on her and then just happened to “fall overboard”.

Who is the killer? And will Annie figure it out before he strikes again? Or worse, she is put on trial for murder.

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Thoughts after reading:

So I love this book and the way Carolygn G. Hart writes the characters. Annie and Max are just fantastic!

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Annie is not only lovable but intelligent and able to out the pieces together quite nicely.

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I also love how sweet Max is and how he stays in the end to open his “private detective agency that isn’t a private detective agency.”

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*Spoiler Alert*

I only have two issues with the book:

  1. If Max has so much money, why didn’t they just buy a laptop to read Elliot’s disk instead of sneaking into Elliot’s house and Annie getting injured. You think that would be much easier for them right?
  2. I figured the mystery out really early on. Her uncle died and was investigating two places, where guess what Captiain Mac was the only person involved with one of them. I mean, come on. A paternity suit, you know it had to more than that Annie. Also, how could a police officer retire and afford an expensive house like he does. It’s obvious he’s dirty.

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But to tell the truth I really didn’t care about either one as I just loved the characters and decided to read the whole series.

And as I love this series you will be seeing a lot more reviews on them in the future!

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For more books from library book sales, go to A is for Alibi

For more mystery reviews, go to A Pinch of Poison