Book Review: Smoke and Mirrors by Casey Daniels

Smoke and Mirrors IIAbout the book:

Expected publication: November 1st 2017 by Severn House Publishers

Evie Barnum is in charge of her brother’s museum, a place teeming with scientific specimens and “human prodigies” including a bearded woman and the lizard man. In this weird and whacky workplace, Evie hopes she can bury her secrets.

But when an old friend shows up and begs for her help, she does all she can to stay away. The next time she sees him, he is dead in front of the exhibit of the Feejee Mermaid. Suspicion for the murder falls on Jeffrey, known as the Lizard Man, but Evie knows it isn’t possible.

When Jeffrey also goes missing, Evie becomes determined to solve the mystery of her friend’s murder, even if it brings her face to face with her past…

My thoughts:

A few years ago, my daughter and I were visiting relatives in Florida and we went to a museum of Oddities. Certain aspects of it held my fascination and some I found to be downright creepy. In Smoke and Mirrors, Evie’s brother Phin features human prodigies. This story-line captured my attention immediately and I knew I had to read this book! Of course, it did help that this story is a murder mystery in 19th Century New York. What’s not to love?

Evie and Phin are interesting characters and their intellect and intriguing fascination for what many consider “strange and unusual”-if you will, gives depth and meaning to the story. Not in a negative way, mind you- but in a positive light. I am hoping we will see more of this subject in future stories from the author.

The mystery surrounding Evie’s friend being murdered and how Daniels weaves the tale of Evie’s determination to uncover the horrendous crime is intriguing and had me reading long into the evening and kept me guessing who it was, though I had my suspicions’. Did I guess who? I’m not telling.

Time and place is important when writing a period piece and I did not feel pulled into the era quite so fully. Another thing that sort of bothered me was there are a few loose ends about a few of the character’s and that had me thinking there was a book before this one about their back stories and relationships. After I finished reading the book, I went on-line to check and was quite surprised I was wrong and that this book is the first in the Miss Evie Barnum Mysteries Series. Nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I will be on the lookout for more of Evie’s mysteries and hope to see more back story revealed!

I obtained an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) from NetGalley and Severn House for my honest opinion.

I rated this book three and a half stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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Book Review: Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino IslandA gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.

Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts.

Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous offer of money convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s circle of literary friends, ideally getting close enough to him to learn his secrets.

But eventually Mercer learns far too much, and there’s trouble in paradise as only John Grisham can deliver it.

My thoughts:

I had great hopes for this book but the further I got into it, I became disappointed somewhat. Not to say I didn’t enjoy it at all but there are some things I need to point out.

Problems with the story:

  1. The character development needed to be much stronger. There was not one character I could connect too or particularly liked.
  2. Too much telling and not enough showing
  3. The premise is great but the overall story-telling is weak.
  4. The plot was too weak.
  5. This is not Grisham’s best story and I question the writing style-too breezy- and if someone else actually wrote it.

I would have liked to have read about Mercer sitting down trying to write a scene out and showing her frustrations of writer’s block. I think that would have been more realistic and would have made her character stronger and given that story-line a more polished feel. Not to give spoiler, in that regard the ending fell flat to me for reasons of her writer’s block. You’ll just have to read the story to understand what I’m saying. I would like to discuss it with someone when they read the book.

Things I liked about the story:

  1. I like the premise of valuable manuscripts being stolen and racing to finding out who done it and its recovery.
  2. Going undercover is a big risk. Especially for a civilian. That was interesting to read about.
  3. The setting of the story-an Island off of Florida. Nice touch.
  4. The bookstore-Love it when books and book people revolve around stories.
  5. The local literary circle-When writers get together to talk shop or take shots at each other. That was fun to read about.

Overall, this book could have potentially been a fantastic story. Too bad it fell short for me.

I recommend this book for a light read and I will be interested in seeing what a few of my friends come away with this story.

I have rated this story a generous three stars.

Four stars for the book cover.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

 

Book Review: Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

Golden HillGolden Hill

A Novel of Old New York

by Francis Spufford

Scribner

General Fiction (Adult)

New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan island, 1746. One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat arrives at a counting house door on Golden Hill Street: this is Mr. Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion shimmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge sum, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he is planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money. Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?

My thoughts:

I was thrilled when I picked up this book to read and review. It seemed to have everything I have been looking for in a story. Male protagonist, an early New York setting, intrigue, and a mystery of a man no one knows and everyone is talking about him. When people meet him he is intelligent and speaks eloquently but gives very little of himself away. Meanwhile, as he waits for his “thousand pounds” to be legitimized-if you will-he meets many interesting people and gets himself into some trouble.

The major points in the story for me was the beautiful prose, brilliantly drawn characters and time and place of the story. However, I will have to say as I got further into the book the prose was getting to be too much and it seemed to take away from the plot and my eyes started to gaze over somewhat.  To me there are too many unnecessary prose in the book that did not enhance the story-line however “literary” people might find Golden Hill.

