Book Review: The Vines by Shelley Nolden

About the book:

Pub Date 23 Mar 2021

In the shadows of New York City lies forbidden North Brother Island, where the remains of a shuttered hospital hide the haunting memories of century-old quarantines and human experiments. The ruins conceal the scarred and beautiful Cora, imprisoned by contagions and the doctors who torment her. When Finn, a young urban explorer, arrives on the island and glimpses an enigmatic beauty through the foliage, intrigue turns to obsession as he seeks to uncover her past—and his own family’s dark secrets. By unraveling these mysteries, will he be able to save Cora? Will Cora meet the same tragic ending as the thousands who’ve already perished on the island?

The Vines intertwines North Brother Island’s horrific and elusive history with a captivating tale of love, betrayal, survival, and loss.

My thoughts:

If I remember correctly it was last year when I discovered North Brother Island. A documentary of the Island popped up on my YouTube feed. I watched it and learned a few details about its history and thought-at the time-I would love to read a fiction story that included the history elements. Low and behold, writer Shelley Nolden wrote a dual time-line story that takes place on the mysterious Island.

I must admit I was briefly hesitant at first to read the book based on the story’s topic of contagions. It’s not that I lacked interest in that subject but because of our current world-wide state of a pandemic. I thought it might be too sensitive of a story to read at the moment. However, my curiosity had gotten the better of me and I changed my mind.

When I opened to the first page on my Kindle, it wasn’t long before I became fully absorbed in the story. Finn Gettler arrives-more like sneaks-to North Brother Island and becomes immediately intrigued with the nature reclaiming the Island. He soon comes in contact with Cora. A woman who is not only trapped on the Island but, unknown to him , a prisoner of his family.

Cora is a fascinating woman and I enjoyed how the author developed her character as the story unfolded. Her experiences and circumstance had me connecting dots about real life, past and present, medical science I’ve often thought about.

When I discovered Finn’s last name is, “Gettler,” it struck a chord. I had heard of that name before but couldn’t remember where. I delved in little research and I was stunned at what I discovered to say the least! Nolden brilliantly balances real people and events into her story.

I experienced countless emotions reading this book. Many of them were sorrowful and feelings of anger on behalf of what was happening to Cora. The other emotions, I felt strongly, were for the absolute lack of humanity of a few of the characters. What makes this story good, yet all too disturbing, is the relevancy of the subject contagions and the evil that exists in this world.

There were moments I felt a few scenes were boggled down by just a little too much detail but overall, it was a worthwhile read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series!

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

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Banner Created by Stephanie

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Art Captured Through the Lens of a Camera

Photo taken by WSM Photography

As I mentioned in a previous post, a photographer captures a moment in an instant and holds it without change. The photo captures an existence of different mediums such as landscape, portraits, buildings, and any other form you can think of. We see these images through a photographer’s eye. Such as an artist who captures images on canvas or a writer who captures them with words, a photographer’s photo is the same concept.

Today I am showcasing Photographer Scott Moore’s new print shop where you can purchase his notable photos. I do know some of the current photos in his shop are limited editions. If you are interested in them, you should make your purchase soon. I highly recommend his work. I have a print of his Milk Way Balance photo and it is outstanding quality. In fact, so much so when looking at the image, I can picture the movement of the night sky and imagine what the ancient rocks (Balance Rock) must have seen throughout history. If those towers could talk… I’m looking forward to having the photo framed to add to my night art collection. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the Photographer

Scott Moore brings 20+ years of architecture and design experience. This Experience has covering every aspect of architecture, from conceptual design through completed built projects. This experience and his knowledge of architecture is what make his approach to photography unique. While shooting architecture professionally for 9+ years, the shots taken are with an understanding of an architect’s vision of our built environment.

If you are interested in purchasing one of his prints, visit his Print Shop  

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WSM Photography Blog  

My 2017 Q&A With Photographer Scott Moore

WSM Photography Photo images are subjected to copyright. In order to use WSM’s photo images or any content on Layered Pages platform, please ask permission from Stephanie Hopkins or Scott Moore

Books to Read Before the Year is Up

Time is flying considering the year we’ve all had! Well, in terms of reading one might say. How many weeks do we have left? Let’s see…If this blog post is posted on the expected date, we have six weeks left of the year. I think. My gosh! Which makes this to-read book list all the more exciting!

I have selected the books below to read for the reason of needing to chisel away at my backlog on NetGalley. Yes, to my dismay, I admit I’m rather behind. I know many of you can relate! This fact actually encourages me to read more and start a whole different level of organization of my writing and note taking. It is entirely true that you can take something that is not so great-such as my backlog-and turn it into a positive existent. You might ask why I got behind? My normal reading habits slowly evaporated and I took some time off to focus on other pursuits. Furthermore, I’ve admitted before that I was experiencing burnout. My brain needed a rest. Despite that, I’ve missed my past reading habits. The important lesson, to keep in mind, is to not get discouraged. Certain life situations tend to be temporary. Now that I’m back in the game and forming new habits, life of a book blogger and reviewer are looking brighter. Enough of my ramblings! Let’s begin, shall we?

These projected books to-read are not in any particular order or are my current reads. I’ve also began some of these books and put them aside for one reason or another. Honestly, I don’t remember why.

Seven more books sounds like an appropriate goal and doable if I keep to my new reading habits I blogged about HERE.

I want to wish you all a lovely and productive week!

Stephanie Hopkins

Has Mixed Media Art Really Evolved that Much?

