Books Aplenty: March Reading Forecast

Normally, I do my best not to discuss which books I will read on any particular month because I believe I did that in December and I did not end up reading, The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel. Which irked me to say the least. That said, I’m thrilled with the selection of titles below and wanted to share them with you. Heck, us book bloggers love talking about books and sharing our excitement of what is to come. The year is still young and the reading forecast has been terrific thus far. I’m confident the pace will keep up.

There are thirty-one days in March, and I am hoping to read 10 books. You can find all these titles on goodreads, Amazon and at other booksellers. Lets’ take a look at the covers in this slideshow. -Stephanie Hopkins

Projected March Reads

A New York Secret (Daughters of New York Book 1) by Ella Carey

The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker

The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell

The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel

The Thin Place by C.D. Major

Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenbery

The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard Goldberg

The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

The Necklace by Matt Witten

Cheers to the Week Ahead

This weekend was strange and I didn’t have anything planned to blog about today. Do you ever have days like that? When even your favorite pastimes need a rest. If that makes any sense. I kind-of like that, “Pastimes need a rest.” That said, the weather has been really off that last few days and I haven’t been able to go for my strolls. I woke up this morning and looked out the window to discover the weather isn’t any better.

Yesterday was more productive and I created a page in my bullet journal and started another art project. Oh, and of course, got some reading time in. I definitely think my mind and soul need a rest and refuel.

“Weekends are days to refuel your soul and to be grateful for the blessings that you have.” — Unknown

Do you read multiple books at once? I know some people can’t and some people can’t only just read one at a time. Normally, I have several books going and spread them out during my day. Currently, I’m reading two books and listening to one through audible. Though, I must mention, that it took me quite a few years to program my brain to read more than just one book at a time.

Two of the books I’m currently reading are two that I’ve already read before. One I’m actually listening too and want to re-write my review. The third one is an ARC and it is quite a long read! I do have lots to say about that one already. Looking forward to the reading forecast ahead!

I want to wish you all a beautiful and adventurous week!

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: The Princess Spy: The True Story of World War II Spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones by Larry Loftis

Published February 9th 2021 by Atria Books

When Aline Griffith was born in a quiet suburban New York hamlet, no one had any idea that she would go on to live “a life of glamour and danger that Ingrid Bergman only played at in Notorious” (Time). As the US enters the Second World War, the young college graduate is desperate to aid in the war effort, but no one is interested in a bright-eyed young woman whose only career experience is modeling clothes.

Aline’s life changes when, at a dinner party, she meets a man named Frank Ryan and reveals how desperately she wants to do her part for her country. Within a few weeks, he helps her join the Office of Strategic Services—forerunner of the CIA. With a code name and expert training under her belt, she is sent to Spain to be a coder, but is soon given the additional assignment of infiltrating the upper echelons of society, mingling with high-ranking officials, diplomats, and titled Europeans, any of whom could be an enemy agent. Against this glamorous backdrop of galas and dinner parties, she recruits sub-agents and engages in deep-cover espionage to counter Nazi tactics in Madrid.

Even after marrying the Count of Romanones, one of the wealthiest men in Spain, Aline secretly continues her covert activities, being given special assignments when abroad that would benefit from her impeccable pedigree and social connections.

Filled with twists, romance, and plenty of white-knuckled adventures fit for a James Bond film, The Princess Spy brings to vivid life the dazzling adventures of a remarkable American woman who risked everything to serve her country.

My thoughts:

I’ve read a lot of World War II stories but I must say, The Princess Spy is the first book I’ve read, that really delves into the espionage world. The research alone that went into this book is impressive! I obtained a physical copy and enjoyed marking lots of details I want to go back and read and do a bit of my own research. I also enjoyed the images throughout the book. That was a nice touch and really helped bring it all to reality.

I don’t think I’ve paid attention to just how many different government agencies had spies in Europe during World War II until reading about it in these pages. Absoultuly fascinating and absorbing. I found it all incredible, really, because I’m still trying to wrap my head around the ins and outs of how it all worked. Could anyone? That said, Loftis does a marvelous job with drawing you in and gives you an understanding how much of it operated.

