Book Review: The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Published February 2nd 2021 by Berkley Books

Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant so desperate to get out of a New York tenement that she answers a mail-order bride ad and agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. San Francisco widower Martin Hocking proves to be as aloof as he is mesmerizingly handsome. Sophie quickly develops deep affection for Kat, Martin’s silent five-year-old daughter, but Martin’s odd behavior leaves her with the uneasy feeling that something about her newfound situation isn’t right.

Then one early-spring evening, a stranger at the door sets in motion a transforming chain of events. Sophie discovers hidden ties to two other women. The first, pretty and pregnant, is standing on her doorstep. The second is hundreds of miles away in the American Southwest, grieving the loss of everything she once loved.

The fates of these three women intertwine on the eve of the devastating earthquake, thrusting them onto a perilous journey that will test their resiliency and resolve and, ultimately, their belief that love can overcome fear.

My thoughts:

The Nature of Fragile Things is without a doubt, my favorite book by Meissner. The different elements and themes are engaging and her story is unique, and although you are transported to time and place, you feel connected to the characters as if they were living today.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake devastated the city and left well over 200,000 homeless and a high death toll. A fire broke out and quickly spread through parts of the city making it even more unsafe. Meissner’s historical telling of the earthquake and fire is wonderfully woven into the story.

What I liked most about Sophie is that she is a complex protagonist. She is not what you would call a goody-two-shoe heroine, but a woman with flaws and at times, doubt is cast about her motives and her life. Meissner steps out of the norm of one- dimensional characters I often see in stories. Readers need to see the characters battle their own demons, grow and learn from them. You get that and more from this story.

A compelling story blended with history and fiction.

I couldn’t put this book down.

Stephanie Hopkins

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

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

Random House Publishing Group

Ballantine Books

Historical Fiction

Pub Date 30 Mar 2021

About the Book:

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Hopkins

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

Learning to Speak Southern

What are you up to now, Stephanie?

On NetGalley, often times, book reviewers can, “wish-for,” books to review. When I spotted, “Learning to Speak Southern,” I knew this one was for me. Ha!

Why?

For several reasons really. I’m a southern girl, I love journaling, writing and family is very important to me. Oh, and I love the cover of this book!

Did the publishers grant your wish?

Yes! I was quite surprised really. I usually old my breath when I wish for a book. So delighted and thankful.

I thought you are trying to catch up on your back-list? What are you thinking?

Err…I am. I promise. This one looked too good to pass up. I know, I know…I can’t keep doing this. In my defense, Sourcebooks rarely disappoints in their reading selection and looking at my back-list, I’ve realized I’ve put myself in a corner of-sorts with my selection. One needs options so you don’t get burned out. That is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Thank you, Sourcebooks Landmark for a galley copy of this story! Looking forward to diving in very soon. -Stephanie Hopkins   

Learning to Speak Southern

by Lindsey Rogers Cook

SOURCEBOOKS Landmark

General Fiction (Adult) | Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 01 Jun 2021 

Description

A searing Southern story about confronting the difference between the family you’re born into and the family you choose, from the acclaimed author of How to Bury Your Brother

Lex fled Memphis years ago, making ends meet with odd jobs teaching English around the world. She only returns when she has no choice, when her godmother presents her with a bargain she can’t refuse. Lex has never understood her mother, who died tragically right before Lex’s college graduation, but now she’s got a chance to read her journals, to try and figure out what sent her mother spiraling all those years ago.

The Memphis that Lex inhabits is more bourbon and bbq joint than sweet tea on front porches, and as she pieces together the Memphis her mother knew, seeing the lure of the world through her mother’s lush writing, she must confront more of her own past and the people she left behind. Once all is laid bare, Lex must decide for herself: What is the true meaning of family?

Balance Rock Moab Utah

 

Balance Rock Edited

By Stephanie Hopkins 2020

My artistic rendition of Balance Rock in Moab, Utah inspired of Walker Scott Moore’s photo taken at night.

When creating the sky, I envisioned illimitable depth and movement. I am pleased with the results! I took pictures of this piece in different lights and the camera captures the many layers of colors of the night sky in each location I took the shot. It’s truly astonishing how viewing this art piece from different angles reveals another layer or change-if you will- of color in the night sky. Having said that, I used my ancient phone camera to take the pictures and it really doesn’t do the painting justice.

The rock formation was my biggest challenge and I enjoyed exploring this technique in creating landscape. I have used paste before in my art projects but not to this extent. I have learned a lot with this piece-as I do with all my art-and look forward in seeing where my next big project takes me.

BalancingRock_Milkyway01

Photo Taken by Walker Scott More

To see more of Scott’s photography, please visit his website at WSM Photography

“Balanced Rock is one of the most popular features of Arches National Park, situated in Grand County, Utah, United States. Balanced Rock is located next to the park’s main road, at about 9.2 miles (14.8 km) from the park entrance. It is one of only a few prominent features clearly visible from the road.” -Wikipedia

Close Up Shots

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My process

I used wood from my Father’s wood shop and cut the wood to size and sanded it for a smooth surface. I believe the wood I used is Birch and it was great to work with.

I collage the front and sides of the wood with outdated dictionary paper and used Matte Medium to adhere the paper. When dried I applied two coats of Gesso, allowing each layer of coat to dry. Then sketched the rock formation and tower with a regular number two pencil.

I used Ranger Ink Grit Paste for the texture of the rocks. As that was drying I painted Sky with Teals, Purples and several shades of Blues and used Matte, Satin and Gloss Acrylics. Then painted the rocks with blends of Raw Sienna, Cadmium Red, Burnt Sienna, Milk White, Black and Yellow OCHRE. Through this process I added White Gesso at times to help with the look of movement I wanted to crate and to lighten some of the colors for depth. Gesso is also good for helping with the spread of paint which was needed since I was painting over collage.

After the sky and towers were completely dried, I added the stars by using Platinum White Acrylic mixed with a little water. The Acrylic Varnish is the last step and it is  important to wait a few days until applying. The mediums used in the painting need time to set properly. I’m not sure I will apply the Acrylic Varnish to the rock formation seeing as I used paste. I need to research that a bit more first being sealing it. Having said that, there are several layers of paint on the paste so I wonder…

The Brands of Acrylic Paints I used for this project are Golden, Liquitex, Master’s Touch and Folk Art.

Gesso and Matte Medium by Liquitex

-Stephanie

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Images are subjected to copyright. In order to use art images, photos or any content on Layered Pages website, please ask permission from Stephanie Hopkins

The Fight for Freedom

Founding Fathers ILast Friday my Father brought me a copy of National Geographic, “Founding Fathers” edition. I was quote surprised and overjoyed! I love U.S. History and thought it was cool my Father thought of me when he came across this magazine. At first, I flipped through the pages and liked what I saw. There are several articles and stunning images. There are also three titles history book titles on the back that I want to check out.

Founding fathers IIMy Father pulled at my heart strings with this treasure. Every night since, I read an article and closely examine the images. There are a lot of information I’m learning or had forgotten. A few of the images has inspired me to create art based on our countries history.

Founding Fathers IIIIWhat has always impressed upon me about our Founding Fathers, is that despite the fact they were all different in many ways, they shared a common ideology. A government for the people and by the people.  An idea that no other country had been able to do before. These men came together knowing it was treason to go up against the crown-with courage-fought for the very freedoms we hold dear today.

People today need to know and understand how important our constitution is and how extraordinary the lengths our Founders went to for all of us and future generations to come. -Stephanie Hopkins

Happy 4th of July

USA FLAG

“This flag, which we honor and under which we serve, is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours. It floats in majestic silence above the hosts that execute those choices, whether in peace or in war. And yet, though silent, it speaks to us — speaks to us of the past, or the men and women who went before us, and of the records they wrote upon it.”-President Woodrow Wilson, 1917

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The essence of America—that which really unites us—is not ethnicity, or nationality, or religion. It is an idea—and what an idea it is: that you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. That it doesn’t matter where you came from, but where you are going.- Condoleezza Rice

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

This is one of many Collage Art Journal pages I created in April. It holds a lot of meaning to me and its powerful. I really enjoyed creating these two pages. The image of the girl is from a art magazine I subscribed to a few years ago. I believe she had a British flag image where I placed the Liberty Bell Stamp.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Art Journal Pages by Stephanie Hopkins

A Life Liberty II Edited

(Images may be subjected to copyright. All book reviews, interviews, guest posts, art work, photos and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie.)

Sons of Blackbird Mountain (Blackbird Mountain #1) by Joanne Bischof

I started this story last night and so far so good! -Stephanie

Sons of Blackbird MountainAfter the tragic death of her husband, Aven Norgaard is beckoned to give up her life in Norway to become a housekeeper in the rugged hills of nineteenth-century Appalachia. Upon arrival, she finds herself in the home of her late husband’s cousins—three brothers who make a living by brewing hard cider on their three-hundred-acre farm. Yet even as a stranger in a foreign land, Aven has hope to build a new life in this tight-knit family.

But her unassuming beauty disrupts the bond between the brothers. The youngest two both desire her hand, and Aven is caught in the middle, unsure where—and whether—to offer her affection. While Haakon is bold and passionate, it is Thor who casts the greatest spell upon her. Though Deaf, mute, and dependent on hard drink to cope with his silent pain, Thor possesses a sobering strength.

As autumn ushers in the apple harvest, the rift between Thor and Haakon deepens and Aven faces a choice that risks hearts. Will two brothers’ longing for her quiet spirit tear apart a family? Can she find a tender belonging in this remote, rugged, and unfamiliar place?

A haunting tale of struggle and redemption, Sons of Blackbird Mountain is a portrait of grace in a world where the broken may find new life through the healing mercy of love.

A Stranger Here Below (Gideon Stoltz #1) by Charles Fergus

astrangerherebelow

A Stranger Here Below (Gideon Stoltz #1)

by Charles Fergus

Hardcover, 304 pages

Expected publication: March 19th 2019

I just added this to my wish-list. I love the simplicity of the book cover and yet at the same time there is so much more to image. The scenery in the image draws me in…  It gives you an atmospheric feel of a mysterious primitive time in the past. I hope this story delivers because it sounds utterly fantastic and it take place in one of my all-time favorite periods. -Stephanie M Hopkins

About the book:

 

For fans of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series, a fabulous historical mystery series set in early America. 

Set in 1835 in the Pennsylvania town of Adamant, Fergus’s first novel in a new mystery series introduces Sheriff Gideon Stoltz, who, as a young deputy, is thrust into his position by the death of the previous sheriff. Gideon faces his first real challenge as death rocks the small town again when the respected judge Hiram Biddle commits suicide. No one is more distraught than Gideon, whom the old judge had befriended as a mentor and hunting partner. Gideon is regarded with suspicion as an outsider: he’s new to town, and Pennsylvania Dutch in the back-country Scotch-Irish settlement. And he found the judge’s body.

Making things even tougher is the way the judge’s death stirs up vivid memories of Gideon’s mother’s murder, the trauma that drove him west from his home in the settled Dutch country of eastern Pennsylvania. He had also discovered her body.

At first Gideon simply wants to learn why Judge Biddle killed himself. But as he finds out more about the judge’s past, he realizes that his friend’s suicide was spurred by much more than the man’s despair. Gideon’s quest soon becomes more complex as it takes him down a dangerous path into the past.