Cover Crush: The Last Mona Lisa by Jonathan Santlofer

About the Cover: Firstly, I have to confess that it wasn’t the cover that directed my attention to this book, but the title. If I were designing the layout, I’m not entirely sure I would have chosen the shade of blue to contrast the Mona Lisa painting. Nonetheless, if you look closely, you will see the cracks in the painting carrying over to the right side of the cover. I thought that was a nice touch and the pealing of the upper left corner and tears in the image represents age.

About the Book: The Mona Lisa is a famous portrait painting by artist Leonardo da Vinci and is, without a doubt, the most talked about painting in history. I remember as a young child learning about the Mona Lisa and the artist. I have to admit, throughout most of my life, shockingly, the painting didn’t leave an impression on me as one would expect. It wasn’t until later in my adulthood that I developed an appreciation for the painting and the history. Maybe, it’s because of its artist and depiction in various forms and media that sparked an interest in me to learn more about its creation.

I’ve added The Last Mona Lisa by Jonathan Santlofer to my book pile and look forward to reading the story. – Stephanie Hopkins

Book Description:

Published August 17th 2021 by Sourcebooks Landmark

August, 1911: The Mona Lisa is stolen by Vincent Peruggia. Exactly what happens in the two years before its recovery is a mystery. Many replicas of the Mona Lisa exist, and more than one historian has wondered if the painting now in the Louvre is a fake, switched in 1911.

Present day: Art professor Luke Perrone digs for the truth behind his most famous ancestor: Peruggia. His search attracts an Interpol detective with something to prove and an unfamiliar but curiously helpful woman. Soon, Luke tumbles deep into the world of art and forgery, a land of obsession and danger.

A gripping novel exploring the 1911 theft and the present underbelly of the art world, The Last Mona Lisa is a suspenseful tale, tapping into our universal fascination with da Vinci’s enigma, why people are driven to possess certain works of art, and our fascination with the authentic and the fake.

September Bookmark Swap

Our September 15th bookmark swap is quickly approaching and I couldn’t be more excited! Our group is growing and I’m always blown away by the raw talent of our members! The bookmarks you see in this post is a little sneak peek at what is to come. This group is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people from different places in the world and what a joy it is to receive happy mail to put a smile on your face. There is not a required theme, we just create what inspires us and enjoy the process!

This group swaps bookmarks in the shape of tags and the standard shape. I’m currently accepting US crafters and will open more spots internationally soon.

We are swapping 4 bookmarks a piece. You can not only use them for books, but for your journals and notebooks! I’m also including a bookmark holder, an extra bookmark and extra fun ephemera to craft with in each set going out to our members.

For those who would love to join, you still have a little time to get your bookmarks turned in but, if you can’t get your bookmarks turned in on time, do not be dismayed. Our next swap is in December and we would love to have you join.

The due date for this month is September 15th.

Our hashtag on Instagram: #stephslpbookmarkswap The lp in the hashtag stands for Layered Pages.

You can DM me at my IG @stephsartjourney or email me at layeredpages@layeredpages

My wish is for you to be encouraged and inspired.

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?

Cover Crush: The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain

St. Martin’s Press

Mystery & Thrillers | Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 11 Jan 2022

About the cover: The blues and greens of this cover caught my eye. I use these hues often in my art. The position of the wrought iron fence, house, tree and the people walking towards the house, along with the colors, shows mystery and intrigue. Nicely executed.

About the book: I love a good mystery and a historical one at that. This story is a dual time line and takes place in North Carolina in the present and past. Or I should say, the year 2010. Yes please!

Description

A community’s past sins rise to the surface in New York Times bestselling author Diane Chamberlain’s The Last House on the Street when two women, a generation apart, find themselves bound by tragedy and an unsolved, decades-old mystery.

1965

Growing up in the well-to-do town of Round Hill, North Carolina, Ellie Hockley was raised to be a certain type of proper Southern lady. Enrolled in college and all but engaged to a bank manager, Ellie isn’t as committed to her expected future as her family believes. She’s chosen to spend her summer break as a volunteer helping to register black voters. But as Ellie follows her ideals fighting for the civil rights of the marginalized, her scandalized parents scorn her efforts, and her neighbors reveal their prejudices. And when she loses her heart to a fellow volunteer, Ellie discovers the frightening true nature of the people living in Round Hill.

2010

Architect Kayla Carter and her husband designed a beautiful house for themselves in Round Hill’s new development, Shadow Ridge Estates. It was supposed to be a home where they could raise their three-year-old daughter and grow old together. Instead, it’s the place where Kayla’s husband died in an accident—a fact known to a mysterious woman who warns Kayla against moving in. The woods and lake behind the property are reputed to be haunted, and the new home has been targeted by vandals leaving threatening notes. And Kayla’s neighbor Ellie Hockley is harboring long buried secrets about the dark history of the land where her house was built.

Two women. Two stories. Both on a collision course with the truth–no matter what that truth may bring to light–in Diane Chamberlain’s riveting, powerful novel about the search for justice.

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

Crafty Giveaway #2

I’m hosting a unique bookmark swap over at Instagram and I hold ephemera giveaways for our group members. We are currently on our second giveaway and this bundle is filled with so much goodness for crafting!

We are still accepting new members to our group! Our next bookmark swap is in September and we would love to have you join. Be sure to follow the hashtag below, on Instagram, to keep up with the group and to be in the loop with current and upcoming giveaways. We are currently open for US Residents only. More international spots will open soon.

We are swapping 4 bookmarks a piece. You can not only use them for books, but for your journals and notebooks! If you are interested in participating, DM me on Instagram for more information. We would love for you to be part of this group! The hashtag for our swap group: #StephslpBookmarkswap

Stephanie Hopkins

Mixed Media Artist/Abstract Painter/Book Blogger

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. -Stephanie

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

Are You Reading?

“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate.” -General Maddox

“I cannot understand how some people can live without communicating with the wisest people who ever lived on earth.” -Leo Tolstoy

“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them. “-Mark Twain

“Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.”– Jim Rohn

“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.” —Kate DiCamillo

What books are you reading?

What questions are you asking?

Do you know what critical thinking is? Reading plays a hug role in critical thinking. Are you applying it to your life? There are books about everything. You can learn from all different types of writers.

Today, I’m sharing a few titles of books that are must reads, books that I will always re-read and that I can’t recommend enough. I might have recommended a few of them previously but refreshers are always a good thing. These books will impact you in so many ways and you will be shown intriguing realities, powerful perspectives, insightful meditations on life and relationships. -Stephanie Hopkins

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius: Nearly two thousand years after it was written, Meditations remains profoundly relevant for anyone seeking to lead a meaningful life.

Few ancient works have been as influential as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and emperor of Rome (A.D. 161–180). A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behavior, it remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus’s insights and advice—on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others—have made the Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style. For anyone who struggles to reconcile the demands of leadership with a concern for personal integrity and spiritual well-being, the Meditations remains as relevant now as it was two thousand years ago.

In Gregory Hays’s new translation—the first in thirty-five years—Marcus’s thoughts speak with a new immediacy. In fresh and unencumbered English, Hays vividly conveys the spareness and compression of the original Greek text. Never before have Marcus’s insights been so directly and powerfully presented.

With an Introduction that outlines Marcus’s life and career, the essentials of Stoic doctrine, the style and construction of the Meditations, and the work’s ongoing influence, this edition makes it possible to fully rediscover the thoughts of one of the most enlightened and intelligent leaders of any era.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch: In Parting the Waters, the first volume of his essential America in the King Years series, Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch gives a “compelling…masterfully told” (The Wall Street Journal) account of Martin Luther King’s early years and rise to greatness. 

Hailed as the most masterful story ever told of the American civil rights movement, Parting the Waters is destined to endure for generations. Moving from the fiery political baptism of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the corridors of Camelot where the Kennedy brothers weighed demands for justice against the deceptions of J. Edgar Hoover, here is a vivid tapestry of America, torn and finally transformed by a revolutionary struggle unequaled since the Civil War.

Taylor Branch provides an unsurpassed portrait of King’s rise to greatness and illuminates the stunning courage and private conflict, the deals, maneuvers, betrayals, and rivalries that determined history behind closed doors, at boycotts and sit-ins, on bloody freedom rides, and through siege and murder. Epic in scope and impact, Branch’s chronicle definitively captures one of the nation’s most crucial passages. 

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters: New York Times best-selling author of Affinity, Sarah Waters was named Author of the Year at the 2003 British Book Awards. Fingersmith was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize, and was chosen as book of the year 2002 by more organizations than any other novel. Orphaned as an infant, Susan Trinder was raised by Mrs. Sucksby, “mother” to a host of pickpockets and con artists. To pay her debt, she joins legendary thief Gentleman in swindling an innocent woman out of her inheritence. But the two women form an unanticipated bond and the events that follow will surprise every listener.

The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan:

Three O’Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio

The Blue Castle by L. M Montgomer

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

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

The LP Bookmark Swap Update

On May 8th, I announced a new crafty swap group I have started over at Instagram. This group swaps bookmarks in the shape of tags and the standard shape. Each bookmark is handmade by crafters and artist from the United States. The first swap is on June 15th and we’ve started the group off with a bang! Twenty members have joined thus far and their enthusiasm is encouraging.

We are quickly approaching the first swap date! If you’re participating, be sure to have the bookmarks with three forever stamps turned in by the 15th. For those who would love to join, and you can’t get your bookmarks turned in on time, do not be dismayed. Our next swap is in September and we would love to have you join.

We are swapping 4 bookmarks a piece. You can not only use them for books, but for your journals and notebooks! If you are interested in participating, DM me for more information. The hashtag for our swap group: #StephslpBookmarkswap or you can email me at: layeredpages@yahoo.com

P.S. I’m opening limited spots for this swap to Canadians and others who have shown interest from other countries. More info about that coming soon.

Check out my art journey on Instagram and at my Mixed Media Art Gallery here at Layered Pages!

Stephanie Hopkins