Layered Pages Top Ten Reads For 2017

Me in Summer time 2017I met my reading goals for 2017 but I must admit I was expecting a better reading calendar than the previous year. For 2017 I have only given two books a five star rating and I am hoping that 2018 will have a better reading forecast. Having said that, there were a few books that I really enjoyed and today I am listing the top ten. What were your top reads for 2017 and how many books did you give a far star rating to? -Stephanie M. Hopkins


the-life-she-was-givenThe Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman-Five Star Rating

From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets–beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s.

On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time–and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.

The Broken GirlsThe Broken Girls by Simone St. James-Five Star Rating

A breakout suspense novel from the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare.

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced. . . .

The Woman on the Orient Express IIThe Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Hoping to make a clean break from a fractured marriage, Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express in disguise. But unlike her famous detective Hercule Poirot, she can’t neatly unravel the mysteries she encounters on this fateful journey.

Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabinmate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions.

Filled with evocative imagery, suspense, and emotional complexity, The Woman on the Orient Express explores the bonds of sisterhood forged by shared pain and the power of secrets.

The Weight of LiesThe Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter- Audiobook

In this gripping, atmospheric family drama, a young woman investigates the forty­-year­-old murder that inspired her mother’s bestselling novel, and uncovers devastating truths—and dangerous lies.

Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia, and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.

Friend Request IIFriend Request by Laura Marshall

THE #1 INTERNATIONAL KINDLE BESTSELLER A paranoid single mom is forced to confront the unthinkable act she committed as a desperate teenager in this addictive thriller with a social media twist.

Maria Weston wants to be friends. But Maria Weston is dead. Isn’t she?

1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren’t. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends.

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria’s sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there’s more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what’s known to Maria–or whoever’s pretending to be her–is known to all.

A Fine Pair of Shoes and other storiesA Fine Pair of Shoes and other stories by Clare Flynn

A Tapestry of True Tales from Then and Now

This collection of nine short stories comes from award-winning historical fiction author Clare Flynn includes five historical tales – four based on stories from her own family history, and a tragic tale from eighteenth century Sussex.

Clare has also branched out into contemporary fiction with four intriguing stories – modern morality tales, set in England, Paris, the USA and an island in the Indian Ocean.

Beautifully crafted, vividly brought to life on the page these quirky stories give an insight into human nature at its best – and its worst.

these-shallow-gravesThese Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

The Property of Lies (A 1930s_ historical mystery) by Marjorie EcclesThe Property of Lies (Herbert Reardon #2) by Marjorie Eccles

DI Herbert Reardon is drawn into a world of secrets and lies when a body is discovered at a girls’ boarding school.

1930/When a body is discovered on the premises of the newly-established Maxstead Court School for Girls, Detective Inspector Herbert Reardon is called in to investigate. His wife Ellen having just accepted a job as French teacher, Reardon is alarmed to find the school a hotbed of scandalous secrets, suppressed passions, petty jealousies and wanton schoolgirl cruelty. As he pursues his enquiries, it becomes clear that the dead woman was not who – or what – she claimed to be. Who was she really – and why is Reardon convinced that more than one member of staff is not telling him the whole truth?

Then a pupil goes missing – and the case takes a disturbing new twist …

What She KnewWhat She Knew (Jim Clemo #1) by Gilly Macmillan Audiobook

11 hours, 53 minutes

In her enthralling debut, Gilly Macmillan explores a mother’s search for her missing son, weaving a taut psychological thriller as gripping and skillful as The Girl on the Train and The Guilty One.

In a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.

Where is Ben? The clock is ticking…

The Tuscan Child_300dpiThe Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

From New York Times bestselling author Rhys Bowen comes a haunting novel about a woman who braves her father’s hidden past to discover his secrets…

In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal.

Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation.

Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now…

Stay calm and support book bloggers


Cover Crush: Southernmost by Silas House

Cover Crush banner

I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

SouthernmostSouthernmost by Silas House

Algonquin Books

General Fiction (Adult) , Literary Fiction

Pub Date 05 Jun 2018

“In Silas House’s moving new novel, a pastor wrestles with a crisis not just of faith but of all the apparent certainties of his life: a crisis of marriage, of community, of fatherhood. This is a novel of painful, finally revelatory awakening, of fierce love and necessary disaster, of the bravery required to escape the prison of our days, to make a better and more worthy life.”—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

When a flood washes away much of a small community along the Cumberland River in Tennessee, Asher Sharp, an evangelical preacher there, starts to see his life anew. He has already lost a brother due to his inability to embrace his brother’s coming out of the closet. Now, in the aftermath of the flood, he tries to offer shelter to two gay men, but he’s met with resistance by his wife. Furious about her prejudice, Asher delivers a sermon where he passionately defends the right of gay people to exist without condemnation.

In the heated battle that ensues, Asher loses his job, his wife, and custody of his son, Justin. As Asher worries over what will become of the boy, whom his wife is determined to control, he decides to kidnap Justin and take him to Key West, where he suspects that his estranged brother is now living. It’s there that Asher and Justin see a new way of thinking and loving.

Southernmost is a tender and heartbreaking novel about love and its consequences, both within the South and beyond.

Other great cover crushes from my fellow book bloggers: 

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden’s Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum

Stay calm and support book bloggers

Q&A With Janet R. Stafford

I’d like to welcome Author Janet R. Stafford today to talk with me about her stories. Janet, thank you for talking with me today. Please tell me about your, “Maggie Series”.

Saint Maggie

Thanks for interviewing me, Stephanie! I’m delighted to be working with you and LAP It Marketing.

The Saint Maggie Series happened accidentally. When I wrote Saint Maggie, the first novel, I saw it as a single entity. But after visiting a few book clubs, I kept hearing the question, “What happens next?” People liked the characters and wanted more. So, I started to think about a follow up book… and the next thing I knew I was writing a series.

Essentially, the Saint Maggie Series takes an unconventional New Jersey family through the turbulent years of the American Civil War. Maggie’s family is unconventional in a few ways. Her boarding house is made up of men who can barely pay the rent but with whom she has developed familial relationships: a failed author, an old Irish immigrant (called Grandpa), a struggling young lawyer, and an undertaker’s apprentice. Maggie’s daughters are trending toward lifestyles outside a woman’s sphere: her youngest daughter, outspoken Frankie, has a growing interested in theology and ministry; and her older daughter, Lydia, is the family nurse – but, as the town doctor discovers, also has a gift for medicine. Maggie’s friendship with and eventual marriage to Eli Smith also causes consternation in the town. Eli publishes a penny weekly newspaper called the Gazette and is an abolitionist and a freethinker. Everybody readily knows his opinions. Finally, there is Maggie’s friendship with Emily and Nate Johnson. Nate owns a carpentry shop, while Emily works primarily as the cook at the boarding house. All that would be fine were it not for the fact that Nate and Emily are black, and Maggie is white, and Emily is not simply an employee, but has become Maggie’s closest friend. And then there are rumors about Maggie, Eli, and the Johnsons’ involvement in the Underground Railroad.

The series follows Maggie and the boarding house family through life during the American Civil War. They are subject to the war and its violence, the attendant anger and hatred, daily uncertainty, emerging societal changes, and more. The first book, set in the year before the war, focuses on a town scandal and forgiveness is a major theme. The second takes the family to Gettysburg. As Confederate troops invade the town, Maggie and family must answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” In the third book, the family remains in the Gettysburg area as they struggle to recover, forgive, and hold on to their values of mercy and compassion. And in the fourth novel, they return home to Blaineton to find that their town is changing: there is a woolen mill and uniform factory owned by a wealthy industrialist to its south, and to the north a hospital for the insane run by a compassionate superintendent. How “the least of these” are perceived and treated in the two settings are part of the story, as is Eli’s struggle with the trauma he suffered while serving as a news correspondent in Virginia.

Please tell me about your short stories?

