Alias Grace


Winner of the Giller award in 1996,  Alias Grace is a spell-binding work of historical fiction. Set in Upper Canada, it is based on the true story of a notorious double-murder which took place in 1843. Sixteen year-old Grace Marks, a recently arrived immigrant from Ireland, finds employment as a maid in the home of Thomas Kinnear, a wealthy farmer near Toronto. There she meets James McDermott, a stableman who also works for Kinnear. A few short months later, Thomas Kinnear turns up dead, along with his housekeeper/mistress, Nancy Montgomery, who had been brutally murdered. Grace Marks and James McDermott stand accused.

A ‘whodunnit’ indeed, but also so much more! Master story-teller Margaret Atwood weaves together a tale of gothic proportions with the help of some fictional characters added to the narrative. We meet Mary Whitney, a maid who sees injustice in the colonial world of Upper Canada. She talks of rebellions and improving the lot of the working class in frank language not typical of a young woman in the Victorian Era. Her passion opens Grace’s heart and mind as they become fast friends. But Mary’s life takes a tragic turn, providing a ghostly twist to Grace’s story. There is also Jeremiah, a peddler/magician/hypnotist, who takes a liking to Grace and warns her early on that dangers await her in Mr. Kinnear’s house.

Both James McDermott and Grace Marks were found guilty at the 1843 trial. Twenty year-old James was hanged for the crimes, while Grace was given a life sentence to be served at the Kingston Penitentiary. Much of Atwood’s story takes place in Kingston, where Grace is permitted to work during the day as a maid in the house of the penitentiary’s governor. There we meet the fictional Dr. Simon Jordan, a handsome American doctor who is brought to Kingston to study Grace and write a report on her mental stability. During his daily visits with her at the governor’s house, Dr. Jordan is steadily drawn into Grace’s magnetism as she recounts her story to him. Was she a victim in all this, having been duped by James McDermott? Or was she criminally insane as many believed? For more information about the murders and the trial, you can check out this article from the Kingston Whig-Standard.

The book has been made into an excellent CBC mini-series which is currently airing. It will also be available on Netflix in November. For info on the mini-series, follow this link.

Your book club will find much to discuss in this complex story of crime and punishment.

Happy Reading! Sue, Best New Book Club


I took inspiration from the significant evening when Grace and Mary peel apples to discover what their future holds for them.
“Here is the knife and the apple, she said, and you must take the peel off in one long piece; and then without looking behind you, you must throw it over your left shoulder. And it will spell out the initial of the man you will marry, and tonight you will dream about him.”
Apple Pudding Cake with Whiskey Caramel Sauce



1 cup (250 ml) all purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoon (6.5 ml) baking powder

1/4 teaspoon (1.25 ml) baking soda

1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt

1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoons (30 ml) soft butter

1/2 cup (125 ml) granulated sugar

6 apples -peeled, cored, sliced

1/2 cup (125 ml) brown sugar

1 cup (250 ml) fresh apple cider, very hot

1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla


  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C.)
  • Coat a Pyrex or other non-metallic 9-inch pan with cooking spray.
  • In a small bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon. Set aside.
  • In another larger bowl, cream the butter with the granulated sugar. When it is well mixed, add the flour mixture and stir until well mixed.
  • Sprinkle half of this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, layer half of the apples on top, then sprinkle the remaining cake mixture over the apple layer, and then top with the remaining apples.
  • Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top layer of apples.
  • Stir the vanilla into the hot cider, then pour the cider over top of the cake mixture.
  • Place pan in oven and bake for 1 hour.
  • This is best served warm. Nice with ice cream, whipped cream, and/or whiskey caramel sauce (recipe follows).
  • Serves 6-8.

Whiskey Caramel Sauce


1 cup (250 ml) granulated sugar

1/3 cup (85 ml) whiskey

2 Tablespoons (30 ml) butter

1/3 cup (85 ml) 35% cream

Pinch of salt


  • Pour sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and place over medium heat. Let it sit and melt until sugar is completely dissolved and it is a deep golden colour. This will take about 10 minutes or so. Do not stir it and do not walk away from it. In can go from golden to burnt in a matter of seconds.
  • When the sugar has dissolved and the colour looks good, remove the pot from the heat and pour in the whiskey, the butter, and the cream. It will splatter up so be careful.
  • Using a wooden spoon or a whisk, stir the ingredients together until smooth. You may have to return the sauce to the heat for a minute to make it smooth.
  • This is best served slightly warm with the cake. Also good on its own on ice cream.

Recipe created by Christine for Best New Book Club

Printer friendly recipe here!