I’ve pondered about how I wanted to talk about mixed media art’s origins for quite sometime now. Which is difficult because I know I will ruffle some feathers with a few of my comments about the industry today.  

Allow me to first begin by giving a little lesson of what the craft represents. Or mediums, I should say, because mixed media art is taking different types of materials and combining them to make art. Whether it is paper, paint, wood, metal, clay, leaves, tree bark, thread, textile, plastic, and collage. Really this form of art can be made from anything. It’s combining two or more elements of materials that makes it mixed media art.

For the most part, the Art industry tells us that mixed media art began around 1912 with artists such as Picasso and Georges Braque. While I understand the art shift during that period-I’ve studied art history- these artists brought it to the forefront, the medium itself is much older than the turn of the 20th Century.

Today’s mixed media art is widely known for collage, 3-D arrangements of objects, multi-media, altered books, art tags, ATCs-which have been created much longer than one might think-and other mediums not listed.

Who are some of these leading mixed media artists today that sell supplies and their brand to create many of these wonderful art projects?

Not too long ago, scrap-booking was all the rage and many of the mixed media artists we see today, evolved their scrapbook supply business to mixed media art. Meaning, the industry changed somewhat and people started channeling their memory recording to different methods, such as altering books, making junk journals and so on… Now don’t get me wrong; people have been doing this for generations. Decades really. Actually, since ancient times. People back in the day didn’t have the volume of materials we do today and they would use what materials they had around their home and the land around them.

Inspiration is a wonderful thing and we all put our spin on the craft or add our own style to make it our own. We find solace and comfort in crafting.

It is wonderful we have so many creative people sharing their techniques they’ve learned but please don’t be fooled that they are always originals. Even the designs or supplies they use to sell are not all originals. I’ve seen many of the designs, stencils and ephemera used for sale long before they came out with them online and from other sources. I do understand and know about copyright, out of print and buying rights…but please don’t pass them off as your creations or never correct people when they say how brilliant your designs are.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire many artists in this field but I keep my eyes open and I’m aware that the true founders of the craft are originated from many civilizations long ago. I look forward to discussing further about the question of has mixed media art really evolved that much? Or the mind-set that goes into the craft-if you will.

Keep learning. Keep creating. Be you. You got this!

Stephanie Hopkins

Why I Chose to Combine Literature, Art and Photography at Layered Pages

Writers breathe life into characters with words and their book is their canvas. A writer’s art is to gather elements of life, places, time and situations and weave them to form stories. To design a story that draws a reader in and leaves an impression that has the reader emotionally invested is an art.

An Artist creates art through a canvas or sculpture to express mood, emotion and self-expression. Often times there is chaos in those mediums that expresses what many relate to in life or they trigger memories. When artists do this, they bring the essence of the human condition and their surroundings to life expressed through the different styles of their work and bring a powerful reality through their creations.

A Photographer captures a moment in an instant and holds it without change. The photo captures an existence of different mediums such as landscape, portraits, buildings, and any other form you can think of. We see these images through a photographer’s eye. Like an artist who captures images on canvas or a writer who captures them with words, a photographer’s photo is the same concept.

Each medium l have presented here is an expression and in its simplest form, each medium tells a story.  My passion at Layered Pages is to capture their essence and to give understanding to the craft so people will have a deeper understanding of these mediums and their importance to our society.

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!

Greetings From Layered Pages

Hello Fellow Readers and Artists,

I hope this letter finds you well and you’ve had a lovely and productive week. My hours have been filled with writing, reading, studying, new art projects and reflection. I have many exciting posts to share with you all in the coming weeks and months.

I did complete my index card art challenge a few days ago. However, I am not featuring them this week after all. Next week I will be sharing the remaining cards I created with a picture(s) of the entire collection (100 cards) as well.

If you haven’t already, please, take the time to read at my posts from earlier on this week. I want to wish you all a lovely and blessed weekend.

I leave you with a quote from Charles Dickens.

“Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”    

Regards,

Stephanie Hopkins

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.

A Christmas Carol Murder (A Dickens of a Crime) by Heather Redmond

Book Spotlight: This story sounds fascinating! I love a good mystery. Love the cover! Keeping a sharp eye on this one. -Stephanie Hopkins

The latest novel from Heather Redmond’s acclaimed mystery series finds young Charles Dickens suspecting a miser of pushing his partner out a window, but his fiancée Kate Hogarth takes a more charitable view of the old man’s innocence . . .
 
London, December 1835: Charles and Kate are out with friends and family for a chilly night of caroling and good cheer. But their blood truly runs cold when their singing is interrupted by a body plummeting from an upper window of a house. They soon learn the dead man at their feet, his neck strangely wrapped in chains, is Jacob Harley, the business partner of the resident of the house, an unpleasant codger who owns a counting house, one Emmanuel Screws.
 
Ever the journalist, Charles dedicates himself to discovering who’s behind the diabolical defenestration. But before he can investigate further, Harley’s corpse is stolen. Following that, Charles is visited in his quarters by what appears to be Harley’s ghost—or is it merely Charles’s overwrought imagination? He continues to suspect Emmanuel, the same penurious penny pincher who denied his father a loan years ago, but Kate insists the old man is too weak to heave a body out a window. Their mutual affection and admiration can accommodate a difference of opinion, but matters are complicated by the unexpected arrival of an infant orphan. Charles must find the child a home while solving a murder, to ensure that the next one in chains is the guilty party . . .