Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

these-shallow-gravesJo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

My thoughts:

My interest of late lies in 19th century America due to my own research and writing. I was looking for something light to read in this era and was delighted that, These Shallow Graves caught my attention. I read, A Northern Light by the author a few years ago, so I was even more curious about this story.

This story is truly atmospheric and captures the attitudes and traditions of the people during the era. Though I found the story to be a bit predictable, alas there was a surprise about two characters I did not see coming…  Having said that, the predictability doesn’t take away from the good story telling this author weaves. Not only that, I found each character to be unique and intriguing.

This story has a solid premise, a good build up, tension in all the right places and concludes with a strong ending.  I hope to see more stories like this from the author!

I rated this book three stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Book Review: Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

mr-rochesterA gorgeous, deft literary retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s beloved Jane Eyre–through the eyes of the dashing, mysterious Mr. Rochester himself.

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My Thoughts:

The Bronte sisters have always been a bit of a fascination to me since my late teens. Charlotte in particular after reading Jane Eyre for the first time so many years ago. There is also the fact that 19th Century Gothic Classics tend to be my forte-if you will. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre evokes those Gothic themes many readers love. One can’t be help be drawn to the gloominess and the elements of the English moors, the troubling events unfolding, or the hauntingly beautiful and mysterious Thornfield Hall. The raw emotions of romance, madness, and tortured feelings brings you even closer to the realization of a person’s soul.

After having read Jane Eyre several times over the years I still wondered about so many things. When Mr. Rochester came along I was hoping some of those things would be answered. Like what was Edward Rochester life like as a child and young adult and how did his upbringing shape him into the man we see in Jane Eyre? I wanted to further explore the relationship between Bertha Mason and Rochester. I firmly believe her story of insanity and wretchedness plays a pivotal role in the outcome of Jane Eyre. Does Shoemaker give the reader a better understanding of those important details in her story, Mr. Rochester? What is it convincing enough?

The story starts with Edward Rochester’s early life at Thornfield Hall. Though it is not expanded on, Edward’s mother died giving birth to him, his father indifference to him and his brother’s unkindness shows his childhood was lonely and neglected at best. At least that is what I got from the brief telling of it. As he got a little older he was entrusted to the care of Mr. Lincoln for his education until the age of thirteen when his father felt he was old enough to learn more of the world. Mr. John Wilson of Maysbeck then took him under his care and Edward soon discovers the education he was to receive from Wilson was not what he thought. You see, Edwards father had plans for him that was not the tradition route for a second son during the era and his class. From there things did get rather interesting at times but I felt Edwards characterization could have been stronger. I don’t feel you get to really know him and it seems like he is doing more telling of his surroundings and what everyone’s else is doing. As he got older and I read about his relationship with Bertha Mason and Jane Eyre, I felt disjointed with the portrayal Shoemakers gives. His upbringing in this story did not convince me of why he became the man he was in Jane Eyre.

There were a lot of miss opportunities in this story. The scenes and Edward’s interaction with the characters didn’t exactly drive the plot and left me feeling dissatisfied with the overall story.

I am not sure I would readily recommend this story to my fellow enthusiasts of the classics. Having said that, I applauded Shoemakers’ efforts in creating Rochester’s early life and despite my shrewd analysis above I respect the authors’ endeavor.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

*I obtained a copy of this book from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review*

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the-girl-on-the-train-by-s-j-boltonEVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My Thoughts:

Psychological thrillers give you a deeper look into the human mind and the actions of people who are tested to their mental limits and the unthinkable lengths they go to. They feel their motivations and actions are justified in some sick, dark twisted way. Much of this is explored in this story.

Rachel is a pitiful, lonely, sad and a heartbroken woman who is dependent on alcohol. As the story builds you see her losing control or what is perceived as her losing control. People who have personal experience with alcoholics know their minds play tricks on them and they are often times delusional, paranoid and display erratic behavior. They lose sense of what is real and what is not.  Their vision of reality is obscured with their brain saturated with alcohol-if you will. The author of this story portrayed this with detailed imagery and clarity. Which perfectly built tension in the most extraordinary way.

With the twist and turns in the plot, you feel yourself being swept up in the dysfunctionality of the character’s inner struggles, outer turmoil and their actions. When you think you have the plot figured out, there is a surprisingly new development -although I did have my suspicions as I began to see a pattern forming. The story does keeps a reader on edge at all times and the need to keep reading to find out what happens next.

I have to admit when I first started reading this story, I was a bit hesitate to finish it. I was afraid the alternating point of views would be too distracting due to the dark complexity of the content but I quickly adapted. I didn’t feel any sort of sympathy towards the characters except for Megan. Although her life was a deeply disturbed one and she was no innocent, you couldn’t help feel sorry for her. She did not deserve her fate.

If I had read this type of story two and a half years ago, I probably would have given it two stars. Not because it wasn’t well written but because of its darkness and utter depressive story-line. I think one has to be in a right set of mind to jump into this one. I was prepared to hate it right away but glad I picked it up when I did and stuck it out and gave the subject matter consideration.

I have rated this book four stars.

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Inspiration can come from the most unlikely places. I read this book last year as a buddy read with a few fellow book reviewers. I needed to write my thoughts about the story but I had put it in the back of my mind. I wasn’t sure the direction I wanted to go with it. The months passed and I had forgotten about it. Writing reviews lately has been tough for me. This could be for several reasons. One is my disappointment in the market and two is this year has not been a great start of reading for me.

Last night, I was in my bedroom sorting clothes and thinking of an old friend’s drinking problem and then my mind turns to a train sounding it’s horn we often here outside our neighborhood. How strange to be thinking of those two things back to back and at that time. Then it hit me, I haven’t written my review for The Girl on The Train and I know exactly what I want to write! Ha! Strange isn’t it?

Those life moments and circumstances can give you unlikely inspiration at the oldest times…

Stephanie M. Hopkins

*This story has certainly given many different attitudes towards it and different perspectives. Below is a couple of fellow book bloggers opinions.

A Literary Vacation’s review HERE

2 Kids and Tired Book’s review HERE

 

 

Book Review: A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain

a-twist-in-time-iiFormer FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge’s nephew Alec—Kendra’s confidante and lover—has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way.

Lady Dover had plenty of secrets, and her past wasn’t quite what she’d made it out to be. Nor is it entirely in the past—which becomes frighteningly clear when a crime lord emerges from London’s seamy underbelly to threaten Alec. Joining forces with Bow Street Runner Sam Kelly, Kendra must navigate the treacherous nineteenth century while she picks through the strands of Lady Dover’s life.

As the noose tightens around Alec’s neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London’s glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm—and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed.

My Thoughts:

I am really fascinated in time-travel stories. Alas, often times they do not appeal to me. However, McElwain’s Kendra Donavan’s time travel is convincing and vivid. In A Murder in Time, FBI Agent Kendra has a disastrous raid where many members of her team is murdered and she uncovers a mole in the agency. She flees from the assassin and is pulled back in time…to the early nineteenth century. Then things from there get really interesting….

I was so delighted when the second book, A Twist in Time was available for reviewers to pick up. I was anxiously waiting to read about Kendra and the supporting characters again. What a wonderful cast of mixed characters.  I love the central story-line and how the characters face the challenges together in solving the crime. There are also class distinctions in the story and I found that story-line intertwined intriguingly and blends perfectly with the main plot.

In England during that time there was no real police force in place. Only a loose network of constables, magistrates, sheriffs, bailiffs, bow street runners and watchmen. Then there was the class system-as I mentioned above-that made questioning peers and their servants about on-going investigations and murder difficult. People seemed to be appalled that a peer could commit such a heinous act. That is brilliantly told in this story.

I believe the plot came together nicely and there was strong character development. Which is vital in storytelling. The profanity is lesser in this book than the first and I was appreciative of that fact.

I do recommend reading the first book before diving into this one. I rated this book four stars and I do hope there will be another Kendra Donavon story.

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

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Be sure to read my review of A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

My interview with the author, Julie McElwain about A Murder in Time

Disclaimer: All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie. M. Hopkins/Owner of Layered Pages

Book Review: Ruler of The Night by David Morrell

ruler-of-the-night1885. The railway has irrevocably altered English society, effectively changing geography and fueling the industrial revolution by shortening distances between cities: a whole day’s journey can now be covered in a matter of hours. People marvel at their new freedom.

But train travel brings new dangers as well, with England’s first death by train recorded on the very first day of railway operations in 1830. Twenty-five years later, England’s first train murder occurs, paralyzing London with the unthinkable when a gentleman is stabbed to death in a safely locked first-class passenger compartment.

In the next compartment, the brilliant opium-eater Thomas De Quincey and his quick-witted daughter, Emily, discover the homicide in a most gruesome manner. Key witnesses and also resourceful sleuths, they join forces with their allies in Scotland Yard, Detective Ryan and his partner-in-training, Becker, to pursue the killer back into the fogbound streets of London, where other baffling murders occur. Ultimately, De Quincey must confront two ruthless adversaries: this terrifying enemy, and his own opium addiction which endangers his life and his tormented soul.

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My Thoughts:

When I have presented Morrell’s De Quincey novels to various readers and friends-they had never heard of him. Thomas de Quincey was an English 19th century writer. At a young age he ran away from home and became addicted to opium. In the mid Victorian era in England, one was able to walk into a chemist’s shop and purchase the drug without a prescription from doctors. These types of dangerous drugs were used for making home remedies… de Quincey wrote a story called, Confessions of an Opium-Eater where Morrell draws a lot of his inspiration for his trilogy. Ruler of the Night is his third and final installment and is a fine ending to what is an outstanding Victorian mystery story.

The English Railroad during this era was a popular means of travel and the brutal murder that occurs on a train in the beginning of the story sets the tone for another intriguing mystery.

It was a true delight to read about Thomas de Quincey, his Daughter-Emily, Ryan and Becker-who are two detectives- and their dangerous adventures in finding a murderer. Their process of solving murder crimes is extraordinary and entertaining.

Morrell’s Opium-Eater (Thomas de Quincey trilogy) a Victorian mystery trilogy, is truly brilliant. Every historical detail is impeccable; you hang on to every word. His characters are unforgettable and he transports to you the Victorian London streets with vivid imagery, as if you were really there. Murder mysteries at its finest!

I have rated this story four stars and obtained a copy from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Book Review: Girl In Disguise by Greer MacAllister

girl-in-disguiseWith no money and no husband, Kate Warne finds herself with few choices. The streets of 1856 Chicago offer a desperate widow mostly trouble and ruin―unless that widow has a knack for manipulation and an unusually quick mind. In a bold move that no other woman has tried, Kate convinces the legendary Allan Pinkerton to hire her as a detective.

Battling criminals and coworkers alike, Kate immerses herself in the dangerous life of an operative, winning the right to tackle some of the agency’s toughest investigations. But is the woman she’s becoming―capable of any and all lies, swapping identities like dresses―the true Kate? Or has the real disguise been the good girl she always thought she was?

My Thoughts:

The Pinkerton Agency is widely known for their pursuit of Jesse James, the Dalton Brothers and Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. What is not commonly known is the agency hired the first female Detective-Kate Warne- in the U.S. during the mid-1850’s. The founder Allan Pinkerton immigrated to Chicago from Scotland in the early 1840’s and joined the Chicago police department and soon after opened the first Pinkerton Agency. Before reading, Girl in Disguise, I had not known about Kate, so I was delighted when I discovered this book on NetGalley.

Kate Warne is an extraordinary woman-especially someone as independent as she was in the 1800’s. During those times it was unheard of for women to do what was considered a “Man’s job”. Allan Pinkerton was hesitant-if you will-to hire her but in his knowledge of undercover work, he knew that often times it was not easy for males to gain access to the people they were pursuing. With strong intellect and determination, Kate quickly proves herself to be invaluable and gains the trust of Pinkerton.

Kate’s talent for gathering information is well displayed in this story and gives you great insight into detective work and I found this highly fascinating to read about. As the story developed further, the Pinkerton Agency flourished and you really get a sense of the character’s will to fight for justice.

The second half of the story focuses on the American Civil War and the agencies role. This is where I learned some new things about the agency I had not realized before. I did find a few scenes disjointed and there is a brief romance that just seem to appear and I was not sure-at first- how that would play out in the story. In the end I believe it worked and really helped Kate’s motivation for the actions she took. I do question Kate’s ability to travel freely on her own while the war was raging and I’m not sure that was believable to me. Nonetheless it did not entirely distract me from enjoying the story.

After finishing the story, I tuned to the author’s notes and I was glad I did. I developed a deeper appreciation for the story from having read it and I highly recommend that readers take the time to do so.

I have rated this story four stars and obtained a copy from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

An Oldie but Goodie

A few weeks ago, I started an Oldie but Goodie Series of older reviews that I had written. The series has really kicked off and today I am delighted to share another one! It is so amusing to look back at older reviews. My reactions have been, “What was I thinking? Oh, I quite like what I wrote or I should have expanded on some things further.” Having said that, I won’t be rewriting the reviews. One must learn from one’s own writing! Today I am sharing one of my reviews for Stephanie Thornton’s books. She is an amazing story-teller and one of my favorites. I can’t get enough of her stories. Check out my review below of, The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great!

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the-conquerors-wife-ii

330s, B.C.E., Greece: Alexander, a handsome young warrior of Macedon, begins his quest to conquer the ancient world. But he cannot ascend to power, and keep it, without the women who help to shape his destiny. His spirited younger half-sister, Thessalonike, yearns to join her brother and see the world. Instead, it is Alexander’s boyhood companion who rides with him into war while Thessalonike remains behind. Far away, crafty princess Drypetis will not stand idly by as Alexander topples her father from Persia’s throne. And after Alexander conquers her tiny kingdom, Roxana, the beautiful and cunning daughter of a minor noble, wins Alexander’s heart…and will commit any crime to secure her place at his side. Within a few short years, Alexander controls an empire vaster than the civilized world has ever known. But his victories are tarnished by losses on the battlefield and treachery among his inner circle. And long after Alexander is gone, the women who are his champions, wives, and enemies will fight to claim his legacy…

Review:

When this book came available to review, I knew I couldn’t pass this up. Not because I wanted to read another story of Alexander the Great, mind you. I have read enough of him and his atrocities. However, Thornton brings us a new story- a story of the strong women who surrounded him.

I would like to start with his Mother-Olympias. She personifies a power hungry political in my opinion. A ruthless Queen where everyone is her pawn and how she manipulates her pawns is without mercy. Or is that just me? Needless to say, I don’t care for the woman. I know many would argue with that statement. Thornton does such splendid work with Olympias’s characterization. She is just as I would imagine her to be…

I cared little of, Roxana. She left a bad taste in my mouth. But wow! What an unflinching narrative! Thornton evokes such strong dislike from her readers when reading about this woman. I kept on waiting for her demise throughout the story. Or least I felt that way about Roxana. *laughing*

I adore Drypetis-a Persian princess-and Alexander’s sister, Thessalonike for many reasons. Then there is Hephaestion. *sigh* He was Alexanders second in command, best friend and lover. Probably the only person among the very few people Alexander trusted and completely loved. His narrative in the story is one I will never forget.

I cannot say enough about the characters, or their stories. Beautifully told and Thornton immerses you in an unforgettable period of our history and gives you a marvelous exploration of people living during that time. She keeps you so wrapped up in the conflict of the ancient world, culture and the conquest of Alexander that when you put the book down, you can almost still hear their voices and imagine their movements in your mind. This story is a masterpiece.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Review originally posted here