A Time to Mourn: 19th Century by Janet Stafford

Today at Layered Pages I am featuring Saint Maggie by Janet Stafford.

Saint Maggie is currently $1.99 for the Kindle ebook, free on Kindle Unlimited and $11.90 in paperback at Amazon

A while back, Janet and I were talking about death in the 19th Century and how important it was to people how one died and how they were mourned during the Victorian era. The Victorians took death serious and rightfully so. Our conversation was so fascinating I wanted to learn more about this subject. I am pleased that Janet has provided passages from her story, “Saint Maggie”, that depicts a little of what we discussed. Below you will read about Janet’s book, entries from the story and view images of the cover, house that reminds Janet of Maggie’s Boarding House, the Locktown Stone Church” in Locktown, NJ (Delaware Township). But it once was known as “The Old School Baptist Church.”, the Delaware River by Lumberton, PA and a woman that reminds Janet of her character Maggie. -Stephanie M. Hopkins 

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About Saint Maggie:

Maggie Blaine, a widow with two teenage daughters, runs a rooming house smack dab on the town square. In 1860 this makes her a social outcast. Boarding houses are only semi-respectable and hers has a collection of eclectic boarders – a failed aging writer, an undertaker’s apprentice, a struggling young lawyer, and an old Irishman. In addition, she has a friendship with Emily and Nate, an African-American couple with whom she shares her home and chores. It is a good thing the town doesn’t know that Maggie, along with Nate, Emily, and Eli Smith (the free-thinking editor of the weekly newspaper) are involved in the Underground Railroad. When she is asked to house handsome, gifted Jeremiah Madison, the new Methodist minister, Maggie hopes that he will both revive the little church she attends and provide her boarding house with a bit of badly-needed respectability. But Jeremiah comes with some dark secrets that challenge Maggie’s resolve to love and respect all people. As the town’s people reel from a series of shocking events, the compassionate, faithful Maggie searches for truth and struggles to forgive and love. (Based on a historical event.)

 Entries from SAINT MAGGIE:

Maggie’s Journal, 7 December 1860

 Patrick McCoy and the undertaker have laid Leah out in the front parlor. She lies, wearing her best silk dress of rose as if she were asleep. But she is not lying in bed. She is lying on a cooling board with ice below.

According to custom, our family has gathered to sit and mourn. Samuel, Abigail, and their two sons have been weeping sedately and properly before the coffin, but I know that beneath the propriety their hearts have been torn to shreds. Jeremiah Madison, too, prays and weeps softly. But beneath his veneer, I know that he also is housing an utterly broken heart. He does love Leah. It is obvious to my eyes now. How could I have doubted his devotion to her? There is nothing left inside him. That is so clear. I find myself struggling with memories of how it had been when John and Gideon died – the empty shock, the complete loss of mooring for my soul. And now I have a dead, empty hole within me from my miscarriage. Why does death leave such hollowness, such nothingness, such aloneness? No words, no actions, nothing can touch the aching solitude.

There is little I can do for my brother and his family and for Mr. Madison but to sit, watch, and pray. I feel weary and battered in spirit.

I have found some comfort, though. The Bible says that the Holy Ghost will intercede when we cannot find words, and, oh, how I cling to that promise and rest in the hope that the Spirit is at work when I am unable to do a blessed thing!

Maggie’s Journal, 9 December 1860

 Leah Beatty Madison was buried in the cemetery behind the Methodist Church this shivery, cloudy day. We sent invitations – funerals are private affairs for mourners only and not for curiosity-seekers – and family and close friends came to hear the Presbyterian minister’s prayers and sermon. Everyone was in black, as is proper. As for me, I will wear black for the next three months. Leah was my niece, and I must go into mourning for her.

