March: Book Round-Up

Stephanie Hopkins

Well, in my Books Aplenty: March Reading Forecast post, I discussed ten books I selected to read in March. I was I am hoping to read ten books if other projects didn’t get in the way. Umm…other projects got in the way. In the back of my mind, I knew this would happen. Around March is when I tend to feverishly get the crafting bug! There is so much to be inspired by the spring season. Yup, I got my art on. However, I did read six books and that is pretty darn good considering how much time I spent on art.  

Despite not reading all the books I had projected, I’m quite pleased that I’m still reading an average of one to two books per week. That is the point. To read and keep reading. Also, it really helped me be less indecisive in which book to chose next. There really is something to say about being organized and making a list. -Stephanie Hopkins

Number of pages read in March: 1,998

Lots of book reviews coming up soon! How many books did you read for March? Do share!

Here are the titles I’ve read for March and the review post dates:

A New York Secret (Daughters of New York Book 1) by Ella Carey – -My book review HERE

The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker – Book review on April 1st

Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenbery -Book review on April 5th

The Family Plot by Megan Collins – Book review on August 12th

The Silent Girl by Kelly Heard- Book review on April 9th

The Necklace by Matt Witten – Book review on September 6th

Be sure to check out my art journey on Instagram and at my Mixed Media Art gallery here at Layered Pages! My wish is for you to be inspired and encouraged.

Image of the Month: Spring

Photo by Stephanie Hopkins

Spring won’t let me stay in this house any longer! I must get out and breathe the air deeply again. – Gustav Mahler

I love the colors and new blooms that spring brings and how they present new beginnings. I’m blessed to live in a beautiful neighborhood that has walking trails. There are so many beautiful sceneries and it’s wonderful to see so many people enjoy the neighborhood as well. You often see people walking their dogs, kids riding their bikes, fishing at the pond, feeding the ducks and families walking together. Looking forward to the weather warming up even more to get outdoors more often. -Stephanie Hopkins

February’s Image of the Month: Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Proserpine

Be sure to take a look at January’s Image of the Month: By the Water’s Edge. I include half of a poem I have written.

Check out my art journey on Instagram and at my Mixed Media Art gallery here at Layered Pages! My wish is for you to be inspired and encouraged.

Book Spotlight: The Family Plot by Megan Collins

A secluded island mansion deep in the woods and a missing teen. Years after a death in the family, they make a gruesome discovery. I would say this family has been through it and then some!

Mystery/thriller stories are among my favorite genres to read! With the right elements, or pieces like a puzzle, you watch the mystery unfold and develop to the very end. Or would it be, develop and then unfold? Either way, along with other fellow readers and bloggers, I’m excited about this book coming out! Thank you, Atria Books for a copy.

Now it’s time to go grab that second cup of coffee. It is going to be a reading marathon the next two days! What are your bookish plans this weekend? Happy reading! -Stephanie Hopkins

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

Atria Books

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 17 Aug 2021  

Description

When a family obsessed with true crime gathers to bury their patriarch, horrifying secrets are exposed upon the discovery of another body in his grave in this chilling novel from the author of Behind the Red Door and The Winter Sister.

At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse remains haunted by her upbringing. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she has been unable to move beyond the disappearance of her twin brother, Andy, when they were sixteen.

After several years away and following her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house where the family soon makes a gruesome discovery: buried in their father’s plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Dahlia is quick to blame Andy’s murder on the serial killer who terrorized the island for decades, while the rest of the Lighthouses react to the revelation in unsettling ways. Her brother, Charlie, pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister, Tate, forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic facade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

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

January: Book Round-Up

This year’s reading started off with a bang! I got through ten books and that is a current record for me. It has been a long time since I’ve read that many in a month. This is encouraging since my goal is to read 100 books this year. Who knows? I might surpass that goal. My original goal was to read a book a week but I knew I could read more than that with the great selection of books that are coming out and what novels I have on my shelf at home.

I am also making a point to read books that I would normally not pick up. Two of the books are young adults’ books. I must confess, I didn’t enjoy them as much as I thought I would. The story-telling just wasn’t to my taste and I struggled to stay focused. Having said that, I’m not giving up the genre. My daughter has a few on her shelf that I want to give a go at.

Today I’m sharing the books I read this month. Two of them where audio books I listened to through YouTube. Three of the books I’ve read before and I’ve read them more than four times! There will be four books reviews in total. My review for, The Garden of Spite and The Signs of the Gallows will be posted next week.

Last but not least, Robert Frost’s Selected Poems, which I adore. If you want to practice writing poetry, read Frost and other poets. Reading Poetry teaches language, ideas and meaning. Writing poetry allows us to explore the world that reaches beyond the limitations of our senses. There is a whole other world out there that poetry gives us.  One can say that about reading it as well. The subject of poetry is an endless delight of wonders. -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

Coming up tomorrow at Layered Pages: Image of the Month and Poetry!

By the Water’s Edge Art Work by 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?

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?

Book Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…

My thoughts:

Simone St. James is among my favorite suspense writers and when I spotted this book on NetGalley, I might have almost fell out of my desk chair. I was overjoyed! I must confess I read the story last year and for whatever reason I failed to write a review. I do remember having a few issues with it and I couldn’t remember some details of the story. This prompted me to read the story again for a fresh start.

St. James is brilliant at setting the stage for a creepy story! Reading Sun Down Motel definitely gives one pause about staying in a road side motel! The location and the people of the story are intriguing and you do sympathize with their troubles. Like the first time reading the book, the second time around, I still had trouble with some parts that were dragging. I felt there were too much detail in the telling and not enough showing. Maybe that is just me.

Viv and Carly’s story were so similar that at times, I became confused who I was reading about. Maybe it was because of the lapse of time when I wasn’t reading the story? Not so much the second time around.

There was a scene in the story where I guessed what happened to Viv. It actually was a small detail and I was actually surprised to pick up on it. Towards the climax the story started to weaken and I was really disappointed in the ending. It fell completely flat in my opinion.

Don’t allow my thoughts on Sun Down Motel sway you from not reading this story. It is a good premise, atmospheric and over all I enjoyed it.

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

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Banner Created by Stephanie

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