The Christmas Eve Visitor

Both “The Christmas Eve Visitor” and “The Dundee Cake” are Christmas stories. Set in 1863, “The Christmas Eve Visitor” starts with the family exhausted from their experience in Gettysburg, struggling with economics, and burdened with a mysterious fever that has stricken the young children in the family. Things are about as dark as an early winter night until a mysterious little peddler shows up at their door. Maggie invites him in from the cold and feeds him a bowl of soup. In gratitude, the stranger proceeds to give members of the family an array of odd gifts.


“The Dundee Cake,” set in December of 1852, finds a grieving widow Maggie struggling to pay bills and facing a bleak Christmas. The story recounts how Maggie and Emily become friends, and how Maggie moves beyond her sorrow and into joy.

“The Enlistment” is a novella that puts Frankie Blaine center stage. It is August of 1862 and Frankie’s beau Patrick (the undertaker’s assistant) has enlisted in the army. Frankie is afraid for Patrick (and her own heart) should he be injured or killed in battle, and wonders why only men can do the fighting. She wants to participate, not sit at home and sedately roll bandages. So, Frankie concocts a scheme to disguise herself as a boy and enlist in Patrick’s regiment. (Historical note: quite a few women actually “passed” as men and served as soldiers in both armies during the Civil War.) However, Frankie discovers she doesn’t have a Plan B when things don’t go as she expects. What to do next?

What writing project are you currently working on?

I’m working on the fifth book in the series. It is set in 1864 and tentatively titled “The Good Community.” The title comes from a class I took at the Theological School at Drew University (Madison, NJ). The Professor was the late Dr. David Graybeal and together we explored what it meant for a community to be “good,” and looked at different models of living communally. It came to me recently that the Saint Maggie Series is very much my own search for the good community and I wanted to honor Dr. Graybeal somehow. Even if the title of the novel changes, the spirit of his class is very much in the series – not to mention in the name of the house Maggie and family now live in (although spelled a bit differently): Greybeal House. The plot is still in the works.

Tell me a little about Maggie Blaine in your story, “Saint Maggie.”

Oh, my gosh, Maggie Blaine! I love the woman. I think she is what I aspire to be in my own time. Maggie is a nineteenth-century Methodist, and like many evangelical women of the 1800s she keeps a journal. She is serious about practicing what she believes and earnest, yet not so earnest that she has no sense of humor and does not enjoy life. In the first book, she experiences an overwhelming sense that she is an “outsider” not only to her community but also to her brother, from whom she is all but estranged. But one day at camp meeting (which is a religious camping experience lasting one or two weeks), Maggie has an epiphany. I’ll let her explain it: “I knew in my heart – and not merely in my head – that I was free and that the only one to whom I was accountable was God. I resolved then and there to live a life of love without regret and never mind what anyone said.” It is not an easy path to take; but Maggie is determined to follow it. She is balanced by husband Eli, is a lapsed Quaker who is full of doubts and questions, but who shares common values with Maggie: respect for all people, mercy, compassion, and a hunger for justice and truth. Thus, while I would like to be more like Maggie, I find that I often have more in common with Eli.

Why did you choose the 1860 period for your story and please share a little about the research that went in to that exploration.

The germ for the first novel came from a research paper I wrote while pursuing a Ph.D. in North American Religion and Culture (Drew University, again). My essay involved a young Methodist minister by the name of Jacob Harden who was appointed to a church in Warren County, New Jersey in 1856. He reportedly was handsome, charismatic, and a fine preacher. He also liked the ladies. However, when one of the local families invited him to spend New Year’s Eve at their house, they all vanished upstairs and went to bed, leaving him alone with their eligible daughter, Louisa. For a man and a woman to be left unchaperoned was a huge no-no, especially if that man was a clergyman. Long story short, Harden ended up in an unhappy shotgun marriage. Sadly, the Rev. Harden responded in a manner that was more than a bit inappropriate. In fact, it was so inappropriate that he was arrested, put on trial, and hanged in 1860.

As I worked on the first novel and learned more about the period of 1860-1861, I began to see connections between the Civil War era and our own point in time. There was a great deal of divisiveness in the antebellum years. It carried over everywhere, even into the churches. For instance, the issue of slavery divided the Methodist Church in 1844, and the Baptist Church split over it in 1845. Abolition and slavery were the “hot button” topics of the day. While many Northerners pointed their finger at the institution of slavery in the South, they turned a blind eye to the fact that until the early 1800s slavery was also legal in the North. Black people living in the North were not treated as equals, either. Many areas of New Jersey, including Hunterdon and Warren Counties, were “copperhead” strongholds – that is the majority were anti-war and anti-abolition. When the nation was physically divided in 1861, in addition to being emotionally and intellectually divided, the fighting began.

The divisiveness of the era, the “hot button” topics, the disjuncture between what was believed or said and what was done, and the difficulty in navigating such an environment resonates with my experience of living in late- 20th and early-21st century America. In addition, I am intrigued by the other challenges of the 1800s: women’s rights, race relations, industrialization, urbanization, technological revolutions, advances in medicine, and traces of the emerging the Gilded Age. It’s fascinating. While the 1800s does not line up exactly with our currently situation, its echoes are eerily similar. Perhaps that is because as a nation we have not come to terms with the 1800s generally and with the Civil War particularly. Or maybe it’s just my way of trying to process life now by exploring life in another century.

Will there be more stories in this series?

There probably will be a few more. I’ve been thinking of ending the Saint Maggie series after 1865. Some readers have indicated that they would like me to “spin off” a couple of the other characters, particularly Frankie and Lydia. In fact, I wrote “The Enlistment” to see if Frankie could carry a complete story, which she can. I feel the same way about Lydia. They are both strong characters. In addition, Frankie’s desire to serve as a pastor and Lydia’s growing competence as a physician presage the movement of women into these fields in the later 19th and 20th centuries.

I love the title for your book “Heart Soul & Rock ‘N’ Roll: A Mid-Life Love Story. I’m sure you had lots of fun writing it. What are some of your readers saying about this story and is there a message you would like your readers to grasp?

Heart Soul & Rock 'N' Roll A Mid-Life Love StoryThat was a fun book to write. I mean, the band in the story is seriously goofy most of the time. But the book also takes a serious turn about half way in.

I started Heart Soul to give myself a break from the nineteenth century. My central character, Lins Mitchell, is an assistant minister in a central New Jersey church. As a college student she fronted a rock band, but gave it up when she was called into ministry. Now, at the age of 40, she is having a mid-life crisis and wonders if she’s not being called to something new. I drew her environment directly from my experience as an assistant minister in the United Methodist Church. And, yes, I really do serve a church in central New Jersey, but no, I am way beyond the age of 40 and never have fronted a rock band in my life – although I did go through a singer/song writer phase in my 20s, and I do love rock, the harder the better! In the story Lins’ good friend Patti invites her to Point Pleasant Beach for a vacation to clear her mind. At the Shore, Lins meets Neil, front man for a bar band called the Grim Reapers. Neil is a divorced dad who lives in a studio apartment over the music store that he manages. He comes with a load of baggage, the least of which is his agnosticism and antagonism toward the church.

I’ve had some interesting comments from readers and prospective readers. Strangely enough, I’ve had two men tell me that they loved it, which to me is kind of strange since the book is a romance and men are supposed to run screaming away from romance novels. Both the guys said it made them cry. Without giving too much of the plot away, Neil has a troubled sister and feels pulled between his sister’s issues and his ability to have a sustainable relationship. Maybe the fact Lins is the strong one and Neil is the vulnerable one touched a chord with my male readers. I wish I had had the presence of mind to ask, “Okay, precisely what did you like so much? What made you cry?” I didn’t, though. My loss!

In addition, I had one prospective reader buy the book because she was in seminary and her husband was in a rock band, and another bought it because although she attended a church, her husband was an agnostic. They saw my art as imitating their lives!

As for a message, Christians are perceived negatively these days. However, the circles in which I travel are far from the bigoted, tribal, intolerant stereotypes out there. The church people in the book are like the people I know. They care, they listen, they try to help. But they don’t walk around with halos over their heads, much less pretend even to have halos! So, it’s no surprise I made Lins like that, too. She looks for the good in people, she listens, she cares. She finds another community in the band, but it pulls her out of her comfort zone. And maybe that’s a message in the book – we are invited to leave our comfort zones. When we do, we encounter challenges, but also encounter God and one another in a deeper way than imagined.

What is your writing process and where in your home do you write?

My writing process… do I have one? Just kidding. To start with, for the Saint Maggie series, I get a general idea for a story, which may or may not survive the writing process. I then will research an idea or issue. I wish I had the money and the time to install myself in an archival collection and research for a week, but that’s not possible. Instead, the internet has become my friend, as is any online place where I can purchase books for research.

Next, I write scenes in which my characters interact with one another. Sometimes they set the tone and help me find the storyline. After that I will write a broad outline, which can (and usually does) get jettisoned at any point during the writing!

Bit by bit the story grows until I have it where it should be. Although, when I was working on Seeing the Elephant, toward the end I had trouble figuring out just where the core of the story was. So, I closed my eyes and asked myself about it. In my imagination, up pops Eli, who grabs my shoulders and yells, “It’s my story, dammit!” The guy apparently had been hijacking the novel all along. But in all seriousness, it made complete sense. It was primarily Eli’s story.

There’s always LOTS if editing involved, but once I get to the point that I feel I’m shuffling words around, I know it’s time to let others read the book. I give or send drafts to three or four beta readers. They then invariably and lovingly let me know when a character is not acting as they should be acting, when something should be cut, when peaches are or are not in season in Gettysburg, etc. It’s a messy process, but it works for me.

I write in the family room. Usually, I have the TV or a movie on. If I really need to work out something difficult, I’ll write in silence. Sometimes, as in the case of Heart Soul, I might create a play list and listen to that as I write.

How has your journey been in the self-publishing industry and what advice could you give to others who are considering self-publishing?

I went from knowing nothing about self-publishing in 2011 to learning to use publishing platforms, running a small company, writing blurbs, designing covers, publicizing my work, and much more. I’m not great at everything, not by a long shot. Marketing and publicity have always been difficult because I’m not good at tooting my own horn. Also, I already have a career in the church, in addition to the writing – or is that the other way around? Using social media to market my work can be a whole other career! I discovered social media could cause me to lose hours of precious writing time. Since it is still impossible to clone oneself, I was relieved when you, Stephanie, created LAP It Marketing. It answered my need to get the word out. Next, I’d like to hire a good copy editor and proofer to go over my work after the beta readers are through. I need one more set of eyes to get things right.

So, the biggest thing I’ve learned in doing self-publishing is to identify the areas where I need help and to try to find that help. Amazing, isn’t it? It only took me six years to learn that!

To someone who is considering self-publishing, I’d say don’t expect to become a best seller. I’m not being Debbie Downer, but very few people get there. You’re writing because you have a story to tell. So, tell it. Then, if you cannot afford to hire an editor, find people to be beta readers who will tell you the truth. Learn to use social media until you can afford to get someone to help you with marketing. In old-time traditional publishing, the author had all sorts of help: editors, printers, developers, designers, you name it. But self-publishing puts all that on you. Learn where your strengths are and get help with the rest.

Now a little general advice. First, learn to write. That sounds obvious, but the drive to tell a story is one thing and the writing of it is another. Reading helps immensely. Although I have written all my life, I also was a voracious reader, especially when I was young. Reading teaches you how to write. Writing also teaches you how to write, as does having other people read and comment on what you have written. Second, collect stories. They’re everywhere. That’s why I love history. Once you get past the events and dates, it’s about people’s lives. Third, be observant. Become a people watcher. That will help you develop characters. Quirks and qualities are beautiful things. They are what set your characters apart from one another.

Where can readers buy your books?

I haven’t cracked the brick and mortar bookstores that I know of, so everything right now is online. You can find my novels at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format. My publishing/printing platforms (Lulu and Amazon) also distribute my books to other places, like Barnes and Noble online.