The procession was slow and solemn, as the four black-plumed horses drew the hearse toward the cemetery. We all followed quietly on foot. Our eyes were downcast and tear-filled. Eli, Nate, Edgar, Robert Beatty and Joshua Beatty served as pallbearers. The rest of us stood, braced against a cold, sharp wind, as they shifted the coffin from the hearse and carried it to the grave. The bleakness of the weather matched the bleakness of our spirits: a fitting setting for the loss of a life so young and another life unborn.

When the family tossed clods of dirt on the coffin, the finality of the act echoed through us all. I know that in the future we will be comforted by the knowledge that Leah is with her Savior in heaven and that we shall all see her again someday. But now, at this moment, there is only death and cold and damp.

About the 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?

Author Website

Layered Pages Interview with Janet

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Moments to Cherish

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Yesterday morning I went for a lovely stroll in my neighborhood before meeting two of my literary friends for a late lunch at Grace 1720 in Norcross Georgia. On my stroll I took the time to look at the landscape around me and opened my mind to the sounds of nature. People need to take the time in the day for oneself to reflect and to appreciate what we have. Too often we are so focused on any hardships that we are going through, we lose sight of the good.

Ana Raquel is working on a story and Deborah Mantella is working on her second book to be published hopefully soon! They both have so many creative ideas that inspires me to keep working on my own stories and projects. Deborah’s story. “My Sweet Vidalia” is a wonderful read and this is a book that you want to hold the book in your hand. Below is the book blurb and I want to encourage you all to read her story. Women especially….

Tomorrow, I’m sharing a chapter from Janet Stafford’s book series, Saint Maggie. This is an important series for our American History on several levels and I hope you take the time to come back tomorrow to read a sample of her work.

Before I sign off, I want to thank all the book bloggers and readers out there for supporting stories and the authors who write them. Happy Easter and God bless.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

My Sweet Vidalia by Deborah MantellaMy Sweet Vidalia by Deborah Mantella

On July 4, 1955, in rural Georgia, an act of violence threatens the life of Vidalia Lee Kandal Jackson’s pre-born daughter. Despite the direst of circumstances, the spirit of the lost child refuses to leave her ill-equipped young mother’s side.

For as long as she is needed―through troubled pregnancies, through poverty, through spousal abuse and agonizing betrayals―Cieli Mae, the determined spirit child, narrates their journey. Serving as a safe place and sounding board for Vidalia’s innermost thoughts and confusions, lending a strength to her momma’s emerging voice, Cieli Mae provides her own special brand of comfort and encouragement, all the while honoring the restrictions imposed by her otherworldly status.

Vidalia finds further support in such unlikely townsfolk and relations as Doc Feldman, Gamma Gert and her Wild Women of God, and, most particularly, in Ruby Pearl Banks, the kind, courageous church lady, who has suffered her own share of heartache in their small Southern town of yesteryear’s prejudices and presumptions.

My Sweet Vidalia is wise and witty, outstanding for its use of vibrant, poetic language and understated Southern dialect, as well as Mantella’s clear-eyed observations of race relations as human relations, a cast of unforgettable characters, an in-depth exploration of the ties that bind, and its creative perspective. My Sweet Vidalia is a rare, wonderful, and complex look at hope, strength, the unparalleled power of unconditional love, and a young mother’s refusal to give up.

**In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie.

Part IV: The Day Of Storms by Stuart S. Laing

The Day of Storms Final

Photo by Maxine Stewart

I’ve challenged Author Stuart S. Laing to write a story inspired by this photo shared on Facebook a few weeks ago and he accepted my challenge and wrote a short story called The Day of Storms that takes place in The Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, February 5th 1794. Today is Part IV and the final chapter and in this short story, you will meet Sarah, Rebecca Hopkins and a band of ruthless smugglers.


“There’s a door here!” Sarah hissed in a harsh whisper as she watched the candle flame dance in a sudden draught as she crouched by stacked barrels of brandy. As Rebecca joined her she used the flickering flame to guide her as she methodically moved slowly along the seemingly solid wall of smooth stone blocks. The numbing terror which had all but frozen her evaporated as Rebecca’s growing excitement was transmitted to her.