I’m impressed with Loftis taking on this project and telling Aline’s role during the war. Too often, throughout our history, women’s roles were largely ignored. She lived an astonishing life, and went from your average American girl to being a spy, and becoming friends with and related to the elitist society. I was amazed with how many people she knew and her, “schedule,” to say the least. The energy she had, I’m sure, is part of what made her a great spy. What a brave woman.

I immensely enjoyed reading about her friendship with Juanito Belmonte. He was a Spaniard and a wealthy Matader-Bullfighter who spotted Aline when she first arrived to Madrid and sought her out.

Before reading about Bullfighting in this book, I was turned off by the sport-if you will. Well, I’ve changed my mind and found the details of Bullfighting to being an art and intriguing.

Be sure to read the epilogue and notes at the back of the book. You’ll get more insight into the people Loftis wrote about and what he had left out.

A must read!

Stephanie Hopkins

My thanks to Artria Books for providing me with an ARC.

Book Review: Veiled in Smoke by Jocelyn Green

(The Windy City Saga #1)

Paperback, 416 pagesPublished February 4th 2020 by Bethany House Publishers

Meg and Sylvie Townsend manage the family bookshop and care for their father, Stephen, a veteran still suffering in mind and spirit from his time as a POW during the Civil War. But when the Great Fire sweeps through Chicago’s business district, they lose much more than just their store.

The sisters become separated from their father, and after Meg burns her hands in an attempt to save a family heirloom, they make a harrowing escape from the flames with the help of Chicago Tribune reporter Nate Pierce. Once the smoke clears away, they reunite with Stephen, only to learn soon after that their family friend not only died during the fire–he was murdered. Even more shocking, Stephen is charged with the crime and committed to the Cook County Insane Asylum.

Though homeless, injured, and suddenly unemployed, Meg must not only gather the pieces of her shattered life, but prove her father’s innocence before the asylum truly drives him mad.

My thoughts:

I’ve heard of the Great Fire in Chicago during that period but I don’t believe or can’t remember if I’ve read an historical fiction story that takes place during that time. I was delighted to come across, Veiled in Smoke and I had not read any of Green’s stories beforehand. Needless to say, I was unfamiliar with her work and was eager to delve in her world-building.

I have to say, while the introduction of the characters in the beginning was intriguing, the build-up to the day of the fire felt rushed and lacked a certain substance. I started to have doubts about this book but rallied on. The story didn’t take off until the fire broke out. At that very moment, I felt a shift in the structure of the storytelling and became immensely captivated. The telling of the fire itself and was outstanding and so realistic, you are completely transported to time and place.

I enjoyed reading about Meg and Sylvie’ life during this tragic event and the author does a marvelous job at creating sisterly tension and, at times, unease in their relationship. She also shows their love for each other, for their father and others.

Although different in many ways, Meg with her artistic ability and Sylvia with her love of books and independent in thought, they are both intelligent and they didn’t give up, despite their daunting predicaments. There are many life lessons to be learned with their story.

Banner by Stephanie Hopkins

Stephen’s suffering from Soldiers Heart AKA PTSD from his time as a POW in Andersonville is heartbreaking, yet, eye opening to read about. The Prison camp is reported to have been the largest prison for holding Union soldiers and its conditions are heartbreaking to say the least.

Having said that, there is a topic about how Andersonville was portrayed that I felt needed to be addressed in the story and wasn’t. I felt the subject a bit one sided and conveniently left out to drive a particular narrative about the South. The soldiers weren’t suffering entirely at the fault of people in charge of running the camps. The guards weren’t in much better shape due to the lack of supplies for all. As the war raged on, throughout the south, there was great suffering of starvation, death due to food shortages, water pollution, lack of clothing, disease, increase violence among the civilians, particularly to the females, and lack medicines. While it is known that the north managed prisons differently, both Union and Confederate, really, suffered deficiencies. There was also Lincoln’s blockade of the southern states that played a huge role in this problem.

I can’t say for certain what the author’s intentions were regarding this topic, but nonetheless, I have to say, this particular part slightly vexed me somewhat because I see this premise often in historical fiction and in our education system. That said, and to be fair, the author does give an indication of how the union prisoners treated each other in Andersonville and quite possibly she is portraying how a union solder’s mindset-at the time-probably was due to trauma experienced to drive the stories narrative. Another consideration is that writing a historical story is far more difficult than it appears. You can’t please everyone.

Years after the war, Stephen still struggles with PTSD. Then when Stephen is charged with a serious crime, that took place during the fire, and taken to the Cook Cunty Insane Asylum, would be anyone’s undoing. In one instance, when he arrived to the asylum, they reduced him to a number, stripping his identity to make him less human.

From previously reading about asylums during that period, I had already known what they were like but reading Stephen’s experience made it all too real and affected me in such a way, that even now, I’m still outraged and sadden over the ill treatment of patients in those places. It is absolutely appalling how he was treated and the lack of respect he was given for his service during the war. Even before he was put in that place. His struggles are deeply felt.

Despite what I said about the prison camp topic, I must confess that this is one of the better stories written I’ve read that takes place during post-civil war in the 19th Century. I have noted many passages that I found to be inspiring and I feel deeply about many of the characters.

Green weaves a compelling story of a family’s fight for survival and healing. She gives us a well-constructed insight into the lives of the characters, Stephen’s mental state and trauma the fire caused the city and its’ people. Overall, there are many elements to the story that make it a noble read.

Veiled in Smoke will be placed among my go-to 19th Century Historical Fiction reads and I look forward to reading the next book in this saga.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

Side note: If you are a fan of Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott, most likely you will enjoy this story a great deal!  

Book Review: The Sign of the Gallows (A Lucy Campion Mysteries, #5) by Susanna Calkins

About the book:

London, 1667. On her way to a new market to peddle her True Accounts and Strange News, printer’s apprentice Lucy Campion quickly regrets her decision to take the northwestern road. Dark and desolate, the path leads her to the crossroads – and to the old hanging tree. She doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she’s not sure ghosts don’t believe in her. But before she even reaches the crossroads, she’s knocked off her feet by two men in a hurry. What were they running from? To her dismay, she soon discovers for herself: there, dangling from the tree, is the body of a man. Did he commit self-murder, or is there something darker afoot? The more Lucy learns, the more determined she is to uncover the truth. But this time, even the help and protection of magistrate’s son Adam, and steadfast Constable Duncan, may not be enough to keep her safe from harm . . .

My thoughts:

Seventeenth Century, London was a calamity to say the least! With the century brought the Great fire of London, the plague and co-conspirators plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament including the King. My word, I’d say that in itself is brutal enough. However, there are other dark forces at work.

Author Susanna Calkins brings the century to life through her Campion series of murder, mayhem and intrigue. Lucy, finds herself in the center of another murder investigation and the search for the murderer reveals that there are darker forces at work.

Lucy is an apprentice-of sorts for a printer and bookseller, Master Aubrey. While all his staff are important to his business, I find Lucy to be the most spirited and undoubtedly clever at telling stories and selling book. I believe Aubrey know Lucy’s value and its why I think he gives her a pass quite to bit to aid in the investigation.  She is quite the social warrior and truly cares for people.

I’m really pleased with the support system Lucy’s has among her friends and formal employees, the Hardgraves. I admire the Hargraves respect and affection they have for Lucy despite their class distinction. What lively, caring and intelligent people.

Banner and painting by Stephanie Hopkins

Every single character in the story is fascinating and fun to read about, even the villains. Calkins does a marvelous job in showing the reasons people act on things due to their own situations in life. Regardless if we agree with them or not, its important to know the reasons. The human mind is an extortionary and often times, dark place. We can learn much from it.   

The investigation in the murder at the crossroads had lots of great twist and turns and it was an enjoyable read and one feels caught in trying to figure out who done it right along Lucy and the others.

The two men she ran into before making her way to the crossroads are something else. While their actions are suspicious at best, their grievance is understandable as the story unfolds.

I appreciate the story-line of Aubrey’s print shop and the reading material he sells. It has inspired me to look further into how books were printed during the 17th century.

I started this series at book four because I agreed to review it and find myself wanting to go back and read the first book and on…Despite that, I believe from the two books I’ve read, they are good stand-alone stories.

