The Importance of World Building

A Better Understanding for Your Reading Experience

My Dear Fellow Readers,

I’m always pondering about what the writer’s intentions and thoughts are when creating a story. How the readers’ perceptions vary and if they’re what the author is conveying. As an avid reader and one who reviews books, there are themes and elements to the story that I feel make the story equally come to life. The core of a believable story is world building and realistic characterization, in my opinion. These ingredients combined help drive the plot, the character’s movements, motives, and pull the reader in.

I believe contrasts in world building are an important structure for stories to work. For example: The key setting or location, if you will, of the story and how it is described. The contrast would be another location shown in a different light all together. What distinguishes one place to another? Readers want to feel transported to time and place. Tone, mood, senses and atmospheric surroundings is key. Even down to the little details, such as a table, how it looks and how it’s positioned in a room. The juxtaposition of the furniture, if you will. Landscape is another element that needs contrast, which plays a role in how and where the characters feel the most vulnerable or the safest. Is it daylight, nighttime or is the weather cold, warm, dry or rainy? Does the writer include these details at all?

I remember this one book I read where a scene took place out to sea. The way the writer described the swaying ship sailing along the water surface with the waves crashing against the sides of the ship, the spray of water on their faces and the smell of the salty air. It was as if I was standing on the deck, experiencing the elements myself. What an experience!

On the other hand, I’ve read stories that took place in the 18th century and you would have a young family member of a great house sneak in the kitchen to speak to the cook or to grab what food they could muster, and you didn’t have a sense for the 18th century kitchen life.There is a vast difference between the 18th century kitchen and the 21st century kitchen. Modern readers need to experience that through writer’s historical stories. Imagine a 18th century great house with the a kitchen bustling with activity and observing the sounds and sights of people moving to and throw. The kitchen servants preparing food to be cooked by fire or coal. Kitchens in the 18th century were not a place of luxury and you didn’t have family members entertaining at the kitchen table. Those rooms were usually dark, hot and prone to catch on fire. These kitchens were situated as far as possible from the families social and private spaces. For instance, in the 19th century, many homes in America, particularly in the south, built their kitchens in a separate building out back because the danger of fires. Not only that but the servants day started before sun up and didn’t end until late in the night, then their day started again shorty after that. Pay attention to those details.

Social and cultural elements are equally important in regards to contrasts in world building. Readers must learn something from the character’s social standing, beliefs, traditions, life experience that is good or bad, their surroundings and manner of speech that is in contrast or similar to theirs. The list goes on…

Questions to think about when reading/reviewing a story: Were you transported to time and place? Can you picture the scene in your mind’s eye? Can you visualize the characters movements and imagine their senses as if they were your own? Did you make a connection? What have you learned from them and how did they impact you? If you can answer yes to all these questions and feel impacted positively by the story, then that is a sign of a great read. I admire authors who take their world building seriously.

There’re innumerable ways writers create their worlds. Many writers map out their world before beginning to write their story. I’m always curious about other writers’ methods and what works for them. Especially, with the social structure in certain walks of life that is not their own. I also believe there is a fine balance with world building. I’ve read books where the writer got bogged down by the characters’ surroundings, that the plot was lost in the world being created.

A short list of books I enjoyed with remarkable world building:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Good Time Coming by C.S. Harris

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

Dune by Frank Herbert

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My wish for newbie book reviewers is to be inspired by these observations, the list of books I provided and to have a better understanding how stories should work.

Regards,

Stephanie Hopkins

June: Book Round-Up

It feels like this year is flying by and sometimes I feel like I’m not going to get all the reading in that I planned. According to my goodreads reading challenge, I am 16 books ahead of schedule, but still…

Anyhow, I wanted to mention that I’ve been thinking after this year, not participating in the reading challenges anymore. That said, I do like to keep track of my yearly reads but not on demand. I have not enjoyed reading this way for a while now. I have something else in mind to keep track of the number of books I read in a year that I might discuss at a later time.

My daughter’s book

In my  Home Library Books post, I talked about reading books from my own bookshelf at home and reading stories my daughter has read. I was able to get in two of her books and I quite enjoyed them. This month, I read seven books total and you will notice that I’ve veered away from historical fiction somewhat. I’m frustrated with the direction the genre is going in and the censoring going on in the publishing industry. That is for another time to discuss, if at all.

A few of these books I have read at a leisurely pace and the one by Dean Koontz, I’ve read before a couple times.

It shall be interesting what July brings.

Stephanie Hopkins

New Book Release: The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

Many congrats to Rhys Bowen’s book publication of, “The Venice Sketchbook!”

About the Book:

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. 

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“Juliet “Lettie” Browning, an English woman, is a woman of strength and courage. The life she experienced and saw during her stay in Venice were during uncertain times. Her will to behave uprightly puts her in many dangers but her resilience is an example to us all…read more of my review at this post link.” -Stephanie Hopkins

New Book Release: The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

Congrats to Jennifer McMahon’s book publication of, “The Drowning Kind!”

About the book:

When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax arrives at the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family and the property. And as she dives deeper into the research herself, she discovers that the land holds a far darker past than she could have ever imagined.

In 1929, thirty-seven-year-old newlywed Ethel Monroe hopes desperately for a baby. In an effort to distract her, her husband whisks her away on a trip to Vermont, where a natural spring is showcased by the newest and most modern hotel in the Northeast. Once there, Ethel learns that the water is rumored to grant wishes, never suspecting that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives.

A haunting, twisty, and compulsively readable thrill ride from the author who Chris Bohjalian has dubbed the “literary descendant of Shirley Jackson,” The Drowning Kind is a modern-day ghost story that illuminates how the past, though sometimes forgotten, is never really far behind us

“A good mystery writer needs to know how to build dramatic tension and suspense that flows evenly through their stories. McMahon certainly knows how to balance those elements and more… She shows, brilliantly, how her characters work through complex situations in their lives and has a unique way of drawing the reader in as if they were experiencing the conflicts for themselves. She most certainly holds a special place in the mystery genre.” You can read more of my review at this post link. -Stephanie Hopkins

Book Spotlight: The Family Plot by Megan Collins

A secluded island mansion deep in the woods and a missing teen. Years after a death in the family, they make a gruesome discovery. I would say this family has been through it and then some!

Mystery/thriller stories are among my favorite genres to read! With the right elements, or pieces like a puzzle, you watch the mystery unfold and develop to the very end. Or would it be, develop and then unfold? Either way, along with other fellow readers and bloggers, I’m excited about this book coming out! Thank you, Atria Books for a copy.

Now it’s time to go grab that second cup of coffee. It is going to be a reading marathon the next two days! What are your bookish plans this weekend? Happy reading! -Stephanie Hopkins

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

Atria Books

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 17 Aug 2021  

Description

When a family obsessed with true crime gathers to bury their patriarch, horrifying secrets are exposed upon the discovery of another body in his grave in this chilling novel from the author of Behind the Red Door and The Winter Sister.

At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse remains haunted by her upbringing. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she has been unable to move beyond the disappearance of her twin brother, Andy, when they were sixteen.

After several years away and following her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house where the family soon makes a gruesome discovery: buried in their father’s plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Dahlia is quick to blame Andy’s murder on the serial killer who terrorized the island for decades, while the rest of the Lighthouses react to the revelation in unsettling ways. Her brother, Charlie, pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister, Tate, forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic facade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

Cover Crush: The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake

About the Cover: I love the lady’s reflection in the water and how her red dress and bad contrast with the blue. I do wish we could see more of her face. One can tell her walk shows determination. If you look closely, you’ll notice medical instruments on either side of the book title. I do like the flourishes in the corners of the layout. It does give the image a bit of a mirror affect. Which compliments the reflection scene.

About the Book: Clearly the story takes place in the 19th century but the description of the story does not state that. I believe that needs to be added so it won’t leave readers guessing until they read the book. Another issue I have is that it doesn’t mention where the story takes place. I’m guessing, England because of the doctor’s name. Though many Americans have English names. Most likely, I could find out the time and period by seeing if there are any reviews written that state the information, but I rather wait to see if I am able to get a copy of the book for review.

I did, however, do a little digging on the name Croft. Did you know that the surname Croft, has pre 6th century origins and emerged as a notable English name? From what I read; the name originates from English northern counties

I’m really interested in the premise and I will definitely be reading this book one way or another.

Stephanie Hopkins.

Sourcebooks Landmark

Historical Fiction

Pub Date 04 May 2021

Description

The story of one woman who believed in scientific medicine before the world believed in her

Raised by the eccentric surgeon Dr. Horace Croft after losing her parents to a deadly pandemic, the orphan Nora Beady knows little about conventional life. While other young ladies were raised to busy themselves with needlework and watercolors, Nora was trained to perfect her suturing and anatomical illustrations of dissections.

Women face dire consequences if caught practicing medicine, but in Croft’s private clinic Nora is his most trusted—and secret—assistant. That is until the new surgical resident Dr. Daniel Gibson arrives. Dr. Gibson has no idea that Horace’s bright and quiet young ward is a surgeon more qualified and ingenuitive than even himself. In order to protect Dr. Croft and his practice from scandal and collapse Nora must learn to play a new and uncomfortable role—that of a proper young lady.

But pretense has its limits. Nora cannot turn away and ignore the suffering of patients even if it means giving Gibson the power to ruin everything she’s worked for. And when she makes a discovery that could change the field forever, Nora faces an impossible choice. Remain invisible and let the men around her take credit for her work, or let the world see her for what she is—even if it means being destroyed by her own legacy.

