Stand-alone to date
“Grace Mae knows madness.
She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.
When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.
In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.”
I’ve never read a book set in an insane asylum before so this was definitely a first for me! Overall I really liked this book (and I may even get a hard cover for my personal collection) but there were a few things that kept it from 5 stars. Let’s get into it, shall we?
1. The plot. Like I said, this is my first time reading a book that’s set in an insane asylum. Not to mention it’s also historical fiction (set in the 1860s I believe) so insane asylums were pretty scary places. I’ll talk about the atmosphere later though. The setting really provided that extra push for me to really get into reading this. At first, it’s more of a mystery novel to figure out why Grace is there in the first place, then it switches to a feeling of redemption, then back to mystery, then self-discovery. It’s quite full of twists and turns which made it interesting but for me, it also made it lose focus a bit. When you finally grasp onto the whole point and mood, it switches and flips back to something else. It provides a lot of variety that’s present in everyday life, but it did feel a little mushed together. It didn’t feel like there was one main plot line with other, intertwining secondary plotlines. It was more of an equal thickness spider web, with each storyline of equal importance. It’s not a bad thing to be sure, but it didn’t do the book any favors for me personally.
2. The characters. I have to say, Grace is one of my favorite characters. I love her tenacity, but also her willingness to admit that madness isn’t the end of the road and that everyone has their own personal madness. The characters in general were all so nicely fleshed out and I really grew attached to them. On one point in particular I’m very grateful to the author: the lack of romance. I was just waiting for it to happen and it didn’t which I am extremely grateful for. Not only did it provide me with a break from romance, it also provided a more realistic viewpoint that not all male-female partnerships have to develop into romances. That’s one of my favorite parts of this book.
3. The setting. My other favorite part is by far the setting. Like I’ve said, I haven’t read a book that’s set in an insane asylum before, especially not in the 1800s, so this was really fascinating for me. The atmosphere and mood of the book was so flawlessly executed and I could feel it seeping out through the pages. I personally love historical fiction and adding the madness element in perfected it. Every setting is so wonderfully described and painted in just the right colors. I could picture every detail.
4. The madness/the theme. This is the element that made the book. I’ve mentioned it in the other sections and that’s a testament to how much it truly played a role. It’s not just a setting or a plot point. The author did such a great job of forcing me to ponder the meaning of madness and what is truly considered insane. She makes a point to question the norms we as a society have set up as parameters for the sound of mind. Madness is a societal construct, after all. Who’s to say those in insane asylums weren’t the sane ones? I have to say this is one of my favorite themes that I’ve come across in a book in a good long while.
The Final Verdict:
A novel with a thought-provoking theme, flawless settings, and superb characters. The one issue that bleeds throughout the novel is the over equivalence of the plot lines and how one particular plot line never truly rises above the others.
“Quite the opposite; my definition is too broad. I think we’re all quite mad. Some of us are just more discreet about it.”