Emily’s House by Amy Belding Brown

Historical Fiction

Berkley Publishing Group

Pub Date: Aug 03, 2021 

I started reading this book last night and so far, so good! Check out the book description below. A big thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for a copy. Happy weekend! -Stephanie Hopkins

Massachusetts, 1869. Margaret Maher has never been one to settle down. At twenty-seven, she’s never met a man who has tempted her enough to relinquish her independence to a matrimonial fate, and she hasn’t stayed in one place for long since her family fled the potato famine a decade ago.

When Maggie accepts a temporary position at the illustrious Dickinson family home in Amherst, it’s only to save up enough for a ticket west to join her brothers in California. Maggie never imagines she will form a life-altering friendship with the eccentric, brilliant Miss Emily or that she’ll stay at the Homestead for the next thirty years.

In this richly drawn novel, Amy Belding Brown explores what it is to be an outsider looking in, and she sheds light on one of Dickinson’s closest confidantes–perhaps the person who knew the mysterious poet best–whose quiet act changed history and continues to influence literature to this very day.

Interview with Author W.S. Winslow

What a pleasure it is to be chatting with Author W.S. Winslow about her new book, The Northern Reach. Winslow is a ninth generation Mainer, descended from both Pilgrims and Puritans with odd French fur trapper thrown in, a blood and guts background if there ever there was one.

Though she was born and brought up in Maine, she spent her adult life mostly in New York, where her husband and her raised their daughters. They also lived in San Francisco for five years before returning to Maine in 2019 to settle in a small town Downeast, where it is very, very quiet.

Winslow’s MFA is from NYU, and she also has an undergraduate and graduate degrees in French from the University of Maine. The Northern Reach is her first novel.

Thank you for talking with me today about your book, W.S. Please tell me a little bit about how you came to write about these characters and the time period you chose. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your story?

Thanks so much for having me!

I came to these characters from an interest in the intersection of people with place and culture, especially as these things have existed, evolved and still persist in my home state of Maine. This project was partly sparked by genealogical research – my family’s origins go back to the earliest settlers in both Plymouth and Salem. When I got into the historical records, I was struck by the unmistakable similarities between my ancestors who lived 350 years ago and some of my family members today. I was also intrigued by the cultural legacy of Puritanism in a remote and demanding place like Maine.

The book has its origins in stories about my own family and the families of my friends who are from here. I’ve been lucky to know many great raconteurs over the years, and I wanted to share those stories, or fictionalized versions of them anyway. I also wanted to write about this place over a long sweep of time, from the dawn of the 20th Century to the beginning of the 21st, but I didn’t want to write a historical novel per se. What I was interested in was telling the story of a place and its people in episodes, in much the same way a patchwork quilt is stitched together.

This is my first book, so I started with no expectations. What surprised me was the way that characters would just suddenly say or do something, completely unbidden and with no warning. I think it was because at a certain point these fictional people became so real in my mind that they set up housekeeping there and just kind of got on with their lives. Even though I’d heard authors talk about that I never expected to experience it.

You certainly have quite the cast of characters! With each of their circumstances, it must have been rather dark at times to write. Is there anything in particular that helped you set the characters’ tone?

There is darkness in the book, to be sure. Maine is isolated and cold, with a short summer and a long, dark winter. It’s always been a hard place to live and consistently ranks among the poorest states in the union. Weirdly, we also have an unusually large number of wealthy people, mostly in summer, which creates a wide gulf between the haves and the have nots. This is the reality, and it’s rough for a lot of people. Looking away doesn’t help, so I leaned in.

That said, I wanted to find the humor in these stories, because Mainers can be really funny in a dry, dark way. There’s a tendency to dismiss the painful and the difficult with humor. It’s a reflexive thing, a way of keeping darkness and pain at arm’s length. Sometimes it works.

As for the book’s tone, language is everything for me. I love accents and foreign languages, but what really tickles me is the way Maine people speak, the intonation, the rhythm, the words, the austerity and understatement. I tried to work as much of that into the text as I could, mostly because writing dialogue is one of my favorite things to do. Tonally, the setting was also important, both as a character and as a place, and I hope people see the Maine I know – the cold bay, the low gray sky, the rolling blueberry fields and round topped mountains – in summer and winter.

Can you share a snippet that isn’t in the blurb or excerpt?

“Planting Tiger” comes in the middle of the book. It’s a sort of palate cleanser in that it’s lighter than the other stories, even in its treatment of grief and death. That was my favorite episode to write, because it includes one of the rare first-person narratives in the book, a “talky” passage from Earlene Baines:

I knew we were in for it when Jessie Martin showed up at Tiger’s funeral. It had been at least ten years since I laid eyes on her, but I could see she was still rougher than the back of a ditch. I can’t say I was shocked when she walked into the church, but I never expected to see her at my house. When Jessie came limping up the driveway, with her go-go boots and that mop of red hair, and introduced herself to Tino, the look on his face was priceless. I was watching from the kitchen window. Mill told me not to interfere and I didn’t, not until Vicky started hollering. She’s half Moody after all, and I never met one who didn’t like a good fight once in a while.

How long have you been writing and what advice would you give to writers who want to write a family saga?

I’m a late bloomer in that I didn’t start writing creatively until my fifties, and I’ll be a few months shy of 60 when The Northern Reach is released. So, my first piece of advice is to just do it, no matter how old you are or how many jobs you’ve had. It’s all experience, and experience fuels imagination.

Even though I started writing relatively late in life, I have always held stories in my head, and I’ve always been a reader. What I’ve found recently is the more I learn about writing, the choosier I become as a reader. Opening a book is something of a busman’s holiday, and I get a great deal out of well written books – because they’re fun to read but also because they’re instructive at the same time.

Anyone who wants to write a family saga would be well advised to start by reading some, and with the most critical eye they can manage. For episodic narratives, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg Ohio and Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich are good places to start. For more traditional narratives, I like Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead books – so many to choose from.

Where can readers buy your book?

It’s available from major booksellers like Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble  and Amazon  , as well as your favorite local bookstore. My favorite indie is Print in Portland, Maine at  Print A Bookstore.

More Links:

W.S. Winslow’s Website/ Twitter @WSWinslow / W.S. Winslow goodreads page

Layered Pages Book Review

About the Book:

Published March 2nd 2021 by Flatiron Books

A heart-wrenching first novel about the power of place and family ties, the weight of the stories we choose to tell, and the burden of those we hide

Frozen in grief after the loss of her son at sea, Edith Baines stares across the water at a schooner, under full sail yet motionless in the winter wind and surging tide of the Northern Reach. Edith seems to be hallucinating. Or is she? Edith’s boat-watch opens The Northern Reach, set in the coastal town of Wellbridge, Maine, where townspeople squeeze a living from the perilous bay or scrape by on the largesse of the summer folk and whatever they can cobble together, salvage, or grab.

At the center of town life is the Baines family, land-rich, cash-poor descendants of town founders, along with the ne’er-do-well Moody clan, the Martins of Skunk Pond, and the dirt farming, bootlegging Edgecombs. Over the course of the twentieth century, the families intersect, interact, and intermarry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts.

W. S. Winslow’s The Northern Reach is a breathtaking debut about the complexity of family, the cultural legacy of place, and the people and experiences that shape us.

Book Review: The Northern Reach by W.S. Winslow

Published March 2nd 2021 by Flatiron Books

A heart-wrenching first novel about the power of place and family ties, the weight of the stories we choose to tell, and the burden of those we hide.

Frozen in grief after the loss of her son at sea, Edith Baines stares across the water at a schooner, under full sail yet motionless in the winter wind and surging tide of the Northern Reach. Edith seems to be hallucinating. Or is she? Edith’s boat-watch opens The Northern Reach, set in the coastal town of Wellbridge, Maine, where townspeople squeeze a living from the perilous bay or scrape by on the largesse of the summer folk and whatever they can cobble together, salvage, or grab.

At the center of town life is the Baines family, land-rich, cash-poor descendants of town founders, along with the ne’er-do-well Moody clan, the Martins of Skunk Pond, and the dirt farming, bootlegging Edgecombs. Over the course of the twentieth century, the families intersect, interact, and intermarry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts.

My Thoughts:

First impressions are not always correct. In the beginning, I must confess the writing style and story structure threw me for a loop. When I started to feel something for a character or the family dynamic, the story moves on to the next and at times I became frustrated. Yes, I was having a rough go of it all. It was time to take a step back and reevaluate the story and purpose of the presentation and I’m glad I did.

One must remember that when reading about generational families or interconnected families-if you will, there will be multi-faceted plots. You will be taken deeply into a historical time-lines. There will be strong elements that can sway you from happy moments to darker times. In short, they evolve. Family bonds are complicated to say the least and the author marvelously portrays this fact. We might not like the characters or we will feel we are not getting enough from them but that is okay. The Northern Reach is an evocative story and will push boundaries you might not have expected to cross.

I did enjoy a quite few of the story-lines and the setting and I was intrigued with the character’s life story and I wanted to read more about them. Will we be reading more about these interesting people? I would like to very much! As the story continued, I began to have a better understanding of the set-up-if you will. There is strong character development and the setting gives you a stark, realistic view of the state of Maine and its’ towns. There is a particular social element in the story that is still considered a hot topic in today’s climate that I would really like to pick the authors brain about!

The author superbly portrays how people can make assumptions about other people and even more so in families. The Northern Reach is not a story of virtuous people, but they are down to the bone’s realistic of human nature and thought. In particular the attitudes of the Baines family and the people who marry into that family. At first, I found Edith Baines to be an intriguing woman, I soon discovered her to be just as flawed-if not more- like the rest of them. She was hardened by her life experiences and loss. Her attitude-I felt-towards her daughter-in-law Lilane was unjust. The women who made the most impression on me were Imelda, Alice, Liliane and Suzanne. I would like to read more about them.

An intriguing story wrought in hardships, cultural differences, family dysfunction, legacy and loss.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy of this book through the publishers for an honest review.

Interview with W.S. Winslow coming up Friday, March 5th here a Layered Pages!

Cover Crush: The Thin Place by C D Major

Cover: I like the simplicity of the cover. The decorative frame adds a quiet elegance. The image of the yellow house is compelling in a unusual sort-of way. Though it may seem out of place to many, one might see its’ relevance and meaning.

Thoughts of the story:

I was delighted to be able to get a galley copy of The Thin Place. This book is not listed on goodreads or on Amazon in the US as of yet. Looking forward to reading and reviewing this story!  -Stephanie Hopkins

The Thin Place by C D Major

Amazon Publishing UK

General Fiction (Adult) | Historical Fiction | Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 15 Apr 2021

Description

“I devoured this novel in a single sitting. The Thin Place will stay with you long after you turn the final page.” –Clare Mackintosh, bestselling author of After the End

She has to know the truth about Overtoun Estate, but there is a reason it has stayed buried for so long.

When journalist Ava Brent decides to investigate the dark mystery of Overtoun Estate—a ‘thin place’, steeped in myth—she has no idea how dangerous this story will be for her.

Overtoun looms over the town, watching, waiting: the locals fearful of the strange building and the secrets it keeps. When Ava starts to ask questions, the warm welcome she first receives turns to a cold shoulder. And before she knows it, Ava is caught in the house’s grasp too.

After she discovers the history of a sick young girl who lived there, she starts to understand the sadness that shrouds it. But when she finds an ominous old message etched into a windowsill, she is forced to wonder—what horrors is the house protecting? And what will it cost her to find out?

With her own first child on the way, Ava knows she should stay away. But even as her life starts to unravel, and she receives chilling threats, the house and the bridge keep pulling her back…

Cover Crush: Painting the Light by Sally Cabot Gunning

About the Cover: I chose this cover because of the ocean and cliffs. A calming and beautiful scenery. How the light is shown from the sky. One can imagine the smell of salt air and feel of the breeze coming from the ocean.

About the book: This story takes place in my favorite period to read about and I love that Ida is an artist. During that time it wasn’t “done” for a woman to enroll in art classes.

Imagine living on a seaside farm. Though, ,sadly, it sounds if she is having to put her passion of art behind her to tend to her duties on the farm.

Oftentimes, art is drawn from tragedy and heart-break. I wonder and hope she finds her passion again. -Stephanie Hopkins

Book Description

William Morrow and Custom House

William Morrow

General Fiction (Adult) Historical Fiction |Literary Fiction

Pub Date 01 Jun 2021

From the critically acclaimed author of Monticello and The Widow’s War comes a vividly rendered historical novel of love, loss, and reinvention, set on Martha’s Vineyard at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Martha’s Vineyard, 1898. In her first life, Ida Russell had been a painter. Five years ago, she had confidently walked the halls of Boston’s renowned Museum School, enrolling in art courses that were once deemed “unthinkable” for women to take, and showing a budding talent for watercolors.

But no more. Ida Russell is now Ida Pease, resident of a seaside farm on Vineyard Haven, and wife to Ezra, a once-charming man who has become an inattentive and altogether unreliable husband. Ezra runs a salvage company in town with his business partner Mose Barstow, but he much prefers their nightly card games at the local pub to his work in their Boston office, not to mention filling haystacks and tending sheep on the farm at home—duties that have fallen to Ida and their part-time farmhand Lem. Ida, meanwhile, has left her love for painting behind.

It comes as no surprise to Ida when Ezra is hours late for a Thanksgiving dinner, only to leave abruptly for another supposedly urgent business trip to Boston. But then something truly unthinkable happens: a storm strikes, and the Portland sinks. Ezra and Mose are presumed dead.

In the wake of this shocking tragedy, Ida must settle the affairs of Ezra’s estate, a task that brings her to a familiar face from her past—Henry Barstow, Mose’s brother and executor. As she joins Henry in sifting through the remnants of her husband’s life and work, Ida must learn to separate truth from lies and what matters from what doesn’t.

Painting the Light is an arresting portrait of a woman, and a considered meditation on loss and love.

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

before the second sleep cover crush

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

Book Spotlight: Ruby Falls by Deborah Goodrich Royce

This book looks interesting! I love the cover! According to the description, the story pays homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. -Stephanie Hopkins

Ruby Falls

by Deborah Goodrich Royce

Post Hill Press

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 04 May 2021

Description

“Imaginative, unique, spine-tingling, and just the right amount of eerie, Ruby Falls is what a reader wants a psychological thriller to be.” —Sandra Brown, New York Times bestselling author 

Ruby Falls will sweep you headfirst into the life of Eleanor Russell, an actress setting up house in the glamorous Hollywood Hills with her handsome new husband, Orlando. Secrets abound in this bang of a book, a haunting tale sure to give readers chills. A stunner with some serious Gothic vibes.” —Kimberly Belle, internationally bestselling author of Dear Wife and Stranger in the Lake

Like the chilling psychological thriller, The Silent Patient, Deborah Goodrich Royce’s Ruby Falls is a nail-biting tale of a fragile young actress, the new husband she barely knows, and her growing suspicion that the secrets he harbors may eclipse her own.

On a brilliantly sunny July day, six-year-old Ruby is abandoned by her father in the suffocating dark of a Tennessee cave. Twenty years later, transformed into soap opera star Eleanor Russell, she is fired under dubious circumstances. Fleeing to Europe, she marries a glamorous stranger named Orlando Montague and keeps her past closely hidden.

Together, Eleanor and Orlando start afresh in LA. Setting up house in a storybook cottage in the Hollywood Hills, Eleanor is cast in a dream role—the lead in a remake of Rebecca. As she immerses herself in that eerie gothic tale, Orlando’s personality changes, ghosts of her past re-emerge, and Eleanor fears she is not the only person in her marriage with a secret.

In this thrilling and twisty homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the story ricochets through the streets of Los Angeles, a dangerous marriage to an exotic stranger, and the mind of a young woman whose past may not release her.

Book Review: The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown

The Perfum Garden

High in the hills of Valencia, a forgotten house guards its secrets. Untouched since Franco’s forces tore through Spain in 1936, the whitewashed walls have crumbled, and the garden, laden with orange blossom, grows wild. Emma Temple is the first to unlock its doors in seventy years. Emma is London’s leading perfumier, but her blessed life has taken a difficult turn. Her free-spirited mother, Liberty, who taught her the art of fragrance making, has just passed away. At the same time, she broke up with her long-time lover and business partner, Joe, whose baby she happens to be carrying. While Joe is in New York trying to sell his majority share in their company, Emma, guided by a series of letters and a key bequeathed to her in Liberty’s will, decides to leave her job and travel to Valencia, where she will give birth in the house her mother mysteriously purchased just before her death. The villa is a perfect retreat: redolent with the exotic scents of orange blossom and neroli, dappled with light and with the rich colors of a forgotten time. Emma makes it her mission to restore the place to its former glory. But for her aging grandmother, Freya, a British nurse who stayed in Valencia during Spain’s devastating civil war, Emma’s new home evokes memories of a terrible secret, a part of her family’s past that until now has managed to stay hidden. With two beautifully interwoven narratives and a lush, atmospheric setting, Kate Lord Brown’s The Perfume Garden is a dramatic, emotional debut that readers won’t soon forget.

My thoughts:

On the Hills of Valencia, a house with secrets, and a garden that is so beautiful described you can almost smell the aroma coming through the pages. This evocative debut is brilliant! Let’s not forget love, ties of family, loss and war. Powerfully written and the author honors the reader with an emotional setting, time period, wonderfully written characters…long after I read this novel I continued to think of Freya, Rosa, Macu, Liberty, Emma and Joe. They are forever stamped in my mind.

This is one of the best stories I have read in 2015. What first drew me to this novel was the title and book cover. Then when I read the book description, I knew this would be a winner and it was. The story actually went beyond my expectations I had for it. I will definitely be reading this story again and I highly recommend it!

Five Star Rating

Stephanie M. Hopkins