Category Archives: literary

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace coverMy final book of the summer reading challenge and I am thrilled to have finished this one just under the wire! This is my third Margaret Atwood book I’ve read and it just might be my favorite one yet; earlier this summer I read The Blind Assassin and a few years ago I read The Handmaids Tale. While I greatly enjoyed the The Blind Assassin, I found myself getting slightly bored at times; it’s a brilliant novel and has a phenomenal ending, but a few sections in the middle tended to drag for me. With Alias Grace, however, I was hooked from the start and could not put the book down until I was finished.

The novel is based on an actual case of murder in the 1840s. It tells the story of Grace Marks, a beautiful, 16-year-old girl, who was convicted for her involvement in the murders of her employer and his housekeeper, who was also his mistress. Grace is serving a life sentence but claims to have no memory of the crimes. That is all true, and Margaret Atwood does not change any known historical facts. She says, “Where mere hints and outright gaps exist in the records, I have felt free to invent.” And what a brilliant writer and inventor she is. In the novel, a young doctor studying mental illness begins visiting Grace, hoping to tease out her memory and determine if she is a true amnesiac or a gifted liar and ruthless “murderess.” The chapters alternate between the doctor, Simon’s, experiences with Grace, as well as his own experiences in the small Canadian town where he is staying, along with chapters on Grace’s experiences in jail and her meetings with him. Chapters in-between also include letters from various key players in the novel, such as the doctor, a reverend petitioning for her release, and Grace herself, among others.

Because the narrative switches around from various characters, we learn a little something from each one. And Atwood loves to hide important details in the most minute of statements or fragments of a letter, to where you could easily miss an important clue if you are not reading carefully. I have also noticed from reading a few of Atwood’s novels that she likes to play with the idea of the unreliable narrator. Grace, when she is the narrator and also when Simon is the narrator yet talking to her, comes off so genuine and truthful. We as readers believe her, or at least want to. But then just as we start to believe her, she makes us question that. Just as Dr. Simon probably feels, never knowing if he can believe her or not. There are passages such as this, where the doctor has brought Grace a gift and in her inner monologue we hear: “I set to work willingly to tell my story, and to make it as interesting as I can, and rich in incident, as a sort of return gift to him.” Are we meant to take that as her embellishing her story, or simply divulging more of the truth than she ever has before because the good doctor has been kind to her?

This book will keep you guessing until the last and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly highly recommend. It is a fantastic murder mystery, a great period drama, and an in-depth character study, on both Grace and the doctor attempting to figure her out. It’s definitely one of those books that sticks with you long after you put it down.

Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Kaylie Jasinski (class of ’14)
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Book to TV

The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld’s oldie but goodie, The Man of my Dreams, will strike a chord for all young women. Anyone hoping to find true love, let alone, a guy to date in a world of Tinder, Bumble, and slimeballs will identify with Hannah’s hopes to find a guy  she can relate too. Through falling in love with her cousin’s boyfriend, giving up the nice guys, and choosing the ones who use her, the reader will be sure to experience all moments of pain, embarrassment and the tumultuous trials of serious- growing pains along with Hannah.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI,
Review Submitted by:  Emily Murphy
Rating: Highly Recommended

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

cover artCurtis Sitteneld, is an all time favorite author of mine, and has written the best book of the decade. American Wife, recounts a fictional narrative based on the history of Laura Bush through the character, “Alice Lindgrin.” For those who love Gone Girl, and all novels by Gillian Flynn or Sophie Kinsellas, this book is one to get invested in. Alice Lingrin recounts her life story from the time she is 6 years old in the grocery store, all the way to her marriage to a Republican president. Readers receive a real story of marriage, specifically, when one doesn’t agree with their husbands political agenda.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI,
Review Submitted by:  Emily Murphy
Rating: Must Read

There, There by Tommy Orange

cover artThere, There by Tommy Orange is for all current history buffs. Featuring a variety of short stories at a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. For lovers of Native American culture and history, this book is sure to delight you.

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Emily Murphy
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: TOB 2019

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

cover art

Nothing to Envy is an inside look at life in North Korea which is revealing, fascinating & a compelling read. Only wish it were updated for this decade.

Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Catherine Pell
Rating: Highly Recommended

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

Bonus comment on The Handmaid’s Tale,

A must read – especially if one is intrigued by the subsequent television series, this book is well worth the time to read.

Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Catherine Pell
Rating: Must Read
Challenge:  Book to TV

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

I’d been meaning to read the Handmaid’s Tale for a long time, and once the TV show came out I knew I needed to figure out what all the hype was about. The Handmaid’s Tale is terrifying. An absolutely epic portrait of how messed up the world can get in terms of women’s reproductive rights, The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a world in which women’s rights are basically non-existent and everyone is plagued by intense oppression. The scary thing is that, for some people, this is a world that makes sense and is fair, even today. This is a book that will send shivers down your spine if you understand how possible it is, and how well it mirrors some people’s lives.

 

Availability:  SMCM, USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Izzy Lott
Rating: Must Read
Challenge:  Book to TV