The Day of Storms Story cover“There!” she almost shouted in triumph as she clutched Rebecca’s arm. Holding the candle close to the wall she pointed out a barely discernible crack in the mortar binding the stones together. Several minutes later after painstakingly poking and prodding Rebecca’s finger found the hidden latch and a section of wall soundlessly swung slowly backwards to reveal a short stone lined tunnel. Directing the light of her lantern along its forty-foot length she revealed it ended in a stout door.

Without hesitation they scurried along the narrow length until their hands were pressed against the ancient oak planks of the door secured by a simple heavy iron bolt. Beyond it they could hear the crashing waves. Rebecca dragged back the bolt and pulled the door inwards to allow freezing spray to splash over them. Wiping the ice-cold water from her face Rebecca pushed aside an artificial curtain of seaweed clearly meant to hide the door from view to find herself only a few feet above the rolling waves pounding the quay. Above her head a wooden jetty extended fifty feet out into the stormy seas. Below her a small rowing boat thudded again and again against the quay as the waves endlessly rolled in.

“This is how we escape,” she shouted over the tumult of wind and wave as she sat herself on the tunnel mouth and carefully lowered herself into the small boat which rocked alarmingly below her. It took only a glance to see that the boat was secured to a mooring ring by a set of stone stairs leading up from the water to the quayside only a dozen yards to the left. That mooring rope had slowly been coming loose allowing the boat to happily be driven below the jetty. With frozen fingers she secured that rope to prevent the boat breaking loose entirely.

“There’s steps just a few yards away,” she shouted to Sarah as spray stung her eyes and soaked her to the bone. “We can simply pull ourselves along using this rope. We don’t even need to try and row. Come down, we are free!”

“Not yet,” Sarah said coldly. “Pass me the lantern. There is something I need to do first to prevent them following us.” As a perplexed Rebecca handed the iron lantern up Sarah turned and rushed back down the tunnel ignoring her sister’s frantic pleas to get in the boat.

Only a moment later she returned holding one of the small barrels of gunpowder leaving a trail behind her. Tossing the now all but empty barrel out over her sister’s head she knelt using her body to block the wind howling down the tunnel as she used the lantern flame to ignite the long wide trail of powder. Even as it flashed into life and rushed towards the cellar she had turned and all but threw herself into the boat by her sister.

“For God’s sake, pull that rope!” she screamed as her own hands frantically dragged the sodden cable with every ounce of strength she possessed to force the small craft away from below the tunnel mouth.

They had moved less than half way towards the promised escape offered by the stone steps before a horrendous roar tore the night apart. Instinctively they dropped low in the boat as a fountain of smoke and flame erupted volcanically from the tunnel mouth like dragon’s breath. With their ears ringing and all but scared witless they cast huge eyes back towards the tunnel now belching out thick clouds of smoke while flames briefly flickered along the underside of the jetty before sea spray extinguished them.

“What did you do?” Rebecca gasped as she began to pull once more on the rope.

“I thought that if I could start a fire in the cellar they wouldn’t be able to follow us. I didn’t think that would happen though.” As they neared the stone steps to the quayside she said, “What do we do if they are waiting for us?”

“Pray they are too busy trying to put out the blaze you started in their cellar,” Rebecca managed to reply as she all but fell onto the soaking steps and helped her sister ashore while waves sent spray washing over them. “Let’s just get up onto the quay and then get home, even if we have to walk every step of the way. Father can come back tomorrow and deal with the smugglers…”

Her voice died away as she reached the quay to find it illuminated as brightly as noon on a summer’s day. All along the quay people were tumbling from their homes to stand aghast amid the falling snow as every face stared without comprehension at the fiery gap in the street where the tavern had stood. Now all that remained was tumbled walls, broken beams and dancing flames shooting high into the snowy sky. The cottages on either side had escaped with no worse damage than broken shutters and tiles dislodged from their roofs. The Dolphin tavern had however simply ceased to exist.

