Book Review: The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

Kindle Edition, 305 pagesPublished December 27th 2016 by Kensington

About the story:

Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.

Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.

Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage. 

A few of my thoughts:

Recently I discovered that my family has ancestry in Dublin Ireland and this book came to my mind. Strange how the mind works. I requested, “The Magdalen Girls” to review some time ago and to be honest, I’m not sure why I chose it because it wasn’t a subject, I was ready-mentally-to look in-depth. The Catholic Church has an extremely dark history and I don’t believe their theology/doctrine is entirely in line with the Holy Bible.

The story introduces three young girls, Teagan, Nora and Lea. Leading up to the moment Teagan and Nora were cast out of their homes and into the “care” of The Sister of the Holy Redemption. The cruelty of Mother Ann and the Nuns who carries out her orders is a clear reflection of the abuse, neglect, death, exploitation and forced, cruel hard labor that are not the teachings of Christ. These young girls’ situation there and of the others, lay heavily on my mind.

There are two priest that are front and center to Teagan’s “down fall”. Father Mark and Father Matthew. In short, I found Father Matthew not living up to his higher responsibility that God has commanded and instead he seceded the position to a mostly matriarchal attitude that was counterproductive to Christian life. His inability to counsel Father Mark and do right by the situation at hand really reflects my opinion above. They laid full responsibility of Mark’s sin on Teagan. That is not Christ like.

My main focus of this review is Tegan’s downfall because of the bold example the author shows of how the Priests influence its congregation and community. My focus on Teagan’s story- in no way- diminishes the others girls experience in that toxic environment.

I would have liked to have read a better build-up of the girl’s life before they entered, The Sister of the Holy Redemption. Other than that, it was a powerful premise, though a sad one.

Was there redemption in the story for the girls? That is for you to find out by reading the story.

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

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

My thoughts:

“Libraries are lungs, […] books the fresh air breathed in to keep the heart beating, to keep the brain imagining, to keep hope alive.” ― Janet Skeslien Charles, The Paris Library

The Paris Library is truly an unforgettable story. My favorite books are usually told in dual timelines. This story is without a doubt, my new favorite. If you are a lover of books and libraries, you must read, The Paris Library. I was completely spirited with abounding emotions. I laughed, cried, cheered, was enraged at injustice, and was thoroughly in my element with the librarians. I wanted-so much-to have tea with them and discuss literature and humanity. I wanted to be in their world surrounded with so many wonderful stories.

Not all is wonderful because of the war and personal struggles. That is what happens in life and this story portrays that in such a way, you realize that we all can learn from each other. Even so, it carries the narrative to great heights, shows you how deeply impacted the librarians were during the dark time of Word War II, and the lengths they went to keep reading alive.  

I actually leaned about a few authors and books I am not familiar with and want to read them because of the people’s experience with them in this book.

The author’s style of writing appealed to me and there are countless of passages that I marked so that I can make a record of them in my journal. That is how much this story affected me.

Stories like this are what brings us together and forever changes our impressions on life and humanity.

A must read!

I rated this book five stars and obtained a copy of this book from the publishers for an honest review.

Stephanie Hopkins

Feeding the Creative Soul

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope the holiday was a special one despite the tough times we are experiencing across the globe. Today I want to talk a little about what art supply I ordered this weekend and why. I’ve also started a new book to read that I have been enjoying so much that I’m wanting to take my time with. First, let’s talk art.

A few years ago, I developed my own technique in creating painted papers without the use of Gelli Plates. I didn’t want to spend the money and I wanted to be as original as possible. I created a masking technique of sorts and use my abstract painting style to create these papers. I knew one day that I wanted to invest in the Gel Press Plate. This weekend I decide to bite the bullet and order a plate. I can’t wait to see what I create with it and how much it differs from my painted papers “Masking” technique. I’ve even ordered a new soft brayer for this project. I look forward to sharing with you all what I come up with!

This weekend I started Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan and I’m really enjoying the story so far. I’m about half way through. Callahan is a talented story-teller and when I saw this one available for reviewers, I had to read it! Savannah Georgia is in my State and its history is among my favorites to study and read about. -Stephanie

Expected publication: March 9th 2021 by Berkley

About the book:

It was called “The Titanic of the South.” The luxury steamship sank in 1838 with Savannah’s elite on board; through time, their fates were forgotten–until the wreck was found, and now their story is finally being told in this breathtaking novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

When Savannah history professor Everly Winthrop is asked to guest-curate a new museum collection focusing on artifacts recovered from the steamship Pulaski, she’s shocked. The ship sank after a boiler explosion in 1838, and the wreckage was just discovered, 180 years later. Everly can’t resist the opportunity to try to solve some of the mysteries and myths surrounding the devastating night of its sinking.

Everly’s research leads her to the astounding history of a family of eleven who boarded the Pulaski together, and the extraordinary stories of two women from this family: a known survivor, Augusta Longstreet, and her niece, Lilly Forsyth, who was never found, along with her child. These aristocratic women were part of Savannah’s society, but when the ship exploded, each was faced with difficult and heartbreaking decisions. This is a moving and powerful exploration of what women will do to endure in the face of tragedy, the role fate plays, and the myriad ways we survive the surviving.

Cover Crush: The Watchmaker of Dachau by Carly Schabowski

About the Cover: This cover is definitely and eye catcher! Love the landscape and colors.

About the book: There are a lot of books out there about Word War II. Though a bit burned out on them, I find this one interesting. It looks to be character driven. Keeping an eye on this one! -Stephanie

Book Description:

Bookouture

Historical Fiction

Pub Date 20 Jan 2021

An unforgettable novel of human kindness, inspired by an incredible true story.

Snow falls and a woman prepares for a funeral she has long expected, yet hoped would never come. As she pats her hair and straightens her skirt, she tells herself this isn’t the first time she’s lost someone. Lifting a delicate, battered wristwatch from a little box on her dresser, she presses it to her cheek. Suddenly, she’s lost in memory…

January 1945. Dachau, Germany. As the train rattles through the bright, snowy Bavarian countryside, the still beauty outside the window hides the terrible scenes inside the train, where men and women are packed together, cold and terrified. Jewish watchmaker Isaac Schüller can’t understand how he came to be here, and is certain he won’t be leaving alive.

When the prisoners arrive at Dachau concentration camp, Isaac is unexpectedly pulled from the crowd and installed in the nearby household of Senior Officer Becher and his young, pretty, spoiled wife. With his talent for watchmaking, Isaac can be of use to Becher, but he knows his life is only worth something here as long as Becher needs his skills.

Anna Reznick waits table and washes linens for the Bechers, who dine and socialise and carry on as if they don’t constantly have death all around them. When she meets Isaac she knows she’s found a true friend, and maybe more. But Dachau is a dangerous place where you can never take love for granted, and when Isaac discovers a heartbreaking secret hidden in the depths of Becher’s workshop, it will put Anna and Issac in terrible danger…

A gorgeously emotional and tear-jerking read set during World War Two. Perfect for fans of The Tattooist of AuschwitzWe Were the Lucky Ones and The Alice Network.

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

before the second sleep cover crush

Stephanie Hopkins

Cover Reveal: The Steel Beneath the Silk by Patricia Bracewell

A breathtaking conclusion to Bracewell’s Emma of Normandy Trilogy, brimming with treachery, heartache, tenderness and passion as the English queen confronts ambitious and traitorous councilors, invading armies and the Danish king’s power-hungry concubine.

Release Date: 2 March 2021

The eBook is available for pre-order now via the links below.

The paperback edition will be available for pre-order soon.

About the Book:

A breathtaking conclusion to Bracewell’s Emma of Normandy Trilogy, brimming with treachery, heartache, tenderness and passion as the English queen confronts ambitious and traitorous councilors, invading armies and the Danish king’s power-hungry concubine.

In the year 1012 England’s Norman-born Queen Emma has been ten years wed to an aging, ruthless, haunted King Æthelred. The marriage is a bitterly unhappy one, between a queen who seeks to create her own sphere of influence within the court and a suspicious king who eyes her efforts with hostility and resentment. But royal discord shifts to grudging alliance when Cnut of Denmark, with the secret collusion of his English concubine Elgiva, invades England at the head of a massive viking army. Amid the chaos of war, Emma must outwit a fierce enemy whose goal is conquest and outmaneuver the cunning Elgiva, who threatens all those whom Emma loves. 

Links:

Patricia Bracewell’s website

AMAZON

AMAZON.CO.UK

AMAZON AUSTRALIA

BARNES & NOBLE

KOBO

SNEAK Peek AT WHAT’S INSIDE

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: 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!

Cover Crush: The Social Graces by Renee Rosen

The Social GracesPaperback, 400 pages
Expected publication: April 20th 2021 by Berkley

The Cover: I love the background image, colors and the ladys’ hats! This cover definitely gives you the glamorous upper crust feel to it.

The Story: You know how I said above, “This cover definitely gives you the glamorous upper crust feel to it?” While we go see the gilded age as glamorous and such, more times than not, it wasn’t.  Not to put a damper on things here. Let’s get back to the story.

I’ve said this many times before that I love stories taken place during the Gilded Age and Especially New York!

I’m highly interested in this story on several scores and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this book! -Stephanie Hopkins

About the Book:

The author of Park Avenue Summer throws back the curtain on one of the most remarkable feuds in history: Mrs. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Astor’s notorious battle for control of New York society during the Gilded Age.

In the glittering world of Manhattan’s upper crust, where wives turn a blind eye to husbands’ infidelities, and women have few rights and even less independence, society is everything. The more celebrated the hostess, the more powerful the woman. And none is more powerful than Caroline Astor—the Mrs. Astor.

But times are changing.

Alva Vanderbilt has recently married into one of America’s richest families. But what good is money when society refuses to acknowledge you? Alva, who knows what it is to have nothing, will do whatever it takes to have everything.

Sweeping three decades and based on true events, this is a gripping novel about two fascinating, complicated women going head to head, behaving badly, and discovering what’s truly at stake.

Previous Cover Crush

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I’ve Got My Eye On You

World War II affected every aspect of life worldwide and one couldn’t possibly learn everything there is to know about the war experience. There are so many extraordinary stories out there that Historical Fiction writers have written on the subject.

There are countless stories about women during the war and their involvement.  While I have read a number of those stories, I have to say that I’m a bit burned out on these novels at present. Having said that, I’ve got my eye on, “The Invisible Woman” by Erika Robuck, and hope to discover material I haven’t come across before.

Where is my current interest in the era, you might ask? I’m captivated with the Medieval Strongholds aka Castles in Germany during World War II and the roles they played. Are there any Historical Fiction books that focus on this very topic? If you know of any, please comment below! -Stephanie Hopkins

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The Invisible WomanThe Invisible Woman by Erika Robuck

Berkley Publishing Group

Historical Fiction

Pub Date 09 Feb 2021

Description

“An extraordinary profile of immense courage and daring.”—Chanel Cleeton, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Left Cuba

“If you only read one WWII book this year, make it this one.”—Natasha Lester, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Orphans

In the depths of war, she would defy the odds to help liberate a nation…a gripping historical novel based on the remarkable true story of World War II heroine Virginia Hall, from the bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl

France, March 1944. Virginia Hall wasn’t like the other young society women back home in Baltimore—she never wanted the debutante ball or silk gloves. Instead, she traded a safe life for adventure in Europe, and when her beloved second home is thrust into the dark days of war, she leaps in headfirst.

Once she’s recruited as an Allied spy, subverting the Nazis becomes her calling. But even the most cunning agent can be bested, and in wartime trusting the wrong person can prove fatal. Virginia is haunted every day by the betrayal that ravaged her first operation, and will do everything in her power to avenge the brave people she lost.

While her future is anything but certain, this time more than ever Virginia knows that failure is not an option. Especially when she discovers what—and whom—she’s truly protecting.

Cover Crush: The Seamstress by Allison Pittman

Cover Crush The Seamstress

The premise sounds intriguing, great title and I love the cover design! Adding this book to my to-read list -Stephanie Hopkins 

A beautifully crafted story breathes life into the cameo character from the classic novel A Tale of Two Cities.

France, 1788
It is the best of times . . .

On a tranquil farm nestled in the French countryside, two orphaned cousins—Renée and Laurette—have been raised under the caring guardianship of young Émile Gagnon, the last of a once-prosperous family. No longer starving girls, Laurette and Renée now spend days tending Gagnon’s sheep, and nights in their cozy loft, whispering secrets and dreams in this time of waning innocence and peace.

It is the worst of times . . .

Paris groans with a restlessness that can no longer be contained within its city streets. Hunger and hatred fuel her people. Violence seeps into the ornate halls of Versailles. Even Gagnon’s table in the quiet village of Mouton Blanc bears witness to the rumbles of rebellion, where Marcel Moreau embodies its voice and heart.

It is the story that has never been told.

In one night, the best and worst of fate collide. A chance encounter with a fashionable woman will bring Renée’s sewing skills to light and secure a place in the court of Queen Marie Antoinette. An act of reckless passion will throw Laurette into the arms of the increasingly militant Marcel. And Gagnon, steadfast in his faith in God and country, can only watch as those he loves march straight into the heart of the revolution.

 

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