I’ve launched a new weekly featured concentration of book reviews on Jorie Loves A Story which celebrates my love and passion for the historical past! For those of whom are regular readers and visitors to my blog, you’ll denote a dedicated passion for reading Historical Fiction (and all the lovely segues of thematic therein) – I am a time traveller of the historical past every chance I get to disappear into a new era and/or century of exploration. There isn’t a time period I haven’t enjoyed ruminating over since  and there are a heap of lovely timescapes I’ve yet to encounter.
This feature was inspired by the stories I’ve read, the stories I’ve yet to experience and the beauty of feeling interconnected to History through the representation of the past through the narratives being writ by today’s Historical Fiction authors. It is to those authors I owe a debt of gratitude for enlightening my bookish mind and my readerly heart with realistic characters, illuminating portals of living history and a purposeful intent on giving each of us a strong representation of ‘life’ which should never become dismissed, forgotten or erased.
I am began this feature with the sequel to a beloved historical novel I first read in  – it was one of the first ARCs I received and it was the first year I was a book blogger though it was through a connection outside my life as a blogger. I celebrated K.B. Laugheed’s literature to kick-off this feature and hopefully will inspire my followers to take this new weekly journey with me into the stories which are beckoning to read their narrative depths and find the words in which to express the thoughts I experienced as I read.
Acquired Book By: I am a regular tour hostess for blog tours via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours whereupon I am thankful to have been able to host such a diverse breadth of stories, authors and wonderful guest features since I became a hostess! HFVBTs is one of the very first touring companies I started working with as a 1st Year Book Blogger – uniting my love and passion with Historical Fiction and the lovely sub-genres inside which I love devouring. It has been a wicked fantastical journey into the heart of the historic past, wherein I’ve been blessed truly by discovering new timescapes, new living realities of the persons who once lived (ie. Biographical Historical Fiction) inasmuch as itched my healthy appetite for Cosy Historical Mysteries! If there is a #HistRom out there it is generally a beloved favourite and I love soaking into a wicked wonderful work of Historical Fiction where you feel the beauty of the historic world, the depth of the characters and the joyfulness in which the historical novelists brought everything to light in such a lovingly diverse palette of portraiture of the eras we become time travellers through their stories.
My path first crossed with Kathleen Shoop in  whilst I was participating in a summer reading challenge by BookSparks. I was also a reviewer and blog tour hostess with the publicity firm whilst I was joining the SRC reading challenge they were quite infamous of hosting for the very first time. My experiences that summer were less than gratifying as I lost traction with the challenge itself and only posted a few reviews out of the ones I was meant to be posting. Ms Shoop and I crossed paths that year due to her latest Letter series release “The Road Home” which was part of the SRC challenge for . During that summer I also received a #bookmail parcel from the author which include a variety of her stories for me to start reading. They were not for review consideration but if I was inspired to blog about them after I read them that was up to my own discretion and choice. I had a feeling I might be leaning in that direction as just by browsing through the stories and where they could be taking me, I felt they would be the #nextreads I would most enjoy experiencing.
Life and health afflictions (especially my chronic migraines) conflicted with my start/stop attempts to read the books themselves until I felt re-inspired to re-attempt to read one of the novels – “After the Fog” this Spring which I had no idea was being anchoured to a sequel “The Strongman and the Mermaid” which was also going to be featured on a blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. Thereby, it felt like the timing was aligning properly for me to start to read her canon of stories and with my newfound inspiration I couldn’t wait to begin my journey into her collective works.
I received a complimentary copy of “After the Fog” direct from the author Kathleen Shoop without obligation to post a review. I am choosing to share my ruminative thoughts on behalf of this novel for my own edification and of continuing to share my readerly life with those who follow m y blog Jorie Loves A Story. Whilst at the same time, I read it in conjunction with the sequel being released and touring on a blog tour in the book blogosphere on behalf of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours of which I am a regular reviewer and tour hostess.
I received a complimentary copy of “The Strongman and the Mermaid” direct from the author Kathleen Shoop in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein on either “After the Fog” or “The Strongman and the Mermaid”.
My journey towards reading
the collective works of Kathleen Shoop:
If I would have speculated it would take me from 2015 to 2019 to read my first Kathleen Shoop novel, I might have questioned the distance early-on from my first discovery of her novels and the point in time which I could put my heart into reading her collective works. The sad bit really is I was perpetually distracted by my health, the adversities of life and if you take out  (the year my father recovered from his stroke) and  the year I had 10 months of health afflictions – it doesn’t appear to be as long of a distance on the surface of things.
The truth is – I’ve been picking up her novels off/on since I first received them – each time thinking I had picked the right moment to read them, to spend time dissolving into the words and the worlds she’s built and unfortunately finding myself unable to attach into the narrative. I planned to read the Letter series first – as I have the first two novels of that series on hand to be read. And, this is where my journey into her novels begins as the reason our paths first crossed is because I used to review for BookSparks (ie. the publicity team attached to She Writes Press, etc) – in  I participated in their blog tours & their Summer Reading Challenge – which was quite epic back then. You’d select the authors you were most keen on becoming acquainted with and they would pick a variety of books to send you for review consideration – the second Letter series novel “The Road Home” was amongst the offerings and thus, my path first crossed with Ms Shoop.
From there – a lot of life intervened and this has been the first year I’ve been able to focus on reading my *backlogue!* despite the fact by appearances it would seem I took five months to begin doing that as I had some health issues shifting into 2019 from 2018. The best news of all is this Spring I started to see a positive reduction in my migraines (even though this #WyrdAndWonder I had a rather epic one which relapsed twice this May; it was a side effect to allergy medicine) which I feel will give me more bookishly delightful hours in the future.
The main reason I decided to join the blog tour featuring the second novel in the Donora Story Collection [The Strongman & the Mermaid] is because I wanted to purposefully begin reading my Shoop novels. I’ve dreamt of what they involve and the literary environment I would encounter once I began reading her stories – thereby, it felt like  was the year the stars were aligning to where I could finally focus on the STORIES I most desired to be reading and finally ‘greet!’ the authors I’ve most wanted to read.
The beauty of course, is “After the Fog” begins this series and the novel itself has been lovingly looked after on my book shelves – it has moved round quite a bit and it was finally able to make it to my desk. I was overjoyed I could finally soak inside Shoop’s narrative(s) and hoped this would mark a beginning where I could pick up the rhythm of her stories anew in JUNE by settling into the Letter series and seeing where this journey of mine into her collective works would take me next. It might take me a bit of time to return to a book I received in the earlier days of Jorie Loves A Story – but this much is true: NONE of those books have been forgotten,.. each of them is being read with eager anticipation as if they just reached me now to be read.
prefacing my reading of “after the fog” with a personal observation:
Whilst embarking on a 15,000 mile road trip with my Mum over a score of three years in the middle of the 2000s – criss-crossing through the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West states – I still remember what it was like driving through areas of Pennsylvania where the industrial pollution was still effecting its residents. There were townes where the houses facing the industrial plants across the street were tar black and smokey grey – you could barely tell they were houses as the grim covering the outside of their buildings felt like a film set from a Dystopian location. It gave thought to how far we have progressed and how far we have receded in regards to taking care of air pollution, industrial pollution and the health risks of living in cities and small townes where there is no distance between quality of life and the pollutants which can cause harm.
I had forgotten what the premise was within this novel but as soon as I re-read it – I immediately drew back to mind what it was like driving through the coal townes of West Virginia, the industrial townes of Pennsylvania and the insanity of having my hamster nearly suffocate himself in the Upper Mid-West region where we were passing through Omaha, Nebraska due to not having quality air even inside of a closed windowed car. There are distinct issues throughout the states from an environmental perspective – most of which you hear on the news or see on your feeds via social media; however, when your ‘driving through’ it makes a more pointed reality quite crystalised and clear for anyone who takes a harder look at what they are observing from afar.
reflections on reading after the fog:
You can hardly draw a breath as you enter into Rose’s life as a nurse in a small industrial towne which barely has enough medical practitioners that it needs to be medically sound in a place where emergencies were commonplace. In this instance, Shoop begins on a sombering note – of a mother and child who both exited the world the same night as the child’s arrival. It was difficult on Rose – a nurse who grieved for her patients as readily as the doctor she served, but what was one nurse to do with a patient whose birth went sideways as soon as it began? The house she was birthing inside was less than ideal – the light was missing but the effects of the hard birth were not lost on Rose. In many ways, this Rose reminded me of the Rose from Charton Minster (the historical series I loved reading by Margaret James) as both are nurses who go above and beyond their calls of duty.
We also get a firm overview of the towne – of how Donora is co-dependent on her industries and how those industries are co-dependent on each other. Situated below Pittsburgh, its location is on the opposite end of the state than I am familiar though I have passed through the Amish area north of Pittsburgh; it is one city I never had the proper chance to visit. The fact this story is rooted in the steel industry was not a surprise – though like most industrial stories, I found this one refreshing as I haven’t learnt as much about the Industrial Revolution as I ought to have before I graduated. Interestingly enough, no one was ever interested in talking about History after the Civil War or outside of the war eras of the early 20th Century. You have to rally together the missing pieces of history on your own and through reading Historical Fiction these past six years I’ve filled in the gaps far easier than all the years I was in school (which is telling in of its own).
Shoop writes with historical realism – the descriptive details you’d nearly expect out of a Historical narrative but also with a grittiness you might not be fully prepared for reading. Rather than gloss over certain aspects of the novel’s period history, Shoop delves into the gritty depictions of what this kind of life can lead to observing as you live through the era in which it is written about – from the visuals of what Rose must endure as a nurse to the ways in which the lives within the novel are spoken about or referenced. This is a historical novel that tucks you close to the edges – where you can peer at these people’s lives with a rawness as if they were going about their hours without realising someone was taking notes about how they were living, what they were doing or how they occupied their hours. It is an examination on a sociological layer of insight but it is also a gut-punch reality of how people lived through a particular jarring era in history where personal health and the environmental toxicity in their air was assaulting their lungs – “After the Fog” – is a cautionary story about how a disaster in the past can be a foreshadow to the future.
Despite this – I found reading After the Fog to be quite tedious as although I was looking forward to reading it for quite a long while – I couldn’t find my footing inside its story-line. The rhythm was hard to root out as I was constantly distracted by either the grittiness of the layers within it, the language choices liberally shining out of it or the fact the story felt harder edged somehow than most of the Historicals I usually read. It was not a good fit for me and although I worried how that would effect my readings of the sequel The Strongman and the Mermaid – I knew most of Shoop’s novels can be read as stand-alone editions and I felt perhaps this sequel might resonate with me a bit better than After the Fog as I honestly did not get past a quarter’s length of reading.
The sad bit is I couldn’t find a character I felt drawn to emotionally – I thought at first I might feel a connection to Rose but she felt emotionally cold and reclusive; she was living through a difficult time in her life where the whole of her family was co-dependent on everyone else but it was difficult to get a stronger impression about her as she did not seem approachable as some historical characters tend to feel in historical stories. Therefore, the more I tried to read of the novel – the less enthused I was about completing it due to how I simply felt disconnected from the characters and did not feel as if I wanted to know the outcome of their stories.
The Strongman and the Mermaid
by Kathleen Shoop
Source: Author via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Once upon a time in tiny, rural Myscowa, Lukasz Musial competes in feats of strength against his lifelong nemesis to win passage to America. He leaves behind grinding poverty and despair, to seek the clear blue skies, and better life he sees on a postcard. Settled in Donora’s Polish community, Lukasz secures a coveted job in the wire mill, and is matched to marry Donora’s very own Polish princess. Life is set on course. The American Dream is nearly his.
Mary Lancos is no princess. A tall, athletic girl who loves the water, she spends her days keeping house for families in town, digging coal out of a backyard seam and rowing her father across the Monongahela River for work. Mary is dependable, tenacious, and always ready to help when someone needs her. She dreams of a gas-heated home, a bedroom for each of her future children, and good meals on the table each night. To help make that happen Mary attends local dances, waiting for the few men who are taller than her to ask her to dance, hoping one of them is right for her.
An unexpected Christmas Eve visitor brings bad luck, and Lukasz’s world crumbles. Meanwhile, tension grows at the Lancos home when money is short and Mary’s dreams clash with her parents’ old world expectations. Just when Mary and Lukasz are at their lowest, they find themselves under an odd pink moonlit sky and Lukasz rescues Mary from a fall into frigid river water. The attraction between them is sudden and consuming, turning the pair onto an unexpected path. With mounting disapproval from Mary’s parents, and increased pressure on Lukasz, they must decide if love is enough to risk losing everything else that matters.
Places to find the book:
Borrow from a Public Library
Add to LibraryThing
Genres: Feminist Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Women's Fiction
Published by Self Published
on 28th February, 2019
Format: POD | Print On Demand Paperback
This is a self-published novel
The Donora Story Collection:
After the Fog (book one)
The Strongman & the Mermaid (book two)
Formats Available: Trade Paperback, Audiobook and Ebook
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: