Cultural Nonfiction Books

I recently read Educated by Tara Westover and I must say, I have quite a bit to say about the story. I was debating on how to break down my thoughts but after I talked it over with a friend, she encouraged me to focus what topic in the story that was important to me and what would, basically make an impact. Not her words but that was the gest of the conversation. The memoir did strike a chord with me to focus more of my attention to social and cultural issues of our time and throughout recent history.

In my last post, I shared-on a small scale-about what I’m currently reading, and about my experience with Thomas Sowell’s’ work thus far. This particular journey has me wanting to study further in-depth cultural societies, economics and government entities around the world. Perhaps, you may have titles to recommend me to read.

Stephanie Hopkins

Confucius Never Said by Helen Raleigh

This book is a four-generation family journey from repression and poverty in China to freedom and prosperity in the United States. Their lives overlap with many significant historical events taking place in China, such as the founding of Communist China in 1949, the Great Chinese Famine from 1958-1960, the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976 and the Economic Reform starting from 1980.The author recounts the enormous suffering her family had to endure under Communist China’s radical social experiment. Her great-grandfather was denounced by the Chinese Communist Party and his neighbors simply because he owned land. He died in poverty, and his dying wish was never granted. Her grandfather loaned his fishing boat to the Communist Party, and ended up losing his independence and becoming a janitor. Her father escaped his village to get educated and thus survived the Great Famine. He became highly educated, but never joined the Communist Party . . . and was sent to a re-education labor camp because of it. The author herself grew up in China and immigrated to the United States as a young adult. She sought freedom and the American Dream, and found both. This book is about freedom-and about what happens when we let people take our freedom away. 

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies by M. Stanton Evans

Accused of creating a bogus Red Scare and smearing countless innocent victims in a five-year reign of terror, Senator Joseph McCarthy is universally remembered as a demagogue, a bully, and a liar. History has judged him such a loathsome figure that even today, a half century after his death, his name remains synonymous with witch hunts.
But that conventional image is all wrong, as veteran journalist and author M. Stanton Evans reveals in this groundbreaking book. The long-awaited “Blacklisted by History,” based on six years of intensive research, dismantles the myths surrounding Joe McCarthy and his campaign to unmask Communists, Soviet agents, and flagrant loyalty risks working within the U.S. government. Evans’s revelations completely overturn our understanding of McCarthy, McCarthyism, and the Cold War.

Drawing on primary sources–including never-before-published government records and FBI files, as well as recent research gleaned from Soviet archives and intercepted transmissions between Moscow spymasters and their agents in the United States–Evans presents irrefutable evidence of a relentless Communist drive to penetrate our government, influence its policies, and steal its secrets. Most shocking of all, he shows that U.S. officials supposedly guarding against this danger not only let it happen but actively covered up the penetration. All of this was precisely as Joe McCarthy contended.

“Blacklisted by History” shows, for instance, that the FBI knew as early as 1942 that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the atomic bomb project, had been identified by Communist leaders as a party member; that high-level U.S. officials were warned that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy almost a decade before the Hiss case became a public scandal; that a cabal of White House, Justice Department, and State Department officials lied about and covered up the Amerasia spy case; and that the State Department had been heavily penetrated by Communists and Soviet agents before McCarthy came on the scene.
Evans also shows that practically everything we’ve been told about McCarthy is false, including conventional treatment of the famous 1950 speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, that launched the McCarthy era (“I have here in my hand . . .”), the Senate hearings that casually dismissed his charges, the matter of leading McCarthy suspect Owen Lattimore, the Annie Lee Moss case, the Army-McCarthy hearings, and much more.

In the end, Senator McCarthy was censured by his colleagues and condemned by the press and historians. But as Evans writes, “The real Joe McCarthy has vanished into the mists of fable and recycled error, so that it takes the equivalent of a dragnet search to find him.” “Blacklisted by History” provides the first accurate account of what McCarthy did and, more broadly, what happened to America during the Cold War. It is a revealing expose of the forces that distorted our national policy in that conflict and our understanding of its history since. 

Finding Your Writing Voice Through Journaling

There are several methods of journaling that I incorporate in my daily life. The one activity they all have in common is they tell a story. They hold a deep and lasting meaning of my life and the lives I see around me. Looking back on all my journals and diaries, I’ve come to realize that in this endeavor is where I discovered my true writing voice. It wasn’t from reading books, though reading helps one grow their understanding of the written word, how stories are told, other life experiences and expands on one’s vocabulary, my writing voice developed over time from writing in journals. Could have it also been from blogging? Yes, I do find blogging a form of journal writing. A record keeping of thoughts, words, expression, emotions and even those awkward sentences where I couldn’t quite express myself in the way I felt inside. Those particular words don’t always come naturally to me in public form or rather, my private journals is what speaks of my truest inner voice.

Many people want to write in their journals but their uncertainty is holding them back. They say, “I’m not a writer or I would ruin my page, or rather my beautiful journal with my awkward words and ramblings.” Those awkward words and ramblings are what drives one to become a stronger writer. You must be deliberate with your writing and in the time, you take to write. Think of all the visits you made to a library filled with books that hold millions of words. Often times, those words did not come easy to the writer. Imagine the time and deliberate ink to paper or key strokes the writer put forth to build worlds in those numerous books. Believe me, it didn’t happen overnight for them. Don’t allow that voice in your head saying, “You’re not a writer,” intimidate you. Writing is a beautiful art regardless of one’s uncertainty in the act. Write what you know, write what you see and hear. Write a word or two and keep adding words after that. Allow those words to build on each other and soon you’ll find your voice as a writer. Once you do, words will flow and writing will be like exploring space. The act will take you to limitless places.

Stephanie Hopkins

August: Book Round-Up

I’m pleased with the devotion of reading I’ve put in this year and, in truth, I’ve developed better reading and writing habits that were much needed. Also, as enthusiast of stories, it’s not uncommon for one to feel burn out or a sense of frustration with what is or isn’t being published. I’ve deeply felt those things over the last several years and it seems to be escalating with the cancel culture, social unrest, societal ignorance, culture shaming, pandering and political correctness. I believe many authors are being pigeon-holed by main-stream publishers (especially in America) and voices are being silenced. Forcing many traditional publishing authors to go the hybrid route or seek publishers outside the states. Especially, in the historical fiction, history and political genre.

I cannot tolerate political correctness, authoritarianism, public bullying or publishers swaying or denying authors in what they choose to write about and how its’ subject is minimized. Yes, that’s right, folks. It’s happening more than you realize. It goes against the fabric of what a free society stands for. Not only that, it should be left up to the adult individual if they choose to read a particular book or not. It should not be decided for us. We need to be shown every human experience possible. History has taught us that. Now, before you react, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be boundaries…like, sexualizing children and so forth.

Perhaps, I will discuss further on this subject at a later time. It’s certainly a hot topic and will undoubtedly ruffle a few readers’ and publishers’ feathers. I digress.

This month’s reading was collectic to say the least and I quite enjoyed the journey, despite having a bump in the road with The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable and The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman. I am determined to finish reading those stories and review them. Unfortunately, I’m just not in the right frame of mind to do so at present. My top two favorites for this month are A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham and The Resting Place by Camilla Sten. What are your favorite reads for this month? -Stephanie Hopkins

The Thin Place by C.D. Major

Published April 15th 2021

I read this book twice. My Review HERE

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…

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Published November 28th 2006 by Penguin Classics (first published October 16th 1959)

It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones

Published August 3rd 2021 by Minotaur Books (first published May 31st 2021)

My Review HERE

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 holds begin to spill, and friendships and marriages threaten to unravel. Soon, jumping to conclusions becomes the difference between life and death.

The Resting Place by Camilla Sten

Expected publication: March 29th 2022 by Minotaur Books

Review on hold for a later date, per publisher’s request.

The medical term is prosopagnosia. The average person calls it face blindness—the inability to recognize a familiar person’s face, even the faces of those closest to you.

When Eleanor walked in on the scene of her capriciously cruel grandmother, Vivianne’s, murder, she came face to face with the killer—a maddening expression that means nothing to someone like her. With each passing day, her anxiety mounts. The dark feelings of having brushed by a killer, yet not know who could do this—or if they’d be back—overtakes both her dreams and her waking moments, thwarting her perception of reality.

Then a lawyer calls. Vivianne has left her a house—a looming estate tucked away in the Swedish woods. The place her grandfather died, suddenly. A place that has housed a dark past for over fifty years.

Eleanor. Her steadfast boyfriend, Sebastian. Her reckless aunt, Veronika. The lawyer. All will go to this house of secrets, looking for answers. But as they get closer to bringing the truth to light, they’ll wish they had never come to disturb what rests there.

A heart-thumping, relentless thriller that will shake you to your core, The Resting Place is an unforgettable novel of horror and suspense.

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

Expected publication: January 11th 2022 by Minotaur Books

My review will be posted closer to the publish date. What a story!!

When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small Louisiana town. By the end of the summer, Chloe’s father had been arrested as a serial killer and promptly put in prison. Chloe and the rest of her family were left to grapple with the truth and try to move forward while dealing with the aftermath.

Now 20 years later, Chloe is a psychologist in private practice in Baton Rouge and getting ready for her wedding. She finally has a fragile grasp on the happiness she’s worked so hard to get. Sometimes, though, she feels as out of control of her own life as the troubled teens who are her patients. And then a local teenage girl goes missing, and then another, and that terrifying summer comes crashing back. Is she paranoid, and seeing parallels that aren’t really there, or for the second time in her life, is she about to unmask a killer?

July: Book Round-Up

I can’t get over how fast this year is flying and there are still many books to be read! How is your reading going this year? Are you reading more or less books?

This month I’ve read two printed books from my own bookshelf, two NetGalley ebooks and listened to three audio books. Not bad considering how busy have been with other projects. I no longer consider myself an official book reviewer but I am still working on getting through my galley reads. I went a little crazy when I first joined a few years ago. That happens to newbies on NetGalley.

A couple of the books, I’ve read before and wanted to re-visit them. Can you believe I’m still undecided on how I would rate them? I don’t like the five-star rating system we have in place. Not all parts of a story are equal and the system needs to be changed. The two books I re-read are The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti and Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott. Have you read those two books? I noticed a contradiction in Abbott’s book right off the bat. Even minor details are important not to miss. I’m surprised the editor missed it.

Tomorrow I’m blogging about three books I thinking about reading next! Be sure to check out my 2021 Books Read and follow Layered Pages by email to keep up with the latest. -Stephanie Hopkins

Home Library Books

I still have quite a few NetGalley books to get through. However, I made a promise to myself that I would read books from my home library that I haven’t read yet-which I’m currently proactively doing. There are many books in this pile I have read before, and have read more than once. I’ve also made a promise to my daughter, a while back, to read books she read and enjoyed during her middle school and high school years. These piles consist of thirty-three books I’m hoping to read this year, or finish by next spring. I’m also considering annotating quite a few of these books. It’s important to re-read books, to read a variety of books, to keep on reading, to truly think about what you are reading and what the story conveys. Reading is knowledge and gives you the tools to keep ignorance at bay to say the least.

There are a few books in this pile that English majors are required to read. Keep in mind, all required reading material for English degrees vary and Professors do not adhere to the same lists. In a nut shell, be well read and be prepared. An English major is a whole lot more than just enjoying reading books. This subject is for another blog post, which I shall post in the near future.

Which of these titles shown, have you read? Have you read any of them more than once? What did you think of them? Would you consider reading them again and quite possibly experience something completely different the second time around?

Stephanie Hopkins

April: Book Round-Up

This month’s reading was an adventure to say the least. I wasn’t sure how much time I would have for ready considering the amount of time I have been putting in to creating art and other pursuits. I found myself reading at odd times. I’m quite pleased that I read a book a week. After reading The Four Winds, I was going to start on Heart of the Frontier by Brittany Larsen, Jen Geigle Johnson, Jennie Hansen and Carolyn Twede Frankmm but I felt like reading a modern-day story and read Home by Harlan Coben instead. I enjoyed every single book I read this month and excited about May’s reading forecast. -Stephanie Hopkins

Number of pages read in April: 1,570

Here are the titles I’ve read for March and the review post dates:

Home (Myron Bolitar #11) by Harlan Coben

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Emily’s House by Amy Belding Brown

Love Story (The Baxter Family #1) by Karen Kingsbury

Book Review: Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenberg

Published April 6th 2021 by She Writes Press

Margaret Rodenberg brings us a story of Emperor Napoleon’s defeat and his exile on the Island of Helena in what is still, consider to this day, one of the most remote Island on earth. Finding Napoleon is about his final years and his plot to escape the Island and rescue his son. While on the Island, trust in the people surrounding him is quite the skill to say the least.

In the beginning, I felt as if the characters were moving parts in a play. Told where to stand, what to say and when to say it. I’m not sure that makes much sense but, in better words, I felt very little for them and that very well may be the point. Napoleon was using them and they were using him. We aren’t meant to have warm and fuzzy feelings for these people. They weren’t exactly pillars of society in terms of being moral and honest people. In my opinion, they were opportunist. As for the people of the Island, Tobyson, Hercules and Betsy were good people and despite Napoleon’s faults, they held him in high regard.

While Napoloen’s love affair with Albine wasn’t particularly “romantic”, I felt the author’s portrayal of their relationship realistic. That said, I still haven’t completely decided how I feel about Albine or her relations with Napoleon for that matter. Afterall, she was a married woman and I don’t say this with naivety. I’m well aware of the culture during that time. Maybe she felt she had to do what she did for survival.

Albine is a complex woman and people considered her a liar and a loose woman. Though many of the very people who said those things about her, were no better. In the end, she made good on a promise to Napoleon and I had to admire her for that. I would like to believe that leaving that Island and her changed circumstances in life, made her a better person in the end.

I feel Rosenberg depicted Napoleon’s ego as how I have always imagined it to be. Napoleon is intelligent and he very well knows it. He is always scheming and, in my opinion, using people for his own purpose and pleasures. He is a master manipulator. Despite his thirst for his own glory or survival-if you will-I found his interest in the world and how things worked intriguing to read about. He is a good listener and you do see a softer side to him in this story but I remain-rightfully so- suspicious of his motives.

I’ve read many novels about Napoleon but very little of his time on St. Helena or the end of his life in-depth such as this one. Nor was I familiar with the fact he began to write a story that was unfinished. That was exciting to learn and it intrigued me enough to read this book and wanting to know the author’s take on the history. I can’t help but wonder what his life would have been life if he had chosen a different path. He could have possibly done so much good with his intellect and charismatic personality.

You are reading two different stories with Finding Napoleon and how Rosenberg beautifully weaves Napoleon’s writing efforts into the time line and expanding on the story, is close to brilliant.

I appreciate the author’s obvious fascination with Napoleon. He is definitely a hot topic for discussion and this fact certainly shows in this book.

I recommend Finding Napoleon to readers who are already familiar with Napoleon’s life before his stay on the Island.

Stephanie Hopkins

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

More about the book:

With its delightful adaptation of Napoleon Bonaparte’s real attempt to write a novel, Finding Napoleon offers a fresh take on Europe’s most powerful man after he’s lost everything. A forgotten woman of history–Napoleon’s last love, the audacious Albine de Montholon–narrates their tale of intrigue, passion, and betrayal.

After the defeated Emperor Napoleon goes into exile on tiny St. Helena Island in the remote South Atlantic, he and his lover, Albine de Montholon, plot to escape and rescue his young son. Banding together African slaves, British sympathizers, a Jewish merchant, a Corsican rogue, and French followers, they confront British opposition–as well as treachery within their own ranks–with sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, but always desperate action.
When Napoleon and Albine break faith with one another, ambition and Albine’s husband threaten their reconciliation. To succeed, Napoleon must learn whom to trust. To survive, Albine must decide whom to betray.

Two hundred years after Napoleon’s death, this elegant, richly researched novel reveals a relationship history conceals.

March: Book Round-Up

Stephanie Hopkins

Well, in my Books Aplenty: March Reading Forecast post, I discussed ten books I selected to read in March. I was I am hoping to read ten books if other projects didn’t get in the way. Umm…other projects got in the way. In the back of my mind, I knew this would happen. Around March is when I tend to feverishly get the crafting bug! There is so much to be inspired by the spring season. Yup, I got my art on. However, I did read six books and that is pretty darn good considering how much time I spent on art.  

Despite not reading all the books I had projected, I’m quite pleased that I’m still reading an average of one to two books per week. That is the point. To read and keep reading. Also, it really helped me be less indecisive in which book to chose next. There really is something to say about being organized and making a list. -Stephanie Hopkins

Number of pages read in March: 1,998

Lots of book reviews coming up soon! How many books did you read for March? Do share!

Here are the titles I’ve read for March and the review post dates:

A New York Secret (Daughters of New York Book 1) by Ella Carey – -My book review HERE

The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker – Book review on April 1st

Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenbery -Book review on April 5th

The Family Plot by Megan Collins – Book review on August 12th

The Silent Girl by Kelly Heard- Book review on April 9th

The Necklace by Matt Witten – Book review on September 6th

Be sure to check out my art journey on Instagram and at my Mixed Media Art gallery here at Layered Pages! My wish is for you to be inspired and encouraged.

Book Spotlight: The Orphan’s Island by Kate Hewitt

I have confessed before that I’m really not into romance novels. I do like some love relationships woven into stories but not as the main focus. Light romance-if you will. I spotted this book on NetGalley and I like the cover and elements of the book description interest me. I’m tempted to read a few reviews seeing as this book has been previously published. -Stephanie

About the book:

Publishers: Bookouture

Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 30 Nov 2020

Description

1904: Ellen Copley is still a child when she leaves behind the sooty rail yards of Glasgow, and crosses the Atlantic Ocean with a heart full of dreams. Yet within weeks of their arrival in America, her father has disappeared—leaving Ellen with resentful relatives, feeling alone and scared for her future.

But then her kind Aunt Rose invites Ellen to stay with her large family, in their rambling house on beautiful Amherst Island, which nestles like a jewel in the blue waters of Lake Ontario.

There Ellen finally begins to find the love and acceptance she has long been craving – both from Aunt Rose’s boisterous family, and from the boys next door, Jed and Lucas Lyman. It’s Jed she’s drawn to… the one with the twinkling eyes, who teases her, and laughs with her, and soon steals her heart…

But does Jed love her back? Because—even though Amherst Island feels like home—Ellen knows she can’t stay there with a broken heart…

“This is the first book in the unmissable Amherst Island Trilogy that follows the life and love of Ellen Copley from the magic of Lake Ontario to the bloody battlefields of the First World War and beyond. Perfect for fans of The Oceans Between UsThe Orphan Sisters, and My Name is Eva.”

Previously published as Down Jasper Lane.

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

All the Devils Are HereNot only is this a great cover, the series is fantastic! One of my favorites around. This particular format I’m spotlighting today is on audio and available for request for NetGalley Members. -Stephanie Hopkins

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

Narrated by Robert Bathurst

Macmillan Audio

Mystery & Thrillers

Pub Date 01 Sep 2020

Description

In All the Devils Are Here, the 16th novel by #1 bestselling author Louise Penny finds Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec investigating a sinister plot in the City of Light.

On their first night in Paris, the Gamaches gather as a family for a bistro dinner with Armand’s godfather, the billionaire Stephen Horowitz. Walking home together after the meal, they watch in horror as Stephen is knocked down and critically injured in what Gamache knows is no accident, but a deliberate attempt on the elderly man’s life.

When a strange key is found in Stephen’s possession it sends Armand, his wife Reine-Marie, and his former second-in-command at the Sûreté, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, from the top of the Tour d’Eiffel, to the bowels of the Paris Archives, from luxury hotels to odd, coded, works of art.

It sends them deep into the secrets Armand’s godfather has kept for decades.

A gruesome discovery in Stephen’s Paris apartment makes it clear the secrets are more rancid, the danger far greater and more imminent, than they realized.

Soon the whole family is caught up in a web of lies and deceit. In order to find the truth, Gamache will have to decide whether he can trust his friends, his colleagues, his instincts, his own past. His own family.

For even the City of Light casts long shadows. And in that darkness devils hide.

A Macmillan Audio production from Minotaur Books