Book Review: The Secret Life of Mrs. London

The Secret Life of Mrs. LondonAbout the book:

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

My thoughts:

Jack London is known for being a prolific writer. He is well known today for his two novels, White Fang and The Call of the Wild but who is the man behind the stories? What was his personal life like and who were the people in his life that supported his work? When I spotted this book at NetGalley I crossed my fingers and hoped I would get a review copy and sure enough, I did. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to be accepted to review this book. I absolutely love it when modern writers write about other writers about their commercial successes-if you will. After reading The Secret Life of Mrs. London, I started to research him further and what I found made such a bigger impression on this story. Jack London lived quite a life to say the least…

This story is told in Mrs. London’s-Jack’s second wife-point of few and it was extraordinary! I was captivated right from the start to finish, I didn’t want the story to end to be honest. I was quite envious of the authors beautiful flow of story-telling, she weaved the story so in tuned with that era and captured so eloquently what life must have been like for Mrs. Jack London. She was an intriguing woman and contributed to Jack’s work in a big way. When reading this story, you realize that without her in Jack’s life, you question if he would have been the writer he is known for.

I would also like to add that I enjoyed the passages from London’s books at the beginning of each chapter. The only problem I had with this story is that it ended.

Wonderfully drawn characters, beautiful prose, larger than life story-telling and a story I will hold close to my heart for a long time to come. I highly recommend this book to all and hope to see more stories like this from this author. I am a big fan!

Five-star rating!

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

Stephanie M. Hopkins

 

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Book Review: The English Wife by Lauren Willig

The English WifeAnnabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

My thoughts:

Not long after the war between the states were over, New York City boomed in the Gilded Age era and there was a wide line of class distinctions. In modern day standards, life of the rich during that period is a deep fascination for many, including myself.  Newspapers and journalism really took off during that time and in their view, the rich were ripe for the picking!  When I think of that era in New York, I think of shimmering lights, Gothic style mansions, slums of the poor, immigration, the American dream and high-society. Did the author of The English Wife capture this in her story? At first, I wasn’t feeling it but as the story development I began to see glimpses of the era come to life and in this story, not everything was as it seemed.

There certainly were a few twists and turns in the story and I have to admit, I didn’t see what was coming. I love that in a story! I wasn’t expecting to have a deep sense of empathy for Annabelle and Bayard but I did. Their family was the crème of society and they certainly suffered for it. Bayard sister, Janie, moved me the most and she was an example of feeling suffocation by living with strict rules of high society. They all were really…

City life in New York and the elitists were a contradictory crowd to say the least and the author of this story captures that. I will say this, I don’t recommend reading the prologue before diving in the first chapter. It was confusing and a bit all over the place. I made a mistake in doing so and I was really worrying I wasn’t going to like the story. This is a great murder mystery story and I will be adding more stories from the author to my reading list.

I rated this book three stars.

I obtained a eARC of this book through NetGalley from the Publishers for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Book Review: The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

The Tuscan Child_300dpiThe Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

February 20th 2018 by Lake Union Publishing

In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal.

Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation.

Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now…

My review:

Without a doubt I enjoyed this story, the setting and period the story is written in. There were several parts to the story I liked and what I thought could have been fleshed out a bit more. Though I could easily see a sequel to this book. Hugo and Joanna are the two main characters in the story. Hugo is Joanna’s father and was a RAF pilot in World War II whose plane crashed in Italy near a small town where the majority of the story takes place. He meets an Italian woman name Sofia who helps him hide and brings him food. As they form a bond, events happen and both of their lives would never be the same and secrets would be long hidden. Hugo is also the Heir to an estate in England and when he returns to his country he finds his whole life has changed in ways he did not expect.

His daughter Joanna has been estranged from her father for quite some time and when her father dies, she returns to bury her father. Soon she discovers secrets about her father and then begins her journey to find out more about him and his past. Her discovery takes her to Italy near where her father’s plane crashed and she meets extraordinary people and learns things are not what she expected.

This story has a dual time-line and I enjoyed the back in forth somewhat. I have to admit, at first, I wasn’t impressed with Hugo but he finally grew on me. I really enjoyed reading about Joanna and her time with Paola-a woman whose house she stayed at in Italy. Like most Italian women-I’m sure-Paola loves to cook amazing dishes and my mouth was literally watering while reading about the food!

I highly recommend when finishing this story that you read the authors note in the back. I found that to be interesting and educational. I rated this story four stars!

I received an ARC from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Please be sure to read my interview with the author HERE.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Layered Pages 2018 Reading Goals

Me in Summer time 2017This year I plan on having a better year of reading and cranking out book reviews. I got a little behind last year because of my crazy schedule. Devoting time for reading is important and that is one of my main focus this year. I do have reviews to write up and post from last year as well. Lots to do and I’m going to enjoy every bit of it! Check out these titles below. I will also be adding to this list as the year continues but this list is my MUST read list for 2018. -Stephanie M. Hopkins

The Girl in the Glass TowerThe Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle

Arbella Stuart is trapped behind the towering glass windows of Hardwick Hall. Kept cloistered from a world that is full of dangers for someone with royal blood. Half the country wish to see her on the throne and many others for her death, which would leave the way clear for her cousin James, the Scottish King

Arbella longs to be free from her cold-hearted grandmother; to love who she wants, to wear a man’s trousers and ride her beloved horse, Dorcas. But if she ever wishes to break free she must learn to navigate the treacherous game of power, or end up dead.

 

THE ALICE NETWORKThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

Saint MaggieSaint Maggie (Saint Maggie #1) by Janet R. Stafford

*I plan on reading the entire series this year!

Maggie Blaine, a widow with two teenage daughters, runs a rooming house smack dab on the town square. In 1860 this makes her a social outcast. Boarding houses are only semi-respectable and hers has a collection of eclectic boarders – a failed aging writer, an undertaker’s apprentice, a struggling young lawyer, and an old Irishman. In addition, she has a friendship with Emily and Nate, an African-American couple with whom she shares her home and chores. It is a good thing the town doesn’t know that Maggie, along with Nate, Emily, and Eli Smith (the free-thinking editor of the weekly newspaper) are involved in the Underground Railroad. When she is asked to house handsome, gifted Jeremiah Madison, the new Methodist minister, Maggie hopes that he will both revive the little church she attends and provide her boarding house with a bit of badly-needed respectability. But Jeremiah comes with some dark secrets that challenge Maggie’s resolve to love and respect all people. As the town’s people reel from a series of shocking events, the compassionate, faithful Maggie searches for truth and struggles to forgive and love. (Based on a historical event.)

The Unexpected DaughterThe Unexpected Daughter by Sheryl Parbhoo

Three people’s lives intersect in a tumultuous yet redeeming way that none of them could have ever predicted. Jenny is a young professional from the South with an upbringing she wants to forget. She meets Roshan, an Indian immigrant who has moved to the United States with his mother, Esha, to escape family ghosts. With strong cultural tradition, Esha has devoted her entire life to her only child, both for his own good and for her personal protection from a painful past. Roshan understands his role as his mother’s refuge, and from an early age, he commits himself to caring for her. But when Jenny and Roshan embark on a forbidden, intercultural relationship, all three get tangled into an inseparable web—betrayal, violence, and shame—leaving them forced to make choices about love and family they never wanted to make while finding peace where they never expected to look.

The ImmigrantThe Immigrant by Alfred Woollacott

A historical saga that covers a winter of 1650/1651 journey of John Law, a young Scotsman captured by the English Lord Cromwell’s forces in seventeenth century Scotland during “The Battle of Dunbar”. He survives a death march to Durham, England and is eventually sent to Massachusetts Bay Colony as an indentured servant, arriving aboard the ship “Unity” that was carrying around 150 prisoners of war from different Scottish clans. Now an outcast, and in the sanctuary of the new colony, John starts over as an immigrant in a Puritan theocracy. He is first indentured to the Saugus Iron Works and then to Concord as a public shepherd in West Concord (now Acton). The young man faces obstacles often beyond his control, and his only ally is his faith. After his indenture is served he struggles a near lifetime to obtain title to his promised land. From start to finish “The Immigrant” is an intoxicating journey that follows the travails of John, his faith in God, his good wife and growing family.

