Book Review: The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain

Expected publication: January 11th 2022 by St. Martin’s Press

About the book: When Kayla Carter’s husband dies in an accident while building their dream house, she knows she has to stay strong for their four-year-old daughter. But the trophy home in Shadow Ridge Estates, a new development in sleepy Round Hill, North Carolina, will always hold tragic memories. But when she is confronted by an odd, older woman telling her not to move in, she almost agrees. It’s clear this woman has some kind of connection to the area…and a connection to Kayla herself. Kayla’s elderly new neighbor, Ellie Hockley, is more welcoming, but it’s clear she, too, has secrets that stretch back almost fifty years. Is Ellie on a quest to right the wrongs of the past? And does the house at the end of the street hold the key? Told in dual time periods, The Last House on the Street is a novel of shocking prejudice and violence, forbidden love, the search for justice, and the tangled vines of two families.

My thoughts: :

Current state of mind as of 6/14/2022: I published this review on December 6, 2021 and left it up for a while. Then I sent it back to my drafts. I rarely do that and I’m still undecided if I made the right decision. Maybe that is why I’m adding it to my blog roll again. First reactions are just that. First reactions, Though, having read through it again, I still stand on my beliefs about many of the things I stated.

Overtime, one looks back and reflects past opinions. Are they right? What is right or true? Or what is wrong? Or maybe there are layers of truth because we tend to see or experience differently Whatever the case, we must learn from them in order to grow. I want to go back and flesh this review on a score or two, and I feel that many will take what I wrote originally, in a negative way and run with it. Or make all sorts of false assumptions. That said, that really isn’t my problem but I question what am I really trying to convey in this review? With the current state of things, there is so much on my mind. Maybe, I should go back and re-read the story. I don’t know at this point. At the present, my Kindle has given out on me and I cannot get to my review e-books. My current feeling is to maybe to go back and review my notes. Going forward with this post. I caution the reader. Be mindful of what I just stated and what I wrote in the review.

Original review:

I love a story with dual time lines but I must say, each story must be equally compelling and the connections strong. Despite my misgivings about Ellie’s characterization, I felt her story-line, as a young lady and what she experienced with SCOPE, her relationship the young man Win and her family was considerably more engrossing than Kayla’s story. While in the modern-day story, loose ends were tied up, the story felt awkwardly told throughout. I understand why the author chose to use a dual timeline, but I couldn’t help feel the 1960’s story-line would have been enough, if fleshed out.

I do believe the story is relevant to the times and my emotions were flying high while reading this story. I detest racism in any form and while there is important historical relevance of the period, I felt the “white privilege narrative” in Ellie’s case to be an agenda pushed due to our current state and how racism is portrayed today. That seems to be the norm in our society and personally, I’m tired of it all. It does absolutely nothing to heal hearts, nor does it make a positive impact for all cultures concerned. The narrative at times, is polarizing and just adds more fuel to the flames of discontent and division. That said, I am not diminishing a person’s right to telling a fictional story in how they see fit and I do realize the historical significance of the times…But Ellie’s “guilt” for her whiteness really bothered me.

It was sad to see Ellie questioning her own creation and felt this intense burden for being white and what she felt as a privileged life. Guilty by what many would consider association because of her skin color and where she was born? No. I wanted to tell her she is who she-like anyone is- by the way she lives her life, her belief system and how she treats herself and others. The privileges she felt she was born with because of her ethnicity doesn’t make her culpable. Furthermore, acknowledging racism, doesn’t nor shouldn’t require a certain skin color to be made to feel guilty, though as society shows, it happens more times than not.

Ellie recognized the oppression of the black community and wanted to take part in making a change. While she was not responsible for creating the broken and unjust system, she felt strongly about her decision to take a stand and made a huge sacrifice that cost her and all parties involved a devastating loss. Powerful and emotional story-telling there…Chamberlain brilliantly portrayed cause and effect.

My feelings about how the story was told is not to say I don’t have interest in reading about civil rights and different views on social issues. Nor am I denying it’s existence. Far from it…My issue fully lies in the manner in how Ellie’s ethnicity was portrayed. That said, I rallied on and read the story all the way through.

There were a few scenes in the story where I felt there was missed opportunities and in truth, to my dismay, I felt no connections to any of the characters. To put my complaints aside and a rocky start, I became invested in the story, and the development of Ellie’s growth and experiences with SCOPE. Many aspects were gut-wrenching, poignant, and heartfelt. I have no doubt many readers will find this story extraordinary.

Stephanie Hopkins

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

Educated by Tara Westover

For those if you who follow my blog posts, you will know my first reactions to Educated by Tara Westover. I’m slowly working my way through this story while reading another book and have, in the last couple of days, introduced another book to my reading pile. My thoughts on the story unfolding vary and a few things have really stuck with me. For instance, how is it possible for Tara, without a high-school degree, to able to take the ACT and go to college? Maybe I am missing something here and she got her GED or High School Diploma. I’m not entirely sure and perhaps I should go back and reread a few passages. This is what I get for not taking notes this time around. Hmm… Maybe, it will be revealed how she was able to do so further on in the story. I’m still in the early stages of her study.

In my next blog post, I will be discussing two family members of Tara’s and an interesting theme in the story. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the book:

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter, she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

December 2021: Book Round-Up

I am a bit late in the game of posting my December book round-up! The Holidays, lots of work, painting, and crafting put this post on the back burner to say the least. Better late than never!  

In the year 2021, I’ve enjoyed listening to books more than I’ve enjoyed reading physical ones. That is not to say that physical books have ceased to be my favorite medium of story-telling. I got through 75 stories for the entire year and there were a few I got half way through and put aside because they weren’t for me.

For the month of December, I listened to five audio books. I really enjoyed listening to these ones and I do believe you can find all of them on YouTube. There are as follows:

Coming soon, I will be posting my favorite stories of 2021!

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

It is not often you come across a thriller where every scene and detail are relevant to the story and evenly paced. Furthermore, it is not often when a book is plotted so well that it leaves you with no holes in a dissatisfied manner. A Flicker in the Dark is without a doubt one of the best thrillers I have read and I was impressed to learn early on that this story is Stacy Willingham debut novel. Her craft of story-telling is marvelous and if I hadn’t known this was her debut, I would have thought her a seasoned published author.

I must add that Willingham creates a brilliant cast of characters and her development of their personalities are flawless. Everyone is suspect and when you believe you have who the killer is, there is a twist leaving you blindsided.

I was fully engaged in this story and before I knew it, I found myself reading late into the night and early morning.

This book is getting a five-star rating from me and I am grateful for receiving an ARC from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review. It’s funny really, that often times, it’s harder for me to find the words to express my delight in discovering stories that grab my attention in such a way.

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Description:

Expected publication: January 11th 2022 by Minotaur Books

When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small Louisiana town. By the end of the summer, Chloe’s father had been arrested as a serial killer and promptly put in prison. Chloe and the rest of her family were left to grapple with the truth and try to move forward while dealing with the aftermath.

Now 20 years later, Chloe is a psychologist in private practice in Baton Rouge and getting ready for her wedding. She finally has a fragile grasp on the happiness she’s worked so hard to get. Sometimes, though, she feels as out of control of her own life as the troubled teens who are her patients. And then a local teenage girl goes missing, and then another, and that terrifying summer comes crashing back. Is she paranoid, and seeing parallels that aren’t really there, or for the second time in her life, is she about to unmask a killer?

Book Review: A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

Hardcover, 368 pages

Expected publication: December 7th 2021 by Atria Books

Travis Wren has an unusual talent for locating missing people. Hired by families as a last resort, he requires only a single object to find the person who has vanished. When he takes on the case of Maggie St. James—a well-known author of dark, macabre children’s books—he’s led to a place many believed to be only a legend.

Called Pastoral, this reclusive community was founded in the 1970s by like-minded people searching for a simpler way of life. By all accounts, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore and soon after Travis stumbles upon it…he disappears. Just like Maggie St. James.

Years later, Theo, a lifelong member of Pastoral, discovers Travis’s abandoned truck beyond the border of the community. No one is allowed in or out, not when there’s a risk of bringing a disease—rot—into Pastoral. Unraveling the mystery of what happened reveals secrets that Theo, his wife, Calla, and her sister, Bee, keep from one another. Secrets that prove their perfect, isolated world isn’t as safe as they believed—and that darkness takes many forms.

My thoughts:

Pastoral, once a peaceful and reclusive community, with calm order and purpose, becomes sinister and takes “reclusive” to a whole other level. Yes, please! When I came across this book on NetGalley, I had a feeling about it and my thoughts were right on the money.

These days, it is hard to disconnect in more ways than one. Everything is fast-paced and mental illness is on the rise. It is no wonder many people dream about a simpler life. In History of Wild Places, the people seeking this life get more than they are asking for.

One of the main important elements of a story is connecting with the characters. You don’t get that in this story, perhaps because you aren’t given a lot of backstory. That said, there is a reason why and readers will begin to understand that based on the theme of the story.

Ernshaw employs artistic composition in a unique and refreshing way that has you hanging on to every word. Her ability to articulate any situation or surrounding in the story is outstanding. Ernshaw had me hooked with the first line!

As the story unfolded, I began to see clearly how prolonged isolation can be used to manipulate people of the tightknit community and the mind-distorting effects it creates.

I found myself fully immersed in unraveling, along with Theo, Calla and Bee, the dark secrets that keep them locked within the commune.

One aspect I would have liked to have been more developed was the characters’ daily lives and their relationships with each other. It would have made the plot more profound. In regards to the relationships, Bee’s and Levi’s were the only relationship fleshed out. I cannot say much more than that without giving any spoilers.  

A great mystery about the disappearance of people, manipulation, a reclusive community brilliantly weaved with atmospheric woods, survival and spooky elements.

Stephanie Hopkins

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

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

I’m in the throes of cleaning out two closets in my bedroom and I discovered stacks of books I’ve forgotten about or rediscovered-if you will. How is that even possible with a book worm? Believe me, it happens. As I started to undergo the stacks of books, I came upon Garth Stein’s novel, A Sudden Light. I had purchased the hardback when it was first published and I cannot recall how it ended up in my closet. For shame! That said, the novel was sitting on a wired shelf, protected by leaves of clothes surrounding the stacks. The closet cleaning quickly became a distant memory, for about ten minutes, as I opened the book to read the description and peeked through the pages. Intrigued with the premise, I chose to start reading this extraordinary story the night of rediscovery and I’m delighted with my decision to do so. I have much to say about this story thus far. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the book:

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant whole trees and is set on a huge estate overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch the ailing and elderly Grandpa Samuel to a nursing home, sell off the house and property for development, divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But as Trevor explores the house’s secret stairways and hidden rooms, he discovers a spirit lingering in Riddell House whose agenda is at odds with the family plan. Only Trevor’s willingness to face the dark past of his forefathers will reveal the key to his family’s future.

Cover Crush: Heard It In A Love Song by Tracey Garvis Graves

About the Cover: I discovered this book on Instagram and the title and cover drew me in with fascination. There is a song with that title by The Marshall Tucker Band. Highly recommend listening to it. The song has great lyrics and instrumental poetry…

The book cover showcases wonderful imagery. There are many mixed media artists who take faces and create florals above and around the heads and the affect expands on visual attention. I love the choice of colors as well and when a cover and title sparks this much interest, it makes one even more curious about what is inside.

About the Book: I have a feeling if I read this book, I would be in tears throughout the story. Or maybe I’m clinging to that old feeling for way too long and could handle the premise. Despite my mixed emotions, I’m curious about how this story is told and what the author offers in the conclusion. -Stephanie Hopkins

Side Note: I’m moving my cover crush series to Wednesday’s!

Description:

From Tracey Garvis Graves, the bestselling author of The Girl He Used to Know comes a love song of a story about starting over and second chances in Heard It in a Love Song.

Love doesn’t always wait until you’re ready.

Layla Hilding is thirty-five and recently divorced. Struggling to break free from the past―her glory days as the lead singer in a band and a ten-year marriage to a man who never put her first―Layla’s newly found independence feels a lot like loneliness.

Then there’s Josh, the single dad whose daughter attends the elementary school where Layla teaches music. Recently separated, he’s still processing the end of his twenty-year marriage to his high school sweetheart. He chats with Layla every morning at school and finds himself thinking about her more and more.

Equally cautious and confused about dating in a world that favors apps over meeting organically, Layla and Josh decide to be friends with the potential for something more. Sounds sensible and way too simple―but when two people are on the rebound, is it heartbreak or happiness that’s a love song away?

Thrift Finds Wish-List: Botanical and Wildlife Books

As an avid journal maker and crafter, I’m always on the lookout for a collection of books with illustrations I can use to craft with. The best way to build your collection is to explore thrift stores, estate sales, yearly book sales at your local libraries and yard sales. When looking for particular books, one is not always successful but every once in a while, you can hit the jack pot.

There are quite a few botanical and wildlife books that have been on my wish-list and alas, I haven’t been actively searching for them, nor have I visited a thrift stores of late and want to remedy that. The hunt alone is thrilling and makes the experience more precious when you come across something you’ve been looking for.

Today, I’m sharing selected works I’m wanting to acquire and my wish is that you will find yourself inspired to search for these books to add to your collection. -Stephanie Hopkins

The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden

This entirely new diary is composed in a similar style to the Country Diary, with Edith Holden’s thoughts, anecdotes, and writings interspersed with poetry, mottoes, and her exquisite watercolor paintings of flowers, plants, birds, butterflies and landscape scenes.

The Illustrated Book of Wild Flowers by Zdenka Podhajská, Květoslav Hísek (Illustrator)

A facsimile reproduction of a naturalist’s diary for the year 1906. Edith Holden recorded in words and paintings the flora and fauna of the British countryside through the changing seasons of the year. Edith Holden’s words, all carefully written by hand, include her favorite poems, personal thoughts and observations on the wildlife she saw surrounding her home in Warwickshire, and on her travels through England and Scotland. The exquisitely beautiful paintings on every page of birds, butterflies, bees and flowers, reflects her deep love of nature; they have been executed with a naturalist’s eye for detail and the sensitivity of an artist.

The Spotters Guide to Healing Plants by Jindrich Krejca

It is not the object of this book to present a complete morphology of plants, for which see a botanical dictionary. Here we present only a selection of medicinal plants – most of them flowering plants – and true-to-life color illustrations of them.

A Garden Eden Masterpieces of Botanical Illustration by H. Walter Lack

In pursuit of both knowledge and delight, the craft of botanical illustration has always required not only meticulous draftsmanship but also a rigorous scientific understanding. This new edition of a TASCHEN classic celebrates the botanical tradition and talents with a selection of outstanding works from the National Library of Vienna, including many new images.

From Byzantine manuscripts right through to 19th-century masterpieces, through peonies, callas, and chrysanthemums, these exquisite reproductions dazzle in their accuracy and their aesthetics. Whether in gently furled leaves, precisely textured fruits, or the sheer beauty and variety of colors, we celebrate an art form as tender as it is precise, and ever more resonant amid our growing awareness of our ecological surroundings and the preciousness of natural flora.

Basilius Besler’s Florilegium: The Book of Plants by Klaus Walter Littger

A magnificent pictorial document of the flowers grown in the greatest German garden of its time, the Hortus Eystettensis is in a class of its own when it comes to the range of flowers engraved.

First published in 1613, the 367 copperplate engravings by Basilius Besler (1561–1629) capture the spectacular diversity of the palatial gardens of Prince-Bishop Johann Konrad von Gemmingen (1593/95–1612) in Eichstätt, Bavaria, Germany. The meticulous illustrations are organized according to the four seasons, and, following the classification system used today, show plants belonging to a total of 90 families and covering 340 genera. The whole collection is regarded as one of the finest treasures of botanical literature; it was described by Carl Linnaeus, the legendary 18th-century botanist and zoologist, as an “incomparable work.”

Besler’s pictorial catalog long outlived the gardens, which were destroyed in 1634 by invading Swedish troops. In auction, the asking price for a first-edition copy of Hortus Eystettensis is now more than half a million dollars. With this edition, TASCHEN opens up the garden to a much wider audience: a rich and beautiful record, destined to keep the garden’s beauty in bloom.

Book Review: The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman

About the book:

Mia Eliot has travelled from London to LA for pilot season. This is her big chance to make it as an actor in Hollywood, and she is ready to do whatever it takes. At an audition she meets Emily, and what starts as a simple favour takes a dark turn when Emily goes missing and Mia is the last person to see her.

Then a woman turns up, claiming to be Emily, but she is nothing like Mia remembers. Why would someone pretend to be Emily? Starting to question her own sanity, she goes on a desperate and dangerous search for answers, knowing something is very, very wrong.

My thoughts:

I must confess that this story took me a while to read and as I got closer to the conclusion, I was eager to push through. I have three minds about this book. At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book. I am not a fan of Hollywood and the corruptness is disgustingly appalling and in the resent years, they been have increasingly known to the public. Not only that, but the politically and socially motivated agenda pushed on the masses and the kind-of movies that are being made out lately…Yeah, I won’t delve further in that topic at present.

While I found the story starting to lag a bit and go on too much about details and my attention waned at times, there are a lot of well-written twisty and tensely moments throughout the story.

The situations Mia found herself in kept getting increasingly stranger and I began to think that everything happening to her was in her head or someone was seriously messing with her. I found it amusing that Mia in this book played the Jane Eyre part like Mia Wasikowska in real life. I did like how she was asking herself what would Jane Eyre do or act upon in dilemmas she found herself in.

I appreciated the author’s portrayal of LA and from what I heard about the area; she is spot on. Though, she was likely being tamed about the telling. Which, I’m happy with because that was partly why I was hesitate to read this book.

I was relieved to find the conclusion satisfying because I had my doubts. As a whole, The Disappearing Act is a clever story with fast-moving tension and sordid truths about the movie industry.

Stephanie Hopkins

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

Good Time Coming by C.S. Harris

I want to share something with you about C.S. Harris’s story Good Time Coming. I still think about the story and my interview with her. I went over to Amazon so I can order a physical copy of her book to add to my collections of books I most admire. I read the reviews and I feel people are misunderstanding the story by saying it’s one-sided and this and that. It is far from that and she wrote a story that is rarely or if at all talked about. If these readers truly appreciated and studied history and were avid historical fiction readers of the period, they would know this. We need more stories about civilians’ experiences in the south. I also feel that she wasn’t conveying that all union soldiers are bad like what one reviewer stated. I did not get that impression at all when I read the book. I wish people would leave their modern-day sensibilities out of history so that they can truly learn history in its raw form. Harris beautifully and heart wrenchingly portrayed how horrible the war was for the women left unprotected, while their men and sons were off fighting and dying by the hundreds of thousands. Nothing wrong in giving a southern view of the experience. I wish people would be more objective and open to hearing all sides because you cannot learn or teach history without it. We need to take the good, the bad and ugly and discuss it openly without prejudice. To blame a wrong solely on a group of people is counterproductive and causes further divide. After-all, honest talk is only how we will learn human experiences and heal as a community. So please, stop bringing political correctness into everything. It is polarizing, damaging and complete utter nonsense!

“The army that marched against the South was the same army that perpetrated the massacres of Native American women and children at Sacramento River and Harvey and countless other sites, a well-understood reality that terrified Southern civilians.” – C.S. Harris

The link to my interview with C.S. Harris will give readers a better sense of what the author was conveying with Good Time Coming. I highly recommend reading the book and to read the interview in full. One of the best civil war related stories I’ve read and that says a lot because this period in our countries history, interest me the most.

-Stephanie

About the book:

It’s the beginning of the American Civil War, and the Union army is sailing down the Mississippi, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

The graceful river town of St. Francisville, Louisiana, has known little of the hardships, death, and destruction of the War. But with the fall of New Orleans, all changes. A Federal fleet appears on the Mississippi, and it isn’t long before the depredations and attacks begin.

For one Southern family the dark blue uniform of the Union army is not the only thing they fear. A young girl stops a vicious attack on her mother and the town must pull together to keep each other safe. But a cryptic message casts doubt amongst the townsfolk. Is there a traitor in the town and can anybody be trusted?

Twelve-year-old Amrie and her family have never felt entirely accepted by their neighbors, due to their vocal abolitionist beliefs. But when Federal forces lay siege to the nearby strongholds of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the women and children of St. Francisville find themselves living in a no mans land between two warring armies. Realizing they must overcome their differences and work together to survive, they soon discover strengths and abilities they never knew they possessed, and forge unexpected friendships.

As the violence in the area intensifies, Amrie comes to terms with her own capacity for violence and realizes that the capacity for evil exists within all of us. And when the discovery of a closely guarded secret brings the wrath of the Federal army down on St. Francisville, the women of St. Francisville, with whom Amrie and her mother have shared the war years many deprivations and traumas, now unite and risk their own lives to save them.