Book Review: The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

About the book:

Expected publication: April 13th 2021 by Lake Union Publishing

Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.

It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever.

Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins. 

My thoughts:

When we hear of Venice, we think of, art, music, festivals, food, religion, beautiful architecture and the Grand Canal. In the late 1930’s there was a war looming but many of the people of Venice thought surely with their rich culture, and Mussolini’s pact with Germany, they wouldn’t be affected

Juliet “Lettie” Browning, an English woman, is a woman of strength and courage. The life she experienced and saw during her stay in Venice were during uncertain times. Her will to behave uprightly puts her in many dangers but her resilience is an example to us all. I will say at times I felt that she might be too perfect to be true but those thoughts didn’t take away my admiration of kindness towards others.

I enjoyed reading about the people Juliet met and formed relationships with in Venice. They are such extraordinary people in their own unique ways, you begin to feel kinship to them. The author’s character development is superb.

As an artist I appreciate the author’s focus on much of the arts in Venice. Reading about the people’s love and their understanding and importance of art brought richness to the story. There was a scene where Juliet was taking an art class and her professor, in so many words, talked about forgetting everything she learned and turn the objects, she was drawing, into one design. Bravo!

With dual time-lines, Caroline’s story intertwines perfectly with Juliet’s and find yourself fully immersed in their lives. I know this may sound like a cliché but I truly did not want the story to end. In fact, there are several character’s in the book that I would love to read more about their back story.

There were previous comments from me stating that I was burned out on Word War II stories but when I saw this one, I knew that I had to read it. Bowen does a marvelous undertaking in portraying the Venice culture and spirit of the people. I was not disappointed one bit and I highly recommend this story.

I’ve rated this book five stars and obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley. My opinions and thoughts of the story are my own.

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: Madam by Phoebe Wynne

About the Book:

For 150 years, high above rocky Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat untouched, a beacon of excellence in an old ancestral castle. A boarding school for girls, it promises that the young women lucky enough to be admitted will emerge “resilient and ready to serve society.”

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie: a 26-year-old Classics teacher, Caldonbrae’s new head of the department, and the first hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose is overwhelmed to be invited into this institution, whose prestige is unrivaled. But she quickly discovers that behind the school’s elitist veneer lies an impenetrable, starkly traditional culture that she struggles to reconcile with her modernist beliefs—not to mention her commitment to educating “girls for the future.”

It also doesn’t take long for Rose to suspect that there’s more to the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor—a woman whose ghost lingers everywhere—than anyone is willing to let on. In her search for this mysterious former teacher, Rose instead uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, forcing her to confront the true extent of the school’s nefarious purpose, and her own role in perpetuating it.

A darkly feminist tale pitched against a haunting backdrop, and populated by an electrifying cast of heroines, Madam will keep readers engrossed until the breathtaking conclusion.

My Thoughts:

I must confess that this book was a horrible start for me on several accounts. Not only was it dragging, for a lack of better word, I couldn’t make sense of what was going on with the people at this school. It was as if Rose stepped into the twilight zone. The movements and the speech of the characters were not natural. The dialogue was clunky and the conversations between the characters were confusing at times. Nothing was making sense but something was telling me to push on.

I kept reading and my frustrations grew. To my dismay, I couldn’t relate to any of the characters nor did I sympathize with them. I was about to give up on the story and almost half way through, there was a change…

The story takes a turn to an interesting development and I began to see the reasoning of the oddness of the story in the first half of the book. As I read on, I must say that I still didn’t care for any of the characters or their situation. But I was pleased the dialogue had improve somewhat and I didn’t feel so disoriented!

If there ever was a character you wanted to grab and shake and yell, “What is wrong with you? Wake up and snap-out of it!” It would be Rose. When she first arrived at the school, everything started off wrong for her and her lack of gumption made things worse for her. I would not portray her as a heroine. While she saw the horrible things going on around her, and at times spoke up, she just wasn’t strong enough to handle anything! I believe you will find interesting who the true, “Heroines” are.

I would also like to point out that in the second half of the book, there are two disturbing scenes that might be too sensitive for some readers. While I understand the context was important to drive the plot, I could have done without it. It made me feel extremely uneasy.

I give this story three stars solely on the reason that the school’s purpose makes for a relevant story but creepy read and the setting has all the right elements of a Gothic tale.   

