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

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: 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 . . .

Two in One Talk About Books

Today I’m doing a two in one post about titles that stand out to me and a cover crush. I know. Usual for Layered Pages but fun! When browsing books to choose to read, one can’t help but be drawn in by unique books titles. There are times I feel that the title alone is what draws my interest and want to discover its meaning. Strong titles are important to the story as are the cover designs.

Several of these books could easily be my cover crush choice but I need to pick just one for today. Hmm… I’m going to go with, “The Venice Sketchbook” by Rhys Bowen. I love the blend of colors and the romantic feel to the landscape. The title immediately caught my attention because of the mention of a sketchbook. That word alone draws in intrigue, stories, imagery, a window to the owner’s mind and secrets captured on paper. I obtained a copy from the publishers through NetGalley and I can’t wait to dive into the story!

About the book:

The Venice Sketchbook

Lake Union Publishing

Pub Date 13 Apr 2021

Love and secrets collide in Venice during WWII in an enthralling novel of brief encounters and lasting romance by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and Above the Bay of Angels.

Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.

It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever.

Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins.

*********

Other titles that stand-out and in the coming weeks I will be talking a bit about why I’m interested in them. Each title is linked to Amazon.

The Lost History of Dreams by Kris Waldherr

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

A Betting Woman (A Novel of Madame Moustache)

by Jenni L. Walsh

The Straits of Treachery by Richard Hopton

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before the second sleep cover crush

Stephanie Hopkins

Images may be subjected to copyright. In order to use art images or any content on Layered Pages platform, please ask permission from Stephanie Hopkins

Cover Crush: Murder at Queen’s Landing by Andrea Penrose

Murder at Queen’s Landing is part of the Wrexford & Sloane Series by Andrew Penrose. I must admit I have not started the series as of yet but I’m keeping a close eye on it. Today, I am highlighting this particular book because I absolutely love how the cover evokes hauntingly imagery. This cover would make a beautiful painting.

There are many elements to this story that interest me. Not only the cover but the genre and the time period the story is set in.  A theme that really stood out to me is the, “World of banking and international arbitrage.” The world banks wield unspeakable power that the majority of the populous is completely unaware of that fact. I have a feeling this is an interesting story to say the least and I’m curious as to where the author goes with this. -Stephanie Hopkins

Book description:

Murder at Queen’s Landing (Wrexford & Sloane #4)

by Andrea Penrose

Published September 29th 2020 by Kensington Books/Kensington Publishing Corp.

The murder of a shipping clerk . . . the strange disappearance of trusted friends . . . rumors of corruption within the powerful East India Company . . . all add up to a dark mystery entangling Lady Charlotte Sloane and the Earl of Wrexford in a dangerous web of secrets and lies that will call into question how much they really know about the people they hold dear—and about each other . . .

When Lady Cordelia, a brilliant mathematician, and her brother, Lord Woodbridge, disappear from London, rumors swirl concerning fraudulent bank loans and a secret consortium engaged in an illicit—and highly profitable—trading scheme that threatens the entire British economy. The incriminating evidence mounts, but for Charlotte and Wrexford, it’s a question of loyalty and friendship. And so, they begin a new investigation to clear the siblings’ names, uncover their whereabouts, and unravel the truth behind the whispers.

As they delve into the murky world of banking and international arbitrage, Charlotte and Wrexford also struggle to navigate their increasingly complex feelings for each other. But the clock is ticking—a cunning mastermind has emerged . . . along with some unexpected allies—and Charlotte and Wrexford must race to prevent disasters both economic and personal as they are forced into a dangerous match of wits in an attempt to beat the enemy at his own game.

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

Stephanie Hopkins

Images may be subjected to copyright. In order to use art images or any content on Layered Pages platform, please ask permission from Stephanie Hopkins

Book Titles That Standout

When browsing books to choose to read, one can’t help but be drawn in by unique books titles. There are times I feel that the title alone is what draws my interest. Strong titles are important to the story and because of this, I’ve decided to start a series on titles that standout! As each blog entry I post on this series, I will go further in-depth about the titles and it’s meaning. -Stephanie Hopkins

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Hardcover, 400 pages

Published July 21st 2020 by Gallery Books

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice NetworkThe Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil. 

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2)

by Seanan McGuire

Hardcover, 187 pages

Published June 13th 2017 by Tor.com

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a brand-new epic novel from New York Times bestselling author Christopher Paolini.

Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds.

Now she’s awakened a nightmare.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .”