Book Review: The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

About the book:

Expected publication: April 13th 2021 by Lake Union Publishing

Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.

It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever.

Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins. 

My thoughts:

When we hear of Venice, we think of, art, music, festivals, food, religion, beautiful architecture and the Grand Canal. In the late 1930’s there was a war looming but many of the people of Venice thought surely with their rich culture, and Mussolini’s pact with Germany, they wouldn’t be affected

Juliet “Lettie” Browning, an English woman, is a woman of strength and courage. The life she experienced and saw during her stay in Venice were during uncertain times. Her will to behave uprightly puts her in many dangers but her resilience is an example to us all. I will say at times I felt that she might be too perfect to be true but those thoughts didn’t take away my admiration of kindness towards others.

I enjoyed reading about the people Juliet met and formed relationships with in Venice. They are such extraordinary people in their own unique ways, you begin to feel kinship to them. The author’s character development is superb.

As an artist I appreciate the author’s focus on much of the arts in Venice. Reading about the people’s love and their understanding and importance of art brought richness to the story. There was a scene where Juliet was taking an art class and her professor, in so many words, talked about forgetting everything she learned and turn the objects, she was drawing, into one design. Bravo!

With dual time-lines, Caroline’s story intertwines perfectly with Juliet’s and find yourself fully immersed in their lives. I know this may sound like a cliché but I truly did not want the story to end. In fact, there are several character’s in the book that I would love to read more about their back story.

There were previous comments from me stating that I was burned out on Word War II stories but when I saw this one, I knew that I had to read it. Bowen does a marvelous undertaking in portraying the Venice culture and spirit of the people. I was not disappointed one bit and I highly recommend this story.

I’ve rated this book five stars and obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley. My opinions and thoughts of the story are my own.

Stephanie Hopkins

Art Captured Through the Lens of a Camera

Photo taken by WSM Photography

As I mentioned in a previous post, a photographer captures a moment in an instant and holds it without change. The photo captures an existence of different mediums such as landscape, portraits, buildings, and any other form you can think of. We see these images through a photographer’s eye. Such as an artist who captures images on canvas or a writer who captures them with words, a photographer’s photo is the same concept.

Today I am showcasing Photographer Scott Moore’s new print shop where you can purchase his notable photos. I do know some of the current photos in his shop are limited editions. If you are interested in them, you should make your purchase soon. I highly recommend his work. I have a print of his Milk Way Balance photo and it is outstanding quality. In fact, so much so when looking at the image, I can picture the movement of the night sky and imagine what the ancient rocks (Balance Rock) must have seen throughout history. If those towers could talk… I’m looking forward to having the photo framed to add to my night art collection. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the Photographer

Scott Moore brings 20+ years of architecture and design experience. This Experience has covering every aspect of architecture, from conceptual design through completed built projects. This experience and his knowledge of architecture is what make his approach to photography unique. While shooting architecture professionally for 9+ years, the shots taken are with an understanding of an architect’s vision of our built environment.

If you are interested in purchasing one of his prints, visit his Print Shop  

Instagram

WSM Photography Blog  

My 2017 Q&A With Photographer Scott Moore

WSM Photography Photo images are subjected to copyright. In order to use WSM’s photo images or any content on Layered Pages platform, please ask permission from Stephanie Hopkins or Scott Moore

Books to Read Before the Year is Up

Time is flying considering the year we’ve all had! Well, in terms of reading one might say. How many weeks do we have left? Let’s see…If this blog post is posted on the expected date, we have six weeks left of the year. I think. My gosh! Which makes this to-read book list all the more exciting!

I have selected the books below to read for the reason of needing to chisel away at my backlog on NetGalley. Yes, to my dismay, I admit I’m rather behind. I know many of you can relate! This fact actually encourages me to read more and start a whole different level of organization of my writing and note taking. It is entirely true that you can take something that is not so great-such as my backlog-and turn it into a positive existent. You might ask why I got behind? My normal reading habits slowly evaporated and I took some time off to focus on other pursuits. Furthermore, I’ve admitted before that I was experiencing burnout. My brain needed a rest. Despite that, I’ve missed my past reading habits. The important lesson, to keep in mind, is to not get discouraged. Certain life situations tend to be temporary. Now that I’m back in the game and forming new habits, life of a book blogger and reviewer are looking brighter. Enough of my ramblings! Let’s begin, shall we?

These projected books to-read are not in any particular order or are my current reads. I’ve also began some of these books and put them aside for one reason or another. Honestly, I don’t remember why.

Seven more books sounds like an appropriate goal and doable if I keep to my new reading habits I blogged about HERE.

I want to wish you all a lovely and productive week!

Stephanie Hopkins

Has Mixed Media Art Really Evolved that Much?

I’ve pondered about how I wanted to talk about mixed media art’s origins for quite sometime now. Which is difficult because I know I will ruffle some feathers with a few of my comments about the industry today.  

Allow me to first begin by giving a little lesson of what the craft represents. Or mediums, I should say, because mixed media art is taking different types of materials and combining them to make art. Whether it is paper, paint, wood, metal, clay, leaves, tree bark, thread, textile, plastic, and collage. Really this form of art can be made from anything. It’s combining two or more elements of materials that makes it mixed media art.

For the most part, the Art industry tells us that mixed media art began around 1912 with artists such as Picasso and Georges Braque. While I understand the art shift during that period-I’ve studied art history- these artists brought it to the forefront, the medium itself is much older than the turn of the 20th Century.

Today’s mixed media art is widely known for collage, 3-D arrangements of objects, multi-media, altered books, art tags, ATCs-which have been created much longer than one might think-and other mediums not listed.

Who are some of these leading mixed media artists today that sell supplies and their brand to create many of these wonderful art projects?

Not too long ago, scrap-booking was all the rage and many of the mixed media artists we see today, evolved their scrapbook supply business to mixed media art. Meaning, the industry changed somewhat and people started channeling their memory recording to different methods, such as altering books, making junk journals and so on… Now don’t get me wrong; people have been doing this for generations. Decades really. Actually, since ancient times. People back in the day didn’t have the volume of materials we do today and they would use what materials they had around their home and the land around them.

Inspiration is a wonderful thing and we all put our spin on the craft or add our own style to make it our own. We find solace and comfort in crafting.

It is wonderful we have so many creative people sharing their techniques they’ve learned but please don’t be fooled that they are always originals. Even the designs or supplies they use to sell are not all originals. I’ve seen many of the designs, stencils and ephemera used for sale long before they came out with them online and from other sources. I do understand and know about copyright, out of print and buying rights…but please don’t pass them off as your creations or never correct people when they say how brilliant your designs are.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire many artists in this field but I keep my eyes open and I’m aware that the true founders of the craft are originated from many civilizations long ago. I look forward to discussing further about the question of has mixed media art really evolved that much? Or the mind-set that goes into the craft-if you will.

Keep learning. Keep creating. Be you. You got this!

Stephanie Hopkins

Why I Chose to Combine Literature, Art and Photography at Layered Pages

Writers breathe life into characters with words and their book is their canvas. A writer’s art is to gather elements of life, places, time and situations and weave them to form stories. To design a story that draws a reader in and leaves an impression that has the reader emotionally invested is an art.

An Artist creates art through a canvas or sculpture to express mood, emotion and self-expression. Often times there is chaos in those mediums that expresses what many relate to in life or they trigger memories. When artists do this, they bring the essence of the human condition and their surroundings to life expressed through the different styles of their work and bring a powerful reality through their creations.

A Photographer captures a moment in an instant and holds it without change. The photo captures an existence of different mediums such as landscape, portraits, buildings, and any other form you can think of. We see these images through a photographer’s eye. Like an artist who captures images on canvas or a writer who captures them with words, a photographer’s photo is the same concept.

Each medium l have presented here is an expression and in its simplest form, each medium tells a story.  My passion at Layered Pages is to capture their essence and to give understanding to the craft so people will have a deeper understanding of these mediums and their importance to our society.

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: Madam by Phoebe Wynne

About the Book:

For 150 years, high above rocky Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat untouched, a beacon of excellence in an old ancestral castle. A boarding school for girls, it promises that the young women lucky enough to be admitted will emerge “resilient and ready to serve society.”

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie: a 26-year-old Classics teacher, Caldonbrae’s new head of the department, and the first hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose is overwhelmed to be invited into this institution, whose prestige is unrivaled. But she quickly discovers that behind the school’s elitist veneer lies an impenetrable, starkly traditional culture that she struggles to reconcile with her modernist beliefs—not to mention her commitment to educating “girls for the future.”

It also doesn’t take long for Rose to suspect that there’s more to the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor—a woman whose ghost lingers everywhere—than anyone is willing to let on. In her search for this mysterious former teacher, Rose instead uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, forcing her to confront the true extent of the school’s nefarious purpose, and her own role in perpetuating it.

A darkly feminist tale pitched against a haunting backdrop, and populated by an electrifying cast of heroines, Madam will keep readers engrossed until the breathtaking conclusion.

My Thoughts:

I must confess that this book was a horrible start for me on several accounts. Not only was it dragging, for a lack of better word, I couldn’t make sense of what was going on with the people at this school. It was as if Rose stepped into the twilight zone. The movements and the speech of the characters were not natural. The dialogue was clunky and the conversations between the characters were confusing at times. Nothing was making sense but something was telling me to push on.

I kept reading and my frustrations grew. To my dismay, I couldn’t relate to any of the characters nor did I sympathize with them. I was about to give up on the story and almost half way through, there was a change…

The story takes a turn to an interesting development and I began to see the reasoning of the oddness of the story in the first half of the book. As I read on, I must say that I still didn’t care for any of the characters or their situation. But I was pleased the dialogue had improve somewhat and I didn’t feel so disoriented!

If there ever was a character you wanted to grab and shake and yell, “What is wrong with you? Wake up and snap-out of it!” It would be Rose. When she first arrived at the school, everything started off wrong for her and her lack of gumption made things worse for her. I would not portray her as a heroine. While she saw the horrible things going on around her, and at times spoke up, she just wasn’t strong enough to handle anything! I believe you will find interesting who the true, “Heroines” are.

I would also like to point out that in the second half of the book, there are two disturbing scenes that might be too sensitive for some readers. While I understand the context was important to drive the plot, I could have done without it. It made me feel extremely uneasy.

I give this story three stars solely on the reason that the school’s purpose makes for a relevant story but creepy read and the setting has all the right elements of a Gothic tale.   

Stephanie Hopkins

Side note: The book description gives away too much information about the story.

I obtained a galley copy from the Publishers through NetGalley.

Book Review: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Description

The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything… even murder. 

My thoughts:

Dreamland has many significant themes and wonderfully portrays class distinctions of the Gilded Age.  When Nancy Bilyeau shifted gears in the historical fiction genre, at first, I had my doubts. I am rather fond of her Joanna Stafford Trilogy and love the period in which it is set in. She hasn’t disappointed in switching periods in history one bit. Dreamland has made it to the top of my list of favorite stories Bilyeau has written.  

Peggy Batternberg’s invitation to spend the summer on Coney Island isn’t exactly an invitation. More like an unwelcome demand from her Uncles. When they arrive to the Island, she is greeted by her family and trying to make the best of it, she gets caught up in a murder investigation. The author presents a group of likely suspects and Peggy must race to find out who did it to protect the ones she loves. She isn’t your typical heiress we all read so much about. Peggy would make one heck of a sleuth.

I am remiss in admitting that I haven’t heard of Dreamland on Coney Island until I read this story. I absolutely enjoyed reading about the amusement park in this book and since, I have delved further about its history. Bilyeau did a marvelous undertaking with describing the park, and weaves the history of the park’s attractions befitting to the plot.

I wonder if we will read more about Peggy’s adventures? Wouldn’t that be fun? A delightful read and a wonderful diversion to immerse yourself in. Highly recommended.

Stephanie Hopkins

I rated this book five stars and obtained a galley copy from the Publishers through NetGalley.

Side note: I haven’t given this many five-star ratings in a long time! I feel like I’ve hit the jack pot!

Book Review: The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

As the story-line of the past and present are interwoven, McHahon introduces us to Jax, present day, and Ethel Monroe-early 20th Century. Jax receives numerous missed calls from her troubled sister, Lexie, who lives on their grandmother’s estate. Jax soon discovers Lexie has drowned in the pool and when she arrives at the estate, it is apparent that Lexie has been researching the history of their family’s past.. As Jax unravels the mystery of her sister’s drowning, she realizes that maybe she was wrong about a few things…

In the early 20th Century, Ethel Monroe longs for a child. She and her Husband’s efforts to conceive haven’t come to reality-one might say. When her husband takes her on a trip to Vermont, to ease Ethel’s-stress-to a newly built Hotel, they find out that the area claims the natural springs holds a special power. Ethel’s deep longing to have a child because so strong, she succumbs to the temptation of the water’s powers. As the story unfolds, Ethel soon realizes the reality of what you wish for in this life comes with a price…

A good mystery writer needs to know how to build dramatic tension and suspense that flows evenly through their stories. McMahon certainly knows how to balance those elements and more… She shows, brilliantly, how her characters work through complex situations in their lives and has a unique way of drawing the reader in as if they were experiencing the conflicts for themselves. She most certainly holds a special place in the mystery genre.