Overall the plot needed to have more substance and to be fleshed out more. Having said all this, I am rating this book three stars and five stars for the cover.

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

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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#CoverCrush The Thousand Lights Hotel by Emylia Hall

Cover Crush banner

I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

The Thousand Lights HotelThe Thousand Lights Hotel by Emylia Hall

Pub Date 13 Jul 2017

THE THOUSAND LIGHTS HOTEL is the gorgeous new novel from Emylia Hall, author of Richard & Judy Summer Pick THE BOOK OF SUMMERS. Set in idyllic Italy, it’s the perfect holiday read, for fans of Louise Douglas and Hannah Richell.

When Kit loses her mother in tragic circumstances, she feels drawn to finally connect with the father she has never met. That search brings her to the Thousand Lights Hotel, the perfect holiday escape perched upon a cliff on the island of Elba. Within this idyllic setting a devastating truth is brought to light: shaking the foundations upon which the hotel is built, and shattering the lives of the people within it.

A heartbreaking story of loss, betrayal, and redemption, told with all the warmth and beauty of an Italian summer.

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As I’ve said before,  I am drawn by the ocean and stories that take place near them. I am a Florida native by birth and grew up near beaches and went often. Still do when I get the chance. Those were some of the happiest moments of my life.  The smell of the salty air, the warmth of the sun, the ocean breeze, the sounds of the seagulls and the waves as they break at the shore line. Just to relax in the sun and stare out at the ocean while your mind is reflective. The ocean gives one such a calming effect. When there is not a storm of course! There is a saying for people like me, “I have sand between my toes.” Anyhow, I am getting way off topic here.

As you can tell, I really like this cover and its scenic view. The title is appealing as well. As you have read in the book description, there are sad moments and hopefully happy ones. Will this book make for a good summer read? Well, that is something you will have to find out entirely on your own but who knows, I might pick it up.

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Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation

More cover crushes over at indieBRAG!

An Epic & Gritty Historical Fiction Series by Melissa Lenhardt

me-iiYesterday I posted about a series I discovered and how starting a series for me is a big commitment due to the overload of books I have to review. As you know, I stumbled across The Journals of Matthew Quinton Series. It looks so inviting and adventurous. Alas, after posting about it I jumped over to my Amazon account to check a few things and I saw that two more books have been written about a story I read and reviewed called, Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt. I absolutely enjoyed the story! I rated it five stars and gave it a glowing review. I actually cheered when I saw that there were two more books and at the same time, sighed in a bit of frustration. I want more time in the day to get through all the books I want to read! Gah! *laughing* Dare I rearrange my reading priorities or stick to what I have and if I get through the ones I need to review first and read two books from the series I mentioned yesterday, then I can reward myself with the next two books following Sawbones? *Phew, that was a long sentience* Yes, that sounds like a good plan to me.  Meanwhile, take a look at my review of Sawbones and check out the other two books that follow it. By the way…I LOVE the covers!

Sawbones IISawbones (Laura Elliston #1)

Wrongfully accused of murder, Dr. Catherine Bennett is destined to hang… unless she can disappear.
With the untamed territory of Colorado as her most likely refuge, she packs her physician’s kit and heads West. But even with a new life and name, a female doctor with a bounty on her head can hide for only so long.

My Review:

I am really not all that interested in reading westerns. I never have been but when I saw this book and the title, it grabbed my attention. It really struck a cord with me.

Now, I feel the book description needs to be expanded on. Though even with writing this review, I was trying to work out how to pull what was not mentioned into my review without giving spoilers.

SAWBONES is a story you can talk about in several different ways. That is how diverse the themes are in the story. Having said that, those themes all come together and in such a dramatic way. The author did an incredible job with that. I was spell bounded.

First I’d like to mention a notable historical character in the story. William Tecumseh Sherman served as a General in the Union Army during the American Civil War. After burning everything in Georgia and the burning of Atlanta, I really didn’t care learning much about him after that particular information in our history. Though many people found him as an outstanding commander, I found his policies and actions deplorable. Though he plays a small roll in SAWBONES, his larger-than-life presence makes a big impression on me. Also, it was really interesting because I did not know anything about his tours of the Texas Forts after the Civil War. Now, I would like to find out more about that and I have the author of this book to thank for this.

As you will read in the book description, Catherine Bennett is wrongly accused of murder and flees out west to the untamed territories of Colorado and on that journal she experiences yet another life altering moment. Catherine paralyzed with fear, witnesses the massacre of the companions she is traveling with. The author does not shy away from describing the carnage done by the Comanche. This is only the beginning of the tragedies that struck her and the people she loves and conflicts she will witness and endure.

As a female doctor-rare of her time and not widely accepted, she is determined to prove her value and intelligence in a man’s world. I was particular drawn to her achievements of becoming a doctor and how the author portrayal Catherine’s moments of practicing medicine. They are empowering and defining.

There are many other wonderful characters in this story and the author has such a discerning writing style for their value to enrich a story.

SAWBONES had me emotionally invested, and ignited my imagination. The author is truly a gifted story-teller and I look forward to reading more of her work.

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Blood OathBlood Oath (Laura Elliston #2)

Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this action-packed follow up to Sawbones.

Laura Elliston and William Kindle are on the run — from the Army and from every miscreant in the West eager to claim the $500 bounty for Laura’s capture as their own. But the danger isn’t just from those pursuing them. Laura and Kindle have demons of their own and a past that won’t stay dead. Exhausted, scared, scarred and surrounded by enemies, neither realize the greatest danger is yet to come

 

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BadlandsBadlands (Laura Elliston #3)

Laura’s worst fears have been realized: Kindle has been taken into custody and she is once again on the run. The noose awaits her in New York, but Laura is realizing that there are some things worse than death. Finally running out of places to hide, it may be time for Dr. Catherine Bennett to face her past.

Manic Monday and Weekend Mystery

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As we all know Mondays can be pretty manic and generally I look forward to Mondays nonetheless. This past weekend, Georgia had its first snow of the year-more like snow turned to ice-and left many trapped indoors for an entire two days. I’m not complaining though, it was a great time to catch up on shows, movies, format blog posts, drink lots of tea and talk with friends via social media about books. Alas, no reading for me. I know. I’m shocked myself. Let me explain why. Book reviewers can often go through a reading funk. Having so many books to get through and often times feeling like you are reading much of the same stuff, one can get frustrated. Well, that is me at the moment. Okay, I have to admit it’s been increasingly getting to a boiling point with me and so far the books I have selected and read this year has not been a good beginning for the new year. I have three books to write a review for that I was less than satisfied with. My main complaint with these stories is that there is no depth to the characters and not enough back ground information to really get to know them. One must get to know the character in order to sympathize and relate to them. Furthermore, the plots were weak and contrived.

With that said, I even wish agents and publishers would accept more stories with male protagonists. I’m also tired of seeing stereotypical characters. More so in the male roles. Another thing that concerns me is that the market to think that women just want to read about other women and their issues. It’s time for some changes. Yes, I said it and feel relieved to finally express my feelings about this. Agents and publishers, if you are reading this, I hope you take this into consideration. When a female author pitches a story to you with a male protagonist, please accept it! I can confirm I am not alone with this. Many of my fellow book bloggers and friends are right there with me.

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Having feeling this way and wanting to find something to get out of my reading funk; I then asked my friends, co-bloggers and author friends for some mystery titles with male protagonist. I posted this request on my Facebook wall. In the HNS Facebook Group and on twitter. The recommendations came flooding in and what great conversations it made! Soon I will be sharing those titles with you. I am currently arranging them in a file and formatting the post. I might do a series of them. Be sure to be on the lookout for that! I am really hoping this will get me out of my reading funk. We will see. Ha!

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Today I have lots of blogging things to do! I have a ton of interview questions to get out, answering emails, book promoting, draft two book reviews and turn them in. This doesn’t include all my other responsibilities that I have today…Whew! Here is hoping to a productive day! I know many of you can relate! More on my thoughts as a reader coming in the near future. Stay tuned.

Have a wonderful bookish week and be sure to come back every day this week to Layered Pages for some great posts!

Take a look and follow these amazing book bloggers! They do a tremendous job in supporting authors and books.

Flashlight Commentary

The Maiden’s Court

A Bookaholic Swede

A Literary Vacation

Let Them Read Books

2 Kids and Tired Books

Celticlady’s Reviews

A Bookish Affair

Thank you for visiting Layered Pages! Hop on ever to check out my post on a readers’s voice over at my BlogSpot

Stephanie M. Hopkins

One Reader’s Voice Out Loud

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

Manic Monday & Bookish Delights

me-iiAs we all know Mondays can be pretty manic and generally I look forward to Monday’s nonetheless. Last Friday I normally post my Bookish Happenings but I decided to take a day off and this past weekend I was able to read some in-between shopping for Christmas and what-not.

I was really hoping to start reading, Roma Amor by Sherry Christie this weekend but I am still working on finishing up another story. I won Sherry Christie’s book in a giveaway on-line. Hopefully by Wednesday I can. So many books…so little time…

 Check out my book review for Girl In Disguise by Greer MacAllister HERE and my review for Ruler of The Night by David Morrell HERE

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Be sure to check out and follow these amazing book bloggers! They do a tremendous job in supporting authors and books.

Flashlight Commentary

The Maiden’s Court

A Bookaholic Swede

A Literary Vacation

Let Them Read Books

2 Kids and Tired Books

Celticlady’s Reviews

Reading the Past

A Bookish Affair

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This week at indieBRAG, there will be special posts from our readers and authors starting today through Friday HERE

And don’t forget to check out the great selections of books from indieBRAG! They make great holiday gifts!

Thank you for visiting Layered Pages today and please be sure to come back tomorrow for a great interview with Award Winning Author Helena Schrader! She has recently won a B.R.A.G. Medallion for her book, Envoy of Jerusalem.

Stephanie Moore Hopkins