Finally, you can go to Squeaking Pigs , my micro-publishing company. Copies of all my novels are there as well as links to Amazon paperback, Kindle, and Lulu.

Thank you again, Stephanie, for all the great questions and the opportunity to introduce myself! I’m looking forward to working with you throughout 2018!

A pleasure, Janet and I look forward to working with you! Thank you!

About Author:

Janet R Stafford

Janet Stafford is a Jersey girl, book lover and lifelong scribbler. She readily confesses to being overly-educated, having received a B.A. in Asian Studies from Seton Hall University, as well as a Master of Divinity degree and a Ph.D. in North American Religion and Culture from Drew University. Having answered a call to vocational, but non-ordained ministry, Janet has served six United Methodist Churches, working in spiritual formation, communications, and ministries with children, youth, and families. She also was an adjunct professor for six years, teaching college classes in interdisciplinary studies and world history.

Writing, history, and religion came together for Janet when she authored Saint Maggie, an historical novel set in 1860-61 and based on a research paper written during her Ph.D. studies. She thought the book would be a single novel, but kept hearing readers ask, “What happens next?” In response, Janet created a series that follows the unconventional family from the first book through three other novels and three short stories, all set in the traumatic years of the American Civil War. Janet also ventured into the contemporary romance genre, going closer to home (the church) for her source material. Heart Soul & Rock ’n’ Roll tells the story of 40-year-old Lindsay Mitchell, who led a rock band in college but for the past fifteen years has worked as an assistant minister. Besieged by mid-life crisis, Lins wonders if perhaps she isn’t called to something new. But could that “something new” be a relationship with Neil, a man with a messy life and a bar band called the Grim Reapers? 



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Twitter: @JanetRStafford


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L.A.P. it is a social media platform that applies to a variety of professions-such as-Literature, Art and Photography. The practicalities of Internet life can be tricky for many, not everyone is computer savvy and would prefer to solely focus on their craft or they have a tight budget but need help in this arena. How does one market their own work if they have little money or they don’t understand how the market works or both? There are so many entities out there charging fees that are not doable for most or they promise what they cannot deliver. L.A.P. it has created a new concept of social media marketing and provides a unique service to showcase writers, artists and photographers work. L.A.P. it will also work with publishers, independent presses, artist/photographer galleries and other entities that involve the three areas mentioned.

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Wish-List 5: Thrillers

Before I Let Gobefore I let you go by Marieke Nijkamp


Mystery & Thrillers, Teens & YA

Pub Date 02 Jan 2018


From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of This Is Where It Ends comes an intense story of loss and the quest for truth

Corey and her best friend, Kyra, are inseparable. Corey is the only person who understands Kyra’s high-highs and low-lows. So when Corey’s family moves away from their Alaskan town, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winters and wait for her return.  Except Kyra doesn’t.

Two days before Corey is to visit, Kyra is found floating underneath the ice.

While everyone in Lost Creek deems Kyra’s death a suicide, Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. The town is keeping secrets—chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to Kyra may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

The Great AloneThe Great Alone

A Novel

by Kristin Hannah

St. Martin’s Press

Pub Date 06 Feb 2018


“A TOUR DE FORCE.” —Kirkus (starred review)

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska—a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

Two Girls Down by Louisa LunaTwo Girls Down by Louisa Luna

Doubleday Books

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 09 Jan 2018


“Opening this book is like arming a bomb–the suspense is relentless and the payoff is spectacular.  Lead character Alice Vega is sensational–I want to see lots more of her.”–Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series

As addictive, cinematic, and binge-worthy a narrative as The Wire and The Killing, Two Girls Down introduces Louisa Luna as a thriller writer of immense talent and verve.

When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls. Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

With little to go on, Vega and Cap will go to extraordinary lengths to untangle a dangerous web of lies, false leads, and complex relationships to find the girls before time runs out, and they are gone forever.

Then She Was GoneThen She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

The Sunday Times No 1 Bestseller

Random House UK, Cornerstone


General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 14 Dec 2017


She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl. 
She had her whole life ahead of her. 
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet.

But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine-year-old daughter.

Because his daughter is the image of Ellie.

Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What really happened to Ellie? And who still has secrets to hide?

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleThe 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Sourcebooks Landmark

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 04 Sep 2018


How do you stop a murder that’s already happened?

The Hardcastle family is hosting a masquerade at their home, and their daughter Evelyn Hardcastle will die. She will die every day until Aiden Bishop is able identify her killer and break the cycle.

But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up each day in a different body as one of the guests.

Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend. But nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that’s an Agatha Christie mystery in a Groundhog Day Loop, with a bit of Quantum Leap to it.  Perfect for fans of Kate Atkinson and Claire North.


I had a lot of fun putting this wish-list list together. They’re all on Netgalley and while I am behind on my galley reviews, I requested them anyways. This is a big motivator to start cranking out reviews in 2018. There are so many great looking stories coming out next year and it is almost upon us! -Stephanie M. Hopkins

Stay calm and support book bloggers

Other Bloggers who has a Monthly Wish-List:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden’s Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Erin at Flashlight Commentary



Cover Crush: The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise

Cover Crush banner

I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

The Emperor of ShoesThe Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise

HARLEQUIN – Hanover Square Press (U.S. & Canada)

Hanover Square

General Fiction (Adult)

Pub Date 05 Jun 2018

From an exciting new voice in literary fiction comes a transfixing and timely story about a young Jewish American expat who assumes the helm of his family’s shoe factory in present-day southern China, and his burgeoning relationship with a seamstress intent on inspiring dramatic political change, for fans of Adam Johnson, Mischa Berlinski and Madeleine Thien.

Alex Cohen, a twenty-six-year-old Jewish Bostonian, is living in a remote village in southern China, where his father runs a family-owned shoe factory. Lost and searching, Alex reluctantly assumes the helm of the company, absorbing the generations-old secrets of the trade from his loving but neurotic father. As Alex explores the plant’s vast floors and assembly lines he comes to a grim realization: employers are exploited, regulatory systems are corrupt and Alex’s own father is engaging in payoffs and bribes to protect the bottom line. Then he meets a seamstress named Ivy.

As Alex and Ivy grow close, Alex’s sympathies begin to shift to the Chinese workers, who labor under brutal conditions, stitching, sewing and cobbling shoes for American companies. But when Ivy’s past resurfaces, her broader goals become apparent. She is an embedded organizer of a pro-democratic Chinese party, secretly sowing dissonance among her fellow laborers. Will Alex remain loyal to his father and his heritage? Or will the sparks of revolution ignite?

Drawing on his own family’s experiences, Spencer Wise explores the evolution of a precarious Jewish family empire as it struggles to adapt in a global landscape. Deftly plotted and vibrantly drawn, The Emperor of Shoes is a timely meditation on idealism, ambition, father-son rivalry and cultural revolution set against a striking backdrop of social and technological change in contemporary southern China.

My thoughts:

As an mix-media, abstract and collage artist, this cover caught my attention. I love the layers and the colors used. Everything about this cover appeals to me. The premise looks great too.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Other great cover crushes from my fellow book bloggers: 

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden’s Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Meghan at Of Quills & Vellum

Stay calm and support book bloggers


Purple Irises With Hues Of Gold And Fragility – Poem by Chris Lane

Painting 12-18-17 II by Stephanie

The purple Irises glistened

in the morning stillness

with three tongues that lick

as if to catch a dew drop

upon each tip

Golden bearded and strong

these living gems

calling for those lucky enough

to scent and see them.

Rhizomes barely catch the earth,

with roots that serve as a place of rebirth

Dividing as they go

year after year, they double in show

Oh, this beauty with for my eyes to see

I cannot keep them for only me

with friends true I shall share.

and next year bring to them

this joy I find in

a purple world with hues of gold and fragile love.

© Calac

Chris Lane

Painting by Stephanie M. Hopkins