McMahon’s stories capture the essence of the human spirit. Every single character in,”The Drowning Kind,” are complex and fascinating. She touches on how fragile relationships of family members and other people in your life or past can be and how many things tend to not be what they seem. Even though the hurt we may experience from others, regrets, and broken bonds can be healed. In short, the character development is outstanding!

The eeriness vibe of the story has you on pins and needles at times. You quickly become involed with the plot and begin to imagine all sorts of scenarios that might happen or did happen. Atmospheric, engrossing and a heck of a lot of, “Oh my word!” holding your breath moments. If you like a good mystery and a well-balanced blend of genres, this book is for you! This is a story I would definitely want to re-visit again.

I rated this book five stars and obtained a galley copy from the Publishers through NetGalley.

Stephanie Hopkins

Greetings From Layered Pages

Hello Fellow Readers and Artists,

I hope this letter finds you well and you’ve had a lovely and productive week. My hours have been filled with writing, reading, studying, new art projects and reflection. I have many exciting posts to share with you all in the coming weeks and months.

I did complete my index card art challenge a few days ago. However, I am not featuring them this week after all. Next week I will be sharing the remaining cards I created with a picture(s) of the entire collection (100 cards) as well.

If you haven’t already, please, take the time to read at my posts from earlier on this week. I want to wish you all a lovely and blessed weekend.

I leave you with a quote from Charles Dickens.

“Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”    

Regards,

Stephanie Hopkins

Forming Positive Reading Habits

Many of you might have noticed that I have been posting on social media lately about my reading goals and how to achieve them. As well as discussing a little about wanting a better system to organize my notes on the books I read. In a nut shell, I’m wanting to create better reading habits. Let’s get into this…

Creating habits can be daunting and a struggle in many ways. I believe it varies from person to person. Some say it takes 30 to 60 days to form a habit. Of course, in order to change or create a habit, one must discern their thought process and implement self-discipline. Also, that entails getting rid of bad habits. Psychology plays a central role in this.  

I’ve looked at my reading habits-or lack of-in a number of ways. A hundred books in a year or a book per week for a hundred weeks appeals to me but is it doable with my schedule? Let’s back up a moment. I used to easily read eight physical books a month, or sometimes a book in two days. Those days have been long gone for a while now.

Keep in mind that I’m not considering a number for reading for the sake of how many books I can read in a short period of time. To me that defeats the purpose of reading overall and there is no value in that. I’m wanting to challenge myself because I miss the reading habits I once had and I’ve noticed a vast difference-in several areas in my life- from the lack of…

I will admit I was having a burn-out phase, it lasted longer than I thought it would, but it wasn’t for the lack of interest in reading in itself. The reasons are personal and I know many would understand that.

I decided before I chose a challenge to work with, I needed to form better reading habits and to enhance my knowledge on certain themes of story-telling in the genres I typically don’t read. I have done so and it is working. What am I doing for form my new reading habits? Below is what I’m practicing at the moment to create new habits that is sustainable.

  1. Read a few pages in the morning.
  2. Read at lunch time.
  3. Read a bit after dinner.
  4. Settle for the evening an hour or so before bedtime and read.
  5. On weekends I do this plus add in more reading time during the day. Especially on Sundays’.
  6. Forming the habit to take a book with me whenever I go! You would be surprised how many more pages you can sneak in during the week just by doing that.
  7. Taking better notes.

Is this working? Yes! I am pleasantly surprised with how this new schedule has made a positive impact on my outlook of daily reading.

Now let’s get into what I’ve decided my new reading challenge will be. I’m going to work towards completing a books per week. I do read a couple or more books at a time. If I complete more than a book per week, that will be great! However, I’m not going to stress about it. Completing a book per week in my current state is doable and a challenge that won’t be overwhelming.

The next posts related to this topic will be about why reading is important, my note taking process and how I want to organize my thoughts in a Bullet journal for 2021. Other topics include, how to become a better book reviewer. (Not going to deny it, my writing has been lazy in several areas and it is time to change that.) As I discuss these topics, I will include others that relates to confidence building, tips about finding the right book and other pertinent subjects that you might find useful.

My expectation is to encourage meaningful reading habits to everyone. Or if you are not a reader, to consider becoming one. I attest that you will enrich your life in many ways you would have never thought possible.

Stephanie Hopkins