Calkins is a creative and imaginative story-teller and she weaves a story marvelously at a wonderful pace that keeps you engrossed. -Stephanie Hopkins

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

Review: A Death Along the River Fleet (Lucy Campion Mysteries #4) by Susanna Calkins

Book Review: In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

Banner by Stephanie Hopkins

In the Garden of Spite is an intriguing 19th and early 20th century historical fiction story with true crime leanings. Belle, formally known as Brynhild, is a Norwegian whose troubles in her homeland lead her to America where she joins her older sister Nellie in Chicago for a better life. When Nellie meets her at the train station, she is greeted by a less than cheerful sister and soon realizes that life with Belle isn’t a bed of roses.

People began to whisper about Belle and their suspicions of her, and bodies are piling up but that didn’t stop men from flocking to her! Longing for a life away from the city and to live on a farm, Belle gets her wish and sure enough, things get a lot more interesting.

But who is Belle Gunness?

Yeah, you’re really going to get to know her well by reading this book.

In the beginning of the story, I felt empathy for Belle. She was abused badly-to say the least-by the farmer’s son she worked for. Her family life was dysfunctional, stark, poverty-stricken, abusive and cruel. The people in her community did not look kindly on her family. Not long into the story my feelings for Belle took a turn when the she crosses over the forbidden boundary in taking a life.

What are the traits of a female serial killer? If you don’t already know, I think it is safe to say, you’ll discover quite a few of them in this tale.

Abstract by Stephanie Hopkins

Nellie observed troubling signs of Belle’s character when she was a child but never dreamed it would lead something so sinister. She can’t help but make excuses to herself to not take action. No one wants to think the worse of their kin.

As much as I tried to sympathize and understand Nellie’s inner turmoil, I struggled with the fact that when lives are being taken, she continued to be in a state of denial. Or was it fear? There are moments in life when you’ve got to stop making excuses for people. Murder would be one of them!

To make the story even more engrossing, Belle has a particular friend. His name is James Lee and they have a lot in common to say the least. It’s creepy how Belle and James discuss the killings so casually. Like it’s just a normal conversation about daily tasks and the like. It leaves you feeling quite unnerved yet morbidly fascinated. James is a bit of a mystery though. Other than being in Bella’s life, her support and a killer for hire, I often wondered how else he lived his life. Hmm…

The topic of serial killers’ is gruesome and some of the murder scenes in the book are a bit graphic, Bruce is careful not to delve too much into gory details in such a way, that it would be too disturbing to read. Her descriptions of the murderous acts, and Belle’s rationalizing the killings in her mind, gives you a clear picture of how truly wicked Belle is. Though Belle sees it differently. All she wants is a simple life, nice things, plenty of food on the table, a family that adores her and pig farm of her own. Is that too much to ask for?

I do enjoy reading true crime stories because I’m interested in the human mind. One can imagine psychological thrillers are not easy to write or research for that matter. You really have to dig deep in the minds of psychopaths if you want to be true to the subject. A scary place to be for sure, though not all of them are murderers, of course.. This is the first book I’ve read by Bruce and I must say, this sub-genre is her niche-if you will. Despite the daunting premise, she definitely had me on edge throughout the book in a bizarre, entertaining sort-of way. She is a great story-teller and one heck of a writer.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy of In the Garden of Spite from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Image of the Month: By the Water’s Edge

Photo taken by Stephanie Hopkins

The Lonely Stark Tree

The lonely stark tree impelled its roots deep into the soil by the water’s edge

Its branches stretch towards the greenish-blue water beckoning for a taste of its sweet sparkling mineral

Longing for spring’s rebirth, the lonely stark tree’s dormancy endures the southern winter season with strong viability

Though frail looking, the lonely stark tree bends and sways with the wind in song of seasons to come

Hold tight, be strong, your time to shine draws near

by Stephanie Hopkins

See also Lisl’s Image of the Month ~I’m Just Gonna Leave This Right Here

Copy Right 2021

The partial poems I share at Layered Pages are date stamped and part of a collection of poems that are being compiled into publish works.

Copy Right 2021

Images and poems are subjected to copyright.

In order to use any images or any written content on Layered Pages platform, you must seek permission from Stephanie Hopkins

C

What World Building Includes

Photo by Stephanie Hopkins

A Reader’s Perceptive

World building serves the purpose to establish, time period, location, landscape, climate, and cultural surroundings. Its foundation of these elements is important for the reader to be transported in the character’s world. By accomplishing this, a writer must research and understand the world they are creating. Saying where your story takes place and adding a few notable locations, and buildings, doesn’t cut it. Make the reader believe they are there.

Use the Senses

You want your readers to be fully engaged in your story. It is a must!

Examples: Do your readers hear the horse’s hoofs on the cobble stone road drawing near? Do they see the dense fog rolling in the city’s streets? Does the reader know the culture’s way of dress, social class norms and rules? What are the events happening in the period they are living in? Such as, how things are made, talked about, and what is the population like? How do they get along or what are their resources? The list goes on…

I read a great story recently but didn’t feel transported to the time period. Which made it harder to understand the character’s actions. World building is vital.

Stephanie Hopkins

Cover Crush: Painting the Light by Sally Cabot Gunning

About the Cover: I chose this cover because of the ocean and cliffs. A calming and beautiful scenery. How the light is shown from the sky. One can imagine the smell of salt air and feel of the breeze coming from the ocean.

About the book: This story takes place in my favorite period to read about and I love that Ida is an artist. During that time it wasn’t “done” for a woman to enroll in art classes.

Imagine living on a seaside farm. Though, ,sadly, it sounds if she is having to put her passion of art behind her to tend to her duties on the farm.

Oftentimes, art is drawn from tragedy and heart-break. I wonder and hope she finds her passion again. -Stephanie Hopkins

Book Description

William Morrow and Custom House

William Morrow

General Fiction (Adult) Historical Fiction |Literary Fiction

Pub Date 01 Jun 2021

From the critically acclaimed author of Monticello and The Widow’s War comes a vividly rendered historical novel of love, loss, and reinvention, set on Martha’s Vineyard at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Martha’s Vineyard, 1898. In her first life, Ida Russell had been a painter. Five years ago, she had confidently walked the halls of Boston’s renowned Museum School, enrolling in art courses that were once deemed “unthinkable” for women to take, and showing a budding talent for watercolors.

But no more. Ida Russell is now Ida Pease, resident of a seaside farm on Vineyard Haven, and wife to Ezra, a once-charming man who has become an inattentive and altogether unreliable husband. Ezra runs a salvage company in town with his business partner Mose Barstow, but he much prefers their nightly card games at the local pub to his work in their Boston office, not to mention filling haystacks and tending sheep on the farm at home—duties that have fallen to Ida and their part-time farmhand Lem. Ida, meanwhile, has left her love for painting behind.

It comes as no surprise to Ida when Ezra is hours late for a Thanksgiving dinner, only to leave abruptly for another supposedly urgent business trip to Boston. But then something truly unthinkable happens: a storm strikes, and the Portland sinks. Ezra and Mose are presumed dead.

In the wake of this shocking tragedy, Ida must settle the affairs of Ezra’s estate, a task that brings her to a familiar face from her past—Henry Barstow, Mose’s brother and executor. As she joins Henry in sifting through the remnants of her husband’s life and work, Ida must learn to separate truth from lies and what matters from what doesn’t.

Painting the Light is an arresting portrait of a woman, and a considered meditation on loss and love.

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

before the second sleep cover crush

Stephanie Hopkins

Layered Pages Top 2020 Reads

Favorite Books Read in 2020

Last year my Goodreads challenge was to read twenty fiction books. I surpassed that goal and read thirty. However, I read more than thirty books. Beyond that was research books for my writing project and other research projects. I did not count those on goodreads because I’m continually referring to them.

The fiction books below are my top favorite reads, though not in a particular order. This year’s reading goal is much bigger. I will be talking about that more a little later on. What were your favorite 202 reads? -Stephanie Hopkins

Top Favorites

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

Be sure to check these titles out on Goodreads and Amazon!

Favorite Covers:

Here are my favorite covers out of the bunch. Which covers do you like?