What I’m Reading and Pondering

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

My thoughts so far:

I am deeply fascinated with Southern Gothic stories and I decided to give Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson a go. This is more of a young adult book, which I don’t normally read, but still find it compelling. I do have a few complaints but will reserve sharing those thoughts at a later time since I’m not quite at the half way mark.

About the book:

Dovey learns that demons lurk in places other than the dark corners of her mind in this southern gothic fantasy from the author of the Blud series.

A year ago, Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah, Georgia, leaving behind nothing but death and destruction—and taking the life of Dovey’s best friend, Carly. Since that night, Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything around her.

But recently she’s started to believe she’s seeing things that can’t be real…including Carly at their favorite café. Determined to learn the truth, Dovey stops taking her pills. And the world that opens up to her is unlike anything she could have imagined.

As Dovey slips deeper into the shadowy corners of Savannah—where the dark and horrifying secrets lurk—she learns that the storm that destroyed her city and stole her friend was much more than a force of nature. And now the sinister beings truly responsible are out to finish what they started.

Educated by Tara Westover

My thoughts so far:  

I find this story fascinating and find Tara’s father to be sorely misguided in the fact that you can have your beliefs about Government, know the tools of survival, live off the land (which is important) or almost completely off grid in this case and still be educated, well-read and knowledgeable in the ways of the world through literature and self-learning without compromising your beliefs. After-all, education in many different areas gives one an advantage. Not allowing his children to learn how to read is heart breaking in my opinion. Now, I don’t believe everything I read, see or hear and that is where my critical thinking comes into play but I still need to know what is out there. I firmly believe that is a major part in our survival and it does sharpen the mind.

A few of Mark Twain’s quotes about education comes to mind.

“The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man that cannot read them.”

“It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others – and less trouble.”

“I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

While I believe our school system is failing and lacking in many ways, I discovered that if I wanted to be “educated” by my own terms and definitions of the word, that I needed to read as many books as I can, try new things, listen to as many people’s outlook as I can and their experiences on life. I also, look at things with a critical mind, while keeping an open mind. That is important. I consider school a jump start into one’s education. Learn the tools that are given to you and branch out from there. You should never stop learning. Tara’s parents could have home schooled their children if they did not believe in the public education system, while holding to their beliefs!

I am still in the early stages of this story and Tara is still living with her family. With the thoughts I’ve already formed about the story, I look forward to discovering more. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the book:

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter, she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

Cover Crush: The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

About the Cover: I can’t decide what I like more. The cover or the book title. The thought of an Island of missing trees is unique. I like it! As far as the cover goes, it is not extraordinary but it is cute and I like the colors.

About the Book: I must confess that I haven’t read any books by this author before. I plan on researching her work a bit more extensively and have added this book to my wish-list. I have heard that Reese Witherspoon has selected this book for the November Book Club pick.

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Description:

Two teenagers, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, meet at a taverna on the island they both call home. The taverna is the only place that Kostas and Defne can meet in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic and chilli peppers, creeping honeysuckle, and in the centre, growing through a cavity in the roof, a fig tree. The fig tree witnesses their hushed, happy meetings; their silent, surreptitious departures. The fig tree is there, too, when war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to ashes and rubble, when the teenagers vanish. Decades later, Kostas returns—a botanist, looking for native species—looking, really, for Defne. The two lovers return to the taverna to take a clipping from the fig tree and smuggle it into their suitcase, bound for London. Years later, the fig tree in the garden is their daughter Ada’s only knowledge of a home she has never visited, as she seeks to untangle years of secrets and silence, and find her place in the world.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

I’m in the throes of cleaning out two closets in my bedroom and I discovered stacks of books I’ve forgotten about or rediscovered-if you will. How is that even possible with a book worm? Believe me, it happens. As I started to undergo the stacks of books, I came upon Garth Stein’s novel, A Sudden Light. I had purchased the hardback when it was first published and I cannot recall how it ended up in my closet. For shame! That said, the novel was sitting on a wired shelf, protected by leaves of clothes surrounding the stacks. The closet cleaning quickly became a distant memory, for about ten minutes, as I opened the book to read the description and peeked through the pages. Intrigued with the premise, I chose to start reading this extraordinary story the night of rediscovery and I’m delighted with my decision to do so. I have much to say about this story thus far. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the book:

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant whole trees and is set on a huge estate overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch the ailing and elderly Grandpa Samuel to a nursing home, sell off the house and property for development, divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But as Trevor explores the house’s secret stairways and hidden rooms, he discovers a spirit lingering in Riddell House whose agenda is at odds with the family plan. Only Trevor’s willingness to face the dark past of his forefathers will reveal the key to his family’s future.

Book Review: The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman

About the book:

Mia Eliot has travelled from London to LA for pilot season. This is her big chance to make it as an actor in Hollywood, and she is ready to do whatever it takes. At an audition she meets Emily, and what starts as a simple favour takes a dark turn when Emily goes missing and Mia is the last person to see her.

Then a woman turns up, claiming to be Emily, but she is nothing like Mia remembers. Why would someone pretend to be Emily? Starting to question her own sanity, she goes on a desperate and dangerous search for answers, knowing something is very, very wrong.

My thoughts:

I must confess that this story took me a while to read and as I got closer to the conclusion, I was eager to push through. I have three minds about this book. At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book. I am not a fan of Hollywood and the corruptness is disgustingly appalling and in the resent years, they been have increasingly known to the public. Not only that, but the politically and socially motivated agenda pushed on the masses and the kind-of movies that are being made out lately…Yeah, I won’t delve further in that topic at present.

While I found the story starting to lag a bit and go on too much about details and my attention waned at times, there are a lot of well-written twisty and tensely moments throughout the story.

The situations Mia found herself in kept getting increasingly stranger and I began to think that everything happening to her was in her head or someone was seriously messing with her. I found it amusing that Mia in this book played the Jane Eyre part like Mia Wasikowska in real life. I did like how she was asking herself what would Jane Eyre do or act upon in dilemmas she found herself in.

I appreciated the author’s portrayal of LA and from what I heard about the area; she is spot on. Though, she was likely being tamed about the telling. Which, I’m happy with because that was partly why I was hesitate to read this book.

I was relieved to find the conclusion satisfying because I had my doubts. As a whole, The Disappearing Act is a clever story with fast-moving tension and sordid truths about the movie industry.

Stephanie Hopkins

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

Book Review: The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones

Published August 3rd 2021 by Minotaur Books

Three couples travel to a destination wedding for the weekend in Portugal, a stunning villa high on the cliffs with the sounds of roaring waves crashing on the rocks below. What could go wrong? Everything!

My gosh! There is so much drama in this story that I felt I was transported back to high school. Needless to say, this story is not my usual fan fair but I found myself unable to put it aside, and I was imagining of all sorts of scenarios of how this would end. The author weaved bread crumbs throughout the story, and then there would be a twist to throw you off, just to lead you back to the same conclusion. The story went in all sorts of directions to the very end. Did I figure it out before the ending? Yes, I did with a couple details I didn’t see coming.

The Quilt Trip emphasizes just how much stupid and destructive things people do and say under the influence of alcohol and for just down right selfish and petty reasons. Furthermore, how secrets and lies are a tender box waiting to ignite at any moment when least expected.

The build up to this story was great, however, I found some minor errors in details to be an unbelievable and the ending did not measure up. For example, without going into too much detail, the tragedy at the wedding scene was overly complicated and did not work for me.

As far as the characters go, the person I felt most empathy for was Jack’s brother Will. Despite his role being in the background a bit, I enjoyed his personality and free spirit. He is the nomad type, a wanderer. A person who would happily sleep under the stars without worry. With this crowd and his brother, its no wonder! Rachel, Jack, Paige, Noah and Ali were extremely unlikable characters and their dysfunction drove me nuts. I dare say, that is the point of the story, I’m sure.

Despite my misgivings, I enjoyed the story enough to keep reading and I’m confident that many readers will enjoy the book. -Stephanie Hopkins

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

Book Description:

Six friends.

Rachel and Noah have been friends since they met at university. While they once thought that they might be something more, now, twenty years later, they are each happily married to other people, Jack and Paige respectively. Jack’s brother Will is getting married, to the dazzling, impulsive Ali, and the group of six travel to Portugal for their destination weekend.

Three couples.

As they arrive at a gorgeous villa perched on a cliff-edge, overlooking towering waves that crash on the famous surfing beaches below at Nazaré, they try to settle into a weekend of fun. While Rachel is looking forward to getting to know her future sister-in-law Ali better, Ali can’t help but rub many of the group up the wrong way: Rachel’s best friend Paige thinks Ali is attention-seeking and childish, and while Jack is trying to support his brother Will’s choice of wife, he is also finding plenty to disagree with Noah about.

One fatal misunderstanding . . .

But when Rachel discovers something about Ali that she can hardly believe, everything changes. As the wedding weekend unfolds, the secrets each of them hold begin to spill, and friendships and marriages threaten to unravel. Soon, jumping to conclusions becomes the difference between life and death.

Cover Crush: The North Water by Ian McGuire

About the cover: Let me start by saying that I believe whale hunting is horrific and it is extremely hard for me to read novels about the subject. Anyhow, I’m totally feeling the summer vibes with this cover. Yes, the wale is in deep ocean but it still makes be long for the beach! I thought it clever to add the image of the whaling ship on the tail. I love the colors and the dramatic imagery of the ocean.

There is a better image of the book on IG @eatingtheirwords

Thoughts about the story: This looks like a story worth reading and the period the story is set in, is my favorite! I’m guessing it’s focused more on an evil person on board that is confronted? Hmm… I refuse to read any reviews on this book. I want an unbiased opinion. -Stephanie Hopkins

About the Book:

A 19th-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.

Behold the man. Stinking, drunk, brutal and bloodthirsty, Henry Drax is a harpooner on the ‘Volunteer’, a Yorkshire whaling ship that is due to set sail for the rich hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money and no better option than to embark as ship’s medic on this violent, filthy, ill-fated voyage.

In India during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which a man can stoop and imagined he’d find temporary respite on the ‘Volunteer’, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an arctic winter.

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…