#NetGalley Reviews:

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

The Spring Girls by Anna Todd

The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger by Lucy Banks

Murder in Bloomsbury by D. M. Quincy

Murder in July by Barbara Hambly

Vanished by Karen E. Olson

Wicked River by Jenny Milchman

A Mortal Likeness (A Victorian Mystery) by Laura Joh Rowland

A Crime in the Familyby Sacha Batthyany

A Secret Garden by Katie Fforde

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

The Bookworm by Mitch Silver

The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews

 ** Be sure to check out my friend Lisl’s 2018 Requiem, Reviews and Year of the TBR HERE

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Audible Review: The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

The Weight of LiesIn this gripping, atmospheric family drama, a young woman investigates the forty­-year­-old murder that inspired her mother’s bestselling novel, and uncovers devastating truths—and dangerous lies.

Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia, and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed listening to this story on Audible. The cover and premise intrigued me and I like the idea of a woman writing a tell-all of her famous author mother and the dark secrets she holds. Meg soon finds out not everything is what it seems and there is a crazy twist to the story-line at the end. I thought it was great!

I also like the idea of the story taking place on a privately-owned island off the Georgia Coast. Lots of good description of island life. All the characters were great and had their own unique personality. That is very important in storytelling.

Meg’s investigation of a murder that took place on the island long ago was fascinating to read about and made the story chilling and tragic. I’ve rated this story four stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Excerpt Review: Origin by Dan Brown

Steph Pic retakeDan Brown is the author of best-selling book The DaVinci Code among others and I believe he prides himself on writing fiction that has stirred numerous debates on his premises. His works-while fiction-has an intellectual ideology of science and religion and I think that is what fascinates me most about his work. Or maybe how he portrays his settings and characters? Either way, they do draw people in and I admire that in an author.

However, earlier I did make up my mind not to read anymore of his books. Alas, this latest one and considering Brown’s reputation has sparked my interest yet again in this controversy subject of science and religion. Before I start sounds too repetitive, let me tell you what I think of the prologue and the first chapter I was given by the publishers through NetGalley to read and review.

Brief summary of prologue and first chapter-Edmond Kirsch a man of accomplished science, a former student of Robert Langdon, journeys to Spain to speak with religious scholars about a vital secret of his scientific discovery that will shake the foundations of the religious world-if you will. One of the men he speaks to is Bishop Antonia Valdespino-a formidable figure in Spain. A man-I can already tell-of great wisdom and intellect.

In the prologue, it is not told what the secret is and in the first chapter Langdon goes to meet Kirsch to hear what he has discovered. Of what little interaction I read between the two men, I found to be utterly interesting and I wanted to continue with the story…. Dan Brown has succeeded in capturing my attention in this excerpt and I am anxiously awaiting to read more. One other thing, Brown is great with character development and descriptive language.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

About the book:

Origin

A Novel by Dan Brown

Doubleday Books

Doubleday

General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & ThrillersPub Date 03 Oct 2017

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself . . . and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery . . . and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

Book Review: Friend Request by Laura Marshall

Friend Request II

MARIA WESTON WANTS TO BE FRIENDS. BUT MARIA WESTON’S DEAD. ISN’T SHE?

1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren’t. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria’s sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there’s more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what’s known to Maria–or whoever’s pretending to be her–is known to all.

My Thoughts:

When I finished this book, my whole perspective changed about social media and who you accept back into your life after years and years of not hearing from people. I kid you not. After I got through the first chapter I was completely creeped out but I couldn’t stay away. I HAD to know everything that was about to happen. A few times, I had to put the book down because of the suspenseful content. However, that is a good thing, right? I have to admit, I was pretty tense reading this story and as I understand it, this is the authors debut novel. Just, wow! Friend Request is just about the best thriller I have read all year.

The story reminded me how much teenagers can be so cruel and the consequences that come after by that cruelty. Louise boggled my mind as her story unfolds. She is an adult but is still very much stuck in the past and when the past comes a knocking full force, instead of just telling the truth to the police, she creates more danger for herself and the people around her. I’d have to say that is the thrill and suspense of the story however, and it was told really well. There were some twist and turns I didn’t see coming and the ending was so sad but a good conclusion to the story.

I will certainly be more careful what I share to the public!

I have obtained a review copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

I have rated this book four and a half stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins