New Book Release: Madam C.J. Walker by Erica L. Ball

Congrats to Erica L. Ball’s

book publication of, “Madam C.J. Walker

The Making of an American Icon!”

I discovered Madam C.J. Walker a few years ago during my in-depth study of 19th Century Post Civil War. I thought at the time that it would be wonderful to watch a movie or read a book based on her life. I wanted to know more about this woman. Her story needs to be told. To my delight, I learned that Author Erica L. Ball wrote about Walker and have added the book to my reading list. I have not read any of Ball’s published works but have learned that she is a professor of History and Black Studies. Very cool.  -Stephanie Hopkins

About the book:

Rowman & Littlefield

Biographies & Memoirs | History | Nonfiction (Adult)

Pub Date 15 Jan 2021

Description

Madam C. J. Walker—reputed to be America’s first self-made woman millionaire—has long been celebrated for her rags-to-riches story. Born to former slaves in the Louisiana Delta in the aftermath of the Civil War, married at fourteen, and widowed at twenty, Walker spent the first decades of her life as a laundress, laboring in conditions that paralleled the lives of countless poor and working-class African American women. By the time of her death in 1919, however, Walker had refashioned herself into one of the most famous African American figures in the nation: the owner and president of a hair-care empire and a philanthropist wealthy enough to own a country estate near the Rockefellers…

In this biography, Erica Ball places this remarkable and largely forgotten life story in the context of Walker’s times.

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

The 1906 earthquake in San Francisco has been an interest of mine for quite some time. The earthquake only lasted less than minute but the devastation was complete. The fires that broke out due to the quake were disastrous, leaving half the cities’ residence homeless and thousands, dead. I’m looking forward to seeing how Meissner weaves this unfortunate historic event into her story. Thank you, Berkley and NetGalley for a copy of this powerful story. -Stephanie

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Berkley Publishing Group

Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 02 Feb 2021  

Description

April 18, 1906: A massive earthquake rocks San Francisco just before daybreak, igniting a devouring inferno. Lives are lost, lives are shattered, but some rise from the ashes forever changed.

Sophie Whalen is a young Irish immigrant so desperate to get out of a New York tenement that she answers a mail-order bride ad and agrees to marry a man she knows nothing about. San Francisco widower Martin Hocking proves to be as aloof as he is mesmerizingly handsome. Sophie quickly develops deep affection for Kat, Martin’s silent five-year-old daughter, but Martin’s odd behavior leaves her with the uneasy feeling that something about her newfound situation isn’t right.

Then one early-spring evening, a stranger at the door sets in motion a transforming chain of events. Sophie discovers hidden ties to two other women. The first, pretty and pregnant, is standing on her doorstep. The second is hundreds of miles away in the American Southwest, grieving the loss of everything she once loved.

The fates of these three women intertwine on the eve of the devastating earthquake, thrusting them onto a perilous journey that will test their resiliency and resolve and, ultimately, their belief that love can overcome fear.

From the acclaimed author of The Last Year of the War and As Bright as Heaven comes a gripping novel about the bonds of friendship and mother love, and the power of female solidarity.

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.

Q&A with Writer Judith Starkston

Stephanie Hopkins

Writing is an art form that weaves together words that tell a story.  My passion at Layered Pages is to capture their essence and to further explore the craft so people will have a deeper understanding of reading, writing and their importance to our society. Today, Judith Starkston is here to discuss with us her Tesha book series.

Thank you for visiting with us, Judith. Before we talk about your story, “Of Kings and Griffins,” what is your favorite childhood story and why?

There were many. I was a bookworm from the get-go, but “The Wind in the Willows” was a particular favorite, partly because my older brother did such a lively job reading aloud the voices and personalities of Mole, Ratty, and Toad. Friends messing about together outdoors, which is its main theme, appealed to me. That was back when a kid could wander unsupervised around the hills, canyons, and waterways near her house. At least, my mother never knew where I was or what I was up to. Also, I was a cautious child, and I think the main plot suited me. Toad receives his come-uppance for wild and absurd behavior, and he realizes that treating his friends kindly mattered most. So much of that book meanders rather than races—not how books are paced these days, but I loved it.

Has your love for reading influenced you to become a writer?

Absolutely! I have to get lost in a story on a regular basis or I get buggy in the head. I love that sensation of being drawn compulsively forward through the pages inside a twisty, layered plot amid characters I can’t stop caring about. To make that happen for someone else is such fun. And doing that wouldn’t be possible for me if I didn’t have a lifetime of models bombarding my imagination with every word I write.

Tell me a little about how you became interested in ancient worlds and historical fantasy?

My career before I became a fiction writer was as a scholar and teacher of Greek and Roman languages and literature. So, I had the knowledge base and enthusiasm for ancient worlds. When writing my first novel, set at Troy, I discovered the culture of the Hittites, powerful neighbors of the Greeks. The archaeology of this massive empire (roughly today’s Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon) had only begun to emerge when I was a graduate student, and I didn’t learn about it then. It’s very exciting for a whole people to step from historical obscurity with the help of all the brilliant, contemporary archaeological tools. It helps that this literate people left behind archives that are gradually being translated.

No one was bringing the Hittite world alive in fiction at that point, so I couldn’t resist. All the more when I met in the written record the most respected and unusual of the Hittite rulers, a queen named Puduhepa, whom I renamed Tesha in my fiction. (Tesha is the Hittite word for “dream,” and this queen was known for her divinely inspired dreams.)

The fantasy aspect flowed naturally from there because the Hittites believed in rites and practices that we call magic. This queen was also a priestess, and she excelled in all these supernatural skills. Allowing the magic full expression inspires my plots with creative power. The framework remains historically grounded and accurate.

If a reader came up to you and asked about, “Of Kings and Griffins,” how would you describe your story?

A Bronze Age queen takes on a vicious king, vengeful griffins, and a scheming goddess.

The somewhat longer version is this:

For Tesha, priestess and queen, happiness is a world she can control, made up of her family and the fractious kingdom she and her husband rule within the Great King’s empire. But now the Great King is dead, and his untried son plots against them. Tesha fights back with forbidden sorcery and savvy. In yet another blow, the griffin king lures Daniti, Tesha’s magical blind sister, into a deadly crisis that Daniti alone can avert.

As danger ensnares everyone Tesha loves, her goddess offers a way out. But can Tesha trust this offer of divine assistance or is it a trap—one that would lead to an unstoppable bloodbath?

Does, “Of Kings and Griffins,” make a good stand alone or should readers start with your first book in the series?

“Of Kings and Griffins” is the third in my Tesha series, but readers will have no trouble starting with this book if they wish—especially if they are drawn to mythical beasts! “Priestess of Ishana” is the first book in the series for those who like to start at the beginning. I am careful to write each book as a satisfying stand alone.

My interest was sparked when I read on goodreads that your series is inspired by the Hittite empire. For those who might not be familiar with that particular empire, can you please tell us a little about it?

The Hittites ruled Anatolia and parts of the Near East from 1650 to 1200 BCE. Their capital, Hattusa, now a World Heritage site, lies about an hour northeast of Ankara. Kingdoms like Troy on the western coast shifted over time from loosely allied to vassal states subservient to the Hittite Great King. The primary rival of the Hittites was Egypt. During Puduhepa’s reign, she and her husband sealed a peace treaty with Ramses II, the Pharaoh in the Biblical Moses story. The Hittite language is related to Greek, although it’s written with the Near Eastern writing system of cuneiform, groups of wedges made with a reed stylus in clay that represent words and syllables, so it doesn’t look anything like Greek. Their culture borrows a lot from Mesopotamia, but it also has a significant core of distinctly Hittite religious and ethnic traditions. In many ways, the Hittites are the bridge we’d lost between the Greeks and the Near Eastern world. Historians now recognize how much “Western Civilization” owes to the cultures further east.

Will there be another book in the series? If so, when can your readers expect the publish date?

Fortunately for me, Queen Puduhepa (my Tesha) ruled from her teens into her eighties, so there is almost never-ending inspiration for more books, and the Late Bronze Age was a time of great turmoil and international political scheming—all great raw material for epic historical fantasy. I end each book with a satisfying sense of completion, even while the next “chapter” in Tesha’s life beckons, so no frustrating cliffhanger endings that require the next book instantly to cure the pain.  No one has to “wait until the series is complete” with mine—a comment I hear a lot about some books.

The fourth Tesha novel will hopefully come out next Fall/early Winter. I say hopefully because I’ve taken a short detour and haven’t started it yet. I am working at the moment on a novella set in the land of the griffins because I’ve been having such fun with those characters, and I wanted to explore them entirely in their own terms. They live for centuries, so my main griffin character in “Of Kings and Griffins” has some seriously grand life stories to dive into. I will publish the novella in a month or so and give it to my newsletter subscribers as a present before I make it available to buy. This is a good time to head over to JudithStarkston.com and sign up!

Thank you for such an intriguing interview, Judith. Where can reader purchase your books?

My books are available in the “real world” at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore (They’ll mail you signed copies, which are also sealed with my reproduction of Puduhepa’s actual seal) and online at Amazon. “Hand of Fire” is my Trojan War book told from a woman’s point of view. The three Tesha series books are “Priestess of Ishana,” “Sorcery in Alpara,” and “Of Kings and Griffins.”

Judith Starkston

Judith Starkston has spent too much time reading about and exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get two degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell. She loves myths and telling stories. This has gradually gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution: to write fantasy set in the exotic worlds of the past. Fantasy and Magic in a Bronze Age World. Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award. Judith has two grown children and lives in Arizona with her husband.

Author Links:

Amazon  / Newsletter Signup    / Website  

Twitter    / FB   / Instagram

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

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