Stephanie Hopkins

Side note: The book description gives away too much information about the story.

I obtained a galley copy from the Publishers through NetGalley.

Book Review: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Description

The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything… even murder. 

My thoughts:

Dreamland has many significant themes and wonderfully portrays class distinctions of the Gilded Age.  When Nancy Bilyeau shifted gears in the historical fiction genre, at first, I had my doubts. I am rather fond of her Joanna Stafford Trilogy and love the period in which it is set in. She hasn’t disappointed in switching periods in history one bit. Dreamland has made it to the top of my list of favorite stories Bilyeau has written.  

Peggy Batternberg’s invitation to spend the summer on Coney Island isn’t exactly an invitation. More like an unwelcome demand from her Uncles. When they arrive to the Island, she is greeted by her family and trying to make the best of it, she gets caught up in a murder investigation. The author presents a group of likely suspects and Peggy must race to find out who did it to protect the ones she loves. She isn’t your typical heiress we all read so much about. Peggy would make one heck of a sleuth.

I am remiss in admitting that I haven’t heard of Dreamland on Coney Island until I read this story. I absolutely enjoyed reading about the amusement park in this book and since, I have delved further about its history. Bilyeau did a marvelous undertaking with describing the park, and weaves the history of the park’s attractions befitting to the plot.

I wonder if we will read more about Peggy’s adventures? Wouldn’t that be fun? A delightful read and a wonderful diversion to immerse yourself in. Highly recommended.

Stephanie Hopkins

I rated this book five stars and obtained a galley copy from the Publishers through NetGalley.

Side note: I haven’t given this many five-star ratings in a long time! I feel like I’ve hit the jack pot!

Book Review: The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

Description

The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar in this brilliantly disturbing thriller from Camilla Sten, an electrifying new voice in suspense.

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened.

But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice:
They are not alone.

They’re looking for the truth…
But what if it finds them first?

My thoughts:

First, I must mention that I chose this story for two reasons. The story takes place in Sweden. Perfect setting for a story such as this. How do I know? I’ve never visited the country but I have studied enough about it to know. The other reason is that I am obsessed with old abandoned towns, cemeteries, mills and homes. That is the history lover in me, one might say. Or that fact that I am always curious about how even ordinary people lived and the traces they leave behind. Having said that, everyone has a story to tell. No one is ordinary in my opinion.

This book had me hooked in the beginning stages of the story. The author set the stage with the creep vibe as soon as Alice and her crew were approaching the village. The center of the town alone…wow.

I love the period the author chose for the village people to have disappeared. Not only that but this story brilliantly highlights close knit communities, and how people are easily led.

I highly recommend reading this book and discovering-for yourself-the mysteries surrounding this hauntingly atmospheric read.

I rated this book five stars!

Stephanie Hopkins

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

Book Review: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

MigrationsMy thoughts:

Franny Stone makes her appearance in Greenland to acquire work on the Saghani. Her motivations are to convince the ship’s captain to track the last of the terns and journey with them on their last Migration. More ways then one, these birds are a symbol of her life in many ways. At least that is what I came away with the story.

As the story unfolds, you begin to realize that Franny’s life is displaced, haunted and she must find the answers of her torment and come to grips with secrets bottled up so tightly, even she has forgotten them.

This story has ceased hold of my heart and it is one I think I will always come back to. While there is great sadness in this story, it is extraordinary and evoking with lyrically told sea life, characterization and captures your attention to wildlife that is threated to extinction.

I can’t remember the last time I have been transported and completely immersed in the characters’ lives. It’s as if the character’s hopes, dreams, longing, plight is your own.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained an ARC of Migrations from the Publishers through NetGalley for my honest opinion of the story.

Book Description:

Expected publication: August 4th 2020 by Flatiron Books

Franny Stone has always been a wanderer. By following the ocean’s tides and the birds that soar above, she can forget the losses that have haunted her life. But when the wild she so loves begins to disappear; Franny can no longer wander without a destination. She arrives in remote Greenland with one purpose: to find the world’s last flock of Arctic terns and follow them on their final migration. She convinces Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani, to take her onboard, winning over his salty, eccentric crew with promises that the birds she is tracking will lead them to fish.

As the Saghani fights its way south, Franny’s new shipmates begin to realize that the beguiling scientist in their midst is not who she seems. Battered by night terrors, accumulating a pile of letters to her husband, and dead set on following the terns at any cost, Franny is full of dark secrets. When the story of her past begins to unspool, Ennis and his crew must ask themselves what Franny is really running toward—and running from.

Propelled by a narrator as fierce and fragile as the terns she is following, Migrations is a shatteringly beautiful ode to the wild places and creatures now threatened. But at its heart, it is about the lengths we will go, to the very edges of the world, for the people we love.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen SocietyFrom a young age, I have always been fascinated with Jane Austen and her stories. Not knowing the full history of the period in which she lived in at the time, I was at first, drawn to the characters relationships with their families, friends and town  people. Then as I got older, I became more aware of the romantic interests, social aspect and the education and roles of women of that time. That is when I realized how important stories like Austen’s are to society.

Like Austen, my Father was a minister, He’s retired now but the connection on that score and her satirical writing reminds me so much of my own experiences in witnessing all sorts of interesting people growing up in churches and our local communities.

I’ve read all Austen’s published stories multiple times and read many re-telling’s of her books, and have seen all sorts of different types of film adaptations. Not one of those has captured my attention like The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. The author touches on an interesting area about Austen’s life and in such a way, I felt as if the author had read my mind on a few things I thought about growing up. Especially about Austen’s relationship with her sister Cassandra and why maybe she burned many of Jane’s letters…

Jenner’s story brings together people who are different in occupation, and life circumstances but they share a common love of Jane Austen herself and her work. Their passion and goal are to preserve both Jane Austen’s final home and her legacy. What they find in their search touches on a little what I mentioned above- though that is all I will say about that.

Much like you will find in Austen’s stories, The Jane Austen Society explores human conditions of the heart, love interests, community and enduring friendships.  I felt such an intense connection with the many of the characters in the story, as if they were close friends and family. This story is heartfelt and deeply enduring so much so that I came away with not wanting the story to end and a longing to sit around a fire and have a long conversation with these noble people and the author who told their story.

When you finish reading The Jane Austen Society, be sure to read the Author notes at the end!

I’ve rated this book five stars!

Stephanie Hopkins

Layered Pages

I was given a galley copy through NetGalley by the publishers for an honest review.

Another relevant post I write about The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner HERE

More About The Book: 

The Jane Austen Society
by Natalie Jenner
St. Martin’s Press
General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
Pub Date 26 May 2020

Description

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

A powerful and moving novel that explores the tragedies and triumphs of life, both large and small, and the universal humanity in us all, The Jane Austen Society is destined to resonate with readers for years to come.

******

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

Book Review: Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter

Reviving he hawthorne sistersAbout the Book:

Expected publication: October 20th 2020 by Lake Union Publishing

Dove Jarrod was a renowned evangelist and faith healer. Only her granddaughter, Eve Candler, knows that Dove was a con artist. In the eight years since Dove’s death, Eve has maintained Dove’s charitable foundation—and her lies. But just as a documentary team wraps up a shoot about the miracle worker, Eve is assaulted by a vengeful stranger intent on exposing what could be Dove’s darkest secret: murder…

Tuscaloosa, 1934: a wily young orphan escapes the psychiatric hospital where she was born. When she joins the itinerant inspirational duo the Hawthorn Sisters, the road ahead is one of stirring new possibilities. And with an obsessive predator on her trail, one of untold dangers. For a young girl to survive, desperate choices must be made.

Now, to protect her family, Eve will join forces with the investigative filmmaker and one of Dove’s friends, risking everything to unravel the truth behind the accusations against her grandmother. But will the truth set her free or set her world on fire?

My Thoughts:

With a dual time line, one of the main themes to the story is about finding out Dove’s life back in the 1930’s and Eve must uncover a mystery in Dove’s past to protect her family. Not everything is what it seems and the more she uncovers, the more the story unfolds and Eve questions if she can trust the people around her.

There is a good flow to the story and the dual time-line worked for me. I was also interested in the theme of uncovering your family’s past. Throughout history and to this day people in all cultures have been interested in where they came from and so forth.

For me, the mystery would have had more depth to it if the Dove’s and Steadfast Coe scenes were fleshed out a bit more than they were. I feel like there was more focus on the revivals more than anything.

I think that Althea, Griff and Eve make a great team and would love to read more stories based around them.

I have to say when reading a story, I want to make a connection to the characters or at least one of them and that didn’t happen for me in this story. Overall it is a good story but I really wasn’t invested in the characters.

I thought it was really neat how the author added the old hymns throughout the book. That was a nice touch and has brought back a lot of fond memories for me.

I have rated this story three stars and I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie Hopkins

 

Saturday Sunday: Layered Pages Book Review

The Ghost of Madison Avenue by Nancy Bilyeau

My thoughts of the story:

The Gilded Age has always been a fascination for me and I consider New York City the center stage of the era for the most part. The era brings us impressive architecture and bigger than life people who inspired greatness. Morgan Library and the man who brought us its glory plays part in this glamorous and magical story.

Bilyeau brings us a new tale of not only J.P. Morgan and is magnificent library and museum but what seems an other-worldly Irish-American lady, Helen O’ Neil.  Helen is hired by stunning Belle da Costa Greene to conserve Morgan’s artifacts.  Soon after Helen begins her work, strange things begin to happen and her life takes a turn that finds herself in a most unusual event-if you will.

Bilyeau is one of my favorite writers and she has the talent to bring readers new content to the table. This story alone has deepened my fascination with the Gilded Age and wanting to know more about J.P. Morgan. My only problem with this story is that it ended and I wanted to read more about the characters lives. Bilyeau in my opinion is artistic with her writing. Having said I had a problem with the story ending, she ended the story with a feeling of rightness and the closeness of family.

The Ghost of Madison Avenue is beautifully told, atmosphereic and rich with unique people and history.

Stephanie Hopkins

The Ghost of Madison Avenue 4 F3More About The Story:

Kindle Edition, 108 pages
Published December 11th 2019 by Amazon

Helen O’Neill, part of a tight-knit Irish-American family in the Bronx, is only too happy to report to work at the spectacular private library built on Madison Avenue by millionaire financier J. P. Morgan. The head librarian, the brilliant and beautiful Belle da Costa Greene, had hired Helen away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art after she witnessed Helen’s unusual talent with handling artifacts.

Helen soon discovers the Morgan Library is a place like no other, with its secret staircases, magical manuscripts, and mysterious murals. But that’s nothing compared to a person Helen alone sees: a young woman standing on Madison Avenue, looking as if she were keeping watch. In learning the woman’s true link to the Morgan, Helen must face the pain of her own past. She finds herself with a second chance at happiness that could only happen on Christmas Eve—if she has the courage

Relevant Links: 

Read about The Secrets of J.P. Morgan’s Private Library

The Morgan Library & Museum 

Nancy Bilyeau’s Amazon Page 

 

Book Wish Granted

Oh my goodness! I haven’t been on NetGalley for a while and I got on there Wednesday to see which book I need to review next and I saw I had this book wanting for me to download! I had wished for it but didn’t think I’d get it. Hooray! Can’t wait to start reading it. Nancy Bilyeau is among my favorite authors!

DreamlandPaperback
Expected publication: January 16th 2020 by Endeavour Quill

The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

The invitation to the luxurious Oriental Hotel a mile from Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of nearby Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder.

Extravagant, intoxicating and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class and dangerous obsession.

Code Name Hélèn by Ariel Lawhon

Code Name Hélèn by Ariel LawhonOh, my word!! I got an ARC of Code Name Hélèn by Ariel Lawhon!!!!!!!! *DOING THE HAPPY DANCE*

I am so thankful to Doubleday Publishing!

Pub Date 07 Apr 2020

Description

BASED ON THE THRILLING REAL-LIFE STORY OF SOCIALITE SPY NANCY WAKE, comes the newest feat of historical fiction from the New York Times bestselling author of I Was Anastasia, featuring the astonishing woman who killed a Nazi with her bare hands and went on to become one of the most decorated women in WWII.

Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during the war, Code Name Hélène is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name.

It is 1936 and Nancy Wake is an intrepid Australian expat living in Paris who has bluffed her way into a reporting job for Hearst newspaper. She is fighting to cover the disturbing reports of violence coming out of Vienna and Berlin when she meets the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca. No sooner does Henri sweep Nancy off her feet and convince her to become Mrs. Fiocca than the Germans invade France and she takes yet another name: a code name.