Cover Crush: The Well by Stephanie Landsem

About the cover: I’ve examined this cover so much that I’m second guessing myself on if I have shared this one already or not. If so, refreshers are good.

If I were to rate the book cover, I’d give it five stars, maybe more. You can see the woman’s face! Well, her profile but that is a lot better than seeing her back. The landscape is stunning and the colors vibrant and evoking. I love everything about this cover design. Including the title, oh, and the author has a beautiful name. Hint, hint.

About the book: I have mixed feelings about Biblical re-telling’s and Christian fiction in general. Often times they are unrealistic water-downed (no pun intended) and one must always remember that these re-telling’s are fictional that draw from details and facts from the Bible. Or the reader hopes so… If you’re not certain, it’s best to go straight to the source. As I said above, I have mixed feelings about this medium of story- telling, however, as a story enthusiast, person of faith and my love for history, I’m highly interested in this one.

If you are a reader of the Bible, you will know the story of Jacob’s well in the New Testament. If I recall, the passage is in the book of John. The well and where it is situated is a notable and historic site today. The story of Jacob goes all the way back to the Old Testament.

As The Well goes, Landsem takes us to the Samaritan Village and introduces us to a woman and her family who is shunned for their mother’s sins. Then one day, two men arrive to their village, one of them is Jesus. His teachings of faith and belief in God sending His son to save us, service, love, forgiveness, kindness and hope are about Christian life.

Not everything turns out the way we want them to and bad things happen but I firmly believe in redemption and a higher purpose to our strife in life. I look forward to reading this story. – Stephanie Hopkins

Grungy abstract inspired by the landscape in the background of the book cover. -by Stephanie Hopkins

More about the story:

Paperback, 304 pages

Published June 4th 2013 by Howard Books

In the rich tradition of Francine Rivers’s Lineage of Grace series, comes a beautiful retelling of the biblical story of the woman at the well—bringing to life this poignant young woman struggling to survive love and heartbreak.

For the women of the Samaritan village of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing—the place where they gather to draw their water and share their lives—but not for Mara and her family. Shunned for the many sins of her mother, Mara struggles against the constant threats of starvation or exile.

But Mara and her mother, Nava’s lives are forever changed with the arrival of two men: Shem, a mysterious and wealthy young man from Caesarea, and Jesus, a Jewish teacher. Nava is transformed by Jesus, with his talk of forgiveness, but his teachings come too late and she is stoned by the villagers for her past sins. Desperate to save her mother, Mara and Shem embark on a journey to seek Jesus’ help—a journey that brings unexpected love and hope, despite great difficulties.

In The Well, debut novelist Stephanie Landsem brings to life the culture and people of Jesus’ day, skillfully demonstrating how redemption can bring about the life-changing effects of forgiveness and love. 

Be sure to check out my Mixed Media Art Gallery and Instagram to see more of my art journey!

New Book Release: The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

Many congrats to Rhys Bowen’s book publication of, “The Venice Sketchbook!”

About the Book:

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. 

**********

“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…read more of my review at this post link.” -Stephanie Hopkins

New Book Release: The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

Congrats to Jennifer McMahon’s book publication of, “The Drowning Kind!”

About the book:

When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax arrives at the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family and the property. And as she dives deeper into the research herself, she discovers that the land holds a far darker past than she could have ever imagined.

In 1929, thirty-seven-year-old newlywed Ethel Monroe hopes desperately for a baby. In an effort to distract her, her husband whisks her away on a trip to Vermont, where a natural spring is showcased by the newest and most modern hotel in the Northeast. Once there, Ethel learns that the water is rumored to grant wishes, never suspecting that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives.

A haunting, twisty, and compulsively readable thrill ride from the author who Chris Bohjalian has dubbed the “literary descendant of Shirley Jackson,” The Drowning Kind is a modern-day ghost story that illuminates how the past, though sometimes forgotten, is never really far behind us

“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.” You can read more of my review at this post link. -Stephanie Hopkins

New Book Release: The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

Congrats to Camilla Sten book publication of, “The Lost Village!”

Published March 23rd 2021 by Minotaur Books

About the book:

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened.

But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice:

They are not alone.

They’re looking for the truth…
But what if it finds them first?

“First, I must mention that I chose this story for two reasons. The story takes place in Sweden. Perfect setting for a story such as this.” You can read more of my review at this post link. -Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan

Berkley Publishing Group

Historical Fiction

Pub Date 09 Mar 2021

About the book:

When Savannah history professor Everly Winthrop is asked to guest-curate a new museum collection focusing on artifacts recovered from the steamship Pulaski, she’s shocked. The ship sank after a boiler explosion in 1838, and the wreckage was just discovered, 180 years later. Everly can’t resist the opportunity to try to solve some of the mysteries and myths surrounding the devastating night of its sinking.

Everly’s research leads her to the astounding history of a family of eleven who boarded the Pulaski together, and the extraordinary stories of two women from this family: a known survivor, Augusta Longstreet, and her niece, Lilly Forsyth, who was never found, along with her child. These aristocratic women were part of Savannah’s society, but when the ship exploded, each was faced with difficult and heartbreaking decisions. This is a moving and powerful exploration of what women will do to endure in the face of tragedy, the role fate plays, and the myriad ways we survive the surviving.

My thoughts:

The Steamship Pulaski disaster is a true historic story. In 1838, there was an explosion on board at eleven pm at night and two-thirds of the lives were lost. The ship was about 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina and the ship sank within 45 minutes after the explosion. Can you image the utter chaos and the fight for survival? The utter fear of the women, men and children experienced was beyond horrific. As the story goes, through time, the fate of the lives lost were forgotten.

The historical story of Augusta Longstreet, and her niece, Lilly Forsyth was fascinating to follow. The plight that was handed to them and having to deal with it in life altering ways was extraordinary and powerful to read about. This story truly explores how life can change in an instance and the outcome is uncertain but one must never give up hope. Lily is a person I would love to read more about. Not only that but what the other families were going through during those fateful hours on the Pulaski and in the ocean.

Divers reported that they are believed to have found the wreckage of Pulaski from recovered items they salvaged from the wreck. Savannah professor Everly Winthrop was asked to study the artifacts and of that fateful period leading up to the disaster and afterwards. While she is working on the project, she was dealing with her own tragedy affecting her life in more ways than one.

This story is told in a dual time-line and I enjoyed many of the history elements throughout the story but felt at times the writing of the modern part was contrived. Also, Everly’s personal tragedy -where she eventually found closure- was too drawn out and I became irritated. I felt that part did not carry the overall modern day story well and it lacked structure and seemed forced, for a lack of better word. I found it hard to empathizes with her, but don’t misunderstand me, I’m fully aware that people grieve in different ways.

I did enjoy reading about Everly’s surroundings in Savannah because the city is known to me and her search for the artifacts, and finding out more about the families on the ship was intriguing.

I do love dual story-lines but I found myself thinking that I would have just preferred reading the historic aspects of the story without the modern part. Both need to be equally strong and it wasn’t which makes it difficult to follow the flow of the story with ease.

Despite a few of my misgivings, it is a good story and I’m confident that many readers will enjoy learning about the Pulaski through Surviving Savannah.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Book Review: A Conventicle of Magpies by L.M.R. by LMR Clarke

(The Bloodskill Duology Book 1)

BooksGoSocial

Sci Fi & Fantasy

Pub Date 06 Jan 2021  

About the Book:

Rook is an unapologetic thief, determined to do anything to ensure her mother and siblings survive the squalid and dangerous streets of Stamchester.

Rook slips, like a shadow, in and out of the homes of the ruling elite, the Avanish, and steals what she needs. She feels no regret, afterall, the Avanish have enslaved her people, the Saosuíasei, and worse, have now determined the Saosuíasei to be disposable and worthy of nothing other than death. 

However, Rook is not the only shadowy figure in Stamchester. And far more deadly one haunts the filthy streets, striking fear into Avanish and Saosuíasei alike. A serial killer who drains every ounce of blood from his victims, and satisfies the elite’s demand for blood to burn in the magical art of Bloodskill and enhance their own natural, and sometimes unnatural, abilities. 

How can Rook outfox the serial killer and raise her people from the ashes left by the Avanish oppression? 

My Thoughts:

Conventicle girls never surrender.” – Rook

I stepped out of my comfort zone picking up this story and glad I did! I recommend starting with the prologue. You get a clear understanding of just how despicable the people in power AKA the rich are to people who are different from them. The prologue is written as letters between Governor Dredchain and Viscount Trass. They viewed these people as animals that needed to be dealt with swiftly. As you read on, you soon discover their plans are much more sinister and you become further absorbed in the story.

I really enjoyed getting to know a few of the characters and their quirky names. For example: Rook, Pit, Crake, Billy Drainer, and Pigeon- to name a few. That said, there are too many characters introduced and not enough information about them to form any lasting connection or impression, me thinks. Which is important, especially, in a story like this one. Though I felt like I began to know Rook pretty good seeing she is a protagonist.

There is also too many things going on in the story that I felt pushed and pulled -a bit- in different directions. Nonetheless, I kept ready on because the premise itself was so fascinating and the writing engaging! A few interesting aspects include the Victorian setting, conflicts between the characters and the bloodskill.

Fans of Neil Gailman and Suzanne Collins will enjoy this story. Not only that, Clarke gives a bird’s eye view of discrimination and the people who stand up to adversity. I look forward to reading the next book in this series!  

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Book Review: Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls #3) by Martha Hall Kelly

Random House Publishing Group

Ballantine Books

Historical Fiction

Pub Date 30 Mar 2021

About the Book:

Lilac Girls, the 1.7-million-copy bestselling novel by Martha Hall Kelly, introduced readers to Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist who helped young girls released from Ravensbruck concentration camp. Now, in Sunflower Sisters, Kelly tells the story of her ancestor Georgeanna Woolsey, a Union nurse who joins the war effort during the Civil War, and how her calling leads her to cross paths with Jemma, a young enslaved girl who is sold off and conscripted into the army, and Ann-May Wilson, a southern plantation mistress whose husband enlists.

Georgeanne “Georgey” Woolsey isn’t meant for the world of lavish parties and demure attitudes of women of her stature. So, when the war ignites the nation, Georgey follows her passion for nursing during a time when doctors considered women a bother on the battlefront. In proving them wrong, she and her sister Eliza venture from New York to Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg and witness the unparalleled horrors of slavery as they become involved in the war effort.

In the South, Jemma is enslaved on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, where she lives with her mother and father. Her sister, Patience, is enslaved on the plantation next door and both live in fear of LeBaron, an abusive overseer who tracks their every move. When Jemma is sold by the cruel plantation mistress Anne-May at the same time the Union army comes through, she sees a chance to finally escape–but only by abandoning the family she loves.

Anne-May is left behind to run Peeler Planation when her husband joins the Union Army and her cherished brother enlists with the Confederates. In charge of the household, she uses the opportunity to follow her own ambitions and is drawn into a secret Southern network of spies, finally exposing herself to the fate she deserves.

My Thoughts:

When I began to read this story, I must confess my feelings were not completely favorable. I’ve read and studied the American Civil War for quite some years and was looking for something I haven’t read before. As the story unfolded, I became less frustrated and was intrigued with how the author portray the character’s personalities. Needless to say, she doesn’t hold back.

Kelly marvelously shows us multi-dimensional people of the time. Which is important to have a better sense of mindsets and not told just in the perspective of the people who oppose them. Yes, it can be a slippery slope in today’s social norms but it is extremely counterproductive when people’s voices-all around-are silenced. 

I was quite impressed with the realistic imagery of the Civil War background and the author’s portrayal of the evils of slavery. Heart-wrenching to say the least…

As the war continued, just about every household lost someone they loved. Death became commonplace and with Sunflower Sisters, you experience that fact, vividly.

The Civil War topic still holds to this day with powerful and emotional attitudes. There was a particular scene in the story where I felt the author was bringing up a subject that many don’t speak of openly. Powerful business men in the north of that time profited from slavery. Yes, they surely did as the sun rises. Still applies today, really. Slavery is the oldest institution in the world. The author also portrays quite a few prejudices by people in the north had towards people of color.

There was a couple themes in the story that reminded me of what C.S. Harris wrote in an interview I had with her a few years back. To turn the Civil War into a morality play in which one side equals good and the other evil serves only to distort history and perpetuate the dangerous divisions that still exist in our country over 150 years later.

Bravo, Martha Hall Kelly! You have written a story that provokes discussion and clarity on this sensitive subject. You give new meaning to the good, bad and ugly. Memorable characters and an unforgettable story that needed to be told.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Book Review: The Northern Reach by W.S. Winslow

Published March 2nd 2021 by Flatiron Books

A heart-wrenching first novel about the power of place and family ties, the weight of the stories we choose to tell, and the burden of those we hide.

Frozen in grief after the loss of her son at sea, Edith Baines stares across the water at a schooner, under full sail yet motionless in the winter wind and surging tide of the Northern Reach. Edith seems to be hallucinating. Or is she? Edith’s boat-watch opens The Northern Reach, set in the coastal town of Wellbridge, Maine, where townspeople squeeze a living from the perilous bay or scrape by on the largesse of the summer folk and whatever they can cobble together, salvage, or grab.

At the center of town life is the Baines family, land-rich, cash-poor descendants of town founders, along with the ne’er-do-well Moody clan, the Martins of Skunk Pond, and the dirt farming, bootlegging Edgecombs. Over the course of the twentieth century, the families intersect, interact, and intermarry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts.

My Thoughts:

First impressions are not always correct. In the beginning, I must confess the writing style and story structure threw me for a loop. When I started to feel something for a character or the family dynamic, the story moves on to the next and at times I became frustrated. Yes, I was having a rough go of it all. It was time to take a step back and reevaluate the story and purpose of the presentation and I’m glad I did.

One must remember that when reading about generational families or interconnected families-if you will, there will be multi-faceted plots. You will be taken deeply into a historical time-lines. There will be strong elements that can sway you from happy moments to darker times. In short, they evolve. Family bonds are complicated to say the least and the author marvelously portrays this fact. We might not like the characters or we will feel we are not getting enough from them but that is okay. The Northern Reach is an evocative story and will push boundaries you might not have expected to cross.

I did enjoy a quite few of the story-lines and the setting and I was intrigued with the character’s life story and I wanted to read more about them. Will we be reading more about these interesting people? I would like to very much! As the story continued, I began to have a better understanding of the set-up-if you will. There is strong character development and the setting gives you a stark, realistic view of the state of Maine and its’ towns. There is a particular social element in the story that is still considered a hot topic in today’s climate that I would really like to pick the authors brain about!

The author superbly portrays how people can make assumptions about other people and even more so in families. The Northern Reach is not a story of virtuous people, but they are down to the bone’s realistic of human nature and thought. In particular the attitudes of the Baines family and the people who marry into that family. At first, I found Edith Baines to be an intriguing woman, I soon discovered her to be just as flawed-if not more- like the rest of them. She was hardened by her life experiences and loss. Her attitude-I felt-towards her daughter-in-law Lilane was unjust. The women who made the most impression on me were Imelda, Alice, Liliane and Suzanne. I would like to read more about them.

An intriguing story wrought in hardships, cultural differences, family dysfunction, legacy and loss.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy of this book through the publishers for an honest review.

Interview with W.S. Winslow coming up Friday, March 5th here a Layered Pages!

February: Book Round-Up

February was an absolute great month for reading. I read eleven books this month! My goal is to read 100 books this year or a minimum of one book a week. Who knows? I might surpass that goal. This is encouraging since I originally set my goal to read a book a week but I knew I could read more than that with the fabulous selection of books that are coming out and what novels I have on my shelf at home.

I am also making a point to read books that I would normally not pick up. I highly recommend getting gout of the comfort zone a bit. A whole new world will open up and you will defiantly expand your critical thinking. 

What books did you read this month and what are you looking forward to in March?

This book was out of my comfort zone a bit: A Conventicle of Magpies by L.M.R. Clarke

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Re-Read: No One’s Home by D.M. Pulley

Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls, #3) by Martha Hall Kelly

Re-Read: That Summer by Lauren Willig

Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman

The Gilded Hour (The Waverly Place #1) by Sara Donati

Another book was out of my comfort zone a bit: The Never List by Koethi Zan

The Princess Spy: The True Story of World War II Spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones by Larry Loftis

What a quirky fun read! 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This one took me a while to get through: Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life by Brigitte Benkemoun

January Book Round-Up / Books Aplenty: March Reading Forecast

Books Aplenty: March Reading Forecast

Normally, I do my best not to discuss which books I will or want to strive to read on any particular month because I believe I did that in December and I did not end up reading, The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel. Which irked me to say the least. That said, I’m thrilled with the selection of titles below and wanted to share them with you. Heck, us book bloggers love talking about books and sharing our excitement of what is to come. The year is still young and the reading forecast has been terrific thus far. I’m confident the pace will keep up.

There are thirty-one days in March, and I am hoping to read 10 books if other projects don’t get in the way. You can find all these titles on goodreads, Amazon and at other booksellers. Lets’ take a look at the covers in this slideshow. -Stephanie Hopkins

Projected March Reads

A New York Secret (Daughters of New York Book 1) by Ella Carey

The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker

The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell

The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel

The Thin Place by C.D. Major

Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenbery

The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard Goldberg

The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

The Necklace by Matt Witten