In  I 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 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” [Spring 2019] 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 [Spring 2019]. 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.
A bit over a year lateron, I am still struggling to get focused onto the stories on my backlogue due to various reasons where my IRL adversities in health and the health crises of my parents (we’ve been in the ER 6x times since November 2019; the last of which was this past Saturday!) to where I’ve effectively experience a lot of start/stops in my progress to read the stories on my shelves. When I saw this blog tour adverted I thought, there’s a novella prequel to the Letter series? Hmm. I took that as a sign of entrance into a series I have wanted to be reading for so many years now.
I received a complimentary copy of “The River Jewel” direct from the author Kathleen Shoop in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.
My reactions to reading Kathleen Shoop:
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.
-quoted from my review of After the Fog
A grandfather in his nineties takes a moment to sit with his granddaughter and his great-grandson to tell them about the fabled Strongman and Mermaid – at least this is our reckoning, as the story of who they had been has nearly become lost in time itself had he not held strong to the book which started to unravel his hidden memories of the past. For her sake, you could tell the strain was affecting her – she simply wanted to do right by her grandfather, where his mind was not allowing himself to remain independent and how the effects of his condition were not just growing worse but they were allowing her to think about the issues which would soon arise if she didn’t force the issue of his relocation. Anyone whose had elder relations knows the position she was in and knows it well; for circumventing problems before they arise in families is one of the hardest obstacles you can transition through outside of resolving the grief which stems from the loss of the relatives who’ve gone on into the next life.
It was here – in a kitchen, you find his voice is still viable enough to piece together the words which compose the story – of how someone’s parents were the better part of a story long since told and that is how we find ourselves time shifting back into 1910 – leaving 2019 with a fresh perspective about Donora about to flicker through our mind as we re-shift back into this sooty dusty mill towne which has a grip of a grasp on everyone whose once lived there.
Mary is a girl ahead of her years – in charge of rallying her siblings to rights before she heads off to work – they were bound for school but she needed to put in a day’s wage and help her family earn the keep which would enable them to stay afloat. You could see her industrious nature in how she attended to the fuel her family needed – not one to shy away from hard work or the arduous litany of chores most girls’ her age might not be as willing to do – you gathered Mary was a forward-thinking kind of girl which was a refreshing change out of her generation. She didn’t see herself limited by means nor in ownership of her future based on her present circumstances; she chose to look towards something positive rather than give into the fact her life could be a repetitious pattern of the hours she currently spent. You felt for Mary – for her courage but also her willingness to see the lighter side to life – where joy and happiness reside.
You immediately get lost inside The Strongman and the Mermaid – not just because the story is part legend and lore; of the personalities and personas people believe in despite the appearances of their composites in reality but because of how Shoop crafted the story. We find our vehicle in the presence of Patryk – a grandfather who simply wants to re-live the olden days if only to give the next generation pause to think about how their ancestors carved out the future they are currently enjoying to live. Part of his joy also stemmed from a deeply felt sense of honour and admiration for Mary and Lukasz – for their story was what had given him the most hope for his own situation. If he could hold onto the stories – keeping the memories close in mind as much as in heart, I believed Patryk felt he wasn’t going to completely remove himself from his own past. He was still a part of the stories being passed down and those living histories meant everything to him.
The more you disappear into the lives of Mary and Lukasz, the more you realise how hard they both were struggling against their own conventions. Their towne had a society of obligation about it – where old school philosophies hadn’t quite become exchanged for the new world mentality where a man and a woman could afford their own choices in their lives. Mary was expected to do the bidding of her parents – irregardless of what she personally wanted for herself, she was needed to work in order to provide whatever they needed based off her pay. This proved to be an exhausting commitment but also a sad one, too as she truly enjoyed her time spent with Mrs Dunn. Dunn was the kind of woman who appreciated Mary’s assistance but knew she couldn’t provide everything she needed – in many ways Dunn was the surrogate mother Mary needed in her life – guiding her with inspiration, encouraging her to think outside the required box her parents wished for her to feel security inside and giving her a chance to breathe a dream of her own choosing.
I truly liked how the story was paced – how you feel emotionally connected to both lead characters and how the towne itself feels a bit more alive somehow – it has its own pace of delivering its presence, not just due to the way work is scheduled but how the people live there. It is a fitting testament to this towne’s history but also as a nod towards the people who forged a life out of an area that was a hard-won place to carve out a living. All of this created the best atmosphere in which to soak inside the historical backdrop Shoop gave us and fittingly, it felt like a better place to begin the series rather than as a sophomore installment.
-quoted from my review of The Strongman and the Mermaid
For everyone who hopes to find the perfect match…
1875 Des Moines, Iowa
The novella, The River Jewel, takes readers of the bestselling Letter Series novels back in time, before there was a last letter, before the Arthurs lost everything, before they knew a girl named Pearl.
Meet Tilly Rabel, a proud oyster-woman, and Landon Lockwood, the troubled son of one of the wealthiest men in America. The two could not be less suited for love. But when an old legend draws Landon to a hidden river cove, Tilly and he find each other, are lured by growing attraction, and repelled by competing desires to control Tilly’s waters. The hidden pool is replete with valuable mussel beds and the source of everything that makes Tilly who she is. Landon sees the illustrious treasure as the path to proving to his parents he is worth their love and worthy of the Lockwood name. Can Tilly trust Landon with her heart, with her beloved mussel beds? Can Landon trust that he has truly changed and doesn’t need his parents approval to live the life he wants?
Heartbreak, triumph, and a very special baby weave a tale sure to please readers who’ve read the entire Letter Series and those who are just starting the journey.
Places to find the book:
Also by this author: The Strongman and the Mermaid
Published by Self Published
on 3rd December, 2019
Format: POD | Print On Demand Paperback
The Letter series:
The River Jewel & The River Promise (series novellas) (prequel duology)
The Last Letter (book one)
The Road Home (book two)
The Kitchen Mistress (book three)
The Thief’s Heart (book four)
Formats Available: Trade Paperback, Audiobook and ebook
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: