Book Review: The Vines by Shelley Nolden

About the book:

Pub Date 23 Mar 2021

In the shadows of New York City lies forbidden North Brother Island, where the remains of a shuttered hospital hide the haunting memories of century-old quarantines and human experiments. The ruins conceal the scarred and beautiful Cora, imprisoned by contagions and the doctors who torment her. When Finn, a young urban explorer, arrives on the island and glimpses an enigmatic beauty through the foliage, intrigue turns to obsession as he seeks to uncover her past—and his own family’s dark secrets. By unraveling these mysteries, will he be able to save Cora? Will Cora meet the same tragic ending as the thousands who’ve already perished on the island?

The Vines intertwines North Brother Island’s horrific and elusive history with a captivating tale of love, betrayal, survival, and loss.

My thoughts:

If I remember correctly it was last year when I discovered North Brother Island. A documentary of the Island popped up on my YouTube feed. I watched it and learned a few details about its history and thought-at the time-I would love to read a fiction story that included the history elements. Low and behold, writer Shelley Nolden wrote a dual time-line story that takes place on the mysterious Island.

I must admit I was briefly hesitant at first to read the book based on the story’s topic of contagions. It’s not that I lacked interest in that subject but because of our current world-wide state of a pandemic. I thought it might be too sensitive of a story to read at the moment. However, my curiosity had gotten the better of me and I changed my mind.

When I opened to the first page on my Kindle, it wasn’t long before I became fully absorbed in the story. Finn Gettler arrives-more like sneaks-to North Brother Island and becomes immediately intrigued with the nature reclaiming the Island. He soon comes in contact with Cora. A woman who is not only trapped on the Island but, unknown to him , a prisoner of his family.

Cora is a fascinating woman and I enjoyed how the author developed her character as the story unfolded. Her experiences and circumstance had me connecting dots about real life, past and present, medical science I’ve often thought about.

When I discovered Finn’s last name is, “Gettler,” it struck a chord. I had heard of that name before but couldn’t remember where. I delved in little research and I was stunned at what I discovered to say the least! Nolden brilliantly balances real people and events into her story.

I experienced countless emotions reading this book. Many of them were sorrowful and feelings of anger on behalf of what was happening to Cora. The other emotions, I felt strongly, were for the absolute lack of humanity of a few of the characters. What makes this story good, yet all too disturbing, is the relevancy of the subject contagions and the evil that exists in this world.

There were moments I felt a few scenes were boggled down by just a little too much detail but overall, it was a worthwhile read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series!

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

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Banner Created by Stephanie

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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

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

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.

A Christmas Carol Murder (A Dickens of a Crime) by Heather Redmond

Book Spotlight: This story sounds fascinating! I love a good mystery. Love the cover! Keeping a sharp eye on this one. -Stephanie Hopkins

The latest novel from Heather Redmond’s acclaimed mystery series finds young Charles Dickens suspecting a miser of pushing his partner out a window, but his fiancée Kate Hogarth takes a more charitable view of the old man’s innocence . . .
 
London, December 1835: Charles and Kate are out with friends and family for a chilly night of caroling and good cheer. But their blood truly runs cold when their singing is interrupted by a body plummeting from an upper window of a house. They soon learn the dead man at their feet, his neck strangely wrapped in chains, is Jacob Harley, the business partner of the resident of the house, an unpleasant codger who owns a counting house, one Emmanuel Screws.
 
Ever the journalist, Charles dedicates himself to discovering who’s behind the diabolical defenestration. But before he can investigate further, Harley’s corpse is stolen. Following that, Charles is visited in his quarters by what appears to be Harley’s ghost—or is it merely Charles’s overwrought imagination? He continues to suspect Emmanuel, the same penurious penny pincher who denied his father a loan years ago, but Kate insists the old man is too weak to heave a body out a window. Their mutual affection and admiration can accommodate a difference of opinion, but matters are complicated by the unexpected arrival of an infant orphan. Charles must find the child a home while solving a murder, to ensure that the next one in chains is the guilty party . . .

Two in One Talk About Books

Today I’m doing a two in one post about titles that stand out to me and a cover crush. I know. Usual for Layered Pages but fun! When browsing books to choose to read, one can’t help but be drawn in by unique books titles. There are times I feel that the title alone is what draws my interest and want to discover its meaning. Strong titles are important to the story as are the cover designs.

Several of these books could easily be my cover crush choice but I need to pick just one for today. Hmm… I’m going to go with, “The Venice Sketchbook” by Rhys Bowen. I love the blend of colors and the romantic feel to the landscape. The title immediately caught my attention because of the mention of a sketchbook. That word alone draws in intrigue, stories, imagery, a window to the owner’s mind and secrets captured on paper. I obtained a copy from the publishers through NetGalley and I can’t wait to dive into the story!

About the book:

The Venice Sketchbook

Lake Union Publishing

Pub Date 13 Apr 2021

Love and secrets collide in Venice during WWII in an enthralling novel of brief encounters and lasting romance by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and Above the Bay of Angels.

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.

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Other titles that stand-out and in the coming weeks I will be talking a bit about why I’m interested in them. Each title is linked to Amazon.

The Lost History of Dreams by Kris Waldherr

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

A Betting Woman (A Novel of Madame Moustache)

by Jenni L. Walsh

The Straits of Treachery by Richard Hopton

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

before the second sleep cover crush

Stephanie Hopkins

Images may be subjected to copyright. In order to use art images or any content on Layered Pages platform, please ask permission from Stephanie Hopkins

Cover Crush: Murder at Queen’s Landing by Andrea Penrose

Murder at Queen’s Landing is part of the Wrexford & Sloane Series by Andrew Penrose. I must admit I have not started the series as of yet but I’m keeping a close eye on it. Today, I am highlighting this particular book because I absolutely love how the cover evokes hauntingly imagery. This cover would make a beautiful painting.

There are many elements to this story that interest me. Not only the cover but the genre and the time period the story is set in.  A theme that really stood out to me is the, “World of banking and international arbitrage.” The world banks wield unspeakable power that the majority of the populous is completely unaware of that fact. I have a feeling this is an interesting story to say the least and I’m curious as to where the author goes with this. -Stephanie Hopkins

Book description:

Murder at Queen’s Landing (Wrexford & Sloane #4)

by Andrea Penrose

Published September 29th 2020 by Kensington Books/Kensington Publishing Corp.

The murder of a shipping clerk . . . the strange disappearance of trusted friends . . . rumors of corruption within the powerful East India Company . . . all add up to a dark mystery entangling Lady Charlotte Sloane and the Earl of Wrexford in a dangerous web of secrets and lies that will call into question how much they really know about the people they hold dear—and about each other . . .

When Lady Cordelia, a brilliant mathematician, and her brother, Lord Woodbridge, disappear from London, rumors swirl concerning fraudulent bank loans and a secret consortium engaged in an illicit—and highly profitable—trading scheme that threatens the entire British economy. The incriminating evidence mounts, but for Charlotte and Wrexford, it’s a question of loyalty and friendship. And so, they begin a new investigation to clear the siblings’ names, uncover their whereabouts, and unravel the truth behind the whispers.

As they delve into the murky world of banking and international arbitrage, Charlotte and Wrexford also struggle to navigate their increasingly complex feelings for each other. But the clock is ticking—a cunning mastermind has emerged . . . along with some unexpected allies—and Charlotte and Wrexford must race to prevent disasters both economic and personal as they are forced into a dangerous match of wits in an attempt to beat the enemy at his own game.

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

Stephanie Hopkins

Images may be subjected to copyright. In order to use art images or any content on Layered Pages platform, please ask permission from Stephanie Hopkins

On the Book Trail

I’ve recently added these books to my to-read list. Definitely worth checking out. -Stephanie

The Man Called Red: An Autobiography of a Guide and Outfitter in Northern British Columbia by N.B. Sorensen

“Red” Sorensen tells his life in The Man Called Red with the characteristic reserve and understated humor typical of men seduced by the great outdoors. One likes him almost immediately, both for his character, his honesty, and integrity and for his singular, unbending self-accountability.

He gets on well with almost everyone he meets – becoming the bane of those who cheat and lie and steal – and marries a woman he deserves and appreciates as much as he does the land that he explores and worships.

From the early 1900s until the present day, “Red” Sorensen recounts with exquisitely detailed descriptiveness his wilderness adventures and all-too-frequent brushes with mortal danger, whether from ubiquitous mountain predators, natural catastrophes, foolish fellow men, or his planes that seem to crash too often.

I find myself in awe of this man, and I admire his wife who kept up with him; It takes a special kind of women to love a man extraordinary as Red. If you sign up for his ride, prepare to be awestruck by the country he guides you through, and the quality of this man called simple “Red.

Rescued from the Ashes: The Diary of Leokadia Schmidt, Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto

by Leokadia Schmidt

The diary of a young Jewish housewife who, together with her husband and five-month-old baby, fled the Warsaw ghetto at the last possible moment and survived the Holocaust hidden on the “Aryan” side of town in the loft of a run-down tinsmith’s shed.

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman

From the author of the acclaimed 97 Orchard and her husband, a culinary historian, an in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced—the Great Depression—and how it transformed America’s culinary culture.

The decade-long Great Depression, a period of shifts in the country’s political and social landscape, forever changed the way America eats. Before 1929, America’s relationship with food was defined by abundance. But the collapse the economy, in both urban and rural America, left a quarter of all Americans out of work and undernourished—shattering long-held assumptions about the limitlessness of the national larder.

In 1933, as women struggled to feed their families, President Roosevelt reversed longstanding biases toward government sponsored “food charity.” For the first time in American history, the federal government assumed, for a while, responsibility for feeding its citizens. The effects were widespread. Championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, “home economists” who had long fought to bring science into the kitchen rose to national stature. Tapping into America’s longstanding ambivalence toward culinary enjoyment, they imposed their vision of a sturdy, utilitarian cuisine on the American dinner table.

Through the Bureau of Home Economics, these women led a sweeping campaign to instill dietary recommendations, the forerunners of today’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. At the same time, rising food conglomerates introduced packaged and processed foods that gave rise to a new American cuisine based on speed and convenience. This movement toward a homogenized national cuisine sparked a revival of American regional cooking. In the ensuing decades, this tension between local traditions and culinary science have defined our national cuisine—a battle that continues today.

A Square Meal examines the impact of economic contraction and environmental disaster on how Americans ate then—and the lessons and insights those experiences may hold for us today.

Book Spotlight: Ruby Falls by Deborah Goodrich Royce

This book looks interesting! I love the cover! According to the description, the story pays homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. -Stephanie Hopkins

Ruby Falls

by Deborah Goodrich Royce

Post Hill Press

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 04 May 2021

Description

“Imaginative, unique, spine-tingling, and just the right amount of eerie, Ruby Falls is what a reader wants a psychological thriller to be.” —Sandra Brown, New York Times bestselling author 

Ruby Falls will sweep you headfirst into the life of Eleanor Russell, an actress setting up house in the glamorous Hollywood Hills with her handsome new husband, Orlando. Secrets abound in this bang of a book, a haunting tale sure to give readers chills. A stunner with some serious Gothic vibes.” —Kimberly Belle, internationally bestselling author of Dear Wife and Stranger in the Lake

Like the chilling psychological thriller, The Silent Patient, Deborah Goodrich Royce’s Ruby Falls is a nail-biting tale of a fragile young actress, the new husband she barely knows, and her growing suspicion that the secrets he harbors may eclipse her own.

On a brilliantly sunny July day, six-year-old Ruby is abandoned by her father in the suffocating dark of a Tennessee cave. Twenty years later, transformed into soap opera star Eleanor Russell, she is fired under dubious circumstances. Fleeing to Europe, she marries a glamorous stranger named Orlando Montague and keeps her past closely hidden.

Together, Eleanor and Orlando start afresh in LA. Setting up house in a storybook cottage in the Hollywood Hills, Eleanor is cast in a dream role—the lead in a remake of Rebecca. As she immerses herself in that eerie gothic tale, Orlando’s personality changes, ghosts of her past re-emerge, and Eleanor fears she is not the only person in her marriage with a secret.

In this thrilling and twisty homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the story ricochets through the streets of Los Angeles, a dangerous marriage to an exotic stranger, and the mind of a young woman whose past may not release her.

Book Spotlight: The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

I hope everyone had a great weekend! I’ve been mostly spending my time reading and crafting a bit. I wanted to share a book I came across on NetGalley. Looks great and I’m adding it to my wish-list! There are a few images that came to me from the book description that has given me an idea for an art collage to create. Really looking forward to what I come up with. I almost reserved this post for a cover crush because the cover is fabulous! Alas, I couldn’t wait that long to talk about this book. Ha!

I do have some art projects that I will be posting this week, including the Index Card Art Challenge Post Part 3. I want to wish you all a wonderful week! Stay safe. Be kind. Cherish your love ones.

-Stephanie Hopkins

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The Drowning KindThe Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

Gallery Books

Gallery/Scout Press

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 06 Apr 2021

Description

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Invited and The Winter People comes a chilling new novel about a woman who returns to the old family home after her sister mysteriously drowns in its swimming pool…but she’s not the pool’s only victim.

Be careful what you wish for.

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.