Coming slowly through the crowd gathered on the quay came the absent coachman leading the horses. Catching sight of the sisters he hastened to their side to say brightly, “I found the horses, m’lady. What’s been going on here then? ‘Ere, you are both soaking wet. You should have stayed in the coach till I got back. This ain’t no night to be standing in the snow.”

Rebecca released a slow sigh before saying, “Give us a leg up. My sister and I are riding home. Feel free to follow. But you’re walking!”

A minute later Anstruther was left behind, the only evidence of their adventures a dwindling twinkle of fire and smoke before the snow hid it from sight. Then there was only the sound of hooves crunching through snow and the prospect of a cold ride home.

The End

Stuart LaingBorn and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife Stuart grew up looking across the Firth of Forth towards the spires and turrets of the city of Edinburgh and its castle atop its volcanic eyrie.

He has always been fascinated by the history of Auld Reekie and has spent most of his life studying Scottish history in all its aspects whenever he finds the time between family, work and the thousand and one other things that seek to distract him.

Despite the vast panorama of Scotland’s history, he always finds himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Those streets have provided the inspiration for his stories and characters.

He would urge all visitors to Scotland’s ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.

Author Website 

Stuart’s books on Amazon 

Part I

Part II

Part III




Cover Crush: The Library by Stuart Kells

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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.

The LibraryAbout the Book:

Hardcover, 224 pages

Expected publication: April 10th 2018 by Counterpoint Press

A love letter to libraries and to their makers and protectors, a celebration of books as objects, and an account of how the idea of the library continues to possess our imagination

Libraries are much more than mere collections of volumes. The best are magical, fabled places whose fame has become part of the cultural wealth they are designed to preserve.

Some still exist today; some are lost, like those of Herculaneum and Alexandria; some have been sold or dispersed; and some never existed, such as those libraries imagined by J.R.R Tolkien, Umberto Eco, and Jorge Luis Borges, among others.

Ancient libraries, grand baroque libraries, scientific libraries, memorial libraries, personal libraries, clandestine libraries: Stuart Kells tells the stories of their creators, their prizes, their secrets and their fate. To research this book, Kells traveled around the world with his young family like modern day ‘Library Tourists.’ Kells discovered that all the world’s libraries are connected in beautiful and complex ways, that in the history of libraries, fascinating patterns are created and repeated over centuries. More importantly, he learned that stories about libraries are stories about people, containing every possible human drama.

The Library is a fascinating and engaging exploration of libraries as places of beauty and wonder. It’s a celebration of books as objects, a celebration of the anthropology and physicality of books and bookish space, and an account of the human side of these hallowed spaces by a leading and passionate bibliophile.

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

My thoughts:

There really isn’t much to say about this book cover that isn’t already obvious to book lovers! Hands down when there are books or a picture of a library presented on the cover layout, it’s fantastic!

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


Bookish Happenings

Me in March 2018

Last Friday evening I stopped by the Book Exchange in Marietta, Georgia to find some 20th Century titles to add to my collection that I have not read yet or wanted to revisit. As I said in a previous post about The Book Exchange, that store is a treasure trove! I could spend hours in there! What 20th Century books would you like to read or revisit? -Stephanie M. Hopkins


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Author Mike Torreano is to have a book signing for his new western mystery, The Renewal, on April 8, from 2:30-5 in Colorado Springs at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, 13990 Gleneage Dr. 80921.

Same spot as the book signing for The Reckoning, so come on out and enjoy some time with friends and neighbors. You can either order a book from Amazon and bring it or he will have plenty. Come and say hi!

Here’s an excerpt-

The Renewal By Mike Torreano

Ike found Lorraine at the other end of the food tables, hemmed in by several women, all chattering about what a beautiful day it was to have a spring festival. He’d certainly gotten lucky when he married her. Ike stopped short for a moment, admiring how she brought life to everything and everyone she met. That wasn’t his way, although she’d tried to encourage him to be more social. He just wasn’t a good learner, he guessed. It made him appreciate her even more. He was about to go back for more food when one of the women standing nearby noticed him.

“Mr. Ike, how nice you could join us. Ladies, let’s make a place for one of the handsomest men in town.”

The compliment came from Eleanor Whitaker, the mayor’s wife. Ike had never thought himself handsome, so he stammered a short reply. “Thank you. I was just thinking how you all added to the beauty of the day.” Where that came from he didn’t know, but it prompted giggles and broad smiles from the women.

Lorraine hurried over to him. “Now, you all just give my man a wide berth. He’s so darned good looking that if you got any closer, I’m sure you’d keel over.”
A flush spread up Ike’s neck.

One of the women asked, “Well, seeing as Ike’s not available, how about his good-looking brother? Is Rob in the men’s raffle today?” She caught Lorraine’s eye. “He can put his shoes under my table any time.”

My interview with Mike Torreano HERE

About the Author:

Mike T

Mike Torreano has a military background and is a student of history and the American West.

His western mystery, The Reckoning, was released September 2016 by The Wild Rose Press and the sequel, The Renewal, is due to be released soon. He’s working on the next western now and he also has a coming-of-age Civil War novel looking for a publisher.

Mike’s written for magazines and newspapers. An experienced editor, he’s taught University English and Journalism. He’s a member of the Historical Novel Society, Pikes Peak Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Western Writers of America and several other western writing groups. He brings his readers back in time with him as he recreates life in 19th century America.

Author Website

The Renewal is available on Amazon for Pre-Order.

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Book Review: Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Grief CottageGrief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Bloomsbury USA

General Fiction (Adult)

Pub Date 06 Jun 2017

After his mother’s death, eleven-year-old Marcus is sent to live on a small South Carolina island with his great aunt, a reclusive painter with a haunted past. Aunt Charlotte, otherwise a woman of few words, points out a ruined cottage, telling Marcus she had visited it regularly after she’d moved there thirty years ago because it matched the ruin of her own life. Eventually she was inspired to take up painting so she could capture its utter desolation.

The islanders call it “Grief Cottage,” because a boy and his parents disappeared from it during a hurricane fifty-years before. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has stood empty ever since. During his lonely hours while Aunt Charlotte is in her studio painting and keeping her demons at bay, Marcus visits the cottage daily, building up his courage by coming ever closer, even after the ghost of the boy who died seems to reveal himself. Full of curiosity and open to the unfamiliar and uncanny given the recent upending of his life, he courts the ghost boy, never certain whether the ghost is friendly or follows some sinister agenda.

Grief Cottage is the best sort of ghost story, but it is far more than that–an investigation of grief, remorse, and the memories that haunt us. The power and beauty of this artful novel wash over the reader like the waves on a South Carolina beach.

My thoughts:

The story has strong characters and the protagonist, Marcus, is an old soul or how old was he really telling this story? I was never quite sure and at times I felt like there was too much telling rather than showing. He doesn’t have childhood friends really and he relates to adults more than children his own age. His Aunt Charlotte-who takes him in after his mother dies- is quite an odd bird and values her privacy in extreme ways.

While the premise is an interesting one, I found it hard to get into and it took me sometime to finish the book. When I finally got to the ending it just seemed to end abruptly and I was dissatisfied, as I was hoping there would be a strong climax to the story. How is this a thriller ghost story? I didn’t come away with that feeling at all. The conflicts seemed muted to me.

On a positive note, much of the story is atmospheric and the setting is quite good.

I am sad to report I gave this book two stars.

I obtained a review copy from the publishers through NetGalley for my honest opinion.

Stephanie M. Hopkins