Layered Pages Top 2020 Reads

Favorite Books Read in 2020

Last year my Goodreads challenge was to read twenty fiction books. I surpassed that goal and read thirty. However, I read more than thirty books. Beyond that was research books for my writing project and other research projects. I did not count those on goodreads because I’m continually referring to them.

The fiction books below are my top favorite reads, though not in a particular order. This year’s reading goal is much bigger. I will be talking about that more a little later on. What were your favorite 202 reads? -Stephanie Hopkins

Top Favorites

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

Be sure to check these titles out on Goodreads and Amazon!

Favorite Covers:

Here are my favorite covers out of the bunch. Which covers do you like?

New Book Release: Madam C.J. Walker by Erica L. Ball

Congrats to Erica L. Ball’s

book publication of, “Madam C.J. Walker

The Making of an American Icon!”

I discovered Madam C.J. Walker a few years ago during my in-depth study of 19th Century Post Civil War. I thought at the time that it would be wonderful to watch a movie or read a book based on her life. I wanted to know more about this woman. Her story needs to be told. To my delight, I learned that Author Erica L. Ball wrote about Walker and have added the book to my reading list. I have not read any of Ball’s published works but have learned that she is a professor of History and Black Studies. Very cool.  -Stephanie Hopkins

About the book:

Rowman & Littlefield

Biographies & Memoirs | History | Nonfiction (Adult)

Pub Date 15 Jan 2021

Description

Madam C. J. Walker—reputed to be America’s first self-made woman millionaire—has long been celebrated for her rags-to-riches story. Born to former slaves in the Louisiana Delta in the aftermath of the Civil War, married at fourteen, and widowed at twenty, Walker spent the first decades of her life as a laundress, laboring in conditions that paralleled the lives of countless poor and working-class African American women. By the time of her death in 1919, however, Walker had refashioned herself into one of the most famous African American figures in the nation: the owner and president of a hair-care empire and a philanthropist wealthy enough to own a country estate near the Rockefellers…

In this biography, Erica Ball places this remarkable and largely forgotten life story in the context of Walker’s times.

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

The 1906 earthquake in San Francisco has been an interest of mine for quite some time. The earthquake only lasted less than minute but the devastation was complete. The fires that broke out due to the quake were disastrous, leaving half the cities’ residence homeless and thousands, dead. I’m looking forward to seeing how Meissner weaves this unfortunate historic event into her story. Thank you, Berkley and NetGalley for a copy of this powerful story. -Stephanie

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Berkley Publishing Group

Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 02 Feb 2021  

Description

April 18, 1906: A massive earthquake rocks San Francisco just before daybreak, igniting a devouring inferno. Lives are lost, lives are shattered, but some rise from the ashes forever changed.

Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant so desperate to get out of a New York tenement that she answers a mail-order bride ad and agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. San Francisco widower Martin Hocking proves to be as aloof as he is mesmerizingly handsome. Sophie quickly develops deep affection for Kat, Martin’s silent five-year-old daughter, but Martin’s odd behavior leaves her with the uneasy feeling that something about her newfound situation isn’t right.

Then one early-spring evening, a stranger at the door sets in motion a transforming chain of events. Sophie discovers hidden ties to two other women. The first, pretty and pregnant, is standing on her doorstep. The second is hundreds of miles away in the American Southwest, grieving the loss of everything she once loved.

The fates of these three women intertwine on the eve of the devastating earthquake, thrusting them onto a perilous journey that will test their resiliency and resolve and, ultimately, their belief that love can overcome fear.

From the acclaimed author of The Last Year of the War and As Bright as Heaven comes a gripping novel about the bonds of friendship and mother love, and the power of female solidarity.

Book Review: The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

Kindle Edition, 305 pagesPublished December 27th 2016 by Kensington

About the story:

Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.

Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.

Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage. 

A few of my thoughts:

Recently I discovered that my family has ancestry in Dublin Ireland and this book came to my mind. Strange how the mind works. I requested, “The Magdalen Girls” to review some time ago and to be honest, I’m not sure why I chose it because it wasn’t a subject, I was ready-mentally-to look in-depth. The Catholic Church has an extremely dark history and I don’t believe their theology/doctrine is entirely in line with the Holy Bible.

The story introduces three young girls, Teagan, Nora and Lea. Leading up to the moment Teagan and Nora were cast out of their homes and into the “care” of The Sister of the Holy Redemption. The cruelty of Mother Ann and the Nuns who carries out her orders is a clear reflection of the abuse, neglect, death, exploitation and forced, cruel hard labor that are not the teachings of Christ. These young girls’ situation there and of the others, lay heavily on my mind.

There are two priest that are front and center to Teagan’s “down fall”. Father Mark and Father Matthew. In short, I found Father Matthew not living up to his higher responsibility that God has commanded and instead he seceded the position to a mostly matriarchal attitude that was counterproductive to Christian life. His inability to counsel Father Mark and do right by the situation at hand really reflects my opinion above. They laid full responsibility of Mark’s sin on Teagan. That is not Christ like.

My main focus of this review is Tegan’s downfall because of the bold example the author shows of how the Priests influence its congregation and community. My focus on Teagan’s story- in no way- diminishes the others girls experience in that toxic environment.

I would have liked to have read a better build-up of the girl’s life before they entered, The Sister of the Holy Redemption. Other than that, it was a powerful premise, though a sad one.

Was there redemption in the story for the girls? That is for you to find out by reading the story.

I rated this book three stars and obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

My thoughts:

“Libraries are lungs, […] books the fresh air breathed in to keep the heart beating, to keep the brain imagining, to keep hope alive.” ― Janet Skeslien Charles, The Paris Library

The Paris Library is truly an unforgettable story. My favorite books are usually told in dual timelines. This story is without a doubt, my new favorite. If you are a lover of books and libraries, you must read, The Paris Library. I was completely spirited with abounding emotions. I laughed, cried, cheered, was enraged at injustice, and was thoroughly in my element with the librarians. I wanted-so much-to have tea with them and discuss literature and humanity. I wanted to be in their world surrounded with so many wonderful stories.

Not all is wonderful because of the war and personal struggles. That is what happens in life and this story portrays that in such a way, you realize that we all can learn from each other. Even so, it carries the narrative to great heights, shows you how deeply impacted the librarians were during the dark time of Word War II, and the lengths they went to keep reading alive.  

I actually leaned about a few authors and books I am not familiar with and want to read them because of the people’s experience with them in this book.

The author’s style of writing appealed to me and there are countless of passages that I marked so that I can make a record of them in my journal. That is how much this story affected me.

Stories like this are what brings us together and forever changes our impressions on life and humanity.

A must read!

I rated this book five stars and obtained a copy of this book from the publishers for an honest review.

Stephanie Hopkins

Conversing About Novellas

I’ve committed 2021 to be a year of catching up-somewhat-on my back list of books that have been patiently waiting on me. Well, maybe not too patiently. The new year brings new reading goals, habits and a fresh start on many things. This week, I have pondered the idea of adding more novellas to my ever-growing pile of books I want to absorb.

There are various opinions about reading novellas. Some say it is a waste of time and leaves you unsatisfied, but I beg to differ. I admire the writer who takes on the task of weaving a story with fewer words. Often times when having read a six-hundred-page novel, I wanted more. So, there you are. It is not, in truth, about the number of pages but what you make of them and allowing your imagination to explore the what-ifs. -Stephanie Hopkins

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Published May 28th 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf

A spare yet eloquent, bittersweet yet inspiring story of a man and a woman who, in advanced age, come together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future.

In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.

Their brave adventures – their pleasures and their difficulties – are hugely involving and truly resonant, making Our Souls at Night the perfect final installment to this beloved writer’s enduring contribution to American literature

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

Published January 1st 1970 by Heinemann (first published 1966)

After years of study in Europe, the young narrator of Season of Migration to the North returns to his village along the Nile in the Sudan. It is the 1960s, and he is eager to make a contribution to the new postcolonial life of his country. Back home, he discovers a stranger among the familiar faces of childhood—the enigmatic Mustafa Sa’eed. Mustafa takes the young man into his confidence, telling him the story of his own years in London, of his brilliant career as an economist, and of the series of fraught and deadly relationships with European women that led to a terrible public reckoning and his return to his native land.

But what is the meaning of Mustafa’s shocking confession? Mustafa disappears without explanation, leaving the young man—whom he has asked to look after his wife—in an unsettled and violent no-man’s-land between Europe and Africa, tradition and innovation, holiness and defilement, and man and woman, from which no one will escape unaltered or unharmed.

Season of Migration to the North is a rich and sensual work of deep honesty and incandescent lyricism. In 2001 it was selected by a panel of Arab writers and critics as the most important Arab novel of the twentieth century. 

So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano, Euan Cameron (Translation)

Published September 15th 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A haunting novel of suspense from the winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature

In the stillness of his Paris apartment, Jean Daragane has built a life of total solitude. Then a surprising phone call shatters the silence of an unusually hot September, and the threatening voice on the other end of the line leaves Daragane wary but irresistibly curious. Almost at once, he finds himself entangled with a shady gambler and a beautiful, fragile young woman, who draw Daragane into the mystery of a decades-old murder. The investigation will force him to confront the memory of a trauma he had all but buried.

With So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood Patrick Modiano adds a new chapter to a body of work whose supreme psychological insight and subtle, atmospheric writing have earned him worldwide renown — including the Nobel Prize in Literature. This masterly novel, now translated into twenty languages, penetrates the deepest enigmas of identity and compels us to ask whether we ever know who we truly are.

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

What are some novellas on your to-read list?

de Young: Selected Works

I came across de Young Selected Works through a good friend who was clearing bookshelf space in her home library. I was delighted she had a copy and was willing to pass it along to me. I’m always curious to see what my friends reading interest are. She has a broad collection and she is definitely a well-rounded reader.

I’ve looked through a few pages and will be studying this book thoroughly in the near future. As an artist, I am extremely interested in learning the history of art and why artists create what they do and their process.

Stephanie Hopkins

About the book:

From Goodreads:

“An illustrated survey showcasing the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s finest works of art, each accompanied by an informative commentary.”

From Amazon:

“The two museums that in 1970 became the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco were at one time rival institutions. The de Young museum grew out of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. The Legion of Honor had its genesis in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, but was conceived from the outset as a museum of fine art. A striking copper-clad building designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the de Young museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park houses a broad spectrum of art from diverse cultures and traditions, including a world-renowned collection of American art; traditional African art; art from Oceania and the Americas; Western and non-Western costumes and textiles; contemporary art and works on paper. This illustrated catalogue showcases the museum’s finest works of art, each accompanied by an informative commentary.”

Should Speed Reading be Your Objective?

Introduction to exploring why we read and what methods we use.

The topic of speed reading has been around a long time. For a while now I’ve been meaning to explore why it is even a consideration.

The concept of speed reading according to Wikipedia is to improve one’s ability to read quickly. Reading further on the subject, I discovered that the term was coined by Evelyn Wood in the late 1950’s. She was a school teacher who wanted to understand why some people read faster, and to create a method to increase speed. Wood claimed her intentions were also to improve comprehension.

It is safe to say that most have heard of the speed reading. Does the method over shadow the main objective that comes with reading? Or should it even be something you try? How will it benefit you? Does it really improve comprehension? Is there value in the method? Would speed reading decrease your ability to be a critical thinker? Will there be important details you might miss? Do you speed read just to see how many books you can read within a limited time? Or to reduce your ever-growing pile of books? Those are a lot of questions to ponder.

I’ve looked at this from different angels and I’ve come to the conclusion that you might as well not read if speed reading is your main objective. The point of reading is broad and a matter to explore further. One of the points of reading is to expand your knowledge. I realize that everyone learns differently. What one method might work for some; it might not work for others.

When we take the time to appreciate and reflect upon the material we are reading, we add value. Especially if you apply it. Let’s face it, you’ll enjoy a book more or get more out of it by slowing down your pace. Of course, if you incorporate reading in your daily routine, you’ll find yourself consuming books faster.

I’m still wanting to write about this subject in more depth and to discuss the many important points of reading. Looking forward to it. Who knows where this might lead us?

Stephanie Hopkins

Cover Crush: The Watchmaker of Dachau by Carly Schabowski

About the Cover: This cover is definitely and eye catcher! Love the landscape and colors.

About the book: There are a lot of books out there about Word War II. Though a bit burned out on them, I find this one interesting. It looks to be character driven. Keeping an eye on this one! -Stephanie

Book Description:

Bookouture

Historical Fiction

Pub Date 20 Jan 2021

An unforgettable novel of human kindness, inspired by an incredible true story.

Snow falls and a woman prepares for a funeral she has long expected, yet hoped would never come. As she pats her hair and straightens her skirt, she tells herself this isn’t the first time she’s lost someone. Lifting a delicate, battered wristwatch from a little box on her dresser, she presses it to her cheek. Suddenly, she’s lost in memory…

January 1945. Dachau, Germany. As the train rattles through the bright, snowy Bavarian countryside, the still beauty outside the window hides the terrible scenes inside the train, where men and women are packed together, cold and terrified. Jewish watchmaker Isaac Schüller can’t understand how he came to be here, and is certain he won’t be leaving alive.

When the prisoners arrive at Dachau concentration camp, Isaac is unexpectedly pulled from the crowd and installed in the nearby household of Senior Officer Becher and his young, pretty, spoiled wife. With his talent for watchmaking, Isaac can be of use to Becher, but he knows his life is only worth something here as long as Becher needs his skills.

Anna Reznick waits table and washes linens for the Bechers, who dine and socialise and carry on as if they don’t constantly have death all around them. When she meets Isaac she knows she’s found a true friend, and maybe more. But Dachau is a dangerous place where you can never take love for granted, and when Isaac discovers a heartbreaking secret hidden in the depths of Becher’s workshop, it will put Anna and Issac in terrible danger…

A gorgeously emotional and tear-jerking read set during World War Two. Perfect for fans of The Tattooist of AuschwitzWe Were the Lucky Ones and The Alice Network.

Be sure to follow and check out more of my art at my Instagram!

before the second sleep cover crush

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…

My thoughts:

Simone St. James is among my favorite suspense writers and when I spotted this book on NetGalley, I might have almost fell out of my desk chair. I was overjoyed! I must confess I read the story last year and for whatever reason I failed to write a review. I do remember having a few issues with it and I couldn’t remember some details of the story. This prompted me to read the story again for a fresh start.

St. James is brilliant at setting the stage for a creepy story! Reading Sun Down Motel definitely gives one pause about staying in a road side motel! The location and the people of the story are intriguing and you do sympathize with their troubles. Like the first time reading the book, the second time around, I still had trouble with some parts that were dragging. I felt there were too much detail in the telling and not enough showing. Maybe that is just me.

Viv and Carly’s story were so similar that at times, I became confused who I was reading about. Maybe it was because of the lapse of time when I wasn’t reading the story? Not so much the second time around.

There was a scene in the story where I guessed what happened to Viv. It actually was a small detail and I was actually surprised to pick up on it. Towards the climax the story started to weaken and I was really disappointed in the ending. It fell completely flat in my opinion.

Don’t allow my thoughts on Sun Down Motel sway you from not reading this story. It is a good premise, atmospheric and over all I enjoyed it.

I’ve rated this story three stars and I obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

Stephanie Hopkins

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