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…

Book Review: In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

Banner by Stephanie Hopkins

In the Garden of Spite is an intriguing 19th and early 20th century historical fiction story with true crime leanings. Belle, formally known as Brynhild, is a Norwegian whose troubles in her homeland lead her to America where she joins her older sister Nellie in Chicago for a better life. When Nellie meets her at the train station, she is greeted by a less than cheerful sister and soon realizes that life with Belle isn’t a bed of roses.

People began to whisper about Belle and their suspicions of her, and bodies are piling up but that didn’t stop men from flocking to her! Longing for a life away from the city and to live on a farm, Belle gets her wish and sure enough, things get a lot more interesting.

But who is Belle Gunness?

Yeah, you’re really going to get to know her well by reading this book.

In the beginning of the story, I felt empathy for Belle. She was abused badly-to say the least-by the farmer’s son she worked for. Her family life was dysfunctional, stark, poverty-stricken, abusive and cruel. The people in her community did not look kindly on her family. Not long into the story my feelings for Belle took a turn when the she crosses over the forbidden boundary in taking a life.

What are the traits of a female serial killer? If you don’t already know, I think it is safe to say, you’ll discover quite a few of them in this tale.

Abstract by Stephanie Hopkins

Nellie observed troubling signs of Belle’s character when she was a child but never dreamed it would lead something so sinister. She can’t help but make excuses to herself to not take action. No one wants to think the worse of their kin.

As much as I tried to sympathize and understand Nellie’s inner turmoil, I struggled with the fact that when lives are being taken, she continued to be in a state of denial. Or was it fear? There are moments in life when you’ve got to stop making excuses for people. Murder would be one of them!

To make the story even more engrossing, Belle has a particular friend. His name is James Lee and they have a lot in common to say the least. It’s creepy how Belle and James discuss the killings so casually. Like it’s just a normal conversation about daily tasks and the like. It leaves you feeling quite unnerved yet morbidly fascinated. James is a bit of a mystery though. Other than being in Bella’s life, her support and a killer for hire, I often wondered how else he lived his life. Hmm…

The topic of serial killers’ is gruesome and some of the murder scenes in the book are a bit graphic, Bruce is careful not to delve too much into gory details in such a way, that it would be too disturbing to read. Her descriptions of the murderous acts, and Belle’s rationalizing the killings in her mind, gives you a clear picture of how truly wicked Belle is. Though Belle sees it differently. All she wants is a simple life, nice things, plenty of food on the table, a family that adores her and pig farm of her own. Is that too much to ask for?

I do enjoy reading true crime stories because I’m interested in the human mind. One can imagine psychological thrillers are not easy to write or research for that matter. You really have to dig deep in the minds of psychopaths if you want to be true to the subject. A scary place to be for sure, though not all of them are murderers, of course.. This is the first book I’ve read by Bruce and I must say, this sub-genre is her niche-if you will. Despite the daunting premise, she definitely had me on edge throughout the book in a bizarre, entertaining sort-of way. She is a great story-teller and one heck of a writer.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy of In the Garden of Spite from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

January: Book Round-Up

This year’s reading started off with a bang! I got through ten books and that is a current record for me. It has been a long time since I’ve read that many in a month. This is encouraging since my goal is to read 100 books this year. Who knows? I might surpass that goal. My original goal was to read a book a week but I knew I could read more than that with the great selection of books that are coming out and what novels I have on my shelf at home.

I am also making a point to read books that I would normally not pick up. Two of the books are young adults’ books. I must confess, I didn’t enjoy them as much as I thought I would. The story-telling just wasn’t to my taste and I struggled to stay focused. Having said that, I’m not giving up the genre. My daughter has a few on her shelf that I want to give a go at.

Today I’m sharing the books I read this month. Two of them where audio books I listened to through YouTube. Three of the books I’ve read before and I’ve read them more than four times! There will be four books reviews in total. My review for, The Garden of Spite and The Signs of the Gallows will be posted next week.

Last but not least, Robert Frost’s Selected Poems, which I adore. If you want to practice writing poetry, read Frost and other poets. Reading Poetry teaches language, ideas and meaning. Writing poetry allows us to explore the world that reaches beyond the limitations of our senses. There is a whole other world out there that poetry gives us.  One can say that about reading it as well. The subject of poetry is an endless delight of wonders. -Stephanie Hopkins

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Coming up tomorrow at Layered Pages: Image of the Month and Poetry!

By the Water’s Edge Art Work by Stephanie Hopkins

Layered Pages Top 2020 Reads

Favorite Books Read in 2020

Last year my Goodreads challenge was to read twenty fiction books. I surpassed that goal and read thirty. However, I read more than thirty books. Beyond that was research books for my writing project and other research projects. I did not count those on goodreads because I’m continually referring to them.

The fiction books below are my top favorite reads, though not in a particular order. This year’s reading goal is much bigger. I will be talking about that more a little later on. What were your favorite 202 reads? -Stephanie Hopkins

Top Favorites

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

Be sure to check these titles out on Goodreads and Amazon!

Favorite Covers:

Here are my favorite covers out of the bunch. Which covers do you like?